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Perfect Bites: Southern Pan Fried Okra

One of my absolute favorite foods is fresh fried okra. Not the over-battered kind, but the lightly dusted in cornmeal, pan-fried extra crispy (no goo) kind. This recipe is one that my mother passed along and it makes the perfect bite of fried okra every time. It is so simple and so delicious! I could eat an entire pan of this okra myself…but I practice self control and always make it when I have someone to share a few bites with 🙂

The trick to this recipe is the okra…only fresh summer okra will do. I have attempted to re-create the fried okra using frozen okra and it just doesn’t work out well. It actually ends up a soggy mess. So reap the benefits of your farmer’s market, CSA box, or garden grown okra while it lasts and fry up this Southern delight!

Mama’s Crispy Pan Fried Okra

  • fresh okra
  • cornmeal (white or yellow)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of cayenne (optional)
  • vegetable or canola oil for frying

To make:

Heat oil in a saute or frying pan (cast iron is best) over medium-high heat. I use just enough oil to cover the okra about 1/4-1/2 way. This is more of a pan fry method rather than a deep fry.

Cut the okra ends off and slice into rounds approximately 1/2 inch in length. Working rather quickly (to take advantage of the okra “goo”) place okra in a shallow dish, season with salt and pepper (and cayenne if you are using). Sprinkle a heaping layer of corn meal on top of the okra and gently mix to coat the okra.

Lightly coat the okra in cornmeal, salt and pepper

If the okra is fresh enough there should be enough okra goo to make the corn meal stick. Carefully place okra in hot oil. Do not over fill the pan with the okra, you want only one layer of okra in the pan to ensure all of the sides of the okra get crispy. Cover the pan and cook for approximately 10  minutes, gently stir about 1/2 way through. Monitor the heat to prevent the okra burning or oil from getting too hot when covered. Remove cover and cook until okra has browned to your preference (another 5-10 minutes). I like a few pieces to be on the darker side (usually the smaller ones). Okra will crisp up more as it cools. Remove cooked okra with a slotted spoon from the oil and let cool slightly on a paper towel lined plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Just a little oil to pan fry this crispy summer treat!

Farmer’s Market Chili

CSA box Veggie Chili–this is prior to the last few minutes of cooking…almost ready. A one-pot dinner filled with many healthy, delicious, perfect bites!

In trying to use up the bounty of fresh veggies in creative ways…I’ve come across plenty of perfect bites (and a handful of not-so-perfect bites).

This recipe is so easy and a great way to use up the veggies from your weekly CSA box. The “Farmer’s Market Chili” is a veggie-packed chili is full of flavor and can be adapted to be a great vegetarian main meal. This particular recipe is just shy of being vegetarian. I used beef broth but substitute vegetable broth and your meal is vegetarian…don’t top with cheese or sour cream and you have yourself a vegan chili! The portions can be increased exponentially to freeze for the upcoming chilly fall and winter days ahead. As far as the specific veggies—improvise based on what you have on hand. The key is to incorporate a few different textures in the chili. Another added bonus: this is a one pot meal! Have fun and enjoy 🙂

Simple Summer CSA Chili

3 medium zucchini, roughly chopped

2-3 medium/large yellow summer squash

1 bell pepper, roughly chopped

1 medium/large carrot, roughly chopped

1 small American eggplant (or…one small Japanese eggplant and one small white eggplant)

2 jalapeno peppers, roughly chopped (remove seeds to reduce spice level–use them to kick up the heat)

1 shallot, chopped

1 large clove garlic, chopped

2 cups broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)

6 oz can tomato paste

28 oz can whole tomato (tear or roughly chop tomato, save all juice)

3 Tbsp chili powder

2 tsp ground cumin (fresh ground is best)

15 oz. can of beans (any type will do, I actually used chickpeas)

1 tsp salt

3 Tbsp canola oil (substitute 1 Tbsp bacon fat + 2 Tbsp canola oil if desired)

cheese and sour cream (optional for topping)

To make:

In a large dutch oven or other thick bottom pot, heat oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Add green peppers, jalapeno peppers, and diced carrot–saute until softened a bit. Add garlic and shallot, stir and cook 1-2 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir just until fragrant. Add eggplant, squash, zucchini, salt, cumin, and chili powder. Stir and saute for approx 1 minute–add 1/4 cup of the broth to de-glaze the bottom of the pan, continue to stir 1 more minute. Add tomatoes with juices, beans, and remainder of the broth. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for approximately 15 minutes or until the veggies are done to your desired crispness. Add additional broth, wine, or water if chili becomes too thick. I prefer a thicker, chunkier chili but thin to your taste preference. Enjoy!

Optional: Let cool slightly, scoop into a bowl, top with a dollop of sour cream and cheese.

