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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

I’m starting to sound like a broken record: I went to the farmers market, I bought too much, I  baked, I cooked, I baked.

But how anyone doesn’t fall into this pattern eludes me, especially as August draws to a close. I wrote my most recent Jerusalem Post column about the lush rainbow of tomatoes and berries and stone fruits here in the northeast and finding ways to savor them during the last days of summer. I wrote about the rush to relax, the urgent joie de vivre that these fruits instill. (For more on this topic, check out what my friend Leah recently wrote about peaches in Saveur.)

In the JPost article, I shared two recipes that do more than just use the best of summer. They do more than just highlight the best of summer. They intensify the best of summer.

First, what do you get when you toss a handful of baby tomatoes with thick pomegranate molasses and slip them under a puff pastry crust? You might remember this recipe - it’s a tomato tarte tatin the produces the most concentrated tomato taste that I’ve ever tasted. The pomegranate molasses sweetens and tartens the tomatoes as they melt into a jam-like pulp.

Second, what do you get when you slip a handful of plums into a cake batter tinged with lime and rose? Well, you’ve already seen that cake with its tart plum juice dripping into the sweet floral cake. On a plum kick these days these days, I recreated the flavors in a much simpler cake with a batter that uses only one bowl and five minutes of your time. Because, as we all know, the less time in the kitchen, the more time to bask in the sunshine and drink rosé in the evenings.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. These recipes are also dig-your-heels-in, don’t-let-summer-go kinds of recipes that recreate that summer feeling when the farmers markets are in the rear view mirror. The small tomatoes, with their high flesh-to-seed ratio, used in the tarte tatin are also the best kind to buy year-round when other tomatoes are wan and mealy. In fact, I first made this tarte tatin towards the end of spring.  As for the cake, use it as a base for any summer fruit that freezes well. I freeze fresh blueberries (I have a whole bag of wild ones in my freezer) and my mother likes peaches. Any change in texture of the fruit due to freezing doesn’t impact the cake since the fruit cooks and mushes and melts into the batter.

But, enough about looking ahead. For right now, let’s just look around.

***

P.S. Click here to catch up on any JPost articles that you might have missed.

***

Plum cake with lime and rose

This recipe was adapted from Rivka’s Easiest Cake Ever on Not Derby Pie. It lives up to its name as the simplest cake I’ve ever made. All you need is one bowl, one spoon, a cutting board and knife, and a pan. The batter is thick, but is still pourable. A few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. The plums I used were on the tart side, which played nicely against the sweet cake. I added lime zest and rose water (available in any Middle Eastern store, rose water is a nice complement to any red fruit including berries), but they can be replaced by equal amounts of lemon zest and vanilla.

Any type of juicy fruit works. Come fall, I make this cake with apples that I briefly cook them down with a bit of sugar to help them release their juices.

Serves 8-10

-  6-8 small plums or 4-6 large plums

-  1 C flour

-  3/4 C sugar

-  2 eggs

-  1/2 C canola oil

-  1 t baking powder

-  1 t rose water (or vanilla)

-  1 lime for zest

- Optional: 2-3 T demerara sugar, also called sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan, springform or square pan. (If you want to plate this, use a springform; otherwise, just serve it out of the pan.) Cut the plums into wedges (6 wedges per small plum, 8 wedges per large).

Mix. Mix together the remaining ingredients (except for the demerara sugar). You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the plum slices however you want and sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

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My great-uncle Ludwig lived in Paris where he and his wife Marta owned a fur shop in the center of the city. The first time I visited Paris with my family, Ludwig and Marta invited us to Furriers Tuileries for coffee. We walked along a small street nestled between the shops of Rue Saint Honoré and Rue de Rivoli to find Ludwig standing in the doorway of the cozy store, his bright blue eyes smiling when he saw us approaching.

Surrounded by coats and hats, we sat on straight-backed cafe chairs around a small round table laid with cheese and crackers and fruit – tiny plums and peaches. The fruit was sliced. The conversation was somewhat formal as the grown-ups caught up on the years since my parents’ last visit.

I balanced a small plate on my knees and covered it with crackers and fruit. When I was ready for seconds, I tentatively reached for another cracker, this time spreading it with soft creamy cheese, leaving behind the chalky white exterior. It was my first taste of room temperature cheese. It was not my last.

