Friday, September 30, 2011

Zucchini Lasagna


    I would not do well on a diet.  First off, I like food that tastes good, and the truth of the matter is fat = flavor.  But more so than that, I'm not good at depriving myself.

    "What?" you might ask.  "You're supposed to be a locavore.  Doesn't that mean depriving yourself of all sorts of food?"

    Okay, I guess that's true in a way.  But it doesn't feel like I'm depriving myself.  If I can't find something local, and it's good for me (like fish), I'm going to eat it.  I haven't cut olive oil, and sugar, and citrus fruit out of my diet.  I do make sure that these things come from the US, so they are as local as possible, and I did have to go without a lime in my margarita the other day because I couldn't find any that weren't from Mexico, but I guess that is a sacrifice that I'm just willing to make!

    What I mean, more so, is the fad diets.  The "only eat" or "eat whatever you want EXCEPT" diets.  It just doesn't make sense to me how those types of diets can be satisfying.  Or good for you.  Or tasty.  With all of the new health laws and suggestions going out (New York attempted to ban salt in restaurants in 2010; a local WI school - where one of my friends' daughter attends - has suggested banning students from bringing bagged lunches because parents don't make healthy choices for their children; apparently it's bad for you to eat a piece of bread spread with bacon fat!) I feel like there is far too much attention paid to telling people what they may and may not eat, and not enough attention being paid to telling people how to figure out what to eat.

    For example, there is a local sports figure who I like to make fun of for being fat (Hint: he plays on a team named for beer makers, and his name rhymes with "Thince Thielder"), and who also is a vegetarian.  I would like to remind him that, just because Twinkies are vegetarian, doesn't mean he should eat them by the case full! (I know, I know.  He's lost a lot of weight this year.  I'm mean.  Whatever.)

    I don't know if there's any low/no food diet that I could reasonably expect to stick to, but the one that makes me angriest is the low carb/no carb diet.  Perhaps it's because I'm part Italian, but the concept of no bread, no pasta, no potatoes, etc. is baffling to me.  Carbohydrates are the fuel on which your body runs.  Okay, so maybe you shouldn't sit around eating wonderbread - try to get some nutritional value with your carbs - but carbs are a good thing.  Also, carbs are what fills you up.  When you eat carbs, you can eat less and still feel satisfied... something I learned with this meal.

    Overall, this was delicious.  If you are on a no carb or low carb diet (let me resist smacking you upside your head for a moment), this might be just the fix you need.  The zucchini really did take on a consistency and texture of noodles, and the flavors were there.  My problem?  I ate about two times as much as I normally would have and still felt hungry.  In the end, I made up a small batch of pasta and mixed it in just to get those carbs.  I will absolutely make this again, but only on a day when we have bread in the house!

    I did not have any ricotta cheese in the house, so I substituted a combo of cottage cheese and marscapone cheese.  You could also just use a 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese.  I also used kale in this recipe because I have it, but you could just as easily use spinach.  Since you blanch the greens, you could use a bag of frozen spinach, if you're into that sort of thing.  If you did that, you would just want to thaw and drain the spinach.

    Zucchini Lasagna
    • 2 small zucchini (L*)
    • Salt
    • 1/2 pound ground beef (L)
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
    • 1/2 small green bell pepper, diced (L)
    • 1/2 onion, diced (L)
    • 3 garlic cloves, diced (L)
    • 1 6 oz jar tomato paste (I had this sitting in my pantry since before March, so I figured it was time to use it up!)
    • 1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce (see note above for tomato paste!)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (L*)
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (L*)
    • hot water as needed
    • 1 egg (L)
    • 1 (15 ounce) container small curd cottage cheese (L)
    • 2 tbsp marscapone cheese (L)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (L*)
    • 4 cups kale, center vein removed, leaves chopped, and blanched (L*)
    • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (L)
    • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (L)
    • 8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (L)

    If you use fresh kale or spinach, I like to blanch in as little water as possible - so I'm more steaming than anything else.  This method helps keep as much of the nutrients in the kale from coming out into the cooking water.  For four cups of  kale or spinach, I would put about 1/2 cup of water in the smallest pot I have that is big enough to hold all the greens comfortably.  Add 1 tbsp salt to the water, and bring to a boil.

    Meanwhile, get a large bowl with ice water ready.

    One the water is boiling, add the kale and cook, stirring regularly, until kale is cooked through and tender.  If it appears all the water has evaporated, add more.  Once the kale is done, transfer it to the pot of cold water to shock, saving any remaining cooking water in the pot.  This will help stop it from cooking and keep it green.  Take the kale out of the cold water and squeeze the water out OVER the original cooking pot, into any remaining cooking water.  I then use this water in my recipe, in order to get all of those nutrients and flavors back into the recipe.


    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a deep 9x13 inch baking pan.
    2. Slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices. Sprinkle slices lightly with salt; set aside to drain in a colander.
    3. To prepare the meat sauce, cook and stir ground beef and black pepper in a large skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Add in green pepper and onion; cook and stir until meat is no longer pink. Stir in tomato paste, tomato sauce, wine, basil, and oregano, adding a small amount of hot water if sauce is too thick. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
    4. Meanwhile, stir egg, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and parsley together in a bowl until well combined.
    5. To assemble lasagna, spread 1/2 of the meat sauce into the bottom of prepared pan. Then layer 1/2 the zucchini slices, 1/2 the cottage cheese mixture, all of the spinach, followed by all of the mushrooms, then 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining meat sauce, zucchini slices, cottage cheese mixture, and mozzarella. Spread Parmesan cheese evenly over the top; cover with foil.
    6. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil; raise oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. 

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    My Kitchen Counter - A Metaphor for Awesome

    I feel like there is a metaphor in here somewhere - for life, or for me, or for my life, or something.  I'm not sure what it is, but I feel like this is very deep.  Or perhaps I just didn't get enough sleep last night. 


    Counterclockwise from upper left hand corner: Onions (L), Spaghetti Squash (L), Buttercup Squash (L*), Honey Boat Squash (L*), Watermelon (L*), Watermelon (L*), Death Star. 

    That is all.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Portuguese Sausage and Kale Soup

      It's getting cool.  Sooner than I want, the garden is going to need to come down.  Most of my plants are starting to look a little on the sad side, but do you know what's not suffering?  The kale.  It is taking over:
      Those greener leaves to the left of it, that's rhubarb.  I didn't know ANYTHING could choke out rhubarb.  But it's succeeding.

