Tag Archives: summer

Cooking Through a Hurriquake

Oh, electricity how I missed you….the hum of the refrigerator, the whir and cool breeze of the fan, the joy of showering in the light.  But, oh, wireless internet connection, I missed you most of all.  So good to have you back.

Things are gradually returning to normal here in Washington, DC after the hurriquake and several days with no power at our house.  What’s that?  Oh, you don’t know what a hurriquake is?

A hurriquake is the unnatural occurrence of two natural disasters – an earthquake and a hurricane – in one location within a short time period.  In this case, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit DC on Tuesday with a series of 4.something aftershocks over several days followed by Hurricane Irene on Saturday and Sunday.

Please know that I’m not complaining and I am very aware of how lucky we are.  We had minor losses (except for some spectacular blackberry jam!) in the earthquake and have only struggled with power loss from the hurricane.  We suffered no injuries or major property loss, and I am very grateful for that.  But….I have now had my fill of natural disasters for a while.

The lack of electricity has led to a bit more creativity in my cooking, though I did manage to mooch off friends for a couple of meals.  We enjoyed the last of the tomatoes I picked last week and didn’t can in two ways.  I used about a pint worth for a loaf of focaccia and then the last bit I grilled and turned into tomato sauce.

Tomato Foccacia
Makes 1 large loaf

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp salt
5 to 6 cups of white all-purpose flour
about a pint of fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes
about 1/3 cup olive oil
about 2 – 3 Tbsp fresh basil, sliced into thin strips
cornmeal for dusting
salt and pepper, to taste

Warm 2 cups of milk.  Place  yeast in a small bowl, add 1/2 Tbsp sugar, and pour in 1/2 cup of lightly warmed milk.  Yeast should start to bubble and grow – proof that it is alive.

While the  yeast is “proofing,” pour remaining milk into a large bowl, add remaining sugar, salt, and 2 cups of flour.  Stir after the addition of each cup of flour.  Add the proofed yeast mixture and stir.  Add about 3 more cups of flour, again stirring after the addition of each cup.  When dough is firm and sticking together, turn out onto floured surface.  Knead, adding flour as needed, until dough is smooth and satiny and no longer sticky.  It took me about 10 minutes of kneading.  Roll the dough into a ball-shape.

Grease a steep-sided bowl and place the ball of dough inside.  Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, I prepared the tomatoes.  Luckily, we have a gas stovetop, so with a match I could still use it to boil some water.  I dropped about a pint of cherry tomatoes into the rapidly boiling water.  Let them blanch for no more than 3 minutes.  Quickly drain them and rinse with cold water.  The blanching will make the tomato skin easy to peel.

 Remove the tomato skins and drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil.  Set aside.

When doubled, turn out the dough again onto a floured surface and knead again gently for 2 to 3 minutes.  Using a rolling pin and/or your hands, roll the dough into a rectangle shape about 1-inch thick.

Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal.  Place the dough on the sheet and using your fingers push the dough to fill the pan.

Pour the tomatoes and olive oil over the top of the dough.  Push your fingers into the dough to create little indentions and an uneven surface, and also to push the tomatoes into the dough very lightly.

Sprinkle with basil.

Leave it to rise again until it is doubled.  At this point, I traveled to my brother’s apartment to use his working oven.  Just before baking, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake in a 425 degree F preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden.

We sliced the loaf into squares to make into sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and Italian cured meats.

Grilled Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

2 to 3 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes
about 3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp fresh basil
salt

Drizzle the tomatoes with about half the olive oil and place them on a grill.

Cook over medium heat until wrinkled and lightly charred, turning as necessary.

Remove from the grill, place in a bowl and add minced garlic.  Let sit for about 10 minutes to meld flavors.

If you have power, you can puree the tomatoes in a blender.  Or, you can use a food mill, like I did.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a wide, deep skillet.  Pour the pureed tomatoes to the skillet and add herbs.  Simmer sauce, stirring frequently until thickened to desired consistency.  It took me about 15 or so minutes.

Season with salt, to taste.  Use it right away, or you can put it in your freezer to enjoy the taste of summer later.

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A Cocktail on Whole Wheat Toast

I recently went blackberry picking with friends.  This year did not seem to be a good one for the berries.  They were small and unusually tart.

I was disappointed by the slim pickings, but I still had fun.  I think my friend Jamie had a good time, too.

