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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh

September 12, 2013 1 comment

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

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And so, dear readers, we have moved again. From Tennessee where so many life events (some good, and some bad,) have come and gone, the winds of change have filled our sails once again and we have embarked on a new journey. This time lady fortune has lured us further Westward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just east of The City of Angels. Had you asked me in June, I would never have guessed that we would end up living in Greater Los Angeles. But here we are, with a new home, and new jobs, getting back into the swing of things. Its a new swing but it has a nice groove; and with my penchant for produce, I could certainly do much worse than to end up in LA.

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Though we were sad to leave behind our phenomenal CSA program in Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have moved to an area where high-quality farmers markets are abundant. We have tried three of the area’s local markets so far and have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety of local ingredients and handmade goods. The knowledge and passion of the vendors and artisans gives the market its buzz and verve. Fruit vendors proudly pass out samples of their home grown produce and will gladly spend time with conscious consumers to explain their growing practices. Artisans offer up color on the inspiration for their wares which vary from market to market but include an immense variety of goods from beautiful handmade soaps, to aged balsamic vinegar, to home dried fruits, freshly popped kettle corn, local honey, and a multitude of baked goods. These are the markets I have been longing for – and with the scent of sweet summer fruit in the air and passion emanating from each booth, inspiration abounds.
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Now in its 13th year, The South Pasadena Farmers Market has a strong reputation as one of the best in Greater Los Angeles. Situated smack dab in the middle of what is arguably one of the most picture-perfect towns in the local area, the farmers market buzzes with activity every Thursday evening. The sense of community is immensely strong at this evening market. Parents bring their children to participate in sing-a-longs led by a local musician. Food stalls serve up dinner to hungry shoppers who set themselves down at communal picnic tables to enjoy their feast “en plein air.” Produce purveyors banter with their regulars while welcoming newcomers into the fold proffering up wedges of nectarines and samples of fresh pea pods for old and new shoppers alike, whetting their appetite for the weeks peak produce.

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It was one such sample of a tangy golden nectarine that seeded the inspiration for this salad. Only a stones throw from Georgia, we were plenty fortunate in Tennessee to be on the receiving end of the region’s well renown peaches. But despite Georgia’s claims of dominance in the production of peaches, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety and quality of stone fruit for sale at the Pasadena Area’s farmers markets. To preserve their delicate flesh from bruising, most peaches, plums, and nectarines are picked, packed, and taken to market just a day or so before they fully ripen. Though I have traditionally found underripe fruits to be unpleasantly tart, or lacking in flavor, some of the semi-firm nectarines offered up for sample struck a cord. Tangy but sweet, firm but not crunchy, the nectarine shows a different color and new versatility when eaten just before it reaches the pinnacle of ripeness. In this salad that sweet yet tart flavor plays well with the zesty chiles, sweet summer corn, and punchy onion; and the fruit brings a citrusy brightness acting as a foil for the earthy rye berries that make up the bulk of this grain-based dish.

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The original recipe called for cucumbers but I have adapted it here to include some lovely golden zucchini in its stead. As we typically prepare dishes for Dustin’s packed lunches in advance, I wanted to use a vegetable that would keep well in the salad for a few days and not leach too much water into the dish, hence the swapping in of zucchini for cucumbers. For similar reasons, I would strongly suggest using a golden zucchini over a yellow summer squash. If you cannot find golden zucchini at your local market, feel free to substitute a the traditional green variety that is so insanely abundant during the summer season.

