Saturday, July 24, 2010

All Those Veggies

What to do with all those summer veggies?  I'm already at zucchini overload and we have a long way to go before our weekly surplus starts to diminish.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining over here.  I'll be fantasizing about all this zucchini come December.  But using all these veggies is a particular challenge when its too hot to turn on the oven.  We try to use our window AC as little as possible, and our basement apartment generally stays pretty cool.  But this summer has been brutal.  Out kitchen's been averaging 80º without the oven on (I can't even make ice cream in it!).  So I devised a grilled veggie pasta recipe that uses everything that's perfectly in season: eggplant, tomatoes, and summer squash, oh my!
All of these are simply grilled and whirled into a chunky sauce in the food processor.  I left some of the eggplant and squash cut into chunks and not blended for a contrast of textures.

Roughly chopped olives and few large caper berries are added for flavor, along with a good handful of sliced basil from my herb garden.
You do need to turn on the stove to boil water for the pasta.  But that only raised the temperature in my kitchen to about 82º.

This is a beautiful, fresh dish, perfect for a weeknight summer dinner.  You could easily add or substitute any vegetable that holds up well on the grill.

Grilled Vegetable Pasta
serves 2
1 medium Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise
1 medium summer squash or zucchini, halved lengthwise
2 medium heirloom tomatoes, halved through center
2 Tbs olive oil
salt & pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 servings short pasta of your choice (I used farro rigatoni) 
good handful pitted olives, roughly chopped
2 Tbs sliced fresh basil

  • Light grill and heat on medium-high
  • Brush vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Grill vegetables until lightly charred and softened, about 10 minutes, turning once
  • Meanwhile, boil water and cook pasta until al dente.  Drain and set aside
  • Remove vegetables from grill and cool slightly.  Cut eggplant and squash into bite-sized chunks and core tomatoes
  • Place tomatoes and  and half of eggplant into food processor, and whir until pureed but still chunky.  Add balsamic vinegar and parmesan and process until just combined
  • Return pasta to cooking pot and stir in sauce, remaining chopped vegetables, olives and basil.  Heat over low heat if its become a little cool
  • Serve with additional parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and passed along the side

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sugar, Sugar

So I've been trying lately to keep this blog just about food, and not as much about me.  But my pal Anne over at Your Kind of Salad tagged me for Sugar Doll Blogger Questionnaire and I thought it might be fun.  So here are 10 random completely non-food related facts about me.

1. I'm sort of double-jointed in my shoulders.  They pop out of place and I can put my arm behind my head way further than I should be able to.  I used to freak my mom out with it when I was a kid, and it makes some yoga poses kind of tough.  That's my stupid human trick.

2. I'm an only child.  Sometimes I act like it.  My best friend Lucy is also and only child and we've adopted each other as sisters.
3. I'm kind of a slob and I hate cleaning.  Luckily I married Felix Ungar.

4. During my life, my hair has been long, short, really short, blond, red and brown.  2 years ago I discovered my natural color for the first time in 15 years.  Its light brown with a little red in it and I like it. I realized I shouldn't need to put chemicals in my hair to be pretty.
I think this is my favorite look.  I cut the bangs myself...
I'm so badass.

5. I'm a really bad dancer.  But I'm an enthusiastic dancer.

6.  I love country music.  Boot-scootin, honky tonk, cheesy, sappy country music.  I lived down south for a couple years after college, and country music followed this Yankee back home.  Country music and shrimp and grits.
Oops, I promised no food. 

7. I was a musical theater geek from age 8 through high school.  My big break was as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar my junior year.  Those are the kinds of roles you get at an all-girls catholic school.

8.  Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Partly because its the day after my birthday, but I also love dressing up and coming up with creative costumes.
Lucy & Ethel (and naked guy?)

Margot & Richie Tenenbaum

Ali G & Elle Driver

Carrie & Tippy Hedren


The Bride of Frankenstein & my Zombie Maid of Honor

9. Appropriately, I also love vampires and spiders.  Spiders I just think are so cool.  I love it when huge ones set up residency on our patio.  And when I find one in the house I usually try to catch it and put it outside.

I've had a thing for vampires since my early teens - I think its Brad Pitt's fault.  
I was obsessed with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and I'm quite pleased at the resurgence of sexy vampires in pop culture.  Derek is less than thrilled.
10.  Speaking of Derek, on November 25, 2009 I married the love of my life.  A few interesting facts about him are that he is very funny, cynical, reliable, pragmatic, watches lots of cycling, once had a mustache for 24 hours, can't watch horror movies, and used to be in a break dancing crew called the Soul City Rockers.  His "street" name was Speedy D.

Ok, Jess - tag, you're it!
You too, Carissa!  Tag!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Scream

Sunday marked National Ice Cream Day.  Bastille Day isn't too shabby, but this is a serious holiday.  Ice cream may be my favorite thing.  Scratch that - yesterday I told Derek that creamy, stinky blue cheese is my favorite thing. cheese ice cream?  Not this post, don't worry.

When posed with a choice of ice cream flavors, I very rarely pick one that doesn't have chocolate involved.  So that seemed like a good starting point when I decided to make ice cream on Sunday.  I was thinking I'd go Mexican-style and add some cinnamon, when I realized I had this in my cabinet...
Actual cinnamon-spiked Mexican chocolate, that my mother bought in Mexico last year.  Its supposed to be use to make hot chocolate, but of course it would work for ice cream, too.
Mexican chocolate has a very different texture than the chocolate we're used to.  Its more grainy, and you can see the sugar crystals in it.  I think this is what makes their hot chocolate so frothy when whisked.
So, I was prepared for this to not be a completely smooth ice cream.  The chocolate is melted into half and half, and even after its strained its still a bit lumpy.
But the flavor is really unique.  The cinnamon really shines, and gives the chocolate a slightly smoky, coffee-like flavor.  I didn't add any sugar to this, so it is definitely an adult, subtly sweet dessert.  I do have to admit that this ice cream didn't actually churn properly.  The reason I'm still posting the recipe is that I'm sure the fail is a result of my kitchen being about 85º.  Not ideal ice cream making conditions.  I'm confident that if I had the AC on this would have been perfect.  And frozen chocolate custard soup was still pretty awesome.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream
1/2 vanilla bean
8 oz. Mexican chocolate (4 discs), coarsely chopped
3 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
pinch of salt

  • Scrape seeds from half the vanilla bean into a large saucepan
  • Add chocolate and half and half and simmer over medium heat until boiling and chocolate is dissolved, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat
  • Whisk egg yolks with salt.  Slowly pour a little of the hot chocolate mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper yolks.
  • Pour egg mixture back into saucepan with chocolate mixture and return to low heat.  Cook, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until mixture thickens and coats the back of spoon.  If you run your finger over spoon coated in custard, you should form a line.
  • Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a medium bowl.  Place bowl into a larger bowl of ice water to chill, stirring occasionally.  Chill longer in fridge to get it really cool.
  • Pour chilled custard into bowl of ice cream maker and process according to manufacturers instructions.  Make sure your kitchen isn't too hot or you'll end up with this....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vive La France

So July 4th has come and gone and I obviously didn't acknowledge it here.  I did plenty of cooking and eating, but as a shameless Francophile there is another Independence Day that I'm much more interested in celebrating.  14 Julliet is Bastille Day, the French day of independence.  Hamburgers and apple pie are all right, but they don't hold a candle (firework?) to ratatouille and clafoutis.  And can you really compare Bud Light to a good French wine?
I had plenty of fresh, local produce to work with to create a meal straight from Provence.
I finally got the local duck breast I'd been craving, after several trips to Don Otto's.  I seared it in a hot pan and then made a simple red wine-raspberry sauce.
A little cooking tip - try not to splatter hot duck fat on your arm.  Do you need to be told that?  Apparently I do.   Just one of the hazards of being a cook.  I've been burned before and I'll be burned again.  The french wine might have had something to do with my accident...
Or perhaps I was distracted by gooey, stinky goat cheese.
This Bonne Bouche isn't actually French, its from Vermont Butter & Cheese Company.  It has an ash rind, is slightly aged and has a nice tangy but mild flavor.

I thought the perfect French, seasonal accompaniment for the duck would be my roasted eggplant ratatouille.  Also a great way to use some of our abundance of zucchini and summer squash.
I'm really in love with ratatouille.  Also one of my favorite foodie movies.

Seared Duck Breast with Raspberry-Red Wine Sauce
adapted from Food and Wine
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 dry red wine
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium duck breast
salt & pepper
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp honey
  • Score the skin of duck in a cross-hatch pattern, being careful not to pierce the flesh. 
  • In a medium baking dish, mash 1/4 cup raspberries with a fork.  Add 1/4 cup red wine and olive oil and whisk together.  Add duck breast to the dish skin side down, then turn to coat.  With flesh side down, cover and chill 30 minutes.
  • Remove duck from baking dish and scrape off marinade.  Pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place duck in medium saute pan skin side down.  Heat over medium heat to crisp skin, then reduce heat to medium low until skin is brown and crispy.  CAREFULLY flip duck breast and cook an additional 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Remove duck from pan to a cutting board, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, pour duck fat off of pan.  Add reserved marinade and additional 1/4 red wine and simmer over medium hit for 1 - 2 minutes until reduced by half.  Remove from heat and whisk in butter and honey.
  • Slice duck on the diagonal, serve and top with sauce and additional raspberries.
For dessert, I wanted something easy and light.  And French, of course.  A clafoutis seemed like a great idea.  I made rhubarb clafoutis around this time last year, and my mom kept calling it a Doug Flutie.  Its sort of a baked fruit custard.  Traditionally its made with cherries, and those crazy Frenchies don't remove the pits because they think they add flavor.  I opted for blueberries.  The dish couldn't be easier.  You spread fruit in a baking dish, whisk together a custard with a little flour, pour that over the top and bake.  Its puffs beautifully like a souffle in the oven.
10 minutes after I pulled it out of the oven I asked Derek to go look at it and he exclaimed "someone stole half the clafoutis!"

It deflates rather quickly!  But is still delicious and light and just slightly sweet.

Blueberry Clafoutis
inspired by Dorie Greenspan
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk (I used 1% but whole is better)
  • Preheat oven to 350º
  • Butter a 2-quart baking dish
  • Arrange blueberries in an even layer in the bottom of the dish
  • Whisk together eggs and sugar for 1 minute
  • Whisk in salt and vanilla
  • Add flour and whisk to combine
  • Whisk in milk until well combined
  • Pour batter over fruit and bake 35 to 40 minutes until puffed and lightly browned
  • Cool and serve warm or at room temperature

Bon Appétit!