"Piehole" in Midwestern means "mouth," as in "Shut your piehole." Preferably we shut it on some tasty home cooking. We love to grow, market, buy, cook, bake and grill so we can feed our faces, chow down, pig out, scarf & whatnot. I'm a born Midwestern home cook posting foods and recipes that show up in front of me, because like all Midwesterners I eat what's put in front of me. Pull up a chair. What can I get you?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

From Fresh Sage to Dried in 90 Seconds

My sage bush needed harvesting. I bundled several branches and hung them upside down for drying. On a whim I put leftover sage leaves in a single layer on a plate and microwaved them to see what would happen. In 90 seconds they were completely dry and -- big surprise -- they held their green color far better than the air-dried sage. Compare!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shrimp and Grits: Recipe

It's simple: Saute onion, bell peppers, tomatoes and shrimp, and serve on a bed of cheese grits! I personally developed the grits recipe because the box doesn't give a microwave recipe for more than 1 serving. You will love sharing your shrimp & grits.

Cheese Grits Cooked in the Microwave (serves 4)

3 cups water
3/4 cup grits ("quick cooking," not instant)
hunk of butter (maybe 2 Tablespoons)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Pour the water into a 2-quart microwavable dish and heat it on High about 7 minutes until the water boils. Carefully pour in the grits (the water will foam up) and stir. Cook on High for 5 more minutes. Remove from microwave and stir to make sure no lumps remain. Stir in the hunk of butter and cup of shredded cheese until they melt.

Shrimp for Grits
(serves 4)

1 Tablespoon safflower or vegetable oil
1/2 pound of medium shrimp, raw, with shells off; thawed if frozen
1/2 of a large onion, chopped
1 small or 1/2 large bell pepper (any color), chopped
1/2 can of diced tomatoes (too much will overwhelm the shrimp)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt, to taste (not too heavily; remember the grits have cheese in them)
ground black pepper
hot sauce, to taste

Heat the oil in a pan; saute the onion and the garlic for 3 minutes. Add the pepper and saute for another minute or so. Add the dried thyme and the tomatoes and black pepper. When vegetable mixture is hot and bubbling, pour in the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are pink, stirring occasionally, for a maximum of 5 minutes. Do not overcook the shrimp. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve over grits.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Truly Delicious Lower-Fat Mac and Cheese: Recipe

I didn't think this recipe would be easy and company-good, but it is, with the crunch and goo we love. Baked mac and cheese/That won't clog my arteries/ is all I want for the holidays. From Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites (1996). Wish I'd made it then, but better now than never.

Macaroni and Cheese (serves 4 generously)

1-1/2 cups 1% milkfat cottage cheese
1-1/2 cups skim milk or buttermilk
1 teaspoon dried mustard or 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated onion (you do need it, for the savor)
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1/2 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
2 Tablespoons finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs (Piehole used "Panko" crumbs (pictured), now readily available at the supermarket)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9- or 10-inch square baking pan with a light coating of cooking spray or oil.

In a blender, combine the cottage cheese, skim mik or buttermilk, mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper and puree until smooth. In a large bowl combine the pureed mixture with the onions, Cheddar cheese and uncooked macaroni. Stir well. Pour the macaroni and cheese mixture into the baking pan. Combine the grated Parmesan or Romano cheese with the bread crumbs and sprinkle over the top. (And after that, the Piehole scatters a few butter curls on the top, for a nice browned top.)

Bake about 45 minutes until the top is browned and the center is firm. Per 10-ounce serving (that's a lot of mac and cheese!), 471 calories, 38 mg cholesterol.

Trying to reduce white-flour carbohydrates, I used brown-rice pasta elbows, precooking them; they worked great. Brown-rice pasta can take a lot of overcooking. And Panko breadcrumbs stay crisp and crusty.

