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Eat these now: Shishito Peppers

grilled shishito peppers


 

This mild pepper from Japan has become quite the culinary rage over the last handful of years.  I first had them as a snack in a benefit cooking master class for Slow Food NYC, and have been growing them in my garden ever since.

Shishito peppers are slender, bright green, and about the length of your index finger.  They are super flavorful yet mild, with about one in a dozen delivering a memorable amount of heat.  Consider it a party game.

I love serving a huge platter of grilled shishitos with cold cocktails at the start of a big summer dinner party.  Quick, easy, impressive, slightly unusual and pretty much universally adored--there should be no hesitation in adding these to the menu.  Padron peppers can be prepared and served the same way, but will be hotter in flavor overall.

We are in high shishito season right now, so keep an eye out at the market, and definitely grow your own next summer.



Grilled Shishito Peppers

Fresh Shishito Peppers
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Lemon

Grilled shishitos always fly off the platter when I serve them.  Plan for at least 3-4 per person, if not many more.  

Wash the peppers and dry thoroughly.

In a large bowl, toss peppers with a generous pour of olive oil, until evenly coated.

Grill on high medium-heat until evenly blistered and slightly charred.

Remove peppers from grill and transfer directly to a serving platter.  Sprinkle with kosher or other coarse salt, and a very liberal squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Serve immediately with additional lemon wedges.


grilled shishito pepper tapas



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Trick of the Trade: the Bottle Brush

bottle brush from pitchforkdiaries.com


Never had one of these in my life until I had a kid.  Should have had one decades earlier.


(this is the one I own.  A friend recently captioned a photo on facebook of the same one, titling it "Ziggy Starbrush")


My bottle brush sits in our dish rack right next to the sink.  It is there to, as stated, wash baby bottles.  But over the past 21 months, I have found myself reaching for it again and again for lots of hard-to-scrub objects that were once dreaded chores.




  • Champagne flutes!  Formerly I tried all methods of reaching to try to scrub some dried dust out of the very bottom of these slender vessels--including several hot, soapy paper towels wrapped methodically around a chopstick.

  • All wine glasses!

  • Blender!  My beloved Vita Prep is my single most favorite appliance ever owned, but does not have a removable bottom.  The bottle brush works perfectly.

  • Flower vases! Particularly long and slender ones.  Particularly if the flowers have been sitting in it for a week.

  • Mason jars!  (Any jars.)


These really should be marketed farer and wider than baby registry check-lists.

Any other brilliant uses you've come across?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 


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13
Salad Dressing of the Week: Yogurt Blue Cheese
yogurt blue cheese dressing

 

This is a rich, luxurious, and even slightly healthier take on a classic blue cheese dressing.  It certainly marries beautifully with a big old bacon-scattered wedge salad, or as a spread on a tomato and wheat toast sandwich.  But also try it alongside grilled zucchini, eggplant, and even grilled peaches.

Blue cheeses tend to be pretty robust and on the salty side, so taste as you go and you may not need to add any additional salt at all.



Yogurt Blue Cheese Salad Dressing
by Catie Baumer Schwalb

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste, if needed at all

Whisk the olive oil into the yogurt to evenly combine.  Gently fold in the blue cheese.  Mash some of the cheese to distribute better throughout the dressing, leave some big chunks for great texture.

Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for an hour or two to chill.



 


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Trick of the Trade: Pot Lid meets Corks

pot lid with corks from PitchforkDiaries.com


Most of our cookware have lids that are completely constructed of metal of some variety.  Especially the copper pieces.  They are my favorite to cook with, stellar conductors of heat, but OUCH if you grab the lid without thinking.


Above is the lid from our prized giant stock pot that forever sits on our stovetop, as it is so darn pretty.  A few years ago we were at a friend's for dinner who had the same one, and spotted this genius solution for the scalding handle or the annoyance of constantly searching for a pot holder.  Jam two corks from previously enjoyed wine bottles (we happened to be able to dig up a few), under the handle and problem solved.  The corks don't conduct any of the heat, and they even stay put through (hand) washing.


corks on a pot lid



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31
Salad Dressing of the Week: Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette
sesame ginger vinaigretteI love this dressing and use it all year long--but particularly in the summer over a bowl of fresh sliced cucumbers, or a batch of quick-blanched fresh broccoli or green beans, or sauteed greens, all from the garden.

Toasted sesame oil, one of my most favorite pantry staples ever, is widely available, but if you pick it up in an asian market or anywhere in Chinatown, it will be dollars cheaper per bottle.



SESAME GINGER VINAIGRETTE RECIPE
By Catie Baumer Schwalb
Makes approximately ¼ cup

Rice Vinegar, 1 TBS
Garlic, ½ clove, crushed and finely chopped
Fresh Ginger, ½ tsp, grated
Toasted Sesame Oil, 3 TBS
Salt, to taste

Combine the vinegar, garlic and ginger in a bowl, and allow to sit for 10 minutes, to infuse the vinegar with the flavor of the garlic and ginger. Then, while whisking constantly, pour the sesame oil into the bowl in a slow, thin stream. Taste, and adjust salt.

Serve as a dressing for a green salad, tossed with cooked vegetables (green beans, broccoli, carrots, sautéed greens) or as a marinade for grilled meats.



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19
Salad Dressing of the Week: Avocado, Lime and Cilantro

avocado lime cilantro dressing


I made this quickly in the blender this week, to go over a cold rice salad with shredded poached chicken, local corn, a few early tomatoes and chunks of avocado.  Mostly the goal was to distribute the little bit of avocado I had on hand as much as possible throughout the salad.  We loved the result, and I expect we'll be drizzling this all over salads, soups, sandwiches, and all sorts of grilled things all summer long.



Creamy Avocado Lime and Cilantro Dressing


By Catie Baumer Schwalb

makes about one cup.

1/2 avocado
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from one large lime, or a few smaller
1/4 cup, packed, fresh cilantro (include stems too if they are young and fresh)
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
salt, to taste

In a blender, combine avocado, lime juice and cilantro. Blend until smooth. Through the hole in the blender lid, slowly pour in the olive oil, with the blender on low. Start with a half cup, and taste for balance.  If it seems too tart, add a little more gradually, tasting as you go. Season with salt, to taste.

Serve immediately, or chill briefly.



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Salad Dressing of the Week: Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette (with a hint of white pepper)

Roasted Strawberry Balsamic vinaigrette-2


 

Make this right now, with all those plump ephemeral strawberries lurking around.   (If you are making this out of season--gasp--consider adding a small pinch of sugar to the berry puree to help boost the flavorless winter berries).

If you can make it past eating it directly from the mixing bowl, serve this dressing over a spinach salad with toasted pecans or walnuts and some crumbly goat cheese.  Or dip some grilled chicken into it.  Or grilled pork.  Or duck.  Or heck, put that on the salad too.

Oh, and do yourself a favor: get some really good balsamic vinegar.



Roasted Strawberry and Balsamic Vinaigrette
by Catie Baumer Schwalb

yeilds about 1/4 cup, for two servings.

2 tablespoons roasted strawberry puree, from about 6 medium strawberries (Make extra.  Trust me.)
1 1/2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinaigrette
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
white pepper, ground, small pinch, to taste
salt, to taste

Heat the oven to 375º F.  Halve washed strawberries and roast on a baking sheet for 10-12 minutes until soft and fragrant.  The time will depend greatly on the ripeness.  Watch the berries closely so they don't burn.

Remove the berries from the oven and puree in a blender or food processor.

In a small bowl combine berry puree, balsamic vinegar, a slight pinch of ground white pepper and salt.  Whisk to combine.   In a very thin, slow and steady stream, pour the olive oil into the berry mixture, while whisking continually.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper.  Serve immediately or chill briefly.



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08
Vanilla Rhubarb Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

rhubarb chocolate chunk ice cream


With rhubarb's glorious reign quickly coming to a close, I wanted to give it one last hurrah, before it is replaced in the fruit bowl with stone fruit of a multitude of dizzying hues.  I made this rhubarb vanilla ice cream with (generous) dark chocolate chunks to bring to dinner with friends recently, and was giddy with how it came out.  So giddy in fact, that I fell ill (no relation) and my husband had to courier the ice cream over to the gathering on my behalf.

A testament to this great recipe, in all the "hellos", "she's not feeling well", "she'll be fine", and "yes, thanks I'd love to stay for one glass of wine", he forgot to tell the ladies what flavor of ice cream it actually was.  So when dessert rolled around, and he had long made his exit, there was a marvelous guessing game, as I was told, as to what they were actually eating.  The chocolate chunk part, fortunately, was obvious, but the tangy, slightly fruity, slightly vegetal, very rich and creamy rest of it elicited guesses from mascarpone to peach to lemon curd, in an email steam entitled "Mystery Ice Cream". (more…)


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03
Salad Dressing of the Week: Sherry Vinegar and Hazelnut Vinaigrette
sherry vinegar and hazelnut vinaigrette

Last night I was having dinner with some of my favorite lady friends, and we were talking about salad dressings, as you do with your lady friends.  They were saying that they each always make their same standby dressing, and were enjoying this new blog feature to help get out of their ruts.

We shared what each of our quick, don't have to think about it, dressing recipes are, and I had forgotten that for the longest time this one was mine.  The mellow rounded sweetness of the sherry vinegar and the rich roasted nuttiness of the hazelnut oil are a combination that is tough to beat.  It also makes one of my favorite birthday or hostess gifts.  A bottle of each, and perhaps some great salad servers, have yet to make anyone unhappy.

Use this dressing as an excuse to use up any hazelnuts that are left over in your pantry from some long-forgotten holiday cookie recipe.  I love subtly mirroring the dressing in the salad ingredients.


sherry vinegar (Get the best you can find.  This is one of those ingredients it does make a difference, and does last a long time.)
3 parts roasted hazelnut oil
salt, to taste

Combine vinegar and salt in a bowl, stirring gently to combine.  In a slow, thin, even stream, drizzle the oil into the vinegar while whisking constantly.  Taste by dipping a salad leaf into the dressing.  Adjust salt, if desired.

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Sherry Vinegar and Hazelnut Vinaigrette
by Catie Baumer Schwalb

1 part sherry vinegar (Get the best you can find.  This is one of those ingredients it does make a difference, and does last a long time.)
3 parts roasted hazelnut oil
salt, to taste

Combine vinegar and salt in a bowl, stirring gently to combine.  In a slow, thin, even stream, drizzle the oil into the vinegar while whisking constantly.  Taste by dipping a salad leaf into the dressing.  Adjust salt, if desired.



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28
How to deal with Rhubarb

how to prepare rhubarb


I love rhubarb.  I love it for it's old fashioned vibe.  I love it for it's color, striking tartness, and even for it's moderate shelf life.  I also love it for showing up so darn early in the spring and sticking around for several months.


And I too was at first intimidated by those long, irregular-shaped, tough magenta stalks at the market.  I actually overheard a conversation at our market up here recently, where a woman who had just bought a weekend house near the Delaware discovered she had huge decades-old rhubarb plants growing on her property.  However she didn't know when it was time to pick them.  Nor did the young woman working the farm stand, so I jumped in with what I knew.  She had been waiting for them to turn red, ripen, to pick.  I explained that some heirloom varieties, have very little red, and the stalks can range from thin to the thicker more uniform we're used to seeing in grocery stores.  I generally go by feel, but you can harvest stalks when between ten and fifteen inches long, avoiding letting them go too long and become tough, dry or woody.


Once you get your rhubarb back you your kitchen, from yard or market, they really are one of the most simple fruit to prepare.  Make sure all traces of the leaves are trimmed off, as they are not edible.  Rhubarb have a bad rap for being stringy, as in celery stringy, but as long as they are cut in small pieces before cooked, the strings will not be a nuisance.  For good measure, or habit, I tend to peel two or three strings off each stalk, from end to end, but not too much, as you are also peeling off any of the great magenta color.


Wash the stalks well and then cut into slices between an half inch and an inch thick.  You can then roast the pieces, throw them in to brighten up a rich stew, or as I do most often, simmer them down to a quick rhubarb puree or sauce.


Pack the rhubarb into a sauce pan or small pot that holds the pieces sort of snugly.  Add enough water to come up about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the slices, and simmer over a medium-low heat, until the rhubarb has broken down and is tender.  Add more water if the mixture seems to be getting to dry or risking burning at all.  When finished you can mash it up a little to have a sauce with more texture, or use a food processor, blender or immersion blender to give you smoother final product.


If you are looking to use the sauce as a topping by itself, add about a tablespoon of sugar per large stalk of rhubarb when simmering down, or another classic way to cut rhubarb's intense sourness is to add at least 1 part strawberries for every 3 parts rhubarb when starting the sauce.  Taste when finished and adjust sweetness if necessary.


Vanilla beans, ginger, orange, cinnamon, almost all berries and apples are all great additions as well.


Make a big batch.  Eat it warm or ice cold.  Spoon it over ice cream, blend it into cream cheese, swirl it in yogurt or oatmeal, drizzle it over a wedge of Stilton or duck or game meats, whisk it into your vinaigrette, blend it with ice for your margarita.  Really, what other fruit, the northeast no less, is quite so versatile?



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25
Salad Dressing of the Week: Fresh Oregano and Dijon Vinaigrette
fresh oregano dijon vinaigrette

For another step in my continued fight to close down the salad dressing aisle in grocery stores, I'll offer you a homemade salad dressing recipe each week.

Fresh oregano certainly has a pronounced flavor, but actually so much more mellow and herbal and complex than what dried drab green flecks and pizza restaurant shakers have lead you to believe.  We had this dressing last night on crisp fresh red leaf romaine, a small handful of fresh sorrel leaves (both sliced into ribbons, both from our garden), cucumber, and a generous handful of toasted sesame seeds.

This vinaigrette would also be incredible on a salad of baby spinach, chickpeas and sliced hardboiled egg, or as a base for a potato salad.

