Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Food Pantry Demo: Zucchini and Tomatoes

Did another cooking demonstration at the food pantry today, this time using some of the wonderful and abundant zucchini and tomatoes we've been getting into the food bank.  I cooked some rice at home this morning before I left.  At the pantry, I used an electric frying pan to which I'd added a little oil.  Then I added sliced onions and zucchini and sauteed it for several minutes, stirring every now and then.  I used fresh tomatoes because we have lots of them, but if we hadn't had so many, I would have used canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.  Anyway, I chopped the tomatoes and added them to the pan along with some garlic powder and some herbs that had been picked from the Common Good Garden--another volunteer effort on the part of some of the many fabulous people that work to get food to people that need it.  A volunteer gardener took the herbs home and dried them and they were brought in for use in the soup kitchen.  I checked before nabbing the jars for my own use, and the cooks in the kitchen today did not need them!  I let the tomatoes cook down a little and served this over rice in little bowls.  I let people sprinkle on their own Parmesan cheese to taste.  People really liked it--and it seemed that some were surprised that they liked it.  That is always a good thing!  As always, I had a hand-out prepared, a copy of which appears below!

Zucchini and Summer Squash
Easy Zucchini and/or Summer Squash
Pour a little oil in a pan. Add onion slices cut in half moons. Add sliced zucchini or other summer squash, such as crookneck or patty pan (cut slices in half if the squash is thick). Cook the onion and squash in the oil, stirring the veggies around constantly until they are slightly browned. Sprinkle with garlic powder and oregano or Italian seasoning.
To serve:
You can serve this right out of the pan—sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired. Good as a side dish or to top cooked rice, pasta, or other grain. Or use inside an omelette or mixed into scrambled eggs.

Variations:
Pour in some canned diced, crushed, or chopped fresh tomatoes or add tomato or spaghetti sauce. You can also use tomato paste that you thin to the desired consistency with water. Use this sauce to top cooked pasta, polenta, or rice. Add leftover cooked chicken, beef, fish, or pork, if desired. You can also bake this with some mozzarella or other cheese of your choice. Or scoop out a bit of the inside of an Italian roll or some Italian bread, put mixture on bread and top with cheese for a sub.

To make with ground beef, turkey or chicken, simply cook the meat at the same time as the veggies. You won't need the oil if you do this. Drain excess grease before serving or adding tomatoes.

Mexican Style:
Add chili powder along with the garlic and oregano, place on a tortilla and sprinkle with pepper jack or cheddar cheese for a different taste. Add salsa and/or hot peppers if you like.

Add corn, tomatoes, potatoes, canned beans or cooked dry beans and some tomato sauce to make a Mexican-style stew.

Strata:
Grease a baking pan or dish. Tear up some bread and place in single layer in bottom of greased pan. Top with finely chopped veggies, such as onion, pepper, broccoli, chard or spinach, zucchini or other summer squash. Sprinkle with cheese. Beat eggs and add some milk (how many eggs and how much milk depends on how large your pan is—you will want to have everything almost covered with the egg/milk mixture and you want that to be a kind of pale yellow). Bake at 375 degrees until the sides are set and lightly browned. The center will still look a little loose. Top with a bit more cheese if you want and put back in oven just long enough for this to melt. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes or so until the center is set. Cut into squares and serve.

Other Uses:
--Add chopped summer squash to soup—homemade or dress up canned soups.
--Shave slices lengthwise and eat as is or spread with hummus or ricotta, roll up, and eat
--Use raw in salads
--Grate summer squash and add to meatloaf, meatballs, or burgers
--Grate a few squash and squeeze our excess water. Add some grated potatoes, onion, or garlic if you like. Beat a couple of eggs and add some flour (¼ cup or so). Mix everything together. Heat a small puddle of oil in a pan, place a couple of tablespoons of veggie mixture in a mound in the pan, flatten and smooth out a little with a spoon and cook a couple of minutes on each side. Top your veggie pancakes with salsa, applesauce, or whatever you'd like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Tabbouli Riff

