Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Easy summer meal

Sometimes a single ingredient will inspire me to cook or at least to try a new recipe. It might be fresh produce or a cut of meat that’s on sale. Other times, it’s something new.

At the grocery store recently, a new product caught my eye: shredded Velveeta queso blanco. I had purchased the same produce in block form but hadn’t seen the creamy white cheese sold as a shredded option. My daughter had used the block queso blanco in a dip and loved it.

On the back of the shredded cheese package was a recipe and photo for queso blanco quesadillas. The quesadillas looked delicious with lots of chicken, peppers and cheese inside crispy tortilla shells. I knew my family would love them. So I bought the cheese.

I make quesadillas from time to time, so the only real change here was the cheese.

I prepared the recipe a little differently. Instead of cooking the chicken with the peppers and onions, I did the chicken first, then the vegetables. I also cooked the chicken in a little fat-free Italian dressing for added flavor.

I normally warm the tortillas separately, but I followed the recipe and assembled the quesadillas, then warmed them in a skillet until they had a nice brown color and were a little crispy.

We had sour cream and salsa on the table for those who wanted them; the recipe also suggests serving with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes.

We really enjoyed our quesadillas. The family commented on how creamy the cheese was and how much they liked it.

It was a very simple dish to make and is perfect for meals on a hot summer night because you don’t heat up the kitchen.

Queso Blanco Quesadillas
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup each red and green pepper strips
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • 4 flour tortillas (8-inch)
  • 4 ounces queso blanco Velveeta, shredded
Cook chicken and vegetables in large nonstick skillet on medium heat 10 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet. Wipe skillet clean with paper towel.

Spoon 1/4 of the chicken mixture onto half of each tortilla. Top with Veveeta; fold in half.

Cook, in batches, in skillet 2 minutes on each side or until quesadillas are browned on both sides and cheese is melted.

Makes 4 servings.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Season's sweet fruits

I made a trip to the Downtown Farmers Market last week and came home with tender green beans that were picked the evening before, a delicious cucumber and a beautiful ripe tomato.

I also was handed a number of recipes by N.C. Cooperative Extension agent Candace Murray, who was at the market promoting North Carolina blueberries. I didn’t hesitate to bring home the recipes, and on Sunday night, made a blueberry and peach cobbler from one of the handouts. The recipe is from The Produce Lady, an Extension program that provides all sorts of information to North Carolinians to encourage them to buy and eat more North Carolina fruits and vegetables.

The recipe I tried was peach and berry crisp. I was unable to find what I consider to be good peaches Sunday afternoon. My sister, who lives in South Carolina, has forever spoiled me with the wonderful, freshly-picked peaches she brings when she visited. The tiny peaches I bought were far from juicy and didn’t yield the six cups called for in the recipe, but I used what I had as well as the two cups of blueberries. The fruit filled my stone pie plate, and my family ate every bit of the cobbler!

It wasn’t as sweet as cobblers I usually make, so if you like your cobblers sweet, you might want to bump up the amount of sugar in this. But we decided the tartness was also part of the appeal of this beautiful and delicious dessert.

I love blueberries and peaches both and will certainly make more cobblers this season. I’ll also be making muffins every chance I get. The fruit season seems so short; we might as well enjoy it to the fullest!

Visit theproducelady.org for videos, columns, recipes and a blog. The recipes are arranged by main ingredient, so if corn’s in season, for instance, you can easily search for new corn recipes to feed your family.

Peach and Berry Crisp
  • 6 cups fresh or frozen sliced peaches, peeled and drained
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries
  • 4 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (divided)
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 4 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine peaches and berries* in an ungreased 11-inch x 7-inch baking pan. Mix sugar, nutmeg and half of the cinnamon in a small bowl, sprinkle over fruit and stir gently. Mix oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, butter and remaining cinnamon together and spread over fruit. Bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes. Serves 8.

* I used fresh blueberries and also cooked the crisp in a large pie pan.

The Produce Lady

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Picnic treat

Some of my favorite recipes have come from my sister, so it comes as no surprise that I loved the hoagie dip she prepared for our daughters’ high school graduation party at my house last week.

I had seen recipes for hoagie dip in cookbooks and magazines over the years, but I had never tried the recipe, which features deli meats and cheeses. Susan had made the dip a number of years earlier and remembered it when we were planning the outdoor family party.

I watched Susan make this dish, which took very little prep time, really.

She stacked layers of meat and cheese, then cut the stack into small rectangles. The meats and cheese stay together in little stacks. She gently tossed that with a simple dressing of olive oil, mayonnaise and Italian seasoning and mixed in chopped lettuce and tomato.

Susan made a double recipe of the dip, which chilled in the refrigerator until the party started.

I ate the dip on whole wheat rolls; other guests at the party just ate it with a fork and bypassed the roll!

I was pleased how much the mixture tastes like a hoagie.

My husband and I enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.

This recipe would be perfect for a tailgate party or a picnic.

You can customize this dish to meet your family’s tastes. Susan bought deli ham, salami and turkey for her meats, but you could certainly adapt that to your family’s tastes. The recipe is from Susan’s friend Janine Odgen.

