Lamb, eggplant a power couple in this casserole

The Whole Dish podcast: Slow simmer also suited to lamb stew meat

Less than two months after purchasing a whole lamb from a local 4-Her, I’m already rationing the ground meat.

Summer’s burgers and all manner of stuffed, garden-fresh vegetables are putting a major dent in the ground lamb supply that I’ll also tap this winter for cabbage rolls, shepherd’s pie and our family’s favorite meatballs. And I haven’t even made the season’s first moussaka with our rapidly ripening eggplants.

So I’m challenging myself to use the cubed shoulders, packaged as “stew” and “kebab” meat, for more than my favorite summer souvlaki with the garden’s zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers. Slow-simmered, this casserole isn’t my typical idea of warm-weather fare, yet it’s in the same vein as moussaka and eggplant Parmesan, which won’t wait for cooler evenings when there are now so many eggplants to use.

The casserole comes on the recommendation of food writer Daniel Neman, who dubbed this dish his favorite in a group of recipes tested last August for a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He calls the marriage of lamb and eggplant “special” and this casserole, in particular, “almost unworldly.” Well, if a 3- and 5-year-old will eat it, that would truly make it a special addition to my repertoire.

Hailing from the south of France, the casserole has been likened to the iconic French dish cassoulet, considered by some gourmets the epitome of comfort food with peasant roots. “If they made cassoulet in Provence, it might taste like this,” said cookbook author Jane Sigal.

Or if you made it in Southern Oregon with lamb raised a few miles down the road, the garden’s new-crop garlic and sweet onions and just-picked eggplant, it would taste like home.

Tribune News Service photo

Casserole of Lamb and Eggplant With Garlic

2 3/4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, or lamb stew meat

Salt, to taste

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed, divided

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup chicken stock

1 bouquet garni (1 branch fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 6 parsley stems and 1 bay leaf tied in a bundle with kitchen string or cheesecloth)

Black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

3 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Sprinkle the pieces of lamb with some salt. In a cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat 1/2 cup of the oil over medium heat. Add lamb pieces to oil in batches, brown them all over, 5 to 7 minutes per batch, then transfer to a large casserole.

Add the onions to same pan and cook, stirring, until they are tinged with brown, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add them to lamb in casserole. In same skillet, brown the eggplant in batches with a little salt and add it to lamb. Add oil while cooking eggplant if it looks too dry.

Pour the stock into lamb casserole and tuck in the bouquet garni. Transfer casserole to oven and bake, uncovered, until lamb is tender, for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir mixture 2 or 3 times while cooking. Discard bouquet garni. Add pepper and taste for seasoning. (Casserole can be cooked to this point a day or two ahead and chilled. Reheat, covered, in a 350-degree oven before proceeding).

While lamb cooks, make topping. Add the breadcrumbs to bowl of a food processor and slice in the garlic. Pulse until garlic is coarsely chopped. Add the parsley and pulse until everything is finely chopped. In a pan, melt the butter with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add breadcrumb mixture and stir until evenly coated with butter.

Heat oven broiler. Sprinkle topping over lamb mixture. Put casserole on an oven rack so topping is about 2 inches from heat and broil until lightly browned, for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully and turn casserole as necessary so topping browns evenly and doesn’t burn. Serve as soon as possible.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from “Backroad Bistros, Farmhouse Fare: A French Country Cookbook,” by Jane Sigal.

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This roasted eggplant luxuriates in tahini, yogurt

My accidental neglect for one of the season’s first eggplants prompted this blog’s previous post.

While roasting and pureeing salvages eggplants a bit worse for the wear, those perfectly portly specimens deserve the spotlight. We love eggplant Parmesan for its rich, comfort-food flavor, but the eggplant’s aesthetic is lost under all that breading, sauce and cheese.

Halving the fruits and stuffing them may be a tougher sell, where the kids are concerned. But they surprised me recently by eating their way around a roasted eggplant, presented as a rotund receptacle for ground, seasoned and browned lamb, combined with chunks of garden-fresh tomatoes and feta cheese. Only the eggplant skin — a tough sell, even for some adults — gave them pause.

Flavors of lemon, yogurt and honey may go farther in this presentation of roasted eggplant, billed as “carpaccio.” I find the recipe title a bit confusing, given that the eggplant is sliced only once, lengthwise, rather than thinly sliced, as the term “carpaccio” implies.

