Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon


Last year, I read probably the most inspiring food book I've ever encountered: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Ever since the 5th grade, when I wrote a report on Barbara Kingsolver, I have been intrigued by this author I considered more or less local (she was a long-time resident of Tucson; I live roughly 90 minutes north in Mesa). Most people know her for her best-selling novels, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a memoir of Kingsolver's family's journey across the country, leaving Tucson (waaahhh!) for rural Virginia, where they attempted to make a go of running a self-sustaining farm. If you have any interest in the idea of eating seasonally/locally, or wonder why some people find it worthwhile, please read this book. It, more than anything else, motivated me to make the effort to support local agriculture and eat what the seasons provide. 

That being said, unfortunately, in the Phoenix area, eating seasonally can be a bit of a joke. In her memoir, Kingsolver calls February "Hungry Month" since it's the time when (in her part of the country) plants lie dormant and nothing grows. In Phoenix--or at least in our backyard garden--Hungry Months include May through September. Then again, Kingsolver also mentions that eating locally in the desert Southwest is defined (by the powers that define these things) as within a 250-mile radius. So I guess we're off the hook for not having to harvest dead grass for our salads during these summer months.

My point here is that, even though it's difficult, I try--and want to keep trying harder. I get to the farmer's market when I can, and I certainly don't buy $6 asparagus in August or $5 strawberries in January. When I saw this soup recipe, it got me excited to bust over to my nearest Sprouts and bag up armloads of vegetables that happen to be on sale right now because they actually belong to this season. (Maybe not in central Mesa, but somewhere not too far away.) The result was fabulous. This soup, while very simple, had an unusual flavor that took me by surprise. The savory-tart combination of broth with lemon juice was the perfect background for the freshness of summer vegetables corn, tomatoes, and zucchini. Not to mention that with the veggies chopped ahead of time, it was done in 30 minutes! If you're a year-round soup lover like me, this will make you realize that "summer soup" doesn't have to be a contradiction in terms.


Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon
(Adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 qt. chicken broth
1 c. diced tomato
2 small zucchini, cut into medium dice
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 lb. red potatoes, cut into medium dice
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4-1/2 lb. pre-cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, or a mix
Juice of one lemon

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another minute or two, being careful not to let it brown. Add the broth, the remaining vegetables, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp until heated, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add fresh herbs and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired.

We happened to think this was great with a side of sweet cornbread!

Cinnamon Pear Muffins


If you're thinking about staging a Muffin Intervention for me right about now due to the inordinate number of muffin posts on this blog, well.......

.....you might be on to something.

We pretty much perpetually have a batch of muffins on hand around here. Muffins rock my breakfast world. I believe "muffintastic" should be a complimentary adjective, as in "Muffintastic pants, bro!" And frankly, I'm especially proud of these particular muffins because I came up with the recipe myself and they were quite tasty. (I'm only just learning to be adventurous in the recipe creation department.)  

The other thing I like about this recipe is that it gives the often-overlooked pear the limelight (or the pearlight? too many fruits in this sentence) with the more frequently chosen apple. In the world of baked goods, the pear is like the slightly-less-pretty-but-makes-up-for-it-with-spunk younger sister to the attractive, popular apple, a la Little Women or A League of Their Own. Apple strudel, apple bread, apple pie--yes, they're all delicious, but the pear deserves a chance, people! It's easily as sweet as an apple, and sometimes juicier. When baked, I find its graininess softens to the perfect texture. So do yourself a favor and use it in a muffin....like this one.


Cinnamon Pear Muffins

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. maple or agave syrup
1 egg
1/3 c. oil
1/2 c. applesauce
1/3 c. almond milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 large pear, peeled, cored, and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, maple syrup, egg, oil, applesauce, almond milk, and vanilla. Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in pears.

