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Roasted Eggplant Salad

08/26/2010

Maybe it’s already obvious to all of you, but I have a thing for eggplants. It’s not like it was a household item growing up. I’m pretty sure the texture and color (when cooked) doesn’t appeal to my dad; we’ve always been more of a broccoli-green beans-asparagus family (except for me–I can’t stand asparagus). Summer farmers’ markets have only fueled my passion for eggplants, with all of its wonderful heirloom varieties, like fairy tale and the orange turkish eggplants. I was thus very excited when, flipping through a Mollie Katzen cookbook (I think it was The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without), I found a stellar recipe for a roasted eggplant dish. The recipe I’ve enclosed below is my own interpretation of the idea, but the basic premise of the dish is roasted eggplants tossed with a tangy vinaigrette. I’m in favor of a mustard-based dressing, but it is also delicious with balsamic. The mustard vinaigrette I’ve included here is based on my great aunt Vivian’s signature salad from her restaurant Qubano in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

My favorite part of the eggplant salad, which reveals another weakness of mine, are the leek frizzles. And of course the fresh tomatoes. Apparently I just love vegetables–I think Mollie would agree.

Roasted Eggplant Salad
Inspired by Mollie Katzen

2 medium-sized eggplants, sliced about 1/4″ thick
2 leeks, sliced in half-moons
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil + more for roasting eggplant and leeks
1.5 tablespoons Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard
1 tablespoon dry minced onions
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed

Set oven to 400°F. Slice eggplants and sprinkle with salt. Let sit and “sweat” for 15 minutes. Rinse salt and place eggplant slices on greased baking sheet. Drizzle oil over eggplants. Roast until soft and brown, about 30 minutes.

While eggplants are roasting, halve tomatoes.

Thoroughly wash and slice leeks. In a heated skillet, add several tablespoons olive. When hot, add leeks and fry until they start getting crispy. Remove from oil and place on paper towel to soak up excess grease.

Prepare dressing by whisking together remaining ingredients to develop a thick, tart dressing.

This salad can be served warm or cold. Plate eggplants, sprinkle a small handful of tomatoes and leeks over each, and drizzle with dressing. Alternatively, eggplants can be diced and the salad can be tossed in a bowl.

Roasted Eggplant and Frizzled Leek Salad on Foodista

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Peach Crunch

08/18/2010

I see summer as a time for celebration. Even when it’s bloody hot out (which it has been), we can at least celebrate the deliciousness that is in-season produce. Most notably, the peach and the tomato. While other fruits and vegetables might taste a bit like their summer cousins year round (i.e. eggplants, broccoli, apples, etc.), I have a hard time buying peaches and tomatoes anywhere but the farmers’ market. Grocery store tomatoes are waxy and hard. They never have the warm red glow of a recently picked tomato. Plus, I get really excited about the heirloom varieties. Recently, I’ve been drooling over a yellow tomato with green stripes–it never makes it to the table because I just eat it raw.

But the true queen of summer is the peach. I got addicted to peaches last summer. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, the peaches themselves weren’t pretty, but still, they were perfect and heavenly. I mostly eat them fresh and plain–a quick rinse and straight into my mouth. But a couple of weeks ago I decided to do some baking. With some inspiration from the Barefoot Contessa, here’s what I came up with. I liked this recipe because the top is crunchy and not overly sweet, letting the sweetness of the peaches take over. Also, by quartering the peaches (instead of making them smaller), the dessert is about the fruit–it doesn’t just disintegrate into mush.

Peach Crunch
Serves 8; Based on Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics Plum Crunch

6 peaches, peeled, pitted and quartered
1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons rum
For the topping
1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 pound (two sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

For the fruit: in a large bowl, combine peaches, brown sugar, flour, and rum. Pour the mixture into a 12 x 8 inch shallow baking dish.

For the topping, combine ingredients in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter forms peas. Scatter over peaches.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the fruit bubbles and the top is brown. Delicious warm or at room temperature.

