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Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Slice of Tomato Heaven: Tomato Pie


There's nothing like a fresh, homegrown tomato. From the smell to the juicy sweetness, it's in a league of its own. And it screams SUMMER.

As it turns out, besides the squash you know is filling our garden this summer, the tomato harvest has begun. We have so many tomatoes it's hard to use them all. I've been putting them into salads, adding them to sandwiches, even eating them plain (with a little sprinkle of salt and pepper--mmm). We've been giving them away, too. But there's still a ton.

I remembered I'd pinned a recipe for tomato pie a while back, and I decided it was the perfect thing to try with these tomatoes. Today was the day.

My daughter had some friends over to swim. A sort of end-of-summer hurrah before school starts. This tomato pie was my treat to myself as I sat on the back deck watching them play on the animal-shaped floats and splash around. 

As such, I hadn't intended on posting the recipe or snapping any pictures. But after my husband tried a slice for himself, he told me I needed to share it. And this is coming from a guy who is just so-so about tomatoes in a general sense. He likes tomato sauce as much as the next person, but he's not big into tomatoes plain or as the star of the show. The fact that he enjoyed this recipe as much as he did speaks volumes to the flavors. Thus, I got out my camera and did the best after-the-fact photo shoot I could manage.

Because we are trying to eat healthy, I made a few modifications to the base recipe by Lauren Allen over at Tastes Better From Scratch blog. Mostly, I cut back some of the cheese amounts. In the recipe  below, I'll include the quantities I used. However, next time (and there WILL be a next time), I will cut even more since there was still a lot of cheesy topping and it would have been just as delicious (and lower in fat) with less. I'll include those amounts, too.


Tomato Pie
Yield: 8 slices (Calorie calculation: 235 per slice - the modifications I'd make for next time would drop it to about 197 calories a slice)
Ingredients:
4 large tomatoes, peeled and sliced
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup sliced green onion 
1 (9-inch) pie shell (I used Pillsbury) 
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (next time I'll drop to 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup shredded 2% mild cheddar cheese (next time I'll drop to 1/2 cup)
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
6 Tablespoons olive-oil mayonnaise (next time I'll drop to 4 Tablespoons)
6 Tablespoons 2% plain Greek yogurt (next time I'll drop to 4 Tablespoons) *Note: you can use all mayo if you prefer. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup total (equivalent to 12 Tablespoons) and says you can use half mayo and half yogurt. I did so to make it more healthy.
Salt and pepper

Directions:
1.  Follow package directions and pre-bake your single pie crust. (My crust said to preheat the oven to 450 degrees and bake the single pie crust--pricked with a fork--for 10-12 minutes.) Allow to cool slightly.

2. Lower your oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
3. Slice, peel, and de-seed your tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a colander in the sink in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 10 minutes. 
4. Meanwhile, make cheese mixture by combining mayo, yogurt, and cheeses in a medium bowl. Stir and set aside.

5. Use a paper towel or lint-free kitchen towel to gently pat dry (squeeze if necessary--but don't smoosh your tomato) any additional juice from the tomatoes. Wet/juicy tomatoes will make your pie soggy when it cooks.
6. Place tomato slices, basil, and green onion in the pie shell. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
7. Spread cheese mixture on top of tomatoes. 

8. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and melty.

9. Slice into 8 equal pieces and serve warm. 

I enjoyed my slice with a side salad and found it a satisfying brunch option. My husband remarked that it would also make a nice appetizer if one were hosting a party (in which case, I might slice into 16 slices instead.) 

However you enjoy it, do try it. I think you'll find it a little slice of tomato heaven.

EDIT 9/1/16: I made this again this evening with the changes I proposed above plus one more-- I used 3 Tablespoons of the olive oil mayonnaise and 5 Tablespoons of the 2% plain yogurt to make up the 8 Tablespoons total I was planning to use. Not only did I cut the calories per slice from 235 to 187, but it remains fresh and delicious and heavenly. Nobody missed that ultra-thick cheesy layer. It's still plenty cheesy and satisfying, and I'm thrilled it came out so well. Hurrah!!! Lighter version for the win!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Recipe 13: Spicy Zucchini Soup starring The Zucchini Who Didn't Want to be Eaten

Over a week ago, my husband went outside and harvested the most ginormous zucchini I've ever seen in person. A few weeks ago I thought the one as big as my five-year-old's arm was big. Turns out that was a baby. This one weighed in at nearly 4 pounds and was bigger than my forearm. (Don't believe me? See photographic evidence below.) 




3 pounds, 13.1 ounces
Bigger than my forearm

I was excited at first because I had a recipe for zucchini ravioli in my Recipes to Try files. The recipe called for four medium zucchinis which were to be layered two side-by-side in a cross pattern, filled with ricotta cheese, then folded over each other. I thought, "Hmm. The width of this one zucchini is the same as the width of the two side-by-side, so this would work well as a substitution." I also considered a zucchini lasagna because it's as long as the lasagna noodles. I cut off the ends, cut that bad boy in half lengthwise, and scraped out the seeds (which were, not surprisingly, quite large). Then I endeavored to cut the zucchini in strips. The recipe from which I was working said to use a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini strips. Long story short? That didn't work. The zucchini was way too big (even when I quartered it) and the slices were way too thin. I gave it up and put the zucchini in a bag in the crisper drawer to use another time. (That day, I ended up using no-boil lasagna noodles to make a more traditional lasagna.)

A few days later, I had a recipe for a grilled chicken parmesan with a side of spaghetti. I decided I'd serve zoodles as the side dish instead. Unfortunately, the zoodle-making contraption I own didn't want to work with the size/shape/now-seedless pieces of zucchini I had on hand. So zoodles were out. Maybe I could shred them? Tried it, but for a side dish, the shreds were too short and moist. UGH. That time I ended up using only one wedge which I chopped and tossed with some homemade marinara and garden-fresh tomatoes. 

I considered returning once more to a zucchini bread recipe, but then remembered this spicy zucchini soup recipe I had saved in Pinterest.

