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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Spirit is Willing

I'm just bone tired. Laundry has beaten me down. Who can believe so much laundry is created by five adults in nine days.

I've missed writing about our days at the beach, but did chronicle it in photos. I'll be back in a couple of days, after I finish the ironing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Indian Flatbread

I did warn you that I'm a little crazy when it comes to planning food for our beach week. This is the first year I decided to make an Indian dinner - a new level of crazy as it involved bringing 11 spices to the beach. It was a wonderful dinner and everyone was happy to be eating homemade Indian food.

The chicken tikka masala, spinach potato croquettes, daal, and roasted potatoes with cumin seed were delicious, but the grilled flatbread was the icing on the cake, so to speak. It is an easy recipe and you'll love the way it makes even a simple curry special.

Grilled Flatbread

3/4 c plain whole milk yogurt at room temperature (I've also used low-fat successfully)
1 T yeast
1/4 warm water
1 T nigella seed, black sesame seed or charnushka
1 t salt
2 c flour
some canola or olive oil

Combine yogurt, yeast and water and stir to dissolve. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until a few bubbles form.

Add seeds, salt and flour and mix well until the mixture comes together. Let stand for 15 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids. Dump the dough out on the counter and knead gently until it is smooth.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise for 30 minutes. (I make the dough in the morning and put it in an oiled ziplock bag in the fridge, removing it about an hour before grilling.)

Cut the dough into 8 pieces and roll out each piece until about 1/4" thick. The shapes will be uneven and rough. Place each flatbread on oiled parchment and oil the top of the dough. Roll out all eight pieces before you start the grilling. I put oiled parchment on a cookie sheet, set the breads on the paper, oil it, and then stack another piece of parchment on top when I run out of room. This will allow you to carry all the breads out to the grill.

Make sure your grill or grill pan is super hot, and then grill each piece of bread for approximately 1 min. per side, or until cooked through. It's going to bubble up and get gorgeous grill marks. This is not a cracker-y crisp bread, so don't overcook.

Larb - Horrid name, delicious treat

I clipped this recipe out of the New York Times sometime in the last few months and thought it would be a tasty appetizer at the beach. And it was!

It's quick and easy. Just serve with cucumber spears and lettuce cups, or if you're not that fancy, just a few rounds of cucumber and a bed of lettuce will do. It's light and refreshing, salty and sweet and crispy and everything all at once.

Chicken Larb

2 T roasted rice powder*
4 frozen boneless chicken breasts, slightly defrosted
1 small Thai chili pepper, seeded and minced
3-4 tsp fish sauce
juice of four limes
1/4 c minced red onion
2 T chopped cilantro
4 scallions, white and green parts sliced thin
Garnish: lettuce cups and cucumber spears

Mince the chicken breasts up into very small pieces. Easiest if the chicken is still a little frozen.
Cook the chicken in a medium saute pan in about 2T of water until just cooked through. Pour off any excess water.
Toss the chicken with the remaining ingredients.

*Roasted rice powder is available at Asian grocers. I wasn't able to locate it easily, so opted to make my own. You'll need raw sticky rice - about 1/4 c. - and a spice grinder. If you don't have a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle and a willing husband work just fine. Toast the rice in a dry skillet until just golden and then grind to a coarse powder. This takes awhile, but so worth it! It's the secret ingredient in larb.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First Dinner, First Breakfast

Here we are at the beach. With the edges of Hurricane Bill skirting up the East Coast, we enjoyed a spectacular and massive rain last night. Today the ghastly humidity of yesterday is blowing away, replaced with puffy clouds and bright sun and a huge, scary surf (12'-16' waves expected!)

We packed up Janet & Doug's van and our station wagon and got on the way yesterday morning. Here's a picture of how an obsessively organized and manically planned beach week starts:

Yes, there was still enough room (barely) for five adults and one small dog.

Arriving at the beach house there was such a nice flurry of activity that we were settled in, food in fridge and freezer, in about an hour. The most wonderful part was Janet's contribution - rushing about and covering scarred tables with colorful cloths, setting farmstand flowers around and generally beautifying an otherwise simple (rustic?) little house.