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From place to place, vendor to vendor, and varietal to varietal, I find there is so much variance in corn. Some summer corn is so sweet and tender that I will happily eat it “raw,” cut straight from the cob (or perhaps still on it.) If you are lucky enough to happen upon corn that is brilliant in its naked state, simply remove it from the cob and add it to the salad uncooked. At times I find corn to be too starchy to eat without at least some cooking. There are countless ways to cook corn and virtually all will work for this dish. If you happen to be lighting up the grill you can simply wrap the shucked corn in foil and let them steam in the foil for a 10 – 15 minutes, or until the kernels darken ever so slightly in color and become tender allow the corn to cool before severing the kernels  from the cob. Another method I like involves removing the kernels from the cob and briefly blanching these in boiling water. Once the water has returned to a boil, leave kernels to bubble away for about two minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon to a prepared ice bath. The ice bath will halt the cooking process and brighten the color of the corn slightly. If using this method, allow the kernels to drain well before adding them to the salad.

photo edited

Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)

128g (1 C) Cracked Rye
2 Ears of Sweet Corn, Raw, Steamed, or Boiled (See Note on Corn Above)
2 Slightly Firm Nectarines, Pitted and Diced
1/2 C Diced Red Onion
2 Small Golden Zucchini, Diced
1/2 Hatch Chile, Seeds Removed, Finely Sliced
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Strained
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
1/2 TSP Agave
1/4 Cup Good Olive Oil

In a medium saucepan (with a lid) bring 3 cups of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, place the cracked rye in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the rye in several “changes” of water, as you would rice before cooking. Once the water has boiled add a pinch of salt and the grains. Once the pot has returned to a boil, place the lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes before removing the lid and tasting one of the grains. The grains should no longer be crunchy but should still have a somewhat firm texture. If they are not soft enough, return the lid to the pot and let stand several more minutes before testing again. Once the grains are to your liking, drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Give the colander a few shakes to rid it of some of the excess water and leave the grains to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Place corn, nectarines, onion, zucchini, and chiles in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add cilantro, mint, lemon juice, sherry, agave, olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper and toss again. Add the well drained rye berries and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.

Nutty Inspiration – Kale, Radish, and Bean Sautee with Nuts

In a world of so much variety it is still somehow easy to get stuck in a rut. Whether to save time or reduce the risk that comes from experimenting many of us have a certain leaning towards the familiar. To some extent, these likes and dislikes are what form the etchings of our identity. My certain love of vegetables, a penchant for puns and wordplay, my unending quest to develop and redevelop a methodology for composing the world’s most organized grocery list, a distinct urge to fill my closet with clothing in varying shades of grey and brown – these may be some of the things that come to mind when friends and family think of me.

These interests, likes, and dislikes piece together to form about a kindergarten level understanding of who we are. And its strange to think but we still so often rely on these identifiers to build bridges with new people. We may bond over a shared love of blues music, rock climbing, wood oven pizzas, vintage clothing, or old trucks and develop relationships with newcomers that largely revolve around these shared interests and activities. All of this is good and well, and really perfectly normal, but the problem is that as we change, and our likes and dislikes shift and morph and we evolve as individuals we experience a good deal of churn. There is often a turning over of acquaintances as we give up old hobbies and shed bits and bobs of our face value identity.

About 6 months ago Dustin and I stopped climbing. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a natural shift, we moved to a new house, took on new hobbies and found new athletic pursuits. And just like that our new identities formed adding new badges to our identities sort of “Brownie” style, an iron on patch for distance running, a sticker for gardening, pins for milestone achievements in weight lifting, a new sash for woodworking. These pursuits became our new topics of discussion, our new bonding points with passersby, something to talk about while standing in the grocery line or while waiting for a bench at the gym.

On the grand cosmic scheme of things, stopping climbing really changed nothing at all about Dustin and myself. We so quickly found new activities to fill our time, new ways to self identify, the old badges were put aside – maybe to be revisited, maybe not. But for larger, shape shifting changes these voids are not so easily filled. For all of my friends and family who have struggled to overcome addiction, to put the pieces back together after an illness, or job loss, who have suffered through depression – to pull through these crises of identity takes an enormous amount of soul searching. Pulling through each dreary day, each setback requires that you get real with yourself and search for that deeper kernel of identity that many never have the will or need to reach for.

