apres vaca EAT WHAT YOU HAVE

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So my mom headed home this afternoon after a two-week stay at my place. *Sigh*. Always so hard to say goodbye.  As always, she worked for her dinner [this time it was new window treatments for my living and dining rooms], so there was lots of fun in the kitchen as I tried to say thanks with food. More about that later.

This afternoon in my now quiet home, I was faced with laundry, dusty floors, and a fridge with a hodgepodge of prior meal remnants: beet glaze, hard-boiled eggs, two slices of roasted red beets, balsamic reduction, asparagus, lemon zest, heavy cream, plus a bit of dried homemade pasta in the pantry.

Mom wore me out. Hanging window treatments, walking, watercolor lessons, an attempt at hand-crafted ceramics (a first for us both), shopping, decorating, wall painting, building a blog [for her watercolor art], exploring the city, cooking, and wine…ahem…’tasting’. I spent a good portion of this afternoon not doing laundry, vacuuming, or dusting, but trying to decide where to eat out; too pooped to cook. But then the leftovers loomed at me, and I decided [as I almost always do], to cook what I have.

Pasta with Asparagus, Peas & Lemon Cream
for one
1 slice prosciutto, roasted then crumbled
1/4 lb pasta
7-8 asparagus stalks, cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup peas
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley

While a big pot of well-salted water came to a boil, I roasted a slice of prosciutto in  375 oven until crisp, and sautéed about 7 or 8 asparagus – which I’d cut into one inch pieces – in a bit of olive oil until not quite tender. Next some fresh/frozen peas and minced garlic were added to the skillet. After the garlic softened, in went about 1/4 cup heavy cream, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest. The dried fresh pasta cooked in about three minutes, and was added to the veggie/cream saute along with a ladle of pasta water. After letting the veg/cream/pasta meld over low heat for a couple of minutes, about a tablespoon of freshly grated parm was added. The mixture was transferred into a bowl, topped with a bit more parm, crumbled prosciutto, and chopped parsley.
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This simple meal served with leftover wine not only cleared out some space in my fridge, but also extended my time with my mom – even if only in spirit.

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chillin’ I

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This hot, humid summer reminds me of growing up on Hill Street. Summers then seemed endless and every possible moment (after the chores were completed) was spent outside. Softball in the front yard; diving off the slick, moss-covered dam at Lake Hibernia; exploring ‘the woods’ at the top of the hill’; riding bikes; playing pirates on the enormous rocks at the back edge of Charlie Rowe’s back yard. Sometimes when we were all still small, my father – Scoop – would swing us around until we were all dizzy. Then we’d catch fireflies in jars.

On especially hot summer nights, when the house retained all the heat of the day, we’d head outdoors and try to sleep under the stars. Sleeping was hard, though. Not so much because of the heat, but because it was like a big party. In those days before air conditioning, the whole neighborhood was outside.

When it’s hot, who wants to eat hot food? After awhile, even the most delicious salads become a bore. So when Food & Wine‘s newsletter full of recipes for chilled soups arrived in my inbox, I felt like I’d struck gold. Most intrigued by the yogurt soup, it was the first on my list to try.
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CHILLED PERSIAN YOGURT SOUP
 BY HOSS ZARÉ

1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup dried rose petals, crushed*
2 cups 2 percent plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 cups ice water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled and finely diced (1 cup)
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Ground sumac*, for garnish

  1. Toast walnuts in a pan over medium head, tossing frequently until golden. Let cool, then finely chop.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, cover the crushed rose petals with cold water and let stand until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain the petals and squeeze dry.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt with the ice water. Stir in the raisins, cucumber, mint, dill, chives, walnuts and rose petals and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until very cold, about 1 hour. Serve the soup in shallow bowls, sprinkled with sumac.
    P1150330 * Rose petals and ground sumac are available at specialty food shops/Middle Eastern Markets. Locally, my go-to places for spices is Colonel De’s at Findlay Market.

The soup is cool and refreshing with loads of crunch from the cukes and walnuts and fresh, floral flavors from the rose petals and sumac. I’ve never cooked with rose petals or sumac before, but loved these flavors in the soup. The sumac is deep raspberry in color and has a tart/berry/lemon flavor with salty undertones (apparently salt is sometimes added to ground sumac).

