Friday, August 29, 2014

CCC August

This was another great month of recipes.  I've ranked them from most to least favorite, but even the last one I enjoyed and wouldn't mind making again.

#1: Tahini-dressed courgette and green bean salad

I loved the flavors of this, it was quicker and easier than I thought it would be, and I loved how interesting it was.  It would never have occurred to me to make a salad dressing out of tahini and orange juice, but with the more substantial vegetables used here it really worked.  I used arugula as the base and thought the bitterness was a nice contrast to the sweet dressing.

#2: Tomato bruschetta 

With homemade, freshly baked sourdough bread and fresh summer tomatoes, I think it'd be impossible to go wrong.  This was easy and delicious.  I'll definitely make it again soon.

#3: Caponata 

I  know many people don't like her (for some good reasons), but I'm not embarrassed to say that my usual caponata recipe is Rachael Ray's.  I started making it when I was in graduate school.  I liked that it was relatively quick (I can't actually make it in anywhere close to 30 minutes, but it does take me less than an hour) and makes a huge batch.  Per Rachael's suggestion, I'd serve it with polenta the first night, and then later in the week as part of a quick pasta bake.  I really enjoy it, and still make it occasionally.  This recipe was slightly more time consuming, but definitely better.  I think frying the eggplant separately really improves the texture--there's more of a contrast.  The flavors are also excellent.

#4: Pasta with fennel, rocket and lemon 

Fennel is the vegetable that I'm still learning to enjoy.  I still don't love it raw, but caramelized and tossed with pasta, arugula, lemon, and cheese, I thought it added a lot of flavor to this simple pasta dish.  I served this with sliced tomatoes and cheese.  Another perfect, easy summer dinner.

#5: Caramelised carrots with gremolata 

My only complaint with this recipe is that it didn't make enough.  I was amazed by how much the carrots shrunk.  Paul and I were almost fighting over these!  I love roasted carrots, I definitely don't make them enough, and the lemony gremolata sauce was a very nice touch.  We enjoyed these for dinner with powder biscuits (hopefully I'll get around to writing those up for TWD eventually), cheeses, cucumbers, and a salad with beans, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes.

#6: Gazpacho

Paul loved this.  I agree that it is excellent gazpacho.  The flavors are very clean and bright, and the crouton on top added a very nice texture and temperature.  The only problem is that, no matter how hard I try, I'm just not a big fan of cold soups.  I was happy to eat this, but didn't love it.

#7: Quick couscous salad with peppers and feta 

We recently made a couscous salad for FFWD.  I wanted to make it healthier, so I used freekeh instead of couscous.  I considered making the same substitution here, but I was kind of tired of eating freekeh (the FFWD recipe made a huge batch), so I went with Israeli couscous this time.  I also didn't have any jarred roasted peppers and was too lazy to make my own, so I substituted some sun-dried tomatoes and some peppadew peppers that I had in the fridge.  I really liked the combination of flavors here, and how easy this was to put together. 

#8: Roasted tomato ketchup

What a great way to use up tomatoes!  Paul's garden is really starting to produce, and this was a great way to make a big dent in our bowl of tomatoes.  It was a perfect use for some of the dented ones, too.  I'm not sure what we're going to do with all of this ketchup (we don't eat it very often), but I do know we'll enjoy it on our grilled turkey burgers this weekend.  (Before Charlotte we used to go camping Labor Day weekend.  This year we're renting a cabin that's in the campground of a state park at the beach.  I'm VERY excited!) 

#9: Chard and new potato curry

I made this at the beginning of the month and don't remember much about it.  (I need to start writing these posts as I actually make the recipes.)  It was good, we enjoyed it for dinner with the tomato bruschetta, but I didn't think it was particularly exciting.  It definitely isn't the first recipe I'll look for the next time I want to make curry.

#10: Asian-inspired coleslaw

I don't know why I'm not more excited about this recipe.  I like coleslaw, I like Asian-flavored coleslaw, and this was a good recipe for it.  I just can't get excited about eating the leftovers from this one that are still sitting in my fridge.  Maybe the recipe's only problem is that it made too much?  I'll be curious to see what everyone else thought.

