weekend cooking

Here, you’ll find all the posts from the weekly Simple Weekend Cooking feature on Finer Fruits. Every saturday, there’s a new recipe for your weekend that won’t break your eating plan *or* involve calling for take-out.

Pickle Proud

by Elizabeth on July 26, 2012

My grandma was an awesome lady.

She taught herself to sew (and made me a bunch of clothes and toys, too), grew an incredible garden, and made the best dill pickles on the planet.  She was an avid garage-saler, travelled extensively with my grandpa, and was tough as nails.  (There may have been a few incidents with my willfullness as a child and a certain wooden spoon, as proof.  One did not misbehave at Grandma’s house, boyhowdy.)

I can very distinctly remember being at her house in the late summer while she canned up quart jars full of tomatoes and cucumbers, and I’m not even kidding when I say that I can still taste those pickles.  They were unlike anything that the store had to offer — her own blend of dill and spices and garlic that all came together into a snappy, spicy mix.

When she got sick, I was too young to really appreciate all she did.

I was still a pre-teen when she got the cancer diagnosis.  Breast cancer is scary now, but back then, treatments weren’t at all what they are today.  Survival rates were much lower in the late ’70′s, and being so young, I had no idea about any of that.  She continued her life as well as she could, thumbing her nose at the idea of slowing down or resting.  (When the cancer moved into her liver and her bones, she even refused a walker or a cane, choosing instead to use an old Louisville Slugger if she needed help.  That’s just how she was.  When I said tough as nails, I wasn’t kidding.)

She died when I was 12, just before Christmas.  It was one of two times I ever saw my dad cry, in fact.

Fast forward to today.

I didn’t grow any cucumbers this year.  (And, to be honest, I’m not growing much of anything this year.  I’m killing quite a lot, but growing is questionable.  We’re in the middle of the worst drought since the Dust Bowl era, and weeks of an extended heat wave have left us all sweltering…including the poor garden plants.)  But a friend dropped off a bag of homegrown cukes from her in-laws’ garden, and after eating a few raw, I had the thought that maybe, if I did a lot of finger-crossing and didn’t breathe while doing it, I might be able to make some of my own pickles.

Sadly, my grandmother’s recipe is lost.  My mom doesn’t have it (she was never a big homesteader-type or canner), and I’ve got no idea where else to look for it.  I know a few of the ingredients, but I also know she added things that aren’t in any cookbook.  (Plus a little grandma-magic that I’m sure she had.)

So I turned to the internet, found a decent tutorial, and a spicy pickling spice recipe, and set out to try this thing.

Less than an hour later, I had four pints of pickles cooling on a towel in my kitchen.

Can I just say…?  I totally thought this would be harder than it was.  I only had a few pounds of cucumbers, so I didn’t make a full recipe, really.  And my brine’s cloudy since I don’t have anything other than an aluminum pan at the moment (not dangerous, just not as pretty).  All the dill came from my own garden outside, and the jars are sealing up nicely as they cool.  Cut, pack, boil, pour, screw on the lids.  That’s it.

(If I’d canned them to be shelf-stable rather than refrigerator-stable, it’d be another step and another 20-30 minutes, but since I expect these to go pretty fast, it was less than an hour start-to-finish.)

I kept looking back at the directions, thinking I had to be missing something.  That was way too easy.  And I think the hardest part’s going to be waiting the 24 hours before trying them, honestly.  (Or to keep from showing them off to random strangers, squealing that I MADE THESE ALL BY MYSELLF, omg.)

 The best part, though, can’t be photographed.

It’s not the jars lined up all pretty on the counter.  It’s not the thrill of using up something I grew (the dill, though next year, I’m totally growing cucumbers).  It’s not even being able to give away half of them and share with loved ones.

It’s the connection, deep and generationless.  I’ve wished a lot, during this past year’s journey toward more self-sufficiency, that I’d been older when my grandma was alive, or that I’d paid more attention to what she did.

Standing in the kitchen, screwing lids on the vinegar-and-garlic scented jars, I felt her there, with me.

I think she’d approve.


This week, we’re mixing up The Way Things Are just a little bit.

Normally, there’d be a little scrawly watercolor and one of the recipes I’m making here at home, but this week, some awesomeness came to us by way of the forums, and it was just too perfect not to share.  We’re talkin’ vegetables, eggs, and breakfast all day long.

Forum member Jenn has the beginnings of a kick-ass food blog over at Unhungry.  We’re pressing her to put more up there, because the jury’s already back on this particular weekend recipe, and everyone who’s tried it thinks it’s pretty awesome.    And easy.  And you know that when you mix up Awesome and Easy, it’s a winning combination.

So let’s make some of Jennifer’s Pepper Eggs.

picture by Dee, another forumite and all-around awesome human.


4 eggs, mixed to be scrambled.
1/4c of creamed spinach. (plain spinach with some cream cheese or something would be a decent replacement).
1 small can of Hatch green chilies
salt and pepper to taste.
2 red peppers, sliced into rings about 1/2in thick. (we had A LOT of left over eggs, so if you make this yourself, either cut more peppers or reduce the amount of filler you make.)


