Tis the Season! (For a Jersey Tomato Recipe ;)

Happy Monday, friends. I know, it’s the first day of the work week for many of us—me too—and it’s just easier to grumble. Given the current horror and/or terror show going on in too many parts of the world, I choose to be grateful for my ‘ordinary world’. (That would be ‘writer talk’ for a character’s starting place in any story: his/her normal, every day status quo, before something big happens to rock the boat and change that world forever.)

Looking forward to watching the final match of the US Open Tennis Championships later today. Sorry to not be seeing Roger Federer or Novak Djokavic there, but the tennis guards appear to be changing, one emerging champion at a time. We shall see.

School is underway. Spent this past weekend scrambling to get some cleaning done, school supplies purchased for kids, etc. I’m also working hard at keeping bigger projects manageable by working on them a little at a time.

Somehow, those smaller efforts do add up. I tend to make lists that are far too long anyway. They often end up missing, but (usually) I find them buried in a paper pile. More often than not, a lot of the items can be crossed off b/c I’ve gotten them done, frequently in bits and pieces. (It all counts, right?)

Anyway, four paragraphs later, here’s a super-easy salad recipe for those of us who LOVE summer fare. Tis the season for tomatoes—Hubby always grows a slew of them—so here’s a way to use them up.

20140827_083711(0) Just a sampling of Hubby’s garden fare. There are many more tomatoes coming, and the brussels are about to sprout.

You’ll need: tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, hummus, pesto, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and sea salt. (BTW, the latter two ingredients are optional, but they really bring the flavors together.

Cut tomatoes and cucumbers into chunks, any size you like, and put in serving bowl. (You can remove seeds. I am too lazy to do so.)

Sprinkle feta cheese on. I use about a tablespoon or two for two medium tomatoes and one medium-sized (?) cucumber.

Add a tablespoon or so of hummus and/or pesto.

Stir.

(Optional) Drizzle with EVOO.

(Optional) Salt to taste with freshly ground sea salt.

tomato and cucumber salad The feta, pesto and hummus kind of blend together into a creamy dressing. (The EVOO and sea salt just bring it all together and make it decadent.) This fast, fresh, vegetarian combo is pretty danged healthy. It functions easily as a side or a main meal. If you need protein, like I do, add grilled chicken or tuna. (It’s also a ‘go-to’ dish almost daily until the tomatoes slow down. Trust me, we can only give away so many ‘Jersey tomatoes.’ Lots of folks in our areas grow them. 

So what is your go-to, summer veggie dish? Do you have a veggie garden? Have you been blessed fare made with Jersey tomatoes?

Have a wonderful day and week everyone!

Joanna

 

Sweetening Things Up A Bit Today!

Hi all,

So psyched about the Dancing with the Stars—yep, it’s back.  Season 18 is underway; congrats and welcome to Erin Andrews as co-host! The girl is rockin’ it from the get-go. Some folks just have it goin’ on. (Okay, so I is a junkie when it comes to this show. It’s feel-good and fun.)

Last week’s post was prompted by the daily prompt at WordPress. This week’s write-up ties into another one. Since these prompts bring music to mind, here’s the link to a video that bears the prompt’s title—remember this one? Some songs will always make you move.

Do you have a clue what the title of the WordPress prompt is yet?

Rather than write about my favorite sweet—seriously, how do I narrow THAT down?  Guess I’ll go with what came to mind first: a room-temperature square of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate.

Then I thought about the nicest compliment I got just the weekend prior.

I have very kind neighbors. The Vietnamese family on one side has sent the best egg wraps on several occasions since they moved in a little over a year ago. Filled with shrimp and Asian veggies, these are oh-so-yum and always a welcome surprise of a treat. (Somehow, the wraps come when I have no idea what I’m making for dinner. Go figure.)

My neighbor across the street has kept us supplied with ‘salt’ during the winter storms the east coast dealt us, this past stormier-than-usual winter.