While I did not bring home a bonanza of sweet berries, I knew they would be great in jam and baked goods.  Last summer I brought in a big haul of blackberries.  My husband and I enjoyed them many ways, including in two luscious cocktails.  When making the drinks again this year, I realized how much I enjoy the flavors of blackberry and gin together.  And then I thought, why not add some gin to my batch of blackberry jam?

Rolling down the street, smokin’ indo, sippin’ on gin and juice
Laid back with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” 

Let me tell you – this jam is smashing.  Note that I didn’t say it made me smashed.  It was just wonderful on a slice of whole wheat toast…tart blackberries with a hint of herbal, bitter juniper balanced with the sweet of the sugar.   And, I didn’t even get tipsy at the breakfast table.

PS – Humming Snoop Dogg may help as you prepare your jam, but it is not necessary for its success.

Blackberry & Gin Jam
Makes about four 1/2 pint jars

4 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp gin (I used Tanqueray)

Add blackberries and sugar to a large non reactive pot.  Turn the burner on medium heat.  Lightly mash the berries as they cook, I used a potato masher, but a wooden spoon will work.  Stir occasionally.

Turn up to medium high and stir.  Continue stirring as the mixture bubbles and thickens.  Add gin and lime juice.  Take care that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  After about 25 minutes of bubbling and cooking, your jam is likely ready.  If you don’t trust your eyes, you can use the freezer test as I describe in my strawberry jam recipe or you can use a candy thermometer to measure when the mixture reaches about 225 degrees F.

Once you are happy with the consistency, turn off the heat and ladle the jam into sterilized jars and seal.  Process in a water-bath for about 10 minutes.  Listen for the pings as the jars cool.  Now, enjoy.

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Sweet Taste of Homesickness

Boy, have I been homesick lately.  I know that Texas is in the midst of a horrible drought and suffering from record-breaking heat, but I still miss it.  I don’t need you to understand.

I know it is no surprise to any of you who read this blog to hear that I miss the food almost as much as I miss the people and places.  One thing in particular that I miss is my dad’s peach tart.  Made with Hill Country peaches, it is sublime.  You cannot beat butter and freshly picked fruit, right?  It makes the house smell wonderful when it is baking and it is a delicious finish to a summer meal.  And, I know I am loved when Dad sets aside the last piece and lets me have it for breakfast the next day.  It is just as good cold as it is warm.  Sigh.

Here’s how to share some love in your house…I only hope you have enough to save a piece for breakfast.

Peach Tart
Makes two tarts

Modified from Fine Cooking Magazine

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
16 Tbsp very cold unsalted butter
2/3 cup of ice water
approx. 1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt.  Cut the cold butter into cubes and drop into flour mixture.  Cut in with knives or pastry cutter until it resembles tiny peas.  Add ice water all at once and mix just until the dough comes together.  Take care not to over mix.

Gather the dough with your hands and shape into two disks and wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Sometimes if the kitchen is really hot or we are in a hurry, Dad and I will cheat a bit and put the dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes.  Be careful, though.  Don’t put the dough in the coldest part of the freezer or it could become tough.  Just so you know, Mom thinks we are taking too great a risk with her dessert and she doesn’t like that we do this.

After the dough has chilled, roll out each disk of dough between two sheets of wax paper to about 1/8-inch thickness.  Take care not to over work the dough and just remove one disk from the refrigerator at a time.  You can place the rolled dough in a tart pan or just lay out on a baking sheet for a free form tart or galette.

If you go with the rustic shape, place the rolled dough on a parchment covered baking sheet.  Put the fruit in the center of the dough round and fold up about 2 inches of the dough all around and pleat slightly to secure.

Slice the peaches and arrange on top of the dough in the tart pan.  Sprinkle with brown sugar.  You may decide to use a little more or a little less.

Regardless of the shape, bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  The formal tart needs to cool on a baking rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the tart pan ring.  The galette should cool about 5 minutes, then slide off the baking sheet to cool on a rack.

Serve warm or cold.

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Peach Throw-Down

Last month, several entries on this blog highlighted dishes made with one of my favorite summer fruits, peaches.  This was due, in part, to the generous gift of Georgia peaches from my friends Dave and Laura.  Well, I have even more entries from Peachapoolza to offer you, dear reader.

