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 »




December 16th, 2013

Funky Kitchen Karma and Yummy Eggplant “Lasagna”

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It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!

The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.

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Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.

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As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.

More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.

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And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.

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Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.

In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.

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I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.

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ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”

Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.

RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato

4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.

Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

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“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.

ROASTED EGGPLANT
3 large eggplants
kosher salt
olive oil

2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.

Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.

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ASSEMBLY

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.

Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 15-20

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 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 »




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 »




March 26th, 2013

Little Lasagna Rolls, spinach-ricotta-speck filling, red pepper-tomato sauce

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The old saying for March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” isn’t faring well this year. It’s lion all the way: blustery cold, temperatures skirting the freeze point at night. The threat of snow might only manifest as a swirl of icy flakes, hardly worth mentioning. Except that there are competing signs of spring–pear and plum trees blooming; branches of forsythia fleck sunny yellow, tulips and hyacinths in varying purpled hues; Against the stark grey, they all glow.

So, the recipe that I’m sharing with you today is one of those that straddles the seasons. Like most members in the family of baked pastas, it is substantial, hearty. The kind of dish you’d want on a chilly March night, when that lion wind roars through the cracks of your doors and windows.

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At the same time, it is lightened. The sauce combines sweet red bell peppers and tomatoes, roasted together and pureed to a gorgeous vermilion. The ricotta is whipped with baby spoon spinach into a creamy pale green smear. Impossibly thin ripples of speck, that marvelous cured ham from northern Italy, impart smoky woodsy notes. Ash, juniper, pepper, laurel.

And, they are dainty rolls.

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While I do like squares and rectangles of beefy lasagna, and lush vegetable towers: layer upon layer spread with bechamel, ricotta, braised artichokes
I found that these small roll-ups had an endearing and easy way about them–

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and made a delicious presence on the potluck table.

True to the way of lasagna, the most time is spent working with each component—prior to assembly.

Sauce pureed, filling whipped, pasta cooked al dente: you are ready to spread, cut and roll.

Lay out your lasagna noodles like fat ribbons on the counter;
spoon and slather the spinach ricotta from end to end. A little palette knife, used for icing cakes, is especially handy.

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The slices of speck, almost transparent, seem custom made for the pasta roll, and fit neatly over the ricotta.

Make a cut through the center of each layered ribbon, creating two pieces to curl into clever spirals. I think you’ll like this smaller style roll-up, rather than the giant ones made from the entire piece.

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For potluck, I also made a vegetarian version with shiitake mushrooms. They have a meaty texture and flavor that works well with the other ingredients. The recipe I’ve given below makes enough sauce and filling to make 2 casseroles: one with speck (or prosciutto, if you can’t find speck at your market) and one with shiitakes.

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As I finish writing this post, this early spring snow has picked up: swirls of white past my windows, and a pretty dusting over the yard.
Lion March! It shouldn’t last.

And April, with the promise of balmier days, will be here soon. Memories of winter and cold will fade as we anticipate tilling and planting the garden, and dream of asparagus and sweet peas and strawberries.

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LITTLE SPINACH-RICOTTA-SPECK (OR SHIITAKE) LASAGNA ROLLS WITH
SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE

Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce:
4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
1-28 oz can plum tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Place red bell pepper halves onto one side of a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath. Brush the tops with olive oil.

Pour remaining oil onto the other side of the baking sheet. Spoon the entire contents of the can of plum tomatoes and sauce over the oiled area.

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 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.

Spinach-Ricotta-Speck Filling: (for vegetarian version, use shiitake mushrooms instead of speck)
8 oz. fresh baby spoon spinach
2 lb. ricotta
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
2 eggs
1 ½ cups shredded or grated parmesan

4 oz. speck or prosciutto, very thinly sliced
-or-
4 oz shiitake mushroom, sliced and sauteed

1 box lasagna: 18 pieces, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled
½ cup shredded pecorino romano to sprinkle over the top

Coat 2 9″by 13″ (or size thereabouts) casserole dishes with a little olive oil.

In a food processor fitted with the swivel blade, pulse the spinach until it’s chopped. Scrape into a mixing bowl and return the work bowl to the processor. Refit with swivel blade.

