Garden Veggie Spiral Quiche

About once a week, my husband, Les, flashes me his phone to announce what has appeared on his Facebook page—“Five years ago, today!” It’s usually a throwback photo of our dog, Nilla, and I always love the ones that were taken years before I even met them. She was an adorable little fluff pup, and he has taken a ton of pictures of her through the years! The other day, though, he presented me with a picture that was instantly familiar— a pretty, fresh-from-the-oven spiral quiche made of fresh zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant from our own garden. The timing was remarkable, given that I had made plans to make the same recipe with veggies from this year’s garden, just days apart from the one I made in 2017. For your comparison, here they are, side by side:

Is it a quiche or a tart? Let’s just call it delicious.

My inspiration for this brunch-worthy dish came directly from Pinterest, but the recipe did not. It was one of those pins that appeared with an exciting image, but no title or description, and a link that led to absolutely nothing. But I took the clickbait in stride because at that point, I had all the inspiration I needed; my mind was already racing with my own ideas for creating such a pretty pie. I’d use thin slices of eggplant and squash from my own garden, layering them around and around inside a blind-baked pastry in my springform pan. I’d slip a few store-bought carrot slices in wherever I could make them fit, and then I’d pour an omelet mixture over the whole thing and bake it until the eggs were set. I was not blogging at that time, so it didn’t occur to me to write down what I had done—I just followed my instinct and used what was fresh from the garden at the time. I had one measly cherry tomato that year (the deer got the rest), and I showcased it by placing it right in the center.

As it happens, the same things are fresh from the garden at the same time this year!

This is a veggie-packed quiche! I ended up swapping the parsley for fresh basil, and I skipped the fresh onion and garlic.


This was a delicious, meatless dinner, and I dressed up our quiche servings with a generous spoonful of marinara sauce and some sprinkles of our favorite parm-romano blend cheese. It was hearty and satisfying, and just look at all those layers of vegetables.


I began with a homemade pastry dough, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use a pre-made crust; be sure it’s the kind you can roll out, rather than a crust already in a tin. Because of the spiral, this will work best in a baking pan with straight sides. I used a springform pan, but a regular 9-inch cake pan with straight sides will work fine as well.


At this point, I made a mistake and you have probably already spotted it. Trimming off the excess dough, even with the top of the springform pan, seemed like the logical thing to do. But I didn’t take into account that the crust would shrink during blind baking, and the pan did not have any slope to keep it in position. The better choice would be to keep a bit of dough hanging just over the edge of the pan. Or, as I suspect was my method in 2017, use a double layer of foil to hold the pastry in place during baking. So, my advice here is, “do as I say, not as I do.” 😊

Follow whatever blind-baking method feels right to you, and check on it during baking. I docked a few holes in the pastry (the bottom and the sides), laid a parchment round into the pan and filled a shallow layer of dried beans to keep it from bubbling. One of these days, I will buy some pie weights! As you can see, my trimming method backfired, and the dough slid down the sides a bit. Live and learn—let’s call it “rustic,” shall we?


Allow the crust to cool completely while you prep the veggies. Trim and slice the zucchini, squash, eggplant and carrots into 1/4” thin planks. This was a task for the mandolin, which is serious business, so I didn’t attempt to take pictures of that process. Use a knife if you must and aim to keep the planks as uniformly thin as possible. The carrots were cut into thinner, 1/8″ slices. Sprinkle all the veggies with salt and pepper and arrange your ingredients for easy assembly. Combine beaten eggs with ricotta and whisk evenly. Shred the cheese and chop the basil into strips.


When the pastry is cooled, layer the zucchini and eggplant slices around the pan, overlapping them slightly to eliminate gaps. Don’t worry about keeping the slices even—it’s natural for some of them to sit higher in the pan—and expect that you may have a few veggie planks left over. Wiggle in the carrot slices wherever they fit, and then sprinkle the shredded cheese and sliced basil over the tart.


Pour the egg-ricotta mixture slowly over the veggie swirl, taking care to let it seep evenly as much as possible. This was a bit tricky with mine, given that my pastry had collapsed in several places, but it worked out OK. In a nod to my 2017 tart, I also placed a cherry tomato in the center before I slid it into the oven. About an hour later, the eggs were set and the veggies were tender, but there was a fair amount of excess moisture pooled on top in spots.

I used a paper towel to blot away the excess moisture, and tucked it back into the oven for another minute or two.

The moisture was not disastrous, and it didn’t make the crust soggy, but next time, I’ll salt the vegetables longer to draw out moisture, the same as I do with eggplant for moussaka or eggplant parm, and my instructions reflect this suggestion, too. More lessons learned. 😊


Garden Veggie Spiral Quiche

  • Servings: 8 wedges
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

It’s fun to make, and uses up some of the fresh veggies coming out of the garden! This was delicious for Meatless Monday, or make it the star of the show at a summer brunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 rollout pie pastry (store-bought or homemade; my recipe is below)
  • 1 large or 2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 2 medium Japanese variety eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 1 medium yellow or zephyr squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8″ planks
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1 tsp. dried minced onions
  • 1/2 cup shredded gruyere or cheddar cheese
  • Small handful of fresh basil leaves (or substitute Italian parsley)
  • Marinara sauce and grated parmesan, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare and blind-bake the pastry in a 9″ springform or other straight-sided cake pan. Allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Spread out the veggie planks and season them generously with salt and pepper. Allow them to rest for about an hour, to draw out some of the moisture. Blot dry with paper towels. Select a smaller, “bendy” slice or two for the center of your quiche.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and ricotta until evenly blended. Stir in dried minced onions.
  4. Arrange zucchini, eggplant and yellow squash planks in the cooled pastry crust, overlapping slightly and alternating veggies for visual interest. Wrap the reserved slices tightly around your index finger and place it in the center (it will unwind to fill up the space). Tuck carrot slices in wherever you can make them fit.
  5. Scatter shredded gruyere all over the veggie spiral. Slice or tear the basil leaves and scatter those over the quiche as well.
  6. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tart, taking care to let it seep down between the veggie planks. The mixture may or may not come all the way to the top.
  7. Bake the quiche at 350° F for about an hour, until eggs are fully set and vegetables are softened. Let it cool at least ten minutes before slicing and serving.

Use your favorite pie pastry recipe, or take a shortcut with a store-bought, roll-out crust. Below is the recipe I used for mine.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup very cold water

Directions

  1. Combine the two flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse one or two times to evenly mix.
  2. Scatter the butter cubes all over the flour. Pulse about five times until the butter bits are smaller and coated in flour.
  3. Slowly pour the cold water into the chute of the processor. Run continuously as you add the water, and mix just until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic film; wrap it up tightly and refrigerate at least one hour or up to overnight.
  4. To blind-bake the pastry, preheat oven to 350° F. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured countertop and drape it into the springform pan; trim off excess, but allow the dough to catch the edge a bit. Use a fork to prick a few holes into the dough; this helps reduce puffing while baking. Lay a piece of parchment over the bottom of the crust and fill with ceramic beads (or dried beans work well). Alternative, gently lay a doubled sheet of foil directly over the raw crust and up the sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, just until pastry is set but not golden. Allow it to cool before filling.



