Kill two birds with one cherry stone

Cherries are in season right now which brings joy to my heart.  I love dark red Bing cherries straight up. I love soft, pink springtime cherry blossoms in Japan (sakura). I love the song Cherry Oh Baby originally sung by Eric Donaldson and later re-recorded by a particular favorite of mine - UB40.  I love the cherries jubilee I made for Valentine’s Day.  I love black cherry ice cream.  And, I especially love cherry cobbler but don’t make it for two reasons – I hate to pit cherries and I don’t think they get done enough by the time the cobbler topping is baked.

As I contemplated the pound of cherries in the sink in front of me, I had a sudden and wonderful plan. What if I precooked the cherries on the stove top and THEN popped out the pits? It seemed reasonable enough to me, so I washed and de-stemmed the cherries and put them in a pan with 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. I let them simmer on low for 40-45 minutes until the cherries were completely soft then removed the pan from the burner. Once they were cool enough to handle, I plucked the cherries out of the dark red juice, easily extracted the stones one by one and returned them to the pan. To thicken the juice I added 1T cornstarch mixed with 2T water to the cherries and stirred over a med-high burner until bubbly and poured the perfectly cooked, pitless, nicely thickened fruity mass into a 1.5qt oval baking dish I’d sprayed with nonstick spray.

To prepare the topping, I put two cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 t baking powder into my food processor and gave them a couple quick pulses then added 6T cold, cubed butter and pulsed until the mixture resembled course cornmeal. In a separate bowl, I whisked together two eggs, 6T milk and 1t vanilla then added it to the food processor. A few quick pulses to just combine the wet and the dry, and I was ready for assembly. As I previously wrote in Cobbler, Crisp, Crunch, Crumble, a cobbler resembles a cobblestone street, so I dropped spoons of topping onto the fruit as such. I put the cobbler into a 400 degree oven (on a cookie sheet to catch any drips) for 20 minutes until the topping was a nice golden brown.

Now, all I have to do is wait for it to cool a bit and make the important decision – vanilla ice cream or not?

(Speaking of cobbler, I made Mark Bittman's savory tomato cobbler the other night for dinner and it was absolutely fabulous!

Please Release Me

I just have to give a shout-out for Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Aluminum Foil (formerly known as Reynolds Wrap® Release® Foil - so I learned when I emailed the company). I'm very cynical and doubted the claims but had a $1 off coupon and bought some anyway. Back home I put it in the pantry and it sat…and sat…and sat on the shelf until one day I noticed it wedged under an extra roll of parchment paper. I happened to be making bbq chicken on the grill and thought, “Why not!”

It was amazing! I could not believe it actually worked as well as they said it would. However, the true test came when I made my signature overstuffed lasagna (I can never fit all the goodies in the pan). Regular foil sticks and rips the top layer off my lasagna leaving ugly bald spots; however, the Reynolds Release slipped right off leaving 100% of the cheese and sauce on the noodles. Who knew.

So, BUY IT and TRY IT!  I give Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Aluminum Foil two thumbs waaaay up!  I gladly added it to my stash of shortcuts!

(P.S. Here's a link to a $1.25 coupon.

Time to make the lunches!

School starts tomorrow for my kids, which means it’s time to get to packing again. I began making their lunches several years ago for two reasons – money and nutrition (or lack thereof). I realized I was spending $35 a week for what I considered to be substandard sustenance – processed, fatty, carb and sodium loaded lunches with nary a fruit or vegetable to be seen – and knew we needed to make a change. I started thinking about what an amazing array of foods I could pack for that kind of money – delicious and healthy ones at that. The proverbial final straw was when my two came home and told me lunch was a piece of cheese pizza, a chocolate chip cookie and a bag of Doritos…oh, and a tiny carton of milk.

As a standard, I pack a main course (sandwich on wheat bread, wrap, soup or leftovers in a thermos), one or two fruits and veggies (usually fresh but sometimes things like canned pineapple in natural juice or applesauce), and a snack (pretzels, granola bar, goldfish crackers) as well as a yogurt and a drink (100% juice or chocolate soy milk). Occasionally I will throw in a special treat like gummies (with 100% vitamin C), dill pickles, cookies, a small piece of candy…or a Moonpie (don’t ask).

I ask for inputs and suggestions and am always on the lookout for new ideas to keep things fresh and interesting.  (Trader Joe's has some of the most unique lunchbox items - cinnamon almonds, pita chips, exotic dried fruits, fruit leather, and more!)  Probably the kids' single-most favorite lunch EVER is one I first made during a desperate time when I inadvertently found myself breadless. I called it a “snack pack” (and still do) and filled their lunch boxes with several small items including hard-boiled eggs, cheese cubes, celery or pretzels with peanut butter or hummus, edamame, and more.

