Marvelous Meat Sauce

Most of the time when I eat pasta with a red marinara, the sauce is made entirely of all vegetables. Sometimes, I might make meatballs to go with the meal.

But occasionally, I like to make a red meat sauce, one that’s loaded with tomatoes and tomato paste, and served over pasta. Whenever I do this, I’m reminded of a meat sauce we used to have at our school hot lunch program. It was one of my favorites. Most of the time, it was served over macaroni, but once in a while, the pasta was spaghetti.

Now, whenever I have a hankering for a tomato meat sauce, one of my two Dom DeLuise cookbooks gets taken out of the cupboard. There are several meat sauce recipes in the cookbooks, and they’re all pretty good. The late comedian and actor sure knew his pasta and sauces.

But the one called Dom’s Meat Sauce  gets the call when I want something that come the closest to my old school sauce. It contains lean ground meat (either beef, turkey, pork or veal, or any combination),  some red wine, a lot of tomatoes and onions, a few cloves of garlic, a little sugar and a couple of herbs.

Served over pasta and with a nice salad, it’s a meal that you’ll return to time and time again. 

Dom’s Meat Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 ounces prosiutto, chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 pounds lean beef, turkey, pork or veal (or any combination)
1 cup red wine
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes (or 4 pounds, peeled, chopped tomatoes)
1 teaspoon sugar
Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup fresh basil, cut up
In a large saucepan over medium heat, add oil, garlic, prosciutto and onions. Saute until translucent. Slowly add the ground meat of your choice, stirring with a wood spoon until all the pink is gone and the meat is crumbly. Discard fat. Add wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, sugar, pepper and oregano and stir. Simmer for 1 hour.
Serve on your favorite pasta and top with fresh basil.
Yield: Serves 8.

Something To Relish

In my food column in the Grand Forks Herald next week, I’m writing about toppings for burgers. I should have included toppings for hot dogs or sausage.

That’s because I was been given a wonderful recipe for chow chow, a green tomato and pepper relish recently. Marion Moen of Grand Forks and formerly of Gilby, N.D., shared the recipe of her daughter, Mary Finseth, with me, as well as a sample of the relish. Besides the chow chow, Marion also gave me some apple ring pickles made from cucumbers.

But it was the chow chow that really grabbed my attention. I’ve had chow chow in the past. My old friend, Kevin Shanahan, has supplied me with a couple of jars over the years, but I’ve never have made it. But after sampling the chow chow Marion gave me, I can’t wait to make my own.

Marion said she likes the chow chow on things like brats and hot dogs but that her daughter’s version could be a little hotter. Marion said Mary doesn’t share her taste for real hot food, so she cuts back on the jalapenos in the recipe. I used it as a dip for some tortilla chips, and it was great.

Here’s the recipe for those of you who want to try it. Tuck it away and pull it out later this summer, when your tomatoes are green and peppers are ripe.

Grandma’s Chow Chow (Piccalily)
2¼ to 2½ quarts (9 cups) chopped green tomatoes
1¼ to 1½ quarts (4½ cups) diced green and red peppers (can add 4 or 5 jalapeno pepper if you want some heat)
2¼ cups chopped/diced onions
2½ tablespoons pickling salt
Mix all of the ingredients well. Place in a colander lined with cheesecloth and let drain for 2 hours. Squeeze out all the liquid you can and discard.
In a large pot, combine:
5 cups vinegar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cloves
1¾ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons black pepper
1/8 to ¼ cup prepared horseradish
1/8 cup mustard seed
2 cups white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground allspice
Bring mixture to a boil and add veggie mix and simmer for 20 minutes. Put into hot jars (½-inch headspace) and then put in boiling water bath for 10 to 15 minutes.

Searchin’ for Sandwiches

I’ve always been a sandwich kind of guy.

I guess that goes back to my childhood, when my dad, who was a heavy equipment operator and later an area maintenance foreman for the Minnesota Highway Department (now the Department of Transportation), used to take his lunch to work and alway had sandwiches. I figured if sandwiches were good enough for Dad, they were good enough for me.

