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Oven Dried Cherry Tomatoes

For years I’ve been dreaming of the perfect cherry tomato garden.  YEARS!  I have long wanted cherry tomatoes in every color so that I can have bowls of a beautiful rainbow to have and to share.  Well, this is the year I succeeded on that front, and my tune has changed a bit from “Oh, look at the tomatoey rainbow” to “What the heck was I thinking!?”  I have so many more than we can consume, even if we ate tomatoes at every meal.  I keep giving them away, and still, the bowl is never-ending.  16 plants devoted to bite sized tomatoes may be a few too many.

I thought briefly about investing in a food dehydrator.  One of those kitchen tools that we bought but never used, so sold it in a rummage sale for two dollars many years ago. That was before I discovered vegetable gardening, of course.  But since the one I really want is rather pricey, and I’m still not completely convinced that I’ll use it all that much, I thought I’d try drying some cherry tomatoes in the oven.

Have you ever purchased sun-dried tomatoes?  While they aren’t the most expensive item in the grocery store, they are on the pricey side for a tiny little bottle of dried tomatoes.  But they add the most spectacular flavor to whatever you use them in.  Pasta, pizza, sandwiches, dips, you name it, you can add some dried tomato goodness to it.  The trick to drying them correctly is getting them at the right temperature, and then keeping an eye on them once they really start to dry.  I did one batch of tomatoes at 200 degrees, and that literally took all day to do.  The second batch I did at 220, and while that was faster, the dryness of the tomatoes was inconsistent. Some were getting to the crispy stage while some were still rather moist on the interior.  What I am looking for is more of a dry/chewy texture- like a raisin.  I have found that 210 degrees seems to be perfect.

So I start with the tomatoes.  Use ones that are roughly the same size, as they will dry the most evenly.  Cut them all in half, and spread them out on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil.  Spread them so the cut side is facing up/  Then give them a light sprinkle of salt and pepper.  You can also add some herbs if you want your tomatoes flavored, but I am choosing to avoid the herbs and just go for a pure tomato flavor.  I’ve seen some people add a drizzle of oil, but I don’t really think that is necessary if you’re drying them for storage purposes.

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Pop the pans into your pre-heated oven and let it do its thing.   This is still going to take a while.  I start checking the pans at the two hour mark, and since I have two pans in the oven, I rotate them then.  After that, check them every 30 minutes until they are the dryness you desire.  Mine are done around the 4 hour mark.

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For storage, I am storing mine in pint mason jars in the freezer.  Because I left some moisture in to get the chewy texture, I feel they are probably going to keep the longest in the freezer.  Then I can just scoop out what I need at the time and put the rest back in the freezer.  My long-term plan is to keep a small half-pint jar in the fridge, ready to use at all times.  That one I will put the tomatoes in and then cover with a good quality olive oil so the oil will also be flavored.

I am already thinking of the sun dried tomato pesto I will be making this winter.  It’s making me smile every time I bring in another massive bowl of cherry tomatoes.  This will be totally worth the effort.

However, next year, I will definitely be planting a few less cherry tomato plants.

How To Freeze Zucchini

It’s that time of year!  The time of year where zucchini growers can be found on every street corner begging for people to take their over-sized vegetables.  Most people will happily take one or two, but then there are SO many left.  Zucchini plants can produce like gangbusters, or just put out a few fruit- you never know, and that inconsistency is why zucchini growers tend to plant a few too many in the spring.

For fresh eating, most people prefer the smaller sized zucchini (or summer squash), as you don’t have to worry about the seeds getting in the way.  But honestly, the larger zucchini are just as delicious if you take the time to scoop out the seeds and inner membranes.   For most people, the question of preserving them for another time usually leads to making quick breads and freezing those, or the oddly textured zucchini pickle.  In the past, I’ve shredded zucchini to use later in quick breads, but I’ve always wondered about freezing zucchini in chunks.  You can buy it in the freezer section at the grocery store, and I find the quality very good, so why can’t I do it at home?

The answer is that you can, and it’s really easy.

