26 July 2014

Strategy



High time at the farmer's markets. It's almost too much. But we know come December, we'll be desperate for this. I overheard a mother shoo her toddler away from the bundle of tomatoes saying they already had some at home. I take more time in my visits lately, trying to consider what works best together, what I need a break from, and make myself move on and buy what's new. Asparagus and kale and I are on a break. It's this time of year when you're wise to know when to listen to your inner canner/jammer/freezer/pesto maker and when to remember your plans to be out, about, eating pizza and sipping wine away from home. In other words, strategy. Here's a few things I've cooked this month other than that eggplant recipe.

Berry Heaven



Last year I used what berries I froze from July's peak, by August...this year I vow to focus more on peaches in August. That said, there's five more days in July, and I intend to bake with the berries for as long as they appear fresh. Last week it was two blueberry cherry galettes in a rye crust (I just divided a dough round in half). I posted the recipe to Food52s current contest for berries. It's similar to these but with a different filling. And for a day when resting and rolling dough is the last thing you're in the mood for, like on a Wednesday evening, make Lily's blueberry crisp tart. Oats-y, easy, delicious, and requires no planning ahead other than letting it cool down. Which means you can throw it together before dinner (in just a few minutes) and it's also great for breakfast.


Cilantro


Love it or biologically reject it, Cilantro captures my heart. I'm a lover of it and will take it on anything. Once you buy a bunch you have to use it rather swiftly though. Keeping it in a vase of water like flowers, in the fridge, with a plastic bag draped over it, extends the shelf life. In the meantime, snip and salad-spin the leaves to make a pungent pesto and dollop it on everything from fish to eggs. Or make this delicious dressing and spoon it over a Mexican salad with shreds of leftover roast chicken tucked in. Which brings me to...


Roast chicken



Heat your oven up one day and have dinner for the next, too. I like this recipe from Bon Appetit. I Frenched the drumsticks slightly to avoid sinewy tendons. In a multi-option roast chicken world, Julia at BA reports she turns to this particular one again and again. Simple, straightforward, done in an hour and keeps the bird moist as can be. I like the hybrid bake: half very high, half low. Be sure to carve the chicken up to serve for easy access for those a little more squeamish about the bones. All while knowing that, roasting whole in the skin, on the bone is the cook's secret weapon. Afterwards, make stock from the carcass. 

See you soon with a new recipe : )

19 July 2014

In the thick of it


It happens on select days throughout the summer. On Friday, at 8:45 a.m., a slight wind crept into the open window and the first pangs for Fall hit me. Sweaters, no decisions regarding iced over hot, coffee. Work picking up. Apples. Soup. Boots. Crisp walks. But soon, I learned, the outside chill proved to be a tease. It was an amply hot summer day. That's where we're at, in the thick of it, and it's glorious and we're going to bask in it.


There's berries, cherries and basil. Tomatoes and eggplant, too. A sunny stroll just before dinner time to pick up some white wine in sunglasses, a tank top and flip flops, and lazy poolside saxophone music straightened out my momentary dalliance with chillier times.


But that wasn't going to stop my cooking plans with the two baby eggplants I'd seen at the farmer's market the previous day. They were newborns, just popping out into season. Even the gentleman ringing me up had to confirm with the other farmhand: "two for a dollar?" It was then I realized this was their first day. I'd pinned a recipe from Bon Appetite months before seasonal eggplant appeared, and the stars aligned; there was fresh muzz in the fridge and a little leftover tomato sauce in the freezer. 

 
A colleague recently asked me if I cook a lot of Italian food being Italian. My answer: hmm...kinda? A litany of traditional dishes rattled off in my head: lasagne, eggplant parm, chicken parm, etc and it occurred to me I have never really made any of them (due to early over-exposure perhaps?) and I realized it's not that I don't want to, but I want them to be different, have another spin.


It's a re-engineered eggplant parm and it's going on the summer menu rotation for as long as I can get my hands on these baby aubergines.The eggplants get halved, partly peeled and rubbed with just a little olive oil (a lot less than you'd use if you were frying slices in pans), seasoned and tucked onto a sheet pan covered with foil and roasted solo for a half hour. It's a step that takes the recipe up several notches and achieves the "meltiness" for which you'd otherwise be dependent on a lot of oil.


You'll want to use a good tomato sauce; if you have a go-to, use some of that, or Bon Appetite's recipe included a quick batch of onion-garlic tomato sauce. I already had some on sauce hand (not made by me, but leftover from a nearby restaurant who does not disappoint in their Sunday Sauce!) so I just added a bit of sauteed onions to that. Then bubbly chunks of fresh mozzarella melt into the sauce and flesh and the sprinkle of fresh breadcrumbs and grated parm provides just the right top crispiness.

 If you're in the market for a new eggplant parm, give this a try and your saute pan a break. Doubled or Quaded (as the original recipe does) I imagine it'd be a small crowd-pleaser.
 

