Italian Prune Plums

img_2140For about two weeks at the end of August/beginning of September, if you are very lucky, your market will carry these beautiful little ovoid purple plums. No matter what the temperature is outside, they always signify the start of autumn to me.

For years, I would make a simple butter cake covered with these plums, but a couple of years ago I found a recipe in the Wall Street Journal for a caramelized plum and rosemary polenta pound cake that made me rethink how I wanted to use my bounty. The cake is slightly grainy from the stone-ground cornmeal and the sweet/tart cooked plums with the rosemary and cognac makes for a wonderful contrast. The cake gets even better by the second day as the flavors deepen and the cake gets moister.

Caramelized Plum and Rosemary Polenta Pound Cake

 

Yield: One pound cake serving 8-10 people

Ingredients
½ pound unsalted butter, plus more for buttering loaf pan

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary

Zest of 1 large lemon

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons cognac (or any brandy)

Prepared plums (recipe below)

Note: All ingredients should be at room temperature

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Directions
1. Butter a 5½x 10-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Spray with a baking spray with flour. Set pan aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt.

4. Cream together butter, rosemary, lemon zest and sugar until very light and fluffy.

5. Add eggs to butter mixture, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

6. Beat in flour mixture, alternating with cognac, just until well-combined. Spoon 2/3 of batter into pan. Evenly distribute one-quarter of prepared plums over batter. If there is a great deal of liquid, strain off the plums first. Add rest of the batter. Spread remaining fruit over the top and, using a spoon or fork, push pieces down a little.

7. Bake for 75 minutes or until done, testing with a toothpick after 60 minutes. Cake should be nicely brown, pulling away from the edges of the pan and not too dry. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert cake onto your hand or a rack and quickly re-invert it onto another rack.

8. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The cake is also delicious sliced and toasted in a toaster oven or in the oven and improves with age)

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Prepared Plums

Total Time:10 minutes

6 large plums (or 8-10 if they are very small) pitted and cut into 6-8 wedges each

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 Tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons cognac (or rum or any brandy)

In a medium saucepan, cook plums with sugar, salt, lemon zest and rosemary over medium heat until fruit is very soft but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cognac.

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Heirloom Tomatoes and Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables with Fresh Herbs

So even though I may be planning for the holidays, we still have to eat everyday meals until then. I have some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini and Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh herbs in pots and when you have gorgeous vegetables (or fish) I always think it is a shame to hide these under sauces. I enjoy a good sauce as much as anyone, but let’s face it, sauces came about to make less than the best quality ingredients edible. When I have really fresh fish, I just want to grill it with a generous squeeze of lime, salt, pepper and a bit of EVOO. Well, I feel the same way about vegetables and grilling them with some EVOO is the best way to bring out that wonderful flavor when they are at the height of the growing season. You can do this on an outdoor grill or you can buy a simple non-stick grilling pan like I have and do it right on your range. There is no recipe. Simply slice your vegetables in a way that looks nice and so the slices are between a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle them generously (but don’t drown them) with olive oil, sprinkle on some Kosher salt or sea salt and a bit of cracked pepper. Put them in the hot grill pan which has also been drizzled with olive oil and cook them for a few minutes on each side, watching them until they take on some nice grill marks. Adjust your heat as necessary so they don’t burn. Take them off the grill pan when they are finished and generously sprinkle them with whatever herbs you  have on hand and happen to like, Tonight, mine have some lemon thyme, oregano, French lavender and flat-leaf parsley.

Once they are ready, you can serve them over pasta or rice and leftovers are wonderful in sandwiches, especially with some goat cheese. But tonight, they will be served with crusty bread, drizzled with a Sciabica flavored olive oil (thank you, Frances, for introducing me to this wonderful source for olive oils and vinegars!) and thick slices of heirloom tomatoes with nothing but a good sprinkling of Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If you are not a vegan, a slice of fresh mozzarella wouldn’t go amiss.   Heirloom tomatoes

Ratatouille Nicoise

RatatouilleIt always REALLY annoys me when a recipe calls for a little of this and a little of that. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the “this and that?” If you read my recipe for savory galette you would quickly realize that you have left-over zucchini and eggplant. Well who wants to waste great ingredients?

eggplants

This ratatouille recipe is the perfect answer. It’s so versatile and delicious that I make it even when I don’t have left-overs – just because! Ratatouille is a savory stew of vegetables and I have used it as a side to grilled meats, fish or an omelette. It makes a wonderful pasta sauce and if you dice the vegetables fairly small, it can make a wow appetizer by filling baked puff pastry cups with it (you might drain a bit of the liquid off when using it this way). It’s equally delicious hot or at room temperature so is a wonderful side to bring to picnics. It stores well in the fridge and actually intensifies in flavor after the first day. The following recipe is one I have been making for decades and I have no recollection of where it originated. I have tweaked it over the years as I do just about everything, but my apologies for not giving credit to whoever first came up with this. And while I do make this in the oven according to the recipe, in the summer when it is hot, I do it entirely on the stove so I don’t heat up the apartment. Truthfully, it’s just as good either way.

