Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

 

cherry sorbet tile

 

So last summer, if you happened to be watching this blog, you might have noticed a feature in the sidebar on all the amazing ice cream we found, or this post, which mentions Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.  People, this ice cream, it’s fantastic.  It’s fair to say I’ve never had better in the American style, where the milk and cream flavors predominate.  We got to go there again this summer, and as we sat in the shop, (me alternately closing my eyes, making noises of food bliss, and trying to eat faster so that Bryan wouldn’t get it all) I happened to glance over and saw this book sitting on the shelf above the freezer.  The cover said Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Expletives may possibly have left my lips, followed by, “is that what I think it is?!?”  We live a long way from Ohio, people, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by a book at first sight.

It turns out this book, it’s about as splendid as can be.  Not just a couple of recipes from the shop—I’m pretty sure every recipe she had at publication is in there.  It’s open source dessert: complete with sauces, candies for mixing in, toppings, sundae recipes, and the exact techniques you need to get the texture and flavor of her ice cream yourself.  Which are, have I mentioned, amazing?

It’s cherry season where we are now (in Michigan) and when we voted on which cherry dessert to make, sorbet was the winner.  I had left the book at home, but between memory and experimentation I was able to replicate a sorbet recipe.  When we got our hands on another copy, it turned out the amount of sugar that we decided was perfect, it was what Jeni already specified.  A note about the corn syrup: this is not something I would normally buy.  But if you read the book or visit the shops, it will be clear to you as it is to me that Jeni is as passionate about quality fresh ingredients, local and organic sourcing, and above all flavor and texture, as anyone could possibly be.  She is also passionate about the science of ice cream and getting the exact result she is after, and therefore I bought corn syrup.  More experimentation on my part will come later.  As a foodie friend of ours said (after eating the sweet corn and black raspberry flavor that we made), “Whatever that book says, you should do it.”  For minimum stress levels, make this the day before you want to serve it, so that you’re sure everything will have time to chill and freeze.

 

 

cherry sorbet towel

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

1 quart fresh tart cherries, pitted.  If you don’t have a cherry pitter, I find the easiest way is to hold the cherry in the fingertips of both hands, and use your two thumbs to split it open and pull out the pit.  It’s ok that the cherries come out in two uneven halves, because the next step is to purée them in a food processor until fairly smooth.  It’s ok if the purée is a little bit chunky and/or still has some bits of cherry skin visible.

Combine the fruit with 3/4 cup sugar (I used natural cane sugar) and 1/3 cup light corn syrup in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon kirsch (unsweetened eau de vie distilled from cherries).  Jeni’s original recipe uses lambic or sour beer, and it’s effervescent and delicious.  Amaretto instead of kirsch would also be really, really good.

Pour the cold sorbet mixture into your ice cream freezer and spin until it’s just the consistency of very softly whipped cream, or barely pourable.  This book advises that whipping it too long while it’s freezing will result in too much air being mixed in.  Bryan and I had a big debate about what “barely pourable” means, but despite that and with two experimental batches under my belt, I actually suspect that there’s a bit of leeway here.  I also suspect that if you don’t have a ice cream maker, you could just stick the mixture in a tub in your freezer and as long as you remembered to get it out and stir it fairly frequently for a while, it would come out pretty great.  Anyway, if you are using an ice cream maker, once you think it’s frozen enough, pour it into a container and put it in the freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.  This book advises pressing a sheet of wax or parchment paper onto the surface.

This was as good as it looks, maybe better, with amazingly intense cherry flavor.  Possibly even better eaten side by side with a creamy flavor, like the roasted pistachio.  I’m out of superlatives.  Go eat this!

 

cherry sorbet with pistachio

 

 

 

 

Northern Arizona Corn Bread

 

NAZ cornbread

 

One of the few recent food happenings I have actually gotten a photo of is this cornbread.  It’s my adaptation of a recipe that my Mom has made since I was little.  It came from one of my elementary school teachers, Ms. Bené.  We made it during our creative retreat this year, actually twice, it was a hit!  It’s a sweeter-style cornbread, what in the US we call “Northern” style.  I’ve given it a Southwestern twist as well.  It’s great with blue cornmeal, if you can find it, and pretty awesome with some chiles inside as well.