Because the fruit luxuriates in so many distinctive and indispensably Mediterranean flavors, I may rename it something like “smothered eggplant supreme.” Whatever the name, it’s bound to be delicious, maybe a new family favorite.

Consider serving this with warm flatbread and a side of sheep-milk feta.

Tribune News Service photo

Eggplant Carpaccio

4 medium eggplants

4 tablespoons tahini

4 tablespoons yogurt

4 teaspoons honey

8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tomatoes, halved

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

1 teaspoon chopped hot green pepper

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 small bunch of fresh hyssop or oregano leaves

Roast the eggplants by placing them on a grill or on a cooking element over a gas burner, turning frequently until charred and softened all over. Or, poke holes all over with a fork and broil them in oven about 8 inches from heat source. Turn frequently until softened all over.

Cool slightly and cut open. Place each eggplant on a plate and flatten slightly with a fork.

Pour small puddles of the tahini, yogurt, honey, olive oil and lemon juice over eggplant. Spoon out contents of 1/2 of 1 of the tomatoes over each eggplant. Season with the garlic, hot pepper, salt and pepper. Garnish with the hyssop or oregano and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from “The Book of New Israel Food: A Culinary Journey,” by Janna Gur.

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Peppers, tomatoes switch up eggplant spread

A nice bit of planning, I thought, to have polished off a batch of baba ghanoush made from last year’s frozen eggplant — just as this year’s fresh specimens were sizing up.

Then I let the garden’s first gloriously shiny, richly purple globe languish a bit too long in the refrigerator. Pocked and puckered, its color dulled by cold, this eggplant was good only for … baba ghanoush. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer the Mediterranean eggplant spread to hummus. But I thought I’d get at least one eggplant Parmesan under my belt before the roasting and freezing of extraneous eggplant flesh commenced.

With my taste for baba ghanoush so recently satisfied with my freezer stash eggplant, an alternative with this summer’s first fruit is in order. And this recipe, which makes such a sizable batch, also seems appropriate for freezing in preparation for the cold season, when sun-soaked, garden-fresh flavors are much harder to come by.

I’ll likely have to wait another month or so for enough garden peppers to ripen to ruddiness. In the meantime, I can hoard roasted eggplant flesh in the freezer and process enough garden tomatoes to round out the ingredients. Perish the thought of using canned produce amid the current bounty.

Tribune News Service photo

Pepper Spread

4 pounds red bell peppers, roasted and peeled (see note)

1 large eggplant, about 1 pound, roasted and peeled (see note)

6 to 10 small thin hot peppers, such as serranos, seeded and finely chopped

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 cup finely chopped, fresh parsley

Salt, to taste

NOTE: To roast the red peppers, place on a foil-covered baking sheet in a 425-degree oven. Cook until charred and softened all over, for about 25 to 30 minutes. Place in a paper bag and close bag or wrap individually in plastic wrap (after first allowing to cool slightly for a few minutes). Let sit for 15 minutes. You should be able to pull off skins easily with your fingers. Remove stem and discard all seeds.

To roast the eggplant, place it on a grill or on a cooking element over a gas burner, turning frequently until charred and softened all over. Or, poke holes all over with a fork and broil it in oven about 8 inches from heat source. Turn frequently until softened all over.

Puree the hot peppers in a food processor, then add roasted bell peppers and eggplant and continue processing until smooth.

In a large pot, combine puree and the crushed tomatoes; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring continuously, until thickened slightly, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and cooks down, for about another hour.

Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the garlic and parsley; season with the salt and continue to cook, stirring, until all liquid has cooked off, for 15 minutes or so. Let cool slightly and spoon into a large, clean glass jar. Let it cool in jar, cover tightly with lid and store in refrigerator. Pepper spread will keep indefinitely.

Makes about 6 cups.

Recipe from “The Glorious Foods of Greece,” by Diane Kochilas, tested by Tribune News Service.

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Brioche buns more than burger-patty bookends

The Whole Dish podcast: Shrimp burgers luxurious match for brioche buns

Brioche hamburger buns, mentioned in my latest podcast, recently vied with pretzel buns for my affections while shopping at a locally owned grocer.

