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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

So I’ve just returned from France, particularly the Southwest region, where I spent the better part of this summer and I’ve come back energized and filled with all kinds of ideas. My weeks were filled with cooking, a lot of eating, a lot of cold rosé, good friends and twice weekly market visits. One day I walked into my friend Kate’s kitchen to the most delightful smells. In the oven were pans of the beloved Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes, slowly roasting in a little bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Later, she slipped the skins off, packed them into jars and water processed them for longer storage. Just a normal everyday occurrence for her but a light bulb went off in my head. The woman is a genius.

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Summer food is summer food for a reason. The ingredients tend to be things that are in season, many for only a short time like tomatoes and corn. The dishes typically come together quickly with a consideration given to not heating up the kitchen, utilizing techniques like grilling or a quick stovetop sauté and avoidance of the oven altogether. Full disclosure: I break this rule all the time and just sweat it out. I make what I want to make, weather be damned. Last weekend toward the end of a horrible heat wave, I was craving something cool and light and I was seriously considering sitting in a bucket of ice during every meal. Friends were coming over for Sunday Lunch and I decided to channel my inner French woman and make the ultimate summer meal I’ve enjoyed immensely during my travels – a Grand Aioli.

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I made cheese boereg over the weekend, delightful phyllo pastries filled with a mix of delicious, slightly salty cheeses. They were wonderful, perfect in this cold weather, but to make them a meal I needed something else. I’ve been trying to stick to a healthy eating regimen to start the new year and though these little pastries didn’t necessarily fit that bill, if I made a salad I could scoot it into that category with a little creative rationalization. So I made a good, chunky greek-type salad to go along with those little golden triangles. The salad, filled with fresh summery vegetables, may not the best choice for this time of year – it’s definitely more of a warmer season type dish – but I needed a little crunch, a little brightness in my gloomy day.

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I’ve got a pumpkin post happening here, something just a little bit different, and I’m going to do it without talk about that ubiquitous harbinger of autumn – pumpkin spice. Nope, instead I’m going to work in something better, something more interesting – five spice powder. As for the pumpkin, I’m going beyond the ever present can of puree, beyond the jack-o-lantern and roast a real pumpkin, in nice pretty chunks and put it on top of oatmeal. Yeah, I’m pushing oatmeal too. Oh, it’s getting a little crazy around here.

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Today is another of those goofy food holidays but this one actually makes sense given the season: National Zucchini Day. It’s that time of the year when for a lot of people, zucchinis grow 2 feet overnight and overwhelm their lives. Enthusiastic gardeners plant a little too aggressively in the spring and to their delight, the plants flourish. Come August, these formerly delightful gardens are spitting out giant zucchini like aliens. I’ve seen them abandoned in office kitchenettes, in paper bags mysteriously left near front doors, in sidewalk boxes marked “Take me! PLEASE!” and once, I saw a woman whip one out of her purse and give it to the bewildered hostess as an open house gift. Also around this time of year, I tend to get requests for a good zucchini recipe that isn’t a quick bread. As good as those are, they get pretty tired so I usually recommend this simple savory tart.

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I’ve been on a mission lately, looking at the contents of my refrigerator in new and different ways. For the last two posts, in a series I’ve come to call Why Would You Do That?, I’ve taken vegetables one wouldn’t necessarily think of cooking and done just that. I sautéed radishes. What? I braised cucumbers? What what? Much to my surprise, they were both delightful. Surprise surprise. You can learn all kinds of interesting things by turning your regular way of doing things on its ear.

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Earlier this week in my first installment of “Why would you do that?”, I sautéed radishes. Radishes are crisp and fresh. Why would you cook them? Why indeed. They were unexpectedly delicious and I started thinking of other recipes I’ve seen over the years that left me perplexed. Like cooked cucumbers. Can you, and why in the world would you, cook a cucumber?

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I am frequently overcome with waves of guilt for the amount of food I throw away. I recipe test; it’s an ever present reality. Not every recipe turns out the first, second or even third time so these are often destined for the trash. Other days, it’s things I’ve forgotten about, found again in a sorry state in the back of the refrigerator or a crisper drawer – often vegetables bought with good intentions but crazy schedules. And other times it’s parts of vegetables – greens, tops, slightly wilted bits – that I cut off and throw away wishing the city had a composting program or that I kept city chickens. I know I need to do better and sometimes I do. Last year I made a sort of meatless meatball with carrot tops that were good in an earthy, grassy kind of way and I genuinely love sautéed beet greens, enough that I frequently come home with free bunches from the farmstand. People tear these things off and toss them. Can you believe that?

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As a culinary consultant, I’ve picked up some really nifty tricks over the years. This is one of my favorites. While working on some dips for a Middle Eastern food company, I was asked to make a yogurt based spread with grilled eggplant, sort of a dairy based baba ghanoush. The provided “recipe” was a sheet of paper with an ingredient list typical of baba ghanoush: eggplant, tahini (sesame paste), garlic, lemon, olive oil. No measurements, no notes, no direction of any kind. That was part of my assignment: figure out the recipe and do it fast as the concepts were going to be consumer tested the next day. This is not entirely unusual in my line of work, which is why having a broad range of knowledge and techniques is incredibly helpful. And what I don’t know, google helps fill in the cracks.

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The outdoor farmer’s market season started here two weeks ago. This is a big deal for some of us. We Chicagoans view the start of the outdoor market season as a beacon of hope that better, warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Though this past winter wasn’t too bad, we cling desperately to every little sign possible. It’s been a tough start; the first week was chilly and I was caught in a deluge, arriving at my car soaking wet. The second week was downright cold and I received several warnings not to plant the basil plants I had just purchased until it inched up over 55°F. Oh I know, I replied, I’ve been bitten in the ass by that before. We laughed knowingly as only those who have had to yank out frostbitten tender seedlings can. Looking around, I saw the usual suspects of a new market season: asparagus and rhubarb. Harbingers of spring and predictable or not, into my bag they went.

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