Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Recipe Created from Eavesdropping

Title sounds kind of sneaky, doesn’t it? What happened was I just happened to be at the farmers market, waiting in line by two women talking about the offerings that morning. One of them picked up a long squash and asked her friend if she had ever had said variety of squash with pork & ginger. She went on  and on about how utterly delicious it is and how easy it is to make. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. I didn’t buy one that day, but the next time I saw one. I bought one and went home to research.

Chinese long squash and ginger

Chinese long squash and ginger

 

That was last week. What I managed to make was so simple, easy and delicious, that I absolutely have to share it. It was also so good that we’re having it this week, too! From what I found out, this is actually a localized Chinese recipe. This is a simple stir fry with two kinds of vinegar in it, but don’t worry if you can’t find the Chinese black vinegar~ it is just as delicious using balsamic. I’m sure the vinegar helps to tenderize the pork, and it also gives the dish a nice, tangy flavor. I served this with some brown rice and some steamed Chinese broccoli, that I also found at the farmers market. This broccoli has a slightly bitter taste that goes well with the sweetness of the sauce. It’s also chock full of vitamins and nutrients.

This serves 4-6, depending upon what you’re serving with it. The leftovers are very tasty, too.

To make the stir fry:

1 (about 2-pounds) long squash

2 tablespoons peanut oil (or any other heat tolerant oil)

1 tablespoon fresh ginger,  peeled and minced, or grated

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and chopped into 2-inch strips

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (or balsamic, if not readily available)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Garnish with:

½ cup chopped green onions

½ cup chopped Chinese parsley (cilantro)

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You can peel ginger with a spoon, to get to the places between "knobs"

You can peel ginger with a spoon, to get to the places between “knobs”

Here’s a quick tip for the ginger: peel the spaces between the “knobs” with a spoon. It’s much easier and less wasteful, than using a knife.

 

Chop the squash into bite-sized pieces

Chop the squash

Chop the squash into bite-sized pieces and steam.

 

Drain the steamed squash

Drain the steamed squash

Steam the chopped squash in a steamer (or a microwave) until just tender. Drain and set aside.

 

Stir fry the grated ginger and pepper flakes

Stir fry the grated ginger and pepper flakes

Heat the oil in  a large skillet over medium heat and add the ginger and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.

 

Add the pork to the ginger and peppers

Add the pork to the ginger and peppers

Increase heat to medium high and add the chopped pork~ cook for 4-5 minutes.

 

Combine sauce ingredients

Combine sauce ingredients

Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients with a whisk. Pour the mixture into the pork and stir, coating the pork. Cook until the sauce thickens, (a couple of minutes) then add in the squash, tossing to coat with the sauce. Top with green onions and cilantro and serve. The freshness of the garnish really makes it extra special, so do yourself a favor don’t leave it out!

 

I'm serving this on the side

I’m serving this on the side

I’ve also chopped and steamed some Chinese broccoli (gai lan) to enjoy with it. This is much leafier than “American broccoli,” and a lot less expensive, too.

 

Chinese broccoli

Chinese broccoli, a. k. a. gai lan

 

Chinese long squab with pork and ginger

Chinese long squash with pork and ginger

 

A lovely, light, flavorful dinner

A lovely, light, flavorful dinner

 

Serve with rice, if you wish, and another veggie. We're loving the Chinese broccoli that's in season.

Serve with rice, if you wish, and another veggie. We’re loving the Chinese broccoli that’s in season!

 

 

Frozen Watermelon-Strawberry Pops for the Coming “Dog Days”

The “dog days” of Summer are almost here, and we’re all sure to be hot and in need of some humor. Here’s a treat that will not only refresh and rehydrate, but it also has a lot of visual appeal for kids and adults, alike.  The visual part makes a real, fruit popsicle look like a watermelon. These will take a little bit more time than simple frozen fruit juice in a mold because of the different layers, but a little bit of extra delight seems worth it, to me. One of the nicest things about these pops, is the fact that the contain no added sugar. For once, hears a treat that’s truly healthy!

Summer refreshers

Summer refreshers

You'll also need mini chocolate chips, coconut, popsicle molds and sticks

You’ll also need mini chocolate chips, coconut, popsicle molds and sticks

The following makes 8 watermelon pops, but this is easily halved. You’ll need:

2 cups of watermelon chunks

6 strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips (we want these to look like watermelon seeds)

½ cup coconut water

4 teaspoons (approximately)  flaked coconut (I’m using and unsweetened, reduced fat, organic coconut)

2 kiwi fruits

 

You’ll also need popsicle molds, popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, and an immersion blender.

