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 »




July 29th, 2015

Summer on the Move

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Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.

That’s the summer in my mind.

I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.

But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.

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ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA

Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.

I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.

A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.

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1 tablespoon butter
6 eggs
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.

Serves 4-6

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SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD

One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.

We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.

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1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)

Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.

Serves 2-4

“Elote” Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese

Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.

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MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT

What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.

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This one is barely a recipe.

2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced

Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.

Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.

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Posted in Breakfast, Desserts, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 14 Comments »




August 31st, 2014

Warm Eggplant-Tomato Salad with Fried Tomato Skins

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to make?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Recipe to follow

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

Serves 6

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FRIED TOMATO SKINS
from Deborah Madison for Cooking Light

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

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

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

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




June 17th, 2014

Community Salad

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Anatomy of a Salad

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

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

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

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even my own hands.

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

All the connections surrounding this one plate.

All the connections we make at the table.

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

Today, June 17, 2014, is the day.

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

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook cover

I couldn’t have done it without my community.

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

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

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

Together we celebrate the bounty of the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve with Garlic Scape Aioli (recipe below)

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

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

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

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




August 18th, 2013

Roasted Fig-Goat Cheese-Butter Lettuce Cups

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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




July 21st, 2013

Tomato Towers

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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TUSCAN TOWERS
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
sea salt

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.

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DIXIE TOWERS
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.

BUTTERMILK DRESSING
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.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables | 23 Comments »




August 10th, 2012

Butterstick Crudo

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Cocozelle Zucchinis, Yellow Crooknecks, and now, Buttersticks.
Thanks to our diligent garden, it’s been a squash-filled summer.

Are you familiar with Butterstick Squash?

New to our garden this year, these hybrids have dark green tips and deep gold bodies, with some green streaking. Similar to zucchinis, they grow long and straight. Unlike zucchinis, ( which can hide under vast stalks and leaves until they are baseball bats!) their bright yellow color brashly announces their presence, and readiness for picking.

The flesh is firm, with a delicate, almost nutlike flavor. Seeds are minute. Easily sliced into thin coins, batons, or planks, buttersticks are cooperative. They perform well in all manner of recipes.

This is indeed helpful, because, if you are like me, the quest for different summer squash dishes is a constant from June through September.

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Such a tender squash can be eaten raw.

As I was considering a preparation, I recalled a certain post in the delectable blog, My Little Expat Kitchen created by Magda.

A Greek woman living in The Netherlands, she introduces her readers to specialty dishes from her homeland interspersed with other recipes using the fresh seasonal goods found in Holland. Her photography is stunning, and her engaging voice unmistakable in her fine writing. (She also has an abiding love of chocolate, with recipes to match.)

Magda had marinated raw zucchini slices, and layered them several planks high, each in a slather of ricotta-feta cheese mixture with lemon and dill. It was her Tower.

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That post was over two years ago—but its simplicity and beauty stood out for me. Whenever you can prepare an exceptional dish without firing up the stove—well, that’s a huge benefit in the heat of August.

With her inspiration, and select ingredients on hand, I decided to make my version, Butterstick Crudo.

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It didn’t take long to whip up.

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Chevre, churned with olive oil, lemon, green onion, fresh oregano, and just a hint of honey, serves as both slather and marinade for the butterstick slices. I recently bought some local honey that has a light yet distinct floral taste. A scant teaspoon imparts a desired essence of lavender, without being too sweet, or overpowering.

Be sure to season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.

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The mixture will be thin–that’s to be expected. After you lay out a row of thin squash planks, get a spoonful and guide a stripe of the chevre down the center of each one. Place another plank on top and repeat the process.

Mine are not towers–just three stories high.

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On to the finishing touches:
Scatter more fresh oregano leaves,
Marigold petals–if you have them—give a distinctive pop
A quick squeeze of lemon, and
A drizzle of good olive oil over the dish…

Done!

Place in the refrigerator for an hour, if you would like the chevre to set up. The chilled butterstick stacks slice neatly.

But, it is just as delicious at room temperature. Eat with a piece of crusty bread to swipe up all the creamy dressing.

And, use any leftover seasoned cheese blend stirred into scrambled eggs, or spread on a piece of toast. So good!

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BUTTERSTICK ZUCCHINI CRUDO

3-4 small to medium sized young Butterstick Squashes or Zucchinis
4 oz. Chevre
2 t. fresh Lemon Juice
1 t. Honey
2 t. Olive Oil
1 Scallion, cut into small pieces
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Oregano leaves
Sea Salt and Black Pepper–to taste

Marigold petals–to garnish

Wash, dry, and cut of the ends of the squashes. With a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into thin (1/4″ thick) slices.

In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, scallion pieces, and oregano leaves. Using a hand-held blender, process until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix a bit more. Mixture will be a little runny.

Lay out squash slices onto a serving platter. Spread each slice with seasoned chevre. Layer each with another slice, then more cheese mixture. Finish each with a final slice. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and marigold petals, if you like.

Refrigerate for about an hour to set.

Serves 4

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 26 Comments »




July 28th, 2012

Ricotta-Making, Spiced Peach Salad and a Review

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A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.

I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.

For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.

