Quick holiday fixes

Nine days. Yes, NINE DAYS! That’s all the time left between now and Christmas.
For youngsters, that countdown is cause for joy and excitement. For adults who are a bit behind on their holiday preparations, it can be cause for panic.
Planning. Scheduling. Decorating. Shopping. Baking. Packaging. Cooking.
So much to do. So little time.
In the spirit of how-to-get-a-lot-done-in-a-short-period-of-time, I have come across a few quick fixes to share with you readers.
The first two items came from one of the holiday treat days at the Daily Globe. Each week in December leading up to Christmas, a different department is responsible for providing a selection of goodies for interdepartmental devouring. Cara Petersen, the Globe’s circulation manager, came toting a kid-pleasing (and we adults liked it, too) dip for animal crackers, while her assistant, Erica Fouch, provided a savory counterpoint, 3-2-1 Dip. Both are easy-to-throw-together options for holiday entertaining.
Confetti Dip
2 cups plain yogurt
One 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
One 18-.9-ounce box confetti cake mix
In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, plain yogurt and whipped topping until completely combined and no lumps are visible. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill for about 4 hours.  Garnish with additional sprinkles if desired and serve with animal crackers or Teddy Grahams.

3-2-1 Dip
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese
Two 10-ounce cans Rotel tomatoes & chilies
1 pound sausage, cooked.
Combine all ingredients. Microwave until heated through, or combine in slow cooker to keep warm for serving.
Serve with tortilla chips.

From my own file of ideas, I share a quick fix for holiday decor — one that I employed this year.
The wreath that decorates the front door of our house (shown at left) resulted from something I saw in a magazine. Over the last couple of years, I’ve placed a tinsel-bedecked wreath on the door, but the sun took its toll, discoloring and melting the plastic covering. But I kept the wreath form, hoping I could do something new with it this year.
The magazine suggested wrapping a knit scarf around a wreath form, and I just happened to have some hand-knit ones in bright colors. Since my form was dimensional, not flat, it took three of the scarves to completely cover it. I used duct tape to secure the ends to the back and started wrapping. Within about a minute, I had a lovely wreath, and another minute took care of the addition of a glittery bow. The best part for me — the sun’s rays won’t melt it.

The Great Grape Debate

Who would have thought a salad could cause so much controversy — at least among we mild-mannered Minnesotans?

For those of you haven’t heard about Grapesaladgate, here’s what happened: In advance of Thanksgiving, the New York Times came out with a large food feature that was intended to pull one defining recipe from each state. Coming up with 50 recipes is a large undertaking anyway, but to select one recipe that exemplifies each state — well, I think they should have been prepared for some controversy.

I have no idea if residents of the other states were in full agreement with their selections, but we Minnesotans were, for the most part, baffled to have been identified with something called Grape Salad.

Grape Salad?

Yes, Grape Salad.

The feature was titled “United States of Thanksgiving,” and the Minnesota selection was given this explanation:


This grape salad, which falls into the same category of old-fashioned party dishes as molded Jell-O salad, comes from a Minnesota-born heiress, who tells me it was always part of the holiday buffet in her family. It couldn’t be simpler to prepare and has only three ingredients: grapes, sour cream and brown sugar.

Rather like a creamy fruit salad with a crisp sugar topping, it really is delicious, though the concept sounded strange to me before I first tasted it. Other versions, I hear, call for softened cream cheese and nondairy “whipped topping”; I can’t say I’ll be trying that. Some cooks caramelize the brown sugar under the broiler and some don’t, but I definitely recommend this step, which gives the dish a crème brûlée aura.


I don’t recall ever having eaten a concoction that fits the above description. The only salad that I can remember consuming that contains grapes — outside a basic fruit salad — is the popular broccoli salad — and frankly, I prefer the version without the grapes.

A closer look at the recipe in question further confirmed my assertion that I have never consumed such a dish.

Grape Salad

Heat broiler. Put 2 pounds seedless grapes, removed from stems and rinsed (about 6 cups) in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups sour cream and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, making sure all grapes are well coated.

