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Archive for July, 2011

While most of the country is sweating out the heat wave of the century, here in the Bay Area we’re bundled up in sweaters dreaming of warmer days. And yes, I know, I should be used to this after twelve years. But just because the fog rolls in like a cold, wet blanket every July doesn’t mean a New England gal stops wishing for warm summer nights and lightning bugs.

Luckily, most of the farms around here are located in warmer inland climates, so no matter what the forecast holds in SF, the selection at the farmer’s market still smacks of summer— corn, tomatoes, peaches and other ripe things that drip down your chin while you eat them. I suppose that’s how the menu for our recent dinner party became a celebration of summer flavors to chase away the foggy blues. I stopped short of cranking up the heat in the house to 85 degrees so I could wear a sundress, but with a menu full of sun-drenched flavors I think I still managed to deliver that summer night feeling I was going for.

The menu:

Blackberry Lime Cocktails with Muddled Mint

Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto (I know it’s really more spring than summer, but the asparagus at Whole Foods was so thin and gorgeous, I couldn’t resist.)

Corn & Cilantro Salad

Grilled Flank Steak with Roasted Peach “Mole” Sauce

Watercress Salad with Endives and Toasted Almonds

Plum & Nectarine Tart

Here’s to backyard garden parties…even when you have to hold them indoors.

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About 2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
juice of six limes
generous handful of fresh mint
sparkling water
ice
Optional: booze. Choose your poison. We used vodka, but I think it would be also good with gin or rum. Or skip the sparkling water and use sparkling wine instead, maybe even with a dash of some fruity liqueur like Cointreau or Creme de Cassis. And believe it or not, it really is delicious as a virgin cocktail–always nice to have that option.

Combine 1 1/2 cups blackberries with water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Puree in a blender with 1 cup uncooked blackberries and lime juice. Strain mixture into a pitcher or glass jar and chill until party time. Can keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for several days. Put 2-3 cups of ice into a large pitcher with mint leaves and muddle with a wooden spoon until mint is nicely bruised and aromatic. Add 1-2 cups of blackberry mixture (sorry, I did a bad job measuring once the guests arrived, so you’ll have to wing it from this point forward), and about 4 cups of sparkling water. Booze it up to your heart’s content—as my dinner guest, “Ms. T Too” put it, “I’ll have the high-octane version, please”—and serve garnished with extra mint and lime wedges, maybe even a blackberry or two.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” feast.

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This recipe is from my friend Sandra, who brought it to our cooking club one time, and it instantly became one of my favorite summer dishes. Great for a picnic or dinner party because you can make it ahead of time.

6 ears of corn
6 slices pancetta
1 large red onion or 2 small ones, diced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper

Cook corn on the cob in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain and set aside to cool completely.

Dice pancetta and cook in a heavy skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off most of the bacon fat from pan, leaving a little goodness left in the pan for cooking your onions. Add onions, oil, vinegar, sugar, and dash of salt to pan, and cook over medium-low heat for about 20-25 minutes until caramelized, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Cut corn kernels off of the cobs and place in a large bowl. Add onion mixture and cilantro and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and if it seems dry, add a little more olive oil. If you’re making this ahead of time, cover and put it in the fridge. Take salad out about 3o minutes before serving to bring closer to room temp. Stir in crumbled pancetta just before serving.

Serves 6.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” Feast.

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This is one of my little kitchen experiments that yielded surprisingly good results on the first try. (They don’t always have happy endings, but I’ll spare you the failures, at least for now.) I wanted to create a sauce that had the velvety texture and layered complexity of a Mexican mole poblano, but with brighter summer flavors. I started with roasted peaches and cherry tomatoes as the flavor base in my head and layered from there. I’ll admit it, this is a very time-consuming recipe. Sometimes I like an excuse to spend all day in the kitchen. The good news is that you can do it all ahead of time so you can actually enjoy your own dinner party when the guests arrive. And the sauce freezes beautifully and no doubt would be equally good on salmon, pork, perhaps even chicken. In my book, totally worth the effort.

