Thursday, June 30, 2011

summer simple

Easy outdoor entertaining is what summer is all about. Nature has already done all the decorating. All you have to do is show up with some food.
Light some candles for a little extra ambiance.

Backyard dining doesn't mean it has to be all about paper plates. Make it an occasion and set the table with pretty glass ware and table settings even if its just for hot dogs!
Pick some flowers and stick them in a vase for the table. Lilies are in full bloom in my yard right now. I am a very pale pale pale green thumbed gardener. The lily bulbs I bought a few years ago have been a great addition to my challenged garden. I barely do a thing to them and they keep growing!
Keep the food simple and seasonal with cold soups and sauteed vegetables. I got this bunch of mizuna, a mild Japanese mustard green, from a farmer who grows it hydroponically. My cooking plan was to just barely wilt the greens, but still add an impact of flavor.
The best way to add flavor is by seasoning the cooking oil. For the aromatics I sauteed up some garlic and fresh oregano in extra virgin olive oil. Once the oil is fragrant the mizuna goes in and cooks in minutes. For a little extra twist I chopped up a ripe nectarine and tossed it into the saute, allowing the fruit to warm up and infuse the greens with a summery brightness. The dish can be finished with a splash of white balsamic vinegar and lots of salt and pepper.
Sauteed Mizuna with Nectarines
Ok, not the prettiest dish, but it tasted great! The rich deep flavor of the greens were well balanced by the tart surprise of the nectarine. I am going to try this recipe with different combinations of summer fruits and greens as the summer progresses. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

eating and listening

The season has begun! My sweetie and I hit the park last week for the first of numerous outdoor concerts we plan on attending this summer around NYC. Prospect park looked serene and green on Wednesday night as we sprawled out for a picnic under the trees, listening to a concert of protest music from the 1950's through the 70s, featuring Roseanne Cash, Toshi Reagan, Lou Reed and Todd Rundgren. How sweet to be serenaded by them on such a gorgeous evening, one that threatened rain, but managed to stay dry and balmy, aha!

And, one of the best parts of the evening, did I mention? FREE! Take advantage of all the amazing performers who will be showcased over the next few months around the city. So many of the shows are free to the public and what a wonderful way to save money on air-conditioning by letting nature produce the breezes.
For added picnic ambiance, I always bring candles to stick in paper cups. This time our picnic basket was stocked with Spiderman paper cups. Timely, no?

A picnic is not a picnic without food and earlier that day I found myself with time to spare in the vicinity of Eataly the new fantabulous mecca for all things delicious and Italian. It was busy, but not packed so I finally made my first visit to this temple of all things cool. The verdict: very impressive! The place is styled in a slick modern Italian mode with lots of polished chrome and white marble. The lighting is bright and clean. Touches of the old world could be found in the pristine architectural details like the ornately carved sumptuous marble moldings that cradled the central room. Too divine! The food displays are lush with items sporting sexy European labels. I wanted EVERYTHING.
 Eataly's cheese counter had me pressing my nose against the glass weak with desire. They will give you a sample if you ask.

Sticking to a picnic plan I picked up a loaf of crusty bread, a hunk of very intense gorgonzola cheese that made my eyes bulge and my tongue shrivel with happiness and (don't be mad at me, I know it's not yet the season but I could not resist) a glorious heirloom tomato almost bursting its skin.

I cannot wait to go back to Eataly and this time, I will sit at one of those highly polished marble counters to be served some fantastic Italian fare while sipping the wine I saw being poured into huge glasses from seemingly bottomless bottles. This place is great!

A simple sandwich 

Assemble the following:
A loaf of crusty bread- slice, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, place face down on a hot pan and toast for 3 minutes, till golden
A hunk of cheese
A thick slice of tomato
A few lettuce leaves
A sprig of basil
A splash of balsamic vinegar

Well, I did the music thing too this weekend, only mine was not so relaxing. I attended, with 2 other adults and 6 children, (plus an infant in a stroller), the 2011 Clearwater Festival. This is an annual music and environmental festival which is held on the banks of the Hudson River in New York. I think everyone in the tristate area must have had the same game plan for the beautiful Saturday afternoon. Insanely crowded! The highlight of my day was a scrumptious spinach quesadilla.

