“You are going where?” This was the response I got when I told various friends and family that my boyfriend and I were going to take a one-day adventure from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico. I admit that with the Mexican drug war at full bloom I had some trepidation about crossing the border – even if it was just a short drive from downtown San Diego.
But we were going on a Monday morning in May. While I don’t have a lot of experience with Mexico, Thomas, on the other hand, speaks Spanish and has traveled extensively in Central and South America. Despite the fact that he lives so close to the Mexican border he had never been to Tijuana, probably much in the same way that I’ve never actually walked the full extent of the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston. It’s just too close to qualify as an actual adventure – until you have out of town guests.
So off we went. After a 20 minute drive, we parked the car, got out, and walked across the border.
Seeing that it was a Monday morning, Tijuana’s streets were deserted of tourist throngs. While it was nice not to push through crowds, other than the locals going about their daily business, we attracted a lot of attention on nearly every street corner by shopkeepers. “Hey, senorita! Come in and see what I have!” (Not today, thanks.)
Being the only tourists for blocks on end got tiring. So after I posed for a photo in front of the restaurant where Cesar salad was invented, we were ready for a snack. A food cart appeared like an oasis of calm and order on the busy street. Its bright canopy and trim green-and-white gingham tablecloth held rows of inviting, fresh fruit in plastic cups. In the back, were elegant “straws” of fresh, raw coconut. Thomas focused in on those right away and bought us a cup to share.
The straws were expertly carved, sweet and crunchy with a hint of citrus and heat. We asked the vendors how they seasoned the coconut. The answer was three simple ingredients: lime juice, chili pepper, and salt. A perfect snack for our amble through Tijuana.
Back home in New England, when the temperature began to climb above 90 degrees F., this summer, I thought it would be a good time to recreate that Tijuana coconut treat.
I found a whole coconut at the grocery store but was quickly stumped on how to open the thing. Some instructions on its orange net casing said to use “an ice pick” to open the seam.
An ice pick? I even tried to watch a Gourmet Food magazine video demonstrating how to open a coconut, but that was no help either.
After a go with my Ryobi drill, I gave up on that coconut.
Then I stopped by Whole Foods, because sometimes they sell raw coconut alongside their prepared fruit. There was none on the shelf that day but a very helpful Produce Guy said “we have a hammer,” and took a whole coconut “out back.”
He returned in about 15 minutes with fresh coconut pieces. They certainly weren’t the elegantly carved straws that we enjoyed in Tijuana, but just as sweet and crunchy.
The next time you want a sweet (and nutrient rich) snack on a hot day, try this Tijuana treat. I used cayenne pepper and kosher salt because I like the crunch. I also added the zest of the lime for added color and flavor.
1 coconut, cut into strips or pieces (whatever you can manage)
Juice plus zest of one lime
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pinches kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve in a small glass, or refrigerate and serve chilled.
Having cooked lentils in my fridge has become a time management tool of mine. It allows me to put salads, soups and side dishes together in minutes. With lentils on hand, I can put super healthy meals together in less time than it takes to go through the drive thru.
For grilled peach, lentil, and parsley salad if you choose not to grill the peaches or toast the hazelnuts, this salad comes together in less than five minutes and is delicious. If you choose to grill the peaches and toast the hazelnuts on the grill, it’s still a fabulously nutritious meal that not only impresses but comes together in less than 15 minutes. Not bad, right?
Need more flexibility? Don’t like peaches? Use nectarines or oranges. Don’t like hazelnuts? Leave them out or sub in another nut or seed? Don’t do dairy? No big deal. Just leave it out. Don’t cheer for lentils? That’s OK, white beans would be an easy sub in. Don’t have parsley on hand? Try it with spinach or arugula. The options are endless.
Grilled Peach, Lentil and Parsley Salad
Ingredients are per person, multiply accordingly.
