Tuesday, July 31, 2012

roasted corn with cheese and lime.

This past weekend I was feeling exceptionally lazy which is very rare for me.  I usually spend my weekends working on cooking projects, reading my ever-growing stacks of fashion and food magazines, visiting food and farmers markets to load up on that weeks produce, and spending some (quality?) time at the gym.  I sometimes feel like the energizer bunny on the weekends – I only have two days to get everything done and I tend to go non-stop in an effort to accomplish everything.  At some point, I find myself exhausted, which is what happened this weekend.  I ended up spending the next 48 hours on the couch with the remote in one hand (watching the Olympics) and cookies in the other (I have become addicted to the Olympics it is bordering on an obsession). 

When Sunday night rolled around, I still had not even given a single thought to dinner (I keep thinking that maybe I was ill since I am always thinking about dinner!).  When 6:30 came and went, I knew it was time to do something.  I tore through the freezer in search of the empanadas I had stashed in there and decided the perfect companion for them would be a corn dish since I had several ears languishing in the fridge.  I roasted the ears of corn in the oven in their husks to give them a charred taste and then cut the corn off their cobs.  I then sautéed the corn and when it was cooked through mixed in some diced jalapeno, smoked paprika, chives, lime, and some Spanish cheese.  The result was delicious – it was a neater version of the Mexican corn on the cob I adore.  The flavors worked perfectly together and they all played off one another – the lime gave the perfect amount of acidity, the cheese made it creamy, and the jalapeno gave the dish a wonderful crunchy bite of heat.  The best part was dinner was done at eight so I had plenty more time for watching the Olympics.

Roasted Corn with Cheese and Lime
Recipe from Bon Appétit

Serves 6

6 ears of corn (they suggest yellow but I used bi-color), unhusked
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
½ - ¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or hot smoked Spanish paprika
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
1 lime cut into 4 wedges (zest the lime before cutting!)
1 cup finely grated Manchego or Mahon or aged cheddar
¼ cup thinly sliced chives

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Roast unhusked corn on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until heated through and crisp- tender, about 15 minutes.  Let cool.  Husk corn and cut kernels from cobs.  Discard cobs.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Add corn kernels and sauté until heated through and light golden in spots, 3-5 minutes.  Add butter; stir until melted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Transfer corn to a large wide bowl or deep platter; sprinkle jalapeno and red pepper flakes (or smoked paprika) over. Squeeze lime wedges over the dish; sprinkle with cheese, chives, and lime zest. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

roasted eggplant dip.

Last week I needed dried cherries for a recipe I was working on and decided since the weather was nice that I would walk down to Sahadis on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn Heights to pick some up.  Sahadis is a Middle Eastern market that sells pretty much everything.  I don’t allow myself to go very often because every time I do I end up with about 10 items more then I intended to buy (I have no restraint).  This trip was no exception - I found myself leaving with hummus, peppers, Spanish cheese, raw pecans, dark chocolate covered pretzel balls, and of course the dried cherries.  I stopped in Damascus Bakery afterwards for some fluffy pita bread to go with my hummus (and 6 pitas only cost 1 DOLLAR I couldn’t believe it, that was a dollar well spent) and then headed back to work. 

Dinner that night ended up being a wonderful hodgepodge of Middle Eastern foods and the best part of the meal was an eggplant dip I made.  Eggplant dip is one of my favorite things because it tastes richer than it really is – you feel like its an indulgent unhealthy dip but really your eating a vegetable! I made mine by roasting a halved eggplant (and some garlic) that I covered with rosemary, cumin, and red pepper flakes until the eggplant was soft as can be.  I combined it with some olive oil and other spices to make the perfect dip for slathering on warm pits with hummus.

Roasted Eggplant Dip
Recipe adapted from Gourmet

1 small to medium sized eggplant, halved long ways
2 cloves of unpeeled garlic (or more if you love roasted garlic)
¼ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne/red pepper flakes or other spicy pepper flake
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat over to 375 degrees.  Place halved eggplant in a baking dish cut side up. Make shallow half inch incisions all over cut side of the eggplant with the tip of a paring knife.  Add unpeeled garlic to the baking dish.  Sprinkle eggplant with the rosemary, oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. 

