Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cheesy Yellow Squash Casserole

With the harvest in full swing in much of the USA, yellow squash is abundant.  The problem with all of the highly productive members of the squash family (think zucchini) is that you get quite a lot of food that many people don't really enjoy.  In fact, some will turn their nose up totally when you mention these vegetables.

Yellow squash is not only low in calories in it's natural state, it's also a great source of vitamins C and A, as well as magnesium.  Full of fiber, it's also abundant in potassium.  Additionally, it is high in manganese, a mineral which helps the body process fats, carbohydrates, and glucose.  But if you can't get your family to eat it, how will all of these good things get into their bodies.  The answer my friends; cheese!

Now the addition of the ingredients in the recipe will increase the calorie count considerably, but it will certainly taste quite good and provide them with the above mentioned nutrients at the same time.

The recipe makes a full 9" x 12" pan, so it's great for a group and travels well to take to a covered dish dinner.  A vegetarian could make a meal alone on this single item.

The original recipe came from Southern Living magazine and over the years I've likely been modified it a bit to fit my own tastes.  I rarely make a meal repeatedly unless it's from memory, so sometimes the ingredients and process changes a bit over time. Here is how I make it now.

4 pounds yellow squash, sliced
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (through in another if you're Italian!)
2 cups breadcrumbs, seasoned and divided
1 cup (4 ounces)shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Place the sliced squash in a large deep skillet.  Heat a pot of water to boiling, enough to cover the squash.  Pour the boiling water over the squash and turn the heat to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes or until just barely tender. Drain well and remove squash from skillet.  Place the squash on three layers of paper towels, and using another double layer of paper towel on top, gently press squash to remove excess moisture.  Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

In same large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic, and saute 5 minutes or until tender. Remove skillet from heat and gently fold in the cooked squash.  Add 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and the other remaining ingredients, except for the granulated garlic. Spoon into a lightly greased 9" x 12 " baking dish.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and stir with remaining 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and granulated garlic. Sprinkle mixture over the top of the casserole.

Bake uncovered at 350F degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until lightly browned and heated through.

Note in the photo that the casserole seems to cut very cleanly.  This is the case if you let it sit for a while, as you might if you were taking it to a covered dish dinner.  Straight from the oven it will not be this firm, but it will be equally delicious.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chilled Sweet Corn with Late Asparagus ~ A Great Summer Side Dish

When the dog days of summer are underway I look for recipes that can be made in advance and served cold or at room temperature.  This recipe caught my eye as at this time of the year asparagus is nearly finished and all you can find are thin stalks.  At the same time, sweet corn is just coming in locally and you can pair the late season asparagus with the new fresh sweet corn for a delicious cool side dish during the hottest days of summer.

2 tablespoons salt (for water)
2 ears corn, husks and silk removed
8 ounces (more or less to taste) asparagus, ends trimmed and cut in 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or parsley)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper, to taste

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add two tablespoons of salt.  Prepare a large mixing dish with cold water and add a few ice cubes.

Add the cleaned corn to the boiling water and boil for about 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the pot and transfer immediately to the ice water bath.

In the same water used for boiling the corn, add the cut asparagus for 2 minutes, just until they’re cooked, but still bright green and crunchy. Remove from the pot and transfer to the ice water bath.

Once the vegetables are cold, remove from the water and let drain.  Cut of the kernels off the corn cobs with a sharp knife and add the kernels and asparagus pieces to a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the corn and asparagus. Mix together and chill until ready to serve, up to 24 hours in advance.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Moroccan Eggplant and Olive Salad ~ A Perfect Dish for your Summer Table

This dish is exotic and familiar all at the same time.  There is no salt in the dish, but the salty green olives provide a perfect contrast to the other ingredients.  It's served at room temperature and will be the perfect side dish on a hot summer Meatless Monday.

Eggplant is a species of nightshade commonly known as aubergine and also known as brinjal, brinjal eggplant, melongene, or guinea squash. It is widely used in cooking, most notably as an important ingredient in dishes such as moussaka and ratatouille.  Of course throughout India and northern Africa the vegetable appears in many dishes and is very popular.

The recipe originally appeared in The Costco Connection and I thought I would give it a try.  As usual, I've made a few modifications.  It was a big success and I think you and yours will enjoy it too.  

2 medium eggplant
1 egg white
1 cup grapesee oil
1 red bell pepper
1 cup pitted, pimento stuffed green olives
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Basil or Parsley to garnish

Rinse the eggplants and pat dry.  Cut them in half lengthwise, then cut the halves into 1 inch thick slices.  Rinse again in a colander.  Mix the slices in a bowl with the egg white.

Heat grapeseed oil in a frying pan.  Saute the eggplant slices until they have absorbed some of the oil and are browned on both sides.  Remove and place on paper towels.

Roast the red pepper on all sides to blacken.  Cool pepper and peel.  Cut in half and remove seeds and white membranes.  Discard the burnt skin and interior trimmings.  Cut the pepper into small squares. Place the red pepper in a bowl.

