Tomato season lingers (as do the gnats)

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A pizza paddle is a handy tool for placing the tortillas on the grill and removing when done.

Late September weather is good for two things: A bumper crop of gnats — the biting kind to which my body reacts adversely; and a plethora of locally grown tomatoes. Oh, and I guess there are also a few allergens in the air, ragweed and such, which are also unpleasant for my sinuses.

But still, I revel in these lingering nice days, and most especially the produce that continues to flow through the local farmers markets. Last weekend, I realized that tomato season has been here for a while and I had yet to make up a batch of my world famous tomato tortilla appetizers. OK, maybe not world famous, but they are darn good.

So I assembled a quick batch for a Sunday afternoon gathering, and I paid attention to the exact ingredients so I could pass the recipe along to you. Fresh tomatoes and basil are the key to this appetizer, so make it while tomato season is still in full swing.

Tomato-Basil Tortilla Appetizer

4 flour tortillas

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large tomato

¼ cup finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

¼ teaspoon seasoned salt

½ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

tortillafinal

The finished appetizer is cut into wedges with a pizza cutter.

Dice and seed the tomato. Place tomato on paper toweling to absorb excess moisture and set aside.

Mince the garlic clove and finely chop the fresh basil. Combine the garlic and basil with the finely chopped onion and seasoned salt.

Using a pastry brush, apply a thin coat of the olive oil to both sides of the tortillas. Divide the onion-garlic-basil mixture between the tops of the four tortillas. Top with the well-drained tomato and lastly the Parmesan.

Prepare the gas grill for indirect cooking over medium-high heat. Place the tortillas on the grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom and crisp. (Watch closely! They will burn quickly.) Cut each tortilla into four wedges with a pizza cutter. Makes 16 appetizers.

 

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It’s only fair to share

This blog is named after the “Mixing & Musing” column my late mother, Dorthy Rickers, wrote for the Daily Globe newspaper in Worthington, Minnesota, for almost 50-some years. I’d have to look back through the archives (big bound volumes of her columns that are now housed down at the Nobles County Historical Society) to look for the date when she actually started those writings, but I believe the column is actually older than I am. If not, it was started when I was but a toddler.

But the longevity of the endeavor is not important, except that DotMom’s column chronicled the social happenings of our community and the recipes that accompanied such gatherings for many years. “Mixing and Musing” was not a compilation of her own recipes, but of those that were largely offered up by others. DotMom would either attend an event and hunt down the recipes, or she would hear about a delicious dish or the recipe and sleuth it out.

Times have changed. The ladies’ luncheons, bridge foursomes, coffee parties and study clubs aren’t as prevalent as they were during my mom’s tenure as a recipe gatherer. Nowadays, people depend on social media or glean new recipes from televised cooking shows.

But I still love the idea of shared recipes, and my ears perk up when I hear somebody talk about some dish they made or enjoyed. Like my mother, I am quick to say, “Oooh, can I have the recipe?”

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Chipotle Chicken is served over rigatoni pasta (photo by Tom Ahlberg).

Such was the case when friend and home-brewing buddy waxed poetic about a dish he concocted for girlfriend Lona Smith. “Chipotle Chicken?” I queried. “How do you make that?”

A couple of months later, when Tom was again dishing up the same entree, I finally got him to write down the ingredients and instructions. And to go one better, when he went home, he took a picture of the concoction as he was plating it up for serving.

But before I offer up the recipe for Chipotle Chicken, I would enco

urage you readers to share your  favorite dishes. Did you try one of those many-shared Facebook recipes and it turned out particularly fine? D

o you have a specialty for which you are always fielding recipe requests? Did your mama make the world’s best meatloaf or pecan pie?

Share, please!

I would love to continue my own mama’s legacy by providing a forum for the sharing of menus and recipes. Any such offerings can be emailed to bnamanny@gmail.com.

Chipotle Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon chipotle seasoning

1 jar alfredo sauce with roasted garlic

2 heads garlic, separated

2 to 3 dried chipotle peppers, cut into strips

Cooked pasta of choice (linguine, rigatoni, etc.)

