First time for collard greens!

Sorry for the delay in posting, yesterday morning I experienced technology failure on three devices. This is my first opportunity to post.

 

Trimmed collard greens waiting to be cooked.
Trimmed collard greens waiting to be cooked.

Collard greens. I would have bet these nutritious leafy greens had been on the dinner table numerous times during my childhood. They have the country cooking image I associate with my father who spent some time growing up with a garden and raising chickens. On a recent trip to my hometown of St. Louis, I learned collard greens were not a part of my childhood. My mother was definite she had never cooked collard greens. If she did not cook them, I did not eat them. Which does not mean if she had cooked them, I would have eaten them.

For those not familiar with this leafy green, collard greens are similar in thickness to kale and similar in color to sage. The leaves store well when properly stored. When preparing the leaves for cooking you will want to remove the stem. Not just the stem end, but the entire stem. They will be too tough even after the cooking process. Once on the stove, the greens need little attention until the end when you check for doneness. In some ways, the greens reminded me of when green beans are prepared with onion and bacon.

In the past, I opted for vegetable other than collard greens or gave to my friends Peggy and Bob who are Southerners and understand collards. To prepare the greens, she and I needed a recipe. Soon we had the Kickin’ Collard Greens Recipe . This highly rated recipe calls for common ingredients and did not fail us.

Next time you are at the farmer’s market pick up some collards and try Kicken Collard Greens. You may find a new vegetable you like.

 

 

Cold Broccoli Dip – yummy!

Cold Broccoli Dip (with bacon and cheddar.
Cold Broccoli Dip (with bacon and cheddar.

If you are wanting more broccoli in your diet, want creative ways to use excess fresh broccoli from the CSA box, or your garden has run amok with broccoli, Cold Broccoli Dip is the answer. It may not sound appealing, but it is tasty and perfect for a summer afternoon. I estimate my version is 55% lower in calories than the inspiration recipe.

The three ingredients needing change are the 8 ounces of cheese, the one pound of bacon, and the mayonnaise-base dressing.

By choosing a sharp cheddar cheese and choosing a fine grate, just 4 ounces were needed. White cheddar was used, but choose your favorite cheese. Do opt for a bulk cheese and grate it yourself; there is no joy in pre-shredded cheese.

To reduce the bacon calories but not reduce the bacon flavor, I chose Applegate bacon because of the high proportion of meat to fat. The experiment began with three slices of bacon because the pan used to cook the bacon only holds three slices. The Applegate bacon would yield more meat and flavor than three slices of any other bacon. I found this amount to be enough and stopped the experiment.

The dressing amount was reduced by half, but pay attention to stirring; more stirring is necessary. Otherwise, there may not be enough moisture to bind the ingredients. The extra stirring is a good trade off. I found the original amount of dressing to be too much and I was looking for any way to reduce calories and fat.

How good is this dip? So good I ate some for breakfast! Make a batch and share with friends or keep to yourself. You will be glad you did.

This recipe is inspired by the Cold Broccoli Cheese Bacon dip from Together we Groh.

Colleen’s Cold Broccoli Dip

2 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh broccoli, use florets and stems

4 ounces finely grated sharp cheddar cheese, grate your own

3 slices bacon, preferably Applegate bacon

1/4 cup diced white onion

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons white sugar

1 Tablespoon white vinegar

While the bacon is cooking, chop the broccoli and onion. Place the veggies in a medium mixing bowl.

While the bacon is cooling, grate the cheese and add to the mixing bowl.

Crumble the bacon and add to the mixing bowl.

In a measuring cup, measure the mayonnaise; add the vinegar and sugar and stir.

When mixed, pour over the veggies and cheese and stir until fully incorporated.

Can be served immediately, but it improves with a 24 hour rest in refrigerator.

Cast iron skillets and kitchen dreams

Only cast iron skillets are allowed in my kitchen.
Only cast iron skillets are allowed in my kitchen.

