Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hostile Takeover

So....I hadn't ventured out to see the veggie garden in the last couple of days because we've had rain almost every day so there has been no need for watering. Was I in for a surprise tonight! The zucchini plant is freakishly HUGE! The leaves on it are as big as dinner plates. I kid you not. The stalks are growing OVER the stone border and opening like an upside-down umbrella, and there's these huge closed yellow flower buds. The thing is just comical. I'm afraid I will have so much zucchini I won't know what to do with it. Meanwhile, if anyone has zucchini recipes to share, send them my way! (or if you live locally and might be interested in some, let me know that too.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Chasing a Memory

Food Memories. Have you ever eaten something that was the BEST version of it that you had ever had? And every time you have it again, you lament that it isn't as good as THAT time?

I read a amgazine article about this not that long ago. The author had a tuna fish sandwich once when she was a child, she was abour nine and on her way home with her parents and they stopped at a roadside shop and she had the best tuna sandwich of her life. (To that I say "Tuna???" but everyone's different) Every tuna sandwich she had after that made her think of that one magical tuna sandwich but sadly, she was always disappointed.

I'm like that with two things: Spanish Paella, and my mom's tuna casserole that she made back in the day. I like to think that it's not the food itself, rather the memory of things that were going on when you had them.

When I was in high school, I traveled to Spain for three weeks as an exchange student. It was my first BIG trip out of the United States, and it was all very exciting. I tried all sorts of different things, observed different cooking methods, meals, etc. For example, tuna and artichokes are very popular pizza toppings. And it's not uncommon to open a Spanish pantry and find a bowl of eggs in there instead of in the refrigerator. But delicious! Paella is basically Spain's answer to leftovers night. You can put anything in it, as long as you have saffron rice too. Common things include onions, shrimp, mussels, chorizo (a Portuguese sausage) and chicken. Oh, and plenty of spice and red peppers. Absolutely one of my favorite dishes, best of all time. But I think it was the excitement of eating it in Spain, the dish's originating country, that made it so delicious. I've tried to duplicate it at home, I've had it in restaurants, and well, it just isn't the same.

As for the tuna casserole....I've mentioned before that I used to get "stuck" on a food for a while as a child. My mother would make this homemade tuna casserole and I would just eat it up. I thought it was Chinese food, and I called it "Sing Casserole." It was tuna, cream of mushroom soup, rice, peas and mushrooms. Kind of adventurous for a little kid, but hey, I never claimed to be normal when it comes to food!! Anyway, I've made it since, but it's just not the same. It's not the warm, creamy deliciousness that I remember, I think because it's not a warm, safe, happy feeling that I get anymore from eating it. It was definitely the situation, my mom feeding me my "current favorite obsession." It's weird how this works. Brownie sundaes and plates of nachos make me think of college. Bread dipped into homemade sauce makes me reminisce about my childhood best friend, when she and I used to make "sauce sandwiches." Pineapple stuffing reminds me of my first Christmas with Brian's family in Pennsylvania. And lobster makes me laugh about one of my first dates with Brian, when I accidentally flipped a dish of shells and the next day found a lobster claw in my purse. :)

So if you find yourself chasing a memory, stop and think: is it the food itself or are you missing the surroundings?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Do you SALSA??

Know what's really good? Homemade fruit salsa. We had it for dinner the other night on top of salmon and it was divine. This salsa had fresh pineapple, tomato, onion, garlic and jalapeno. There's another one I want to try sometime with watermelon. We had some left so we'll serve it with tortilla chips at Tracy's birthday gathering tomorrow night. We'll eat salmon and homemade salsa again sometime, but on a weekend. Because as much as fruit salsa is delicious, it's also a pain to make with all the chopping of fruits and veggies, and watching Will at the same time. And next time I'll get salmon fillets instead of steaks, all those bones!

The zucchini plants in my garden are starting to form the zucchinis. The plants are HUGE. The leaves are almost as big as dinner plates, the wet and wild weather we've had lately is really showing in the size of the stalks and leaves. I'm really wishing now that I had planted some cucumber as well. But there's always next year. :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hits and Misses

I haven't made anything worth talking about in the last couple of days, I've been pretty busy with Blackstone Valley Women Aid. We were in a parade today to spread awareness about our organization, and I learned the true meaning of "raining on one's parade!" The rain only lasted for a short, COLD! spell and it was fun to toss MnM's out to the crowd. Next year will be even better. And our next big project will be chocolate-themed! We're putting together a combo silent auction/family fun/chocolate tasting day for the fall. I'll be sure to post more about it later, after all everyone loves chocolate!

This post could also be called "learning experiences." In my ten-or-so years of cooking, I have made my fair share of mistakes. I thought I'd post some of my most memorable/disastrous, and invite you to share yours!