Everything seemed to go well enough as I made this. I thought I'd finally struck upon the perfect recipe for the gargantuan zucchini. Until I tasted it to check seasonings. 
Oh. My. God. 
So spicy. SO SO SO SO spicy. Like, my lips were burning for ten minutes after I had the teeny-tiniest little taste spicy. Like, I had to drink a glass of milk to neutralize the fire on my face spicy.

In fairness to the recipe creator at Simply Recipes blog, the original recipe called for only half a jalapeno. (In the recipe I typed out below, I kept her original amount there.) I foolishly used a whole jalapeno. So I don't blame her. I blame myself. Because I ignored Lesson One of Jalapeno 101: taste the jalapeno prior to adding it to the recipe. I should know this. Nay. I DO know this. The spice level between jalapenos varies so greatly it's like jalapeno roulette when you cook with jalps. It could be super mild and taste no spicier than a regular green pepper. It can also burn your face off. There's no way to know until you taste it. But I didn't bother trying it before adding it. (Though I still took the time to don a baggie on my hand to protect my skin from any potential heat...) Then I simply tossed it right in there. 

And ruined my soup. It's far too spicy to serve to my family.
Which brings me to the very distinct possibility that this soup will end up down the drain unless I can tame the heat. In which case, I'm convinced this monster zucchini has it in for me for eating all of its family and friends.

I have taken to the internet to see if there's any way to salvage my dinner. I found this source discussing six ways to tone down the spice in a dish.

Here's the base recipe. You can take a peek at this while I see what I can do.

Spicy Zucchini Soup

Ingredients:

4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeno (more or less to taste depending on your spicy preference), seeds, stems, and ribs removed - (NOTE: Taste the jalapeno prior to adding it to your recipe to establish the heat level of the jalp with which you are working)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds zucchini, chopped (about 5-6 cups)
1 1/2 cups chopped day-old bread
4 cups chicken broth (original recipe called for 3 cups plus 1 cup water; I had a 4 cup container of chicken broth so I just used it all and skipped the water; you could also use vegetable stock)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper

 Onion, jalapeno, garlic
 Zucchini
Bread (originally bought a nice baguette to use for this, but it got so hard I had to toss it. 
Oy. All sorts of problems. Thus, I substituted 2 hot dog rolls.)

Directions:

1. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and jalapeno and saute for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent but not browned.


2. Add garlic and zucchini and saute for another 4 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle with salt.
3. Add bread and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly. (While you can skip the cooling stage, I don't recommend it because the steam builds up so much in the blender when you go to blend it that you have to really put some muscle in holding the lid in place--with a towel!--when you turn on the machine, and even then you might still get some over-spill. It's so much better to work in smaller batches and give the mixture time to cool down to get that HOT steam out of there.) Add the mint. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Work in batches if necessary. (I did mine in the blender in two batches.) You could also use an immersion blender.
5. Return soup to the pot. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

6. Serve hot or chilled.


I'm back from Operation: Fix-My-Soup. I decided I would try adding a tablespoon of almond butter to my soup to see if that would help matters. But after I tasted it first to have a fresh basis for comparison, I felt rather surprised to find the soup...not all that spicy.

Huh?

That's so strange because it was horrific when I last tasted it and <eyes zero in on spoon I used to taste it last time> OH. That was the spoon I used TO SCOOP OUT THE JALAPENO SEEDS so it's covered in hot, non-diluted jalapeno juice! No wonder it burned my lips.

I could, of course, take advantage of the fact that there's a delete button on here and back-space the whole section above about how I ruined my soup by adding the full jalapeno without testing the spice level. But I'm going to leave it.

For three reasons.

1. It's still a valuable lesson about cooking with jalapeno.
2. It's a valuable lesson about the dangers of using random utensils sitting around on one's counter.
3. It's sort of hilarious in a I-can't-believe-I-did-that way. No sense in denying others a chuckle at my expense. I may cook a lot, but I still make lots of mistakes and encounter plenty of kitchen mishaps.

Anyway, now that it turns out that the soup is the appropriate level of spicy, I ate some. I thought it needed something. My husband suggested bacon on top. I tried it. I approve of that solution. It added a nice textural component as well as a pleasing saltiness.

I liked the fact that the soup could be served warm or chilled. We had ours warm, but I tasted it chilled and wasn't offended.

The girls wouldn't eat any of it beyond the one bite I made them both taste. Those two are pretty much completely over all zucchini-based foods. Luckily for them, so am I (for the most part). Plus, our zucchini plants developed an illness and stopped producing fruit for a while. We trimmed them back and they appear to be regenerating as I harvested a small zucchini and squash today, but for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Ergo-- there may be another zucchini recipe. There may not be. But if this is the last one, at least I ended things on a dramatic note. Ha!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bachelorette Season Finale: Bring on the Water Works!

It's finally here: the exciting three-hour Bachelorette finale. (Those words have no business being in the same sentence together. There's nothing exciting about a three-hour show.)

You know what else? I'm blogging this from vacation. You're welcome.

The show starts off with more shots of JoJo thinking really hard. She's saying how when she's with Jordan she thinks of Robby and when she's with Robby she thinks of Jordan. Hi, JoJo. That's a sign that you don't want either of them.

I'm excited to see how JoJo's crazy brothers react to these guys. They were hard-core tough on Ben last season. They seemed like they wanted JoJo for themselves. Yes. It was as creepy as it sounds.

Jordan is the first suitor to meet the family. He brought everyone hats. It was dumb.

JoJo's mom is talking to Jordan. The mom made Jordan promise not to break her daughter's heart. He hesitated, then promised.

Then the mom talked to JoJo and JoJo wasn't really about it. The mom said that JoJo and Jordan seem like they're too alike, and want to be the center of attention, etc. JoJo shot that shit right down. She was all, "Back off, Mom. I'm not insecure anymore, okaaaaay?" Mom isn't sure what's gonna happen down the road. Danger, danger Will Robinson.

Flash to Jordan talking with the dad. Jordan tells Daddio that both he and JoJo had trust issues in the past. Jordan had been hoping to ask for Daddio's permission to propose to JoJo but he didn't do it. He looked a little constipated which is kind of how he always looks to me. I suspect it's because he can barely stomach this entire show, including JoJo. (Sorry, but I just don't see him being into this thing for real.)

