Archive for July, 2010

Zucchini Blog Party

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

In light of my current zucchini “problem”, I asked some of my blogging friends if they would participate in a zucchini blog party.  I thought it might be nice to give our readers a selection of recipes for using up some of their surplus zuchs. My entry for our little veggie party is my recent post for Zucchini Fritters.

For your zucchini eating pleasure, I’d like to introduce you to the following bloggers and their recipes.

Tina Sams, editor of The Essential Herbal magazine offers not one, but two zucchini bread recipes.  You can’t go wrong with chocolate!

Zucchini and Orzo Salad with Basil is offered up by Maryanne, owner of Torchsong Studio.  Maryanne makes gorgeous handmade lampwork glass beads and jewelry.

Next, we have Patricia Morello’s Stuffed Zucchini.  Looking at her recipe, I’m wondering if I could get my guys interested by adding a little Italian sausage to the stuffing mix. Patricia owns an operates Patricia Rose.

Karen Creel brings us her Zucchini Pizza recipe. I’ve been meaning to get around to trying pizza on the grill. I could use this recipe and kill two birds with one stone. Karen offers herbal bath and body products at Garden Chick.com.

Cindy Jones of Sagescript Institute & Colorado Aromatics gives us her recipe for Calabacitas.  I have to admit I’d never heard of Calabacitas and had to look it up. I absolutely adore Southwestern food, so I’m positive I’ll enjoy this one.

Last, but not least, we have Beth Byrn’s Yummy Zucchini Brownies.  Again I pose, can you ever go wrong with chocolate? Beth owns a bath and body buisness, Soap And Garden.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I know, I know!! I’m supposed to wait until frost threatens before picking green tomatoes, but I just couldn’t wait! My boys and I love, love, LOVE fried green tomatoes.  My husband hates them. But that’s perfectly fine by me …. more for the boys and me!  I had quite a bit of fun while making these for dinner this evening, thanks to my 15 year old son.  You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Fried Green Tomatoes
4 medium green tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
Splash of buttermilk or milk
2 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper.
Oil for frying

Line up 3 bowls and place flour in one, egg and a splash of buttermilk in another, and combine Panko crumbs and seasoning in the last. First coat the tomato slices in flour, dip in egg next, and then coat in the seasoned Panko crumbs.

Place 1/4 inch of oil in skillet and heat over medium high heat.  Work in batches and don’t crowd your tomatoes. Fry tomatoes 2 to 3 minutes on each side, turn again for another minute on each side until golden brown.

Here’s how it went down in my kitchen this evening.

Me:  Dredging tomato slices in flour.

My son: Are you putting those in pancake mix?

Me:  Huh??

My son:  Why are you putting those in pancake mix?

Me: It’s flour. What makes you think I’m using pancake mix?

My son: Points at the counter beyond my line of vision.

There sits an empty box of pancake mix. I was cleaning out a cupboard earlier and found an old box left over from a camping trip.  Normally, I wouldn’t be caught dead with prepackaged pancake mix.  At this point my son wanders off.

So I go on dredging and then dipping the slices in the egg mixture.

The Panko crumbs come next. My mom always used corn flake crumbs, and traditional recipes use cornmeal, but I love the crispness that only comes from Panko crumbs.

Me:  OWW!!!

My son:  Hee-hee-hee!!  Did that really hurt?

He’s wandered back in the kitchen and snapped me with a dish towel.

Me: Yes, it hurt! Do that again and I won’t give you any tomatoes.

He gives me a look that says, “you wouldn’t dare!”.  Honestly, working in the kitchen is always more fun when kids get involved. It’s going to be so boring when the boys leave home. I go on and start loading up my giant cast iron skillet with tomato slices.  I do let him have some, and he and I end up calling dibs on the last one.