Put the watermelon and strawberries together into a bowl

Put the watermelon and strawberries together into a bowl

Remove the black seeds from the watermelon and place the chunks into a medium bowl along with the strawberries.

Purée with a blender

Purée with a blender

Process with an immersion blender, until all the chunks are liquified.

Pour into molds

Pour into molds

Pour the mixture into the molds, leaving abut an inch from the top of each mold.

Cover with foil and poke the sticks through

Cover with foil and poke the sticks through

Wrap the tops of the molds with foil and poke the popsicle sticks through the center. Put the molds into the freezer, pulling them out after an hour to an hour and a half, or so. You may need to check a couple of times. (The mixture should be slushy, but not frozen solid).

Add 1/2 teaspoon of chocolate chips to each mold

Add 1/2 teaspoon of chocolate chips to each mold

When it reaches that point, add a ½ teaspoon of the mini chocolate chips into each mold, and gently stir them around with the stick. The mixture should be slushy enough that the sticks won’t need the foil.

Straighten the sticks in the molds

Straighten the sticks in the molds

Straighten the sticks and put the molds back into the freezer until they are frozen solid.

Next step is to make the “white layer” of the rind. This will be a thin layer made up of the coconut water with ground coconut mixed in it.

Coconut water & coconut

Coconut water & coconut

I poured the coconut water into a lipped measuring cup, to make it easier, but really any small bowl will do. You can use any brand you like, and I chose the one with the tiki on it.

This is the "white layer" of the rind

This is the “white layer” of the rind

Spoon a tablespoon of the coconut water into the top of each of the molds. Then spoon a half teaspoonful of dried coconut into the water in the mold. With the tip of a knife or another popsicle stick, carefully distribute the coconut in the water. When all molds are done, place back into the freezer until that layer is frozen, too.

The last step will be the “green layer” of the rind.

Spoon out the kiwi into a bowl

Spoon out the kiwi into a bowl

Cut the kiwi in half, remove the white core with a knife, and scoop the pulp into a small bowl or cup with a spoon.

Mash the kiwi with a fork

Mash the kiwi with a fork

Mash the kiwi with a fork, removing the lumps as much a possible.

Fill the last part of the mold cavity

Fill the last part of the mold cavity

Continue until all are filled

Continue until all are filled

Spoon the kiwi into the top portion of the mold, continuing until all molds are filled.

Freeze one more time

Freeze one more time

Freeze the pops until the kiwi is firm, then cover tops with aluminum foil until ready to serve. This will help them from drying out and getting freezer burn.

Serve. These are great on a hot, summer afternoon!

Delightful to the eye, as well as the taste!

Delightful to the eye, as well as the taste!

 

Truly healthy and natural

Truly healthy and natural

 

Imagine them at your next pool party…

Can you resist?

Can you resist?

 

 

“Rummy O’Gray’s” Fabulous Spinach Salad

My Monty has a nickname. It’s Rummy O’Gray. He actually got this name from when he was buying and selling stuff on eBay, using their username generator. The generator would ask questions like, “What do you like to drink?” and “What is your favorite color?” and somehow he ended up with this. He also considers it his “pirate” name, which is appropriate enough, since he has always been a sailor. He still is a sailor in his heart, though he doesn’t have a boat right now.

Anyway, way back in day when we first met, Monty would frequently cook me dinner. He would impress me, (like a good man should)  with some really spectacular stuff like stuffed mushrooms, steak salad and his very own version of chicken long rice. Of all those things he cooked for me back then, none was ever as memorable as his spinach salad. There is a lot to love about this classic, from the fresh healthy greens, juicy tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and the simple, but extra-special dressing. Soon enough, you’ll see why I chose this moniker to describe this dish! What I will tell you now is that the dressing can be lit at the end for dramatic effect!

BACON!

Bacon!

I also know the bacon lovers will adore this one, too~ Yes, it does have bacon in it! It not only has bacon in it, but the drippings from the pan that the bacon was fried in are used to make the dressing.  We tend to only have this once in a while, for that reason, but It’s a very, thoroughly enjoyed treat, when we do.

