Friday, July 5, 2013

Picnics Then and Now

Yesterday was Independence day and George and I are so bad at having fun these days that it took us all day to decide what to do.  The fireworks we attend are on July 3, so that really wasn't on the table.  I suppose that we could have hunted down another show but one is enough for us.  Anyway, we messed around all morning then worked all afternoon, then headed to the local lake for a summer picnic.

We are also bad at picnics. Growing up for me a picnic involved my mom packing all day the day before, then us piling in the truck and travelling to one state park or another. Then my dad would set up an elaborate dining shelter constructed from various tarps and clotheslines and other camping equipment.  We would turn on the country station, settle in and "people watch" while Dad built a fire and roasted a five course meal.  My job was to get as wet, muddy and sunburned as possible during all this. (I remain skilled at this and can still manage to go from middle aged professional lady to 8 year old redneck child in about 15 minutes.)

Flash forward 35 years and to our family picnics.  These are usually a part of a vacation or day trip  to a hike/battlefield/produce pickup/etc. I pack the Official Reese Family Hoagie.  We hop in the car, drive until lunch, find a park and jump out.  In approximately 15 minutes the entire picnic takes place. I unpack my Go-Bag, unpack the hoagie, a bag of chips and some fruit.  George reads a map while we eat, run to the bathroom, and pack back up.  If it is raining, the picnic takes place in the car.

We go on a lot of day trips, and this strategy works for us. It has several advantages in that we have an economical lunch, avoid fast food restaurants (as I write this, we haven't been to McDonald's in at least 10 years...) and we get to see a lot of state parks around the region.  But  it's not really a picnic.

Last night we came close to something in the middle of these two types of picnics:  I did not cook on site, but I made a Couscous Salad (adapted from Giada after last weeks' cooking show watching).  I picked up some fried chicken from the grocery store along with a loaf of Italian bread and a hunk of watermelon.  We packed up Rebecca's patriotic cake and a gallon of iced tea.  We headed to Moraine State park and grabbed a table with a view of Lake Arthur.  George even got out a chair!!! We used a real table cloth (OK it was a sheet), ate a leisurely dinner, then hung out for about 2 hours while Rebecca picked berries, Julie took a nap on the picnic bench, and George and I just relaxed.

Maybe we will get the hang of this someday.  Maybe our grandchildren will need to be hosed off before we come home when we take them for picnics...

 Official Reese Family Hoagie 

(Feeds 5)
1  loaf Italian bread, cut in half, top to bottom..  You can scoop out some of the bread from the top half if you think it's too bready.

Layers of lunch meat, cheese and veggies as desired.  

Cut as appropriate for shape of  loaf.  I usually cut it in quarters, once lengthwise, then once crosswise, the cut some of the quarters into eighths. 

Store in sandwich bags, pack dressings separately.  Picky people remove what they don't want

Go Bag

I keep this packed at all times for quick access with: 

Paper plates and plastic ware.
A few water bottles
Sharp knife
Roll of paper towels
Assorted bags for garbage and collection of berries, interesting rocks, shells, dead animals, etc)
Twister mat (this works as a table cloth, or mat to sit on if there is no table, or a makeshift tent or raincoat, or I suppose a form of entertainment if you get really bored.)
Hand sanitizer
Tube of sunblock
Tube of bug repellent
Emergency snack (hard candy or animal crackers or granola bars)

Couscous Salad

Dressing:1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil2 tablespoons cider vinegar1 1/2 teaspoons paprika1 teaspoon kosher salt1 T Lemon Juice

Whisk together until smooth.

Couscous:1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil1 1/3 cups couscous
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the couscous untill browned.  Add 2 c water and bring to boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until done.  Cool. Add to dressing with:

2 cups packed baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped1 tomato, seeded and chopped1/2 c good feta, crumbled1/4 c chopped green pepper1/2 c chopped cucumber
1/2 c chopped red onionKosher salt

Chill and serve.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The New Stuffed Zucchini

I love my stuffed zucchini recipe, I really do.  The only thing I don't like about it is that I can't find small squash around here after about July 4th and the farmer's markets don't hit full speed until about Mid July.  Also, I have a bunch of new friends at work who are vegetarians and I have been thinking about increasing my repertoire of vegetarian main dish recipe that will fit my fix and freeze lifestyle.  I was watching cooking shows last Saturday morning and I saw Rachel Ray do something like this:

Zucchini Rollups 

2 medium firm zucchinicooking spray

Slice the zucchini lengthwise and spray both sides with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt.
Roast at 350 for about 20 minutes or unit bendy
Cool and drain.

1/2 c diced sweet onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2T olive oil
1 T Italian seasoning
4 c fresh spinach

Saute until done, cool.

