August 26th, 2015

End of a Cycle, with end-of-summer recipes

36 Gramercy Park East

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.

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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.

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ZUCCHINI-LINGUINE TANGLE WITH SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
3 small zucchini (small size is more tender)
olive oil
1/2 pound linguine
salt and black pepper to taste
Sweet red bell pepper-tomato sauce (recipe below)
to garnish:
pecorino-romano
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.

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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.

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Ladle the red sauce into each bowl. Top with the pasta. Garnish with grated pecorino-romano and toasted pine nuts.

Serves 4

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.

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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.

Serves 8

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Posted in Fruit, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 23 Comments »




June 28th, 2015

Ray’s Green Beans and Romesco

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
olive oil
kosher salt
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
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half
kosher salt
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.

ASSEMBLE
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!

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »




July 29th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peas–Corn–Rice

A delectable summer combination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place tomato-vegetable broth into a saucepan and warm.

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

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

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

Serves 8

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




September 9th, 2013

Three Light Bites for a Tea

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White Cheddar Gougeres stuffed with Herbed Chicken Salad

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Open Face Cucumber-Boursin and Tomato-Bacon-Basil Aioli Finger Sandwiches

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Plum Spiced Shortbread Bars

A chunk of my adult life was spent as a caterer, and from time to time I can be coaxed to put that catering hat back on. My friend Gigi is a milliner and hatter; her amazing HATWRKS store here in Nashville offers not only an extensive selection of hats for men and women from the country’s best known hatters, but stunning custom hats that are Gigi’s own design and creation. She had an in-store event recently and asked me to prepare a few light bites and tea.

While working on it, I realized that it would be a good opportunity to share some catering tips: a few tricks of the trade that will ensure success with relative ease.

When planning to make appetizers for a party, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Size
I’ve talked about this here, but you want your guest to be able to eat the appetizer in one (or two) tidy bites, without fear of shattering crumbs allover the floor, or dripping sauce down her blouse.
2. Quantity
Hors d’oeuvres means “outside the main work.” They are designed to spark appetite, but not sate. Remember that they are the prelude to something else. As such, here’s a good rule of thumb: You’ll want to offer 2-3 different appetizers, and figure on 2-3 pieces per person of each.
3. Variety
I consider the group when designing a menu and strive to offer:
Mostly savory, with something sweet. Mostly vegetarian with something meaty. I like to use seasonal produce, and have appealing colors.
4. Intriguing Element
Often what separates a mediocre hors d’oeuvres from a terrific one can be found in one defining element of the recipe. I look for that one special aspect that truly elevates—has that “wow” factor. I like for it also to possess versatility. The economy of excellence, so to speak. For instance, if a cranberry-pear chutney is astonishing in one recipe, it likely can lend the same pizzazz to others.

The three light bites highlighted in this post satisfy my criteria. For your pleasure, I’ve posted the recipes for each one’s defining element to make your own.

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The recipe for gougeres, French-styled cheese puffs, is a great one to have in your catering repertoire. Originally made with Gruyere cheese and a pinch of nutmeg, they can take on other cheeses and herbs or spices with aplomb. (Check out these, made with chevre and chives.)

The white cheddar gougeres make delectable bites on their own. But you can fill them with anything you like–your favorite chicken salad recipe, or smoked salmon, or deviled ham, or roasted red pepper mousse…you get the idea. People always delight in eating them.

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WHITE CHEDDAR GOUGERES
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons ) butter, cut into pieces
2 pinches salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment.

Place the water, milk, butter, and salt into a medium saucepan set on medium high heat. Stir and bring to a simmer, melting the butter. Pour in the flour and stir rapidly, cooking the mixture into a mass. When the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, remove from heat. Let the mixture sit for a minute or two.

Using a wooden spoon, beat in the eggs, one at a time—beating each egg so that it is well incorporated into the flour before adding the next one. You want to work quickly so that the eggs will not cook or curdle in the mixture. This will give you a real upper arm workout–well worth it! The mass will become smooth, golden in color.

Fold in the shredded cheese.

