Friday, July 31, 2009

oh, to the day

puddles of sand brought home
a cooling iced beverage with a friend
smelling the glowing embers
as the campfire fades goodnight
highlights the joy of summer

Spicy Bar-b-que Sauce - yields apprx. 2-1/2 cups
2 chipolte chiles
5 black cardamom seeds
1 small onion - diced
3 garlic cloves - chopped
2-tablespoons tomato paste
1/4-cup honey
1/2-cup ketchup manis
1/4-cup pomegranate syrup
1-1/2 pounds tomato – roughly chopped
1/8-cup cider vinegar
2-teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a 1 quart sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Fish out the 5 cardamom seeds and discard. Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Market Therapy

Sunshine, warmth and the resulting gift that these conditions allow is an elixir for me that can erase any frosted mood. My kitchen counter is resplendent with the offerings of a typical day’s purchase: plums, apricots, tomatoes and thick ears of corn. These items are necessary parts of my therapy. Twelve hours of light a day and a plate full of nutritionally vibrant foods is the fastest cure to seasonal discord.

There is another aspect that occurs -- we speak. I don’t mean, as in some miraculous cure thought would never happen. No, we speak with farmers maybe learning how the growing season is going for them, or, perhaps what product to be on the look at for. Unexpectedly, you run into a friend from twenty years back while sampling some plump blueberries, and try to catch up on the lifetime harvested. Then there is a phenomenon that seems to take place only in the market –nods towards the faces of perfectly, good strangers that if it were the subway platform would never occur. Actual words may even be exchanged as you vie for the ripest melon. As members of this fraternity of the locally conscience food snobs who knows where the best is to be had, we let our guard down to venture hello.

Like other animals that hibernate coming out sparks a complete renewal -- from revisiting the best spot for raspberries to the welcome cycle for pheasant eggs to the connection we need with other members of our tribe. Think I will make a pot of community chowder.

Corn and Clam Chowder - yields 8 to 10 servings
6 ears of corn
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium Vadalia onions - diced
4 stalks celery - diced
2 Serrano chilies - seeds removed and diced
1/2 pound Yukon gold potato - peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves - minced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2-pound fava bean or cranberry beans (pods discarded)
3 ripe tomatoes - seeds discarded, and chopped
1-pound sugar snap peas - cut in thirds
1/2 pound zucchini - diced
1/4-cup chopped sage leaves
2-tablespoon summer savory
30 clams - washed to remove any sand from the shells
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut corn kernels from their cobs and reserve both separately.

Heat an 8-quart soup pot over a medium and add the oil, onion, celery and chili cooking for a few minutes until the onion lose their raw look. Add in the potato, garlic and white wine and cook until the wine has reduced to a glaze.

Pour in 2 quarts of water, along with the corncobs, diced tomato, fava beans and half of the sage leaves and all of the summer savory. Bring to a boil and then reduce the flame to a simmer. Cook the mixture for 30 to 45 minutes. At this point, with a pair of tongs remove the corncobs from the chowder base and discard.

Mix in the corn kernels, zucchini, and remaining sage leaves, vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture back to the simmer and cook an additional 15 minutes. Add the clams and sugar snap peas and cover the pot and cook for five to 10 minutes.

Correct seasoning and serve with a wedge of lime and a dollop of sour cream.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Lovin'

What does it say about me when the only dreams I can remember are either the most emotionally terrorizing or food ones? Needless to say, I would prefer to never again shake-off a REM-sleep nightmare, and welcome eternal visions of bees busying themselves on lavender blossoms.

About a week ago I had one of my culinary nocturnal apparitions that took me back to my time in Australia. The Sydney summer was the best stretch of weather I have gotten to live through (and more than once). The climate that time of year was always warm; rarely did rain interrupt a solar bath; never did a gloomy fog roll in overnight requiring a mid-morning burn off, nor would the humidity assault you upon greeting the day. I even got to celebrate, my otherwise deep winter birthday during the shank of the summer. Everything about Sydney in the summer was good.

Living in a semi-tropical environment had other benefits and top among them were the fruits and vegetables that were some of the best I have eaten. It was a typical summer day that this New Yorker of eastern European descent had his first summer pudding. For me, pudding was a concoction of water, milk and powder from a box that got gently heated over the stove before being set in the refrigerator. Full stop. This pudding was made with a baker’s handcrafted loaf and peaking summer fruits that ended up staining the entire pudding berry red and saturating it with its nectar. It was not cooked like the bread puddings I started making after leaving my mother’s house, bathed in custard and slowly baked. This drenched jewel box required not a second of time over the stove – well, the truth be told I had the pastry chef make for me, so no sweat. I am not fortunate enough to have that pastry chef in my current life but the memory of those spoonfuls are still alive within the nostalgic cravings of my mind, to be accessed from those dreamy recipe cards.

