Posts Tagged ‘summer produce’

Blueberry Muffins

July 29, 2016

blueberry muffinsMG_1380Baskets of blueberries are rolling in from Michigan, one of the top producers of America’s favorite summer berry. Now touted as a superfood, everybody loves blueberries. They’re sometimes a bit bland, but they are good for us and we prize them. The blueberries shipped in from Chili and beyond that we find in the supermarkets in winter have little flavor, but those fresh off the bush that we see in our summer farmers markets are now at their tastiest peak. Just picked ripe blueberries bursting with juice are perfect for eating out of hand, sprinkling on cereal, adding to a salad or baking into a pie. Their tender gentle sweetness charms us all.

Before I ever had a slice of blueberry pie, I’d enjoyed blueberry muffins. Somehow back decades ago in the Southwest we found them frozen and were treated to my dad’s freshly baked (from scratch, of course) blueberry muffins on Easter morning after the sunrise service up on the Colorado National Monument. Although I enjoy the berries raw. I think they are at their peak of flavor when cooked. Blueberries in a pie, a cobbler, a sauce or in muffins take on a richer dimension of deliciousness.

Muffins have almost become cupcakes. The traditional stir and bake breakfast muffins in my mother’s 1942 Inglenook Cookbook have 1 tablespoon sugar for each cup of flour while our current standard muffin recipes average 6 tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour. The following easy recipe at least bumps up the nutrition quota with wholewheat pastry flour and plenty of berries, but admittedly it’s a cupcake. My granddaughters like them for breakfast, but I prefer them for a teacake. These muffins keep well for a couple of days in a tin or may be frozen for a few weeks.

Blueberry Muffins

2 oz. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

6 ½ oz. unbleached all purpose flour (or half wholewheat) 1 1/3 cups

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

scant ½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 ½ oz. sugar** (1/2 cup)

1 large egg

4 fl. oz. milk* (1/2 cup)

4 fl. oz. plain yogurt* (1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 oz. fresh blueberries (1 cup)

*whole milk recommended but not necessary

**reduce sugar to 2 1/2 oz. (1/3 cup) for more breakfast-friendly muffins

Preheat oven to 400°. Line 8 large or 10 smaller muffin cups with cupcake paper. Or grease and flour muffin cups.

Melt butter, cool to warm.

Sift flour(s), baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar into a deep mixing bowl.

In a large measuring cup whisk together the egg, milk, yogurt, vanilla and cooled melted butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the egg mixture in a few quick strokes. Mix in the dry blueberries with the last traces of flour.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, sprinkle the tops with pinches of sugar for a glaze and pop into the preheated oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 375° and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on size or until muffins are golden and test done. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Makes 8-10 muffin.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Shrimp with Tomatoes and Coconut Milk

September 11, 2015
Shrimp in Tomato and Coconut MIlk Sauce

Shrimp in Tomato and Coconut MIlk Sauce

Tomatoes with bacon, tomatoes with cream, tomatoes on toast or in salads supreme! At the height of our tomato harvest, with colored peppers blending in the mix, each evening’s supper features tomatoes. When “shrimp” was whispered in my ear one night, I set about answering the request the next day. Sweet gulf shrimp with tomatoes and coconut milk makes magic flavor found in tropical cuisines from Brazil to India. The stew may be sparked with spices or kept simple without. Either way it’s a food pairing not to be missed.

The rich creaminess of coconut milk tempers any tartness in the tomatoes, enriches the juice and bathes the shrimp in a sumptuous sauce. Fresh tomatoes melt into the stew in a way that canned tomatoes treated with citric acid can’t approach. Adding ginger, chili, and turmeric gives the dish an East Indian flair. Leaving those ingredients out gives a comfort level even a two-year-old will enjoy.

These days it’s important to check the source of your shrimp. I highly recommend American gulf shrimp if they are available. We’ve all been reminded of the often unsanitary conditions of Thai shrimp farms. For the sweetest, tenderest morsels, know the origin of your shrimp, and buy shell on shrimp. To ease your dinner preparation, simmer the sauce base ahead or even the day before. For a quick meal, steam some rice, blanch a green vegetable, simmer the shrimp in the sauce, and toss a salad.

