Tuesday, July 31, 2012

don't make me do it

This is Ryan Gosling, as a pancake.  A homemade pancake?  No.  He's made from Bisquick Shake 'n' Pour.  Not made by me, but I did devote my precious recipe-testing time to hunting it down.  A chilling glimpse of the future.  Alternatively, zip back a few posts and leave a comment under the blackberries!  Then Ryan can rest, and I can tell you about barley salad with corn and basil.

24 hours to go.

Monday, July 30, 2012

open sesame

A quick post today, as most of my time now is devoted to hunting down Ryan Gosling photos so I can whip up my own poster. You have the power to create more time for me by simply skipperdeeing over to the blackberry post from last week, and throwing your name in the ring for some jam.  Then I will not need a Ryan Gosling poster to bring humor and pectoral splendor to my sad circumstances, and I can spend more time trying out recipes for you.

Leaving aside Hollywood Heart Throbs for now, let's make the natural transition to malformed chickens before we move on to salad.

We have a chicken whose foot looks like this.

Her head looks like this.

Here you can see her weird foot and weird head together.

I've been of two minds about posting this salad, as it trips the "Weird Ingredients That May Alienate" switch.  The weird item in question, shiso leaf, is a staple of Asian grocery stores, if you happen to live near one (or make regular pilgrimages, like I do), and as it happens to be a weed in my yard, it is not so weird at this address.  I planted it years ago and it has taken over the abandoned chicken run, finding conditions there just to its liking.  It's a member of the mint family, which is known for its strong opinions in regard to where it will thrive.  It happens to be beautiful, and delicious, and provides shade for the one chicken--the same chicken, every day--who manages to squeeze through the small opening in the coop that leads to the run, but can never get back out.  The chicken with the weird toes, of course.

"She's stuck again," I said to my son last week, when I saw her pacing the fence, frantic to rejoin the flock.  "Can you let her out?"

"WHY does she do that every day?" he asked, as he stomped over to release her.

"Because she's not very bright," I answered.  Perhaps you think this was unkind, but you did not hear the tone.  I said it lovingly.  The evidence kind of speaks for itself.  The boy found this hilarious.  This is how he introduces her now.  Maybe she is insulted, and maybe just relieved to have the attention off her toes.  

Shiso in the wild.

It's the foliage of her jungle prison that leads us to salad.

If you are unable to track down fresh shiso, also known as perilla, beefsteak or fresh sesame (in which case it will be light green, and not this gorgeous red, but just as tasty), you can get by here with just the dried form.  Look for this in your Health Food Emporium, or snag a jar of this (it is way more shiso-y, and awesome on popcorn and rice) and keep it by your side forever.  I used both fresh and dried here.  I can combine picking the leaves with freeing the trapped chicken.

If you too are able to gather up some fresh leaves, go see my friend Laura and make her shiso pesto first.  It is shiso's best and highest use, and I've sighed over it before. You don't absolutely NEED the yuzu she mentions in order to succeed; given the emergency conditions in which I first made it,  I had to to substitute sunflower seeds for her almonds and preserved lemon for her yuzu and I still wanted to crown her Queen.

With the handful of leaves you have left over, maybe you will want to make this salad.  I was called upon to make a meal for a person who could not have vinegar, and I banged this together to dress some steamed greens.  Later in the week I made it again and we had it over green beans and were very happy about it.  It is probably good over anything you can use your fork as a vehicle for.

supertasty beans

about a pound of tender green beans, snapped and cut in 1-2" lengths
a small handful of fresh basil leaves
a small handful of fresh shiso leaves
2t sesame seeds
1 t dried shiso seasoning (see above; lacking this, substitute a fat pinch of coarse salt or a dash of ume vinegar)
1T toasted sesame oil
2T olive oil
juice of half a lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it well.  Drop in the beans and cook until bright and tender, a few minutes.  Drain and refresh with very cold water; drain again and set aside.

Stack the basil and the shiso leaves and roll them up.  Slice into very thin ribbons and then in half again.  Toss with the remaining ingredients and dress the beans, adjusting the seasonings for personal preferences regarding salty and sour.

Friday, July 27, 2012

heads up

Well!  Three comments.  Thank you, three commenters, and I hope Ryan Gosling has a poster for this. Looks like we may need it! If you are shyly lurking, please consider leaving a comment on yesterday's post.  I am making a lot of blackberry jam and you would really be helping me out if you entered the running to receive some.

