Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Conquered the Concord

As part of our CSA share this week we received a bag full of Concord grapes - little round orbs of purpleness. When I bit into one to see what they tasted like I was first hit by the scent. It reminded me of Welch's Grape Juice. (As a kid I drank Welch's grape juice as often as my mother would let me. Yummy stuff.) Next came a bit of sourness, and then the seeds. Ugh. Seeds. Clearly these weren't snacking grapes, so I'd have to figure out what to do with them.

I consulted a couple of cookbooks and googled Concord Grapes and settled on a grape tart with a crumble topping. (The only other appealing option was a grape sorbet, but I wasn't in the cold dessert mood.) Here's what the grape tart looks like:

Dinner is still in the oven so I'll report back later with an update on how it tastes, and the recipe if I feel it's worth sharing.

UPDATE: Well, it was delicious if I do say so myself. It had a hint of Welch'sness with a tinge of tartness wrapped in a buttery crust with a sweet nutty crumb topping. Dave said it tasted a bit like cherry pie to him but it definitely had that old familiar grape flavor as far as I am concerned. So, should I post the recipe? Will you actually seek out Concord grapes if I do? ......

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Making Lunch from Spare Parts

Working at home allows you to be creative with your lunches at times. Yesterday was one of those rare days when I actually had time to do something outside the ordinary. (Usually it's a protein-based fruit smoothie.) We didn't have much in the 'fridge except a bunch of odds and ends. After a bit of rooting aroud I discovered that we had the makings of Bruschetta!

Just a quick lesson in the history of Bruschetta (pronounced brusKEtta). As you probably know, it originated in central Italy - as far back as the 15th century. It consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of spicy red pepper, tomato, vegetables and/or cheese. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer. In Tuscany, bruschetta is called fettunta, meaning "oiled slice". So don't believe those Nabsico commercials that try to tell you that a cracker topped with tomatoes is Bruschetta. It's just marketing spiel.

Anyway, here's how I made my bruschetta. I took what was left of a nice, crusty baguette and sliced it into 6 slices. Laid these on the pan from our toaster oven and brushed them with olive oil on one side. I broiled them until they started to brown around the edges. Then, I cut one clove of garlic in half and smeared it on the still-warm bread slices.

While the bread was browning I sliced 2 very ripe tomatoes into 1/2 inch dice. Into the bowl with the tomatoes I drizzled some Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a splash of good balsamic vinegar. I added some sea salt and pepper to taste. Then I added some slivered shallots. (I would have added some chunks of fresh mozzarella but I didn't have any onhand). Once the tomatoes macerated a bit (fancy culinary word for 'soaked') I topped the bread with a generous spoonful. The last item - but certainly not least - was a good chiffonade (fancy culinary word for 'herbs cut into long, thin strips') of basil from my garden.

It was fresh, of the season, and cleaned up some of the leftovers in the house. What could be better for a weekday lunch?

What the Heck is Boccè?

We get this question every year after we send out invitations to our annual backyard cookout and Boccè tournament. Basically, the purpose of the game is to roll the bocce, a 4½ inch ball weighing about three pounds, as close as possible to the pallino, a 1¾ inch ball which is rolled down the alley first. The bocce coming closest to the pallino scores. Twelve points usually constitute a game, however since we have a big tournament ladder to get through before dark we only play to six points.

Anyway, we hosted the annual event last weekend and had the biggest turnout in it’s 3-year existence….some 45 friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers attended. It was great fun. Every year we award fabulous prizes in various categories. This year we even had custom-engraved trophies for the winners. Pictured above is the first-place team - our neighbor Steve and Dave’s golfing buddy Volker.

One of the fun parts for me is making a big spread with which to feed our guests. This year I had requests for several recipes. (I apologize in advance for not having pictures of these dishes, as in my haste to get the food out I completely lost sight of the notion of capturing their images for this blog. I know we eat with our eyes first…so always like to have photos to accompany the food, but I think you can understand the omission in this case. Can’t keep 45 people waiting.) Here are two of the recipes. (But first, a note. It's very important that you use fresh herbs in both of these dried just won't taste the same. Shouldn't be too tough to do so during the summer. Those of us with herb gardens have basil coming out the ears. If you need some, let me know.)

Watermelon and Cantaloupe Salad with Mint and Basil Vinaigrette

1/2 watermelon 1 cantaloupe, cut in half, seeded
2 T freshly chopped mint leaves plus whole sprigs, for garnish
2 T freshly chopped basil leaves plus whole sprigs, for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup simple syrup (equal amounts sugar and water heated until sugar dissolves, cool)
1/8 teaspoon amaretto (if you want to give it a little kick)

Cut a thin slice off the bottom so it sits stable on a plate. You can cut the melons into squarish chunks but for presentation’s sake I made melon balls from each. Regardless, you want 2 cups each from the watermelon and the cantaloupe. Carve out the watermelon to use as a serving “dish”.

Add to a blender (or food processor) the chopped mint, chopped basil, lemon juice, simple syrup and amaretto. Blend until smooth.