 

Northern Arizona Cornbread

In a large bowl, mix well:

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

 

Stir in:

1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

-or- plain milk and no soda

The buttermilk gives a nice flavor, but it’s not necessary.  Either way, you can add a dash more milk for a very moist cornbread.

 

Pile on top of the liquids in the bowl:

1 cup blue cornmeal (or yellow if you can’t find blue.)

1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use white or a mix if you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder (at sea level, at 7000′ I use 1  1/4 tsp)

Stir just until blended.

 

Optional: remove the stems, centers, and seeds from 3 roasted green chiles.  Cut into thin strips, and stir in just before baking.  This adds a delicious bit of spiciness, but leave out if you are serving the cornbread along with other hot foods, which it goes really well with! Chile time is coming again soon!

 

Scrape into a heavy baking pan.  Any size 9 x 9″ or bigger will work, the cornbread will just be a little thicker or thinner.  Bake at 350˚ F for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  It should be a little bit brown around the edges and golden on top, although with the blue corn it can be harder to see.   Enjoy!

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .

 

DIY Crème Fraîche – and Kohlrabi Salad

 

Or, why I like The Joy Of Cooking so much.

 

creme fraiche and kohlrabi

I know, it looks like strange bedfellows, but keep reading . . .

 

If you’ve never had crème fraîche, I recommend trying it.  It’s kind of like sour cream, but a little less sour and much more subtly flavored.  And expensive, at least here.  It’s a cultured food, so we figured that if some of the cultures are still active, we might be able to get more crème fraîche by adding some of what we had to some plain cream.  Good quality organic heavy cream is about 1/4 the price per ounce of crème fraîche, at least in Flagstaff, AZ.

And in fact, if you look up crème fraîche in the KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS section at the back of The Joy of Cooking (I love that part of the book), they suggest as a substitute: adding one tablespoon of buttermilk to one cup of heavy cream, warming it to 110° F on the stove, and then pouring in into a jar, letting it set loosely covered “until the cream has thickened and has a pleasant mildly sour flavor,” anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days.

We tried the same thing, using one tablespoon of store-bought crème fraîche to one cup of cream.  And, almost three days later, tada!  It’s funny because it looks like nothing is happening for quite a while, the cream still very liquid, and then finally a few more solid clumps appear, and the then bam! it’s done.  Once it gets as thick and mildly sour as you would like, store it in the fridge to keep it from becoming overly acidic.

These directions say to leave it in a warm place while the cultures are working.  Our house is short on warm places in the winter, so the first time I tried it, I left the little jar near the stove, figuring that whenever I heated something up it would get a little warmth.  That was the time it took almost the whole three days, but definitely worked.  The next time, I actually forgot to heat it at the beginning, I just added 1 tablespoon of the first batch to one cup of fresh cream and stirred it around.  I thought it might benefit from a warmer place, so I put it in the middle of the burners on the stove as I was cooking dinner, checking from time to time to make sure the jar was getting warm, but not hot, and to rotate it around a bit.  That time the whole jar had become thick crème fraîche by the next morning!

 

kohlrabi salad

 

Ok, so once you have some crème fraîche, kohlrabi is probably not the first thing you are inspired to put it on.  Dolloped in soup or on waffles might sound more luscious, and both are wonderful.  But, if you’ve never had kohlrabi, I definitely recommend it.  It’s one of those winter vegetables that looks knobbly and scary on the outside, but on the inside has a lovely subtle flavor, in this case a little cabbage, a little nutty, and quite good.

I tried one recipe for kohlrabi salad earlier this winter, but I thought the amount of lemon juice in the dressing overwhelmed the soft flavors.  If you look up almost any specific vegetable in Joy, it will tell you not only whether it is good raw or cooked, and how to cook it, and whether to peel it first, but it also gives a list of flavors that compliment that veggie particularly well.  That features was a huge help when we joined our local CSA – even though I had never heard of most of the greens we got, they were almost all listed, and I could figure out at least whether they were for cooking or salad, and what they were likely to taste like.

Under kohlrabi it says, among other things, that it goes well with cream, parsley, and dill.  As do carrots, and so . . .

