Let the Friday Happy Dance begin!

What a week! I don’t know about you, but this was the quickest, longest week that I can remember in awhile. We are in central California, and it is scary watching the Covid-19 numbers rise as quickly as they are. Adding to that is the fact we see people we know posting pictures of vacationing, going out to eat (albeit outside now), and hanging out – all without wearing a mask or social distancing. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy having someone else cook dinner and do the dishes afterwards. At this point in the pandemic, that is a “want” instead of a “need”. As long as we aren’t completely locked down and can go to the store, our household will be fine.

The week started off rough with slicing a bit off of my thumb with a mandolin on Tuesday while prepping apples to dehydrate. Luckily, the gouge is more towards the side of the thumb pad instead of in the middle. It should be healed by early next week. Yesterday I knocked over a lamp while vacuuming and broke the glass on it. No one got hurt, and I was able to get all the pieces cleaned up before the dogs tried wandering through. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a replacement glass over the next month or so.

I got another batch of cookbooks cataloged, and hopefully will get it uploaded early Saturday. I have to get the new Worst Cooks bingo cards out first though. What a wild ride this season is! The final four go at it this weekend to narrow things down. It is pretty close; no one really stands out as being better than the others. I have an idea on who I think makes it to the final two, but I’m not going to say. Creating the bingo cards and learning how to use Instagram to do a live feed has been interesting. I have fun with it, and will eventually get the hang of merging multiple platforms together.

On to the weekend! I am looking forward to the last video posting for the Fresno County Library summer series – Versatile Veggies. I picked a few that are quick, light, and easy to do. The average daytime temperature in the summer is around 100 degrees, and the idea of fixing something complicated in the heat is not fun. I am pretty happy with the results, and listed a few swap-outs at the end of the recipes for variety. If you try any of the recipes, let me know what you think.

Apple and Shaved Fennel Salad

1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
 Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small fennel bulb(s), thinly sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, halved and cored, thinly sliced or cubed
(you can also use whatever apple you have on hand)
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fennel fronds or parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1 ½ ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 2/3 cup)

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and whisk briskly until dressing is emulsified. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if needed.
  2. Place the walnuts in a dry pan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on it so the oil in the nuts does not burn. After 3-5 minutes, remove from heat and dice when cool. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the apple, celery, fennel, and walnuts.
  4. Toss the fennel, apple, walnuts, and celery with the dressing. Fold in fennel fronds or parsley, and top with Parmesan cheese just before serving.

    NOTE: Dressing can be made the day before serving, and stored in the refrigerator. Toss with salad ingredients up to 1 hour before serving.

*optional substitutions:
almonds or pecans for walnuts;
gorgonzola or blue cheese for the Parmesan cheese;
mint or basil for part or all of the parsley

Roasted Beets with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

3 large beets, roots intact but tops trimmed off

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/8 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons loosely packed fresh mint leaves, julienned or minced
2 tablespoon fresh-leaf parsley leaves, julienned or minced

For the salad

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, then add the beets and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until fork-tender. Alternately, you can cook the beets in a pressure cooker under high pressure for 15-20 minutes with a cup of water added. Let naturally pressure release for 5 minutes, then manual release the rest of the steam.
  2. Drain the beets and rinse under cold water, using your fingers to rub off the skins off. Set the beets aside and let cool.
  3. In a food processor, combine the garlic, parsley, mint, pepitas, olive oil, and lemon juice. Pulse until very well combined. Season with salt. If the pesto is too thick, add water a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  4. Slice the beet into rounds or wedges, place on a platter, and lightly season with salt. Drizzle the beets with the pesto and olive oil, then sprinkle with the mint and parsley leaves. Serve immediately, or refrigerate and serve chilled.

**optional substitutions:
substitute cilantro for part of the parsley in the pesto or finishing herbs;
swap out toasted sesame oil for the olive oil drizzle 

Roasted Carrot Hummus

1 cup baby carrots**
3 cloves whole garlic, peeled (or 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic)
2 tablespoons and 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

Serve with:
Root vegetable chips, pita chips, celery sticks, tortilla strips, toast points

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

On a rimmed baking pan, toss together the carrots, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until the carrots and garlic are soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Place the carrots, garlic and chickpeas in a food processor. Pulse to combine and break apart slightly. Add the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Puree until smooth and has an even color overall. If the hummus is too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time and blend until the consistency you want.

Make sure to taste the hummus at this point and see if you want to adjust it with additional salt or seasonings.

Serve with root vegetable chips, pita chips, tortilla strips, celery sticks, or toast points for dipping.

**You can use 8 ounces carrots that have been peeled and cut into 1-inch strips.

The day I learned to live without fear

I have jokingly said for decades that Don Quixote is my patron saint. I have a knack at tilting windmills daily, sometimes with unexpected results (good and bad). I try to keep a sense of humor, and look for positives and solutions in challenging situations. Those traits helped me four years ago. Well, it actually started five years ago, and then became personal the following year.

My big dog, Juno, was diagnosed in 2015 with thyroid cancer. It was aggressive and the tumor was fairly large. The vet and specialist both gave her about six months to live, and didn’t know if her having surgery would even help. She was 11 at the time (which is old for a boxer-pit mix), so we decided to spoil her even more and make her last few months happy. She even thought the kitten we got was for her to raise. She was a happy dog for sure.

Six months later, I noticed that I had a small lump at the base of my throat. It took three months of bugging Kaiser, but I finally saw a physician that was concerned enough to have it tested. 2016 was a year of happenings: I turned 50, my hubby and I earned our Associate degrees, and I received a cancer diagnosis. We had been standing in line to get into the Firestone Walker Invitational beer festival when I got the call from Kaiser with the results. Needless to say, it put a slight damper on the day.