Oddly enough, even the lunch lady thinks their lunches are cool – she comments regularly on them and told me she is always excited to see what new things I will pack each day.

Here are a few random lunch-packing tips everyone probably already knows, but I’m going to add them anyway.

• Keep the hot stuff hot and the cool stuff cool. Pour hot water into the thermos, cap it and let it stand for at least five minutes to warm the thermos lining before adding soup or other yummy hot food (spaghetti is a much loved choice around here). Add a reusable icepack to the lunchbox closest to the foods that need it the most.

• Wash the ice packs and lunchboxes at least once a week.

• I put a small bottle of germ killer in the outer pocket of their lunchboxes for those times when they aren’t able to wash their hands before chowing down.

• Buy large bags of food and divide it into smaller servings in reusable containers – those single serving, 100-calorie deals are both budget and environmentally UNfriendly. Ziploc and Lock&Lock both make an assortment of sizes. I personally prefer the Lock&Lock brand because they actually keep juicier items from leaking all over the inside of the lunchbox.

When life gives you limes

I’ve mentioned my passion for lemons, but I also have an equally zealous zeal for the zest, juice, and aroma of limes. I happened across a bin of perfect looking limes at the grocery store priced ten for a dollar! I put a horde of the green goodies in a bag and then noticed something next to them. “Sweet limes” ~ $1.29 per pound. These were large, yellow and appeared to have a significantly thicker skin than their little green neighbors. Never before had I tried sweet limes but figured my tendency toward tart citrus ensured I would likewise enjoy these lemon colored limes. I picked out six firm, heavy specimens and put them in the cart. I couldn’t wait to get home and do a little research…and perhaps make some sweet limeade.

I learned that my ten-for-a-dollar “regular” limes – the one most commonly seen in the grocery store - are actually Persian limes (Citrus latifolia). The “sweet” limes or “limetta” (Citrus limettioides) are known as Palestine or Indian sweet limes. These are a less acidic cousin of the Persian limes and are ready to eat when yellow.

Having also read that sweet limes are a less flavorful member of the citrus family, I cut one open to see for myself. I discovered the scent (peculiarly reminiscent of Lemon Pledge) and sweet/tart flavor to be very light and delicate – indeed, almost completely nonexistent. Juicy? Very much so. Sweet? Definitely. (But, the peel and pith left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth – akin to grapefruit.) All of this made me hesitant to have them stand alone as a limeade.

However, I remember watching the movie The Darjeeling Limited in which three brothers travel by train across India. Throughout the movie, they regularly drink a sweet lime drink as well as consume copious amounts of marmalade made from the same. More research led me to learn that both are very popular in Indian cuisine. The limeade is purported to be both highly refreshing and a much celebrated digestion aid. (By the way, the sweet lime in India is called a mousambi). I found a dozen or more different recipes (and names!) both online and in my various cookbooks for this Indian style lime drink. They differ in ingredients ranging from sugar, salt, cumin, honey and more but all agree the end result has a mild taste. I tried a couple and found them simply too bland for me – the honey and cumin even seemed to tower over the subtle citrus flavor.  

Maybe I will make the marmalade instead or use the remaining few to juice up my “regular” limeade (recipe below) - I will find a use for them yet!

Lemon or Limeade
10 lemons or 15 limes (sliced thin, end to end with a mandolin slicer)
1 to 1.5 cups sugar
5 cups of cold water (sparkling water adds a nice twist)

-Mash sliced fruit with one cup of sugar for 3-4 minutes in large, flat bottomed container until sugar is dissolved and fruit gives up its juice.
-Transfer bowl contents to pitcher fitted with strainer lid.
-Add 5 cups water and remaining sugar as needed. Stir to mix and serve over ice!


I am a bonafide watermelon lover and recently bought a nutritious and delicious 25 pounder for two bucks at the produce stand. Aside from the amazing flavor, juiciness and an incredible fragrance, I love that watermelons are rich in potassium, vitamins A and C, and lycopene (a powerful antioxidant thought to help lower the risks of many types of cancer). According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, this favorite summer fruit has “higher concentrations of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. In fact, fresh watermelon contains higher levels of lycopene than fresh tomatoes - a 2-cup serving of watermelon contains and average of 18.16 mg and one medium-sized tomato contains 4 mg.”

My eyes were bigger than my refrigerator, though, so I needed to whittle the massive melon down a bit and decided to make sorbet (ala Cook’s Illustrated, July/August 1995 p. 24-25). I trimmed the rind off of five pounds of sweet smelling pink flesh (not bothering to remove the seeds – they are edible and contain zinc and iron), pureed the chunks in the blender in two batches and drained it into a large bowl through my handy-dandy All-Clad stainless steel strainer (I love it because it's shiny and sits securely on the top of almost any size bowl). Into the juice I stirred 1/2 cup raw sugar and 1/4 cup vodka and ended up with about 90 ounces of liquid.

