Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Random Produce

Just a few farmer's market photos. I'll be back to cooking soon...still trying to use up freezer contents.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spicy Roasted Corn Soup

Make this. Now.

Spicy Roasted Corn Soup

5 ears super sweet local corn
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tsp. Sriricha hot sauce (or a couple of hot chiles)
Juice from half a lime
1/2 cup milk

Shuck and grill the corn until starting to char. An alternate method is to cut the kernels off and then pan-fry on high heat until they start to caramelize (that's what I did). Put 2/3 of the corn kernels, the cilantro and broth in a blender and blend until smooth. In another pot, saute the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Add the remaining corn, blended corn mixture, lime juice and hot sauce (or chile). Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the milk and seasonings. Stir and serve.

On a budget? Make some corn soup! With prices around 4 ears for a buck, this is a cost efficient way to eat gourmet. Complete the meal with some Jiffy cornbread.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Horta me Avga

Since finding an issue of Saveur deep in the recesses of my nightstand, I have decided to test out a few more recipes from it. I thought this would be a perfect lunch on a warm day.

Horta me Avga is a casual dish of home cooks in Cyprus and is suited for the country's hot climate. It is basically sauteed greens with egg and lemon. Although the dish is simple, the flavors are vibrant and the lemon juice gives it a wonderful zing. This would be perfect alongside some crostini or as a side dish to grilled meat. I used less oil and eggs than the orginal recipe to cut down on calories.

Horta me Avga (Sauteed Greens with Egg & Lemon)
(adapted from Saveur, May 2008)

2 T. olive oil
1 bunch green onions
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups packed greens (spinach, arugula, etc)
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs (2 whole and 2 whites)
3 T. chopped parsley
juice of half of a lemon
freshly ground pepper

Crack eggs into a bowl and set aside. Slice the green onions once lengthwise and then into half inch slices crosswise. Saute them in oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes or until starting to turn brown. Add garlc, greens and salt. Saute another minute, until greens are wilted. Add the eggs and parsley and quickly stir to break up the yolks. Let sit for about 30 seconds, then stir again and let cook until eggs are done. Remove from heat and put in a serving bowl. Squeeze a good amount of lemon over the top and season with pepper.
It's not pretty, but sure is tasty. If you like a leafy omelet, you will enjoy this.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tomatoes Stuffed with Brown Rice and Feta

I'm doing my best to use up everything we left have in the fridge and freezer so I can start fresh. Today I had about a cup of leftover brown rice and several Roma tomatoes, which I thought would make a great side dish to our grilled chicken.

You too can spruce up leftovers and make them seem like a dish that you planned all along. It takes having some good basics to work with, but really you can stuff anything - tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms. The filling can be any combo of meat, veggies, cheese, herbs and starch...whatever you have laying around. Garlic and onions are mandatory for me.

The inspiration for this dish came from an article in Saveur magazine (May 2008) on brown rice and clearly leaning towards Greek flavorings.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Brown Rice and Feta

6 Roma tomatoes

1 cup brown basmati rice

1/4 cup chopped fresh spinach

1/4 cup crumbled feta

2 T. finely chopped red onion

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp. lemon juice

salt/pepper to taste

1 -2 tsp. olive oil

Spray the inside of a cooking dish with Pam. With a serrated knife, cut off the top of each tomato and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Cut off a tiny part of the bottom of each tomato so it will stand up in the dish. Sprinkle the insides with a little salt.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Stir together the rest of the ingredients (except oil). Stuff the mixture inside each tomato, mounding the tops slightly. Drizzle olive oil over the tops and bake for about 25 minutes.

This is a healthy side dish that will give your plate an extra WOW factor. Add some parsley and mint, if you have it!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Southern Fried Okra

Technically, I am not a Southern gal, but I am guilty by association. My parents met in Oklahoma and moved to California shortly after getting married. Every other summer we would make our way back to Tulsa, and often driving as far as Alabama to visit relatives. It was there I learned the beauty of southern food.....mac n' cheese, fried green tomatoes, baked beans, fried okra and hush puppies.

My dad would sometimes fry up some okra...it seemed to be his favorite and I just loved those browned crispy morsels. So flash forward about a hundred years (well okay, 20) and I find myself thinking about frying me up some okra after finding a batch at the farmer's market. While I know this is not good for you, (about as healthy as a french fry) an occasional foray into my deep South ancestry serves to nourish my soul.

Slice the okra. Don't freak out about the slimy innards.

Let it soak in a bath of 2 cups buttermilk and two eggs for 20 minutes.

Dip in a breading made from 1 cup cornmeal (I used the coarser polenta grains) and 1 cup flour, a tsp. of salt and pepper, and a tsp. of baking powder.

Fry in oil until golden crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt. Best eaten hot!

Note: If you plan on making this a side dish, make sure it is the last thing cooked or else they will disappear before you get the rest of dinner on the table.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I want coffee too, mommy!

Does your child poke his grubby little fingers into your coffee every morning and say "mommy, hot?" Mine does. Maybe I should get him his very own coffee maker. But seriously, who would think of making this, let alone buy it??

