I recently spent a week in New York City helping my girlfriend Pat pack up her apartment, a studio on the tenth floor of a grand old building overlooking Gramercy Park.
Rare and remarkable are two words for Gramercy Park, secluded within the heart of this electric city. Four short blocks of mid-rise brownstones surround the gated haven full of shade trees and flowering plants. No major streets, no rumbling traffic, no Lexington or Madison avenues barreling through. It’s a neighborhood that still feels like old New York.
Pat’s building, constructed in 1909, is unique to the square; the facade of the 12 story landmark is white terra cotta, Gothic in design, with ornate detailing. At the entry stands a smiling doorman in dapper uniform to greet you; inside is a gilt vestibule with a reception and two narrow elevators. Step inside those gleaming brass doors for a lift up to 10T.
Pat’s apartment measures right at 330 square feet. Yes, it’s small. Basically a room and a bath. Tall ceilings, wide windows, minimal furnishings, and a couple of strategic angles that trick the eye into thinking there is something more around the corner all combine to give it a more spacious feel.
I dubbed it her “Gramercy Palace.”
When you are out in the frenetic thrum that is Manhattan, a nest such as hers is the ideal respite–all you need, really. Over the years, I have enjoyed staying in its cozy quarters.
Change happens. And one begets another. Last fall, Pat’s husband died. She quit her high-powered job of many years. Then, she got an unsolicited—and generous—offer for her apartment. The end of a cycle. The closing of a life chapter.
When I learned that Pat was selling this special place, I wanted to be there to help close things out, say good-bye. It wouldn’t take the whole week to pack. We wanted to relish the final days at The Palace, and soak up as much of the city, from the perspective of being a resident rather than a visitor.
As someone who was born in New York (Queens) there is always a part of me that yearns for time there. Partly to reconnect with the place, and its magnificent and gritty sense of place. The city is potent with memory—each visit serves to recall visits gone by while creating new experiences. Making memories.
This time, I got a good dose.
We saw the Broadway play, Hamilton. (Hard to imagine, but this Hip-Hop musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton is one of the best things I have ever seen.)
We went to museums: MOMA and the new Whitney. We strolled the Highline. We met friends for drinks in different neighborhoods. We ate at some wonderful restaurants.
I also did some cooking.
Union Square, with its open air Green Market (open 4 days a week!) is an easy walk from the apartment. From an array of vendors, I purchased heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, corn, basil and melon.
Walk a bit further south, and you’re in Little Italy. Pat’s sister Lynn and I jaunted over to Alleva Dairy, the oldest Italian cheese store in the city—and the United States. Lynn bought sausages and I got pasta and a ball of luscious burrata.
It was fun to cook in the tiny kitchen and dine on a fresh summer feast. Bittersweet. A last supper, to be sure. Are other New York adventures still to come? No telling when, but I feel certain they will.
ZUCCHINI-LINGUINE TANGLE WITH SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
3 small zucchini (small size is more tender)
1/2 pound linguine
salt and black pepper to taste
Sweet red bell pepper-tomato sauce (recipe below)
toasted pine nuts
Place a large pot of salted water on medium high heat and bring to a boil.
Trim the zucchini ends and slice it lengthwise into thin slabs. Take each slab and slice it into long thin julienne strips.
Cook the linguine according to package directions.(about 10 minutes) Drain and set aside.
Return the pot to the stovetop. Set the heat on medium and add olive oil–about 3 tablespoons.
Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and saute for 2 minutes—so that the zucchini becomes pliable. Stir in the linguine. Toss until the two are entangled.
Ladle the red sauce into each bowl. Top with the pasta. Garnish with grated pecorino-romano and toasted pine nuts.
Sweet Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce
3-4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place red bell pepper and tomato halves onto a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath the peppers. Brush the tops with olive oil.
Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers and tomatoes are blackened and blistered.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
WATERMELON-PEACH SALAD WITH BURRATA
4 cups large dice watermelon
2-3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 jalapeno, cut into very thin rings
1 bunch of basil (or mint) finely sliced
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 round of burrata
salt and black pepper
Place cut watermelon, peaches, jalapeno and basil into a large bowl. Pour lime juice and olive oil over the salad. Gently toss.