Ludwig and Marta eventually sold the store and Marta passed away. Whenever I visited Paris, Ludwig and I would meet in his apartment and sit on his brocade sofa and share a platter of cheese and crackers and slices of ripe fruit. Gradually our conversations became less formal. We shifted from English to French and had more to talk about than how I was doing in school.

When Ludwig visited New York, the whole family would go out to eat. When it was my turn to choose a place for lunch, I’d suggest a brasserie for steak frites. When it was his turn, he’d suggest a diner in Queens. He liked fried eggs and hash browns.

He once brought my mother an Hermès scarf that had belonged to Marta. As we sat in the diner, waiting for our food to arrive, I fingered the scarf’s hand-rolled edge and slightly rounded corners that indicated it was a vintage piece.

The last time I saw Ludwig, he sliced fruit in his tiny Parisian kitchen while I browsed the living room walls, the paintings, the books concealed behind the paned glass doors of the cabinet. There were a lot of history books.

After we chatted, he insisted on accompanying me in a taxi to my rented apartment. We chatted easily in the back seat as we rode from one end of the city to the other, crossing the Seine into the Left Bank. He got out of the taxi and walked around to open my door, asking the driver to wait until I disappeared through the courtyard and into my temporary home.

As I tell this story, I realize that it seems to have written itself and meandered to where I didn’t expect it to.

I meant to start off with a phrase that my mother told me was Ludwig’s life philosophy: n’achetez pas des bananes vertes - don’t buy green bananas. Though I never heard him say it, I often repeat this phrase to myself when I’m in an outdoor market at the peak of the season. Even though I didn’t know Ludwig well, his life always something of a mystery to me, my memories of our rare visits are strong. This French side of my family that introduced me to petite Parisian apartments, stores of another time, and fruit that you slice rather than chomp.

The recipe that reminded me of Ludwig is a blueberry peach tart. The peaches, whose scent welcomed me to last week’s farmers market, are sliced and arranged atop an almond frangipane layer. The blueberries nearly bursting with juice scatter in the center. The tart was baked for a celebration – my friend Shoshana had just defended her dissertation. Our friends gathered at my place for tart and many glasses of champagne.

The moral of this story may be obvious, but I’m not a moral-of-the-story kinda gal. Nonetheless, the tart makes me think of Ludwig and Ludwig makes me think of beautifully fresh fruit, careful preparation and making family feel like beloved guests and guests feel like family.

Blueberry peach frangipane tart

This recipe is very similar to the pear frangipane tart I made several months ago, but I changed the citrus flavor from orange to lime. This recipe may make a bit more frangipane than you need. You only want to fill the crust about halfway to the top.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage step: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will help make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter (or margarine if making non-dairy)

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also make your own by grinding up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 lime for zest

- 2 eggs

- about 3C fruit: 3 C blueberries or 3 peaches and 1.5 C blueberries; other stone fruits will work as well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 10-15 minutes until it just starts to turn golden. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Mix. Melt the butter (I use my microwave). In a medium bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, vanilla, and lime zest. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Slice peaches (or other stone fruits) into even slices. I got about 16 per peach because I like the slices thin.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about half of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the fruit. Arrange the fruit as artistically as you’d like, but keep it in a single layer.

Bake. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check the tart after 30 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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ritual

I’ve got pistachio on the brain.

It might be because I bought a huge bag for a certain salad that I’ve made several times in the past few weeks.

I keep a jar of these beauties on my coffee table and my friends and I scoop out a handful or two at a time.

Shelling them is half the fun. There’s the plip-plop of each shell half falling into the bowl, their sounds dampened as the empty shells pile up. Then the undivided attention we pay to one another as the repetitive activity occupies our hands but frees up our minds to focus on what we’re talking about. Finally the satisfaction of reward for work done.

After the shelling, there’s the eating. There’s the layer of salt that gets you salivating. Then the dusky purple papery skin that slips and slides between your teeth. Finally the bright green kernel that rolls around sweet and unctuous on your tongue and yields to a gentle bite.

It reminds me of the Israeli ritual of sitting around a few cups of mid-day or after-dinner coffee, kibbutzing about the day’s news while pausing every few seconds to pop another sunflower seed into your mouth, crack the hull between your teeth, find the seed meat inside, and casually drop the remains into the napkin lining your palm.

During these hazy hot humid days punctuated by flash storms, the pistachio shelling ritual is soothing, the plip-plop echoing the rain drops outside.

But there are only so many pistachios that one girl can eat before starting to think about baking. Especially this girl.  Especially on a rainy day.

