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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Veggies/sides, on January 19th, 2016.

butternut_sq_potato_gratinIf you’re looking for an elegant and over-the-top taste in a side vegetable, this is your ticket to success! Rich? Yes. Hard? No, not really, though it does take some prep work. Delicious? Absolutely!

Looking on my own blog archives, I see that I posted a similar gratin a year ago, a recipe that Phillis Carey made for a Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Gratin. That one is only butternut squash. This one, made by Diane Phillips at a cooking class I went to last month (and have since made myself) contains both butternut squash and potatoes in about equal measure. Phillis’ recipe used only Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, whereas this one uses Gruyere mostly, with a little bit of Parmigiano in it. Although Diane cooks global cuisines, she often does Italian food as her heritage is Italian, and she and her husband spend part of every year there.

But this dish, I think, is more French than Italian. There’s nothing much in it that rings of Italy except the Parmigiano, and nothing particular that rings French except the Gruyere, so I can’t pinpoint. Gratins are usually French, however!

butternut_potato_gratin_unbakedThere’s the casserole just before it went into the oven. Both butternut squash and Yukon potatoes (sliced on my mandoline at about 3/8 “ thick) are gently simmered in milk and cream until nearly done, then poured into an oiled baking dish, covered with a mixture of the cheeses and baked for about 45 minutes. Diane suggested 1/2” slices, but my mandoline only goes up to 3/8”, so that’s what this was – it may have cooked in less time, but otherwise there was no difference between mine and Diane’s. It also has a leek in it, some garlic, fresh thyme too. And if you’re feeling feisty, add some squirts of Tabasco (I didn’t when I made it just because there were children eating it).

Once baked it’s nice to let it sit out to cool just a bit – no question – if you had a bite of this straight from the oven you’d burn your mouth, so do let it rest for 5-10 minutes before digging into it. I took this to a family Christmas Eve dinner (the one above) and had a 2nd casserole that had enough for Christmas Day dinner as well. I reconfigured the recipe to serve 16 and it served more than that, I think. The casserole isn’t all that thick/deep, but because it’s rich, you don’t want to serve large portions. With a well-rounded dinner, I think this recipe below would feed 10 for sure, as long as nobody was doing seconds or taking a gigantic serving. Hungry teenagers? Well, it might only feed 6!

What’s GOOD: the combo of butternut squash and potatoes is sublime – the textures are different – but the mix produces a rich, silky casserole that’s everything you’d ever want in a beautiful, elegant side vegetable to a special occasion meal.

What’s NOT: well, only that it’s rich (it does contain heavy cream and ample grated cheese). But hey, it’s just one very special dish, not a regular weeknight kind of thing. It does take a bit of prep, but if you have a slicer or mandoline, it made quick work of the prep. I thought it was easier than expected.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Butternut Squash and Potato Gratin

Recipe By: Diane Phillips cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

3 cups butternut squash — peeled, cut in 1/2″ slices
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes — scrubbed, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic — minced
1 whole leek — chopped finely, both white and tender green part
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — finely chopped
6 drops Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese — finely shredded
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated

NOTE: If you don’t have a leek, use half of a white onion, chop up and cook through in the milk/cream mixture.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with olive oil spray or nonstick cooking spray (not Pam).
2. In a large NONSTICK skillet, heat the squash slices, potato slices, milk, cream, garlic, leeks (or onion), thyme, Tabasco, and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the vegetables are almost done; they should be firm, but a knife will pierce them easily.
3. Transfer vegetables to prepared baking dish and sprinkle top with the cheeses.
4. Bake the gratin for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheeses are golden brown. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving. This dish is especially good with grilled meat, chicken or seafood.
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 19g Fat (58.1% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 111mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on January 15th, 2016.

tomatillo_salsa_green_beans

There are a lot of recipes on this-here blog for green beans. I like them. I’ll eat them any old way, even steamed with a sprinkling of Butter Buds on them. But making something different with them is definitely my preference.

Last month at Phillis Carey’s bonanza “Diva” cooking class she made a kind of a southwest dinner. I have yet to share the star of her group of recipes – the pork tenderloin. Soon. Meanwhile, I wanted to make this green bean recipe. All for me. Just me. I’ve now had 3 meals with them and I still have some left over. They go a long way.

tomatillos3You know what tomatillos are, right?  There at left – they’re a Mexican fruit-like vegetable – they kind of look like green tomatoes, but they grow with a paper-like covering over them (probably to protect the tender flesh from the hot sun). You peel the covering off, wash them well (because they develop a kind of sticky residue on them) and cut them up. They’re TART. Lemony in a way. You wouldn’t eat them straight away – pucker power for sure. But they’re used frequently in all manner of Mexican cooking.

Phillis gave us the recipe for making a tomatillo salsa from scratch, but she said if you didn’t want to do that part, just buy a jar of tomatillo salsa or tomatillo verde at the grocery store. That’s what I did, Herdez brand. That saved a bunch of work. Some markets have fresh tomatillo salsa on the refrigerated shelves, at least here in SoCal. But the jarred stuff works fine.

To the jarred salsa I added some additional cumin and lime juice. Phillis’ recipe calls for a red onion. I didn’t have one, so I used a yellow onion instead. The green beans are simmered in water until they’re nearly done. Meanwhile you cook the sliced onion in vegetable oil until the strands are limp, then you add in the drained green beans and the tomatillo salsa. I decided to add something that’s likely not traditional – a bit of sour cream. It cut the acidity of the salsa a little bit and added a nice richness to them. There’s very little sour cream in them. You could try it without that too, which would be true to the original recipe. I added fresh cilantro to the finished dish, just because I could. I like cilantro in most things.