      I'm not sure why I planted kale.  I have this restraint problem when I'm in the garden store aisle with all the seeds.  The pictures look so nice.  There are all these fancy things that I've never tried, or never tried to grow, or just really like.  I usually buy 12 kinds of lettuce and get home and go - wait - my back yard is only 144 square feet!  I literally only planted two rows of kale in what was probably a 1 foot square.  I've been looking into canning it, but it appears you need a pressure canner to preserve them because they're low acidity.  I wonder if you can use a pressure cooker as a pressure canner... the interwebs say yes, but that it will take forever!

      I did find that kale freezes well, as long as you blanch it first.  I might do that, but I think I'm more likely to make a bunch of soup and freeze that for lunches.  Either way, I'm using up a lot of room in my tiny, tiny freezer that I don't have.  One of these days I'm going to get a chest freezer (and a food mill, and a pressure canner, and one of these, blah, blah, blah...)

      So, to prepare for the mass of food that will be going INTO my freezer, I'm trying to eat up everything that's in there now to get it OUT of my freezer.  I guess that makes sense, but it's still strange.  One thing I have a lot of in my freezer is Andouille sausage.  It's local (Usingers), but I have about 4-5 packs and I really don't need them.  They're leftover from a party I had over the summer for which I bought WAY too much food. 

      So I thought I would use some of both of these things up.  This is not a "true" anything, but it's pretty good and that's all that matters in my mind.  It was warm and filling, and will go well on a cold winter day with a piece of crusty bread.  I did freeze a batch and took it to work with me for lunch, and it heats up exceptionally well after having been frozen, so I will absolutely be making more for lunches and quick dinners.  This recipe was modified from about 6 recipes I found on the internet.  I will probably double it the next time around, so I will have a lot extra to save in the freezer.  I would say this makes about 6 meals total.

      Portuguese Sausage and Kale Soup
      • 1 teaspoon olive oil 
      • 1 large onion, chopped (L)
      • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped (L)
      • 6 ounces thinly sliced Linguica (Spicy Portuguese Sausage), or other spicy sausage - like Andouille! (L)
      • 3.5 cups chicken broth (L)
      • 4 cups water (L)
      • 1/2 cup diced potatoes (L)
      • 1 pound fresh kale, washed (L*)
      • 1 tbs fresh chopped oregano (L*)
      • 1/2 teaspoon salt
      • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

      Cut the center veins out of the kale and discard (I didn't do this, and they never got un-chewy!).  Slice the remaining leaves into strips about one inch wide.

      In a large skillet, heat olive oil, and add onions.  Saute for about 5 minutes, or until onions start to soften.  Add garlic and sausage, and continue to saute for 5 more minutes.  Add potatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Allow to cook 5 more minutes, then add broth, water, and kale, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, and allow to cook - uncovered - for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.  In the last 5 minutes, add oregano, and season again to taste with salt and pepper.

      Monday, September 26, 2011

      It's a squirrel's life

      It's been a good day.  I've been canning all day, stocking away, saving for the winter.  I found two websites today, for WI businesses providing WI products.  One, a co-op, just outside of Madison, offering all sorts of meat and produce.  They do have products not from WI, so I'll have to be careful when ordering, but even if I do get bananas every now and then, they're still a local business.  The second - a real coup - a mill.  Flour, cornmeal, quinoa.  It's more than 100 miles away, but it's in WI so I'm going to go with it.  Pair that with the local potatoes, and some wild rice from up north, and I've got my grains just about covered.

      I'm feeling well stocked.  My basement pantry is slowly filling with little jars of goodness.  Treats for the winter.  Like a squirrel stocking away nuts.

      I read a lot of food blogs myself, mostly to try to figure out how to do stuff.  Not necessarily for recipes, but to see what ideas others have, and to learn, and to check out their pictures.  On a side note, I think I need to take a photography class or something because I recognize my food pictures kind of suck. 

      A lot of the people out there blogging seriously about canning are kind of freaks.

      I don't think the world is going to end in 2012.  I'm fairly certain the government isn't going to collapse completely, reverting us to the 1800s.  And I don't think China is going to kill us through our food.  If they did, who would buy their crappy products?

      I'm not saying I'm not kind of a freak too.  Honestly, who isn't.  And I am canning to be self sufficient, which is the overall theme of of the crazy people canning blogs...  

      It's the good feeling that comes from creating something.  I was talking to the people at Sur La Table (I'm totally cheating on William Sonoma), and one of them told me that he had a friend who built a shelving unit in-between his kitchen and dining room which was full of things he canned.  He used different shapes and sizes of bottles, and displayed them as art.  That is how I feel.  Like I've created art.  Mine isn't on display, because the only storage room I have in my tiny, tiny house is in the basement, but it's art none the less.  Tasty, edible art.  It feels to create.  It feels good to know I have enough to share what I've created.

      Just to be clear, I don't think the world is going to end.  But if it does, and we're all left in some sort of post apocalyptic, no grocery store land, I'm going to be ready for it.  Until then, I'm going to sit in my cozy, warm house, full of good smells and fresh produce, and pretty jars full of bright colors.  I'm going to stock up food, and feel proud.  I'm going to create, and share, and, hopefully someday I will have a bigger house and I can show off my art too. 

      Also, a big house will come in handy when the zombies attack and all my friends have to hold up in my house because I'm the only one with food.

      Friday, September 23, 2011

      A Few Recipes to Ease into Fall

      Happy Autumnal Equinox!

      For any of you who are unaware, the equinox occurred today (9/23) at 9:04 am Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time, which was 4:04 am Central Time.  I did not wake up to celebrate it.

      I am a great big celebrator of equinoxes and solstices - partly to be contrary (ie: demanding that it's still summer after Labor Day in Wisconsin when it's probably 60 degrees outside), and because I was born on the vernal (spring) equinox.  I like to celebrate my birthday on whatever day the equinox is... but for the record that doesn't work well when you're turning 21 and the equinox is two days before your actual birthday.  The bouncers don't care if a calendar based on the sun is more accurate than the one we use - they only care what it says on your drivers license.  And they're not messing around, either.  Just a word of warning from experience.

      Anyway, it is TECHNICALLY fall, but I will admit that, weather wise, it has been fall in WI for at least a couple weeks now, if not more.  I got a little respite when I went to Vegas, but it seems like it's been cold for a while now.

