30 August 2011

Simple Courgette & Basil Pesto Gratin

Courgettes (zucchinis), for me, are another favourite summer food. An unsung hero, really, and a master of versatility. You can bake them into cakes and bread. You can batter and fry them. You can toss them in couscous or quinoa. I've even been known to slice them thinly and eat them raw, with a tiny dab of greek yogurt and a sprinkle of salt on each one. And then, there's this:

I love dishes that make a vegetable the star of the show, and this gratin transforms the courgette to a diva with the most comfortable ease. Tossed with a little basil pesto, speckled with a light-flavoured cheese and topped with glorious, crispy breadcrumbs, this gratin is all I ever wanted. The cheese I had on hand today was wensleydale, but feta, gruyère, or even a mild cheddar would make excellent additions, too.

Courgette & Basil Pesto Gratin

2 medium courgettes
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
100g cheese, cut in small bits (I used Wensleydale)
small knob butter
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 heaping tablespoon basil pesto

Thinly slice courgettes and toss in a big bowl with salt, rest for 30 min to draw out excess water. Drain using a colander, pressing down a bit to extract as much water as possible.
Heat oven to 190C. Put the butter in a glass baking dish and melt in the oven until it starts to brown. Pour over breadcrumbs and toss.
Place courgette slices in a bowl with wensleydale & pesto. Toss. Put in glass dish (same one) and top with breadcrumbs. Bake 20 minutes, being careful not to overcook the courgettes to a mush.

The end.

28 August 2011

Roasted Tomato Bread, and a sandwich

I suck at baking bread. It's really not my strong suit. I'm good at quick breads, but yeast, oh crap. We're not friends. But surprise of surprises, I made a loaf that wasn't too dense, too dry or too wet. Victory is finally mine!

I have such a passion for the tomato, and since the good stuff only comes around once a year, I just buy and buy and buy them whenever I see them! My kitchen is experiencing a tomato explosion, so I'm looking for new ways to enjoy my favourite fruit. Enter: tomato bread. Oh my. It warms my heart.

After I made a whole bunch of salsa, I had a big bowl of tomato guts that I didn't really want to throw out. I figured there had to be a good use for them. For sure I could use them as the liquid in a bread, right?? It worked! I added a few roasted tomatoes because I wanted some additional tomato flavour in the loaf. It was an all-day-long adventure, but totally worth it. If you don't want to use tomato guts, just scale back the flour a bit in the recipe. Easy stuff.

The bread is really nice and so good for sandwiches! I coated some tofu slices in plain breadcrumbs using a vegan egg substitute of cornflour* + neutral oil + a splash of water. This totally worked and is my new favourite stick-breadcrumbs-to-stuff-without-wasting-an-egg trick. I pan-fried the tofu with a little olive oil, then stuck it in a sandwich with a sliced tomato, cream cheese (not vegan, oops) and wholegrain mustard. Perfect!

*note to American readers: "Cornflour" is the British term for "cornstarch". Same thing, different name.

Roasted Tomato Bread
I was inspired by this recipe, but ultimately adapted a sandwich bread recipe from Scraping The Skillet instead.

175ml (3/4 cup) water
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup white bread flour
1/2 cup malted brown flour

3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup white bread flour
3/4 cup malted brown flour
3 roasted tomatoes + leftover tomato juice/guts/seeds (I had about 1/3 cup)

Stir together first 6 ingredients and allow to ferment at room temp for 3-4 hours. While you're waiting, roast your tomatoes in a little olive oil.

Stir down (air will come out) and add remaining ingredients.

Knead 5 minutes on floured worksurface. My dough was really sticky so I added more white flour as needed. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Knead 5 minutes more (I forgot this part, oops. Still good!).

Place in oiled bowl, turn over to coat, cover with tea towel and rest in warm place for 1 hour to rise. Dough should double in size.

Remove from bowl, push air out and flatten into a rectangular shape. Fold in thirds, pinch ends together, and place in bread tin (or on a baking sheet) seam-side down. Allow to rise for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake at 175C (350F) for 45-50 minutes, until a tap on the top sounds hollow.

26 August 2011

Creamed Corn is Amazing

Yep, another Mexican-ish thing. I need help.... can't stop..... actually if you try to get me to stop, I'll probably cut off your hand and try to make fajitas out of it. That's how hooked I am on Mexican right now.

