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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Taco Talk

Today I want to share what I call tacos. You will see that my definition of tacos is pretty loose. Like salad or sandwiches, tacos can be just about anything. I'm not even sure what defines something as a taco, once you take the tortilla away. Dwayne is my taco anchor, because no matter what crazy thing I do with my taco parts, he always has meat and cheese on a tortilla. These photos represent a few different taco nights at our house. Above is turkey taco meat, served over half of a large baked sweet potato. I've topped it with garden tomatoes, avocado, Trader Joe's Pineapple Salsa, grated cheddar, chopped cilantro, a dab of sour cream and plenty of Tapatio. This is crazy good. There is something magical that happens when you combine sweet potatoes or butternut squash with spicy tomato based sauces. I'm not pulling your leg. It's akin to port and chocolate - the total is greater than the sum of the parts. This fabulous meal only adds up to 440 calories.

On another evening, I had ground beef to use up and made this taco salad. This salad is similar to the sweet potato "taco" but it is mounted on romaine. The ground beef is higher in fat and calories, so I cut out the carbs. Still totally delicious.
We had leftovers of the turkey taco meat, so the next night I had a turkey taco sandwich. It's really just a spicy sloppy joe. That pineapple salsa is very close to BBQ sauce. (Hmmm...spicy pineapple BBQ sauce...)

Here is Dwayne's dinner on most taco nights. I angled the camera so I could show that he put some green stuff in there.

Here is how I season the meat when I make these dishes. It is not at all hot, but is very flavorful. Please add more of everything if you wish. If I were cooking this just for me, I would likely add a chopped jalapeno and maybe throw in some kidney beans. If you take nothing else away from this little love letter to all things taco, please consider sweet potatoes in your next spicy Mexican meal. Trust me. You won't regret it.

Mild & Multi-Purpose Taco Meat
1 lb. ground turkey
one red onion, chopped
1 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, cumin, coriander and garlic and herb seasoning
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Brown meat, onions and garlic. Add seasonings and Worcestershire sauce and cook on medium low heat for 5 - 10 minutes to blend flavors. Stack up with your favorite taco fixings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Salad Days

It's the salad days of summer! Everything is fresh and delicious. I'm always especially fond of summer foods. It's my favorite time of year. Nothing beats those long Sacramento evenings, with the cool delta breezes and long shadows. Whether I'm on my bike, strolling the neighborhood, or just sitting on my porch, I love, love, LOVE it! Summer foods seem to be special and associated with time-limited pleasures. Maybe I'll feel that way about all seasonal foods, once I eat more seasonally around the calendar, but I think things like ripe apricots and cool sweet watermelon will always thrill me.

It seems like a lot of my Random Food Fridays offerings are quick and easy weeknight dinners. I like to cook, but not when I'm tired and starving. Also, have I mentioned we don't have a dishwasher? (She went away to college - Ba-dump-bump!) These kinds of meals don't make much mess. I do most of my food prep on Sunday afternoons, after the Farmer's Market, so they also come together almost instantly.

The above salad features romaine, an Asian pear, a nectarine, some chopped turkey, goat cheese, a few sliced toasted almonds and Trader Joe's Champagne Pear Vinaigrette. TJ's Champagne Pear Vinaigrette is great for salads that combine fruit with vegetables and other savory ingredients.
I often make marinated beets on Sunday and eat them throughout the week. I boil the beets, chop them roughly and combine them with balsamic vinaigrette and some sliced red onion. The skin of the beets doesn't bother me, so I leave it on. I understand that's where all the cool nutrients live. This salad blend was especially good. Along with the beets, I have sliced radishes, goat cheese and some of the best cherry tomatoes I've ever tasted. They were grown by my friend Paula, and think I will be growing this variety in my own little garden next year. I will let you all know the name of the variety once I find out.

Until we share a table again - eat your beets!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tomato and Fruit Ketchup

When I came up with "Random Food Fridays," it was because I thought I wouldn't have any time to can. Well, I really don't. But the siren song of the steaming water bath called me into the kitchen even though it would have been more responsible to do other activities. Produce available at last weekend's farmer's market convinced me it was time to make this ketchup. My Grandma Betty made it at least once. I remember eating it at her house, and I hand-copied the recipe. Sadly, at this time, Grandma does not remember this. Many of the recipes I get from her contain a lot of sugar and often contain convenience foods. The 50's were modern times after all! Her recipe was much more like traditional ketchup with little bits of canned pear and peach in it. I wanted to duplicate her flavors but avoid using canned produce. I used a combination of her recipe and one I found online. I used Grandma's spices and proportion of vinegar and sugar, and used fresh produce proportions from the other recipe. I'm pretty pleased with the outcome. I think I might cook it a bit longer next time.