Also, P.S., oregano is probably the most idiot-proof herb to grow, super hearty, pops up first in the spring and faithfully returns each year.  Grab a plant and stick it almost anywhere in your yard now for years of salad dressings and marinaras to come.



Fresh Oregano and Dijon Vinaigrette
by Catie Baumer Schwalb
Makes enough to dress one 4-person salad.

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, depending on how mellow or sharp you prefer the flavor

Combine vinegar and oregano leaves in a medium sized bowl, bruising leaves gently with a whisk to infuse the vinegar a bit.  Allow to sit for a few minutes.  Add dijon mustard and a small pinch of salt and black pepper, and whisk gently to combine.

In a thin, slow, constant stream, pour the olive oil into the vinegar mixture while whisking constantly.  After adding three tablespoons of oil, check the flavor.  If it feels a little tart or too strong, add an additional bit of oil to round out the flavor.  Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

 



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The Garden as Scrapbook

 Pitchfork Diaries


When I refer to our microfarm, I am talking about just over five thousand square feet of heirloom gardening spaces, that my husband and I have carved out, cared for, slowly added to and greatly benefitted from for the last almost decade.  Our home sits on a very rural, mostly wooded, forty-five acres, so anytime we felt like we could handle a little more weeding, or heard from enough friends what a thrill it was to dig up potatoes in the fall—in went another sizeable garden space.  Until we are now left with our own personal work camp in the Catskills.

Collectively, this year is the largest to date.  Two summers ago I was well into my pregnancy, and not so agile in the bending-digging-weeding routine.  Last summer we had a seven month old son who cut our two-person-powered time to bend-dig-weed exactly in half, needing to be nursed or held or kept out of the fierce sun by one of us almost at all times.  Each season we vow to go easy on ourselves.  Each season we do just a little more than what would be considered sane.

Compared to previous years, we felt like we had it wholly together this time, and are planted to capacity—despite the fact that the plan had been to leave our oldest and largest space empty for a season to sensibly replenish.  But I once again fell victim to the gorgeous seed catalogues, web sites, and that plant pusher, Trina, at the incomparable Silver Heights Farm, and can not cut myself off once my palms get sweaty and pulse quickens.

Because in the end it is about food!  Food I remember from some meal, food I can’t easily buy around these rural parts, food I can’t get until this time of year, food I have been dying to try to cook with, and more than anything, food I am picturing laying out on a giant rustic white platter and presenting to a dozen or so dear friends seated around the table made of antique barn wood on our porch.  How can I possibly expect to limit myself?

(more…)


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Sesame Roasted Asparagus

Pitchfork Diaries asparagus


 

 

Something to do with asparagus right now...(and what I'm having for dinner.)



asparagus
olive oil
salt
sesame oil
toasted sesame seeds (a mixture of white and black, if available)

Heat oven to 350° F.

Toss asparagus stalks in olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Roast asparagus at 350° on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven, until tender.  Depending on the thickness of the stalks they will take about 15-20 minutes.  Half way through roasting gently move the stalks around, turning them over to cook evenly.

Allow the asparagus to cool slightly.  Dress with a delicate drizzle of sesame oil.  Sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds and toss to combine.

Serve as the base of a frisee or mixed greens salad topped with a poached egg and a very lemony vinaigrette.



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03
Kitchen Tip: Get an oven thermometer.


 

I get a lot of "cooking SOS!" text, emails and calls from friends and relatives.  I guess it goes along with my culinary Le Grand Diplôme. But, I love it and often learn something myself.

Recently a friend complained that her pumpkin pie was taking much longer to bake, and fully set in the middle, than the recipe had stated.  After hearing that she hadn't substituted any ingredients, had used the suggested sized baking pan, and hadn't doubled the recipe, I suspected the culprit could be the oven temperature.

We turn the oven dial to the temperature we want, wait for it to heat up, and assume that the oven is precisely calibrated and spot on with it's temperature.  Even if it is a 20+ year old appliance.  Sort of a big gamble, when you are trying for a specific target finished temperature, or delicate baking results.

In culinary school each of our ovens at our stations in the classroom had an oven thermometer, which we would check religiously at the start of cooking, and adjust the temperature dial accordingly.  We have a really good gas oven in our kitchen at home which always runs 50 degrees F too hot, so I go by the thermometer and adjust the dial as needed.

Oven thermometers are cheap and a life saver.  Or a pie saver.  Or a roast saver.  Or a souffle saver. (you get the idea).



 

 


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Preserved Meyer Lemons
pitchfork diaries

April 1st.  The "I think I can, I think I can..." continues.  I think I can make it to the end of this relentless Catskill's winter.  Right now, even as I type this, one day after we were admiring deep purple crocuses at my mother's for Easter, there are wide swirls of snow flurries mocking me outside the windows over my desk.

But the garden seeds have been ordered.  Seedlings will be started shortly.  And our neon pink rhubarb stalks have just broken through the cold muddy ground.  And chives.  And oregano.  Maybe ramps next.

In the meantime, while I am fantasizing about warm weather cooking, getting to take daily advantage of vibrant fresh produce, with their bright colors and refreshing textures, I'm tucking away some other favorite produce, soon to be gone until the late fall. (more…)


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Great Aunt Margaret’s Chocolate Frosting


Aunt Margaret (right) and my great grandmother, on my mother's graduation day from kindergarten. Their three vastly different expressions are curious, and priceless.


My son just celebrated his very first birthday.  I was naturally flooded with an enormous range of huge emotions.  But, instead of being very weepy and nostalgic for the entire month prior, staring at him constantly, willing time to stop, I instead funneled all of my sentimentalism into obsessing about his very first birthday cake.


This process was not unlike trying to make each precious decision about our wedding.  Would this be the best choice, that I will then look back on in a decade and remember with zero regrets and nothing but fondness?  Or even more, is this the best choice of all of the options I have entertained in my mind imagining this day for the last 3+ decades?


Of course, an impossible assignment.


But wanting it to be a perfect day and first cake experience for him, I pored over old family recipes scribbled in pencil on cocoa-powdered index cards.  My  first thought was my dad's carrot cake recipe.  It is spectacular.  But I kept looking, and came across again Aunt Margaret's Chocolate Frosting.  It is the perfect, dark, rich, everything your yellow birthday cake screams for recipe.  It is one of the top three recipes in our family's repertoire.  Certainly worthy of a first birthday party.


I then pictured him smashing his first piece of his first birthday cake into his face with his chubby hands, and pictured dark brown Jackson Pollock's covering the walls of my grandparents' condo.  (I also then remembered a first birthday I attended where the cake was red velvet, leaving the kid and high chair looking like something out of a slasher film.)


So opting for a more neutral hued confection, I finally settled on the dense-banana-cream cheese-miracle that is Amy's Bread's Monkey Cake, a cake so good a dear friend recently had it for her wedding cake.  Also, twelve years ago I lived right around the corner from the original Amy's Bread in Manhattan with my brother for a year, and it is a super special part of that neighborhood.


Ok, so what's the point?


The point is that he's one, and loved the cake, and mostly likely would have loved any cake.  I loved obsessing over what to make, baking it for him, whipping the frosting, and seeing him literally lick the plate.  I also loved that it was an opportunity to really go back to my cookbooks, my notes and my recipe cards and rediscover old favorites.


And work on something that I was excited to share with the people I love.  That, after all, is exactly why I cook.




Old Fashioned Dark Chocolate Frosting
By Catie Baumer Schwalb

This is my version of a classic homemade deep chocolate frosting recipe that has been handed down in my family for generations. Among other things, I have added a bit more salt to really give it a salted dark chocolate flavor.  Feel free to cut back on the salt, and adjust it to taste if that's not what you're looking for.  Either way, it is rich, moist, and wonderfully glossy.

3 ounces (3 squares) of unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 cup of sugar
4 ounces of unsalted butter
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla

In a heavy bottomed pot, gently melt the chocolate, stirring frequently.

When smooth, add all remaining ingredients, whisking vigorously to combine.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, continuing to whisk, to combine evenly. The mixture will thicken considerably once it reaches a boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, scrape the frosting into a bowl or container and allow to cool. Stirring from time to time will help it cool more quickly and evenly. The frosting will continue to thicken as it cools.

Frost or pipe as desired.

Note: Instead of vanilla, you can add other extracts or liqueur for a subtly different flavored frosting. Orange, hazelnut, almond and mint all work very nicely.





 


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Put it on Toast. 25 ways to start Thanksgiving.
Help!   Thanksgiving is 72 hours away and while you have been dog-earing cookbooks for weeks, shopped the weekend before, and even managed to avoid the elbow to your shoulder by the feisty octogenarian who was going to in NO WAY let you have the store's last quart of whipping cream (this actually happened to me in graduate school), you just realized that you totally forgot to plan for something to occupy your relatives while you get the food ready for the table.  And so inevitably they will end up equally split between hovering directly in your path in your tiny overheated kitchen or rehashing the recent election and whatswrongwiththiscountry requiring a last-minute rearrangement of the pilgrim place cards.  Again.

Oh, right, and you have overzealously planned an almost too complicated multi-course meal culled from your favorite food blogs, and have no time left in the schedule or room in the oven to make another darn thing.

So, put it on toast.  Or bread, or thick oat-y crackers or toasted wedges of pita.

Here are a bunch of ideas, some quicker than others, for holiday-worthy crostini.  If you have the time, or children with idle hands, these all look pretty assembled and arranged on a platter, particularly the repetition of the shape and colors.  However, if you are pressed for time, just put all of the elements on a platter in small bowls with a heap of sliced bread rounds and your guests will love getting all interactive.

If you can manage, you can slice say a baguette on a deep angle to make long elegant oval slices, maybe brush it with olive oil or rub it with garlic and toast it in a low oven on a cookie sheet.  Or grill it quickly to get nice grill marks.  But again, fresh sliced good crusty bread is great just as is.  Also check with local food markets to see if any have frozen par-baked baguettes that you can finish in the oven yourself.

Here are several ideas, but definitely come up with your own with what you have on hand.  Just try to mix tastes and textures.  Layer something creamy/mushy on the bottom so it all sticks to the bread, and maybe top with something crunchy or colorful, or fresh herbs.

Gobble gobble.

 


make your own!) + lemon zest + chopped parsley + pepper + olive oil

Ricotta + fresh sliced fig + honey

Ricotta + roasted red peppers + a basil leaf

Ricotta + Parsley Pesto (parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt)

Creamy gorgonzola + sliced green apple + honey + chopped pecans

Brie + apricot jam + a basil leaf

Goat cheese + mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms + shallots sauteed with butter, thyme and wine)

Goat cheese + kalamata olive tapenade (pitted olives, parsley, lemon zest & juice, 1 anchovy fillet and olive oil in a food processor)

Goat cheese + diced roasted beets + chopped toasted hazelnuts + parsley

Cream cheese + smoked salmon + thinly sliced cucumber + sliver of red onion + lemon zest

cream cheese + smoked trout + thinly sliced cucumber + sprig of fresh dill

warm lobster or crab meat + melted butter (particularly good on brioche or soft mini rolls)

crab meat + diced avocado + diced cucumber + diced fresh red pepper + lime juice + cilantro

olive oil drizzled on the bread + Avocado mashed with lemon juice + a few hot red pepper flakes

Avocado + shrimp-cilantro salad (chopped shrimp with cilantro pesto)

Edamame humus (shelled cooked edamame pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt)

Chickpea humus + thinly sliced marinated carrots or roasted cherry tomatoes (Ruth Reichl's hummus recipe is etherial.)

White bean humus (pureed white beans with olive oil, lemon, parsley + salt) + chard sauteed with garlic

Baba Ganoush + crumbed feta cheese + sliced roasted red peppers

spinach or chard sauteed with diced onions, when cool, mixed with crumbed feta and fresh dill

Generous spread of great butter + thinly sliced radish + sprinkle of sea salt (trust me!)

Rub toast with a halved fresh tomato top with thinly sliced jamon imberico or prosciutto

Romesco sauce + chopped grilled scallions

Thinly sliced rare roast beef + horseradish cream + watercress

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Good fresh ricotta (make your own!) + lemon zest + chopped parsley + pepper + olive oil

Ricotta + fresh sliced fig + honey

Ricotta + roasted red peppers + a basil leaf

Ricotta + Parsley Pesto (parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt)

Creamy gorgonzola + sliced green apple + honey + chopped pecans

Brie + apricot jam + a basil leaf

Goat cheese + mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms + shallots sauteed with butter, thyme and wine)

Goat cheese + kalamata olive tapenade (pitted olives, parsley, lemon zest & juice, 1 anchovy fillet and olive oil in a food processor)

Goat cheese + diced roasted beets + chopped toasted hazelnuts + parsley

Cream cheese + smoked salmon + thinly sliced cucumber + sliver of red onion + lemon zest

cream cheese + smoked trout + thinly sliced cucumber + sprig of fresh dill

warm lobster or crab meat + melted butter (particularly good on brioche or soft mini rolls)

crab meat + diced avocado + diced cucumber + diced fresh red pepper + lime juice + cilantro

olive oil drizzled on the bread + Avocado mashed with lemon juice + a few hot red pepper flakes

Avocado + shrimp-cilantro salad (chopped shrimp with cilantro pesto)

Edamame humus (shelled cooked edamame pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt)

Chickpea humus + thinly sliced marinated carrots or roasted cherry tomatoes (Ruth Reichl's hummus recipe is etherial.)

White bean humus (pureed white beans with olive oil, lemon, parsley + salt) + chard sauteed with garlic

Baba Ganoush + crumbed feta cheese + sliced roasted red peppers

spinach or chard sauteed with diced onions, when cool, mixed with crumbed feta and fresh dill

Generous spread of great butter + thinly sliced radish + sprinkle of sea salt (trust me!)

Rub toast with a halved fresh tomato top with thinly sliced jamon imberico or prosciutto

Romesco sauce + chopped grilled scallions

Thinly sliced rare roast beef + horseradish cream + watercress



And this roasted squash on toast recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten is next on my list to try.