Farmer’s Market Chili

CSA box–each week a wonderful surprise of fruits and veggies!

This summer my husband and I decided to participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. We thought this would be a great way to support local farmers, eat more fresh produce, and possibly trim up our waistlines! Participating in a CSA program is a great alternative for city-dwellers like ourselves to enjoy the fresh bounty of summer fruits and veggies even though we don’t have our own garden.

We decided to participate in Stillman’s Farm, which has been great so far.  If you are interested, you can follow their blog linked my Local Favorites blogroll list. We are about 5 weeks into the deliveries and are happy with the quality and selection of veggies. Lots of greens! It does take some work to clean and prep all of the produce, but the end results of delicious, fresh foods is worth it! I will be posting recipes using these fresh fruits and veggies (hopefully frequently).

This first recipe is a  fast, easy, and delicious way to use up Kale (which has been abundant in the boxes from week to week so far). The chips can me made with any variety of Kale.

Basic Kale Chips

  • Fresh kale–cleaned, stems and center ribs cut and removed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Tear kale into the size “chips” you desire. Toss kale in olive oil to coat. Place kale in a single layer on a baking sheet; top with salt and pepper (or other spices–see note below). Bake in oven for approx 30 min. You can check the crispiness at 20 min. then continue to cook until chips are crisp to your preference. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

The chips are best the same day, but can last one or two more days, stored in an airtight container. The light, airy crispy kale chips will go fast, so you won’t have to worry about storing them too long 🙂

*Note: This is just a basic recipe. Add any spice you like (i.e. cayenne, garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, etc.) to the chips to change up the flavors.

Kale chips–surprisingly delicious!

Cherry Clafoutis: So easy and delicious–a great way to showcase fresh cherries of summer!

Summer is the season of cherries! Fresh cherries are a delight that I only recently started to enjoy. They take a little work to pit, but the sweet, tart taste of a fresh cherry makes a wonderful summertime perfect bite. When you are tired of eating the fresh cherries plain, here is a recipe that is quick and easy and makes the perfect rustic dessert or even sweet breakfast.

This recipe uses fresh cherries in a traditional French dish: Cherry Clafoutis. The most traditional way to bake this egg-pastry is to leave the cherries un-pitted. I prefer to go ahead and pit the cherries  prior to baking, so that each bite is full of sweet, tart, creamy, and a little chewy deliciousness.

Cherry Clafoutis

Ingredients:

  • Approx. 2 cups fresh sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted (or leave un-pitted for a purist version–just warn every one of the pits prior to eating)
  • 3 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 cup milk (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Butter–for coating pan
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting/garnish

To make:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 375°F.
  2. Coat a medium cast iron (or other oven-safe) pan with butter. Place cherries in pan in a single layer. Don’t get too attached to the design because they will shift as the Clafoutis cooks.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt until smooth and the sugar has dissolved. Add the flour and whisk until just combined. A few lumps are ok. Hint: the room temperature eggs and milk allow the ingredients to incorporate better than if used cold milk/eggs right from the fridge. The room temperature eggs/milk also help with giving the Clafoutis a better rise when baking.
  4. Pour batter over the cherries in the prepared pan.
  5. Bake approx. 30 minutes. The batter should be set, slightly puffed and light golden brown around the edges.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool on a  wire rack  for about 10 minutes (the Clafoutis will deflate).
  7. Garnish with powdered sugar and serve warm. Enjoy!

Ready to slice and eat!

Dutch baby pancake–perfect breakfast, brunch, or dessert bite!

This recipe is one if the easiest recipes for a quick, tasty breakfast (or possibly dessert)!  When your husband, kids, or friends are in the mood for pancakes and you really don’t feel like laboring over a hot skillet to make single size pancakes for a crowd, this is a wonderful alternative–a Dutch baby pancake (also called a popover pancake, German pancake, Poffertje, or Bismarck).

There are a few notable differences from a traditional pancake. The Dutch baby pancake is a bit more egg’y (similar to a crepe) and makes one large pancake that you can slice up into single servings, or just put on a plate and let everyone gather ’round and tear off a portion family style. There are many ways to spice  up this recipe. You can add your favorite fruit, chocolate, cinnamon, etc.–your imagination is the only limit. This recipe is the basic version–not too sweet, a little chewy, and makes a perfect bite for breakfast, brunch, or sometimes dessert.

An additional bonus: you will get some good use out of your cast iron skillet and clean up is a cinch!