Cut the green olives into halves and add to the red pepper.  Mix in the garlic.  Sprinkle with lemon juice.  Add the cumin, paprika and red pepper flakes.  Combine the eggplant and red pepper mixture. Serve at room temperature and garnish.  Makes six servings.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Frankenmuth ~ Michigan's Bavarian Village

On my way home from a family visit, I decided to detour slightly and spend a day in Frankenmuth, Michigan, USA.  The town is famous for its Bavarian theme and of course for the world’s largest Christmas shop, Bronners.

Love the chicken-shaped floral!
Frankenmuth was conceived by German missionary Frederick Wyneken who was working in the area.  According to the local historical society (they have a museum on Main Street which you can visit), in 1840 he wrote an appeal to all the Lutherans in Germany for help, telling them of the hardships of the German pioneers in his region.  This appeal reached Wilhelm Loehe, pastor of a country church in Bavaria.  Loehe was a popular and influential preacher in his time and he organized a mission.  In 1844 he sent a congregation with a dual purpose:  to give aid to the German pioneers in the Midwest’s Saginaw Valley and to show the native Indians in the area "Wie gut und schön es ist Jesus zu sehen" (how good and wonderful it is to see Jesus).

Loehe wrote the pastor of a nearby settlement in Michigan and together they selected the location along the Cass River, naming it "Frankenmuth". The German word "Franken" represents the Province of Franconia in the Kingdom of Bavaria, and the German word "Muth" means courage, thus the city name Frankenmuth means "courage of the Franconians".  The emigrants departed from Nuernberg on April 5, 1845.  They reached New York Harbor on June 8, after 50 days of sailing.  From there they made their way to Michigan via steamboat, train and then sailing ship.  According to all accounts it was a harrowing journey with numerous boat and train accidents along the way.  They finally arrived at their new colony on August 18, 1845.  And we think travel is slow and tedious today!

As you can see in the photos on this posting, the town capitalizes on the Bavarian theme.  It makes for a pleasant days outing or several relaxing days in the countryside.  The town is filled with little shops, candy stores, its own micro-brewery and restaurants all of which are pleasant to visit.  This trip I was there in the summer and everything was in full bloom.

Flowers at Bavarian Inn
They were making fresh fudge and taffy and offered a wide-range of temptations.  The town is well-kept and also offers public parks and other touring and outdoor activities.  As there is no really no public transportation to speak of, a car is a necessity for full enjoyment of the region.

If you decide to spend the night in Frankenmuth (which I would recommend), you’ll need to select from one of the many hotels.  You’ll want one on Main Street that is an easy walk to all of the shops and restaurants.  Hotel parking is a must as the town’s public parking areas often fill up.  Taking in all of downtown Frankenmuth is easy to do on foot, but you’ll need your car for those shopping trips to Bronner’s.
Marv Herzog Hotel
Marv Herzog Hotel:  I've been to Frankenmuth a number of times and have tried out many of the local hotels.  By far the best choice for an adult-only visit is Marv Herzog Hotel where I stayed on this visit.  Most of the other name hotels in town have added water parks to attract families with small children, and this has been successful.  The other name brands (Spring Hill Suites, etc.) are cookie cutter and not impressive.  When you walk into the lobby of the Herzog you will know you are not in one of the other properties and be thankful you made the choice.  The lobby is large and done in hard woods.  It’s backed up to the eating area, where a full breakfast is served as part of the room rate, along with afternoon wine/beer/soft drinks and snacks.  This too is included in the rate.  The hotel sits right on the river and sports a large patio overlooking it.  From here you can see the lovely countryside, watch the boats go by and enjoy your cocktail hour.

Frankenmuth actually has its own river boat and while it may look like the Dixie Queen it’s actually the Bavarian Belle paddle boat.  Other smaller craft are also available for boat tours as are kayacks and other water toys.  My balcony (third and top floor) overlooked the river and patio and was comfortable for two people.  Request the river facing rooms on the second and third floor when booking.

My room was large, nicely done and had a lovely overstuffed sitting chair with reading lamp.  WiFi was also included and amazingly fast.   If you and an adult companion are coming to Frankenmouth, Marv Herzog is the hotel of choice.  While the Herzog offers complimentary cocktails and appetizers, you'll still need to select a restaurant for dinner.

Bavarian Inn Restaurant:  The Bavarian Inn offers classic foods from Germany's Bavarian region, which I have visited. Like there, they maintain traditional costumes to keep the tourists happy. The restaurant offers the classic chicken famous across the street, as well as all of the German dishes. Today though I opted for the fresh (never frozen) Lake Superior white fish, which was broiled. I selected traditional German side dishes like the sweet/sour red cabbage and the spaetzle. All of it was very good, along with the beer made specifically for the Inn and kept on draft.