Cucumber Cocktails

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Thanks to sweltering heat and humidity, I think I’m about to melt. Yes, I am griping about the weather again. A vacation to Siberia sounds absolutely divine at the moment.  The cucumbers in my garden, on the other hand, are thriving!  They’re not quite as prolific as the zucchini, but they might be coming in a close second.  Thank heavens something that thrives in the heat that’s making me miserable, can also provide some cooling relief!

Chilled cucumber juice is very refreshing, and a great way to use up an over abundance of cukes.  Personally, I love my cucumber juice in cocktails with lots of ice.

To make cucumber juice, you will first need to peel, seed, and chop your cukes.  Place the chopped cukes in a food processor and blend to a smooth puree. Pour the puree through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much juice as possible.  I don’t throw the leftover pulp away, but use it to put together a quick veggie dip or Tzatziki. The juice will store in the refrigerator for a few days.  A fine green sediment may settle on the bottom of the container… no problem, just shake it up.

The following are my two favorite cucumber cocktails.

Cucumber Cooler
4 ounces cucumber juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces vodka
12 or more mint leaves

Fill shaker with ice.  Add all ingredients to shaker and shake until your hand feels like it’s going to freeze off. Then switch to the other hand and shake it again. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice.

Cool As A Cucumber Cocktail
2 or 3 lime wedges
12 or more mint leaves
2 ounces cucumber juice
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 to 2 ounces light rum
Soda water

Place lime wedges and mint leaves in a tall glass (I have zombie glasses, the traditional glassware in which mojitos are served). Muddle lime and mint in the glass to release their oils. Fill glass 3/4 full with ice. Add cucumber juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and rum.  Top off with soda water and stir.

Updated 8/11/10 – This post is my entry for a Cucumber Blog Party I’m participating in.  For more cucumber recipes visit the following blogs.

Creamy Cucumber Salad at the Torchsong Studio blog

Cucumber Lime Salsa at the Essential Herbal blog

Cucumber Spread (Tzatziiki) at the Sagescript Institute blog

Tomato Cucumber Salad at Swisher Hill Soapworks

Chilled Cucumber Soup at Rosemary’s Sampler

Cucumber Dill Sauce at the Garden Chick blog

Cucumber Watermelon Salad at the Soap & Garden blog

Zucchini Fritters

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Have you ever seen the rock musical, Little Shop of Horrors?  I suspect that Audrey II (a plant that thrives on human blood and has aspirations to take over the world) may have been a zucchini plant. Every morning when I run out to my garden to pull a few weeds before work, I’m always amazed at the zucchini’s ability to grow overnight. I always try to pick them while they’re small, but every now and again one will escape my attention and grow into a baseball bat.  I’ve got a friend who says during zucchini season the people in her town have to lock their cars when they visit people, or a few zucchini will be slipped into their car while they aren’t looking.

Every year, as my zucchini start setting fruit, I go on the hunt for new ways to use it. I sauté it with other veggies, pasta, and feta for quick meals and use it raw with vinaigrette in salads. Ever since I was a kid, my mom has always made a “pickle” relish using the prolific veggie. I recently made zucchini fritters based on my recipe for potato latkes. Because zucchini doesn’t contain the starch found in potatoes, I did bump up the amount of flour. I really liked these, but my guys are veggie challenged and weren’t big fans.  I probably won’t make them as much as I would like to.

Zucchini Fritters (makes 8 to 10 fritters)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium zucchini, about 2 pounds, shredded
1/2 small onion, shredded
2 tablespoons yogurt, buttermilk, or sour milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Olive oil

1. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

2. Place grated zucchini on a piece of cheesecloth or a dish towel and twist to wring out as much excess liquid as possible.  I use a dish towel and place the zucchini in a long strip (lengthwise) down the middle of the towel. Next, I fold the sides of the towel over the zucchini, grasp the ends of the towel, and begin twisting.