Thank you, Moosewood.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter Solstice Holiday Cookies

This holiday season, mix up some gingerbread cookies and delight those among your friends who wish you a happy Winter Solstice, with Astro-Cookies decorated with zodiac signs. These are made from Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cookie Mix. Honestly, they are very very tasty.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Taste of Home Cooking School Sucks

Taste of Home is a folksy food magazine with 3 million subscribers and I have been one for about 10 years now, and wondered what their traveling "cooking school," always held in small towns, was like. It came to a town about 15 miles from here. Tickets ranged from $20 to "VIP" $150. They advertise a bag of goodies for everybody, but for the $20 it was lame: a cheap hand-held plastic fan without a battery (the bigger your ticket, the more you got), a packet of sugar-stevia and a screwy-louie. A cheaply catered lunch was available: two tablespoons of chicken salad on a mini-croissant, chips and pickle and soda, $6. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. vendors of overpriced bakery, jewelry, paintings, cards, cosmetics, Taste of Home cookbooks and $900 electric skillets, filled the hallway trying to get everyone's email address. Then came the 3-hour show. I was nonplused to hear the "chef" -- he had lots of acolytes but no co-chef --introduced as having a degree in performing arts and an MBA and then singing ("Cherry Cherry") his opener. Neil Diamond he wasn't. Big screens let the cheap seats see what he was doing onstage: stuffing mushrooms with sausage, dumping cream cheese in most everything, telling us to cheer each time he said "cheese," and to put vodka in piecrust. Then he told us the Pillsbury Doughboy "died of a yeast infection." Tee-hee (audience of about 300, all female).

Don't take my word for it: See the finale for yourself.
Only two recipes came from Taste of Home sources: cinnamon rolls and the upside-down apple pie. The Pork Council, Johnsonville Sausage, Gallo wines, and so on, contributed the others, and we heard all about those products. Maybe 35 door prizes, which is a lot: cookbooks, massages, Scentsy. Glad I went to see what it was like. A few good hints were given, like freeze your Glad Wrap so it won't get all stuck on itself. Very little taught in the way of cooking skills and no mention of nutrition or calorie counts.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Single Women Want Meat

"Eww!! Meat! It's touching my eggs!" said my friend when her breakfast eggs arrived with a sausage patty she hadn't ordered. I took it and ate it myself, but women aren't supposed to do that. It's fattening. It's fried. Worst of all--ewww--it's meat! (It also abuses small children, and greases the convent staircase!) Women today like "Thai places" and "good salads." Listen: The Piehole is sick of julienned raw carrots and some days I have no interest in veggie burgers. It's practically impolite to eat meat in public anymore.

Even some of the men are that way. On a lunch date I said I grilled my own steaks and maybe I'd grill one for him sometime. The guy said, "I don't eat red meat." Then I mentioned a great glass of wine I'd had the other day. He said, "I don't drink," and began an hour-long whine about his software company. I mentally crossed this pantywaist off my list and ordered a plate of carpaccio and a beer and let him pay for it.

I think peer pressure has a lot to do with eating rabbit food in public and everything else in private, and you know we do, because we're always dieting. I too used to put on a show of being health conscious and weight conscious and avoided hearty meals and then, 90 minutes after my 340-calorie Healthy Choice lunch, I was at the vending machine for a 400-calorie two-pack of PopTarts I hid in my jacket on the way back to my cubicle. One evening after a workout I felt dizzy and unwell. I stopped at the firehouse and let the firemen ambulance me to the hospital. I told the doctor I'd been exercising and felt faint but he found nothing wrong. He asked me, What did you do at the gym? I said, Elliptical, weights, and treadmill. He said, "What did you have for lunch?" I said, "A spinach salad."

He said, "You thought you could work all afternoon and then work out at the gym on a spinach salad?"

So here you see my healthy single-woman lunch: four ounces of grilled flat iron steak and homegrown tomatoes, and I didn't feel hungry again until dinnertime. Avoid between-meal snacking, women and men. Eat a little meat!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Can You Eat Ornamental Kale?

"It's ornamental kale," said the nursery clerk, as I paid for this dressy, ruffly green kale plant. Between choosing a pumpkin or ornamental kale for outdoor decoration, this autumn I got the kale. So pretty. And I also bought three spindly young kale plants for the garden.