Skip the Apple Strudel
The only disappointment was the apple strudel. If you follow my food blog you know I made apple strudel recently. I'm sorry to report that my own was much better and in fact I've never had strudel that was less desirable than this. It had a tough (not flaky) crust and lacked apples. Only three slices were included but there was a large amount of cloyingly sweet glaze. I would suggest you instead have the apple cheesecake and ask them to put the gooey apple topping on the side. Overall however, it's a nice choice for a restaurant in town where you want the Bavarian atmosphere. It does get busy so show up early for dinner (5PM) if you don't want a long wait.

Waiters in Bavarian Costume
Bronners Christmas Wonderland:  I stopped by Frankenmuth just to visit Bronner's as we were searching for a new Christmas tree. The store remains loaded with Christmas ornaments and even has a smattering of Halloween and Easter decorations. They carry a nice if small selection of Radko and Italian free-form glass blown ornaments. Both of these are kept in the case so ask if you want to purchase one. They do have ornaments for every possible tree theme. From seaside to hunters, from sports to various religions (despite the obvious Christian based signage.) Unfortunately the tree selection wasn't as good as it had been in the past, and several comments were overheard of guests complaining about the lack of yard/outdoor decor. They do have artificial pines of all sizes (tall to short, fat to thin). They even had several options in palm trees decorated with miniature lights. But they didn't have any white or silver trees, and many of the green trees were plastic with very soft limbs which are not good for hanging ornaments that can weigh down the branches.

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland
Still of you are in the area, it's certainly worth a stop and it will take you two hours to quickly browse the entire store as it remains very large. If you are tree shopping, there are probably better options.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Dinner of Summer Appetizers

With the dog days of summer finally upon us, I'm looking for meals that are easy to make and keep my kitchen cool.  We'll be dining al fresco tonight even with the warm temperatures, as summer in Chicago is too short and I do enjoy having meals out of doors when possible.  But with the heat, you don't want to serve a heavy meal and I'm not even wanting to serve hot food.  So tonight I've decided on a variety of hors d'oeuvres that will be appealing as well as filling.
Julian's Summer Appetizer Buffet
This was a very easy dinner to prepare.  Only microwave warming on the day of meal preparation.  I  already had chicken cocktail meatballs in the freezer (you can buy them already prepared and frozen if you prefer) as well as shrimp (the 50-70 count variety I mentioned several weeks ago.)  The mini cheese tortellini came frozen from Valli Produce, where I do most all of my weekly grocery/produce shopping.   From there just having a few sauces and seasonings on hand made for a quick, easy to prepare dinner of room temperature appetizers enough to make a full meal.

Spicy Shrimp with Black Olives and Hot Peppers
Crackers help to calm the fire!
The above spicy shrimp were prepared simply by tossing them in some hot Giardinera mix, which I always keep on hand in the refrigerator.  It's great to add to Panini and dresses up the shrimp as well.  After letting them soak in a few spoon fulls of the spicy mixture, I put them on knotted bamboo skewers with some of the vegetables and plain black olives.  I then sprinkled them with a little basil, and added some crackers to the platter, as I knew they would have a kick.

If you don't have serving pieces or need to add to your tasting spoons and small plates, I  would recommend Bed Bath and Beyond as well as World Market.  Both stores have a nice selection of tasting spoons and small plates suitable for an appetizer party.  You can also pick up bamboo skewers at World Market, which as you can see in these photos, I used quite considerably.

Asian and BBQ Cocktail Chicken Meatballs
To make the meatballs shown above, remove them from the freezer and microwave them until heated through.  While they are heating, warm some barbecue and Teriyaki sauce separately.  When the meatballs are warmed through, toss half in each sauce.  Return to microwave for a brief heating, turning several times to coat.  Place on ceramic spoons and garnish to differentiate the two varieties.

Cheese Tortellini with Pesto Sauce and Grape Tomatoes
For a vegetarian option, consider these tasty items served on bamboo picks.  Earlier in the week I was making spaghetti for dinner.  After they finished boiling, I tossed in a hand full of these mini cheese tortellini.  They were done in about 4 minutes.  I drained and rinsed them, put them in a container and stored them in the refrigerator.  On serving day, I cut some fresh basil, added some pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, fresh garlic and olive oil and processed it until finely chopped.  Then I warmed the the tortellini slightly in the microwave and tossed with the sauce.  I quickly assembled them with a grape tomato and dill pickle piece and they were ready for the table.  Really quite tasty!

Shrimp on Cheese and Crackers with Salsa Topping
Shrimp is always popular at my gatherings and so I usually try to prepare several dishes that include them.  There was a day when shrimp alone on a big platter with some cocktail sauce was enough.  But today with shrimp being so common, you need to find different ways to serve it.  Unlike the shrimp shown at the top of the page on skewers, these shrimp are not spicy.  I simply took a cracker, added a thinly cut piece of Swiss cheese (to keep the cracker crisp) and topped the shrimp with some mild salsa.  This was the first platter to be emptied.

From these photos and descriptions I hope you too consider a cold appetizer supper during the hottest part of summer.  After they finish these off and have a few glasses of your best Sangria, they'll be ready for a bit of a siesta.  While they are resting, we can slip out and prepare dessert!