I say tomahhhhto

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It was Satan’s crotch-hot yesterday, wasn’t it? I guess “sultry” sounds better, but I’m in yankee territory now, so let’s be real. It was sticky and stanky, and an all-around Very Bad Idea to be outside longer than the time it takes to walk to the nearest Mister Softee truck.

And since the Mr. (Roth, not Softee) and I both had big lunches yesterday, a full-on dinner just wasn’t happening. So I took the rest of the tomatoes from my friend’s garden, chopped ’em up with some basil from mine, and topped it with good balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of smoked fleur de sel. (Thanks for that idea, Claudia!)

It’s a great time of year to be a lazy cook, isn’t it?

Eat your vegetables!

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When I was young, vegetables never were the focus of the meal. Always relegated to the side, they either were major cholesterol bombs — Cajun-style vegetables tend to be smothered with pork fat and onions, which is delicious, but not exactly heart healthy — or bland and uninspired. My mom never has been fond of spending time in the kitchen and still favors opening a can of petit pois or corn, dumping it into a serving bowl with a big pat of butter, and microwaving until it’s “done.” These dishes were really, truly, nothing more than a side or an afterthought.

But I’ve come a long way, baby — vegetables are more than meat’s wingman! (Look at me. I’m so enlightened!) Once I learned just how good fresh can be, and got a few good cookbooks to guide me, veggies started appearing on my plate in more than a side capacity. In fact, for the past year or so, I’ve been trying to eat vegequarian for most of my meals during the week (though obviously I still love the flesh) just to ensure I’m getting something other than meat and bread in my diet … and I don’t feel deprived at all! It’s hardly news to most of you out there, but it’s a whole new world to me.

With summer’s bounty on display at our farmers’ market this morning, it was nearly impossible to pass up anything at all. And so we came home with gorgeous red and golden beets, a dozen ears of corn, leeks, carrots, zucchini, garlic, onions, and tatsoi, along with a grass-fed porterhouse steak and mini apple pie. I hardly knew where to start for lunch!

We also had fresh vegetarian ravioli on hand from our latest Trader Joe’s run, so I decided to whip up a quick roasted veggie sauce to go with it. The smoky flavors of the roasted red pepper, onions, zucchini, and garlic were smoothed out with a little goat cheese and made for a tasty, light lunch.

Remind me to tell you about my fresh fruit discovery sometime. What a revelation to learn that fruit could be served without a ton of added sugar and in something other than fruit salad form.

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As always, click on the pictures for a link to my flickr food photo set.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Eat your vegetables!”

Summer eats

There are two ways to approach keeping cool (and keeping the electric bill down) while cooking in the summertime: Outdoor cooking and not “cooking” at all.

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By far, my favorite of these two methods is taking it outdoors. We bought a Weber Q gas grill a couple of years ago and it’s served us very well. We don’t have the opportunity to do real barbecue on it, but for quick grilling, it can’t be beat. Over the weekend, I grilled our leftovers from the Ringwood Farmers’ Market a couple of weeks ago: Grass-fed bone-in ribeyes (or cowboy steaks, from Walnut Grove Farms) and garlic scapes. To keep things simple, I made a quick topping of rosemary, thyme, pepper, and olive oil for the steak. I didn’t have to stay outside for long and the flavors were fresh and delicious.

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For a quick dessert, I stuffed a few fresh figs with blue cheese and wrapped them with prosciutto. A few minutes on the grill to melt the cheese and quick drizzle of balsamic vinegar turned them into one of my favorite desserts of all-time.

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Not cooking at all is another option for really hot days. The weather’s been pretty agreeable here lately, but I was craving avocados and didn’t feel like making guacamole or using the avocado as anything other than the main ingredient. So I tried making my first avocado-cucumber soup. Despite the simple handful of ingredients, the flavor of the soup was very complex. This one is definitely going into my late-summer rotation.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Summer eats”

The greater scape

For something I’d never even heard of before last weekend, I can’t imagine living without the garlic scape now. I picked up a huuuuuge bag of them at the farmers’ market yesterday, but after two days of cooking with them, I didn’t have enough left to pickle. Poor me. Maybe that’ll be a project for next weekend.

