Cheesy Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic Drizzle

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Cheesy Hot Garlic Bread with Tomatoes, Drizzled with Olive OIl and Vinegar

(Becky, the Mama.)

What fun  Rachel and I are having hearing back from readers enjoying We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook. Here’s one I got a kick out of today from Linda: “Becky I’m only on page 18 and I’m laughing out loud like a nutcase. You really have made a career out of telling on yourself! OMG, too funny and you’re not exaggerating, not even a little? Starting with misplacing your car keys in Nashville, your suitcase exploding at the airport, you can’t find your car once you arrive in Fort Worth, then when you do, the battery is dead? I’m dying over here.”

grunge image of a field

People often ask my daughter (now co-author), my friends, my husband, “Come on, tell the truth. Is Becky making this stuff up?” All they can say, with a slow head shake is, “We only wish she were.”

As I read the fun note above, I was in the middle of posting this episode on Facebook:
Leaving hotel room today. Close door, get 4 big suitcases in hall.
Me: “Uh I took my glasses off again.”
Greg: “Did you leave them in the room?”
Me: “I might have.”
All four  of our keys are behind locked doors so Greg goes to get new ones. Upon his return, I say, “I also can’t seem to find my cell phone.” He enters the room and turns it upside down. I look on the carpet, I’ve been sitting on the phone in the hall. I find my glasses, in the case where I put them in my suitcase. I don’t remember doing that AT ALL. We close the door pick up our things and go on. Greg never gets mad, not even testy. No matter how many times we exit a hotel room this way.

Life has been so busy lately with the book’s release and travel and finding things I have lost,  that when I do cook I want it to be fast and easy and delicious. One of the things I enjoy the most at some of the great Italian restaurants we’ve visited on our trip to Oregon this week, is fresh homemade bread dipped in a little plate of olive oil, good aged balsamic vinegar and a little garlic. Heaven.

Recently I found a way to turn Heaven into a quick snacky meal or a wonderfully easy appetizer for a bunch. Cutting a nice fresh loaf of French bread lengthwise, I sprinkled it with cheese, then layered sliced fresh garden tomatoes, followed  tiny pinches of salt, pepper, basil or oregano (fresh or dried, whatever you have on hand), a little fresh grated garlic. Pop this in the oven until the cheese melts and tomatoes are sizzling. Then, here’s the fun part: drizzle it all with good olive oil and balsamic, cut in slices and serve with plenty of napkins.

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Cheesy, Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic

1 French baguette, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup grated cheese (I used mozzarella, some white cheddar and feta. Use any combination you like.)

2-3 tomatoes (my baguette was small so Roma tomatoes were perfect size), sliced

Pinch fresh salt

Several turns of fresh pepper

1 t. dried oregano, or 2 t. minced fresh basil

1 clove fresh garlic, grated

¼ cup olive oil, approximate

2 T. good aged balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Preheat Oven to  400 degrees

Put both baguette halves on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Sprinkle about ½ cup grated cheese on each side.  Slice tomatoes and place atop both pieces of bread, overlapping slightly as shown.  Sprinkle each half with a little fresh salt, some turns of fresh pepper, the herbs and garlic.

Place in oven for about 5 minutes or until baguettes are hot, cheese is melted and tomatoes are sizzling.

Drizzle the baguettes with oil and vinegar, slice in 3 inch pieces and serve hot.  (With plenty of napkins.)

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Skillet Cheesy Italian Squash Casserole

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(Becky, the Mama.)

In my home state of Texas zucchini grows in backyard gardens with such profusion that almost everyone I knew had a steady pile of it sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be washed, diced, sliced, grated, grilled baked, steamed, frozen — or ignored until it grew mildew and could finally be thrown away without guilt. My mother remembers having to remove a bunch of zucchini from my kitchen sink in order to make room to give one of my newborn babies their first bath. During Texas summers it is almost impossible to walk to or from your car without at least one neighbor strong-arming you into accepting a bag or bucket of ever present green squash. Everywhere you turn, zucchini lurks.

To get my children to eat their share of it, I invented Skillet Italian Squash Casserole. By cooking the squash until just crisp tender, then topping it with an Italian style tomato sauce, gooey cheese, and buttery crackers, I had a winner! It was a family favorite for many years.

