Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Fare

When the long, hot days of Summer hit, the last thing most of us want to do is spend time cooking.  Admittedly, I have found myself baking on 100 degree days, but for the most part, I'm right there with you and don't want to cook.  I live on sandwiches when the days are sweltering.  But you cannot live on sandwiches alone and sometimes you just want something a little more refined.

My first pick is soup.  I know, I we are trying to stay cool and now I'm telling you to make something that you imagine as being piping hot and best enjoyed on a cold, rainy day.  But no, it's a chilled soup, cucumber soup.  I first came across this recipe in the June 2009 issue of Real Simple magazine and have made it at least once every Summer since.  It's quick to put together in a blender, you can make it in the morning before the temperatures start to soar and stash it in the fridge to chill all day.  Take the serving suggestions from Real Simple--baguette slices, feta, olives, and salami--and with the soup, you've got a satisfying meal.

My next choice requires a little more work and some time simmering on the stove, but the pay-off is fabulous.  Dolmades--stuffed grape leaves.  They take less effort than you think.  Have them as an appetizer or as a vegetarian main course with a salad and call it a day.  I've made dolmades a couple of times and I'm still perfecting my style.  I have yet to learn that less is more when it comes to filling them.  Quite a few literally burst out of their seams when they were cooking, but in the end, they tasted amazing.  One of the nice things about stuffed grape leaves is that you can eat them warm or chilled.

Cucumber Soup
(Adapted from the Chilled Cucumber Soup recipe at Real Simple)

3/4 cup sour cream
6 Persian cucumbers, peeled, chopped roughly
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped white onion
juice of one lime
2 tbsp basil
salt and pepper, to taste

Throw all the ingredients in the blender and puree.  Add a little water if you need to.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let chill for at least 2 hours.  

You can also crumble the feta on top of the soup with a dash of pepper.  That way you'll have the tang of the cheese with the subtlety of the soup.  

(Adapted from Modern Greek)

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
3/4 cup brown rice
20 grape leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup labne or Greek yogurt
1 tsp oregano

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and saute about 5 minutes until they start to soften.  Add brown rice and saute an additional 5 minutes to toast.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.  

If you're using grape leaves packed in brine, rinse well.  If using fresh, blanch for a few seconds in boiling water and pat dry.  Lay leaves vein side up and add about a tablespoon of the rice mixture to the center of the leaf.  Fold sides to the center, then fold up from the bottom and roll until you've reached the top end.  Place seam side down in a skillet, packing the stuffed leaves in a tight circle as you go.  Add enough water to cover the leaves, place a plate on top to hold down the dolmades and simmer for 35-40 minutes.  

Blend labne or yogurt with oregano and spoon over dolmades.  Serve warm or cold.  I think they are better when cool, as it gives them time to set.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Bowl of Cherries

One of the reasons I like Summer is seeing the first crop of cherries coming into the market.  So far, I think I've gone through three or four pounds of them.  I can easily sit at the table and eat one after the other.  I've made my Cherry-Amaretto Syrup, now my favorite topping for French toast, and Cherry Almond Shortbread a couple of weeks ago for Girls' Night.  Yes, I see the pattern...I do love the tastes of cherries and almonds together.

The thought that I couldn't get out of my head was making a cherry clafoutis.  Part of the attraction was it being something that I hadn't made before and well, it was a little exotic.  I was originally under the impression that it was closer to a cake in consistency, but when I started to seek out recipes I saw the comparisons to flan.  Having not been a huge custard fan in the past, I decided it was time to change that.  You know, my egg issues.  I narrowed the choices down to three recipes (Saveur, Epicurious, and Simply Recipes).  I ended up going with the Saveur recipe, incidentally, the one that uses the most eggs.

You'll read that typically clafoutis uses unpitted cherries, so the batter can get a hint of the almond-like flavoring that the pits will release while baking, but I opted for pitting the cherries (by hand, just me and a knife, and some still very stained fingers).  Other than the time it takes to pit the cherries, this will easily come together.  I did it by hand and recommend it if you don't feel like dragging out the mixer.

It's amazing warm, dusted with confectioners sugar, just long enough out of the oven so the batter can set a little bit and nearly as good at room temperature.  Don't make me admit that it was a late lunch yesterday.  (And totally worth it!)

Cherry Clafoutis
(Adapted from a recipe at Saveur)

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
6 eggs
6 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tbsp bourbon
3/4 cup flour
3 cups cherries, pitted
pinch of salt
confectioners sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Grease baking pan, pie plate, or skillet generously.  In a large bowl, whisk together the vanilla extract, bourbon, eggs, sugar, milk, and salt.  Add flour gradually until batter comes together.  

Pour batter into baking dish and scatter cherries in the batter.  Bake for 30-40 minutes  until edges and bottom are golden brown or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  The clafoutis will puff a little while baking and deflate a little once you remove it from the oven.  

