30 August 2013

August Goals + Pepper Preservation

This week has proven harvest season to be in full swing.  August is all about time management.  I found myself expending the energy to make blueberry muffins this month (this recipe, in muffin form), and then bringing them to work as a mid-morning snack.  I was eating them, even though I wasn’t hungry, and they aren’t particularly healthy.  That feels a lot like poor time management.  Lately, if it doesn’t comprise a meal, it probably isn’t worth my time.  (Let’s look at this month’s recipes for a hot minute – one giant casserole to last all week, and two desserts.  Time management what?)
I keep thinking back to my 2013 goal to live more simply.  Harvest season was a big part of that goal, because while I’m loving these fresh tomatoes and peppers, it is only during harvest season that I regularly find myself on my feet in the kitchen from the time I get out of work to the time I pass out in bed, too exhausted to even find the time or energy to make dinner.  Balance.  This week has been lacking it. 
That brings us to this month’s goals.  August confession:  some months, I don’t really choose goals.  They look like goals, but in reality, they are things that are GOING to happen and it takes zero effort on my part.  Wine tasting?  That was already on the books.  Wedding?  Ditto, I just had to get there.  Harvesting and preserving?  It’s August, enough said.  Recipes?  This is a FOOD BLOG!  Cleaning the apartment…okay, you’ve got me there.  But guess which one was the only one that didn’t happen…

August goals:
  • A wine tour of some Traverse City wineries – a great day, and a great way to enjoy time with friends and nice weather!
  • A cousin’s wedding – not only did we make it to the wedding, we did so amongst a weekend of camping.  Don’t worry, we stopped at my brother’s house for showers before we went!
  • More harvesting and preserving – let’s see if I can remember all we did…blueberries – frozen, peaches – frozen AND canned, peppers – frozen, tomatoes – frozen AND canned, elderberries – (collected, de-stemmed,) juiced and canned (and then started wine with!), cucumbers – pickled, zucchini – froze a small amount, 27 ears of corn blanched and frozen, basil – pesto-ed and frozen.  Now that I write it all down, I feel a lot better about my “time management” issues.  A HUGE thanks to my uncle (gifted me with some sweet corn!), my mother (elderberries wouldn’t happen without you!), my father (waters the garden like every day!) and my husband (constantly turning mountains into molehills!).  EDIT:  I knew I'd forget something - we also hulled a couple quarts of dry beans.  Pic below.
  • More recipes – check out this squash/zucchini bake, double chocolate brownies from scratch, and lime yogurt cake with huckleberries.
  • Deep cleaning of the apartment – uh…I thought about it several times, and put several related items on my to-do list.  They are still sitting on the to-do list, untouched.
I feel wildly accomplished, looking at that list of preserved foods.  Home-grown tomatoes in the middle of winter!  Fresh-tasting basil for the cold months!  Corn and peppers to add to all fall soups!  August embodies the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  If all this food preservation doesn’t kill me, then all these home-grown, naturally grown, heirloom foods can spend all winter making me stronger!
I believe these beans are the Jacob's Cattle variety - a Prince Edward Island heirloom.  Very pretty.
And as far as my 2013 goal of living simply, I feel that I’m thriving this year rather than barely surviving like I did last year.  It may not be simple, exactly, but I’m still living well.  Last year I was getting crushed by all the things on my to-do list, whereas this year I’ve been taking care of business.  There’s still a good portion of my to-do list that doesn’t get done, but so far all the time-sensitive matters have been handled.
September goals to come next week, along with some fantastic recipe yet to be determined.  In the meantime, enjoy some photos from my month and a quick guide to preserving peppers.  Starting with this tree on my way to work - do not adjust your monitors, those leaves are really tinged with orange (PS, don't take photos while you're driving.  It's dangerous.  I was at a stop sign.  Here's proof:).
We went to a pupuseria to try some traditional El Salvadorian food!
Camping: this tent is almost the size of my apartment.  Perfect for blocking off the campsite for your own private, cozy camping.

And a quick guide to preserving peppers!

This doesn't get its own post because peppers are sooooo easy.  No blanching required.  Chop and freeze!
I like to make little packages out of plastic wrap so that I can just grab a package and put it in soup or something.  Peppers don't regain their crunch after thawing, so soup is pretty much all I use them for.  However, they would be fine for use in stirfry and casseroles.
So great for summers like this when I've got peppers coming out my ears!  And they don't freeze too hard, so it's pretty easy to chop them, even straight out of the freezer.  These are good for a few months in the freezer.

Okay, so I know that's a lot to read, which is why I'm saving September goals for next week!

16 August 2013

Double Chocolate Brownies with Roasted Strawberries

The food blog world has been raving about roasted strawberries.  When I found myself with a surplus of strawberries this summer, I thought I'd give it a try.
Since I had to bring a dish to a family gathering, I thought it would be great to bring some roasted strawberries.  But they have to go WITH something, right?  Since I was out of time, I was pretty sure I had a box mix of brownies at home.  Perfect.  Done.
But I didn't.  Oh well, making brownies from scratch can't really take much longer, right?  Here's hoping.  So I hopped online and found myself an awesome looking recipe from Ina Garten.  Fantastic.
And then, of course, I needed to do something with the berries.  This recipe showed up in my inbox, and I even had maple syrup on hand, so it was perfect.
And in a happy coincidence, the baking times for both of these were nearly the same, so this ended up being a quick and easy dessert to make.
Verdict:  the brownies were just so light and melt-in-your-mouth.  Fabulous.  The strawberries?  Well, I grew up eating home-canned strawberries and they didn't taste much different than that.  I'd prefer fresh strawberries over roasted any day.
I halved Ina's recipe to make it fit in a 9x13 pan (actually my pan is 10x14, which is a really weird size, but I've used it consistently with all 9x13 recipes and haven't had a problem).  I baked it for about 30 minutes, instead of the 20 Ina calls for.  That puts it about on par w/ the roasted strawberries.  Other than that, I didn't really change up these recipes at all so I'm not going to repost them.