This morning I took some haddock and a container of cooked white beans out of the freezer.  Good thing, because I ended up needing the space.  I froze two large bunches of kale and chard (and chard stems) and a container of pesto.  I cooked the haddock for supper, sprinkled with some Italian seasoning and baked.  I made tabbouli to go with it.
I prepared the bulgur wheat by placing one cup in a pot, pouring one cup of boiling water over this, covering and letting it sit for 30 minutes before putting it in the fridge to chill a little.  A while later I snipped a bunch of chives into the bowl and mixed them in.  Then I cooked some diced veggies in a little olive oil until they were just crisp-tender.  I used a yellow summer squash, a clove of garlic, and three of the smallest Asian eggplants I have ever seen--they were 3 and 4 inches long.  I mixed the veggies into the bulgur and chilled.  A couple of hours later (as I was making lunch) I chopped up a couple of tomatoes and mixed those in, along with the white beans, then squeezed the juice out of a lemon--it came to about 1/8 cup or so, and added about 1/4 cup of olive oil.  I poured the dressing over the salad and then sprinkled in some mint that I had gotten from the farm and dried.  It is quite tasty and of course, there are leftovers!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Garbage Garden

I call this my garbage garden.
It's on the back porch, just outside the kitchen.  All of the containers are repurposed--even the aquarium, which someone was going to get rid of.  The chives were in a box behind the food bank, ready to be discarded, I guess.  Someone who works there asked me if I wanted them.  There are garlic shoots, scallions, leeks, and celery growing.  I just cut off the garlic shoots, scallions, chives, and leeks when I want to use them and they grow back.  I planted the ends of the leeks and scallions to get them started and planted some garlic cloves.  The celery came from the food bank--we cut off the ends and they would normally go into the pig bucket, so I took them home, put them in water and waited for roots to grow, which they did.  All of these plants (except the chives) came from kitchen scraps that would otherwise have been thrown away. 

I had a different celery plant, but I lost that, some garlic, and some scallions a few weeks ago.  I overwatered and then it rained off and on--hard--for days.  I did manage to pull up most of the scallions and I just put the ends in water until I could plant them in different containers.  All of this will come inside if it ever actually gets too cold for them outside (I am at the point in this summer where it feels like it will never, ever be over and it feels like I will have to live in this heat forever--it is starting to wear on me!).  We get lots of sun in here in the winter once the angle of the sun gets lower and the leaves fall from the tree outside our window, so I am hopeful that we will be able to over-winter this stuff.  I think the one drawback could be the low temperature at which we set the heat--stays around 60 in here with it set at 56.  We shall see how it goes. I have some more scallions and some more garlic to plant--this time I will go easier with the water!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saucy Zukes!

Yesterday I used up the rest of the chicken I had left from the day before when I cooked a small whole chicken in my Crock-Pot.  I chopped up a Japanese eggplant and some zucchini from the farm and placed this in a puddle of olive oil in a pot.  I added a large sweet onion that I had roughly chopped.  Cooked this while stirring the veggies around and when they were crisp-tender, I added the chicken.  It was already shredded, so I didn't even have to cut it up.  Then I added some Italian seasoning and spooned in a 12 ounce can of tomato paste and two cans of water and stirred for a few minutes until I had a nice consistency for the sauce.  I spooned this over brown rice and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Using Stuff Up and Making More Room

In order to make room in my rapidly filling freezer, I took out a whole chicken to thaw yesterday.  This morning I removed it from the fridge, placed it in my larger (7-quart) Crock-Pot, turned it on low and left it for about 10 hours.  I took it out of the crock, let it cool enough so I could handle it, removed the meat from the bones, put half into a container for use tomorrow and chopped up half for use in supper tonight.  I had a big head of broccoli that I got in our farm share Tuesday, so I peeled the thick stems, chopped everything up and placed the stems in a puddle of olive oil, cooking them for a few minutes while stirring.  I added the chopped chicken and stirred everything around for a couple more minutes before adding the chopped florets.  When these were bright green, I took the pot off the heat and added some chopped chives.  I had some leftover spaghetti and some rice in the fridge, so I heated up the former for Heather and the latter for me and Bill and topped this with the chicken and broccoli.  Heather dumped some leftover spaghetti sauce on hers and I used up the pesto I'd made on Wednesday on ours.  I had just enough pesto left--we'd used it for pesto pizza last night.