      I'm actually not complaining.  I do love the fall.  I know it means that winter is coming, and I am not such a huge fan of WI winters, but I love the fall.   I like that the air is crisp and smells good.  I like the way my dog chases the leaves blowing in the wind during our walks.  I like Halloween and getting costumed up and eating candy.  I like carving pumpkins and eating pumpkin seeds.  I like sweater dresses.  Who am I kidding, I LOVE sweater dresses and thick patterned tights and boots.  I like fall. 

      And, I like the food.  Summer is good for food, but it's not good for cooking.  In the fall, I get to make sauces and braises and mashed potatoes!  Fall is the time to eat squash, and pies, and to bake things.  In the fall I get to bust out the crock pot, and turn on the oven, and fill the house with smells of food cooking.  This fall, I get to can food for the first time.  I feel like a squirrel stocking my house full of nuts.  (Except not actually, because I don't really like nuts.)

      When I was in school, I remember the students staring longingly out the window at the end of the year, as spring changed to summer, wanting to get outside into the summer day and play.  Okay, I wanted that too, but mostly because I never liked school.  But the time the weather called to me - and still calls to me as I sit at my desk at work - is in the fall.  I want to go hiking.  I want to go camping and build a giant fire and look forward to snuggling into a thick sleeping bag.  I want to just drive around in the country and look at the fall foliage.  I want to go apple picking, and horse back riding (horse back riding at an apple orchard?!  OMG, that would be the best fall day ever!)  I don't have time to do any of those things, and gas is too expensive to drive around mindlessly anyway, but still.

      I've been cooking for fall already, since it feels like fall outside.  And I've gotten a little behind on my recipe posting, so here are a few to catch you up.  It's too early to turn on the heat.  Save energy; put on a chunky sweater and heat up the house making some of these:

      I guess I didn't get a picture of the finished product here, but really you can eat Gnocchi with whatever you want.  A tomato sauce, or a butter sauce, or a pesto sauce.  It's all good.  I have tried to make gnocchi before, and it's never quite right.  This recipe worked out really well.  The gnocchi were light and fluffy, like they are supposed to be, and held together well while cooking.  Also, this recipe is crazy inexpensive to make!

      I modified this recipe from an article called "How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother."  Does it get any better than that?  I don't know if my Italian Grandmother makes gnocchi... I don't remember ever eating it...

      Gnocchi is not an easy thing to make.  The recipe is deceptively simple, but things can go wrong.  This recipe worked for me, but that might have been a coincidence.  Be prepared for your first try to not be perfect - they should be light and fluffy, not chewy and tough.  Also, they should hold their shape while being cooked.  This is definitely a recipe that takes practice.

      (*Every recipe I have ever seen for gnocchi has you cook the potatoes whole and then peel them while they are hot.  This seems like the dumbest idea I have ever heard in my entire life, and I have no idea why anyone would do this.  I did not do this, and it worked out fine.  Again, maybe I was lucky?  But until someone tells me why it is done this way, and why I can't peel the potatoes and cut them small in order to have them cook faster, I am going to continue to do it my way.*)

      • 2 lbs starchy (russet) potatoes (L)
      • 1 egg, lightly beaten (L)
      • 1 cup flour (L)
      • salt

      Peel potatoes and slice into about 1/2 inch slices (Or don't.  See *note* below).  Fill a large pot with cold water.  Salt the water well, and add the potatoes.  Bring water to a boil and cook until tender throughout.

      Drain the potatoes, reserving the cooking water.  Turn the potatoes out onto a large cutting board and mash.  The goal here is to keep the potatoes as light and fluffy as possible, while removing all the chunks.  Another (better) option would be to use a food mill, but I don't have one!

      Let the potatoes cool spread across the cutting board for about 10 to 15 minutes.  You want to make sure that the potatoes are not hot enough to cook the egg.  When you are ready, shape the potatoes into a soft mound, drizzle the eggs and sprinkle 3/4 a cup of the flour over the top of the potatoes.  Fold the flour and egg into the potatoes, mixing as thoroughly as possible while still retaining the fluffy nature of the potatoes.  I used a stiff spatula, but I bet a pastry scraper would have worked better (another thing I don't have!)  Scrape under the potatoes and fold them over until the mixture is a light crumble.  From hear, kneed the dough gently, adding more flour if necessary until it is no longer tacky.  The goal is a dough which is moist, not sticky, and is still light and not dense.

      Cut the dough into 8 pieces, and on a well floured surface, roll each piece into a rope about the thickness of your thumb (or my thumb... do you have fat thumbs?  If you have fat thumbs, do you have to eat fat gnocchi?)  Cut into 3/4 inch long pieces.

      I will admit, I have not tried to do the fancy gnocchi shaping at this point.  At this point, for traditional gnocchi, you should roll your fork across each individual piece, pressing it against your thumb, and creating a slight "C" shape with ridges on the outside edge.  This will catch more sauce than a smooth gnocchi.  That is true, but it is SO much work and I just cannot convince myself that it is worth it.

      Reheat the potato water (or heat new salted water if you lost the potato water, or you caught your cat drinking out if it like I did), and bring to a gentle boil.  Cook gnocchi in batches, about 20 at a time, maintaining a gentle boil - a hard boil will toss them around too much and cause them to fall apart.  Once they are cooked, they will float to the top - fish them out with a slotted spoon about 10 to 15 seconds after they surface.  Drain (I like to set them into a colander on top of a pot of water that is over very low heat, just to keep them warm while the others are cooking), and serve with whatever sauce you like.

      (*Note: Every recipe I have ever seen for gnocchi has you cook the potatoes whole and then peel them while they are hot.  This seems like the dumbest idea I have ever heard in my entire life, and I have no idea why anyone would do this.  I did not do this, and it worked out fine.  Again, maybe I was lucky?  But until someone tells me why it is done this way, and why I can't peel the potatoes and cut them small in order to have them cook faster, I am going to continue to do it my way.*)

      Risotto Carbonara
      (Like pasta Carbonara, only risotto-y-er.)

      • 4-5 cups chicken stock (L)
      • 4 slices thick cut bacon (L), chopped into about 1/2 inch pieces (I used pepper bacon!)
      • 1/2 yellow onion, minced (L)
      • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced (L)
      • 1 cup risotto rice (Arborio or another short grain, high starch rice)
      • 1/4 cup dry white wine
      • 2 large eggs (L)
      • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (L)
      • Salt and freshly ground pepper.

      Bring stock to a simmer in a large pot.  