09 August 2013

Summer Squash / Zucchini Chicken Bake

If your summer is going anything like mine, there is no shortage of summer squash and zucchini.  It's a good problem to have.  If you're running out of ideas for using them, check out this recipe!  I'm not a huge fan of squash, so I was a little skeptical, but I was blown away by this dish.
Plus chicken!  I made this dish and ate it for lunch every day.  And every day, I would dish it up and take photos, trying to get one that looked decent.  This is not an easy dish to photograph.  Then when I finally pulled the photos off my camera, the first one totally rocked my socks.  All that work for nothing!
Let's talk about the SLAP CHOP.  No tears onions?  Check.  Easy chopping?  Check.  Knockoff version for a dollar at Goodwill?  Count me in!  Now that the chopping is out of the way, start the sauteing.  While the onions soften, you have the perfect opportunity to shred the summer squash and zucchini.
The shredded squash is added to the onions, and then we spice things up!
It looks like a lot, but in the end the flavors all come together.  Tomato time!  Test the limits of this pan.  (Note:  slap chop also turns stewed tomatoes into diced tomatoes - minus the mess!)
Try to stir it up, decide things have gotten out of control, start to spoon everything into the baking dish.
Still not sure about this...time to add chicken (vegetarian option:  close your eyes and scroll down).
Bake all these flavors together!  Chicken juices act like broth to the stew beneath, while cooking into a delicious casserole that will feed you for a week.
I might have snuck some parmesan cheese in there, too.

Okay, here's the real story.  I saw this recipe for Summer Squash Meatball Casserole and thought it was worth a try.  But when I tried it, I changed...well...everything.  Chicken breasts were literally a third of the price of either ground beef or ground turkey, so I nixed the meatball idea.  I was tired of spending so much time cooking every night and not getting much else done, so when I made this I made it BIG.  And there was no regret. 

Summer Squash/Zucchini Chicken Bake (inspired by this)
Serves:  8 to 10 as a main dish

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 med onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 3 c. shredded summer squash
  • 3 c. shredded zucchini
  • 2 tbs cumin
  • 2 tbs ground coriander
  • 1 tbs smoked paprika (make sure it's smoked!)
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can tomato puree (14 oz)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14 oz) - I used stewed and slap chopped them into diced-size pieces
  • 3 small chicken breasts, cut into...meatball-sized pieces (vegetarian option:  omit chicken)
1.  Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Saute the garlic and onion until soft / translucent (and super fragrant!).  Use your largest saute pan.
2.  Add the squash and zucchini and continue to cook until soft.
3.  Add the spices.  Stir stir stir it up.
4.  Add the tomato (both diced and pureed).  Continue cooking until the tomatoes start to simmer.
5.  Pour the entire mixture into a 9x13 pan.  Top with raw chicken.  If desired, sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.
I think it's the smoky paprika that really secures this dish as a favorite.  I will definitely be making this one again.  And if you still have any zucchini left, make some zucchini bread!  Everyone loves zucchini bread. 

02 August 2013

July Goals

Let's talk about July.  But let's not talk about how many avocados I've eaten lately.  Maybe we can talk about how many stir fries I've eaten lately.  It's been a lot.
There's nothing wrong with that.  July goals:

  • Start up Stir-Fry Season with style.  Done.  And done.  And done.  SO MANY SUMMER SQUASHES!
  • Recipe Round-up. Check it out!  Not too shabby...
  • Camping is on the list!  Over the holiday weekend we went camping with some friends.  Just a couple nights, but it was a really nice break.
  • Ice cream from Tasty Treat.  Technically, I didn't quite wait for July to do this.  But it was after I posted the goal, so I'm considering it accomplished.
  • Exercise.  Meh.  I did start some workouts, but I didn't make anything routine.  Summer workouts tend to be more like "spend a couple hours in the garden" and "ride the bike to a berry patch and pick berries for an hour while swatting mosquitoes." 
  • Smoothies.  I made ONE.  Whatever.  Count it!
So that's how the month went.  What will August bring?
  • A wine tour of some Traverse City wineries.
  • A cousin's wedding.
  • More harvesting and preserving!
  • More recipes...I've been making so much food lately!
  • The deep-cleaning of the apartment continues!  Cupboard by cupboard, the kitchen is almost done.  It's so liberating to get rid of things that I don't really use. 
In the meantime, here are some random cell phone photos from my month.  Very ripe red currants, practically glowing...
Rhubarb wine, finally started.  It's always a lovely peach color when it starts, but mine fades to a pale, pale white.  Obviously this photo doesn't do it justice.
Some flowers picked by the roadside.
And what to do with zucchini?  Zucchini bread!  You'll notice only one loaf lasted long enough for a photo of the finished product.
My garden is coming along swimmingly.  It's almost sad...because now I hardly need to buy anything at the Farmers Market!
And lastly, my laptop has finally kicked it.  Still have yet to try a couple things, but the truth is that it's so old even a quick fix is just prolonging the inevitable (Kyle is practically trying to get me to sign a DNR - do not resuscitate - for my poor laptop).  And yes, in this photo there are at least five hard drives and a flash drive.  Plus potholders.  Who knows if actually reformatting it last...uh...July... would have made a difference or not.

As always, good things.  Summer is the best.  Looking forward to some sweeter August recipes!