Those aren't doing well; one was so buggy I didn't plant it. But the ornamental kale is gorgeous. So I looked it up, and yes, you CAN eat ornamental kale; it is no different from the other kind except maybe it was sprayed with something. So I washed it well (all kale needs thorough washing anyway). Kale lives long into the winter months and it's a superfood I love, especially fixed as

Sauteed Kale in Olive Oil with Breadcrumbs

1 bunch fresh kale leaves
1-1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of plain breadcrumbs (more if desired)

Wash the kale leaves and remove the tough stems. Put them in a hot skillet and let them steam in the water that clings to the leaves. When the leaves begin to stick to the pan, pour in the olive oil and red pepper flakes and stir. Cook until the kale is reduced to the texture you like. Remove from pan to serving dish. Top with crumbs and salt; toss and serve.

Makes a good pasta topper!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Recipe: Roasted Pear and Feta Salad

Pears are in season and good pears make cheeses great. I splurged on imported sheep's milk feta cheese packed in brine, but all feta cheese including domestic cow's milk feta cheese will taste good in this salad.

3 pears, peeled and sliced
Baby spinach or arugula leaves, washed and dried
4 strawberries, sliced
1 ounce bleu or gorgonzola cheese, crumbled or diced
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled or diced
olive oil
black pepper

1. Place foil in roasting pan, coat it with cooking spray, and roast the peeled, sliced pears at 350 degrees for 22 minutes or until the edges are browned. Meanwhile, pave a plate with the spinach or arugula leaves.
2. Place roasted pears on the plate. Put sliced strawberries on top of pears.
3. Strew cheeses on top of pears and strawberries.
4. Drizzle all with a small amount of olive oil. Grind some black pepper over all of it. Don't omit the pepper.
5. Toss a bit. 1 or 2 servings.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Recipe: Caramel-Apple Salad; I Dare You

...with diced Snickers and Milky Way bars! And Cool Whip! And cream cheese! My neighbor took it to friends she thought might like it. They raved. And I got some of it too! And I raved! Salad it isn't. It's dessert with a capital D, obscenely sweet (neighbor says she might halve or omit the sugar next time) and there will be no leftovers.

Candy Apple Salad

1 cup sugar
8 oz softened cream cheese
8 oz container Cool Whip
2 Red Delicious Apples
2 Granny Smith Apples
2 Snickers bars
2 Milkyway bars
1 cup chopped pecans

Mix cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip. Dice apples and candy. (Candy dices best when cold.) Add to Cool Whip mixture. Add nuts. Keep cold.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Recipe: White Bean and Gorgonzola Soup

The can-of-beans theme continues and this cheese soup is a knockout. Because the cheese melts you don't have guests wondering why the cheese is blue. Evaporated milk is a great lower-fat substitute for cream.

White Bean and Gorgonzola Soup

1/2 to 1 chopped onion
1 can of white beans, rinsed
2 cups chicken broth or equivalent
small (6 or 7 ounce) can of evaporated milk
2 or 3 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

In your soup pot cook the chopped onion until tender in 1/4 cup of the chicken broth, Then add the rinsed white beans and remaining chicken broth and cook until it cooks down a bit and the beans get softer. Remove from heat and puree the mixture and then return it to the pot, add the can of evaporated milk, and stir. When it's all simmering, add the cheese and stir until it's melted. Ready. 2 huge servings or 3 normal servings, or 4 or 5 soup cups.

Got the original recipe in 1999 from rec.food.recipes. Remember them? Using only one ounce of cheese makes this soup low-fat. I say, eat something else that's low-fat; this is too good. Some people add carrots at the beginning, sauteed with the onion, to tone up the color.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Recipe: Zucchini and Avocado Salsa Salad

This foolproof recipe from The New York Times in 2009, written by Martha Rose Shulman requires no skill, just chopping. Here's the link to the published original. I like my own photo and slightly changed recipe better. It works as salad, salsa, taco stuffing or pizza topping. So good it was chosen for the best 250 recipes from the NYT.

Zucchini and Avocado Salsa Salad

1 medium zucchini, cut into small dice
salt to taste
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 or 2 jalapeno or serrano peppers, seeded and chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped cilantro or to taste
1 Haas avocado, ripe but not too soft, cut into tiny dice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Sprinkle the diced zucchini with salt and drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Rinse if it tastes very salty and drain it on paper towels.
2. Combine tomatoes, chilies and cilantro in one bowl and zucchini, avocado, olive oil and lemon or lime juice in a serving bowl. Put tomato mixture in zucchini mixture and toss gently and salt to taste.