      In a large, rounded bottom frying pan over medium high heat, cook bacon until crispy.  Transfer bacon to a paper towel to drain.  Pour off all except for 1 tablespoon bacon fat (I totally save my bacon fat in a jar in my fridge.  It basically lasts forever, and it's great for cooking pancakes or eggs or potatoes.  One time I was out of olive oil, and I used bacon fat to cook my popcorn.  It was quite possibly the best thing I have ever eaten in the history of ever.)  Turn heat down to medium and add onions to pan.  Saute until onions soften, about 6 minutes.  Add garlic and cook about 3 minutes more.  Add rice to pan and cook, stirring constantly, about 8 minutes or until rice is almost completely opaque with a small white dot in the center.  Add wine and cook until all the liquid has cooked off.

      Reduce heat to low.  Add simmering stock to pan one or two ladle-fulls at a time, just covering the rice with liquid, and cooking until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, adding more liquid before the rice is completely dry and stirring often.  This should continue for about 30 minutes, until the rice is tender and most of the stock is gone.  Reserve 1/2 cup stock.

      In a separate bowl, combine eggs and cheese, and whisk well.  Slowly pour in 1/2 cup reserved stock, tempering the egg.  Slowly pour egg/cheese/broth mixture into rice and stir vigorously. Taste and add in salt and pepper as necessary.  Add back in bacon, and stir to combine.

      Pork Chops with Onions and Pears
      • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
      • 2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
      • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (L)
      • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
      • 2 teaspoons onion powder
      • 2 tablespoon butter, divided (L)
      • 4 thick pork chops, about 1 ¼-inch-thick(L)
      • 1 cup onions, thinly sliced, from about 1 large onion (L)
      • 1 1/2 cup Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, trimmed, and diced, from about 4 small pears (L)
      • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced (L)
      • 1 cup chicken broth (L)
      • splash white wine
      • splash heavy cream (L)
      • Additional salt and pepper to taste

      Combine salt, pepper, flour, garlic, and onion powder in a large bowl or glass baking dish.  Dredge pork chops in flour, coating well but shaking off any excess.  In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 1 tbsp butter.  Add pork chops in batches, browning on both sides, and removing to a platter.

      Melt second tbsp butter in pan, reduce heat to medium low, and add onions.  Cooking slowly, caramelize onions by cooking until they are golden brown and soft, stirring regularly.  The process should take about 30 minutes.  About 15 minutes in, while onions are still caramelizing, add 3/4 of the pears and season with salt and pepper.

      When onions are nicely caramelized, raise the temperature to medium and add garlic.  Cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until garlic is fragrant, stirring often and being careful not to let the onions burn.  Add chicken broth, white wine, and remaining pairs, and scrape any browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pan.  Bring to a low simmer, and add pork chops along with any juices on the platter.

      Simmer over low heat, uncovered, until sauce is thickened and pork chops are cooked through, turning pork chops half way through - about 5-8 minutes on a side.  Remove pork chops and cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Turn heat up to high, and cook until sauce thickens, stirring often.  Remove from heat, add a splash of cream, taste and add salt and pepper if necissary.

      Serve pork chops over rice or potatoes, topped with sauce.

        Wednesday, September 21, 2011

        Preserving Experiment #2

        For the record, pickled watermelon rinds were a TREMENDOUS success.  Everyone I had try one thought they were surprisingly delicious.  Surprisingly.  No one expected to like them - myself included.  I know for a fact that I will be making them again, but adding something to make them red.  Watermelon anything should be red.  Or pink.  Or not amber.  My first thought was to use red wine vinegar, but now I'm considering just adding a few beet slices.  They dye my cutting board red.  They dye my hands red.  Why wouldn't they dye my watermelon rinds red?

        Anyway, that is a story for another day.

        Canning experiment #1 was a success.  On for canning experiment #2.  Something slightly more normal, but still not "normal."  I have no intent, I should clarify, to make pickles.  This is true for two reasons: 1. I have NEVER had a home made pickle that tasted as good as my favorite store bought pickles.  My favorite store bought pickles are, and always have been, MILWAUKEE'S Pickles.  So, if they're going to be local and delicious, why mess with a good thing?

        This one was a recipe out of my "The Art of Preserving" book.  I bought this book about three years ago because it had pretty pictures, and because canning has always seemed kind of romantic to me.  I can't really define it.  I'm canning now because of this locavore challenge, but I've always wanted to anyway.  I know a lot of people who have canning memories, either with their mom or grandma, and I don't really have this.  I don't recall canning taking place when I was a child.  I have no memories of spending hours in the kitchen over bubbling pots of goodness.  I remember bread, and Christmas cookies,  and chicken stock, but not canning.

        But there's something about being self sufficient that really appeals to me.  Maybe it's because I read the Laura Ingles Wilder books about 27 too many times when I was young.  Maybe it's because I'm a cheep ass.  But, when the world ends in 2012, or the grid collapses, or whatever, everybody's going to want me in their tribe!

        This is a recipe that my friend Jeanette told me was one of her favorites.  I love pickle relish on a hot dog (because I love a Chicago style hotdog).  I had this on Andouille sausage.  The spicy sausage went exceptionally with the sweetness of the relish.  This was almost sweeter than the crazy, bright green, unnatural pickle relish that I love on a pickle at the ball game.  But, at the same time, it tastes more real.  I'm looking forward to this on a burger in the middle of January!

        Pickled Zucchini Relish
        • 2 lbs zucchini (L*)
        • 1 large yellow or white onion (L), diced
        • 1 red bell pepper (L), seeded and diced
        • 2 tbsp salt
        • 1 1/4 cups honey (L) or sugar
        • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
        • 1 tsp dill seeds (L*) or celery seeds
        • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
        • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
        Cut the zucchini into thin matchsticks, about 2 inches in length.  Transfer to a large, nonreactive bowl.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and salt, and toss to combine.  Let stand at room temperature for at least 6 hours and up to one day.

        Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids.

        Drain the zucchini mixture in a large colander.  Rinse thoroughly and drain again.  Transfer to a large nonreactive saucepan and add the honey or sugar, vinegar, dill seeds, nutmeg, turmeric, pepper, and 1 cup water and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 25-30 minutes.

        Ladle the hot relish into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  Remove any air bubbles and adjust the headspace, if necessary.  Wipe the rims clean and seal tightly with the lids.

        Process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.  Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.  If a seal has failed, store the jar in the refrigerator for up to one month.

        Sunday, September 18, 2011

        A Giant Steak Can be Good for You!

        Red meat is, okay, not the healthiest choice.  It's high in fat, high in cholesterol, and has been linked to colon cancer, breast cancer and Alzheimer.  What the hell?

