Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cucumber Salads

Sliced cucumber in ranch dressing is good. Or in sour cream, with or without dill. Or sliced cucumbers and onion in a dressing of equal parts vinegar and oil, plus some salt and pepper. They’ll dress up the plate more if you serve them on a lettuce leaf. Scraping the edge of the cucumber before slicing it will give it a scalloped look which is dressier than leaving them plain and isn't much work at all. Peel commercial cucumbers to get rid of the wax that's used to preserve them, but you don't need to do that with cucumbers from the Farmers Market.

Tomato Salads

There are lots of simple tomato salads. I cut them into bite-sized pieces and add a bit of mayo. Or some ranch dressing. Or a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A medium tomato with any of these would make a good sized serving. They’ll dress up the plate more if you serve them on a lettuce leaf.

Zucchini and Carrots

Cut a zucchini and a couple of carrots into matchstick sized pieces. Nuke them for a minute, then check them. They should be tender-crisp. If they’re not done to your liking, nuke them for another 30 seconds. Add a bit of butter, if you like.

Microwaved Summer Squash with Garlic and Dill

(based on a recipe from the American Century Cookbook)

1 large clove garlic, peeled and slivered lengthwise
1 large but skinny zucchini or yellow squash, trimmed, scrubbed, and sliced 1/8” thick
1/2 T olive oil
1 t dried dill (optional – I usually forget to add it)
1/8 t pepper

Place everything in a 9” or 10” glass pie pan or cake pan and toss well until garlic slivers and zucchini are evenly coated.  Spread in even, thin layer across the bottom of the pan. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. The zucchini slices become very thin and leathery. A strange texture, but it’s good.

I’ve only made this with a medium zucchini, not a big one. I don’t know how it would work with the bigger seeds. It should be ok as long as the zucchini isn’t much more than 2” in diameter. A long, skinny zucchini should make at least two servings.

Tomato, Cucumber and Pepper Salad

1 cucumber
4 medium tomatoes
1 medium or ½ large red or green bell pepper
¼ c sour cream
1-2 t sugar equivalent
1-2 t vinegar
Salt and pepper

Cut the cucumber into fourths lengthwise, then slice about ½” thick. If you’re using a supermarket cucumber, you might want to peel it to get rid of the wax that was probably put on it to keep it fresh. You don’t need to do this with cukes from the Farmers Market. You could have scraped the seeds out before you sliced the cucumber if you wanted to. Core the tomatoes and cut them into pieces about the same size as the cucumber pieces. Core the pepper and remove the seeds and membranes. Cut it into pieces about the same size as the cucumber and tomatoes. Combine the veggies, and add the sour cream, sweetener, vinegar, salt and pepper. You may want to add a bit more sweetener or a bit more vinegar, but just a tiny bit of either.

Taco Summer Squash Casserole

(based on a recipe from

1 large zucchini or summer squash, coarsely grated
2 c chopped tomatoes (3 or 4 medium)
1 pound ground beef
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
¾ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

Put everything but the cheese in a big (really big!) skillet or Dutch oven. Cook over high heat until the meat and the veggies are done and most of the liquid has evaporated. Put the meat and veggie mixture in a 9x13 inch baking dish. If there’s too much liquid left, save it to put in soup later. Sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the meat and veggie mixture is bubbly. (I usually stir the cheese into the meat and veggies, because if I put it on top I tend to pick the crunchy cheese off the top and eat it, and the casserole itself ends up without.)

Italian Sausage and Zucchini

(based on a recipe from The Hoosier Cookbook)

1 lb Italian sweet sausages, sliced (or bulk Italian sausage)
1 small onion, chopped
2 c tomatoes, chopped (3 or 4 medium)
1 big unpeeled zucchini, shredded
1 t lemon juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 t Tabasco sauce
1/4 t dried leaf oregano
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese

Brown sausage in skillet, stirring occasionally.  Add onion and cook 5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients except Parmesan cheese.  Cook uncovered 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving.  