What’s GOOD: certainly this is a different kind of preparation of green beans – not a common method, with the tomatillos in it. The dish is tart, piquant. The sour cream softens it a little bit. If you or your family don’t like the tart flavor, leave out the lime juice (the jarred salsa may have enough) and add just a little bit of sugar. This makes a nice dinner presentation for a side veggie. A gussied-up veggie. It keeps for several days.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. It’s a lovely veggie. Different. Maybe not to everyone’s taste.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

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Green Beans with Tomatillo Salsa

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2015
Serving Size: 8

2 pounds green beans — haricot verts or regular ones cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium red onion — sliced
8 ounces Herdez tomatillo verde — jarred tomatillo sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro — chopped, plus some for garnish
2 teaspoons lime juice
3 tablespoons sour cream — optional

1. Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Add salt, then add green beans. Simmer until beans are just BARELY done (you’ll cook them a minute more later). Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once cool, drain and dry. The green beans may be cooked up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
2. In a large skillet warm the oil, then add the sliced onion. Stir occasionally and cook over medium to low heat until the onion is completely limp. Add the jarred tomatillo verde sauce, ground cumin, lime juice and some of the cilantro. Bring to a simmer. Taste for seasonings – if the mixture seems too tart, add a couple of pinches of sugar. Add sour cream, continuing to heat, but do not boil. Add the green beans and warm them through until they’re hot. Pour out onto a platter and garnish with additional cilantro.
Per Serving: 87 Calories; 5g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1022mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Veggies/sides, on December 17th, 2015.

tomato_corn_salad_shallot_vinaigrette

We still have some fairly nice tomatoes at our farmer’s markets, and even in the grocery stores. Do make this if you still have some with bright, fresh available produce.

Last month one of my book clubs chose to read Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage , the memoir written by Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame (her blog that I’ve been reading for years). It’s a very cute book – about Molly’s journey from single woman, to meeting the man of her dreams and then the rocky road of opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle. The rocky road was about pouring all their hard earned savings into it, even when Molly wasn’t so sure it was a good idea, but she wanted to support her hubby in fulfilling HIS dream of making pizza like he remembered from a Brooklyn restaurant that makes, to this day, some amazing pizza (so we read in the book, anyway). Delancey was almost an overnight success (fortunately) but it was almost Molly’s undoing. She tells it all, sharing her innermost fears almost from day one.

Our book club doesn’t usually read food related books, or restaurant memoirs, so I was surprised when Peggy suggested it. Not that I didn’t want to read the book – I did – but wasn’t sure the other gals in the group, who aren’t all foodies necessarily, would. But yet, the book isn’t all about food – it’s about Molly’s journey. And interspersed in the book are recipes. This one you won’t find on her blog, Orangette. That’s kind of a cardinal rule in blogging – if you’re one of the fortunates, who has become a published author, you don’t write up the book recipes on the blog – why would people buy the book then?

Peggy & her husband Gary came to one of our gourmet group dinners recently, and she brought the salad – the one we’d read about in the book. And gosh, was it ever good. It’s a sterling recipe for showcasing good tomatoes. Don’t even think about making this if you can’t find good tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. These days we seem to be able to get corn on the cob year ‘round, so that’s not a problem. And basil is ever present too. It’s just the tomatoes you’ll have to be careful about.

The shallot vinaigrette is shaken in a glass jar – nothing difficult about it, and any left overs will keep for a few days. I was delighted to use the dressing on a salad a few days later. And actually the tomatoes themselves, the ones left over from the dinner, were still glorious 2 days later since they’d marinated in the dressing. Peggy said she added a little more salt and sugar to the dressing, so I’ve included that change in the recipe below. Taste the dressing to make sure it meets your approval – and add more sugar if it tastes too tart. Molly suggested having fresh bread to mop up the good juices – we didn’t do that, and I wished we’d had some, but we had a full meal without having any bread. This might make a lovely lunch salad with some bread.

What’s GOOD: it’s an easy recipe to make – it’s all about the tomatoes. But yet, the corn adds a very nice texture to the salad. There isn’t all that much of the corn, but it’s a lovely addition. And then, the shallot vinaigrette is really, really good. Nothing all that unusual about it, but I thought it was perfect for the tomatoes. It will keep a day or so, although I wouldn’t serve it to guests after the first time probably. Definitely a keeper.

What’s NOT: only if you can’t get good tomatoes – don’t even try making this if that’s the case.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

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Tomato and Fresh Corn Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Molly Wizenberg’s memoir, Delancey
Serving Size: 4

VINAIGRETTE:
1/2 extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot — minced
2 pinches salt — or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon sugar — or more to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
SALAD:
4 large tomatoes — sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes — halved
3/4 cup fresh corn — cut off the cob
6 whole basil leaves — thinly sliced
Fleur de sel or sea salt flakes — to taste

1. DRESSING: Put all ingredients in a screw top glass jar. Tightly close the jar and shake vigorously. Put aside until ready to dress the salad, or store in the fridge if you’re making it ahead of time.
2. SALAD: Place the sliced tomatoes on a large serving platter (or divide between individual serving plates). Scatter corn kernels over the tomatoes. Season with fleur de sel, then drizzle generously with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the fresh basil. Serve immediately with crusty bread to mop up the juices.
Per Serving: 304 Calories; 28g Fat (78.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 102mg Sodium.

Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on December 9th, 2015.

squash_corn_sugarsnap_gratin

Although this could be a vegetable side dish, I made it as my dinner entrée the other night. It was absolutely delicious. And filling. And relatively good for me (however, there’s some milk in it – just a little – and some cheese – and some butter).

Seems like I’m not as good as I used to be at planning ahead. In this case it was planning for my own dinner. So, I hadn’t defrosted any chicken, or fish, or whatever – and by the time I thought about it, it was after 5 pm. But, I did have some fresh vegetables in the crisper.