JoJo is all pumped when Jordan leaves and is talking about how she's confident Jordan asked her dad if it was okay to propose. (Pssst: JoJo? He didn't! What now?)

Now Robby has arrived. He is excited to ask JoJo's dad for permission to propose. Robby tells the family how he confessed his love to her. He's got a real hard-on for his fave story about Uruguay. JoJo's one brother looked like he wanted to puke. (So did I!) And when JoJo asked the brothers how they felt about Robby, the pukey brother didn't miss the opportunity to lay a seed of doubt. "He's good for a New Year's Eve date, but there's more to a marriage than that" or something to that effect. Like, dude, you can't marry your own sister. So maybe it's time to let go.

I'm only 20 minutes into this episode and it's entirely possible it's MORE boring than when I watch at home.

Robby waxes poetic to JoJo's mom about how much he loves JoJo. The mom eats it up. "I'm giving you a princess. But I want you to make her the queen of your heart." Here's how I felt when I heard that.

Robby sits down with both parents and he reads from the  "How to Impress Your Future In-Laws" handbook. They give the blessing. Tears are shed. Even by JoJo's dad who, apparently, doesn't cry often.

JoJo says to camera how, basically, this is everything she wanted. This is everything she should want. This should be it, she says. Then she says she's not sure. Which means, she knows she should pick Robby but she wants to pick Jordan. Wait'll JoJo finds out Jordan didn't talk to her dad. Then she'll have to figure out a way to justify to herself how she wants to pick him anyway.

Her family is all pro-Robby. JoJo's face is saying that she wanted them to be more for Jordan. JoJo finds out that Jordan didn't ask for her hand. She's disappointed.

She's crying about it. She's so confused. Who should she pick? She says that if she picks Jordan and it doesn't work out, then she'll always regret not picking Robby. But if she picks Robby, she'll always wonder if she was supposed to have that other life. To me, this is the crux of her whole issue. She wants to pick Jordan, but worries/knows it won't work out. But she feels like if she picks Robby, she knows exactly what she's going to get and isn't sure she wants that. She speaks of this "other life" and thinks it's the one she's meant for. The thing is, what kind of life is she looking for or expecting? What does she think Jordan can offer her? Is it the potential fame (since his brother is famous, or since he might be a sportscaster?) I don't know.

Back from commercial break, JoJo and Robby are having a beach day. They strip down and go for a swim and make out in the water. (I wrote that before it even happened. But it did happen.) Robby is talking about how in love he is. Famous last words, dude.

Fresh off their swim, Robby's hair is still perfectly coifed. WTF? Meanwhile, Robby is laying out their exact life itinerary down to their food burning because they're busy talking and drinking sauvignon blanc. Wow. He's super intense. It's a bit much if you aren't sure you want to hear it. She laughs about it, and I think she's uncomfortable. I think maybe she's not ready for it even though she claims to be. He's talking about knowing what they have, the bond they have, the love they share. Robby gives Joelle, as he likes to call her, a pile of photos of him and JoJo on the show together. I wonder how long it took the show to print up some still shots of them together.

JoJo says she sees a lifetime with him. She would feel confident saying "yes" to Robby and knowing what they have. Confident. Hmm...how romantic...

Robby is feeling a little sad that JoJo hasn't yet confessed her love to him. He says he understands why she hasn't yet (because dumb Ben hurt her last season by confessing his love to her and then not picking her) but he could really go for hearing it. He'll fall to his knees when she says it.

Now it's time for Jordan's date. They're on a pirate ship sailing toward the Cliff's of Insanity. How appropos. JoJo says she woke up excited to see Jordan, but she's anxious, too. Probably because she knows she shouldn't pick Jordan but wants to anyway. JoJo asks Jordan if he thought he'd be here ("here" being the final two) and he says yes. That is, not when he started the show, but after their first two dates. JoJo turns broody and looks a bit like she wants to cry. He asks if she's ok and she lies and says yes and pouts into his arm.

They kayak through some cliffs to a special secret picnic spot where JoJo instantly wants to discuss what's going on in Jordan's head. She sets up Jordan by asking how the conversation went with her dad. I think she may have wondered if he'd lie about it. He didn't lie about it. He told her he was so excited to ask her dad...and then didn't.

She immediately got sulky (well, she'd been sulky before, but then she got pouty-sulky, too) and wanted to know why he didn't ask. I'm pretty sure Jordan was trying to tell her that the reason he didn't is that he'd always envisioned asking someone's parents for a blessing when everyone involved was sure and confident and in love with each other, etc. (like, the family loved him, he loved them, the girl loved him.) However, since they hadn't even met Robby yet--and, I suspect, since JoJo hasn't confessed her feelings yet--he didn't ask.

JoJo didn't like that answer. She wasn't even sure what he meant. (I'm not altogether sure I did, either, but I took my best stab at it above.) She wanted to know what's going to happen in two days. He won't get another chance to ask and does this mean he isn't ready? Blah blah. She sounded like a whiny baby to me. I wanna grab JoJo from her lapels and tell her she's putting WAY too much emphasis on the old tradition of asking for permission to marry one's daughter. I don't understand why she's trying to force round Jordan into this square hole of her expectations. Honey, you two don't seem to fit. Stop trying to make something work that isn't going to work. This is exactly what she's afraid will happen but she's ignoring the signs she's getting that this isn't going to work the way she thinks it will.

(For the record, I don't necessarily think she'd be that much better off with Robby. He's too intense and I've never liked him. I just think Jordan is too much a wildcard.)

JoJo goes to Jordan's room to get even more reassurance. He speaks in riddles that frustrate her. "It's ok to know, but it's ok not to know, you know?" Something like that. She seizes on words he uses like "if," and probes. Her eyes are sad.

If she picks him she's an idiot.

She leaves and Jordan tells the camera that he's sad and has regrets of not asking her dad. I have a crazy question: are there things called phones? Could he maybe call the dad and remedy the situation? Honestly, this is so dumb. I can't believe I'm wasting vacation time watching this.