Let cool a few minutes before serving.  Dust with confectioners sugar.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Another Step Forward...

...because sometimes I think I excel at taking steps back...not, siree...

...don't even ask me how nervous I've been all day getting this together, though it's been going on for close to a month, I made today THE day...a weird (or not) mix of nervousness,  a little anxiety, and kept building with each step I completed....and with a wee bit of hesitation, my finger hovered over the 'Launch' button...

...but here she all her infant glory...months ago I told myself, "Onwards and upwards because there is no other way to go."  See...I really am trying to be more positive...

...humour me...PLEASE!...and check out the shop...  :)

Semplice Gourmet

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Bounty

Between reading other blogs and hearing from friends, the typical Summer bounty of zucchini a-plenty seems to be starting.  I, on the other hand, actually have to buy it at the grocery store.  The upside?  Zucchini is pretty inexpensive.  Mind you, if there is anyone out there who lives nearby and you have an abundance of zucchini on your hands, don't hesitate to give me a call.  I would be happy to take it off your hands.

Usually I'll make zucchini-walnut cake, but this time around I wanted to throw in some chocolate.  I've seen recipes for zucchini-chocolate cake before and I figured it was time to give it a go myself.  I found an excellent recipe for Zucchini Muffins on the Simply Recipes blog/site.  As I've mentioned before, I love a recipe where you can easily swap out ingredients to suit your taste.  This one did not let me down.

Consider it...once you've had grilled zucchini, zucchini fritters, zucchini chips, and zucchini quesadillas you'll still want these muffins.  Honestly, they have chocolate in could you not?

Zucchini-Chocolate Chip Muffins
(Adapted from the Zucchini Muffins Recipe on Simply
Makes 6 [actually, 7...but it was half-sized]

1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin pan with liners or grease with a little butter.  Melt butter and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Mix well.  Add grated zucchini and butter.  Stir to combine.  In a small bowl, add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Mix dry ingredients then add gradually to wet ingredients.  Add chocolate chips and stir until all the ingredients are combined.  Spoon into muffin pan, so each well is nearly full.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool for 5 minutes in pan before removing and finish cooling on cooling rack.  

My baking time was closer to the 30 minute mark.

Monday, July 2, 2012

From the Boring to the Sublime

Potato salad.  One of the major participants at barbecues and cook-outs countrywide.  I may be pushing the 'sublime' designation...but work with me.  With Independence Day a mere two days away (don't you hate when a holiday falls smack in the middle of the week?'s not close enough to either the beginning or end to stretch it into a 3-day weekend), I'm sitting here thinking about a huge spread in the backyard, the table covered in red gingham, lemonade in tall glasses, playing horseshoes, the grill fired up, huge bowls of cole slaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad, watermelon, endless condiments, flies buzzing about, a sunburn from not putting on enough sunscreen, and platters of hamburgers and hot dogs.

There is one small problem...I don't have a backyard with the gingham-covered picnic table, a grill, or the horseshoes.  I can squeeze lemons for the lemonade and make the rest of the food, but on a much, much smaller scale.  I can sit out on the common patio here with a Cook-Out for One...made inside!  I'll be happy with a couple of hot dogs and potato salad.

This is going to be one of those admissions where you're probably going to say to yourself, 'How long has she been cooking?'  I honestly believe this is the first time I've made potato salad.  Truthfully.  I cannot remember making it in the past, unless the result was so horrendously awful, I have conveniently forgotten the whole incident.  When I make something like this, I could almost smack myself for thinking there was some mystery that was eluding me.  It's boiled potatoes...with other stuff thrown in!  I think a lot of the hesitation has to do with not wanting to destroy the memory I hold of certain foods.  My mom is a decent cook, and I  distinctly remember how her potato salad used to taste over all those summer cook-outs when I was growing up back East.  I'm not saying hers is the end-all-be-all of potato salads, but I can 'taste' it in my mind.  Know what I mean? I come with my own twist on a classic.  I know my mom's and most other potato salads I've eaten have hard-boiled egg in them, but I've kept it out of this version.  It's pretty short and sweet.  Measurements are estimations at best, because,'s how I least today.  Maybe 'sublime' is too extreme a designation for something so easy...but I do believe it's far from boring.

'Sublime' Potato Salad  (okay...maybe, maybe not)
(Serves 2-4)

3 medium to large red potatoes
1/2 cups diced baby carrots
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped pepperoncini
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Wash potatoes and dice into roughly 1-inch or slightly larger pieces (skin on).  Add to medium saucepan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil.  Cook until done (about 12-16 minutes).  Drain and rinse under cool water.  In a bowl, combine all ingredients and gently stir to evenly distribute mayonnaise and mustard.  I also sprinkled in a little Magic Dust Rub because that stuff is amazing!  Try to make it a day before, so everything has time to co-mingle.