Grateful for Gratin

DSC_4184There’s nothing like 2 weeks straight of eating out for nearly every meal to get one on the mood to cook!

Sorry if that sounded like a humblebrag – or just a brag. Back in April, Matt and I finally went on vacation to a country where we share some ancestry – Ireland – and returned stuffed. We had some fantastic meals (FX Buckley in Dublin, The Mews Kenmare, Cafe Hans by the Rock of Cashel, Doyle’s in Dingle, Greenmount House breakfast, and Ashford Castle in Cong) and some that were simply filling. (I guess they assume that if we’re full of stews and breads, we’ll be less impacted by the chill and rain). By the time we returned, we were both ready for some home cooking.

A half a head of cauliflower (I can never seem to get through a whole head with one recipe for two people without too many leftovers), and some pantry staples led me to this recipe. As an accompaniment, we enjoyed a delicious and simple preparation of marinated dijon chicken, using basic pantry items.

Note: the chicken recipe calls for 2 hours of marinating. We threw ours into an “instant marinator” tool we have (which is a container with a top that you can suction air out of) and let it sit for about 30-45 minutes during the other prep. We don’t believe this tool necessarily lives up to its name or holds a special magic, but either way, our chicken was super flavorful in that shortened marination time.

Cauliflower Gratin with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
Adapted (halved) from The New York Times 

1/2 medium head of cauliflower
Salt and pepper, to taste
1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 large or 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 regular (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (freeze the rest or just toss it all in)
pinch of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 egg
1 ½ ounces goat cheese
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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Prep a baking sheet with parchment or foil.

Cut the stem and leaves off of the cauliflower. This is easier once you at least quarter the head. Roughly cut the cauliflower into about 1/3 inch pieces. Mix with 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then spread on the baking sheet.

Cook in oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring about halfway through. The cauliflower is done when it is tender and the smaller pieces have browned.
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Transfer to a bowl.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 F.

While the cauliflower roasts, prep the remaining ingredients: red onion, garlic, and thyme, and roast and crush your coriander seeds, if you haven’t already.

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From the garden!

Oil a small baking dish.

In a medium skillet, heat last 1/2 Tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, thyme, and a pinch of salt and continue stirring for about 30 seconds-1 minute, until the garlic fragrance is released.DSC_4162
Add tomatoes, cinnamon, and ground coriander seeds. Increase heat to a simmer; season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower heat and cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down a little bit (not too much) and the spices are incorporated.
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Add to cauliflower bowl and stir together. Pour into prepared baking dish.DSC_4166
Beat egg, and add all but about 1.5 Tablespoons of goat cheese and beat together.
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Pour egg mixture over cauliflower mixture. Top with pieces of goat cheese.

Bake 20-30 minutes, until the top is starting to brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
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Grilled Honey Dijon Chicken
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 16 ounces boneless skinless chicken – halved breasts or tenders

DSC_4155Mix the honey, mustard, 1 Tablespoon of oil in a small bowl and salt and pepper, to taste. Put mixture in a large plastic bag, bowl, instant marinator, or whatever you like to use to marinate.

Add the chicken and flip or shake to ensure it is coated with the marinade.  Refrigerate until ready to grill (2 hours recommended in the original recipe).

While the cauliflower gratin bakes, preheat the grill to medium.

Cook the chicken on oiled grill grates until you get nice dark marks on each sides, about 4-5 minutes each.

Let the chicken rest briefly, and then serve with the gratin.
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There you have it–a simple, home-cooked meal!

White Bean Burgers with Tomatoes and Basil

I am so excited by how well this recipe turned out. It’s not every day that the leftovers of my meals are crave-able, but these veggie burgers were gone in a snap.
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The source of inspiration for these burgers was leftover basil.

I try not to buy basil in the winter. In the summer, I’m blessed with abundant basil that can be snipped as needed from the garden. But when I buy basil from the store, I’m always faced with leftovers in the fridge drawer. Which means I’m faced with the guilt of potential waste.

But I bought this basil for a special occasion. My husband and I have a tradition of spending the early evening hours of New Year’s Eve at home, making fresh pasta together. Romantic right? (Then we hustle off to a local friend’s house to attempt to be a little more “cool” and social). This time we made a fettuccine with bolognese sauce that was enhanced by the herbal touch of fresh basil leaves.

A few days later, I was on the lookout for recipes using basil, and settled on this one.

White Bean Burgers with Tomatoes and Basil
Adapted from oh my veggies

1 can (15 ounce) cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 Cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 Cup packed basil leaves
, torn
1/3 Cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 Cup panko
2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
, lightly beaten

For serving:
4 buns (hamburger, kaiser rolls, challah rolls, etc – whatever you have leftover in your freezer after your husband is overzealous and claims that more people will show up at the party!)
Optional accompaniments:
Fresh basil leaves
Romaine or butter lettuce
Fresh mozzarella or provolone
Optional sauces:
Balsamic reduction
Pesto
Basil Mayo

Basil Mayonnaise
recipe
From the kitchn
Proportions roughly followed:
1/4 Cup packed basil leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove
, chopped
Zest of about half of one large lemon, about 1 teaspoon
1/2 Cup mayonnaise

Combine in a small food processor or blender.