And so, with pistachio on the brain and a few hours until the rain lets up, I sit and I shell and I skin and I toast and I chop.

Then I mix and I sprinkle and I bake and I slice and I bake and I cool.

And I crunch away. And the rain stops.

Pistachio rose biscotti

These biscotti are inspired by the flavors of baklava, studded with toasted pistachio and tinged with rose water. You can buy pre-shelled pistachos to simplify this recipe, but I find the act of shelling and skinning the pistachios very soothing. (I found a cool trick to remove the skins from pistachios and almonds by soaking in hot water for a few minutes.)  Do whatever is easiest for you. I adapted this recipe from one for biscotti di Prato in Lou Seibert Pappas’ Biscotti (you might remember seeing these cookies on here before). The rose flavor is very subtle and next time I make these,  I’ll amp it up to 1 1/2 or 2 teaspoons of rose water.  

Makes about 3 dozen biscotti.

- 2 C unshelled pistachios (or 1 C shelled pistachios), divided

- 3 eggs

- 1 t rose water (I use Cortas brand)

- 7/8 C sugar (i.e., one cup minus 2 tablespoons)

- 1 t baking soda

- pinch of kosher salt

- 3 C flour

- turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”) for sprinkling

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Shell. Remove the pistachios from their shells. You should end up with about one cup (assuming you don’t eat too many).

Skin. Fill a bowl with the pistachios and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 3 minutes until the water is cool enough for you to reach in and pluck out a few pistachios at a time. Squeeze them between your fingers and the skins should slip right off. This step also removes the salt.

Toast. Spread the pistachio on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 7-10 minutes until they’re dry and fragrant. Let them cool.

Chop. Chop the pistachios with a knife or pulse a few times in a food processor. You should still have chunks, not a fine powder.

Mix. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, rose water, and sugar (I use my stand mixer). Add the baking soda, salt, and flour and mix until everything is blended. Mix in 3/4 cup of the pistachios.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Shape the dough into two long, skinny loaves (about 15 inches long and 2 inches wide). They will spread a lot during baking, so make sure to leave enough room between them. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pistachios and a few pinches of turbinado sugar. Bake for 40 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Cool. Let the loaves cool for about 5 minutes until you can touch them. Lower the oven to 275ºF.

Slice. Slice the loaves on the diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide slices.

Bake again. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet (you may need two) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet(s) and flip the slices over. Continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Store. Keep the biscotti in an airtight tin or jar. I usually put half of them directly in the freezer to save myself from them.

***

Update 4/14: Here are a few more photos that I took recently for an article in the Forward.

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Pistachio rose biscotti

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alchemy

In less time than it takes for you read through this post, you can make a salad dressing that just might change your life.

Let’s get to it so you can run to the kitchen and throw three ingredients (well, five if you count salt and pepper) into a jar. Shake, and, abracadabra, a jar of life-altering liquid gold.

I’m sure you can guess the first two ingredients — some sort of acid (in this case, lemon juice) and some sort of oil (in this case, olive oil) in a 1:2 or 1:3 mix. The third, orange blossom water, takes this dressing from classic to ecstatic. Its flavor is subtle but remarkably present.

Now, enough of my chatter. Run to the kitchen, rummage for a jar, and get shaking. (If you’re like me, you may need to spend a few quick moments cleaning up the mess of containers that have burst out of your cabinet in your rush to find  just the right jar.) Toss a handful of greens and herbs on a plate, crack open some pistachios, and just before you lift your fork, drizzle the dressing over.

p.s. Nearly three weeks after her death, I can’t stop reading Nora Ephron’s New Yorker article on her love affair with cookbooks. Don’t read it yet – savor it over your salad.

Arugula and pistachio salad with orange blossom dressing

This salad comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty. Orange blossom water is an extract used in Middle Eastern cooking. The brand I use is Cortas. Ottolenghi uses watercress and a mix of herbs — basil, cilantro, dill and tarragon. I substituted arugula for the watercress, both having a similar bitterness, and my own favorite herbs. The dressing is more than enough to serve 6-8 people (with about 3/4 of a pound of arugula).

Make dressing. In a jar, whisk (or shake) together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water, and salt and pepper.

Make salad. Toss together in a big bowl a few handfuls of arugula, chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh basil, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. Shell a handful of lightly salted pistachios and add to the salad. Add the dressing just moments before serving.

