We’ve all been there – when you don’t have a real amount of stuff in your fridge, but have just enough that you are too lazy to go to the grocery store because its not empty per se. Situations like this give you limited options – one of which is the “odds and ends casserole.” It’s one of those situations in which you are trying to cook something tasty with what happens to be around. Now, everyone’s fridge is different, but my odds-and-ends casserole involved summer squash, potatoes, and cheese. I’m fairly certain you could change veggies with this recipe easily enough, but don’t quote me on that.
1 large yellow potato
1 summer squash/zucchini
1/3 cup chopped onion
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Zap the potato in the microwave for a couple minutes, just enough so that its not raw, but not so much that it is thoroughly cooked. Chop in into smallish chunks and toss it into a bowl. Add the zucchini, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and mix them all together. Take a baking pan, and grease it with the butter. Leave small hunks of butter scattered over the bottom of the pan. Add the veggies. Scatter the cheese over the whole thing, and bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. (The reason you half-cook the potato first is so that you don’t kill the zucchini in the baking process, waiting for the potatoes to cook).
The result was pretty good. Not spectacular or anything – I’d have needed some fresh herbs and a stronger cheese to get it up there. But for an odds-and-ends casserole, it was quite good. Of course, you add enough garlic and cheese to pretty much anything and I’ll be happy. This is a good proto-type casserole. Potato, veggie, seasonings, cheese. Basic, easy, and with infinite variations, as a good odds-and-ends dish should be. In the spirit of the dish, you should pair it with whatever beer or wine you have handy. Song of the week: Irreplaceable by Beyonce. Because Beyonce is Queen – even if she isn’t your thing, she’s earned that from the world. And I love the sentiment of the song – I mean who manages to make a break-up song be all self-empowered? And, while B may be fabulous, this is one of her few songs that I truly love (the other two being Crazy in Love and Single Ladies).
Summer is coming to an end. The weather is marginally less humid (sometimes) and I’ve moved from white wine to beer. But its not over yet! Since its about the end of it though, I figured I’d make a summery recipe, though surprisingly not one with tomatoes in it. Internet-land brought me to this squash tart, and I knew I had to make something similar at the very least. The result is what I call my end-of-summer tart, with all the summer of yellow squash and zucchini, with a hint of fall with sweet potatoes.
Dough for the crust
1 cup flour
1/3 cup salted butter
some cold water
Mix together the flour and cheese in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter (or a fork if you don’t have one) until it is all incorporated, and the dough can almost clump together. Add the water, a little at a time, stirring it in with a knife and your hands until a nice dough has formed. Cover with plastic wrap while you get the filling made. Then roll it out and line a pie pan with it (or a tart pan if you have one – I don’t).
Sweet Potatoes base
1 smallish sweet potato
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Zest from 1/2 – 1 lemon
First cook the sweet potato. In reality, you should roast it, but that takes a while and I was lazy, so I peeled it, chopped it into chunks and microzapped it for a couple minutes. Regardless of how you cook it, you will know its done when it can be mashed with a fork. Mash up the potato, and add the other ingredients, adjusting to your personal preferences. If you don’t have a zester I highly recommend them, they are totally awesome and totally worth it. Mash and mix it all together till its reasonably smooth – either with a fork or a food processor. Spread this mixture over the pastry dough in an even layer.
1/2 medium yellow squash, sliced
1/2 zucchini, sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese
Scatter the garlic evenly over the sweet potato mixture. Place the squash and zucchini slices on top. Feel free to make a pretty design and no worries if the slices overlap (although you’ll want some of the orange to peak through). I placed the slices in an alternating yellow-green pattern. Then scatter the cheese over the whole thing. I used blue, but you can easily use goat. Baking does mellow cheese out, so don’t be afraid of using blue if that’s more your thing, or use a slightly stronger goat cheese. Stick the dish in the oven an bake at 350 for around 30 minutes.
This might be one of the prettiest dishes I’ve ever made. The colors! Its completely delicious too. Leftovers never seem to last as long as I plan. Seriously though, if you have to bring a dish somewhere or are having a dinner party and want to impress people – make this. I am convinced it will be a crowd pleaser. It reheats reasonably well too, for something with crust. Song of the week: Mr. Brightside by The Killers. Such a good song. Rock and angst and solid lyrics – I never get tired of this song (although I haven’t subjected it to a multi-hour endless repeat session). The band is good, but this song is incredible.
I am a stress baker – when life gets difficult one of my main coping mechanisms is to bake things with lots of sugar and probably chocolate. However, I do try to be a healthy person, for the most part. This week, when the urge to stress-bake occurred, I remembered I had a zucchini nearing the “use it or lose it” phase of life. Internet-land helpfully reminded me that zucchini can be used in desserts, and I knew what I was going to bake – chocolate-chip zucchini bread.
This is my base recipe, but I modified it for myself a bit.
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 medium-large zucchini, grated
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 a bag (ish) of chocolate chips
Cream the butter and sugar together. I always use salted butter because a, it tastes better, and b, most recipes that call for unsalted butter have you adding salt anyways, and that just seems inefficient and silly. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Then add all the other ingredients (except the chips) and beat them all together with a hand mixer. Zucchini is super easy and fast to grate with a cheese grater so no worries if you don’t have a food processor (like me). Stir in the chocolate chips last (to taste). Pour batter into a greased loaf pan (or 2 mini loaf pans) and bake at 350 until done – aka golden brown on top, amazing smell, and springs back when you touch it. Cool on a wire rack once its done.