Green Gazpacho Shooters

It isn’t easy being green—unless you happen to be this gazpacho! I know, you’ve probably only seen gazpacho in shades of red, and perhaps with a few green bits of pepper or scallion on top. But when I visited our farmers’ market last weekend, I discovered that most of the tomato vendors had sold out. That is, until I spotted these beauties at a booth near the back.

In the end, I was glad that all the red ones were sold out!

The grower assured me that these little gems were indeed ripe, and as sweet as any other baby tomatoes. I don’t remember the variety of the tomato (artisan-something-or-other), but I figured it would be, at the very least, a fun twist on the chilled summer soup I planned to serve at our 3rd of July shindig. I picked up some fresh spring onions and a few yellow tomatoes, too, figuring they would help supplement my gazpacho with garden-fresh goods. The soup wouldn’t be red, but it would be interesting, and I was committed to using farmers’ market ingredients as much as possible.

That raises an important point about shopping local and eating with the seasons—it puts you at the mercy of the harvest, and you either go with the flow or go hungry!

I consider every trip to the farmers’ market to be a treasure hunt!

Fortunately, nobody went hungry at our house that evening, and this easy appetizer was the first thing we shared to get the party started. My instinct was to serve the gazpacho as “shooters,” a quick and simple starter that could be prepped ahead and served, sans silverware, as guests arrived. And I could have served them that way, if I had left off the delicate cubes of yellow tomato, cucumber and avocado, but those made the cups so much prettier, even if we did need to hand out spoons! An additional “garnish” of roasted paprika-dusted shrimp made the shooters substantial enough to hold everyone over for the feast that would come off the grill later.

This was a fun way to welcome guests with a fresh taste of summer!

This recipe was very easy to make (gazpacho always is), and I prepped everything but the shrimp a day ahead, which worked well because gazpacho flavors really develop overnight. Step one was to strip the skins off the tiny tomatoes—you don’t want to put those in the processor, unless you like little bits of peel sticking to your teeth. For this task, I did a quick blanch-and-shock treatment. Bring water to a boil in a pot, and prepare a separate bowl filled with ice water. Cut an “x” on the bottom of each tomato to give the peel an easy place to break. Gently lower the tomatoes into the boiling water, a few at a time, and only for about a minute, and then immediately scoop and transfer them into the ice water. This immediately stops the cooking process, shocking the tomatoes so that the peels can be easily stripped away.


I repeated the process with the larger, yellow tomatoes, which I took time to de-seed first (I kept the seeds for another purpose). I held back the flesh of about half a yellow tomato to use later for garnish, and the rest went into the large bowl of my food processor with the little green tomatoes. A few of them had tougher stems, which I cut off, but most of them were tender enough to toss into the mix.

I haven’t shared much about my processor yet, as I’m still learning all the bells and whistles, but I promise I’ll give it a proper introduction soon. For now, I’ll say that it is quite large (14-cup capacity) and it has a cool “Blendermix” ring that is designed to keep the bowl contents in check when you puree ingredients. I love this because it eliminates the need to stop and scrape down the bowl during mixing. Less work for me is never a bad thing!


When I was satisfied with the smoothness of the tomatoes, I tossed in most of a peeled and seeded, cut-up cucumber (I reserved part of it for a topping), a chopped spring onion and about half of a chopped jalapeno. If you like heat, you can leave the seeds in the jalapeno for a bigger bite. I stripped them out to accommodate guests who may not enjoy heat as much. It’s always easier to add spice than to take it away! Depending on how much texture you want in your gazpacho, you could either pulse in these extra goodies or puree the dickens out of them. I went with plan B and whizzed it up nice and smooth, then transferred the soup to a pitcher bowl and stirred in a splash of red wine vinegar and a quick swirl of good, extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course).


Gazpacho is best when it has had some time to “relax” in the refrigerator, so at that point, I covered the pitcher bowl and chilled it overnight. Remember the yellow tomato I set aside earlier, and the last bit of cucumber that didn’t get pureed? My intention was to use them as a garnish/topper on the gazpacho at serving time, so I sprinkled them with salt and combined them in a small bowl that also went into the refrigerator. A little bit of texture on top of the gazpacho would add visual interest and something to tantalize the taste buds on those first few bites.

Even the yellow tomato was so juicy! I reserved the seeds and excess juice for another purpose.

To serve the gazpacho, divvy it up into cute little cups or glasses. We did this an hour or so ahead of our friends’ arrival to save time and last-minute fussing, then tucked them back into the fridge. Top each cup with a few cubes of the reserved tomato-cucumber mixture, and a few cubes of fresh avocado. If you wish to garnish with the roasted shrimp, check out my previous post for Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail—the process was the same, but for this gazpacho recipe, I tossed the shrimp with a little bit of salt, garlic powder and sweet Spanish paprika.


This green gazpacho was a perfect starter for the summer meal to come from the grill. It was light, flavorful and very refreshing, and though it was a simple course—from its short list of ingredients to its ease of preparation—everyone loved it so much, they were still talking about it as we hugged our goodbyes.

It doesn’t get much sweeter than that!

Green Gazpacho Shooters

  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

This easy green gazpacho can be made ahead in half an hour and is terrific as a starter course for a summer meal off the grill! This recipe requires a food processor, or it can be made in a blender, though you may need to process the tomatoes in batches.

Ingredients

  • 2 dry pints of ripe baby tomatoes (green or otherwise)
  • 3 smallish yellow tomatoes (one will be reserved to chop for topping gazpacho)
  • 1 spring onion or small sweet onion, rough chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and quartered with seeds removed (reserve a chunk of this for topping)
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno, rough chopped (use the seeds if you like it hot)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. good quality, extra virgin olive oil (preferably a Spanish, fruity variety)
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, cubed (this will be a garnish at serving time; do not add it to the blended gazpacho)
  • Roasted paprika-dusted shrimp, optional for garnish (cooking instructions included in note below)

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and fill a separate, large bowl with ice water.
  2. Wash all tomatoes and use a paring knife to cut a small “x” on the bottom of each.
  3. Carefully lower the tomatoes (a few at a time) into boiling water, and turn them a few times until the peels begin to loosen. This will only take about one minute, unless the tomatoes are less ripe. Scoop them out and immediately transfer them to the ice water bowl, taking care to fully submerge them. Repeat until all tomatoes have been blanched and shocked.
  4. Drain the tomatoes of excess water and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the large blade. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to break up the large pieces, and then process continuously until the tomatoes are pureed to a smooth consistency.
  5. Add the cut-up onion, cucumber, and jalapeno to the processor. Pulse, then puree continuously to desired consistency.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer gazpacho to a pitcher bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  7. Dice the reserved yellow tomato and cucumber into bite-sized bits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine these in a bowl and refrigerate to use as a garnish on the soup.
  8. To serve, divide the gazpacho into cups and top with reserved tomato and cuke bits, plus roasted and chilled paprika shrimp (below).

These paprika-spiced shrimp are very simple to make, and you may prep these up to a day ahead. Be sure to give them enough time to chill completely in the fridge before serving time.

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 shrimp (enough for two shrimp per gazpacho serving)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Spanish sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • several twists freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Peel and de-vein shrimp, keeping tails intact for presentation. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add shrimp to a zip-top freezer bag. Drizzle in olive oil and add seasonings. Seal and shake to evenly coat the shrimp with seasonings.
  4. Arrange shrimp on baking sheet. Roast for about 6 minutes, or until shrimp are just barely opaque. Remove from oven and arrange in one layer on a plate. Place the plate directly into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to stop the cooking process. Transfer to a covered container and keep chilled until ready to serve.



