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Archive for August, 2010

As I sit on my couch writing this blog, the television is on in the background – well, foreground if we are getting really technical. I just saw/overheard a commercial that begins something like: “Food myth number one: cutting and chopping is relaxing after a long day at work…. yeah right, for who?!” Cut to a happy woman heating up a family-sized frozen, low fat dinner. I’m not going to lecture my readers about using frozen meals every once in a while – I think I was more taken aback by the tone of the commercial. I did not take offense, even if I do enjoy chopping and cutting up vegetables after work, but there are so many other more healthful, economical, and easy options for making dinner after work, or classes, or taking care of kids, or a tiring day lounging about the house watching an entire season of your new favorite show (Veronica Mars). In the time it would probably take to microwave a whole family-size dinner – you could probably boil water, cook pasta, drain, and toss with pre-washed spinach, a little olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Maybe throw in some leftover meat or other cooked vegetables. I really don’t like it when people hear “cooking” and automatically think they can’t do it, or it takes so much time and work. Sure, it can take time and attention, and there is a learning curve, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Maybe that’s just me.

Ok – now to today’s recipe – another farmer’s market meal with traditional late summer vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes. This recipe also has the distinction of being my boyfriend’s favorite thus far.It was delicious, not one of my favorite dishes that I have cooked, but garlicky, crispy, seasonal, and fresh.

So here it is.. pretty easy I think, with just a little slicing and chopping involved.

adapted from: Crisp Tomato, Zucchini, and Eggplant Bread Gratin

serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side

1 small loaf of whole grain bread (mine was 1/2 lb.)

1 medium eggplant, cut cross-wise into 1/4 in. thick rounds

2 small-ish summer squash (one yellow one green)

3 medium tomatoes, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 T. or so of olive oil

1/4 c. chopped basil

1/2 t. dried thyme

salt and pepper

1/2 c. Parmesan cheese

In a colander, toss the eggplant and zucchini with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and let stand for 20 minutes. Drain well and gently squeeze out any excess liquid. This step helps pull some of the excess moisture from the vegetables and helps make the eggplant less bitter.

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir the olive oil with the garlic. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the garlic-infused oil. Tear the bread into 2-inch pieces and line the bottom of the baking dish with bread, fitting the pieces tightly together. Drizzle the bread with 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bread with half of the basil.

In a medium bowl, toss the eggplant and zucchini with 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tomato slices with salt and pepper.

Arrange the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes over the bread, overlapping them if necessary. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves, salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining garlic oil.

Bake the gratin for about 30 minutes, remove and top with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and bake until the vegetables begin to brown and the bottom of the bread is golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Remove the dish  from the oven and let stand until cooled slightly, about 10 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve.

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blackberry crisp

I couldn’t avoid the oven this summer. When other cooking blogs and magazines were touting no-cook salads and oven-free desserts, I was firing up my oven during the hottest part of the summer to bake up all the delicious berries I bought at the farmers market. There would have been no way I could eat all the fruit myself without turning it into something else – whether that be jams, frozen, or baked. Yes, there are thousands of other ways to deal with ripe fruit, but I love crisps. Given my choice of desserts, I usually choose the fruit-based one. However, I have not been very successful at making fruit crisps. Until now. I can’t say this blackberry crisp was the best ever, but it was certainly better than the rhubarb crisp mentioned earlier.

The originally recipe calls for a mix of berries. I used only blackberries, halved the recipe, and upped the amount of flour I used to keep everything from becoming too moist. It turned out well.

Adapted from: Summer Berry Crisp

For the fruit:

3 cups blackberries

2 T. sugar

scant 1/4 c. flour

a few sprinkles of cinnamon

For the crisp topping:

3/4 c. rolled oats

1/3 c. flour

1/4 T. brown sugar

pinch of salt

3/4 stick unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 8″ X 8″ pan

Gently combine the berries with the sugar, flour and cinnamon; place in the prepared pan.

