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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Eating alone--and some favorite foods

Yesterday was a lazy day at home for me--grocery in the morning and Jacob arrived about 8:30 at night--but I had lunch and dinner alone and some of my favorite foods. Small helpings, not too many calories.
For lunch I had an open-faced sandwich. Years ago the local country club featured a large, open-faced sandwich topped with ham and turkey and cheese and slathered with a Thousand Island-type dressing. I used to ask for extra dressing on the side. These days it's way too much food. I toast one piece of small, thin sandwich bread, put on one slice of good ham, one slice of turkey,(both slices fold over on the bread) and one slice of provolone. Then I make just enough dressing to cover the top--a mayo base with a tiny bit of mustard (Dijon) and a tad more ketchup. So good, I could have eaten two--but I had cherry tomatoes and a stalk of palm heart instead.
It took me an hour to fix my dinner, which seems extreme for one person, but it worked. I boiled a yellow squash, mashed and drained it; sautéed one chopped scallion and celery (half a stalk) in butter and added to the squash, along with generous salt and pepper. Then I beat one egg and stirred it in and added a generous handful of shredded sharp cheddar. It made one small ovenproof dish of casserole (about two servings) and I baked it at 350 for between 30 and 45 minutes (lost track of time).
Meantime I flaked a generous piece of ham (about one third of a thick slices) in the processor, added another chopped scallion and the other half of the celery stalk, chopped, and Dijon and mayonnaise, about two to one mayo to mustard.
Jam salad and squash casserole--an odd combination for dinner but to me delicious. Without bread crumbs in it, the squash dish puffed like a soufflé and had a mild taste. I think my daughter who shudders at the idea of both would like them. Did I mentioned here that when I said something about ham salad at Easter dinner, all six other adults at the table shuddered? Can't imagine. It's one of my favorite foods.
My day's menu demonstrates a couple of things to me: it's possible to eat creative foods by yourself--you don't have to have dry cereal for supper; and you don't need a recipe for everything. Yep, sometimes your experiments will flop but most of the time they're great. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A southwestern twist on tuna

Easter's over, and it's time to get back to watching what I eat more carefully. In the last couple of days I cooked with more bacon than I have in two months. I never used to use bacon grease but since I'm increasingly in favor of more natural things and suspicious of artificial, I've gone back to my mom's habit of keeping a small jar of bacon grease in the fridge (I buy uncured bacon). Besides, the flavor can't be duplicated. Last night I used bacon grease to brown onions and celery for sloppy Joe--it really added a wonderful dimension to the flavor of the dish. Then today I made German potato salad and once again used bacon and the grease from cooking it to brown celery and onion--and of course crumbed the cooked bacon into the salad. But now it's back to healthy things--tuna salad and the like!
So Friday night for an appetizer when friends came for happy hour, I made southwestern tuna:

2 7 oz. cans albacore tuna, packed in water and drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. chopped red onion (I used scallions and it was great)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. grated lime peel
1 tsp. lime juice (I used a whole lime--they don't have that much juice)
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. chili powder

Mix it all together and chill. Serve with crackers (I used Ritz--delicious but there goes the diet again)

Question: who eats ham salad? At Easter dinner, we had ham and I mentioned that I buy a thick slice, flake it in the blender and make ham salad. Everyone at the table--six other adults--made a horrible face. Surely I'm not the only one who loves ham salad.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Getting over my fear of phyllo dough

I missed Potluck with Judy last night, and I can only plead a lovely evening with guests, the late hour and a tad too much wine. I served spanakopita, a longtime challenge for me. I’ve been intimidated by using phyllo dough for years but decided this weekend I was going to have an adventure. Saturday I made the spinach filling, along with a cucumber salad, so that Sunday all I had to do was work with the phyllo—a thought which hung over me like a challenge all day long.

When it drew close to time for my guests to arrive—an hour—I was in a quandary. I didn’t know how much time it would take to layer the phyllo. Didn’t want to do it too early, because I’d heard all those warnings about not letting it dry out. On the other hand I didn’t want them to arrive and find me up to my elbows in transparently thin sheets of dough and a pot of melted butter. I finally went ahead and fixed it, baked it, and left it in a warm oven. It was done about the time they rang the doorbell.