I said thank you to both families with a tray of oatmeal-raisin cookie bars I make from scratch. Honestly, it’s one of my easy favorite recipes; love these things. They’re lightly sweet and can be crumbled into milk as breakfast.

One of the neighbors caught me as I was getting in the car and asked how much I charge for my cookies! How nice was that? He compared them to two bakeries I’d heard of, too. He also caught me a bit off guard, as I have never asked for any payment on something I very much enjoy doing. (And I get the—questionable—benefit of having fresh cookie dough to chomp on regularly, right?) Hmm. Maybe I can move into another career direction…

Anyway, figured I’d share the recipe. This is off the bag of brown sugar sold at Aldi’s, the market where we do most our family’s food shopping. Owned by Trader Joe’s, they are the best kept secret for feeding a small family and saving big $$$ on the grocery bill. And I can recognize most of the ‘name brands’ they contract with from the packaging. They also bring in weekly specials of food, household items, etc, most of which are excellent quality.

Oatmeal cookie aldi recipe

The original recipe, right off the bag.

oatmeal cookie bars

The finished product 🙂

So here is my version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

½ cup butter (=1 stick), softened, not melted (I use ONLY salted butter. Margarine works but will give a different texture)

1 tsp vanilla extract (or to taste)

1 large egg

2 cups oatmeal (I always use regular, although the recipe calls for quick cooking)

1 cup whole wheat white flour (all purpose flour is fine, or you can come up with a mix of the two—your choice how much of each)

1 tsp of baking soda

1 cup of raisins (chocolate chips work too, should you prefer those or just in the mood for something different)

Equipment:

13 x 9 cake pan (foil, glass or metal all work)

cooking spray (or butter or margarine, to grease the pan)

waxed paper (optional, but SO worth it when spreading the dough)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350º F. (My oven has a Speedbake option that simulates a convection oven. I keep it OFF–I feel that it makes the finished product dry).

In a bowl (or large measuring cup) mix together all your dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a separate, larger bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and egg and beat until lightened in color and fluffy. (An electric mixer is very helpful to make this step go quickly.)

vintage mixer

My momma’s vintage GE mixer. She loaned it to me ages ago and wound up buying another one for her. This baby is still kickin’ batter-dough’s butt. She might have gotten it by collecting Green Stamps. (Yes, I just dated myself. Oh well, guess if I’m not my age, I am not.) 

Hand-stir in the dry mixture, about 1/3 of it at a time, mixing until the wet and dry ingredients are fully incorporated. (Try not to over-mix. It could make the finished product tough. Also, this tends to be a thick dough and requires some strength to mix. For this step, you might consider employing someone with strong arms—whenever hubby or one of my boys is around, I do. If I’m the one doing it, I figure it will only benefit my forehand in the end! 😉 )

Stir in the raisins or chocolate chips. (Heck, add both if you like. I’m thinking a li’l bit of coconut would add to the yum-value here. BTW, hubby wondered if you can just add the raisins or chips to the dry ingredients and do everything in one step. You probably can, though most cookie dough recipes typically add them separately.)

Spread dough into your pan. This dough is pretty thick. (I spray a pan-sized piece of waxed paper with cooking spray and use that to press the dough all the way to the corners of the pan. Makes this step ridiculously easier.)

Bake for about 18 minutes then check for doneness. Edges should be browned. Bake about 5 minutes longer if you prefer crumbly (vs. chewy) cookie bars.

Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. (I then cover the pan with foil or a flat cookie sheet—makes for treats that are a tad more moist and chewier.)

Cut into bars when cool. (A pizza cutter works well here.)

Done!

I know, I know. Seems like a lot of steps, but once you know them this is a quick, go-to recipe you can make in a pinch. All things considered, it’s pretty wholesome too. Crumble a bar or two into oatmeal, add milk and eat cold. I promise it works! Cut them up and arrange in a pretty basket or baking dish for an elegant display.

Do you have a favorite recipe? I’m always open. Feel free to post a link to it here, or post at your place and let me know. If you feel so inclined, please share. (And don’t forget to dance a little to Def Leppard.)

