Tis the Season…

For barbecues, cookouts, and potluck suppers, which means grilled meat and veggies! I love store-bought barbecue sauce, but it seems like these days so many have added ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup and other preservatives. So through the years, I’ve created my own barbecue sauce which I just love on top of both chicken and pork. The other day in the supermarket I saw some boneless pork ribs and knew just how I was going to fix them. My mouth started to water when I thought about cooking them just right with the tangy sauce on top!

Giving credit where credit is due, I made the Barbecue Glaze recipe out of local cookbook author Andrea Chesman’s The Vegetarian Grill several years ago. While the flavor was decent, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted something more complex, deep, rich. So I turned it upside down and started adding things until it’s become my own. It’s easy to put together, and I love making it in the winter to give plain old chicken breasts a little extra something!

Barbecue Sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼-½ cup white onion, finely diced
¼ cup ketchup (preferably made with no high fructose corn syrup)
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar, more to taste if needed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin, or a combination of cumin and coriander

In a small saucepan, warm a little bit of olive oil. Add the garlic and onion, and cook at medium to low heat until they are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Bring to a slight boil, then turn the heat to low. Cook for a few minutes longer and it’s done. If you boil or cook it too long, it will become thick.

Revisiting an Old Favorite

Happy Summer Solstice!

Since today is the first day of summer, I thought I would bring back one of my favorites, Szechuan Cucumbers, for those who missed it the first go round last July. This is based on an old Eating Well recipe that I’ve adapted to be my own through the years. It is reminiscent of a wonderful Thai restaurant that is no longer in business; at dim sum they offered a small plate of crunchy, spicy cucumbers with just the right amount of acid. It was heaven and I would have been happy just eating plate after plate of cucumbers if I could. And now that I have a similar recipe, I can!

This is fast, easy, and delicious with virtually no calories. I have made substitutions through the years: yellow onions instead of red, peeled cucumbers, no ginger, no peanuts, eaten right away, and while it is still tasty, it’s not perfect. This may be the one instance where I find it’s best to actually follow the recipe!

Szechuan Cucumbers
Adapted from an Eating Well magazine recipe

• 2 cucumbers, unpeeled, sliced horizontally, seeded, and cut into half-moon slices
• 1 jalapeno, minced
• ½ small red onion, thinly sliced (or more, depending on the size of your cucumbers, if they’re large, use more onion)
• Minced ginger, about a tablespoon or more to taste
• ½ cup rice vinegar
• 4 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free if necessary)
• *1 Tablespoon sugar (*Note: The original recipe called for sugar, but I sometimes leave it out. Feel free to use if you want to balance out the vinegar and soy sauce.)
• ¼ cup chopped peanuts

In a bowl, add the cucumber, onion, pepper, and ginger and mix. Measure out the liquid, mix together,  add to the bowl, and mix again. Place in refrigerator for an hour or two before serving. Right before serving, give it one last stir, add the chopped peanuts,  and enjoy!

Homemade Dumplings with Spring Herbs

I’m up with the first chirps of the birds at 4:15, my peony bush I planted as a root five (or is it six?) years finally has blossoms which are the size of small dinner plates, and and the days are long, long, long. Yes, it is June. A month I wait for 12 months, when the fields have their deep, rich, sweet smells you can’t find anywhere else, the birds have a symphony all day long, and the crops are starting to come in. The deep darkness of January is a faint memory.

Saturdays tend to be the day I do all my food shopping, so the evening meals are extra special; a lot more time to cook than during the week and sometimes the meals are a bit more complicated. This Saturday I knew what I wanted to make. Several months ago I had made a beef stew in the crock pot and the accompaniment was spaetzle, the German version of dumplings or Italian pasta. My Eastern European roots were showing, these were easy to make, you have to work fast with the boiling water, but oh, they were delicious. All spring I’d been thinking of them and wanting to make them a bit more special. With fresh chives and thyme in the herb garden, I decided to add the herbs to the dish, but with just a simple dressing of a little bit of olive oil and freshly grated cheese.

Homemade dumplings aren’t really difficult to make, it’s just a bit on the messy side. In a bowl, add a cup of flour and some salt, about ½ teaspoon or so. Whisk together, add an egg and a little bit of water or milk and mix until all is incorporated. That’s it! I added about a teaspoon of chopped thyme and 2 tablespoons of chives and mixed it together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 45 minutes or so.