Soon after we married, nine years ago,  my husband Greg let me know, “I’m not really a squash kind of guy.” So I avoided serving him squash in any form. But the other day, I threw caution to the wind and made this casserole anyway, since I liked it so much. He graciously agreed to try it. To my surprise, he loved it, too.  Ate every bite. I made it again tonight, and there was not a speck of squash left on his plate,

One day we came home from some errands to find a grocery sack of [zucchini] hanging on our mailbox. The perpetrator, of course, was nowhere in sight … Garrison Keillor says July is the only time of year when country people lock our cars in the church parking lot, so people won’t put squash on the front seat. I used to think that was a joke …” Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

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Skillet Cheesy Italian Squash Casserole

5 smallish to medium squash, yellow or zucchini or a mixture of both
Salt & Pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 large clove grated garlic
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes (preferably the kind with basil)
½ t. oregano
2 t. brown sugar
1 c. grated cheese (I like mozzarella but really, any cheese you like & have on hand will be yummy)
3 T. butter
20 buttery crackers, such Ritz or Townhouse (I used Ritz wheat crackers)
2 T. grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
Heat oven to 400 degrees

Slice squash about ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle all with salt and pepper. Heat oil in an 10-12 inch iron skillet on high flame until very hot. Put squash and garlic into pan and saute until many of the pieces are golden on the outside and cooked until just crisp-tender.

Remove from stove top and pour crushed tomatoes evenly over the top of the squash. Sprinkle the tomatoes with oregano and brown sugar. Top with grated cheese. Melt butter in a medium-sized bowl in the microwave. Crumble crackers into the melted butter, add Parmesan and mix. Pour this crumb mixture on top of the cheese, then place the skillet in hot oven. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until squash is tender, cheese melted, and cracker crumb topping is golden.

Veganize This: Substitute vegan ‘Mozzarella” and “Parmesan” cheese and dairy-free butter and you are good to go on this one.  Simple to do!

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Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (Vegan & Regular Version)

(Becky, the Mama.)

About a year and a half ago my daughter Rachel was in town, pregnant, and craving Tomato Basil Soup. The trick was to find a place that served a vegan version so she could indulge but still avoid dairy or meat-based broth.  I think we drove to three restaurants before we finally found the place that served the soup she had in mind.  And yes, she and her unborn child were absolutely worth it. But I determined that day to come up with a creamy vegan version of Tomato Basil Soup that we could make at home.

I, too, adore Tomato Basil Soup, especially the thick creamy version served at La Madeleine’s, a favorite French chain restaurant in the Dallas area.  Alas, it is loaded with cream and butter and thus, with calories.  The problem with trying to  make any tomato-based soup with  milk instead of cream (to cut calories), is that  the acid in the tomatoes curdles the milk yielding a yucky mess you’ll  have to sigh heavily about, just before you put it down the disposal. (Ask me how I know this.)

So I experimented with a can of coconut milk in place of cream and butter.  Perfection.  You really can’t taste the coconut flavor at all; it fades to neutral when paired with the strong tastes of the ingredients in the rest of the recipe. Even if you use the full fat can of coconut milk, this soup only about a 100 calories a cup. But you will not believe it when you taste it!  On top of being delicious and easy, it is also vegan-friendly and nutritious.  Pretty much the Perfect Recipe to keep in your Go-To Classic Recipes  file.

I threw this soup together for a friend who dropped by unexpectedly for lunch one day, and she swore it was the best soup she’d ever tasted. Could not believe I whipped it up in just a few minutes.  Plus it was ready to serve by the time our grilled cheese sandwiches came off the stovetop.

P.S.  I hurriedly planted basil in a big pot on the porch this summer and it is still yielding oodles of leaves, which I used in this recipe.   Greg spent a full day, in June, putting together three Topsy Turvy upside down tomato plants (as “Seen on TV”),  put them on a fancy planter, then hooked them up to a complicated irrigation system.  God bless him, the tomato you see in this picture is the one and ONLY tomato we’ve harvested, picked yesterday. But it sure was a pretty one.

Easy, Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (Vegan)

Yields about 10 cups of soup

Ingredients:

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (with basil, if you can find it)

1 c. very lightly packed fresh basil leaves (or a good generous hand full) — I sometimes use 2 T. of  jarred pesto instead of fresh basil if that is all I have on hand

¼ c. onion

2 garlic cloves

3 c. veggie broth (or chicken broth if you aren’t vegetarian and prefer this)

1 can coconut milk (Full fat version makes a creamier soup, but lite will also work. If desired, reserve a little for garnishing soup once it is in a bowl. You’ll find cans of coconut milk in the Asian section of almost all grocery stores now.)  Note: You can also make a the more traditional  soup by omitting coconut milk and add 1/2 cup of regular cream, at the very end of cooking the soup

1 ½  t. salt

1 T. sugar (or brown sugar or coconut sugar)

1 t. pepper

Directions:

Put ½ the can of crushed tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Add basil leaves, onion and garlic.  Blend until basil leaves are still individual but tiny specks of green.

