Monday, June 30, 2008

Cherry Tomatoes Two Ways

Cherry Tomato Bruschetta
Perfect summer tomatoes can make for nearly effortless dishes to savor. With a box of golden-orange cherry tomatoes from WCOF, I attempted two different, simple preparations. First, the tomatoes with only four additional ingredients formed a topping for bruschetta. I halved some tomatoes and tossed them with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper and placed them under the broiler for a few minutes. The timing will depend on the distance of the oven rack from the broiler, but I think I left my sheet pan in the oven for three minutes at a distance of about eight inches if I had to guess. Then, I added freshly grated parmagiana reggiano and returned the pan to the broiler for another five minutes.

The softened and parmagiana-flavored tomato jewels were scooped onto thick slices of ten grain bread that had been grilled outside and then rubbed with garlic. Then happy munching commenced.

Cherry Tomato, Fresh Corn, Avocado, and Blue Cheese SaladThe second dish was a summer salad of halved cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, avocado, and diced blue cheese created as follows:

2 ears fresh sweet corn
1 T butter
3 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal, white and green parts divided
1 avocado, diced
1-1/2 c cherry tomatoes, halved
1 oz blue cheese such as Danish blue, chopped or crumbled
1 lime, juiced
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Endive spears for serving

-cut kernels from corn and sauté them in melted butter for about four minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper; remove from heat and let cool to room temperature
-in a medium bowl, whisk together white parts of green onions, lime juice, and olive oil and season to taste
-add cherry tomato halves, avocado, and cooled corn to bowl and toss gently
-spoon mixture into endive spears for serving and garnish with sliced green onion tops and blue cheese

The blue cheese flavor melded nicely with the sweetness of the corn and avocado, and the endive spears offered a crunchy, textural contrast. I did have the urge to keep adding things to this salad like jalapeno or some chopped herbs, but I resisted because the simpler the better with summer produce. The salad was served with grilled chicken and a Spanish Monastrell.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Fleur de Sel Caramels

I am a caramel person. Some people love chocolate, and that’s ok, but it doesn’t really do it for me unless it’s got some caramel inside. I came upon a post about caramels a couple of weeks ago, and thank you Fanny for the inspiration. Then, I started reading Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich and found her Fleur de Sel Caramels.

Well, that did it. I had to make some caramels. I followed Medrich’s recipe with one substitution. I already had corn syrup on hand, so I didn’t go in search of golden syrup. I’ll seek it out next time. I could attempt to describe how happy I was to get to eat these candies, but I would fail to express my complete pleasure. The sea salt does an amazing thing in concert with the caramel. Everyone should make these and give some to me because I could eat these forever.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bucatini with Five Pepper Sauce

I once read somewhere that if you find one recipe in a cookbook that you end up making time and again then the price of the book was justified. If that’s true, then On Top of Spaghetti was a bargain.

Every pasta dish I’ve tried in this book is fantastic, and I will definitely make them many times. A couple of favorites have been Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus “Pesto” and Spaghetti with Fresh Spinach and Gorgonzola. Most recently, I tried the Bucatini with Five Pepper Sauce topped with pecorino romano and was very happy to have done so. Each dish is a simple combination of excellent ingredients that delivers amazing flavor. Classic Italian restraint is evident throughout the book. The sauces require just a few items, some of the pasta boiling water, and some perfect cheese for topping. Both the Roasted Asparagus “Pesto” and the Five Pepper Sauce require a good amount of extra virgin olive oil which produces silky and nicely balanced sauces. These dishes have been excellent piping hot off the stove and just as divine as leftovers.

The Five Pepper Sauce can be nudged in a spicier or milder direction depending on how you chop your chiles (with seeds and membranes or without). I made it a bit spicy which we loved, but for company I would go a little milder. One interesting thing I learned from this dish is that Bucatini is a difficult pasta shape to twirl on your fork. Slurping is required as are napkins. Kurt requested that next time we make this dish with linguine or spaghetti. I thought that if the sauce were left a bit chunkier a big rigatoni shape would be nice. Maybe we’ll eventually try all three.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cherry Streusel Coffee Cake

The occasion of a friend’s birthday brunch and my interest in making use of my new cherry pitter collided this past weekend. Said collision resulted in a cherry streusel coffee cake and a fine tasting one at that. The coffee cake recipe is from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

As I often do, I modified the ingredients just slightly. Because cherries are in season and I have an awesome cherry pitter, I used fresh instead of frozen. Also, instead of using two cups of all purpose flour, I used one and a half plus a half cup of whole grain pastry flour. Sometimes I can’t help giving a baked item a tiny nudge in the nutritional profile. The result was fantastic.

