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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Saying Goodbye To Summer - Two Simple Starters

We are counting down the days until fall is upon us, and there aren't many to go. Still, I can't help but feel that for me, there's really nothing like summer. When that pleasant warmth is in the air, the living really does seem easy, and as far as food, everything just tastes a little bit better. I'm sorry to see the season go. 

One of our favorite summer vistas, Photo: NK 
The number one thing I love about cooking and eating in summer is that the absolute simplest ingredients really seem to shine and require minimal fuss. This also means that entertaining becomes even more of a breeze. Picking ingredients at the height of freshness and ripeness is the key to cooking in any season (and Autumn's no slouch when it comes to amazing seasonal produce). 

So we're sending off Summer 2014 by highlighting two ingredients that peak in the month of September- Tomatoes (as we discussed in a recent post) and beautifully fragrant Honeydew Melons.We'll show you a pair of INSANELY simple serving ideas for these late season gems. 

Get them while you can because soon we'll be talking pumpkin everything

Here goes:

Tomato & Onion Stack, Steakhouse Style - This is how they serve the Tomato and Onion Salad at the iconic Brooklyn Steakhouse, Peter Luger. It's so easy to recreate at home using a bottle of their famous steak sauce, available in most grocery stores. 

Tomato & Onion Salad a la Peter Luger, Photo: NK
Easy! Slice up super ripe Beefsteak Tomatoes and then cut equally thick rounds of Vidalia Onion or other White Onion. Layer as pictured, adding a very light sprinkle of Salt and Pepper a few times throughout. To finish, drizzle with Peter Luger Steak Sauce. I like to embellish this simple side with a quick sprinkle of Basil Ribbons, but the folks at Peter Luger serves this as-is and it's just great. Enjoy - and keep an eye out for our forthcoming post, Bringing the Steakhouse to Your House, where we explore the enumerable wonders of the Iceberg Wedge Salad. 


Honeydew Melon & Mint Appetizer  - (*pairs deliciously with a dry Rose)

A quick Melon starter. Unexpected and refreshing! Photo: NK 

HOW TO: For this incredibly easy and striking nibble, I like to slice long, thin wedges of Honeydew, and then slice them in half once more. Slice up some thin ribbons of Mint and sprinkle throughout. If your melon is perfectly ripe as it should be, this will be a light and refreshing way to kick off a meal. No one ever expects to see melon as a starter, but it's always a hit. If you prefer to be more traditional, throw some Prosciutto alongside this on the platter for a classic sweet/salty combo.  

And there you have it - two starters, both easy and delicious, as a farewell to a great season. May fall bring you many great meals ahead. Be sure to check back for plenty of seasonally inspired autumn eats. 

See you soon! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cravings - Deep Dark Chocolate: Easiest Dark Chocolate Brownies

Making Dark Chocolate Brownies is almost as easy as using a mix
Photo: NK 
Recently, I had the overwhelming urge to bake something extra decadent. Brownies are my usual choice, since I tend to have better success with them, but I did want to do something to make these Brownies really really special. For me, that means chocolatey. Rich, Dark Chocolate, to be exact. 

The recipe I've adapted below is wonderful because it's nearly as simple as using boxed brownie mix. Combining chopped Semisweet Chocolate with Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa adds a hint of interest to the chocolatey goodness and well-balanced richness. A touch of Salt makes these Brownies not too sweet. Note: the recipe I adapted had a cook time of 25-30 minutes. My oven had these coming in closer to 35 minutes. **** I would recommend checking them at 25 minutes and doing a toothpick test until you are satisfied with the result. We hope you enjoy Dark Chocolate Brownies as much as we did! 

Dark Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Cocoa Brownies, Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes 16 Brownies

Equipment: 8x8x2 Glass Baking Dish and Aluminum Foil 

Nonstick Vegetable Oil Spray
2 Ounces Semisweet Chocolate Finely Chopped (we used Ghirardelli)
1 stick Unsalted Butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
Scant 1 1/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt (plus an extra sprinkle)
1 teaspoon good quality Vanilla Extract
2 large Eggs
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour

1. Preheat the oven to 325.
2. Line an 8x8x2 glass baking dish with foil, pressing it firmly into the pan with a few inches of overhang. Spray liberally with the cooking spray and set aside.

3. In a small pan, melt the Butter and allow it to cook slightly.
4. In a medium bowl, mix the Sugar, Cocoa, and Salt.Now pour the melted Butter into the dry ingredients, whisking constantly to blend well. Add the Vanilla Extract, followed by the Eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition (be sure to beat well). 

5. Add the chopped Semisweet Chocolate to the wet ingredients and then add the Flour and stir gently until combined. Take care not to over mix. 
Transfer batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. 

6. Bake until the top of the Brownies begin to crack and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges with a just a few moist crumbs stuck to it - about 30-35 minutes (check progress at about 25 minutes as oven temps can vary significantly).

7. Place Brownie Pan on a wire rack to fully cool. Using the foil, lift Brownies carefully from the pan and cut into 16 squares. Serve and enjoy! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Culinary Icons & Essential Recipes - Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

Last week, in gardens all over, something was happening; 
The beautiful crop from my BFF's Buck's County Farm (Black Krim,
Yellow Tiger, Beefsteak)
Check out #buckscountybounty on Instagram for more!
Photo: Eric S. 

copious bushels of tomato were collectively ripening to perfection. It seemed like everywhere I looked, there'd be another social media post from a friend or family member documenting the much anticipated day when their summer tomato yield would be prepared and canned in order to ensure delicious sauce the whole winter long. 

