Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kale caesar salad with steak

This kale caesar salad, plus grilled steak = steak caesar salad. Steak and kale caesar salad. However you want to phrase it, it's yummy. It made an awesome lunch today.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gardening update

I haven't posted for the last couple of days because there really hasn't been anything to post. I made ratatouille, ate some leftovers, combined my husband's leftover pasta with some white beans, zucchini, half an onion and some tomato sauce to make a sort of flavorful glop (not quite soup). Not the stuff of which great blog posts are made.

In the meantime, I'm getting green cherry tomatoes! Hopefully this means I'll have some to eat within a week or two. And have I mentioned that I love the smell of tomato plants on my hands?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Charles

This drink is a derivation of one we serve at work; I tried to cobble together my own in-home version. It's equal parts gin and Lillet Blanc, with grapefruit bitters. Stir and strain into a glass that's been rinsed out with Cointreau.

It's slightly bitter, very aperitif-y, and very refreshing.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I've made ratatouille salad before, and ratatouille pizza, but here comes the real thing!

Some ex-co-workers of my husband's are leaving town, headed for a new job, and they graciously donated their last garden haul to us. Several nice zucchini, a bag of onions, a few pantry odds and ends. Combined with the eggplant currently in my fridge (bought on sale) and the jar of home-canned tomatoes from my mom,  all these things will make a really nice ratatouille.

I'm using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, sans red pepper, since I don't have one. I'll probably serve it over rice, maybe quinoa.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pesto grits

Grits are like rice: quick, versatile, an easy way to round out a meal. I usually make grits with milk--better-tasting, creamier texture--but I was out of milk, so I used water. Grits made with water aren't nearly as delicious, so I threw in a large spoonful of pesto to see what happened.

The result tasted so good I had to use some more pesto.

As a bonus, I'm using up my supplies of both grits and frozen pesto. I served it with green beans and soft-shell crab (leftover from work!).

Other grits variations: cheese grits, spicy cheese grits, grits n' greens.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

$0 grocery budget update

May grocery spending (including bulk purchases): $95.40
June: $204.52 (that was because of my stepson's visit)
July: $65.87

$65.87, obviously, is pretty good for a month's worth of food. Granted, I'm not buying much more than milk, eggs, cat food, and occasional fruit at the store these days. I'm slowly working through all the pantry supplies of dried beans, rice, and grains, and I'm starting to use up the more interesting things (spices, sauces, the more esoteric ingredients). As things are used up, I add them to a master grocery list, but I'm not replacing them. Yet.

Green cherry tomatoes are starting to form, and I'm getting some herbs, but I haven't bothered cultivating the herbs that didn't take (like basil). 

When my husband gets a job (whenever that is), and we move to wherever it is his new job will be, then I'll rebuild the pantry supplies. Until then, we'll be eating a lot of variations on beans, rice, lentils, and grains.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini-tomato verrines

A verrine is a salad in a glass--essentially a vegetable parfait. This recipe is from Food & Wine, reprinted below. It's a really delicious way to eat zucchini and tomatoes.

2 tablespoons pine nuts
4 medium tomatoes-peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup finely diced zucchini
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of ground cumin
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil, plus small basil leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 ounce)
3 very thin slices of prosciutto, cut in half

In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat until golden, about 4 minutes. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the salad into 6 small glasses or jars.

In a medium bowl, mix the mascarpone with the 2 egg yolks and grated parmigiano cheese. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold the beaten whites into the mascarpone until no streaks remain. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the mascarpone cream into each glass over the zucchini salad. Cover each glass with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, cook the slices of prosciutto over moderately low heat, turning once, until browned and just crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the prosciutto to a paper towel-lined plate.

Sprinkle the pine nuts over the mascarpone cream, top each verrine with a prosciutto crisp and a few basil leaves and serve.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Green bean salad with dried cranberries and almonds

Or you could try this green bean salad with sesame dressing.

1/2 pound green beans, cooked and cooled
1/4 cup dried cranberries
about a handful of sliced almonds
2 tbsp cold lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the liquids together. Drizzle over the green beans, add the cranberries and almonds, and mix well. Serve at room temperature.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Corpse Reviver #2

This is my new favorite cocktail. A classic! (Also very good for daytime drinking, not that I'm advocating such a thing, you understand.)

3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Lillet Blanc
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz lemon juice
Dash of absinthe or Herbsaint

Shake, serve with a cherry.

Friday, July 20, 2012

No-mayo potato salad

This is Mark Bittman's potato salad recipe; it's just potatoes with a mustard vinaigrette. It takes no time at all to throw together, it's made with easy pantry ingredients (I threw in a few finely diced dill pickles and some fresh dill, since I didn't have any parsley, and used shallots instead of onions).

