Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bananas in a jam

It's UFO time again - this morning I opened the door to my freezer and out tumbled three packages, only two of which I could identify because I had the clarity of mind to write the contents on the wrapper. The third package...a total mystery. Feeling the contents, I thought they were brat sausages at first, but remembered distinctly looking through the freezer several weeks ago for some and not finding any. Chorizos perhaps? Nope. When I unwrapped the solid, slightly bent, brown items from the plastic bag they were hiding in, I laughed out loud: they were bananas!!

I tend to buy bananas with the utmost sincere intention of eating them. I'll eat one the day I buy them, perhaps another one the next day, and then I forget about them. Three days later on the counter, they've turned brown and ripe and there is no way I can stomach the mushy contents. Why is it that bananas in the store are green, solid and weeks away from being edible and yet, when you bring them home, they go from green to overripe practically overnight? At that point for me they are too mushy, soft and squishy to eat without gagging.

Frugal (read: cheap) as I am, I can't face throwing the bananas away so I throw them in the freezer instead. Within no time they're frozen solid. The skin will turn a dark brown hue but the flesh will stay golden yellow. These bananas work great for last minute banana bread, oatmeal cookies or anything else that benefits from bananas.

Now.....I'm not a big banana bread fan. For one, I have yet to find a recipe that pleases me to the point where I feel I am truly eating banana bread and not some cardboard concoction with a vague hint of stale bananas. But here I am on a Sunday afternoon with only ten pounds of roasted peppers to can and now, with twelve frozen bananas on the counter, slowly thawing in a puddle of banana juice. Since I'm going to be running the canner anyway, I tried to find a recipe for these bananas and guess what? I found one for banana jam......yummie!!

Pectin and I are not great friends: undoubtedly not pectin's fault but mine, for not being more attentive. One day it will set the jam, another day it just makes it into a pourable sauce. Today's batch turned into a slightly thick, lovely sweet banana sauce. Beautiful on toast and a gorgeous addition to vanilla ice cream!

Banana Jam
10 to twelve bananas, very happily ripe but not brown on the inside
1/4 cup of bottled lemon juice
6 cups of sugar
6 oz of liquid pectin

Mash the bananas, add the lemon juice and the sugar and slowly bring up to a boil. (You may want to puree the mush with an immersion blender for a smooth consistency). Bring up to a rolling boil, where the bubbles will continue to surface even though you stir constantly, for an entire minute, then take the pan off the stove, stir in the pectin and put it back on the stove, stirring and boiling for another minute. The sauce will be rather thick and will burn easily, so keep that spoon going!

In the meantime, have your jars, lids and rings ready to go. Ladle the sauce in the jars, leave a 1/2 inch of headspace, adjust lids and rings and process in a hot boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Once opened, refrigerate the jar. This quantity will make enough for 7 half pint jars.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Peaches and Cream Pie

It's peach time. Actually, it's been peach time for quite a while and I've been working my way steadily through various pounds of Red Haven peaches that I picked at Kelley Orchards, here in Payette. First I canned them in a star anise/cinnamon syrup, then I gave a whole bunch of them away to the people at work but I still had some left to play with.

Just like with the chard, there comes a point where you're peached out. You look at your counterspace where these sweet, fuzzy, juice fruits are sitting, just waiting to get used up, begging to be canned, eaten, frozen, dried or pickled. Imploring you that their whole purpose of growing was to serve you, the perky peach processor, and fulfill the lofty goal of feeding you, your friends or for lack of better, your chickens. And all you can do is shrug your shoulders and turn a blind eye. Because, like I said, there comes a point where you're peached out.

But you also know that there comes another point, probably three months down the road, where it's cold, dark and windy out there, where you long for summer, for warmth and for fresh produce. And you guiltily remember those peaches...yup, those golden, juicy, sweet peaches. And you beat yourself up for letting those last ones on the counter go to waste. You scold yourself for not putting them up, for not eating them, using them in some way, shape or form. order to prevent that, I'm back at doing something with the rest of the peaches. And by golly, browsing through Natashya's Living In the Kitchen With Puppies (check out her recipes and fabulous photography!) I came across a mention of Peaches and Cream Pie. Whoa! I'm not usually one for peach pie but, in this case, it sounded wonderful. I sent a quick email to Natashya for some guidance and she kindly sent me the link to this website for the recipe.