Have a great week,

Joanna

Risotto: Joanna style!

Hi all,

Working on getting back in the blogging game and picking up where I left off last time.

What’s awesome about risotto is that you truly can easily create quite the elegant dish while having some creative fun with pretty much anything edible sitting in your fridge or kitchen. My trial approach—with white long grain rice, heaven forbid!—is proof! (Never occurred to me to take a picture of it done. Sorry! Please don’t ask what’s up with the formatting on this particular paragraph of text. I am clueless.)

Jake
Here’s Jake again–to make up for the food pic I should have taken–he’s so much cuter than a bowl of rice, don’t you think?

Back to the post!

Here’s what I used to make ‘risotto’:

One small to medium onion, finely chopped

One small zucchini, chopped

One clove of garlic, coarsely chopped

About 3 tbsp of olive oil

One tbsp or so of butter/margarine

1-1/2 cups of long grain white rice

One quart of chicken broth

½ cup white wine (I had chardonnay in the fridge—BTW, you can adjust to taste here)

pepper to taste

a few slivers of dried rosemary

Here’s what I did (in a 12-inch, heavy-based non-stick frying pan):

Sautéed the onions and zucchini in the olive oil until tender;

Added the garlic and cooked until golden;

Added the rice and stirred to coat it.

Slowly poured in one cup of broth, stirring lovingly until the rice absorbed it; repeated this process until I used up the wine and 3 cups of broth total. (Somewhere along the way I added the margarine, a dash of pepper and crumbled in the rosemary.) According to the online recipe, I should have been almost done, about 25 minutes in after having added the rice to the veggies.

My rice, however, seemed to have alternate ideas about getting soft. Forget al dente; the grains were downright crunchy. So here’s where I let instinct take over: I added the rest of the broth (about a cup), raised the heat to high and let the liquid come to a boil. I immediately reduced the heat to low and covered the pan tightly, letting it simmer about 15-20 minutes total, and stirring once or twice. Afterward, I took the pan off the heat. Still covered, I set it aside another 10 minutes.

The result was quite delicious. I mean, every single grain of rice was ridiculously infused with flavor. Me, the non-rice girl having seconds AND thirds? Yes, I’ll have to further up the walks and exercise/dance sessions to make up for the extra calories…

Luckily, I’m a lazy kind of cook so I might not make this all that often.  Then again, texture and gusto-wise it was so good, the time, effort and resulting carpal tunnel syndrome may be worth the yumminess of this dish. Add a little meat and you’ve got a one-dish meal. For me, the veggie route is perfect for keeping it a side dish.

Leftovers:  James suggests frying them up as patties or rissoles. I reheated on a lower setting in the microwave–still good! If need be, one can add a bit more broth to smooth out the remains and serve as an even tastier side dish–that’s one less part of a meal I have to cook!

Have a great day and even greater weekend,

Joanna

Veggie Pizza: Fresh and Homemade!

Happy Friday, everyone. Haven’t shared a recipe in a while so why not today?

Had some friends over for pizza the other day. Since I’m spoiled by the thin delicious crust I get whenever I buy dough at my neighborhood’s bakery, I always make it fresh. Given the oversized, granite-topped peninsula I now have—courtesy, in part, to an angel; topic for another blog—rolling out a plain pie and getting it into the oven is ten-minute-or-less deal. And inhaling the aroma of fresh pizza in a cozy-warm kitchen with friends perched on stools on the opposite side of the counter chatting while I assemble the pie has its place too.

Those of you who’ve been to my recipe pages (here and at my website) know cooking is not necessarily my favorite pastime. BUT: if I must or choose to I like to get a little creative and have some fun! So here is something I threw together when my friends were over—just because (and just because I remembered that years ago I used to fancy up pre-made crusts this way to change things up at the family dinner table).

