recipes


I recently started making breadsticks on a semi-regular basis. The reason for this is that the first time I made them, I took a couple of shortcuts with the recipe, and ended up with the easiest ever breadsticks that my family absolutely loves. These are easier than buying a tube of “biscuit” dough and popping it open. They’re more stick than bread, not like those fluffy, gross things you get at everyone’s favorite fake Italian restaurant. They’re long, crispy on the outside, and very slightly chewy on the inside. Depending on how fat you make them, of course. We like them about as big around as a toothbrush. I don’t roll them out, so they’re slightly uneven, but the rolling takes sooo much time. Trust me, this way is better. Also, this dough makes fantastic pizza crust.

(You will notice that some of the photos are taken from about 3 1/3 feet above the floor. This is where I could no longer do the one-handed photography, and my wonderful little Calvin came to my rescue.)

Here’s what you do:

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast OR 1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
almost 2 cups cool water

In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the dough hook attached, measure flours, yeast*, and salt. Mix on low for a minute, to incorporate the salt and yeast. With the mixer running, add the water until it forms a ball on the hook. Mix on the second speed for about 4 minutes. If it’s too sticky, and there’s a lot of dough still on the side of the bowl, add flour a tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Mix again at the second speed for about 2 more minutes. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for a while.

I say a while, because the rising is not so crucial here. I’ve let this rise for 1 1/2 hours, and for 3 hours. Once it’s risen, you can put it in the fridge for later. Just take it out about 1/2 hour before you plan on baking. You can also put it in the fridge overnight, which will improve the flavor. If you want, you can punch the dough down and let it rise again, which will also improve the flavor, but it’s not necessary.

About an hour before dinner time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grab a sheet pan and grease it with olive oil.
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Spread the oil until it all over. Set it aside.
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Flour your work surface. Yes, this is the entire work surface in my kitchen. Derek and I were talking last night about how, next time we buy a house, we won’t pick one with a mini kitchen.
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GENTLY loosen the dough from the bowl and dump it onto the floured surface. You don’t want to de-gas the dough, you want all the bubbles.
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With a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough roughly in half.
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Keep one half, and return the other half to the bowl and cover.
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If you are making a lot of breadsticks, you’ll use that other half. You won’t want to make extra for tomorrow, because these don’t keep especially well. The nice thing is that when you want more tomorrow, you can just pull the extra dough out of the fridge, cut it, and bake!

Cut that piece in half again.
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Move one half aside, take the other half, and gently pull the corners so you have a rough rectangle.
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Cut a piece from the long edge, about a finger’s width.
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Pick up the piece from both ends.
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Gently pull each end.
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It should stretch really easily, since you didn’t de-gas it or knead it after it came out of the bowl. When it’s about as long as your pan,
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lay it on the pan, the long way.
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Continue until your pan is full, then brush a little olive oil on each breadstick.
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I like to sprinkle Kosher salt on the breadsticks. Sesame and poppy seeds are also really good.
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Bake them for about 12 minutes, then check them. If they are not golden, bake for a few more minutes. If they are brown, they are maybe a little over done, but certainly not burned! These ones were crispy and yummy!
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You could experiment on how crispy you like them. I like them to be able to stand straight, so you could put them in a vase or something, and to crunch when bitten, but to have a chewy center. If they’re brown like the darker ones above, they will be crispy all through, like a long crouton, but still excellent.

One night when I made these, I realized I only had one cup of all-purpose flour. I substituted 2 cups of bread flour, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, to tenderize the dough, since bread flour has that extra gluten. I think you could also skip the whole wheat flour and use all white, but you might need less water. And if you’re in a high-altitude place, or a desert, you will need more water to make the dough soft enough.

