Recipe of the Week

Jalapeño Cilantro Hummus!

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I’ve been on a huge hummus kick.  My go-to lunch of late has been a tortilla slathered  with hummus and topped with roasted red peppers (from the jar) and lot of greens.  I realized recently that the tub of “Garlic Lovers” hummus I had been buying isn’t organic and I decided to try a new brand.  I found this at Whole Foods:

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I’d been specifically looking for a jalapeño/cilantro flavor so I decided to give this a try.  Turns out this was way too spicy for me.  Between that and the fact that these eight ounces cost over six dollars (!) I decided it was finally time to make my own hummus.  I picked a recipe from the Hungry Healthy Girl blog.  This isn’t a vegan blog but there is a nice collection of vegan recipes. You can link to this hummus recipe here.

These are all the ingredients you need:
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To make the hummus you just process the ingredients for a minute or two and it’s done.  Doesn’t get much easier than that!  For this recipe I took out all the seeds and ribs in the jalapeños.  The hummus is slightly spicy but the heat doesn’t overpower the cilantro, lemon and garlic.  It’s a good balance for me, but you can also easily play around with the ingredients to suit your taste.

I’m hooked.  I’m done.  Homemade hummus all the way…

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Out Those Soup Bowls!

When I moved to Arizona from the east coast over twelve years ago many people asked me if I missed the “seasons”.  Back then my defensive self might have said, “you mean the frigid, icy endless winter?  Or the sticky humid summer?”  But the truth is I don’t miss the seasons because we actually do have seasons although they are different than east coast seasons.  And right now we are entering our version of “fall/winter”.  That means that it’s cool in the early morning (42 degrees right now) and likely to be sunny and in the low seventies later on.  Perfect for late morning hikes, jeans and sweaters and this for dinner:

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This mushroom buckwheat soup was actually dinner on Friday, Sunday and Monday and I wouldn’t mind having it again tonight but we finally finished it.  This delicious variation of mushroom barley soup is gluten-free which is why I decided to give it a try.  The recipe is here.  This was the first time I made a dish with these:

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In fact I’m pretty sure that the last time I had buckwheat or the more familiar “kasha” it was in frozen Manischewitz kasha varnishkes (kasha and bow tie pasta).  But as soon as I added the groats to the bubbling mushroom broth and sautéed veggies the strong smell of kasha permeated the house.  I like that smell, but if it’s not your bag (and you’re not gluten-free) you can make the traditional version with barley.

This soup has a great layering of flavors and some unexpected ingredients like the juice of a lemon and fennel seeds.  For our soup I used a large onion instead of leeks.  I also recommend using salt liberally and adding lots of freshly ground black pepper. Like with many soups, the flavor and texture of this soup got even better as we worked our way through the pot over the four days.  I’m sure it would also freeze really well (Manischewitz has been doing it for years!)

So I’m now officially on the hunt for more hearty vegan soup recipes, and I have no time to lose because here in the desert winter doesn’t last very long.

Oh, and by the way, I do kind of miss that bit about the leaves changing 🙂

Vegan “Crab Cakes”

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This is my only photo of last night’s dinner–vegan “Old Bay Crab Cakes”.  While I forgot to take pictures along the way, I learned about some new ingredients that I thought were worth talking about.  This recipe is another from my “The Conscious Cook” book, but it is also online here.  As you can probably figure out, this recipe uses a mix of seasonings including the Old Bay seasoning in the title to flavor tofu-based cakes that conjure/mimic/taste like? the real thing.

For this dish I had to do some exploring at Whole Foods.  Along with picking up a tin of the Old Bay seasoning I needed to find Nori (seaweed) sheets and nutritional yeast flakes.  If you’re a sushi eater or maker you know about the seaweed.  It comes in a pack like this:

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The recipe calls for toasting it lightly (holding it with tongs) over a gas flame.  It turns from black to green almost instantly and gives off an ocean “fishy” smell.  After it’s toasted you break it up and pulverize it into a powder in a spice grinder. Basically, it’s about creating this “essence of fish” spice.  Pretty clever if you ask me. The yeast flakes are sold in bulk and look like this:

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This is a fascinating and very important ingredient in vegan cooking, both nutritionally (lots of  B-12) and as a binder type thing.  I’ve just begun exploring its many uses.  It is not “live” like the yeast you use to make bread but it smells very aromatically/pungently? yeasty.  I have a very good sense of smell and I could smell that yeasty odor in my car with the yeast bagged and tied and in the trunk area.  In this dish I think it was acting like a binder.