This is a riff on an Ina Garten recipe that I’ve posted here on my blog already – zucchini gratin. (That dish was a favorite of my darling DH and I haven’t made this since he passed away last year.) It’s a very simple recipe to make – cooking some onion and zucchini, pouring it into a casserole dish and topping it with panko and grated cheeses. What I had in my refrigerator were yellow crookneck and sugarsquash_corn_sugarsnap_casserolesnap peas. I always have some corn in the freezer too. And I’d bought some Fontina cheese (a good melting cheese) and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator also. First the onion is chopped up fine, cooked in butter, and while that’s cooking you slice up the squash – very thin actually. I have a small hand-held mandoline with 4 settings on it – I used the thickest, which is still pretty thin. All that’s added in and it gets cooked over low heat for about 8-10 minutes until the squash is just about cooked through. I’d chopped up some sugar snaps and found the corn in the freezer. That was cooked just slightly, then it’s seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg (and a little flour), then some milk is added to make a very light creamy sauce. Then it all was poured into a wide gratin pan. Then I grated the cheeses and tossed that with the panko crumbs. That got sprinkled on top and into a 400° oven it went and baked for about 20 minutes until the crumbs were golden brown and the vegetables were bubbling. I got two small casseroles out of the mixture, so I have another dinner of it in the near future. I’ll heat it in the toaster oven and turn it on to broil at the last minute to crisp up the crumbs.

What’s GOOD: a vegetable gratin is always delicious in my book. And since I love summer squash anyway, it’s a given I’d love this. The original recipe called for Gruyere cheese, and I think it probably has a bit more character (flavor) than the Fontina, but it was good anyway. I nearly licked the pan (not really) if that gives you an indication of how good it was. It’s comfort food.

What’s NOT: It does take a bit of work (mincing and slicing stuff) but it all comes together easily enough. From start to finish (out of the oven) took about 45 minutes, I guess.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open)

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Yellow Squash, Red Onion, Corn & Sugar Snap Gratin

Recipe By: Inspired by an Ina Garten recipe for Zucchini Gratin
Serving Size: 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large red onion — chopped
1 pound yellow crookneck squash — sliced thinly
1/3 cup corn
1/2 cup sugar snap peas — strings removed and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk — hot
1/2 cup Panko
1/4 cup Fontina cheese — grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 tablespoon butter — for the top (optional)

1. In a large skillet melt the butter.
2. Chop up the red onion finely and add to the butter. Saute over low to medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until the onion is completely wilted.
3. Add the thinly sliced yellow squash to the pan, stir so the squash mixes up with the onion and butter, cover and allow to cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the squash is just barely cooked through and is limp. Add the corn and sugar snaps. Cook for another minute or two.
4. Preheat oven to 400°.
5. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour. Stir around so the flour is disbursed throughout. Pour in the hot milk and stir until the “gravy” has formed and thickened. Continue to cook for about 1-2 minutes over low heat. Scoop the vegetables into a casserole dish (wider rather than tall if possible).
6. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the panko and the cheeses; stir to mix. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the casserole and dot the top with butter (if desired).
7. Bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown and the mixture is bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to sit just a couple of minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 229 Calories; 15g Fat (58.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 128mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 28th, 2015.

zucchini_cheesy_casserole

Something just a tad bit different. A riff on a standard Southern dish. Zucchini cloaked in a light custard, grated cheese added and cheese cracker crumbs sprinkled on top. Easy.

Have you ever read a recipe, thought you’d saved it and didn’t? Then 2 days later you go looking for it and can’t find it. That’s me. I was SURE I’d saved the recipe – I’d found it on somebody’s blog. Went to the 2 blogs I thought it must have been, but nope. Not there. So what’s a cook to do except hunt around on the ‘net for another one.

This recipe is very similar to hundreds. Squash casserole is ubiquitous in the South. Most of them are made with yellow squash, however. You could use yellow squash in this one, but I had zucchini.

As I write this I’ve just spent the last 5 days. 4-6 hours each day, going back in my blog for the last 4 years (to mid-2011) and adding all the posted recipes from my blog into my MasterCook software. What a tedious job that was. My buns were sore from sitting. My kitten kept me company in his little bed (one of those short cat poles with a round carpeted bed on top) waiting for strokes now and then. So at least I now have a record of all my blog recipes, but have still “lost” all the saved to-try recipes. There were hundreds of them. Oh well, so many recipes out there and never enough time to try them all anyway.

So, what I had was zucchini, Fontina cheese, Pecorino and some cheesy crackers – actually they weren’t Cheez-its (I never buy those anyway) but Trader Joe’s new cheese crackers. I don’t like them particularly, but they worked fine for this recipe which I knew I was going to make which is why I bought them. I’ll likely throw out the remainder of the box because they’re not good enough to snack on. Most of the recipes use Cheddar, or even American cheese.

I had a couple of leeks, so decided to use them, although they are not traditional in this casserole. They added a nice sweetness to the zucc_cheesy_casserole_unbakedcustard. I lightly sautéed onion and the leeks, then added the chunky zucchini in. I cooked all that until the zucchini was almost cooked, but not quite. That got poured into a casserole dish, a custard mixture (2 eggs, 2% milk and a tetch of cream) cheese was added on top, then the crushed up cheese crackers. I added the cream because I only had 2% milk, and the recipes I read all called for whole milk. You can do it all with 2% if you’d prefer. At left is the unbaked casserole.