Start with your zucchini or summer squash.  If you have small ones, cut them up into 1-inch coins.  If your zucchini are larger, as mine are, cut them open and scrape out the seeds and fibers with a spoon.   Cut the zucchini into uniform pieces to they will cook uniformly.

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While you get the zucchini cut up, you can get a pot on the stove with water and bring it to a gentle boil.  I pretty much cut up one zucchini at a time.  Once your water is boiling, the whole process is very fast.

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Once you have about 4 or 5 cups of cubed squash ready, drop it in the boiling water and set the timer for just 3 minutes.

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Using a slotted spoon, you can give the zucchini a toss once or twice.  This 3 minutes goes by very quickly, giving you just enough time to get a bowl filled with ice water.  When the 3 minutes are up, remove the zucchini from the boiling water with a slotted spoon, and toss into ice water to stop the cooking.

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Once cooled, spread out the zucchini chunks on several layers of paper towel, or use kitchen towels as I do.   You can pat them dry if you like, but I found that if I just spread them out on a few towels with the ceiling fan going over them, they dried just fine on their own.

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Now, at this point, I was originally going to spread out my zucchini on baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray and freeze them individually.  Then I would put them in a gallon freezer bag once frozen, so I could remove the precise amounts of zucchini I wanted to use at the time.  Alas, once I had my sheet pans ready, I realized I was out of gallon bags, so instead, I just piled the blanched cubes into quart freezer bags this time.

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Make sure you label your bags with a sharpie!  I put the contents on the bag, along with the month and the year for the date.  You would think you would remember what these were come February, but you’d be surprised how many times one glances past a bag of something mysterious in the freezer…

It took longer to bring the water to a boil than anything else.  In about 10 minutes time I had 4 quarts of zucchini ready for the freezer.   This zucchini is ready to be added to soups or stews, or to spread out on a baking sheet and roast with salt, pepper and olive oil.   I’m looking forward to letting more zucchini grow to epic proportions!

 

Pickled Peperoncini Peppers

Oh my, these are good!  These are SO good!  Even better when I look at these jars and realize that I grew these peppers, as well as the garlic flavoring the brine.

A few weeks ago I looked at my Peperoncini plants and realized that there were an awful lot of peppers dangling from the branches.  For a lot of peppers, I let them turn colors before doing anything with them, but I’ve always seen peperoncini’s in the their jars green.  I decided I had enough to try a few pints anyway, so I plucked them from the branches and set about finding a recipe.

I didn’t have to look far.  The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich had just what I was looking for- a small batch recipe that I could cut in half easily, as I had enough peppers for just two pints.

Seriously, these couldn’t be easier.  With very little effort on my part I had two jars of pickled peppers sitting on my table.  The only thing that I will change in the future about this recipe is that when you pour the brine over the peppers, it says to leave a good 1/2-inch head space.  I followed that direction, but my peppers sucked up quite a bit of the brine and the brine level ended up below the peppers.  Next time I will play with that measurement and see if a 1/4-inch headspace at the beginning will give me a better end result.

This is the first time I’ve ever added olive oil to a canning recipe.  Usually that’s a no-no, but as the author here is a master canner, I’m trusting that she knows what she’s doing.  The peppers are delicious, and I like that pulling one out of the jar you get a little coat of olive oil on the way to your mouth.    I only waited 3 days before tasting and they are delicious.

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Pickled Peperoncini

8 small garlic cloves
2 small Mediterranean bay leaves, torn in half
2 pounds straight green peperoncini, each slit once lengthwise, stems trimmed to about 1/4 inch
2 cups cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or straight white
2 cups water
4 teaspoons pickling salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Divide the garlic piece and bay leaf evenly among 4 pint jars.  Pack the peppers vertically into the jars.

In a nonreactive saucepan, bring the vinegar, water and salt to a boil.  Pour the hot liquid over the peppers, leaving slightly more than 1/2-inch headspace, and then pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into each jar.  Close the jars with two-piece caps (make sure the rims are free of oil, which could affect the seal).  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Store the cooled jars in a cool dry place for at least 3 weeks before eating the peppers.  Store in a refrigerator once opened.