1. Spilled strawberry margarita left out overnight on your counter stains. Badly. No matter how "under the weather" you're feeling after a night of 'Ritas with the girls, you should wipe down the counter!

2. Check the ingredients and the recipe more than once. I've had to stir an egg into a pan of brownies that were RIGHT about to go into the oven more than once. And I've forgotten to put milk in everything from scrambled eggs to cornbread. Wait, the eggs are Brian's faux pas. Oh well.

3. When making chili from scratch, be sure to check the shaker lids on your spices. Actually, this one goes for all your cooking. I had a cannister of crushed red pepper go awry over a batch of chili and it came out so hot, only my southern roomate, JL would eat it. (Apparently in Georgia, it's "the hotter the better!")

4. If the recipe calls for a tube pan, it will not work in a loaf pan. And cake batter is a P.I.T.A. to clean off the bottom of an oven!

5. Expired arborio rice won't soak up cooking liquids. It will, however, look good enough for your guests to eat, until they discover that their rice is crunchy!

6. Mint doesn't go with hamburger. And, for the record, neither does cinnamon. (I didn't make either of those things, but I tasted them and they were horrible)

and my personal favorite....

7. Don't offer to make deviled eggs for a picnic that's the next day for more than a few people. However, if you do decide to cook eight dozen eggs to make deviled eggs and it's like 10pm when you pull them out of the boiling water, a fan WILL help cool them down in time to make a quick filling and go to bed at a fairly decent hour!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I can admit it, I'm among friends. I used to not be a big fan of the hot dog.

There, I've said it.

Hot dogs are one of those things that I had so much when I was a kid, that I thought that I could live a long and happy life without ever eating one again. As a young child, I would get on a kick of eating one thing and one thing at a time only. Like a hamburger every night for dinner, or scrambled eggs. Hot dogs were on that list for a long time. (Now I know how maddening it is when a toddler gets stuck on a food and I should apologize to my mom right now!) The only place that I would be remotely interested in a hot dog would be the ballpark, and those that know me know how often I go to a baseball game!

I'm happy to report that the Hot Dog Ban has been lifted! We recently had a Father's Day Hot Dog Lunch at work and it was absolutely delicious. I guess I know now what I've been missing.

Normally, I like just mustard, relish and diced onion on a dog. But Brian and I got a real treat today. We like to try all kinds of different things, we're pretty adventurous in our culinary tastes and have been known to try anything once. Someone bought the old diner around the corner of us and turned it into a hot dog joint. When I first saw the sign, I figured the place had no chance. But the parking lot always seems to be full, so we decided to risk it. The sign up front says that they make their own relishes and sauces. So we got three hot dogs to share: A "Aloha" dog, a "Taco Dog" and a "Works" dog. The Aloha Dog had homemade barbecue sauce and pineapple relish. Brian downed it before I could even get a taste! The Taco Dog was topped with homemade chili and cheese and diced tomato. But the Works dog was the best in my opinion--mustard, onion and homemade fresh cucumber relish! It was so fresh-tasting, I loved it! I think this is somewhere we will definitely be going again. Plus, hot dogs are cheap.

So yes, I like hot dogs again. But I need to make sure my husband knows that even though I will eat hot dogs, I will NEVER try his childhood favorite, hot dogs and eggs!

UPDATE!!: Since writing this post, the local paper wrote an article about "The Edge", the hot dog place I'm referring to. Here is a link to the article.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Simply Potato Salad

Happy Father's Day to all the Dad's out there! We're celebrating with a family cookout, which is what we usually do! The Dads in our family like to keep it simple.

A great side dish for a cookout or picnic is potato salad. I know, I can buy it at the deli counter. But you shouldn't. Why, you ask? Well, first of all, you really have no way of knowing just how long that potato salad has been sitting in the case, uncovered. I know that there are health and sanitary codes, but still. Another reason is that homemade tastes SO much fresher than store-bought! I also find that the pre-scooped versions in the deli case usually have too much dressing. Anyway, I digress....

Potato salad is a simple dish, and should stay that way. Potatoes, dressing, celery, onion, salt and pepper....and that's it. No green peas, roasted peppers, etc. I've seen potato salad with roasted green beans. How pretentious! Stick to the simple side, people. If you're an egg lover (and I'm not) some slices of hard-boiled egg are OK.

Ginny's Potato Salad

2 lbs potatoes, cut into chunks (red or white, I prefer red)
3 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp sweet pickle relish, drained (optional)
1 c. mayonnaise (lowfat is fine)
2 tbsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes if you are using white potatoes. (red skins are delicious!) Boil potatoes, simmer for 12-15 minutes. Drain, then cool. Place potatoes in large bowl, sprinkle with vinegar and oil. Add celery and onion, toss.