Ratatouille Nicoise                                             ratatouille2

Yields: About 10 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup EVOO

2 cups coarsely chopped onion

2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic

about 1 pound eggplant, trimmed and cubed

2 sweet peppers, any color

6 slim zucchini, any color

1-2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

26.46 oz. Pomi tomatoes or 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes crushed or chopped, with liquid

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/8 teaspoon (or more if you like things very spicy) hot red pepper flakes (Optional)

About 24 imported black olives (pitted makes life easier, but you can put them in with pits – just warn your eaters!) (SEE NOTE)

About 24 imported green olives

2-3 Tablespoons capers

Salt and pepper to taste

One bunch finely chopped parsley

NOTE: Please buy the best olives you can and these days there is no excuse for using those tasteless olives in a can from California. I like the black oil-cured or Kalamatos olives and a variety of the green. If y ou don’t happen to live near a good source of olives, you can now purchase them online in vacuum-sealed bags, imported from Greece from Nuts.com – one of my favorite (and now Frances’) sources for nuts, dried fruits, spices and so much more.

Directions:

  1. Heat the EVOO in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they turn translucent.
  2. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring gently about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sweet peppers and stir, cooking about 1 minute. Then add the zucchini and salt and pepper to taste. Go easy on the salt since you will be adding olives and capers which are both salty. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cook about 5 minutes more.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and add the olives and parsley. Cover tightly and cook about 10 minutes.
  5. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes.

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Savory Galette platedOnce you learn certain basic techniques, then you can feel free to experiment. I had so much fun making the tomato and plum galette that I thought I would see what other great combinations I could make. The farmers’ market today had beautiful zucchini and eggplants eggplant and zucchiniand my lemon thyme and oregano plants are quite lush and could do with a bit of judicious trimming. I debated about the cheese, but when I remembered that I still had half of a nice chunk of feta in my fridge, leftover from the green fattoush salad, my decision was made. And here is the delicious result:

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Ingredients:

For the crust

1.25 cups, unbleached all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (if you have it, use lemon thyme)

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold

2 Tablespoons Greek Yogurt (I used Fage 2% Plain)

5 Tablespoons ice water

For the filling

3 cups thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant (See Note)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

cracked black pepper

1 large garlic clove, minced or crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

EVOO

2-3 Tablespoons of goat or sheep’s milk feta in a chunk

egg, lightly beaten

1 Tablespoon toasted pine nuts

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, basil or oregano leaves

NOTE: (Since I went to the farmers’ market, I was able to get a variety of different colored zucchini and eggplants. If you are using the large, traditional purple eggplant and it has a lot of seeds, you will need to generously salt the slices and lay them out in a colander for about 20 minutes. This removes the bitterness from the seeds. Then rinse them well before using and pat dry. Since I bought eggplants with very few seeds, this step was not necessary. Do not buy the gigantic zucchini. More isn’t always better- it’s just more. Look for slim, straight zucchini with unblemished skins.)