I serve this to guests with home-baked tortilla chips along with drinks. I eat it as salad, but in the Midwest you do not serve guests a main-dish salad. They will wonder where the meat is and why you are cheaping on them.

Make this soon or you'll wish you had. It's September and the homegrown tomatoes and zucchini are getting scarcer. And zucchini already feels a little bit passe.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Recipes: Lazy Gumbo and Lazier Cornbread

Stir up the cornbread batter according to package directions, place in a pie plate; microwave for 5 minutes. It won't brown, but it'll be ready to be cut and buttered, and mostly we like white cornbread down here anyway. Yellow is eaten by Yankees out east.

The "lazy" gumbo begins with a can of product from Glory. They have a whole line of Southern-style food, like canned collards, or canned potatoes and green beans, or fried apples, or plain okra and tomatoes. I like the okra and tomatoes with corn; a Midwestern touch for gumbo.

Start with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of flour in a saucepan. Heat the pan and whisk the butter and flour around and cook until they're unified and the color of a penny and the flour no longer tastes raw. Then pour the can of vegetables into the saucepan, add a can of water and some tomato, whether sauce or chopped. Cut up and throw in any meat, ham or bacon available. Simmer until it looks good. Add shrimp. If shrimp are raw, cook in the gumbo for five minutes; if cooked, heat them through. And don't forget the hot sauce! Better lazy gumbo than none.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Recipe: White Bean and Salami Salad

I know100 ways to fix cans of beans. This is easy and uses one can of beans and odds and ends. Serve on salad greens if you can.

White Bean and Salami Salad (serves 2)

1 14-ounce can of white beans, drained and rinsed
2 ounces salami, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1/4 cup of drained pepperoncini peppers, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Place beans, salami, parsley, onion, and peppers in bowl. Then in a small bowl whisk together the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Best served at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Recipe: Sausage and Peppers, Super Easy in Microwave

Men love this entree and you can cook it faster than they can eat it, and that's fast. Serve over mashed potatoes or pasta, or with Italian bread, or by itself. Only one dish, the casserole dish, gets used; no skillets. Please try it when harvesting bell peppers and basil. Recipe can be doubled; just use a bigger casserole dish.

Sausage and Peppers (2 large servings)

3  fresh Italian sausage links, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks
3 bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, deribbed and cut into 2-inch chunks
3 tablespoons tightly packed fresh basil leaves or 2 tablespoons of basil pesto
Few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, or a small tomato, cut up
Salt (optional)

1. Place sausage pieces in a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish, cover loosely with paper toweling and microwave at 100 percent for 5 minutes, then stir and check that the sausage is cooked through; that's how you want it. If not, microwave it minute by minute until it's cooked through.
2. Remove casserole dish from oven, uncover it, and use the paper towel to soak up most of the rendered fat. Discard the paper towel.
3. Add remaining ingredients to the dish, stir to coat, and cover the dish tightly with microwavable plastic wrap. Cook at 100 percent for 7 minutes.
4. Remove dish from the microwave. Uncover and sprinkle with salt if desired. Serve.

This came from Microwave Gourmet (1987), a truly inspired cookbook by Barbara Kafka, who developed great microwave recipes for ribs, poultry, seafood, vegetables, brownies & c. The book is a revelation; do check it out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thy Bounty

Yesterday at the ice-cream social I was advised to attend the St. Patrick Rock Church picnic today to get the best fried chicken ever. This carryout plate weighs five pounds, mostly chicken (two legs, two breasts, wing section) but also green beans, chicken noodles, sliced tomatoes (we eat them plain; they are that good!!), coleslaw and dessert. It is random what dessert you get. Mine is carrot cake. Lady next to me scored a lemon meringue pie slice. There were literally a thousand people there and I waited 45 min for my turn in carryout line, listening to how Midwesterners squeal when we are happy to see and hug each other. Actually, only the women squeal. The men light up like holiday trees.