And we always had good stuff for sandwiches. If it wasn’t great luncheon meat (summer sausage, minced ham or liverwurst) from our local meat market, it was leftover meatloaf, roast beef, roast pork or chicken. And if all else failed, there were fried egg sandwiches, one of the first things I learned how to cook, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

These days when I have a sandwich, leftovers oftentimes still play a prominent role. Just recently, we had some homemade elk sausage for supper. Therese and I never finish the whole ring. Even when my grandson, Rakeem, joins us, there always is some meat left over.

So, the other night, when batchin’ it for supper because Therese was off with her doll club friends, I made a tasty sandwich with some nice rye bread that contained sausage, cheese, pickles, ketchup and mustard. It may or may not sound good to you, but it sure hit the spot for me.

Not all the sandwiches I eat are homemade. I like to have one every once in a while when we go out. And occasionally, I’ll find a sandwich on the Web that looks appealing, like the one that follows, which features a spicy sausage and shrimp.

Summer Shrimp and Sausage Sandwich
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup large uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp, butterflied, halved lengthwise
1 4-ounce piece Spanish (smoked) chorizo, cut into thin slices
1 5-ounce package baby arugula
4 ounces pitted kalamata olives, halved
2 medium French bread loaves, about 10 to 12-inches long, or 1 long baguette, about 18-inches long
For the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl; season with the salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in the olive oil slowly; set aside.
For the salad, heat the oil in a large skillet; add the garlic. Cook, stirring until garlic softens, about 1 minute. Stir in the shrimp; cook, stirring until the shrimp is pink and translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chorizo; cook, stirring until warm, about 1 minute.
Toss together the arugula, olives, reserved shrimp and chorizo slices in a large bowl; add half of the vinaigrette. Toss, adding more vinaigrette as desired.
Halve the French loaves lengthwise without cutting all the way through; hollow out some of the soft bread to make room for the salad. Line the hollowed loaves with salad. Close; cut each loaf into 3 pieces.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 273 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 16 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 38 milligrams cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 764 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber.

The Perfect Tortilla

I recently wrote a column for the Herald food page about enchiladas, which sparked a question from Randy Lieberg, who works at JLG Architects in Grand Forks.

Randy said whenever he makes enchiladas, he tends to use flour tortillas because they don’t break into pieces when rolling, but he has been trying to figure out the best way to roll enchiladas and keep the corn tortillas in one piece long enough to get into the pan.

I didn’t have an immediate answer for him, since whenever Therese makes enchiladas, she also uses flour tortillas. (She says he can’t find good corn tortillas in town, so if you know of any, let me know.)

After a bit of research, I discovered some video on the Web site that asnwered Randy’s question. If you don’t want to check out the demonstration yourself, here’s how to do it.

The exact procedure is to dampen the tortillas and place them between paper towels, stacked about four high, and microwave them for a few seconds. (If you do more than four, the bottom ones tend to cool off and get stiff again.) According to the demo, you can reuse the towels a couple of times and subsequently don’t have to moisten the tortillas as much.

A nice thing about this method is that it’s healthier than frying the tortillas in oil.

Speaking of Mexican food, according to Institute of Food Technologists’ 2006 report, "What, When and Where America Eats," the cuisine’s popularity is up 12 percent since 2003. And much of that is being done at home.

For those who rank Mexican as Numero Uno when eating at home, here are a couple of recipes to try.

