Monthly Archives: July 2011

Baby Bundt Cakes (makes 5 or 6)

Here is my daughter’s first totally independent baking attempt, and, I have to say it; amazing results! She choose a recipe from a cookbook by Nigella Lawson, “How To Be A Domestic Goddess”, which she received as a Christmas present the year before. 

My daughter's first cookbook

As far as my observations go, and from the experience of being a kid myself oh so long ago, baking is the first thing that attracts little people into the kitchen. Something about mixing batters, and cracking eggs into bowls of sugar, and whipping them into a frenzy, feels like being in a giant play kitchen, only the results of their play are sumptuous cakes, cookies and tarts.

a nice drizzle of lemon sugar finishes this little cake to perfection.

The other great thing about baking is that cookbooks have very specific rules about everything, and children love to follow instructions step by step. Going by instinct or “feel” is just too difficult at a young age, so, I told my girl that following a recipe verbatim was a must to gain an understanding of why things work the way they do.

She made these baby bundt cakes simply because I had a bundt pan with baby bundt molds in it! The idea of making little cakes appealed to the little girl in her, and her need to make all things look pretty.

Her first solo baking master class was extremely successful, and turned out the best little cakes I have tasted in ages!

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For The Cakes, You will Need: 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 6 tbs butter, melted, 2 large eggs, zest of 1 lemon, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, pinch of salt, 7 tbs sugar,

For The Icing, You Will Need: 1 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar), juice of 1 lemon

Equipment: 1 mini bundt pan with 6 molds, buttered and oiled (about 4 x 2″ each)

Preheat 325*

mix eggs, yogurt & lemon zest

1 – Mix yogurt, melted butter, eggs and lemon zest together in a small bowl.

mix dry ingredients together

2 – Put the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon.

Fill bundt molds (messy is good!)

3 – Fill bundts and bake for 25-30 minutes. When they are cooked, leave for 1 minute before unmolding, and then unmold carefully, and cool on wire rack.

cool cakes on wire rack

4 – Make icing by sifting sugar and mixing in lemon juice. Drizzle over cakes with a spoon when completely cool.

Drizzle with icing

Serve after dinner or with something like coffee or tea.

Lucious Green Bean Side-Dish (Serves 6)

Over the past two weeks my CSA box (look to top right of my blog for more info.) has been more than filled with every vegetable imaginable growing at this time of year, but the green beans, or should I say, the green, yellow, and purple beans, have been real show stoppers. What is the first thing that appeals to you in the vegetable section of the supermarket, or the Farmer’s market? For me, it is color, and, what a beautiful display a bowl of multi-colored beans makes!

bowl of colorful green beans from Good Work Farm

I made sure to take a picture of my bowl of beans before I plunged them into boiling water to blanch them, as I knew that the beautiful purple ones would be replaced by green-colored beans! If you haven’t discovered this for yourself, purple beans (and other purple vegetables like purple brocoli) lose their purple cloak under the pressure of heat (something to do with the chemical, anthocyanin, which is present in the vegetable in the raw state, but is broken down when heat is applied).

Despite the diminished color of this dish, it was outstanding. I blanched and sautéed them with garlic, thyme and olive oil to go with a main course. The garlic became crispy and sticky and gave these lovely beans real gumption!

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You will Need: 1 1/2 lbs mixed green beans (purple, yellow and green, OR it is fine if you have just 1 color), 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped, 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper.

1 – Put big pot of water on to boil and when it boils add the beans. Bring back to a boil, cover and time for 3 minutes. Drain in colander.

Steamy blanched beans (devoid of purple)

2 – Put big saute pan on medium heat and add the oil. When it has warmed add the garlic and the thyme and cook for 1 minute.

Saute garlic and thyme in olive oil

3 – Add the green beans and turn up heat slightly. Sprinkle with some salt and several grinds of pepper. Cook until beans soften but still have a slight crunch. Stir frequently. Taste to test. Turn heat off.

Yum

Serve as a side-dish or toss with pasta and an extra drizzle of olive oil as a light main coarse.

Baked Summer Squash (serves 6 as Side Dish or 4 as Main Dish)

Yes, what can I say; more zucchini!! As “Farmer Sarah” from my CSA said (look to right of my blog for more info.),  zucchini and squash sometimes get “thrown under the bus”, and, I agree that they deserve more reverence. During the summer months one can get sick of the sight of them, because, when they arrive, they come in droves! The thing you have to remember is how you feel in the wintertime when there isn’t a fresh vegetable in sight, and the dark moods of the season are looming on every corner, waiting to pounce. Imagining how good even this lowly vegetable would taste gives me new appreciation for the glut of summer produce. This thought spurs me on to not waste a single vegetable, and forces me to be creative.

