Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer Snapshots

I've accumulated quite a few photos over the last few weeks I would like to share.  Here's a recap of summer moments to take in before the days become shorter, the air cooler, and September creeps upon us.  I think these photos best capture the essence of my summer.  Hopefully you won't feel cheated by a lack of recipe this time around.  I've included a few food related photos that should keep you content in the meantime.   

~A morning of blueberry and raspberry picking on the farm with my nieces and husband...

~Fresh field picked flowers sitting on my windowsill...

~Weekend watching sunsets on Kennebunk Pond in Maine...

~Perusal around the Kennebunk Farmers' Market.  I just love flowers in mason jars...

~Savoring summer by indulging in a Maine blueberry and peach crepe...

~Sunflowers picked from a field in Newbury...

~Fruit bowl filled with late August peaches and first of the season apples...

~Lazy summer nights...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lemon-Ricotta Penne with Cherry Tomato Sauté

August would be incomplete without one more tomato post.  In addition to cooking with tomatoes, I've discovered a new found love in photographing them as well.  I'm sure many of you are getting tomatoes from your gardens and pots, or finding beautiful local varieties at farmers' markets.  When we picked up our CSA last week, we were greeted by baskets filled to the brim with tomatoes of different shapes, sizes, and colors, all sorted and grouped accordingly.  I chose a variety from each of the baskets with this dish in mind.  I had a friend make a sauté similar to this one night for dinner.  It's an uncomplicated and versatile little trick to have up your sleeve.  With just a handful of ingredients, you can create a fresh and sweet sauté I enjoy best over pasta.  Especially now when tomatoes are in abundance, it would be a shame not to make this one. 

It takes no more than a quick chopping and tossing to get it going.  The cherry tomatoes burst open over the heat, melting with the garlicky oil and lemony earthy thyme.  I throw the thyme right into the sauté  and simply remove it when it's complete.  It sits atop a heaping bowl of pasta tossed with ricotta, pecorino, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  The lemon is a nice compliment to the thyme.  I think lemons and tomatoes go hand in hand during summer.  This dish would also work well for a weeknight dinner.  In the amount of time it takes your pasta to cook, your sauté will be waiting for you.  It has some of the classic lasagna elements that are always a hit, but in a lighter and fresher version for the summertime.  

~Lemon-Ricotta Penne with Cherry Tomato Sauté Recipe~    

1 lb penne pasta
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 pints cherry/grape tomatoes halved
3 cloves garlic, sliced
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds of pepper  
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup organic whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 ladle full (a little more than 1/3 cup) of reserved cooking water from pasta 
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add pinch of salt and pasta.  Cook according to the length of time on package.  Get going on saute while the pasta is cooking.

Over medium-low heat, add extra virgin olive oil to small saute pan.  Add sliced garlic, cooking for two minutes, until slightly brown, taking care not to burn.  Add halved cherry tomatoes, thyme sprigs, salt, and pepper.  Cook saute 5-6 minutes more, until the tomatoes burst and sauce forms.  Remove thyme sprigs.

Once pasta is finished, remember to reserve a ladle of the starchy cooking liquid and set aside.  Drain pasta.  In that same pasta pot, add ladle of cooking liquid and mix with the ricotta until well combined.  Add in pecorino, lemon juice, and zest.  Return drained pasta to the ricotta mixture, folding until  incorporated with the pasta.  

Transfer the ricotta pasta to a serving bowl/platter or divide among individual bowls.  Top with the cherry tomato sauté  Serves 4.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blackberry Peach Mini Parfaits

Taking in the view in Athens

I fell in love with Greek yogurt... in Greece of all places, how apropos.  Four years ago, my best friend and her mother booked a trip to Greece and Turkey and asked my mother and I to join.  We of course jumped at the chance for a double mother and daughter duo.  The last time the four of us traveled together was my eighth grade class trip to Washington DC.  Ten hours on a bus.  Our mothers chaperoned, and we were mortified.  This was more promising.


