Yes, I realize that it has scarcely been a month since the holidays, ever a cookie fest. No matter. It is always a good time for cookies, especially ones that have noble aspects about them without sacrificing great taste.
Noble aspects, you ask? Indeed!
One recipe boasts reduced fat and sugar and the other is gluten free.
You see, I have become involved in Cookie Trials!
Today’s foray into Cookie Trials brings us Easiest Peanut Butter (remarkable, with only 4 ingredients!) and Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal (orange zest, sour cream and egg white distinguish this batch). As the batches of both came together quickly, with minimal effort, I thought I would share them with you. Two more cookie recipes for your culinary stockpile…
We’ll start with our 4-ingredient wonder, with a confession.
I love peanut butter, but I’ve never been crazy about peanut butter cookies. The ones I had have been either too dry and crumbly. Or too sweet. And not “pea-nutty” enough.
So, I was intrigued by the idea of a peanut butter cookie made without flour. Maybe flour has been the culprit in forming my distaste. Peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla—that’s all that goes into this recipe. I could imagine the peanut taste really coming through. But, how would it bake up? Would it have a good cookie texture?
The verdict: These are very good peanut butter cookies. They are crisp and a little chewy and have a rich, roasted peanut flavor.
They baked up nicely, thickly. I could have made them smaller. I used an extra-crunchy peanut butter, which fills the dough with plenty of peanut bits. A creamy peanut butter would result in a lighter batter that might spread out a bit more as it bakes.
It should go without saying, but a peanut butter cookie is only as good as the peanut butter going into it. Be sure to use your favorite.
Next up is a “lightened” Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal cookie, its recipe taken from Cooking Light’s Cranberry-Oatmeal Bars.
The ingredient list looks long, but likely you’ve got most of the items already in your pantry. I had to run out for some sour cream.
I was excited to try this recipe; the classic oatmeal cookie ranks high in my world. So a variation on the theme is generally welcome.
The lightly beaten egg white helps bind the batter, making it a softer cookie: more airy and delicate, like a macaroon.
Orange zest and juice, paired with the sour cream, really bring this cookie to life.
The recipe calls for quick oats, (which I had) but I think you could use the regular “old fashioned” rolled oats, and actually have better results–the oats being more defining, in both taste and texture.
Verdict: overall, a delicious cookie. I like that these can be made easily into a small size–another lighter aspect of the cookie.
Small but good bites are satisfying, especially in these starker, post-holiday times.
GLUTEN FREE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES from Southern Living
1 cup peanut butter (your choice of creamy or crunchy)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place all four ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is well-combined. Form into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, one inch apart. Flatten the tops gently with the tines of a fork.
Bake on the center rack in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5–7 minutes before removing the cookies from the baking sheet.
Makes 20-24 cookies
CRANBERRY-ORANGE OATMEAL COOKIES adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup oats
1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, dried cranberries, both sugars, orange zest, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Beat in the sour cream, melted butter, orange juice, vanilla, and egg white.
Scoop small rounds of dough, placing them onto the parchment lined baking sheet, each an inch apart.
Bake on the center rack for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.
Makes 3 dozen cookies
You never know how or from what place cooking inspiration will come. Today’s dish arose from an unexpected find: a 10 pound box of loosely packed dried guajillo chiles in our food bank’s warehouse. Whatever entity had donated the box didn’t realize that it would be considered a reject. Dried chiles offer little in the way of real food to people who don’t have a viable kitchen or the means to prepare them. Unless anyone at Second Harvest wanted them, ten pounds of dried guajillos were destined for the dumpster.
Of course, we (meaning the staff and volunteers of Second Harvest’s Culinary Arts Center) wanted them. You can’t imagine how many peppers filled the box. Thousands, I’d say! We portioned them into ziplock bags and now have a seemingly inexhaustible supply.
It set me to thinking about molés, those rich complex sauces from Oaxaca, Mexico that have layers of flavor from chiles, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate.
With our potluck on the horizon, and a turkey breast in my freezer, I deemed it time to make Pavo con Molé—turkey mole. CAC Director Mark gave me a ziplock of chiles and wished me success.