Preheat the oven to anywhere between 385F and 400F (my oven runs hot so I opted for lower.)
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For the burgers, prepare your chopped sundried tomatoes and basil leaves.

Store-bought basil can be extremely dirty. Be sure to thoroughly wash by swishing in a bowl of cold water and then lifting out to leave the sand at the bottom of the bowl.

Store-bought basil can be extremely dirty. Be sure to thoroughly wash by swishing in a bowl of cold water and then lifting out to leave the sand at the bottom of the bowl.

In a food processor, puree together 1 Cup of the beans with the sundried tomatoes, olive oil, tomato paste, and garlic powder.
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The original recipe called for sundried tomatoes in oil, and less added olive oil, but I had regular sundried tomatoes. So I added some olive oil at first and discovered the mixture was still too dry and was difficult to puree, so I added more olive oil, up to the approximate amount above. Be on the lookout for the mixture seeming too dry. Next time I may experiment with adding some other wet ingredient to bring up the moisture content. Tomato sauce, perhaps?
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In a medium bowl, add the remaining beans and mash them with a fork. Stir in the pureed bean-tomato mixture, and add the basil and remaining ingredients, with the beaten egg added last.
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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a measuring cup as a scoop, drop the burger mixture into 4 mounds on the sheet, and then shape each mound into a patty.

Note: this scoop-mound-shape method for forming a veggie burger was a worthy lesson on its own--thank you oh my veggies!

Note: this scoop-mound-shape method for forming a veggie burger was a worthy lesson on its own–thank you oh my veggies!


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Bake the burgers until they’re lightly browned on the outside and feel dry to the touch in the center, 20-25 minutes.
Mmmm yes to the melty mozzarella.

Mmmm yes to the melty mozzarella.


In the meantime, make your sauces! I made the basil mayo. I could have made pesto…but I still had some of the summer stock in the freezer.

Prepare your choice of buns with your choice of toppings.

Basil mayo followed by lettuce....

Basil mayo followed by lettuce….

...followed by burger, topped with balsamic glaze and more basil!

…followed by burger, topped with balsamic glaze and more basil!


How could you NOT crave this?

How could you NOT crave this?

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Summer Soups – Roasted Corn and Chilled Zucchini

Wasn’t August delightful? For those of us with access to fresh vegetables like corn, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and more, this late summer time feels special.

New recipes, of course, can take some time to explore. And of course, the past few weeks of August were a bit packed for me. Let’s just say there were a fair number of tomato sandwiches. When I did some cooking prep for the first time in awhile, I was so rusty I even sliced my finger while chopping onions!

I was faced with the reality that if I wanted to do my work, complete my final class assignment with any degree of quality, fulfill other obligations, AND prepare myself healthy meals, they were going to have to be fairly simple. The corn soup I made with leftover roasted corn? Not so simple. The chilled zucchini soup I made the following week was more reasonable. Though you might guess which was more delicious in this case. I’ll describe both here, in case they appeal to you.
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Starting with the zucchini soup: the recipe has wonderfully few ingredients, all of which I could get my hands on at home. I had almost forgotten about the garden zucchini in my fridge, which I acquired in a trade with my mom; she snagged some of my own garden tomatoes.

Chilled Zuchinni Soup
Adapted from the James Beard Foundation’s Isabela Wojcik

2 large zucchini
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion
, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced and divided
scant 1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 Cup stock
, chicken or vegetable
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 Cup plain greek yogurt
(or other dairy such as sour cream or milk)

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Mise en place! Prep onion and oregano. To prepare the zucchini, trim, split in half lengthwise and thinly slice into half-moons.
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While slicing the zucchini, a couple of things dawned on me: my food processor could probably do this even faster, and the slices would be great for ratatouille. Next time.
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In a medium sauce or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the sliced onion, half of the oregano (about 1/2 teaspoon), and red pepper flakes.

Careful with the red pepper flakes.

Careful with the red pepper flakes.


Cook until the onion softens and becomes translucent.
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Drop in the zucchini and cook through for several minutes, on lower heat. As soon as it starts to look dry, pour in the the stock.
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Let the mixture cook until the zucchini is tender and the stock is boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Take off the stove and transfer to a blender or food processor. Purée.
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Add yogurt and blend. Taste and add more salt.
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Chill, and then serve with other seasonal foods and a hunk of bread. You could also eat it warm. I won’t judge.
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Roasted Corn Soup with Guacamole and Bacon
Adapted from Epicurious, Lourdes Castro

Soup
3 Cups of corn kernels, I used 2 Cups from 3 ears of leftover roasted corn and 1 Cup frozen, divided
1.5 Cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 to 1 Cup water
, as needed, for extra liquid
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove
, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Topping
1 slice of bacon, cooked until crisp (separate)
1/2 Cup roasted corn kernels (from above)
1/2 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1/2 avocado
1 Tablespoon shallot or red onion
, minced
zest and juice from 1/2 lime
Cilantro, if you have it!

