Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Squash Love and Alchemy

I now recall why I love summer squash: you can basically eat as much as you want and not gain weight. It's a class of vegetables, like greens of all types, that lends itself to eating massive amounts. And I am sure that's why one squash plant produces so much. It's a reminder that in the summer, it's a good idea to eat lots of higher water vegetables.

I don't need research to tell me that there's something good for me in summer squash, as my intuition does that. In fact, I don't eat food because it's healthy, I eat it because it fuels me and I feel best when I have the energy to go fast and far.

You wouldn't try to run your car on water would you? Well, your body is more forgiving than any car and will let you run it on all kinds of (pardon the vernacular here) crap for quite a long time. But eventually, you need the high-octane fuel to get, and keep you, running at top speed.

All this leads to a simple recipe that I had for breakfast (you can call me odd, that's OK) but most people would eat for lunch or dinner. It amazes me how so few ingredients can turn into something so wonderfully delicious. I say that it serves 3-4 but it only made 2 servings for me.

Simple Summer Squash
Serves 3-4

Fresh ingredients are a must for this dish because they're the star. Best to grow them yourself, get them from a neighbor or go to the farmer's market or local farmstand.

2 teaspoons olive oil (optional)
1/2 cup sliced onion
3/4 cup chopped red, orange or yellow pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons Bragg's liquid amino acids, tamari or soy sauce
8 ounces firm tofu or tempeh (optional), or 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
3 cups chopped summer squash (I used Bianco de Siciliana and Costata Romanesco)
2 teaspoons Organic Vegetable Rub , Italian seasoning or other herb blend
Chopped fresh basil, if you have it

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and then the onion. Saute the onion for about 2 minutes and add the pepper and garlic. Saute another minute or two. Add the tofu and Bragg's, cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so tofu doesn't stick. Add the summer squash and vegetable rub and cook for 2-4 minutes, until the squash is cooked through, but still firm (this depends upon the type and age of your squash). Garnish with basil, if desired.

Pressure Cooker directions:

Heat the pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the oil,if using, and onion. Saute for a minute. Add the peppers and garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tofu and Bragg's and cook 1 more minute. Add the squash and vegetable rub, plus 2-3 tablespoons water. Lock on the lid and bring to high pressure. Lower the heat to maintain high pressure for 1 minute, 30 seconds (for regular zucchni, crookneck or yellow squash, only cook for 45 seconds to 1 minute). Quick release pressure and serve right away. Garnish with basil, if desired.

This dish will last a few days in the refrigerator. It does not freeze well. You can adjust this recipe anyway that you want and make it your own. It's a starting point.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Graffiti in Petaluma Has Winning Accessory Menu

I've never heard of a restaurant serving accessories but I'm glad that Graffiti in Petaluma does. My mother-in-law took me there and I ordered Beet Kim Chee ~ Red and Gold Beet Kim Chee with Japanese Cucumbers ($3).

In my younger years, an accessory would have been a pair of red high heels. These days, I am thrilled when it includes fresh and delicious vegetables.
I can honestly say that this may be one of the best salads that I have ever had in a restaurant -- filling, fresh, lively, zesty, perky, colorful. I could have stopped eating after that dish and been quite satisfied. But I ordered soup and cornbread.
The roasted artichoke and mushroom soup was very tasty but didn't wow me the way that the Kim Chee (I spell it Chi) did. The grilled jalapeno cornbread, another accessory which I'd liken to a too-large purse, was big enough but lacked any jalapeno kick. It would have been better off left on the plate.

Eating outdoors, facing the Petaluma River, was relaxing but the weather got quite warm despite the much-needed shade. Cherry sorbet was the perfect end to the meal but not quite as satisfying as the beginning.

I would go back to Graffiti again at lunch time and see what's on the Graffiti Tapas part of the menu. My mother-in-law who took me for a belated birthday lunch had scallops served with an artichoke heart. She thoroughly enjoyed it but it's certainly not my cup of tea (or small plate).

My recommendation is to check out the accessories (I guess that these are sides) when you visit and think of them as possibilities for a meal -- so it may be best to wear your little black dress, as it goes with everything.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Veggie Queen is Still Nuts

I think that nuts must be attracted to me, or vice versa. This past weekend, I came across organic, Hawaiian macadamia nuts from Lovejoy Nut Farm of Hawaii at the Sebastopol farmer's market, here in California. Leana and I chatted briefly. I had never seen mac nuts in their shells. And she had the special little nut cracker that could make it possible to easily extricate the nuts from their incredibly tough shells.

When I tasted a sample of these nuts, I knew that I had to have a bag of them. I asked if I could write a check (I remembered my checkbook but not my camera. Darn it.) and Leana said, "Yes." Then the guy with Leana said, "You're The Veggie Queen, aren't you?" And Leana got excited and said that she'd trade me the nuts and cracker ($10) for my book. That was music to my ears. I ran to get a copy of my book and left with a sack of nuts and a cracker.

My son cracked some nuts for me on the way home from the market, and I've been satisfied ever since, and that's because I am still nuts over nuts. Read my last post.