Place the round of burrata in the center of the salad. Drizzle a little more oil over it. Season with salt and black pepper.
When serving, break into the burrata so that shreds and the creamy inside become mixed with the fruits.
Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.
That’s the summer in my mind.
I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.
But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.
ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA
Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.
I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.
A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.
SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD
One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.
We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)
Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.
MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT
What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.
This one is barely a recipe.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.
Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.
Welcome the return of
Neighbor Ray’s petite green beans, true haricots verts
grown in his meticulous urban backyard garden.
Sleek and delicate, just picked and crunchy sweet.
The sack still holding the day’s warmth.
A summer highlight that had gone missing for a couple of summers.
Two years ago, Ray’s crop did too poorly. Pests and such.
Last year, I was out-of-pocket. Book promotions and such.
But this year, they’re back.
And I’m back. Thank goodness.
As I’ve done in productive summers past, I’ve created a dish to celebrate them.
This time, I gleaned inspiration from a favorite local chef, Roderick Bailey of The Silly Goose, who makes a bowl of green beans and yukon gold potatoes, nestled in a pool of hazelnut romesco sauce. He finishes the dish with shavings of Manchego cheese and a flourish of paprika oil, in Spanish tapas fashion.
Now, in my pantry and fridge I had many of the ingredients to replicate. Those golden potatoes, buttery companion to the beans. I had cremini mushrooms to add to the mix, impart their own kind of meaty umami.
As for the romesco, I had ripe bell peppers. An anaheim too, for a mild kick of heat. A couple of tomatoes. Half an onion. A piece of shallot. The critical sherry vinegar.
A few missing elements, though. No hazelnuts, nor Manchego cheese. No paprika oil, either.
No matter. I could still achieve a luscious base for the dish. A simpler romesco. I even eliminated the soft breadcrumbs often used as a thickening agent in traditional preparations. Let’s keep it gluten free. The peppers, once roasted and pureed with a splash of vinegar, a teaspoon of paprika, would have rich body and deep flavor.
It all comes together with minimal work. Blanche the slender green beauties–done in just minutes. Roast potatoes and mushrooms. Roast, then puree peppers, tomatoes, onions and the like. Pool and spread the romesco. Arrange the vegetables; let them settle into the sauce.
(If you have Manchego, or toasted hazelnuts to garnish–go for it.)
Stand back and admire the brilliant composition of colors and textures.
Then, dig in.
For other ideas for preparing and serving romesco sauce, visit here.
RAY’S BEANS AND ROMESCO
1 pound haricots verts, or young thin green beans, stems removed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into cubes
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
coarse ground black pepper
Bring a large skillet of lightly salted water to a boil. Put in the beans and cook for 3 minutes. Plunge them into an icy bath to cease the cooking and set their bright green color. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cubed potatoes onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place quartered mushrooms onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place each pan into the oven and roast until the potatoes are crisp and lightly browned, yet have soft cooked interiors—about 20 minutes. The mushrooms will roast more quickly, about 15 minutes.
Set both aside and make the romesco sauce.
SIMPLE ROMESCO SAUCE
1 red (or yellow or orange) sweet bell pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 Anaheim pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
Place peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and dust with salt.
Roast in the preheated 425 degree oven until the skins of the peppers are blistered—about 20 minutes.
Remove and cool. Peel and discard the skins of the peppers and tomatoes.
Place the vegetables into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Pulse and process.
Add the sherry vinegar and paprika.
Pulse and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Pour most of the romesco sauce onto the bottom of a shallow bowl.
Toss the green beans, potatoes and mushrooms together. Place on top of the pool of romesco.
Dot the vegetables with remaining sauce and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
Note: This is delicious served warm or room temperature. Enjoy!
