Sunday, June 24, 2012

Too Many Tomatoes? Some Refreshing Ideas

Too many tomatoes is a happy problem to have!  Roy and the girls love the following salads which are a welcome change from the usual baked beans and potato salad. The first two are based on an oil and vinegar dressing while the last one gets its zing from lemon juice.  When the weather is sticky and hot, these salads are refreshing and yummy!  

Green Bean Salad

                                         3 diced tomatoes                                         
1 pound green beans
2 tablespoons diced onion
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 oz. of crumbled feta cheese

Snap the ends off the green beans, place into a pot of boiling water, turn down the heat, and cook until tender yet still a bit firm.  Drain the beans.  While the beans are cooking, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder together in a bowl that will be large enough to hold the salad.  Add the diced onion and tomatoes. Stir and add the cooked beans.  Before serving, sprinkle the crumbled feta cheese on top.  Sometimes I add a 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves if I'm not serving any thing else with basil in it. This is great served warm, room temperature, or cold.  

Summer Spaghetti

                                   4 to 5 large tomatoes, diced                                   
3 tablespoons onion, diced
1 package fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 package spaghetti

While cooking the spaghetti according to package directions, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Place the oil mixture in a serving bowl and add the tomatoes, onion, and basil.  When the spaghetti is done, drain it, and add it to the bowl.  Toss to coat.  Serve immediately or chilled.  This also tastes wonderful with the addition of olives and quartered artichoke hearts.

Tomato, Parsley, and Cucumber Salad

1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
2 tomatoes, finely diced
2 green onions, sliced
1 spring mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.  This is delicious with pita bread and feta cheese.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Tempting Trio of Trendy Treats

The Occasional Sweet...

     Tis' the season for graduation open houses, wedding showers, and garden parties!  This month it has been our delightful dilemma to have our weekends booked with plenty of social things to do.  Each celebration provided the opportunity to sample all kinds of wonderful fare. There seem to be some noticeable trends going on in the dessert world!  Things that were "salted caramel", "chocolate bacon", and "red velvet" kept making appearances.  These little goodies were also very portable and could be eaten in just a bite or two.  Even though I try to stay away from sweets, I couldn't resist trying to replicate some of the treats I sampled!  I got the chance when I helped host a shower for the bride-to-be of one of Caroline's childhood friends, Brad.  Since the shower was going to include lots of ladies our family doesn't see very often but we have a strong history with, I wanted to make the desserts very special. For the shower, I found the salted caramel brownies and the whoppie pie recipe from http;//  Cake pop recipes are all over the internet, so I used a basic one and added real bacon pieces on top just for fun.

Berry Filled Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

1 box of red velvet cake mix                                                           
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1 small box of instant chocolate pudding
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries

In a bowl, beat the first five ingredients with an electric mixer.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or use foil covered with cooking spray.  Drop two tablespoons of the batter at a time and with a the back of a spoon, spread it out into a circle.  The batter does spread while cooking, so leave some room between each circle.  Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for about 12 minutes or until set.  Take out of the oven and after 2 minutes, carefully remove the "cookies" to a cooling rack.  They must be completely cooled before you fill them.  While they are cooling, whip the rest of the ingredients - except the berries - with the electric mixer. To assemble, liberally spread the filling on the bottom of a "cookie", top with some of the berries, and cover with another "cookie".  Best if stored covered, in the refrigerator.

Salted Caramel Brownies

2 packages Betty Crocker Double                               
 Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter
1 (14 oz.) bag of caramels
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For garnish:  1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix the first 4 ingredients together and spread into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Sprinkle with half of the pecans.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 18 minutes or until set and edges are just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cool completely before putting the caramel topping on. Then, heat the 1/4 cup butter, caramels, and cream over medium low heat, stirring until smooth.  Take the caramel mixture off the heat and stir in the vanilla and the 1/8 teaspoon of salt.  Spread the caramel mixture over the cooled brownies and sprinkle the the top with the rest of the pecans. Cool completely and cut into individual brownies.  Just before serving sprinkle each one with a bit of kosher salt.

