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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Squash, squash, squash

I came home from my visit to my brother and his wife at their ranch laden down with all kinds of squash, several pkgs. of grass-fed ground beef, and eggs fresh from the chickens. Obvious solution: I had to find a recipe that incorporated all three.

I used Google—what else?—and found a recipe that sounded good, though as usual I changed it a bit and made it into a skillet casserole.

I also wanted to cook that large patty pan squash—see picture above. So I stuffed it with a mix of cheese, crisp bacon crumbled, breadcrumbs, onion, and garlic. To my mind, it wasn’t as successful—first of all, I overcooked the squash, boiling it an inch of water. Then I was too zealous in scraping out the inside and didn’t leave the shell intact. But the main problem was that the filling was too dry—maybe a disproportionate amount of crumbs, maybe needs some chicken broth or white wine or both. And another time I’d salt and pepper the squash before filling.

This time I did both recipes gluten- and dairy-free so Elizabeth could join us at dinner—there were four women at my dinner table last night: one for each decade—40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. No need to guess who represented the seventies, but I feel blessed to have good friends of all ages. I liked best what Elizabeth told her boyfriend over the phone, “I’m about to eat dinner with three awesome women.”

As usual, I forgot to photograph the dishes after I got through, but they weren’t too photogenic. A fruit salad—mango, strawberries, and plumcots—completed the menu.

 Squash and Beef Casserole

 Two summer squash—crookneck, zucchini or one of each

¼ c. water

¼ c. butter (There is dairy free butter and I couldn’t tell the difference in the finished product)

½ lb. ground beef

½ c. sweet onion, chopped

2 eggs

½ cup mayonnaise

½ c. shredded cheddar cheese (Daiya is the best gluten free)

2 c., more or less, of cooked white rice

Salt and pepper

1 tsp. or more Back to Our Roots Herbal Salt (contains no salt—use similar product but it’s optional)

Cook the squash until soft but not mushy in ¼ c. water. Drain and cut into fairly thick rounds. Put back in saucepan and add butter. Simmer until butter coats the squash.

Meantime brown ground beef and onion in skillet coated with non-stick spray, preferably olive oil. Cook rice separately.

Stir squash into hamburger and onion mixture, off the burner.

Whisk two eggs and then whisk in mayonnaise. Stir into skillet mixture. Add cheese and seasonings.

Can be made ahead and reheated for serving—just don’t scorch the bottom. Serve in skillet if you have a lovely cast iron one like I do.

I thought the original recipe needed something to spark it up and considered green chiles—but green chiles are ubiquitous in Texas food and I wanted something different. The herbal salt was my solution, and I think it accentuated a rich, buttery taste. Whole dish was delicious. Recipe said it served eight—four women finished all but one generous serving.

As for the stuff patty pan, you’re on your own.  I was fiddling with ingredients and adjusting amounts so that may be where I went amuck.

That extra half lb. hamburger since I had to defrost a lb. to get the meat for the casserole? I had the best hamburgers for lunch yesterday and today—my brother’s right. The flavor of his grass-fed beef is superb.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

This, that, and restaurants

I’ve been eating out a lot this week, and I’m sure my weight will reflect that. I know food critics have learned to sample rather than devour, but it seems to be an art I haven’t mastered. Still, here are some of my culinary adventures, both in restaurants and at home.

We have a new seafood restaurant where I’ve enjoyed fried oysters several times—no red sauce, though I suppose you could have it if you insisted (if you ask for ketchup, it comes in a discreet small dish—no bottles on the table at this sleek modern place). Instead they broil a lemon half which really loosens the juice and flavors the seasoned oyster just enough. At lunch the other day, I told myself I had to move beyond the oysters, so I ordered tuna Carpaccio.  I love beef Carpaccio, but was leery of tuna—turned out to be my new favorite food. Super-thin slices of tuna dressed with a light sauce and decorated with thin slices of apple, scatterings of raisins, and crumbles of blue cheese. Heavenly, and one serving was just right. The friend I was with had an ahi tuna burger—huge—and good herbed frites. Afterward, he said, “If you hadn’t eaten half my fries, you would have had a healthy lunch.” I ate modestly of the fries—nowhere near half.

