Making the Best of It – Spinach and Swiss Chard Gratin

I wont lie, this low FODMAPs diet is hard. In order to stave off tummy trouble I have had to write off some of my favorite fruits and veggies. And since, as you all know, I have a bit of a soft spot for produce, a stroll through the grocery store at this time of the year tends to stir up my yearnings for the peak season crops that are on the “NO” list for low FODMAP dieters like myself. Rather than meandering about the produce section in search of the prettiest produce, I make a bee-line for the produce on my list and avoid making eye-contact with fairytale-like stalks of brussels sprouts and crisp ripe apples.

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But truly, its not all bad. In some ways, having less variety of fruits and veggies to choose from has demanded that I dig deep and dust off old food memories to develop exciting flavor profiles. Without the flash and bang of go-to ingredients like garlic, mushrooms, and onion, without that final sprinkling of breadcrumbs, without the inexplicable umami characteristics of Worcestershire or the exotic intrigue of dried fruit, I have noticed new subtleties in the fruits, vegetables, dairy, and even dried goods that are now staples in our home.

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And for those of you following the FODMAP diet, whose ears may have pricked up at my mention of dairy products, I will let you in on some exciting news: I have passed my dairy trial with flying colors. While dairy might not have topped my wish list for foods to reintegrate into my daily meal plans, it is a relief to have such a diverse category of foods back in my arsenal of ingredients.

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In other good news, Monash University has recently put forth a phenomenal application which provides detailed information on ingredients containing FODMAPs. Not only does the app name which foods may pose trouble for individuals prone to carbohydrate-driven bowel irritation but it even delves deeper than most other lists in analyzing which types of FODMAPs may be present in which foods. Better yet, the app provides guidelines around what serving sizes may be OK to try and what quantities of a food might initiate tummy troubles.

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Perhaps one of the most exciting bits of research published in the new app pertains to Spelt. Spelt is a close relative of wheat and, until recently, I was advised to avoid it along with other gluten-containing flours like Rye and Wheat. The avoidance of these had little to do with the gluten compound itself but the correlation between the two is quite remarkable. Based on recent research from Monash University, which is truly driving the field of FODMAP research, most IBS sufferers are able to tolerate Spelt in reasonable quantities. Breads made from a spelt sourdough culture are even more likely to be tolerated by Low-FODMAPers.

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For those of you currently on a Gluten Free diet, either by dietary necessity or because you are simply creeped out at the mere thought of stringy sticky gluten compounds, please, by all means, continue to avoid all sources of gluten in your diet. But for those of you who long for the airy structure and delectable crust that only gluten can provide, spelt might just be your manna. In upcoming posts I plan to devote more writing space to a more thorough discussion of spelt and gluten. I have been experimenting with a spelt sourdough starter and am working to devise some techniques around creating rustic breads and other baked goods that tame the occasionally bitter spelt flavor and show off the starter’s ability to make magic from little more than flour and water.

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In the recipe below I have provided guidelines for making homemade bread crumbs that can be used to top a variety of gratin or casserole type dishes. Both gluten free and spelt based breads would work well. For those of you with no intolerances to wheats or glutens you can substitute any bread ends or stale bits and pieces you have around. Alternatively, panko works well as an easy substitute for those with no dietary sensitivities. I typically keep a bag of these home made crumbs in the freezer to add crunch and texture to a wide array of foods. Depending on the desired outcome, the bread crumbs can be pulled from the freezer and added directly to the dish or alternatively you can up the ante and toss the frozen crumbs in hot oil or butter along with herbs for a more luxurious topping (this option is great on pasta – if this thought is intriguing seek out recipes for pasta with gremolata.)

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While texture is certainly one of the most important parts of cooking, and is one that I have struggled to re-learn, so to speak, since taking on a Low FODMAP lifestlye, one of the most difficult challenges for me has centered around finding suitable replacements for the unctuous characteristics of garlic and onions. The garlic issue is perhaps a bit easier to remedy. As garlic carbohydrates are not oil soluble, garlic cloves can be lightly crushed and briefly fried in oil to create a garlic oil that carries a great deal of garlic flavor. Simply strain out the garlic for a good deal of garlicky punch with out any of the ill effects that can be contributed to the fructans it contains.

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In the end it all comes back to this theme of discovery. In a process where seemingly so many things are taken away, I have uncovered this amazing opportunity to find new properties in the beautiful bounty that remains. In this dish I actually leverage the chard stems to create a sautee reminiscent of onions. The stems are cooked in garlic oil until soft and ever so slightly caramelized to provide textural variance as well as a lovely savory flavor.  Stems that might otherwise have provided little more than compost fodder are used here to bring an unctuous savory flavor to this gratin. In the end what was unearthed was this amazing potential and distinct flavor that onion could not provide and this gratin shows the amazingly dynamic properties vegetables have to be used in different manners to produce distinctively different but yet harmonious components to a dish.

So my challenge to you is to open your eyes and your mind to the many wondrous possibilities at your fingertips. You may be surprised at what secrets you discover and what amazing qualities you can unlock with a little imagination and a small leap of faith.

Spinach and Swiss Chard Gratin – Serves 8 (as a Side Dish)

To Make the Bread Crumbs – Like other elements in this dish, the homemade breadcrumbs have the ability to turn odds and ends that would otherwise be considered refuse into an amazing component. I typically save bread ends in a bag in the freezer for this exact intent. Especially in the case of costly gluten free breads this helps get the most use out of the full loaf. Additionally any stale bread ends can be sliced or cubed and then frozen. Sliced is perhaps easiest as the slices can be popped out of the freezer and then into the toaster and transitioned to a food processor for pulsing. In the event that you don’t have a food processor don’t fret! The toasted bread pieces can be cooled completely and then sealed within a plastic bag and crushed with a rolling pin. If any large pieces remain you can rub them between your fingers or smash them with the back of a spoon to break them into smaller bits. The bread crumbs can be frozen in a (labeled) airtight freezer bag for a few months.