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If using whole corn, remove kernels from cob.
This is one of those recipes that uses the leftover corn cob to infuse a soup with more corn flavor. Everybody’s doing it! The corn itself was leftover from a picnic, and I removed the kernels for the soup. So while prepping other ingredients, get your corn cobs simmering low in your broth plus some extra water.

This is how I keep broth on hand!

This is how I keep broth on hand!


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If using fresh corn, roast at least half of it in the oven at 450°F, on a lined baking sheet. Reserve some of the roasted corn for the topping, and put the rest in a blender.
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Cook the bacon and prepare the avocado, onion, pepper, and lime for the remaining topping.
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In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, onion, and jalapeno.
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Season with salt and pepper, cook until soft, at least 5 minutes.
Transfer to a blender with the corn.
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Pulse to combine.
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Remove the cobs from the stock and if possible, squeeze any liquid out of them. Transfer the corn mixture into the liquid and combine.
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Bring up the temperature to a boil while stirring frequently, and then lower heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. You may need to add additional water at this point. Don’t worry–the flavor’s still there.

Ladle into bowls, garnish, and serve!
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See how dark it is? This took awhile to make.

See how dark it is? This took so long to make.

Feta-Brined Roast Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

Brine is a magical thing. Besides its obvious role in pickled vegetables, an overnight brine has the ability to transform your average weekly roast chicken or even your holiday turkey from a bland or dry entrée to a juicy flavor bomb.

DSC_3219That is what I was thinking when I saved the brine from my feta cheese. The cheese was long gone, but it struck me that there had to be a use for that intensely flavored liquid, other than a future down the drain.

Once again, The New York Times Cooking website delivered. A recipe for feta-brined roast chicken, how perfect! Turns out Melissa Clark demonstrated it back in January. Her recipe includes instructions for creating the brine from scratch with chunks of feta cheese. Having some of the actual brine is even better.

What’s my twist? This time of year, it makes sense to make use of fresh greens and herbs and tangy sauces to brighten up rich meats. Herbs are thriving in the garden. I planted the oregano on a hot dry day in May and thought I killed it. Turns out it’s resilient, almost as resilient as the weeds!
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Along with parsley and some leftover cilantro, I blended together some quick chimichurri. You can do the same, with any combination of those three herbs, and with or without added heat.
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Feta-Brined Roast Chicken
from Melissa Clark of The New York Times

Leftover feta brine (7 oz)
Water to bring the total amount over 4 Cups (3.5 Cups)
2.5 teaspoons salt
, divided
1 whole chicken
2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 large or 3 small lemons, including zest
¼ Cup olive oil

DSC_3220To prepare the brine, add feta liquid, additional salt and water to a blender and whiz to combine. Select a container that will allow the chicken to sit mostly submerged in the brine; you can also use a large sealing plastic bag. Pour brine over chicken.

Place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

When ready to cook, discard brine and dry the chicken with paper towels. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
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If you are hand-grinding the pepper now, settle in for the long haul! It took me forever to get 2 Tablespoons. Instead, I suggest using an electric spice grinder.

Combine the pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, oregano and the zest of the lemons.
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Rub the mixture all over the bird. Cut the lemons in half and place at least 3 halves inside the chicken. Tie the legs together with twine.
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While the oven heats to 450 degrees, place an oven-safe skillet on a burner over medium high heat. Turn on your hood vent! Add oil, and once hot, set chicken in pan, breast-side up.
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Place the pan in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes, checking once or twice to spoon the pan juices over the bird.
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The chicken is done when the juices run clear and/or temperature at the thickest parts reaches 165.
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Let chicken rest for about 10 minutes. Slice and serve with the pan juices, a little chimichurri sauce, and vegetables.
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How about some slightly burned yam fries on the side?

How about some slightly burned yam fries on the side?


With any luck, you’ll be enjoying both crispy wings and some of the juiciest white meat you’ve ever had. Enjoy!
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Tastes of Summer – Watermelon and Ice Cream

I bought a whole watermelon the other day. I needed it to make a delicious heirloom tomato watermelon gazpacho recipe I planned to bring to a potluck.

I was surprised that I could actually make such a delicious gazpacho!

I was surprised that I could actually make such a delicious gazpacho!

I tasted the recipe after it was demoed by Chef Harold Deiterle, who recently released a cookbook, Harold Dieterle’s Kitchen Notebook Techniques. It won me over.