Bake until garlic and eggplant are very tender (both took about 30 minutes for me but it may be longer.)  If the garlic appears to be cooking faster remove it from the pan and continue cooking the eggplant until fork tender. 

Transfer eggplant to a cutting board and let stand until cool enough to handle.  Scrape out flesh with a spoon and place in a bowl with the garlic cloves.  Add parsley and remaining olive oil, then stir until combines.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with warmed pita or baguette slices. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

fish tacos with peppadew tartar sauce.

Last night, as I walked home from the gym I could feel in the air that the skies were about to open.  The sky quickly changed from a shimmery pale grey to a deep grey that almost appeared black, it was as if a blanket was placed over the earth.  Wind whipped through the trees so fiercely, that it looked as if they were dancing.  All around me people were rushing home, we all knew it was about to pour and just as I reached the door of my apartment the rain came down. 

I love summer rains.  They remind me of tropical island vacations and lying on the beach and then running for cover at the nearest taco shack where you sit under a thatched roof eating fish tacos until the storm passes and the sun shines again.  It seems only fitting that last night was fish taco night in our apartment (the summer of the taco continues!). 

I have made many tacos in my life, but I had never made a fish taco before (a first for everything!).  I also realized that I am rather silly to have waited so long to make them because the homemade version is unbelievably good and it comes together rather quickly (a plus when you get home late!).  I made a rather delicious tarter sauce that was sweet from the peppadew peppers and spicy from the cayenne I added to it.  It paired perfectly with the crispy fried fish.  The only other accompaniment needed was a few slices of creamy avocado, a little bit of cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. 

Fish Tacos with Peppadew Tartar Sauce
Recipe adopted from Tasting Table
Serves 2

Tartar Sauce

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt or sour cream
3 peppadew peppers (or 3 tablespoons roasted red peppers) and 1 teaspoon pepper juice
2 teaspoons chives or 1 scallion thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Salt and Pepper to taste


½ pound tilapia or other mild white fish, each fillet sliced into 3 inch long pieces (I got about 10 pieces out it!)
1 lime
2 tablespoons cornmeal
¼ cup panko
1 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup oil
6 tortillas
Cilantro and avocado for serving
Make the tartar sauce: In a medium bowl, stir together the mayo, yogurt (or sour cream), peppadew peppers, chives (or scallions), cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate. 

Make the tacos: In a medium bowl stir together the panko, cornmeal, cayenne, salt, and pepper. In another medium bowl squeeze half of the lime.  Dip each piece of fish into the lime juice and them dip the fish into the panko mixture, pressing the mixture firmly onto both sides of the fish.  Place dredged fish pieces on a plate. 

In a medium non stick skillet set over medium heat, add the oil.  Once the oil is hot after about 1 – 1 ½ minutes, add half the fish pieces.  Reduce the heat to medium and fry on both sides until golden brown about 4 - 5 minutes total.  Use a spatula or tongs, transfer the fish to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.  Repeat with the remaining pieces. 

On a warmed tortilla spread some tartar sauce. Top the tartar sauce covered tortilla with 1-2 pieces of fish (depending on the size of the piece of fish.  Add sliced avocado, a few cilantro leaves and a squeeze of lime. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

roasted tomatoes with homemade breadcrumbs.

Since tomato season began they have been making a nightly appearance at dinner. The first few weeks after the season begins I find myself gorging on them in their raw form. There are few things in this world more delicious then a tomato sprinkled with salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil (simply heaven).  Eventually I yearn to coax a new flavor and texture out of them and that's when I find myself cooking them at high heat.  Cooking almost any vegetable at high heat transforms them into vegetable candy and this is especially true with tomatoes.  While simply roasting them is great I find them to be even better once they get covered with cheese shavings and homemade bread crumbs.

Homemade bread crumbs are a wonderful thing to have on hand. I constantly save our bread scraps in the freezer to use for breadcrumbs (always save your bread scraps!).  You can then throw them in the food processor with some garlic, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices/herbs your love and then you drizzle the whole mixture with a little olive oil.  So easy!  Top your sliced tomatoes with the cheese of your choice (if you love cheese like I do) and some breadcrumbs then slide the dish into the oven.  What emerges is a sweet and crunchy tomato that makes the perfect side to scrambled eggs or roast chicken. 