Re-Post: Our Favorite Peach Salsa

Dear Tummy Treasure readers, I’ve never done this before, but today I’m republishing an older blog post.  I’ve been working my way through a bushel of peaches, and this salsa is as spectacular this year as it was when we first made it five years ago.  The peaches are amazing right now, so do yourself a favor, get some, and make this salsa.  More peach recipes to come soon…

I was going to save the best for last, because this salsa was the real surprise of the bunch, not to mention the most stunning one to look at visually.  But I decided to share it first because quality peaches at the markets may be dwindling, and you definitely want to make this salsa for yourself or to give as gifts.

As I mentioned the other day, neither my brother or myself have made fruit salsas before.  It didn’t really interest either one of us- so don’t ask us how it is we ended up making TWO fruit salsas in the same day.  But we’re so glad we did.  In the case of this salsa, the peaches take the place of tomatoes- which are also sweet in their own way.  Add some deliciously spicy jalapenos, some tangy vinegar, herbaceous cilantro and a few more things, and those peaches make magic.  This was amazing scarfed up with a few tortilla chips.  We all agreed that this salsa would be AMAZING on fish tacos, but the possibilities with this lightly fruity salsa are numerous.

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving recommends that when you make this salsa, measure your vinegar into the pot first, and then dump in your peaches as you chop them, and toss together.  This will prevent the peaches from browning any and turning the salsa an unpleasant color.  We also left the seeds and the ribs in the jalapenos for some heat.   As I’m reading this recipe through again, I’m reminded how quick and easy this was to put together.  Please note that the recipe and processing time is for half-pint jars.  Since it gives no recommended time for processing pints, to do so could be unsafe- and should be avoided.

Peach Salsa

from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

makes about eight 8-ounce jars

1/2 cup white vinegar
6 cups chopped pitted peeled peaches
1 1/4 cups chopped red onion
4 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
2 TBS liquid honey
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Prepare canner, jars and lids.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine the vinegar and peaches.  Add onion, jalapeno peppers, red pepper, cilantro, honey, garlic, cumin and cayenne.   Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Ladle hot salsa into jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Easy and Garlicky Grilled Salmon

It’s decided to be a bit muggy here in Wisconsin this week, so I’ve been avoiding the stove.  Anything I can do to reduce the heat in our non-air conditioned home is essential on days like this, so on these days, meals are salads and things that can be done on the grill.

Yesterday it was a lovely side of salmon that I’d cut into six healthy looking portions.  I can’t tell you how the simple act of cutting the salmon into portions has made grilling salmon SO much easier!  It’s much easier to flip a handful of small fillets than it is to try and maneuver a pair of spatulas under a whole side of salmon.  It’s also nice because I can pull the thinner portions of salmon off the fire when they are done instead of letting some of it get overcooked while I wait for the rest to finish.

I went back and forth on how I was going to season yesterday’s salmon.  In the end though, I’d picked some fresh basil from the garden and picked up a package of campari tomatoes from the store, so I wanted to salmon to have a kind of Italian flare to it.  I chopped my garlic, added a healthy dose of Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset seasoning, salt, pepper and olive oil, and then let the fish sit in that for about 30 minutes before cooking it on the grill.

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I cooked the fish for about 5 minutes on the first side, flipped it, and then cooked for just two more.  It was tender and juicy on the inside, but still cooked through, which is how we prefer it.  A fresh sprinkle of sea salt to finish, and we had a spectacular salmon dinner.   We all enjoyed it a lot, and Zander even went in for a second piece of fish, so you know it had to have been good!  Leftover salmon will be tossed in a salad tonight, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that is going to turn out for us.

If you don’t have Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset seasoning, you can use whatever Italian style blend you prefer.

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Garlicky Grilled Salmon

4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 teapoons Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset seasoning blend
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 fresh salmon fillets

Directions:

Combine the garlic, Tuscan Sunset, salt, black pepper and olive oil in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Drizzle mixture over the salmon fillets, rubbing it in gently.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking in your desired manner.

I Made The Best Chicken Salad The Other Day…

But I don’t have a picture.