I wish I had better photos of the final dish, which was actually quite pretty. But I haven’t yet mastered the art of food photography after the sun goes down. The flash seems to make everything look like those unappetizing photo menus at bad foreign restaurants. Photography tips are welcome. In the meantime, my benchmark is if the photo doesn’t make me drool, better to leave it up to your imagination.

For Sauce:
4 ripe yellow peaches, +1 slightly firmer peach for grilling
2 cups cherry tomatoes
4 small shallots
4 cloves garlic (I used elephant garlic from the farmer’s market, so I only needed 2 cloves)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
2 canned chipotle chile peppers in adobo (if you like things on the spicy side, just one if you want to keep it mellow)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

For Steak:
1 1/2-2 lbs flank steak
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove crushed garlic

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet. Peel peaches and cut into wedges and toss in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, pepper. Spread onto half of baking sheet. Toss tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and spread onto the other half of baking sheet. Do the same with shallots (peeled, with ends cut off, but kept whole) and garlic (cut off ends, but keep peels on), and carve out a corner of the baking sheet for them. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through, until everything in the pan is soft, slightly browned and caramelized.

Remove pan from oven. Set aside about 1/2 cup of the roasted tomatoes in a bowl for later. Place remaining tomatoes, peaches, shallots (tough outer layers removed), garlic (peeled), and chipotles in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Strain mixture in batches through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. The mixture that’s left in the pan should be smooth and velvety.

Add water and molasses to saucepan with peach/tomato mixture and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 2o min. Add thyme and simmer for another 2o. Stir in lime juice, season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Set sauce aside until serving time.

Grind coriander seeds, peppercorns, kosher salt, sweet paprika and thyme in a mortar and pestle, until it’s the texture of coarsely ground pepper. Add sugar, olive oil and crushed garlic and mix into a paste. Spread paste evenly onto both sides of flank steak and marinate for 20-60 minutes.

Cut remaining peach into 6 wedges (leaving skin on) and skewer. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill steak and peaches over medium-high flames, for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. In the meantime, if your sauce has cooled, heat it now.

Carve steak across the grain into thin slices, and arrange slices on heated serving platter. Pour any juices that have collected on the cutting board over the steak, then top with a drizzle of “mole” sauce down the center. (Go easy–the stuff has a kick!). Scatter grilled peaches and reserved roasted tomatoes over the top of the platter and serve, with extra sauce on the side.

Serves 6.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” feast.

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This recipe is inspired by the crostata recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Cucina Simpatica” by Johanne Killeen & George Germon (Chefs and owners of the fabulous Al Forno restaurant in Providence, RI.) Once you’ve mastered the dough–which is really easy–you can add just about anything to the tart. I happened to have a random assortment of stone fruits lying around–two different kinds of plums and two different kinds of nectarines–that were almost past their prime. Sometimes I divide the dough and make individual tarts instead. That works especially well for berries or cherries. I love the rustic free-form shapes that you get with this style of tart, a.k.a crostata or galette, and it’s way easier than fussing with a pie dish. Don’t even look at how much butter is in the recipe–just put it in and forget about it. It’s worth every crumbly bite.

Dough:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Filling:
2 plums
2 nectarines
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons peach, apricot or plum jam (totally optional. I happened to have some peach lavender jam from the farmer’s market that I thought would be a nice touch.)

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and stick back into the fridge to keep cold while you set up the other ingredients.

Place the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter, tossing quickly with your fingers to coat each cube with flour. Pulse 15-20 times until the butter particles are the size od small peas.

With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Process for about 10 seconds, stopping the machine before the dough becomes a solid mass.

Turn the contents of the bowl onto a sheet of foil, pressing any loose pieces together into the dough. Roughly form the dough into a 7-inch disk.