 


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Four Fantastic Thanksgiving Hors d’Oeuvres


I have a really lovely huge piece in the current issue of the beautiful Green Door Magazine.  It is on hors d'oeuvres for Thanksgiving and fall gatherings--including southeast asian pickled shrimp, turnip soup, mini endive salads, and stuffed fresh figs.

Issues can be purchased online, in either print or digital, and some of my food piece can be found here.

It even has Vincent D'Onofrio on the cover.

Happy cooking.


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14
Lentil Soup: my last lunch.


One year and three days ago, at 3:30 in the afternoon on 11/11/11, I was eating lentil soup.  I am able to tell you exactly that, as it was the meal I finished just as my water broke for the birth of my son.  Truthfully, it was lentil soup followed by a scoop of my husband’s homemade vanilla bean ice cream, topped with a generous drizzle of David Lebovitz’s perfect hot fudge recipe, and it may or may not have been then topped with a few crushed peanut M&Ms that had been unclaimed by trick or treaters eleven days earlier.  If there was ever a time to treat myself to a tasteful hot fudge sundae in the middle of the afternoon, my due date seemed the best day of any.

Standing at the edge of the new parent cliff, really having no idea what the next many weeks would hold for us, I had been furiously putting meals away for days and days.  I don’t know what I expected, but my level of anxiety was fairly appropriate.

And when I get anxious, I cook.

When someone is struggling, I cook.

When things seem grim and I have no idea what to do, out come the cookbooks.

And so for the very expectant weeks prior, I had been cooking and cooking.  Our chest freezer in the basement was a culinary tetris, packed tightly with calories to keep us going in the 3ams of the coming weeks.  Quart container after quart container of warming stews, gumbos, and soups were obsessively stacked alongside a half dozen bags containing fifty frozen dumplings each, devotedly hauled home from Chinatown in the city.  I may have been facing a month without leaving the house or having both hands free at once, but I was not going down on an empty stomach.  I didn’t know who I’d be on the other side of all of this, but I knew I’d still demand great food.

Lentil soup has been a comfort food staple for me through most of the very varied episodes of my life.  Cheap, simple, high in protein, and even vegetarian—for that twenty-year phase I went through—its sum is definitely more than its parts.  And this will always be the last thing I cooked as a person who wasn’t someone’s mom.

As soon as it gets dark before quitting time and a tiny chill shimmies under the door, I crave this recipe.  And eating it again this year, days before I became a person who is the mom of a one year old, I am brought right back to a year ago, or my lunch break room in graduate school, or the kitchen in my first apartment in New York, and also my tiny dark brown dorm fridge.

I look at the photo we snapped just before walking out the door to drive to the hospital, and am astounded by how I feel like I don’t even know those people.  But it is indeed me, as is the girl hosting her first dinner party in a studio apartment, or the girl with the giant mug in her window seat in college, all recognizing each other by the smells and tastes of the recipes that make up my life’s cookbook.

Happy first birthday darling boy.


Lentil Soup

Makes about three and a half quarts.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onion, from about one large onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lb lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups crushed tomatoes and juice, bonus points for using your own canned tomatoes
7 cups stock (chicken or vegetable) or water
2 cups diced carrots, from about 4-5 large carrots
salt
1 bay leaf
8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

In a large soup pot, gently heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and saute on medium-low heat until softened.  Add the garlic and continue to saute for a few minutes, lowering the heat if the garlic starts to brown at all.  Add the cumin and cinnamon to the pot, adding a bit more oil of the mixture seems dry, and saute the dry spices in the oil for a couple of minutes to wake up the flavors, being very careful not to burn.

Add the carrots, bay leaf, lentils, tomato, stock and a half teaspoon of salt, scraping any browned onions or spices stuck to the floor of the pot.

Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for one and a half hours, until the lentils are tender.  Taste and add more salt if desired.

Just before serving stir in spinach leaves, until just wilted.

Serve topped with grated sharp cheddar or a swirl of plain greek yogurt, and maybe some grated lemon zest.

The soup is even better the next day, and will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days. It can also be frozen, for emergency late-night nourishment.



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une
29
Cantaloupe and Lime Granita


My grandfather loves cantaloupe.  At least I assume he does, as he has eaten a half cantaloupe filled with cottage cheese for lunch almost every day that I have known him.  I vividly remember him coming home for lunch (coming home for lunch!) when I was visiting them in my childhood, and my grandmother having his melon ready at his arrival.

He's turning 89 in four days, so the cantaloupe clearly did right by him.

For the most part cantaloupe has been something I could take or leave.  I'd take some to balance out the color at the occasional brunch buffet, but generally would dig though the melon bowl to scoop out as many of the sweeter watermelon cubes as I could unearth.

However, when I was pregnant last summer, the only slightly unusual craving I developed was for cantaloupe.  And lots of it.  Particularly as the summer went on and the weather was sizzling hot.

It was then I discovered an orange-fleshed melon Shangri-La on the tables of the summer's farmers' market.  Tiny, outrageously sweet, nubby-skinned melons came out in abundance in the months when we needed them the most.  Numerous heirloom varieties, particularly ones about the size of a softball, exploded with fleeting flavor.  Heaven.  And obviously Papa was hip to this many decades earlier.

This incredibly simple, two ingredient, refresher is a stunning way to use this stunning fruit.  It also helps in keeping their fast-ripening goodness around for a day or two longer.

Happy Birthday Charlie, and thank goodness for the humble cantaloupe.

like at the start of supreming citrus.) Cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds.  Roughly cut the fruit into about one inch pieces.

Zest the skin of the lime, and set the zest aside.  Then juice the lime.

Combine the lime juice and cantaloupe in a blender.  Puree on high (or "liquify"!) until smooth.

Pour mixture into a 9 x 13" baking dish, or other medium to large container.  If it has a lid, even better, if not, cover it with plastic wrap or foil. (These gorgeous tupperware containers are designed by my friend Melissa, and are some of the most useful things in my kitchen. Granita is chilling in the largest one as I type.)

Place the cantaloupe mixture in the freezer.  After forty-five minutes, agitate the mixture with a fork, making sure to scrape around the sides, and return it to the freezer.  Again, after another 45 minutes, break up the ice crystals a second time with a fork, and return to freezer.  Repeat once more and return to the freezer a final time to set for about 2 hours.

Gently scoop out the granita to serve, so as not to pack down the ice too much and lose the delicate texture of the ice crystals.

Serve either alone, on top of vanilla ice cream for a delightful creamsicle effect, or in a glass topped with a small amount of prosecco right as you serve it at the table.  Top with a few strands of lime zest.

">
CANTALOUPE AND LIME GRANITA

Serves four to six.

6 cups pureed fresh cantaloupe, from about one medium melon
2 tablespoons lime juice, from about one lime
Zest from one lime

Remove the rind from the cantaloupe. (You can cut off each end and then around the outside, like at the start of supreming citrus.) Cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds.  Roughly cut the fruit into about one inch pieces.

Zest the skin of the lime, and set the zest aside.  Then juice the lime.

Combine the lime juice and cantaloupe in a blender.  Puree on high (or "liquify"!) until smooth.

Pour mixture into a 9 x 13" baking dish, or other medium to large container.  If it has a lid, even better, if not, cover it with plastic wrap or foil. (These gorgeous tupperware containers are designed by my friend Melissa, and are some of the most useful things in my kitchen. Granita is chilling in the largest one as I type.)

Place the cantaloupe mixture in the freezer.  After forty-five minutes, agitate the mixture with a fork, making sure to scrape around the sides, and return it to the freezer.  Again, after another 45 minutes, break up the ice crystals a second time with a fork, and return to freezer.  Repeat once more and return to the freezer a final time to set for about 2 hours.

Gently scoop out the granita to serve, so as not to pack down the ice too much and lose the delicate texture of the ice crystals.

Serve either alone, on top of vanilla ice cream for a delightful creamsicle effect, or in a glass topped with a small amount of prosecco right as you serve it at the table.  Top with a few strands of lime zest.





 


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21
Pitchfork Diaries: Catch the Fever

local color on my drive home.


It has been a pretty swell week for this little blog.

First, I get the baby to nap just long enough that I manage to post my first recipe in months.

Then, I get not one, but two really lovely mentions, on the websites of not one, but two major publications I adore.

Gourmet Live, the blog of Gourmet Magazine featured my Cornmeal Crusted Soft Shell Crab recipe as its Image of the Week.  Swoon.


 


Then, today my photo for my edible flower ice cubes was featured in a slide show on Bon Appetit's site.  I'm the second slide.  Right after Martha.  Stewart.



And the really lovely bonus of both of these mentions is that they reminded me of two recipes which I really enjoyed from last summer, and will revisit again now.


Thanks! and Thanks again!



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Rhubarb and White Cherry Ice Pop


I'm back.

My hands have been very, delightfully full these last many months, but I feel like we are all finally starting to figure out a good rhythm together.  And being a mom is, well, utterly remarkable, and it is hard to not devour every minute.

Even with our full hands, we did manage to get our gardens in this year.  Even more square footage than last year, as I am more able bodied this summer and can actually do something.  More plants, more varieties, more of everything.  And so far it is all looking strong and healthy.  I cannot wait to cook with all of it.  I walk through the rows and see recipes everywhere.

I have also had my first food pieces and photographs in print, in the months since the baby has been born.  There is a beautiful one year old magazine in our area called Green Door, and I have been so honored to do pieces for their last three issues.

In the latest issue I have a piece on gourmet farmers' market popsicles.  Three great recipes, which we have been enjoying ourselves, very frequently, since the weather turned warm. (The magazine is on sale throughout the Hudson valley, in New York City, for download, as well as subscriptions.)

There was one other ice pop recipe that was gnawing at me as I was developing the recipes for the article: Rhubarb.  However, there was no rhubarb to be found to recipe test with in the spring when the piece was due.  So at last, with piles of ruby stalks covering market tables, I was able to give it a try.

Rhubarb is indeed sour, yet in a perfect, summer way.  It is almost always paired with strawberries to balance its tartness.  I opted instead for beautiful white cherries that were on the next market stand over.  The fresh in-season cherries gave the whole mixture a really mellow sweetness, and the combination with the very tart rhubarb results in a overall sour cherry flavor, which is one of my favorites.

The sugar amount below is just a guideline.  Certainly your cherries' sweetness will vary.  Taste the mixture and adjust to  your liking.  However, keep in mind that when frozen a good portion of the perception of sweetness will be deadened by the cold, so the mixture should taste a bit more sweet at room temperature than you are shooting for.

Happy summer.



RHUBARB AND WHITE CHERRY ICE POP

makes four three-ounce pops.

2 cups fresh rhubarb, sliced thin
1 cup white cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water

Wash the rhubarb and gently peel off some of the tough outer strands, much like peeling celery. Cut into thin slices.

Combine rhubarb, cherries, water and sugar in a small pot.  Simmer over medium-low heat for about seven minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is soft.

Allow the mixture to cool.  Transfer to a food processor or blender and pulse until slightly pureed, but with some pieces of fruit still remaining.

Fill ice pop molds and freeze for at least six hours to overnight.

To unmold, briefly dip the bottom of the mold in a bowl of warm water.



 

 

 


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Pitchfork Diaries is part of the Foodie.com 100!

 



Last month I was asked to be one of the Foodie 100 on the new Foodie.com beta site.  It is a very pretty, very full, social network-y site with, among others, 100 great food writers and bloggers as contributors.


I have three recipes on the site now, that I created just for them.  Check them out and take a look around.  There is a lot of really delicious stuff going on there.


Watercress, Stone Fruit, Pecorino, and Hazelnut Salad


 


Vadouvan Curry, Coconut and Lemongrass Mussels


 


Salted Dark Chocolate Frosting



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Scallions: Eating within a 10 foot radius

DIY Scallions: 10 days (background) and 36 hours (foreground) of growth.


 

Full disclosure:  in season or not, I use a lot of scallions.  I love their subtle oniony vibe, pop of color, and exotic feel.  I love their tubey shape and making thin cuts on an extreme angle for geometric garnishes.  I love that they are equally useable raw or cooked.  I LOVE them in my Homemade Scallion Pancakes and David Chang's Scallion Ginger Sauce from his Momofuku cookbook.

So, each summer I faithfully devote an entire garden bed to growing my own scallions.  And each year it is wildly unsuccessful.  The seeds are microscopic, making it insanely difficult to evenly distribute them in the ground.  When they do start to sprout up, in awkward clusters, they are the tiniest green threads, impossible to see and differentiate from the weeks that are intent on choking them out.  But every year, I try, try again.

So, cut to me on the subway a couple of weeks ago, overhearing a conversation between two adorable twenty-something hipsters, waxing poetic about the treasures on pinterest.

Now I have not really explored pinterest, other than to see some referring pages that have come into my blog.  And I have some mixed feelings about it from first glance.  However, what I heard the DIYers going on and on about was the "growing scallions thing" on pinterest.

Ok, I was curious and googled as soon as I got above ground.

Apparently the scallion thing that has swept across the pinterestsphere, is the lesson that you can regenerate whole, perfectly edible scallions from the bottom tips that are usually cut off and tossed away.

Yep.  And I tried it.

And yep.  It works!

Just place the root ends of scallions upright in about an inch of water and put in a sunny spot.  In twenty four hours you will see some growth, and in just under a week they'll be full grown again.  The only upkeep is to change the water every other day or so, which also helps cut down on any oniony smell.  You can repeat the process three or four times with the same scallion tip.

So excited to have a much more successful way of growing my own.  And thrilled to add another vegetable to my eating local list--all year round.  My apologies to the national scallion growers council.