So, I'm moving into a new flat soon, and I've got a confession to make, besides of course my addiction to green hot sauce and tomatoes and tortillas. I'm a food hoarder. Wait, "hoarder" seems like a bad word. Collector, maybe? I'm a food collector. My pantry is exploding. Please don't look in my freezer. The thing is, I don't eat a lot of food. I'm just one small person. But, I grew up on a farm, where I learned to put some of the year's bounty away for the inevitable lean years. I'm also hooked on cool ingredients for cooking and baking, and every time I see something new and exciting, I just can't help myself. I also don't want to go to the grocery store every time I get a craving for... well, anything, and I like being able to make a nice cake at a moment's notice if I have friends pop round for a chat and a cup of tea. These things combined mean that if the apocalypse does come, then I am totally set. (Sorry, Harold Camping, I didn't die a horrible death like you hoped I would, jerkface.)

With my move impending (4 weeks!) I am determined to eat the contents of my freezer. Today's mission: use that bag of frozen corn I bought three months ago and never opened.

This is amazing even using frozen corn. We really don't have good fresh sweet corn in Britain, compared to what I'm used to as an Ohio farm girl. So frozen is the way to go. If you have fresh... I'm so jealous.

Creamed Corn with Lime & Chilli
adapted from Shutterbean

abt 500g corn
knob of butter
50g cream cheese (about 1/4 of one of those little packages)
30-40 ml whole milk
juice of 1/2 lime
cayenne pepper to taste
salt to taste

Sauté corn in the butter in a big skillet over medium heat. Let it get a little brown. Yum.

Remove from heat and put the corn in a big bowl. Add in milk, cream cheese, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Toss toss toss. 

Using a handheld stick blender, pulse a few times to break up some kernels. Don't overdo it because it's all about texture here - I left lots of kernels whole while blasting the crap out of others, and it was perfect. This step also gets some starch out of the corn and will thicken the milky stuff. Mix it up some more and season with salt to your own taste.

23 August 2011

Pineapple & Lime Paletas

Do you know what paletas are?

They are sort of the same thing as popsicles. They're Mexican summertime treats, made with full-on, unabashed, refreshing fruits. They're nothing like the fake-flavoured, fake-coloured things I grew up on. Nono, these are way fantastic-er than that.

When I was in college, my marketing professor had a guest lecturer in from a local Nashville business called Las Paletas. Her place was famous (infamous?) for not having any signage, and I guess it worked, because everyone wanted to know where the secret popsicle shop was. The product really had to be awesome, since having a brick-and-mortar where you sell only popsicles and manage to make a profit, sign or no-sign, is quite an impressive feat.

After our class, we were led us on a caravan to the upstart little shop, where we sampled flavours inspired by her childhood in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was like being shown through a secret passageway into a world of flavour which my young heart had not yet dared to imagine. I tried hibiscus for the first time in my life that day. It was like nothing I'd ever tasted before... sweet and piquant and addictive. I've never forgotten it.

I wonder if she ever got a sign for her place.... a quick google search tells me the place was still open as of last year, but their website sadly appears defunct. Though, I did find this blog post which includes a couple of nice photos (particularly of the menu, which I would love to devour in its entirety). There also seems to be an internet rumour that she and her sister were challenged to a Bobby Flay throwdown, and beat the crap out of him. Awesome.

I'm now looking forward to next summer, so I can try my hand at more flavours, like cucumber-chilli, pineapple-chilli, and chilli-chocolate (can you sense a theme here?)... in the mean time, I've got a freezer full of these pineapple-lime treats left over from this summer's festivities, and I intend to eat them no matter how cold it gets, because they are delicious.

Pineapple & Lime Paletas
adapted from Bon Appétit

3/4 cup sugar
2 cups pineapple - I used canned pineapple (in juice) and included the juice. I know, tinned?... don't judge.
Juice of 1/2 lime

Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Chill syrup until cold, about 1 hour.

Purée syrup and pineapple in a food processor until smooth. Stir in lime juice and divide among molds. Freeze until firm.

21 August 2011

Sweet & Smoky: Chipotle-Pineapple Tomato Salsa

Every now and then, I go through a Mexican phase that lasts about a week. It's all I can think about eating. Does this happen to you?

The Mexican phase I'm in currently has gone on now for no less than three weeks. This is one hell of a bender. I'm going through so much hot sauce that I've decided to make my own. But that's a story for another day.

While living in Nashville during undergrad, one of my favourite places to eat was a local staple called Baja Burrito. Having just booked a flight home with a Nashville reunion on the agenda, I started fantasizing about all the places I want to eat, and this one floated into my top 3 (along with Solario, a fancy Mexican restaurant run by a good friend of mine, and Las Americas Taquería, a very un-fancy Salvadoran pupusería attached to a bodega).

