It’s summer and some of the classic tastes of the season derive from our memories of trips to the beach. Fried clams, fresh oysters, shrimp boils, lobster rolls. Seafood evokes the smell of the ocean and the feel of the sun on your face. One such summer treat is the crab cake. Crab cakes are rich and tasty, with the spiciness of Old Bay giving them that traditional American seafood flavor. But have you noticed that crab meat is pricey? Very pricey. At $30 a pound, it is a seldom-made special treat at our house (think 4th of July dinner). On the other hand, a 1-lb. block of tofu only costs $1.50 and can take on all the tastes that make crab cakes so delicious – onion, celery, garlic, parsley, lemon and Old Bay Seasoning. So, for our family, I make a delicious meat-free substitute for crab cakes many times a year – Tofu Crab Cakes (of Tofu “Crab” Cakes).
The fact that I can forage for dandelion greens in my urban backyard is a testament to both the tenacity of the plant and my laziness as a landscape gardener. As soon as the weather starts to warm up here in Georgia, I can see that distinctive yellow flower popping up all over my backyard. I’m not one to seek perfection in a lawn, so I rather like the little addition of color back there. Dandelions also provide something that most people choose to ignore – edible dandelion greens. Dandelions are loaded with calcium, iron, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and lots of other micronutrients. So…here are the basics on eating dandelion greens.
Soup has magical qualities. It warms you and comforts you. If you are on a diet, soup gives you an easy way to bring more vegetables into your diet in that is completely satisfying. When it gets cold, one soup that I love to make is Porcini Mushroom Barley Soup. It is full of “umami”, the savory taste that makes you go “mmmm”.
Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks and I’m already starting to plan for the annual feast. If your family is like ours, then the Thanksgiving holiday is a time when you put aside new recipes and return to traditional food favorites and guilty pleasures. Even though I love the turkey and the sides, the dessert is what I most look forward to. Pecan and Pumpkin pies are always a part of our holiday meals. Here is step-by-step recipe to make your pumpkin pie from scratch, starting with roasting your pumpkin and finishing with a whole wheat crust.
A holiday food tradition at our house is Green Bean Casserole. Of course, being a child of the 60’s and 70’s, back in the day, my Mom would open up two cans of green beans, a can of Cream of Mushroom soup, mix them together and top with canned fried onions. Four cans, a little baking time, and she was done! I guess I can’t blame her for doing things the easy way, but now that I’m the cook for the holidays, I’m more than willing to trade convenience for taste. In that spirit, I’ve revisited that just-okay version and used fresh ingredients to make a homemade Green Bean casserole from scratch. Is it as easier? No, but it’s infinitely better tasting.
Since all my food thoughts have been taken over by Italian cuisine last August, I have worked to incorporate more easy Italian classics into my weekly cooking routine. I’ve been wanting to really master making homemade pasta, but with past failures, I’ve been a little gun shy of it now. But one thing I have been successful with in the past is homemade potato gnocchi. It is a kind of pasta, using grated cooked potato, egg and flour. It’s earthy and delicious. I’ll call it my “starter” pasta.
Gnocchi is Italian for “little lumps”, which describes it perfectly. Gnocchi are light little lumps of potato goodness. When they are done correctly, they should be as “soft as clouds”. They are pressed with grooves to hold onto a sauce, making them pair perfectly with a basic homemade tomato sauce.
In Italy, late afternoon is the time for apertivo, a kind of happy hour with cocktails and snacks. Apertivo cocktails can be as simple as a beer or a glass of wine, or a traditional aperitif, such as Campari or Aperol Spritz. As for the snacks, they can be almost like a small meal. When we were in Fano, Italy recently, our apertivo came with olives, roasted peppers, tomatoes and mozzerella cheese, nuts, focaccia and pickled eggplant – a huge spread! I’ve had plenty of marinated or roasted eggplant before, but this was a tangy, raw eggplant pickle. When I came home, I knew that I had to try to make pickled eggplant myself.
Let’s face it. Weeknight cooking when you’re working is a challenge and there are some nights you just can’t be that fussy about dinner. On those nights, I’m usually looking in the pantry and trying to throw together something that is somewhat healthy and somewhat easy to make. One cool trick that I’ve learned is to make tomato soup from canned tomatoes. I always keep cans of diced tomatoes in the pantry. If I dig a little deeper, I can usually find a can of coconut milk, too. So, if I just add some onion, garlic, celery, pepper and fresh basil & ginger, I have a delicious, creamy Thai-flavored Tomato Coconut soup that I can make in about 15 minutes.
It’s almost October and the cool weather has started settling in, even here in the muggy South. There is something about the cooler temperatures that sends me back into the kitchen to make food. And one of those foods that is traditionally made this time of year is homemade sauerkraut. There are plenty of fresh cabbages coming out of the farmer’s markets and the cooler weather is the perfect temperature for fermenting.
Dutch baby pancakes are light, egg-y popovers that are baked in a hot buttered skillet until they puff up. Maybe, like me, the first time you had a Dutch Baby pancake was at The Original Pancake House, a chain with restaurants all over the US. It is always fun to order there. It has such a dramatic presentation… coming out to the table puffed up on the edges, golden and crispy on the sides, smelling of butter and eggs. I had to try making one at home. When I found out how easy they are to make, it became part of our regular weekend breakfasts.