What’s for dinner?

by Steve, August 21st, 2011

Compose yourselfFor the gardener, the end of summer brings the zucchini dilemma. It doesn’t freeze well, and once it starts, it really gets going. You end up doing things like leaving squash on neighbors’ porches, ringing their doorbells and running off. Or making zucchini bread, which is delicious, but not exactly what I need as I fight the middle-age spread.

I’ve always enjoyed summer squash stewed with tomatoes and onions, which Wacky Mommy calls ratatouille (I always just called it “what was ripe in the garden at the same time”). Tonight we tried something different, inspired by a recipe in my girl Marfa’s Whole Living magazine. Call it a composed ratatouille, if you will. Here goes:

Composed ratatouille

Ingredients:

    1 medium onion, sliced thinly
    4 roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
    1 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
    1 medium purple potato, sliced 1/4 inch thick
    Olive oil
    Fresh thyme
    Grated Parmesan
    Coarse sea salt
    Black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 375.

SautÚ onion in olive oil until just starting to caramelize. Spread these evenly in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.

On top of the onions, lay the slices of potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini in an overlapping, alternating pattern. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh thyme leaves, and Parmesan.

Bake 30 minutes covered, then uncover and bake another 30 minutes. Test potatoes with a fork, and bake a little more if needed.

Beets me!We also have an abundance of heirloom Chioggia beets, which I planted by accident two years ago, and decided they were my favorite. Tonight I roasted them for about 35 minutes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. We rounded out the meal with some seasoned pinto beans (olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper) and brown rice.

Surprisingly simple to make, fun to look at, delicious and nutritious.

Psychedelic birthday bars

by Steve, November 24th, 2010

You don’t need to be in any particular state of mind to enjoy this variation on the classic dream bar (chocolate chip oatmeal coconut cookie bars).

I only had about a third of the oats I needed to make the classic, so I subbed what I had on hand: multi-grain oat bran breakfast cereal flakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/12 cups multi-grain oat bran flakes, or some other hearty flake cereal (crushed if you are hand mixing, whole if using a strong mixer)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup shredded coconut

Method:

Cream butter, sugars, and vanilla. Mix in eggs. Mix flour, oats, cereal, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl, then gradually mix into wet ingredients. Stir in chocolate and coconut, reserving a small amount of coconut for topping. Spread dough into a lightly greased 9×13 baking pan. Sprinkle remaining coconut on top. Bake 30-35 minutes. Coconut on top will be golden brown when done.

Is it summer yet?

by Steve, May 23rd, 2010

We at Chez Wacky are long-time devotees of the Beaverton Farmers Market. It’s still the best market in the Portland metro area, both in terms of selection and shopping experience.

Here’s a little something I whipped up yesterday. Let’s call it:

The Market Cocktail, v. 1.0

Ingredients:

Method:

Slice 3-4 ripe strawberries and muddle with contents of one CranHoney stick and as much vodka as you like to pour. Add ice and top with a splash of 7-Up or sparkling water. Enjoy with your lovely spouse, and toast the coming of summer!

The summer feast continues

by Steve, August 17th, 2009

Chioggia beets with caramelized onions and garlic and pan-seared green beans an zucchini with crisp basil, Parmesan and lemon zest

Summer feast continuesI love beets. Despite this love, and despite having been a produce guy for 10 years, I never tried Chioggia beets until I grew them in my garden this year. They are an Italian heirloom variety, milder than your average beet, and they don’t stain. The first batch I harvested, I roasted to bring out their sweetness, but tonight I wanted to steam them to appreciate their unadulterated complexity.

I also harvested the first big batch of green beans tonight, and some baby zucchinis, and the basil’s still kicking of course, so I whipped this up for dinner tonight.

Ingredients

  • 5 medium-small Chioggia beets, peeled and sliced
  • 1 fistful of green beans with the ends cut off
  • 2 baby zucchini, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 sweet onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • zest from 1/4 lemon
  • juice from 1/4 lemon
  • a couple sprinkles freshly grated Parmesan or other dry cheese
  • several leaves fresh basil, sliced length-wise, plus sprigs for garnish
  • olive oil
  • steamed rice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

Heat olive oil over medium-high flame in a cast-iron skillet. (Use more olive oil than you think you’ll need; this will not only cook the onions, garlic, beans and zucchini, it will dress the beets and rice.) Caramelize onions. While onions are caramelizing, steam beats.

Once onions are starting to brown, add green beans, thinly-sliced zucchini, and thinly-sliced garlic; sear well. Add salt and pepper and lemon juice. Add a little olive oil if it doesn’t look like enough.

Arrange beets on a bed of rice, top with skillet mixture, Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Garnish with a sprig of basil. Enjoy wth a glass of Pinot Griggio and your super-hero spouse (serves 2).