One night, Betty, my adventures in dining pal, and I tried the new Bravo! where—pleasant surprise—we ran into my daughter and her husband and some of their friends. We split an order of lasagna and a Caesar side salad. Both halves were more than enough, and I wonder how anyone can eat a whole order. Made with traditional red sauce and Alfredo, the lasagna had just a faint hint of fennel—not one of my favorites but it worked well in this dish. The Caesar was creamy, powerful with garlic, and plenty of cheese. No anchovy but there was a hint of the taste in the dressing.

Of course, I can’t do better than the Old Neighborhood Grill, where I have a new favorite—fried pork cutlets. One serving is two large cutlets with brown gravy. I always dribble the second one with extra gravy and bring it home. Knowing that was waiting for me at dinner, with a small serving of German potato salad, I vowed to eat lightly at the Grill that day for lunch—but it was meatloaf day and who can resist. I asked for a box, intending to take half home but ate the whole thing. Nope, no mashed potatoes with it.

On the home front, the owner of a successful bistro published a recipe in the paper in a section suggesting innovative lunchbox food for back to school kids. His daughter sometimes gets cold glazed salmon (he uses bbq sauce but I used a soy/maple syrup/Dijon glaze) along with a salad of cucumber and tomato, seasoned only with salt and pepper and topped with crumbled feta (I didn’t have feta so used bleu). Sounds like a fancy lunch for a fifth-grader, and his Lili is one lucky girl. Elizabeth and I enjoyed my version and had it left over the next day for lunch.

Last night I fixed my first-ever ceviche. I’ve been leery of ceviche because I don’t like jalapenos and the dish so often has shrimp, which I’m allergic to. But this recipe has avocado, cilantro, lots of lime, and my new friend—raw tuna. When I found out the price of sushi grade tuna ($16/lb.) my neighbor said tilapia does great and doesn’t overpower, so tilapia it was. It was really good and tart, but five adults didn’t make a real dent in it. I brought it home but not sure how long it keeps—I’d be surprised if it lasts 24 hours.

It’s sure been a week of variety eating, topped off with bacon and eggs this morning. Jordan and Jacob were here, and she scrambled eggs. My usual breakfast of cottage cheese went by the way.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Stir-fry with plum sauce

Please welcome author Cheryl Norman who shares with us a wonderful stir-fry recipe with a plum sauce she created. The thing I like about stir-fry is that you can choose the ingredients to suit your tastes—I never include bell pepper. Cheryl offers some really good hints, like don’t get that wok as hot as some chefs advise. But the glory of this recie is the plum sauce—heavenly, and I’m quite sure I’d never have invented it.


 I think of myself as a creative person, and let’s hope I am since I’m a writer. ☺
Just as a fiction writer blends elements to weave an engaging story, a thrifty cook can whip up a meal without a special trip to the supermarket. I like to think I can do either. So for today’s potluck, I offer you stir-fry with plum sauce.
A stir-fry is a good way to use up what’s aging in your crisper drawer, which is why my stir-fry dishes are never the same. Today, for example, I had red, yellow, and orange bell peppers and some celery that needed to be used within the next couple of days. I added fresh mushrooms and onion, plus some leftover chicken. Using up produce makes me feel clever and frugal.
Today I took my creativity a step further and made my own plum sauce, too. Plums are in season, and I bought three yesterday at the store. The rest of what I needed was in my kitchen (I keep fresh peeled ginger root in my freezer). So here are my recipes.
I started the plum sauce first since it needed to simmer about thirty minutes, which gave me plenty of time to prep and assemble the ingredients for the stir-fry. The stir-fry method goes fast, so it’s important to have everything ready before heating the wok.

·           3 plums, washed, seeded, sliced*
·           2 Tbsp. soy sauce (I buy low sodium)
·           Zest of 1 lemon
·           Juice of 1 lemon
·           ½ tsp. salt
·           1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
·           1 Tbsp. grated or minced garlic
·           Pepper to taste
·           ¼ cup brown sugar
·           2 Tbsp. honey
·           1 Tbsp. water
·           Fresh herbs (Optional, but I like spearmint and cilantro)


1.     Combine all ingredients except fresh herbs into a two-quart covered saucepan.

2.     Heat gently over low heat for at least thirty minutes or until plums slump and sauce thickens.

3.     Remove from heat and stir in optional fresh herbs.

4.     Use to finish stir-fry by tossing with cooked ingredients.

Yield: One cup plum sauce

Note: *Peeling the plums is optional. I peeled them today, but I think I like the color added from keeping the peels intact. It’s up to you.