Zucchini Tzatziki

Remember that song from long ago“Anything you can do, I can do better?” I believe it was from the musical, Annie, Get Your Gun, and I had it on repeat in my mind as I was putting shredded zucchini in the starring role for this popular Greek condiment. A typical tzatziki would be made with grated cucumber, but the sheer volume of zucchini coming from my garden has me changing up everything these days. I thought there was a good chance zucchini could stand in for the cucumber—alongside the Greek yogurt, minced garlic and fresh herbs—and it really worked!

We enjoyed this zucchini tzatziki over July 4th weekend, with grilled chicken souvlaki and grilled shrimp. And it was just as delicious last night with the leftovers!

Zucchini was an excellent understudy to the usual cucumber in my tzatziki!

If you find yourself with an over-abundance of zucchini, as I expect is probably the case for everyone who has planted it, then give this a try.

As with cucumber, the zucchini needs to be salted generously and rested in layered towels so that the excess moisture can be released. The amount of salt used to draw out the moisture is almost exactly the amount needed to season the dish, so it works out well.


Next, stir and measure out the Greek yogurt into a small bowl. Add the drained zucchini, finely chopped fresh garlic, black pepper and fresh herbs—dill and mint are traditional, so that’s what I used—and give the whole thing a big stir. Adjust the salt to your liking; it may not need any extra at all. Cover and refrigerate the tzatziki until you’re ready to use it. Stir it well just before serving.


Tzatziki is so flavorful, with a garlic bite and the cooling nature of the mint and dill. I could eat it all summer, and now that I know how well zucchini works in this recipe, I’ll be doing it this way again. Below is a printable version of the recipe, and keep scrolling to find a few more delicious ways to enjoy tzatziki. 🙂


Zucchini Tzatziki

  • Servings: 1 cup
  • Difficulty: so easy!
  • Print

This recipe is an easy way to use up an extra zucchini squash, and it was a fun twist on a classic Greek tzatziki sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 smallish unpeeled zucchini, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt (for drawing moisture from the squash)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 2% milkfat)
  • 2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • additional salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Spread zucchini shreds evenly across a double layer of paper towels, or on a clean kitchen towel (choose one that is lint-free and not washed with fragrance or fabric softener). Sprinkle salt all over the shreds, tossing them a bit to ensure even coverage. Fold the towel up to contain the zucchini in a “packet,” and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. I placed my zucchini packet in a shallow glass dish to prevent drips.
  2. Transfer salted zucchini to fresh layers of paper towel and blot well to wick away lingering moisture. You may be surprised how wet the original paper towels are, and a great deal of the salt will be soaked into them as well.
  3. Stir the Greek yogurt and measure it out into a small bowl. Add the zucchini shreds, garlic, herbs and black pepper. Stir to combine. Adjust salt to your liking.


Keep the tzatziki refrigerated until ready to serve. It will keep in the fridge for several days, but may separate over time. Give it a good stir just before serving.




Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins

When it comes to eating healthier, getting started is the hardest part. I’ve had fun making rich and decadent foods for me and my husband, especially since I started Comfort du Jour. But I’m on a roll with healthy swaps in the kitchen lately, and we are certainly not suffering for it; I dare say we may be enjoying our foods more than ever, and some of that is because we are giving up guilt, but not flavor. It helps a great deal that my commitment to lightening things up is timed exactly to the start of garden season and especially to the arrival of so much fresh zucchini.

I will admit that I have been surprised by the prolific yield of our zucchini plants, given that one of the four we planted was crushed when (apparently) a startled deer fell on the trellis. The plant was tied to grow up through the trellis and there was no way to release it from that mishap without pulling up all four plants. I figured that one was a goner, but nature always amazes me with its resiliency, and I am pleased to report that after a rough start, the crushed plant has rebounded and is still producing blooms. We have literally picked squash each day for the past week, and I’m scrambling to come up with fun ways to use them all.

These beauties are coming in faster than I can use them!

I have loved zucchini bread since I was a kid, and I set out to modify an old family recipe to reduce the oil and sugar without sacrificing flavor or texture. The original recipe was handed down from my maternal great-grandmother, and it has always been delicious as written, but includes some things I don’t use in my own kitchen today, like “vegetable oil.” I had a few ideas in mind, such as subbing in Greek yogurt for a portion of the oil, and melted butter for the rest—the way I see it, if a recipe must have fats, they should at least contribute richness and flavor—and I reduced the overall amount of sugar by a fourth, using a combination of cane sugar and brown sugar (the latter keeps the zucchini bread nice and soft). As always, I also substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the total amount, because white flour is just empty carbs.


There was one more special switch-up in my modern version of my Great-Gram’s zucchini bread; I had this idea to embellish the bread with rum-soaked raisins for a fun twist. But would that have been OK with Grandma? As a young adult, I had the great fortune to know my great-grandmother, but I had no recollection of her ever taking a drink, so I paused over these rum-drenched raisins. On this twist, I consulted my aunt, who also likes to make healthy changes to time-honored dishes, but still respects the family heirloom recipes, as I do.

“I think she would be delighted,” was Aunt Joy’s reply, as other family members had recently confirmed to her that Grandma did enjoy a little nip on occasion. I have no doubt that she would have accepted my other changes, and I could even imagine exactly what she’d say, in her sassy, Norwegian accent:

“Sure, just use whatever you’ve got. You’ll know what to do.”

Despite being at least 6 inches taller than her, I looked up to my great grandmother in every way. ❤

The only thing Grandma might have fussed about was just how long I had been soaking these raisins in rum, which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit has been since, ahem, Christmas or so. I had doused them in Jamaican rum in an effort to revive them (they were desperately dry), and I intended to use them in a holiday treat but got distracted. Then I figured I’d put them in banana bread, but I kept either forgetting or changing my plan. We have moved these raisins around in the fridge for months, and by the time the zucchini started coming in, they weren’t just tipsy, they were plain drunk!

There are worse things to be soaked in than rum.

Obviously, not everyone has a bowlful of drunken raisins hanging around, and that’s perfectly fine. Soaking for a few hours or a couple of days will get the job done, and as the rum (or bourbon or orange juice or whatever you use) absorbs into the dried fruit, the natural sugars seep out into the liquid, forming a syrup of sorts. That sweetness adds the special something to this zucchini bread, and you honestly don’t taste any alcohol. It’s more about making them super plump before baking, as you can see in these juicy jewels of sweetness, nestled in among the toasted walnuts and all those shreds of fresh zucchini.

The raisins are so soft and sweet!

To get this recipe started, I first wrote down all the substitutions I planned to make, and I also cut my Great-Gram’s recipe in half, because her instructions were for two loaves. I find it challenging to change a recipe on the fly, and I probably should have mentioned that when I wrote about “the problem with recipes,” given that it is a frequent challenge for me. We have a small household—just me and my husband—and unless I am cooking to entertain, I like to make things in small amounts. I wrote out the exact amounts of all the ingredients I’d be using for a single loaf, and arranged them on the counter. At our house, we call it mise en place, the French term that means, “all in its place, lined up, ready to go.”