A midsummer night’s feast

by Steve, August 9th, 2009

squashTonight’s garden feast: capellini with garden fresh pesto, rustic whole wheat bread, and rice salad with fresh green beans, zucchini, basil, and jalepe├▒o. I haven’t made pesto for years, but it’s not hard to remember.

Pesto

  • fresh basil
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • some kind of dry, grated cheese (Parmesan works great)
  • pine nuts
  • salt to taste

(You could use some other kind of nuts — walnuts, almonds — but then don’t call it pesto.) We’ve got some old food processor I never use, but it’s perfect for this. Go cut a bunch of basil. I used the equivalent of about four bunches at the store. Rinse the bugs and dust off them, the strip all the leaves (and the tender buds) into the food processor. Add several cloves of garlic, a couple glugs of olive oil and some grated cheese. Puree the heck out it and set it aside in the fridge. Toss with hot pasta later.

Rice Salad with Green Beans

This is a variation on something I used to do with cilantro, but I’m not growing any cilantro this year. I added garbanzo beans to make a complete protein. Make a bunch; keeps well in fridge for several days.

  • a pot of cooked rice, cooled
  • cooked garbanzos, cooled, thawed or from a can, drained (I used one can)
  • 1 small zucchini, grated
  • 1 small jalepe├▒o, minced
  • 1/4 sweet onion, minced
  • a couple fistfuls green beans, par-boiled
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • a small handful fresh basil, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prep beans like you’re going to freeze them: submerge in boiling water one or two minutes, then transfer to ice bath. While beans cool, mix rice, beans, a glug or two of olive oil and a fair amount of lemon juice. Add minced jalepe├▒o, onion, basil, grated zuchinni, salt an pepper. Lemon zest would be great if you’re using fresh lemons. Add the beans, stir well, and set aside in the fridge to marry flavors.

Breakfast spuds

by Steve, July 27th, 2009

Here’s a little number I whipped up for breakfast today.

Ingredients:

  • a couple fistfuls of freshly dug spuds
  • a fistful of basil
  • half an onion
  • half a bell pepper
  • a dash of paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil

Method:

Fresh spuds
Go out and dig up some potatoes. Admire them for their size. Rinse them with the garden hose and admire their surreal color (These steps can be done the night before).

Preheat oven to 425. Dice spuds and rinse. Chop onion and bell pepper. Put in roaster pan and pour some olive oil over them.

No, more than that. I said “pour,” not “drizzle.” There you go.

Add salt, pepper and paprika; mix well. Put it in the oven and go water the garden. When you’re mostly done watering, pick your basil. Slice it up, and throw it in with the spuds (which have been cooking, oh, 20 minutes by now). Stir well, then put it all back in the oven. Go back out and finish your watering.

Check out the raspberries… they’re past peak production, but some of those late bloomers have the best flavor. Graze a little. Pull some weeds. Get your feet and hands dirty, and enjoy the last fleeting moments of coolness.

Go back in and check the spuds. Put a fan in the back door. Spuds should be browned and basil should be crispy. Don’t forget to turn off the oven! It’s going to be hot today. Prop oven door open, and leave hood fan on high.

Serve with a fried egg, toast and coffee. Chase it with a ripe peach.

I. Love. Summer.

Raspberry Cool-down

by Steve, May 23rd, 2009

I don’t know what else to call this, especially after drinking one. Check it out:
1 pint frozen raspberries from last year’s harvest
3 ice cubes
3 shots vodka
4 fl. oz. club soda
3 T. sugar

Blend the hell out of it, and share it with your lover on the front porch in the sun after a day of yard work.

Rice noodles with peanut sauce

by Steve, May 16th, 2009

Ingredients
1 package rice noodles
chopped vegetables (onion, carrots, broccoli, etc.)
tofu or meat
oil for stir fry

Peanut sauce ingredients

4 t. oil
1/2 onion, minced
5-10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. chili powder
2 T. sugar
2 T. rice vinegar
3 t. soy sauce
1 c. water
1/3 c. peanut butter

Method
Soak noodles in very hot tap water. Cover and set aside; soak for 20-25 minutes. Put minced garlic and onions, oil and chili powder in a blender or food processor; make a paste. Heat this in a sauce pan until it just starts to sizzle and brown a little. Add peanut butter and water; simmer for 10 minutes.

While sauce simmers, start stir frying tofu/meat and vegetables.

Add more water to sauce if it gets too thick. Add sugar, vinegar and soy sauce; bring back to simmer.

Drain noodles and add to stir fry. Sear them a little (may need to add more oil and turn up heat. Add peanut sauce, mix well and serve. May garnish with chopped peanuts, fresh chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges.

Holiday drink recipes for Nan

by Steve, December 20th, 2008

A couple variations on kid favorites for the grown-ups for Nan who was expecting drink recipes from Wacky Mommy.

