Easy Summer Rolls

Summer Rolls

The beautiful thing about these Summer Rolls, aside from the quasi-vegetarian theme (eat more green stuff, seriously, it’s good for you) is that you can adjust the spiciness to exactly your own tastes.  If you opt to make a spicy dipping sauce, the cooling action of the basil, mint and cilantro tempers the heat on your tongue (and will make you feel amazing).  You could also opt to make a dipping sauce that’s not spicy, just yummy.

basil and mint

The first thing you’ll need is plenty of herbs.  I like to use a mixture of cilantro (I’m sorry, those of you who think it tastes like soap, you can’t help it; just omit it and use more basil), basil and mint.  Gather a bunch of each together, roughly chop, then add lime juice.  This will help keep the leaves from turning brown as you assemble your Summer Rolls.

Ingredients assembled

You’ll also need rice paper wrappers, a pie dish full of warm water, and thinly sliced carrots, cabbage and sugar snap peas.  We’re going for sweetness and crunch.

Summer Rolls First Steps

Soak rice noodles in hot water for about ten minutes, then drain.  Add some noodles to a wet rice paper wrapper, then add some of the cilantro/basil/mint mixture.  Next add cabbage, sugar snap peas and carrots.  Fold the edges over.

Summer Rolls Last Steps

Next, roll one side up and over, pushing the contents in slightly.  Finally, roll it completely over, sealing all the wonderful noodles, herbs and vegetables inside.

summer rolls

The dipping sauce for the Summer Rolls is easy.  Add lime juice, fish sauce, sriracha hot sauce, ground peanuts and grated ginger together and mix well.

The ingredients:

  • Rice papers
  • Rice noodles, drained
  • thinly sliced carrots
  • thinly sliced cabbage
  • thinly sliced sugar snap peas
  • chopped basil, mint and cilantro
  • lime juice

For the sauce:

  • juice of one lime
  • 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspooons ground peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce (omit this if you don’t want spice)

I know, the dipping sauce isn’t vegetarian because of the fish sauce.  You could always substitute soy sauce if you wanted.

What foods do you think of when you think of Summer?

 

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No Bake Chocolate Date Bars

No Bake Chocolate Date Bars

Sometimes you have to trick your kids.  You just have to.  Or at least I do.  Getting them to eat enough enough fruits or vegetables can be a challenge.  That’s why I made these No Bake Chocolate Date Bars.  There is plenty of fiber in this recipe, and even though they think they’re eating a yummy chocolate treat, they’re actually eating some fruit too.

Dates

The technique:

It’s really remarkably easy.  Place whole, pitted dates into your food processor and process until the dates are in smaller pieces.

Adding peanut butter

Add peanut butter, then process again.

Adding cocoa powder

Add cocoa powder.  I use Ghirardelli’s Sweet Ground Cocoa, but you could use regular cocoa powder and sugar in equal proportions.  Process until it looks like a smooth chocolate paste.

Adding oats

Then the whole oats go in.  Process again.  More fiber!

Final Processing

Action shot.  At this point, while it’s doing the final process, slowly add honey and a little water until it forms a dough ball.

Spreading in the pan

Pull out the chocolate date ‘dough’ and place into a baking dish (or really any kind of container).  Set it up in the freezer for thirty minutes until it’s firm, then slice into little bite-sized pieces with a knife.

The ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup Ghirardelli sweet cocoa
  • 1/4 cup raw oats
  • about 1/8 cup honey
  • a small amount of water (approximately a tablespoon)

Next time I’m considering adding some coconut, and maybe a prune or two, just to amp up the fiber content.  The dates are so sweet in this No Bake Chocolate Date Bar recipe that you really feel like you’re getting a decadent chocolate treat.  Mission accomplished!N

Shakshouka – Easy, Healthy and Quick

Shahshouka

Shakshouka is a staple Middle-Eastern and North African dish.  It’s remarkably easy to cook, like most comfort food, but has a rich, exotic flavor.  Shakshouka is essentially peasant food (like most really good food all over the world), a quick and easy meal made with the humblest of ingredients, tomatoes, onions and eggs, with spices thrown in for flavor.

