Loving Ben And Jerry’s Almost As Much As My Own Creations

Ben and Jerry’s recently took a bold step in declaring their switch to be fully fair trade by the end of 2013. They’ve long used fair trade coffee chocolate in some of their yummy flavors (think Smooth Chocolate and Coffee Heath Bar Crunch) but now they’ve set their own bar even higher. Over the next few years the company will source all ingredients available Fair Trade Certified to be just that. They’ll be using fair trade bananas, sugar, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, nuts and other flavorings, adding new fair trade ingredients as the fair trade marketplace grows and new products become available. Wow! I have not heard of any other ice cream company making such a move. Ben and Jerry’s switch will influence over 27,000 farmers, according to a press release on their site. Impressive.

While we’re on the subject of ice cream, I wanted to let all you do-it-yourselfers in on my latest ice cream discovery. I received an ice cream maker from my husband for Christmas and let’s just say it’s a well-loved addition to our household. Our absolute favorite flavor is Chocolate Chocolate Chip made with Sunspire’s fair trade chocolate chips. A quart of this good stuff lasts about as long as it takes to inhale.  Warning: This is not a health food. Here’s my recipe:

Fair Trade Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

2 1/4 cup whipping cream
6 tablespoons fair trade cocoa powder
1/4 cup fair trade sugar
Pinch of salt
6 ounces Sunspire fair trade semisweet chocolate chips (about 2/3 of a bag)
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon fair trade vanilla extract

Whisk together the cream, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk frequently until it begins to foam and boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips, stirring constantly. You want the chocolate chips to melt most of the way but still leave some small chunks at the bottom of the pan.  Once the chocolate is mostly melted (no big chunks coming up when you stir)  add the remaining milk and vanilla. Chill in the fridge until cold all the way through (at least 2-3 hours), then freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Then enjoy a divine chocolate experience!

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments

By the way, Sunspire chocolate chips are super expensive compared to regular old Nestle. Most grocery stores around here that carry them (Whole Foods, New Seasons) charge anywhere from $5.50-$6 per bag. That makes for a pretty expensive quart of ice cream or batch of chocolate-chip cookies, unless you do what I do. Sunspire has lately had a $3 off $10 on every bag of chocolate chips. I wait until they go on sale, usually for around $4.50/ bag, then stock up buying 6 or so bags at a time. With the coupon that makes them about $3.50 per bag. Still more than a cheap brand of chocolate chips but much closer, plus the Sunspire flavor does not compare to Nestle (which tastes like it contains more wax than chocolate).

End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

IMG_2195Here’s another non-recipe for super easy, super delicious summer salsa. I have all these ingredients growing in my garden so it’s a great way to use up piles of my bounty. You can change any amounts or throw in other veggies depending on what you have on hand. If your garden is looking a little empty of these ingredients, all these items are in season for a few more weeks so you can pick them up at your farmers’ market or local supermarket at good prices.

End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

Possible Ingredients (use whatever salsa-type veggies you have on hand)

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro (I like lots and lots)
  • Jalapenos
  • Bell peppers

Turn your oven to broil (high). Lay vegetables (except cilantro) on lightly greased cookie sheet and broil until just blackened  and soft but not burned, approx. 10-15 minutes. Throw all veggies plus big handfuls of cilantro into food processor or blender and process to your preferred consistency. (I like mine fairly smooth but some people prefer chunkier salsa.)  Add a pinch of salt and voila, you have delicious salsa.

The trick with this recipe is the roasting. Everyone will ask what your secret ingredient is. Many salsas made with raw ingredients are too acidy or bitey, especially if the onions are strong. Roasting mellows out all the flavors and condenses the sweetness for a more intense salsa.

Tons Of Tomatoes? Try This.

IMG_1962Summer days are waning (sniff sniff). One of the wonderful things about the end of summer is our daily trip to the tomato plants. How big of a bowl do I need today, I wonder each time? Two days ago I bypassed a bowl altogether and just gathered the bounty by holding up the bottom of my long t-shirt, akin to a farmer’s wife using the bottom of her apron.

While I love picking each shiny red globe, I’m actually not a fan of raw tomatoes. Something about that mushy texture just gets me every time. So when tomatoes are entering my house by the dozen each and every day, I have to come up with creative ways to use them up so I can enjoy them just as much as my husband (lover of raw tomatoes) and daughter (follows in her mama’s footsteps when it comes to tomatoes).

