Saturday, July 21, 2007

No recipe, but a dinner failure!

Today was an absolutely exceptional summer day. I remember these from when I was a kid—warm but not hot, low humidity, sunny. It seems as though during the past 10 -15 years or so the weather has been so much warmer, so much more humid, not very enjoyable at all. We took full advantage of this and tried to catch up on the yardwork that has been slipping due to the excessive heat. After 6 hours of trimming, weeding, pulling grapevines out of trees, etc. we called it a day. I was hesitant to go inside though, and decided to make a wood fire in our fire pit to grill burgers for dinner.

Of course, the pile o’ zucchini on the kitchen counter needed to be considered. Last night we had grilled zucchini as a side dish. I also made 4 loaves of Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread (that’s a recipe in progress). In the days before, I had made zucchini pancakes, zucchini parmesan, and fried zucchini. What the heck, maybe I could get away with adding shredded zucchini to the turkey burgers.

Let me say right now that, although the photos would be hilarious, there are none. Sometimes it’s not a good idea good to document experiments.

I was certain that these would be great. In addition to the grated zucchini, I also added minced garlic, chopped chipotle pepper, Mexican oregano, salt & pepper. To bind, I stirred in a beaten egg. The mixture seemed a little soft, so I added some dry bread crumbs. Still soft, but workable. I started the fire then formed the burgers.

When the wood burned down to red-hot glowing pieces, I placed the grid over the fire and sprayed the burgers with some cooking spray. I slid the spatula under the first turkey burger, flipped it over onto the grid. No problem. The meat sagged between the grids a little, but I figured that I could deal with it and added the next two burgers. Then I went in the house to put together a salsa for the topping.

A few minutes later I went to check the burgers and found that they were so soft that they had almost totally sagged into the spaces between the grids. No way could I flip these, and the fire was scorching the meat. I ran in the house and grabbed my heaviest oven mitt and a large platter. I picked up the grid and flipped it over, hoping that the burgers would land nicely on the platter. No dice. They stuck. I set the platter on the patio stone, took my spatula, and scraped. Lovely. Burnt to a crisp on one side, raw on the other. Medium-rare turkey burgers, anyone?! Not knowing what else to do, I put whatever remained of these burgers back on the grid and placed it over the fire. Immediately, the meat again sagged through the grids. I went into the kitchen.

Jack chose that minute to appear behind me and ask when dinner would be served. I muttered that we’d have to order a pizza because dinner was inedible. He asked what happened, so I did what anyone would do—I snapped for him to go and see for himself. And he did.

Okay, for the guys reading this, if a similar situation ever happens in your domestic situation, DO NOT LAUGH.

Ah, the Queen was not in a good mood.

Jack, seeing my face, said that he was sure that they could be salvaged so he took a plate out and scraped the burgers onto it. “They’re not done”, he said unnecessarily, “but maybe they can be finished in the microwave?” Right. I removed some of the carbon deposits, covered the plate with waxed paper, and microwaved. I removed the burgers and Jack smelled them. A little burnt, he decided, but they probably would be good.

I have to admit, this man will try anything…

To counter the carcinogens with antioxidants, I poured us each a Saranac Pomegranate Wheat beer.

Darn if these stupid zucchini turkey burgers weren’t really good! Or was it that we had been working outside all day and it had been 7 hours since lunch? Who knows. I don’t think that this recipe will be tossed, though. I just have to do a little better with the zucchini. I was in a hurry, so instead of removing the excess moisture in the washer spin-cycle, I thought it would be enough to press it against a strainer. Not a good idea. So I will try it again, and I have confidence (mostly) that it will be better. Actually, it couldn’t get too much worse!

But for now, how can I add zucchini to tomorrow’s breakfast? I just picked 5 more!

If anyone is familiar with the painting Christina's World, you may see the similarity with this photo which I took yesterday. I call it Spooky's World. :)

I have to add that this was before Jack mowed...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Stuffed Zucchini (Baseball Bats!)

We were away from our farm for a few days and, even though there was no rain while we were gone, the zucchini in our garden grew. And grew. Those that were 2-3” long when we left blew up to 10-12” within 5 days. Jack calls these creatures "baseball bats". Thus begins the Zucchini Season. I rarely buy this vegetable the rest of the year, when it’s $1.79+ per pound, because we certainly get our fill in July, August, and September!