Okay, now that I have everyone’s attention, here is what you’ll need:

What's needed

What’s needed

For the salad

8 oz. fresh young spinach, washed and spun dry (or buy the pre-washed stuff and save yourself a little time)

4 slices bacon (I like to use uncured)

2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

¼ cup red onion, chopped

8 oz. fresh white mushrooms, stems removed and slice thin

1-2 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 avocado, sliced

For the dressing

juice of ½ lemon

1 tablespoon honey

1 oz. of rum

A bit of bacon fat and this...

A bit of bacon fat and this…

Ok, now see that last ingredient? That’s what this is all about!

Toss ingredients before adding spinach

Toss ingredients before adding spinach

In a large bowl, place tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs and onion. Toss very gently to mix ingredients. Set aside.

Fry the bacon in a frying pan. Drain and cool bacon on paper toweling; set aside, saving drippings in pan. The drippings will become the oil in the dressing.

If there is a lot of bacon grease, remove some once it’s cooled a bit, so you have approximately ¼ cup left in the pan. Gently heat the grease and add in the lemon juice and honey. The grease should sizzle, when these are added. Carefully add in the rum and cook for about 3 minutes, or if you like drama, light with a match or lighter so the alcohol burns off. (I tried to get a photo of this and failed. Oh, well…)

Rummy O'Gray, himself

Rummy O’Gray, himself

I did get this photo of Rummy O’Gray, who insisted I take a photo of him with flash. I hate flash photos, but I did want to accommodate the dressing chef!

Add spinach and avocado

Add spinach and avocado

Add sliced avocado and spinach into the salad and gently toss. Pour warm bacon dressing over salad and gently toss again.

Mmmmmm….

Mmmmmm….

Another yummy summer supper

Another yummy summer supper

Spinach salad with bacon

Rummy O’Gray’s Spinach Salad with Bacon & Eggs

Serve immediately and enjoy! The only thing we’re adding to this to make it a meal, is some sourdough bread. Yippee!

 

 

 

Avocado Blitzing

Lovely, gigantic avocados

Lovely, gigantic avocados

We were very fortunate to be given some gigantic avocados, so I figure I’d best start using them, before they get too soft. Also, this may be that last batch we get, since this particular variety apparently doesn’t fruit all summer. So, we will be having avocado for dinner every night, for the rest of this week. This is a happy thought!

Simple ingredients for shrimp stuffed avocados

Simple ingredients for shrimp stuffed avocados

What I’m going with the ripest one is make a shrimp salad and fill the halves. It’s a perfect idea for this hot weather, and it’s also really, easy because the shrimp salad part can be made earlier in the day and chilled in the refrigerator. I’m using the following:

1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice + 1 teaspoon or so to coat the exposed part of the avocado
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined and cooked
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 super-sized avocado, cut in half and seed removed (or use 2 small ones)

Chop shrimp

Chop shrimp

Chop onion, celery, parsley and tarragon

Chop onion, celery, parsley and tarragon

Add everything except avocado into a bowl

Add everything except avocado into a bowl

Mix it all up

Mix it all up

Combine all ingredients except for the avocado in a small bowl.

 

Stuff avocado halves with shrimp mixture

Stuff avocado halves with shrimp mixture

Sprinkle lemon juice over the cut surfaces of the avocado. Fill the cavity of each half with the shrimp mixture. I saved one whole shrimp to garnish each half.

Serve with a green salad and bread

Serve with a green salad and bread

This is our main dish tonight, so I’m serving a simple green salad and some bread to accompany.

Shrimp-stuffed Avocados make a refreshing summer meal

Shrimp-stuffed Avocados make a refreshing summer meal

This is a great Summer meal, without heating up the kitchen!

The Virtual Blog Tour

Okay, today’s post is going to be a bit different than the usual.

The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.

The person who invited me to take part in the blog tour is Vince Gotera. Vince and I met several years ago in a Facebook group for people who grew up in San Francisco. That’s when I found out that he went to school with my brothers, though they were not close. 

Vince Gotera, poet and owner of the blog "The Man With the Blue Guitar"

Vince Gotera, poet and owner of the blog “The Man With the Blue Guitar”

Vince Gotera is the Editor of the North American Review and a creative writing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. His collections of poetry include the forthcoming Pacific Crossing as well as Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, and Fighting Kite. His work has also appeared widely in magazines, anthologies, textbooks, and online venues. Vince is also a guitarist and bass player; he is the lead guitarist of the band The Random Five. His favorite color is blue in all its various flavors: aqua, cobalt, electric, indigo, periwinkle, robin’s egg, royal, sky. Visit his blog, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” at http://vincegotera.blogspot.com.