This weeks dish is made up from some truly simple ingredients. The earthy radish, the humble bean, peasant greens and a scant smattering of nuts, cheese, and lemon pull together to create a nourishing meal. Lemon, Parmesan and garlic are flavors that I love, that can elevate even the humblest ingredient, and that bring me comfort. Like us, strong, basic ingredients need little embellishment to shine, at their core, simple, “whole” ingredients have the integrity to stand alone. This simple meal is a great staple to turn to for a rainy day. If you are willing to take on the time taking project of soaking, rinsing, cooking and rerinsing your own beans, I suggest you do yourself a favor and cook a double batch, the remaining beans can be frozen for a later use. Alternatively this dish can be made with cooked beans, I suggest buying the largest ones you can find, the giant limas are nice as they are about the same size as the halved radishes and make for a really attractive plate of food, but smaller white beans like navy, cannellini or even chickpeas would work well here.

Kale, Radish, and Giant Lima Sautee with Almonds

This dish was inspired by “Pan-Fried Corona Beans & Kale” from one of my all time favorite bloggers, Heidi Swenson, you can find the original here at 101cookbooks.com.
1 1/4 Cup Large Lima Beans (Dried) Soaked Overnight in Water
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Bunches of Kale, Washed Well (about 400g) Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/2″ Segments), Leaves Chopped (1″ Pieces, Strips are OK.)
1/2 lb (226g) Radishes, Washed (May Need to Be Gently Scrubbed If Very Dirty) and Halved
1/4 Cup (about 30g) Walnuts, Chopped and Toasted
1/4 Cup (about 28g) Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Zest of One Lemon, Minced
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Start the recipe the night before (actually, for all of the advance planners out there – this step can be done 2 or 3 days before, in fact, you can easily double the amount of beans you prepare here and do your future-self a favor by freezing one half of the beans for later use.) Place the beans in a medium sized bowl and cover with about 6 cups of water. Cover the bowl with a towel (I typically slip a rubber band around the rim of the bowl to secure the towel lest any of our insect friends get curious about the bowls contents.) Leave the beans overnight to soak. Drain the beans and rinse well. Place in a saucepan  and cover with water, the beans should be covered by about 1 – 1 1/2 inch of water. Put the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a simmer and cook for about 40-45 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook the beans or they will disintegrate when they are pan fried later. Drain the beans, rinse again and set aside to dry.

Once the beans have dried place a large (preferably non-stick) pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat till shimmering. Add beans to the heated oil and sautee, tossing every 2 minutes for about 6 minutes or until lightly golden, add the radishes and sautee for another 4-5 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the garlic and sautee another minute. Add the kale and sautee until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the walnuts, parmesan, and lemon (zest and juice.) Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and serve.

Summertime and the Living is Easy – Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta

The last few weeks in Nashville have been riddled with sweltering hot afternoons and equally steaming evenings. With little respite from the heat our garden began to look depressed and tired, its little green stems drooping towards the ground, leaves yellowing. Water as we would the veggies protested the heat, our cucumbers became warped and deformed from a lack of moisture, pinching in at their “waist”to resemble barbells. The tomatoes cracked under the pressure.

At a canning class organized by Delvin Farms (who run our CSA) the farmers asked the participants to pray for rain. And perhaps the power of those prayers – palms to palms, foreheads to ground, or swishing feet in dance – brought down upon us the rain that so swiftly ensued, but not more than two days after that class entered the deluge. Days and days of rain, almost unsettling amounts of rain poured down upon our city, a city already a bit wary of copious downpour following the recent flood that took out much of its low lying tenements, burying entire malls in water, closing roadways and barring much of Nashville’s commerce for days on end.

As humans, we have an amazing ability to adapt to changes, our bodies adjust to temperature fluctuations with relative ease, we weather the rain and snow, inhabit barren desserts, and marshy wetlands, indeed we are capable of so much variety. It always amazes me that with such an uncanny ability to thrive in almost any climate, almost any area, that many people are downright unreceptive to change in their own lives. Rather then spending the sullen sweltering days standing over the stove or grill moaning about the heat, I try to target my cooking to techniques that suit the hotter climate, saving steamier projects for those unseasonably cold days that take us by surprise during the summer months.

