Saturday, June 30, 2012

Competition and Blueberry Salsa

There's nothing like a good healthy competition.  (Ask my online Scrabble buddies.) But I know for sure I'm losing the battle for the blueberries with the birds. They're definitely winning. And no strategy I can think of -- not even Mr. Rosemary's BB gun -- is keeping them away. It's a race and the early bird is beating me to the berries.

We've tried netting, but we didn't do it the "right" way and build frames and then attach netting to that.  We simply draped flexible fence material over it. We've also tried fake snakes and draping old garden hose -- so that they look like snakes.  Still, there are birds beating us to the harvest.

Our latest attempt was one of those fake owls.  The little tag said to place it "before the fruit ripens."  We were too late.

We're lucky that the former owners had the foresight to plant a couple different varieties among the ten blueberry bushes we have because they ripen at different times making it manageable. Except for the birds.

And despite the birds' tenacity we usually end up with more than enough for ourselves and plenty to give away.  I just have to wonder how many quarts they're eating.

The only problem is coming up with different ways to use them. I freeze a lot, but the fresh are so good! Mr. Rosemary loves to eat them plain, maybe lightly sugared, but especially mixed with a variety of berries.  I loved the corn and blueberry salad And he likes my blueberry muffins but that's only a once in a while treat. But he didn't really like the blueberry strata  And although I love blueberry pie, he doesn't, and I don't need to eat the whole thing.  I should try hand pies.

So to satisfy my need to experiment and explore I found this blueberry salsa and it was pretty good. Just pretty good. Keeping some of the blueberries whole is pretty but not very practical because they're hard to keep on a tortilla chip or a cracker. The solution? Spread some creamy cheese -- goat, mascarpone or just Philadelphia -- on a cracker, then top it with the salsa. Kinda defeats the purpose of eating a light fruity salsa, but it's good that way. I didn't try it along side a grilled meat, but I'm sure a plain piece of chicken or pork would love to be accessorized with it.

In the meantime, I'll keep exploring blueberry recipes, and keep after the birds. Wish me luck.

Blueberry Salsa
adapted from Southern Living

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh blueberries
1 cup whole blueberries
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 whole Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1.2 teaspoon kosher salt.

Mix all together in a large bowl.  That's it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Watermelon and Feta Salad

When I first had this salad a few years ago, I was so intrigued.  "Combining watermelon and feta and olives and onions and mint!!  Wow!  That's different," I said to myself. Or maybe I said it out loud.  Either way, I found it unique.

It was my stepdaughter who brought the fixings for this salad for a visit one weekend.  She had just got a new cookbook by Nigella Lawson and was anxious to share this salad recipe..  "Unbelievably good," she declared. She was right. And Mr. Rosemary agreed, too.

Nigella's approach to food is very sensual.  She clearly loves to prepare food and enjoy it herself and with others. Her recipes are delightful to read and she is just as delightful to watch on television, especially as she sneaks into the refrigerator at night in her bathrobe to sample a bit of today's fare.

But I didn't copy the recipe when Renae brought it, so when I decided to make it, I had to search it and found that there really are lots of version of this salad.  Paula Deen adds red wine vinegar and doesn't include olives and Ina Garten adds arugula, orange juice and honey.  (I'm sure I'd like that, but my arugula isn't quite ready yet.)

In the end, I went back to Nigella's.  But I couldn't resist making my own little tweak and added blueberries, since I am once again blessed with a bounty.

I really love this combination of flavors, and it's so pretty.  Wouldn't it be a great Fourth of July picnic addition?

Watermelon and Feta Salad with Olives and Onion
based on Nigella Lawson's
Serves 4
1 small red onion
2 limes
4 cups cubed watermelon
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
bunch fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
bunch of fresh mint, chopped
1 cup small black olives
1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Slice the red onion thinly and chop.  (Or as Nigella describes, "cut into very fine half-moons.") Place in a small bowl and toss with the juice of two limes.  (This helps to cut the pungency of the onions.)  Meanwhile, cut the watermelon into chunks and place in a large bowl.  Add the onion, including the lime juice. Add the feta, whole leaves of parsley, the chopped mint, the olives and the blueberries.  Drizzle with the olive oil and toss gently to cover.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Meatballs Bolognese with Lemon Cream

Some people love to make bread as a great stress reliever.  They wax poetic about the feel of the dough, the smell of the yeast, the rhythm of the kneading.  It's not that I don't believe them but I'm not a very successful bread baker.  Just ask Mr. Rosemary.  But cook I can.  And I get what I imagine is that kind of bread-making nirvana (is it like a runner's high?) from making meatballs.

I love digging my hands into the fresh, seasoned mixture of meat and bread crumbs and then shaping (mostly) round orbs and seeing my artwork grow geometrically on my parchment lined-cookie sheet. (I make designs as I go.) There's garlic, freshly chopped onions, Romano cheese and fragrant parsley wafting in the air.  I get into the rhythm of rolling the balls, concentrating only on making them all the same size, and letting myself drift into a lazy daydream about whatever floats into my head. Soothing. Comforting.

I rarely experiment too much with meatballs. And I rarely consult a recipe.  I've made meatballs so many times, I can easily eyeball everything, or use whatever is on hand or need to use.