We dusted off our passports, found our oversized backpacks, and rushed to buy whichever travel guide contained the largest spread of food photos.  We spent a week in April exploring the ruins of Athens and cruising the Mediterranean.  I was exposed to so many delicious eats during that week: deep bodied black olives, stuffed grape leaves, fried zucchini, the best olive oil I have ever tasted, and thick, creamy Greek yogurt.  This was before Greek yogurt was quite so readily available at home.  I ate it for the rest of the trip, drizzling it with obscene amounts of honey. Once I came home, my parfaits were born.         

My mom enjoying her breakfast, complete with Greek yogurt and honey

Parfait, which literally translates to' perfect' in French, is quite fitting.  This is my idea of a perfect breakfast.  It's a no-cook, assembly only treat I often enjoy as a post-workout snack mid morning.  These parfaits would also make a great starter to a larger weekend brunch.  I chose to display them in martini glasses. Whatever you choose, whether small bowls or cups, use glass so each layer is visible.

I make many versions of these parfaits using whatever fruit is in season.  Right now I'm enjoying the peaches and blackberries of late summer that provide a classically sweet and tart combination.  This parfait is really just a method.  It's quite simple actually.  Start with a layer of fruit, then granola, Greek yogurt, and top with mixed nuts and seeds.  Lastly, honey and fruit to sweeten and garnish.  I like to use a combination of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. Each has their own nutritional profile and I typically have all three of these in my cabinets at any given time.  Feel free to swap out the fruit or add different nut and seed combinations.  Customize it any way you like.  Yesterday, on a quiet morning, I indulged in a few of these mini parfaits with my heart still in Greece.

~Blackberry Peach Mini Parfait Recipe~

1 peach, pitted and cubed
8 tbsp granola
1 cup Greek yogurt
4 tbsp mixed nuts or seeds 
8 blackberries
4 tbsp honey

Divide the peaches into fours and place in small glass bowls or cups.  Add 2 tbsp of granola to each cup.  Top each with 1/4 cup greek yogurt.  Add 1 tbsp mixed nuts or seeds.  Add 2 blackberries on top and garnish with an additional peach slice if you like.  Drizzle each of the four cups with 1 tbsp of honey.  Serves 4.  (Note-if you wanted to make larger portions of this, you could divide the ingredients between 2 cups or bowls).

Me in Santorini

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August Heirloom Tomato Salad

Don't let this summer pass you by without eating an heirloom tomato.  Hunt them down, seek them out, and make them yours.  They are the misshapen, quirky, and cracked tomatoes that are happily grouped together.  Don't shy away from their imperfections.  It's part of their charm.  Oval, round, fat, small, and  juicy.  Red, yellow, green, purple, and orange.  These are not your typical waxy flavorless varieties you find in the supermarkets year round.  These are juicy, fresh, and ready now.  You'll find variations and combinations of shapes, colors, and sizes in heirloom varieties, which are passed down from generations.

I came across a great story about a family passing down heirloom seeds in the July/August issue of Whole Living.  Titled 'Family Roots,' it's the story of an heirloom tomato farmer from Pennsylvania who inherited a jar of seeds from his grandfather after his passing.  Although not appreciating them at first, he now owns and operates an organic farm with his wife.  Their farm specializes in heirloom produce, with 342 types of tomatoes! One of the seeds he received was even traced back to a Native American Tribe.  I find that fascinating.  It's interesting to trace back our food source, but also to protect it for future generations.

Here's the thing about heirloom tomatoes...don't mess with them, and whatever you do, don't cook them.  These beauties are best washed, cut, and eaten raw.  I like to give them a little sprinkle of sea salt and drizzle them with the best olive oil I can find.  That's it.  With something so beautiful, I can't help but keep it super simple and appreciate each and every bite.  

I packed this salad with me on Saturday for what became an impromptu picnic lunch; and since there was no refrigeration necessary, it worked out perfectly.  My mission at the Portsmouth NH farmers' market was to find a great loaf of bread to have with this salad.  However, when I stumbled across an enticing display of artisan flatbread crisps, that plan was aborted.  We enjoyed this lunch at a park table overlooking the water.  Complete with a bag of olive oil and sea salt Craquelin's, and our salad.  The juices from the tomatoes had mixed with the olive oil, creating a dressing of sorts all on it's own.   It made for a perfect picnic on a perfect afternoon...sun on my shoulders, flip-flops on my feet, and forkfuls of juicy ripe tomatoes.