We had Janet's fantastic guacamole spiced with fresh cayenne peppers from the garden. I roasted two small ducks (semi-successfully - will not blog that recipe without more testing), butter & cream corn, tomatoes with mozzerella, and fresh lima beans. Several bottles of wine were consumed. We finished up with a sour cherry pie (from filling canned in June.)

Here's the gorgeous table by Janet. I should have taken a photo including the vases of fat sunflowers at the end of the table to provide a full experience, but ...

This morning, around 7, as Dennis rode off on his bicycle, hoping to avoid the hottest part of the day, I stirred together our traditional first morning's breakfast, Blueberry Corn Cake. A curious combination that is amazingly delicious.

Blueberry Corn Cake

5 Tbls unsalted butter
1 c flour
1 c cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1-1/4 c buttermilk
1/4 c maple syrup
2 c blueberries
1.5 c corn, cut off the cob, either raw or previously cooked

Preheat oven to 375. Put the butter in a 13 x 9 pan and let it melt well and brown a little bit.

While the butter is melting, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl (or the cup measure, which makes for fewer things to wash), whisk together the eggs, vanilla, buttermilk and maple syrup. Add to the dry ingredients.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the melted butter in and stir quickly and not too much. It's okay if it's a little lumpy. With a pastry brush, coat the baking pan with the butter so the cake won't stick.

Now, fold in the blueberries and corn and pour the mixture back into the baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a pick comes out clean. That's just enough time to walk out to the beach and smell the surf.

Serve with fresh butter, maple syrup and strong coffee.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Chip That's Good For You

It's only 6:30am. Dennis has left to ride his bike. He's planning to ride a century - 100 miles - and the training schedule had him riding 42 miles today. As it's still about a million degrees outside, with a billion percent humidity, he had to get an early start.

The vacation officially began yesterday with the arrival of Janet & Doug. They live in Mexico, and we have had the joy of staying with them many times. This is a perfect opportunity to reciprocate. Janet is a wonderful cook, fantastic hostess, and one couldn't ask for a better friend. And there isn't a person alive who can set a table like Janet. Beginning this evening, she will take over that part of presenting our meals. (Didn't seem right to greet her in the driveway with "Come, set the table for us.") I'll take photos of the table and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Last night's dinner was simple and fresh. Grilled salmon, fresh tomatoes, sauteed green beans and shallots, roasted golden beets. Dessert - pound cake and peach ice cream. While everything was tasty, the real standout was the appetizer of crispy kale. This recipe will amaze your family and friends!

Slow Roasted Kale
Preheat oven to 250
Wash a big bunch of kale, separating the leaves from the ribs and tearing the leaves into 2" pieces.

Dry well (I use a salad spinner) and toss with about 1 Tbls olive oil and 1 tsp good salt

Put the leaves on a rack, and put the rack inside a baking sheet.

Pop it in the oven, stir after about 12 min to separate the leaves.
It should be done in about 25 min.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Every Dog Has His Day, or His Biscuit

It was going to be a big day of cooking. No two ways about it. It's down to the wire. Two of our beach guests arrive the day after tomorrow. The other on Thursday. I rolled up my sleeves and started cooking early this morning.

First, I threw together a baguette dough. This can rise in the fridge for two days - and will have a more developed flavor if it sits that long. I have used this recipe for baguette with very consistent results, especially when made with King Arthur's Artisan flour (although regular all purpose also makes a very nice loaf.) While the recipe says it makes one baguette, I always make two because an uncut baguette will last longer, and we really shouldn't eat an entire baguette in one night - even though it would be really easy to do. With an entire block of butter. But I digress.

Then I set some roma tomatoes in the oven to roast. These were still leftover from the batch I bought at the farmers market, and really needed to be cooked. Throughout the day, I roasted, food milled, made the new Sauce #4, and packaged it up for the freezer. I have four quarts. I feel rich.

Next - an appetizer for Wednesday. I had bookmarked this one awhile back - easy as can be - white beans pureed with pesto and squeeze of lemon. I'm hoping it becomes more interesting with time. I'll make some pita chips tomorrow.