And "using up" some celery and carrots is what inspired this version I decided I might as well call bolognese.  That may not be the authentic use of the term but since it included the veggies, it seemed to make sense to christen this creation bolognese.

I love the slight crunch of the carrots and celery, which were cooked only when baked in the oven. I never used to bake meatballs.  My mother taught me to saute them in oil on the stovetop.  But I always had trouble keeping them nice and round, and ended up with triangular-shaped balls.  So I began to bake them, turning them once during a roughly half-hour baking in a moderate oven.  And if I put them on a rack, then I can drain any extra fat, too.

I do poach little meatballs in chicken stock when I make wedding soup and a friend recently told me that her husband, the cook in their family, poaches meatballs in beef broth before adding them to a tomato sauce.  And I know lots of people who slow cook meatballs right in the simmering tomato sauce. Meatballs are so versatile, aren't they?

When I make meatballs I usually make a lot more than I need and freeze some; they're very handy for a quick meal.  I freeze them on a cookie sheet then seal them in plastic bags.  Very handy and quick thawing for a fast food meal at home.

A couple things make this not-your-average meatball:  I mixed hot sausage with lean ground beef (half and half) and added fair amounts of carrots, celery and onions.   The lemon cream sauce was a nice surprise with the meatballs; they simmered just a couple minutes while in the sauce, just long enough for the cheese to delicately infuse it.

Bolognese or not, it's a new "recipe" to be repeated.

Meatballs Bolognese with Lemon Cream
For Meatballs:
1/2 pound hot sausage
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 cup half and half
1/4 cup each finely chopped carrot
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
For Lemon Cream:
3/4 cup half and half
1/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If sausage isn't loose, remove from casing.  Mix the meats together in a large bowl and add the bread crumbs, egg, half and half, vegetables, cheese and parsley.  Mix completely, but don't handle too much.  Take golf ball sized hunks of the meat mixture and shape into balls.  (I like to use a small ice cream scooper --  the same sized one to portion chocolate chip cookies.)  Place meatballs on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet and cook for a total of about 25 to 30 minutes, turning once halfway through. Makes about 20 meatballs.
To make sauce, heat half and half, chicken broth and lemon juice to a simmer.  Place cooked meatballs in sauce to coat. Top with lemon zest.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

..: Walleye-palooza 2012 :.. Featuring Bacon, Vidalia Onions, Potato Chips & Mayo

I can't take credit for the title of this post; that flash of creativity comes from Parsley Sage of The Deep Dish and her comment on my last post when I announced we were headed for a week of fishing in Canada, catching, cooking and eating walleye every day, for seven days in a row.

She christened it Fishapalooza and I loved it.  And so it shall now be.

Fishapalooza 2012 was unlike any of our other 14 trips to Ontario. The weather was extremely mild, so unlike other years when we've had to pack parkas and long underwear for our annual end-of-May sojourn.

This year, we had weather in the 70's and 80's, which would have been great if we were headed for the beach. But the warmer than usual temperatures beckoned black flies and mosquitoes who are Rosemary aficionados.

Thanks to the Internet, however, we were able to outfit ourselves appropriately, though, with pretty reliable 10-day forecasts under our belts.  So instead of headbands and mittens, we packed bug spray, sunscreens and tank tops.  

And, I'm pleased to announce, yours truly caught the most fish in our little foursome.  That's really not bragging because Mr. Rosemary thinks it's high time I became a respectable fisherman, since I've been under his patient tutelage for many a year now.

And, with my sister-in-law Lori, have also become pretty creative at cooking the fish, too.  The men like to boast that we have seven different ways of cooking the fish.  That's pretty much true, although really they're just variations on the same theme:  
  • Pat the fillets dry with paper towels. (remember they were swimming only three hours beforehand) with paper towels.
  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Line a broiler pan with foil, punching holes through the slots.  
  • Spritz with vegetable spray.
  • Sprinkle with dry seasoning of your choice.
  • Dot with butter.
  • Broil for 5 to 7 minutes.

We have grilled outside, too, but after a day on the water, we find the bug-free solace of the cabin comforting.

Here are some of the different ways we've seasoned the walleye:
  • Cajun seasoning
  • on a bed of sliced lemons
  • Montreal steak seasoning
  • marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, then sprinkled with Romano cheese
  • bathed in teriyaki sauce
  • smothered with bacon and vidalia onions
  • dipped in egg then mixture of seasoned bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese
  • pan-fried in butter after a dip in egg then pancake mix
The bacon method has become one of everyone's favorites, but my personal fattening favorite (the fish is healthy eating, right?) is slathering mayo over the fillets and then pressing crushed potato chips over them.  (This is vacation!  And I worked hard for that fish!)
We have some pretty nice side dishes, too:  rice verde, pasta carbonera, haluski, fried potatoes with green pepper and onions, carrots in raspberry sauce, steamed sugar snap peas, roasted asparagus, cowboy salsa.  Good hearty eatin'.

Here's what one of our plates looked like:

Yeah, I know it looks bland, but stashing fresh parsley and food photography props with our gear wasn't part of the deal. Those potato chip crusted fillets were great.

I think I've had my fill of fish for a while, though.  A juicy hamburger along with a crisp salad sounds real good.