Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Squash Pepita Bread

Isn’t it nice how winter squashes can be stored for a while before being used? A few weeks ago, I received a couple of cute, little winter squashes in my last CSA pick up of the summer season and didn’t get around to using them until last week. They were still fine and could have waited even longer before being used. The reason they were finally used was for what is actually called pumpkin bread in the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book. Even though it’s called pumpkin bread, it was supposed to have been made with either sweet potatoes or kabosha squash. I used the squashes I had and roasted an acorn squash as well just to be sure I would have at least the 10 ounces of squash pulp that’s needed. Silverton’s reason for using sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin is because they add more flavor and color to the bread. Since my squashes’ insides were rather light, I failed to add color to my bread, but it smelled amazing as it baked and had a nice, chewy texture. Pumpkin in the name also refers to the pumpkin seeds which add a nice crunch to the crumb. I should point out that this is not a sweet type of pumpkin bread. It's made into small, savory loaves, and the squash flavor is accented by cumin in the dough.

Although this is a two-day bread, there is a six to ten hour waiting period on the first day, so I got an early start. First, the squashes were roasted, cooled, peeled, and the pulp was mashed. The dough was made from sourdough starter, water, wheat germ, cumin, bread flour, whole wheat flour, and squash pulp. Then, raw pepitas were toasted and added to the dough with salt. There was no additional commercial yeast in this dough, so, as usual when using only starter, I was nervous. The dough seemed dense, but I hoped that was just because of the squash and pepitas. The dough went into the refrigerator to ferment for about seven hours. It was then brought back to room temperature and divided into three pieces, and unfortunately, I’m not capable of dividing dough into equal pieces. They were close enough. After resting for a bit, each piece of dough was formed into a football shape, and I did a better job of football forming than last time. I’m learning. It helped that Silverton wrote that the loaves should look like sweet potatoes which I look at more often than footballs. The loaves were then covered with a cloth and wrapped in a plastic garbage bag and left in the refrigerator to proof for ten hours.

The next morning, I removed the plastic bag and brought the loaves up to room temperature. The oven was heated to 500 degrees F, and the loaves were slashed and loaded on a peel. The oven was spritzed with water, the loaves went in, the temperature was lowered to 450, and more spritzing was repeated during the first five minutes of baking. After a total baking time of 35 minutes, the pretty, little, football-sweet-potato-shaped, squash loaves were browned and crusty and delivered to the cooling rack. As noted in the recipe, this bread has a more even interior texture, and the seeds and squash give it some heft. It’s a hearty kind of bread, and it was delicious slathered with Irish butter. Next time, I’ll make it with sweet potatoes for a brighter color, but the squash worked very well otherwise.

I’m submitting this to
Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.

Monday, September 28, 2009

MangO Salmon Salad

The other day, I was contacted by Michelle of Bleeding Espresso about the O foods contest for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The goal is to spread awareness by posting a recipe with a food that starts or ends with the letter O. I thought this sounded like a great idea for a great cause and started pondering what I could possibly submit. At the same time, I was perusing the Williams Sonoma Fish book and noticed an incredibly simple dish of pan-roasted salmon fillets in mango juice. I imagined that mango salmon could be placed on a crisp, fresh salad, and I realized that mango ends in O.

I wasn’t kidding about how simple this is, and there really isn’t much to the recipe. You simply place some salmon fillets in a glass dish and pour mango juice over them. Let the salmon sit in the mango juice for 20 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Then, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, remove the salmon from the mango bath and dry each piece, and place the salmon flesh-side down in the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium and sear the salmon for five minutes. Carefully turn the fillets and place the skillet in the hot oven for about three minutes. Pour the mango juice from the glass dish into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let the juice simmer for a few minutes to thicken slightly. Remove the skillet from the oven and pour the simmered juice over the salmon. Chopped garlic chives garnished the salmon, and since my garlic chive plants have flowers right now, I garnished with those as well.