*If you are using dry yeast and you like to proof it first, add it to 1 cup of the water, dissolve, and wait until it bubbles up a little. If you are using instant yeast, you just add it directly to the dry flour. If you’re like me, you use yeast often enough that you only proof it the first time you use it, just to make sure it’s alive, and then you pretty much use up the whole jar in a couple of months, before it has time to die. Also, you always keep it in the fridge or freezer.

Really. I mean it. Don’t laugh. Sometimes you just really want something from your childhood that makes you warm and safe. I won’t call it what everyone else calls it, because I hate that term with the fire of a thousand suns. Yet there are things that really do it.

When we would go to Grandma’s house in Provo when I was little, she would serve up beef stew in those mug-bowls that have a long handle sticking out of them. I always thought she made the best beef stew in the world. A couple of years ago, after I’d been living in my Grandpa’s basement (Grandma died in ’89), he invited me and the fam up for dinner. He spooned up bowls of beef stew with that same aroma that I remember from when I was 8. I was so amazed that Grandpa had learned how to make the stew just like Grandma used to make.

I later found out that it was Grandpa making it all along. Apparently Grandma wasn’t much of a cook, and Grandpa was the resident chef. And Grandpa really likes beef. The two things I can think of that he has cooked for us, on many occasions since then, are roast beef and beef stew.

Grandpa’s beef stew is probably simpler that what most people would make. Since Grandpa can’t tolerate any onions, garlic, or any, and I mean ANY herbs or spices, his stew has beef, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and salt, with the occasional green bean. As a kid, that was all I needed. I didn’t care what was in it, I just knew that it was the best beef stew ever.

This week I’ve had a hankering for beef. This is rare. It’s even rarer that I would go out and purchase a chunk of flesh and actually prepare it, but I did. I wanted to make a roast, to pair with my perfect mashed potatoes, some perfect gravy, and maybe a little salad. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about choosing a cut of cow. I bought a 2 1/2 pound piece of chuck and brought it home. I thought I’d save it for Sunday dinner (isn’t that quaint?). On Sunday, I started getting a little sore in the throat area, and by mid-afternoon, it was clear there would be no roasting going on.

Monday morning, I had the worst sore throat I have ever had, with excruciating pain upon swallowing. Ice cream for breakfast, though! I decided to go ahead with the roast that afternoon, but when I got out my 1000 Best Recipe, it advised against chuck as the roast, but referred me instead to the stew page. I trimmed the meat and cut it into chunks, then went back to the recipe, which said it would take about 2 1/2 hours of stewing. And it was, of course, too late to start it and have it ready in time for dinner at a reasonable hour for children. So I stuck the chunks in the fridge and made some prosciutto pockets. And the village people rejoiced, as they devoured every last morsel.

So today, I was ready to stew. I don’t have one of those fancy enamel dutch ovens that I’ve secretly been coveting these many years. Nor do I have any sort of oven-safe stew pot. I do have a Crock-Pot, though. You should think that’s funny, since I returned all 6 of the slow cookers we got as wedding presents. Because I’m snob enough to eschew any easy-way-out Americana short-cut casserole cream of chicken soup producing novelty. I gave back the bread maker too. I’ve even been known to brag about not knowing how to use a crock pot, because I only do “real cooking.” Yes, aren’t you glad you don’t know me in real life? Anyway, my mom had bought a crock pot, thinking she could find a use for it, but since she’s the older version of me, she couldn’t. She passed it along a couple of years ago, and I’ve decided I’ll use it.

Slow cooker Beef Stew
Total time: 7 hours with changes in temp. If you put all the stuff in the beginning, I’m pretty sure you can just leave it on low for about 8 hours, or high for about 5, and have it done without any fiddling. I just added stuff as I was passing through the kitchen to do the laundry.

1 T oil
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, trimmed of fat and silver skin, and cut into cubes
1/2 C red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
salt and pepper
1 bunch small carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch lengths, halved lengthwise
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3-4 T tomato paste
5 or 6 medium potatoes, cut into large chunks
3 T butter
4-5 T flour

Plug in the slow-cooker and turn it on high. Pour in wine and chicken broth to start warming. Add onion. In a hot skillet, heat the oil and sear the beef chunks in 3 batches, adding to the slow cooker as they get browned. Add bay leaf and thyme. After 1/2 hour or so, turn to low.

