26 August 2014

The Zucchini Project: Zucchini Chips

Like potato chips, only better for you. I guess.  Whatever, these are delicious with beer.

Zucchini Chips

Serves 2-4

1 lb (about 4 cups) thinly sliced zucchini
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp olive oil
1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 230 degrees F.

In a medium bowl whisk salt, pepper, olive oil (if used), and vinegar. Add sliced zucchini and toss to coat.
Spread zucchini slices out in a single layer onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 1½ hours, making sure to check on them every 10 minutes after about an hour.

Eat immediately after removing from oven for maximum crunchiness. If they cool and get soft, reheat them in the microwave on high for 20 seconds at a time.

Pssst!: If you'd like to add some pep to your chips, use them as the base for this clever take on loaded nachos from The Betsy Life. 

22 August 2014

Weekend favorites: garden tips for late summer

Oh, argh.  The school buses are going up and down the streets again, which always gives me that old start-of-school squirm in the pit of my stomach.  But you know what?  I'm an adult.  I don't have to ride a noxious fume-monster to and from a boring prison that doles out useless homework to waste my time.  I can enjoy what's left of summer and pig out on fresh vegetables and fruit from my garden (and the farmer's market).
You can, too, no matter where you live.

Look up local farmer's markets, CSAs, and ranches, and more from all over the country at Local Harvest.

I love this seasonality chart from CUESA to help me shop with the season all year long. There are some nice, simple recipes here, as well.

I don't think anyone is better at using every last scrap of produce from the garden than You Grown Girl, right down to the clever (and delicious) pickled radish pods.

My five favorite (other people's) recipes utilizing the stuff that's ripe right now:

CORN The Lady Behind the Curtain's Chimichurri Quinoa and Corn Patties is so inventive, I might skip the corn salad this summer!

EGGPLANT  Reclaiming Yesterday's Lime and Sesame Grilled Eggplant is soooo good and easy.

PEACHES It's hard to imagine doing anything with peaches besides just eating them fresh in the morning as a reward for getting up in the morning. But Love and Lemons comes up with a very compelling Ginger Peach Sangria. It's so good I sacrificed my breakfast peaches for it!

TOMATOES  This Laotian Bean and Tomato Salad from Food & Wine has a mind-blowing dressing that doesn't sound like it should work.  So, of course I had to try it.  It does.

WATERMELON These mini watermelon cakes are just ridiculous.  I am totally making these.

This is not the watermelon recipe I crave, but I couldn't help sharing this hilarious concoction with you all...

Happy eating!

19 August 2014

The Zucchini Project: Julia Childs' Zucchini Tian

This isn't my first post attempting to address the love/hate relationship gardeners have with zucchini.  We grow it because we know we won't fail (a nuclear bomb might not kill the zucchini plants in my yard), but we quickly grow tired of the squash these prolific plants produce, from mid-summer well into fall.  When I don't plant zucchini seeds, I still end up with more than I crave thanks to neighbors who just can't seem to kick the habit. But you know what?  It's fresh food, pesticide free and straight from the garden.  So I'm not going to complain anymore. And neither should you.

I have posted a few recipes utilizing zucchini in (sometimes) creative ways this year and in years past, and they are referenced below for your reading pleasure.  But just so you can see that I'm not cheating here, I'm going to come up with a new recipe to use zucchini/summer squash every week that we still have them growing in the garden. Lord help me.

Today's recipe is an adaptation from a Julia Childs classic. The zucchini flavor (yes, it does exist) really stands out amidst this gooey, bubbling, comforting casserole that can stand on its own or pair as a hearty side dish to meats.  Mine adds a little acid and some herbs along with some added crunch on top to create a slightly more interesting bite.

Julia Childs' Zucchini Tian (with liberties)

Serve 6-8

2 to 2 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and grated
1/2 cup plain white rice
1 cup chopped onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups warm liquid: zucchini juices plus milk, heated in a pan (watch this closely so that it doesn't curdle)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 tablespoons for later)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

Place the grated zucchini in a colander over a bowl to catch liquid. Toss with about a teaspoon of salt, mixing thoroughly. Let the squash drain 3 or 4 minutes, or until you are ready to proceed. Just before cooking, squeeze dry with your hands. 