All these many many years of cooking, and I had never made a molé. I’m not sure why. Likely I thought that it was too complicated. Likely I’ve never had a big bag of dried guajillos.
In either event, it’s a project long overdue.
I didn’t have a recipe. Research on the ‘net and some of my cookbooks turned up scads of molé recipes. I cobbled together my own version, which was gleaned from the stellar likes of Diana Kennedy, Susana Palazuelos, and Rick Bayless, tempered by what I had in my pantry.
The common threads:
–Pan-toasting the sesame seeds and spices, to bloom their flavors, before grinding. The same is true for the almonds.
–Steeping the guajillos in boiling water. I add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and dried currants to the batch. The resulting liquid is infused with intense tastes.
–Stirring in the unsweetened chocolate at the end of the cooking process–the final bass note of flavor to the molé.
Don’t be daunted by the lengthy ingredient list. Believe me, there are molé recipes out there with lists twice as long. This mole possesses wonderful fruity heat and complexity. Its texture is lush.
The method has a few steps, but it is not difficult to make. At all. In fact, it was a pleasurable process to undertake.
In the time it takes for the turkey breast to braise in a Dutch oven, the sauce comes together, filling the kitchen with heady aromatics.
An immersion blender is a life-saver, making the puree a breeze. If you want the mole ultra-smooth, you may run it through a sieve, post-pureeing. I didn’t. I liked the minute bits of guajillo skin, which give the thick, mostly smooth sauce more character.
This makes a lot of molé—plenty to cloak the turkey, with a few cups to spare. That extra will keep up to a week in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.
At potluck, we all were over the moon about this dish, which I served with corn tortillas. Sparks of clove and cinnamon, toasted nuts, fruit and heat, bitter depth of chocolate: The tastes revealed themselves from the front to the back of the tongue, slowly, leaving a mild, contained fire in the mouth. So satisfying to eat!
We were also psychically connected in our potluck preparations. We never assign dishes, or share ahead of time what we are going to bring. And yet, asparagus salsa, Mexican rice and lentils, and black bean-corn salad all turned up on the table–fabulous molé accompaniments.
MOLE SAUCE FOR TURKEY
12-15 dried guajillo chiles
3 bay leaves
2 sticks cinnamon
1/3 cup currants or raisins
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 cup almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 bulb (about 10 cloves) garlic, minced
1-28 ounce can plum tomatoes in sauce
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces
Place a kettle of water on to boil.
Break off the stems of the dried chiles and shake out the seeds. Break the chiles into pieces and place into a large bowl. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and currants (or raisins.) Pour boiling water over the ingredients to cover. Allow the chiles to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cloves. Add a teaspoon or two of the guajillo chile seeds. Toast the mixture, shaking it occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and place into a separate bowl. Add the almonds to the skillet and toast them in similar fashion, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place cooled almonds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse an process nuts, spices and seeds into a fine grind.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and continue the sauté.
Open the can of plum tomatoes and add the juice to the onion-garlic mixture. Season with salt.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them as well.
Discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks from the steeped guajillos. Pour the chiles, currants and liquid into the pot. Add the ground nuts, spices, and seeds. Stir in the 4 cups of stock.
Finally, stir in the unsweetened chocolate.
Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the mixture for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it is smooth and glossy. It will still have texture, and will be thick.
Makes 2 quarts molé
PREPARING THE PAVO (TURKEY)
1 turkey breast (6-8 pound)
juice from one lime
Rub the inside and exterior of the turkey breast with lime juice. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Brown the breast on both sides in a Dutch oven set on medium heat. This will take several minutes—6-8 minutes per side. Add a cup of water (or stock.) Cover and reduce the heat to low.
Braise the bird for about an hour. When done, remove the breast and let it sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and pull the breast meat, in lobes, from the carcass.
Place a base of mole, like a thick blanket, over the surface of a serving platter.
Slice the turkey breast and place the pieces on to the blanket of sauce.
Add more sauce over the top.
Garnish with sesame seeds and slices of fresh lime, if you like.
