Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta - David Tanis


A Platter of Figs by David Tanis is a beautifully written and conceived cookbook.  It's one of those cookbooks where you'll read the foreword (by Alice Waters in this case) and 20 pages later realize you're still going!  I particularly enjoyed reading about the beginnings of Chef Tanis' culinary career and about his time spent running the downstairs kitchen at Chez Panisse.  It must be nice to run such a wonderful kitchen 6 months out of the year and spend the other 6 meandering along the streets of Paris...What a dream!  (sigh).

This particular book is filled with simple, but flavor-packed recipes.  One of my favorite things about this book is that it is divided into sections according to the seasons and the produce that's available at that time.  Chef Tanis is known for his uncomplicated recipes, which incorporate nothing but the finest ingredients.  After all, why should a recipe be complicated and fussy when simplicity is sometimes the best way to really showcase the freshness and quality of seasonal produce?  That's his basic philosophy.  

As David says:
"Simplicity is key.  People who cook fussy food for their friends seem to have the least fun.  I say leave that fussy food to those with a staff and a paid dishwasher....A meal needn't be fancy, nor should it take all day to make."

This recipe for Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta is one such dish.  After spending one weekend afternoon gathering the best and freshest ingredients around town for this recipe, I was ready to go!  My loot included a fresh baguette from Continental Bakery, ricotta cheese from Nabeel's Cafe & Market, and a basil plant and grape tomatoes from the Pepper Place Market.

After purchasing the ingredients, my mouth was watering at the thought of the deliciousness that we would have for dinner that evening.  The finished crostini did not disappoint.  The dressing that the tomatoes are marinated in is quite incredible, especially when paired with the crunch from the baguette and the fresh ricotta.  It all comes together to form a burst of yumminess with each and every bite!

Bon Appetit!

Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta
Source:  A Platter of Figs by David Tanis

Ingredients:

  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste with a little salt, plus another peeled garlic clove or two
  • 2 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Italian ciabatta
  • 1/2 pound fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 handful basil leaves

Directions:
  1. In a medium bowl, macerate the shallot in the red wine vinegar with a little salt. After a few minutes, whisk in the olive oil. Add the pounded garlic and the cherry tomatoes, season well with salt and pepper, and toss gently. Leave to marinate for a few minutes.
  2. Cut the ciabatta into 1/2-inch slices. Spread the slices on a baking sheet and toast on both sides under the broiler until golden. Swipe the toasts very lightly with a peeled garlic clove. Don’t push too hard on the garlic—you want the bread to have just a hint of garlic flavor.
  3. Spread a tablespoon of fresh ricotta on each toast, then put them on a platter. Sprinkle with a little salt and a little red pepper. Spoon the marinated cherry tomatoes over the toasts. Sliver or tear the basil leaves and strew over the crostini.

Julia Child's Ratatouille


***If you saw my kitchen right now, you might just chuckle.  In fact, Brad thinks it's pretty funny.  What am I talking about?  Well, there are several small mountains of fresh produce meticulously arranged and on glorious display around my kitchen.  Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, green bell pepper, not one but THREE varieties of eggplant, gorgeous tomatoes, cucumbers, and even fresh basil and spearmint.

In my opinion, one must take advantage of this wonderful summer produce while you can!!  Right??

This past weekend, Brad and I visited our favorite farmer's markets to see what was available.  We came home with bags of goodies, and I was super excited to get into the kitchen!  

With so much eggplant and tomato on-hand, a delicious Ratatouille was a no-brainer.  And not just ANY ratatouille - Julia's!  If you are going to commit to such a classic dish, it needs to be done right.  Julia's recipe is the "proper" way to prepare one.  Each vegetable is cooked individually before they are all added to the same dish for the grand finale.  That way, each veggie retains its own shape and delicious layers of flavor are created.

I know, I know...You might be thinking, "Now, who would want to go through SO much trouble for just a side dish??"  However, stop right there - The extra steps and preparation for this dish are all well worth the effort.  With that first bite, you'll be transported to Provence...even if it's only for a few fleeting, but wonderful seconds!

Bon Appetit!


Ratatouille
Source:  Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Volume I by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle

Ingredients:

    1 lb. eggplant 1 lb. zucchini (I used yellow squash instead) 1 tsp. salt 4-6 Tbsp. olive oil, divided 1/2 lb. (about 1 1/2 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions 2 sliced red or green peppers (about 1 cup) 2 cloves mashed garlic Salt & Pepper to taste 1 lb. firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced 3 Tbsp. minced parlsey
Directions:
Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8" think, about 3" long and 1" wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends and cut into slices about the same size as the eggplant. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and dry each slice in a towel.

One layer at a time, saute the eggplant and then the zucchini in 4 Tbsp. hot olive oil in a 10-12" skillet for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.

In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers (add an additional 2 Tbsp. of olive oil if needed) for about 10 minutes, until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Slice tomato pulp into 3/8" strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt & pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, taste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes until juice has almost entirely evaporated.

Place a third of the tomatoe mixture in the bottom of a 2 1/2 quart casserole (about 2 1/2" deep). Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. fresh, minced parlsey over tomatoes. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.

Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip the casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole!