3. Place zucchini in a bowl with the shredded onion.

4. Combine  yogurt or buttermilk and egg to the zucchini mixture.

**Chemistry Alert** Using baking powder and some type of acidic milk will provide a little leavening in the fritters.

5. Stir flour mixture into the zucchini.

6. Heat olive oil in a skillet.  A note on olive oil … don’t use your good extra virgin or virgin grade olive oil for cooking. Instead, use the pure grade olive oil which is more refined, and has a higher smoke point.

7. Using about 1/4 cup of the mixture, form zucchini patties in the skillet.  Cook fritters for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until firm. Turn again, cooking about 30 seconds more on each side until golden.

8. Remove from skillet to a paper towel lined plate.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with yogurt dill sauce or Tzatziki, a traditional Greek cucumber-yogurt condiment.  I’ll try to remember to post a Tzatziki recipe in the next couple of weeks.

Yogurt Dill Sauce
Thin some Greek style yogurt down with a little milk, or use plain yogurt. Mix in some snipped dill and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Buttermilk Culture Winner!

Monday, July 19th, 2010

I hope everyone had a great weekend. I spent mine mourning the end of my 2 weeks of time off work.  However, it does feel good to get back to my familiar routine.

The winner of the buttermilk culture is Maggie Howe! I would tell her to contact me, but as it happens, this won’t be the first time I’ve mailed something to her. She won a giveaway I did on Twitter last year. It pays to enter contests on new blogs with a small following. The odds are definitely in your favor.

Keep your eyes peeled, because I’ve got some ideas for more giveaways in the future.  Maybe a Mozzarella kit when I show you how to make your own fresh Mozzarella cheese?

Homemade Buttermilk

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

As much as I use and reference the buttermilk I make, I figure I had better hurry up and show you how I make it. After all, the name of the blog is Birdworms & Buttermilk.

I’m one of those nut jobs who likes to drink buttermilk, and it’s all my dad’s fault (yes, I just heard your collective “Eeeeewwwww!!!!”). He introduced me to buttermilk when I was a very little kid, and didn’t know that buttermilk is supposed to be icky. Even worse, he taught me to drink it the way Southerners and hillbillies do, with salt and pepper.  And, before anyone thinks of writing me to chew me out for saying “hillbilly”, you need to know that I think hillbillies are awesome people…. one of my favorite people is a self professed hillbilly from the hills of Kentucky, a really cool guy.

Before getting into the how-to part of things, I’d like to highlight a couple of points. To begin, the buttermilk I’m referring to is cultured buttermilk, not churn buttermilk (the watery stuff left over from making butter).  Also, I make my buttermilk from whole milk, so it’s not low fat. If you want to try making your own buttermilk, feel free to use low fat or skim milk. Next, with the whole probiotic craze we’re seeing in the media these days, it’s worth mentioning that buttermilk is a great source of these beneficial bacteria, and WAY less expensive than yogurt.

Because I make so many cultured milk products (buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt), I invested in an insulated container call a Yogotherm in which to make my yummy goodness.  I get most of my cheesemaking supplies, including my cultures, from New England Cheesemaking Supply. I love their direct set cultures, which make cheesemaking and culturing a no-brainer-snap. Honestly, you don’t need a fancy piece of equipment to make buttermilk. If it’s summer time, you can make it in quart canning jar and find a spot (out of the sun) where the jar will maintain a temperature of about 80 degrees.  Another great option is a Rubbermaid  1/2 Gallon  Thermal Jug. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you already have one lurking around in your garage or basement. Just make sure you sanitize it first. Another thing you’re going to need to make buttermilk is a culture to add to your milk. I use New England’s direct set buttermilk culture. Lastly, you will need a thermometer. A standard meat thermometer should do the trick.

Homemade Buttermilk
1 to 2 quarts whole, skim, or low fat milk
1 packet direct set buttermilk culture

1. Heat milk to 85 degrees. I do this in the microwave, but you can also do it by placing your container in a sink full of hot water.

2. Sprinkle buttermilk culture over the surface of your warmed milk and wait a couple of minutes for the powder to rehydrate.