Enchilada Casserole
1 pound ground round
½ cup chopped onion
4 teaspoons chili powder
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 11.5-ounce jar mild taco sauce, divided
6 corn tortillas, divided
1¼ cups shredded 2 percent sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
2 green onions, finely chopped
Shredded lettuce, chopped fresh tomatoes and fat-free sour cream for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook ground round and onion in skillet over medium heat until meat is browned and cooked through; drain. Add chili powder, cumin, pepper, garlic and water. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until water has evaporated and meat mixture is thick.
Lightly cover bottom of 9-by-13-inch pan with half of taco sauce. Place 3 tortillas in bottom of pan, cutting tortillas to fit, if necessary. Spread meat mixture on top of tortillas. Sprinkle with ½ cup cheese. Drizzle remaining taco sauce over cheese and top with remaining 3 tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining ¾ cup cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake 5 additional minutes. Garnish with green onions and serve with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and fat-free sour cream if desired.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 253 calories (46 percent from fat), 13 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 43 milligrams cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 516 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Chicken Salad Wrap
3½ cups cooked, shredded chicken
4 green onions, chopped
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed, drained
1 large carrot, grated
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup each: chopped basil, chopped dry-roasted peanuts
¾ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons bottled sweet and sour sauce
Juice of 1 lime
6 each: 12-inch flour tortillas, Boston lettuce leaves
Combine chicken, onions, sprouts, carrot, cilantro, basil and peanuts in medium bowl; set aside. Mix together mayonnaise, sweet and sour sauce and lime juice in small bowl. Pour dressing over chicken mixture; toss to combine.
Heat tortillas, turning every few seconds, in skillet over medium heat until hot. Or, microwave between sheets of paper toweling until hot, about 20 seconds. Place lettuce leaf in center of tortilla; top with chicken salad. Fold over 2 sides; roll up.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 575 calories, 38 percent calories from fat, 24 grams fat (4.9 grams saturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 650 milligrams sodium, 55 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 4 grams fiber.

Kraut and Sausage

Do ever wonder how many pounds of meat are tossed on the grill each summer?

I tried to find some statistics on the Internet but came up empty. But the numbers that I did dig up from Gourmet magazine, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association and others (some information is couple of years old) indicate it must be a whole lot.

For example:

— Eighty-one percent of all U.S. households own a grill, and 47 percent use one at least one or two times per week during the summer.

— More than 60 percent of Americans are grilling year-round, and nearly half grill during winter months.

— Grill ownership increased 10 percent from 2003, with eight out of 10 households now owing an outdoor barbecue grill or smoker.

— More than 35 percent of women now are taking the tongs for gas grilling, up 6 percent from 2003.

— Forty-two percent of women are using electric grills, inching closer to men at 55 percent.

— At least 90 percent of families attend at least one barbecue party.

 — About 40 percent of families throw parties that center on the idea of outdoor grilling.

One kind of meat that often finds its way to the grill is sausage, whether it’s brats, Polish, a homemade venison version or plain old hot dogs. 

And nothing goes better with sausage on the grill than sauerkraut.

I was talking today with Senora Almquist, a friend from Cummings, N.D., about pairng sausage and kraut. Senora reminded me that you don’t need to grill your sausage, either. She said just the other night she browned some venison sausage in a frying pan and then baked it in the oven for a while before serving it with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes to her two sons and husband, Basil.

That reminded me of the way we used to have it when I was a kid. Dad used pick up some homemade hot dogs from Erickson’s Meat Market in Crookston (they were the best), and Mom would cook them in the oven in a generous portion of sauerkraut. Then, we’d have them with mashed potatoes. I just loved to mix the kraut and potatoes.

Now, I’m in the mood for sausage and kraut. And if I haven’t piqued your interest yet, here are a couple of recipes that will.

Grilled Brats With Riesling-Mustard Kraut
4 bratwurst
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
½ onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup riesling
1 16-ounce package refrigerated sauerkraut, rinsed
¼ teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper
4 poppyseed or other buns
Prepare grill for direct cooking. Cut lengthwise almost through bratwurst. Grill, turning often with tongs, until cooked through and browned, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat butter in large skillet. Add onion; cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard. Stir in riesling; cook to reduce slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in sauerkraut, salt and pepper. Heat through. Place cooked bratwurst in buns; top with sauerkraut.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutrition analysis per serving: 495 calories, 61 percent calories from fat, 34 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 1,885 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 4.5 grams fiber.

