Saturday, July 24, 2010

Out of the Frying Pan...?


As of about three weeks ago, my husband and I have become part of the great North/South seasonal migration. After last summer’s 66+ days over 100º in Austin, we decided we’d been maybe a bit hasty in our flight from the frozen Northeast. At least for the summer months, we figured we’d hide out in New Jersey, where we remembered temperatures mostly in the 70s and 80s, with the occasional night that didn’t even require air conditioning. So we found an apartment in Jersey City – near the water and the energy of NYC – and prepared to be cooler this summer.

Well, it was theoretically a good idea. But not so much this year. So far, since we’ve been here, temperatures in Jersey City have rivaled – rivaled, you hear? – those in Austin. In fact, for the first few days after we arrived, it was actually cooler in Austin. Maybe we’ll just stay inside.

But even with the heat, I am so thrilled to be back in the land of the farmers’ markets. They do have farmers’ markets in Texas, but none that I have seen can hold a scented candle to the fresh produce of the Northeast. (The photo here is from the market on Martha’s Vineyard, which we visited last year.) And it turns out that even in the urban heart of Jersey City, a handful of small farmers’ markets are blossoming. I’ve discovered a list of NINE markets, nicely scheduled so that there’s at least one every day of the week except Sunday, which is fine by me because that’s the day I wander back to Summit, where the best farmers’ market of all (in my humble opinion) takes place.

Another nice thing about coming back to our old stomping grounds is the opportunity to see friends we’ve been missing. And last weekend offered a sort of bonanza of New Jersey’s best when we visited friends who made an amazing salad that featured Jersey Fresh corn. Kitchen Goddess note #1: I added the olive oil when I made it a couple of days later, just because it seemed like a nice touch; but Kathrin, who is much thinner than I am, left that out. It’s terrific either way. Kitchen Goddess note #2: Kathrin grilled her corn, but I had no grill available, so I boiled mine, for 3 mins. The key is not to cook it too much, as a tiny bit of crunchiness is essential to the freshness of taste.

Kathrin’s Corn Salad

6 ears corn, grilled or boiled (3 mins)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered, or 1 large tomato, cut into half-inch dice
2 avocados, cut into half-inch dice
½ c chopped cilantro (or more, depending on how much you like cilantro – and I love cilantro)
juice of 2 limes
1 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Serves 6-8.

Kitchen Goddess note #3: This works fine as a buffet item, but if you are serving it plated, I’d recommend using a leaf of butter lettuce (also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce) to hold it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Soup to the Rescue!
What’s cooking? Cream of Broccoli Soup

I really didn’t want to go grocery shopping yesterday, and we’d eaten the only frozen pizza we had a few nights ago; so once again, I was in a dinner quandary. The night before, I’d used up the zucchini and yellow squash and mushrooms in a throw-it-all-in pasta dish, and I shy away from the same sort of thing two nights in a row; so pasta was out. I had a package of chicken tamales in the freezer – one of the great benefits to living in Texas is that very good tamales are broadly available – but was still stuck for what to go with them.

It didn’t have to be Mexican food, I decided. But something not too spicy, to balance the tamale seasoning. In fact, my choices were what you would call extremely limited: to wit, one slightly sad head of broccoli. But I know what to do with veggies that are past their prime: it’s called SOUP. I checked out a couple of recipes and took what looked like the easiest one, which was also the one with the A that I noted at the top of the page. I winced slightly when I saw that my notes also said it takes 2½ hours, but overweening optimism won me over – surely, I can be faster than I was the last time. This is the sort of mindset that gets me into trouble.

Kitchen Goddess Tip: Life became a lot easier once I got past the Felix Unger pristine approach to cookbooks. So: TAKE NOTES. Grade a recipe the first time you make it, note how long it took, and if the garlic flavor is too strong or it needs more salt, write that down. These are the sorts of things you won’t remember – trust me.

For the broccoli soup, I started with the Culinary Institute’s Book of Soups, and adjusted to fit the ingredients at hand. The CIA called for a leek, which would have been lovely, but I didn’t have one. I discovered a fat shallot among my onions and threw it in along with a couple of tablespoons of chives from my garden. And I upped the amount of celery they suggested. I added a bit of butter (for flavor) to the vegetable sauté, and went a bit heavier on the lemon juice. The result was fabulous, and when I realized it was all going into the blender, I stopped obsessing over carefully chopped broccoli, so it took much less time. We had it hot with the tamales, and today, I ate it cold for lunch.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

1 pound broccoli
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3½ cups chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream, warmed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste (you can use finely ground black pepper, but it’s not as pretty)

Trim the tough outer skin from the broccoli stems and set aside about ½ cup of the better looking small florets for garnish. Coarsely chop the rest of the broccoli – stems and florets. (Remember, this is a cream soup, so the whole thing is going into the blender. No need to be dainty about the broccoli cuts. Admittedly, the trimming will take some time.)

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat, add the broccoli, onion, celery, shallot, and chives. Cook, stirring frequently to coat all the veggies with the oil/butter, for 8-9 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the flour, stirring almost constantly to keep it from burning, for another 4 minutes.

Add the broth, whisking if necessary to eliminate chunks of flour, and simmer 45 mins, stirring occasionally. Make sure you scrape up and incorporate any flour residue that has stuck to the bottom of the pot. Toward the end of the 45 mins, steam or boil the reserved florets until tender and set them aside.

Purée the soup well (I run it a good 2 minutes), then add the cream and lemon juice and salt/pepper and blend again briefly. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved florets. If you don’t want to serve it immediately, return it to the pot and reheat (do not boil) before serving. Or chill it for a couple of hours and serve cold. Serves 4.