I was a little worried that when I tried to remove the cake from the tube pan all the streusel topping would fall off, but it came out so easily it didn’t need to be inverted. I used a pan with a removable bottom, and I was able to pick it off the base with no problems. The cherries in the middle of the cake were both pretty and delectable, and the cake was enjoyed by all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tomato and Bean Soup

There’s a heat wave, we’ve now had 12 days of 100 degree or higher temperatures, and more heat is expected. So, I made soup. At least it was a summery soup. I had to try to re-create the tomato butter bean soup I tasted at The Greenhouse.

First, some butter bean information. I knew butter beans were a southern staple, but I didn’t realize they are the
same thing as lima beans. For this soup, I wanted to cook dried beans rather than use canned. I really wanted to get the best flavor possible from the beans. Sadly, I couldn’t find the right kind of dried beans. So, I got creative. When I saw giant limas, I couldn’t resist. I love the flavor of gigante beans and load up on a salad with them whenever Whole Foods includes it in their salad bar. I knew the mild, giant lima would be a good match with the fresh tomatoes. The tomatoes were included in my CSA share, and they were a gorgeous, cherry variety. They had amazing flavor, and were excellent in the soup. Great job, WCOF!
Cooking dried beans is pretty straightforward, but I followed the tips from The Zuni Café Cookbook. Judy Rodgers recommends soaking some beans but not others. Since this was my first time cooking giant limas, and they are quite big, I thought it best to soak them overnight. The next day, they were gently simmered, not boiled, and any impurities forming at the top of the pot were skimmed away repeatedly. They simmered for about two and a half hours total. Then, I added salt and let them simmer a bit longer to absorb the flavor. Rodgers also suggests storing the cooked beans in some of the cooking liquid which contains the salt. Thrilled with my supply of perfectly cooked giant limas, I immediately used some of them for a bean spread. A cup of them went into the food processor with some garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. This was fantastic smeared on toasted sourdough that had been rubbed with garlic.
Back to the soup: It was a very simple soup started with a finely diced yellow onion, two and a half finely diced celery stalks, and a cup of sliced carrots. All of this was sautéed in olive oil and was seasoned with salt and pepper. Eight cups of chicken broth were added, and then I spooned in three cups or so of the cooked giant limas. I added a parmigiana reggiano rind for the last 10 minutes of cooking, and the two cups of cherry tomatoes were added five minutes before serving. Once ladled into the bowl, I topped it with freshly grated parigiana, homegrown basil, and a few drops of olive oil. Soup isn’t just for winter anymore.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stuffed Squash Blossoms and Fritto Misto di Verdura

One of my exciting finds at the farmers’ market was squash blossoms. I did my best to copy the delicious version I enjoyed at Sassi.

I drained the ricotta in a sieve while chopping the other ingredients. To 15 oz. of ricotta, I added one minced garlic clove, 1 T rinsed and drained capers, 1 finely diced cubanelle, 2 T shredded parmigiana reggiano, and salt and pepper. This mixture was ever so carefully stuffed into 15 or so squash blossoms. The blossoms held together much better than I expected. Pulling the petals back and spooning in the filling, then squeezing it evenly to distribute while placing the petals back where they belong, all went well. Once filled, they were dipped into batter and fried for about three minutes. I used the following recipe for a tempura batter:

1 large egg yolk
1 c ice water
1 c ap flour
2 T cornstarch

-in a medium bowl set into an ice water bath, whisk yolk with ice water; add flour and cornstarch and whisk to combine; a few remaining lumps in the batter are fine

Since I was set up to fry, and there was plenty of batter, I reached for some asparagus and orange bell pepper strips as well. They were dipped into the batter, the excess was allowed to drip away, then dunked in the hot oil for two to three minutes, rescued to paper towels to drain, and sprinkled with course sea salt.

As we munched on the fried goodness, Kurt said “mmffghoodvegtblz mmmhhhgg.” He was chewing at the time, but I believe what he was trying to convey was that this is a superb way to eat vegetables. The squash blossoms were almost as delicous as those at Sassi, and the only change I might make next time would be to leave out the parmigiana. I think a simpler flavor combination would be nice. The amount of garlic and capers was just right. Barely perceptible garlic, and just a caper or two per blossom. The asparagus and pepper strips were fantastic, but what's not to like?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cucumber Salad

Once again, I collected some excellent produce from my CSA share and the farmers’ market yesterday. I have a lot to work with for the next few days and several ideas for experiments. Last night, I invented a cucumber salad as follows:

1 organic cucumber quartered lengthwise and then sliced into 1/4” pieces
1 large, salmonella-free, organic tomato chopped
1/4 organic red onion, thinly sliced
1 organic cubanelle pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
1 t dijon mustard
1 T sherry vinegar
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T homegrown, organic basil chiffonade
Brazos Valley Marinated Feta to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

-in a large mixing bowl, whisk together mustard and vinegar, slowly drizzle in oil and whisk until emulsified
-add cucumber, pepper, and tomato to bowl and toss to coat
-plate salad as desired
-top with feta, basil, and season to taste

Something was a little off when we tasted the salad. I really need to taste ingredients before throwing them into a dish! The cucumber had an odd, bitter taste but only on the skin. As we ate the salad, we cut the cucumber skin away on each piece, and then it was fantastic. This morning, I did some searching and found info on bitter cucumbers.
The pepper, tomato, and onion were fresh and perfect, and once the skin was removed the cucumber was also great.

