Friday, August 29, 2008

My New BFF

I am delighted to introduce my (excuse me, OUR) latest kitchen toy: the KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Artisan Series with tilting head and direct drive transmission! (Excuse me while I bow.)

Fork and I received this awesome machine last weekend at a wedding shower, and it was the one item I insisted on bringing back to the City. Everything else can wait in my parents' basement, for now, anyway, but I was dying to clear off counter space for the mixer.

I gave it a whirl the other night, with Banana Chip Cookies. They're basically chocolate cookies with a little extra mixed in: chopped, toasted walnuts; and chopped dried banana chips. The recipe also calls for a touch of toasted wheat germ and whole wheat flour. The mixer handled everything like a pro, naturally, turning the butter light and fluffy in less than a minute, and incorporating the sugar with results that can only be described in the words of my grandfather: poetry in motion. Oh, and the cookies? Delicious.

As summer winds down and we head into fall, I can't wait to show the mixer some love. Just think of all the cakes, cookies, bread and whipped cream that await.--S

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer Love

So much for the dog days of summer. We've been having spectacular weather lately, with the morning temperature when I set foot outside for a run somewhere around 75. Skies are sunny and blue, and the humidity's low. Can we have this weather for a few more months, please? Oh, and while we're at it, can we continue to have the amazing fruits and vegetables currently on offer at the greenmarket?

I finished a six-miler yesterday at the market, and picked up a dozen or so plums from Miglorelli, the kind with rosy pink skin and yellowish flesh. They finished ripening while I was at work, and I when I got home, I set to work slicing them, then halving the slices. Into a square ceramic baking dish they went, tossed with a tiny bit of flour and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, I whisked rolled oats, brown sugar, flour and salt; then I cut in a cold stick of butter. I sprinkled the sugary, oaty, buttery crumbs over the fruit, forming a thick carpet, then baked it for 40 minutes. The smell was heavenly, and after the dish was bubbling and lightly browned, I took it out of the oven and let it cool by the window (nice touch, right? I was in a rush to get the thing uptown to book club).

Somehow the crisp made it safely 20 blocks north on the subway, and my friends and I enjoyed it, still warm. Sweet, a little tart, gently crunching from the oatmeal, kind of slurpy--this is August at its best.--S

Plum Oatmeal Crisp

serves 6

1/2 c plus 1 T all-purpose flour
1 c plus 2 T packed light-brown sugar
1/2 c old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 t salt
1/2 c cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 lbs ripe plums, cut into 1-in. pieces

1. Preheat oven to 375. In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 c flour, 1 c sugar, oats and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until coarse crumbs form.
2. In a shallow 2-qt baking dish, toss plums with remaining 2 T sugar and 1 T flour; sprinkle with oat topping. Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until topping is golden brown, 40-45 min. Let cool 20 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Clams by Another Name

After a lovely day at the beach on Sunday, Fork and I emerged from Penn Station wondering what to have for dinner. One look at the long taxi line on 7th Avenue was all we needed to convince us to walk home--via a route that took us past Garden of Eden.

We picked up two dozen Connecticut littleneck clams, some tomatoes, a cucumber, dill and a $1 bag of day-old bread. A stop at the wine shop for a chilled bottle of Albarino (our latest favorite, from Galicia and perfectly crisp) and we were set. On the agenda: the unfortunately-named Gwyneth's Clams. The recipe comes from a road trip Gwyneth Paltrow, Mario Batali and Mark Bittman took through Spain, documented in a TV series, forthcoming book and recent article in Food & Wine. Dirty jokes from Fork notwithstanding, we were kind of psyched to try Gwyneth's clams.

There's not much to the dish: well-scrubbed clams steam open in the wine, with a horizontally halved head of garlic and a couple of bay leaves. Drizzle the opened clams and wine broth with olive oil, and dinner's ready. Before preparing the clams--which took all of 10 minutes--I threw together a tomato/cucumber/dill salad, a classic summer salad my friend Anne taught me years ago.

It probably goes without saying that we wiped this out. The clams were delicious, and you tasted more of their ocean flavor since they were cooked in wine, not butter. Sopping up the broth with the bread (and rubbing it first on the halved garlic head floating around inside the wine) was very enjoyable, too. Aside from the name, this is one of my favorite dishes of the summer.--S

Friday, August 08, 2008

Herbal Delight

With the vegetable situation still verging on out-of-control, I threw down the gauntlet the other night. I was sitting on vast quantities of lettuce, green beans, red onion, and herbs (basil, cilantro and chives). This time my rescuer was dear Heidi Swanson, of 101 Cookbooks. Her Herb Salad was just the ticket to wipe out nearly all the veggies Fork's mom brought. Snow peas are all that remain.

Again, I wondered if this would be filling enough for dinner, and again, I was worrying about nothing. What gives this salad oomph is its rich dressing, made from avocado, Greek yogurt, lemon juice and garlic. It's heavenly. It pulled the whole dish--blanched green beans, corn, toasted pumpkin seeds, lots of fresh herbs, and red onion--together. And it gives it some substance. Oh, and did I mention it is delicious? In fact, I'd seriously consider making this dressing in lieu of guacamole, adding some jalapeno and perhaps lime juice instead of lemon. I'd say this recipe's star is the dressing, actually--though the fresh herbs are pretty fabulous, too. I rarely put herbs in salad, and this recipe reminded me how they add freshness and flavor to simple vegetables.