I’d noticed Franz’s brioche buns sometime this past spring, but now an artisan brand, St. Pierre, had debuted at Medford’s Food 4 Less. Quel joi!

And St. Pierre’s pack of four buns is perfect for my family. I admit it’s something of a pet peeve to buy a package of hamburger or hot dog buns, only to have a few left over that either have to be frozen, or fed to the chickens.

So I didn’t hesitate to add the package of buns to my cart with little consideration for what type of burger they would bookend. Salmon, turkey, lamb, even eggplant. Whichever patty materialized, I was romanticizing the sensation of first biting into a pillowy bun rich with buttery, eggy flavor.

Of course the crème de la crème of brioche is the dough you make yourself and eat straight out of the oven. These hamburger buns require a bit less time than the pretzel version I posted, about an hour plus rising time, according to the Los Angeles Times, which tested the recipe.

Tribune News Service photo

Brioche Buns

3/4 cup milk, divided

1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

3 eggs, divided

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small pan, heat 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat, just until warmed. Remove from heat, and pour milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar, then set aside until milk is foamy and yeast is activated, for about 10 minutes.

Crack 2 of the eggs into bowl of a stand mixer and whisk, using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), until light and fluffy, for about 1 minute. Stir in yeast mixture and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until fully incorporated.

If using a stand mixer, switch to paddle attachment. With mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With mixer running, add flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

Remove dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it’s a rich dough and won’t be entirely smooth), for 5 to 7 minutes. Place dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Alternatively, you can refrigerate dough overnight, then take it out the next day and wait for it to come to room temperature.)

Meanwhile, make an egg wash: Beat together remaining egg with remaining 2 tablespoons milk.

Heat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease parchment.

When dough is doubled (it will be very smooth and elastic), punch it down and divide it into 6 pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching seams together at base of each one. Flatten ball so it’s about 1 inch thick and place on prepared baking sheet; continue until you have 6 rounds evenly spaced on sheet.

Lightly brush each round with prepared wash (for deeper coloring, brush rounds a second time after first wash has dried), and set aside until rounds are puffed and almost doubled in size, for about 15 minutes.

Bake rounds until they are puffed and a rich golden color, for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway for even coloring. Cool completely on a rack before slicing and serving.

Makes 6 buns.

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Pretzels even better as breads, burger buns

Pretzel bread has caused some swooning in a few past posts to this blog. And as mentioned in my latest podcast, pretzel buns for hamburgers have finally found their way into Southern Oregon’s supermarket mainstream.

I urged the purchase of pretzel buns for summer’s bountiful burgers. We all know, of course, that packaged buns, rolls and other breads are poor imitations for fresh-baked counterparts. After all, if you’re going to spend time perfecting your burger recipe, you should serve it on the very best bun, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

Try to approach this with the same enthusiasm as mixing up the patty, rather than thinking about the additional time in the kitchen. Recipe testers even sanction skipping the lye wash, brushing the buns with egg for coloring and sheen, then topping the finished product with coarse sea salt.

For fresh-baked pretzel buns, I would be much more likely to consider it time well spent. The Los Angeles Times estimates an hour and 20 minutes for these buns, not including rising time. If you’re a baking enthusiast, that may seem like very little. If you’re crazy for pretzel bread, like I am, better make it a double batch.

Tribune News Service photo

Pretzel Buns

1 (1/4-ounce) package active-dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

2 teaspoons light-brown sugar

5 cups bread flour, divided

1/2 cup rye flour

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Pretzel wash, such as lye (see note) or beaten whole egg

Coarse sea salt, for topping

In bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over 1 3/4 cups warm water. Stir in the sugar and 1/2 cup of the bread flour. Set aside until yeast begins to bubble, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together remaining bread flour with the rye flour and salt.

Beat the melted butter into large bowl with yeast. Using dough hook (if using a stand mixer) or a fork or wooden spoon (if mixing by hand), slowly mix in remaining flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all flour is added and a firm, thick dough is formed.

Move dough to a lightly floured board. Knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove dough to a large, oiled bowl. Cover and set aside in a warm place until dough is almost doubled in size, for 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the pretzel wash and heat oven to 375 F.

Divide risen dough into 8 pieces, each weighing about 5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball, pinching seams together at base of each one. Flatten each ball so it’s about 1 inch thick.

