If I could create my own personal fragrance, or have some sort of mechanism that made everywhere I go have a certain happy, peaceful scent, the primary element would be fresh garden mint. It smells like summer to me. And sweet tea. And the South. And all good things.
I suppose the variety is technically spearmint, but I think of it as Southern mint. I have always grown mint – in pots on the deck of my first small home, to the larger vegetable beds of my current house. My mother has always grown mint, and even my grandmother, who was not a gardener, grew a few mint plants. In our hot Southern climate, it grows profusely, and the more you cut it, the more it flourishes.
I can’t really have enough mint, though some people consider it invasive and are stymied by what to do with it all. Here is the answer.
This is my favorite all-purpose summer condiment. It so simple, it is hardly even a recipe at all. But I promise, the uses are endless.
I love it tossed with steamed sugar snap peas, or drizzled over grilled asparagus. It is perfect with fruit, from strawberries to melon cubes. Drizzle it over fish, or brush on grilled pork chops. Use it as a dressing for a cold chicken salad, or a sauce for simple chicken breasts. Try it in slaw or over crisp lettuce. Toss it with potatoes or drizzle over sliced tomatoes. The sugar highlights the sweetness of the mint, but the vinegar really brings out its essence, with a slight edge from the lemon juice.
Summertime Mint Dressing
Makes about 1/3 cup
1/2 cup firmly packed mint leaves
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Place all the ingredients in the carafe of a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a jar, scraping the sides of the blender down to get out all of the mint.
This is best made fresh, but will keep in the fridge in tightly sealed jar for a couple of days. The recipe easily doubles.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Southern Pecan Dressing
For no good reason I can think of, I often consider grilling a peculiarly American cooking method. It is, of course, not. The basic technique was pretty much born when early man learned to build a fire, and just about every culture has embraced it and created its own spin on it.
But perhaps no other culture has embraced grilling quite like we have. From May through Octoberish, just about every holiday, event or family gathering practically demands outdoor cooking. And so it was this past Memorial Day, in spite of horrendous heat and dire threats of major storms, I planned to fire up the grill for the first time of the season.
Something that truly is peculiarly American (and not just imagined as such by me) is our cheerful willingness to borrow from other cultures, particularly in the kitchen. Search the pantry of any home cook worth his or her salt (kosher, sea salt, fleur de sel…) and you’ll find ingredients that would be at home in kitchens in Italy, Mexico, China, France, Japan, India….
Which segues nicely into this recipe. Strictly speaking, a tandoor is a clay oven used for cooking and baking, usually with wood or charcoal in the oven itself. It is particularly popular in India and Pakistan, where meats are marinated in yogurt seasoned with an array of fragrant (and often fiery) spices.
In the West, tandoori has come to mean a blend of spices creating a certain flavor. The most common mix for tandoori spice rubs generally includes cumin, paprika, turmeric, coriander and cayenne pepper. Powdered ginger is often used too, as is garlic powder. I left them out of my version, adding fresh ginger and garlic to the marinade instead.
Turmeric, a spice used in almost all curries, adds an intense yellow-orange color to the rub, to foods you cook with it and to mixing bowls as you prepare them. It is also intensely flavored and can take over dishes, so I used a modest amount for my spice rub.
I used indirect grilling to cook the salmon, giving it a nice, smoky flavor, but no charring. The spice rub provided plenty of appealing color for the finished fillets.
Tandoori-spiced Grilled Salmon
For the tandoori spice rub (makes about 6 tablespoons):
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1-1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the salmon:
4 6-ounce salmon fillets, preferably with skin on
3 tablespoons tandoori spice rub (reserve the rest for next week’s recipe)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
Prepare the spice rub. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed. A quick note – if you have whole cumin seeds and coriander seeds, so much the better. Toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently, cool them and grind them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. The flavor will be phenomenal.
Marinate the salmon. Pat the salmon fillets dry with a paper towel and arrange them in a glass baking dish in a single layer. Mix the spice rub, olive oil, ginger and garlic in a small bowl. Spoon, brush and/or rub the mixture on the tops and sides of the fillets. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and marinate the salmon for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours in the fridge.
Grill the salmon. About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to grill, remove the salmon from the fridge to let it come to room temperature. I did this when I lit the charcoal, using a charcoal chimney. Prepare your grill for indirect grilling; with a charcoal grill, I arrange the coals on one side of the grill. Make a tray of two layers of aluminum foil to hold the salmon (it won’t begin to support the weight, but that’s not its job). Just before cooking, season the fillets with salt.