Make this one NOW. It's seasonal, and I really don't want you going without this amazing dressing any longer.--S

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Dish to the Rescue

Lately it feels like if I'm not making ice cream, I'm trying to figure out what to do with huge quantities of fresh vegetables. Not that either of these situations are a problem. But last night I was starting to panic about the number of bags of veggies in the fridge. Andrew's mom was down the weekend before last, and she brought a bounty from her garden. I roasted beets, baked zucchini bread, and ate the broccoli and green peppers--both so green they barely resembled the stuff they sell at Gristede's--raw with hummus. But still there remained yellow summer squash, more peppers and green beans. Salvation arrived yesterday, in the form of The Dish, Food & Wine's weekly e-mail. Subject line: "10+ Delicious August Vegetable Dishes." Yes.

Yellow Squash Soup with Scallion Salad is a delicious summer soup, hot but refreshing, with a nice tang from buttermilk. The presentation is lovely; you ladle the sweet, yellow pureed soup into bowls, scatter a "salad" of cooked and raw chopped veggies in the middle, and add a few bits of fried cheese to the side. I was nervous about this being filling enough for dinner, but both Fork and I were happily stuffed.

I made a few changes to the recipe, based on the veggies I had in my fridge. Instead of just grilling scallions, I added sliced onions, too. I subbed chopped blanched green beans and chopped green peppers for tomatoes and cucumber. And in place of tarragon and parsley, I used cilantro and chives. I did, however, stick with the recipe's suggestion for manchego in the "fricos," little fried cheese crisps. They added the perfect salty crunch. Yes, making this dish put a serious and much needed dent in the crisper drawer. But it also resulted in a great dinner and new summer soup to add to my repertoire.--S

Yellow Squash Soup with Scallion Salad

1 T unsalted butter
1 lb. small yellow squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 fresh bay leaves [I used one dried]
1 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 c water
6 scallions, white and tender green parts only
1 T plus 1 t extra-virgin olive oil
1 c buttermilk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3/4 c finely grated Manchego cheese (2 ounces)
1 c grape tomatoes, quartered
1 T minced tarragon
1 T minced flat-leaf parsley
1/4 c finely diced peeled cucumber
1 t lemon juice

1. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the yellow squash and bay leaves and cook over moderate heat for 8 minutes. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Simmer just until the squash is tender.
2. Meanwhile, preheat a grill pan. Rub the scallions with 1 teaspoon of the oil and grill over high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, 5 minutes. Let cool, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Transfer the squash and 1/2 cup of the broth to a blender and discard the bay leaves. [I left the squash in the pot, removed all but a 1/2 c of broth, and pureed it using an immersion blender.] Puree the soup and blend in the buttermilk. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm or refrigerate until cold.
4. Heat a nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Spoon twelve 2-inch-wide mounds of the Manchego into the skillet; cook over moderate heat until browned on the bottom. Off the heat, flip the cheese crisps. Return to the heat and cook until browned. Transfer the crisps to a rack and let cool.
5. Add the tomatoes, tarragon, parsley, cucumber, lemon juice and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the scallions and toss. Season the salad with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the scallion salad. Serve the soup warm or chilled with the cheese crisps.

Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine

Friday, August 01, 2008

When You Tire of Plain Old Ice Cream

Ice cream is all well and good, but an ice cream sandwich takes the pleasure up a notch. The nostalgia factor, the portability, and the combination of cookie and ice cream all add up to a refreshing break from a plain ol' bowl of ice cream. (Boooooring!)

My favorite homemade ice cream sandwiches (incidentally, the only ice cream sandwiches I've ever made) combine coconut and vanilla. They're Coconut Cream Sandwiches, and while the original recipe suggests you buy two pints of vanilla ice cream for the filling, would it really kill you to make a batch of homemade ice cream? No French-style, egg-based seriousness needed; a simple Philadelphia-style ice cream fits the bill just fine, especially since the cookie part of the ice cream sandwich is pretty rich, made with sweetened shredded coconut, butter, sugar, flour and salt.

You'll probably find the cookies expand in the oven--it happens to me every time--so shape the unbaked cookie dough into a smaller piece than you'd ideally want for an ice cream sandwich. And when the cookies have cooled and you're ready to make the sandwiches, make sure the ice cream is slightly softened, otherwise you'll break the cookies. And then you'll have to eat them on the spot.

It's August, summer's half over, and you're probably sick of ice cream. Okay, you're not sick of ice cream. I still recommend these ice cream sandwiches!--S

Coconut Cream Sandwiches

Makes 12

1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1/4 t salt
3/4 c all-purpose flour
7 oz sweetened shredded coconut
2 pints vanilla ice cream, slightly softened (recipe below)

1. With an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Mix in flour, then coconut, beating until a dough forms. Transfer to a piece of waxed paper; pat into a rectangular log, about 3" wide and 6" long. Wrap with waxed paper; freeze until firm, about 30 min.
2. Preheat oven to 350, with racks in upper and lower thirds. With a serrated knife, slice log of dough crosswise 1/4" thick (you should have about 24 slices); arrange slices on two baking sheets. [Leave plenty of space between the cookies; as mentioned above, they will spread.]
3. Bake until golden, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, 20 to 25 minutes (watch closely toward end of cooking time to avoid overbrowning). Cool completely on sheets.
4. Dividing evenly, spread ice cream on flat side of half the cookies; sandwich with remaining cookies, flat side down. Freeze on a baking sheet until firm, about 3 hrs. (To freeze longer, up to 1 week, wrap sandwiches individually in plastic.)

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food