There's a woman wearing a cheese hat watching the episode in the live studio audience. She looks absurd. This isn't a Packers game, lady. Chris Harrison keeps trying to tease us with something coming up later in the show-- apparently they're going to delve into whatever is going on between pro-footballer Aaron Rogers and his brother Jordan Rogers. Yeah, hi, I give NO shits about that family drama. None. 

Robby meets with Neil Lane to pick the "perfect" diamond for JoJo, then writes a love note to JoJo.

Oh wow. I'm so brill. Jordan got a clue and used his cellular device to call JoJo's parents and ask for their stupid blessing. But yikes. The camera showed us Jordan's card... his handwriting looks like my soon-to-be third grader's.

Both rings are pretty. Different, but both lovely. Ooh. JoJo's engagement outfit is so romantic and flowy. Her shoes are gorgeous, too. Sparkly and fun.

JoJo reads the notes. She loses her shit. She feels like she's having a panic attack. She's fanning herself with the note Robby gave her--that he wrote in a spiral notebook and ripped out AND LEFT THE FRINGLIES on it!

RUN, JoJo. Run for your life. Both of these guys are tools!

Still, however, it was interesting to note her wording when talking about the words she read. She said something to the effect of "these are the words anyone-- I --would want to read before getting engaged." She kinda said it all there, didn't she? She should want to read them, but it's not resonating with her.

Can we just get on with her dumping Robby already?
 
Here we go. It's finally time. She doesn't want the guy she's about to send home to feel an ounce of pain.

Robby is the first dude out of the limo. That's typically a bad sign. Not always. But mostly. She watches him come toward her but she looks like she's going to break the shit out of his heart. She's not excited to see him because she's gotta ruin him. How can he not see it on her face? I see it on her face. We ALL see it. She's holding herself far away from him.

Now she's crying. She wouldn't let him propose. She's telling him she wanted it to be him, and that she fell in love with him, but her heart is somewhere else.

This is SO LAME. She's crying about not knowing how to do this. She's sorry. Blah blah. You know what, JoJo? You ARE sorry.

Robby is fake crying-- he's holding his head like he has a migraine. He wipes his face with a hanky when he gets in the car, but it's to wipe his sweat more than his tears. Since there are none. Since he's a faker, too. ARGHHHH! I can't believe how much time I WASTED watching this season of this show.

JoJo is crying. Her heart is broken. He deserved to know how he changed her. Yeah, changed her so she could get engaged to some other dude. Thanks, Robby!

Jordan arrives for his turn and she's looking at him totally differently than she looked at Robby. After Jordan says how much he loves her, she interrupts to tell her she loves him, then he proposes and she acts surprised when he gets on his knee even though she literally just said to him "I wanted you to know how I feel before you get down on one knee"... So yeah.

They're talking in stupid quivering voices repeating "I love you, I love you, I love you..." and it's so lame. I hate them. I hate this show. This season was so dissatisfying. I can't even.

(Post-script: The After-the-Final-Rose nonsense... No need to fret. Robby is okay even after JoJo broke his heart. He just wants her to be happy. Also? The big Roger-family-feud teaser? They didn't even answer the question they fake-posed. Chris Harrison asked Jordan and he basically evaded the question. No surprise there. Chris Harrison asked JoJo who she thought she be the next bachelor. She didn't get to answer the question, though said the names Chase and Luke. At which point Chad stood up in the audience and said he deserves love, too. JoJo did interject that it should NOT be Chad. Chris Harrison told Chad let's start with Bachelor in Paradise and see how that goes first. Chris Harrison added that Bachelor in Paradise (which premiers tomorrow) is "a train wreck." Yep. I believe that.)

So now, with a great deal of anti-climax, I say farewell to this Bachelorette season.

Here's hoping next season is more satisfying. That or I finally stop watching once and for all. Either one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Recipe 12: Zucchini Pizza Boats (or Bites!)


Usually, when I collect recipes, I pick main dishes. Then, when I cook, I pair the main dish with a fresh vegetable and maybe a starch or grain. Nothing exciting, fancy, or clever. Just simple stuff to fill up the plate with added nutrients.

Then I decided I was bored with those things. So I started a Pinterest Board I call "Veggie and Side Dish Yums" and started searching out more creative sides. This is a recipe I pinned in there several months ago, even before the Summer Squash Series was a thing.

This Cooking Classy recipe couldn't be easier. But it's creative and whimsical, too. And it tastes good. For that reason, I love it. Not to mention, it's so easy to customize with regard to yield. I usually only use two small zucchinis for my family of four, but one day I realized I only had one zucchini in the crisper, so I sliced it into four pieces and it worked! And today, since I had some leftover zucchini slices (in rounds), I made bite-sized pizzas. If you're feeding a crowd/bringing something to a pot-luck/serving appetizers/have a big family, by all means, make a lot. If you just need a side dish for your family of four or a relatively healthy after-school snack, cut the recipe back. This is one of those things that you don't truly need the recipe to execute, except maybe for the idea and cook times. Once you learn it, you're good to go.

I'm going to share it the way I usually do it, for a side dish for 4. But feel free to visit the recipe linked above if you need to feed a crowd.

Zucchini Pizza Boats

Yield: 4 boats (1 boat per person as a side dish)

Ingredients:

2 medium zucchini or yellow squash
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
salt and pepper
1/4-1/2 cup marinara sauce (I use the Contadina Pizza Squeeze because it's easy to work with)
1/2-2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup mini pepperoni slices (I use the Hormel baby ones)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment or silicon liner. Set aside.

2. Cut each zucchini into halves lengthwise. (If you prefer thinner zucchinis, you can also cut those halves in half again, also lengthwise, to get four thinner boats.) Use paper towels to pat dry the cut portion. Place on prepared baking sheet.

3. In a small dish, stir together olive oil and garlic then brush lightly over tops of zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.


4. Squeeze about a tablespoon of marinara sauce over each zucchini, then spread it out with a spoon. (I usually go to the edge, but if you prefer, you can leave a small rim near edges uncoated, per the original recipe.)