I have three favorite preparations this summer I’ll share here, two today and the third (roasted salsa) in a few days.

#1 – Easy Tomato Sauce
You can make this recipe with any ratio of ingredients you like or have on hand. Everything here is approximate. You really can’t mess this up, unless you leave the tomatoes out all together. We have all these ingredients in our garden this year so it’s especially fun to make knowing we did it all ourselves!

2 pounds fresh roma or other tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I don’t bother deseeding or skinning)
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced or crushed
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Big handful fresh basil, 12-16 large leaves, coarsely chopped
Small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (deseeded unless you like a lot of spice)
1-2 tsp. sugar
dash salt
olive oil

Saute the garlic and onion until soft in the olive oil. Add in the jalapeno (optional – leave it out if you don’t like spicy food). Add tomato chunks and let simmer on low for 15-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have melted into each other. Throw in the basil, sugar and salt. Serve over noodles, chicken, steak or as a delicious side dish. It’s thick, rich and delicious. I keep thinking I’ll make extra and freeze it but so far we just keep eating it all!

#2 Sauteed tomatoes and green beans
I make this when I can get a big enough handful of green beans from our two piddly bush bean plants.

Fresh green beans (1-2 dozen, or more if you have them)
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 pound cherry tomatoes or other fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Fresh herbs from your garden (I usually go for the tarragon)
Olive oil
Salt

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender. In the meantime heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add in the tomatoes and, like the sauce recipe above, let simmer until thickened and melty, about 15 minutes. Add the green beans for another 2-3 minutes of cooking time in the sauce, then stir in the herbs and salt at the very end. This makes a lovely side dish to grilled meat on a warm end-of-summer evening.

Enjoy, and please do share your ideas for cooking up all these beautiful tomatoes!

It’s Zucchini Season. Don’t Make Eye-Contact With Your Neighbor.

I read that quip on a local lumberyard sign a few years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Zucchini season is a time when enthusiastic gardeners want to throw in the towel, er, zucchini they’re so overrun with those cute little green squashes.  Well relax one and all as I have found a delicious zucchini bread recipe that won’t make you groan and roll your eyes. It’s got chocolate in it, people. You can eat it for breakfast or dessert and still feel good about getting your vegetables.  The recipe uses a 1 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini (about one medium squash).  If you don’t want to bake 42 loaves to get through your harvest, run the lot through your food processors shredder, package in ziplocs in 1 1/2 cup portion, freeze and bake this puppy up all winter long.

The recipe is from one of my fave cooking magazines, Cooking Light. I’m publishing a link to Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread rather than the actual recipe as I’m not sure how the copyrights work with big magazines. I recommend baking a little less than the 60 minutes they suggest for a moist, slightly underdone texture (dry cakes and breads are a pet peeve).

Oh, and be sure to use fair trade cocoa (Dagoba, Equal Exchange) and chocolate chips like Rapunzel (available at Whole Foods and New Seasons).

Next up in my “Cooking Your Garden’s Harvest” series (like the name? I just made it up) is Garden Fresh Roasted Salsa.  Coming tomorrow or very, very soon.

Dill-icious Potato Salad

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OK, that title is so corny but I couldn’t resist.

Last weekend my husband made spicy dill pickles (yum!).  Due to a slight error I made in calculating how much dill we’d need, we ended up with five unused bunches of dill in the fridge even after making a dozen jars of pickles.  So even though I didn’t grow the dill myself, I thought I’d throw out the recipe for those of you who might be growing dill and/ or potatoes, peas, or any of the other ingredients in this cool, crisp salad.

From Recipes From A Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff

  • 1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, steamed and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup cooked peas, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (I used cucumber instead)

Dressing:

  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 clove garlic, halved (I crushed mine)
  • 2 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1/4 cup mayo (I used light)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 6 scallions, finely sliced
  • 6 T chopped fresh dill
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare peas, potatoes and celery/ cucumber and set aside. Mix together all dressing ingredients. Pour over peas and potatoes and mix gently together. Garnish with sprigs of dill.

I’ve still got 4 bunches of dill in the fridge. What should I do with those? One can only eat so much potato salad!

Mint – Easy To Grow, Easy To Use Up

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I planted two mint plants this year, despite warnings from friends as to how mint takes over the garden.  Considering all the weeds that seem to be usually taking over my garden, I thought a mint invasion sounded like a grand idea.  So far, it’s turned out to be just that – grand and delicious.