Smoked Sausages with Apple-Fennel ‘Sauerkraut’
1 large fennel bulb and tops
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
5 tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled, grated
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for buns
½ cup hard cider or apple juice
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
Freshly ground pepper
8 fully cooked smoked sausages
8 poppy seed hot dog buns or French rolls, split
Spicy brown or Dijon mustard
Trim off fennel stalks from bulb. Chop fennel fronds; reserve. Save stalks for another use. Cut bulb vertically into thin strips.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel strips; cover. Cook until the fennel begins to wilt, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
Stir the grated apple and lemon juice into the fennel mixture. Add butter, stirring to mix well. Stir in the cider, reserved fennel fronds and caraway seeds. Cook until mixture is soft, about 5 minutes. Season with remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Remove from heat; set aside at room temperature to let the flavors mingle.
Heat the grill pan over medium heat; heat the broiler. Place the sausages on the grill; cook, turning occasionally to mark all sides of the sausage, until hot, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, brush insides of the buns with a little butter. Place buns cut side up on a baking sheet. Broil until lightly browned about 1 minute. Place 1 sausage and a generous spoonful of sauerkraut on each bun; serve with mustard on the side.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 491 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 28 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 50 milligrams cholesterol, 39 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, 1,535 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber.

Potato Salad — A Summer Mainstay

When my friend, Mac Salisbury, and I were comparing notes about what we did over the weekend, the subject of potato salad came up.

Not surprisingly, we both sampled some of that old summer standby  — he at his grandson Tyler’s graduation party and me at a little get-together we had celebrating Memorial Day.

Both Mac and I love the old-fashioned kind, the one that usually has some combination of potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, mustard, mayo or Miracle Whip, celery and onion.

And we both have fond memories of our mother’s potato salad. Mac loved his mother’s, but says his wife, Bettye, makes the best he’s ever tasted. (He did say his daughter-in-law’s potato salad is pretty good, too.) And my mom’s potato salad is what I measure all others against.

But the potato salad Therese just put together might make me change my standard. I’m not sure what set this last one apart from others she’s made, but it was mouthwatering. I especially loved the cut-up dill pickle touch.

My penchant for potato salad goes beyond the traditional version. I fell in love with German potato salad (hot or cold) the first time it crossed my palate. And a couple of other variations also have tweaked my taste buds.

With that in mind, here are three recipes for those of you who want to mix things up a bit.

German Potato Salad
6 to 7 medium red potatoes
½ pound bacon
1 pasteurized egg, beaten
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon each: salt, sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ yellow onion, diced
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with cold water. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place the bacon in a large skillet; cook, turning occasionally, over medium heat, until bacon is crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Turn off the heat; discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings.
Peel and slice potatoes; set aside. Beat together the egg, vinegar, salt, sugar and pepper in a medium bowl; stir into the reserved bacon fat in the skillet. Add the onion and potatoes; toss mixture together lightly. Add bacon and chopped parsley; toss.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 176 calories, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 37 milligrams cholesterol, 27 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 524 milligrams sodium, 2 grams fiber.

Scandinavian Potato Salad
8 to 9 new potatoes, about 1 pound
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly grated pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
Scrub the potatoes with a soft brush under running water. Quarter them and drop them into a large heavy pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender but still firm, for 8 to 10 minutes after the water reaches a boil.
When the potatoes are done, drain them and place them in a mixing bowl.
Season with salt and pepper to taste; add the sour cream to the still-hot potatoes and toss gently. Add the chopped onion and dill, toss again and cool to room temperature before refrigerating for at least 4 hours.
Before serving, toss again, correct the seasoning and add more sour cream if the salad seems dry.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 170 calories, 12 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 13 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 580 milligrams sodium, 2 grams fiber.

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad
¾ pound each: red, purple, new white potatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 each, chopped: green onions, celery ribs
¼ cup minced parsley
½ teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper
Place potatoes in large pot; fill with cold water to cover. Heat to boil; simmer, until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Drain; set aside to cool slightly.
Cut potatoes into quarters while still warm. Place in medium serving bowl. Toss potatoes with vinegar. Mix together mayonnaise, mustard, green onions, celery, parsley, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Toss with potatoes. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 250 calories, 15 grams fat (2.2 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 445 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams protein, 4 grams fiber.

A Day For Grilling

Memorial Day is traditionally the beginning of the grilling season, and I hope to get into the spirit of things Monday.

After a busy weekend of planting a garden, I’m turning my attention to the grill. I’m not sure what we’re going to have on Memorial Day, but it probably will be either pheasant or elk or both.

I’m planning on mixing up my favorite marinade recipe, which contains honey, orange juice, teriyaki sauce, a little garlic onion and a sprig or two of rosemary (recipe follows). Generally, I marinate my meat overnight, but as little as four to six hours works just fine.

