Thursday, July 31, 2014

Roasted Balsamic Beet Sandwich on Russian Rye

IT ALL STARTED WHEN PRITCHARD PARKER CAME HOME with a fresh loaf of Russian Rye Bread. I already had dinner well underway but we both enjoyed a slice of the bread with our meal. The bread was made with coffee and had minced onion throughout, it was still warm from the oven and it was excellent.

I thought about Borscht.

The next morning I remembered the large beets I had seen at the curb market the day before. Some of them had the circumference of a bread slice. I knew then I would make some kind of beet sandwich.

As I was sipping my morning tea, I was thinking about how to make a beet sandwich.  Once I concluded, in my wavering mind that I would simply use a thick slice, a slab, of beet I started pondering cheese. First I thought of Feta. Then I jumped to Gorgonzola. But neither of those seemed to be inspiring me and I realized it was because I wanted goo. I used Mozzarella.

Parboiling the beets for a few minutes makes them much easier to slice and peel.

Roasted Balsamic Beet Sandwich on Russian Rye Bread
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Mozzarella cheese
Shaved sweet onions
Chopped or sliced arugula or other greens
Good sturdy bread of choice

Parboil beets, depending on size, for 10 - 20 minutes, until they are not so hard. Drain and cool. Peel beets and slice into slabs. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Oven roast at 400 degrees until tender and beginning to caramelize around the edges, another 10 - 20 minutes, depending on size. Once they are tender, sprinkle with Balsamic vinegar to taste.

Slice cheese and place onto bread slices. Put under the broiler until the cheese is melting and beginning to brown. Add a slice of beet and top each sandwich with shaved onions and shredded sandwich greens.

Put top onto sandwich and press down. Slice in half and serve.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pasta Primavera

A BOX OF RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE TAGLIARELLE pasta had been lurking in my overflow pantry space (office closet) for a couple of months. Because I had splurged on it, I wanted it to be the star of the dish and not just play a supporting role. I had thought of many ways to use it and in the end I settled on a simple and delicious Pasta Primavera.

My friend Zakiyyah, a restaurant cook, taught me this uncomplicated way to make Pasta Primavera many years ago. Any seasonal vegetables you like can be used. Broccoli, peas, scallions, and carrots are customary choices. Here, I have used asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, snow peas, cremini mushrooms, and tomato along with onion and garlic. Fresh basil is traditional and delicious; I added a spoonful of pesto I had leftover from another dish. Zakiyyah also insisted that I use Romano rather than the Parmesan cheese most recipes call for.

The secret to the preparation is having all the vegetables chopped and ready before beginning to cook. I do not endorse the chop and drop method of cooking. . .that is, chop a vegetable while another is beginning to cook in order to get a dish prepared more quickly. I prefer the traditional mise en place style. I want to have everything ready in order to focus my attention on the actual cooking once I begin. My cooking tastes better this way and my enjoyment is greatly enhanced. Not to mention that I love washing and chopping vegetables and prefer being solely attentive to that process as well.

Pasta Primavera
8 ounces pasta of your choice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 cup snow peas
8 ounces asparagus, sliced into thirds
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tsp. pesto or 1 Tbsp. fresh basil, to taste
1 cup half and half, or more if needed
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese, plus more for serving if desired
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until beginning to wilt. One by one add all the remaining vegetables, beginning with the ones that need to cook longer, stirring for a few seconds after each addition.

When all the vegetables have been added, stir in some pesto or fresh basil as well as salt and pepper. Stir in the half and half. Once everything is hot, stir in the cheese. Toss together with the pasta. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Garnish with additional cheese if desired and serve right away.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake

 WHEN PRITCHARD PARKER CAME HOME WITH A BASKETFUL of raspberries, my imagination quickly got busy dreaming up ways to appreciate them. We ate many, simply rinsed and enjoyed au naturel, and is there really any better way to savor fresh, summer fruit? I made some into smoothies. Some are frozen for later use.

After I fixed on the idea of using raspberries in a cheesecake, I considered my options. I thought of adding raspberry puree directly into the cream cheese mixture to make a raspberry-scented pink cheesecake. And maybe I would even top it with a chocolate ganache? Or perhaps I would make a plain cheesecke and top it with a raspberry sauce?

Ultimately, I decided to make this Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake because I thought it was so lovely.

This cheesecake does involve several steps beginning with making a graham cracker crust, which involves crushing graham crackers, melting butter, mixing, pressing it into the springform pan and baking until set.

The cream cheese and eggs need to be at room temperature.

A roasting pan is needed for a water bath, also boiling water needs to be at the ready. (I don't have a roasting pan big enough to contain my springform pan, so I used one of those disposable pans from the grocery store and tossed it into the recycling bin once I was finished).

A raspberry puree is made by processing the raspberries in the blender until smooth and  pressing them through a strainer to remove the seeds.

