Thursday, September 27, 2012

Harvest Season

This might be my favorite time of year to visit the farmers' market.  Summer has ended.  Autumn took over, though it hasn't quite set in.  The mornings and nights become cooler, but the days remain warm and sunny.  Late summer seems to collide with autumn right at this very moment, producing the best of both seasons.  Butternut squash and Swiss chard make their appearance, yet eggplants and basil are still plentiful.  It makes for a beautiful display of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, crisp apples, and pears.  Here's a peak at how I spent last Sunday morning, perusing display tables in the sunshine.  I sampled apple cider, bought a handmade headband, and a giant three-dollar yellow heirloom I couldn't resist, despite the fact that I have a mountain of tomatoes at home.  If only all mornings could start this way.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Walnut Black Pepper Cookies

I am enamored with these teeny-tiny cookies.  They're crispy and buttery, delicate and nutty. They're sweet and peppery, and very, very addictive.  I polished off the first dozen in lightening speed and attempted to reserve the remaining dozen in the freezer, assuming I'd save them for a later day.  But it turns out; their addictive qualities are somehow augmented in the cold.  They're perfectly spiced and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, almost like gingerbread, but with more pizzazz.  The black pepper works beautifully.  Don't be timid.  I suppose this cookie falls under the 'tea cookie' umbrella.  But make no mistake about it; flecked with freshly ground black peppercorns, these offbeat cookies are far from ordinary.  

I came across this cookie recipe while thumbing through Jessica Theroux's, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily.  It's what I refer to as one of the passport cookbooks from my collection, the kind that instantly transports me to a new location.  In this case, a simpler way of life in the Italian countryside was my destination.  These particular cookies were inspired by an excursion American chef Jessica Theroux took in Calabria.  She spent time foraging for black peppercorns during her stay with a woman named Carluccia, one of the Italian grandmothers highlighted in the book.

I wouldn't mind spending some time with Carluccia too.  I'd be happy to sip on her walnut liquor, nocino, which takes two years to ferment.  I'd jump at the chance to forage for peppercorns and walnuts on her land, and giddily roll fresh pasta until I my fingertips went numb.  There are some hurdles to this dream of course.  I don't know Carluccia's address, and I only know about three words in Italian.  Perhaps more importantly, I haven't exactly been invited.  And though my bagged organic Trader Joe's walnuts are likely a far cry from the walnuts gathered among the Italian countryside, I can't say I know the difference.  They did the job for me.  This cookie is as good as it gets in my book.  That's got to count for something.

Check out the book if you're not already familiar with it.  I have a feeling this won't be the last recipe I'll highlight from it.  If you try these sweet and spicy cookies, let me know what you think.  I have a feeling I've found my Christmas cookie for 2012.  Considering I failed so miserably at finding it last yearI'm well ahead of schedule this year.  Ciao.

~Walnut Black Pepper Cookies Recipe~
Adapted ever so slightly from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers

1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
3 tbsp dark honey
1 cup raw walnuts, processed in food processor until coarsely ground
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy with an electric mixer.  Add black pepper, salt, and honey; mixing again to incorporate.  Add the walnuts and flour and mix until the dough forms moist clumps, a few minutes.  

Roll large teaspoonfuls of the batter between your hands, making little balls.  Place the balls on your baking sheet and press down on them twice with a fork, making a crosshatch pattern.  Bake cookies for 25 minutes or until their bottoms have turned golden-nutty brown.  Set aside to cool.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cauliflower Soup

As promised, I'm back with my cauliflower soup recipe.  What I can't promise you is that my photos are any better this time around.  But let's get on with matters.  It goes without saying, if you're not a fan of cauliflower, then clearly this isn't your soup.  I happen to love cauliflower.  My parents only had to wait twenty-nine years for this to occur, but here I stand a cruciferous convert.  I've made this soup twice in the past two weeks.  It's a humble soup.  It's not flashy.  There are no surprises, no magic, and no fireworks.  Yes, there's garlic and onion sauteed in coconut oil, but at the heart of it all, it's pureed cauliflower.  It's as basic as it gets.

