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Archive for Tip Of The Day

TIP OF THE DAY: Try The Best Cheeses In America

If you passion is great cheese, why not try the best on your pizzas, sandwiches, entrées and salads? The winners of the 2015 American Cheese Society Competition, held last month, are worth seeking out.

Here are the first place winners in the top 5 categories (based on the volume of cheese sold in the U.S.), including sub-categories:

MOZZARELLA

  • Brick, Scamorza Or String cheese: Farmer’s Rope String Cheese, Crave Brothers (Wisconsin)
  • Fresh Mozzarella, 8 Ounces Or More, Balls or Shapes: Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese (Wisconsin) and Bella Casara Buffalo Mozzarella (Ontario)
  • Fresh Mozzarella Under 8 Ounces: Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Bocconcini (Wisconsin)
  • Burrata: Calabro Cheese (Connecticut)
  •  
    CHEDDAR CHEESE

  • Aged Cheddar, 12 To 24 Months: Face Rock 2-Year Extra Aged Cheddar, Face Rock Creamery (Oregon);
  • Cheddar Aged Up To 12 Months: Tillamook White Medium Cheddar, Tillamook County Creamery (Oregon)
  •    

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    The best string cheese in America: Farmer’s Rope String Cheese from the Crave Brothers of Wisconsin. Photo courtesy EdibleMadison.com.

  • Cheddar Aged Up To 12 Months—Goat, Sheep, Buffalo Or Mixed Milks: Goat Cheddar, Central Coast Creamery (California)
  • Mature Cheddar, 24 To 48 Months: Four Year Flagship, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (Washington)
  • Mature Cheddar, Aged Over 48 Months: Cabot Old School Cheddar, Cabot Creamery (Vermont)
  • Cheddar Wrapped In Cloth, Aged Up To 12 Months: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Cellars at Jasper Hill, (Vermont)
  • Cheddar Wrapped In Cloth, Aged Over 12 Months: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Select, Cellars at Jasper Hill (Vermont)
  •  

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    The best cheese of 2015 is Celtic Blue Reserve from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Ontario. Photo © Misa Me Photography.

     

    MONTEREY JACK CHEESE

  • Southwest Cheese (New Mexico)
  •  
    SWISS CHEESE

  • Baby Swiss, Guggisberg Cheese (Ohio)
  •  
    PARMESAN CHEESE

  • Cello Riserva Copper Kettle Parmesan Cheese, Cello Cheese (Wisconsin)
  •  
    BEST OF SHOW

  • Celtic Blue Reserve, Glengarry Fine Cheese (Ontario)
  •  
    The awards mentioned here represent just a few of this year’s categories and winners. To see the complete list of awards in all categories, visit The American Cheese Society website.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Black Mission & Green Kadota Figs

    Summer is fresh fig season. If you enjoy dried figs the rest of the year, go out of your way to enjoy them fresh.

    Last month we wrote about how to use fresh figs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we’ve been reveling in them in the weeks since then, and want to send this reminder to everyone who has not yet jumped onto the fresh fig bandwagon*.

    This week, a trove of Black Mission and Green Kadota figs arrived from California to our produce market. The Green Kadota figs we purchased are even sweeter than the Black Mission figs. Do your own taste test.

    After enjoying them out of hand, focus on these easy, no-cook uses:

  • For breakfast with cereal, cottage cheese, yogurt and pancakes
  • Instead of fig jam, sliced or diced and mixed with honey or agave
  • For lunch in a green salad with bacon, lardons, prosciutto or other ham; or sliced onto a cheese sandwich with Brie, cream cheese or goat cheese on multigrain or raisin bread
  • With a cheese course, with any cheese from mild to strong (our favorite pairing is blue cheese)
  • For an hors d’oeuvre, spread blue cheese on fig halves
  • For dinner make compound butter (use it on bread, for cooking or toss with pasta or rice)
  •  

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    Fresh Green Kadota and Black Mission figs, shown with their dried versions. Photo courtesy California Figs. The website has recipes for everything from fig muffins to fig pizza.

  • For dessert in a fruit salad; or sliced and marinated in liqueur by themselves or as a topping for ice cream, cheesecake and other desserts
  •  
    *To get, jump or leap on the bandwagon is an idiom from the 19th century. It means to become involved in a successful activity so you don’t lose out on the advantages. There are other expressions of the phrase as well. A bandwagon was a festively-decorated wagon that carried a circus band; the band was part of the showy parade through town to generate excitement for the circus. The term first appears in print in P.T. Barnum’s autobiography, published in 1855. Politicians began to “jump on the bandwagon” to be part of the parade, actually renting seats on the wagon to get exposure to the public during the merry occasion.

     

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    Fresh figs are a delicious summer dessert with cheese and a drizzle of honey. Photo courtesy The French Farm.

     

    RECIPE: FRESH FIG COMPOTE

    Compote, the French word for mixture, is a dessert that dates to medieval Europe. It is made of a mixture of whole or sliced fruits, cooked in water with sugar and spices (cinnamon, clove, lemon or orange peel, vanilla). It can be further blended with grated coconut, ground almonds, or dried or candied fruits.

    Our Nana grew up on compote, and we loved it too. There was always a compote when we visited, served warm (with ice cream or whipped cream) in cooler months and cold in the summer.

    In medieval England compote was served as part of the last course of a feast; during the Renaissance it was served chilled at the end of dinner. Any fresh fruit could be used. Nana’s family recipe included rhubarb, sour cherry, apricot, nectarine and plum in the summer; apples, pears, quince, dried apricots, figs, raisins and walnuts in the fruit-challenged winter months.

