Sliced eggplant lays foundation for moussaka

The Whole Dish podcast: Eggplant shines in simplified moussaka

Early fall may end with roasting peppers, but it begins by roasting eggplant.

Actually, I’ve been roasting and freezing eggplant flesh for months now, since my garden started producing more than I could incorporate in the week’s meals. In years past, I’ve earmarked this roasted pulp for making baba ghanoush.

But since blogging about a Provencal-style casserole that quickly became a family favorite, I decided to preserve one of its primary ingredients for future use. In anticipation of making the casserole this winter, I simply peeled and diced an eggplant, sautéed it in about 1/4 cup olive oil, transferred the pieces to a Ziploc bag and laid them away in the freezer.

Although the pieces most certainly will be mushy, that’s the desired texture in Casserole of Lamb and Eggplant With Garlic, as well as a couple of other much-loved dishes. I haven’t tried freezing eggplant for the classic Parmesan preparation, only because it’s such a chore to bread the slices, which I consider essential to the recipe. But for eggplant slices that are fried naked, I’m willing to freeze it afterward.

Sliced and sautéed eggplant is an essential component for Greek moussaka, a heavenly marriage of lamb and eggplant under a rich bechamel sauce. This one, courtesy of Tribune News Service, is more involved than the recipe I’ve prepared over the years. It also incorporates a layer of potato. But regardless of which nightshades come into play, the sweet spices have won my family’s approval, particularly with dried currants.

Tribune News Service photo

Moussaka

1/4 cup dried currants

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound ground lamb

1 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Salt and black pepper, to taste

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored and finely chopped

1 cup red wine

1 1/2 cups canola oil

1 1/2 pound eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

1 large russet potato, about 1 pound, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups milk

1 bay leaf

Freshly ground nutmeg, to taste

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

3 egg yolks

1 cup grated Parmesan

Put the currants into a small bowl and cover with boiling water; let soften for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. Purée the tomatoes in a blender and set aside.

In a 6-quart pot over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the lamb, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring to break up meat, until browned, for about 5 minutes. Transfer lamb to a large strainer set over a bowl and drain; discard any liquid left in pot.

Return pot to heat and add remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, along with the garlic, onions and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, for about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost evaporated, for 10 to 15 minutes. Add reserved tomatoes, currants and lamb; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, heat the canola oil. Working in batches, add the eggplant slices and fry, turning occasionally, until tender, for about 5 minutes. Transfer slices to paper towels. Working in batches, add the potatoes and cook until tender, for about 5 minutes, and transfer to paper towels.

To make béchamel, melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, until pale and smooth, for about 2 minutes. Whisking continuously, add the milk in a steady stream until incorporated; add the bay leaf and cook, whisking often, until reduced to 2 cups, for about 15 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg, and discard bay leaf. Let sauce cool for 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg yolks and whisk into sauce until smooth.

Heat oven to 400 F. Place reserved potato slices in bottom of a 3-quart baking dish (or two 1 1/2-quart baking dishes) and season with salt and pepper. Put the eggplant slices on top, season with salt and pepper, then cover with meat sauce. Pour béchamel over top of meat sauce and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over top and bake in preheated oven until browned and bubbly, for 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe by Jim Botsacos of Molyvos restaurant, via Saveur

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Pepper-roasting season is time to make romesco

Returning home this week from a trip to Southern California, I was feeling chilled to the bone, although evening temperatures hadn’t dipped into freezing.

The threat of frost had spurred my mother-in-law, our garden guru, from pulling any numbers of peppers from the plants and depositing them in our fridge. I knew she would. I even sanctioned the refrigerator stash.

Now I have to get busy roasting the peppers and bundling them into freezer bags for use throughout the winter. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll skin some of the spot and either layer them into a casserole for chilies rellenos or blend them into romesco sauce — basically to peppers and almonds what pesto is to basil and pine nuts. Like pesto, romesco freezes exceptionally well and can brighten up winter dishes long after the warm weather’s departure.

This version of romesco, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, suggests yet another pepper, the mild and much-touted shishito, for dipping. But romesco is delicious with any raw or cooked vegetable, crackers or bread, tossed with pasta or as an accompaniment to meat and seafood.

Tribune News Service photo

Shishito Peppers and Romesco Sauce

8 ounces fresh shishito peppers

1/3 cup roasted, salted marcona or regular almonds

2 large roasted red peppers, stems and seeds discarded

4 sun-dried tomato halves, packed in oil, drained

2 garlic cloves, degermed (halve and pull out any green shoot)

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt, to taste

Flaky salt, for garnish

If you would like to seed the shishito peppers while retaining their handy stems, use kitchen scissors to snip a T into each pepper. The T’s top sits ¼ inch from stem and runs halfway around circumference of pepper. Stem of T runs about an inch long. Fold flaps open and pull out seeds. Rinse. Dry thoroughly.