An amusing side note. 23 summers ago we had just been in this house for 6 months or so and I wanted to plant a garden. I had never really planted a garden before, even though my parents and both sets of grandparents had lovely, big gardens. I wasn’t much for the outdoor life and, really, helping my Dad by pulling weeds wouldn’t have been much fun. I would probably sweat and have to wash my hair again, my hands would get dirty—nope, not for me! I’ll help Mom in the kitchen, instead, thank you. Then. Well, it seemed as though a garden was just something that had to be done, if we lived on this farm with all of this land. Our neighbor came over and tilled a 25’ x 50’ plot (yes, huge—but I didn’t know that!) and I planted. My darling new husband mentioned that he just loved zucchini so I did what I thought I should do, I planted zucchini. That summer, 27 (yes, that’s twenty-seven!) plants thrived. How was I to know what would happen when the zucchini plants started to produce? Or how fast the zucchini would grow?! I mentioned what I planted to my Mom and wondered why she laughed so hard. The Year of Zucchini had begun.

I did my best to keep up. I would go to work and find recipes that well-meaning friends left on my desk. I would take shopping bags full of zucchini and these nice people would buy them for 25¢ a pound then lug them to their homes on a bus. As summer wore on, I began to lose my enthusiasm. Jack insisted that we use it all, so I experimented. I made pickles, although neither of us even like pickles. I shredded and froze gallon-sized bags for winter. I baked zucchini cakes, muffins, breads, pancakes. I made pizza with a shredded-zucchini crust (bad move, I remember it even now). We had entire dinners of sautéed, broiled, stuffed zucchini and not for just a couple of days a week! Finally, I had enough. I began to wait until Jack was engrossed in a tv program, would go outside in the dark, fill a wheelbarrow with the vegetable monsters, and wheel them behind the barn where I dumped them over the side of the hill. I remember how afraid I was to go back there without a light, but I didn’t want my new hubby to notice what I was doing (wasting food!!!).

Needless to say, the following summer I planted 2 zucchini plants. Which was fine, enough for us and for a few friends who asked for some. Until one Saturday Jack was clearing brush behind the barn while I was working in the garden and at one point he came up to the house. Come with me, he said, you have to see this. I followed him, having no idea what I had to see (hoping it was a bunch of baby raccoons playing or whatever) and we got to the edge of the hill. My heart sank. There, growing up the hill, down the hill, and covering every square inch of probably a couple of hundred square feet, were zucchini plants. With huge zucchini, most of which had been nibbled by the resident wildlife. Jack looked at me and said “where do you think these came from?”. I took a deep breath, ready to admit to my wanton wastefulness of the previous August, and he continued. “The previous owners must have had another garden back here!”. Yep. That was it!

This year, I have 5 plants. I had planted 6 in pots from seed and was going to plant the best 3 in the garden but 5 looked equally good. But 5 are a long way from 27! I should be able to keep up. :)

I made zucchini pancakes as a side with dinner last night (still working on that recipe), but for lunch today I made a pretty good stuffed zucchini. Leave out the ground turkey and add more cheese for a vegetarian dish.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Stuffed Baseball Bats

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 2

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1/2 cup basmati rice -- (raw measure); cooked as directed

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 pound zucchini

6 ounces lean ground turkey

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 large garlic clove -- minced

3/4 cup chopped tomato

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper -- to taste, or more if desired

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1 1/2 ounces reduced fat cheddar cheese -- shredded; divided

Prepare rice and keep warm.

Split zucchini in half lengthwise and place on cutting board cut side facing up. With a small paring knife, make a 1/4" deep guideline about 1/2" from the edge of the zucchini, going around the surface of the entire zucchini. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, making the walls of the zucchini no less than 1/4" thick. Slice the larger seeds from the pieces scooped out, dice the remainder, and set aside.

In a large covered casserole that will hold both halves, pour about 1/3 cup of water then add the zucchini, cut side up. Cover and microwave until just tender (about 4 minutes at 80% power). Carefully remove from the dish (set aside the dish and the water for cooking the stuffed zucchini). Place the zucchini, cut side down, on a few paper towels. Set aside.

In a skillet brown the ground turkey in olive oil until it's just begins to lose its pink color. Add the onion and reserved chopped zucchini and continue to cook until the onion is almost tender, then add the garlic and stir for a minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water, stir, season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste, then add the oregano and fold in the rice. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the cheddar and mix the rest into the rice mixture.