CI’s watermelon sorbet actually calls for 2.5 pounds of watermelon, 1 cup minus 1T sugar, 2T lemon juice and 1T vodka or Campari, but I’ve tweaked this fabulous recipe with the help of my Aunt Carol’s son Scott who concluded that lowering the sugar and upping the alcohol made a far smoother, tastier sorbet. At the last minute, I decided to forgo the sorbet and instead made watermelon popsicles! To do this, I divided the liquid into 15 eight-ounce paper cups, covered them with plastic wrap and stuck in a popsicle stick.

They were certainly a refreshing way to use part of the fleshy, fragrant fruit. Now, I’m thinking about doing the same with a cantaloupe or another canary melon (which was absolutely luscious, by the way!)  (See Cook's Illustrated p. 25 for a list of alternate sorbet suggestions)

Thank you to the National Watermelon Promotion Board for the nutritional information.  Check them out for more interesting facts, recipes and more: 

Cup 'O Joe By Any Other Name

I never used to be a regular coffee drinker but lately can’t seem to get my day started without it. I’m fond of Starbucks but only occasionally order anything but their brewed coffee as both the price and the calorie content of some of their featured items scare me (although once or twice a year I indulge in a Cinnamon Dolce Latte or a cappuccino). My frugal side spurs me to make the majority of my own coffee at home, but because I fancy myself a sort of coffee connoisseur, I've found the fair-trade organic blends from Trader Joe’s (they have a few) nicely suit my daily needs.

(A Fair Trade Certified designation, in theory, marks goods that pay the farmers producing them - typically coffee, tea, chocolate and sugar - a larger percentage or "fair" amount of the proceeds. For more on this, see

Regular coffee aside, my Vietnamese coffee post prompted me to think about other “exotics” I’ve tried both here and abroad. Of course I’ve had Jamaican Blue Mountain and Kona coffee; indeed, when I was on the Big Island in April, I visited a coffee co-op and bought plenty of Kona for me and some to share. But, I suppose my two absolute favorites are of the Greek and Turkish varieties. Although I’d tasted Greek coffee at our local Greek food fest, the cup I had in Crete was second to none. I was able to watch the curator grind the beans in an ancient looking mill, carefully spoon out just the right amount of fine powdered coffee from the mill’s wooden drawer, simmer my single serving in a small metal pot known as a briki and slowly pour the rich, dark brew, grounds and all, into a white porcelain demitasse topped with the lighter brown foam left clinging to the sides of the pot. Delicious.

(Greek coffee is made with or without sugar. The amount or a lack thereof sugar is identified by the name. Sketos = no sugar, metrios = a little sugar, glykos = a lot of sugar, vary glykos = extra strong coffee with extra sugar.)

Turkish coffee is prepared in the same manner as the Greek coffee and indeed is often referred to as one in the same (although the Turkish beans traditionally have a far darker roast). Finely powdered coffee - sugar or no - is also brewed in a long handled pot called a cezve.  Not unlike a briki in form and function, this Middle-eastern version is traditionally made from copper and a bit more ornate.  Additionally, Turkish coffee is frequently spiced with cardamom. Cardamom, of the ginger family, is indigenous to India but also grown in South America. Available in whole pod, seed or powder form, it is widely used throughout Indian cooking from curries to desserts and even to season steamed basmati rice. In the Middle East, where I lounged on a red velvet couch to enjoy my first cup of Turkish coffee, cardamom is used to add flavor to both coffee and tea.

I don't have the capicity to grind my coffee beans as fine as is required for either of these, nor do I have plans (unfortunately) to travel overseas again any time soon, but I have learned to make due.  A couple brands of pre-ground Greek coffee can be found in specialty markets, and I satisfy my Turkish coffee crave by grinding a whole cardamom pod (purchased from, of course) with my regular beans before brewing. 

Thanks to these last couple posts, in addition to a Vietnamese coffee press (I've now learned is called a cà phê phin), I now feel the need to find a briki or perhaps even a cezve.

(Thank you to for the cardamom picture and to for the cezve picture)

Cà phê sữa đá

Oh, so when I was at the Vietnamese restaurant eating my Phở, I also ordered an iced coffee or Cà phê sữa đá (literally translated, “milk coffee with ice”). I was surprised when the waiter brought a glass of ice to the table along with a white ceramic coffee cup wearing a small silver metal hat. He noticed the perplexed look on my face and asked hesitantly in heavily accented English, ‘First time coffee?” I nodded yes, and he slightly lifted the hat – which turned out to be a type of coffee press – to show me that the pitch-black liquid was still dripping through. He then explained, ‘Wait, then stir.” As he walked away, I asked, “But, where’s the milk.” He smiled and said, “Under! Stir!” and went on back toward the kitchen.  Huh?  Under?