Serves 10-12 generously
There’s a huge pot simmering on my stovetop, (yet to be photographed!) filled with white wine, lemons, onions, celery, assorted peppercorns and bay leaf. I call it my spicy-winey lobster bath. Later this evening, my guests and I will be plunging our lobster tails into this heady bath, which will poach them into succulence.
I’ll also make drawn butter, spiked with lemon and cayenne, and place the bowls of that decadence within easy reach for dunking the rich meat. I think the term “gilding the lily” applies here. Oh, well–it is our farewell to 2013.
This is our communal lobster pot gathering, a tradition born a few years ago when we could no longer face going out New Year’s Eve, and, serendipitously, lobster tails happened to be on sale at the market.
Here’s the basic plan: Everyone brings his/her own luxuries–crustacean, and champagne, if that’s your pleasure . In the beginning of this new tradition, I would do a seated dinner. In addition to the spicy-winey bath, I’d make the accompanying courses, which I served at a leisurely pace. In more recent years, we’ve become less formal. We share the making of different dishes and set everything out buffet style. Graze as you will.
Tonight, Heather is bringing a big salad, and a plate of fruits and cheeses. Teresa is bringing some tasty hors d’oeuvres. She’s not sure what they’ll be yet, but our food styling friend always has some terrific ideas and ingredients on hand.
To insure the most good luck possible, I am making “Hoppin’ John” risotto with kale pesto.
But what I want to quickly share with you now is a dessert. I want to end this last day of 2013, which also is this humble blog’s 200th post AND 5th Year Anniversary, with something sweet. (I know! Time. Fleeting!)
It’s a flourless chocolate torte, adapted from this Cooking Light recipe, which caught my eye for its lightness. It has a lower caloric count, yet imparts a depth of rich chocolate taste–especially if you use high quality cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, like this bar from local artisan Olive and SInclair.
Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. I am serving it with my brandied cherries and a dollop of whipped cream. So, no, it isn’t Super Light, but it is gluten-free, and a sliver of this treat is all that you need to satisfy that one lingering need for a sweet bite, after a fine meal.
Here’s my wish to you for a very happy, healthy, creative, loving, peaceful, generous, and open-hearted new year. May it be filled with many delicious things, too.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE WITH BRANDIED CHERRIES
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, divided
6 tablespoons ground toasted almonds
4 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment. Coat the sides and bottom with butter and dust with 1 teaspoon (or so) cocoa.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light and lemon colored. Then, beat in the cocoa and ground almonds.
Place the coffee and chopped bittersweet chocolate into a small saucepan set on medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is just melted.
Beat this to the egg yolk-cocoa mixture.
Fold in the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for 15 minutes.
Serve the cake slightly warm, topped with brandied cherries and whipped cream.
I originally made these for my friend Wendy, who love the Manhattan cocktail. She’s got the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, now she’s got the luscious brandied cherry to place into the drink. I kept a container to make into other things, like the sauce for this cake.
2 pounds frozen, pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cup brandy
2 ribbons orange zest
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
Fill 2 glass jars with frozen cherries, dividing them evenly.
Place sugar, cinnamon stick, brandy, orange zest, water & salt in a pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let cool for 10 minutes and pour equal parts over the cherries. Let cool with the top off then cover and refrigerate.
Allow the cherries to cure for a couple of weeks–but know that they will last for several months.
BRANDIED CHERRY SAUCE
1 cup brandied cherries, drained from brandy mixture
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup brandied cherry juice
Place drained brandied cherries into a small bowl.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir the cornstarch and brandied cherry juice together until the cornstarch is dissolved. Continue to stir as the mixture comes to a simmer. It will thicken and become glazy. Remove from heat, and pour over the drained brandied cherries.
It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!
The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.
Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.
As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.
More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.
And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.
Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.
In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.
I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.
ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”
Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.
RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato
4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.
Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.
3 large eggplants
2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.
Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.
Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.
Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.
Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!
Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.
Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.
Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!
After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.
Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.
Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.
I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)
The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.
A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.
In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.
I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.
HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces
Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.
Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
Makes 8-10 servings
WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.
Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.
Makes 8 servings
The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.
In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:
“We need to pick figs. Now!”
Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.
Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.
My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!
I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.