Next, I whipped up a batch of dog biscuits. Our little terrier Dylan has such a sensitive stomach he will only eat the peanut butter dog biscuits I make for him. Yes, he's spoiled.

Finally, I made some pistachio/orange biscotti. These are for the beach - perfect snacks for these guests, who are big on afternoon tea and a biscuit.

Somewhere in there, I did a ton of laundry, changed the beds, made dinner (sauteed eggplant and tomatoes with garlic and basil, homemade oat flour fettucine, sauteed green beans), and fed us both. I'm earning that beach vacation.

A day well spent and a happy collection of goodies to pack up.

Dog biscuits for your favorite puppy

1.5 c white flour

1.5 c wheat flour
.5 c corn meal
.5 c rolled oats
3 Tbls natural peanut butter, crunchy is nice, but creamy will do
2 eggs

.5 c safflower oil
1.5 c water

2 tsp vanilla
Equipment: 2 sheet pans, rolling pin, a dog-biscuit cutter is nice

Preheat oven to 400•

Put first four ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine
I use a large cup measure to measure the oil and water, then add the eggs, peanut butter and vanilla and stir well.
With the mixer running, stream in the liquids.

Blend well and turn out the dough onto a well floured rolling board (or the counter.)
Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into two parts.
Roll out each part to about 1/4" thick, cut out dog biscuits with a cookie cutter and place on ungreased sheet pan.

Pop the sheet pans in the oven and bake the biscuits for 20-25 min.
Switch the placement of the pans, back to front and upper to lower.

Turn the oven off, and leave the biscuits in the oven to dry out for another 25 min.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How a movie got in the way, and a new dinner was invented

Today started as most Saturday mornings do, with a trip to the small, charming farmers market in the neighborhood. I've shopped there every Saturday for years, and have developed a nice relationship with the vendors. I look forward to Betsy's lambing season, the week Susan has currants and gooseberries (OMG, Amanda Hesser's Currant/Goosberry tart from The Cook and The Gardener. so fabulous.), yellow haricot verts from Haroun.

Haroun had terrible news this morning - his entire San Marzano crop was hit with the blight. This is the first report I've heard at the market, but could also be the beginning in this part of the country. We talked about it for awhile - his practices are so clean; it's evident in the produce he offers. He started all his plants from seed in sterilized soil. He said he had blisters on the leaves one day, and mushy fruit the next. I can't imagine watching all that work fail. Heartbreaking.

It was heartbreaking to me, as well. I had plans for those tomatoes of his. I always oven roast 8-10 lbs of romas, then freeze them. In the winter, they make great additions to everything from white bean dip to lentil soup.

I also like to have the freezer packed with 25 recipes (50 lbs fresh tomatoes) of Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce #3. This is an exquisite simple sauce that freezes beautifully in quart sized bags, and provides a perfect quick dinner all winter long. I could write about it all day, but Molly Wizenberg's Ode to Marcella is perfection.

Once I absorbed the news from Haroun, I went to check on Brett's tomato crop. He had lots of cherry types, some early girls, romas, and three or four varieties of heirloom. A very pretty table. He was offering a big box of tomatoes (15-20 lbs?) for sauce at a good price, and I was seduced.

Do I even need to say how much I did not need another project before going to the beach Friday?

Drove home and started the roasting process - sliced each tomato lengthwise, placed them skin side down on parchment on a baking sheet, drizzled liberally with olive oil, sprinkled with 1.5 tsp Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper and popped them in a 225 oven for six hours, or until carmelized on the edges. The amount of time varies with the moisture in the tomato.

I thought I would make some fettucine with oat flour, and to turn a couple of pounds of the tomatoes into Marcella's recipe for dinner. That, some crispy kale - perfection!

And then, I went off to a late afternoon showing of Spread (BTW, not a great movie. I predict straight to video.) Of course, by the time I got home, I had no interest in making any pasta, or fiddling with more tomatoes. Found some boxed fettucine. And took a look at the four pans of tomatoes that had been roasting for three hours - half the necessary time.

