Tis the Season

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My guess is that when you hear this phrase you also hear sleigh bells. Sure, it’s mostly associated with winter holidays but quite frankly, ‘Tis the Season can be applied every 3 months: winter, spring, summer and fall. Each one brings about change of all types. From what we wear to what to do. And I believe this is especially true when it comes to the foods we buy and eat.

Decades ago, staying within the season was exactly how the majority of people bought their produce, prepared and ate their meals. Using only what was available at the time of harvest. Times have changed. Consumer demands. Fed EX and other shipping methods enable foods to arrive at our supermarkets all year round. Yet, I find that everything old is new again with an increase in people going back to more ‘ancient’ ways of eating. There is much value to seasonal eating. First and foremost, it provides you with what is the absolute freshest. Then, it’s about keeping in synch with what our bodies need and crave for at a particular time of the season. Think about it. How many times do you jones for a thick, hearty, hot soup in July? How often do your salivary glands thirst for watermelon in February? ‘Tis the season for reason, my friends.

I try my best to buy seasonally, and also try to provide you with recipes appropriate for the season. Full disclosure, I have been known to purchase strawberries in the dead of winter for a dessert or a smoothie. But overall, my goal is eat what’s hot of the presses. Or should I say, pull directly from the ground.

So what’s in season now? A bounty of goodness.

Peaches & Nectarines

I love stone fruits, especially peaches and nectarines. They are sweet, juicy and refreshing all on their own. But you can grill them and serve with ice cream. Or use them to top a crostini to create a wonderful appetizer that is light and clean, but does it’s part to satisfy the appetite. Or check out the salads below that combine a few other items that are also great right now.

Fresh Ricotta Crostini

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Corn on the Cob
Who doesn’t love themselves a corn on the cob during a BBQ? Slathered with butter. Or just a good sprinkle of coarse salt… YUM. But I love salads, so here are two that utilize corn, and one actually using peaches, too. A double hitter.

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Corn Salad: Raw & Roasted

Crunchy by way of the 3c’s: corn, celery and cucumber. Soft bites provided by potatoes and chick peas. Zest and zing offered by red onion and lemon. Perfect.

Corn & Fruit Salad

Sweet and refreshing. This salad is ideal for any BBQ.

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Berries: Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries and Blackberries

Here is a fresh salad that incorporates not just berries but two of the other in season items, nectarines and corn. This salad not only gives a sweet flavor pop in your mouth but an actual physical pop of the fruit and crunchy corn. The other salad has the blueberries playing off the tartness of citrus.

Summer Salad Full of Fruits
I love all the textures in this one. There is so much, it can be a lunch all by itself.

Butter Lettuce with Orange, Blueberries & Crunch

Fruit in a salad for me is way more interesting than the usual suspects like tomatoes. I feel tomatoes have a higher purpose than salad. That’s not to say that fruit is less than. Quite the contrary.

Fresh Fruit Bark

Something sweet but naturally sweet.

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Tomatoes
Bring it on tomato time. How many seasons have you seen me buying boxes upon boxes, pounds upon pounds of these ruby jewels? So this season won’t be any different. Just a reminder of some of the things you can do with these babies.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Oven dried tomatoes   can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Oven dried tomatoes can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

White Eggplant App - Greek Style

Here the tomatoes are in a supporting role, but an important one. I love this dish. It can be an appetizer or a side dish and has just zest and zing.

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Freshly sliced tomatoes with pesto. You can’t go wrong with simply slicing them and enhancing with salt and good olive oil or a tad of pesto, or the tapenade from above.

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I could make this post go on forever. The recipes and ideas for using what’s fresh and amazing right now are endless but I hope this jump starts your imagination and your kitchen creations.

Ready, Set, Go!

Off to your local farmer’s market. Sniff, pluck and pick the best and the freshest. ‘Tis the season… that is until the next one.

Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Squash, Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic

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I like comfort food.  Which usually means a mouthful of pasta.  I especially like it when it is small enough that I can simply scoop spoonfuls into my mouth.  Gosh, I hope that doesn't sound gross. But it is quite satisfying.  Which is why I love creating salads that fit that agenda.  As with my Orzo Salad, this Israeli Couscous dish has that same mouthfeel.  Flavor in every bite filled with the comfort of a pasta.  Small enough that it's easy to spoon, swallow and spoon again.  Oh, yeah, don't forget to chew.

I created this dish for a Ladies' Lunch for my Mom and the women's group at her condo.  They were gracious enough to allow me to cater the lunch for them, and I had a blast doing it.  I will post more about the entire meal but for now, let's focus on spooning some of this salad for your next lunch, dinner side dish or BBQ party.  When I came up with idea it was to satisfy what I thought the women would enjoy as well as a dish that would be easy to make given all the other items I was making.  What I didn't even realize at the time was that this Israeli Couscous plays off the same idea as my Garlic Rice with Sautéd Zucchini & Tomatoes.  I found that recipe as I was writing this one so I could share other zucchini ideas. And there it was, along with several others.

Apparently, there are a million ways to serve up zucchini.  So here's a quick reminder of a few I have experimented with and achieved success.  Try them out while the weather is zucchini friendly.
Zucchini Crudo with Shaved Parmigiano & Mint Oil
Zucchini Orzo Pie
Zucchini Carpaccio
Balsamic Bathed Carrots Wrapped with Zucchini
An Asian Twist to Zucchini Ribbons

Now back to the main attraction. This is one of those dishes that you can literally being cooking, cutting, sautéing all at the same time.  A multitasking wonder. So I have written the instructions in a way to be most efficient. 

Ingredients

1.5 cups Israeli Couscous
1 large zucchini, cubed
1-2 small yellow squash, cubed
1 medium shallot, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, oven roasted
4-5 whole garlic cloves
2-3 T basil, chiffonade
1 c olive Oil
1 t coarse salt
1/2 t pepper
*Note: You can alter the couscous to veg ratio if you like more of one.  Totally up to you.

Slice the squashes lengthwise first. Then strips, then cubes.

Slice the squashes lengthwise first. Then strips, then cubes.

 

Instructions

1. Roast the grape tomatoes in 1/2 c olive oil with whole cloves of garlic.  Refer to the oil roasted recipe in my post The  Great Tomato Caper.

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2.  While the tomatoes roast, cut the zucchini, yellow squash and shallots and sauté them separately in oil. Season with salt and pepper, adding half the shallots to each batch, once they are partially cooked.  You don't want to add the shallots first as they will burn.

Nice little cubes all the same size so you get a piece in every spoonful.

Nice little cubes all the same size so you get a piece in every spoonful.

Zucchini cubed up

Zucchini cubed up

3. While the squashes are sautéing, cook the Israeli Couscous as you would any type of pasta, in a large pot of salted boiling water.  Cook until al dente.  Drain and set aside in a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil so it doesn't stick and let cool.

Gorgeous pearls of pasta

Gorgeous pearls of pasta

4.  Once the tomatoes are done, remove the garlic from their skins and mash them with a fork and course salt.  Add 1/4 c olive oil, pepper to taste and whisk together.

Grapes tomatoes oven roasted in luscious oil with roasted garlic.

Grapes tomatoes oven roasted in luscious oil with roasted garlic.

Sweet and tender garlic.

Sweet and tender garlic.

Smash to create a paste.

Smash to create a paste.

5. It is best to mix the roasted garlic oil into the couscous while it is still warm so the flavors absorb, but you can mix it at room temperature, too. Be sure to thoroughly incorporate.
6. Chiffonade the basil (cutting them in strips) and add to the couscous.
7. Then add some of the juices from the roasted tomatoes, the tomatoes and sautéed squashed. Gently mix until combined.  Serve room temperature.

A bowl of goodness that is pure pleasure to eat spoonful after spoonful.

A bowl of goodness that is pure pleasure to eat spoonful after spoonful.

