Summer draws to a close

Fall 2011 at Portage Park Farmer’s Market | Photo by Kelly Rose

We’re on the heels of my favorite season.  The mornings now have a bite in the air, fashion scarves and sweaters are becoming imperative, and everything around me is turning into orange-y and amber hues.  Though I’m a California girl at heart, I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost 25 years.  The one thing about living here that has kept me from continually accosting my parents for moving us across the country is the leaves.  Well, they have leaves in California, but they don’t turn orange and gold and burgundy.

Some people live life with rose-colored glasses; my glasses are burgundy.

Plus, the idea of not sweating profusely every time I go somewhere is highly appealing to me.

The farmer’s market is becoming particularly bountiful, and though it’s sad to see summer squash and tomatoes go out of my life, the beginning of fall means it’s “squirrel time”.  What I mean is, I’m trying to make time to take everything that still just barely at it’s peak of freshness and dry it, freeze it or can it for the winter.

I’ve always wanted to make an attempt to preserve enough produce to make it through the winter without buying a shriveled up zucchini that was grown in the middle of Mexico and shipped to my local store on a refrigerator truck.

Wishful thinking…

I know that this isn’t the year for me to make this happen full stop, but nonetheless I’ve managed to buy and can or freeze 25 pounds of  tomatoes, pickle a bunch of beets, blanch and freeze broccoli, eggplant, and green beans, and there is a batch of crispy squash chips in the oven as I type.  I got a really big squash in my CSA box last week, was told it would be the last one, and, having eaten one squash too many, this is what I chose to do with it:

Squash Chips

Ingredients:

  • Zucchini or summer squash, thinly sliced and dried on a paper towel
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (spraying it with cooking spray works fine too).  Arrange the squash slices in a single layer and coat with olive oil using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle with a modest amount of salt and bake at 275-F for a LONG time (several hours).  When they are firm and crispy, they’re done.

A great substitute for potato chips, use these chips up in about three days, stored in a plastic bag or wrapped in a tea towel

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What’s in the box: Week 3/4

With being in San Francisco since Tuesday, most of my CSA box is still at home in the fridge.  But I managed to make some bang up meals before I left.

Ravinia date with myself:

An on-the-fly Spinach Artichoke Dip used up all the spinach I had left over, plus cream cheese in anything is delicious.  Simply sautee the spinach until wilty (add a little water to the pan so it doesn’t burn.  Mix with a jar of drained artichoke hearts and equal parts cream cheese and sour cream.  I took this beauty on my Ravinia picnic before attending the live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and paired with grapes, crusty bread, homemade pickles and a bottle of red.

Shrimp Something-Or-Other

In an attempt to throw as many of my box ingredients as possible in the same dish, this delight (not being facetious) started off with sauteed onion, kohlrabi, garlic scape and kale with a bit of soy sauce and a bit of adobo seasoning.  I added ramen noodles and shrimp that were sauteed separated in butter, and was pretty much the envy of my Facebook newsfeed for the evening.

I’m thinking that at some point it would be helpful to find actual recipes to complement the ingredients that I find in my box, but honestly, I’m short on time and seem to be doing just fine throwing a little of this and a little of that into a pan and seeing what comes out.  Maybe that’s the beauty of having fresh produce around all the time… it tastes amazing no matter what you do with it.

If only baking was that easy… but what with it’s chemical reactions and such measuring cups and recipes come in quite handy for that…

Avocado + Cilantro = Love

Any recipe that includes cilantro, avocado, and salsa instantly makes it to the top of my list.  This one from Weight Watchers is very nice if you don’t mind a little kick in your dip.  I don’t mind.

Creamy Mexican Dip

Ingredients:

1 C. plain, fat-free yogurt

1/2 C. salsa (I used salsa verde, but any kind will do)

1/2 avocado, sliced

1/3 C. cilantro

1/4 C. red onion, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Garnish with more cilantro and onion, and diced or sliced avocado.

Serve with tortilla chips, or as a sauce to use in place of sour cream.  I used some of it as a topping for chicken tacos last week and it was delicious.  You can also add some drained, canned black beans to make it a sturdier, more filling appetizer.