After 2 hours or so, add carrots, celery and potatoes and about 2 t kosher salt and a bunch of pepper. Add the tomato paste in blobs, and don’t worry about stirring them in. Make sure the vegetables are barely covered with liquid. Cover and turn back to high for 1/2 hour, then turn back to low.

After another 2 or 3 hours, check the potatoes with a fork. When they’re done, it’s time to thicken the stew. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and whisk for a minute or two. Add hot broth right out of the crock pot to make a gravy. I added about 3 cups of broth, then added a little water, whisking all the while. When it’s thin or thick enough for you, pour it back into the crock pot and stir gently to mix. Check for blobs of tomato paste, and mash them up. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stems, and the onions, unless you like big, slimy onions in your stew. I guess you could chop the onions before you put them in, but I have kids that complain about onions, and the bigger they are, the easier to pick out.

This makes a very meaty stew. If you added more veggies, you could probably feed 20 people on it, instead of 8. I think you’d need another crock pot, though.

I got a half-peck of McIntosh apples from Trader Joe’s last week and I decided it was time to just use up the last of them. But it turned out I only had 2 1/2 pounds left, and the recipe for apple butter in The Joy of Cooking calls for 4 pounds. I improvised with about 3 cups cranberries. It ended up pretty tart, but sort of chutney like. Marvelous. It’s reminiscent of wassail, and it’s such a lovely raspberry color. I had to make some bread today, so I would have something to put my fruit butter on.

Apple Cranberry Butter

2 1/2 pounds peeled, quartered and cored McIntosh apples, or other tart, cooking variety (my mother-in-law’s Jonathans are fantastic, but they’re in Utah and I’m not)
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
3 Cups fresh or frozen cranberries
lots of sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
1/4 t allspice
grated rind of one lemon
juice of one lemon
grated rind of one orange

Cook the apples on medium low in the water and vinegar in a large saucepan. When they fall apart completely, mash them with a potato masher or puree in a blender, depending on your preferred texture. Meanwhile, in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the cranberries until hot and mushy, checking every 30 seconds. Puree in a blender. Add cranberries to apples, along with 1/2 cup of sugar per cup of fruit. I think I used about 2 cups sugar, because I like it tart and not too sweet. Taste it before adding more sugar. Add spices and lemon and orange stuff and cook on low, stirring often, until the mixture sheets from the spoon. This can take hours, so if you must leave the house to pick up your kindergartener from school, just turn off the heat and resume when you get home. Be so careful not to let it burn. Pour it into hot sterilized pint or half pint jars. It will still seem runny when it’s done, but it will thicken up as it cools.

This stuff is really heavenly on whole grain toast. I definitely think it could be used as a chutney or meat sauce… Oh man, this would be fantastic with a pork loin roast. I think I’ll make that tomorrow.

I roasted two little Sugar Pumpkins this afternoon, at the request of Calvin, who is dying to try some pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin. Ever since people started putting up Jack-‘o-Lanterns before Halloween, he’s been begging to cook up a pumpkin. So I went to Trader Joe’s where they were selling Sugar Pumpkins, which are actually meant for eating, not carving. I bought two, because I knew violence would ensue if a pumpkin magically appeared at the behest of one child, and there wasn’t one for the other. And I always like to use the whole beast if I can.

Easy as pie, so they say. I sliced the little (baby-head sized) pumpkins in half from top to bottom, put them on a greased cookie sheet, skin side up, and baked them for an hour at 300 degrees. Then, when they were cooled down, I scooped out the flesh and pureed it with my stick blender. Actually, Derek was in the room and he asked me if I needed him to do the pureeing. I told him I was doing just fine, and he confessed that he thought it looked like fun, so I let him do the pureeing. Tomorrow, I will whip up some pie crust. Tuesday, I’ll make some pie.