5. Sprinkle tops with mozzarella cheese. (The original recipe also uses Parmesan cheese on top of the mozzarella, but I always forget to do that step.) Top with pepperoni slices (as per original recipe, place them toward the center of your boat since the cheese melts and spreads).
6. Bake in preheated oven 12 - 18 minutes (bake time will vary depending on how thick your zucchini are and how crisp/tender you want them).

(That's an open-face "Italian Sloppy Joe" next to the boat. It was tasty. You can find the recipe here.
I substituted ground chicken for ground beef, and provolone slices for mozzarella, but otherwise followed the recipe.)

You'll notice in my pictures that this time I used a yellow squash (which I cut into four quarter inch slices instead of in half) as well as some zucchini rounds I had leftover from the flatbread I shared yesterday. Those made adorable little bite-sized "pizzas." When I make the full-sized boats, I usually bake them for almost the full 18 minutes. I went with 12 minutes this time (for my photo shoot run) because of those thin rounds. At 12 minutes, the rounds were just a tad less firm than I would have preferred (they might have been ready at 10 minutes), and the quarter inch thick squash was crisp tender (perfectly fine, but my preferences are slightly more tender-- those would've probably been perfect for me at 14 or 15 minutes.)

These are a popular side dish at my house. My younger daughter ate a boat and three bites herself!

Definitely try these. Easy. Tasty. Cute. Healthy-ish. It's a squash miracle!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bachelorette Episode 9: Full of Hot Air

Here I am on a stormy Monday night. I could be watching the convention, but I'm watching this show instead. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I'm making here.

So this epi starts off with a recap of JoJo's emotional breakdown from last week. "What do I do? What if I make a mistake?" JoJo cries. Luke returns to the hangar and the guys look worried. They must've thought he was leaving. Robby says to camera, "I can't really read Luke." That's a feeling I think we all share.

JoJo comes back ready to start the rose ceremony looking far less splotchy than I would've expected given the waterworks we just witnessed. Jordan, not surprisingly, gets the first rose. Robby gets the second. Will she give the final rose to Luke or Chase? Will Luke's grand confession make a difference? Annnnndddd..... nope. ?!?!?! She gives it to Chase. Wow. That actually surprises me.

I'm not the only one. Luke looks a bit shell shocked. She asks to walk him out. He murmurs his assent. He is super quiet and stares off in the distance in a pensive manner. She's crying some more. She tells him how it hurts her so much to let him go, how she never felt as good a connection as with him on their first date. But then as time passed, she didn't feel like she knew where she stood with him. He tells her that when he kissed her, when he looked into her eyes, when he talked to her...he thought she knew, thought she felt the same connection. He could envision their future together. He walks toward the limo in as much of a huff as Luke is capable. (That is to say, not much of a huff. He fixes his gaze on the limo door whilst walking to it with purpose, yet still clearly incredulous as JoJo's fingers grip his hand.)

He looks stiff. He's like a robot. Well Christ; no wonder she was so confused. He's looking off into the great unknown. The limo pulls away. I don't believe he has functioning tear ducts as he swipes dry eyes and breathes deeply. He was in love with her, he says, but he never got a chance to love her. The camera goes in tight on Luke, waiting for tears after such a deep confession. They aren't coming. That's ok. JoJo has enough for both of them. She misses him already, she sobs. What if she made a mistake? (Oh JoJo...this whole THING was a mistake. No sense pinpointing this specific choice as the one to question.)

There's a brief shot of the 3 dudes who are remaining standing impotently in the background as JoJo cries after getting rid of Luke. I wonder what they're feeling watching this spectacle.

They go to commercial without showing us what it was like when JoJo goes back to the chosen ones. That must've been super awkward, I'm thinking. Damn them for not showing us.

And now--just like that--they're in Thailand. JoJo says it's romantic and magical. They have a shot of her staring off in the distance. Then they cut to her walking-down-the-beach-showing-her-belly shot. Then her looking-out-the-window-of-her-hotel shot.

Time for her date with Robby. They go to an outdoor market. It looks...smelly and hot, to be honest. Then it starts raining. Not like a regular rain. Like an effing monsoon with thunder. A terrible storm (kinda like the one we had here a short time ago.) Robby and JoJo take cover at some Thai massage place open to the air. They get their feet massaged. Thankfully we don't have to watch that part. Robby and JoJo have a boring "deep" conversation as the women work on their feet. All I can think is how unromantic this seems. When their chat is over and their heels scraped clean, they go kiss under some other awning because it's still pouring.

Back from commercial break and it stopped raining. It's clearly still hot as balls, however. JoJo asks Robby if he's hot and he lies and says no. But he's sweating like he's run a marathon. So, yeah, not very believable. It's time for dinner. JoJo reminisces about how this was the date that JoJo told Ben she was in love with him and he said it back, but it was a lie. So now she's worried. She has to decide if she wants to offer him the fantasy suite. Riiiight. As though there's ANY chance she's not offering him the suite. Please.

Still, Robby has to convince her he wants it. So he takes out a note he "found" in his pocket that his "dad" wrote him after JoJo left the hometown date. It was all, "I see how much you love JoJo. Don't be stressed about your past relationship. It'll all work out..." JoJo falls for it, of course, and hands over the date card that Robby reads aloud even though everyone in the world who has ever watched this show can pretty much recite by heart the general wording of the letter. (As it were, Robby said "yes" before he even read it, but then got wise to his contractual obligation and mockingly said the words written by "Chris B Harrison" penned on the card.) Then Robby says to camera how he's finally going to be with JoJo instead of dreaming of her. His wording creeped me out a bit, frankly. Then he says he cant wait to be in bed with her...then a pause...then a clarifying "to say goodnight to her..." Like, yeah, I'm sure that's what you're looking forward to, Rob.

Meanwhile, this week of the show still seems inappropriate. I just don't understand how you can be intimate with 3 people in one week. And how the other people can pretend they're cool knowing that person is going to be intimate with 2 other people the same week. It just...defies what a relationship should be.

