Not Your Mama’s Fried Okra

"Fried" Okra

Fried okra is one of those quintessential Southern foods that automatically makes you think good, not to mention heavy and fat laden, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Growing up in Tennessee it was amazing the many different ways that I had this dish. Some people dipped the okra in batter and then deep fried it, others fried it up in a pan with bacon fat or lard. My mom’s method of cooking was pan fried in melted shortening, but regardless of how it was made and no matter how good it tasted you could bet it was heavy as all get out!

When we moved to Maryland it obviously became harder to find okra as it’s more of a southern crop. I finally found a local farm owned by some older folks who grew it and that is where I picked it up, that was until last summer. Last summer, and I’m not sure why, the local farm closed and I think it’s because the couple became too old to farm the land. They were the sweetest little couple. The gentleman reminded me of my grandfather, but I digress.

Anyway, I could occasionally find okra at Whole Foods and once in a blue moon it would show up at my local Giant store, but it was definitely harder to find. At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday one of the vendors had okra and I was excited to see it as I hadn’t seen it all summer! Over the years my sister and I have slimmed down the “fried” okra and substituted the healthy fat of olive oil, for the heavier unhealthy fats and/or trans fats. You still “fry” it, but you use a lot less frying medium and as I mentioned that medium is healthier too.

Oh and it’s easy to make to boot! That’s always an added plus! If you like okra, then you’ll love this!

What You’ll Need Per Cup of Okra:
Okra, sliced
1/4-1/3 cup of corn meal
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat a large pan over medium heat with a thin layer of olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan).

In a bowl mix corn meal, sea salt and black pepper. Add okra and toss to coat.

Okra Ready to Cook

Add prepared okra to the preheated pan and cook stirring occasionally until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Notes: You can also use this method for zucchini, squash or green tomato slices.

Shrimp and Veggie Kabobs with Thyme

Shrimp and Veggie Kabobs

These kabobs are so versatile! You can add the veggies you like and/or meat of your choice. You can bake them, pan fry them or even cook them on the grill. It’s a perfect way to utilize fresh veggies from the garden for a quick, easy dinner. Pair with some wild rice and you’ve got the perfect, healthy, summer meal!

What You’ll Need For Two People:
1 small zucchini, cut into chunks
1 small yellow squash, cut into chunks
4 small tomatoes, your choice of type
4 whole mushrooms, your choice
2 small chunks of onion, your choice of type
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Kabob skewers(Note: If you choose to grill the kabobs it is wise to soak the kabob sticks in water if they’re wooden for at least 20 minutes so that they won’t catch on fire.)

Preheat oven to 425 F, heat frying pan over medium heat or ready grill.

Arrange veggies on kabob stick. Brush each kabob with olive oil, sprinkle with thyme leaves, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Veggie Kabobs

Repeat process with shrimp by placing 4 large shrimp per kabob.

Shrimp Kabobs

Bake vegetable kabobs for 25-30 minutes, pan fry with a little non-stick spray for 20-25 minutes or grill for 10-15 minutes until veggies are tender. Bake, pan fry or grill shrimp kabobs for 3-5 minutes until pink. Serve immediately.

Notes: I used both red and yellow tomatoes. I also used button and baby portabella mushrooms. I also chose red onion. Asparagus would be a nice addition. Leeks would be good too. Any veggies that you like works. Mix it up! You could also use chicken or beef in place of the shrimp. Beef and chicken would take longer to cook than the shrimp so they could be placed on the same kabob as the veggies.

Sweet Corn Chowder

Sweet Corn Chowder

When you think Corn Chowder you think rich and decadent, but it doesn’t have to be. You can cut out a lot of fat and calories by reducing the amount of fat you use and slimming down the dairy. It’s a simple way to make things lighter, yet just as delicious.

I’ve seen many recipes for similar chowders that call for a stick or more of butter, topping it off by adding heavy cream, but in this version you use just enough butter to give it flavor, then utilize the healthier fat in olive oil to get the job done. You also let the onions help in that area as well, as they add a heavenly background flavor. The fat free half and half makes it taste decadent too, but it’s a very pleasant illusion. Fresh corn rounds out this recipe and helps thicken and sweeten the pot.

Sometimes you just have to rethink the way you do things. Lighter doesn’t have to be bad.

What You’ll Need:
4 ears of sweet corn, removed from ear
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon of butter
1 small red onion, chopped
1 pint of fat free half and half
1 teaspoon of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the kernels off of one ear of corn. Place in the food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

Cut the kernels of corn off of the remaining three ears of corn set aside.

