Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's in season, it's on sale, so what can I DO with it??

Fresh vegetables abound, and the prices are low at your local supermarket. If you are fortunate enough to have local Farmer's Market(s)in your area, all the better. We only have one in this area, one evening a week, I have as yet to check it out. I'll get back to you when I have. But local supermarkets often have great produce, and right now they are exhibiting some awesome prices. If you're anything like me, I HATE to eat big heavy meals in hot, hot weather. The lighter the better. We've already discussed my love for salsa, and this recipe is similar, although named a "relish". A "relish" is usually thicker than a salsa, but I've honestly seen the terms used almost interchangeably. In any case, this recipe stands alone by itself, to be used with tortilla chips or bits of pita bread, or it can work WONDERS to a nice fish fillet (salmon, halibut, mahi-mahi, or swordfish are my favorites--all 4 stand up quite well to a good grilling, my personal favorite way to cook in hot weather) or a chicken fillet. Just seems to add a nice summer touch to a meal.

Sweet Corn, Tomato and Avocado Relish
2 large ears fresh yellow corn, peeled and silk removed
2 large Creole or other vine ripened tomatoes, cored and cut into about a 3/4 inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 Hass avocados (14 ounces), peeled, seeded, and cut into about a 1/2 inch dice (about 2 cups)
6 T. finely chopped red onion
2 T. fresh parsley chopped
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper (honestly, you can use black....white is usually only recommended for "appearances sake", but if you don't mind, it doesn't matter)

In a kettle, bring some water and 1 tsp of the salt to a boil. Add the corn and simmer until tender, about 4 minutes (you are not going to cook this as COMPLETELY as if you were going to be eating it "off the cob") Drain. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the ear and place in a medium bowl. To the corn add the tomatoes, avocados, onions, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, the remaining 1 tsp of the salt and more pepper if desired.

Some tips here, always use "Haas" avocados. I know the South, Florida in particular, grows some big MEAN avocados, and they taste GREAT. But....they are quite "watery" and don't hold up well to using them in recipes. They're best eaten alone, on sandwiches or used as a garnish in salads.
When choosing your corn, always go for plump ears, with moist silks at the top. Patronize the stores that will let you peel the ears there (they often will provide a garbage can for this, bless saves a MESS at YOUR house!!). Check the ears when you peel back the husks and avoid like the PLAGUE any ears that look puny and dried out--with nasty dry silks. Puncture one of the kernels with a nail and make sure it's nice and "juicy". (hey, you're buying it, and you want to know if it's good!!)
Grow fresh herbs...if nothing else invest in a parsley plant, and if possible some chives and some mint. I use a LOT of rosemary so I have a rosemary bush on my front porch. This saves a TON of money in the long run, looks pretty and smells FANTASTIC. Learn to use fresh herbs instead of dry.

Today's food quote: "Ham and Eggs....a day's work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig" Anonymous

Today's cooking term: blanch: a method of cooking wherein foods are plunged into boiling water for a few seconds then into cold water to stop the cooking process. Used to loosen skins, heighten color and flavor and firm flesh.

Recommended cooking tool: a trusty kitchen timer. Use this for EVERYTHING. It is SO easy to get sidetracked when cooking, especially when cooking more than one thing, that having one (or even two) in the kitchen helps you keep track of everything. Kids can run through, phones (or doorbells) can ring and that trusty timer can keep you from suffering what I did yesterday. My home-made croƻton went into the oven as sourdough and came OUT of the oven quite resembling pumpernickel!! Just got sidetracked talking to the kids and didn't set the timer.

Enjoy your weekend, stay hungry, have fun.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Last Night's dinner....Italian Favorite with a twist!

I love making Italian food, it's my passion. I have an Italian soul. I love everything about it, the sight, the smells, and the end result...the taste!! But some Italian dishes are daunting in their preparation, and time consuming. Through collaboration with a friend, I've found a way to take lasagna, one of my favorites, and give it the simplifying touch that can put it on your dinner table in less than an hour.

