Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lost and Found
What’s cooking? Raspberry Rosé Jam, Vinaigrette, and Shortbread Cookies

I’m wondering if I should feel old. I spend at least half my time these days looking for something – if not the iPad or the cell phone or my glasses, it’s something else entirely necessary for my existence.

I used to be the one who found things. When my kids were young, I was the only one who could locate their shoes, their jackets, their lunch tickets,... on a moment’s notice. I was always amazed at the ability of the men in my life – and now I would also be including my husband – to walk through a room and see... nothing. Perhaps it’s a female thing – that women are just more detail-oriented than men. Which is a good thing when someone has to find the pacifier or the birthday party invitation or the other glove on a cold, snowy day.

Remember that game in which someone would put a group of things on a tray, and you got to look at them for maybe 10 seconds, and then you had to write down what they were? I so rocked that game. And then later, in my career as first an editor and then a corporate communications consultant, I was a master at proofreading – so good, in fact, that even on a typeset page, I could spot those places where there was an extra space between words.

So have these talents left me? Surely not. Maybe I’m just not paying attention. Maybe there’s just more clutter in my life. Back in those days when my life was about finding stuff instead of losing stuff, I didn’t have glasses or a cell phone or an iPad. After all, I can find the phone on the land line. And I’m still the only person who can locate the remote. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I thought.

Rosé and Raspberries 

I first saw this recipe on Tastingtable.com, an online food/cooking newsletter, in July. I like rosé wine, and I like raspberries, so I printed it out and put it... somewhere. Periodically, over the next couple of months, I’d find it and swear to get the raspberries, then the phone would ring, or I’d realize I hadn’t finished unloading the dishwasher, or the clock would remind me it’s time for lunch,... And before you could say “Wait a minute!” I had put that sheet down... somewhere else.

So about a week ago, my grocery store had a sale on raspberries, and I thought about that jam made with raspberries and rosé wine – sounds good already, doesn’t it? I got the raspberries home, secured the rosé, and couldn’t remember where I’d seen the recipe or where the printout was. I finally found it – four days later, at which point the raspberries were looking sad and sprouting little black hairs. Which took me back to the store. The moral to this tale is: locate the recipe first, then the wine, then the berries.

This jam is not only gorgeous and elegant – there’s a gem-like quality to the color – but delicious, not too sweet, and amazingly flexible. I’ve done the thick, crusty toast thing with it – comfort food for any time of day – but here’s what else:

■ A sweet-tart vinaigrette (recipe below), perfect on fruit salad or a nice contrast on a traditional spinach salad (or arugula, as shown here);

■ A syrupy topping – warmed or not – for vanilla ice cream or lemon sorbet or – shown here – lemon-buttermilk sorbet (recipe below);

■ Filling for the best shortbread cookies (recipe below) that I think I’ve ever had. Rave reviews on Food.com, so it’s not just me.

So let’s get started. This is about as easy as jam can get, and takes less than half an hour to make. You can process the jars and hope to have enough for the next six months; but I’ve enjoyed it so much, and have even given some away, that just yesterday I went out and bought more raspberries. Also, it’s a great excuse to open a bottle of rosé wine. Rosé is enjoying a surge in popularity right now, with stores everywhere offering a range of choices.

For the winos among you – and surely there are a few – we opened a 2013 Mulderbosch Rosé from South Africa. (The one in the photo at top is Kim Crawford from New Zealand.) The Mulderbosch is fruity but dry, and my resident wino says we paid $10-12. Wine.com describes it as a nice “picnic” wine, which is great because I am always having picnics in my kitchen. Might even have one today, if you get my drift.

Raspberry-Rosé Jam

Adapted from Tastingtable.com, who adapted from Saving the Season (blog and book), by Kevin West

Fills 4 half-pint jars.

36 ounces fresh raspberries (six 6-ounce containers)
2 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup dry rosé wine

Pick over the raspberries to remove any bruised or moldy ones. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and use your hands to mash the raspberries to a thick, soupy texture. Toward the end, you may want to enlist a potato masher to finish the job. As you know, the KG is not one for putting her hands in goop, so she wore a clean pair of rubber gloves. You should work in whatever way floats your boat.

In a 4- or 5-quart saucepan (I used a
5-quart Le Creuset French oven), bring the raspberry mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-high and let the mixture bubble, stirring often, until the jam thickens, which will take about 20 minutes. To test for “doneness,” pour a teaspoon of boiling jam on a cold plate, and put it in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the rest of the jam from the heat. If the jam on the plate seems to be gelling (i.e., it’s no longer runny), it should be done. If not, return the jam in the pot to a boil for a few more minutes. Kitchen Goddess note: Getting the water out quickly is key to a good jammy texture, so use as wide a pot as you have that still has high enough sides to let the jam boil hard. More surface area means faster evaporation.