When the coffee dripped its last drop, I removed the filter and stuck the slender silver spoon into the dark recesses of the cup and was surprised to find resistance. I pulled the spoon back out and noticed it was coated with a thick layer of milk – sweetened condensed milk! Voila! So, that’s why it sat at the bottom without mixing with the coffee. I stirred and poured the whole mess over the ice in the glass and sipped.  It was perfectly creamy and sweet and absolutely delicious! When I got home I found a can of condensed milk in the cupboard and made my own iced coffee – Vietnamese style. Who knew!

Check out these easy, step-by-step directions from Wandering Spoon food blog to make your own Cà phê sữa đá at home. (complete with ordering sources for both the coffee press and the coffee)

What's Phở Dinner? (Part II) aka ~ Noodle Battle

We had the Phở last night for dinner, but it was far less than perfect in my eyes (although the family sure loved it). “Just needs soy sauce,” my husband said quoting Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, which is what he always says when I complain about a dish not being up to my ultra-critical standards.

“But the worst was when Rich criticized my mother's cooking, and he didn't even know what he had done. As is the Chinese cook's custom, my mother always made disparaging remarks about her own cooking. That night she chose to direct it toward her famous steamed pork and preserved vegetable dish, which she always served with special pride.

‘Ai! This dish not salty enough, no flavor,’ she complained, after tasting a small bite. ‘It is too bad to eat.’

This was our family's cue to eat some and proclaim it the best she had ever made. But before we could do so, Rich said, ‘You know, all it needs is a little soy sauce.’ And he proceeded to pour a riverful of the salty black stuff on the platter, right before my mother's horrified eyes."

While not everything I make comes out exactly like I want or expect it to, I love trying to cook new things – especially ones I think my family will enjoy.  And, replicating an amazing restaurant dish is a challenge I can’t help but take, thus I recently became determined to learn to make beef Phở.  I painstakingly gathered all the necessary ingredients and made a huge pot of homemade beef stock.  I was ready to cook.  However prepared, I knew the noodles would be the hardest part - indeed they often vex me.

Through time, I have learned to slightly undercook my udon, saimen, soba and similar type noodles because they WILL keep cooking in the soup base. These take only a few minutes to cook, so I was prepared for the Phở rice noodles to cook just as quickly. Unfortunately, when I turned the package over I found no cooking directions. Quick & Easy said simply to “cook the noodles” and Complete Asian’s directions included soaking the noodles in warm water for “at least two hours.” A third set of directions from instructed me to soak the noodles for twenty minutes until “soft” and cook in boiling water until “tender but not mushy.”  Hmmm...

The stock, now perfectly seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, anise, ginger and fish sauce, simmered on the back burner while I waited for the noodle water to boil. The noodles enjoyed a nice warm water bath for about 40 minutes (a happy medium between 2 hours and 20 minutes) - which is when I thought them to be “soft” – before being dropped into the boiling water. I then set my timer for 3 minutes and waited, watching, gently stirring.

At three minutes I was surprised to find the noodles not only tender but also rapidly approaching mushy! I quickly drained them, divided them into the four waiting bowls, topped with a handful of bean sprouts and strips of thinly sliced raw beef (it cooks in the soup), added the piping hot broth and rushed the bowls to the table where three hungry people and little plates of basil leaves, lime wedges, and thin jalapeño slices waited. The smell was divine, the presentation beautiful and the noodles – a gelatinous glob in the bottom of the bowl.  Oh Phở-ey!  As the others ate heartily and proclaimed dinner delicious - I will admit, it was very, very tasty - I silently steamed over the ones that had betrayed me yet again! 

I’ll get you, noodles! Next time, I’ll get you!!

Beige is Bad

We interrupt the regularly scheduled post for today (What’s Phở Dinner - Part II) for a small venting. This morning as I was sipping a perfect cup of fair trade, organic Five Country Espresso Blend coffee from Trader Joes, I saw a commercial for Popeye’s Fried Chicken that stated everyone should be able to “eat something delicious no matter what your budget is.” Just as I got the words, “how about nutritious,” out of my mouth, the screen filled with beige – beige chicken and beige biscuits. While I am not arguing whether or not this $2.99 special is delicious, I protest the notion that this is the best bang for your (three) bucks.  (By the way, the thigh, leg and biscuit meal shown, according to the Popeye's website has 630 calories, 40 grams of fat, and 1480mg of sodium)

When I was in the Navy, it was bad news if the only food left onboard was beige. (Yes, yes, there are plenty of nutritious beige foods, but generally speaking, more color = more nutrition)  I remember distinctly sitting down to some pretty plain, carb loaded off-white meals and yearning, craving, hungering, and even aching for a little green accompaniment. And, it wasn’t just me – indeed, when ship’s stores came on board, people hoarded the oranges, apples, mangos, grapes and any other portable produce available. So, my question is, why do something like this on purpose – fill one's gullet with fried, fattening fare disguised as food?