Stuff each half with the rice mixture, pressing down into the zucchini and rounding the top, then flattening a bit. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Place back into the casserole, cover, and microwave for a couple of minutes, or until heated through.

Optional: after this step, the stuffed zucchini can be placed on a broiler-safe pan and set under a broiler for 30 seconds or so until the cheese melts and browns a bit.

Serve while warm.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 432 Calories (kcal); 14g Total Fat; (27% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 59mg Cholesterol; 238mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 3 Lean Meat; 3 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : This makes 2 main dish or 4 side servings

I may forget to mention this in subsequent posts, but when you use shredded zucchini in a recipe it should be as dry as possible (especially for baked goods- the excess juice makes the batter very sticky). My favorite method of achieving this, which is unique but very effective, is to use the washing machine on its spin cycle. Seriously. Take a large kitchen towel (white cotton is best, I love a “flour sack” for this) and dump the shredded zucchini in the center. Fold the towel tightly around the zucchini and secure with at least one safety pin. You don’t want to have to clean small zucchini shreds out of the washing machine! Place the bundle in the machine against an outer wall (I don’t think that front-loading machines will be a good idea for this particular application), close the lid, and spin dry for a couple of minutes. Remove the towel carefully from the washer and voila! Dry zucchini shreds!

An additional note. I usually don’t take the spin cycle to the very end. After removing the zucchini I will add a half-bucket of water and allow it to spin the greenish zucchini juices totally out of the machine with the remainder of the cycle. I keep one towel especially for this use and don’t mind the green tint to it, but you may want to presoak the towel in a weak chlorine bleach/ hot water mixture to remove the green stains from the towel.

Enough for now-- Heloise out!!! :)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Mexican Pasta Salad

It has been a busy 3 weeks, but I’m back now, no longer AWOL. Thanks for all of the messages asking where I was. At a Fourth of July barbeque I recently met someone (hi, Sherry!) who had read my blog because a mutual friend (hi, Karla!!) mentioned it. I’m still really surprised that anyone would bother reading my ramblings, let alone enjoy it! A really cool feeling, it is. Thanks, guys! :)

And at this Fourth of July gathering where I met Sherry, I brought a Mexican Pasta Salad as my contribution. Karla asked that I get it in writing, so here it is.

This was a really good pasta salad, whole wheat rotini and assorted veggies and black beans tossed with lime-chipotle vinaigrette. I’m going to prepare it with chicken next weekend for a light lunch. Perfect summer fare! Remember to adjust the ground chipotle according to your taste preferences.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mexican Pasta Salad

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 10

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method


10 ounces whole wheat pasta -- rotini, penne, medium shells, etc.

2 large bell peppers -- colored preferred, cut into ½” pieces

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon powdered chipotle pepper -- (adjust to taste by starting out with 1/4 teaspoon,

I used a little less than 1/2 teaspoon)

2 large garlic clove -- crushed

3/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano -- crumbled (can sub regular Greek oregano)

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin

2 medium carrots -- shredded

9 ounces cooked black beans -- (a 14 ounce can, drained)

Prepare these prior to serving:

4 whole green onions -- white and part of green tops; chopped

2 medium tomatoes -- 1/2" dice

2 large avocados -- pitted and peeled; chopped into 1/2" pieces and tossed with Fruit

Fresh to prevent darkening

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add bell pepper pieces and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water. Bring the water back to a boil and add pasta. Do not overcook. Drain pasta, rinse, and toss with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Cool slightly. Drain pepper pieces and blot dry with a towel; set both pasta and peppers aside.

Prepare dressing by whisking together the next 6 ingredients (olive oil through cumin). Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the bell peppers, carrots, and black beans. Add pasta and toss with dressing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

Just before serving, add green onions, tomatoes, and avocado cubes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if desired.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 284 Calories (kcal); 14g Total Fat; 1g Saturated Fat (41% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium; 7g fiber

Food Exchanges: 2 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 2 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : Side-sized servings indicated.

Make this more of a main dish by adding crumbled queso fresco cheese or shredded cheddar, and shredded cooked chicken breast can also be added.