Into the oven it went for about 20-25 minutes until the top was a bit crusty golden brown. The cheese crackers didn’t really brown, which was fine – it’s the cheese and the egg mixture that does. I let it sit out for about 5 minutes before I scooped out a serving. I’d made some salmon for my dinner. It was dreadful. Probably the preparation was fine, but the salmon had freezer burn on it and it just tasted awful. I ate about 3 tiny bites and threw it all out. I made a chunked up salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, red bell peppers and some Italian parsley. It made up for the awful salmon. I didn’t even zucc_cheesy_casserole_wholewant to put it in my trash (I don’t use my garbage disposal much anymore because it too easily gets clogged up) because I knew it would smell something fierce. The disposal made quick work of about 1/2 pound of salmon. Sigh. At right is the finished (baked) casserole.

What’s GOOD: it’s very easy to prepare and makes a simple vegetable very elegant and tasty. I liked the custard and the cheese. And the onions & leeks also added a sweetness. I could have done without the cheese cracker crumb crust – maybe next time I’d use saltines or panko. Or maybe if I’d used Cheez-its or Pepperidge Farms’ cheesy crackers it would have tasted better. But overall, it was a great dish. It could also be a very nice vegetarian entree.

What’s NOT: only that it takes about 15-20 minutes to get it ready for the oven. A bit of chopping and mixing. But worth doing.

printer-friendly PDF and FILES: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open in MC)

Zucchini Cheesy Custard Casserole

Recipe By: My own concoction, based on a variety of online recipes, 2015
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound zucchini — stemmed, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion — chopped
1 large leek — cleaned, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk

1/4 cup heavy cream
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup Fontina cheese — grated (or Cheddar)
1/3 cup Pecorino cheese — grated (or Parmigiano, or some other cheese of choice)
1/2 cup cheese crackers — crushed

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. In a large skillet heat olive oil until it begins to shimmer, then add onion and leeks. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, but not brown at all. Turn heat down if necessary.
3. Add zucchini and cover. Continue cooking for about 4-7 minutes until zucchini is nearly cooked through.
4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk eggs until they’re blended, then add milk. Set aside.
5. Grate cheese and crumble the cheese crackers and set aside.
6. Grease a casserole dish (about 2 quart) and pour the vegetable mixture into the dish. Level slightly. Pour in the milk mixture and top with grated cheeses.
7. Top with cheese cracker mixture and bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden.
Per Serving: 239 Calories; 14g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 93mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 20th, 2015.

spicy_cauliflower_pinenuts_tahini

Simple vegetable. Roasted. Spiced up. Pine nuts added. Tahini sauce on top. Yum.

I’d bought a cauliflower a couple of weeks ago. On a day when I thought, oh yes, I’ll fix that in a day or two. Days went by, and I forgot all about it stuffed into the back of the bottom shelf. By the time I decided to do something about it I truly thought it would have been over the hill (spoiled), but it wasn’t. Surprise. I’d read this recipe at Food52 that sounded really good and worth the effort to make.

cauliflower_spiced_roastingIt wasn’t hard to make though it did take some time to do – cut the cauliflower into florets, toss them in a spice blend of ground cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Drizzle the cauliflower with a few tablespoons of olive oil and spread them out on a big flat metal baking sheet. Roast in a hot oven for about 40 minutes, removing half way through to turn all the pieces over so they get brown toasty spots on at least 2 sides. Toast some pine nuts part way, and add them onto the pan with the cauliflower during the last 4 minutes or so of roasting. Meanwhile, you make the tahini sauce: tahini, some lemon juice, garlic, and water added to make it barely pourable, and some fresh parsley. Pour the hot-hot cauliflower out into a wide platter or bowl, sprinkle on some more chopped parsley and drizzle it with the tahini sauce (some of what you made, not all). Done. I cut the sauce part in half (because the original recipe indicated you’d have left over sauce). Well, maybe I didn’t put enough tahini sauce on the cauliflower because even making half, I have a LOT of sauce left over. So I’ve altered the recipe below to cut the sauce recipe down by 2/3. You can always make more.

What’s GOOD: a delicious way to make cauliflower more interesting. I like anything with sort-of Indian spices. This isn’t exactly Indian – maybe it is – I don’t know – but the cumin and cayenne gave it a little bit of zip. Cauliflower doesn’t ever get crisp because it has a lot of water in it – but it did get toasted on the edges as you can see in the photo at top. I liked the tahini drizzle. When I tasted it as I made it I was a bit ho-hum about it, but I added some more lemon tahini_lemon_juice_saucejuice, which brightened the flavors a lot and it enhanced the cauliflower. The tahini, surprisingly enough, doesn’t overwhelm the cauliflower as I thought it might. It’s a good recipe, worth making if you’re adventurous about spices on a humble veggie.

What’s NOT: it did take a bit of fuss to make – roasting the cauliflower; and, well, cutting it up into florets too (maybe get a helper to do that part), whisking up the tahini drizzle, toasting the nuts – certainly a bit more work than an ordinary quick veggie. Warmed up (the left overs) weren’t so perky – couldn’t seem to crisp up the cauliflower at all and the nuts had gotten soggy. So try to eat it at the first sitting.

