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Roasted Shrimp and Vegetables – Simple elegance

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When I go out to dinner, I ALWAYS order seafood – usually shrimp. When I was a picky-eater kid I drove my parents bananas when we went to a restaurant because I didn’t like any of the “grown-up” food. Like all bad normal parents, they would sometimes default to ordering me a plate of french fries for dinner. But somewhere along the way, mom or dad had a brainstorm and ordered some fried shrimp for me to try. Turns out, fried shrimp was not so far from french fries and I liked it! Ah… parental bliss. The kid can eat shrimp everywhere we go now – and I did! And I still do, only now I don’t order the battered and fried stuff (ok, maybe once in a great while when I’m really hungry and there’s no other seafood option). I love it prepared pretty much any which way: baked, broiled, grilled, raw, boiled, sauteed, stuffed, and I like it over pasta, in salad, barbecued, with rice, in tacos, in soup, with steak, with cocktail sauce – or any sauce! So, I kinda adore shrimp.

It’s also pretty easy to cook – and not horrendously expensive if you buy the frozen kind which works fine for most recipes. I know, fresh is better, but here in my land-locked state of Colorado, out in the middle of nowhere, fresh is just not happening.

BUT (there’s always a but, right?), the Hubs doesn’t adore shrimp like I do. Something about it can’t be touching any other ingredients or food because he says it makes everything else taste fishy. What? *rolls eyes* He will eat shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi (no noodles, just shrimp and a gallon of butter) and the deep fried variety of my childhood. This causes me heartburn because I could eat it daily, but that would mean I would need to prepare two dishes – or two versions of the same dish, which I do occasionally.

So one day last week I was surveying the options in the freezer and spied a bag of shrimp that had been there for over a month. Hmm…I thought, I bet if I just prepared it right, he’d like it and then we could move on and have shrimp everyday. I decided to go for it. Since he likes scampi, I thought maybe I’d try something along those lines. I had a beautiful picture of a shrimp dish on my seafood Pinterest board that I took for my inspiration. The recipe, Roasted Tomatoes with Shrimp and Feta from Real Simple is actually really simple and the picture made me want to lick the computer screen. He HAD to love it, right?

Here’s what I did:

Clean, de-vein and remove the tails of 1 pound of shrimp. Mine were the 51-60 size, but use any size you like. Chop up about half an onion, about 1/2 a bell pepper and about 5 small tomatoes (mine are plum size).  Chop up some marinated artichokes, also. Toss the veggies, along with a few cloves of garlic, in a few healthy glugs of extra virgin olive oil and spread out in a glass baking pan. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the veggies are nearly finished, then stir in the shrimp, another healthy squeeze of lemon, the parsley and feta. Cook another 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and firm.

I simply served it over some leafy green lettuce with some warm crusty bread. DONE! So simple and yet so amazingly delicious. I really thought is was restaurant-worthy, and remember, I’m an expert. It’s rich and filling, while being a light dish. I was stuffed when I finished my plate. So, I know you are dying to know if I was able to lure the Hubs over to team shrimp-lover. Well…mission not quite accomplished. He was dismayed when he saw the mixture of shrimp and other ingredients all together on the same bed of lettuce. To his credit, he ended up eating most of the shrimp, but wasn’t able to eat the veggies or lettuce – because it might have tasted “shrimpy.” You can’t win ’em all. I didn’t take it personally since I knew going in he was shrimp-phobic. I tried.

However, I LOVED it and I’m sure the daughter, a fellow shrimp freak, will love it, so I’ll make it for her sometime when we have a girls’ night. If you love shrimp, this recipe is for you and it is fit to serve to company as either a main or side dish. It goes together super fast and there’s plenty of room for versatility and creativity.

Roasted Shrimp and Vegetables

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

(This is not a fussy recipe; use ingredients you have and enjoy)

  • 1 lb raw fresh or frozen shrimp (I used 31-60 frozen)
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 small tomatoes, quartered (or 2-3 larger tomatoes)
  • 3 cloves garlic (I roasted them whole, then sliced after roasting)
  • 3-4 marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
  • Juice of a half a lemon
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley (basil would also work)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional: pinch red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice onion, chop bell pepper. Chop artichoke hearts. Place veggies in a rectangular baking pan with whole garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Toss mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place baking pan in oven. Cook for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are nearly done – a little less than fork-tender.
  4. While veggies roast, clean and prepare shrimp.
  5. Add shrimp, lemon, chopped parsley and feta to veggie mixture, stir, and return to oven. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until shrimp is pink, firm (not hard) and cooked through.
  6. Remove garlic cloves from mixture and mash/mince and stir back into mixture.
  7. Spoon shrimp mixture over a bed of greens. Serve immediately.

