Friday, August 31, 2012

Random Bites in August

Why do vodka companies feel the need to create all these new flavors? Can't we just leave vodka alone?

Recently tried (only because the bartender was kind enough to let us sample it):

Marshmallow flavored vodka shots with a head of whipped cream (from the can, of course). If you like sweet, then this is for you.

Utterly gross.

We are neighbors with "Mr. Googootz" at the Militant Garden, whom I have still not met to this day.

He must come out to tend to his garden before 8 a.m. His cucuzza squash is obscene.
Each one must weigh 30 lbs.

I am waiting for one to accidentally drop on the ground so I can make that yummy giambotta again! (I used my foot to show you the actual size of one of them).

I had the pleasure of sampling Lesser Evil Snacks.

Delicious kettle corn and krinkle sticks made with all natural ingredients, therefore are naturally lower in fat and calories.

The black and white kettlecorn with cocoa is absolutely evil, I couldn't stop eating them!


August pizza update:

Amazing late summer farm pie at Arturo's in Maplewood. Heirloom NJ squash, fresh mozzarella w/ NJ beans and Parmigiano Reggiano.

You in?

I have never wanted a convertible before, but when I saw this beauty on the Garden State Parkway, it made me think twice!

Daily Bread:

Sadly, summer is almost over, and my heirloom tomato sandwiches swiped with Hellman's on wheat toast will just be a faded memory until next year.

Our perennial garden is going crazy at the end of the season.
The hyssop (also known as "agastache") is a butterfly magnet.

I swear there are 30 Monarch butterflies on the plant at one time. It's a beautiful site.

Have a Happy & Safe Labor Day weekend!

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fresh Figs w/ Olive Paste Crostini

I always buy fresh figs whenever I see them. I can't resist. You know how I feel about them.

I have no idea what I am going to make with them before I bring them home, but I always find some way to enjoy these beauties. Pairing them with a piece of cheese is good enough for me.

Here the lucky guests got to have their fresh figs and cheese too!

Everyone asks if we have a fig tree on our patio. The truth is, we did for years, but the little Kadota figs only produced maybe 6 ripe figs a year, 3 for the squirrels, 2 for the birds and 1 for me.

We used to bring the tree indoors during its dormancy, and leave it in the dark stairwell of our basement, which was connected to the outside. It was such a slow producer, and I was constantly disappointed each September, that I am ashamed to say, I gave up on him and gave him away to a good home.

The New York Times article on Wednesday about fig trees all over Brooklyn, many of them brought over from Sicily via boat long ago, made be feel badly about giving up on my fig tree.

I have talked my husband into planting a new fig tree for next season. I will give it another go.................

Slice fresh ripe figs in half or quarters and lay them on top of homemade olive paste on toasted crostini.

Top with a curl of Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of balsamic syrup.

Almost too pretty to eat, but we did.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What's for Lunch? Tartines w/ Grilled Shrimp & Avocado

This was so yummy.
I have always loved avocado and grilled shrimp together.

A tartine is an opened face sandwich in French.

Here, La Tartine Gourmande makes a tartine for lunch, by smearing (or in my world, "schmearing") toasts with an avocado mash and pairing them with grilled shrimp.

It makes the perfect crostini appetizer, or a special lunch.

We loved these.

Tartines w/ Avocado Mash and Grilled Shrimp: (adapted from La Tartine Gourmande, Recipes for an Inspired Life) makes 4 tartines

4 slices of good bread
2 ripe avocados
handful of chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
kosher salt
1 tbsp of minced red onion
a shake of cayenne pepper (or two)
1 tsp of cumin
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
8 uncooked shrimp, shells and tails removed
fresh chives for garnish

Mash the avocado with the cilantro, cayenne, lime juice, red onion and kosher salt. Set aside.

In a grill pan, heat olive oil and shake cumin over the shrimp. Add the garlic and shrimp to the pan and cook 2 minutes on each side. Slice each shrimp in half.

Toast the bread and drizzle with the olive oil that you used to grill the shrimp with from the grill pan (yes, that's what I said).

Schmear the toasts w/ the avocado mash and top with 4 shrimp halves each.

Garnish w/ fresh snipped chives and enjoy warm.


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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Best Corn & Tomato Pie

It's that time of year again, when everyone from food magazines to food blogs are making tomato pies with their summer bounty.

Each year I try a different version.

This year's pie is my favorite so far, because of the addition of sweet corn. Corn and tomatoes are ready at the same time, and they just belong together.

