Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Plate of Ratatouille with grated cheese
Lunch, Dinner, Main Dish, or Side Dish

Recipe by Robin

A few years back, our CSA went a bit crazy with eggplant. Italian eggplant, Japanese eggplant, large eggplant, small eggplant, our farm share was loaded with these every week throughout the summer. Unfortunately, my husband Bruce hated eggplant: its puffy yet squishy texture, its bitterness, even the mere idea of eggplant. Luckily, during those same summer weeks we received plenty of tomatoes and peppers from our CSA, and a mondo load of zucchini from our neighbor Dana. I started making huge batches of ratatouille, which is basically a sauté of these four veggies along with onions and garlic. At first I chopped the eggplant finer than the other veggies, thinking that Bruce would notice it less and be more likely to enjoy the dish. This strategy worked beautifully, and throughout the summer I increased the size of the eggplant pieces. Ratatouille became a favorite dinner for both of us. Especially since it’s filling and my recipe is very low in calories.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lowfat Apple Turnovers with Phyllo Dough

Two Turnovers with Two Toppings
Choice of Toppings

Recipe from The Cooking Decade

A lowfat apple turnover sounds too good to be true, or at least too unusual to be delicious. However, in The Cooking Decade, a collection of tried and true family recipes compiled by my sister Chris, it is marked “Outstanding.” I’m not a phyllo dough expert, in fact have only used it twice to make spanakopita, many years ago. Though this recipe is easiest if you have some phyllo finesse, it is truly hard to ruin. The original recipe calls for cutting the phyllo into long equal strips and stacking them up. Easier said than done for phyllo novices with limited counter space. So on my second try, I cut the dough crosswise, to make shorter, wider sheets. Then I stacked two manageable-sized sheets and folded them. This seemed an easier way to make even dough strips, with fewer torn edges. Also, the turnovers were fewer and plumper, hardly a disadvantage.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Plate of roasted tomatoes over greens
Roasted Tomatoes Over Spinach & Arugula

Recipe adapted from Slim & Scrumptious

My dearest departed friend’s name, when she was married to her first husband, was Joy Bauer. That was years before I knew her. We met late in her short life, but learned a lot about each other during the 5 years that we shared. She was a great cook and fellow foodie, but wished that she had more skill in preparing healthful, lighter meals.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I found a book on just such a topic by Joy Bauer in our library! Of course I took the book home, for its novelty factor. Our Joy would have called it synchronicity.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Minestrone with Fresh Beans

Bowl of Classic Minestrone
Warming, Healthful, and Italian!

Recipe by Robin

What’s the #1 way to use up lots of veggies from your CSA when nights are cool? That’s right: a hearty, warming soup. One of the keys to good soup is tasty broth. Onion, celery, and carrots, added at the beginning of the cooking time, make a savory broth base. Or use leeks and shallots instead of all or part of the onion. To fully develop their flavor, sauté these veggies before adding liquid to make the soup. Late season tomatoes, added after the broth has developed a bit, turn the broth in a decidedly Italian direction, especially when paired with garlic and dried oregano, basil, and marjoram. Almost any veggie can be “souped,” but be aware that cruciferous veggies like broccoli or kale will tend to dominate the soup’s flavor. Combining milder veggies like squash, potatoes, and green beans with them mellows the blend, as does pasta, rice, or beans. Greens such as spinach, parsley, or leftover basil add freshness and texture to your creation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

10 Tips on How to Tweak a Recipe

Shrimp and Tomatoes in Skillet with Salt and Pepper on top
Most Recent Lesson (#6): Don't Add Salt
To Only a Few Ingredients

Derived by Robin via Trial & Error

Ever made a recipe that seemed so right but went so wrong? Even when you followed the directions to the letter? Let’s face it, some recipes are just not that well written. They leave too much to the imagination. Or sometimes the recipe writer’s taste just isn’t the same as ours, even if s/he is featured on The Food Channel or has written a classic cookbook. Can this recipe be saved, and if so, how? Take heart. As well known coach and writer Dianne Jacob discloses in her book Will Write for Food, recipe development is an art, an exercise in non-linear thinking. Here are a few tips for reinventing an almost-good recipe—as a masterpiece.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