I spent some time Wednesday getting veggies into the freezer.  I had a couple of bunches of chard--one had bigger stems and some was loose leaves with smaller stems from our farm share.  I chopped up the larger stems and blanched them separately.  I have a bag of these in the freezer--they will be great in soups or stir-fry.  I had a bunch of bok choy, which I blanched and froze--stems and leaves together.  There was a mix of baby bok choy and tatsoi leaves from the farm and I decided to just go ahead and freeze that, too.  Finally, I got a bag of green beans into the freezer.  I am getting a good collection of veggies for winter soups.  I really did not feel like standing there dealing with the stove and boiling water--would've rather stayed by the fan with a book or some yarn--but I know that when I am grabbing stuff from the freezer and dumping it into my Crock-Pot this winter, I will appreciate being able to get the soup on in a few short minutes!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pizza Burgers and Veggie Salad with Herbs

We were going to fire up the grill last night, but didn't.  Bill walked to and from work, stopping at the library and to pick up cat food on the way home and he was hot.  It was pretty comfortable inside and neither one of us really felt like hauling everything downstairs and hanging around outside in the heat, so I cooked inside.  I sprinkled some boneless, skinless chicken thighs with Italian seasoning and put them in the oven.  I made pizza burgers, too and I had made a veggie salad earlier in the morning.  We've been eating leftovers today and there will still be some left for tomorrow.  It's nice to just heat stuff up when I feel like it--more time to read, knit, and tat!

To make the pizza burgers, I put a pound of ground chicken in a bowl and added a bit of olive oil, a small onion, chopped, some Italian seasoning, some oatmeal, and some tomato paste.  I am not sure how much tomato paste I put in--we had some left from a previous supper in a jar and I scooped out some of that.  I always use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs in burgers and meatballs and stuff like that because I like the end result better.  I use enough so that everything sticks together well.  I also added some Parmesan cheese at the last minute!  I got 6 burgers out of this.  When they were cooked, I turned off the oven, sprinkled some cheese on top, and put the pan back in the oven for a minute or two to melt the cheese.  These are nice and juicy and they taste quite good!

The salad has Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced cucumbers, green beans, an orange bell pepper, snipped dill, snipped chives, snipped garlic shoots, and scallions all tossed with a lemon vinaigrette dressing.  It's very light and refreshing.
Had some chicken for lunch with peas and brown rice and I will have a burger, some salad, and some baked beans for supper.  Quick and easy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chicken, Potatoes, Mixed Veggies