Prepare the topping: Combine the oats, flour, both sugars and salt in a bowl. Use 2 knives to work in the butter until topping resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle evenly over the berries.

Place the pan in the oven. Bake in the center of the oven until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 1 hour. Remove the crisp to a rack to cool slightly.

Serve – preferably with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

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panzanella

My mom hates soggy bread. To put it un-poetically – it grosses her out. She subsequently hates bread pudding because it is soggy bread. But she loves french toast, turkey dressing, and panzanella, or bread salad. Go figure.

Perhaps my mom just hates the bread pudding I have made before, but her recipe for panzanella is wonderful. This salad depends on good, ripe tomatoes and late summer, or now, is the perfect time to make it.

Freshly made, crispy, garlicky croutons are tasty and addicting on their own. Add them to a flavorful vinaigrette-laced salad of tomatoes, peppers, capers, and basil, and you have a hearty and delicious side-dish worthy of main dish status. If you have a garden full of tomatoes and stale bread lying around – try this out. If not, buy bread and ripe tomatoes and let the bread sit around for a day or two (makes crisper croutons). And thank you to my mom, for teaching me to cook and passing along this wonderful recipe.

Panzanella, from my mom

the recipe says this serves 12, maybe as a side dish, I served half that many with turkey Italian sausage on the side

For the croutons:

1/4 c. unsalted butter

1 T. minced garlic

6 c. stale bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used whole-wheat, you can cut the crusts off if you like. I left the crusts in tact)

salt and pepper

6 T. grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375. Place cookie sheet in oven to preheat as well. Melt the butter in a large skillet and cook until it foams. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant – about 30 seconds. Garlic burns easily so watch it closely. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat. Transfer the bread to the hot baking sheet and immediately toss with Parmesan. Bake, stirring 1 or 2 times until the croutons are crisp and lightly browned, about 9 minutes. Let cool.

For the rest of the salad:

2 large, ripe tomatoes cut into 1″ cubes, or use 2 to 3 cups of grape tomatoes, halved

1 cucumber, seeded, peeled, and sliced 1/2″ thick (or use an English cucumber – no need to peel)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ cubes

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ cubes

1/2 red onion, cut in half again and thinly sliced

20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

3 T. capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

1 t. finely minced garlic

1/2 t. Dijon mustard

2 T. champagne or white wine vinegar

1/2 c. olive oil

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. black pepper

For the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onion, basil and capers. Add the croutons and toss with vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper.

Allow salad to sit about 30 minutes to blend the flavors.

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ginger peach muffins

Until now, it had been over a year since I made muffins. My two roommates in Bloomington, Indiana  (hi Jon and Jess!) had a muffin tin of their own and I did not get around to buying one until a few weeks ago.

This recipe for ginger peach muffins prompted the purchase of the muffin tin. And the cookbook, Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, by Kim Boyce, prompted me to make these muffins. Boyce’s book outlines tantalizing recipes for baked goods using flours ranging from quinoa and oat, to whole wheat and rye. When Boyce does use all purpose white flour, she does so in a combination with other, more healthful and often more flavorful flours.

The ginger peach muffins use whole wheat, oat, and all-purpose flours. The ingredients list also gave me an excuse to check out my new favorite store… one of those places you know you will love before you even set foot inside. Listen up fellow Louisvillians, I’m talking about Nuts n Stuff, and you must go there. Right away. For all of your baking and snacking needs. This store is amazing. While I love Lotsa Pasta for its spice collection, and Paul’s Fruit market for its produce,  freshly ground peanut butter, and array of nuts and dried fruit, Nuts n Stuff has the spices (in bulk!), as well as the nuts, and dried fruit, and peanut butter (in bulk!), and flours. Lots and lots of flours. They had rye (dark and light), and spelt, and whole grain, etc., etc. I even met the owners at a trivia night at Check’s, and they remembered my name when I showed up for the 25-anniversary open house of the store. Basically, you have to go here, if you live anywhere near Louisville. Give these people your support and get yourself some delicious goodies.