1 Large Bunch of “Adult” Spinach (about 450g), Washed Well (Don’t Bother to Dry – Same Goes for the Swiss Chard)
2 Bunches of Swiss Chard (about 900g), Washed Well, Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/4″ Segments – See Photo Above), Leaves Left Whole
2 TBSP Home Made Garlic Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Milk
4 TBSP Flour (Most Gluten Free Blends are OK – I Used King Arthur’s Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Blend)
1/2 Cup Home Made or Store Bought Bread Crumbs
1/2 Cup (about 56g) Aged Gruyere Cheese, Grated
Small Sprinkling of Aleppo or other Pepper Flakes (If Desired)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Spray a 12″ × 12″ gratin dish with olive oil spray (or if you are feeling indulgent you can grease it with butter) and set aside.

Wash the greens well, I typically run this procedure in a salad spinner by filling the spinner with water and dunking the greens in and out of the water, if the water starts to look murky dump it and refill it. Both Chard and Spinach have a way of clinging onto little pockets of dirt so make sure to agitate the greens as you dunk them in and out of the water. Drain them but don’t dry them.

Prepare a large ice bath and set it next to the stove (if possible.) Starting with 1/2 of the chard, place the greens in a large pot over high heat. Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, tossing occasionally with rubberized tongs, until wilted, about 4 to 6 minutes for the chard leaves. When the greens are just done cooking transition them immediately to your prepared ice bath to shock them – the shocking process will not only stop the cooking process but will brighten the greens color and prevent the greens from looking stodgy and muted. Repeat the process with the  spinach.

Once the greens have thoroughly cooled in the ice bath dump them into a large colander. Grab a fist sized bunch and squeeze it between your palms to extract as much water as possible. Place the well drained balls of greens on a cutting board and chop them coarsely.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sautee pan. Add the chopped chard stems and sautee them over medium heat until soft. Add the greens and sautee or 2-3 minutes to remove any remaining moisture. The minute the spinach starts to stick to the pan add the milk 1/4 Cup at a time stirring until each addition is absorbed. Once all of the milk has been absorbed sprinkle the flour evenly over the greens and stir. Season with pepper and a bit of salt (the cheese will add additional saltiness as will the breadcrumbs so don’t go overboard.) You can also add a tiny pinch of nutmeg for a classic french “Je Ne Sais Quoi.” A tiny bit of Ras El Hanout would also lend some intrigue though you will need to be sure it meets your dietary requirements before adding it.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and top with the bread crumbs, followed by the cheese. Top with a smattering of pepper flakes if using (if using Aleppo you can add about 1/2-1 tsp depending on how dominant you want for that flavor to be, other flakes may be stronger and you should use sparingly.) Place the dish in the center of the preheated oven and bake it until the spinach is steaming and the cheese and crumbs have browned slightly (this should take about 30 minutes.) Serve immediately.

Sweet Serendipity – Gluten-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches

Thanksgiving marks our first major holiday as a married couple. For the first time we will be holding court and hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Tennessee. when it comes to cooking a Thanksgiving Feast, this ain’t my first rodeo. In fact, I would have to think long and hard to remember a time when I wasn’t involved in cooking the family’s holiday dinner. With only a single guest attending our holiday feast this year, this may just be the smallest crowd for whom I have prepared a Turkey day dinner. But, nonetheless, a softly humming worry has been creeping into my mind.

I fret that I have neglected some monumental detail in my meal plan, that the bird will never defrost, or that it will be done hours before the other dishes have come together. I worry that I will forget that the turkey needs to be brined, or that I will neglect to set a timer and my side dishes will burn to a crisp. I stress over thoughts that my cranberries will be impossibly tart, that the parsley will be acrid and bitter. The mind, when left to its own devices, has this amazing ability to wander off, beyond the edge of reason – instilling in us an irrational fear of the virtually impossible and entirely improbable events we are sure will befall us.

You see, ladies and gents, the Turkey wasn’t frozen to begin with. Cranberries are cranberries and will be sour when they want to be, it is part of their bitter-sweet charm. Like all dinner parties, the secret to success, lies, not in planning for the worst, or even for the best, but simply in the planning itself. Picking dishes, that can be made entirely or partially ahead takes the pressure off of the big event. This year we made a rosewater scented nougat the Monday before the event. Green vegetables can easily be blanched for casseroles a day or two before your scheduled feast. Vinaigrettes can likely be made a day in advance.

Know yourself and the way you work. Do you fret over a dry bird? Brining will give you some extra wiggle room between cooked and overcooked and will allow you to focus a bit of extra attention to the details of your side dishes. Do you wake up worrying over how you will get it all done on time? Print out all of your recipes and schedule the steps on an agenda. If any elements can be made in the days prior, note that and knock those out in advance. Check, double check, and triple check your ingredients list, physically crossing items off of your list as they make their way into your shopping cart so that nothing is overlooked or forgotten prior to check out. And if you are like me and feel short on air when you contemplate baking, have something stashed away in the event of an epic cake disaster. The recipe that follows for almond butter ice cream sandwiches may seem out of place in a thanksgiving post, but they are truly life savers in the event of a baking disaster. These little gems can be made a week or two in advance and are there to save the day if, in the heat of culinary battle, you accidentally mistake salt for sugar and your pie tastes like a salt lick. They also make a wonderful no worry dessert for impromptu guests, or for visitors with children.

The truth is, that aside from forgetting to post my pre-Thanksgiving post, the holiday went off without a hitch. Yes, the bird was done about an hour too early, and the sweet potato fries has not crisped in the oven quite the way I wanted them to. My cranberries were in fact a bit too tart, mais, C’est La Vie. I feel lucky that my my desserts turned out, period. I am sure that The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller could do better, but thankfully he wasn’t here to judge. And, just in case he happened to be in the neighborhood, I had an ace in the hole waiting on standby.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches, Adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Yield – 15 Sandwiches

113g (1/2 C) Unsalted Butter, At Room Temperature
62g (1/4 C) Turbinado Sugar
48g (1/4 C) Granulated Sugar
1 Large Egg, At Room Temperature
40g (2 TBSP) Light Corn Syrup
256g (1 C) Creamy Natural Almond Butter (Store Bought or Homemade)
160g (1 1/3 C) Oat Flour
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
127g Dark Chocolate Roughly Chopped
1 Pint of Your Favorite Vanilla Ice Cream


In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside until needed.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until the mixture turns light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium low and add the egg, mix until incorporated. Scrape down the side of the bowl, add honey and the nut butter and mix again until well combined. Once again scrape the bowl after this addition.