Necessity (and Laziness?) being the Mother of Invention, I took one half-roasted pan of tomatoes, and riffed on Marcella's recipe for sauce. So yummy! If you've eaten Sauce #3, and you know how it makes you want to lick the inside of the pot, you really must try this.

Oven Roasted Tomato (Sauce Number Four?)

2 lbs. tomatoes, oven roasted (as described above)
Puree through the food mill into a medium saucepan
Add one onion, halved
3 Tbls. butter
Cook at a slow simmer for 25 min. Remove onion halves.
Toss with fettucine cooked al dente, serve with shaved parmesian and minced fresh basil.

As for the crispy kale? Well, I'll just make that tomorrow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Heirloom Beans

Recently, I started thinking about dried beans. I've been cooking black beans and white beans, alternately. I cook an entire pot full, then freeze two thirds (in two packages), as one pound of beans easily makes three meals for us, including lunch leftovers. Black beans inevitably become semi-re-fried with onion and garlic and Penzey's very delicious Southwest Seasoning. White beans get a parmesian rind dropped in for the last 30 minutes, and then join swiss chard or kale and some sort of stock and shaved Parmesian, served with a side of crusty bread for a stew-y, soup-y, surprisingly light dinner.

Clearly, it was time to branch out. I went directly to - the most amazing source for heirloom beans. I showed it to Dennis, who never met a black bean he didn't love, but was skeptical of most other beans. Naturally, he selected some black beans for us to try. I insisted on diversity, so we ended up with a black and white bean, Vaquero ( ), and two others I will write about some other time.

Tonight's dinner featured the Vaquero beans. Flour tortilla for burritos, with corn on the cob, sauteed sweet red onion and yellow summer squash, tomato, avocado and grated cheese on the side. And the recently 'put-up' roasted poblano salsa.

Beans are a great food, wonderful protein. Fresh beans are incredibly rich, satisfying, creamy and have a wonderful mouth feel.( The old, decrepit beans at the grocery store are dusty and stale.) Three cheers for heirloom beans. Try 'em. You'll like 'em.

Pot beans

Rinse one pound of fresh dried beans in cold water, checking for small stones. Soak the beans in cold water to cover by 2" for four to six hours. (Overnight soaking is fine. I generally start the beans soaking at breakfast, then cook them later in the afternoon.)

In a large, heavy stockpot (5 qt.), put beans, one onion, rough chopped, one tablespoon butter, and enough boiling water to cover the beans by two inches. I make ours vegetarian, but if you want to add a piece of salt pork, or a ham knuckle, go right ahead. And if you're vegan, omit the butter, but stir in 1 Tbls. good oil at the end of cooking.

Bring the beans to a boil, then back off the heat to a lazy simmer and cover, cooking for 2-4 hours, depending on the bean. Test every 30 min. or so after the beans have been cooking for two hours. When nearly tender, add 1-2 tsp kosher salt.

Now the beans are ready to be eaten, as is, or made into anything else - just use as you would canned beans.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes - Growing, Cooking, Appreciating

It's finally heirloom tomato season here. They arrived at the farm stand last week, at the farmer's market the week before. Ugly and strange, large and mottled. Purple, orange, yellow, green, pink, red and even chocolate brown. (Haven't seen White Queen yet, but I'm sure it's just a few days behind.)

I have always loved the heirlooms, appreciated their fragility and lusciousness. Then I spent some time drooling over Amy Goldman's beautiful ode to these fruits, The Heirloom Tomato ( ) and fell in love all over again.

There were high hopes for my own garden's heirloom tomatoes, grown from seed and patiently transplanted at the beginning of the summer. Here is the sad report:

2 Kelloggs Breakfast plants have produced one tomato, not yet ripe
1 Black Krim plant has produced 6 tomatoes, one ripened (and luscious) and five still growing and ripening
1 Brandywine plant has no tomatoes at all
1 Hillbilly plant has no tomatoes at all
1 Mr. Stripey has no tomatoes at all
1 German Johnson has 14 tomatoes, all still ripening
10 Roma plants have about 50 tomatoes, all still ripening. Found 4 this morning with advanced blossom end rot.