Place gourgere mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe little (3/4-1 inch) mounds in rows on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Check on the pans at the halfway mark, and rotate them in the oven.
When the gougeres are browned and have a hollow crisp to them, remove the pans from the oven and let the gougeres cool on a wire rack.
Makes 5 dozen gougeres.

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Boursin. We’ve all seen the small packages of this soft, airy French cheese at the market. But, did you know that It is very easy to make your own? It might be more delicious. It certainly is fresher, and more cost effective.

Spread onto petite rounds of sunflower seed bread, this herbed butter-cream cheese blend is what makes the open-face cucumber sandwich exceptional. You’ll also enjoy the boursin paired with roast beef, or slathered onto tortillas lined with shredded vegetables, rolled and sliced into pretty mosaics, or simply garnished in a bowl, as a smear for bagels, flatbreads, or crackers. Salut!

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HOMEMADE BOURSIN
8 ounces cream cheese, softened, cut into pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened, cut into pieces
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium bowl, cream the softened cream cheese and butter together with wooden spoon. Stir in the lemon juice, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend well. Cover and refrigerate to allow the flavors to develop and meld. Let the boursin stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that it will be easily spreadable.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

For the Cucumber-Boursin Finger Sandwiches
1 loaf sliced sunflower or whole grain wheat bread
1 recipe boursin
2 medium-sized cucumbers, cut into 1/4 inch thick coins
black pepper
a few sprigs of fresh dill

Using a biscuit cutter, or rim of a juice glass, cut the bread slices into rounds.
Liberally spread the boursin over the rounds and arrange onto a platter.
Place cucumber coin onto each round. Sprinkle with a little coarse-ground black pepper.
Garnish each round with fresh dill.
Serve.
Makes over 4 dozen

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Finally, the spiced shortbread crust , with its nuance of cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, is crisp and buttery…and couldn’t be simpler to make. It makes a wonderful foundation and topping, sandwiching either your choice of preserves or fresh fruit. It cuts beautifully into bars, squares, or triangles! The recipe, adapted from The Cilantropist, was originally made with sliced fresh plums. But, it was the perfect vehicle for my plum preserves (I still have many jars from last year’s bounty.)

I think that you could make the recipe and highlight other stone fruits–peaches, apricots–or layer it with fig preserves or applesauce.

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PLUM SPICED SHORTBREAD BARS (adapted from The Cilantropist)
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
12-16 ounces plum preserves (you may use fresh plums–about 8, pitted and sliced, instead)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with butter or pan spray.

Place both sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, spices, and chilled butter pieces into a food processor fitted with the pastry blade. Pulse quickly, processing the butter into the flour mixture. Add the egg and pulse until it is incorporated. The mixture will be crumbly.

Place 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of the baking pan, evenly distributed. Press firmly.
Spread the plum preserves over the shortbread crust layer.
Cover the preserves with the remaining shortbread mixture.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes. The top will become browned and the preserves will be bubbly. It will also feel set.
Cool completely on a wire rack. You can cover and refrigerate the bars overnight before cutting them into squares, if you prefer.

Makes approximately 3 dozen small bars.

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Heading into the fall, with holidays soon to follow, you might like to check out Cooking Light’s creative light bites here for other recipes and inspiration. They suggest an appetizer swap party–a variation on the cookie-swap theme, which appeals more to me that all those sweets! It sounds like a fun way to share good ideas and savory bites. Wild mushroom-chevre cups, apricot-blue cheese-walnut in puff pastry….yum.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes | 25 Comments »




August 28th, 2013

Summer’s End Vegetable Pot Pie

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How has your summer been?

It’s hard for me to accept that September is almost here, and the moments of leisure, like dips in the pool, are vanishing.

As August wanes, I’m reminded that soon we will be transitioning. Daylight hours will visibly shorten; leaves will begin to turn; sweaters will be pulled out from the back of the closet; and heartier foods will be prepared in the kitchen.

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Already, the bounty of the garden is shifting, as heirloom tomatoes dwindle, and winter squashes–acorn, butternut–appear ready to harvest.