3. Stir milk until culture is thoroughly dissolved and mixed into the milk.

4. Pour milk into your insulated container or canning jar.  Let milk sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Because I use 2 quarts of milk at a time, I allow mine to sit for up to 36 hours.

5.  Once your buttermilk is finished culturing, refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.

Just for a little fun, if you leave a comment at the bottom of this post, I’ll draw from the names and send someone a 5 pack of buttermilk starter culture. Deadline to enter your comment is this Sunday evening, July 18th at 8 PM.

Chilled Avocado Soup

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Temperatures are creeping back into the 90’s and the warmer the weather, the less I feel like eating hot food. One of my favorite cold meals this summer has been chilled avocado soup and BLT sandwiches.  It’s so easy to cook some extra bacon over the weekend and keep it stashed in my refrigerator for use later in the week.  One of my favorite ways to make a BLT is with a little softened goat cheese spread on my toast, instead of the usual mayo. The soup takes 10 minutes to make, including the time it takes to clean up my food processor.  I’ve even been known to whip up a half batch in a large Pyrex measuring cup using a hand held immersion blender.  The ingredients are so simple.

Chilled Avocado Soup
2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 small onion
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs
Salt to taste

Scoop avocado flesh from skins with a spoon into a food processor or blender.  Add buttermilk, onion, vinegar, and dill.  Puree until smooth.  Add salt to taste.  Cover mixture and refrigerate until well chilled. Serves 4.

Prickly Ash, Red Clover, and Jewelweed

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I’ve been itching to get out to do some foraging, but wasn’t willing to brave the heat and humidity of last week.  Finally, at a tolerable 85 degrees, I gathered my courage and went for a walk.  Grabbing a water bottle, camera, and my gathering basket I headed to the meadow first to check on the Prickly Ash.


I first discovered the Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) last summer.  After reading up on it, I’ve been looking forward to trying my hand at making some bitters with it.  I also learned that the dried berry husks are known as Szechuan Pepper used in Asian cooking. The berries are oily with a strong spicy citrus scent. I learned the hard way to taste very carefully. Chewing on these little guys results in a tingly numbing sensation that takes a little while to wear off.  Thus one of the nicknames for this shrubby tree,  “toothache tree“. Another use for Prickly Ash that I’m interested in exploring is as an herbal remedy for arthritis.  Picking the berries was a little tedious. They are very small, so I had to take my time and also avoid the nasty sharp thorns running up and down the branches. If you look at the photo above, you can see a shadowy silhouette of one of the thorns in the middle of the cluster of berries.

Next, I moved on through the meadow, heading for a neighboring field where there is always plenty of red clover. I snapped some pictures along the way.

This is purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) that escaped on of the flower beds at the house and naturalized in the field. I’ve been leaving it alone, giving it the chance to spread before I attempt to harvest any. It has doubled since last year, and if it doubles again I may be comfortable taking a little next fall.

There were butterflies everywhere. I was able to capture this small Meadow Fritillary sunning itself on some Canadian Thistle seed heads.

Tansy is another escapee from my gardens, and has been invading the meadow at a rather alarming pace over the last couple of years.  This is one that I wish would slow down.  After arriving at the red clover, I quickly gathered a basket full.

The reason I’ve been a little desperate to get my hands on a good supply of red clover is because I’m one of “those”  slightly insane  middle aged women who could use some help.  Red clover has long been used by herbalist for a variety of conditions.  My main interest lies in what some modern studies are suggesting in regards to the isoflavones (some of which have estrogen like properties) found in red clover.  Believe me! The guys in my household are all on the band wagon for my experimenting with red clover tea. It’s their fervent hope that they may get some relief from the craziness brought on by this particular phase in my life.

When I was composing this particular picture, I was so focused on the bloom that I never noticed the little insects. It was a pleasant surprise to find these little hitchhikers when I was editing the photos. While picking the clover I made a rather disturbing observation. Here I am in this huge field full of clover and I never saw a single honeybee.  My husband and I used to be hobbyist beekeepers. We gave it up a few years ago due to time constraints.  It wasn’t too long after that we started hearing about colony collapse disorder. Just last year this field was humming with honeybees.  Not good!