        On the other hand, it's high in iron (and I'm anemic, so that's a plus), zinc (which is good for the immune system), and protein.

        I'm not a doctor.  (Oh, gosh, had you not realized that yet?  Seriously, I'm not.  From a medical perspective this website is even less helpful than WebMD - the Wikipedia of Medicine!), but here's my problem with studies on the negatives of red meat.  All the studies I've seen compare the "Western Diet" (burgers, french fries, fried chicken), to the "Mediterranean Diet" (fish, grains, olive oil).  Yeah, the Mediterranean Diet is going to win!  But, what if the problem isn't the red meat?  What if the problem is the fact that our meat is being fed crazy antibiotics and ground up animal byproducts and god knows what else.  What if the problem is that it's being cooked in pure trans fat?  There's too much to separate.

        In the end, everything is bad for you.  Yeah, I'm probably going to die of cancer.  But I'm also going to die of cancer because I like to garden in a tank top without putting on sunscreen.  Or because there was asbestos in my high school.    Or because of the aluminum in my deodorant, or in my aluminum cans.  There's too much to worry about.  If we don't all die of cancer, it's probably only because the terrorists won.  I can try to be healthy, but that's the best I can do.

        1 giant-ass T-bone.  My husband and I shared this for dinner.
        And that's what this post is about.  It's about the fact that I have recently found that I really like steak.  It is about my desire, with that realization, to eat steak.  And it is about the fact that, when eating steak, my husband seems to think that bigger = better.

        My realization about my love for steak was slow to come about.  I've said before that real meat - that is to say, local food from a local farm - tastes different than meat from a grocery store.  I didn't think I liked beef, unless it had been slow cooked to the point of melting in your mouth.  I didn't understand when people said that a steak melted in their mouth.  Steaks don't melt - they're chewy.  Like chewing on people, I have said in the past.  Too fleshy.

        And then I realized, bad meat = bad.  Cheap meat = bad.  Processed meat with fillers and added solutions = bad.  Happy cow, killed humanely, processed properly and minimally, and prepared well = amazing.

        I'm not worried about eating too much red meat.  Red meat is expensive.  If it's not, you probably shouldn't be buying it.  Try the real thing... or don't.  Once you do, you may never be able to go back.

        I justify the cost of red meat, and the possible health consequences, by making sure the rest of the meal is full of healthy, inexpensive, vegetably choices. 

        A good steak has it's own flavor.  The best recipe is this:

        Take steak (L).  Season generously with salt and pepper, and maybe a little minced garlic (L).  Sear on a grill over high heat, until medium rare.  Cook it any more than that, and I will find you and punch you in the neck.

        A good steak meal, in my mind, is about the side dishes.  They should complement the steak and fill you up.  I was very happy with both of these.  The salad was especially good, and even my husband - who I think tends to see salad mostly as a filler item - was really happy with it.  The greens were a last minute addition to the potatoes, but they were a little peppery and I really enjoyed them.  You can't tell so much from the pictures, but I used a combination of red, Yukon gold, and purple potatoes.
        Still a lot of steak...

        Grilled Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Honey Vinaigrette

        For the Vinaigrette:
        • 3 tbsp minced shallots (L)
        • 1/4 cup champagne vinigar
        • 1/2 cup raw honey (L)
        • 1 tsp mustard seeds
        • 1 tsp fresh thyme (L*), minced
        • 1 clove garlic (L), minced
        • 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
        • Salt and Pepper
        For the salad:
        • 2 lbs whole beets (L)
        • 1/4 cup water (L)
        • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
        • 4 sage leaves (L*), minced
        • 3 sprigs time (L*), minced
        • 1 sprig rosemary (L*), minced
        • 1 bayleaf
        • salt and pepper
        • mixed greens (L)
        • Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or quartered (L*)
        • Crumbled goat cheese (L)
        Combine dressing ingredients and shake vigorously.  

        Wash well and chop beets into 1/2 inch pieces (I learned there is no need to peel them).  Place into the center of a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the edges to make a "boat."

        The first piece of foil I used was too small :(

         Pour in water, olive oil, sage, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, and salt and pepper.  Fold up to create a "packet."  Grill packet over medium high heat, until beets are cooked through and soft, about 30 minutes.  Top mixed greens with beets, tomatoes, and goat cheese, and dress with honey vinaigrette.  The dressing saves well, but you will need to pull it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving, because the olive oil will congeal.
        Beets in their packet

        Finished salad.  So pretty!

        Pan Fried Potatoes with Beet Greens
        • 1 lb potatoes (L) - I used a mix of Yukon, red, and purple, but you could use anything you wanted.  Unpeeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
        • 2 tbsp butter (L)
        • 2 cloves garlic, minced (L)
        • Greens from 2 lbs beets, sliced into 1 inch strips (L)
        • Salt and freshly ground pepper.

        Place potatoes into a large pot, and just cover with cold water.  Salt water, and bring to a boil, cooking at a gentle boil until potatoes just start to be tender.  Drain.

        Meanwhile, add butter to a large skillet and melt over medium high heat.  Add garlic, and saute for about two minutes.  Add potatoes and greens, and cook until greens are well wilted, and potatoes are cooked through and golden brown.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

        Thursday, September 15, 2011

        Pickled Watermelon Rind

        Well, I sure hope that you saved your watermelon rinds from yesterday's recipe.

        I told you I was going to start pickling, and I wasn't lying.  I figured I had two ways to go with my pickling experiment.  The first would be to make something simple, and that I know what it should taste like.  For example, a pickle.  That way, if it tasted wrong, I would know that I had done something wrong.  The negative of this is, if it tasted wrong, I could get discouraged and never pickle again.

        On the other hand, I thought, I could just make something completely off the wall and outrageous, and then I couldn't get discouraged because I wouldn't know for sure I had done something wrong.  For example, pickled watermelon rind.  Maybe I just don't like the way pickled watermelon rind tastes.  It's not my fault!  The negative of this, of course, is if it is bad I'm not really giving myself the opportunity to learn and grow... Who needs to learn and grow!  I want pickled watermelon rinds!

        Surprisingly, I thought this was really good.  I'm not sure if it was "right," because I've never had a pickled watermelon rind, and I would love some feedback from anyone who has had one.  These don't taste or look anything like watermelon, which I guess I found surprising.  Based on the recipes I found, you are cutting all the watermelony flavored parts off, so I'm not sure why it would taste like watermelon.  I also really would like the final product to be pink.  These were kind of a golden, ambery color at the end - which is pretty, but again not at all watermelon like.  I wonder if I used a red wine vinegar instead of white if it would make any difference.  This, I think, should give me the color I'm looking for.  A quick goolgle search seems to show that vinegar is vinegar, and you'll be safe as long as it has more than a 4% acidity.  Don't take my word on that one, though, I'm new at this.