I planted a Moroccan Mint plant and a spearmint plant. Neither have taken over, both are beautiful and delicious as iced tea.  I’ve been brewing fresh mint tea every day or two and my whole family loves it. It’s so easy it hardly qualifies as a recipe, but here goes.

Minty Fresh Iced Tea

Clip a large bunch of fresh mint from the plant and rinse well.. I generally use 5-7 full branches. Place the branches (no need to remove leaves – use branches and all) in a large glass, heatproof container and pour boiling water over the top. Let steep for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on how strong you want it. I sometimes let it steep all day. When ready to drink remove mint leaves and pour over ice.

To make something even prettier I throw in some slices of fresh fruit and/ or berries and feel like I’m drinking a summer cocktail!

Any other ideas of ways to use large quantities of mint? Even my tea-drinking habit isn’t keeping up with the plants so I could use more ideas!

Getting Your Garden’s Bounty To The Table

Preparing, planting, watering, and weeding my garden make up the bulk of the work involved in growing my family’s own food, but true panic sets in when I go out to harvest and think “Oh my gosh, what in the world am I going to do with 5 pounds of kale?”  This year I got smart – I’ve been reading recipes all summer in anticipation of the abundance of ripe goodness to come.  I’ve decided to share some of my favorite recipes periodically on this blog as we prepare and devour them, but only the good ones of course.

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Yesterday I harvested our first tomatillos in 105 degree heat (no wonder they were so plump and juicy!). Last year I had no clue what to do with that exotic vegetable but my friend Karen shared with me a recipe then that I have been waiting, no, salivating to recreate this summer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pork Chops with Fire-Roasted Tomatillo Sauce.

For the meat:

  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 4 boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick

For the sauce:

  • 8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 poblano chile (I used 2 jalapenos since that’s what we had in the garden)
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1/2 t brown sugar
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • Olive oil for brushing pork chops

Brine the meat in a mixture of salt, cumin and cayenne with 2 cups water. Cover and refrigerate for 45-60 minutes.

To make the sauce, grill the tomatillos directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered and soft, 6-8 minutes. Grill the chile directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered but still holding its shape, 6-8 minutes. When the chile is cool enough to handle remove and discard skin, stem and seeds. (Side note: I did all the roasting under the broiler on high rather than on the grill).

In a medium saute pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the garlic and onion to the fat remaining in the pan and cook over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from the heat.

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatillos and chile. Add bacon, garlic-onion mixture, cilantro, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Transfer to a medium saute pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. If the sauce seems too thick stir in 2-3 T water. Keep warm over low heat.

Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat with paper towel, and lightly brush both sides with olive oil. Grill the pork chops directly over medium heat, turning once, until barely pink in the center, 9-11 minutes total.

Serve the pork chops warm with the scrumptious tomatillo sauce!

How do you use up your tomatillos? I need more ideas as the bulk of the harvest is still to come!

Recycling Our Dinner

I’ve been on a new recipe kick lately which has led to some fabulous dinners (like Moroccan-spiced beef with ghk0105moroccanbeefcouscous– see right) as well as some major dinner disasters. A few days ago I spent the better part of an afternoon assembling a Potato, Ham and Spinach gratin from Cooking Light. It sounded so tasty and the picture looked gorgeous, all nicely browned and crisp on top. It. Was. Horrible.  The recipe said to let it bake for a total of an hour and 30 minutes. Well, at that point the potatoes were still starchy, hard and just plain yuck. I let it go for about another 30 minutes and they still weren’t great, but it was after 7 and we were hungry so my husband and I ate. My husband insisted it wasn’t bad but I did notice he doused it with his Don Julio hot sauce. I was so disappointed that I ate a bit and then just filled up on chocolate cake instead (always a good solution to a cooking disaster).

Not wanting to throw out all my hard work, I put the gratin leftovers into the fridge. The next evening there the gratin was, still staring at me. I knew I couldn’t face that casserole for another meal. If it wasn’t good fresh, it would be horrible heated in the microwave. Instead of just tossing it as I was tempted to do, I instead set forth to disassemble the entire thing and see what I could do.

The gratin was made in layers so was fairly easy to take apart. First I heated some olive oil in a large skillet. Then I began to pick the first layer of potatoes off and dropped them in the hot oil. I broke them into smaller pieces with a spatula and let them fry while I got down to the next layer, the spinach (and kale I had added) and ham. These I put into a separate smaller pan over medium heat where I let them just warm up a bit. The recipe had called for a milk and flour mixture to be poured over the casserole before baking, so the greens and ham were nice and creamy. The bottom layer was more potatoes which I added in with the ones already frying, and I let the potatoes sautee for about 20 minutes.