 

Now I’m going to dig into the four “virtual blog tour” questions:

1. What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a lot of things now, though mainly looking for a real job. That’s really hard work, especially for the right-brained sort of person that I am, but I feel the need to be fair to my partner. Writing this blog, searching for recipes, testing them out, etc. is more work than work, but I really, truly enjoy it. It’s still only a few months old, but I realize it takes about a year to really start gaining some ground. Meanwhile, I enjoy the process. I also have several other projects in folders, waiting to come to fruition. One of them is a book of my nature photography. Many friends have told me that if I write it, they will buy it, so I have to hope that what they are telling me is true. At this point, I’m still in the photo gathering stage, meaning I haven’t laid it out yet. Creating books can be a very, time-consuming process. I started to create a cookbook a couple of years ago, just because there were NO jobs, and I needed to keep my design skill set up. I’ve since scrapped that, since my food photography and styling has gotten much better. I do think I will publish a Good Reason to Smile Cookbook some time down the road. 

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Actually, I’m not sure it does. There are a lot of food blogs out there, and I guess what I’m trying to do is post for many different people. There is a “local” aspect, which means I’m limited to what I can buy in the markets here, and I really love good, healthy food, so I tend to feature stuff with ingredients from our farmers markets. My mom likes the idea that I get historical sometimes~ posting family recipes and writing in some memories and family history. I have friends from all over the world, which makes it fun, too. Some are vegetarian, so I try to keep them interested, as well. An idea came up that we should have a family recipe sharing day. This came up after I posted my great-grandmother’s Irish Soda Bread recipe. I think it would be wonderful to have special, family recipes shared from all over the world, and I was thinking of making that real sometime around the holidays.

3. Why do you write/create what you do?

To make it simple, because I really love it. I so, totally love food~ actually, sometimes more visually even than tasting it. In fact, sometimes I can even satisfy a food craving, just by looking at a beautiful image of that food. I started doing this blog pretty recently, though it has been in my head for a while. Just for the record, I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I mean from the time I was a kid. A couple of years ago, I was part of a Facebook Photo-A-Day photography group, based out of Australia. Whenever I posted a food photo, the group members would go a little crazy over them~ they loved them! They’ve given me a lot of encouragement. My partner Monty and I went through a tough time earlier this year, and one morning I had this interesting epiphany, and that’s really what got the blog started. I already had a background in photography, since I studied it in school, and have been going crazy with nature photography for years. I also think it has helped my writing, too. The icing on the cake has been learning food styling. Cooking food and photographing it at the same time is really hard work. I feel that I need to show things step-by-step, and that’s what makes it so much work. But what I love most, is when the food is done, and I get to set up the presentation. I feel so satisfied and happy when a recipe comes out well, and I’m able to get my vision across in a beautiful way. For me, it really is about the photography.

4. How does your writing/creating process work?

It’s quite simple really, though it happens differently for almost every post. Sometimes I see a beautiful food, like a peach or a tomato. I have to buy it, and then I’ll start searching for ideas on how to create something or even just find a recipe that uses it. Sometimes I see a gorgeous image of food styling, and I’ll want to mimic something about, whether it’s the colors, lighting or plating. Sometimes, it’s the availability or season of a certain food~ all you have to do is say “passionfruit,” and I’m thinking of all the ways I can make something from it. Passionfruit excites me. Or, sometimes I’ve posted too many desserts, and I feel it’s time to break it up with something savory. It just depends on what’s going on. 

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I’ll be introducing to you the people I’ve invited to participate in a future post. 

 

 

 

A Great Stuffing for a Giant Zucchini

I love zucchini. I have a lot of memories of eating it fresh from the garden, because my grandmother grew it in her backyard.  It is a favorite summer veggie, because it’s plentiful, easy to fix and nutritious. Here’s a fun and delicious side dish, using the beautiful zucchini that is showing up now at the farmers markets. In fact, we got a really big one last Saturday.

BIG zucchini

BIG zucchini

This recipe serves 6, and that’s what the ingredient list is geared for, (especially if you’re having guests for dinner, and this recipe is perfect for that) but I cut it down just for the two of us. If you like Italian food, this recipe is well worth a try.

3 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz. baby bella or white mushrooms, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 cups bread crumbs

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

¼ cup parsley, chopped fine

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1½ cups Parmesan cheese, divided (or any Italian cheese)

½ teaspoon salt

———————————————————————————————————————————

Preheat oven to 350º F. Lightly grease (or spray with cooking spray) a 15-x-11-inch baking dish.

