Season of the Squash

One of my coworkers set a large plastic bag on the table with a firm thump. “Would you like some squash?”

“I brought more squash!” a choir member announces as he placed the cardboard box of gourds, squash, and zucchini on the floor beside the piano.

DadRed glanced out at bedtime to see if the UPS truck had been by (they tend to leave the box and run). He opened the front door and brought in a plastic grocery bag full of squash and zucchini. And two onions.

Apparently, this cool, wet summer has been as good for squash and their cousins as it has been bad for tomatoes. The lack of heat and direct sunlight really set the tomatoes back, and they just haven’t done a lot. Too much smoke and too many overcast days don’t help tomatoes or cotton. However, the weekly rain and temperatures in the 80s-low 90s seem to have encouraged other things to go forth and multiply. Not just exponentially, no, we’re talking logarithmic increases in produce here. Anyone who goes and buys squash from the grocery store right now? They must have really cheezed off their neighbors.

So it’s time to start with squash-n-onions and go from there.

1 or 2 summer squash (two if they are small) cut into 1/2″ thick rounds, or thinner.

1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped or sliced (your preference)

olive oil (I like garlic or basil flavored)

Spices to taste (basil, garlic, marjoram, thyme . . . Rosemary doesn’t do much for me in this context, but you might give it a try)

  1. Drain the squash slightly by letting it “rest” on paper towels.
  2. Heat the oil to a slight shimmer.
  3. Add onion and cook until translucent.
  4. Add squash and spices.
  5. Sautee uncovered over medium heat until the squash is tender.

That’s it. Fast, fairly easy, and it takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. You don’t have to drain the squash, but I prefer a firmer vegetable. Tossing it straight into the pan tends to make for softer veggies, as does turning the heat down to low and covering the pan.

Sesame Toast

This is a throwback recipe, one that dates to when cocktail parties were more common, and having a small, fatty nibble in order to cushion the stomach wasn’t seen as death-by-heart-attack. The way I made it served 20, with a little of the herbed butter left over.

2 T butter

2T sesame seeds

4T butter

1/4 teaspoon each marjoram, rosemary, and oregano

very thinly sliced bread

Melt 2T butter over medium heat, add the sesame seeds, and brown the sesame seeds. This is a bit like making a roux, in that it quickly goes from “not quite ready” to “dang it, start over,” so watch closely.

Heat the oven to 250 F (a moderately slow oven)

As the hot, seedy butter is cooling a little, cream the remaining butter and add in the herbs. The exact blend is up to you, as are the amounts. Be sure to use minced rosemary or powdered – fresh won’t work. Now blend in the sesame seeds, or stir them in if you’re leery of the mixer sending greased-up sesame seeds flying across the kitchen.*

Depending on your creativity, you might want want to get out cookie cutters and trim the bread slices into shapes suitable for the occasion, making sure to omit the crusts. Or just trim the crusts off the bread, saving them for a different use, and spread the butter on the bread. Set the bread on baking sheets and gently toast for 20 minutes or until crisp. Let cool.

These are rich and buttery. I used commercially made, mid-range brown bread, and had good results.

*No, I didn’t use too-shallow of a bowl for creaming the butter. Not at all. Nor was I trying to find errant sesame seeds on kitchen counters and backsplashes that exactly matched the color of lightly browned sesame seeds.

Marinated Pickled Mushrooms

I like mushrooms, especially cooked in a stew or pickled. When I had to come up with a relatively simple-to-make hors d’euouvre, I went through one of my many cookbooks, found a starting place, and set to work.

The original recipe also calls for some salt, but we don’t use that in anything other than baking.

You need: two pounds baby mushrooms (little white ones. Four boxes the way the local stores package them)

2/3 cup [red] wine vinegar

1/2 cup oil [I used basil infused olive]

2 cloves garlic, crushed [a small dollop]

1/2 cup parsley chopped [I used three Tablespoons dried flakes]

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard [I used German]

2 Tablespoons brown sugar.

Clean the mushrooms and trim off the ends of the stems if needed. In an medium-sized, acid-proof pot, bring vinegar, oil, garlic, parsley, mustard and sugar to a boil. Add the mushrooms and return to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or a little longer, depending on altitude. Allow to cool in the liquid. The mushrooms will shrink a lot, so the liquid will probably cover them. That’s good. Store in the fridge in a sealed container until time to serve. Drain and serve with toothpicks or allow guests to help themselves.

Makes a lot. Could be halved, but remember, mushrooms shrink. These keep well, and really are better the next day. Feel free to tinker with the spices and the type of wine vinegar and oil.

Original recipe from: Savoring the Southwest: A Cookbook and More from the Land of Enchantment Published by the Rosewll Symphony Guild, Roswell, NM. 1983. (The book is part of the long tradition of fund-raiser cookbooks that go back to the original Charleston Receipts by the Charleston SC Junior League.)