        Another change that I will make in the future is to cut these a good deal smaller.  The recipe calls for 1 inch by two inches, but that leaves you having to hold the rind and bite into it.  These are sticky, and I would like to see something that I can stab with a toothpick and pop right into my mouth - no fingers necessary. 

        Watermelon rind slices.  Should be smaller!
        The recipe below is modified from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, as well as a few other sources.  The one thing I read on the reviews for the original recipe is that it was way too sweet.  The original recipe called for 9 cups sugar.  I dropped it down to 5, based on a reviewer's suggestion.  It was still pretty sweet.  It also tasted very Christmas-y, because of all the cloves.  That's not a bad thing, just not exactly what I was expecting...

        No where could I find how much this was supposed to yield.  I used half pint jars, and I ended up filling 9.  My guess is I should have gotten 5 pints, and I just packed them a little too tight.

        I also would like to point out that this recipe takes 3 days.  I point that out OUTSIDE of the recipe as a service to you - since I am notorious for not reading my recipes until I have started them, and getting really pissed off when they take a lot longer than I think they should. 

        My favorite part of pickling so far is pulling the jars out of the boiling water and listening to the lids "plink" as they seal.  SO rewarding.  I made Jeff come in and listen, but I don't think he was as impressed as I was.

        2 quarts watermelon rind (equal to one medium-sized melon)
        3/4 cup salt
        3 quarts water
        5 cups sugar
        3 cups white vinegar
        3 cups water
        1 tablespoon (about 48) whole cloves
        6 cinnamon sticks, broken into 1-inch pieces
        1 tablespoon Allspice
        1 lemon, thinly sliced, with seeds removed

        Trim the pink flesh and the green outer skin from the rind. Cut into small strips, about 1" x 2" (Or even smaller). Cover with brine made by combining 3 quarts water and 3/4 cup salt. Refrigerate for five hours or overnight.
        Watermelon after brining

        Drain; rinse.  

        Cover the watermelon with water and bring to a boil; continue cooking until fork-tender, about another 15 minutes. (Overcooking will cause the rinds to become rubbery.) Drain.
        Combine sugar, vinegar, water and spice. Boil 5 minutes and then pour over watermelon; add lemon slices. Refrigerate overnight.

        Heat watermelon in syrup to boiling; reduce heat to medium-high and for one hour. Pack the hot watermelon pickles loosely into clean, hot pint jars.Cover with boiling syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal lids.

        To seal: Submerge the full jars in boiling water (enough water so the jars are 1-2" below the surface); boil for 15 minutes (or slightly longer at higher altitudes). Remove jars and let them sit undisturbed at room temperature for 24 hours. Check seals.

        Tuesday, September 13, 2011

        Vegas, Baby!

        Hmm... Well, I am pretty sure (okay, positive) that last Wednesday I promised you recipes for two awesome summer salads - tomorrow.  Yeah, tomorrow has come and gone and then some.  So, I'm stuck with a dilemma.  Do I just admit that I was having way too much fun in Vegas to be bothered with posting?  Or, do I wait until this week Thursday and post as if no time had elapsed.  It would be kind of fun to see if I could convince anyone that they imagined a whole week.  I've had busy enough weeks at work where I might almost believe that...

        But that seems like a lot of work, and besides, I had way too much fun in Las Vegas to not brag about it.

        This past weekend was the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, at which my dance troupe performed.  It was a great time.  We danced on Saturday, and took in some shows - including "Peepshow" featuring ex-girlfriend of Hugh Hefner, Holly Madison, as Bo Peep.  Yay!  Famous boobies!

        Now, I don't gamble.  Mostly because I'm cheap and I don't see the point.  I want to spend my money doing things, not sitting in front of a slot machine.  It's just not for me.  "So what do you do in Vegas?" you might ask.

        Silly.  I eat.  What else would I do?

        I feel about celebrity chefs the way that teenage girls feel about Justin Bieber.  That's embarrassing, I know, but I don't care.  I will scream and shout and jump up and down and cause a scene.  I will go to their restaurants every opportunity I get, even if I know they're probably not there.  Even in Las Vegas, when I know for a FACT that they're not there, because that's not their real restaurant, it's just a copy of their real restaurant.

        We went to Hubert Keller's Burger Bar (which I have been to the original of in San Francisco), and Rick Moonen's RM Seafood.  The food was amazing (which is true of ALMOST all of the celebrity chef's restaurants I've been to.  These two were Top Chef Masters for a reason!)  At Burger Bar I built my own burger with asparagus, shrimp, peppered bacon, and a creamy peppercorn sauce, and I had a Chocolate Cowboy shake.  I have to admit that the burger looked so good, I devoured it without remembering to take a picture.  But it was pretty.  The chocolate cowboy, though, was really the star of the show.  A chocolate shake with whiskey.  I don't usually care for whiskey, but it seems to pair very well with chocolate. It started a conversation at our table about shakes, and why they never taste as good when made at home.  And, especially after being introduced to the glories of alcoholic milkshakes, we all decided (I went there with the troupe) it was something we NEEDED to be making at home.  The only solution, it seems, would be to get one of these.

        At RM's Seafood (where just Jeff and I went), I got the Cioppino, and Jeff got a Lobster pasta dish.  They were both AMAZING.  Cioppino is one of those foods that I get when I am at an Italian restaurant that seems like it should have good seafood.  I can't decide which kind of seafood I want, and I don't want to pick just one, so I go with the seafood stew.  That might not be an option anymore, as this blew everything I've ever had in a Cioppino out of the water.  It was the perfect temperature, just spicy enough, and just the right thickness.  It had fish, crab, shrimp, mussels, and clams.  Those loops that you see - they're not calamari, they're pasta - perfectly cooked and just rough enough to hold onto the spicy tomato broth.  I bought the cookbook (Signed.  That's what I do when I go to celebrity chef restaurants, and then I put them on a high shelf to be admired but probably not to get dirty), and the waiter told me that this recipe is in there, but I'm pretty sure I'm not cooking at a Top Chef Masters caliber.  Yet.

        Jeff's pasta was also delicious, but very rich, and my bowl was very full, so I did not try a lot.  My personal favorite part was the Bucatini pasta, which is like a thick spaghetti with a hole down the middle.  Since I was a little kid, I have always thought this kind of pasta is super fun, because you can breathe through it while you eat!  I am easily amused.  