Friday, August 22, 2014

FFWD Couscous Salad and Roasted Peppers

You know what they say about the best laid plans?  Last week the three of us spent six days in Chicago.  Paul and I both lived in Chicago for a long time.  I went to college and graduate school there and it's where we met, and so we're always looking for excuses to go back there.  Last week my family threw an 85th (!) birthday party for my grandma in Chicago, so we decided to make a vacation of it.  Knowing that I'd be away, I made the couscous and red peppers a couple of weeks ago as part of a family dinner.  I thought that way I could be sure to get both posts up on time.  Oops!  It turns out that vacationing with extended family and a 14 month old is anything but relaxing.  We had a lot of fun seeing friends, family, and the city (Chicago will always be my favorite), but there wasn't a lot of down time.  When I did have time to sit, I found myself catching up on work, reading my book, or doing Red Eye*** crossword puzzles with Paul.  So, my blog post didn't get written.  Then last night Charlotte had a touch of insomnia and kept us all up from 11PM-3AM, so now I'm late with this post too.  Oh well!

I served the couscous and red peppers with grilled chicken and corn, and salad.  My mom made blueberry pie.  Everybody loved the peppers (except for my picky father who doesn't eat them).  Next time I make them I'll use the grill instead of the oven (so much easier in the summer), but these were a definite winner.  The couscous salad was okay but not as good as the one I made for CCC, which I'll be writing about soon.  If I made it again I would definitely halve the recipe. 

 ***The Red Eye is a free, abbreviated newspaper put out by the Chicago Tribune.  It's similar to the Express in Washington.  Do other cities have these types of papers?  The Red Eye's crossword puzzles are the easiest I've ever found, and the only ones that Paul and I are actually capable of completing.

Friday, August 8, 2014

FFWD Tuna Confit with Black Olive Tapenade and Tomato Salsa

A while ago I made preserved lemons and put them in the refrigerator.  It's probably a bad sign that I can't remember how long ago it actually was, but probably before Charlotte--who is 14 months old this week--was born.  A couple of week ago I was cleaning out the refrigerator, and decided to throw the last couple of lemons out.  I didn't check to see if they were bad (I'm guessing they were probably fine), but decided that they were old enough, taking up space, and easy enough to re-make.  How angry was I when, literally two weeks later, I realized that we had a recipe calling for preserved lemons?!?  I had kept them in my fridge for at least a year, and threw them away just before actually needing them.  I was so angry at myself.  By the time I realized, it was too late to make a new batch, so I tried to find some at my grocery store.  The only thing that I could find was some olives on the olive bar that had small bits of preserved lemon mixed in.  I bought some of the olives, picked out the bits of preserved lemon, and used the juice and lemon bits in the recipe.  It wasn't the same--I really didn't have enough--but at least we got some of the lemon flavor.  Other than that, we loved everything about this recipe.  I love that it has to be prepped ahead of time.  I'm so appreciative now of recipes that can be made whenever I'm free.  It also wasn't too hard, and was absolutely delicious.  I used swordfish instead of tuna (it was on sale), and think this could work well with a variety of fish.

Friday, August 1, 2014

FFWD Gâteau Basque

This wasn't one of my better moments.  I made the dough a few days ago.  It was easy nice.  Instead of placing each rolled out round between two pieces of was paper I--stupidly--decided to conserve on wax paper by only using three pieces for the two disks of dough: one on top, one in the middle, and one on the bottom.  I think my cheapskate husband is starting to rub off on me!  Then, because I knew the dough would be in the fridge for a while I stuffed the whole thing into a gallon ziploc bag.  In a smarter move, I then decided to make a strawberry rhubarb jam as the filling.  I love dark cherries, but Paul had some rhubarb that I wanted to use up and this seemed like a perfect excuse.  The jam was quick, easy, and delicious.  Then I waited a few days.  Not surprisingly--I really should have seen this coming--even after letting it sit on the counter for a while to soften, it was impossible to separate the two disks of dough without completely tearing them into pieces.  I was able to patch the bottom one back together in the tart pan, and then covered it with jam.  In hindsight, I should have tried patching the top one before I placed it in the pan, but I just wasn't thinking.  I put the pieces on top of the jam, and then tried patching them together.  Hah!  It was impossible.  The jam just kept leaking everywhere.  I finally gave up.  Once I decided that wasn't going to work, the egg wash and pretty pattern seemed like a waste of time too.  So here we have it.  I won't even call this a gateau basque.  It is a (very) rustic jam and cookie sandwich.  I liked it for dessert last night, Paul thought it was only okay.  Cold from the refrigerator it did, however, make a delicious breakfast this morning!