But mostly I wanted the watermelon for snacking. Fresh watermelon is one of those distinctly summer foods, a flavor I associate with backyard spitting contests of my childhood. The heat and humidity of summer bring on a kind of thirst that only watermelon can truly quench.

There are a few other flavors I lately connect to summer–even if I may in fact indulge all year long. Iced tea, ice-cold beer, and ice cream.

On the day I had about a quarter of my watermelon left, I heard someone mention watermelon rind as one of those trimmings that you’re going to be stuck composting, since there’s not much you can do to make it edible, sellable, and appealing. Not that I disagree. But I took it as a challenge. I was going to make watermelon rind pickles.
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Watermelon Rind Pickles
Adapted from Food.com for 1/4 watermelon
About 2.5 lb watermelon rind (flesh mostly removed, shell included)
For the brining:
1⁄4 Cup salt
1 quart water

For the pickling syrup:
2 Cups white vinegar
2 Cups water
4 Cups sugar
1/3 lemon
, sliced thin
Spices:
1 cinnamon sticks
1/3 teaspoon whole cloves
1/3 teaspoon whole allspice

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Remove all the juicy watermelon flesh and reserve for another use. (Admittedly, I will miss having the rind as a handle when I eat the remains later. Oh well.)

At this point, I had 2 lb 8.5 ounces.
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Next you will need to peel the outer hard rind from the softer white portion. It took a fair amount of muscle power and time to remove the green shell. I used a combination of peeler and knife. Your knife should be very sharp for this, and it’s important to be very careful. Cut away from yourself and always keep hands and fingers behind the direction you are cutting!
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After 5 minutes of labor, the green parts were gone. The next step is to remove any remaining pink, and slice into 1 to 2 inch by 3/4″ pieces. This took about 7 minutes.
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Final weigh in? 1 pound 8.6 ounces of rind. So 1 pound was still going to the compost, but if I had planned to use the whole watermelon’s rind (which would make more pickles than I would know what to do with), I would have saved more than 5 pounds.
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Make a brine by dissolving 1/4 cup of salt into 1 quart of water.
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I could have used less for this rind, and you may need to scale up for more.
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Allow to brine in refrigerator overnight.

Drain and rinse soaked watermelon rind.

At this point, I used the scale of 0.375 to approximate the other ingredients: allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and lemon. I could have scaled down a little less on the sugar, water, and vinegar that made up the syrup; in the end it would have helped to have more for inside the jars.
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If you’d like, combine the spices together in a cheesecloth.

Combine the syrup and spice ingredients and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes.
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Add half of the rind and simmer until it becomes translucent. It took about 36 minutes for my first batch.
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Spoon rind out of the pan and into a clean jar. Be sure to sterilize, if you plan on preserving longer term.
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Repeat the simmering step with remaining rind.

Remove spice satchel and discard. Pour boiling syrup to cover the rind in jars. Why not include the lemon?
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Taste test results: Not bad. The cloves were a little more noticeable than I would like (I’ve complained about this before). Otherwise, the flavor resembled those Vlasic sweet and crunchy pickles, which were once the only type I could tolerate.
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Looking for other ideas for the watermelon flesh? Real Simple posted this yesterday:

onethread design via Real Simple

onethread design via Real Simple

Returning to the topic of ice cream….this same week, I thought I better make some before National Ice Cream month ends!

Ice cream (or sorbet) is another dish that can incorporate whatever you have around. Even cucumber. This time, I’m went to the herbs in my garden, and incorporated them into a rich base made with egg yolks.

Is tomato ice cream in my future?

Is tomato ice cream in my future?


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Mint Ice Cream
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe

1 Cup mint leaves
⅔ Cup sugar

1.5 Cups heavy cream
1.5 Cups milk
(I used my skim)
⅛ teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
6 large egg yolks

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Combine mint leaves and sugar in a food processor. Grind together until fully combined and green.
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Pour cream, milk, sugar mixture and salt into a small saucepan and cook until the sugar dissolves. Whisk yolks in a separate heat-proof bowl.

When the sugar has dissolved, remove pan from heat and slowly whisk in about a third of the hot mixture into the yolks.
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Then pour the yolk mixture back into the pan and whisk with the remaining hot cream.
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Place pan back on a medium-low burner and cook slowly, thickening at about 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Turn off heat and allow mint to steep in the mixture for about 30 minutes.
Pour through a sieve to catch any solids.
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Cool mixture to room temperature and then chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
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Follow the directions for your ice cream machine and churn away.
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After 20 minutes in this frozen-bowl style, you’ll have soft-serve.
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Transfer to a freezer container to harden.
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Happy summer!
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Roasted Chicken Sofrito

Happy New Year!

Where has the time gone? 2015 is well under way. I know my blog has been quiet the past few months. I can explain away the last month, at least, by pointing to all the holiday planning and gatherings and dining out. Before that, of course, there was the slam of my new job, commute, class work…and the end of the CSA. I no longer have cooking inspiration built into my life!