As for the seeds, I put them in a big bowl, ran a little bit of water in, swirled them around, and picked out the big chunks of pulp. I ran some more water and they floated above the rest of the pulp, so I could just scoop them out onto a paper towel. Calvin has also been asking for pumpkin seeds, you see.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds

about 2 cups fresh raw pumpkin seeds, washed and patted dry
2 T butter or canola oil
1/4 cup real maple syrup (it would probably work just fine with only 2 tablespoons, but wouldn’t that be sad?)
generous pinch salt
1/8-1/4 t cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter in a large bowl. Add maple syrup, salt, and cayenne and mix well. Stir in pumpkin seeds and mix to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 45-60 minutes, stirring every ten minutes, until golden. The syrup should be dark golden brown and very sticky.

When you take the seeds out of the oven, stir them with a couple of spatulas for about 5 minutes while they cool, breaking up large clumps. Eat immediately. Yummy.

Derek and I ate the entire batch as soon as it was cool enough. I don’t know how Sugar Pumpkin seeds compare to carving pumpkin seeds, except that I was expecting them to be more woody. It seems like I’ve had the seeds in the hull before, and I had to chew and chew those suckers. Well, these ones I made today were not at all like that. In fact, they were so yummy that Zeeb ate a bunch, calling them “Pumpkin chips” and Kiki found a clump that had fallen to the floor and tried to eat it. I can usually get things out of her mouth, like when she eats rocks or marbles, but this time, she would NOT give it up. She had those jaws clamped tight, and kept mooshing her lips so I couldn’t stick my finger in there. It was amazing.

Anyway, if you want a yummy, good-for-you snack (and by that I mean not processed or including unpronounceable ingredients, not low calorie), try these. They’re so easy. I’m gonna make some for appetizers on Thanksgiving.

In a characteristic fit of I-can-do-anything-itis, and after having read this article in the New York Times, I hauled off and ordered 10 pounds of fresh olives a few weeks ago. They arrived a couple of days after we moved into the house, so I stuck them in the fridge to await their fate. Today was the day. I finally bought 12 quart canning jars last night, and 2 pounds of lemons. I got up this morning with that glow of excitement at the start of a new project. I’ve only been thwarted in minor ways, no big set-backs yet.

I washed my olives and put them in the jars with the brine, vinegar, lemons, garlic, and celery. I still need to go get more lemons to make juice to add, and I also need a bunch of hot peppers, which I had forgotten about. Also, I think I need at least one more head of garlic. I’m not totally certain the jars are big enough, though. The recipe says to put 3 1/2 pounds of olives in 2 1-gallon jars, but I only had quart jars. And it seems like if you use gallon jars, you end up with olives only in the bottom half of the jar. But you use a lot more brine that way. I think I’m gonna have to keep an eye on those buggers.

I’m so excited to try my own home-cured olives in 6 months. I love olives. Sometimes I think I should have been born in the Mediterranean, because I love olives, citrus, garlic, and flatbread more that about anything else. I wish I had had some good green olives last night, because I could have used them in our dinner. I had to improvise with black olives and capers, which I’m not sure would really fall into a traditional Moroccan meal. The capers, I mean. But man, was it yummy. So yummy, that for your entertainment, I’m posting the recipe for this Moroccan Lemon Chicken and Almond Rice Pilaf, as well as Roasted Cauliflower, which it the perfect accompaniment to the chicken. It’s a little bit of a cheater menu. I used leftover rice from the night before, and subbed in the wrong olives, but it was still so good.