For the salad, I made a lime shallot vinaigrette which was tossed with mixed baby lettuces. That formed a bed on each plate. While grocery shopping, I looked for something to sit in the center of the salad and found some delicate, little arugula micro greens that were locally grown at Bella Verdi Farms. Those were also tossed with some of the vinaigrette and were then placed in the center of the salad. Pieces of mango sauce-covered salmon were placed around the mound of micro greens. For contrast, flavor, and crunch, I sprinkled on thinly sliced red fresno chiles and green onions and some chopped cashews.


O Foods Contest for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and for the second year in a row, Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso are hosting the O Foods Contest to raise awareness of this important health issue.

There are TWO WAYS to take part in the O Foods Contest:

ONE: Post a recipe to your blog using a food that starts or ends with the letter O (e.g., oatmeal, orange, okra, octopus, olive, onion, potato, tomato); include this entire text box in the post; and send your post url along with a photo (100 x 100) to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on Monday, September 28, 2009.

PRIZES for recipe posts:


TWO: If you’re not into the recipe thing, simply post this entire text box in a post on your blog to help spread the word and send your post url to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on Monday, September 28, 2009.

Awareness posts PRIZE:

  • One winner chosen at random will receive a Teal Toes tote bag filled with ovarian cancer awareness goodies that you can spread around amongst your friends and family.

From the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund:

  • Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1 in 67.

  • The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, making it difficult to diagnose, but include bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency).

  • There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests which can detect ovarian cancer when patients are at high risk or have early symptoms.

  • In spite of this, patients are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. Only 19% of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region.

  • When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%.

And remember, you can also always donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund at our page through FirstGiving!

Please help spread the word about ovarian cancer.

Together we can make enough noise to kill this silent killer.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Composed Salad of Roasted Broccoli, Romaine, Chickpeas, and Walnuts

A composed salad is like a mini, refined salad bar of your own. The refined part is evident in the obvious lack of a sneeze guard. The ingredients are prepped, possibly tossed with dressing, and arranged on a platter for each person to serve him/herself. You can choose how much of each item to include on your own plate, and arrange things as you choose. This particular composed salad was in the July issue of Living magazine. Reading the title alone made me sure this was a salad I wanted to eat, but then when I read the recipe, I found out there’s also a goat cheese puree and sherry vinaigrette that made it sound even better. The walnuts were supposed to have been candied with honey and some savory ingredients too, but I decided to omit the sweetness and keep them firmly in the savory category.

There are several little parts of preparation for this salad, but they’re all very simple and very worth doing. First, the broccoli was roasted with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. Meanwhile, canned chickpeas were rinsed and drained and then added to a saucepan in which some chopped shallots had been sauteed. At the end of cooking the chickpeas, a teaspoon of sherry vinegar was added. Next, the goat cheese puree was made by pulsing fresh goat cheese, water, olive oil, and sherry vinegar in a food processor. Also, walnuts were roasted with garlic, lemon, olive oil, and salt and pepper. And last on the list was the vinaigrette made with dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, a tiny bit of honey, and olive oil. The only other item was the romaine which I chopped rather than leaving the leaves whole. I made the goat cheese puree, vinaigrette, and roasted walnuts in advance, so the actual dinner-time prep was very quick. The romaine and roasted broccoli were each, separately, tossed with some vinaigrette and placed on the platter. The warm chickpeas and roasted walnuts found places on the platter too. The goat cheese puree was spooned onto an open spot on the platter so items could be dipped through it, and extra puree was served in a small dish.

This salad had no chance of not being a winner. I was already a big fan of roasted broccoli, chickpeas, and goat cheese, and this brought them all together in a particularly enjoyable way. It’s a casual composition that can sit comfortably at room temperature. The leftovers made an excellent lunch as well, but be sure to pull them out of the refrigerator 20 minutes or so in advance so the vinaigrette can loosen up after being chilled. I’m already thinking about using the parts of this salad on their own. The goat cheese puree was a delicious dip with broccoli, and the lemony roasted walnuts with a hint of garlic flavor would make a great snack with cocktails.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thai Style Crab Cakes