Lower the speed to the lowest setting, add the dry ingredients, mixing until barely combined (only a few seconds.) With a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic film and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour (this can be done a day in advance.)

Once the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°. Line two cookie sheets with silpat mats or parchment paper. With a spoon or small ice cream scoop roll the cookies into 1.5 inch balls and place on the prepared cookie sheets. These don’t flatten too much so after placing the ball on the tray use your palm to flatten them slightly. Space the cookie dough discs out with at least 1.5 inches between them. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets half way through to ensure the cookies bake evenly.

Once the cookies have baked transfer the silpat or parchment sheets to a wire rack to cool. Cool the cookies completely. Once chilled to room temperature transfer the cookies to the freezer for 20 minutes so that the ice cream, when added, wont melt.

At the 20 minute mark, remove the ice cream from the freezer and allow to soften for about 5 minutes. Using a small ice cream scoop, place rounds of ice cream on a cookie and sandwich with a similarly sized cookie pair. Place the cookies on a plate in the freezer to firm them up before wrapping them in waxed paper. The cookie parcels look particularly cute when tied with kitchen twine. These will keep in the freezer for up to one month, if they even last that long.

Caution – Curves Ahead – Allergy Free Carrot and Oat Muffins

In the last month so much has changed. After months of eating so well and yet feeling progressively worse, I was told that I have IBS and am likely having trouble digesting certain carbohydrates. This temporary fix of avoiding the ferment-able carbohydrates that have been wrecking havoc on my digestive system is simple enough on paper, but in actuality it involves avoiding many ingredients that I have long held near and dear. In a matter of weeks, I have gone from embracing essentially the entire world of whole and wonderful foods (in moderation of course) to working every cell of creativity in my brain to make something delicious and nourishing from of a very limited list of ingredients.

For the next two weeks I will be on the full-blown version of the Low Fodmap diet. Following that begins the challenge phase where small and then larger amounts of a specific type of carbohydrates can be added to see if they are the culprit responsible for irritating my poor tummy. For example, if large onslaughts of high fiber cereal, whole wheat pasta, breads, beets, and broccoli don’t make my stomach churn, it is safe to assume I don’t have problems with Fructans. If, however, a slice or 2 of bread lands me in pain, we can surmise that I do, in fact, have difficulty digesting Fructans and I can work to determine my threshold or tolerance for different Fructan containing foods.

To say that this has had an impact on my cooking would be a severe understatement. I realize now just how much I rely on handful of go to ingredients to build flavor in recipes. Without onions, garlic, or dairy, without the ability to combine nuts and fruits in the same meal, without bread, whole wheat and homey options are limited and I have to get pretty darn creative in order to produce wholesome meals for Dustin and I that comply with the “rules” of the low fodmap diet. Gluten-free recipes are a good place to start, especially for anything baking related. Low FODMAPers can also look to many paleo sites for ideas as there is substantial overlap between the ingredients not allowed in the two diets. I will caution that many Paleo baking recipes rely heavily on nut fours which, while technically allowed, can be a concentrated source of Galactans if eaten in large quantities. Also worth noting, paleo recipes typically incorporate agave and honey, both of which should be avoided on a Low FODMAP diet, maple syrup and regular sugar can be substituted, but, again, when combined with nut flours the recipe may in fact turn out an end product that is HIGH in FODMAPs.

This recipe was adapted from one I found in La Tartine Gourmande’s lovely cookbook. If you have not had a chance to peruse the book (or her fantastic blog) I highly recommend doing so. Her blog is full of sweet wistful recipes and beautiful photos and her book is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to reduce or avoid gluten sources in their diet. The original recipe called for apples, tahini, and muscovado sugar all of which I replaced with alternatives in my version. I am certain that the apples would be lovely and if you are not on a low FODMAP diet feel free to substitute these in equal amounts for the grated carrots listed below (the apples would also need to be grated.) As I am currently on the strictest part of the elimination diet I am working diligently to stick to the list of approved foods, I could not find information on Muscovado sugar so I substituted brown sugar for the Light Muscovado, again I am sure the Muscovado would work amazingly well but for the Low FODMAP dieters, light brown sugar is a safer bet.

As for why I use almond butter in my recipe instead of the tahini called for, it was simply what I had on hand. Even low Fodmappers should be safe to use the tahini paste called for provided that it is either home-made or there are no unapproved additives.  I recently whipped up a batch of almond butter in our Vitamix blender. If you have a vitamix and have never tried making your own nut butter it is so amazingly simple. Any nuts will work, I used almonds but feel free to experiment with whatever you have on hand, or create your own custom blend from a variety of different nuts. I highly suggest toasting/roasting and then slightly cooling the nuts before processing as it will result in a much richer flavor. Simply place about 2 cups of roasted/toasted nuts in the blender and turn the speed to variable 1. Slowly increase the speed, using the plunger to push the nuts down into the blades as you go, until you reach variable 10. Process until you come out with a smooth and creamy butter. If you like your nut butter on the chunky side pulse the nuts until they are fine but not paste-y and then remove some to stir back into the final product. You can also add some sea salt at the beginning of the process for a slightly saltier nut butter.

I list weights below in grams. If you don’t have a kitchen scale I have provided approximate measurements for the ingredients but I cannot recommend enough buying a scale, it is way more precise and conveniently negates the need to clean gooey sticky substances from the corners of all of your measuring cups after each baking procedure (and who likes more dishes?) I use an OXO scale with a pull out display that is available at Target stores. The pull out display is particularly nice when you are trying to measure ingredients onto a large plate or bowl that would otherwise tower over and completely cover the display.