Moroccan Lemon Chicken

1 T olive oil
1 whole, boneless chicken breast with skin and wings (I used 8 frozen thighs from Trader Joe’s)
1 small onion, sliced thin
3/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t cinnamon
2 t finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 t flour
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1/3 C green olives, pitted and sliced thin (or black olives plus 1 T chopped capers)
1 T honey
1/2 C drained, rinsed canned chickpeas (which I left out, because I had none)
2 T chopped fresh cilantro (also absent, because where do you get fresh cilantro in Ohio in November? I don’t know!)

In a large, heavy saucepan (I don’t use non-stick for stuff like this, because the fresh-ground spices scratch it up, so I use cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Don’t let it smoke. Dry off the rinsed chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken with the skin side down (this is one of those times when you really want the skin still on. It makes this dish taste like actual chicken, and also gives the sauce a nice, velvety texture) until the skin is deep golden brown. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the pan and cook a few minutes until soft. Add spices (if you’re me, double the amount), zest, and flour, and simmer for one minute, stirring. Add broth, olives (and capers), and honey. Add the chicken again and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, uncovered. Stir every so often, and don’t worry about the skin that forms on the sauce, just stir it in. Add the chickpeas, simmer, add salt and pepper to taste. When serving, make sure everyone gets a lot of sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Almond Rice Pilaf

1 t olive oil
1/4 C chopped or slivered almonds
2-3 cups cooked rice (I used long grain brown rice)
small handful of raisins

Heat the olive oil on medium in a skillet (non-stick is good here) and add almonds. Stir and cook until toasted and a tiny bit golden. Add rice and stir, incorporating all the oil and breaking up any chunks. Add raisins and keep stirring until all the rice is hot. Be pretty careful not to burn the rice. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of water to rehydrate the rice. The water steams the rice a little.

Roasted Cauliflower, or Cauliflower Fries, or The Best Cauliflower You’ve Ever Tasted, Even If You Think You Hate Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground caraway
3/4 t salt
pepper

Toss the cauliflower with the oil, then the spices and salt. Again, if you’re me, double the spices. Put the cauliflower on a baking sheet in one layer, and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. You should hear a lot of sizzling. Take it out and turn the cauliflower. It might look a little burned on the bottom, but that’s what you want. Return to the oven and roast another 10 minutes. It should be shriveled, blackened and crispy on the edges, and kind of juicy looking. Let it cool a little before you try it, and then prepare yourself for a new addiction. Keep the kids away, because they will eat it all. And beg for more, even fight over the remaining pieces.

You know when you haven’t been to the market for a while, and you’re running low on vegetables? And low on everything else that could possibly be construed as edible? That happens about once a week here. Earlier this week, I perused the contents of the fridge with an empty head. I couldn’t come up with anything to make for dinner, and I had almost nothing that could be combined with anything else to make a passably edible meal.

Until I noticed the leftover macaroni from the night before. That had been a desperate attempt at getting the boys to eat something without complaining or making any retching noises. I had made plain mezzi rigatoni with butter, salt and pepper, and for the vegetable, cucumbers in vinegar. They ate, they forbore to complain. They even fought over the cucmbers. The next day, the leftover noodles became White Macaroni and Cheese, which was really sort of noodles alfredo, but a little different. I didn’t have any cream, but I did find a can of evaporated milk in the pantry. I melted the butter, tossed in some flour and made a roux, poured in some evap milk and regular milk, some salt, some grated parmesan cheese, and the noodles, and stirred it all until it was hot. The boys totally loved it, especially when I started calling it “White Macaroni and Cheese.” I would have liked it better with some steamed broccoli, green beans, or zucchini, but the boys would make noises. And sometimes I’d rather stab myself in the eyes with toothpicks than listen to the whining.

