Friday, August 31, 2012

Vegetarian Chinese Dish!

Missy, here. We recently ate a Chinese/Thai restaurant that we enjoy since it's one of the few places nearby where we can still get Thai food--including my favorite, Thai basil rolls.

But today, I'm actually sharing something that truly surprised me. I decided to order a vegetarian dish, eggplant with garlic sauce (I ordered it mild). I'd never had a Chinese eggplant dish. All the eggplant dishes I'd had are peeled. And the eggplants I buy are such a dark purple, they're nearly black.

When the dish came to the table, it had this gorgeous purple eggplant! I'd never seen an eggplant so brightly colored (plus, it had the peel on). While I was eating, I realized (much to my kids' dismay) that I needed to photograph my plate! ;) So that I could share the beauty of it with you.

And then I got home and did some research. I Googled "Asian eggplant" and came up with a variety that looks just like this! It's called Chinese Eggplant hybrid Purple Charm. You can see a photo of the plant here.

It's so fun to discover a new dish you love. I'll definitely order this again (along with my basil rolls).

I haven't had time to try to make this recipe. I don't even know if I could find this type eggplant in town. So I thought I'd share a couple of links to recipes...

A video on YouTube

One thing I noticed is that the dish I ate had additional vegetables like red and green peppers, and I think I remember sliced carrots and onions. You could add just about anything!

Have you ever seen this extremely purple Chinese eggplant?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rotisserie Cooking: Gadget, Ruthy-Style!

Well, Blogger won't let me load pictures tonight, so that's what I get for being last minute with this post, right????


Who doesn't pass a wall of roasting chickens or ribs like this and not want to let the carnivore within, OUT????

(pic of big in-store rotisserie would be here... right here!)

The smell... the sight... the flames...

Did I mention the smell?

Oh. I believe that I did!  ;)

It draws you in... pulls you forward. Tempting. Mouth-watering. (Not you, Kav, but you can envision rotisserie veggies!!! Peppers... spuds... mushrooms... YUM!)

I have one of these:

(Imagine picture of my Showtime Rotisserie!!!)


Yes, it's a TV promotion tool, but it's one of the best, most useful toys I have.

I do Roast chicken:  (Coat a roasting chicken with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, skewer and cook...)

(envision roasted chicken here)

I do Roast pork:  (Ditto!)

See? It's not at all hard to blog with or without pictures.

I'll try tomorrow. See if I can get them to come up. Blogger just keeps spinning.... and whirling... and spinning.

Silly blogger!

So who uses a rotisserie?  Who loves 'em???  Who's got one that's collecting dust???

Save me from my uninspirational pictureless blog and talk to me, Peeps!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not for the faint-of-heart...

 Hello, everyone! The Fresh Pioneer is back and it is still HOT. I'm not really melting anymore, but I sure don't want to cook. I want to eat, mind you, just not cook. So, what's a hungry girl to do?
Let's see what we can rustle up!

Now, when I was 14 I decided I was going to go live in France. Don't ask me why. I think it was mostly about this
and this
and this
But enough of that.
We live here, and are starving for dinner, so let's see what we can find. Now, since I moved to that lovely country right after I turned 15 (merci, Maman!), I have a deep and abiding love for STINKY CHEESE and usually have some on hand.
Well, looky here! Feta!
Not French, but close enough. And it comes in low fat varieties.
 So, let's make sure it's not date night, or your 25th wedding anniversary, or even a night when your husband might ask you to go sit under the stars and chat.
No? Excellent.
 Let's eat some STINKY CHEESE.
We reach in the cupboard and pull out this bottle of balsamic vinaigrette. Who knows why it was there. It must have been waiting for this exact moment all its life. If you don't care for all the stuff they put in these dressings. you can make your own dressing for this dish with balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and some olive oil.

Now, the original recipe calls for pasta or white bread toasted, or (*sob*) crusty French bread, but we're going to put in a little more fiber to the dish to balance out the olive oil.

Here is some bread my husband refers to as 'nuts and twigs'. It has double the fiber and lots of flax seed which is good for... memory? I honestly can't remember. (Okay, I Googled. It's good for your HEART. Thank goodness. If it was for my memory, I'd want my money back.)

You can use 12 grain or even just whole wheat. It adds a nice, nutty flavor. Toast and cube.

At this point we're going to start cutting our fresh ingredients.

