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Monthly Archives: June 2012


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Whew! It has been a day, has it not?  … a very good day in many ways, with positive steps happening, but an exhausting day too….

But this blog is primarily about food, not the other stuff. Specifically, tzatziki. Or you could call it yogurt salad, if you prefer. This is easy to make and very refreshing on a hot day. It  makes a great condiment on spicy foods of all kinds, a sauce on tacos or enchiladas or in any pita bread sandwich, an omelet filling, a dip with chips or crackers, or a salad on its own.

It starts with Greek-style yogurt, which is very thick yogurt that has been drained of its whey. You can buy it in many supermarkets. I like Zoi brand. Chabino is fabulous; Fage  is also very good, but on the pricey side. But Greek-style yogurt is very easy to make, though it takes a little time.

To make Greek-style yogurt: line a colander with a clean dishtowel – not a terry-cloth towel, unless you like little bits of terry-cloth in your yogurt. I guess that could be extra fiber, but not too tasty. Anyway, line the colander with the cloth, then pour in two or three quarts of regular unflavored yogurt – either regular or non-fat, whichever you like. Cover the top with another towel, suspend the colander over a bowl so it can drain easily, and leave 6-8 hours or overnight, un-refrigerated. It’s yogurt, it isn’t going to spoil.

While the yogurt is draining, peel 1 or 2 cucumbers.  Cut in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Slice, chop, or grate the cukes, put them in another colander, sprinkle thoroughly with salt, and allow to drain.

After the allotted time, turn the yogurt into a container. You will see that the amount of yogurt has shrunk quite a bit, and that it has changed consistency and is now fairly firm. You’ll also have a bowl of whey, which can be used as a milk substitute in pancakes, bread, muffins, smoothies, etc.

Thoroughly rinse the cucumbers, and pat dry. Put them in a bowl along with 1 small mild onion, chopped; 1 tomato, seeded and chopped;  2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed; and 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley.

Mix in the yogurt.

Voila! Tzatziki. This keeps quite well if kept covered in the fridge. If you have grated the cucumbers, this makes a refreshing salad dressing, or use to top grilled hamburgers or lamb burgers.


Leave out the onions and/or tomatoes.

Substitute green onions for the mild onion, or shallots.

Add grated beets.

Add chopped fresh mint and/or fresh dill.

Add a minced hot pepper or cayenne.

Add toasted and ground cumin seeds.

Puree the tzatziki, thin with ice water, and serve as a drink (lassi) on a hot day or with spicy food. Add sugar or salt to taste if desired.



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That doesn’t tell you much, does it? But if it had a more accurately descriptive prosaic name like “yellow squash soup,” you’d stop reading. What we have here is a chickeny-lemony soup that could possibly convince non-fans of squash to give it a try. It includes turmeric, which Americans normally only encounter when making certain types of pickles, or in Indian foods; it has more health benefits than you can shake a stick at, assuming you had a stick.

Relentlessly cheerfully yellow, a bowl of Happiness Soup makes a light lunch with a salad or sandwich, or as I used it, a first course at dinner. Warning: turmeric is used as a dye, so you may have to scrub your dishes and any clothing it touches.

This is from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer cookbook and is  ever so slightly adapted.


  • 2 large yellow crookneck squash
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 cups chicken broth (or flavorful vegetable broth)
  • 1/2 cup Arborio or basmati rice
  • salt and pepper

Finely chop the squash and put in a pan along with the lemon zest and olive oil. Saute for about five minutes, until the squash starts to soften.

Add the lemon juice,  turmeric, rice, and chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until rice is tender.

Taste and season with salt, pepper, and maybe more turmeric or lemon juice. While this shouldn’t be sour, you should be able to taste a nice lemony zing that balances with the squash, rice, and broth.


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I guess you can get into lengthy debates about whether it’s a sweet potato or a yam. I don’t really care. Personally, I MUCH prefer the red-skinned, orange-fleshed ones that are marketed here as Red Garnets. The yellow-fleshed ones make me a little nauseous, but if that’s what you like, be my guest.

Sweet potatoes/yams usually make appearances only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then are smothered in a gooey sugary sauce and topped with marshmallows… a culinary travesty, as far as I’m concerned.  Incredibly sweet just roasted in their skins and served with nothing more than a little butter, sweet potatoes are available year round and are one of the most nutritious vegetables available. In addition to unbelievable amounts of Vitamin A, they’re high in B6, Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and fiber. They’re inexpensive, delicious, able to adapt to any part of a meal, and good for you too.

This gorgeous  salad was adapted slightly from a recipe in Epicurious. It requires very little cooking, so is great for a summer meal when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen excessively. Ultra-colorful with a mixture of soft and crunchy textures and Latin seasonings, sweet potato salad would pair beautifully with barbecued pork or chicken, or a ham or duck dish.


  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch  chunks
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves + additional cilantro for garnish
  • 1/2 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 a red onion, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Steam the peeled, chopped sweet potatoes until just barely tender (eat one to test), then drain and run cold water over to stop cooking.
Alternatively, boil the sweet potato chunks 7 minutes, watching and testing very carefully to make sure they do not overcook; when barely tender, drain and run cold water over. Mushy sweet potatoes will not work in this recipe so it is vital they not be allowed to overcook. If you have mushy results, use those in pancakes or waffles or muffins. Start over with a new batch of sweet potatoes and don’t let them overcook.
Combine all other ingredients and toss with cooled sweet potatoes. Serve warm, or cover and chill 4-6 hours. Sprinkle with more chopped cilantro to serve.