I don’t presume to preach perfect nutrition. As a matter of fact, I made Spam, eggs and rice – a perennial Hawaiian favorite – for breakfast. (Albeit, it was low fat/low sodium Spam and organic, free-range eggs and four people shared one can of the pink pork product) I simply argue that our society often strives for cheap as the sole deciding factor when looking for a meal deal without even considering the alternatives OR the ramifications.

Some time ago, I wrote about making a huge pot of Navy bean soup for only a few bucks. I offer that there are plenty of other decent and delicious alternatives akin to this. Indeed, almost any dinner leftover or even a simple sandwich would make a far better lunch than greasy, salty, fatty - yet arguably delicious - fried chicken and biscuits.

What's Phở Dinner? (Part I)

I recently read a rave review of a Vietnamese Phở restaurant near my house – well, near enough anyway. I’d only had Phở once before but found this most famous Vietnamese noodle dish to be simply amazing. The huge bowl of almost translucent rice noodles I could top with my choice of lime juice, basil, jalapeños, and bean sprouts (I used all) was a perfect match for the thinly sliced beef and subtly flavored (I detected fish sauce, anise and perhaps coriander) piping hot beef broth. Yes, I had the recipe in both Quick & Easy Vietnamese: Home Cooking for Everyone and in The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, but I just never was ambitious enough to try and make it at home – until now.

Having this unforgettable dish again made me determined to figure it out. (Interestingly enough, during my research, I learned the Phở I had for lunch - as well as many other Vietnamese noodle soup dishes - is more frequently served as a breakfast food.)

First and foremost I needed good beef stock. While I don’t mind occasionally using canned chicken stock, I simply don’t like the beef version. Canned beef stock doesn’t have the same taste as homemade. Since I had no stock in stock, I needed to make a batch. At the grocery, I asked the butcher shop if he had any soup bones. He admitted they were out and instead offered a pack of almost $4 a pound Angus beef ribs. While I’m certain they would have made a delicious soup base, it went completely against my frugal nature and instead I went to a second store where I scored three pounds of meaty bones for a little over two bucks that I set to simmer in my 10qt stock pot. Twelve-ish hours later, I strained the stock and put it in the fridge to solidify the fat for easy removal.

Next I hit the Asian grocery store to ensure I had the requisite ingredients. Quick & Easy and Complete Asian vary slightly on ingredients and garnishes but both insisted on the right kind of noodles – specifically rice noodles labeled especially for Phở.

I found them nestled among an entire aisle of confusing imposters, grabbed a pack and put them in my basket along with the Thai basil, limes, bean sprouts and a bottle of my favorite fish sauce. While there are many brands of fish sauce (made from fermented fish – not always but usually anchovies), I have a preferred one I use for all my Asian dishes.

Stock made - check, ingredients assembled - check, Quick & Easy tabbed to the right page - check.  Tomorrow’s dinner was destined to be delicious - Phở sure!

Pickles of another sort

Pickles by definition are vegetables and fruits - or in the case of pig’s feet, meat - preserved in a brine. (Not recommending or suggesting those - just mentioning). According to Cook’s Illustrated (Sept/Oct 1994 p. 18-19), brine usually consists of a vinegar based solution containing salt, sugar and other flavorings. The vinegar provides the acidity (ranging from 4 to 7.9% depending on the type) necessary to preserve the food of choice by hampering bacteria growth. Cook’s illustrated has an entire page of pickle plans including the more traditional cucumbers, pearl onions, okra and even turnips and fennel. I, however, am fond of making Japanese pickles known as Tsukemono.

My go-to guide for these is Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day: 101 Full-Color Recipes for Authentic Tsukemono. This line of cookbooks is the best in my opinion. I have the easy Tsukemono, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean and use them all regularly. The directions are user friendly and simply laid out and the pictures really help pinpoint the correct ingredients when shopping in a somewhat confusing Asian grocery.

The Tsukemono book is unique in that it divides the recipes by seasonal availability. Japan, I learned while living there, has very specific seasons when it comes to fruits and vegetables – more so than here in the United States. Yes, on the rare occasion, one can find out of season produce (for a hefty price). Generally, though, fruits and veggies are only available for perhaps a month or two out of the year. For example, momo (peaches) are found July/August, kaki (persimmons) and nashi (Asian pear) are fall fruits, and mikan (mandarin oranges) are available in the early winter.

Cucumbers, bell peppers, green beans, and okra are among the recommended summer fare and are fortunately (and not coincidentally) widely available right now, so I decided to make some Japanese misozuke cucumbers and Korean zucchini namul.