    Use the compote as a bread spread and a condiment with sweet or savory foods, in yogurt, with cheese, cheesecake, etc.

    Ingredients For 2/3 Cup

    If the figs are very sweet, you may need only a small amount of sweetener.

  • 1 pound fresh figs†, cleaned and trimmed as needed
  • 1 to 6 tablespoons sugar or honey (or half as much agave)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Optional: dried fruits or other fruits, Grand Marnier or other alcohol
  •  
    †Figs do not ripen off the tree, so buy fruit that is soft to the touch. The skin around stem should have begun to twist and wrinkle.
     
    Preparation

    1. CUT the figs into quarters or smaller pieces as desired. Place the figs, sweetener, water and cinnamon in a small saucepan over low heat.

    2. COOK for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding the alcohol near the end (or if using dried fruits in the recipe, you can pre-soak them in the alcohol). To turn into a smooth sauce instead of a chunky dessert or topping…

    3. PULSE, using an immersion blender or food processor, until the desired consistency is reached. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

    TO DEGLAZE A PAN

    Here’s how to deglaze a pan to make a sauce. Include a tablespoon of fig compote (you can also use fig jam).

    To make a sauce without pan juices (terrific with roast duck or pork):

    1. HEAT 1 cup of red wine in a saucepan, and simmer to reduce it by half. Add 1/2 cup of fig compote and a half teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

    2. BRING to a simmer again, stirring for a few minutes to blend the ingredients. Remove from the heat and finish with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Add a scant tablespoon of butter to smooth out the sauce.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Oven-Dried Tomatoes

    Sun-dried tomatoes are delicious year-round; but according to the USDA, few if any store-bought sun-dried tomatoes are dried in the sun. The original technique, indeed, was to dry the tomatoes in the sun over the course of several days.

    These days, most “sun-dried” tomatoes are oven-dried. However, they taste the same, or even better, when dried in an oven or food dehydrator.

    The drying process gives the tomatoes a long shelf life, since most of the moisture, on which decay-inducing bacteria thrive, is removed (the same strategy as with jerky).

    Sun dried vs. sun-dried vs. sundried? Any of the three spellings is correct.

    OVEN DRYING

    If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, or there’s a big sale, you can use this technique to create homemade dried tomatoes. Freshly made, they’re still tender and succulent.

    Instead of drying tomatoes in the sun, oven drying is a more efficient method. The task is complete in three hours at the lowest heat setting, instead of several days. You can also use a food dehydrator.

    Of course, if you’d like the authentic experience, you can leave the tomatoes in the hot summer sun for two days or more, taking them in at night. (The oven is looking even better now, isn’t it?)

       

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    Sun-dried tomatoes. Photo courtesy Bella Sun Luci, producer of premium sun-dried tomatoes.

     
    WHAT TOMATOES SHOULD YOU USE?

    You can dry any tomato—beefsteak, cherry, grape, or other variety. But plum tomatoes, a type of roma tomato, are the most popular. The walls are thicker, meatier and have less water.

    The tomatoes must be ripe but still firm (i.e., not overripe). While it’s not an exact science, five pounds of fresh tomatoes yield about two cups of dried tomatoes. The tomatoes will shrink to about a quarter of their original size.

     

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    Have extra sundried tomatoes? Bring them as gifts. Photo courtesy Bella Sun Luci.

     

    RECIPE: OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES

    Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil, oregano or thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the tomatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the tough part on the stem end. Also cut away any soft, bruised flesh. Cherry tomatoes need only be halved; but larger tomatoes should be halved again, into a total of four quarters.

    2. SCOOP out most of the seeds, sprinkle with salt and let them sit skin side up for 15-20 minutes. The excess liquid will drain out, and the oven drying will go faster.

     

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 200°F (some people use a lower temperature, e.g. 150°F, but this will take double the time).

    4. PLACE the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, black pepper and olive oil in a large bowl and gently toss to combine. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan, lined with parchment. Sprinkle any garlic and oregano in the bowl on top of the tomatoes.

    5. DRY for up to three hours. Flip the tomatoes halfway through. The amount of time will vary, depending on the water content of the tomatoes, the thickness of the slices, and air circulate (expert home cooks place the tomatoes on screens instead of in pans, to abet air circulation).

    6. CHECK for doneness. The tomatoes should be flexible and tender, not dry and hard. Remove from the oven

    7. COOL to room temperature, 20 to 30 minutes. Store in heavy-duty freezer bags, either vacuum-sealed or with the air pressed out. We discovered this technique from PickYourOwn.org:. Don’t overfill the bag, and press out the air pockets. Seal the top of the bag, leaving enough space to insert a soda straw. Suck the air out through the straw. When finished, press straw closed at the insertion point, and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove it.

    8. STORE in a cool, dry place. Keeping them airtight is key; the dried tomatoes will quickly reabsorb moisture and go moldy. If you see any condensation in the bag or other container, remove the tomatoes immediately and put them put them back in the oven to dry.

    The tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks, and in the freezer for up to 12 months. To give them as a gift, place in a sterilized glass jar with regular or infused olive oil, and the instructions to use up within a week.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Fresh Peach Bellini Cocktails

    We were inspired by this photo from Audra, The Baker Chick, to look for the ripest peaches—or plan ahead and ripen our own—for fresh peach Bellinis. In the off-season, you can buy frozen peach purée or (surprise!) baby food puréed peaches.

    You can make the peach purée a day or two in advance of your brunch or cocktail party. Well-chilled purée from the fridge is ideal.