Monday, July 28, 2014

CCC July

For reasons I can't remember I hadn't made a single CCC recipe when we left for a week at the beach July 12th.  I was planning on making some of the recipes while I was there, but vacation laziness got the better of me.  It was so relaxing to let my mom and Laurie cook, eat out, and cook simple things without recipes.  So, when I get back from vacation I had a little more than a week to make the CCC recipes.  Luckily, I also had a double CSA share (because we missed a week while we were away) and Paul's garden is producing, so I had lots of vegetables to use up.  We had a largely meat-free week (we had chicken one night and trout another),  and managed to eat up all of our vegetables!

This was another great month for CCC recipes.  We're both big fans of this cookbook.  Summer was definitely the right time to start a vegetable cooking club.  There are just so many delicious produce options to choose from.  I wonder if I'll be quite as excited about this book in February, when I've grown quite bored of the seasonal vegetable options.  My favorite discovery this month was fava (broad) beans.  I once had a fava bean puree as a crostini topping at an Italian restaurant and loved the flavor, but I've never cooked them by myself.  They're expensive and a bit time consuming, but in small amounts they are completely worth it. 

The Bruschetta with Broad Beans and Asparagus was my favorite recipe this month.  I used the favas, gorgeous red spring onions from my CSA, green beans in place of the asparagus (asparagus season is long over around here), a delicious goat cheese with hot red pepper, and a whole grain sourdough bread that my mom bought at the farmer's market.  After the favas were prepared the recipe came together quickly and easily, and it was delicious.  This is definitely going to become an annual treat for me.

I served the Bruschetta as part of our welcome home from the beach celebratory meal on Sunday night.  It was a bit silly because it was after 9 o'clock and neither one of us was especially hungry, but there's just something so nice about spending the evening in the kitchen after having some time away.  We just ate small portions, and were happy to have left-overs for a few days.  Shaved summer veg was the second part of this meal.  This was relatively easy to prepare--thank goodness for my mandoline--and was quite refreshing.  As we continue to shift towards eating more seasonally we end up eating fewer lettuce salads in the hot summer months, and it's nice to have a crisp salad full of other seasonal vegetables.

The main course of our meal was the Aubergine Parmigiana.  As a child, eggplant parmesan was one of my very favorite meals.  I'm not sure if I'd still call it a favorite, but I do love it.  I've tried making many, many versions.  I've tried some that start by deep-frying the eggplant (Marcella Hazan's and Carmine's), some that start by breading and baking the eggplant (Moosewood's low-fat version), some that start with no instruction at all (my mother's!), and some that start with baking the eggplant (My Calabria).  I think this is the first version that I've tried that starts with pan-sauteing the eggplant.  I'd say that this version was good, but not great.  Taking time, health, and taste into account I think that My Calabria's version is my favorite.  The first step of baking the eggplant softens it nicely, is healthier than deep-frying, and is much quicker and easier than sauteing.  When I really feel like indulging, Marcella Hazan's is my favorite.  So, I don't regret making this at all, but I don't think it's a recipe that I'll be repeating.  

I made the Panzanella the second night we were home from the beach (Monday night), to accompany the Provencal Vegetable Soup that I made for FFWD.  This wasn't my favorite panzanella.   I liked the flavors, but it was pretty soggy.  I think there was probably too much dressing for the amount of bread that I used (which I weighed).

The Pasta with raw tomato, like the panzanella, was something that I liked just fine, but i think I've had better versions of.  Served with sliced cucumber it was a perfectly fine Tuesday night dinner, but I don't think I'll repeat this one either.

We love to grill in the summer (Paul has two grills and still tries to talk me into buying a third!).  When we grill vegetables I almost always just slice them, throw some olive oil, salt, and pepper on them, and hand them to Paul to grill.  This Chargrilled summer veg recipe wasn't much more complicated--just a lemon vinaigrette--and had really great flavor.  I also loved the suggestion of grilling spring onions.  They were absolutely delicious, and will definitely make a repeat appearance on our grill.  Served with grilled corn and trout, it was a delicious Wednesday dinner.

On Thursday night I made the Tomato, thyme, and goat cheese tart.  On the side we had romano beans with marjoram (does anyone else think marjoram tastes like soap?) and sliced cucumbers. I've said it before and I'll say it again, everything tastes better on puff pastry!!  This was delicious.  It was quick and easy and the flavors were outstanding.  Definitely a great use of summer tomatoes.  I only wish puff pastry had a couple fewer calories :-)

We got home last from our play date on Friday night so we made a meal of leftovers and some beans that I cooked up.  I had some time Saturday afternoon, so I roasted a chicken and made the Marinated zucchini with mozzarella.  This was another winner in my book.  I love when summer squash is grilled, roasted, or pan seared for long enough that it takes on some color.  I think it really improves the flavor.  The lemon marinade, basil, and mozzarella made this the perfect summer salad.  This would be perfect for a picnic, because it's so great at room temperature. 