Fridge Fry #1: White Macaroni and Cheese

1 T butter
1 T flour
1/2-1 cup evaporated milk
1/4-1/2 cup milk
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan, pecorino, swiss, or any cheese or combination of cheeses
salt and pepper
4-6 cups leftover pre-cooked noodles
some sort of vegetables, steamed or sauteed

Later that night, I still had the same problem with the no vegetables. I scrounged around some more, and found the remnants of the frozen Costco spanakopita that Derek and I love, but the boys won’t eat. I decided on a Greek theme, but I somehow couldn’t find any chickpeas. I did have some kidney beans, so I pulled out the remnants of the quinoa that the boys also mysteriously didn’t like last week. A solitary onion, a waning carrot, some leftover tomato paste, and a can of chicken broth? We have the makings of a South American soup. But how to turn it Greek?

I know this is totally lame, since I’m in no way Greek or South American, and hence no expert, but I got out my favorite recipe for stuffed zucchini and made the sauce for that. It has only cinnamon and oregano for seasonings, and I love it so much, so that’s what I put in the soup. It was no standout in the parade of jumbled concoctions my family has been subjected to in the last 7 years, but it wasn’t yucky, and the childrens ate. Zeeb even decided he liked the spanakopita and ate three. I felt cheated.

Fridge Fry #2: Greek-Peruvian Bean and Quinoa soup

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, very small dice
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t oregano
2-3 T tomato paste
1 can chicken broth
1 can kidney beans (or kiddy beans, in my house)
1 cup leftover pre-cooked quinoa (round rice)
water
salt and pepper
maybe some steamed zucchini, if you have it, or some diced and sauteed eggplant

On my mission in the Philippines, I cooked lunch for the people that lived in our house. One of my mission companions would give my dishes names that caused me to giggle. Vegetable Rumble with Tokwa was one. It’s pronounced “Betch-ta-boll Rrrrrahm-boll weeth Toe-kwah. Tokwa is Tofu. Another dish was Eggplant Macaroni with Color. I think the “color” was zucchini and tomatoes.

Compulsive Writer is on a dessert binge, and keeps posting cake recipes, so I have cake on the brain. But no zucchini! What to do?

I’m providing you with my mother’s famous chocolate zucchini cake, because every once in a while, you need you eat your zucchini in the form of dessert. For me, it’s actually hard to accumulate enough zucchini to make this, since I positively love zucchini, especially if it’s little and I can sautée it in a freaking hot pan until it has brown spots, add some salt and pepper, and serve it up with pasta.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Preheat oven to 350°, grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans (I think it’s 2, I’m gonna call my mom to make sure, so check back later, just in case).

In a big bowl, sift together:

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C cocoa
2 2/1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t soda
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon (optional)

In another medium bowl, cream together:

2 C sugar
3/4 C butter or shortening

Beat into the creamed butter and sugar:

3 eggs

Stir in:

1/2 C warm milk
2 t vanilla
2 C zucchini, shredded (packed, generous cups)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix to combine, so there are no little bubbles of flour. Pour equally into pans, and bake for about 1 hour, until they’re done, that is, when a toothpick inserted almost in the middle doesn’t come out gooey.

Frost this cake with chocolate ganache frosting, chocolate buttercream, or chocolate syrup. I prefer ganache, personally.

No, I do not know where to find zucchini eggs. I don’t believe they lay eggs. This is just my favorite way to use up those millions of zucchini and tomatoes in the middle of summer. I love them both, so I try lots of different ways of preparing them. But I’m telling you, this one is just extra good stuff. Even my little boys kept begging for more. The chartreuse color of the eggs may be a little shocking. In fact, if you just look at the eggs without the rice, tomatoes and yogurt, it is not entirely appetizing, but assembled, it looks great. You can also skip the curry powder and the yogurt, and it would be good that way, too.

Curried Zucchini Eggs for 4

2 T olive or canola oil
1 or 2 T good curry powder
1 medium or 2 small (cigar sized) zucchini, grated
4 eggs, beaten
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup plain yogurt
cooked brown rice
salt and pepper

In a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, heat 1 T of the oil on medium-high. Add the curry powder and stir around, then add the grated zucchini. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until the zucchini is soft, but not totally dry. Salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl or plate.