Lightly panfry the rings in a well seasoned cast iron skillet.

Then gently drizzle in the egg filler mix – not too fast or the eggs will leak out the bottom!

Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes – you want the bottom to be cooked and the top to start to firm up.

Then flip! (Use a spatula! If you try and flip you’re liable to hit your head. I absolve myself of responsibility!)

And allow the eggs to finish cooking through. (no pics of that, I was hungry and there was food to eat and I forgot. Mea Culpa.)

Here it is all ready to nom nom nom though!

It’s a really simple and really tasty sauce made from about 2 parts vegenaise (mayo would work too, obviously) and 1 part plain yogurt. Mix that up throughly. Salt n’ Pepa to taste. Dollop on foods all willy nilly. It’s wicked good!


Enjoy this recipe?  Make sure to check out all the great stuff over at Unhungry.  I think I may need to go find some peppers now.


Simple Weekend Cooking 04: Healthier Mac & Cheese

by Elizabeth on January 21, 2012

It’s comfort food time, people. This week’s been hard, and you deserve a little bit of indulgence. Luckily, I’ve got your back, and while this recipe takes a little longer and uses a few more ingredients than what I usually like to do for Simple Weekend Cooking, it’s a version of classic comfort food that will comfort your soul while still watching out for your waistline.

This version of baked macaroni and cheese has about half the calories and fat as regular homemade mac & cheese, but still can add up (it is cheese, after all), so it’s definitely more of a treat than a staple.  But the good news is that it also delivers a nutritional whallop thanks to the hidden vegetables in the sauce.



1/2 lb cooked macaroni
1 package of frozen pureed winter (butternut) squash, 10 oz
1 cup of 1% milk
1 oz grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 oz monterrey jack cheese
1/2 c. skim ricotta
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp salt
dash of cayenne pepper (to taste)

1 Tbsp grated parmesan
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. olive oil



Thaw the squash in a medium pot, with the milk, over low-ish heat (to keep milk from scalding).  Add the cheddar, ricotta, and monterrey jack cheeses and the spices, and allow all to melt together.  Mix will appear a bit wet, which is okay since it’s going to be baked.  Don’t panic.

Mix the sauce with the cooked macaroni and put into a baking dish.  Mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle lightly over the top.

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or so, then switch to broil for several minutes to brown the topping lightly.

We let ours stand for a few minutes to firm up a bit, and serve.  (Serves 4, or one normal person and one ravenous husband.  That may just be here, though.)

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Simple Weekend Cooking: DaVinci’s Tomatoes

by Elizabeth on January 14, 2012

I’ve got a few posts for you on Attention that I’ll put up at the end of the month, by the way.  Provided the wind doesn’t knock out our internet again.  It’s that time of year, when weather just kind if happens, and we’re all at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Which is probably why I’m so obsessed with summer right now.  Fresh tomatoes and herbs from the garden, chopped garlic and al dente pasta (just a little bit!)…

We’re so, so lucky to live in a world where we can get these year-round.

Sure, they’re a thousand times better when they’re straight from the garden, still sun-warmed when you chop them.  But it wasn’t that long ago when you’d have two choices for a fresh basil-tomato pasta in winter:  Use canned tomatoes, or go without.  A little loss in quality doesn’t seem all that bad, in comparison.  (Well, at least until I learn to can my own homegrown tomatoes.  Then I might change my mind.)

daVinci was all about paying attention to everything.

And with this recipe, instead of just slapping something together (it’s very, very simple this weekend), really take the time to look at what you’re doing.  Pay attention to the smell of the basil and the way the paperlike coating on the garlic peels.  Cook slowly, eat slowly, and appreciate how amazing even the most simple of things can be.


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or less, if you have a non-stick pan)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 cups chopped roma tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
  • 3 cups hot cooked whole wheat angel hair pasta (one half-package, generally speaking)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of cayenne, if you like your sauce with some bite


  1. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic; sauté 30 seconds.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes; cook only until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add pasta, basil, cheese, salt, and pepper, tossing gently to combine.
 Then eat.  You can add in other things, like chopped kalamata olives or sauteed summer squash if you have them on hand.  A huge side of summer squash, steamed carrots, and broccoli with lemon and garlic powder sprinkled on top round it out, and keep you from going overboard on the pasta, too.

Saper Vedere, folks.  Enjoy your weekend.

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Simple Weekend Cooking 02: Slow-Carb Chili

by Elizabeth on January 7, 2012


If you haven’t heard of the whole Slow Carb thing (and, really, who could keep up with all the diet fads that fly around like a swamp’s full of gnats?), let me give it to you in a nutshell:

The term was introduced in Tim Ferris’s (of The Four Hour Work Week fame) book titled, oddly enough, The Four Hour Body.  This ginormous tome of a book chronicled Ferris’s foray into the realm of body design and covered a whole lot more than diet and such.  (We’re talking orgasms, here.  Very strange compendium of body information in this book.)

