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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thai Vegetable Soup



I came up with this once when my husband was at work, which meant I could spice it up as much as I wanted with commercially prepared Thai red chili paste. He has acclimated to mild heat over the years, and I now have a little less tolerance. Marriage thrives on compromise, right?

I love Thai food and have from my first taste of it at Akron's now-defunct Bangkok Gourmet restaurant. The Highland Square spot was so popular, a line would snake out the door. You could feel hungry eyes on you (or maybe your food) if you were lucky enough to get there before the crowd.

I sometimes say I would be happy living on Thai and Indian dishes. Seriously, what about grilled cheese and pastitsio? BLTs and quesadillas? Lasagna and pot stickers? But I do love both cuisines.

I used what I found in the fridge and pantry (my one nephew calls the latter "the bomb shelter") and was pleased with the results.



Thai Vegetable Soup

1 tbsp. Thai red curry paste (this is fairly spicy but won't make you cry. Use more or less, to taste)
2 cans coconut milk, thicker cream separated out and reserved (light is fine, but you will have less of the thicker cream)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 sweet bell pepper or mild cubanelle, roasted and most of skin peeled off, chopped 
1 medium zucchini
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger or 1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. dried lemon grass
1 tub firm or extra firm tofu, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
Green of choice, as much as you like (I used half of a bag of a mix of cabbages, shaved Brussels sprouts and broccoli, but would use baby spinach in the future)


Have everything chopped ahead of time.
Add oil to soup pot over medium heat. Add curry paste and the reserved coconut cream and fry, stirring, for a few minutes. Stir in onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in sweet potato and cook for 5 minutes. Add pepper, ginger and garlic and cook for 5  minutes. Stir in broth and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. If using a hardier green, add now. Simmer till vegetables are tender. Add tofu and tender greens and heat till greens wilt.

Four or so hardy servings.



Friday, September 12, 2014

Lavender Shortbread, Rose-Lemon-Thyme Tuiles






When my turn to host book club was approaching (three falls ago, I am really behind in my posts!), I finally got to try a few recipes I'd had my eye on for some time. We often try to go with the theme of the book. This time it was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which featured a character who works a little magic on townspeople with dishes using edible flowers and herbs from her garden.



I baked lavender shortbread from the great little cookbook Shortbread by Jann Johnson (this book is a must for shortbread fans), adding sparkling sugar to the top. The other recipe, for the curved, crisp French cookie called a tuile (pronounced something like tweel), was adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice MedrichI added lemon zest, petals from my mother's favorite rose, Double Delight, and thyme from my own garden.

Tuiles often get their shape by being draped over a rolling pin to cool, but my rolling pin would hold only three or four cookies. So I used a tip from the recipe: Bake the cookies on buttered foil, then when done, quickly grasp one end of the foil and gently roll it into a tube with the cookies curving inside. Let it cool and gently unroll, slowly peeling cookies from foil. Much faster than waiting for three cookies to cool on a rolling pin before continuing, and much cheaper than buying more rolling pins! I am thinking now that empty wine bottles draped with foil might work. . .

I absolutely love shortbread; It's easy and buttery and has that addictive melt-in-your-mouth texture. And these were delicious. But the tuiles, flecked with pink rose petals and bits of fresh thyme and fragrant with lemon, were beautiful, tasty and looked impressive.

I also tried a recipe for Rose Petal Iced Tea; Most of us thought it was at least "interesting," but only one of us really liked it. Fortunately, it was my house guest Maria who made sure it didn't go to waste. I don't remember now what recipe I used, but I found it online. I remember only that the rose petals were steeped in hot simple sugar syrup. It was very pretty in a glass pitcher.


Lavender Shortbread

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. dried culinary lavender
Sparkling white sugar for top

Preheat the oven to 300. Lightly butter an 8-inch round pan with a removable bottom, or use an ungreased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, beat butter till light in color with an electric mixer on low speed or a wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Mix in the confectioners' sugar salt and rose or vanilla extract and continue beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in flour until just combined.

Press the dough evenly into the pan, using the back of  a soup spoon to smooth the surface. Or,  pat the dough into a rectangle or square on the baking sheet. Decoratively score or flute the edges and prick the dough in an attractive design with a fork. Sprinkle top with sparkling sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes (start checking at 30, sooner if you patted it into a thinnish form on the baking sheet) or until set and firm to a light touch. Don't leave it in long enough to brown. Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Transfer the shortbread from the pan to a cutting board. Cut into wedges or squares with a thin, sharp knife.