When the coals are hot, place the foil tray over the section of the grill without the coals. Pierce it in numerous places with a knife tip to allow smoke to circulate through it. Brush the foil tray with olive oil. Transfer the fillets to the tray, brushing the skin sides with oil as you do. Using tongs, slide the tray of salmon fillets over the coals and cover the grill with the lid (all vents top and bottom should be open). Grill for 2 to 3 minutes, then slide foil tray off the coals, cover the grill and cook for another 10 to 12 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registers 125 degrees F. (for medium rare) to 135 degrees F. (for medium).
Using a spatula and tongs, transfer fillets to a platter and serve.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Salmon with Arugula Bacon Salad
After visiting some fitted kitchens of my friends (and inspired by the print below), I felt compelled to purchase a cast iron skillet to supplement my collection of pots and pans.
The skillet has proven to be immensely useful and I have used it repeatedly to make a quick and easy pizza in addition to the frittata below.
This frittata recipe is extremely flexible and any number of ingredients can be supplemented to the beaten eggs to suit what is on hand. The hot iron produces a lovely crust and helps evenly cook whatever concoction is poured inside.
The screenprint titled Still Life (pictured above) by William Scott depicts elements prevalent in his work throughout his career. Starting in the 1940s, Scott’s paintings were concerned with simple still life arrangements featuring pots and pans on a bare table.
After a period of more traditional representation in the 1950s, Scott returned to increasingly abstract compositions from the 1960s onwards. The pots and pans were paired with other geometric forms, layered on flattened backgrounds. In the print above, the eggs and plate are the same shape and color and are only differentiated by size.
Frittata with Kale, Tomato & Chorizo
Yield: a light meal for 4 people
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chorizo, chopped
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon chili flakes
small handful of kale, roughly torn
1/4 lemon, juiced
salt & pepper
5 eggs, beaten with a fork
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/ 390 degrees F.
In a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and add the chorizo. Cook the chorizo for 2-3 minutes, stirring often, and add the chickpeas, tomatoes, chili flakes and kale. Continue to cook until the tomatoes begin to break down and the kale has wilted, around 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and seasoning, stir well and add the beaten eggs. Cover with the Parmesan cheese and slide into the oven.
Cook for around 10-15 minutes until the middle of the frittata has set. To check, grasp the handle of the pan and shake. If the eggs in the middle are wobbly, then the frittata needs to continue cooking.
Serve warm or cold. Makes a nice lunch when paired with a salad of bitter greens. Can be reheated the following day if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Related post on Feasting On Art: Pablo Picasso Blue - Broccoli + Blue Cheese Soup
Eleanor Roosevelt advocated for the poor. Jacqueline Kennedy ushered in culture. Nancy Reagan taught children to "Just Say No" to drugs. Laura Bush focused on early childhood development. While their presidential husbands fought wars, political battles, and tried to steady wavering economies, the first ladies of America have found their own outlets for leadership, often drawing national attention to domestic causes with the purpose of strengthening families and communities.
Michelle Obama has found her own noble cause right at the root level with a gardening and simple cookbook, American Grown. In her first book, she chronicles the transformation of the White House's South Lawn into a working kitchen garden. With the help of White House staff, the National Park Service, volunteers, and scores of local school children, she turns over what was once a stretch of grass into fertile soil for sprouts, beans, berries, lettuces, corn, squash, and a variety of herbs. There is even an active honey beehive nearby, strapped down to withstand the winds of the presidential helicopter, Marine One.
While a little patch of edible plants may not seem remarkable, "American Grown" serves as an off-shoot of Mrs. Obama's broader goal of teaching children the fun of healthy living. Her "Let's Move!" program has set the ambitious goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation. The statistics are sobering: Nearly 1 in 3 children in America are overweight or obese. In African-American and Hispanic communities the numbers are even higher, with nearly 40 percent of children overweight or obese. Normal activities that a lot of Americans grew up with – gym class and after-school sports programs – aren't always an option for school children today. The spread of convenience foods and sedentary video games has taken a toll on natural, youthful activity. “American Grown” strives to show that hard physical work + patience = pride of accomplishment and delicious, healthy meals.