The show comes back to JoJo and Robby's post-coital glow (I think it's that-- they're inside so it's probably not sweat this time) with longing kisses. JoJo tells camera she loves Robby, but she's not going to tell *him* until she's sure of how she feels. You know, for, like, one person only. Whatever.

Then she promptly leaves and they cut to her date with Jordan. Those two are going on a hike. Jordan notes how JoJo looks "sporty." She explains how she wanted to dress to fit the activity. They seem tired and hot and stop for big breaths as they climb stairs. It seems ungodly and their expressions look like they're wondering why they chose this as a date activity. It reminds me of the time on our honeymoon that my husband and I thought it would be a good idea to abandon the comforts of poolside at our resort for a day trip to Chichen Itza. The experience was like walking on the sun. I was drenched with sweat and couldn't get cool and I wondered why we'd made such a terrible choice. Just...terrible.

J & J hiked to a temple. They don't kiss because the temple is sacred. JoJo wants to respect that. They're having a similarly boring conversation (as the Robby-JoJo foot massage conversation) about their alleged feelings and Jordan says he wants JoJo's dad to look him in the eye and know he's the guy for his JoJo. JoJo wonders if Jordan is too good to be true. (The answer is yes, JoJo.)

After another commercial break, Jordan is still talking about meeting her parents. He's like a dog with a bone. Emphasis on the dog. (Because I don't like his looks.) JoJo asks Jordan what he envisions the next year looking like (good question, JoJo). He hedges ("That's a good question"). She doesn't like that. She pushes. He says he's at a point right now where he doesn't need a home base and can be wherever she needs him. She catches the qualifier "right now" and asks what about in six months when he gets a call to be somewhere? Will he be like "see ya" and go? He says he's in love with her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. She goes, "That's what Ben said." Boom. You tell him, JoJo. She doesn't want a repeat of the Ben debacle.

Meanwhile, when Jordan looks at JoJo, I see a lot going on in his eyes. But none of it is love. It looks like frustration, annoyance, even scorn at times. I don't buy for a second that he's in love with her. I think he tolerates her for whatever he's getting out of being on the show. (Exposure? Who knows?) Can she not see that? (I hit pause to type that and the shot of her face listening to whatever BS he's feeding her...I don't know. I think she might see it. But she doesn't want to believe it.) Oh hell! She doesn't know what to believe.

I would LOVE--like, absolutely be tickled--if she didn't give Jordan the fantasy suite. I think there's like a 1% chance of that actually happening, but I'd LOVE for it to happen.That's MY fantasy!

But she gives it to him because she's a sucker. And because she tells camera how she knows she and Jordan love each other. (Again, she's not telling him.)

Aftermath. They're eating their first breakfast together. Ew. She just asked him what he was thinking after last night, and he said it was just what he needed. Gross.

She tells camera she sees how Ben got to this point. (Since, you know, she's in love with 2 guys now.) 

She says she's excited for her date with Chase today. I hope she showered.

Chase and JoJo start their date and they're acting like idiots. Chase made out with a fish. Now they're on a boat. He can't believe he's here, he says. Neither can I, Chase. I really thought it would be Luke. It must be SO hot there. That's all they're talking about--how hot and sweaty they are. (That's probably what I'm missing on the convention, too. Haha.)

They're having a beach conversation. Also boring. But the best scenery of the three boring-conversation dates we've seen (and only half-listened to). I'm hungry. I might have a bowl of cereal. That's interesting. JoJo tells us she's having such a great day and doesn't want it to end. Also? It scares her. Because she's worried she may end up being a predicament.

You know what? It's clear to me she doesn't want it to go well because she wants to just go with the other two dudes.

Chase is sitting on the beach before their dinner and he's telling camera how happy he is and how sure. JoJo is in her room gazing pensively at the surf and I feel like I catch a glimpse of that look she's had a few times now where she's made a decision in her heart and isn't looking forward to it. (Remember when someone told her he loved her and she didn't feel as excited as she thought she would to hear it? And again with the whole Luke thing? Yeah. That look.) I think poor Chase isn't even going to get an invitation to the fantasy suite no matter what happens at dinner.

And wow. Just when I thought Chase's chances couldn't get worse...What the actual fuck?! Robby just showed up to her room! That seems SO out of bounds. He lays it all out there for her. He's ready to get down on one knee. Have kids. Join a country club. ("Country clubs and coloring books" he says...um, right. Sounds romantic, Robby...)

She doesn't appear appalled, however. She seems to think it's just the sort of cute thing Robby does to show his love.

So yeah; sorry Chase. You're gone.

She doesn't even want to risk falling in love with him. She feels sick thinking about it. I feel sick, too. Because he's gonna get dumped so hard and he doesn't know it.

Now she and Chase are at their dinner. As he goes on and on about what a great day he had with her, she's got that resigned look in her eye. She did a slow blink when he told her he battled through harder than Robby and Jordan seem to have had to, but after today feels like he and JoJo are *there* (at that romantic place they should be together/point in their relationship, etc)... JoJo gives another slow, sad blink. He's SO toast. 

Oh wow. She gave him the card. That's surprising. She's going for it anyway. Ballsy move by JoJo. But hmm... I still don't believe this night will go all the way. I just don't. I stand by that.

They set up shop on the couch in the fantasy suite. Chase is confessing that he's 100% in love with JoJo. It's killing her. I see it in her eyes. No. I'm sorry. I just don't see this happening.  He is NOT going to make it off this couch with her. No way.

And now...yep. She's telling camera that she's feeling doubt and doesn't feel the way she thought she would hearing him confess that. She excuses herself!! She feels sick to her stomach. So do I. Because I SO called this. She should've spared him the agony and not even offered him the room. She fantasy-suite-teased him! That's cold.

Meanwhile, she's outside ruminating. He's inside alone. He has to know. But...when she finally goes back inside and apologizes and explains she needed to "take a moment," he says, "Why?" Now she's telling him that she's not in the same place as him, and she's not sure if spending the night together would change it and is what she's saying even making sense? He's like, "I see it."

