“Almost midnight” squash muffins

I don’t usually take the larger summer squash since their flavor and texture is not my favorite, but while I was sick, my share partner selected them for me.  I think he likes being able to stuff them and bake or bbq them.

I used one to make soup but I had one more large yellow squash left to use. Like magic, a recipe appeared in my email last week for a muffin made with grated yellow squash and a little apple sauce.

It’s supposed to be getting hot again, so tonight while it was still cool, I made them. I only had one kind of flour so I didn’t use the varieties of the original recipe. I also used a12 large muffin tin instead of 18, so my baking time was just beyond 24 minutes. I didn’t add the nuts or raisins because I wasn’t craving those.

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The sugar content makes them crispy and caramelized on the top and edges and the centers are super moist. The apple lends a little something extra, but the cinnamon makes for just a yummy, comforting muffin. I’m guessing they’ll be good for breakfast and the next couple of days.

Here’s the link to the recipe:

http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/summer-squash-and-applesauce-muffins/

Ironically, I may now start picking the large squash from now on…

Red French Dressing

Since I was a kid, I have always loved the red salad dressings from the store. Most are labeled “French” but they sometimes have other names. Some are a mellow orange like the Dorothy Lynch my paternal grandmother favored. Some are bright red. My mom even made some from scratch when I was a kid and I was sure she was magic.  I’ve loved them all for their peppery sweetness.

Most of the time, I make my own dressing since it’s just oil, vinegar, mustard and whatever you want to add. It’s fun to experiment with different vinegars. That said, once or twice a year, I get a craving for these tastes of youth. Tonight to make myself feel better about the leftover pizza I was going to eat, I decided to make a salad to complement a bottle of dressing I bought recently.

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We had some lovely lettuce varieties and lemon cucumbers from the farm. To this I added sliced nectarine and some blueberries for a fresh sweetness to counter the vinegar in the dressing. Topped with my beloved “red” dressing and a healthy dose of pepper, I was in childhood/adulthood heaven.

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Yum!

Summer tomatoes!!

IMG_20140723_101343139The best part of summer for me is the tomatoes and I’m thrilled that they’re just starting to appear.  We got some cute lovely smallish tomatoes from our CSA this week and they looked lovely and tasted delicious with some eggs cooked soft with chili flakes, salt and pepper.  Really easy.  Super delicious and visually beautiful.  If we eat with our eyes, I was already satisfied before the first bite!

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We were also given a freebie plant by the CSA earlier this season.  My yard isn’t so great for a garden, so I put it in a pot that probably doesn’t get enough sun.  Still, success.  I had my first tomato yesterday and promptly ate it right after picking it.

Hurrah summer!!

 

The soup of normal life

IMG_20140721_192914266_HDRYesterday was my first day back at work after my week of delirious illness.  I am still struggling with the whole cooking and eating thing, but I know I just have to get back to doing it until if feels normal again.  We’ve had some lovely summer squash and a favorite vegetable, kohlrabi, so I decided to make summer bisque.  IMG_20140721_185710300_HDRThe idea is to get everything to cook in about the same time.  A chopped kohlrabi cooks a bit longer than a potato would which is much longer than summer squash, so I made some strategic decisions.

  • a very small onion, chopped into pretty small pieces
  • 2 green onions, chopped a bit large (normally added at the end, I wanted a few for summer flavor/feel)
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced/pressed
  • 1 bulb of kohlrabi, peeled and then grated (grating ensures it will cook quickly!)
  • 1 large summer squash, chopped

I put all of this into a pan with a bit of olive oil and let it saute for a bit.  To this, I added enough chicken broth just to cover and then herbs/seasoning.PhotoGrid_1406059557026

Sometimes when I make this, I season it with nutmeg which is a nice complement to summer squash.  Because I had a little basil and my thyme is going wild in my garden, I decided to do these summer herbs instead along with salt and pepper.  I added the thyme with the broth since it only needs to cook about 10 minutes.  Once everything is tender, I took it off the heat, pulsed it with my immersion blender, and then added the basil.  It’s already “creamy” from the vegetables, but you could add some cream if you wanted.  I had it as it was with just a little olive oil and more pepper on top.

IMG_20140721_192907417_HDRBeautiful.  Summery.  Normal.  All the things I needed.

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Quick bonus tip:  Sometimes I take soups for lunch but they just don’t feel hearty enough.  My trick is to stir in a tablespoon of couscous into the container before I pack my soup.  If the soup is still warm, it softens the couscous.  Even if the soup is cold, it softens the couscous by lunch the next day.  It gives what might have seemed a little thin a bit of heartiness on days when lunch can feel skimpy.

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Getting back to normal

It’s been a really odd and hard week.  I thought I was getting a cold, but I think it was probably a swollen parotid or salivary gland.  Super painful.  The pain basically radiates from the jaw and captures the ear, throat, and neck causing horrible pain with each swallow.  Eventually fever followed.  I think I lost my mind a few times in the midst of  what I’ll now be calling the “lost week of 2014.”  I usually think I have a high tolerance for pain and discomfort.  Not from this.  A bit over a week later, I still have the swollen node/glands and throat pain but I can eat and drink through it and I’m finally sleeping through the night.