The cheesecake needs to be refrigerated for several hours before unmolding and serving.

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
(A Martha Stewart Recipe)
1 cup finely ground graham crackers
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups sugar
6 ounces raspberries
32 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
Boiling water, for roasting pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap exterior of a 9-inch springform pan (including base) in a double layer of foil; set aside.

Stir together cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom of pan. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Process raspberries in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pass puree through a fine sieve into a small bowl; discard solids. Whisk in 2 tablespoons sugar, and set aside.

Put cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar in a slow, steady stream. Add salt and vanilla; mix until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing each until just combined (do not overmix). Pour cream cheese filling over crust.

Drop raspberry sauce by the teaspoon on top. With a wooden skewer or toothpick, swirl sauce into filling.

Set cake pan inside a large, shallow roasting pan. Transfer to oven. Carefully ladle boiling water into roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake until cake is set but still slightly wobbly in center, 60 to 65 minutes.

Transfer cake pan to rack; let cake cool completely. Refrigerate, uncovered, 6 hours or overnight. Before unmolding, run a knife around edge of cake.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cherry Wild Rice Salad with Mango Vinaigrette

I RECENTLY PARTICIPATED IN A GROUP DISCUSSION facilitated by a Registered Dietitian who advocates following an anti-inflammatory diet. The RD was obviously very well educated and knowledgeable. He was also relaxed and likeable in an unassuming and appealing way.

More importantly, for me,  he was a cook and gave a lot of helpful food preparation tips. He also had personal experience with many of the fantastic grocery stores and specialty markets in our area, regarding specific product availability and also pricing comparisons. And his shopping research covered stores from the discount box to the most shi-shi boutique.

The anti-inflammatory diet is based on fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, healthy fats, fish and seafood (and more) while eliminating refined flours, sugars, and processed foods. It was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, on the belief that chronic inflammation is at the root of many serious illnesses.  The diet promotes the foods which reduce inflammation while providing steady energy and plenty of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and dietary fiber. 

I really enjoyed the meeting because the study of nutrition and health has been near and dear to my heart all my life.

The secret to this wild rice salad is the dressing and the secret ingredient of the dressing is mango chutney. Which is not on the anti-inflammatory diet pyramid. Otherwise this salad as a meal perfectly fits the bill.

Over the years I have made this salad with different fruits; apples and grapes in fall, dried apricots and raisins in winter. I have used sliced almonds or walnuts rather than the toasted pecans I have used here. The original recipe came from the one-of-a-kind, and now defunct, Blue Moon Bakery in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. I savored their Wild Rice Salad so many times, always trying to analyze it so I could make it myself.

It was years later that I finally learned the secret ingredient. I wrote about it once before, here at my blog.

Wild Rice Salad with Mango Vinaigrette
8 oz. wild rice, cooked according to package directions, and cooled
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 green onions, sliced
1 small sweet onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and sliced
1 cup pecans, toasted
1/2 bunch (approx. 1/2 cup) minced parsley

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Dress with the following dressing.

Mango Vinaigrette
1/4 cup mango chutney
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Puree the chutney and vinegar, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Mix the dressing into the rice mixture. Adjust the vinegar, salt and pepper, to taste.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lemony Greek Orzo Salad

 THE GLORY OF THE SEASON IS UPON ME. I adore summer and all the blessings it brings, including the fabulous childhood memories. Unfortunately, the joy is not shared by my beloved.

Each day, as I bask in the heat and humidity of our un-air-conditioned home, wearing only shorts, tank tops and my own bare feet, my husband is engaged in his extremely cold and arid occupation. Upon walking into the other-worldly climate of our home, he feels assaulted by the rain forest like atmosphere.  I am acclimated, of course, and don't feel one iota of discomfort, but I do understand his position.

Therefore, I try to keep heat producing activities, namely cooking and baking, to a minimum. Now is the time I go for great salads and sandwiches as meals. Any cooking, at all, like boiling pasta or steaming vegetables, gets done in the early morning hours.

I think grain salads and pasta salads make great summertime meals, don't you? Taking advantage of the season's harvest is really the only way to eat. I just love the fact that everywhere you turn, someone is selling or giving away garden fresh tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, cucumbers, and beans.

Lemony Greek Orzo Salad
8 ounces orzo
1 small sweet onion
1 lemon
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 ounces feta cheese, chopped or crumbled
3 Tbsp. olive oil, to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook orzo in boiling, salted water, until tender.

Meanwhile, chop onion and place into bottom of a salad bowl. When orzo is done, drain and place on top of the chopped onion. Squeeze 1/2 of the lemon over the pasta and a generous grating of fresh black pepper. Mix together. This process infuses great flavor into the pasta.

Add cucumber, celery, tomato, and parsley to the salad bowl. Squeeze in the other half lemon, drizzle with the olive oil; stir to combine well. Gently stir in the Feta cheese.

