Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blueberry Buttermilk Clafoutis

My friend, A, was kind enough to bring me a big container of blueberries that she picked herself last weekend. The blueberries were gorgeous - large and sweet, and it took all the self control I could muster to not inhale all the blueberries all at once. But she asked that I let her know what I made with the blueberries. Well, A, this one's for you!
I had never heard of - let alone made- a clafoutis before. But I stumbled upon a recipe using raspberries in an old Food & Wine and was intrigued. A traditional French dessert, a clafoutis is usually made with cherries. It's like a custard-y pancake that can be served not only as a dessert, but for breakfast as well since it's not overly sweet and is somewhat healthy. Additionally, it uses just one bowl and one pan and takes just minutes to mix up.
So in went my 1 cup of handpicked blueberries mixed with a few eggs, a bit of sugar and flour, and the last of a container of buttermilk I had on hand- and 40 minutes later, alongside our lattes, we had a classy French breakfast. I think A would be proud.

Blueberry Buttermilk Clafoutis

1 cup blueberries
3 eggs
1/3 cup flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup regular or buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
butter for greasing the pan

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9 inch pie pan or cake pan that has sides at least 2 inches high. Scatter the blueberries evenly on the bottom of the pan. Whisk together the eggs, flour, then add sugar, baking powder, vanilla, lemon zest and melted butter. Add the milk slowly and and whisk until the batter is smooth. It should just take a minute or two. Pour the batter slowly over the blueberries and bake for about 40 minutes until lightly browned. Before serving, dust with powdered sugar and serve with yogurt if desired.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

IMG_2417.jpgHello summer! You have certainly arrived, with force, with gusto. And to welcome you, I have abandoned all forms of cooking with heat (that is, except for our grill outside, but that's NAK's territory). I suppose that leaves my cooking repertoire to just fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs clipped from my patio. Works for me. I served this salad last weekend, before the peach pie, and have made it no less than three times this past week. It’s just that good and that simple. The combination of crunchy watermelon and soft tomatoes is unexpected and refreshing and the green onions and basil add a tang that keeps the salad light and fresh. You could tweak this recipe into a dozen other variations, which could include adding feta or goat cheese, mixing in chopped watercress, cucumbers, multi-colored tomatoes, mint….you get the idea.
And while it may take a little time to slice the watermelon and chop the tomatoes, the dressing couldn’t be easier- just balsamic vinegar and olive oil drizzled on top. The portions below make an enormous quantity that will serve at least 10 people but you can easily make this for two and it will keep just fine overnight in the fridge. I still have a half a watermelon in the fridge, so who knows, maybe a fourth salad will be in order for later on this week. Yes, you could say that I’ve been a bit lazy on the cooking front lately, but you can’t blame a girl for wanting to beat the heat.

Watermelon and Tomato Salad
serves 10-12 and can easily be cut in half

4 cups halved cherry tomatoes (2 pints)
4 cups cubed watermelon (about a half of medium sized watermelon)
1 cup sliced green onions
20 basil leaves, minced
2 tbs olive oil
2-3 tbs balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)

Combine the tomatoes, water, green onions with half the basil. Mix with oil and vinegar and allow to sit so the flavors blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with the rest of the basil and feta, if using.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ginger Peach Pie

cutoutslice.jpgWhile we may still be a few weeks shy of prime peach season, that hasn’t stopped me from stocking up on New Jersey peaches that are just beginning to hit the markets. They are decent, though not amazing, but after mixing them with lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, and sugar- and then baking them- you can’t tell the difference.
peachesincrust.jpgPerhaps it wasn’t the best weekend to bake a Ginger Peach Pie, given that the temps were close to 100 with staggering humidity. Humidity is pie dough’s worst enemy and in the past has left me with crust that doesn’t want to be lifted off the counter, leading to rips, lots of re-rolling and frustration in general. But after chilling the dough for hours and working quickly, this crust came together just fine and a delicious peach pie was enjoyed by all this past Friday night. And now, let’s not forget the ginger because after the peaches it is the star of the pie. The ginger has a sharp tang that brightens up the peaches and takes the pie from just a sweet summer dessert to one that is more sophisticated, with a punch. Our dinner guests left us with one big slice of pie and NAK and I may just have to wrestle for it. But no worries, as I have 2 more crusts defrosting in the fridge ready for this week’s fruit pie, so there are no losers here.
Ginger Peach Pie
Adapted very loosely from Saveur

This pie requires a top and bottom crust, and my crust recipe makes 4 crusts, meaning that I’d only be left with 2 crusts. I fully intend on making a fruit pie every week this summer – how can you resist with all the delicious fruit that’s making its way into the market- and so I opted to make 8 (yes that’s right!) crusts. If you don’t have unlimited flour on hand or just don’t feel like filling up your freezer with pie crusts, then either make the full crust recipe below (which will yield 4) or cut it in half and you’ll have the 2 you need for this pie. Crusts freeze well, just wrap with plastic wrap or wax paper and freeze in a ziplock bag.