Pour this mixture into a soup pot.  Add the rest of the can of tomatoes, veggie broth, coconut milk, salt, pepper and sugar.  Stir and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.  Check to see if it needs more salt. Serve in bowls, and garnish if desired with a “squiggle” of reserved coconut cream.


“Mess o’ Golden Fish” in Buttery Lemon Sauce

Mess o’ Golden Fish in Buttery Lemon Sauce

(Becky, the Mama.)

Yesterday was one of those Sunday afternoons that Greg and I love.  I’d popped a roast in the oven before church and then Greg’s sons, a  daughter-in-law , one nephew and one grandson showed up to enjoy a meal on the back porch.  These are special days as we know summer is waning, the leaves are turning, but for now there are still flowers and green grass and perfect 70 degree weather.

Meals for our big gang of kids (even half our crew) means lots of food, mess, dishes. A virtual kitchen disaster, since I am a fast cook, but not a tidy one.   In addition to lunch, I decided to make a quick casserole for my stepson to take home to his family as well.  (Tortilla Flower Pie.) They adopted little six-year-old Anthony this year, and suddenly became foster parents to a toddler last week.  At minimum, I felt, they deserved a night off from cooking.  So more pots and pans were added to the sink creating a virtual mountain dirty dishes.

I took a deep breath and dove in to Dish Mountain, rinsing and washing with gusto, when I felt… not a few drops, not a trickle,  but a sudden wave of warm water flooding my feet.  A broken pipe. Several trips to the hardware store, lots of under-sink-laboring, not a few choice words, and many hours  later…the pipes still leaked like an artsy under-the-sink fountain.

I loaded the dirty dishes into a big ice chest on wheels and alerted my neighbor that I might be rolling up to her door,  the Bag Lady of Dirty Dishes, to borrow her sink. Thankfully a plumber showed up today and miraculously fixed the issue, to the tune of $200.00.

Welcome to reality. It is messy.  “Mama said there’d be days like this,” and all that.   I’ve found, however, that life’s “little aggravating interruptions” get a lot easier to deal with once you accept this truth: About 20 to 30 percent of life is handling hassles.

I’ve found I don’t lose my cool over life’s inconveniences when I…

1) Take care of it – or delegate….or hire someone to take care of it ASAP without wasting time stewing

2) Find something funny in the situation to write and laugh about

3) Remember that it is not a Greek tragedy, it is not cancer,  it is not permanent. (This post will appear on 9-11, a reminder of how petty almost all our so-called ‘problems’ really are.)

4) I am not being picked on by God, stuff happens to everybody.  Build “yucky interruptions” into weekly expectations

5) Try to think of myself as Molly Brown, and do my best to be that jolly, comforting, brave woman who makes the best of a sinking ship situation.

Or in my case, a sinking sink situation.

I had just a few minutes tonight to prepare dinner after the plumber left and the kitchen was put back in order. (Thank you to my husband and nephew for doing this for me. A gift!)  What I wanted to make for supper was four perfectly formed and nicely browned fish fillets.  What I got, instead, was a mess, as some of the fish stuck to the pan, and the meat was so fresh and flakey that it began falling apart.  Then I remembered something a pro photographer said at the Foodista Blogging convention, “Life is messy. Make some of your photos messy.” Well, then…O-KAY!

Though this “mess o’ fish” dish did not turn out perfectly formed fillets, it tasted amazing.  In fact, the broken pieces allowed the lemon-butter-wine sauce to better saturate the fresh white cod,  resulting in moistness and flavor in every bite.  The family served themselves whatever bits and pieces that looked most tempting to them.

The moral of today’s post is this: When life gives you lemons, slice them and use them to decorate your latest culinary mess.  You might find you’ve fouled up your way into a new recipe masterpiece.

“Mess o’  Golden Fish” in Buttery Lemon Sauce

Serves 4

2 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter for browning fish

2 smashed garlic cloves

1.5 lb. white flakey fish fillets (I used cod, but you could use halibut, tilapia, mahi-mahi, catfish or sea bass)

1 large lemon, cut in half

2/3 cup white wine

1 T. butter (for sauce)

1 T. brown sugar

Sea Salt to taste

Few basil leaves or parsley for garnish

Directions:

Sprinkle fish fillets very lightly with sea salt on both sides.

Put 2 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter and 2 smashed garlic cloves into a large skillet over medium high heat.  As soon as it is nice and bubbly, stir to let garlic permeate the oil and butter, then add fish.  Turn fish when it is golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes or less.  Don’t worry if it comes apart when you turn it: messy is fineMessy is good.

