September 15th, 2014

Farinata with Onion Jam and Homemade Mozzarella, part one

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It’s been hard for me to take a restorative day, the kind where I drive out to my friend Maggie’s place in the country, hang out and cook. We have a tradition of selecting a recipe or technique that has piqued our interest, and embarking on a day-long kitchen adventure. A couple of weeks ago, I found the time, and we had a project: mozzarella.

Or so we thought. Mozzarella making is both easy, and not.

To begin, you must have some key ingredients that are likely not in your pantry: citric acid and vegetable rennet. Easily remedied: visit a cheesemaking shop, or order from an online source. I went to a local shop.

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Critical, too, is organic milk that has NOT been ultra-pasteurized. Here’s where plans went awry. Maggie’s co-op, which sells raw milk (for pets, wink-wink) couldn’t fill her order. When Maggie texted me: “Can you bring the milk?” I didn’t pay attention to our book’s instructions that ultra-pasteurized would not work. (The curds won’t properly form and separate from the whey.) On my way to Maggies, I purchased a gallon of the “ultra” whole milk from the market.

Instead of heating milk, separating curds and stretching cheese, we sat on her front porch. We watched the territorial hummingbirds buzz one another away from the feeder. We chatted, mused and caught up. Over coffee, and toast spread with her homemade raspberry jelly, we plotted our next kitchen adventure. We would not be thwarted again.

At our following get-together, we made up for lost kitchen time. In addition to the homemade mozzarella project, we added Farinata and Onion Jam. An ambitious roster, no?

Today I am going to share with you two of the three. The mozzarella deserves its own post. And, while we were fairly successful, Maggie and I both agreed that making mozzarella is like baking bread or making pasta. They are all very basic, yet at the same time require practice. It is not so much the recipe, but the technique that makes the difference. In this case, it’s in heating the milk to the right temperature(s) straining the curds, getting the right feel for the heating and stretching the cheese. We did well–but believe we could do better.

However, the other recipes were simply done and absolutely delicious. And, I am confident in sharing them with you now.

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The first is called Farinata. It is a rustic savory pancake originating from Liguria Italy, and uses 4 basic ingredients, 1 optional:
Garbanzo Bean (chickpea) Flour
Olive Oil
Salt
Water
Rosemary (optional)

I call it a deceptive recipe because of its simplicity. You cannot believe how tasty this is, from such spare and humble ingredients. There is not much of a technique either. You can whip up it in a snap, and bake in a hot-hot-hot oven–best in a cast-iron skillet.

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The texture of the pancake is so pleasing–a golden toothsome crust with a custardlike interior. The chickpea flour lends a slightly sweet somewhat nutty taste. Use your best olive oil, as the farinata provides a fine canvas for it.

In places like Genoa, farinata is sold in pizzerias and bakeries, and is best eaten fresh and hot, with a generous grinding of black pepper over the top. Along the Cote d’Azur, it is known as Socca, and served as street food. The Italians will sometimes add fresh finely chopped rosemary to the farinata. The French often prefer a pinch of cumin.

Either way, it is a protein-rich dish that will please anyone, with any dietary preference. Gluten free-check. Vegan–check. Truly Delicious–check!

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The second is Onion Jam. We all love the caramel sweetness of onions long simmered in a skillet. This recipe carries it just a little further, with salt, turbinado sugar, white balsamic vinegar and a petite bouquet garni of fresh thyme and chives.

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It’s one of those recipes that needs little tending–saute the onions; mix in the remaining ingredients; cover and cook on low. Yes, you’ll want to check on it occasionally, give a stir—make sure nothing is sticking. You could also process the onion jam in a hot water bath, just as you would fruit preserves.

Maggie and I relished a dollop of onion jam with the farinata. I can well imagine it with steak or on a grilled burger, or spread over a round of Camembert.

And, yes, I promise to post about the mozzarella. We did enjoy eating it. And we’ll make it again, only better. Soon!

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FARINATA adapted from Food Wishes
1 1/2 cups Garbanzo Bean Flour (also called chickpea flour)
2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
fresh ground black pepper

cast-iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet)

Place flour into a medium bowl, and whisk in the water. When the batter is smooth, cover it with a plate and set it aside for about an hour, room temperature. After an hour, skim off any accumulated foam off of the top and discard.

Place your skillet into the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.

Whisk salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and finely chopped rosemary into the batter. Let the batter sit for about 10 minutes.

When the oven is preheated and the skillet “smokin’ hot” add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. When that hot sheen forms over the pan, pour in the batter. Carefully place the skillet onto the middle rack in the center of the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. The farinata will have a beautiful browned crust, and a yellow, almost custardlike center.

Serve immediately, cutting into wedges. Grind fresh black pepper over the top.

Serves 6-8

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ONION JAM
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow or white onions (4 medium) coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup turbinado sugar*
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 bundle fresh thyme

*start with 1/4 cup if the onions are sweet. Increase to 1/2 cup if they are not.

Heat a large skillet on medium. Add the olive oil, then the chopped onions. Stir, to coat the onions. Cover and cook undisturbed for 10 minutes.

Uncover, and stir in the sugar, vinegar, and salt. Add the bundle of thyme. Cover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.

Uncover and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking until the onions are dark caramel colored, very soft and jammy.

