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I found a new recipe in my inbox this morning.  It was for a Summer Squash Gratin from Heidi Swanson, on of my favourite food writers. Her blog, 101 Cookbooks is a fabulous source of down to earth, tasty, and exciting vegetarian dishes.  I love her ideas, although, I’ve yet to follow one to the letter. I tend to use her recipes as inspiration, then, adjust the recipe according to my family’s tastes and/ or according to what I have in the house. I highly recommend having a look at her website, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. I liked the look of this recipe as I love vegetable gratins, but don’t always want to eat the volume of dairy products that they normally call for. 

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As I had some yellow summer squash that I wanted to eat up, this recipe arrived on the right day. I used the squash and potatoes, as Heidi suggested, but I also included several stalks of de stringed, roughly chopped celery. I think that there are many vegetables that would work well with this method. I changed the sauce – I made it from two cups of basil with some dried marjoram, as I did not have the requisite fresh parsley and oregano in the house today (I’m cleaning out the fridge for the summer).  I also substituted a block of sheep’s feta for the gouda. It all worked very well.

It is important to slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, as they will take longer to cook than the squash. I used my trusty mandolin. 

The temperatures have been cooler this week in Arizona, so something hot, out of the oven, was a welcome change.

 

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Summer Gratin 

3 yellow summer squash, sliced about 1/6″ thick. 

6 small red potatoes, sliced as thinly as possible. I used my mandolin for the slicing today. 

4 stalks of celery, de stringed and roughly chopped. 

1 block of sheep feta cheese, about 7 ounces. 

2 cups of fresh basil.

2 cloves of garlic.

1 small salad onion (optional).

Zest from 1 small lemon.

A small pinch of dried marjoram (optional).

Red chilli pepper flakes (optional).

1 cup (or more if necessary) Extra virgin olive oil.

Panko breadcrumbs.

Salt and Pepper.

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

Salt the sliced summer squash and put aside to drain, for about 10-15 minutes.  Slice potatoes, chop celery, and put into a large, mixing bowl. 

Make the sauce. Put the basil leaves, garlic, lemon zest, and small onion into a the bowl of a small hand mixer/blender.  Blend. Then add the olive oil, some chilli pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt.  Blend again until smooth.  Taste, and adjust the seasoning. 

Rinse the squash and dry with paper towels. 

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Break up and mix the feta cheese, and two thirds of the sauce (saving a bit for the topping), into the bowl with the potatoes and celery.  

Mix in the summer squash. Make sure everything is well coated. Taste for seasoning.  

Turn the mixture into a ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle on a few handfuls of panko breadcrumbs. I prefer to go lightly here, but, you can add as much as you like. Use the remaining sauce to moisten the breadcrumbs. 

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Bake until the potatoes are cooked and the topping has turned golden brown.
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I was very happy with the result, but, next time I would use more squash and make the slices thicker. Heidi suggests using a variety of squash, which I think would be very nice. Still, my supper delicious and really hit the spot. 

Thank you to Heidi Swanson for the inspiration.  Here is the link for the original, which looks fantastic, as well as lots of other, very good things. 

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/summer-squash-gratin-recipe.html

Have a good weekend. 

Myrtle.

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School is out, the parties are over, the building work is done, packing for the holidays has started, but, it is time to encourage to learn to prepare things for themselves, especially First Born, who is now sixteen.  She is getting braver in the kitchen.  Last week’s contribution was a simple pasta bake, with Marinara sauce and Mozzarella cheese.  It was very good and none was wasted.  

It is often difficult for me to have the children around when I prepare meals.  Ideally, I like to make things first thing in the morning, when they are at school. I can do things very quickly and then have my afternoons free for activities. But, as our schedules vary from day to day at the moment, I find that our eating habits have changed.  Plus, the children want to learn some basics, and, of course, I want them to learn as well. 

But, a gentle reminder, food preparation, like any task, takes much longer with children hanging around.  