There is a story here though.

It was Sunday, July 5th, the tail end of a busy holiday weekend, and a busy last week in the kitchen preserving fruit.  Because it was a holiday weekend, we had the unexpected bonus of not having an evening service at church, so I found myself with time to make a decent dinner.  Except I’ve also been nursing a head cold, and my energy comes and goes in spurts.  So I went back and forth on dinner.  Everything rolled through my brain and then rolled back out.  I really wanted to make pancakes, because it was quick and easy.  But poor Andy hasn’t really eaten good, scratch food in over two weeks.  We were gone for 9 days to Florida, and he left to work out of town before we even got home.  Then when he was home, it was holiday run-around, with good grill food, but not a great meal made with love here at home.  And since Sunday was the only opportunity for a decent meal before he left again for another week…

I went out to the garden and surveyed what I had out there. I had tons of peas to be harvested.  They were snap peas, but a lack of rain this last week made them more like snow peas- the peas were not swollen and puffy.  No worries, I like snow peas too.  So I picked peas, and then I picked more peas, and was amazed when I practically filled the bowl I had with me.  I even left peas on the plant for another day!  Then I wandered over by the kale and pulled off a few leaves of dinosaur kale, and decided that I should make a stir-fry for dinner with all these peas and a bit of kale.  I mentioned that to the kids and they begged me to make the ground beef stir fry.  Only, when I went to pull the ground beef out of the freezer, I saw I had a lot more frozen chicken breasts and decided to go in that direction instead.  I’m so glad I did!

I had my peas, chicken and kale, and went in search of a new way to put them together.  I wanted the peas to be barely cooked in the stir fry, and I really wanted a light sauce- similar to a moo goo gai pan that you would get at a Chinese take out place.  I came upon this recipe at Eating Well for a Warm Snow Pea and Chicken Salad.  Go ahead and go look at that, because the picture there is what inspired my chicken salad.  I thought the recipe sounded just a little different and fun, and I decided I wanted to make it.

I started with the chicken breasts that were now about half thawed.  I put them in a pot with 2 cups of homemade chicken stock, and then decided to add a tablespoon of soy sauce to the broth as well.  I brought the broth up to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer, added a lid, and let the chicken poach for about 15 minutes- turning it once or twice as it cooked.

While the chicken did it’s thing, though, I kept reading that recipe and in the end, I decided that I did not want a warm salad at all, and I also did not want the sauce called for in that recipe.  I thought about what it would be like to sit and sliver up my pile of peas like the picture showed, and I thought about how fresh they were and how crunchy they would be.  I wanted that crunch!

So I slivered up my entire pile of peas.  I probably ended up with 4-5 cups of slivered snap/snow peas.   Then I grabbed half a red bell pepper from the fridge and sliced that up thinly for some color contrast and added that to the peas.  The chicken finished cooking, so I pulled that out to cool.  I tasted a bit of the chicken and thought it needed salt, so I also sprinkled the chicken with salt and pepper.  Once it was cool, I shredded that up and added it to the peas as well.  I was really wishing I had some green onion at this point.

So I wandered back out to the garden and pulled up about 5 teeny-tiny baby scallions.  Really, they looked more like chives,but they were packed with onion flavor, and even better than them being full sized scallions, when I chopped them up finely and added them to the salad, they spread the onion flavor throughout- without adding obvious bites of onion.   Finally, I took a tablespoon of sesame seeds and put them in a pan to toast up.

I still needed a sauce though.  I thought really hard about going easy and just grabbing a bottle of salad dressing from the fridge and using that.  I have plenty of options on hand!  But then I thought of how long ago I’d made a chicken salad from Ina Garten that used a peanut sauce.  The sauce then ended up WAY salty, but I thought the peanut flavor would be perfect with the peas and chicken.  Then, as I read through that old blog post I realized I was coming awfully close to making her salad anyway- only I was using slivered snap peas instead of the asparagus!