·           4 cups julienned or roughly chopped assorted vegetables (Your choice, but try to include peppers and onions in the mix.
·           1 cup poultry or seafood, your choice, cut in bite-size pieces
·           1 Tbsp. peanut oil
·           2 cups cooked brown rice (or your choice)


1.    Preheat oil in wok or large skillet over medium heat (don’t believe the TV chefs that tell you the wok must be screaming hot).

2.    Add vegetables in batches every two minutes, starting with those with the longest cooking time, until all are heated.

3.    Using tongs, toss the vegetables often until they begin to soften.

4.    Add protein of your choice: shrimp, cubed tofu, chicken, etc. to the center of the wok, moving the vegetables up the sides and away from the hottest part of the pan.

5.    Toss frequently until protein is cooked or warmed.

6.    Remove from heat. Toss stir-fry with the warm plum sauce and serve over cooked brown rice if desired.

Yield:  Two meal size servings without rice/ Four meals with rice

Cheryl Norman’s latest book is Running Out of Time (Turquoise Morning Press):

On her way to her best friend's wedding, Stacy experiences a time jump. Fifty years in the past, she meets the man of her dreams. But when she figures out why she has time travelled, she faces a difficult dilemma: can she save his life by sacrificing her future?





Sunday, August 4, 2013

Salade Nicoise

A guest post by Edith Maxwell,
author of A Tine to Die

In A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die (Kensington Publishing, 2013), former software engineer Cam Flaherty grows organic vegetables on her farm in northeastern Massachusetts. She sells them to the local foods enthusiasts who belong to her farm-share program as well as to a tall intense chef. What she didn't plan on was encountering locally sourced murder, too.

 “With an insider's look at organic farming and a loyal, persistent heroine, Maxwell offers a series that cozy mystery fans will root for.” Lucy Burdette, author of the Key West Food Critic series.

 Summer is a perfect time to make this scaled-down version of Salade Nicoise. It skips the tuna and the potatoes but is a great light meal accompanied by a loaf of sourdough and a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio.

Tomato-Bean Salad with Eggs


For salad:

2 lbs freshly picked slim green beans

6 eggs, hard boiled

Four medium size fresh tomatoes

2-3 T capers

1/2 c fresh parsley, minced

For dressing:

2 strips of fresh lemon peel, 1 by 2 1/2 inches each

1/4 t salt, plus more, if needed

1/2 T Dijon-type prepared mustard

1 to 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 c high-quality olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

 1.    Wash and trim the beans. Cut into two-inch pieces. Steam lightly until bright green and then chill in ice water. Drain and dry in a dish towel.

2.    Cut the tomatoes into quarters.

3.    Peel the eggs and carefully cut in half lengthwise.

4.    Lay the beans in a shallow serving dish. Intersperse the tomatoes and eggs, cut side up, in an artful way.

5.    Mince the lemon peel very finely with the salt, scrape it into the mortar or bowl, and mash into a fine paste with the pestle or spoon.

6.    Beat in the mustard and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice; when thoroughly blended start beating in the oil by droplets to make a homogeneous sauce—easier when done with a small electric mixer.

7.    Beat in droplets more lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

8.    Pour the dressing over the salad.

9.    Sprinkle capers and parsley on top and add freshly ground pepper.

10. Serve at room temperature or chill if not serving soon.

 Locavore Edith Maxwell's A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die in the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing, 2013) lets her relive her days as an organic farmer in Massachusetts, although murder in the greenhouse is new. A fourth-generation Californian, she has also published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently in the Fish Nets and Thin Ice anthologies.

Edith Maxwell's alter-ego Tace Baker authored Speaking of Murder, which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau and campus intrigue after her sexy star student is killed (Barking Rain Press, 2012). Edith is a long-time Quaker and holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics.

A mother and former technical writer, Edith lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats. You can find her at @edithmaxwell, on Facebook, and at