Transfer mixture to a 2-quart ceramic souffle dish or other baking dish. Sprinkle 1 cup brown sugar evenly over top. Place dish under broiler as far from heat source as possible and broil until sugar is caramelized and crispy, about 5 minutes (be vigilant or you’ll risk a burnt black topping). Rotate dish as necessary for even browning. Chill for at least one hour.

May be prepared up to 24 hours ahead. Just before serving, sprinkle with ¾ cup toasted pecans (optional).


Like many others who questioned the New York Times’ culinary judgment, I have to think there would be many other choices that would better represent the North Star State. While our state has certainly expanded its share of vineyards over the years, it’s not like we are known as a grape-growing state. I’m pretty sure most of that production goes toward wine-making and not table grapes, anyway

How about something made with wild rice instead? Hmmm — guess that went to Wisconsin, which might be better represented by something cheesy or made with cranberries?
Being a realistic bunch, I think most Minnesotans would have been much more accepting of the selection if it had been the aforementioned molded Jell-O salad — a staple of Lutheran church basement functions —  or perhaps something made with SPAM? But instead, we are stuck with a dish that came from the recesses of some unnamed heiress’ memory.

By the way, last week the New York Times issued a correction  – actually a number of corrections — for its United States of Thanksgiving feature. An illustration for one recipe depicted a papaya, not a pawpaw, recipe directions were omitted in one instance, and the Hatch chiles were identified as being from Arizona, not New Mexico. There were also some historical inaccuracies, which the NYT readily admitted to, but no mention of the misrepresentation of Minnesota’s proud culinary tradition.

So I put it to you readers: What ONE DISH would you pick to exemplify the cooking of our beloved state? I’d love to hear your ideas — and perhaps some recipes to back them up. Email your ideas to brickers@dglobe.com

The Blandin Club

Election Day was a departure for me — not because of how, or for whom, I voted. Instead of spending the evening in the Daily Globe newsroom doing the hurry-up-and-wait for results with my colleagues as I have for major elections over the past 25-plus years, I was at Sugar Lake Lodge near Grand Rapids.

I was fortunate to have been chosen for the Blandin Community Leadership Program, an opportunity that comes around only every 10 years or so. On election night, many of the BCLP participants, all of us from the Worthington area, gathered in the hospitality suite that was set aside for us and anxiously awaited the outcome of the votes. The television set was on, but no one paid it much attention. We talked about community issues, discussed the potential for new leadership, the probability of various outcomes.and what that might mean to each of us and Worthington as a whole.

As people who were learning about becoming more effective leaders in our community, we all seemed particularly connected to this vote. Some had a strong stake in the outcome, most notably a couple members of the school referendum committee. There were moments of surprise, disbelief and relief, the latter in particular when the referendum results became clear.

Election day was early on in the five-day Blandin experience, and as the week progressed, we learned a lot about each other, and even more about ourselves, but I think that Tuesday night bonding set the stage for much of what was to come.

As we neared the end of the week and our initial Blandin experience, I found myself having what I have since called, “The Breakfast Club” revelation.

“The Breakfast Club” is a John Hughes 1985 movie that follows five students who are forced to serve detention on a Saturday morning at a fictional Illinois high school. The five are all from different cliques of social groups, and the disciplinary principal gives them an assignment to write an essay about “who you think you are” and the violations that landed them in detention.

Being it is a John Hughes movie, juvenile hijinx ensue, and the five find themselves bonding despite their differences. At the end, instead of writing their individual essays, “The Brain” in the group is recruited to write one letter to the principal on behalf of the group:

Dear Mr. Vernon:

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… …and an athlete… …and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal.

Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club

Now, I’m not implying that those of us who participated in the Blandin program were from such diverse worlds or indulged in such stereotypes. But after spending an intense week with those 21 other individuals, I realized that perhaps some of my preconceived notions had quickly melted away as we listened, laughed, engaged, performed skits (yes, skits!) and talked about the issues confronting our community. We looked beyond the titles by which we are so often defined — college dean, banker, pharmacist, nurse, journalist, immigrant, fire chief, librarian, principal, etc. — and looked at the big picture in the hopes of bringing it better into focus and a whole lot brighter for the future.

