Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yellow Squash and Corn Soup - Healthy!

Since the squash is coming on strong already this summer and local corn is now readily available at the market, I pulled out this recipe for a very light, healthy soup dinner. 

The original recipe comes from another of my favorite food websites, Eating Well.  The only two changes I made were to substitute corn stock for the chicken stock called for and to skip the feta cheese.  This makes the soup vegetarian for my half-hearted attempt to skipping meat a few days a week.  Feel free to use the chicken stock if you're so inclined. 

To make the corn stock:  In a small pot, add two small or one large ear of fresh corn (broken in half) in the pot covered about half way with water.  Simmer over medium high heat for about 4 minutes till corn is tender.  Remove the corn but leave the stock to simmer.  Cool the corn in cold water, cut kernels from the cobs.  Set the corn aside and add the cobs back to the simmering pot.  Being careful not to allow the pot to boil dry, cook the cobs for an additional 10 minutes while you prepare the ingredients for the soup.  When done, you'll need about 3/4 cup (6 ounces) of corn stock.

As made my oversized serving is about 200 calories. Putting this through the blender or using the immersion blender gives this a creamy texture without the fat of adding cream.   If you don't like the texture of a blended soup, skip that and eat this chunky.   It's very filling if you add a slice of good hearty bread alongside.


2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 medium shallot, chopped
1 medium summer squash, (about 1/2 pound), diced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme or oregano, divided
3/4 cup (6 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth, or corn stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add squash and 1 teaspoon herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash starts to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add stock or broth and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the squash is soft and mostly translucent, about 5 minutes more.
Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth or use an immersion blender. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
Stir in corn. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender, 3 to 5 minutes more.
Remove from the heat; stir in lemon juice and garnish with remaining fresh herbs.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pepperoni and Yellow Squash Pizza

Yes, you heard it here first folks. Pepperoni. And yellow squash. On a pizza.

This odd combo came to me as I was flipping through some zucchini recipes the other evening. I’d found a recipe for a zucchini flatbread that looked good and what is a flatbread anyhow except a pizza? So a substitute of pizza dough for the flatbread and a little tweaking of ingredients to fit what was hanging around in my pantry, this ended up making a pretty terrific pizza.

Pizza dough out of the freezer
I always have single serving size pizza dough in my freezer. It requires two hours to thaw a dough ball on the counter (during which time I mowed the lawn and went to a journalism class) and when I got home for my late dinner, the pizza dough was ready to use.

Normally, if you’ve contemplated pizza for dinner ahead of time, taking the dough from the freezer to the refrigerator in the morning (or even the night before) is the process so that you will have dough ready to use upon arriving home.

Pizza is a very creative dish. Anyone can put their own spin on a pizza to make it truly their own. Whether you’re grazing through the pantry to see what’s on hand or using a few simple ingredients from your garden, designing a pizza makes you feel a bit like Picasso.

This pizza was all about the squash that have been multiplying in my refrigerator. The whole wheat pizza dough I used made this a fairly healthy pizza. The pepperoni gave the squash some added flavor and I really think this would have been a dull pie without it, but substituting some red onion and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for a little kick might accomplish the same effect.

My cheese drawer is generally full of a multitude of bits and pieces of cheeses, so picking out something appropriate was not difficult. I’ve found most people have shredded mozzarella in their refrigerators, so use that. If you don’t have goat cheese – well, go out and get some. Fresh goat cheese is a wonderful addition to your cheese drawer. It’s tangy and soft enough to crumble. I use goat cheese on salads and in omelets and now, on my pizza!

See below for a few words about baking pizza in a toaster oven.

Pepperoni and Yellow Squash Pizza

1 4-ounce pizza dough, ready to bake
3 tablespoons fresh goat cheese, crumbled
5-6 thin slices of yellow or green zucchini cut in half
5-6 pepperoni slices, cut in half
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tablespoons shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Sprinkle of California Seasoning (a blend of garlic powder and dried parsley)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (or as high as it will go) with a pizza stone.

Prepare your dough and place on a pizza peel with enough cornmeal to allow the pizza to move easily on the peel.

Begin building your pizza. Add the goat cheese to the dough then add the zucchini and pepperoni.

Sprinkle with seasoning and salt and pepper. Add the mozzarella and then drizzle with olive oil.

Slide your pizza onto the preheated stone and bake 12-14 minutes.

A few encouraging words about baking pizza in your toaster oven. If you’re baking for one person (as I do), heating your regular oven to 500 degrees is a waste of energy, especially if you are baking thinner crust pizzas. A pizza takes less than 15 minutes to bake and the oven can take up to 30 minutes to heat to this high temperature.

I’ve discovered that if I put a small baking stone in my toaster oven and preheat at its highest temperature for about 20 minutes, I can achieve the same results with less energy expenditure. This is especially wonderful in these hot summer months when heating the big oven tends to heat the entire kitchen.