Shrimp with Coconut Milk and Tomatoes

5 tablespoons olive, canola, or coconut oil

12 oz. onion (one large) peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium sweet red pepper seeded and diced

3-4 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ – 1 green or red chili finely chopped*

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped fresh tomatoes**

1 cup canned coconut milk (unsweetened, not lite)

juice 1 lime

1-2 handfuls fresh mint or cilantro, chopped

salt, pepper, cayenne

1 lb. medium Gulf shrimp, preferably in the shell

*Use fresh chili at your own comfort level. I always taste-test my chili first since it will vary in its heat. Use the seeds for more chili kick, or remove the seeds for a milder flavor.

**Save seedy bit from tomato interior. Strain out seeds and use juice as needed.

In a heavy saucepan warm the oil and sweat the sliced onion, covered with butter wrappers, until wilted and translucent. Add sweet red pepper and continue to sauté until the onion just tinges with gold. Stir in the ginger, garlic and chili, cooking until the spices are fragrant. Stir in turmeric, tomatoes, and cover. Reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes are completely tender and broken apart. If needed add a little water or the strained tomato juice. Add coconut milk, season generously with salt and simmer to combine flavors.

While the sauce is cooking, peel the shrimp, season lightly with salt, and refrigerate until needed. Shortly before serving, add shrimp to the simmering sauce and cook only 3-5 minutes or just until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Add fresh cilantro or mint plus lime juice to taste, and serve with white rice or a simple pilaf. Enough for 4-5.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Summer Squash Cakes

August 5, 2015

summer squashcakes photo-18Hiricas lived in a shabby wooden farmhouse on a couple of acres next to our place. All their linoleum-floored rooms were dark—a dim porch with a ceiling swing and stacks of rumpled Czech newspapers, a black heavy table and buffet in a dining room that was never used, and a low ceilinged grease-stained kitchen with a coal range and smells of old world garlic. For eight-year-old me, this was Gothic. I was drawn almost hypnotically to cross the east orchard and rap at their back screen door. I didn’t venture into the dirt cellar basement, but I’d climb the creaky stairs to the kitchen always hoping there’d be something good to eat—something I’d never find at home.

Now many decades later, there are only a few tastes I remember. In autumn there were sweet, doughnut-like fried rolls filled with the freshly ground poppy seeds harvested from the opium poppies grown alongside the gravel driveway. That creamy, soft, nut flavor can’t be duplicated from the usually stale poppy seeds sitting on grocery shelves. Those rolls and the walnut potica remain a memory.

But back to the subject: In the heavy afternoon heat of late summer, I might find a plate of fried summer squash left on the oilcloth-covered kitchen table. Mrs. Hirica, always eager to offer something to her curious neighbor, helped me buy my first cookbook about European food—a collection of Czech recipes.

Last Sunday I found an almost too large, lumpy skinned yellow summer squash in my garden. It was about seven inches long and too mature to grill or stir-fry. It was from my own carefully tended vine, too precious to toss on the compost heap. I remembered Hiricas’ decadent and delicious squash cakes. My mind whipped back to a memory of something I hadn’t put on a plate in almost forever. As a treat for a meatless Monday supper, my lumpy skinned squash became creamy-centered, crisp cakes served with a pool of basil scented yogurt sauce. Tucked next to a corn and kale pilaf alongside beans stewed with tomatoes and zucchini, a crookneck squash took me home again.

Summer Squash Cakes

1 yellow summer squash no more than 3 inches in diameter



1 egg

1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

olive, canola or grape seed oil

Remove stem and blossom ends from squash. Cut into ½ inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of slices lightly with salt and allow to stand on a wire rack for 15-30 minutes. Blot away excess moisture with paper towel.

Prepare a plate of flour, a bowl of beaten egg and a plate of breadcrumbs. Dust each slice of squash with flour, dip in egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Place the crumb covered slices back on the wire rack to dry a few minutes.

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet filmed with oil, and add the squash slices to the hot oil making sure they aren’t crowded. Keep the heat moderate. The squash will need to cook 10-15 minutes per side or until the coating is nicely browned and the center is tender (when pierced with a toothpick). Serve the squash cakes immediately, hold in a low oven or cool to room temperature and leave on the kitchen table for your little neighbor who might knock looking for a snack.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon






Stuffed Giant Zucchini

August 14, 2014
Stuffed giant zucchini

Stuffed giant zucchini

Every year I dutifully plant a few zucchini seeds in a sunny mound at my community garden plot. I water, weed, and wish for squash, but I usually get only lush leaves and a bounty of blossoms. While other gardeners are flinging oversized, unwanted zuccs onto the compost heap, I keep searching for some slender young squash among the wide, prickly greens. I’ve vowed to mind my plants carefully, never to let a homegrown vegetable go to waste. Yesterday after almost daily searching, I glimpsed a gigantic zucchini right in the middle of my leafy plant. I still can’t imagine how I missed it, but garden sprites are not to be outdone.

