Update: Fusco’s Kitchen Re-Opens or Learning to Love Low-sodium

I’m simply adding this preface to an old post to replace the original introduction. This past blogless year I was diagnosed with early heart disease. Things are okay, but I need to take some steps to stay okay. One of these, much dreaded, was reduce the salt in my diet.  I’m slowly learning to adapt favorite recipes, and have been blessed by the recent introduction of get this — LOW-SODIUM OLIVES!!!!!!manzanilla olives

For me this is the equivalent of winning the Publishers’ Clearinghouse contest. Life is sweet again.  So, I’ve been encouraged to work on a few of my favorites. Simple fixes like tons of dill in tuna salad or green beans, lemon on nearly everything, and more cumin in lentil soup have become the norm, but a few items have eluded me. One is the red beans and yellow rice dishes I developed a few years ago. Tonight I’m using a stray can of red beans that’s moderate in sodium (320mg per serving), but I’ll be making a batch salt-free next time. I’m also stretching the premixed rice by adding a cup of uncooked plain rice in with a cup of the rice mix. More garlic and some sodium-free diced tomatoes with the juice should cover the needed changes.

The savory update will have to wait til this weekend, when I’ll shop and get more olives!


 

The Original Recipes

The emphasis this week has been on convenient, healthy, frugal foods. I’ve been eating variations on yellow rice and beans all week.

simple and good

I cooked a pound of red beans in the slow cooker overnight.  Then cooked a family-sized package of yellow rice (makes about 8 cups).  I took about 4 cups of the beans and packaged them in Ziplock baggies in the freezer, and refrigerated the balance in a covered bowl. The rice was also refrigerated.

Meal 1:  heat medium skillet, add splash of olive oil. While oil heats, quickly dice zucchini and mushrooms. Pulverize 1 clove garlic in press or under knife, add to veggies sauteing along with parsley and a little oregano and thyme.  Stir in 1 cup yellow rice and 1/2-2/3 cup beans. Mix until ingredients are hot. If they are too dry, drizzle broth, tomato or V-8 juice in while stirring to proper texture. Season with grated cheese or a splash of lemon juice.

Meal 2:  Microwave lunch:  Put 1 cup rice and 1/2 cup beans in a microwaveable container. Grate directly into container: 1 small zucchini, 1 small carrot (or half each larger ones).  Again, splash generously with V-8 or other tomato based juice  or soup. Refrigerate until lunch. Heat, add grated cheese and enjoy.

tapenade

Meal 3: Savory version.  Dice Zucchini, saute with minced garlic in olive oil.  Saute yellow rice and beans (same 2:1 proportion as other recipes). with the squash. In food processor, roughly chop a large handful of green stuffed olives, a can of drained artichoke hearts, some capers, a few black olives, a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or rosemary might work well).  Lightly pulse these ingredients along with a handful of red beans. top sautéed beans and rice with a dollop of this tapenade and enjoy.

Whatever combination of savory ingredients (add almonds, diced tomatos, or the classic anchovies, for example) can be handled this same way for a wide array of flavors, all based on simple red beans and yellow rice.

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Old-Fashioned Beef Vegetable Soup

soup 3My mother used to make this amazing vegetable soup. I learned to like barley from that soup. Oddly enough, the only food I really miss in eating gluten-free (I mean, besides good french bread), is barley.

There’s something about the sweet nuttiness, and slightly chewy texture that makes vegetable soup just perfect. I started adding it to other soups too, especially turkey noodle soup after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

For the past two years I’ve been trying to re-conjure the taste and feel of my mother’s soup, sans barley. I think I’ve finally done it.

The soup was made in the slow cooker, but doesn’t require much adaptation for the soup kettle — it would just take two days, instead of three.

Laurie’s Old-Fashioned Beef Vegetable Soupsoup ingredients raw

Two marrow bones and about a pound of boneless beef stew meat

Or two beef shins with plenty of meat

Enough cold water to fill the cooker or kettle about two-thirds full

A sprinkle of salt

One large onion, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled

3-5 large stalks of celery, with leafy tops

2 big carrots,

Whatever other limp but usable vegetables (I had a half of zucchini, but I’ve also added green beans, pea, parsnips, or turnip — nothing too dominating in flavor, though)

Simmer overnight

While the stock is cooking, soak a cup or two of red beans, or a combination other beans of your choice (cannelloni, navy beans, october beans, red kidney beans are others I like to use)

When the stock has deepened in color and the veggies are nearly mush, strain the broth, reserving the “stuff” to pick out the clean bits of meat.  Press the cooked vegetables through a sieve to get all the moisture and flavor out

Add the drained beans, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and the cleaned bits of meat (no gristle allowed) and simmer again overnight

soup 2Add:

4-5 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced

6-8 small potatoes, peeled and diced (I used Klondike Rose this time)

3 stalks of celery, diced very fine

1 large zucchini, diced

A handful of chopped fresh parsley, or dried if necessary

Other herbs I usually add are powdered onion and garlic, paprika, thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano.