In our kitchen, one of those rainy day projects typically involves cooking a large batch of whole grains. Rather then spending time boiling and cooking grains like farro or wheat berries for a salad, I typically cook a large batch once or twice a month and freeze cooled portions in bags for later use. They defrost fairly quickly and, provided you cool them completely before freezing they should keep well for 3-4 months (not that they will last that long 🙂 I would recommend running cold water over the grains or dunking them in an ice bath and then draining them well before freezing as this will keep them in the best condition possible throughout their time “on ice.” I do my very best to flush out as much air as possible before freezing the grains to keep them fresh.

With the grains cooked this salad is fairly easy to throw together on a sweltering summer day. It does require a fair bit of chopping, but I have a feeling that this is something that many produce lovers are well accustomed to – those veggies don’t chop themselves now do they. Personally, I would not used dried oregano in the stead of the fresh oregano listed here, if you cannot find it, I would reach for mint, or basil as a substitute before rummaging around for the dried oregano as it wont bring the zing that is needed to balance out the dressing. I love the sharp tang of Bulgarian feta in this dish, it is pungent and unctuous and adds a slightly gaminess to the otherwise straightforward dish. As the salad does follow fairly traditional “Greek salad” lines it would make a nice addition to a pot luck dinner or picnic, and may be a nice way to get new diners indoctrinated into the grain salad “movement” (I know its not really a movement but it should be!) So without further ado, I give you my new favorite grain salad – Greek style. Enjoy!

Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta

This Recipe makes a large bowl – enough to feed a small picnic crowd or large family gathering, it can easily be halved for smaller get-togethers.

4 Cups Cooked Wheat Berries (Farro or other hearty whole grains may be substituted)
3 Cucumbers Cut into 1/2 inch Dice
2 Pints Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 1/2 Red Onions, Halved, Sliced Thinly, Slices Cut into Thirds or Quarters
2 TSP Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 TBSP White Balsamic or Good White Vinegar
4 Small Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 TSP Salt
2 Green Bell Peppers, Diced
2 TBSP Fresh Oregano, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
About 20 Pitted Kalamata Olives, Rougly Chopped
1/2 Cup Crumbled Bulgarian Feta (or substitute another brined feta)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Place the Cucumbers and Tomatoes in separate colanders and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt (don’t worry about the amount of salt, it will be rinsed off later) This salting helps draw some of the water out of the vegetables so they don’t make the dressing watery later on. Allow the cucumbers and tomatoes to sit and drain in the sink while chopping the other veggies.

Place the Onions in a large bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and vinegar and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to take the bite off of the onions. Add the garlic and slowly whisk in the olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the tomatoes and cucumbers well with water and drain. Add to the bowl with the dressing along with the bell peppers, parsley, oregano, wheat berries and olives. Toss well, seasoning as you see fit, remember that the feta will add a bit of additional salt. Crumble the feta over the top just before serving and toss lightly (if combined too early the feta will color and look murky.) Serve to friends and enjoy!

“Mariage Parfait” – Barley Scones with Strawberries and Rhubarb Jam

Its a beautiful thing when you find two ingredients that truly marry well together. Like a good relationship this melding of flavors is a partnership of sorts, where each player complements the other, bringing out the best in its partner without losing any of it’s own shine. Cooking is full of classic flavor pairings, cool mint and creamy chocolate, gamey smokey bacon and pungent sharp onions, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh creamy mozzarella cheese, and a springtime favorite – supple sweet strawberries and tangy woodsy rhubarb.

