Monday, July 21, 2014

Homemade Ranch with Herbs and Yogurt

1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup real mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash hot sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk (as needed for desired consistency)


Chop your fresh herbs. You can mince them really really small if you want a more "authentic" ranch texture. But I like to know mine is homemade, so I only chop them "regular small"

 In a bowl, combine the garlic paste, mayonnaise, greek yogurt, parsley, dill, chives,

Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, vinegar, paprika, cayenne and hot sauce. 

 Add the buttermilk to desired consistency and mix to combine, tasting frequently and adjusting seasonings as needed.

Chill for a couple of hours before serving, thinning with more buttermilk if needed. When I made this, I omitted the buttermilk entirely for the first use - which was as a dipping sauce for the Zucchini Fries.  Then I thinned it with buttermilk to use as salad dressing. This just gets better and better after letting the flavors meld and combine. You'll never go back to store bought - or packaged ranch again.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pico de Gallo - Salsa Fresca

I love to watch cooking shows on TV. I especially love the one where they travel around the country and show different restaurants and chefs cooking regional cuisine and their own home cooking. 

I recently watched one where they went to Mexico and the chef made a fresh salsa. He had a very interesting technique and I was very interested to try it. So I picked up some ingredients to recreate what he made at home. 

Pico de Gallo, or Salsa Fresca is a little bit different that what most of us think of as "salsa".  Although I really love cooked salsa (and I eat a lot of it), I really love it when summer rolls around and the tomatoes get red and ripe and are at the peak of their flavor - that screams to me that it is time to make salsa!!

I used two different kinds of onions in this recipe. My husband Really likes onions and the onions were part of this technique that I wanted to try - so why not go all in. 

I chopped the purple and green onions and mixed them up in a bowl. I didn't make them tiny, but left them in kind of a rough chop. I think that for this recipe that each ingredient does well when it can stand on its own. 

To the onions, I added juice of two full limes. And then I let the onions sit in the lime juice without anything else added for about 5 minutes to let the juice of the limes "cook" the onions. This reminds me of a ceviche where the citrus juices are used to cure the fish. 

I chopped up about 8 roma tomatoes. I prefer to use roma tomatoes instead of slicing tomatoes in this recipe because they are "meatier" and contain less juice. I think it makes the salsa hold together better and be less juicy or saucy. 

I added one bunch of fresh cilantro, washed and chopped. And two jalapenos with the seeds removed. I always try and wear gloves when I chopping jalapenos.  They are very hot and the oil that makes them that way is in all parts of the pepper. So touching the pepper and then touching your eyes or nose (or even lips) can cause of lot of pain. (And yet we eat them like crazy because they are soooo delicious!) 

I seasoned the Salsa Fresca with some salt and pepper and some fresh minced garlic. I just use the garlic from the squeeze tube because I like the convenience. But you can chop your own - just be sure to do it finely.

And I like to put the salt and pepper right onto the tomatoes. I think they benefit the very most from being directly seasoned instead of adding the salt and pepper to the entire dish.  When my brother makes this salsa, he chops the tomatoes and then salts and peppers then right on the cutting board before adding them to the bowl. Then he hardly seasons the finished dish at all. (There is no denying summer vine ripe tomatoes with salt is very very good!)

Add this to grilled chicken or fish, or eat it like we do - Plain with tortilla chips. Although it is almost always associated with Mexican food, Pico de Gallo is great with absolutely everything. The fresh summer flavors go well with just about anything you can put in your mouth.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Super Simple Spaghetti Sauce - Quick and Easy

Even the best planned dinners can sometimes go awry.  The other day Dad took the kids to the public pool to spend the day. I love pool days! The house is nice and quiet and I get to catch up on a few things without having all my adorable children under foot. But the thing about pool days, is that you can guarantee that everyone is going to come home Starving! And starving kids (or even kids who think they are starving are not happy - being hungry means we have lots of fights and squabbles and my day of serenity and accomplishment goes out the window) 

So I try and have dinner planned and if I am really on top of things, then ready to go when everyone gets home from the pool.  So this week, on pool day, I decided for my own sanity that we would have spaghetti for dinner. 

I keep spaghetti as my "go-to" pantry dinner. You can have it on the table in just a little bit more time than it takes to boil water.  Everyone at my house eats it, and all I have to do is boil some pasta and open a few jars.  Sometimes we get a little fancy and add some frozen meatballs or slice up a loaf of the 1$ french bread from the local super market. 

So I had my spaghetti dinner planned, sent the family off to play at the pool, put the baby down for nap and started to enjoy a day all to myself.  The time passed quickly (as time that you get to yourself often does) and it was soon time to start dinner - this is where the story gets kinda scary!  There was not a can of red spaghetti sauce in the house - Not one! 