My Squash & Zucchini Hoard!

Which brings me to this fabulous light main meal (or side-dish) that I made a few days ago. There are plenty of baked squash recipes out there, but I find a lot of them stodgy and heavy. I wanted to use the same principle of a baked layered squash dish, but lighten it up with fresh ingredients, and, not bake it into what I have sometimes been served (and indeed made myself!), unrecognisable sludge.

What I did with my summer squash.

This dish is all about fresh everything; squash and zucchini, whole basil leaves, fresh in-season tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese. I fried the zucchini and squash to give them texture on the outside and to shorten the oven time. After that, I simply layered the ingredients, seasoned with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and baked in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Everything was wonderful together, but still retained it’s own distinct flavor.

If you have access to “fresh everything” make this sumptuous and fast dish.

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You will Need: 6 yellow squash or mixture of squash & zucchini, sliced into thick coins, 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 24 fresh basil leaves, 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, 8 – 10 plum tomatoes (in season if using fresh, or, good quality canned, Don’t use the juice  – I use San Marzano), sliced, Freshly ground black pepper flakes, coarse sea salt.

Slice into thick coins

1 – Season the “coins” with a little salt and pepper. Put big saute pan on medium heat and add oil. When the oil gets hot, fry squash and/or zucchini until brown on both side (about 2 minutes per side).

Fry coins in olive oil

2 – To assembler dish: Put a single layer on the bottom of a casserole dish (13×9″ or similar) and top with 1/2 of the tomato slices. Finish off with 12 of the basil leaves and 1/2 of the mozzarella pieces. Season with several grinds of black pepper.

Assemble

3 – Repeat the process (squash, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella). Season with black pepper. Bake in the oven until the mozzarella starts to turn slightly brown (start checking after 20 minutes).

keep layering

Serve as an antipasto, or, as part of a main course. It also makes a fantastic summer lunch.

A lovely fresh summer dish

Squid Simmered in Basil Broth with Baby Potatoes and Spinach (serves 4)

It is at this time in the growing season that I am seeing those to-die-for potatoes, which come in all shapes, sizes and colors. . There is nothing like eating a potato fresh from the dirt which has been boiled, and slathered in butter with a splash of coarse salt. When I was growing up and it was close to dinnertime and everyone was clammering to be fed, my mother would throw each of us a potato to keep us at bay while she tried to get our meal on the table. It worked every time.

Just the other day my friends told me about some fabulous documentary they watched called The Botany of Desire (based on a book by Michael Pollan) on TV the other night. The book (and consequently the documentary) explores the relationship between humans and plants, and how it has evolved.

The potato (and being from Ireland, a vegetable very close to my heart) was touted as being so rich in the nutrients that humans need, it was responsible for massive population expansion. Pollan went on to say that in fact a human being could exist on potatoes and raw milk for an entire lifetime. What happened in Ireland in the mid 1800’s then? Well apparently, only 1 strain of the tuber was grown and eaten since the mid 16th century, the “lumper” and, when blight disease took hold of it, and turned the crop to a black mush within weeks, the people had no other variety growing to fall back on? I have put this book on the top of my ever-growing reading list to study his theory in more depth (after all, there are many other sound ideas out there as to why Ireland’s population was halved in the late 1840’s)

Fresh dinner!

I am lucky to live in a place and time where I can find great tasting potatoes. Potatoes do not need a lot of space or great soil to thrive. A very small patch of ground can yield mounds of potatoes and they keep for a long time if stored correctly. My uncle told me when he was young (Ireland in the 1940’s & 5o’s) he and my father would dig a hole, fill it with potatoes and then pile the earth on top in such a way as to help control the temperature, keeping the potatoes from going bad, and sustaining the family for the entire winter. I don’t know how well this worked, and nowadays, since I live in a place where good potatoes are readily available most of the year, I’m not inclined to go to that much trouble to find out.

Basil from my garden and jalapeno from my sister-in-law's garden next door!

I haven’t even made a dent in expressing how I feel about this vegetable, but suffice is to say at this time, I love potatoes, their history, and the part they played in my formative years!

I usually cook a dish like this and serve it with pasta, but this time, I used a beautiful yellow baby potato, and everything tasted spectacular together. The lemony broth with a hint of the ocean, mixed with the creamy sweetness of the potatoes, was a taste combination I will yearn for again and again.