My next musical outing is going to be Tanglewood on July 10th - something peaceful and therapeutic. Already planning out my menu, Deb's simple sandwich might just have to make the list! It makes a beautiful presentation I see. I would sip an off-dry white with this. "Off-dry" means slightly sweet. Wines of this nature make a perfect match for gorgonzola cheese. I'm thinking of one of my favorites - Vouvray. 100% Chenin Blanc, this wine comes from the Loire Valley in France and can be found in all sorts of styles ranging from dry, to off-dry, to sweet. Off-dry Vouvray typically has flavors of peach, honey, fig and apricot. The slightly sweet characteristic is a great contrast to the salty flavors of the cheese, so you have that whole "sweet/salty" thing going on - like chocolate covered pretzels.

Look for a label that says "Demi Sec" (off-dry). If you see the word "Moelleux" or "Doux" on the label, the wine will be more sweet. ("Sec" is the driest level). For fantastic examples of Vouvray, look to Domaine Huet. This are indeed very special wines!

Friday, June 10, 2011

a springtime Caprese

How laughable that not even a month ago we were bemoaning the cold rainy weather. It feels like August in Key West right now, here in Queens, NY and we have barely brushed the surface of June.  It is already too hot to cook, so I am offering up a version of a deep summer recipe that would suit a steamy day like today.
 Lemon Balm has taken over my herb bed.  It is time to be ruthless and tear some out.

My herb garden has already become so overgrown it needs serious cutting back. A fresh herb pesto, made with a mix of the tenderest of spring herb leaves, is great to have on hand in the fridge. This pesto becomes a perfect addition to salads, soups, as a starter for a vinaigrette or a topping for grilled vegetables. Add some mayonnaise to it and use it as a sandwich spread.
With Caribbean mangoes now very visible in the markets what a great time to give this fruit a shot on the grill! For best results look for a firm, ripe mango that is not too mushy. The heat and smoke will intensify the flavor and leave really pretty grill marks on the flesh.
Gather up the ingredients for a simple summer salad.

With all this new-found abundance a grilled salad of Mango and mozzarella cheese with fresh herb pesto becomes a simple meal that can come together in minutes, which is about all the time you would want to spend cooking in this heat. The recipe is a play on the traditional Caprese Salad of fresh mozzarella cheese and garden fresh tomatoes served with basil and olive oil. We still have several weeks before any good tomatoes will be available, so consider this alternative for a springtime take on this classic.

Grilled Mango and Mozzarella Salad with Herb Pesto
oil for grilling
1 mango, peeled and sliced into slabs
1 lb. fresh mozerella, sliced into 1/2' slabs
6-8 large lettuce leaves
1/2 cup fresh herb pesto- see recipe below

Lightly oil a hot grill and cook the mangos about three minutes per side, till warmed through with visible grill marks, but not too cooked that they fall apart. Remove from heat. Add the sliced mozerella on the grill for barely one minute to warm the chesse, but don't let it melt into the grill.
Arrange the slices of cheese and the mango on a bed of the lettuce leaves and dress with the herb pesto.

Fresh Herb Pesto
-for this recipe mix and match herbs as you like. It could be just one herb, like the classic basil or a mix of two or more.  If you are mixing different herbs from the garden, choose the youngest, most tender leaves- any of these would work well: parsley, mint, tarragon, cilantro, sage, oregano, lemon balm, chives, basil, dill, chervil, lovage, thyme.

2 cups chopped fresh herbs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons walnuts
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend till the consistensy is thick, adding more oil as needed.
Makes about one cup. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

For another grilled mango recipe, one that includes shrimp and a spicy BBQ, sauce check out my post on the Edible Queens Blog.

Deb, you should consider a career in cookbook photography. As if your schedule isn't full enough! But honestly, your pictures are beautiful!  The salad looks gorgeous.

For those of you red wine lovers...sorry, but this time of year I'm mostly about white, especially with all of these wonderful light salads. That being said, I'm a big believer in simply choosing whatever wine you desire, to complement the foods you love. So, if it's red your craving, that's what you should drink. Just be sure to try and match the body of the wine with the weight of the meal. You don't want one to overpower the other. For example, you wouldn't go with a big heavy Cab here. Look for something on the lighter side like a Beaujolais perhaps.