But for us, it was lovely as it was, substantial but not heavy as some eggplant parms can be, eaten up on a  summer night just this side of cool, alongside a bit of pasta and arugula salad. Now that's my kind of Italian.



Eggplant Parmesan with Fresh Mozzarella

Barely tweaked from Bon Appetite
Notes: I made a few changes, some based on BA commenters, and my version is below. I divided the original recipe by four (ample for two as a hefty side and I only had two eggplants) and since my eggplants were on the small side of small, I did the initial roast of them for 30 minutes rather than the suggested 40, and they were perfect. Soft and tender but not mushy. I pulsed up a bit of day old bread for the breadcrumbs to make 1/4 c, and it is a nice touch. Try to use fresh. Finally, I used tomato sauce I had already, and I crushed the cooked garlic and tossed it into the sauce, too. I gave it a slip under the broiler to nicely crisp the top a bit more for the last minute (highly recommended : )

Ingredients

1/4 c tomato sauce of your choice or BA's
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped  (optional but recc'd)
2 scant Tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil, divided 
2 garlic cloves, whole 
 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
 2 baby eggplants, halved lengthwise
 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or oregano + more
 ¼ cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
 scant 3 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
 1/2 oz (about 3 Tbsp) Parmesan, finely grated 
Method: 
1. Oven to 400. Begin with the eggplants. Using a vegetable peeler, remove skin from rounded side of each eggplant half, leaving a 1” strip of skin around the cut edges. Place eggplants, rosemary or oregano sprigs, whole garlic cloves, and 2 Tbsp oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Turn eggplants to coat with oil; season with salt and pepper and place cut side down. Cover baking sheets tightly with foil and bake until eggplants are very soft, 30-40 minutes depending on size. Set aside. (Do-ahead: can be done up to 1 day ahead, cover/chill)

2. Meanwhile, if you don't have tomato sauce you'd like to use on hand already, make BA's. Otherwise, dice the onion finely and saute it in 1 tsp of olive oil on medium heat for 5-10 minutes until softened. Add a small pinch salt. Turn the heat down to low and let it go longer as if caramelizing. Add in your tomato sauce, remove from the heat and set aside. Optionally, smash the  garlic cloves cooked with the eggplants and add to the sauce.

3. Toss breadcrumbs with 1 tsp oil, a tiny pinch salt and pepper and a few snips rosemary. 

4. Place eggplants cut side up in a shallow baking dish. Paint each with a little sauce, top with mozzarella, then breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Bake uncovered about 25-30 minutes until mozzarella is bubbling and breadcrumbs golden (note: at 24 min I turned to broil setting and hit it under there for the last minute. Be careful and watch it though. Pull it just when you get a hint more brown.) Let cool on a rack for a bit and enjoy!


15 July 2014

As promised


It's summertime, and I'm all for a no-bake treat when I find one. Perhaps you'd like one too, and don't feel like turning on your oven extraneously? A few posts ago we discussed amaranth when I tucked it into granola, and I suggested that if you find yourself with a bag the gluten free seed-like grain, you should pop it. Then a world of possibilities opens up, like that granola and these bars. 

Alegria, a crunchy, gluten-free (and come to think of it, fat-free) Mexican treat that, flavor-wise, manages to remind me of a much tastier version of caramel rice cakes. Only far more nutritious and wholesome. Molasses, a little sugar and salt, a touch of toasty nuts of your choice and a pan, are all you need to make these happen. Once you pop the amaranth, the bars happen within a few minutes so you'll want to work quickly. It only takes about 20 minutes or so for the mixture to set up before you slice the bars. You can vary the size of the bars depending on how much ingredients you have on hand or how much amaranth you feel like popping. Since they don't bake, you won't have to worry about adjusting times.


Alegria traditionally boasts pepitas, but I used cashews and almonds, chopped and toasted as that's what I had on hand. It's nice to vary up your snack bars. I can make batch after batch of these granola bars and I do, constantly, varying up the add-ins and we do not get bored of them ever because they are so good. But I firmly believe something is altered in the brain through a single act of branching out. And so, go forward, with Alegria. 

Oh and one more thing: I'm on the ShopRite Blog today with a post featuring Asian chicken lettuce wraps using a sesame garlic sauce from their line. Check it out!

Alegria recipe

1/4 cup Amaranth grains
2 Tbsp toasted seeds or nuts
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 Tbsp Blackstrap Molasses

Line a baking pan with parchment paper. I used a 5x7

Heat a wide-bottomed pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp of amaranth to the pan, cover and cook over medium-high heat until most of the grains have popped, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining amaranth, 1 Tbsp at a time. Add nuts or seeds to popped amaranth. Place sugar in an even layer in a deep pot over medium heat. The granules will slowly begin to melt. Add molasses. When molasses begins to boil steadily, gently stir or swirl to incorporate Sugar. Remove from heat and immediately add popped amaranth and pumpkin seeds. Stir well to coat.
Quickly transfer to pan and spread evenly. Immediately cut into bars, then cool completely and serve. Will keep a few days airtight.