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Spice-Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Tahini Drizzle

Recipe By: From Food52
Serving Size: 4

1 whole cauliflower — cut into florets
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper — or up to 1/2 tsp if you like the heat
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt — to taste Fresh-cracked pepper — to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted for about 4 minutes in a separate pan in oven with cauliflower
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped, as garnish
TAHINI DRIZZLE:
1/3 cup tahini
1 small lemon — juiced, divided use
1 small garlic clove — pressed or grated
Kosher salt — to taste
Fresh-cracked pepper — to taste
Warm water (start with 1/4 cup and add more as needed)
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower florets and spices. Drizzle the olive oil over top and toss to combine. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the mixing bowl to coat the cauliflower evenly, then spread out on a sheet pan.
3. Roast the cauliflower for about 40 minutes (depending on your oven), flipping once half-way through to ensure the cauliflower is evenly browned and roasted. About 4 minutes before they are done, sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the florets and give the pan a shake to mix them in with the spices and oil.
4. SAUCE: In a small mixing bowl, add in the tahini, and mix in half of the lemon juice. Whisk to combine, and then add in a garlic clove and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Start adding in warm water a little bit at a time, and continue whisking, until it reaches your desired consistency (something drizzle-able)! [When I made it it required about the same amount of water as tahini.] Taste and make sure there is enough salt and pepper, and if you like a little more tanginess add as much of the remaining lemon juice as you’d like. You want the sauce to be tangy.
6. Add chopped parsley to the tahini sauce and set aside.
7. When the spiced cauliflower and pine nuts are done, remove them from the oven and arrange in a serving bowl. Drizzle with some of the tahini sauce, to taste, top with more fresh chopped parsley, and serve warm. Save the rest of the tahini sauce (there won’t be much) as a dip or make into a dressing.
Per Serving (assuming you use all the drizzle): 280 Calories; 26g Fat (76.9% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 37mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on September 16th, 2015.

mashed_potatoes_blue_cheese_caramelized_onions

Is it fall yet? Time for some heartier side carbs?

My son and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary (13 years) and they threw themselves a lovely sit-down dinner with all the bells and whistles – fine china, crystal – and they invited a few other family members. It was just so fun. Powell grilled thick ribeyes and a big slab of fresh tuna right off the day boat. I didn’t know what they were making, but was asked to bring a carb, so I searched around for something. It’s interesting that I decided NOT to make a potato salad (it is still very much summer here in SoCal) or a pasta salad, or a rice salad, or a corn salad. Nope. I’d picked out something and just couldn’t seem to get my arms wrapped around it, so I went back to look at other recipes and decided to make this mashed potato dish. I had all the ingredients on hand – thank goodness. I had some Humboldt Fog blue cheese in the freezer and I’d bought a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes without knowing if I’d be using them or not.

The most time consuming thing about making these was cooking the onions. Perhaps you can see in the photo, I used some red onion. The recipe calls for yellow onions, but I opted to use 1 yellow and 1 red. They’re slow-slowly cooked in a bit of oil and butter for a long time, stirring periodically so they don’t burn. Once they finally release all of the water they begin to caramelize (helped along with a tiny pinch of brown sugar). Once that’s done you add in some port wine. I thought I had a bottle of ruby port, but having searched through the multitude of liqueurs in the cabinet, I could only find Tawny port (which is slightly more aged port, that’s all). It took about another 15 minutes to cook that down until all the port was evaporated, but the onions then have this translucent red glaze on them. Oh my. I could have eaten the plate full of them. Forget the potatoes!

The potatoes are fairly straight forward – cook them in water – I halved the small Yukon Gold ones I bought – and I left the skins on, although you really can’t see them in the photo. They’re there, though. If you prefer, skin the potatoes first. Anyway, I tried to mash them with a potato masher and after many minutes of huffing and puffing with it, I gave up and got out the hand mixer. But I still had some little lumps after several minutes. They don’t bother me and I don’t think anyone else noticed, or if they did, they must have liked it that way too. Half and half is infused with thyme. I didn’t have any fresh thyme and I didn’t make a trip to the grocery store for it – so I used dried thyme and strained the mixture after it was heated and left to sit for awhile. I ended up adding a little bit more milk to the mixture to smooth it out – it was a bit too stiff. I chose to add the cheese into the potatoes early on (you can fold in the cheese and butter at the end if you prefer – I didn’t want little crumbles of blue. I wanted it to be mixed in well. Your choice. I piled the potatoes into a casserole dish and then added the caramelized onions to the top.

I made the casserole a couple of hours ahead and when I got to their house it was reheated in a 225° oven for about 35 minutes (uncovered).

NOTE: if you happen to taste the potatoes – by themselves – and you’re a bit alarmed at the blue-cheesy flavor, don’t be discouraged. I was more than a bit turned off by the flavor – blue cheese has a tannic taste – and I could definitely taste it in the potatoes. But paired with the (sweet) caramelized onions – oh, a match made in heaven. I decided that next time I’d make this I’d make twice as many onions just because they’re so good, and it’s nice to have plenty of onion to temper the blue cheese. So, I’ve upped the quantity of onions in the recipe below. In the original recipe, for 2 pounds of potatoes you use 4 ounces of blue cheese and use 2 onions with 1 cup of port wine. I’ve changed it to 3 ounces of blue cheese and 4 onions and double the port. Just so you know.

What’s GOOD: overall the flavor is wonderful – the blue cheese marries well with the sweetness of the caramelized onions. A great pairing. It’s a hearty dish, for sure, and goes well with a big hunk of meat (steak, roast, pork chop). I wouldn’t pair this with turkey (to me the blue cheese might overwhelm the delicacy of turkey). A chicken breast might be okay, though, as long as it wasn’t strongly flavored. Can be made ahead by several hours too.

What’s NOT: just the time it takes to make (caramelizing the onions and boiling down the port) but oh, it’s worth it if you can do it.