 


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10
Little Neck Clams with White Wine Cream Sauce


Here is an elegant meal or appetizer, that takes not more than minutes to whip up.  Warm, rich and creamy, it is a great recipe to keep in mind for winter holidays.  Serve it with crusty bread for soaking up the outrageously good sauce left behind, or serve the whole thing over pasta for a more substantial dish.


see information on how to clean clams here)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, minced
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream, reduced slightly
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest
-no salt- (the clams should be plenty salty)

Heat butter and oil together in large, lidded, heavy bottomed pot.  Add garlic and shallots and saute until fragrant over medium-high heat.  Gently add clams and white wine, and cover.  Allow the clams to cook in the wine mixture, in the covered pot, until opened, about five minutes.

When all, or the majority, of the clams have opened, carefully remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and cover them to keep warm.  Discard any clams that have remained closed.

Add the reduced cream to the wine clam broth in the pot, and continue to reduce a bit for a couple of minutes, over medium-low heat, if the sauce feels to thin.  Return the clams to the pot and gently mix to evenly cover with the sauce.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley and lemon zest.

Serve immediately, either with bread or add cooked pasta to the pot and portion out dishes.

">

Little Neck Clams with White Wine Cream Sauce
by Catie Schwalb

Makes four appetizers, or two main courses, or four main courses if served on pasta.

3 dozen little neck clams, cleaned (see information on how to clean clams here)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, minced
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream, reduced slightly
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest
-no salt- (the clams should be plenty salty)

Heat butter and oil together in large, lidded, heavy bottomed pot.  Add garlic and shallots and saute until fragrant over medium-high heat.  Gently add clams and white wine, and cover.  Allow the clams to cook in the wine mixture, in the covered pot, until opened, about five minutes.

When all, or the majority, of the clams have opened, carefully remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and cover them to keep warm.  Discard any clams that have remained closed.

Add the reduced cream to the wine clam broth in the pot, and continue to reduce a bit for a couple of minutes, over medium-low heat, if the sauce feels to thin.  Return the clams to the pot and gently mix to evenly cover with the sauce.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley and lemon zest.

Serve immediately, either with bread or add cooked pasta to the pot and portion out dishes.



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08
Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Clams


Not just for summer fetes on the beach, clams and other bivalves are a spectacular, and traditional, addition to the holiday table, and perhaps even more importantly, the holiday cocktail hour.

A few critical steps can help insure a grit-free mouthful, and will dramatically reduce your chances of getting that one bad clam.

Buying

Buying the freshest seafood you can get is always the most important place to start, and the best way to help with this is to get to know the people at the seafood counter.

If picking them out yourself, look for clams that are not chipped, cracked, or have a damaged shell in anyway.  If buying them already bundled, discard any that are broken.  Always buy a few more than you need in case of broken shells or clams that don’t open.

Storing

Store clams in a bowl in the refrigerator covered with a damp cloth.  They can keep for a day or two, but the sooner you use them the better for all.

Cleaning

The day you want to cook them again go through all of the clams and discard any that have a damaged shell.  (when in doubt…throw it out.).  Scrub the outside of each shell thoroughly to remove any dirt.

As you are going through, one by one, if you find a clam that is open, gently tap it on the counter.  If it doesn’t close within a minute or two, it is dead and should be thrown out.  This is a critical step, as it will look like all the others that have also opened, after they all cook, and yet could potentially make you sick.  Any that are dead at the start need to go.

Place all of the scrubbed clams in a large bowl, or the sink, and cover with cold water by an inch or two.  Allow the clams to sit for twenty minutes in the water.  The clams will spit out any grit they have inside their shell.  Don’t leave them in the water for much longer than twenty minutes, or they will die.

Remove the clams gently, by hand, from the bowl, leaving the dirt and sand behind at the bottom.  Pouring them into a colander or scooping them out abruptly could stir up the grit and get it back in the shells.

Cook as desired (more on this later this week.).  And discard any clams that have not opened during the cooking process.



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ctober
31
Pumpkin Seed Brittle

http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/10/31/pumpkin-seed-brittle/


If you are going to rot your teeth out with sweets on this Halloween, why not do it with a sweet, savory, nutty, homemade confection, that also makes use of the often discarded remnants of jack-o-lantern carving??

There are many recipes for pumpkin seed brittle out there, but most use the raw, hulled seeds (or pepitas).  Really wanting to use the seeds from my own carved pumpkin, instead of buying additional ones at the health food store, I did track down instructions to try to hull my own.  It can be done, but was not wildly successful, or worth the effort, in my opinion.

First you rinse off the seeds and thoroughly dry them out, which I did in a 250 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Then crack and smash the outer part of the seeds with a rolling pin, or in my case, a meat tenderizer.  Then, place all of the seeds in a bowl, fill with water, swish them around vigorously, and theoretically, the inner seed kernels will sink and the outer shells will float to the top.  Which did happen in my case, for about six of the seeds.  The rest didn’t really get smashed effectively or broke in half completely, and I found myself picking each seed from its shell—not practical when I needed at least a half cup.

So then, why not make brittle using the entire seed, which we eat anyway when making roasted pumpkin seeds?  Success!  And still getting to use our own seeds.  And much easier.  And the added bonus of ending up with a flavor almost identical to caramel corn, with some nutty seeds thrown in.  Cracker Jack!

So wishing you a very happy Halloween, and treat yourself to this treat very soon.  (and all winter long with any winter squash seeds.) (more…)


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Pumpkins: More than a pretty face.

Dame Paula Deen, amid mass fan hysteria (hysteria!), posing next to a pumpkin of her likeness (and Cat Cora's) at the Food Network festival at Chelsea Market a few years back.  We were completely unsuspecting shoppers, caught, literally, in the swell.  (Not unlike that terrified-looking couple coming out of the fish market behind her.)


I am as big a fan of pumpkin carving and jack-o-lanterns as anyone, and definitely considered finally having a porch to put one on, one of the bigger perks of moving out of NYC.  But I am equally as big a fan of pumpkins themselves, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin flesh, pumpkin vines, all of it.


This time of year it is easy just to see said pumpkins as holiday flare.  But particularly with tons (and tons!) of them at the markets right now, it is time to stock up and revel in all things orange and round.


Seed Saving


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20
Leek Bacon and Gruyere Tart


This frenchy-french-french tart has the lusciousness of fall written all over it.  Spectacular for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, it is also glorious with a crisp green salad.  And it freezes really well.  So with it almost taking as much work to make one as to make two, do just that and stock yourself with a fast food gift in your freezer for some bleak mid-winter eve.

This can of course be made vegetarian, and equally good, by omitting the bacon, and substituting two tablespoons of butter, for the bacon fat, for sauteing the leeks.



Leek Bacon and Gruyere Tart
by Catie Schwalb

makes one 9" tart.

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Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Leeks
 

 

[caption id="attachment_3026" align="aligncenter" width="640"]http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/10/18/technique-tues…o-clean-a-leek/ http://www.pitchforkdiaries.com/2011/10/18/technique-tues…o-clean-a-leek/[/caption]

Giant Musselburgh leeks from our garden.


Though the few nights of just dipping down to a frost have demolished most of the delicate summer produce in our gardens, this time of year signals that our leeks are starting to reach their sweetest.


Cousins of the onion, leeks too are many-layered, and because almost half of the plant grows underground, they have practically spoonfuls of dirt trapped in said layers.  Cleaning them, to avoid an off-putting little bite of grit in your meal, is critical and a bit of a trick.  However, it is also super simple and well worth the time for the reward of this gorgeous flavor-bomb available long into the winter.


HOW TO CLEAN A LEEK


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13
Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Romesco Sauce


Dreaming of our trip to Barcelona, that was this month a year ago, I tried combining two of my favorites:  spanish romesco sauce with just-picked spaghetti squash from our garden.  Nutty, tangy, rich and warm, with a wonderful crunch from the squash, I literally had to make myself put the mixing spoon in the dishwasher so I would stop eating and have enough to photograph.


Romesco is a very traditional spanish sauce originating in Catalonia.  It is incredibly rich and creamy, thanks to pulverized toasted almonds and hazelnuts included to thicken the sauce, that also provide an extra dose of protein.  As with most ages-old, traditional dishes, the recipe varies from cook to cook, including this cook, and is a reflection of how they view it most balanced.  In addition to using it here with spaghetti squash, it is incredible with grilled fish and vegetables, as well as a dip, or spread on sandwiches.  It is a great way to use up those few remaining, not-exactly-pretty, tomatoes and peppers looking for a home at the markets right now.


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Market Watch: Spaghetti Squash


Spaghetti squash at the Jean-Talon market in Montreal.


A complete delight and mystery, spaghetti squash was my favorite vegetable growing up.  Though not terribly popular or widely available in the late 70s, somehow my grandmother was able to procure one at least once a fall.  Into the oven as a hard, nubby, squash, then magically out of the oven and onto my plate, transformed into golden pasta-like strands that surprised me each time.


Becoming much more common and available now, spaghetti squash are all over the markets (and my garden), and will be for months.  It is technically a winter squash--ripening at this point in the season, and able to be kept in cold storage long into the cold weather--but with its golden color and light, buttery texture, is much more reminiscent of summer squash.  A welcome bit of variety in a long season of dense, orange-fleshed cousins.


Generally the rule of thumb is that spaghetti squash will keep for up to a month in a cool, dry area.  Though the past couple of years, we have successfully kept ours that we grew for 3-5 months on a well aerated shelf in our basement, keeping an eye out for any that might be getting soft or imploding.  Rubbing the outside surface with a thin coating of vegetable oil is said to keep fungus and mold spores from being able to take root on the surface of the squash, cutting down on deterioration, and extending their shelf life considerably.


To cook


Wash and dry the squash well, and cut in half lengthwise.  This will be the hardest step.  Make sure it is well dried, so your knife doesn't slip, and if helpful, cut off a small portion of either end to give yourself a more steady anchor.  Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh surrounding the seeds.  Rub the inside of each half with olive oil and place, cut side down, on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until the skin just starts to give when pressed with your finger.  Don't over cook, or allow to sit cut side down on the baking dish for long after removed from the oven, or it will become mushy and the strands will not be as nicely defined.


When cool enough to handle, gentle pull the strands of the squash away from the sides with a fork, scraping right down to the skin.


Very neutral in flavor, with a great, mildly crunchy texture, the spaghetti-like strands of the squash are a terrific blank canvas for a limitless variety of toppings.   Pesto, garlic and olive oil, tomato sauce, puttanesca, meatballs, bolognese, or just butter with freshly grated parmesan cheese are all perfect pairings.  I am also a huge fan of the spaghetti squash casserole recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook.


With just forty-two calories and ten grams of carbohydrates per cup of cooked squash, this is a great side dish alternative to explore.  Grab one at the farmers' markets this weekend.


 


 



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One more bit of cherry tomato inspiration with which to send you off into the weekend…


I just discovered the Telepan TV channel on youtube.  Bill Telepan is one of my most favorite NYC chefs, who I had the great, great pleasure of cooking with for many months that the start of his inspirational and important Wellness in the Schools school lunch campaign.

He has started to put together videos, sharing some of his incredible recipes from his incredible restaurant Telepan.  The three recipes using cherry tomatoes in the video above are making me very. very. hungry.

Run! and get some cherry tomatoes at the markets this weekend while they are still available (we had a frost at our house last night!).


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Technique Tuesday: DIY Herbal Tea


It always is the case that this time of year is when I finally start to think about drying and putting away some fresh herbs from the garden.  Maybe it is because I am so busy using them fresh in the previous months, or I'm subconsciously trying to put them away as late as possible to have them fresher longer (or I procrastinate...).  Regardless, it is not until the the temperatures flirt a little with the upper 30s (like it did last week!) (and which can be the kiss of death, literally, for basil and other more delicate herbs) do I seem to motivate to do anything long-term with them.

Along with the weather dipping lower, and Friday's first day of fall, I also start craving warm cups of tea, and, just as big marketing execs would want, start thinking ahead to the holidays.  This project helps satisfy both categories.


Herbs at the Jean-Talon market in Montreal last month.


Giant, and criminally inexpensive, bunches of gorgeous, fragrant, vibrant herbs are still available in the farmers' markets, and until a frost, perhaps in your yard or garden.  Drying an assortment will give you great building blocks for your own herbal tea.  Endlessly customizable, and super-natural, will be far more flavorful than anything that has been sitting on a store shelf for months and months.  And putting away more than you need will also give you the raw materials for a lovely on-the-fly holiday gift.

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Sweet Corn Crème Caramel
 



Corn this time of year is so sweet and full of natural sugar, that it lends itself to both sweet and savory preparations.  (They don't call it "Butter and Sugar" for nothing.)

This recipe is part homage to Meredith Kurtzman, the pastry chef and queen of all things gelato, at New York City's Otto.  In addition to her famous and irresistible olive oil gelato, Meredith also has a criminally delicious sweet corn gelato, that I first had at a master class she gave while I was in culinary school.  Not too sweet, creamy and highlighting everything that is best about corn right now, it is perfect, and only available for the few weeks while the best fresh corn is in season.

Crème caramel, often called crème renversee, is a classic french custard dessert.  Very similar in overall flavor to a crème brulee, but the difference being that in this case the caramelized sugar is first placed on the bottom of the ramekin baking dish and the custard baked on top of it.  It is then removed from the dish to serve, and reversed, like an upside down cake, with the now top of the custard infused with the caramel.  The magic trick of this recipe, is that also somehow in the cooking, some of the caramel first put in the bottom of the dish and hardened, permanently liquifies, making its own sauce at the same time.  (For a crème brulee, the custard is baked on its own, topped with sugar just before serving, and then the sugar is burnt (bruleed) with either a torch or broiler, to make that crackly hard top.)

Anyway, custard + caramel= amazingly good.  Caramel + corn=old time ballpark good.  Two together?  Yes, good.

