Sunday, August 26, 2007

Marinated Artichoke Hearts

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to a Garden Party. I was delighted to be invited. The gardener who was having the party is renowned for his garden. Everyone was asked to bring a chair and finger food. I don’t own a lawn chair and I don’t cook finger food. I especially don’t cook during the summer months. But I really, really wanted to attend this event.

I learned a memory trick a long time ago. When you are trying to remember something, don’t think about it. Do something else. Your brain continues to search for the memory. Try it. It really works. In this case, I put my brain to work searching for any recipe that I had made in the past that might fill the bill. It took a day or two, but the answer did appear: marinated artichoke hearts.

Many years ago, when I was first learning how to cook, I also learned that I didn’t like cooking just for myself. So whenever I wanted to cook a nice meal, I would invite friends over to share it with me. One of the side dishes that I made fairly regularly was marinated artichoke hearts.

I hadn’t made that recipe in so many years, that I couldn’t remember which cookbook it was in. It didn’t take me long to find it though because at the time, I didn’t own that many cookbooks. I finally found it in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that I had bought circa 1980.

It requires no cooking and can be made ahead of time, probably why I used to make it so frequently. I made a few minor changes. I made the marinade first and then added the artichoke hearts so that it would be easier to stir the ingredients. I also cut the artichoke hearts in half to make them easier to eat.

I knew I had a hit on my hands when three different people asked me for the recipe!

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Marinated Artichoke Hearts
(source: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook)

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons salad oil
Dash garlic salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¼ teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
1 15-ounce can (2 cups) artichoke hearts, drained

Combine all ingredients and 2 tablespoons water in a bowl. Cover; chill several hours or overnight. Drain and sprinkle with paprika; serve with picks. Makes 2 cups.

Recycle: Artichoke can, lemon juice bottle, salad oil bottle

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Squash Brownies

As mentioned in my last post, the squash harvest is starting, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it all. I was intrigued by the recipe for zucchini brownies when I stumbled across it in a magazine. I thought, if it works with zucchini, why not with other summer squash too? Not only that, but this brownie recipe is probably healthier than most, and a good way to sneak veggies into unsuspecting kids, spouses, etc.

Anyone who makes this should be forewarned that this is one of those recipes where the batter is strange. When you mix the sugar with the oil and vanilla, you end up with something that looks sort of like a snow cone. Except of course that it's not cold and melting. Then you stir in the dry ingredients, and end up with something roughly the consistency of pie dough before you add the water. Crumbly, in other words. Don't panic. Just add the grated squash, stir for a minute or two, and voila! - the water from the squash turns it all into brownie batter (albeit rather thick brownie batter).

I didn't use a mixer when I made this, just a large bowl and large spoon. It might have been better if I had used a mixer. It would have been easier to get the ingredients thoroughly mixed, which is difficult in this case because the batter is so thick. It might also have chopped up the squash pieces a little more. I shredded the squash using a grater, and you can see little yellow streaks in the finished product - enough to make people wonder. The unsuspecting kids/spouse/etc. would know that you were Up To Something. I'm guessing this could be helped by peeling the squash first, or by chopping it up more finely using a food processor or blender. This might also make the batter a little thinner.

Oh, by the way, I got 2 cups grated squash from about 3/4 of a pattypan squash roughly 4" in diameter.

The result was, to my mind, perfectly acceptable. The consistency was moist and chewy, almost too moist (the sample I had was on the verge of falling apart, but then I was eating it warm). The flavor was fine, I thought. It could have been a little more chocolately, so maybe I can work on that. But I didn't notice an off-flavor from the squash. I suspect that the walnuts may have helped hide any off-flavor there was. By the way, if you're going to add walnuts, I would put in a little more than the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for.

Usually I don't reach a final verdict until after I've eaten a dish at least twice, but this time I decided to post this after eating only one sample, because I had some free time tonight. So if I change my mind after eating the brownies again, I'll add a comment below.

Verdict: Has serious potential; maybe could be improved a little.

Zucchini Brownies
(source: Garden Plate magazine, August/September 2007)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini (or other summer squash)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and walnuts. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until brownies spring back when gently touched.

Nutrition information (provided by the magazine):
per serving (1/18 of the recipe): 200 calories; 80 calories from fat; 2 g protein; 29 g carbs; 17g sugar; 9g total fat; 1.5g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 1g dietary fiber; 230 mg sodium; 0% Daily Value calcium; 6% Daily Value iron.

Recycle: oil bottle, vanilla bottle

Compost: squash trimmings

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte

I recently harvested my first squash of the season, so made this recipe again. I found it on a few years ago when I was trying to figure out what to do with my squash. I like it because it's easy: no precooking required, just peel, assemble, and bake.

As originally written, the torte was made in two 8" cake pans. I make it in my 2 quart (or is it 3 quart?) round casserole dish, using the same amounts of the ingredients. This time, I used 3 or 4 (sorry, I wasn't counting) medium-sized potatoes and one pattypan squash about 4-5" in diameter. The recipe calls for yellow crookneck squash, but probably any kind of summer squash would work - maybe even zucchini? The squash doesn't need to be peeled if it's still young and tender. If it does need to be peeled, it's probably too tough to eat anyway.

Much of the flavor comes from the Parmesan cheese, so it would best to get some that's fairly good. The numerous Italians around here would probably insist on authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated, but I don't go quite that far. I do buy the kind that comes pregrated in plastic tubs in the deli department.

The pepper is also a major flavor component, and you might want to cut back from what's stated in the recipe, as that amount gives a pretty peppery result.

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte with Parmesan

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-in-thick rounds
12 ounces squash, cut into 1/8-in-thick slices
3 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a casserole dish. Toss green onions, cheese, flour, thyme, salt, and pepper in medium bowl to blend.

Layer 1/3 of the potato slices in the bottom of the dish. Layer 1/2 of the squash over the potatoes. Drizzle with 1 tsp oil. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Repeat with 1/3 of the potatoes and 1/2 of the squash and 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Top with the rest of the potatoes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese mixture and press gently to flatten.

Cover pan with foil. Bake until potatoes are almost tender, about 40 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until cheese begins to brown and potatoes are tender, about 25-35 minutes longer. Cut into wedges and serve.

Recycle: oil bottle

Compost: potato peelings, onion stalks, thyme stalks