Add the watermelon and cantaloupe balls to the carved out watermelon half. Add the vinaigrette to the balls and toss to combine. Garnish with the mint and basil sprigs and taste.
Recipe courtesy Giada DeLaurentiis
This next recipe is great stuff – especially if you’re a vegetarian. Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain. It`s considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids. Quinoa is also higher in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates than most grains, and it provides a rich and balanced source of vital nutrients. Tiny and bead-shaped, the ivory-colored quinoa cooks like rice (taking half the time of regular rice) and expands to four times its original volume. Its flavor is delicate, almost bland. I had a little trouble finding Quinoa at the big box grocery stores, but did find it at Whole Foods. Trader Joes would probably have it as well.

Quinoa with Corn, Scallions and Mint

4 ears corn, shucked
1 T finely grated fresh lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 T mild honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups quinoa (1 12 oz package)
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
Because you are adding fresh corn to the hot quinoa you typically don’t have to pre-cook it. But if you feel you must - put corn in a 5- to 6-quart wide pot, then add water to cover and bring to a boil, covered. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer corn with tongs to a cutting board. When it’s cool enough to handle, cut kernels off cobs with a large heavy knife. (I do this in a really large bowl so I don’t have corn kernels flying around the kitchen.)
Meanwhile, whisk together lemon zest and juice, butter, honey, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until combined.
Cook quinoa according to package directions Remove from heat and let stand (still covered) 5 minutes. Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in corn, scallions, mint, and salt and pepper to taste. You can serve this warm or cold. It's yummy either way.
Makes 8-10 servings.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Eating Locally - Squash and Onion Sautee

Thanks to various different sources of information and just a general renewed sense of wellness, I have been trying to eat well and eat locally lately. The idea is that if you eat food grown within 100 miles of you it is likely to be fresher, more nutritional and less processed. There's even a movement called The 100 Mile Challenge designed to get you to patronize local farmers and minimize the amount of fossil fuel being used to bring your meal to your table.

A local blogger who calls herself The Restaurant Widow writes about her quest to eat locally with lovely pictures (much lovlier than mine!) of the produce she gets in her CSA box each week. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It's a way of paying a farmer in advance for a whole season's-worth of fresh, pesticide-free produce, flowers, eggs, etc. I think it's a great idea and will be looking into doing it next spring. I urge you to read her blog - it's full of great recipe ideas and local Columbus restaurant reviews.

The farmer's market helps me in my attempt to eat locally. I went this weekend and got all sorts of beautiful veggies...and a nice grass-fed sirloin steak! Here's what I did with some of the veg.

I couldn't resist these baby squash, zucchini and pattypan. If you're not familiar with Pattypan it's a nice little squash - the French call it "priests bonnet". It's a low calorie vegetable - also a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, copper and iron. The taste is similar to zucchini.

These are beautiful little candy onions. They are larget than pearl onions but have a much sweeter flavor when sauteed, which is exactly what I did with them. When you have such fresh ingredients the key is simplicity. I washed and prepared the squash and onions, then sauteed them in a mixture of butter and olive oil. I sauteed the onions for 5 minutes before I put in the squash. Then I sauteed the whole mixture for another 5 minutes.

I put the mixture into a bowl, sprinkled with salt and pepper and basil...and volia!! It was lovely and fresh with minimal cooking. It was truly a taste of summer.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Frisee for a Change

It seems to me that Friseé is in the middle tier of lettuce popularity. Not one of the popular kids like romaine or red leaf, but part of the in-between crowd searching for an identity - like arugula or boston bibb or endive. (Of course, we all know the popular kids are great to look at but not always the most interesting - and that the in-between kids tend to be underappreciated but end up being the true stars. I bet you can't guess which group I fell into.) Anyway, it is certainly not down at the bottom with nerds like iceberg or radicchio. (I'm sure there are those of you who love radicchio but I just cannot find it in my palate to love that stuff....and I'm not even going to comment on iceberg lettuce.) Friseé is kind of spidery-looking, crunchy and has a nice peppery taste to it. You should try it sometime - and I have just the right recipe to nudge you into taking the step.

We had this for dinner tonight and both Dave and I really enjoyed it. It's definitely an occasional indulgence, since the bacon and drippings are not something you want to eat on a regular basis. Trust me on the bacon drippings. I know it sounds like something that makes one nostril curl up into a sneer but just trust me. The mingling of the saltiness of good bacon (from Whole Foods...not the Oscar Mayer chemicalized stuff) with the sweetness of the dates and the acid in the white wine vinegar - not to mention the tartness of the goat cheese - is really delicious. The friseé adds a nice crunch to pull it all together. So enjoy.
(p.s. for some reason the goat cheese I had on hand was very, very creamy - as you'll notice in the picture. I'm not sure why this is, but when you go to add your goat cheese to the salad it will no doubt crumble as instructed in the recipe....not glop on like sour cream. It tasted good though, so I guess I shouldn't complain.)