In smaller bowl, combine mayo, mustard, relish, salt and pepper. Pour over potato mixture and toss gently to coat. Cover and chill one to twenty-four hours. Enjoy!

I am currently reading a hysterical book called "The Gallery of Regrettable Food." More on that later!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shrimp Versatility

This is for the shrimp lovers out there.

I love shrimp because it's quite versatile. It goes with a variety of flavors, from bold and spicy to mild and sweet. Cold, hot, it's good either way! But one of my new favorite recipes pairs shrimp with another thing that I have started to really like in the past few years....feta cheese. Feta is good for a variety of dishes: pizza, pasta and salads, to name a few. But it really shines here in this recipe from the Food Network. I have modified it a little bit...I don't usually have fresh herbs on hand because they're so darn expensive, and I never can seem to use up what I have! This recipe also works better if you remove the tails from the shrimp...I've experienced it both ways and it's better without the extra "crunch!"

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can tomato puree
2 tsp dried parsley
2 tsp dried dill
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
cooked white rice (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat the oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the tomato puree (carefully) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes or until it starts to thicken.

Remove from heat. Stir in the parsley and dill. Lay shrimp in one even layer on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Spread sauce over shrimp, then sprinkle with feta. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and chesse melts, approx. 12 minutes. Serve with rice if desired.

This would also make a really good appetizer with some crusty bread!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I don't think this is going to take a banana specialist, but just in case you know one let's give them a call.

Why does it seem like when you buy bananas, regardless of ripeness in the store, they are brownish and mushy within 48 hours? Brian and I joke that it's just our kitchen, but so far science has yet to prove this. :) Perhaps we're bad banana-keepers! Anyway, I bought a bunch of fruit, including bananas the other day and they're already threatening to cross into the light! Once a banana is covered with brown spots I'm not really interested in eating it. They just taste too different and overripe. So it's time to do the only thing I can think of to revive them--bake 'em!

I adore banana bread, but to me banana bread is absolutely meant to have pecans or walnuts as an ingredient. And Will is too little to have nuts yet because of the allergy potential. And unless you've been living under an air-conditioned rock, the heatwave in Massachusetts the last few days has made baking quite possibly the last thing on Earth that I want to do!

So I'm putting it out to my "readers." Anyone have any banana recipes that they might like to share? The heat's supposed to break tomorrow a bit, so baking tomorrow night might be a possibility.

Oh yeah...1,000 cool-kid points to who can tell me where the title of this blog came from!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Summer's Best

For years, I've wanted to grow a garden.

I've tried growing tomatoes in containers, but they died. I have to say though, my scatterbrained-ness probably contributed, though! So this year I decided that it is THE year! There is nothing quite like a homegrown tomato, nothing the supermarket sells can compare. So instead of growing tomatoes using seeds, I cheated and bought two plants. For the fun of it, I also planted zucchini and northern beans.

Well, it looks like I FINALLY have a green thumb! We staked the tomatoes last week and they have little yellow flowers on them. AND this morning I checked and there's already one little baby green tomato! Can't wait to reap my own garden's bounty!

Some of the things I want to make are a tomato-basil-mozzarella tart, and I've always wanted to try Panzanella. (which is a tomato and Italian bread salad) I also want to learn to make my own spaghetti sauce, but that might be a little too adventurous. But if anyone has a sauce recipe to share I'd be happy to take it!

Based on the success so far, I'm already thinking of expanding the garden next year. Maybe cucumbers or peppers, and I have friends that grow herbs in window boxes. Wish me luck!
p.s. Above are pictures of the tomato plants, and my favorite little Garden Helper :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cake, Oh My!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to bake. Actually Brian and I both do, especially at Christmas. Our Cookie-Baking Day at Christmas is, to quote Barney Stimson on H.I.M.Y.M, "Legen-DARY!!" Usually I stick to cookies but for the past year I've gotten into cakes as well.

Everyone loves cake. And if someone says that they don't, I'm pretty sure that they're being held against their will and being forced to say CRAAAZY things! Not liking cake...that's like not liking sunshine. Or air.

Anyway, tonight I baked a "Pineapple Inside-Out Cake." The recipe for this one is from "The Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn. This cookbook is in a word, awesome. Every single cake in there starts from a cake mix. But it certainly doesn't taste like it! They're great to take to a dinner party, or a holiday gathering. We had Coconut Cake for Easter, Chocolate Kahlua Cake for Game Night and the first one we tried, Bananas Foster Cake, as a "Just Because." If you want something fabulous that you made yourself, and time isn't exactly on your side, this is your book.