Makes a pint

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes | 15 Comments »




August 31st, 2014

Warm Eggplant-Tomato Salad with Fried Tomato Skins

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It’s the last day of August, and my summer garden is looking ragged. The ongoing battle with Johnson grass is over and I’ve surrendered: a thick border now entrenched along the fence row, and tall clumps reside undisturbed among the tomatoes and wax beans.

Arugula, long since bolted, has reseeded, trying to bully its way up through the weeds. One by one flourishing squashes have collapsed, victims of those dreaded borers. Two large tomato plants yellowed and died, seemingly overnight, the reason unknown.

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Nonetheless, my visits remain fruitful and full of wonder. My stand of Mexican sunflowers continues to put out astonishing blooms in copper, bronze, and blazing yellow, even when their primary heads are bare, petals dropped, seeds picked clean by feasting goldfinches.

The slow-growing Italian roasting peppers are showing streaks of bright red, their fiery signal for harvest.

A few heavy rains have inspired the tomatoes to produce again, although not in the gargantuan sizes of July, and their skins are a bit tougher.

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And my lone eggplant, which weathered an early onslaught of flea beetles, is forming plump white and purple streaked fruit. Sweaty, dusty, but excited, I return home with my pouch filled with just-picked things for dinner.

What to make?

Today’s recipe comes from my cookbook: Caroline’s Warm Eggplant Salad. It uses my garden spoils so well! I’ve embellished only slightly–having found a genius idea in the Farmer’s Market issue of Cooking Light (June 2014).

Chef Deborah Madison shared a simple beefsteak tomato salad with fried tomato skins. It’s those fried skins that caught my attention. They are easy to prepare, and add a welcome bite as a garnish-a clever use for these late summer-tough skinned “maters.”

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After you plunge your tomatoes in boiling water, quickly cooling them in an icy bath, you slip off the skins. Your tomatoes are ready to cube for the salad. Dab the skins dry and pan fry them in a small amount of oil. They’ll become like thin glassy pieces of cellophane, crisp–and when drained and salted–almost “bacony.”

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Even without the fried skins, the salad is simply delicious. A splash of sherry vinegar (a nice change-up from balsamic or red wine,) minced garlic and salt coax out the sumptuous tomato juices. Chunks of roasted eggplant gain a rich brown crisp, and soft sweet flesh.

If you’d prefer this to be vegan, omit the fresh mozzarella. I like the extra meatiness the cheese brings. It turns the salad into a one-dish meal, especially if you serve it with crusty bread to mop up all those lush juices.

I haven’t tired of the tomatoes—not yet. In fact, knowing that their time is waning makes me savor them all the more. The seasonal shift is soon to come.

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WARM EGGPLANT-TOMATO SALAD WITH FRIED TOMATO SKINS
adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook

1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and black pepper to season eggplant
5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, skins removed* and cubed
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

*Recipe to follow

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the cubed eggplant with the olive oil in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Spread the eggplant out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and bake until soft, with browned edges, about 12 minutes longer.

While the eggplant is cooking, toss the cubed tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped basil together in a large salad bowl. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss gently to blend.

Allow the eggplant to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add warm eggplant to the tomato mixture and toss. Let this sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Right before serving, fold in the diced fresh mozzarella. Garnish with fried tomato skins and serve.

Serves 6

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FRIED TOMATO SKINS
from Deborah Madison for Cooking Light

5 heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher or sea salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes; discard cores. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge tomatoes into ice water; drain. Peel; arrange skins flat on a jelly-roll pan. Cut peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of skins to oil; cook 2 minutes or until crisp, turning occasionally. Drain on a paper towel; repeat procedure with remaining skins. Discard oil in pan. Sprinkle skins with 1/8 teaspoon salt.

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Posted in Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




August 20th, 2014

Lemony Zucchini Ricotta Crostata

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Every element of this savory summer tart appeals to me.

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The crust, made with whole wheat flour and olive oil, is rustic, free-form and forgiving.

Inside is a layer of ricotta, scented with lemon zest, nutmeg and thyme, generously spread across the base.

Coins of zucchini, (that ubiquitous summer garden veggie I am ever seeking another way to cook,) ring the top.

A drizzle of lemon agrumato imbues the squash with piquant citrus oil.

The pastry bakes beautifully, surrounding the creamy filling and vegetables with a rumpled golden crust.

And, whether sliced warm from the oven, or carved cool the next day, out of the fridge, it is delicious.

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The recipe comes courtesy of Adri Barr Crocetti, whose Italian-centric blog will captivate you with its authentic preparations and stunning photography. When I first read her post about this crostata back in May, I knew that I would make it.

It was just a matter of time.

All summer, I’ve had most of the necessary ingredients in my pantry, and an abundance of those prolific squashes from my garden. The only thing I lacked was Lemon Agrumato–a special oil from Abruzzo where olives are stoneground with lemon.

Serendipity and luck–a friend gave me this bottle for my birthday.

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While it is not a true agrumato–it doesn’t indicate that on the label–it does impart a pleasing citric essence to the otherwise peppery nature of the olive oil.

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Adri tucks cubes of pancetta between the zucchini slices, and I can well imagine the luscious sweet-salty bites those bring to the tart.