Lasagna Roll-ups

12 lasagna noodles (I always cook a couple extra in case any of them tear or "mess-up" so you may want to cook about 14) cooked according to package directions.
1 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
chopped chives, about 2 T.
chopped spinach, about 3 T. (if you're going to use frozen spinach, squeeze ALL of the water out, with paper towels, when you think you've got it all, squeeze some more)
1/2 c. chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced very fine
1/2 pound gr beef or sausage
Italian seasonings
1 small jar of pasta sauce (your favorite marinara)
3/4 c. heavy cream
8-12 ounces of mozzarella cheese (depending on how "cheesy" you want it, we like ours with a lot of cheese)
1/2 c. parmesan cheese

drain pasta noodles (you can place them on wax paper so they won't stick together.
saute minced garlic and onions in pan together with gr. beef (or sausage). Use a large, deep fry pan for this. Once meat has been browned, add pasta sauce. Cook over medium heat until bubbly.

Mix together ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, chives (or spinach--this is according to which flavor you're going for--spinach gives it a milder flavor)and italian seasoning. Spray a 9x9 baking dish with Pam and take each lasagna noodle and...lying the noodle flat, spoon about a tablespoonful of the ricotta mixture onto the noodle. Roll it up and place it in the pan, do the same with each noodle until gone.

Take the heavy cream and add it to the bubbling sauce. Stir well until the mixture has turned a lovely pale red shade. Pour this mixture over the top of the rolled up noodles and cover with the mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes until cheese is melted (if you like a darker, crispier crust you can leave it in for 30 minutes). Top with parmesan cheese.

Ricotta cheese tends to be rather "flat" tasting, so salt to your taste, in fact taste it and add more seasonings if you like..according to yours or your family's palate. This dish serves from 4-6

A nice variation is to mix spinach and chopped salad shrimp (or even cooked chicken) into the ricotta (same seasonings of salt and pepper, your choice on whether you add the Italian seasonings or not) and then roll those into the noodles and top with an alfredo sauce. (You would, of course, then leave out the ground beef/sausage and the heavy cream.) Makes a completely different dish, a completely different flavor, but essentially the same recipe. Go ahead and experiment, and make the recipe your own. Cooking is supposed to be an adventure!

Today's food quote: "Happiness is a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry under a shade tree" Astrid Alauda

Today's cooking term: mozzarella--Italian cheese made of pasta filata which pulls into strings when heated to between 96 to 98 degrees. A commonly used cheese in all Italian dishes.

Recommended cooking tool: cheese grater. There are many types of cheese graters available. Cheese freshly grated tastes much better (and is much less EXPENSIVE) than cheese bought already grated. My personal favorite cheese grater (I use it at LEAST once a week) is a hand held one that has a handle you turn to grate the cheese. They are very commonly used in Italian restaurants. I purchased mine from Pampered Chef (an AWESOME place to buy cooking tools) but they can be found at many kitchen shops as well.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quick and Easy...and what am I going to DO with these leftovers?

I honestly don't have a lot of leftovers when I cook. But sometimes, if I've made a big country ham, or it's the week after Thanksgiving there ARE a lot of things in my fridge that I want to use up (I HATE throwing away food) and so this is a great idea for that. I've adapted this from a recipe of Giada diLaurentiis'
For this recipe you will need a medium to large size cast iron skillet. Now if you presently do not HAVE a cast iron skillet, honey get yourself to the store and BUY one! If you're a southern woman, how can you even THINK of cooking without one, and if you're a Yankee (sorry, couldn't resist...heehee). Well you just do NOT know what you're missing. You can buy them ready "seasoned" or you can season it yourself. Just remember, NEVER use soap on your skillet...EVER. Anyway, back to the recipe.....

1 c. shredded cheese (any kind, remember...we're cleaning out the fridge)
6 eggs
3/4 c milk
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg (preferably grated can buy it this way in the spice aisle)
2 T. Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 T. parsley and any other "stuffings" (aim for about 1-2 cups--I've used diced ham or turkey, even Thanksgiving stuffing, bread cubes from a baguette, diced onion, green pepper, tomatoes, zucchini, bacon, sausage, just any combination you can think of, have in your fridge, like to eat, or want to use up. GO FOR IT!!)

Preheat your broiler. If you want, you can spray the skillet with some PAM. Place about a tablespoon of butter (or margarine if that's what you use) in the skillet over low heat on the stove (now I know that butter isn't in the recipe--but work with me), add "stuffings" to warm. Add cheese (the grated one, not the parmesan)
Whisk eggs together w/ mustard powder and nutmeg. Pour into skillet. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cook over low/medium heat for about 7 minutes. Transfer to broiler (aren't these cast iron skillets FANTASTIC??!!) and broil for about 4 minutes until gold and bubbly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley and serve. Together with a nice salad and some bread this is a fantastic, quick meal.

