Sunday, May 29, 2016

Watermelon with Fresh Mint and Lime

There are three things synonymous with the start of summer: the last day of school, Memorial Day weekend, and slicing into the first watermelon of the season.

To me watermelon is the hallmark of summer, and there is something about slicing into that first one of the season. It takes me back to those glorious summer days as a kid, not a care in the world, watermelon in hand with juice dripping down my chin, onto my arms, and finally onto my hands. A sticky but glorious mess. Now my kids do the same thing. I could buy all the popsicles and ice cream in the world, but it's the watermelon they go crazy for.

Celebrate summer with watermelon.  Why make things harder on yourself by making all the traditional sides for your summer cookout? Leave the stove off, fire up the grill, and grab a watermelon. Get a few platters.  Slice up some watermelon for the kids on one. Slice up some more for the adults on another. Garnish the adult watermelon like this, with a fresh mint and lime syrup, and enjoy.  It's economical, it's easy, and it's much healthier than most of the traditional cookout sides. We loved it!

Watermelon with Fresh Mint and Lime
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone
Serves 6

1/3 cup sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1/2 large oval watermelon

Stir the sugar, 2 tablespoons water, the lime zest, and 1-1/2 tablespoons of the lime juice together in a small heavy saucepan over high heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a boil. Let the syrup cool completely and then refrigerate it until cold.

Strain the chilled syrup into a small bowl and stir in the mint (this seems like a fussy step to me so I didn't strain). Allow the mint to infuse into the syrup for at least 5 minutes. 

Place the watermelon, cut side down, on a work surface. Using a large sharp knife, cut the watermelon horizontally to form a 2-inch-thick slab. (Reserve the remaining watermelon for another use). Trim away the rind, and then cut the slab into 2-inch chunks. Transfer the watermelon chunks to a large serving platter, keeping the chunks in a single layer and maintaining the shape of the slab. Pour the cold syrup over the watermelon, and serve.

Theme: May Potluck!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cinnamon French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Mascarpone

Caramel sauce. I love it, but let's face it.  It is HARD to master. I've tried countless times and failed miserably each and every time.  Until today.

The call to make Curtis Stone's Cinnamon French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Mascarpone was so strong. Caramel failures be damned. I was bound and determined to make this happen.  Maybe it was Curtis' directions.  Maybe it was just my lucky day, but either way I was successful! I finally produced a smooth and buttery caramel sauce.

At that moment I knew this recipe would be a total game changer. Instead of "Let There Be Cake", it was now "Let There Be Caramel Sauce".  Countless variations. Caramel sauce on French Toast, pancakes, waffles, ice name it!

But for now all that mattered was that we weren't going to have plain French toast for breakfast (my plan if the caramel didn't work out).  Oh no! We were going to have French Toast dusted in cinnamon-sugar, topped with the most beautiful caramelized bananas, and a creamy dollop of Mascarpone cheese. And it was everything and more. It was so stinkin' delicious!

Cinnamon French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Mascarpone
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone
Serves 4

Caramelized bananas
1/2 cup sugar
2 bananas, sliced on the bias
3 tablespoons salted butter

French Toast
6 large eggs
Four 1/2" thick slices of brioche bread
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Mascarpone cheese, to garnish

To prepare the caramelized bananas: Combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a large heavy saute pan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the liquid comes to a simmer. Then boil over medium-high heat without stirring, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush and swirling the pan occasionally to ensure that the syrup cooks evenly, for 6 minutes, or until the syrup begins to turn golden brown. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Add the bananas and butter and swirl until the butter melts. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the bananas are just tender. Set the caramelized bananas aside.

To make the French toast: Using a fork, beat the eggs in a 13 x 9" baking dish. Place the slices of brioche in the eggs and let stand, turning the slices once, for 5 minutes, or until the eggs are absorbed. (Note: Sometimes I feel like this results in soggy French toast so I usually just quickly dip my bread in the egg, allowing the excess to drip back into the dish).

Stir the sugar and cinnamon together on a large plate; set it aside. Melt the butter on a large heavy griddle pan (I like my cast iron skillet for this) over medium heat. Add the brioche slices to the hot pan and cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown on the outside and heated through. Immediately place the hot French toast in the cinnamon-sugar and turn to coat completely. (Note: If you do not like your food too sweet then you might want to elect to simply sprinkle on some cinnamon-sugar instead of dousing your French toast in the mixture. This is a very sweet breakfast!)

Divide the French toast among 4 serving plates. Spoon the caramelized bananas over the French toast. Top with a dollop of Mascarpone cheese, and serve.

Theme: Sunny Side Up!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ottolenghi's Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of the most inspirational chefs of our time. He creates the most exotic dishes, full of unique textures and flavors, causing us to think outside of the box and be more creative in our own kitchens. I recently received a copy of his book, Plenty More , and was instantly drawn to his recipe for Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg. As a lover of chickpeas, this dish begged to be made first.

Weekday mornings are a struggle.  Breakfast needs to be quick.  This recipe is the answer to those mornings. A spicy mix of chickpeas, slow-cooked to perfection, served over a crisp slice of toast topped off with a very inviting poached egg that is oozing with glorious egg yolk. I'm pretty sure this is the perfect way to start a random weekday morning. Make this over the weekend and pop it in the fridge. In the morning all you'll need to do is reheat the chickpeas while you make some toast and an egg, and you're all set! A special and inspiring way to start your day before you head out the door.

Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg
Adapted from Plenty More
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4

Rounded 1 cup chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with 2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon to finish
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 medium red peppers, cut into1/4 inch dice
1 beefsteak tomato, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
4 slices sourdough bread, brushed with olive oil and grilled on both sides
4 eggs, freshly poached
2 teaspoons za'tar
salt and black pepper, to taste

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and place them in a large saucepan with plenty of water. Place over high  heat, bring to a boil, skim the surface, and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place the oil, onion, garlic, tomato paste, cayenne, paprika, red peppers, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper in a food processor and blitz to form a paste.

Wipe out the chickpea saucepan, return it to the stove over medium heat, and add the paste. Fry for 5 minutes (there's enough oil there to allow for this), stirring occasionally, before adding the tomato, sugar, chickpeas, and a scant 1 cup water.  Bring to a low simmer, cover the pan, and cook over very low heat for 4 hours, stirring from time to time and adding more water when needed to retain a sauce-like consistency. Remove the lid and cook for a final hour; the sauce needs to thicken without the chickpeas becoming dry.

Place a piece of warm grilled bread on each plate and spoon the chickpeas over the bread. Lay a poached egg on top, followed by a sprinkle of za'tar and a drizzle of oil. Serve at once.


While on the subject of chickpeas, Ottolenghi's Hummus Schwarma with Lemon Sauce is hands down one of the best recipes I've shared on my blog.  Smooth and creamy hummus with crispy chunks of savory lamb, buttered and toasted pine nuts, and a bright zingy lemon sauce. It should be called Heavenly Hummus.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Peach and Mint Iced Tea

When you live in Kentucky, the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby are very special. Everything is lush and green, and one glance at the horse fields helps you understand why they call it the Bluegrass State; people are coming to visit from all over the world; horses are everywhere; ladies are hat shopping; bets are being placed; mint and bourbon are being purchased with abandon; and Derby parties are a sure bet.

At a Derby party you are sure to drink a Mint Julep, a classic Derby drink made from Kentucky Bourbon, mint syrup, and a mint garnish served in pretty Mint Julep cup. There will likely be ham biscuits, Kentucky Burgoo (a spicy stew served with cornbread), Kentucky Hot Browns (turkey, bacon and tomato sandwiches smothered with cheese sauce), and Benedictine (a creamy cucumber and cream cheese spread) that is spread onto bread or crackers. For dessert there will either be Derby pie and/or Derby bars (a lovely chocolate and walnut pie that reminds me of chocolate chip pie). You will not walk away thirsty or hungry.

In the days leading up to Derby, fresh mint is in very high demand.  In order to supply the masses with mint, the grocery stores push big carts full of mint into the produce section, making the air fragrant. The fresh mint wafting through the market is the hallmark of Derby season and the culmination of what's to come. A celebration of old-fashioned Southern living that is, for the most part, untouched by modern times. A magical sort of time in Kentucky.

No matter how many mint garnishes you created, or Mint Juleps you've made, you are certain to have leftover mint.  This Peach and Mint Iced Tea is the perfect way to use it up! A subtle and refreshing blend to help soothe you after a day spent in the sun, eating and drinking to your heart's content.

Peach and Mint Iced Tea
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with
Curtis Stone
Serves 4-6

1-1/4 cups (lightly packed) cups fresh mint leaves
3 ripe peaches, pitted
4 cups ice cubes, crushed

Pour 6 cups water into a medium sized saucepan.  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add 1 cup of the mint leaves. Cover and steep for 30 minutes to allow the mint to infuse the water. Then strain the mint tea into a pitcher, discarding the leaves, and refrigerate until cold.

Meanwhile, chop 2 of the peaches coarsely and place them in a blender. Puree until smooth, adding a couple tablespoons of the mint tea if necessary to hep create the puree. Strain the peach puree through a fine-mesh sieve and chill the puree. 

Thinly slice the remaining peach. In 4 tall glasses, layer the crushed ice, thin slices of peach, and the remaining 1/4 cup mint leaves, filling the glasses about halfway. Divide the peach puree among the 4 glasses. Then stir in the chilled mint tea and serve immediately.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks

These cookies are like soft fluffy clouds of peanut butter and chocolate. No other description is necessary, so I'll just stop right there and tell you that you should make them.

On another note, let's discuss relaxed cooking, otherwise known as the lazy girl's version of cooking. This style of cooking is right up my alley. Short and simple ingredient lists, easy techniques, and quick clean up. Now saying this, let me also say that I have been known to simplify even a lazy recipe.

For example, when making the cookie dough, Curtis says to mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl from the wet ingredients. Um, no thank you Curtis. Why dirty a separate bowl for the dry ingredients when you can add them to your wet ingredients (after mixing) with the same results? Additionally, let's talk measuring cups and spoons.  Why dirty your whole collection of measuring cups and spoons? Why not just use one measuring cup, such as a 1/4 cup measure 4 times to equal a cup and so on? And finally, why dirty 3 baking sheets when you can just use one? Can you tell I put a lot of thought into relaxed (aka lazy girl) cooking? Maybe a little too much.

Whether you make this recipe as is, or take my lazy approach, the results are amazing.  This is one delectable and addictive cookie.  Hard to stop at just one.

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking
with Curtis Stone
Makes between 15-20 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray.

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, honey, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture in two additions. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 3 tablespoonsful of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2-1/2 inches apart. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff and begin to brown on top but are still very soft to the touch. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Enjoy the cookies warm or let them cool completely.

Theme: April Potluck!