If I don’t set it up this way, I will forget something!

The eggs were whipped first, and I started with a hand whisk but quickly switched to my electric mixer with the single whisk head attachment. Despite my excitement in outfitting my kitchen with new, upgraded small appliances, I have thus far refused to replace my handheld mixer that I have had since the late 90s. There isn’t anything special about it, except that it was made in the USA and still works great after all these years. My Great-Gram probably had one just like it, and she would heartily agree that “they don’t make things like they used to.” After the eggs are whipped and foamy, I added the sugar, a little at a time. Then the yogurt and melted butter. The original recipe didn’t call for the vanilla yet, but I find it easier to mix that into a batter with the wet ingredients, so in it went.

The dry ingredients got whisked together in their bowl—this is important, because you don’t want the baking soda or cinnamon to clump up when they hit the wet ingredients—and they were added to the egg mixture a little at a time, alternated with the shredded zucchini. Blending and folding a little of each in stages ensures more even mixing without overworking the batter (which would make the bread tough).

Finally, the drunken raisins and toasted walnuts were folded into the batter, and my modernized, somewhat health-ified version of zucchini bread was ready for the oven!

Grandma’s recipe said to grease and flour the pan, but I made a hammock of parchment paper instead, for easy lifting of the finished loaf. I’ve never liked inverting a soft loaf of quick bread; it’s too easy to break it and I don’t care for the unsightly rack marks it leaves on top. No oil or greasing is necessary here—just lay the parchment into the pan with a bit of a flap hanging over each long side, and then pour in the batter. For a nice crunch on top of the loaf, I sprinkled on a tablespoon of turbinado sugar just before baking.

The house smelled sooo good while this was baking, and 55 minutes later, a clean toothpick confirmed it was done. There’s no doubt, this quick bread would be a winner with my great grandmother. It’s packed with plenty of garden-fresh zucchini, and with reduced fat and sugar—plus the substitution of whole grains—I can enjoy it for breakfast or dessert without guilt.


Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins

  • Servings: about 12
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

I’ve made a few “lighter” adjustments to a family heirloom recipe, and the result was delicious. My raisins were soaked in rum, but you could also use whiskey or bourbon, or skip the alcohol and soak them instead in orange or apple juice.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar; I did halvsies of white and brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (stir it well before measuring)
  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • a few scrapes freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (unpeeled, large holes on a box grater)
  • ½ cup raisins (soak them at least a few hours, with just enough rum to cover them)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts, optional (I toasted them in the oven 8 minutes first)
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp. turbinado sugar (for sprinkling over the surface of the batter before baking)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast walnuts if using, and allow them to cool while you prep the batter.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
  3. Use a handheld mixer to beat the eggs until they are light-colored and fluffy. Add sugar gradually, blending to dissolve and fully incorporate it. Blend in yogurt and then butter.
  4. Using a silicone spatula, fold 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, alternating with 1/2 grated zucchini and repeat, ending with the dry ingredients. Fold in raisins and walnuts.
  5. Pour batter into non-stick (or greased, floured) bread pan. I laid in a sling of parchment, so I could lift the baked bread out rather than inverting it. Sprinkle the surface evenly with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake in lower third of oven for 55 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool at least 20 minutes in pan, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


This zucchini bread is delicious when served warm. Wrap leftovers snugly in aluminum foil at room temperature or refrigerate for longer storage.



My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad

Is there a more ubiquitous summer side than potato salad? But just because it’s always there hardly means it’s the best thing on the table. One of my most cringe-worthy food memories of childhood was played out on repeat at summer gatherings with family, friends and neighbors, and seeing what happened to the potato salad—which, many times, was little more than sticky, cooked potatoes with some hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. I know you’ve seen this, too, when it gets a little bit warm and separates into a greasy, gloppy mess with that thin filmy crust on the surface. Is it any wonder everyone passes over it in favor of potato chips? Nothing ruins a picnic faster than bland potato salad, slick with broken mayonnaise. Bleh.

It’s a shame to not give the versatile potato a greater chance to shine! If you are bored with potato salad or stuck in a rut with a recipe that gets left behind on the picnic table, maybe you just need a different approach—one that doesn’t depend on a heavy, mayonnaise-y coating to give it flavor because, honestly, mayo doesn’t have much flavor to begin with. Here’s something a little different and for me, it’s a winner every time.


This potato salad does not disappoint, and it could never be accused of being bland because it is doubly dressed—first, with a tangy, heart-healthy vinaigrette that soaks flavor all the way through the potatoes, and then with the slightest amount of mayonnaise-based dressing for a creamy, picnic-ready finish that isn’t greasy and doesn’t clump or break.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that potatoes are one of my very favorite foods, and I have shared a few fun twists on potato salad here on Comfort du Jour, but of all the versions I like to make, this one is my favorite (especially in summer), and for a few fun reasons.

Any kind of potato works

You can use starchy russets, baby reds or Yukon golds (my favorite, and my choice for this post). Peel the skins or keep ‘em—your call. The only thing to consider with the waxy style of potatoes is that they will absorb slightly less of the dressing, so you would want to proceed in stages to be sure it’s to your liking. But flavor-wise? Whatever you like is going to work.

This salad is adaptable

My main goal for any kind of salad is variety of texture, and you can adjust this one many ways by changing up the mix-ins. My go-to combination of mix-ins usually includes hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles, crunchy bits of celery or radish (or both), fresh onions and any kind of fresh herbs. But that leaves it open for interpretation—I could swap out the chopped pickles for chopped olives and skip the onions but add some minced bell pepper. Dill has a completely different flavor than basil or parsley, so that’s another layer of options you can customize to your liking. As long as your ingredients are not overly wet (like tomatoes), the options are nearly endless.


It is not drenched in mayonnaise

We go through a lot of mayo at our house (mostly for my husband’s beloved tuna sandwiches), but it is not my favorite ingredient for dressing potato or pasta salads. Mayonnaise, which is essentially an emulsion of egg yolks and oil, is just plain heavy. And if you add mayo to cooked potatoes, you might notice that it takes a lot of it to keep them coated so the potatoes don’t seem dry, especially if your potatoes lean more starchy than waxy. Too much mayo is never appealing and it definitely is not healthful. Almost all its calories are from fat, and though recent reports have debunked the idea that warm mayonnaise is solely responsible for post-picnic foodborne illnesses (the culprit is usually the meat or fish that is dressed in the mayo), there’s no disputing that it looks completely unappetizing.

It’s actually delicious!

Unlike the typical mayonnaise-only potato salads, this one is mostly flavored with a tasty vinaigrette-style dressing that you can customize to your own palate. You can use a fancy French vinaigrette, a balsamic vinaigrette, a zesty, Italian-style vinaigrette or even a store-bought vinaigrette. There are only two types that I would not recommend, and for different reasons. An entirely fat-free vinaigrette is not ideal, because the extreme water content will turn your cooked potatoes soggy. The dressing should have some amount of oil in it, and you can choose one with heart-healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. I also would not recommend a sweet, fruit-flavored vinaigrette, such as raspberry. It would be tough to choose mix-ins that would work with those flavors. It’s best to stick with a savory one.