    RECIPE: FRESH PEACH BELLINI COCKTAIL

    Ingredients Per Drinks

  • 2 ripe peaches
  • Chilled Prosecco (substitute Cava or other sparkler)
  • Lemon wedge
  • Optional garnish: peach wedge
  •  
    Preparation

    Plan on two peaches for the cocktail. Cut a wedge from one peach, unpeeled, for the garnish. Peel and purée the remainder of the two peaches. The riper the peaches, the better they are for the purée; but you need a ripe-but-firm peach to slice and notch for the garnish.

       

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    A Bellini made with fresh summer peaches. Photo courtesy TheBakerChick.com.

     
    1. POUR 2 ounces of the purée into a flute, tulip or other stemmed glass. Increase the amount of purée for a sweeter and less alcoholic drink.

    2. ADD a squeeze of fresh lemon.

    3. TOP with chilled Prosecco. You don’t need to stir, but if you want to, do it just once, very gently, so you don’t break the bubbles.

    4. GARNISH with a peach wedge.
     
    Audra, The Baker Chick, makes a more complex recipe, combining the peach purée with homemade vanilla bean syrup for a strong vanilla flavor. Here’s her recipe.

     

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    Prosecco’s traditional bottle shape.
    Photo courtesy Mionetto Prosecco.

     

    THE HISTORY OF THE BELLINI COCKTAIL

    While many people use Champagne to make a Bellini, the original recipe, created in 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, head bartender at Harry’s Bar in Venice, is made with Prosecco. The dry, sparkling Italian wine is lighter than Champagne—and much less expensive.

    Even if money isn’t an issue, save the Champagne and its complex, yeasty, toasty and mineral-chalky flavors, for sipping straight.

    The peachy color of the cocktail reminded Cipriani of the color of the robe of St. Francis of Assisi in a painting, “St. Francis In The Desert” (sometimes called “St. Francis In Ecstasy”) by Giovanni Bellini, commissioned in 1525. Cipriani named the drink in Bellini’s honor. If you’re a Bellini lover and in New York City, the painting is in the collection of the Frick Museum.

    Some sources report that the original Bellini was made with white peach purée. White peaches were plentiful in the area and were often marinated in wine as a dessert.

    If you can’t find white peaches, don’t worry. When mixed with the Prosecco, the flavor difference between white and yellow peaches is indistinguishable. And yellow peaches provide more of the color for which the drink was named.

     
    ABOUT PROSECCO

    Prosecco is the quintessential summer sparkler: light-bodied for hot weather drinking and sufficiently affordable—most bottles are $10 to $12—to enjoy regularly.

    Hailing from the Veneto region of northeast Italy, Prosecco is the name of the village where the Prosecco grape—now known as the Glera grape—originated. Other local white grape varieties, such as Bianchetta Trevigiana, can be included in the blend.

    The wine can be frizzante—just slightly fizzy, sometimes bottled with a regular cork to be opened with a corkscrew—or spumante—very fizzy, bottled with the mushroom-shap cork and wire cage* used on Champagne bottles.

    The wine is often labeled Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene, after its appellation.
     
    *Dom Perignon created an early version of wire caging on the cork. Manyt of bottles were lost during production because the cork on the bottle was unable to withstand the pressure of the effervescent Champagne. The added strength. In 1844, Adolphe Jacqueson made the cage (called a muselet in French) in the shape we know today. Here’s a further discussion.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Israeli Salad

    Israeli salad (salat yerakot, vegetable salad*, in Hebrew) is a chopped salad of diced tomato and cucumber. It can also include bell pepper, onion, and parsley (that’s the way we like it). Other ingredients, such as carrot and ethnic-specific ingredients (more about that in a few paragraphs) can be added. The dressing is fresh lemon juice, olive oil or both. A dash of sumac or za’atar (see below) is optional.

    In Israel, the ingredients are diced very fine, and it is a badge of honor among cooks to dice as finely and perfectly as possible. Chunkier versions appear in the U.S.

    As a kibbutz tradition in Israel (and now ubiquitous at restaurants and cafés), Israeli salad is typically eaten for breakfast, along with a host of other options†. It is also served as a side dish at lunch and dinner, and added to pita along with falafel or shawarma.

    ISRAELI SALAD HISTORY

    Israeli salad is actually an Arab salad, adapted from a Palestinian country salad and popularized in the kibbutzes of Israel. Variations include ancestral seasonings: chopped ginger and green chili peppers show India influences, preserved lemon peel and cayenne pepper are popular with North African Jews. Bukharan Jews, who immigrated from Central Asia, dress the salad with vinegar only. A Persian variation substitutes mint for parsley.

       

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    Israeli salad: refreshing, low in calories and good for you. Photo © Pushiama | IST.

     
    RECIPE: ISRAELI SALAD

    Truth be told, although an ideal Israeli salad is known for its fine, even dice, dicing is our least favorite kitchen task. So we make a medium dice, imperfect in every way, and it works just fine.

    You can serve Israeli salad plain or with greens underneath; as a side dish; in a pita with hummus, falafel or both; and on a mezze plate with hummus, babaganoush, grape leaves, tabbouleh and tzatziki or labneh. Add feta and Kalamata olives for a Greek salad, and on top of that, add chickpeas for a Middle Eastern salad.

  • 6 Persian‡ cucumbers or 3 peeled Kirbys, finely chopped (no need to peel the Persian cukes)
  • 4 plum, San Marzano or other roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 4 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced, or equivalent red onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • Optional: 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional seasoning: sumac or za’atar (see below)
  •  
    Plus

  • Pita triangles, warmed or toasted
  •  
    *Israeli salad is also called salat katzutz (Hebrew for chopped salad) and salat aravi (Hebrew for Arab salad).