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shades of green

Taking up residence in my refrigerator is a cityscape of green jars. There’s the blender jar of cucumber gazpacho. To its left is a small jar of garlic scape oil topped by an even smaller jar of mint oil. To its right, a tall jar of mint- and chive-flecked labne, but that’s another story.  The  “buildings” are nestled between a garden of pea shoots and tendrils with their young white blossoms and a wild tangle of mâche and arugula destined for a salad.

This shelf reminds me of my freshman  year of college. No, I didn’t have a fridge full of greens to fuel my studies. Instead I had a roommate who was going through a preppy stage. In honor of her, my then boyfriend created a game called “J. Crew shades of green.” It consisted of a piece of paper with a column of twenty-five green color swatches (cut from a catalog) arranged from dark to light like a Panetone paint color chart and a column of twenty-five names. There was jade and apple and oasis and gatsby. It was a matching game.

Assembled, the contents of my refrigerator jars transform into a sea of wave crest gazpacho splattered with monterey pine mint oil and cyprus garlic scape oil. And then I got to wondering – what would those colors be in Crayola? How about sheen gazpacho with Christmas mint oil and inchworm scape oil?

The game makes for endless hours of entertainment.

Colors aside, this summer soup came to me in the form of an appetizer a few weeks ago before the best-meal-on the Cape dinner at Ten Tables where it was served over a shock of spiced wine (J. Crew) jazzberry jam (Crayola) beet cubes. At home a few days later with a whir of the blender, a few pulses of the food processor, and some toasting and slicing, I had a very pretty, wave crest-monterey pine-cyprus-tinted Jackson Pollack canvas of my own.

Cucumber mint gazpacho

I used as a starting point another cucumber gazpacho recipe from a few summers ago, and added almonds and mint. Soaked bread thickens the gazpacho and, most importantly, makes it really creamy without any cream (see salmorejo). You might need to make this in two batches, depending on the size of your blender jar. It did fit in my standard Kitchenaid 56 ounce (7 cup) blender. The soup’s flavors intensify with time and I like it best after a night in the fridge. It will thicken up a bit, so be prepared to add a little water before serving. I’ve included the recipes for mint oil and garlic scape oil – the soup is special without them, but even special-er with them and the leftovers will find their way into other dishes for days.  

If you want to be trendy, serve the soup in tall shot glasses or tumblers. Or, go old school and use bowls.

Makes 6 cups

- 1 1/2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers — about 10 small Persian cucumbers or 2 seedless/English cucumbers

- 1/2 C cold water

- 1 small onion or 1/2 large onion

- 5 garlic scapes (or 2-3 cloves regular garlic)

- 1 T tightly packed mint leaves (about 30)

- 3/4 C almonds (skinned), divided

- 1/4 C olive oil, plus more for drizzling

- 1/4 C red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

- kosher salt

- 1 C stale  bread, cut into cubes. I’ve found challah or ciabatta to be best. You can keep on some crust, but not too much or the soup will come out less creamy, more gritty

- Optional: mint oil,  garlic scape oil (recipes below)

Puree. Rough chop the cucumber (I keep the skin on) and add to the blender jar with the cold water. Puree until smooth. Rough chop the onion and scapes and add to the blender jar with the mint leaves. Puree again. Then add 1/2 cup of almonds, olive oil, and vinegar, and keep pureeing until the entire mix is smooth.

Soak. Add the bread cubes to your blender and let them soak up the liquid for at least 30 minutes. When they have softened up, puree again until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Chill. You want to serve this cold, so refrigerate for at least an hour (straight in the blender jar) before serving. The soup will thicken a bit, so you may need to add a little cold water and blend until it’s the consistency  you want.

Toast. Toast the almonds until they just start to darken (5 minutes in a 350ºF oven). Let them cool and then pulse in a food processor a few times (or chop by hand). Sprinkle over soup.

Get fancy. Garnish as much as you’d like (see recipes below). Drizzle with olive oil, mint oil, and/or garlic scape oil.

Flavored oils

Make sure to use a very mild oil – I use grapeseed oil – so that the flavor of the herbs shines. An olive oil will be too overpowering. The oils can be used immediately, but an overnight stay in the fridge will intensify the flavors. There will be leftovers. The mint oil is great drizzled on salads, asparagus, or a nice steak. I love spooning a little bit of garlic scape oil on an egg in the last minute of frying and then wilting some arugula in the hot pan. I’ve also thrown it over fresh pasta with a little bit of grated parmesan.