This is one of those dishes that is both hearty but light at the same time.  The couscous is a pasta so it does do the job of satisfyingly fill you up, but the lightness of the veggies make it feel summertime fresh, especially served room temperature or even chilled.  

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I made this out of love.
Love of pasta.
Love for my Mom.
Love to share with others.

 

Print Friendly Recipe

 

Espresso Ice Cream

I recently had the awesome opportunity to work as an intern in the prep kitchen for a James Beard Award winning restaurant group.  I know, pinch me, I’m a lucky woman.  I will definitely write more about that experience, and share some of the many pastry items I made, but first since it’s summer, let’s start with ice cream.  I made several ice creams during my 4 week residency.  Two of my absolute favorites were Popcorn Ice Cream. Yes, you read that correctly.  And Espresso Ice Cream.  Both were made using a traditional cream base then whisking in egg yolks, cooking them to temperature, then using an ice cream machine.  Velvety smooth result.

Since I don’t have one of those big hunky things in my home, I searched for easier ways to bring home the flavor, and make my hubby happy. He loves ice cream, and devoured both those flavors when I brought home samples.
In researching homemade methods, it seems that without using an ice cream machine, most recipes eliminate the yolks. Just as well.  No yolks. No stress. Without the eggs, the whole process is much easier, since tempering the eggs, then cooking them slowly is a lengthy and delicate process. In a split second you can end up with scrambled eggs. (Although, then you would have a complete breakfast - espresso right inside your scrambled eggs.) 
A no egg ice cream is just as yummy and 10 times easier.  I think we can all agree that making our lives simpler is a good thing. Believe me when I say, I am always looking for more efficient ways to do anything. (As a matter of fact, during my time in the kitchen there, I came up with a different ways to punch donuts. And they were gracious enough to let me reorganized the menu books.  Reorganized the utensil and gadget areas.  And were open to a suggestion on assembling the coconut cakes. I am an efficiency junky.)  So, let's get right to making this eye opening Espresso Ice Cream, shall we?  Just in time for the 4th of July weekend.

Ingredients

2.5 c whole milk
4 c heavy cream
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
4 T instant espresso , diluted
pinch salt

But a few ingredients, and all mixed together. You can't get easier than that, my friends.

But a few ingredients, and all mixed together. You can't get easier than that, my friends.

Instructions

Mix all the ingredients in a mixer.  Whisk until combined. I diluted the espresso powder with a couple tablespoons of warm water. 

Pour in the cream and milk

Pour in the cream and milk

Sugar

Sugar

Espresso and vanilla.

Espresso and vanilla.

Whisk it all together. Seems silly to show you but I have a thing for telling a story with images.

Whisk it all together. Seems silly to show you but I have a thing for telling a story with images.

For the next step, there are a few different methods to get it to soft ice cream state. Some people eat the ice cream at that stage. It seemed a bit too soupy for me. Mine went into freezer so the mixture to get to a harder consistency. I split my batch into two so I could use two methods for comparison. (Experimentation is hard work but I'm willing to do it for you to bring the best results. Who I am kidding? The end result was ice cream!!)

Shake Until Your Arms Scream Method:
The first method I used was the plastic bag method. I poured the liquid in a quart plastic bag, and doubled the bag to prevent leakage. Then placed that bag into a gallon plastic bag with 4 T coarse salt and 4 cups of ice cubes.  Sealed and vigorously shook it for 10 minutes. This was a work out for sure. I never knew how long 10 minutes lasted until my arms screamed out, "Is it ice cream, YET?" Once thickened, I poured the semi soft ice cream into a container and placed in the freezer to allow it to harden more. 

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That version seemed tiring, so I was thrilled that the other method was much less strenuous. 

The Lazy, Just Freeze It Method:
I continued to whisk the mixture until it thickened.  Then I place it in a glass loaf pan with plastic wrap covering the surface to prevent freezer burn. Then surrounded by ice and placed in the freezer. My arms thanked me.  However, I forgot to continue to mix it every 1/2 hour or so as was suggested, but it seemed to freeze up just fine.  So this is truly the lazy way, all benefits version.