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Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions & Blue Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated, Jan. 2003
Serving Size: 8

ONIONS:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 pounds yellow onions — sliced 1/4″ thick, 2 lbs=4 onions approx.
2 cups port wine — preferably ruby port [I used Tawny Port]
POTATOES:
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon fresh thyme — chopped (and more if potatoes are really thick)
2 pounds russet potatoes — unpeeled, scrubbed (or use Yukon Gold)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
3 ounces blue cheese — crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. ONIONS: Heat butter and oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over high heat; when foam subsides, stir in salt and sugar. Add onions and stir to coat; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and release some moisture, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low; cook, stirring frequently, until onions are deeply browned and sticky, about 35 minutes longer (if onions are sizzling or scorching, reduce heat; if onions are not browning after 15 minutes, increase heat). Stir in port; continue to cook until port reduces to glaze, 8 to 10 minutes. Set onions aside.
2. POTATOES: If you prefer potatoes to be peeled, do that ahead. [I left the skins on.] While onions are cooking, bring half-and-half and thyme to boil in small saucepan or microwave oven; cover to keep warm.
3. Place potatoes in large saucepan with water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are just tender (paring knife can be slipped into and out of potato with very little resistance), 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
4. Put potatoes through a food mill or ricer if desired. Or mash potatoes with potato masher directly in saucepan. Add warmed half and half and the blue cheese and fold in completely.
5. Add butter to potatoes stirring until incorporated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with onions. Or, can be made a few hours ahead (topped with the onions) and reheated, uncovered, in a 225° oven for about 35 minutes.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 18g Fat (47.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 680mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on July 30th, 2015.

calabacitas_july_2015

If you’ve never made Calabacitas, you’re missing out. Really, truly, missing out on one sensational taste combination. If you want to know more about the dish, click on the link in the first sentence.

Really, this post is not about the calabacitas, although I’ve included the recipe below (again) and the pdf. If you’re inclined, just go to the original recipe – it’s a real winner and one I return to over and over.

Talk about favorites! This was my dinner. Just a bowl of calabacitas. Nothing more, nothing less. I tasted this at a restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2007, and immediately came home wanting to know more about it. I think it’s the poblano chiles that MAKE it – those chiles have a very unique flavor, and this time I cut a corner and didn’t char the chile before using it – I just chopped it up and added it in. I was too lazy.

These days, since I’m cooking for one person – just me – I don’t go to the trouble to fix a complete meal all the time. My DH was always wanting a complete meal – meat, veggies, salad, an occasional carb. Sometimes I made a meat and 2 veggies. And I’ve found since I’m a widow, that making a green salad is more trouble than it’s worth. So I buy ready-made salads at Trader Joe’s. Sometimes I’ll use my own salad dressing, but more and more I’m lazy and use the tasty Trader Joe’s dressings they include. They’re all different. More often than not, I’ll have a TJ’s salad for lunch and then I’ll cook a dinner. Or, if I’ve been out and had lunch with a friend, I’ll have a TJ’s salad for dinner. That way I still get plenty of greens and some veggies they include. I have a couple of them that are favorites. I have some kind of Mexican chicken salad from there in my frig. Maybe lunch today.

We have a farmstand nearby and one of their first crops is usually sweet corn. I drive by it nearly every day. And this year they left the land around this farmstand fallow with nothing growing on the 10 or so acres there. The family who run this farmstand lease the farmstand space and they grow crops at other places in the county. BUT, at this time of year they have a big honkin’ sign they lean against the side of the small stand that says “SWEET CORN.” That means their farms are now harvesting the lovely sweet, white corn that’s always the first crop of every summer season. And when I saw the sign my mind just whooshed immediately to calabacitas. That was my CRAVING. I didn’t stop at the farmstand. I was in the wrong lane to get there, so since I was going to my local grocery store anyway, I decided to buy the corn there.

Surely, I’m a real snob when it comes to food. I admit it. I am. I like good food. I’m willing to pay for good food. I’m willing (usually) to go out of my way to find and eat good food.

And I learned a huge lesson making this dish, this time.

IF YOU WANT A QUALITY PLATE OF FOOD, USE QUALITY INGREDIENTS.

I purchased zucchini, corn and poblano chiles at the grocery store. Mistake. The zucchini was fine, and so was the poblano. But the corn? Oh my goodness, it was tasteless. Absolutely without taste at all. I should have stopped cooking – this was when I had used my wonderful handy-dandy corn tool to shave off the kernels corn_with_cutter1and one errant one flew across the island. I retrieved it and into my mouth it went. Hmmm. Not much taste, I thought. I should have stopped then and there and made a trip to the farmstand or to the other local, independent market that usually has good corn. But I didn’t. I was lazy and said, well, maybe the other ear will be fine. No, it wasn’t. The corn cost me a dollar for 2 ears. At the farmstand they’re usually about $1.50 apiece; never again will I quibble about the price. I have 2 more ears in the frig. I should throw them out as I doubt I’ll eat the corn from them. I don’t know if they’re GMO corn. Probably. Albertson’s must have gotten a deal on the corn – cheap corn = cheap on flavor. Maybe most people wouldn’t care. Their loss, and certainly mine. The good zucchini carried the flavor along with the poblano chile, but the usual sweetness from the corn was missing.

So, if you make this, seek out good corn – taste it first. I don’t know exactly how you do that – grocery stores wouldn’t be very happy to see you flipping off the husks and silk to pull off a kernel. Well anyway, go to a source you know and trust and the corn will probably be good. Maybe it has to do with our drought? That’s a possibility, but our farmers are allowed to use the water they need (I think). It’s us residential consumers who are required to use 25-33% less water than we used to.

What’s GOOD: this calabacitas dish is sensational. I’ve been making it year after year after year, and until this time, when I used a poor quality corn, it’s always met my expectations. Just find good corn!

What’s NOT: nary a thing, except the finding of good tasting corn. Do seek it out.