Mint oil.  In a food processor, puree  1/2 cup packed mint leaves in 1/2 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

Garlic scape oil. In a food processor, puree 15 garlic scapes in 1 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

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take two

I know what you’re thinking.

Really? Another tomato tarte tatin?

Yup. Another tomato tarte tatin.

The first ones I made walked the line between sweet and savory. The tomatoes were bathed in a hot pool of caramel and showered with tangy balsamic. They were smothered with caramelized onions. And sprinkled with thyme. The flavors and textures scatted off one another. The whole tomatoes burst in your mouth. The soft onions melted into the crust that was drenched in enough caramel that we needed a few extra pieces of bread to sop it up.

This next one was a whole other beast. And by beast, I mean a whole new beauty. I prepared it for an impromptu lunch with a friend who doesn’t like sweet with his savory and shies away from loads of balsamic.

To keep the tang, I used pomegranate syrup, essentially very concentrated pomegranate juice the consistency of a thick, viscous, slow-pouring molasses. Not surprisingly, it’s sometimes called pomegranate molasses.  You can make pomegranate syrup yourself by cooking down pomegranate juice for about an hour. Many recipes call for adding sugar, but the bottle that I bought in Israel is just pure pomegranate and that’s what I used in the recipe, adding a pinch or two of sugar to taste.

In order to intensify the tomato flavor, I added a little bit of tomato paste. Its natural sweetness serves as a nice counterpoint to the pomegranate.

I decided to keep that sauce on the thicker side, thinning it out with just a bit of water, so that after flipping, the puff pastry would remain very crispy with no liquid to weigh it down.

A dusting of mint gave the tarte a fresh, light flavor, cutting its intensity.

The resulting tarte was like a good California Cab. Inky and jammy and slightly puckery. Coating your mouth with a rush of flavor. Able to serve as a meal of its own or to stand up to a good steak. I wouldn’t have been surprised if after lunch our teeth had turned purple.

Tomato tarte tatin with pomegranate syrup

I have never seen a tarte tatin with this combination of tomatoes and pomegranate. It’s flavors were inspired by a traditional tomato tarte tatin, the flavors in lahmajun , and my favorite Middle Eastern condiments. Pomegranate syrup or molasses is very thick reduction of pomegranate juice. It should not contain sugar and is puckeringly sour.  If you don’t have a tiny bit of tomato paste lying around, try tomato sauce. I rarely use an entire can of tomato paste in one sitting, so I freeze the leftovers by the tablespoon in ice cube trays and pop one out when you need it. Eat the tarte lukewarm – be careful because the tomatoes will be hotter than you expect!

Serves 1 as lunch or 2 as side dish.

- 4 ozs puff pastry (I  use half of one of the pastries in a 17-oz Pepperidge Farm 2-pack)

- 1-2 t tomato paste

- 1 T pomegranate syrup/molasses

- 1 t olive oil

- pinch of sugar

- pinch 0f kosher salt

- a few grinds of black pepper

- 2 – 3 t water

- 12 – 18 cherry or grape tomatoes

- 2 sprigs of mint leaves

Prep. Defrost the puff pastry for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. (Or, make your own.) Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Mix. In the small pan (5 inches across the bottom), mix together the tomato paste, pomegranate syrup, olive oil. Add a large pinch of sugar, a large pinch of salt, and several good grinds of pepper. Thin slightly with water until it’s the consistency of maple syrup.

Arrange. Slice the tomatoes in half through the core and toss them with the syrup in the pan. Arrange them, cut side up in a single layer.

Roll. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two pieces of wax paper into a circle about 1 inch larger than your pan (so, 7 inches in this case).

Tuck. Transfer the pastry to cover the tomatoes. Tuck the edges around the tomatoes. Cut several short vent in the pastry.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust is puffed and golden, 25-30 minutes.

Flip. Let the tarte stand for 5-10 minutes. Run a knife around the pastry to loosen it from the pan. Place a platter on top of the pan and carefully flip the tarte over.

Sprinkle. Thinly slice a few mint leaves and sprinkle them on the tarte. Make sure to eat it before the mint wilts.

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tucked in

Two tables. Ten chairs. Twenty forks.

Dinner was at eight.

The guest of honor was Ilana. She had just returned from two weeks in Nicaragua. She doesn’t eat meat.

The menu was vegetarian.

Dinner was planned around a tomato tarte tatin. Ilana likes a good tarte tatin.

I made two.

Luckily I have two pans.

In the blue pan, the onions were caramelized. In the orange, the first caramel was made.

