Saturday, June 27, 2009

Now? Not Yet?

[Note: This is a Michael Jackson-free post. Who cares what a food blogger thinks about Michael Jackson?]

Despite my resistance and disbelief and foot-dragging refusal, time marched on and I turned 40. So here's my question - am I old enough to be crotchety? I would LOVE to tell these young'uns to pull their damn pants up, that flip-flops are not appropriate office attire, and a faux-hawk looks completely ridiculous. Real mohawks look only slightly less ridiculous, but at least the person committed to it.

Once I've had some time out of the sun and a refreshing iced tea I still know that droopy pants and flip-flops and bad hair are UGH, but I'm a lot less likely to say so.

The same heat that is bringing my brown-eyed Susans to bloom and (hopefully) makes my vegetables grow is also driving me away from the kitchen and out to the grill. Last night I had the thrill of making a bruschetta with tomato, basil, and oregano from my own garden, and using it to top grilled chicken and zucchini. YUM. I'm really hoping these vegetable plants decide to help me out by, like, producing something edible. I've got 3 kinds of tomatoes, okra, yellow squash, jalapenos, and herbs going - we shall see.

The grill is a godsend in the heat, not in the least because Sweetie likes to tend the grill while I sit inside in the air conditioning and sip iced tea or a nice Pinot Grigio.

Grilled Herbed Pork Tenderloin
Cooking Light, 2006

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves - yes, fresh
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves - yes, fresh
1/4 cup fresh orange juice - bottled is fine
2 tbsp honey (the recipe calls for 1/4 cup, which I found much too sweet. Your mileage may vary)
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil - I'm not really sure what it is besides something that would take up even more space in my cabinet. Regular vegetable oil is fine.
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

1. Combine first 9 ingredients - oregano through garlic - in a blender or food processor. Process until almost smooth. Pour mixture into a large heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Add pork to bag and seal. Marinate in refrigerator 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

2. Prepare grill.

3. Remove pork from marinade. Discard marinade.

4. Place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cover and grill 25 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160 degrees, turning pork after 15 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Be Zucchiniful and Multiply... A Little

Funny thing about gardening – it’s a problem to do it poorly (our usual dried flower arrangement out front in the flower eternal-rest bed), and a problem to do it prolifically (zucchini). I love Mary’s “Darwin Garden” term – it's a tough world, and the only survivors are the ones who fight for it.

After last year’s stunning success with a basil plant – it produced basil! – I confidently aimed higher this year. Yup, I bought another basil plant. Plus two tomato plants, an jalapeno (bush? shrub? It doesn’t look vine-ish… should it? Have I messed up already?), and actual living thyme and oregano.

Lessons learned thus far:
a) It’s probably much easier to get a pre-made tomato cage around the plant when it’s small, and not when it’s 3 feet tall and bearing fruit. And hopefully not pointless.

b) Plants need water. Not that I didn’t already know that, but a trip out of town with no rain reinforced the lesson.

c) One thyme plant doesn’t produce a heck of a lot of thyme. I probably need several.

d)You can spin yourself into a tizzy with this organic thing. I was trying to buy organic seeds, but then I realized I’d plant them into soil I know nothing about and they’d be watered with rain in one of America’s worst air-quality cities. Then I stopped thinking about it altogether, hummed a happy tune, and focused on sending cheerful, leaf-affirming thoughts to my fledgling tomaters.

e)Tossing the grill cover on the basil plant – and leaving it there – makes for an unhappy plant.

f) In fact, it may not be a great idea to keep a super-hot grill near the plants at all. Hmmmm…..

One thing I stayed away from was the afore-mentioned zucchini, which produce like the rabbits of the vegetable kingdom. Two reasons – first, there are just two people in the household and we can only eat so much of any one vegetable.

More poignantly, what if it died? Could my self-esteem handle not being able to grow zucchini? It’s like not being able to grow dandelions in the middle of the lawn. I think it would have unpleasant emotional consequences.

For those of you blessed with an abundance of zucchini, a) call me, we’d be happy to take some off your hands! and b) two unusual recipes to use it up are below. I’m not a huge pineapple fan, but I like this bread.

Zucchini-Pineapple Quick Bread
Cooking Light

Yield 2 loaves
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 1/2 medium zucchini)
2/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 (8-ounce) cans crushed pineapple in juice, drained
Baking spray with flour

1. Preheat oven to 325°.
2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, salt, and next 3 ingredients (through ground cinnamon) in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk.
3. Beat eggs with a mixer at medium speed until foamy. Add sugar, zucchini, oil, egg substitute, and vanilla, beating until well blended. Add zucchini mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in pineapple. Spoon batter into 2 (9 x 5–inch) loaf pans coated with baking spray. Bake at 325° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Zucchini-Chocolate Cake
Cooking Light

I've never made the glaze, so I'm not vouching for it. Also, if you think this is a great way to sneak veggies into kids and they just won't notice something green in their chocolate cake, well, good luck with that. At age 4 it didn't escape Cutie's notice that there was something going on with this cake that she wasn't used to seeing. She ate it and she liked it, but she has always been a good eater (particularly of dessert).