1 cup cooked Puy or French Lentils
1 cup flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoon crumbled goat cheese
Heat the grill to 450-500 degrees F. Cut the peach in half and remove the pit. Brush the peach with oil and oil the grill (this is optional, but the grill marks won’t work out as well if you don’t).
While the peaches are grilling, put the hazelnuts on a foil pie plate and toast them on the grill (approximately 3-5 minutes, but also optional). Place the parsley on the plate.
Mix the lentils with the salad dressing. Season the lentils with salt and pepper to taste. Add the lentils on top of the parsley, sprinkle with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
Remove the peach from the grill. Slice the peach and arrange on top of the salad. Garnish with flowering lemon thyme (optional if you want to be fancy and all).
For the lentils:
Place 1 cup of French or Puy lentils with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, 22-25 minutes (makes appx 2 to 2-1/2 cups). If you’re really new to whole foods and cooking beans or lentils from scratch still seems like a bit of a stretch, you can start by buying them in a can.
Mix the oil, apple cider vinegar and honey together until honey has dissolved. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the chipotle oil:
In a small pan over low heat, gently warm the 1/2 cup of olive oil and one dried chipotle pepper, cut into 4 pieces. Be careful not to heat the olive oil too much, hot to the touch is what we’re after, but no hotter. Remove from the heat source and allow the chilies to soak in the oil. Taste the oil and adjust the spiciness by adding more oil if it’s too hot. If it’s not hot enough, return to the stove and warm it up one more time. The flavor will develop the longer it sits.
For the salad dressing:
1/2 tablespoon chipotle oil (or regular olive oil)
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey (raw is best)
salt and pepper to taste
Related post on: Beyond the Peel
While I was living in a town in eastern Kazakhstan, my next-door neighbor would invite me over to chat in her small, mostly sky-blue tiled Soviet-styled kitchen as she chopped and pounded and scraped and sloshed together all manner of exotic ingredients.
Whatever meal she was preparing would generally last her the week. Her wizened hands effortlessly moved from one task to the next as I sat there using up my limited Russian vocabulary, asking her questions and trying to follow along as she described what she was doing.
Her summer specialty was a Russian chilled dill soup, perfect for Kazakhstan’s sweltering summers, made from kefir (fermented mare's milk), cucumbers, and radishes. It was one of the few dishes she made that was meat-free, and I felt fortunate to have been introduced to it through this neighbor. Though she thought it was strange that I was a vegetarian, she was my guide on nonmeat foods to try.
When I saw that The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes from Veggiestan by Sally Butcher had a version of the Russian inspired shorba (Arabic for soup) I was both reminded of my neighbor guide, and eager to dive in on recipes from an area of the world, such as Kazakhstan, that I hadn’t previously considered veggie friendly. In fact, I learned, despite the traditional meat on kabobs, meat is used mostly for flavor or for special guests across the Middle East.
Butcher is the London-based owner of Persepolis, a Persian deli, which she runs with her Iranian husband. This is her second cookbook. Her first, “Persia in Peckham” (2008), drew wide acclaim. In "The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian," Butcher quickly shows her love for Middle Eastern flavors from Uzbekistan to Turkey to Iran. Leafing through the book, I was transported across the region with stories, fun facts, and recipes making use of rose petals, saffron, and tumeric.
Reading this book was like sitting down with a good, well traveled foodie friend – and a funny one at that. Through her frank, spunky pages, it’s easy to picture how she interacts with her deli customers. An entertaining element of Butcher's cookbook are her side notes, including “beguiling tales of how the eggplant got it’s hat” (hint: it’s in his looks). Yes, you read that right.
As for kefir, she writes: “Mmm. The original probiotic, if you like. It evolved as the famous horsemen of the region galloped the steppes: (mare's) milk, which they carried in saddle bags, would slowly ferment, forming a not unpleasant but entirely different drink. To this day kefir is a popular drink in places such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In the West it is more often the bacteria itself for which we use the term. You can buy it as grains or already developed (when it looks like something that Fungus the Bodyeman might have dreamed up): it is self-propagating (my, how it grows), and enthusiast are usually happy to share their cultures (how nice). It is phenomenally good for you.”