I was unwilling to let my handsome—though too large to sauté—squash go to waste. Not a fan of zucchini bread or muffins (in fruit-laced baked goods I much prefer pumpkin or banana), I set out to stuff the squash. First I rid it of as much excess water as possible, then whipped up a stuffing of aromatics and the grated flesh. With just a little cheese added, it’s a great vegetarian dish; it can be baked along with a chicken or a few loaves in the oven and is tasty either warm or at room temperature. It won’t freeze but, refrigerated, it will make enough to stretch out simple suppers for several days.

The following isn’t a recipe with measurements but, rather, a guideline. The process will work for any kind of summer squash.

Stuffed Zucchini

Overgrown zucchini


Olive oil


Garlic, chili, fresh herbs

Cooked brown rice if available

Crumbled feta (optional)

Soft breadcrumbs

Peel the zucchini; cut in half lengthwise, scoop out and discard seeds. Grate half of the squash and the end pieces of the other half on the large holes of a box grater. Place the grated squash in a bowl and toss generously with salt. Also salt the scooped out other half. Let salt draw water from the vegetable for at least an hour.

Place grated squash in a strainer and squeeze out the water. Taste to make sure it isn’t overly salty. (If so, rinse, drain, and squeeze.) Drain and wipe water from squash boat. Line a long loaf pan (or cut squash boat in half and use two pans if you don’t have a long one) with overhanging parchment, brush bottom with oil and add the hollowed squash half.

Meanwhile, sauté an onion in olive oil until soft, add as much chopped garlic as you like, a good handful of chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, or whatever you have), and a bit of chopped fresh green or red chili for some zing. Once the aromatics are fragrant, add the squeezed grated squash and cook over moderately high heat, stirring often until the squash is wilted and no longer watery. Add a couple spoonfuls of cooked brown or white rice if you have some, plus a nice handful of feta crumbles. Spoon the filling into the boat, top with fresh breadcrumbs, sprinkle generously with olive oil, and bake either slowly or quickly (according to whatever else is in the oven) until zucchini is tender and the crumbs browned. Use the parchment sling to lift the stuffed squash from the baking pan. Serve with lime wedges or salsa if desired. Organic edibles saved!

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon


Corn Pesto

August 7, 2012

In a prairie-style house near a park with a pool our friends planted a garden along a fence and set a sand box by the patio. Rose of Sharon climbed a shady maple by the garage. Inside, a new open kitchen revved with Wolf, Kohler and Cuisinart. Mission oak chairs surrounded an antique cherry table laid with art deco banded plates atop silver chargers. Our friends’ summer supper redolent of a Tuscan journey featured Midwestern golden corn. As I rolled fettuccine laced with kernels on my fork, I recalled the harvest rite of cutting corn.

Fresh from the garden, burlap bags of roasting ears waited by the back steps. First we shucked, then we blanched, then we cut, as we sat around a big tub under the kitchen light.

To cut corn the old way, hold one end of a cob and rest the other end on a sheet pan or board.  Use a very sharp knife to slice off the top section of kernels leaving a quarter-inch of inner corn on the cob; continue all the way around the cob. Then firmly scrape the cob with the kinfe, extracting the creamy centers, leaving behind the coarse nibs and tough hulls.

Before the season slips away, apply this old Amish corn cutting to the popular corn pesto recipe with whole grain fettuccini, roasted walnuts and a special thanks to those who pointed the way.

Corn Pesto with Fettuccine

4 large or 6 medium ears fresh sweet corn, shucked

2 small zucchini

4 oz. diced bacon or pancetta (1 cup)

2-3 cloves garlic finely chopped

generous pinch crushed red pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

4 handfuls fresh basil leaves (half shredded, half left whole)

8 oz. fresh whole grain fettuccine* or 5 oz. dry whole wheat pasta

roasted walnuts

cherry tomatoes for garnish

Gather all ingredients; dice bacon, grate cheese, chop garlic, etc.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Blanch corn 2 minutes; remove. Blanch whole zucchini 2 minutes; remove. Keep the pot of water ready.

