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Archive for July, 2010

Beet Napoleon

For a long time I hated beets. I’m sure, no I know, that was because the only ones I had were out of a can. Pickled or Harvard style which is sweet and sour. I’m still not a fan of the Harvard style, but I will eat pickled beets on occasion. It was in a restaurant in Chicago, I don’t remember which one now, where I took a bite of Prince Charming’s beet and goat cheese salad. I had no idea that beets tasted that good! From that moment on, fresh beets have always had a place in my kitchen.  Through trial and error I found out that the way I like them best is roasted (but of course). I make them year round, will eat them in salads, warm or cold, just plain on a plate with salt, or in soup. What I wanted was a preparation that would let them be a bit more “center stage” so I hit the inter-webs. I came across several recipes for beet Napoleons and I thought it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to do a little riff of my own so I took my favorite things about the Napoleons I read about and the best parts of my favorite salads and came up with this. Beet Napoleons with fig and goat cheese, drizzled with a lemon mustard vinaigrette. The beets of course are naturally sweet, the fig and goat cheese is creamy and rich, sweet yet with that distinctive goat cheese tang. The lemon mustard vinaigrette give it an acidic boost with enough mustard to balance the sweetness. These would be beautiful as an appetizer, or tiny baby ones would be a lovely amuse bouche. Give them a try!

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Fresh corn pudding has been around for a long time.  There are a thousand different versions, with each cook putting their own spin and regional favorite ingredients into the mix. I’m a big fan of the time-tested, true blue, corn on the cob boiled with butter and salt. Recently I’ve been a big fan of the many grilled versions, my current fav is lime butter and cotija cheese. Even done on a gas grill it’s incredible. Waiting patiently for the season’s crop to ripen, then abandoning yourself to the pure sensory pleasure of eating with your hands, juice running down your arm and a big shiny, butter grin from ear to ear. (ha, get it..ear to ear? Sometimes I crack me up) But….there are other ways to eat corn as we all know.  If I start listing them I’ll sound like Bubba Gump reciting all the ways you can eat shrimp, so I’ll refrain. This corn pudding is a much easier, rather more elegant, way of having your summer corn. While I wasn’t able to grill mine for this recipe (my stupid gas tank thing is empty, grrr) I would wholeheartedly suggest you do so. Fresh corn in a creamy, silky custard, that is just as delightful cold as it is warm. It would be a perfect addition to any meal where you don’t want to deal with corn on the cob (I know, almost unthinkable) or just want a different alternative. I think this would be a spectacular foil to bar-b-que or to a beautiful steak with chimichurri sauce. I know lots of folks do a corn pudding at Thanksgiving, and please, don’t stop that, but I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that it shines just as well with the bright summer sun.

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I don’t know what possessed me. I baked yesterday. In the afternoon. In 92 degree heat. Goes against all my principles of keeping the house cool and staying comfortable when the sun is intent on frying everything crispy. I’m not sure what happened. I had a plan, and it wasn’t baking. As I was pulling all the ingredients together to make the next dish you’ll read about, one of the key components was missing. I was sure that I bought it. I looked in all the drawers and corners of the refrigerator, nope, not there. Drat. I could go to the store, but the would require putting on acceptable clothes to venture out of the house in, hot parking lot directly in the sun, coming out to a hot car with a burning steering wheel. Mostly, I didn’t want to go out. So, on to the next plan. Those apricots I’ve been admiring for a few days. So bright and rosy, so tender and soft, so….crap, I better use these now before they turn to mush!  Apricots it was. Now I know it’s close to the end of the season, they’ve been out for a couple of weeks at our farmer’s market, they’ll be there maybe a week more.  These were exceptional this year, firm and juicy, not a hint of the mealy, mushiness you can get with apricots. I ate more than I care to admit to just pulling them open, tossing the pit and putting a whole half in my mouth to let the juice and flavor just explode. These apricots were heaven. Apricots and almonds are a natural combination, and I’m a huge fan of anything almond. So an almond cake with apricots. My tried and true recipe for almond cake wasn’t going to have enough density to hold up apricots I thought, and I didn’t want to cut them in pieces. I needed a sturdier cake, one that I could put the apricots on, let them cook into little molten pools of apricot throughout the cake. So before I could think this through, I had the mixer whirring away, the apricots cut and pitted waiting for the batter and the oven heating up. The oven heating up, too late to go back now. Anyway,this worked out beautifully. A not too sweet cake, with tangy apricot studded throughout, perfect with tea (iced or hot) for an afternoon snack. It will also serve you well as an elegant dessert with some amaretto flavored whipped cream, and it will stand in for a breakfast pastry with not a moment’s hesitation. Ya gotta love a torte that can do it all.

So here it is, the torte I baked in 92 degree heat. The torte that sent me to the cooler bedroom while it baked and while it cooled. The torte that made me question my own judgement and break my own rules. After the first bite, it was worth it.

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Pluot & Rosemary Jam

These are organic Pluot plums. They are a cross between a plum and an apricot and one I just can’t resist.  They have a small window of availability here which means I’m scooping up more than I can eat because each year I’m determined to cook with them.  So far, while I’ve enjoyed all the things I’ve made with them, I end up thinking the best thing to do with them is just eat them. While I was standing at the counter choosing my fruit, a warm pluot in hand, I remembered reading last year about a jam made with pluots that had herbs and pepper in it. So home to the stack of cooking magazines and shelves of cookbooks. After a few tries (I know, I can’t believe it either!) I found it. Gourmet magazine, yes I still miss it, had an article about pluots with several different ideas and recipes to try with them. This jam is a wonder and plays the lush sweetness and gentle tang of the fruit perfectly against the bite of pepper and soft herbal astringency. It’s fabulous with cheese which is all I’ve gotten to try it with so far. I’m thinking that it would be great over sweet cream ice cream, and I’m betting (and will absolutely try this) it will be a killer glaze for pork. If for no other reason, the color alone is worth making it for.

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The bins are filling up at the Farmer’s Markets. Here in Colorado we’re a bit later with our crops, so we’re seeing the baby onions, beets, and carrots in heaping mounds on tables.  The new garlic and garlic scapes are finishing, fava’s are here, and lettuces from the palest green to the deepest reds abound. My favorite time of the year. Summer. (I think I might actually say that about every season, but now, summer is my fav.) I’m so happy to be back at the Farmer’s Market, I just can’t find the words. Every visit is a new adventure. Everytime I find something that makes me happy inside. As usual, I buy too much. This time is was baby onions. Sweet, tender, little baby red onions. I sliced them into everything I ate. I still had a bunch left. So I fell back onto my default way of making vegetables all year long. Roasting. Now I love to grill them too, and they’re wonderful anyway you want to prepare them, but my heart belongs to roasted vegetables. J’adore. There’s not a long story to tell here, I don’t have a history with baby onions, nor do I think that this preparation is anything that’s never been done before. But if YOU haven’t made roasted baby onions, or just roasted onions with balsamic, you need to. It’s a must. Go!

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