The vinaigrette is added to the cooked potatoes while they are hot—immediately from the pot after draining is best—and it only takes a few minutes for it to be absorbed. After the potatoes cool, you simply add your favorite mix-ins and a very small amount of mayonnaise, blended with equal amount of sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and a touch of Dijon mustard for extra flavor. I like to add celery seed as well, but this is optional.


Our little secret…

Here’s one more nugget about this potato salad, and it is good news for anyone who can’t have (or doesn’t want) mayonnaise. This salad technically does not need mayo at all! The vinaigrette soaks so much flavor into the hot potatoes that you could skip the mayonnaise altogether and send it straight to the fridge for serving, just as it is—almost like a German potato salad, but chilled and delicious for summer!


My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

What I love about this potato salad is that it is double-dressed. First, it’s flavored with vinaigrette, from the inside-out, while the potatoes are still steaming hot. The vinaigrette absorbs into the chunks for great flavor in every forkful. Then, when it’s cool, add your favorite salad mix-ins (aim for variety of textures) and a creamy dressing that has very little mayonnaise for such a large batch of salad. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup prepared vinaigrette dressing (see below for my favorite blend)
  • 1 1/2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned and cut-up (peeled or skin-on)
  • 1/2 cup each finely chopped onions and celery
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (reduced-fat versions are fine)
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • favorite mix-ins (I like hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles or capers, radish slices, minced fresh herbs; avoid high-moisture ingredients such as fresh cucumbers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Prep and simmer potatoes until they can easily be pierced with a knife tip, about 25 minutes.
  2. Add finely chopped onions and celery to a bowl large enough to mix the potato salad. When potatoes are tender, drain them and immediately add them to the bowl. Fold with a spatula to distribute the onions and celery throughout. Season with a couple pinches of salt.
  3. Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes. Gently fold with a spatula to mix the vinaigrette evenly with the potatoes. It will take a few minutes for the vinaigrette to be absorbed. Allow them to cool at room temperature. If you wish, you can refrigerate the potatoes before adding the creamy dressing.
  4. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon, celery seed, salt and pepper. Add your favorite salad mix-ins to the vinaigrette-drenched potatoes. Pour dressing over the bowl contents and fold gently to combine and coat the potatoes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Refrigerate the potato salad until completely cold. Serve alongside your favorite summer cookout fare.

Any savory vinaigrette dressing is suitable for this potato salad, but I do not recommend using an “oil-free” version. The excess moisture may make the potatoes too mushy. Here’s my easy, go-to vinaigrette dressing recipe, but between you and me, at least half the time I make this salad, I use Good Seasons Italian. 🙂

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • A few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or another heart-healthy oil, such as avocado)

Directions

  1. Combine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.
  2. Gradually drizzle olive oil into the mixture while whisking vigorously. The Dijon mustard will help emulsify the mixture.


Watermelon-Hibiscus Sorbet

There’s a big celebration happening across America this weekend, and I don’t just mean Father’s Day. Sunday is Juneteenth, and Black American families will gather to recognize the anniversary of the day many of their ancestors actually became free. I wrote about this last year when I created a cocktail that I called “Long Time Coming,” and I believe the message bears repeating. As a person who values diversity and inclusion, I feel humbled by the fact that Juneteenth and its meaning was not on my radar until only a few short years ago. I won’t go into all the feelings I have about the blatant omission of this important occasion in my public-school education because I’ve already said it and, well, it isn’t about me. The point is, Juneteenth is significant, and well worth celebrating! Last year, it finally became recognized as a U.S. holiday.

What is Juneteenth?

The word itself is a portmanteau, that is, a mashup of two words—in this case, June and nineteenth. And the occasion of Juneteenth is a big deal, especially to families with African-American ancestors. It was on June 19, 1865 that Union solders rode into Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln had issued more than two years earlier. Though slavery had been abolished throughout the land, approximately a quarter-million people had remained enslaved in Texas. One year after the enforcement, the freed people organized a celebration called “Jubilee,” which evolved over the years into Juneteenth, as we know it today.

How do people celebrate Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a joyous occasion, and many people celebrate with family reunions, picnics and church activities. Because this holiday happens in summer, most typical celebrations are held outdoors, and though there are many cookout-type foods you might find on the table, a few dishes are considered “traditional,” including pulled-pork barbecue, spicy sausages (known as “hot links”), collard greens, fried chicken and red velvet cake.

Why are red drinks served for Juneteenth?

The color red, in general, is significant for this holiday, which is why you’ll see watermelon on every table, and red drinks are considered traditional—most notably, strawberry soda. Around my part of the South, there’s a soft drink called Cheerwine that is bright red in color, and I expect it also is a typical offering at Juneteenth celebrations. The brilliant red color signifies two distinct themes—the blood shed by enslaved ancestors, as well as the courage and resiliency they exhibited in moving forward as freed people. Hibiscus tea, which has a tart-bitter flavor, is also a popular beverage for Juneteenth, and I have infused it into a simple syrup to give it prominence in this watermelon-hibiscus sorbet.

This sorbet is so refreshing!

Ready to make this gorgeous, refreshing Juneteenth dessert? The ingredients list is short, thanks to the intensely complex flavor of the hibiscus ginger beer I discovered last year. This product will likely be found in the cocktail mixers section of your supermarket, rather than the soda aisle, as its founder created a full line of mixers to replace the sticky-sweet ingredients that had been standard for cocktail-making. What I like about the Q mixers is that they are not cloyingly sweet, and this hibiscus ginger beer has infusion of interesting spices, including chili pepper, coriander and cardamom. On its own, it is very intense (almost takes my breath away, frankly), but it is not designed to be consumed straight. It makes excellent cocktails, which I learned last year with my Juneteenth drink. And, it adds a lovely, zesty zing to this sorbet. If you can’t find the hibiscus ginger beer, substitute a regular ginger beer. My favorite is Reed’s brand, which is sweetened with honey and a touch of pineapple. Don’t let the “spicy” notes of ginger beer scare you away; by the time it’s blended with the watermelon, the kick is quite subtle. You could also substitute milder ginger ale, but I would recommend adjusting down the additional sugar if you do so.


Because the hibiscus ginger beer is not super-sweet, I needed to add some sugar to the mix and I did so by creating a simple syrup, which I infused with hibiscus tea for more of the sharp, tart flavor it offers. It is pretty easy to find hibiscus tea bags—most of the larger supermarkets in my area carry some brand of it—but if you can’t find it, a perfectly good substitute for this sorbet would be the Red Zinger tea by Celestial Brand. The flavor is different, but it’s red, and made from the flowers of African rooibos, which fits right in with the occasion of Juneteenth. The ideal ratio of sugar to water in the simple syrup will vary, depending on the ripeness of your watermelon and the sweetness of your ginger beer.  


Finally, the star of the show is fresh summer watermelon. My husband reached way down into the display crate at the supermarket to grab the last personal size watermelon they had. When cut up into chunks, I had almost exactly 8 cups of this hydrating fruit. I couldn’t help nibbling on a few of the chunks and, of course, sharing with my favorite good dog.

There isn’t much our girl doesn’t love!