Here’s the weirdest part:  it completely messed up my ideas of food and eating.  Initially, it was just too painful to eat.  I could barely drink, but I knew I had to keep pushing fluids so I would manage and wince at every drop.  When I was feverish, my body wasn’t even hungry so for a couple of days, eating wasn’t anywhere on my radar.  I’d try a piece of toast, but give up.  I tried bananas, but even they seemed to irritating to my poor, raw throat.  So I basically just stopped eating for fear of pain.  Eventually, things started to sound good to me like grapes, so I went to get some, but eating them was hard initially.  But it was like my imagination stopped there.  It was going to be grapes or nothing, so it was tending toward nothing.  Even on the night before I was going back to work, it seemed like too much trouble to go to my kitchen and come up with something to eat, so I ate a bowl of cherries.  And then I freaked out.

I could see how my otherwise sane and healthy mind had settled into a disordered eating place.  Not an eating disorder, but I suppose that could be where things progressed.  I had gotten lazy, sure, while I was sick and I didn’t have a lot of energy.  Weight has been lost, but I have no idea how much.  Most critical, I was lacking something in my normal, mental reserves.  The part of me that is a “foodie,” which means I have to want to eat.  I had gotten out of the habit initially out of fear of pain.  Then out of lack of trying due to fear of pain.  And then just because I don’t eat now.

I went into the kitchen, opened up a can of creamed corn, heated it up in the microwave with some butter, salt and pepper, and ate it.  Happily.  It wasn’t much, but it felt like making a stand for my own mental health.  To snap myself out of my cycle of non-eating.  To be normal again.

It was delicious.

Feeling under the weather

I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I’d like to cut off the left side of my head. My left node is swollen and painful and I think it’s causing pain in my ear, throat and tongue when I swallow. Two doctors think virus which means waiting for health. Or death. Normally a trouper with pain, this thing has turned me into a whiner.

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I finally have a numbing rinse and an antibiotic since I may have been fighting a succession of things over the last few weeks. We’ll see.

Before I went down, I had picked some extra rosemary when I made my salami-fennel sauce. I wanted to make the most amazing thing ever: rosemary honey!!!!!

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It’s a revelation. When I found it on the internet years ago, I went to my yard in the dark of night to get rosemary right away. I always have lots of honey varieties around. It’s one of my favorite things on toast when I’m well. When I’m sick. When I’m happy. When I’m blue.

It works best with a neutral clover honey, but I had some raw honey I got a while ago at Trader Joe’s. You put the honey and cleaned rosemary into a saucepan and heat to just below a boil. You don’t want to overheat honey and kill off its many good properties. When it just starts to get foamy and bubble, take it off the heat and let it steep, like tea, for about 20 minutes. I set a timer because I’m absent minded and might forget about it for hours. Strain out all of the rosemary (leaving it behind invites mold) and use in any way you’d like.

As I’ve been sick and not eager to eat, it has been a little enticement to try.

Good health to all!

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Salami + Fennel = LOVE

IMG_20140711_195816273I am one of those odd sorts who adore fennel. Raw in salads. Roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil, pepper, and parmesan cheese. In anything. On anything. It can be a strong flavor that some people find too strong, too much licorice. Not for me. Love it!

Last week I was gifted with 9 bulbs of fennel. Some or them were on the smallish side and a few were large. I contemplated pickles, but finally decided to make a recipe that I discovered a year or two ago for a pasta sauce made with salami and fennel. It was found doing an internet search for fennel ideas just to try to come up with something new. I’m not sure I really followed the recipe as written even the first time I made it given that it only calls for one bulb of fennel for what felt to me like a lot of salami, but perhaps it’s for someone who likes fennel but doesn’t love it. My variation is more fennel forward.

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In a large-ish dutch oven, I sauté the following until the salami gets a bit crispy:

  • Olive oil (just to get things going.)
  • 4 oz of salami, sliced (the original recipe is 5 oz. The package from my store is 8 oz. and using half just makes the math easier on my end plus there’s always plenty for something else later).
  • Chili pepper flakes (I do to taste. Original recipe calls for a full chili pepper, but I just do flakes to an amount I think I can handle)
  • Crushed fennel seed (original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon. I’m guessing I use more since I just do that by eye as well and it’s just more fennel love)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (I crush mine, but the recipe says sliced. For me, crushing is easier/faster)

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You have to be a bit careful not to burn things, but the fat from the olive oil and salami brings out the flavor of the chilis and the fennel seed. If it starts to brown too much, pour in a little wine – whatever you’re drinking – to cool things down and to deglaze the pan.

To this, I added the fennel. As you’ll see from the photo above, I went far beyond one fennel bulb. I used mostly small ones and left out parts that seemed tough, so I think I used between 4 and 5 bulbs. If I had had the large ones often found at the store, I probably had the equivalent of 2 or 2.5 bulbs. You add the fennel and just cook until it starts to soften and take on some color.

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Next comes the tomatoes.