Meanwhile: cabbage!  It's here.  It's ready.  It has an undeservedly low reputation, I think.  I've yabbered on about it before, in the doldrums of winter, and now that we can yank it fresh from the ground, here I go again.

If, like me, you have a thyroid issue, you may have been told that raw members of the brassica or cruciferae family (cabbages, kales, mustards, broccoli and so on) are not a friend to the system. I have done extensive research on this matter, in the sense that once in a while someone reminds me of this recommended injunction, and then I do some half-hearted googling, and then I get confused and decide that the known health and emotional benefits of a kale salad with lemon juice, olive oil and salt, plus the fact that I do not eat this combination exclusively or even daily, probably protect me from any potential harm. 

The only conclusive data I've run across in my exhaustive analysis regards the notion that cooking neutralizes most of the compounds suspected of interfering with your body's optimal performance. Cooked = good to go.

So we're good to go.

warm but crisp cabbage with coconut and cumin

1 head cabbage, cored and cut into fine ribbons
2-3 T olive or coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 T shredded coconut
scant teaspoon of whole cumin seed
Juice of half a lime
kosher salt to taste
pinch of red chile flakes or cayenne pepper

Warm a large heavy skillet over medium heat, and toast the cumin seed and coconut until fragrant and the coconut is lightly golden, about 3 minutes.  Stir constantly and don't let your mind wander.  It's the work of one idle, spacy moment to burn it to a crisp.  Trust me.

Scrape the coconut and cumin into a bowl and set aside.  Heat the oil in the pan and cook the garlic until just fragrant (no browning!), maybe three stirs, and then toss in the cabbage and mix it around in the garlicky oil.  Cook, stirring and tossing, over medium-high heat, until the cabbage is bright and just tender.  Toss it with the coconut-cumin mixture, a squeeze of lime, the chile and a fat pinch of kosher salt, and taste to correct the seasonings as you like them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

i was told there would be no math (+ a giveaway!)

Blogging is a pretty glamorous pursuit.  Not only does your family groan when they see you taking pictures of the salad, but you gain access to a fascinating underworld of knowledge that you access via your "stats" page.  Yes, I have a Stats Page.  Pretty soon a badge and a toolbelt will come my way, I can feel it.

Having a Stats Page makes me want to call up Lincoln Moses, my statistics professor in college.  He looked like Santa, and behaved a lot like one might hope of same.  At the school I attended from grades 5-12, the math classes were divided, not into "A" and "B" or "I" and "II" or "Tomohawks" and "Mohawks" but into sections called "Regulars" and "Specials."  Just to save us trouble figuring out what the section names might indicate about us.  But despite my checkered and very Regular career in mathematics up to the point where I took Lincoln Moses' Statistics 101 class (at the last possible moment prior to graduation in order to fulfill the math requirement), despite all the remedial numerical classroom experiences I had been subjected to since I scored so low on the math section of the bubble test I took at the age of 9 that they had to call in a specialist to interpret the alarming results, which, when adjusted for the fact that in my panic I seemed to have shifted all my answers either one column to the left or one row to the south, indicated that I was only in the 30th percentile (phew!), and not, as the first scoring seemed to indicate, too low to measure--despite all that, I signed up to take Professor Moses' class for a grade.  I could have signed up to take it P/NC, (officially "pass/no credit," but known to students as "pass/no clue") but I did not.  Do not look to me for an explanation.  I do not have one.  But St. Nick called me in to his office right as the deadline for changing one's mind about classes was about to glimmer off into history.  In a friendly way, he urged me to reconsider.  "We have a phrase in statistics," he said, in our chat about how a career in mathematics and allied professions was not likely on my radar, "'Close enough for government work,' we say, when we aren't looking for too specific a measurement."

Point taken.  Squeaked my way to a "P" on that one.  It was a long quarter for all of us.