Reprinted below:

11/2 pounds waxy potatoes, like red new potatoes or fingerling; or all-purpose, like Yukon Gold (or even starchy baking potatoes are fine)
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped scallions or red or yellow onion
1/2 cup Mustard Vinaigrette (see recipe below), plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Peel the potatoes if you like (or wash and scrub them well), then cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a pot with enough water to cover them and add a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the water bubbles gently. Cook the potatoes until tender but still firm and not all mushy, 15 minutes or so, depending on the potato. Drain, rinse in cold water for a minute, then drain again.

2. Toss the still-warm potatoes with the parsley and scallion. Add the vinaigrette until the mixture is as dressed as you like. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding black pepper. Serve as is or refrigerate for an hour or so to chill the salad. (At this point, you may refrigerate the salad, covered, for up to a day.)
Mustard or Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons or more good wine vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon any good mustard or 1/2 teaspoon or so dry mustard
1 to 2 tablespoons honey (optional)

1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time until the balance tastes right to you.

2. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve. (This is best made fresh but will keep, refrigerated, for a few days; bring it back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best breakfast ever

Homemade yogurt, fresh blueberries, some slivered almonds, and a sprinkle of bourbon-vanilla sugar. Mix and enjoy. Best breakfast ever. Best part: it costs less than 50 cents, since homemade yogurt is about 15 cents a cup.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Honeydew and cucumber salad

It's too hot to cook. Instead, eat this.

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons rice-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh gingerroot
2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Asian (toasted) sesame oil, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup vegetables oil
1 seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and slice thin (about 2 cups)
2 cups 1-inch cubes of honeydew melon
2 scallions, minced

In a bowl whisk together the vinegar, the gingerroot, the tamari or soy sauce, the sugar, the sesame oil, the red pepper flakes, and the vegetable oil until the dressing is combined well. Add the cucumber, the melon, and the scallions, toss the salad until it is combined well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lemon-date cake

In an effort to use up some of the more esoteric ingredients in my pantry, I offer you lemon-date cake, made with lemon zest and dried dates.

It's more like a tea cake--crumbly, not very sweet--and the lemon flavor is subtle. If you wanted to punch it up, you could add some lemon icing.

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for pan 
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package (10 ounces) dried dates, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a cake pan lined with parchment paper) with oil; set aside. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, milk, and egg; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula just until smooth (do not overmix). Gently fold in figs and lemon zest. Spread batter in prepared pan; set pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes before unmolding cake onto a wire rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into wedges.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dinner party

While on vacation, I cooked for a bunch of my friends. I turned two baskets of fresh produce from my mom's garden and the contents of one meat freezer into a fun evening for everyone. Here's what we had:

A magnum of really good pink champagne (bought at cost from the restaurant, of course)

Peach and tomato gazpacho
Grilled chicken and pork with fresh rosemary
Grilled squash salad with leeks, tarragon and dill
Grilled okra
Roasted potatoes with sage and chives
Beet, apple and ginger slaw
Blackberry cobbler

We even broke out the good china.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


While I was on vacation, I went to the liquor store with my dear friend in order to stock up on a couple of things. Now, the Virginia ABC stores are not known for their wide selection. Bourbon selection tends to begin and end with Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. But, surprise, surprise! I found this stuff there.

Rhuby is shaping up to be my new favorite booze, and I have no idea where to find it up here. It's a rhubarb-based liquor, somewhere between rum and brandy, and it manages to be rhubarb-y and floral and fruity without being sweet. It's a really amazing combination of flavors, and it's awesome all by itself on the rocks.

It's also great in cocktails: I muddled blackberries and basil with Rhuby and topped it off with lemonade. Greatest summer drink ever.

Definitely keep an eye out for this stuff.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Grilled squash salad

Summer squash doesn't have to just be sauteed. It can be eaten raw, grilled, or roasted in duck fat. (Yum.)

I made a salad that was a combination of a little bit of raw zucchini combined with grilled zucchini and yellow squash. (Sliced very thin lengthwise, grilled, and then roughly chopped.) I also grilled and chopped a couple of leeks, and added those. I mixed the warm veggies with a splash of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and fresh tarragon and dill.

This makes a great accompaniment to grilled meats. And for dessert, you can have grilled peaches!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beet, apple, and ginger slaw

I've made beet, carrot, and zucchini slaw before. This is the same principle, with shredded raw beets, just with an apple and a little fresh ginger grated in as well.

I used raw golden beets (several small ones), an apple, and a piece of peeled ginger about the size of my thumb. I grated all that together, added a splash of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, and some salt and pepper. That's it, just let it sit for a bit before serving to let the flavors meld.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grilled okra

There's fried okra. There's even fried okra salad. But there's also grilled okra. Fast, healthy, delicious okra flavor with none of the slime.

Just throw it on the grill and cook it until it develops grill marks. Serve warm. Maybe some salt. That's it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blackberry cobbler

With fresh blackberries from my mom's backyard, right off the vine.