Easiest Eggplant and Sausage Casserole

(based on a recipe I got from somewhere, but I don’t know where)

1 eggplant, peeled and diced
1 lb bulk sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1 egg, well beaten

Peel and dice eggplant. Cook eggplant, sausage and onion in large skillet until vegetables are done and meat is brown. Remove from heat and stir in egg. Bake in a greased 1 quart casserole at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until bubbly.

Eggplant Casserole

(loosely based on a recipe from

1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed (at least a pound)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, (or 3 medium tomatoes, chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cream (or half and half or milk)
2 eggs, beaten

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, cook beef, onion, eggplant and green pepper over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 10 minutes or until the eggplant is done. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, mix the milk and eggs, then add to the meat and veggies and mix well. Transfer to a greased 9” square baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until heated through and bubbling.

The original recipe called for sprinkling some buttered breadcrumbs on top before baking, but I don’t bother with that. Some grated Parmesan would be good instead.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Roasted Peppers

(adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen, at

Wash the peppers, and cut out any soft spots. Preheat the oven to 400 and line a rimmed baking/cookie sheet with foil. Place the peppers on their sides on the baking sheet (so the stems point to the side, not up). Don’t let them touch. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn them with tongs so the opposite side is up. Bake then another 20 minutes. They should be soft, slightly charred, and mostly collapsed. You may need to leave some of the peppers in for a few minutes longer.

When they’re done, put the peppers in a paper bag and close the bag, or in a large bowl and cover the bowl. Leave them for about 15 minutes. This will steam them and helps to loosen the skin. Take them out of the bag or bowl, and slice each pepper from bottom to stem, and lay it open in a flat strip. Pull the stem from the top of the pepper. The stem and a clump of seeds should loosen easily. Use a towel or paper towel to wipe off any loose seeds that remain inside the pepper. Turn the pepper over, and strip off the skin. It should come right off. You can leave a bit of the charred skin on if you want. It adds a bit of a smoky taste, but leaving very much gives the peppers an unpleasant texture.

If you want to store the peppers for future use, put them in a glass jar and cover them with olive oil. You can also add a clove or two of garlic to the jar, this will infuse the peppers with a garlicky flavor. Cap the jar tightly and refrigerate. If you don't plan on using them within a week, freeze the roasted pepper strips in Ziploc bags. They hold up well to freezing and retain much of their flavor when thawed.

Frozen Diced Peppers

Wash some bell peppers. If there are any soft spots, cut them out. Remove the seeds and dice the peppers. Spread the diced peppers out on a cookie sheet and freeze them. Use a spatula to loosen them from the cookie sheets, and put them in plastic freezer bags. Freeze immediately. To use, just pour out the amount of pepper you need and put the rest back in the freezer. Don’t let the ones you aren’t using thaw. Like most fruits and vegetables, the texture changes with freezing, and I only use frozen peppers in cooking.

If you don’t have room in your freezer for a cookie sheet, you can dry the peppers a bit before you freeze them. Line a cookie sheet with paper towels, and spread the peppers out on it. After half an hour to an hour, scoop up the peppers and freeze them in plastic freezer bags. You may need to give the bags a good whack to separate them when you’re ready to use them, but they’re just as good.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

(adapted from Café Beaujolais, by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear, 1984)

5 lbs small to medium tomatoes (about 2 to 4 ounces each)
Olive oil (and yes, it should be extra virgin olive oil)

Select firm tomatoes. Cut a 1/4 inch slice from the stem of each tomato. Cut each small tomato nearly in half lengthwise, leaving it attached at the opposite end, and opening flat so the cut sides are exposed. Cut larger tomatoes nearly in quarters lengthwise, leaving them attached at the opposite end, and opening flat so the cut sides are exposed.

Place on cake racks, cut side up, not quite touching each other, and place the racks on baking sheets. Sprinkle the cut surfaces of the tomatoes with salt, then place in a 200 degree oven, and dry for about 8 hours if you have a gas oven. If you have an electric oven, bake them for about 6 hours, then turn the oven off overnight, and bake them at 200 for another hour in the morning. They are ready when they have shriveled and feel dry, but are still flexible and not brittle. Some may take a bit longer to get dry. Regular tomatoes will still feel a bit squishy. Take the big tomatoes that you have quartered out before the extra hour of baking. They’ll still be a bit squishy, but they don’t hold up well to the extra cooking time.