I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.
As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.
Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.
ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper
Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.
Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.
ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
“This sauce, is it cherry?” Wendy asked.
“It has a dark cherry color,” Paulette said, dabbing a little on her tongue. “But I don’t know,” her voice trailed off.
” I bet it’s a mixture of berries,” said Marty, spooning the garnet glaze over the meat.
I smiled and shook my head.
“Plum, perhaps?” asked Rick.
No one at potluck was able to identify the fruit at the heart of this sauce.
But when I informed them that it was pomegranate, there was a collective nod and murmur, “Ahhhhh.”
Bottled pomegranate juice arrived on the food scene as the new darling almost a decade ago. Antioxidant-rich, packed with vitamins A, C, and E, the tart claret juice is now beyond a trend, and well-established in the culinary world.
Still, I had cooked with it on rare occasions. Had our roles been reversed, I doubt that I would have correctly identified the fruit either.
Wanting to cook a turkey breast for our potluck, I did a little on-line research to find some new method or preparation. Of all the recipes I pored over, this one leapt out.
Smoke-roasted turkey breast with pomegranate-thyme glaze was one of five holiday bird recipes, but it’s silly to wait until Thanksgiving for such a dish. For its versatility and taste, turkey should be welcome any time of year. It is especially good for potlucks and the like–even a plump breast of turkey can ably feed a crowd.
And, in summer, having your main cooking source placed outside makes good sense.
Garlic, shallots and fresh thyme ground with olive oil and a splash of POM make a delectable seasoning rub for the bird.
The recipe is appealing, too, for its laissez-faire nature. I could put the breast on my smoker grill (I have a Big Green Egg) and then go about my business. The smoker works its magic for hours out in the heat of the day, while I am inside,
Adding soaked wood chips to those smoldering coals imparts another sweet layer of flavor. If you don’t have a smoker, you can slow-roast the turkey in your oven. You won’t get that smoky taste or distinctive pink-tinged ring permeating the meat. But the herbs and tart fruitiness will still bring intriguing tastes that partner well with turkey, but are a step out of the usual.
The glaze takes up where the pesto rub leaves off. Pomegranate’s inherent tang is both bolstered and balanced with brown sugar and vinegar. You can make it while the turkey is cooking along.
It has its own laissez-faire way. At a simmer, it reduces over the course of half an hour. Or so.
You just need to give it an occasional stir.
Even so, it is not a thick glaze–to its benefit. The thin syrup glosses over the breast, staining the skin and meat with a beautiful red violet color. Both look and taste hint at fall.
I suspect the glaze would be just as delicious brushed onto chicken or duck. Pork too!
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot or 1/3 cup white onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup brown sugar (I used Demerara)
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch or two red pepper flakes
Warm olive oil in a deep skillet. Saute garlic and shallots for 1-2 minutes, until softened. Stir in thyme leaves, pomegranate juice, brown sugar and vinegar. Season with salt, black pepper, and a sprinkle or two red pepper flakes. Allow the mixture to cook on low for at about thirty minutes, until it reduces by half, to a thin syrup.
SMOKED TURKEY BREAST
1 6 lb turkey breast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
paprika–to sprinkle over turkey breast
2 cups wood chips, soaked (applewood, cherrywood, hickory, mesquite–your choice)
Rinse and dry turkey breast.
Place olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, pomegranate juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper into a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients become a kind of rough pesto.
Lift the skin of the turkey and liberally rub the thyme mixture onto the flesh.
Sprinkle the exterior of the bird with remaining salt, black pepper, and a light dusting of paprika.
Prepare grill, adding soaked wood chips to the coals. When the temperature gauge reaches 200 degrees, place the turkey breast on the grill. Cover and allow it to smoke for about 3 hours. At that point, brush on some glaze and let the breast finish for another 30 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the bird–it should register 165 degrees to be done.
Remove from the smoker grill. As the turkey cools, continue brushing with more glaze.
Cut into nice 1/4″ slices and arrange on a platter, drizzling glaze over the slices.
Serve with remaining glaze in a bowl on the side. Serves 10
We are blissfully in the thick, luscious thick of tomato season in Tennessee.