        We had other good food too.  Dinner at BB King's with a really good blues band, stuffing our faces at the Rio's Sunday Morning Champagne Buffet (I had the worst daytime hangover that I can ever remember having), and dessert at Jean Philippe Patisserie.  Basically I stuffed my belly as full as I could, and then showed it off!  Good times were had by all.

        And, as promised, here are your summer salad recipes.  These seem very similar, but the first has a much stronger flavor that the second.  The first would be better with something that has a more intense flavor, like spicy pork or beef, while the second would pair better with a cleaner flavor - like grilled chicken.

        For both of these recipes, save your watermelon rind.  I'll tell you why later!

        Tomato Feta Salad:
         (Makes a large batch to share.  If you are just looking for one meals worth, you may want to halve or even quarter this recipe)
        •  4 cups watermelon chunks (L).  If you're feeling fancy, pull the seeds out.  I left this for the eater to deal with!
        • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (L)
        • 1 medium Valida or other sweet onion, thinly sliced (L)
        • About 2 tbsp fresh basil, sliced thinly (L*) I used a combo of red and green basil, just to make it look prettier.
        • 1 tbsp sea salt
        • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
        • Freshly ground pepper
        Mix together watermelon, feta, and onions.  Sprinkle with basil.  In a separate bowl, mix together vinegar, salt, and pepper, then pour over watermelon and stir gently to combine.  This tastes better if allowed to chill for a few hours, up to a day, before serving.

        Tomato, Watermelon, and Cucumber Salad
        (This is a smaller batch - good for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day)
        • 2 cups watermelon chunks (L)
        • 1-2 large or 3-4 small thickly diced tomatoes (about 2 cups) (L*)  I would recommend using a flavorful tomato, that doesn't have a lot of seeds.  
        • 1 small cucumber, quartered and sliced, skin on if it's not too tough (L*)
        • 1/4 cup feta cheese (L)
        • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
        • 1 tsp sea salt
        • 1/2 tsp fresh dill, minced (L*)

        Combine all ingredients and stir gently to combine. 

        Wednesday, September 7, 2011

        Tomato Basil Salmon

        Today's recipe is one of those "almost" local ones.  It's all local - EXCEPT..

        I just can't give up my fish.  I can't, and I don't want to.  If I eat all red meat all the time, I am going to raise my cholesterol level.  Plus, according to Wikipedia, salmon is high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D!  Don't eat the farmed salmon, though, because it's chucked full of PCBs.

        (Although, on the other hand, salmon is one of the foods my doctor told me to cut out to help decrease my risk of getting kidney stones: salmon, spinach, nuts, chocolate, and wine.  Riiiggghhhttt... that's gonna happen real soon.)

        I could, in theory, eat Lake Michigan salmon and have it be mostly local.  According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, I can eat 1 meal per month of Chinook Salmon (as long as it is less than 30" long) or Coho Salmon (of any size) before I die of cancer or possibly start glowing in the dark. The Michigan Department of Public Health says the same.  I can't find the information from the Wisconsin Department of Public Health...

        I know that, like anything, lake fish is healthy when eaten in moderation.  But it's just too big of a risk in my mind.  I could, in theory, want to have kids some day, and I don't want all that mercury floating around in my system.  Once I am 100% sure I am never having any, or any more, kids, I will eat my one serving of lake fish per month.  But, until then, I think I would rather go out of market for my seafood.  I will make an exception for smelt once per year, though, because it's an important Wisconsin tradition, and because smelt is on the safe to eat once a week list, and I'm only eating it once a year. 

        Any way, the moral of that story is I like salmon, it's good for me, and I'm going to eat it.  If you want to complain about it, post a comment (I never get any comments... and negative attention is better than no attention at all!)

        We're reaching the end of summer, and tomatoes should be in full force.  It is, from what I've heard, a bad year for tomatoes.  Tomato blight is bad, at least in my garden, and I've heard the same from others.  I'm still getting more than I can use, but not a lot more.  Certainly not enough to can yet.  Tomato blight is, in my mind, a pretty scary thing.  Late blight is a disease of tomatoes - but it is also a disease of potatoes.  We had no tomato blight in WI from 2002 to 2009, but we've got it now.  And, it's the same blight that caused the potato famine in Ireland.

        So far I've frozen about a half of a gallon sized freezer bag for later use.  Sounds like a lot, right?  But, I've got seven plants going for two people.  At this point, I should have BAGS frozen, and I should have missed some and thrown them out already.  I'm happy I'm not throwing them out, but I wish there were more to freeze... or try to can.  Tomatoes are really easy to freeze.  Just wash them and throw them in the freezer.  You'll want to keep them safe until they freeze up - I keep them in that little shelf on the door - but once they're frozen solid you can just toss them in a bag.  They're like great big solid marbles of goodness.  You can use a frozen tomato anywhere that you would use a cooked tomato.  You only want to let them thaw for a few minutes before cutting them, though.  If they thaw all the way they will just mush out on you and you will never be able to cut them nicely.

        But a fresh tomato is still better than a frozen one, and I'd rather use as many fresh as I could while they're still fresh.  Especially when I have glorious heirloom tomatoes.  I freeze the romas, and I freeze the cherry tomatoes - because those are what I seem to get the most of - but the best tomatoes should be used right away.  The best way to eat a tomato is fresh off the vine, with a little salt - but this is a good second best.

        So - not local salmon.  But local, fresh, heirloom tomatoes.  A good compromise, I hope:

        Tomato Basil Salmon
        (Serves 2)
        •  2 - 8 oz salmon fillets
        • 1 clove garlic - smashed and minced (L)
        • Salt and freshly ground pepper
        • 1 firm tomato (L*)
        • approximately 8 basil leaves, sliced into thin strips (chiffonade) (L*)
        Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

        Season salmon with salt, pepper, and garlic.  Top with tomatoes, and season tomatoes again with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle basil over tomatoes.

        Take each salmon fillet, and wrap it securely in a piece of aluminum foil, creating a pocket.  It's best if you can overlap the foil as little as possible, while still creating a secure pocket, as doubled up foil is going to keep the heat out and prevent the salmon from cooking evenly.

        Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until salmon is firm to the touch but still slightly opaque in the center.  Please, PLEASE do not over cook your salmon.  Seriously.  It's so much better if it's even undercooked a little.  If you are buying a good piece of fish, it's okay to keep it from being well done.  Trust me; it will taste better!