Spoon the jam into airtight containers and let it cool to room temperature before storing it in the fridge for use within a month. Or process it for preserving, to have it last months without refrigeration. Or give some away – your friends will love you for it!

Raspberry-Rosé Vinaigrette

Makes almost 1 cup.

¼ cup Raspberry-Rosé Jam
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil
5-6 good grinds pepper

Whisk together the first five ingredients well. Add the olive oil slowly, whisking constantly to emulsify. (Or add the oil all at once and use an immersion blender.) Stir in the pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Lemon-Buttermilk Sorbet

Makes just short of 1 quart.

⅓ cup water
⅔ cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and the lemon zest. Heat at medium temperature, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar dissolves, remove the mixture from heat and pour into a small, heat-proof bowl. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and chill well in the refrigerator.

Whisk the chilled syrup into the buttermilk. Add the lemon juice and continue to whisk until the liquid is well mixed.

Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Once processed, the sorbet works best if put in a covered container and stored in the freezer for 2-3 hours before serving.

Thumbprint Shortbread Cookies with Jam

Adapted from LB in Middle Georgia on Food.com

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

1 cup butter, slightly softened
⅔ cup sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract (pure almond extract, please!)
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup jam (I, of course, used Raspberry-Rosé Jam)

In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add almond extract and continue to blend.

Reduce the speed and mix in flour, about ½ cup at a time, until it is thoroughly incorporated into the dough. Turn out the dough onto Saran Wrap or other cellophane wrap and seal. Refrigerate one hour.

Pinch off dough to make 1-inch balls, and set 1-2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Using the back of a ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon, make an indentation in the top of each ball, and fill with jam. (The indentation will only hold a scant ¼ teaspoon of the jam. Do not overfill.)

Refrigerate the cookies again while you preheat the oven to 350º. This extra round in the fridge will help the cookies to maintain their shape.

Bake at 350º for 14 minutes. The cookies do not need to brown. If you leave them in long enough to brown, they’ll spread.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Feeling a Little Fruity
What’s cooking? Stuffed Figs with Prosciutto and Phyllo Tarts with Fruit and Ricotta

Kitchen Goddess Spoiler Alert: This post may be about figs, but the dessert recipe is très flexible and can work with almost any soft fruit. See for yourself...

It’s still fig season here in Texas, and I know from experience that it’s high season for them in Italy, so even if you’re not in Texas or Italy, there’s probably a market somewhere nearby where you can pick up a few figs. They emerge for a criminally short season, so catch them while you can.

10 Brown Turkey figs, 6 tiger Stripes, 4 green Sierras, 2 Black Mission figs, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I was first introduced to the fruit by my grandmother, who had two huge fig trees in her back yard. They took up most of the space that might otherwise have held a swing set, but it never really occurred to me that she should have swings instead of those marvelous trees. She made wickedly good preserves with them, using a recipe that died with her, but the way I most remember eating them was in a bowl with a bit of cream for breakfast. She peeled them for me; and while today I eat them with the skin on, in my heart, thoughts of figs are inextricably linked with my grandmother.

Fig trees in New Jersey weren’t in the cards unless you had the energy to move them inside every winter. I did not. But when my husband and I built our retirement house in Texas, I felt that I had to try growing one. We planted in an area that seemed just right, and when, over the next couple of years, no figs arrived, we moved it around to get better exposure to the sun. Still no fruit beyond a handful of “figlets” that never matured. Each fall, I’d sigh and hope for better luck the next year.

Then – miracle of miracles – I arrived back this September and found figs! Not too many (the local bird population seems also to have noticed), and not especially large; but I practically squealed with delight when I saw them. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get to serve some for breakfast to my grandchildren.

A Short Primer on Figs: Although fig trees are one of the first plants cultivated by humans, many unfortunate souls in the U.S. have never tasted the fruit. I think that’s because, generally speaking, figs aren’t pretty. They have an odd, bottom-heavy shape, and aside from the recently-available Tiger-stripe variety, they don’t come in eye-catching colors. The skin is smooth but not shiny. Yet they’re one of the richest plant sources of calcium and fiber, and high in antioxidants. The taste ranges from mildly sweet to sweet, with a delightfully silky flesh and tiny seeds that offer a friendly crunch and don’t stick in your teeth.

Figs are one of the most delicate fruits, and they don’t ripen off the tree. So if you come across some at a market, you want to look for ones that feel plump and just barely soft. Think of the best as Goldilocks fruit – not too hard and not too soft. Don’t pile them recklessly into a bag – be gentle. Then when you get them home, store them in a single layer in the fridge, on a paper towel-lined plate (covered with cellophane wrap) or in a shallow air-tight container, so they don’t dry out. Try to eat them within a couple of days. And just as a treat, pick one up and bite off everything short of the stem. Heavenly.

