Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Caramel Pretzels

Sorry, this is shameless junk food.
It really can't be labeled otherwise.
You can't really refer to it as a dessert, not a cookie... it could be a "snack"...

Many kids don't like nuts (or are allergic), so it's probably more of an adult thing than for kids- but it can easily be tailored for whoever your intended audience might happen to be. It's all good.

Then again, you wouldn't really call this a very "adult" thing to eat.
It's probably a fun project for short people (5' and under) to help with.

Go ahead and take an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach on this one.
Toffee, nuts, chocolate chips, M&Ms, dried fruit, cookie crumbs...

The recipe is written for chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and nuts, but you can do whatever you want. I usually do... whatever I happen to find when I go through the odds and ends where the chocolate chips are kept. I don't really like peanut butter chips though- peanut butter is more than fine with me, but the chips... not so much. Just so you know.

The important thing is to have about 4 cups of "stuff" to roll the caramel-coated pretzels in.

Caramel Pretzels
Makes 25

2 c nuts
1 c peanut butter chips
1 c chocolate chips
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
1/4 c butter
2/3 c sweetened condensed milk
1/2 t vanilla
25 pretzel rods

Combine nuts and chips in a food processor and process until the mixture is coarsely chopped (alternatively, you could use a knife). Transfer to a large shallow bowl or a pan and set aside.
In a small, heavy saucepan combine brown sugar, corn syrup and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and return to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the "soft ball" stage (236 degrees F). Maintain a steady boil the whole time! Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in vanilla. Cool the caramel 15-20 minutes, or until it thickens slightly.
Dip each pretzel into the caramel, covering about two-thirds of it. Let the caramel drip off slightly. Roll the pretzels in the nuts and chocolate chips, pressing slightly to make sure they adhere to the caramel. Place the pretzels on waxed paper, foil, or parchment paper until the caramel is set.
Store in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper in the refrigerator up to 4 days.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


If you're "lucky" enough to have a million tomatoes from your garden this summer, gazpacho is a great thing to do with them.

It's also a "no cook" recipe that's best served ice cold.

Gazpacho is a very fresh tomato-based Spanish summer soup (originally Arab) that was originally made with only stale bread, garlic, and olive oil. Yum.
It wasn't until after the conquistadors arrived in the Americas that tomatoes were introduced to Europe. However, they were deemed poisonous for a long time (and only used decoratively) before they were actually consumed (and no one died).

There are many variations of gazpacho depending on the region, however the main ingredients are tomato, garlic, onion, bread, olive oil, peppers, vinegar, salt, and cucumber.
Some gazpachos are smooth, others are very chunky like a salsa (and you could also use it as a salsa if you wanted).

This particular recipe was constructed after studying several other recipes- all of which contained these ingredients- before deciding on my proportions.
The recipe is also somewhat dependent on what I could find in the garden. Sadly, while foraging for vegetables there was an extremely dangerous herd of mosquitoes waiting for me.

The nice thing about this soup is that a food processor can do pretty much all of the work for you, and there's no need to clean it out between vegetables!

Well... maybe not ALL the work. You do need to peel and see the tomatoes, but it's not that hard. Make an "X" in the bottom of each tomato, cutting through the skin. Place each tomato in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove, set aside, and peel the skin off once the tomato is cool enough to handle. Cut each tomato into fourths and use your fingers to "scoop" out the seeds and "jelly" from inside the tomatoes (it doesn't matter all that much if you miss some of it). Removing the seeds and "jelly" helps to ensure your soup isn't too watery.

I prefer mine to be somewhere between smooth and chunky- I want the soup to have some body to it, but I don't necessarily want to eat chunky salsa with a spoon. Of course, you can do whatever you want.

I chose the low sodium tomato juice because I wanted to have a little more control of the amount of salt in the soup. I will admit that I also prefer kosher salt to whatever salt they might put into the juice before it's bottled.