Now, I am against being a short order cook, but I also believe in not fighting battles with your kids that you don't need to. I have a even 50/50 split in my household or red-sauce eaters and white-sauce eaters. And the two do Not eat the others sauce. So I needed to figure out something and quick or I wasn't going to be able to make spaghetti for dinner and I was going to be facing no dinner in sight and starving kids. 

I thought of how well the homemade pizza went and decided to try and make my own. There were lots of recipes out there that involve browning several types of meat and simmering for hours and hours. I didn't have that kind of time. And I certainly didn't have that kind of ingredients on hand. 

So I set out to whip up my own. This was going to be a wild experience brought on by the fear of hungry swimmers.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (Ro-Tel)
2 (15 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 tablespoons sugar (please adjust to your taste)
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (please adjust to your taste)

I added both the butter and olive oil to a pan and added the garlic to cook. I think adding both butter and olive oil really creates an amazing flavor. If you are concerned, feel free to just use the olive oil (but don't double it - you shouldn't need to)

I only had cans of tomato sauce, no crushed tomatoes and no tomato paste. I did however have a can of tomatoes with green chilies (Ro-Tel). I was a little worried that adding it would make it taste less "Italian" but the subtle heat and the depth of flavor that the tomatoes and chilies added was amazing. I think it will be my "secret" ingredient from now on.  

Once I had the tomato products added in with the cooked garlic, I added the spices. To be honest, I just dumped and guess-timated the amount of the spices. And taste-tested as I went along until I got something that I felt was good.

I added what I had leftover in the freezer for frozen meatballs. It wasn't enough to actually call it "spaghetti and meatballs", but each of the kids got to eat one in their dish.

I only simmered it long enough for the pasta to cook and for me to serve it up. I know that isn't very long in the usual process of simmering homemade spaghetti sauce on the stove top. But I am extremely happy with how this turned out.

I have been trying all sorts of different brands of Spaghetti Sauce looking for one that is really amazing. (Because I happen to be one of the red-sauce eaters) But I haven't found one that I am in love with and can't live without yet.  I think that in making my own sauce, I may have just discovered that the very best kind is the kind that I make on my own.

And the kids loved it too! If this face doesn't just say, "I love spaghetti", I just don't know what it does say. Perhaps "My mom lets me get really really dirty during dinner".

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Baked Zucchini Fries

Remember that I had four zucchini that my sister brought over to share with me. Here is what I did with the other two... Zucchini Fries.  There is a national restaurant chain that makes fried zucchini and it is my absolute favorite thing on their menu. Crazy - I know, but I just can't get enough of the stuff. 

The thing is, fried food is never good for you, and honestly, I never get out to this restaurant - so what is a girl to do? Make my own at home - of course! 

These are so simple to make and so darn good, you'll be wishing you had More zucchini on hand so you could make them everyday. 

Depending on the size, slice your zucchini into pretty uniform pieces. You want them to cook evenly, so this is important. Think of those knife skills your are building. I don't peel mine because the restaurant doesn't peel theirs - simple as that. 

Once you zukes are all sliced, get yourself a little station set up to dredge the veggies. This is what is going to make them crispy and give them that "fried" crust that we are craving. 

I used Italian Bread Crumbs, but you can use plain bread crumbs and add some seasonings, or you can use panko bread crumbs and season those.  I have read a few recipes where people have even added some Parmesan cheese to their bread crumbs. 

Crack a few eggs into a bowl (I used three- because I was making two large zucchinis) and whisk them up with a fork or a whisk. 

Then begin to "assemble" your fries.  Take each slice of zucchini and dip both sides in the egg, then move it to the bread crumbs and coat each side with bread crumbs. This can be a slow process if you are doing it yourself, but this is also a great place to let your kids help in the kitchen. They don't mind so much if their fingers get all clumpy (some even love it!) and it makes the process go much faster with lots of hands working.  

Put your crumb-covered zucchini slices on a sprayed cookie sheet. You can also cover your sheet with foil before you spray it if that works for you.  Be sure that each slice isn't touching any other slices. You need that hot oven air to be able to circulate all around each piece - that is what is going to make them crispy, and we are all about achieving maximum crispiness.

 Bake them at 425 for 10-12 minutes and then you will need to flip them over. Once you have flipped all of the slices (and made sure they aren't touching) cook them another 10-12 minutes.

 We served ours with Homemade Ranch dressing and they were incredible.  We ate these with hamburgers and some frozen french fries for dinner. And there were frozen french fries left over, but not a single zucchini stick. - That is saying something!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread - Better for You

I just received what I hope is the first of many many deliveries of fresh vegetables from her garden.  It included some cucumbers and four beautiful zucchini. 

Now I know there are lots and lots of delicious ways to use up zucchini, probably as many ways as you can find neighbors to share with you. There is just something about zucchini plants when they start producing - those green summer squashes can take over an entire garden. 

