Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fried Green Tomatoes

It almost seems silly to post a recipe for fried green tomatoes - they are so simple to make, anyone could probably come up with a reasonable version toying around in the kitchen for a short while. I will, however, post this recipe as a nudge to those who have not yet attempted this delicious snack (and perfect weekend lunch). Additionally, here in MyTown, green tomatoes seem more plentiful than locally-grown red ones (though I did manage to find some beauties) at our farmer's markets, so it's a practical recipe as well.

I have fond memories of my own fried green tomato discovery.

In college, I lived downstairs from a friend who, each Sunday, cooked up a mess of Soul Food. W would make chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and potatoes as a matter of course each week. I was lucky enough to hang around and peek at the food all day long, before eating at dinnertime.

Having picked up a bunch of green tomatoes at the farmers' market, I decided to try my hand at the Southern treat. I brought the tomatoes up to W's apartment, and she passed along her recipe. Usually, W fried her tomatoes in bacon fat, and though mine are a little lighter, they make me smile and think of her.

Fried Green Tomatoes
2 medium green tomatoes, sliced (about 1/2-inch slices)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup medium-to-fine grind cornmeal
Fresh ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Cooking spray or olive oil

Mix cornmeal and seasonings to taste in a large shallow bowl or plate. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray or coat with olive oil. Dip each tomato slice in beaten egg on both sides. Dredge in cornmeal mixture, and place in skillet. Flip tomatoes when cornmeal is slightly browned and crisped.

A plateful of these beauties makes a perfect lunch, with a handful of seasonal fruit and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mix Up Your Cucumber Salad

Well, we're back from our housing search in SmallMountainTown, and boy is it a small town! I consider myself a city girl to the core, and it seems I'm in for a big change on August 1st. Even so, we will be only 70 miles outside HUGECity, which offers lots of amenities and lovely friend J!

Our housing search was a great success . . . we ended up taking an apartment in a turn-of-the-century Victorian mansion which is still in the process of renovation. The landlords are highly recommended by Our Hero's new colleagues, so we have every reason to believe things will turn out well. One of our landlords is a professional in the dining/hospitality field, and I've seen (and loved) his kitchen, so I am hoping and praying the kitchen will be wonderful. I think people who love to cook would have a hard time building a crappy kitchen. I'll provide pictures when available. The good news: the stove will be gas. Amen.

We've had a bit of a sticky heatwave these past few days in MyTown, and standing over a hot stove sounded absolutely hellish. Instead, I whipped up this cucumber salad from Eating Well, which served me well as a light, hot-weather supper. It's a nice change from my standard (and delicious) yogurt-cuke-red onion-dill combo. The beans and feta give this some protein. Our Hero preferred it as a side dish with a fat roast beef sandwich. Either way you use it, light meal or side, it is fresh-tasting and delicious.

Cucumber-Black-Eyed-Pea Salad
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 T. olive oil
Pinch dried or t. chopped fresh oregano
Black pepper
4 cups peeled, diced cucumber
14-oz. can black-eyed peas
1 cup diced sweet bell pepper
1/4 cup sliced red onion
1/2 cup crumbled feta (sheep's milk is best)
6-8 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

Whisk together first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add other ingredients and toss well. Taste for seasoning. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Oh yes, a personal note for a friend enduring a language pledge this summer (thank you google translator?):
انا نفتقدكم ، اندريا! لا استطيع الانتظار لاتحدث اليكم في عطلة نهاية هذا الاسبوع ، انه يرغب شخصيا.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Spring Onion Pizza

At our local farmer's market in Mytown, offerings are getting good. I couldn't resist the fat-bulbed sweet spring onions that beckoned to me from the farmstands. I picked up some beautiful local asparagus as well. I thought about a way to showcase both of these flavors and decided a pizza was the best way to go. I wanted this pizza to scream freshness and spring-y goodness, so selected a nice hunk of fresh porcini mushroom, prosciutto di parma, goat cheese, and basil. I served it with a locally-grown romaine salad.

For pizza crust instructions, see my favorite recipe here.

Additionally, dear readers, things are starting to get nutso with our impending relocation to SmallMountainTown. I beg forgiveness for the sparseness of my posts: look forward to a bit of leisure time come August!