 

Recipe Sketch: Kohlrabi and Carrot Salad with Crème Fraîche

This makes enough for 2 or 3 servings, feel free to make more!

 

Peel, taking off the woody outside layer (chew on a bit if you are not sure), 2 small kohlrabi

Scrub one medium carrot (I pretty much never peel carrots)

Grate the kohlrabi and carrot on the largest teeth of your grater (a trick I only recently figured out is to leave the carrot top as a handle, start grating from the skinny end, and stop when you get almost to the top).

Put these in a bowl, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche, and mix with your fingers, it should be slightly creamy all over.

Sprinkle on about a tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and fresh parsley.  (Remember how I keep herbs in a jar in the fridge?  Dill keeps practically indefinitely that way.)

Mix together, taste, and add a pinch of salt if desired.  If you are not serving it right away, you may find that the veggies have absorbed some the liquid and the salad is a little dry, if so you can add a little more crème fraîche or regular cream before serving.

 

I love all harmonious delicate flavors in this salad.  And, as you might guess, some crème fraîche mixed with the cream for carrot and raisin salad is pretty great as well.

If you can’t find any crème fraîche to start from where you live, you may be able to get the cultures from a source like New England Cheesemaking Supply.

I did a little research on using the same process to make perpetual yogurt, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never tried, but it’s now next on my list of kitchen projects.  From what I’ve read so far it seems only slightly more complicated, heating the milk, I presume to kill of any unwanted bacteria, then adding the yogurt or culture once it’s cooled back to warm.

What about you – have you made your own crème fraîche or yogurt, or other cultured food?  Any tips or thoughts?

 

Simple Homemade Cheese – Goat Cheese and Paneer too!

 

My friend Tom comes up with some good ideas sometimes (shh – don’t tell him!) especially when it comes to food.  The other day he appeared at my house with some goat cheese he made.  I have been making fresh paneer cheese for Indian food for a while, mainly because we live a fairly small town and (to my knowledge) you can’t buy it here.  So, I already had a method for fresh cheese that’s pretty foolproof and I know works with a variety of different ingredients, and thanks to Tom’s idea, I tried it with goat milk too, and it worked great!  I got a soft fresh goat cheese.

I first learned this method from reading the paneer cheese directions in Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath, my favorite Indian cookbook.  Since then I have figured out a few tricks and variations.  One thing I love about this way of making cheese is that you don’t need anything you don’t already have in your kitchen or can’t easily get.  And there’s only one thing you need to know that may not be obvious if you’ve never made cheese before – read on.

 

fresh cheese 1

 

Recipe Sketch: Simple Homemade Cheese

Start with milk.  You can use whole or low-fat, cow or goat etc.  If you can get small-batch pasteurized, or non-homogenized milk, it will make a big difference in the texture of the curds and the cheese, for the better.  We used to get local dairy milk in glass bottles in Madison, which worked great.  Organic Valley has a non-homogenized “grass milk” I can get here, which also works great.  Don’t worry if you can’t find anything other than ultra-pasteurized milk though, you can still make cheese!  The only goat milk I could get was homogenized and ultra-pasteurized, and it still worked, as you can see.

Put the milk in pot with room to spare.  You can use whatever portion of milk you happen to have left in the fridge.  Most of what’s in milk is water, so be prepared for to more to become whey than cheese.  I used 1 quart of goat milk and got just over 5 oz of soft cheese, a ball about the size of my fist.

Heat the milk until it starts to boil, stirring occasionally.  Stay around the kitchen for this part, even though it will take a little while for the cold milk to heat, because as soon as it starts to boil it will want to boil over!  I like to put away the dishes or something while I’m waiting.

Also while you’re waiting, get out something acidic to curdle the cheese.  You can use fresh lemon or lime juice, or yogurt, cultured buttermilk, or even vinegar.  Each one will give a little different flavor to the cheese.  One of my favorites is a little lime with a little buttermilk.  Use whatever you have and experiment to see what you like best.