Monday, July 14, 2008

Arugula Pesto Pizza

Pepperoni pizza is an American icon, no doubt about it. And there is certainly a time and a place for it.....a kid's birthday party, a college dorm cram session, Superbowl Sunday or like when your power goes out and the contents of your fridge are spoiled. I'm just sayin'.

It's just that I've been to the other side and I'm not going back.

I'm actually a total novice at making my own pizza. Making my own dough? Using yeast? Nope, never done it. I am not gifted with bread-making abilities. If you have a lot of time and a hankering to make your own, check here . If you want my secret, it's Trader Joe's Pizza Dough in a bag. You find it in the fridge section near the cheese and salads. On a side note, this is really fun to use for cooking with kids too. You can divide it up and make several little pizzas.

But back to toppings....ahhhh, the possibilities are endless. Just use what you have handy and it will be golden (no pun intended). Mine today included pesto, arugula, sundried tomatoes, red onions, goat cheese and pine nuts and a splash of olive oil. Pre-heat the oven to super hot, ie 500 degrees. Transfer the rolled out dough to your baking vessel (pizza stone, cookie sheet, pizza screen) and add the toppings. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and firm.

What are your favorite topping combos? Hit me with some ideas for my next pizza. I need some more........practice (mouth watering).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Budino di Ricotta

Ricotta desserts are an acquired taste. I got used to it from my days on the South Beach Diet. My boys weren't really into this, probably because of the texture. Although I blended the ricotta in a food processor for 5 minutes, there was still a slight grainy feel. I thought this dessert was divine, not cloyingly sweet and just perfect for a warm evening.

Ricotta is not technically a "cheese" because it is made from the sloppy seconds of another firm cheese such as mozzarella or provolone. The whey from that cheese is drained off and is used to make ricotta. In Italy, they still use ricotta made from sheep's milk which produces and nuttier and dryer product. In America, it is mostly made from cow's milk whey and is moister and more neutral in taste.

Caramel Ricotta Pudding (Budino di Ricotta)
Serves 6
Adapted from "A Fresh Taste of Italy," by Michele Scicolone (Broadway Books, 1997).

1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
15 or 16-ounce container whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 325°.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar and 1/4 cup water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture begins to boil, stop stirring and cook until the syrup starts to brown around the edges. Then gently swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup is an even golden brown. Protecting your hand with an oven mitt, immediately pour the caramel into six 6- to 8-ounce custard cups, swirling the cups to coat the bottom evenly. Let cool briefly.

In a food processor or blender, or using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, milk, vanilla, zest and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and blend again. Divide the mixture evenly among the caramel-lined cups. Place the cups in a roasting pan or baking dish and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake until the tops are set but the centers are still soft and jiggly when you tap the cups, 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer the cups to a rack to cool. Cover the cups with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To serve, run a small knife around each pudding and invert onto a serving plate.

I used a raspberry sauce for a little extra oomph. Bring raspberries and a little sugar to a boil, then smash up with a fork. Put the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of the seeds.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Deanna's Chicken Pho

When I started this dish, I wasn't sure how it was going to end. Let me explain. Chicken thighs needed to be cooked....so I throw them in the crockpot. Hmmm...now what? Let's go Asian today. Okay so, in goes the onion, garlic, soy, fish sauce, water, ginger & lemongrass.

After about 4 hours, the chicken was done and a wonderful smell permeated the house. I tasted the remaining broth in the crock and determined that it was soup-worthy for sure. Then I started looking up some pho (I THINK you pronounce it "phuh") recipes to see if there were any other flavors missing: Yes, cinnamon and anise. I add a dash of each and voila! Perfect pho (for a beginner like me).

Chicken Pho
2 lbs. chicken thighs, skin removed
3 T. soy
3 T. water
1 T. fish sauce
1 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1/2 onion, chopped
1 inch chunk of ginger, peeled and smooshed
3 garlic cloves, smooshed
1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into 1 inch pieces and smooshed
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
(smooshed means hit with the back of a knife to release the aromas - don't bother chopping)

Throw everything into the crock and cook for about 4 hours or until chicken seems done. Remove chicken from pot and strain out the other solids, saving the broth. Here you can skim the fat off of the broth if you'd like (I did). Put broth back into crockpot. Add about 3 cups of water, a squeeze of lime juice and some rice stick noodles. Pick the chicken off the bones and put back into crock. Cook on low for another hour or until the noodles seem soft. Garnish with green onion, cilantro and slice chile peppers.

This was outstanding and flavorful. I'm not sure if it's a classic pho, but it was my version! Give it a try if you dare.

Whoopie Pies

Aren't these cute? They are a specialty of my friend, whose son has celiac disease. Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac cannot tolerate a protein called gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley.

It is extremely challenging to eat gluten-free because not only must you avoid all bread products, it is hidden in so many processed foods including soy sauce, ketchup, chips, cold cuts and anything labeled with "caramel coloring," "natural flavors," MSG and "modified food starch." Take a look at a couple of labels and you'll realize how many products contain gluten.

My hats off to her for finding alternative ways to bake so her son can be included in holiday and birthday festivites!