  • 2-3 cans (14 oz.) tomatoes (recipe calls for 2 cans, but I use 3 given my extra fennel)
  • 2 long-ish sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste just before serving

For me, this was a great opportunity to use some more of the canned tomatoes I put up from last fall. I used two of the stewed tomatoes and one tomato sauce. It brought the pan nearly to the brim.

In the original recipe, Jamie Oliver serves the pasta with a mixture of bread crumbs, olive oil and chopped rosemary. You heat the oil in a pan and add the bread crumbs and chopped rosemary and just “fry” it a bit. It makes for a very flavorful topping to go on top of the pasta at the end. Sometimes I feel like doing this and sometimes I just want to throw a little cheese on top.

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My final variation, then, is to add the rosemary to the sauce. I add 2 healthy sprigs of the herb at the same time I add the tomatoes. It adds a mellow rosemary flavor which is a nice complement to the fennel flavors and the salami. After it simmers about 25 minutes, you fish out the rosemary and serve it over hot spaghetti, fettuccine, or your favorite pasta. Because the fennel is still chunky, I think it eats best with a long pasta that can be twirled on a fork.

If I add the rosemary when cooking, I usually then only use a bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese on top to serve it. I think it would still be good with the bread crumb mixture since it’d be a sharper flavor of rosemary, but I like the ease of putting it in the sauce and let it mellow out as it cooks.

Happy fennel-ing!

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My self indulgent end:  more of the chocolate pudding I made a few days ago…

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Watermelon becomes margarita!

instagram watermelonI was part of a group dinner earlier this week.  Given the heat, I really didn’t want to be in my kitchen, so I took the easy way out and bought a small, seedless watermelon to take to the gathering.  I wasn’t the only person to have this idea which means I came home with some leftover melon.  I figured I’d be more likely to get through it if I juiced some of it for a beverage over the next couple of days.  It still meant I took a fair amount of it in my lunch for “normal” eating.

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I used my smoothie/mini blender to pulverize the watermelon.  I could have left it a bit pulpy, but I did make the effort to strain it through a small hand sieve.  I pushed the liquid through and scraped off the bottom of the sieve to capture all of the yummy goodness.  When I was done, I had about half of a quart jar full of watermelon “juice.”  I put it in the fridge and nearly forgot about it.  This was Tuesday night.

Last night I was getting ready to pour my usual diet soda when I spotted the watermelon juice.  I knew it couldn’t be good for too much longer so I decided to improvise myself a watermelon margarita.

For about a pint of watermelon juice, I added:

  • 1 shot of tequila
  • 1/2 shot of cointreau (orange liqueur)
  • juice of one whole lime
  • 1/2 shot of maple syrup (easier than making simple syrup and dissolves better than agave)

I put the cap back on the jar, gave everything a good shake, and poured it over ice.  I could have salted the rim of the glass, but it didn’t seem important to me to take that step so I skipped it.  It was not too alcohol-y and the watermelon was pretty refreshing at the end of a hot day.

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Too darn hot (except for pudding)!!

It’s too darn hot
I’d like to sup with my baby tonight
and play the pup with my baby tonight
but I ain’t up to my baby tonight
cause it’s too darn hot

It’s too darn hot
It’s too darn hot

~ from the show “Kiss Me Kate” (1948, Cole Porter)

It’s been extra warm by Oregon standards. Certainly too warm to use your oven (I found out the hard way on the 4th of July). Almost too hot to even stand around and cut raw vegetables. It’s that couple of weeks a year where the fragile among us head to cold movie theatres or shopping malls to keep cool.

Chinese foodThis year, I valiantly tried to keep cooking, mostly using the bbq. Still, even for me, there are limits. Growing tired of both my kitchen and what I could produce quickly, I sought refuge in Chinese take out food. It felt like something real and it was a relief not to have to spend more time in the kitchen than it takes to scoop out rice and kung pao chicken.

Sometimes even those who love their kitchens also loathe them a little.

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Once the heat broke, I did get in and make some dark chocolate mocha pudding with soy milk. I still eat butter, cheese, and ice cream and I do like half and half in my iced coffee, but I’ve mostly switched to soy milk for drinking. Once in a while, I get a craving for pudding, but you can’t use any kind of instant mix with soy milk or it doesn’t set up. That’s a bummer when you just want something fast.

I found an almost instant solution a few years ago in the “Everyday Food” magazine that used to be produced by Martha Stewart. Basically you could use any kind of milk (almond, rice, coconut, soy, or even cow!) because the pudding is thickened with cornstarch and 4 egg yolks. It does cook on the stove, but it’s minutes! Just long enough to dissolve everything into the milk, bring it to a boil stirring constantly, and then cooking one minute. It does have to cool which adds a little to the pleasure, but you get a delightful spoon or spatula to lick to tide you over until it’s cold.

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Happily, the recipe is still online: http://www.marthastewart.com/314077/vanilla-or-chocolate-pudding. My variation was to use dark chocolate cocoa powder and to mix in about a tablespoon of espresso powder.

I haven’t been drinking as much soy milk this summer as I usually do in winter, so I have more soy milk to use up. I might try making the vanilla version with chai tea “mix” I have from winter from Trader Joe’s (probably replace part of the sugar since it’s sweetened). Maybe later in the week…