The quiet end-of-December period did give me the chance to devote at least a couple of stretches of time to cooking projects. As I saw a major calendar flip approaching, it seemed imperative that I give attention to some of the (previously prepared or semi-prepared) items in my freezer that were dated from 2014…some with months lower numbered than I care to admit.

DSC_1426One such item was a cupful of sofrito I had made to use up some herbs along with the in- season tomatoes and peppers. I’m still not sure why I didn’t make a dish with it right away, since this recipe (which I think I followed for the sofrito) is quite easy.

This sofrito discovery coincided with a rare craving for roasted poultry. You see, like many people, Christmas dinner in my family features a non-turkey entrée such as ham, pork, or lasagna. It’s all delicious. I just thought it was time to have a little chicken in my life.

I found my inspiration in a version of chicken & rice from Food & Wine and headed to the store. Little did I know, I would be presented with another opportunity to demonstrate my make haste not waste philosophy! While I was having trouble finding chicken legs, I came across a whole cut up chicken at a greatly reduced “manager’s special” price, because it was being sold the day it was dated “sell by.” Perfect! Some grocery stores won’t even offer shelf space for these perfectly good items. What a shame! You need to be careful with meat and dairy dates, unlike many other products, but fortunately I planned to cook the chicken right away. (And the extra pieces I added to other chicken carcasses in the freezer to finally make some chicken stock a few days later.)

So let’s get to it.

Roasted Chicken Sofrito with Rice
From Food and Wine

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
drumsticks, thighs, and breasts from 1 whole chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (split 1/4 teaspoon “hot” chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon regular), plus more for dusting
1 Cup prepared sofrito, plus
10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1/2 small onion
, diced
2 large thyme sprigs
3 Cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 1/4 Cup short-grain white rice
, such as sushi rice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 Cup roasted almonds, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
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Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with chili powder.

In a Dutch oven or other large ovenproof skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until well browned, about 4 minutes per side.
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If you're impatient like me, you could use an extra skillet for the extra chicken.

If you’re impatient like me, you could use an extra skillet for the extra chicken.

Transfer to a plate.
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Add the sofrito, thyme sprigs, and onion to the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
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I didn't decide it needed the onion until after first starting to warm the sofrito.

I didn’t decide it needed the onion until after first starting to warm the sofrito.

Once the onion is beginning soften, add the diced tomatoes. Bring the mixture up to a bubble, then add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil.

Stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer. Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice, with the skin side up.
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Place the pot, uncovered, in the upper third of the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Check to see if the chicken is cooked through (some cuts may finish before others) and the rice has absorbed the stock. It took nearly 30 minutes for the fat chicken breasts from my chicken to come up to 165.
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Turn on the broiler and try to get the pot within 6 inches of the heat to crisp the chicken skin, if possible.

Remove the chicken to a separate plate. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.

Add in the lemon juice.
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Spoon rice onto the place and scatter with some almonds. Add the chicken and serve.
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How was it? Man it was delicious. Yes, it satisfied my desire for chicken. Of course my favorite part was the rice. It had an unbelievable texture, almost like risotto. The flavors of green chiles and acidic tomatoes and lemon juice combined with the rich chicken juices plus a satisfying crunch from almonds–talk about truly crave-able.
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Here’s to a filling and fulfilling 2015!

Miso Soba Noodles with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I knew the day would come when I would have plenty of tomatoes. If I was ever worried about not getting my fill of ripe tomatoes this summer, my cherry tomato plants have been sure to put me at ease. I can’t complain about the steady output from the two plants. In fact, I am particularly pleased that the plump orbs keep well on the counter, several days after being picked. They are easy to share with friends and family, and they just keep coming.
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Fresh cherry or grape tomatoes are wonderful for snacking, but I do love me a cooked tomato, warm and burst open at the seams. Don’t you? Roasted cherry tomatoes serve as the topping for this delicious soba noodle dish, a recipe I picked from Blue Apron. I only used the Blue Apron delivery service once so far, but I’m on the mailing list, and I saw this recipe in July. It seemed unusual to use tomatoes in a Japanese-inspired preparation. It intrigued me. Fortunately, my red miso stood ready (in place of the original recipe’s “hatcho miso”). In addition, I happen to have allowed myself to supplement my stock of CSA vegetables with the purchase a beautiful, leafy head of broccoli from a farm stand on my way home from a North Fork winery event over the weekend.
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A portion of this broccoli took the place of what would have been Chinese broccoli. I even used some of the stems, peeled to remove the tough outer portion, and chopped. I keep reading that broccoli stems can be delicious, and I shudder to think of the dozens of giant broccoli stalks I’ve sent to the garbage in my day!
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Even with a few modifications, the meal came out great. I wished I had made twice as much. It’s definitely a keeper!
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Miso Soba Noodles with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Adapted from Blue Apron

6 ounces Broccoli of any type, including leaves, finely chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced and whites and greens separated
about half a small white onion, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons red miso paste
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3/4 Cup water
, divided
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root
A few springs of cilantro
1 large clove garlic
1/2 small onion
, chopped
2 teaspoons sesame oil (toasted is fine)
2 Tablespoons roasted peanuts
2 Tablespoons sugar
5 ounces cherry tomatoes
8 ounces soba noodles
2 teaspoons white sesame seeds

Wash the produce, chop, and set aside. The ginger root should be peeled and minced. The cilantro leaves can be picked from the stems, roughly chopped, and set in a bowl. Half will be added in the cooking process, and half will be saved for garnish.