Orgasms aside, Ferris’s take on the whole eating thing is kind of bachelor-paddish — he suggests things like eating a certain amount of protein within half-an-hour of waking, a whole host of supplemental nutritional supplements, and this slow-carb diet with one day set aside as a cheat day (where, apparently, you eat whatever you want, in order to fool your metabolism into thinking you’re not dieting so it doesn’t slow down.  Makes sense to me, actually.)

Anyway, the idea of the slow carb thing is that there are carbs that make your body produce chemicals you don’t want, and carbs that release more slowly, so you have more energy over a longer period of time.  (As opposed to things like sugar, which give you an immediate one-time rush.  It’s why some athletes do that whole carbo-loading thing…for the rush.)

The whole thing is really too complicated to outline entirely (the book’s, like, a thousand pages long or more — it’s an attention investment, to be sure), but suffice it to say that the eating plan is made of a whole lot of legumes and crazy whole grains and proteins, and may just take a rocket scientist to figure out beyond the basics.*  It’s still a good read, and interesting, in a medically-fascinating kind of way, since Ferris documents a lot of really extreme stuff he tried in order to bring the reader the findings. (Like, had-to-go-to-another-country extreme, because they won’t do it in the US kind of way.)

The book’s only  $16 for the physical version and something like $13 for the kindle edition (and I think it uses more than $16 worth of paper, to be honest), so it’s worth a look-through if it interests you.

This weekend’s recipe is fairly slow-carb.  The black beans and chicken are definitely covered; tomatoes and the sugar in them, not as much.  Still, it works for most not-all-that-stringent slow-carbers.

slow carb chili



  • A pound of black beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
  • two chicken breasts, cooked and shredded/chopped
  • a medium onion, finely chopped
  • a jalapeno or two, finely chopped (no seeds…ow.)
  • a green pepper, finely chopped
  • salt/pepper
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp red pepper/cayenne (or to taste)
  • 2 cans of tomatoes, diced, with the juice
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • at least two tablespoons of chili powder (we used more, but we like spicy)


If you haven’t boiled the beans out of impatience, do so.  Drain and rinse again to get rid of the scummy foam.  Add everything else, stir, and bring to a boil.

We let it reduce down quite a bit, to give it some thickness.  If you like your chili soupier, cover the pot.  Let simmer for roughly an hour to let the flavors mingle.

Serves about a billion people.  (Okay, more like six.  We had a lot leftover.)

Total time, with chopping and unattended simmering: 2 hours.
(most of which was, again, unattended.)

Because of the beans and the chicken, there’s really no need for any sides/accompaniments.  The heat of the ingredients is supposed to have a thermogenic effect, too, so if you eat this after working out, you’ll burn even more calories.  Bonus score.



* It actually doesn’t take a rocket scientist, per se.  But some very smart people are doing interesting things online finding recipes that don’t taste like you’re chewing cud all the time.  And I hear that Ferris himself may be doing a slow-carb cookbook sometime soon, so you aren’t stuck eating lentils and eggs six days a week.

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Since there are a lot of firsts around here this week, bear with me while I explain a little about the regular feature, Simple Weekend Cooking.  It’ll be here on Finer Fruits every Saturday, just in time for you to be able to run off to the markt and make something fabulous (and easy) that won’t involve the calling of your local pizza joint or blowing your whole eating plan.

I’m aiming for uber-simple, by the way, and these posts will be tagged with the title of the recipe, how long they take to make, and a general category, like “fish” or “salad” and the like, so that they’re searchable as the year goes on.  In addition, over there in the right-hand sidebar, there’s a link for FOOD.  That’ll have each of these recipes listed in chronological order, as well.

That said, let’s eat:


(serves 4, halve for 2, obviously.)


  • 1 cup of prepared salsa
  • 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp of oil, your choice
  • the juice of one lime
  • 4 swordfish steaks, 1″ thick or so (can also substitute tuna or any firm-fleshed fish)
  • salt, white pepper.


COMBINE the salsa, the tomatoes, and the lime juice in a small bowl, and put it in the fridge to let the flavors go all mingly, at least one hour.  (I’m doing it when I get up so it’s ready for dinner prep later.)

COAT the pan in about a tsp. of oil, and heat to medium-high.  Salt and pepper the steaks, and sear on both sides.

REDUCE the heat, cover the pan, and let the steaks continue to cook until they’re done all the way through and flake with a fork.  (About 12 minutes or so, depending on thickness and your stove.)

SERVE immediately, topped with the chilled tomato salsa mixture.

sides, if you are so inclined:

Grilled or seared asparagus, and wild rice with lime squeezed over it at the end of cooking.  White wine, if you’re a wine person.

total time:
roughly 20 minutes, including mixing of the salsa/tomatoes.

Have a great weekend, folks!  See you tomorrow with the first weekly challenge and the introduction of the first weekly topic.  Hop on by the forum if you make this, or just want to hang out with us, too.