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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)
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

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


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
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.)


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.


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. 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.