The hot weather has put a serious damper on my baking. Our house is not air-conditioned so I do a lot of grilling and microwaving in the summer but hardly any baking. Several weeks ago I tried waking at 5am to get some “necessary” baking done. On Saturday, I accomplished 2 loaves of 5-grain bread, a dozen sandwich rolls, and 24 blueberry muffins before I needed to shut off the oven. On Sunday (I slept in until 6 that day) I made 2 more loaves of 5-grain and a loaf of banana-blueberry bread. It wasn’t the best time to bake, I found. Instead of getting it all accomplished before the weather outside became too hot to have the oven going, this only succeeded in making the entire first floor uncomfortably warm for the rest of the day. Plus, I was half-asleep and was going at only half-speed anyway (despite numerous cups of strong coffee). I’m surprised, and impressed, that I remembered to add the yeast.

A couple of days ago I realized that our bread supply was again running low and looking at the weather forecast, all I saw were hot days ahead. I am definitely not a morning person, so I decided to try baking in the evening.

Yesterday gave me a perfect opportunity. It reached 88˚ and Jack helped me lay down mulch until he had to leave to play tennis with a friend later in the afternoon (nuts, yes, but I think that the main attraction for this were the beers afterward!). I finished with the mulching (amazingly, 22 bags just for one flower bed), did a partial-water change in the goldfish pond, then onto the dough. By 10:30 I had made 4 loaves of 5-grain and 2 of whole-wheat banana-chocolate chip bread, plus I mixed pizza dough and placed in the refrigerator to rise for dinner Sunday. I hate doing this but I left one of the kitchen windows open overnight, and by the next morning it was a cool 75˚ in there.

There was a price to be paid for this industriousness, though. After spending the day weeding, laying paper in the flower bed, hauling bags of mulch, dumping the mulch and spreading it; then trimming the water lilies in the pond (easier to do when the water level is low); then spending the evening on my feet baking and washing dishes, well, let’s just say that my back was not happy at all. It was a very restless night, even with the mega-ibuprofen which I took before going to bed. I had planned an easy day of staying inside, out of the 94˚ heat and doing easy things like catching up on correspondence and flipping through that ever-growing pile of magazines on the kitchen table, but my plans never seem to work out exactly as I hope. Laundry needed to be done, so there are 3 loads hanging on the line outside drying. I watered some of the flowers around the house that looked wilted. I bought 15 pounds of wild salmon the other day (it was on sale!), so that had to be all portioned and wrapped in foil and labeled. I still smell salmon on my hands, even after washing with lemon juice. But now the rest of the day is mine!!! I swear, I’m going to lie in that darn hammock today.

Other items of note since I’ve been “gone”:

Sam Adam’s Cherry Wheat beer is incredible! I’m not a huge beer fan, but this was different and delicious. Perfect for a hot summer day. Hmmm, enjoyed while lying in a hammock, perhaps?

There is a tiny hummingbird nest in the huge maple tree at the side of the house, and it’s just outside of a window. Mom Bird is either on her nest (which, according to a book I have, is comprised of soft vegetation and spider silk and contains 2 pea-sized eggs) or at the feeder. I have been giving her fresh nectar every 2-3 days. Last week I read in the newspaper that hummingbirds can become accustomed to people and, if they will allow you to, it’s possible to walk to the feeder while they are using it and place your extended finger under them as they sip. They will then actually use your finger as a perch! Our hummer is not as gregarious as those the author described. She sees us and flies quickly away. But maybe if we are persistent, we shall be rewarded.

Last weekend we went to an arts & heritage festival in a nearby town. It’s fairly huge and for once the weather was not hot and stifling or raining. We ambled through the booths (hundreds of them) but nothing really appealed to us-- except the food! The highlight was a stand operated by a berry farm. My favorite has always been the raspberry shortcake (homemade white cake split in half lengthwise, then a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, covered with fresh raspberry sauce, and then whipped cream). My summertime splurge! This year, though, Jack ordered the shortcake and I decided to try the chocolate fudge truffle cake with fresh raspberry sauce and whipped cream. It was rich and decadent and I practically cried when it was gone. This same stand also offers a wonderful-looking mixed berry pie (who is out in those fields picking all of these berries, I wonder?), but I don’t think that I can ever again order anything other than that truffle cake!

Look at this! Who doesn't want to just bury their face in either of these wonderful delights?!? I should have bought one to bring home... or the entire cake... I can't wait until next July!

Well, off to bed. No, the hammock wasn't used today (by the time I had the opportunity, it was in the sun). Tomorrow will be great fun-- a new deep-freeze is being delivered! Now that I have to wait another 51 weeks for that fudge truffle cake, I'll take my joy where I can find it... ;)