You might find, as I did, a handful of summer stragglers. An ear of corn or two, a big red bell pepper, a few squashes, a fistful of green beans.

Each, on its own, is not enough to make much of a meal.

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But combined, have the ability to make something great.

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Inspired by the summer stragglers, this vegetarian pot pie fits right into this time of transition. Pot pies–in their best form–embody comfort and offer one-dish ease. We often think of chicken or beef as being the central ingredient, but roasted vegetables can make a rich and satisfying filling on their own.

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Roasting, of course, brings out all the caramel sweetness of the veggies. The other key is making a rich veloute for the filling. For a vegetarian version, I started with a saute of onions and garlic, and made a simple roux. Lightly browning the flour-butter mixture helps to bring a deeper layer of flavor to the sauce. Vegetable stock (store-bought is fine) heightened with a splash of white wine makes a fine base, especially enhanced with the onion-garlic roux. I finish the sauce with some fresh thyme leaves.

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The other important element is the pot pie topping. Crust or biscuits–which do you prefer? I like both, but the biscuit topped pie ( made with chicken) that I saw in the September issue of Cooking Light really appealed this time.

In the time it takes for the veggies to roast, you can put together the biscuit dough. Here’s a couple of biscuit-making tips:

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Start with very cold butter, cut into small cubes, to blend into the flour-soda mixture. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives. You can also rub the butter into the flour by hand. It should resemble coarse meal.

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After you add the buttermilk, work quickly. The dough will start out being sticky, but soon will come together into a ball.

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You want a light touch, rolling out the dough, and cutting out the biscuit shapes. Overworked dough toughens–beware!

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The buttermilk biscuit recipe is very easy to put together, roll out and shape.

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The biscuits puff and brown beautifully, encasing the savory vegetable filling. As you scoop up a serving, you’ll notice how the veloute has baked into the bottoms of the biscuits. Mercy.

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SUMMER VEGETABLE POT PIE
2 yellow squashes, diced
2 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, large dice
1 jalapeno or cayenne pepper, small dice
1/2 pound green snap beans or pole beans, cut into 1/2 pieces
1-2 ears corn, cut off the cob
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chopped vegetables on a baking sheet and toss in olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and place in the oven to roast for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a 2 quart saucepan set on medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to saute for 2 more minutes.

Stir in the flour, coating the onions and garlic. Continue stirring, cooking the flour to make a light roux. Pour in the vegetable broth and wine, stirring all the while. The mixture will begin to thicken. When it looks like it has nice sheen, remove from heat.

Coat a 2 quart casserole round with butter or pan spray. Add the roasted vegetables, and then pour the sauce over them. Stir to coat all the vegetables.

Make the biscuits (recipe follows).
Arrange the biscuits over the top of the casserole. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika, if you like.
Place into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes–until the biscuit tops are browned and the filling is bubbly.

Serves 4

BISCUITS FOR POT PIE TOPPING from Cooking Light
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup buttermilk

Place a level cup of flour (4.5 ounces, by weight) into a medium bowl. Mix in the baking soda and salt.
Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal.
Stir in the buttermilk.
Form a doughball and gently knead 5-6 times. It is important to NOT overwork the dough.
Roll into a circle–about 9 inches round. Use a 2 inch biscuit cutter, ( or a flour-dusted glass of approximate size) and cut the biscuits.
Arrange them over the top of the pot pie.

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Posted in Casseroles, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 19 Comments »




June 27th, 2013

Pasta “Lecce”

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When Bill and I were in Rome last month, the weather–by Roman claims–was unseasonably cool and somewhat rainy. We decided, at a certain point, to rent a car and follow the sun. That trip took us first down to the Sorrento Peninsula, to a sleepy cliff town called Vico Equense. Brilliant sun, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance–it was a lovely place to be. After two days, the rains came, so we headed east over the Apennines and then south—way south—to the heel of the boot.

We ended up in Lecce, a beautiful city sometimes called “The Florence of the South.” Particular to the region is a sandstone that is easily carved when first quarried, yet hardens over time. Lecce is replete with its own form of Baroque architecture made from this stone. The structures, churches and building facades, exhibit a more refined sensibility in their exuberant ornateness.

