Author Archives for geekycooker

About geekycooker

Hi, I'm geekycooker but also known as Bev Davis. I have long been Interested in cooking. I started cooking as a teenager and really haven't stopped since. I'm originally from the South but with many stops along the way now live in Michigan. I am a history major and still have a love for history, so you may find bits of historical information about food in my posts. And remember to always cook with love. Thanks for taking a look at my blog.

Italian Vegetable Soup

I think we all have our favorite comfort food.  Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and grilled cheese sandwiches are quite often considered comfort foods.  Also, it could be a favorite cake, pie, or cookie.

Often times when we eat our favorite comfort food, it takes us back to a happier time or perhaps a reminder of a loved one.

The Huffington Post has a list of what they consider to be the top 25 comfort foods.  The number one being the grilled cheese sandwich.  Check out the complete list here to see if your favorite comfort food is listed.

One of my favorites is any kind of vegetable soup with a tomato base.  I can remember eating vegetable soup when I was kid, and it was always made with vegetables and tomatoes from my Mom’s garden.

This recipe is so easy to make and chances are you will have all of the ingredients on hand.  It is a hearty soup and will be welcomed for lunch or dinner.

Serve the soup with a favorite bread or with sweet Honey Muffins as I do. Recipe for the Honey Muffins can be found here.

 

Italian Vegetable Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups water
1 10.5 oz can beef broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz can corn, drained
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch Oven and then add the onion.  Sauté the onions until just barely tender.  Add the carrots and celery and stir to combine, cooking for an additional minute.  Turn off the heat, and add all of the spices and mix to combine with the vegetables.  Add the water, beef broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans and the corn.  Bring the soup to a boil, and then immediately turn down to a very low simmer.  Continue to simmer the soup uncovered for about 45 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

Serve the soup while hot.  

Notes:
1.  Recipe makes a lot of soup but is great for leftovers.
2.  Adapted from allrecipes.com.

 

 

 

 

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Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes are a crispy and tangy side dish usually found in the Southern part of the USA.  This iconic Southern dish was made popular by the book and subsequent movie, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

The novel, written by Fannie Flagg, was published in 1987 and released as a movie in 1991.  I can recommend the book and suggest reading it before watching the movie.  If you don’t want to buy the book or movie, check out your local library.  My library has the book (handover and digital) and the movie on DVD for loan.

The novel is a tale of the South with two time periods, the Great Depression and 1985.  The two time periods are brought together through the stories of the elderly Mrs. Threadgoode.

While the book does have a lot of folksy type Southern humor, there is a dark side to the novel.  Segregation, racial prejudice, threats from the scary and dangerous Ku klux klan, and domestic abuse are just some of the happenings in the book.  Plus, there are the two tragic accidents involving the train that runs through Whistle Stop.

To offset some of the darkness, there is the love story between Idgie and Ruth and the friendship between Ninny Threadgoode and Evelyn Couch.

And then, we have Sipsey and Big George.  Sipsey is the wonderful African American Southern cook who fried up the green tomatoes at the cafe; and Big George is her son who did all the barbecuing.  Sipsey’s food is legendary.  She and Big George are household help but at the same time part of the family, and do what is necessary to protect Ruth and her baby.

There are a lot of references to all the good Southern food that is cooked up at the cafe.  You will definitely get hungry reading the book.  This is one of my favorite quotes from the book, as spoken by Ninny:  “Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe.”

There are several recipes given at the end of the book, including the one for Fried Green Tomatoes.  It is actually a simple recipe:  “green tomatoes, salt and pepper, corn meal,  and bacon fat.  The seasoned tomatoes are dipped in the corn meal and then fried in the bacon fat”.  I haven’t made the tomatoes according to Sipsey’s recipe but if fried in bacon fat must be good.

We have a new restaurant in East Grand Rapids, the Carolina Low Country Kitchen that lives up to its name.  Not only does it serve shrimp and grits but fried green tomatoes are on the menu.  The tomatoes are served as an appetizer with a remoulade type sauce.  They are absolutely delicious and presented beautifully.  Below is a picture I took of them the last time we were there.

 

Now, I sometimes serve the tomatoes I make with a remoulade sauce.  Here is the recipe I use.