Every time I think of great pairings a scene from Ratatouille springs to mind, if you don’t know the movie, or don’t know the scene I am referencing, let me try my hand at telling the story. It all starts with a rat with somewhat discerning tastes. This cute friend, who is also the stories protagonist, ventures out with his brother in search of some good ingredients from the local garbage bin. Remy, our rat friend, finds a chanterelle mushroom, a nugget of tomme cheese, some rosemary, and grass dew drops. He treks to the top of a roof to try to roast the mushroom over the exhaust to meld the flavors when he is struck by lightening. He falls from the roof, mushroom in hand, and when he comes to he finds that he has created an amazing cheesy woodsy creation on a stick.

By no means do strawberries and rhubarb remind me of dumpster diving, or, fortunately, of lightening toasted rodents, but Remy’s revelation on how flavors meet to produce a heightened experience for the diner, is one that most good cooks are well familiar with. It’s this simultaneous transformation and showcasing of raw ingredients that drives myself, and so many other cooks, to experiment with flavors in the kitchen. I had seem a recipe for barley scones in “Good to the Grain,” which put a new spin on the idea of partnering jam and scones by sandwiching a tangy layer of between two sweet and buttery rounds of barley based dough. I wanted to adapt the recipe to fit a scheme I had to make a rhubarb jam from some beautiful stalks I found at the market.

As if the duo of Strawberries and Rhubarb aren’t enough to make you want to try these scones, the combination of these two with the sweet nuttiness of Barley Flour truly pushes these scones into rave-worthy territory. Barley flour is simply made from milled barley. It can be substituted 1:1 for 1/3 of the all purpose flour called for in most baking dishes without diminishing the integrity of the dish. It makes a nice alternative to white or even whole wheat flour not only because of its great flavor, but because with fewer calories per cup and far more fiber, it has greater nutritional value as well. Hopefully tasting these scones you will have a ratatouille moment of your own – so go on and give them a try, and if you are suddenly struck by an impulse to add a spark of your own flavor – go for it!

Barley Scones with Strawberries and Rhubarb

For the Scone Dough

1 C Plus 2 TBSP Barley Flour
1 C All Purpose Flour
1/4 C Dark Brown Sugar
2 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1 1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
8 TBSP Cold Unsalted Butter Cut into Small Cubes
1/2 C Whole Buttermilk
1 Egg
10 Medium Strawberries Diced

For the Jam

4-5 Stalks Rhubarb, Diced
3/4 Cup Sugar
4-5 Thick Strips of Lemon Peel
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
2 TBSP White Wine

To Finish

2 TBSP Melted Butter, Cooled Slightly
2 TBSP Sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse dry ingredients until well mixed. Add butter pieces and pulse in 4-5 short (1-2 second) spurts until batter looks sandy. Add buttermilk and egg and pulse until just incorporated. Add strawberries and pulse once or twice for a second each time to distribute.

Turn scone dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Pat each half into flat rounds and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill while you make the jam (chill for a min of 1 hour.)

To make the jam, place rhubarb, and sugar in a sauté pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until rhubarb releases its juices, and sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to come to a low boil, add lemon peel & juice and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down and the jam is thick, this should take 12-15 mins. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the scone assembly.

To assemble the scones, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a cookie pan with a silpat mat or parchment paper and set aside. Remove scone dough from the refrigerator, place on a lightly floured surface and roll each round into a 7 inch circle. Select one round to be the bottom, smear this round with 3-4 TBSP of your homemade jam. Place the other round on top of the jam smeared circle and press just slightly on the top. Brush the top lightly with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar. Cut into 8 equally sized wedges. It is best to rinse the knife with cold water between slices to keep the cuts clean. Place scones on prepared pan, leaving at least two inches between scones. Bake for 22-26 minutes, rotating the tray half way through baking. Once the scones are lightly brown and fairly fragrant remove from oven and place on a drying rack to cool. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins before removing from the tray. These are unbelievably delicious served straight from the oven, but should ideally be eaten the day they are made, this may mean you have to invite others to share, but your friends and family will thank you for it!

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