Another topping will be candied chopped peanuts (cashews are preferred, if you have them).
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To prepare, set a small pot with the sugar and 1/4 Cup of water over medium-high heat. Also prepare a small pan lined with a little bit of parchment paper. Allow the water-sugar mixture to boil, without stirring, for several minutes, until the color starts to change into a golden blonde. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped peanuts.
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Then pour the mixture onto the parchment paper. Spread evenly and allow to cool.

DSC_9561Here’s where it gets exciting (for the person washing dishes)! For the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 450°F. For the soba noodles, fill a medium pot with water and set over heat to boil. Grab a large sauté pan for the vegetables.

In a small bowl, whisk together the miso paste, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and ½ Cup of water, until smooth.

On a sheet plan, spread the cherry tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast 6 to 8 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and keep warm.
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Meanwhile, cook the soba noodles briefly in the boiling water, 1 to 2 minutes. The noodles will remain somewhat firm. Drain and return to pan with a little bit of warm water to prevent sticking.

DSC_9566In the vegetable pan, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the ginger, onion, and white part of scallions.

Sauté gently until they begin to soften. Add the broccoli and cook for several minutes until it becomes slightly tender. It’s likely that the broccoli stem portions will remain slightly crunchy, unless you pre-cook them, but they will add some nice additional texture.

Pour in the miso mixture, the cooked soba noodles, half of the cilantro, and the green parts of the scallions.
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Cook for a few minutes, at which point most of the liquid will be absorbed. Remove from heat and taste for additional salt and pepper.

To serve, place the noodle mixture on each of two plates. Top with the roasted tomatoes and chopped candied peanuts. Finally, add the remaining cilantro and a sprinkling of sesame seeds

Mmm delicious!

Mmm delicious!

Everything Beer Cheese Bread and Beer Poached Shrimp with Fennel

I’m not always great with decisions. Ceramic, porcelain or stone tile for the bathroom floor? Buy the 2 year or 5 year extended warranty? What color fireplace stone and curtains will match our current living room? Should I get a green or a blue sweater; which do I have more of in my closet? Should I spend the next 45 minutes of free time cleaning the kitchen floor or filing the office receipts?

You can imagine that restaurant ordering presents a challenge for me. The worst (or best) example of a paralyzing menu is from Shopsin’s, known for a menu like none other. Ooh boy, I feel a twinge of anxiety coming. Can’t I have an extra stomach, available to access on the special occasions when I know I’ll never again get the chance to taste this particular preparation of food? I like to believe that my difficulties stem from some kind of advanced analytical ability, i.e. my brain is processing the complexities of the situation and considering all angles before reaching the best conclusion (not likely). The problem is, most of the time the choice is no big deal! Take my cooking choices: these are by no means life or death. Yet there are times I wish someone else would tell me, outright, exactly what to do with ingredient X, Y, Z.

That’s how I was feeling last week when I put a query out on Facebook, asking what to do with the leftover beer cans in our fridge.
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I explained that I had no intention of drinking the beer plain, now six months past its purchase date (as if I ever choose to drink it “fresh”). I expected to catch a little more flack, since it sounds a bit snobbish. Indeed, I came home last Friday to find that my father, who was visiting for the weekend, had cracked one open to sample. My dad is no elitist. Born on a farm during the Great Depression, I can always count on him to check food for spoilage–allowing great leeway, of course. He consumes leftovers with a gusto. In other words, he’s great to have around.

People were quick to respond to my poll. Beer batter, fondue, brats, soup, and “target practice” were among the answers. The most popular idea, by far, was beer can chicken. Beer chicken wasn’t something I was tempted to make at the time, but the idea of using beer to cook shellfish was spot-on. Also, the runner-up response, beer bread, caught my eye. I knew adding cheese was an option. In fact, I could really add anything to the bread that pairs well with beer, which meant tapping into the CSA vegetable share. An oniony, starchy, gooey, boozy concoction was on its way.

In case you’re counting, six cans remained after my Dad’s refreshment. Two cans went into dinner on Saturday night, for Beer Cheese Bread with Everything Bagel Topping and Warm Beer Poached Shrimp and Fennel Salad. Two recipes for the price of one in this week’s post!