Pie Crust:
5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons butter
12 tablespoons shortening
1 cup of cold water

In a food processor, add the flour, salt, sugar, butter, and shortening and pulse until fine crumbs form. Add water a little at a time until dough is moist enough to form a ball. (Note that you may need less water in humid weather). Divide the big ball into 4 equal balls and wrap in wax paper or plastic to freeze. Refrigerate the dough for this pie for 1-2 hours.

1 tablespoon. fresh lemon juice
3 teaspoon peeled, minced fresh ginger (mince it using a microplane or grater)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
3-4 pounds (about 9 to 10 medium sized) fresh ripe peaches
1 egg white
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

For the filling: Mix together lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl. Allow to sit while you prep the pie dough. Preheat oven to 375°. On a floured surface, roll out 2 pie crusts into 12 inch circles. Place one in a 9 inch pie pan, then add the peach filling leaving out any juice. Trim dough overhang to 1/2 an inch. Drape remaining crust on top. Trim the dough so the edges are even, then fold the top crust under the bottom crust. Pinch to secure the crust, then crimp edges. Slash the top of the pie to allow steam to escape then brush top of pie with egg white, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until golden, about 1 hour. Serve warm.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Three Bean Salad with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

NAK and I spent a wonderful weekend in Charlottesville, VA visiting a bunch of wineries, Monticello, and of course, enjoying the amazing summer weather. The weekend was really perfect but I must admit that I did miss the required Memorial Day barbecue that I had intended to host if we were in town. We just bought a grill a few weeks ago and NAK's been having a field day grilling meat, fish and chicken.
But who is to say that just because you aren't grilling, you can't make those side salads, the ones that often outshine the grilled food itself. And while potato salads and cole slaws are great, you need not limit yourself to just those. Bean salads are one of my favorites - they are full of protein, taste and crunch. They are easy to assemble, can be made in advance, and will yield lunch for at least a day or two. In other words, they are just about darn perfect.
I didn't have quite enough basil for a full on pesto dressing so I combined the basil with sun dried tomatoes for a spicy yet fresh dressing. I chose green beans for their shape and crunch, cannelloni beans for their softness and edamame for added protein, but you could use anything- chick peas, lima beans, black beans...whatever you prefer. And best of all, when it's steamy outside, a heaping bowl of bean salad will make for a pretty hearty meal all on its own. But tonight, when NAK is busy grilling salmon outside, you may just find me inside making another batch of bean salad.

Three Bean Salad with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes (I used dried tomatoes that I reconstituted in hot water but you can also use tomatoes packed in oil. Just be sure to drain them well)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 lb green beans, ends cut off and cut in half
1 can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
1 bag edamame

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the beans to the water for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly cooked but still crisp. Remove the beans from the water with a slotted spoons and immerse in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Rinse again with cold water and then drain in a colander. Dry beans with a towel.

Add the basil, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, cheese and garlic into a food processor. Pulse until evenly and finely chopped, scraping the sides of the food processor with a spatula. Slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth. Add more oil if necessary, you want the pesto to be a sauce-like consistency so it will coat the beans. Taste, and then add salt and pepper as necessary.

Add the green beans in a large serving bowl with the edamame and cannelloni beans. Pour the sauce on top and mix together. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cheesy Zucchini Pancakes

pancakes overhead (1).jpg
I miss the kitchen in my old apartment. Though it was smaller than my current one, it was new and bright and clean. It had not one, but two windows and the afternoon light would come in and keep me company while I cooked. My current kitchen is much larger with ample storage space and room for a table. But it’s older and a bit dingy. And it’s dark, because for whatever reason, the lights are dim, even with new bulbs. And because we are renting, we can’t replace the fixtures that would actually enable me to see what I'm doing. 3 pancakes.jpg
I’m reminded of my old kitchen because of these zucchini pancakes. I was thinking about a zucchini soup that I made last summer, when the windows were open and the light and summer breeze was pouring in. We’re not quite there yet. While a few weeks ago it was in the 80’s, it’s cooled somewhat and we seem stuck in that coolish spring weather that leaves you wishing for summer. So for now, these zucchini pancakes will have to suffice. Boy, are they good. They are slightly crisp on the outside, and gooey, cheesy, soft and peppery on the inside. They are equally as good the moment they come out of the pan as they are the next day- and you can eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. (So far, I've only hit dinner and lunch, but hey, we do have more pancakes leftover!) And, while you can top them with cottage cheese or sour cream, take an extra moment and make the garlicky yogurt sauce and add some fresh chives.pancakebite.jpg
Give it a few more weeks and I’ll probably be lamenting the heat – and the overwhelming amount of zucchini that will be out in the markets. But until then, I’ll happily eat these pancakes at my small wooden table in my dimly lit kitchen.