    †The Israeli breakfast is a dairy meal (meatless), starting with eggs in different styles, including shakshouka (recipe), eggs poached in a spicy tomato. In addition to Israeli salad, other Middle Eastern dishes may be served, such as baba ghanoush (eggplant spread), hummus and labaneh, a thick-strained yogurt. The options continue with breads, cheeses and fish, such as pickled herring, sardines and smoked salmon; olives and fresh vegetables (cucumbers, green bell peppers, onions, radishes, shredded carrots, tomatoes).

     

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    Persian cucumbers. Photo courtesy John Vena Produce.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE all ingredients together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste, along with the optional sumac and za’atar.
     
    MEET THE INGREDIENTS

    Persian Cucumbers

    Persian cucumbers don’t require peeling. They were developed in 1939 on a kibbutz in northern Israeli; the local cucumbers were small and tasty but susceptible to rot and disease. The breeders hybridized them with cucumbers from China, India, Japan, Surinam and the U.S. to improve disease resistance; and crossed them with English and Dutch varieties to be seedless.

    The result was a small, very flavorful cucumber with crisp, sweet, succulent flesh, a smooth, thin, edible skin and without developed seeds. [Source]

     
    They range from four to six inches in length. In Israel, the variety was called Beit Alpha, after its birthplace. Some American growers called it a Persian cucumber or Lebanese cucumber. You can find them at farmers markets, higher-end supermarkets (we found them at Trader Joe’s). Or, buy Persian cucumber seeds,also called baby cucumbers, and grow your own.

    Sumac

    Sumac is ground from a red berry-like drupe that grows in clusters on bushes in subtropical and temperate regions. The dried drupes of some species are ground to produce a tangy, crimson spice. (One of the species not used is the poison sumac shrub.)

    The word “sumac” comes from the old Syriac Aramaic summaq, meaning red. In Middle Eastern cuisine, the spice is used to add a tangy, lemony taste to meats and salads; and to garnish hummus and rice. The spice is also a component of the popular spice blend, za’atar, below.
     
    Za’atar

    Also spelled zahtar, za’atar is a spice blend that is very popular in Middle Eastern cuisines. It is actually the word for Lebanese oregano, a member of the mint family Lamiaceaea, and known since antiquity as hyssop. The za’atar blend includes spices well-known in European cuisines, with the unique components of Lebanese oregano and sumac berries, which impart a tart, fruity flavor that differentiates za’atar from other spice blends.

    Traditional ingredients include marjoram, oregano, thyme, toasted sesame seeds, savory and sumac. Za’atar is used to season meat and vegetables, mixed with olive oil and spread on pita wedges or flatbread, added to hummus, and for a modern touch, sprinkled on pizza, especially ones with feta cheese.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Frittata

    Making an omelet requires a bit of technique. If your omelets don’t look as lovely as you’d like, there’s an easy solution: Make a frittata!

    With an omelet, the filling ingredients are placed on the beaten eggs that are setting in the pan. As the omelet continues to cook, it is folded with a spatula to envelop the ingredients (that’s the part that requires practice, practice, practice).

    With a frittata—the name comes from the Italian friggere, to fry—the eggs and other ingredients are mixed together, then cooked more slowly than an omelet. The egg mixture completely fills a round skillet: no folding. The result looks like a crustless quiche. As with a quiche, a frittata can also be enjoyed at room temperature.

    Frittatas can be packed with vegetables, a sneaky way to get people to eat more of them. You can use the cookware you have, or consider a frittata pan (see photo below), ideal for stovetop cooking when you have to flip the frittata. Alternatively, you can bake it in the oven—no flipping needed.

       

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    Wouldn’t you like to wake up to a weekend brunch like this? It’s easy to make a frittata, watermelon and feta salad, and luscious summer tomatoes on goat cheese-topped toast.

    WHAT TO ADD TO YOUR FRITTATA

    Check the fridge: You may not have to buy anything else! Frittatas are a great receptacle for leftovers—even cooked pasta and grains.

    Vegetables: You can add almost any vegetable* to the beaten eggs, but take advantage of the summer’s specialties: bell pepper, chanterelle mushrooms, corn, eggplant, lima beans, okra, peas, sweet onion, tomatillo, tomato, yellow squash, Yukon Gold potatoes, zucchini.

    Cheese: melting cheeses like Emmenthal/“Swiss cheese,” mozzarella and Provolone; grating cheeses such as Asiago, Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano/Parmesan and Pecorino Romano; and soft cheeses including feta and goat cheese/chèvre.

    Fish/Seafood: clams, mussels, shrimp, smoked salmon.

    Meat: ham/prosciutto, roast chicken/turkey, salame, sausage. When you make chicken or ham, set some aside for the next night’s frittata.

    Accents: capers, chiles (fresh or dried), herbs, olives, red pepper flakes.

     
    *For starters, consider artichoke, asparagus, bell pepper, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, chard, eggplant, kale, mushrooms, onion/leek/green onion, potatoes (boiled/roasted), spinach, zucchini.

     

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    A frittata pan is actually two frying pans that hook together for easy flipping, and can be easily detached for regular use. This one is a Cuisinart Frittata Pan.

     

    RECIPE: OVEN FRITTATA

    With this recipe, you can go heavy on the vegetables—2 cups instead of one. Or, you can make a cheesy frittata by adding a cup of shredded cheese instead of the second cup of vegetables.

    Some cooks start the frittata in a fry pan on the stove, then finish it in the oven. Fritattas can be cooked only on the stove top, but this means they have to be flipped—not easy for some people. Some frittatas can be cooked entirely in the oven, like this one.