 

bloomin’

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In 2006, I had the good fortune to take ‘the trip of a lifetime’ with 16 friends and family to Italy. We rented a 500-year-old villa on Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Italy. There are some wonderful chefs in my family; the best of the lot were on this trip. We explored the region by day, and gathered together in the evenings to enjoy the luscious food prepared by the family al fresco by the pool or in the massive formal dining room by candle light. There was my first experience with locally grown squash blossoms, thanks to my cousin Joe, an amazing chef. Lightly battered and fried to a delicate golden brown, they were sweet, floral, delicious.

Years late, and much to my delight, I was introduced to a tiny Mexican restaurant near my new home – La Mexicana – a dive with authentic fare, that serves up squash blossom tacos when they are in season (which sadly is not year ’round).

Last Saturday, seeking yellow beets with friend Holly and my adorable fur boy Boz at Findlay Market, we stumbled upon a stand selling locally grown produce including squash blossoms. Yes.

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Here’s how my first preparation went down. First, made a light batter of flour and an almost equal amount of seltzer. The batter was relatively loose and runny. Seasoned with sea salt and crushed black pepper. Whisked together then chilled in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.
P1150318P1150319Then removed the stamens from the blossoms. I first tried it with a small paring knife, but found it easier to pluck out with my fingers. The blossom split a bit during this process, but it didn’t cause the filling to leak out while frying. Assembled the filling – goat cheese (room temp), lemon zest, chili flakes and fresh basil.
P1150317P1150320Mashed together with a fork, then rolled about one teaspoon into a short log and stuffed into the blossoms. Heated vegetable oil in a pan over medium high heat. While the oil heated, dipped the stuffed blossoms into the batter. They look so beautiful already!
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Fried until golden brown and crisp – maybe a minute on each side.
P1150322I made a salad of locally grown arugula (much more flavorful than store bought!) tossed with a simple lemon vinaigrette (I like 50% fresh-squeezed lemon juice and 50% good extra virgin olive oil seasoned with sea salt and coarse ground pepper), shaved Parmesan, lemon zest and more cracked pepper, and topped with my beautiful zucchini blossoms with a garnish of nasturtium from my garden.
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This summer supper was wonderfully reminiscent of Italy, and bloomin’ good!

summer in a blender

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Once of my favorite summertime memories is eating watermelon on a hot summer afternoon. All us kids would munch on huge wedges of melon while bending over to try to avoid becoming saturated in juice, but the oozing fruity goodness all over the face, the shirt, between the fingers and finally onto the ground was just unavoidable.  And let’s not forget to mention the seeds. Spitting them at each other or vying to see who could spit the farthest. What could be more fun?

These days I prefer something a bit more civilized. This cocktail marries the cool sweetness of watermelon with a tequila kick complimented by summer blueberries (oh how I miss NJ blueberries in the summer!) and mint from my garden. Quite the perfect beverage to share with friends on a beautiful summer afternoon.

Watermelon Cocktail
makes 4
based on a cocktail by Bobby Flay

4 cups cubes seedless watermelon (about a fourth of a small one)
1 TBSP agave nectar
juice of 1/2 lime
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup silver tequila
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Puree watermelon in a blender until smooth. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and drain, pressing gently on the pulp to release as much juice a possible. Discard the pulp.
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In a pitcher (I used a large mason jar), combine the agave syrup, blueberries and mint. Muddle a bit with a wooden spoon. Add the melon juice and tequila. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours (or take a shortcut and put your tequila in the freezer while prepping the other ingredients!)

Pour into ice-filled glasses, garnish with a mint spring or lime wedge and enjoy one of summer’s most delicious tastes without the need for wet wipes.
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the beet goes on

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When I was a wee one, I wanted to ice skate just like Sonja Henie. Santa brought me a pair of double-bladed skates for Christmas one year, and I was thrilled to go to nearby Parks Lake to try them out. But the strangest thing happened. Mom strapped the skates onto my boots and walked me out onto the ice and NOTHING HAPPENED. No glides, no twirls, and certainly no applause. That was the end of my skating career.
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Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen and things go well, it brings back the memories of the disappointment on the ice, because cooking successes make me feel like I’ve just landed a triple Axel.