Spring Onion Pizza
1 recipe pizza dough (preferably whole-wheat)
Olive oil
3/4 cup spring onions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch lengths, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup asparagus, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup chopped fresh porcini mushroom (any variety would work)
3 thin slices prosciutto di parma, sliced crosswise into strips
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Generous handful fresh basil chiffonade

Prepare pizza dough according to recipe. Preheat oven and pan to 500 degrees. I recommend a pizza stone, but a baking sheet will work too. Heat a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and saute 3 minutes or so. Add asparagus and saute until tender. Stir in spring onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat.

Stretch or roll dough into a large round (or rectangle, if using baking sheets). Top pizza round with the sparsest sprinkling of olive oil, the veggies, prosciutto, and goat cheese. Remove hot stone or pan from the oven, sprinkle with cornmeal, and use a peel to transfer the pizza onto the pan/stone. Alternatively, build the pizza directly on the hot pan/stone. Put pizza in oven and lower heat to 450 degrees. Bake until crust is crispy and golden on the edges, 15 minutes or so. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My, What Big Mussels You Have

A couple of weeks ago, after our friend and gourmand R cooked us the most incredible littleneck clams we'd ever eaten, I decided that I'd have to recreate his recipe myself. This is the most wonderful way to eat mussels and clams alike, in my humble opinion.

Even better, it's criminally easy.

I made a few changes to the recipe as R prepared it, substituting mussles for the clams (the grocery had just sold out), and substituting farmer's-market-fresh swiss chard for R's escarole. I served it with fresh bread to soak up every glorious drop of the broth and some simply sauteed (and local) asparagus spears, dressed in lemon.

The flavor combinations here are exquisite: briny seafood; onion, garlic, and bell pepper; chorizo sausage; bitter greens; and beer. I don't know what else to say other than MAKE THIS IMMEDIATELY. Invite your friends over and argue and laugh over steaming bowls of this stuff.

Special thanks to (as Our Hero puts it) my "BFF forever," for brightening my month with her visit and providing excellent kitchen help to boot. Of course, thanks to R as well (without whom, none of this would have been possible).

The Best Damn Mussels You've Ever Had
1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any with broken shells and any that do not close when shells are gently tapped)
Tiniest t. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 large sweet onion, halved again through its pole and cut into crescent-slices
1 sweet bell pepper (any color but green), cut into long 1/2-inch strips and then halved crosswise
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
3 links chorizo sausage, quartered lengthwise and chopped
3-4 cups cooking greens, washed and roughly chopped
12 oz. (one bottle) good beer (R and I used Anchor Steam Ale)
Black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven with a cover over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and bell pepper and saute until just beginning to soften, 3 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper. Add chorizo and stir, 2-3 minutes. Pour in beer and bring to a boil. Season to taste with black pepper. Add greens and cover until just wilted. Stir and then add mussels. Cover and steam until mussels open, about 5-8 minutes. Discard any that do not open. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blueberry Muffins

Our Hero loves blueberry muffins. Actually, he loves anything blueberry. This being said, as blueberries appeared in earnest at the grocery store this Saturday, I couldn't resist buying him some of his favorite fruit.

In the same way that Our Hero loves blueberries, I love making muffins. They are so simple and last for days and can even be frozen and defrosted for a delicious weekday breakfast. There must be a million ways to make blueberry muffins. I've tried lots of ways (adapted from low-fat cookbooks to those of fancy celebrity chefs), and this particular recipe is my new favorite. I have very particular considerations about the kinds of muffins I favor:
1. 100% whole wheat without being heavy
2. Not overly sweet
3. Not packed with fat
4. Not soggy
5. Not rubbery

These muffins, adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything do the trick, perfectly. These muffins have a biscuit-like texture, with only the slightest hint of sweetness. The lemon zest gives them a subtle fragrance. Very important in the success of this recipe is the use of white whole-wheat flour. Traditional whole-wheat flour will be too heavy. Next time, I may replace the milk with buttermilk, for kicks.

