Sunday, June 27, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

Its strawberry season!  The farmers markets and our CSA are flooded with them.  This year, I've really tried not to eat a lot of out of season berries.  They're just not worth it and it makes me appreciate the sweet,  fresh picked berries of the summer even more.
I want to use these berries in recipes that really make their flavors shine.  Berries need to be the star of the show.  And since the late-June heat is setting in, I decided to dust off my ice cream maker.  I've made strawberry ice cream before, but I was really craving undiluted strawberry flavor so I decided to make a strawberry sorbet, brightened up with some lime juice and zest.

I used Cook's Illustrated recipe, since they never fail and it was incredibly easy.  You don't even have to heat the sugar syrup.  Just stir sugar into fruit syrup until it dissolves.  

The only challenge is waiting for the ice cream maker to do its thing until you can eat the sorbet.  In typical Cook's fashion, there's a clever scientific twist in this recipe.  You add a little vodka to the syrup (or booze of your choice).  Because alcohol doesn't freeze, adding a little to the sorbet keeps it from freezing too solid when stored in the freezer, so it comes out firm but still a bit soft and scoopable.  

Strawberry Lime Sorbet
3 1/2 cups quartered strawberries
Juice of 2 limes
zest of 1 lime
3/4 sugar
1 Tbsp vodka
  • Puree strawberries, lime juice and zest in food processor.
  • Pour into bowl and stir in vodka and sugar.  Let sit for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour mixture into bowl of ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.  
  • Enjoy straight from the machine or freeze for 2 - 3 hours for a firmer texture.
I save old ice cream cartons to store sorbet and ice cream.  This sorbet is great straight up...

Or scooped into a cold glass of prosecco...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Currant Affair

Today marks the official first day of summer.  Although I do love the Fall in New England, Summer is absolutely my favorite time of year.  The long days and warm weather are nice, but the real reason I love summer is - get ready for a bombshell here - the food!  The farmers markets and our CSA are bursting with fresh, crisp, just picked produce and I can't get enough of it.  In early summer, you see lots of greens and there seems to be an abundance of red fruit available.  My fridge actually looks like Christmas right now.  Strawberries, raspberries and cherries are making appearances.  We also found some more unusual berries at the farmers market - currants and gooseberries.  I've only ever seen currants dried in scones, and I thought gooseberries were something out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.  So I had to try one of these and find something unique to cook with them.  I opted for the currants and I found 2 somethings.
The first was a delicious Saturday breakfast.  I started with some ends of stale baguette that I had in the freezer, but you could also use a slightly stale demi baguette.  This recipe is based off of Paula Deen's french toast casserole - my go-to breakfast recipe when cooking for a crowd, but rather obscene in its quantities of butter and cream.  I slimed this version down a bit.  You have to prep it the night before, but the prep is so easy, and its worth it when you can just wake up and throw it in the oven.  In between slices of custard-soaked bread, I tucked tart currants and raspberries.  

I purposely didn't make this french toast very sweet.  Its the perfect vehicle for maple syrup.
Currant and Raspberry French Toast Casserole
Serves 4
1/2 slightly stale baguette or 1 demi baguette, sliced 1/2" thick
2 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup currants, stemmed
1/2 cup raspberries
butter, for coating baking dish
  • The night before, generously butter a 1.5 quart baking dish.  Layer bread slices in dish, overlapping so they fit snuggly.
  • Whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and salt.  Pour mixture over bread, pressing on bread to absorb all the liquid.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • The next morning, preheat oven to 350º
  • Tuck currants and raspberries in between bread slices.  They will get slightly smushed, but that's ok.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, until custard is set and top is puffed and golden.
  • Serve with pure maple syrup
I used currants in dinner as well.  I wanted to make a slightly sweet sauce and I intended to serve it over duck, but my happy meat source Don Otto's was all out.  I have to admit, I've been very into duck lately.  Its perhaps my favorite meat that I've tried since falling off the wagon, but I've yet to cook it myself.  Don Otto's did have some lovely arctic char, so I pan seared that and served it with a port-currant sauce.  I also served some balsamic glazed baby carrots and beets alongside.
It was a very red meal.
Port-Currant Sauce
1/2 cup port or sweet red wine
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small shallots, minced
1/4 cup currants, stemmed
  • Combine port, balsamic and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Add currants and simmer until reduced by half and slightly thick.
  • Serve over oily fish, duck, goose or pork.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Quick Fire

These days, anyone who cooks frequently for friends and family is used to receiving special dietary requests.  No red meat, no meat, no animal products, no wheat, no sugar, no dairy, no bread - the possibilities are endless!  I've lived most of my adult life as a vegetarian or pescatarian, and still eat very little meat, so I am sympathetic to these requests.  I understand what's its like to go to a dinner party or restaurant and only be able to eat the salad.  Especially as someone who loves food, its disappointing when there are no interesting options available to you.  But you also feel bad about causing extra work for your host, or making them feel guilty because they didn't create a special dish for you.  Having lived through this for years, it is very important to me that all of my guests have options when I cook for them.  I actually find it to be a fun challenge!  My good friend De is a vegan, and its a dietary choice I strongly support.  Not only is a plant-based diet much healthier for you, its also better for the planet.  And I look at every meal I cook when De is invited like an episode of Top Chef!  It plays out like this...Padma strolls into my tiny kitchen looking ridiculously hot and making me feel like an umpa-lumpa...
Then she asks me to draw 2 knives from a block.  The first knife says "CARNIVORES."  Ok, that's most of my friends coming to dinner.  The next knife: "VEGAN."  Ah-ha, that's the Top Chef twist.  Cook a meal for your carnivorous friends, and then make a vegan version!  And maybe even sneak some vegan food by the carnivores.   You have 2 hours to prep, 1 hour to cook, and a budget of $4.59.  Now get to work!

Over the years I've made vegan versions of risotto, bouillabaisse, Hawaiian plate lunch, peach pie, blueberry pancakes, pizza, ice cream sandwiches, quesadillas and sushi.  And they've all been delicious! Even the butter-lovers like me gobbled up the peach pie.

I love the challenge of making delicious dishes without using animal products, and it makes me so happy to see how much De enjoys them.  I know its not often that people cook special meals just for her, and one of my favorite parts of cooking is making people happy with my food.

So in honor of the tonight's Top Chef premier, I decided to have my own little quick fire challenge and create a vegan dish using some of our CSA bounty.  I flipped through Eat, Drink & Be Vegan for some inspiration and found a recipe for Berry Goodness Muffins that called for the fresh strawberries that just happened to be in my fridge.
When I cook vegan food, I really try not use any fake animal products.  Fake butter, fake milk, fake cheese, fake meat - its all highly processed and I feel like its cheating when there are some many delicious real foods out there.  The only exception I make is coconut milk ice cream...mmmm.  So when this recipe called for non-dairy milk, instead of buying a carton of soy milk I remembered the batches of almond milk I like to prepare for my Green Monsters. 

No funky chemicals or preservatives, no extraneous processing and packaging, just raw almonds well blended with water, vanilla, and a couple dates for sweetness.  Strain out the pulp and you've got almond milk!
The other great little trick in these muffins is organic applesauce, which replaces the vegan butter found in some other vegan baked goods.  Its lower in fat and helps keep the muffins deliciously moist.  But the strawberries are really the star of the show here.

Because the point of a veganism really is to eat what grows out of the ground!

Vegan Strawberry Muffins
Adapted from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup sucanat
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup almond milk 
1/4 unsweetened organic applesauce
1/4 pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces
  • Preheat the oven to 375º
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, salt, nutmeg, baking powder and baking soda
  • In a medium bowl, stir together almond milk, applesacue, maple syrup, vanilla, lemon zest and oil
  • Add wet ingredients to dry, folding until just combined
  • Gently fold in strawberries
  • Fit a muffin pan with muffin liners or coat lightly with oil
  • Spoon batter into muffin cups, just under filling the cups
  • Bake for about 23 - 25 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean
  • Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto wire rack and cool completely

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Springtime Celebrations

Ok, so its practically summer and I am just now getting around to sharing with you all my wonderful food celebrations from the Spring.  I haven't been posting much lately, but I promise I've still been eating well!  One of my favorite events of the Spring is the Kentucky Derby.  You may recall last year's derby feast.  My mother throws a Derby party on the Cape every year.  She lived in Kentucky when she was a kid, so its very sentimental to her.  And I spent some time living down South after college, so I love an excuse to eat some Southern food.

No Derby party is complete without mint juleps.

Some of these glasses are very old - we've collected quite a variety over the years.  As an appetizer, we served some pimento cheese.  If you've never had this stuff, I urge you to give it a shot.  Shredded cheddar cheese, mayo, chopped pimentos and a little hot sauce.  I know, I was skeptical too when this was first presented to me.

Its great as a dip with crackers, but I love it as a sandwich spread on toasted bread.  We also invented this dip for the party.

Sour cream mixed with chopped smoked salmon, lemon zest and chives, served with salt and pepper potato chips.  I have since made this with creme fraiche (at our Patio Opening) and liked it even more.

There was also ham and one of my favorite low country specialties, shrimp and grits.

This recipe had bacon and spinach added to it.  We order special stone-ground grits from South Carolina.  No wimpy instant grits here!

There were lots of stellar desserts, including my mom's rhubarb pie and Cook's Illustrated's perfect chocolate cupcakes.  My contribution was a play on the classic Derby Pie, which involves nuts and chocolate.  I used this recipe for a caramelized nut tart, and made it with pecans, almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews and hazelnuts.  Then I drizzled the whole thing with good melted chocolate.  I call it...Nut Job Tart.

This was so rich and decedent, you only needed a sliver.  But it was pure heaven.

Our next Spring celebration was Mother's Day dinner at my parent's house.  The day before mother's day my friend Heather and I attended a book signing for Thomas Keller's new cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.  This cookbook is beautiful and the recipes are very accessible.  Its definitely geared towards the home cook, with lots of tips and detailed instructions.  And we got to meet the man himself!  I wish I had taken a picture, but at least I have his signature to prove it.  He was so friendly and gracious, although I wasn't able to strike up much of a conversation with him.  I was all geared up with my question, and asked if he would be visiting any restaurants while in Boston.  And he just said, "no, I won't have time."  And I was hoping he would invite me out to join him!  So for Mother's Day, I just had to make something from his book.  I went with the amazing leek bread pudding.  So delicious and cheesy.  Even my 8 year old cousin ate 3 helpings!

I also sauteed some Spring vegetables.  I've never worked with fresh fava beans before.  They were delicious.  You have to shell them from their lovely pods.

Then you quickly blanch the beans and remove the tough outer skins.  I then sauteed these with fiddleheads and asparagus.

Favas and Fiddleheads and Asparagus, oh my!

This weekend is my official start to summer - the beginning of our CSA!  More local, seasonal, delicious food to come!