Combine cooled veggies with:

2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Place filling mixture on zucchini slices and roll up. Freeze or place in baking pan and top with a small amount of jarred pasta sauce.  Bake at 350 until hot.

I made my version for dinner last Saturday and it was a big hit with me and with George.  Rebecca and Julie ate it  few bites at least and didn't really complain, so I am considering that a moderate hit.  I took the leftovers to Melissa, and she liked it too.  I haven't tried freezing it yet, but I can't see why it wouldn't work.  I am also planning to give it a shot with eggplant.  

Marge's Sandwiches

It is that time of year again where I get really bored with cooking.  I am exhausted when I get home from work and it's hot and everyone is grumpy.  I am greeted at the door (or on the cell phone) with "What's for supper?" quickly followed by "What are we doing this evening?" dinner lately has consisted of sandwiches from frozen stocks of sloppy joes, ham bbq, pulled pork, or something similar. My recipes for the sloppy joes and ham bbq come from a friend of my Mom's growing up: Marge MacAdoo.  Marge had 4 boys and worked shifts at the local glass plant. Somehow my summer memories are filled with our two families spending weekends camping and fishing and going on vacation together, always with at least one of the meals being one of these sandwiches.  Looking back that seems like a huge accomplishment to me.  I don't remember Marge considering herself a fabulous cook, but her sandwich recipes have gotten me through many busy nights and weekends of my own.  And I have never once bought a can of Manwich.

Marge's Sloppy Joes

1 lb hamburger
1 small onion, chopped
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 t worchestershire sauce
1/2 t dry mustard or 1 t prepared yellow mustard
1 1/2 t vinegar
1 T brown sugar or molasses
1/2 c catsup
1 t chili powder

*these days I usually at least triple this and freeze in 4 portion batches.

1) brown the ground beef  and onions
2) add the rest of the ingredients, mix and simmer 30 minutes or until reduced.

Marge's Ham BBQ

1 lb chipped chopped ham (these days I use Larry's Ham from Schnurr's)
1 catsup
3 T brown sugar or molasses
2 T cider vinegar
2 T worchestershire sauce
1/2 c water

Mix all ingredients and simmer 20 minutes or until thickened.

*these days I usually at least triple this and freeze in 4 portion batches.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Freezer Soups

I have posted before that I don't freeze too much in terms of fresh fruits or vegetables.  I did freeze a lot of apples last year though and they worked out great for pies and crisps and cobblers.  I will post my plans for those later, but today I though I would talk about how I freeze meals ahead for dinners. 

I have posted before about my crock-pot obsession and how I have several recipes for cooking with meat and beer. These days I tend to try to double up on these recipes and put a batch in the freezer for later.  The recipe for French Dip Sandwiches can be used as such or thickened with a little flour when re-heating for Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches.  Last weekend I fired up 2 crockpots full of Beef Stew, and now I have 4 meals worth in the freezer. 

I also made my Salsa last weekend, which inspired me to make Julia's favorite:

Tortilla Soup

1)  Combine in crock pot:

1 quart "Salsa Juice"  see my Salsa recipe, previous post
3 chicken breasts
1/2 can beer (I threw this in for a little more liquid.)

2) Cook 5 hours on low in crock pot or until the chicken will shred easily.

3) Add 2 c sweet corn and 1 pint salsa.  (I used fresh corn that I cut raw from the cob)

4)At this point I devided this into 3 portions and froze two in Food Saver bags*.

5) The third portion I stored in the fridge for a couple of days until I was ready to serve.

6) Before serving add 1 c shredded sharp cheddar and 1/4 c sour cream.

7) Heat to desired temp.  Top with crushed tortilla chips and more salsa.

Note that I freeze everything except the dairy ingredients.  This saves room in the freezer, time on my bulk cooking day, and I think it tastes better when you add the dairy ingredients fresh.

*Tip:  When I freeze soup in the food saver bags, I use a large bag and freeze it flat, so that it is no more than an inch thick.  That way to thaw, you just pop the bag into a sink of hot water and it is ready for the pan in 15 minutes or so.

I used this strategy to make another favorite soup which contains a lot of my favorite short cuts:

Brocolli Potato Chowder

1)  Combine in a large soup pot:

1 large vidallia onion, chopped

1 pound chopped bacon ends (I get these at the butcher, they are cheaper than the sliced bacon, usually lean and thicker sliced than regular bacon, they work great for soups)

Saute these until the bacon browns and the onions are translucent.  Pour off any excess bacon fat

2)  Add:

1 bag frozen hash brown potatoes (the cubes, not the shredded ones)

2 pounds fresh chopped broccoli

4T chicken soup starter (this is like a paste that is in the grocery store soup section next to the boullion.)

1 T Italian seasoning blend

Enough water to cover.

3)  Bring to a boil and add 1 box of orzo pasta.  Cook 5 minutes or until the orzo is done. 