Nevertheless, it's all I can think about this time of year.  As the weather starts cooling off and the leaves begin falling, I curl up with bowls and bowls of this.  I make pureed vegetable soups throughout the year; asparagus, tomato, potato and leek, and butternut squash.  They all follow the same format using stock and a few standby staples.  Since there are so few ingredients at play, use the best cauliflower you can find.  I'm still getting some beautiful heads of cauliflower in my CSA share.  The same goes for vegetable stock.  Be sure to seek out good quality.  I like to season the whole pot generously with salt and pepper.  It has a nice, thick texture, which almost reminds me of potato soup.   It tastes clean, pure, and wholesome.  Buttered toast makes a nice companion, as does a grilled cheese sandwich.  Just in case cauliflower isn't your thing, I'll be back soon with something on the sweeter side.

~Cauliflower Soup Recipe~

1/3 cup coconut oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium cauliflower, broken or cut into florets
5 cups vegetable stock
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, add coconut oil, onion, and garlic over medium heat.  Saute for about five minutes or so, until the onion has softened.  Add cauliflower florets and vegetable stock.  Bring up to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about thirty minutes, until the cauliflower has softened.  Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender.  Add additional stock if you'd like to go thinner.  Add sea salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle with additional coconut oil before serving if you like.  Serves 6.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Peachy Keen Sweet Salsa

Hello there.  I haven't forgotten about you.  I've been drowning in an abundance of fruit and vegetables.  It's a serious situation.  I think I'm losing.  I mentioned before I have a system for managing this sort of crisis, but that system is in overdrive.  It's as if everyone in my kitchen is screaming PICK ME.  I'M RIPE.  OVER HERE! They're ganging up on me.  If I don't get going, I'll lose out.  I've been working tirelessly to get a leg up, roasting ripe tomatoes and eggplant, simmering tomato sauce, and cooking batches of soup.  I even tested out a delicious cauliflower soup I planned on sharing with you all, but when I looked at my photos later in the day, I was disappointed.  Pureed white cauliflower is tough on the eyes, even in my prettiest bowl.  I'm more vain than I thought.  I'll have to get back to you on that one. 

In the meantime, let's chat about peaches, shall we?  These ripe, succulent sweet peaches are pretty enough to compete with a vase of summer flowers.  I'm still working my way through them.  I have bowls and bowls of peaches.  Bowls of yellow peaches.  Bowls of white peaches.  Bowls for peach pits.  I'm seeing peaches in my dreams.  The peach mayhem started when I picked a few bags over the weekend, coupled with an additional dozen I received in my CSA share.  That's when things got all sorts of crazy.  So I started whittling through my bowls, eating a few peaches for breakfast with some yogurt, grabbing one for a snack here and there.  I'd send one off in Donny's lunch and offered a few to anyone who stopped by.  But at this rate, we were barely making a dent.  

I plowed ahead and made a peach version of this favorite and began freezing peeled slices in individual bags for smoothies.  Yet I still needed a creative way to use up more.  I thought of making a cobbler, but these peaches are so sweet.  I didn't want to ruin them in the oven.  Instead, I whipped up a quick batch of peach salsa.  For some reason, if fruit is cut up and ready to go, people are more likely to eat it.  A bowl of fruit salad goes a lot quicker than a whole cantaloupe rolling around in the fridge.  This salsa immediately increased our peach consumption and lo and behold, I had an empty bowl in no time.  It's dead easy; some red onions, red pepper, mint, salt, and voila.  It's great with crackers or pita chips and has the ability to turn plain rice into something spectacular. I hope you're enjoying the peaches as much as I am.  I only have twenty-three left to contend with.  I'm going to keep at it before fall starts creeping in on us.

~Peachy Keen Sweet Salsa Recipe~

8 ripe peaches, skin removed and chopped
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
handful of fresh mint, torn or chopped 
1/4 tsp sea salt

Add ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.  Serve immediately at room temperature with crackers, pita chips, or tortilla chips.  Serves 6.