But, I live with a vegetarian. So I strew Sun Gold cherry tomatoes–halved—over the top.

LEMONY ZUCCHINI RICOTTA CROSTATA adapted from Adri Barr Crocetti

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THE CRUST
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons cool water

Place the flours, fine sea salt, baking powder, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse twice to combine. In a measuring cup combine the olive oil and cool water. Begin to pour the liquid slowly into the processor as you gently pulse then run the machine.Remove the feed tube from the processor, and with the machine running, slowly add all the liquid. Process until the ingredients are well combined, and come together into a mass.Turn the dough out onto the counter, knead and form into a disc shape.Wrap in plastic and allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Note: You may make this up ahead of time, refrigerating the plastic-wrapped dough overnight.

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THE FILLING
15-16 ounces whole milk ricotta, drained for at least 4 hours*
Extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme (or lemon thyme) leaves, plus whole sprigs to garnish
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/16-inch coins
Lemon Agrumato Extra Virgin Olive Oil

* To drain the ricotta: line a strainer with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl, or set a large sieve over a bowl. Put the ricotta into the sieve, cover and refrigerate to drain for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Pour 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a skillet set over medium heat. Add the sliced green onions and a pinch of fine sea salt. Sauté over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Transfer the onions to a small bowl.

Place the drained ricotta (discarding the separated whey) to a medium bowl. Fold in the chopped thyme, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon of fine sea salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper, and ground nutmeg.

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Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

Beat the egg and water together in a small bowl. Set aside until time to brush onto the pastry.

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ASSEMBLY

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it into the oven on the middle rack.

Dust your counter with flour. Unwrap the dough disc and roll it into a 14″-15″ circle. Slide the rolled out dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Spread the ricotta mixture over the circle of rolled dough, spreading it evenly, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the sautéed green onions over the ricotta. Arrange the sliced zucchini over the ricotta, and top with slices of cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Finish with a drizzle with Lemon Olive Oil.

Fold the border over the zucchini, crimping it to make a circle. Brush the egg wash over the pleated border. (You will not use all of the egg wash.)

Slide the crostata and parchment from the baking sheet onto the preheated baking stone. (Or simply bake on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until the crust is lightly browned and the zucchini is cooked, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes.

Cut into wedges and serve.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 24 Comments »




August 12th, 2014

Joy’s Slooooow Roasted Tomatoes

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Amish Paste, Red Pear, Roma

When I was planting my garden earlier this spring, I included, on a whim, one plant from each of these meaty oval-shaped tomato varieties.

I figured, if they produced, they would be good for making thick red sauces, even ketchup.

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And, boy, are they producing! Each week, for the past month, I’ve been harvesting an abundance of the brilliant red orbs, turning them into sauces and salsas.

But my new favorite way is this slow roasting method, introduced to me by Joy Martin.

Joy is a master gardener, and I would extend that master descriptor to cook and baker. She is also one of our devoted Third Thursday potluckers. You’ll find several of her recipes, including the one I’m about to share with you, in my cookbook.

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Slow roasted tomatoes. That may not sound exciting—don’t we roast everything these days?—and the recipe is deceptively simple. It’s the slow slow roast, coupled with a seasoning of olive oil, fresh garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar, that yields surprisingly complex, intensely savory-sweet tomatoes, with deep, rich umami taste.

A cautionary note: Don’t leave out the sugar. I resisted sprinkling it over the halves at first, but in combination with the salt, the sugar coaxes out the maximum flavor.

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Look! They are glistening jewels. They taste like the sun.

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You’ll find numerous uses for them: placed onto grilled bruschetta, dropped onto a rosemary cracker, tucked into a toasted BLT, tossed in a fresh pasta.

Or, do as we do: eat them out of the jar.

Around my house, we call ‘em tomato candy!

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JOY’S SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES (TOMATO CANDY)
2 pounds Roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced or shaved
Olive oil (about 1/4 cup or so)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh oregano or thyme
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and place into a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish, or on a baking sheet in a single layer, skin side down. Distribute garlic evenly over the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and generously sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar. Bake for 2 to 3 hours. After cooling, place the halves into jars, and pour over herbed olive oil and juices collected in the sheet pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




July 29th, 2014

Summer Risotto with sweet corn and purple hull peas: a cook’s musings, while stirring

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As a first time author of a cookbook, having just passed a milestone birthday, I have found myself in a reflective mood. I’ve been thinking about my culinary evolution, how I got here today, how I’ve grown up and grown in the world of food. It had a shaky beginning: a girl, born in New York, who didn’t care for most foods at all.

Moving to The South made a big impact. It took time, but I came to embrace its culinary ways. There’s a real focus on vegetables that we never experienced up North.

The climate supports a greater variety, that alone surprised me. I had never seen or tasted okra, crookneck squash, pole beans, yellow wax beans, collards, turnip and mustard greens, October beans, or purple hull peas.

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Have you heard of purple hull peas? These are tender pulses belonging to the family of Cowpeas, Vigna unguiculata, whose relatives include black-eyed peas, crowders, lady peas, and field peas. High in protein (24%) and easy to grow: they actually thrive in poor soil, and hot, dry conditions.