The caramel was layered with tomatoes then smothered in onions.

The salt was sprinkled. The pepper was ground. The thyme leaves were plucked.

The first pastry was rolled, its edges tucked in, its surface slashed.

It made it to the oven.

The blue pan was cleaned, its onions set aside.

The whole process began again, this time with colorful  baby heirloom tomatoes.

One tarte out, the next tarte in.

The tartes were flipped, first the orange, then the blue.

Dinner was served.

We all tucked in.

Caramelized tomato tarte tatin

This tarte is based on a recipe that Melissa Clark wrote for her column, “A good appetite” in the New York Times back in 2008 and two tomato tarte tatin recipes in Tamasin Day-Lewis’s The Art of the Tart. I looked for this recipe after having a tomato tarte tatin at a newly opened cafe called Tatte. Tarte tatins are traditionally dessert fare, made with apples. This tarte is a combination of sweet and savory with the traditional caramel spiked with sweet and acidic balsamic. Throw some crumbled feta or goat cheese on it if you’d like.

Serves 6-8.

- puff pastry (I  use 1 of the pastries in a 17 oz Pepperidge Farm 2-pack)

- 2 T olive oil

- 3 red onions

- 1/4 C plus a pinch of sugar

- 1 T balsamic vinegar

- 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes

- 1 T chopped fresh thyme

- salt and pepper

Prep. Defrost the puff pastry for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. OR, make your own. (Yeah, right!) Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Slice onions very thin.

Caramelize. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onions with a pinch of sugar, stirring, until the onions are golden and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Add 2 T water and scrape off the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the water cooks off, transfer the onions to a bowl.

Swirl. This time, make a sugar caramel. In an overproof 9- or 10-inch pan (I have a few Le Creusets that fit the  bill), combine 1/4 cup sugar and 3 T water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan gently. Do not stir, just swirl. Stirring could result in crystallization and a grainy caramel. Watch the sugar very closely – the moment it starts to turn a light golden brown, remove it from the heat to avoid burning. Turn on your fan, add the balsamic and move your head back – the fumes are very strong, almost like smelling salts. Continue swirling until the vinegar mixes with the caramel.

Scatter. Scatter the tomatoes onto the caramel, then sprinkle with the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Roll. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two pieces of wax paper into a circle about 1 inch larger than your pan.

Tuck. Transfer the pastry to cover the tomatoes. Tuck the edges around the tomatoes. Cut several long vent in the pastry.

Bake. Bake the tart until the crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes.

Flip. Let the tart stand for about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the pastry to loosen it from the pan. Place a platter on top of the pan and carefully flip the tarte over. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. After a few hours the crust will get soggy, so make sure to eat the whole tarte at once.

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Is it summer yet? It sure feels like it.

Not the hot sticky New England brand, but the warm sunny breezy brand. A breeze so lovely that a few open windows and a ceiling fan does the trick. A day so lovely that one might be inspired to buy some mint and thyme plants with hopes of not killing another fooderific herb garden. The herbs are growing outside on my balcony, and as they’re only 2 days old, they seem to be holding up quite well.

An impromptu dinner invitation and a quick scramble for what’s on hand, and my first zucchini salad of the season emerges.

Welcome back, summer, and a great weekend to all!

Marinated mint zucchini salad

Another quick and easy salad, this one requires 5 ingredients (plus salt and pepper), 2 implements (zester and mandoline – check out the links to see the ones I use), and a bowl. Quantities are approximate, so taste and season as you go along. This salad serves 4-6.

Using a mandoline, slice 3 zucchini very thin. Also slice 1/2 red onion on the mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline – no problem. Just slice the vegetables as thin as you can. Toss the vegetables. Zest two lemons over the salad and then pour the juice in as well. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinke with salt and pepper. Pick some fresh mint from your still growing herb garden and slice or rip it into small pieces. Toss everything together and taste for seasoning. Bask in your kitchen with the oven off and a gentle breeze from the window.

***

If  you’re looking for other ways to take advantage of the summer’s zucchini windfall, check out these recipes from years past:

If  you want to cook: zucchini bread or roasted zucchinior zucchini tart with raclette (or plain swiss cheese)

If you don’t want to cook:  marinated zucchini salad with mushrooms and dill or zucchini ribbon salad with middle eastern spices

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I don’t have much time today because the sun is fading and I’m on my way out to dinner with a bag full of jars, a bowl, and a box. No mystery here, it’s food for tonight’s shabbat dinner. It might be cuatro de Mayo, but we’re celebrating cinco de Mayo tonight with margaritas, guacamole, steak with fruit salsa, spicy cinnamon brownies, and margaritas.