Cover the dough completely with foil and refrigerate for at least one hour. Can be refrigerated up to 2 days or in the freezer up to 2 weeks. (defrost on the counter for 45 minutes before use.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Cut the fruit into thin slices, leaving skin on, and place in a bowl. Toss gently with 1 tablespoon sugar and set aside.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch free-form circle. Transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Leaving a 1 1/2 inch border all around, cover the dough with the fruit, starting in the center and working out to arrange fruit slices into a pretty spiral (if you want to get fussy).

Raise the dough border to enclose the sides of the tart, letting it drape gently over the fruit.  Gently pinch the soft pleats that form in the dough with your fingers and press the sides down onto the baking sheet slightly to flatten.

Make an egg wash by beating egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Brush onto the dough with a pastry brush to coat lightly.

Optional: Drizzle fruit jam over the top of fruit filling. (My jam was pretty runny. If you’re using thick jam, you could mix it with a little water to make a glaze.)

Bake the tart for 20-25 minutes, until dough is golden and fruit is gooey and bubbly. Cool for at least 10-15 minutes, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Side note: I’ve been really liking Laloo’s goat’s milk ice cream. It has a lot less fat than normal ice cream (which makes me feel a little less guilty about all that butter in the dough! Sorry, didn’t mean to remind you. Do forget it. ) and I really like the tangy flavor, especially paired with fruit desserts.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” feast.

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The idea of starting a blog has been simmering on the back-burner of my mind for longer than I care to admit. Just a place to keep track of my various kitchen experiments and the flavors that linger in my memory after the meal is over. Every time I fall in love with an ingredient all over again, the post is half-written in my head. But then the moment comes and goes and life moves on. Let’s face it, the first post is intimidating.

But you have to start somewhere, so why not start with breakfast? My mother always told me that breakfast was an important way to start the day, and there was a breakfast a few weeks ago that I can’t stop thinking about. The inspiration was a few nectarines from the farmer’s market–fragrant and gorgeous, but fading fast and screaming to be used immediately. What is sadder than throwing away fruit that used to be perfect, but is now past its prime? So, height-of-summer fruit on a sunny morning, combined with a killer view overlooking the ocean from our weekend rental house, and the opportunity to cook for three of the people I love most in this world, well, that pretty much sums it up.

French Toast with Warm Cherry & Nectarine Sauce


3 ripe nectarines, pitted and cut into bit-sized chunks
1 1/2 cup cherries, pitted and halved
2 Tbs butter for sauce, plus a generous pat or two for pan-frying french toast
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs fruit jam (I used a lovely peach and lavender jam that I found at the farmer’s market)
pinch salt
8 thick slices of crusty bread (I like to use a country white or light wheat, slightly stale)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar

Heat 2 tbs butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add 1/2 of the fruit and cook for a few minutes until it begins to soften, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Add 1/4 cup sugar and ginger, stir to combine and cook for another minute or two, until things start to get nice and gooey. Add water and jam and stir well. Bring to low boil, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes until some water has evaporated and you’ve got a nice syrupy sauce. Add remaining fruit, and cook for another minute to heat through. Total cooking time for sauce should be about 15-20 min. Turn off heat and cover to keep warm.

Whisk eggs, milk, vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar in a large, shallow baking dish. Bathe first 4 slices of bread in egg mixture, turning so they soak for a minute or two on each side. Heat a generous pat of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until melted and frothy. Add your egg-logged bread to pan with a satisfying sizzle and cook for a about 2 minutes, until golden brown on bottom, then flip for another two minutes on the other side. Remove from skillet and keep warm in oven. While your first batch is in the pan, soak the remaining slices in egg mixture, and then repeat pan-frying.

To serve, place two slices of french toast on each plate and douse with a few generous spoonfuls of warm fruit sauce. If you feel like getting fancy–and can stand to wait an extra minute before digging in–sprinkle with a little powdered sugar to make it look pretty, and maybe even add a sprig of mint.

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