Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Feeding Four featured on Strictly Homemade blog today

Good Tuesday morning. Stop over at Strictly Homemade today and check out some very hip and crafty blogs. Maridith is a friend of mine and I'm always amazed at the projects she tackles. She's also featuring my Fresh Sweet Cherry Crumb Pie today. Check it out.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red & Gold Tomatoes with Purple Basil in Basalmic Dressing

No recipe here, just inspiration. Look at those gorgeous colors. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a platter, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper and pile on the fresh herbs. If you see these Carolina Gold tomatoes at your farmer's market, grab some. They're non-acidic and like no other tomato I've ever tasted. They're sweet, almost like a grape tomato but meaty and juicy like an heirloom tomato. Fabulous with the balsamic dressing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Our herb garden and Grilled Pesto Potatoes recipe

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. Instead of maintaining flowers in the bed out front of my house and vegetables or herbs in a separate garden I decided to plant my herb garden and a few tomato plants right in my front beds. I mixed in some gold and yellow marigolds and crimson snapdragons for color. We get a lot of sun and the soil is pretty good in those beds since we've amended it so much over the years. The same can not be said of the soil or shade anywhere else in our yard. Here's a side view and then a front view. If I had it to do again I wouldn't plant the snapgdragons. Apparently they're toxic, and I've caught the kids trying eat them while they're grazing on the herbs. Green good; red bad, boys.So the two plants right of the lavendar (above) are my sweet basil plants. Two plants in these beds produced more than when I planted six plants last year in my shady raised garden out back. The basil started to go to seed so I probably should have harvested these two weeks ago but we've been on vacation off and on this month.
 I left a couple sprigs of basil behind, hoping to have some to use for salads still this summer. I'm also thinking about re-planting basil and making more pesto at the end of the summer.
I picked these during nap time so the bees and bugs were in full force. I sprayed the plants down lightly with the hose to cut back on bugs and then took the picked basil inside to rinse once more in the sink and dry on towels.
Here's my post from last year with a recipe for the pesto. I made a double batch this year. I was short on lemons and the leaves turned brown quickly (thank you, oxidation) so make sure you use fresh lemon juice and plenty of it! I also used walnuts instead of pine nuts this year and I wonder if the acid in the walnuts affects the color of the pesto? Another way to keep the pesto nice and green is to blanch them--toss them in lightly boiling water, then ice water immediately. Never tried it but know some who swear by it.
A little side note. I squeezed the lemons in a reclosable sandwich bag. It makes it a lot easier to pick out the lemons and if you have any abrasions on your hands then you avoid the pain of squeezing lemon juice into them.
So now that you have lots of pesto, what do you do with it? Well, freeze it for the rest of the year, but you can also try this: Grilled Pesto Potatoes. I served them with roasted green beans and grilled chicken. Enjoy!

Grilled Pesto Potatoes
6 medium red potatoes
olive oil
sea salt, cracked black pepper
4 Tb fresh pesto
  1. Wash and slice the potatoes in 1/4" pieces.
  2. In a bowl, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Grill the potatoes on medium to high heat until blistered and slightly crispy and tender in the center.
  4. Return to the bowl. Add the pesto and toss lightly. Serve hot with extra pesto drizzled over top if desired.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fresh Sweet Cherry Crumb Pie

Mouth. Watering. 

I'm not going to lie to you. This pie was scrumptious and a pain in the butt to make. But fear not. Cherries are readily available right now, and, although making a Fresh Sweet Cherry Crumb Pie is a labor of love, all the steps are super simple. I've included plenty of photos and you can skip the homemade pie crust and use a store-bought one if you're short on time. A home-made crust though is tender, surprisingly simple with only 4 ingredients, easy and cheap. Ahh, four of my favorite things. Serve this cooled (but still warm) with ice cream*.