Now comes the messy part. Fill a Dutch oven with water and bring to a boil. While this is happening, I divide the pasta into thirds. With flour-covered hands, I pull off a little bit and roll into thin strips and just keep doing this. Mind you, when they boil they turn into short stubby fingers, but you can always play around with the shapes. (This is my method, but the instructions for the recipe this is derived from has a much easier method. And from the looks of it, a much cleaner one, too!) When I have a batch ready to go, I pop them into the boiling water, and just wait until they come to the top. That’s when you know they’re done.

With a slotted spoon, add the dumplings to a large bowl, and just repeat the steps until you’re done. I was thinking a quick and simple red sauce would go well with this, too. Or adding some chopped fresh spinach and maybe some early garlic. The possibilities are endless!

Homemade Dumplings with Spring Herbs
Recipe adapted from Beth Hensperger’s recipe for spaetzle dumplings in the cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two, Harvard Common Press, 2007.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3-4 tablespoons cold milk or water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (I used olive oil)
Sour cream to taste

1. In a medium size bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the egg and milk in the center. Blend well with a wooden spoon until evenly moistened; the dough will be very thick and moist. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.

2. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a rapid boil. If shaping by hand, place the dough on a wet cutting board and rest it on the rim of the pot. Using a damp paring knife or soup spoon, cut off little irregular portions of the width of a pencil and about 1/2 inch long at the edge of the board and let them fall into the boiling water. If using a spaetzle maker, position it over the boiling water; it will rest on the rim of the pot. Place the dough in the hopper and slide the carriage back and forth, dropping pear-shaped bits of dough into the water.

3. Simmer the spaetzle, uncovered, until they float back up to the surface, about 30 seconds. Remove with a fine-mesh strainer or slotted spoon, shake off the excess water, and place in a shallow casserole. Toss with the unsalted butter (or olive oil) and a dab of sour cream (if using) to keep them from sticking together. Serve immediately as a side dish, or cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Reheat for 12 to 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Appetizers for Two: Guacamole and Chips with Homemade Margaritas

My favorite thing to do on the weekends during the spring, summer, and fall, after a long day at work, or after mowing the lawn, working in the garden, or kayaking, is sitting in the sun with a good book. And of course, having pre-dinner munchies always makes it better!

These two recipes are simple, easy, and perfect for two people; one avocado is the just right amount for two with no wondering what you will do with leftovers–you won’t have any! If you want to double it, that’s easy to do, and measurements are mostly based on taste. As with most of my recipes, I like a little bit of heat, so I add some cayenne for that extra kick. If I have some cilantro in the vegetable bin, I’ll add some, but it’s not mandatory, it’s delicious with or without. It seems like a dash of salt is always needed, so be sure to add to taste. I love the flavor of fresh limes, which are inexpensive this time of year, so I add it liberally.

I wanted to create a summertime margarita that didn’t rely on a pre-made, sugary mix. You can get the same flavor with Triple Sec–or it’s more expensive cousin, Cointreau. No worries if you buy a whole bottle of TS, it’s relatively inexpensive, lasts forever, and is great in a pomegranate martini, too! (That’s a winter cocktail, stay tuned in November/December!) And of course, if tequila isn’t your liquor of choice or you don’t drink alcohol, plain seltzer water with a lime  is also a refreshing drink!

1 soft avocado
1-2 cloves of finely minced garlic
Juice of ¼ to ½ lime
Sprinkle of cayenne (if desired)
A few sprigs of cilantro (if desired)
Dash of salt

Spoon out the avocado into a bowl and smash with a fork. Add the garlic, lime juice, and if using, cayenne and cilantro. Stir. Add a dash of salt to taste. Spoon into a serving bowl and add corn chips.

Homemade Margaritas
In a cocktail shaker with ice cubes and add :

4 ounces  tequila
2 ounces Triple Sec or another orange-flavored liquor
The juice of 1/4-1/2 fresh lime juice

Shake and divide evenly between two glasses filed with a few ice cubes. Add juice of the lime slice to the glass and drink!