Friseé Salad with Bacon, Dates and Goat Cheese

3 bacon slices, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons Sherry- or White-wine vinegar
1 large head of frisée, washed, dried and torn (about 4 cups)
2 1/2 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (about 1/2 of 5-ounce log), crumbled
1/3 cup walnut halves

Cook the bacon in heavy small skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to plate. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in skillet - discard the remaining drippings. Add olive oil, honey, dates and onion to skillet. Cook 2-3 minutes until onions start to soften. Stir in vinegar. Continue to cook 2 minutes longer until flavors come together. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

Place frisée in medium bowl; add dressing and toss. Divide salad between 2 plates. Sprinkle with bacon, cheese and nuts.

Makes 2 fairly large servings.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bounty of blueberries

Going to the grocery store or farmer's market this time of year can be overwhelming. There's so much beautiful produce that I want to use that sometimes I can't choose. Then, there's the fear that if I don't pick up a particular item right then, it will be gone or out of season the next time I come. I guess I should lighten up a bit because grocery shopping should not be this stresssful.

Along the lines of enjoying summer's bounty of produce options - here's a nice little recipe for Blueberry Cobbler. I made this with some beautiful big, ripe blueberries. It makes 2-4 servings depending on how hungry you are.

Lemon Blueberry Cobbler

2 cups picked-over blueberries
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (Don't skip this - it adds a really interesting flavor)
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream (add gradually to determine exact amount)
Good vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 400° F. and butter an 8-inch glass pie plate - or small casserole dish.

In a bowl toss together blueberries, zest, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch until combined well and transfer to pie plate or dish.

Into another bowl sift together flour, baking powder, cardamom, and a pinch of salt. Add cream and stir until mixture just forms a thick, sticky dough. Drop dough in mounds on blueberry mixture and bake in middle of oven until crust is golden and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes and serve with good quality vanilla ice cream. YUM

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Salad Days

When it's 90 degrees and 95% humidity, as it was today, you just don't feel like eating something hot, right? Enter Crab Louis. I've been jonesing for some crab and avocado lately. I don't know why I get these cravings...but I figure it has something to do with nutrients my body is in need of. Anyway, I needed some way to pull together crabmeat and avocado...and Crab Louis (pronounced Louie, really) is the perfect vehicle. So here's an homage to an uncle I am told I knew as a very young child - Uncle Louie. He was married to Aunt Frannie for a while. (Actually, the dish Crab Louis originated in San Francisco at swanky hotel in the early 1900's.)

The nice thing about this dish is that the only cooking you have to do is boiling the eggs. Dave and I enjoyed this tonight with a nice Pinot Grigio and a crusty baguette.

Crab Louis

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chili sauce (I used Heinz)
1/4 cup minced scallions
2 tablespoons minced green olives
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon bottled horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 lb jumbo lump crabmeat (I use Sigma Supreme in the can)
1 ripe avocado cut into slices
Iceberg lettuce, shredded
Large leafs of red-leaf Romaine lettuce to line plates
Tomato wedges
Hard-boiled egg
Dressing: Whisk together mayonnaise, chili sauce, scallion, green olives, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, bottled horseradish, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pick through the crabmeat looking for shell or anything else that may be undesirable. Then divide among 4 plates lined with redleaf romaine leaves and shredded iceberg lettuce. Garnish with wedges of tomato, hard-boiled egg, avocado and serve with dressing. Lightly salt egg wedges and avocado with Fleur de sel.
Makes 4 main-course servings.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Seasons in the Sun

Happy Summer! I'm back with a new post - re-energized by the bounty that is summer and all of the new culinary stimuli I have been experiencing lately. Thanks to farmer's markets, new restaurant adventures, new food websites and the discovery of a new local blogger in Columbus I am renewed in my cooking aspirations.

So, as my first entree of the summer I have for you a light salmon dish. It's Thai inspired so watch the red pepper flakes. The heat can get turned up with just a few extra shakes of the spice jar. Enjoy!! (Sorry for the crappy lighting on this shot. It's actually a lot more appetizing when you make it in person. I promise to work on my photo-taking setup.)

Crispy Orange-Glazed Salmon

2/3 cup orange juice
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar (I couldn't find rice *wine* vinegar so I just use rice vinegar)
2 Tbsp Lite soy sauce
1 small red Thai chile pepper, thinly sliced (I omit this to reduce some of the heat)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger - grated (I use a microplane)
4 salmon filets (4-6 oz. each)
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp honey
Hot cooked rice (see note)

Garnishes: Julienned carrots, chopped peanuts, fresh cilantro

1. Stir together first 6 ingredients in a shallow baking dish. Add salmon, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, turning to coat evenly. Marinate at least 30 minutes. Remove salmon, reserving marinade, and season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook salmon 3-4 minutes per side or until fish begins to flake with a fork. Peel off skin and remove from pan. Pour reserved marinade into skillet and add honey. Heat 3-5 minutes on high, until syrupy. Serve salmon warm over a mound of rice and sauce, topped with garnishes.

Makes 4 servings

Note: I recommend Thai White Jasmine Rice - Alter Eco brand.