Last month, I had the pleasure of sharing an event at Pegasus Bookstore in Berkeley California with Chef Tanya Holland. We’d not previously met, but quickly found our common threads, beyond each having authored a cookbook. We were both born in New York and have interests rooted in the cooking traditions of the South. We’re both members of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization of professional women in the culinary arts. We are both keenly interested in the intersection of community and food.
You’ll learn that about her, once you visit her restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen. Located in a wedge of West Oakland, where 26th Street and Campbell intersect Mandela Parkway, her eatery has become a prime neighborhood gathering spot. A hospitable spirit pervades the open kitchen and dining room, where a diverse crowd sits down comfortably to plates of eggs and biscuits and bowls of shrimp and grits.
In 2008, it was considered a bold move to open BSK in this somewhat run-down industrial area. But when she found the pie-shaped building, Tanya had that immediate sense of “knowingness”—this was where she belonged. The chef created what she calls “an everyman restaurant,” mid-priced, to please a wide range of people. Drawing on her African-American heritage and her French culinary training, Tanya serves her interpretation of Soul Food, prepared with classic techniques, updated for modern tastes.
The restaurant took off, initially as a destination. It wasn’t long before other businesses and residences followed suit, furthering the revitalization. West Oakland is becoming a thriving community, and Tanya Holland has become recognized for instigating its renaissance.
The cornmeal waffle is indeed her signature dish. She was inspired by Marion Cunningham’s yeasted waffle. By adding cornmeal to the batter, she’s given it a southern spin, and made it her own. I had to order it. Having eaten many versions of chicken-and-waffles, I was anxious to try hers.
Wonderful. The waffle was crisp yet airy, the little “grit” from the meal lending a delectable texture and corn taste. Her apple cider syrup, a welcome departure from the traditional maple, had a pleasant tang. It’s an homage to her grandmother, who always served fried apples for breakfast.
An aside: Righteous fried chicken too–well-seasoned, buttermilk-brined, and skillet-fried to golden.
Now, I’ve made it myself. We had company in town–and a waffle brunch was in order. Her recipe, which I share below, was easy to prepare. You do need to plan ahead–the yeasty batter requires a minimum of 4 hours resting time in the refrigerator. It’s best to mix it up before you go to bed. That way, it’ll be ready for you in the morning. And, be sure to put that batter into a large bowl. It gets quite bubbly even in the fridge as the yeast does its work!
I love the waffle’s versatility–sweet, savory, somewhere in-between. Different grains, different preparations. Visit Cooking Light’s clever array of other terrific waffles here.
YEASTED CORNMEAL WAFFLES
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
3 cups whole milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
vegetable oil for the waffle iron
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
In a small bowl, combine the yeast and water. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
In another large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, salt, and sugar together.
Add the yeast mixture to the egg-milk mixture. Whisk in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight—or at least for 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Remove the waffle batter from the refrigerator and stir in the baking soda.
Heat the waffle iron, lightly brush with vegetable oil.
Ladle the batter and cook until golden–about 3 minutes.
Transfer the waffle to a rack and keep warm in the oven
Repeat with remaining batter, placing the waffles in a single layer on the rack until ready to serve.
Makes 8-10 waffles.
APPLE CIDER SYRUP
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 cups apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup butter
In a large pot, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, cider, cinnamon, and butter. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Discard the cinnamon.
Keep warm and serve. When cooled, refrigerate in a airtight container. Keeps for a month.
Whether we can tolerate gluten in our diet or not, there’s one thing for certain: We all have benefited from the gluten-free food revolution. The mass introduction of alternative grains has added wonderful variety to our pantry, replete with taste and nutrition. Beyond corn and rice there’s amaranth, kasha, millet, teff, and quinoa, just to name a few. And alternative flours? I can’t keep up.
We don’t have any problems with gluten in our family, thank goodness. But I’d like not to rely on wheat as much as I have. (Sorry, pasta!) Living with a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for meat-free protein-dense recipes to satisfy a hearty appetite. Over the past months I’d noticed several dishes from Cooking Light that use a quinoa pastry crust. The idea intrigued me.