Equipment you’ll need:

Round or square or rectangular pizza pan/cookie sheet (~16-inch)

Rolling pin

Cooking spray or extra oil to coat bottom of pan

Latex or food-prep gloves—optional. I use those with a snug fit b/c I wash my hands a gazillion times while I cook. (I wash as if the gloves were my skin; keeps my skin from falling off, lol.) Also handy is one of those long-handled pizza sheets the pizzeria guys use. A friend got me one. Comes in handy when you transfer the pie to or from the oven rack.)

Ingredients, depending on your tastes, of course. Add or delete at will! 

One whole wheat or white flour pizza dough (*See below.)

Olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pie once you’ve rolled it out—sorry folks, I only measure when I have to)

White or whole wheat flour (either is fine)

Oregano/Salt/pepper/garlic powder/red pepper flakes (to taste)

Fresh tomato slices

One large fresh bell pepper, cut into strips or chopped into pieces roughly half-inch square (depends on how soft you like them on your pie—smaller pieces cook faster)

One onion, thinly sliced

Fresh mushrooms (rinsed, dried, buttons and stems)

Pitted black olives (or any kind you like)

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan

Thinly-cut pepperoni slices (available pre-cut at market or by the pound at your nearest deli)

Fresh basil leaves cut into strips or small jar of green pesto

Preheat oven to 425˚F. (If you have a speed-bake or convection feature, your cooking times will be at least five minutes less.)

Spray pizza pan with cooking spray or coat with oil. (This step is particularly important if you plan on transferring pie to oven rack.)

Make sure dough is at least room temperature before you roll it out. I usually buy it in the morning and let it sit out all day. It will expand a bit in the plastic bag. You can also place it in a bowl, rub olive oil over it and cover it with a cloth before letting it sit. (Little flavor boost from the oil with that move.)

Dust your working surface and rolling pin with flour. Place the dough on the surface, using your hands to coat it with more flour. Roll it out to fit your pan. (One pound of dough makes a perfectly thin 16-inch pie.) Carefully lift dough from the surface and place on pan, tweaking it to fit. If you rolled it bigger than the pan just fold the edge over. If it’s way too big, cut it to size with utility shears. (**See note below.)

Pour at least 2 tbsp of oil onto crust and spread to coat the entire surface. Add more as needed. (If you’re using pesto, you can coat the entire crust in place of the oil and seasonings. Serious flavor-yum when you do that.)

Season the crust with any/all of the seasonings listed above. (You can mix them together up front or add them to the oil before you spread it on the crust).

Arrange cut-up vegetables and pepperoni. Sprinkle with grated cheese and/or mozzarella (you won’t need as much cheese as if you were making a plain pie).

Garnish with basil leaves. (If using pesto, you can eliminate this step.)

Bake in oven for 10-13 minutes. If you want an extra crisp crust, transfer pie onto the oven rack for at about 5 minutes more, or until done to your taste. (If you have a perforated pie pan—i.e., the one dotted with holes—skip this step.) Using a pot holder, carefully slide the pizza pan under the pie—assuming you don’t have the long-handled pizza tool—and remove from oven.

Allow to set a minute or two then cut into slices. Since my pizza cutter isn’t the best, I’ll score it with the rotary cutter then cut all the way through with scissors.

So there you have it! (The one on the right represents the recipe I just posted. :))

Seems like a lot of steps but once you have them down, making your own pizza is easy, more filling and so much tastier than those from the pizzeria. (Much cheaper too, as in about half the price of take-out. (I’ll put up my plain-pie recipe next week.)

*Most bread bakeries sell dough in one-pound bags; the white flour variety—possibly the wheat too—is available frozen at the supermarket. (I’m too lazy to make my own. Two more options: pre-made pizza crust from the bread aisle at the supermarket; making your own from Bisquick or a similar baking mix. Haven’t tried the Bisquick way yet. Will be sure to let you know if I do.)

**Rolling pizza dough does take some practice. Don’t get discouraged. If you need to, you can flip it once and continue rolling. Too much flipping results in a tough crust. Also, each piece of dough handles differently. Some rebound while others hold their shape better. (Next week we’ll go a little simpler with a plain pie!)

Have a great weekend. Let me know how you make out!

Joanna