At the farmers’ market, I am agog at the array of bushel baskets, heaped with Bradleys and Brandywines, Lemon Boys and Purple Cherokees. I’m tempted by Mortgage Lifters, if for nothing but cunning name alone, and those crazy striped Green Zebras that don’t taste green at all.
Have you ever tried the red and yellow variegated ones, sometimes called Candystripers? How about those delicate peach tomatoes with the fuzzy skins?
It makes me not mind the thick heat around here—as long as I can include these gorgeous heirlooms in our summertime dining.
So many tomatoes, so many ways to enjoy them, and a few glorious weeks to indulge in the bounty. Salsas, soups, panzanellas, pastas, deep dish pies and napoleons…like you, I’m ever on the lookout for another tomato-centric recipe.
Lately I’ve been in a building mode, constructions! inspired by this stack I found on Cooking Light’s website.
Artful towers of tomatoes get vitality (and height!) from myriad ingredients sandwiched between their slices. These structures require almost no cooking: a few strips of bacon fried crisp in the skillet, a half cup of balsamic vinegar reduced in a pot to a syrup.
That minimal stovetop time is a real boon in summer. Eaten with a fork and knife, the tomato towers have a meatiness that satisfies greedy appetites, while being cool and refreshing. They can be elegant. They are fun.
I’ve taken two different approaches in assembling my towers. The first is a natural–a vertical caprese, brandishing the colors of the Italian flag in tomato-fresh mozzarella-basil. Layer in a sliver of red onion, to give a little bite. I like to use balsamic vinegar reduction–the syrup is deeply sweet-tart and makes beautiful striping over the stack and plate. Use your best olive oil; this is what is was made for!
Going forward, you can get creative; change it up. Maybe add a layer of cucumber or zucchini. Substitute the mozzarella with a slather of ricotta or mascapone. Tuck in a ripple of prosciutto. No basil on hand? Try oregano or thyme.
Tower Two takes a Southern stance, layering elements of my favorite sandwich, the BLT, (actually, the BLTCA: bacon-lettuce-tomato-cheddar-avocado!) under a pour of chive-laced buttermilk dressing. How can you go wrong with that? It could only be improved with some grilled corn, cut off the cob, and strewn over the stack.
Remember–don’t refrigerate tomatoes! Chilling them changes their structure and makes them mealy.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 ” slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ inch rounds
handful of fresh basil leaves
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup balsamic syrup
1/4 cup favorite extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper
Start with large flat tomato slices as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a basil leaf (or two) on top, then a little bit of red onion. Cover each with a piece of mozzarella. Dot with good olive oil and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Repeat the layering, topping with cherry or grape tomato halves and more basil. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Pour olive oil over each tower, along with a zig-zag of balsamic syrup. Serve.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″ slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp
1/2 avocado, sliced
4-6 slices sharp white cheddar (you may crumble or shred the cheese)
buttermilk dressing (recipe below)
salt and black pepper
Start with a large flat tomato slice as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a slice or two of avocado, followed by bacon strip and cheddar. Spoon a little buttermilk dressing over the top. Repeat layers, spooning a generous amount of buttermilk dressing. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Make as many towers as you would like, allowing one per person. Pass a few grinds of black pepper over the lot and serve.
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 heaping tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
Pour buttermilk into a non-reactive bowl. Stir in lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit and thicken for ten minutes. If it clabbers, don’t worry. It will become smooth again when stirred or whisked.
Add granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and chives. Stir well. Cover and refrigerate. The dressing will continue to thicken and its tangy flavors will develop. (If you want it thicker, (and richer) whisk in a dollop or two of mayo. Whoa.
Makes one cup.
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream
Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice
Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.
That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.
This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.
For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.
My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.
Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.
The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.
While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.
Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).
I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.
The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.
To round out the plate:
I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.
We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.
MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks
Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.
Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.
Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.
Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream
Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.
Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.
Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Makes 6 individual ramekins.
*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.
Who wants to lick the spoon?
Stories and recipes: what better way to learn about the culture of a people who live in a distant land?