The first lady's focus on the joys of discovering the better taste of locally grown food comes out of her own experience. Raised in the South Side of Chicago in a small apartment, she had little opportunity to learn about growing food during her childhood. "Vegetable gardening wasn't exactly a common pastime in the neighborhood where I grew up," writes Mrs. Obama.
As she began to raise her daughters, Malia and Sasha, their family pediatrician urged her to incorporate more vegetables and fruit into their meals. So Mrs. Obama made a radical change in what they ate and where they bought it. Heading to the farmer's market toting canvas bags to buy local fresh, produce opened a new world and planted the seed of creating a teaching moment for the nation’s youth well before her move into the White House.
“I first had the idea to plant a vegetable garden at the White House in my kitchen back in Chicago,” writes the first lady. “As the primary season, and then the general election season, wore on, I kept the idea of that garden in the back of my mind. Soon after my husband was elected, I began to think about how to make it a reality.”
And she didn't wait long to make it happen. In April 2009 Mrs. Obama broke ground with the help of 23 fifth-graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, the National Park Service, and White House chefs. Not every thing went smoothly. The pumpkins didn't grow. Beautiful melons had no taste at all. The birds got all the blueberries. The president was leery about having a beehive installed near his basketball court.
But this is what makes "American Grown" a fun read. Mrs. Obama invites us to learn right alongside her as she and White House dog Bo wander the paths between raised beds. From her unique vantage point as a White House resident, she also sows in historical context. There is a Thomas Jefferson bed that grows heirloom peas descendent from those raised at the former president's Monticello residence. There are photos of the first White House kitchen garden – a modest Victory Garden – planted under the supervision of Eleanor Roosevelt. And there is the Children's Garden, created under Lady Bird Johnson, as a secluded place to play toward the lower part of the South Lawn. Just below that sits the new Kitchen Garden.
Involving children is at the heart of "American Grown" and it's a book that is engaging and simple enough to interest young readers.
Simple lessons are often the best as this elementary school student wrote in an essay about his day helping to plant the White House Kitchen Garden:
"One of the things that I want to say about being at the White House was how gentle the feeling was. It felt surprisingly 'natural,' to be there. It was all about nature, and what is natural," wrote David Martinez. "My teachers talk a lot about models for our assignments, and how we need to look at them and follow them when we do our own work. I think about the garden project as a model for being gentle: gentle with nature, gentle to your body, and gentle with each other."
In “American Grown,” the first lady visits community and school gardens all across the nation to encourage children to dig in the dirt. There are uncomplicated recipes pegged to each season’s bounty from White House chefs, and tips on everything from how to start your own garden to how to store fresh produce.
Mrs. Obama's timing is as impeccable as a well-timed spring planting – and not because we are at the brink of an all-out political battle for the presidential election. Her national spotlight raises up issues that a nation of foodies are already enamored with – we care about where our food comes from, who grew it, and what it tastes like. It's natural to have our leading family join us at the dinner table as Americans delight in a renaissance of real food.
Since my Breakfast Polenta post, I have had a hard time getting polenta off the brain. Not only does it have the benefits of being gluten free but is kind of a shape shifter of sort. It can go from a creamy style mash all the what to a slice of “bread” with very little change in the recipe, which is pretty handy.
I thought I’d try my hand at polenta gnocchi. Now all the recipes I found instructed pouring the polenta mixture (there are many recipes out there for polenta, just find one you like) out onto a working surface, allowing it to cool (30 minutes) and cutting out a shape with a small cookie cutter, layering the pieces in a pan, with sauce in between and baking for 10 minutes. But to me, that’s NOT gnocchi. It has to at least resemble the shape of gnocchi somewhat! Those tender little dough balls that almost melt in the mouth that take on the flavor of your chosen sauce so beautifully.
So this is my attempt to be different and actually make polenta gnocchi that doesn’t look like cookie cut outs. Regardless of the form of polenta you’d like to choose, creamy or gnocchi or what have you, this stew is fabulous and flavorful piled onto any starch or eaten like a thick soup.
I had a bunch of mushrooms to use up before they go bad, and I wanted to make something that will be quick and ready to eat for the next few days – comfort food like mushroom stroganoff but without all the fat. Tomatoes are always a reliable friend when it comes to low fat healthy sauces, so this is how this stew came to be.
The polenta gnocchi absolutely worked. It ends up being served at room temperature but with the simmering hot stew on top it’s delicious. The gnocchi process is a little fussy, so I wouldn’t bother if you’re going to serve more than 2 people. Instead, opt for making the creamy polenta or the rustic polenta.