Ten kilometers inland from the Adriatic, Lecce also has a wilder feel to it–and I mean this in the sense of less traveled, less touristy, less sophisticated. Maybe bohemian is the right word. The pace is very laid back. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming. Perhaps because of its proximity to Greece and North Africa, it benefits from a confluence of cultures.

We became quickly captivated by the place and the people. We stayed in the centro storico-historic city center, in a flat on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Within the piazza confines is an amphitheater, circa 200 A.D. On the perimeters are numerous coffee bars, gelateria, and eateries with outdoor dining, where you could just sit in the breezy sunshine and soak up the beauty.

Cars are not permitted in the center; we could walk the maze of cobbled streets and discover what the old city had to offer.

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In our meander, we found a restaurant that we loved: i merli
Contemporary in look, intimate in size, fresh and seasonal in menu offerings–it suited us. We snacked on delicious fritto misto di verdure–tempura-like fried vegetables, including the delicate zucchini blossoms—and petite mussels with pungent aioli. Bill enjoyed a risotto, creamy green with fresh asparagus, but we were both crazy for my pasta dish–a housemade tagliatelle tossed in good olive oil, sweet Sicilian cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and ricotta salata.

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All of the ingredients tasted so fresh, prepared with such care and immediacy, that it was a pleasure to eat. It was that touch of mint that elevated the dish from something predictably good to something unexpected and wonderful. I knew that I would try to recreate it after I returned home.

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Rounding up the right ingredients would not be a problem: John and Tally at Fresh Harvest Co-op have their terrific Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Zephyr squash, and fresh mint is everywhere! I located ricotta salata, the aged, salted, and pressed version of ricotta at Whole Foods.

But, making fresh egg pasta was another key piece.

I experimented with a couple of fresh pasta dough recipes–seeking that golden yellow I had been served on countless occasions.
In my research I found a winner by Lydia Bastianich, made—improbably–in the food processor.

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She calls it “Rich Man’s Golden Pasta.” Five egg yolks whipped with olive oil and water are poured into the processor already filled with flour and salt. I was skeptical–shouldn’t the dough be diligently hand-kneaded for at least 8 minutes?

But Ms. Bastianich knows her pastas.

The dough comes together in a blink.

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After you remove the doughball from the processor, just lightly dust it with flour, knead it 5 times, form a disc and seal it in plastic wrap. The dough should rest a minimum of thirty minutes at room temperature–and if it rests longer, so much the better.

I rolled the dough seven times—through settings 1-7 on my machine—before rolling it through the ribbon cut. The dough remained supple and elastic. It was easy to make, and easy to cook: scarcely two minutes in the boiling water.

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The flavor of the pasta alone was incredible, and the texture light. Yet, it stood up well in the toss of vegetables, mint and cheese.

The recipe makes a big batch of pasta–enough for 8. You can cut the dough into half, reserving the other piece for another pasta dish, if you like.

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“RICH MAN’S GOLDEN PASTA” from Lydia Bastianich, for Cooking Light
2 level cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place flour and salt into food processor fitted with the swivel blade and briefly pulse, mixing the two together.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the water and olive oil.

Turn on food processor, and slowly pour, in a steady stream, the egg yolk mixture into the flour. As the flour absorbs the egg yolks, it will begin to form a ball. Once the ball is formed, cease processing. Remove and gently knead ( 30 seconds, that’s all) forming the dough into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.

When you are ready to roll, remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into quarters. Dust with flour, and run each piece through the pasta machine, starting with notch 1–and go through notch 7 before using the fettuccine slicer. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of flour to dust the dough as you work with it. You don’t want it to get sticky!

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PASTA LECCE
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb. “Zephyr” summer squash (zucchini works well too) cut into julienned strips
3/4 pint “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shaved or cut into thin batons
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a large pot or saucepan on medium and add olive oil. Add julienned squash and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and mint. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta. The strands should only take a minute or two to cook.
Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Toss the pasta into the pot with the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the pasta water, tossing and folding, so that the squash strips become enlaced with the pasta ribbons. Sprinkle in the ricotta salata as you fold.