Basic Dutch baby Pancake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup regular all-purpose flour

1/2 cup milk (I used skim, but whole or 2% will work as well)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2-3 Tbsp butter

2-3 Tbsp powdered sugar

2-3 Tbsp lemon juice (or juice from 1/2 lemon)

To make:

Preheat oven to 425. Combine flour, milk, and eggs in a mixing bowl–beat lightly with a fork or whisk. There will be a few lumps, which is ok. Put bUtter in cast iron or other oven-proof frying pan and place in the pre-heated oven. When butter melts, carefully pour bAtter into heated pan. Return to oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes. The pancake is done when it is lightly browned at the edges and puffed. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and lemon juice. Serve immediately. Don’t worry if the pancake falls–it will still taste good 🙂

My new favorite “pancake” recipe

Happy Zucchini Bread Day!

Today is both National Zucchini Bread Day and Administrative Professionals Day. What better way to combine the two “fun holidays” and make mini zucchini breads to take to work with you and share with your fellow co-workers! This recipe is a fun spin on plain zucchini bread. The sweet potato and adds some extra moistness and nutrition to this perfect loaf of not-too sweet quick bread perfect for sharing.

Sweet Potato Zucchini Bread

(slightly modified from epicurious.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups zucchini (grated*, you can leave the peel on)–one medium/large zucchini
  • 1-2 cups sweet potato (peeled and grated*)–one small/medium sweet potato
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

To make:

*Note: To grate the zucchini and sweet potatoes, you can either use a box grater (large holes) or use a grater attachment for your food processor

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 4 mini loaf pans (or a regular 9 x 5 loaf pan) with non-stick cooking spray. Sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Beat sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in large bowl until well combined using whisk or electric mixer. Stir in zucchini and sweet potato. Add dry ingredients and walnuts and stir well. Pour or scoop batter to pans. Bake for about 30-45 minutes (if using a full size loaf pan the cooking time will be approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes). Either way use a toothpick or sharp knife to test the center–when the tester comes out clean the loaves are done. Cool bread in pan on rack 15 minutes. Slide knife around bread to loosen. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Feel free to bake this bread a day ahead. Once completely cool, cover in plastic wrap and foil. Keep at room temperature. The mini loaves transport easily for sharing 🙂

Delicious mini Zucchini Bread Loaves to share!

Ricotta Pie for Easter

Making Easter pies is a wonderful Italian American tradition that typically involves baking some sort of ricotta based sweet pie. In searching for the perfect bite to make for my own Easter Ricotta Pie, I found numerous versions of ricotta pies that are all claiming to be “authentic.” The main common ingredients in all of them were ricotta, subtle orange flavoring, and secret family tradition. The Ricotta Easter pie is certainly a delicious tradition to start (if you have not already)–whichever version is used.

I decided since this was my first attempt at beginning this tradition, I’d opt for an easier version. This recipe is based on a recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis Easter Pie. The part that makes this recipe so easy is using phyllo dough as the base for the pie. Although phyllo can be challenging to work with (see tips below), overall I found it less time-consuming and very easy as compared to making a homemade pie dough. Maybe next year I’ll try the more traditional and advanced La Pastiera Napoletana recipe for an Easter pie.  But for now, this is a delicious recipe that certainly yields many perfect bites–it is so easy feel free to bake it up any time of year!

Italian Easter Ricotta Pie

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup confectioners or powered sugar (rounded cup)—plus a little extra for garnish (extra garnish optional)
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • 1 (15 oz) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup cooked Arborio/risotto rice
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 6 sheets fresh phyllo sheets (thawed if frozen)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

To make:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

Place sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange zest and ricotta in a food processor until, blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to medium-sized mixing bowl.  Stir in the cooked rice and toasted pine nuts.

Lightly butter a 9-inch glass pie dish.  To prepare crust, working quickly lay 1 phyllo sheet over the bottom and up the sides of the dish, allowing the phyllo to hang over the sides.  Brush the phyllo with the melted butter—including sides hanging over the dish. Then place a second sheet of phyllo on top of the first in the opposite direction. Repeat this process of laying phyllo in opposing directions so that all of the dish area is covered with the layers of dough. Make sure to generously butter each layer to prevent drying out. Also, re-place a damp towel over the phyllo dough as you are working. The phyllo dough dries out quickly and can become difficult to work with (see tips below).

Once the 6 layers are complete, spoon the ricotta mixture into the dough filled dish. Fold the overhanging phyllo dough over the top of the filling to enclose it completely. Brush completely and generously with melted butter.

Bake in 375 degree oven until the dough is golden brown and filling is set, about 30-35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack to allow to cool completely. Once cool, sift a light layer of powdered sugar over the top for garnish.

Enjoy Easter Pie...any time of the year!

Slice, serve and enjoy!

A few tips for working with phyllo:

  • Cover unrolled phyllo with a sheet of waxed paper covered by a damp towel to keep it moist. It dries out very quickly.
  • When you remove one sheet at a time, cover the remainder.
  • If you tear a piece of phyllo by mistake (which will probably happen), don’t worry. Just use the smaller pieces to patch together and no one will ever notice once the pie is baked.
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