Simply Spaghetti

My gkids are spaghetti lovers…are yours?  They like it simple. . . spaghetti, tomatoes, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper….and then sprinkle on the parmesan. (I like some red pepper flakes on mine).   Lovely.  Simple, quick, good, filling, a kid pleaser.

spaghetti

Yes they love meatballs too…but that is another story.

If you are making simple spaghetti, you want to make sure these few ingredients are the best you can possibly use.  I personally like mine with fresh, vine ripened, garden tomatoes…but up here in the Northwest…those are as rare as hen’s teeth until around the end of August.  And with our short growing season,  big, ripe, juicy tomatoes at the end of summer are not guaranteed even then!

greentomatoesaboveprunedsucker

If your tomato supply is scarce….or the ones available in your area are the “shipped in” ones (to me these taste like cardboard!)  then my suggestion is:  POMI

Yes, Pomi Tomatoes are THE BEST.  I used to have to import them from Italy (where they are grown and processed) but now I can find them in my local organic market.  But even if you can’t find them there….you can always order them on line. there are now several stateside distributors.    Pomi Tomatoes come in a box…so they are not subjected to the “tinny” taste you can get from many canned tomatoes and they are sealed in BPA-Free packages.  I have also recently read that many of our canned tomatoes – even the organic ones –  are processed using chemicals to take off the peel.  Pomi tomatoes are 100% organic, natural garden-ripe Italian tomatoes.  steam peeled, Fat Free, Gluten Free, no preservatives, no added salt or other ingredients.  As a matter of fact under Ingredients…it says:  Tomatoes.  That’s it.  That’s all.  Pure vine-ripe tomatoes!  Best you can get!  1/2 cup serving is only 28 calories too!  pomi tomatoes

pomi side of box

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course you can add whatever else you like. I personally like garlic, torn basil leaves, a few olives…and the aforementioned red pepper flakes…but keeping it simple, fresh and quick is a real treat for the cook as well as the diners!   My gkids like to make it with me too.  Cooper is our head chef….and Olivia likes to get her fingers into it.

cooper chef

Liv's fingers

 

 

 

 

 

And frankly…my grandkids think I am magic….they even tell their mom they want “Nana Spaghetti”….nice!

 

 

 

 

Coconut Craze

I have rediscovered coconuts!

While I have long used coconut milk in a lot of different recipes, including many curries, recently I was also introduced to coconut oil for higher temperature cooking.  For me this replaces olive oil for much of my sautéing and roasting, which looses many of its nutrients at high temperatures.  I  discovered that the oil is very good for my skin and hair taken internally, but  I now also use the oil as a skin lotion topically and it has worked wonders on my psoriasis!

Butcoconut water have you succumbed to the new coconut water craze yet?  I have!  I think I have found the fountain of youth!  Coconut water is starting to show up even in my local Fred Meyers!  I found it at my whole food store Chuck’s in Vancouver some months ago, but even Safeway and other local supermarket chains have picked up on the coconut water craze!  Make sure you look for 100% pure coconut water!

I had all but forgotten the benefits of coconut water which I was introduced to when we lived in Hawaii during the 80s.  My kids who hung out with all the locals (especially the surfers) drank it fresh from the green coconuts at the beach.  The surfers just husked one and chopped it in half with a machete and drank it right from the shell.  Great!

lori and cooper at the beachcoconut on the beach

I guess I figured once we moved away from Hawaii…I would be hard pressed to find it “on the half shell” any other place…so I was more than happy to find it here on mainland shelves and “rediscovered” as a health drink!  While the bottled and jarred juice is not quite as beneficial as drinking it raw, there are many types out now in stores that have little to no preservative in them.  Consequently, they have a short shelf life, but all the health benefits are still there.

Drinking coconut water is not only refreshing, but very beneficial to your health.  Raw fresh coconut water contains a whole range of vitamins and minerals and is 99% fat free….unlike it’s relative coconut milk.  Coconut water is high in potassium content and therefore balances electrolytes easily.  It also contains B vitamins, Vitamin C and calcium.  It is more nutritious than Orange Juice and has more protein than whole milk.  It can be given to babies and pregnant women with no fear of harm, and is often used as a remedy for bowel problems in the elderly.   It contains only 5 g of natural sugars and is naturally sterile.  It can be used to dress wounds, as a topical disinfectant and you can drink it!  How perfect! It is a staple plant in the Islands since every part of the plant is used.  Palm fronds are woven into baskets, canoes, and carriers of all kinds.  The husks are cut in half and used as bowls or other food containers, the meat is used to flavor savory and sweet dishes either raw or condensed into coconut milk.   Coconut milk is not the liquid in the center of a whole coconut. Coconut milk is actually made from extracting the juice from the coconut meat. Coconut milk is creamy and tastes nutty. When buying coconut milk, do not confuse it with coconut cream, which is a tasty sweetened beverage often used in desserts. Canned coconut milk is unsweetened and can be used in both sweet and savory recipes.