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, black pepper, thyme and sea salt. Pulse a few times to mix well. Add cold butter (divide the stick into 16 pieces). Pulse until the mixture is the size of frozen peas.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and ice water until well combined. Pour it over the flour mixture and run the machine just until the dough starts to form a ball. Add the pine nuts and pulse once or twice to distribute. It will seem relatively wet compared to other pastry. Don’t worry! Turn it out onto waxed paper or plastic wrap and form a disk. (Make a ball and then flatten it.) Wrap the dough and refrigerate it for at least one hour. This can be made a couple of days ahead if you like.
  3. When ready to bake the galette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Have a rimmed baking pan ready to use. Remove the dough from the fridge.
  4. Thinly slice the eggplant and zucchini. A mandolin is great for this task, but PUHLEEZE be careful! It is so easy to cut yourself badly. Don’t worry if the slices aren’t all gorgeous rounds – it won’t make any difference to the end product.
  5. Roll out your dough on lightly floured parchment paper to an approximately 14-inch round. Perfect roundness is not essential. However, do try to have even thickness of the dough. Turn the dough disk periodically while rolling out to keep it from sticking and to maintain the thickness.
  6. About 2 inches in from the edge, lightly spread the garlic. Then start layering your vegetables, building towards the center. This is not a Chicago deep-dish pizza. You do not load up the dough with as much stuff as you possibly can. Sprinkle with salt, a few cracks of pepper, the dried thyme and a drizzle of EVOO.               Savory Galette Stage 1
  7. Fold up the edges of the dough and just barely tuck them under to give a rounded look. If you prefer something even more rustic, then just fold the edges up over the vegetables. If the you have to create small folds in the dough, that’s just fine.
  8. Brush the edges of the dough with a lightly beaten egg.           Savory Galette Stage 2
  9. Bake at 425 degrees F. for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F, add the feta cheese and bake for 25 minutes.
  10. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and bake for 5-8 more minutes or until everything is golden. Remove to a cooling rack and after it has cooled for a bit then take your fresh herbs and scatter them across the top. If you do it immediately, the herbs will blacken from the heat. Serve with a fresh salad and a nice crisp white or rose wine.

TIP: You will almost certainly have left-over vegetables and you don’t want to waste them, especially if you have lugged them home from the farmers market. These are the perfect left-overs to make a ratatouille – assuming you didn’t thinly slice more than you needed and simply left the remaining vegetables whole. Watch for my wonderful ratatouille recipe!

Finished Savory Galette

So Many Tomatoes – Heirloom Tomato and Plum Galette

Tomato and Plum GaletteMy life goes back and forth between extremely stressful and fairly boring. As a way to relax, I read mysteries and look up recipes. I came across this one from a link on Food 52 and thought that I would give it a try. The farmers’ market had beautiful heirloom grape and cherry tomatoes and the plums are at their peak right now. I made the crust Saturday night and refrigerated it until I was ready to finally bake the galette tonight.

Here is my version of Tomato and Plum Galette adapted from a recipe by Elizabeth Stark

Yields: 8 servings

Ingredients:

For the crust

1.25 cups, unbleached all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons grated Asiago or Parmesan Cheese

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold

2 Tablespoons Greek Yogurt (I used Fage 2% Plain)

5 Tablespoons ice water

For the filling

3 cups heirloom tomatoes (I used a mix of grape and cherry)

sea salt

2 medium firm, but ripe, black plums

1/4 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese, divided into 2 Tablespoon portions

1 egg, lightly beaten

cracked black pepper

1 Tablespoon torn fresh tarragon leaves

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, cheese, black pepper and sea salt. Pulse a few times to mix well. Add cold butter (divide the stick into 16 pieces). Pulse until the mixture is the size of frozen peas.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and ice water until well combined. Pour it over the flour mixture and run the machine just until the dough starts to form a ball. It will seem relatively wet compared to other pastry. Don’t worry! Turn it out onto waxed paper or plastic wrap and form a disk. (Make a ball and then flatten it.) Wrap the dough and refrigerate it for at least one hour. This can be made a couple of days ahead if you like.
  3. When ready to bake the galette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Have a rimmed baking pan ready to use. Remove the dough from the fridge.
  4. Slice your tomatoes lengthwise into 4 pieces. Using your fingers, scoop out the seeds and slice away any core. Line a plate with paper towel and turn the tomato pieces onto the plate. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  5. Cut your plums in half along the axis, remove the pit and thinly slice.
  6. On a piece of floured sheet of parchment, roll the dough into a rough 14-inch circle. Brush away any excess flour.
  7. Scatter 2 Tablespoons of the cheese in a 12-inch circle inside the larger dough circle.next, arrange a band of tomatoes around this 12-inch circle. Working inwards, alternate circles of plum and tomatoes, tucking each layer up against the other.
  8. Fold up the sides of the dough (you will have some folds – this is fine). Lightly brush the folded over dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea slat and cracked pepper. Galette stage one

9.  Carefully lift the parchment and     galette onto the rimmed baking pan.  Trim parchment as needed. Bake at 425 degrees F. for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the galette from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake until the galette is a rich golden brown, anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on your oven.