Once the diagnosis was in, Kaiser moved quickly and five weeks later I had surgery. Great surgeon, no pain, and virtually no scar. It was emotionally rough, because I wasn’t able to let many people know because of external family drama at the time. I had friends that were dealing with their own health challenges, and was a little envious that they were able let others know so that assistance could be offered. Thankfully, I healed quickly and have continued to be cancer-free for the last four years. My Juno lived four more glorious and happy years, and passed away last October at the ripe old age of almost 15. She is still the best dog I’ve ever had.

I get a little sentimental on my cancerversary (7/19), and appreciate that the nodules were found early. It had spread in back of my windpipe, and being able to breathe is important for a wind instrument musician. One positive thing that the diagnosis did was remove my fear of “what if”. It gave me permission to let myself try things without constantly worrying what others would think, or even if I succeeded or failed. The adventure and experience were worth the imagined risk. At the end of the day I could still say I gave it a good go and met people (and learned something) in the process. I have a good life, have met some amazing people, and enjoy the daily adventure.

What does the future hold? I have no idea. I’m writing my recipes down (well, mostly), slowly building my website and blog (BTW, thanks for checking it out!), and having a blast creating the weekly Worst Cooks bingo. I’ll still talk with anyone who’ll listen about food, and am slowly learning how to stage and film cooking videos. I have a bit to go until I am happy with them, but the process has been interesting. My regular job pays the bills, and the musical groups I belong to are adapting to the current Covid-19 restrictions. I might get the hang of recording sometime soon, but I still feel a little silly recording myself playing with a click-track in my ear. It isn’t the same as playing in person with a group, but it is better than not being able to perform.

I do know this, life is what you make of it. I wish I had gotten braver at trying things at an earlier point in life, but better late than never. I may run five minutes late at times, have way too many cookbooks, and will never be very stylish. But I am kind, quirky, and try to be true to myself as much as possible. I appreciate the good things in my life, and keep making new goals for myself. I might not change my stars, but I will make sure to have an adventure along the way (and eat as much good food as I can find ).

Remember, life is too short for bad food.

Baked Sea Scallops

  • 16 sea scallops, rinsed and drained (**see substitutions below)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 pinches ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lemon wedges for garnish
Photo by Tanya Gorelova on Pexels.com

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place scallops, melted butter, garlic, and shallots in a bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Transfer to a casserole dish.

In a separate bowl, combine bread crumbs and olive oil, then sprinkle on top of scallops.

Bake in preheated oven until crumbs are brown and scallops are done, about 11 to 14 minutes. Top with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

**Substitutions: If you are not a fan of scallops, you can swap them out for ½-1 lb of shrimp or white fish. The cooking time should be adjusted to 8-12 minutes for shrimp. Cooking time for fish should be about the same as for scallops, but it will depend on the thickness of the pieces.

Coriander Drop Cookies

·         1 cup vegetable shortening

·         1 cup sugar

·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·         2 eggs

·         3 cups flour

·         1 teaspoon baking powder

·         3⁄4 teaspoon salt

·         2 teaspoons coriander

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cream the shortening until fluffy, then gradually add in the sugar and beat until light.

Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg until blended.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and coriander.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the shortening-egg mixture and mix well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet; you can also use parchment paper or silicone sheet instead of greasing the cookie sheet.

Bake about 10 minutes until done.

Easy Bechamel Sauce

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, stir in the flour until smooth. Continue stirring as the flour cooks to a light, golden color, about 7 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high and slowly whisk in milk until thickened by the roux (cooked flour mixture). Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue simmering until smooth and thickens, about 10 to 20 minutes. Once the sauce no longer tastes gritty, season with salt and nutmeg.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dry dill (or a teaspoon chopped fresh)

In a medium bowl, stir together the buttermilk and mayonnaise until fully mixed. Add in the other ingredients, adjusting for taste.

Store covered in the fridge for up to a week.

Spice Blends

Jamaican Jerk Seasoning

Spread some on salmon or ribs before grilling or add into a brown sugar marinade for chicken.

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Baharat Seasoning

Baharat, a Middle Eastern spice combines cardamom, coriander seeds, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir some into your next vegetable dish, or mix some with lime juice and oil for a savory marinade.

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper**

Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, mash the ingredients together for 2 to 3 minutes.

**You can substitute white pepper if you want a less spicy blend.

Cajun Seasoning

Makes about 2 cups

  • 4 tablespoons paprika
    • 3 tablespoons dried granulated onion
    • 3 tablespoons dried granulated garlic
    • 1/4 cup cayenne pepper
    • 2 tablespoons white pepper
    • 3 tablespoons finely ground black pepper
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground thyme
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground oregano
    • 2 tablespoons ground New Mexican chile
    • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile

Combine the paprika, onion, garlic, cayenne, white pepper, black pepper, thyme, oregano, New Mexican chile, and chipotle chile in a bowl. Store in a covered container up to 6 months.

Substitutions: You can use hot or smoked paprika instead of regular to change the flavor. This recipe doesn’t call for any salt, do remember to salt your ingredients in addition to using the spice in a recipe.

Everything Bagel Spice

  • 2 ½ teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 ½ teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder

Combine ingredients together and store in an airtight jar.

Garam Malsala Powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mix cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a bowl. Place mix in an airtight container, and store in a cool, dry place.

Five-Spice Powder

3 tablespoons cinnamon
6 star anise or 2 teaspoons anise seeds
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 1⁄2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns or 1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in blender or coffee grinder. Blend until finely ground. Store in airtight container. It will keep up to 2 months.

Note: For a more intense flavor, toast the whole spices in a dry pan for a few minutes.

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