Bake for 18-20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Curiosities of British Cuisine


If you've been wondering why it's been so quiet around here, it's because, by a fabulous stroke of good fortune, I spent last week in England and Wales. My husband was invited to a conference in Cardiff (the capitol of Wales) and I got to tag along as we spent two days there, one day in Bristol, and three days in London. It was a mind-blowing trip in many ways:


iconic landmarks, 

cathedrals, 

boat tours, 

giant Gromit statues in wildly inappropriate places, like in front of this 12th century cathedral,

and this terrifying creature--

but for the purposes of this blog, of course, allow me to focus on the food! It seems to me the English get a bad rap for their cuisine, and frankly, I'm not going to do a whole lot to remedy that stereotype. However, certain assumptions of mine about English food were definitely debunked, so all in all I would call my general food experience in the UK educational. For example, prior to visiting the UK, I probably would have assumed:
  • "Bubble and Squeak" were cartoon characters
  • "Rarebit" was a silly British spelling of rabbit, like "kerb" for curb and "tyre" for tire
  • That there would have to be more to a dish called "mushy peas" than just peas mashed up baby food-style
  • "Bangers and Mash" was a TV crime fighting duo, like Cagney & Lacey or Rizzoli & Isles
  • "Pork pie" was the punchline of a dirty joke

Wrong on all counts! As it turns out, 
  • Bubble and squeak is leftover vegetables (typically from a roast) mixed with mashed potatoes
  • Rarebit is essentially just melted cheese on toast
  • Mushy peas are exactly what comes out of a Gerber jar
  • Bangers and mash is sausage served over mashed potatoes
  • A pork pie is literally a chunk of pork sausage in pie crust:

This entree was called the Ploughman's Board--behold the pork pie in the upper left!
On a more positive note, while my husband spent the day at his conference, I traipsed around Cardiff and found a sweet little tea shop where I enjoyed a traditional afternoon tea:  

Finger sandwiches, scone with clotted cream and jelly, and of course TEA! (I went with ginger peach.)
Other culinary highlights included tasty fish and chips and some smokin' spicy Indian food on the south side of the Thames, revealing the perpetually embarrassing problem of my nose running like the Amazon whenever I eat really spicy food. (Emily Post would be horrified at how much snot ended up on my dinner napkin.) Then again, my husband had to leave the table to go wash his mouth out, so I'm telling you, it was really spicy. I should probably also mention that we drank way more alcohol over there than we normally do, especially some delightfully fizzy and refreshing pear cider. This seems to be the norm in the UK, though--Sunday morning, the only open restaurant we found was a bar that served breakfast, where more people were drinking beer than coffee at 9:00am. 

Last but not least, I have to say how much I enjoyed stocking up on British candy, and how humorous the candy bar names strike me: Teasers, Minstrels, Wispa, Jelly Babies (like gummy bears, but baby-shaped--anyone else find this creepy?). Then again, I guess American candy bars have silly, frivolous names, too: Butterfinger, Snickers, Mr. Goodbar. (Presumably Dryfinger, Whimpers, and Mr. Seriousbar are not top sellers.) 


These *might* just be my favorite souvenirs--thankfully much more easily transportable than fish and chips or a pot of tea! :) 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

8 Things to Freeze Instead of Toss

"...and I'm covered in children's footprints. Yes, footprints."

Does every family have weird sayings that no one really remembers the origin of? 

When I was a kid, whenever it was time to get our shoes on at my grandma's house, she would croon in this goofy faux-Southern voice like Mammy from Gone With the Wind, "Get yer choos on, Lucy, doncha know you're in the city?" For years I just thought this was one of Grandma's quirky sayings--only recently did my husband Google this phrase and discover this was a popular song in the '50s. I kinda wish I hadn't found that out, actually. I would have liked to have gone on believing my grandma just had an unexplained penchant for Southern accents in the presence of children's shoes.

My husband's family, though, has more obscure catchphrases than you can shake a stick at. Their code word for calling someone a moron is "rowboatman." Why? Are they rowing the boat backwards? With fish instead of oars? Maybe someone knows, but it's a mystery to me. And ever since we've been married, when someone is about to throw out perfectly good food, Anthony (my husband) has been known to say, "Uncle Kenny hates waste!" Granted, he does have an Uncle Kenny, but why does Uncle Kenny hate waste, and how did the specter of his disapproval get passed down into family lore??