I’ve made crab cakes many times in the past. I’ve made different sizes and mixed up the ingredients in small ways, but nothing really new and different in any significant way ever happened with my approach. Then, I saw Mark Bittman’s NY Times article about Thai style crab cakes, and there was a new and different twist that I simply had to try. His idea was to mimic Thai fish cakes that use pureed fish as a binder, but he used shrimp instead of fish for a better melding of flavors with crab. A few more ingredients common in Thai cuisine were added, and he had a new kind of crab cake. I had prepared a shopping list with this recipe in mind, and we stopped off at the farmers’ market before going to the grocery store. I was excited to find locally grown Thai chiles and Thai basil to use in the crab cakes.

For one pound of lump crab meat, six medium, raw shrimp were pureed in a food processor. The pureed shrimp were added to a mixing bowl with a little fish sauce, one egg, some chopped green onions, cilantro leaves, a seeded and chopped Thai chile or two, minced fresh ginger, chopped Thai basil, and the crab. This was carefully mixed together while trying not to break up the crab too much. Two to three tablespoons of fresh bread crumbs were to be added, and I think I used even less than that. The shrimp and egg held the mixture together very well, and the breadcrumbs were almost unnecessary. The cakes were formed and refrigerated for 30 minutes or so and then were dredged in flour before being fried for a few minutes on each side.

In the article, Bittman suggested serving the cakes with a dipping sauce of fish or soy sauce with lime juice, etc. or possibly with a mayonnaise mixed with fish sauce. I stirred together a quick sauce with mayonnaise, fish sauce, lime juice, and chopped Thai basil. These crab cakes were fantastic with a little dollop of that on top, but they were so full of flavor, they were also great all by themselves. I’m definitely hanging on to this recipe and foresee cute, little, mini versions of these cakes being served at upcoming holiday parties.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gremolata Seared Chicken

This is another quick and simple dish from Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf, and I served this chicken with spinach polenta with balsamic tomatoes. The photos and the straightforward nature of the recipes in this book make each and every thing in it difficult to resist. I looked through the Mediterranean chapter for ideas for what to serve with the polenta. Fish roasted in capers and lemon butter was one option. The balsamic and tomato roast chicken looked good but was too similar to the polenta dish. The tuna and grilled vegetable salad wasn’t quite right, but I’ll definitely be making that eventually. Likewise, the green olive baked chicken was almost perfect, but because cherry tomatoes were included in it, I finally settled on the gremolata seared chicken.

Gremolata was made by stirring together chopped flat-leaf parsley, chopped salt-packed capers that had been rinsed and drained, lemon zest, and black pepper. That mixture was sprinkled on chicken breasts, and the chicken was seared in olive oil in a saute pan. In the book, this chicken is shown being served with salt-roasted potatoes and steamed green beans. I’m sure that would have been delicious too, but the chicken also worked very well with polenta and roasted tomatoes.

If I had been planning ahead, I might have applied the gremolata to the chicken and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before cooking. And, certainly, the chicken could have been grilled or baked rather than pan seared. The gremolata provided a very easy way of adding a lot of flavor to the blank canvas that is chicken breast meat. Now, which page of the book should I cook from next?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Spinach Polenta with Balsamic Tomatoes

For lack of an original idea, I can tell you this dish represents two great tastes that taste great together. It’s not candy, but the principle applies. The tomatoes on their own are full of flavor after baking with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and fresh oregano. The polenta is balanced with parmigiano reggiano richness and the fresh taste of spinach. Each component is noteworthy on its own, but put them together and what you get is a step above that. I wanted to try this as soon as I first read Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf earlier in the year. At the time, it wasn’t tomato season yet, so I waited. When the season got here, I of course, had completely forgotten about the dish. Luckily, I flipped through the book again last week and was reminded of it just in time.

It’s quick to prepare because the polenta is cooked while the tomatoes are in the oven. The tomatoes were halved and placed in a baking dish. Then, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh oregano leaves, and a pinch of sugar in my case, since I reduced the amount, were combined and poured over the tomatoes. This was baked for 20 minutes at 400 F. Meanwhile, milk and water were brought to a boil, polenta was slowly whisked in and then stirred until cooked, shredded parmigiano reggiano and fresh spinach were incorporated, and I added some kernels of fresh corn as well.