I fondly recall Baja Burrito's seasonal fruit salsas, which are so refreshing and un-ordinary -- wintertime gave us a cranberry salsa, while summer greeted us with a cheery pineapple version. I realised with horror that I am travelling in the winter, and thus, will miss out on the pineapple salsa, by far my favourite of the two. I had to have it - like, now - and we happen to be in the middle of tomato season, so, I made some. They don't use chipotle chilli and I don't claim to know their salsa recipe (oh, if I did!!), but this is darn good in its own right. It's got a great balance of sweet + heat, with smoky chipotle chilli, brown sugar and lime juice in there for good measure. I'm in love.

You know you want to make this now, in the middle of the tomato glut, and give it to people for Christmas. If it lasts that long. I jarred up a bunch of it, and it's seriously cute with hand-written labels. I ended up making this recipe twice because it was so good the first time!

Chipotle-Pineapple Tomato Salsa
adapted from myrecipes.com

1/2 large white onion, small dice
250g (1/2 lb) pineapple, small dice
300g  (2/3 lb) tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
120 ml (1/2 cup) pineapple juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chilli (this could get hot -- use your own judgement)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice (about half of one lime)
1/4 teaspoon salt
handful chopped coriander leaves

De-seed and chop tomatoes, set aside.

Sauté onion and pineapple over medium heat until browned - this could take a while, but be patient.

Add tomato and garlic and let go for a minute or two, then add pineapple juice, brown sugar, vinegar and chilli powder. Heat through and let simmer for about 5 minutes - more than this and the tomatoes will start to break down, and you'll be left with an unattractive goopy mess instead of a nice, fresh, chunky salsa.

Remove from heat and stir in coriander, lime juice, and salt. Purée (just a little) with a hand blender, to smooth out the salsa while still leaving plenty of chunks. At this point, I jarred the salsa for later use. Serve chilled or at room temp.

Makes two 300g jars.

19 August 2011

Guacahummus = Guacamole + Hummus = Delicious

I saw this all of two days ago on Shutterbean's blog and absolutely had to make it, post haste! It reminded me instantly of the Guacamame (guacamole-edamame dip) of my beloved Trader Joe's. Can't we please get TJ's in the UK?

I already had all these ingredients on hand... so my brain was already halfway to this guacamole + hummus marriage. All it took was a little nudge.

The verdict? It tastes like guacamole, with the texture of hummus. It's awesome. I ate half of it for lunch and the other half for dinner. Yes, it's the only thing I ate all day. Please don't judge. And it was dead easy. I just threw all the ingredients in a bowl and whirred it around with my hand blender. Am I the only person who finds food processors entirely too inconvenient? Really, why do I want to take it apart after every use and clean all those little parts? No thanks. Stick blenders are the way forward.

I'll have to introduce this to the ladies soon. Each Friday night ("wine night"), us girls get together and drink wine and giggle and eat grown-up foods like hummus and crudités and olives. This is the perfect thing to share with them. You should make it for your friends, too!

Guacamole Hummus (Guacahummus?)
adapted from Shutterbean

two big handfuls fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 garlic clove
abt 100g dry / 225g soaked, cooked & drained (or one 15-oz can, drained & rinsed)
1 ripe avocado, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
sea salt

Soak chickpeas for 8 hours or overnight in cold water with a little bicarb in the water. Drain and rinse, then boil in fresh water, again with a little bicarb, for about 40 minutes or until fully cooked and soft. (Adding the bicarb helps those pesky outer skins break down and makes your hummus nice and smooth.) Drain and allow to cool.

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and puree with a hand blender, or use a food processor. Season to taste with salt - you might need more than you'd think. Don't be shy.

The end. Easy!

15 August 2011

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

Well, that's it... summer is over in Scotland. We had a good run. The days are getting shorter, it's raining more, and my freckles are disappearing. I had to switch back to my lighter foundation today and put the heavy duvet back on the bed. I must admit, I'm a little sad... I'm having a hard time letting go.

This soup is like summer and autumn rolled into one - hearty and filling and warm, yet sprightly and exciting and fun. Just perfect for these cold and rainy days when I'm refusing to knock on the heating, because holy smokes, it's still August after all.

The colours are amazing, especially against the grey hue of the day. Beware - it's got one hell of a kick - which means it's right up my alley, but others might find it a little overwhelming. If that's the case, scale back on the chillis and you'll be fine. If heat's not your thing, but you still want that lovely bright green, crunchy garnish, you might use some diced green bell pepper in its place.