Parmesan cheese

Season the chicken breasts with the chipotle seasoning and grill 15 to 20 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the garlic on foil, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of each clove and mix with the jarred alfredo sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chipotle pepper and cooked chicken and simmer until the sauce is heated through.

Serve over pasta, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

 

The late summer garden

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I’ve enjoyed watching the painted lady butterflies flitting around the salvia in my garden recently. But while their beauty brings me joy, I have to admit to a certain amount of melancholy, too. I am a summer person, and I hate to see the warm weather and long days come to an end.

It seems like it was just a few weeks — certainly not more than several months — since I planted those salvia and the other flowers and herbs that populate the borders and small garden spaces at our house.

Each year I try to plant a couple new things. This year, that included a spicy variety of oregano and a unique succulent that gets tiny buds along the borders of the leaves. The succulent will likely come inside for the winter, if I can find a suitable pot to house it.

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A new succulent in my garden

The one constant in my small garden is my favorite herb — basil. By this time of year, it has slowed its growth considerably, as basil prefers warm and humid conditions. But there are still some leaves on the plants and I will try to save those for winter usage.

How do I do that? I could dry them, and usually use the food dehydrator. But I really prefer to freeze basil, and have done so successfully as what I call “basil cigars.” I separate the leaves from the stems, rinse them off and let dry. Then I pack the leaves into the bottom of a fold-top sandwich bag, using the bag to form a roll in the bottom. Once the leaves (it takes quite a lot of them!) are in a solid roll that resembles a cigar, I roll the rest of the bag around the cylinder and fold the top over to encase it. Then I roll the whole thing in plastic wrap, date it with masking tape and put it in the freezer. 

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Basil can be frozen for future use.

When I have need for some fresh basil, I pull one of those rolls out, unwrap the plastic, peel the bag back and cut off as much as I need from the “cigar.” Then I roll the rest up again, and  back it goes into the freezer. Pretty slick, and the basil retains its bright green color and flavor.

This is also the time of year when there is always a batch of fresh salsa in our refrigerator. My version is a cross between pico de gallo and salsa — no cooking necessary.

Since Hubby Bryan and I are not cilantro fans (it tastes like soap!), I’m apt to add some fresh basil, parsley and spicy oregano to this.

 

Fresh Tomato Salsa

In a blender, combine one 16-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, 2 scant tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, one or two (depending on heat preference) dried or fresh red chiles, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice and ¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste). Blend until smooth, then pour into a large covered bowl.

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Fresh tomato salsa

Seed and dice 2 (or more, depending on size) tomatoes and one small onion; add to tomato puree. Based on personal preferences, you can also add finely chopped red or green pepper, jalapeño pepper, canned green chiles, cilantro, parsley or other herbs. Experiment and see what you like.

 

A new beginning and a recycled recipe

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It’s been a bit of a crazy week. After a year of employment limbo, I started a new job, working as a paraprofessional at Prairie Elementary School. Since I did a lot of subbing at the school last school year, I know a few of the ropes, but also have a lot more to learn — including the names of 40-some first-graders, since I rotate between two classrooms.

With faces and names swimming around in my brain, I’m turning to a recipe that I’ve shared before, but not in this particular forum. Since zucchini season in full swing, it’s a good way to use up some of those prolific squash. I made up a batch of this bread last week, stashing away a few loaves in the freezer for future eating, so I was reminded just how good it really is.

One tip: I use a silicone baster brush to spread the glaze over the still-warm bread (see pick below)lemon bread2.jpg. It works pretty slick and cleans up easily!

Lemon-Lime (Zucchini) Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups sugar

1 package (3.4-ounce) instant lemon pudding mix

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1¼ cups milk

1 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 cups shredded zucchini

1 tablespoon grated lemon/lime zest

For glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons grated lemon/lime zest

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk eggs, milk, oil, lemon and lime juices. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in the zucchini and zest. Pour batter into six greased mini loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool.

In the meantime, mix together glaze ingredients, adding more juice if necessary to get a glaze consistency. Spoon glaze over bread while still warm. Cool before cutting and serving.

Taking a dip

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“Did you miss me?”

A long-ago former co-worker used to always ask me that question when he returned from vacation.

I would often tease him by saying, “Were you gone?” even though I had, of course, missed his presence.