Store in small jars in the fridge for up to a month or so or in the freezer for up to few months. They should be covered with olive oil if stored in jars. If you are freezing them, you can either put them in freezer bags without oil or in small jars with olive oil. If you are freezing in jars, be sure to leave enough room for the contents to expand as they freeze. Leave at least half an inch of head room, and don’t screw the lid on tightly until after they have frozen. Otherwise, the jars may break and you’ll not only lose the tomatoes, but have a mess in the freezer, too. After you’ve eaten the jarred tomatoes, use the oil in salad dressings. It will have a nice, rich tomato-y taste. You could put a clove or two of garlic each jar of tomatoes for a garlic-y tomato taste.

Frozen Diced Tomatoes

Easier than canning them, but you do need freezer space. Wash, core, peel and dice your tomatoes into a big bowl. Or chunk them. It doesn’t matter. I usually just quarter them, unless they’re especially big. Sort of smoosh them down a bit, and add some seasonings if you like. (I usually don’t – I wait until I’m cooking to season them.) Drain them, and put the drained tomatoes into jars, freezer containers, or plastic freezer bags. Add some of the juice, then close up the container and refrigerate until cold. Then freeze them, and use them later just as you would canned tomatoes. Be sure you leave at least half an inch of empty space, or head room, at the top of jars and freezer containers, to allow for the contents to expand as they freeze, and don’t screw the lids on tightly until the tomatoes have frozen. That way, if they expand more than there’s room for in the jar, the lid can be pushed up a bit instead of the jar breaking.

Frozen Whole Tomatoes

This is the easiest way to preserve tomatoes, but you do need freezer space. Simply wash whole, ripe, perfect tomatoes and leave them out to dry. Once dry, put them in plastic bags and stick them in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, simply take out however many you need and either hold them under warm running water for a minute or so or stick them in hot water. Either way, the skin will slide right off. Cut out the core, and they’re ready to use. Frozen tomatoes lose their fresh tomato texture and really need to be cooked. Slice them up and use them in soups, or stews, or chili, or spaghetti sauce, or, my favorite, in scrambled eggs. Don’t expect to end up with chunks or slices of tomato after it’s cooked. It cooks down to pretty much nothing, but leaves behind its color and its tomato flavor.

Chicken and Vegetables

(adapted from Six Ingredients or Less Chicken Cookbook, by Carlean Johnson, 1989)

4 chicken leg quarters
Salt and pepper
4 T oil
1 c chicken broth
1 lb frozen broccoli cuts (fresh would be better, of course)
2 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced (optional)

Cut each leg quarter into three pieces, a drumstick, a thigh, and a piece of back. Save the backs to make soup. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet; brown chicken on both sides. Add broth and onions; cover and cook 30 to 40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Add broccoli, squash and bell pepper; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Lemon Legs

(adapted from The Everything Meals for a Month Cookbook, by Linda Larsen)

4 chicken leg quarters (or 4 pounds of legs, drumsticks or thighs)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup lemon juice (preferably fresh, or use bottled lemon juice)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or vegetable oil, if that’s what you have)
1/2 cup chicken broth (use homemade bone-broth if you have it)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoon dried basil

Cut each leg quarter into two pieces, a drumstick and a thigh/back. Marinate chicken for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator, then bake at 375 ° F for 35 to 40 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and tender.

Pour the drippings over cooked broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, green beans, or other veggies and serve as a side dish. Do not eat the unused marinade without bringing it to a boil first!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sichuan-Style Eggplant

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

1 ½  -2 lb eggplant (ideally the small, thin Japanese style)
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
2 scallions, cut crosswise into fine rings (both the white and the green sections)
3 thin slices of peeled ginger, cut finely
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons chili paste (or finely chopped fresh chilis) adjust to your taste
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro  or fresh scallions(optional, for garnish)