I followed the recipe, substituting the tapioca for cornstarch and, since I don't have permission yet to re-post it, I'll just leave you with the link and a picture. Since pie crusts and I have this awkward love-hate relationship, I was hesitant to make my own but since the pie recipe is followed by a Favourite Pie Crust recipe, I just had to try. And I am glad I did! This is going to be my new pie crust recipe, it's fabulously easy and it was love at first sight. I had enough for one large pie and leftover dough and filling for a small one. The big one went to a dear friend whose father was visiting, the small one I ate myself. Wow! The Red Haven peaches are not overly sweet and gain some from the sugary crust and sweet whipping cream. This pie is perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I feel a little bit like I'm cheating, because this recipe does not contain anything I pulled out of my freezer except for the ice cubes. Nevertheless, I'm going to share it with you because it involves my beautiful garden, a handful of memories and just plain, good eating.

Gazpacho is a traditional Spanish soup, eaten cold. On a hot summery day, this is an absolute winner and it's fun to serve. You can let your guests (or yourself) dress up the soup as you wish: the usual toppings include diced cucumber, tomato, chopped boiled egg, green peppers and croutons. Keep a bottle of good olive oil on the side for that finishing drizzle.

This soup is as varied as each person makes it a little bit differently, but the base is always the same: tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, garlic, onion, day old bread, olive oil, water and salt. The first three ingredients can be found in abundance during this time of the year, so enjoy this great soup while you can!

Six to eight medium size ripe tomatoes
2 medium sized cucumbers
1 green pepper
1 small red onion
4 garlic cloves
6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 slices of day old bread, crust removed
4 cups of water
1 large piece of watermelon, deseeded

Peel (optional) the tomatoes by quickly dunking them in hot water, then in an ice bath. Cut into large chunks. Peel the cucumber and chop 2/3rds in pieces, dice the rest. Add the large pieces to the tomatoes. Cut 2/3rds of the green pepper (cut and deseeded) into chunks, dice the rest, and add the chunks to the tomatoes. Now peel the onion and do the same, keeping 1/3 behind. Add three cloves of garlic. Soak the bread in the vinegar for a little while, then squeeze out the liquid and add the bread to the mix. Blend into a thick sauce. Add the olive oil, stir in two cups of water and taste. You are looking for a fresh, tomato/garlicky/cucumber flavor. Add some salt, add the rest of the vinegar and stir in a pinch of pepper. Taste again. If you like garlic, you may want to add the fourth clove. Finally blend in the watermelon, stir and chill. If you like your soup thick and chunky, don't add any more water. (I like mine soup-ier so I add the full four cups)

Serve in either a plate or in small soup cups or glasses, with a spoon. Set out small dishes with croutons, the diced cucumber, green pepper and onion so people can add them to the soup, or mix all three and serve the soup with a scoop of fresh veggies on top. It's all good. Have a squeeze bottle handy with good olive oil for that finishing touch drizzle!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tilapia, corn and chard

Yup, more chard. This is how it goes when I grow a garden: at the first sight of my vegetable of choice, let's say chard, I get all excited and I practically *stare* the greens out of the soil. When it's ready to pick, I'm gung-ho about all these recipes that I've collected over the winter. So it's chard omelet, chard quesadilla, chard sautéed with garlic, chard sautéed without garlic, chard name it. Until I am so sick and tired of chard (or green beans, or zucchini, or beets or whichever vegetable is thriving) that I am glad to know the season's over and I vow to never, ever eat chard again.

And then winter comes along and I sit, all cozied up on the couch with fifty different seed catalogs. And I see a picture of some new variety of chard (or green beans, or zucchini, or beets) and I get all excited and can't wait to order the seeds, get them started and *stare* the greens out of the soil. And then the whole circle repeats itself. Isn't it wonderful to have a garden!?

Tonight I wanted to have some veggies because it's been breadbreadbread all week long. I love bread but there comes a point.....alas, see above. A girl's gotta eat some greens too, so today I picked some chard, an ear of corn and pulled a serving of tilapia out of the freezer. Summer food is easy, quick and if grown at home so tasty..................

1 serving of tilapia per person
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of flour per serving

Salt and pepper the fish, then coat in flour. Brown the butter in a skillet and quickly sear the fish on both sides. Lower the heat, cover and let sit for several minutes until the fish is done.