Ah, but this weekend … this weekend there was fresh garlic (below, left) and scapes (below, right),

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not to mention lovely sugar snap peas

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and radishes

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and grass-fed beef!

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Wow. Did we eat well. Gil was out on a hike yesterday and didn’t share in the stir-fried sugar snaps, scapes, and radishes with grilled shrimp,

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but I didn’t hear any complaints when he had the grilled combo today — steak, corn, and scapes.

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recipes after the jump

Continue reading “The greater scape”

Still need that cumin intervention

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When I got home a few nights ago, Gil was still out helping his dad prepare/clean his computer room for the painters who were coming the following day. I thought it’d be nice to surprise him with a decent dinner for a change, but needed something that could be ready by the time he returned in 30 minutes or so. As quick meals go, this one really can’t be beat.

I’ve been on a bit of a meat kick lately, so I picked up four lamb loin chops at the grocery along with a couple of sweet potatoes and set out to prepare our meal. (The chops in the picture aren’t really burned, no matter what your eyes tell you — I coated them with a dark Singapore Curry rub bought on our visit to Seattle in February.) We still had a beautiful bunch of tender kale bought at our farmers’ market over the weekend, and I wanted to do something more exciting than my usual olive oil/garlic/red pepper preparation, so I used Indian spices to complement the chops and added cubes of boiled sweet potato for a nice contrast (visually and spicically). I also tossed in some garlic scapes left from the weekend, but if they’re out of season or if you don’t have access, you really don’t need them.

The lamb was quite good, but lamb always is. What surprised me was how well the veggies came off — the flavors married beautifully and the kale would’ve sorely missed the potatoes had they not been there. And it was so easy, so quick! Not bad for a weeknight.

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “Still need that cumin intervention”

Nicoise

A yummy, light lunch inspired by the good folks at Last Night’s Dinner:

Colorful and delicious! And without the traditional heavy mayonnaise dressing, it was the perfect antidote to a hot and humid day.

My favorite chicken

It isn’t the Colonel’s, but I do crave it fortnightly (and this from a girl whose chickennui has been lifelong). As it’s been about three weeks since I last prepared this dish, I’m overdue; it’ll be on the menu again this week, just as soon as the chicken thighs defrost in our colder-than-average refrigerator.

What is this heavenly dish, you ask? It’s something so simple, I can’t believe I never hit upon this particular combination of ingredients before. I’m a big fan of Mark Bittman’s show How to Cook Everything and caught an episode from Napa Valley in which he took on Chef Gary Danko’s fancy-pantsed grilled quail. The marinade sounded simple and the quail were adorable arranged with a bitter greens salad, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Because I didn’t feel like lugging quail home from the city (a matter of potential spoilage, not weight, though my arms aren’t getting me any free passes to the gun show), I picked up Cornish game hens and spatchcocked them good. The process was much simpler than I was expecting, but still more of a chore (and more expensive) than, say, using chicken thighs. (As agnostic as I am about chicken in general, I’m annoyingly evangelical on the subject of chicken thighs, so — fair warning — don’t ever get me started on the subject.)

The whole process was really very simple: The marinade takes one minute to throw together, then the chicken bathes in it for as long as you can stand it — up to a day — and then you slap it on the grill. The results far outweigh any effort you put into it. Because I felt the need to Do More, I also grilled asparagus and threw a foil-wrapped packet of potatoes, garlic, and onions with Cajun seasoning and olive oil on there with everything else.

There happened to be a gorgeous chive blossom squatting in my new herb garden, so I sprinkled that on the salad for a little color:

And there you have it. The chicken was juicy and bursting with flavor, especially after I drizzled a little balsamic vinegar on it when it came off the grill. Mmmmm … wonder if those thighs have defrosted yet.