The polenta was served with tomato halves on top, pan juices from the tomatoes were spooned over it, and it was finished with a little extra shredded parmigiano. I tasted the two parts of the dish separately and thought both were great. Then, I tasted them together and realized what a great combination this was intended to be. So go ahead and put some balsamic roasted tomato in your spinach polenta, and you’ll see what I mean.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ganache-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

I saw these cookies on the last page of the September issue of Food and Wine. Kurt loves chocolate chip cookies, so I immediately decided I should make these for him. Yes, these were all for Kurt. At any time, when asked what kind of cookie he would like, the answer is always chocolate chip. I hoped he wouldn’t mind the usual simplicity being ruined by a chocolate ganache filling, but I thought he would probably be able to deal with it. So, yes, these cute, little, crunchy cookies with a rich chocolate ganache sandwiched between them were not something I would want. Not at all. This baking endeavor was entirely for Kurt.

The cookie dough recipe is straightforward. Walnuts were added to the dough, and if you prefer your chocolate chip cookies without nuts you could omit them. The walnuts were particularly enjoyable in this cookie though. I mean it seems like they would be since these cookies were for Kurt not me. The ganache filling was started in the usual way. Cream was warmed with corn syrup, and that was poured over chocolate. The chocolate was whisked to a smooth state, and then the recipe called for creme fraiche to be added. I had never added creme fraiche to a ganache before. Butter, yes, but not creme fraiche. The finished ganache was chilled for 30 minutes before being spread on half the cookies. I noticed that my cookies turned a little darker than those pictured in the magazine. Next time, I’ll check on them before the end of the 12 minute baking time.

So, after baking the cookies, making the ganache, and filling the sandwiches, I gave up the notion that these were just for Kurt. I had tasted a plain cookie and quite liked it, but the sandwiched cookies with this chocolate filling were just crazy. I want to say the creme fraiche made the ganache a little more like chocolate pudding, but I really didn’t think about it for long. I was too busy trying to prevent myself from devouring every last cookie before Kurt even got home.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tomato and Cantal Tart

The title of this post is a lie. That is the correct title of the tart found in The Modern Baker which I continue to enjoy, but my tart was made with other cheeses. I went to Whole Foods in search of some cantal cheese, and they had none. What they did have was an incredibly helpful person at the cheese counter. I really should have learned his name. He offered me multiple samples of alternate cheeses, and when I was still unsure, he went in the back to grab a cheese reference book. Together, we looked at the description of cantal, and I really should have learned the title of that book. At any rate, the person whose name I don’t know read aloud from the book, with a title I don’t know, a description of cantal’s flavors. This book suggested that the flavor of cantal is best copied by blending laguiole and cheddar. Laguiole is an earthy, slightly salty and pleasantly pungent cheese, and a clothbound cheddar from Grafton Village lended a calmer milkiness with less of an edge. I was offered samples of each and was finally ready to make a decision. In the end, I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing some cheese for such a simple tart.

The no-roll, flaky dough as it’s called was made in a food processor, and it was patted into a tart pan. The dough was chilled in the pan overnight, and it could have sat in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Once I was ready to bake, some dijon mustard was spread on the bottom of the uncooked crust. The cheeses I selected were shredded, and half of the shredded pile was placed on the mustard. Sliced heirloom tomatoes went on the cheese, and the remaining cheese was placed on the tomatoes. Only black pepper seasoned the tart because Malgieri explains in the recipe that salt could cause the tomatoes to become watery while baking. The tart baked for about 30 minutes and then a little extra virgin olive oil was drizzled on top.