But now I have a stats page.  Ha!  Guess I showed him.  Except, true to form, I don't really know what anything on it means.  It tells me about "referring sites" and "referring URLs."  It doesn't say what the hell the difference between those two things is.  If my nice friend Alana links to my site, her website might show up as a referring site, and it might show up as a referring URL.  Or both.  But the numbers will not match, or add up to anything familiar.  One of my referring sites, I am told, is "AirportCigarettes.com," which is kind of alarming.  One of the keyword searches that led someone to me, it seems, was "typo render in blender."  I pretty much only look at the pageviews now, but even those can be confusing and I won't bore you with just how confusing except to say that they are counted both by day and by post and those numbers never add up either, even if I only (ever) post no more than once per day.  What I just noticed, though, is that since I began this little enterprise, one measure of something seems to have hit, as of today, a number a little over 10,000.  This could mean any number of things.  Maybe AirportCigarettes is involved.  But it seems like it's worth a little party.

photo here and below by lovely middle daughter

It's been a funky season here. Warm, dry winter and rogue late frost and ongoing drought do not add up to a big harvest of anything other than zucchini. Last year was a boom year so we can't really complain.  And there are still the blackberries!  Some years picking blackberries is like shoplifting in a jewelry store (albeit one guarded by angry cats): each berry a glistening stunner worthy of a platinum setting.  Thanks to the dry conditions, the berries this year are kind of small, but they are still plentiful enough, and plenty delicious, and we've been jamming.  

I am not going to try to lure you into canning by telling you how to do it; if you are already canning, then you know the counting and re-counting of your jars as they march proudly across the counter after the steam clears has nothing to do with poor math skills or with not knowing the tally.  If you are not yet a canner, there are many people more informed than yours truly who can talk you through the doorway (see below).  Look them up.  Fear not the canning pot.

hmm...anything low enough for me to reach?

But I will taunt you with a jar of blackberry jam, if you will come out of the shadows and leave me a little story about any old jammy thing.  Have you made jam, this year or ever?  What kind?  Did some beloved adult in your youth make jam?  Are you a little afraid of the prospect of doing it yourself?  

On August 1, I'll select a name randomly from the comments on this post--provided there are more than 20 of them, as I think we don't want to repeat the whole Ryan Gosling episode--and wing the winner a little jar.

Meantime, here is a little set of links to some jammin jam sites:

and a few Beyond The Toast ideas for how to use the jam in your life during a heatwave:

(these involve ginger--yum--and get layered for beauty; the link takes you to the translated site, I hope, or you can cook it in Spanish)

Monday, July 23, 2012

thrill me to the marrow

Weeks into the season and they have not lost their magic. A rash when I pick them, from fingertip to shoulder (next time, every time, I swear I will remember long sleeves and gloves), and still my heart goes pitter-pat.  I laughed right along here, and even so, I would eat them every day.

What, you may ask, does zucchini have to do with senseless acts of violence all over the headlines?  Maybe you were not going to ask that.  I have been asking it, though.  Why natter on to however many of you are listening about this nice little this or that nice little that in my nice little life, when people are killing people in movie theaters and market squares and on battlefields?  

Many years ago, my husband and I went to work for a few months in an area that was very poor and very rural and the poorest and most isolated of the people there had very little in the way of resources other than a group of very dedicated nuns who had opened a clinic and community center, and with whom we worked.  When our few months were up, we thought about staying.  We had seen a lot while we were there, and one of the things we had seen was a miserable lot of miserably neglected dog and cats.  We could stay here, we thought, and open an animal shelter.  It would be a few years before someone formally taught me the principle of non-duplication of services in non-profit communities, but even so I could see we had identified something no one else was attending to.

No, no, said the nuns.  There are too many other fish to fry here.  Bigger issues.  More pressing things that need attention.  It seemed to me and my husband that cultivating the basic humanity involved in looking after--rather than ignoring or neglecting or abusing--animals was part of the picture.  How could it not help with the other undeniably pressing issues?  But we deferred.  We took one dog, and we went home.  

A few years later, to the dog's dismay, we had a baby.  She was born in a hospital, and the only other mom on the ward with me was a girl about 17.  I struggled mightily to get breastfeeding going and got great support from the nurses.  "You're so good to keep trying!" the girl called out to me at some point from across the room, over the noise of the "Getting To Know Your Baby" video that the nurses had left running on a loop at the foot of her bed.  "I tried once," she said, "but I couldn't get the hang of it."  I asked the nurses why they didn't do the same cheerleading for her as they were doing for me.  "Oh, we're so worried about basic care and bonding," they said, "that we didn't want to complicate matters."