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Calabacitas con Crema

Source: Rick Bayless, restaurateur, from his book Authentic Mexican
Servings: 8

1 lb zucchini — (about four small)
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
1/2 whole onion — thinly sliced
2/3 cup heavy cream (or use fat-free half and half) – optional
1 whole poblano pepper — roasted, seeded, peeled and cut in thin strips
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Chop the zucchini in large chunks (about 3/4 inch to 1 inch) and set aside. Prepare onions ahead and set aside. Grill the poblano chile directly on a gas flame, cool, remove skin, then cut into small strips.
2. Using a very large skillet, heat butter and oil until very hot. Add zucchini and toss until tender. Remove the zucchini from the pan with a slotted spoon, allowing it to drain well. In the remaining oil and butter, fry the onion slices until soft and sweet, then add the corn and pepper slices. Add the zucchini and cream and cook until nice and hot. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.
Per Serving: 134 Calories; 11g Fat (67.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 292mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on June 22nd, 2015.

asparagus_roasted_balsamic_appetizer

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much “over” hummus. And no, this recipe has nothing to do with hummus – I’m just ranting. I’ve just had too much of it. I don’t buy it for myself, and if I’m invited to someone’s home and that’s all they serve as an appetizer, well, guess I’d eat it. But I don’t seek it out. It’s like onion dip back in the 70s, and then vegetable platters with ranch dressing. But I do like to serve vegetables in some form as an appetizer.

So, when I was invited to a dinner, our little gourmet group, I brought appetizers this time, and that meant vegetables. As I’ve mentioned many times, my recipe to-try file on my computer is huge, but since all the recipes can be sub-categorized, I went through the appetizers and found 2 to prepare. This one and a red onion confit thing which I’ll post in a few days.

I do love vegetables. We should eat them twice a day, but I don’t. I prepare them for dinner only, and if I have left overs, then yes, they get eaten with lunch or for another dinner. But we as a population don’t eat as many of them as we should (unless you are vegetarians), so that’s why I prefer taking veggies in some form as appetizers because they’re GOOD for us, and they generally don’t fill us up as heavy, creamy dips do or bread things, or even cheese (which I did serve with the other appetizer).

These asparagus were already washed and pre-trimmed, so I did nothing but oil them a little and into a hot oven they went for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, I prepared the very simple oil and butter sautéed garlic sauce (low and slow, so you don’t brown the garlic slices at all), adding in the tiny jot of soy sauce (low sodium) and balsamic vinegar at the end. Once the asparagus was roasted, this warm sauce was poured over the top, and I used my hands to roll them around in the dressing. There isn’t very much OF it, so you do need to get all the spears covered with a bit of the mixture.

Then they go into a covered container – I suppose while they’re hot they may absorb more of the flavorings. I let the container cool down on my counter top first, then the tray went in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.

This recipe couldn’t have been easier, although I did dirty up more dishes than I’d expected in preparing it. It can also be served as a vegetable with a dinner – maybe that’s how this recipe came about (over at food.com) – somebody had left overs and decided to serve them as an appetizer.

What’s GOOD: well, that it’s a vegetable appetizer. These are tasty. Not over the top, but they were good. Next time I’d add more garlic. I’ll be eating them (the left overs) as part of my dinner, I think. Do serve them with napkins, as your fingers will get a bit oily as you pick them up to eat out of hand. Everybody thought they tasted good.

What’s NOT: only that you want to eat them with your fingers – some people don’t like that when the item is oily, and these are. Not overly so, but you must serve with napkins.

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Roasted Balsamic Garlic Asparagus Appetizer

Recipe By: from food.com
Serving Size: 6 (4 if serving as a side dish)

1 pound asparagus — medium to thick stems (not too thin)
olive oil or olive oil spray or mister
1/4 teaspoon sea salt — to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper — to taste
1 teaspoon butter — not margarine
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic — peeled and sliced lengthwise into 3 pieces (amount of garlic to taste)
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Trim the asparagus, then rinse, and cut about an inch off the ends, then use a vegetable peeler to take the outer layer off another inch of the remaining fibrous ends.
3. Place the trimmed asparagus in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet, then spray with an olive oil mister or drizzle evenly with olive oil.
4. Season with the sea salt and the freshly ground pepper.
5. Bake for 8 minutes (don’t overcook). If the asparagus is thinner or thicker it may take less or more time, so adjust the baking time accordingly.
6. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter and extra virgin olive oil.
7. Add the sliced garlic and simmer (again, over very low heat) for 5 minutes – careful not to burn. Remove from heat and add the soy sauce and balsamic. The garlic will absorb color from the liquids, so don’t be alarmed that the garlic is burned – as long as it wasn’t brown before you added it, you’ll be fine!
8. When asparagus is done, remove from the oven and place in a flat container which has an airtight cover.
9. Drizzle the balsamic mixture on the asparagus and use your hands to mix the sauce over all the spears. Cover tightly, allow to come to room temp, then place in refrigerator to chill. Please note that, at first, the asparagus is still hot in the container, and that covering them and adding the sauce at this point will continue to steam them a bit for a few minutes. Serve with napkins as you’ll be picking up the spears with your fingers.
10. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving, then place attractively on serving platter. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper on top, if desired.
Per Serving: 24 Calories; 1g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 172mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on May 6th, 2015.

grilled_veggie_antipasto

That photo doesn’t look like much. Where’s the tiny sprinkle of chopped parsley? Or maybe a green vegetable in there? Well, none. When I made this, I’d been home from my trip only a few days. I’d purchased the veggies (Trader Joe’s was out of zucchini) and chose the red bells, yellow squash and the eggplant. And then I was just so sick, making this became an afterthought. I did make it, I just didn’t eat it for about a week.

