The Bounty is Here!

After months of waiting, August is finally here, and the veggies are at their best! Gone are the early days of June, with just a few sad-looking root vegetables sitting in the bins the farmers’ market; now it’s bursting at the seams and overflowing with everything fresh and beautiful! So prepare yourself, it’s going to be a vegetarian month!

I adore cucumbers, they always taste fresh and have virtually no calories! (I presume there are no calories in a cucumber, but I didn’t want to give false advertising!). Nothing is better to me than a fresh cucumber, thinly sliced with  just a little bit of salt.

This side salad is a mish-mosh of a couple different dishes I make: a raita I make to accompany fish and a green bean salad that my grandmother makes. It’s so good, I’ve been known to eat a big bowl of it for lunch! It’s easy and was a nice cool complement to a dinner of chicken and some sautéed Swiss chard. If you want a little heat, add a dash (or two) of cayenne or crushed red pepper. And if you don’t eat dairy, you can leave out the sour cream;  it’s just as delicious.

Helpful Kitchen Tip: 
Placing the cucumbers in a colander in the sink and sprinkling with a little salt allows much of the water to drain. This is a great suggestion for any dish that calls for cucumbers. Do this about 30 minutes before you’re ready to make your dish. I don’t rinse off the salt since I only use only a little, but I tend not to salt the dish when it’s finished.

DSCN0388

Cucumber Dill Salad

Using fresh dill with this recipe is the best, but if you only have dried on hand (like I had), it is still terrific. 

• 2 cucumbers, peeled, sliced in half horizontally, seeded and sliced like half moons
• ¼ cup diced onion
• 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar (if you want a little more zing, add a couple of teaspoons more)
• ¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
• Dill weed, as much or as little as you’d like, or none at all
• Freshly ground pepper
• Salt to taste, if needed

1. Take the seeded and cut cucumbers and place them in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you’re ready to make the salad. Don’t rinse.

2. In a mixing bowl, add the drained cucumbers, onion, and vinegar. Stir in the sour cream or yogurt and mix well. Add as much dill weed as you’d like, and some pepper. Serve.

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins

Each summer, the farmers  always are dependent on the weather for good crops. Our cold, wet rainy early summer which turned into a weeks-long heat wave gave us poor strawberries and late green beans. But one fruit, blueberries, seem to be thriving from the heat. I started seeing local ones in the middle of July, which I think is earlier than normal. And they are fabulous this year. So fabulous, that I was craving blueberry muffins one day.

I like blueberry muffins that are extra moist and filled with little bursts of fruit. One Friday morning on my way to work, I decided to treat myself for a work week well done and stopped by a high-end bakery with hopes they would have some muffins. They did, flavored with honeysuckle. And they were $3 each. Against my better judgment, I decided to splurge, but honestly, it was terrible; dry, hardly any berries, and the top was crumbly with no moistness whatsoever. I knew I could make better and less expensive muffins at home. So I went to my trusty copy of The Essential New York Times Cook Book and knew Amanda Hesser would have the answer.

Jordan Marsh was a famous department store in the Boston area until  it was taken over by Macy’s in the 1990s. I lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts, for a couple of summer months in the late 1980s, and on one of my rare afternoons off from work, I took the train into the city and just walked around the makeup counter of Jordan Marsh. We didn’t have department stores like that in Vermont, and I loved the bright lights and big city. It’s a wonderful memory. And this muffin recipe was exactly what I was looking for; an extra moist muffin bursting with fresh blueberries. Adding the crushed berries really ups the fruit flavor

Helpful Kitchen Hint: When I make muffins, I usually use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients. But because of creaming the butter and sugar, I pulled out my hand mixer. It made things go quickly!

With a cup of tea on a lazy Sunday morning, I couldn’t resist so I had one right out of the oven. With just one bite, my craving was gone and I was in heaven.

Yes, you are correct. One muffin is missing! I couldn't resist!

Yes, you are correct. One muffin is missing! I couldn’t resist!

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by Amanda Hesser

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
2 cups blueberries, rinsed and picked over

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 large muffin cups. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

2. Cream the butter and 1 ¼ cups sugar in a large bowl until light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add to the flour mixture alternating with the milk, beating just until smooth.

3. Crush ½ cup blueberries with a fork, and mix into the batter. Fold in the remaining whole berries.

4. Fill the muffin cups with batter. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the tops of the muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

5. Store, uncovered, or the muffins will be too moist the second day—if they last that long.

Cook’s Notes:
I completely forgot about topping the muffins with the extra sugar, so if you forget, they are still delicious. And Hesser is right about being moist the next day; I layered them in a container and they were so moist they stuck to each other. But, of course, that didn’t matter, they were still delicious!  

Spicy and Creamy Pasta

As you probably would expect, I love to thumb through cooking magazines and food blogs and read the recipes. One game I play with myself is think about how I would make a dish based on its title. One food blog I read is Iowagirleats.com. She has a different take on cooking than I do, and while I enjoy reading it, I don’t tend make her recipes. But a few weeks ago, she had a recipe that sounded great, “Spicy Sausage Pasta Skillet” that I kept it in my inbox. One Friday night, with all the ingredients at home, I decided to make my own version, cooked in a skillet with spicy sausage.

DSCN0118

Rombi!

For this dish, I decided to pull out the rombi pasta I had in the cupboard. It was an impulse buy; it was on sale at the coop and I thought it looked interesting. And interesting it is; it’s more like lasagna pieces, and being a small pasta, it allowed the sausage and vegetables to shine.

