Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Now’s the time to head to your local farm stand and pick up a bag of gorgeous plum tomatoes, before the season is gone! And this is what you do with them…

These are not sun-dried tomatoes. They’re better, because fresh plum tomatoes are still moist after roasting, with a bit of that magic tomato liquid in every cup! A great, simple platter to offer at parties.

Tomatoes before

Tomatoes before

12 to 18 halved, seeded plum tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
Freshly ground pepper
Fleur de Sel or sea salt

Pre-heat the oven to 250.

Line a baking sheet with foil and rub it lightly with olive oil.

Arrange halved and seeded tomatoes on it in a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle evenly with 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar, and season with pepper to taste.

Bake the tomatoes until they are still juicy but slightly wrinkled, about 3 hours. Transfer to a platter and let cool slightly.

Just before serving, sprinkle tomatoes with Fleur de Sel, and garnish if you like, with chopped parsley leaves, mint leaves, or basil.

Tomatoes after

Tomatoes after

Just because you’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. This one fits the bill!

 

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or mint.

I had a pound of leftover lobster meat (I know, I know…how could you ever have leftover lobster?!) So I wrapped it tightly and kept it frozen. When I had a craving for crab cakes, I figured I’d try my recipe out with lobster instead. So good, I sprained my arm patting myself on the back!

lobstercake2

 

1 lb. cooked lobster meat (thawed, if frozen)
1 cup mayo (I like Hellman’s)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard (I like Maille)
3/4 cup saltine crackers or oyster crackers
1 to 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
Olive oil

In a bowl, combine the mayo, mustard and the Old Bay Seasoning.

Chop the lobster into small pieces and add it to the mayo/mustard mix.

Pulse the crackers in a food processor until it resembles oatmeal. Add it to the bowl and gently combine the ingredients.

Form small patties. I use either a small beef slider mold or the lid from a small mouth Mason jar. I won’t kid you: it gets messy, but it’s worth it! Place the patties on a sheet pan lined with Reynold’s non-stick aluminum foil.

Place the sheet pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes to stiffen up the patties.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Cook the patties on both sides until golden brown.

lobstercake1

Remember when the only sugar substitute available was saccharin? Those pink packets of Sweet ‘n’ Low were on every diner table…your only choice other than sugar…and the sweet ingredient in the world’s first diet soda: TAB.
sweeteners
It was a long time before another sweetener came along, and in the beginning, we all thought Nutrasweet was the answer to our prayers. Sales of Nutrasweet skyrocketed, and one of the most interesting facts to come out of that time was that despite Nutrasweet’s amazing sales, sales of sugar remained steady. People were buying Nutrasweet to make things even sweeter, without the guilt of sugar! Equal is the brand name for Nutrasweet, the artificial sweetener that contains aspartame. Aspartame can cause seizures in some people, namely phenylketonurics, and they’re being told to avoid it. It also has an overly-sweet unnatural taste.
Enter Splenda,  the brand name for sucralose, in the yellow packets. Sucralose is a sugar alcohol. It does not affect your blood sugar and it has no calories. But sucralose is not a natural product: it’s a total guys-in-white-lab-coats creation. Almost no aftertaste, but now there are claims that Splenda alters and even kills important flora in your gut.
OK, so how about that cute little Stevia leaf? The sweetener in the Stevia leaf is natural, and marketing makes it seem like it’s the only ingredient in products like Truvia. But the fact is that the Stevia extract is extremely potent, so they use a very small amount of it.  So to “bulk it up,” they add erythritol, which is another sugar alcohol. The only good thing about this is that erythritol is indeed naturally occurring, so Truvia can rightly claim to be a “natural” sweetener.
Sweetleaf, besides being a song by Black Sabbathis another all-natural sweetener that combines the extract of the Stevia leaf with a soluble vegetable fiber called inulin. Sweetleaf has zero calories and does not affect blood sugar.
But the inulin left a real nasty aftertaste that had me throwing a boxful of packets into the trash after one sip.
 
Sugar itself is not evil, and most people who watch what they eat can probably use it. But if you’re diabetic…or if you guzzle sodas, juices, and sports drinks…and eat packaged and processed foods that have tons of hidden sugar (aka high fructose corn syrup)…a sugar substitute may be a good move.
 

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of many gluten-free desserts or snacks. They claim to be healthy by avoiding wheat, but then compensate for the lack of flavor and texture by overloading with bad fats, salt and sugar. This brownie/cake combo is the exception. It’s full of great flavor, which make me happy, and is gluten-free thanks to ground hazelnuts, which makes my wife (on a GF diet) happy.

