Saturday, July 31, 2010

Couscous with Artichokes, Feta and Toasted Walnuts

I believe it was 1996 when a co-worker asked me what I had brought for lunch and I said couscous. She smiled her beautiful smile, said, "I don't know what it is, but it sounds sexy. . .couscous. Couscous. Couscous". I suppose I'll always think of her when I decide to make couscous, no matter the recipe.

I used Israeli couscous for this dish, which requires simmering for about 8 to 10 minutes, but I have also made it with traditional North African couscous which only requires steeping in hot water for a few minutes to be ready to serve. Use the couscous you prefer. It does sound sexy, doesn't it? Couscous.

Couscous with Artichokes, Feta and Toasted Walnuts
1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 1/4 cups boiling water
Two 6 oz. jars marinated artichokes, drained, roughly chopped
1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Juice of half a lemon
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 oz. feta cheese, cubed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pour boiling water over couscous, cover and simmer for 8 to 1o minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour cooked couscous into a large bowl, stirring to fluff. Add the artichoke hearts, toasted walnuts, oregano, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stir and mix well. Fold in the feta cheese cubes. Taste, adding salt and pepper, if desired along with a little more lemon juice or olive oil as needed.

Lemon Tahini Sauce

This is the sauce I served with my Falafel dinner. It also serves very well as a satisfying lunch, with pita bread and raw vegetables--carrots, celery, cucumber, radishes, scallions, bell peppers for dipping. Or if you prefer, you can thin it out with additional yogurt to make a delicious salad dressing. It pairs especially nicely with grilled eggplant and brown rice.

Lemon Tahini Sauce
(Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen)
1 1/2 cups tahini
1 1/2 cup yogurt
1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
Pinch or two of cayenne pepper
Salt to taste, if desired

Beat everything together with a whisk or wooden spoon. The more you whip it the thicker it becomes, so follow your own desires.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


At Alice's request, I made a Falafel Dinner for her birthday. While I have no expertise in Middle Eastern cookery, Alice and I have worked together in kitchens within the natural foods industry, and we both share a passion for healthful food. Falafel certainly fits the description of heathful and has been very popular in natural foods cafes for many years.

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 medium onion, finely minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. corriander
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup (approx.) dry bread crumbs

I use a combination of a potato masher and a fork to mash the chickpeas until thick and smooth. Add all remaining ingredients, except the bread crumbs, and stir until thoroughly combined. Slowly add bread crumbs, until the mixture holds together well. Form into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball, then flatten into patties. Pan fry in olive oil until browned on both sides.

Serve the Falafel patties with crisp lettuce, freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, pita bread, and lemon tahini sauce (recipe will follow soon).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sloppy Joes

About four months ago my friend, Margie, posted a recipe for Sloppy Joes on her blog More Please. I told Margie at that time that I would be making her recipe and it has taken this long for me to do it. And I am so glad I did. I was making this for my husband but I wound up enjoying the sandwiches much more than I thought I would--they were delicious!

I made teenie-tiny changes to Margie's recipe. Also, Margie likes to make her own buns, and I would too, except it is TOO hot in my kitchen to bake right now, so I let the local bakery make them for me. Margie has a very delicious blog, so please do check it out.

Sloppy Joes
2 lbs. ground sirloin
1 Tbsp. bacon fat, or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch or two of dried red pepper flakes
1 (29 oz) can tomato puree
1/2 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

I used a cast iron skillet to brown the ground sirloin, until completely cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef from the pan onto a paper towel lined plate, and discard any drippings remaining in the pan.

Add about a tablespoonful of bacon fat, if you have it, or if not, olive oil to the same pan. Saute the onions over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and stir for a couple minutes more. Stir in the brown sugar, chili powder, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Stir in the tomato puree, ketchup, and Worchestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until reduced to desired consistency.

Serve on buns and enjoy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mexican Chicken Salad Sandwich

You may have figured by now that I like creating chicken salads. This one was inspired by a block of pepper jack cheese I had bought for another purpose and never used. As I thought about how to employ that cheese, I also considered the massive heat wave that was gripping us, and remembered I could buy one of those great rotisserie chickens from the market, make a chicken salad, and not add extra heat to the kitchen. This time I would make it Mexican chicken salad.

Mexican Chicken Salad
One market rotisserie chicken
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 lime
8 oz. pepper jack cheese, cut into cubes
1 small can sliced black olives, drained
One small red onion, diced
Sour cream

With your clean hands, remove and shred the meat from the chicken. It is easier to go ahead and do this while it is still warm from the market, rather than refrigerating it for later. (This is not one of the things I enjoy doing in the kitchen but my dog gets very excited.) To the shredded chicken, add the chili powder, cumin, juice from 1/2 lime, cheese cubes, olives, and onions. Stir in enough sour cream to achieve the creaminess you desire.

Mexican Chicken Salad Sandwich
For each sandwich:
2 slices whole wheat bread
crisp lettuce leaves
big scoop Mexican Chicken Salad
tomato slices
avocado slices
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grilled Peach & Cottage Cheese Salad

A man from our neighboring state was selling South Carolina peaches from his pickup truck, which he had parked in a shady spot on the side of the road.