Simmer until the vegetables are tender.

Add 1 can of corn, another can of diced tomatoes,

Perhaps a couple of cans of cooked beans if you need to stretch the soup for more people. Salt to taste, add more herbs if needed.

That’s it.

taco-soup-in-the-crock-pot (1)I think the corn and several types of beans add the sweetness the barley used to provide, and if you want a little thicker soup, go heavier on the potatoes and don’t drain all the liquid from the canned beans.  Another possible addition is a little chopped cabbage — people don’t think it of it as sweet, but it really is in soups.

I’m ready to go have seconds now.

Delayed, But Successful

Ingredients for Pesto

I found two packages of fresh, organic basil at Earth Fare for way too much money.

On the way home, I got to thinking that perhaps the olive oil was rancid, as well as the pine nuts. The batch of pesto I tossed was really, really bad. So, I tasted the oil when I got in, and sure enough, it was rancid too.  The hot summer certainly took a toll in my kitchen!

Back out I went, this time to the local supermarket, and purchased a very small bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, and larger bottle of Berio classical olive oil (both on sale☺).

Returning once again, I delayed for some dinner — by now it was after 8 pm. Then to work on the pesto. This batch came out very well — not the best I’ve ever made because the basil was a very mild variety, but still very good. 

The finished product

I now have five 4-oz jars, topped with a layer of olive oil, sitting in the freezer, waiting to be given as holiday or thank-you gifts.

Success is just lovely, even when delayed.

F is for Frustration

I’m going out to the expensive whole-foods grocery to get basil.

I had basil — I lovingly tended a second crop — for pesto. Picked, cleaned it, made the pesto. Yuck! I used the wrong jar of pignoli nuts. They were slated to be checked and perhaps thrown out. They should have been.  They were way too old. They imparted a bitter, rancid flavor to all my lovely basil. I threw it all out (pause here for rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth). 

Now I’m heading out to spend my change jar on more basil. I still have plenty of pignoli nuts (in the other jar) as well as garlic, olive oil, and grated cheese.

Not going to stay thwarted for long!

Fusco’s Kitchen Opens: Red Beans & Yellow Rice

For years now I’ve had friends, acquaintances, colleagues, students, clients and, well, pretty much anyone who’s eaten my cooking, tell me I should a) teach a class, b) write a book, c) do a cooking show, d) open a restaurant, e) or do catering. 

My reaction has always been, “eh, not so much.”  I love to cook, teach, write, perform, and sometimes even serve, but not full-time, not as a real job. So I’ve confined myself to casual barter and a few random posts on cooking. 

That may be changing. I’m spending a considerable part of my down time contemplating the ideas that persistently rise up, teaching cooking, having a specialty line, writing a cook book, all have their charms. My emphasis this week has been on convenient, healthy, frugal foods. I’ve been eating variations on yellow rice and beans all week. 

simple and good

I cooked a pound of red beans in the slow cooker overnight.  Then cooked a family-sized package of yellow rice (makes about 8 cups).  I took about 4 cups of the beans and packaged them in Ziplock baggies in the freezer, and refrigerated the balance in a covered bowl. The rice was also refrigerated. 

Meal 1:  heat medium skillet, add splash of olive oil. While oil heats, quickly dice zucchini and mushrooms. Pulverize 1 clove garlic in press or under knife, add to veggies sauteing along with parsley and a little oregano and thyme.  Stir in 1 cup yellow rice and 1/2-2/3 cup beans. Mix until ingredients are hot. If they are too dry, drizzle broth, tomato or V-8 juice in while stirring to proper texture. Season with grated cheese or a splash of lemon juice. 

Meal 2:  Microwave lunch:  Put 1 cup rice and 1/2 cup beans in a microwaveable container. Grate directly into container: 1 small zucchini, 1 small carrot (or half each larger ones).  Again, splash generously with V-8 or other tomato based juice  or soup. Refrigerate until lunch. Heat, add grated cheese and enjoy. 

tapenade

Meal 3: Savory version.  Dice Zucchini, saute with minced garlic in olive oil.  Saute yellow rice and beans (same 2:1 proportion as other recipes). with the squash. In food processor, roughly chop a large handful of green stuffed olives, a can of drained artichoke hearts, some capers, a few black olives, a clove of garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or rosemary might work well).  Lightly pulse these ingredients along with a handful of red beans. top sautéed beans and rice with a dollop of this tapenade and enjoy. 

Whatever combination of savory ingredients (add almonds, diced tomatos, or the classic anchovies, for example) can be handled this same way for a wide array of flavors, all based on simple red beans and yellow rice.

