Monthly Archives: September 2014

Autumn-Summer Salad: Apples and Smoked Cheese

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With all the fine weather this weekend it seemed like a good time for another salad, which will probably be mostly disappearing off of my menu in the near future. So after I came home from tennis and a quick swim in the ocean (again, probably the last time for a while, and yes it was quite cold), I threw this together and was quite pleased with the result.

I often eat apples and cheese together as a quick snack (apples and peanut butter is also great), but putting it on top of a salad, with the addition mustard, makes the combination into more of meal.

You can make this with whatever greens you want; I threw in a little kale to add some oomph but I like having the lightness of the mesclun as well. It may make extra dressing—judge how much you like before mixing it all together.

Apple-cheese salad
1 tbsp mustard
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 tsp olive oil
Fresh oregano, and/or parsley
Salt and pepper, as desired
About 4 stalks of kale, leaves only, washes and ripped apart
Mesclun, or other lettuce
1 eating apple, your favorite variety (I recommend similar to gala), cut into pieces
Smoked cheddar, cubed

Mix together mustard and vinegar, then whisk in olive oil (I generally make dressing in whatever bowl I’m eating the salad in, because fewer dishes). Taste and add other seasonings, as you wish. Put kale in the bowl with the dressing and massage it around for a while (if you don’t know about massaging kale for salads yet, do it. It’s important and makes it much more tender). Add the rest of the lettuce and toss, then throw on the apples and cheese.

This would also benefit from some nice smoked sausage. Alternatively, you could serve it as a side next to a nice roast (preferably one with lots of caramelized onions) with some crusty bread.

Enjoy the weather!

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Cumin Bean Salad

This recipe is from the New Basics Cookbook, which is one of the best cookbooks ever. I haven’t ever made something I don’t like from there. Unfortunately I brought my bean salad to a potluck and forgot to take a picture. Travesty! I’ll make my post short due to lack of imagery, and see if I can add one later.

The dressing is excellent and good on green salads and other dishes as well.

Cumin vinaigrette
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ Tbsp Dijon
¾ tsp cumin
½ tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper
¾ cups olive oil

Bean salad
1 red onion (or normal onion if you don't have a red one)
A few cloves of garlic
2 cups cooked mixed beans (or 1 can black beans and 1 can white beans)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2-3 ears corn, husked and de-corned (yes, raw corn is fine and delicious, if you get the right kind!), or 1 cup frozen corn kernels
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Other veggies: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, more peppers...

If you don’t like much onion, heat it in oil in the microwave for a short time before mixing it in with everything else. Stir together the dressing ingredients, then add the onion and beans. Marinate for as long as you want/have time for. Before serving, add the pepper, corn, other veggies, and cilantro and toss together.

This keeps pretty well for a while—I had lots extra and brought for office lunch with a few pieces of good bread. You can also keep adding more veggies as the days roll by to make it more into a normal salad.

Fresh Tomato Pesto + Freezing Tomatoes

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Can you tell it’s tomato season? Fresh tomatoes are the best. But I’ve been over that already. Last week was Week of the Free Tomatoes for me (I passed by a yard with free tomatoes on my way home and on of my farmer friends had extra that she gave me as well), and I think I have made good use of them.

I will have you know that I didn’t even think about making pesto from fresh tomatoes (sundried tomatoes, yes, but never raw), and then I came across this recipe is from Food 52 and I had to try it. It is more watery than normal pesto, and actually I couldn’t decide about it at first, but it’s one of those dishes that tastes better as you eat more of it. I am now a big fan. It also dovetailed nicely my freezing of tomatoes, which I will also share here.

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This is also convenient for you dairy-free folks out there (Mother), since it doesn’t have cheese but remains very creamy. I admit that it benefits from a sprinkling on top, but that can easily be substituted by some toasty breadcrumbs, or even something like nutritional yeast if you’re into that (I wasn’t born in the 60s and had no idea what it was until fairly recently; not really my jam but I can see the appeal).

Tomatoes in this recipe do need blanching to remove the skins (not that you have to blanch them to do this, it just makes it énormément easier; also really you could make it with skins on, you’d just have tomato skins clunking up your pesto and it might get caught in the food processor blade). If you’d like, do a bunch at the same time, and then freeze the rest! I was thinking about canning them but don’t have a pressure canner and it seems like more work and safety concern, so I went with freezing (for now). Often tomatoes are cheap this time of year in bulk, especially if you get ones that are not absolutely perfect (i.e. don’t sell as well at the market but are still great). They might be what I am most excited about in my freezer right now.