Today's food quote:
"A nickel may get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat"
Old New York City Proverb

Today's cooking term:
saute: to cook quickly in a small amount of fat or oil in a skillet.

Recommended cooking tool: that cast iron skillet. Seriously, no kitchen should be without at LEAST one. They go from stove top, to oven, to table without a problem. Our grannies weren't mistaken when they decided all cooks needed them. They're available everywhere cooking pots and pans are sold, and are not really all that expensive.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'm feelin' hot, hot HOT......

Wherever you are within the "sound of my voice" you know that this summer is a HOT one. I hate eating big heavy meals when it's hot outside and so have come up with some "beat the heat" ideas for this summer.

I'm crazy over salsa....I have so many salsa recipes it isn't even funny. Having spent years living in Southern California (always will be "home" to me, doesn't matter where I was actually born) I think I started collecting the recipes there and just have continued since moving to Florida. Salsa is a great way to get a variety of vegetables (and fruits!) into your diet. It's fun, it's easy, and it's nutritious. It can be made ahead (and even actually tastes better if you DO make it ahead) and used for parties and get togethers. My favorite use of salsa right now is to top fish and sometimes chicken (I'm not a big chicken fan, sorry) with it. Makes them taste even better. Fried fish filets (yup, I live in "the South" we fry EVERYTHING down here!!) in flour tortillas with some freshly made salsa are a great, quick idea for a meal. Add some sorbet or frozen yogurt and you have a quick, easy, inexpensive meal that everyone will love.

So here's one of my salsa recipes for you to try (hats off to Aimee Thomas, who provided me with this's a crowd pleaser and a real family favorite)

Mango Salsa
12 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 red onion, diced
5 jalapenos diced (you could use less if you don't want it as spicy)
2 mangos diced (use a vegetable peeler to peel your mangos, those little devils can be TOUGH to peel!!)
1 c. finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp tabasco sauce

Mix together in a bowl and eat a LOT!

here's another one, for some variety

Watermelon Salsa
4 c. diced and seeded watermelon cubes (you can buy seedless as well, if you prefer)
1 c. diced and seeded cantaloupe cubes
2 green onions, white AND green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
2 tsp sea salt (or you can use regular salt, but only use 1 tsp then)
1 tsp raw sugar (again, if you don't use raw sugar, use just a bit less of regular table sugar)
1 tsp chili powder
1 T. chopped cilantro (you can use kitchen scissors and just snip finely, directly into the bowl.....MUCH EASIER)
1 T. chopped basil (break out those scissors again!!)
the grated zest and juice of one fresh lime

combine all ingredients into a large bowl, mix and chill for at least 30 minutes.

So there you have it, some great ideas so "spice up" (pun intended) your meals, get some fresh, in season fruits and veggies in there, and beat the heat!!!

Today's food quote: "So are we going to measure, or are we going to cook?" Frances Mayes "Under the Tuscan Sun"

Today's cooking term: dice: to cut into tiny squares or cubes.

Recommended cooking tool: kitchen scissors, you can use these babies for ANYTHING!! I even snip bacon into tiny pieces to fry up and add into recipes. Just pop them into the dishwasher when you're done with them and they're clean as a whistle!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Heart of My Home

I'm blogging about what I love best, cooking, and the place I love the most, my kitchen. I love my kitchen...I love sitting in the seating area with a good book (often a cookbook), listening to the clock ticking, my new chest freezer's comfortable hum. I'm sorry for those people who have tiny little kitchens that they can barely turn around in (but I could SERIOUSLY use more cupboard space!!). I have a big, lovely kitchen with comfortable chairs, a bar and stools for observing, wine racks, baskets filled with fresh produce...but I wax poetic.

In this blog, I'm going to share my love of all things food with you....share my recipes, my thoughts on cooking and making lovely delicious meals for family and friends, and for helping you to make YOUR kitchen...the heart of your home. If you have something you want to cook and can't find a recipe, let me know. I have a library of over 100 cookbooks. People are often afraid of cooking and I think that's a shame. I've raised my kids to love the kitchen, love cooking, and not be afraid to step out and take a chance...Hey...if the recipe doesn't turn out, we can always order pizza and try again tomorrow!! :)

My cupboard's always open...come take a look.

Today's food quote: "It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato" Lewis Grizzard