Before I head out, I wanted to jot down recipes for the dishes I’m bringing because there are so few Mexican recipes out there that do not revolve around corn, avocado, and black beans. I spent hours thumbing through a half-dozen cookbooks and my favorite online sites. And then I just made up two recipes. First I grilled the freshest spring vegetables I could find and made a sauce from smokey chipotle peppers to drizzle on top. Then I  toasted pepitas and roasted tomatillos and jalapenos and chopped up a salad inspired  by the produce I remember from my last visit to Mexico City.

So here you go. Two Mexican recipes, just under the wire, and ready for you to throw together for your own fiesta.

Happy weekend!

Grilled vegetables with chipotle sauce

Grill vegetables. Slice 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash on a bias (about 1/3-inch thick). Break the woody ends off of a bunch of thick asparagus (about 20 stalks). Slice one red onion into rings. Place each vegetable in a separate bag or bowl and let marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat – it’s ready when a drop of water sizzles the second it hits the pan. Make sure to turn on your exhaust because it will start to get smokey. Grill each vegetable for approximately 4-6 minutes per side. When they start to release from the pan, they’re ready – I found that I did need to do a little work to release the zucchini and squash as they were still sticking a bit when they were fully cooked.

Make sauce. In a food processor, mix the following: 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (there are usually 5-6 peppers in a can), 1 tomato, juice of 2 limes, 1/4 C olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little bit of water to thin everything out if necessary.

Drizzle. Arrange vegetables on a platter, squeeze another lime over top, and drizzle with sauce.

Chopped salad with tomatillo cilantro dressing

Make salad. Pickle half a red onion: slice it very thin and marinate for at least 30 minutes in 3 T red wine or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 C warm water, 1/2 t sugar, and salt to taste. Dry toast a handful of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) in a small pan – keep shaking the pan to move the seeds around and when the turn slightly golden and start to pop, take them off the heat and let them cool. Chop into bite-sized pieces 2 romaine hearts, 2 C arugula, and a yellow pepper. Slice 3 radishes very thin (I use my cheap mandoline). Peel and chop a medium-sized jicama into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.

Make dressing. Remove the husks from 2-3 tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue. Under a broiler, roast the tomatillos and 2 jalapeno peppers on aluminum foil. When the skins blacken and blister, take out of oven and wrap then up in the foil so that they will steam. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Put them into the bowl of a food processor with about 1 cup cilantro, juice of 2-3 limes, and 2 T honey. Process until smooth. Slowly add 1/4 C olive oil and process until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice if the dressing needs a little more acid (or water and oil if it needs less).

Toss. Mix all the vegetables and then sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle with dressing right before serving.

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I’ve been wanting to tell you about something amazing that I made. Well, two somethings to be exact. But I didn’t really know where to start.

The first draft of my post began with blah blah blah. Seriously, the text read “blah blah blah … <<INSERT RECIPES>>.” My second and third drafts were not much better. So I did what I could while my thoughts stewed. The pictures were taken and the best ones were chosen and cropped and sharpened and uploaded. The recipes carefully typed out. And then everything sat in an intro-less draft, gathering cyber dust.

Everything I wrote sounded like this: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Boring, no?

But today when I opened the latest Food & Wine, I realized what that meal was, and the recipes are finally ready for their debut.  Dana Cowen opens the issue with what almost sounds like a confession: “Over the past two years, I’ve joined the ranks for the world’s food pilgrims – people who plan a whole trip just to have a single meal.” She goes on to talk about recipes that inspire wanderlust and trips planned for the sole purpose of reaching a destination restaurant.

I’ve admitted — bragged even – that I travel to eat. That I’ve wandered the streets, lusting after the best a new city can offer. You hear it all the time, that life is the journey, not the destination.

But here’s my own dirty little secret: sometimes it’s just all about the destination.

I’ve told you about the destinationZahav restaurant in Philadelphia. Perhaps you could even say that I took a long journey to get there – that going to medical school in Philadelphia led me to business school in Philadelphia led me to an annual conference that brought me to Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Yes, this was an important journey. But then I almost skipped the conference this year. And then I thought about Zahav. And then I registered for the conference. I didn’t go to the restaurant because I happened to be in town for a conference. Instead, I decided to go to the conference as an excuse to go to Zahav. Not that you need an excuse.