Add ricotta, eggs, salt, black pepper, and garlic and processor until well blended.

Stir the ricotta mixture into the spinach. Fold in the parmesan.

Lay out the lasagna in rows on your work counter. Dollop a few tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and spread it along the length, covering the pasta. Place slices of speck (or prosciutto) over the ricotta.

Cut the lasagna ribbons in half. Roll up each piece. You will have 36 nice lasagna roulades.

Cover the bottom of the casserole dishes with a layer of sauce. Arrange lasagna rolls in the dish. Spoon sauce over the tops. Sprinkle with pecorino romano.

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes in a 325 degree preheated oven. Serves 12-15

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Posted in Casseroles, Pastas, Recipes | 19 Comments »




September 6th, 2012

Silken Tomato Soup

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Sungolds, Black Cherokees, Sweet Millions: these three varieties of cherry tomatoes showed up unannounced in my garden. Volunteers!

Make no mistake, I’ve been thrilled with their appearance, and their profusion of tangy-sweet yellow, orange, and dark red-green fruit.
(no doubt my most successful crop!)

When we haven’t been popping them into our mouths for snacks, I’ve been finding other ways to use them.

Easy–I’ve cut them in half and strewn them over salad greens.

Crafty–I’ve hollowed them out, and piped pesto cream cheese into little tomato cups. (Makes nice, kinda fancy hors d’oeuvres.)

A little different– I slow-cooked a few handfuls with a dab of honey into tomato jam. (tasty with cured meats on a sandwich)

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But now, faced with an overwhelming number of them
(don’t they look like candy?)
I’ve surrendered.

The best thing, I decided, would be to toss them into a big pot and turn them into soup.

I know–tomato soup. How mundane is that?

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But, wait. Let me tell you, this one surprised me. The taste is so pure, so bright and intensely tomato.
It reveals what a true summer tomato soup can be.

Cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt-n-pepper, a few sprigs of thyme:
There are so few ingredients that it is barely a recipe. More of a technique, really.

The first part is laissez-faire.

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Once you toss your little truckload into the soup pot, let it simmer, covered, for thirty minutes, or so. You can practically forget the pot while you tend to other things.

Meanwhile, all the little globes collapse and release their juices.

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The second part is where the magic happens: with the food mill.

I discovered that milling twice—once with the coarse grinding disc, once with the fine sieve—is the key to making silken full-bodied soup.

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The first pass really crushes the pulp, and removes some of the peel, and few of the seeds.

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It’s the second pass through the mill that extracts all the remaining juices, and that intense flavor. I’ve read that the most acidic part of the tomato (which gives its sweetness dimension) is in the gel that surrounds the seeds. In this second pass, you get that essence, and leave the seeds behind.

There’s no added water. There’s no cream, and yet it seems creamy.
It’s All Tomato.

Dress it up, like I have here, with a scoop of arborio rice and diced roasted veggies–a late summer meal in a bowl.
Or enjoy it for its acid-sweet goodness alone…
Or with a grilled cheese?

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SILKEN TOMATO SOUP
6 pints assorted Cherry Tomatoes, washed
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons fresh Thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Black Pepper

Food Mill

Place all the ingredients into a large heavy duty soup pot on medium heat.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Occasionally stir, mashing the tomatoes to release their juices.

Remove from heat.

Set food mill fitted with coarse grinder over a 4 qt. bowl. Run all of cooked tomatoes and juices through it. The mixture will contain a fair amount of seeds and peels. Discard peels and seeds that remain in the mill.

Rinse off the food mill and fit it with a fine grinder. Place it back over the soup pot and churn the tomato mixture through the it.
This time, the soup will be velvet smooth, with scant seeds.

Warm the soup, tasting and adjusting for salt. Makes 4-6 servings.