Let’s Get to the Eating Part, Please

Okay, okay – enough with the lecture. Today, I’m giving you a way to serve figs as an appetizer, and a dessert recipe that can use figs or many other soft fruits.

First up is the appetizer way. Possibly the most elegant dish you can put together in less than 15 minutes. I had a similar dish at a tiny restaurant in New Jersey, and even with my embellishments, it takes no time at all. This dish delivers a magical mix of flavors: sweet from the figs and honey, tart and tangy from the balsamic, and salty from the cheese and prosciutto. Add the range of textures -- creamy, crunchy, chewy -- and you've got an epicurean delight.

Stuffed Figs with Prosciutto

To serve 4.

12 fresh figs (any variety will do, though it’s easier with larger figs such as Tiger Stripe or Brown Turkey)
3 ounces fresh goat cheese or mild feta cheese (French or Bulgarian)
balsamic reduction (best) or balsamic vinegar*
4 ounces thinly sliced Prosciutto ham (12 slices)

Rinse the figs and pat dry with paper towels. Slice about ¼ inch off the tops of the figs, and cut the figs in quarters, slicing only halfway down the fruit so that the fig maintains its bulbous shape.

Stuff each fig with ½ teaspoon of the feta or goat cheese. Drizzle a few drops of balsamic reduction (or vinegar) on the cheese, followed by 2-3 drops of honey.

To do ahead: The figs can at this point be covered and refrigerated for serving later.

When ready to serve, place 3 figs on each plate and microwave for 20 seconds. Pile 3 slices of prosciutto together on each plate with the figs and serve immediately.

*Kitchen Goddess note on Balsamic Reduction: *There isn’t anything easier to make than balsamic reduction. Put 2 cups of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, and turn on the heat. When you notice steam starting to rise off the vinegar, adjust the heat to keep that level. (No bubbles.) Allow the vinegar to steam for 2-3 hours (adjusting the heat level periodically), at which point it should have reduced to about ½ cup of a thick, syrupy liquid. If you can’t lower your heat enough, you may want to use a heat diffuser. Store the reduction in a jar or squeeze bottle in your pantry. Keeps indefinitely.

And now for the tarts. I’ll admit right off that phyllo pastry is a little tricky to work with. The first thing you have to know is that you buy it frozen and it needs to thaw overnight. The Kitchen Goddess got all primed to make these tarts one afternoon before realizing the overnight thaw business, and was forced to watch re-runs of “Bones” instead of cooking.

Kitchen Goddess note about Phyllo: Yes, it’s tricky. But not hard. It’s very important, though, to get your mise en place (a.k.a., organize your work space) before you start with the phyllo. The sheets are tissue paper thin, so they tear easily; but with a little practice – and the willingness to say “Screw it” to one sheet and start with another – you’ll be fine. Also, you should know that sheets can be patched together once you start with the butter. The Kitchen Goddess herself threw away four or five sheets before reaching a group that worked. But you get 20 sheets in a box for less than $4.00, so what the heck.

The other important point is that phyllo dries out quickly (i.e., becomes unusable), so you’ll need a damp kitchen towel to cover the sheets you’re not working with at the moment. That said,... (1) Let the box thaw overnight. (2) Remove the roll of phyllo sheets and unroll them carefully. (3) Peel off 7-8 sheets, one at a time, and lay them on top of each other to the side of your work surface. (4) Gently lay a damp kitchen towel on top of your “inventory” before re-rolling the remainder and storing them back in the packaging and back into the fridge or freezer. In the photo above, the sheets I’ll be using are under the green-and-white towel.

You can trust me that the results – light, flaky, not overly sweet but delicately delicious – are worth the trouble. David Tanis in The NY Times calls these pastries “a cross-cultural pleasure,... a French tartlet, but with Middle Eastern undertones.”

I want to note here that these pastries work equally as well with various other soft fruits as they do with figs. I tried the recipe with plumcots (shown above) and pears, and both were yummy. You’ll notice that the tart below has been cut in half, to show that you can make 12 smaller servings – for a brunch, say, or an afternoon tea. (You do serve tea in the afternoons, don’t you?)

If you want to do these ahead, I would assemble the pastry packages and refrigerate them between layers of wax paper in an air-tight container, then put the ricotta mixture and the cut fruit (perhaps with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning) in two more containers in the fridge. Toast the almonds ahead and set aside. Assembly takes very little time. And by the way, I think these pastries would be stellar topped with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, but I didn’t have any around at the time. So someone should try that and let me know.

Phyllo Tarts with Fresh Fruit and Ricotta

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

Serves 6.