While the shredded zucchini is draining, drop the rice into boiling salted water, bring rapidly back to the boil, and boil exactly 5 minutes; drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the onions over medium heat in the oil for about 10 minutes until tender and starting to brown. Stir in the grated and dried zucchini, herbes de Provence, and garlic. Toss and turn for 5 to 6 minutes until the zucchini is almost tender. Sprinkle in the flour, stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes, and remove from heat.

Gradually stir in the 2 1/2 cups warm liquid (zucchini juices plus milk, heated gently in a pan -- don't let it get so hot that the milk curdles!). Make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.

Remove from the heat, stir in the blanched rice and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Add black pepper and more salt, if necessary, to taste. Turn into buttered baking dish and cook for about 30 minutes at 425F or until tian is bubbling and most liquid has been absorbed. Remove from oven, squeeze the lemon evenly over the top, scatter the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese evenly over the top, and return to oven to cook another 10 minutes, or until the surface is golden brown.  Allow to cool about 5 minutes before serving.

Past zucchini recipes from DFT...

“Fried” Squash Pasta

Mock Apple Cobbler

Summer Squash “Lasagna”

Zucchini Fritters

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15 August 2014

Downtown Chicago in 48 hours

I just got back from an inspiring National Flute Association convention, where I joined a new music commissioning consortium, played some tunes, and got up close and personal with one of the craziest ensembles I've had the privilege of seeing perform.  This all happened in the swanky (and uber-expensive) Hilton Chicago, so of course, I didn't get out of the building much, but I managed to spy a few deals and steal a quick, satisfying moment here and there to enjoy the lake breeze.  If you're headed there in the future, there are a few spots I can recommend:

It's pricey staying downtown, no matter what you do.  But for a much lower price you can get a private room in Hostelling International's downtown location that comes with a free breakfast, too!  The facility is very conveniently located, clean, friendly, and well-secured at night.

Next door, stuff your face with beautiful pressed sandwiches, homemade soups, and Cuban-style coffee for prices you usually only find in the outer 'burbs at Cafecito. I went twice: once for the traditional Cubano (roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles), and again for the Chimichurri (steak, tomato, and super-garlicky chimichurri sauce).  The grilled cheese with guava was awfully tempting, though...

Want to pig out on delicious eggs?  Go to Yolk (which I reviewed a couple of years ago.)

Booze is expensive in fancy hotels. Gino's East South Loop has deep dish pizza, if you eat that crap, but they also have a great list of local beers, something I never thought I'd see catch on when I was growing up in Chicagoland in the 80s.  So, go here, because you know someone you're with is going to want to eat that ridiculous pizza-casserole. Then you can walk a few blocks towards the lake and hear some great bands at Buddy Guy's Legends.  It's a little touristy, but the music is legit.

If you are in no hurry (really, the service is terrible), stop by the old crusty Artist's Cafe across the street from the Art Institute museum and school.  The cappuccino is the best, and the decor is old-school Chicago:

Touristy stuff to do along Lake Michigan, in no particular order: visit Millenium Park and gawk at the weird interactive art, stare at the giant metal bean, and run through the fountains; go to the Art Institute, for goodness' sake!; rent city bikes and ride along Lake Michigan; visit the museum campus, which includes the Shedd Acquarium, Adler Planitarium, and The Field Museum; go to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert; visit the amazingly beautiful public library at State Street and Congress; shop for stuff on State Street; people watch in Grant Park (and on summer mornings, hear the Grant Park Symphony rehearse for free); visit the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Michigan and Harrison; take advantage of public transportation as often as you can, because it will take you anywhere you need to go!

This is all within walking distance, basically up and down Michigan Avenue and thereabouts, but you can see it all on a map here