At home I selected a beer, Genesee, for old times' sake because it's made in Rochester, NY and I used to live not too far from there before I had the sense to move back home. We drank a lot of Rolling Rock there too. Later I will tell you about my life in beer. Right now I am eatin' $11 of food.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Recipe: Homemade Peanut Butter

Organic, low or no sugar, no chemicals, lower fat and cheap: That's what I wanted in peanut butter, couldn't find it ($6 pricetag on a jar of organic peanut butter at the store; same high price for "grind your own" at natural food grocery, plus the plastic container) and I finally got it by making my own in a blender. It is the color and texture of hummus, but that is natural.

Place the end product in fridge overnight before using. Minus the normal peanut-butter preservatives and salt it won't stay good forever. This recipe, making about a cup, stays good for about a week.

1-3/4 cups dry roasted organic unsalted peanuts
1 cup water
Combine peanuts and water in blender. Blend until smooth. Store refrigerated overnight before using. Use up within a week.
55 calories per tablespoon, 5 grams fat.
From Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet Healthstyle Cookbook, 1989.

Recipe: Blueberry Five-Minute Freezer Jam

Buy up those bargain blueberries and enjoy them at your leisure with a no-canning, no-brainer recipe--

Speedy Blueberry Refrigerator Jam

Serve this jam on toast, pancakes, vanilla ice cream, pound cake, stir it into oatmeal or yogurt. . .

4 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 (3-ounce) package of lemon-flavored gelatin

Combine all ingredients in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour into jars and refrigerate. Makes 3 cups. Yes, it will set up and jell.

Recipe from Bountiful Harvest (Reiman Publications, 1994) a cookbook of recipes that specifically use up "too much produce" whether it's rhubarb or zucchini or tomatoes.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Low-fat Chocolate Biscotti

Heh-heh, I know what you want. . .chocolate. I copied this recipe from SkinnyTaste.com and make it all the time. Yes, eggs are the only liquid in it.

Chocolate Biscotti recipe from SkinnyTaste.com 

1 2/3 Cups Flour
1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder [Piehole likes the Natural Cocoa from Penzey's Spices]
1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips (optional)
2 Eggs
1 or 2 Egg Whites
Hazelnuts/Almonds/etc. (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a pan with parchment paper.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add chips and nuts if using. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between. Add an egg white.  

If the dough isn't holding together, add one more egg white and mix well. Form into one or two long ovals on the baking sheet.

Bake 20 minutes. Cool about 15 minutes, then cut into slices. Bake an additional 5 minutes, flip, bake 5 minutes more.

Cool completely.  Makes 16 to 24 biscotti. [Piehole says: They are still great without the chips.]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rainbow Trout with Herb Sauce

Okay, I didn't catch the trout, I bought it; so sue me. It was already cleaned and I had it beheaded and wrapped in brown paper. At home I rinsed its fat shiny body and patted it dry because otherwise the fish won't broil: It'll steam.

Next I cut some fresh herbs from the garden: Parsley, basil, a bit of arugula. This I ran through the mini-chopper with olive oil and salt. Not too much oil; you don't want to overwhelm the flavorful meat.

Then I opened the trout so it was butterflied and laid it skin side down on a lightly greased broiler pan, and painted each side with herb sauce and broiled it for 8 minutes. Any small bones left in it melted during broiling.

I cut some lemon wedges, and had some greens and roasted potatoes ready, and lunched like royalty on half of it, and had the other trout filet for next day's lunch. You should too. Fresh fish does not smell fishy. It seems pricey until you realize it takes only about three-quarters of a pound to serve two people, and it's all protein and no waste except skin, and infallibly delicious. Really, the sauce just gilds the lily. Don't wait until you catch a trout to eat one.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pasta with Olives and Peperoncini

A wildly flavorful pasta good hot or at room temp.
1. Blend two Tablespoons fresh basil with one half cup olive oil. Pour into very large flat bottomed pan. Add 2 Tablespoons butter. Heat till butter melts.
2. Chop 1 cup mixed olives. Chop finely garlic to equal two to four Tablespoons. Chop 1 cup sundried tomatoes. Add 2 cups of whole peperoncini peppers. Add all these vegetables to the heated pan. Cook and stir a few minutes. Cover and simmer until peperoncinis puff up, about 10 minutes.
3. Cook one pound ridged tube pasta (penne) until al dente. Drain and place in bowl. Pour oil and vegetable mixture over pasta and toss till blended.
4. Salt and pepper to taste (it won't need much). Optional grated Romano cheese.
Serves 6 to 8.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cast-Iron Grilling

Grilling six greasy bratwursts for my biker brother-in-law I seared them first to get grill marks, then finished cooking in a disposable aluminum pan to contain the grease and flare-ups.

