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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peter Piper has nothin' on me!

Earlier this year when I planted my garden, I wrote "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary." I had a beautiful garden box built by my husband and the kids, myriad seeds and seedlings, and high hopes for the bounty of summer. Four months later, one thing is certain. I may be able to cook, but I'm going to have to get my ingredients elsewhere. I definitely do NOT have a green thumb.

I'd like to blame it on the drought we're having in Charleston, but I'm kidding myself. I'm to blame. Maybe I spend too much time in the kitchen and not enough time weeding, watering and cultivating. I would post a picture of the garden, but it's a bit embarrassing. So I'll move on.

Luckily, my in-laws and neighbors have had success in their gardens, despite the lack of rain. With regular drop-offs throughout the week, I have so many vegetables. I don't know what to do with them all. Literally! Look at these gorgeous peppers. The variety! The colors! But I've ever only used a pepper here and there to spice up a dish. What in the world do I do with all these?

Another nursery rhyme comes to mind. Pickled peppers! I guess it's technically a tongue twister, but you get the idea. Peter Piper has nothin' on me!

This recipe is a little bit random, but that's why I like it. If you don't have an ingredient, substitute something you do have! This is about using what God gives us (in this case, a whole bunch of peppers!). Taylor describes these pickled peppers as having "a hundred different flavors." I call it depth. They're sour, salty, sweet and spicy. You can eat them on their own, or top off a sandwich with them. No need for fatty condiments when you have this burst of flavor. Some are mild, some are hot -- watch out!

I didn't measure any of the ingredients, I just kept tasting it until I thought it was interesting. Cooking is an art -- stretch yourself! See what you come up with.

Also, I recommend wearing rubber gloves when cutting the peppers. I didn't, and though I washed my hands dozens of times, the residual heat on my fingertips still burned my eyes for days.

Pickled Peppers
Variety of peppers, sliced lengthwise
Equal parts vinegar and water
Black peppercorns
Minced garlic
Mustard seeds
Bay leaves
Pinch of ground cloves

Pack peppers into jars. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Pour over peppers, put on the lids, and let cool. Refrigerate for one week before eating.

I made these as refrigerator pickles, but if you're comfortable with safe canning methods, you could certainly make these for preserving in the pantry. As they are, they'll last for several weeks in the refrigerator.

I have a huge bucket of cucumbers that arrived a couple days ago, so I'll tackle more traditional pickles next. Then okra pickles...then...I guess it depends on what shows up on my front porch. How exciting!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is 25% off until August 31, 2010. Only $14.99! Enjoy a whole month of healthy, delicious dishes. What better time than bathing suit season?

Order now!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer Special!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is 25% off until August 31, 2010. Only $14.99! Enjoy a whole month of healthy, delicious dishes. What better time than bathing suit season?

Order now!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The great news about apple butter!

I have some great news about apple butter! And at this point, you're thinking one of two things. One, what is apple butter? Or two, this woman needs to get a life. But seriously, if you haven't tried apple butter, you should. Immediately.

I live in Charleston, South Carolina now, but I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania -- home of the Pennsylvania Dutch, or Amish. Lancaster was such an interesting place to grow up, but I wouldn't exactly call it "svelte." While farming is a huge part of the culture, Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is typically full fat all the way. I grew up with a lot of diet saboteurs (not in our house, of course -- my mom is a svelte cook, too!). There was "shoofly pie," whoopie pies, funnel cakes and chicken corn soup. True county fair food. Delicious! Chicken pot pie was my favorite. Only the chicken pot pie I grew up with didn't have a crust or resemble a pie at all. My grandmother made the best, even though our family isn't Pennsylvania Dutch. It was more like chicken and dumplings. Even the word "dumpling" sounds fattening, doesn't it? Sort of like "chow chow," which, ironically, isn't bad for you -- it's pickled vegetables! I still won't eat it. Chow chow. It makes me giggle.

But apple butter was the one thing I could never resist when we went to any type of "family restaurant." No need for butter or jelly. Apple butter is amazing, but I've never seen it anywhere but home. And for all these years, I just assumed it was bad for me. Sounds bad, doesn't it?

I hadn't thought about apple butter in years. I was talking to a colleague the other day who was familiar with the area where I grew up. He brought up apple butter and we both laughed about how it was such a guilty pleasure. Obviously, my next move was to revamp it.

So what's the good news? I did some digging, and I learned that apple butter doesn't have to be bad at all. In fact, most of the recipes I found were quite light on the sugar and didn't have any fat. I had assumed....

