Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Veggie Succotash

Does anyone eat succotash anymore? Traditionally made with corn and beans (usually lima beans), this side dish seems a bit old fashioned…or it did until this recipe came along!

Succotash’s history reaches back to the early days of our country. A Native American stew made from corn, beans and a bit of meat, it was adopted by the early English settlers as a way to ward off starvation when other food sources weren’t available. Succotash was probably on the menu that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  

Recently, the Kansas Museum of History featured an exhibition called What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet. Created by the National Archives and Records Administration, the exhibit detailed the Government’s impact on how we eat every day, from what is grown on farms to recipes served on dinner tables across the country. It also explained how economic hardships, wars, and other historical events impact our food choices.

A cooking class was part of the exhibit, featuring recipes inspired by ones in Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives, which was published to go along with the What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? exhibit.

The succotash recipe in the book was from an 1879 Army cooking manual and called for the cooked vegetables to be made in a cream sauce. My mom told me that is how she remembered it being made, but growing up we often had corn (or hominy) combined with lima beans on their own and called it succotash. At least, that’s how I remembered it.

At the cooking class, dietician Amber Groeling came up with a modern-day version that works both as a side dish or a main course. Her version added many more vegetables, swapped the Lima beans with shelled edamame, and dressed it with fresh basil, olive oil, and tarragon vinegar. 

Since tarragon vinegar isn’t something I keep around, I swapped it for red wine vinegar. I also upped the amount of bacon from 2 slices to 3 for more flavor, and used cherry tomatoes instead of one whole tomato. That’s what is great about this recipe…you can tinker with it to fit your own tastes very easily. Soon I plan to try it with lima beans instead of edamame.

I enjoy this succotash as a one-skillet supper on warm summer evenings, but it would also work well as a side dish to grilled or barbecued meats. You can make it a vegan dish by skipping the bacon and using olive oil instead. It tastes wonderful both served warm or at room temperature.  

Summer Veggie Succotash       
Serves 6

3 slices bacon
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 12-ounce package of frozen corn, defrosted
2 cups zucchini in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups yellow squash in 1/2-inch dice
1 12-ounce package frozen shelled edamame, defrosted
1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons.

In a 12-inch skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside. Into the skillet in the hot bacon fat, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Next, add in the corn, zucchini and squash. Cook until the zucchini and squash start to become tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the edamame, cook until warmed through. Chop the crisp bacon and stir into the mixture, along with the sliced tomatoes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and basil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Greek Salad Turkey Wrap

In much the same way my body and spirit crave comfort foods in colder weather (mac and cheese, pot roast, hearty soups), the longing turns to fresh veggies and fruits as the temperature rises. Maybe it’s the plethora of fresh produce at the farmers market and grocery store? Maybe it’s just the heat? For whatever the reason, my crisper drawers and hanging wire baskets are bursting with freshness.

This Greek Salad Turkey Wrap is a wonderful way to pack a lot of veggies into one meal. It's based on a sandwich I always order at a local coffee shop. It makes a great sandwich for a picnic, lunch at work, or a light summer supper. There are no exact measurements with this recipe since everything can be added to fit your personal tastes. Just be sure to not overload the wrap or you’ll have trouble rolling it all up. 

To be honest, I’m terrible at filling a wrap. I always put in too much.

Greek Salad Turkey Wrap
Makes one sandwich

1 wrap (I like spinach wraps.)
1 to 2 slices deli turkey
Mixed greens
Feta cheese
Red onion, thinly sliced
Sliced olives
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Tomato, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced
Greek salad dressing (I found this in the produce section of the grocery store.)
Lay the wrap on a flat surface. Layer on the remaining ingredients. Roll up the wrap, cut in half, and enjoy.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Diabetes-Friendly Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of my personal traditions is to make treats for my friends and family on their birthdays. Sometimes I let them pick whatever they want, and other times I know their favorites and I just whip up a batch of goodies. I’ve made everything from whoopie pies and brownies to chocolate chocolate chip muffins, and buffalo wings.

However, there is a small glitch to my birthday treat tradition: Diabetes is common both in my Thompson family line and the Ditch family. I was faced with this dilemma recently when my brother-in-law’s birthday approached. Since he has diabetes, how would I give him a festive treat and without causing blood sugar issues?

The Picky Eater always loved chocolate chip cookies for his birthday, which made me wonder if a diabetes-friendly version was available. I also wanted a recipe that didn’t use artificial sweeteners. (Right or wrong, I just believe real sugar must be better for you than chemicals.)

An internet search came up with this recipe from Diabetic Living magazine. Since I don’t have diabetes, I’m not sure what makes these cookies more blood sugar friendly than regular ones. The recipe calls for real brown sugar! If I had to guess, it’s the additional complex carbs in the ground toasted oatmeal, a smaller sugar amount than traditional recipes, and the smaller serving size that makes these cookies work.