I’ve had success with cornmeal crust in the past, why not quinoa?
The folks at Cooking Light have developed 2 pastry crust recipes using the New American grain—one with already-cooked quinoa, the other with uncooked, toasted and ground. For this Southwest-inspired vegetable tart, I opted for the former. It couldn’t be easier to make–combine the grains with egg and oil, press the mixture into the pie pan and bake. (It’s a good way to use up any leftover quinoa too.)
The crust has integrity–it holds the roasted vegetables and custard while imparting its toasty nut-like flavor. We like the smoky taste of the poblanos with the other summer vegetables, a Southwest spin—but you can use your imagination and veggies at hand to create whatever filling you like. The quinoa crust is an amenable canvas.
The latter, which also has ground almond meal and cornstarch in the mix, seems like a contender for fruit pie, maybe plums—if the devil-squirrels don’t wipe out the potential bounty from my backyard tree.
QUINOA CRUST from Cooking Light
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix quinoa, egg, olive oil and salt together in a bowl. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a pie pan.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
SOUTHWESTERN VEGETABLE TART
2 yellow squashes
1/2 red bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 poblano pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese: combination of white cheddar and cotija
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice zucchini and yellow squash lengthwise. Coat with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.
Slice peppers (red bell and poblano) into strips, onions into thick slices. Coat with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each pan with salt and black pepper.
Place both into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool.
Beat the eggs with half-and-half, salt and black pepper until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Sprinkle a little cheese over the bottom of the crust and place the first layer of roasted vegetables. Repeat until you fill the shell.
Pour the custard mixture over the vegetables. Top with remaining cheese.
Place into the oven and bake until the custard is set and the top is golden—-25-30 minutes.
Cut into wedges and serve.
I had forgotten how it is, when I travel by car for any length of time. In mere days, the rhythm of the road takes over as the rhythm of life, marked off in mile posts and fuel stops, Best Western Motels and Starbucks coffees, paced by the hospitality of friends and family along the way.
Thoughts and cares of my own home fade. What is present becomes my focus–the endless flat stretches of highway through Kansas prairie, the shifting views of snow-capped Rockies in mist, the blue skies over Utah, wide and deep, dotted with lolling cotton clouds, the pink and white oleanders, heavy in bloom, spilling over the median on the California freeway.
Driving away from the day-to-day takes you to new places in the mind. For me, it brings up the curious mix of lives not claimed, and yet, the pervasive connection of all life.
What if the barren high desert of Nevada was the place I called home? Can I imagine life on a lone ranch, miles from neighbors? “Choosing this life sends out roads to earn their way without us.”
And then there’s the wonder of connection. My cousins and I see one other rarely, and yet the warm familial love doesn’t care about the years. It time jumps. Hanging out in the kitchen, making food for the book event, talking and laughing…we’ve never been apart.
Here’s another one: On the morning of the book signing, my cousin Jeanne got an email from a woman named Nancy H. Turns out she used to play bridge with my aunt, AND she is a long-time follower of my blog. It wasn’t until she read my last post with the invitation that she made the connection. She came to book signing, and we got to meet. How amazing is that?
That theme continued on our journey. In Berkeley, a friend from high school days–again someone I’ve seen little of over 40 years– helped me get ready for the signing at Pegasus Books. We shopped at the Berkeley Bowl together. I made Cornbread Panzanella in her kitchen.
And, at the Pegasus signing itself: Gerlinde of Sunny Cove Chef took the sweet notion to drive up from Santa Cruz to attend. We’ve virtually met through our blogs, now we’ve really met. The power of the web. The power of connections.
Five thousand miles, and we’re back home. Bill and I thought that everything looked fine, but felt different. We wandered from room to room, detached from our place. We’d taken up the gypsy life and hadn’t switched back into our old and familiar ways.
There’s nothing like preparing a meal in your own kitchen, sharing it with friends, to get you grounded. I’m getting there.
For today’s dish, I rummaged the fridge and pantry—found viable potatoes, beets,and green onions…green peas in the freezer. I snipped arugula and thyme from the yard.