Yes, we learned a lot about ourselves, each other and our community. Thank you, Blandin Foundation, for the opportunity to grow in ways we never expected.

Weather or not

At the moment, I am in love with autumn.
That’s because it’s been a mostly sun-drenched, mild-temperature kind of autumn. I enjoy walking through the piles of leaves, which sound like cornflakes crunching under my feet. The view out the front window of my house, looking out at the brilliant leaves in the park across the street, makes me sigh at the wonder of it all. And I get a chuckle out of watching the squirrels scurry from tree to tree, amassing their stores for the winter.
I’m hoping that this gorgeous weather continues through Halloween and well into November (could I hope for December?). While an earlier frost did nip some gardens, I’ve heard there are still a few gardens that are producing. If anyone out there still has zucchini, here are a couple recipes from the files of Karen Doeden. If not, squirrel these away for use next year.
“From the time I got this recipe, they have made the Stovetop dressing boxes smaller,” advises Karen. “I now use a package on top and one on the bottom. My sister uses the box of Stovetop and mixes it with the rest of the ingredients and then tops it with cornflake topping.”

Zucchini Casserole

|Combine 1 package Stovetop dressing with 1 stick margarine or butter, melted. Put half of this mixture in the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch pan; reserve the rest.
In a small amount of water, cook 6 cups cubed zucchini and 2 cups grated carrots until tender; drain.
Mix together 1 cup sour cream, 1 can cream of chicken soup and 1 cup grated American cheese. Add the cooked vegetables and spoon into pan. Top with remaining stuffing-butter mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.

Zucchini Coffee Cake

Cream ¾ cup shortening, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup white sugar, 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add ½ teaspoon salt, 1¾ cups flour, 1½ teaspoons baking powder, ¾ cup coconut, ¾ cup chopped dates, ¾ cup raisins and 2 cups grated zucchini.
Bake at 350 degrees in a 9- by 13-inch pan for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool. For frosting, combine 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup melted shortening, 2 tablespoons milk or cream and ½ cup coconut. Spread over top of cake and put under broiler for 3 minutes.

For me, the shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn trigger an urge spend more time in the kitchen. To ease back into baking mode, I tried this recipe emailed by Sandy Cregeen of Jackson, which she came upon at a benefit bake sale.
“… I picked up these bars, thinking they were the ones with the gooey caramel center, but I was wrong. They turned out to be easier and tasted just as good or better.”

Salted Caramel Crispy Treats

Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick spray.
Add 6 cups crispy rice cereal (about half a 12-ounce box) to a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in ½ cup dark brown sugar, ¼ cup heavy whipping cream and 1 tablespoon light corn syrup. Cook until thick and syrupy, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt.
Turn off the heat and stir in one 10-ounce bag mini marshmallows. Keep stirring until all the marshmallows are smooth and melted. Quickly pour the caramel-marshmallow sauce over the cereal and stir all together. Pat mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt.

In the market for a hearing aid or muscle car? Me neither!

Anyone taking a glance into the mailbox at our home might get a wrong impression of me.

Based on the mail I’ve been receiving lately, I am a hard-of-hearing aficionado of muscle cars.

I’m not sure what mailing list I got on, but it has resulted in some regular mailings that aren’t exactly applicable to my needs, lifestyle or interests.

About six months ago, I began receiving regular — oftentimes one or two a week — solicitations for hearing aids. Now, I realize that I have exceeded the ripe old age of 50, but have so far experienced no difficulties with my hearing. And frankly, I don’t anticipate that happening in the near future, as hearing loss is not an affliction that has been experienced much in my family. I went online and tried to contact the entities (there are several) that are sending me this literature, informing them that I have no need for their services at this time, but the mailings still arrive.

I’m not sure why I received the solicitation for a muscle car magazine — I do subscribe to several publications, but none of them automobile related — but I realize now that I should have immediately thrown it out. Instead I left it sitting on the counter, where it caught the eye of Hubby Bryan. Unbeknownst to me, he sent in payment, and a few weeks later, Muscle Machines arrived in our mailbox, with my name on the mailing label.