In a medium sized stock pot saute red onion in butter and olive oil over medium heat until caramelized. Add pureed corn, corn kernels, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and fat free half and half stir to mix. Bring to a quick boil and then lower heat to simmer and cook covered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Serve hot.

Makes about 4 servings.

Sweet Corn

Notes: The pureed corn helps to thicken the chowder. You could easily make this soup in the middle of winter with frozen corn kernels by processing 1 cup of corn kernels until pureed and also adding 2 cups of frozen corn kernels or by freezing corn during the summer for later use. It’s good either way, but the fresh corn right of the cob really can’t be beat! Also the leftovers are even better the next day!

Hobo Dinner

Hobo Dinner

This meal is the epitome of easy, fresh and cheap dining! With all the veggies coming in at the Farmer’s Market and in the garden this is a very easy dish to pull together. It’s perfect for camping cooked right over the camp fire (that’s where we always had it and it reminds me of summers at the lake), grilling or even in the oven. Mix and match what you have on hand and you can have a basic “Hobo” Dinner or even a “Not So Basic” version. What you put in it it completely up to you, but you’ll enjoy it none the less!

What You’ll Need Per Person:
Aluminum foil
Non-stick spray
1 serving of meat (ground beef, chicken, fish, seafood, steak, etc.)
1 small potato (sweet potato, russet, yellow, etc.)
1 small yellow squash
1 small zucchini
2 slices of onion
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Take aluminum foil and foil up sides to make a square “dish”. Spray the foil with non-stick spray and place meat serving in the middle of the the “dish”. (Note: To make this completely vegetarian/vegan you could use mushrooms in place of the meat. Just slice a few button mushrooms and add to the bottom or use a large Portabella mushroom cap.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Next layer potatoes over the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a layer of squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Do you see a pattern forming here? ;o)) Next add the zucchini and then a bit more salt and pepper. Top with sliced onions and fold the foil over to form a packet and seal.

Place foil packet on a baking sheet or in a dish and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until meat is done and veggies are tender. Serve immediately by sliding the packet onto a plate. You’ve got everything right there in the packet, ready to go.

Notes: You could easily add other veggies. What ever you like would work. Corn would be nice. Carrots would be good too. Rutabaga, turnip…Well you get the idea! You could also add in other spices or seasoning. Old Bay seasoning would be perfect with shrimp or seafood. Mix it up and make it your own!

Summer Pie

Summer Pie

With all the fresh veggies and herbs coming out of the garden and the Farmer’s Market, why not utilize them and make a great dinner pie? It’s hearty and filling! If you like pasta, veggies and ricotta you can’t go wrong with this dish!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 1 pound package of fettuccine noodles, cooked according to package directions
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of fat-free ricotta
2 eggs
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of parsley, chopped
1 large zucchini, sliced into rounds
2-3 Roma tomatoes, sliced into rounds
3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Summer Pie

Cook fettuccine according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Saute onion and garlic in a little extra virgin olive oil until tender and set aside.

In a large bowl mix ricotta, eggs, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until completely mixed. Stir in parsley, cooked onions and garlic and stir until incorporated. Add noodles and stir to mix/coat.

Spray an 8 inch spring form pan with non-stick spray and pour noodles mixture into the pan and press down. Next add a layer of zucchini to cover the noodles completely. Then add a layer of tomatoes on top of zucchini and cover completely. Sprinkle the top of the pie with Parmesan and bake for 30-40 minutes until top is browned. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes, cut and serve.

Summer Pie

Notes: You could add in more/different veggies if you like. Mushrooms would be good. Yellow squash would make a nice addition as well. It’s completely up to you and what you like. If you would like, you can substitute chopped spinach for the parsley.

Dad’s Cucumbers

Dad's Cucumbers

Every time I make these I can’t help but think of my grandfather and smile. We always called him “Dad” even though he was our grandfather. This was one of his summer favorites that he made when we spent summers out at the lake. I’m not a fan of sweet pickles at all, but these are really delicious! It’s a cool, sweet, yet tangy treat. If you like cucumber and/or pickles try them and see!

What You’ll Need:
Cucumbers, sliced
1/4 cup of organic cane sugar
1/2 to 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar (Or vinegar of your choice…If you like the twang go with more, if not go with less.)
About 2 cups of water

Fill a Mason jar with sliced cucumbers to the top of the jar. Mix sugar and vinegar and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour sugar/vinegar mixture into the Mason jar. Slowly add water (about 2 cups) until the jar is full. Tightly place the lid on the jar and shake to mix. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Notes: These will keep in the fridge for about a week. They are by no means long terms pickles. In fact I only like them the first or second day they are made. After that to me they become too rubbery, but a friend of mine likes them after about 4 days. It’s completely a matter of your taste. You can also add in sweet onions or bell peppers to the mix for a bit of a change.

Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Bread is one of those things that immediately sounds delicious if you’re in to such things. There are many variations of this bread, but my recipe is an adaptation of my mom’s Banana Bread. I’ve even seen recipes that called for chocolate chips! The possibilities are endless, but anyway you slice it (yeah I went there again! ;op) it’s delicious!

What You’ll Need:
2 large zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup of safflower oil or unsweetened apple sauce
2 eggs
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup of heavy cream or half and half
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat together oil (or apple sauce) and sugar. Stir in eggs and zucchini. Add remaining ingredients and place batter into one prepared loaf pan. Bake for 35-30 minutes or until golden brown and sticks done.

Zucchini Bread

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

Fresh cucumbers are finally here! They are exceptionally delicious this year as well! This salad is something I started throwing together years ago. I needed something for a ladies lunch at church and I came up with this and a fruit salad with a key lime dressing at the same time. It’s cool, creamy and delicious! It’s just what you’re looking for on a warm summer day!

What You’ll Need:
1/2 cup of sour cream
1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup of chives, chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6-8 cups of sliced cucumbers

In a small bowl mix sour cream, dill, chives, a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir until incorporated. Pour mixture over sliced cucumbers and toss to coat. Serve immediately or chill until ready to use.

Simple, easy and delicious!

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake is another of those recipes that takes me back to childhood summers. There are so many different ways to make the recipe. Some people use Angel food cake for a base, while some like Pound Cake and my Mom even sometimes served it with pie crust that had been baked and crumbled! I’ve used all of the above at some point in time, but anyway you slice it (oh dear lord, did I just say that?) it’s delicious none the less! Especially with fresh, just picked strawberries!

What You’ll Need For The Strawberry “Filling”:
Strawberries
Sugar

Note: There is no exact measurement for this, but a general rule of thumb is roughly 1/3 cup of sugar per 4 cups of strawberries. If you want it sweeter add more sugar, if you want it less so add less. Tweak it until it comes out the way you like it.

Strawberry Caps

Wash berries and cap them. Cut into round slices or quarters. (I generally slice smaller berries in quarters and larger ones into round slices.) Pour sugar over and stir. Place in the fridge to let syrup form for 30 minutes to an hour at least. The longer they sit the better they get.

Strawberries Quartered for the Strawberry Shortcake

What You’ll Need For The Shortcakes:
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 cup of trans-fat free shortening
1 cup of buttermilk
1 stick of butter, melted
Organic cane sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder until incorporated. Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter or a fork until flour mixture becomes pea like. Stir in buttermilk until dough forms and roll out with a rolling pin. Cut into small rounds as you would for biscuits and place on a baking sheet that is lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar to coat. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

What You’ll Need To Put The Shortcakes Together:
Cooled Shortcakes
Chilled strawberry and sugar mixture
Whipped Cream

Cut a shortcake in half and lay the bottom of the shortcake on a plate or bowl. Spoon on some of the strawberry sugar mixture on top of the bottom piece of the shortcake and then top with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream. Top with the remaining piece of shortcake and enjoy!

Dianne’s Fresh Salsa

Dianne's Fresh Salsa

I like to make this little “salsa” from time to time when I’m in the mood for something fresh. It’s basically a kicked up pico de gallo, but it always gets raves!

What You’ll Need:
4-6 Roma tomatoes, seeded (4 if they are large, 6 if they are smaller)
1/2 of a green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 of a red or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, chopped (There are usually 8 or 9 scallions in a bunch)
The juice of one lime
A pinch of black pepper
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of sea salt

First Step:

Seed your tomatoes. (I always freeze the pulp for soup or chili later.)

Seeded Tomatoes

Cut seeded tomatoes into strips.

Tomato Strips

Dice tomato strips and place in a medium sized bowl.

Diced Tomatoes

Second Step:

Cut Bell Pepper Into Strips.

Bell Pepper Strips

Dice pepper and add to the bowl with the tomatoes.

Tomatoes And Peppers

Step Three:

Chop scallions and add to tomato/pepper mixture.

Step Four:

Add lime juice and seasonings. Stir to mix. Chill at least 1 before serving hour.

Notes: This “salsa” breaks down quickly due to the citrus juice. Make it the day you plan on eating it and if you have any left overs you can freeze them and use it in chili or tortilla soup later.

Red onion is a nice addition, as is freshly chopped parsley. Cilantro tastes like soap to me, so I wouldn’t advise it, but if you like the stuff, add away!