I had some leftover sausage in the freezer that I left out to thaw that morning from the time I made the Baked Ziti. I decided to add a rather sad-looking zucchini that had been forgotten in the vegetable bin to offset the meat, so I was getting at least some veggies into this dish. I made this again a few weeks later with even more forgotten veggies and it was great. I think you could add just about any kind of vegetable to the meat, sauce, and pasta and it would be good, especially if you use a water-filled veggie like spinach and squash, which enhances and thins the sauce. And of course, vegetarians can just leave out the sausage and up the veggies.

When the eater of the house asks if I’m done eating, and then proceeds to scoop the rest of the pasta into his bowl, you KNOW it was good!

DSCN0120

Spicy and Creamy Pasta
Adapted from Iowagirl.com

4 spicy sausage links
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped shallots or red onion
1 zucchini, diced
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup half and half
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste (optional)
1 ½ cups pasta (penne, rombi, or other pasta)
2-3 handfuls baby spinach
Grated cheese for topping (optional)

  1. Take a large skillet, warm over medium heat, and add the sausage. Cook until done. Remove from pan, drain on a plate covered with paper towels, and wipe the pan clean and place back on the burner.
  2. Warm the olive oil and add the garlic and shallots. Cook a few minutes until soft. Add the zucchini, and cook this for few minutes until soft. Add the chicken broth and diced tomatoes to the pan, mix in the tomato paste and the half and half. Stir. Add the pasta, crushed red pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Partially cover pan and cook about 7 minutes or so or until pasta is al dente. If the sauce starts getting a little too thick, add a bit of water or broth. When the pasta is done cooking, add the baby spinach, stir, and serve! Top with grated cheese if desired.

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!

The Bounty is Coming….

Happy Summer Solstice!

With the rains slowly stopping and July 1st just a couple of weeks away, the bounty from our farms is starting! This is a most exciting time; Saturday mornings I stop at the farmer’s market before the grocery store and coop. In the picture you’ll see this week’s picks: pea shoots, scallions, basil, breakfast radishes (named by the British, but I put on an evening salad instead), kohlrabi, spinach, garlic shoots, and more. Saturday evening’s salad was a simple one, assorted greens topped with leftover avocado, those British radishes, and pea shoots. Two teaspoons of olive oil, a dash of champagne vinegar, and some salt and pepper. Divine! Stay tuned, while the season got a late start, I think this is going to be a fantastic one for recipe creations!

* * *

Friday night dinners are always a conundrum. After a week of work, I’m tired, yet don’t want to go out, but am willing to cook if it’s really simple. In the winter, this usually means homemade pizza or soup. Throw it in a pot and turn on the heat–or toss the crust on a pan, add some sauce, cheese, and veggies and pop in the oven. Last Friday I had no clue what I wanted to eat for dinner. Every meal I thought of just didn’t appeal to me, and I dislike going to the grocery store and searching for something to strike my fancy. So as I was driving there, I thought of the vegetables I had left in the bin from last week (peppers and carrots), some dried shiitake mushrooms in the cupboard, and some shallots and garlic on the counter. A few more veggies, a package of chicken, and a can of coconut milk and I could make a tasty red curry stir fry over rice. Exactly what I wanted! Some asparagus and chicken and I was ready for dinner, except the coconut milk. After a thorough search, I found the spot where the coconut milk was supposed to be–empty. Foiled!

I saw a recipe last week called “Sherry Vinegar Chicken Nuggets and Herbs” or something like that, so I was intrigued by the name, so I decided to make my version. It was delicious, nutritious, and best of all, really easy for a Friday night; the only thing that really took time was chopping the veggies and chicken! I put five shiitakes in a small bowl with boiling water to reconstitute them; you can used dried mushrooms, fresh one, or leave out. I’m not sure what vinegar to suggest for substituting the sherry vinegar, so I would urge you to buy a bottle. It’s my new favorite vinegar, I used it on salads all winter long. It’s tangy yet subtle, and its flavor is divine. It may be hard to find, my supermarket has just one brand, and although it’s a small bottle and a little pricey (yet under $4), I think it’s totally worth it and a little bit goes a long way. Depending on your own vegetable bin, you can use more, less, or substitute whatever would be tasty in a stir fry! Oh, and by using the skillet for both the veggies and the chicken, clean up is two knives, a cutting board, a bowl, a skillet, and plates!

Lazy Friday Night
Stir Fry
Serves 2 with plentiful leftovers

2 boneless breasts of chicken, diced into bite-sized pieces

1 cup chopped asparagus
1/2 chopped carrots
1 red pepper, sliced thinly
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted (you can leave out or use fresh mushrooms)
A couple gloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced

A pot of cooked brown or white rice

In a skillet, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil. When warm, add the asparagus and carrots and cook for a few minutes until soft. Add red pepper, mushrooms, and stir. When the veggies are just about done, add the garlic and jalapeno and mix until they become fragrant. Take the skillet off the stove and put mixture into a bowl.

In the same skillet, add a little bit more olive oil. When warm, add the diced chicken. Add about 1/3 of a cup of the sherry vinegar and mix it in the chicken. Since the chicken is bite sized, it should take about five minutes or so to cook, but make sure the meat doesn’t absorb the vinegar, you want a little bit left for flavoring the stir fry. On a plate, add the rice, veggies, and chicken, relax, and enjoy!