Tomatoes, a little sweet onion (they were free, let's use them!), basil, cucumbers (more free produce!), and whatever other fresh veggie you'd like to put in. Maybe some pretty yellow bell peppers?

Mix the feta in with the fresh ingredients. Add several tbs of the vinaigrette. Toss to coat. Put your cubed, toasted, nutty, high fiber grainy bread in the bottom of the bowl and toss on the feta salad mix. 

However you want to make it, add a little lime and some yoghurt to the side and you've got a super fresh, super tasty, no-cook dish.

Just don't go breathe on anybody.
(That's me on the left. My non-feta eating hubby on the right. Doesn't he look thrilled? Mmmmm. Revenge for all that cilantro.)

Hope you all are staying cool! Until next time!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Quinoa - Get ready to say "YUM."

Yes, this is the Texan and today I've got a recipe y'all are gonna love. Especially our vegetarian friends (waving to Kav across the border). Even if you're not a vegetarian--even if you don't like cauliflower--you will like this recipe.

It came from The Cowgirl Chef. You can find her website here. Ellise Pierce is her name. She's a Texan through and through, but now lives in Paris. (Life is rough, huh?) AND, she writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Which is how I came to know about her.

So one day, I'm visiting her website and stumbled on this recipe. Now I like cauliflower, but no one else in my house does. Unimaginative dunderheads. Nonetheless, I was so enamored with this recipe, I just had to try.

This weekend, I finally did. And guess what? Hubby liked it :-)

Here's what you'll need:
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper (Ellise always calls for sea salt. I say use whatever you have)
  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked (for those of you who are wondering, it's pronounced keen-wah)
  • 2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
  • a big handful of baby spinach
  • a few fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (they were out when I was at the store, and since I was too lazy to try another, I just added a bit of rubbed sage)
  • 8 sundried tomatoes (in oil), chopped
  • a handful of walnuts, toasted then roughly chopped
  • a big pinch of red pepper flakes
  • E-Z French vinaigrette (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 475 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Toss the cauliflower florets onto the cookie sheet.

Drizzle with a bit olive oil and mix with your hands. Add a bit of salt and pepper and slide into the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is browned.
(Just so you'll know, roasted cauliflower is now one of my favorite snacks. With the salt and pepper...Oh. My. Gosh. This stuff was addicting.)

This is quinoa. It's actually a seed as opposed to a grain, and I've heard it's really good for you.

To make the quinoa, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil. When it boils, add the quinoa, turn off the heat and cover. Let rest for 15 minutes or until the quinoa absorbs all of the water. Now, since I'd never actually tasted quinoa, I had to sample. And I can tell you that this stuff will quickly become a staple at my house. Love the texture and it has a bit of a nutty flavor.
Before we assemble our salad, we need to make the vinaigrette. For this you will need:
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs (basil, thyme, chives)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
Put the sherry vinegar, shallot, mustard, a big pinch of salt and pepper and the herbs in a small jar and shake until combined. Let rest for about 10 minutes - this softens the intensity of the shallots' flavor and allows the salt to dissolve. Then add the olive oil. Taste for seasonings. (I found the amount of olive oil to be too much. Next time I will probably cut it in half.)
I don't know about you, but I've never even seen a shallot until recently. I know chefs cook with them all the time, but I never could figure out what they were. For a long time I thought shallot was just another name for a green onion. Wrong. Then one day, I'm walking through my Walmart and I saw them.
Well, I'll be. They looked like a cross between an onion and garlic. But what do they taste like?
Would you believe it? They even tasted like a cross between garlic and onion. Learn something new every day.
Okay, now we're ready to assemble our salad.
Mix together the cauliflower and quinoa.

Add the capers, spinach, sage, sundried tomatoes, walnuts, and red pepper flakes. Drizzle in a bit of the E-Z Dijon French Vinaigrette and toss. Taste for seasonings and serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Doesn't this look pretty. So colorful. And did I mention that it tastes REALLY good?

I know this may look involved, but it's really not that difficult. Just a little more time-consuming. But it's definitely worth the effort. You will get full too. This makes anywhere from 4-6 servings. I refrigerated the leftovers, warmed them slightly the next day and they tasted just as good as they had the night before.

As you can probably tell, making this recipe was a learning experience for me. I tried two things--the quinoa and shallots--that I'd never tried before. And I found two new faves--roasted cauliflower and quinoa.

These guys? Well, they wouldn't tough it with a ten-foot pole. 