Bryan, of course, thought it was a hoot. Even though I appreciate a nicely restored Mustang, GTO or Charger, I have no interest in reading detailed articles about such vehicles.

Now, of course, since I’m subscribed to one-such magazine, I have begun to get solicitations for others, which gives Bryan even more reason to laugh. I will have to be diligent about not just throwing such mailings away, but shredding them first, for fear of him signing me up for another one.

At least the NRA mailings haven’t started to come to me — those are still in Bryan’s name. If I begin to receive hunting and gun information, I will not be amused.

However, I do wish my work mail would yield up some more recipes. What’s your favorite apple dessert? What are you looking forward to making as summer weather gives way to the fall season? I would love to hear from readers about some of their seasonal specialties.  You can email me at brickers@dglobe.com; or via regular mail at the Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.

The good and the bad of being overwhelmed

Overwhelmed.
It’s a word that has both positive and negative connotations. You can be overwhelmed with gratitude — a good thing. But you can also be overwhelmed by what you need to accomplish — not so good.
It’s a word that I’ve found myself using a lot in recent days as Hubby Bryan and I have coped with the death of his father, Bob. We have been overwhelmed by so many emotions, as well as the outpouring of expressions of love and sympathy we have received. We so appreciate the many kind words, calls, cards, etc. It truly is overwhelming to live in the midst of such a caring community — most definitely a positive thing.
And now, in the aftermath, we find ourselves overwhelmed by what needs to be dealt with in the wake of a person’s death. The mind boggles with all the paperwork that must be completed, a task that falls mainly to my mother-in-law and husband.
But I had my own overwhelming tasks to face upon my return to work this week. My email mailbox was full (I appreciate the patience of all who were awaiting a reply), and my desk was running over with a week’s accumulation of mail and announcements that had been dropped off. It took me a couple of hours to wade through it all and determine which had been taken care of and which had not.
I’m sure it will take me a couple more days to get fully in the groove, and there may likely be some things that fall through the cracks. That’s what happens when one is overwhelmed in a not-so-good way.
At the bottom of one pile on my desk, however, was an envelope that quickly put a smile on my face. Since it was addressed to Lagniappe — the title of this forum (which means “a little something extra,” for those who may be confused by the strange word) — I was pretty sure it contained some recipes. I was right. It was from Lucille King of Rushmore, and it offered a prescription for what can be another source of overwhelming — garden harvest season. It’s that time of year when gardeners are scrambling to “put up” as much as they can for future use or make use of their garden’s bounty before frost claims it all.
“They are neat ways to use up late tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.,” writes Lucille about her recipe offerings. “So if your cukes are still producing more than you planned on or don’t have time to can, try several containers of the frozen ones. They stay nice and crispy and easy to make.”

Frozen Cucumber Pickles

Combine 2 quarts sliced, unpeeled cucumbers, 2 medium onions (more or less to your liking), sliced, and 1 tablespoon salt. Let mixture soak for 3 hours.
In a saucepan, warm 1 cup vinegar and 1¼ cups sugar. Add a bit of mustard seed and/or celery seed (optional). Drain the cukes and add to vinegar mixture.
Ladle into containers and freeze. When ready to eat, just defrost and serve chilled. Add a little more vinegar if necessary.

“This makes you think of mincemeat,” said Lucille about this second recipe.

Green Tomato Pie

Chop green tomatoes to yield 2 cups. Cover with water and boil a few minutes; drain.
Add 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 cup brown sugar, ½ cup chopped raisins, 2 tablespoons vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cloves and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Pour mixture into a double pie shell and bake at 350 degrees until brown.

End-of-Season Veggie Mix

Lucille uses an ice cream bucket nearly full of the smaller, end-of-season tomatoes. Scald, peel, remove any blemishes and chop into a large cooking pan.
Grind up some carrots, onions, celery, green and/or red peppers. Add several jalapeños or other leftover produce if you like, as well as a couple teaspoons of minced garlic. Sprinkle with salt.
Cook until the vegetables are done. Cool and put into one-pound containers and freeze.
Add to homemade vegetable soup, chili, spaghetti, goulash or any hotdish that also calls for regular tomatoes.