I made these cakes by sautéing some diced carrots, onions and garlic and processing it together with tofu, yeast, cornstarch and lots of spices.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the added salt by half since the Old Bay has plenty of salt. After refrigerating the mixture we (David was home by now) formed them into patties, coated them with soy milk and rolled them in a panko/Old Bay blend.  Technically these are supposed to be sautéed rather than fried, but we got a little over-zealous with the oil.  Not the worst thing actually.  We ended up serving them with a wasabi mayo (not vegan) that we happened to have in the fridge and the combination was quite good.  The texture was a little softer in the center than I’d like but I think a little less processing would address that nicely.

Here’s a look at the center of a cake the next day (slated for my lunch):

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These are really yummy, and I am totally amused and, frankly, astonished at how much they remind me of crab cakes.  I had no idea something like this was possible.  Live and learn and learn and learn!

 

 

Back to Earth-Frittata Fail

Well, wasn’t I just all full of myself after my last two sublimely delicious vegetarian dinners!   With the aroma of a Middle Eastern snack shack still lingering in the house I made plans for tonight’s dinner entree–a healthy and hearty frittata.  Now the house smells a bit like burnt egg.  Yup.  Not good.

I’ve only made one other frittata in my life, a Barefoot Contessa roasted vegetable one that overwhelmed my taste buds with the intense flavor of the roasted veggies.  So this time around I chose a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Hers was pretty basic, with potatoes, broccolini (we used kale), mushrooms, onions, and parmesan cheese inside and melted on top.  The up front prep was pretty easy.  First simmer the potatoes in vegetable broth until tender:

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I got into trouble pretty soon after I took this photo.  The potatoes were taking their time softening up, so I covered the pan, stepped away and realized they were sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.  After some scraping around, I added some olive oil and the rest of the veggies:

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Once these cooked down a bit, I added the egg and parmesan mixture:

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At this point the recipe says to lower the heat, cover the dish and let it set up.  As a note, this recipe cooks the frittata almost entirely on the stove rather than in the oven.  Once it’s almost set you sprinkle it with more parmesan cheese and put it under the broiler to brown up and finish setting.  Well, even with the heat down low we started smelling the bottom burning before the top was set.  So I paced around still waiting for it to set up because the thought of undercooked eggs…well I just can’t do it.  Finally we got it under the broiler and it was done:

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The brown on top is the melted parmesan-that part wasn’t burnt. I have to say it looked great and very much like the one from Smitten Kitchen.  Here’s a close-up of a slice:

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I’ll spare you a photo of the burnt underside (Ok, I  didn’t actually run for the camera at that point).

We ate this with less than our normal enthusiasm and murmured comments to each other about the ways to make it better, other than not burning it, of course.  I concluded my comments with a declaration that “I don’t think I like eggs for dinner”.  David didn’t look too excited about working his way through these leftovers, and that’s the true test of a recipe in our house.  If David, who is endlessly inventive with leftovers can’t conjure up a way to make a dish work the next day, out it goes.  Bye bye frittata.

Obviously my frittata technique failed me here.  And as I left the dinner table feeling unsatisfied and headed over to the still unfinished Linzer Torte for some sweet relief (eating just a few feelings),  I reminded myself that this was just a lousy meal, nothing more, nothing less.  It can be very hard for me to keep these kinds of experiences in perspective, and I still struggle to not get too attached to outcomes.  Since that’s the case, I suppose the universe will send more of these experiences my way until I figure it out,  if not in the kitchen, then in the sewing room or in the garden or wherever.  Well,  bring it on…

 

 

Football and Falafel

So I ended my last post feeling very excited about the Arizona Cardinals and tonight’s vegetarian dinner. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed on either front.