Green tomatoes are simply unripe red tomatoes.  I have found them at farmers markets and on occasion at my local grocery store.  Green tomatoes will be very firm to the touch.  Try to use them as soon as you can because they will start to ripen rather quickly.  Be aware that some Heirloom tomatoes are green when ripe, so don’t mistake the two.

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups breadcrumbs (1 cup Panko and 1 cup regular breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 1 pound)
vegetable oil for frying
Fresh basil, optional

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the salt and pepper.  Beat egg and milk in a shallow bowl.  In another bowl, combine all the breadcrumbs with the parmesan cheese.

Dip each tomato slice into the flour and then dip into the egg  and milk mixture, letting any excess drip back into the bowl.  Then, coat in the Panko bread crumb mixture.  Place tomato slices on a prepared baking sheet.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until oil begins to shimmer.  Fry the tomatoes in batches until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Drain on a baking tray lined with paper towels.  Garnish with basil, if desired.  Best served while hot.

 

Notes:
The tomatoes can be served with a remoulade sauce or with Ranch dressing, if desired.

 

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Cream of Tomato Soup

There are still a lot of beautiful tomatoes available at the Farmers Market.  Fortunately, there are many wonderful ways to eat and cook with tomatoes.  One of my favorite ways is to make soup.  I always make several batches of cream of tomato soup during the season.  It just happens to be my favorite soup.

I don’t really care for Campbell’s Tomato Soup, although their Tomato Bisque is fairly good.  Panera Bread, a USA restaurant chain, has an excellent tomato soup; their Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup.  But the best is obviously homemade with fresh, ripe tomatoes.

The Campbell Soup Company came out with the condensed tomato soup in 1897.  Although the canned variety made the soup very popular, the first recipe is credited to Maria Parloa in her 1872 cookbook The Appledore Cook Book.

Miss Parloa was a culinary pioneer who authored seven cookbooks and established two cooking schools.  She was also the first to promote cooking brands, such as Baker’s Chocolate.  Miss Parloa also contributed to The Ladies Home Journal magazine and was also part owner.  For more information on this remarkable woman, see this article at the Bethel Public Library.  She left the town of Bethel, CT $2,000 which they used to establish the library.

The above referenced article calls her recipe Tomato Chowder.  However, in her cookbook, it is titled Tomato Soup.  A free digital copy of the cookbook is available from Archive.org.  There are several download options available.

This recipe calls for the tomatoes to be peeled.  I have a great vegetable peeler that actually peels tomatoes.  It is the Oxo Good Grips Serrated Peeler that I purchased from Amazon for $8.99.

You can see in my photo below that it does a good job.

This recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker.  See the original recipe for directions on peeling tomatoes using the boiling method.

Serve this delicious creamy soup with a grilled cheese sandwich and you will be in comfort food heaven.

Cream of Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 4 cups chopped)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

croutons for serving (optional)

In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Cook onion in the oil for 3 to 5 minutes until translucent, stirring frequently.  Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper,  basil, and chicken or vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15-25  minutes or until tomatoes are softened and cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and butter.

Carefully blend the soup with an immersion blender until desired smoothness.  I like mine slightly chunky.  If desired, serve soup with croutons.  

Note:
1.  A blender or food processor can also be used to blend the soup.
2.  I slice the very top of the tomato off in order to get rid of the stem part and then discard it.
3.  I like to use Amore Tomato Paste which comes in a 4 ounce stay-fresh tube and allows you to use the right amount for your recipes.  After opening, it stores in the fridge and has a long shelf life.

Cheesy Zucchini Bites

I think zucchini may be the most popular vegetable to grow here in the USA.  I have lived in two different locations where I had room to have vegetable gardens and zucchini was always included as part of my garden.  I always got excited when I saw the first golden blossoms.

Photo credit hgtv.com.

Although early zucchini plants were native to the Americas, it was the European colonists who brought them to Europe.  Then, in the early 20th century zucchini found its way back to North American, by way of Italian immigrants.  Zucchini is the Italian plural diminutive word for squash, “zucca”.  It is also known as “courgette” which is the French word for this vegetable.  For more facts about Zucchini, see this interesting article from Rutgers Cooperative Extension on the history, growing, preparation, and recipes for this wonderful plant.

Unless someone gives you a sack of really large zucchini, remember that biggest is not always the best.  The most flavorful zucchini is the small to medium-sized.

If you have been blessed with an abundance of zucchini, these Cheesy Zucchini Bites are a good way to use up some of them.

They can be served as an appetizer or as a side dish.  They are crunchy, cheesy and bite-size, with the sweet taste of the zucchini shining through.

Cheesy Zucchini Bites

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 medium zucchini, grated on large holes of a box grater and squeezed of excess liquid
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray a mini muffin pan with a nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the grated zucchini in a colander over the sink and let the zucchini sit for about 5 minutes before squeezing out the excess liquid.  Transfer zucchini to a large mixing bowl.  Add breadcrumbs, cheddar and parmesan cheese, eggs, chopped onion, salt, pepper and onion powder.  Mix the ingredients together until fully combined.  Use a tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop to spoon the mixture into the wells of the mini muffin pan, about a tablespoon each.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack to finish cooling.

Makes 24-30  mini-bites.  

Notes:
1.  After grating and pressing water out of the two medium sized zucchini, I had 2 cups of grated zucchini.
2.  In place of a mini muffin pan, the Bites can be baked on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3.  Leftovers can be reheated in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

You know summer is almost over when the Bee Balm starts to fade.  But the butterflies are still around and don’t seem to mind.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart

Summer seems to be going by too quickly.  Even though I love the fall season, I still want to enjoy every bit of our summer.  And that means visiting the local farm markets here in West Michigan.  Also, it means enjoying the beautiful tomatoes that are available.  Whether it is the red juicy ones or the odd shaped heirloom tomatoes, it is their prime season.

Since I don’t have a vegetable garden, I rely on the local farm markets and farm stands for my tomatoes.  I have another favorite farmers market that is located not too far away.

It is the Rockford Farmers Market located in the heart of downtown Rockford, MI.  Rockford is a small town that is a quaint and charming place to visit.  It is situated on the beautiful Rogue River and the very picturesque Rockford Dam is right downtown.

The Rockford Farmers Market was voted “America’s Favorite Farmers Market” in a 2011 nationwide contest.  I think it is a very well deserved title.  You will find “just picked” produce, seasonal fruit and berries, flowers and delicious baked goods.  Stalls arranged with brightly colored vegetables remind me of farm markets I have visited in Europe.

It is a fun and festive market to visit and if you have a well behaved dog, you are welcome to bring it to the market.

My daughter and I make a special day of going to the market.  After buying produce and flowers, we will go to one of the local restaurants for lunch.  This past visit, we had lunch at The Green Well.  It is located on the Rogue River with a beautiful view.

I can recommend their Mac and Cheese and the Truffle Fries, which are addictive.

I love all of the summer tomatoes.  But when the heirlooms are available, I make sure to buy them for this tomato tart.  Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes that the seeds have been passed down through generations of farmers.  They come in many colors and unusual shapes.  Some of the ones I bought at the Farmers Market are called Tie Dyed Heirlooms.

Usually, I use Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry but I recently found a new brand that is available at my local super store, Meijer.  It is also available at one of our local Walmarts.  It is Wewalka Puff Pastry and is refrigerated, not frozen.  It has 64 layers of dough, brushed with butter and then rolled in parchment paper.  This is an excellent puff pastry and easy to work with.  I have used it several times, and I love it.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 sheet of puff pasty, defrosted if frozen

2-3 large heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded fontina cheese
shaved parmesan cheese
fresh basil leaves, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400° degrees.

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.  Place on a large baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.  Lay the tomato slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and cover with additional paper towels.  Let sit for 10 minutes.

Combine the mayonnaise and parmesan cheese and set aside.

Unfold the puff pastry and place in an 11 inch x 7 inch loose bottom rectangular tart pan (or to fit whatever size pan you are using).  Place over the fluted tart pan and press the dough to the bottom.  Cut off any excess dough from the sides of the pan.  Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from puffing.

With a pastry brush, brush the bottom of the crust with the mayonnaise and parmesan cheese mixture.  Sprinkle the fontina cheese on top of the parmesan cheese mixture.    Remove the paper towels from the tomatoes and layer them on top of the cheese mixture.  Top with a small amount of salt, pepper and shaved parmesan cheese.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest on a wire rack at least 15 minutes.   Top with the chopped fresh basil.  Then, slide on a cutting board and cut into serving size pieces.    

Note:
I used the Wewalka Puff Pastry for this recipe.

 

 

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