It is also reasonably priced. I walked away with fresh peanut butter, wasabi peas, crystallized ginger (for the muffins!), spelt flour, and rye flour for about $11. I was so happy. They did not, however, have oat flour. I then read the section on oat flour more closely and realized that not many stores have it – you just have to grind it yourself. Which I did. In my spice grinder. So, these muffins were a bit of work. But they were worth it.

Enough of my praises (but really, check it out yourself), and here is the actual recipe.

Ginger Peach Muffins, from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, by Kim Boyce

(Recipe says this will make 9 muffins, I got 8 out of the batter)

You will need:

Butter for the tins

2 T. plus 1 t. grated fresh ginger

for the peach topping:

1 large or 2 small peaches, ripe, but firm

1 T. unsalted butter

1 T. honey

Dry mix:

1 c. oat flour

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. whole-wheat flour

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. dark brown sugar

1 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

3/4 t. kosher salt

Wet mix:

3 oz (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, then cooled slightly (just melt the butter first, and let it sit while you do everything else)

3/4 c. whole milk

1/2 c. sour cream

1 egg

3 T. finely chopped crystallized ginger

Place rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350. Rub tins with butter.

Grate the ginger into a large bowl. Some will be used for the peach toppings – the rest in the batter.

For the topping, halve the peach, remove the pit, and slice the halves into slices about 1/4 in. thick.

Add the butter, honey, and 1 t. of the grated ginger to a medium-size skillet. Place the skillet over a medium flame to melt the mix, stir to combine. Cook until it beings to bubble, about 2 minutes. Add peaches and toss to coat evenly with the syrup. Set aside.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

If any larger grains remain in the sifter, just pour them into the larger bowl with the sifted ingredients.

Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the grated ginger and whisk until thoroughly combined.Using a spatula, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently combine. The batter will still be lumpy. This is ok.

Scoop the batter in 9 (or 8 in my case), muffin tins using a spoon or ice cream scoop. The batter should be slightly mounded over the edges. Lay a couple of peach slices over each muffin, tucking them into the batter a bit.

Bake for 24 to 28 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The muffins are ready when the they smell nutty and are golden. Take the tin out of the oven and twist the muffins and lay them to cool on their sides in the tin. This allows the muffins to cool without getting soggy.

Eat and enjoy.

These muffins were delicious. I did have some trouble getting them out of the tins – some fell apart a bit when I tried to twist them, as instructed. It didn’t matter too much though, many turned out pretty enough for the pictures, and they tasted great. They were moist, the peaches were flavorful, and the two different kinds of ginger provided a spicy-sweet combination.

These required many steps – including the oat-grinding time, it took me about an hour, start to finish, but it was worth it.

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the lady and sons okra

I had never cooked fresh okra before. My mother had never cooked fresh okra before and I’m pretty sure neither of my grandmothers did. Sure, I’ve used frozen okra while making gumbo before, but never fresh. Walking through the farmers market a few weeks ago, I was struck by how much okra was for sale. Trying to be a bit more adventurous, and move away from my usual purchase of zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes this time of year, I bought some okra. Immediately feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse I wondered, “Now what?”

Consulting my Louisiana-born friend, I was provided a link to this recipe, for the Lady and Sons Okra and Tomatoes, by Paula Deen. I did a little more exploring for other options, but settled on this one. I think the use of bacon in this dish really won me over. I thought about pan-frying, oven-baking, and casserole-making, but I wanted something substantial enough for a main meal, and one that did not require the use of my oven on an already ridiculously hot summer day (thought that didn’t stop me from baking cookies).

Not knowing much about okra, I kept hearing that it is slimy. I also read that pairing it with tomatoes helps cut down on the sliminess (more about this below). So – here is the recipe I used for my first-time-ever making okra.

The Lady and Sons Okra and Tomatoes, by Paula Deen

4 slices bacon, diced

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tomatoes, diced

1 T. vegetable or chicken base (I had vegetable base already.)

1 T. sugar

3 c. fresh okra, washed, trimmed, and sliced in 1-inch pieces

black pepper and Tabasco

In a large skillet, cook bacon slightly.