I modified the dressing, using very scant amounts of everything, because I wanted a scant amount of dressing on the whole thing.  Tossed it up, added another pinch of salt, and dinner was served with some fresh Florida watermelon on the side.  The salad was absolutely delicious.  Andy loved it, I loved it, the kids loved it.  Even better, Andy took the remains with him to work on Monday and texted that it was still delicious- AND the peas were still crunchy.  I will most definitely be making this salad again.  It’s a perfect summer salad that could be made ahead well in advance of when you need it.  Next time though, I will take a picture.

Here is my modified peanutty dressing.  This would  be good in so many applications.  As a salad dressing as I used it, or as a dip for veggies or spring rolls.  It was nice and light, but still full of flavor.  This dressing as made fully dressed about 8 cups of chunky salad without being too heavy and cloying.  It would multiply easily if you wanted more dressing.

A Lighter Peanut Dressing

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt 
few grinds of black pepper

Directions:

Whisk everything together in a small bowl until fully combined.  If your peanut butter is really thick, you may need to add an extra splash of liquid to the bowl.  You can use water or extra vinegar- taste it to see what you would prefer.

You also may need more or less salt depending on the soy sauce you use.  I use a brand I find in the Asian aisle of the grocery store, so it’s a touch more salty than the regular brands.

Makes about 1/2 cup of dressing.

Fresh Fruit Firestorm!

The last week of June I did something completely crazy and unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  I loaded up our car and drove my two children all the way from Wisconsin to Panama City, Florida.  Andy had to work, so it fell to me to drive my two dancing beauties to their last dance competition of the year.  Driving all those hours by myself was absolutely exhausting!  But it was totally worth it, when we’d arrived in Florida in the early evening, and quickly headed off to find the ocean.

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My kids LOVED playing in the ocean.  I only wish we’d had more time to frolic, but as we were there for a dance competition, dance they did.  It was a wonderful experience, and as we sadly packed up for the return trip, we also added a few “souvenirs” to our car.

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Fresh Florida watermelon, a crate of mangoes, and while you can’t see them, a few quarts of ripe and juicy Alabama peaches.   We were disappointed with the peaches.  Not that they weren’t delicious, but we had been planning on picking our own peaches to bring back home.  When we got to the orchard, though, they were no longer allowing people to pick, so we had to settle for buying a few boxes to bring home.  The bushels of peaches I had been planning on quickly dwindled to a few handfuls.

As it turns out, that was providential.  See, right before our trip, we’d managed to go strawberry picking a second time, and I quickly churned out a few batches of strawberry jam and strawberry-rhubarb jam.   I had planned on some peach jam when we got back home, and I started to do just that.  But we also had mangoes on hand, so we played with a Peach-Mango Jam which turned out especially delicious!  As long as I was canning jam, and had the peaches on hand, I dug into the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen sour cherries, and then made two batches of Sour Cherry-Peach Jam, oh, is that one good too!  AS those jars were sitting out cooling, Andy came home from a week away of work and announced that he had first dibs on a local cherry tree, and the cherries were ready.  So the very next morning Andy and the kids headed off to harvest sour cherries.

The sour cherries were a real gift.  There was no charge at all for picking them, the owner was just happy to see the cherries go to someone who could use them.  The best part was that I had been eyeing the calendar, trying to figure out when we could go cherry picking this year, and it just didn’t seem too likely.  All the sudden, I had pounds upon pounds of cherries that all needed to be pitted and preserved.  I spent two days pitting those cherries!  14 quarts of them went into the freezer for future baked goods, but as long as I was in a jammy mood, I also made up 12 jars of straight up Sour Cherry Jam.

And then I woke up this morning.  :D  Right there at the top of my newsfeed was the announcement that my local farm was open for raspberry picking.  Abigail and I dashed off to the patch right away and came home with nearly 12 pounds of ripe raspberry goodness.  These are our favorites.

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Half of the raspberries have already become jam, and I’m debating a batch of Raspberry-Peach, but I had to pause because I need more jelly jars.  This is the perpetual state that my kitchen has been in for the last week, and it shows no sign of slowing.