Mound into bowls. Garnish with extra cheese and mint. Makes 2 huge bowls, or 4 small bowls.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




May 22nd, 2012

(Surprisingly Wondrous) Zucchini Sauce, pasta, peppery watercress pesto

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I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.

Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.

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Rachel Roddy, a British ex-pat living in Rome for the last 7 years, and author of the splendid blog, Rachel Eats, deserves the kudos for this recipe, about which she posted in beguiling style here.

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It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.

While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.

With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.

I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.

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Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.

Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.

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Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.

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It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.

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An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.

I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.

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SURPRISINGLY WONDROUS ZUCCHINI SAUCE
½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water

immersion blender

1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)

In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquid—becoming “soupy.” Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.

In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)

Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughout—gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.

Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings

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Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.

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WATERCRESS PESTO
1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables | 35 Comments »




September 16th, 2009

Fried Green Tomato Stack with Shrimp

Sad but inevitable, about this time every year tomato fatigue sets in.

For weeks now, with markets and gardens glutted, I’ve cooked and eaten ripe, juicy tomatoes in countless delicious ways. So much so that when I look at the sea of red baskets at our farmers market or the one that happens to be sitting on my counter, brimming with those picked from my own garden, I feel……….worn out.

And maybe a wee bit guilty. I mean, in a few short weeks, the Tomato Time will be over.

For now, with plants still producing, (although less prolific, as daylight shrinks, temperatures cool) it’s time to switch to the Green.

There’s something special about fried green tomatoes that I did not come to appreciate until recent years. When fried, what appears to be firm and without flavor, softens and releases a tangy citrus essence. A surprise with bite! The salty crackle of cornmeal batter is a splendid complement.

Of course, they are tasty on their own, but if you don’t want to eat just fried food—–

Here’s a late summer salad that uses the fried green wonder as its centerpiece. It layers pungent heat from mature arugula and horseradish with the sweetness of green tomatoes and shrimp.

I had gotten peppery hot rocket leaves from Drury Farms to form the salad base. Horseradish cream sauce tops the stack of fried ‘maters, performing double duty as a foil for the lemon-poached shrimp. All the elements work together brightly to create a fresh, satisfying meal.

Without fatigue.

Sliced, these green tomatoes look very pretty.



A little flour lightens the cornmeal coating. A simple soak in buttermilk is all the slices need.

Fried Green Tomatoes
1 cup Cornmeal
¼ cup All Purpose Flour
Salt
Cayenne
Black Pepper

1 cup Buttermilk

Firm, green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 “ thick

Vegetable oil (like canola oil) for frying

Mix cornmeal well with flour and seasonings.
Dip tomato slices into buttermilk, then dredge in cornmeal mixture.
Heat skillet and add vegetable oil. Test for and fry tomato slices about 2-4 minutes per side—until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Horseradish Cream Sauce
1 cup Sour cream
½ cup Good Mayo (Hellmann’s or Duke’s)
2 heaping Tablespoons Horseradish
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon juice
½ teaspoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
½ teaspoon Salt
Pinch Cayenne

Whisk all the ingredients together until well blended. Taste for horseradish and add more if necessary. Keeps refrigerated for at least 2 weeks.

Poached Gulf Shrimp

½ lb. shrimp (this will serve 2-3, I used a 21-26ct.shrimp)

Poaching Liquid:
To 2 quarts of water add:
A few slices of Onion
1-2 sliced Garlic cloves
1 Bay Leaf
a few slices Lemon
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
½ teaspoon Celery Seed,
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
¼ teaspoon Red Pepper flakes

Bring poaching liquid to a rolling boil, plunge in shrimp. Cook for 3-4 minutes and remove from heat. Peel, devein, and chill shrimp.

The Assembly
On a salad plate, place bed of mixed greens or arugula.
Stack fried green tomato slices. Dollop with Horseradish Cream.
Place shrimp on top of the horseradish sauce.
Garnish with lemon slices, and serve.

Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables | 9 Comments »