Cutting up the vegetables

The first step is to slice your red onion, green peppers and zucchini into slivers.

Frying the vegetables

Then saute them in olive oil in a hot pan.

Ras al hanout and berbere

In keeping with the North African theme, for my shakshouka recipe I used half a teaspoon of ras el hanout and half a teaspoon of berbere spice mix (both homemade, of course).  McCormick makes a very good ras el hanout if you don’t have time to make your own.  Of course, you could also use garam masala as a substitute.  The flavor would be slightly different but just as good.

Eggs, tomatoes, spices, parsley

Assemble your diced tomatoes, eggs and parsley.

Adding diced parsley

Add the chopped parsley to the cooked vegetables.

Adding tomatoes

Then add half the spices, then the tomatoes.  Bring it to a boil.

Adding eggs

Crack the eggs into the tomatoes, then sprinkle the rest of the spices on top.

Shashouka finished

 

Let the eggs cook for another ten to fifteen minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Once the eggs are firm and most of the liquid is gone, you can remove from the heat and serve.

The ingredients:

  • 1/4 red onion, slivered
  • 3 tablespoons slivered zucchini
  • 1/4 green pepper sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon berbere spice mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout spice mix
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • small sprig of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large eggs

Try this.  It’s so easy you’ll wonder why you haven’t been cooking it all these years.  If you do cook this shakshouka recipe, be sure and let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

Pepper Okra Socca

Green Pepper and Okra Socca Recipe

Pepper Okra Socca

Socca, or farinata, is a Ligurian (the little Western coastal part of Italy by France) thin pancake or crepe made with chickpea flour, water and olive oil.  The great thing about socca, apart from its simplicity, is its versatility.  Adding a wide variety of vegetables is easy and delicious. This green pepper and okra socca recipe is delicious, relatively healthy (chickpeas have a very high protein content) and beyond easy to make, as long as you have a few key ingredients.

slicing the vegetables

 

For this recipe I simply sliced onion, okra and green pepper into long thin slivers.

cooking the vegetables

I then sauteed them in a nonstick pan with olive oil until they start to brown.  The nonstick pan is key here, because if you use a normal aluminum or steel pan, the socca is likely to stick to the pan.  We don’t want a culinary disaster.   We want crispy, delicious goodness.

adding oregano

Sprinkle a little oregano, or any other appropriate Mediterranean herb you have on hand.  Fresh thyme or rosemary would work beautifully.

pouring the batter

Mix your batter (chickpea flour, water a touch of salt and pepper and olive oil; that’s it) and pour it over your cooked vegetables.  Spread it out as evenly as you can.

cooking

Once it begins to set up flip it over.  Cook it for another few minutes until it sets up, nice and brown on both sides.

socca

 

And there you have it.  Quick.  Easy.  Relatively healthy.  This green pepper and okra socca recipe makes a great side for a North African shakshouka recipe.  I’ll show you how to make that tomorrow.

The ingredients:

  • onions, slivered
  • slivered okra
  • slivered green pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chickpea flour or ‘gram flour’ if you’re looking in Indian food stores
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (1 for the batter, 1 for the pan)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a little dried oregano (or fresh rosemary or thyme)

 

curry okra

Indian Spice Baked Okra Recipe or Yes, You Can Really Do That

curry okra

Okra is slimy!  That’s the usual objection to eating okra, the texture more than the flavor.  While that texture can be an asset in some dishes (like gumbo), we don’t necessarily need or want it in other contexts.  The easiest way to transform okra from slimy to crispy would be to fry it.  But if eating healthier is a concern (as it should be) then there’s an easy alternative to frying.  This Indian Spice baked okra recipe is a delicious and easy way to use up all that okra in your Summer garden.