The feta is locally made and is not sold in retail outlets as far as I know. As I strolled through the market yesterday evening, I was stopped and offered samples of plain feta, pepper jack, and the marinated feta. It’s all really delicious. The marinated feta worked very well in the salad.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cherry Sundae

After reading the June issue of Bon Appetit, I was inspired to create something with fresh cherries. The cherry-cornmeal upside down cake recipe suggested cooking the cherries with some balsamic vinegar, and I stole that idea for a simple ice cream topping. I used about a cup and a half of fresh cherries which I pitted. I purchased the new Oxo cherry pitter with the splatter shield, and it worked like a dream. The pitted cherries went into a saucepan with a splash of water, about a tablespoon of honey, and two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. This all simmered away for about 15 minutes or so, and then I let it cool to room temperature before pouring over vanilla ice cream.

Monday, June 9, 2008

lisa is eating

Last week we enjoyed a visit to Scottsdale, so very little of my cooking took place. However, I did go armed with a list of restaurants to try:

After a very scenic drive along Pinnacle Peak Pwy, you arrive at the lovely villa setting of this Southern Italian style restaurant. The chef is known for his cured meats, and Kurt sampled some for his first course. The prosciutto was excellent claimed Kurt. My choice was the delicately fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, a hint of garlic, and a caper or two. Fantastic. The breading was very light and tempura-like. I must try making my own some day. We then shared a caprese salad composed of locally-grown heirloom tomatoes and a generous supply of fresh mozzarella. My main course was spaghetti primavera which was incredibly fresh tasting with favas, sugar snap peas, spring onions, and shallots. Kurt opted for the gnocchi with a wild mushroom ragu. Desserts were cassata di limoncello for me and for Kurt, crespelle con gelato which included a berry compote, chocolate sauce, and Italian meringue. It was all so delicious; we completely forgot to pull out the camera!

Pizzeria Bianco

Up next on the food tour was the amazing Pizzeria Bianco which is tucked into a tiny historic commercial building with the bar residing in an historic house next door. It’s a little difficult to locate because the street is closed to traffic, but it’s near the museums, and therefore parking is easy. The bar opens at four in the afternoon, and people arrive then to have a drink and await the restaurant’s five o’clock opening. The restaurant seats exactly 42 people including seats at the bar, and they don’t take reservations. We were there at a little after four on a Wednesday, and when the front doors opened, everyone smooshed into a crowed ball of a line hoping to get a table. When it was our turn with the hostess, four seats at the bar were all that remained. We took two of those and had a good view of the wood oven where owner Chris Bianco was hard at work. The menu is simple and straightforward with a couple of appetizers and salads and a handful of pizza options. We started with the antipasto platter of grilled zucchini, sliced roasted beets, grilled porcini, roasted red peppers, roasted potatoes, olives, salami, and pecorino. This was served with the best country bread ever. The bread had a perfect crunchy crust and was chewy inside. Kurt ordered the Sonny Boy pizza which comes with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, gaeta olives, and he had fennel sausage added. I went with the Sonny Boy with the salami removed and replaced with crimini mushrooms. Excellent pizza, excellent crust, perfect toppings! Our espresso and cappuccino for dessert were very well made as well.

The Greenhouse
Our last dinner of the week was at The Greenhouse which serves locally grown organic vegetables in as many dishes as possible. Here I enjoyed a tomato and butterbean soup which I will attempt to re-create at home. Kurt partook of the smoked salmon crostini with red onion, arugula, and a horseradish cream. Horseradish cream was great with the salmon. Maybe my version will involve a roasted potato slice with horseradish cream then topped with smoked salmon. Back to the meal: My lobster risotto with porcini and white truffle essence was very good, although if I were a complainer, I’d mention that it was slightly under seasoned. Kurt’s swordfish over squash puree with green bean salad was delicious. Dessert was a hot chocolate cake with crème fraiche whipped cream and caramel.

Stax Burger Bistro
On our way to the airport with a few hours to kill, we lunched at Stax Burger Bistro. They offer a menu of mini burgers and baskets of sides to share. My plate hosted a salmon burger and a veggie burger and Kurt’s a salmon burger and a lamb burger. We shared a basket of tots. Great concept, tasty food. The salmon burgers were a little dry, but the ingredients were fresh and lovely. I also loved the iced green tea.

And, after the burgers, dessert was
cupcakes! At last, I got to sample this much-ballyhooed miniature cake. Delicious. Delicate cake, soft, scrumptious frosting. Strawberry for me and coconut for Kurt were happily devoured. I wish I could have 20 more right now.

Blogging tips