Another handy feature of this scale is that the g/oz conversion button is on the top. My old kitchen scale had the switch on the bottom so to convert you would have to remove whatever you were weighing, press the button, and hope not to lose the weight you were measuring in the process by accidentally turning off the machine and clearing the display. I think there are two similar OXO models, both of which are carried by Target, one has a ~5lb max weight threshold and the other goes to ~11lb. I suggest pony-ing up a few extra bucks for the larger weight capacity as it makes it easier to put large/heavy items on the scale for measurement. This is particularly useful if you bake bread and have to measure 1 KG of flour, plus water into a large kitchen aid mixing bowl. With the lower capacity scale, it is quite easy to exceed the weight limit and they you have to set about using, and dirtying, separate bowls to weigh out your ingredients.

Allergy Free Carrot and Oat Muffins – Adapted, Slightly from La Tartine Gourmande’s Millet, Oat, and Apple Muffins

Yield – 10 Muffins

175g Coarsely Grated Carrots
2 Large Eggs at Room Temperature
80g (~1/2 C Packed) Light Brown Sugar
60 g (1/2 C) Millet Flour
30g (1/4 C) Quinoa Flour
50g (1/2 C) Thick Rolled Oats (Really, Any Kind are OK, Just Like the Toothsome Bite that Thicker Oats Bring to These)
Pinch of Sea Salt  (~ 1/8 TSP)
1 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
32g (2 TBSP) Almond Butter
50g (3 1/2 TBSP) Unsalted Butter, Melted and Slightly Cooled
1 TSP Pure Vanilla Extract

Preheat the oven to 350°. This recipe barely ekes out 10 standard (from a 12 muffin sheet pan) sized muffins. Gluten free muffins have a habit of sticking to paper muffin liners. I would advocate against using these if possible as you will likely end up losing a large portion of the muffin when you attempt to peel off the paper liner. Many gluten free bakers swear by using silicone muffin liners, I have not used them but imagine they would take care of the problem I just mentioned with the muffin batter adhering to the paper liners. I did not have silicone liners and could not find them anywhere so I sprayed the tins with organic canola oil spray and hoped for the best. For the Low FODMAP-ers out there, do not use baking spray as it has flour and other additives that may produce a reaction. Chose from the above listed options (spray, silicone liners, or paper liners) and prepare 10 out of the 12 muffin molds for filling. Set the tray aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer (or, if you don’t have a standing mixer, place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and grab and get an electric hand mixer suited up and at the ready – I would not really recommend doing this by hand with just a whisk, your arm may fall off and I cannot claim liability for lost limbs.) Get your stand mixer all fitted with the paddle attachment. Bring the machine up to medium speed, about a 5 on a kitchen-aid, and whisk until the mixture has significantly lightened in color and has at least doubled in volume. This should take a few minutes, so while it whisks away pull out a medium sized bowl and your handy kitchen scale (see note above) and measure out your dry ingredients. Whisk them together. Add the grated carrots and toss them with the flour, separating clumps of carrot shreds as you go until the carrots are evenly coated in the flour mixture.

Your egg/sugar mixture should be nice and fluffy at this point. Add the nut butter, melted butter, and vanilla and mix for another 30 seconds – one minute or until well combined. Scrape the bowl well and mix once more to ensure that all of the wet ingredients are well incorporated. Remove the mixer bowl from the stand and add the dry ingredients. Use a slightly flexible spatula and trace semi circles down and around the outside of the bowl folding gently towards the center as you go. You want to mix the ingredients without adding a lot of air or over mixing. As soon as there are no more visible clumps of dry ingredients in the mixture stop stirring and use a large spoon or ice-cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter into the 10 prepared muffin wells.

Sprinkle a few rolled oats onto the top of the muffins and place them in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 12 Minutes, rotate the pan so that the back is in the front and continue cooking for another 12-15 minutes. When the muffins are fully cooked (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean) remove them from the oven. Allow to cook for about 3 minutes before turning them out onto a wire cooling rack to cool. Enjoy the muffins as is or smear with your favorite spread (I recommend trying butter, peanut butter, and/or jam.)

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.

It’s About that Time…Pickled Carrots and Radishes…

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Readers, I apologize for the lapse in posting. I can’t believe its been almost three weeks since we told you all about the insane amount of tomatoes we have been slogging through here in Nashville. I can tell you that the tomatoes are still rolling into the kitchen (occasionally hopping off the counter and trying to flee back from whence they came.) But luckily for us the season has started to change – and thank heavens, the tomato crop is finally slowing. Our cherry tomato (monster) plant has gone from producing overflowing pints each week, to putting forth a mere handful of mildly acidic cherries, which we are able to dispatch with easily. Yes indeed, the summer season is coming to an end, and as that door closes a window opens into the world of fall vegetables to include the beautiful little carrots and breakfast radishes pictured below.


There are many reasons to love fall, the heat and exhausting pace of summer start to abate, the cool crisp air is so inviting, welcoming a slew of leisurely outdoor activities. For many people, fall is a time to slow down, to savor the gentle season and to rejoice in the fruit of past seasons labors. For me Fall is full of many good memories. It was the beginning of a cool crisp September when Dustin and I first met, and began to delve into each others worlds, discussing likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams. In fact, as of this week it was exactly five years ago that Dustin and I began this journey together. And oh what a journey it has been.


After five years it is amazing how much, and yet how little has changed. I am proud to say we still spend, what many would classify as “way too much time together.” And yet it suits us just fine. To me, (and hopefully to Dustin as well) it’s nice to have someone around that shares so many of my oddball interests. Not many people share our same zeal for old blues music, get excited about countertop fermentation, never tire of tv crime drama, enjoy discussing the on goings of the little friends we have milling about in our compost pile and get really excited about watching Chris Sharma Climbing DVDs. Yep, I’m pretty sure I’ve met my match.


Speaking of shared interests, boy oh boy have we had some culinary adventures in our years together. Some endeavors were admittedly more successful than others. Luckily we have experienced more “hits” in the kitchen than we have had misses. And the good times (and “interesting” times) just keep on rolling. As we have begun to shape our own identities and our life as a couple, we have also developed a cooking “personality” of sorts which weaves in each of our likes and dislikes. Approaching each others quirky affinities with open minds has allowed us to explore and learn to love foods we had never really explored. And then there are the dishes, like these pickles, that were totally foreign to us both, but like with some many things we embraced them and just enjoyed the ride.