Have you ever tried a recipe that surprised you, introduced you to new ingredients, or taught you something you never knew?
Do tell :-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Easy Chocolate Eclairs

The Boys on the Hill
 Saturday was a beautiful day here in the Black Hills. We went to visit the Boys (actually, this time we only waved from the road - the place was packed), and went hiking in the "Wrinkled Rocks" area on the backside of Mt. Rushmore.

Yes, we did a lot of strenuous hiking and climbing. Fall is almost here - do you see the yellow leaves on that Aspen?
Fudge. Always fudge.
 After hiking we drove into Keystone for lunch.

No, not Keystone, Colorado. This is the Keystone that has a population of thousands from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then from October to May the place shuts down - all except the taffy shop and the post office. You know, the important places!

We enjoyed sandwiches, people watching, and my daughter found a birthday present for her friend...

And motorcycles. A constant here all summer long.
Souvenir stores and restaurants. Are we in a tourist town?

And of course we went to the taffy shop :)

When we got home - hours and miles later, with loads of laundry waiting for me - I got ready to make a special dessert for Sunday, the official last day of summer around here.

School starts on Tuesday for our younger boys. College. Living at home. Schedule change and lots of money spent (theirs, not ours - we provide room and board, they take care of tuition). One is a freshman and the other is a sophomore. Our "first day of school" days are numbered!

So I made the Easy Chocolate Eclair recipe we were talking about here at the Cafe last week. It's the perfect special dessert for those days when you're pressed for time and energy.

Here's the recipe:


1 (8 oz). tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 large (6 servings) box vanilla instant pudding
3 cups milk
1 (16 oz.) box graham crackers


1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together the whipped topping, pudding and 3 cups milk. Place a layer of graham crackers in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish (you can break them apart to fit), then cover with 1/2 of the pudding mixture. Repeat, and then add a third layer of graham crackers. (I never use all the graham crackers).

Now for the topping. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together sugar, cocoa and 1/3 cup milk just until boiling. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into a medium mixing bowl and cool, stirring often.

Hint: this is your time to change the laundry, or read a book, or take a cat-nap...

 Once it's cool, pour evenly over your eclairs. The topping will ooze its way around until the whole surface is covered.

Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. IF there are any leftovers, store in the refrigerator.

This is a great make-ahead for covered dish dinners. Once you make it, the only problem you have is keeping people from sneaking tastes ahead of time :)

And yes, you can substitute ingredients! If you make homemade pudding, use 3 cups and then don't use the 3 cups milk. Whipped cream can be substituted for the whipped topping - I think you'll need about 4 cups.

I've also had this made with Club crackers instead of graham crackers. They give it a very different, kind of sweet/salty taste.

Now, what about those boys who are starting school tomorrow?
The Sophomore

The Freshman (aka Drackler)

Off to the future...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seeds, Greek Yogurt and Fruit Delight!

Okay, you know I'm a salad nut. And I'm not always munching on fruit, I'm more a veggie/broccoli gal, but...

What says summer better than a fruit plate/bowl of Amazing Deliciousness????

Here's the fresh-from-market ingredients:

Strawberries, Mango, Grapes, Sunflower Seeds, Almonds, Greek Yogurt


Peel and slice the mango... It should be just beginning to be tender, not too soft, for optimum sweet taste. Put in bowl or on plate.  Toss in a handful of grapes because they're wondrously deliciosa!  (Think Dora the Explorer!) Then slice up a few berries... and you may toss in anything else you want, but that's what I went with...


I tossed in a handful (or two) of toasted sunflower seeds and sliced almonds...


I used a 6 oz. Chobani Greek Yogurt (it was strawberry flavored, but plain would have been fine because I didn't need the extra calories or carbs and the fresh fruit made it plenty sweet enough!)

I nestled that creamy Greek deliciousness to the side... And I had the worlds most wonderful, cool, sunshine-lovin' lunch ever.


And it made me smile.

(Which is VERY IMPORTANT because my Yankees lost THREE GAMES to Chicago White Sox. Sigh...)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Missy and Her Kitchen Gadgets

The Belle, here. And I'm a total sucker for gadgets! My husband has always said I'm a marketer's dream. I fall for everything I see in ads on TV,  in magazines, live demos, you name it.

I thought I'd share two recent acquisitions and their first uses.