Again I had that spooky feeling you get when it seems either the rest of the world is missing something, or you are.  I thought of that girl again and again as the baby, the boobs and I worked out our differences in the weeks that followed.  Kind of a boob-led seminar in connecting to your baby. That girl was robbed, man.

Which leads us, natch, to pickled zucchini.  What food has to do with violence, or with animal abuse, or with anything else it may seem entirely unrelated to to, is its elemental importance.  We eat to live. When we do it at Burger Doodle and eat alone in the car, we are one kind of alive, but we do have options beyond that. I am not so confused that I think everyone can go pull a zucchini if they really want to, or that if only they did, they would refuse to stand by while assault rifles were easier for the bulk of the citizenry to access than organic produce.  But caring about your own access to food that is safe and good is a doorway.  Pretty soon you care where it comes from, and you care about who grew it, and who picked it, and the soil underneath it.  You care about the rest of the world having access to it.  You connect, and connection undermines the willingness to cause pain to another.  It blurs battle lines and borders.  It's worth a try.

Or that is what I tell myself, anyway.

josh's pickled zucchini

Another non-recipe recipe.  More of a method.  I cut the zucchini into 3-inch logs, set them on end, and sliced them about a quarter of an inch thick, but you could cut them any old way that pleases you.  Salt the slices liberally and set aside for at least half an hour.  An impressive amount of liquid will emerge.  Drain the slices of this liquid, rinse them briefly, and pat them down.  Now toss them with a good splash of rice vinegar, and a bit of fresh herbs--thyme is delicious, and so is mint.  A case can be made for basil.  Maybe we want to get a little heat in there with some chile flakes.  Maybe we want a little lemon zest (we usually do).

Let them sit like this for at least a few hours, or even better about 8-12 in the fridge, stirring when you think of it.  What emerges is a whole new texture, and totally addictive.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

chew on this

cheesy treat or satellite photo of the moon?

I fell in with a group of Paraguayans recently, and I have learned that it pays to admit you are hungry when you are around Paraguayans.  I am passing the gains along to you.

Have you ever had a cheese rock?  If you haven't, you may think that sounds like a terrible name for a food, or really more like an ailment you might develop from eating food that was prepared improperly and which might require brief hospitalization.  But if you have had one, chances are you are thinking happy thoughts now that I reminded you of them.  Maybe you have had a chance to go the the Big Booty Bakery (that is really the name) in New York City and snag yourself some.  Maybe you have spent some time in Brazil, where cheese rocks are known to the people there as "pão de queijo."  Of course, the people there do not say "pão de queijo" in a way that might lead you to suspect that they are talking about bread made from cheese and that this is how you spell it.  They say something along the lines of "powmkwangjhou." Whatever flair for languages I have has never extended to Portuguese, and many of my beloveds speak it.  Though it is merely an observation, and not an unfriendly one, the fact that Portuguese always makes me think of the Lorax ("he sounds as if he had smallish bees up his nose") probably can be traced to sour grapes.

But what all this has to do with Paraguay is that a friendly Paraguayan person made me something she called "embayjew," and which turns out to be called "mbeyu" (not far from Paraquay to Brazil, via the Truffula forest.)  I recreated it for my nephew, whose mother--my sister--spent lots of happy time in Brazil and chats away merrily ("jhoojh!  jhoojh! owm owm! jhoojh!) with my aunt and cousins while I sit and listen.  This is like a flat pmkaykji, said the nephew, whose flair for Portuguese is perhaps less keen even than mine.  He is right, though.  It's a crispy, flattened one of them there things he means.

One of the many nice things about pão de queijo and mbeyu is that they are gluten-free, and another nice thing is that they are both chewy and crispy--two qualities that often elude GF bakers and eaters alike--and also cheesy, which is always tasty.  They are simple to make and require only one odd-seeming ingredient, tapioca flour or starch, which in fact is readily available even if you have never had call to look for it.  Both Bob's Red Mill and Ener-G make it and it is generally with all the weird flours in your Gourmet Shoppe or health food emporium, or even a big chain grocery.  Most recipes for pão de queijo seem to call for an egg, which my sisters cannot eat, and these little delights do not require one.  Furthermore, the Paraguayan angel who whipped these up for me used goat cheese, meaning they are suitable for those who eschew cow dairy, too (see above, "sisters of mine.")  I have since made them with all manner of cheeses.  They are pretty flexible in this regard, and no more complicated to produce than a pie crust.