It is an everyday cast iron pan, it is neither a vintage Griswold cast iron pan worth $100 or more, nor is it a Wagner collectable pan. It is a priceless cast iron pan used by my mom since her marriage in the 1950s. It is the one she used numerous times to cook bacon, eggs, pan-fry the best chicken, or to make a breakfast or dinner for her family. My mother knows the advantages of cooking with cast iron, the food tastes better. I know I will treasure the cast iron pan my mother is about to pass to me. The smoothed surface of the 60 year old pan offers a beauty and superior cooking performance.

My mother will not be without a cast iron pan. In turn for her large cast iron pan, I am providing a small cast iron pan (I have two). We will each have the cast iron pan best for our kitchen habits. Because there are two small pans in my kitchen, I will still have the right pan when needed. The exchange is more than emotional for me, cast iron is my favorite for cooking. Other materials don’t offer the flavor advantages of cast iron. Cast iron has heft to it. Cast iron forgives when it is abused. Well mostly, I have been known to warp a cast iron pan.

With this larger pan, I will again be able to make a proper pan of corn bread. Bacon will not need to be cut in half before cooking. Gravy can be made. Chicken can be pan fried. Life can be lived to its fullest when there is a large cast iron pan in the kitchen. I look forward to creating my own kitchen memories with the pan and hope your favorite kitchen memories are ones with a cast iron pan in the story.

Want to learn about cast iron pans? Click here for the Wikipedia entry.

Given a bowl of cherries? Make cherry limeades!

Use fresh cherries and limes for a refreshing summer drink.
Use fresh cherries and limes for a refreshing summer drink.

The berries of the season have arrived and are ready to be picked and packed away; savored now and throughout the year. For years, the county had a shortage of pick-your-own cherry trees, but farmers have increased the number of cherry trees they grow. This means no longer is there a mad rush the first morning the cherries are ready to be picked. Now, picking berries can be a calm, relaxing event.

This year, I began to use the fruit in drinks and discovered a cherry limeade does not need added sugar when made with sweet cherries. Just puree the berries (about 1/2 cup) add the juice of half a lime and pour over ice. It is that simple, healthy, and refreshing. I have also tried blueberry lemonade and am looking to find a recipe incorporating raspberries.

Next time you are at the store or the farm, choose a fruit and make a fruit-flavored beverage. It will be better than any flavored fruit beverage available in the store.

Sorry for the delay in posting. I had to get to the store to purchase more fruit so I could take a photo!

Wonderful and creamy: Burrata Mozzarella

You can successfully make a single serving of pesto! Just chop the ingredients, add the Parmesan, stir in the oil.
You can successfully make a single serving of pesto! Just chop the ingredients, add the Parmesan, stir in the oil.

This week I was lucky to attend a class at Henning’s market featuring cheese from Di Bruno Brothers in Philadelphia. Lucky, because I waited too long to reserve my spot and needed to wait for someone to cancel. (Those familiar with Di Bruno Brothers understand my luck.) During the class one particular cheese shined brighter than the others. In the second course was the best mozzarella cheese: burrata mozzarella. Made with milk and cream, burrata mozzarella has a wonderful rich, creamy center.

One of the two Di Bruno Brothers cheese experts, Emilio, presented the story of his discovery of this amazing cheese while traveling in Italy as well as a recipe: pasta, roasted tomatoes, pesto, and mini burratas. Since all ingredients are ones I love, I knew I would make the pasta dish by week’s end.

The dish is simple: pasta (dry, not fresh), buratta mozzarella, pesto, and roasted tomatoes. While waiting for water to boil I made a one-serving batch of pesto, chopped the tomatoes, and brought the cheese to room temperature. After the pasta was cooked and drained, I added the remaining ingredients to the empty pan in order to allow the cheese to melt. The resulting dish is a beautiful combination of white pasta and cheese, green pesto, and red tomatoes. Visually appealing, the taste did not disappoint. This pasta is delicious.

With Di Bruno Brothers located 30 miles away, it won’t be often I get there to shop and that is a shame, but Henning’s carries their products and I hope the mini burratas are there during my next visit. This cheese will appear on my summertime menus in pasta, soups, and salads. You will enjoy burrata when it appears on your summertime menus.

