Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cucumber Lemongrass Soda

Lately there has been an overabundance of merriment amongst me and my friends, including a trip to the State Fair last week in which I ate enough to feed a small army. I spent 8 hours wandering around consuming corn dogs, cheese curds, saltwater taffy, beers, and mini-doughnuts (there's more, but really, that's plenty). I felt awesome when I was eating all of it like I was some sort of bottomless pit, but the next morning I had a pretty major food hangover.

The next day I tried to detox with some green tea and a nice salad which helped. However, due to sodium overload the day before I couldn't quench my thirst. I thought I'd whip up some sort of cleansing tonic for myself and came up with this citrus-laced, sparkling soda.

I've always liked adding cucumber slices to water which Martha told me to do years ago in an old issue of Living. It adds such a pure, fresh note. There were some leftover stalks of lemongrass in the fridge from the dish I made in last post. I steeped the stalks in sugar and water resulting in a fragrant syrup. A touch of lemongrass syrup, sparkling water, crisp slices of cucumber and lemon made for a perfect summer refresher. I felt better straight away.

For one drink:
  • 1 tablespoon lemongrass syrup* (more or less to taste)
  • Sparkling mineral water
  • 3 thin cucumber slices
  • 1 thin lemon slice
  • 1-2 stalks of fresh lemongrass

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add 1 tablespoon syrup and fill with mineral water. Stir together. Add the slices of cucumber and lemon. Garnish with a lemongrass stalk and serve.

*In a small saucepan stir together 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 1/2 cup lemongrass cut into 1-inch lengths. Bring to a boil and strongly simmer for about 3 minutes. turn the heat off, cover and allow to steep for one hour. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a sealable container and store in the refrigerator for a couple weeks. Makes about 3/4 cup of syrup.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beans & Cabbage in Coconut Sauce

A couple months ago I was whisked away to Singapore, a place I have been dying to go to ever since I read Calvin Trillin's article in The New Yorker about the street food scene there. The country, and the food, did not disappoint. There's no doubt in my mind that I would be content going from hawker stand to hawker stand forever and ever eating my way through fish ball noodle soup, chili crab, and washing it all down with freshly-pressed sugarcane juice.

One of the oddest (and memorable) meals we ate was called Nasi Lemak which is a dish that has many components to it. As the man in charge kindly explained to me, you start with coconut rice and the "gravy" which is a burgundy red chili sauce. To that most people add a fried egg, fried chicken and some stewed green beans in coconut milk. There were many other items to potentially add including: tofu cakes, fish cakes, hashbrowns (I know, so weird) and most alarming, hot dogs.

I thought of the delicious soft stewed green beans that were piled on my Nasi Lemak plate when I saw heaps of fresh beans at the farmer's market the other day. I figured I could try my hand at recreating them and somehow got it right on the first try. At the last minute I decided to add red cabbage, which is growing in my garden, to the beans and it was a terrific combination. Although, I must warn you, the cabbage turns the sauce an unappealing murky mauve shade but just don't look directly at it and everything will be fine.

Because the vegetables are stewed, and the whole point is to cook them until they're soft, this recipe can easily be made ahead and reheated the next day. I suspect they might have been even better the next day as they had time to soak in the delicious lemongrass-scented sauce.

For 4 servings:
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass
  • Large pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallot
  • 1 red chili, minced
  • 4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed
  • 14 ounces light coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup chopped, roasted unsalted cashews

With a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, lemongrass and salt together. This will take a bit of work and some sweat. Really, it might work in a food processor as well but I was trying to be authentic. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, chili and lemongrass paste to the oil and stir-fry until fragrant and soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add in the cabbage and saute for a couple minutes more, stirring frequently. Add the beans and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce. Serve, sprinkled with the cashews.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Watermelon Raspberry Sorbet

Today I was strolling through a neighborhood farmer's market with my good friends Guestblogger Eric and Burt. We checked out the peak summer bounty of beans, beets, squash, eggplants, herbs and tomatoes. At this particular market there are great local vendors offering amazingly good, local food including eggplant Parmesan hoagies, herby falafels, and thirst-quenching Arnie Palmer's.

One of the vendors was selling watermelon popsicles and I felt quite satisfied with myself that I had made a similar frozen treat earlier this morning. Mine is currently in sorbet form and has the additional red richness of raspberries. This combination of fruity goodness could easily be made into popsicles if you have some molds, just omit the alcohol which keeps the sorbet from freezing solidly.

One might not think that watermelon and raspberries are a match but I've been on this recent kick of combining foods that are the same color and let me just say: so far, so good. I'm assuming there are all sorts of nasty combinations out there...peas and honeydew come to mind for instance. But let's focus on the harmony that is lemon and yellow squash (my last post) and today's red sorbet which was a refreshing, supertasty treat.

