Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tonight's dinner: brought to you by puff pastry

With each CSA vegetable we receive, there's always a certain point where you've gotten so much of it, you feel like it's just coming out of your ears and you have no idea what to do with it anymore. That's how I felt about summer squash - until I found this recipe for a summer squash tart on a puff pastry base. Sold! I changed it up a little bit, though - adding hazelnuts and thyme, subtracting feta cheese - so I'll post my adapted recipe below. It ended up being really good - though, of course, it's pretty hard for anything on top of buttery, flaky puff pastry to be actually bad.

We ate this for dinner tonight along with a chilled yogurt and cucumber soup with shrimp from Ina Garten via Sparrows and Spatulas. Ed thought it tasted like tzatziki sauce; I thought it was more like something I'd expect to find at an IKEA summer smorgasbord. We both liked it a lot, though - it's exactly the kind of cool, refreshing supper you want to have in the sweltering evenings of July and August.

And then, dessert. I'd bought a bunch of plums at the market this morning, intending to bake them into a moist, rich almond cake. But once I got home and started looking around for recipes, I couldn't seem to find one that I was really excited about. Plum and almond tarts, on the other hand...

These couldn't be easier to make, and they taste almost as good as any fancy bakery tart I've ever had. The plums are tart and juicy, the frangipane rich and sweet and the pastry crisp and tender. A little sprinkling of powdered sugar provides the literal icing on the cake. These will be perfect for breakfast in the morning - if they survive the night, that is.

Summer Squash Tart
serves four hungry people or six people of normal appetite

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 c. ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 small bunch of parsley
1 medium onion, sliced
2 or 3 medium sized zucchini or summer squash (I used a mix of yellow zucchini and squash)
olive oil
1 small bunch of thyme
1/4 c. hazelnuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg and parsley. Add salt (generously) and pepper to taste; set aside. Thinly slice the onion and cook with a splash of olive oil over medium high heat until caramelized - about eight to ten minutes. Slice squash into thin rounds. (I used the largest setting on my mandoline; slices should be less than 1/4" thick.)

Lay the puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and cover with ricotta mixture, leaving a 1/2" border for a crust. Add sliced squash and make a pretty pattern. Now step back and admire your work for a moment. Aww, that looks lovely! Okay, keep moving - pour a bit of olive oil into a bowl and brush it over the top of the tart until each slice of squash is just glistening. Top with stripped thyme leaves and pop it into the oven until the squash is tender and the edges of the pastry are golden-brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with toasted hazelnuts. Let cool slightly before serving.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The first BLT of summer...

Two slices of lightly toasted Bread Alone peasant bread. A handful of lettuce leaves from the CSA. Three slices of salty bacon, cooked crisp. A lavish swipe of mayo. And finally, the star of the show, one ugly, gnarled, oddly colored heirloom tomato, sliced thin and sprinkled with salt.

Assemble into a sandwich, cut diagonally, take a bite and go to sandwich heaven.

Repeat daily.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cherry bomb!

It was cherry season, and then it wasn't anymore.

Of course, instead of living in the now of the farmer's market, I spent the first few weeks of cherry season mourning the end of strawberry season and dwelling on all of the pints of strawberry jam I didn't get to can, and strawberry cakes I didn't get to bake, and so on and so forth until last week when I made those two awesome cherry jams. And then I was like, "wait a minute.... I love cherries!"

I spent the week plotting out the bazillions of things I would do with the tons and tons of cherries I would buy at this week's market: cherry pie, cherry ice cream, chocolate cherry preserves... and more! I would frolic in fields full of cherry trees and swim in rivers of pure red cherry juice! It would be cherry flavored heaven! So Saturday morning, I grabbed my largest bag, a ridiculous sum of money and skipped over to the farmer's market to find.....



After inquiring at all of the regular stands, I learned that cherry season was over. Finito. No mas. Oh, well, off to Whole Foods, then, where at least the sour cherries they sell are from Red Jacket Orchards - though they are crazy expensive, which swiftly squashed my dreams of cherry-flavored grandeur. Don't worry, though - I picked up enough of them for a scaled down version of Cherrypalooza 2011, starting with sour cherry sorbet!

This might be the first time that my ice cream maker actually made a frozen dessert that I would happily share with my friends. (Previous attempts have been too shamefully crappy to even discuss in public.) The sorbet was great, though. I used the proportions from Thomas Keller's Bouchon, a beautiful coffee-table cookbook full of perfectly executed bistro classics. Two pounds of fruit, one and a quarter cups of sugar and two tablespoons of lime juice, whirled in the blender, chilled and then frozen in the ice cream maker. So simple and so good. The resulting sorbet is a vibrant magenta color, fairly well-balanced if a touch too sweet, and lusciously textured. If I do this over, I think I'd reduce the sugar to a cup - though I have more of a sweet tooth than most, I crave tart more than sugary in the dog days of summer.

My next project was maraschino cherries. Though I completely adore the awful, neon-red, corn-syrup soaked maraschino cherries one finds in jars, on sundaes and at the bottom of whiskey sours, I can reluctantly agree that red dye is probably not the best thing for me to be putting into my body. (And certainly not as frequently as whiskey sours are consumed in the Cooking Inside the Box household!) So I decided to make my own, with this recipe from the New York Times.