The Cardinals pulled out a close one, and we even stayed up past our usual nine o’clock bedtime to see it all.  Football season is just its own special kind of terrific.  By the end of the summer I’m crazily anticipating the opening kick-off.  I imagine Sunday after Sunday of thrills and excitement.  Sometimes it works out that way, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But the hope is ever-present.

Entering a new world of cooking and eating also adds some fun and spice (ok, there’s a pun) to my life.  Again, anticipation reigns supreme.  At least when it comes to cooking, I have some real control (as opposed to the jumping around I do in front of the TV).  I’m sure that at times this new experience will meet my expectations and at other times it won’t.  But today anyway, we had a great big score.  And here it is:

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Oh, oh, oh.  Falafel perfection.  This from-scratch version easily rivaled and probably surpassed any falafel I have ever eaten.  And I’m happy to give a big shout out to Tori (who I don’t know!) and her blog for providing me with a most wonderful recipe.  I really wasn’t sure that I had the chops for this one but it’s actually pretty easy.   Luckily as I was celebrating the Cardinals win, I remembered to pop the dry garbanzo beans in a bowl of water to soak overnight.  I’ve never done this before and I’ve not traditionally been a big bean eater.  I think that’s about to change.

After rinsing and draining the beans I popped them in the food processor along with  garlic, onion, parsley, flour (I used gluten-free),cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne:

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I processed  until the mixture was a bit crumbly but not yet like a paste:

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The mixture went into the fridge for a few hours.  While it was in there I also made Tori’s tahini, a mixture of sesame paste, lemon juice, more garlic, water and parsley.  This was also processed until it had a very creamy consistency.  Here’s how ours turned out:

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It is absolutely delicious.  After that there was nothing much else to do but roll ’em up and fry ’em up:

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Sous chef David was home by this time so he manned the “deep fryer”.  We fried these in grapeseed oil (the recipe recommendation)–not the usual color!  We also used our candy/deep fry thermometer for the first time, and what a difference that made.  We didn’t put anything in the oil until it reached 375 degrees, and we tried to maintain the temperature throughout.  As a result, the falafel were crispy on the outside and cooked through inside.  I chose to serve them atop a Greek salad rather than in pita (haven’t found gluten-free pita yet).  Frankly the falafel balls were so filling, the meal didn’t really need anything else.  Here’s a  close-up of a delicious bite:

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Yum.  While this was pretty labor-intensive for a weekday meal, we have plenty of leftovers.  And compared to the Amy’s Organic veggie burger I had for lunch today, a falafel and tahini with veggies on a gluten-free tortilla sounds like a big improvement.  I guess no matter what you’re eating it usually tastes better when you make it yourself.

So here we go…

Going Veg

David and I have been dancing around the idea of trying out a vegetarian diet for some time now.  A while back David watched a documentary called “Vegucated”.  You can read about the movie here.  While we “knew” on some level that the environmental impact of the world’s love affair with meat was negatively impactful, after David watched this movie we had a bit of discussion about the way our meat-based diet was contributing to the problem.  I refused to watch the movie at the time, probably because I knew I might have to rethink not only our diet but that evening’s dinner, which I believe was ribeye steak.

In truth, we have really cleaned up our diets quite a bit.  We eat almost entirely organic food and only a small amount of animal protein.  Admittedly our reason for doing this has been more health-based.  Neither of us wants to eat genetically engineered or processed food if we can help it.  Beyond that though, we believe that good physical health has more to do with mind-body awareness than any one specific diet.  So our reason for finally deciding to give a vegetarian diet a try is really driven by a commitment to walking the walk about the environment.

Our plan (for now) is to eat a vegetarian diet with no animal-based protein for one month.  I’m still a little on the fence about fish, especially when we travel, visit friends or go out to dinner.  I don’t want to compromise my social life or fun times with my friends and kids because of an overly restrictive diet.  I  guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

So, it was time to do what I always do…read, read and plan.  I know that a vegetarian diet can be delicious, but I also believe that learning how to cook these dishes well will help me stay enthusiastic and satisfied. And that brings me to tonight’s dinner:

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I know.  You want to be a vegetarian too!