Summer Pudding – serves 10
2-pint raspberries
1pint blueberries
1-pound mix summer fruit – such as cherries, plums or peaches
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2-teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1-pound best quality sliced brioche, challah or white bread
10 four-ounce ramekins or large muffin tin

Puree one pint of the raspberries.

Pit whichever fruit you are using. If using cherries cut them in half. Cut the plums and peaches into 1/4-inch dice.

In a bowl gently mix together the pureed raspberries, remaining berries, cherries, mint and pomegranate molasses. Let the fruit sit at room temperature for about an hour.

Using a cookie cutter that fits the circumference of the ramekin cut out ten rounds (avoiding any crust). With the remaining bread slice strips of bread about 1/4-inch thick – at least wide enough to line the wall of the ramekin.

Cut thirty strips of parchment or waxed paper into 1/2-inch by 4-inches.

Line each ramekin with two strips of parchment paper letting there be plenty of overhang. Place a bottom round in each ramekin, and then line the wall of the ramekin with the strips of bread (make sure to come completely up the wall of the ramekin). Spoon the berry mixture amongst the ramekins tightly packing them with the fruit. Make sure to distribute the fruit juice amongst the ramekins. Place the remaining bread rounds on top of the pudding. Place the ramekins on cookie tray. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the puddings and put another cookie tray on top of the parchment paper. Place a weight such as a cast iron skillet on top of that cookie tray to weight the pudding. Store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Carefully un-mold the pudding, using the strips of parchment, onto a plate. Serve with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now, from something not so different

It was finally a beautiful, expected summer’s day – warmth with clinging humidity and not a threatening cloud in the sky. I started my day, as I like to with a grounding walk through the market greeting the arrival of apricots, patty pan squash and the ethereally assertive lemon verbena. I chatted with Nicole regarding the farm party that was being planned, and was told to save the date. The folks at Cherry Lane Farms confided they actually needed some rain – just not another 24-day stretch of it. I always take time to have a natter with Betsy and Ken for they are only summertime residents of the market, and we always have a good laugh.

Betsy produces an esoteric Egyptian shallot, prefect peach tomatoes, and a superb selection of greens. And, nestled amongst the Tuscan kale and bok choy was a small head of cabbage.

Now, this was no common green head of potential sauerkraut. It was clearly a cabbage but it was pointed, conical not globular and the leaf felt decidedly less tender then its most expected relative. I was told it was a Wakefield cabbage more properly referred to as Early Jersey Wakefield – but of course. It is an early harvest heirloom variety that owes its heritage to English breeding, and was planted in the Jeffersonian garden. At first blush I was not seeing a precious, preserved genetic resource with lineage beyond the Daughter’s of the Revolution, I saw the ferocious potted planted from Little Shop of Horrors. This had to be the visual reference for that movie I cannot believe in such coincidence so, I placed it on my counter in a small pot, and waited. Two days later it never bellowed out in that Levi Stubbs baritone, “Seymour, feed me!” I figured if it was not going to ask to be fed then I was going to eat it.

White Salad – serves 6 to 8
1 green apple – such as Lodi or Granny Smith
1 fennel bulb
1/4-cup fresh lemon juice
1/4-teaspoon salt
3 small cucumbers (approx.1/2-pound)
4 scallions – roots discarded.
1 small white cabbage head
1/4-teaspoon caraway – crushed
1/3-cup white wine vinegar
1/4-cup oil olive
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Core the apple, and then slice the apple and fennel a thin julienne. In a small work bowl toss the apple and fennel with the lemon juice and salt. Put to the side.

In the meanwhile, julienne the cucumber, scallions and cabbage, and place in a large work bowl. To the cabbage add the caraway, vinegar, oil black pepper and apples and fennel, and toss to thoroughly combine. Taste to correct seasoning.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Color my world

As we cycle away from those verdant drenched plates of spring we enter a techno-color world where every possible tint seems to have found a home. If May and June were a monkish study of vernal leafing the other-side of the season is dedicated to capturing the psychedelic pleasures of maturing fruits and vegetables. Sure, radishes come up early, and often, showing off through spring with their rouged exterior. But now, they are being usurped by purple and pink varieties of their own kind along with petite, vermillion tomatoes, flaxen twisted, zucchinis, a staining crimson splat of cherries and an array of very possible shade of berry from indigo to chiffon.