1 cup tapioca flour
pinch of salt
3-4 T cool butter, ghee or vegetable shortening (use the lesser amount if you are using soft cheese as well as hard)
a generous cup of coarsely-grated cheddar-like cheese, or about 3/4 c plus 1/4 cup of fresh soft goat cheese
3-4 T cold milk (goat or cow)

Mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl, then work the butter or shortening into it as you would to make a pie crust. Add the cheese and toss to combine, then add a bit of milk at a time until the dough just comes together when you pinch it.  It should still look more crumbly than dough-like.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and swirl a bit of butter or ghee or olive oil in it.  Take a handful of dough and flatten it into a disk (this recipe will make you two 6-7" cakes, or you can make little wee ones instead).  Plop in onto the hot pan and flatten it a bit more.  Cook about three minutes, until it is nicely golden, and then flip to repeat for the other side.  Eat nice and hot, maybe alongside some soup or just with a drizzle of hot sauce or other condiment that appeals.

Friday, July 13, 2012

letting the freak flag fly

I am really hesitant to share this particular recipe because I am still living down a single episode from some years ago in which I was persuaded by a magazine article to make guacamole from peas instead of avocados.  Doesn't brown, you know.  To say this experimental maneuver enjoyed limited success would be something of an understatement.  ONE TIME I made this.  Once.  And yet here we are, years later, many decent meals to the good, batches and batches of proper, costly, fleetingly green, traditional and very tasty avocado guacamole down the gullets of those near and dear to me, and still I cannot live down this single rash act with the peas.

Furthermore, I catch a little flak here and there for weird health food things that go on in my kitchen.  Hippie food.  It alienates some people. I try to indulge in these things privately.

So when I was googling around trying to remind myself why chia seeds are good for me (I love them; I just needed to remember why that was such a good thing) and I ran across a recipe for hummus made from edamame and chia seeds, and my curiosity got the better of me, I decided to make it quietly and keep it to myself.  Frankly, the source of the original recipe was a little suspect (not distant enough from the chia pet image problem of these addictive little items, let's say) and I was doubtful of my potential success.  But my family found the stuff, and they ate it, and their friends did too, and they wanted to know how to make some for themselves.  So what I am saying here is, I already know this is hippie food, and weird hippie food at that.  No one needs to tell me that.  But also it can pass.  Even the suspicious seem to snarf it up.

If you are unconvinced of the merits of adding chia seeds to anything, you could make this edamame stuff without them and still be pretty happy, I think.

A note: it sounds like a lot of lemon juice, so much that you may think, as I did, that it is a typo.  While the original recipe was in fact chock full of typos (most of which I sincerely hope are expunged) and some odd choices involving sweet chili sauce (better believe I expunged that right the heck outta there) this bit about the lemon juice was not one of them. I started with a half cup, and by the end, wouldn't you know it but 3/4 of a cup was just about where I finished up.

chia edamame hummus

¾ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
2 T chia seeds
2 to 3 t kosher salt
2 t ground cumin
1 pound shelled edamame
½ t ground coriander
½ cup tahini
3T extra virgin olive oil
pinch cayenne or dash hot sauce
handful chopped parsley
garlic to taste

In small bowl, mix the chia seeds with lemon juice and water, and set aside to bloom, by which I mean they will soak up quite a bit of liquid.

While this is going on, bring a small pot of water to the boil, salt it a bit and drop in the beans.  Cook 4 to 5 minutes, until bright but tender.  Drain and refresh with a cold water rinse.

In a food processor or blender, pulse the edamame, tahini, water, bloomed chia, garlic,  a portion of the salt, the cumin, coriander, olive oil and parsley until smooth, adding additional water as needed to create a good texture.  Taste and correct the seasoning to your liking.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

again with the soup!

How much do you know about your TRPV-1 receptors?  Here, I will bring you up to speed if you are as much in the dark about them as I was.  They are the fancy technology in your mouth that alerts your brain when hot food is very hot (as in, thanks to not realizing how hot this coffee was, my tongue will be as functional as a dried sponge for the next 17 hours) or very hot (as in, that must have been the cayenne and not the paprika that I reached for on these eggs.)  Your brain, when it receives the news flash about the weather patterns between your jawbones, gets your sweat glands on the line and flips the 'on' switch.  Hence, why it is not crazy to write about hot soup when it's hotter than a match head outdoors, which it presently  is here in my zip code.  Hot food makes you sweat, and sweating cools you down, see?  NPR explained it to me.  It's probably why fiery cuisines and hot weather go together, they said.

