July 26, 2010

Grilled Peaches and Cream

A couple of Kuhn Orchard’s fresh peaches and a bit of leftover cream turned into a refreshing and light summer dessert – the perfect ending to our market-fresh dinner.

Grilled Peaches and Cream
printable recipe

Serves 4.

4 peaches
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
ground cinnamon
hazelnut or vegetable oil

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. 

Slice each peach in half and remove the pit.  Then slice each half again, into two round disks.  Brush both sides of the peach slices with a small amount of oil.  (I used hazelnut oil, but vegetable oil will work just as well.)


Beat the cream on high speed until it begins to thicken.  Add sugar and continue to beat on high until soft peaks form.  Stir in vanilla extract and a few pinches of cinnamon.


Grill the peaches on medium high heat until they are tender and well-marked (about 2-3 minutes per side). 

Remove peaches from grill (4 slices per plate) and immediately sprinkle with several good pinches of sugar.  Top with whipped cream and garnish with a few more pinches of cinnamon.


July 25, 2010

Pasta with Market-Fresh Tomatoes, Peppers, and Goat Cheese


Tonight’s dinner was composed of fresh ingredients from our trip to the 14th&U Farmers’ Market yesterday afternoon. 

IMG_3710The stars of the show were 2 varieties of some of the best cherry tomatoes we’ve ever had – “sun gold” and “black cherry,” both from Garner’s Produce.  At least all the heat we’ve been getting around here has been good for something! 

The tomatoes were accompanied by a red-and-green (really almost maroon) bell pepper, also from Garner, and a few basil leaves from my barely-surviving apartment herb garden.  (I welcome any tips on keeping my basil alive – and producing new leaves – indoors for more than a few weeks.)

IMG_3706The “sauce” for the dish was composed primarily of  “Monocacy Silver” Soft Ripened Goat Cheese from Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company.  This cheese, creamy and brie-like just under the rind with a soft and crumbly center, has a bit more sharpness and character than a “fresh” (un-ripened) chevre and is the perfect compliment to super sweet, peak-of-the-season cherry tomatoes.  It melts beautifully on freshly-cooked pasta, creating a decadently creamy sauce without all the heaviness and calories of a traditional cream sauce.  You’ll notice that I did add a little heavy cream to the dish, but it’s completely optional.  I was just finishing a leftover ingredient.  (Incidentally, the cheese was also particularly good for lunch this afternoon: spread on toasted whole wheat bread with smoked turkey, baby greens, thinly sliced tomato and red onion, a little extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.)

When it’s not homemade, the pasta we use is whole wheat.  Our favorite is Bionaturae.  It’s one of the few “whole wheat” pastas out there that is actually made with 100% whole grain.  It’s Italian, organic, and – equally as important – delicious.   

Pasta with Market-Fresh Tomatoes, Peppers, and Goat Cheese
printable recipe

Serves 4.

8 ounces whole wheat pasta (We used chiocciole; any short shape will do.)
1 bell pepper
1/2 pint “golden” cherry tomatoes
1/2 pint “black” cherry tomatoes

4-5 ounces soft goat cheese, any rind removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
several leaves of fresh basil, roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a 4-quart pot of water to boil.  Generously salt the water and cook pasta until al dente.

While the water is coming to a boil, halve and core the bell pepper and cut into 1/2-inch squares.   In a small skillet, heat over medium heat 1-2 teaspoons of oil (olive or otherwise, but not extra virgin).   Add cut bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper is tender and lightly browned on the edges (5 to 10 minutes).

Meanwhile, halve the tomatoes and lightly salt. 

Once pasta is cooked and drained, return to original pot with crumbled goat cheese, tomatoes, peppers, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.  Toss gently over medium heat.  Add cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.   Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve immediately.  If desired, garnish with additional fresh basil leaves or crumbled goat cheese.


July 20, 2010

grilled zucchini

It's zucchini season!  We've been getting zucchini in our produce box for the past several weeks. At the farmers' market, tables have been piled high with wonderful varieties of summer squash.   Tempting as they've been, I've had to refrain from buying squash at the market because for some reason - fans that we are - we haven't managed to use the few in our produce box before the next delivery rolled around and we got more.