In 106-degree weather I also wanted to cook hunks of beef like this flat iron steak. I chose as my grill the indestructible, portable (35 pounds), very low-tech, like 19th century, Lodge cast-iron "sportsman" grill. Photo is by the artist/poet/my bff Mantrap Marcie. "Natural" charcoal is my fuel.

Grill Features: The grill rack can be flipped to add an extra inch between the heat and the food, very handy. There's room for 6 bratwursts for one brother-in-law still loyal to Rush Limbaugh. Cast iron must be seasoned to work well, but that doesn't mean leave it outside; I don't do that. When finished grilling I scrape the rack, let it cool and then clean the rack, empty the ashes, and rub every part with a little bit of cheap vegetable oil on a paper towel, and so far no complaints. Grill cost $100 delivered, and will outlive me and the person who will buy it at my estate sale.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Basil-Walnut Spiral Dinner Rolls

I have way more pesto than I can use on pasta, so I had my bread machine stir up some half-white-half-whole-wheat dough, and then flattened the dough to a rectangle, massaged it with olive oil, cut it in half, paved each half with pesto and walnuts, rolled it up, and cut the tubes in two-inch pieces. These I flattened with the heel of my hand so the pesto-and-walnut spiral showed, placed them in pans and let them rise (outdoors! It's plenty warm there!) and baked for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. It made 14 rolls.

Machine dough, handmade dough, okay; but frozen bread dough, although convenient, has less texture and  high-fructose corn syrup in it, and it probably can't stand up to the taste of basil pesto.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Best Zucchini Recipe

This side dish looks and tastes so good you'll be sneaking bites out of the pan before it gets to the table. I used orange and red bell pepper. This strangely sexy dish makes a great side but also a wonderful pasta or pizza topping. Chili oil can be homemade by putting several whole dried red chili peppers into a bottle of olive oil.

Chinese Charred Peppers and Zucchini

2 cups of zucchini, chopped into large dice
1-1/2 to 2 cups of red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 tablepoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Chop zucchini in chunks and place in a bowl with a half-teaspoon of salt; toss. Let this mixture sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Then rinse, drain and pat dry. It's important that it not be wet.

In the meantime, make the sauce by mixing the soy sauce, wine vinegar, a 1/2 teaspoon of  the chili oil, and sugar in a small bowl.

Heat 1/2 teaspoon of the chili oil in a skillet on medium-high heat until it smokes. Dump the zucchini and pepper chunks into the pan, stir, spread them around and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and pressing down with a spatula now and then so most pieces get scorched a nice brown. If it's going too fast, turn down the heat. Then turn off the heat. Stand back and pour the sauce over the vegetables. It will bubble and simmer until it's absorbed. Good eaten warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The $4 Steak Plate

Why dine out when you can cheaply home-cook and plate yourself some grilled London broil and fresh vegetables? Sliced cucumber I got from gardening: free. Tomato came free, a bonus from the farmer I buy eggs from. Lettuce is one-half of one-third of a package of three organic romaine heads, which means what's on the plate cost 70 cents. London broil got on sale, 18 ounces for $7.47, is 41.5 cents per ounce. That times the six ounces you see here is $2.49. That's $3.19 total. Add in the onion and the cup of cooking wine that went into the marinade, and the homemade steak sauce (recipe follows), and the meal cost around $4. Optional: a Stella Artois whose green bottle and red label matched prettily with the meal. It's a clean-tasting beer good for summer, with a great buzz factor. It came from a six-pack, so it cost $1.16.