For the ricotta filling:
1 cup ricotta (whole-milk or reduced fat – not skim)
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon almond extract

For the pastry:
6 sheets phyllo dough (but have extras if one tears too much)
6-7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
12 ripe figs (or 3 large plums, plumcots, pears, or nectarines)
turbinado sugar (e.g., Sugar in the Raw) for sprinkling on top
½ cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons honey

To make the ricotta filling, combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the tarts.

Before you begin with the pastry, line a large baking sheet with baker’s parchment.

After fold #1
After fold #2
After fold #3
For the pastry, lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough on a flat surface, the long side toward you. (Note: hands should be dry when working with phyllo.) Brush it lightly all over with the melted butter. Fold the sheet in half, left to right, and brush the top with the butter. Fold again, top to bottom, and brush with butter. Finally, fold left to right again, and brush with butter. You should have a rectangle that’s about 4 inches by 6 inches. Move it to the baking sheet.

Repeat this process with the remaining 5 sheets of phyllo. When you have completed all 6 pastry packages, preheat the oven to 375º.

That's right -- only 4 here.
Spread a heaping tablespoon of ricotta mixture onto each of the phyllo packages, working so the ricotta doesn’t reach all the way to the edges. Cut figs about ¼ inch down from the stems, and slice them into quarters starting from the stem end and finishing just before you get to the bottom of the fig. Lay the cut figs out in a star shape on top of the phyllo, 2 figs per phyllo package. (If you’ll be using pears, plumcots, etc., slice them lengthwise into eighths and arrange 4 slices into a pinwheel pattern on the phyllo.)

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the turbinado sugar onto each pastry, and bake 15 minutes or until golden and crisp.

While the pastries are baking, toast the almonds in a dry sauté pan until lightly browned, about 5 minutes over medium heat. When the pastries are ready, remove them from the oven and sprinkle them with the almonds. Warm the honey briefly in the microwave and drizzle it lightly over the pastries. (The photo below was taken before the almonds and honey.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

You Say Tomato, ...
What’s cooking? Roasted Tomato-Bacon-Goat-Cheese Galette and Spicy Tomato Chutney

Last week was my swan song for the season in New Jersey, and as I packed for the return to Texas, I mentally prepared for the change in cultures. A few points of difference came to mind:

In New Jersey, you bag your own groceries but someone else pumps your gas. Texas is where you pump your own gas but someone bags your groceries for you.

In New Jersey, Coca-Cola, 7-Up, and Barq’s Root Beer are called “sodas”; in Texas, they’re all called “Coke.”

That place where the ocean meets the land? In NJ, it’s “the shore”; in Texas, it’s “the beach.”

In New Jersey, we get better pizza and bagels; in Texas, better barbecue and Tex-Mex.

In spite of one state being very blue and the other mostly red, the politics of both states verge on the ridiculous, including the behavior of their governors.

And in both places, when I tell people we spend part of the year in New Jersey and part of the year in Texas, I get the same response:

In New Jersey, they give me a funny look and ask, “Why Texas?”
In Texas, I get the same funny look as they ask, “Why New Jersey?”

Regardless of my allegiances, it was a great summer for tomatoes in New Jersey – just the right amount of rain and sun. And I expanded my palate this year to include heirloom tomatoes, which I hadn’t liked the one time I tried them long ago. I know, amazing that the Kitchen Goddess wouldn’t like heirloom tomatoes. Must have been a bad batch. In any case, I’ve now discovered what a wonderful texture they have – smoother, almost transparent flesh that’s less grainy than the cultivated beefsteak tomatoes. Now, I’ve been devouring New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes all summer, and they beat anything I’ve ever bought in a grocery store. But we were in Nantucket recently, and  my friend Laurie served me heirloom tomatoes she’d grown there this summer. OMG. And wow.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Midnight Madness
What’s cooking? Roasted Salmon with Tangy Blueberry Sauce

Greetings from Nantucket! Yes, the Kitchen Goddess has flown the coop for a few days, but not before staying up most of the night managing what looked like (as the hours wore on) a really overwhelming collection of peaches and tomatoes from the farmers’ market. And then, of course, there were the sheets to iron.

Yes, I freely admit to this one obsession: I love sleeping on ironed sheets. (It’s not my only obsession, just one of the few I admit to.) I believe it is not in the style manual for Kitchen Goddesses to change sheets, so this particular need – for ironing the sheets – gives rise to any number of late-night encounters with the ironing board so that the sheets will be ready for the cleaning crew, who do change them. Which is why I was ironing at 4 a.m. instead of heading for bed.

In the meantime, I came up with what I hope is a clever solution for enjoying my mountain of luscious New Jersey peaches even after the season has passed. Because when you are dealing with NINE (yes, 9) pounds of peaches and insufficient time or sugar to make ice cream or some preserved condiment, it’s important to have a plan.