My Second Lavender Festival

Sunday, after two days of tending a yard sale in 90+ degree heat, I headed up to Burnsville with my friend Carolyn, for the Mountain Farm Annual Lavender Festival.

The sun was shining, the hills were alive with lavender, butterflies and bees.

We walked the lavender labyrinth, bought lavender herb mixes, and drank lavender lemonade. Across the road and up the hill is Blueberry Cottage, where was great local music, a delicious lunch and several craft and local farm vendors.

I purchased wool/angora blend yarn in lovely purples (what else?) while Carolyn received a 10-minute massage.

Then we picked lavender and headed back down the hill towards the cars. I waited by the lone chair in the driveway while Carolyn trekked the final hills to the parking lot. Here’s my traditional Festival tote from the 2010 event — I’m declaring that twice is enough for a new tradition. All in all we had a mellow and relaxed day — just a lovely  time.

Here’s the picnic sight in the late lunch hour, with just a few folks enjoying their meal and the surroundings.

Finally, some additional photos to enjoy. I hope your weekend last week, and this upcoming one were as happy and beautiful as mine.

Part of the Labyrinth

My Festival Goodies

A Busy Weekend Coming

Wow! I’m not going to have a minute this weekend. In addition to our Yard Sale on Friday and Saturday (oh what a ton of work we’re in for), this weekend is the annual Lavender Festival at Mountain Farms in Burnsville. 

I went last year and had the most lovely day (see here and here).   I hope to make it up there on Sunday with a friend or two in tow.

The Mountain Farm website had the loveliest photo. Can’t you feel the breeze and smell the lavender?

Lavender Festival Girl

Mid-April Madness

Just a few days ago I took the picture of the magnolia tree in flower that I posted. Now the flowers are all spent, the tree has greened up, and the next stage of Spring is here.

Mid-April madness is a mind-set that always comes upon me at this lovely pause in Spring’s sweet progress.

Spring in the Blue Ridge

Things are green, but still slightly golden around the edges. Flowers are still tender — not yet having achieved the profusion and brilliance of a southern summer.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are not yet deep green (they are still pale along the high ridges, where Spring is running a week or so behind).

Misty mornings still hold a touch of frost behind my house, though the birds wake me earlier each day.

I’m still filled with the enthusiasm of Spring. Once Summer arrives in earnest, I wilt way too easily to enjoy the gardens I plan at this time of year. I will soon seek the cool dimness of air-conditioned rooms, instead of baking in the garden’s heat.

For now, though, grandiose plans are the order of the day.

last summer's garden

I visualize spilling containers of herbs, brilliant pots of petunias and zinnias, hot pink roses, and climbing trumpet vines with dancing hummingbirds.

I imagine cool, deep green shadows under arbors heavy with grapes… my magical garden that needs more sweat and muscle than I can provide.

But, I’ve got a plan!

I cook.  In fact, I cook really really well. 

So, I’ve lined up garden and yard work on the barter system for this year. 

One friend to mow, one to trim hedges, one to weed and mulch, and so forth. I’ll make gallons of red sauce, quarts of chicken in wine sauce, pots of vegetable soup, pounds of artichoke salads, baked ziti, casseroles, stews, stir-fries — you name it, I’ll cook it. 

My garden elves will be well-fed, and I’ll finally have the garden my mid-April madness and imagination dictate.

Buon Appetito, garden crew!

Another Gift from George

Last night I had a nice piece of haddock for dinner (pan-broiled with dill and a few other things).

I happily shared the scraps with George and Little Miss (Topaz doesn’t do “human” food).

I probably shouldn’t have done that.

This morning George brought me a present — another fish!

I heard the piercing call of “I’ve got something” echoing through the house at about 6:30 this morning. My, he sounded proud of himself!

Reluctant to get up and face whatever small furry or feathered creature had met his end at George’s claws and fangs, I stayed in bed, ignoring reality for a while.

When I finally eased into the kitchen and looked around, there was a small, very dead, fish.

Here we go again, I thought.  And still, I don’t know where he gets them!

For more George-Fish stories see these earlier posts:   Fishing Cat, This Has to Stop, and Brief Update.

Rockin’ in the Kitchen (& Garden)

I am really rockin’ it today.

I’ve been on a doing binge — I went to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up some ravishing Swiss chard, baby beets, tomatoes, extra basil (pesto is calling me), little carrots, some Tuscan kale, and several bunches of flowers. Such luxury!

Then I caught up the dishes, which is a never ending battle for me. Small sink, big cooking (that says it all).  Finally, in and among the chores I’ve been weeding, cleaning up bits of trash, and getting set up for the next planting session.

Said planting is scheduled for right after I finish cooling off a little and posting this entry as my reward for all the hard work — and on a holiday, too. I may even take a few pictures to post later.

I hear the plants shouting my name. . . ciao!