Long gone are the blues that dominated winter’s shortened days, and now my body rises to the early signaling sun motivated to market, chop and serve up the daily rainbow. This is the plate that nutritionists beg us to eat for all the vitamins and anti-oxidants that help maintain this machine of ours. Without even fully extending an arm a bushel-full of nature’s magical formula is at hand. I wonder how many months supply I can squirrel away within the recesses of every cell? Impart my freezing, pickling and canning is an attempt to capture all the current healthful beauty and emotional lift that is painfully needed when the palest of periwinkle coats the morning. Though for now, I am simply slicing fuchsia targeted beets; voraciously shoveling bi-colored corn niblets and halving blushing apricots almost thrice daily.

Ratatouille – yields 6 to 8 servings
1 small eggplant (about 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion – diced 1/2-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic – peeled and chopped
1 carrot – diced 1/2-inch cubes
1 bulb fennel - diced 1/2-inch cubes
1 red pepper – seeds discard, and diced into 1/2-inch square
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves – chopped
2 teaspoons lavender buds
1/4-cup silvered almonds – lightly toasted
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 small yellow zucchini - diced 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup fresh shelling peas (approx. 3/4 pound)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel the eggplant, and then dice into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a colander and toss with 2 teaspoons of salt. Allow the eggplant to sit for 20 to 30 minutes and sweat. This will rid it of some of its bitter taste. Wash the eggplant well, and pat dry with a clean towel.
Heat a 10-inch skillet over a medium high heat and add the oil and onions. Cook the onions until they brown, about 7 minutes. Then mix in the garlic, carrot, fennel, red pepper, eggplant, thyme, lavender and almonds; and toss to coat well. Then mix in the cherry tomatoes, and reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Then add the zucchini and peas. Season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Berry Treasure

I am always on the hunt. Looking for the new and unusual to play with and further expand my culinary vocabulary. As I am apt to say when asked what is my favorite dish to make, “that which I have never seen before.” Immediately into my sac it will go and hopefully along with some basic knowledge. Though if I am not in a farmer’s market, and don’t have the person growing the food and feeding their family to exchange ideas with, I will rush home and start my research.

So, it just happened the other weekend while in the Pacific Northwest – I was in the small Sunday market on Mercer Island a vibrant family oriented community – the face painters’ stall sits adjacent to a redolent splay of peaches. A trio of musicians in floppy, Renaissance hats engages the wide-eyed, hip-rocking toddlers that stop dead as their parents try to grab a head of lettuce while keeping their eyes affixed on their tykes. For what is for me, a small stretch vendors, there laid something I had never seen before. At a tertiary glance I thought I had seen another raspberry, or perhaps it was an early blackberry. But, no, it was a tayberry. It is always an exciting day when I get to learn of a new foodstuff, and this new berry is the result of breeding the blackberry and raspberry together by Scottish agricultural researchers back in the early 1960’s. For almost five decades this hybrid berry has laid hidden from the greedy hands that are mine.

Its flavor is truly representative of the confluence of its pairing. It is denser in flavor than one of its components, raspberry and does not have the distribution of seeds like the blackberry. In color, the tayberry should be an intense sanguine with a shape that is reminiscent of a tapered, trimmed down blackberry. Like its parents the tayberry does not sit well on the counter – stored in the refrigerator you’ll get a few days, but frozen you’ll be popping these newly discovered gems into your mouth all winter. I look forward to securing a larger haul and making a batch of jam. Now, that they are on my radar there will be no hiding.
Rosy Lemonade – yields approx. 3 quarts
2 quarts water
1-cup sugar
7 lemons – juiced (approx.1-1/2 cups fresh lemon juice)
1/2-cup fresh orange juice
1 pint raspberries, strawberries, or tayberries – pureed and strained
1-tablespoon rose water

In a 2-quart saucepan bring 1 quart of water plus the sugar to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the remaining quart of water. Allow the sugar water to cool completely.

Add the lemon and orange juices, raspberry puree and rose water into the sugar water and stir to combine. Place in the refrigerator to cool, and serve over ice.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer's Squash

One of the signs is a tender-skinned squashes. Yes, it is the start of the languid days when we walk a tad slower, seek the over-slip of an oscillating sprinkler, and tend to be more conscientious about applying sun-block daily. In attendance are zucchinis and summer squashes that currently are dense, newborn cousins to autumn’s pumpkins, and all its hard-skinned progeny. It is believed that zucchini is a spontaneous mutation of the hard skins after its introduction into Europe. Zucchini itself was not well known in North America until early in the 20th century with all probability due to the Italian immigration wave during that time.