Rose-Lemon-Thyme Tuiles

3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and still warm, plus extra for greasing baking sheet liners
3/4 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped if leaves aren't tiny
Zest of one lemon

2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 CAP (of bottle) rose water (probably about 1/2 tsp.)
10 to 12 rose petals, diced

Place oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven, Preheat oven to 300.

 In medium bowl, whisk together the 3 tbsp. very warm melted butter with the thyme and lemon zest, cover and let infuse for 5 minutes. Add sugar, egg whites, vanilla, rose water, rose petals, flour and salt and whisk until blended. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days before proceeding.

Place heavy foil on baking sheets dull side up, and grease with remaining melted butter. I used a pastry brush. Make sure foil is smooth or the cookies may be distorted.

Drop level teaspoons of the batter 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon and a circular motion, spread the batter evenly in 2 1/2-inch rounds or ovals about 1/16 inch thick.

If you want curved tuiles, have your rolling pin(s) (or wine bottles) ready unless you are using the foil trick.

 Bake, watching carefully, for 10 to 15 minutes (mine took 10), until the tuiles are a light golden brown nearly halfway to the center but still pale in the middle. Rotate the pans from top to bottom racks and front to back halfway through baking time to ensure even baking. If they aren't baked long enough, they won't be crispy when they cool.

For curved tuiles: As soon as you can slide a thin metal spatula under the cookies without tearing them, transfer to drape over rolling pin to cool, or grasp the edges of the foil when sheet comes out of the oven  and roll into a fat cylinder, gently curving the cookies like potato chips. Secure the foil roll with a paper clip or clothespin. When cool, gently unroll the foil and remove cookies.
Repeat until all the tuiles are baked.

To keep them crisp, store in airtight container as soon as they are cool. They will keep that way for up to a month.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Picnic Sandwiches in Hollowed Bread






There is still time for a few picnics before colder fall weather arrives. These are great, versatile, make-ahead sandwiches for a picnic or potluck and are easy to assemble and impressive to serve . . . and there is no dish to drag home! Bonus.

I've used various kinds of bread and all have worked well. Just consider your diners; lots of kids won't eat seeds and nuts and many vegetables. For children and  pickier eaters, the large, round Hawaiian bread is perfect.

The first time I made this I followed the recipe for Layered Torte in Hollowed-Out Bread from The Joy of Cocktails and Hors d'Oeurvres by Bev Bennett and Kim Upton. It involves a layer of frozen, thawed spinach, squeezed dry and mixed with other ingredients. It was good, but I prefer the simpler way I have done it since then.

It is easy to pile on whatever favorite ingredients are desired. You can go with a pizza theme by using provolone, mozzarella, pepperoni, salami and tomatoes; brush the inside of the bread with Italian dressing. Go vegetarian with cheese and vegetables. Mediterranean? Southwestern? A Greek version just popped into my head: spinach, eggplant, peppers, Feta and Kasseri cheeses, hummus, gyro loaf. For kids, you might stick to ham, turkey and milder cheeses . . . though the grownups liked that version, too.

Picnic Sandwiches in Hollowed Bread

General ingredients:

Large, round or oval bread, unsliced (Sourdough, Italian, Hawaiian, pumpernickel, artisan style)
Deli meats or thinly sliced roast chicken or pork
Sliced or crumbled cheeses
Sliced vegetables
Lettuce or spinach leaves, optional
Salad dressing of choice
Olive oil 

 Slice off the top of  bread evenly, about 3/4- to 1-inch thick, and set aside, Hollow out the loaf, leaving the bottom about 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. Brush inside of loaf and bottom of top with salad dressing. 

Layer desired elements, varying the colors so it is pretty when sliced. However, be sure to have cheese on the bottom, in  the middle and as the last layer before top is placed back on. When you bake it, the cheese melts and it all stays together better when you slice it.

Layer until almost to the top and replace the bread lid. Brush outside of bread with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Refrigerate until cooled. I usually make these the day ahead.

When cold, slice into wedges, place back in foil and transport that way. Serve cold or tepid. Note: It is easier to slice when cold.

 I do recommend that you roast, grill or otherwise cook peppers, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms and eggplant before layering. It is easier to layer and augments the flavor.