Cheesy Zucchini Pancakes
Adapted a little bit from here and a little bit from here

Makes about 15 medium sized pancakes

For the pancakes:
4 medium zucchini
grated 3 green onions
sliced 2 extra large eggs, beaten
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
unsalted butter
vegetable oil

For the yogurt sauce: 
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of salt 

Preheat the oven to 250 F.

Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the large grating side of a box grater. Mix in the green onions and the eggs. Stir in the flour, cheese, baking powder, salt and pepper. If mixture seems liquidy, add in a few more tablespoons of flour. Heat a large cast iron pan over medium heat and melt 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil together in the pan. When the butter is hot but not smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the pan.

Cook the pancakes about 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place the pancakes on a plate or sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. Add more butter and oil to the pan if necessary, and continue to fry the pancakes until all the batter is used. The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Mix together the sauce ingredients and spoon on top of the pancakes. Serve hot.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Apricot Granola

granola w spoon.jpg
Every home cook has a nemesis - that one dish that irks them to no extent, that never comes out properly, that they can never master. Granola is mine. Yes, I know. Granola is so simple, so ubiquitous and yet despite literally dozens of attempts, I can't seem to get it right. Sometimes the granola burns, sometimes it comes out of the oven and is glued together like a granola bar. Sometimes it seems to have no taste because for fear of burning, I pull it out of the oven too soon.
granola in bag.jpg
But after three weeks of granola research, I'm ready to unveil the results. First, I just have to trust my instincts and pull the granola out of the oven when the oats are one shade darker than their natural color. For me, this was about 17-18 minutes in the oven, far less than other recipes call for. I also found that turning the granola often (every 5 minutes) with a spatula helped to ensure that it browned evenly and didn't burn. This strategy also helped to keep the granola from clumping.
2 bowls granola.jpg
Granola is so common these days - but it's often overly sweet, expensive and full of fat so there really is no excuse not to make your own! My recipe is really simple and includes the ingredients that I like - almonds, honey, and apricots- but you can substitute in virtually any nut or addition.

One nemesis if I can only get those poached eggs to come out right the first time around.

Apricot Granola

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried apricots, diced

Pre-heat the oven to 325. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl except for the apricots. Stir until combined. Spread on baking sheet and shake pan until the granola is in an even layer. Bake for about 17-18 minutes until the granola has turned golden. Be sure to turn the granola over with a spatula every 5 minutes. Allow granola to cool in pan on a rack. Once cool, mix in fruit (this is important - don't add the fruit until the granola is cool or else it gets dry and hard.) Keep granola in an airtight container or like I do, in a ziplock for up to a week.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Asian Spinach Salad

A few weeks ago, NAK and I had dinner at Nooshi, a reliable restaurant that has become our go-to place for sushi and Asian inspired dishes. The salads and slaws are served in giant silver martini glass shaped bowls and are not only tasty but also incredibly eye-appealing with colorful fruit, shredded crunchy vegetables and candied nuts. We have eaten at Nooshi no less than two dozen times over the years we've lived in DC, yet for some reason, I never had the urge to try and re-create one of the salad at home. After all, why mess with a good thing when the perfect salad is served in a pretty bowl and costs all of $6.

But yesterday afternoon, after too much wine was consumed while sitting in the backyard listening to a drum circle, I had zero- make that negative- desire to put the stove or oven on and cook something for dinner. This scene is one I'm sure will repeat itself often enough throughout the summer so it bears getting my slaw making skills up to par because we can't just go running off to Nooshi anytime the salad and slaw mood strikes. (Let me clarify - I most definitely could but our bank account won't like it too much).
So I made this salad for dinner last night and it was fabulous. Fresh and crunchy veggies, a tangy but sweet dressing and enough leftovers for the next day’s lunch. And as I wrote this, we had eaten our fill of salad and the drum circle was still going strong. It’s going to be a good summer.

Asian Spinach Salad
1 bunch or 1 bag spinach, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 cups savoy cabbage, shredded
3 carrots, thinly sliced into rounds
Half an English cucumber, sliced into half moons
3 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
a few drops soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/3 vegetable oil
warm water (as needed, to thin dressing)
salt and pepper to taste

Assemble the salad ingredients, reserving the almonds. Whisk the dressing together, adding in a few drops of warm water until the dressing is the right consistency to coat the salad. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, toss and sprinkle almonds on top. Dressing will keep well in the fridge in a tightly sealed container.