In addition to croutons, you could serve the soup with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, avocado, parsley, cilantro, or basil as garnishes.

makes approximately 10 cups

4 c peeled and seeded tomatoes
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into eights
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into large pieces
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into large pieces
1 cucumber, seeded
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 c low sodium tomato juice
2 pieces good white bread (not Wonder Bread!), crusts removed and torn into large pieces
1/4 c white wine vinegar
1/3 c olive oil
1 T salt

Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Pour into a large bowl. Place the onion in the food processor and pulse until it is coarsely ground. Add the onion to the bowl with the tomatoes. Continue in the same manner with the pepper and cucumber, trying to process them to the same consistency as the onion. Place the pieces of bread in the food processor and pour the tomato juice over them. Process until smooth and pour the tomato mixture into the bowl with the vegetables. Add the garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and salt to the bowl and stir to combine.
Pour the gazpacho into an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate until cold (at least several hours).
The soup will be even better the next day!
Serve with chopped vegetables and garlic croutons to garnish as desired.

Garlic Croutons

5 slices good white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (about 5 cups)
1 T butter
2 T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place bread in a large bowl.
Melt butter with olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, until you can smell the garlic and you can hear it sizzle. Pour the garlic butter over the bread and toss gently. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and toss again. Pour the garlic bread onto a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, tossing and stirring a couple times while baking to make sure they brown evenly. Remove from oven and cool completely on the pan. Store in an airtight container.

*This can also be done completely in a frying pan- increase the heat a little and stir a little more often since you don't have the "surround" heat like you do in the oven.

The bread is easier to deal with if it's a little stale, and the croutons are also great on salads!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pineapple - Ginger Chicken Stir Fry

The other day I was going through some recipes and this one caught my eye. My version is loosely adapted from a Donna Hay recipe. She's an Australian food writer and stylist who always makes everything look so good. Australian food is based on many different cultures as they have had immigrants from all over the world including English/Irish (of course), Greek, Italian, Indian and many other Asian countries. Because of all these cultures there's a lot of fusion food there. And everything is FRESH and beautiful.

Anyway, this one caught my eye, but I didn't pay full attention as the recipe was written in metric measurements (which I have to think too much about). And so, I knew the generalities of the recipe, but just went from there to develop something a little more "useful" to me. Thanks, Donna.

One helpful tip I do have is about ginger. Fresh ginger is great, but many people may not have ever worked with it before. You should be able to find it at any grocery store- it looks like a tangle of knobby tan roots. The good thing is that you don't have to buy all of it, just break off a piece... whatever you think you'll use!

A peeler is unnecessary when removing the papery tan skin. It's much easier than that (and besides, you may end up wasting ginger when taking the peel off). Instead, use a spoon. If you use a little pressure when scraping the skin with a spoon it will come off very easily.

You will want to slice it thinly, and if you have a mandoline it will make things much faster and easier. However, there's no problem with using a knife.

This is actually pretty simple to make and very good. Although a couple of the ingredients may be a little strange if you're not used to Asian cooking (I included a couple links if anyone is interested).

It makes a nice (summery) weeknight dinner- all you need is some steamed white rice.

It was very good with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. I didn't try it, but it might be good with a sprinkle of chopped toasted peanuts, too.

Pineapple - Ginger Chicken Stir Fry
serves 4-6

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4)
2 T vegetable oil
2 c cubed pineapple
1 pt halved cherry tomatoes
5 scallions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c sliced fresh ginger
2 1/2 T brown sugar
2 T oyster sauce
1 T Hoisin sauce
1/3 c chicken broth
fresh cilantro
lime wedges
salt, pepper

Salt and pepper, trim and cube chicken.
Heat the oil in a large wok or frying pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned in spots and cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate. In the same pan add the pineapple, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, green onions, sugar, chicken broth, oyster and Hoisin sauces. Cook for a few minutes until it reduces a little and becomes and sticky. Return the chicken to the pan, stir to combine and heat through. Top with cilantro, serve with rice and lime wedges.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Strawberries in Orange - Caramel Sauce

I'm going to begin with a little story here...
Once upon a time at the end of last week, (long story short) I received a phone call (from someone I'm working with, not a random stranger) that my social security number is registered under someone else's name. You look up MY number and get someone else. Not an ideal situation.