Mushroom and Tomato Thyme Stew
1 large onion
6 garlic cloves
8 cups rough chopped mushrooms
2 large tomatoes (appx 3 cups)
1/2 cup of tomato paste – homemade – (or 156 ml can of tomato paste )
4 cups of stock (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or 1/2 tsp balsamic (for the vegetarian or vegan substitution)
grated Parmesan and fresh thyme as a garnish
Peel and slice the onion in wedges. Mash and peel the garlic cloves and roughly chop. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 3 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Meanwhile clean and chop 8 cups of your choice of mushroom (I know it sounds like a lot but mushrooms cook down to nothing). Add the mushrooms to the pot and cook while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Dice 2 large tomatoes and add all the remaining ingredients to the pot. Simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened to a stew like consistency.
1 cup coarse cornmeal
3 cup water
1 cup milk (or water)
1/2 cup grated parmesan (optional)
2 tablespoons butter or oil of choice
1/2 tsp salt (more if you like)
fresh ground pepper
Bring liquids to a boil. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream while whisking continuously for 3 minutes, making sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every few minutes as to not scorch the bottom. Add the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Prepare a clean dry surface. Using parchment paper or a wood cutting board works great.
For gnocchi: Fill a glass with cold water. Using a small spoon, scoop a teaspoon of the polenta mixture and drop it on a clean dry surface, dipping the spoon in water in between scoops. These will set in 5 minutes. Scoop up with a spatula and top with the Mushroom and Tomato Stew.
For creamy polenta: scoop some polenta right into individual bowls or plates and top with the stew.
Alternately for a rustic style polenta, pour the polenta onto a cutting board and spread out to 1 inch thick using a wet wooden spoon. Allow to set for 15 minutes. Cut into individual size pieces and serve with the stew.
Related post on Beyond The Peel: Breakfast Polenta Cakes with Blackberry Syrup
My husband loves peanut butter and jelly with strawberry jam. And our son likes strawberry jam quite a bit, too. Normally, I stock up on Trader Joe's organic strawberry jam whenever I happen to pass by one of their stores on one of my rare forays out of the hinterlands, But while T.J.'s jam is fine, it's just not as good as the homemade stuff.
Plus, we had so much fun picking strawberries last summer (we froze most of them to use in smoothies and sauces), that we decided to increase the size of our haul this summer and expand our preserving efforts to include jam.
Despite the relatively rainy weather, we've found enough breaks in the gloom to go picking at two of our favorite local farms and have picked enough to freeze a bunch and to make a decent sized batch of this divine strawberry jam.
If you're new to canning, this is a great thing to start with since it's fairly straightforward and the end result is both yummy and beautiful to behold.
Also, the smell that will fill your house while you're simmering the jam on the stove is nothing short of divine – so sweet and summery it almost makes you want to cry. This smell stands in stark contrast to the intensely vinegary odor that pervades every nook and cranny of your house when you pickle foods.
A few notes before you begin: Don't skip the macerating step if possible. If you don't have time to let them sit overnight, even an hour is better than nothing.
And don't cut any corners on your fruit – preserve the freshest and best berries you can find!
This recipe is adapted from a few sources including one of my favorite books, Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton as well as the divine strawberry vanilla jam recipe in Marisa McClellan's wonderful new book, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round. I have more cookbook recommendations, info, recipes and links to great resources for you on my canning and preserving page.
The following recipe yields a sweet, flavorful, beautiful red jam that is nice and thick (not syrupy like preserves).
Makes 6 pint jars
16 cups cleaned, hulled, halved (or chopped, depending on the size) strawberries
6 cups granulated organic sugar
8 tablespoons powdered pectin
1/2 cup organic lemon juice (you can squeeze your own but for projects like this, I buy organic lemon juice in the little squeeze bottles, even the organic stuff is cheap (under $1.50 a bottle) and it saves some time)
1. Combine the strawberries and 2 cups of the sugar in a non-reactive pot. Let the mixture sit at room temperature until the sugar begins to pull the liquid out of the berries, about 15 to 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate over night (this is called maceration.) If you don't have time to wait that long, let sit for an hour or more.
2. When you're ready to jam out, prepare a boiling water bath and 6 wide mouth pint jars, lids and bands (you can also use a combination of half-pint and pint jars if you prefer – we canned some of ours in the smaller jars as sometimes it's nice to have the option of a smaller jar) according to the directions outlined here.