I added bacon, why not?

Corn and Tomato Pie (adapted from fresh365)

3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 ears of corn, kernels cut off
1 tsp salt
black pepper
1 deep dish, pre-baked pie crust
1/2 c grated Cheddar cheese
2-3 large tomatoes, sliced
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 lb. bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (optional)
3 large eggs
1/2 c milk
1/2 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onions in olive oil until onions just begin to turn translucent, 5-7 minutes. Throw in garlic the last minute. Add corn kernels and cook, about 8 minutes.

Stir in salt and pepper. Pour half of the corn mixture with the crumbled bacon into pie crust. Scatter cheddar cheese evenly on top. Add remaining corn mixture. Top with tomatoes, in an even layer, then Parmesan cheese and scallions.

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and cream. Pour over tart.

Cover with foil and transfer to oven Bake 30 minutes on a baking sheet. Remove foil, and bake an additional 15-20 minutes until tart is golden brown, and center is set.

Let rest 1 hour before slicing.

This is the bomb!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Zuni Cafe's Swiss Chard Panade

Swiss chard is taking over the garden, 'tis that time of year.

My favorite way to use it is in a torte aux blettes (or torta bieta in Italian), but I've done that for you before, so it's time for a panade.

What the heck is a panade (pronounced Pa-NAHD) anyway?

When I looked up the definition, the answer was "a paste made of bread boiled in water, could also be made with rice or potatoes". Huh? What do you use it for, wallpaper?

It's a lovely word (as most French words are), but this recipe seems more like a bread pudding or gratin to me.

To get off track for a minute, I think the best thing I ate in Paris last year was a Swiss Chard Gratin. What a wonderful night to stumble into an old French restaurant with no English speaking patrons late at night, starving, a bit intimidated, but a warm and welcoming maitre d' brought us champagne and recommended the Swiss Chard Gratin (La Tour D'Argent turned us away, we were not even allowed to peak inside.....their loss!).

A creamy, piping hot casserole came out with Swiss Chard, cream and Gruyere in a bechamel sauce w/ burnt edges & a hint of nutmeg. It was so rich and delicious, I couldn't stop eating it.

Now back to the Swiss Chard PANADE.

I visited an old cookbook, which I rarely use, not sure why. Judy Rodgers' book Zuni Cafe won a James Beard Award, but I just never put it in the rotation.

I was inspired by her recipe for Swiss Chard Panade, but made mine more like a gratin, using far less stock than she does.

I didn't want mine soupy and mushy like Orangette's came out, so I cut way down on the stock (the original Zuni recipe calls for 4 cups of stock). I didn't want the "paste" effect either, I wanted more of a bread pudding, minus the eggs. The onions provide a lot of moisture, trust me on this one.

I also used grated Pecorino on top, because I didn't have any Gruyere in the fridge, and it was fantastic.

This would be a great recipe for the fall, when you have tons of Swiss Chard in the garden and the weather is turning chilly.

Swiss Chard Panade, more like a gratin! (adapted very loosely from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook):

3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mild-tasting olive oil (you'll need olive oil all the way thru the recipe)
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
kosher salt & pepper
1 lb. Swiss chard (thick ribs removed), cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
1 1/2 cups day-old chewy peasant-style bread cut into rough 1-inch cubes
splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 cup of chicken stock
6 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated (or Parmesan)

In a heavy skillet, cook the onions in olive oil, sprinkling them w/ kosher salt and cook them on medium for about 15 minutes, make sure you don't brown them.

In another pan, heat some more olive oil and toast up the bread cubes, sort of making nice croutons. I do mine in a nonstick skillet.

Using a third pan, (or being thrifty and reusing one of the pans like I did!), heat some oil w/ garlic and saute the Swiss chard for about 3 minutes, until wilted and the garlic is fragrant. Season with kosher salt & pepper. Splash with red wine vinegar at the end of cooking (this is my addition and it's so good).

Drizzle some more olive oil into a casserole dish and lay the toasted bread cubes on the bottom.

Add in the cooked chard and onions and distribute nicely. Sprinkle with whatever cheese you are using, and carefully pour chicken stock around.

You can make this ahead and place in the fridge at this point until ready to bake.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325F and cover panade w/ foil.

Bake for about an hour.
Let rest 10 minutes before serving.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Refreshing Avocado Salad

Why do all of my avocados ripen at the same time?

