Saturday, May 26, 2012

Squash Puppies

Do you ever have food items hanging around the kitchen that you would not typically buy and you are not sure what to do with them?  I recently found myself in that position after winning a door prize at a lunch I was invited to at a friend's church.  I was very excited when they called my name and I won a beautiful basket full of kitchen goodies.  Among these goodies was a dish towel, a cute cast iron teddy bear pancake mold, a bag of pancake mix, and a huge bag of self-rising cornmeal mix.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against bagged mixes.  I just don't typically buy them because, among other reasons, I never use them quickly enough and they end up taking up too much precious space in my cabinets or fridge. Also, it is pretty easy to whip up pancakes or cornbread from scratch when you want some.  Despite all of this, I was excited to take my little basket home at the end of the lunch. 

My prize has been sitting on my table until tonight when I decided to use the cornbread mix for the first time.  I had been out in the garden and had picked two good sized yellow squash.  Trying to find a new recipe for summer squash (hopefully one my husband could get excited about), I found a recipe for a squash fritter which looked similar to a hushpuppy but had mashed squash inside.  I made the recipe, changing quantities and ingredients a little to suit my needs and ended up with a light and crisp treat with an almost creamy quality on the inside from the mashed squash.  After announcing that he does not really like squash, my husband proceeded to eat several back to back.  I took that as a good sign.   

The picture above is of a puppy with chunker bits of squash while the one below was made with a batch that had been mashed more.  You can see that the one on top resembles cornbread on the inside while the one below is a little creamier looking.

Squash Puppies- makes 12 puppies but can be easily doubled

This recipe calls for self-rising cornmeal mix.  You can mix your own or purchase it from the store, but make sure if you mix your own to add baking powder so that they puff up nicely.

2 medium summer squash, cubed
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup self-rising cornmeal mix
1/2 tsp seasoned salt (I used Penzey's 4/S)
1 egg
vegetable oil for frying

Cook the squash until tender either by boiling in a little water or sauteing in a skillet.  Once tender, drain of any excess moisture and place in a bowl.  Using a fork or potato masher, mash the squash into a coarse puree, leaving some chunks if desired.   

Add the flour, cornmeal mix, and seasoned salt to the squash and mix lightly until almost combined.  Add the egg and continue to mix until combined being careful not to overmix. 

Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a skillet until hot but not smoking.  Scoop the squash mixture out by tablespoons into the hot oil and fry until brown and crisp on one side.  Flip the puppies and repeat until brown and crisp on the other side.  Remove the puppies to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How My Garden Grows

Hello, folks.  I have been a little slack in the posting department because I have (I am sad to say) been a little slack in the cooking department lately.  With the end of the school year wrapping up, I have been busy doing everything except cooking.  I have given 5 EOG (end of grade) tests, started organizing and cleaning my classroom for summer, started planning end of year events for my students, and I am in the process (a long one) of trying to put together a slideshow for my students (shhh...don't tell).  That has basically left me exhausted and in no mood for the kitchen which has led me to more restaurant meals and grilled cheese sandwiches than a care to mention. 

Tonight I am also not cooking (although I did cook last night so that has to count for something).  I am sure other people get into these ruts.  At least I hope you do.  It will make me feel a little better.  I am promising myself that in 10 days (last day of school) my lifestyle will return to normal and my cooking habits will head in that direction also.  Until then, I leave you with pictures of my garden.  Remember, I am a fairly new gardener, so don't judge me too harshly.  Last night we had a terrible storm which left some of my vegetable plants a little worse for wear.  Some of the tears you see in the pictures are from hail, and I am sad to say, some may be from the slugs I saw on some of my plants today.  I have never had a slug problem in the past, so if you have any suggestions, I am all ears.  I hope to cook something worthy of posting soon, but until then, let's revel in the fact that I am able to get anything at all to grow in my super buggy backyard.  

I am growing my carrots in fairly large terracotta pots this year.  As you can see, they are not fully grown at this point but are well on their way.

The broccoli is doing well, and it shouldn't be long before it is ready.

My afternoon snack most days this week has been a handful of freshly pulled sugar snap peas.  I can never collect enough to cook because I eat them all raw.  They are so fresh, crisp, and delicious. 

The sage is doing well along with what I think is Thai basil (someone gave it to me, so I am not totally sure).  I also have lemon balm, bee balm, chives, Italian basil, thyme, and flat-leaf parsley which are all doing well also.