I walked to the soup kitchen this morning in the rain.  It was around 70 degrees and the rain was falling steadily at a good clip, but was not a downpour.  I decided to walk around the long way instead of cutting through the back (which made it about a 10-minute walk instead of 5) because I was enjoying the rain and the lack of sunshine.  I was thinking that if it were only 30 degrees cooler, it would be perfect!
Once I got there all that was forgotten as I set to work, grateful that I had a lot of help.  Two of us cut apart chicken leg quarters into drumsticks and thighs.  Then my co-worker went to cut up vegetables while I sprinkled garlic powder, black pepper, basil, and oregano over the chicken.  We had 150 peices altogether, which we had squeezed onto 4 pans.  I had to consolidate as much as possible because all ovens were busy today and rack space was at a premium!  Once the chicken was ready, I tossed potato cubes with some oil, garlic, black pepper, and dried rosemary.  I had five pans of potatoes.  I put two in the convection oven with the chicken and three in one of the conventional ovens, set at 400 (I think). Finally I got to work on the veggies.  We had lots of Japanese eggplant that needed using up and a little summer squash, so a couple of people sliced those, chopped some onions, and a few bell peppers.  All of these veggies went into puddles of oil in the pans.  I cooked the veggies on the burners until they were al dente, sprinkled with garlic, black pepper, basil, and oregano, then took them off the heat and mixed in some Parmesan cheese.  All four pans of veggies went into one of the conventional ovens, which was set at 200, just to keep things warm.  At about 10:40, I began the careful process of getting the four pans of chicken out of the convection oven without dropping them (they were quite heavy, large, and awkward) and/or spilling the grease everywhere.  This was a slow process--or so it seemed--because I could not tip the pans at all without sloshing the grease over the sides.  One of the pans was on the top shelf of the oven and that required me to reach up and get it out of the oven and onto the work table while holding it straight.  I was quite surprised when I was able to do this without mishap!  I moved the chicken to the steam table pans, moved the pans of potatoes out of the conventional oven and into the convection oven, and put the chicken in the conventional oven to keep warm.  Then it was time to get out and count plates, get out the serving utensils, and get the pans into the steam table.  The first rush came in and then things got more quiet.  I guess things have been slow all week.  Today we served 121 meals.  More than one person came up and said they did not like eggplant, but they were surprised that they liked the vegetables a lot.  And like last week, people were asking how I made them.  This makes me happy.  Of course the point of us being there is to feed people good meals that are nutritious and that taste good.  I also hope to show some people (some will never be interested and that's just fine) that good food that tastes good can be simple.  Or to put it another way, food that is simple does not have to come out of a box, a can, a plastic container, or a jar.  When I left it was spitting outside and I was tired and roasting.  The breeze felt good.  It was nice to come home and sit down in front of the fan.  We had leftovers and salad for supper tonight and tomorrow we will barbecue, which will give us enough food to last into the beginning of next week.  Sometime this weekend I have to get some veggies into the freezer, but for tonight I can just sit here with my tea and my novel and feel like I accomplished something useful with my day!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First, Break 17 Dozen Eggs...

I made strata in the soup kitchen this morning.  I walked in and was met with 17 dozen eggs, a pile of bread, cheese, bins of veggies, and cooking spray.  I got cracking!  I broke the eggs into a big pot and then used a big whisk to beat them up as well as I could.  I had asked my co-workers to start chopping veggies, so they did.  After I was done with the eggs I chopped up 9 bell peppers--3 each yellow, red, and orange.  I removed 6 steam table pans from the shelf, set them up on the work table, sprayed them with non-stick spray, and tore loaves of bread into chunks.  These went into the bottom of the pan.  I sprinkled mozzarella cheese, onion, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and spinach over all of it and then some garlic powder and black pepper on top of the whole thing.  Then it was back to the eggs.  I added milk--one half gallon at a time--until it seemed like the right amount of liquid.  I had started ladling the egg/milk mixture into the pans after a gallon and a half, but after 3 pans, it seemed clear that I could need more egg mixture, so I added another half gallon.  Turned out to be just right.  Those pans looked so pretty sitting there with all those colorful vegetables!  I put the pans in the ovens at 375 and then turned them up to 400 after 20 or 30 minutes.  After an hour I was concerned that perhaps the centers might not be done enough, so I put three pans into the convection oven to finish off--I had 15 minutes until we opened and I needed to have some ready.  The other three pans I left in the conventional oven, because I knew they would have enough time to finish cooking.  Just before removing the first three pans, I topped all the pans with sliced American cheese.  I turned the conventional oven down to 200, left the three pans in there and put the other three in the steam table.  I had a moment of panic when I took out the pans and the middle was all jiggly and it looked like there was far too much liquid in them.  I wanted to make sure they would be safe to serve, so I got the soup kitchen coordinator so she could look at them and she assured me that it would set up just fine.  She was right. After a few minutes in the steam table, everything was firming up and in the meantime, I just served from the sides.  And we checked temperatures in the pans and they were within the safe range--it was just all the water from the cheese and the veggies pooling in the center.