The pizza stones that I use in my big oven are six inches square and I have six of them in the big oven. My toaster oven will hold one of these and is the perfect size for my small, individual pizzas.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sylvester's Sufferin' Succotash!

As a child of the 1960's, it's hard to imagine Saturday mornings without cartoons.  To this day I still wish I could turn on the TV Saturday mornings and watch Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and Bullwinkle and Rocky till I decide to haul my sorry butt out of bed. 

From these characters we took sayings into our everyday conversation such as "exit, stage left!" and "what's up, doc" and, of course, "sufferin' succotash" from Sylvester "Puddy tat" fame.   Kids today are bombarded by animation that's just plain not funny (my humble opinion, of course), or live action sit-coms that are demeaning to most of the characters, or programs aimed at learning.  All of which is fine, but where are the classic cartoons that were out there just for the fun of them? 

This past week my CSA share held a couple more zucchini and summer squash than I knew quite how to handle, plus I'd stopped by to pick up a few fresh ears of corn from Treehouse Organics and still had an ear and a half to use up.  The result is that my fridge is overflowing with beautiful summer bounty.

Interestingly enough, I'm not usually certain how best to deal with fresh foods - produce in particular.  I get caught up in marinating, saucing, and in general tweeking with foods that I seem to have lost sight - or rather more to the point, lost TASTE with my food.  When so much happens to fresh food once it hits the kitchen that it no longer tastes like itself, it's time to step back and find out how to get back to simpler fare.

This week I picked up a book at the library by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse called "The Art of Simple Food".  Ms. Waters has long been a proponent of sourcing local, sustainable foods and has written several cookbooks filled with wonderful recipes.  In this book, she attempts to take us on a journey of rediscovery.  Plain foods prepared simply, more in tune with how our grandmothers would have fixed dinner while at the same time expanding our horizons to include more herbs and spicing that are available today in our local markets. 

So today when I got home and was confronted by the copious squash and corn on my counter, I decided to make a simple vegetarian dinner based upon summer succotash. 

Succotash in its basest best is corn and lima beans mixed together, sometimes with a sauce, sometimes without.  Variations on the theme are popular and I've even seen it with a heavy cream sauce and baked in a casserole.  For me, succotash is wonderful in any iteration and once you get the basics in place you can riff with it like a good jazz musician to make it personal and to your own liking.

Ms. Waters has a recipe that I took as the basis of my rendition and it made a really easy, really delicious, and really filling dinner.  It struck me as I was eating that it would be simple to add a bit of leftover salmon to this that was hanging around the fridge, but I decided meatless was the way to go (well nearly meatless) for today.  Next time I have the salmon I'll try this again and mix them, I bet it will be terrific.

Beautiful fresh ingredients
Sufferin' Summer Succotash

2 teaspoons butter or bacon grease (I used the bacon fat, it's wonderful with corn)
1 chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 ear of corn, uncooked, cut off the cob
1/2 cup chopped summer squash (green zucchini was pretty in this because of its color)
1/2 cup frozen lima beans (fresh if you have them), pre-cooked
6-7 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

In a heavy non-stick skillet, melt the butter or bacon fat over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute lightly. 

Add the zucchini to the pan and let cook through till just tender.  Add the corn to the pan and saute, stirring often, to cook the corn and get a slight brown on the kernels - 5-8 minutes. 

Add the lima beans and tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes begin to release their juices.  Add the basil, parsley, salt and pepper.  Stir to combine and heat through and serve immediately. 
Sufferin' Summer Succotash!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Simple Joys of Corn on the Cob

I LOVE corn on the cob. In fact – I adore it so much, that I have a plate I use specifically for eating corn on the cob. By mid-July when the local sweet corn starts showing up at the market I will set aside two or three meals a week where corn smothered in butter and salt is the main focus of my evening meal.

My special Corn Plate and napkin - just
awaiting a good dinner.
As you can see, my plate is simple but shaped oblong.  I discovered years ago that putting long ears of corn on a regular plate doesn't allow you the opportunity to roll the ears around in the butter that melts off the corn.  This plate gives me plenty of room to do that, plus hold any accompanying items I choose to add to the plate.  It's nothing more than an old Corning microwave platter. I never used it in the microwave to my recollection but it's gotten well used during summers when corn is plentiful. 

Also note that the best sort of napkin to use for this meal is a damp wash cloth.  I roll mine up and set it next to my plate and believe me it gets a work out.  Nothing feels better than a good cool rag to wipe your buttery hands and face with as you eat.  Toss it in the laundry when dinner is over.  And NO, those fancy corn holders are not permitted.  I have a bunch of them but it's WAY more fun eating corn without them.  The butter dripping down your arms is a mandatory part of the experience.

These are meals that celebrate the simple pleasures of eating out of the garden. Accompaniments that are permitted to share my special plate are few and simply dressed – fresh, ripe tomatoes with salt and pepper – cucumbers dressed in a little sour cream and vinegar – steamed green beans – and for some really odd, unknown reason, the occasional hot dog.

