Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't judge a fruit by its skin

When growing your own fruits and vegetables, you need to forget a few things that you've been doing in supermarkets your entire life. One of those things is eschewing any produce that looks imperfect. I totally understand that you don't want to buy anything that looks like it might not be edible. Neither do I. But when something is growing in your yard or garden, you owe it to yourself to cut it open before making the decision to feed it to the chickens, worms, compost bin, or yourself.

Illinois has a pretty short growing season for anyone who wants to grow melons, and many home gardeners don't even try. But it is so rewarding to have your own fresh melons, so every few years, I give it a go. This year is one of those years. The melons were growing like weeds until the bugs attacked. Most of the vines are now dead, and the melons are not pretty, but they are tasty.

Who would have thought that this --

would look like this inside?

Not me! I fed two of my Charantais melons to the pigs before realizing what a mistake I was making! Well, no more! Now I'm cutting open every melon before making the decision about who gets to eat it.

This is really not new to me though. Our apples always look like this --

but on the inside, they're perfect!

And they make delicious apple crisp, apple preserves, caramel apple butter, and . . . you get the idea!

Lots of people assume their homegrown fruit isn't edible because it doesn't look as pretty as the fruit in the store. I know, I used to be one of those people. But the fruit in the store looks so perfect because it has had lots of pesticides sprayed on it to keep the bugs away, and it is often waxed to be shiny and picture perfect. So before you decide that your homegrown fruit isn't edible, cut it open and give it a chance. You could be missing out on bushels of fresh, organic, free fruit!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Homegrown Tamale Pie

For about 20 years, we've been making a tamale pie out of the cookbook, Tofu Cookery, but recently it occurred to me that this time of year we could make our own version of this recipe using produce straight from our garden and substituting our own queso blanco for the tofu.

First, make a batch of queso blanco with a gallon of milk and cut it into cubes. One-inch cubes will be chewier; half-inch cubes will be crunchier. Brown the cubes in a couple tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Queso blanco is a cheese made without rennet, so it doesn't melt. That means it will hold its shape during browning.

Add the following fresh produce to the skillet or wok:
4 large or 6 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 ears of corn, corn cut from cobs using a mandoline
1 jalapeño or banana pepper, chopped

Stir-fry for five to ten minutes until vegetables are slightly browned and there is no excess water in the pan. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables, based upon personal preference and what is in the garden.

Pour mixture into a 9 X 13 baking dish and cover with cornbread mix:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Spread cornbread mix over the top of the vegetables and queso blanco. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until cornbread is done.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Zucchini here, there, everywhere

Patty pan, lemon squash, golden zucchini, and scalloped squash
 Although we are not drowning in zucchini and summer squash this year -- the picture is from last year -- I know a lot of people have been blessed with an abundance of summer squash of all varieties, so here is what I would be doing if the borers had not visited my garden a few too many times this summer.

Stir-fried Summer Squash -- quick, easy, and nutritious! I made this last year on The Morning Blend, a morning show in Milwaukee. Click on the link to get the recipe for summer squash with a basil chiffonade. You can also create a southwest flavor by adding a dash of chili powder and a chopped habañero or jalapeño instead of the basil.

Zucchini Spice Cake -- one of my favorite desserts, especially with goat cheese frosting! Click on the link for the recipe.

Zucchini Fritters -- a great treat with ranch dressing! Here's the recipe:

Shred 2 small zucchini or 1 medium or 1/2 of a baseball sized zucchini, and add to the following batter:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Drop by spoonfuls into an inch of hot oil and fry until browned on both sides.

Zucchini Pancakes -- for a low-fat option, follow the above recipe, but fry in a non-stick pan with no added oil.

For more posts on real food, check out Real Food Wednesday.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Goat cheese and cucumber spread

We picked our first cucumbers of the season a few weeks ago, and I immediately remembered this excellent sandwich spread that I discovered last fall towards the end of the cucumber harvest. We've already had it six or seven times. This is a twist on the cucumber dip recipe that is all over the Internet. Most of those recipes call for cream cheese, but I use chevre, which is a bit healthier than cream cheese.

4 small or 2 medium cucumbers, peeled
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
5 ounces chévre
1 green onion
salt and pepper to taste

After peeling the cucumbers, scoop out the seeds because otherwise the spread may be too watery. Shred the cucumbers into a medium mixing bowl. Add mayonnaise and chévre and stir until smooth. Snip green onion into 1/4-inch pieces and mix in. Add salt and pepper, and chill for a couple hours, if you have the time and patience. It will get thicker when it is cold, but it tastes fine, if you are in a hurry. This is really delicious on flat bread or crusty French baguettes.
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