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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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Hot Air

The last two or three months of school seems to be getting more and more fraught every year–for parents, certainly. I’ve just woken up to the fact that I’ve been offline for something like three months now–March! yeesh! Not because I had nothing new to say about food, exactly, but because I had three or four competing ideas and no time to figure out pictures for the posts. And as everybody knows, if you didn’t take a picture of it, it practically didn’t happen. Just like all those tourists who used go to the Grand Canyon and (back in the day of actual film) had to wait for their pictures to be developed to see what it looked like…

And now that school’s out, it’s hot. 107 degrees twice this week in Pasadena, smoke in the air from the San Gabriel fire not too far away, and no desire to cook, walk during the day, or listen to anything resembling hot air.

Because the recent spate of presidential campaigning has become poised to take away almost any American’s appetite for a while.  Just read a newspaper online and look at the prominent photos and bombastic quotations and examples of rank cowardice.

I mean, yeah, I voted in the California primary two weeks ago, and I even researched all the local judges and assemblypeople for my district this time, hoping to make something count or at least not to commit any hideous mistakes.

Contrary to what you might think, reading the candidates’ own statements will actually give you a feel for what kind of people they are, whether they give a flying leap about their prospective constituents and whether they know how to tie their own shoes. Reading through about fifteen last-minute write-in candidate statements for various assembly-and-county-supervisor-type posts was pretty entertaining, actually–most of the hopefuls (you could guess which parties) stated their qualifications as “I believe in God.” Seriously. Sum total.

Nationalistic and bigoted fervor seem to be going around, though. To wit, “Brexit”, which actually won the vote today. Not that I don’t understand Britain’s–and everyone else’s–frustration with the EU administration, but the vote results and the resulting–utterly predictable–mess announced this morning are really disheartening.

Some are calling it a shot in the dark; to me it looks like a solid a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot-why-don’t-you move. It’ll take at least two years to execute, cost an immediate fortune in lost business and one-downmanship, and probably cost a lot more time, money and headache than previously suspected to resolve with the EU countries. Let’s face it; if Trump (king of the gold-tone hot air vent) thinks that it’s a great idea, you know you’ve gone wrong somewhere. Scotland, where his fabled floundering golf courses are located, went solidly for “remain,” by the way…

So is it any wonder I feel like taking a major break from my computer, my kitchen, and possibly your kitchen as well? If only to soothe your eyeballs and your rapidly developing ulcer, for which I apologize profoundly. Oy.

Now that that’s over, I guess I have no more excuses. What was I going to post all this time, anyway?

Harking back to early April, it looks like I made a couple of tries at something about microwaveable side dishes for Passover seders. Yes, it’s now too late to care where I hid the afikoman, but I maintain that the ability to microwave greens like asparagus or broccoli to perfection in a couple of minutes at the drop of a hat can save a meal–Passover or not–and some heat in the kitchen. If you’re vegetarian or leaning toward it, some of the not-chicken microwaveable soups can also be kind of handy and quick to nuke and store in those big snaplock containers in the fridge and free up your stove.

I didn’t go so far as to try any microwave matzah balls. No idea whether that would be a great idea or a terrible one, I was too not-chicken to try it. What can I say–be relieved. Be very relieved.

However, a crustless Israeli-style spinach and feta casserole, basically a quiche but more rustic in texture, was a hit both conventionally baked and browned for a Saturday congregation lunch during Passover and later for us at home via the quickie microwave method (minus the crust, so you don’t need the oven at all). It’s less glamorous-looking, more get-it-on-the-table-and-don’t-heat-up-the-house.

Israeli-style spinach, feta and egg casserole

Unfortunately for the spinach and feta thing, it turns out there are a gazillion of these posts all over the web, especially on low-carber fitness sites. Which takes away some of the charm of posting about it. But it’s still a good and very simple dish.

Israeli Spinach and Feta Crustless Quiche

Per casserole dish:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 c. milk (skim is fine)
  • 1 lb. thawed and squeezed-out frozen spinach
  • 1 lg clove garlic, minced/mashed/grated
  • 2-3 chopped scallions
  • handful of chopped dill or 1-2 T dried
  • 6-8 oz. crumbled feta

Toss the spinach, herbs and feta lightly in the casserole dish so there are visible clumps of cheese (i.e., don’t blend it too fine), mix the eggs and milk together and pour them over. Optional–grate or sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg on top. Either bake about 35-45 minutes at 350F, which makes it all pretty, puffed and browned on top, or (as I see it, the better option for Pasadena weather), just nuke it covered in a microwaveable stoneware casserole for about 7-8 minutes until puffed and cooked through to keep your kitchen from sweltering.

…Are we sensing a theme here? I hope so–because yes, it’s actually been 107 degrees this week in Pasadena. I’m not that good at keeping my cool or not cooking at all (don’t ask about the sourdough I “rescued” by baking around midnight with all the doors and windows open when the temperature dropped below 90…) But I’m trying hard not to cook.

