Gifts From My Grandmothers & My Garden

“…The most treasured things passed down from generation to generation are the family recipes.” 

I come from a long line of exceptional women — both in and out of the kitchen. Growing up, I was always fed amazing food without having to cook. This may be why I have moments when I’m a culinary train wreck.

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My mixed-European heritage was fully-embraced by the women who’ve preceded me in our family.  My paternal grandmother could turn German flavors like sauerbraten, spatzle, and potato pancakes with her eyes closed.  Her Irish stews and her soda bread were to die for. (I’ll share those soon!)

My other grandmother was Italian and made magic with her homemade raviolis, lasagna, ziti and sauces. My mouth waters remembering how their houses would smell; how their food was almost medicinal in the way it could make you feel comfort.

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But I was stupid.  When my grandmothers were alive, I had no interest in learning the wonderful things they wanted to teach me.  My father’s mother died when I was 16 and in the throws of caring more about boys, music, and college.

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My other grandmother died when I was 31.  Back then, I was more concerned with my career and the family I was about to create.  Earlier, when she was well enough to share her gift with me I thought:  why do I need to know how to cook?  I’m never going to need to know how to do that!!  I’m going to be a modern career girl, after all!

I didn’t realize that I was slamming a treasure box closed.

I know.  Stupid.

If you’re not smart, be lucky.  I am lucky because I still have my mom.  She has preserved, perfected and melded both of my grandmothers’ techniques and talents.  So when my garden started to yield a beautiful bounty of veggies, I called mom.

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Let me be clear: my house is the house where plants come to die. Nothing green is safe in my presence.  But when we moved to our new home two years ago, I saw raised flower beds surrounded by a deer-proof fence and thought: this is my chance!

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After two summers of successes and terrifically ugly failures, I found a beautiful array of eggplants, peppers, and oh-so-many tomatoes this week.

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My mom suggested Grandma’s Stewed Eggplant.  I was wary. My 7-year-old is vehement about his hatred of all things eggplant.  But when he saw me pluck the eggplant he helped me plant in our garden, even he was excited.

I was excited, too.  As I cooked tonight, I could feel my grandmother in my kitchen with me.  She died just a few days after we found out we would be blessed with our oldest child. I’ve always wished she could have met our children.  So this was actually an emotional recipe for me to make and I really wanted the kids to love this.

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Grandma’s Stewed Eggplant

  • 2 eggplants, cubed and peeled (I used one really fat, big eggplant)
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 3 onions diced or sliced (my mom prefers diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green peppers, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes (diced)
  1. Saute eggplants, onions, garlic and peppers in the olive oil until eggplant is soft.
  2. Add tomatoes, salt, oregano.
  3. Cover and cook for 20 minutes until cooked through
         *if it’s too watery, add flour

I didn’t follow this exactly.  I had a lot of tomatoes that needed to be used today.  So I used one can of diced tomatoes, and then diced up 5 or 6 small fresh tomatoes from the garden and tossed them into the mix.  I also used a bit more oregano, to taste.  Oh… and I didn’t need to add flour.  Isn’t it just beautiful?!?


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My mom suggested serving this on hard rolls or crostini with some melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  She even said you can serve it on sandwiches cold– sort of like a relish.  I think these are great ideas and I’ll try them in the future, but I chose to serve it over spaghetti and sprinkled parmesan on it in order to pass it off on my more-discerning family.  (Everything tastes great on spaghetti, right?!)

It was a HIT!

Everyone LOVED this, even our 7-year-old who was sure to redeclare his steadfast hate of eggplant (with this one exception!) The mixture was a hearty, flavorful, veggie-rich sauce. The eggplant was not bitter at all.  It was so soft, it could be mistaken for sauteed mushrooms.  The oregano married the eggplant and peppers brilliantly.

I couldn’t wait to call my mom to tell her the results. She was as happy as I was that it was a success.

I think Grandma would have been proud — in more ways than one.  I hope so.

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Simple Shrimp and Veggie Risotto

Wow!  What a busy August it has been.

The kids and I took a road trip and were away for two weeks.  Then we returned to crazy Back-To-School mode.  Phew!  I’m pooped!

And while I’ve been cooking (we DO have to eat, after all!) I haven’t been blogging.  I’m just too worn out at the end of the day to actually think.

But I made something tonight that I wanted to share with you.  As usual, it was pretty easy. I did most of the prep work while the kids told me about their day and did homework. Then I cooked it while I let them watch a show.

My daughter came down with a stomach bug this morning and was on the BRAT diet all day.  So I knew she needed to have rice for dinner.  I found some Arborio Rice in my pantry and decided to run with it — I would make plain risotto for her and something a little more substantial for my guys. 