Misozuke Cucumbers
2 cucumbers sliced into ¼ rounds
3/4C Miso (7 ounces by weight)
2T mirin

-Mix miso and mirin well
-Layer on plastic wrap 1/3 miso mixture, paper towel, ½ cucumber slices, paper towel, 1/3 miso, paper towel, ½ cucumbers, paper towel, 1/3 miso
-Wrap tightly with more plastic wrap and let stand 2-6 hours

The recipe in the book actually calls for thin sliced sticks of celery - not cucumbers - but this style of cooking lends itself nicely to mix and match. It would probably be good with any firm veggie like carrots or zucchini. Speaking of zucchini, I made one of my favorite Korean vegetable “side-dishes” (namul) last night with two medium sized zucchini.

Zucchini Namul
2 medium or 4 small zucchini (about a pound)
1/2t garlic powder (can be made with fresh, but I prefer powder for this dish)
1t sugar
3T soy sauce

2T toasted sesame oil

-Slice each squash in half lengthwise, then into cut into 1/4-inch thick half-circles.
-Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the squash, return to a boil and let cook for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again.
-Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
-Add the squash and toss to coat well.

-Let set for 30 minutes to an hour, tossing ocassionally, and serve at room temperature.

(Note – Keep sesame oil in the refrigerator to preserve flavor and prevent it from getting rancid)

Loco Moco

Some time ago I wrote about the famous plate lunch that epitomizes popular Hawaiian cuisine (at least in my mind). When I was on the Big Island in April, I was able to get my plate lunch fix by going to L&L drive-ins on two separate occasions. The food was good and plentiful as ever, and even though I shared one three ways, we were unable to finish the rice, macaroni salad, bbq beef, chicken, and short ribs that are included on the “combination plate.”

Another thing I had to have was loco moco. A stop at Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo was the sure place to order up a bowl. Considered the ultimate Hawaiian comfort food, this dish is comprised of a generous serving of steamed rice topped with a hamburger patty then one or two over-easy eggs and finally a rich brown gravy. Delicious!  (For the hearty eater, Ken’s offers the Sumo Moco made with six scoops of rice, two hamburger patties, and three eggs all smothered with gravy, and when this dish is ordered, a bell is rung and everyone in the place yells, “SUMO!”)

I pride myself in cooking delicious, nutritious, vegetable intense foods for my family but have been craving loco moco for days now, so that’s what we had for dinner.  (My daughter did point out that I used farm-fresh organic eggs and lean beef)  As I sat down to the steaming, delicious smelling bowl of gravy drenched Hawaiian Heaven, I almost felt like I was back in the islands…

Visit Ken’s online or be sure to eat there when you go to the Big Island – just turn right out of the airport and go a little way. (Order the most awesome pancakes - available 24/7 and served with Guava, Passion Fruit and “Kokonut” syrups, Yum!)

$11 Well Spent

This morning I headed out to my favorite honor system farm stand in search of something to go in between the chicken pieces for tonight’s kabob dinner. I never know what will be available but hoped for zucchini, yellow squash and perhaps a green pepper or two. I visit regularly to see what they have, as produce varies by season and by what is ready for picking each day.

Sometimes I am truly surprised by what I find and have had the opportunity to try things new to me like patty-pan squash. Today, I found exactly what I was looking for and also grabbed a pint of little tomatoes to brighten up the dish. I rounded out the day’s purchase with a couple big, ripe tomatoes, 3lbs of new potatoes, three cucumbers and – today’s new treat – a canary melon. (I’ve never tried this type of melon but imagine it will taste similar to a honeydew). 

I wait anxiously each spring for them to open the stand for the season because, even though it is a few extra miles from my house, I find the whole experience to be charming.  Sometimes the owner is there dropping off a bushel of fresh picked green beans, corn or tomatoes, but more often than not, I have the place to myself.    

There is a scale to weigh my goods and a little pad of paper, pencils and a calculator to add up my purchase. I drop my money in the green metal box on the wall, pack my produce in my own shopping bag or grab a recycled plastic bag from the holder on the shelf, and pause for just a moment to enjoy the peace and solitude that’s an added bonus of driving a little extra out of my way.

This round of grocery shopping was done, and plans were made for the squash, peppers and tomatoes.  Now...what to do with the rest.  Potato salad? Creamed potatoes and peas?  Kombu-zuke (a type of Japanese pickled cucumber)? Who knows.  Only my imagination knows.  And, I can't help but wonder what he'll have next week.

Cobbler, Crisp, Crunch, Crumble

Yes, I know we broke all kinds of records this weekend with the heat, but I baked blueberry muffins Sunday. I had produce that needed using and wasn’t about to let a little 105 degree heat wave stop me.