1/2 Pound Carrots, Cut Into Thin Coins
1/2 Pound Radishes, Cut Into Thin Coins
1 C Water
1/2 C Sugar
2 TBSP Salt
2 Star Anise
2 TBSP Minced Ginger
1 C White Wine Vinegar

Fill a canner with water, set aside lids, and screw bands and boil 3 pint jars to sterilize.

Lay out a clean cutting board and cover with a clean dish towel.

In a large non-reactive saucepan, combine vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat until sugar and salt are dissolved.

Add the carrot and radish to the pickling liquid. Allow the veggies to cook for one minute before removing from the heat.

Remove the jars from the water and place them on the prepared (towel covered) cutting board.

Place a star anise pod in each hot jar. Using a funnel, pack vegetables into hot jars leaving staying under 1/2 inch from the top. Ladle hot pickling liquid to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Using a paper towel, wipe the rims clean and apply lids and rings.

Place jars in the canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process covered for 10 minutes. Remove the lid leaving the jars in the water for 5 minutes before removing jars. Leave the jars in a cool place (not cold) and don’t touch! 24 hours later remove the bands and check the seals. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Bring on Fall – Please (Or What To Do When Summer Just Won’t Quit)

If you had approached me back in April to ask me what I was most excited about for the upcoming CSA season I undoubtedly, without blinking or even thinking twice would have rambled on and on about just how oh so very excited I was about ripe, sweet, summer tomatoes. I mean, I was literally itching to get my hands on a big fat heirloom tomato and have myself a super sweet super flavorful and texturally delightful feast. But ladies and gentlemen, it is September now, during the course of the last three months I have sliced, diced, sauteed, stewed, minced and have even made jam of these gosh darn fruit and am finally fed – the heck – up. That’s right ladies and gents, I am fed up, done, and just totally over tomatoes.

Readers, the sad part of this story is that I just know that in about three months, when the tomato glut has finally subsided, and heirlooms are no where to be found, the cravings will begin again. I am just so sure that in the deepest darkest depths of winter, when the ground is covered in frost and I am sitting at home, bundled up like an Eskimo, with my little booties and bathrobe on, sipping piping hot tea, I will be dreaming about tomatoes. Now I know what you are thinking, isn’t this blog about SEASONAL cooking? Why, oh why are we talking about your wintertime tomato yearnings? Well readers, we are talking about winter today because, when the season end approaches, and I have finally had my fill of tomatoes, I do my darndest to preserve that ripe tomato spark to warm my heart with the sweet flavor of summer during the dark and cold of winter.


In my mind, the best way to carry the sweet summer tomato flavor through to the winter is to roast tomatoes and freeze them. Here at Penchant for Produce we employ a fairly simple method for roasting tomatoes that can be adapted to suit a variety of different dishes. You can truly roast any kind of tomatoes you like, but I find that this works best with the smaller cherry and grape tomatoes. Even tomatoes that taste slightly too acidic can be mellowed and sweetened with long slow oven roasting. To roast a batch wash your tomatoes and sit them aside to dry. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and line a jelly roll pan (or really any pan with sides) with parchment, foil, or a silpat mat (this will make for easy clean up later.) Cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a single layer, cut side up, on the prepared pans. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle LIGHTLY with oil (at least for now, we don’t want to confit the poor tomatoes.) Place them in the oven and roast them for an hour to an hour and a half. Et, Voila! you have roasted tomatoes.

If this formula sounds a tad too boring, do not fret, there are literally hundreds of ways to mix your own flavor into this simple recipe. Frequently, we add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary to the tomatoes before the pans hit the oven. You could experiment with sprinkling on a pinch or so of Mexican spices like cumin and chile power, or mix some harissa with the olive oil for a North African flair. To freeze them, cool the tomatoes to room temperature, wrap the entire pan in plastic wrap, and place it on a flat plane in the freezer until the tomatoes are just frozen. Once frozen place them in a single layer in a freezer bag (clearly labeled, you know, with like, important stuff, e.g. the contents and date, and any spice embellishments that were added prior to roasting, written on it, preferably in permanent marker) and then seal the bag almost all the way, using a straw to suck the air out of the bag before quickly sealing it shut.

There are oh so many ways to put these little gems to use. They make a superb topping for pizza, and can quickly be sauteed (thawed) with olive oil and garlic to make a fresh tomato “sauce” for pasta. If you carefully thaw the tomatoes on paper towels (cut side up) you can plunk them down on a salad or mix them in with either hot or cold couscous to make a nice grain side dish. You can puree them for a sauce, or drizzle with olive oil and a little extra balsamic and serve them on pan fried bread for bruschetta. The possibilities are endless. However you choose to use them, these are a real delight and allow you to enjoy the taste of summer for months to come.

Which came first – the chicken or the eggplant? – Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant

I recently went through a stage of Sweet Corn obsession. You see I found this little, ok, not so little, really, actually, quite big, Amish Stand in Green Hills, next to the Green Hills Y, that had (probably still has but I am trying to avoid making eye contact with this food candy for at least the next few weeks – ok days) the most amazing corn ever (to my former English teachers, yes, that is a run on sentence, and yes there are probably more commas than needed and all in the wrong places, you tried, I know, but I probably wasn’t listening.) This corn made me giddy, it was probably all of the sugary carbohydrates talking, but I wanted to do a little dance when I ate it (which I am wont to do – both the eating and the jig dancing that is.)Image

I am not entirely sure what the Amish Farmers that raise this corn feed their soil, but I am pretty sure it should be examined and exploited to make more delicious corn for the rest of the world. Now most of you probably do not get this excited about corn, I mean, its just CORN, Right? the crop has been around for-ever, we use it to do all sorts of things, and I agree, it has, and we do. And I realize that I am raving on and on about a crop that has gotten a good smattering of bad press in the last few years. Some of that negative image is, indeed, warranted. But, I think there is good reason that man has persisted in cultivating corn for the last 4500 years or so.