Before serving, fresh basil leaves were to be placed on the tart. You’ll want to let the tart cool some or the basil leaves will quickly turn brownish black. This tart of few ingredients is all about the ripeness and perfection of the tomatoes. The crust, baked to a barely-golden yet crisp state and the carefully selected cheeses were really there to accent the tomatoes. While I hesitated too long and clearly fretted about my final cheese decision, the kind man at Whole Foods said in an encouraging voice “you know what, the tart is going to be delicious.” And, you know what, he was right.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Watermelon Sorbetto

I’ve finally learned of all the wonders to be found in The Perfect Scoop. I had to get an ice cream maker first, and now that I have one, the three of us (ice cream maker, book, me) will be found together quite a lot. This book can teach you how to make all the classic ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and granita flavors, and it offers so much more. There are sauces and vessels for dressing up the frozen treats, and the tips and techniques are wonderfully useful. For instance, I didn’t realize I could prevent a mixture from instantly freezing to the sides of the canister by simply turning on the machine, let it start spinning, and then pour in the custard or puree. Then, the serving suggestions had my head spinning. I never would have thought of serving banana sorbet with espresso granita garnished with candied pineapple or chocolate granita crystals spooned over white chocolate ice cream or super lemon ice cream with fluffy marshmallow sauce to mimic a lemon meringue pie. One suggestion I will be trying very soon is butterscotch pecan ice cream scooped onto blondies and drizzled with lean chocolate sauce or possibly caramel sauce. With all of these great ideas, I would have had a very hard time deciding where to start if it weren’t for a great, big watermelon sitting on my kitchen counter. That made the watermelon sorbetto an easy choice.

Watermelon was pureed into juice. Some of the juice was warmed in a saucepan with sugar and a pinch of salt until the sugar dissolved. That mixture was combined with the rest of the watermelon juice and some lime juice. Vodka was optional, and I skipped it believe it or not. I quite like vodka with watermelon and lime, but I chose to keep the sorbetto alcohol-free. The watermelon juice mixture was chilled, and then it went into the ice cream maker after turning it on and letting it start spinning of course.

There was one special ingredient in this sorbetto. Rather than just freezing that watermelon juice mixture, a surprise in the form of mini chocolate chunks was stirred in at the end. The little chocolate pieces look like seeds, and they give the sorbetto bits of crunch and dark chocolate flavor. In the book, the sorbetto is shown frozen into popsicles. I don’t have a popsicle mold, yet, so I froze mine as individual servings in ramekins instead. Individual servings are almost as fun as a popsicles aren’t they? It often seems like frozen treats are just for summer, but there are ideas for all seasons throughout the book. I’m looking forward to creating all of these frozen treats for all kinds of occasions to come.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pozole Rojo

Pozole, also spelled posole, is a stew made from hominy, or nixtamal, which is dried corn. The dried corn itself may also be called pozole or posole rather than hominy. Cooked, canned hominy is also available, but for this stew you’ll want to start with the dried kind. When our weather finally changed, the dark, rainy sky made it seem like time for a slow-simmered stew. I stole ideas from two different recipes, and just to complicate matters, I changed a thing or two. First, I had read Deborah Madison’s pozole recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everone which starts with soaked pozole simmered in water with a few dried guajillo chiles, some smashed cloves of garlic, chopped white onion, and dried Mexican oregano. I also looked at Rick Bayless’ recipe in Mexico One Plate at a Time which is a pork and hominy stew. I wanted to skip the pork entirely, but I was interested in the addition of some stock once the corn is cooked to a tender state. Also, in that recipe, some ancho chiles are rehydrated and then pureed. That puree is strained into the stew when the stock is added. After picking and choosing and changing this and that, I ended up with a mix and match pozole rojo. Stick with me on this, most of the time involved is spent reading a book while the stew simmers, and the result is worth every minute.