4)  This is when I divide this one for freezing.

5)  To reheat, add grated sharp cheddar to taste (about 1/4 c per serving) and just enough half and half to give a nice white color to the soup.  You can also use milk.  I sometimes add a little flour when the soup is cold to thicken it up a bit.  As long as you stir well and don't add the flour to the hot soup it will not make lumps.

I have also frozen a simpler version of this soup with just the broccoli and onions.  I froze that one in smaller portions so that I can make it up and take it to work for lunch.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Salsa, Zucchini Quiche, and Tomato Salad

It's been a slow start to the canning year.  We had a bizzarre spring and late frosts, so the berry crop was awful.  There was not a single mulberry on my tree!  George planted me some new trees, a mulberry of my own and a quince too!  Hopefully the deer will leave them alone, but time will tell.

Homemade Salsa

The beginning of the canning season is usually my Homemade Salsa, which I always get compliments on.  Sometimes people cannot believe it is canned and not made fresh!  I am pretty sure the secret there is that this is only cooked for 10 minutes and I strain it as I can it, which results in a chunkier salsa.  I can the juice seperately and use it in soups.  One time we tried it for bloody marys, but it was too strong for that. It makes a good chili base or a nice bean soup broth. So here's the recipe:

15 c peeled cored chopped ripe roma tomatoes
4 large green bell peppers, chopped
3 large sweet onions, copped
6 jalepenos, chopped*
1 1/4 c cider vinegar
3 T minced garlic
2 T minced cilantro
3 T salt
3 T lime juice

Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer 10 min.
Pack hot into hot jars.
Process 15 min in boiling water bath.

*Tips: Wear gloves then chopping hot peppers, reduce heat by taking out the seeds.  Peppers are usually hotter in dryer years and later in the summer.

Zucchini Quiche

Last week my freind Paula made Zucchini Quiche for beer club, immeadiately claiming the Zucchini Queen title and intimidating me to the point where it will be a long time before I make zucchini anything for one of our pot lucks.  She was good enough to share her recipe, and as good as it was, I couldn't resist tweaking it just a little.  Here is my version:

4 c shredded zucchini
1 c diced sweet onion
2 T olive oil
1 T garlic paste (fresh elelphant garlic ground up and preserved in olive oil)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t itailian seasoning
1/4 c half and half
1 1/2 shredded jalrseburg or swiss
1/2 c shredded parmesan or asiago
2 eggs
1 pk crescent rolls

Bloom the garlic in the olive oil. 
Add onions and saute until translucent. 
Add spices.
Add zucchini and saute until excess liquid is gone.Cool.
Spread crescent rolls in greased 9 x 13 pan.  Spread mustard over.
In a large bowl, combine the veggies, half and half, cheese and eggs.
Spread over crust. Top with drained tomato slices.
Bake 30 min at 375.

This was great!  As I am currently low-carbing though, next time I think I will leave out the crust and call it frittatta.

Tomato and Corn Salad

Like I said, Paula took the Zucchini Crown last week, so I had to come up with something good this week.  I have made the standard Tomato Mozzarella Salad many times.  People like it, but no real raves.  I thought and researched and shopped and thought some more and this is what I came up with:

4 c seeded chopped red and yellow tomatoes (chopped to the same size as the cherry tomatoes)
2 c whole red and yellow cherry tomatoes
3 ears fresh sweet corn, shelled
1/2 c red onion, sliced long wise into slivers
1/2 c fresh mini basil leaves
1/2 c fresh mozzarella, cut into about 1/2" x 1/4" rectangles
1/2 t salt
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 T cider vinegar

Seed the tomatoes by cutting them in half cross-wise and then squeezing slightly to remove extra liquid and seeds.
Combine the tomatoes and the raw corn and refrigerate 4 hours to allow the acid in the tomatoes to slightly cook the corn.
Add the rest of the ingredients just before serving.  Toss.

Unfortunately, Paula didn't even show up this week....oh well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2011 was the year of the Berry

I didn't post a lot last year because there was so much going on in our lives.  Highlights included getting my oldest off to college then an internship in Disney World, taking on managing a busy institute under a new director, caring for several elderly relatives, and looking after the rest of my brood which included a new puppy just at back to school time. 

In between all the chaos I found myself continuing my obsession for local food and canning.  We made a day trip to Erie to search for cherries.  We were too late for cherries, but the blueberries were spectacular.  I think next year I will go for blueberries and just pick up some frozen cherries.

I did a lot more freezing last year too.  It was easier to process fruit on hot humid days and the Food Saver makes it a lot more convenient to use the frozen product.  Successes included:

Apple Pie Filling:   I used my peeler/slicer  then added about 4 cups slices to 1/2c flour and 1 c sugar.  I mixed it all up and froze in food saver bags.  I use these for Dutch apple pie mostly.  In 2012 I plan to do a lot more and use them for crisps and cobblers too.