I have found that First Born tends to think that she cannot do things that I am certain she can do.  But, if I am in the room, she will look more at me than concentrating on her lemons and parsley.  So, I now leave her alone in the kitchen as much as possible, only coming in the room if necessary. I am pleased that she is able to see that she is able to do more than she realizes. 

Today’s task was Pasta Salad. 

After the initial panic, I explained the method, step by step. She was delighted that it is so easy, and I am happy to say  that she and Little One did a fabulous job.  It was very good. Very good indeed. 

The lovely thing about this salad is that you shop for specific things to make special, or it can simply be a reflection of what is in season, or even things that you want to use up from your fridge. It is easy, flexible, keeps well, and best of all, is very refreshing when it is hot outside. 

Once you decide on your pasta base, the rest can be different every time you make it.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. 

The children chose most of the ingredients for the salad tonight from our cupboard and refrigerator. They had wanted to add cucumber, but the last one had gone a bit mushy.  Never mind. 

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Pasta Salad for a Hot, Summer Evening

1 bag or box of relatively small pasta shapes, tonight we used Tubettinni.

Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 

Beans, 1 can. Tonight we used cannellini, but, any bean will do. Be sure to rinse them well. 

Sweet corn, 1 can.  I prefer unsalted, but even frozen will do. (Soak frozen sweet corn in boiling water for a minute or two, then rinse, before adding to the salad. 

Onion, tonight we used 3 small, purple salad onions,  and a couple of green onions, finely chopped. 

Bell pepper, tonight we used 1 yellow, but any colour will do. 

Celery, 4 stalks, de stringed with a vegetable peeler and finely chopped. Adds crunch.

Red Cabbage, a handful, coarsely chopped. Decorative.

Fresh flat leaf parsley, 1 bunch, washed, dried, and finely chopped. 

Fresh basil leaves, 1 bunch, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped. 

Cherry tomatoes, a handful, cut into halves. 

Several lemons, depending on juiciness.  Tonight, we used three lemons, but a mild vinegar could also be used. 

Salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. 

Cook the pasta according to the packet, not forgetting to salt the water well. It makes a big difference to the flavour of the pasta to add salt to the cooking water, rather than afterwards. Drain and rinse the pasta well, cooling it down enough to handle. Once drained of its rinsing water, put the pasta into a large, mixing bowl with a generous serving spoon of olive oil, to stop it from sticking. Add the juice of one lemon and some seasoning at this point as well. 

While the pasta is cooking, assemble, wash, and begin to prepare the remaining ingredients. Be sure to rinse any canned beans and sweet corn well. 

Once the pasta is cool, add and mix all the ingredients together, carefully. I like to use the biggest bowl I have, and a very large spoon.  

When all the ingredients have been well mixed, taste the salad.  The type of pasta you use, as well as how many vegetables you’ve added will determine how much more oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chilli flakes you will need.  Don’t be afraid to taste, just a little, as you go.  

This salad is best served either slightly chilled, or at room temperature. Remember, olive oil thickens significantly when it gets cold. 

 

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I went a bit mad and sprinkled a few marigold petals on mine, although the salad was colourful enough without.  

I had mine with extra basil leaves as well.  

Well done children, it was a lovely supper. 

Thank you. x 

 

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Here is one I made earlier.  A few months earlier, in fact. It is made with a base of fusilli pasta. I took two, big bunches of basil and a bunch of fresh parsley, whizzed up with pine nuts and olive oil in the food processor as a dressing, then added frozen peas, salad onions, a few cherry tomatoes, lashings of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but only a small amount of lemon. This salad had a very different nature and flavour. I sprinkled toasted pine nuts over it to serve, although it is also nice with a bit of flaked Parmesan Cheese or tiny balls of Mozzarella. As I mentioned earlier, variations are endless.

Pasta salad need never, ever be boring.

Dessert

Dessert

Mustn’t forget dessert. It is very difficult to eat too many raspberries.  

They are very good at the moment.  

Very good indeed. 

Happy Saturday, 

Myrtle.