Galette stage two

10. Cool for 15 minutes and scatter the tarragon leaves over the top. Serve warm.

Galette slice2

Green Fattoush Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

IMAG0523This weekend in Chicago it’s in the 90’s and humid. It’s also the annual Air and Water Show so the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time slaving over a hot stove. I was at the farmers’ market and they had gorgeous fresh mint and arugula which reminded me of this wonderful green salad – full of flavors and incredibly satisfying. If you wish to make it for vegans just leave out the feta cheese. For the rest of us – buy a full-fat feta. It won’t kill you since the amount you will have is small and taste is, frankly, so much better. You can use either a sheep’s milk or goat’s milk feta for this dish. Just make sure that all of your greens are very fresh and bright. If you can’t smell the freshness please don’t buy them. Fattoush is essentially a Middle Eastern Panzanella. Since it physically hurts me to throw away bread – possibly because I love to bake bread and know what goes into making it – this is a wonderful way to use up left-over pita or lavash.

Green Fattoush Salad with Mint Vinaigrette adapted from Einat Admony

Yields: 4 generous servings

Ingredients:

1 large English (seedless) cucumber or 3 small Persian cucumbers, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds or 1/2 moons

1 ripe avocado, peeled,seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2/3 cup roughly torn fresh mint (spearmint – not peppermint) plus about 10-12 additional leaves for the vinaigrette

2/3 cup roughly chopped or torn flat-leaf parsley

3 cups torn arugula

2 cups torn watercress (Really try to find watercress for this recipe. If you absolutely can’t, just use more arugula.)

3/4 cup crumbled feta (do not buy crumbled feta – buy the chunk and crumble it yourself)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey (I love Greek honey, but any good quality honey will do)

Kosher salt, to taste but about 1/2 teaspoon. It will partly depend on how salty your feta cheese is.

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1.2 cup EVOO (If you have a good quality lemon enhanced EVOO you can use that. Personally I can never get enough lemon.)

About 1 cup of toasted pita chips or lavash (You can make your own or buy store bought)

1/4 teaspoon sumac (optional) If you choose to buy sumac (and you can get it at Middle Eastern markets or online at Nuts.com you will find lots of uses for it, especially in Mediterranean cooking. It looks a bit like paprika, but it has a wonderful fruity, citrusy flavor and goes great with chicken.)

Directions:

  1. In a large salad bowl, toss everything that is green together. This can be done ahead and covered with a damp towel. If left in a cool room, it can be left out for several hours. If you have room in your fridge, you can store it there in a plastic bag. (DO NOT ADD avocado if making ahead. Only add it when ready to eat along with the feta.)
  2. If using feta cheese, add it when you are ready to serve  the salad.
  3. Make mint vinaigrette: In a blender, puree the mint leaves that you set aside earlier with the lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt and garlic until smooth. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the EVOO and process until emulsified.
  4. Toss salad with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens. (Save any left-over dressing in a glass jar in the fridge for use within 2 days.) Toss in the toasted pita or lavash. If using sumac, sprinkle it over the top.

Quick and elegant pasta

Image result for trufflesSometimes you want (well, okay – LOTS of times) something wonderful for dinner, but you don’t have either the energy, time or inclination to spend hours working on a great meal. There are many ways to tackle this problem and from time to time, I will, but here is one delicious and elegant way. I’m not promising that it is the least expensive dinner you could produce, but it still beats the price of a pizza. I’m just sayin’.

I always try to keep on hand the fixings for  some kind of pasta and this summer I also am growing some wonderful herbs on my windowsill (and occasionally taken out to my terrace for fresh air). I happen to really like truffles, but there is no way (none, zero, zilch) that I am going to put down the money for actual truffles. I have learned that doesn’t mean that I can’t still enjoy them at some level. I’m sure that true truffle aficionados will tell you how there is nothing like shaving a real truffle over your pasta and I will gladly concede that likely they are correct. And if someone else is paying, call me up and I will happily come on over to eat it. But for the rest of us, well there are some pretty good (and much less expensive) ways to get your truffle fix.