Here are a few videos for you to watch.

Ice Cream in a Bag

Ice Cream without Machine

Freeze and Whisk Method

In the end, everyone seemed to love both versions. So you pick. 

  • Work out with benefits.

  • Or straight up benefits.

Either way, this ice cream will get you raring to go. Other huge benefit ...bringing joy to your loved ones.  I know it did mine.

JuanCarlos trying to eat with moderation.

JuanCarlos trying to eat with moderation.

Espresso ice cream scoops

Espresso ice cream scoops

My handsome husband enjoying a bowl of espresso ice cream with his other latest favorite, red wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

My handsome husband enjoying a bowl of espresso ice cream with his other latest favorite, red wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Happy 4th, and summertime fun!

 

Summer Salad Full of Fruits

Now that the weather seems to be cooperating and we have returned to summer, it's time to reset our menus back to regularly scheduled programming of offering foods of the season again.

Batter up: Fruits and Vegetables.  How many times have you heard your mom say "eat your fruits and veggies"? As we have all come to learn, moms know best.  These two food groups are the real powerhouses of the food chain, packing all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you could ever want.  So it made perfect sense that I would combine both in a summer salad to take full advantage of all those heathy benefits.  

I think it's pretty evident by now that my salads contain the not so obvious ingredients.  Thus today's combo should not come as a surprise.  No lettuce and tomatoes pairing here.  Call me odd, that's ok.  I am, but in a good way.

I have an intense fondness of combining textures and flavors.  Sweet and savory.  Soft and crunchy. The fruits and vegetables of summer hit all the right notes,  checking those objectives off my list with the extra bonus of adding freshness and interesting flavor profile

My thoughts on this salad were how many seasonal stunners of the moment I could put together in one dish. Corn, blueberries, nectarines, arugula.

Not much more to this story, other than flavor, flavor, flavor.

Summer's bounty of the moment.

Summer's bounty of the moment.

Ingredients                                               Dressing

1 bunch arugula  (6-7 c)                                                       2/3 nectarine
3 nectarines (1 for the dressing)                                          1/4 c scallion, rough slice
1/3 c blueberries                                                                  1/2 T balsamic vinegar
1 ear of corn, grilled                                                             4 T olive oil
1/3 c blue cheese                                                                 1/2 t course sea salt
1/4 c red onion, thinly sliced                                                1/4 t cracked black pepper

Instructions

Wash the arugula well.  It tends to have a ton of sand, so soak it in cold water in a strainer and lift it out of the water so the sand stays on the bottom.  You may need to do this several times. Dry and arrange in a large platter.

Oil, salt and pepper the corn, then grill it.  I like using a cast iron grill pan but use whatever is most readily available.

While the corn is grilling. Slice the onions and nectarines.

Once the corn is done, you can begin assembling the salad, layering all the different ingredients atop the arugula in a pleasing manner.  I cut some of the kernels off of one side of the cob, then cut the cob in half and place onto the salad.

For the dressing, blend the nectarine, scallion, salt and pepper into a paste. Add the vinegar, oil and pulse until blended. It will be a thick dressing.

You can serve the dressing on the side or drizzle on top.

The flavors of this summer salad creates little flavor bombs in each bite.  The arugula provides a peppery note perfectly juxtaposed to the sweetness of the nectarine and blueberries.  The red onion has a spicy bite that stands up to the crunchy, savory kernels of corn. Then the salty, sharpness of the blue cheese is mellowed by the creamy sweetness of the dressing.  This is party in your mouth kind of salad. Perfect to celebrate summer's bounty.  Ideal pairings: hamburgers (with cheese & caramelized onion), grilled pork chops, grilled white flesh fish (ie: Rainbow Trout, Flounder). Summer fun in a bowl. The easiest, and best way to eat your fruits and veggies!