Slice eggplants into half inch rounds, then quarter the rounds (or cut into 3 inch by half inch strips) Steam eggplant pieces for 15-17 minutes, or until tender.
Put the oil in a large, nonstick wok or frying pan and set over high heat. When hot, put in scallions, ginger, and garlic. Stir for a minute. Put in the eggplants. Stir for a minute. Now put in the soy sauce, chili paste with soybean, sugar, and vinegar. Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Taste and add a little salt, if needed. Add the sesame oil and stir once. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle cilantro or scallions over the top before serving.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Unstuffed Peppers

1 lb ground beef, sausage, or a mixture of the two
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, or 2 to 3 large fresh tomatoes, diced
1 diced bell pepper, any color, but red and yellow are best (about a cup)
1 large zucchini, diced (about 1 pound)
2 T chili powder
1-1/2 t ground cumin
1 t oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat in a large skillet. When it’s about half done, add the onion and garlic and cook until the meat is browned. Add everything else and cook over medium heat until all of the veggies are done and the mixture is getting dry, about 20 minutes or so. I always end up with some extra liquid in the pan, which I save in the freezer to use the next time I make vegetable beef soup.

Using Kroger’s ground beef, and veggies from the Farmers Market, this would cost about $4.00, or $1.00 per serving for four servings. A big zucchini is usually 75 cents, and sometimes the bigger ones are actually cheaper than the smaller ones. Because the veggies all cook together, the big zucchinis work just as well as smaller ones and are cheaper. I usually get large but oddly shaped red and yellow bell peppers for 50 cents each at one of the stalls. And “ugly” tomatoes, or seconds, for half price at another stall. Coleslaw would be good with this, or a green salad. Or use this to make a Taco Salad, by putting it on a bed of lettuce and adding some grated cheddar and a dollop of sour cream, with maybe a bit of diced fresh tomato. Any of these menus should cost less than $1.50 per person.

Roasted Cabbage

(from a recipe at this site)

1 small to medium head cabbage, about 1 to 1-1/2 pounds before trimming
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Salt and pepper

Cut the cabbage into 1-inch wedges, making sure to keep the core intact on every wedge. You may lose a few of the loose outer leaves that aren’t attached to the core. Place the cabbage on a baking sheet and brush with half of the melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the wedges over and do the same on the other side using the rest of the melted butter. Roast at 450º until the cabbage is browned around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. You can try to turn it over about half way through, but it’s likely to fall apart, and while it still tastes good, it doesn’t look as nice.

Serve the cabbage with the pork chops, and put the sauce over both.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Building Soil for a Healthy Harvest

This week MHC garden volunteers pulled together gorgeous harvests for the food pantry and bike cart.  We collected ripe, nearly bursting cherry, Roma, and Green Zebra tomatoes, large red and orange bell peppers, red and green velvety okra, Swiss chard, basil, thyme, and tarragon, cucumbers, and handfuls of banana peppers.
It takes an incredible team of knowledgeable garden volunteers, newbie garden volunteers bursting with energy, youth gardeners full of curiosity, and a community of supporters to make that harvest possible.  It also takes the use of many trusty sustainable gardening techniques to build healthy soil and grow such robust plants.  Over the years, many gardeners have shaped the methods used to make the community gardens so successful.  In today’s blog we’ll talk about the central sustainable gardening technique we use to keep our soil healthy and our harvests bountiful, recycling organic matter from the garden and food pantry to build the soil in the community gardens.
Growing food truly does start with the soil, and the Hub builds garden soil through packing it full of organic matter.  MHC’s most plentiful input of organic matter is hauled by trusty compost volunteers, who mix rotting fruits and veggies from the food pantry with leaves or straw in compost bins and turn it into a rich, organic soil amendment you may know as compost.  Winter and spring compost intern, Jessica Sobocinski, goes into more detail about this process in an earlier bog post.  Check it out for more information.
We also add organic matter directly onto open beds in the form of sheet mulching, also called lasagna gardening.  When sheet mulching we begin with a layer of cardboard or newspaper laid directly on top of the soil.  We then continue layering whatever organic matter we have on hand. Here are some examples of what we might add into a sheet mulched bed in the garden:
  • Leaves
  • Manure donated from a local farmer
  • Compost from our pile
  • Comfrey leaves
  • Rotting fruits and veggies from the food pantry
  • Straw
  • Chopped up plant matter from plants that are finished producing in the garden (ex. old corn stalks)
  • Chopped up garden waste (ex. weeds that aren’t seeding and won’t propagate from their roots)
We let the sheet mulched bed break down until we have a bed full of dark soil ready for planting.
MHC community gardeners recycle all the organic matter we can get our hands on, from the pantry and gardens, whether it be cardboard, paper, vegetable matter, or plant matter, and turn it into healthy and fruitful soil!  We encourage all in the Hub community to do the same, save your vegetable scraps in order to make broth, feed your chickens, sheet mulch your garden or add to your compost.  Recycling organic matter builds soil and is good for the environment and your budget.  Keep up with the MHC blog to learn about more techniques we use to keep our community gardens thriving!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Slow Cooker Pork Adobo