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You will need: 1lb squid tentacles, 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 mild jalapeno pepper, 20 lemon basil leaves, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 3/4 cup white wine, 2/3 cups chicken or veggie broth, 2-3 lbs baby potatoes (depending on how many you want), 4-6 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed (no need to dry), coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

1 – Put potatoes in pot and cover with cold water. Put pot on stove-top and when water comes to a boil, turn the heat down very slightly, cover and boil potatoes until cooked. Test by either sticking a knife into the center of a potato or taking a potato out of the pot and slicing in half. If the knife goes through easily, they are cooked. Drain and set aside in colander until ready to use.

Boil baby potatoes and slice in half.

2 – Put a big saute pan on low/medium heat and add oil. When it has warmed, add the garlic and sliced jalapeno pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Saute garlic and jalapeno pepper

3 – Turn heat up to medium and add the squid. Saute for 3 minutes before adding the liquids. Heat everything until it begins to simmer and add the lemon basil. Cover and simmer very gently for 40 minutes or until the squid is tender (eat a piece to test). Taste broth and add salt and pepper at this point if you feel it needs it.

add squid, then liquids and basil leaves

4 – Add the potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes have warmed up.

Add potatoes

5 – Add the spinach in an even layer over the top, cover and let it wilt into the broth (about 3 or 4 minutes). Take lid off and give everything a stir.

...then spinach

Serve in warmed bowls or shallow plates.

What's not to love!

Cold Blueberry Tart (serves 8-10)

I went blueberry picking not so long ago (check out the post  by  blueberry picking), and now, I am compelled to make all things blueberry! I went with my friend Lisa, and between the bunch of us, we picked nearly 20lbs. Now the running joke is to casually say when we are asked what is for dinner; “blueberry pasta” or “blueberry marinated pork chops” or “duck a la blueberry” or, just plain old, “plate of blueberries!”

What to do with boat loads of blueberries!

I do like blueberries, but I can’t say that I absolutely love them (I can hear the incredulous gasp right now!). Since they were not native to the country I grew up in, they are still a strange fruit to me. I remember the first time I had breakfast in a diner. I just had to order the pancakes (another very unfamiliar food to me) bespeckled with those little blue jewels. I remember how mild they tasted and how the consistency was not really berry-like, but more like a jelly. Why then did I go blueberry picking?

Cold Blueberry Tart – the very best summer dessert!

Well, this might sound quaint, but, it felt like such an American thing to do. I had to have this experience. Consequently, I had the best morning ever, and I vowed to love blueberries from then on.

My favorite way to eat a blueberry is completely raw, untouched by the cooking process. I wanted to make a dessert that left my blueberries in tact, and, I think I hit on something fantastic! I used mascarpone cheese for the filling and knew that the usual practice is to add eggs and sugar to it. I winged the quantities and it worked out great.

But, one of the most interesting things I want to tell you about this recipe has to do with the mascarpone cheese. The cheese itself is an Italian triple-cream cheese made from creme fraiche. That all sounds very Italian, right? However, to my delight, I found out it was first produced in  the south of Ireland in the early 17th century! I’m going to make an educated guess and say it was first discovered by some industrious monk, who had a happy accident involving a bucket of milk! The monks are responsible for all sorts of wonderful culinary delights, not to mention masters of turning hoppy wheat into beer.

OK – now I love blueberries, or at least, I love them like this. This tart is a real show-stopper, easy as pie to make (ha ha), and the blueberries not only look beautiful, but are a great balance for the creamy, lightly sweetened cheese. We had a slice after dinner, but, I have to confess, it tasted just as spectacular with my cup of coffee the next morning.

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You will need: 14 chocolate graham crackers OR 4 cups chocolate teddy graham crackers, 4 tbs unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 3 tbs sugar, 1 lb mascarpone cheese, 2 or 3 cups fresh blueberries. 1 fluted tart pan (11 x 1 1/4″ with removable bottom if possible)

1 – Pulverize crackers in food processor until it has turned to a meal.

blitz graham crackers in food processor

2 – Melt butter on low heat and slowly add to the processor through funnel as it is spinning.

Melt butter in pan on low heat.

3 – Empty contents into tart pan and spread evenly. Press down firmly, but gently until it feels like a solid mass.

Press crumbs into tart pan

4 – Separate egg yolks and egg whites, putting each in a separate bowl. Add sugar to the yolks and whisk until the mixture becomes creamy (about 4 minutes).

Whisk egg yolks with sugar

5 – Whisk whites until they become nice and foamy (about 4 minutes). Put the mascarpone into the bowl with the egg yolks and mix together gently. Fold in the egg whites until they are fully incorporated.

Whisk egg whites until stiff

6 – Spread mixture into tart pan and spread evenly. Top with lots and lots of blueberries. Chill in fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.