        Sunday, September 4, 2011

        I never claimed I was that bright...

        So, I made a realization today.  It's probably a realization that I should have made when the first spring fruits appeared.  But now, labor day weekend.  Today it is actually cool out.  Like, I want to put on a sweater cool.  And I realize that my winter squash are about ready to pick.  And I realize that means that it is almost winter.  And then I finally realize that I need to prepare.  I started this journey almost 6 months ago, and I've been doing pretty well, but the bounty of the summer seems to have erased March and April from my memory.  There was nothing to eat but meat.  And meat is expensive.

        I have a source for greens all year round, but, again, they're expensive.

        If I want to survive, as a locavore, and be able to spend money on something other than food, I need to start preparing.

        Yeah, I should have made this realization in May.

        It says it right on the top of the page: "A person who chooses locally grown foods, often growing their own fruits and vegetables and doing their own canning and pickling."

        Canning and Pickling.

        Two words I haven't veered into yet.  I have a fear of canning.  I understand how to cook.  I understand that spoiled foods are bad for people, and will make people sick.  I am happy to say that I have never cooked anything (to my knowledge) that caused food poisoning.

        But canning?  Canning causes botulism.  And botulism is scary.  I'm not even sure what it is, exactly, but I know for damn sure I don't want it. 

        So, I have a book. 

        And I have the National Center for Home Food Preservation. 

        And I have a will.  I want to make this work. 

        Oh, and I have these:

        Let's learn something new!  Any advice would be appreciated.

        Friday, September 2, 2011

        B & etc...

        If you're household is anything like mine, a BLT does not need to include, or be limited to, B, L, and T.  According to food writer Ed Levine (according to Wikipedia) a BLT does not need to include lettuce.  I have seen them at restaurants with crab cakes, and smoked salmon, and eggs.  It would seem, that the only real important ingredient is the B.  It is a B... and etc.

        This is literally a  B & etc.  Bacon (L), Egg (L), Tomato (L*) and Cucumber (L*).  Make sure you use a delicious, crusty bread from a bakery (not the grocery store) and real mayonnaise. 


        In my locavore dreams, the Egg is L*.  I really want some chickens.  And I could technically have them... however based on the zoning laws and whatnot, the coop would have to be directly in the middle of my back yard.

        And I have a very small back yard.

        Dusty wants a chicken...

        Why are there no chickens out there?

        Thursday, September 1, 2011

        These are a Few of My Favorite Things

        If you've been paying attention at all, you've probably realized that there are two things that we eat a lot of in my house:

        1. Chicken
        2. Rhubarb

        (okay, I'll give you 3. Zucchini, but that's just because there's so darn much of it right now.)

        We eat a lot of rhubarb for the same reason we eat a lot of zucchini.  I have a lot of it, and since it's in my garden it's basically free.  But I also really like it.  I feel like rhubarb is a very under appreciated vegetable.  (It would be a vegetable and not a fruit, because it doesn't have any seeds.  According to Wikipedia, Rhubarb is USUALLY considered a vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit, it was to be counted as a fruit for the purpose of regulations and duties.  This reduced the amount paid in taxes on rhubarb.  So what we have learned from this is that taxes are higher on vegetables than on fruit.)  Rhubarb is, in most homes, at most, a pie filling.  Maybe occasionally a crumble or something of that nature.  But a dessert to be certain.  I have so far used it for ribs, risotto, and as a salad dressing.  It's good savory, because it has so much flavor.  If you cook it down without sugar, or with a little bit of honey or maple syrup, you can get a tart sauce that pairs amazingly with spice.  You don't even need a recipe; just throw a cup or two in a pan over low heat and let it cook down until soft and bubbly and there are no more solid chunks.

        We eat a lot of chicken because it is probably my favorite meat.  From a foodie perspective, I'm guessing that's blasphemous.  Chicken is boring and pedestrian and whatever.

        But it's not.  Chicken is, in my opinion, the most multi-functional meat there is.  Especially if you take into account how much smaller it is than your other major varieties of meat.  I mean, you may have way more cuts of beef than you have cuts of chicken, but on the other hand, a cow is like 100 times bigger than a chicken, so that would make sense!  And, yeah, to grill a chicken is pretty easy... you know... unless you do this... but there's so much more you can do with chicken as well.

        So, my thought was to combine the two.  And that brings us to today's recipe.  This is a pretty simple recipe, with not a lot of steps and ingredients.  It's starting to feel like fall in Wisconsin in the evenings, and I'm starting to want to turn the oven on a little.  As much as I like the comforting taste of baked food, this summer has not been long enough and it's a little disappointing:

        Baked Rhubarb Chicken

        • One chicken, cut into quarters (L)
        • Salt and pepper
        • Garlic powder
        • 2 tbsp olive oil
        • 2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch slices (L*)
        • 1 Serano chili, minced (L*)
        • 2 tbsp garlic scapes, minced (L)
        • 2 tbsp honey (L)
        Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

        Season chicken generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Heat olive oil over high heat in large pan, and brown chicken on both sides, working in batches to avoid crowding.  Meanwhile, in a large baking dish, combine rhubarb, chili, garlic, and honey.  Flatten mixture so it creates an even layer on the bottom of the dish, and as the chicken is browned, place it on top of the rhubarb in the dish.

        I left one piece out here, so you could see the rhubarb.
        Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  The chicken should be golden and crispy on top, and the rhubarb should be soft, with no crunchy-ness.  It is okay if you can still see the shape of the individual pieces of rhubarb; it should more or less look like rhubarb pie filling.

        I served this with boiled new potatoes, and actually scooped the juice of the rhubarb sauce over the chicken and potatoes, using it as a gravy.  I also made a tomato and cucumber salad, which is an easy summer side dish.  One of the nice things about fresh cucumbers in the summer is that the peel tastes delicious, and isn't tough.  Don't eat the peel on a grocery store cucumber, though, because it's actually wax.  In my opinion, the crispness and acidity of the salad is a really good balance for the chicken.  The chicken itself is pretty rich, and would make a good fall or winter meal, if you have the rhubarb at that point:

        Tomato and Cucumber Salad:

        • 1 cucumber, peel intact, cut into quarters and then sliced - about 1 cup (L*)
        • 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes (L*)
        • 1 tsp sea salt
        • 1/2 tsp minced fresh dill (L*)
        • 1 tbsp minced garlic scapes (L)
        • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled (L)
        • splash balsamic vinegar 
        Combine all ingredients, and mix gently.