Corn with citrus chili butter
1 ear of corn per person
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 lime
1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon of chili powder

Clean the ears and place in a pot with water. Bring to a boil. The moment the water boils, the ears are done. Remove them from the water and set aside. Zest the lemon and the lime and mix in the butter, juice the lemon and add. Stir and taste. If you want more zing, add a bit more juice. Fold in the chili powder, taste again and adjust if needed. Serve a dollop of butter on each ear.

Chard with garlic
5 chard leaves per person
1 garlic clove
Splash of good quality olive oil

Rinse the leaves and cut in 1 inch strips. Save the bottom end of the stems for the chickens or compost. Mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in the skillet, add the chard and sauté for a minute or two until the greens go limp. Add the garlic and toss, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve everything on a plate, and sit out in the garden!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Summer goodness - chard,squash and tomatoes

The better the ingredients, the less you have to work on making them taste good. Picked fresh from the garden today, I ate sautéed chard, sautéed summer squash with onions and green beans, a quick tomato salad and some salmon from the grill, topped with a caramelized slice of pineapple.

Thank God for foodie friends - yesterday, while puttering around the house painting, cleaning and writing (since I'm riddled with something akin to ADD, these activities happen in five minutes spurts) I realized I had not eaten a "proper" meal in several days. Busy baking for BBD #32, I made too many rolls and, cheap as I am, I refused to throw any of them away. So my breakfast, lunch and dinner pretty much consisted of rolls: with cheese, with hagelslag, with fried egg.....but I'm not complaining! As the eternal bread junkie that I am, I could eat bread every day, but having taught nutrition classes for several years, I also know that bread alone does not a meal make.

So I called my dear friend Luke, my fellow food friend from West Virginia, and asked for ideas. I had some salmon in the freezer that needed to be eaten and Luke came up with this brilliant idea: salmon and pineapple. Hmmm...............didn't sound too appetizing to me, but I know better than to question his suggestions so I pulled open a can of pineapple slices, put the salmon in a foil jacket with some herbs, pineapple on top and on the grill they went.

My garden, albeit reluctantly (this has been my worst growing year yet!), let me have some chard, zucchini, green beans and tomatoes so I was able to use those as a veg. No starch this time, but two slices of homebaked bread on the side. Told ya, this girl can't eat without bread!

There is really no wrong way of doing this: slice your veg, throw a little bit of olive oil or butter in a pan, add onions, caramelize on medium heat and throw in the vegetables. When the vegetables are translucent and a little bit soft to the touch, they're done unless you want them well done. During the last couple of minutes, chop up a garlic clove or two and add them to the vegetables. Nothing worse than burnt garlic so I usually save them for last.

The salmon was wrapped in foil and grilled on a medium heat barbeque grill. Leave on for about fifteen minutes, open the package to see if the fish is done (it will flake easily and be tender to the touch). If so, leave the package open so some of the juices can evaporate. If the fish is not done, close the package back up and cook for another ten minutes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Schnitzel, cucumber salad, fries and cauliflower

My last post is from April 7th. It's not that I haven't eaten since then, but sometimes I forget to take pictures. And other times the food is just not "photo" worthy. As you can see with the picture of the refrigerator soup, it looks awful. It looks more like a swamp in a plate! The soup looks awful but tasted wonderful.

The reason why I took the picture of my dinner tonight is for several reasons. One, to show how important color is when presenting a meal. The food is all white or white-ish and looks like a terrible combination. The other reason why I took the picture is because at least three of the items on the plate remind me of dear friends and new people I've met.

The schnitzel was made with some pork that was leftover from a picnic roast I purchased several months ago. When I interviewed Ursula from Germany for Idaho's Melting Pot, she prepared these fabulous schnitzels from scratch. I love schnitzels but somehow had never fathomed the idea of making them myself (yeah, I know, I'm such a dork sometimes). When I saw how easy it was to make and how wonderful they tasted, I knew this was going to be a keeper!

The cucumber salad is something I learned from Ursula as well. Salting the slices helps to remove some of the water from the cukes and improve the cucumber flavor, and a dollop of sour cream adds silkiness, flavor and a great balance. A great dish that is a winner everytime!

The fries were home-cut and home-fried in the oven. When I visited Mark in West Virginia I made these fries for dinner one night. Mark loved them and said they were the best oven fries he had ever tasted. Quite a compliment from such a good cook!