I only just realized that I am already sweating because of it being hot, which kind of bungs a hole in that theory for me.

But this soup was really, really good, which you might not gather from its awful portrait up there.  It comes from Vegetable Soups From Deborah Madison's Kitchen, which I took out of the library. This is my new strategy with cookbooks: kind of like dating before you buy the cow or words to that effect (it's really hot here).  If I become worried the pages are too splotchy to return to the circulation desk in person (hello, nighttime book drop!!), then I know that I have come a really good distance from the library-book phobia I had from the age of 6 (when I lost a book from the Brooklyn Friends lower-school library and had to confess it to the librarian) to the age of however old I was when I got over that, which was a good while after.  Ask me about ice cream cones sometime!  Lost a scoop off of one outside Baskin-Robbins on Montague street as a youngster and I'll leave you to imagine how I handled the "cup or cone?" question until college.

I also know, getting back around to cookbooks, that I am ready to buy the book, now that I have paid half its value in overdue fees.  It's a major cost-cutting trick, this library-dating-of-cookbooks strategy of mine.  I commend it to you.

A couple of the steps here sound weird, but are ultimately stupendously successful.  Love that.  Also it is a tidy little ecosystem of its own, this soup--the trimmings and tailings of the main ingredients are what you use to make the broth.  And it came together quickly, despite there being three sections to the recipe, and everyone liked it. I will attempt to resist the urge to just cook my way through the book and tell you about it, because I think that has been done before, but there are legions of winners in these pages, let me tell you. 

For this one, I have given you all of Ms. Madison's careful measurements of quantity and so forth, but rest assured this was pretty forgiving--I had no leek, no one in my house but me likes peas (I substituted--you guessed it--ZUCCHINI), my parsley levels were unequal to the recipe, and lacking the willingness to blanch almonds, I subbed almond meal which I had a-plenty.  Still tasty.  I think it is the saffron, which I can never resist.

fennel soup with saffron & ricotta dumplings
adapted from Vegetable Soups From Deborah Madison's Kitchen

the stock
the stalks of your fennel bulbs (see below)--about 2 cups
roots and upper sections of a leek or some scallions--about a cup
1 c celery tips and leaves
1 bay leaf
handful of parsley stems
sea salt and fresh pepper

the dumplings
1 pound ricotta cheese
olive oil
a fat pinch of fennel seeds

the soup
1 large or two small fennel bulbs (about a pound)
2-3 tablespoons butter, or a mix of butter and olive oil that appeals to you
2 leeks, white parts only, about a quarter pound, quartered, rinsed, chopped, or equivalent spring onions or scallions
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
2 T chopped parsley
1/3 c almond meal, or 1/2 c blanched almonds, finely ground
2 pinches of saffron threads

to finish: 
about a cup of shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas, or similarly-sized bits of tender young zucchini
finely minced fennel greens or fresh thyme to garnish

Preheat the oven to 350.

Put the vegetable trimmings into a pot with 7 cups of water, the bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes.

Press the ricotta into a 6-cup baking dish that has been brushed with olive oil, and sprinkle the fennel seeds over the top.  Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool and firm. Make the soup while it is baking.

Chop the fennel into pieces that will fit into a soupspoon.  Melt the butter or butter + oil in a soup pot and add the vegetables and parsley.  Season with a teaspoon of salt, toss everything to coat, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the saffron and almonds and stir well to combine, and then cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.  Strain the stock--you should have about 6 cups--and admire its color.  Surely J. Crew has a name for this hue.  Add the hot stock to the vegetables, and simmer the combination for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are as tender as you would like them to be. Add the peas during the last couple of minutes.  Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Cut the ricotta into adorable triangles.  Add a few of them to each bowl and sprinkle with the fresh herbs.  Squeeze of lemon wouldn't hurt, but it helps everything.

Monday, July 9, 2012

summer squashed

I have heard it said that you should lock your car around here in the summer, not to prevent theft but to foil the gardeners who troll parking lots looking for open cars where they can leave their excess zucchini. 