It was kind of a throw-together, but it worked. Roasting the veggies, coating them in mustardy sweet-sour marinade, pulsing tangy arugula into the vinaigrette combined to make a delicious late spring salad.
LATE SPRING POTATO-PEA SALAD WITH ARUGULA-THYME VINAIGRETTE
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 ” slices
3 medium beets, cleaned
1 cup olive oil, divided
kosher or sea salt
2 cups small green peas, frozen
1 bundle green onions, divided
8 ounces fresh arugula
1/2 cup, divided white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 bunch fresh thyme
3-4 strips crumbled bacon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On one sheet pan, place the sliced potatoes. Pour about 1/4 cup oil over the slices, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
One another sheet pan lined with foil or parchment, place the beets. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place into the preheated 425 degree oven to roast for 25-30 minutes.
Place the peas into a saucepan. Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer on low heat, cooking the peas until tender, but still with bright green pop. Remove from heat, drain and cool.
Chop two greens onions and pick 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Stir into the peas and set aside.
Remove potatoes from baking pan. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard. Stir up any crusty bits into the sauce. Pour over the potatoes.
Remove the beets and allow to cool. Peel and slice into rounds. Splash with 1 tablespoon vinegar and set aside.
Make the Arugula Thyme Vinaigrette:
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard, 3 chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, and 1 cup arugula leaves. Pulse until chopped together, then process, pouring in the 1/2 cup olive oil, a little at a time.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Place a bed of arugula onto the base of the salad bowl. Place a ring of marinated potato slices, followed by a ring of sliced pickled beets, finished with a mound of peas. Dot the salad with little pours of the green vinaigrette. Sprinkle bacon bits over the salad if desired.
In a couple of days, Bill and I will be headed out west. I have a cookbook signing in Erie Colorado, hosted by my fabulous cousins on Saturday May the 9th. On the 13th, I’m honored to be presenting alongside Chef Tanya Holland, at Pegasus Books in Berkeley California. I’ve included invitations to both events in this post. If you’re in the area, and take the notion, please c’mon by. Great food, drink and conversation awaits!
We decided to make the long drive, since I’ll have books and knives and whisks and bowls in tow. We don’t mind–we usually relish a road trip and we haven’t made the westward journey in many years.
Ten years ago, Bill and I took our first out west adventure.
We traveled for most of a month, taking in parts of New Mexico–White Sands Desert, Santa Fe and Taos. We stayed with friends in Flagstaff Arizona, a great base of operations for exploring Walnut Canyon, Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments, and the Grand Canyon–of course. We made side trips to Sedona and the curious mining-now-crafts town, Jerome.
We spent a lot of time barreling down the highways and by-ways. The western landscape is vast and open, rugged and wild, such a contrast from the lush green of the South. I recall stretches when we saw no one, anywhere, for miles.
We listened to audiobooks. Fitting–I brought along Kerouac’s On the Road. As we made our great loop west, all the way to San Francisco, returning on the northerly route through Wyoming and Colorado, we laughed, as our journey often paralleled that of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity.
I had a cooler packed with bread, cheese, fruits and water. I also made this kick-ass trail mix, stored in ziplock bags, which powered us through the day. I toasted the almonds, pecans, and walnuts. I had abundant dried fruits: apricots, golden raisins, cranberries, and cherries. I added slivers of candied ginger for the occasional breathy spark. And the crowning touch—roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. That salt, interspersed throughout, made the mix exceptional.
I haven’t made it since—until now. Bill asked if we could have that good road trip mix again.
So, I made a big batch.
THE GOOD ROAD TRIP MIX
3 cups whole almonds, toasted
3 cups walnuts, toasted
3 cups pecans, toasted
2 cups cashews, toasted
3 cups chopped dried apricots
3 cups golden raisins
3 cups craisins
2 cups dried cherries
1 cup slivered candied ginger
1 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
Note: Times vary for toasting different nuts. Here’s a great video from Cooking Light on how best to do this.