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I suspect blueberry announcements any day, and Andy has a lead on some grapes for me this year.  I’m still on the prowl for good plums and blackberries… One thing is certain.  There will be no shortage of jam in our household this winter!   I sure am loving this season, though I didn’t expect it all to come on so fast furious all at once!  I am thinking I should be thankful that the tomatoes won’t begin ripening in earnest until mid August, and by then most of the fruit preservation should be done, save for apples.

Recipes/Directions coming for the peach-mango as well as the sour cherry-peach jam.  Soon.  First I need to come up for air!

Adding Kale To A Thai Green Curry

For the longest time I stayed away from making green curries at home.  For one, I was worried that green curry meant that it was crazy hot, so the kids wouldn’t eat it.  Secondly, it relies on coconut milk a lot, and while I do use coconut milk from time to time, I worried that the flavor would take over the dish, and we are not all huge coconut fans.  But one day last summer I decided to try a really easy Thai Green Curry recipe that I had found and discovered it was so much better than I’d expected.

I do not recall where I got this recipe from, to be honest. What I especially love is how easy it is to put together.  You can use any combination of vegetables that you like, so this time I took advantage of that (and my family’s affection for the green curry) to try and sneak in some more of that kale I was trying to use up.

Braising the chicken in the liquid here makes the chicken so velvety and tender.   Normally I would think to brown the chicken first, but here we slide raw chicken right into our heavily flavored broth, and it just works SO well.  One thing that I was shy on this last time I made it was fresh herbs.  My herb plants are not too big yet, so I was sparing when harvesting a few leaves.  As a result, we all agreed that it was “missing something” and it was definitely the burst of a handful of fresh herbs at the table.

Don’t be a afraid of the fish sauce in the recipe.  I always keep a bottle in the fridge and find it adds the most spectacular layer of flavor to a lot of Asian dishes.  When you smell fish sauce for the first time, it’s like something so awful and funky, and you’re afraid to actually use it.  All it takes is a splash or two, and you’ve taken a stir fry from tasty to delicious.  Combined with the sweetness from the brown sugar, it makes magic in this pot of green curry.

As mentioned, I added two large handfuls of kale to the curry, and no one noticed.  This was a great way to sneak in the nutrients of the kale without serving KALE for dinner, if you know what I mean.  I definitely recommend adding the kale or other green of your choice as a great nutritional boost.

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Thai Green Curry

1 tablespoon green curry paste or 1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk (light works fine)
1/4 cup fresh basil (or 1/8 c. dried)
1 can bamboo shoot, drained
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth or 1 cup chicken stock
1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch strips
3 to 4 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 cups kale or other green, coarsely chopped
fresh herbs of choice for garnish- basil and cilantro together are delicious!!  A squirt of lime juice is also nice.

Directions:

In a medium saucepan combine curry paste and coconut milk and heat.

Just before it reaches the boiling point, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Serve over freshly cooked rice.

Replay: Fall Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

Perfect for your summer entertaining, these baby back ribs really DO fall off the bone, and they are incredibly delicious.

Even better?  They are way easier to make than you would think.  Over the years I have watched so many cooking shows that feature ribs, and so many of them make it a really complicated endeavor.  The best ones always seem to be the ones that cook for hours and hours in a smoker.  While I’m sure they are absolutely wonderful, they are hardly practical for the home cook.  These fall-off-the-bone ribs cook for a few hours, but they are inattentive hours.  I pop them in the oven in a roasting pan and let the oven do the magic.  When they come out of the oven, all they need is a quick trip through the grill to sear on the barbecue sauce of your choice.  Andy usually gives them a few extra minutes with some wood added to the fire for smoke, but that is a step not totally necessary.

You can also use spare ribs instead of baby back, but the ribs will not be quite as tender- nor are they as meaty as the baby back ribs.  I haven’t cooked them quite enough to figure out the timing to get the spare ribs falling off the bone, but I’m leaning towards an extra half hour in the oven.

The beer is also optional, but the liquid component is not.  Whatever you do, though, do not use plain old water.  I’ve used apple cider with great success for the non-beer crowd, and I’ve also used chicken broth and ginger ale.  All of them worked, though I prefer using a bottle of beer.  Which is in itself an odd thing, because I really, really dislike the taste of beer.  However, it works with the ribs, so I try to use it when I can.