I was in Philadelphia for less than twenty-four hours. I landed, took a taxi to my hotel, changed my clothes, took a taxi to Zahav, ate an obscene amount of food, took a taxi to my hotel, went to the conference, took a taxi to the airport and headed to Vegas. There was no journey, just a destination. And it was worth it. The flight, the hotel, the conference, the calories.

I guess at the end of the day, I’ve still said what I always intended: I went to a great restaurant, I’ve already told you about it, and here are a few recipes. Enjoy…until you can go to Philadelphia for the real thing.

Zahav’s hummus with cumin, paprika, and sumac

I adapted this hummus from Chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe in Food & Wine. Most meals at Zahav start with a tower of salatim (cold salads), a dish of freshly house-made hummus, and  steaming rolled-up laffa bread. It’s worth taking the time to use dried chickpeas — the extra steps of soaking them overnight and then boiling them the next day result in a silky smooth texture that canned just can’t replicate. This recipe makes 4 cups of hummus which is quite a lot. My six guests and I barely ate half of what I made. The leftover hummus is great for a few days, but without preservatives, that’s about as long as you can keep it in the fridge. And, please, if you want to be authentic, call it hoo-moose with a guttural h if you can manage it.

-  1/2 pound dried chickpeas

- 1 T baking soda

- 7 (or more) large garlic cloves, unpeeled

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

- 1/4 t ground cumin

- 1/4 C tahina (tahina separates pretty easily, so  bring it to room temperature so that it’s easier to stir to incorporate).

- 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

- kosher salt

- cumin, paprika, and sumac for garnish

- 1/4 C chopped parsley

Soak. In a large bowl, cover the dried chickpeas with 2 inches of water and stir in the baking soda. Refrigerate overnight.

Simmer. The next morning, drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Pour them into a saucepan and cover with 2 inches of fresh water. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and bring everything to a boil. Turn down the heat (but not too low) and simmer, covered for about 40 minutes. The chickpeas should be tender but not mushy. Scoop out about a cup of water (to use later) and then drain the chickpeas. Rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Peel the garlic cloves.

Puree. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with 1/2 C of the reserved cooking water, 1/4 C of olive oil and the garlic cloves. Then add cumin, tahina, and lemon juice. Continue to puree until really creamy. Season with salt.

Serve. Fill a flat serving bowl with the hummus, smoothing out the top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, paprika, and sumac (or whatever spices you like) and parsley. I served mine in a pan and warmed the whole thing up in the oven for a few minutes before garnishing.

Middle Eastern chicken skewers

This recipe is adapted from Chef Michael Solomonov’s lamb skewers in Food & Wine — I just replaced the lamb with chicken. The main dishes at Zahav are called al-ha’esh, literally on the fire. Their kitchen has a coal grill; in my apartment, I use a grill pan. I doubled the recipe and next time will triple it. There was not a single piece of chicken remaining among the six carnivores at the table. The chicken is really moist, so it doesn’t need extra sauce, but the marinade is so good, it’s a pity to waste. Boil it down (since it’s been mingling with raw chicken) and dip pita in it or pour it over couscous.

- 1 medium onion, quartered

- 1 garlic clove, peeled

- 4 (or more) sprigs of flat leaf parsley

- 1-2 lemons (for 1/2 t zest and 3 T of juice)

- 1 t ras al hanout spice mixture (I used this instead of allspice)

- 1 T kosher salt

- Pinch of saffron threads

- 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

- 1/4 C vegetable oil

Puree.In a blender or food processor, puree onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, ras al hanout (or allspice), salt, and saffron.

Cut. Cut the chicken into cubes, approximately 1-inch on each side.

Marinate. Fill a large ziplock bag with the chicken and then pour the puree over it. Shake everything around until the chicken is well coated. Zip the bag, pressing out any air. Refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours).

Grill. Preheat a grill pan. Remove chicken chunks and thread them onto skewers (about 4-5 per). Reserve the marinade. Brush the chicken skewers with oil and grill over high heat until all sides are lightly charred, about 10 minutes or so. You want to turn the meat occasionally – you’ll know it’s ready to be turned when it easily releases from the pan. If it sticks, don’t touch it. Poke a knife into a piece of chicken to make sure it’s cooked all the way through and not pink inside.

Boil. Pour the remaining marinade into a pan and bring to a boil. Serve with the skewers or on rice or couscous.

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