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Freeze some corn! Now!
Glorious cobs of corn will still be around at the farmers' markets for a couple of weeks.  Sweet, meltingly tender, golden or pearly white, they are never better (or cheaper) than right now.  We eat it with dinner nearly every night for the month when it is at it's best, just barely cooking it, as it doesn't need much more, and then say farewell for another eleven months. However, we also religiously freeze corn to use in meals in the months ahead.  Pulling out and defrosting a bag of farmer's market kernels feels so luxurious in the depths of winter--not to mention a tremendous vitamin-packed time and money saver.  Great for chowders, soups and chili, I'll also combine the corn with my frozen peppers for a tex-mex-y topper for eggs, or a perfect start for fajitas and burritos.  Slowly saute some onions along with them, and add a little cumin, chili powder, ground corriander, and epazote for a colorful, sweet, base for a meal.

How to Freeze Corn

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Zucchini, Carrot and Scallion Fritters
 



These fritters are an homage to the perfect little hometown restaurant we had in our shoreline Connecticut town growing up in the 80s.  A place where everybody knew our name, where you could pop in casually for a wholesome lunch, or count on it for a suitably festive and elegant special occasion dinner.

I've been thinking a lot about food of that era lately.  As a kid I was permitted to tag along on many grownup restaurant dates, luncheons and dinner parties, giving me the chance to try copious amounts of new foods, many definitely not considered on the childrens' menu.  I remember these new tastes and textures more vividly than I do where I was or who I was with (go figure.)

But what is most interesting to me in hindsight, is that what was 80s nouvelle cuisine, was in many ways using a huge amount of the same ideas of locavore cooking now--using the freshest possible ingredients, lighter sauces or preparation to let the produce or proteins really be the focus, an overall lighter, fresher, more in-the-moment way of cooking.  The only difference being that then it seemed revolutionary and nouvelle, while today it is seen as a return to the basics.

This fritter is exactly in keeping with that.  The freshest possible ingredients, at the height of their season, minimally dressed up.  In the 80s something like this seemed very exotic, today it feels like the perfect, summer, wholesome appetizer, right out of a Deborah Madison book.

And plus...ding!  ding!  ding!...it is something to do with all of those zucchini piling up on your counters, that you perhaps might be starting to resent in just the slightest way.

 



Dipping Sauce ideas:

Soy sauce topped with a few teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
and
Sour cream or plain greek yogurt mixed with a few teaspoons of freshly grated lemon zest
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Zucchini, Carrot, and Scallion Fritters
by Catie Schwalb

makes about three dozen.

1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
few turns of fresh black pepper
¾ cup of milk
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup grated, zucchini, about one medium zucchini
1 1/4 cup grated carrot, about three medium carrots
1/2 cup scallion, white and green parts, about three scallions
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
canola or peanut oil, for frying

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Add the dry ingredients to the milk mixture and whisk until smooth.

Grate the zucchini on large holes of a box grater, or with the grating blade of a food processor. Squeeze in several layers of paper towel to remove as much liquid as possible. Grate carrots to the same size. Add both to the batter.

Thinly slice the scallions. Add scallions and sunflower seeds to batter and mix to thoroughly combine.

Fill a pot with canola or peanut oil, until it is 2 inches deep. Heat the oil to 360 F. Carefully drop about one tablespoon-sized dollops of the batter into the oil (they will puff up considerably). Do not put too many fritters in the pot at once, as the temperature of the oil will decrease too much. Also if the fritters are too large they won’t cook through by the time the outside is sufficiently browned, and will still be raw in the middle. Fry until golden brown, turning over once when cooking, about two minutes total. Turn the heat down if the fritters are browning too quickly or the temperature continues to rise.

Remove fritters with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Salt lightly while still hot. Serve warm.



Dipping Sauce ideas:

Soy sauce topped with a few teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
and
Sour cream or plain greek yogurt mixed with a few teaspoons of freshly grated lemon zest



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How to make Basil Oil


This may be the garnish to end all garnishes.  I remember so vividly the day we learned this in culinary school, and how I raced home to try it myself, feeling like I had just unlocked some illusive five star chef secret.

This simple little technique gives you magnificent, fragrant green gold to drizzle about a plate, swirl atop a bowl of soup (it floats!), and dunk very lucky crusty bread in.  Seriously, this just smeared on a white plate, and you look like a superstar.  Regular ol' oil becomes glistening emerald and is all things basil...or parsley or cilantro--it works for a variety of herbs.  I made a thai basil-cilantro oil to drizzle around a Thai-spiced quail dish that worked beautifully.

The oil will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.  I've also frozen it in ice cube trays to defrost later in the year, to swirl on top of a creamy soup, or drizzle along side some roasted salmon.  But try this now, even to just dress up some sliced tomatoes.  There. Is. Nothing. Better.




6.  Strain oil through fine strainer lined with several layers cheese cloth.  (Tip:  Wet and wring out the cheesecloth before putting it into the strainer.  This will rinse out any dust particles from the packaging, and the cloth, if saturated with water, will absorb less of the precious oil.) Pour into squeeze bottle or airtight container. Will keep in the refrigerator for about a week or can be frozen for several months, defrosted for a few hours in the refrigerator.

">

Basil Oil

Makes approximately 1/4 cup

3/4 cup packed Basil leaves, washed
70% Grapeseed Oil
30% Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Note:  You'll want to use a mixture of oils here.  The grapeseed oil is much lighter and much more neutral in flavor, so it will best allow the basil flavor to come through.  But adding a little olive oil to the mixture, gives it some heft and richness that will also compliment the food you are putting the oil on.  The measurements can be approximate, but shoot for a 70/30 ratio.  You'll need enough oil to cover the leaves in the blender, somewhere between a quarter and a half of a cup.

1.  Pour boiling water over the fresh herbs in large heatproof bowl.  Let steep for thirty seconds.

2.  Add ice and cold water to the bowl to stop the cooking of the leaves.

3.  Remove the herbs from the water and squeeze dry, then squeeze again, hard, with paper towels to remove as much water as possible.

4.  Put blanched herbs in a blender.  Pour in enough grapeseed and olive oil to just cover the height of the leaves.  Blend well for about a minute.

5.  Pour pureed herb and oil mixture into sauce pan on medium heat.  You will see a much brighter green color start to form on the outside rim of the pan as the particles of the herbs start to cook through.  Stir gently, until the entire pan has changed to the brighter color, approximately 1-2 minutes.  Do not let the oil boil or cook at too high a heat, and burn or fry the basil.  Turn down if bubbling too rapidly.



6.  Strain oil through fine strainer lined with several layers cheese cloth.  (Tip:  Wet and wring out the cheesecloth before putting it into the strainer.  This will rinse out any dust particles from the packaging, and the cloth, if saturated with water, will absorb less of the precious oil.) Pour into squeeze bottle or airtight container. Will keep in the refrigerator for about a week or can be frozen for several months, defrosted for a few hours in the refrigerator.



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Market Watch: Basil
 



 

Basil has definitely arrived at the party.  Bunch upon fragrant bunch are cramming tables at the markets.  Not surprisingly we mostly think green and the same familiar scent and flavor when basil comes to mind.  But there are loads of heirloom varieties that are becoming much easier to track down.  (and grow yourself!)

Try a new one on your next trip to the market.  What's old will be a little newer again.

 

Genovese Basil:  The traditional Italian large-leafed sweet basil that we all know and love.  Ideal for all things pesto, but best when the leaves are small.  If the leaves are huge, blanch them quickly to remove some of the (too) strong flavor, making them more suitable for a delicately balanced pesto sauce.

Holy Basil:  Becoming more and more popular on menus with chefs, it is called holy basil primarily because it is used as an offering in South Asia in Hindu temples.  Generally eaten raw, it has a bright, sweet smell, that is strikingly like Juicy Fruit gum.

Thai Basil:  This is those big fragrant sprigs strewn across your Thai green curry noodles, or tucked inside a Vietnamese summer roll.  A deep magenta stem with small green leaves, it is much spicier than Italian basil.  Heavy anise and clove flavors compliment Southeast Asian cuisines perfectly.

Dark Purple Opal Basil:  There are several purple basil varieties out there, and I always love to have at least one plant in my garden.  Very similar in flavor to traditional Italian basil, it is a gorgeous way to add unexpected color to a dish.  Thinly slice with green basil for instant edible confetti.

Lemon Basil:  Smaller leaves with a deep citrus smell and taste.  A great compliment to seafood dishes, cocktails, and summer salads.


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Peach and Custard Pie


 

This is a peach pie my grandmother has made for years.  I adore the visual of the entire peach halves, that always elicits at least one gasp of admiration when set down on the table.  With peaches stunningly sweet this time in the season, I also really appreciate the addition of the custard-like filling, instead of the usual toss with cinnamon and sugar.  Though it does contain sugar, the custard-souffle-y filling really compliments the fruit and cuts the sweetness some.

This pie is also really beautiful, and really delicious, with blueberries tucked into the spaces and cavities in and around the peaches.  Summer overload in a crust.  I haven't tried it, but I imagine raspberries wouldn't be awful either.

peeled, pit removed, and cut into halves.
1 cup blueberries, optional
1 single pie crust (see my Pie Crust 101 post here.)

Custard:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 large egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Peel peaches.  Cut in half and gently pull apart, trying to keep halves intact.  Remove pit and discard.

Put halved peaches, cut-side up, in pie crust.  Quarter peaches if very large, and perhaps cut a few into large slices to more evenly fill in gaps between halves.

If using, add about a cup of blueberries in the spaces around the peaches.

For the custard, blend sugar, flour, melted butter and egg together fully.  The mixture will be quite stiff.  Pour over the fruit in the pie crust, making sure to fill in the spaces between the fruit.

Bake at 375 for 45 mins, until the custard has set on top, is no longer wiggly, and has formed a light brown crust.
">
Peach and Custard Pie

5-6 six regular sized peaches, peeled, pit removed, and cut into halves.
1 cup blueberries, optional
1 single pie crust (see my Pie Crust 101 post here.)

Custard:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 large egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Peel peaches.  Cut in half and gently pull apart, trying to keep halves intact.  Remove pit and discard.

Put halved peaches, cut-side up, in pie crust.  Quarter peaches if very large, and perhaps cut a few into large slices to more evenly fill in gaps between halves.

If using, add about a cup of blueberries in the spaces around the peaches.

For the custard, blend sugar, flour, melted butter and egg together fully.  The mixture will be quite stiff.  Pour over the fruit in the pie crust, making sure to fill in the spaces between the fruit.

Bake at 375 for 45 mins, until the custard has set on top, is no longer wiggly, and has formed a light brown crust.



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Quick Tip: How to freeze peaches


Peaches and other stone fruit are perfect and plentiful (and pretty cheap!) at the markets right now.  Taking an hour or so and freezing a bunch will be total treasure in your freezer come winter.  And...far extend your season for making David Lebovitz's ridiculously good peach ice cream (it contains sour cream, people!  Sour cream!!).

Here are a couple of quick, and a little easier, tips for puttin' up the peach.

Blanching (to remove the skin).

Nothing new or revolutionary, but the quickest way to remove the skin, and really idiot-proof.  You'll be thankful later on that the skins are gone, so you can just pop those frozen slices of sunshine virtually from the freezer to your blender for a smoothie or to a pie shell (give or take a little thawing.)

Method:

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Wash whole peaches.  Don't bother to dry.

2.  Cut a small "X" in the bottom of the peach with a sharp knife, just cutting through the skin.  This will give the skin a place to start to slip-off when blanched.

3.  Slowly lower peaches, several at a time depending on the size of your pot, into the boiling water.

4.  Remove peaches from the boiling water after one minute with a slotted spoon. Immediately transfer the peaches to either a large bowl of ice water, or a colander and run under very cold water.

5.  Starting where you made the "X" on the bottom, just literally slip the skin off the peach with your hands.  It will come off very very easily.

Freezing

To extend the life of your frozen peaches, and ward off freezer burn, you want as little air in the container with the frozen fruit (and vegetables too) as possible.  Sucking air out of a freezer bag with a straw, and then trying to zip-lock-it as quickly as possible was my method of choice for years.  But this method below, using water to displace the air, has worked much better, and much quicker, for me in recent seasons.

1.  Fill a large bowl with water, leaving some room at the top.

2.  Lower a freezer-safe bag, filled with whatever you are freezing, into the bowl, with the top of the bag still partially open, with room for air to escape.



 

3.  As you lower the bag further into the bowl, the water will surround the shape of the bag, and press out a good amount of air.  Continue to lower the bag, until the level of the water is as close to the top of the bag as you can go, without risking getting water in with the fruit.  Seal bag immediately and remove from bowl.

4.  Gently press on the fruit in the bag to redistribute and make it flatter for storage in the freezer.  Label and freeze.

Peaches will keep for about six months in the freezer.  Peach pie in February anyone?

To preserve the color a little better, you can add a little citric acid or Fruit Fresh, both available by canning supplies, to the raw fruit before bagging it.  Add 1/4 teaspoon to every quart of fruit.



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Roasted Nectarine and Zucchini Salad
 



Here is a quick recipe I dreamt up, while on my roasted produce kick this week, using what is in abundance in the gardens and at the market.  Thankfully, it turned out to be heavenly, lick-the-bowl-clean good.

There is a magical, sum is definitely greater than it's parts, result here, as with many very simple summer dishes (think: Tomatoes+Basil+Olive Oil.).  Sweet and sour and earthy and salty and bright and crunchy all going on in your mouth together. Roasting the nectarines and zucchini really intensifies their flavor and makes them both feel like vegetables...or fruit...or something new and unique completely.  A beautiful side dish for any summer meal, I imagine this would also be spectacular atop grilled fish, pork, or chicken.

 

ROASTED NECTARINE AND ZUCCHINI SALAD
by Catie Schwalb
Serves 4 as a side dish.

2 medium zucchini, about 5 cups cubed
4 nectarines, about 3 cups cubed (I used yellow nectarines, which are slightly more tart than the white.)
salt, to taste
1/4 + 1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 ounces feta cheese
3 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted

Heat oven to 425 F.

Toss zucchini and nectarines separately in a 1/4 cup of olive oil total between the two, just enough so they have a slight sheen.  Season with a good pinch of salt.  Taste, and add more if necessary.