This is a tofu and veggie stir-fry and the recipe is here.  This dish will make you (ok, me) forget meat.  It is that good.  I like tofu (especially sesame tofu from Whole Foods) but I’ve never been able to figure out how to create the firm edges and chewy texture at home.  This recipe explains how to do it. The key is to first extract all the liquid from the block of tofu by applying some pressure for a while, and then slice and bake it for 30-35 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Here’s ours just out of the oven:

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That looks more appealing already, no?  The green beans, diced red pepper and tofu get a good stir-fry in some toasted sesame oil:

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The sauce is a combination of soy sauce, grated fresh ginger, honey, brown sugar and corn starch to thicken things up.  Once the veggies were softened I added the sauce which instantly stuck to the bottom of the pan and virtually dissolved.  Oops.  Not sure what happened there but I just added a bit of water to loosen things up and that seemed to do the trick.  I also added about 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes for a little kick.  Yes, I can improvise!

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We served it up over some fluffy brown basmati rice (which I got right for a change) and settled in front of the TV to watch football.  The dish was more successful than the Giants.  Oh well.

Next up, the Arizona Cardinals and some falafel.  I am optimistic about both.

 

Better Than “Good”

Every so often I reread my own blog posts, both because I can’t believe that I’ve actually written so many and also to look at my own development as a blogger.   I write about things that have a lot of emotional charge for me, and I see that my language reflects that.  My posts are peppered with descriptive language–words like “gorgeous, stunning, spectacular, disaster, mess, epic fail”, etc.

I love words, and part of the fun of writing is making the words sing as well as accurately convey how I feel.  Consequently, words like “good, okay, fine” don’t often find their way into my posts.   I think we can all agree that it’s not particularly interesting to read language that conveys so little.  That being said, our lives are chock-full of moments and experiences that might not qualify as “blog-worthy”.  As I pick and choose what to write about I naturally gravitate to the highlights.  Today’s post, however, is an homage to the other stuff -the stuff (see how nondescript I can be?) that doesn’t usually make the cut.

What actually inspired this post was last night’s dessert…

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which was….good.

This is an Italian Shortbread Jam Tart (recipe here).  This was stunningly easy to prepare (I’ll get the superlatives in there somehow) with a simple shortbread dough:

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Any jam can be smeared onto the dough.  I used the apricot preserves you see in the photo.   Then the remainder of the dough is crumbled onto the top, and sliced almonds (no toasting or anything) are sprinkled across the entire top and it’s ready for baking:

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A half hour start to finish (plus baking time).  And here’s a slice on the plate:

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Hmmmm.  Never mind how the tart looks (pretty delectable, actually)  I’m noticing that the photograph which is just “okay” because I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that pesky shadow.

This tart was really more like an almond  shortbread cookie, although it was slightly overcooked which gave the entire consistency more crunch than I think was intended.  And now that I’m reliving the initial bite, it was pretty melt-in-your-mouth buttery.  A little more jam in the middle would probably have elevated it quite a bit

As I’m writing this post, I’m realizing that this simple tart was really quite a bit better than “good”(and the piece I’m munching on now confirms this). I’m undoubtedly impacted by my own journey into cooking and baking which has moved me (and my palate) into more sophisticated territory.  But what I think is probably more true is that I hadn’t been fully present with the experience of sitting down to enjoy this dessert last night.  In fact, I remember feeling preoccupied by some discussion David and I were having over dinner.  Did I even really taste this?  Could I savor it at that moment?  I think not.  And as a result, I might have tossed a recipe that is not only tasty but very useful in my repertoire for its ease of preparation.

So maybe what I’m talking about here is more about my level of engagement with the okay/fine/good moments rather than the moments or experiences themselves.  As this post seems to suggest, what might make something “blog-worthy” is less the thing itself and more about how present I am.   And that begs the question, are there really any ho-hum moments if we are truly present?

I think not.

Ratatouille- Ooh La La!

So it’s official. The most expedient way to use those delicious, yet endless summer garden veggies is to make ratatouille.