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Corn is the most widely grown crop in the Americas. In the United States, 40% of the corn produced goes into our gas tanks, a frightening thought, and a topic for an entirely different debate, the other 60% is divvied up between feed for livestock, and food stuffs for the general population. Corn’s popularity in the states is nothing new, Native American populations fostered a unique growing methodology for corn growing it on the side of steep hills. The corn was planted in tandem with bean crops, the corn provided structure and support on the steep hills for the beans, which in turn provided the much needed nitrogen in the soil to fuel the corn’s growth. This method is still used today around the world where farmers typically employ a crop rotation methodology planting first a nitrogen-fixing crop like alfa alfa or soy beans, and the planting the corn in the enriched soil.

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With these advancements and subsequently, the relative ease of growing corn in the Americas, we have found ourselves in a situation in which corn can be found far and wide, in or cars, in soda cans, in pretzels, breads, in feed for cattle, and as pale and meager looking ears stacked on Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic. Spread around like this, it is easy to see how corn has gotten itself a bad reputation (what a food industry floozie!) But this recipe, by the ever genius Yotam Otolenghi, takes advantage of (well raised, peak season) corn’s sweetness, its supple texture and starchy consistency, and exploits these traits to create a homey and comforting fresh corn polenta that will make even the best mashed potatoes or restaurant cooked polenta look pale and homely by comparisson.

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This dish to me is the epitome of August cooking, it employs foods that are the glut of the late summer harvest and turns them into a truly comforting and elegant meal of restaurant quality. I made some significant changes to Ottolenghi’s methodology in devising this dish, First, though I am typically not a huge fan of microwave cooking, I had heard that microwaving cubed eggplant sandwiched between layers of paper towels and plates would prevent it from absorbing nearly its body weight in oil during the initial sauteing process. I placed the cubes on a single layer on a large paper towel lined dinner plate and microwaved them for three minutes to steam them. Once all of the cubes had been cooked in batches I sauteed them in a non-stick skillet with minimal oil. An addition of tomato paste during the sautee helped create a brilliant crust on the eggplant as the paste created a caramel-y sear.

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Trying to be true to our “healthy cooking” identity, I significantly reduced the amount of butter and cheese in the polenta itself. To me, and to Dustin – who happily gobbled it up by the bowlful, the fat was not missed, in fact, I suspect that the nearly double dose of Feta would overpower some of the sweetness that I loved so much about the corn mash. I blended the corn in my food processor, which, with its long flat blade and smooth spinning motion, were perfect for the job. If you don’t have a processor, a food mill or stick blender will work well. Just let the mixture cool slightly before processing with these tools (especially the stick blender) to keep the mixture from hopping out of the pan (or mill) and singeing your skin. I would caution against a high power blender, like a vitamix, for this endeavor. The high velocity vortex that these contraptions create may make the corn simultaneously too aerated, and even gummy.

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Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant (Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

1 Medium Eggplant Cut Into 1/2-Inch Dice
1-2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Tomato Paste**
1/4 C. White Wine (Dry – I Used a Cheap Dry Chardonnay)
1 C. Chopped Fresh Tomatoes*** (You Can Use Canned If Fresh Aren’t Available)
1/2 C. Water
1/4 TSP Salt
1/4 TSP Sugar
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Oregano

6 Ears Sweet Summer Corn
2 1/4 C. Water
2 TBSP Butter
3 Oz. Crumbled Feta (I Used a Strong Brined Feta)
1/4 C. Sour Cream
1/4 TSP Salt
Freshly Cracked Pepper to Taste

Notes: **Trader Joes sells tomato paste in lovely little tubes, like the ones that you buy anchovy paste in, that you can keep in the fridge to use as needed, no more opening cans each time you need paste for a recipe and wondering what to do with the leftovers.

*** The original recipe called for skinning the tomatoes, my tomatoes were nice thin skinned heirlooms (Brandywines, I believe) I didn’t bother with the peeling and the sauce was delicious. If you have something against tomato skins or are just particularly sensitive to their presence, cut an x in the bottom of the tomato and drop it into coiling water, as soon as the skins start to loosen at the bottom, drop it into a prepared ice bath. Proceed to peel and chop as normal (careful, peeled tomatoes are particularly wily and try to flop off of the cutting board and flee.)

To start off, place the eggplants on a paper towel lined (microwave safe) plate in a single layer. Place another sheet of towels on top of the eggplant cubes and a plate on top of that and microwave for 3 minutes. Repeat in batches until all of the eggplant has been steamed in this fashion.

Heat oil in a large nonstick saute pan (I used a 12 inch scanpan with nonstick coating) add eggplant and sear, stirring often for 4-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook until the tomato paste starts to form a crust on the eggplant. Stir often to prevent sticking. Add the wine and allow it to cook off before adding the remaining ingredients. Sautee for another 4-5 minutes and then remove from the heat and set aside until needed.

Place the corn in a large pot and fill with water until covered by about 1 inch. Add a pinch or two of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 4 minutes. Drain the corn in a colander set inside of a large bowl. Place the drained corn in a food processor along with about a cup of the reserved cooking liquid and puree. The mixture should still look a bit coarse and gritty but with no visible whole kernels remaining. Return it to the pot along with another cup or so of cooking liquid, it should look like a potato soup consistency, we want to reduce this now, over medium low heat, until it looks more like mashed potatoes.

Once you reach a consistency you like, remove it from the heat and add the feta, butter, and sour cream. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve topped with a mound of the eggplant in the center (see photos above) and enjoy!

The Gods Must be Crazy – Pickled Okra with Lemon

August 20, 2012 2 comments

Whatever your beliefs or views on creation, think something went a bit awry the day that Okra was invented. The long slender fingerlike veggies are not only a bit fuzzy but distinctly woodsy and of course, disturbingly slimy. Finding the silver lining in this vegetable’s quirky qualities can be challenging at best. While the specific origin of this allopolyploid is unknown, in virtually all of the far flung areas in which Okra is cultivated, the locals have found a way to weave the pods into their local cuisine in a way which harnesses the seemingly negative qualities of the vegetable to enhance traditional style dishes.