Make sure that the nuts are all cool before mixing them with the dried fruits.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir until the fruit and nuts are well-jumbled together. Put into ziplock bags and hit the road.
Makes 24 cups
Bill’s favorite dessert is banana-coconut cream pie–and I make it for him every birthday. It combines two of his best-loved ingredients in a lush pudding, mounded in a flaky crust.
In the past, my method was what you’d call the cheater version, a trick that I stumbled upon years ago when I was deep in nightmare catering world. (um, like serving two concurrent dinner parties of 150 and 300 guests, after assembling 230 box lunches and feeding a crew meal of 60 for a music video.)
I discovered that if you mix half-and-half instead of milk, along with glug of vanilla into instant pudding (I know, I know, blasphemy, how could I?) and stirred it thoroughly for 5 minutes, that it transformed (really, almost instantly!) into a remarkably smooth, rich and luscious pudding.
However, I’m not deep in nightmare catering world. (glory be.)
So I’m sharing the bonafide silken version. The version where you stand over a saucepan with a whisk and a wooden spoon, stirring, stirring. The version where you remember when you stood alongside your Nana, watching, watching, as she did the same. And you mustered all the patience that a child has, waiting for the mixture to thicken, waiting for the bubble and burp, waiting for that moment when you’d get to lick the spoon and clean out the pot.
BILL’S FAVORITE BANANA-COCONUT CREAM PIE
One reason this pie is great: I place a handful of shredded coconut on the bottom of the pie shell before blind-baking it–while doubling (somewhat) as pie weights, the coconut toasts up beautifully.
FLAKY PIE CRUST
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold butter
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Place flour, salt, and cold butter pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping or pastry blade. Pulse until the butter is cut into the flour and resembles little peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, with the motor running. The dough will gather into a ball.
Remove and form the ball into a slightly flattened disc shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dust the counter with flour. Roll out and place into a pie pan. Crimp the edges. Prick the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.
Place on the center rack and bake for 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
Remove and cool completely before filling.
Reason 2: Two egg yolks, whisked with half-and-half, sugar, and cornstarch, then added to the warming milk, make this pudding creamy-dreamy. I like to use part raw sugar and part granulated for deeper flavor.
SILKEN VANILLA PUDDING adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (or scrape a vanilla bean)
2/3 cup sugar (can split it half demerara sugar/half granulated white sugar)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup half-and-half
knob of butter (optional)
Pour milk in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Add vanilla (or scrape seeds from vanilla bean.)
Gently warm on medium low heat.
In a large bowl, add both sugars, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together. Add half-and-half and egg yolks to this mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine well.
Add about one cup of the warmed milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to just under a boil–still stirring. This could take a few minutes. Once the pudding begins to bubble and pop, cook for one more minute, then remove from heat. Whisk in a knob of butter until it is fully incorporated if you like.
Spoon pudding into a bowl. If you wish to chill it quickly, place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until pudding cools, stirring occasionally.
Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap; chill.
chilled vanilla pudding
2-3 ripe bananas
1 pint heavy cream, whipped with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut
Put about half of the pudding into the baked and cooled pie shell. Slice the bananas (about 1/4 inch thick) and layer into the pie. Add remaining pudding. Top with banana slices. Cover with whipped cream. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top. Cover and chill.
And, just for fun:
EEK IN-A-PINCH CHEATER VANILLA PUDDING
1 3 ounce package instant vanilla pudding
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Dump the instant pudding mix into a large bowl. Bury the box in recycling.
While whisking, slowly add the half-and-half. Continue to stir for about 4 minutes.
Add the vanilla, and stir for another minute.
Cover and chill. Slink off and feel guilty. Then fill the pie, top with whipped cream and serve.
Smile sheepishly when someone asks for the recipe.
Ham. Sorghum. Cornmeal. A trio of decidedly Southern ingredients are at the heart of today’s post, in dishes designed to feed a crowd. It is rare that I have the occasion to bake a big ham, or a 12″ by 20″ pan of cornbread, but this month’s potluck gathering, held in partnership with Dirty Pages, was made for that.