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Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.

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The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)

Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.

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However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?

I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.

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As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.

It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.

Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!

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I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)

I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.

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But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.

I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.

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HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt

3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)

equipment:
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander

In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.

There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.

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SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
The Syrup:
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt

3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water

Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
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SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Assemble Salad:
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.

Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.

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Posted in Articles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Recipes, Salads | 28 Comments »




June 11th, 2012

The Plum Post

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Good morning, Friends!

As I write this post, squirrels and birds are finishing off the last of the plums on our little backyard tree. A frenzy, you can believe it. I don’t mind. In my kitchen, there’s a huge pot filled with simmering fruit, a pantry stashed with fresh preserves, and a table covered with bowls of the plucked, all in varying shades of red violet, awaiting their destiny.

So many plums. Too many to count!

Conditions must have been beyond ideal this year. A mild, wet winter and a warm, almost summerlike spring–our tree blossomed 2 weeks early, dazzling in its fleecy whites. Over time, its limbs became vertical, dragging the ground, overladen with ripening fruit.

In years past, I’ve been forced to act quickly, snatching plums as soon as they showed that first rosy blush, in order to garner any before my backyard menagerie decimated the crop. This year, no problem: there’s been a gracious plenty for all.

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Now, what to do with them?

Friend Maggie likes to make plum jelly: long-simmer the fruit and skillfully strain it for all its juices to make a pretty, ruby-clear spread for toast.

I’m more of a jam-preserves kind of girl. I’ve been cooking down the plums in a bit of sugar, allowing their skins to dissolve into the mix. The plums are juicy and tart; I cook them with just enough sugar to bolster their flavor, while still honoring that tartness. As they soften and release their juices, I fish out the pits. (Sometimes I run the cooked plums through the food mill to accomplish that.)

I pour the preserves into sterile jars and process them in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I also keep some handy, in sterilized, but unprocessed jars, tucked in my fridge. (This freezes well, too–for those of you leery of canning.)

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This way, I have plums in a plain yet versatile form, ready to slather on crusty bread with goat cheese, ladle over ice cream, blend into a marinade for grilled chicken, or whisk into a vinaigrette. Add ginger, garlic, hoisin, and the plums take on an Asian flair. Lemon and cinnamon for an Italian plum-good cake.

In crisps or crumbles: whole ripe plums lend themselves nicely for this kind of dessert. I’ve concocted a gluten-free version that uses oatmeal and ground toasted almonds that I think you’ll enjoy. I look forward to learning your ideas, too.

Here’s a round-up of my plum goodies.

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BASIC PLUM PRESERVES/SAUCE

10-12 c. whole plums, washed
2 c. Sugar

large heavy-duty stockpot, canning tongs, clean jars, lids, seals

Place plums into your large pot on medium heat. Pour in the sugar. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes or so. Uncover. Spoon off the foam collected on the top. Stir and continue to simmer, uncovered for another 15 minutes or so.

When the skins seem to have melted into the liquid, and the flesh of the fruit gives way, you can begin straining the plum pits. Some you will see floating in the red sea–just spoon them out. For the rest, set a strainer over a large bowl, and begin pour the cooked plum and juices through. Press with the back of a wooden spoon to crush the fruit and release the pits. Or, run the plum-mix through a food mill set with the largest openings. You’ll get a lush puree. And the color, a knock-out!

Return the puree to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes.

Pour into sterile mason jars, seal and process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.

Makes 6 half pints.

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PLUM VINAIGRETTE/GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD

3 T. White Wine Vinegar
6 T. Plum Preserves
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 c. fruity Olive Oil

Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Whisk (or use a hand-held immersion blender) until combined. The plum preserve acts as an emulsifier. Slowly add the olive oil while blending. Makes a thick creamy vinaigrette.

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For the Grilled Chicken Salad:
2 boneless Chicken Breasts
1 bunch of mixed lettuces
1/4 lb. Sugar Snap Peas
2 Green Onions
2-3 Nasturtium flowers

Plum Vinaigrette

Slather a couple of tablespoons of the plum vinaigrette onto boneless chicken breasts and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Grill char the sugar snaps and green onions.
Grill the chicken breasts. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing onto salad.

Compose Salad: bed of lettuces, charred sugar snaps and green onions. Sprinkle with nasturtium leaves for color and peppery bite.
Place sliced grilled chicken on top and dress with plum vinaigrette.

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GLUTEN-FREE PLUM CRUMBLE

1/2 c. Oatmeal
1/2 c. Almonds, toasted and finely ground
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
4 T. melted Butter

2 c. sliced ripe Plums (about a dozen)

9″ pie dish

Toast almonds in the oven and cool. Place into the food processor fitted with a swivel blade and pulse until the nuts achieve a powdery form.

Mix ground almonds, oats, brown sugar and melted butter. Add a pinch of cinnamon, if you like.

Take half of the mixture and press it onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan.

Slice plums and arrange in overlapping concentric rings on top of the crust. Continue until the dish is well filled. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and dot with butter.

Take remaining almond-oatmeal crust and press over the top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

Delicious served warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream. Garnish with some plum sauce. Serves 6-8

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Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Sauces | 29 Comments »