When I was ready to make the watermelon-hibiscus sorbet, I fitted my new food processor with a large blade and added all of the watermelon to the processor bowl. Pulse a few times, then run it continuously until no pieces remain and it is very liquid. Add a pinch of salt to bring out the best in all the other flavors that are about to happen. Strain it into a large pitcher bowl, through a strainer with a fairly open mesh. You want to retain most of the pulp, but limit how many bits of seed make it into your sorbet. Yes, even the so-called “seedless” watermelons do actually have seeds; they are just smaller and more tender than the black seeds of yesteryear melons.


Add the hibiscus ginger beer and hibiscus-infused simple syrup. Squeeze both halves of a fresh lime and add that juice to the mixture. Freeze in an ice cream machine until it is nice and frosty.


Unlike ice cream, there is no risk of “over-churning” a sorbet. The main thing is that you want to be able to easily transfer the soft, frozen mixture to a freezer container, so it may be easier to stop churning when it is still somewhat “wet,” rather than completely frozen. Give it four hours in the freezer to firm up completely, and scoop to serve.

If you want to add a bit of booze (I think a bit of Jamaican rum or blanco tequila would be nice in this), limit it to no more than 1/4 cup, or it won’t freeze well. And if you’re serving kiddos, obviously, skip the booze.


No ice cream machine?

You can still make homemade sorbet—just give yourself a little bit of extra time. Consider adding a small amount of light corn syrup to the puree base—3 tablespoons ought to do it—to help keep the sorbet stable and avoid too many icy crystals. Pour the base directly into a freezer-safe container with a lid and freeze it for a couple of hours. Remove it, slush up the mixture with a fork and freeze two more hours, then repeat until it is fully frozen. If the consistency is too chunky, don’t worry. You can let it freeze as solid as you want and whirr up the chunks in a food processor or high-power blender just before serving.

Watermelon-Hibiscus Sorbet

  • Servings: about 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Here’s a fresh and vibrant “red drink” dessert, made with watermelon, hibiscus and ginger beer—it’s perfect for Juneteenth or any summer celebration, and very easy to whip up, with or without an ice cream machine.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups fresh watermelon chunks
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 hibiscus tea bags
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fair trade sugar (adjust amount to suit sweetness of watermelon and ginger beer)
  • 1 can Q brand hibiscus ginger beer (or 1 cup of another ginger beer)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Fit the bowl of a food processor with a large blade. Add watermelon chunks (in batches, if necessary) and pulse a few times, then puree until liquid. Stir in a pinch of salt. Strain the puree into a pitcher bowl through a large-mesh strainer to filter out lingering seed bits. Chill until ready to proceed.
  2. Heat water over medium heat until boiling. Turn off heat and add hibiscus tea bags. Steep five minutes and discard tea bags. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Cool completely.
  3. Add ginger beer and hibiscus-infused simple syrup to the watermelon puree. Give it a taste to check sweetness. If it needs additional sugar, make a small amount of rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) and add to the puree. Alternatively, stir in a few tablespoons of light corn syrup. Squeeze lime juice into the puree. If the mixture is not completely cold, chill it down in the fridge for an hour or so.
  4. Freeze in an ice cream machine until slushy. Transfer to an insulated freezer container and freeze several hours until firm.

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the puree directly into a freezer safe container with a lid and freeze for a couple of hours. Remove it, slush up the mixture with a fork and freeze two more hours, then repeat as many times as needed until it’s fully frozen. If the resulting consistency is too chunky, you can whirr them up in a food processor or high-power blender just before serving.

Want to make a boozy sorbet? Add no more than 1/4 cup of light or Jamaican rum, vodka or blanco tequila before freezing.




Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

Ah, fresh lemonade. Is there anything more refreshing on a scorching hot summer day? If you have never made homemade lemonade, I promise you that it’s very simple and totally worth the effort. All you need is a simple syrup (which is literally only a warmed mixture of water and sugar), a tiny pinch of salt (which is basically an exclamation point on the other flavors) and a whole bunch of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

And if you want to elevate homemade lemonade with other flavors, it’s a simple twist of ingredients. For my strawberry-rhubarb version, I made two simple syrups, one infused with the bright citrus flavor of organic lemon peel, and the other with two stalks of cut up rhubarb. Then, I pureed fresh organic strawberries with water, strained out the seeds and combined the whole thing in a pitcher with the juice of six lemons.

This recipe makes a delicious base. Mix it in equal parts with still or sparkling water for the ultimate refresher!

The result is this beautifully hued summer beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. The formula is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would make a great cocktail if shaken with ice and a shot of vodka or blanco tequila. My husband even suggested we blend it with crushed ice for an even more refreshing summer cooler—a slushie.

Here’s how it came together, and I’ll admit that it could have been easier if I had made only one simple syrup rather than two, but there’s a reason it happened that way. I’ll explain in a moment.





Bring the heat, summer!

So, why two syrups for this recipe? It wasn’t necessary, and next time, I’d make them together in one batch. Truthfully, I made my rhubarb syrup first, and it was intended for some other recipes, but a story in my news feed last week caught my eye and I took a detour toward this pretty, pink lemonade. The story was about the upcoming “Strawberry Moon,” the full moon tomorrow night that has the distinction of also being a supermoon.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Big Moon Summer

Supermoon occurs when the moon is full at the same time it is closet to Earth in its orbit. Nothing is different about the moon itself, of course, but the combination of its full phase and proximity to our planet give it the appearance of being larger and brighter than a typical full moon.  

I am fascinated by the moon, which has tremendous influence over all life—from the ocean tides and reproductive cycles of animals to its effects on the human body and even (or, perhaps, especially) our emotions. Nobody understood these things more than the Native Americans, who are responsible for the names given to the full moons each month. They named the moons based on what was in season, or what was happening in nature at the time of each full moon cycle. Various tribes held this moon-naming practice, but the names that are still used today are mostly attributed to the Algonquin tribe, which made its home in the stretch from New England to the Great Lakes.

Strawberry Moon is the first of three supermoons this year. Next will be July’s Buck Moon (named for the time when male deers’ antlers will be in full growth mode, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac). And some sources say that August’s full moon also qualifies for supermoon status. That will be the Sturgeon moon, so named for the abundance of sturgeon fish that historically filled the Great Lakes during late summer. That’s three consecutive supermoons, and I think that’s a natural phenomenon worth celebrating.

Want to see the Strawberry Supermoon? This site will help you find the best time for viewing in your area—Moonrise and Moonset Calculator (timeanddate.com)—but if you don’t want to try to interpret the scientific chart for an exact time, just pour yourself a tall glass of strawberry rhubarb lemonade and head outside for a sky check any time after sunset on Tuesday.

Cheers!


Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

I’ve combined juicy strawberries, spring rhubarb and fresh lemon juice, making a beautifully hued beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. This is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I can’t wait to try it as a cocktail, shaken with a shot of vodka or blanco tequila.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 2 or 3 stalks rhubarb, chopped
  • Strips of lemon peel from two organic lemons
  • Juice of 6 lemons (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • About 1 cup fresh organic strawberries, trimmed and hulled
  • 1 cup water (for pureeing the strawberries)

Directions

  1. Combine filtered water and cane sugar in a large saucepot. Add rhubarb pieces and strips of lemon peel. Heat over medium heat until water comes to a gentle boil, then turn off heat. Stir until sugar fully dissolves. Stir in salt. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. Add strawberries and 1 cup water in the pitcher of a blender or bowl of a food processor. Puree until no visible bits of berry remain. Strain through a mesh strainer over a large pitcher or bowl.
  3. Add simple syrup and lemon juice to strawberry puree. Stir to blend. Chill overnight.
  4. To serve, combine equal parts lemonade base and cold (or sparkling) water and pour over ice.