In much of the world Okra can be found slow cooked in stews and curries. The slow cooking process renders the mucus out of the vegetable and this process actually thickens the gravy or sauce of the dish. In other areas Okra is cooked whole over high heat in dry curries or stir fries, it can even be grilled until slightly charred without activating the veggie’s slime factor. Luckily for us, when we are short on time, or don’t feel like consuming all of those little suckers in the course of a weekend, canning is a great option for okra. The acid in a pickling liquid can help, not only to keep evil botulism bacteria at bay, but also to break down the plant’s mucilaginous products, ensuring an end product that is both refreshingly zingy and goo free.

This recipe is amazingly forgiving. Forget to buy garlic? – no sweat; want to add different spices? – go for it, the possibilities for flavor combinations are truly endless. Here in the South many employ hot pepper flakes to give pickled okra a piquant kick. Others, preferring a milder pickle, may use pickling spice or dill to add flavor to the pods. The pickles make a great garnish for a classy bloody mary or a cheese plate at cocktail hour.

Pickled Okra (Adapted From the Food in Jars Cookbook)

1.5 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar (5% acidity)
1.5 Cups White Wine Vinegar (5% acidity)
3 TBSP Kosher Salt
4 Lemon Rounds, About 1/4 Inch Thick
4 TBSP Pickling Spice
2 LBs Okra, Washed and Trimmed
4 Cloves garlic, Peeled

Start with four clean jars. Jars can either be cleaned and heated in your canner or, if your dish washer gets hot enough you can use this to clean the jars, check with your manufacturer to verify its capabilities. Bring vinegars and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan and stir until salt is dissolved. While the vinegar mixture heats, place lemon, garlic, and pickling spice in the bottom of the hot clean jars.

Pack okra tightly into jars, leaving a minimum of a 1/2 inch of room between the okra and the top of the jar. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the okra. Clean and dry the jar rims and place a clean lid on the jar. Twist on bands with one hand until jar starts to turn on the counter (bands should be on but not on tightly so that air can escape during processing.

Process the jars in the canner and return to a boil. Process for 10 minutes if at sea level. For 1,001 to 3,000 feet asl, add another 5 minutes to the 10 minute processing time. For 3,001 to 6,000 feet asl, add 10 minutes to the 10 minute processing time. For 6,001 to 8,000 feet asl, add another 15 minutes to the 10 minute processing time. And finally, for 8,001 to 10,000 feet asl, add an additional 20 minutes to the 10 minute processing time for a total of 30 minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner without tilting them. Let the jars dry in a cool place, without touching the lids, for 24 hours. Remove the screw bands and store in a cool and preferably dark place for up to a year.

Yowza – Summery Sweet Corn Salad with a Kick

If tomatoes are summer’s prom queens then peppers must be the practical jokers of the produce kingdom. Allow me to explain. Peppers, or shall we say chilies, like to be the center of attention. It takes careful skill, and occasionally some real gumption in tasting raw specimen to determine their spice factor (but more on this in a moment.) And with deft hand and careful placement the home cook can teach chiles to play nice with their veggie (and occasionally fruit) brethren and serve in a complementary, rather than a starring role.

But what makes them jokers in my mind is the way that peppers can lure you into a false sense of confidence one moment, and come through with a shocking wallop when you aren’t looking. In fact, I have found that home grown peppers in particular seem to vary WIDELY in their degree of spiciness. The same pepper plant may yield an early June crop of jalapeños that are mild and sweet and then give birth to fire breathing dragons of peppers just a few weeks later.

If fact, according to the obviously unassailable source of Wikipedia (insert snarky comment here) Jalapenos can range in spiciness from as little as 2,500 to as much as 8,000 Scoville Units. What are Scoville Units you may ask? Scoville Units represent a measurement of the amount of Capsacin present in a pepper. Capsacin is a chemical compound that stimulates nerve receptors in your body producing that oh so familiar burning feeling you might experience while eating spicy foods. To hone in on just what the Jalapeno’s wide ranging Capsacin content means for us the home cooks, allow me to paint an illustration. Mild Anaheim Chiles rank around the 2,500 Scoville measure, while heady Serranos typically chime in just above the Jalapenos  at 10,000 Scoville Units. So selecting a Jalapeno to use in your favorite salsa can be a bit haphazard and the same measure in cups or weight or number of chiles can illicit quite different end products.

What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with corn salad? Reader, I assure you, this is not just another one of my tangents on food education (though every day in the Briggs-Limaye Kitchen is chock full of learning experiences.) Dustin and I have been working away to diligently test recipes for posting here and in doing so took a couple takes at making this corn salad (also its sort of addictive so it didn’t really hurt that we just couldn’t stop eating it.) The first was for a small get together/cookout in our back yard. The corn I had bought was large kernel corn, we used our favorite new microwave method for cooking the kernels and steamed them 2 at a time in the husks for 3 minutes before slicing off the stalk end and shaking the kernel out (its amazing, they come out silk free and the microwaving is just enough to barely cook the corn for the salad.) The end product was beautifully sweet from the peak season corn and had a nice balanced punch from the jalapenos.

Most recently the corn we used was a smaller kernel corn that was starchier and less sweet than the first batch, the 3 minute microwaving time proved far too long for the small kernels but when we reduced it to 2 minutes our favorite cut and shake trick didn’t work quite as well as it had previously. Additionally, though we used the same number of jalapenos the end product was FAR spicier than the first round had been.

From trial and error we learned two important lessons that will hopefully make this dish a winning success in your kitchen. First, use large ears of corn, with tight rows and fat kernels. Buy the corn with the husk on as these are typically the most fresh. Second, test the jalapenos and, especially if they are local and it has been a hot dry summer, proceed with caution. You can always increase the spice level by adding jalapenos to the final dish but its darn hard to dial down the heat if you knock the heat level through the roof. If you do, however, overdo the spiciness, don’t fret. Grab a bag of tortilla chips and call it salsa, everyone will love it.