Considering what recently happened to my car, this sounds like a major trade up in terms of larceny. 

Also, I happen to love zucchini and its yellow cousins. Even now, when the faucets are full-on open, I love them. How can you not love a plant that is so supremely organized and efficient that it can crank out these handsome items 

by the bucketload when all the plants around them are gasping from drought, bolting from heat, withering in the sun? Even when a basket-busting, counter-obscuring, headache-threatening metric buttload of zucchini comes thundering into the house, my ardor remains strong. 

There are a lot of reasons for this ardor, and one them is Julie, who is the undisputed champion of so many areas of the menu that is has become pointless to catalog her numerous titles (Queen of the Bean, Empress of Elixirs, Chile Tsarina). Some broader title needs to be established for her. In one of her characteristically casual moments of generosity, she emailed me about this zucchini soup she had been whipping together. I lacked a few of the things required to reconstruct it exactly, but because I received the email while bushwhacking through a bushel of squash, I punted. 

That was two summers ago, and I've never looked back. With this handy method, it is possible to render a Code Blue Zucchini Situation like this:

into a call for quiet gloating like this:

Magical!  Here is Julie's Zucchini Soup v. 2.0, wherein you, our hero, capitalize on zucchini's confounding ability to sweat large amounts of liquid in the presence of salt, and produce for yourself a substance which can magically transform from summer refresher to winter restorative at the flick of your wrist.  Chill this down right now, and serve it as is--or with a squeeze of lemon on top and maybe a splash of olive or chile oil or a swirl of pesto or a sprinkling of fresh herbs, maybe some buttermilk or this magical yogurt --and you will swagger around feeling pretty spiffy at the end of a hot day.  Maybe you can't bear the idea of another zucchini right now.  Whatever your feelings regarding the zucchini in July, I can attest you will approach it with a twinkle in your eye come February. In the produce doldrums, a warm bowl of this with a swirl of heavy cream and some curry powder is a welcome sight on the placemat.  I freeze as much of this stuff as I can jam into the Kenmore.  Thank you, Julie.

Measurements are profoundly approximate here.  It's more of a method than a recipe.  If your zucchini payload is mostly on the young side (admittedly preferable), no special treatment is required.  If they are a little more aged than that (still well worth using), use your judgement regarding peeling tough outer bits and discarding cottony centers, and try to work a few of the juvenile specimens in with them to ensure that lovely color.

zucchini soup

For every seven or eight zucchini, one medium onion, a decent splash of olive oil and about a quarter cup of white wine (Mirin, or Japanese rice wine, makes a nice alternative), plus salt and pepper and about a teaspoon of lemon zest, very finely grated.

Dice the onion, and heat the olive oil in a large soup pot.  Saute the onion over low heat with about a teaspoon of salt, stirring as necessary, until the onion is soft and not at all brown, about five minutes.

Meanwhile,  hack the squash up by no special method into chunks of 1-2".

Add the squash to the onion along with the wine and lemon and a few twists of pepper, and give it all a good stir.  Turn the heat up, and when the zucchini pieces are nicely coated, add about a cup of water (or broth, if you feel you must, but water is fine).  Bring this to a nice boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot.

Cook, stirring every couple minutes to ensure even heating, until the squash has given up a nice amount of liquid and is tender but still bright, like so:

Now attack the pot with your stick blender, and render yourself a nicely even purée.  Fish around determinedly for lurking chunks, and show them no mercy.  A gloriously green and supremely smooth soup is your goal.  You can do this, of course, in batches in a regular blender but take care to recall that hot liquids expand and caution must be exercised.  I tend to burn my eyeballs and make a hell of a mess when I use the regular blender for hot soup.  

Cool and deploy. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

the next generation

Maybe you remember what I said about chicks raised in the house, and how they grow up to be the chickens with no respect for the boundary of the threshold to the human dwelling. Whenever the wind or a careless human leaves the door unlatched, only the house-raised dare to enter.  You might come to the opening to see a congregation of chickens on the porch, peering in, but they will not cross unless they've logged some time indoors as tots or while receiving in-patient care.  We have one of those chickens in our flock now.  Even the dogs don't notice if she comes inside anymore--I've more than once come into the kitchen to see a sleeping dog on the floor, and Chickalena drinking happily from the water bowl right by his head.  It's a glamorous life for all of us.