The man had the tailgate of his truck open and was sitting on it, one leg drawn up, picking at his toenails with a pocket knife. As I approached I could see a paper plate of peach slices beside him. He offered me a sample, to which I replied, "Um, no thanks". He came right back with, "They're real good". I agreed that they did look and smell very good and bought some.

I am always very fastidious about washing my food, but I took even greater pain with these. I just about scrubbed the velvet off of them.

Grilled Peach & Cottage Cheese Salad
Fresh summer peaches
Brown sugar
Cottage cheese
Crisp lettuce
Olive Oil
Coarse sea salt, if desired
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and halve peaches, remove pit, but don't peel them. The peel keeps them sturdy enough for the grill, helps seal in the juices, and the peel becomes very tender when cooked. Sprinkling the peaches lightly with brown sugar helps caramelize them and seal in the juices from the cut sides.

Place prepared peaches on medium hot grill and let them sizzle until very tender but not mushy. Place the tender and caramelized peaches on lettuce leaves, top with a big dollop of cottage cheese, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.

One of my blogger friends shows how easy it is to make your own cottage cheese, at her blog, Needful Things. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs

We had a spate of rainstorms which cooled things off considerably. I cooked! I even simmered for a couple of hours, but I did not go crazy and start baking because the heat was only at bay, not vanished.

I have quite a repertoire of very interesting and satisfying salads, sandwiches, and other hot weather suppers, however, sometimes nothing really replaces a cooked meal. Especially on a cool and rainy evening.

Spaghetti Sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart whole peeled tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
1 cup water, more as needed
1 - 2 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until tender but not browned. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and water. Stir and blend in sugar, basil, salt and pepper until smooth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding a little more water if needed. When the sauce is reduced and thickened, add the Parmesan cheese. Stir well and simmer for about 30 more minutes until the cheese is melted. Tend it carefully to make sure the cheese doesn't scorch. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings, as desired.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. milk or half and half
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb. ground beef

Mix all ingredients together and form into 1-inch balls. Pan fry in a bit of olive oil, then drop directly into the tomato sauce after they are browned on all sides.

Meanwhile cook your favorite pasta according to package directions to serve with the spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

Notice anything unappetizing in this photo? Check at about eleven o'clock. This was the "morning after" when I took a plate of spaghetti and meatballs outside to the picnic table to photograph. Just as I was pressing the shutter, a fly landed on one of my balls. Don't you hate it when that happens?!

And then there is the ugly side of cooking. I am normally quite judicious (to the point of obsession) about keeping spatters wiped up. I did not want to cover this sauce because there was a consistency I was looking for, so I just decided to bite the bullet, let it simmer, and clean up later.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Tabouli is one of the very popular dishes which jumped the borders of its origin, in this case the Middle East, a long time ago. I've been making it and eating it for many years now. I love it! It is also one of the dishes which carries many opinions and passions about how is should be made.

This is the way I make it. I like a LOT of parsley, which is one of the "super foods", not just a garnish in restaurants. I love the way parsley tastes. I don't use very much mint in my tabouli, because my husband doesn't enjoy it all that much.

1 cup bulghur (cracked wheat)
2 cups boiling water
2 bunches parsley (about 6 - 8 cups)
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, sliced (about 1 cup)
2 - 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 or 2 cucumbers, seeded and diced into small cubes (about 2 cups)
2 fresh tomatoes or more, to taste, seeded and diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt, to taste

Pour boiling water over bulghur, stir, cover and let sit for 1 hour. Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse parsley in a sinkful of water. Parsley can hold a lot of grit, which is horrifying if you bite into it while trying to enjoy your meal, so you will want to be very diligent with this step.

Chop and dice all the remaining vegetables and place in a large bowl along with the parsley. Once the bulghur has soaked for an hour, add the lemon juice and olive oil to it. Mix well and add the mixture to the vegetables. along with salt to taste.

Taste the salad and add more lemon juice, olive oil, or salt if desired.

Try this rolled into a lettuce leaf as a sandwich. It is very heathful, cooling, and refreshing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Perfect Back Yard Burger

My husband charcoal grilled the perfect hamburgers! The only part I did was to pat the ground chuck, gently, into patties, and add salt and pepper.

Back Yard Burgers
1/4 - 1/3 lb. ground chuck per burger
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cheddar cheese, sliced
Thinly sliced Vidalia onion
Slices of home grown tomato
Ketchup, if desired

Pritchard Parker nailed it. The burgers were perfectly done, juicy, and delicious.

All I had to do was watch the baby splash in her pool.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Nachos

Once upon a time, I had a job that required working every Saturday. It was a job I got to sit down either on the potty, or to eat lunch, otherwise I was on my feet all day, and stairs were also involved. So, I was usually pretty tired by Saturday. I fell into a habit of making Nachos every Saturday night. Saturday became known as "Nacho Night", not just to us but also to everyone who knew us--friends, co-workers, and family would say, "It's Nacho Night". And this went on for several years. I would make a big platter of Nachos, bring it to the coffee table with a couple of brewskies, and we'd eat and watch TV. I got very creative with these Nachos, so they varied each week, using different cheeses and other ingredients (often leftovers from the week's dinners). Each week my husband would say, "Mmmm, these are the best Nachos ever!"