Last Monday, my neighbor and I went blueberry and blackberry picking. I made a cobbler with all of the blackberries and let the kids munch on some of the blueberries. The rest would later be destined for the aforementioned blueberry muffins and blueberry pancakes (I add 1/4 cup of berries to each individual scoop of batter to ensure there are adequate berries in every bite). I had intended to make Alton Brown’s Blueberry Buckle too but ran out of berries. See the link for an absolutely delicious blueberry treat:

I also made a fruit crisp. I had four not-too-pretty peaches and three mangy apples and decided to combine them all into one crisp. After I sprayed the cooking dish (non-stick spray has got to be one of the greatest inventions. I love it when I remember to use it and curse myself when I forget), I peeled and cored the apples, sliced all the fruit, tossed the whole mess with 1/3 cup raw sugar and 1/4 cup of apple jack – yes, the booze – and packed it into the Pyrex. For the topping I combined 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1t cinnamon and crumbled in 1/2 stick butter with my hands (it’s just easier that way). I then topped the fruit with the topping and placed the whole mess in the oven (375 degrees) for 35 minutes until the topping was browned and the crisp was bubbly. It was delicious – the apples were sweet and the peaches a little tart. Who knew!

Monday’s blackberry cobbler and Sunday’s crisp got me thinking. What IS the difference between the two? This reminded me of the scalloped/Au Gratin potato discussion I had with my Aunt Carol many years ago. The jury is still out on that one. Back to the fruit desserts…

I once also heard cobblers got their name because of the dough’s semblance to a cobblestone street, and a little research in my handy-dandy Cook’s Illustrated (July/August 1996, p. 18-20) led me to believe this may be true. While any fruit will do (less maybe watermelon), the difference lies in the topping. To quote:

“Cobblers usually have a biscuit topping, while crisps and crumbles have a crumb topping. To further differentiate, crisps are topped with a mixture of butter, sugar, flour and nuts, while crumbles have the same topping, with oatmeal taking the place of the nuts.”

(PS - Cook’s Illustrated offers recipes for four versions of cobbler toppings: butter cookie dough, rich shortcake, flaky pastry and batter. )

In retrospect I did make a blackberry cobbler - I used the batter style topping but have tried the butter cookie dough and found it a little too sweet for my taste - but apparently actually made a apple/peach crumble. Crisp, crumble, cobbler – they all may be a little different; however, all taste GREAT with vanilla ice cream!

Now...what about buckles and Bettys? Streusels and strudels?

My shopping style

I like grocery shopping because I enjoy picking out the foods I need to cook, but I hate the tedium that is the act of shopping itself. However, this time of the year I rarely venture into the grocery store. I do buy milk (organic!) and browse the flyers to see who has what meat on sale (a particular favorite is the buy-one-get-two boneless, skinless chicken breast special one local store frequently offers). Other than that, there are no major expeditions to stock the pantry and deep freeze. As a matter of fact, I have vowed to get to the bottom of the freezer and back of the pantry using every last thing I may find on this sort of archeological dig. Why?  For starters, I tend to hoard, stockpile, gather - whatever you want to call it - food items and need to thin the herd, so to speak. And, secondly…from early May to late September I primarily “shop” at the local farmer’s markets and fruit stands – and there are so many to choose from in this area.

Take my latest haul. I hit one market, the Old Beach Farmer’s Market, last Saturday morning and literally spent every penny I had on me. I went for steamer clams and corn but walked away with much, much more. After I secured the clams (I paid 30 clams for 100 clams - haha) and a baker’s dozen ears of corn (as well as eight beautiful peaches and two plump ‘maters from the same stand), I started thinking how good a loaf of the fresh baked French bread would be as an accompaniment. After I picked up a loaf, I remembered the dairy stand around the corner and figured fresh butter would go nicely with the clams, the corn and the newly acquired bread.
Both reusable grocery bags were packed to the top when I walked past the organic veggie stand and spied the most beautiful red, white and blue new potatoes. Of course I needed to get a couple containers. They were $4.00 a quart or two for $7.00 tax included. I wanted to get a pack of white and a pack of blue. Alas, as I scrounged around in my pocket, I found I only had $6.90 left. The kind lady running the stand spied my pile of crumpled ones and assorted change, and I confessed my shortfall. She smiled and gave me a quarter off the register left by a previous customer. I returned the favor by leaving my extra 15 cents in the same spot and left with taters in tow.

Back home, my bounty spread out on the counter, I contemplated lunch. As is often the case, I bought too much, so I opted to skip the potatoes after all. I warmed the bread in the oven, dropped the corn in my biggest pot (with some sugar and salt added to the boiling water) and the clams in my next largest (steamer bucket installed), melted a little butter and rallied the troops.

As we feasted, I decided I liked my shopping style.  It was good for my patience, the local economy and my stomach!   

Work is in the way...

My job is getting in the way of the fun of writing my food blog.  (Maybe I need a job writing a food blog.)  My job is also getting in the way of picking fresh and local fruits and veggies!  I missed the strawberries and peas completely (picking that is-I did manage to eat a few) and better wrap stuff up at work because blueberries and blackberries are almost ripe for the picking, and I'm NOT going to miss those!  Check out these big black beauties from last year...