When the milk starts to boil, turn it down to a simmer and add a little bit of your acidic substance of choice.  Stir and wait for about 30 seconds, then if nothing is happening, add a little more acid, stir and wait again.  At some point a separation will occur, instead of milk you’ll have solid curds and translucent whey (yup – little miss muffet).  This is the key to knowing if the separation is complete, the whey will be yellowish and almost clear, you will be able to see distinct white curds floating in it.  The curds may be tiny flakes or huge globs, depending on the milk, but all the white milk solids will be in them, and they’ll be floating in the translucent whey.  I could have sworn I had a picture (from my not-well-lit kitchen) of what it looks like when the curds are huge, but I can’t find it anywhere.  I’ll take one next time it happens.  For this goat milk the curds are tiny.

 

fresh cheese 2

 

Once you have curds and whey, turn off the heat and let them rest for a few minutes while you get ready to drain the cheese.  Put two layers of cheesecloth (yup – that’s why it’s called that) in a colander.  If you want to save the whey, put a bowl under the colander.  You can use the whey instead of milk to make pancakes, etc., as a soup stock, or to make other kinds of cheese.

Pour the curds and whey into the colander.  If you want to make a firmer, sliceable cheese, add any flavorings you want at this point, while you can still stir them into the cheese.  For soft cheese you can do it later.  In any case, then gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it together, so that the cheese continues to drain.  I have a long, plastic coated twist tie that I use, one end is twisted into a loop that goes over my faucet, and I twist the other end around the cheesecloth and let it hang it the sink, still inside the colander.  You can also tie the cheesecloth to a wooden spoon or other tool laid across the top of your colander.  You just want the cheese in its cloth to be suspended so it continues to drain.

fresh cheese 3

 

That’s about it!  Leave your cheese to drain for an hour or more, depending on how firm you like it to be.  If I’m making paneer I want it to be sliceable, so I’ll leave it longer than for soft goat cheese.  You can always open the cheesecloth and check to see if it has reached the consistency you want.  If you’d like it to be firmer, just tie it back up and leave it to drain a little longer.  You can also press the cheese after draining, between two plates with something heavy on top, and leave it in the fridge like that for a few more hours to make it even firmer.  So like I said, lots of options.

Ta-da! Cheese!  You can now scoop it out of the cheesecloth and into a bowl or container to save it.   For soft cheese, you can stir in a little salt or any herbs you would like to add to the flavor.

 

fresh cheese 4

 

So there you go, I hope that’s enough to get you started on your own cheese-making adventures!

 

Ratatouille

 

This time of year, at least where I live, the market is simply overflowing with fresh veggies.  While the fruits seem to come in a relatively orderly sequence, one replacing another, the vegetables apparently just multiply, more kinds, more flavors, more colors, every week until the frost.

So, a perfect time to make something delicious out of them!  Something full & rich with the flavors of all the late summer bounty.

Ratatouille

Makes enough to feed 4 as a main course

Chop into large chunks (see the next post):

2 medium summer squash; zucchini, crookneck, etc.

2 smallish bell peppers; red, orange, yellow or purple

1 medium yellow onion

4 small or two larger eggplants

1 mildly spicy chile (optional but really good) If your chile happens to be already roasted, add it with the tomatoes.  Otherwise, keep it with the peppers, squash and onion.

This many veggies will not fit in my largest skillet in anywhere close to a single layer, meaning I know they won’t all brown on the edges.  So, I put the chopped eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil, and roast it in the oven at 375° F until soft and slightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the other veggies and put them in a large heavy skillet on high, with more olive oil, enough to keep them from sticking.  Stir occasionally, letting the surfaces of the vegetables get a nice medium brown.

While the veggies are cooking in the skillet, also chop:

4 -5 large tomatoes chopped roughly, or a little more than a pint of small ones cut in half

3-4 cloves of minced garlic

When the veggies in the skillet are just about browned, add the eggplant to them.  Make a clear space in the center of the skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil, and put the garlic in it.  When the garlic just starts to color, mix it in with the rest of the veggies, and add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat down and cook until the tomatoes start to collapse.

That’s it!  Serve with a generous portion of fresh basil (fresh oregano is also nice, although I like basil best), and a few grinds of black pepper on top.  You can salt to taste as well.

 

 

This recipe is delicious with risotto, or any cooked grain with a little cheese mixed in, or just with bread and cheese for lunch.