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetables, diced or sliced
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella or other
    favorite)—or 1 additional cup vegetables
  • One tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (basil, dill, chives,
    oregano, parsley, rosemary, etc.)
  • Olive oil
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. While the oven heats, cook the vegetables: sauté in olive oil until tender or steam in the microwave.

    2. BEAT the eggs, herbs, pepper, salt, and Parmesan cheese together. Put a tablespoon of oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and scatter the vegetables on top.

    3. BAKE for 15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, which will melt.

    4. SLIDE the frittata onto a serving plate. It can be served hot or at room temperature.
     
    ANOTHER TIP

    There are thousands of frittata recipes online, with the oven, stove top or stove top/broiler cooking techniques. Try them all, and see which works best for you.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Mix Zucchini Ribbons With Pasta

    When we were 10 years old, Mom planted zucchini in the backyard. We watched in awe as they multiplied faster than the brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia. It wasn’t a big plot—maybe 6′ x 8’—but it produced so much zucchini, we couldn’t eat half of it, and gave the rest away.

    A pre-tip tip: Pick or buy zucchini on the smaller side. As they get bigger, they get more watery and bland. We left a few on the vine until the end of the season. There’s a photo of us with our brother, holding up one that grew to three feet long and very wide in girth. (According to Guinness World Records, the longest zucchini measured 7 ft 10.3 inches, harvested in October 2005 in a home garden in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.)

    HOW VERSATILE IS ZUCCHINI?

    That summer Mom made zucchini crudités with dips; zucchini grilled, steamed, stewed, stir-fried, stuffed and baked; zucchini bread and muffins; zucchini casseroles and lasagna; zucchini pickles and salads; zucchini soup and our very favorite childhood recipe, fried zucchini with a squeeze of lemon (and of course, ketchup).

    Much of the zucchini we gave away to our grandmother was returned to our home as ratatouille, a delicious Provençal summer dish that also includes bell peppers, eggplant, garlic, onions and tomatoes.

       

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/zucchini noodles 230

    Regular pasta ribbons mixed with zucchini ribbons, to create a fun dish that really cuts down on calories. Photo courtesy Vegetarian Everyday Cookbook.

     
    Here’s Nana’s recipe. It can be served hot or cold, or used as a topping for bruschetta or crostini. Serving it chilled or room temperature, topped with Greek yogurt and a chiffonade of fresh basil, is a delicious first course with toasts or crackers, Or, use it to top salad fixings, and garnished with black olives.

    CELEBRATE NATIONAL ZUCCHINI DAY

    August 8th, National Zucchini Day, is a good day for zucchini in any form. Last year, we made zucchini “pasta” with the Microplane Spiral Cutter, a gadget that peels whole zucchini into pasta-like strands (it does the same with cucumbers, carrots and other root vegetables). You can use a box grater, but for less than $15, this gadget makes it easy.

    Since then, we’ve been playing with other ways to use zucchini pasta, including swirling the uncooked ribbons into a bird’s nest shape, filled with deviled eggs, egg salad, scrambled eggs and, beyond the nest-and-eggs theme, with marinated cherry tomatoes and other salad ingredients.

    But today, we share this idea sent to us from Good Eggs [a supplier of the exceptional produce and specialty foods], excerpted from The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook: A Year of Cooking on Martha’s Vineyard.

    The recipe combines conventional ribbon pasta (long strands, like spaghetti and fettuccine) with zucchini ribbons, and makes the pasta dish more nutritious. Zucchini contains lots of vitamin C, plus B6, magnesium, iron and calcium.

    But more important to most people, cooked zucchini has just 20 calories per cup, compared with 182 calories for pasta (174 calories for whole wheat pasta). Do the math—and use whole wheat pasta instead of refined white flour pasta for lots more fiber.
     
    RECIPE: REGULAR & ZUCCHINI PASTA WITH CRAB

    Crab adds a touch of elegance to this pasta dish, but you can use any seafood (clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, etc.) or make a vegetarian version.

    Ingredients

  • ½ pound picked crabmeat
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 2 medium summer squash (yellow squash, zucchini or one of each)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces thick spaghetti or bucatini*
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, cut in slivers
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  •  
    *Barilla makes both of these round ribbon pasta shapes. However, since the zucchini ribbons are flat, we went with fettuccine, a flat ribbon pasta (linguine is a thinner version).

     

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/zucchini noodles macadamia pesto kaminsky 230

    Who’d have guessed it’s zucchini? Photo © Hannah Kaminsky | Bittersweet Blog. See our Pasta Glossary for the different pasta shapes.

     

    Preparation

    1. BRING a large pot of salted water to a boil.

    2. COMBINE in a small bowl the crab, jalapeño and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Chop half of the mint and mix gently with the crab.

    3. PUT the remaining mint in a second bowl. Grate the squash using a large-hold grater, stopping short of the seedy cores. Add the squash to the mint along with vinegar, garlic, remaining olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix and set aside.

    4. COOK the pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the marinated crab, marinated squash and basil and heat through.

    5. DRAIN the pasta, reserving some pasta water. Add the pasta to the crab mixture along with some reserved pasta water (enough to loosen the sauce). Heat, tossing to mix well. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

     
    ZUCCHINI HISTORY

    A botanical fruit†, zucchini is treated as a vegetable, used as a savory dish or accompaniment (with the exception of zucchini bread and muffins).

    All squash originated in Central and South America, and was eaten for thousands of years before Europeans discovered it in the 16th century. It grew in different shapes, including round zucchini balls that you can grow from heirloom seeds.

    Christopher Columbus originally brought seeds to the Mediterranean region and Africa. However, the long, green zucchini that have become the standard were developed at the end of the 19th century near Milan, Italy.

    Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo, is a member of the cucumber and melon family, Cucurbitaceae. The word squash comes from the Narraganset language of the Native Americans of Rhode Island, who grew askutasquash, “a green thing eaten raw.” The Pilgrims had difficulty pronouncing the whole word, and shortened it to squash. It was an important food crop for both peoples.

    The word zucchini comes from the Italian zucchino, meaning a small squash (zucca is the word for pumpkin).

    A word about squash blossoms: A long orange blossom grows on the end of each emerging zucchini. It is considered a delicacy, and can be stuffed and fried or pan-fried plain. Alas, this treat was not widely known in our youth, and Mom simply tossed them out.

     
    †All squash are botanical fruits. Zucchini is the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower. Here’s the difference between fruits and vegetables.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Ice Cream & Wine

    We’ve written extensively on pairing wine with desserts, from apple tart and chocolate cake to cheesecake and tiramisu. There’s a brief mention of two sweet wines that go with ice cream: Nigori saké, a sweet, milky style, and Pedro Ximénez* dessert sherry.

    But the problem with those limited ice cream and wine pairings is that ice cream comes in many flavors, and you wouldn’t pair the same wine with chocolate ice cream as with strawberry.

    So since then, we’ve devoted lots of time to pairing wines with ice cream. The recommendations are below, and also include pairings with sorbets.

    ICE CREAM & DESSERT WINE: A NEW CONCEPT

    How alien is the concept of wine and ice cream? So much so that we couldn’t find a photo of a dish of ice cream together with a glass of wine “for love or money,” as the expression goes. The closest we got was a bowl of rum raisin ice cream, over which Pedro Ximénez sherry had been poured as a sauce.

    It is widely thought that ice cream and wine just don’t mix. One reason given is that the butterfat from the cream dulls the palate; but foie gras too is even fattier and sweet wines are splendid with it. The other reason is that the coldness of ice cream numbs the palate, and this can be true.

       

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/px sherry BodegaJoseDeLaCuesta 230

    Pedro Ximénez, a sweet sherry, goes well with chocolate, ice cream and numerous desserts. Photo courtesy Bodegas José De La Cuesta Pedro | Spain.

     
    However, if you wait at least 10 seconds to sip the wine, following a spoonful of ice cream, your palate can be “primed” for wine. Use sorbet instead of ice cream and avoid the butterfat issue altogether.
     
    The Tradition Of Sweet Wine For Dessert

    Sweet wines date to ancient times. The finest wines in Rome were sweet white wines. Bonus: The higher the sugar content, the more a wine can withstand aging, temperature shifts and transportation; so sweet wines held up better.

    Also, then as now, sweet wines pair with any course, depending on the particular dish. Today, wine connoisseurs pay big bucks to attend dinners where different vintages of Chateau d’Yquem, the priciest sweet wine (it’s a Sauternes from the Bordeaux region of France), is poured with every course.
     
    The Tradition Of Sweet Wine For Dessert

    For centuries at refined dining tables in Europe, dessert consisted of a glass of sweet wine, alone or with fresh fruit. A glass of Port with cheese is another time-honored tradition. Wherever a sweet wine is made, you can bet that it is enjoyed at the end of dinner.

    We respect that tradition: A glass of Sauternes with sweet summer apricots or peaches is divine; ditto with Port and Stilton or other blue cheese. Over time, we’ve switched our guest menus away from serving a substantial dessert after a big meal (including a cheese course), to a dish of sorbet and a glass of dessert wine.

    More recently, we’ve been inviting friends to an “ice cream social”† to try different wine and ice cream pairings. It’s a delightful occasion, and we highly recommend it. Consider it for adult birthday parties.
     
    *Pedro Ximénez, pronounced him-AY-nez and also spelled Jiménez and various other ways, is a white Spanish wine grape used to make fortified wines like sherry. It’s also the name of the sweet dessert sherry made from it. Pedro Ximénez is often abbreviated as PX. The identity of the original Pedro Ximénez and his relationship to the grape is lost to time.

    †Ice cream socials—parties where people came to eat ice cream— were popular events in the U,S. They date back to the 19th century before freezers, not to mention electric ice cream makers (i.e., they were a laborious undertaking, and thus a real treat). Some churches and communities still give them, but today it’s an easy party to throw at home. Here’s how to have an ice cream social.
     
    HOW TO PAIR WINE WITH ICE CREAM & SORBET

    While we’ve paired specific sweet wines with specific ice cream flavors, below, you first need to seek out what your local wine stores stock. Explain the specific ice cream flavors you’d like to serve and see what they recommend from their inventory. You can bring them this list, to make the selection process easier.

    France’s vintners produce a wealth of sweet wines:

  • Banyuls, a fortified red wine (Roussillon, France)
  • Champagne Sec, the sweetest style of the sparkling white wine (Champagne, northeast France)
  • Bonnezeaux, white wine (Anjou, Loire Valley, France)
  • Maury, red wine (AOC†, Roussillon, France)
  • Muscat de Rivesaltes, a fortified white wine (AOC, Roussillon)
  • Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise, white wine (AOC†, Rhone Valley, southeast France; not to be confused with the dry red AC wines labeled Beaumes-de-Venise, formerly known as Côtes du Rhone Villages)
  • Sauternes, white wine (Bordeaux, southwest France)
  • Vin de Paille, white wine (Jura, France)
  •  
    Dessert wines from other countries include:

  • Amontillado Sherry, fortified red wine (Spain)
  • Brachetto d’Acqui or Lambrusco, slightly sparkling red wines (Italy)
  • Black Muscat, red wine (California and elsewhere)
  • Ice-Wine/Eiswein, red and white (Austria, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere)
  •  
    *AOC, an abbreviation for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), “controlled designation of origin,” is an official designation that assures that a product was produced in the specified region according with specific ingredients, according to traditional techniques. The analogous word in Italian is denominazione di origine controllata abbreviated, DOC.