Place nectarines and zucchini on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Keep them separate as they will be finished at different times.  Place in the top half of the oven.

After about 10 minutes check the zucchini and nectarines.  If starting to brown on one side, gently turn over with a spatula.

The cooking time will depend on the ripeness of your produce and the size of your pieces.  For a half inch cube, my nectarines took 12 minutes and zucchini took 22 minutes.

Check them again in a few minutes, and taste a piece to check for doneness.  Remove from the oven when they are brown on the edges and tender, but not mushy, all the way through.  Spread out on a plate or cool baking sheet and allow to cool.  Either chill or leave at room temperature.

Whisk together remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and lemon juice.  Hold off using extra salt in this vinaigrette, as the salt already on the roasted zucchini and nectarines and in the feta should be plenty.

Just before serving, combine zucchini and nectarines, with feta, dill, and pumpkin seeds.  Gently toss with the lemon vinaigrette.  Taste, and add salt if necessary.  Serve immediately.

Zucchini and nectarines can be roasted a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.




 


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Technique Tuesday: Roasted Vegetables and Fruit


 

By this point in the summer I definitely get into a rut and prepare fruit and vegetables from the gardens and market in almost the same ways daily.  Not that that is a bad thing, as with produce this amazing, at the height of their season, there is often very little that can improve upon them.  A little grilling here, a little lightly dressed salad there, a little sautéing tossed with fresh pasta over there…

Vegetable and fruit roasting feels like almost too basic a technique to even justify a whole blog post.  However, several times during the year I have these ah-ha moments where I am bored with what I have been cooking and then suddenly remember to mix things up I just need to roast, which I somehow forget about for spells at a time.

The long exposure to dry heat and the contact with the surface of a baking sheet or roasting pan transforms produce in ways very different than grilling, steaming or sautéing.  Most importantly it evaporates much of the water in the fruit or vegetable, drying it out some (Take that watery zucchini!), and deeply concentrating the flesh and the flavor.  Also the edges of the produce start to get brown and sweet and caramelized and utterly irresistible after the natural sugars are exposed to heat and the surface of the baking dish.

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Flower Adorned Ice Cubes


Remember those old lady knickknacks of the late 70s of a flower completely frozen in a globe of lucite?  There were a few geriatric abodes I visited during that era, and those stopped-in-their-tracks flowers were always a fascination.  So perfect and yet so bizarrely frozen.

You can make your own, a bit more ephemeral, version as another gorgeous use for edible flowers.  Encase your posies in ice cubes to chic up late summer cocktails or mocktails.  You can use any edible flowers for this project.  The flower doesn’t impart all that much flavor to the cube or drink when simply frozen or floating, so it is possible to just focus on color.  However, if you think they’ll be eaten, or floating around for a while after they’ve thawed, there are a few pairing ideas below.

This is a super quick, nearly effortless way to bring some garden to your cocktail hour.  I think it would also be a stunning addition to the season’s bridal and baby showers.

Ring-a-round the spritzer, a pocket full of on the rocks.

 

Directions:

1.  Wash your flowers gently and carefully, making sure to get rid of any unsuspecting bugs so you don’t accidentally go all fossilized wooly-mammoth on your guests.  Tiny, perfect flowers can be frozen whole, but large, somewhat less perfect blossoms, can be torn for an equally pretty effect.

2.  In an ice cube tray, pour the slightest amount of water to just cover the bottom (which will be the top) surface.  Place your flowers in, facing the bottom (so ultimately right-side-up) touching the thin layer of water as much as possible.  Remember:  The larger the ice cubes, the longer it will take them to melt…

3.  Place trays in the freezer, until the first layer is solid.  Remove from freezer, and top with a bit more water and another layer of flowers, if desired, or fill completely.

4.  Return ice cube trays to the freezer until frozen and ready to use.  Unmold and cheers!

 

Ideas for Use:

--  Clear drinks work best.  This is even a great way to doll-up a simple glass of seltzer.

--  Use flowers from mint, lemon verbena, chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, and even thyme for lemonade.

--  Try mint, leaves and flowers, in ice cubes for mojitos

-Try thai basil blossoms in ice cubes for thai basil mojitos.

-Mint, chamomile, apple blossoms, rose petals and rose hips would be delish in iced tea.

-Elderflowers or cucumbery Borage in a gin and tonic on a summer evening.  Oh my.



 


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Technique Tuesday: Using Edible Flowers
 



These weeks the gardens are bursting with flowers.  Not the flower gardens, but the herb and vegetable gardens.  Some of the flowers I planned on (nasturtiums and chamomile), some are part of the journey (pole bean blossoms which will become bean pods), and some are a result of me not harvesting fast enough and a bit of the plant going to seed (cilantro, basil, dill, oregano, and radish).

I'm a big proponent of using as much of a plant or vegetable as I can.  One of my favorite "tip to toe" recipes doing this is Chef Bill Telepan's Beet Greens Pierogi with Mixed Summer Beets and Brown Butter Sauce.  I also got much too excited when I learned in a master class in culinary school, with chef Michael Anthony of NYC's Gramercy Tavern, that I could pickle the technicolored chard stems I had been pushing aside and composting for years.

It is equally exciting for me to use flowers in dishes.  As mentioned, some are planned, some are not, but there is a lot of flavor, and a ton of color and texture there that would otherwise go to waste.  They are not just a pretty face--and frequently fetch a premium price at the markets.  Certainly make sure you know what you are serving and eating, so as not to go all Arsenic and Old Lace on unsuspecting BBQ guests.  But there are so many varieties of edibles around right now, and just a small edition of a few feels very very special.

Cleaning and Storage

Try to pick the flowers as close to use as possible.  Store them, unwashed, wrapped gently in paper towel in the refrigerator, protected in a bowl or open container.  Teeny tiny bugs love to hide out in their petals and folds, so examine each blossom carefully.  To wash, and to refresh flowers that are a little droopy, plunge the entire blossom in a bowl of cold water for about five minutes, and then allow to dry on a paper towel.  After washing, flowers can be floated. right side up, in a bowl of cold water until ready to go onto the plate.

Ideas for Use

- Salads!  Whole or torn, little bursts of blossom color are a magnificent addition to salads.  Nasturtiums in particular, leaves and flowers, with a wonderful peppery zing, are a great addition.  But also think about the flowers of complimentary herbs like dill, basil, cilantro, and chervil.  Then consider adding some of the same herb to the dressing to tie it all together.

- Garnish soups by floating a single blossom in the middle of the bowl.  This is particularly effective with cold soups, as it won't wilt the flower.  Try it with Borage, a beautiful purple flower with a taste very similar to fresh cucumber.

- Decorate cakes, cupcakes and pastry with a blossom here and there.  Edible flowers definitely each have their own flavor, so stick with the sweeter and more floral plants for this, like chamomile, lavender, and mint.

- Tear up some petals and sprinkle them over a plate or platter like confetti right before serving.  Or make a tiny micro salad of flowers to top a piece of grilled fish or meat.


A quick snapshot from lunch--Buttermilk with Fuji Apple Dashi, Market Herbs and Flowers, and Pine Nuts at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC.





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Raspberry Clafouti


There are few things that could get me to turn on the oven in the middle of this oppressive heat wave.  However, much to the dismay of my panting dog, clafouti is one of them.

Unlike almost everyone else in the country right now, the red and golden raspberries in our garden are adoring the heat.  They have just started to really take off, offering up several pints a week.  (That is, those that aren't stolen when I'm not looking, right off the thorny branches, by aforementioned panting dog).

Clafouti ("klau-foo-tee") is a both rustic and elegant dessert, with a ridiculously fun to say name, that originated in the Limousin region in the southwest of France.  It was traditionally made with cherries, as they had an abundance they had to figure out what to do with each summer, poor things.  I learned of it from my well-loved, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and was in love from the start.  Further investigation revealed that when made with any other fruit other than the traditional cherries, it is actually not called Clafouti, but "Flaugnarde".  Are you kidding me?  I feel like those rogue Limousinians just came up with the most clumsy sounding word they could to shame the rest of the world into strict adherence to their recipe.  My fancy, summer, whatever-berry-filled french dessert will be called clafouti, so there.

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19
Garlic Scape and Herb Pancake


 

Move over scallions.  I may have to cheat on you.

My love affair with dim sum scallion pancakes is no secret.  There are few times I can think of when they don't appeal to me.  (or make me start to go all Pavlovian as I even type the words.)  Though green and doing very well, the scallions planted in my garden are still about the size of glorified dental floss and won't be serving up any exotic savories for a few weeks.

However, we do have garlic scapes!  And herbs!  Lots of both!

Scallions?  Who needs scallions?

While not exactly a necessity, (more of an insatiable craving), mother invention shone down and offered up this bright, summery, mildly garlicky, herby, southeast Asian-inspired perfection on a greasy paper towel.  There is a tremendous (and tremendously cheap) hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop in NYC's Chinatown, to which I make frequent pilgrimages.  Alongside their dumplings, they have a monstrous cast iron pan in which they make a very similar sesame pancake.  You can get a pizza-slice-sized wedge "stuffed with veggies" for $1.25, which is split laterally and crammed with shredded carrot and chopped cilantro leaves and stems.  There was definitely some inspiration from there in this as well.

Give these a try, using all that summer is offering up right now.  Shredded zucchini, carrot or beet, torn squash blossoms, thyme, sage, thinly sliced chard could all be welcome additions.  Fried dough + farm fresh herbs and produce = What could possibly be bad?

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Garlic Scape Vinegar


With our growing season a little later here in slightly cooler upstate New York, we still have bundles and bundles of garlic scapes in the markets and gardens for a week or two.  A garlic scape is the flower shoot that has shot up from the stem of a hardneck garlic bulb when growing.  The scapes are slender, bright green, and often twisting and turning in elegant swan-like shapes.  Shortly after they appear, which seems to happen almost overnight, it is important to snap them off of the rest of the stem to allow the garlic plant to instead put its energy into growing the garlic bulb, which will be harvested a few weeks later.


The scapes have a flavor that is definitely garlic, but much mellower, with hints of herbal summerness.  They make a stunning pesto, turning into an outrageously bright green paste that keeps its color when cooked or frozen.  I will often just puree garlic scapes with olive oil and freeze in about one cup portions that will keep for several months.


Always on the lookout for new oils and vinegars for homemade salad dressings, this year I made garlic scape infused vinegar.  It will still be a week or so before it hits its full potency, but so far so good, and the snaking scapes in the bottles are stunning if nothing else.  The vinegar will be beautiful in simple vinaigrettes to dress greens and cucumbers from the garden, and also added to a marinade for grilling meat and seafood, splashed on sauteed chard, collards or kale, or for dunking crusty grilled bread.


If your herb garden is overflowing, you can certainly add a few sprigs of basil, dill, thyme, or even a dried chili pepper to the bottle for your own personal melange.  Experiment, use what is around you, and enjoy.


GARLIC SCAPE VINEGAR
by Catie Schwalb


1-2 whole garlic scapes, about 12" in length
1 cup light flavored vinegar, such as white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

Glass container
non-metal cap or cover

Note:  I like the ratio of 1-2 scapes per cup of vinegar, but you can certainly add more to make the flavor more concentrated.  And absolutely double or triple the recipe based on the size of container you are using.  Triple the recipe, for example, if using a wine bottle.

1.  Sterilize the bottle and cap, either by simmering in hot water on the stove for 10 minutes or washing in the dishwasher right before using.  Allow to container and cap to dry thoroughly.

2.  Wash garlic scapes and dry completely.  Cut into lengths that will allow the scape to be completely submerged below the level of the vinegar.  Any exposed piece of scape not in the vinegar will start to deteriorate and rot.

3.   Gently bruise the scapes, by rolling over slightly with a rolling pin, to release a bit more flavor.

4.  Place the scape pieces in the sterilized container and cover completely with vinegar.  Cover with lid, cap or cork.

5.  Store in the refrigerator, or other cool, dark place.  The following day, check the level of the vinegar and add more if the level has dropped at all.  It is possible that the scapes will absorb some overnight.

6.  Allow to infuse for 10 days to 2 weeks, in a cool, dark place.  Strain out original garlic scape pieces, if desired, and replace with fresh ones (if available), primarily for decoration.  Will keep for 2-4 months.

Keep vinegar bottle out of sunlight or it will become cloudy.

The acid in the vinegar acts as an inhibitor for bacteria growth, but certainly keep an eye out for changes in color, an off smell, or cloudiness in the bottle and discard if there is a question.  Storing the vinegar in the refrigerator, particularly in the summer months, is the safest.



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happygarlicscapemonday.




 


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08
Lemon Verbena and Thyme Soda Syrup, and Sorbet too!
 



Our herb garden is growing like weeds.  Well, truth be told, the weeds are also growing like weeds.  But between the weeds are fragrant, mystical herbs, that are spicing up meals and will also shortly be hoarded away in ziplocks in the freezer for less bountiful months.

My favorite herb is lemon verbena.  It smells like something that should come from a much more tropical locale--even the plant, with its woody stems and slender leaves, looks rainforesty.  Rubbing your fingers on one of the leaves, as I do at the start of many days, is an instant antidepressant.  Bright, intensely fragrant, with an aroma and flavor that is distinctly the sweeter side of citrus.  Too much and it can make a dish taste like bad perfume, in the right amounts it is transporting.

My husband's favorite herb is thyme.  It definitely stems (pun intended) from his early childhood-rooted love affair with weekly roast chickens.  He painstakingly freezes bunch upon bunch of this savory treasure and stuffs several sprigs under the skin of our weekly roast chickens through the year--as well as it being used in our homemade soups and beloved stocks.

So this recipe is a love letter to our favorite herbs.  Citrus and thyme marry beautifully, fortunately for us, and both herbs are in great abundance now and for the next couple of months in gardens and markets.  A not-too-sweet aromatic addition to sodas and cocktails, and a refreshing palate cleanser when spun into a sorbet or scraped into a granita.  Try any of the above with a few fresh berries, oh my.