First, I made one more batch of yummy Roasted Tomato-Peach Spread, because I was also dealing with 4 pounds of tomatoes. While that was in the oven, I peeled and cut up 4 pounds of peaches and freezer-bagged them – without sugar, in two 2-pound batches – to make jam or chutney at some later date. I cooked two more batches, weighing 1½ pounds each, with ½ cup of water per batch, for 10 minutes, then stirred ¾ cup of sugar into each and freezer-bagged them as well. Those two bags will do for ice cream. Then all four bags went into the freezer, where they take up much less space than on my counter. Now, when I’m in this kitchen at Christmastime, I hope I’ll be able to serve peach ice cream to my family.

Why start these activities at 10 p.m., you ask? Why not earlier in the day? I get your point. But earlier in the day, I was packing and working on what to do with the salmon I had planned for dinner.

I’ve been staring at the two bottles of blueberry syrup in my fridge for soooo long. It was actually part of a batch I made late last summer, but still tastes great, so – good news! – the time frame for storage can now be extended to a year. It occurred to me that fruit goes with salmon, so maybe I could make a sort of glaze with that syrup.

You will be pleased to know that the Kitchen Goddess was successful. I added balsamic vinegar for tartness, salt to temper the sweetness, and some Asian sesame oil for that nice toasted flavor and a little bit of heat. What emerged was a sweet-tart, almost plummy flavor with a jammy texture that played off the strong flavor of the fish very well. I had to stop myself from licking the plate. My darling husband even asked for more. And now it’s yours to make as well.

I’ve started by reproducing the recipe for the Blueberry Syrup – from my July 5, 2011 post – so that you don’t have to go searching for it, and because it’s fast and easy to make. What I like most about it – aside from the truly pure blueberry flavor – is that it’s not as sweet as most syrups. It’s great on pancakes or a morning waffle, over ice cream, mixed with yogurt, or even as a glaze over roast chicken. Here is some drizzled over frozen peach yogurt.

If you’re not inclined to make your own blueberry syrup, you might still try the Tangy Blueberry Sauce recipe – which comes after the syrup recipe – with a store-bought version of blueberry syrup. In a quick internet hunt, I found several, including Smuckers, Maple Grove Farms, Dickinson’s, and Stonewall Kitchen. Just a warning: The commercial versions may be slightly sweeter than the recipe below.

Blueberry Syrup

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

Makes about 6 cups.

1½ pounds blueberries (5 cups)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
6 strips of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler to get strips about ½ inch wide and 1-2 inches long)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1½ lemons)

In a large saucepan, combine the blueberries with 1 cup of the water over medium heat. With a potato masher or a large fork, crush the berries to release the juices, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Using a fine-mesh strainer or a food mill, strain the juice, pressing hard on the solids. Discard the solids and set aside the juice.

Rinse the saucepan, and combine the sugar, lemon zest, and the remaining 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved. Boil this simple syrup over moderate heat until it registers 225° on a candy thermometer (about 20 minutes). Add the blueberry juice and lemon juice and raise the heat to high, allowing the mixture to boil at high heat for 1 minute. Let the syrup cool, then discard the lemon zest. (Or let it dry and snack on it – delicious!) Pour the syrup into clean bottles. Seal and refrigerate for up to a year (!), or process as for preserves.

Once you have a supply of blueberry syrup, you’re ready to take it to the next level.

Roasted Salmon with Tangy Blueberry Sauce

Serves 4-5.

For the sauce:
1 cup Blueberry Syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
10-12 grinds of black pepper, or to taste

For the salmon:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-pound salmon fillet, preferably with skin on
Garnish: chopped Italian parsley

All that was left after dinner. But note the consistency.
Make the sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the Blueberry Syrup with the salt and balsamic vinegar over medium-low heat. Bring to a low boil and allow to cook down until it gets to a thick, syrupy consistency, about 5-10 minutes. [Kitchen Goddess notes: 1. Now you are saying to yourself, “But we already started with syrup – isn’t that thick enough?” No. It’s not. Blueberry Syrup isn’t actually very thick at all, as you can see from the photo below. So we need to reduce it to a sauce. 2. Sesame oil will turn bitter if it gets too hot, which is why we add it at the end and only warm it.]

Blueberry Syrup on the left; Tangy Blueberry Sauce on the right.

When the sauce has reached a consistency you like, turn the heat to low and add the sesame oil and black pepper. Stir to combine well and cook 1 minute. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan until you are ready to serve.

Prepare the salmon: Preheat the oven to 475º. Add the butter to a rimmed baking pan or roasting pan, and put the pan in the oven for 4-5 minutes, until the butter foam subsides.

