Friday, July 25, 2014

Let's Salsa!

I love the fresh taste of salsa. Throw in a few peppers and increase the heat to your favorite level, customizing this tasty way to get some veggies in your diet.  I prefer my salsa on the warm side but others in my family like a sweeter version.  Here is my recipe with a few suggestions to adjust the taste to suit your taste-buds.  Another big thank you to local gardeners for the fabulous tomatoes!

What you need:
Jalapeno Peppers
Salt (optional)
Sugar (optional)

How to put it together:

Prepare the tomatoes, washing well, removing the tops and any bad spots, then cutting into halves or quarters. Prepare your peppers.  The more seeds and membrane you remove, the sweeter the pepper flavor.  I tend to leave 1/2 for what I consider a medium to mild taste. Peel your garlic, using as much as you prefer.  I used 2 large heads for about 15 cups of salsa. Remove the skin from onions, peel and cut into easily managed pieces.

Fill your food processor with the following proportions: nearly 3/8 full of tomatoes, 1/4 with onions, 1/4 with peppers and 1/8 with cilantro.  Just grab a handful of cilantro tops, twisting the entire clump off the base stems (I discard the stems).  Squeeze in the juice from half a fresh lime. Pulse these items until they reach the consistency you like - chunky to nearly liquid - and taste.  You may want to add a pinch of salt or up to a tablespoon of sugar depending on how you like your salsa. Adjust the veggies to taste also.  Need more heat - add more peppers or leave the membrane and seeds in more.  Reduce the amount of onion you use (or omit the onion totally) to avoid some of the bitter zing they can add, or use a sweeter yellow onion.

I make up lots of this salsa when I have an abundance of tomatoes.  I put a cup or so into a plastic bag, remove as much air as I can and freeze them to enjoy in my recipes, especially my 5 minute taco soup recipe where I substitute this for store-bought, for a really quick meal.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beer Bread

This is a really quick, last-minute bread fix as you prepare your dinner.  It's taste is wonderful, enhanced by the yeasty flavor of beer which is used as the leavening agent.  As for prep - it couldn't be easier or quicker!  It will take more time to bake than prepare this versatile bread. You can make it as full-sized muffins but I prefer to make mini-muffins or even just drop biscuits as the baking time is a little longer than a basic biscuit.  

What you need:

Bisquick Mix: 3 cups
Beer (yes, light and non-alcoholic work): 12 ounces
Sugar: 3 Tablespoons

Mix it all together and place on a sprayed (even if it's a non-stick pan!) cookie sheet or muffin tin.  I used a mini-muffin tin which made 24 two-bite marvels.  Put into a 375 degree oven and bake for approximately 12 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.  These muffins tend not to brown much so you need to test to determine when they are done. This is a light bread which can easily fall apart when hot. Remove from the oven and run a knife around each muffin (if using a muffin tin) to release edges and release from the pan, allowing to cool on a rack - or serve hot!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer Squash Rounds

I love when friends share the bounty of their gardens.  Besides tomatoes, we've been blessed with some lovely squash this summer.  I wanted to figure out some new way of preparing the vegetable - one that would work with my weight loss program but still be enticing to my family.  This is what I've come up with - squash rounds.  I'm also including a few suggestions from the 'what I learned in the process' category. 

What you need:
Squash (yellow or zucchini)
Cooking spray
Salt and Pepper
Grated Cheese (we like Parmesan or Romano)

How to put it together:

Clean and cut the squash into 1/8 inch rounds.  Any thinner and they dissolve.  Any thicker and they don't crisp. Place slices in a single layer on a silicon baking liner or parchment paper which is on a cookie sheet.  Spray each round with a spritz of good cooking spray.  Salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese on each.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes but watch them closely.  They are nearly done when the cheese starts to turn a deep golden color. 

Some thoughts - use a disposable liner for really quick and easy clean up, especially if the kids are helping you put cheese on each round.  Use less salt than normal as many grated cheeses have salt added to their product.  Use grated cheese for a more even coverage that browns up quickly.  