The onions are growing.  I am hoping that the days are finally getting long enough for them to begin forming bulbs.  I can't wait!  Bee balm is planted in the back.  

My first tomato is growing on one of the Amish Paste tomato vines.  My tomato vines were broken in places last night in the hail storm, and I am hoping they recover with no real loss in the end. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

The cucumbers are beginning to flower.  They were also damaged yesterday by the hail as were the squash vines.  The squash vines had some of the blossoms knocked off in the storm, but a more serious problem are the two slugs I found on the squash vine.  I pulled them off, but if anyone has advice as to what to do to get rid of them, please share.  I have never had a slug problem, and I don't want one now!  You can see the culprit on the small yellow squash to the right of the largest one in the picture. Yuck!

This is a handful of red new potatoes pulled recently.  I am still waiting (probably just until the weekend) for my last container of potatoes to be ready. 

So, that's it.  Hopefully there will be something yummy coming from the kitchen with these goodies in a few days.  Until then, Panera Bread here I come.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

From the Garden: Classic Potato Salad

Over the six years we have lived in our house, I have tried my hand at gardening here and there.  My first attempts at vegetable gardening were rough, but I am getting better.  I always have high hopes for my garden, but my dreams usually prove to be bigger and more difficult to achieve than originally imagined.  I think this year may be one of the best yet.  One of the things I am trying different this year (since building new raised beds) is planting my potatoes in containers to save space in the garden.  So far, it has worked out well.  I dug the potatoes from one container about a week ago to get new pototoes, and I am letting the remaining container and potato tower go until the plants die back and the potatoes are fully developed. 

The pictures shown are of my two containers and the potato tower earlier in the growing season.  The potato tower is wire secured in a cylindrical shape and placed in a plastic plant dish.  I got the idea for this from this site.  It was filled with soil and seed potatoes, placing the potatoes around edge of the cylinder with their eyes facing out.  I placed a round of potatoes every foot or so up the tower until it was completely filled.  I have no idea how this will work, but it has been an interesting experiment anyway. 

I have had the new potatoes sitting in my kitchen for a week or so, and tonight I decided to do something with them.  I decided that my mother-in-law's potato salad would be a really good option.  It is a simple potato salad with eggs and sweet pickles and its ingredients do not overpower the taste of the potatoes in any way.  I used about a pound of potatoes to make around four servings.  The additions were free range eggs that had been hard boiled*,  Duke's mayonaise (the true Southern mayonaise and the only kind you should use, in my opinion), a little finely chopped sweet onion, and some chopped sweet pickles.**  It was a perfectly quick and tasty use for my potatoes, and I can't wait to dig more!

*To hard boil the perfect egg, place the egg in a saucepan and fill it with cool water to cover by at least one inch.  Bring the water to a boil.  Turn the heat off, cover the pan, and let it sit for 12 minutes to continue cooking the egg.  This method produces the perfect hard boiled egg with a cooked but not at all dry yolk and absolutely no horrible grey ring around the yolk. 

**You can use pickle relish or bread and butter pickles.  I took a jar of dill pickles canned over the summer, drained the liquid from the jar, and added 1/2 cup of sugar.  I turned the jar over and shook it every day or so for about three days until the sugar had drawn the excess liquid from the pickles and made a sweet syrup.  I used these in the place of relish.  These sweet and sour pickles are also excellent with cheese and crackers or anywhere sweet pickles would generally wander, and I always have jar in the fridge for snacking. 

Classic Potato Salad-  serves 4

This potato salad is based on one my mother-in-law makes.  She told me what she put in it, but like many good cooks, she just tastes and adjusts as she goes.  I tried to measure as I went in order to put an accurate list of amounts down into recipe form.  If you make it, do a taste test and add more or less of each ingredient as you see fit.  These amounts are in no way the end-all be-all.  They are simply what tasted good to me. 

1 pound small white new potatoes with skin on (or peeled russets)
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chopped sweet pickles plus a small drizzle of pickle juice
     (see my note above for the pickles I used)
1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup mayonaise (preferably Duke's brand)
1 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp chopped parsley or dill, optional

Halve or cube the potatoes.  Place the potatoes along with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan and cover with cool water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes and place them in a bowl. Mash the potatoes with the skin on making sure to leave a few chunks here and there.