Roasted Tomatoes With Homemade Breadcrumbs
Serves 2

2 medium sized tomatoes
½ cup breadcrumbs (recipie below)
2 tablespoons cheese of your choice (I used blue but goat cheese, tallegio, or anything works!)
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice your tomatoes in half and place them in a baking dish.  Top each tomato half with ¼ of the cheese and then 2 tablespoons of the bread crumb mixtures.  Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil.  Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and the breadcrumbs are browned. Sprinkle with basil.

Makes 1 Cup

This is infinitely adaptable.  You can omit all the spices and use it as breadcrumbs for fried foods or you can add use other spices depending on what your cooking.  These are wonderful on top of pasta as well!

1 cup assorted dry bread (the key is for the bread to be dry or else they wont be crispy!)
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a food processor combine the bread, garlic, salt, pepper, parmesan, and basil until crumbs are formed.  Remove the food processor and drizzle with olive oil.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

sautéed peach french toast.

My favorite breakfast is scrambled eggs with goat cheese and chives (and lots of black pepper) and a side of toast with butter and jam.  The boy in my life prefers French toast.  Lots and lots of pieces of custardy French toast. (He loves it so much that it would be his last meal on earth!)  I’ll leave it that we agree to disagree on the perfect breakfast.  (I will admit that I enjoy finishing my own breakfast with a bite of his French toast, nothing like ending on a sweet note.)

When Tyler saw there was leftover buttermilk bread from the BLT sandwich it made his eyes lit up with the thought of fluffy homemade French toast.  Considering the number of dishes I made while bread and cookie making I figured he deserved it.  I made a custardy base of milk and eggs and added in a generous amount of cinnamon and ginger so each slice would have a good amount of spice.  I thinly sliced some peaches and mixed them with some sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and sautéed them in a little butter.  I thought they would be a nice surprise in between the layers of rich bread.  I cooked the French toast until it was nice and golden brown on each side, topped each slice with some peaches, and then drizzled the whole thing with maple syrup.  It was a breakfast that made him happy (and I loved finishing my eggs with several bites of French toast!).

Sautéed Peach French Toast
Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Serves 1 generously but it can serve 2

The type of bread you use is very important when making French toast.  I personally prefer a light and fluffy bread. Challah or Brioche is my personal favorite.  You also want to slice you bread the night before and leave it to dry out, helps the bread hold up to the custard much better the next day!  This would also be good with any variety of fruits; I’ve made it with apples before and had equally delicious results. 

For the French toast

1 Egg
½ cup milk (I used buttermilk since I had extra on hand but regular milk works)
Dash of salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon butter (or more as needed)
4 slices of bread

For the peaches

1 large peach, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter

For the peaches:  In a large bowl combine the peaches, cinnamon, ginger, and sugar.  Set asise.  In a pan heat the butter, once melted add the peaches to the pan and cook stirring occasionally until the peaches are soft and just beginning to carmelize.  Place peaches on a plate and set aside.

For the French toast: Beat egg in a large bowl and the stir in the milk, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.  Pre heat your skilled on medium heat with melted butter.  Dip bread in slices in custard and shake off excess.  Place slices of bread into the pan.  Cook until browned on each side, turning as necessary.  When cooked through, transfer to a plate.  Top each slice with ¼ of the peaches.  Repeat with remaining slices of bread. Drizzle with maple syrup. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

the perfect BLT + homemade buttermilk bread.

As of late my meals have been rather simple affairs.  Toasted bread rubbed with garlic topped with a smear of ricotta, sliced tomatoes, and a sprinkle of coarse salt and black pepper.  Corn sautéed in a little bit of bacon fat (so good!), sprinkled with cayenne, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime.  I’ve begun to enjoy the ease with which it takes to make a meal, it allows more time for outdoor dinner table conversations and card games galore (I adore Rummy).  I know I will move back into the more is better camp with elaborate meals as soon as Labor Day hits, but until then I’m happy to eat so simply.