Beyond the tomatoes - all the kale leaves have been stripped to the rib. The cucumber plant on the fence has produced only one cucumber, stopped growing, turned yellow, then, suddenly yesterday, put out what looks to be healthy new growth. The other cucumber gave me four lovely cucumbers, and is now dying slowly - one leaf at a time. But also has put out what looks to be more healthy growth?

There is one ripening eggplant and seven or eight flowers on four plants.

The Swiss Chard is doing well and tastes really great.

I am overwhelmed with jalapenos, cayenne and Thai bird peppers. But I have put together a jalapeno popper recipe that is so tasty: 2 oz cream cheese + 2 oz cheddar cheese, grated + 1 tsp or more Siraccha sauce, stir & stuff jalapeno halves (clean out ribs and seeds wearing gloves). Wrap with proscuitto. Bake @ 400 for 12-15 min. Cool for a moment, then serve.

This week, I am trying to capture the flavor of heirloom tomatoes in soup and I think I've hit upon a winner. And it's ridiculously easy.

Roasted Heirloom Vegetable Soup
serves 6-8

10-12 heirloom tomatoes

12 cloves of good garlic, peeled

1 medium yellow onion, rough chopped
3-4 heirloom carrots, rough chopped

optional: 2-3 heirloom beets, scrubbed
1/2 c chopped herbs, your choice - for instance - parsley, cilantro, mint, basil, thai basil, celery leaves
2-3 c. liquid - vegetable or chicken stock, water, vegetable or tomato juice
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
Preheat oven to 425
Wash tomatoes and cut in half horizontally.
You'll need enough to fill - really fill - the cookie sheet.

Place the tomatoes cut side up on the sheet, and tuck in the rest of the vegetables to cover the sheet entirely.

Pour about 1/4-1/3 cup of olive oil over all of this, generously sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.
Roast the vegetables for about an hour to 1.5 hours, until just starting to caramelize on the edges.

Pull the pan from the oven and peel the beets as soon as you can handle them. Dump everything into a big stockpot. Add your liquid, simmer for about 30 minutes and then toss in the herbs.

Now, you can either blend with a stick blender or in small batches in your blender. Or, do as I do, and use a food mill to get the seeds and skins and make for a more consistent texture.
To serve, pour hot soup into heated bowls and top with a swirl of fresh cream, sour cream or creme fraiche and a sprinkling of chives. Serve with a grilled cheese sandwich and a small salad. Perfect dinner.

By the way, this soup freezes beautifully and tastes like summer when you defrost it in the winter.

Planning for the beach

For the last month, I've been planning our week at the beach. No greasy pizza and over-priced restaurants for us - I cook and plan and prep and freeze to ensure a full week of relaxation for the Cook.

I'll blog during the week away, and hope to photograph our meals to crow about my planning. Hope to! At this point, of course, I am fretting.

In the freezer now, for instance - three types of bread for breakfast toast, basil lemon simple syrup, salmon rilettes, miniature onion tarts, Indian spiced spinach croquettes, stuffed eggplant. On the shelves, canned and ready to be packed up - cherry pie filling, peach crisp filling, pickles, sauerkraut, plum sauce, habanero jelly, salsa and jams.

There is an Excel spreadsheet with meals, appetizers and desserts planned for each of the nine days we will be entertaining, including some entries that say "help yourself" or "clean the fridge." And all the recipes I'll need are organized in a binder. There is a grocery list and a packing list. And there is a calender of activities.

I realize I am a little crazy.

My preparations always make Dennis laugh and roll his eyes, but after the first year, when he puzzled over my packing, then saw the traffic that would make grocery shopping a complete DRAG, he no longer asks questions. He does generally mutter something about whether it will fit in the car.

We'll be taking three friends with us for the week. They will contribute their own talents to the party - providing the drinks, table decorating skills beyond description, and clean-up talents extraordinaire.

I'll be checking in regularly to let you know what we're eating around here. And there.