OK, so remember the ailing chick and her (I really hope she's a her--still too soon to say) sisterhood of indoor pals?  Great news!  She's still not dead.  And all that house time has really paid off.

In other news, the zucchini are back.  I love it when the zucchini come back, but I think I am the only one beating the drums of welcome.  I love to fry up a huge mess of paper-thin slices with preserved lemon, and I like to make those zucchini-feta pancakes I once told you about, and though I do those things all year long, I especially like doing them generously with fresh, bright, snappy-looking zucchini that taste like something.

When it is too hot to consider standing by the stove flipping pancakes, the same principles that govern those very savory pancakes can be brought to bear on a frittata, which requires no flippage.  A frittata, like an omelette or really any kind of egg, is a very personal matter with probably volumes of written material related to its proper construction.  I feel a little silly pretending to tell anyone how to make one. But the flavors here were nice, and you could personalize this further with, say, some garlic or minced scallions, or red peppers, or that pesky half cup of leftover pasta lurking from last night's dinner.  Frittatas are excellent at any temperature, as you probably know, and are happy to go on picnics.

zucchini-feta frittata with basil & mint

2-3 small (about 7") zucchini, diced
3T olive oil

handful of chopped fresh basil
smaller handful of chopped fresh mint
about 4 oz feta, crumbled

8 eggs
salt & pepper 

handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered (optional, but pretty and very yum)

Heat the oil in a 10" skillet and quickly fry up the zucchini--you are aiming for a still-bright but golden-in-places result.

While this is going on, beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.  How much salt depends on how salty your feta is and how salty you like things. Reserve about a quarter of the feta crumbles, and whisk the rest into the eggs.

Stir the fresh herbs into the zucchini pan.  Now dump in the egg mixture and stir lightly to move the zucchini into the eggs, then resist the urge to stir further or disturb in any way.  Sprinkle the cherry tomatoes on top, and the remaining feta on top of that.  Cook maybe 2 minutes more.Turn off the heat and cover the pan.  

Heat the broiler in your oven.  When it is nice and hot, uncover the pan and slide it under there.  Remain in this spot and totally vigilant for the next 2 minutes while the frittata browns lightly and attractively all over the top, rotating as necessary.  Now turn off the broiler, and let the pan rest there.  After a few minutes, check the firmness of the center.  It should be pretty close to solid, and residual heat in the pan will probably do the trick.  Let it stand on the stovetop until cool enough to engage with, then loosen around the edges and use a wide spatula to coax it upright onto a plate.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

love wednesday

The first thing that happened this morning was that a dove perched on the window by the head of my bed and did some cooing.  This sounds like a lovely way to wake up.  Sounds can be deceiving, or more accurately in this case, sounds can be profoundly irritating and make you wonder if some doves are not as capable of higher cognitive processing as other doves.  Scratch, thud, rustle: now scrabbling to get a comfortable foothold on the window above the bed, now thumping (headfirst, it sounds like, maybe?) inelegantly into the siding over by the door.  Now back to the window!  Coo, coo, coo!  Now I am flying off...back again!  Again with the coo, coo, coo!  Are you up?  It's your mid-week bonus day to sleep in--just came to tell ya!  Coo!

So I was ready indeed to recalibrate the morning, and the little note from my boy did just that.  I asked him what he wanted for breakfast, and without hesitation he told me "a milkshake and salad."  Those sounds are not deceiving to me--those are the sounds of a small body knowing just what it is after to grow on.  I had just read this post about a chopped and restorative salad when he said that.  Given what was in the larder, it became finely chopped celery, fennel, tender young zucchini, cucumber, parsley, basil and romaine lettuce, tossed up with a spoonful of capers, the juice of half a lemon, some crumbled feta, good olive oil and a twist or three of pepper.  This took about three minutes.

To play the part of the milkshake, I threw frozen strawberries, a handful of the blueberries we picked yesterday, some yogurt, some coconut water, some almonds and a splash of strawberry elixir (I made a second batch of that, by the way, using chopped up lemons in place of the now-vanished kumquats, and adding a pinch of crushed red chiles--oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah baby--but honey could have done the trick just as well) into the blender.

It all seemed to hit the desired spot.

Hope your day is full of peace and progress and satisfyingly salty salads.