In the meantime, salt and pepper the fish. When the butter no longer foams, lay the fish – skin side up – in the pan. Put the pan into the oven and roast 5 minutes. Remove the pan and flip the fish over. Spoon some of the butter on top of the salmon. Turn the oven to broil and put the fish back into the oven (4-5 inches from the heat). Broil the fish another 5-6 minutes, or until it tests done. (To check for doneness, use a thin-bladed knife to peek into the flesh along one of the seams.)

To serve: Spoon the sauce over the salmon and sprinkle chopped parsley on top. Serve extra sauce in a small pitcher.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Stop Worrying about What to Cook for Labor Day
What’s cooking? The Whole Damn Menu, from grilled skirt steak to frozen yogurt

One of the great joys of summertime for me is taking my son’s family to the pool where my hubby plays golf. My own children never much cared for this pool because it wasn’t in our town so their friends weren’t there. But my 2½-year-old granddaughter and my 5-month-old grandson haven’t reached that stage yet, so they are perfectly happy to join me. And as the pool closes after this weekend, I’m madly jamming in as many visits there as possible. I think both grandkids may be waterlogged by the end of the season.

In addition to marking the end of what we think of as summer – never mind that it’s got another 3 weeks to its run – Labor Day offers one final shot at a National Grilling Day. One last nationwide salute to outdoor cooking and eating.

I have mentioned before that one of the few problems with condo living here in NJ is that I have no outdoor grill. But I have the next best thing: a son and daughter-in-law who don’t mind if I take food to their house to grill. And last weekend, I gathered up a full meal to prepare there for the entire family. Then I decided it was so good, I would pass the whole damn menu along to you for your Labor Day festivities. Except for the meat, it’s an homage to the farmers’ market, but even if you have no farmers’ market in your area (What?! No farmers’ market?!!), the fruits and veggies should all be readily available at your local supermarket.

A couple of notes about the recipes. The meat is from a recent write-up by Melissa Clark in The New York Times. The garlic, thyme, and basil of the marinade bring a delightfully herby flavor to the steak, which is already juicy and reasonably tender as a cut – as long as you slice it on the diagonal. (More about this later.) And because the long, ribbons of skirt steak offer more surface than interior, they cook quickly. If they seem unwieldy to work with, you can just cut them in half or thirds.

The tomatoes are from an old favorite of mine out of the original Silver Palate Cookbook. This time, I wanted to make use of the crisp, peppery arugula I got at the farmers’ market, instead of spinach, which was in the original preparation. I also substituted corn for the pine nuts in the original, and I loved the sweetness and crunch they brought to the dish.

As for the peach frozen yogurt, I must admit to being a mintaholic – I can never get enough of the stuff. I was in line to buy lettuce from my organic farmstand, and was almost knocked over by the fragrance of a big bunch of mint. So I bought it, and decided to combine it with the peaches in the frozen yogurt. But if you are not a mint freak, you won’t lose anything by eliminating it from the recipe.

The Menu

Grilled Skirt Steak with Spicy Pesto Marinade
Tomatoes Stuffed with Arugula, Corn, and Ricotta
Watermelon and Feta Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette
Minted Peach Frozen Yogurt

It’s all easy to make, and while the tomatoes take a bit of time, you can assemble them in the morning and refrigerate them until a half-hour before it’s time to eat. On the night before, make the frozen yogurt mixture and the salad dressing, and marinate the beef. Assemble the salad while the tomatoes are baking and the beef is on the grill. In fact, I’ve laid out the entire cooking schedule for you, right after the recipes.

The Recipes

Grilled Skirt Steak with Spicy Pesto Marinade

Adapted from Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Serves 6.

1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
3 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon thyme leaves (if no lemon thyme, use regular thyme)
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons pickled peppers (peperoncini or jalapeño – seeds removed), coarsely chopped
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (2 lemons if using regular thyme)
juice of half a lemon (1-1½ tablespoons)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2½ pounds skirt steak

In a food processor or blender, combine the basil leaves, scallions, thyme, garlic, peppers, salt, zest, and lemon juice. Pulse until the mixture is grainy. Add the olive oil and blend – stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides – until the mixture is thick and pasty, 30 seconds to a minute.

Blot the meat with paper towels and put it in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Pour in the marinade, close the bag securely, and massage until the marinade is well distributed. Alternatively, put the meat in a large dish, spoon the marinade over it, and cover with cellophane wrap.  In either case, refrigerate the meat and marinade at least 30 minutes – preferably overnight.

Turn on the grill, and when you’re ready to cook, pat the excess marinade off the meat with a paper towel. (The marinade will already have done its work, and the meat will cook best if it’s relatively dry.) Grill at medium-high for 3-5 minutes per side – the meat should look lightly charred, and it’s best served rare to medium-rare. Let it stand 5 minutes before slicing.

Kitchen Goddess note: The structure of this cut of meat is such that it will be much more tender – and prettier – if you slice it against the grain, at about a 45-degree angle. So DON’T overcook it, and DO slice it against the grain.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Arugula, Corn, and Ricotta

Inspired by The Silver Palate Cookbook

Serves 6.