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Beer Poached Shrimp and Fennel Salad
From Bryan Miller in The New York Times

Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon fresh dill or fennel fronds, chopped
1½ teaspoons mustard, preferably spicy
6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
, to taste

Poached Shrimp:
12 ounces of light beer
2 cloves garlic
, peeled and smashed
5 sprigs fresh dill or a combination of dill and fennel frondsDSC_9511
1 pound shrimp, peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste

Fennel, etc.:
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 fennel bulbs
, cored, sliced thin and cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
Additional dill or fennel fronds for garnish

Prepare vinaigrette. You will need to adjust seasoning according to your mustard. I used a combination of Dijon and coarse stone-ground mustard, enhanced with a touch of pepper. Fennel fronds made up a good portion of the herbs for my vinaigrette. I should have had plenty of dill, since I planted it in my garden this spring, but it went mostly to seed before I got the chance to use it!
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In a deep saucepan (with lid reserved), pour beer and add garlic, dill sprigs/fennel fronds, and some salt and pepper. At medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil before lowering the heat and allowing it to simmer for ten minutes.
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Meanwhile, take a separate skillet/saute pan and heat the olive over medium heat. Stir in your bite-sized fennel pieces and cook until they are starting to soften. Remove from stove. You can place the fennel on the serving plate, but keep warm.
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In the saucepan with the beer, drop the shrimp. Turn heat up, cover with lid and cook for about a minute. Turn off heat and remove lid.
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Use a slotted spoon to remove and drain the shrimp. Arrange shrimp over the fennel. Pour vinaigrette over the salad and add more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with fresh dill or fennel fronds.

The quantity shown here is a scaled down portion of the full recipe.

The quantity shown here is a scaled down portion of the full recipe.

 


 

As I mentioned earlier, the beer cheese bread recipe is highly adaptable. The recipe on myrecipes.com includes several suggestions. I used shallots and scallions because I had some, already pre-chopped from other recipes. The scallions got me thinking of my favorite bagel spread, scallion cream cheese, which got me thinking about bagels, which reminded me of the Everything Bagel Topping I purchased from good ol’ King Arthur Flour. Of course, you can replicate everything bagel topping with the requisite individual ingredients of onion, sesame, poppy seed, garlic and salt. I thought all of this would pair well with cheddar cheese, a type I always have on hand, in place of the Monterey Jack cheese specified in the original recipe. What a delicious brainstorm. I imagine being asked at a restaurant if I would like something from the beer, cheese, or bread section of the menu. Easy answer: “Yes, please.”
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Beer Cheese Bread with Everything Bagel Topping
Adapted from Cooking Light’s recipe on myrecipes.com

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 Cup shallot
, finely chopped
1/4 Cup scallions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove
, minced
13.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 Cups)
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese
, shredded
12 ounces bottle light lager beer
Cooking spray
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
, melted
2-3 Tablespoons Everything Bagel topping

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Preheat oven to 375°.

In a small skillet set on medium-low, heat the olive oil. Add shallots and green onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to caramelize (about 7 minutes).
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Add pepper and garlic, stir to incorporate for 1 minute.

Measure flour and combine with sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk.
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Make a well in the center of the dry mixture for adding the onion mixture, cheese, and beer. Stir to moisten the batter completely. Lumps are OK.

Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour batter in and drizzle 1 Tablespoon of melted butter. Sprinkle with the everything bagel topping.
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Bake at 375° for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. After about 30 minutes, you could drizzle additional butter on top.

Pay no attention to the beat-up oven mitts!

Pay no attention to the beat-up oven mitts!


Cool for a few minutes, and then turn loaf out of pan to cool completely. I took my bread out of the oven a little early, so it was still very moist in the center. This gave it a deliciously tender, cake-like quality. If you want it more toasty, leave it in longer.
It's hard to resist this bread, even under-done.

It’s hard to resist this bread, even under-done.


Try your best not to consume the whole loaf right away. As expected, it makes a wonderful breakfast. Haven’t you always wanted to have beer for breakfast? Breakfast of champions. Enjoy!

Green Tomato and Swiss Chard Gratin

The summer has been much cooler than previous summers, which has been refreshing. Lower energy bills are a perk, and subway and walking commutes are much less sticky. But the lower temperatures mean that my tomatoes have been pokey about ripening. I’m getting impatient! Chances are, as always, as soon as a couple of fruits start ripening, too many will, and I will be scrambling. Before that happens, I stole a few unripened tomatoes from the plant to make this dish.
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This is the first time I have tapped into the green tomatoes so early. There are usually some left over on the plant when the first frost creeps in, and I snatch them before my garden is winterized.