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06
happyradishwednesday.
 

Radishes at the Migliorelli Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket, NYC





Radishes of every color are pushing their way up through the dirt of my garden and attracting paparazzi-esque crowds at the farmers' market.  This fresh and this young, they are sweet and mild, and add a peppery snap to salads and summer meals.  Try some this week, with this so-easy-my-sheep-could-make-it recipe for irresistible radish, butter, and sea salt crostini.


And don't compost the radish greens tops just yet.  They are equally edible and equally wonderful.  Treat them as you would other hearty bitter greens; sauteed and tossed with pasta, stirred into soups, or whirled into pesto.  Here are a few ideas to try out from the kitchn.com.


Enjoy!



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Cardamom and Coriander Soda Syrup


The cilantro we planted in our garden around Memorial Day, has already started to bolt some from the heat in recent weeks--it is nearly July after all--and shortly will start to go to seed.  Those seeds, as you may or may not know, are coriander.  They will first be plump and bright green, a wonderful ingredient in and of themselves, then maturing and drying to the tan spice with which we are more familiar.  They'll probably be showing up at the farmer's markets shortly too.

Cardamom comes from a tropical plant, so probably won't be making any appearances at my New York State farmer's markets or gardens, but is a flavor that seems to scream summer and snuggle up exceptionally well with summer flavors.  Peaches, apricots, lemons, pears, warm weather baked goods, and definitely coriander, all have a great affinity for pairing with cardamom.

This soda syrup is a vacation in a glass on a steamy summer day.  Mix it with seltzer (from my favorite appliance ever, the Sodastream Seltzer Maker) and a twist of lemon, for an "ethereal" homemade soda.  Or get a party started by adding some to your favorite cocktail; a splash in a vodka tonic, or a cardamom-coriander mojito, or just iced tea.  It would also be stunning drizzled over poundcake or tossed with berries or stone fruit.

Sip.  Sip.  Fizz.  Fizz.

CARDAMOM AND CORIANDER SODA SYRUP
by Catie Schwalb

Makes about 2 cups.

4 tablespoons whole green cardamom pods, crushed gently to expose inner black seeds
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water

Place coriander seeds in a small pan on medium-high heat.  Toast gently, swirling frequently, until the seeds just start to become fragrant.  Immediately remove from heat and pan.

In a sauce pan combine sugar, water, coriander and cardamom.  Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a moderate simmer for about three minutes, until all of the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear.  Allow the syrup to sit and infuse with the flavors for at least and hour and up to overnight.  Refrigerate if leaving for longer than a couple of hours.

Strain syrup and discard spice solids.  Store syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

To make cardamom and coriander soda--Combine about 1 oz of syrup to 12 oz of seltzer, fill the rest of the glass with ice.  Stir well.  Adjust syrup, if you prefer a stronger flavor.  Garnish with a slice of lemon.


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24
Fresh Strawberry Pie


So here is another recipe handed down from Catherine the Great.  No, not the Empress of Russia, but my maternal grandmother--one of my first cooking influences, and for whom I am named.

I make this pie at least once a year.  I can't keep myself from it as soon as I see quarts of local strawberries showing up on the tables at the farmers' markets.  It is simple as pie (pun intended).  A great buttery crust, plump, fresh, raw strawberries, and a quick jammy glaze.  Fruit and high quality carbs:  two tastes that should always go together.  It is reminiscent of toast and jam, strawberry short cake, or dare I say...pop tart?

Since the ingredients are so sparse, the quality of the products you use is paramount.  Make a wonderful, flaky, homemade pie crust, use a golden farm-fresh egg and great butter, and above all, use amazing strawberries at the height of their season.  It just won't be that great otherwise.  Also, because the strawberry flavor can vary a lot from sour to sweet, start slowly with the sugar and the lemon juice in the glaze, and adjust as necessary depending on the flavor of the strawberries you are using.

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22
Sorrel Pistou and Fresh Ricotta Crostini


With sorrel in its tangy, bright abundance at the farmers' markets now and throughout the summer, this pistou (or pesto or coulis) is a dynamite way to show it off.  Set out a platter of baguette slices, ricotta, and the green stuff and let your BBQ guests at it for a DIY appetizer.  Less work for you, no soggy for them.  Or, as we did last night, set out a platter of it between you and your loved one on the porch and call it dinner.

The lemony-green-herbal potency of the pistou is heavenly with the savory-creaminess of the homemade fresh ricotta.  But it is also an incredible addition in any place where you want a little herby, slightly sour, punch.  Toss it with warm pieces of boiled red potatoes for a new twist on potato salad, stir a small spoonful into a creamy root vegetable soup just before serving, toss with shrimp and orzo for a cold pasta salad, or drizzle over grilled vegetables, seafood, and chicken.

This is also a wonderful recipe to use to put away sorrel for the winter.  Make a big batch of the pistou and freeze in smaller portions, to stir into heavier winter dishes in the months to come.


SORREL PISTOU AND FRESH RICOTTA CROSTINI
by Catie Schwalb

makes about 1 1/2 cups of sorrel pistou

For the Pistou:
3/4 cup, packed, fresh sorrel leaves, thicker stems removed, washed and dried thoroughly
1/4 cup, packed, fresh parsley, washed and dried thoroughly
1 garlic clove
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
about 4 turns of fresh black pepper
salt to taste, a large pinch at least

For the Crostini:
Fresh ricotta cheese
thin slices of baguette, toasted or grilled if desired

For the pistou:

Combine sorrel, parsley, garlic clove, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor.  Blend until uniform and smooth.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper to liking.

Will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, but is most green and most flavorful the day it is made.  It can also be frozen, and thawed overnight in the refrigerator.  Stir before serving.

For the crostini:

Top slices of baguette, or thinly sliced rustic bread, with a large dollop of ricotta.  Top with a generous drizzle of pistou.  Serve immediately.

Alternative:

HERB POTATO SALAD

Steam or boil red skinned new potatoes.  Cut into bite-sized pieces while still warm, but cool enough to touch.  Toss with a generous amount of sorrel coulis.  Chill before serving.

 

 

 


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10
What I’m cooking this weekend.

a dog day of late spring.


Sparkling Panakam: This recipe from Heidi Swanson's (101cookbooks.com) new book Super Natural Every Day, is for a sparkling, spiced Indian beverage, certain to refresh between weeding turns in the gardens.  With lime, ginger cardamom and salt, it is described on Epicurioius.com as "a frosty cold, light, bright ginger beer".  Yes please.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Coffee Cake: This recipe was given to me by a great friend a year ago--a great friend indeed, as it came binder-clipped to a big paper bag full of homegrown rhubarb.  The rhubarb went to very good use, but I still haven't had the chance to try this recipe.  It came with a rave review and I can't wait.


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09
Rhubarb Rosemary “Affogato”


Now I know my Italian affogato-loving purists will find the title of my recipe sacrilegious.  Affogato means "drowned" in Italian, and the classic Affogato dessert is really named affogato al cafe or "drowned in coffee".  It is a shot of hot espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  When I first had it, it was presented in a tall wine glass.  Tall, elegant, bitter and sweet, hot and cold, and melty--heaven in a goblet.

Musing on rhubarb this month, I keep returning to the first and only rhubarb recipe I knew as a kid.  My grandmother would stew down some rhubarb with a little sugar, and strawberries if on hand.  Served warm over vanilla ice cream, it was perfect.  Rhubarb pie a la mode, without the pie.  Ice cream drowned in warm rhubarb sauce.  Can you see where I am going with this?

And so I offer you affogato of the rhubarb variety.  Hot and cold, sour and sweet, tart and creamy--heaven in a goblet too.  The woodsiness of the rosemary cuts the sweetness of rhubarb, and adults-up this compote.  Feel free to add strawberries if you have them around.

And none of this is to say that the original affogato holds any less of a place in my heart.  Try that one immediately as well.

Rosemary Rhubarb Affogato
by Catie Schwalb

makes 1 cup, for 4 servings.

3 cups rhubarb, sliced thin, from about 4-5 stalks, or 3 gigantic stalks
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water, plus more if too thick
small pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook gently until rhubarb softens and breaks down, about 10 minutes.  Add more water, a little at a time, if mixture starts to look too dry.  Stir gently from time to time.

When rhubarb has softened completely, turn off heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes.  Remove rosemary sprigs and discard.

Puree rhubarb sauce in a blender, food processor or with a hand blender, if desired.  Add more water if sauce seems too thick.  Return to pan and heat gently until warm.  Serve warm over vanilla ice cream in a glass or small bowl.



 


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Cornmeal Crusted Soft Shell Crab with Buttermilk Apple and Chive Coleslaw


This remarkably quick meal is a colorful and crunchy way to use the insanely good soft shell crabs that are coming into season right now.  I made this for my husband and I a few nights ago, and was so pleased with the speed to wow ratio.  But in addition it was so so so good that we craved the exact same thing for dinner the following night with the extra crabs I bought to photograph for the blog.

Though the crabs need to be served immediately after pan-frying, they take just minutes, and so still could be a great alternative for a small group BBQ, turning out crabs as you would burgers off the grill.  You can also skip the rolls and just serve them atop a salad of greens and slaw.

I also highly recommend trying the same recipe using thick green tomato slices in place of the crabs later in the summer.  Oh, how I love cooking during these months...

 

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Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Soft Shell Crabs


It's soft shell crab season!  From mid-May to early September for the east coast, and longer if you are near the gulf coast, we are in the time of year when these sweet, oceany delicacies are popping up practically all over.

Soft shell crabs are regular crabs who have outgrown their current hard exoskeleton, and have shed it as most crustaceans do.  Within a few hours their new, soft under-skeleton starts to harden if they remain in the ocean's cold water.  But if caught during that precious window, the shell is soft enough where the entire animal, shell and all, is tender enough to be consumed.  Not only are they plump and sweet and briny, but you get all of that delectable crab goodness without having to deal with cracking and mallets and bits of flying shell.  It also allows for pretty cool whole crab presentations.

There are a few small bits of the crab that need to be removed (or cleaned or dressed) before cooking and eating.  Your fishmonger can generally do this for you, but ideally it should be done right before cooking to maintain maximum freshness.  It is just four simple steps, and worth trying yourself. (more…)


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Grilled Sesame Asparagus


Here's another recipe to break up your asparagus monotony (that is, unless you are coincidentally eating sesame asparagus nightly).

When cooked at its freshest, grilled asparagus spears are practically candy.  Tender, sweet, nutty, with a slight tang from the rice vinegar, this recipe is a natural in asian-inspired meals.  Try it alongside grilled chicken or salmon (using the same dressing as a marinade for those too), or tossed with noodles.  I imagine the stalks would be stunning draped across a big platter of this peanut noodle dish from ramshackleglam.com.

They can definitely be grilled a day ahead and served cold or at room temperature, for an excellent effortless entertaining side dish.  Just save the final dressing and sesame seed tossing for right before serving.

Grilled Sesame Asparagus
by Catie Schwalb

Serves four, as a side dish.

2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
6 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Salt, to taste
1 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed
3-4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Heat grill to medium-high.

Combine the vinegar and garlic in a bowl, and allow to sit for 10 minutes, to infuse the vinegar with the flavor of the garlic. Then, while whisking constantly, pour the sesame oil into the bowl in a slow, thin stream. You can also stream the oil in slowing through the top of a blender. Taste, and adjust salt.

Toss asparagus with half of the sesame dressing. Grill until tender, about 2-5 minutes per side, depending on thickness of stalks. Turn down heat if they start to blacken too quickly.  When cooked through, remove from grill and toss with remaining dressing and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Alternatively, you can allow the asparagus to cool after grilling and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use. Just before serving toss with dressing and sesame seeds.


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Asparagus Ricotta Galette


As hinted at earlier this week, asparagus is bustin' out all over on our micro-farm.  One of the very first signs of a long season of fresh food from the gardens, this perennial faithfully returns each May, basically without us having to do a thing.  (That's my kind of garden vegetable!)

Since it is never better than right now, we'll eat just-picked asparagus almost every night for dinner for the next several weeks.  Then finally, when we can't stand it anymore, which fortunately is right about when the asparagus season peters out, we'll put our asparagus habit to bed for another 11 months.  Once you've had it this fresh and this good, you are spoiled for anything trying to masquerade as asparagus in the rest of the year.

But it is a challenge to keep it interesting in the dinners ahead.  Even as good as it is, when having asparagus almost nightly, sauteing, grilling, and soup-ing gets old quickly.  This savory galette was a very welcomed change, and was gobbled up quickly last evening.  It would also be wonderful for brunch, or cut in small squares for late spring hors d'oeuvres. I have been on a galette with corners kick this year, but feel free to form it in the more traditional round shape, or any free-form shape that works for you and your stalks.


1 single pastry crust (half of the recipe posted here, in my "Pie Crust 101" piece)
1 large bunch fresh asparagus, about 8 ounces, washed and woody ends trimmed.
1 1/2 cups shallots, sliced thin (4-5 large shallots)
1 cup ricotta (here's my recipe for homemade fresh ricotta)
1 tablespoon lemon zest, from about one lemon
2 eggs
salt
olive oil, for roasting and sauteing

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Make the pastry crust, as described here, and allow to rest for thirty minutes in the refrigerator.

Lightly toss asparagus with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt.  Roast on a baking sheet in the oven until about half way roasted.  For pencil-thin asparagus this took six minutes.  Roast longer for thicker stalks.  Do not roast all the way, as they will continue to cook when the galette is baked.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 425 F.

In a wide saute pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil on medium high heat.  Add shallots and stir to coat with oil.  Turn heat down to medium-low and slowly cook, stirring every few minutes, until fragrant, light amber, and caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Lower the heat if they start to brown too quickly.  Set aside.

Combine ricotta, lemon zest and a good pinch of salt.  Taste, and adjust salt if necessary.  Add one egg and mix thoroughly.