~Heirloom Tomato Salad Recipe~

2 lbs heirloom tomato varieties
1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

Rinse and dry your tomatoes.  Slice and arrange on plate or serving platter.  Sprinkle with sea salt  and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve at room temperature.  Do not refrigerate.  Serves 2 as a main salad or 4 as a starter course.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Orange Scallion Pan-Fried Tofu

The first time I tried tofu was at a Thai restaurant.  A friend ordered it and I was feeling brave, so I tiptoed on the tofu bandwagon too.  I discovered its not so scary and in fact, I liked much so I have been ordering it ever since.  It didn't occur to me until recently to make it at home.  It's super affordable, versatile, and boasts great health benefits.  I've discovered tofu really takes on the flavors of whatever you add to it.  It's a blank canvas just waiting for some creativity and innovation.  There are lots of ways to prepare tofu but right now I'm enjoying it pan-fried.  I like to get a good sear or crust to the tofu, blackening the edges of each piece.  It's a nice contrast against the softness on the inside. 

In this dish, I've used orange juice, scallions, and ginger as some of the main flavors.  I like to serve it over brown rice and top it with additional fresh scallions and roasted sunflower seeds.  I also reserve the marinade and spoon a little over the finished dish.  There are some different flavors and textures going on in this one and it's really satisfying.  The tofu is crispy and soft and there is a nice crunch factor from the scallions and sunflower seeds.  Best of all, it's a great weeknight dinner requiring minimal preparation. This is one big bowl of nourishment you can feel good about eating.

~Orange Scallion Pan-Fried Tofu Recipe~

1 lb pkg extra firm organic tofu
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 tsp orange zest
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped or grated
1/2 tsp sesame seed oil
2-3 scallions chopped
toasted, unsalted sunflower seeds

Place a few paper towels on a cutting board.  Place the tofu on top.  Add a few more paper towels on top of the tofu and lightly press down to remove liquid.  Let the tofu continue to drain while you make the marinade.  You want the tofu to drain for about 20 minutes to ensure you get as much liquid as you can from it.

In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, zest, soy sauce, honey, garlic powder, ginger, sesame seed oil, and one of the scallions.  Once the tofu has drained, give it another good press.  Cut the tofu into 1/2" slices.  You should get 7 slices total.  Place the tofu slices in a shallow dish and pour the marinade over top.  Let the tofu marinate overnight if possible, or at least for a few hours, turning the slices to let the other side marinate also.  The tofu can stay marinating in the refrigerator at this point for a few days too.  

Heat a skillet or cast iron pan to medium heat.  Sear the tofu on each side for about 3-4 minutes, until you get a nice golden crust and the edges turn a deep brown/black color.  Serve on top of brown rice.  Garnish with remaining chopped scallions and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds.  Spoon some of the reserved marinade on top of the dish.  Serves 2.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summertime Herb Butter

While I look after my perennial garden, my husband is busy tending to the vegetables and herbs each summer.  We haven't yet created a space for a vegetable garden in the ground, but he does have an impressive collection of pots bursting with tomatoes, squash, peppers, and cucumbers.  He's also been reminding me to use up the herbs that are quickly growing larger by the day.  I find myself grabbing basil to top our pizzas and snipping chives for our potatoes.  This year we have thyme, basil, sage, parsley, and chives.  I thought I'd create an herb butter to have on hand and continue to put some of these herbs to good use.  

If you've never made herb butter, it's a simple and easy way to add a big flavor burst to your dishes, transforming the ordinary into something special.  It keeps well in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer for a month or so.  An important tip is to make sure you start with room temperature butter.  It will be much easier to work with.  This herb butter is really just a method you could take in lots of different directions.  

In my version, I've added parsley, thyme, chives, and sage.  Dill would also work nicely.  I use  Kate's homemade butter, made in Maine.  It's already salted with sea salt.  If you use butter that's unsalted, you might want to add a little salt to taste.   Once the herbs are incorporated, I form it into a disc and transfer it to the refrigerator or freezer to chill.  Just take it out and let it come to room temperature before using.  From there, you can cut slices to add to vegetables, rice, or to top soups.  I like to add it to smashed baby potatoes with a little milk.  You could also add it to your favorite warm bread, the bread here really just acting as a vehicle to smother this tasty butter.