I also found out from one of my Facebook friends that macadamia nuts are also grown in California. (You've got to love social networking for making the world so accessible.) I will likely order some and do a comparison test. My "friend" told me that I had to get the really good nutcracker ($82) but I said that once I did that, I'd have no money left for the nuts. Either way, I'm still nutty.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Nuts over Nuts and Trail Mix

People who know me don't hesitate to call me nuts. In fact, my father lovingly called me a "nut job", one of the last things he said on my last visit before he passed away. So I take the term as one of endearment.

I'll admit that I can be a bit nutty and over exuberant about things, especially if they involve "real" food.

I had the immense pleasure of receiving some Braga Farms raw trail mix, roasted, salted pistachios and roasted salted almonds with garlic, all of which are certified organic and come from a small, family farm in California.

The good thing is that I love nuts, and eat them almost every day. The other good thing is that gift or not, I am likely to tell you what I really think because I am a bit of a "nut job."

So, here is my critique of Braga farms organic raw trail mix. It may be one of the best trail mix blends that I've ever had, not mucked up with lots of seeds (like those, too but often they compose the bulk of the mix because they are less expensive) and containing large firm, fresh nuts. It tastes clean, containing walnuts, almonds, pistachios, dried cranberries and large plump raisins (which I believe may be coated with sunflower oil because it's listed on the label but I'm not sure). This stuff is so much better than any other trail mix that I've had which says a lot. It's also a lot more expensive at $8.86 per 8 ounce bag, but in my case, that's a good thing because even when not on the trail, I don't seem to have a limit to how much I can, and do, eat of this stuff. Rating: 5 out of 5 for freshness, taste and overall palatability.

The salted pistachios are good, as good as any that I buy but discernibly better than my usual organic purchases. I am sure, though, that buying the already shelled organic ones is a treat because it makes it easy to add them to dishes, such as my Quinoa with Currants and Pistachios. For just eating, though, I'll stick to those in-the-shell as it slows me down so I don't eat the whole darned bag. Fresh and flavorful but not likely to make the switch to these, mostly due to price. Rating: 4 out of 5. $7.86 per 8 ounces

I hesitated to try the salted garlic almonds, thinking that they'd be very garlicky or have some "fake" taste. But I was wrong. They are addictively delicious, and once again incredibly fresh. When buying nuts, freshness really counts, which is why supporting small farms makes a huge difference. Heck, I ought to know since I live in California, known for its nuts (and kooks). The garlic almonds are lightly flavored and oh-so tasty.

Rating: 5 out of 5. $8.86 per 8 ounces. I've not had flavored almonds with such real flavor.

These products, and much more, are all available from Gourmet Shopping Network .

If I didn't live in such a nutty place and wanted to be sure that I had great products, I would order often from Braga Farms, supporting a small organic farm that has high standards. If you are in the market for great tasting nuts and some dried fruit, check them out.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Please Pop Over the Pears, Drop off the Apples, Leave me Persimmons

In addition to picking produce, which I am happy to do almost any time, I love it when I open my front door to find bags of it. It's often a surprise -- yesterday, my friend Anet dropped off a bag of large Bartlett pears. Hopefully later today someone will show up with some Gravenstein apples.

I had the good fortune of picking figs a couple of weeks ago but didn't realize that their end was so near. (Thank you Carl for your generosity.)
When I went to get a few more baskets the other day, I had to work hard to discover 9 large figs tucked under the leaves of the tree. I traded some of them for other produce and have been eating the rest of them. I never met a fig that I didn't like. Good thing that they are loaded with potassium, fiber and calcium. Unfortunately, they also have plenty of sugar so best to be careful when eating them, or the tummy lets you know.

I do not turn down homegrown produce when someone asks since I am often sure that I can put it to good use. I do request, though, that you don't leave me the not-so-good stuff, such as baseball bat sized zucchini or other summer squash. I will accept smaller squash and with them I will make a batch of my Grilled Asian Squash Salad. My assistant, and friend, Ellen just made these on her George Forman grill and said that they were very good. They also received rave reviews from Jenna of Kid Appeal who wrote a wonderful post about my cookbook and will be giving a copy away (so click on the link). When squash are in season, it's best to cook them up as fast and as often as you can.
Grilled Asian Squash Salad
Serves 4
When the squash is prolific, you always need another way to serve it. This dish is especially easy and delicious. Even people who say they don’t like squash usually find it irresistible.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
4 summer squash of any kind, cut lengthwise into quarters
1 large onion, cut into rings
3 tablespoons chopped herbs, such as cilantro, Thai basil or parsley
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Chopped cilantro or other herb, for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine olive oil, sesame oil, vinegar, tamari and half the garlic and ginger in a bowl or zippered bag. Mix in squash, onion and herbs. Let marinate at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place veggies on a screen on your grill over hot coals or gas or inside on a grill pan. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. Turn carefully and grill for another 3-4 minutes on the other side. Reserve the marinade. Once the squash is grilled, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Mix with cooked onion rings, reserved marinade and remaining ginger and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve as is, or cool to room temperature.

If you want to do any produce drops, just let me know. I'll even meet you at the farmer's market in any Sonoma County town or city, or I'll do the picking. Produce is my game, The Veggie Queen is my name. Actually, my name is Jill but I do answer to Veggie Queen, with or without the The.

I hope that you are enjoying your summer produce as much as I am.