Easy Homemade Steak Sauce. Very simple and you'll never want store-bought again.

1/3 cup raisins (Yes, raisins. You'll see.)
1/3 cup boiling water
1/4 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons plain white vinegar
salt and pepper
  • Pour boiling water over the raisins in a bowl and let them sit 5 minutes until they're plumped. Then pour the raisins and their water into a blender with the rest of the ingredients except salt and pepper, and then puree until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes a little over one cup. I discovered that this sauce freezes well if you want to make it ahead.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How to Make 'Em Want Salad

Shrimp excites most everyone; so does avocado. Steam and chill the shrimp, add sliced avocado and grapefruit sections and serve on top of romaine. Drizzle this with your regular vinaigrette, doctored with a spoonful of prepared mustard. Mustard ties the flavors together wonderfully. Just remember: "Shrimp, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad." I threw in a halved cherry tomato.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Secrets of a Slim(mer) Midwesterner

A long spell of 100+-degree weather forces me to grocery shop at night, when most folks are home watching the 10 o'clock news, and I find that while the fish and butcher counters are closed after 9 p.m. they've packaged up what didn't sell that day and sell it for cheap. This is handy because after many years of making and eating pastas and homemade breads those now just make me gain belly weight visible the very next day, and I have shifted to raw vegetables and lean proteins, including an egg at  breakfast and lots more fish. This being Missouri, the Walmart doesn't even have a seafood counter, so I go to the name grocery that's open 24 hours, and am trying all sorts of their on-sale offerings like this pound of breaded sole fillets here, and skewered shrimp, and The Piehole is also learning to grill hunks of beef, so far successfully. (Chicken has never struck me as being as healthy and tasty as people say it is, so I never buy or eat it unless somebody else cooked it first.) I also bought tonight a fatless hunk of select-grade London broil for $7 that will feed six people, $4 off normal price. And for lunch I had one three-ounce burger of organic ground-beef raised in California, MO. Just halted all that bread and pasta and suddenly I have a waistline again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is Softserve?

Meet "Cherry Meltdown," a softserve sundae that's a top-10 choice at a popular local ice-cream--er, softserve stand. I ate about two-thirds of it for supper, telling myself  "it has calcium," and wondering "What is 'softserve' anyway?"

Softserve is packaged powder with a little liquid milk or soybean oil, whipped to incorporate air and chilled right there in that stainless-steel box with the faucet that ripples out your ice cream (er, softserve). That's why you never see trucks unloading milk or ice cream at what we still call ice-cream stands. Legally softserve cannot be called ice cream because it contains no cream. "Ice cream" is "frozen custard" with air whipped into it. "Frozen custard" is the elite version of ice cream and the most expensive, you'll notice.

Advantages of softserve: 1) It's not so cold that it gives you ice-cream headaches. 2) Because it's up to 60 percent air, it has fewer calories than ice cream. 3) Dairy-intolerant people can eat it if they want to. 4) It's cheap.

Disadvantages: After learning what is in softserve, you won't want to eat any except in the gravest extreme, like, say, you're spending three months in a submarine. And you'll want the toppings even less.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pesto Pizza Floating in Space

White-flour tortilla with pesto and sauteed zucchini, mushrooms, and bell peppers. All farmer's-market fresh. And of course mozzarella. Looks very rich, but it's a six-inch tortilla, just enough for pizza pleasure, minus pigout. Photo taken in my Breville toaster oven, used almost daily, and for my improvisational mini-pizzas, always. The pizza still has a few minutes left to bake.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rice and Milk: Updating an Easy Classic

These days it's brown rice with dried cherries and slivered almonds. I tried Minute Rice brown rice microwavable single servings (1 cup) just to try it out. It's fully cooked, so just empty the plastic cup (hate that plastic) and heat the rice in your plate. Do heat it first for 60 seconds and it'll taste fresher. I've just discovered that dry brown rice, even in a nice glass jar, after several months goes rancid and instead of a  nutlike taste and texture tastes sour! Folks who hate brown rice were probably served rancid brown rice and the cook didn't know it. This Minute Rice product tasted fine, though, and saved 45 minutes of stove time. Good if you need fast or portable brown rice.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer on the Counter