I make fried green tomatoes at least once every year. They keep me in touch with my southern roots. Buttermilk dressings and remoulade sauce make excellent pairings. In this recipe, lightly fried tomatoes make the topping of the gratin. It seems to me more like a crustless quiche of Swiss chard and Gruyère cheese with a green tomato topping.
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I hope you’re not getting sick of me posting about chard. Remember, you can substitute pretty much any hearty green..spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, etc. I just happen to have chard again!
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Green Tomato and Swiss Chard Gratin
Reproduced from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in The New York Times

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems separated from the leaves
1 lb green tomatoes, sliced a little less than 1/2 inch thick
1/2-3/4 Cup cornmeal for dredging, as needed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 Cup milk
Approx 1/2 Cup or 2-3 ounces Gruyère cheese
, grated

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Prepare your 2-quart baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray or olive oil.

To blanch the swiss chard leaves, fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. While the water heats, dice the swiss chard stems and set aside to be combined with the chopped onion.

Taste the rainbow.

Taste the rainbow.


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Once boiling, drop the chard leaves in the water and blanch for about 1 minute.
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Lift out of the water and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. Put the leaves in a colander to drain excess water. Chop and set aside.

Slice your green tomatoes. This is a little tedious with the plum tomatoes–ideally you have abundant round beefsteak or big boys. Season the slices with a little salt and pepper, and add a little salt and pepper to the cornmeal as well.
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Dredge the tomatoes in the cornmeal.
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Glug 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the tomatoes for about two minutes each side, until they are just starting to turn golden. A narrow flexible spatula, like the type used for fish, is helpful for turning over the slippery suckers. When done, transfer to a plate and set aside.
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While frying the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add more olive oil to the now-empty pan and pour in the onion and chopped chard stems. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables soften. Add a pinch of salt, some grinds of pepper, and your minced garlic.
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Cook for about a minute, and then finally add the thyme and chopped chard. Stir everything together over medium heat for another minute. Good luck keeping it in the pan as your stir! Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, whisk the 3 eggs with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour in the milk, stir, and then add the cheese and chard and stir. Pour into your baking dish.
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Layer the tomatoes over the top.
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Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The gratin is done when the eggs are set and it is beginning to brown.

Could be browner.

Could be browner.


This makes a generous 6 servings, so I will be enjoying it all week!
Chow down!

Chow down!

Beet Carpaccio Salad with Goat Cheese, Proscuitto, and Candied Walnuts

Isn’t it ironic that the most delicious, comforting foods can look ugly in photographs. while cold, bland dishes appear stunning? (I checked to make sure that I am using the word “ironic” correctly, especially after watching Weird Al’s music video this week). We live in a world where it can’t be true that you ate good food unless you got a good picture. I can be reluctant to post certain recipes on this blog because they look unimpressive in my pictures.

I’m not going to dwell on these facts, because today I have a recipe for you that is delicious for the eyes and the mouth. Hooray!
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When you receive something as visually lively as red and white candy cane beets in your farm share, you have to show them off. If you have one red beet leftover from the previous week, even better! Throw in some salt, some sugar, and some fresh herbs, and some creamy and crunchy texture, and you have a delightful dish.

Beet Carpaccio Salad with Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Candied Walnuts
Inspired by this, this, and this

About 3 medium-large beets, of various colors – such as 1 red and 2 Chioggia
For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon of fresh basil
, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon red onion
or shallot, minced
juice from 1 lemon
5 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

To top it off:
about 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
, to taste
about 2 teaspoons capers, to taste
1 piece of proscuitto, chopped into bite-sized pieces, to taste
about 3 Tablespoons candied walnuts, chopped (see below for instructions), to taste

You can roast the beets and glaze the walnuts for this recipe the day or even days before, which eases the pressure of completing it for dinner guests.

Burnt edges but still edible!

Burnt edges but still edible!

I thought I would take a shortcut and use a microwave method for combining the sugar and walnuts. Not a good idea–even at 2 minute intervals, they started burning and sticking before they were supposed to be done. As a result, I don’t advise following this recipe. Anyway, I used 1 Cup walnut halves and 1/3 Cup sugar plus 2 Tablespoons of water. Using these quantities and caramelizing on the stovetop with a little more water would probably be fine. Once they are coated in melted sugar, pour onto a sheet to cool. Transfer to an airtight container and use for any and all salads. Or snacking.

For roasting the beets, heat the oven to 350F. Trim the beets before roasting.
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Wrap in an aluminum foil packet with a little sprinkle of water. Place on a roasting pan and cook until tender when pierced with a fork (check at 45 minutes). Once done and cool, they should be easy to peel.

The chioggia beets remind me of a beautiful sunset...

The chioggia beets remind me of a beautiful sunset…

Slice the beets thinly and layer on a white dish, alternating colors.
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Prepare the dressing ingredients: lemon, basil, onion, and olive oil.
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You could add a pinch of sugar or a drop of honey if you want more sweetness.

Drizzle dressing evenly over the beets.
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Top with crumbled goat cheese, walnuts, prosciutto slices, and capers.
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The assembled salad keeps well and develops more flavor in the refrigerator.
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Because it looks so beautiful, you won’t hesitate to reach for any leftovers!