Yes, corn and hot dogs go together. This is such an automatic pairing for me that I never really thought about where it originated but today it struck me. My Dad was a Mason for many years and when I was a kid one of the summer gatherings of the local Masonic Lodge was a summer corn roast.  Toward the end of summer when the corn was at it's peak we'd gather out at Craftsman Park and watch the men prepare bushels and bushels of fresh corn that they cooked in big aluminum trash cans over an open fire.  Inside, they served the corn in big platters with melted butter on the bottom that we rolled and rolled the corn in before it hit our plate.  Next to the corn would be big platters of hot dogs.  We'd get two or three of each then find a spot at a big communal table that would be set with bowls of sliced tomatoes  and watermelon and lots and lots of napkins. 

I can recall having contests with my cousin Chip to see who could eat the most corn.  I seem to recall him winning one year with 15 ears of corn.  Growing boys sure can eat a lot!  Anyway, this must be where this traditional pairing came from.  40 years later these are still some of my favorite foods. 

This week, local corn has begun hitting the markets.  I set out at lunchtime on Friday to visit the Market at Lock 3 in Akron to hunt down Farmer Ben from Treehouse Organics.  I'd heard he had corn and tomatoes at his stall earlier in the week and I'd been dreaming of tonights meal ever since.  Thankfully he was there so I picked up six ears of corn for the weekend.  Although he did have tomatoes, they weren't quite up to eating out of hand quality, so I passed up those for tonight in favor of the fresh green beans and cucumbers I got out of my City Fresh CSA share this week.  Unfortunately I also bypassed hot dogs for this week.  We're still in the Biggest Loser at work so although I am not going to pass up my butter for the corn, I will skip hot doges to save the calories.

Tonights meal requires no recipe.  Simply prepare your corn however you prefer, I boil mine so that I can put the beans in with it to cook in the same pan.  Alongside I served some of my cucumber salad (recipe to follow).  So simple.  So delicious. So fast. 

Mom's Cucumber Salad

1/2 cucumber, deseeded, striped and diced
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dill

Mix the sour cream, vinegar, sugar and dill in a small bowl. Add the cucumber and mix to combine. Serve and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

CSA Share Bounty

Summer is finally arriving in the form of fresh produce from my City Fresh CSA.  Yes, I do tend to go on about this program (see my other blog for my latest on City Fresh) but I value what they bring to my table and the work that they're doing in our community.

My City Fresh share for this week.
Although it seems as though I could never possibly eat everything in my weekly share, part of the fun of it is trying.  This week I made one of my favorite simple meals - pasta and vegetables.  There are endless variations on this theme and no two times I make it does it come out the same.  The shape and types of pasta in my pantry and the kinds of cheeses I have hanging out in my fridge tend to dictate the outcome. 

However, using this same basic technique makes a really simple and fast dinner in the time it takes to boil your pasta. 

This week, I looked over my CSA and used what I had on hand, including a bit of leftover garlic brie cheese spread threatening to go green on me any day now.  Keeping to a theme, I picked out some penne pasta from the pantry and cut my vegetables in the same shape so that they all fit neatly on a fork.  Adding the creamy cheese made this very filling and frankly I ended up eating twice out of this particlar pan, but that's OK, it was really good both days.

So with no further ado - I give you.......


2/3 cup penne pasta
3-4 tablespoon fresh shelled peas
1 tablespoon diced green onion or shallot
1 small clove garlic, minced or 1 chopped garlic scape
1 1/2 cups mixed vegetables, cut into sticks about the same size as the pasta
2-3 leaves of swiss chard (or you can use spinach or kale) cleaned well and cut into ribbons
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons creamy cheese spread (I used a garlic brie)
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese for topping
1-2 fresh basil leaves, sliced thin for garnish (optional)

Set a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.  Once it boils, salt well and add the peas.  Allow to simmer until done, 4-5 minutes.  Remove from the pot and set aside.  Bring the water to a boil again and add the pasta.  Cook for 8-12 minutes. 

Meanwhile, cut up your vegetables and have them ready as you would do for a stir fry (this dish comes together quickly so there's no time for slicing and dicing as you cook).   For this dish I used a mixture of zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, carrots, swiss chard and the fresh peas that I blanched in the pasta water before I cooked the pasta.

Heat a small, heavy, non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the olive oil.  Add green onions or shallots, garlic or scape, peppers and carrots as they take the longest to cook.  Cook 2-3 minutes, tossing in the pan or stirring so they don't burn.

Add the red pepper flakes, squashes and the chard.  Continue to cook, stirring, until the chard is cooked through. 

At this point the pasta should be done.  Use a spider to remove it from the pasta water (you may want some of the water to thin out your sauce).  Add the peas and the pasta to the skillet and toss to combine everything. 

Add the creamy cheese to the skillet and toss everything together until the cheese melts.  Use some of the pasta water if you need to thin this out a bit.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. 

Serve immediately.  Garnish with fresh parmesan and a chiffonade of fresh basil if you like.