Country Captain – Chicken Curry

The original recipe comes from The Gasparilla Cookbook, published by the Tampa Junior League in the 1960s. How chicken curry got to Tampa in the 1950s I have no idea, although sea ports are probably the home of a lot of “fusion cuisine.” The original recipe calls for one bone-in fryer. I use two boneless breasts or four thighs. This version is less “saucy” than is traditional, because I needed to use a huge onion and two bell peppers. A medium onion and one pepper are probably suitable for most people.

One pound of raw chicken*- no bones

olive oil for sauteeing

One medium onion

one bell pepper (or two)

one dollop of garlic or to taste (1 T or so, less if you don’t like garlic)

one can crushed tomatoes, or whole tomatoes (15 oz or so can)

spices

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.** Bring the heat under the oil up to medium-high and saute the chicken. Reduce the heat once the outside of the chicken turns white, cover, and ignore. While ignoring the chicken, chop the onion. Add the onion and garlic to the Dutch oven, stir in with the chicken, and cover. Chop the bell pepper and open the can of tomatoes. Turn up the heat on the Dutch oven, add bell pepper and tomatoes, including juice from the can. Run a little water into the can to get all the tomato out, and to add some liquid to the meat. Stir and bring to a boil. Add your spices.

[I tend to use prepackaged spice blends, like Garam Masala, Maharaja Curry Powder, and others from my local dealer. You can find sweeter blends, hotter ones, classics, and the Old Fashioned “generic yellow curry powder” that I remember from growing up. If you have not tried a particular blend before, add a little, sample after a few minutes, and then add more. Thai blends tend to be hotter than most Indian/Pakistani blends, but not always. Season to taste is the rule.]

Turn the heat down to a low simmer and ignore for half an hour or so, although you might want to stir from time to time, and check the moisture level. I prefer a drier curry, others like more sauce. While the dish cooks, make your rice or other starch (for sopping the juice). Also get ready your chutney (Major Gray’s or Mrs. Ball’s are the house favorites), slivered almonds or other nuts, raisins, and other trimmings.

Serve the Country Captain over rice or with bread on the side, with the chutney and trimmings for people to pick from. It serves about six people, and can easily be scaled up. It tastes very good as left-overs, because the flavors have had time to mellow and blend.

*I have used pork, once, just because I was feeling curious. It was OK, but the texture didn’t seem right.

** If the chicken is still a little frozen, use a knife. If it is fully thawed, scissors are a lot easier than a knife, and probably a little safer since they are less prone to slip on uneven pieces of slippery meat. But that’s just me. Wash the scissors very carefully before and after cutting up chicken, to be sure to get all the bits out of the hinge.

Little Trees and Minié Balls

Or “how we do broccoli and Brussels sprouts at RedQuarters.”

I don’t quite recall when DadRed started referring to Brussels sprouts as minié balls. It’s been a while though, and the name stuck. Both vegetables come from the same family, both have people who love them and people who detest them. And both tend to be rather dry when brought home from the food store. Continue reading

Cranberry Orange Bread

This originally came from the Captain William’s House restaurant on Cape Cod. It was reprinted in 1970 in the “Baylor Wives’ Club Tasting Luncheon Recipe Book.”

Ingredients: One orange; 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries coarsely chopped; 1 Cup white sugar, 1 egg; 2 C white flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/3 c vegetable shortening (Crisco™ type), 1/2 c chopped walnuts [or pecans, but walnuts are regional to New England] Continue reading

So, is it Foreign Food or Not?

It has been observed on multiple occasions that Mexican food in Texas and Mexican food in Mexico share only names in common, if that much. OK, tortillas are flat rounds of bread, and tacos mean “fillings inside smaller, folded tortilla,” but past that the commonalities start to fade. Mexican food beans in Texas are usually pinto. In Mexico they are all sorts of beans, including black beans. Cheese, a staple of Texas Mexican food, is used more sparingly south of the Rio Grande. Mole sauces never appear in Texas, unless you are at a dedicated Mexican restaurant, not chain Mexican.

This leads to a great philosophical question: is Tex-Mex a foreign food or not? Continue reading

Eggplant Surprise

Mom came home from something or the other with a large eggplant. I was surprised. I’m not an eggplant fan, because of the bitterness in so many commercial eggplant dishes. MomRed knows that I will walk miles to avoid eggplant. So I was not consulted, just presented with eggplant, quantity 1, going into the oven as I came home from work. Since it was storming outdoors, my storming out in search of a non-eggplant supper was not going to happen.

Mothers are sneaky. Did you know that? Continue reading

Okra Tails – No Thank You

Okra is a vegetable introduced from Africa to the New World. If found a home in the South, among other places, and is considered one of the hallmarks of Southern cooking. It can be found as deep-fried nuggets and in gumbo and other stew-like dishes that need thickening as well as flavor.

It is also one of those veggies that attracts partisan support. Either one likes it, often in one particular way, or one vehemently does not care for the vegetable. I incline towards the latter group, especially when okra is served on its own. The texture gets to me. I don’t like slimy anything, especially not food, and alas, a lot of okra gets cooked to slimy.   Continue reading