Their history in the South has dark roots in slave trade. Their seeds were brought on ships, along with enslaved West Africans to the Caribbean and eastern Atlantic seaboard. Rejected by the Europeans as poor man’s fodder, fit only for cattle, they acquired the name “cowpeas.” Little did the Landed Gentry realize all the good they were rejecting.

Make no mistake, the lowly legume has far-reaching benefits for man, animals, and plantlife. Easy to grow and prepare, the peas are delicious. They are high in amino acids, lysine and tryptophan. According to Cooking Light’s notes on healthy living, they are among the foods that will help insure better sleep. (Ahhhhh.)

And, used in crop rotation, cowpeas infuse nitrogen in vast quantities into the soil. That’s important, as corn, for instance, consumes nitrogen greedily. (NOTE: read Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate–which goes beyond “farm-to-table” detailing an integrated model for vegetable, grain, and livestock production that is truly sustainable.)

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As a picky child, I did enjoy corn on the cob–what self-respecting kid doesn’t? Once you got through the task of shucking (and avoiding any green worms!) the prospect of eating it was as fast as a plunge in the kettle of boiling, lightly salted water.

There’s nothing as blissful as sitting on a back porch stoop, chomping on an ear in the summer, hands and face sloppy with kernels, spurted “corn milk” and butter .

But until I came to Nashville, I had never eaten fresh fried corn–cut from the cob, scraped and skillet-simmered in butter and water. More a technique than a recipe–this is not “creamed corn.” No cream, milk, or flour.

I learned about the pure pleasure of this dish at my first restaurant job in the late ’70’s at a Southern style “Meat-and-Three” called “Second Generation” run by Anna Marie Arnold. Anna grew up cooking with her mother, first generation founder of The White Cottage, a tiny yet legendary eatery that vanished–closed and bulldozed in the ’90’s, when a city bridge had to be widened.

Silver Queen was the favored corn of the day–a small kerneled white corn that had candied sweetness.

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Peas–Corn–Rice

A delectable summer combination.

One of the shifts in my “food evolution” is using local ingredients in classic recipes. That practice makes good sense, but I didn’t awaken to that sensibility until more recent years. Nonetheless, a creamy risotto lends itself readily to accepting these Southern staples in the stir:

Purple hull peas, cooked in onion, garlic and red pepper
Sweet Corn, cut and scraped from the cob
Short-grain Rice, cooked in tomato-vegetable broth

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The tomato-vegetable broth is key too. Certain ripe tomatoes have high water content. When you cook summer tomatoes to make sauce, or chop them to make salsa, if you strain the pulp, you’ll have a lot of remaining juice, or “tomato water.” Use it, in combination with vegetable broth (made with trimmings of carrots, celery, onions, garlic)

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Stir—stir—stir. It can be a meditative process. You might find yourself reflecting on your own life in food!

As the rice becomes plump and savory, releasing its starch into the broth, a seductive creaminess results. Fold in the corn and its scrapings, and finally the purple hull peas, along with the “pot likker” in which they were cooked.

Garnish with fresh thyme, if you like, or a few curls of pecorino romano.
But it is not necessary–the risotto is rich with flavor, and wonderful texture. Enjoy it with spoon, to capture every luscious bite.

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SUMMER RISOTTO WITH SWEET CORN AND PURPLE HULL PEAS
3-4 ears fresh corn
1 pound purple hull peas (weight is unshelled)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
2 medium onions, chopped, divided
1 chili pepper of choice, split in half (cayenne, serrano, jalapeno)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter (may use oil to make this vegan)
1 1/2 cups short grain rice, like Arborio or Carolina Gold
8 cups tomato-vegetable broth
salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the corn from the cobs, scraping the cobs for extra “corn milk,” into a bowl and set aside.

Shell the purple hull peas, rinse, drain, and place into a bowl. Set aside.

Place olive oil into a 2 quart sized saucepan on medium heat. Add 2 cloves slivered garlic and 1/2 onion, diced, into the saucepan to saute for 2 minutes. Add chili pepper, purple hull peas and enough water to cover the peas by 2 inches. Season with a little salt and black pepper. Increase the heat to bring it to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, until peas are tender, yet still firm. Let the peas cool.

Place tomato-vegetable broth into a saucepan and warm.

In a large heavy duty pot, (such as an enameled cast iron Le Creuset) melt the butter over medium heat. Add remaining diced onion and minced garlic. Saute for a minute, then add the rice. Stir until the grains are well coated.
Begin adding the broth, a cupful at a time, stirring the rice, watching it plump up from the savory liquid, monitoring its creaminess from the released starch.

This process will take 30 minutes: stirring, pouring in more cups of broth, stirring, stirring, but I do not constantly hover over the pot. I’ll turn my attention to making salad, slicing tomatoes, visiting with my friends…

At the 20 minute mark, fold in the corn. Stir stir stir.
At the 25 minute mark, fold in the cooked purple hull peas. Stir Stir Stir.
At 30 minutes, turn off the heat. Taste for seasonings. Serve

Serves 8

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 16 Comments »




July 21st, 2014

BIG Tomato Suppertime

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I’m not one to boast, but the scores (hordes, legions, truckloads) of plump, ripe, succulent tomatoes that I’ve been picking from my little garden have afforded me bragging rights.

Never–and I really mean NEVER–have I had such success.

Biggest Juiciest Tomatoes EVER!