Since I had four of them to use, I decided that I would use two in a sweet bread and two in something savory. There are so many wonderful recipes for zucchini breads and muffins, but my favorite happens to be with chocolate. - Let's be honest, I think a lot of us would include chocolate in our favorites. 

3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil 
2 large eggs 
1 cup applesauce 
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups finely shredded zucchini (about 1 medium) 
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.

Wash, peel and grate your zucchini. The finer you are able to grate it, the less noticeable it will be in your bread. 

Place first 3 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at low speed until well blended. 

 Stir in applesauce.

 Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring well with a whisk.

Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating just until moist. Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips. 

 I forgot to take a photo of the batter in the pans - so you get this silly shot of the pans sitting in my dirty oven.

 Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack, and remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

 I doubled this recipe and ended up with three good sized loaves. I probably could have cooked the bread about 10 minutes longer and the bread would have been a little bit cake-ier and less like a heavy bread. But we are enjoying it anyway.  Half the loaf was gone before I could even stop the hungry eaters long enough to take a picture.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pineapple Mango Salsa

The pineapples at my local market have been fabulous lately! I have been buying one almost every time I have gone to the store. Since I absolutely love pineapple and I think they are a million ways to use it, I am just going to keep on buying them while they look beautiful and using them up anyway that I can. 

I am going to share with you the most delicious pineapple mango salsa. It turned out even better than I had hoped and after making it a day ahead of the time I planned to use it, the flavors had gotten deeper and melded together and created something that really was quite phenomenal. 

This is an amazingly simple recipe. And you can add or take away ingredients to your taste. I served it as a salsa for a sweet pork taco, but today I added a can of black beans and ate it as a salad. 

I used one fresh pineapple and one good sized ripe mango. I am not a raving mango fan, so I was fine using this amount. If you love mango, go ahead and use two. 

I used two jalapenos with the seeds and white membrane removed to reduce the heat a little bit. I still wanted it to have quite a bit of bite to it though. If  you don't enjoy your salsa quite so hot, maybe use one, see how you like it and then add another. You can always add more, but you can't take it out once it is in. 

I used a half of a large purple onion. I just adore the freshness and subtle heat that a sweet purple onion can add to a dish. (you can probably tell, sometimes it feels like I put them into everything!) 

 I added a red bell pepper for color and mild pepper flavor. You can use or a green one, (or any color for that matter), but I think the salad needed the red. (It was absolutely gorgeous! - But I hate that the colored bell peppers cost more)

One bunch of cilantro, cleaned and chopped. It just wouldn't be salsa at my house without a heaping bunch of cilantro. 

And finally the juice of two limes. This is the only "dressing" that you add to this salad. I didn't even add salt or pepper.

 We had some family over for dinner yesterday and this was the star of show. We ate it with sweet pork tacos and the flavors were incredible together. We also ate it with tortilla chips and I saw a few people eating plates of it like a salad. (yes! it was That good!)

This would be great with fish or shrimp tacos, as well as with added chicken or beans for a salad all on its own.

I think what makes it so wonderful is that all the ingredients are fresh, in season and at their own peak of flavor. Good ingredients just make good food. So when you are shopping keep your eyes open, especially when shopping for produce, for things that in season. This not only makes them more delicious and flavorful, but also less expensive to buy.

Happy Eating!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Salad on a Stick - Kebabs

If you are looking for a fun and easy way to serve salad this summer to your family. I have a Great idea for you! Put your salad on a stick. This makes portability for summer events and BBQs super easy and let's be honest, eating food on a stick is super fun and kids and adults alike will love it. 

You could use any salad ingredients you choose - fruits, veggies and meats. I happened to have the things to make a "Chef's Salad". But grilled chicken would work really nice with this, as well as chopped apples or some homemade croutons. 

 I gathered everything out of my fridge and chopped the things that needed to be in smaller sizes. Like the ham and cheese, as well as the cucumber and eggs. I left the mushrooms and tomatoes whole because I liked the size of the mushrooms and the tomatoes were just the small grape ones. (if you are using a big slicing tomato or a roma tomato - you may want to cut yours smaller)

Once you are at this point, just poke the salad onto a skewer. We were having this for lunch as a family, so I let everyone assemble their own. If you have a kid or two that would put just ham and cheese and no veggies on their kebab, you may want to make theirs for them. But my kids are pretty well trained about the "salad rules".

This is a great way to introduce veggies that might be new or unfamiliar to your family, in a way that they don't feel "forced" to eat them. Slice up a bell pepper, or offer a few different types of lettuce. 

But be sure to include some of their favorites too. That will lend a familiarity to the dish and let everyone feel comfortable choosing things they know they like - so they can be brave enough to choose something that they might not be sure if they like, but they are curious about.