The result: awesome – even better than I expected. The cinnamon and nutmeg I think are the true key to this recipe. I admit – I was skeptical about this one, but I shouldn’t have been. The best I can describe it is that it tastes like oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies in bread form. You really don’t notice the zucchini either, although you know it’s there. So you can snack on it without feeling guilty – although, disclaimer, I don’t think this recipe is actually healthy in any way. So don’t feel guilty (one should never feel guilty about eating good food regardless) but don’t lie to yourself either. Finally, the song of the week: Woman of Faith by Eddie from Ohio. I find this song extremely soothing, and listened to it on repeat for awhile this week. Not quite as long as my 2 hour Sweet Child O’ Mine repeat marathon, but a solid runner up.
Mediterranean food is amazing. I think its due to the climate – which, incidentally, is the same as the SF Bay Area climate – which allows for a full development of produce and ingredients. In one of my many “what can I scrape together from what happens to be in my fridge” moments, I decided to embrace the region for a full meal. Zucchini pancakes, tomato salad, Portugese wine, and baklava. Really only the zucchini pancakes were in my fridge (un-assembled of course). Baklava took some special shopping. I’m weird and dislike the vast majority of nuts. But I love pine nuts, so I decided to make pine nut baklava for dessert. Shopping tip: Trader Joe’s has good prices for nuts, particularly pine nuts, which run on the expensive side. The result was amazing Mediterranean food
1 large zucchini
2-3 oz feta
1/3 cup onion/green onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tsp baking powder
Grate the zucchini, either in a food processor or, if you are low-tech like me, a standing cheese grater. Stick in a bowl, and mix with the all the other ingredients except the egg. Beat the egg separately and add it to the mixture last. Heat olive oil in a pan. Once the oil is hot, add large spoonfuls of the mixture to the pan, and fry on both sides. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Warning – these pancakes are very soft and kinda delicate – it will go much easier if you try to make them small. I didn’t and it caused me some slight issues.
Pine Nut Baklava: I actually got this recipe from my friend’s mom, who is Greek and makes baklava with some regularity. I adjusted the proportions down to make it more appropriate for 1-2 people.
1 cup roughly chopped pine nuts
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pre-thaw the phyllo dough. Combine the chopped nuts with sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. In a separate bowl, melt the butter. To assemble, brush every other sheet with butter and place it in a pan. I used an 8X8 pan, which meant I had to cut the phyllo down to size. In theory, you need a pastry brush, but I was too lazy to buy one – you can spread butter with the back of a spoon fairly well. Once you have 5-6 sheets in the pan, scatter 1/3 of the nut mixture over the dough. Add 3 or so more sheets, and scatter another third, and then do that again. Make sure the top layer of phyllo is a little thicker – more like 6 layers. Cut into squares and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so, till its all golden brown. While it is baking, make the syrup.
Take: 1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash or two of cinnamon
Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Simmer for 7ish minutes, or until it thickens, a little. It won’t thicken a lot, so no worries on that front. Let it cool. Once the baklava is out of the oven, pour the syrup over it, and let it all sit for several hours before eating it.
Both recipes were awesome – so much so that I ate them both up way too quickly. The zucchini pancakes didn’t need any garnish or topping, but I’m sure a little greek yogurt on it would work really well. The only problem with the pancakes is that they were very very soft – nearly too soft to flip successfully. The baklava was perfect – not overpoweringly sweet and dangerously addictive. The only minor thing is that it doesn’t stay as flaky after a few days, so you might want to eat it quickly or share. Naturally, I paired this with a white wine, because its summer. But I think it meshes a bit better. If you desperately want a red, I’d suggest a Beaujolais, which won’t overpower the zucchini pancakes.
As an American, I have few qualms bastardizing other countries’ cuisines or mashing separate ones together. We call it fusion. As a Californian (where much the food is some kind of fusion – its a side effect of diversity) I try to make that food as tasty as possible. This past weekend it was actually warm – legitimately above 60 degrees warm – so naturally I wanted warm weather food, aka Californian food. Actually, I wanted Mexican food, but I’d tried most of the recipes in my various cookbooks already. Naturally, the combination of flipping through the Greens cookbook and talking to my dad ended with a solution: mexican-style veggies on polenta.
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup polenta/cornmeal
Take the vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Add the polenta. Boil until the cornmeal is all soft and cooked, and no longer grainy. Then pour it into an 8X8 pan and let it cool.
1/3 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey jack, any Mexican cheese)
Saute the garlic in some olive oil. Add the onion and red pepper. After a couple minutes, add the zucchini. I’ve been told that adding zucchini to Mexican dishes is super Californian, but hey, California was a part of Mexico and zucchinis (and yellow squash) are native to Mexico. So I refuse to think of it as inauthentic. If you want to go further, corn is also native to the Americas, but I feel that’s stretching it a bit. Add salt, pepper, and cumin to taste and saute until the veggies are tender.
Once the veggies are done, pour them over the now-cooled polenta. On top of the veggies, scatter about 2 -3 ounces of grated cheese. I used cheddar, but monterey jack or a Mexican cheese such as queso fresco would also work. Bake the whole thing at 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted and bubbly. Top with salsa and serve.
The result was totally delicious. Simple and yummy and (this sounds silly) tastes like summer. Of course the corn works with the mex-veggies, and the time in the oven prevents anything from getting soggy. Zucchini often makes things soggy, so this is important. It is also a very complete meal in it of itself – although if you want to serve it with chips and salsa I completely support that. I served this with white wine, but generally Mexican food is best with a solid beer or tequila. My favorite is Bell’s Oberon Summer Wheat beer, but that doesn’t come out for another month sadly. Finally, the songs of the week are “Criminal” by Fiona Apple and “Smile” by Lily Allen. Awesome songs by female artists. Fiona Apple owns herself and her sexuality without being all “male-gaze” based – which is seriously impressive to pull off, especially in the music industry. Lily Allen has the most positive sounding songs with “holy shit, seriously?” lyrics. Honorable mention: “So What” by P!nk.