3 pounds pork shoulder (Western Style Ribs work fine)
1/2 c soy sauce
2/3 c white vinegar (or cider vinegar if that’s what you happen to have)
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced

Put everything in a slow cooker and cook on high for about 4 to 6 hours or on low for about 6 to 8 hours, or until the meat is done. It should be falling off the bone, like for pulled pork. Take the pork out of the slow cooker. When it’s cool enough to handle, carefully remove the bones and shred or dice the meat. Use the meat in PORK ADOBO SALAD, PORK ADOBO AND VEGETABLE STIR-FRY, or in other dishes. Or eat it as it is. The reason for using it in other dishes is to cut the cost per serving. This would cost about $7.00 for the whole batch this week.

Pork Fried Cabbage

1 lb pork shoulder, cooked and diced
2 T oil or drippings (bacon drippings would be great, or drippings from cooking the pork)
1 lb cabbage, sliced about 1/2” or diced about 1”
1 carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t red pepper flakes

You can use leftover pork for this, or, if you don’t have any, cut the pork into about 3/4” cubes and cook in a little water until done. Just cut it off the bone before cutting it up. Or you can cook it on the bone, and then cut it up later. If you’re cooking it just for this, be sure to save the cooking liquid.
Heat the oil or drippings in a large skillet, then add the vegetables and seasonings and cook, stirring, until almost done. Add the pork and continue cooking until the meat is heated through and the vegetables are done to your liking. Sometimes I like them tender-crisp, and sometimes I like them quite soft. It’s up to you. If you want them soft, add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid about half way through cooking the vegetables. It should all cook off.
As always, you can change the vegetables around to suit yourself, depending on what you like and what you have. You can change the seasonings, too. Some caraway seeds would be good in this, for example.

This would cost about $3.00  at this week’s prices.
This combination of cabbage, carrot and onion is a common go-to dish for me in the winter, when there aren’t many fresh vegetables available. Cabbage, carrots and onions are always available, keep well in the fridge, and are usually fairly reasonably priced. Sometimes I cook meat in it, for a one-dish meal, other times I have it to accompany some meat.

Pork Adobo and Vegetable Stir-Fry

1 T oil
1 t minced fresh ginger (optional)
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 c shredded Pork Adobo
8 oz shredded cabbage
2 T adobo cooking liquid

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and carrot and cook briefly. Add the cabbage and cook another couple of minutes. Add the Pork Adobo and the cooking liquid and cook, stirring, only until the pork is heated and the vegetables are all crisp-tender. This should cost between $2.00 and $3.00 for the batch and should make 2 to 3 servings.
You can, of course, vary the vegetables depending on what you like and what’s available.

Pork Adobo Salad

1/2 c shredded pork adobo
1 c thinly sliced celery
1/2 c sliced raw cauliflower
2 T mayo
1 T broth from cooking the pork

Combine the pork, celery and cauliflower in a bowl. In a small separate bowl, combine the mayo and the cooking liquid. Pour the mayo mixture over the meat and veggies and mix well. It looks fancier if you serve the salad on a lettuce leaf. Makes one serving as a main course salad. How much this costs depends in part on how much bone there is in your meat, but it should be between $1.00 and $1.50.

Variations –
Use shredded cabbage and a sliced green onion instead of the celery and cauliflower.
Add some diced red bell pepper and/or a sliced green onion to the celery and cauliflower.
Use diced zucchini instead of the cauliflower.