Once the greens and ham were well-heated I poured three lightly beaten eggs over the top and scrambled everything together. I served the final product of sauteed potatoes with rosemary plus greens, ham and eggs along with sides of organic applesauce and glasses of pinot noir wine.  My husband and I both agreed the recycled dinner was a fabulous comfort-food meal. Almost as good as chocolate cake.

I’m A Kale Convert

Yesterday I ventured in the rain to the Hillsdale Farmer’s Market and I am SO glad I did.  My disappointment last week at New Season’s slim local pickings was replaced with my delight at the bounty I found available. The booths were piled high with colorful produce including gorgeous bright orange kabocha, a delicious squash I ate often during a post-college year in Japan, to tiny sweet kiwi fruit plus fresh Hood Valley apples and pears, leafy greens and loads of root vegetables like turnips, parsnips and carrots. I left with a backpack plus several shopping bags piled high with goodies I couldn’t wait to convert into this week’s meals.

One item I purchased with a healthy dose of skepticism was a big bunch of leafy green kale. I’ve been wary of winter greens ever since an attempt several years ago to cook swiss chard. Let’s just say it was not good. I’ve been hearing how healthy kale is though and decided to give winter greens another go. My husband looked less than delighted at the bowl of kale soup I set before him last night. That is until he tried it. He actually loved it and so did I. It’s a spicy Thai-style noodle soup, adapted from a recipe from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. When cooked, kale becomes chewy yet tender, with a flavor and texture resembling a tasty meat you might find in a soup.  Today Grace even happily ate bite after bite when I heated up the leftovers.

The recipe, below, will definitely be making a return visit to our dinner table soon. If you have your own delicious recipe for kale or other winter greens, please do share by leaving me a comment.

Thai-style Kale Soup
(adapted from Mark Bittman’s Kale Soup with Soy and Lime)

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup minced onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 cups roughly chopped kale leaves (stripped from stems and washed)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on your preference for heat)
1 tablespoon lime juice or 1 lime cut in quarters
Minced cilantro leaves

Asian noodles (I used Chinese egg noodles but Thai-style rice noodles would work great as well)

  1. In a large pot boil enough water for your noodles, according to package directions. Cook and drain noodles.
  2. While the noodles are cooking, place the oil in another large saucepan and heat on medium-high. Add the onion and cook until soft.
  3. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the soy sauce, fish sauce and redpepper flakes. Taste and add more soy sauce and/ or fish sauce according to your preference.
  4. Add the kale to the simmering broth and cook about 10 minutes, until tender.  Add the cooked and drained noodles to the soup and garnish with lime juice and cilantro sprigs.

Chicken Tortilla Soup Using Summer Salsa

Yesterday I posted my oh-so-easy Summer Salsa recipe. Since you can only use so much salsa to dip chips in, here’s another idea to make an cheap and healthy dinner with salsa as it’s base. This hearty meal serves up to 10 people and stores well in the fridge or freezer.

I made this recipe in my trusty crockpot. I suppose you could do it on the stove on low if you happened to be home all day, or at least for 3-4 hours in the afternoon to let it simmer. You know, just go out and get yourself a crockpot if you don’t have one. Everyone should own a crockpot.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

One whole chicken
Several quarts of salsa, preferably homemade Summer Salsa but any good packaged salsa will do as well
Several green or red peppers, chopped up
1-2 cans corn
One 28oz can crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes)
Several quarts good chicken stock (like Pacific organic brand)
Salt to taste

Put the above into the crockpot and turn to low. Let it cook all day (8-10 hours). If you’re crunched for time turn it to high and cook for 4-5 hours. About an hour before dinner use a slotted spoon to scoop out the chunks of chicken. The whole chicken will have fallen apart into smaller, suculent chunks. You want to get them all out, including all the bone. Use several forks to shred the chicken off the bones and return it to the pot. Discard the bones or save to make your own chicken broth for future use. Once the chicken is all shredded and all the bones are out, your soup is ready to serve along the topping below!

Toppings (optional – use whichever you like or be creative with your own!)

Chopped avocado
Chopped cilantro
Tortilla chips
Sour cream
Grated cheese

Buen provecho!

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