Brown the other side of the fish.  With a wide spatula, remove fish from pan to a large serving platter with about 1 inch high sides, and loosely cover with foil to keep warm. (I used a round Corning Ware tart pan.)  In the same skillet, add 2/3 cup white wine, another tablespoon of butter, 1 T. brown sugar and juice from ½ the lemon.  Let this mixture simmer and bubble until the sauce is reduced by about a third.  Season with salt to taste at this point.  Pour the sauce over the “mess o’ golden fish” and garnish with lemon slices (from the other ½ lemon) and a few sprigs of fresh parsley or basil.  Serve family style with a spoon for dipping sauce.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Mess o’ Golden Fish in Buttery Lemon Sauce
The URL:http://wp.me/p1UwM9-Gp
© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Vegan Zucchini Risotto

Vegan Zucchini Risotto with Sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil

Jackson has recently started whimpering every time I eat until I give him a bite. It all started with this vegan zucchini risotto. I offered him one little nibble and he probably ate a fourth of my bowl. It was pretty exciting that my little boy had such a sophisticated palate and was asking for solids already. (You score bonus points with the earth mamas for baby led weaning, ya know.) Since then, he has scarfed down roasted pepper quinoa, blackened tofu, pasta with creamy artichoke basil sauce, edamame, split pea soup, among other delicious and nutritious meals I’ve shared with him. I’ve been so proud of my little baby’s love of my favorite plant-based foods…

….until today.

We were outside enjoying the beautiful Spring day, me sittin’ & sippin’ my ice water, Jackson “vrooming” his truck around the patio, when he stopped in his tracks and turned to chase a rollie pollie crawling by. He’s so adorably curious, I thought to myself, just before he picked up the rollie pollie and stuck it in his mouth. I jumped out of my lounge chair and cringed as I saw that little black bug all rolled up tight on his tongue. I reached my finger into Jackson’s mouth, but his jaws clamped.

Crunch. Crunch. Gulp.

My sophisticated little veggie baby had just crushed a live bug in between his six little teeth as if it were one of his baby cheerios. And he immediately reached for another one cruising by.

We spent the rest of the day inside.

If that story doesn’t make you crave the delicious vegan risotto that led my child on his culinary adventure all the way to a diet of raw bugs in the back yard, I don’t know what will.

Honestly, this is so delicious. It is tedious (not one of those meals I can make while Jackson hangs off the back of my legs), but it makes a lot and reheats well, so it’s worth the trouble for a special occasion. I know traditional risotto has cheese in it, but I think this tasted amazing without it. I even lowered the amount of nutritional yeast the second time I made it because I really liked the flavors and the creaminess before I added it.

Rachel’s
Vegan Zucchini Risotto

Serves ~ 6

Ingredients
1 T. olive oil
1 T. Earth Balance or other margarine
1/4 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 t. salt
freshly ground pepper
1 c. white wine, warm
6 c. veggie broth, warm (you can use some water if you don’t have enough broth)
2 small zucchini, grated
1 T. nutritional yeast (non-vegans could use a little Parmesan instead)
2 T. Earth Balance or other margarine
1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 T. basil, chopped (optional but does add a lot of flavor)

Directions
Heat a large saucepan over med-hi heat with oil and margarine. Saute the onion and garlic until soft but not brown. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly until the rice is translucent. Season with salt and pepper, then add about 1/2 cup of broth. Stir constantly until the liquid is reduced. Add the wine and repeat. Then continue adding about 1/2 – 1 cup of liquid at a time, stirring, and letting the liquid reduce each time. When you only have a cup or so of broth left, add the zucchini. Continue adding the remaining liquid and stir until it is absorbed and the rice is cooked through. You may not need all of the broth, or you may need a little extra broth, water, or wine. Remove from heat and stir in nutritional yeast, margarine, sun dried tomatoes, and basil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for a couple of minutes before serving.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Vegan Zucchini Risotto
The URL: https://welaughwecrywecook.com/2012/04/19/vegan-zucchini-risotto

Creamy Artichoke Basil Sauce

Artichokes give this sauce its creamy factor without adding any fat.

Motherhood has changed me. We just spent an evening discussing life insurance and wills. I wake up before eight a.m. without an alarm. I no longer pee alone. I don’t shower until noon most days (if I shower at all). And I cook every meal while simultaneously pulling my child out of cabinets, trash cans, and the wash machine … or out from between my legs.