Enjoy.

Seasonal love: Steak and arugula salad

 

Fresh squeezed lemons and olive oil dress the salad
Fresh squeezed lemons and olive oil dress the salad

I love the path of seasonal eating, there is a connection to the food not found elsewhere. The meals I make and freeze allow me to better manage my day-to-day life. There is always something ready to be placed in my lunch bag or pulled from the freezer for dinner. I save money, eat fewer already-prepared meals, and expand the range of foods I eat. In May, as days warm and plants bud and show color, I long for fresh lettuce, green onions, and an email from Stephan and John reminding me share pick up is around the corner.

Soon the first box of the season arrived and the leafy greens I longed for all winter were waiting to be enjoyed. There was also steak in the refrigerator waiting to be enjoyed. Hmm, a perfect lunch after a long, hard week.

Arugula, olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese
Arugula, olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese

For the first course, I opted for a fresh arugula salad with Parmesan cheese curls and dressed with Meyer Lemon olive oil and lemon juice. No salt and pepper; they were unnecessary. The salad was wonderful and fed me while providing emotional nourishment needed after a winter barren of tasty greens.

The steak went into a hot cast iron grill pan and was turned to get pretty grill marks so often seen in advertisements. Once on the plate, I remembered a cheese I had purchased.

American beef and French cheese work well together
American beef and French cheese work well together

The Fourme D’ambert, similar to a blue cheese, would be very good with the steak. The cheese went onto the steak before being covered to let the heat of the steak soften the cheese.

Both dishes are quick and simple to prepare and easy to enjoy. Try this in your kitchen and tell me about your lunch. And consider choosing a path of seasonal eating.

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

The finished product.
The finished product.

Whether it is because there was a surplus of butternut squash in the freezer, or my frugal tendencies, or the preference for homemade over store bought, I was not going to purchase the butternut squash sauce I saw at Wegman’s. Most likely, the reason for not purchasing the jarred sauce is a combination of these reasons. Nevertheless, that did not mean I was not interested in the product.

A few days after seeing the jarred sauce, I did a bit of research, found a few recipes, and read a few blog postings. The recipes were simple and called (mostly) for ingredients in my pantry. I would make this sauce to see if the reviews were accurate. I love butternut squash soups and chowders and loved the butternut squash risotto someone had made for me, so I was anticipating another good experience.

The grocery-shopping trip for the ingredients required I pick up only two items: gnocchi and a shallot. Other than the shallot and fresh pasta, I had all the ingredients in my pantry and herb garden. The recipe I used as a guide (Tyler Florence’s from the Food TV Network) called for gnocchi and I opted to follow his lead, but will opt for another pasta shape in the future and will most likely use fresh pasta. This recipe is quick, easy, tasty, and calls for highly substitutable ingredients. My only adjustment was to add bacon to the recipe (one blog references using pancetta). Everything tastes better with bacon.

Butternut squash pasta sauce

2 slices bacon or pancetta, optional

2 Tablespoons onion, minced or 2 shallots, minced

3 cups butternut squash

Pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

6 leaves sage, cut into thin strips

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Roast the squash (or use frozen squash which is thawed) until squash is softened.

Cook the bacon until crisp; remove from the pan and let drain. Retain the bacon dripping and add the minced onion. Cook a few minutes and add the butternut squash, pepper, bay leaf, and sage to the pan. Ensure the squash is heated through. Add the chicken broth and stir until fully incorporated. Break the bacon into pieces and add to the pan. Add additional chicken broth until desired consistency is achieved.

Top your favorite pasta with this sauce and add grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

The finished product.
The finished product.

cheese. I hope you enjoy this and recommend this be added to your recipe collection.

Southern Gumbo

The recipe you find will include the addition of extra flour, the only change I made.