Several days ago, determined to use the zucchini we had before it was too late and with no particular dish in mind, I simply sliced them and threw them on the grill pan.  I don't know why I didn't do this sooner.  I could eat grilled zucchini every night!  In fact, I can't think of a better way to eat zucchini than grilled. I'm looking forward to Saturday, when hopefully the farmers' market will be well-stocked with summer squash and I'll finally have an excuse to buy some.

Grilled Zucchini
printable recipe

2 medium zucchini, washed and ends removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat grill pan (or grill) over medium heat. Slice zucchini lengthwise about 1/8-inch thick. (You may slice them thinner, but they will cook much more quickly and may not hold up well enough to be cooked on the grate of an actual grill.)

In a large bowl, toss the sliced zucchini with olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and several grinds of pepper. Grill over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes per side(until well marked and tender, but not mushy).

Try them as a side, on panini or pizza, or in a salad.

Here, the zucchini are served in a salad with romaine, leftover
Caesar dressing, chicken, tomatoes, and Parmesan.
July 13, 2010

Salmon Caesar Salad

printable recipe

Serves 4 as a main course.

2 slices hearty whole wheat bread (½-inch thick) 
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 egg 
½ lemon, juiced
4 drops Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and dried

16oz salmon (2 - 8oz filets)
Olive oil, for cooking

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut bread slices into ½-inch cubes.  Whisk 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 clove of garlic (pressed or finely minced).  In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil/garlic mixture.  Spread on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  (They should be firm on the outside but soft on the inside.)

Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the egg and cook for 1 minute. Immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to halt cooking.

Meanwhile, heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Season salmon with salt and pepper.  Cook, skin side down, for about 5 minutes.  Flip, remove skin, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.  (Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the salmon.)

In a blender, combine remaining 2 cloves garlic (peeled and roughly chopped), remaining 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, egg, and ¼ cup of the parmesan.  Blend, starting low and gradually increasing speed.  Blend for 10 seconds at highest speed to fully immerse the dressing.

In a very large bowl, tear lettuce and toss with dressing.  Add the remaining parmesan. Toss gently to combine.

Divide salad onto 4 plates.  Top each with croutons and 4 ounces of salmon. 
Serve immediately.

July 7, 2010

French gnocchi, a love story

One fateful afternoon several years ago, a young man asked a young woman on a date.  In her last year of undergraduate studies and preparing to move across the country for graduate school, she was not interested in starting a  relationship, but he was a good friend, and the offer was intriguing: lunch at a new French restaurant that she had been dying to try and a movie based on her favorite book.  What’s more, the young man was visiting from out west for only a short while, so both knew that the date would probably lead to nothing more than what it was.  She accepted the invitation.

The menu was made up of classic French bistro fare:  from pâté and a French cheese platter to croque-madame and coq au vin – all served with a thick slice of country (multigrain) French bread.  One dish, in particular, caught the young woman’s eye, both for its familiarity and its novelty: French gnocchi, served with vegetables in a cream sauce.  Being Italian, she was familiar with (and fond of) potato gnocchi, but these so-called “French” gnocchi, made with pâte à choux instead of potatoes, seemed something else entirely and were quite intriguing.  She accepted the invitation.

Upon initial inspection, the dish was not visually stunning but certainly appealing in its own rustic way: the gnocchi, not smooth and uniform like potato gnocchi but softer, slightly varied in shape and size, and speckled with herbs, were surrounded by slices of bright green zucchini and yellow squash and plump brown mushrooms in a pale cream sauce.  From the first bite, it was love.  The gnocchi literally melted in her mouth – lush and buttery with a slight hint of Dijon mustard and something else she couldn’t quite place.   The vegetables were perfectly prepared and the sauce bound it all together to form a perfect dish.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten something so wonderful.  Nothing she’d had in France – or Italy – was quite like this.  She knew she would not soon forget this moment. 