     

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/nigori sake takarasake

    Nigori saké is unfiltered, creating a cloudy, or milky, appearance. The style is brewed to be sweet. Photo courtesy Takarasaké.

     
  • Late Harvest Wines (made the world over from Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Viognier, Zinfandel and other red or white grapes)
  • Madiera, fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Moscato d’Asti, sparkling white wine (Italy)
  • Moscatel de Setúbal, red wine (DOC, Portugal)
  • Muscat, red and white (grown in many locations in Europe, Australia, U.S. and elsewhere)
  • Nigori Saké, milky white and sweet [the name means cloudy] (Japan)
  • Pedro Ximénez Sherry [abbreviated PX], fortified white wine (Spain, Andalusia region)
  • Reciotto de Valpolicella, red wine, very raisiny (Amarone, Italy)
  • Ruby Port, fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Sparkling Shiraz (Australia) or Lambrusco (Italy)
  • Sweet Madiera (Bual or Malmsey), fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Tokaji (Tokay) 5 Puttonyos‡, white wine (Hungary)
  •  
    ‡Puttonyos is the Hungarian word to denote the level of sugar in wine; the comparable word used in the U.S., France and other countries is brix.
     

    WINE & ICE CREAM PAIRINGS

  • Any flavor of ice cream matches with its corresponding liqueur (e.g. raspberry with raspberry liqueur) or complementary liqueur (e.g., chocolate ice cream with coffee liqueur, peach ice cream with raspberry liqueur)
  • Apricot ice cream, Bonnezeaux, Sauternes, Vin de Paille
  • Berry ice creams match with Champagne, Muscat, Nigori Saké
  • Butter pecan, maple walnut or other nutty ice cream with PX Sherry, Sweet Madiera
  • Caramel or dulce de leche ice cream with PX Sherry or Sweet Madeira
  • Chocolate ice cream with Banyuls, Nigori Saké, PX Sherry; or Brachetto or Lambrusco with bittersweet chocolate ice cream
  • Chocolate chip ice cream should be matched to its base flavor: chocolate, coffee, mocha, raspberry, vanilla, etc.
  • Coconut ice cream with Late Harvest Semillon, Nigori Saké, Sauternes, Beerenauslese (or the pricier Trockenbeerenauslese)
  • Coffee or mocha ice cream with Amontillado Sherry, Nigori Saké, Madeira, Ruby Port
  • Floral ice cream—Earl Grey, jasmine, lavender, rose—with Ice Wine
  • Ginger or pumpkin ice cream with Sweet Madiera
  • Mint ice cream with Nigori Saké, Madiera or Late Harvest Zinfandel
  • Rum raisin ice cream with PX Sherry or Reciotto de Valpolicella
  • Stone fruit ice cream—apricot, cherry, mango, peach, plum—with Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise
  • Vanilla ice cream with Nigori Saké, PX Sherry, Sauternes, Sweet Madiera, Vin de Paille (bonus: Scotch also works!)
  •  
    HOW TO SERVE WINE & ICE CREAM

  • Serve the wine in a glass.
  • Drizzle it over over the ice cream.
  • Soak dried or fresh fruit in the alcohol overnight and use it as an ice cream topping, along with a glass of the wine.
  •  
    WHAT ABOUT PAIRING WINE WITH SORBET?

    You can use the same wines and liqueurs as with the analogous ice cream flavors; or with a sweet sparkling white wine. For citrus sorbets (grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange—not represented in the ice cream list), pair with the sparkling wine or the matching liqueur.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: “Kaleidoscope” Summer Fruit Salad

    Our mom, who could supreme a citrus fruit fast enough to qualify for the Cooking Olympics, made a huge bowl of fresh fruit salad for us to snack on over summer weekends. It was a healthier alternative, but still had eye- and palate appeal for kids.

    Winter fruit salad colors were a mix of pink grapefruit, oranges and pineapple, green and red grapes. There were splashes of white from diced apples and pears.

    When summer arrived, with vividly colored fruits galore, Mom switched from the winter lineup to what she called “Kaleidoscope Fruit Salad,” after the device we played with as kids (if you’ve never seen one, here’s an online kaleidoscope).

    So today’s tip is: Make a Kaleidoscope Fruit Salad. Or if you prefer:

  • Make rainbow fruit kabobs, following the color of the rainbow, as in the photo below.
  • Serve a plate of bright-colored, sliced fruits with a bright colored dip (see the recipe for Blueberry Dip below).
  •  
    Or, turn the fruit salad into:

  • Breakfast, with yogurt or cottage cheese.
  •    

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/fruit salad mccormick close 230

    You can get much more colorful than this: Add blueberries and/or blackberries, for starters. Photo courtesy McCormick.

  • A luncheon salad or first course, placing the fruits on a bed of greens and topping them with crumbled cheese: blue, chèvre or feta.
  • Dessert, with a scoop of sorbet, flavored yogurt or cinnamon-accented sour cream. You can also marinate the fruit salad with a tablespoon or two of orange liqueur.
  •  
    You can do the same with a multicolored vegetable salad.

     

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/rainbow fruit kabobs dishmaps 230

    Make “rainbow” fruit kabobs. Photo courtesy Dishmaps.com.

     

    RECIPE: BLUEBERRY DIP FOR FRESH FRUIT

    This recipe, from the Highbush Blueberry Council, produces the most beautiful heliotrope-colored dip (a medium purple).

    Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh blueberries, divided
  • 1/3 cup light cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE 2 cups of the blueberries, the cream cheese and the preserves in the container of a food processor or blender. Whirl until smooth.

    2. TRANSFER to a serving bowl; cover and refrigerate until serving.

     
    THE COLOR WHEEL OF SUMMER* FRUITS

  • Brown fruits: dates, figs
  • Green fruits: apples, avocado, figs, grapes, gooseberries, honeydew, kiwi, plums
  • Orange fruits: apricot, cantaloupe/crenshaw melons, gooseberries, kumquats, mango, oranges, mandarins, papaya
  • Purple fruits: blackberries, blueberries, figs, grapes
  • Red and pink fruits: apples, blood orange, cherries, currants (also called “champagne grapes”), dragonfruit, gooseberries, grapes, guava, plums, pomegranate arils,raspberries, strawberries, watermelon
  • Yellow fruits: apples, carambola/starfruit, cherries (Queen Anne, Rainier), figs, golden kiwi, golden raspberries, goosberries, jackfruit, lemon, nectarines, peaches, plums
  • White and beige fruits: apple, Asian pear, banana, cherimoya, coconut, lychee, pear, rambutan, white peaches
  •  
    Go forth and make edible kaleidoscopes and rainbows.
     
    *The “summer fruits” list also includes fruits that are available year-round. If a peel of a different color is left on the fruit, we’ve double-counted it in both color groups (e.g., green apples with white flesh).
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Uses For Oyster Shells

    In this era of recycling consciousness, it’s important to re-use something at least one more time before it ends up in the trash. There are suggestions galore, from re-using plastic dry cleaning bags to wrap clothes for wrinkle-free traveling, to filling empty drink bottles with water for in-home or grab-and-go use.

    Even if something must ultimately end up in a landfill, it’s surprising how many different items destined for the garbage can be re-purposed at least once.

    We were feasting upon a mammoth plateau de mer* at a local bistro, wondering if we should ask to take the empty lobster and shrimp shells home to make stock. Then it struck us: If the larger scallop shells have long been used to serve Coquilles St. Jacques and other foods, we could find uses for the cast-off oyster shells. The solution was easy: Use them as replacements for appetizer spoons (also called amuse-bouche spoons or tasting spoons, and a popular way to serve at cocktail bites).

    You can wash and refill the oyster shells ad infinitum; you can use scores of them at parties; and if you collect too many, you can give sets to your friends.

    As we munched our way through the platter of seafood, we thought of the visual fun of using those half-shells to serve something other than oysters. Here’s our preliminary list, especially appropriate since today, August 5th, is National Oyster Day:

  • Fill with salmon, scallop or tuna tartare
  • Ceviche “shooters”
  •    

    tuna-tartare-oyster-shell-jamesbeard-230

    What would you serve in an oyster shell—besides oysters, of course?James Beard Foundation. This dish was created by chef Kyle Koenig of Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, New York.

  • Add a fried oyster, topped with tartar sauce, horseradish cream or spicy mayo, garnished with chopped chives
  • Serve anything topped with tobiko, from a hard-boiled quail egg to grilled cauliflower florets
  • The natural: Oysters Rockefeller or “Scallops Rockefeller,” substituting scallops for the oysters
  • As a “spoon” for smoky whitefish salad, chopped herring salad or any salad
  • Use for non-seafood purposes, such as stuffed mushrooms (you can serve the mushrooms chopped instead of filling the caps)
  • Use for anything you would serve in an appetizer spoon (this is often a repurposed ceramic Chinese soup spoon)
  •  
    *French for “plate of seafood,” a plateau de mer, or plateau de fruits de mer, is a seafood appetizer that consists of raw mollusks (clam, oyster, periwinkle, scallop) and cooked shellfish (crab, lobster, prawn, shrimp). The seafood is served cold on a platter, on a bed of ice. At restaurants, depending on the size ordered, the platter can be two or three tiers high and plated in silver for a grand presentation.

     

    /home/content/71/6181571/html/wp content/uploads/tasting spoons 1 libbey 230

    Why purchase tasting spoons when you can repurpose oyster shells to do the same thing? These spoons are from Libbey.

     

    NON-CULINARY USES FOR OYSTER SHELLS

    We traveled the Web to see how others were using empty oyster shells. Here’s what we found:

  • Crafts. Turn the shells into craft projects.
  • Gardening. Crush and mix them into your garden soil. The shell is 95% calcium carbonate and provides a slow release of calcium that de-acidifies and helps balance soil pH, loosen clay and improve drainage. That’s good news for tomato and other vegetable gardens.
  • Gardening. Similarly, use crushed shells in container gardening; the coarse texture of the crushed shells promotes drainage. Sprinkle them in the bottom of planting holes for vegetables and bulbs. Be sure to use crushed shells, not commercial oyster shell flour, for an even release of calcium throughout the growing season.
  • Gardens. Save enough shells to create a garden path. Oyster shell paths are a recycling effort that originated in Colonial times: If you’ve been to Colonial Williamsburg, you’ve seen them. They’re a charming alternative to gravel, and can also be used as a cover material for patios, courtyards and driveways.
  • Aquaculture. If you live near salt water, or are headed there, toss the dried oyster shells back into the sea. Young oysters will attach themselves to the empty shells, helping to propagate more oysters. The person who contributed this dip dumps the shells near her dock to create a mini oyster reef. “It creates a habitat for crabs, for which we have crab-pots (YUM!).”
  •  
    If you have other ideas, let us know!

      

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