Notes for next time:

This is another very versatile dish. You could really use whatever veggies you have on hand – broccoli, Brussels, squash, etc. It would be super pretty to use multiple bell pepper colors. You can also play with the spices – the addition of more Italian flavors seems logical – and some pesto would also be nice. I didn’t spice it up much, since I was trying to convince the Hubs to like it and I sometimes overheat things for him. That said, for me, I would add the red pepper, or maybe some chili powder. This could also go more Mexican flavor with some green chiles and cumin with some chili powder.  Or, go Asian with some Chinese five-spice, ginger, green onions and bok choy (YUM – going to try that). Instead of serving over lettuce, it would also be super spectacular over pasta or rice. It makes its own sauce, so it’s ready to add to anything, really.

Leave a comment letting me know how you liked it and how you tweaked it!

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Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with BACON!

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Today was a Bountiful Basket day, which is always a good day. I get so excited to see what arrives on the truck. Today’s haul was really exceptional because it included a few things I haven’t tried to cook with yet: water chestnuts and spaghetti squash. I’ll keep you posted on how those work out, but while I was helping at the pick-up site, I heard several people grumbling that they were not excited about the very large bag of Brussels sprouts we were getting.

Why, oh why can’t we get past the sprout hating, people? Just because grandma boiled them to death and made you eat those slimy things, doesn’t mean they are inherently yucky.

After all, they’re just mini cabbages – do you like cabbage? Ok, if you said yes, then you like Brussels sprouts. The end.

I know my fellow Bountiful Basketeers are scrambling to find recipes to try with their bag o’ sprouts, so I thought I better get this one posted ASAP.

I like Brussels best when they are crispy, and while I have oven roasted them in a few different ways (see Crispy Parmy Sprouties), I haven’t tried them on the stove-top before tonight. Since the oven was busy making a meatloaf (yeah, my carnivorous husband insisted I feed him meat “for a change”), I decided to make some skillet sprouts. I was hoping to attain some crispiness, so I opted for a caramelizing technique…and to do that, I did something I almost never do: I used BACON. Only two strips, though!

The result was just what I wanted: crispy, tasty, salty and savory. Mhmmm…I can pretty much guarantee that your whole family will jump on-board the Brussels flavor train with this recipe. You can’t go wrong when you’re cooking with bacon, right?

Here’s what I did:

Slice up about half an onion – more or less to suit your tastes. Place two slices of bacon in the skillet set to medium heat. After it cooks for a few minutes, add the onions. Keep the heat to medium, or medium-low, so they don’t cook to fast.

Quarter the Brussels by slicing them lengthwise. I started with about 10 large sprouts.

When the bacon is cooked through, but not crispy, remove from the skillet so it doesn’t overcook. Chop it up to add back to the skillet later.

Add the quartered sprouts to the pan and continue cooking on medium-low heat. Depending on how much bacon grease remains in the pan, you might need to add some extra virgin olive oil to the pan. My bacon wasn’t very thick, so I needed to add a good drizzle. I probably left my skillet cooking for about 20 minutes. It’s important not to rush the cooking, or they’ll end up cooked on the outside and still hard and uncooked on the inside. Stir occasionally.

Once your onions and sprouts start getting that happy caramel brown color, go ahead and add the bacon pieces back in. Once the bacon is crisp and the sprouts are sufficiently caramelized (dark golden brown), they are done and ready to eat!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with Bacon!

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 10-14 fresh Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • ½ large onion, sliced
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat skillet to medium heat. Add bacon, then onions after a few minutes.
  2. Quarter the Brussels sprouts, lengthwise.
  3. When bacon is cooked through, but not yet crispy, remove from pan and chop up, reserving for later.
  4. Add Brussels to skillet and continue cooking over medium-low heat. Add a drizzle or two of olive oil, as needed, depending on amount of bacon grease remaining in the pan. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Once onions and Brussels turn a dark golden brown (about 20 minutes), add the bacon back into the pan and cook until it crisps up.
  6. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Notes for next time:

The Hubs and I were pretty pleased with how these turned out, so I wouldn’t change much. I did think that it might have been pretty to add some carrots, which would also taste great with bacon and onions. Another idea: instead of bacon, you might use diced ham and make it more of a skillet meal.

Simple, right? I do feel a little bad about the bacon, but it was only two slices – and, honestly, it would have been fine with only one slice. I am pretty certain that even the sprout haters will like this recipe, so give it go and see how it goes over at your dinner table.

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See my Brussels Sprouts board on Pinterest for more sprout recipes.


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Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup – orange you ready for some soup??

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I love orange veggies! Pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet orange peppers, butternut squash….mmmhhhmmm. They all inspire images of cozy Fall evenings by a fireplace. Comfort. Fall is in the air here in SW Colorado. The nights are cooling off enough to force us to close some windows at bedtime and when we drove up to Telluride this weekend, we saw that the leaves are turning crispy golden colors already.

Another sign that Fall is upon us is that the Hubs has a cold. That’s the downside of the season change, right? I’m fending it off, so far, but I feel some sniffles coming on, too. So Fall is arriving and we’re a little sickly, so that means it’s soup season! I adore making soup. There is something so wholesome and satisfying about mixing up a batch of comforting soup and letting it simmer quietly on the stove. I think one of the first real scratch cooking recipes I made was soup – Tuscan bean soup, I believe, and I was amazed how simple it was to make and how yum-o it was to eat.