Serves 6-8



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tomato & Corn Salad...A great way to showcase summer's best!



This summer, I have been spoiled when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies.  One afternoon on my way home, I noticed a small produce stand on the corner not far from my house.  I quickly put my blinker on and pulled in next to the stand.  As I approached, I was greeted with a warm smile by a man named James Fields.  He had a beautiful assortment of the summer's best produce - gorgeous red tomatoes, sweet corn, peaches, eggplant, squash, peppers, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, watermelons, cucumbers, fresh honey made in my neighborhood, and even an assortment of homemade jellies to name a few things. 

I was hooked from the first visit.  Ever since, I've stopped by on my way home from work several times a week to pick up some goodies.  I've rarely even purchased any produce from the grocery store these past few weeks.  I think it's SO very important to support our local farmers.  Plus, produce is incredibly fresh when you buy it locally...There's just no substitute, especially when it doesn't have to be shipped in from 2,000 miles away.

This afternoon, I bought some fresh sweet corn and red tomatoes.  These tomatoes aren't just regular ole' tomatoes...They are gorgeous, deep red, and incredibly juicy!  Tomatoes just aren't like that all year.  I'll miss them come January!  

I've made corn and tomato salads in the past, and that's exactly what popped into my head when I saw these goodies on display today.  I love being inspired by what's in season at the moment.  It's been a lot of fun buying whatever looks good at the market and coming up with something fabulous based on what I find.

This recipe came out SO delicious.  Each bite just bursts with summer flavor!  The sweet corn is perfectly complimented by the tomatoes and parsley.  

I can't think of a better summer side dish!  Give this a try and you'll see what I mean!

Bon Appetit! 










Tomato & Corn Salad

Ingredients:
1
 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
F
resh corn kernels from 2 ears of corn
1/2
small onion, diced
1
1/2 large tomatoes, diced
1
 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4
 teaspoon salt 

Directions:
Heat oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. 


Add corn and onion and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until veggies are just tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in tomatoes, parsley, and salt.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nutella Buttercream Frosting



Nutella Buttercream...

Seriously?  Is a combination that wonderfully scrumptious sounding even legal?  

Yes, my friends...it is!  My little sisters recently turned 21 years old...I can't believe it.  Where does the time go?  I guess they're not so "little" anymore.  Anyways, before their big day they dropped a few "hints" by emailing me this recipe for Nutella Buttercream Frosting.  Pretty clever, huh?

They dreamed up a combination of a dark chocolate cake laced with coffee, smothered in this frosting.  I couldn't resist...It sounded just too amazing.  So, I decided to use one of my very favorite chocolate recipes as the base.  You can find the RECIPE HERE.  This particular cake recipe is incredible because an entire cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee is added right to the cake batter.  It always comes out perfectly moist and delish...without fail!

One taste of this frosting, and I was smitten.  After all, they had me at the word Nutella!  This frosting was a wonderfully smooth consistency that seemed to glide right under my spatula and over the cake.  The finished cake looked pretty and tasted EVEN better!

Make this frosting soon...and don't be ashamed to eat more than one piece (and I won't even tell if you can't help but lick your plate!).  :-)

Bon Appetit!!! 



Nutella Buttercream Frosting
Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 13-ounce jar of Nutella
pinch of fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions:
1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and Nutella until well combined. Slowly add in confectioner’s sugar, and continue creaming until well blended.
2. Add salt, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk. Blend on low speed until moistened. Add an additional 3-5 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until you reach the desired consistency. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Notes:
-This recipe will make enough frosting to generously frost 24 cupcakes or one 9 inch layer cake.
-You can easily adjust the consistency of this recipe by simply adding in more heavy cream or milk.
-Covered and refrigerated frosting can be stored for up to three days. Simply bring it to room temperature and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. You may need to add a couple of teaspoons of heavy cream or milk to revive the consistency.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dreamy Dark Chocolate Sorbet


***Whew, it's been a scorching summer here in Alabama, with record-breaking temperatures and sunny days.  I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to the cooler days of the fall season - filled with pumpkins, beautiful foliage and dishes made with apples, pears and butternut squash!

Around here, one of the best ways to beat this summer heat is a cold, refreshing bowl of ice cream or sorbet....homemade, of course!  This Dark Chocolate Sorbet is quite simply amazing.  It only has 1 gram of fat per serving, but you wouldn't know it by tasting a bite!  It's decadent but won't make you feel guilty after you down a bowl.

Plus, there are only 5 ingredients...water, sugar, salt, cocoa powder and vanilla extract.  Sorbet doesn't get much better than that, especially if you have an automatic ice cream maker to do most of the work.


If these hot summer days have you hot and sunburned, try a bowl of this sorbet.  It will cool you down and put a smile on your face in no time!


Bon Appetit!***


Dark Chocolate Sorbet
Source:  Cuisinart Recipe Booklet


Ingredients:
3 cups water
1²∕³ cups granulated sugar
pinch salt
1²∕³ cups cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

Directions:
Prepare a simple syrup with the water, sugar and salt by combining all three in a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved. 

Gradually add the cocoa powder to the simple syrup by whisking constantly until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours, or overnight. 

Turn on the Cuisinart® ice cream maker; pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and let mix until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. The sorbet will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.