100% Whole-Wheat Blueberry Muffins
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 t. baking powder
2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 t. fresh lemon zest
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries (frozen will work too)

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Mix together dry ingredients and lemon zest. In another small bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Make a well in the dry and add the wet. Stir until just combined. The batter should be thick but still wet. Add a little more milk if it seems too dry. Stir in blueberries, and divide among muffin cups. Serve warm with butter and/or raw unfiltered honey.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pearl Barley Risotto

I've wanted to make risotto with pearl barley ever since I read about the technique. I can't quite remember where I stumbled onto this suggestion, maybe Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook? In any event, it had been on my short list of must-try dishes.

Since I've largely abandoned refined grains (aside from the occasional slice of pizza or wedge of yummy cake), I've missed risotto. Yes, I've made it more than a few times with short-grain brown rice, but the reason I haven't put it together more often is one in the same as the thing that kills me about whole-grain risotto. It takes SO frickin' long! With arborio rice, you're stirring, tops, 25 minutes. With short-grain brown rice or pearl barley, you're stuck by the stove for (perhaps over) 60 minutes!

The recipe I used from Eating Well lied and said it would only take me 35-45 minutes. HA! Thanks to another epiphany/kitchen hint from Mark Bittman, I knew constant stirring is not necessary for risotto. He recommends the heat at a rather high temperature and not to leave the risotto unstirred more than a minute. In this manner, I was able to take lots of mini-breaks from stirring. Thank you, Mr. Bittman.

Though it took more than an hour to reach al dente (mis en place plus one hour cooking time), it was a success, taste-wise. The mushrooms, red wine, and arugula gave this a very rich and woodsy flavor. I would recommend this recipe, but make sure to do it on a night with lots of time to spend in the kitchen. Even better, make it with a friend and chat away while you take turns stirring.

Pearl Barley Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Arugula
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups mixed wild mushrooms, chopped or sliced
1/2 cup red wine
6 cups baby arugula
1 T. butter
1/3 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
2 t. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat stock and water to a simmer on the stovetop.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until they begin to give up their liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir in pearl barley and stir constantly, 1 minute, to coat with oil. Add wine and stir until liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring very frequently until liquid has mostly been absorbed. Be sure that you stir often enough that the risotto will not scorch on the bottom of the pan. Keep heat at medium to medium-high. Cook barley until al dente (you may not use all the liquid, but I did). Stir in arugula until wilted. Add butter, cheese, and vinegar. Season to taste.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pretty Things

Following Orangette's inimitable, exquisite, and beautifully-photographed lead, I put together her composed salad for last night's rainy and humid dinner hour. My photo is not as pretty, but does show that we put together a reasonable facsimile.

Yes, you heard me right, it did rain and I did enjoy reading my book on the back porch. Thankyouverymuch.

Back to dinner - it was so tasty and simple, the flavors so bright and summery, Our Hero and I cleaned our plates (and he had a Hero-sized serving). We had little juice-glasses of a nice semi-dry white wine as accompaniment, and spooned a bit of the wine over the melon, which was lovely.

I entreat you all to throw your own together and celebrate the season of juicy melons and herby greens!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Ah, nothing like a lazy Sunday morning . . . Today, I slept until 8:30! Those of you who know me know this is highly unusual, as I am generally up by 7:00am on the weekends. It was relaxing and luxurious, and I allowed myself to enjoy it. Yay me!

The weather's been calling for "spotty showers," and since I've returned from a long walk around the park and the neighborhood, I am secretly wishing for an afternoon shower/thunderstorm so that I can sit on our covered back porch and read my book. Don't tell anyone, I have friends who would never forgive me.

Whole-Grain Pancakes with Yogurt
From Everyday Food
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour or traditional whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup corn meal (medium to fine grind)
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 T. flax meal (ground flaxseed--optional)
2 t. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2/3 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
2 T. canola oil
1 large egg
Canola oil for griddle
Toppings of choice (fruit, preserves, yogurt, syrup, butter)

Mix the dry ingredients together using a whisk. Whisk up the wet ingredients in a bigger bowl, add dry to wet, don't overmix (small lumps are ok). This batter is a bit thicker than other pancake batters. Heat a skillet to medium heat, spread canola oil on surface with paper towel. Use about 3 T. batter for each pancake, spreading with the back of the spoon. Wait until bubbles form in the center to turn, 1-3 minutes per side.

Our Hero likes his with real maple syrup, I like mine with just a touch of butter.