Tonight was one of those nights. First there was the gorgeous beet juice and then the beet powder. Made from the dredges left behind during the juicing process,
P1150097the emulsified beets are spread out in a thin layer on parchment paper and place in the microwave.
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Nuke on low for about 30-40 minutes until the beets are dry.
P1150099Notice the change in color and texture! Let the beets cool to room temperature. Grind the beets to a powder in a coffee or spice grinder.P1150100P1150101

Store in a covered plastic container.

Take that, Sonja!


beet it

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Friend Melissa gifted me her farm share as she’s headed for a well deserved tropical vaca. Much to my delight, most of it was beets. Two huge bunches. But I am just one person and headed off to my own week of rest, rejuvenation and rowdiness with my daughter in NYC (more about that later).

The Plan? A Thomas Keller inspired recipe involving beets four (? I may have lost count) ways and goat cheese. The sound track from Amelie goes quite nicely with this prep work as beets and goat cheese seem très français pour moi.
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One bunch of beets on a black walnut board created by my brother, Michael. [I think he could sell these beauties for mucho dinero – what do you think?]

Step One: Beet Juice Sans Juicer.

1) Don apron and rubber gloves.
2) Move anything in the vicinity that could be subject to splatter.
3) Prepare a work surface with grater, knife and waxed paper.
P11500844) Wash the beets and, using the edge of your knife, remove roots and leaves. Leave a few inches of stem to hold onto when grating.
P11500865) Place grated beets into a blender with a 1/4 cup of water (add a bit more if the blender freaks).
P11500896) Process on liquefy until, well, processed to bits. Then place on cheesecloth laid over a small bowl or measuring cup.
P11500907) Squeeeeze all liquid out of the beets.
P11500928) This bunch of beets yielded 3/4 cups beet juice and made my kitchen look like a crime scene.
P1150094Enjoy on its own, mix with other juices to make a healthy, tree-hugging concoction or chase someone who’s allergic to beets around the room with the juice, just for kicks and giggles. Stay tuned for other beety uses!

this little figgy

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I am not a baker. Or a dessert maker. Heck, most of the time I’d rather have a cheese course instead of a dessert course after dinner. Unless figs are in season.

Okay, okay, the ingredients in this tart sound a little… well, quirky… but the combination is a show stopper. Allow about 1.5 hours, but most of the time is chilling, and then baking the crust.

Fresh Fig Tart

based on a recipe from Epicurious.com

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ingredients

CRUST

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (not stone-ground)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

FILLING

  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese (8 oz)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons red-currant jelly
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 package (8 oz) fresh figs

Special equipment: an 11 1/4- by 8- by 1-inch rectangular or 10-inch round fluted tart pan (1 inch deep) with a removable bottom

preparation

Make crust:
Pulse together flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter and rosemary and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons ice water and pulse until just incorporated.

Gently squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition and continuing to test.

Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of tart pan with floured fingers. Smooth dough with a small offset metal spatula or back of a spoon (floured if necessary), then roll a rolling pin over top of pan to trim dough flush with rim. Chill crust until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake crust in middle of oven until center and edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes (don’t worry if bottom of crust cracks), then cool in pan on a rack.

Prepare filling and assemble tart:
Whisk together sour cream, mascarpone, sugar, zest, and salt in a bowl.

Heat jelly and honey in a small saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking, until jelly is melted, about 4 minutes, then cool glaze slightly.

Remove side of tart pan and spread mascarpone cream in shell. Cut figs lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange decoratively over cream. Brush figs with honey glaze.

Notes:

· Crust can be made 1 day ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.
· Mascarpone mixture can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. · Tart can be assembled 1 hour ahead and kept, loosely covered, at room temperature.

thai one on

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It’s nearly summer in the Ohio Valley. The Red’s are playing ball and there’s nightly music on Fountain Square. The dog park is full of furry friends and easy conversations with neighbors. It’s perfect weather for dining al fresco – out an a sunny restaurant terrace or on my own flower-bedecked balcony. My container garden is filled with herbs and flowers in a brilliant array of yellow, orange and purple and the fridge is stocked with abundance from the local farmer’s market. And I’m dreaming of soup.

A couple of days ago I received Bon Appetit’s Healthy Recipe for a Thai chicken soup. It looked so delicious and so light, I decided on soup despite the near 80 degree temps today. Am I glad I did!