The coq au vin, which the young man had ordered and of which he was happy to share a bite, was delicious, but it didn’t compare to the bowl of perfection that sat before her.  The young man, a meat-lover at heart, agreed that this vegetarian dish was truly outstanding. 

The rest of date was lovely; the company was engaging, and the movie was just as good as she’d hoped it would be.  But the French gnocchi.  They made the day.

The two went their separate ways but returned to this spot once more, during the young man’s next visit.  Shortly thereafter, the young woman moved east for graduate school; although they lived on opposite ends of the country, they kept in touch. 

Within six months of their last visit to the restaurant, the young man had moved across the country to a location only a 4-hour drive from the young woman’s school, and within a year, the two lived in the same city once again, if only for a summer.   They would often reminisce about this little French bistro and plan to return there together the next time they were back home.  That summer, motivated by her vivid memories of the French gnocchi and a passion for culinary exploration, the young woman attempted to recreate it, and the young man was there – to share his memory, taste-test, and help shape the recipe into something that resembled this dish that stood out as one of the major dining experiences of the young woman’s life.

Miraculously, the quest was a success.  Some help from the likes of Thomas Keller and Julia Child, advice from the young man, and a little tweaking of her own yielded perfection.  The young man claimed that it was the best dish he had ever eaten, and the young woman was elated to have discovered how to recreate it.  No longer would she dream wistfully of French gnocchi.  She would make them herself.

The two would never return to the little French bistro.  Sadly, the partnership between the owners of this charming little place would not be as long-lived as that forged between the two diners on that day years before.  The bistro would be closed the next time the two were in town, but the memory of the French gnocchi would live on, and with it, a new recipe and a life-long culinary collaboration.

French gnocchi  with vegetables
printable recipe

Serves 6 as a a main course.

For the gnocchi:
2 cups water
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped chervil*
1 tablespoon chopped chives*
1 tablespoon chopped parsley*
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon*
1 cup Comté cheese, fresly grated (Emmenthaler and Gruyere also work well)
8 eggs

*In lieu of the fresh herbs, you may use 2 tablespoons of fines herbes, a dried combination of parsley, chives, chervil, and tarragon.

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to boil with butter, salt and pepper.  When the butter has melted, remove saucepan from the heat and immediately add the flour.   Beat vigorously (with a wooden spatula) to blend thoroughly.  Return saucepan to medium-high heat and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan, forms a mass,  and begins to film on the bottom of the pan.

Remove from the heat and stir in the Dijon mustard and herbs.   Then add the cheese and stir until the mixture is smooth.  

Make a well in the center of the dough.  Add one egg and beat for several seconds until most of the egg has been absorbed by the dough.  Continue with the remaining eggs, beating each until absorbed. 


Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 5/8-inch plain tip.  Don’t fill the pastry bag too full; leave a few inches so that it can be folded/rolled closed.  (If the pastry bag is not large enough to accommodate all the dough, cover the remainder with plastic wrap and set aside.)

Set a large pot of water to boil (a 6- to 8-quart pot filled with 4-6 quarts of water) and prepare two sheet pans for the cooked gnocchi by lining each with a double layer of paper towels.  Then proceed with the vegetables.

For the vegetables:
2 small zucchini, halved long-ways and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 small yellow squash, halved long-ways and sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
freshly ground pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium heat.    Add the onions and a good pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions begin to turn translucent.   Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the zucchini and squash, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, but not mushy.  Keep an eye on them as you continue with the gnocchi and be sure to turn off the heat when they are done to avoid over cooking.  

When the water has come to a boil, salt generously and proceed with cooking the gnocchi.


(If you have a helper, this step is a little easier with two people, but it can certainly be done solo.) Hold the pastry bag horizontally over the rim of the pot your dominant side (for the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to the right side).   Squeeze the pastry bag gently from the far end with your right hand.  With a pair of sharp kitchen shears in your left hand snip off 1-inch lengths of dough.  (Don’t lean in too closely and beware of splashing hot water; the higher the water level, the less splash you’ll get.) 