Social security numbers are like toothbrushes: not to be shared. And I will not share it with you all, either.

Interestingly, this is actually something that came up when I was in grad school. I think it was when I had to get a criminal background check before my clinicals- just to make sure I wasn't abusing the geriatric population and such. Anyway, I think the person who came up was a woman in Louisiana. Maybe it's the same this time around...

I was told that someone probably wrote down this other woman's number incorrectly (or maybe she memorized it incorrectly and this is what she gives out?)- who knows? And isn't there a pattern for numbers depending on the state or area of the country you're in?

I can't remember how we got around it last time, or that it was "fixed" in any way, and I should probably go through my grad school things to see if I can find anything about this.
Strange though... how did I get my passport or drivers' license, how did I take (and pass) my boards, get a license if my number does not belong to me?

In college, our SS numbers were used for our ID (stupid idea if you ask me), but it was changed when I was a senior so that we had random numbers. I changed my drivers' license number to a random number, too (since the SS number needs to stay a little more private than completely public).

And so, as if everyone in general doesn't need somewhat stupid errands to run, I have to go find a social security office. I'm imagining it to be about as much fun as the DMV. Now that is a place where you can tell our friendly American government workers LOVE their jobs. Where do they find these people? They're rarely contestants in the running for Miss Congeniality ("surly" and "total disenchantment" are not award-winning characteristics).

Well, I hope my number doesn't have to be changed. I hope I can keep it- I've had it for many years (and, yes, I do have the original card... an amazing thing since it's printed on flimsy cardboard- how did it survive?). Seriously, I have this number memorized, and I'd rather not have to do it again. I know the topic isn't actually as light at this, but I have to admit that number memorization is not my forte.

While sharing a social security number is not a good thing, these strawberries are.
Sorry, this is the only segue I've thought up at the moment as strawberries and social security really have nothing in common (except that they DO start with the same letter).

The original recipe came from Gourmet Magazine, May 2008, and this is my slight adaptation of it.

The strawberries can be eaten with plain yogurt- actually what I had for breakfast (no intoxication since the alcohol burns off during cooking). They also make a very nice dessert when spooned over vanilla ice cream.

You can use oranges, but the last time I made it there were no orange to be found over here. I used a lemon instead. It was less sweet than the orange (not a bad thing), but it was still wonderful.

Strawberries in Orange - Caramel Sauce
serves 4-6

1/2 c granulated sugar
4 T salted butter
1 navel orange (zest and juice) OR 1 lemon
1/4 c orange-flavored liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier)
1 lb small strawberries (washed, trimmed and cut into halves or quarters depending on size)

Grate orange (or lemon) zest into a bowl and then squeeze juice into the same bowl. Cut butter into 4 pieces and add to the bowl along with the orange liqueur.
Heat sugar in a dry 10 inch nonstick skilled over medium heat, stirring with a fork until it begins to melt. Once the sugar is melted, swirl the pan occasionally so that the sugar caramelizes evenly. Continue until the sugar turns a dark amber (this won't take very long!). Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the juice mixture into the pan. The caramel will sizzle and solidify, but don't worry, it will liquify again. Continue stirring until the caramel melts and the mixture is homogeneous. When the caramel has dissolved and the sauce is slightly thickened (about 2 minutes) add the sliced strawberries and stir until heated through (about 1 minute). Serve immediately.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Vegetable Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain not many people may be familiar with. It comes from South America and is actually is a seed, but not a true grain. It has a nutty/grainy flavor and can be used as you would couscous, rice, or barley. It's actually cheapest in the bulk section at someplace like Whole Foods (about $2.99/lb.) as opposed to more expensive boxes of pre-packaged regular grocery store versions that don't give you a pound per box.