When it’s this hot, dinner becomes a pastiche of sort-of-niçoise salads with beans or canned tuna added, maybe some cold hard-boiled or medium-boiled eggs. I’m also not above making a dinner of wedges of leftover cauliflower omelet reheated (or not) in the microwave, and either tomato-cucumber salad or some sliced tomatoes with vinegar, olive oil, maybe basil flowers from the struggling plant outside.

box of winter salad

The big box of grab-and-go salad vegetables is still looking like a good strategy too–veg that doesn’t wilt in an instant is as valuable in summer as in winter. As is shredded Greek cabbage salad. Cold raw or microwave-blanched green beans, romano beans, cauliflower or broccoli with mustard dressing, Italian-type vinaigrette, or a yogurt-based dip is also a relief.

Here are a few other hot weather ideas dragged from the depths of my blank-book cookbooks, which I now realize I’ve been keeping more than half my life.

Cold marinated tofu

Tofu is actually pretty handy to have in hot weather–either nuked with vegetables instead of stir-frying if you can stand to eat it hot, or else sliced cold and marinated for ~ half an hour with jao tze dipping sauce ingredients poured over it.

  • 1 pad of firm tofu (silken if you’re doing an appetizer), sliced thin or in cubes as desired

Marinade to pour over it:

  • A few spoonfuls each of low-sodium soy sauce and vinegar
  • Few drops of toasted sesame oil
  • Chopped scallions
  • Grated ginger
  • Garlic (grated, mashed or minced) and hot pepper flakes, optional
  • Chopped cilantro, optional

Pour the marinade over the tofu on a plate and refrigerate for 1/2 hour before serving.

Serve it with cold whole-wheat sesame noodles (cook the spaghetti in the microwave, rinse, mix with tehina and similar jao tze dipping sauce ingredients to taste and more scallions and refrigerate) and some sliced cucumbers, marinated or not.

Fresh mozzarella

This week the Ralph’s has been cutting prices on Galbani’s fresh mozzarella, so I picked up a couple of pounds of it because it’s kind of a luxury normally. It’s not those chic little balls in brine that go bad after two days, it’s a big loaf sealed in plastic like a salami and you slice it yourself. It will stay good in the fridge for a week if you wrap it tightly. Layer it with tomatoes and basil leaves and drizzle with oil and vinegar and you have insalata caprese.

Or put the mozzarella on toasted sourdough and sprinkle on one or more of the following: za’atar, nigella seeds (also called kalonji, “black onion seed” or chernushka), ground caraway, some thyme or oregano, smoked paprika, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, hot pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper or ground chipotle or other varietal Mexican pepper… a dab of z’khug or pesto is also perfectly good.

Baba ghanouj–Microwave the eggplant, don’t run the oven, much less the stove for charring it on an open flame. Well, maybe char it if you’ve got an outdoor grill.

Final thoughts on hot-weather cooking–eat fruit. Plain and raw is good. Frozen may just be a little better.

If you’ve got ripe nectarines (or peaches) that are likely to get too ripe before you can get eat to them, wash and cut them in wedges, stick them in a snaplock container or plastic zip bag and freeze them–you can eat them frozen because the sugar content keeps them from being too hard. Unfortunately, a lot of people have been seeking out my early post from a couple of years ago about mealy underripe peaches in the last couple of days–so I don’t know what to tell you. It’s still a problem for a lot of people. Check out the corner greengrocer’s if you have one; their fruit might be riper if less shiny-perfect than the big supermarket chains.

Faux Sour Cherries

This month I also stumbled on a simple way to give regular sweet cherries the flavor of sour cherries (much harder to find and more expensive). Actually, I had absolutely no business looking into this last item; it would mean I was thinking about accompaniments for things like cheesecake. Which I made last week for Shavuot–in the microwave, obviously. I did it with a combination of part-skim ricotta and fat-free Greek yogurt rather than cream cheese, sour cream, or labne. It was lighter-tasting and lighter in calories, but still killed the diet-in-progress for a couple of days, just maybe less aggressively, or so I choose to believe…

Anyway, the thing about sour cherries (as I discovered the last time I actually had any available for cooking with) is that they’re not just sour, they’re also very almondy.

Lemon juice is not quite right–too distinctly lemony, when what you want is tartness that tastes like it belongs to the fruit itself. Citric acid powder (often labeled “sour salt”) is a better choice for most fruit if you can find it (Rokeach brand used to make it, don’t know whether they still exist).

Frozen sweet cherries, or even fresh pitted ones if you really want to do this to them now that they’re in season, take well to a shake or two of citric acid powder plus a teaspoon, give or take, of amaretto per ~half-pound or so of cherries. Heat them briefly (1-2 minutes, just until cooked) in the microwave and you don’t have to add any sugar. They won’t be the same brilliant red, and the sweet cherries are a lot bigger and fleshier than most sour cherries, but they’ll taste pretty rich and surprisingly close to the real thing. The juice will also be a little thin, which is fine if you’re putting them over ice cream or draining them to add to a cheesecake. If you want something like pie filling, you’ll need a spoonful of cornstarch, potato starch or flour mixed in and heated with it as a thickener, and you probably will want to add a little sugar as well.

 

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