Coat dough with wash. If using lye, dip roll in wash (wear rubber kitchen gloves and goggles) for 15 to 20 seconds, turning roll over halfway to coat evenly. Remove round to a greased, nonreactive baking sheet and top as desired (if using an aluminum baking sheet, line sheet with parchment before greasing). If using the beaten egg, brush egg over buns.

Use a serrated knife or razor blade to make a crosswise slit into top of each roll about 1/2 inch deep. Sprinkle over the coarse sea salt. Set rounds aside until puffed and risen, for about 15 minutes.

Bake pretzel rounds, 1 sheet at a time, in center of oven until puffed and a rich golden-brown (color will vary depending on wash), for about 20 minutes. Rotate sheet halfway through baking for even coloring.

Remove baking sheet to a rack, and set aside until pretzel buns have cooled completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 8 buns.

NOTE: Food-grade lye is the classic wash for pretzels. It can be found at some cooking-supply stores and online (do not use common lye; it is not food-safe). To make enough wash for one batch of buns, dissolve 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) food-grade lye in 1 quart warm water (add lye to water, not the other way around) in a glass bowl. Wear gloves and goggles while using this wash; lye can burn if it comes into contact with skin or eyes.

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Is this meatless patty superior? You be the judge

The Whole Dish podcast: Homemade vegetarian patties have better taste, texture

A 20-year class reunion earlier this month revisited more than one 1990s trend.

The best veggie burger — Boca or Gardenburger— fueled some debate with a friend who also doesn’t eat beef. Our back-and-forth was lukewarm, compared to the gas grill turning out the event’s hamburgers and hot dogs. The two meatless patties, we agreed, are so different that it’s really a question of taste and texture preference.

Gardenburger has that distinctive chewy texture from brown rice, rolled oats and bulgur, with an obvious mushroom flavor. There’s no mistaking that this is not meat. Boca, on the other hand, tries to mimic a meat texture and flavor, largely with soy protein, but remains a nebulous substance that also comes nowhere close to meat.

Why is a good vegetarian burger so hard to create? I don’t even want it to masquerade as meat. Just give me a tasty alternative to beef if I can’t have lamb or turkey. I don’t want a patty of black beans. And I definitely don’t want bell pepper in my burger. Where is it written that all vegetarians must appreciate bell peppers? Blech!

Combining milder chickpeas and toothsome but tiny quinoa, this recipe is promising enough that I’ll likely try it this summer. I’m not a huge fan of carrots in this sort of preparation, but walnuts’ savor may redeem this mixture, along with the fresh herbs and toasted spices.

Superior to other meat imitators? Let’s try it and find out.

Tribune News Service photo

Superiority Burger

1 cup red quinoa

Kosher salt, as needed

1 cup small-diced carrots

4 to 6 tablespoons mild oil, such as canola

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons ground, toasted fennel seeds

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup drained and rinsed cooked chickpeas (canned is OK)

1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar

1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, crushed (a mortar and pestle is useful)

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley

1 tablespoon hot chili sauce

2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch

8 toasted hamburger buns

Shredded lettuce, sliced pickles and other burger toppings, for serving

In a small saucepan, stir the quinoa into 1 1/2 cups water with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook until fluffy, for 20 to 25 minutes. Turn out into a large mixing bowl. Let cool.

Meanwhile, toss carrots with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a pinch of salt. Spread out on a baking sheet, and roast at 425 F until soft and dark around edges, for about 20 minutes. Let cool.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium. Tumble in the onion, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, for 6 to 8 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the fennel and chili powder. Stir in chickpeas, and cook until very soft, for 5 to 10 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar.

Roughly mash chickpea mix with a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon. Stir into cooled quinoa. Stir in carrots, the breadcrumbs, walnuts, lemon juice, parsley and chili sauce. Add salt and pepper as needed. Whisk the potato starch or cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water. Stir in this slurry (or knead in by hand).

Shape 8 patties. Heat about 1 tablespoon oil in a cast-iron skillet. Brown burgers, for about 3 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed. Serve on the buns with the desired toppings.

Makes 8 burgers.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “Superiority Burger Cookbook: The Vegetarian Hamburger Is Now Delicious,” by Brooks Headley.