Check it out—this handful is more the norm than the anomaly.

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My friend Kimmie, an avid gardener who follows the Farmers’ Almanac, tells me that it is because I planted them in alignment with the full moon.

I checked back on the calendar, and why, yes, I did. Unintentionally.

Bill speculated that it is because our winter was extra cold, killing off the destructive insect larvae and/or fungus-mold-rot starters hidden in the soil.

I figured the damp spring got our plants off to a terrific start in making blooms, and now that the hot summer days are here, they are bearing beauteous fruits.

And, maybe, it was just time.

Bill’s dad, who was a dedicated farmer by profession, always said you could count on 1 great growing year in 7. Maybe this is that year.

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Whatever the case—and I suspect it is a serendipitous confluence of all these factors—I am the happy harvester of Cherokee Purples, Lemon Boys, Sun Golds, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Bradleys, German Pinks, Teardrops, and one other heirloom variety whose clever name escapes me.

We’ve been eating them all ways—caprese, savory tart, pasta sauce, on sturdy bread swiped with mayo—but this salad, a featured recipe in my cookbook, has been favored both at the dinner table, and in my cooking demonstrations.

Cornbread Panzanella is a Southern take on the much loved Italian bread salad. The season’s bounty of ripe sweet tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and sharp red onion are at the heart of each version. But, instead of using hunks of leftover, stale rustic bread, you make cornbread croutons. (Hint: the cornbread is the only part of this dish that requires turning on the oven. Everything else is either chopped or whisked!)

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Instead of tossing the vegetables and bread cubes in a red wine vinaigrette, you make a tangy buttermilk ranch to coat the mixture.

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It works beautifully.

After chopping the tomatoes, you put the chunks into a bowl and sprinkle them with salt to coax out their juices. When you toss the mixture with the herbed buttermilk ranch,(enlivened with lemon, flat leaf parsley and scallions) those juices meld with the dressing, creating a luscious rose-tinged sauce.

That soaks into the cornbread croutons, which you’ve toasted to a toothsome crunch. There’s a marvelous combination of textures and tastes.

You could add bits of bacon or pancetta, shavings of parmegianno-reggiano, or a good sharp white cheddar, if you wanted to make it “meatier.” But this big tomato salad makes satisfying summer meal, just as it is. The bread salad theme can be expansive: this BLT version from Cooking Light is mighty tempting.

PS
It has been fruitful outside the garden too–busy promoting the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook. It’s been getting great reviews, I am happy to report, and I’ve been compiling the blogpost and articles here. I appreciate everyone’s kind words and support.

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CORNBREAD PANZANELLA

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CORNBREAD CROUTONS
1 1?2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1?2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking sheet.
In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and milk until well incorporated. Do not overbeat. Pour onto the baking sheet.
Bake until set—golden brown—about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Cut into cubes and spread out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
Toast for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Makes 2 cups.

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HERBED BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING
1?2 cup buttermilk
1?2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 green onions, chopped finely, tops included
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1?2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1?4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper

In a medium bowl combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onions, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings and adjust. This will keep, refrigerated, for a week.

Makes 1 generous cup.

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PANZANELLA
1 1?2 cups diced Bradley tomatoes
1?2 cup peeled, seeded, and cubed cucumbers
1?2 cup sliced red onion
1?2 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, basil, salt, and pepper. Add 2 cups of cornbread croutons. Pour the Real Ranch Dressing over the croutons and toss well. Serve immediately.

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Posted in Breads, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




June 30th, 2014

A charred red onion-string bean-new potato dish, the book, and a busy summer

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Cool mornings, steamy afternoons, with isolated downpours daily,
have been the recipe for a lush, dense, almost tropical backyard,
and a happy garden plot:
Chest-high tomato plants are laden with the promise of abundance;
Prolific golden-bloomed squashes double in size overnight, hidden under their great leaf umbrellas;
Aggressive cucumber vines amble over stakes and wires, ever-seeking new places to latch on and climb.

June is done. Summer is here in full regalia.

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And, the cookbook is out! Between tending my garden and teaching teen cooking camp, I’ve been making presentations–in book stores, at two restaurants, our farmers’ market, on local television: demonstrating recipes, reading, signing, answering questions, telling our story. The response has been wonderful.

And, it is just the beginning.

In the meantime, I wanted to check in with you and share a recipe. This one is of the quick-and-easy variety: a kind of potato salad (I know, another potato salad recipe?)

New potatoes and string beans are dressed in a Greek yogurt sauce folded with charred red onions. There’s something about it that harkens to old school tastes in an appealing way–however updated. The combination of sea salt, cayenne, a dash of Worchestershire sauce with those crispy onion pieces in thick yogurt cream reminds me of “French Onion Dip.” Only I think you’ll find this one to be much, much better—and certainly healthier.

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Stirred into a mixture of petite new potatoes (still slightly warm!) and whatever young string beans you can find (I am partial to yellow wax beans.) the charred red onion dressing (and, yes, it doubles as a dip. Get out your sweet potato chips!) creates a delicious picnic side dish. It is a different take on potato salad.

And goodness knows, as long as there are potatoes and ingenuity, there will always be yet another take on potato salad. Embrace variety!