The exhibit has been up since March 19th. Its organizers, local food writers and enthusiasts Jennifer Justus, Erin Byers Murray, and Cindy Wall wanted to do something grand, fun and fitting for the closing of this community-minded show. Partnering with my group for an expanded community potluck was brilliant.
Our April potluck, this time dubbed Dirty Pages+Third Thursday, gathered last week at our Nashville Farmers Market. More than 60 people arrived, many bearing their own favorite dirty page dish. (also present was a photographer/essayist for the New York Times. We’ll be looking for the story over Mother’s Day weekend!)
My featured Dirty Page recipe, Leola’s Cornbread, was my inspiration. Over the many years, I have respected this recipe for its versatility–and forgiving nature. Even though I’ve altered some aspects of the original, using much less sugar, and all butter instead of margarine–I have found that the ratios of cornmeal to flour to baking powder to wet ingredients to be spot-on. It always works, and tastes delicious.
I’ve seen too many cornbread recipes where there’s more flour than cornmeal, which makes no sense to me!
This batch has it all. Into the batter, I fold generous amounts of whole kernel corn, chopped jalapenos, green onions, and shredded sharp cheddar–which it readily accepts.
The whole shebang comes together quickly–mixed by hand in a large bowl. I like that part too.
Baking is a breeze. In less than 30 minutes, what emerges is a golden green-flecked slab, enriched with cheese, sparked with heat.
Accommodating, adaptable, this recipe can be cut in half for a smaller needs, baked in an ordinary 9″x13″ casserole. From my big pan, I was able to get 60 small squares, just right for our potluck crowd.
Now, onto the prize, this ham. Here are some tips for baking a sumptuous one:
When carving away the hide and excess fat, I always leave a layer, which I gently score in crisscross fashion. The fat is essential for insuring juicy meat.
In spicing, I go old school, inserting whole cloves at each intersection.
Hams love fruit and sweet, with a little pungency. In the past, I’ve coated hams in apricot mustard, or brown sugar mixed with brown mustard and spices, or cane syrup-pecan glaze.
Today’s glaze is made with apricot preserves (although peach would be terrific too–and more Southern. I happened to have apricot on hand.) melted with coarse grain mustard and sorghum.
I love the dark mineral sweetness of sorghum; it adds compelling depth to the glaze. Molasses works too, although I find it can be overpowering. Use a little less, if you must substitute.
If I’m baking a half ham (as it usually is sold in shank and butt portions) I rub a small amount of the glaze onto it before baking. For the first hour of baking, I place the ham inverted–the pink meat side down, bone end straight up, so that the scored fat on all sides is exposed. It makes for more even roasting, and juicier meat.
After an hour, I remove the ham from the oven. I slather it with the remaining glaze, and set it upright in the roasting pan to finish. During that last 30 minutes, the glaze will become shiny and charred, imparting its layered sweetness and piquancy.
APRICOT-SORGHUM GLAZED BAKED HAM
6-8 pound bone-in sugar cured ham (shank or butt portion)
whole cloves (24 or so)
1/2 cup apricot preserves (peach preserves work splendidly too)
1/2 cup coarse grain mustard
1/3 cup sorghum (you may substitute cane syrup, or molasses–use only 1/4 cup molasses)
1 cup water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Trim the ham, removing tough outer hide pieces and any excess fat. Leave a thin layer of fat to help seal in the juices of the meat. Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into, but not all the way through, that thin layer of fat. Place a clove at each intersection and place into a roasting pan.
Place a saucepan on low heat. Add the apricot preserves, coarse grain mustard, and sorghum. Stir together as the mixture warms. It will become “glazy.” Remove from heat.
Lightly brush the glaze over the ham–reserving most of the glaze for later. Pour the water into the bottom of the baking pan.
Place into the oven and bake uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. (An 8 pound ham requires 2 hours bake time.)