Spread mascarpone mixture into tart pan

Slice immediately upon taking it out of the fridge and watch it disappear!

Chill and serve cold

Curried Zucchini Soup (serves 6)

My friend Lisa, the champion gardener, gave me a big bag of hefty zucchini and squash (below) to do with what I pleased. She did not seem to be able to bake zucchini bread fast enough! I gladly helped her out and whisked them home before she had a chance to change her mind. Having a summer garden is a feast or famine experience. In the winter, you would give anything for a freshly picked vegetable, whereas in the summer you have to give your bounty away or it can swallow you up! Between what I grow, what I am pleaded to take off my friend’s and neighbor’s hands, and my CSA crop share, I never have to walk into the vegetable aisle of my supermarket from June to November!

A gift from Lisa's Garden

I must confess that zucchini bread doesn’t come to mind when I have lots of this vegetable to use up. I prefer to do things like stuff them, bake them, or make a delicious soup. I think curried zucchini soup is one of my favorite summer soups. I love the silky smooth texture and the sea of green flecks from the pulverized skin. The curry powder adds the rich yellow color and a lovely counter-balance to this mild tasting vegetable. 

Swirl in a little cream to decorate if you’re in the creative mood.

I love it as a first course. It somehow manages to impress, despite it’s simplicity. It is also great with a nice piece of crusty bread and a mild-flavored cheese for lunch, or a light dinner. I adore this soup!

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You will need: 3 big zucchini, or mixture of zucchini & squash, thickly sliced, 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 medium/large sweet onion, diced, 1 fresh thyme sprig, (if you have it; don’t run out to buy one especially!), 1/2 tbs curry powder (I used a strong vindaloo powder), 5 cups water, 1 good quality stock cube (I use Rapunzel brand; type in search box to read more in my pantry section), OR 3 cups chicken broth & 2 cups water, 3/4 cup heavy cream, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper.

1 – Put 3 or 4 qt pot on medium heat and add oil. When it has warmed, add the onions and thyme spring and cook for 10 minutes (until onions have softened). Add the curry powder and cook for another minute.

Saute onions, then curry powder

2 – Add the chopped zucchini and squash (if you are using) and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add zucchini

3 – Add the water , 1/2 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes (until zucchini are soft but not falling apart).

Add liquid and cook for 12-15 minutes

4 – Turn off heat, remove the thyme sprig, and let the soup cool for about 5 minutes. Using a big slotted spoon, transfer all the vegetables to your food processor with a 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and the heavy cream. Blend until it is as smooth as you can get it. Pour back into soup pot, making sure to scrape the sides of the processor with a spatula to get every last drop. Reheat on stove-top adding a little more broth or water if you desire a thinner soup.

blend in food processor until very smooth

Serve with crusty bread or on its own as an elegant first course.

Taco Party (serves 8-10)

I had invited some friends to dinner and I knew it was going to be a swelteringly hot and sticky day. I was absolutely sure that by evening time I would not want anything to do with hot ovens, and sizzling saute pans, so, I made up my mind to get everything ready before the cool weather was seized by the hot, relentless sun!

Nothing better than fresh tacos on a hot Summer's day!

I wanted the food to be casual and buffet-like, which would leave me free to hang out and spend time with my company. However, I also wanted lots of flavor, color and variety. Sometimes, the only way to achieve this is by putting in time and effort. Making a dinner like this is difficult if you only have an hour or two before guests are expected (which is generally the case).  But, it was a Sunday, and besides the usual hum-drum tasks of the day, I was free to spend time doing what I pleased. I choose to spend my time steadily cooking fillings for tacos, as well as making the tacos themselves!

Shrimp Taco

I cooked all the meat before 10am and prepped the shrimp, and, as I started into the simple, but laborious task of making the soft corn tacos my daughter said she would love to help. When cooking involves any sort of dough it has endless appeal to children for the obvious reason that it feels like playing, not working!  I decided to put her on pan duty. I would form the taco, and she would cook them for about 45 to 50 seconds per side. We turned into quite a little factory, me pressing out 5″ rounds of corn dough and her cooking one side, (timing herself for accuracy, and because I didn’t have time to look and tell her when to turn each and every one) flipping, and then the other, before stacking between paper towels to keep them from going hard while cooling. She said she could have done this all day long, and I could completely relate. If you have time on your hands, activities such as these have a way of emptying and relaxing your mind. My daughter had begun to discover the appeal of the kitchen, the lovely quite feeling one gets when working on little tasks. Our reward was a tall stack of beautiful soft corn tacos.