Hoagie Dip
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced deli provolone cheese
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced deli ham
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced deli salami
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced cappicola or turkey (we used turkey)
  • 1/3 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • 1 large tomato, diced into half-inch pieces or chopped sun-dried tomato (we used fresh tomato)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Stack a tall layer of the cold cuts, using slices of meat and cheese. Cut into strips, then across, dicing into half-inch pieces. The pieces will stick together.

Put in mixing bowl with lettuce and tomato and spice mix. Add oil and mayonnaise and toss gently to mix.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. If you prepare this several hours in advance, it would probably be best to wait until the last minute to mix in the lettuce.

Serve with a spoon and small pieces of hoagie roll or dinner rolls.

Janine Odgen

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I'll be one of the moms crying at graduation today

When my children were born, I realized immediately that their lives were an open book, and it was up to their daddy and me to help fill those pages with happy memories and experiences that would carry them through a lifetime.

So we read to them, we told them stories, we splashed in the rain puddles in our driveway, and we stayed up late on summer nights catching lightning bugs.

We let them mix the dyes and create new colors after we finished decorating Easter eggs. We asked them how much change they’d get back from a five dollar bill when we purchased something at the store. One night, we drove to my aunt and uncle’s farm so they would have a better view of a predicted meteor shower.

We let Robert build elaborate mazes with twine that wrapped around the furniture and from room to room, and we let Anna play with scissors when she was just a toddler because even then she wanted to create art.

Today, our baby girl will walk across the stage at Hunt High School and receive her diploma. Her brother did the same thing three years ago. And with that brief walk, she will take a huge leap towards the independence she craves.

I read a lot about child rearing when my babies were born, and one thing that stuck with me for more than 20 years now was this: From the moment our children are born, it’s our job to prepare them to be able to live without us — to grow up and leave the nest, in other words.

As Anna gets ready to leave our nest (figuratively, I hope), I’m wondering if her daddy and I did everything we could to prepare her for this next step. Is she ready for the big world?

Reggie and I certainly tried to do the right things. We stimulated both of our children and tried to instill a love of learning. We chose a wonderful preschool program where they learned to write their ABCs, went on field trips, made good friends and found out what it was like to spend a chunk of their day away from home and Grandma’s house.

We enrolled them in art camps and science camps in the summer, and they both learned to swim. Robert played on sports teams; Anna took dance and piano lessons.

We went to the library and brought home stacks of favorite books. We read about Arthur and D.W., about the Berenstain Bears, Thomas the Tank Engine and Cinderella, Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants. We spent hours choosing books for them to satisfy Accelerated Reading requirements and, later, Battle of the Books’ lists.

Reggie and I went to ball games, dance recitals, spelling bees, band competitions and open houses. We chaperoned field trips, took food for parties and bought whatever supplies the teacher requested. We wanted our children to know that we supported them and wanted to be there for them and that they could always count on us to cheer them on.

I picked up my children from school every chance I got, and I quizzed them on their day. We talked about what they ate in the cafeteria, how they did on tests and what homework had to be completed that night. I asked open-ended questions, hoping for more than a “yes” or “no” answer.

We read Bible stories to our children from the time they were babies and took them to Sunday school and church. We planned our summer around a week of Bible school — first when they were students and later when they were helpers.

We taught them to respect their teachers and encouraged them to finish projects early or at least on time. One child was better at this than the other! We looked over poetry booklets and bought supplies for science projects, and let plants grow and die in the dining room — all in the name of science.

We let them know we didn’t expect them to be perfect. Yes, it’s OK if you don’t get an A on every test or every report card. And I told them what my daddy told my sister and me: “I don’t expect you to get all A’s, but I do expect you to behave at school.” I got this talk when I came home with an “N” in “avoids unnecessary talking” on my report card, and I’ve already given it to my 3-year-old granddaughter.

It was not all fun. I’m sure any parent will tell you that. Anna got so carsick on a bus field trip to Tryon Palace that I thought we might have to take her to the hospital for fluids. Tears from a child who has been teased can bring you to your knees with pain and then anger, and a call from the teacher seldom brings good news.

But one time, a call did bring a good laugh; it’s funny now, at least! Anna’s first- or second-grade teacher called to say our daughter would be coming home with only one shoe that day. The whole class had looked, she said, but they couldn’t find the other one. I went out to school that afternoon and searched and searched myself before finding that missing shoe in the classroom next door!

I think Reggie and I did as well as any other parent in preparing Anna for this next step in her life. She’s a good girl and works hard and has goals. It’s so important to have goals. She’s excited about college and the challenges and the joys it will bring. And that’s a good thing. It will be fun watching her on her next journey — as she fills up more pages of that empty book.

But I will miss Anna’s high school days: her 2:30 call when she walks out of school and the daily talk about the gossip and the school work and her day in general. I’ll miss watching her fly around the house at 7 o’clock each morning, frantically searching for a missing shoe (some things never change) and her occasional call for me to bring something to class: a textbook or a paint brush or money for lunch. Funny thing, I loved getting those calls because it meant she still needed me.

I’ll miss the excitement of preparing for the prom, buying something special to wear for picture day and her eagerness in planning an art project.

It’s hard to believe it’s over.

And yes, I will miss my children’s school days, but mostly, I will miss my children.