Now, whenever I go to throw out food that's going bad or I know I won't use up, I hear in my head, "UNCLE KENNY HATES WASTE!!!"  Uncle Kenny has become the Elf on the Shelf of my food usage. (And I'm already pretty conscientious about food waste--have I mentioned the spasms of guilt over Cheerios?) That being said, allow me introduce you to my friend the freezer--that bastion of refuge for foods on the wayward path. Many an extra food in our house has been saved from the trash by finding asylum behind its doors. So many times when there's not that much of something left, throwing it out seems like the logical choice, but it doesn't have to be! Here's a list of foods you can freeze to preserve them instead of toss them, even if only in small amounts:

1. Coffee: 

I always end up with a little extra coffee at the bottom of the pot. At some point this summer I realized that I could save it in ice cube trays to have on hand for iced coffee. It's like someone gave me free Starbucks coupons!

2. Fruit: 

Another summer-specific freezable. These early weeks of August I have seen berries and peaches on sale like they're going out of business. How nice would it be in November when strawberries are an outrageous $4/pound to pull some out of your freezer? If you stock up now, you can! Freezing berries is super simple: just wash, separate, and place on waxed paper on a baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours. (I've also done this with pineapple and mango, by the way.) Peaches are a bit more challenging, as you'll want to boil briefly to slip the skins off before freezing. Still, totally worth it! Fruit for months to come! 

3. Fresh herbs: I wish we had more fresh herbs in our garden, because it always seems wasteful to purchase the arbitrary amount of ounces grocery stores package theirs in. (What on earth are people making that uses up an entire 6-ounce package of fresh thyme?) Thankfully, certain herbs are quite conducive to freezing, such as thyme and rosemary. Just pop them in a Ziploc, push out the excess air, and you're good to go. Other herbs more prone to wilting--basil, oregano, cilantro, etc.--can be frozen in water or oil in ice cube trays, then popped into soups, stews, marinades or other dishes that don't require the herbs to be crisp. It's a garden in your freezer.

4. Chicken broth: If you find you have extra canned chicken broth after completing a recipe, consider freezing it. Place in a lidded plastic container and freeze for future use.

5. Lemon juice: We live in Arizona, where every school child learns about Citrus as one of the state's "5 C's." (I'll love you forever if you can tell me the other four.) There are months in the spring when even the homeless people won't eat any more lemons because they are too dang sick of them. This past spring, when not one but TWO of our neighbors gave us heaping bags of lemons, I froze the juice in (yet again) ice cube trays and it lasted for months. 

6. Lemon/orange/lime zest: 

See? It makes the lemons happy when you freeze their skin. *Actual lemon, not an actor.*
Lemons, stay there. I'm not done with you yet. If people are dropping bags of lemons on your doorstep like little citrus babies for you to adopt, don't just freeze their juice--freeze their zest, too. Same Ziploc bag procedure as fresh herbs.

7. Onions: white/yellow/green: If I had a shrink ray, I would use it on onions. I always buy the smallest yellow ones in the grocery store bin, and I still seldom use a whole one at once (or an entire bunch of green onions). Fortunately, similar to fresh herbs, if you don't need onions to be particularly crisp, they do great in the freezer. Chop finely and Ziploc as above.

8. Bread/tortillas/burger buns: If you're a freezer veteran, you probably know this one, but it bears repeating that when you can't use up an entire loaf, or if you see a fantastic bread sale, stash what you can't immediately use in the freezer. Just make sure it's pre-sliced so you can thaw individual slices as desired.

So go nuts! Freeze away! Just don't forget about the things you've frozen for too long...like that apple juice concentrate I've literally been meaning to throw out for two years. Guess I'd better go do that now that there's photographic evidence.
Yep, that bad boy on the bottom left.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Key Lime Yogurt Pie


You may recall that giant box of Cheerios I got for free and was trying to use up. Well, despite making another batch of peanut butter Cheerio bars, the bottomless Cheerio pit was still not exhausted (can you believe it?) You're probably thinking, Sarah, just throw out the dang box of Cheerios already. You won't go to hell. I know, I know. But I can be a real stickler about food waste, so I've been wracking my brain trying to think of how to finally mine the last of the Cheerio quarry. Somehow or other I started to wonder if crushed Cheerios could stand in for crushed graham crackers as a pie crust. Recently I've been craving a yogurt pie my grandma used to make with a chocolate Rice Krispy crust. If Rice Krispies can suffice as pie crust, why not Cheerios, eh? 