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Ready-to-fill crust makes for cool chocolate pie

The Whole Dish podcast: Creamy pies can be full-fat or enhanced with gelatin

“Brookie” dough was my latest impulse purchase from the sale freezer case at Ashland’s Shop’n Kart.

Even if I stop in for a single item, I’m incapable of skipping over the store’s coolers and freezers stocked with priced-to-sell delicacies. Close-dated cheeses, meats, paté, anything that I can consume within a couple of days or transfer to my home freezer is fair game.

In this case, if was Country Baking Co.’s pre-scooped and frozen Mexican chocolate dough, billed as yielding a “crackle-topped chocolate cookie with a chewy, brownie-like inside and subtle cayenne pepper kick.” Sounds about right for roughly 33 cents per cookie.

It’s an exercise in ensuring convenience. Drop-in guests? Break out the mushroom paté and artichoke dip. Need a deli platter? Grab those packages of pre-sliced artisan meats and cheeses procured for just a couple of dollars apiece.

The “brookies” will meet a similar fate, baked up for potlucks, picnics and other gatherings, when I’m roped into bringing dessert but caught short on time and ingredients.

Still, in this weather, the thought of heating up the oven even for a batch of impromptu “brookies” is less than appealing. And chocolate always comes off heavy when the mercury soars.

It takes more lead time, but this pie is my idea of a chocolate treat just right for summer. And if you keep frozen, baked pie shells or those ready-to-fill crumb crusts on hand, there’s no need to turn on the oven. If fruit flavors are more to your liking, consider the Key lime icebox pie featured in this blog’s previous post.

Tribune News Service photo

Chocolate Pie

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 eggs at room temperature (see note)

1 fully baked 9-inch pie shell (crumb, shortbread or flaky)

Whipped cream, as needed

Semisweet chocolate, for garnish

Settle the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 15 minutes. Yes, 15 minutes. Set a timer.

Add the chocolate and vanilla. Beat briefly. Scrape down sides. Slide in the 2 eggs; beat for 5 minutes. Scrape down sides. Slide in remaining 2 eggs; beat for 5 minutes. Chocolate should be silky-smooth with no graininess.

Scrape chocolate mixture into the prebaked pie shell. Cover and chill overnight.

Before serving, spread the whipped cream over pie. Use a vegetable peeler to carve on curls of the chocolate. Slice and enjoy.

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

NOTE: Eggs in this recipe are not cooked. Choose a carton marked “pasteurized” if you have raw-egg concerns.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “Pillsbury’s Best 1000 Recipes: Best of the Bake-Off Collection” (1959). It is credited to Mrs. K.E. Cooper, of Silver Springs, Md.

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Icebox treats are a sweet way to chill in summer

The cooling power of homemade ice pops, aka Popsicles, make for a playful food section this week.

Easier than homemade ice cream, ice pops (see the July 18 e-edition) are a versatile bunch. But if you’re not inclined to lick your dessert from a dripping stick, consider other sweet treats that can be whipped up in minutes in the blender or food processer, then left to chill. The genre of icebox cakes and pies compel cooks’ efforts on these sweltering summer days.

Here’s an icebox pie bursting with a tangy flavor that isn’t weighed down by eggs or cream. The smooth mouthfeel comes from low- and no-fat Neufchatel cheese and Greek yogurt . You’ll have to heat up the oven briefly to bake the graham cracker crust. Or skip that step and pour the gelatin-enhanced filling into ice-pop molds.

photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

Icebox Key Lime Pie

8 whole low-fat graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

4 ounces neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cheese, softened and divided

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon grated lime zest, plus 3/4 cup juice (from 6 limes), divided

1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F. In bowl of a food processor, pulse the graham cracker pieces and sugar to fine crumbs. Add the butter and 2 tablespoons of the cream cheese to crumbs; pulse to incorporate.

Sprinkle mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press crumbs into an even, compact layer on bottom and sides of pie plate.

Bake crust in preheated oven until it begins to brown, for 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer pie plate to a wire rack and let it cool completely, for about 45 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and 3 tablespoons of the lime juice; let sit until gelatin softens, for about 5 minutes. Microwave for about 30 seconds, until gelatin dissolves.

In clean food processor bowl, blend remaining cream cheese, the condensed milk and yogurt until smooth, for about 1 minute. Add gelatin mixture, remaining 9 tablespoons lime juice, the lime zest and vanilla extract; process until thoroughly combined, for about 1 minute.