Peach Crunch Cobbler on Foodista

Greek-Style Grilled Fish

08/08/2010

Now that I’m back in Cincinnati and with a kitchen of my own (i.e. not living in a New York City co-op), it’s time to hunker down and get cooking. As much as it’s been nice having others cook for me, I missed being in the kitchen (i.e. a kitchen that is not industrial and air condition-less and with a broken refrigerator and freezer). So I got home and hit the ground running. I read Mark Bittman of the New York Times, regularly, but I don’t often make the recipes in his column. I do, however, own his massive tome, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. With over 1,000 pages of recipes, it’s a bit daunting but a really valuable resource since it does cover pretty much everything.

This recipe for Greek fish caught my eye though and as soon as I had access to a grill (i.e. one that stands on it’s own and does not rest on the roof of my building) I got started. I was excited about this recipe mostly for the tomatoes. Nothing beats a summer tomato. Especially local ones–you can absolutely taste the difference between tomatoes picked off the vine a day ago versus ones picked a week ago. Sorry California, you’re never going to win this one. In the process of getting ready for dinner, I discovered a new farmer’s market. I love the fact that their web site streams happy music.

So this fish. It basically tastes like summer–isn’t that enough of a sale? It calls for a whole trout, bass, or rockfish. Sadly, there were no whole fish at the store, nor any of the above fishes. I went for halibut, which ended up being a great choice for grilling–it’s really mild and the fattiness kept it moist. I always love lemon and herb dressing for fish and it was only made better by topping the fish with the fresh tomatoes, dressed in their own savory marinade. Even my dad, the fish hater, loved it.

Greek-Style Fish
Mark Bittman Recipe; Serves 4

2 cups cherry tomatoes, preferably Sun Gold, halved
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as needed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh hot chili, like jalapeño, or more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
4 cloves garlic, sliced, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large whole fish or 2 smaller ones (2 to 3 pounds total), like striped bass, rockfish or trout; preferably butterflied and boned, or simply gutted
1 lemon, sliced
4 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme

Heat oven to 450 degrees or prepare grill; heat should be medium-high and rack about 4 inches from fire. Combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, chili, oregano, a few slices of garlic, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper in a large bowl; let sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, make three or four diagonal, parallel slashes on each side of fish, just about down to the bone. Sprinkle inside of fish with salt and pepper, then stuff with remaining garlic, a layer of lemon slices and thyme sprigs. Rub outside of fish with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

To roast, put fish in roasting pan and cook for about 20 minutes (cooking time will depend on fish size). If grilling, cook until firm enough to turn, 5 to 8 minutes. Turn and cook second side for 5 to 8 minutes. Whether roasting or grilling, fish is done when exterior is crisp and a thin-bladed knife passes easily through the flesh.

Taste tomato mixture and adjust seasoning, adding more oil if needed. Serve fish topped with tomatoes and their liquid.

Farm Fresh Summer Pizza

07/13/2010

There are times when you make a dish and just want to give yourself a pat on the back. But really, that’s not enough. And it’s not enough that the other person who ate it complimented the dish or someone thought it smelled good. No. There are times when you just want to gloat about your culinary prowess and mentally reflect (over and over and over) on the combination of textures and flavors.

Like so many great summer recipes, this one started with the ingredients in my fridge and windowsill, namely the little fairytale eggplants, garlic, and garlic scapes from Sunday’s farmers’ market and the basil and oregano I’m growing. As Mark Bittman pointed out in today’s New York Times’ Diner’s Journal, there’s nothing like fresh basil. I wanted a light, fresh dinner that would showcase the produce in a fun way and I really had no idea what to do with the garlic scapes. Enter the pizza. Roasted garlic cooked into the pizza dough was delicious, particularly when the garlic flavor was mirrored by the scapes. I sauteed the eggplants and scapes before baking, giving them a chance to cook down a bit and bring out their flavors independently of the pizza. The eggplant, particularly with fairytale eggplants, becomes creamy and is almost part of the sauce. The fresh tomatoes mellow out the strength of the garlic and tomato sauce.

Farm Fresh Summer Pizza
makes one pizza for two people

Pizza Dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cloves roasted garlic, mashed

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add oil and warm water. Mix and knead until ingredients form a dough. Add mashed garlic cloves (roast garlic by wrapping cloves in tin foil and placing in the oven at 400°F for twenty-thirty minutes).

Stretch dough over greased cookie sheet or pizza pan. Spread as evenly and thinly as possible, patching holes with excess dough from edges.

Bake at 375°F for 10-15 minutes or until crust becomes golden brown.

Pizza Sauce
1 small can diced tomatoes
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tsp fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp lemon zest

Empty tomatoes into heated sauce pan. Simmer over medium heat for ten minutes. Add onion.

When the onion is soft add seasonings except lemon zest. Cook until tomatoes are soft and flavors have been absorbed. Sprinkle lemon zest and mix. Spread over pizza.

Toppings
5 fairytale eggplants, sliced
3 garlic scapes, whole
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 package of mozzarella cheese
3 leaves fresh basil

Sauté eggplants and garlic scapes in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Place on top of sauce, followed by cherry tomatoes. Cover toppings with cheese as desired.

Bake pizza at 375°F for 10-15 minutes or until desired done-ness.

Top with fresh basil and serve.

Summer Quinoa Salad

07/08/2010

I know–it’s been over a month since my last post. And that one also came after a long absence. I guess I just bit off more than I could chew for a while. But now I’m back! And my not posting doesn’t mean I wasn’t cooking (well there was a stretch where I was beginning to worry). I’ve got a whole stock pile of pictures and recipes waiting to be shared!

But I thought I’d start off with something versatile. I sampled a version of this quinoa recipe while browsing at my local Whole Foods and then came home and made my own version. It’s great served as a cold salad or as a warm side dish and it’s ideal for all of those summer picnics you have on your calendar. Quinoa packs up really easily and this one is so full of veggies, colors, and flavors that it’s sure to be a hit!

Summer Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Whole Foods Team member recipe; Serves 4-6

2 cups quinoa
3 ears fresh corn or 2-3 cups frozen corn
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 limes, juiced
1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
2/3 cup pine nuts or toasted almonds

Roast corn on a cookie sheet with a little bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the kernels are light brown. Mix around a few times during roasting process.

Roast small cubes of butternut squash in a separate pan (they cook at different speeds so it’s easier to keep them separate) with olive oil and salt. About 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft and brown on the edges.

Rise quinoa. Add 3 3/4 cups to 4 cups water to the quinoa, bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer for 20-30 minutes or until water has been completely absorbed.

Chop remaining ingredients and juice limes. Toast nuts or almonds.

Transfer cooked quinoa to a large bowl and let it cool for five minutes. Then add olive oil, salt, and fresh garlic.

Add corn, jalapeño, squash, scallions, and lime juice. Toss and adjust seasoning as needed.

Garnish with pine nuts or almonds.

Birthday Cake

05/23/2010

My mom has been baking birthday cakes from scratch since I turned one. During an intense spurt of house-cleaning last summer we found my baby book–the one where my height and weight were recorded each month, the date of my first steps, my first words. Tucked in the back of the pastel notebook were loose pages from a legal pad of journal entries my mom wrote during that first year of my life. One of those yellow pages was smudged with flour and dated a few days before my first birthday. It tells of my mom’s frustrations baking and icing a cake from scratch for a child who didn’t even know what a birthday was. But, she wrote, it was all worth it when the cake was placed before me and I looked up and said, “For me?” From that point on she swore to always make us our birthday cakes. As a kid I sometimes found her a little too true to her promise. My cousin used to get these gorgeous Barbie cakes for her birthday from a local bakery–the kind with an actual Barbie doll whose dress was made of cake and icing. I was never one for playing with barbies but I really wanted one of those cakes. One year we tried to make our own–it was a valiant but futile effort. Hard to compare to Servatii‘s.

Today is my grandpa’s 80th birthday and I was tasked with baking his birthday cake. I feel like the cake should measure up to the occasion which should measure up to the honoree and the life he has lived. I chose my mother’s white birthday cake recipe given to her by a friend. It’s a hassle because it involves about six bowls and every baking utensil available, but it is so good. It’s a dense vanilla cake, stacked in three layers, and topped with rich butter-cream icing. I was so nervous about making this cake. It was humid out, and as my friend Hilary will tell you, you just can’t make a meringue when it’s raining, about to rain, just rained, or is going to rain any time in the next week. The oven shelf was apparently slanted because all three layers came out with the same malformations. And then my frosting wasn’t doing what I wanted it to, which caused the cake to look a bit lumpier than I would have liked. Luckily I managed to repair that later on. I was pretty paranoid about the final product.

As it turned out, the cake was a big success. Everyone loved it. Even my grandpa. But it didn’t really matter. Even if it had been inedible there was still a monstrous amount of food. And even if there hadn’t been tons of tasty things to eat, that room was so full of a very powerful love for my grandpa that none of us actually needed a meal as an excuse to be there. For the first time in a long time my grandparents were in the same room with all four of their sons and daughters-in-law, all fifteen of their grandchildren, plus some siblings and cousins and friends on the side. In the twenty+ years that I have known him, my grandpa has always been a solid and inspirational fixture in my life and in the lives of my cousins. His smile is radiant and I know it has touched so many others. My grandpa has always been so proud of his family and I am always so proud to be his granddaughter.

Being on the other side of the birthday-cake-from-scratch baking process, I understand why it was so important to my mom to pour so much energy into that cake for my first birthday. Even if he hadn’t eaten a bite (for the record, he ate his entire slice), that cake was just my way of showing him my love in a deliciously edible form.

Cake
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 3/4 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Bowl 1: using 4 egg whites and 1/2 cup sugar, beat with an electric mixer to make meringue.

Bowl 2: mix sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

Bowl 3: combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Bowl 4 (large): cream butter and 1 cup sugar. Add to this by alternating the flour mixture and sour cream mixture. Fold in the meringue.

Pour batter into three 9″ round cake pans. Bake 25 minutes in a 350° oven.

Butter-cream Frosting
From Birthday Cakes for Kids

6 cups powdered sugar, sifted and divided
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup shortening
6 to 8 tablespoons milk, divided
1 tsp vanilla

Combine 3 cups powdered sugar, butter, shortening, 4 tablespoons milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add remaining powdered sugar; beat until light and fluffy, adding more milk, one tablespoon at a time, as needed for good spreading consistency. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Bruschetta with Leek and Goat Cheese

04/30/2010

Don’t you just love getting inspired? When all of the pieces collide at just the right moment and you really do just want to shout “Aha!” because now you know exactly what you want to do?

I’ve been in a bit of a food funk lately. Nothing seems appetizing. Except any variety of Thai noodles–that will never be unappetizing for me! So when Whipped came up in my Google Reader with a recipe for Leek and Brie Bruschetta and it latched on to my mind, I knew I had to make a bruschetta of my own. And what’s even better? I had just enough goat cheese left over to use it for this recipe (I’ve never been a huge brie fan anyway).

The crunchy bread is a perfect compliment to the creamy consistency of both the cheese and the sauteed leek. Plus, look how photogenic it is! I couldn’t wait to get these guys out of the oven.

Bruschetta with Leek and Goat Cheese

2 Tbs olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
Sliced crusty bread of choice
4-6 ounces chevre goat cheese

Pour olive oil into a heated skillet. When the oil is hot, add leeks, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until leeks are tender and just browned, about fifteen minutes.

Heat the broiler and arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet. Spread cheese on each slice and place leeks on top. Add more salt and pepper as desired.

Broil until bread is toasted, about seven to ten minutes. Best if served immediately.

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