My friends Dave and Wendy are always going on about New Jersey peaches.  They claim they are the best in the country.  They claim they are even better than Texas peaches.  I finally asked them to prove it.  So, they brought back a peck of freshly picked peaches from their recent trip home.  They bought a mix of both white and yellow cling-free peaches.

We ate several right away, and as the juice ran down my chin I asked Wendy if there was a particular peach recipe she wanted me to make.  At this point Dave chimed in.  You see, I hadn’t directed my question to him because he is allergic to the fruit.  But, I discovered that he can sometimes eat peaches if they have been cooked.  He asked if I could can peaches.  Yes, I said.  Then Dave wanted to know if I could make sugary, syrupy peaches that he could spoon onto ice cream.  Yes, yes I can.

I altered slightly my father’s spiced peach recipe to work better for ice cream or cereal topping.  Delicious.  I still prefer Texas peaches, but I’m willing to admit to just a slight bias for my home state products.

Canned Spiced Peaches
Makes about 4 pints 

about 4 lbs fresh, ripe peaches
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
4 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp whole cloves

To make it easier to peel the peaches, I blanched them.  Place whole peaches in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes and then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the fruit from cooking and make them cool enough to handle.  The skin should slide right off of ripe peaches.  If it doesn’t you can finish peeling them with a paring knife.

My father cans his peaches whole, but I decided to slice and pit the fruit for this batch.  Set them aside and prepare the syrup.

In a large saucepan, combine sugars, water, vinegar, cinnamon, and cloves.  Bring it to a boil, then stir and turn down heat to a simmer.  Let it simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.  You can take this time to sterilize your jars and lids.

Add the peach slices to the syrup and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Take it off the heat and spoon the peaches and syrup into your prepared jars.  Make sure the threads of the jars are clean of syrup so you’ll get a good seal then screw on the lids.

I use a water bath process to seal the jars by submerging them in boiling water.  For pint-size jars, I let them stay in the boiling water for about 20 minutes.  Then I lift them out of the water and place them on a towel.  As they cool down, you should hear an occasional pinging noise as the lids pop from a vacuum forming.  After a couple of  hours of cooling, press down on the center of each lid.  There should not be any flex.  If the lid flexes, repeat the process and re-submerge the jars in boiling water for another 20 minutes to reach the vacuum seal.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Herbal Limeade

This post is due to the influence of two remarkable women in my life.  One, is my sister-in-law Sarah, who gently and without prejudice, pointed out to me that not all of my readers enjoy alcohol quite as much as I apparently do.  Point taken and appreciated, thank you.

The other is my amazing friend Wendy who is one of my biggest champions and always pushes me to be more creative.  Wendy has decided to start presenting me with random ingredients and in Iron Chef style makes firm suggestions of what kind of dish I should make.  In this first example she offered me freshly picked Thai basil and demanded, I mean requested, I make a drink with it.

Okay, ladies, I hope you like the results.  This post is for you.  Thanks for the ongoing support.

Thai Basil and Mint Limeade
Makes about 24 oz

1/2 cup basil and mint infused simple syrup
zest of 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups water or club soda
Thai basil sprigs for garnish

To make herbal infused simple syrup, combine equal parts of water and granulated sugar in a saucepan.  Heat on stovetop and stir until sugar dissolves.  Turn off heat and drop in sprigs of Thai basil and mint (about 1 to 2 oz) into the hot syrup.

Let the herbs steep until the syrup has cooled to room temperature.  Remove herbs.  Add lime zest.

Measure and pour syrup into pitcher.  Add an equal amount of fresh lime juice, and stir.  If you like it a little sweeter, add only half the amount of lime juice.

Now add water or club soda.  I added twice as much water as juice and syrup, but you may prefer a slightly weaker taste and may want to add more water.

Serve over ice with a sprig of Thai basil or mint for garnish.

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Don’t Show Up Empty-Handed

Are you lucky enough to get some weekend cookout invitations this summer?  Oh, good.  Let’s make sure you get invited back.

How’s that work, you ask?  Well, I always find that bringing food to the party is a good start.

It doesn’t need to be fancy.  In fact, simpler is usually better with a dish that has to travel.  And, you don’t want to be on your feet all morning just before you leave for the party.  Here’s something that might just fit the bill.