Scrape mixture into cooled pie shell and smooth over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, for at least 3 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

— Recipe from “Light & Healthy 2012” by America’s Test Kitchen

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Blueberries burst with juiciness in baked goods

The recent spike in temperature is spurring on berries of all types, including Southern Oregon’s somewhat short-season blueberries.

Bountiful by midsummer, blueberries wither much more rapidly than hardy blackberries when the mercury soars above 100. So now is the time to enjoy locally grown berries by the handful while stashing away a few bags in the freezer.

Baked into a batter, even somewhat dry blueberries burst into juiciness. Pancakes are a family favorite, but more effort than I want to invest on weekdays. So grab-and-go blueberry muffins are ideal for fast breakfasts and simple snacking.

I take issue, however, with softball-sized muffins that have become popular over the years and stick with my standard-size tin. I also love breaking out the mini muffin tin, particularly for party fare and pint-sized appeal.

Kids get the whole-grain benefit from this recipe’s white whole-wheat flour, which I typically keep on hand. It’s also an ideal repository for the plain, Greek-style yogurt that’s a staple in our fridge. The flavor is refined with two applications of lemon, blueberries’ flavorful foil.

photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

Mini Lemon-Glazed Blueberry Muffins

2 cups white whole-wheat flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 large egg

1 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 (5.3-ounce) containers plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, completely dry

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/3 cup, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Heat oven to 375 F. Spray a standard mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg until light in color. Add the brown sugar and continue to whisk for 30 to 60 seconds. Add the melted butter in 2 batches, whisking after each addition. Add the Greek yogurt in 2 batches, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla.

Gently toss the blueberries in flour mixture. Add yogurt mixture and fold gently until blended thoroughly. Do not overmix. Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin tin. This will be a heaping tablespoon. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

While muffins are baking, prepare lemon sugar and glaze. Carefully remove muffins from muffin tin, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

To make lemon sugar, in a small bowl, stir the lemon zest into the 1/3 cup sugar; set aside.

To make lemon glaze, in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and the 1/4 cup sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring and simmering until mixture is thick and syrup-like. Allow mixture to reduce to about 4 tablespoons.

After muffins have cooled for 5 minutes, brush tops with some lemon glaze and dip tops into lemon sugar.

Makes 36 muffins.

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Locally grown pedigree sweetens bitter greens

Between berries, tree fruit, corn, melon, tomatoes and more, summer is a season of sweetness.

Bitter greens, however, are abundant at local grocers. And many of these chicory-family members are locally grown, to boot. Escarole and radicchio that I recently purchased at Medford’s Food 4 Less boast the “Rogue Valley Grown” band. Add the Belgian endive that Food 4 Less has only recently begun to stock (oh, joy!), and you’ve got all the ingredients for this distinctive and supremely simple salad from the Chicago Tribune.

As food writer Leah Eskin points out, these sturdy greens require virtually no prep time. They hold up better than lettuce does to the rigors of transport and refrigerator storage. Even if chicories cost a few cents more per pound, there’s almost always less waste compared with lettuce. And unlike capricious lettuce, they’ll keep in the crisper for a week or longer, just biding their time for salad inspiration to strike.

Freshly shelled English peas prompted me last week to hard-boil some eggs and fry some bacon, finally using the bacon fat for a warm, mustard-infused vinaigrette. Whereas lettuce would melt upon dousing with hot grease, escarole and its cousin frisee — or curly endive — stand up to the treatment. Their bitterness is the ideal counterpoint to so many other rich and savory ingredients.

This recipe, inspired by Bon Appetit magazine, isn’t quite so decadent, serving more as a palate cleanser. But it does incorporate mustard, sweetened with a bit of honey. Grab the greens to make it while they last.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicory Salad

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons honey (warm briefly to make measuring easier)

1 large head escarole, leaves separated and torn

1 large head frisee or 2 heads Belgian endive, leaves separated and torn

1 large (or 2 small) head(s) radicchio, leaves separated and torn

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, oil and honey.

In a large salad bowl, toss together the escarole, frisee, radicchio and chives.

Drizzle greens with dressing to taste. Season with the salt and pepper. Toss.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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  • Blog Author

    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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