If I were to ask you readers the first question, I imagine you might also answer “Were you gone?” and actually mean it. After all, I haven’t been writing this blog for very long, so I likely haven’t built up enough of a following for the lack of a blog to be noticed.

But that’s what happened last week, and I have no excuse. Despite my resolve to write a blog every week, I just plain forgot. My usual writing day was sandwiched between two very busy days of working for the local school district’s technology department, which has been my summertime gig. Open houses at two schools took priority — and most of my energy — and because my schedule was different than previous weeks, I never sat down at the computer and wrote out the recipe that was to be the basis for last week’s musings.

So instead, you get it this week, and a day earlier than usual, since I don’t want to forget again. And luckily, it’s still sweet corn season, since that is the prime ingredient in this yummy dip. I made this as an appetizer for a gathering of friends a few weeks ago after hearing a chef talk about such a concoction on a TV program. That original version was a hot dip, baked in the oven, but since I was taking it to an outdoor gathering, I didn’t want to mess around with heating it. I believe the cold version is just as tasty, but it could certainly be baked until bubbly and brown on top.

Let’s Go For a (Sweet Corn) Dip

corndip2.jpg8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer)

1 cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 jalapeno pepper, very finely minced

¼ cup chopped red pepper

¼ cup chopped Anaheim pepper

½ cup chopped onion

3 ears sweet corn, cooked (I used the microwave), cut from the cob

¼ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon seasoned salt

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for several hours to let flavors meld. Serve with tortilla chips, corn chips or cornbread crackers.

 

Remembering Katherine

katherine pike hedeen

There’s an African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s a concept I have pondered quite a bit in recent days as I reflect on the death of one of the chieftesses in my own “village.”

Katherine Hedeen, who died quite suddenly last week,  was one of my late mother’s very best friends. Her husband, Bill Hedeen, had been one of my father’s very best friends. The photos shown here are from a trip they all took to Europe in 1980.

I have known Katherine my entire life and can point to very particular influences she had on my life.

Younger than my siblings by 10 and eight years, I was also the youngest child among my parents’ close circle of friends. Consequently, I was brought along to parties and other gatherings more than my sister and brother, and I spent quite a bit of time with those adults.

Katherine, in particular, took an interest in me. She encouraged my love of reading by giving me books, even enrolling me in a children’s book club. I still have a few of those books in my collection and would never think of parting with them.

I knew Katherine to be a bit prim and proper (Mom always prompted me to send a prompt and proper thank-you note for those books), but she was also warm and caring and always interested in whatever I was doing, never failing to include me in the conversation. I also often attended the theater with my parents and the Hedeens, cultivating that interest, too.

When my brother Marty was battling cancer and Mom spent most of the summer of 1975 in Rochester with him, Katherine was one of several of her friends who stepped up to fill a motherly role for this then-12-year-old.

And Katherine also stepped up for me later in life, after my dear mom passed away in 2005 (my father Don having preceded her nine years prior).

Katherine made a point of calling me. She sent me emails. She invited me over for ice tea with lemon and brownies. On the occasion of my 50th birthday — a time when I was sharply feeling the absence of my birthday-loving momma — Katherine honored the occasion with a special gift, filling that void and touching my heart.

In recent years, the population of my village of elders has steadily declined, one by one. Katherine’s death is the most recent of many who influenced my life in one way or another.

There are only a handful of such people left, and I am feeling her loss quite keenly. When I attend Katherine’s memorial service tomorrow, there will likely be a few tears shed as I envision the reunion happening on a heavenly plain. But I imagine there is one heck of a bridge game going on up there, and the thought of that puts a smile on my face.

A perfect garden pairing

In our very small backyard, I don’t have room to grow any tomatoes, but that’s OK, because there are lots of tomatoes to be found at the local farmers markets. Besides, when I did grow tomatoes a number of years ago, I didn’t seem to have the knack for the luscious fruits. They always seemed to end up with blight or end rot or some other tomato malady.

FullSizeRender (23)But I do grow something that is a perfect partner for the tomato.

Basil.

Basil is by far my favorite herb. When it is flourishing in my backyard planters, I throw it in just about everything — pastas, soups, salads, vegetables.