Bacon Chocolate Maple Cake Pops

1 box yellow cake mix                                              
2 teasspoons maple flavoring
1 3/4 cup prepared vanilla frosting
1 bag chocolate candy melts
Lollipop sticks
A couple pieces of cooked bacon, crumbled

Bake the cake according to the package directions, except add the maple flavoring.  When the cake is cool, food process (or use hands) it into crumbs.  Add the frosting, shape into balls, and put in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Then take them out of the freezer and insert a lollipop stick which has been dipped into some of the melted chocolate.  Return them to the freezer for 20 more minutes.  Next, melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and repeat until the chocolate is smooth. (Be careful not to microwave it too much - the melts will hold their shape until you stir them.)  Dip the cake pops in the melted chocolate and decorate them with - in this case bacon - or whatever you wish!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beautiful Borscht

Last summer my friend Marina and I got together at her house to make some beaded jewelery.  Marina lived in Israel for several years before settling in the United States, but prior to that she grew up in the Ukraine.  Before we got started, Marina provided me with a feast which included a bowl of borscht.  Served with sour cream, garlic, and dark bread, it was as gorgeous as it was delicious!  She promised me that some day she would teach me how to make this classic beet based soup. Since her mother, Sofia is currently visiting from Israel, we had my cooking lesson this Tuesday.  As I watched and took pictures, I realized that making borscht is more of a process than following a recipe.  Marina said that in the Ukraine, families make this soup about once a week, and each family probably makes it just a bit differently from the next one.  Below are the steps for making a vegetarian style borscht, but Sofia assured me that it is very delicious when meat is added.  By the way, this makes a huge amount and it's even better the second day!

The Russian Ladies Make the Borscht!
Steps for Making Borscht

1. Gather your vegetables together

You will need 2 onions, 3 beets, 4 carrots, 1 sweet potato, 3 regular potatoes, 1 red pepper, 1/2 a cabbage, 4 celery stalks, 1 parsnip or parsley root, 4 garlic cloves and 2 tomatoes.  Peel all the skins off (except the cabbage, celery, tomato, and pepper).  Cut one of the beets in half and cut two of the carrots in half lengthwise and then in half again. Slice the other two beets, carrots and the red pepper into strips.  Cube the sweet potato and potatoes.  Slice the cabbage and the celery.  Grate the tomatoes and the garlic.

2.  Get the pot boiling

Fill a large pot with water and turn it up high.  Drop the parsnip or parsley root, the two beet halves, the two onions, and the two cut up carrots into the boiling water.  Turn the heat down and simmer until a fork goes into the beet easily.

3.  Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil up in a skillet and cook the sliced vegetables

Place the sliced pepper, carrots, and beets in the skillet along with a 4 oz. can of tomatoe paste.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Saute until vegetables are soft.

4.  Remove the beet halves and the two onions from the pot and add potatoes

Discard the two removed onions, but grate the beet and put it back ito the pan along with the sweet and regular potato cubes.  Cook until a fork goes into the potatoes easily.

5.  Add the skillet ingredients plus more to the pot

Along with the mixture that has been cooking in the skillet, add the sliced cabbage, sliced celery, and two grated tomatoes to the pot.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt, 4 minced garlic cloves, and 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley.  Marina says fresh dill is also very nice if you have it on hand. Let it all simmer for a few minutes until celery and cabbage are cooked.  Make sure to serve it with sour cream! 

P.S. Since I posted this Marina's mom has made HUGE pots of this for me a couple of times. I want to stress that using fresh dill is definitely the way to go!!!