Each cookie made using the original recipe has 12 grams of carbs and 7 grams of sugars. I tweaked the recipe a bit by using whole milk yogurt instead of low-fat, and adding chopped pecans. So be aware! I don’t have any knowledge how my changes may impact healthfulness of the cookies. When in doubt, go with the original recipe.

These cookies are soft, moist and chocolate-chip-cookie delicious. They don’t spread out while baking like traditional cookies, which gives them a tasty, cake-like texture.

This recipe is now a part of my cooking-making repertoire.     

Diabetes-Friendly Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 60 cookies
1 cookie per serving

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt (I use the whole milk variety.)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pour the oatmeal onto a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until oats are toasted, approximately 5 to 10 minutes, stirring once. Pour the toasted oats into a food processor and blend until finely ground. Set aside.

Using a mixer, blend together the butter, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt until combined. Mix in the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually add in the flour and mix until just combined. Mix in the ground oats, and then add in the chocolate chips.

Spoon rounded teaspoon-sized portions of the dough 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. (I used a teaspoon-sized ice cream scoop.) Bake for 9 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown, rotating the baking sheet in the oven halfway through. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack.   

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE Tomato Sauce from Marcella Hazan

I was on a quest to find the perfect tomato pasta sauce.

I’ve been making my own tomato sauce for years now. No more buying jarred spaghetti sauces. Homemade is just too easy to make.

However, I was still searching for “THE" taste. While I liked the sauce from Lidia Bastianich I made a few years ago, and the home-canned one I made the following summer, both didn’t have quite the right taste I wanted.
Then I heard about a sauce from the queen of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan. Her recipe for a Cream and Butter Sauce that I posted in 2012 is one of the most popular recipes on my blog. So I pulled out my copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking to see what she recommended for tomatoes.

The book has an entire section on tomato sauces! In it, Hazan wrote, “No other preparation is more successful in delivering the prodigious satisfactions of Italian cooking than a competently executed sauce with tomatoes; no flavor expresses more clearly the genius of Italian cooks than the freshness, the immediacy, the richness of good tomatoes adroitly matched to the most suitable choice of pasta.”


The section gives many tips for making a good tomato sauce, as well as a number of sauce recipes. The one I was interested in is a simple sauce made with tomatoes, an onion, and butter. That's all.

I’ve used butter in tomato dishes for years to help tame the acidity. In this case, it gives the sauce a smooth, creamy texture.  Hazan’s recipe calls for 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled by blanching them in boiling water for about a minute and then cutting them into coarse pieces. She also says canned whole tomatoes can be substituted. I went with a 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes since I can find them all year around. I also like a smooth sauce, so I used a hand-held immersion blender to puree it smooth, which also lightened the color.

For the first batch, I followed Hazan’s recipe just as written. The result was a velvety sauce with a clean, fresh tomato taste. I liked it a lot, but I wanted it to taste a little more Italian. In the next batch, I added Italian seasoning. It was perfect!  

Next, I plan to use the sauce to make my Baked Ziti, and as pizza sauce. I also plan to give it a try with fresh tomatoes once they are in season.

I think I’ve found THE sauce!

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
Makes enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta

1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (optional)
Salt, to taste
1 pound pasta of choice
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, for topping

Put all the ingredients except for the salt into a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a low, steady simmer and cook uncovered for 45 minutes, or until the mixture reaches the desired thickness. Stir occasionally and break up the tomato pieces. For a smoother sauce, remove the onion halves and puree with an immersion blender or in a blender to the desired texture. Add salt, to taste.

Make pasta according to package directions and serve topped with the sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

Leftover sauce may be frozen.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stormy Cocktails

There’s a good reason L. Frank Baum set The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Kansas. Besides producing bushels of wheat and corn, this state is also prolific in two additional areas—wind and storms.

For days, the weather forecasters warned about the coming storm, which arrived a few days ago. The city’s tornado sirens got their first non-test workout, though thankfully no twisters developed.

While my area of Topeka (downtown) got the usual wind, lightening, thunder, tiny hail and lots of rain that comes with a big storm, other surrounding locations had it much worse, with flooding rains and massive hail. (One place reported hail the size of grapefruit!)

I’m always fascinated by thunderstorms. I will sit at a window or on a covered porch and watch one roll through as if it were the latest Hollywood blockbuster. 

Mom thinks my storm interest comes from my childhood when we lived in Grandview, a suburb of Kansas City. Our rented house didn’t have a basement. When the weather turned ominous, we crossed the street to the landlord’s home where we joined other families in its sheltering basement. Mom says while the other kids were scared and crying, I looked around in excitement waiting for the “fun” to begin.

Now when I watch a storm roll through, I can do so with an appropriately themed cocktail. 