This is great either warm or room temperature (or even cold). It works as a salad or a side/grain/starch to add to a meal.
You can take a little creative license with this one. Things can definitely be added or omitted to suit whatever you might think is best!

If it happens to be a concern of yours, quinoa IS gluten free in it's grain form (when it looks like seeds- as in this recipe).

One thing this quinoa is excellent for is stuffing zucchini (I just didn't have enough zucchini- so I went with the alternative method of adding some zucchini instead of adding TO zucchini). You could also stuff portobello mushroom caps and cook in the oven or on the grill (maybe omit the mushrooms OR just chop the stems and add them to the onions while sauteeing).

So, these "unconventional" tomatoes are from our garden. We didn't have very many of the red cherry tomatoes, but there are plenty of the yellow pear-shaped ones! I thought they were kind of fun. Tomatoes are fun.

The pine nuts are a great addition, especially if they're toasted. We've pretty much always had pine nuts at our house, not because we're Italian. To me they're piñons, not so "pine nut" or "pignoli" (I actually didn't know they were pine nuts for a while). Mom used to live in New Mexico, and they grow wild there on piñon pines. Sometimes we would get some in the mail from her aunt and uncle who are still there, but they were still in their smooth shells which coat each tiny nut individually. She told us that the Navajo kids used to keep a mouthful of the nuts when they were in school. One cheek would be full of unshelled nuts and the other would be full of shells. The kids would somehow transfer the nuts from one cheek, remove the nut, and store the shells in the other cheek without the teachers knowing. What talent!

The original recipe comes from a friend (thanks, friend) who calls the stuffed zucchini "zu-quin-oes" (combining zucchini, quinoa, and canoe- they rhyme with and sort of look like canoes).
IF you decide to stuff zucchini with the quinoa, you'll want to remember to chop your vegetables more finely than if you were just eating this as a side or a salad.

This slightly-messed-with Natalie version can easily be halved.

Vegetable Quinoa
makes approximately 12 cups

2 c uncooked quinoa
4 c. vegetable or chicken broth
3 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 8-oz package of mushrooms, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 c halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 c pine nuts (toasted if possible)
3/4 to 1 c feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse zucchini well under cool running water in a mesh strainer.
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa and simmer covered about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and all the liquid has been absorbed.

In a separate pan saute the onion, garlic, zucchini, and mushrooms over low to medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the pine nuts and saute a couple more minutes.

Add the sauteed vegetables to the cooked quinoa as well as the tomatoes, feta cheese. Fold together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scoop out the seeds from halved zucchini and fill with quinoa mixture. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until zucchini is soft and the quinoa is slightly browned and crunchy on top.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Marinated Mozzarella

I know, I know. It's not tomato or zucchini (my mission for the month is not forgotten, and there is still time left).

It's still good recipe though.
You can it these WITH tomatoes- right?
Of course right.

For this you want little mozzarella balls- about the size of a cherry.
You want can find fresh mozzarella packed in water, not vacuum sealed.
With each mouthful you get FLAVOR, followed by the sweet milkiness of mozzarella as you bite into it.

Fresh Mozzarella has such a nice flavor- it's tame, neutral, but slightly sweet. It acts as a "blank canvas" for so many other things, just waiting to be dressed up. It has a presence, but is a little like a supporting actor- not the prima donna screaming for attention.

These best if served room temperature, but remember that they will take a few hours to "warm up" after being removed from the refrigerator.

Marinated Mozzarella

1 pound small mozzarella balls
1/2 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T fresh basil, finely chopped
1 T fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 t chili flakes
1/2 t salt
1/4 t fresh ground black pepper

Drain mozzarella, place in a medium, non-reactive bowl put aside. Whisk all the other ingredients in a small bowl until combined, pour over mozzarella balls, and toss gently to coat. Place in a plastic zip-top bag (remove all the air before closing) or in an airtight container. Refrigerate and let marinate at least 6 hours.

ALTERNATIVELY: Place all ingredients in a plastic zip-top bag and squish/shake the bag to combine ingredients.