While I was in Italy, I was quite enamored with the trays and platters of grilled or roasted vegetables that were in every trattoria. Of course, each and every time we were served the antipasto, we had a big basket of bread to go along with it, and a bottle of olive oil to drizzle on anything and everything (they provide it on the table, like we do salt and pepper). So once I got home, this was the first thing I wanted to make. To figure out how the Italians do it, if it’s anything different than just rubbing oil on veggies and grilling or roasting them. My darling DH was really good at grilling sliced veggies like that, and particularly red peppers, but also zucchini and onions. I’m still far from an expert at grilling – it’s a new skill since I always had Dave to do it for me. Now it’s a hassle to me, to uncover the BBQ, clean it, oil it, heat it, stand there and watch the grilling, getting hot and sweaty, then waiting until everything cools off to put it all away (and covered) for another day. [Message to my dear DH in heaven: thank you, honey, for all the years of grilling you did for me, even weeknight dinners, and for always being willing to do it.]

I have a bunch of Italian cookbooks, and some in my upstairs, little-used bookshelves of cookbooks. I hunted and hunted for what I thought we’d had. Finally, I concluded that maybe it’s such a simple thing – just like I mentioned – oiled and grilled – that nobody considers it a “recipe” as such. I did find one recipe, though, that has you soak the veggies in an Italian vinaigrette for a day before grilling. Although I wasn’t so sure that had been done in any of my Italian samplings, I decided to try it. It’s certainly more fancy than what we had, but I figured it would be good no matter what.

Dutifully, I followed the recipe and soaked the sliced vegetables in the vinaigrette for about 24 hours. In that time the veggies soaked up just about every bit of the liquid. Because I wasn’t feeling all that great (the food poisoning I had was really kicking me down), I decided not to grill them, but to make it easier on myself, I roasted them at 350° using another recipe I’d found.

I have the most wonderful readers . . . my reader Donna W, who frequently leaves comments (bless you, Donna!) emailed to suggest that she was sure she’d seen a very simple veggie antipasto in one of Frances Mayes books, so I went looking for what books I have of hers. I don’t have her cookbook (Under the Tuscan Sun – the cookbook) but I did have Bella Tuscany, and sure enough, there’s a short paragraph in that book about a very simple grilled veggie. But by then I’d already begun marinating them, so next time I’ll try Frances’ version, which truly is grilling oiled veggies.

Baking them took about 45 minutes, turning the veggies every 15 minutes, and the eggplant was the quickest to cook through, so I removed that after 30 minutes. And although I like eggplant, the one I purchased was a fairly big one – and it was too seedy. (Next time I should try to buy the smaller, narrower ones.) I peeled it, which also takes away from the “beauty” of an eggplant. Once roasted, the eggplant takes on that kind of ugly brown look. Not pretty. In the photos I have from my trip, the eggplant was definitely done on a grill (grill marks visible) and it was definitely very fresh, because the flesh is still white-ish, not brown or gray. So, I suppose the eggplant was cooked over a medium hot grill – the interior was soft and silky smooth, but the outside still retained its shape. Next time I’d not marinate the eggplant at all.

Also, I must have been too liberal with the acid in the vinaigrette (red wine vinegar and lemon juice) so I needed to drizzle a bit more olive oil onto the veggies once they were done.

What’s GOOD: these were good, but I won’t say they were exceptional. Maybe when I was in Italy I was enamored with the moment, the thrill of being in Italy, eating in different little places every single day, exploring the varieties of vegetables they did grill or roast – like leeks and long-cooked cippolini onions. The other thing is that the vegetables grown in Italy may very well be more tasty than what we can buy here. I think organic veggies usually have better flavor, but I don’t think that’s what I bought here. Europeans are much more veggie-pure, I’ll call it – they are looking for flavor, not fertilizing for size and greedy prices! As I mentioned, next time I’m going to just oil and grill using a different, much more simplified recipe and I’ll try organic too.  I added more herbs (I had only dried, not fresh) and totally forgot the parsley at the end. In most of the trattorias they served red bell peppers, sometimes green ones, small eggplant and zucchini. Sometimes whole tomatoes also. Never yellow squash. It probably wasn’t in season yet.

What’s NOT: I didn’t think the vinaigrette added that much to the dish. Maybe my palate was still “off,” also because of my food poisoning I was still recovering from when I finally ate this. It may not have been the fault of the veggies or the marinating. Guess I won’t know until I do this again. I have some zucchini in the refrigerator right now, so perhaps I’ll try them, just them, and see how I do, if I like it better.

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Roasted Vegetable Antipasto

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Foodgeeks blog.
Serving Size: 4

1/3 cup olive oil — or a little more as needed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley — minced
Salt and Pepper to taste
VEGETABLES:
1 small yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 small eggplant — buy the small, thinner ones
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 large red onion
Fresh parsley for garnish — minced
Parmesan cheese shavings, optional
More olive oil drizzled on top, if desired

1. Mix all ingredients of the marinade in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag and squish so it’s well blended.
2. Trim all vegetables and slice lengthwise in ¼-inch thick slices. Add the sliced vegetables to the marinade bag, making sure all the vegetables have had contact with the marinade. Let stand, covered and chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight.
3. Turn the bag of vegetables occasionally to ensure they stay coated with the marinade. Before cooking, drain the vegetables, reserving the marinade.
4. GRILL: Heat a grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Add vegetables and grill, in batches, for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until tender. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with remaining marinade and sprinkle with parsley, olives and Parmesan shavings. OR ROAST: roast the vegetables in a single layer, on parchment paper, in a 350°F oven, turning the pieces over every 15 minutes. The eggplant will take about 30 minutes or less, the others about 45 minutes. Allow to cool, decoratively place the vegetables on a serving platter, taste for seasonings (like more salt and pepper) drizzle the remaining marinade over the top and garnish with parsley, cheese and more olive oil if needed.
Per Serving: 224 Calories; 19g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

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