(Well, that’s probably not true. I have a lot of exciting food in my freezer/I need a bigger freezer: garlic scape pesto, blueberries, strawberries, kale pesto, homemade bread, cherries, blueberry cake, tofu chunks (freezing tofu changes the texture, and obviously it lasts longer there than in the fridge, if you want to buy it in bulk), basil pesto, cookie dough, chicken thighs, water buffalo sausage, egg whites, brownies (they freeze shockingly well, and then when you need a brownie, as happens, YOU HAVE THEM. It’s amazing), corn (sliced from the cob and into a freezer bag), green beans (blanched and frozen), tomatoes, tomato reduction, and now fresh tomato pesto (although I’m not totally convinced this will freeze as well as the other items, due to the high water content). Anyway, you understand.)

I was at the grocery store today to do some price comparisons and you can get tomatoes for cheaper there but I’m not convinced they would taste like anything at all. And they looked a little grayish. Like I’ve said before, Backyard Farms does have pretty great hothouse tomatoes, but they were not cheaper than ones at the farmer’s market, so save them for winter emergencies. What I’m trying to say here is, it’s worth it to eat seasonally. You might not enjoy fresh pesto tomato toasts in the winter, but instead you can savor rich tomato reductions over pasta or in chili. And by preparing now, you can save yourself money and disappointment (over lackluster store-bought sauce, which is a real thing although the phrase sounds a little tropey to me at this point) later.

Fresh tomato pesto, aka Pesto Trapanese à la Food 52
10 ripe tomatoes, like roma or plum (NOT the juicy kind); or MORE if you want to freeze some
1/2 cup almonds
Garlic (4ish cloves—make sure there is plenty)
A handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Boil water in a large pot. Score the undersides of the tomatoes (cut a little x on the bottom). Prepare a large bowl of ice water if you have time. Put the tomatoes carefully in the boiling water only for about 1 minute (you will probably want to start taking them out before the minute is over, because it takes some time if you only have a spoon, or even with a small strainer—I wanted to keep the water to cook pasta later, so I didn’t pour everything into the sink, and anyway that might damage the tomatoes). Place them right into the ice water. The skins should now peel off very easily. Core the tomatoes and carefully squeeze out the seeds and juice into another bowl (I followed this guide). Reserve this juice for later. You should be left with reasonably un-watery tomatoes; let them drain more if you can. For freezing, put them in a freezer bag (maybe 2/3 full), get rid of all the excess air, seal it up, and put it in your freezer.

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The Kitchn also notes that you can just freeze whole tomatoes, although I don’t have room in my freezer for that.

Tomatoes for the pesto should be chopped a bit. If you don’t have time for blanching, etc., and you don’t mind skins, I suspect it would still be delicious. Do squeeze out the juice though, or it will be too watery.

Toast the almonds (nuts always need to be toasted. It releases all the flavors and makes everything better. I generally toast a bunch at once, because that way I don’t have to turn on my oven every time I need them for something like this). Grind up the almonds and garlic in a food processor (traditionalists will stick to a mortar-and-pestel, but I don’t have one so I guess I risk blade oxidation) until pretty small but not into a paste (almond butter is delicious, but not the goal here), then add basil and chop a bit. Throw in the tomatoes and some olive oil and pulse until your desired texture—some chunks of tomato would be fine, but it is also good nice and creamy.

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Serve over pasta, on toast, you know the drill. Actually this is particularly good over some gently sautéed or crispy kale.

What do you do with all the extra tomato juice?? This may be better than the actual pesto. If you like green smoothies you can add it to that, or just strain it and drink it. A friend of mine also suggested that tomato juice is useful for bathing a cat who has been sprayed by a skunk. For those of you without cats to worry about, and those who are willing to take a very small risk for something fantastically delicious, I recommend simmering it on the stove for a long time, straining out the seeds as you can/feel like it and reducing it a whole bunch. This tomato reduction is PACKED with flavor, is truly amazing, and can then be (guess what) frozen. I’ll let you know when I use it, but my guess is that it will be a replacement for tomato paste.

Make sure you label and date everything in your freezer.

Happy tomato-ing!

Tomato Tart

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I’m really digging this savory tart thing. I think because I was baking before I started cooking, and dealing with crust and ovens feels very familiar to me; but then you get to add juicy tomatoes and eat it for dinner instead of dessert.

I may have found my new favorite cheese and I used it in this recipe. Unfortunately it is not a local cheese, although I did buy it at a local store: it’s a Dutch double cream gouda from Cheeseland. Very smooth and melts like a dream.

For the tart itself, I was looking at a couple different options—originally I was thinking something with a custard base, but a lot of the tomato tart recipes online have just tomatoes and cheese. This is essentially taken from David Lebovitz, but I’m writing it here anyway.

Tart dough
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water
Tomato Tart
Mustard
2-3 large tomatoes
Melting cheese (like double cream gouda)
Fresh goat cheese (or a combination of cheeses you love)
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

For the crust: Cut up the butter and freeze it for a while (or just make sure it is cold if you don’t have time). Mix egg and water together and put in the fridge (or the freezer, but don’t forget about it!) while you measure out the flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour—I like to cut it very small before freezing it, and then I can kind of smoosh it into the flour with my fingers without it warming up too much. Mix in the egg/water mixture until combined, but don’t knead it too much or it’ll get tough. You can wrap and refrigerate it at this point, or just roll it out (usually determined by timing). If you don’t have a rolling pin, use an empty (washed) wine bottle.

Sprinkle a clean surface with flour and roll to fit whatever pan you have (I don’t have a tart pan and wasn’t feeling a pie pan because I didn’t want sloping sides with all the juice in the tomatoes, so I made it in an 8×8 glass pan, and then made an additional galette with the rest of the dough, which worked spectacularly). Either fold in quarters or roll gently onto the rolling pin to transfer it to the pan. Gently press in and arrange the sides as you wish. For a galette, just place a circle of dough on a baking sheet. Put in the freezer while you prep the other ingredients.

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Thickly slice tomatoes (1/3-1/2 inch). Cut up the cheese into small slices or very small chunks. Strip the thyme from stems.

Remove dough from the freezer and spread with mustard. Arrange the tomato slices on top and nestle in the chunks of cheese and gobs of fresh cheese. Top with thyme, salt, and pepper, and slide into the oven. With the galette, fold over the sides (they are hopefully un-frozen enough to do this at this point) and press them together.

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Bake for 30 or so minutes, until golden. Juices may get a little bubbly, just watch it to make sure they don’t spill in your oven. I also broiled mine right at the end to make the cheese on top nice and crispy.

Serve warm or at least room temperature. This reheats excellently in a toaster oven, or the oven (the galette was my office lunch one day this week, topped with arugula with some zucchini on the side).

Lentil salad with yogurt dressing

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I’m a little irritated because I wrote this all out  yesterday, and the Interwebs didn’t save it. My fault, I think, but still. (In case you were wondering, no, I don’t usually post the day I make something. Too much work to cook and write about it; besides, I want to have time to reflect on the virtues of the dish before sharing it.)

It also turns out that I am very bad at cooking lentils. They shouldn’t be, and in fact are not, that difficult to cook—lentils, water, heat, time—I think I just got overconfident since I have indeed successfully cooked them many times before. Not enough water and not paying attention = a little crunchy. But, still tasty and definitely edible.

Aside from the apparent challenges of heating legumes on a stove, this salad is pretty straightforward. Lentils, dressing, and whatever veggies you happen to have on hand. Also the dressing is awesome and can/should be used on other dishes as well—grain/pasta salad, straight veggies (especially cucumbers).

Lentil salad with yogurt dressing
Lentils
Veggies: cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes (sungolds are recommended)
Dill
Yogurt (maybe 1/4 cup per cup of lentils?)
Paprika
Cumin
Salt/pepper
Lemon juice (optional)

Cook the lentils according to instructions, or here from the Kitchn. Drain, if necessary, and place in a bowl. They should be relatively cool or at least room temperature, when you add the other ingredients.

Chop veggies—slice small tomatoes in half to make them easier to stab with a fork/pick up with a spoon. Roughly chop the dill, just to get the juices flowing (look at me using dill again!). Add to the lentils along with the yogurt and seasonings and stir. Taste and adjust.

Serve room temperature or cold. This keeps well and is an excellent potluck addition, as well as a good work lunch (bring along a few slices of fresh bread too).

Ratatouille

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Like many others (I think), I was rather deeply inspired by the movie Ratatouille. And odd as it may seem, I became infected with a desire to recreate the masterpiece of a cartoon rat.

I had no previous experience with ratatouille, which in its most basic form is a simple country conglomeration of vegetables. So my vision had something to do with fancy restaurant food delicately dressed on white plates and gobbled up by critics.

Disney's Ratatouille's Ratatouille
Image from Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille

Fortunately, Smitten Kitchen (and other sites) had already followed up on this impulse.

I did change a few things though. First of all, since it’s tomato season, I’m not that into using canned tomatoes or sauce or paste or any of that. I have real awesome tomatoes, I want to use them. So I made up a little sauce and baked it in the pan first, then followed the recipe. I also added cheese on top, because nom.

Furthermore, I didn’t have any red peppers. So much for that dash of color.

One of the useful tricks used in this recipe (Mark Bittman’s, anyway) that should also be repurposed for many others is salting eggplant. All you need to do it cut it ahead of time, sprinkle some salt on it and let it sit for a little while. This gets rid of some of the juice and makes a phenomenal difference in texture. Although perhaps if I had a mandolin it wouldn’t matter as much for this particular dish.

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Obviously I couldn’t cut them as thin as a mandolin can. Although I admit (excuses…) that I was also in a bit of a hurry with these, because really one can do wonders with a knife.

Ratatouille
1 really fat tomato or a few smaller ones (the sauce kind)
1/2 onion
Garlic (to taste)
Olive oil
1 small eggplant
1 small zucchini
Thyme
Salt, pepper
Parmesan, or similar cheese

Turn oven to about 375ºF. Chop up the tomatoes, onion, and garlic and put in baking dish. Roast in the oven for at least 20 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Thinly slice the eggplant, spread out and sprinkle with salt. Let sit. Thinly slice the zucchini (and red peppers if you have them). You can also throw in a different summer squash as well as the zucchini if you like. Grate the cheese.

When the tomatoes are nice and saucy, layer the zucchini and eggplant slices together in the dish (see above; you can also do it in a circle depending on the shape of your pan). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme.

Bake for around 45 minutes (it will start smelling fantastic), then top with cheese and put back in for another 15 or so. Edges should be crispy and veggies will be cooked but definitely not soggy.

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Serve hot. I had mine with beans and quinoa because they needed using up; but I think this would go with many things, either as a side or a feature.

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And yes, that is Settlers of Catan in the background.

Maple Dill French Toast for dinner

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I love it when experiments work out. This is another come-home-need-something-fast kind of meal where I also felt like cooking something real (although unclear what exactly real means), especially since it was CSA-pickup day (always exciting).

I ate this for dinner but I can also imagine it performing spectacularly on a brunch menu. The onions lend just enough sweetness to tie in the green beans and maple syrup, and the dill finishes melding everything together. I don’t even really like dill. But I don’t think this would work without it, and I very much enjoyed this dish. So.

Maple Dill French Toast with green beans and onions
Green beans
1/2 an onion
Salt
2-3 pieces of bread (depending on thickness)
2 eggs
A splash of milk, or water
Butter
Fresh dill
Maple syrup (must be real!)

Toast bread if it is cold/frozen.  Beat together eggs and milk with a fork and place is a flat dish with sides (like a pie pan). Put the bread in (as long as it isn’t too hot) to soak up the egg, turning it over every now and again.

Meanwhile, chop up the onions: I like slicing them longways (along the longitude lines, if each onion was a planet) for this, because they hold together a little better (this is also what you want for grilling, if you have a grill). If you want them more caramelized, slice them the other way because they’ll break apart a little more. Pinch the ends of the beans and break/chop into a few pieces. Sauté them together on high, stirring often, for a few minutes until soft. Remove from pan and place on plate (if you have two pans you can do this and cook the French toast at the same time (what a concept!)).

Put some butter in the pan and make sure it is hot, then carefully place the soaked bread (they should have soaked up all, or at least almost all, of the egg by now) in the pan over medium-high heat (very thick toast should be cooked lower so the inside gets cooked before the outside gets burned). Cook until brown on one side, then flip over and brown on the other. When they are almost cooked, melt a little butter in the corner of the pan and added chopped dill, sautéing just enough to extract some flavors. Remove toast from pan, top with dill, veggies, and a little maple syrup (go easy on the syrup—you want it to add flavor, not too much sugar). I think you could add some syrup to the pan with the dill/butter to make more of an official sauce, but I didn’t feel like getting my pan all sticky so I didn’t bother.

Enjoy!