Serve simply by itself, or make it heartier with the following enhancements:

ENHANCEMENTS

Diced Roasted Summer Squashes

Sticky Rice–spoon in a mound of arborio, or another favorite short grain rice

Fruity Olive Oil–a zigzag pour over the top

Shredded White Cheddar

Pesto

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




January 18th, 2012

Ricotta Gnocchi, Dressed in Red

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Post-holiday drab winter funk settled in my kitchen…with an unsettling inertia. I’ve had as much resistance to picking up a knife and a whisk, as my market shopping bags. It’s been an odd feeling, uncharacteristic of my general passionate-about-food ways, but December left me shopped and cooked out. I’ve tried ignoring it, hoping that the malaise would lift. Now I’ve decided just to chop through it, and play my “use what you’ve got” game.

In my refrigerator, I found a container of ricotta, still in date. Part of a can of whole plum tomatoes in juice. Eggs. A stray scallion. A small wedge of parmegiano-reggiano.
A sealed bag of all purpose flour.

Could dinner lurk in some combination of these?

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Indeed it could. Ricotta Gnocchi.

And, those creamy pillow-like dumplings couldn’t be easier to make.

Unlike other versions that use potatoes (also delicious, but have an extra step–cooking the spuds) the dough can be whipped up in a manner of minutes. In their purest form, ricotta gnocchi are simply ricotta-egg-flour. That’s a plain canvas, rife with possibilities. How you want to season them–herbs, bitter greens, nutmeg, other pungent cheese—
or sauce them—smoky beurre blanc with bits of pancetta, chunky pesto, rosy red pepper puree–is up to you.

Or what you’ve got on hand.

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You’ve got plenty of time to make that decision! Mixing the soft dough takes moments. Then, you hand-roll pieces of the dough into long logs, dusting with more flour, and cutting into 1/2″ lengths. Or smaller, if you like.

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The shapes are imprecise, rustic; the rolling and handling of them feels like child’s play, a delightful aspect to combat any kitchen inertia.

Line them up on a pan lined with parchment and place the pillows into the freezer to get firm. (If you double this recipe, you can keep the unused gnocchi sealed and frozen for up to 6 weeks—ready to use at a given moment.)

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While the gnocchi are tucked into the freezer (or fridge) you can turn your attention to the sauce.

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Based on my modest assembly of on-hand ingredients, I chose to cloak mine in a brilliant winter red sauce–little more than plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic in olive oil, and pureed. I do like to plunge in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and thyme, snipped from yard, where they vigorously hang on through the cold weather months. They impart just enough piney aromatics to give the sauce a little herbaceous lift, plucked out before the immersion blender descends into the pot.

While the sauce simmers, bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Drop the gnocchi in. Very quickly, they’ll rise to the surface–indicating that they are almost done. Let them cook another minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and place the tender bites into a pool of red.

The color–a knockout that reminds you of summer—is vibrant and full-flavored dress for the gnocchi, enough to jar the drab winter funk out the door.

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RICOTTA GNOCCHI
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
1 Egg
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour (divided)
1/2 c. grated Parmegiano-Reggiano (Pecorino Romano would be terrific, too)
1 Green Onion, sliced thin (optional)
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
fresh ground Black Pepper

Place ricotta, egg, cheese, scallion, and Half of the flour into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix until a soft dough forms. Dust remaining flour on your work counter, and divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into 1/2″ thick log. Cut into pillow shaped pieces, placing each gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place the gnocchi in the freezer for about 15 minutes–long enough to set up and be firm.

Bring a pasta pot full of water to a boil. Season with salt. Drop in gnocchi. Cook over medium heat until they float to the surface. Cook for a about one minute more. Remove with a slotted spoon. Gently coat with sauce.

Serves 2 generous, or 4 first course plates

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Posted in Egg/Cheese Dishes, Pastas, Recipes, Sauces, Vegetarian Dishes | 35 Comments »




August 10th, 2011

Seared Sea Scallops, sweet corn, in tomato-pepper broth

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Today’s beauteous recipe was inspired by the work of a Nashville chef, Roderick Bailey. He owns The Silly Goose, a charming restaurant in East Nashville, one of my favorite dining haunts. Don’t be misled by its name. While the Goose attitude is upbeat, light-hearted, and occasionally silly, the Goose Food is anything but.

In an economy of space, The Silly Goose folks make some serious good food.