Taste, adding salt, more pepper, lemon, or olive oil if desired.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mom's Coleslaw

LAST WEEKEND, FOR THE FOURTH OF JULY, we went to a back yard barbecue about an hour-and-a-half drive, down hill, off our mountain and into the foothills. We had a great time swimming, blowing bubbles, eating grilled hotdogs and hamburgers, salads, juicy watermelon and creamy desserts.

It was dark when we drove back home and I got a blister on my toe. How the heck did that happen while riding in the car? Well. . . I pay careful attention to the road and traffic while riding as a passenger. (I call it "helping Pritchard Parker drive"). If I stop concentrating on the road, I might overreact to a situation which he has under perfect control.

And that is what happened. On the road ahead, in the dark, there was a confusion of red and blinking lights. I couldn't tell if they were IN the road or on the shoulder. I put on "brakes" so hard, on the passenger side of the car, that I got my pinky toe stuck between the body of the car and the door. With my bare foot. I didn't know that was possible. But I yanked my toe free and surveyed the damage when we got home.

I usually slice the cabbage for this creamy, no-mayo coleslaw, but this time I decided to shred it thinking it would be more complementary to hot dogs and sandwiches. See the sliced version here

Mom's Coleslaw
1 head cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 medium onion, cut into chunks

In a large bowl, toss cabbage, carrots, and celery seed. Place the oil, sugar, vinegar, salt, mustard, and onion in a blender. Cover and process until combined and creamy. Pour over cabbage mixture and toss to coat. Chill before serving with a slotted spoon.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Kale Tabouli

 HAVE YOU EVER SPENT TIME WITH someone who thinks it is great fun to startle others? What makes it so funny to them when they jump out and say boo! to another who is minding their own business and thinking their own thoughts?

I once worked with a man who thought it was great fun to burst into my (accounting) office, suddenly and noisily and without warning, for the sole purpose and for his great delight, to see me jump, clutch my suddenly racing heart, seethe at him and glare. Hee-hee-hee, he would laugh.


Now what in the world does this have to do with the Middle Eastern dish of bulghur wheat mixed with parsley, mint, chopped onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil? Absolutely nothing. I just happen to have a memory of sitting at my desk, working through my lunch hour to finish payroll (including the jerk's check) before a holiday and suddenly choking on a spoonful of this refreshing and cooling salad.

We love Tabouli and I make it often in the summer. Served with some hummus and pita, it makes a scrumptious light evening meal. Both feta cheese and avocado are great additions. And for this version, I added massaged kale which was fantastic.

Kale Tabouli
3/4 cup bulghur (cracked wheat)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed, leaves chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup minced onion
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
1 or 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 2 cups)
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium mixing bowl, pour water over bulghur. Cover and let sit for 1 hour.

Place kale into a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt, sprinkle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Massage kale about 3 - 5 minutes until tender. Add minced onion, chopped parsley, chopped mint leaves, and chopped cucumber. Stir to combine.

Drizzle the tender bulghur with olive oil and lemon juice. Add to the vegetables in the salad bowl. Add chopped tomatoes and toss everything together.

Add salt, pepper, more olive oil, and/or more lemon juice, to taste.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cherry Eton Mess

MY AUNT AND UNCLE HAD A VAST CHERRY TREE which grew right beside their house. As a girl, I could climb from their second story porch right into that great tree.

Every summer, our family would pile into the car for our annual trek from our home in Alabama to visit my Dad's hometown in Akron, Ohio. There we would split up and move from relative to relative, spending time with each.

My cherry tree uncle was a trucker so he was away from home a lot. But I loved spending time with my aunt and their five (5!) rowdy sons. Their home was loud, messy, and chaotic. The only thing she ever said to me while I was eating cherry after cherry after cherry while sitting in the tree, was a warning that if I kept it up, I would have a tummy ache. I paid her no regard, thinking the joy of eating a seemingly endless supply of cherries, fresh, juicy, and warm, straight from the tree would be worth it.

I never had a problem digesting all those cherries. And when I think about it now, I know my own mother would have been worried about much more than stomach troubles if she had ever seen me perched high in the branches of that mighty tree.

Eton Mess is an English dessert made with baked meringue cookies, strawberries, and cream. I made mine with fresh cherries.

I had some meringues, which store beautifully in an airtight container, leftover from making my Tapioca Pudding. You can see a recipe here.

I love homemade whipped cream. It is super, super simple to make.  It was one of the tasks my mother handed over to me when I was just a little girl. I would make it using an old-style, hand, rotary mixer. You know if a little girl can make it, you can too.  Here is a recipe.

Cherry Eton Mess
Fresh cherries, washed, pitted, and halved
Meringue cookies
Freshly whipped and sweetened cream

Layer, as desired, crushing some of the meringues if you wish, in a pretty glass. Garnish with a whole cherry.