I look for truffle butter on sale and you would be amazed at how far 3.5 oz. of truffle butter goes. (It will also last quite awhile in the fridge if unopened.) I can get it in my local Whole Foods for $9.99 (not on sale) or through Peapod for $5.99 any time. Same brand. I also have Frances to thank for a bottle of white truffle oil, which you can also pick up in many grocery stores or you can order it online along with that Meyer lemon EVOO. I pick up LOTS of mushrooms (different varieties if I can get them) at the grocery store or farmer’s market, market mushrooms along with two big shallots or some onion if shallots aren’t available. I sauté the mushrooms and shallots in the truffle butter with some EVOO until still meaty, but tender and the shallots are translucent. Towards the end of the cooking, I add some finely chopped garlic. I like a lot so I add about 2 teaspoons. If I happen to have some white wine open, I splash some in too. Then I add Kosher salt and lots of cracked pepper to taste and a good handful of fresh herbs. I happen to have lemon thyme and parsley and basil so in they went. It’s really to taste. Remember that the taste of fresh herbs is not as concentrated as that of dry, so don’t get scared off – use plenty. Just as the pasta (use any kind you like but one that has some substance is best) is finishing cooking, take 1/3 cup of that wonderfully starchy pasta water and add it to the sauce. If you are feeling really decadent, throw in some heavy cream at the end.

I top the pasta and sauce with this wonderful Pecorino with Truffles that you can find at Whole Foods or other gourmet stores. A little goes a long way. It’s definitely worth the splurge, in my opinion. If you don’t have that then shave or grate some good Reggiano Parmesan or a good Pecorino on top. Sprinkle with a bit of chopped parsley (flat-leaf, of course) or basil and mangia! Some crusty bread, a bright green salad, a crisp white wine that can stand up to the earthiness of the mushrooms and truffles and you have a meal fit for guests or that special someone. And it took less time to make than it took me to write about it.

Summer’s Berry Bounty

blackberries

I eat berries all year long, but I go a little crazy during the peak summer berry months. And other than a great apple pie, I love nothing more than a berry pie. But sometimes I want to try something a little different so I have been making crisps, crumbles and a Blackberry Buckle. I admit it – the name just tickles me.

I found a recipe at Food52, a fun food blog with recipes and one-of-a-kind items for purchase. The author of this cornbread buckle is Janeofmanytrade, a pastry chef out of Williamsburg, VA. The recipe intrigued me because I had never thought of adding cardamom and rose water to my berries. Now I am the kind of person who actually keeps things like pomegranate molasses, rose water and orange blossom water on hand. However, I am also the kind of person whose pantry gets disorganized from time to time. Okay, if I’m being really honest, it only gets ORGANIZED from time to time. For the life of me I couldn’t find the rose water so I substituted orange blossom water instead. The result was wonderful! And it was easy to make. The first night I served it with some vanilla ice cream, but after that – once the flavors became even more pronounced, I didn’t want anything (even great vanilla ice cream) to get between me and my blackberries – all purple and dimpling the cake.

Here’s how I made it.     Blackberry Buckle

Blackberry Buckle

Makes one 10 x 10 inch pan and easily serves 9-12 people

For Cake

4 cups of blackberries

1/2 cup of sugar

zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon rose water (I used orange blossom water)

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

6 ounces of unsalted butter, softened

1.5 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

1.5 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cups yellow cornmeal

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk you can add a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to any kind of milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes. You could also add some plain Greek yogurt to regular milk)

Oatmeal crumb topping

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 rounded 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons COLD unsalted butter, cut into cubes

With your fingers, work the ingredients for the crumb topping until the butter is pea-sized and well coated with everything else.

Directions

  1. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl, tossing the berries gently.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lavishly butter and lightly flour your pan. Use a pan that has a good weight to it. Cream the butter, sugar,vanilla and salt until creamy. I used a heavy duty standing mixer, but this could be done by hand.
  3. Add eggs one at a time and scrape the bowl as you go. Sift the flour, cornmeal (as best you can) and the baking powder over the batter and gently fold it in. Slowly add the buttermilk and mix through until no streaks show.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and even out the top.
  5. Pour the berry mixture on top and spread it evenly over the batter.
  6. Sprinkle the oatmeal crumb mixture evenly over the top and bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the cake part. Depending on your oven, this can take between an hour and an hour and 15 minutes.
  7. You can turn this out of the pan after about 20 minutes flipping it over onto a plate, but I couldn’t see the point. I cut it in the pan and served it from there, still slightly warm from the oven. It was wonderful. This will last about 3 days if you can manage to not eat it. I dare you!

Farmer’s Market Bounty

market pickles   market herbsmarket mushrooms

One of the many nice things about summer in Chicago is the Farmer’s Market. I live and work downtown and there is a market on both Tuesdays and Thursdays near my office. It’s not as spectacular as some markets, but there is always a lot of hustle and bustle. The difficult part for me is to remember that I actually have to carry home what I buy, which means walking or the “L.” I sometimes get carried away….