 

Asian Coleslaw Recipe Sketch

 

This is a family recipe in a few ways.  I first got obsessed with this salad a couple of years ago when one of my aunts was making it a lot.  Hers was inspired by two different recipes (neither for Asian coleslaw), which I bothered her until she sent me, I thought it was so good I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I have been making my version of her salad (below) for long enough that it’s established its own pattern in my head of what “Asian Coleslaw” is like.

So, during our craft retreat, another aunt decided to make “Asian Coleslaw” with some veggies left in her fridge.  Great!  I offered to help, and had to laugh as soon as she started putting things in.  Parsley?  Olive oil instead of peanut or sesame?  If you’re putting that, why not add this cauliflower?  No?  As it became more and more clear that our visions differed (and of course her version was also delicious) I realized that here was one of my own lessons coming back to me, of course you can make it with whatever you have and whatever you like!  Please feel free to experiment.

 

Asian Coleslaw

This much will feed four as a side.

Combine in a bowl:

1/2 small cabbage (your favorite kind) shredded

3 medium carrots, grated

1/4 cup chopped cashews (peanuts and or/sesame seeds would also be good)

3 green onions/scallions, chopped fine (optional)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (and/or parsley or other herbs)

Dressing (I make this in my little food processor):

1 Tablespoon shallot, or 2 cloves of garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil (you can also use peanut)

Juice of one small lime (or splash of rice vinegar, although I like lime better)

2 – 3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup

Squirt of hot sauce (or add serrano or another hot chile)

Process the dressing until everything is combined and chopped fine (you could also mince the solid ingredients by hand and combine everything in the bowl).  Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and you are done!  This also keeps quite well in the fridge for several days.

 

 
I realized as I was thinking about posting this recipe that’s a really a year-round salad.  I tend to think of it almost more for winter, since the ingredients are still readily available, and it provides a little something fresh when almost everything seems warm and stewed.  But, it also makes me think of my cousin (sweating out the Brooklyn summer without AC) and everyone stuck in the Midwest heatwave – a tasty way to get your veggies without ever turning on the oven.  I’m still making it here, even though our monsoon-season weather has been exquisite, so close to perfect that I keep sitting on the (brick) front steps with my laptop to feel the breezes.   I’m telling you, the world’s best weather is in the mountain southwest, once it starts to rain.

One last note, my DIY envelope tutorial was featured on KP’s blog today!  We became friends in person (when we lived in the same country) now I love keeping up with her fun projects and lovely photos (plus she has a recycle project challenge)!

 

Chard Phyllo Pie, and Experimenting in the Kitchen

 

Years ago I took an Indian cooking class with my mom at our local community college.  Although none of the recipes from the class became my favorites, the instructor said something which I found wonderfully liberating – use what you have.  If a recipe calls for one vegetable or spice you are out of, just try it with something similar or something you think will taste good.  Sometimes, especially when you are cooking something from a culinary tradition other than your own, it can be easy to think you have to have exactly everything the recipe calls for, in exact quantities.  However, that’s, um, never actually true!

I have been thinking about this lately and wondering how to talk about it here, especially since reading this truly stellar piece about everyday cooking on The Yellow House.  One of the true keys to this kind of culinary freedom and weekday luxury is being able to make something with what you have on hand.

For example, the other day I had chard (thanks to my aunt Barbara, who brought some from her garden all the way to Flagstaff in her cooler!), and phyllo dough, but no kind of cheese I would normally use to make spanakopita.  But I did have a large chunk of Beemster Graskaas (creamy Dutch cheese), and a bit of leftover sharp cheddar.  Hmm, I thought, this may not come out so great, but I think it’s worth a shot (embracing the possibility of failure is essential here).

Well, after a couple of bites, I looked at Bryan and asked, “What do you think?”

“I think I like it better than regular spanakopita.” he said.  So did I!  Keep in mind that our normal spanakopita recipe has been a staple in our house for years now.  This one definitely has more of an American comfort-food feeling, deliciously so.

 

Chard Phyllo Pie

 

Makes one 9 x 12 pan, or similar size

Preheat oven to 375° F

1 bunch spinach, kale, chard, or un-identified green from CSA (as long as it’s the kind you cook)

Wash and stem this, my favorite method is to grab the stem with one hand and pull the leafy stuff off with the other hand.  Put the stemmed greens in a pot with a steamer basket and some water in the bottom.  Bring the water to a boil and then turn it down to medium – low heat, let the water simmer until the greens are bright green and relaxed.