For me, typically I would go with something light, dry and crisp. But here I'm going to be adventurous and go for a Moscato d'Asti. Often enjoyed as a dessert wine, it is sweet and low in alcohol (which makes it perfect for an afternoon brunch). This slightly sparkling (frizzante) white comes from the region of Asti in Piedmont, in northwest Italy. Moscato Bianco is the grape. Flavors of peach and pear are dominant in this crowd-pleasing wine. It's particularly delicious with fresh fruit (hence my choice for this recipe)! Deb's summery salad and a glass of Moscato are a perfect combination this time of year.

Moscato's are also very reasonably priced - there are so many outstanding examples in the $15 price range. La Spinetta is one of my favorite producers. Their Moscato d'Asti Bricco Quaglia is sublime...and affordable at $15.99. These wines are not meant to be aged so try to find the youngest vintage you can. Right now, the 2010's are what you should be looking for.

Mmmmm. I know what I'm making this weekend!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

old friends


Hot weather hit us hard this holiday weekend. Yeoach! Not that I am complaining. A trek upstate to visit very dear friends hosting a large house party, one where we could all spend time outdoors, was on my agenda. The countryside was dripping in green with the humidity keeping the weekend pace in definite slow-mo.

No one wanted to spend much time on cooking projects, but ya gotta eat! So with the grill going it was all about making life easy. The guests assigned to cooking duties decided to surprise me by making the chickpea quinoa patties from our January 27, 2010 Grapes and Greens post. When it got time to fry these vegetable burgers, the innovative home cooks decided to skip the trouble of heating a pan with oil and planned to throw them on the grill instead. Just before the patties hit the flames they presented me with the idea. Slightly skeptical but curious, I advised adding a bit more flour to the recipe to help keep the patties tight, worring that they would fall to mush on the hot grate. The grill chef wielding the spatula was instructed to "be gentle" and we all held our breathes. Without much mishap several came off the grill in reasonable shape and although they were a little drier than I would have liked, there was a very pleasant smokiness to them.
 Grilled Chickpea Quinoa and Spinach burgers can survive an open flame!

One of my favorite go-to recipes to compliment just about anything that comes off the grill is green olive salsa, a recipe I explored last June on this blog. One of the great pleasures of the recipe is its simplicity. The ingredients are combined in a food processor, pulsed a few times, and then served.  We had it this weekend, served several ways: as a condiment for the chickpea-quinoa patties, as a salsa on top of crackers and as a tangy topping for the inevetable grilled meats that hit the table.

Green olive salsa requires not much more than scooping olives out of a jar. I like pitted, pimento stuffed olives and I usually have a jar on hand in my pantry. Jazz it up with garlic, a squirt of lemon juice and plenty of fresh herbs. It can sit in the fridge for two weeks and the flavor just gets better.
Green Olive Salsa tastes great just served on crackers!

What a wonderful way to spend the weekend, relaxing with friends, cooking under a big beautiful sky and eating what nature so graciously provides.

Sounds like you had a wonderful, peaceful weekend. Mine, on the other hand, was spent at the very crowded town pool keeping a close watch on my little ones. Weather was perfect and a great time was had by all. Including me! Spent the late afternoons barbequing with friends.

When I barbeque, doesn't matter the fare, I just love a glass of Rose. It just goes with everything. And when I am invited to friends' homes during the summer, it's typically what I bring. There's just something so festive about it, and it undeniably exemplifies "summer".

There's no question that Rose would be a spectacular match for Deb's Chickpea, Quinoa and Spinach patties. On a side note - those patties are one of my all-time favorite recipes from this blog. I make them all the time, and I thank Deb for introducing me to them! I've served them to friends who are always impressed with the simplicity combined with the delicious results!

Currently I am into French Rose. My go-to these days is the Domaine Haut Cances Cairanne Rose. It's a small production from the Rhone. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan, it is a wonderful refreshing wine with lots fruit and plenty of spice. The best Rose shouldn't taste like a "pink" wine - there should always be a red wine presence. You can pair this wine with just about anything. It might be tough to find - you can always ask your local retailer for something similar. A great Rhone Rose can typically be found for around $15-$20. Please do yourself a favor - if you are not already familiar with these perfect hot-weather wines, take the time to seek them out and experiment! You won't be disappointed!