When buying hazelnuts, the most important thing to remember is that the nuts are raw and of the best quality you can find. No surprise: Amazon is a great source for that.

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9 oz. ground hazelnuts
5 1/2 oz. (2/3 cup) sugar
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 eggs
1 oz. cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
A double-batch bakes a bundt pan perfectly. Make extra: it freezes well!

A double-batch bakes a bundt pan perfectly. Make extra: it freezes well!

 

Pour the hazelnuts into a food processor and grind them as fine as you can. It won’t be powdery, like flour, but like tiny particles. Dump them into a separate bowl.

Back in the food processor bowl, add the sugar and butter and pulse until combined.  Crack the eggs in a separate bowl, and add them slowly to the sugar and butter, pulsing to mix in between each addition.

Pour the ground hazelnuts into the mixture a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Add the cocoa powder and baking powder, straining them through a sieve to keep out lumps, and pulse again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give it all one last mix.

Pour the batter into a buttered pan and cook at 350 for 30 minutes. Use a deeper pan so that the brownies don’t overflow as they rise while baking.

 

 

I grow several varieties of squash and pumpkins in my garden every year, so I’ve got an overload of blossoms. But it was only recently, after my daughter had a taste of fried squash blossoms at a favorite restaurant, Plum Point Bistro in Saunderstown, RI, did she start asking me to prepare them at home.

At the restaurant, we were served a savory version, the blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, lightly battered, fried and served with a delicious tomato sauce.

At home, we went for a sweeter version for breakfast, using gluten-free pancake mix as the base, experimenting with two fillings: raspberry preserves or strawberry cream cheese.

Because we need to keep things gluten-free in our home, I simply followed the directions on the box of pancake mix, using fat-free milk instead of whole milk and a little less of the dry ingredients to make the batter thinner than I would use for regular pancakes. I use King Arthur Gluten-Free Pancake Mix, which requires adding an egg and melted butter to make a smooth, slightly sweet batter. I set that aside and let it rest for a few minutes.

Next, it’s off to the garden to snip a handful of squash blossoms. I prefer the ones that are open. They’re easier to stuff, but it’s also easier to spot the little critters that like to make themselves comfortable inside. I carefully snip the blossoms off the plant, then give them a light shake, which is enough to convince the bugs inside to fly out. It’s pretty cool to find a happy bee inside every blossom that I snip.

 

 

Other than making sure all foreign particles (and insects) have been removed from the blossoms, no other preparation is needed. I snip the stems right up to the blossom, and they’re ready to be stuffed.

 

Blossoms stuffed with strawberry cream cheese and the fantastic raspberry preserves from Briermere Farms on the North Fork of Long Island!

 

 

I heat a few inches of olive oil in a pan, then start the process: I stuff the blossoms, closing the flower petals around the stuffing, then carefully dip them in the pancake batter, and release them gently into the oil, flipping them as they fry, until they’re golden in color.

 

 

I drain them on paper towels, dust them with powdered sugar, and they’re ready to be enjoyed.

 

 

 

 

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when this year’s garden is cranking out cucumbers in record numbers!

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work. This method works great if you want fresh pickles to eat immediately, but you’ll need to use the old-fashioned pickling methods if you want to keep them for longer periods of time.

pickles

 

 

6 fresh cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
handful of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a large plastic bag.  Add the salt, dill and garlic and gently mix everything in the bag.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Add them to the bag and gently mix again, trying not to crush or squeeze the cucumbers.

Roll the plastic bag tightly, squeezing the air out of the bag, then zip it and place it in the fridge overnight. The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer’s in full swing, and let’s face it: you might be tired of grilling by now.

Don’t get me wrong…grilling makes food taste great, but sometimes you don’t want to stand out there in a cloud of smoke while your friends are at the table, sipping wine and having a good time without you.

This is a great dish for those that want to pass on the grill for a day. It’s a delicious salad that you can serve warm or cool. You can make it the day before. Wrap it in plastic, and keep it in the fridge. Then, when your guests arrive, let it warm to room temperature. Taste for seasoning before serving. If you’re not a fan of quinoa, brown basmati rice works well, too. And use what’s fresh and in season. If you can’t find asparagus, some chopped and lightly sautéed squash works just as well.