Thank you all for your interest in and support of my cookbook.
For those of you who have asked “How Can I Buy It?”
Here are the possibilities:
Online at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Books-a-Million (links are upper right on this page)
In Tennessee: All of the SAM’S CLUBS are stocking the book.
In Nashville: These independent booksellers: Bookman Bookwoman Books in Hillsboro Village and Parnassus in Green Hills.

You may also ask your local bookstore to order the book for you.

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Garden New Potatoes with Yellow Wax Beans and Charred Red Onion
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 pound yellow wax beans (or young green beans), ends snapped
charred red onion dressing (recipe below)

Place potatoes into a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Simmer and cook until tender—about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Fill a skillet with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Blanche the beans in batches (do not overcrowd) for 3-4 minutes.
Fill a bowl with ice water. Plunge cooked beans into the ice water bath to chill and stop the cooking.

Drain well.

In a large bowl, fold the potatoes, beans, and charred onion dressing together until well-coated. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Serves 6-8

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Charred Red Onion Dip/Dressing
adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup chopped grilled red onion
1 cup plain lowfat Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the onion into chunks and place onto a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt. Roast until the onion edges become dark brown and crispy.
Remove from oven and cool. Chop coarsely.

Combine the onion with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir until well combined.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Sauces, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




June 17th, 2014

Community Salad

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Anatomy of a Salad

The arugula and slices from a lone lemon cucumber? I grew those in my garden patch. The impossibly thin green beans were a gift from neighbor Ray. I purchased the onions and baby new potatoes from Barnes’ stand at the downtown farmer’s market. The ruffled purple basil, flat leaf parsley and garlic scapes all came from our friends at the Fresh Harvest Co-op. I picked up the grape tomatoes and a sweet bell pepper at the grocery store, blocks from my home.

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Leaves and stalks, pods and seeds, tubers and fruits: All seemingly disparate parts assemble into a lively composition on this plate.

All the sets of hands that played a part in bringing them: A friend and neighbor, farmers whom I’ve met, farmers whom I’d like to meet, growers in a state not too far away, pickers and truckers and sorters and sellers,

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even my own hands.

This salad, which will make a fine dinner, also tells a story about community.

All the connections surrounding this one plate.

All the connections we make at the table.

I am mindful of this, especially at this moment, poised as I am, to launch this cookbook into this world.

Today, June 17, 2014, is the day.

It’s been a long road, from pitch to proposal, contract to manuscript delivery, edits, edits, styling and photography, layout, and more edits. Whew. Here comes the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook cover

I couldn’t have done it without my community.

Here’s to Gigi Gaskins, my potluck conspirator and co-host, and all the potluckers who contributed their delectable recipes.

Here’s to my editor, Heather Skelton, who caught the vision for this book, its look and structure. She understood our story, a fluid group of people who meet on the third Thursday of each month, and bring their best efforts, with no assigned dishes, no RSVP.

Together, our recipes and stories travel the arc of the seasons.

Together we celebrate the bounty of the moment.

Here’s to Mark and Teresa and Julie. Mark Boughton‘s extraordinary photography, Teresa Blackburn’s deft styling and Julie Allen’s cover design brought Third Thursday to life.

And, to you all, my dear friends and readers, a community that reaches far and wide.

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This is the sort of salad that lends itself well to community. Take what you like, and crown it with a nice dollop of lush green garlic scape aioli.

COMMUNITY SALAD
1 pound young green beans, ends trimmed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound baby new potatoes
salt
black pepper
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, cut into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 lemon cucumber, sliced
1/4 pound arugula
basil leaves

Blanche the green beans: Fill a skillet with water and place over medium high heat. When boiling, plunge the green beans in to cook for 2- 3 minutes (longer, if they are thicker–you want them tender-crisp) Place the cooked beans into a bowl of ice water to set the color and cease the cooking. Drain well.

Pan-roast the new potatoes: Place a skillet on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and rosemary. Cover and cook for 15-18 minutes, shaking the skillet periodically, until the potatoes are browned and tender when pierced with a knife.

Caramelize the onions and red pepper strips: Place olive oil in the skillet set on medium heat. Saute the onions until browned.
Remove the onions and add the red pepper strips. Saute until tender-crisp with browned edges.

Assemble the Community Salad
Place the salad elements in sections on a large serving platter. Serves 4 generously.

Serve with Garlic Scape Aioli (recipe below)

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GARLIC SCAPE AIOLI
2 or 3 loops of scapes, chopped
1 egg yolk
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
pinch salt

Place the scapes, egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse, then process, slowly pouring in the olive oil. The mixture will thicken and emulsify, resembling a spring green mayonnaise. Taste for salt and add a pinch as needed.

Place into a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Keeps 3-4 days.
Makes 1 generous cup.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Sauces, Vegetables | 17 Comments »




June 4th, 2014

Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes

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Making those grand “never” statements can get you into trouble. Things will come along in life to prove otherwise. Like when I recently told a friend, “I never fry food.” In a blink, not one but two recipes caught my attention, very different from each another, yet both requiring a plunge into a skillet of hot oil.

Stay with me–they are worth it. In fact, they can be made at the same time and served together–making the most out of the oil-filled fry pan. I’ll amend my grand “never” statement to “I don’t usually fry food, but there are times when it is just the thing.”