I got in the mood for some Nachos but it was entirely too hot to use the oven. In my ongoing quest to eat cold food, I decided to make a chilled version of one of our favorites.

Summer Nachos
2 medium tomatoes, cubed
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup sliced black olives
4 cups (approx.) shredded crisp lettuce
6 oz. freshly shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 can pinto beans, rinsed, drained, and mashed with 1/4 cup salsa
6 oz. sour cream

Layer from the bottom up. Drizzle top with a couple tablespoons of salsa and serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Keeping Cool Without Air Conditioning

We live in a 1950's mountain bungalow. Like most older homes in our area, ours does not have air conditioning. Heck not even the Biltmore House is air conditioned. And I should have known that after the extrememly cold and snowy winter we just had, that a record breaking hot and dry summer would follow. Has it ever!
Here are some things I have learned about staying cool:
  • Open windows at night and close them in the daytime (You may think you need the air, but you are just letting in heat and humidity)
  • Use fans to circulate air
  • During the day, keep curtains closed; cover windows, especially west facing ones with white, which reflects heat
  • Keep lights off
  • Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing in natural fabrics
  • Drink copious amounts of water
  • Using cold water on your forehead, neck, and wrists helps cool you
  • Wear a wet wash cloth around your neck
  • Don't turn on your stove, much less your oven
  • Eat cold food such as Gazpacho

Living without air conditioning can save a ton of money and go very far in reducing your carbon footprint and that is always cool.

(slightly adapted from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook)
4 cups cold tomato juice
2 cups freshly diced tomatoes
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 diced cucumber
1 bunch chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 - 3 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 tsp. honey
juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp. wine vinegar
1 tsp. basil
dash of ground cumin
dash of tabasco sauce
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients and chill for at least 2 hours. May be pureed if desired. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. This time I pureed about half of it and it really did make the texture very nice.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Salad Nicoise

A good Nicoise Salad, a la Julia Child, is a fulfilling meal on a scorching summer evening. I love making this classic salad with sweet and buttery Bibb lettuce. But I happened to have some lettuce grown in my next door neighbor's garden so I used that, of course. Chef Child recommended a simple viniagrette for dressing this salad. I made my dressing a little sweeter because of the strong flavors in the salad, plus the home grown lettuce was a slightly peppery.

Honey Mustard Viniagrette
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 plump clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Few drops hot sauce, to taste

Put all ingredients into a small jar which has a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously until emulsified. Taste, and adjust seasonings if desired. Place into refrigerator to chill and for flavors to develop, while composing your salad.

Salad Nicoise
Green beans, cooked until tender crisp
Potaotes, cooked and cubed
Slices of fresh tomato
Sliced boiled egg
Oil cured black olives
Minced shallot

Arrange salad on plates, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then drizzle with Vinagrette.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blueberry Muffins

I made Blueberry Muffins using the exact recipe I recently used to make Strawberry Muffins. Except of course, I used blueberries.

I also added a simple glaze of confectioner's sugar blended with a little half and half because I was serving them for dessert.

This one didn't get as many blueberries or as much glaze. If I were still working in a commercial kitchen, I would have to "staff" this one. Which would have made one of my coworkers happy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mama's Cheese Straws

Of all the delicious food I enjoyed when I went home to Alabama, these cheese straws are the only thing I took photos of. I mean, I ate delicious and tender pork loin, squash casserole, fresh butterbeans and okra, fresh green beans, cornbread, cedar plank grilled beef tenderloin, twice baked potatoes, freshly sliced summer tomatoes, broccoli salad, homemade yeast rolls, watermelon, pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, cantaloupe, pineapple, blueberries (organic and hand picked by my Mother), blueberry muffins, morning glory muffins, cherry pie, chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake topped with chocolate ganache, which I ate for breakfast one morning, and these cheese straws.

I didn't photograph all those foods, except with my eyes, because for one, I'm not as familiar with the lighting in and around my parents home as I am my own, and also because I did not want to disrupt the flow of Mama's entertaining. And I was there to visit. I took these photographs hastily. I grabbed one of Mama's pretty Spode China plates, stacked up some of her exquisite Cheese Straws, and vamoosed for a few minutes.

My Mother has made these Cheese Straws as long as I can remember. She has a battery operated cookie press now and grates her cheese in the food processor. But I remember, as a girl, sitting in the kitchen with her while she hand grated the cheese and twisted out those beautiful and perfectly straight rows of cheese straws with a hand cranked press.

Everybody loves these and Mama willingly shares her recipe. But I don't know another soul who has made them. Even me.

Cheese Straws

One pound extra sharp cheddar cheese

1 stick (real) butter

2 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste

Grate cheese. Cream grated cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper. Gradually blend in the flour. Put mixture into a cookie press and extrude onto ungreased cookie sheet. Cut to desired length. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes until lightly browned.