Orange & Honey-Ginger Fruit Salad

You didn’t know it when you opened this post, but you are about to witness something that doesn’t happen all that often in my kitchen—a simple, two-ingredient twist that will transform a basic fruit bowl into a mouthwatering side dish that is almost as sumptuous as dessert. Unlike some of my other “make-the-whole-thing-from-scratch” ideas, this one really is ridiculously simple. You can apply this easy twist to virtually any kind of fruit, including pre-cut if you are short on time, and the fruit itself does not have to be fancy. Look at my salad again—it’s only pineapple, grapes and berries. What elevates this simple fruit combo into an elegant and special treat is the dressing.

Nothing fancy about this fruit.

It may be that you have never considered “dressing” a fruit salad, but why? We don’t often see a vegetable salad served dry, and fruit is just as worthy of dressing up a bit. Dressing a fruit salad is not only tasty; it also helps the fruit retain moisture and color. Try this once and you’ll be craving fresh fruit salad every day.

The dressing for this salad depends on two special ingredients that can only be purchased in a boutique olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and they are worth every penny. You have probably seen one of these stores, with all their shiny stainless steel containers lined up on a high table. Those containers, called “fustis,” hold exquisitely flavored extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ingredients which have uncanny power to change the way you cook. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I used to work in one of those shops here in my city, and it was one of my most fun jobs ever—a true foodie fantasy, come true!

These days, nobody is paying me to share about these products, but I feel compelled to do so because of the one question we received over and again at the shop, from customers who enjoyed the flavors but asked, “what would I ever do with it?” Part of my job as a sales associate was taking home various products and coming back with inspiration for the home cooks who shopped our store. I guess you could say I took my job seriously, because I’m still doing it. 🙂

These flavors work great together!

The combination I’ve used for this fruit salad is blood orange-fused extra virgin olive oil and honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar. The vinegar has a slight tartness to it, but it is mostly sweet with the warmth of honey, and the ginger is subtle but present. The olive oil is rich with the flavor of blood orange, because the oranges and olives are pressed together during production. The result is so good, it makes itself at home in sweet and savory dishes alike.

At the end of the post, I’ll share some other ideas for using up these two ingredients.


Ingredients

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, cut into bite-sized bits

1 heaping cup fresh strawberries, sliced into quarters

1 cup fresh large blueberries

1 cup fresh white seedless grapes

3 Tbsp. honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. blood orange whole fruit-fused extra virgin olive oil*

Lime zest or fresh chopped mint or basil, optional for garnish


*Notes

I wish I could offer up a universal brand name for the olive oil and balsamics that I use, but they are bottled under various franchised shop names. Here’s a tip—if you have this type of store in your community, ask for the name of the supplier. If it is Veronica Foods, you’re in the right place. 😊


Instructions

Wash your fruit just before assembling the salad, and it’s best to add berries just before serving or they tend to get mushy. Combine all the fruit in a bowl large enough for easy tossing in the dressing.

Pour the honey-ginger white balsamic into a small bowl, or a glass measuring cup for easier pouring. Slowly pour the olive oil into the balsamic, whisking quickly and constantly, until the mixture is thick and syrupy.

Immediately pour the dressing over the fruit and toss gently to coat the fruit. Serve right away or refrigerate up to one hour before serving.

If you would like to put a little extra pizzazz onto the salad, sprinkle with fresh lime zest or thin strips of fresh mint or basil.




Looking for more ways to use your blood orange-fused olive oil?

Substitute for the equal amount of oil in your favorite carrot cake recipe

Use it in a marinade for chicken or fish

Drizzle a teaspoon over dark chocolate ice cream (yes, really!)

Toss vegetables in it before roasting

Use it in your favorite pancake or waffle recipe


Need ideas for using up the honey-ginger white balsamic?

Try it an any salad dressing, especially Asian-inspired salads

Use it in a marinade for chicken, fish, shrimp or pork

Add a splash to a cocktail or white sangria

Drizzle it onto vegetables after grilling or roasting

Add a tablespoon to your water bottle for flavorful summer hydration



Compound Butters for Grilled Corn

Summer, meet your new best friend at the grill.

No matter what you’re into grilling during the warm weather months, you’ll find countless ways to use compound butter, and I do hope you’ll try it on my favorite—freshly grilled summer sweet corn.

Oooh, look at that beautiful char!

In the days of my youth, I ate more sweet corn than I can recall. My small, upstate New York town was one of those idyllic, rolling green hills kind of places you read about. The landscape was dotted with dairy farms, and sweet corn was so prolific, it was not unusual at all to see freshly picked ears of it piled high against trees at the side of the road with a sign that said, “for the love of God, please take this corn already.” The grocery store didn’t even order corn in the summer because everyone already had more than they needed.

The down-side of living in one of these pastoral places was that we didn’t have much to do. Many a summer night in my young-adult years, I would gather for a backyard bonfire and corn roast with my cousin, Annie, and a friend, Julie. It was just the three of us most times, and we were not exactly living large. We would fill up two big, galvanized steel buckets—one with cans of cheap beer and a bag of ice, and the other with cold water and as many ears of free corn as we could fit—and we’d spend the night lamenting our town’s lack of interesting options (for anything). The corn was still dressed in its husks, silk and all, and after a good soaking, we would toss it directly onto the bonfire to roast and steam it to perfection. We peeled the charred husks back and used them like a handle as we finished off ear after ear. Little flakes of black, burned-up husks and silk would end up all over us, but do you think we cared? There is nothing that compares to that roast-y flavor and it never occurred to us that we should dress up our fresh summer feast with butter or anything else.

A couple of years later, Annie and I had both moved away from our little town, rarely to return. Julie got married and stayed in town, and the last time I saw her, she was happily raising a family. I don’t miss our small town much (except perhaps in mid-October, when I know the maple trees are turning brilliant shades of rust and red), but I do miss the abundance of sweet corn in the summer. Come to think of it, I equally miss the piles of free zucchini squash, but that will be another post.

Today, when I want to enjoy summer corn (which is always), we “roast” it on the grill. There’s no soaking involved and no charred corn husk getting all over everything, and the flavor of grilled corn, though not quite as intense as the bonfire-roasted corn of those olden days, is still far superior to that of boiled corn. And because I’m all grown up now, I do enjoy putting a flavor spin on my grilled corn, and that’s where the compound butter comes in.

Grilled corn with pesto compound butter

This is a simple way to add a little pizzazz to corn, or whatever else you might be pulling off the grill—fish, shrimp, chicken, steak, burgers or other vegetables. Not grilling? No problem, because compound butter also comes in handy when you need to give a boost of flavor to something you make on the stove. Use it to sauté shrimp or vegetables, liven up a baked potato, melt over cooked pasta or drizzle onto your popcorn. What I love about compound butters is that you can make them in advance, they keep a good long time in the fridge (or freezer), and they afford multiple flavor options when you are serving guests.