Add the chopped egg, pickles, onion, mayo, and remaining salt and pepper to the pototoes in the bowl.  Stir to combine thoroughly.  Taste and adjust the ingredients to fit your preference by adding more pickles or mayonaise as needed.  Chill the potato salad in the refrigerator until cold.  Sprinkle with parsley or dill, if desired.  Serve.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kohlrabi, Radish, and English Pea Salad

I was looking back at my recent posts today and realized that they are a little on the sweet side.  Okay, maybe more than a little.  I am trying to justify this with the fact that strawberries are in season, but the truth of it all is that dessert is tasty.  That being said, I am feeling the need for something a little lighter and much healthier, and preferably something that does not (a least for the moment) contain strawberries.  The great thing for me is that my garden is growing like mad.  My radishes are happy, and my kohlrabi was screaming to be pulled which led me to the idea of a kohlrabi, radish, and pea salad. 

Now, for those of you not familiar with kohlrabi, it is a vegetable that looks like a root but grows above ground.  It is very weird looking, almost like an alien being.  Its taste on the other hand is familiar...a bit like a turnip but without the bitterness.  Another good comparison would be to broccoli stems, and it is crisp like an apple or radish.  You may not think you know kohlrabi, but you will as soon as you take the first bite.  It can be cooked, but I love it raw in salads where it retains its crunch and provides a nice, clean flavor. 

kohlrabi with green tops removed
This salad combines julienned kohlrabi, radishes, and blanched English peas with a light and slightly sweet vinaigrette.  It is the perfect foil to richer or more boldly flavored dishes.  We ate it with a chicken curry dish where it offered a nice contrast to the spicy sauce. 

Although the salad was excellent alone, it would also be tasty served over watercress or arugula, and I can see bits of parmesan cheese tasting wonderful in it if you want something with a little more heft. 

Kohlrabi, Radish, and English Pea Salad- 

This recipe only makes 2-3 servings but can be easily doubled by simply adding more radishes, kohlrabi, and peas.  You will not need to double the dressing as it makes more than is needed.  I suggest making the entire dressing recipe though as it is wonderful on most any type of salad greens or used to dress cucumbers.

2 medium to large kohlrabi, peeled and julienned
5 large radishes, julienned
1/2 cup fresh English peas, blanched for 2 minutes and chilled in an ice bath

2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the dressing, combine the sugar, salt, pepper, mustard, and vinegar in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. 

Place the salad ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add just enough dressing to coat the ingredients.  Taste and adjust with additional salt, pepper, or dressing. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

I have been overrun by strawberries this weekend.  I bought two gallons of local berries from a fundraiser at the school where I teach, and my in-laws gave us two more gallons from a farm near their house.  I froze two gallons for fruit leather, desserts, and other uses throughout the year.  I put the rest in the fridge, and we have enjoyed them over the weekend by themselves and in this simple dessert.  I know, it is called "salad" and I'm not sure why except that it resembles congealed salads from previous eras.  It is wonderful, though, as it is the perfect combination of salty and sweet. 

It is a basic layered dessert starting with a crust made of crushed, salted pretzels mixed with butter and a little brown sugar.  The crust is baked, and then a mixture of cream cheese, sugar, and whipped topping is spread evenly over the pretzels.  The top layer is made of fresh sliced strawberries and strawberry jello.  Sweet, creamy, salty, and tart all in one dessert.  You can't go wrong.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad-  makes one 9 x 13 pan

2 1/2 cups crushed salted pretzels
1 cup butter, melted
3 tbsp brown sugar
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tub (8 oz) whipped topping, thawed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb sliced strawberries
6 oz box strawberry jello (made with 3 cups water rather than 4)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl until the pretzels are moistened.  Spread the pretzel mixture into a 9 x 13 pan.  Bake the crust 15 minutes until lightly toasted and set.  Set aside to cool while making the remaining layers.  

Boil 2 cups water.  Mix the boiling water with the jello powder for 2 minutes. Add one cup cold water and mix.  Chill for 1-2 hours until the jello is partially set.  

In the meantime, mix the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  Fold in the whipped topping until incorporated completely.  Spread the cream cheese layer on top of the cooled pretzel crust and chill until the jello layer is ready.  

Once the jello is partially set, layer the sliced strawberries on top of the cream cheese layer.  Spoon and spread the jello over the strawberries in an even layer.  Chill at least 1 additional hour (more if time permits) to allow the jello to set completely.