But can a funny cook also be a good cook? I invited three friends over to test her recipes. Our menu: Swooning Imam, Persian Magazine Spinach balls, and Chilled Yogurt and Saffron Soup.
It took more time than just tossing together a salad or making a pizza, but it was easy enough to coordinate friends to do the sous chef jobs as I worked on the soup (recipe reprinted below). I felt inspired to add and mint where the recipe calls for just dill. The instructions were mostly clear, though I did have to look up what it meant to “score an eggplant.” (Where I come from we dice and chop and blend and microwave – “score” is a musical or sports term.)
After we supped, I asked my friends what they thought about the meal. One commented on the delicate flavors of the eggplant, another on how much she liked the Persian spinach, which we topped with Parmesan flakes, and another remarked how perfect the chilled soup was for a hot summer night. Then she said, “this food makes me feel loved.”
It’s clear that Butcher’s meals are meant to be savored with friends and family – like you would on vacation – instead of rushed and thrown together. Indeed, this is a cookbook that informs and delights the reader even as it surprises and enchants your dinner guests. And it's perfect for cooks who are tired of their go-to vegetarian meals.
“Veggiestan” may be a made up country, but once you get there, you will want to visit over and over again.
Recipe reprinted with permission from “The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes From Veggiestan” by Sally Butcher (Interlink Publishing, 2012).
Katyk Shurua va Zafaran or Chilled Yogurt and Saffron Soup
Makes a pleasant change from the delicious but rather more commonplace yogurt and cucumber soup. Serves 4.
3 cups (25 fluid ounces) plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in a splash of boiling water
4 hard boiled egg yolks
2 teaspoons grainy mustard
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bunch of radishes, washed and diced real small
1/2 cucumber, washed and diced real small
2-3 scallions, sliced
1 large cooked potato (waxy is best)
2 tablespoons fresh (or dried) dill (or use other fresh herbs of choice – mint, parsley, cilantro)
salt and pepper
The yogurt should be of a fairly runny pouring consistency: you will need to dilute it with cold water, whisking vigorously, until it is well, soup-like.
Add the saffron, and mix well. Next mash the egg yolks with the mustard and vinegar, and beat this mixture into the yogurt. Put all the other ingredients in a bowl, and pour the yogurt on top, mixing thoroughly.
Season to taste, and then cover and chill well. Serve over ice cubes (optional – but great on a hot summer night) garnished with a sprig of fresh dill.
– Jenna Fisher is the Monitor's Asia editor.
Note: The UK version was published in 2011 and is titled “Veggiestan: A Vegetable Lover’s Tour of the Middle East.”
I generally think a cold slice of watermelon is the most refreshing treat on a hot summer’s day. I also cool myself off with a tall glass of water infused with cucumber. Blend these two together, add the summer taste of fresh mint, freeze it, and consider yourself refreshed on National Watermelon Day (Aug. 3).
Watermelon sorbet is just plain good, but this frosty summer treat also makes an elegant simple dessert for a dinner party.
This recipe sometimes yields more sorbet base than fits in my ice cream maker. If this happens to you, simply make another small batch, or mix it half-and-half with tea for a cool drink.
Watermelon, Cucumber, and Mint Sorbet
Makes about 1/2 gallon
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
Large bunch of fresh mint
3 cups seeded watermelon chunks
1 cup peeled cucumber chunks, seeded
Stir the sugar and water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring a few times, just until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and drop in 3 stems of mint. Leave to cool. Remove the mint stems.
Process the watermelon and cucumber chunks in a blender with the sugar syrup and 1/4 cup mint leaves. You may need to do this in several batches. Pour through a strainer into a bowl, pressing out as much pulp as possible. Chill for a couple of hours or until very cold. Pour the sorbet mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer instructions. Scoop into a freezer container and freeze for several hours until firm.