3 cups blackberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted

Stir together the blackberries and sugar, and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and milk. Add the melted butter and combine. Pour into an ungreased 8 x 8 pan, and spoon the blackberry mixture over the batter. Bake at 375 for 45-55 minutes, or until the batter is puffy and golden.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peach and tomato gazpacho

I spent this last week in Virginia, visiting family and friends--and most importantly, catching up on my sleeping and eating.

And cooking. Friday night I turned an array of vegetables from my mom's garden, plus the contents of one meat freezer, into dinner for some close friends. This peach and tomato gazpacho kicked off the dinner, topped with fresh lavender, squash blossoms, and fennel pollen.

5 large peaches, peeled and quartered
3 large tomatoes (or many cherry tomatoes), chopped
1/2 medium sweet onion (I used a leek), chopped
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup diced, peeled and seeded cucumber
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

Puree 4 of the peaches and 2/3 of the tomatoes with the onion and vinegar in a food processor. Chop the remaining peach and tomato and add to the puree. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine the cucumber with the yogurt and chives. Cover and chill.

To serve, ladle the gazpacho into bowls, and top with a spoonful of cucumber mixture and more chives.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Orzo risotto

Orzo (rice-shaped pasta) can be cooked just like an arborio rice risotto. (Making it a lower-cost risotto option.) You could use almost anything you'd put into a risotto--mushrooms (dried or fresh), prosciutto/country ham, asparagus, tomatoes, zucchini, peas, almost any vegetable, really.

This is my standard risotto recipe. Just substitute orzo for the arborio.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gardening update

There hasn't been a lot of gardening action this year. Just containers, and so far, at least half of the herbs I've tried to grow haven't. (Basil, sage, rosemary...) Not sure why.

Fortunately, the tomatoes are doing very well. I planted cherry tomatoes in my containers, and we'll see how big they get (since their growth will obviously be limited). The sad part is that I only have two, maybe three, containers big enough to hold full-grown tomato plants. The rest of my tomato seedlings will be donated out and given good homes elsewhere.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bell pepper sauce

This comes in three different colors, and all can be made in the microwave. These are excellent with grilled meats and fish.

Green pepper sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped leek
2 minced garlic cloves
1 chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chicken stock

Cook oil in a 2-quart container in microwave for 2 minutes. Stir in rest except pepper, microwave 3-4 minutes. Add pepper, cook for 4 minutes, covered. Puree till smooth.

Yellow pepper sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 chopped yellow pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock

Cook oil in a 2-quart container in microwave for 2 minutes. Stir in rest except pepper, microwave 3-4 minutes. Add pepper, cook for 4 minutes, covered. Puree till smooth.

Red pepper sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small chopped onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 chopped red pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock

Cook oil in a 2-quart container in microwave for 2 minutes. Stir in rest except pepper, microwave 3-4 minutes. Add pepper, cook for 4 minutes, covered. Puree till smooth.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fresh tomato and caper salad

2 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon (optional)
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Toss the veggies and capers together. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and toss again. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fudge popsicles

2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups whole milk
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon butter

In the bottom of a medium saucepan over very low heat, gently melt the chocolate chips, stirring constantly till smooth. Stir in sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, milk and salt, and raise heat to medium. Cook mixture, stirring frequently until it thickens (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter, and stir till combined.

Set aside to cool slightly, then pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Watermelon martini

Another fantastic use for watermelon! Though cocktail purists will debate the use of the word "martini" here.

2 oz watermelon puree
2 oz vodka
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz Midori
A few leaves of fresh mint

Muddle the mint, add the rest, and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Watermelon margarita

Don't you want one right now?

2 oz tequila
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz watermelon puree
1/2 oz St. Germain
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake vigorously with ice. Strain and serve.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Roasted peaches with brown sugar and basil

I could eat my weight in fresh peaches during the summer. If you can stand to hold a few back, this is another delicious way to eat them.

4 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
3 tablespoons soft butter
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
pinch each of cinnamon and salt

Heat toaster oven to 375 degrees on bake setting for 5 minutes. (You can use a regular oven, as well.) In a small bowl, mash together the butter, sugar, basil, cinnamon and salt.

Spoon the mixture into the cavity of the peach halves, and arrange peaches stuffed side up. Bake until peaches are soft and butter is bubbly, about 20 minutes (less in a conventional oven, so keep an eye on them). Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Habanero sauce

Homemade habanero sauce is a great way to use up a summer bounty of hot peppers. Be warned, this stuff is HOT. It's not really meant for eating all by itself, unless you're into that kind of thing. It's a great addition to salsas and soups, though, to really liven things up a bit.

Be sure to wear gloves while chopping the habaneros!

12 habaneros, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice

Saute onion and garlic in veg oil until soft. Add the carrots with a little water. Boil, reduce, and simmer until the carrots are soft. Puree in blender with the peppers until smooth. Combine puree with vinegar and lime juice, and simmer an additional 5 minutes.