After the ham is 75% done (after one and a half hours for the 8 pounder!) liberally coat the ham with the remaining glaze. Cook for another 30 minutes. The glaze with bubble and brown on the ham.
Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also delicious served room temperature.
LEOLA’S INSPIRATION: CORNBREAD WITH THE WORKS
3 cups cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups milk
1 pound butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups corn kernels (can use frozen or fresh)
2 jalapenos, chopped (add their seeds for extra heat)
6 green onions, chopped
12 ounces shredded sharp cheddar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a large baking dish (like a hotel pan, 12″ by 20″) or two 9″ by 13″ baking dishes.
Place all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk until the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt are blended.
Break the eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat. Pour in the milk and the melted butter. Stir well.
Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir just until incorporated. Do not overmix–it will toughen the bread.
Fold in the corn, jalapenos, green onions and sharp cheddar.
Pour into the prepared baking dish(es)
Place onto the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Rotate the pan(s) after 15 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
Serves a crowd! (makes 48-60 squares)
This lacy green array, which reminds me of wallpaper in a summer cottage, is the herb, chervil. A member of the parsley family, it grows well in cool weather. With its frill of carrot-like leaves and mild licorice taste, chervil is one of the quartet of fines herbes, a seasoning pillar of French cuisine.
I have used chervil, in dried form, on occasion. Bearnaise sauce comes to mind.
But I had never found any fresh…until recently, through Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Which is also where I bought this beautiful rainbow of carrots…
…and leeks, for this lush tart.
After a long winter of eating hardy greens and tubers, (and, trust me, I’m not complaining,) it sure feels good (uplifting!) to have these early spring herbs and vegetables.
It inspired me to put together a little grazing spread for friends–all of us ready to celebrate longer days, warmer weather, a world in bloom.
My menu included steelhead trout brushed with fruity olive oil and quick-roasted, artichoke-leek tart in puff pastry-layered with a ricotta-Greek yogurt blend–and those sweet rainbow carrots, oven-browned in thyme.
The chervil found its way into a versatile buttermilk-based sauce–whipped up in a blink.
It tasted fresh and light, grassy and tangy, with a hint of anise. It was delicious spooned over the fish. And, it was also quite nice with the carrots.
For your pleasure, here are the recipes. Be on the lookout for fresh chervil–like most herbs, it is different, and better than its dried form.
Welcome Spring! Looking forward to all that the season brings.
SPRING LEEK TART adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still chilled
1 large leek, cleaned well and sliced (white and light green parts)
6 artichoke hearts
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor with steel blade, add the ricotta cheese, yogurt, salt, and pepper, and blend until smooth.
Slightly roll out the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin. Place one piece of pastry onto each baking sheet.
Spread the cheese mixture over the surface of each to the edge all the way around. Cover with roasted leeks, artichokes and bell pepper pieces. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake the pastries until they are golden brown and puffy, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through baking time. Remove from the oven and let the pastries rest for a few minutes.
Cut into squares and serve.
BUTTERMILK CHERVIL SAUCE
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chervil
3/4 cup whole buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise, like Hellman’s
1 teaspoon salt
Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until the mixture is smooth and well incorporated. Cover and chill.
Makes one cup.
QUICK-ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT
2 1/2-3 pounds steelhead trout (or salmon) fillet(s)
3 tablespoons good olive oil
coarse ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse the fillet(s) and pat dry. Place onto a baking sheet, skin side down.
Liberally brush the surface with your favorite fruity olive oil.
Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
Roast for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes,
Remove and cool.
Serve warm, or at room temperature with chervil sauce.
RAINBOW CARROTS ROASTED WITH FRESH THYME adapted from Cooking Light’s Lighten Up America
1 pound fresh carrots, different colors/varieties if you like
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Clean and trim carrots, keeping small ones intact, and cutting long ones into 2-3 lengths.
Peel only if the outer layer seems tough.
Coat the carrots in olive oil and lay them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with fresh thyme, salt and black pepper.
Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning the carrots after 12 minutes.
Serve warm, or allow to cool and serve with dip.