Discard any squash that is too thin or too thick - it isn't worth the hassle as noted above.  Yellow squash seemed to need a little less cooking time.  You can use a nice oil, putting a couple tablespoons in a plastic bag with squash rounds, and mix in the bag.  It's easy on clean up but does add a few more calories to a light summer vegetable.  Allow chips to cool before eating as they continue to crisp after coming out of the oven.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pasta Sauce from Garden Tomatoes

I am blessed to be surrounded by some very generous gardeners. You see, to say I don't have a green thumb is a serious understatement. If it weren't for my sweet husband, I wouldn't even have my few containers of herbs and colorful patio plants! Recently a very nice church member shared from their surplus tomatoes.  This is a favorite time of year, when I can put together a huge pot of pasta sauce - to have for dinner that same evening but also to freeze for multiple meals that are quickly put together on a hectic night.  Pasta sauce is really very easy to pull together and the bang you get for the time you put into it is outstanding - in the appreciative 'yums' and 'umms' from your family as they enjoy it but also in the sense of old-worldly accomplishment of having made something so wonderful from such simple ingredients. 

As a frame of reference, we enjoyed a family meal the night I made this sauce and put back four quart jars of meat sauce for future meals. 

What you need:
Tomatoes - lots and lots of tomatoes! 
Garlic (prepared or fresh): we love garlic, so I used a tablespoon, or use an entire head of fresh
Tomato Paste (6 ounce can)
Oregano (dried or fresh)
Basil (dried or fresh)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Ground beef (I precook then rinse to get rid of most of the fat)
Note: I use a couple of onions for approximately 3-4 dozen tomatoes.

Putting it together:
Wash your tomatoes well.  Cut the top stem and any bad spots off.  If they are particularly large, give them a quick cut into halves or quarters. Peel and chop the onions, large pieces are fine. Wash and pull the herbs from their stems, if using fresh.  Remember that if you slide your fingers down the stem from the top to the bottom, the leaves just pull off! No need to chop them because this will be done in the blender.  

Pull out your biggest stock pot with a lid and put the tomatoes, onion, tomato paste, garlic, salt and pepper into it. Here is where I really save time - I don't peel my tomatoes. My husband has Crohn's Disease and we are always looking for ways to put fiber into our diet. Just put all BUT the herbs and meat into the pot, cover and turn on low. Don't add any liquids as the juice from the tomatoes will escape as they steam and be more than sufficient for the sauce. Let this simmer and stew for a couple to a few hours - the longer the better for the sauce's flavor. Just before you blend the mix (I love the immersion blender since you don't have to empty the pot and mess up the kitchen transferring hot mix to the blender - but you can CAUTIOUSLY use a standard blender) add your herbs. 

Again, my family likes lots of flavor, so we use lots of herbs. Use the amount that will please your family. Blend well, until you have a smooth sauce. Add cooked ground beef and return to the heat until all is at serving temperature. Taste your sauce now and make any seasoning adjustments at this time.  If the tomatoes taste acidic, you may choose to add a tablespoon of sugar to your sauce.  If the sauce is too thin or runny, try mixing a tablespoon of cornstarch into a couple of tablespoons of room temperature water before adding to the sauce.  

If you make enough and have some leftovers, fill quart glass jars (leave room for sauce to expand as it freezes) and store in your freezer for an easy meal that reminds you of a bountiful summer. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Test Knitting: Alexandra Shawl

Last fall I had the privilege of doing a test knit which combined a favorite designer with a favorite fiber.  Test knitting is when you receive a pattern to knit, checking that it is written correctly and well. They want to know if the pattern is do-able for anyone who might want to purchase it when released. Usually, you are asked to keep tabs on how many hours it takes to knit the particular project.  For me, this lace shawl took just about 50 hours. 
I love test knitting - as it challenges me to read the pattern with fresh, new eyes and many times there is a deadline to ensure that all information is returned in time for any adaptions to be completed before going public.  

The Alexandra Shawl is designed by Anniken Allis, who also designed Sharon's Snowflake shawl. She was commissioned to design this new project by Sweet Georgia Yarns.  SGY makes the fabulous and oh so scrumptious luxury yarn, CashSilk Lace (55% silk, 45% cashmere)!!! This pattern called for small glass beads to compliment the design. I used about 15 grams of a color which blends into the blue, until the light hits them and they go a deep, rich red.  Unfortunately, they are a little hard to see in my photos. 

The pattern is now available for sale and I thought you might like to see the photos I took to send along with my rave reviews.  These photos were taken at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on a glorious late fall day.  I figured a shawl named Alexandra, which is full of lotas flowers, deserved a proper setting - and it made me think of water and gators! Wasn't I lucky to have a proper location right in my own town? 

Please remember that the content and photos on this blog are copyrighted.  The pattern is available for purchase at the SGY website linked above.