And the cauliflower.....I had forgotten how great cauliflower tastes. When I saw a recipe for cauliflower on My Kitchen In Half Cups, I was inspired to make it. As usual, I'm useless with recipes and ended up doing my own thing. Still turned out great (cauliflower with cheese is SOOOO Dutch!) but the real surprise was the few raw florets that were left over in the colander. I munched on them while I prepared the rest of the food and was delighted with the fresh, crisp taste. Gotta remember that!

But most of all, the reason why I'm posting the picture and the recipes is because all four items are so simple and easy to make. And I believe that in there lies the charm of good food: simple, easy to make and yet so tasty.

4 boneless pork chops
1 egg
1 cup of panko or homemade breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon of italian herbs or your own favorite blend
1 tablespoon of butter or oil

Butterfly the pork chops, cover them with plastic film and pound them thin. Beat the egg in a plate, mix the panko and seasonings in another. Dip the meat on both sides in the egg, then dip it in the breadcrumbs so that each side of the meat is neatly covered. Pat the coating down carefully with a flat hand and repeat the process with the rest of the meat.

Heat the butter or oil in a skillet and brown the schnitzels on both sides, for about four minutes each. Since the meat is so thin, it doesn't need a lot of time to be ready.

German Cucumber Salad
1 medium size cucumber
1 teaspoon of salt
1 heaping tablespoon of sour cream
Pinch of dill and ground pepper

Peel the cucumber, then slice on a mandolin or cheese slicer into thin slices. Sprinkle the salt over the cucumber and mix well. Set aside for about 30 minutes. Pour off the excess water. Taste a slice. If it's too salty, you can rinse the cucumber and get rid of the saltiness. Stir in the sour cream, the dill and the pepper. Taste and adjust.

French fries
4 large Russett potatoes
4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Pinch of salt

Scrub the potatoes, dry them and cut into 6 wedges. Dry the cut pieces with a paper towel. Heat two tablespoons of oil on a rimmed baking sheet in a 450F oven. Toss the potatoes with the remaining oil and place the skin-side down in the hot oil. Bake for about 10 minutes, turn the potatoes on their side, bake for another ten minutes and turn them over on the other side. When they're golden brown, take them out, toss them in a bowl lined with paper towels and salt. Eat while hot.

Cauliflower with cheese
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch of italian seasonings
1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese

Parboil the florets in the microwave, two minutes. Toss with the olive oil, add the garlic and seasonings and bake in an oven dish for twenty minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top, bake for several minutes more until the cheese is melted and serve.

See? Simple as can be, and yet so good, easy and affordable.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Shrimp Florentine

Sometimes some of these dishes are so easy, it's not even funny. You get home, throw some stuff in the pan, cook some pasta, toss it all together and make an amazing meal. And sometimes you spend hours slaving over the stove and when you finally sit down to eat, you think "hmmm, all that work for this?".

Today was a typical amazing meal day. It had been a long one with car troubles, work issues and having to meet with people that are in the past for a reason, so by the time I walked in the door, I had no time or desire to do anything fancy. Hurray for the freezer, I say! Because I pulled out a package of shrimp that I stuffed in there somewhere, grabbed a handful of spinach, some shredded cheese from the fridge and used up the rest of that half-and-half that was bought for the butter chicken and within fifteen minutes, I had a tasty, flavorful meal. You can do the same!!

Shrimp Florentine
1 package of whole wheat spaghetti (or the pasta of your choice)
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of butter
2 cups of fresh spinach
Shrimp (this very much depends on how big they are, how many you have: just get enough for everyone)
1/2 cup of half-and-half
1/2 cup of warm chicken stock
1 cup of shredded Italian cheese (I use a 6 cheese mix: parmesan, asiago, mozzarella etc)

Add the package of spaghetti to a pot with enough boiling water. While the pasta cooks, peel and mince the garlic. Heat the butter in a Dutch oven and caramelize the garlic until golden, then quickly add the spinach. Stir for a minute or two, then add the shrimp, continue to stir until the shrimp are heated through or pink, then add the half and half and the stock, stir until well blended and add in the cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce thickens, then taste and adjust with salt and/or pepper. Drain the spaghetti and toss with the sauce.

See? Nothing to it and soooo yummie!! If you don't have shrimp, you can use chicken.