My favorite simple summer meal, the one I look forward to as soon as Memorial Day hits, and the meal I eat with abandon as soon as heirloom tomatoes are ripe is a BLT.  A BLT’s screams summer.  A BLT requires the best possible ingredients.  For my first one of the season, I took a lot of care into making it the best.  I agonized over the type of bread to make.  I poured over Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Breads in search of the perfect one and decided on his recipe for Buttermilk Bread.  This is a wonderful bread with a really nice crumb and a beautiful tang from the buttermilk.  It pairs perfectly with the smoky bacon, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and crisp lettuce.  A smear of mayo (on both pieces of bread!) completed the sandwich.  The only accompaniment needed was a side of crunchy potato chips.  I love summer eating. 

The Perfect BLT
Makes 2 sandwiches

Making a BLT is a bad idea unless you have the best of the best ingredients.  This is the time to splurge on good local bacon from your butcher.  I personally love the bacon from Dickinson Farmstand in the Chelsea Market. They always slice it super thick for me and it has the perfect smoky flavor, which makes for a very delicious sandwich.  I also love heirloom tomatoes but a beefsteak tomato also makes for a fine sandwich. 

4 slices of bread (recipe for the Buttermilk Bread I used below!)
1 large or 2 small tomatoes slicked ¼ inch thick
4 slices of thick cut bacon (see notes above)
Salt and Pepper

Lightly toast your bread.  You want the bread to still have a little give when you touch it.  Give a generous swipe of mayo to the bread.  Top with 2 slices of bacon, then the tomatoes.  Sprinkle the tomatoes with fresh black pepper and salt.  Top the tomatoes with the lettuce.  Swipe mayo on the other slice of bread and place on top of the lettuce.  Cut in half and serve with really good potato chips. 

Buttermilk Bread

Makes 2 Loaves

This recipe makes 2 loaves.  I froze the other one figuring it would come in handy when I don’t have time after work to make fresh bread.  You may find that you eat both loaves in one weekend because its that good.  There is no shame in that. 

5 to 5 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 package dry yeast
1 cup water
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup shortening

In a large mixing bowl stir together 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and yeast.  In a saucepan combine the water, buttermilk, and shortening and place over low heat to warm.  Warm until the butter melts (because of the buttermilk the mixture may appear curdled but that’s ok!).  Gradually add the liquid to the dry ingreadients and beat for 2 minutes with the flat beater on your mixer.  Add one cup of flour to the mixture and beat for an additional 2 minutes.  Switch to a dough hook and work in the remaining 2 to 2 ½ cups flour.  Add the flour gradually, until the mass of dough is soft and not sticky. 

Knead the dough in the mixer for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  If the dough appears sticky, add sprinkles of flour.  It will pull away cleanly  from the sides of the bowl when it has enough flour. 

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and put in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. 

Grease 2 medium sized loaf pans and place them to the side.  Punch the dough down and cut into 2 pieces.  For each piece, turn the cut side under and gently press and par it into an oblong shape that will barely touch the ends of the pan.  Place into greased pans. 

Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap and return the loaf pans to the warm place for about 45 minutes or until the dough has risen about 1 inch above the pans. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees about 20 minutes before baking.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the load sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.  Place the loaves on wire racks to cool.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

chocolate covered jam sandwich cookies.

Arthur Ave in the Bronx is one of my favorite streets in the world.  Going there is kind of like time traveling to a different era when bakeries and butchers where the norm on every street.  I love strolling down the block and loading up my bags with fresh pastas, blocks of parmesan, Italian sausages, and loaves of warm bread.  After spending the afternoon shopping my favorite thing to do is stop at the old school Italian bakery for a cannoli and a box of assorted Italian butter cookies.  Of all the Italian butter cookies the one I always look to eat first is the jam sandwich cookie dipped in chocolate.  It’s a wonderful cookie.

The jam sandwich cookie is my favorite because it encompasses lots of different flavors and textures.  The cookie is buttery and crumbly, the jam is sweet and tart, and the chocolate is rich giving the whole cookie an indulgent feel.  I recently came across a recipe for a homemade version of these cookies and jumped at the chance to make them (especially since we finally had a break from the summer heat!).  The cookies were a fancier and more delicious version of the original.  I used homemade jam since we have a plethora of it in the fridge (and used a variety of flavors since I love options!) and dipped the cookies in a rich dark chocolate ganache.  They made a wonderful afternoon snack with a cup of espresso - how Italian!