Saute onion and garlic with bacon until tender. Add tomatoes, chicken or vegetable base, sugar, pepper, and Tabasco.

Stir well and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed. Meanwhile wash okra and remove fuzz if using fresh and cut into pieces. (I did not remove fuzz. I read in the comment section that this was not necessary and I’m not sure how I would have accomplished it anyway).

Add the okra and simmer until okra is done, about 20 more minutes (less if using frozen okra.)

Serve with rice.

I loved the flavors of this dish. The smokey bacon, hot Tabasco, acidic tomatoes, plus a bit of sweetness from the sugar combined into a surprisingly complex dish. The texture, however, seemed a little off. I definitely sensed some sliminess. The original recipe calls for canned tomatoes, I used fresh. Not sure whether that would have made a difference. I’ve also read that quickly sauteing the sliced okra helps to “cauterize” it, sealing in the juices. If I were to make this again, I would definitely try this before adding the okra.

Any tips from seasoned okra-cookers?

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fresh corn salad

Originally from Iowa and with family in Indiana who often grow their own sweet corn, I tend to be skeptical of so-called “sweet corn” from anywhere else. There are few summer dining pleasures greater than freshly picked sweet corn, eaten off the cob, with a bit of salt and butter (save for fresh tomatoes, of course).

Sometimes though, I don’t feel like eating corn off the cob – it wreaks havoc on my teeth and is messy. I also – wasn’t sure that Kentucky sweet corn was worthy of just eating straight from the cob – so I turned to dear Ina Garten, who knows how to make good fresh produce taste even better.

Fresh Corn Salad, adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, by Ina Garten

4 ears of corn, shucked

1/2 of small red onion, diced

2 T. cider vinegar

1 1/2 T. olive

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/2 t. black pepper

julienned fresh basil leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onions, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.

So – this corn was good. I probably would have been happy eating it straight from the cob – as though I was home in Iowa, or on my aunt and uncle’s farm. Still, this corn salad is delicious. The cider vinegar and onion counteracts the sweetness in the corn and the basil, salt, and pepper, compliments it all nicely.The salad also keeps for a day or two, if you have any left.

Enjoy this salad while fresh corn is still available.

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giant chocolate-toffee cookies

One of my co-workers loves chocolate and heath bars. When his birthday rolled around last year, I searched for recipes heavy on both of those ingredients. My search yielded this result for giant chocolate toffee cookies.

They were consumed quickly last year, if I recall correctly, so I made them again. They were even more well-received this time around.

The recipe is pretty easy, as cookies go, and are delicious.

Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies

1/2 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 2 1/3 c. bittersweet chocolate chips)

1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

scant 1 3/4 c. packed brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar because that is what I had.)

4 large eggs

1 T. vanilla extract

5 1.4 oz. chocolate covered toffee bars (like Heath bars!), coarsely chopped

1 c. walnuts, toasted and chopped

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Whisk to blend.

Combine chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl.

Microwave on high power for 1 to 3 minutes. Stop after the first minute and stir.

Keep heating, stopping and stirring every 30 seconds, until melted.

Cool mixture until slightly warm (just let sit while you do the rest of the steps).

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes.

Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts.

Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes. (Don’t skip this step)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by 2 or 3 tablesppons onto sheets, spacing 2  inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, 12-15 minutes. After the 11-minute mark, I started checking the cookies every 2 minutes or so. I also rotated the pans in the oven half-way through cooking.

Cool on sheets.

These cookies are wonderful, if you like chocolate, toffee, and walnuts. They are moist on the inside, slightly crackly on the outside, and filled with bits of toffee and walnuts. The combination is really delicious, and really rich. You can also make them larger – the originally recipe calls for dropping the batter by 1/4 c. onto the pan. I made about 30 small-ish cookies out of the batter.

Next time – I will post more seasonal recipes, using lots of tomatoes, peppers, and corn.

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