Return the pan to the stove and lower the temperature to medium. Add the other T oil, swirl to coat the pan, and add the beaten eggs. Scramble a little, until beginning to set, then quickly add the zucchini and scramble some more, until the eggs are done. Remove to the same plate as before.

To serve, make a mountain in this order: Rice, zucchini eggs, chopped tomatoes, a dallop of plain yogurt, salt and pepper to taste.

It seems like people don’t really do yummy summer refreshers just for everyday enjoyment. We go on walks in the afternoon, and by the time we get home, we are hot, sweaty, and lethargic. Snacks never sound good, but cold drinks are always desperately needed. Here are 3 of my favorites. These are especially great for serving to non-imbibing friends and children.

Agua de Jamaica

This is the deep red, sweet-tart drink served in Mexican restaurants. I love it so much that I buy a bunch of jamaica blossoms at a time, so I can make it all summer. It’s about as hard to make as a pot of tea.

2 ounces dried jamaica blossoms, aka hibiscus blossoms*
6 cups water
1 1/4 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine jamaica, water, and sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and boil for 2 minutes. Transfer to a glass bowl or pitcher and let cool. Refrigerate overnight. Strain out the blossoms. Taste it, and dilute with a little filtered water if it’s too strong. Serve with ice.

*You can buy Jamaica flowers at Mexican and International markets, and at regular supermarkets in areas with a large Mexican population. They come prepackaged in 2 ounce bags, and are usually near the dried pasilla and ancho chiles, and all those little bags of spices.

Persian Rhubarb drink

This one is made from a syrup, or sherbet in Persian. And now’s  the time, since rhubarb is in season. You can also pick lots of rhubarb, chop it, and freeze for a later date. The frozen rhubarb gets a little mushy, so it’s not ideal for pie or crisp, but great for something like this drink.

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup water
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup fresh lime juice
fresh mint sprigs

In a stainless steel saucepan, bring the rhubarb and water to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Strain, discard the fiber, and return to the pan, with the sugar and lime juice. Simmer on low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer another 1/2 hour, until it looks syrupy. Strain into a glass bowl and cool.

To make the drink, combine about 1 cup syrup with 4 cups ice water, stir, and taste. If it’s too strong, add more water, and add more syrup if you like it stronger. Pour over into ice-filled cups and add a sprig of mint.

Mango Lassi

Who hasn’t gone to an Indian Restaurant and ordered the mango lassi? If you haven’t, something is wrong with you.

1 cup chopped fresh mango, or 1 cup canned mango puree*
1 cup plain yogurt (be sure it is made with no gelatin)**
1 cup milk
sugar
1/8-1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
ice cubes

In a blender, combine all ingredients except ice, starting with just a Tablespoon or so of sugar. Depending on the variety of mango you use, it will need different amounts of sugar. Yellow Manila mangoes are less fibrous and sweeter that the green and red fatter mangoes at the supermarket. I’ve seen similar yellow ones labelled Champagne. If you want a thicker lassi, add more yogurt. For thinner, more milk. When the flavor and consistency are good, throw in a bunch of ice cubes and blend until frothy.

*Mango puree can be found at Indian and International markets. It is always sweetened. It is pretty runny, so you may need less milk.

**If you use low-fat or fat free yogurt, you will probably need more sugar to offset the tartness of the yogurt.

Calvin went shopping with me a couple months or so ago, and at the health food store, spied the goat cheese in it’s tiny, round package. He asked what it was, and proceeded to beg for some the rest of the shopping trip. I felt sure in my heart that he would not like goat cheese, and I didn’t really have any good ideas of how to use it if no-one in the family liked it. I have had a dessert of goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and honey, but I don’t really make dessert that often, so it seemed like too much of a burden to buy the dang cheese.