Chocolate Covered Jam Sandwich Cookies
Recipe from Desserts for Breakfast (Her blog has the most beautiful photos ever!)

Makes 20-24 cookies

1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups (280 grams) all purpose flour
12 + 1 tablespoon butter softened
¼ cup (50 grams) sugar
¼ cup (28 grams) powdered sugar
1 egg
Jam or marmalade (I used strawberry, rhubarb, and cherry!)
89 grams (3 oz) dark chocolate
89 grams (3 oz heavy cream)

Combine the baking powder, salt, and flour in a bowl.  Set aside.  In a mixer, cream 12 tablespoons of butter for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the sugars and continue to beat for a few minutes more.  Add the egg and beat well.  Add the flour mixture in three stages, mixing just until combined.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and form into a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. 

Preheat the over to 350 degrees.  Prepare baking sheets line with parchment paper or silpats.  Roll out the cold dough on a lightly floured surface to a ½ inch thickness.  Using a 1 ¾ to 2 inch cookie cutter, cut out small rounds.  Reroll the leftover dough and continue to cut out cookies.  Place cookies on a prepared baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 10n minutes if the dough is no longer cold.  Bake each sheet for 15 minutes, rotating once half-way through the baking time.  Cookies are done with the edges begin to turn golden.  Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. 

To assemble, spread a small amount of jam on a cookie and sandwich with another one.  Finely chop the dark chocolate and place in a bowl.  Combine the heave cream and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, remove from heat, and pour on top of the chocolate.  Let sit for a minute, and then whisk until smooth.  Dip the cookies in the chocolate ganache, shaking gently to remove the excess, and let dry on a sheet of parchment paper or silpat for at least 2 hours or until the ganche as firmed up and is no longer liquid.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

mixed berry crunch crumble.

Our fridge and countertops are bursting with blackberries, apricots, peaches, and blueberries (and about three different types of homemade jam..it’s turned into an obsession).  I feel like the inside of our apartment is beginning to look like a Parisian fruit market (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).  But after eating all the fruit as it is for the past few weeks straight, I’ve looked to turn transform it into something more - starting with the baskets of blueberries. 

Blueberries and I have a love affair.  There is no chopping involved when cooking with blueberries you can wash them and then use them as you please which makes them one of the easiest fruits to use.  I love loading them up in muffins and pancakes and mixing them into yogurt and granola parfaits.  But my utmost favorite way to eat them is in a blueberry crumble.  The blueberries get mixed with a little sugar and lemon juice and then topped with the crunchiest and most spice filled crumble topping ever.  The whole thing gets baked up until the blueberries burst and the top is golden brown.  It’s probably the simplest dessert ever (or in my case breakfast) and it exudes summer perfection.

Mixed Berry Crunch Crumble
Recipe adopted from the NYTimes

This recipie is beautiful because its so adaptable.  I used walnuts and blueberries in this weeks version, but I’ve also used strawberries and almonds.   This crumble topping also works equally well over stone fruits so keep in your file, you’ll find you go back to it a lot!

For the filling

8 cups mixed fresh berries
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon

For the crumble topping

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger (I increased it to ¾ teaspoon, I love ginger with fruit!)
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup melted butter
½ cup finely chopped walnuts (or the nuts of your choice!)

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  To prepare filling, toss fruit with sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Set aside.

To make the topping, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, spices and salt.  Stir in butter and nuts.  Coarse crumbs will form. 

Pour filling into a 9 inch square or round pan.  Using your fingers form mixture into ¼ inch to ½ inch crumbs and spread over fruit.  Bake until filling bubbles and topping is light golden, about 55 minutes.  Let cool slightly. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

smorgasburg eats.