For one quart:
  • 4 cups cubed watermelon
  • 6 ounces raspberries
  • 3/4 cup simple syrup*
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon white rum (or vodka)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the watermelon and raspberries. Puree until very smooth. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the simple syrup and lemon juice. Refrigerate for one hour.

For Sorbet: Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process until quite slushy. With the machine running, add the rum or vodka until incorporated. Transfer to a quart-sized container and freeze. Allow to sit out for 20 minutes before serving.

For popsicles: Omit the rum or vodka. Pour into molds and freeze until solid.

* to make simple syrup, in a small saucepan combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Boil for several minutes, remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature. Transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lemony Summer Squash Soup

I've been in love with yellow summer squash as of late and I think that it mainly has to do with its sunny hue. As far as I'm concerned there's not a discernible difference in flavor between it and zucchini but perhaps the vast, superhuman amounts of zucchini I've eaten these last few summers have required that I take a break.

I didn't know if this would be the case or not but I got it in my head that because lemons and yellow squash share the same vibrant shade, they might also go well together in a recipe. I think this is officially so for this simple soup is short on ingredients but full of brilliant flavor.

I used a mandoline to speedily slice the squash and sauteed them with some sweet onions in a little butter and olive oil. The flavors were enriched with a touch of sweet curry powder and made hearty with the addition of some fragrant, cooked brown basmati rice. A thin slice of lemon floating on top of it all was pure happiness.

For 4-6 servings:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 medium summer squash
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet curry powder
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked long-grain brown rice
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 thin slices lemon, seeds removed
Heat the butter and oil in a pot over medium heat. When melted, add the onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, trim both ends of the squash and then in half lengthwise. Thinly slice into 1/8-inch half moons - a mandoline makes short work of this task. You should have about 3 cups of squash.

Add the squash to the pot and saute for 2 minutes. Add the salt and curry powder and cook for 1 minute more. Add the stock, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook over a simmer, for 10 minutes. Add the rice and simmer for 10 minutes more. Stir in the lemon juice.

Ladle into shallow bowls and float a slice of lemon over the top.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cantaloupe Agua Fresca

I found myself with 3 cantaloupes on my kitchen counter. I had already eaten one and was not enticed by the idea of eating 3 more plain. Last summer I made this Cantaloupe Ginger Sorbet which was fantastic, but opted for an agua fresca instead.

An agua fresca (fresh water), most commonly found in Mexico, is just fruit blended with water and sugar to make a super refreshing beverage. I used honey instead of sugar and found the peach-colored drink to capture the melon in all its juicy, summery glory. The pinch of salt and acidic lime cuts the honey sweetness in just the right way.

Use more or less honey to taste as it really depends on how sweet the cantaloupes are to begin with. This would be great with a summer brunch or barbecue and comes together in no time flat.

For about 6 servings:

  • 7 cups cantaloupe cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup honey, to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • The juice of 1 lime
  • Lime wedges, for garnish

In a food processor combine the cantaloupe and 1 cup of the water. Process until very smooth, about 1 minute. Pour the cantaloupe puree through a sieve into a bowl, discarding any solids. Stir in the honey, lime juice, and remaining 2 cups of water. Refrigerate for one hour and then serve, over ice, garnished with lime wedges.

The agua fresca will keep for 2 days.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chipotle Kale Stew

I decided to rebel against the sticky, muggy, Midwest heatwave and turn the stove on. I had some beautiful, healthful kale just waiting to be eaten along with some Minnesota sweet corn and thought that perhaps I could turn these into a Mexican-flavored summer stew. I added some Yukon Gold potato for some extra heartiness, and those three vegetables laced with the chipotle's subtle smokiness and heat proved to be a perfect combination.

I don't have kale growing in the garden this year and I miss it. There's something about its superfood status that increases my enjoyment of eating it. A large bunch cooks down nicely yet retains it's chew and dark green minerality. The sweet corn is so excellent right now and the crunchy kernels don't need to be added to this stew until the very end where they barely require a simmer.

Don't forgo the pepitas and limes. Although this stew is great on its own, the nutty seeds and tart citrus finish things off nicely. I drank a tall glass of peach iced tea to fend off the heat and had some super watermelon for dessert. I suspect this might be a perfect summer meal.

              For 4-6 servings:

              • 2 tablespoons canola oil
              • 1 cup chopped onion
              • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
              • 2 cups cubed yukon gold potato
              • 8 cups kale, center ribs discarded, chopped into bite-sized pieces
              • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
              • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
              • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
              • 1 chipotle, finely chopped from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce
              • 1-2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can
              • 3 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
              • 1/4 cup raw pepitas, toasted
              • Limes, quartered, for garnish

              Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the potato, kale, salt and cumin and cook, stirring frequently for a few minutes more.

              Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir in the stock. Add the chipotle and adobo sauce. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, allowing to simmer, covered. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potato is cooked through. Add the corn and simmer, uncovered for 2 minutes more. Taste, and add more salt if desired.

              Ladle into bowls and garnish with the pepitas and a squeeze of lime.

              Thursday, August 5, 2010

              Sour Cherry Tart

              My good friend and frequent guestblogger, Eric M, recently took a trip to Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is known for it's storied cherry history dating back to the 1800's so I was undoubtedly pleased when he presented me with a large jar of unsweetened sour cherries in their own juice a few days ago. Each time I passed by the kitchen I would glance at the ruby red fruit and start to wonder how I would use them up.

              While I brainstormed, I opened the cherry jar and fixed myself a cocktail made from Malibu rum, cherry juice, a couple cherries, sparkling water and a squeeze of lime. That was nearly worthy of a post it was so good. In fact, if you happen to have all those things on hand, you should really go fix yourself a Cherry Malibu Cocktail right now.

              Instead I decided on a tart featuring a puff pastry base, a layer of honey sweetened crème fraîche, the cherries of course, and a saucy cherry syrup to finish. This tart does require some steps but is quite simple and pleasant to make, not to mention, the final result is dazzling.

              For one tart:
              • 1/2 cup unsweetened cherry juice
              • 1/4 cup sugar
              • 1 tablespoon kirsch
              • 8 ounce sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
              • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
              • 1 tablespoon honey
              • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
              • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
              • 2 cups unsweetened sour cherries in juice (drained, juice reserved)

              In a small saucepan stir together the cherry juice, sugar and kirsch over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook, until reduced by half and syrupy, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

              Heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, unfold the sheet of puff pastry. Sprinkle lightly with flour and roll out to a dimension of 14" x 10". Moisten a 1/2-inch border with cold water and fold the edges over to create a frame around the pastry. Make sure to press down on all four corners lightly to make sure it's sealed. Prick the pastry all over with a fork. Transfer the pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the center of the oven. Bake until just golden, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

              While the pastry is cooling, whisk together the crème fraîche, honey and almond extract until smooth. Measure out the cherries and set over a colander. Squeeze the cherries gently with your hands to get rid of most of the juice. Reserve the juice for another use.

              When the pastry is completely cooled, spread the crème fraîche evenly over it. Scatter the cherries over the top and then sprinkle with the almonds. Drizzle the cherry syrup evenly over the tart, reserving any unused syrup for another use. Serve the tart immediately, sprinkled with some confectioner's sugar if desired.

              Monday, August 2, 2010

              Smoky Grilled Salmon with Pickled Fennel

              This is dish is all about contrasts: sweet and smoky grilled salmon, chilled, crisp pickled fennel with a touch of rich and spicy ginger mayonnaise. Although the list of ingredients and steps may seem fussy, it really was a breeze to put together.

              I started out by wanting to quickly pickle a perfect summer bulb of fennel but wasn't sure what to pair it with until I saw some beautifully coral-hued sockeye salmon at the store. I thought that the natural sweetness of the salmon would be the perfect foil for the vinegary bite of the fennel.

              The smokiness of the salmon is achieved by rubbing the fillet with pimentón, a smoked Spanish paprika and one of my favorite ingredients. The salmon cooks quickly on a hot grill and the brown sugar in the dry rub creates a caramelized crust on the exterior. The plate is finished with a touch of some mayonnaise and a scattering of fresh chopped herbs.

              For 4 servings:

              Pickled Fennel:

              • 1 small bulb fennel
              • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
              • 1/4 cup sugar
              • 1/4 cup water
              • 1/3 cup rice vinegar

              Trim both ends of the fennel and thinly slice it on a mandoline. Place the fennel in a colander and sprinkle the salt over it. With your hands, toss the salt with the fennel and place the colander in the sink to drain for 30 minutes.

              Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar, water and vinegar. Rinse the fennel with cold water very thoroughly to remove the salt. Place the fennel in the bowl with the vinegar mixture and refrigerate for one hour or up to 2 days.


              • 1 pound salmon fillet
              • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
              • 1/2 teaspoon pimentón
              • 1/4 teaspoon salt
              • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
              • 2 teaspoons canola oil

              In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, pimentón, salt, and turmeric. Coat the salmon with the oil and then rub the sugar mixture into the flesh of the fish.

              Preheat a grill until hot. Add the salmon, skin side down and cook for about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for a couple minutes more, depending on thickness, or until just cooked through.

              Ginger Mayonnaise:

              • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
              • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger + juice
              • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil

              Stir together the mayonnaise and ginger. Set aside.

              To assemble: Place the fish onto 4 plates and spoon a little of the mayo amongst each plate. Top with the fennel and sprinkle with the herbs. Serve immediately.