Thirsty for more from The Runaway Spoon? Try Freshly Minted Lemonade.
It seems there's a fungus among us. I heard last week that the rumors of late blight in Hudson Valley, N.Y. have been confirmed. Keep your spores off my 'maters.
We've only been harvesting our little crop of tomatoes (some cherries and some big, juicy Ulster Germaids that we've grown from seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library) for a couple weeks now and they are so sweet and flavorful – I am hoping we can at least enjoy them for a few more weeks. That's my roundabout way of suggesting that you make this delicious meal now, since there may not be much of a future for tomatoes on the East Coast this summer.
This dish is inspired by a similar one I had at Cucina, an upscale Italian restaurant here in Woodstock, N.Y., that we really like.
Anyway, back to the recipe. This is a simple meal but so good. The chicken is crispy outside and tender inside with a nice crunchy, salty, cheesy crust that is enhanced by squeezing a little lemon juice over it. And the sweet, juicy tomatoes play nicely with the fresh, peppery bite of the arugula combined with a splash of olive oil and rich, sweet balsamic vinegar.
Although I am in no way above using prepared breadcrumbs, I was overtaken by feelings of guilt while staring at a Bread Alone baguette I'd unintentionally let go stale on the counter. So I made a small tub of breadcrumbs by food processing the bread to fine crumbs and then adding some grated Parmesan, sea salt and black pepper to make the breading mixture.
The process of breading and frying the chicken always takes a little more time and effort than I'd like, but on the whole this is a fairly easy meal to assemble. The chicken pieces are quite thin, so they cook quickly.
I made the salad with some arugula I picked out of our little container garden – I love being able to pick it while it's still young and tender and has not yet turned bitter or tough.
I topped it with some of our first fresh tomatoes and then drizzled some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a tiny bit of salt over it all.
Chicken Milanese On a Bed of Arugula & Tomatoes
4 boneless, skinless, organic chicken cutlets
1-1/2 -2 cups breadcrumbs (Panko is a good choice for a crispy crust)
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten in a shallow bowl
1 cup of flour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large or 3-4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch of arugula, washed, dried and with the ends of the stems removed
4 lemon slices
1/3 cup olive oil plus a little more for the salad
Put one or two of the chicken cutlets in a plastic bag (you can also use wax paper or plastic wrap but a bag will work just as well and is less wasteful), lay them on a cutting board and pound them with a mallet or rolling pin until they are nice and flat and thin (you're shooting for a thickness of roughly 1/2 inch). Repeat with the others and set them aside.
Prepare your breading station: combine the flour, salt and pepper on a plate or a rimmed baking dish, put the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl next to the flour, combine the breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and a little more salt in a third rimmed dish next to the eggs. The order should be flour, eggs, and then breadcrumbs.
Working one at a time, dredge the flattened chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, making sure you coat them well, then dip them in the egg (again, cover the whole piece) but try to let the excess egg drip off back into the bowl, and then roll them in the breadcrumbs making sure you cover all the surfaces (you can pick some up and sprinkle it on the cutlet if this is challenging). Set each piece aside as you finish then go wash your hands.
Heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a wide shallow frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Fry the chicken pieces until golden brown – about 3-5 minutes on each side then remove them from the pan and drain on a paper bag (or a plate).
Divide the arugula between four plates and top with the chopped tomatoes. Drizzle the greens and tomatoes with a little olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a little sea salt and black pepper then top each one with a piece of chicken. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side.
Related post on: Garden of Eating
Harry S Truman famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” I took the 33rd president at his word recently, although probably not as he intended. When the temperatures finally (and temporarily) dropped below dangerous levels here in Chicago, but were still high enough that I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen, I fired up the grill instead.
I fired up our taste buds too, although only a little, with these slightly spicy pork chops seasoned with chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. Then I piled on color and flavor with a quick, lively salsa. Served with a side of refried beans (OK, we heated up the kitchen a little) and a salad, the chops made for a delicious weeknight dinner.