6 ripe tomatoes
salt for draining tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced yellow onions
about 10 ounces fresh arugula, rinsed well and coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
grated nutmeg, to taste
1 cup ricotta cheese (whole milk or part-skim)
2 large egg yolks
kernels cut from 1 ear of corn (about 1 cup)
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional cheese to top tomatoes

Core the tomatoes and scrape out seeds and ribs using a small spoon. Be careful not to pierce the sides of the tomatoes. Salt the insides and turn them upside down to drain onto paper towels for 30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat and sauté onions, covered but stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly colored, about 20 minutes.

Place the arugula with a tablespoon of water into a separate, dry skillet over medium heat., and stir it around until it wilts, then cover it and cook – stirring occasionally – for about 5 minutes or until tender. Turn it out onto a cutting board and chop fine.

Add the arugula to the onions and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 minutes. Be careful not to scorch it.

In a medium bowl, beat the ricotta with the egg yolks until smooth, and stir in the arugula/onion mixture, the corn, ¼ cup of the cheese, and the parsley. Mix well, and adjust salt/pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350º. With a paper towel, gently blot the insides of the tomatoes dry, and spoon an equal amount of the filling into each. Sprinkle additional cheese on top.

Arrange the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish. If you don’t plan to bake the tomatoes immediately, cover them with Saran Wrap and refrigerate them. When ready, set the dish in the upper third of the oven and bake until tops are lightly browned and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Oops -- forgot to mention I added slivered Italian olives. Tasty but not necessary.

Watermelon and Feta Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 6.

For the salad:
5-6 cups watermelon, cut in 1-inch cubes
3-4 ounces fresh feta cheese
Bibb lettuce/arugula/watercress/spinach – take your pick

Scatter the watermelon on top of the greens, or toss them together. Crumble the feta on top. Dress with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette and serve.

For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove roasted garlic (optional)
½ cup olive oil
fresh ground pepper

Whisk together the honey, lemon juice, and salt until the salt dissolves. Mash the garlic into it. Add the olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly as you pour. Add the pepper and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Minted Peach Frozen Yogurt

Inspired by David Lebovitz in The Perfect Scoop

Makes 1 quart.

1½ pounds ripe peaches (about 5 large), peeled, pitted, and cut into chunks
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 sprigs mint
½ cup Greek yogurt (2% fat)
½ cup half-and-half
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a medium, nonreactive (e.g., glass or stainless steel) saucepan, simmer the peaches in the water, covered but stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 10-12 minutes.

Remove the peaches from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Add the mint sprigs, cover the pan, and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the mint and chill the peach mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When the peaches are cool, purée them with the remaining ingredients in a blender until well mixed but not quite smooth. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve with Nabisco Chocolate Wafers or Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps.

The Cooking Schedule

Step 1: The night before – 

■ Cook the peaches, add the mint and sugar, and cover the pan for 10 minutes while you make the marinade for the meat.

■  Throw together the ingredients for the marinade in your food processor. Blot the meat dry and load it into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. [Kitchen Goddess note: The baggie solution is a triple winner: there’s no mess, you can massage the marinade and the meat together any number of times before cooking, and it takes up way less space in the fridge. And when you’ve removed the meat for cooking, you can toss the bag and its soupy contents into the trash.]

■ Throw away the mint, and stash the peaches in the fridge for overnight. Have a glass of wine and go to bed.

Step 2: The next morning – 

■ Core and salt the tomatoes, and set them to drain.

■ While the tomatoes are draining, run the peaches and remaining ingredients for the frozen yogurt in your blender just long enough to make sure it’s all well mixed. Move the mixture to your ice cream maker and turn it on.

■ Finish the stuffing and fill the tomatoes. Top them with the cheese and set them in a small baking pan with sides. Cover with cellophane wrap and refrigerate until time to cook.

Step 3: Dinner time –

■ Half an hour before dinner time, preheat the oven to 350º. When the oven is ready, start the grill. (These instructions are for a gas grill; I have no idea how far in advance you have to start a charcoal fire – the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t mess with charcoal.) Put the tomatoes in the oven.

■ While the tomatoes are cooking, assemble the salad.

■ Don’t forget to let the meat sit for 5 minutes before slicing, and slice the steak against the grain. If you don’t, you’ll still be chewing the meat when it’s time for dessert.

And have a great Labor Day celebration!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It’s a Summer Feeding Frenzy
What’s cooking? Roasted Tomato-Peach Spread

“You should live on a farm,” my husband said as he surveyed the 4 pounds of tomatoes, 6 pounds of peaches, 2 pounds of sugar plums, and 6 pints of ground cherries I brought home from the farmers’ market this week. Plus assorted veggies. Thoughts of myself riding a tractor or up at dawn feeding the chickens swirled in my brain. On a farm with these fingernails? Not a chance.