If I can get excited about chicken, you know it’s a good recipe. Try it and let me know what you think.

recipes after the jump:

Continue reading “My favorite chicken”

Two farmers’ markets in two weekends

Color me happy.

The German Coast Farmers’ Market in St. Charles Parish, LA, has really taken off since its inception four years ago. Despite the nearly unbearable heat last weekend, the turnout was good for the anniversary celebration, and spirits were high. The growing season is much farther along down there than it is here in New Jersey, so I was really happy to get some juicy Creole tomatoes fresh from the Zeringue farm. Ponchatoula strawberries were already out of season, but I managed to get along knowing fresh berries will be along soon out here. I’d say the highlight of the GCFM was the jumbo crab-stuffed artichoke I bought at Betty D.’s booth. The artichoke really was enormous, but she’d stuffed it so full of seasoned crab meat, you could barely see the artichoke at all. Gil, my dad, and I had that for dinner one night and felt completely satisfied.

But even more exciting than visiting such a faraway market is knowing that WE HAVE OUR VERY OWN FARMERS’ MARKET RIGHT HERE IN RINGWOOD!! Yes, that’s right, from June to October, I’ll be at the local bus stop every Saturday morning to buy some of the freshest produce our farmers have to offer. I picked up some kohlrabi, garlic scapes, radishes, komatsuna, raw milk pepper colby cheese, and fresh herb plants — oregano, rosemary, and spearmint — which the vendor potted together for me free of charge.

Since komatsuna and garlic scapes were new to me, I had to dive right in and cook them for dinner last night. I used Floyd Cardoz’s ramps recipe (from his incredible One Spice, Two Spice cookbook) as a starting point and was really happy with the results. Unlike the ramps I made a month ago, this dish wasn’t as greasy and the greens were much more tender. We’d had a pretty big lunch already, so a light dinner of stir-fried greens really hit the spot.

Next weekend, I plan to branch out to try the kosher dills, grass-fed beef, and get a bunch more garlic scapes for pickling.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Two farmers’ markets in two weekends”

This is May?

We spent Saturday morning keeping an eye on the weather and vacillating about going to the Yankees-Mets game at Shea. On the one hand, we both love the Yankees, but on the other hand 1) the game would probably be rained out, 2) if the game wasn’t rained out the Yankees were going to lose anyway, and 3) no sense getting wet, miserable, and possibly sick if those lousy rassafrassin’ so-and-so’s weren’t going to bring a little metaphorical sunshine into our lives.

Can you guess what we decided to do?

Skipping the game meant no kosher dogs in their natural setting, so I had to scramble for something to take their place. Comfort food seemed to be the way to go and that usually spells bread pudding or grilled cheese, but I wanted less bread and more … stuff. Hmmm, how about open-faced sandwiches?

What we ended up with was a little like a cheesy spinach dip, but I didn’t hear any complaints. I heated some leftover bacon fat and olive oil and added brown mustard seeds and cumin seeds, stirring them until they started to pop like fragrant tiny popcorn. It’s something I picked up from One Spice, Two Spice, and it really made a difference here. It gave the concoction a faintly citrusy bite, which cut through all of the cheese I added later. The hearty side of the dish was taken care of with onions, spinach, and mushrooms, while cheese and a little bechamel sauce added at the last second took care of the comforting creamy element.

I served it on oven-toasted challah brushed with butter and it didn’t last an inning. It was just what we needed on a gray, miserable day.

recipe after the jump
Continue reading “This is May?”

A miss is as good as a mile

Well, THAT didn’t turn out as expected! Trying to lighten the old brussels sprouts recipe from a few months ago, I substituted fat free condensed milk for the heavy cream, bumping up the flavor with an extra slice of bacon, some garlic, and double the mustard. Actually, it tasted fine, but the condensed milk resembled cottage cheese more than anything approaching a silky sauce.

Oh, well. Back to the drawing board. Maybe next time I’ll try a white sauce instead.

At least Fellowship on the big screen TV is redeeming my night.