**Update: When cutting the bars it's most likely you'll get a bit of crumbs/clusters. My advice? After getting your neatly cut bars, pour the crumbs/clusters into a jar and enjoy on yogurt for a snack or breakfast! 

07 July 2014

Fly with it



Everything about now seems to be changing. I feel, approaching a certain age, no longer able to avoid questions. Things shift on a dime, people cancel, you cancel, jobs get snatched the day before your interview, the elderly fall, people leave the earth prematurely. The trains stop underground. It rains. 


It rained on the Fourth of July but there were fireworks. Probably the best fireworks I will have seen in some time. Sitting on the edge of the Hudson River Jersey Side in front of the Statue of Liberty, it had become a clear night. I wasn't sure if the ground would be wet so I negated bringing a towel, which I regretted upon arrival. People had towels. No one cares if it has rained in the metropolitan area. Things go on. My thoughts turned to negative nagging... shoulda brought it. But the man behind us offered me a chair. Our friends offered Ed a nylon bag for sitting. We were taken care of. We had salted caramel ice cream cones. Fly with it, I keep telling myself. Laugh at it. Go on.


One of my favorite cookies to make is shortbread. For one, I like cutting it. Either out, or into straight lines. With no eggs it's a short whirl with your mixer and a chill or even a freeze away from cookies you can stack in a jar. They're the ones you don't have to worry about. They last a little. Today's recipe is a tender one. With orange zest, rosemary, salted butter and cornmeal, it's a fragrance I'd like to bottle. With dough on the softer side, be sure to give it a proper chill (see my notes below). If it needs a little more chilling after cutting, give it that. If it needs a few more moments to brown the edges in the oven, give it that. Fly with it. I hope you enjoy having these around as much as I do.


Orange-Rosemary-Cornmeal Shortbread

via Remedial Eating who adapted it from Claudia Fleming

Notes: I made a half recipe of the original, which is reflected below, and I also included grams measurements. A scale is helpful for all baking and inexpensive. Available online or at Bed Bath and Beyond, they'll run you under $30. I'm currently using this one. Also: I make my own powdered sugar when needed, by combining 1T cornstarch to 1C sugar in a coffee grinder (in batches) until fine. but you can use store-bought powdered sugar. Also, my kitchen has been hot and the dough was feeling a tad soft (which also makes the cookies lovely and tender) so I found chilling the dough between  rolling and cutting and just before baking, did the trick to make the dough easier to handle and transferring the cold pricked squares to the baking sheet was a cinch. Lastly, dough can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen well-wrapped, a month. Thaw in fridge before use. I fit about 15 rectangles a sheet and found I got the best browning when baking one sheet at a time in the center rack. If you want to bake more though, use 2 pans at a time in the top and bottom thirds and rotate just over halfway through. You may need another minute or two that way.

113 g/1 stick salted butter, slightly softened
45 grams / 6 Tbs powdered sugar
1 heaped teaspoon orange zest, freshly grated
1/2 heaping teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
~ scant 30 grams / 3 Tb cornmeal, regular or medium work
110 grams /  3/4 cup + 2 Tb unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Raw sugar, for sprinkling, optional

Method

Measure and whisk flour and cornmeal together. Set aside. In a stand mixer with the paddle, cream butter, powdered sugar, orange zest, salt and rosemary, until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Scrape sides, add vanilla, and beat again to combine.  Scrape sides, add flour and cornmeal, and mix just to combine.  Scrape dough onto a length of plastic wrap, flatten to a rough rectangle, an inch high, wrap well, and chill 2 hours, or overnight, or a few days or freeze for later. 

When ready to bake: Oven to 300.

Line a sheet pan or two with parchment and let dough sit out if it has been very chilled, about 10 minutes. Very lightly flour beneath and on top of the dough, (MN note: I did so lightly but also rolled between two pieces of parchment). Roll out to just under 1/4 inch thick rectangle as best as possible. Trim sides to form straight edges (you can lightly re-roll to get another rectangle). If dough is a bit soft at this point, just move it flat to the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. Use a knife and ruler or bench knife with a ruler  to make cuts 1 1/2 inches by 1 inch and prick three times with a fork.

At this point, I found it helpful again to transfer the dough to the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.

With an offset spatula, transfer scored cookies to baking sheet, leaving just an inch or so between as they don't spread.

Bake 18-25 minutes, rotating trays about 11 minutes in, front to back and top to bottom, until cookies are no longer glossy on top, gold at the edges and underneath.Cool on sheet 10 minutes on rack, then cool on rack completely. Stored airtight they'll last more than a week.

Yield: A few dozen