Serves 6 to 8





Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Vichyssoise with Zucchini




With summer waning, I had to sneak in one more batch of  cold vichyssoise to enjoy before crisp fall days take over.

It's not surprising that I love it; I like regular potato soup just out of the fridge, as well as most chowders.

It seems decadent, but doesn't have to be if you sub the fat-free "half-and-half" on the market (or if you are satisfied with a tiny amount of cream).

I found the original recipe on Pinterest;  It's Ina Garten's via the Food Network. I love her addition of zucchini to the basic vichyssoise. It adds a little more color, nutrition and fiber (not to mention that it uses some of the surplus that mysteriously shows up on our porches this time of year).

 I did make a few changes, noted in parentheses. The biggest change is that I used fat-free half-and-half, and more than called for. It just didn't have the creamy richness of vichyssoise with just 2 tablespoons, so I added a little at a time until it tasted right. That ended up being about a cup.... more calories, yes, but no additional fat.

And it's fairly easy, especially if you have an immersion blender to take the place of the food mill Garten uses. That just seemed like too much work! And Garten's picture showed a lot of pulp left in the mill; I wanted all of the veggies in the soup. I also use my immersion blender whenever soup recipes call for the tedious process of putting soup through a regular blender a few cups at a time. Again, too much work. Just don't lift up the immersion blender while it's on or you'll have to do laundry and some scrubbing in the kitchen. Been there, done that.

Vichyssoise with Zucchini

1 tbsp. unsalted butter (I used 2)
1 tbsp. olive oil
5 cups leeks, white and light green parts from 4 to 8 leeks (can use half leeks and half chopped sweet onion)
4 cups chopped unpeeled white (or Yukon gold or red potatoes, or combo)
3 cups chopped zucchini, about 2 zucchini
6 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black or white pepper
2 tbsp. heavy cream (I used 1 cup fat-free half and half)
Fresh chives or julienned zucchini for garnish

Slice the leeks and rinse in a colander to remove grit. Pat dry and chop. Heat the butter and oil in large stockpot. Add the leeks and onions and saute over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, zucchini, broth and seasonings. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or till vegetables are tender. Cool 5 to 10 minutes and process through a food mill using the medium disc  (I used an immersion blender right in the soup pot). Add cream or half and half and season to taste. Serve cold or hot, with garnish.

Serves 6. (Doubles easily).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer "Crab" Salad




One of the best things about summer, once you hit July and complaints about the heat start, is sweet corn. The local stuff, not the kind trucked from who-knows-where days before you see it at the grocery store in late spring. No thanks, I will wait. Eagerly, even anxiously. I am the same way with peaches.

 Garrison Keillor has been quoted as saying, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”

 No comment.

This salad makes a great, light summer meal that highlights fresh sweet corn and tomatoes. I appreciate that there is no added fat.

Once the corn is cooked, which can be done in the cool of the evening the day night before or in the early morning, you and your kitchen stay cool. I like using the imitation crab products (brands include Trans-Ocean and Louis Kemp) made from pollock. It doesn't taste exactly like crab, but it is easy to use in recipes -- you don't have to feel around to remove cartilage and shell -- and is quite affordable.

This dish was adapted from a Pinterest recipe from joyphenix.com for a pseudo ceviche that she used as a dip with tortilla or pita chips. I changed it up a bit, adding fresh sweet corn and substituting the red onion with green onion, because that was what I had. I used chopped parsley instead of cilantro out of personal preference.

This salad is best at its freshest, but it will keep several days. Just be sure to add avocado only to the part you will consume that day. Brown is not a color you want in this.


                                                     Aren't the colors beautiful?





SUMMER 'CRAB' SALAD

2 8-oz. packages imitation crab in flakes or chunks
4 ears cooked sweet corn, kernels scraped off
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
Handful fresh parsley (I like Italian, or flat leaf), minced
1 large or 2 small bunches green onions, minced, including some of green
Juice of 2 or 3 limes, to taste
1 to 2 tsp. kosher salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 avocados, chopped (add last, shortly before serving)

Open seafood packages and drain out any liquid. Separate chunks or flakes into bowl. Toss with corn kernels, tomatoes, parsley and green onion. Squeeze the juice from two limes over the salad, add salt and toss. Taste. Adjust with more lime  juice or salt and pepper as desired. Chill.
Add avocado just before serving and toss salad again. If you like, sprinkle with a little Tapatio or other hot sauce.

Nice with a crusty bread.
I think we got four or five servings out of this.