The Hubs requested chicken soup over the weekend and we finished it last night, so I wanted another soup recipe for tonight. My kitchen is overflowing with veggies from the garden and from my most recent Bountiful Baskets haul, so I assessed what I had and started my daily trolling of Pinterest for  ideas. I found it: carrot soup! I have tons of my own garden carrots and also two packages from Bountiful Baskets. I’ve never made carrot soup, but I have made pumpkin soup and it sounded similar – and it’s orange! YAY! My inspiration recipes are from Basket 411 (which I’m glad I found because it’s all about using Bountiful Basket produce) and from Food 52. I stole borrowed a few ideas from both and made my own version tonight.

It turns out that I got to combine the carrots with another orange veg: sweet potato (or yam)! Orange squared!

Secret ingredient: sweet potato!

So here’s what you do:

Start by peeling and chopping up about 6-10 carrots into bite-sized pieces. Personally, I only peel my carrots if I can’t get all of the dirt out of the nooks and crannies because you lose a lot of nutrients by peeling. You need to wind up with about four cups of chopped carrots. I have some very large, odd looking carrots from my garden, so my quantity of carrots to start was only about 4, plus a couple of normal carrots.

This is what happens when your carrots get “uneven watering” and you don’t thin them enough – freaky carrots!

Chop up carrots into bite-sized pieces measuring about 4 cups

Next, peel and dice one sweet potato (or yam) and toss into a bowl with the chopped carrots. Peel a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over the mixture and gently toss to coat all veggies in the EVOO.

Combine carrots, sweet potato, garlic and EVOO

If this process sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s basically the same process described in my post about roasting cherry tomatoes. Yep, we’re going to roast these veggies before we throw them in the soup. Roasting brings out all kinds of flavorful yum in veggies and since it’s cooling off, we don’t mind having the oven on for awhile.

Dump the mixture onto a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking pan) and spread veggies into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. If they begin to scorch, move to lower rack or reduce heat to about 400. Each oven is different, so adjust accordingly.

Dump veggies onto baking sheet and spread into a single layer

Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. Be sure to taste test to be sure.

While the orange veggies are roasting in the oven, caramelize an onion in your soup pot. The roasting and caramelizing both take about 20-30 minutes, so do other kitchen chores while they’re working.

Caramelize an onion while the orange veggies roast

When the orange veggies are roasted, pour in some vegetable stock to deglaze the soup pot before adding veggies.

Sidebar: speaking of veggie stock, you should make your own! Really! It’s super simple and it’s healthier than the commercially processed kind. Plus, you’ll always have some on hand when you need it. See my method for Easy Vegetable Stock here.

Freeze veg stock in muffin tins then store in big baggies for easy use

I used about 2.5 cups of stock, but I like a thicker, heartier soup. If you like a thinner soup, use more stock. You can also add more after you puree it to get the desired texture. Bring stock and onions to a medium boil.

Dump the roasted veggies in the pot and add the ginger and thyme, with a little more salt and pepper. I decided we needed a little acid to counteract the sweetness of the roasted veggies and caramelized onions, so I added about two or three heaping spoons of my roasted tomato mixture from the fridge. If you don’t have roasted tomatoes, just chop up a couple of tomatoes and throw them in the pot. You cold also use about half a can of diced tomatoes, drained.

Combine the rest of the ingredients and let simmer on low for at least 10 minute or longer

Next, add the other secret ingredient: Worcestershire sauce. I know: weird, right? I don’t even know what’s in the stuff (no, I don’t  want to know), but I swear by it in soups and stews. Adding it increases the richness of the soup exponentially. I only use a quick glug or two, but it makes all the difference. Trust me.

Finally, chop the parsley and add to the pot. Once all of the ingredients are in, simmer covered on low for at least 10 minutes to allow all of the flavors to get happy and dancing together. I believe soup must simmer and you must be able to smell from outside your front door before it’s “done.”

To finish, you need to puree it. You can use a blender or food processor, but you’ll need to cool it to warm before doing so or it blows the lid off. Also, don’t overload the container; process in batches. I am lucky enough to own an immersion blender (and I highly recommend you invest in one, too), so I just buzz it around the pot until I get the right texture. The Hubs  and I like some chunkiness to out soup, so I leave it pretty thick and don’t blend down all of the pieces (though I do try to get the garlic pieces all pureed in). Add water or more stock if you want a thinner consistency.

Puree the soup to the desired texture, adding water or stock to thin if needed

Return pot to stove and reheat until hot. Simmer a little longer, or serve immediately.

Simmer pureed soup on low or serve immediately

Garnish with whatever you like and have on hand. Some toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds would be lovely. Or, some cilantro or green onions would be good. I meant to add green onions, but the Hubs arrived and I got distracted and forgot. Crusty bread or toast makes a great dipping tool (too bad we finished the baguette with the chicken soup). Cuddle up under a flannel blankie by the fire and enjoy your orange soup!

Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chopped carrots (about 6-10 carrots)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (canola would also work)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, sliced (preferably yellow)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable stock (could sub chicken broth)
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger (fresh is best, but I only had some in a jar)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2-3 heaping Tbsp roasted tomato mixture (or 2 chopped tomatoes, or 1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1-2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Garnish (optional): nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine diced carrots, sweet potato and garlic in a medium bowl. Toss withe EVOO to coat all veggies.
  3. Dump mixture on a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet) and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast in over for 20-30 minutes until the largest pieces are very tender.
  5. Meanwhile, caramelize the sliced onions in a large soup pot (see caramelizing instructions here).
  6. Deglaze the soup pot with a little veggie stock, then add another 2 cups of stock. Reserve the remaining stock to add as needed during the puree process.
  7. Bring soup to a medium boil, and add ginger and thyme and a little more salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add remaining ingredients.
  9. Simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  10. Puree in blender or food processor (cool to warm, then puree in batches) or using an immersion blender. Blend to desired consistency, adding stock if needed.
  11. Return to stove and reheat until hot.
  12. Garnish with nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro.

Notes for next time:

I like spicy food, but since the Hubs has a sore throat, I didn’t spice this recipe with anything other than the garlic and onions. Next time  I would add some red pepper flakes or a little curry powder or paste to heat it up. I also might try using basil rather than parsley and I might add a little red wine to the soup. Another thought is to toss  a little balsamic vinegar with the veggies before roasting. I also thought out adding some roasted corn after pureeing the rest of the soup. The Hubs liked his soup, but required a grilled cheese sandwich on the side to feel satisfied after a long day of working while sick 🙂 I was full after my bowl.

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Simple Savories

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UPDATED: See bottom of post.

This year I planted tomatoes for the first time. I had planned to only have three plants because I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy growing them – or be successful. Since I didn’t know a lot about the many plant choices, I ordered a variety pack from Burpees. One of those was called the Super Sweet 100 Hybrid, described as a high-producing sweet cherry variety. Then a friend gave me a couple of additional plants, which turned out to be cherry varieties, as well. So, out of five plants, I have three that are cherry! Know what that means? I have MILLIONS of itty bitties, and I wasn’t prepared for the influx of the little sweeties.

Cherry tomato plants produce MILLIONS of sweet little tomatoes!

I started exploring other food blogs to figure out how to preserve the giant harvest of mini tomatoes and learned that while it is possible to can them, most people don’t because most people don’t like to leave the skin on canned tomatoes and most people refuse to peel 1000 cherry tomatoes in order to get a couple of pints of canned tomatoes. Personally, I’m not terribly averse to skins and I do throw some cherry maters in my salsa, but decided I wanted to do something else with the little guys since I’m canning the big ‘uns.

What to do with all of those little yummies?

I learned a simple, fast and super yummy trick for roasting and then preserving cherry tomatoes. I’ve seen several versions of this technique, so I am by no means claiming to have thought of it myself! As always, I try to put a little of my own spin on it and show you how easy this savory delight is to make and how versatile the finished product can be.

Roasted cherry tomatoes are simple and versatile

I started with about a pound of cherry tomatoes, which fits in one jelly roll pan and makes about one half pint of the mixture. I only have one jelly roll pan so that’s all I make at a time – you could make more if you have multiple pans.

Preheat the oven to about 425 degrees. Prepare the tomatoes by slicing each of them in half. TEDIOUS! I hate tedious! Let’s make this faster. I wish I remember where I saw this trick (somewhere on Pinterest, I’m sure), but the person who invented it is a genius. Here’s what you do: find two plastic lids of the same size. I use the kind from the big Greek yogurt containers (cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.). Set one lid, label side down and fill the lid with tomatoes. I find it works best if you use similar sized tomatoes in each batch.

Fill the first lid with the tomatoes

Fit them in as snugly as you can, then place the other lid, label side facing up on top of the tomatoes, making a little tomato sandwich.

Place the second lid on top of the tomatoes

Now, press down on the sandwich firmly and begin slicing into the tomatoes with an very sharp knife. If you don’t keep the pressure firm, the tomatoes will escape out the backside of the sandwich. Sometimes I do rotate it a bit, but do not pull out the knife, which would make it messy.

Press firmly on the top while slicing through the tomatoes

Viola! Quick work made of slicing up a handful of cherry tomatoes! I told you it was genius!

Like magic, they’re all sliced in one move!

After the tomatoes are halved, place them in a medium sized bowl. Peel, but do not chop a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl of tomatoes. Remember that garlic mellows out when roasted, so feel free to add more!

Add some garlic cloves to the bowl of tomatoes

Add about a 1/4 cup of EVOO to the bowl and gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic cloves. Dump the contents of the bowl onto the pan and spread the tomatoes and garlic out into a single layer. It doesn’t matter if the tomatoes sit cut side up or down.

Spread the garlic and tomatoes into a single layer on the pan

Sprinkle the spices and salt and pepper over the mixture and place in the oven. Roast for about 20-30 minutes. I like a little charring on the edges, so I wait until I see that before I pull them out. Be careful, though, because you can go from a little char to a major scorch in a matter of a minutes. My pan below may have gone a little too long.

Roast until you see a little charring on the edges of the tomatoes

Let the mixture cool on the pan. The second they are cool enough to eat, taste them! (Caution: I have burned my tongue more than once by diving in too soon!). Amazingness, right? Super savory flavors that make you want to lap it up off the pan. Depending on how much you eat off the pan, you now have a nice little batch of roasted yummies to add to tonight’s dinner, or save in a jar for a future recipe.

Cool then taste!

If I want to save them for another day, I scoop the mixture into a half pint (jelly size) jar. Be sure to get all of the drippings and the garlic (you can smash or chop the garlic to make for easier use later). Smoosh the mixture firmly into the jar and top with a splash of EVOO. Fill to nearly the top, but f you’re going to freeze it, leave about 1/2″ headroom. I have kept the mixture in the fridge for up to a week, but if I don’t think I’m going to use it quickly enough, I just pop it in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight when ready to use.

Pour the mixture in a small jar for fridge or freezer

The mixture makes a perfect pasta topping, as is. Just prepare some pasta, warm the tomato mixture in a saute pan (add some pesto and/or a little tomato paste for more body) and then combine the pasta and tomato mixture for a super easy, but very savory supper. I will share my FAVORITE pasta dish with you in a future post soon, and we’ll use this recipe as our basic sauce starter.

Besides pasta, you could use this as a topping or stir it into many other dishes since it’s just a tomato and garlic combo. Think: stews and soups, stir into meatloaf or burgers, cassaroles, bruschetta, pizza, eggs, rice, veggie stir-fries, shrimp or fish topping, bean or green salads, etc. It also occurs to me that it could be pureed to create a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. Oooo…gotta try that!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Serving size: makes about 1/2 pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4-6 whole, peeled garlic cloves (more, if you like)
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning (or any combo of basil, oregano, thyme, etc. You could also use fresh chopped herbs)
  • 1/2 tsp each: salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice tomatoes in half, place in medium-sized bowl.
  3. Peel garlic, add to bowl with tomatoes.
  4. Add EVOO to bowl, gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic.
  5. Pour mixture onto jelly roll (rimmed baking sheet), spreading mixture into single layer.
  6. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until edges of tomatoes are slightly charred. Remove from oven.
  7. Cool completely on the pan.
  8. Use immediately, or scoop mixture into small jar, packing tightly and topping with EVOO. Leave 1/2″ head space if you plan to freeze.

Notes for next time:

I think it would be fun to try a Mexican spin on the mixture by using Mexican spices instead of Italian and adding some green chiles or jalapenos to the roasting pan. This version could be used as a stir-in to taco filling and other Mexican dishes. Another nice addition to either version would be thick slices of onions and/or green peppers which also roast so nicely and pair well with tomatoes.

Leave a comment with your roasted tomato recipe ideas. Enjoy!

UPDATE:

When I wrote this post, I noted that maybe the roasted tomato mixture could be pureed into a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. I also thought it would be fun to add some onions and bell peppers to the roasting pan to include even more savory flavor. Well! Last night I tried both and it turned out to be simply delicious and got rave reviews from the Hubs. He isn’t quite as enamored with the texture of the plain roasted tomato mixture as I am, so the smoother version works great for him. I just had to share!

Here’s how:

Prepare cherry tomatoes and garlic as above, but add chopped pieces of bell pepper and onions. I had some pearl onions (over-grown green onions) from the garden, so I used those. You can just chunk up about half an onion. Toss with olive oil, as described above and roast the same way.

Next, dump the mixture into a bowl and use the immersion blender to puree to the desired consistency (or cool then use a food processor or blender).

Blend with food processor, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency

I added a dollop of my basil pesto, a little salt and pepper and about 1 Tbsp of sugar, but mostly because I was experimenting with the flavors. It was great, as is, before adding ingredients. Just tweak to your own tastes and you end up with great marinara sauce. I served mine over open-faced (chicken) meatball sandwiches and the Hubs asked for seconds. Enjoy!

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Mexican Zucchini Succotash (Calabacitas)

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It’s that time of year when squash is taking over our gardens, kitchens and every other available corner of our lives. It’s great that it’s so easy to grow, but after you’ve made 88 loaves of zucchini bread, it’s time to change things up a bit. Zucchini is a very versatile veg, so you can really put it in most any recipe and it’ll make a great addition. My friend Mary even made a zucchini cobbler for book club once and it was way yummy (it was actually sweet, not savory).

This is some of the squash that is currently hanging around in my kitchen

I have a speedy weeknight, one-pot wonder of a zucchini meal for you that the whole fam will devour. When I first started growing zucchini, my husband kept talking about something his mom used to make with zucchini, corn and cheese. He called it calavacitas, but in doing some research, it looks like calabacitas and calvacitas are the same basic dish – each family just has their own way to say it. The beauty of it all is that there are many versions of the old-school dish, so we can tweak it however we want!

I also use the zucchini, corn and a little cheese, but I add a few more ingredients to make it more of a main dish. I use chicken as the protein, but you could swap that out for pork, ground beef, or shrimp – or you could leave it out and make it a vegetarian meal instead. It is really fast to throw together and it’s one of those recipes where you can sub out any ingredient you don’t have for one you do have and get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Simple one pot Mexican Succotash!

Start by dicing the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I used some chicken tenders (about 3) I had in the freezer, but you could use breasts or boneless, skinless thighs also. The meat is easier to dice if it is still about half frozen.

I buy a large package of chicken tenders when they’re on sale and then freeze smaller portions to pull out as needed.

While you’re dicing the chicken, heat a large saute pan to medium heat. When hot, add a few swirls of EVOO and let it heat up. Add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic to the pan and cook for a minute – be careful not to scorch it as burned garlic tastes really bitter.  Chop up about a quarter (or more, if you like!) of an onion and add to the garlic.

Add garlic to taste: I used 3 cloves

Now add the corn. If you have fresh corn on the cob, just slice it off the cob straight into the pan. I used two cobs in mine.

Once the corn gets a little sear on it, place the diced chicken in the pan, along with some salt and pepper. Sprinkle in about a 1/2 tsp each of cumin and Mexican oregano. Stir and simmer over medium heat.

I have a lot (a ton) of these little green peppers – we think they’re Sandias – so I chopped up a few and threw them into the pan. You could use bell peppers or whatever type of pepper you might have on hand – or just skip if you don’t.

We received a mystery pepper plant from a friend that we think is a Sandia pepper and it’s very productive, so I threw some in for some flavor.

Next, add some chopped tomatoes, and/or salsa. I had some (or about a thousand) cherry tomatoes and some fresh salsa so I added some of both. Use what you have on hand. If you think you’ll need a little more heat, throw in some red pepper flakes.

Throw in some tomatoes and/or some salsa and let it all simmer together until the chicken is fully cooked and tomatoes are softening.

Then continue by chopping the zucchini (or yellow squash) – I used about two regular sized zuccs to feed two of us. Add more for a larger group (or to use up more of your harvest).

Slice the zucchini in half, then slice each half horizontally.

Repeat with the other half until you have quarters

Chop the quarters up into about 1/2″ slices

Add the zucc to the pan and stir into the mixture. Cover and simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Watch the zucc, though, because you don’t want to let it get overcooked and mushy.

Add the chopped zucc and cover. Simmer 3-4 minutes.

At this point, your meal is complete – well, the Hubs says it’s not complete until you add the cheese! He likes a lot of cheese all mixed up and melted in the pan, but since I’m on the healthy kick, I shred a little on the side so we can each add as much or as little cheese as we like.

I had some sharp cheddar and some Monterrey Jack cheese on hand; use what you have, or skip if you prefer no cheese

Garnish with some green onions and/or cilantro and you’re ready to eat!

Can it get any simpler than that? If you have other veggies you need to use up, go ahead and throw them into the pot as well. I think some diced potatoes or some green beans would be a happy addition – and would add a little more bulk if you’re trying to stretch the meal a little further. I could also see beans – maybe pinto or black – rounding it out nicely, as well. You could also wrap it up in a corn or flour tortilla to make it more kid friendly or portable.

Mexican Zucchini Succotash

Servings: 2-3

  • 2-3 medium sized zucchini, diced
  • Diced chicken (2-3 tenders/thighs/1 large breast) – or similar quantity of pork, ground beef or shrimp
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Sandia peppers (or 1/2 bell pepper), diced, seeds removed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • Corn – 2-3 fresh cobs or 1 small can drained or 1 cup frozen
  • Tomatoes, diced (1 handful cherry or two regular) and/or 2 Tbsp salsa (optional)
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional – to taste)
  • Salt and pepper + 2 Tbsp EVOO

Directions:

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of EVOO to lightly coat the bottom of pan.

2. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute then add onions. Saute on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove corn from the cob and place in pan with garlic and onions.

4. Stir cumin and oregano, along with salt and pepper into the mixture.

5. Once corn is beginning to sear, add diced chicken to the pan.

6. Let the chicken begin to brown and then stir in tomatoes and/or salsa. Let simmer until chicken is no longer pink. (If you’re using shrimp, add the tomatoes, allow to cook five minutes then add shrimp with zucchini, making sure they are cooked through (pink) before removing from heat.)

7. Add diced zucchini, cover and cook 3-5 minutes until zucchini is tender but not mushy.

8. Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese, if including it – or use as topping for individual portions. Garnish with green onions, cilantro and red pepper flakes to taste.

Notes for next time: The Hubs liked this version of his childhood favorite and endorsed the addition of the chicken. He said I made it a little spicy for him (perfect for me), so taste before adding extra heat with peppers. I will make with shrimp next time (when I’m home alone) because the Hubs is weird about shrimp mixed into other food – he likes it on the side (??). Otherwise, I might also add some beans next time.

I would love to hear your spin on this old, new again classic.

Need other zucchini recipes (who doesn’t?)? See my squash board on Pinterest.

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Caramelizing Onions – Oh, how sweet it is!

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I never really knew what caramelized onions were – or cared. Then, I accidentally made them one night when I was making brats for the Hubs and wanted to put some cooked onions on top. I chopped up the onions and got them cooking in a little EVOO. Then the Hubs called and said he was running late, so I turned the onions down really low and just let them simmer. I stirred them as I wandered through the kitchen occasionally, but generally ignored them. I don’t remember how late the Hubs was, and thereby how long the onions cooked, but it was a spell. When I finally put them on the brats (mine was really a chicken sausage), the most amazing sweetness came through with the mild onion flavor. WOW! Who knew?

Apparently a lot of people knew because it’s a standard cooking trick, but I figure that if I didn’t know how to do it, then other people may not either. I have a bunch of onions hanging out in the dirt in the backyard and soon I’ll be harvesting and curing them for winter storage. While I let them finish maturing, I have pulled a few to use in my daily cooking. They are so pungent and  fresh tasting. They even make me cry when I chop them and I haven’t cried over onions in years. Oh, and the stalks are wonderful to chop up and use like green onions. I’m sure there are whole recipes devoted to the stalks, but I have more pressing issues with all of the other produce to harvest and cook – I’ll learn that later (but please share if you know any).

I grew white, yellow and purple onions. Soon, I will pull them out for curing.

A purple pretty from the garden

Anyway, I am digressing. Caramelizing onions is super easy and the payoff is huge! Here’s how to do it:

You can use whatever sort of onion you have on hand. Slice it up into rings, about half an inch or so and use the whole onion because it’s going to shrink down.

Slice up a whole onion into rings

Next, heat up a small skillet to medium heat. After it’s hot, add some EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) – enough to mostly coat the bottom of the pan – and let it warm up. Add the onions and season with some salt and pepper. You can also drizzle a little EVOO over the top, but they don’t need to swim in the oil.

Place the onions with some EVOO and salt and pepper in the warm pan

After they start to soften, turn the heat to a low-medium heat. Keep it low and cook it slow! You’ll notice the onions starting to brown – that’s the carmelization! I promise they’re not burning, as long as your heat is low. If you’re worried, turn it down a bit more.

The dark color is the caramelizing process in action!

Keep an eye on them, but go about your business doing other kitchen tasks and just give them a stir now and then. They will keep getting yummier and yummier.

Keep cooking them low and slow for super sweetness

You’ll also notice that they are shrinking up, too. Again, that’s ok and it’s part of the process. Usually, it takes about 25-30 minutes to caramelize an onion, but it will depend on how thick your slices were when you started, and your cooking temp. No, cooking at a higher temp will not make the process faster because they will crisp up and burn. However, like my first try, you can cook them at a super low temp for longer to squeeze even more yummy out of them. I find the 30 minute mark is about right for my tastes – oh yeah, make sure you have some tasters along the way!

When they turn a deep, dark CARAMEL color, they’re done!

That’s all there is to it! So heap some on your burger or your brat and experience a whole new level in taste-ology. But, stay tuned because I have some upcoming recipes that take the caramelized onion beyond the brat and burger – way beyond. In the meantime, experiment by using them in recipes that you might ordinarily use regular boring cooked onions in and see how it improves the flavor. Simply stirring in some chopped veggies, like zucchini, broccoli or peppers – or green beans! Or mushrooms! (so many options), at the end of the caramelizing step and cooking for a few more minutes would be an easy, flavorful side or even main dish……Or… roasted potatoes would be fabulous with these onions! I could go on..but you get it.

Ok, now you know the process and I’m sure I’ve convinced you that you must make some caramelized onions NOW, but it gets better. How? When you’re cooking the onions, pour in a little BEER (like 1/4 cup) and let it cook down with the onions. Seriously – it takes the whole thing to an even deeper, more flavorsome place that you may never have experienced before. Do it.

Oooooo…and I bet wine would also be a heavenly twist….

Leave a comment and let us know how you’re using caramelized onions.

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Garden 2012 – The Season in Pictures

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Since it’s late August and I’m just getting started here at Cooking Ripe! I thought I should catch you up on how the garden grew this year. We’re in full harvest now, so you’ll see the fruit of the labor in the kitchen in future posts.

We have a large lot, and tons of mostly flat space out back, but I have only had one tiny garden back there previously. It was so tiny that the Hubs and I cleared it and turned it by hand (and backs) last year. This year, I called in my friend with mini-tractor to ‘disk’ it, as the farmers here in SW Colorado say. I had another friend bring a load of sheep manure from his farm to mix into the clay soil. Due to a timing error on my part, I hand spread the manure myself.