Chipotle Sweet Potato & Yogurt Soup
adapted from dairygoodness.ca

1 knob butter
1 large sweet potato, peeled & diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
700ml veg stock
1 teaspoon dried chipotle chilli flakes, or 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
100g greek yoghurt
sea salt to taste
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 green jalapeño chilli, very thinly sliced

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add sweet potato and onion, and cook until onion goes soft, about 10 minutes.

Add stock and chilli flakes, simmer about 20 minutes to allow potatoes to cook completely and chilli to infuse and soften.

Remove from heat and puree until smooth with hand blender. Pass through a fine seive to remove any chunks. If soup is too thick, thin with water or milk to desired consistency. Stir in greek yoghurt and season to taste with sea salt.

Serve hot, topped with chopped tomato and green chilli.

11 August 2011

Blueberry Buckle: a true story about the best cake I ever made

I am reminiscing. I found these pictures on my hard drive and remembered a moment... so, if you would, humour me?

I've been baking since I was very little. My first scar, still visible, just above my belly button, was obtained by anxiously leaning over a baking sheet. I have no idea how old I was. Clearly, I was young enough to run around the house with my shirt off and not raise any eyebrows.

My mother, bless her, does not share my passion for the kitchen. As soon as she figured out that I could make my own food, she happily scaled back her efforts and let me pitch in. I remember cooking my first family dinner at around age 7. Sure, it was a box of Hamburger Helper... but to me, it was a big deal.

I always felt a little sorry for my dad, having a wife who didn't really like to cook or bake. Grandma was always baking cookies and cakes and pies and doughnuts, and I imagined my grandpa really liked that. So, when she died, I took over those duties for my family. It was never a conscious effort - it was just something I did because I wanted to do it.

Then, more than 10 years later, after college and career and a good bit of growing up, my parents came to visit me in Atlanta. They were helping me pack up my life and move it into a storage unit, so I could embark on this crazy dream of mine in Europe. The last thing I ever baked in my oven in my apartment in Atlanta was this blueberry buckle, which we ate while having coffee and packing and moving and painting. When it was all said and done, we stood outside my apartment, now empty and white-again, my father holding tupperware which contained the leftovers of this cake. He said, plainly, that it was the best thing I'd ever made (though, to be fair, my father says everything plainly, to avoid the awkwardness of being misunderstood). It felt like quite an accomplishment, and the moment was a little emotional for me -- but that might have had more to do with my impending terrifying/exciting/omg-what-am-I-doing move to another continent than it did with this cake. But this will always be that cake, my farewell to Atlanta cake... the best cake I ever made.

Oh, right, I haven't actually described the cake! If you have a bunch of blueberries, you should definitely make it. It's really fluffy, lightly ginger-spiced, with a softly delicate crumb. The top is crunchy and differently-spiced than the cake (nutmeg, ooh!), which is super cool. It's awesome. Trust my daddy when he says so.

Blueberry Buckle!
recipe by Alton Brown

For the cake:
Nonstick cooking spray
255g cake flour, approximately 2 cups
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
55g (2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
150g sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
1 large egg
120ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
425g (15 ounces) fresh whole blueberries, approximately 3 cups

For the topping:
100g sugar, approximately 1/2 cup
45g ounces cake flour, approximately 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
55g (2 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Grease a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger. Set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until well incorporated, approximately 30 seconds. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated and then add 1/3 of the milk and beat until incorporated. Repeat, alternating flour and milk until everything has combined. Gently stir in the blueberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl combine the sugar, flour and nutmeg. Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients using a fork to combine. Continue until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the cake. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes or until golden in color. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

07 August 2011

Tomato Tart with Chèvre and Honey (Tomato Tart No. 2)

This is another tomato tart. This is my rainy Sunday paradise.

Tomato Tart No. 1 was a cheddar-y, onion-y variation on David Lebovitz's recipe, which was awesome and decadent in its own right. The one I made today is more true to the original, with goat's cheese and honey, and I'm so glad I tried it! It's so fresh and delightful, and I wish I had company to share it with... actually maybe they'd better stay away, because I am still in my jammies.

There might be no better way to spend a rainy Sunday morning than rolling out handmade dough as the rain pelts your kitchen window. Not to get too poetic or anything.

The trick here, I think, is good tomatoes. Don't try this with crap ones. Don't try anything with them, actually. It's ok to be a tomato snob.