3. Take the macerated berries out of the fridge and put them and the rest of the ingredients in a large non-reactive pot (you may want to use a larger pot than you think you'll need since the jam is going to boil and foam quite a bit and a bigger pot can help you prevent boiling over which gets VERY sticky when you're dealing with this amount of sugar).
4. Bring to a boil over high heat (this jam will foam like crazy) and cook on high heat, stirring regularly for 15 to 20 minutes, until it takes on a thick, syrupy consistency. If you have an immersion blender, use it at this point to puree some of the fruit to whatever consistency you desire. If not, you can use a blender to puree about a third of the jam.
5. Let the jam boil vigorously until it reaches 220 degrees F. (105 degrees C). If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can judge that it is done when the bubbles begin to look thick and syrupy. You can also see if it's sheeting – dip a spoon in the jam then hold it up and let it drip back into the pot – if the drips fall singly and seem liquidy, it needs to cook longer. But if the drips have begun to run together and form a sheet as they drip, you've achieved your set and can stop cooking.
6. Remove the pot from the heat and ladle the jam into your prepared jars. Wipe the rims with a clean, wet cloth, apply the lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from the boiling water bath with your jar lifter and set in a draft-free place on a towel to cool. Don't let the jars touch each other as they're cooling.
7. The jars should begin to make a most delightful pop or ping noise ans the seal forms, pulling the centers of the lids down and making them slightly concave. Once the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can check the seals by removing the bands. Grasp the jar by the edge of the lid and lift gently an inch or two off the towel-covered countertop. The lid should hold fast. If it does not hold, refrigerate the jam and use it within two weeks. If it does, store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
Related post on The Garden of Eating: How to: Canning
Last weekend, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne. When she was crowned (she became Queen when her father died in 1952, but the coronation was June 5, 1953), Britain was still recovering from the wartime devastation, and rationing was still in effect for many foods. But it was, of course, necessary to create and elegant meal to serve to the guests of Her Majesty.
Coronation Chicken, as Poulet Reine Elizabeth became known, was created as a balance between necessary thrift and needed elegance. It was, originally, a cold poached chicken dish with a curried mayonnaise sauce. I have been doing research about the origins of Coronation Chicken and found that there is some dispute.
It is credited to Constance Spry, a famous English florist, but now thought to have been the creation of her partner chef Rosemary Hume (which seems more likely). But then, there was a dish of chicken in curry sauce served at the jubilee celebrations of George V in 1935. I even read that the idea was thought perfect for Britons to create at home to eat in front of the television watching the coronation.
But truthfully, I didn’t find the story as interesting as the dish. From its royal beginnings, Coronation Chicken has become a staple of the British menu, though it devolved over the years to a rather sorry sandwich filling. You’ll find this flaccid, flavorless version in café and sandwich bars across the country. Some more upscale chains do a pretty decent version, but its reputation has definitely suffered (I have even seen it as a sandwich filling from a shelf-stable jar). In my travels, I have encountered some truly awful versions. But many Britons make Coronation Chicken at home, and an English food magazine recently created a Twitter thread asking readers about the best way to make Coronation Chicken. The answers were so varied, it shows that this is truly a dish that has been taken to heart and transformed to family tastes.
I have made a curried chicken salad as long as I have made chicken salad. And at some point in my experiences in England, I began to call it Coronation Chicken Salad. It is one of my favorite versions, punchy with lots of flavor and texture. And it is what the dish set out to be, elegant but thrifty, and fit for a queen.
Coronation Chicken Salad
Serves 6 – 8
Poaching the chicken in wine adds a regal touch, but use half water, or all water if that’s all you have.
4 chicken breast halves
White wine, or enough water, to cover the chicken
1/2cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3 green onions,finely diced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Major Grey’s chutney
1 tablespoon mild yellow curry powder
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the chicken breasts in a large, deep skillet and cover with the wine or water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot tightly and leave too cool. This will cook the chicken slowly, making it nice and tender. Check that the chicken is cooked through, to 165 degrees F. in the center.
Meanwhile, put the raisins in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. When the raisins are plumped up, drain and set aside.
When the chicken is cool, drain it and pat it dry. Pull the chicken into bite sized pieces using two forks or your fingers. I prefer this chicken salad chunky, but it is up to you. Toss the chicken with the raisins, almonds, apricots and green onions in a large bowl.
For the dressing, place the yogurt, chutney, curry powder, cilantro leaves and garam masala in a blender and blend until smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of the blender as necessary. Pour the dressing over the chicken and stir to coat thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The chicken salad will keep, covered, in the fridge for several days.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Victoria Sponge with Rose Petal Jam
Earlier this spring, I rediscovered ricotta cheese as a simple dessert. Similar to cottage cheese, ricotta can serve as a substantial filling for both sweet (cannolis) and savory (lasagna) dishes. But it can also stand on its own as a low-fat, high protein dish. A recent brunch order in a New York City restaurant delivered a plate full of ricotta as the main course. And it totally worked.
A couple of weeks ago when I was in New York for the James Beard Awards dinner, my mom and I paid a visit to Prune, the tiny, eclectic bistro belonging to Chef Gabrielle Hamilton. I had been wanting to visit Prune ever since I read her wonderfully written memoir “Blood, Bones and Butter” (2011).
Within of few steps of turning onto 1st Street in the East Village I could tell that Gabrielle had found a special place to nurture her talents. It was the trees. There was a comfortable marriage between the old boughs, heavy with spring blossoms and the solid front stoops that reached down to the sidewalk. I wouldn’t describe 1st Street as elegant, but striking in a wabi sabi kind of way – good bones, delicate flowers, and gritty concrete. For a fleeting moment, I felt transported to a European city where settling in to enjoy a hot drink alongside a bustling sidewalk of well-dressed people is a form of entertainment and relaxation. Gabrielle’s street is a tiny pocket of pleasure.
After a few paces, we reached Prune’s geranium pink awning. Even at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, there was still a 45 minute wait. So we found a bench in an East Village garden across the street and passed the time watching small birds splash in a minute pond among stones and tall grasses. I wondered if in their leafy paradise they knew they lived in the one of the world’s largest cities? It hardly mattered.
If you’ve read “Blood, Bones and Butter,” then you’ve essentially visited Prune from the way Gabrielle describes it: small, with an antique ornate wooden bar, tinned ceiling, old white tile floor. She’s left all the character intact and cleverly decorated with mirrors that seem to hang with a Gaelic shrug to add depth and light to the corners. The hostess, relaxed in a pair of loose linen overalls, cuffed just above a pair of solid black clogs, looked as though she was ready to slide in behind a potter’s wheel. All of the servers wore pink T-shirts, and despite the softness of the color a tattoo here or a piercing there gave them a fashionable, edgy air.
Like most New York restaurants, there is hardly enough room for all the tables. Mom and I were sat at a table for two that pressed against the back of our neighbor’s chairs. It hardly mattered.
Prune’s menu is know for its quirky twists. My coddled egg with roast chicken was petit, soft, and perfect with a side of balasmic dressed greens and toasted sour dough bread. But Mom’s dish was more unusual. A large round of ricotta cheese, topped with dried figs, plump red raspberries, toasted pine nuts, and drizzled with honey. On the side were three miniature deep-fried triangular scones sprinkled with powdered sugar. Utterly delicious. Afterward, we felt as if we had not just eaten – we had tasted.
The ricotta dish was so simple and elegant I’ve recreated it for you here. I overtoasted the pine nuts a bit, but really, it hardly matters.
Ricotta cheese delight
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 dried fig, sliced
3-4 plump raspberries
1 teaspoon pinenuts, toasted
Mix together the ricotta cheese and vanilla. Scoop into a serving dish and garnish with figs, raspberries, pinenuts and drizzle with honey.
Related post on Kitchen Report: An evening at the James Beard awards
It’s grilling season and I’m giddy with excitement!! I’m a charcoal grill girl at heart. I love the back-to-basics feel of it all, grilling over hot charcoals, lit with a simple piece of newspaper, a match and a chimney starter. No aftertaste of lighter fluid; just delicious, smokey grilled flavor.
The problem is that most days, I cook before my husband is home from work, which means that I’m on my own to tend to the exposed grill flames, while simultaneously entertaining our three very active little men. The process of preparing a charcoal grill takes a good chunk of time, all of which I spend wound up like a bundle of nerves, as the kids run chaotically around the yard and I repeatedly yell for them to stay away from the grill, which of course, seems to draw them even closer to the grill like mosquitos to a bug zapping light. It’s a fiasco, which induces a lot more stress than grilling joy. The end result is that we rarely use the charcoal grill.