After purchasing gorgeous strawberries, asparagus, kohlrabi and arugula, I knew that I had to do them justice. Farmer's bounty

The lemon thyme and basil plants are from a previous farmer’s market visit. We’ll see how long it takes me to kill them!

I had bought some Copper River Sockeye Salmon the day before and decided to simply bake the fish with fresh lime juice, Kosher salt, cracked pepper, paprika a few Panko crumbs on top and a drizzle of EVOO. If the fish is good – and really, why buy it if it isn’t? – I like to keep the cooking simple to taste the fish. I prepared my asparagus by lightly peeling and trimming the stalks. I made bundles of 4 asparagus each and wrapped them in a slice of speck (prosciutto works just as well). I then sprinkled Kosher salt, a few cracks of black pepper and a good drizzle of EVOO. roasted asparagus

I roasted them at 420 degrees F for about 18 minutes.

I then prepared my kohlrabi. I had three kohlrabi in my bunch. Try to pick the bulbs so they are not too ginormous and not too tiny. Like Goldilocks – just right.

I just peel them, thinly slice them (I used a knife but you can use a mandolin. Just be careful! I bare many mandolin scars. I squeezed the juice of two limes (or lemons would work) over the slices, generously sprinkled cumin, Kosher salt and cracked pepper. I then added 1 tsp. of crushed garlic, sprinkled some Hungarian sweet paprika and a good drizzling of Meyer lemon EVOO on top. (A good quality regular EVOO is just fine. I mixed the pieces of kohlrabi with the dressing and let it sit while dinner cooked. On to the freekeh. I love that name!

Freekeh is  a cereal food made from green wheat and is big in Middle Eastern cuisine. I buy mine from Nuts.com, which is a fabulous source for nuts, dried fruit, spices and all kinds of treats. It’s family-owned, they couldn’t be nicer and they have the funniest shipping boxes I have ever seen.

I Googled how to cook the freekeh which is pretty easy. You lightly toast it in a dry pan to release the aroma of the wheat. Then add 2 cups of water to one cup of freekeh and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring this to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the water is almost gone. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and cover the pot with a clean dishtowel and replace the lid for 10 minutes to steam the grain. Remove the lid and let sit for another 8-10 minutes. Then it’s up to you. You can herb it up, add garlic, fresh scallions or shallots, lemon juice and it hot or you can let it cool and throw in some chopped tomatoes, mint and parsley. Leftovers (assuming you have any) are great with diced grilled or roasted chicken or shrimp. Get creative. You can do pretty much the same things with faro – another great grain.

So my fish and asparagus were ready and I dished everything out and served it with a Truett Hurst 2013 Zinfandel Rose. Frances and Matthew introduced us to this wonderful winery on one of our trips together and everything is good, but their Zins are great!

And here’s dinner. Not bad for a Tuesday!

salmon dinner3         salmon dinner2

Impossible Pie

I’m a huge fan of mystery novels, especially period pieces that are light on violence and gore and heavy on historical reference. While reading a mystery that takes place in 1920s Australia, one of the characters talked about making “Impossible Pie.” I had no idea what that was so I asked the source of all trivial knowledge – my husband – if he had ever come across it. He then turned to Google and we found several recipes. It turns out that it derives its name because it is impossibly easy to make. Apparently it’s all chemistry. You don’t make a separate crust and then add a filling. You mix all of the simple ingredients together in a blender and pour them into a pie pan and bake. Because of the different density of the ingredients, they end up in such a way that a bottom crust is formed, with a custard in the middle and a coconut crust on top. Alchemy!

I admit that I am skeptical so I bought some whole milk (grass-fed of course!) and will try the recipe tonight. I’ll finish* this post after I see the results.

* Wellllllllllllllllll I’m going to damn this with faint praise – it was okay. It worked exactly as the recipe said it would, although I’m not really sure I would call the end result “pie.” The taste and texture was very much like a slightly solid coconut cream. Definitely not bad, especially when you consider the effort that went into it which was basically none. I would definitely caution that if you make it, use the best milk, eggs, vanilla and coconut you can find. Here’s what the final product looked like.

Impossible Pie

The strawberries were from my trip to the farmer’s market today. They come from Michigan and were nothing like what you get in the store – even Whole Foods! They were small and tender and juicy and red all of the way through. More on my trip to the market and the dinner I made tomorrow.