My two equally food enthusiastic friends and I spent Saturday in WilliamsburgBrooklyn at Smorgasburg.  Smorgasburg is a food festival/gathering/eat until you can’t eat any more extravaganza on the water in Williamsburg.  You can pretty much get any type of food you desire – tortas, pretzels, tacos galore, doughnuts, and many types of ice cream.  I ventured there for one reason alone…Mighty Quinn’s BBQ.  I urge you to not walk but run there this weekend to go and have some.  The brisket melts in your mouth and you find yourself stuffing it in your mouth until you realize only 30 seconds passed and all you have left is sticky BBQ fingers.  Sigh, I am still dreaming about it.  I also managed to eat pork and chicken buns from Bite Me Kitchen (the coconut chicken with crushed peanuts was utterly heavenly), Passion Fruit doughnuts from Dough, and so much more.  A filling Saturday it was.  

1 - Mighty Quinn's Brisket Sandwich
2,3 - Bite Size Kitchen Red Curry Coconut Chicken and Braised Pork Belly
4 - S'more Bakery Frozen S'more with caramel 
5 - Buttermilk Channel Fried Chicken, Cheddar Waffle, and Watermelon Salad
6 - Three Little Piggies outside the Meat Hook
7 - The dog's available for adoption. Sadly I left without one.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

ricotta stuffed zucchini blossoms + tomato salad.

I wait all year for the moment when I realize I am eating summer for dinner.  This usually happens in the middle of July, when the weather is oh so steamy and tomatoes are suddenly plentiful at the farmers market.  Dinner becomes a laid back alfresco affair complete with vodka cocktails infused with citrus, berry-filled desserts, and long conversations under tea lights that last until the mosquitoes become unbearable. 

I had my first perfect summer dinner this weekend.  I knew it was going to be perfect when I was at the farmers market on Thursday and came across the most adorable couple selling zucchini blossoms.  Zucchini blossoms are a very rare farmer’s market find.  Their season is super short (so sad) and they are very fragile which is why they are difficult to find. But, they are utterly delicious especially when stuffed with a ricotta mixture and gently fried.  I served them with the simplest of tomato salads and crusty Italian bread.  Summer never tasted so good.

Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

For the filling

12 zucchini blossoms (stamens removed gently!)
½ cup ricotta (not supermarket ricotta, the good local stuff!
1 tablespoon minced basil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

For the batter
Recipe adapted from Milk and Mode

Vegetable oil for frying
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 oz lagerstyle beer or club soda (I used club soda)
Sea salt for finishing

In a small bowl combine the ricotta, basil, red pepper flakes, parmesan, and salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Carefully open the blossoms and gently stuff about 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons of the ricotta mixture, place the blossoms to the side. 

In a large pot, heat about 2” oil over medium heat, until when you put a drizzle of water into the pot it begins to crackle. Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl, then whisk in beer until almost smooth (some lumps are ok, you don’t want to overwhisk as that will deflate the batter).  One by one, dredge the blossoms in batter, shaking off the excess; gently lay them in the oil, without crowding the pan.  Cook, flipping once with a slotted spoon, until golden brown, 2-3 minutes total.  Transfer to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with sea salt while hot.

Tomato Salad with Balsamic and Goat Cheese
Serves 2

2 large tomatoes (I used and heirloom and a yellow tomato), sliced in ½ inch thick slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons goat cheese
1 tablespoon minced basil
Sea Salt and Black pepper

Arrange tomatoes on a platter in an overlapping pattern.  Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic.  Scatter the basil and goat cheese over the tomatoes.  Sprinkle with sea salt and crushed black pepper.  Serve with crusty bread. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

tex-mex sloppy joe's.

When I was kid, every Wednesday night during the summer there would be outdoor concerts on the baseball field in our town.  On those Wednesday nights my parents would pack coolers of coldcuts and juice, bags of potato chips, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.  We would camp out on blanket in the field, listening to Doo-Wop cover bands sing old Supreme songs.  We would eat sandwiches for dinner and then my siblings and I would run around until it got dark and we needed a cookie fix.  Ever since then sandwiches remind me of casual summer evenings spent eating under the stars.

While I have yet to find a Doo-Wop cover band to listen to outside since then, I still make it my goal to eat sandwiches for dinner at least once a week.  During the dog days of summer they are so easy to make and they fill my need to feel like a little kid despite the fact that I am now 27.  Some sandwiches are fancy affairs with homemade foccacia bread, roasted vegetables and goat’s milk cheeses and other times they are simple and scream summer like a BLT does (oh how I love those).  Sometimes I desire a messy sandwich where I end up wearing half of it and leave sticky fingerprints all over napkins.  That’s where these Tex-Mex sloppy joe’s come into play.  They are a gloriously messy affair of spicy (extra spicy for me!) and sweet (from the tomatoes and ketchup) beef with some peppers and onions thrown in for textural contrast.  They taste even more amazing with slices of avocado and shredded Monteray Jack (then they taste like a torta!).  I enjoy them most when eaten outside, listening to my Pandora Motown station and drinking a beer.

Tex-Mex Sloppy Joe’s
Recipe from The Homesick Texan 

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 chipotle chile en adobo (add 2 if you like it hot!)
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 ounces canned tomato sauce
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of cayenne
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
12 ounces beer, such as Mexican lager
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 cup cilantro, divided
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
4-6 warm buns for serving
Sliced Avocado, Monterey Jack, and jalepenos for serving

In a large skillet, on medium-low heat, while stirring occasionally, cook the meat until browned, about 10 minutes. (If you like, you can drain the extra fat once the meet is browned.) Add the onions and diced bell pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Meanwhile, in a blender mix the tomato sauce, chipotle chile, oregano, ground cumin, smoked paprika, allspice, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce. Pour tomato salsa into the skillet along with the beer, ketchup and half of the cilantro. Stir until well combined.

Cook on medium-low heat uncovered for 15 minutes and then stir in the remaining cilantro and lime juice. Adjust seasonings and add salt and black pepper to taste.

Serve on warm buns with avocado, jalapeño slices and Monterey jack cheese.

Friday, July 13, 2012

zucchini olive oil cake with lemon crunch glaze.

I am a huge lover of savory/sweet foods and dishes.  Ricotta drizzled with honey and cracked black pepper on toasted Italian bread, one of the simplest and best foods ever.  Bittersweet chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with flaky sea salt, I could eat an entire batch of them.  Rosemary ham, cheddar cheese, and strawberry jam, the perfect lunch sandwich.  I could go on and on about all the combinations I love.   The reason I love them so much is that the juxtaposition of savory and sweet brings out the best in each other. 

This juxtaposition is extremely evident in this zucchini olive oil cake.   (I’ll let you ponder all those ingredients in one cake for a minute.)  This cake is one of my hands down favorite cakes I have ever made (and I’ve made a lot of cakes in my life).  The olive oil gives a fruity earthiness to the cake and it keeps it incredibly moist.  The zucchini gives it a lovely texture and flavor and the nuts give it a lovely toasted crunch.  But for me the best part of this cake is the lemon glaze.  It transforms the whole thing from simple to special.  The sweet lemon glaze provides a sweet crunchy crust and it works perfectly with the olive oil.  Sweet and savory has never tasted so good.

Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze
Recipe from Gina Depalma’s Dolce Italiano

For the Cake

1 cup walnut pieces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups grated zucchini (about 2 small – and you can always add 3 cups!)

For the Lemon Glaze

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the rack in the center.  Grease a 10 cup bundt pan (or a regular 9 inch cake pan) using nonstick spray or butter, then dust it with flour to coat it completely, tapping out excess flour.

Place the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown and aromatic, 12 to 14 minutes.  Cool the walnuts completely, then finely chop them in the food processor and set aside. 
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices into a medium bowl and set aside.  In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla extract.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula after each addition.  Beat in the dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch the mixer to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds.  Beat in the zucchini and the walnuts on low speed until they are completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.  Bake the cake for 45 – 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning.  The cake is done with the tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. 
While the cake is baking prepare the glaze: in a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and granulated sugar, then whish in the confectioners sugar until the glaze is completely smooth. 

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wire rack and then flip it onto another wire rack so the top of the cake which is nice and crusty is the part you glaze.  Using a pastry brush immediately brush the glaze over the entire surface of the warm cake, using all of the glaze; it will adhere to the cake and set as the cake cools.  Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to dry completely.  Enjoy! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

cauliflower and gruyere pizza.

I have a strong affinity towards recreating the dishes I eat at restaurants.  If something I eat intrigues my palate, I love to analyze the dish, try and figure out all the components, and then go home and see if I can make my own version.  Some versions end up as disasters and some end up as almost perfect replicas, but the process of dissecting and studying a dish is fun for me – it makes me feel like a food detective! 