With this in mind, I decided to look for a yogurt pie recipe that I could try with a Cheerio crust. I ended up opting for a Greek yogurt-based key lime pie, chosen primarily for the fact that it doesn't contain any Cool Whip (or marshmallow snot, as I like to call it--seriously, have you ever read the ingredients in Cool Whip?) The result was a luscious, creamy dessert with no artificial ingredients.

So there. Now I'm FINALLY rid of that entire monolith Cheerio box. 

I'm freeeeeeeee!

Except......guess what came in the mail yesterday:

Noooooooo!!! (These ones are definitely getting donated to church.)

Greek Yogurt Key Lime Pie
(Heavily adapted from Cooking on the Side)

Ingredients:

1 1/3 c. crushed Cheerios (or graham crackers)
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 c. plain Greek yogurt
1 c. key lime juice
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
whipped cream, for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine crushed Cheerios or graham crackers, melted butter, and sugar. Press into the bottom and sides of a 10" tart pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before filling.

Whisk together Greek yogurt, lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, and eggs. Pour into prepared crust and bake approx. 25 minutes or until the custard is set but still slightly jiggly. Chill for at least two hours. Garnish with whipped cream.

Betcha wouldn't have guessed those are crushed Cheerios!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Herb-Marinated Tilapia with Mango Salsa


Pop quiz: what's the world's most popular fruit? Apples? Bananas? Tomatoes, if we're going to be fussy and technical?

Nope, none of the above. Numerous reports name the world's most widely consumed fruit as the mango. Around the globe, mangoes outrank apples by 3 to 1 and bananas by 10 to 1. We Americans have some catching up to do in terms of our mango savvy. If this were the Olympics, the Brazilians and Indians would be slaughtering us.

I'm not actually sure I had ever eaten a mango before about the age of 25. My dad has always told me the story of his near-death-experience-mango-allergy, so genetics being what they are, I always steered clear for fear of some terrible case of sticky-sweet anaphylaxis. Fortunately, whenever I did eventually get up the guts to taste some, mangoes were kind to me and did not bring me any closer to death. Quite the opposite. They're loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and fiber, so if anything, they should add to my lifespan. So indulge me while I give you a second mango-related post in the space of three days.  

This dinner is one of those powerhouse meals that manages to be healthy, delicious, and gorgeous at the same time. It's ideal for company, as it looks straight out of a magazine and is almost entirely prepared ahead of time. To make this for dinner last night, I made the mango salsa a day ahead (gives the flavors more time to meld anyway) and put the tilapia in the marinade in the early afternoon. Served with rice and steamed broccoli, it's just what summer ordered!

P.S. If your local grocer does not offer mangoes, or if they are out of season, I recommend purchasing them frozen. Trader Joe's sells pre-peeled, pre-chopped mangoes in their frozen section, which is what I almost always use for this recipe. Frozen fruits are typically picked at the height of ripeness, so you're much better off buying frozen than fresh if the fruit you're looking for is not in season.

Herb-Marinated Tilapia with Mango Salsa
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

For the marinade:
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
4 large tilapia fillets

For the salsa:
1 1/2 c. mango, peeled and diced
1/3 c. red pepper, diced
1/3 c. red onion, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
2-3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt to taste

For best results, prepare the salsa ahead of time (up to 48 hours) by combining the mango, red pepper, red onion, jalapeño, and cilantro. Stir in lime juice and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste.

Place tilapia fillets in a large Ziploc-type bag. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, garlic, basil, black pepper, and salt. Pour over fillets, coat with the marinade, squeeze excess air out of the bag, and seal. Marinate refrigerated for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place tilapia fillets in a glass baking dish, draining off excess marinade. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve topped with mango salsa.

NOM