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Archive for the ‘seasonal’ Category

When did fruit salads fall out of favor? Exactly when did they universally become a bowl of underripe cantaloupe, watermelon chunks, tasteless strawberries, hard pineapple and red grapes? What happened to those intricately carved watermelons that looked like baskets or whales filled with fresh, flavorful fruit and the judicious use of a melon baller? Remember when you could order a fruit salad on a restaurant menu and it was good? As a kid I used to make really elaborate fruit salads, prettily fanned out on a plate in mosaic patterns with a bowl of berry yogurt in the center for dipping. I haven’t done that in years. I think it’s time to reclaim the damn fruit salad.

I have an abundance of peaches at the moment, the result of my brilliant idea to get a summer subscription of Georgia peaches. They are wonderful, truly wonderful, but I can’t seem to get through a shipment before the next one arrives and that’s created a bit of a backlog. First world problems, yes, I know. I’ve made ice cream and sorbets, a pie or two and last night a really wonderful salad with salty cheese and a mint vinaigrette. A delight. The best fruit salad I’ve had in a long, long while.

The peaches are not my only abundance problem right now. The mint in my garden plot is rather plentiful. No, that doesn’t quite adequately describe what is happening. My mint is a beast that requires an aggressive trim at least twice a week to beat it into submission. I’m constantly looking for things to do with it as one cannot live on mojitos alone (news flash). I love mint + peaches so I dug up a vinaigrette recipe I haven’t made in far too long. A bunch of mint, bright lime, a bit of honey; it is lovely and exceptionally good with summer stone fruits. 

Anyway, I was thinking some salty feta would be a nice addition but a trip to the farmers market had me throwing a favorite cheese into my bag from a WI vendor called Brunkow. I just call it “Brunkow Cheese” but technically it’s a ‘juustoleipa” – a mild, salty, firm, sort of bouncy cheese from Finland that holds up to heat. It reminds me a lot of halloumi or the Greek kasseri. You grill or pan fry to get a toasty crust and a melty center. If you can find this type of cheese in your store, by all means use it, otherwise look for the more readily available halloumi or kasseri as it essentially works the same. Toasty melty salty cheese, mint and peaches are a wonderful combination, especially on these hot days when you really don’t feel much like eating anything.

STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: COOL RUNNINGS. I’m not even entirely sure what I mean by that but I’ve watched 1,764 hours of Olympic coverage in the fist six days and the Jamaican bobsled team is on my mind tonight. Weird, I know. But really, I think the gist is it’s hot and I don’t feel like eating a damn thing and yet, this salad went down really well. Fresh, bright, easy and refreshing; it’s all that summer food should be.

additional peach recipes: Roasted Peach Sour Cream Ice CreamPeach Buttermilk Ice CreamPeach SorbettoPeach Frozen CustardPeach Blackberry CobblerGinger Peach Hand PiesPeach PandowdyPeach CrostadaBourbon Peach Rugelah

twelve years ago: Tart Tips & Tart DoughSour Cherry Sorbet

eleven years agoBetty’s Pies exploring Minnesota

ten years agoLife in Southwest France

nine years agoBastille Day Bomb PopsSour Cherry Slab Pie

eight years agoSpicy Pineapple PaletasHungarian Cherry Soup

seven years agoGuinness Crème Anglaise

six years agoBlender Gazpacho  

five years agoBlueberries & Cream PopsiclesBeef Bulgogi & Rice Cake SkewersThai Grilled Coconut Rice & Banana

four years agoSalmon Rilettes

three years agoGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years agoStrawberry Mascarpone Galette

last yearPico de Gallo White Bean SaladSimple Summer Fruit Tarts

PEACHES, HALLOUMI & MINT VINAGRETTE

Serves 2-3

Ripe, juicy peaches are pretty important for this one. This would also work well with nectarines, plums and probably even apricots. I might even consider plump, sweet cherries. I sometimes also like a sprinkle of Tajin on the peaches, that lime-chili-salt stuff that is weirdly addictive (I use Rancho Gordo’s version.)

for the mint vinaigrette:

¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint (10g)

3 Tablespoons lime juice

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar 

1 Tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 tsp coarse ground pepper

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

for the salad:

2 ripe peaches, pitted and thinly sliced

½ pound halloumi or kasseri (or juustoleipa cheese if you can find it)

Optional additions: arugula, Tajin (or cayenne)

  1. For the vinaigrette: add mint, lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a blender and process until smooth-ish.
  2. With the blender on low, drizzle in the olive oil and run until emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. It will be on the thin side. Set aside until needed. Vinaigrette is best within a few hours but will keep refrigerated for a few days though the freshness of the mint tends to fade a bit over time.
  3. For the salad: Leave the cheese in big pieces so it’s easier to handle, one or two pieces.
  4. Preheat a grill or or a dry non-stick pan over medium to medium high then cook the cheese until lightly browned and crusty on the outside and warm and melty on the inside. If in doubt, go with the lower temperature as the cheese will brown very quickly on a higher heat before it gets soft and melty on the inside.
  5. Cut the warm cheese into pieces.
  6. Divide the peaches and warm halloumi between two plates and drizzle a spoonful or two of the vinaigrette on top. 
  7. If desired, top with a sprinkle or two of tajin (or a pinch of cayenne) and a sprig of fresh mint. For more of a salad, placed the peaches and cheese on a bed of arugula.
  8. Serve immediately while the cheese is warm.