Roll out pastry dough to 1/4 " thin and transfer to a baking sheet, either by gently folding in quarters, or rolling around your rolling pin.  Spread a thin, about 1/4" layer of the ricotta mixture on the dough, leaving at least an inch boarder of dough around all sides.  Top with caramelized shallots, and then asparagus.  Fold dough up and over on all edges and crimp where necessary to hold in place.

For a more golden crust, mix one egg with a tablespoon of water, and using a pastry brush, gently brush perimeter of the crust with the egg wash.

Bake at 425 F for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
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Asparagus Ricotta Galette, with Caramelized Shallots and Lemon Zest.
By Catie Schwalb

Makes one 9" square or round galette.

1 single pastry crust (half of the recipe posted here, in my "Pie Crust 101" piece)
1 large bunch fresh asparagus, about 8 ounces, washed and woody ends trimmed.
1 1/2 cups shallots, sliced thin (4-5 large shallots)
1 cup ricotta (here's my recipe for homemade fresh ricotta)
1 tablespoon lemon zest, from about one lemon
2 eggs
salt
olive oil, for roasting and sauteing

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Make the pastry crust, as described here, and allow to rest for thirty minutes in the refrigerator.

Lightly toss asparagus with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt.  Roast on a baking sheet in the oven until about half way roasted.  For pencil-thin asparagus this took six minutes.  Roast longer for thicker stalks.  Do not roast all the way, as they will continue to cook when the galette is baked.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 425 F.

In a wide saute pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil on medium high heat.  Add shallots and stir to coat with oil.  Turn heat down to medium-low and slowly cook, stirring every few minutes, until fragrant, light amber, and caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Lower the heat if they start to brown too quickly.  Set aside.

Combine ricotta, lemon zest and a good pinch of salt.  Taste, and adjust salt if necessary.  Add one egg and mix thoroughly.

Roll out pastry dough to 1/4 " thin and transfer to a baking sheet, either by gently folding in quarters, or rolling around your rolling pin.  Spread a thin, about 1/4" layer of the ricotta mixture on the dough, leaving at least an inch boarder of dough around all sides.  Top with caramelized shallots, and then asparagus.  Fold dough up and over on all edges and crimp where necessary to hold in place.

For a more golden crust, mix one egg with a tablespoon of water, and using a pastry brush, gently brush perimeter of the crust with the egg wash.

Bake at 425 F for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

 


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Buttermilk Honey Wheat English Muffins
 



I don't know about you, but I am a tad worn out from all of the high-spirited holidays that have been crammed into the calendar as of late.  Earth Day, Easter, Passover, National Eggs Benedict Day (I wish I was kidding), Arbor Day, May Day, Cinco De Mayo, and even a wedding of the century thrown in there.  I'm feeling a little tapped out for brilliant ideas to mark this weekend's Mother's Day.

So when in doubt, I go homemade.  English Muffins, that is.

I did some tinkering with the dough, including a few highly hockey puckable versions, and came up with one that has a full flavor and tender texture.  The addition of buttermilk (ah-hem, something to do with all that you have leftover from making your own butter) gives these a wonderful sour flavor, not unlike (a shortcut) sourdough.  The sourness, the sweet honey and the nutty wheat make these perfect for a slathering of oozy stinky cheese and a drizzle of honey or fig preserve, or use the bounty of the spring and smear on some strawberry rhubarb jam.  English muffins have long been my favorite hamburger buns, and don't for get our national treasure (see above) Eggs Benedict.

As with store bought english muffins, these are fine with a little butter right out of the oven, but really show their stripes when "fork split" (poke all around the side with the tines of a fork, to divide the top and bottom, and gently pull the top and bottom apart to reveal the nooks and crannies), and then lightly toasted to crunch up the hole-y texture.

Make them a day or two before, toast them up, and bring them on a tray to the bedside of your favorite mom.  Instruct her devour them with her pinky up, channeling the Duchess of Cambridge.  English indeed.

BUTTERMILK HONEY WHEAT ENGLISH MUFFINS

Makes 18 three inch muffins or one dozen four inch muffins.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
cornmeal, for dusting

Place the warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle yeast over the surface.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Yeast will turn the water cloudy and the surface will froth some.

In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, comine bread flour, wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in yeast mixture, buttermilk, and honey.  Either using your hands or the paddle of a stand mixture, combine the ingredients throughly, until you have a shaggy dough.  Change to a stand mixer dough hook, or pour the dough onto a well-floured surface, and knead for 8-10 minutes.  Form dough into a large ball.

Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl, turning gently to coat with oil.  Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for sixty to ninety minutes.

Gently stretch the dough into a "pancake" that is about a half inch thick, on a floured surface.  Using a round biscuit cutter (you could also use a knife and just make square muffins), cut out muffin shapes and transfer to a piece of parchment dusted liberally with cornmeal.  You can gently combine the "scraps" back together to cut out additional muffins.  Just be careful not to squeeze out all of the air in the dough.

Sprinkle tops of muffins with cornmeal, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Allow to rise in a warm place for sixty to ninety minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place a large, lightly oiled skillet, on medium to medium-high heat.  Carefully transfer the muffins, so not to deflate the nooks and crannies, to the skillet and gently pan-fry until the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Carefully flip over to brown the top.  As soon as each muffin is ready, transfer to a baking sheet in the oven, and finish baking.  Transfer the muffins to the oven as they are ready, not waiting for the others to finish browning in the pan.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the muffin sounds hollow when thumped with a finger on the bottom.

Cool finished muffins on a baking rack.  The english muffins will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container.  To serve, fork-split, and toast.



 

 


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22
Ramp Compound Butter


A huge part of the allure of pungent, earthy, and exotic ramps, is that their season and availability is so fleeting. With only about a month to harvest until their flavor becomes too strong, the annual pilgrimages into the muddy woods for chefs and epicurians has commenced (or early-bird trips to the farmer's markets for the less adventurous, or more wise).  But now also begins the search for ways to preserve ramps, to be enjoyed alongside the bounty of summer produce that is just a couple of months out of reach.

I am a big fan of pickling ramps (and of pickled ramp martinis).  This offers a great way to preserve ramps for months from now, if you can keep them around that long.  I have also become smitten with ramp compound butter.

Compound butter is nothing more than butter that has been mixed with herbs or seasonings, but the whole is much more exciting than the sum of its parts.  It is a great way to add a little unexpected flavor or color to a meal, or to create an instant pain-free sauce for a dish.  Now that you've mastered homemade butter, this is a perfect way to compliment your new home-spun delicacy.

The flavored butter can be packed into a small ramekin or dish for slathering on warm bread, or rolled into logs, chilled and sliced.  Top a hot grilled steak with a slice of ramp butter, and ooh la la.  It is also beautiful on grilled fish, vegetables, dolloped on grilled oysters, or stuffed under the skin of a roast chicken.  Try it when making scrambled eggs, whipped into mashed potatoes or polenta, or tossed with pasta and some grated pecorino.  It will keep for several months in the freezer, giving you lots of opportunities to use ramps with foods that the weather isn't cooperating with just yet.

Experiment and enjoy, and be the envy of all your foraging friends when their ramps have long run out.



RAMP COMPOUND BUTTER

1 lb unsalted butter
4-6 ounces ramps, white and green parts, depending on how concentrated you desire the ramp flavor
zest of one large lemon
salt, to taste

Bring butter to room temperature to fully soften.

Trim root end and wash ramps thoroughly, making sure to remove all dirt and grit in the layers near the root. Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and prepare a bowl of water with lots of ice. Blanch ramps in boiling water, for 30 seconds. Remove quickly and shock in the ice water to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Spread ramps out on paper towel to allow to dry a bit more.

Either thinly chop by hand, or mince in a food processor, the white and green parts of the ramps. Add lemon zest and then combine with softened butter. If you want a more uniform, very green, butter, puree it all together in a food processor (as in the photo of the butter above). If you want a more chunky, rustic butter, either fold the butter in by hand or use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.  Add salt, tasting as you go, if you want salted butter.  If you think you'll be adding it to foods that are already sufficiently salted, perhaps don't add any or very little just to enhance the ramp flavor slightly.

Pack compound butter into ramekins, small dishes, or air-tight containers and store in the refrigerator for about a week. You can also roll the butter into logs, either in parchment, wax paper, or plastic wrap, to be chilled and sliced. The compound butter can also be frozen for up to three months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight before serving.

 

Recipe credit: Catie Schwalb.


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20
Homemade Butter


Ever since the first time I whipped my own fresh whipped cream, I have kept my gaze obcessively glued to it, in dreaded fear of over-whipping and having it turn into butter.  The horror!  Imagine!  And so to this day I anxiously sweat that critical make or break, stiff peak to useless butter, moment.

But wait...I can turn cream into butter?  Thus making my own butter?  And that easily?

Well, yes, yes, and yes.  I finally gave it a try this week, gleefully letting my mixer plow right through from beautiful lofty whipped cream to deflated heavier looking cream-paste to cheerful little golden globules of butter separating from ivory buttermilk.  And all in about ten minutes.  The transformation was kind of thrilling, and the result revelatory.

A pint of heavy cream yielded about 6.5 ounces of butter and a cup and a half of buttermilk.  Pound for pound this is will end up being a bit more costly than store-bought.  However, I found the taste superior and just fresher all around, and it didn't have the "natural flavorings" that I just noticed on the ingredient list of my butter package.  I cannot wait to try it with the outstanding, abundantly flavorful, local cream from farmers at the markets.  There are also plenty of times when I have bought heavy cream for a recipe, or had extra whipped cream left over from a dinner, and wish I had used it to whip up some butter, rather than having it sit in my refrigerator waiting for another recipe to come up.

This is a remarkably easy process and tremendously satisfying.  Of all of the challenging and technical cooking projects I have attempted it is amazing that I haven't tried this before, as it is most definitely simpler than most.  Give it a try.  Slip some on the table at your next gathering.  "Oh that?  I just whipped that up."

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14
Homemade Mango Lime Soda Syrup


Here is another soda syrup recipe to accompany yesterday's homemade ginger soda syrup.  Super refreshing and light, making me crave flip flops and sunscreen.  Try mixing a little of both syrups together for mango-lime-gingerlicious beach blanket bingo in a glass.  Who says it's only april?

 

HOMEMADE MANGO LIME SODA SYRUP
by Catie Schwalb

makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.

1 mango, peeled, and roughly chopped, save the pit
1 cup of sugar (you may decide to use much less, depending on how sweet and ripe your fruit is)
2 cups water
2 limes, juice (about 3 tablespoons) and zest

fine strainer
cheesecloth

Place mango, mango pit, sugar, water, lime juice and zest in a small pot. Bring to a gentle boil, and the turn off heat. Allow to steep and infuse for thirty minutes.

Return the mixture to a gentle boil, and reduce the syrup by about half, until it is a slightly thicker consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool

Strain through a fine strainer lined with cheesecloth. Squeeze cheese cloth to extract any remaining juices.

Refrigerate for up to one week.

Mango Lime Soda: Mix 1 part soda syrup with 5 parts seltzer, or more or less to taste.

 


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13
Homemade Ginger Soda Syrup


Perhaps because of the few (very few) days of slightly decent weather we've had lately, my attention has recently shifted from hot teas and afternoon hot mochas to cold, effervescent beverages.

We are not big soda drinkers in our house, almost none at all, for all of the obvious reasons (high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, artificial colors,and the environmental impact of all of the packaging and distribution.)  But a small spell of stomach queasiness that my husband and I both shared not too long ago (lovely), had me at the grocery store searching for ginger ale, or even better a more gingery ginger beer, sans HFCS and with real ginger as an ingredient.  After not an easy time I did find a couple of options, but all ended up being too sweet for my liking.

I've been following the blog and success of Brooklyn's P&H Soda Co., a small artisanal producer of all natural, small batch, soda syrups, for a little while now.  With flavors including hibiscus, lime and cream, I can't wait for my next time in the city to pick up some at one of their new retail locations.  But it also occurred to me that with my flail at the grocery store, and with summer gatherings-on-the-porch weather quickly approaching, perhaps I should just get myself in the kitchen and try to figure out the whole shebang, or at least part of the shebang, myself.

The result made me and my stomach very happy.  And like so many of my DIY endeavors, was ultimately not difficult, offers endless delicious possibilities, and has everything I want and nothing I don't.

I mixed the gorgeous syrup with seltzer for an outstanding ginger soda.  (A side note, we have owned the SodaStream home seltzer maker for a few years, use it every day, and it is one of my top 3 favorite things in the kitchen.  It has saved us a fortune, and saves thousands of plastic bottles from having to be manufactured, recycled or land-filled.)  I'm also looking forward to using the syrup for mixed drinks and ginger martini's, or to wake up lemonade.

The best part of all is that you can control the sweetness, by adding more or less sugar to taste, and the ka-pow of the soda, by adding more or less syrup to your seltzer.  Experiment, concoct and enjoy.



HOMEMADE GINGER SODA SYRUP
by Catie Schwalb

1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated on the large holes of a box grater
2 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

fine strainer
cheesecloth

TIP:  To peel ginger, wash and then use the front of a small spoon to scrape away the thin peel.  It will come off easily and a vegetable peeler tends to remove too much of the ginger meat.

Grate the ginger, and gently transfer it to a saucepan, careful not to squeeze out or lose any of the flavorful juice in the process.  Add the sugar, water, and lemon juice to the ginger.

Bring mixture to a gentle boil and turn off heat.  Allow mixture to steep and infuse for thirty minutes.

Return the ginger mixture to a gentle boil and reduce it by about half, until it has a slightly thicker, more syrupy consistency.  This is just really evaporating the extra water, and adjusting how concentrated you want the syrup to be, so go as long or short as you want, but do not let it cook so long that the syrup starts to get very thick, turn amber in color and caramelize.

Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool.  Strain through a fine strainer lined with cheesecloth.  Squeeze cheesecloth to extract any remaining juices.  Refrigerate for up to a