But basil is really at its best when paired with tomato. The two are often planted side by side in the garden because they like the same growing conditions and seem to thrive during the hottest weather.

When the weather begins to turn cooler, I begin to squirrel away basil in my freezer (more on that later) for future use. But I’m not quite at that stage yet this year. Instead, I will make the most of the harvest in dishes such as this salad, one of my favorite latter summer side dishes. It’s so simple to put together and makes the most of that tomato-basil combination.

For the rice, you can use leftover rice, or I’ve used the quick-cooking variety or even those pre-cooked pouches that can be found in the grocery aisle. Rather that bottled dressing, I usually utilize the mix that comes in small envelopes in the dressing aisle, mixing it at home with red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Other vegetables, such as sliced cucumbers or broccoli florets, could be added to the salad, too, but I prefer the simplicity of the tomato and basil combo.

Simply Delicious Rice Salad

3 cups cold cooked rice

⅓ cup Italian dressing

2 tomatoes, diced

½ cup red onion, diced

¼ cup chopped basil

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; toss well. Makes 6 servings.

 

Getting an earful

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One of my current means of gainful employment is paraprofessional subbing with the local school district. During one such gig earlier this year, I heard some kindergarteners telling knock-knock jokes, but they weren’t quite getting the format right. They would say the “knock-knock” part, but then would just insert nonsensical words instead of coming up with an actual pun.

So I resolved to teach them a real knock-knock joke, and happened upon this gem:

 

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Gorilla.

Gorilla, who?

Gorilla me a burger, please?

 

I’m not sure my young charges actually grasped the word play, but soon they were telling this joke to the janitor and the lunch ladies as we waited to get in line for food, and they continued to do so for several days in a row.

Yes, it’s truly a corny joke, but it was the best I could come up with and get 5-year-olds to repeat.

Which makes me think, how did the term “corny” ever get applied to bad jokes. Because to me, sweet corn season is no joke.

This week, I’ve been working my way through a bag of corn that was left on our doorstep by a good friend — a really good friend! — whose family grows some of the best ears around. The corn is sweet and delicious, needing nothing but some butter, salt and pepper to enhance its flavor.

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Since I usually only make a couple ears of corn at a time, I almost always use the microwave method for cooking it. Here’s how I do it:

Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess husk and stem at both ends of the ear. Remove the outermost layers of husk, leaving just a couple layers in place over the kernels. Loosen the remaining husk and run the ears under cold water, or soak in cold water for a few minutes.

Place in microwave and cook on high for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on number and size of ears, turning once in the process. Let ears sit for a few minutes to further steam the corn. Use hot pads or oven mitts to remove the husk and silk from the corn. You can also pull the husk back and use it as a handle for eating. Consume.

While it certainly isn’t the case with this batch of corn, occasionally you come across an ear or two that isn’t so sweet, or maybe it loses some flavor with an extended stay in the refrigerator. Such corn is the perfect candidate for making street corn, which utilizes 

mayonnaise instead of butter. Most often, this is referred to as Mexican Street Corn, but I’ve changed it up a bit, so I’m going to call it Minnesota Street Corn instead.

Minnesota Street Corn

¼ cup mayonnaise

½  cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

½ teaspoon fresh basil, chopped

4 ears corn, husked and silk removed

 

Preheat grill.

Combine mayonnaise, Parmesan and seasonings. Spread a thin layer of the mixture over each ear of corn. Wrap ears in foil and place on grill.

Cook, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

A not-so-depressing dish

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I went to Tuesday afternoon’s Farmers Market and marveled at the array of produce that has suddenly become available. A couple of weeks ago, the options were quite limited, but now it seems that everything in the garden is ready to be harvested. There was sweet corn, kohlrabi, tomatoes, onions, carrots, raspberries, zucchini, broccoli — even fresh-from-the-bakery loaves of bread.

But I was on a mission to find the ingredients for one of my favorite dishes — what DotMom always called Depression Dish.

From here on out, I will just call it DD — which could stand for Delicious Dish, or Devoured Dish, or whatever other D word that would be suitable — because it is far from depressing. The only reason it would cause me any depression is because the availability of the ingredients means that summer days are now waning — definitely a reason for me to feel blue as summer is my favorite season.