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The first, Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes, comes courtesy of Chef B J Dennis. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, B J is a personal chef and caterer whose focus is the food of the Gullah-Geechee people, his heritage. Descendants of enslaved West Africans who were brought to this country to work the rice plantations, they live mainly on the Sea Islands dotted along the South Carolina-Georgia coast.

In part, because of the isolation of the islands, in part, because the climate and growing conditions were similar to their coastal West African homes, the people were able to form their own communities, easily adapt their fishing and farming practices, continue their arts, rituals, and cuisine. Because the Africans came from different tribes, they formed their own language, a meld of various West African tongues and English. Over the centuries, the Gullah community evolved and endured.

But with “progress,” the communities have become threatened. Many adult children have the left the islands, seeking work elsewhere. And the islands themselves have seen the creep of gentrification, as land has been sold off for vacation places and resort homes.

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B J is seeking to preserve the Gullah culture through food. I attended a six-course tasting dinner here in Nashville where he partnered with chef Sean Brock to educate minds and palates to the cuisine, and its strong connection to West African cookery. His crispy shrimp-sweet pea-rice croquettes, our first tasting, were spectacular: rustic and sophisticated, chockful of shrimp, with green onion, ginger and nuanced heat in the mix.

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He happily shared his recipe, which uses Carolina Gold rice. This grain, once the main cash crop of South Carolina, almost vanished with the Great Depression. Post World War 2, rice production became industrialized, and corporately grown Uncle Ben’s took over the market. It wasn’t until the late ’90’s that Glen Roberts decided to repatriate the Southern pantry, and revive lost ingredients. Since 1998, his Anson Mills has brought back native cornmeal and grits, red peas, and the plump flavorful grains of Carolina Gold.

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One of the beauties of the recipe is that it makes ideal use of leftover or overcooked rice. The combination of shrimp, onion, sweet peas, sweet bell pepper and ginger laced through the rice is fantastic. The juxtaposition of hot crisp exterior and delicate filling is very pleasing. Someone at the dinner mentioned that it reminded her of arancini, the Italian rice fritters. Yes, in a way. If you want to make the dish entirely gluten free, use a little rice flour instead of all purpose to help bind the mixture.

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B J calls his approach to food “Vibration Cooking.” That term was first coined around 1970 by Vertamae Smith-Grosvenor, a food writer, culinary anthropologist, and storyteller. No strict measurements or method, but rather the magical combination of a person’s intuition, attitude, energy, and the ingredients at hand are what make plate of food delicious.

Therefore, in his recipe, he gives a range of quantities. You could add more rice, use whatever kind of onion you prefer, spark it with more than salt and black pepper, serve the croquettes by themselves, or with a sauce of choice. He served his with a Geechee peanut sauce, which is inspired by Senegalese sauce of tomatoes, peanut butter, onions, and spices. He did not share his recipe, but this link to Cooking Light’s version is a close approximation.

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I’ll attempt that sauce another day, as I had another sauce to try. Part 2 of my oil-frying includes this simple Fried Broccoli Florets with Vegan Mustard-Shallot Aioli–adapted from a local restaurant, Pinewood Social. The florets are not battered, but simply fried until crispy. After frying, dust the florets with sea salt and lemon zest. So good!

Even better is this vegan dipping sauce, made with ground raw almonds, golden raisins, shallot, garlic, lemon, Dijon and olive oil.

Toss the whole shebang into a food processor and let it rip! The almonds eventually puree and thicken the mixture, but some terrific texture remains. The tang of the shallot and mustard is tempered with the sweetness of golden raisins.

You’d “never” believe there’s nary a speck of egg or dairy in this creamy aioli.

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B J DENNIS’ CRISPY SHRIMP-SWEET PEA-RICE CROQUETTES
2 cups overcooked rice or leftover rice,(Carolina Gold)
1 cup seasoned and cooked shrimp (wild American) coarsely chopped (about 1/2 pound shrimp or more)
½ cup cooked fresh sweet peas or thawed frozen peas
¼ cup minced spring onions (or any onion you like)
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
1-2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons rice flour or all-purpose flour
cooking oil, such as canola or peanut

Pulse the cooked rice in a food processor.
Place all of the ingredients except flour into a large bowl and mix.
Add enough flour just to make sure the mixture binds together.
Roll out into little balls or cylinders, size depends on how big you like your fritter.
Place a skillet on medium heat. Add vegetable oil to 1 inch.
Shallow fry until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, rotating and turning the fritters so that they brown on all sides.

Makes approximately 20 croquettes.

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VEGAN MUSTARD-SHALLOT AIOLI (adapted from Josh Habiger, Pinewood Social)
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
pinch salt

Place almonds, raisins, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse and then process, pouring in the olive oil followed by the water. Process until smooth. Stir in a pinch of salt, if desired. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will continue to thicken as it sets and chills.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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FRIED BROCCOLI
Canola oil
1 head of fresh broccoli, cut into florets, cleaned and thoroughly dried
zest of one lemon
sea salt

Fill a saucepan or skillet with 2 inches oil. Heat to 375 degrees.
Fry broccoli until the edges appear crispy. This should take about a minute.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with lemon zest and sea salt.
Serve with Vegan Aioli.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables | 8 Comments »




May 20th, 2014

One-Hour Cheese! review, recipes, and a giveaway

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It wasn’t just the allure of this gluten-free, no-bake tart, coupled with the fact that local strawberries are here at our markets, ready to spill their juicy sweetness over its top.