exotic spices

As with most other Indian inspired dishes (hello, curry!) this okra recipe begins with spices, a mixture of whole and ground spices.  For this dish I used ground mustard, amchoor, whole fennel, whole kala jeera and coarsely ground cardamom.  Simply add all of the spices to a small bowl and mix well.

slice okra

Slice the fresh okra on a bias, removing the ends.  You want them as long and thin as you can get them.  This helps them crisp up.

grating ginger

Grate frozen ginger onto the sliced okra with a micro-planer.

adding Indian spices

Add the olive oil and the spice mixture.

adding garlic and olive oil

Add the chopped garlic then mix well, coating all of the okra well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

on a baking sheet

Lay out on a baking sheet.  Elevate it from the cooking sheet using a wire drying rack like this, if you can.  When the air circulates underneath it helps crisp up the okra.

Bake for at least 30 minutes at 450 degrees.  You may need to take the okra out about halfway through and turn everything over.  Otherwise you’ll end up with less than crisp okra.  Not a disaster, but not quite what we’re going for here.

The ingredients:

  •  1 teaspoon ground mustard
  •  1 teaspoon ground amchoor (dried and ground green mango)
  •  1/2 teaspoon whole fennel
  •  1/2 teaspoon kala jeera
  •  1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground cardamom
  •  salt and pepper to taste (use the salt sparingly)
  •  2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  2 cups thinly sliced okra, cut on a bias
  •  1 tablespoon grated frozen ginger
  •  2 garlic cloves, diced

The aroma as this comes out of the oven will almost knock you over.  The spices become very aromatic as the okra bakes, perfuming the whole kitchen.  It’s best to eat these warm.

Let me know if you try this Indian Spice baked okra recipe, and what you think. What other vegetables could you bake like this?  If you like this okra recipe, you might check out my okra and green pepper socca recipe here.

 

grains of paradise salmon

Spice Crusted Salmon -A Grains of Paradise Recipe

grains of paradise salmon

Imagine a cross between black pepper, cardamom and clove, and that’s pretty much the explosion of flavor you’ll experience when you try grains of paradise.  Grains of paradise, also known as Malagueta pepper, are rich in aromatic ketones that give them their distinctive aroma and flavor.  They’re native to West Africa, and were hugely popular in Europe in the Middle Ages.  These days they’re mostly used as a flavoring for beer, but I think you’ll find they’re very versatile.  Here is a very easy grains of paradise recipe for spice crusted salmon.

Melegueta pepper

There’s also a slight citrus/woodsy sort of aroma, which adds to the wonderful depth and complexity of flavor you can get from these little nuggets of flavor.

Rubbing Grains of Paradise into the Salmon

The technique:

In a mortar and pestle (or a spice or coffee grinder if you don’t have one) grind grains of paradise and black pepper.  There’s an obvious choice to be made between crunch and smooth, so if you prefer your spice coating to be smoother, keep grinding the spices until they’re finely ground.  I prefer mine to be coarsely ground.

Lightly coat both sides of the salmon with olive oil, then gently push the ground grains of paradise/ black pepper mixture into the flesh of the salmon.  Lightly salt then add to a hot pan with olive oil.

Frying side one

Let the salmon develop a good browning crust on the flesh side before you flip it.  This may take about 5 to 8 minutes, depending.  It’s best to use a nonstick pan.

Frying side two

Flip the salmon over, lightly frying the skin side for several minutes.  Cover the pan so that the salmon slightly steams in the juices it’s releasing.  Finally, after about 5 minutes, remove from the heat and serve warm.

The grains of paradise lend a warmth and spicy depth to the salmon.  Serve with a wedge of lemon or lime, if you have one.  The flesh of the salmon at this point should be flaky and almost falling apart.

The ingredients:

  • two salmon steaks
  • 2 teaspoons grains of paradise, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch of salt

For this grains of paradise recipe I think less is more, largely because of the full flavor of the spice.  It’s best to let that flavor be the star of the show, rather than just a supporting actor.