Basic Coleslaw
Serves plenty

1 large head of cabbage
1 – 2 carrots
1 cup of mayonnaise (low-fat is okay)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp white vinegar
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp ground coriander
salt, to taste

Shred cabbage and carrots.  Or, use a bag of coleslaw mix, if you must.

Whisk together mayo (I use a mix of full-fat and low-fat), sugar, vinegars, and oil.

Add spices, and whisk smooth.

Pour over vegetables.

Stir gently to combine and fully coat the vegetables.

Store covered in refrigerator.  When ready to serve, stir again to bring up any dressing from the bottom of the container.

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Cantaloupe Agua Fresca

My brother came over yesterday to help me with a project, and he brought a cantaloupe with him.  It was ripe and juicy, but he was less than satisfied with its mealy texture.  He figured I could come up with something to do with it, and he hoped it would involve vodka.

As a matter of fact, little brother, I do have something in mind and why, yes it can incorporate vodka.  We can fix that texture problem, too.  How about some agua fresca?

What is agua fresca, you ask?  It is a popular beverage in Mexico (and I understand across Central America) of fruit or vegetables with sugar and water.  Easy and refreshing.  I drank them a lot when I lived in Austin.  It was a cooling drink after eating spicy tacos, or when I wanted a sweet treat while slaving away in downtown.

But you don’t have to go to Mexico, or even Austin to enjoy agua fresca.  You can easily make it at home.

Cantaloupe Agua Fresca

1 cantaloupe, peeled, sliced
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups water

Blitz the cantaloupe and sugar in a blender.  Pour into a pitcher and add 4 cups of water.  Stir well.

Serve over ice and pour in some vodka or rum.  My brother and I prefer citron vodka with the cantaloupe.  However, it is just as yummy without the booze.

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Beat the Heat with Some Cool Cucumbers

We’ve had a long string of pretty hot days here in DC this summer so my husband and I were grateful we were invited to a poolside party this weekend.  Another guest was grilling so I wanted to bring a side dish that was cool and wouldn’t be too filling in the heat.  A refreshing cucumber salad fit the bill.  Mix in some grape tomatoes and fresh mint and you have yourself a easy summer dish.

Cucumber Salad with Tomatoes and Mint

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
4 large cucumbers, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

In a bowl, combine red wine vinegar, sugar, and salt.

Stir in cucumbers.  Add onion, tomatoes, and mint.

Then, gently toss with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Summer Saute

The markets are really booming with fresh produce now.  I love this time of year.  Everything is so fresh and tasty that it doesn’t take much effort or many complicated ingredients to make your dinner delicious. I especially like the ease of creating dishes with fresh herbs for a truly seasonal flavor.

Our backyard herb batch has been a great asset, even our basil is doing well.  I mention the basil for several reasons.  First, because it is a mainstay herb of summer and makes a nice complement to the veggies you pick up at the farmer’s market.  But, also because apparently a fungus is attacking and killing basil plants across the country.  It isn’t toxic to humans, but it can make for a disappointing harvest.  It is impacting growers across the country, so you may see less fresh sweet basil in your markets or your backyard.

If you are lucky enough to snag some fresh basil, however, chop it up and add it to a saute of summer squash and zucchini.    It is a quick side dish for grilling since it only takes about 5 minutes on the stove top.  Then, you can go right back to enjoying the long summer evenings…

Zucchini and Summer Squash Saute
Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 large zucchini
2 small yellow summer squash
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Slice zucchini and squash into matchstick pieces.

Lightly mix first four ingredients in a bowl.

Heat olive oil in medium saute pan.  Add ingredients from bowl and saute gently stirring until slightly soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately.

VARIATIONS:  You can easily vary the proportions to make more or less depending on how many folks you want to serve.  This recipe can also take on other flavors…you could add garlic or hot peppers or change the fresh herb to oregano, dill, or mint.  It is also delicious with the addition of fresh tomatoes.

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Watermelon Agua Fresca

This is one of my favorite summer treats…so refreshing.
Process about 4 cups of cubed watermelon with about 1/4 cup of sugar in a blender. Seedless is best, but you will strain it later, so don’t worry if you can’t find a seedless melon. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture

through a fine mesh strainer, discarding solids. Stir in 2 cups of water.
Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve over ice. I also like to add clear rum and lime slices. It makes about 5 cups.
We enjoyed drinking this several times over the summer while sitting on our porch and watching our crazy neighbors.

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