I like using it in recipes as well.  My favorite is what I am calling Pina Colada Punch.

1 quart  ppumphouse-rum-drinkineapple juice

1 quart coconut water

1 cup orange juice

mint leaves and lime slices for garnish

Just mix together and enjoy! The kids love it!  For a more grownup drink just add a jigger of spiced rum or flavored vodka to your 8 oz glass.  Yummmmy!   Enjoy!

Into the Souk!

I think I may have mentioned that my son-in-law spent 18 months in Qatar during his Reserve Duty recently. Randy is an adventurous eater, and he came home telling tales of visiting the wonderful baazars while stationed there.

man in spice shop

spices in the souk

Randy brought home some great spices for us all to try that he thought were “new”. He and my daughter don’t have time to cook a lot since they both work long hours, and Randy’s expertise mainly revolved around the grill. But he had enough wonderful “shish-ka-bobs” (as we call them) to want to try to re-create these dishes once he got home.

His favorite spices turned out to be ones readily found here as well. Turmeric, paprika, fennel seed, fenugreek, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, etc. But the one spice that eluded him was “shakta”. After some investigation, my daughter found a Middle Eastern spice called “shatta”….and we decided this must be it and the pronunciation was different in various regions throughout Africa. Randy thought it was funny that when they asked what was in this spice (he had already determined it was a blend of spices…like curry is a blend of many spices)…they just said “shatta”. Finally one enterprising vendor who’d been to school in the US said, “It’s like our catsup”. Really?  More like hot sauce…since it’s full of hot peppers.  The vendors sold him a mix they called shatta…which was powder (probably a blend of chili powders) so he brought that home, but we did finally find a “recipe” for shatta sauce using local/available peppers.  Although I am sure that the local shatta was made with their peppers.  And we have used it in several things recently to try it out.  Like these lamb meatballs served over couscous.    I like it best with tomatoes and used like taco sauce or spaghetti sauce.

Here’s the recipe for “Mediterranean Catsup (hot sauce)”  or Shatta

Ingredients:

  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 3 red jalapeno peppers, stem removed
  • 15 Thai bird chilies, stems removed
  • 1 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 6 oz of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of water

If you try it, I sure would like to know how you did and whether you liked it as much as we do!

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Cooking with Friends

photoMy single friend Lucy does not like to cook much, but she and I both like to eat!  (Imagine)!  I do like to cook, and as we all know, cooking for one can be a real drag.  So this week we decided to have a “cooking day” and cook some larger batch items that we could share.  Lucy is trying to avoid gluten and we are both trying hard to eat healthier, so we tossed around some ideas of what to cook to put in our freezer for some meals-on-the go….or as she put it, “something I want to come home to instead of stopping for fast food!”  Great idea!

So what to cook?  I had several ideas…one of which is vegetable lasagna.  I knew Lucy 20120306_zucchini_lasagna_004didn’t eat much pasta now, but still loved the flavors.  So after talking about it, we decided to use my recipe for vegetarian lasagna with zucchini “noodles”.

 

This recipe makes a lot (too much for one person) so it is a great one to share.  We divided the ingredients list, and cooked together.  We ended up each having a square for our dinner, along with a mixed salad and a fruit desert (under 500 calories, by the way). and packaging up the rest of the squares individually for the freezer.  You can use small plastic containers, or wrap each square first in plastic wrap, then in freezer foil to protect them from freezer burn.  These will last for up to 3 months and can be reheated in the microwave or oven still frozen.  Obviously, take the foil off for the microwave, and the plastic off for the oven!

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We also talked about trying other things we could cook together and then freeze….like  individual pot pies (with mashed potato topping for her so they are gluten free) using puff pastry squares for me – easy and fun.  Individual berry crisps (oatmeal topping).  Bacon and Egg cups (in a muffin tin) and veggie pancakes (like potato pancakes) for a quick heat up in the skillet, pre-mixed and pre-seasoned “burgers” – I like Moroccan Lamb Burgers and Turkey Mustard burgers but you can also make up mini meatloaf and freeze them as well. Chicken or beef Tamale pie (with corn tortillas) freezes in squares like lasagna, and I also like to mix up ragus in large batches and then divide them into 1 cup servings and freeze for quick thawing sauces and additions to plain meat or over rice or pasta.  Like spaghetti sauce, putanesca, stuffing for peppers, mushroom sauces, and, of course, homemade soups.  I also make pesto and home-made hummus and freeze them in small batches for individual use.  It seems to work to keep me from ordering out or grabbing a handful of chips when I come home tired and not wanting to cook.