I've always wanted to take part in this Italian tradition, but being an apartment dweller, heavy gardening has not been in the cards. If any of said friends or family are reading this, I am more than happy to take a few jars off your hands. (wink!). 
It pays to be a friend of the farmer!
Photo: Eric S.
#buckscountybounty on Instagram

Today, we're indulging our seemingly endless pasta craving by trying out a celebrated recipe for the easiest Tomato Sauce you'll ever make. The quality of the result swings so very much on using stellar red tomatoes (choose whatever size or variety is ripest), that it seemed to be the perfect time to try it and share. Culinary giant Marcella Hazan was a great talent who was instrumental in bringing Italian food to America, dispelling quite a few myths along the way. What follows below is one of her most celebrated recipes, one that stands with other iconic dishes and has stood the test of time. Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter is surrounded by the same mystique as Julia Child's Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, or the Silver Palate Cookbook's enduring favorite - Chicken Marbella

Take an hour out of your day to make it, and you will not believe how simple this recipe is and how delicious the results are. It's hard to understand, really. Not putting Garlic in my Tomato Sauce, as I usually do, felt somewhat unnatural to me. This sauce is at its best made with fresh, beautifully ripe Tomatoes. If you are not able to secure fresh tomatoes, you can definitely use canned San Marzano as an alternative. 

The result: Simplicity can be just delicious. Now, you're technically supposed to remove the onion before serving the sauce, but as you can see, I couldn't resist leaving a few little pieces in the mix. 

Marcella Hazan's Iconic Tomato Sauce Recipe, Photo: NK
The how-to is below, just as it appeared in The New York Times Dining and Wine section. When you have a spare moment, do also read this wonderful article on the late Hazan's immeasurable contributions to the culinary world, particularly her part in bringing true yet simple Italian cuisine to the American home cook. 

Total Time: roughly 1 hour
Serves 6, or enough for 1.5 pounds of pasta

2 Pounds of fresh ripe Tomatoes (we opted for Plum Tomatoes) blanched as described below OR 2 Cups Canned Imported Tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
5 Tablespoons Salted Butter
1 medium Onion, peeled and halved (we used a Vidalia but any white or yellow onion will do)
A few shakes of Salt

1. If using fresh Tomatoes, blanch as follows: Score an X using a knife into the top or bottom of each Tomato. Drop the Tomatoes in boiling water about a minute or so. Drain right away and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, skin them, remove the inside core and roughly chop. 

2. Put either the fresh or prepared Tomatoes in a medium saucepan. Add the Butter, Onion and Salt. Cook uncovered at a very slow simmer for about 45 minutes or until it has thickened to the point you'd like it to and the butter floats free of the Tomato. Stir from time to time throughout the cooking, mashing up the larger Tomato pieces using the back of a wooden spoon.  When finished cooking, taste and adjust the Salt. 

3. Discard the Onion before tossing the Sauce with Pasta. Enjoy!!! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Date With Delicious - Easy Coco Date Shake

Raw Coconut gives our lighter version of the Date Shake an update
Dates...Take Two!

What to do when you have a handful of sweet, chewy, Dried Dates leftover? Well it seems that an enterprising Date farmer long ago took the time to answer that very question. Though the origins of the Date Shake are disputed (we're pretty sure it started as a West Coast treat served at roadside stands), there's really no quibbling over how delicious this frosty beverage tastes. 

So when I found myself with some time on my hands and an abundance of Dates in my kitchen (not to mention memories of that amazing date nut loaf that my mom made me), I knew exactly what I'd be doing for lunch. 
Plump and Delicious California Dates, Photo: NK 

Our version of the Date Shake gets considerable lightening from Unsweetened Almond Milk and Fat Free Organic Vanilla Yogurt. We give a little twist with raw, unsweetened Coconut flake (which isn't part of original recipe), freshly grated Nutmeg, and a healthy shake of Cinnamon. Good quality Vanilla Extract makes this treat that much more flavorful. 

Lighter though it may be, at about 330 calories, 5 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein, this is still a pretty hearty meal (ok, dessert?) in a glass perfect for when you are looking for something both sweet and satisfying. You should note that Dried Dates are very high in natural sugars, so this wouldn't be the best choice for an all-the-time meal replacement. 

Our Easy Coco Date Shake comes together just like that in a high powered blender, tasting quite like an amazing vanilla milkshake with an extra flavor dimension - nothing but frosty, sweet and very satisfying. Enjoy!

Easy Coco Date Shake, delicious and satisfying! Photo: NK 
Easy Coco Date Shake
Serves 1 generously (Yields 1 and 3/4 Cup with 330 cal, 5 g fat, 9 g protein)
3/4 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (we like Silk Brand)
6 Ounces (one single serve cup) Fat Free Organic Vanilla Yogurt (we like Stonyfield farm)
8 Dried California Dates (or 6 Medjool Dates), pitted, + 1 extra for optional garnish
1/2 teaspoon good quality Vanilla Extract
2 heaping teaspoons Raw, Unsweetened Coconut (Bob's Red Mill)
1 dash Cinnamon
5 large Ice Cubes
Freshly Grated Nutmeg (or a sprinkle of Ground Nutmeg) optional, for serving

Blend all the ingredients except for the Nutmeg in a high powered blender such as Vitamix. When the mixture is smooth, pour into a tall glass and top with freshly grated (or dried) Nutmeg. Serve cold and enjoy!