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup fat-free buttermilk
2 cups shredded zucchini
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
8 teaspoons fat-free milk
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; dust pan with 1 tablespoon flour.

Place sugars, cream cheese, and vegetable oil in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Lightly spoon 2 1/2 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine 2 1/2 cups flour and next 5 ingredients (2 1/2 cups flour through cinnamon) in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in zucchini, 2/3 cup chocolate chips, and nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

To prepare glaze, combine 3/4 cup powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons cocoa in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine milk, 2 tablespoons chocolate chips, coffee, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in a 1-cup glass measure. Microwave at medium 45 seconds or until chocolate melts, stirring after 20 seconds. Combine powdered sugar mixture with chocolate mixture, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle glaze over cake.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not THAT Kind of Blood Orange

My brand-new salad craving is heightening my fear that turning 40 will make me a Responsible Adult. Or, at the very least, cement my Old Enough To Know Better status. I'm filing for an extension since I'm clearly not ready.

Or perhaps it's just a continuation of the "sashaying to the beat of my own accordion" that I've pretty much always done. At least my newfound obsession, the dark chocolate covered pretzels at Trader Joe's - is keeping a sense of normalcy.

Over the weekend I threw some fish on the grill and made this tasty salad. Two things to work around - a) oranges and asparagus are generally not in season at the same time - sliced apples would work much better than the dry, styrofoam-y oranges I was able to get, and b) how the hell do you "shave" asparagus? They're skinny spears. You have to hold onto them somewhere. They're floppy. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to pull that off without also pulling off a layer of skin.

Our chopped asparagus salad turned out just fine. The dressing is terrific. Thyme, which grows in my herb garden, substitutes just fine for tarragon, which I didn't plant.

Shaved/Chopped Asparagus Salad with Orange-Tarragon Vinaigrette
Vegetarian Times

1/3 cup raw hazelnuts or almonds
1 large shallot, peeled and minced (3 TBSP)
3 TBSP white wine vinegar (or regular white vinegar)
1 TBSP chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or thyme)
2 tsp. orange zest - about 1 orange
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
7 TBSP olive oil (I used 5)
1/2 pound fresh asparagus (8 to 10 medium-size spears)
6 cups mixed spring greens
2 navel oranges

[If using hazelnuts - preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place hazelnuts on baking sheet and toast 15 minutes, or until skins darken and split. Rub nuts between two towels until skins come off. Cool, then coarsely chop]

1. Whisk together shallot, vinegar, tarragon/thyme, orange zest, and mustard in bowl. Whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper. I didn't whisk, I just combined everything in a cruet and shook it.

2. Peel asparagus into long, thin strands with a peeler. Then e-mail me a video about how you did it.

3. Toss with greens in bowl.

4. Peel oranges with knife, removing white pith. Slice between membranes, and cut orange segments directly into salad, letting juice drip into bowl. Toss salad with nuts and 3 TBSP dressing. Serve remaining dressing on the side.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Easy-Peasy (Hold The Peas)

Y'all, we went to the most amazing wedding over the weekend - it was like having a walk-on part in a fairy tale.

Besides "Steph and her Sweetie had a terrific time at the beach wedding", that statement also means "she hasn't cooked much." Seriously, I came home Sunday night - after Sweetie surprised me with a trip to the spot where we got engaged and later married - to no food in the house and not much time to cook, anyway.

Everyone flies on a wing and a prayer at some point. I'm still trying to eat really healthfully, and this has been "throw it in a skillet and hope for the best" week.

Substitute "baking dish" for "skillet", and we have last night's super-easy, quite yummy dinner. Knowing full well there was nothing in the fridge, I stopped by the supermarket on the way home and got one tilapia filet ($1.50) and a small head of broccoli. I may have to do that again...

Baked Tilapia and Broccoli
4 Tilapia filets (to serve 4 - I just did one since Sweetie wasn't home for dinner)
2 cups broccoli, carrots, and chopped shallots (again, adjust according to how many people are eating)
1 lemon
Cooking spray or 1 TBSP butter
Old Bay seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray baking dish large enough for fish and vegetables. For easier, though not environmentally-friendly, clean-up line the baking dish with foil and then spray with cooking spray.

Place filet(s) and vegetables in baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice and seasoning. Dot with butter if using; if not, mist with cooking spray/olive oil.

Bake at 375 degrees for between 12 and 20 minutes. Fish will be opaque and will flake easily with a fork when done.

This could not have been easier and was way tasty.