Summery Sweet Corn Salad with Jicama

1 Medium Red Onion, Approximately 1/2 lb, Cut into Small Dice
2 Jalapenos, With Seeds, Sliced Very Thinly
3 Ounces Lime Juice
1 TSP Salt
9 Ears of Corn, Preferably with Large Plump Kernels, Husks On
1/2 Of a Jicama, Cut into 1/4″ Dice
2 TBSP Avocado Oil
1 TSP Agave
1/2-3/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro

Place onion, jalapenos, lime juice, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl and stir. Set aside until needed.

Place the corn, husks on, two ears at a time, in the microwave. Cut off the bottom of the ear (the stalk end) to expose the last row of kernels fully. Grasp the corn firmly by the silk end and shake until the ear slips free of the husk. Repeat this with the remaining ears.

Check for any remaining silks before slicing the kernels from the cobs. Add the kernels to the bowl containing the jalapenos and lime and  add the jicama, avocado oil, agave, and cilantro. Toss to combine well and taste for seasoning adding additional lime, jalapeno, and salt as needed.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn

The sheer quantity of produce that passes through our small kitchen during the course of a week can be, well, unnerving – to say the least. But somewhere between the panic and exhaustion that comes from tackling such a mountain of fruits and veggies, something odd happens. In addition to the boxes of farm fresh produce from our CSA, and baskets I bring in from the garden, we have been buying produce by the case full from whole foods during their frequent summertime sales. Maybe we are just crazy (and I think there is a good likelihood of this being the case) but this undertaking has led to important changes in the way we cook, in the way we approach purchasing produce, and in our understanding of a whole slew of fruits and veggies.

Its no wonder that our Grandmothers, and their mothers before them, were/are such formidable cooks. There is a strange intimacy that comes from taking on 25 pounds of peaches, from tackling a bushel of peak summer tomatoes, or even from trying to keep pace with an ever growing population of summer squash. In peeling, dicing, pitting, skinning, shocking, jamming, baking, roasting, charring, etc, etc… you learn the many ways in which a fruit or vegetable can be used, and discover some of the subtle flavor and cooking nuances of the specific variety. Simply as a means of creating diversity in dealing with an unending and often unchanging wealth of summer crops, the seasonal chef must adapt different techniques and apply varied flavor profiles to a given fruit or veggie. With a wealth of information at our fingertips via the world wide web we are fortunate to have an amazing array of recipes to choose from at the click of a button. Our ancestors didn’t have it so easy.

Our grandmothers and their mothers, and their mothers before them relied on cooking techniques and preservation methods passed down through generations. Since the dawn of cultivation, farmers have worked throughout the harvest season to preserve peak season bounty for the colder months. In fact, practices of freezing (in cold glacial environments), fermenting, and drying date back to 10,000-12,000 BC. Practices of curing, with salt and then oil and sugar, followed these first preservation techniques. Canning was initially developed in Napoleonic wars when the French Royalty offered a bounty to anyone who could devise a method of preserving foods for long distance transport to the battlefields. Curiously it was not until Louis Pasteur made important discoveries about microbial organisms that the French understood why the canning technique developed earlier actually functioned to prevent food decay and food-born illness.

Indeed, we in the penchant for produce kitchen have turned to food preservation from time to time to tackle an unruly crop of cucumbers or glut of okra. But some vegetables are just too tempting to put up for later use. Enter the red bell pepper – one of my all-time favorite vegetables (second only to carrots, which hold a key corner in my veggie loving heart.) The red bell is a beauty to work with. It can be roasted and cured for sandwiches, charred and diced for salsa, it makes a keen addition to hummus, and all of that is, of course, considering you can resist the temptation to bite into its sweet crunchy flesh. OK, that sounded a bit morbid – but you get the point. These are the bells of the summer ball. Right up there in the running for Veggie Patch Prom Queen with the fan favorite, the tomato.

Both of the aforementioned contenders – tomato, and bell pepper, make an appearance in this delightful summer soup. The tomatoes and bells, once charred and roasted, are pureed to a beautifully smooth soup along with roasted shallots and garlic. The result is a soup that is creamy without the addition of any dairy. Sweet with no sugar, and beautifully smoky from the roasting and hint of paprika. It is topped off with a gremolata of sorts made from summer corn, shallots and herbs that gives the soup a sweet pop of summer flavor.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn (adapted from a similar recipe found on Food 52)

4 Red Bell Peppers, Cut in Half and Seeded
1.5 Pounds Heirloom Tomatoes, Tough Parts of Stem End Removed, Quartered
8 Large Unpeeled Garlic Cloves
4 Shallots, Halved
2-3 Cups High Quality Chicken Stock (Preferably Home Made) At a Low Simmer (lid to keep from evaporating)
1/4 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aged Sherry Vinegar
2 Ears Sweet Summer Corn, Shucked, Hairs Removed, Cut From the Cob
1 Shallot Finely Minced
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
Salt and Pepper to Taste
High Quality Olive Oil for Serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place Halved Peppers in a large mixing bowl along with tomatoes, garlic, and shallots and add just enough olive oil to give a light coat. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper, mix well and place in a single layer on a sheet pan (use 2 if too crowded.) Roast in the oven for 45-60 mins, rotating every 15 minutes to ensure even roasting. At the 45 minute mark, if the shallots and garlic appear quite browned but the peppers are not yet well charred, remove the shallots and garlic from the pan and continue roasting for the last 15 minutes, or until the tomato and pepper skins are charred.

Once the tomatoes and peppers are sufficiently charred, remove the pan from the oven. Place the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Steam the tomatoes and peppers for 5 minutes before peeling them. Reserve any juices that collect on the roasting pan (if not too charred) and in the bowl.

Holding the tomatoes over the sink, remove the worst of the seeds and place them in a blender along with the red peppers. Remove any remaining peel from the roasted shallots and roughly chop. Peel the garlic and add to the blender along with the chopped shallots. Add any accumulated juices, and 2 cups of the stock, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt, and blend until completely smooth. Taste, if too thick add additional broth as needed – remembering that the corn will be added in at the end. add sherry vinegar to taste and set aside.

Place shallot in a bowl along with the corn, thyme, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Pour soup into serving bowls and top with a spoonful or two of the corn mixture and a light drizzle of olive oil and serve.

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