I’ve been eyeing gas grills for a couple of years now. I hemmed and hawed over buying one last year. I came very close at one point. This year, I actually did buy one. And we’ve used it more in the past two weeks than we used the charcoal grill all of last year. There is definitely something to be said about the ease and convenience of a gas grill. In the past two weeks alone, we’ve grilled burgers and cedar-plank salmon and sausages and marinated chicken breasts and ribeye steaks and hot dogs for the kiddies. And these kebabs.
I made these kebabs last weekend. My sister and brother-in-law were in town and we were entertaining a small group of friends. Kebabs seemed like the perfect main course. I made shrimp kebabs skewered with sweet red peppers and pineapple, which I marinated in a bit of coconut milk, olive oil, lime juice, chile powder, shallots, and cayenne pepper. And these sweet and spicy beef skewers, coated in a fresh Asian-inspired barbecue sauce, sweetened with ripe cherries and a touch of honey. I’m head over heels in love with this versatile barbecue sauce and have big plans for slathering it on chicken, pork, shrimp, and salmon this year. It’s going to be a great grilling season, for sure!
Beef Skewers in an Asian-style Cherry Barbecue Sauce
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
15 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons chile paste
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 cup water
Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
For the kebabs:
2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes
1 red onion, cut into large chunks
3 sweet peppers (red, orange, yellow, and/or green), cut into large chunks
To prepare the sauce: Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender. Add the cherries. Continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, chile paste, and ground mustard. Stir to combine. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then purée the mixture until smooth using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Add the water to slightly thin out the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper, as desired.
To prepare the kebabs: Toss the chunks of beef with about 3/4 of the sauce. (Save the rest for brushing the kebabs during cooking.) Allow the beef to marinade in the sauce for a few hours or overnight. Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30-45 minutes (which will prevent them from burning on the grill). Place the meat, peppers, and onions on the skewers in an alternating pattern. Preheat your grill to medium heat. Grill the kebabs for a few minutes on each side, until the meat is cooked to your desired doneness. Towards the end of the cooking time, brush the kebabs with the reserved sauce.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Grilled Honey Garlic Baby Lamb Chops
Between the Glazed Beet and Chevre Bruschetta (which I ate everyday until we ran out) and this Spring Pea and Avocado Crostini, I feel like my kitchen status has been renewed after a recent stretch of bad cooking.
Now, I know, a big green blob on a piece of bread is hard to sell, but my husband raved about it and went back for seconds. He coined it pea and avocado guacamole … maybe that’s a better name? What do you think?
With all the fresh spring flavors available after a long winter of squash and root vegetables, it’s hard to not get carried away and spend days in the kitchen cooking and eating. Fortunately, there will be no guilt if you indulge in this dish. Make it as a snack or even a meal served along side a nice green salad.
I don’t know what to call it, really. It makes delicious crostinis, but this pea purée would be lovely as a sandwich spread. I can imagine it making a light dip for veggies or adding it along side grilled fish.
The longest step to the recipe is cooking the peas, so if you have the 12 minutes to cook peas – which I think most of us do – go for it.
Peas are only just now making their way into markets, so for those able to get your hands on them early in the season, I recommend giving this tasty spread/dip/crostini topper a try.
Spring Pea and Avocado Crostini
2 cups fresh peas (or frozen)
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup of basil, roughly chopped and loosely packed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 avocado, pit and skin removed
1/2 green onion sliced
2 tablespoons Parsley Vinaigrette
Salt and pepper to taste
1 baguette, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. to toast the baguette.
Place the peas in a pot with 2 inches of water and simmer until cooked, approximately 10 to 14 minutes. If using frozen peas, this will only take 4 minutes. Meanwhile place the lemon juice, feta, basil, olive oil, avocado and green onion in a food processor or blender. Once the peas are cooked, drain and rinse the peas under cold water. Place the cooled peas in the food processor along with the other ingredients and blend until ingredients are well combined. Season with salt and pepper and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Using a bread knife, slice the baguette into 1/2-inch thick slices and place on a baking sheet. Brush one side of the slices with olive oil. Place in the oven and toast until just starting to turn golden, approximately 12 minutes.
Top the crostini with the pea and avocado spread. Garnish with crumbled feta, basil or parsley.
Related post on Beyond The Peel: Glazed Beet and Chevre Bruschetta