Pork plays well with fruit flavors, something I’ve relied on more than a few times here. And it picks up a wonderful smokiness on the grill. Combine those two qualities and you take it to a whole other level.
For the salsa, I started with mango. Native to the Indian subcontinent, mangoes have a silky texture and a taste described as a delicate blend of peach, pineapple and apricot. That said, the whole is more than the sum of the parts – rich, fragrant, and exotic. To the diced mango, I added tomatoes (also a fruit, but only by a technicality to me), cilantro (if you’re among those who can’t stand it, substitute parsley), red onion, and jalapeño pepper.
But I encourage you to play with your salsa. I used cherry tomatoes, but a regular tomato would work too. Don’t have red onion? Substitute scallions or chives. For the pepper, go as fiery or mild as you like. The jalapeño I had this time was not spicy at all, even though I kept some of the seed and the ribs –you could even substitute a little green bell pepper for the flavor alone, if you like. You can also add a little cayenne pepper if you want to heat things up a bit.
Spicy Grilled Pork Chops with Mango Cilantro Salsa
For the chops:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 bone-in pork chops (I used pork loin rib chops)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salsa:
1 ripe mango
6 to 10 cherry tomatoes, depending on size
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1/2 large jalapeño pepper (or a whole small one), finely chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (torn in half if large)
A quick note here – make sure the salsa is completely prepared before putting the chops on the grill. They cook up quickly (see Kitchen Notes), and you need to keep an eye on them, not be fiddling with mangoes in the kitchen.
Prepare the chops. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil and spices. Set aside. Remove chops from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking to come to room temperature. If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can do this when you fire up the grill to let the charcoals get hot. Pat chops dry with paper towels and brush on both sides with the oil and spices. Place on a platter and set aside.
Prepare the salsa. Peel and cube the mango and place it in a large bowl. Rinse and quarter the cherry tomatoes and add them to the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir gently with a wooden spoon to combine. Set aside to let flavors combine.
Grill the chops. When the coals are hot, prepare for direct grilling. (If you’re using a gas grill, do the same – if you use wood chips, I would encourage that for the nice smokiness.) Brush the grate with oil and grill the chops on the first side for a minute or two uncovered (watch for flare-ups). Cover the grill and let them cook a bit longer, a total of 4 to 5 minutes for the first side. Turn chops and repeat the process, cooking until a quick-read thermometer registers about 145 degrees F., when inserted into the thickest part for medium rare to medium (see Kitchen Notes below). If your chops are on the thin side, check for doneness at about 8 minutes total cooking time. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Plate chops on individual serving plates, give the salsa a final stir and spoon it over the chops. Serve.
Is it done? Cooking any kind of meat to proper doneness is always filled with variables, especially on the grill. How hot your coals are, how thick the meat is and whether you remembered to let it come to room temperature before cooking it all factor in. A quick-read thermometer is a vital tool in accurately judging doneness, but only if it’s used properly. Here’s a little tip I learned watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen, a show that I feel mostly sucks all the air out of the room while you’re watching it (“We cooked this recipe 437 different times until we got the results we wanted. Is my bow tie on straight?”), but that occasionally shares useful tips.
Like this one: For a quick-read thermometer to give an accurate reading, you have to insert the tip of the probe far enough into the meat. Otherwise, the probe will also be reading the air temperature around it. The end is often marked some way – with an engraved line or a slightly different finish. My Sur La Table thermometer’s probe is narrower at the end; that entire section should be inserted in the meat. Unfortunately, chops, burgers and even chicken parts can sometimes be too thin for the probe to completely inserted from the top. So when you’re ready to test the temperature of a thinner cut of meat, pick it up with your tongs and insert the probe from the side. You’ll be amazed at the differences in the readings.