Once again we were sitting on bags of eggplants and two huge zucchini (I think that may actually be the end of them) so I went online and searched for what looked like a good recipe.  We knew we wanted a rustic, slow-cooking version rather than the “slice and roast” type with the veggies thinly sliced and artfully arranged like in the “Ratatouille” movie. I found this, a recipe created by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame.  It looked simple enough so off I went to Whole Foods to rustle up the rest of the ingredients.  Here’s what went into the dish:

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Except for some salting of the eggplant to coax out the bitterness and lots of slicing and dicing the prep was pretty easy.  Sous-chef David was available yesterday so as I got busy sautéing the eggplant (step 1):

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he prepped the rest of the ingredients (and artfully arranged them and took a picture):

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We doubled this recipe which worked out fine but it made the cook time much longer because so many more veggies needed to cook down.  Plus we needed to add more salt and chili flakes for flavor. Here are these veggies (minus the addition of the eggplant) at the beginning of cooking:

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This recipe calls for using a “basil bouquet”  (you can see it prepped above).  It’s just a bunch of basil tied with kitchen twine and left to infuse into the dish.  When the vegetables are soft and the dish is ready you give the bouquet a final squeeze and remove it.  More fresh basil is chopped and added to the dish just before serving.  After lots of patient simmering and stirring here’s our ratatouille:

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This was so good.  The vegetables, even after all that cooking retained their shape and texture.  The piles of onions added wonderful sweetness and the chili flakes just a hint of heat.  We went through plenty of this at dinner and still have lots left to enjoy this week.  A little melted fresh mozzarella on top would work for me!  This recipe is a keeper.

The Hundred-Food Journey

On another note, David and I went to see “The Hundred-Foot Journey” the other night.   From the preview, the movie looked to be a sweet story with lots of food porn and Helen Mirren doing her thing.  What could be bad?  We thoroughly enjoyed it because it was a sweet story (rated PG) with lots of food porn and Helen Mirren doing her thing.  I’m all for a grown up fairy tale with characters who are not created on a computer.  As a nice change from the endless summer “blockbusters” and sequels I recommend it.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone!

 

 

Is Bigger Better?

OK, let’s face it.  Anyone who has grown zucchini has, at some point, gone a little bit off-color.  After all, look at this:

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Our zucchini plant (singular) has had a pretty impressive late season surge.  Once we pulled out all the dead-for-the-season other plants this one just took over, slowly spreading over our entire raised bed.  Check it out:

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And our happy plant has produced some pretty large zucchini.  Luckily there are many recipes out there (some of which I’ve already blogged about) for playing around with it.  Last night for dinner this:

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became this:

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This stunningly simple sauté has just three ingredients–matchstick-cut zucchini, slivered almonds and olive oil.  After a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the warmed-through dish you’ve got a great side for any protein.  It’s simply delicious. We matched ours with pork tenderloin and some quinoa salad.  The recipe is an oldie but goodie from Smitten Kitchen and you can read all about it here.

Today I used Mr. Sumo Zucchini (from the photo up top) for two  zucchini breads.  They just came out of the oven:

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I used this recipe and added pecans and raisins because that was what I had on hand.  I also subbed in my usual gluten-free Cup 4 Cup.  I’m dying to cut myself a slice, but I’d better let them cool down first.  If they taste half as good as my kitchen smells right now we’ve got a winner.

So is bigger better?  Who knows.  I’m pretty sure they’re both delicious, but then again it really does depend on what you’re in the mood for 🙂

Friends With Benefits

No, not those benefits. These benefits:

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Our friends, Carol and Dave, are experienced gardeners, and they had such a bountiful harvest this year that they offered to give us some of their veggies.  Yes, and thank you! You can bet that we spent part of our evening out to dinner with them last weekend taking mental notes about how they did it.  Wow. We were so impressed and very grateful, and we were determined to use each and every vegetable.

I thought it would be fun to document how we made good use of all this. So this will be a longish post that covers several days and cooking sessions.  We had a big head of kale, two small butternut squash, seven eggplants, and a huge bunch of basil.  Plus there was a fun Santorini zucchini which was completely new to me.  Here’s a better shot of that:

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So here’s what we made…

 Caprese Salad – Dish #1

Jeff  joined us for dinner last Saturday night, and we had planned on making a Caprese salad using the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that are in the stores right now.  We figured we could use some of the wonderfully aromatic basil to top the dish. Here it is all assembled and ready for dinner:

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This  salad is simply heirloom tomatoes sliced and topped with fresh mozzarella, our C & D basil (chiffonade), salt, fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I’m not actually a tomato fan but these heirlooms are visually hard to resist. Check out the colors and shapes underneath the cheese:

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So good.  And no leftovers.