In The Honey Thief Najaf Mazari spins a series of tales, taken from the centuries-long oral tradition of his tribe, the Hazara. A native of Afghanistan ( he escaped the Taliban in 2000, and lives in Australia) , he partnered with writer and friend Robert Hillman to give a permanent voice to the spoken lore of the war-torn nation’s third largest ethnic group.
Centered on characters, some ancient, some modern day: Among the cast, you’ll be introduced to a musician with extraordinary levitating talents, a wise and patient beekeeper, a revered Master Poisoner, and a boy with an uncanny gift for attracting riches. The stories are unusual and beguiling, have elements of magic and wonder. There are struggles, heartaches, and triumphs. There is laughter. There is hope.
The stories speak, too, of the Hazara love of their land, of its natural beauty.
“I could take you places in the north close to the Oxus river that would steal your breath away; places that you would not believe could exist as I lead you through an arid landscape of broken rock and red sand and stunted bushes. Then you would suddenly find yourself gazing down from a mountain pass on the river shining under a blue sky and a green carpet climbing up the slopes. And you would think, ‘Ah! This is Paradise!”
And, while I would encourage you to take delight in exploring this world through these tales, I think you’ll also be drawn in by Mazari’s discussion of the cooking of the Hazara. He devotes a couple of chapters to his people’s diet, their pantry of staples, and some favored dishes.
What I especially enjoyed about delving into these food chapters is that Mazari’s voice is so clear and present in the narrative. Ingredients and specialty dishes are described in a humorous and engaging manner. It’s like he is right there with you in the kitchen, talking you through the recipe.
Take, for example, his Lamb with Spinach, which I chose to make. It is a dish of celebrations, always served at weddings.
“With this dish,” he writes, “your jaws and teeth get a holiday. The lamb has to melt in your mouth and just the pressure of your palate will bring out all the flavour that the meat has absorbed from the spices and herbs. So, good lamb, no excuses, cut from the leg, one-and-a-half kilos.”
I’ve transcribed his recipe in a more traditional American way,
but it is faithful to his instructions. He calls for “pinches” of seasonings, for instance–for which I have given teaspoon measurements. In this regard, he says, “You judge.”
Lamb is prepared in a gentle saute, its delectable taste enhanced in a steady building of flavors and spice. You don’t want these to obscure the flavor of the lamb, or overwhelm it. Onions are critical in Afghan cooking and impart earthy sweetness. Garlic is important too, added with more restraint.
One-by-one, fragrant spices–turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg– are stirred into the stew. Stock, tomatoes, and their juices give the meat a medium in which to bathe and tenderize.
After a turn in the oven, the lamb is ready for its final touches–spinach, lemon zest, and a “proper” yogurt (NOT that foolish kind with strawberries and bananas, Mazari cajoles!)
What emerges is a rich lamb stew, complex in spicing, melt-away in texture. Because I like heat, I added some cayenne, (not too much, Mazari cautions) which elevates all of the taste layers.
How fine to dine in an Afghan tradition. Sabzi Gosht is indeed Feast-worthy!
SABZI GOSHT (LAMB WITH SPINACH) adapted from The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. lamb, cut from the leg into 1″ cubes
2 large yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 cup beef stock
5 large ripe tomatoes, or 1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes
1 bunch fresh baby spoon spinach
1 cup plain yogurt
zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Warm olive oil on medium heat in a heavy-duty pot–best if the pot can go from stovetop to oven. You’ll begin by sauteing in stages.
Add lamb and begin to brown the meat–don’t crowd the pieces.
Stir in the diced onion and continue sauteing for a few minutes. Stir in the garlic.
One by one, stir in the spices—turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom—and then stir in the black pepper and salt.
Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Pour in stock. Stir well.
Cover and place in the oven, preheated to 300 degrees.
Allow the lamb to cook for for 1 1/2-2 hours.
Remove from oven and stir in the spinach. The heat will collapse and cook the leaves.
Fold in plain yogurt and lemon zest.
Taste for salt and seasonings.
Let the stew “settle” for about 15 minutes–allow the flavors to marry.
Serve over basmati rice and garnish with toasted pine nuts.
Makes 6 servings.