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Fall Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

2 slabs baby back ribs (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1 large onion, sliced
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups barbecue sauce

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.

2. To remove the membrane from the back of the ribs, rake a small dull knife, like an oyster or table knife, and pry the tip of the knife between the membrane and bone at the edge of the ribs in the center of the slab. Lift to separate the membrane from the bone, then grab the membrane with your fingers and pull it off and discard.

3. Spread the onion slices evenly on a baking sheet with sides and place the ribs, bone side down, on top. Pour the beer over the ribs, season with salt and pepper, and cover tightly with foil. Bake undisturbed for 2 hours.

4. Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill and let the coals burn to a gray ash with a faint red glow, or until you can hold your hand 3 to 4 inches above the fire for no more than 6 seconds.

5. Brush both sides of the ribs with the barbecue sauce and place them, meat side down, over the coals. Grill the ribs for 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly charred, basting several times. Turn the ribs and baste the cooked side liberally. Close the lid of the grill and cook the ribs 10 to 15 minutes longer, basting often. Cut the slabs into individual ribs, pile them onto a large platter and serve warm

 

Pasta Puttanesca with Kale

I have long been a fan of kale- well before it became in vogue to be a fan of kale.  The reason I have been a fan of kale really has little to do with the nutritional properties, rather, it’s because of the fact that I can grow it easily!  Kale grows pretty effortlessly in my gardens, and is one of those vegetables that you can cut off one plant all season long, and it keeps growing.  When frost comes in the fall, there is no need to cover the kale, as it is hearty and actually tastes sweeter and more delicious after being kissed by a frost.  In addition, because it’s such a sturdy green, it freezes nicely, to be added to soups and stews and pasta dishes all winter long.   My preferred variety of kale is lacinato kale, or dinosaur kale.  It is less attractive to cabbage moths, and I think it has a less bitter flavor when cooked.

My husband, on the other hand, has been quick to tell me that he is not a fan of kale after an experience with it that he’d rather not divulge details about.  However, after our success with the collard greens the other day, I just had to dive into the kale- especially after I was given a bunch of it from someone going on vacation.  I wanted to use up the bunch of kale I was given, AND hopefully come up with some ideas to use it that I could use in the future with the many plants growing in my garden. (Yes, I have a few too many kale plants this year.)

Pasta is always a winner here, and while I’ve eaten it out, I’ve never made a puttanesca here at home.  This was going to be a gamble, because the flavors and the ingredients in a puttanesca are SO pronounced that you kind of either love it or hate it.  As I was cooking it up, both kids were intrigued.  They really found the capers interesting, and when I said they tasted like a little pickle, they were both game to try them.  I was corrected and told they taste like dilly beans- which are a win for my son, so I remained hopeful.  Then Zander tasted the kalamata olives.  Abigail does not like olives, but I assured her I would only cut them in half and she could pick the olives out of her dish.  Zander thought they were good, but he didn’t come back for a second one.  The little tin of anchovies frightened both children immediately.  I assured them they would never know they were in the dish, and I was correct.  I chopped up the anchovies finely and they melted right into the sauce.  They added a ton of flavor, and I know would be missed if they were not used, but no one got a bite of anchovy that they could identify.

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Overall, Andy and I were completely thrilled with this recipe.  It was SO good.  It was salty and briny  and full of all these different flavors that came together beautifully when tossed with spaghetti and topped with Asiago cheese.  The kids however… sadly, there will be no more puttanesca for them.  My pasta kid (Zander) barely picked at it and filled up on garlic bread that day.  Even Abigail left half of her pasta on her plate, and she’s developed into the type of person that will eat what is on her plate (usually) even if it isn’t her favorite.   Both kids told me it just tasted too strongly of the olives.

This really was delicious, and the strong flavors really were perfect for adding the kale, as they completely took over and the kale blended right in.   I failed to get a picture of the dish completely put together, but I did get one of the sauce.