And he doesn’t know the half of it. In the past month, I’ve given a new twist to my farmers’ market regimen: I now carry a supply of fruits and veggies, and maybe some fish, down to my son and his girlfriend in New Brunswick. They’re both new docs in a residency program, with virtually no time for grocery shopping. Then out of fairness to the other son, I drive a bundle of the same to him and his wife in Scotch Plains. I am reminded of one time before they married, when they stopped by on a Sunday and I loaded them up with various extras from my farmers’ market purchases. She turned to him on their way out the door and said, “You know, we should shop here more often.”

I love feeding my family; I’ve felt responsible for their palates since they were born, and I want them to enjoy the great fruits and veggies that are available. And if that means driving an embarrassing number of miles on summer Sundays, ...well, then, that’s what I’ll do. We all have our weaknesses; mine seems to be local produce.

August is really the month that NJ foodies – and the Kitchen Goddess claims both Austin and New Jersey as the sources of her obsession – go wild. The confluence of corn, tomato, and peach harvests is enough to send us into a frenzy.

For me, one way to fully appreciate this dynamite trio is to pile them all together in a salad. Add some of the ultrafresh, crisp and sweet lettuce that’s been available all summer, and an herbed vinaigrette, and you have the main element of a great summer lunch. Sprinkle some sliced almonds or add some wedges of chewy ciabatta bread and an assortment of cheeses, and you really need nothing more. For this particular salad – today’s lunch – I also diced up an avocado.

But what I really want to tell you about is a delightfully chunky, sweet-savory jam I discovered last year. Now before you decide you don’t need another jam, note that this one was designed to work as an appetizer – not a breakfast accompaniment, though I’d be happy to slather it on my toast. In fact, you’ll note that I don’t even call it a jam, because it’s really much more. Roasting the fruits (remember: tomatoes are a fruit) gives this condiment a much more nuanced flavor than any saucepan jam; the onions and roasted garlic take it over the top.

The original recipe was developed by a University of Toronto student, Lauren Classen. Ms. Classen won first place with it in some Toronto-based contest, in the appetizer category.

So how can you use it?

■ My favorite way is to serve it as an appetizer. Spread fresh ricotta or goat cheese on top of toasted baguette slices, then top each with a dollop of tomato-peach spread.

■ Apparently, Ms. Classen serves it also as the filling in mini-tarts. I haven’t tried that but will update you when I do.

■ Serve it as the condiment on sandwiches or sliders of sliced pork or chicken. It’ll work well with your Thanksgiving turkey, but to have it in November, you’ll have to preserve it in jars.

Kitchen Goddess note: Preserving is soooo easy. Basically, you just sterilize the jars, fill them with whatever, and submerge them in boiling water for 5 minutes. That wax your grandmother used has gone the way of manual typewriters and rotary dial telephones. More detailed steps to preserving are at this link. 

What the Kitchen Goddess really likes about this recipe is that it uses the oven. No candy thermometer or stovetop guesswork as to when it’s “jam.” And no pectin. The Kitchen Goddess is still trying to figure out pectin.

Roasted Tomato & Peach Spread

Adapted from Lauren Claussen in the Toronto Star

Yield: one quart+, or enough for 6 half-pint Mason jars, filled to a half-inch below the rim.

4 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and halved horizontally
2 pounds ripe peaches, skins on, pitted and cut into chunks about the size of ½-inch dice
1 medium sweet onion, in ½-inch dice
4 large cloves roasted garlic, mashed to a paste
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
2 tbsp dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Spray a very light coating of oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Arrange the tomato halves along the perimeter of the pan. Stir together the peaches, onions, and garlic, and pile them in the center of the pan.

Sprinkle the sugar on the tomatoes, and drizzle the oil over everything. Sprinkle the salt and oregano over everything.

Roast the fruits in the oven for 40 minutes; you’ll notice that the onions and peaches will start to brown on their edges. Remove the pan from the oven and, using a potato masher or some similar instrument (spatula, large spoon), mash the tomatoes to nearly flat, to release the juices. Then, using a spatula or large spoon, mix the peaches, onions, and tomatoes together.

Return the pan to the oven and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the tomato juices have pretty much evaporated, and the mixture attains the consistency of thick jam, which will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note: If you have roasted the fruits for the full hour and 15 minutes and it still looks very soupy, spoon off some of the juice into a glass and enjoy it. Then return the pan to the oven for a final 15 minutes. If it’s still very liquid looking, let it sit on top of the stove (no heat), lightly covered, overnight.

Adjust salt or sugar seasoning to taste.

Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate for as long as a week, or freeze, or preserve in Mason jars.