Meanwhile, finely chop ½ of one yellow onion and 2 medium garlic cloves

Saute the onion in a litle olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet or pan until it just starts to have a golden color.  Add the garlic and stir and cook for about another minute.

Scrape onion and garlic out of the pan into a bowl.

When the greens are ready, turn off the heat and let them cool for a couple of minutes.  Use tongs to transfer them to a food processor and pulse until pureed (or how you like them).  Add them to the onion bowl.

Also add to the bowl:

–       About 8 oz creamy Dutch cheese (the whole point of this post is to try whatever cheese you like/have!)

–       A little sharp cheddar cheese, or another kind that will add a little more punch to the cheese flavor

–       4 eggs

–        A few grinds of black pepper

–       A pinch of salt

Mix this all together.

Melt (I like to just drop it in the onion pan) 2 Tablespoons butter

Get out your thawed frozen phyllo dough

You may need to cut the phyllo sheets in half. If so, tightly wrap what’s left and put it back in the fridge.  Working quickly, brush a little butter in the pan, lay down a sheet, lightly brush it with butter, lay down the next sheet, etc. until you have used 8 – 10 sheets or half your stack.  Spread on the filling, then repeat with the rest of the phyllo sheets.  If you have some butter left, spread more on the top sheet or two.  Cut the spanakopita into pieces through the top layer of dough, then put in the oven and bake until the top is golden and the filling looks solid where you cut it, about 40 minutes.  With this version the filling will be a little more moist & creamy, definitely let it cook until the top is a rich golden brown.  Let cool for a few minutes, cut through the bottom, and enjoy!

 

Not every culinary experiment will produce results you want to note down and make again.  But, with just a little practice cooking with what you have & what you can find, every day can be fresh, wholesome, creative – in other words, a small miracle of food at your fingertips.

 

 

Recipe Sketch: Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Pan-Marinated Tofu

 

Last summer when we were at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, I fell in love with this salad.  Instantly it was the only thing I wanted to eat on a hot day – it’s cool, it’s nutritious, the lovely clean flavors of the sauce and herbs on top make it so refreshing.  I’m pretty sure I got it (from a local restaurant’s stand at the festival) all three days we were there, and I’ve been seeking it in other cities ever since.  This week, I was sitting on the couch, thinking about all the other things I have to do and wondering what on earth to make for dinner, flipping through my recipe book, when I remembered this salad – being home in warm weather was the perfect time to try making it myself!

 

Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Noodles: I used very thin rice stick noodles. I’ve also seen this served with slightly thicker clear or white noodles.  Whatever kind you can find, check the package directions, boil just until tender (usually only a few minutes), then rinse under cold water.

Veggies; any or all of the following: shredded carrots, thin sliced bell pepper, cucumber, zucchini . . . almost all of the versions I’ve had include bean sprouts and shredded lettuce.  Tip: rinse bean sprouts in a generous spray of very cold water to get them at their tastiest and crispiest.  For my version, I sauteed the bell pepper and zucchini strips briefly over high heat, just to get little caramelized edges, then let them cool.  If it’s really hot out, you could just leave all the veggies raw and avoid turning on the stove!

Pan-marinated tofu: this seems like a good time to include this technique, which I use pretty much every time I make tofu.  Start with extra-firm tofu.  Cut it into slices, rectangles, triangles, whatever you like.  In a large skillet, heat a generous splash of peanut oil (sorry about the no-measuring for this part, I just don’t!) over medium heat.  When it’s getting hot, add in a splash of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar or lime juice, and a small spoon of brown sugar.  Stir around until the sugar dissolves, then add the tofu.  Stir the tofu around, then shake the pan occasionally while the liquid evaporates.  Keeping the heat on med-low, and stirring when you first put the tofu in will help keep it from sticking to the pan.  Once the liquid is gone, a nice caramelized crust will form on the tofu – yummy!  I haven’t found a better way than to flip each piece over once the bottom is brown and crispy.  If there are patches of sauce left, steer the flipped pieces onto those.  You can also add a little more of the marinating ingredients if necessary.  When both sides have a lovely golden crust, you’re done!  Flip the tofu out onto a plate to cool.  I did this one day as an experiment, and I have done it every time since, when I make tofu for Pad Thai, curry, etc.  Side story: once I was hanging out with my brother while he was grilling brats.  He said it’s the juice dripping down from the meat and being shot back up by the fire that makes it taste good.  Sometimes I think of this technique as giving the tofu some tasty juice of its own.  Ok, back to the noodle salad.