1 C Gluten Free Flour
1/4 C Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 C Sugar
1/4 C Solid Vegetable Shortening
1 Egg White
1/2 C Low-Fat Milk
3/4 C GF Marshmallow Spread (Wal-Mart Great Value Brand States GF right on the can)


1. Preheat oven to 425. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Mix on medium speed, beat the sugar, shortening , and egg white in a medium bowl until fluffy and well blended, about two minutes. Stir in the flour mixture, then the milk, until just blended.
2. Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto large, ungreased baking sheet, making 36 cookies. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, 5-7 minutes. Cool on the sheets on a rack. Spoon 2 tsp of marshmallow spread on the bottoms of half the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Plum Crisp

I wasn't totally sure what to name this dessert until I found the following definitions. I'm putting this in here in case you had any confusion like me about the whole "cobbler-crisp-crumble" thing.

Betty — a baked pudding made of layers of spiced and sugared fruit and buttered bread crumbs.

Clafoutis — a French cobbler, with fruit (usually cherries) on the bottom, custard, and a rough batter crust baked on top

Cobbler — a spoon pie (more like a fruit stew with dumplings), in which biscuit dough is dropped onto the fruit before baking. The consensus is that the dish got its name because the lumps of cooked dough resembled cobblestones.

Crisp — a deep-dish fruit dessert made with a crumb or streusel topping and baked.

Crumble — a British dessert in which raw fruit is topped with a crumbly pastry mixture and baked. One reference says a crumble is like a crisp, but not as rich.

Grunt — a spoon pie, with biscuit dough on top of stewed fruit, which is steamed, not baked

Pandowdy — a spoon pie, with fruit on the bottom and a rolled crust on top, which is broken up to allow the juices to come through

Slump — a spoon pie, including cooked or uncooked fruit topped with biscuit dough or piecrust, which can be baked or steamed, and can be made upside down

Thanks to Cathy R. for all the wonderful Santa Rosa plums. OOooooh, this was good. Tart, but good. I actually ran out of sugar (how does that happen?) and ended up only having about 2 T. for all these plums. After eating a couple bites, I improvised and squirted a little agave nectar over the top to balance it out. Our family nibbled on it all day until it was gone.

Plum Crisp

3 cups sliced plums
1/4 cup sugar (less, if you have sweet-skinned plums)
1 T. cornstarch
1 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 cup flour
2 T. butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix first four ingredients and put into pie plate. Mix the next 6 ingredients and pour over the fruit. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the topping is browned.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Basil Potato Gratin with Goat Cheese

I know it seems a bit heavy for this time of year, but OMG this was so good! I made just a cute little dish of it, enough for 2 or 3. I had four small yukon gold potatoes in the cupboard waiting to be used, so here it is. You will clearly want to double it for a bigger family.

Basil Potato Gratin with Goat Cheese
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2 T. butter
2 T flour
1 cup milk
1 T. chopped basil
2 oz goat cheese

Spray baking dish with cooking spray. Peel potatoes, slice very thin and arrange in flat layers. In a pan, heat butter and saute onion and garlic until beginning to soften. Add flour and cook for a minute. Gradually add milk and heat until a thick sauce forms. Take off the heat and add the basil, salt and pepper. Note that it needs quite a bit of salt (at least a teaspoon) to season the potatoes. Pour mixture over the potatoes and shake the dish a bit so the sauce permeates the layers. Add goat cheese to the top and cook at 375 for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

White Lasagna

I forgot to post this recipe that I made down at my folks house last month. This was my first try at a white lasagna and I think it came out nice considering there was nary a speck leftover.

Next time I will add a couple more layers. I used those no-boil, non-curly lasagna noodles which made my usual 3 layers of pasta seem short. It was a little labor intensive since I made my own bechamel and seared the mushrooms before assembly, not to mention squeezing liquid out of the spinach, always a messy endeavor for me.

White Lasagna

Bechamel sauce
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
salt/pepper to taste

Ricotta Mixture
1 container ricotta
1 egg
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1/2 tsp. pepper

Rest of layers
1/3 cup pesto
1 package frozen spinach
1 lb cremini mushrooms
3 oz feta

For the sauce: Melt butter and garlic together, just for a few minutes until the garlic softens up. Add the flour and cook another couple minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, making sure to break up the lumpy flour along the way. Add seasonings.

For the cheese: Mix ricotta, egg and parmesan together in a bowl.
Other: Sear mushrooms on high heat, getting a nice browned edge. Set aside. Thaw and squeeze spinach. Set aside.

Assembly: Put down a few tablespoons of white sauce on the bottom of pan, follow with a layer of noodle, half the ricotta mixture and the spinach. More sauce, noodle, ricotta and then spread the pesto on top of that. Add mushrooms. More sauce, noodle, sauce again, then the feta. Cook at 350 for 45 mins.

Yum! I only used the feta because I didn't have any mozarella, and was pleased by the results...it gave it a more mediterranean tangy flair which was suprisingly awesome.

Um, Yeah....Lighthouses

I had to giggle at this profound candy concept. Looks like these lighthouses are ready for a little action......