If you like this recipe, or have imaginative and new ways of using spices, let me know.  I’d love to hear from you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  Of course, repin the recipe if you like it, as always.

Spiced Fried Green Tomatoes

Grains of Selim Recipe – Spice Fried Green Tomatoes

Spiced Fried Green Tomatoes

Grains of Selim are a spice from tropical Western Africa, although it can be found growing as far away as Ethiopia, Angola and Kenya.  They’re sometimes confused with Grains of Paradise, although Grains of Paradise are in the ginger family.  Being a collector of exotic spices, when I had the opportunity to buy some Grains of Selim, I jumped.  In Cameroon it’s added to tea, and in Senegal it’s added to a coffee drink called Cafe Touba.  When I asked myself what to do with them, I came up with this Grains of Selim recipe for spice fried green tomatoes.

Grains of Selim

Grains of Selim taste somewhat like black pepper with a hint of nutmeg and a resinous, almost piney aroma and flavor, something like a faint juniper berry.  It’s a strong flavor, and has an almost numbing effect on the tongue in large quantities.

spices and green tomatoes

The technique:

I picked two fat green tomatoes from our garden, then crushed two large Grains of Selim pods in a mortar and pestle.  I sliced the green tomatoes thin because I wanted them to cook quickly.  Next, I lightly sprinkled flour, the crushed Grains of Selim, black pepper and a small amount of salt on one side of the tomatoes.

lightly spiced

Next, I laid them spice-side down in a hot pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  I let them cook for at least five minutes so that they could get a good browning on the first side.

Frying first side

Next, I flipped them over, cooking them for an additional five minutes or so.

Frying other side

They’re best eaten warm.  The Grains of Selim lend a warmth to them that compliments the herbaceous sweetness of the green tomatoes.

The ingredients:

  • 2 green tomatoes, fresh picked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Grains of Selim, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • small amount of salt

If you like my Grains of Selim recipe let me know.  If you have a flash of inspiration and think I should use them in another recipe, please let me know.  I’m always looking for ideas.

 

iphone photography

Iphone Photography for Bloggers -My Process

iphone photography

Several times over the last several months I’ve had conversations with other bloggers about how I am able to get such good photographs from an iPhone. Recently I had a another conversation in the same vein (with Kim from The Made Thing, see below).  So, inspired by that conversation I’m going to be transparent and share the process I use.  Hopefully this Iphone Photography for Bloggers will be helpful to other bloggers in similar thrifty circumstances.

instagram photography

Several months ago I attended a conference where it was asserted that one needed a DSLR camera in order to get really good looking photographs for blogs.  I was of course skeptical, because that’s just how I am.  Also, I’m doing this whole blog thing on a shoestring, y’all.  Use the resources you have, is kind of my motto.  I knew that a DSLR camera wasn’t in the budget for me for at least several months, if not a year.

So I started researching the camera that comes with the iPhone 5, the model I happen to own. And the truth is that the iPhone comes with a pretty good camera.  The picture quality, if you shoot in HDR mode, is fairly high quality.  So what’s missing, I asked myself?  Essentially what’s really missing is the ability to tightly focus on foreground subjects.  That can be faked, more or less, with apps, however.

So this is my process.  I use three apps (the free versions of each, so far).  I’ll go into the reason and how I use each one below. The first is Dynamic Light by Media Chance.  The second app in the process is Finger Focus by BBCDDC.  Finally, I complete the process by using Sharpen Me by 1stFancy (ignore the poor reviews, it actually works really well for what I use it for).  Just a note, I haven’t been compensated by any of these app developers.