My mom snapped this picture of Jackson last time she was here. He pulls up on my pant legs right behind me and completely immobilizes me. I can’t turn around or squat down to get him or he’ll fall over. Cooking like this is challenging to say the least.

So I love a meal that is quick and easy, but tastes deliciously gourmet. This pasta sauce is exactly that. It takes about five minutes to make and if you pour it over hot pasta, you don’t even have to simmer it. As a bonus, Jackson likes it too, so I can give him little bites of my dinner without making a different meal for him. Mommy and baby approved!

Did I mention there is no cream in this creamy pasta? It’s almost guilt-free, minus the two tablespoons of olive oil. Another bonus for this post baby body!

Rachel’s
Creamy Artichoke Basil Sauce

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 garlic cloves, diced

2 T. olive oil

1 14 oz can of artichoke hearts, reserve liquid

1 1/2 roasted red bell peppers (jarred or make your own*)

A palm full of basil, roughly chopped

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

1/2 t. Italian seasoning

8 oz pasta (I used whole wheat spiral pasta, but any kind you like would be fine)

Directions

In a small skillet, heat garlic and olive oil until garlic is just starting to brown. In a blender or food processor, blend all the ingredients including the sauteed garlic and olive oil. Add reserved liquid** from the artichokes (I think I used about a half a cup) to thin out sauce to desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Toss with pasta immediately out of the boiling water. Garnish with a little chopped basil if desired.

*Making your own roasted peppers is easy. Just placing them directly on on a gas burner flame rotating it a few times (like this) or on a pan under the broiler until charred. Then put it in a bowl tightly covered with plastic wrap for a about five minutes. Rub off most of the skin with a damp paper towel. Voila, roasted peppers!

**Pasta water would work great too if you accidentally forget to reserve the liquid from the artichokes. Yes, I speak from experience.

Variations

Stir in chickpeas, sauteed veggies, chicken or Italian sausage (or the vegan versions of these)

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Creamy Artichoke Basil Sauce
The URL: https://welaughwecrywecook.com/2012/04/17/creamy-artichoke-basil-sauce/

Tomato Basil Stackers

Last week I picked up some vine ripened tomatoes and my heart went pitter patter when I cut one open and saw that they were just as vibrantly red in the middle as they were on the outside. Better yet, they were sweet and flavorful and tasted like a tomato should taste. Blah tomatoes make the winter feel so long, don’t they? I can taste summer coming around the corner when I bite into my first juicy tomato.

To me, there is no better way to enjoy a nice ripe tomato than letting its flavors shine in between fresh basil leaves and sliced avocado on a garlicy toasted English muffin. Garlic toast brings any savory sandwich up a notch. It has amazing health benefits too. My mother swears that garlic cures everything from a head cold to a stumped toe. When she came to visit last week I had a sinus infection, and she made me swallow a garlic pill every time she caught my eye. Her parting gift to me was a bottle of odorless garlic tablets. I am now cured.

Mother knows best.

Anyway, I could eat this simple sandwich every day. I always buy the Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain English Muffins.  You can find them in the freezer section of most stores that carry the Ezekiel line of breads. Not only does their nutty flavor taste delicious when toasted, but they bring 8 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and a mere 160 calories to the plate.

Ezekiel English Muffin toasted to perfection with EVOO and garlic


Rachel’s
Tomato Basil Stackers

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted English Muffins, sliced through the middle
1 Garlic Clove, Minced
1 tbs EVOO
1 Vine Ripened Tomato
6 Fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 Avocado
Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper
Drizzle of High Quality Olive Oil

Directions

Turn your oven on broil low, in a small bowl mix EVOO with minced garlic. Spread garlic and oil onto the inner side of the english muffin slices. Place on the top rack of your oven and broil until the edges just start to brown and crisp up. Stay close, it won’t take long.  You don’t want this to happen.

Meanwhile, slice the tomato and avocado into slices, and gently tear the basil leaves a few times to release their flavors.

Layer the avocado, basil, and tomato onto one slice of the toasted english muffin. After each tomato layer, sprinkle with salt, fresh cracked pepper, and a small drizzle of high quality olive oil. When finished layering top with the other side of the English muffin.

I like to layer it like this: bread, avocado, tomato, basil, tomato, basil, tomato, basil, avocado, bread. I kind of spread the avocado onto the bread to keep it from sliding off. But layer to your hearts content or do two open faced ones if you don’t like a high stacker.  I like to stack it high and then just lean over my plate and dive in. It will be messy, but oh so delicious!

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Tomato Basil Stackers
The URL: https://welaughwecrywecook.com/2012/03/13/tomato-basil-stackers/
© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved