Thursday, July 30, 2015

10 Cucumbers down and still more to go!

Have you ever cooked a cucumber?  I have, and I do.  There are just so many batches of Quickles, just so much Jajik, just so many Cucumber Salads that you can eat in the course of a summer.  Cucumbers grow prolifically, and it's such a shame to waste them!  The flavor of cooked cucumber is surprisingly delicate and not overwhelmingly cucumber-y so that you want to be careful not to over-season.  I prefer to steam or roast cucumbers.

You may not have read my earlier post about the fact that I do NOT have a full-size fridge.  When I get food bargains, there's just no refrigerator space to store all that lovely stuff--it's time to cook!  

First of all, I adapted a recipe from Catherine Kitcho's Use It Up Cookbook:  Summer Squash with Slow-Cooked Onions.  If you see a recipe that calls for summer squash or zucchini, don't be afraid to use cukes!  Since I did not precisely follow the recipe, I'll give my version (which halves the amount of olive oil--the original calls for 4 tablespoons! and that is way too oily for delicate summer veggies and probably not good for the cook either) here:

Cucumbers with Onions and Basil

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy saute skillet.  Cut a yellow onion in half, and then slice into thin little slices.  Add to the olive oil and brown slightly over medium heat.  Add dried basil.*  Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pare and cube about 3 to 4 cups of cucumber.  Steam until crisp-tender.  Transfer to the skillet and toss with the onions.  Remove from heat and serve.**

*I used about 2 teaspoons of dried lemon basil that I grew in my garden last summer; you might want more or less basil than this. I'd rather underseason a bit because fresh vegetables need to shine on their own--their flavor is amazing.

**I generally do not salt or pepper vegetables because I think that is best done to taste at table.

Instead of serving, I separated this into two freezer dishes.  It will be wonderful later as a topper for pasta or rice or a baked potato.  And it will be great with a bit of added tomato (not to mention much prettier) or cheese.  

Having cleared the steamer and the skillet, I filled them again immediately and kept on cooking.  This saves extra clean-up.  

The next thing I made was a variation of a recipe I have used since, as teenager, I discovered a copy of Weaver & LeCron's A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband (originally published in 1919).  Laugh at the title if you like but that book taught me not to be afraid to cook!  Since the book is undoubtedly long out of copyright, I doubt if anyone will be all offended if I share the original recipe:

Baked Tomatoes and Cheese

1 C canned tomatoes
1/2 t salt
1/4 t paprika
1/4 C fresh bread crumbs
3 T cheese, cut fine
1/4 C cooked celery
1 T butter

Mix the tomatoes, salt, paprika, cheese, and celery.  Add half the bread crumbs.  Pour into a well-buttered baking dish.  Melt the butter, add the remaining crumbs and place on top of the mixture.  Bake twenty minutes in a moderate oven.

Easy-peasy, right?  I've adapted this recipe over and over again.  It's my favorite go-to comfort food!  And just so you know, in modern terms, "moderate" means 350 to 375 degrees.

Here's the first thing:  it's next to impossible to make this wrong.  Substitute just about anything and it still works!  No bread crumbs?  Use leftover rice.  No tomatoes?  Use steamed zucchini, summer squash, cucumber.  Even broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots are good (although those are better with rice than bread crumbs).  Saute some onion or garlic with that celery.  Season it however you'd like.  No cheese?  Disappointing but you can still do without it.

Second thing:  this freezes beautifully.  I generally prepare several small two-serving casseroles but do not finish them in the oven, cover them with foil, and pop them in the freezer.  When I'm pressed for an easy meal, I turn the oven on to 375, put the still-frozen casserole* in the oven, and let it cook for about 40 minutes.  Take the foil off, top with a bit of cheese, let it brown for 5 or ten minutes, and there's supper!  By the way, even a bit of cottage cheese makes a great topper--yes, you can heat cottage cheese, too.

(*Please note that my casseroles are stainless steel--they can take the punishment of going directly from freezer to oven.  I do not know how other materials, like glass or plastic, might react; so you should use your best judgment if you try this.)

So, today, I had cucumbers to deal with.  I cut about 4 cups into small cubes and steamed them.  I sauteed a chopped yellow onion and a couple of stalks of thinly sliced celery in two tablespoons of olive oil, adding basil and rosemary at about the midpoint in cooking.  Since there's no cheese in the house at the moment, I figured that the parmesean bread I bought today would come in really handy.  I sliced the loaf long-ways, keeping the bottom third of the loaf aside for another purpose.  I cut the top 2/3's of the loaf into cubes.  I added all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and stirred them up.  I added just a bit of boiling water (a tablespoon or two) to meld everything together.  Plopped all the good stuff into my little metal casseroles.  Once they've cooled, they're going into the freezer for later.

To be fair, these little casseroles are only partially done so they do not look nearly as yummy as they will later when they come out of the oven bubbling and topped with buttered crumbs and cheese.

.....break time is officially over, and I've got more cooking to do!

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