Iphone photo apps

So here is the original photo.  My family and some friends were at a local pizza restaurant, and I wanted to post a photo of our pizza on Instagram.  Notice the composition, in that I focused on what was near me, but had plenty of detail in the background.

iphone photography

From here I opened it in

Dynamic Light Steps

From here I opened the photo in Dynamic Light.  If you click on the little gear icon you’ll get the settings screen, like the one to the left.  I used the Mid setting.  Then simply adjust the dial so that the effect is barely noticeable.  Why?  What Dynamic Light does is make the colors and lighting of the photo more vibrant.  You definitely don’t want to overdo it, though.  Less is more, in general.  Experiment until you find what works best for you.

dynamic light screen two

If you click on the little red button to the left, that brings up the lightball.  In general, I like to have the light ball setting more or less like what is pictured above.  There are special effects filters, but I never touch those.

Finger Focus Steps

Next is Finger Focus.  What Finger Focus does is quite brilliant.  As you can see on the left, when you load a photo (you saved the processed version from Dynamic Light, right?) it gets blurred out.  You can adjust the blur settings by clicking on the little raindrop.  When you swipe the screen it removes the blur.  If you leave the background slightly blurred (don’t overdo it) but the foreground focused you can begin to see the beginning of a brilliant photo, with the subject tightly in focus.

iphone photography tips

The final step of the process I take the saved processed photo from Finger Focus and load it into Sharpen Me.  I slightly adjust the amount of focus, then save the resulting image.

And it’s really that simple.  Obviously attachable iPhone lenses could  improve this process, if one were wanting to move in that direction.  It’s something I’ve considered.

If you try using my Iphone Photography for Bloggers process please let me know how it works out for you.  Of course, one day I want to own a real DSLR camera.  But until then I’ll make do with what I have.

recipes for a quite night in

Staying In Date Night Recipes

recipes for a quite night in

I admit it.  Sometimes I really want to take my wife out on a date.  That’s not always practical, or easily arranged in a short amount of time (despite wonderful people who are willing to watch our kids).  There’s also something to be said for the downright economic thriftiness of cooking some kick-ass food yourself.  Sometimes, I just want the kids to go to bed so that my wife and I can veg out on the couch, binge-watch some Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix, eat some tapas and drink some sangria (and pray the kids don’t get out of bed).  In that spirit, I present some Staying In Date Night Recipes.

assembling stuffed dates

The first recipe is for Cream Cheese Stuffed Dates.  These are beyond easy.  Also, the real beauty of this type of appetizer is that you can prepare them earlier and just put them in the fridge.  Easy.  Boom.  Roasted.

Prosciutto wrapped cream cheese stuffed dates

Next, is this recipe for Purple Patatas Bravas.  I’ve featured tapas recipes before, included a patatas brava recipe.  But these are purple.  And awesome.

peeled potatoes and sherry

Simply peel the potatoes.

adding spices

Fry them olive oil until golden brown (golden purple?), and add mustard seed, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

patatas brava

Some people like to serve them with mayo.  They’re crazy.  Don’t listen to them.

cooking meatballs

Finally there’s this recipe for albondigas (that’s meatballs to you and me, folks).  I use half ground pork, half ground beef, and add garlic.  Just make little meatballs, fry them, and set them aside.   And yes, I’ve featured albondigas before, as well.

For the sherry cream sauce I like to use this amazing blood orange olive oil I found at Old World Imports (not a paid plug, I just like those folks).  Just follow the directions below.

sherry cream sauce

There’s also this dead easy recipe for fried bread.  Take some old or stale French bread, cut it into slices, then fry it in olive oil.  Drizzle with some blackberry balsamic vinegar and some of that blood orange olive oil.  It’s like candy almost, it’s so sweet and yummy.

fried bread

Finally, what would a blog post about date night recipes be without alcohol? We got this really amazing strawberry wine from the Tontitown Winery a few months ago, so we decided to make some sangria (again, not a paid mention, I just love buying locally when I can).  This is how we did it.

sangria recipe

Easy.  Sorry if I didn’t give exact measurements and such on this post.  But there’s not really a science to date night, is there?  Let me know if you liked this.  And I’d love to hear what your go-to date night recipes are.  Leave me a comment and let me know.

 

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