Closeup of a basket of Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins
Healthful Alternative

Recipe by Robin

Muffins aren’t what they used to be. These days they’re supersized, and available almost anywhere. But what commercially produced muffins have gained in size they’ve lost in nutrition. Even muffins produced without preservatives or hydrogenated fats are loaded with sugar and enough excess oil to stain your napkin and coat your fingertips. Whole grains have been replaced with refined flour. Artificial color and flavor are not unusual. Plus, they’re expensive. Let’s get back to basics with a low fat fall harvest muffin that’s full of whole grain goodness along with the natural moistness of no-sugar applesauce!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shrimp Stir Fry with Zucchini and Tomatoes

Plate of Stir Fried Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes
Shrimp with Seasonal Veggies

Recipe adapted from Weight Watchers

Shrimp! So delicious and healthful, and so confusing to buy sustainably. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website identifies 13 different categories for shrimp harvests, varying in country of origin and fishing method. Plus there are several species in each category. Sometimes a species can have several common names, and sometimes you’ll find a common name at the store that’s not on the list at all. What’s a consumer who’s concerned about eating shrimp sustainably to do?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Caprese Salad with Herbed Lime Vinaigrette

Bowl of Salad, Bowl of Dressing
Before Adding Dressing

Recipe by Robin

With a wealth of tomatoes and basil still growing in my garden, a Caprese salad seems like a natural, except for one thing. I’m obsessive about fresh mozzarella cheese. I can barely contain my desire to eat whatever quantity comes into my house once the wrapper is open. Is it the mild taste, the texture, the way it combines with other foods? (Not the latter, since I happily enjoy it sans accompaniment.) Luckily, I discovered a sealed container of fresh mozzarella balls packed in water at the local natural foods store. The 8 oz. size is perfect for this salad, with no chopping (and sneaking bites) required. And just in time for late tomatoes and basil. The success of this salad depends upon the freshness of all 3 of these ingredients.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Apple Crisp

Two Apple Crisps in dish with cream
Traditional and Updated Crisps

Recipe by Mom, Fannie Farmer, and Robin

Of all the seasons, autumn makes me most nostalgic for my mother. It’s the season she died, and also the season in which she seemed most alive. She loved the variety of New England seasons, but the crispness of fall days invigorated her and inspired her to activity. When I was young, she’d take my sister and I to local farms for apples and fresh-pressed cider. We’d visit the farm animals and perhaps pick out a few pumpkins or some Indian corn to decorate at home. Once she bought us tiny woven cornucopias filled with mini candies. My memories of those times are surrounded with the golden glow of October sun in an unbelievably deep blue sky.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

DIY Prunes from Plums

Basket of Freshly Made Prunes
Prune Plums After

Method by Robin

In autumn, a young woman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…prunes? OK, I made that up. Since I’m no longer a young woman, how would I know? But a middle aged woman who spies the last of the season’s prune plums at her favorite natural foods store…that I can speak to. Prunes make are a naturally sweet snack that’s a fun way to enjoy fruit in winter. Don’t believe me? How about if they’re preserved in brandy afterwards? Dipped in chocolate? But I digress…

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October Veggies and Recipes

Joseph's coat rose
Autumn Rose

Golden Light, Bright Leaves, and Bountiful Harvest

October is a beautiful month, no matter where you go in the US.  The weather can be balmy or crisp, but seldom excruciatingly cold or hot (except in Hawaii if the trade winds die). It’s the perfect time to travel, even if it’s just for day trips around your home county. The month often starts out with a short heat wave, like yesterday when it was 97 degrees in Santa Cruz county. And even more often there’s a cold snap towards the end of the month, where all of a sudden windows need to be closed at night and quilts and coats make their annual reappearance. If you look around, you can catch a bit of fall color no matter where you are, as deciduous trees and garden plants change their hues in preparation for winter. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, and pumpkins brighten doorsteps in a final blaze of glory before the snow (or rain) flies.