*Ice-cream side note: Rich brought home a peanut butter, cookie ice cream to try with this pie. Peanut butter ice cream with cherry pie is surprisingly comforting. Rich swears by mint ice cream with fruit pies too but I just can't go there. Sorry, Hon.

Scent Marketing side note: I walked into the grocery store last night and smelled the distinct scent of cherry pie with almond flavoring. I wouldn't have recognized it if I hadn't just made this pie. But when I walked into the store itself the smell disappeared and there were no cherry pies to be seen. I noticed the scent again just as strongly on my way out of the store. There were no items for sale in the vestibule that would explain the smell. The only explanation I can come up with is that my grocery store is purposefully using scent to subconsciously make me spend more money. Wow, that sounds paranoid, but Scent Marketing is a huge trend in stores. Here's an article of interest on the topic: Scent Marketing: Leading Consumers by the Nose.

Fresh Sweet Cherry Crumb Pie

Single Pie Crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup shortening
pinch of salt
4-5 Tbs cold water
Crumb Topping:
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tb cold butter

Cherry Pie Filling:
4 cups pitted sweet cherries
1/4 cup instant tapioca

3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp almond flavoring

Preheat oven to 400'.
1.) Make the crust first. Place flour and shortening in bowl, mixing with the back of a fork, your fingers or a pastry blender. When you have a crumbly mixture, add the cold water 1 Tb at a time. I used all 5 Tb of water but I also have a lot of whole wheat flour in my flour mix (about 50/50).
 Form a ball of the dough and place it in the middle of a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the ball of dough into an even 9" circle, turning the plastic wrap as you work. The dough will be 1/4" thick or so.
 When you have the dough to the right size, pick up the plastic and transfer the crust it to your pie plate. Create a fluted edge to the crust using two fingers to pinch the dough around one knuckle.
 Sorry no photos of the process of fluting. I didn't have a third hand available to snap the photo. :-) But here's the end result. I think it's fairly self-explanatory. Prick the bottom with a fork.
2.) Make the crumb topping in a separate bowl, combining the mix with a fork or your fingers until well blended and crumbly. Set aside.
3.) For the pie filling, pit the cherries using a paper clip, pairing knife, straw or cherry pitter.
 I didn't have a pitter on hand and gave the paper clip a try. It worked pretty good except that the ends of the paper clip dug into my fingers after a while. But a quick, cheap option for pitting cherries. My straws kept bending but might work better on softer cherries.
 So pit all the cherries and tear/cut them in half. Place in a large bowl. Add the other ingredients for the filling and let sit for 5 minutes.
4.) Assemble the pie. Gently pour the cherries into the crust, scraping any sugar/tapioca mix off the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle oat crumble evenly over top covering all the way to the edges.
5.) Bake the pie in the oven at 400' for 45-50 minutes. Now normally when a fruit pie is done the filling starts to bubble, but the tapioca makes for a less juicy filling. The final product is delicious though and not watery at all and way less sweet and sugary than the canned cherry filling. Let cool slightly before slicing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Must-have iPhone health food app

My grandmother took me and my mom to a ropa once on the Texas/Mexico border. What is a ropa? Picture a warehouse and a mountain of used clothes stretching up to the ceiling. We had to literally climb the mountain digging deeper and deeper into the pile as we went along. If you could fit it in a paper grocery bag then you could take it home for mere pennies. As if in evidence that sorting through all this trash was worth it, my grandmother insisted that my grandfather was sporting a $200 cashmere sweater found in just such a pile. This is my analogy for the iTunes app store. The sheer number of apps is overwhelming, and a lot of it's garbage, even if it's free or next to free. But once you've found an app that works for you, it all seems worthwhile, or at least bearable.