But I believe the “Depression” in the title refers to its popularity during the 1930s Depression era, when people stretched their food resources, especially spendy items such as meat — in this case bacon — with foods from their expansive gardens.

But the key ingredient in DD is green beans — fresh-from-the-garden green beans. And I found those in abundance Tuesday. It also requires potatoes, and the “new” potatoes that vendors were selling are just the ticket, along with some freshly dug onions.

Here’s the DD recipe as it appears in DotMom’s “Mixing & Musing Cookbook.” She chose to title it “Old Fashioned Green Beans and Potatoes,” but I think it deserves a brand new name.

Definitely Delicious Green Beans and Potatoes

4 strips bacon, diced

4 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and halved

1 cup water

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 cup diced potatoes

¾ cup sliced green onions

In large skillet, cook diced bacon for 5 minutes or so. Drain off part of the bacon drippings. Stir in green beans, water, salt and pepper. Simmer 2 or 3 minutes. Add potatoes and onions. Stir well. Simmer about 15 minutes.

Serve as either a main dish or side dish.

 

Connecting the Dots

Dot's Tavern

Having written often about road trips in our Jeep Wrangler, Hubby Bryan and I often get asked, “Where are you going this summer?”

We generally go on one extended trip and several shorter long weekends over the course of a summer. During the long pre-Fourth of July weekend, we went on one of those shorter excursions to one of our favorite places — Wisconsin.

Wisconsin in the perfect place to venture if you love beer, cheese, sausage and windy roads. We fit that description to a T: Bryan is an avid homebrewer (I help, usually by naming and consuming the resulting brews) and we enjoy craft beers; we both love cheese; Bryan’s favorite meal would be a platter full of sausage; and taking those S-curves in the Jeep with the top off is a navigational delight. (And amazingly, the Jeep gets its best gas mileage in such terrain.)

This is somewhat of a generalization, but just about any town of any size in Wisconsin has at least one bar (if not four, often all at a crossroads on the four corners), a cheese factory and a butcher shop that specializes in sausages. We have our favorite such locales in Wisconsin, many of which I’ve shared in previous stories about our travels.

This time, we went in search of a very small tavern in a very small town. Friends Kevin and Kami Lease, former Worthingtonians who now live near Madison, had told us about a place called Dot’s Tavern. I was immediately intrigued, because we lovingly called my late mother — Dorthy Rickers — Grandma Dot, and now I often refer to her as DotMom in these writings. The Leases also refer to Kevin’s mom — another Dorothy, albeit different spelling — as Grandma Dot. So the name holds significance for us all.

The Leases weren’t able to guide us to or meet up with us at Dot’s Tavern, so Bryan and I ventured there on our own. It is located in a tiny little unincorporated town called Basco, just south of Madison, Wisconsin. Our GPS doesn’t recognize Basco, but we managed to find the place by plugging in Dot’s official address.

There it was — a house in a small cluster of houses (think Org) on the edge of a Wisconsin pasture. If the Dot’s Tavern sign hadn’t been posted out front, we would have surely thought we were in the wrong place. The tavern is actually located in the basement of the house, and the sign indicates it’s been there since 1948.

On this particular day — a Sunday — a meat raffle had taken place earlier, and some vintage cars were parked around the perimeter when we arrived. As the clouds let loose with a few sprinkles, those vintage rides quickly disappeared. But by the time we went downstairs to the bar to fetch a beer and re-emerged, the sun was shining again, so we sat outside on some plastic lawn chairs at a picnic table.

Yes, Dot’s is one of those unique Wisconsin small-town watering holes, to which, in all likelihood we will return again.

Here’s a seasonally appropriate recipe that features two prime Wisconsin ingredients — cheese and beer.

Wisconsin Berry & Cheese Salad

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons beer (preferably a pale ale or fruit-based beer)

2 tablespoons honey

1 small garlic clove, finely minced

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups mixed greens or romaine lettuce

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

1½ cups fresh blueberries

½ cup Cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

⅓ cup chopped pecans

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, beer, honey, garlic and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine greens, berries and cheese. Add dressing, tossing well. Sprinkle pecans over all and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.