Frozen peach puree:  I took the leftovers from the canning peaches or those that were a little too bruised  to use for canning and I pureed them in the food processer with a little lemon juice.  I put the puree in a small food saver bag and sealed it then flattened it out before freezing.  I use this by chopping off the desired ammount and adding it to smoothies.  I also did this with some mangoes I found on sale at the local fruit stand.

Frozen bananas:  I know these are not local, but when they are cheap I buy the overripe bananas and peel and freeze them for banana bread or smoothies.

Frozen mulberries:  these were the find of the year last year.  I froze a few

Frozen blueberries:  Just pop them in the bag and into the freezer.  I add these to smothies too or use them in muffins or crisp or cobbler.

Frozen peaches:  I did some of these on a day when it was just too hot to can them.  They are ok for crisps, but they aren't as good for eating straight or in a pie for some reason.

As I have mentioned, I commute an hour each way to work at the lab and back.  It is far to easy for me to stop at Starbuck's or Wendy's or Panera for a quick, tasty, fattening breakfast.  Lately I have been trying for better though.  With the five minutes I have between the last time I walk the dog and the time Rebecca is ready, I throw a few things into the blender to make a smoothie.

Commuter Smoothie

I start with 2 containers of lite yogurt, any flavor that catches my eye.  Then I add two or three of my frozen selection of fruits or some fresh strawberries or canteloupe or whatever is left in the fridge. Sometimes I even add a packed of prepared cooled oatmeal. I top it off with about 2/3 c milk and hit frapee.  The smoothie gets poured into 2 pint sized mason jars and a re-used lid tops it off.  Add a straw and I have the perfect commuter breakfast, plus an additional snack for later in the day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini, Daycations, and Mulberries

Heritage Breed Turkeys from a day trip to Tionesta and Tidioute

We are cheap and it is a busy year.   Our oldest is working goes to college this fall, our middle girl is learning to drive and babysitting the wonderful neighbor boys, and our youngest is her usual busy self. I am having a ball at work but too busy to take serious time off and George getting time off is always a problem.   We probably will not manage to get away for a whole week this summer, but we love our day trips.  A few weeks ago we went to Allegheny National Forest Hearts Content and to the upper Allegheny River where the girls waded and lost shoes and we hiked and generally had fun.  We also visited a farm stand where they specialize in heritage breeds of livestock and organic veggies.  The peacocks were scared of me so I only got a picture of the turkeys.  Did you know that most turkeys that you buy in the grocery store are bread to be so breast-heavy that by the time they are mature they can't even stand up?  Kind of makes Thanksgiving Dinner a little gross...I like dark meat better anyway...

Mulberry Jam and Syrup

I am not going to go into detail of the recipes for these, just a little note on how much fun we had picking the berries and making the stuff.  Mulberries grow on trees like the one below that George found for me in a graveyard.  The girls and I spent a whole week's worth of evenings picking these and some black raspberries as mentioned in the last post.

Graveyard where the Mulberry Tree was found.

Closeup of Mulberries on tree.  The dark ones are the ripe ones.

This lady may or may not have worn sunglasses at one point during our week of berry picking madness.

These are honeysuckle berries. Don't eat them.

These are Mulberries.  By all means eat them.

I made the jam using the recipe in the sure jel packet for raspberry cooked jam.  I didn't remove the stems from the little guys because they didn't come out well and they were so tender I didn't think they were a problem.  They turned red during processing and aren't really noticeable, so I guess it's OK.  The jam is a little runny, but that is normal for me, and it tastes wonderful.

I made the syrup by following the recipe for jelly, again for raspberries,  but leaving out the pectin.  I also added a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice which took away the cloying part of the sweetness and brought out the flavor of the berries.

Stuffed Zucchini

This is one of my favorite summer recipes, but unfortunately it requires an oven, so I only make it on cool days.

1.  Blanch small to medium zucchini in boiling water for 5 minutes, then immerse in cold water for 5 minutes. 

2.  Scoop out the centers of the squash to create boats.

3.  Chop up the innards of the squash and saute in olive oil with some chopped onion and a little garlic and salt.
Clockwise from left:  Water for cooling blanched zucchini, scooped out zucchini innards pre chopping.  Scooped out Zucchini shells, chopped zucchini innards for saute.

Chopped onions and homemade pesto.

4.  Puree the sauteed stuff and add some pesto, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and an egg.  Combine until it resembles a thick batter.

Sauteed innards and onions

5.  Return stuffing to squash boats and bake at 375 for about half an hour.  These can be frozen and re-heated, or frozen before baking.

What is left of finished product by the time I remembered to take a picture.

This weekend we are planning to take a day trip to North East, in Erie County Pa to look for cherries or whatever we can find up there.