This weekend I set out to make the cauliflower pizza I’ve had from Grandaisy Bakery many times (it’s called Pizza Calvofiore, so Italian!).   It is a wonderful mix of cauliflower, Gruyere, breadcrumbs, and parsley for some freshness.  I doctored my version up a bit by roasting the cauliflower with some red pepper flakes to give the dish a little heat.  I also used a combination of Gruyere and Pecorino Romano to bring a little extra cheesiness to the dish (I heart cheese a lot) and I sprinkled the pies with a combination of basil and parsley since I tend to put basil on everything in the summer.  The pie turned out super – crispy and crunch from the roasted cauliflower but there was a still a good amount of creaminess from the cheese.  It was a very good interpretation of the original version that made me and the boy very happy.

Cauliflower and Gruyere Pizza

I cut my cauliflower into too large of pieces.  When I make this again I will cut it into a small dice (maybe ¼ inch pieces), I think it would lead to a more roasted and caramelized pizza topping.  But, if you like a softer, less crunchy cauliflower, larger pieces are the way to go!

1 small head of cauliflower, diced into ¼ or ½ inch pieces
1 – 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound Gruyere, shredded
¼ cup Pecorino Romano, shredded
¼ cup packed parsley and basil, sliced
Salt and Pepper
½ recipe of Pizza Dough

Preheat over to the highest it can go (in my case its 500 degrees).  Put pizza stone in the oven to heat up.  In a large bowl combine your diced cauliflower, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Place cauliflower on a large baking pan and roast about 15-20 minutes, just until the cauliflower is beginning to turn lightly brown.  Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.

Stretch your pizza dough on a floured countertop.  Remove your pizza stone from the oven and quickly place the dough on top.  Top the dough with a quarter of the Gruyere and half the cauliflower mixture.  Top cauliflower with another quarter of the Gruyere and half the Pecorino Romano.  Place pizza in the oven.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the cauliflower is just beginning to char.  Remove pie from the oven and top with half the basil and parsley mixture.   Repeat process with remaining dough.

yogurt berry pancakes.

For the first time in a very long time, Tyler and I had a relaxing and leisurely Saturday morning in our own apartment.  We slept in until nine, walked over to the neighborhood farmers market to stock up on produce, and came back to make pancakes and large glasses of ice coffee. 

Generally, I don’t like pancakes or waffles for breakfast.  I prefer eggs.  Poached, over easy, fried, scrambled, it doesn’t matter (and the eggs must include a side of buttered toast).  But on occasion I get a hankering for pancakes – this usually happens when I have a fridge stocked with berries and yogurt and a lazy weekend ahead of me.

I used the wonderful Mark Bittman’s pancake recipe as my starting point to which I added ground cinnamon and ginger to the batter (those spices work so well with berries).  I also used a combination of Greek yogurt and milk  (instead of just milk) since it gives a nice tang to the batter.  Each pancake was loaded with blueberries and strawberries, which made for a very patriotic breakfast. 

Yogurt Berry Pancakes
Recipe Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Serves 2

Mark Bittman’s cookbook is necessary for every home cook to own.  Every recipe in the book provides the perfect foundation for you to customize based on personal preference.  This pancake recipie is my go to and I have adapted in many different ways.  Here I used berries and yogurt but I also adore it with late summer peaches and buttermilk.  

1 cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 egg
¾ cup plain yogurt (I used Greek Yogurt)
¼ - ½ cup milk (depending on the yogurt you use you may need more milk to thin the batter)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Zest of 1 lemon
½ cup assorted berries plus more for serving

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat while you make the batter.
Mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and lemon zest.  Beat the egg into your milk and yogurt mixture.  Gently stir this into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour.  If the batter is thick, add more milk. 

Butter or spray your skillet.  When the skillet is hot, ladle the batter onto the skillet, making the pancakes your choice in size (I usually go for about 4 inches in diameter).  Layer your berries on top of the batter while the pancake cooks, about 2-4 minutes.  You’ll know its ready to flip when bubbles begin to appear around the edges.  Flip the pancake over and cook until the second side is lightly browned.  Top with maple syrup and more berries!