Here’s my Zucchini Lasagna recipe:

1 lb ground turkey (optional)
1 T Olive Oil
2 large or 4-5 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise (I do this on my mandolin if I want really thin “noodles”)
1 green or red pepper, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 –  16 oz cans diced tomatoes – no salt added
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/8 cup chopped fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T fennel seeds (dry)
1 – 15 oz carton ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 – 16 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 oz. fresh mozzarella in water
8 oz. block of Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Thaw spinach and squeeze out all excess moisture.  Chop.   Slice zucchini into thin slices.  chop remaining vegetables.  Saute turkey in olive oil( if desired), and add onion, fennel, carrots, peppers and mushrooms. Saute until vegetables are translucent.  Add in tomatoes, wine, garlic and fresh spices to taste. Cook until sauce is thickened.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix ricotta, egg, and squeezed out spinach together.

To begin the layering process.  Place a small amount of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 x 4 inch pan, follow with a layer of sliced zucchini, a layer of ricotta mixture, another tomato sauce layer, followed by a layer of sliced mozzarella and sprinkle 1/2 the parmesan over the top.  Repeat layers ending with cheese.   Bake at 350 for 50 minutes to an hour or until bubbly and browned on top.   Makes 8 large squares.  Freeze individual squares in plastic containers or foil wrapped packages after the lasagna has completely cooled.   Keeps in the freezer for 3 months if well wrapped.

Enjoy….and share!  Cook with a Friend!

Cooking with Herb and Spicy

Last week my Son-In-Law, Randy, asked me about cooking with herbs and spices. Since he was deployed to Qatar last year and visited the spice baazars, he has been fascinated with cooking with some of the great flavored spices he brought home with him.  We have tried Morrocan cooking, Arabic cooking, and Egyptian cooking with him.  Wonderful grilled rubs and marinades!  We have all benefitted from the wonderful tumeric, cinnamon, fennugreek, paprika, and curry that he has given us as gifts and the fabulous stews, couscous, and spice rubs that he is experimenting with!

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But he was unsure how to use fresh herbs, or how to pair them up with food.

I have a small raised bed outside my home that I use mostly for seasonal veggies and herbs.  A couple of years ago, I  planted one rosemary bush, a small thyme, some chives and a purple sage and garlic.  They have all wintered over nicely and are large enough now to provide all the herbs I could want!  I also grow mint in a pot (it is a notorious spreader), and every year I plant fresh basil, dill, and flat leaf parsley.  I’ve tried cilantro a few times, but with less success.  The gkids always enjoy the garden, clipping, pulling carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, and planting seeds.  It’s a great family activity!

herbsCooking with fresh herbs is also very good for our bodies.  They contain large amounts of anti-oxidants and vitamins.   Herbs strengthen the immune system, lower blood sugar and cholesterol; they have anti-inflammatory properties, and prevent Alzheimer’s diseases and cancers.  And they are easy to grow and cook with.

We talked about keeping an herb garden and he specifically asked me how to use them and what to use them with, so here are some pointers:

1. Never spray pesticide or herbicide near an organic garden.  By planting “companion” plants together, you can avoid damage naturally.  Planting garlic bulbs in your garden will help drive pests away.  Cabbage, lettuce, beets, and onions all love garlic and it will keep away aphids.  Garlic is also said to improve the flavor of neighboring plants and also improve your roses!  However pulses and legumes (beans, potatoes, peas) don’t seem to like to be near garlic (or onions). Cucumbers also don’t like aromatic herbs, but sage protects carrots, parsley protects asparagus and tomatoes, basil protects beans and peas.  So by planting carefully, you can have a pest free garden without sprays! (Please!)

You don’t need a big garden…you can grow things in buckets on the patio if that is the only space you have…just water them regularly.

CarrotContainers_B_1

2.  Fresh Herbs are somewhat stronger than dried herbs, so you can use less.  I like to use herb bundles in soups and stews instead of trying to pick off all those tiny leaves, just tie a few compatible herbs together and then fish out the stems after cooking.  I will also often add a sprig of whatever I used in the dish to garnish the plate…very pretty!  Always wash the herbs first and store in a zippy bag with a damp paper towel inside.  They should keep for quite awhile this way.  But part of the joy of having a garden is being able to go out a just clip off some fresh herbs whenever you need them!

3.  Here’s my list of what to use in what.  It is by no means exhaustive! There are lots of other variations and everyone to their own taste…but it’s a start!

Garlic:  soups, stews, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, chicken, pork, lamb, beef, everything Italian, infused oils, almost anything tastes better with garlic!

Basil:  Eggs, Tomatoes, ratatouille, fish, pizza, pesto, soft cheeses, anything Italian, especially pasta or rice.  Cocktails (muddled basil to lemonade, bellinis, or gimlets)!  Soups and salads, also good in some desserts with lemon or orange.  Infused oil, vinegars, tea.