Many thanks to Sofia and Marina for a fun afternoon of cooking!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ropa Vieja


 After spending less than a year in her first apartment, Jenn is currently in the process of moving into a new one, due to a fortuitous change of sales territory.  Since last Wednesday, it seems as if she has been in one stage or another in the moving process.  The "highlight" of this adventure came when she and I chose not to take apart her couch but rather keep in it intact.  We lugged it down from the second floor, loaded it in the minivan, drove it from one small town to another, and hauled it up two narrow flights of stairs only to have to disassemble it to get it through her doorway! Yesterday found me battling yet another piece of Ikea furniture, and this particular dresser was winning the war.  I was tired, achy, frustrated, and hungry.  Jenn's new place in within walking distance of several cute little places to eat.  I set off to find a sensible salad, but instead found myself drawn to a charmingly simple place that had the menu items written on a chalkboard.  One of the offerings listed was Ropa Vieja, a satisfying stew. Translated from Spanish, it means "old clothes" which might either indicate that the ingredients resemble colorful pieces of cloth or the fact that it can be made with leftover meat. The Caribbean version usually uses flank or skirt steak, but the Spanish one uses any meat - pork, chicken, beef - along with eggplant and chickpeas.  I ditched my plan for a salad and opted instead for the Roba Vieja - definitely more of a reward!  It's usually served with rice, but I made some mashed yucca to go with it instead. 



1 pound leftover beef shredded or cubed (flank steak or a roast)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sliced onion

2 sliced peppers, different colors

1/4 cup matchstick or sliced carrots     

1 small jalapena, seeded and diced

                     2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed                    

1 (15 oz.) can of beef broth

1 (15 oz.) can of diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoon sliced green olives

Lime for squeezing


Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the onion, peppers, carrots, and jalapeno until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds before adding the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for at least 20 minutes. Take out the bay leaf before serving. This is usually eaten on top of rice with some crusty bread to soak up the sauce. However, if you watch carbs as I do, it's just as yummy to eat it without the addition of a starch! Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over top.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Shrimp Salad - Skewered (or Sans Skewered!)

      Last Thursday, a few of my teacher buddies came over for a pitch-in lunch to celebrate the end of the school year.  Our last day was Tuesday, and I spent most of Wednesday putting flowers in pots and planting annuals in the back yard.  I thought it would be a snap just to spiff the house up before everyone came Thursday morning.  I planned to make the Skewered Shrimp above, however the cleaning was a bit more involved than I anticipated. When the doorbell rang at noon - I had to shove the skewers in the drawer and go for "Plan B" - Avocado Shrimp Salad.  Since a couple people have asked for the recipe, I decided to post both the skewered shrimp and the salad.  The recipes for the dressing and marinade are via my mom, I believe, from Bon Appetite.  Growing up, this was a standard dish for showers and fancy parties. I think the Avocado Shrimp Salad would make a fabulous shrimp roll filling for some crusty French bread. The recipes are below as well as a couple tricks to assist assembling them.

I bought the biggest already cooked shrimp I could find, and covered them in cold water to defrost.

For the skewers, I used a carrot peeler to remove the skin of the cucumber so it gave a striped look when sliced.

Ready for skewering;  I cut up peppers in triangle shapes, used lemon wedges, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers.  Button mushrooms would also be a great addition.

Marinade for the Shrimp
 3 tablespoons olive oil
 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used country Dijon)
Mix together and Pour over cooked, rinsed, and drained shrimp.  Let sit in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes while you continue with the rest of the recipe.

Dipping Sauce/Salad Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise (I used Hellmann’s light)
1 garlic clove minced or put through a press
2 tablespoons Heinz chili sauce
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives
1 ½ teaspoons of chopped fresh dill
Whisk all ingredients together. Cover and chill until ready to use

Avocado for Salad or Garnish on Skewer Platter
Peel and cube 1 large avocado
Squirt the juice of 1/2 a lemon over the avocado.

Option 1:  Avocado and Shrimp Salad
Drain the shrimp and add it to the avocado. Gently fold in the mayo mixture – just enough to coat. Garnish with an extra dill sprig or two.  Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Option 2:  Shrimp Salad Skewers
Using wooden skewers, thread on the drained marinated shrimp and pieces of colorful pepper, lemon wedges, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers.  Button mushrooms are also an option if you like them.  Serve with the above mayo mxture or even regular shrimp cocktail sauce.