The Jersey Shore. Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, Asbury Park. Those are the places that I can shut my eyes and see when I think of the shore. Especially Seaside Heights and Long Beach Island. When we were kids we always spent a few days in Seaside Heights, playing in the sand, running in and out of the waves and then just hopping and jittering till we could get to the boardwalk. As young adults down there on our own, it was the place to get out of the sun, cool off with vodka lemonade and find something to eat. Walk away Sundaes (A block of Neapolitan Ice Cream in a specially sized square-topped cone with chocolate and a cherry), fried shrimp in a cup, salt water taffy, and sausage & pepper sandwich. The boardwalk was magic when you were young, flashing lights, music, games of chance and food stalls, a virtual kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells changing every few yards. A carnival stretched out along an elevated wooden sidewalk along the beach. Every hundred yards or so there would be another sausage and pepper vendor, usually with lines waiting for their turn to bite into their “must have one” at the shore. It seems like such a simple thing, Italian sausage, peppers, onions on a roll. It actually is simple. Put them all together, browned, juicy sausage, melting onions and peppers, and a sandwich roll that’s soft but with a firm bite and a bit of a crunch to the shell. The whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Every time I make them I can see those big flat top grills, piles of onions and peppers on one side, sausage split down the middle lined up on the other and space in the middle where a they came together and spent a minute forming their special alchemy before getting scooped up with a wide flat spatula into a waiting bun with a napkin already under it to be handed to the next person in line. It’s a special place in heaven, where you can lean against the wooden railing, with the waves crashing behind you and a salt air breeze cooling your shoulders. Watching the crowd walk by, listening to the music from 10 different places, the screams of joy from the people on the rides. You eat your sandwich and look at the sky where the stars seem to smile down at all the fun. The Jersey Shore. Sausage & Pepper sandwich. Life can be so good.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Finally, finally we are headlong into summer. It was 98, wow it’s hot, burning your hands on the steering wheel, sleep with the air conditioning on, degrees here the other day. Huzzah! Summer! We’re finally seeing some “local” signs plastered on the front of the bins at the grocery. The farmer’s markets stalls are getting more abundant and colorful each week. I’m making icy drinks and watching the condensation run down the glass and puddle on the table. Thin cotton and linen. Bare feet. Nights on the balcony, wine in hand watching the stars and the moths helplessly throw themselves against the screen trying to get to the light. I like to take late night drives around my neighborhood and see the people gathered on the their front porches,talking and watching the cars drive by. Folks lingering at outdoor tables at restaurants and kids hanging in small groups laughing and telling each other tales. As the earth yields her colors and bright tastes, we seem to become more open ourselves. We’re out there, drinking in the warmth, reaching towards and connecting with each other. The seasons are magical to me, and summer is everyone holding hands, faces to the sun, smelling peaches and corn and peppers.
But wait! This is about melons, right? Yeah, melons. Most of the time, I just cut those babies open and eat them. No adornments necessary. Watermelon most of all. Just looking at watermelons makes me think of being little, at a picnic table with friends, having giant slices of watermelon on paper plates. Biting right into the middle, each end reaching almost to your ears, juice streaking every chin and neck, hands to elbows. Oh, and smiles as big as those slices. Great stuff. Well, this is a bit more sophisticated. A little more nuanced and complex. Don’t worry, it’s still fun. Fun! Watermelon! Yeah! Right, right, cool and sophisticated, and really, really de-ee-e-lish. Continue Reading »