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1 1/3 cup dry quinoa (or 1 cup basmati rice)
Chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
2 lbs. wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and de-veined (16 to 18 count)
1 cup of asparagus stalks, cut into 1″ lengths
1/2 cup minced scallions, green part only
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and medium-diced
1/4 cup red onion, small diced
1/2 cup seeded and chopped tomatoes
3/4 lb. good feta cheese, crumbled
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

 

Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions, using chicken stock instead of water. Once it’s cooked, place it in a large bowl. (1 1/3 cups dry quinoa should give you about 3 cups of cooked quinoa.)

Place the chopped asparagus on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss them to combine and spread them out in a single layer. Roast them for just a few minutes at 350 degrees. Set them aside to cool to room temperature. (You can also simply saute the asparagus in a pan on the stove top with olive oil, salt and pepper.)

Place the shrimp on the same sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss them to combine and spread them out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes at 350 degrees, until the shrimp are cooked through. Turn them once while cooking. Don’t overcook them! (again…you can simply saute the shrimp in a pan on the stove top with olive, salt and pepper.)

Add the shrimp to the quinoa, then add the asparagus, lemon juice, scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend…or, if you’re not serving soon, place the bowl in the fridge. Before serving, allow it to warm almost to room temperature. Taste it and season again, if needed, before serving.

 

 

I love me my onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my wife and daughter gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love me my vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with cheap vermouth, especially that nasty stuff they use to brine cocktail onions that come in a jar that’s been sitting on the liquor store shelf for about 10 years.

I looked at several do-it-yourself cocktail onion recipes, but I wasn’t inspired to try any of them until I found a package of already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods one day. I have to be honest…I just won’t make them if I have to peel them.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

Once that time-saving ingredient was in my possession, I took my own recipe to make pickled asparagus and decided to try that with the onions. Awesome results!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado cane sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely.

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves.

 

Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Cover the jar tightly and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together.

 

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can eat the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they taste better if you give them a few days.

 

 

 

We eat a ton of pesto at home, and I’m amazed at how much my 10-year-old daughter loves the stuff. Most of the time, it’s simply mixed with pasta. But we stir it into tomato sauce and smear it on grilled chicken or beef as well.

The herb garden, with basil in the foreground. Happy cucumbers are growing on the trellis in the background.

Basil is the main ingredient in my pesto, and it’s growing rapidly under the summer sun in my garden right now. And that’s key to great pesto: when Mother Nature says the basil’s ready, be sure you have all the other ingredients and get to work!

Basil, ready to be picked.

Besides that it tastes old, the problem with store-bought pesto is that it’s expensive. Although homemade pesto isn’t cheap, you can still save a lot of money by making it yourself.
Some of my tips for saving money: buy good quality ingredients in bulk. My go-to olive oil is California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It gets high ratings, tastes amazing, and can be found in those large cans at most supermarkets and in quantity on Amazon.
There’s been a rash of articles about already-grated parmesan cheese that is 50% wood fiber. Stay away from that junk and buy yourself a nice chunk of the real deal: Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Mario Batali calls it the “undisputed king of cheeses.”) Grate it yourself and taste the difference!
The most expensive (and questionable) ingredient in basic pesto is pine nuts. If you look on the back of the package (and you always should!) you’ll see that most pine nuts come from China. I don’t buy any food products from China…period. So sourcing “safe” pine nuts can be difficult. Again, Amazon can be a help with that.
One of the reasons you want real pine nuts and not some look-alike from China is something called “pine mouth” or “pine nut mouth.” A small percentage of people experience a reaction after eating pine nuts that makes their mouth taste like metal–imagine putting a handful of pennies in your mouth–and the taste stays in their mouths for a couple of weeks, ruining their taste buds for the foods they love. (Eventually, it wears off.) Some scientists say you get “pine mouth” by eating counterfeit pine nuts–varieties like those from China that are not the same species. Others say that you can get the reaction even from real pine nuts. Research on this continues, but all the more reason not to buy any foods from China and other questionable countries.
There are alternatives to pine nuts, and you’ll find many pesto recipes that substitute with almonds, pistachios or walnuts. I think those nuts change the taste of the pesto, plus they have a skin that leaves a gritty residue, which I don’t like. So I don’t use them. The one nut that I’ve found that does a pretty good job filling in for pine nuts is macadamia nuts. They are less expensive and usually come from Hawaii. Just remember to buy raw, unsalted macadamias.
So here’s my sure-fire pesto recipe. I make massive amounts of it, store it in plastic storage containers with a tightly sealing screw-top lid, and put them in the deep freeze. They last all year, and thaw out easily.
2 cups fresh basil, packed down a little
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/2 cup pine nuts (or raw, unsalted macadamia nuts)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and let it rip!