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Plus, I had a ton of veggies in my fridge that were on the fringe.  It was either use `em, or lose `em.  So I came up with this dish: 

Shrimp and Veggie Risotto

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  • 1 cup risotto
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil (divided)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bag of frozen, raw shrimp
  • 1 heaping Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 green zucchini squash, chopped
  • 1 yellow zucchini squash, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, quartered
  • salt
  • pepper
  • shredded parmesan cheese (to sprinkle on top)
Start by getting the risotto going. In a heavy saucepan, put 2 Tbsp olive oil and melt 1 Tbsp butter with it. Saute the onion.  ImageWhen the onion is opaque, add the cup of arborio rice and saute that for 2 minutes.  Then, start adding your chicken broth — over low heat, add 1 cup at a time and allow it to come to a boil until the liquid is absorbed.  ImageYou’ll need to keep an eye on this and stir it regularly so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan.
*Note:  I’ve seen recipes that instruct people heat the chicken broth in a separate sauce pan and adding it a little at a time. I’ve done this before, and found it doesn’t really make a big difference in the outcome.  So I just use the chicken broth straight from the container.  
After adding your first cup of chicken broth to the risotto — get started on the shrimp and veggies.  ImageSaute the garlic in remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Once the garlic is becoming more clear, add your tomatoes, salt and pepper and allow them to start to cook down (but not too much!)
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As the tomatoes are starting to soften, add your zucchini squash, mushroom and shrimp and cook it until the shrimp is pink and cooked through. (the shrimp and veggies took about 15 minutes to cook.)   
Ohhhhh — this was SO pretty and smelled SO good!!
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Once the veggies and shrimp are cooked through and the risotto is deliciously creamy — you’re ready to serve.  I put a scoop of risotto into a bowl and then a heaping scoop of shrimp and veggies on top.  Sprinkled with a little parmesan cheese and – YUM!
Personally, I thought this was delicious.  It was creamy and chock-full-of-veggies.  Plus, you can make it without the shrimp and substitute vegetable broth to make a vegetarian meal.  I was hopeful the kids would like it, too. So — moment of truth.  How’d the Hubs and the kids take to it???
  • The Hubs loved it, saying ‘It’s great.’
  • My 3 year old didn’t eat the shrimp and veggies since she was on a bland diet. But she loved her plain risotto and asked for seconds.
  • My 5 year old was in love.  He ate the entire bowl in record time.
  • My 7 year old ate it under duress (this is how he does EVERYTHING these days.  Even trying to get him ready for a trip to the pool turns me into a broken record: “Put your bathing suit on.  Put your bathing suit on.  Put your bathing suit on.”) He complained about how ‘EVERYONE’ knows he HATES zucchini and how DARE I give him zucchini!!!!  (The NERVE!!!)  I asked him to give it a try and promised he would not get dessert if he kept up his Oscar-worthy performance.  Low-and-behold… he actually didn’t hate it.  He ate it.  And if he wasn’t so set on being so difficult about EVERYTHING these days… he may have even had seconds.

I hope that getting back into the school routine gets me back on the blog routine.  I’ve missed writing these past few weeks.  The cooking…. well…. not so much!  LOL!

Happy eating!
Sharon

Make Ahead Meals – Part 2

Scent of a Home 

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There’s something about the smell of spaghetti sauce wafting through the house. It’s almost medicinal. One could even call it therapeutic. Homey. Anyone with an Italian mother will know this to be true.  I certainly do.

So when my husband caught wind of the smell of my latest ‘make-ahead’ meal tonight, his eyes perked up.

“Spaghetti and meatballs???” he asked hopefully.

“Nope,” I replied.  “I’m trying NEW meals for my blog!”

I’m not going to lie.  He looked a bit crest-fallen.  After all, spaghetti and meatballs is one of his favorites. Same goes for our kids. And since my family loves it, I make it.  A lot.

But tonight I went in a new direction and tried something I’ve never made before: linguine with red clam sauce. And, of course, I used “Old Trusty” so I could toss this meal together and go.  The Crock Pot.

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce & Steamed Green Beans

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Can I get a ‘Hollah!’ from all of you who love your Crock Pots?

I always turn to it for these types of comfort foods that work when you have places to go, people to see.  Typically, Red Clam Sauce is made on the stove top. So I was pretty stoked when I found this recipe on Taste Of Home. 

I threw it all together in the crock pot at 3pm for a 6pm dinner (although I think you could add some water to the recipe and cook it on ‘low’ for longer.)

I didn’t have an onion in the house (the horror!) so I used dried chopped onions. And I used garlic powder and dried herbs.

No matter.  I thought this was delicious.

Having grown up in New Jersey, where great Italian food is more prevalent than McDonald’s, clam sauce is my own personal litmus test.  (we all have one!)  I would always order white or red clam sauce to know if the restaurant was a place worthy of my patronage.

The sauce tonight was thick and rich and delicious. Full of clam flavor which didn’t overpower the tomatoes. Just enough garlic. Salty without making me pucker. Yum.

So I served it up with a side of green beans steamed in the bag (4 minutes while the pasta cooked.)  Linguine With Red Clam Sauce & Steamed Green Beans

Everyone devoured their dinners in minutes.

  • My 5 year old — who will eat just about anything I put in front of him — had THREE helpings!  (and then he asked for a FOURTH!!)
  • My 6 year old had 2 helpings.
  • My 3 year old had 2 helpings.
  • The Hubs had 2 helpings.

Pretty successful, right?

Nope.

“Z” — my 5yo — loved it and wants me to make it again.

Everyone else wants me to stick to Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Oh well.  Isn’t the point of this blog to expose us all to cooking and eating new meals?!?   YES!!!

We’ll try again tomorrow.

Oh… and tomorrow’s meal is already made!!   I had a few minutes today while putting the sauce together, that I prepped for tomorrow’s dinner and…. here it is!!!

Tomorrow's Dinner!

You’ll have to read the blog tomorrow to see what it is….

How’s that for a tease?

Happy eatings!!

Sharon