Working with phyllo was not nearly as complicated as I expected—in fact it went more smoothly than I expected. I layered the pie plate with nine sheets, carefully brushing butter on each one. I have a small paintbrush that I use for a pastry brush, and it worked great. Put the spinach mixture in and then folded the excess dough over. Topped it all with six more sheets of phyllo (they really are thin) and cut off excess. I admit I did not make pretty edges, but they sufficed.

When this masterpiece came out of the oven it was a lovely deep golden brown, puffy and wonderful.

I have no recipe for you because I stole it from a website and I didn’t like the filling that much. Too many spices, and honest, I think frozen chopped spinach might have a better texture, though you’d have to work hard to get it dry enough. So I’m on a hunt for another recipe, and I will try again.

But here’s a recipe that was successful as a side dish:

 Cucumber salad

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin

½ large red onion, sliced thin

3 Roma tomatoes, sliced thin or chunked

Mix together:

1/3 c. plain Greek yogurt

¼ tsp. Dijon mustard

 1 Tbsp. white vinegar (I always have it on hand for cleaning solutions)

2 Tbsp. milk

½ tsp. sugar

A bit of chopped parley

A bit more chopped dill

Pepper and salt to taste.

Stir dressing into vegetables and refrigerate at least half a day. I made it the night before and it was good. One guest said, “You know, you think cucumber salad—well, okay. But this is really good.”

For an appetizer, my guests brought a dip of avocado, cottage cheese, lime and I can’t remember what, but it was so good. I’ll get the recipe soon.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The fun of improvising

I fixed a good supper for a friend the other night, but I’m not going to give you the recipe. Instead I’ll tell you what I’ll do next time.

I happened into a wealth of asparagus recently and then came upon a recipe that looks wonderful even if not on the new diet I’ve begun—so far unsuccessful. Anyway, it involved Texas toast spread with melted butter on both sides and broiled; crab salad, which is a whole other story. I know crab is expensive but how much could ¼ lb. cost? This was a special guest I haven’t seen in a while, and I decided to splurge. So I asked the fishmonger for ¼ lb. crab, and he pointed me to a freezer case. Among other things, it held one lb. containers of crab priced at $23. I ended up paying $8.50 for canned crab which, once I opened it, didn’t have much flavor. But you mixed that with mayo, a bit of Dijon and lemon, a pinch each of cayenne and paprika. I dutifully did that, though I’m always tempted to leave out cayenne—in this case I’m really glad I didn’t.

Spread that on the toasted bread; top with shredded Monterrey Jack and then raw asparagus halved lengthwise, and top that with three thin slices of Jack cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly and brown. Made a beautiful dish, but I couldn’t get my phone to go from video to photo so, as usual, no picture. And it tasted as good as it looked—but I couldn’t taste the crab. The cayenne added just enough bite, and the cheese was good but not cheesy enough for this cheddar fan.

So I offer this recipe for Asparagus with cheese for two:

2 slices sourdough bread, not thickly sliced (Texas toast would, I decided, be too much bread and might get soggy in the middle

Melted butter

Shredded cheese, enough to cover both slices of bread—I’d use cheddar or, as I did the other night, the Jack/Colby combination

1 scallion, sliced

Pinch cayenne

Quick splash Worcestershire

1/8 tsp. dry mustard


Four or five slices asparagus per person, halved lengthwise

Sliced cheese


Mixed shredded cheese with scallion, cayenne, Worcestershire, and mustard. Add just enough mayo to bind. Set aside.

Melt about 2 Tbsp. butter and brush both side of bread. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and broil, watching closely and using tongs to turn. Remove from oven but leave broiler on.

Spread cheese mixture on toast; top with asparagus and sliced cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly and just a bit of brown.

For me, this would be a main dish. If you’re feeding a carnivore, give him or her a sautéed chopped steak to go with it. And a good thing—you’ll probably have enough asparagus in the bunch for a side at another meal.
And tonight's supper on this cool, rainy day? Vegetable soup is in the crockpot. My oldest daughter has an elaborate recipe for minestrone that involves so much chopping that she makes three batches at once and freezes it. My idea of vegetable soup is to clean out the freezer and vegetable drawer--those bits of broth in boxes in the freeze and the half packages of peas and corn; from the vegetable drawer, a wedge of cabbage shredded, that half zucchini, some of those baby carrots, and a bag of spinach bought specially for the soup. From my front porch, sprigs of oregano and rosemary. It's like making salad, you start up with a little, keep ending, and before you know it you have enough for an army. But it smells good.