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We are at that amazing time of the year, well at least in the Midwest, when all that beautiful local summer produce is having its final hurrah. With not much happening due to Covid restrictions, cooking has been one of the only things that has brought me some joy. Grocery and farmers market shopping is the only thing getting me out of the house and as such, things are starting to pile up. Add to that the goods from my little community garden plot and the massive haul I brought home from a friends robust garden and I was drowning in produce. The clock was ticking; it was time to form a plan of attack. Here’s what I did with those key summer treats – Tomatoes, Peppers and Zucchini –  and some other ideas too.

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About a week ago, author Emily Nunn (@emilyreesnunn) posted a very simple frozen treat on her Instagram feed that she called “peach soft serve” – just frozen peaches and buttermilk whirled up in a blender. I swooned a little. Not only do I love peaches and buttermilk, together and separately, I loved the simplicity of it all. While I had no frozen peaches, I did have a big bag I’d just picked up at the farmers market that smelled so good it made me a bit dizzy. I had buttermilk hiding in the back of my fridge (that stuff lasts forever.) I had a blender. More pressing, I had an ice cream canister hogging up all kinds of space in my freezer and a need for that space. I was inspired.

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Let’s be frank. Things suck right now in the US. It’s really bad. A pandemic with no end in sight, a dumpster fire political situation, this energy sucking heat … its turned me upside down. On top of all that I’m eating crap. From a cooking perspective, I make plans and buy the ingredients, only to decide the next day to hit a drive thru and nap on my couch instead. To say my motivation and optimism right now is low, is a gross understatement. But sometimes you get lucky and a persistent bright light shines through. Recently, it was my friend Heather who, in addition to being a complete delight, has a magical backyard with a pool. As Chicago temperatures surged toward 90 degrees with 5000% humidity, she told me to come on over and socially distant float. It was just what I needed, mentally and physically.

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When it comes to bringing a dessert to a party or summer bbq, a fruit galette is the way to go.  Absolutely, no question. First off, they are way easier to make than a traditional pie especially in an unairconditioned summer kitchen (hello, welcome to my world.) The pastry is a lot friendlier and forgiving than a pie dough due to the addition of a bit of sugar and is much easier to handle. Since galettes are free-form, they scale up or down easily and take any extra fruit additions like a champ. The filling is simple: some kind of fruit, sugar, a bit of thickener and if you’re feeling super duper fancy, some citrus zest and/or juice. But the number one reason you should be bringing galettes to parties is that there is no need to bring a pan home. Nope. No driving back the next day to get your pie tin, no wondering where the hell the bottom to your tart pan went. Slide that thing off the sheet pan onto a piece of cardboard or a cheap thrift store plate and you’re off. How many pie plates and tart pan bottoms have you lost over the years, left at long forgotten parties? Exactly my point.

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Pan con tomate. Pa amb tomàquet. Or, simply put, tomato toast. Crusty bread, juicy tomato, maybe a hint of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That’s all there is to it. Summer in a few bites. When the tomatoes are bursting to the point of juicy ridiculousness and its too damn hot to think about doing much, this is what you make. When done properly, you’ll wonder why you eat anything else.

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I like to throw a curveball into the mix every once in a while and today, as we near the end of the 12 Days of Cookies, that is a floral flavor. Last year I included a really nice Cardamom Rose cookie in the mix, using dried rose petals and a hint of rose water. It was an interesting and rather pretty flavor to disrupt the expected holiday combinations of spice and fruit and it was lovely too. I was happy with the new addition so this year, I’ve got a lavender entry. Why not? For Day 10 of the 12 Days of Cookies, a.k.a. One Dough/Many Cookies, we have a Brown Sugar Wafer with Lemon Lavender Glaze.

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I’ve been eating a lot of watermelon and sweet corn of late. A lot. It’s what we do in the Midwest when the corn is unbelievably good and the watermelons are huge and juicy and we need to eat as much as we can before they’re gone. While cutting up the latest watermelon to make yet another delicious Vietnamese inspired salad (have you tried it yet?), I looked guiltly at the growing pile of rind destined for the garbage can. Damn, watermelons have a lot of waste. This has always bothered me so I decided to try something. I’ve long been curious about Pickled Watermelon Rind. It is the product of thrifty genius, turning waste into something delicious. Why not give it a try? I probably had the ingredients on hand and I was definitely looking for a distraction to avoid work for another hour. What was there to lose? A pile of produce scraps that was going in the garbage anyway, some vinegar and spices and an hour of my time? Ever hear of procrasti-baking? This was procrasti-pickling. The conditions were ideal.

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It’s hot. I was in France last week and it was hot. I came back to Chicago, and it was hot. So damn hot. In this kind of weather I don’t have much of an appetite, not that it slowed me down much in France (copious amounts of cold rosé certainly helped) but back home, my dinners have been a bit lackluster. Truth be told, I decided the other day I wasn’t going to eat much else besides fresh sweet corn and cold watermelon for rest of the month.

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Hey! So I’ve been cooking up a storm lately, but nothing really blog worthy. More so, just some old favorites, many that I’ve already posted. With Easter coming up, there are some good things in the archives for your holiday brunches and dinners so let’s recap today.

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