Fresh-picked arugula, fresh-made pesto with olive oil and a touch of lemon juice, cheese sauce, fabulous heirloom tomato. Smells as good as it looks. It will taste even better.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Piehole Goes Italian: Pizza, and Arugula Salad

The one food I would want on a desert island is pizza and I eat it thrice a week at least. I buy a bag of five or six nine-inch frozen pizza shells, the thin kind, from the Italian grocery, because they're cheaper than at the big grocery store. Also, at the Italian place buy pizza seasoning. Nothing else will make your home pizza taste like real pizza. Penzey's Spices sells Pizza Seasoning too.

To make your pizza crisp and tasty, pour some olive oil on top of the shell and spread it to the edges. Then dust it with pizza spice. Top with whatever, in this case some fresh mushrooms that I'd sauteed slowly in a little butter to get the water out. Tomato is not always necessary. I always put cheese, and make up for the indulgence by eatin' my greens. Absent a real pizza shell, I'll use a wheat tortilla, same way. After it's baked, cool it slightly on a rack, not in the pan, or the bottom gets soggy.

Arugula (aka roquette or rocket) is a very spicy leafy herb that's fast and easy to grow and get hooked on. Get organic arugula seeds from The Cook's Garden; at least that's where I got mine. Plant in sun and ignore (okay, water a bit during drought) and harvest in about four weeks. Wash it and stem it and spin it like any other green.

An All-Arugula Salad is heavenly and needs to be dressed very lightly and simply. A few drops of olive oil; toss. A squeeze of lemon juice. Toss. A mini-pinch of salt. It's ready. A few thin slices of fresh mushroom won't hurt. Tomato, though, would be gilding the lily. I like serving it on a glass plate like I get my salads in Italian restaurants.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hot and Sour Soup

A favorite dish: grated fresh ginger and plumped-up dried shiitake mushrooms sauteed in 3 tablespoons of sesame oil; then add 4 cups broth or water, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and bean threads, which cook in 3 minutes. Throw in peapods (or greens) and shrimp and three tablespoons cider vinegar and one tablespoon soy sauce. Good served hot, even in summer. If it needs reheating, do it in the microwave; repeated boiling on the stove will make the noodles dissolve. Replace shrimp with tofu cubes sometime. Ginger anything will make you feel good.

Now's The Time

Go buy a watermelon. Cost about $5.99-$7.99 per this year because of fuel prices from trucking them up to here from Kennett. You will not regret your purchase. When we were kids we'd drill a hole in a watermelon and pour a bottle of vodka in it, slowly, and wait til the booze was all absorbed, then we'd eat it and get down with some Three Dog Night and Elton John. We weren't as ashamed to dance then as folks seem to be now. Our churches didn't say we couldn't.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Barbecued Chicken Salad

Down where Highway 109 meets the baseball field, the Knights of Columbus set up for summer weekends barbecuing for charity, selling half a barbecued chicken for $5, either "wet" (with sauce) or dry. I like mine wet. If it needs to be shared, stretch it by making a lettuce salad dressed with the barbecue sauce, toss in good-sized chicken chunks so men will eat it, and some bell pepper strips for pretty, then serve in pasta-sized bowls alongside homemade sourdough bread. When you think you're ready to eat it, 'cuz we don't stand on ceremony here, there's also a cup of carrot soup with cilantro, which is good hot or at room temperature. You don't need cream for a good carrot soup. Just toss 3 tablespoons of white rice into your carrot-soup pot, cook it all for 20 minutes, and puree.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Welcome to Piehole Midwest

"Piehole" in Midwestern means "mouth," as in "Shut your piehole." Preferably we shut it on some tasty home cooking. Sometimes we eat healthy, sometimes not, but we love to grow, market, buy, cook, bake, grill and serve stuff to fill our pieholes, feed our faces, chow down, pig out, scarf & whatnot. I'm a hard-core born Midwestern home cook in Missouri, and I'll be posting foods and meals that show up in front of me, because like all Midwesterners I eat what's put in front of me. Like this bowl o' blueberries here. They got piled on French toast with maple syrup for breakfast. Coffee was our drink.