Reader submissions are appreciated. Share your recipes by emailing brickers@dglobe.com; or send to Lagniappe, Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.

Thanks-giving comes a bit early

For the past several days, I’ve given serious contemplation to some of the people, places and things that have impacted my life.
That introspection is due to yet another challenge issued via social media. This time, however, it doesn’t involve a dousing in icy water.
The idea is this: For seven days you post three things for which you are grateful. Each of those days, you are also supposed to nominate three people to do the same, so the wave of gratefulness continues to spread, filling your Facebook feed with a sea of positive thinking.
Of course, there is a sameness to many of the posts, as people express their appreciation for their spouses, families, abodes, jobs, etc. One would hate to leave out such important aspects of our lives — and yet they are also what we most often take for granted.
While it isn’t a requirement, I challenged myself to each day list a person (or persons), place and thing for which I am grateful. I’ve found that people are easy, as so many impact our lives on a daily basis; places and things take a bit more thought. I’ve begun to compile some mental lists as I look ahead to several more days of this. Here’s a smattering of what has been on my list so far or:
People:

* I am, of course, most thankful for my husband Bryan, who among his many other wonderful qualities remembers to put out an extra roll of toilet paper even when I don’t.
*  I am thankful for my siblings, Margaret and Marty, who, although they devised various means of torture for their little sister when we were growing up, managed not to scar me for life and actually turned out to be pretty nice people. We are not just related, we are friends, and that doesn’t happen in all families.
Places:
* I am thankful for Chautauqua Park, which is the amazing view that I get to look at each and every day out my front window. I appreciate its history, its serenity and the source of entertainment it provides.
*  I am grateful for the home at 406 Galena Street where I grew up. It was a place filled with love, and such beautiful memories were made there.
Things:
* I am grateful for the love of food and cooking that was instilled in the kitchen of that home. (Although it’s why I find it difficult to stick to a diet for any length of time.) I use those skills daily, both at home and at work.
*  I am grateful for aluminum foil. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t use aluminum foil in some capacity. Most recently, I discovered if you wrap a head of celery in foil (take it out of the plastic) it stays crisp much longer. No more limp celery. (Seriously, give it a try. You, too, will be astounded.)

Yet to be listed, but soon to come on my People list, will be you Daily Globe readers —  specifically those who have graciously shared recipes to give me fodder for this forum. For this writer, there is nothing better than having a plethora of material at my disposal when it’s time to write this column.
At the moment, however, that isn’t the case. I’m still hoping for some readers to share their favorite recipes for preparing September’s bounty of seasonal produce. My gratefulness would runneth over if I’d get a few recipes emailed to brickers@dglobe.com; or sent to Lagniappe, Box 639, Worthington 56187.
In the meantime, I’ll do my own bit of sharing, for which I hope you will be grateful. At our house, we have added a twist to sweet corn preparation, utilizing this savory topping when we are grilling supper:
For each ear of corn, combine 2 teaspoons mayonnaise (not salad dressing!), 2 teaspoons butter and 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese. Add any seasonings you may like — at our house it’s chopped fresh basil and a bit of hot pepper flake.
Then I follow the microwave method of cooking the corn: Leave husks on, but trim off the excess husks and ends, loosening the husks that are left on the cob. Run the corn under cold water until thoroughly soaked. Then partially cook the corn, about 1-2 minutes per ear, depending on size, in the microwave, letting rest for several minutes afterward.
Husk the corn (you will note that the silks come off much easier than husking before cooking). Place the corn in a disposable foil pan and spread with the mayo-butter mixture. Cook on the grill for 5-10 minutes more, until corn is heated through and butter-mayo mixture is bubbling.

The refrigerator doth runneth over

I don’t know how people with big families do it. At our house, it’s just Hubby Bryan and me, and there never seems to be any room in our refrigerator. I guess when there are more hungry mouths to feed the contents of the fridge go down pretty quickly.
At this time of the year, I am always making more room in the refrigerator for fresh produce. There is no more space in the designated produce drawers, and the lowest shelf also overflows.