 

 

Herbs and peanuts: whatever veggies and other ingredients you choose, this and the sauce are key to the flavor of this dish!  Coarsely chop a generous handful of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro.  Finely chop some raw or roasted unsalted peanuts.

Sauce:  start with equal parts maple syrup, soy sauce, lime (or lemon) juice, and water.  For one person’s lunch-size bowl, use about a tablespoon of each.   Taste and adjust.  You can also add a clove of minced garlic and/or a little hot sauce if you wish.  What I love about this is the clean clear flavors, but some friends liked it better with a LOT of hot sauce. Hat tip to theKitchn for what to put in this sauce!

Assembly:  put the bean spouts and cooled noodles in the bottom of a bowl.  A wide shallow bowl would be ideal, since the sauce tends to sink to the bottom (otherwise, stir it up).  Top with veggies, herbs, tofu and peanuts, and pour sauce over the whole thing.  Enjoy!

Variations:  I made it the next day with an fried egg on top, also super tasty but not quite as cooling.  Of course you could add stir-fried meat as well, or practically anything else you like.  Pickled vegetables? It can easily be vegan, gluten free, or not, really the sky’s the limit here!

 

 

Enjoy!  I can’t go without mentioning the dessert I made for this meal, roasted strawberry coconut milk popsicles from The Year in Food.  Dude.  These were incredible!  I’ve been dying to make them and I was so happy I finally could.  My only note would be to lightly crush or grind the cardamom.  I love it when a recipe opens up whole new ideas, I never would have thought to roast a strawberry.  My whole house was filled with an explosion of strawberry jam smell so wonderful that I couldn’t stand to spoil it by cooking anything else at the same time.  They look cool too, I couldn’t resist taking my own picture!  Anyways.  Get out there and eat some summer!

 

 

Recipe Sketch – Summer Tomato Bruschetta

About time for a post about food, don’t you think?

Although I haven’t had very many opportunities to cook on the road, we’re coming up on the part of summer where there is so much fresh lovely produce, it hardly needs actual cooking.  We found some local heirloom tomatoes last week in Maryland, although they are from the hothouse, they put me in mind of late summer bounty.

Bruschetta is one of those foods that doesn’t need much of a recipe, you can vary it infinitely to suit your taste and what’s available.  It’s also easy to present in a variety of ways; either everything mixed together to spoon on toast, or all the ingredients laid out for everyone to layer on their own.  If you are just learning to cook, it’s a wonderful way to experiment with mixing flavors and proportions.

Summer Tomato Bruschetta

I like the bulk of mine to be tomatoes, the fresher and more colorful the better.  Any size will work, bigger ones cut into smaller pieces will make the bruschetta more juicy than baby tomatoes cut in half.

I also like a lot, a lot of basil, it’s one of my all-time favorite favors.  When we rented in Madison I would get a few little basil plants at the farmers’ market in the spring and keep them going though the season.  If I’m mixing everything together, I stack the leaves, roll them up, and slice the roll into strips to sprinkle in.  If you are setting things out buffet-style, whole leaves are fine.

This is tasty with cheese, but don’t feel limited to mozzarella!  Try any kind you like, or what’s locally available where you are.  My favorite recent find was a goat cheese with the soft texture of brie.  I like not too much cheese, not to overwhelm the tomatoes, but of course you can vary it.  A soft cheese will blend more with the other ingredients, especially if you mix it all in a bowl.

A little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper will really bring the flavors together.  You can set them out if you are doing make-your-own, and drizzle them on top.

 

A feast so simple to make, you can enjoy it in your hotel room.

Here’s to the coming joys of summer!