I settled down in front of a Bridezillas marathon (heaven!) with my cherry pitter and got to work. Once I had a pound or so of pitted sour cherries collected in a half-gallon mason jar, I boiled up a cup of Luxardo maraschino liqueur and poured it over the cherries. Three days later, I had perfect cherries for a perfect cocktail.

I'd seen other recipes that called for sugar syrup, almond extract or other types of alcohol - amaretto or brandy or cherry heering - but decided to start with the classic preparation. I totally dig it! The cherries are sweet and boozy, though not cloying at all. I see a lot of extra-delicious whiskey sours in my future.

I also started a cherry bounce, following this recipe from the Runaway Spoon. Bourbon, sugar and sweet cherries - I can't wait to try it! Sadly, though, I've got to wait til Thanksgiving or so - cherry bounce apparently takes a long time to properly infuse. It'll be so cool, though, to open this stuff up in November and be able to taste the summer all over again. And with bourbon, too!

Finally, the final few sweet cherries went into a fruit crisp with those blueberries I picked up this weekend. (Despite my disappointment about the cherries, I still managed to stock up on the berry du jour.) It's deeply purple, soft and sweet, warm and comforting. I try to temper the fruity part of fruit crisp with lemon juice and only a small sprinking of sugar but I really go to town with the crispy topping: gobs of butter, showers of sugar and oats and cinnamon. This stuff is good warm out of the oven but even better the next morning on unsweetened Greek yogurt. Crisp for breakfast? Why not? It's, uh... it's local, right? So it must be healthy!

That's right. Support your local farmer - eat dessert for breakfast.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Last week's CSA bounty included a single zucchini, which I'd intended to make into Marcella Hazan's zucchini and bacon sauce for pasta. But while I was researching upstate New York restaurant menus - and dreaming of opening my own little farm to table cafe somewhere along the Hudson River - I came across a grilled zucchini, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar crostini that sounded just fantastic. It was perfect timing, too, since I'd just picked up a small bottle of really good balsamic from an Italian imports store in Providence, Rhode Island, and I was itching to try it out.

After a long day of brunching, Smorgasburg-ing and walking around Williamsburg with Emily, I came home with just enough energy left to pan fry the zucchini, smear a bit of goat cheese on a baguette and drizzle some balsamic on top of everything. Finito!

Speaking of Emily, check out this duo of cherry jams that I made! The first, balsamic cherry preserves, is a recipe that I first saw on Emily's blog. She is a jam-maker and canner extraordinaire, and as soon as I saw this, I was like, "Droooool... I have to make this!" And oh, man, am I glad I did! This jam comes out fabulous - deeply flavored and sweet with a bit of a mellow balsamic tang. And as good as it is on jam, I think this would be amazing as a sandwich spread with some savory ingredients - duck breast, maybe, or smoked turkey or a salty, smoky piece of ham.

The brighter jam on the bottom is made with the sour cherries that I'd picked up at the Smorgasburg farmer's market. (Along with this awesome cherry pitter from the Brooklyn Kitchen, which I really couldn't recommend more. It makes the tedious chore of pitting cherries into something approximating fun. Or at the very least, not un-fun.) I also got a little bit cocky and decided to follow David Lebovitz's no-recipe recipe for cherry jam. It worked out perfectly, right down to the tell-tale hot jam on a frozen plate nudge-and-wrinkle to indicate that the jelly had jelled. It is crazy good jam, too, packed full of that bright, tart cherry flavor you get in a really good country diner's cherry pie. (In fact, it was so great that I think I might just make myself a cherry pie this weekend, while cherries are still in the market!)

Finally, check it out: I managed to use my kohlrabi this time! AND my garlic scapes! I feel like I should get some kind of award or something. Kohlrabi are tough, man. Last year, at one of the early CSA pickups, Ed looked at one of those bright purple alien spaceship-looking vegetables and said, "What the hell do you do with this?"

"Mostly I throw them out, " Matt replied. I sheepishly nodded my head in agreement.

But not this time! I'd read a couple of recipes for P.F. Chang-style "Asian" chicken wraps before making my own, and a bunch of those recipes called for water chestnuts. I like the crunch and mild flavor of water chestnuts, but I didn't really want to go buy a whole can of them just to get a half cup of so to mix with the chicken. That's when it hit me - kohlrabi! It has the texture of a water chestnut with a slightly stronger - though still not dominating - flavor... it would be the perfect substitute! And sure enough, it was.

None of the recipes I'd read really called to me, so I kind of improvised my own - I sauteed the kohlrabi and a sliced garlic scape with a bit of oil, then added a pound of ground chicken and broke it up with a wooden spoon as it cooked. After the chicken was fully cooked, I added half a cup of so of a sauce that was basically equal parts rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and sriracha with a ton of fresh grated ginger and black pepper. I let the chicken mixture bubble for another few moments, then took it off the heat and served it with romaine lettuce leaves, a little more sauce for dipping and a quick-pickled cucumber salad - made with a CSA cucumber, no less! - with rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt and water.

Yum! This was spicy and refreshing at the same time, full of ginger and sweet, cool cucumber. It does take a bit of preparation time and some toiling over a hot stove time, too, but it's still an awesome summer weeknight dinner.