And not all the produce goes into cold storage. There is always a pile of tomatoes on the counter, along with a ripening avocado. Inside the cupboard there are a few onions and a small bag of new potatoes.

But the storage issue is a good problem to have. I love that there’s a multitude of veggies to choose from for our meals, and we often find ourselves making a meal just out of the fresh produce.

Monday night was a good example. It’s been designated as Salad Night at our house, and I generally just heap two large serving bowls with fresh romaine and top it with assorted vegetables and other accouterments. This time around, that included garden-fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, toasted chow mein noodles and sliced chicken breast. Drizzled lightly over top was this dressing: in a jar or container with lid, combine ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup salad oil, ¼ cup red wine, vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon peanut butter. Shake well to combine. (I find that heating the peanut butter in the microwave for a few seconds helps it combine better.)

Even though I always come home with a bag full of stuff from the Farmers Market — the reason for the burgeoning refrigerator —it seems like there is always something else I want to try. I’d love to hear from some readers about their favorite Farmers Market picks and how they prepare those veggies and fruits.

In the meantime, here’s a fritter recipe that was a side item at last week’s Salad Night, and a couple of recipes from local Farmers Market vendors Paul and Leona Marco of Bigelow.

Zucchini Fritters

Grate 1½ pounds zucchini; place in colander over sink. Add 1 teaspoon salt and toss gently to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes. Using a clean dish towel or cheese cloth, wring out the zucchini to get out as much moisture as possible.

Combine drained zucchini with ¼ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons finely minced onion, 1 small clove garlic, finely minced, and 1 large egg, beaten. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Scoop tablespoons of batter into the pan, flatten with spatula, and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt on top.

Grilled Onion Blossom

Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Peel 1 large sweet onion and partially cut into six wedges, being careful not to cut all the way through. Place onion on a large sheet of foil and gently pull onion wedges apart.

Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons steak sauce.

Wrap tightly with foil. Grill 40 minutes or until onion is tender and lightly browned.

Quick Cucumber & Red Onion Salad

Cut 1 large red onion into thin slices. Peel 2 large cucumbers and cut into quarter-inch slices. Place in bowl and sprinkle with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Toss thoroughly and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.

Prior to serving, sprinkle with ¼ cup loosely packed fresh dill and toss again.

Share your recipes by sending them to Lagniappe, Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington 56187; or email brickers@dglobe.com.

Making the most of what we have left

Where has this summer gone?

That’s the question I keep asking myself over and over again. The reality that school starts in less than two weeks is hard to face, even though I don’t have children to send off. Bryan and I only have one long weekend Jeep excursion still on the horizon. Worthington’s King Turkey Day celebration – which to me always seems to usher in the fall season – is just five weeks away.

And the thought that the cold weather months aren’t that far away sends shivers down my spine.

Simply stated, I want more summer.

But I know there is nothing I can do to slow the march of time, so instead I’ve resolved to make the most of the warm weather we have ahead and appreciate summer’s many attributes.

As it relates to this forum, that means making more meals on the grill and utilizing the bounty of fresh veggies and fruits available at the local farmers markets. A helpful resource in this pursuit is a new book that came across my desk, “Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook: A Guide to Selecting and Preparing the Best Local Produce with Seasonal Recipes from Local Chefs and Farmers,” by Tricia Cornell (Voyageur Press). The book covers the wide range of produce alphabetically, from apples to zucchini. Cornell has this advice about that end-of-the-alphabet item, now so prolific in area gardens, followed by a recipe for zucchini soup:

“There’s no need to peel zucchini for cooking. When zucchini are young and small, smaller than an inch or an inch and a half in diameter, you can use the whole thing. With bigger zucchini, you’ll want to cut out the pulpy mass around the seeds, which gets watery and slimy when cooked. The easiest way to do this is to quarter the zucchini lengthwise and then slice off the seeds on the diagonal. You can also slice it in half lengthwise and then scoop the seeds out with a spoon or grapefruit spoon.”