Thai Chicken Soup
6 SERVINGS
Active Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 55 minutes

INGREDIENTS

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2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 bunch scallions, whites and pale-greens thinly sliced, dark greens sliced 1-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, with seeds, thinly sliced (or seeded if you prefer less heat)

1 large carrot, shredded

8 oz container shiitake mushrooms stemmed and sliced

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1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 tablespoon (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
Kosher salt

2 cups thinly sliced sugar snap peas

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1 teaspoon lime zest, divided
Fresh tender herbs (such as cilantro or basil or both)

Lime wedges (for serving)

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PREPARATION

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook scallions, garlic, and ginger, stirring frequently, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add carrot, jalapeño, and mushrooms and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.

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Add chicken, broth and coconut milk. Bring to a near boil, reduce heat, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes (I used chicken tenders and the cook time reduced to 10 minutes). Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool slightly.

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Add fish sauce to soup and season with salt. Shred chicken into large chunks and return to pot along with sugar snap peas. Stir in lime zest. Top with fresh herbs and serve with lime wedges alongside.

NOTE: I also reserved some of the scallions and jalapeno to use as garnish as I like a fresh crunch. Also added fresh bean sprouts as a garnish.

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So glad I decided to Thai one one tonight! Added benefit: no hangover tomorrow!

corny

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Spent a few days in Las Vegas earlier this month just a week behind friend Melissa. Her advice? Try the corn at Bobby Flay’s MESA at Caesar’s Palace. Fairly easy task since I was staying at Caesar’s, but a bit tough to squeeze in with a busy conference schedule. But at 10pm one evening, I bellied up to the bar and ordered a margarita and a bowl of corn. “A bowl of corn?” asked the bartender. “Really?”
428519_10152810588140333_1672056990_nYeah, really. Melissa was right. Damn good margarita and the best corn I’ve ever eaten. Tonight I tried to replicate this deliciousness at home. Here’s how (just for me / one portion):

The List

  • 1 ear sweet corn, shucked
  • 1 TBSP Mexican crema (available in Mexican groceries)
  • 1 tsp minced jalapeno
  • juice from a lime wedge (about 1/6)
  • 1 TBSP chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp Queso Fresco
  • 1/8 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • pinch sea salt

Peel and char an ear of corn. Easy on a grill pan. Light up the barbie if you are so inclined. While the corn is charring, blend the crema, lime and jalapeno. Once the corn is done (about 5 minutes on high), use a sharp knife to remove kernels. Combine corn with crema mixture, season with Aleppo and salt to taste, and top with cilantro and crumbled Queso Fresco. Nothin’ corny about wishing you’d made more.

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baked x 2

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It’s been ages since I last posted. Lots of life changes changed habits. Draft posts languished in the draft bin. Let’s blame it on the new man in my life because he demands a lot of attention. He’s short, lightweight and quite hairy, but I do love running my fingers through his soft, snow-white locks. Meet Bosley. The best excuse ever.
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Whenever there are guests for breakfast (besides Boz), fritatta is my go to. But geesh, even a good fritatta becomes humdrum after a while. Then last week, a colleague shared a link to a Street Eatzz post on Facebook featuring a breakfast dish I simply had to try – a twice baked breakfast potato.

Twice Baked Breakfast Potato
Multiply the ingredients listed below by the number of hungry people in your house.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 baking potato*
pat butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced
1/4 cup kale, chopped
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 cup grated cheese (fontina melts nicely)
1 egg

*Bake potato in the oven or use the 10-minute microwave potatoes found individually plastic wrapped in the produce section of your grocery.

When potato is baked/nuked and cooled enough to handle, cut off the top, scoop out the insides (reserve for another use), coat the inside with butter and season with salt and pepper.
P1140597Meanwhile, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until beginning to brown and soften, about 3 minutes. Add chili flakes, cook 30 seconds. Add kale and cook, stirring often until bright green and just starting to wilt.
P1140595Fill potato with veggies, pressing down with a spoon. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

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Crack an egg on top. Season with salt and pepper.
P1140599Place on an oven proof dish, baking sheet or  skillet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
P1140600While baking for the second time, the skin gets nice and crispy. The egg will come out with a perfectly runny yolk. Imagine all the variations you can invent!

  • prosciutto wrapped asparagus with Parmesan
  • sausage with peppers and onions
  • bacon with Swiss
  • broccoli with cheddar
  • shredded Brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts, shallots and gorgonzola

Brunch anyone??