My favorite is the Storm Chaser, a bubbly, zippy beverage made with spiced rum, ginger ale and a squirt of lime juice.

For a drink with a little more kick, I like the Dark and Stormy, with its blend of dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.

Mix up your favorite and watch the clouds churn.

Storm Chaser
Serves 1

1.5 ounces spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan.)
Ginger ale
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the spiced rum and top off with ginger ale. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge.

Dark and Stormy
Serves 1

1.5 ounces dark rum
Ginger beer
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the rum and top off with ginger beer. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Beer and Cheddar Fondue

This Beer and Cheddar Fondue recipe celebrates many of my favorite things:

1. Cheese: I adore cheese! Devour cheese. Buy-too-much-and-have-to-hurry-to-eat-it before-it’s-too-moldy cheese. My mom used to call Dad and me her little mice since we were always grabbing a slice of cheese. Of course, back in those days, the slice usually came from a large block of Velveeta stored in the fridge. Now I can’t walk past the cheese counter at my local grocery store without picking up my favorites (Port Salute, cheddar, and smoked gouda), plus one or two new ones to try. My lunch and/or supper are often comprised of cheese, crackers or bread, fresh veggies, and fruit (right now I’m into blackberries.) And I want my last meal on Earth to be homemade mac and cheese.

2. A cast iron skillet: I love mine. It is the first one I grab most of the time. While it may be a little slow to heat up, once it’s hot, it stays hot for a long time. I like the sear it gives to meats, how quickly I can stir-fry ingredients, and the nice brown crust on baked recipes such as cornbread and biscuits.

3. Socializing: (You thought I was going to say beer, didn’t you?) My idea of a perfect evening is having a few friends over for food and conversation, with playing games or watching a movie or sporting event for entertainment. This recipe is perfect for such gatherings, especially since I don’t own a fondue pot. (I know, it’s crazy considering how much I love cheese. I really should buy one.)

I found this recipe in a copy of Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, the people responsible for both Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, plus the America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country television shows on PBS (americastestkitchen.com). The publishers sent me a copy to check out…thank goodness! My copy now has numerous sticky notes popping out of the top to mark the recipes I still wish to try.

This recipe is a keeper!

Beer and Cheddar Fondue
Adapted from Cook it in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does it All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 8 to 10
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces American cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups American lager beer (I used Budweiser)
1 garlic clove, minced
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Bread cubes, large pretzels, and broccoli and cauliflower florets, for serving

Place the shredded cheese, cornstarch, dry mustard, pepper, and cayenne pepper into a large bowl. Toss with your hands until the cheese is well coated. Set aside.

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, bring the beer and garlic to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and then whisk in the cheese, one handful at a time. Once all of the cheese has melted into the beer-garlic mixture, keep whisking until it just begins to bubble.

Serve the fondue with bread cubes, pretzels, and broccoli and cauliflower florets. The mixture should stay hot for about 15 minutes. To warm it back up, place the skillet back over low heat and stir constantly until the fondue begins to bubble again. If it is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of warm water.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Maple-Pecan Scones

Whoops! I guess I’m late! Talk about waiting until the last minute.

March was Maple Sugaring month when maple syrup makers begin to celebrate the end of the “harvest.” I miss maple season in New England. Somewhere between February and March, the steam starts to rise from gallons of boiling maple sap through the tops of sugar houses nestled amongst the maple trees. Years ago, I even learned how to tap a maple tree and the joy of hearing the magical “ping” sound made by the first drops of sap into the metal bucket.

Kansas isn’t a maple syrup-producing state, but I’ve told everyone I know all about the yummy virtues of Mother Nature’s golden gift. When sap comes out of the tree it looks and tastes like slightly sweet water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

I featured this Maple Pecan Scone recipe in a recent newspaper article. These treats are tender, nutty, and full of maple goodness. I enjoy them both for breakfast and with my afternoon cup of tea. They taste good at room temperature but even better warmed in the microwave for a few seconds.

Maple-Pecan Scones
Makes 9 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup heavy cream
For glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 to 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pecans, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add the chilled butter and, using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter pieces until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the maple syrup and cream. Slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture, using a fork to swiftly mix until the dough starts to stick together. It will be crumbly. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and, using your hands, bring it together into a ball, kneading a few times as necessary. Roll the dough out to a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut the scones and place them on the baking sheet about an inch apart. The scones will not rise much in the oven while baking. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops of the scones begin to turn lightly brown. Remove the scones from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
While the scones bake, whisk together the ingredients for the maple glaze in a medium bowl. Once the scones are just warm or at room temperature, drizzle the tops with the glaze. (Placing a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment under the cooling rack will make clean-up much easier.) You may not use all of the glaze.
Serve the scones warm or at room temperature.