Hungry for more grilled chops from Blue Kitchen? Try these Vietnamese-inspired Turmeric/Ginger Grilled Pork Chops, these Asian Grilled Pork Chops with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and lime juice or Pork Chops with Rosemary, marinated in red wine, garlic and rosemary.
Maque Choux distills the essence of summer into every bite. Admittedly, its first attraction may be the fun name. Pronounced "mock shoe," it is a corruption of a French word or an Indian saying, or just straight up Acadian, depending on whom you ask. It is a traditional Cajun dish which occasionally makes it onto the menus of New Orleans-style restaurants, but more often than not, as some dressed up, modernized version – with herbs, no bacon, named heirloom tomatoes. All of which is fine, but when you stop de-constructing and re-constructing and cook up a big, simple skillet-full, the very taste of ripe, sweet summer corn and fresh, juicy tomatoes is so clear, I don’t see why we need to mess about.
Like classic Wash Day Beans, this is not a quick, lightly cooked preparation. The slow, mellow braising of corn kernels with onion brings out a sweet richness that will make you think someone snuck in a dash of sugar while you weren’t looking. Salty smokiness from good bacon and a touch of sweet-tart freshness from full, ripe tomatoes round out one of my favorite expressions of summer’s bounty.
Serve maque choux beside a hearty piece of grilled meat, but I’ll be honest, I usually eat it by the bowlful all on its own, maybe with a biscuit to sop up the juices.
Maque Choux (Cajun Stewed Corn and Tomatoes)
6 strips of bacon
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
6 ears of fresh corn, husked and silked
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a large, deep skillet with a tight fitting lid until crisp. Remove half of the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving the rest in the skillet.
While the bacon is cooking, cut the kernels from the corn and scrape out as much milk as possible. Lower the heat on the bacon grease, add the onions and green peppers and stir to coat. Cook for a few minutes, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
When the onions are beginning to soften add the corn and stir to blend. Scrape in the chopped tomatoes and their juices, stir well and bring to a bubble.
Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the skillet, and stew for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If needed, add a dash of water here and there to keep things from sticking. Maque choux can stand up to longer cooking if you get distracted and can be gently reheated a few hours later.
Serve warm, with the remaining bacon pieces sprinkled on top.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Wash Day Beans,
It all started, like so many Eat Run Read baking adventures do, with an e-mail and a baking challenge from a friend. Within the hour we had a time, we had a plan, and we were ready embark upon the most epic baking adventure yet to grace the Eat Run Read kitchen: a cookie dough fudge cheesecake.
My friends knocked on my door late that Saturday afternoon. They came bearing a bag of groceries: heavy cream, cream cheese, chocolate, etc. (all the most important things in life). They joined my roommates on my couch, opened a bag of chips, and settled in to observe an afternoon/evening of baking.
This is pretty usual for us. I love cooking, and I like when other people are around, but I do not like other people in the kitchen with me. I just don't understand how one bakes with someone else. As far as I'm concerned, it's a one-person endeavor. And quite the process it was! This cheesecake is not that difficult, it just has a lot of steps. But all the best things in life are worth the time, right? And yes, I do include this cheesecake as one of the best things in life. It may be the best thing I have ever made. It's definitely the prettiest.
I only slightly modified the recipe. I didn't have enough Oreos, so I did half Oreo, half crushed graham crackers for the crust. This cake's only flaw was that the crust came out soggy. (Ugh, why is crust always so difficult?) I suggest baking the crust for 10 minutes before adding the ganache. And also, when you take the cake out of the oven, immediately unwrap the foil and cool the cake on a cookie rack.
And this recipe made way too much ganache. We're talking twice the ganache you need. Not that I'm really complaining. But if you want to avoid that chocolatey temptation, halve the ganache recipe.
I made the crust, ganache, cheesecake, sour cream, and cookie dough on Saturday. Then on Sunday I assembled. I laid the cookie dough on top of the cheesecake, and re-heated my ganache (in the microwave) to decorate. Then everyone ate. Oh. My. Goodness. Like I said, best cake ever.
Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: one 9-inch cheesecake
32 chocolate sandwich cookies, finely processed into crumbs
5-1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups heavy cream (I used 2 cups heavy cream. But like I said earlier, you can easily half the ganache recipe and have enough for the cake.)
20 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I combined both)
3 (8 ounces) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (I used whipped cream cheese and it worked fine. But do not try to use light cream cheese. Trust me, it just won't work.)
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons mild-flavored (light) molasses (I didn't do this)
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cookie Dough Layer Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chocolate chips.)
4 to 6 tablespoons water
For the complete baking instructions, please visit Willow Bird Baking.
Related post on Eat Run Read: Caramel Apple Eggnog Cheesecake
Imagine going out to the garden in the evening, still undecided about what to make for dinner. Wandering around the patches of fresh produce – zucchini, corn, cilantro, tomatoes, and lettuce – a few ingredients begin to form a meal.
Maybe it’s asparagus and green beans to go with roast chicken. Or perhaps cilantro and jalapeños to spice up chicken wings. Don’t forget strawberries for dessert.
If you are like me, utterly unimaginative when it comes to combining ingredients (let alone how to grow them), a recent cookbook may help expand the spectrum of what is possible in the kitchen – all with ingredients fresh from the farm.
The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food, by Ian Knauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012, $30) introduces readers to the process of how our food ends up on our tables. The farm-to-table movement is a way of life for Mr. Knauer, who shows how an appreciation for the land can unlock a new world of flavors and ideas.
Knauer started out at Gourmet as a cross-tester – he acted like a potential reader and tested all the recipes before they were published. Eventually he worked his way into a food editor position where he concocted his own recipes in the magazine’s test kitchen. He often brought in produce he raised himself, or meat he killed while hunting (he shares a tale of his first hunting expedition in the book).
His expertise in the basics of fresh ingredients comes from doing chores on his grandfather’s farm during his childhood and teenage years – mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, picking strawberries, and collecting walnuts. An immigrant German patriarch founded the farm (and the village of Knauertown) in the late 1700s and passed it down through generations of the Knauer family. Knauer’s grandfather was the last to work the land, until decades later when Ian Knauer, his sisters, and cousins started to replant the untouched farm and reconnect with their childhood memories.
The recipes in “The Farm” follow the seasons, using ingredients in their prime for the best flavor. Beets and strawberries come earlier than corn or peaches. Patience is key with growing peppers because they only flourish in the peak heat of summer. As the summer months begin to cool, butternut squash and chard are in abundance.
Beyond recipes, Knauer provides cooking tips from his years of experience. The best way to cook a hard-boiled egg, for instance, is to bring the water to a gentle boil and let it simmer. Hard-boiling has nothing to do with it. He explains how to differentiate between poisonous and nonpoisonous mushrooms when foraging on the farm: nonpoisonous chanterelles grow in groups of no more than two from the dirt, and they have fork-like veins instead of gills. Another handy skill is how to roast a pig. He advises digging a pit in case you don’t have a spit. (I have a friend who has annually hosts a pig roast in urban Washington, D.C., so this can be done even if you don’t live on a backcountry farm in Pennsylvania.)
There are recipes for every level of culinary knowledge. With my moderate experience, I decided to tackle Rhubarb-Sour Cream Crostata Pie. While I didn’t pick the ingredients I used fresh from the garden, I stood in the middle of the produce section of my local grocery store and tried to imagine the farm – its smells, the summer heat, and the grimy sweat from a long day of weeding and plucking.
Back at home, I set to work mixing the dough ingredients. I made the mistake of leaving cracks in the dough ball when I put in the refrigerator to cool. When rolling out the dough, those cracks made it difficult to make the crust completely round. Next came chopping the rhubarb. Rhubarb is best when it's deep red. Mine was a mixture of red and a little bit of green. As I chopped the one-inch pieces, I was worried that I might accidentally be using celery; the stalks look so similar when rhubarb is green.