Cut corn as described above: use a sharp, small knife to cut through the top half of the kernels. Scrape the cob, thoroughly extracting all the sweet corn “cream.” Separate the creamed corn and the top kernels. Set aside 1 ½ cups corn kernels and combine remainder with corn cream. Thinly slice zucchini.

In a 3-quart cast iron or shallow stainless pot, sauté bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is golden, crisp, but not hard. Remove bacon to a side plate or drain on paper towel. Leave 1 tablespoon bacon dripping in the pot and sauté garlic until fragrant. Add red pepper, corn cream mixture, olive oil and half the Parmesan cheese. Simmer briefly.

Meanwhile bring the pot of water back to the boil and cook the fettuccine 2-3 minutes for fresh pasta or follow package directions for dry pasta. When pasta is almost done, add a ladle or two of pasta water to hot corn cream mixture and whiz it to a smooth sauce, using a hand-held immersion blender. Add reserved corn kernels.

Seconds before the pasta is done, add the whole basil leaves and the sliced zucchini (to heat zucchini and wilt basil). Pour pasta into a colander to drain, reserving a cup of hot pasta water if needed to thin sauce.

Combine hot pasta with warm corn sauce, thining with pasta water to keep sauce loose and creamy. Divide among four shallow bowls. Top each serving with grated Parmesan, bacon, broken roasted walnut pieces, and shredded basil. Garnish with halved or quartered cherry tomatoes.

*To make 12 oz. homemade whole wheat fresh pasta, use 4 oz. whole wheat flour, 4 oz. semolina flour, 2 eggs, pinch salt and a little water to make a stiff dough.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

Potato and Kale Tortilla

June 30, 2012

Rabbits bite off my pea vines; deer jump the fence to chomp the Swiss chard; black voles lay waste in the bean hills; beetles swarm the cucumbers. But no critter touches the kale. Dense rows of blue-green kale thrive in bad soil, dry weather and stand pest-free. While I pamper, water, weed and feed every other plant in my garden, the kale soldiers on with gusto and gets no attention at all.

Kale is hearty, cheap and good for us, but often we don’t know what to do with it: young, tender kale is nice in salads; mature kale can be boiled, braised or stir-fried, and, even though it’s one of the most nutritious green vegetables we can find, it has never quite had the cachet of snow peas, asparagus or even green beans. With a major row now across my garden, I’m intent on bumping up my vegetable calcium and making this a super kale summer.

The Spanish potato and egg tortilla is one of the most delicious cheap foods on the planet. A few spuds, a bit of onion, a couple of eggs and some olive oil come together in a terrific tapa. Add some wilted chopped kale and you have a great summer supper, picnic food, snack food or brunch idea and it’s almost free.

Kale and Potato Tortilla

3-4 tablespoons olive or a vegetable oil

½ large onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 medium potatoes (10 oz.) peeled and sliced

a few slices green Serrano chili with seeds (optional)

1 medium bunch kale (10-12 oz.)

2 extra large eggs or 3 smaller eggs

salt to taste

Swirl 2 tablespoons oil in an 8-inch cast iron or no-stick heavy frying pan. Gently sauté onion, garlic, potato and optional chili with salt (loosely covered) until potato and onion are tender but not brown.

Meanwhile bring 2 quarts salted water to the boil; strip green leafy part from the kale stems. Discard tough stems and cook green kale in boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until fork-tender. Pour kale into a colander, drain water, and as soon as kale is cool enough to handle, squeeze away water and chop coarsely. You should have a generous cup of chopped kale.

Beat eggs in mixing bowl, add hot tender potatoes and onion, stir in chopped kale, and salt. Rub out any debris left in the skillet with paper towel and heat 2 teaspoons oil in the still hot skillet. Pour in the egg mixture, flatten evenly, shake pan and cook over moderate heat for 10 minutes. Shake pan from time to time to prevent sticking. Once the tortilla is 2/3 cooked, cover with a plate and upend the skillet so the tortilla drops out. (If a little sticks on the bottom of the pan, scoop it up with a spatula and place it on top of the potato cake.) Re-wipe the pan and film with 2-3 teaspoons more oil. Heat and slide the cake back in the skillet with the uncooked top on the bottom of the skillet. Shake and cook for another 5 minutes. Loosen edges with a palate knife; shake  pan to insure tortilla is loose and again upend the fully cooked cake onto a plate. Cool slightly and serve warm, room temperature or cold. Makes 4-6 wedges.