The first: FAIL

The second: SUCCESS

We'll start with the Mission: FAIL (Disclaimer! This is only MY experience from one use and is MY personal opinion. This product may work just fine for others!)

Okay, who else out there has fallen for the sections in a store that has the "As Seen on TV" labels? Yes, I love that aisle. In this case, I bought one of those items.

This Product that Shall Remain Nameless. (although I may have left a hint.)

I guess I should preface this by saying I seem to always have trouble getting my boiled eggs to peel easily. I've tried starting eggs in hot water and starting them in cold water. But nothing has worked.  Soooo, when I saw the above box, I thought, "Cool! I could use that and quit worrying about the peel. Look at those beautiful deviled eggs on that box!" Yes, you have just lived inside my head, lucky you. ;)

So I bought them, took them home, and then bribed my daughter to wash them for me while I was cooking one evening. I promised her egg salad, one of her favorites, for her work.

First off, there are a bunch of parts that have to be put together to form the little cups. That's okay, I figured. It would be worth the effort. Still less effort than peeling.

But then I found it difficult to crack the eggs into the little holders. Found it difficult to tighten the lids tightly. And then a couple of them leaked into the boiling water.

And I used large eggs, but the finished product came out basically a half an egg! If you were going to do deviled eggs, you'd have to cook a dozen eggs to get a dozen deviled eggs (and the box only has 6).

And then, even worse, here's the mess I had left to clean up (brought back memories of washing scores of baby bottles!). All those parts! So, in my opinion, this experiment was a failure. I plan to take them back to the store.

Next, a success story.

Chef's Envy.

Disclaimer! This is very, very sharp. You have to follow the manufacturer directions. Use at your own risk. Any recommendation I make is my personal opinion based on my experience. You can't hold me responsible for any injuries! :)

Now, back to the blog...  :) But let me back up a little...

My daughter and I headed to Belk one day to look for a swim suit. Well, nothing is more torturous for me than waiting on a fifteen year old girl to try on six gazillion bathing suits only to have her reject EVERY SINGLE ONE. So I left her to her fun and went to the housewares department.

A young man was setting up to do some sort of food demo. Yes, I should have run the other direction. I  KNEW I was in danger of making a rash purchase. But then he promised a freebie for everyone who watched, and the chance for a bonus if you stayed till the end...

Well, I was a goner.

He proceeded to demonstrate the coolest thing ever and made it look easy as pie to use and clean. And he offered a bonus of a nice pair of kitchen shears for anyone who made a purchase. (And wouldn't you know the handle had broken off my old kitchen shears?! Surely this was meant to be!) So I bought one.

The other night, I pulled it out for the first time. Washed it--simple for only a few pieces. Plus, it has a decent set of instructions to show what blade to use for each food.

I planned to do white potatoes but found I only had sweet potatoes on hand. You know how hard uncooked sweet potatoes are, but I was still able to do a good job with them using the larger julienne blade. You just have to be very careful and use the hand guard! Don't push anything through with your fingers. The last few slices at the end of the potato were a bit difficult, so I ended up throwing away one wedge rather than risk getting my hand too close (or you could slice with a knife if you didn't want to waste).

Slicing in progress

Here's a video on YouTube if you're interested in seeing how it works. (click here but come back!)

And here are my potatoes! A nice size for quick cooking.

I ended up cooking in a skillet with some oil and salt. But I think next time I'll try baking. They'd probably be good deep fried as well. I also think I'd like white or red potatoes better cooked on the stove like this, because when I eat sweet potatoes, I want butter and brown sugar! :)

So someone please tell me you're also a sucker for gadgets you see in ads!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Porcupines With Mary Connealy!

I love Mary's quick recipes and here's one that's amazingly easy, popular and makes everyone happy:

And I don't have fancy pics today because I'm tied up at the bank this morning and working this afternoon and editing Wednesday night...

So forgive me, 'Kay????


1 lb. raw hamburger
1/2 cup uncooked rice (I use Basmati or Wild rice mix, both are delicious and great texture!)

Ruthy note: I add salt and pepper and a tablespoon of dried onion from the BIG dried onion thingamabobbie I buy at Sam's Club. And a sprinkle of granulated garlic. Other than that, this is Mary's recipe. Really.  ;)

Mix together. Shape meatballs. Put in casserole dish. Expect them to look NOTHING like porcupines. Add:

Tomato Juice to cover meat/rice balls. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes in covered casserole dish at 375 degrees. It takes every minute of that time or the rice isn't tender.