For those who opt to buy a marinade, the folks from McCormick have a good selection of mixes. (See following recipe.) With most of them, all you do is add some wine, juice or Worcestershire sauce.

Of course, many people just like to use dry ingredient when grilling, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Whatever I decide to do, you can’t go wrong with pheasant or elk meat. Or a good beef steak or chicken breast.

Herb Marinated Steak
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons McCormick Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons McCormick garlic powder
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
½ teaspoon McCormick black pepper, coarse ground
1½ pounds boneless beef sirloin or London broil steak (about 1-inch thick)
Mix wine, oil and seasonings in small bowl. Place steak in large resealable plastic bag or glass dish. Add marinade; turn to coat well.
Refrigerate 30 minutes or longer for extra flavor. Remove steak from marinade. Discard any remaining marinade.
Grill over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes per side or until desired doneness. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting into thin slices across the grain.
Tips: This marinade imparts a tantalizing herb flavor to grilled steak. Thinly slice any leftover steak for French dip sandwiches or serve over a Caesar salad.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysisper serving: 234 calories, 15 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 160 milligrams sodium, no fiber, 22 grams protein.

Grilled Chicken and Corn Salad
3 ears corn in husks, protruding silk removed
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (or pheasant)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper
2 small zucchini, cut in ¼-inch planks lengthwise
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon each: freshly squeezed lemon juice, red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Heat grill to high. Grill corn, turning as needed to prevent burning, until done, about 25 minutes (husks may darken without burning the corn).
Meanwhile, place the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with a rolling pin or heavy spatula until about ½-inch thick. Season both sides with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste.
Grill chicken and zucchini until done, about 5 minutes per side. Cut zucchini into cubes place in large bowl. Add tomatoes. Shuck corn cut kernels off cobs. Add corn to the bowl.
Whisk together lemon juice, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon salt in a small bowl whisk in the olive oil. Stir in thyme. Toss corn salad with all but 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette season with pepper to taste, plus more salt if needed. Slice chicken breasts into ½-inch slices. Divide corn salad between 2 dinner plates. Top with sliced chicken. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over chicken.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 543 calories, 51 percent of calories from fat, 32 grams fat (5 grams saturated) 73 milligrams cholesterol, 37 grams carbohydrates, 33 grams protein, 662 milligrams sodium, 6 grams fiber.

Meat Marinade
1 cup of teriyaki
½ cup of orange juice
½ cup of honey
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
3 or 4 sprigs of rosemary (optional)
Mix ingredients and then put in meat; let it sit in fridge for at least 4 to 6 hours or up to a day.
Note: Any kind of meat works well, from wild game such as venison, upland birds or waterfowl as well as domestic cuts (beef, pork, buffalo) and chicken. Recipe can be doubled easily.


Stuff Those Pepppers

I’ve just finished a long day of gardening.

I cleaned up a few remnants of last year’s effort in one garden and later tilled it. The other, which I worked up Monday, is now the home to 36 cabbage plants (most of which will go for sauerkraut), a half-dozen broccoli and brussels sprouts plants, eight eggplants, 30 or so tomato plants and about two dozen pepper plants.

Just after tilling my Grand Forks garden, Orris Gulson, who allows me to plant in his backyard, asked about store-bought sweet peppers. Orris loves sweet bell peppers. In fact, I plan on planting some for him again this year, probably tomorrow. The variety I’ve chosen is called Fat ‘N Sassy, a hybrid that matures to red in about 60 days.

He asked me how store-bought peppers compare to home-grown ones, and I told him there isn’t a big difference in taste. We quite often pick up peppers at the supermarket when our home-grown ones are gone. They make a nice addition to salads.

I did tell him that some people have concerns about store-bought sweet peppers.  According to the Environmental Working Group, sweet bell peppers are listed in a group of fruits and vegetables called the "dirty dozen," considered among the worst offenders for pesticides. I also told Orris that if he were to buy peppers, maybe organic ones might be a better bet.