Then in late April, I planted the right-hand side with early season crops: potatoes, lettuce, spinach, onions, peppers, carrots and garlic. I tell you more specifics about the varieties I planted later.

Here’s how it looked after the first round of planting:

First Planting: last week in April 2012

About a month later, I finally had time to get the second half planted. I added cilantro, basil, peppers, more garlic and onions, squash and my first ever tomato plants.
Meanwhile, the other side was starting to pop up:

Second planting: last week in May 2012
(Opposite view from first photo)

Over the next few weeks I watered and watered and fretted over what wasn’t happening: the cilantro and basil weren’t appearing on schedule. Fearing I would be watering expanses of empty dirt if I didn’t fill in along all of the soaker hoses, I added few plants from a local greenhouse: replacement cilantro, Thai basil, broccoli, and cabbage. I filled some other gaps with leftover green onion seeds and carrots. (Meet our kitty, Kow. She supervised the gardening, especially the carrot plants, until she passed away in late July. RIP sweet kitty).

Third week in June 2012 – everything’s planted.

As the watering continued (and the weeding began), I noticed many sprouts that I did not plant. I knew  the lazy composting (throwing my kitchen scraps out in the garden area all winter) was the culprit. I figured it was some sort of squash or melon, but nobody seemed to be able to positively identify the various volunteer sprouts. I decided to leave some, move some and (gasp!) pull some up.

Mystery squash

By early June the first payday: fresh cut LETTUCE! Isn’t it pretty and crispy? We had salad almost every day through most of August! There’s nothing simpler than going outside with some scissors, cutting a bowl of greens, washing them up and eating them with some homemade dressing (yes, I’ll show you how easy it is to make later!).

First of MANY lettuce cuttings!

While we sometimes get freaky snowstorms in June, this year was not cold: it was blistering hot for a few weeks. Coupled with crazy windstorms and no rain, I was afraid my delicate plants would wither or blow away. But, the heat broke on the 4th of July when we got some much needed cool air and a little rain. We also got our first carrot.

4th of July carrot!

Turns out that the cilantro and basil that had threatened to stay below ground, were just teasing. Both came up beautifully after the heatwave ended. Can you blame them? I love me some cilantro and lime – on anything! (Don’t worry, I have lots of cilantro recipes!) I was giddy when I got to cut bunches like this:

Viva cilantro!

By mid-July the garden was starting to produce regularly. We were eating lettuce daily and had fresh carrots and peppers as often as we wanted. The cilantro was ultra-productive and the basil was looking and smelling heavenly.

Mid-July: Great Progress!

By the end of July we were finally able to positively identify the mystery squash. We have a mini-pumpkin patch and a mini-cantaloupe patch. We are excited to see how the melons turn out, given our altitude (6,800 ft).

Here’s one of the pumpkins.

My very first ripe tomatoes – ever! I had never tried to grow tomatoes before, so it was oh, soooo exciting to see some red beauties hanging out on the vines.

First ripe tomatoes!

By the first week in August, we were really in full swing! We had green onions, zucchini, tomatoes, pepper, carrots and I started freaking out about keeping up with the harvest. It’s hard for two people to eat all of those veggies, but I did my best to find recipes to use up what we had so we didn’t waste. Also, since all of friends have gardens, it’s hard to give away the extras. Just eat your veggies – or freeze them!

Early August harvest

One of those extras I added from the local greenhouse was eggplant and has been the surprise hit of the year! The plants are really pretty and the eggplant is super yummy and not bitter like the ones in the store. Even the Hubs says we should grow more next year. I will share my favorite eggplant recipes soon! By mid-August, we started cutting basil (pesto recipe also coming soon) and pulling a few onions. Aren’t they pretty?

Mid-August basil, onions and eggplant!

When the garden gives you tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro you HAVE to make fresh salsa! I’ve made salsa in the past, but this was my first time canning it – and it was pretty simple. I’ll show you the next time I make some.

Fresh, homemade salsa: first canning project!

By late August, the lettuce and cilantro were going to seed (did you know coriander is the seed from the cilantro plant? I didn’t but do now!), but the tomatoes, squash, carrots, peppers, eggplant, broccoli and onions are still rocking. Soon we’ll dig and cure the onions and garlic for winter storage. We are still waiting for the pumpkins and cantaloupe to ripen, but I think we’re getting close. Potatoes are not looking great, but we’ll have a few itty bitties. Oh, and we have one monster cabbage still cooking out there. Can’t wait to cut that head and cook it up. The Hubs loves cabbage!

Late August progress

Fresh broccoli anyone?

Coriander is cilantro that has gone to seed – it’s like a “two-fer-one”

Purple bell peppers are odd looking, but fun in the garden. Haven’t eaten any yet, so we’ll see how they taste later

This is Lola, my main garden supervisor

And this is Daisy, my main tomato taster (thief)

So, this brings us to date with the garden. While it’s starting to wind down, we have lots to eat and preserve still. I hope we can get it all done!

End of August