The day before I started cooking the stew, I poured boiling water over the dried pozole and left it to soak until the next day. From reading the information in Mexico One Plate at a Time, I understood that the longer the pozole could cook the better. Bayless points out that it’s often left to simmer overnight before fiestas. I drained the soaked pozole and began cooking it in fresh water about five and a half hours before I planned to serve it, and I would guess that three hours would be the minimum cooking time. The goal is to cook the corn to the point at which it flowers, or the kernels begin to open somewhat resembling popcorn. I added the chiles, garlic, onion, and oregano as suggested in Deborah Madison’s recipe. After three and a half hours of cooking, I added a couple teaspoons of salt. An hour later, I added some chicken stock and pushed the pureed ancho chiles through a strainer into the stew. That was left to simmer for one more hour. During that last hour or so, you should taste the stew a few times and consider adjusting the seasoning. I ended up adding almost two tablespoons of salt before the corn and broth were well seasoned. Bayless explains that the corn absorbs a lot of seasoning, and extra salt is usually needed.

Last, but certainly not least, are the toppings. Pozole is presented with any combination of the following: thinly sliced cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, dried Mexican oregano, tostadas, sliced jalapenos, cubed avocado, lime wedges, cilantro leaves, diced onion, crumbled queso fresco, and sliced meat such as the grilled chicken that I served. A warm bowl of tender, cooked corn with a fragrant, deep red broth is topped with whichever of those items you choose. And, it happens to be delicious served with crunchy tortilla chips and the roasted salsa verde from Mexico One Plate at a Time.

Pozole Rojo
combined, adapted, and adjusted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Mexico One Plate at a Time

3 c dried pozole
½ onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 dried guajillo chiles, washed, stemmed, and seeded
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
6 ancho chiles, washed, stemmed, and seeded
2 quarts chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

4 c thinly sliced green cabbage
3 limes, cut into wedges
5 radishes, thinly sliced
2 jalapenos, thinly sliced
1 c cilantro leaves
2 c sliced, grilled chicken
1 avocado, peeled and cubed

-in a large, heat-proof bowl, cover dried pozole with boiling water so that water’s surface is two inches above top of pozole and let stand until the water is room temperature; place bowl in refrigerator overnight
-drain soaked pozole and place it in a large stock pot; add four and one half quarts fresh water, the chopped onion, smashed garlic, guajillo chiles, and Mexican oregano; bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer; simmer for three and a half hours or longer if time allows; stir occasionally; add two teaspoons salt after about three hours and stir; continue simmering
-meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring two cups water to a boil; add cleaned ancho pieces to boiling water and remove from heat; once anchos have rehydrated and cooled, place them with some of the steeping liquid in a blender and puree until smooth; place a strainer over the stockpot and press ancho puree through it into the simmering stew; add two quarts rich, homemade chicken stock to stew; add a tablespoon of salt and stir to incorporate; taste the stew a few times as it simmers for another hour to hour and a half and add salt to taste (possibly as much as another tablespoon)
-serve bowls of stew with a platter of toppings, some tortilla chips, and a bowl of homemade roasted salsa verde

I'm sending this to the Mexican Fiest at aromas y sabores.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Plum and Port Crostata

First, I saw this plum and port crostata on the very last page of the August issue of Living magazine, and then I spotted Italian prune plums in the grocery store. Little, egg-shaped, Italian prune plums seem to pack a full-sized plum’s amount of flavor into a smaller parcel. For this crostata, they were mixed with a reduced ruby port syrup, and that sounded like a such a good idea, I knew I’d like it just by reading about it. There are two slightly unusual things about this recipe. One is that one half of a seeded and minced Thai chile is an optional ingredient. That was intriguing to me, so I included it, but the flavor was lost in the port syrup. The plums and syrup were so lovely together I don’t think I’d bother with it next time I make this. The other interesting thing is that a pie dish is suggested for baking the crostata rather than letting it be more free-form on a baking sheet. I went ahead and used a dish in case the plums and syrup needed to be supported to prevent a runny mess, and that was probably the point. The syrup does set up by the end of the baking time, but there’s a fair amount of liquid as it starts to bake.

So, the dough was rolled and placed in a baking dish and left to chill while the syrup was made. Ruby port and brown sugar were heated in a saucepan and left to reduce to about a third of the original amount. Once cool, that reduced syrup was stirred into a bowl with the halved and pitted plums, more brown sugar, salt, cornstarch, and cinnamon. That mixture was placed in the pie shell, and the dough edges were turned inward and then brushed with cream and sprinkled with turbinado sugar. The crostata baked for two hours total which seemed like a very long time, but it worked out fine.