Regardless, peppers are a pretty versatile vegetable. Among my most favorite ways to use sweet bell peppers is to stuff them. Following are two stuffed pepper recipes, one from Darren McGrady, who was Queen Elizabeth’s personal chef. The other is a remake of a recipe in the "New Best Recipe" cookbook by Kansas City Star food writer Kathy Manweiler.

Chef Darren McGrady’s Stuffed Bell  Peppers
4 medium-sized bell peppers
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup roughly chopped onion
1 cup finely sliced button mushrooms
1 zucchini, diced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup rice, cooked until al dente and cooled
½ cup water
½ chicken or vegetable bouillon cube
4 slices smoked bacon, broiled crispy and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, shredded
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, diced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the seeds and membranes. If the peppers won’t stand up, cut a little piece off the bottom to level them. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Bake for 25 minutes or until they start to soften. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Pour the oil from the peppers into a frying pan and add the onions, mushrooms, zucchini and oregano. Season the vegetables with the salt and pepper to taste, and saute over high heat until they start to soften. Add the tomatoes, rice, water and bouillon cube, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

Kathy’s Stuffed Peppers
4 medium green or red bell peppers (about 6 ounces each), ½ inch trimmed off the tops and cores and seeds discarded
2/3 cup long-grain white rice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
12 ounces 96 percent lean ground beef
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes
¾ cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese blend made with 2 percent milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring 4 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large stockpot over high heat. Add the bell peppers and cook until the peppers just begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peppers from the pot, drain off the excess water and place the peppers cut-side up on paper towels. Return the water to a boil, add the rice and boil for about 13 minutes, or until tender. Drain the rice and transfer it to a large bowl. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
While draining the can of tomatoes, reserve ¼ cup of the juice and discard the remaining juice.
While the rice is cooking, in a skillet, cook the ground beef over medium-high heat until it’s crumbly and browned. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for about 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the rice. Stir in the tomatoes, reserved juice, cheese, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Place the peppers cut-side up in a 9-inch square baking dish. Divide the filling evenly among the peppers and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the filling is heated through. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serve 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 343 calories, 7.6 grams fat, 642 milligrams sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber grams, 28 grams protein, 64 milligrams cholesterol.



Summer Salads

I know it’s not officially summer (we have to wait until June 21), but with the weather warming up, a nice cool salad is starting to sound very appealing. Especially with Memorial Day weekend almost here.

I’ve always enjoyed the salads that can be found at picnics and cookouts almost as much as the main course. What I particularly like are ones that look appealing as well as taste great.

I started thinking about such a salad after cutting up a large watermelon that we bought at our local Hugo’s supermarket. I thought it would be particularly nice in some sort of salad, since it was one of the tastiest that’s crossed my palate the past year or two.

At first, I was a little disheartened when cutting up the watermelon because it was so big and it looked like it was going to fill several containers. But after my first bite, my dismay turned into sheer pleasure. In fact, I don’t know if there will be enough left for a salad.

If you’re thinking about making a salad with watermelon, you couldn’t pick a much healthier fruit. Watermelon not only is packed with some of the most important antioxidants in nature, which travel through the body neutralizing free radicals, it is an excellent source of vitamin C and a very good source of vitamin A, notably through its concentration of beta-carotene. Pink watermelon also is a source of the potent carotenoid antioxidant, lycopene.

With that in mind, check out the following watermelon salad recipe as well as a herby one that contains tomatoes and cannellini beans.

Watermelon and Sweet Red Onion Salad
6 tablespoons raspberry essence (see recipe)
¼ cup raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup safflower oil
1 tablespoon Asian chile sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
2 medium red onions
2 bunches watercress
3 pounds fresh watermelon, preferably both red and yellow
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
Fresh berries — raspberries, blackberries, blueberries
In a medium bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients, then taste and adjust the seasonings.
Peel the onions, then cut into 1/8-inch slices and separate into individual rings. Toss the onions with the salad dressing and marinate for two hours in the refrigerator, turning over every 30 minutes.
Remove and discard the woody stems from the watercress, then refrigerate the sprigs. Cut enough watermelon into 1- to 2-inch cubes, rectangles, triangles or other shapes, knocking away the seeds, to yield 8 cups.
Cut the mint leaves into shreds and set aside. (The recipe can be completed to this point up to 8 hours ahead.)
Just before serving, arrange a bed of watercress on six chilled plates—or a single platter—and top with watermelon. Arrange the onions attractively on top. Drizzle the dressing over the melon and onions. Garnish with the mint and fresh berries and serve at once.
Yield: Serves 12.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 230 calories, 2 grams protein, 38 gram carbohydrates, 9 gram fat, 0 cholesterol, 110 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber.