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Pasta Puttanesca with Kale

1/2 (16 ounce) package dried spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 (2 ounce) can anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine
3 cups coarsely chopped kale
1 small jar pitted kalamata olives, drained and cut in half
Grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese to finish

Directions:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the onion starts to soften.  Add the garlic red pepper flakes. Cook and stir until the onion just begun to turn golden brown, about 3 more minutes, but don’t brown the garlic. Stir in capers, anchovy fillets, diced tomatoes, and red wine, and bring to a simmer. Stir in kale, and simmer over medium-low heat until wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.

Once the pasta has cooked and been drained, stir into the puttanesca along with the olives. Toss and sprinkle with grated Asiago/Parmesan cheese before serving.

A Delicious Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries

I really wanted to do something for dinner that incorporated strawberries into a main dish salad the other day.  I swear I have seen a grilled chicken recipe topped with avocado and strawberries somewhere very recently, but of course I now can’t find it anywhere.  Since I couldn’t find the avocado recipe, I turned to a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine and opted to make this Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Feta.

Feta cheese has pretty much become a staple at our house.  I buy it by the large bucket or block at Sam’s Club, and then use it as many ways as we can for a few weeks.  We just love it.  It adds flavor and salt to any salad we sprinkle on, but where I’ve found it really is dynamic is in dishes that get baked.  I love adding feta to pasta or scalloped potatoes, or anything that has a cream sauce.  As you’re eating it you come upon these little nuggets of warm, melty feta, and they just make me very, very happy.  I thought sweet strawberries and salty feta sounded like a perfect match, so this salad was just the thing to try that idea out.

I made two changes to the recipe.  One was that I ditched the red onions.  Oh, I could totally taste them in the final salad, they would have been great.  However, I try to avoid raw onions in salads for our family, as some don’t care for them, and some have lingering digestive effects after eating raw onions.   We still have them occasionally, but in this case, I thought there was enough flavor going on that I could skip the onions and all would be well.  My second major change was not using the arugula.  I cannot stand arugula!  So much so, that when I looked at the mesclun mix I’d planted in my garden and saw that most of the leaves in the mix were arugula, I simply pulled the whole patch out and planted cantaloupe instead.  I really don’t like peppery greens.  Instead, I used a mix of fresh spinach and mizuna from my garden.  The fresh spinach was spectacular- I think it was way better than arugula could have been.  So I’m altering the recipe to call for baby spinach instead.

The only change I would make to this salad is with regards to the marinating time for the chicken.  My chicken marinated for ten minutes, and it wasn’t near long enough.   Balsamic is such a strong flavor, and yet the 15 minutes I gave the chicken in the marinade wasn’t enough.  The next time I will put the chicken in the marinade and pop it in the fridge for an hour, provided I have the time.  Andy cooked the chicken for me on the grill outside, but you could certainly use a grill pan inside if that’s what you’d like to do.

Now that I’m looking at this picture again, I remember thinking that this would also be delicious with some kind of toasted nut or seed tossed in it.  Pumpkin seeds would be great, as would toasted walnuts or pecans.

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Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Feta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon sugar
2 cups halved strawberries
4 cups baby spinach
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1.5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup)
Directions:
Combine 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons vinegar in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Cut into slices.
Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and sugar in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add strawberries; toss to coat. Add spinach and onion to strawberry mixture; toss gently to combine. Sprinkle feta over salad. Divide salad among 4 plates; top evenly with sliced chicken.

Nice And Easy Chocolate Cake

Because it wasn’t enough to have strawberries with shortcake.  I also decided that I needed to have strawberries with chocolate cake, because what could be better with strawberries than chocolate?  We’d already made a quick ganache to dunk some berries, but I wanted my favorite food group to be represented.  What?  Chocolate cake is not a food group?  It should be.  :)

This super easy one-bowl chocolate cake comes together in a snap.  In my case, I made a half-batch and used my 9-inch square pan to bake this cake in the toaster oven.  I love the toaster oven this time of year because I can bake without heating the whole house up, though it might be worth a little sweltering for chocolate cake.

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Easy One Bowl Chocolate Cake

1 cups white sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a nine inch round (or square) pan.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer.

Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.