The once juicy filling was bubbly and thick when it emerged from the oven, and the house was filled with the incredible smell of baking plums. I was sure this was going to be delicious, and it did not disappoint. The port prevented the syrup from being too sweet, and it mixed with the flavor of the plums perfectly. Italian prune plums won’t be around for long, in fact, I didn’t see any at the grocery store yesterday. Next time they appear though, I’ll be ready to greet them with this recipe in hand.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Basil Limeade Slushies

There was an article in the August issue of Food and Wine (Farm-Fresh French Recipes) with several great-looking recipes I intended to try. Among those recipes were chilled zucchini soup with purslane, brown rice pilaf with green olives and lemon, oven-roasted tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese, and basil limeade slushies. Unfortunately, I was having the kind of day during which everything that could go wrong did. I had brought home some heirloom tomatoes that were real beauties, and I had procured some goat cheese, and my own basil plants are still going strong. I made the goat cheese stuffing, placed it in the tomatoes, and roasted them. No problems there. However, when I reached into the oven to remove the baking dish, it slipped out of my hands, and the tomatoes and goat cheese stuffing landed upside down and smooshed all over the oven door and the floor. By some miracle, the dish didn’t break, but brunch was ruined. Later that night, I had much better luck with these slushies before dinner. As for the name, I previously made watermelon margarita ‘slushes’ while these are named ‘slushies.’ Tomayto tomahto. I’ve just gone with the name that was printed with each recipe.

There’s a note at the beginning of the recipe stating that by adding rum these would make great cocktails. So, of course, especially after my unfortunate morning, I made them into rum cocktails. Ice, water, lime juice, basil leaves, sugar, and rum were blended. That mixture was poured into glasses and was topped with sparkling water.

I actually used a bit less sugar than suggested which made our slushies nice and tart. The basil and lime together was a delicious combination that mixed very well with rum. I was certain this would be a concoction that only I would enjoy, but Kurt actually gave it a big thumbs-up. Regardless of how your day is going, these slushies would be a nice part of it, and I’m sure they’d be just as good even if you left out the rum.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Big City Salmon with Martini Sauce

We were in the mood for a light-ish kind of meal involving fish and some salad, and I found some fresh and fabulous king salmon at Whole Foods. I could have simply seared and roasted it and left it at that, but then what are all those cookbooks doing here anyway? I found an interesting sauce to try in Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer. In introducing the recipe in the book, she explains that years ago she created a menu of regionally-themed dishes for a Fourth of July dinner. To represent Manhattan in that menu, she developed a martini sauce with olives for salmon. That sounded like a sauce worth trying. For a side dish, I tried the zucchini and fennel slaw from the July issue of Gourmet, and that recipe is on Epicurious.

The salmon could have been grilled, roasted, or even poached, but I did my usual quick sear in a saute pan, turn, and place in a 400 F degree oven for a few minute to cook not quite all the way through. The sauce was started by reducing gin and vermouth with chopped shallots and juniper berries. Once reduced to about three tablespoons, cream was added, and that was reduced again. It was then strained into a bowl and poured back into a saucepan so just a little butter could be incorporated. Sliced pimento-stuffed olives and lemon juice were added. Meanwhile, the slaw was very quickly assembled. I thinly sliced the zucchini and fennel with a Benriner, and they were dressed with a combination of mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, and mustard.

The meal worked out great. The martini sauce was nicely flavored in a pleasantly boozy sort of way, and the juniper berries gave it a very subtle, wispy hint of pine. The olives took charge visually and brought little punches of brininess that went well with the salmon. And, even though the slaw just sat in the background, off to the side of the plate, it was more delicious than I expected. It was shown in Gourmet with salmon cakes, it was great with the salmon I made, and I can imagine it as a side with all sorts of other things too. It’s incredibly simple to prepare, and I definitely recommend it.

Blogging tips