It’s the homemade cheese that fills it: Fromage Facile. That’s French for “Easy Cheese.” Soft, slightly tangy, fresh—and ready to spread into that tart, in about thirty minutes. I was sold.

But, there’s more.
Delicate Chevre kisses laced with lavender and thyme, spiced twists of Oaxacan cheese (quesillo) to pull and melt over flatbread, rounds of burrata filled with brown butter and cream.

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Chevre. Mozzarella. Burrata. All wonderful cheeses—can you imagine making them yourself in under an hour?

Claudia Lucero says absolutely! and demonstrates 16 different varieties simply, beautifully, in her new book, One-Hour Cheese.

I’m a novice in this field. I have experimented, with some success, making ricotta and mascarpone . But I want to know more. How do you hand-stretch mozzarella? Why do you use citric acid and vegetable rennet? How do you form that purse of burrata and fill it with cream? What can you do with all that leftover whey? Can you really make a smoked cheddar wheel in just 60 minutes? (You can, although its name, “smoked cheater,” tells you it is not a true smoked cheddar—-but it’s incredible, nonetheless.)

One-Hour Cheese provides the answers to these–and many other cheese making questions.

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Even though I wanted to leap to the more complicated recipe, Burrata, for my first try, I decided to begin with Fromage Facile. This super-simple and delectable cheese is ideal for anyone’s initial foray into cheese-making. It provides a luscious blank canvas, ready to accept sweet or savory applications. And, you don’t need any extraordinary to make it. Likely you already have everything you need in your pantry.

The ingredient list? Whole cow’s milk, buttermilk, lemon juice and salt.

Supplies of Note? Cheesecloth and a reliable thermometer.

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The process is quick: gently heat the milk to 175 degrees. Stir in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Watch the curds form before your eyes.

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Strain, to separate the whey. Lightly salt. Form into a ball. Ta-Dah! Fromage Facile.

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Claudia gives many enticing recipes, to accompany each of the cheeses in the book. Tapenades and dried fruit-nut pastes to flavor the farm-fresh rounds. Vibrant herb-olive oil marinades to cloak bocconcini–little bon-bons of mozzarella. Spiked and peppered melts for pizza and quesadillas.

The photographs are appealing; the steps involved are clearly illustrated; interesting tips are posted throughout. Claudia’s style is upbeat and fun. You’ll want to make these cheeses. And, you can.

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This No-Bake Tartlette? You can whip it up in the time it takes for the Fromage Facile curds to drain. The crust has only 3 ingredients: toasted nuts (I used walnuts, but almonds or pecans would work well.) combined with dates and a pinch of salt. That’s it.

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Press the mixture into the pans. Swirl a little honey into the Fromage Facile, and spread into each tart shell. Top with the Fruit of the Moment.

Right now, the strawberries in Nashville are out of this world. Slice a few and sprinkle a little raw sugar over these gems–it coaxes out the juices. Add some furls of basil or mint, if you like. Spoon over the tart. Serve immediately—or chill for 30 minutes. Either way, it is simply delicious.

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Now, for the fun part: The Giveaway. You are going enjoy having this book as a part of your culinary library.

Post a comment below, telling about a favorite cheese, or a cheese making experience. On June 1st, I will announce the winner, chosen at random.

You can also follow Claudia’s book-blog tour—next up is Texas Farmer’s Daughter and Butter Me Up, Brooklyn. Check ‘em out.

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FROMAGE FACILE from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1 quart whole cow’s milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup cultured buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon flake salt (or to taste)
Fresh Herbs (optional)

SUPPLIES
Medium colander or mesh strainer
Fine cheesecloth
Large heat-resistant bowl
2 quart stockpot
Cooking thermometer
Large mixing spoon
Measuring cup and measuring spoons
Parchment

1. Line the colander with cheesecloth. Place a bowl underneath to collect the whey.
2. Pour the quart of cow’s milk into a pot. Place over medium heat, warming the milk until it reaches 175 degrees. Stay close by to monitor the heat, stirring to prevent the skin from forming on the top or sticking to the bottom.
3. When the milk reaches 175 degrees, add the buttermilk and lemon juice. Stir well. Remove from heat and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.
4. You will see separation of curds and whey. Stir the curds gently to check the texture. Pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander.
5. Allow the curds to drain until they resemble thick oatmeal, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the salt.
6. Pack the cheese into a paper (or plastic) lined dish to form a wheel.

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NO-BAKE STRAWBERRY-CHEESE TARTLETS adapted from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup pitted dates
1/8 teaspoon salt
Fromage Facile
1 tablespoon honey
Fresh ripe strawberries
fresh basil or mint

Place walnuts and dates into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add salt. Pulse and process together to form a crumbly crust that will stay formed when squeezed.

Press the crust into tart pans.

Fold honey into fromage facile. Spread into tart shells. Chill for one hour.

Slice strawberries and place into a small bowl. Chiffonade (finely slice) basil or mint and toss into berries.
Top the tarts with berry-mint mixture and serve.

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Posted in Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes | 25 Comments »