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In 1905 Knox Gelatin sponsored a contest for recipes using their product. A recipe for something called Perfection Salad won third prize, a $100 sewing machine, for Mrs. John E. Cook of New Castle, Pennsylvania. One wonders what the first and second place winners might have been.


Perfection Salad

• 1 envelope Knox Sparkling Gelatine.
• 1/2 cup cold water.
• 1/2 cup mild vinegar.
• 1 pint boiling water
• 1 teaspoonful salt
• 1 cup finely shredded cabbage.
• Juice of one lemon.
• 1/2 cup sugar.
• 2 cups celery cut in small pieces.
• 1/4 can sweet red peppers, finely cut.

Soak the gelatine in cold water five minutes; add vinegar, lemon juice, boiling water, sugar and salt. Strain, and when beginning to set add remaining ingredients. Turn into a mold and chill. Serve on lettuce or endive leaves with mayonnaise dressing, or cut in dice and serve in cases made of red or green peppers, or the mixture may be shaped in molds lined with pimentos. A delicious accompaniment to cold sliced chicken or veal.

Great. A vinegar flavored congealed vegetable thing. It’s my opinion that Knox has a lot to answer for in the ensuing onslaught of Godawful gelatin salads that followed for the rest of the century.

James Beard did not care much for what he referred to as “congealed salads.”   But flavorful aspics made from meat stock or vegetables can be a lovely reminder of ladies’ luncheons from the 20s and 30s, with all the retro-ness that might imply (molded salads made with buttermilk, creamy cheeses, wines, meats, and even fish are another largely forgotten culinary remnant of those days – too bad, because they’re easy to make and delicious). My mother and grandmother made aspics, but you don’t see them on the menu much any more. I understand they’re a staple dish in the American South. Never have gotten any further south than Joplin, Missouri (and only stopping for lunch, about which I remember nothing), I couldn’t say for sure.

Aspic, then, is a liquid that has been congealed with gelatin, either naturally occurring (as in beef or chicken stock) or added (as in unflavored gelatin). Clear aspics, such as chicken, are sometimes used in recherche dishes such as eggs coated with aspic, or as an unusual cold chicken “soup.”

But here we are talking about tomato aspic. This is a very light salad on its own, though it’s often paired with another contrasting cold dish such as a creamy shrimp salad or  a crunchy slaw. It makes a wonderful hot-weather lunch with charcuterie and bread, or a simple dinner alongside casual dishes like fried chicken and green beans.

I’ve livened this aspic up with some sherry (which my grandmother would never have used, temperance adherent that she was) and typical Bloody Mary seasonings. It’s amusing to use one of those Turk’s-head or similar copper molds that you see in thrift stores or yard sales, but any bowl will work.

This is adapted from John Phillip Carroll’s California The Beautiful Cookbook, which is from a series of —- The Beautiful cookbooks. They look like coffee table books, and they are, but they are also fine cookbooks.

Do not spend big bucks on Knox Gelatin, which is astronomically priced in those little envelopes with the cow’s head. Go to a health food store or other supermarket that sells bulk products, and buy gelatin from a bin. MUCH cheaper.


  • 8 cups tomato juice or V-8 juice or Clamato or some variation thereof
  • 4 generous tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup sherry, vermouth, or white wine
  • good shot Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
  • 1-2 teaspoons horseradish
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced or pureed garlic
  • hot sauce to taste (use something with flavor like Frank’s or Cholula or Tapatio – Tabasco is just vinegary heat)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • sprinkle of celery salt
  • juice of one lime or lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or Italian seasoning

Pour the sherry into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it, and let sit for a few minutes to dissolve.

Combine the other ingredients in a pan and heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until almost-but-not-quite boiling, then remove from heat.

Stir the sherry & gelatin to make sure it’s dissolved, then pour into the tomato juice and stir thoroughly.

Pour into a mold or  bowl and put in the refrigerator until set. This usually takes about 12 hours.

To unmold: wring a cloth in hot water, then rub the outside of the bowl with hot cloth. Put a plate over the open mold. Using one hand on the bottom of the mold and one hand on the bottom of the plate, flip mold over. If the mold lands a bit off-center, push it gently toward center of plate, or say the hell with it and stick some greenery around it and tell everyone that’s how it’s supposed to look.

Garnish with lemon or lime slices and some sliced cucumber. This is usually served with mayonnaise on the side. If you make it in a ring mold, you can put another salad in the center of the ring.

If the aspic should not set up: you can melt the aspic again and again in a saucepan, dissolving and adding more gelatin as needed. Aspics will get firmer the longer they are refrigerated.

Variations: you can let the aspic get about halfway gelled, then stir in cubes of cream cheese, shrimp, olives, pickled green beans, chopped green onions,  or whatever else you think might be tasty. Or you can place shelled hard-boiled eggs in a ring mold and pour the tomato juice over them; slice and serve as a luncheon salad.

Use vodka or gin in place of sherry.

Stir in whipped cream cheese, cottage cheese, or sour cream when about half set.

Use half beef broth and half tomato juice.

Substitute salsa for part of the tomato juice.

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