I like to serve these with grilled summer squash and zucchini. Or grilled corn. Or I just eat them by the handfuls, LOL!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ugly But Tasty

Hello all, the Fresh Pioneer is back with something fresh and tasty! Ready? Wonderful!

But before we start, I suppose this post might need a small subtitle. Or a caveat. Or a warning sign.
(I think this means "picky eaters run for your lives". Pretty sure. Or maybe "parents will have to chase down their kids and force feed them this dish".)


Some people need their food to be picture perfect. Nothing wrong with that! As my mother said to me once, " If it doesn't look good, no one will eat it." (Of course, this doesn't apply to teenage boys, hungry men, or myself past the midnight hour.)
This post is for those times that you want to cook something wonderfully tasty that looks a bit... ugly. Some dishes are just not going to be on the cover of Gourmet magazine any time soon. Now that you're ready to get down and dirty (or ugly), let's start!
I hear you screaming already! Take a deep breath. I'm not cooking anything with tails. Today. But if anyone remembers this movie, the little dude's name was Ratatouille. Which is a delicious, fresh veggie saute, usually over rice, couscous or polenta. It USUALLY looks like this:
But who ever gets it to turn out that way? Not me. So, let's ignore the unreal expectations and cook something a little less perfect-looking!
Ah, a sideways pan filled with one chopped sweet onion and minced garlic, along with a few TBS of olive oil. While that heats up, let's go looking for veggies.
   These are fom the garden of my beautiful friend Barbara. Her husband, Larry, can grow just about anything, including GIANT PUMPKINS. I stopped by one day and was the happy recipient of a trunk full of produce.
    Love gardeners. Super love generous gardeners! My dad and his wife keep me supplied with cucumbers from June until the end of August. I haven't seen our grocery produce section in MONTHS.
Wash and choppity, choppity,  choppity.
Assorted sweet bell peppers join the party.
With a few big tomatoes, into the pan they go.
I took 3 cups of chicken broth left over from trying out Missy Tippens' dumpling recipe and added that to the group. If you don't have broth, you can dissolve two cubes of boullion into 3 cps of water. You can add more salt later, if needed. Turn the burner to medium high. This should get simmering pretty quickly. ( I like a lot of tomatoes so at this point I added one can of diced tomatoes.)
Now, you can definitely eat your ratatouille (the dish, not the chef rat!) plain, but it's usually over the top of a grain or pasta. I love polenta (cooked cornmeal). It's so... filling. And possibly caloric. I refuse to check.
Slice and lay in a skillet over 2 TBS of olive oil. (We're trying to be healthy! I've heard it's best with real butter and browns beautifully but I'm pretending I don't know about all that.) Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and parsley flakes. It doesn't take long to warm up/cook. About five minutes, and flip.

I know you're thinking none of this is particularly UGLY. But remember our veggies simmering away? We've been stirring them carefully, and waiting for the broth to reduce so it's nice and savory. No matter how careful we are, zucchini just doesn't like to be simmered and stirred.
 Prepare yourselves.
 Mmmmmm.... goodness. All garden fresh, with polenta on the side! It's just not quite 'picture perfect' so don't surprise any picky five year olds with this dish. Just make them a PB&J sandwich. That leaves more for you anyway.

  What's your favorite 'ugly' dish? Have you ever made anything delicious that looked... inedible? We're all friends here. I promise I won't laugh. Much.

Oh, P.S. A little bitty post on DESSERT. :) Piper, here's the fruit syrup/compote we were having this weekend in Seekerville to celebrate Rose's new sale.

Two cups of blueberries, one cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 TBS lemon juice or orange juice, pinch of salt, dash of cinnamon.
Rolling boil for five minutes, stirring frequently. (Mmm, smelling good!)
1 TBS of corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup of water. Add to bluebrries. Return to heat and stir constantly over medium high until thickened. Now's a good time to taste test (hot!) and see if it needs more lime, more sugar, or both. Some like it super sweet, but I like my syrup a bit tangy.
Oh, MERCY. Vanilla ice cream and blueberry syrup. (You can always strain out the berries if you just want the liquid, it's just as good.)
Another view. This is a very small glass. Really. It just LOOKS big. *innocent face*
And this is what one of my kids brought me. His bluebrries had 'disappeared' so he needed more.  And more. Pretty color, though. Almost like a shake.

  Okay, I'm really done now! Back to discussing ugly food...