And here's my food app pick: It's called Fooducate. Here's how it works. As you're grocery shopping you can pick up an item, open the Fooducate program and scan the item's barcode. If the product is in their database you'll get a rating, A+ through D. (I'm assuming the lowest rating is D. I have yet to find a product that's rated lower than a C-.) The review will also give you a couple of messages stating why the food got the rating, such as:
  • Contains controversial artificial colors
  • Salty! Over 25% of the daily max
  • Made with refined flours, not whole grain
There's an "Alternatives" tab with five better options and a very helpful "Compare" tab that allows you to scan two similar items and see which is the better of the two.

The Good: This app helps cut down on the time spent comparing incomprehensible ingredient lists, nutritional charts and tricky product labels. You might make up for that time however by scanning everything you put your hands on. I get a little scan happy in the privacy of my own pantry. Shhh. Love, love, love the "Compare" program. I know hotdogs aren't good for us but they're one of the only meat products the kids will eat. So even if Fooducate gives every death-dog (as someone once called them) a bad grade I can still chose the 'healthiest' option. Yes, I've tried a couple versions of the veggie dogs. Just gross people. I would say around 85-percent of the items I scan are in the database. Most store brands are absent with the exception of Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Target and Trader Joe's.

The annoying: I can't help but bait this app. Scan a Lindt chocolate bar if you want to see Fooducate get worked up. He he he. This app can be a bit like having an annoying nutritionist in your grocery cart instead of a screaming toddler. I once scanned juice boxes and the alternative I was given was water. No duh. And granola bars' alternative? An apple. If you're looking for a snack with a rating over a C-, skip the entire chip aisle, including pretzels, baked and any organic, whole-veggie alternative. Also frustrating is the problem of no service inside some of these giant grocery stores. I'm actually thinking of switching where I shop just because I can't get this app to work anywhere but in the produce aisle--and who needs it there?!

Overall: I sometimes think Fooducate should have the disclaimer "Brought to you by Whole Foods" because of the number of times the brand's products show up under "Alternatives." It makes this app less practical but it's not surprising that the best choices are at health-food stores. Whether or not you can afford those alternatives, they're available in your area or your kids will touch them with a ten-foot pole is another story. The "Compare" feature makes it indispensable. I use it any time I'm shopping, and all joking aside I do find I scan less and less each trip. Now I've become familiar with the top two or three choices in each category, and that's pretty priceless. Except that it is priceless. Literally. This app is FREE.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

To the Outer Banks and back again

This is one of the reasons I haven't posted in a little while. It's called summer and it's best taken with family, sand, water and lots of sun. I recently took my in-laws up on the offer to crash the annual family Outer Banks vacation with the boys for a couple of days. This is Lincoln, above, in deep conversation with his cousin, Alyssa, while they look out at the remains of a 19th-century shipwreck off the beach. Cool. And here the cousins, including Alyssa's little brother Eric, are doing some serious sandcastle creation as part of the annual family competition.
Mostly, we spent time on the beach but one day we took the ferry out to Ocracoke Island. We didn't get to see a lot of the island except cheap souvenir shops selling plastic pirate costumes and sea shells, a snowball ice-cream stand, and an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. But thus is life traveling with little ones.The ferry ride back made it all worthwhile though. We left just as the sun was setting.
Apparently, the seagulls hadn't eaten dinner yet because they hovered right over us while Lincoln ate his granola bar.
 So what does this have to do with food? Very little, really. Except this. Rich couldn't get off work and stayed behind. My MIL asked me, "What does he eat while you're gone?" I laughed and said, "Usually pizza and calzones or something involving bacon." That night when I talked to Rich on the phone he said he'd gone out to eat and gotten...a calzone. I told him about my predictions and he said I had thrown down the gauntlet. His gourmet sensibilities were offended! And so when we arrived home late Saturday afternoon we found this.
Sirloin kabobs with green peppers and red onions. Watermelon salad with cilantro. Mozzarella caprese salad. Grilled yellow squash. Boiled raviolis for the boys. Pinot noir for the grown-ups. A pan of Ghiradelli brownies and a bouquet of flowers. And not a piece of peperoni or bacon in sight. I take it back, Honey. I take it all back.
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