Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Italian Stuffed Artichokes

I just got a call from my darling daughter-in-law, Tiffany, asking me how to cook artichokes.  Let me just say that I am always thrilled to hear from her, but this time I was both thrilled and stunned, because Tiffany's mom, Janet, is the very famous and accomplished food blogger of SIMPLY SO GOOD.  Let me just say that, if you are unaware of this blog, you must check it out immediately at www.simplysogood.com. You will not believe her amazing food, her dazzling, magazine-looking photography (which routinely gets stolen), and her step-by-step instructions.
So... why would Tiffany call anyone else for recipe help, right?  She has the world's foremost expert for her MOM, for heaven's sake.  Well, it turns out they are not artichoke eaters!  And I, living in the nation's agriculture capitol, California, eat all kinds of stuff folks in other states find a little "iffy."  Not all people like fish tacos, guacamole, sushi, and a host of other fad foods that are slowly working their way across the country, but which were first popularized on the West Coast.  Our farmers' markets have pink mushrooms, four kinds of persimmons, stuff you'd never find in some places.  And we are the Artichoke Capital of the world, where Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1947, after all.
So we know a thing or two about how to cook them.  Here's a great way to enjoy a scary vegetable that's not only delicious but easy to cook:

4 large artichokes (not the baby ones)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
1 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese from a chilled tub (not from a green can)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. freshly minced basil leaves (or 1 tsp. dried basil)
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt & pepper
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1. Snip the pointy ends from all the leaves, and cut an inch off the top.  Cut off the bottom stem as well.
Rinse in cold water. Brush with lemon juice to preserve color.  (If you plan to dip the cooked leaves in mayonnaise, as many do, skip step 2).
2. Turn the artichoke upside down (stem side up) and hit it against the counter top to make the leaves open for stuffing.  In a large bowl, stir bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and HALF the oil (or use your favorite stuffing recipe).  Press spoonfuls of stuffing into spaces between leaves.
3. Pack artichokes tightly in a dutch oven or large soup pot (not aluminum, as that will discolor them).  Make sure they are stem-side-down.  Add enough water to come halfway up the artichokes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour (less time if you cook fewer artichokes).  You'll know the artichokes are done when a leaf pulls off easily.
4. Serve with a dipping sauce if you wish-- melted butter or mayonnaise with a bit a lemon is good-- and the proper way to eat them is honestly to scrape the leaves against your bottom teeth, then set aside the paper-thin part of the leaf. (These are sometimes called petals).  Once the leaves are gone, dig out the choke (the hairy part) at the base, using a spoon.  Discard this; it's inedible.  But UNDER the choke is the filet of the artichoke, the heart.  Cut it up and eat it-- it's the very best part!  Artichokes are yummy hot, cold, or at room temperature.  Serves 4.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Time for Caprese!

Known as The Big Tomato and Sack-a-tomatoes, Sacramento is one of the best cities for growing some of the world's best "love apples."  Trucks loaded with the bright red bounty of local growers' gardens are often seen on our freeways, and most people with any yard space at all-- or even one pot on their patio-- often share tips about how to get the best, juiciest, and weirdest tomatoes.  Our farmers' markets have every kind under the sun.  And "under the sun" is a clue: It stays hot and sunny here for months.

It's also the perfect climate for growing herbs, another ingredient in today's recipe.  But whether you live here or not, you simply must indulge in Caprese, an Italian salad that even converts non-tomato-lovers once they taste it.
Here are the ingredients, but then I'll tell you how to make it the very best way:

Mozzarella cheese, sliced
basil leaves
balsamic vinegar
twist of freshly ground pepper, optional

Tomatoes: Choose deep red ones, not waxy pink ones.  Slice them about 1/4-inch thick.  Place them on a serving plate.
Mozzarella: Do NOT buy the hard, shrink-wrapped ball of cheese that has the same consistency as string cheese.  Get the SOFT kind that comes in a tub of water.  Slice it a little thicker than the tomato, and rest these slices atop the tomato slices.
Basil leaves: Use fresh ones, snipped up or not, and sprinkle them atop the mozzarella.  If you simply cannot get fresh leaves, then sprinkle the mozzarella with dried basil from a spice jar.  This is a poor substitute, but at least the other ingredients will be killer.
Balsamic Vinegar: Get the best you can afford (you will only need a little).  It should be sweet and syrupy, and will look (sorry) like motor oil.  Drizzle just a bit over each stack. Sprinkle with pepper, if desired.
Ta-da!  Now dig in and enjoy one of the joys of summer!
(Another option is to make an actual tossed salad with these same ingredients, also yummy.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Triple Berry Crisp

Berries are bursting, folks.  This is the season for plump, juicy berries and here's a wonderful way to enjoy them.
  I've been noticing that several of my posts say "Easy," but make no mistake-- no flavor has been sacrificed to bring you this simplicity!  And today's recipe is no exception-- it's slap-the-table delicious, but also a snap to make.  It's great for taking to potlucks, and the perfect finish to a summertime barbecue.