Now, I'm not usually a honey snob, but I recently was gifted some microclimate honey from a beekeeper friend of mine, and wow. Just, wow. I can't believe how good it is, and I have a hard time describing it. It doesn't really seem as sweet as 'regular' honey, the flavour is just more complex and wholesome. I am really, intensely in love with it.

If you can find local honey, I say, grab yourself some - just don't waste it on tea or honey mustard dressing. Save it for special things... like a warm buttered scone, or a tart like this one.

Tomato Tart with Chèvre and Honey
adapted from David Lebovitz

200g flour
80g butter, cold
1/2 tea salt
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

6 medium tomatoes (abt 320g)
small log goat's cheese
sea salt (I used fleur de sel)

Whisk together flour and salt.  Shred cold butter on a box grater (large holes) into the flour.  Toss to coat butter in flour mixture, then rub together using hands until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg with water, then add to flour mixture using a butter knife.  Finish with hands, adding more cold water if dough does not come together.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and roll out to about 1/2-cm thickness.  Transfer to tart pan, pressing into sides of pan with fingers.  Dimple bottom with your fingers and trim excess dough from the edges of the pan.

Preheat oven to 220C (400F).

Spread a layer of dijon mustard on the dough. Don't be shy, cover the whole thing.  Then, layer on thickly-sliced tomatoes. Top with goat's cheese. Drizzle generously with honey and finish with sea salt.

Bake tart in oven for about 30 minutes, until top of tart is browned.  Tent with foil if the top browns before the dough and tomatoes are cooked.  Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, then carefully remove from tin and serve.

03 August 2011

Israeli Couscous with Charred Veg & Other Stuff

I'm so going to win Summer this year. Yesss.

It's paradise here. We're having lots of barbecues. The scenery is breathtaking...

...and a cute baby bunny is chewing on stuff outside my window. Does life get any better?

So I guess it's time for summer food. Yes!! Are you ready for this?! For some reason, it feels like all the rest of the year is a warm-up for glorious summer, where we pull out all the stops. We have more veg in the shops, more sunshine, tinier clothes, more work, more friends, more travelling, more parties... and we'd better balance it all. My favourite thing about summer is that it's kind of like getting to the Olympics. The Olympics of life.

Yeah, bring it, Summer! I'm gonna suck all the life right out of you! (Some of you might be discovering, at this very minute, that I have a competitive side. Sorry 'bout that.)

Take this to your barbecues, because while meat-wrapped-in-bread takes centre stage at these things, it really does need supporting acts. I've never had Israeli couscous before, but have long been entranced by its sheer size (say what you will about me for that, go ahead).

Um, anyway... it's also known as "pearl couscous" or, as I found it rather uncreatively labelled in my local deli, "giant couscous." I got very excited and started talking very quickly to my cheese-tasting companion, "OMG Israeli couscous, I've been looking for this for ages!" The cheesemonger behind the deli counter must have thought me strange, a weird American girl in Scotland freaking out over Israeli couscous.

Little does he know, that's kind of my "normal".

I decided to make it as I normally make couscous (the normal-sized kind), in a nice salad with sauteed veg, lots of fresh coriander, lemon juice, goats cheese and pistachios. It's a winner, for sure!

Israeli Couscous with Charred Veg & Other Stuff
original recipe by me!

100g (uncooked) Israeli couscous
veg stock
handful frozen broad beans
1 yellow pepper
1/2 yellow onion
1 small courgette
2 tablespoons olive oil

handful fresh coriander - chop stems finely, in addition to leaves
lemon juice - a good couple of squeezes from 1/2 a lemon
sea salt to taste (I used fleur de sel)
small handful pistachios
1/2 small log goats cheese

Get some stock boiling in a saucepan and add your couscous. Set your frozen broad beans in a sieve and place over top of boiling water, and cover with lid of saucepan. Let go for 10 minutes or so until couscous is cooked. Run beans under cold water and set aside for shelling. Drain in a sieve (the same sieve, even) or fine colander and set aside to cool down.

Meanwhile, chop up the pepper and onion and sauté them in olive oil over medium-ish heat. After they've softened a little, turn up the heat some and add chopped courgette to the pan. Don't stir too frequently or they won't char properly.

While that's going, shell your broad beans into a large bowl. Add couscous to the broad beans. When the veg is finished, add that in as well and let cool for a little while, maybe 20 minutes.

In the mean time, chop up your coriander. The stems should be chopped really finely but the leaves can be a bit bigger if you like. Chop pistachios as well.

When everything's cooled, add coriander and pistachios to the big salad bowl and give it a good mix. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add salt to taste. Just before serving, add crumbled goats cheese.

The end! Mmm, delicious!

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side.