On Saturday night we had (over-priced, delicious, bakery) cupcakes for dessert, so even though I churned the ice cream on Saturday we didn't taste it until Sunday.  The jury is still out on the Chocolate and beetroot ice cream.  We both agree that it's absolutely gorgeous, and that we liked it more than we thought we would.  We also both kind of wished that we were eating chocolate raspberry (or just plain chocolate) ice cream instead.  This would be very interesting in small portions for a dinner party, but as a stand-alone dessert it probably isn't something that I'd make again.

Last, I made the River Cottage summer garden soup on Sunday, but Paul and I went out (on a date!  a very rare occurrence) on Sunday night, so I brought some for my lunch on Monday so that I could taste it before writing my post.  I enjoyed this soup.  It had a nice simplicity to it, and was a good combination of vegetables.  I think, though, that I prefer the Provencal Vegetable Soup as far as summer vegetable soups go.

And that's it.  Ten River Cottage Veg recipes in ten days.

Friday, July 25, 2014

FFWD Provencal Vegetable Soup

We spent last week at the beach with my parents and god-parents.  It was a lot of fun, if not relaxing, and we ate well.  The kitchen at the rental house wasn't exactly nice, but it was sufficient and my mom cooked a lot of good meals.  We also had a couple of good meals out, and enjoyed our annual trip to Dairy Queen (and Charlotte's first ice cream!).  One of my favorite parts of going on vacation, though, is always coming back home and cooking in my own kitchen. I never quite realize how much I miss it until I'm back doing it again.  Because our meals tend to be on the heavier side when we're away, I usually plan some lighter, vegetable-heavy meals for our return.  This soup recipe and a panzanella (which I'll write about for CCC), seemed like the perfect summer meal for our return.

When I actually got out the book and read through this soup recipe I was underwhelmed, to say the least.  I like minestrone in the winter, but this sounded like an unexciting version of a summer minestrone.  It also sounded totally confused.  There were way too many ingredients.  But, like the good rules follower that I am, I made the recipe (almost) exactly as written.  The only changes I made were omitting the carrots (I forgot mine at the beach) and increasing the corn and green beans to compensate, using whole wheat pasta (it was all I had), and not bothering to peel and seed the tomatoes (I just don't see the point).  This came together easily, and as soon as we put Charlotte to bed Paul and I went out on the patio to eat our dinner.  He tasted the soup before I did and was like "wow, this is really good soup."  I took a bite.  It was really good.  Dorie was right again.  The vegetables are simple, but the homemade pesto (and chicken broth) really make the soup.  I loved the bright, clean flavors.  It really was the perfect welcome home meal.  The best news?  We gave it to Charlotte for lunch and she actually enjoyed it too!  This may even make a repeat appearance before summer is over.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

FFWD Coddled Eggs with Faux Gras

A few months ago, when there was a lot of talk among the FFWD group about making two foie gras recipes, I started looking into alternatives.  The varieties of meat I eat are very limited, and foie gras isn't one of them.  It turns out that there are lots of options on the internet, and for reasons I don't remember I settled on this one, which uses chickpeas as the base and relies on caramelized onion, more butter, tawny port, and capers for flavor.  I wanted to cook the chickpeas from scratch, so I started this recipe a couple of days ahead of time, but that was by far the hardest part.  Once I started it the faux gras was a breeze, and the coddled eggs were easy enough.  I accidentally ran out of cream so I used buttermilk instead, and I overcooked my eggs, but those were entirely my mistakes.  Just as the water came to a simmer and I set up the steamer for the eggs we lost power.  I checked the eggs (with a flashlight) at 5 minutes and the whites didn't seem like they had set at all so I let them keep going.  I kept checking every few minutes, but I think the flashlight may have been misleading because they never seemed set.  By the time I served the eggs, the yolks were set too.  Oh well.  We enjoyed these (in the dark!  we didn't get our power back until the next morning) with tomatoes and potato salad.  Paul said the faux gras didn't taste at all like the real thing, but it was good on its own.  This is definitely a recipe I could see myself making again.