How much guacamole can one person eat?

This salad stays fresh for a day or two, unlike guac, that turns brown after a few hours.

I love this salad spooned over grilled fish or shrimp, or just on its own for lunch.

It's the perfect summer salad and another great way to use my cherry tomatoes.

Light and refreshing.

Avocado Salad:

2 ripe avocados, pits removed and flesh sliced
kosher salt
juice of a lemon
handful of quartered cherry tomatoes
1/4 red onion, shaved into small slices
olive oil
handful of chopped cilantro

Place the avocado slices in a bowl and sprinkle w/ kosher salt.

Lay the cherry tomatoes and onions on top of the avocado and squeeze the lemon juice on top.

Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the fresh cilantro.

I covered the leftovers with plastic wrap overnight in the fridge, and the second day the salad was still bright and fresh.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Squash in Squash on a Funny Plate

I have a million zucchinis (shhhh, I looked it up and the plural of zucchini can be either zucchini or zucchinis) in the garden, so I made a big batch of ratatouille. It freezes nicely too.

Why not stuff the extra zucchini with the ratatouille? Squash in squash.
Everyone loves stuffed vegetables.

You can also stuff the zucchini with sausage, parmesan and breadcrumbs, or for a nice healthy twist, stuff them with leftover quinoa salad. (click here for another recipe).

Just spoon out the zucchini guts. Sprinkle the insides with kosher salt and let sit a few minutes. Turn the zucchini boats upside down to drain out some of the moisture.
Spoon in whatever leftovers you have and sprinkle w/ breadcrumbs and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Drizzle a little olive oil over the zukes and bake in a 375F oven for about 40 minutes until bubbling.

Serve on a funny melamine plate you found in your closet, that you made when you were 7 years old in art class.


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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mrs. Fig, Meet Mr. Halloumi

Growing up, my mother bought packaged cheese.
We lived in the suburbs, and the offerings were slim.

She bought a nice block of Swiss Emmentaler, a package of pre-sliced Dorman's Muenster cheese (the BEST!!), maybe some Jarlsberg if we were lucky, and a Gouda wrapped in red wax once in a while.

Kraft American Singles was also the choice for hamburgers and grilled cheese.

There was no Pecorino Romano, or aged Parmigiano Reggiano (we had the green can, if that). No ripe Camembert, Chevre or Comte. And Mozzarella was a big gross block of Polly-O.

We were not French, Italian, Spanish, or Greek, so what the heck did we know?

The supermarket was our cheese monger, and convenience and little cheese knowledge was factored in.

I'm sure you know by now, that I love cheese.

I buy it from my local cheese man, who ages his own blocks, and I live next door to a French woman, who has taught me some things about the cheeses of France.


Halloumi (Greek χαλούμι, Turkish hellim, Arabic حلوم ḥallūm) is a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goats and sheep milk, and sometimes also cows milk.

It has a high melting point and so can easily be fried or grilled. Halloumi is set with rennet and is unusual in that no acid or acid-producing bacterium is used in its preparation.
Halloumi is popular in Cyprus, Greece and the Middle East.

See, you learn something new everyday.

And who doesn't love fried cheese?
I gained the Freshman 15 going to TGI Friday's every night eating fried cheese sticks!

I have wanted to make this salad from one of my favorite cookbooks Cooking for Friends forever, but my dilemma was blood oranges are in season only in the winter, and figs are in season NOW, late summer. What to do?

I guess the 2 are were meant to be together, so, I bagged the blood orange idea, and did my own thing.

You can add peaches, or regular oranges, but I added walnuts and red onion instead.

This salad is nothing short of spectacular.

It's really not about the dressing here, so use whatever you have. Even just a drizzle of olive oil is good enough.

The original recipe wants you to cut the blood oranges over a bowl and save the delicious juice for the dressing. But since I didn't have any oranges to cut, I omitted this step. Nothing was missed, it's about the grilled figs and cheese here.

Grilled Halloumi & Fig Salad (loosely adapted from Cooking w/ Friends by Williams Sonoma)

1 lb. of washed fresh arugula (also known as rocket)
2 blood oranges (yeah, good luck finding them in August), peeled and sliced in sections over a bowl (to save the juice)
5 ripe fresh figs (not dried), halved
6 oz. of Halloumi cheese, sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
handful of toasted walnuts
Maldon sea salt & pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
drizzle of white balsamic vinegar
GOOD olive oil for drizzling

Start with my favorite grill pan (I swear, it's the best pan I own), and heat it with a little olive oil.