Raspberry Essence
12 ounces frozen raspberries
1 750-milliter bottle red wine (something with ripe fruit that’s good enough to drink)
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon black pepper
In a saute pan, combine the raspberries, wine, sugar and pepper. Place over high heat, bring to vigorous boil and boil until 2 cups remain.
Immediately pour the sauce through a medium meshed sieve, forcing all the pulp through the sieve by scraping it with a metal spoon. The sauce will last indefinitely in the refrigerator, but it may need to be thinned slightly with water before using.
Yield: 2 cups.
Approximate nutritional analysis per ¼ cup: 190 calories, no protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium, 2 grams fiber.

Tomato and Cannellini Beans Salad
4 large tomatoes (a mix of red, yellow and orange, if possible), roughly diced
2 14-ounce cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped
Herbs of choice (fresh basil, dill, etc.)
2 cloves finely minced garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup sherry or champagne vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine the tomatoes, beans, herbs and minced garlic.
Drizzle with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar (red vinegar will discolor the beans) and let marinate overnight.
Serve as a hearty salad or put out crostini and let guests make their own bruschetta.
Yield: Serves 12.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 270 calories, 11 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fat, no cholesterol, 20 milligrams sodium, 13 grams fiber.

Shrimp and Pasta

I really like the combination of shrimp and pasta. And if you toss in a little broccoli, I could just as well be in heaven.

The Mediterranean Shrimp Medley we had the other night has to be one of my favortie dishes. It nicely melds the three aforementioned ingredients plus onions (scallions) and broccoli into a meal that any pasta lover would appreciate.

And it doesn’t take long at all to make, which proves that not all fast food comes in a paper bag or a pizza box.

I found the recipe in the "Seafood Lover’s Bible" by Michael Bavota, who over the years has conducted training in seafood cooking and retailing for the U.S. Department of Commerce and has published more than 160 articles on seafood and seafood cooking.

It was my second shrimp and pasta dish in less than two weeks. The first was some delicious shrimp and spaghetti with a spicy marinara sauce at Mama Maria’s in East Grand Forks. I especially liked the marinara, which was a bit spicier than my own but not too hot.

I also sampled a nice shrimp scampi over angel hair pasta that Therese ordered. It was the best scampi I’ve tasted since the River Bend closed a few years ago.

For those who would like to try the Mediterranean Shrimp Medley recipe or one for scampi, just keep reading.

Shrimp Scampi with Angel Hair Pasta
8 ounces Barilla Plus angel-hair pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
28 precooked large shrimp
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and divide it among four plates.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and minced garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Add shrimp, wine, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 30 seconds. Add parsley, tossing well to coat.
Top each plate of pasta with ¼ of the shrimp mixture (about 7 shrimp).
Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 287 calories, 3.3 fat grams, 402 milligrams sodium, 19 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 26 grams carbohydrates, 75 milligrams cholesterol.

Mediterranean Shrimp Medley
1 pound any size shell-on shrimp
½ pound angel hair pasta
1 stalk broccoli
½ bunch scallions
1 10½-ounce can white clam sauce
Peel, devein and rinse shrimp. Cook pasta in boiling water, following directions on box. Rinse pasta with cold water and set aside. In a medium saucepan, boil shrimp for only 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut broccoli and scallions into small bite-size pieces and boil until colors turn vivid green. Remove from heat and drain.
In a large skillet, heat clam sauce and vegetables for 4 minutes at medium heat.
Place pasta in shallow bowls, spoon clam and vegetable mixture over pasta, and garnish with cooked shrimp.
Yield: Serves 2 to 4.
Note: Serve crusty Italian bread and slices of tomatoes as side dishes.