So what is apple butter? Basically, it's just reduced applesauce with a few extra spices. You can make your own apple sauce if you're feeling motivated, but I wasn't. I just grabbed a jar -- an unsweetened jar! -- of all natural applesauce and off I went. This is so easy -- quite possibly the easiest recipe I'll ever post on here. I now have a new refrigerator staple that is light (only 10 calories per teaspoon!) and reminds me of home. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Apple Butter
Yields 1 cup

4 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Combine all ingredients in a crock pot, tilt the lid slightly so steam can escape, and cook on low for 8 hours. That's it!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Recipe Makeover #3 - Egg Rolls!

Here in my neck of the woods, we've just celebrated The Fourth of July -- American Independence Day. And what's more American than egg rolls? Huh? What?!

Actually, there's some truth in this. Italian, Mexican, Chinese and other international cuisines are all influenced by our American ways. Some good influences, some bad (portion sizes, for one!), and some just different.

So our cousins Tony, Julie and their daughter Sirona come to visit us from Arizona every year at this time. Julie and I are having a blast in the kitchen, preparing dinners, discussing menus and having companionship as we wash the mountains and mountains of dishes in the sink (4 adults, 3 kids, a revolving door of visitors, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a tortoise make for a lot of dishes!). Anyway, I love it -- the chaos, the family bonding, and the cooking!

Julie and I were talking about some of our vices, and she asked me how bad egg rolls really are. "Wait, never mind -- I don't want to know. It's not going to stop me from eating them." Oh, Julie. You can't bait me like that and not expect me to go on a research mission to find the answer -- good or bad!

Well, it turns out that the answer is "it depends." An egg roll, basically, is pork (or chicken or shrimp), eggs, vegetables and lots of Chinese flavors rolled into a wrapper and deep fried. I did some searches, and from what I can tell, you're looking at around 200 calories (never mind the fat, salt and MSG) for a standard sized "take out" egg roll. So that's not too bad, right? Well it depends. If you eat two egg rolls and stop, then you're not doing too badly (this being a vice and all). However, at least in the Chinese take-out places here, the egg rolls come in pairs and are meant as an appetizer. Then you add the entree, and all bets are off.

So I told Julie that she and her egg rolls could be Recipe Makeover #3. I'd never attempted them before, but you know I like a challenge. And lest you think I just automatically know how to cook all this stuff, here's my method -- I go to my favorite recipe sites, write down the flavors (ingredients and spices) from the ones that seem the most "authentic," eliminate all the really unhealthy parts (the deep frying, for example), and mix and match to taste until I find a flavor/texture/method that gives us "authentic" flavor without all the fat and calories.

I put "authentic" in quotes because of my original point. Though I've traveled throughout my life, I've never been to China. Therefore, my only frame of reference is what I read or order here. So forgive me if I've butchered the egg roll! Or, even better than forgiving me, teach me!

Tony, Julie and Sirona were here for a while, then left to visit a friend for a few days. I told Julie I'd have her egg rolls ready for testing when she got back. Well. The recipe I came up with makes 16 egg rolls....and I managed to salvage two for her. TWO. Keith ate eight and I ate five. Yes, I can do math -- the last one was a casualty (I'm clumsy). They were SO good. Julie agrees! And at only 87 calories each, go ahead and eat five for dinner -- just not as an appetizer! I made sweet and sour sauce and duck sauce for them, but Keith and I both agreed that these were best with plain soy sauce (low sodium, of course!)

The Svelte Gourmet Egg Rolls
Makes 16

6 oz pork loin, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic

1 cup matchstick carrots
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 chopped green onions
1/2 head napa cabbage, cut into thin 2-inch strips

Cooking & Assembly:
3 tsp olive oil, divided
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
16 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if frozen (I use 9"x14" rectangular sheets)
1 egg white

Marinate pork cubes in soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic and ginger for at least 30 minutes. Mix vegetables in a large bowl. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a wok or large skillet. Add eggs, either scrambling or cooking into a large pancake that can be cut into pieces later. Remove cooked eggs from wok and set aside to cool. Heat another teaspoon olive oil. Stir fry pork AND marinade for 2 minutes. Remove meat with a slotted spoon, leaving juices in wok. Heat last teaspoon of oil, adding vegetables and stir frying for 3-4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from wok, place into a colander over a bowl and allow to drain and cool for 15-20 minutes. Chop pork and eggs and add to vegetables.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working quickly so the phyllo doesn't dry out, gently fold 1 sheet of dough in half. Place a couple tablespoons of filling on the first 3rd of the sheet and fold over bottom and sides. Brush exposed phyllo with egg white and continue to roll up until the edge seals to the roll. Place seam side down on a baking sheet misted lightly with olive oil. Repeat process with remaining phyllo dough and filling. Brush tops of all egg rolls with egg white and bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.


The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.