Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The joy of Summer Picnics

Every summer I look forward to the free concerts our local parks offer. It’s a wonderful gift from our local cities. They are a great way to get outside in the fresh air after a day of working, hang out with friends, listen to good music and have a picnic! Nothing says summer better.

Picnics are fun, especially when everyone brings something to share. Since it’s difficult to make and bring everything on a “school night", supplement your homemade dishes with some things that you can buy.

While you could certainly go out and buy everything, and many people will just grab a pizza or some fast food to eat at the park, I think making a few homemade items to bring along makes it more special and certainly healthier and more delicious.

Make your stuff a night or 2 before your concert picnic. Then, that evening, pack everything that needs to stay cool into your cooler with plenty of ice packs. Put your unopened jars and things that don’t require refrigeration into your picnic basket. Grab your plastic plates, utensils, cups and paper napkins, some bottles of water, sodas or ice teas, (your alcoholic beverages hidden from view somehow) and head out early to get a good spot on the lawn! Enjoy your dinner and catch up with friends and family while you wait for the music to begin.

What to bring? Below is a list of some ideas to get you started. Many of them contain links back to their original posts on this site. I realize I have a little bit of a Mediterranean thing going on with my food choices. It just fits with summer, I guess.

So let’s start with some munchies:
Baby carrots and/or other raw veggies with garlicky red lentil dip

For the main event:
Roasted or baked chicken wrapped in foil (if you had time to cook it before you head out), otherwise, you can turn it into a traditional chicken salad with mayo, or a super fantabulous curried chicken salad
Sweet potato salad or Italian potato salad with lemon and thyme or Green bean and potato medley
Grilled vegetable salad with a balsamic dressing, and/or items from the olive bar of your supermarket

Drinks and misc:
Sangria (in incognito containers, so as not to draw attention!)

Cookies for dessert, maybe the thumbprint variety filled with raspberry jam

One important thing to remember is to keep your food safe. You don’t want anything sitting out at room temperature for too long or bacteria will form and someone (or all of you) might get sick. So read up about food safety here:

Food Safety at Picnics
Food and Drug Administration

So, go online and search for a local free summer concert to enjoy and get out there!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mexican Pickled Carrots

You’ve probably seen Mexican Pickled Carrots at the salsa bar of your favorite Mexican restaurant.  I always get happy when I see them because not all Mexican restaurants make them. I always envisioned some little old Mexican grandma standing in the kitchen for hours making their homemade recipe of these carrots.

I love them, but since I don’t see them often enough and am eating out less anyway, I decided to look into making them myself at home. Turns out, they are super easy and fortunately last a pretty long time in the fridge so I can take ‘em out and enjoy them whenever I’m in the mood.

They are perfect to take with you on picnics and to the beach, or eaten in the backyard with some tacos or carne asada you just grilled. You can eat them as a low-calorie snack between meals or alongside your chips and salsa as an appetizer before a meal.

The jalapeños might turn some people off. But here’s the thing: I am not a fan of anything really spicy. I don’t like destroying my tastebuds’ ability to identify the other flavors I’m eating. So trust me when I tell you that it’s completely safe to eat the sliced jalapeños after they’ve had some time to pickle. They mellow out considerably and end up tasting just a tad spicier than a bell pepper. Do try them.

Mexican Pickled Carrots

2 lbs large carrots
2 large jalapeños
1/2 medium white onion
5 cloves garlic,  sliced
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
1-1/2 cups water
6 bay leaves, whole
10 peppercorns
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano (regular oregano will work too)
1 tsp kosher salt

Peel and slice carrots and onion into 1/4 inch thick pieces, slicing the carrots on the diagonal. Cut the stems off the jalapeños and slice thin on the diagonal. Set aside.

In a large stock pot add the garlic, vinegar, water, bay leaves, peppercorns, oregano. salt. Bring to a boil and add the carrots, onion and jalapeños. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered.

Allow to cool completely and store vegetables and cooking liquid in clean, sterile, glass containers with lids. Keep refrigerated.

Ready to eat after 3 hours but best pickled for at least a day or two.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Parmesan Crisps

Being on a grain-free diet, the one thing I miss is having my “cheese and crackers” in the afternoons when I get home from work. Or I like to have it to munch on with a glass of wine, as I’m making dinner on weekends. I can still have the cheese, but the cracker part is certainly out.

I was pining away at my lack of crackers, feeling sorry for myself,  when I recently read about Parmesan Crisps. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made them sooner. They are ridiculously easy to make and if you’re a fiend for Parmesan cheese, as I am, you will absolutely LOVE these.

Although crackers are “out”, I find that these little Parmesan Crisps have actually taken the place of the cracker! Brilliant. Problem solved. Eat them as is, or pile something on top of them. More on that later. Let’s make these things.

Parmesan Crisps

Parmesan cheese, grated

That’s it!

Ok, so you could add some more things to it, if you wanted to. Like dried basil, black pepper, or red chili flakes for those of you who like things a little spicy.

And then here’s what you do:
Take a cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. No need to grease anything. There’s enough fat in the cheese, after all. Get a teaspoon and pile a small mound of grated Parmesan cheese on the paper, as if they were little mounds of cookie dough. No need to flatten them - they will melt into a nice little round on their own.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 10-12 minutes. At the 8 minute mark, start looking in on them every minute or so. Your oven may run cold or it may run hot so we don’t want them to undercook or burn. In my oven, I find 10-11 minutes works best. Allow them to cool on the tray.

I like to eat them with a slice of roasted red pepper on top, or with a little piece of tomato.

You can also, as they are melting and before they get too stiff (so maybe at minute 8-9), take them out of the oven and drape them over a handle of some kitchen utensil to make a pretty Parmesan Roll. These would look nice in a salad or alongside a wintry soup.

If you make them large enough, you can can drape them over the bottom end of a mug or a Mason jar to shape them into a bowl as they are cooling. They make a delicate little basket in which you can serve a small salad or something.

I have yet to make these fancy shapes. For now, I am content to eat them as “crackers”. I do have a tendency to eat a few too many at one time. They are just so darn good. Hope you enjoy them as well.

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