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As you may have guessed, we have been to New York City this year.   

My elder daughter sang in a choir at Carnegie Hall.  

It was a proud moment for me, and a wonderful experience for her. But, more about that later. 

Little One and I stayed with a beloved Aunt who lives on the upper West Side.  We all had a fabulous time; shopping, theatre, and, of course, lots of eating.  There is a restaurant, a favourite of my Aunt’s, that we went to twice, called Etcetera Etcetera. Our family met up there after the concert at Carnegie.  It was a great evening.  The atmosphere is stylish, busy, but comfortable.

The first time I ate at Etc Etc, I ordered Risotto Con Aragosta E Rosmarino – Lobster Risotto with Fresh Rosemary.  It arrived in a large dish, but looked like a fairly small portion.  I have to confess, it looked rather plain. There was very little colour and no garnish.  But, being a devoted lover of all things risotto, I peppered, and dug in.  

I am pleased to say, Dear Reader, that the taste was divine.  The flavour of the lobster was mild, but beautiful, as was the rosemary.  It was creamy and delicious; everything a risotto should be.  And, it was more than enough.  

I was just coming to the end of my little feast, when one of my dining companions reached over, quick as a flash, and scooped up my last mouthful, from right under my nose, with a sardonic gleam in her eye. I am convinced that all of us knows at least one person who behaves like this at the dinner table. I didn’t really mind, but, she could have asked. I would have shared. 

I was full, and there is no point in crying over stolen risotto, etc etc, but cannot pretend that I wasn’t a tiny bit amused when my companion then went on to complain, very loudly, that I hadn’t told her that it was a seafood risotto. Apparently, she absolutely detests seafood. Dear Reader, she didn’t ask. I would have shared that information as well.  

Anyway, I made a reservation for ten people. We were seated at the very back of the restaurant, which worked well, as we are a noisy bunch. Our waiter was young, cute, and extremely good natured.  One would have to be to put up with certain members of the family. But, he was more than charming, affable, and accommodating. Buckets of extra ice were brought forthwith, bills were divided, extra bread, tapenade, and refills were all delivered with a smile and good humour. Bless him. He earned his wages that evening.

Little One had the same thing she had the first night, Scialatiella Con Pomodoro Fresco E Strecciatella – a fancy way of saying, Homemade Basil Spaghetti with Hand Peeled Tomatoes, Garlic, and Stracciatella Cheese. She loved it. The Stracciatella cheese is a luscious, creamy mozzarella.  She raved about it so much, that three other members of the family ordered it on the Big Night.  It’s an incredibly simple dish, and it was a hit.  

I had something different the second time around, Tagliattelle Con Polpettine D’Agnello, Rucola E Pomodoro Al Forno – Taglliatelle with Lamb Meatballs, Baby Arugula, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes. A mouthful, in more ways than one. It is deceptively simple dish, and absolutely delicious.  The lamb meatballs were tiny, packed with flavour, and a treat for me, as this is not something that I normally make at home.  

I liked this restaurant for its food, atmosphere, and accommodating service.  It is only two blocks from Broadway and the Theatre District, as well as a short walk to Port Authority, which was convenient for family who were catching the coach back to Pennsylvania.  

All and all, it was great evening. 

Happy dining, 

Myrtle.

 

 

Etc Etc

352 W 44th Street

New York, NY 10036-5419

212 399-4141

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Borage - Perfect for Pimms

Borage - Perfect for Pimms

Finding out that certain flowers were edible was a revelation to me as a young girl.  The thought of making a bowlful of salad, garnished with colourful petals was an idea that lifted my mundane existence into something far more glamourous.  While other girls my age were experimenting with make up, fashion, and boys, I was milking goats, making bread, and when I had a free moment, scouring the garden and countryside for interesting things to eat.  It became a life long h0bby. (I discovered the other things a bit later, don’t worry). 