3 Cups fresh raspberries (okay, you can make this in the wintertime and use frozen ones, too)
2 Cup fresh boysenberries (ditto)
2 Cups fresh blueberries (ditto, but you know fresh are always superior)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar

1 Cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup minced nuts, if desired
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss berries with juice, flour, and sugar.  Place in an ungreased 9-inch pie plate.
2. In a medium bowl, stir topping ingredients together until crumbly, then sprinkle over berries.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Top with whipped cream, yogurt, or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Easy, No-Cook Pickles

Ahh, crispy refreshing pickles.  Perfect for all the summertime menus we love-- barbecues, burgers, potato salads, veggie platters.  And great just for snacking, too.

 Here's the best way to use the bounties of summer to make Refrigerator Pickles-- and they keep for a year! (Kids will love helping you with this)

6 Cups sliced cucumbers (rounds, spears, whatever you like best)
1 Cup other veggies, optional-- here's where you can add sliced onion, carrots, red pepper, or cauliflower
2 Cups sugar
1 Cup vinegar
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed

Simply combine everything in a large bowl, spoon into jars, and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Ta-da!  You are a now a pickle master!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Easy Homemade Pesto

Because nobody likes to cook during summer, today I'm giving you a way to create dozens of great meals without working up a sweat. All you have to do is run your blender or food processor for a few seconds, and make a batch of pesto!

Pesto is easy to make and enhances countless dishes.  Making it yourself will also save you a tidy bundle, since purchased pesto is not cheap.  It also makes very appreciated gifts, in little jars everyone will love.

Basically, it's a thick spread made from delicious Italian ingredients, and used on pasta,
chicken, seafood, sandwiches, quesadillas, potato salads, vegetables, omelettes, bread, pizza--
one of my kids once said, "I'll bet you would put pesto on ice cream."  It's that versatile. (Check out my blog post about how to make shrimp scampi with it here: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6442457294047845405#editor/target=post;postID=2493541591824029624;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=17;src=postname
It uses basil leaves, which are plentiful at the market right now, but I urge you to grow your own basil.  Keep snipping it so it doesn't flower and go to seed, and use the chopped, fresh leaves in your cooking.  (So divine with tomatoes, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar to make a Caprese salad).  If you don't have space for a garden, basil grows well in a planter on the patio.  Like all herbs, it needs sunshine, so place it where it will get full sun.  Keep it watered and you can supply your neighbors with basil all summer!
Here's how to make it into pesto:
2 Cups packed fresh basil leaves
1 Cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Cup pine nuts
1/3 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Whirl until smooth.  That's it!  You'll get just under two cups of pesto.  Use it on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise, top a baked potato with it, spread it on french bread, cover with mozzarella and broil until bubbly, here I go again.  Have a delicious, carefree summer!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Easy Chocolate Mousse

Health-conscious readers, you are going to love this!  It's for a super easy chocolate mousse that uses a weight-loss meal replacement powder in the recipe.  The Naturade Total Soy Chocolate Powder comes in pouches you can find at health food stores, and as you can see, is a prize winner of mine!  Fantastic for the lactose intolerant as well.  So if you're tired of diet drinks, indulge in this guilt-free diet dessert!

Quick and Easy Blender Chocolate Soy Protein Mousse

Total Soy Best Recipe Contest

Submitted by J. Hilton of Rocklin, CA
3 scoops Naturade Total Soy Chocolate Powder, 1/4 Cup water, 3 egg whites, Fat-free whipped topping, if desired, cocoa powder, for dusting, if desired. Place Naturade Total Soy Chocolate Powder, water, and egg whites in blender. Cover and blend on high for 1 minute. Pour into 4 small serving dishes and chill 2 hours. When ready to serve, top with a dollop of whipped topping and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, if desired.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Zesty Key Lime-Cilantro Fruit Salad

It occurs to me that my last five or so cooking posts have all contained sugar!  Mea culpa, mea culpa.  Today I shall give you one that's not only healthier than that, but perfectly cool for the blistering heat we've all been enduring.  Use other fruits (and amounts) if you prefer.  Some chopped jicama and sliced almonds would be a nice addition, as well.  And be sure to use the dressing on your favorite lettuce sometime; it will bring that bag of pre-washed greens to life!

1 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup plain yogurt
1/2 Cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 Cup green salsa, mild or spicy
1 pkg. Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
2 Tbsp. lime juice
rind of 2 limes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

4 Cups chopped melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon)
2 Cups chopped fresh pineapple
2 Cups sliced strawberries
2 Cups red or green seedless grapes
1 Cup blueberries

1. Whirl all dressing ingredients in a blender; chill thoroughly (it will thicken).  Add additional hot sauce or cayenne pepper if you want it spicier.
2. Toss all fruit in a large bowl with the dressing, and serve on lettuce leaves.