Stack O' Tacos

Toppings such as onion relish, smoky chipotle sour cream, salsa, chopped greens, and, cucumber and tomatoes steeped in a little orange juice, were made in between trying to clean up the house and make the place look semi-presentable, (somehow my house never manages to appear pristine no matter how much dusting and scrubbing takes place!).

Some toppings for the meat and shrimp

When my guests arrived it would then be a mere matter of putting  all the little dishes on the table, warming up the meat and frying the shrimp. This would leave me with plenty of time to make us all delicious drinks and sit and enjoy the company.

Endless possibilities!

The evening was so much better than I could have hoped for, and the food offered something special for every palate. I was so surprised that the hottest sauce in my cupboard was generously poured on the food of our youngest guest (only 9!) and, he begged for more!! Wow, I was completely impressed, and am wondering if I should give him the Habanero test when he next visits?

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Soft Shell Tacos (makes 50 approx.)

You will need; 5 cups corn masa flour (I used MASECA but Masa Harina is great also – this can be found with the other flours or in the ethnic section of your supermarket), 3 cups cold water, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt.

Equipment: Handy if you have a tortilla press and 2 plastic freezer bags

Mix water into masa

1 – In big bowl swirl together the salt and Masa flour (I use a whisk). Make a well in center of flour and pour in 3 cups of cold water. Mix until it forms 1 dough ball. If it is too dry add more water a little at a time until you have a solid ball. It needs to be more on the sticky than dry side.

cover tortilla press with thick plastic bags

2 – Take some plastic freezer bags and cut right below closure. Slip one bag over the top of your tortilla press (like a glove) and lay the other one on the bottom. Pinch off some dough about the size of a gold ball and roll into a ball between your palms.

Press down on dough ball with tortilla press

3 – Lay ball on center of press and flatten a little with your palm. Press tortilla. When you open the press the tortilla will be stuck to one or both of the pieces of plastic. Peel plastic away carefully and repress if you have to. It needs to measure between 5 and 6″s.

Cook for 45 to 50 seconds per side

4 – You can press all the tortilla and lay between sheets of wax paper Or, if you have a helper, one can be cooking them while one presses.

5 – Put heavy skillet or pan on medium heat and when it has warmed up put a tortilla in the center of the pan and time for 45 seconds, before turning and cooking on the other side for the same amount of time. As they are cooking press little divots in the dough to get air circulating.

Cool on paper towels, keep warm until ready to use

6 – Store cooked tortilla between paper towels to keep from going hard. To reheat, wrap in tea towel and then wrap in tin foil and place in a 225* oven.

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Making Beef, Chicken and Shrimp for Tacos

Beef Brisket

For Beef: Put a beef brisket, seasoned with salt and pepper (about 2 lbs) in a heavy casserole with 3 bay leaves, 1 onion, quartered, 10 peppercorns, 2 cloves of garlic. Bring liquid to a simmer, cover and simmer gently for 2 hours or until meat is very tender.

shred meat

Shred meat by raking a fork through the meat. Put meat in a bowl or dish and add a some cooking broth to keep moist, and cover.

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For Chicken: Put 5 or 6 chicken thigh cutlets into a heavy casserole with chopped garlic cloves, 2 cups of water, juice form 1 lime and lime rind, and 1 jalapeno cut into thick slices. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer very gently for 30 minutes or until meat is very tender.

chicken for tacos

Pull meat apart into pieces and pour a little of the broth over chicken to keep moist, cover and set aside.

Note: The broth from both the chicken and beef can be strained, cooled and put in the freezer to be used at a later date.

For shrimp: Shell and devein 1 lb of shrimp. season with a little salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime juice, and fry on high in 2 tbs of vegetable oil for 4 minutes. Transfer to plate until ready to use.

Other Condiments

cucumber & tomatoes

Peel 1 cucumber and slice into large dice. Slice two tomatoes in half, remove the flesh and seeds, and dice. Place in a bowl with 3 tbs of orange juice and 1 tbs of lime juice. Add 1/4 tsp coarse salt and mix. Taste to correct seasoning.

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Classic fresh Salsa

Slice 6 plum tomatoes in half and remove the flesh and dice. Put into a bowl with 2 tbs finely chopped red onion, 1  diced jalapeno, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and 1 tbs of lime juice. Taste and add salt if you feel it needs it.

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Red Onion Relish

Dice a small red onion very finely and put it in a little bowl along with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/4 tsp salt.

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Smokey Sour Cream

Mix 1 cup of sour cream with 2 tbs of chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, (chipotle peppers are smoked jalapeno and can be found in a can in adobo sauce).

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This food was amazing beyond belief!