He. Is. Pissed. He's like, "I just jumped over a hurdle and I'm skewered." "I love you now means get the f*** out?" She says she's trying not to put him through what she went through feeling blindsided with Ben. He said she just did that to him anyway. She feels really bad. She's sobbing and he gives her a pity hug, but he's not happy. He's had enough and walks away. She calls him back to apologize more. This is hard to watch. I feel bad for both of them.

Chase pops a beer as he gets in the limo bus to numb the horror. Honestly, I feel like I could use one, too. He gives viewers an eloquent analogy to explain his feelings: "it's like pulling your pants down and getting kicked in the nuts." Thanks; now I understand. He wishes he'd never said he loves her. He's embarrassed. And heartbroken, he adds not-that-convincingly. (Meanwhile, I feel bad for any girl he dates after this because he's totes not gonna be quick to say the L-word ever again.)

Back from commercial break and JoJo reviews the devastation of the previous night. But she still feels like she made the right choice because her feelings for Chase weren't at the same level as with the other two nozzles.

(Pointless) rose ceremony time! Jordan comes in and chats with Chris Harrison about how confident he is. Jordan's pants are RIDICULOUS. A. They're too short, and B. They're way too tight. He looks like a complete tool.

Robby comes in with a striped hanky in his back pocket. His pants are also kinda stupid, but they're less offensive than Jordan's.

JoJo surprises them by showing up and telling them she sent Chase home. Then Chase surprises JoJo by showing up and wanting to talk to her. I'm sure it's just to tell her he's sorry for how things ended last night and to wish her well. The producers just want us to think it'll be be something else. Because they think we're as dumb as JoJo for believing Jordan has legit feelings for her. They go to commercial break to draw out the suspense we don't feel.

When they return from break, the two contenders literally sweat. Since Thailand is obviously hot as Hades.

As for Chase? Yep. I was right. Chase is apologizing and wishing her well and lets her know his heart is still open for her if anything ever changes. And then he leaves, followed by a monkey. That's kinda funny.

But JoJo is crying again. She is giving herself a pep talk to stay the course and trust herself.

Now she's back in front of her drenched suitors who are relieved to find Chase hasn't returned with her. She tells them she's excited and happy with both of them and looks forward to them meeting her family. Jordan likes her enthusiastic speech of affection, but isn't thrilled it includes Robby, too. Fair enough, fella. She hands out the roses. Gives Jordan his first (again) and then Robby. How dull. Couldn't she at least switch it up?

Robby has large sweat stains under both arms. Oh. And down his back. Yeah. I'm never going to Thailand.

Tomorrow is Men Tell All. I may or may not watch it. I probably won't blog it. Then next Monday is the finale. It seems like JoJo has another breakdown as she struggles with which one of the guys to pick. (So what else is new?) But I'll be on vacation so I'm not sure what I'm going to do about blogging the episode in a timely fashion. Hmmm... Stay tuned!



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Recipe 11: Zucchini-Tomato-Herbed Ricotta Flatbread


Today we harvested three of the BIGGEST zucchinis so far. One was almost as big as my youngest daughter's arm! Wowsa! (Also? I don't know how they grew so large since I was just in there two days back and took anything large enough to take. I'm pretty sure this must be what happened while I was sleeping...) I'll have to think of something really yummy to make with those bad boys.

In the meantime, yesterday I wanted something light for lunch. Luckily, the other day my fave food blogger--Sally at Sally's Baking Addiction-- posted a zucchini-based non-dessert. Score! I decided I'd have to try it. Sally's recipe includes making one's own flatbread. I've made her deep dish pizza in the past (including the homemade dough) so I know it's good, but I didn't feel like going to the trouble, so I just bought pizza dough from my supermarket and went from there. (If you want to go all out, you can find her directions and ingredients in the link I included. It should be noted that pizza dough and flatbread dough are not exactly the same thing, so be forewarned.)

Zucchini-Tomato-Herbed Ricotta Flatbread

Yield: 2 flatbreads

Ingredients:

1 store-bought pizza dough (I find them near the deli section of my supermarket. They're refrigerated raw pizza dough in a bag.) OR recipe for flatbread dough in link above (OR, if you're really pressed for time, cooked flat breads)
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved, seeds squeezed out (optional)
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 Tablespoons milk
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced garlic (I used the jarred stuff for this recipe, but if you want to use fresh, it's about 2 cloves)
1 1/2- 2 cups sliced zucchini (about 1 small-medium zucchini, sliced in thin rounds)
2-3 ounces ricotta salata cheese (the original recipe called for 6-8 ounces goat cheese; however, I LOATHE goat cheese. Therefore, I bought myself a wedge of ricotta salata at Wegmans and it was a nice salty pairing with a different texture than the rest of the ingredients)

This is a side view of what the dough looks like in the bag
 
Directions:

1. Prepare tomatoes: Toss the halved, seeded tomatoes with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread onto a parchment or silicone-lined  baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until blistered. Set aside. (Once cooled enough to handle, you can remove the skin from the outside of the tomatoes by pinching it off. It slides right off. This is an optional step. I did it for the same reason I took the seeds out of my tomatoes: I don't like seeds, I don't like skins. But that's totally up to you. It's not a step in the original recipe.)

 Lovely shot of fresh ingredients. Use a smaller zucchini than this one. I had too much.
Squeezing the seeds right outta these suckers. I'm not a fan of seeds.
 Sliced and diced
 Yum!
Ready to roast!
Roasted to yummy perfection. Once slightly cooled, the skins slide right off if you're so inclined to remove them.


2. Increase oven temperature to 475 degrees.

3. Prepare ricotta: Whisk the ricotta, basil, milk, lemon juice, and garlic together in a medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Prepare the dough: Divide the dough ball into two. On a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, work with one dough piece at a time. Shape and stretch the dough until it's about 1/4 inch thick. (Sally says you can use a floured rolling pin for this step if you want. However, I just used my hands. It was easier.) The dough can be any shape. **Note: if you're using a bought dough like I did, stretch it even thinner. When it bakes, it puffs up and  ends up thicker than a standard flatbread.**





5. Place both pieces of dough on a parchment or silicone-lined baking sheet (you can also use a pizza stone).

6. Use a fork to prick a few holes into the surface of the dough, then drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil each. Spread ricotta mixture on both dough pieces. (The original recipe says to use half of the ricotta mixture on each dough pieces. However, I spread a good half cup on each, and it was thick and plentiful, but I still had about a cup leftover. So next time I'd either half the ricotta mixture recipe, or I'd stretch those pizzas even thinner.)