 

Ba Ba Ba Basil-ed Potato Salad

Summertime and potato salad go together like hamburgers and buns. How many picnics, BBQ's and big family gathering tables don this starchy delight during the season?  It's the 'go-to' hearty salad that everyone expects. Yet, serving mayo in the hot sun might not be the wisest choice. Hell, it might be down right dangerous.  

I'm all about giving guests food they love, but I'm also hooked on introducing new dishes or serving old favorites with a twist.

Best approach. Use what's in season to make your statement. You know what's in glorious abundance now? Basil. Oh, that smell.  That floral, herbal bouquet that makes you want to actually BE a green leaf.  (I had an distant uncle who loved basil so much he used to roll it up and shove it up his nose.  As a kid, this grossed me out big time, but somehow now I'm feeling that nasal basil vibe. Funny how time and perspective can change.)

Uses for basil = a Zillion.  That is an understatement. Try infinite.  Given how many ways you can use it I even thought I would write a post entitled 3 ways to basil up your meal.  But settled on the laser focus of revamping potato salad instead.  

I have been making a version of potato salad like this for a while, and even more so now since JC and I don't eat eggs, thus no mayo.   But here are a few motives for you.

  1. It tastes frigging AWESOME.

  2. Without the mayo, it's less calories and as a bonus won't spoil in the sun.

  3. It's super easy with just a few ingredients.

(Seriously, I don't know why I count the reasons down since I could continue on and on. But three should be enough to convince you.)

I would say that basil is the star in this show with potatoes and garlic nudging their way to leading role status.  I'm not going to yammer on too much longer since we need to just get right to making this jacked up flavor bomb for potatoes.   The smell is going to knock you over.

The star, Basil and the rest of the gang: Potatoes, garlic, sea salt, oil. I used course  Bevia Sea Salt from Despaña .

The star, Basil and the rest of the gang: Potatoes, garlic, sea salt, oil. I used course Bevia Sea Salt from Despaña.

Ingredients

8 c Potatoes (any style/ I like using new or fingerlings)
2 c Basil  
3-4 Garlic cloves. medium
1 t course Sea Salt
1/4 t Whole Peppercorns
1/2 c Olive Oil

Instructions

Cut the potatoes in bite sized pieces. Boil or roast them.  

While those are cooking away, prepare the dressing.  I like using a mortar and pestle for small batches but using a mini blender, processor is best for bigger batches as well as gives you a nice consistency.

For the mortar and pestle: Crush the garlic using coarse sea salt to break it down.  Add the peppercorns.  Add a handful of the fragrant basil leaves and crush them to make a paste.  Then pour in the oil and stir together.  

For the mini blender: Smash the garlic first then add all the ingredients minus the oil.  For this method, use crushed black pepper intead of whole peppercorns.  Pulse until minced. Then add the oil to blend.

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Chopped up and packed with basil essence.

Chopped up and packed with basil essence.

A very important note that I often times do not write.  Taste as you go. Although I give ingredient amounts, the basil and garlic you are using may be more or less intense than mine. And when using so few and such fresh ingredients it's all about the flavor. It might need a little more salt or garlic.  Taste, taste, taste.  Once you love it, then pour the mixture over the 'taters while they are still warm.  The warmth helps the flavor absorb into the them. Stand back and let the aroma waft over you.

I once made this dish last minute when friends stopped over.  They were so blown away by the intense bouquet of basil and garlic that they could not believe how simple it was and how few ingredients it had. Use this over anything really.  Here I go again with a list that could go on, but this is a start.

  • Grilled Chicken or Meat

  • Grilled or Roasted Fish

  • PASTA, duh

  • Rice

  • Roasted Cauliflower, Zucchini or any vegetable

Well, you get the picture.  No cook, no fuss Basil Blasted Sauce.  Use it on everything. Just a warning, because of the raw garlic, brushing your teeth afterwards is a good idea!

Geez, did I forget to add heirloom tomatoes to the list...  Happy Summer (without spoiled mayo!)