Basil Zucchini Soup

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 shallots and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add ½ cup fresh basil, packed, 3 pounds zucchini, chopped with the peel still on; and 6 cups mild, unsalted chicken or vegetable broth or water. Simmer, covered, about 30 minutes.

Puree mixture until very, very smooth in a standing blender.

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup Mexican crema or sour cream thinned with a little water with another ½ cup fresh basil. Drizzle cream mixture over soup to serve.

 

From Colorado, my sister, Margaret Hinchey, sends a couple of recipes featuring seasonal fruits that she has served for recent gatherings.

Grilled Pears

Cut 4 pears in two lengthwise and take out core and seeds.  Clean grill rack and spray with Pam.  Place the pears flesh side down on the grill for 10-15 minutes.  This will soften the pears and give “grill marks.”  Mix together ½ cup balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar.  Place pears flesh-side-up on a disposable foil pan with an edge (½ inch or more.)  Spoon the vinegar sugar mixture over the pear halves and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Serve as a dessert or as a garnish for grilled meat and vegetables.

Mojito Salad 

 Rinse and mix together ½ pint blueberries, ½ pint raspberries, 1 cup red grapes and 1 cup fresh pineapple cut into chunks.  Stir together ½ cup lime juice and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar as a dressing.  Pour over fresh fruit gently.  Garnish with fresh mint leaves.  (I used lemon mint.)  Makes six ½-cup servings.

 

 

Backyard basil, bugs and berries

Before we left on vacation earlier this month, I twice picked down my burgeoning basil plants, freezing the flavorful leaves in cigar-like rolls to use later. In the middle of winter, I can slice off some to throw in a pot of marinara sauce or even make fresh pesto.

But since then, I have noticed that some pest has been eating holes in the leaves, devouring not only the basil, but also the clematis and a few other flowers in our yard. Darn earwigs!

Yes, I have determined that those nasty little bugs are likely to blame for the damage. So I dug out the info for trapping the buggers that has previously been printed in the Globe during an earlier earwig infestation, and I figured others out there might have the same problem.

I recently read that one way to get rid of earwigs involves recycling an issue of the Daily Globe: Lightly roll up a some wet newspaper and secure it with a rubber band. Place the rolled up newspaper near where the earwigs have been spotted. Since they like damp, dark places, they will climb inside the newspaper, and the next morning you can just throw it out, earwigs and all. I haven’t tried that yet, but managed to get quite a number of the critters (there must have been close to 100 in one of the larger containers!) with this setup: Use a recycled plastic container (margarine, yogurt, cottage cheese) with a removable lid. Inside the container, pour a layer of corn syrup followed by a layer of oil and then a few dashes of soy sauce. Cut or poke several small holes in the lid of the container and seal it up. Dig a shallow hole so that the container is just about flush with the ground. (I pile landscaping mulch up around it.) Attracted by the smell of the soy sauce, the earwigs crawl inside, but can’t get out once coated with the syrup and oil.

That’s my preferred “recipe” for dealing with earwigs. Now on to a recipe of the more delectable kind.

One of my good friends, Kris “Tooje” Tutje, recently discovered that she has a mulberry tree in her backyard. She enlisted the help of two other friends — Paula Stock to pick the berries and Myra Palmer to turn them into something delicious. So Myra made up a batch of jam, using what she touts as the easiest jam recipe ever.

Luckily, I was involved only in the jam-sampling part of this endeavor. I had never tasted mulberry jam before (or a mulberry, for that matter), but can report that it was delicious. The original recipe calls for blueberries, so if you don’t have access to a mulberry tree, blueberries will suffice.

Mulberry Jam

4 cups fresh mulberries (or blueberries)

2 cups sugar

One 3-ounce package lemon gelatin

In a large saucepan, slightly crush 2 cups mulberries. Add remaining berries and sugar and mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; stir in gelatin until dissolved.

Pour hot jam into sterilized jars or containers. Cover and cool. Refrigerate. Makes 4 half-pints.