Snow Snake

  • Hot cocoa
  • Peppermint Schnapps
  • Whipped cream
  • Creme de menthe

Add a shot of schnapps to a cup of hot cocoa. Top with a mountain of whipped cream. Drizzle a line of creme de menthe around the whipped cream (that’s the snake). Sip carefully and keep away from the kids!

Shirley Tavern

The working title for this has been “Dirty Shirley”, which I like for the assonance/alliteration (what do you call it when it’s both?) but it’s not dirty like a martini.

  • Vodka
  • Grenadine
  • 7-up
  • Ice
  • Maraschino cherry

Fill a tall glass with ice. Add a splash of grenadine, a shot (or more) of vodka, top of with 7-up and garnish with a cherry. Serve to your lovely wife and pour a shot of vodka on the rocks for yourself (I’m partial to Grey Goose.)

My Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

by Steve, March 27th, 2007

Did I mention I love to cook? And bake? Well, I do. I’m a crunchy granola type from way back. Shut up! I heard that! Now, listen, I’ve got a lot of fond memories of childhood, but right up there among the best is getting a slice of my Mom’s whole wheat bread, right out of the oven, slathered with butter. The heel is the best part. So when, as an adult, our bread machine finally let us down, after years of reliable service, I thought I’d get back to doing it the old fashioned way.

Here’s the thing about bread machines: They are freakin’ awesome in many ways. In five minutes you can load the thing up with ingredients before bed, and awake to a fresh loaf in the morning. Many people poo-poo them because they are “cheating”. Well fuck that. To them I said, “How many times a week do you have fresh, home-made bread in your house?” In our house it has been once or twice a week for several years. We loved our bread machine. But it never quite had that taste I remember. Oh, sure, I tinkered with the recipe. I tried to get it close to the good ol’ Beard on Bread whole wheat. But it just never was quite right. And then there’s the big gaping hole in the bottom of the loaf from where the paddle tears out. And the fact that it always lets the dough rise the exact same amount of time, regardless of how active the yeast is, or how warm the room is, which means sometimes you’d get these big puffy loafs (always puffier at the top) that crumble when you slice them, or little bricks that are shorter than they are wide.

Still, our daughter developed a taste for home-made bread early, and absolutely refuses to eat store-bought bread. Except the fancy hearth style, which is referred to simply as “white bread” in our home. So when the paddle shaft blew a gasket and started oozing oogy black grease onto the dough (and we’d already replaced the pan/paddle combo once), we decided it was time to move on. Which brought me to you, dear internet, in search of that perfect whole wheat bread recipe.

I found one that was reasonably close, and tinkered with it until I got it closer. Two things an old baker friend taught me about whole wheat bread: use barley malt for a rich, earthy flavor, and oats for a moister loaf. So here’s what I’m working with, to the satisfaction of me and my daughter (my wife and son still prefer store-bought, bless their hearts!):

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 c. warm water
1/4 c. vegetable oil
3/8 c. barley malt
1 tsp. salt
5 c. flour mixture*

Mix water and yeast thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, barley malt and salt and mix well. Add yeast/water mixture to this, and mix well. Add flour mixture a little at a time. Knead on a floured surface for 8-10 minutes. (Critical step! Don’t under- or over-knead!) Grease the mixing bowl and put the dough ball back in there, and cover it up with a tea towel. Let it rise until it doubles in size. Rising time will vary widely based on the quality of yeast, temperature, etc. Be patient. When it’s really double in size, punch it down and give it a few minutes to rest. Grease two bread pans, then shape the dough into two loaves. Cover with the tea towel and let it rise again. Be patient! It will take at least an hour in the best of conditions to rise to it’s full size, even more this time of year in Portland. When it has risen into what look like loaves of bread (what you see is basically what you’re going to get!), bake at 375 for 35 minutes.

*Flour mixture: I started with 3 cups of whole wheat and 2 cups of white. That’s the basic proportion. Then I replaced about a half cup of flour with oats. If you want more whole wheat and less white, you might want to add wheat gluten to make sure it can rise. If you want 100% whole wheat, you definitely want to use some gluten (even though it’s not technically whole wheat then, is it?). You can try 100% whole wheat without gluten, but you’re going to get a pretty flat loaf.

While the whole production takes basically all day, most of that time the yeast is doing the real work. It takes me about 15 minutes on Sunday mornings to mix and knead. Then I’m free to do household chores, do the shopping or hang out with the family. Later, it’s just a few minutes to punch down and shape into loaves, and then you just have to come back in a few hours to throw it into the oven. I throw one loaf in the freezer (after it cools) and keep the other loaf ready for my daughter’s lunch Monday morning.

The best secret about baking bread is this: It really ain’t all that difficult. All you have to do is commit to being around the house for a day. And boy howdy is it worth it!