There are many flowers out there that you can eat.  You might be eating one right now, without realizing it.  Broccoli, Cauliflower (big hint in the name of that one), and Globe Artichokes. Three examples of flowers that eaten as vegetables. I love them all, but, today I would like to highlight edible flowers that are unmistakable as flowers.  Some of which may well be growing in your garden. 

The first thing I must emphasize, is, please, please, pretty please, with a cherry on top, don’t eat any flowers without doing a little research first.  Many flowers are edible, but many are not.  Some are quite poisonous, in fact.  No need to panic, just be informed. 

Secondly, don’t ever, ever, ever eat anything from the roadside, or that might have been sprayed with an herbicide or pesticide.  Those compounds are designed to kill something, and whilst it may not kill you, today, it won’t do you any good either.  Similarly, don’t eat any flowers from the florist or a commercial grower.  Many pesticides are used to grow flowers en mass.  They look good, but won’t be good for your stomach.  That goes for anything that you grow in your own garden as well, should you use chemicals to control weeds and pests.  

Thirdly, the most edible part of most flowers are usually the petals themselves, not the stamens and pistils.  I don’t want to blind you with science, but, if possible, try to pull off the petals and discard the inside of the flower.  Think of  gutting a fish.  The insides hold the pollen, amoungst other things, none of which is harmful, but might not be as good to eat.

Lastly, owing to their delicate nature, flowers are best picked when they are barely open, or have just opened.  Petals are extremely delicate and deteriorate quickly. Many plants become bitter once they have flowered (like many people I know), so it is best to harvest before that happens. Keeping this in mind, think of how you will use the flowers.  Some would be instantly destroyed by the heat of cooking, so are more suitable as a colourful addition to raw salads. Handle them with care, as they also bruise easily. 

Okay.  I hope that I haven’t put you off completely.  It really isn’t difficult, once you get the hang of it. 

An easy place to start with edible flowers is in your own garden (or kitchen window), with everyday, cooking herbs.  As a general rule, if you eat the leaves of a herb, you can usually eat the flowers. The flowers of herbs have a similar, but, milder flavour than their leaves. 

Chive blossoms have a lovely, light onion taste.  Get the flowers when they are just about to open, then, break up the flower into individual florets. They are usually pink, but I have also seen white chives. 

I have recently written about and tasted onion blossoms, a larger version of the chive flower.  Recommended. 

Basil has white flowers, which looks good in salads.  I have sprinkled them on sliced beefsteak tomatoes. 

Borage has beautiful blue flowers with a light cucumber flavour.  These look fabulous floating in drinks.  I love them in Pimms in the summer. 

Calendula or Pot Marigold has anything from a yellow to a dark orange flower.  Use the petals to add colour to salads and other summer dishes. These petals are slightly more robust than the usual, but, still treat them with care. 

The list goes on.  

Cilantro, Dill, and Fennel are all umbel like flowers; all very delicate, and all good to eat. 

Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, and Thyme, all have much smaller flowers, but worth the effort.  Remember, don’t eat old flowers, they lose their flavour and get woody. 

I love the smell of Rosemary.  The flowers can be blue, pink or white. The flowers have a much more delicate taste than the leaves. Again, good for summer salads, or with cold meats. 

Lemon Verbena has citrus flavoured flowers. Numerous uses for this one. 

Should you want to be more adventurous, and you are certain that you have permission to harvest, and that it is safe to do so, you may want to try a few young dandelion flowers.  Just pull off some of the petals, and see what you think.  Young dandelion leaves are also very good to eat, and, are full of nutrients.  Don’t bother with older flowers and plants.  The taste will be bitter and may put you off. 

Violets are another favourite from my youth.  We had acres and acres of them, all wild.  I would pick them, rush them home, dip them in a bit of beaten egg white, then in fine sugar.  I would  then, leave them on wax paper to dry. Candied violets are beautiful on cakes. Young, heart shaped violet leaves are also good in salads. 

I hope that I haven’t bored you, and, perhaps, given you some ideas.  

Please remember, Dear Reader, it’s important to play with your food. 

Off to shuck corn and peel Persian cucumbers. 

Myrtle.

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