Fancy fare: Black Forest Ham Crostini

Adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe, this super yum appetizer was easy to make for our NYE party.  Plus, it has great visual impact, looks fancy, and is really delicious.

Black Forest Ham Crostini

Ingredients:

A fresh loaf of skinny french bread

1/3 C. sour cream (reduced-fat still tastes great)

3 TB minced red onion

1 TB horseradish

1/4 tsp. black pepper

Fresh arugula or other green (not too pungent), for garnish

1/4 – 1/2 lb. black forest ham, sliced thinly (I got mine already sliced at the deli counter)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 deg-F.  Thinly slice french bread (about 1″ thick) and place on sprayed baking sheet.  Toast bread in the oven about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool

In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, onion, horseradish, and pepper.

Put bread on serving platter, and place one deli slice on each piece of bread.  Add a dollop of sour cream mixture and garnish with arugula or other greens.

Betty knows best: Deviled Eggs

One of my prized possessions is my first edition 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book.

It has amazing tips on how to be a good housewife and decorating a kitchen with polka dots… “Gayest, most colorful of all!”

Though perhaps slightly dated in its approach and it’s recipes (like: miniature pigs in blankets and pineapple marshmallow creme), every recipe I’ve tried out of this book has been amazingly successful.  It just goes to show that when it comes to classic American cooking…. Betty Crocker knows best.

This New Years Eve, I tried making Deviled Eggs for the fist time, much to the delight of my household and, I might add, me.  Simple. Creamy. Delicious.

Betty’s Deviled Eggs

Ingredients:

6 eggs (hard-boiled, see below*)

1/4 – 1/2 tsp. salt, depending on your taste (I like less salty)

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

About 3 TB mayonaise, vinegar, or cream (enough to moisten)

Directions:

Cut hard-boiled eggs in half, slip out the yolks into a small bowl and mash with a fork.  Add the other ingredients and mix until creamy.  Refill egg whites with yolk mixture (you can just spoon it in, or use a pastry bag if you want to be extra fancy).  I like to dust them lightly with Paprika.

There are about 1,000 variations of Deviled Eggs, and you can experiment yourself with curry powder, diced ham, pimentos and the like… but I like them just like this.

If you don’t have a fancy deviled egg tupperware as I do, you can lightly squeeze two halves back together and wrap them in wax paper like a salt water taffy (twisting the sides tightly) for transport.  That is, if you don’t eat all of them before you get to your party.

*Just in case you don’t know how to make hard-boiled eggs, a brief tutorial:

  • Boil water in a pot.  The pot should be large enough for the eggs to sit in a single layer, and fill with enough water to completely cover the eggs.  Add 1 TB vinegar to the pot.
  • Lower eggs into the water one at a time, using a ladle and gently resting them in the water.  Lower the heat to medium-ish.
  • 20 minutes later.
  • Use your ladle again to scoop out the eggs one at a time and place them in a colander.  Place the colander in an ice bath to prevent the eggs from continuing to cook, not to mention they are too hot to handle.

Ringing in 2012

Your RSS feeds will likely be clogged with a bunch of bloggers’ resolutions today.  Rather than bore you with the typical “lose weight, blog more” goals that I share with all my fellow Americans, I shall ease your hangover with a beautiful photo diary of what my New Year’s Eve looked like.

The theme:

A classy beer tasting party.

The setting:

The fabulously retro party basement that lies beneath my humble abode

The menu:

Classic hors d’oeuvres including a fruit and cheese tray, deviled eggs, creamy Mexican dip, black forest ham crostini, homemade peanut brittle, and Dragon’s Milk Stout brownies (recipes to follow for the rest of the week)

Paired with:

Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Unibroue Maudite (amber Belgian-style ale), New Glarus Moon Man, Stone IPA, and a special New Glarus Raspberry Tart for the midnight toast.

Aside: I’ve had many failures in the kitchen, but this shin-dig (I flatter myself) was a delicious success.

Contributing Crafty Lady Nancy took these photos, and selected and sourced the beer pairings….

Black Forest Ham Crostini
Creamy Mexican Dip
Deviled Eggs
Blue cheese, Camembert, Asian pear and a clementine blossom
Milk Stout Brownies