I waited until the crostata cooled to room temperature before tasting it. The cornmeal crust was the perfect nutty texture for the syrupy and tart filling. Originally skeptical of the sour cream, it was just enough cream to complement the rhubarb.
It’s definitely a dessert I will make again, and maybe then I will make the journey to find fresh rhubarb from a local farm.
(The following is excerpted from "The Farm," © 2012 by Ian Knauer. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.)
Rhubarb-Sour Cream Crostata Pie
A little bit of cornmeal in the crust adds a nutty note to this rustic spring pie. Rhubarb is a favorite of my cousin, Leif, who, when he met this pie for the first time at the farm, ate it in slices – wide-eyed and smiling – right from the pie tin, as if it were a dessert pizza.
For the pastry dough:
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
1/4 cup sour cream
5 cups (1-inch pieces) sliced rhubarb (1 pound)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Make the pastry dough: Work together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, butter, and salt with your hands until it is mostly combined, with some small lumps of butter remaining. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the water with a fork. Press a small handful of dough together: if it looks powdery and does not come together, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon water. Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the edge of the plastic, fold the dough over on itself, pressing until it comes together. Form the dough into a disk, wrap completely in the plastic, and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, with a rack in the middle.
On a well-floured surface, roll out the pastry dough with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round. Place the dough in a 10-inch pie tin.
Make the filling: Spread the sour cream evenly over the bottom of the crust. Toss the rhubarb with the sugar and lemon zest, then spread the fruit evenly over the sour cream. Fold the border of dough up and over the edge of the fruit.
Bake the crostata until the crust is golden, the filling is bubbling, and the rhubarb has started to brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 6 to 8
From April through October, during farmers market season, I rarely visit the produce section of the grocery store. Why bother when there is so much beautiful, fresh, in season produce at the markets. I only seek out a few things that don’t grow here: lemons and limes, cherries from Michigan and Washington (I call to see when shipments arrive to get them as fresh as I can).
And Vidalia onions from Georgia. I love Vidalias. Vidalias are sweet, with just enough bite. They make the best caramelized onions, one of my favorite kitchen staples. I buy Vidalias in bulk, thinly slice them and let them gently caramelize in the slow-cooker then freeze Ziploc bags full. I store Vidalias in canvas bags in the pantry for when they are out of season. I am a Vidalia hoarder. And obviously, I cook with them.
In the summer, I love a creamy cold soup when the weather is so hot and steamy. Leek and potato vichyssoise is one of my favorites, and simple to put together. Once I have a big bowl of chilled vichyssoise in the fridge, I am set for several cooling meals.
The idea for a chilled onion soup first came to me when I ran across that recipe title in an old community cookbook during the height of Vidalia season. The title appealed to me, but the actual recipe was a strange combination of canned soups that was quite off-putting. So I decided to adapt a classic cold soup preparation highlighting the brilliant flavor of my favorite onion. Cooking the onions slowly keeps them sweet and mellow, melding perfectly with smooth milk. You could top this soup with some crispy croutons, chopped herbs, cooked bacon pieces or caramelized onion.
Chilled Vidalia Onion Soup
2 large Vidalia onions, or other sweet yellow onions, to yield 4 cups chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
4 cups light chicken broth
1 cup milk
Kosher salt to taste
Peel and dice the onions. Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium high heat, then add the onions, sprinkle over several pinches of salt and stir to coat. Add the thyme leaves. Slowly cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they are very soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Do not let the onions brown or caramelize. When the onions are soft, add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and cook until the liquid has evaporated, being careful not to let the onions brown. Add the remaining broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, then cover the pot and simmer 30 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat and leave to cool. When cool, puree the soup in batches in a blender. Pour the pureed soup through a strainer into a large bowl. Whisk in the milk, salt to taste, and chill until cold, at least two hours but up to overnight.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Almost-Too-French Onion Soup