 
Arrange zucchini and tomatoes on each, followed by your crumbled cheese.



7. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden. Remove from oven. Slice and serve.

This was, indeed, a perfect option for lunch. So perfect, in fact, I enjoyed it two days in a row. It was also the perfect recipe to occupy little helper-hands. My daughters were bickering (too much togetherness) so I asked my younger daughter if she wanted to help me and of course she did. She helped me squeeze the seeds from the tomatoes, toss the tomatoes in oil, whisk the herbed cheese, and even stretch and shape and top one flatbread. She had a great time.

As I indicated in my notes above, taking the shortcut and using the pizza dough did seem to effect the outcome of the flatbread since it definitely more resembled a traditional-crust (as opposed to thin crust or thick crust, that is) pizza. If that much dough isn't your thing, then I'd suggest either making your own flatbread dough, taking the time to roll the pizza dough very thin, or just buying pre-cooked flatbread and topping it with those toppings. Easy enough changes. (I try these recipes so I can pass along my live-and-learn trade secrets to you!)

The other thing was...um...I didn't prefer the zucchini on this. For real. It just tasted too...raw and zucchini-y, and sort of overpowered the sweetness of the roasted tomatoes, creaminess of the ricotta, and saltiness of the crumbles. I picked it off my flatbread, as did both my daughters. (My husband wasn't around so he didn't get to try this recipe.) If you're very much into the straight flavor of zucchini, you'd probably enjoy it. I'm more of a love-to-eat-zucchini-without-knowing-it's-zucchini type gal (especially this far into the Summer Squash Series.) Ah well.

Still, the tomatoes and herbed cheese and the ricotta salata I put on top were all top-notch. Since I have so much of the herbed cheese leftover, I think I'll make it again without the zucchinis and on some Naan or even an English muffin, quick-lunch style.

Next time I'll share with you a fun side-dish (or appetizer or healthy-ish after-school snack option). In the meantime, I'll be scouting out the perfect uses for my ginormous zucchinis, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recipe 10: Chicken Zucchini Casserole


Today was one of those days I didn't so much feel like cooking, yet I was ravenously hungry by dinnertime.

I wanted something easy. I wanted something tasty. I wanted something that would stick to my ribs. I wanted to use a zucchini (yes; I'm obsessed.) So I decided to try this recipe I found on the Six Sisters' Stuff blog.

I cheated by using a rotisserie chicken I bought at the market. I love using rotisserie chicken in recipes--from soups to casseroles to enchiladas, they just make life so much easier. Not to mention, at only $4.99 a pop, they're cheaper than (or comparable to) buying the raw chicken and cooking it yourself. Some days, ain't nobody got time for that! (Dude, I still LOVE this video.) My rotisserie chicken gave me around 3 cups of shredded chicken. I used half for today's recipe and set aside half for a chilaquiles recipe I'm making for tomorrow which my older daughter almost certainly won't eat...(I also used the other half of the onion from today's recipe and cut that up already for tomorrow.) It's all about shaving time where you can, people.

I halved the original recipe so that it only made an 8x8 casserole dish's worth. For my family of four, that will feed us and I don't have to deal with leftovers. (Sometimes I want leftovers, but not this week.) Thus, the amounts I provide in my recipe are for the smaller portion. If you want more, feel free to follow the original recipe, but note that I increased the ratio of chicken and soup in my version.

Chicken Zucchini Casserole

Yield: 8x8 casserole dish; feeds 2-4

Ingredients:

3 oz Stove Top stuffing mix
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups zucchini, diced (mine was one large zucchini)
1 1/2 cup cooked chicken, cubed (I increased the chicken from half the original recipe- half would be 1 cup, but I wanted it to be more hearty)
1/4 onion, chopped (about 1/3-1/2 cup onion)
1/4 cup sour cream
10.5oz can Cream of Chicken Soup (I used the entire can because half the can left my mixture drier than I preferred)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (not in the original recipe but, again, CHEESE)

Directions:

1. Grease 8x8 glass casserole dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine stuffing mix and melted butter. Portion out 1/4 cup of the mixture and set aside to use later for topping.

3. In the same large bowl, add to the stuffing mixture the zucchini, chicken, onion, sour cream, and soup. Stir to moisten.


4. Spread evenly into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup stuffing mix and Parmesan cheese.


5. Bake uncovered for 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot.



It reminded me a of cross between this Swiss chicken bake and a casserole my mother-in-law makes, though neither of them have zucchini. My husband and I enjoyed it; my girls ate it. (Which, in the scheme of their reactions to dinners, is a win.) Although it would have been fine on its own, I served it with an extra side of veg. I'd planned to go with a romaine salad, but discovered the bag of organic hearts I bought last week had started to rot, so I had to toss them (BOO to waste!) I ended up heating up something from my emergency frozen vegetable stash. I picked my husband's favorite--Brussels spouts--because the poor guy got stung by a wasp--twice!--whilst out mowing the lawn and I felt bad for him. (By the way, if you are stung by a bee or wasp, you can make a paste out of water and baking soda and cake it on the affected area and it really helps ease the sting. I've had this little home-remedy stored away in my head for decades and never had occasion to use it until I was able to bust it out twice in the past seven days! It worked for the poor little kid who got stung--also twice!--on his back because a wasp got caught in his swim vest, and also on my husband's ankle/calf. It worked for me, too, when I was a kid. So well, I guess, that I've never forgotten...)

Anyway, if you're looking for a casserole to make on the fly, this one is a go. Maybe you can even serve it with a slice of yesterday's chocolate zucchini banana bread for dessert... mmm.

Next time, I'll share a seasonal flatbread. Check back to see!