2 cups fresh or frozen chopped okra

2 Tablespoons oil

1 stick margarine or butter

6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 white or yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 cups water

1/2 pound Andouille sausage links, sliced

1 pound smoked beef sausage

1 sprig thyme

1 tablespoon parsley

1 bay leaf

Creole seasoning to taste ( I started with 1/2 teaspoon)

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce,

1/4 cup sherry, optional

2 pounds fresh or frozen peeled shrimp

Directions:

  1. Fry okra in oil for 10 minutes (I set a timer), stirring constantly so the okra does not burn. DO NOT USE CAST IRON, use aluminum or ceramic cookware, but not cast iron. Once cooked, remove the okra from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add margarine or butter and flour to the pan and make a roux. The length of time you cook the roux will determine the color of the roux which will determine the color of the gumbo. I opted for a lighter color roux.
  3. Add chopped vegetables and garlic to the pan with the roux. Add okra, and cook 5 minutes until vegetables are wilted.
  4. Add the water, sausages, herbs, spice mixture, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook at a low temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Add shrimp and optional sherry. Cook 30 minutes at low temperature or until shrimp are cooked, but still tender.

Peanuts, Pretzels, and Peanut Butter

You, too, would have taken a piece.
You, too, would have taken a piece.

The peanut butter/pretzel/chocolate bars on the television looked delicious. Chocolate and peanut butter is a favorite flavor combination of mine and adding a salty component seemed a great idea. It was after Christmas before I could make the bars. And of course, changes were made to the recipe. Here is my recipe.

The perceived problem with the peanut butter bars are the fat and calorie. Making the bars in January meant there was the annual increase in my desire to improve the nutritional aspect of the foods in my diet. I decided upon the pretense of making an effort at improving the nutritional value of these bars. It was easy because the recipes I viewed seemed to call for more butter, sugar, and fat than necessary. I could reduce the fat and sugar while maintaining taste.

The larger pieces were distracting. Smash until only small pieces exist.
The larger pieces were distracting. Smash until only small pieces exist.

To reduce the fat I opened a fresh jar of natural peanut butter and drained the layer of oil sitting atop the peanut butter. The peanut butter was still plenty moist, but two tablespoons of oil were removed. With more than half the peanut butter being used in the recipe, the oil removal meant calorie removal. Next, the butter amount was cut in half. I opted for this large amount because the batch made on television provided for a very moist batter. With peanut butter still be contributing moisture to the bars, the missing butter would most likely not be noticed.

Sprinkle mini chips to melt the chips in a shorter period of time.
Sprinkle mini chips to melt the chips in a shorter period of time.

Which brings me to the sugar. A popular online suggestion from Europeans is to cut sugar in American recipes by half. That seemed extreme given my experience with other recipes, the fact a higher cacao chocolate chip would be used in the recipe, and salty pretzels would be added to this dish. I opted for a cut of 25% with the idea of adjustments in the future. It seemed best to experiment with sugar by making small, not large, changes.

The pretzels were dipping sticks broken in half and placed in the measuring cup. Did you know there are 28 pretzel dipping pretzels to a cup? You do now! Once measure, the pretzels were place in a plastic bag and crushed with the flat side of the measuring cup. Had they been crushed with my grandmother’s rolling pin, the pieces would have been smaller which would have been better. Next time I will use grandma’s rolling pin.

In the bag
In the bag

The original recipe created a chocolate top layer consisting of melted chocolate chips and peanut butter. The reason for the peanut butter is to keep the chocolate layer soft for cutting. (Some recipes call for butter in place of peanut butter.) If you want to have a softer chocolate layer choose, then add in peanut butter or butter. I don’t find the thin layer of chocolate difficult to cut as the layer of chocolate is thin.

Curious to know the number of calories I had eliminated from the bars, I made the calculation (about 500 fewer calories went into the bowl than was called for. When calculating the reduction I noticed something very

Finally, all assembled.
Finally, all assembled.

unpleasant. The original recipe called for the 13 x 9 pan called or a yield of 60 pieces. This would mean each piece is slightly smaller than 1.5 inches square. Yeah, who eats a piece of candy that size? Yet, only about 16 calories were eliminated from each 1.5 square inches. No, I do not want comments about the increased caloric intake of larger pieces. I think I will stick to the chocolate peanut clusters which are a snap to make.

Enjoy!