Stir Crazy: Not many peaches, but a chance to pick your own vegetables this summer

News-DemocratJune 16, 2014 

Well, I'm letting out a big sigh. Peaches will be scarce this summer because of the nasty winter we had.

They are my favorite fruit and I look forward to making peach jam for the freezer. Like tomatoes, I almost never buy peaches that aren't local and in season. I can grow tomatoes, but I can't grow peaches, so I'm stuck.

But, while they may be fewer peaches, there will be more fresh vegetable options for people who don't grow their own: Eckert's Country Store and Farms will offer a pick-your-own vegetable garden beginning in July.

Pick tomatoes, sweet corn, onions, peppers, kale, beets, cucumbers, squash and zucchini. The prices will be $10 for half a peck; $15 for a full peck; and $20 for a half bushel. You can mix and match your vegetables, too.

To help you use that fresh produce, Eckert's culinary staff will host free tastings and cooking demonstrations on Fridays in July and August from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the cooking classroom inside the Country Store in Belleville. The walk-in demonstrations will feature three to five different homegrown fruits and vegetables, as well free recipes and tips.

I'll keep you posted as the summer goes along.

How do you turn a box of brownie mix into something spectacular? Try this recipe from Betty Crocker.

New Orleans Praline Brownies

Brownies:

1 box fudge brownie mix

Water, vegetable oil and eggs as called for on brownie mix box

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Praline Frosting:

1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream

6 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottom only of 13-by-9-inch pan with cooking spray.

2. Make brownie mix as directed on box for fudge brownies. Stir in chopped pecans. Bake as directed. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

3. In medium saucepan, mix cream, butter and brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Continue cooking 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Stir in pecans, powdered sugar and vanilla. Cool 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Spread frosting over brownies. Allow to stand 30 to 45 minutes, or until frosting is set. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Makes 24 brownies.

Tips: To toast pecans, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in a single layer in a baking pan. Bake about 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden and toasted.

Cut into bars about 45 minutes after spreading frosting over the brownies. This will allow you to cut the brownies while the frosting is still just slightly warm and will minimize any cracks in the frosting.

Not wanting to turn on the oven, I'm betting this second Betty Crocker recipe will be a hit in my household. I think I'd brown the meat and prepare the pan sauce the night before -- when I'm cleaning up from dinner -- so it would be ready the next morning to put in the slow cooker.

Slow-Cooker Green Chile Pork Tacos

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

3- to 4-pound boneless pork sirloin roast, netting or string removed

1/4 cup water

1 package (1 ounce) taco seasoning mix

1 can (4.5 ounces) chopped green chiles, undrained

2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (8 ounces)

1 cup salsa

1 large tomato, chopped (1 cup)

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 lime, cut into 16 pieces

16 (6-inch) flour tortillas

1. In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork roast pieces. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides. Place pork in 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker. Turn skillet down to medium.

2. Add water to skillet; cook over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up browned bits. Add taco seasoning mix and chiles; combine. Pour over pork.

4. Cover and cook on low heat setting 7 to 8 hours.

5. Remove pork from cooker to cutting board. Pull pork into bite-size chunks, using 2 forks. Return pork to juices in cooker.

6. Place cheese and salsa in separate serving bowls. On serving platter, arrange cheese, salsa, tomato, cilantro and lime pieces. Warm tortillas as directed on package. Spoon pork onto tortillas, using slotted spoon; top with cheese, tomato, cilantro and salsa. Squeeze lime juice over fillings. Fold tortillas in half over filling.

Makes 8 servings, each with 580 calories, 28 grams fat, 135 mg cholesterol, 1,310 mg sodium, 35 grams carbohydrates. Exchanges: 2 1/2 starch, 5 1/2 lean meat, 2 fat.

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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