Well Calvin didn’t let up. He asked for chèvre every day. He reminded me, any time I went to the store, that he really wanted some goat cheese. Sometimes, he’d forget what it was called, and he’d ask me for “that stuff that’s white, and round?” I took him on another shopping trip to Costco about a month ago. In the cheese aisle, he asked what all the different cheeses were. This is a child who loves a good cheese. Among his favorites is aged Gouda. I don’t buy it because it’s so freaking expensive, but if we ever do have it, he wants it. Anyway, he spied the 1 pound log of chèvre, and commenced with the begging.

I decided to humor him, because I didn’t want to drive to the health food store for one little thing. We bought the cheese. We also bought the 3-pack of Boursin garlic-herb cheese, as a backup. We took them home, and the boys, including the Derek, devoured on of the Boursins, but I was reluctant to break out the chèvre.

Then, about 3 weeks ago, I went to dinner with some lovely girls, and I ordered the special salad. Arugula, strawberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese, with vinaigrette. It was a decent combination. So I came home with goat cheese on the brain.

For the next few days, I experimented with our salads, using baby spinach and arugula stolen from a neighbor’s garden, toasted pine nuts, and dried cranberries, since I’m unwilling to purchase those baseball sized, white-cored “strawberries” they sell at the supermarkets around here, and balsamic vinegar.

When we spent the weekend with Derek’s parents, I made them a couple variations of the salad, which were eagerly devoured, in spite of them being pre-dressed. I personally prefer salads as an ensemble, with the dressing being a main ingredient. And I cannot abide the dressings that come in a bottle, so I always make my own. But Derek’s parents didn’t have any goat cheese, so I went to the Costco around the corner from their house and picked up a log, figuring I’d leave it there for them to deal with. Except they didn’t want it.

So with my 2 logs of goat cheese, I resolved to find delicious ways of consuming them before the dreaded expiration. (The expiration of a cheese is where, with one last dying gasp, the cheese heaves itself onto it’s haunches, staggers, and collapses into a sweaty, smelly heap.) So I give you two salads and a spread. Do not be afraid of the log. Go buy yourself one, and discover the beauty of a mellow, slightly tart, slightly sweet, soft cheese.

Salad with Strawberries and Goat Cheese

1 bunch arugula
6-8 ounces tender baby spinach
mixed greens
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 T balsamic vinegar
a handful of fresh strawberries, sliced, or a handful of dried cranberries
3 T toasted pine nuts
1-2 ounces goat cheese, in small pieces

Rinse and spin the arugula and spinach, and place in a salad bowl with the mixed greens to fill the bowl. Add the oil and the vinegar, and gently massage the leaves until mixed and coated with dressing. Add the remaining ingredients. I like to put the small stuff on top, instead of tossing it. I hate it when you get just a bunch of lettuce, and all the nuts and fruity things fall through to the bottom.

Salad with Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese

10 ounces mixed salad greens
1/4 cup chopped dried pears*
1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
2 ounces goat cheese
1 1/2 T hazelnut oil
1 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
1 t Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

In a jar or small cup, mix the oils, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Place the greens in a salad bowl and pour the dressing over. Massage to coat. Add the nuts, pears, and cheese.

*My dried pears are extremely leathery. I think I dried them about a day too long. So I put them in a small bowl with water to cover, then microwave them for one minute. They get soft enough to chop without giving me carpal tunnel syndrome, and are just slightly juicy, but not hydrated. You only need to do this if the pears are hard. If they’re soft, like raisins, just chop them without the soak. (Then I use the pear water to mix the baby food for Kiki.)

Goat Cheese Spread

4 ounces goat cheese
2-4 T Trader Joe’s India Relish, or some other spicy chutney
3 T currants

Mix all in a bowl. This stuff is great on crackers. I had something like this once at Trader Joe’s, when they were giving out samples. I bought 5 jars of the India Relish right then, because I liked it so much. I guess if you don’t have goat cheese, you could do it with cream cheese, but it wouldn’t have that tang.

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