~Summertime Herb Butter Recipe~

1 stick good quality butter
scant 1/4 cup fresh herbs, (parsley, thyme, sage, chives) finely chopped
sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper

Finely chop mixture of herbs.  In a bowl, combine herb mixture with butter using a spoon.  Once incorporated, drop by tablespoons onto the edge of a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper into a single row.  Using your hands, smooth the butter, filling in any gaps.  Create a cylinder shaped log.  Roll the plastic wrap/parchment paper around the log.  Transfer to refrigerator or freezer. 

We smothered this summertime herb butter over our grilled corn last night.  We got 14 ears in our CSA share this week!  We grilled it all up and I transferred lots to the freezer for safe keeping.  

My favorite way to use this herb butter?  On a delicious loaf of artisan bread from When Pigs Fly.  They just opened their new location in Kittery, Maine that has a wood-fired pizzeria in addition to their shop.  I made a trip up there over the weekend.  You will not have better bread.  All their breads are made from scratch each day in small batches, contain no preservatives, and are made with unbleached flour and grains.  They have locations in MA, NH, and ME.  I always bring home a savory and sweet loaf.  This time I brought back a mushroom, onion, and herb loaf... a perfect match for this butter.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Iced Chai Tea among Hydrangeas

Towards the end of last week's heat wave, as temperatures soared well into the high nineties, I gave the oven a rest and had the ac working on overdrive.  Not much cooking was accomplished, but I did find time to kick back and sip on one of my favorite cool drinks.  Chai tea is very popular and available at cafes and coffeehouses everywhere.  I found myself drinking mugs of hot chai tea this past winter, its spicy kick keeping me warm in the cold weather.  It's a black tea with a blend of spices that typically include cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and anise.

What could be better than transforming this hot tea into an iced version for hot summer days?  Keep it at close reach in your refrigerator; pour it over ice, sprinkle it with a touch of cinnamon, and you are in business.  I prefer this version to iced chai teas in coffeehouses, which often use a concentrate or powder form.  These are sometimes too sweet or chalky for my liking.  My version is sweetened with some honey and vanilla extract.  I've added vanilla soymilk because I like the extra vanilla flavor.  If you wanted a creamier version, you could replace the soymilk with whole milk or even half and half.  For a milk substitute, coconut milk works well too.  It's so simple; I hesitate to even call it a recipe.  It's more of an idea I thought some of you might enjoy as much as I do.  I like to make a batch or two of this and keep it in mason jars in my fridge.

While keeping cool in the air conditioning, I did manage to arrange a few of my favorite flowers I thought I'd share.  We have beautiful deep blue hydrangeas lining both sides of our driveway.  When we first moved into our home a few years ago, I was immediately drawn to these flowers as they started to bloom.  To me, they symbolized a new beginning.  Just after moving in, they greeted me every time I arrived at our new home.  When it came time for our wedding last year, I chose a bouquet of these same blue hydrangeas to symbolize yet another new beginning with my husband.

When I saw them in bloom this summer, I was reminded of our special day.  I sat back with a great summer read, admired my flowers, and sipped on my iced chai tea.   It was a good reminder to slow down, reminisce, and find pleasures in the little things this summer...even on the hottest of days.

~Iced Chai Tea Recipe~
5 cups water
10 chai tea bags
1/4 cup honey
1 cup organic vanilla soy milk 
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a teapot (or saucepan) bring water to a boil.  Remove from heat and add tea bags.  Let steep for 5 minutes.  I use a teapot and let the tea steep right inside.  Remove tea bags, squeezing out excess liquid.  Transfer tea to a glass pitcher.  Add honey and stir to dissolve.  Refrigerate and let chill for 2-3 hours.  Once cold, add vanilla extract and soy milk.  Stir to combine.  Serve over ice.  You could drizzle more honey over top or add a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg.  Serves 4.