Butternut Squash Soup -Dish #2

David knew what he wanted to do with the butternut squash because this soup is a favorite recipe of his.  And since we were going to Dave and Carol’s for nosh and a movie last Sunday night it was a good time to whip it up.  I did neither the cooking nor photography for this one since I was on the treadmill working off Saturday night’s blueberry pie.  I think David did a great job standing in. Here’s the lovely squash all peeled and chopped and ready for the pot:

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After sautéing some onion and garlic in a saucepan,  David added the squash, chopped apple, vegetable broth, and dried thyme.  Here’s the  pot simmering away:

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As everything softened up he add some chopped jalapeño (no seeds), cinnamon and a pinch of salt.  After some heavy pulverization in our Vitamix, voila!

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Silky smooth squash soup with a little bit of sweet and a little bit of heat.  It’s delicious and Carol and Dave loved it too.  Next time, though, a sprinkle of parsley or some pine nuts on top?

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde- Dish #3

For this dish we used the Santorini zucchini, a yellow squash and this zucchini from our garden:

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It was such a coincidence that Smitten Kitchen posted the perfect recipe just as I was trying to figure out what to do with the zucchini.  I considered a zucchini bread but really wanted to showcase the veggies.  Her recipe for Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde is here and I followed it pretty much as written.  I did substitute a mild red onion for the shallots because Whole Foods didn’t have any shallots and I can only schlep around so much in the Tucson summer heat.

This recipe is all about adding flavor, flavor, flavor to the delicate (i.e. kind of flavorless) squash.  That is done by mixing in a salsa verde along with grated gruyere cheese, shallots/onion and brown butter coated bread crumbs.  It was my first time making salsa verde which is a combination of fresh herbs, anchovies, capers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil that are chopped up together in the food processor.  The vibrant green color is beautiful.  Here’s a look at my leftover salsa verde:

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And here’s a look at the assembled dish before baking…

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and after:

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Ooh, this was good.  I think the breadcrumb to zucchini ratio was a little off because I had a hard time cutting and slicing the Santorini zucchini.  I used some of it but probably not as much as the recipe needed.  Luckily brown butter breadcrumbs are one of those “can’t have too much of ” items.  An excellent place to park all that summer squash.

And last but not least we made:

Eggplant Parmigiana – Dish #4

While there are lots of light and healthy eggplant recipes out there, we knew we wanted to go with a classic eggplant parmigiana, and my usual sources weren’t any help.  Luckily we found a recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli of Food Network online which came with nothing but rave reviews.  Check out the recipe here.   A bit labor intensive but I had my sous-chef/husband ready to assist.  This recipe uses a from-scratch sauce which is worth it.  I tracked down those San Marzano canned plum tomatoes at Whole Foods and it made a difference.  Plus gobs of softened onion and garlic.  Really, how bad can it be? Here’s  a look:

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David cut up all seven of our little eggplants, dipped, coated (gluten free breadcrumbs) and fried them.  And here they are in their golden loveliness awaiting entry into the casserole:

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Admittedly we did a bit of “tasting” of the eggplant with a little tomato sauce dip.  Couldn’t resist!

The layering included the usual mozzarella:

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And along with the grated parmesan and torn basil, this recipe uses lots of grated provolone :

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In our excitement to get this dish in the oven, I forgot to take a “before”shot of the dish but here’s the after:

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Oh my.  It was as decadent and flavorful as it looks.

Wow!  We did it.  And I think we did our friends proud.  We used most of the veggies and tried out some terrific recipes along the way.  The kale, by the way, went with David to work for lunch everyday.  We ended up throwing away some of the basil because we couldn’t use it up fast enough.  Next time we’ll make some pesto and freeze it.

Even if you don’t have any friends with benefits/bumper crops I recommend checking out the farmers markets this summer and using what’s fresh and available to try out some new recipes, eat well and have a lot of fun.  David and I are determined to expand and improve our garden this fall and if we are so lucky to have more than we can eat ourselves we’ll be sure to let you know.