It was a hit.  People loved it.  For a time I was worried about having enough, but it turned out that out of the six pans, each with about 25 servings, I only had a few pieces left.  I felt so bad for the guy who came in to wash the pots--the pans had to be soaked and scrubbed in spite of the non-stick spray.  A couple of people asked for the recipe, so I was telling the server how I made it so she could tell the diners.  She asked if I had proportions or something, but I really didn't.  As I said to someone else who asked me how I made it, I am a very improvisational cook.  I played it by ear as I saw what was needed at various stages in the process.  In hindsight, I know what I did to come up with 150 servings of strata, but I was not working from a recipe, nor did I calculate down to see what kinds of amounts would be required to make a pan at home.  I was pretty sure the diner did not want to hear, "First, break 17 dozen eggs..."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Balsamic Slaw

Yesterday when we got home from the farm, I figured I had better use up the kohlrabi we got last time, so I made some slaw.  I cut into ribbons some cabbage Heather brought home from the food mobile and put them in a bowl.  I chopped some parsley picked earlier at the farm and shredded 2 peeled kohlrabi and 4 carrots in the food processor and added that along with half of a sweet onion we got in our farm share.  I added some oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and tossed everything together.  I put it in the fridge and had some for lunch today with some cheese and smoked salmon added.  It was quite good! There is plenty left.  This is one of those things that only I eat, so when I make it I do so understanding that I will eat it for a while. That is actually a good thing, since it can be used as a side dish or a main dish.  I like crunchy veggies, too, so I like slaws more than lettuce based salads for the most part--no matter what kind of salad I am making though, one thing I like about it is that it can be different every time!  Last time I made slaw, I used an orange vinaigrette and some dried cranberries.  The base ingredients were almost the same, but the taste was very different.
The leftovers are fine with me.  I like having stuff in the fridge that I can have ready-to-eat.  It beats processed convenience food in taste and nutrition and it's just as easy, if not more so.  Eliminates excess packaging, too!  Sometimes I will eat something for a few days and then freeze the rest.  Over the weekend I made polenta one day and at the same time had an intense craving for black bean soup--very odd, because I usually do not eat soup in the heat of summer.  But I soaked some black beans all day Saturday and that night I put them in the Crock-Pot with various odds and ends--sweet potato, garlic, onion, cubano pepper, carrot--and turned it to low so the soup would cook overnight. In the morning I added oregano and chili powder.  I have eaten the polenta in various ways for breakfast--with chopped chilis and cheese, with just cheese, and this morning, with black bean soup.  I have had the soup for supper, lunch and breakfast, with various additions each time, such as cheese, rice or polenta.  I will probably have one more bowl for breakfast in the morning before going off to cook in the soup kitchen and then I will freeze the rest.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Food Mobile and Farm Share

I started out my day--after an adequate supply of coffee had been ingested--by heading down to MCHPP to help with food distribution at the food mobile.  Anyone who needs food can come and go through the line to choose food--no qualifying necessary.  The food mobile comes every month and there is always a selection of fresh produce, meat, bakery items, and non-perishable food.  We have a good turn-out each month.  I was at one of the meat stations this time.  We had various kinds of beef, chicken, pork--even some duck!  I am continually reminded how lucky I am to live in such a great, supportive, aware community!

A few hours later, we headed off to the farm where we picked up our farm share.
We cut flowers and herbs in the U-pick field--basil, Thai basil, parsley, dill, and rosemary.  There was sage and thyme, too, but thyme seems to give Bill heartburn and I never quite know what to do with sage--and I still have some that I dried a while ago.  In our farm share was an eggplant (I love that color), carrots, sweet onions, 2 bunches of basil (pesto, pesto, pesto!), leeks, cucumbers, chard, and a choice between kohlrabi and fennel (I still had kohlrabi from last time, which I did use tonight, so I picked the fennel) carrots and/or beets, and a green bell pepper. 
For supper I made salads and some cauliflower and carrots to go along with egg pesto sandwiches. 

Bill took some great photos today--the pigs were cute and the flowers were so bright and beautiful!
Here's the gallery!