Compound butter may sound complicated, but it could not be simpler—soften up a stick of salted butter and stir in the flavors that suit your fancy. Mix in a swirl of olive oil for extra depth of flavor and extended “spreadability.” I will offer up a few compound butter combos, using simple ingredients I already had in my fridge. Mix and match them any way you like. And, by all means, please share your ideas for compound butter flavors and uses, too.


Pesto Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced

Small handful fresh basil leaves, finely snipped or cut into ribbons

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (or parm-romano blend)

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Sun-dried Tomato & Feta Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

2 to 3 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, cut or snipped into very small bits* (see notes)

2 oz. whole milk feta cheese, crumbled and pressed dry

A few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

*Notes – If the sun-dried tomatoes are packed dry, rehydrate them for a few minutes in boiling water, then drain and press out the excess moisture. If they are packed in oil, chop them fine and stir them in as the final ingredient, omitting olive oil.


Vegan Tahini-Soy Compound “Butter”

1 stick dairy-free butter substitute

2 Tbsp. tahini paste

1 tsp. soy or tamari sauce

1/2 tsp. Trader Joe’s Umami seasoning (powdered blend of garlic, mushroom, salt and red pepper)


Chili & Lime Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

Zest of 1 small organic lime

1/2 tsp. ground chili powder (your favorite, check the sodium)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Steakhouse Bleu Cheese Compound Butter

1 stick salted butter, slightly softened

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

Press and stir the butter down into a smooth, creamy spread. Add the other ingredients, beginning with those that can be stirred into the butter, and ending with any ingredients that need to be folded in. If you want to keep a few distinguishable bits, such as crumbled cheeses, fold them in at the end.

If you are adding ingredients that are inherently salty, such as hard cheeses or pre-mixed spice blends, you might opt to use unsalted butter to keep the sodium at the right level.

Keep compound butters in tightly sealed bowls in the fridge, or wrap them tightly in two layers of plastic wrap for freezing. Bring to cool room temperature to soften before serving.


Instructions for prepping easy grilled corn:

Remove husks and silks from fresh sweet corn. Use a sharp knife to make fresh, flat cuts on the ends of the corn ears. This will make it easier to hold them with corn handles. Tear off a square piece of aluminum foil for each ear. Melt salted butter in the microwave or on the stove top. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly but lightly coat each ear with melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. With the corn ear centered on the foil square, fold up one long end of foil all the way over the corn. Then, roll it up and twist or fold the ends to seal.

A bit of friendly, been-there-tried-that advice: resist the temptation to put the compound butter on the corn before grilling, especially if it has any type of cheese in it. In my experience, the add-ins will burn or gunk up or stick to the foil, rather than the corn. It does not seem to make a difference what type of foil you use, either, as I’ve had the same trouble using the expensive “non-stick” foil. It’s best to keep it simple for grilling, and add your flavored butter component at serving time. Besides, it’s fun to watch the butter ooze over the hot ears of corn! 🙂


The cooking instruction is a bit more nebulous because, as my husband, Les, says, grilling is an inexact science. How long you cook the corn depends on the type of grill you use, the temperature you are using for whatever else you’re grilling and placement of the corn on the grill, whether direct or indirect heat. When I pressed Les for a “ballpark” estimate on time, he quickly answered, “40 minutes.” The best thing to do is put it on the grill early, turn it periodically and check it a few times until it is done to your liking. We love it with a little bit of char on some of the kernels. And Les says if you turn up the temperature sometime to sear meat or another food, move the corn onto the upper warming rack.


Happy Summer!



Fourth of July Baked Beans

The Fourth of July conjures very specific childhood memories for me, and baked beans has a major role in that nostalgia. Every year, members of my family on my maternal grandfather’s side gathered at the home of my great grandmother for a reunion-of-sorts picnic and, especially, for fireworks. Grandma Stoney, whose nickname was derived from her married last name, Stonehouse, lived across the street from the community baseball field, and we were lucky to have a front row seat for the excitement of what seemed to me at the time to be an enormous fireworks display. The tiny burg where Grandma Stoney lived put on quite a shindig for Independence Day, including a parade, complete with a marching band and people throwing candy to the kids from firetrucks. Back at Grandma’s house, we amused ourselves by playing croquet in the front yard and taking turns cranking the handle on an old timey ice cream maker. No doubt, my great grandmother felt great joy having everyone there.

What I remember most, besides playing with distant cousins I rarely saw, was the food. Inside the house, every available horizontal surface—and I mean tables, countertops, the stove, card tables and anything else that could be rigged up to hold dishes—was covered with potluck offerings, as everyone in attendance always brought a dish or two to share. It was unbelievable. For me, the best of all was the dining room table, which was always covered from corner to corner with every variety of baked beans you could imagine. Some of the dishes were very saucy, some looked as though they had been dumped directly from a can of Van Camp’s, and others were baked with that delightfully sticky sweet sauce pooled in the corners of the pan. And there were always several dishes of beans topped with slices of bacon. Oh man, how I loved that table!

Bacon is still one of my very favorite ingredients for baked beans, and I’ve paired it here with a favorite flavor of my Upstate New York home—maple. That combination of smoky-salty-sweet cannot be beat, and for me, it’s as much a part of Fourth of July celebration as parades and fireworks.

I don’t need fireworks on the Fourth of July. All I really want is these maple bacon baked beans! YUM.

This time, I made my baked beans from scratch, having soaked the beans overnight and then cooking them until tender before adding the flavorful sauce. But you could absolutely take a time-saving shortcut and use cans of beans. Just be sure you drain and rinse them thoroughly before you begin.


Ingredients

1 lb. dried beans, soaked and prepared for cooking* (see notes)

1 heaping cup thick-cut bacon, cut into cubes

1 sweet onion, sliced or chopped

Sauce:

6 oz. can no-salt tomato paste

1/2 cup real maple syrup

1/4 cup maple-infused balsamic vinegar*

About 20 grinds fresh black pepper

1/2 tsp. chipotle powder (optional)

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. dry mustard powder

3/4 cup cold water (added after flavor adjustment)


*Notes

My recipe was made with dried cranberry beans, rinsed and soaked overnight, then drained twice and cooked low and slow until tender. If you prefer, or if you are pressed for time, feel free to use 3 standard cans of cooked beans. Drain the beans and rinse under cold running water, to remove all the “goo” from the cans. Great Northern, navy or white kidney beans (cannellini) would be great.

The maple-infused balsamic is a specialty ingredient, purchased at one of the stores that sells flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I love this product because it enhances the maple flavor without making it more sweet. If you do not find this maple balsamic, substitute an equal amount of regular dark balsamic vinegar or a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.


Instructions

  1. Cook beans as directed or rinse canned beans.
  2. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon cubes and cook, tossing occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon cubes are just crisp. Transfer cubes to a paper towel-lined plate and drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.
  3. In the same skillet, saute the chopped onion in the bacon fat until onions are tender and slightly golden.
  4. In a large bowl or measuring glass, combine sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste, then add water.
  5. Layer the cooked beans, bacon and onions in a glass 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Pour the sauce into the beans and give the baking dish a few gentle shakes to distribute the sauce throughout. The beans should be swimming in sauce, as much of it will absorb into the beans during baking.
  6. Bake at 350° F for about an hour, until sauce is reduced to a perfectly rich and sticky mess.
Happy Fourth of July!