Make a boat by scooping out the inside

Make a boat by scooping out the inside

Using a melon baller or a spoon, remove pulp from zucchini, leaving a ¼-inch thick shell. It helps to carefully score around the circumference of the zucchini with a knife, before spooning out the pulp. Place zucchini “boats,” cut-side up in a prepared baking dish, and set aside.

Chop the zucchini "scoopings"

Chop the zucchini “scoopings”

Finely chop the zucchini pulp. In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and zucchini pulp; cook for 15 minutes, or until zucchini is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Chop mushrooms and bell pepper

Chop mushrooms and bell pepper

Combine mushrooms and peppers with zucchini mixture

Combine mushrooms and peppers with zucchini mixture

Add mushrooms and bell pepper; cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add bread crumbs, 1 cup of the cheese, sour cream or yogurt, thyme, parsley and salt, stirring to combine.

Stuff the "boats"

Stuff the “boats”

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Divide mixture among zucchini shells, making smooth, rounded mounds. Bake for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with remaining  cup of cheese. Return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes.

Serve

Serve!

Stuffed zucchini

Stuffed zucchini

Great served with pasta

Great served with pasta

Serves 6.

Tiny Tomatoes

Just a photo today, because I couldn’t resist buying these beautiful, teeny tomatoes, at the farmers market yesterday.

So tiny, sweet-smelling and beautiful

So tiny, sweet-smelling and beautiful

 

Happy Sunday, everyone!

A Caribbean Twist to a Healthy Cookie

The cookie jar is empty… Monty keeps reminding me of this, so I guess I should fill it with something. In my constant search for interesting cookie recipes, I ran across one a couple of weeks ago that really caught my eye. It was for a soft cookie, based along the lines of carrot cake. I found this really intriguing, because I have a carrot cake recipe that I really love, and the main reason I love it is because it has lime and coconut in it. So when I saw this one, I knew exactly how I was going to adapt it to my taste.

Carrot Sandwich Cookies

Carrot Sandwich Cookies

What is good about this recipe are not only the two cups of carrots, but in the cookie itself, there is less than a cup of sugar. Of course, the filling kind of kills that healthiness a bit, but these are cookies, after all. Besides, you can use  American Neufchâtel like I did, and save some fat calories. The tang of lime zest and coconut extract in the filling makes it all worth it.

We mix the lime with the coconut…. and a few other things

We mix the lime with the coconut…. and a few other things

For the Cookies:

2 cups carrots, grated

2/3 cup brown sugar, divided

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons oil (coconut is best)

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon  cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ cup unsweetened coconut

½ cup raisins

½ cup finely chopped macadamia nuts

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

 

For the Filling

1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces cream cheese, less fat is okay (I used American Neufchâtel)

1 teaspoon coconut extract

grated zest of 1 lime

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Preheat oven to 350º.

Mix 3 tablespoons of brown sugar with the carrots

Mix 3 tablespoons of brown sugar with the carrots

Grate the carrots until you have 2 cups. It’s really hard to tell how many you’ll need, since they vary so much in size, but you’ll need at least 3 medium-sized ones.  Mix the carrots with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar (it’s easier to just do this in a large, fine mesh sieve) and allow them to drain for 10 minutes.

drain for 10 minutes

Drain for 10 minutes

Discard the liquid and set the carrots aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, oil, egg and vanilla. Add in the raisins, nuts and coconut.

Whisk dry ingredients together

Whisk dry ingredients together

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, ½ cup of brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt and baking soda.

Combine the flour mixture into the butter mixture, mixing well until just combined.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a parchment covered baking sheet. They’ll need to bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow them to cool, once finished baking.

Blend the frosting ingredients

Blend the frosting ingredients

Meanwhile, make the filling. Beat together by hand or by mixer the sugar, butter, cream cheese, extract and lime zest until smooth.

Allow to cool before frosting

Allow to cool before frosting

Frost one side

Frost one side

Once the cookies have cooled, spread the icing on the bottom side of the cookie and top with another.

Top with a plain cookie

Top with a plain cookie

 

Frost until no more cookies

Frost until no more cookies

Makes about 1 dozen sandwich cookies. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week or enjoy immediately.

Serve with coffee, if you like. Yummy!

Serve with coffee, if you like. Yummy!