This was my first experience with canning tomatoes. I hope I can put up something that will resemble those "ready-cut" tomatoes later this summer. I've been trying to avoid using acidic commercially canned foods. I used the nifty basket from my Ball small-batch canning kit to dunk the tomatoes into boiling water to loosen the skins. I then plunged them into ice water. I used Roma tomatoes. They were easy to work with and start out with less liquid than other varieties. I simply quartered them, then pulled out the seeds and slid off the skin.

For the fruit, I used beautiful Gala apples, Asian pears and some rosy, ripe peaches. I didn't catch the variety of the peaches. Three each of these fruits came out to about 9 cups, peeled, cored and chopped.

Here is one application: Meatloaf. This is turkey meatloaf with some of this ketchup on the inside and on top. I added some Worcestershire sauce to the ketchup used on top. It is a good addition and I may add it to the main recipe in the future. Along side the meatloaf,
we had roasted potatoes and shallots and a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. Yum!

Tomato and Fruit Ketchup
6 cups of prepared tomatoes - skinned, cored and chopped
2 cups chopped red bell pepper
3 each large apples, pears and peaches, peeled, cored and chopped (about 9 cups)
3 cups red onion, peeled and chopped
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cloves
t tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tbsp. pickling spice wrapped in a cheesecloth

Wash and prepare 5 pint jars and lids. Prepare boiling water bath.

Combine all ingredients and a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until desired thickness is reached - two to three hours. (I think I would like to try this in the crock pot next time. I bet all day on low would do the trick.) Partially puree mixture by using a stick blender, or puree in batches in a food processor or blender. Leave a few chunks. Carefully ladle into jars, wipe rims and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Busy Weeknights

It's time for another Random Food Friday entry. Here is another easy weeknight dinner - chicken salad. I like it rolled up in lettuce, but it is also good on bread or with crackers. I'm beginning to be dubious about most commercially canned foods due to the plastic lining in the cans. Some foods are really hard to give up. I like the convenience of canned chicken and canned fish, like tuna and salmon. Sigh. While I'm still using these kinds of foods, I will do my best to make them delicious! This simple salad is made with canned chicken, mayo, sour cream, green onions, grapes and slivered almonds. It really is tasty. Sour cream is a lower calorie choice and still packs lots of flavor and satisfaction. Olive oil mayo = 50 calories per tbsp. Sour cream = 30 calories per tbsp. Regular mayo (still delicious!) = 100 calories per tbsp! This dish works very well as a quick pot-luck offering too.

Here's a veggie side dish I think of as "Summerin' Succotash." (Imagine Sylvester.) We started making this because we had left over corn on the cob and lots of summer squash to use up. It's just corn, squash and shallots sauteed in a little olive oil or butter. It's sweet and crunchy and savory all at the same time and no lima beans! Don't forget generous salt and pepper.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Random Food Fridays

Life has been pretty darn busy for me lately. It's been a little frustrating to know that the world is bursting with summer's goodness, and I have no planned days for canning in sight. The good news is that I can borrow freezer space at my Grandma's house. I currently have a couple of pounds of cherries, 7 pounds of blackberries and 25 pounds of plums in the deep freeze. Soon there will be jam!

This month's Can Jam features tomatoes. I really want to do something. I'm thinking about a fruit and tomato catsup that Grandma Betty used to make. I remember liking it, and I think it would be a great topping for meat loaf. The other tomato item I'm pondering is pineapple salsa. I buy an awful lot of that stuff from Trader Joe's.

Since I'm not going to be canning real soon, I decided to share some of the things I eat that I think are really good, but really don't require a recipe. When you see some of these, you may think, "Well, duh! Of course!" I hope that for some of them you will think, "Wow! What a great idea!" Above is my current snack favorite - beautiful, ripe apricots, stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. This is yummy and elegant. If I threw parties, this would be on the menu. This packs easily in a lunch box, is reasonably low in calories, and is packed with nutrition. Don't you think most kids would rather see this in their lunch box than an orange, or a baggie of pretzels?

This is a recent weeknight dinner. Sometimes, when I gift people with pickles, they are kind of puzzled about what to do with them. Here's a three-pickle dinner that I enjoyed like crazy - turkey sandwich with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, avocado and spicy pickled onions. Oh my! I've discovered that avocados and these pickled onions are a match made in sandwich heaven. On the side, you see sweet and tangy carrot pickles and a spicy dill.

I hope these simple little repasts will inspire to eat well, even when you are in a hurry. Look for Random Food Fridays on a regular basis, starting today.