I saved foraging the Jewelweed for last, because it was going to involve venturing into the woods. I wanted to be in and out of that place as quickly as possible, because I knew I was going to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. There isn’t a bug-off potion in the world that can deal with the clouds of  little blood suckers inhabiting my woods right now.  I wasn’t wrong.

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is the variety growing in my woods. I wanted to make a couple of different types of poison ivy treatments from the plant so I can decide which one I like the most. Jewelweed ice cubes and an infusion in vinegar.  The next time I pick up some poison ivy I’ll let you know which remedy worked the best for me.

Strawberry Cake

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

I promised the recipe for the strawberry cake I took to my 4th of July family reunion, but there are a few things I’d like to share about this cake.  First, giving credit where due, this is not one of my own original recipes. It was given to me by one of my sisters in law on my husband’s side of the family. Second, this cake is absolutely yummy! Third, this cake represents everything I try NOT to do when I cook. This cake is fat, sugar, and unnatural food ingredients, and I only make it a couple of times a year.  I’m also sure to make it for an occasion including lots of people.  We all get a small slice, and I never have any left over. Lastly, did I mention that this cakes tastes absolutely divine? My boys beg me to make this cake more often, but I make them wait for every 4th of July and Christmas.

Strawberry Cake
1 box white cake mix
1 package strawberry gelatin
2/3 cup oil
1/4 c water
4 eggs
1 cup frozen, unsweetened strawberries (thawed and drained, reserve liquid for frosting)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine cake mix and gelatin in a mixing bowl. Add oil, water eggs, and strawberries. Beat mixture until thick and creamy, and strawberries are very well incorporated. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9 inch round cake pans. Bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean, approximately 60 to 75 minutes. Be sure to cook cake completely before attempting to remove from pans. This is a very moist cake, and failure to cool thoroughly will result in the cake tearing apart when you try to remove it. I also find it very helpful to shake the edges of the cake loose before inverting the pan.

Strawberry Frosting
1 cup reserved strawberry liquid (add enough water to make 1 cup)
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar

Combine strawberry liquid and flour in a double boiler and cook until thickened. COOL. This is very important. If you don’t make sure this mixture is completely cool, you will have problems with the frosting when you try to blend it with the butter and sugar.

Beat butter and powdered sugar together until fluffy. Combine strawberry mixture and butter mixture and continue to beat until light and fluffy.

Frost as a 2 layer cake, decorate with sliced strawberries and mint leaves,  and enjoy!

Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

My mint beds have gone crazy.  In addition to drying some for winter use, I’ve been trying to find as many different ways to use it as possible.    I have a couple of other blogging friends who have been busy dealing with their overabundance of mint. Tina over at The Essential Herbal Blog recently wrote about how she dries her mints. Maggie gives several ideas for using mints over at  The Renegade Farmer.

My boys like  a cold pitcher of plain mint tea kept in the refrigerator, but I prefer something with a little more pizazz. This week’s little heat wave had me brewing up a batch of one of my favorite iced mint tea recipes.

Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea
2-3 cups loosely packed mint leaves (1/2 to 3/4 cup dried mint if you don’t have fresh)
1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
Juice of 2 lemons
6 cups boiling water
Honey or agave nectar for sweetening

I brew my tea in a large Pyrex batter bowl, but it could also be done in a pan on the stove.

Place the mint leaves and dried hibiscus in your brewing container. Cover with boiling water and steep for an hour.  Place concentrated tea mixture into a pitcher and add lemon juice.  Next, top up pitcher with ice cubes and/or cold water. Sweeten to taste.

I try to use sweeteners in moderation and avoid sugar when at all possible. Honey and agave nectar are my sweeteners of choice.  If you choose to use sugar, a simple syrup of 1 part sugar to one part water is a good sweetener for cold beverages.