The green, long, tapered zucchini is the most common though there are yellow; green variegated; bi-colored; crooked-necked; round, and sun burst in shape to be applied all summer long. Most varieties are best small to medium in size when they are not so watery and the seed development has not over-whelmed the meat. They all should have a smooth, firm feel and are absolutely edible raw. Given how naturally water jam-packed these vegetables are I am not a fan of freezing them. However, they do pickle nicely – a brine made with red wine vinegar and scented with mint. When using them as a grilled vegetable I prefer to make sure the grill surface is HOT and I cook the zucchini without any oil put on them. I’ll drizzle oil and herbs after they come off the grill. This is to avoid that sooty residue of brunt oil. Regardless, if you are grilling, baking, sautéing these squashes it is fast which it is welcoming on a sweltering summer day.

Stuffed Zucchini - serves 6

6 medium sized patty pan Squash or 3 small zucchini
4 ounces goat cheese
1/4 cup Niçoise olives - pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons blanched almonds - chopped
1/4-cup chives - chopped
1 tablespoon oregano - leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8-cup olive oil

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the patty pan squash in half through its circumference. If using zucchini cut lengthwise in half. Scoop out 2/3’s of the pulp being careful not to make a hole in the bottom of the squash. Set the squash halves aside.

Chopped the pulp and mix with the goat cheese, olives, almonds, chives, oregano, salt and pepper. Divide the mixture among the squash halves and drizzle with oil. Place on a baking tray, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately hot.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Knee high by the Fourth
on the cob; niblet; creamed

Summer’s Chef Salad – yields 6 to 8

2 ears white or bi-color corn
1/2-pound shelling peas
1 medium carrot – peeled and chopped
4 scallions – trimmed and diced
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1 kolrabi – peeled and chopped
1bunch radishes - chopped
1/4-pound arugula – roughly torn
1/4-pound sorrel – roughly torn
1/2-pound smoked turkey – cut into cubes
1/4-pound blue cheese – crumbled
2-tablespoons red vinegar
3-tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Husk the corn, and then remove the kernels from the cob. Then toss all the ingredients together in a large work bowl. Correct the seasoning, and refrigerate the salad for an hour or two before serving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Yes, I am a tad militant about certain food choices though I must stress just a tad. Nothing can be that set in stone or expressly forbidden (okay, high-fructose corn syrup) for I like to feed certain vices (like potato chips and commercial ice cream) on the odd certain occasion. There are several foods that end up in my kitchen that could never be sustained locally. Indian mangoes when I can get my clean hands on them are consumed without the least amount guilt. I do use mass transit and bike all around the island I live on and its environs. Citrus fruits are a staple that could never be exercised, and admittedly, they are not always brought north with a geriatric relative winging their way home. And, then there are avocadoes.

This essential fruit/vegetable supplies vitamin rich (high in E and K) goodness all year around but summer is the peak for California’s supply. A South American variant has become the standard for the United States. The slightly squat, browned pebbled skin type commonly referred as a Hass is higher in fat and a bit nuttier than its Caribbean twin the Fuente with its oblong shaping and smooth bright green outer-covering that also gives it the name alligator avocado. This one is lower in fat a bit more fibrous and should be a bit sweeter as well. All avocadoes should have a bit a give when gently pressed to test their ripeness – if unsure I’d wait the day because once you slice them they will cease to ripen. If they are soft store them in the refrigerator to delay its decomposition for 3 to 4 days.

Since visiting the island of Sumatra some years back I have never looked at that green concoction that laced my chips whenever a beer stuck with a lime was present. There on an island bisected by the equator in the Indian Ocean I drink daily an avocado-coconut shake with chocolate – freakin’ delicious and more calories than I have ever had in a sip. Now, the avocado for me is not just to be tossed with a chili and some lime or sliced onto a sandwich but equally available to be pureed into a mousse and presented as the sweeter end of the meal.

Avocado Ice Cream – yields approx 2 quarts
1-quart milk
4 egg yolks
3/4-cup sugar
2-cups avocado puree (from about 2 large avocadoes)
1/4-cup fresh orange juice

In a 2-quart saucepan bring the milk to just below the boil. Whish the eggs and sugar together in a work bowl until pale yellow. Temper the eggs with the warm milk, and then return the egg mixture to the saucepan, and over a low heat cook the egg/milk stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Cool the egg mixture completely.

Mix the avocado and orange juice together. Once the egg-milk mixture is completely cooled combine with the avocado puree. Freeze in an ice creamer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.