Zillions of zucchini

When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, we had a huge garden; in fact, everyone in my family did – aunts and uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents. As is the norm, I did not appreciate what I had then and only looked at the hours of picking string beans, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, summer squash and green peppers in the steaming mid-west sun as grueling, tedious, torturous child labor. Quite to the contrary, helping work in my great-grandfather’s acre+ garden was a completely different story (big potatoes in the wheelbarrow, little ones in the bucket). That was a pleasure. Maybe because it was his, maybe because the whole family was there, maybe because after we were done we would all sit down to a huge meal celebrating the fruits of our labors. He was a master gardener before there was such a thing. He grew tomatoes as big as dinner plates (orange, yellow and red), celery, carrots, cantaloupe, and more but always had the time to steal the salt shaker from the kitchen and sneak out to the garden to eat sun-warmed tomatoes straight off the vine with me.

Regardless of the size of garden, the varieties of produce grown or the skill of the gardener, no one in my family planted zucchini. Ever. Zucchini grew very well in Ohio. Too well, in fact. So well that anyone who grew zucchini found their garden soon overtaken by monstrous, leg-sized dark green behemoths. If, however, some were smart enough to NOT grow them, they did not go without. Indeed, the few who dared to grow zucchini, had enough to feed the entire community. As the zucchini plague spread each summer, an ever expanding radius of neighbors and friends woke early in the morning to spontaneous zucchini growth right on the front porch – my family included.

I soon became the master of zucchini preparations. Raw was good, grilled or steamed was better but breaded was best! My recipe was pretty simple. Dip the sliced zucchini in egg, then flour and into a pan with a little butter until brown on both sides. A dash of salt and my summertime breakfast and lunch was now ready for consumption. Even though I ate it nearly every day in the summer, I never grew tired of my fried zucchini. I still love it today.

Recently, I was at a local produce stand and saw these cool little, perfectly round zucchini. They were called “eight-ball zucchini.” I decided to buy a couple and make fried zucchini for dinner. In an effort to be “healthy,” I tried a new method which turned out to be very delicious (although I still prefer my simple egg, flour and salt method.) So, next time you find yourself with zucchini overload or you happened to pick up a few fresh and local beauties at your neighborhood farmer’s market, give the following a try. I’m sure you’ll like it – my family did.

Oven-fried Zucchini
Zucchini slices (about 1/3” thick)
1 egg
1 cup homemade bread crumbs (I let a variety of old bread dry completely on the counter and grind it in my food processor after I have a bunch saved and seal in an airtight jar)
¼ cup parmesan cheese (in the green can)
1T Mrs. Dash® Italian Medley Seasoning Blend
2t garlic salt
2T olive oil

-Heat oven to 350. Place parchment paper on two baking sheets. Spread 1T olive oil on each sheet.
-Scramble egg and place in shallow dish. Mix bread crumbs, cheese, Mrs. Dash and garlic salt and place in second dish. (I use half at a time in case the egg makes the mixture gloppy.)
-Dip zucchini slices in egg then crumb mixture evenly coating both sides. Place on parchment.
-Bake for eight minutes. Flip each and bake for an additional eight minutes until golden brown.
-Serve immediately and enjoy!

Thank you to Burpee for the veggie pictures:

Peter Rabbit, Eat Your Heart Out

The calendar might not quite say it’s summertime, but the produce stands sure do! Strawberries are ending their run as are peas, asparagus and spring onions, but the summer bounty is starting to come in hard and fast. Earlier this week I headed out to my favorite honor system stand to see what it had to offer. Mr. and Mrs. McGregor (No, no, not their real names) had been very, very busy. Laid out for my shopping pleasure was a bonanza of veggies, so I indulged – perhaps even overindulged.

I bought a half-dozen or so beautiful little zucchinis and summer squash – not a ding or dent to be seen (yet another benefit of living on fresh and local produce) – a cabbage that would make Peter Rabbit himself swoon, a bunch of green onions, broccoli, a pound of kale, two cucumbers, and three tomatoes (I’m almost sure they are not local but they actually smelled and tasted like real, vine ripened tomatoes) and spent a whopping $11.45 (and I rounded up).

There was more to be had – little red potatoes, sweet onions, sugar snap peas, snap beans, even some pickled okra – but I was out of money.

As I dropped my bills and change into the green metal box bolted to the wall, I knew I’d be back...and soon. The corn was already knee-high and I saw more squash just waiting to be picked.

Tomorrow morning I plan to head to the Old Beach Farmer’s Market to pick up even more fresh and local produce. Check them out here:

Oh, and check out the spring edition of Buy Fresh Buy Local buying guide for more ideas and sources for yummy summer produce: