Panzanella Salad with Smoked Mozzarella: Summer's Bounty Personified

Friday, August 31, 2012

This salad is everything about summer: super bright and vibrant colors, bold flavors, satisfying without sitting heavy, and extremely refreshing. Panzanella is basically a bread salad -- crusty day-old bread is cubed and mixed with ripe and juicy tomatoes, often tossed with other chopped vegetables like onions, cucumbers, and then flavored simply with fresh herbs like basil or parsley. Cheese is included or not -- up to you -- and the salad is made in advance so the dry bread can soak up the juices and reconstitute into spongy goodness. This is a perfect salad for a light lunch or dinner, perfect for summer BBQs or parties as you can make it well in advance, or a perfect side for a grilled steak or chicken. I love using heirloom tomatoes for this dish for their color, but any juicey tomato will do you just fine!

Sometmes I'll add bacon to my panzenella, somtimes I'll add cheese. This time I did sort of both -- adding smoked mozzarella. It was outstanding. The smoky flavor of the mozzarella hints of bacon while the cheese adds creamy texture to the salad. You will adore this salad. Goes perfectly with a grilled strip steak.

Panzanella Salad with Smoked Mozzarella
3 cups day old crusty bread like French or Italian (chiabatta works lovely)
1 lb heirloom tomatoes -- various colors and sizes
1 small red onion
1/2 cup smoked mozzarella, cut into bite-sized cubes
1/4 cup fresh basil, leaves torn by hand
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
good quality olive oil

Add the bread into a large mixing bowl. Take the tomatoes and roughly cut them into large cubes or slices -- it doesn't need to be perfect and uniform. In fact, the more rustic looking the better! Peel and dice the onion into bite-sized pieces (larger dice) then add it to the bread with the tomatoes. Add the cheese and basil, salt and pepper to your taste, then drizzle olive oil enough to moisten the salad. Depending on how juicey the tomatoes are, you may need to add more or less of the oil. For a pound of juicey and ripe tomatoes, plan to use around 1/8 cup of oil. Toss with a spoon to evenly coat, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours for bread to moisten. Toss again before serving.

Can be made up to a day in advance.

Summertime Ice Cream Pie: The Perfect Refreshing Dessert for The Dog Days of Summer

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

90+ degrees plus no air conditioning = no baking. However, my sweet tooth doesn't cease when the apex of summer encroaches. My solution? This brilliant idea of doing ice cream pies!
The idea itself isn't novel -- we of course do have the classic mud pie or ice cream bomb of course -- but mine is super easy and more refreshing, guaranteed. I take store-bougth pie crust and layer it with two kinds of sorbet -- here I did a layer of sweet peach sorbet and tangier blood orange sorbet right on top -- and then top it with a generous sprinkling of fresh fruit cut into bite-size portions for easy eating. Pop the whole pie in the freezer until set, about 4 hours, and you have a wonderfully refreshing, hydrating, gorgeously presented super easy summer dessert.

You can really do whatever combination you like. I love this recipe though and it's combination of fruits and sorbets, so please do give this one exactly a try -- you won't be disappointed! Sweet peach and blood organge sorbets are topped with freshly cut peaches for creamy sweetness, tangy kiwi for color and a punch of acid, and gorgeous plump boysenberries for amazing contrast color and super tart flavor. Housing the whole pie is a simple graham cracker crust. This dessert is so easy and so beautiful, especially just before you serve it as the fruit on top collects the gorgeous kiss of frost making the fruit glisten. I'm super excited to share this dessert with you. Make it today! Great and easy enough to get the kids involved as well!
Happy summer!

Summer Ice Cream Pie
1 store-bought graham cracker pie crust (or make your own)
1/2 pint peach sorbet (recommend: Hagan Daaz)
1/2 pint blood orange sorbet
1 ripe but still firm peach
1/4 pint boysenberries (can substitute with blackberries or even blueberries)
1 large kiwi

Take the sorbets and leave out at room temperature 5 minutes to soften. Remove the packaging from the pie crust and set aside while you prepare the fruit.

Peel and remove the seed of the peach, then cut fruit up into bite-sized pieces. Peel the kiwi and slice into bite-sized pieces. Wash the berries and set aside.

When sorbet is soft enough to be easily scoopable, take the peach sorbet and add it into the pie crust, using a spatula or frosting spatula to help smooth it out into an even layer. Take the blood orange sorbet and using most of it -- about 2 tablespoons will be left over so it doesn't spill over -- add it into one even layer right on top of the peach sorbet. No need to freeze in between; you can add them one after the other if you work quickly enough. Top with the fruit, sprinkling it about in one generous layer all on top and over to the sides, lightly pressing it into the sorbet. Place in freezer uncovered for at least 4 hours or until set and frozen.

To serve, remove from freezer and let stand 2-3 minutes before slicing. Then using a sharp chef's knife, slice into it like you would any pie, then carefully remove it with a pie server and serve immediately.

Steak Sides: Arugula Peach Marcona Almond Salad with Bleu Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette

Monday, August 20, 2012

This is a recipe I saw Chef Michael Symon do on his show. This is my version, and it was perfect and beautiful and tasted even better in person! It's just wonderfully flavorful -- peppery arugula and tender sweet peaches with spicy red onion, crunchy marcona almonds (!!), and creamy bleu cheese. If you don't like the bleu, substitute it with some goat cheese -- feta, montrachet, or even an aged goat would work quite lovely here. This is a perfect salad for any grilled meat. He served it with a steak, I used pork chops, both are amazing. Chicken too! Make it last second and make a lot of it -- it will go fast!

Arugula Peach Marcona Almond Salad
1 bunch arugula -- about 4 cups (or one container's worth)
2 firm but ripe peaches
1/2 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 cup marcona almonds
1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled (I like oregon's rogue bleu for this, but you can use your favorite)
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Place the arugula in a large salad serving bowl. Take the peaches and gently peel them, then cut them in half and remove the pit. Then slice them into chunks -- not too thinly but not super huge either -- a comfortable bite-sized wedge. Add the peaches to the arugula. Sprinkle the red onion on top and season salad with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with the olive oil -- enough to moisten but not drown the salad -- about 2 tablespoon's worth (or to your taste). Sprinkle the almonds and cheese on top, give a very light toss, and serve immediately.

Medieval Pancakes Part 2: Blueberry Heaven

Saturday, August 18, 2012

If making a fruit compote sounds too complicated for you (even though I promise it really, really isn't), you can simply make a medieval style pancake and add the fruit right in the cake itself!

Popular as a dessert item and on Shrove Tuesday, pancakes were made using almond milk instead of cream or diary milk to keep to the fasting rules of Lent. Personally I think the almond milk adds incredible flavor and a nice creamy texture to the pancake that's undeniably good. I make all my pancakes now with almond milk for the most part. If you don't have it or don't want to use it, you can certainly make these with regular milk as well.

I kept the flavorings for this recipe very classic: vanilla and fruit. I wanted a nice, basic pancake recipe I can always go to any Sunday morning when the kids request it. Guess what we're having tomorrow? ;)

Blueberry Pancakes with Almond Milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 small pinch of salt
1 large pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cups almond milk
1 egg
1 Tbsp good vanilla extract
1 pint fresh blueberries, washed and drained
butter for greasing
powdered sugar for dusting
maple syrup for serving

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, milk, egg, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Then use a spatula to gently fold the blueberries in, careful not to break them up in the batter.

Preheat your griddle pan to 350 degrees. Grease your pan (or nonstick fry pan if using) and add the desired size of pancakes from the batter to the pan. Cook until bubbles form on the top, then gently flip over with a spatula to cook the other side. To serve, stack on a plate, dust with powder sugar, and drizzle maple syrup.

Medieval Pancakes: Pancakes with Almond Milk and Rose Water Boysenberry Compote

I usually do the almond milk during Lent when dairy's off the table. However, we love it so much we've incorporated it into daily living! Coupled with my newly discovered soy allergy (sigh), boxed pancakes for quick weekend breakfasts are no longer an option. Bye bye Bisquick, hello homemade p-cakes!

Does it take longer? Slightly. Honestly homemade pancakes takes about 2 minutes longer than the box mix version and frankly do taste better and more "authentic." But that's another blog. Here today I made pancakes using almond milk, an ingredient often used by medieval Europeans especially during the Lenten season before Easter, and rose water -- a simple water syrup flavored with rose petals for a sweet and exotic fragrance. I use rose water mostly in middle eastern foods and desserts I make, but I decided to extend it out to the boysenberry fruit topping I made for these pancakes one Sunday. The result? Intoxicating amazingness -- bold acid flavor from the berries, a gorgeous deep red color, and the exotic aroma of rose water and cinnamon to top the tender pancakes.

If you're looking for a way to spruce up your usual pancakes, or serve a more interesting breakfast for guests, this is certainly the recipe for you!

Pancakes with Almond Milk and Rose Water Boysenberry Compote
for the pancakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
small pinch of finely ground salt
larger pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cups almond milk (can substitute regular milk, but almond tastes better!)
1 egg
 butter for greasing

for the boysenberry compote:
1 pint fresh boysenberries (can substitute with blackberries if needed)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp rose water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cube crystalized ginger

Make the compote first. Place the berries, sugar, rose water, cinnamon and ginger in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Gently use a wooden spoon to mash the berries up, helping to release their juices. (If using other berries like boysenberries or blueberries instead, you may need to add a small splash of water as well to help create the sauce; boysenberries have a lot of moisture to them and will release this on their own so no need to add the extra water) Reduce heat to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes so spices can infuse into the fruit. When done, taste and add more sugar to taste if needed (I like it a bit on the tart side myself), then let stand to cool while you make your pancakes.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, milk and egg in a mixing bowl.

Preheat your griddle pan to 350 degrees (or your nonstick frying pan if using to hot but not smoking), and use some of the butter to grease the pan. Spoon out desired sized pancakes from the batter, and cook on that side until bubbles form on the top. Using a sturdy spatula, gently pick up the pancake and flip it over to cook the other side. Serve stacked with the fruit compote spooned right on top.

*This recipe makes about 8 traditional-sized pancakes, or 10-12 smaller ones.

Week Night Yum Yum: Mozzarella, Fava Bean, Olive Salad with Marcona Almonds

Monday, August 13, 2012

So what happens when you have a bag of fava beans that need to be used, a bit of fresh mozzarella that's gonna expire soon if you don't use it, some cured black olives, and marcona almonds?

Magic happens.

I blanched fresh fava beans in less than 10 minutes, their hearty meatiness the perfect base for this little "salad." Fresh mozzarella add creaminess, pairing nicely against the crunchy almonds. A simple fresh garlic, olive oil, and white balsamic vinaigrette with good sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper round out the flavors. But the secret weapon here? Cured black olives -- their sweet, tender brine gives just the contrast the salad needs without being overly pompous or too extreme.

I originally conceived this dish as a side for some grilled chicken.... never made it that far.

Mozzarella, Fava Bean, Olive Salad with Marcona Almonds
1 lb fresh fava beans, shucked
1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into very small bites (use the small balls if you can find them!)
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
good sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
good imported olive oil
splash white balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp pitted cured black olives, sliced in half*
2 Tbsp marcona almonds

Bring a small saucepan to a boil. Add the shucked fava beans and cook until bright green and they float up to the surface, about 5 minutes. Run under cold water until easy to handle, then gently peel away the tough outer shell of the bean exposing the meat. Add that fava bean "meat" into a small mixing bowl.

Add the mozzarella, garlic, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar (enough oil to coat the salad but not drench it), and toss to combine. Top with the olives and almonds and give a gentle mix to lightly combine. Serve.

It's lovely to serve with the cheese cold from the fridge and the beans still warm from just cooking.

Date Night: Moroccan Chicken Pot Pie

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Made this a while ago back when our summer hadn't yet started, and finally getting around to blogging it now! Traditional chicken pot pie takes a turn into the east with spicy earthiness from cumin and clove and irresistable sweetness from currants and carrots. This is something different to change up the usual hearty pot pie that will satisfy your travel cravings on a colder day. Enjoy it!

Moroccan Chicken Pot Pie
2 chicken breasts (bone out, skin on perferably)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
moroccan spice blend (recipe follows)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, chopped small
1 celery stalk, chopped small
1 small white onion, chopped small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup drained and rinsed chickpeas from a can
1.5 cups chicken stock or broth
2 Tbsp dried currants
2 Tbsp finely chopped scallion
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp chopped mint
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp corn starch + 1 tsp water mixed together to form slurry
basic pie crust (recipe follows)
1 egg, lightly beaten for eggwash
sea salt for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and some of the spice blend to taste. Bake in oven uncovered until cooked through, about 15 minutes. If it's not cooked all the way through don't worry -- it will finish cooking in the sauce soon.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pot or large saute pan. Saute the carrots, celery, and onion until softened on medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook another minute. Add the chickpeas and then the stock and bring to a simmer. At this point the chicken should be out of the oven; take the chicken and either chop it into bite-sized pieces or shred it with a fork, then add the chicken into the vegetable mixture. Add the currants and cook for at least 10 minutes with a lid on for flavors to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings with more spice blend and salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat and add the scallion, cilantro, mint, and orange zest and mix to combine. Add the slurry to thicken the sauce into a gravy and let cool while you prepare the dough.

When dough is ready to be used, portion out the pot pie filling into two oven-proof bowls. Roll out the two dough balls into disks large enough to cover the surface area of your bowls with room for hang-over. Add the dough on top and crimp the overlapping dough along the sides. Brush with egg wash or cream and season top with more sea salt if desired.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until crust is golden. Serve hot.

Basic Pie Dough for 2 Pot Pies
2 cups all purpose flour
1 stick COLD unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 Tbsp ice water
pinch of salt

Add the flour, butter, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to incorporate the butter into the flour, until it's the size of peas. With the processor on, add the water and pulse until the dough comes together into a ball. Take out and lay onto a floured working surface. Cut the ball into two equal parts and roll each part into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refridgerate at least 30 minutes for dough to set. When ready to use, simply unwrap one ball at a time and roll out to desired thickness on a floured working surface.

The Enchanted Spoon Moroccan Spice Blend
3 Tbsp whole cardamom pods
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp saffron threads
1 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp ground allspice
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Place the cardamom, peppercorns, saffron and coriander in a saute pan and heat on low until becomes fragrant. Transfer to a spice blender and blend until ground. Transfer to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients while the processed ones are still warm. Mix to combine.

Love On A Stick: The Beef Shish

It's 1000 degrees outside right now. Stop frying inside and baking with the oven, and move outside to the grill people...

One of the most forgiving dishes for busy people is the shish kabob. Well seasoned marinated meats (or seafood!) can be prepared up to days in advance, then grilled when convenient. Serve it hot, warm, or even cold with some basmati rice or a hearty salad. Here's my very fast recipe for beef kabobs. But first, two things are essential:

1) The Cut of Meat:
Do not be fooled -- stew meat although perfectly shaped for a shish kabob, is the wrong cut of meat to grill! The meat is very, very tough and is required for stew -- i.e., long braising technique to break down the hard connective tissue and add moisture and tenderization to the meat. Grilling, or quick-cooking is absolutely the wrong avenue to cook stew meat! The best cut of meat to use for a beef shish kabob therefore is a lean steak -- tenderloin works best. Cut the meat (or have your butcher do it) into larger 1.5 x 1.5 inch thick cubes. This will ensure a juicy kabob and optimal doneness of medium-rare.

2) The Marinade Must Be Flavorful:
Don't bother making this dish if you don't like spices or prefer just salt and pepper. I do too, but I do that for an excellent cut of meat like a perfect steak. For kabobs you want that mixture of spices for intense flavors and aromas. You can use virtually any combination you like -- here I used harissa as the base of my marinade. It gave the perfect blend of earthy spice and heat.

This version uses a simple harissa based marinade together with olive oil, fresh garlic and fresh mint, and salt and pepper to taste. The heat is slightly higher than mild -- still ok for kids to eat if they don't mind a slight piquant; scale back if you need it to be super mild. You must marinade the meat at least 4 hours for the flavors to penetrate the meat; preferably it'd stay overnight or even a day or two. Keep in mind, however, the longer it marinates the spicier it will be. So for a milder version plan on the shorter marinating time!

This recipe serves 4 well, 2 generously with leftovers.

Beef Shish Kabobs
1 lb beef tenderloin, cut into large cubes
1/4 cup harissa spice blend
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced into a paste
1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

Blend the harissa, olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and mint together in a bowl by whisking. Add all the beef to a larger mixing bowl or gallon-sized plastic bag, and pour the marinade right over. Turn the meat over in the mixture, coating well. Cover and let stand at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, turning occasionally to massage the marinade in.

When ready to cook, bring meat out to room temperature while you preheat your grill to medium-high. Take the beef and slide onto your shish -- if using metal shish sticks then slide right on; if using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in water for an hour before so they won't burn on the grill! You can alternate with chunks of red or white onion or vegetables as well if you like -- cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and bell peppers work beautifully. Just make sure to cut the vegetables appropriately, toss them in olive oil so they won't stick on the grill, and season them also with salt and pepper to be flavorful. Conversely, you can make the shish with just meat as well.

Place on cleaned grill and cook until medium rare -- about 7 minutes total cooking time (time will vary on size of the chunks and desired doneness). You want to turn them a bit more often than you would a steak because you want to achive a good crust on all sides as opposed to just two as you would a steak.

Serve with basmati rice.

*Serving Tip:
Pieces of meat (especially beef and chicken) will slide off the shish easier when they're hot; the colder they get, the more impossible they'll be to get off the stick (metal or wood, doesn't matter). If you're serving this for guests or at a party, my recommendation is to either serve them piping hot right off the grill if your objective is to let people eat off the stick. Or, as soon as you get everything off the grill, use your tongs to gently slice everything off the sticks and arrange nicely on a platter of rice.

Herb Baked Eggs: Farm Fresh. Locally Sustained. Holyshit Goodness.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

 A huge perk of living out in the boonies (really, we're not that far out) is access to amazing, locally produced fresh produce and products. Case in point: our neighbors across the street who have horses (Country Living Perk #12: Kids can ride a pony!) and now are raising chickens (Country Living Perk #6: Farm Fresh Motherfucking Eggs, Ya'll!).

To say I was eggstatic (sorry, I had to) when they offered us a half a dozen a couple of weeks ago does not even begin to describe it. I've had the pleasure of farm fresh via the farmers market, so I knew the treat I was in for. I seriously sat there with the eggs in my fridge for 3 days, pondering and agonizing on what perfect dish to make with these perfect delicious wonderful beautiful eggs. Nothing overly complicated, nothing too froo froo to overpower the delicate flavor of a perfect egg. So, I settled on Ina Garten's recipe for herbed baked eggs.

notice the gorgeous keep yellow almost orange color of the yolks!

A French technique for cooking (of course -- God they are a brilliant people when it comes to food!), eggs are delicatetly but quickly cooked under the broiler with only a splash of cream, some very finely chopped fresh herbs (from my garden! Ha! I can do this farm shit too!!), and a good pinch of excellent salt and freshly ground black pepper. The result was oustanding -- perfectly cooked, gooey bright orange yolk and tender whites with salty bites from the parmesan cheese and course french sea salt I used, the freshness of the herbs added color and flavor, and to bring it all home I added some simple blanched asparagus and english peas for a side. I'm in love with this dinner and can't wait to make it again and again and again.

Introducing Chuck Norris, one of the chickens

This recipe makes for 2 people -- for a larger crowd (hello brunch or elegant breakfast!) use a larger pan and about 2-3 eggs per person. Her recipe also calls to use individual gratin dishes (which I don't have). I made all the eggs in a frying pan under the broiler and it turned out just fine. Not as a pretty presentation, but it got the job done.

Herb Baked Eggs
6 farm fresh eggs
1 Tbsp mixed finely chopped: rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme, etc.
1 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
course French sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
splash of cream of half n half
small drizzle of olive oil or butter

Preheat broiler to low. Position the rack about 6 inches below the broiler.

Crack all the eggs into a bowl -- you'll need to add the eggs to the hot pan very quickly, so cracking them all in a bowl before enables you to work with the requisite speed. Set aside.

Combine the herbs and parmesan cheese in another small bowl.

Take an oven-proof frying pan large enough to fit the eggs snugly but not overcrowd. Add the oil and cream and place under broiler for about 5 minutes, or until you see the cream start to bubble. Carefully remove it from the oven and add the eggs all at once into the hot pan. Top with the herbed cheese mixture and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Return the pan under the broil and cook another 5-7 minutes, or until the whites are set. Remove and serve with toasted bread.

I served my dinner with asparagus and english peas I blanched before hand.

And a huge thank you to our neighbors Angie and Troy and Lily, Emma for taking the pics of the chickens, and of course Chuck Norris and his counterpart Henrietta (not pictured) for their delightful eggs! Some more pictures of the egg provider...