Plate the arugula leaves on a big platter.

Grill the cheese and figs together, or if the pan is too crowded, in separate batches, for about 1 minute on each side.

Carefully flip each slice of cheese and each fig over until the cheese is nice and crispy, and the figs are jammy and bubbling.

Plate on top of the arugula and scatter with the walnuts and onion slices.

If you are lucky enough to have some Sicilian connections and can get blood oranges in NJ in August, then drizzle the gorgeous juice of the oranges over the salad.

Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the salad and some sea salt.

A drizzle of good olive oil and white balsamic vinegar to finish.

Serve right away, while the figs and cheese are nice and warm.

The grilled warm salty cheese, with the grilled jammy ripe figs. Perfect match. They should be dating.

Mr. Halloumi, I am addicted. Nice to meet you.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Heirloom Tomato Tart

I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

This tart is not only beautiful, but delicious.

It is Suzanne Goin's Heirloom Tomato Tart, that I have been dying to make from her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques (one of my favorite cookbooks) for years.

This is the first year we are growing these gorgeous heirloom varieties, so now was the time to make this piece of art.

Did you know for a tomato to be classified as an "heirloom" variety, it has to have been grown before 1945? I bet you didn't know that.

In my book, this is a typical pissaladiere, but here, using the colorful scrumptious heirlooms takes this Southern French pizza to new heights.

The only thing I did differently from the recipe was instead of caramelizing 6 cups of onions on a hot summer day, I used my surplus of onion jam for the bottom layer! Great thinking. (make that onion jam, will you?).

We loved this with some fresh mozzarella on the side and an arugula salad.

It made me happy to use my onions, tomatoes and thyme, all from the garden.

Beautiful Heirloom Tomato Tart (adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques):

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
5 different size heirloom tomatoes, sliced
6 onions, sliced thin
olive oil
kosher salt & pepper
2 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp capers
6 anchovies, rinsed and sliced in half
1/4 cup of kalamata or Nicoise olives, pitted and sliced

In a large, heavy skillet, heat some olive oil and cook the onions on medium heat for about 15 minutes until golden. Sprinkle kosher salt & thyme while cooking. Set onion mixture aside to cool.

Roll out the puff pastry sheets and fit them together on a large baking sheet.

Lay the cooled onion mixture (or onion jam in my case!) on the bottom of the pastry.

Now, place the tomato slices on top of the onions, but not overlapping, letting the onions peek thru.

Sprinkle the tomatoes w/ kosher salt and pepper.

Lay the sliced anchovies (please don't skip these hairy fellows) over the tomatoes and sprinkle on the capers and fresh thyme leaves.

Bake in a 400F oven for 20-25 minutes.

Let the tart rest about 15 minutes, so the tomato juices solidify and everything becomes solid.


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Monday, August 20, 2012

Stuffed Pepper Time: w/ Pearl Couscous & Herbs

It's that time of year again, when bell peppers are cheap and abundant.

I have them growing in the garden, but they never seem to be big enough to stuff, so farmer's market peppers it will have to be.

I am not a green pepper lover, since they always repeat on me (burp) and leave a weird taste in my mouth all day.
Bell peppers, are not only pretty, but sweet, and I love them roasted.

Here, I took Nigel Slater's idea and stuffed them with Israeli pearl couscous (which is larger than Moroccan couscous) mixed with herbs from the garden.

Use your imagination when making the couscous, anything green can go in the mix.

Stuffed Peppers w/ Israeli Couscous & Herbs:

multi-color bell peppers, ribbed & seeded and cut into thirds (make little boats)
1 cup of Israeli pearl couscous
handful of mint, basil, parsley, green onions
1/4 cup of chopped pistachios or pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp paprika
zest of a lemon and the juice
olive oil
kosher salt & pepper
fresh chopped basil for the top

Cook the couscous as per directions in broth or salted water (about 20 minutes), drain and mix w/ olive oil so the pearls don't stick.

In a skillet, heat the herbs, scallions and paprika in some oil for about a minute to soften.
Add in the garlic and lemon zest and cook another minute.
Add the herb mixture to the couscous and coat w/ some more olive oil. Squeeze the lemon over the pasta and set aside. This is your stuffing.

Lay the little pepper boats in an oiled baking dish and spoon the couscous filling into each pepper.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for about an hour at 350F.
Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil before serving.


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