Cook about 20 to 30 gnocchi per batch.  The gnocchi will sink initially.  Once they float to the surface of the water, cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, removed the cooked gnocchi to the paper-towel-lined sheet pans. 


Continue in batches with the remaining dough, folding the pastry bag smaller as it empties (and/or refilling it with the extra dough when there’s room).

Return the vegetables to medium heat.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup of cream stirring gently until the cream is heated through.  Salt to taste. 

Add the cooked gnocchi* to the vegetables, tossing gently (the gnocchi are delicate) over medium heat until the mixture is well combined and heat through.  

Serve immediately.

*You may find that you don’t need all the gnocchi.  If you have extra, they will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.


In this photo, I had made the dish without cream and garnished with curls of Comté.  It’s definitely better with a little cream, but still wonderful without!

July 6, 2010

raw kale salad

This salad represents my first experience with raw kale.  The sweetness of the orange and dried cranberries temper the bitterness of the greens.  The salad went over very well with visiting family members.  They even came back for seconds!

printable recipe

Serves 4-6

1 bunch of kale
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons honey, to taste
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 oranges 
1/2 cup dried cranberries
goat cheese gouda (or another flavorful cheese), freshly grated

Wash the kale and dry thoroughly.  Remove tough stalk and center ribs.  Roll the kale into a cylinder and finely slice the kale crosswise into strips about 1/4 inch wide.  In a large bowl, drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil and massage into the kale.  This will tenderize the kale. 

In a small bowl, whisk remaining tablespoon of oil (if desired), red wine vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.  Toss with kale.

Using a sharp paring knife, remove the rind and pith from the orange. 

If you have time, supreme the fruit.  To do this, after the rind and pith are removed, separate each segment from the surrounding membrane by using the paring knife to slice closely along the edge of each segment, on either side of the membrane, to free the fruit from the membrane, one segment at a time.  Do this over a bowl to catch all of the juices.  Once all the segments have been supremed, cut them into bite-sized pieces.

If  you don’t have time to supreme or don’t mind your citrus fruit slightly tougher and less presentable, simply cut the peeled orange into bite-sized pieces. 

Gently fold the oranges (and any collected juices) and cranberries with the kale until well combined. 

Serve topped with grated cheese.
July 4, 2010

guacamole, times two

The following are my two favorite recipes for guacamole.  I like each for different reasons.  The first recipe is credited to Brian’s mom.  It’s a deliciously rich guacamole, with the deep, smoky flavor of bacon!   The second is my own take on guacamole, a slightly lighter-tasting version with the bright flavors of lime and cilantro. 

Guacamole with Bacon
printable recipe

2 ripe avocados, halved, peeled, pitted, and mashed
1 tablespoon minced onion
1-2 cloves of garlic (or garlic powder, to taste)
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp salt
dash (freshly ground) pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise (optional)*
6 slices of bacon, cooked crisp
1 tomato, diced (optional)**

Combine all ingredients and  (except mayo).

Chill in small container, sealed on top with mayonnaise (if using, plastic wrap if not) to prevent darkening. 

Stir in mayonnaise, if using, and serve with tortilla chips.

*I prefer to make this recipe without the mayonnaise, but it does prevent the guacamole from darkening better than plastic wrap alone.

**Brian prefers this recipe without the tomato, claiming that it is too bright a flavor with the rest of the ingredients.  I think that the tomatoes are a nice compliment, but I can certainly see his point.

Fresh Guacamole
printable recipe

2 ripe avocados, halved, skin and pit removed
2 tablespoons onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice (from 1 lime)
1 tomato, diced

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except avocados, lime juice, and tomato.  Mash in one avocado* and mix until smooth.

Dice the second avocado.  Add to bowl and pour lime juice over. Mash/mix in, leaving diced avocado slightly chunky. Fold in diced tomato. Chill with plastic wrap pressed on top of guacamole until ready to serve.

*If you like a smoother guacamole, add the lime juice and both avocados at the same time, and mix until smooth. 

During a visit from my parents and sister a couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to taste them side by side.  Everyone agreed that they were equally wonderful.   Give them a try, and let me know what you think!