Recently, Roderick offered a dish, similar to the one above, as an evening special. We had taken a seat at the bar that looks into the kitchen, and asked for his recommendation. His description made my decision a simple one.

“The scallops just came in and look really really nice,” he said. “And, I’ve made a kind of pureed gazpacho using these fantastic heirloom tomatoes, and organic peppers. I’ll quickly pan-sear the scallops, and place them in the soup mounded with skillet fried corn–fresh silverqueen. And then, I’ll garnish them with young pea tendrils.”

Sold!

What a bowl of pleasure. A spoon-only meal! I could scoop through the crisp-seared scallops, the spoonful holding corn and heady broth along with each tender bite. Each element held its own kind of sweetness: from candy-acid delight of tomatoes, to the bursting kernels of corn to the briny, almost floral sweet notes of the scallops. The bright green tangle of pea tendrils collapsed and cooked into the broth.

I couldn’t wait to recreate it, and had the right opportunity the following week, when we had guests for dinner.

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Well-conceived, the recipe can be made in three simple steps.
Its success relies on fresh picked produce for imparting deep flavors.

Lucky-lucky, my garden had already provided tomatoes and peppers a plenty.

I spread them out on a baking sheet pan, coated them with olive oil, a little sea salt, and roasted them to bring out the natural sugars. Then I simmered and strained the caramelized mass, until it made this lush red broth.

The rest was easy. I love skillet-fried corn, a true Southern cooking technique; unlike creamed corn, or corn pudding, its taste is true, uncomplicated by dairy or eggs. I recommend this preparation to enjoy on its own. Good scallops don’t require much–a liberal dose of salt, pepper, and paprika—cooked on high in a butter-oil combo. No pea tendrils in my purview, but some fresh arugula readily accommodated–a peppery green contrast.

I served these sumptuous bowls with wedges of cornbread, baked in my cast iron skillet, riddled with jalapeno bite. Almost unthinking, one by one, we all broke small hunks into the soup. It added yet another dimension. The table fell quiet, each of us savoring the rare union of soulful sophistication.

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ROASTED TOMATO-PEPPER BROTH
4 lbs. Ripe Tomatoes, cored and cut in half (can use a combination of cherry tomatoes, if you like)
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut in half, deseeded
3 Assorted Banana Peppers, stems removed
2 Jalapenos, stems removed
1 large Onion, quartered
4 cloves Garlic
Olive Oil
salt and pepper

Place all the vegetables onto a roasting pan. Brush with olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, until skins are blackened and blistered.
Cool, and run all the veggies (and their juices, and oils) through a food mill–twice.
Heat in a saucepan and thin with water.
Taste for seasoning.

Makes 8 cups.

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SKILLET FRIED CORN
4 ears Fresh Corn on the Cob, husked and cleaned of corn silk
4 T. Butter
Sea Salt and Coarse Ground Black Pepper
Water about 1/4 cup

The trick to this is how you cut the kernels. Holding the ear of corn upright in a bowl with one hand, slice down through the kernels—only halfway through, exposing the kernel center and the most “corn milk.” Using the back of the knife, scrape down the cob to get out the remaining kernel pulp. Scrape back and forth to get the most out of each ear.

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet and add the scraped kernels. Stir well, coating the corn. Add water, as needed. (Some ears of corn are milkier than others!) Season with salt and pepper. Sometimes people add a pinch of sugar, but fresh corn is naturally sweet and won’t need it.

Stirring often, cook for about 10 minutes. The frying of the corn is more like a sauté; the natural sugars and starch from the corn will lightly thicken the mixture.

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SEARED SEA SCALLOPS
1 lb. (or so ) Diver’s Sea Scallops (figure 3-4 scallops per person)
Paprika
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
Olive Oil and Butter–combo for searing, 1-2T. each

Rinse scallops and pat dry. Liberally season both sides with paprika, salt and pepper.
Heat butter and olive oil together in a heavy skillet, just below smoking point.
Sear scallops, about 1 minute per side. Remove from heat.

ASSEMBLY
Ladle hot Tomato-Red Pepper Broth into bowls.
Spoon fried corn to the center of each bowl.
Place scallops on top of corn mound. They will sink a little into the broth—that’s good.
Garnish with fresh arugula, if desired.

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Posted in Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews | 27 Comments »




October 25th, 2010

Ketchup, for Real

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Ketchup!

That All-American condiment with Indo-Chinese roots is indeed much loved in our household, finding its way onto all the usual suspects: burgers, fries, and the like. And a few other less-than-usual items: Bill is a ketchup fiend, and his plates of scrambled eggs, stir-fried rice, or cottage cheese would not be enjoyed without a healthy slap of bright red. (Does anyone remember when the USDA labeled ketchup a vegetable?)

I have been wanting to make ketchup for some time. I’ve been told that it is easy-peasy to concoct a rich and zesty mix, and also as simple as canning tomatoes to put up. However, July and August came and went. I never got around to it, and thought that I had missed my window of Tomato Opportunity.

But, because we’ve experienced an extended Indian Summer in Tennessee, there’s been an astonishing burst of tomatoes at our markets of late –Bradleys, Beefsteaks, and Romas. The last vestige of glorious summer, these tomatoes! Though smaller in size, they are still intense with flavor.

Three weeks into October, who knew?

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An unlikely basket of romas (labeled San Marzano Style) at Smiley’s stand in our farmer’s market caught my eye last week. Ideal! Since our plan for the October Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck included grilling little grass-fed beef burgers, I decided that this was the right time to try my hand at ketchup-making.

I bought about 2 lbs. for my experiment.

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Into the pot, I also tossed in handfuls of cherry tomatoes, still diligent, productive in my guerilla garden, along with some garlic, onion, and sweet red peppers.

Recipe research turned up many variations, but I chose to use cider vinegar, brown sugar, and whole spices in the batch. A piece of cinnamon stick, a few beads of allspice, and bits of clove would impart more vibrant piquancy than dried-and powdered. And so, in they went, and in quick-time, my kitchen was filled with their heady aromatics.

(About halfway through the cooking process, I did fish out the spices. They had done their job well. For large batches, you could secure them in a bundle of cheesecloth for easy removal.)

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This is not the sort of cooking that you have to hover over and fret into perfection. It’s already perfect! Everything just needs its time to reduce and thicken. Keep the heat on low. Give it a stir and go about your business. Didn’t you need to water the plants and sweep the leaves off the front porch?

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Red-Red. You can see how nicely this reduced and thickened. Let the mixture cool a little bit before running it through the food mill.

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To extract all the flavor, be sure to take the throw-off of tomato skins and such, and run it through the mill again. It will result in a luscious bowl of rich red ketchup, like this one.

Not quite as thick as Heinz, but plenty thick.

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It’s the Taste that’s going to amaze you.

I felt certain that this would be Very Good, but, I must admit, the ketchup experiment far exceeded my expectations. Perhaps because I’ve spent too many years using a product made with high fructose corn syrup, but Ketchup, for Real is a Revelation. Tomatoey Sweet–but not too sweet–and layered with pungent spice; its complex flavors greater than the sum of its parts.

Almost worthy of that USDA vegetable label.

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KETCHUP FOR REAL

2 lbs. Roma style Tomatoes
1 Pimento or Red Bell Pepper
1 ripe Jalapeno Pepper
4 cloves Garlic
1 medium Onion
1/2 c. Brown Sugar
1/2 c. Cider Vinegar
1 stick Cinnamon
2 t. whole Allspice
6 whole Cloves
2 t. Salt
a few grinds of Black Pepper

helpful equipment: Food Mill

Place all the ingredients into a 5 or 6 qt. stock pot on medium heat, and add I c. water. Stir and cover. Let this simmer, covered, for at least an hour.
Uncover, stir, and simmer uncovered for another half hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove whole spices and continue cooking for about an hour.Mixture will become very thick. Allow to cool and run through the food mill. Run the “dregs” through a second time to extract more sauce. Put into clean, sterile jars.

If you increase this recipe to make a large quantity for canning, process in a hot water bath, as you would for canning tomatoes. (see my “Yes We Can Can” blogpost )

Makes Almost 2 Pints

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Posted in Recipes, Sauces | 24 Comments »