Rosemary:  Sausage, eggs, soup, stew, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, potatoes, again, anything Italian, oranges, infused oil, vinegar,  tea, meat marinades, bread (esp. foccacia), honey.

Thyme:  Eggs, soups, stews, gravy, meats, poultry, tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, beans green and white, oils, vinegars, tea, marinades, broccoli, ratatouille, cucumber, onion, squash, honey, goat cheese.

Sage:  Poultry, flavored butters and oils, eggs, lamb, beans, pasta, rice, soups and stews, apples, pineapple, fish, pork, sausage, honey, asparagus, squash, goat cheese. Freeze in ice cubes for summer drinks.

Parsley:  tea, soups, eggs, gravy, cream sauces, tomato sauces, garden and potato salads, grilled fish, chicken, and  beef dishes, potatoes, stews, pasta, rice,  to top or garnish anything for a fresh grassy flavor.

Dill:  fish, shellfish, potatoes, yogurt, mayo, sour cream, cream sauce or gravies, beets, carrots, soups, stews, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles.

Oregano:  tomatoes, potatoes, fish, poultry, fish, pasta, soups and stews, eggs, lamb, most vegetables, tea, oils and vinegars.

This may also help….it’s from About.com.

Beans (dried) cumin, cayenne, chili, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, thyme
Beef basil, bay, chili, cilantro, curry, cumin, garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Breads anise, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme
Cheese basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chili, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Chicken allspice, basil, bay, cinnamon, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger lemongrass, mustard, paprika, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Corn chili, curry, dill, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme
Eggs basil, chervil, chili, chives, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Fish anise, basil, bay, cayenne, celery seed, chives, curry, dill fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, marjoram
Fruits allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mint
Lamb basil, bay, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
Potatoes basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, poppy seed, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Salad Dressings basil, celery seed, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, tarragon, thyme
Salads basil, caraway, chives, dill, garlic, lemon peel, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Soups basil, bay, chervil, chili, chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
Sweets allspice, angelica, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon peel,  mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary
Tomatoes basil, bay , celery seed, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, gumbo file, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

Enjoy!

Tea, Race Cars, and Incandescent Gas

Yesterday was a busy day with the gkids.  As I picked them up from school, we had much on the agenda.  First there was the dreaded homework :  math, spelling, a writing exercise…OK maybe later.  But Cooper did manage to sing me the “Sun Song”.

sun

“The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas….”  while waving his hand behind his posterior.  (He admitted that he got in a lot of trouble at school for his hand gestures….and got caught by the Principal — oh Brother!)

For full effect you can find it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=me06I9GDM_k

It was really hard to keep a straight face. . .

Then there was a painting project.  It is Pinewood Derby time again, and both kids are participating. Daddy helped them with sanding, weighting, and spray painting the racing stripes on, so now I got to help with decorating.  We pasted and glued on numbers, stickers, etc.  and then got to the really fun part!  Painting on the flames, the windshields, the door handles, and making it look like a real car!  Wow that was fun, and the gkids are very artistic.

Coopers carOlivias car

After all that concentration…we needed a little down time.  So we had “tea”.  My Scots Granny loved her tea, and it was always a special treat for me to have it with her.  I grew up loving tea parties and dressing up dolls and Teddy’s and doing a lot of pretending like I was the Queen of Sheba (I had no idea who that was, but it sounded good).

However, I had an 8 (going on 20) and a 6 (almost 7) year old very grown up crew…so we decided to make the real thing.  No self-respecting tea is without a good scone.  (Granny pronounced it scun).  So we did that first!  Learning to “knead”…which Cooper thought was “need” is fun.

Nana:  “If you wanna make really good scones, you have to knead them and then let them rest a minute.”

Cooper: ” I “need” scones.  But I especially “need” whipped cream on them! ” hahahahaha….(he’s our resident jokster).

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We cut them out with a biscuit cutter and baked.  See the recipe here.

Next it was chop up the strawberries, and whip the cream.  We don’t add sugar to our

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vanillacream, but I do add vanilla bean seeds for extra flavor!  Just split a bean and scrape the “caviar” into the unwhipped cream.  Yummy!

To complete our “tea”, along with scones, we decided to make some “fairy apples”.  (Gotta have some fantasy element, right?) Apples are peeled and then poached with red hot candies and cinnamon sticks. (They are called fairy apples because they turn pink.)

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We used the “water” from cooking the apples to pour over a couple of Pomegranate Pizzaz and Perfect Peach teabags to get a nice fruity, somewhat sweet “kid” tea.

The result was a very nice tea, and lots of giggles and fun.  And yes, Cooper again serenaded us with his “Incandescent Gas” song….this time without the hand gestures!

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