Drop the almonds into bowl of a food processor. Pulse until largest chunks are about split pea-sized. Scrape from bowl and set aside.

Drop the red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped almonds into bowl of food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Process again, slowly pouring in the 1/4 cup oil. Scrape into a small bowl. Stir in the vinegar, paprika, cayenne and reserved almonds. Season this sauce generously with the kosher salt.

Set a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in 1 teaspoon oil. When hot, drop in half of shishito peppers. Cook, tossing, until fragrant, blistered and browned, for 4 to 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining oil and peppers.

Smooth romesco sauce onto a platter. Scatter peppers over sauce. Sprinkle with flaky salt. Dig in.

Makes 4 servings.

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Multi-cookers can ‘bake’ custard-like desserts

Tribune News Service photo

A recent conversation with Master Food Preserver Michele Pryse wasn’t the first time we’d dished on the Instant Pot.

Coordinator of ACCESS’ Cooking Skills Education Program, Michele has supported my volunteer efforts to teach cooking classes for the past four years. I’ve joined her during that time in sharing plenty of “Kitchen Wisdom,” including how savvy cooks can press both slow cookers and multi-cookers into service.

That “robot-looking thing,” as Michele is wont to call the Instant Pot, is really good at cooking a frozen-solid block of food in about two hours or less, as this week’s story in A la Carte explained. Although her Oct. 16 class won’t cover preparation of yogurt and other much-touted methods, it’s also true that the Instant Pot is really good at “baking” creamy desserts that would require a water bath in a standard oven. Think custards and cheesecakes, for which recipes abound in multi-cooker cookbooks.

This is an example of one, courtesy of Tribune News Service. It’s still something of a process, hardly like waving a magic wand over the appliance. Do the results justify its purchase? Doubtful. But for anyone who already owns an Instant Pot, it’s a delicious way to make the most of its capabilities.

Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake

7 graham cracker sheets

1/4 cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Finely grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon

1/4 cup heavy cream

Lemon curd, as needed

Confectioner’s sugar, as needed

Line base of a 7-inch-by-3-inch, round springform pan with an 8-inch round of parchment paper. Secure collar on springform pan, closing it onto base so parchment round is clamped in. Lightly grease sides of pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

To make crust, in bowl of a food processor, process the graham crackers and almonds into fine crumbs. You should have 3/4 cup. Add the butter and almond extract, and, using one-second pulses, process mixture until it resembles coarse sand.

Transfer crumb mixture to prepared pan and press firmly in an even layer onto bottom and about 1/2 inch up sides of pan. Place pan in freezer to allow crust to firm up a bit while you make filling.

In empty food processor bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients — ricotta cheese through heavy cream — and process for about 2 minutes, until filling is well-blended and smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl halfway through blending if necessary.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Tap pan firmly against countertop a few times to remove any air bubbles in filling.

Fold a 20-inch-long sheet of aluminum foil in half lengthwise twice to create a 3-inch-wide strip. Center it underneath pan to act as a sling for lifting pan in and out of Instant Pot. Pour 1 1/2 cups water into pot and place trivet in pot.

Holding ends of foil sling, lift cake pan and lower it into Instant Pot. Fold over ends of sling so they fit inside pot. Secure lid and set Pressure Release to Sealing. Select Manual setting and set cooking time for 35 minutes at high pressure.

Let pressure release naturally (this will take about 15 minutes). Open pot, taking care not to drip condensation from lid onto cheesecake. Wearing heat-resistant mitts, grasp ends of foil sling, lift springform pan out of Instant Pot and transfer cheesecake to a cooling rack. Use a paper towel to dab up any moisture that may have settled on top. Cake will be puffed up and jiggle a bit in center when it comes out of pot, but it will settle and set up as it cools. Let cheesecake cool on rack for 1 hour.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours before unmolding. To serve, unclasp collar on pan and lift it off, then use parchment border to tug cheesecake off base of pan onto a plate, where it can be sliced and served.

Just before serving, top cheesecake with a 1/4-inch-thick layer of lemon curd and dust curd with some of the confectioners’ sugar.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from “The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook” by Coco Morante.

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Apple syrup concentrates fruit’s sweetness, tang

Apple cider can infuse fall’s flavor into numerous dishes, from baked goods to meat entrees to side dishes to sauces.

Several past posts to this this blog have shown the beverage’s versatility. Extending the flavor even farther is apple syrup, essentially cider that’s been reduced to a thick consistency that concentrates all the fruit’s sweetness and tang.

It’s easy to boil up a batch of apple syrup on your stovetop and keep it on hand for spooning over pancakes, waffles, yogurt, hot cereal or even roasted vegetables. I’d serve the syrup as a dipping sauce for sausages alongside a good-quality mustard, or drizzle it over ice cream cozied up to a baked apple.

This recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, gives instructions first for making apple syrup and then whisking it into a mustardy vinaigrette paired with oven-roasted winter squash.

Tribune News Service photo

Apple Cider-Roasted Squash

2 medium acorn squash

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 cup apple cider

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 400 F.

Peel the squash and cut into 1-inch pieces. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss squash with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt. Roast squash in preheated oven until golden-brown and tender, for 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the cider to boil in a small non-reactive saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced to 1/4 cup, for 12 to 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk reduced cider with the vinegar, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley.

Transfer squash to a platter and drizzle with vinaigrette just before serving.

— Recipe from Delish.com

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Hand-pressed cider isn’t your average apple juice

Usually nixing juice, I make an exception for cider.

Half the intrigue for my kids is helping to press the nectar-like beverage from apples picked at a local orchard. “Making cider is a lot of work,” my 5-year-old son commented after we climbed ladders, shook limbs, collected apples in 25-pound boxes, then schlepped the boxes to an old barn where the antique, hand-cranked press resides.

And that was before we employed plenty of elbow grease to start a stream of golden liquid flowing from the spout into our 5-gallon buckets. Whew!

So we consider this cider a “treat” and ration it accordingly. If it weren’t such a commodity, I’d allot some for cooking, including this recipe for sweet-savory beans, now that cold weather is upon us.

Recipe testers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette used half apple cider and half “hard” (aka alcoholic) cider. Because I prefer dishes that aren’t so sweet, I might use only the latter and save the former for my quaffing pleasure.

If you don’t have time — or the patience — for dried beans, substitute two 15-ounce cans cooked beans for every cup of dried beans.

Tribune News Service photo

Cider Baked Beans

3 cups dried great northern beans, picked over and rinsed

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/3 cup tomato paste

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 dried bay leaves

3 to 4 cups apple cider and/or hard cider, as needed

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the beans in large bowl. Cover with water by several inches. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, then drain.

Preheat a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.

In large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, for  5 to 7 minutes, then drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet, reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion. Cook until translucent, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, then raise heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the Worcestershire, mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, cayenne, bay leaves and 3 cups cider. Stir well to combine and simmer until thickened slightly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add soaked and drained beans to slow cooker and toss with cider sauce. Pour cider sauce over beans and stir to combine. If necessary, add up to 1 cup more cider to cover beans. Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, for 6 to 7 hours (or on high for 3 to 3 1/2 hours). Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Recipe from “Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker” from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, August 2017, $26)

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Apple desserts can feature fruit or farm-fresh juice

Preparing apple pies for a recent potluck was a labor of love.

The recipe started not in the kitchen, but in the orchard of a local farm, where I’d been invited to cook and eat. About 20 or so apples of several varieties, picked right off the trees, constituted enough fruit for two generously stuffed pies.

Within a few hours, an all-butter crust had been concocted in the food processor and left to chill while apples were readied. Peeling the fruit by hand, I passed them off to my friend for portioning with a corer-slicer. Tossed with freshly grated lemon zest and nutmeg, cinnamon and some cornstarch, the slices gained sweetness from a butter-brown sugar syrup before being tucked into their dough-lined dishes, finished with lattice tops.

Eating in view of trees that produced the apples only heightened our enjoyment. Blessed with a bounty of fruit, the farm also presses gallons of cider for sipping throughout the winter, boiling into syrup and even distilling into brandy. The cider also would provide the key ingredient for another sweet treat, doughnuts, which I feel confident would come together just as easily as the pie pastry that garnered such high praise.

Recipe testers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette confirm that this batter will be sticky, so be sure to flour not only the parchment paper-covered pan but also your hands and the doughnut cutter. It’s also crucial to keep the oil at a steady 375 F, verifying with a thermometer and frying only a few doughnuts at a time. If you crowd the pan, the dough will absorb the oil instead of cooking it instantly.

Vermont Apple Cider Doughnuts

Tribune News Service photo

1 1/2 cups fresh apple cider

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs, at room temperature.

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

6 cups canola or safflower oil, for frying

Cinnamon-sugar (1 1/2 cups sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon for sprinkling)

Place the apple cider in a saucepan over medium heat and cook it down to 1/3 cup, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl using a mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until mixture is pale and fluffy, for 4 to 6 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating for a minute after each. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

Pour the buttermilk, boiled cider and vanilla into sugar-butter-egg mixture. Mix well and don’t worry if mixture looks a bit curdled; it’ll smooth itself out. Add flour mixture and gently mix just until fully moistened. Mixture may appear a bit lumpy, but the most important thing is not to overmix.

Line baking sheets with wax paper or parchment paper and dust generously with flour. Turn dough out onto a baking sheet and gently pat into a 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle dough with additional flour, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Pour the oil into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 F.

Using a lightly floured, 3-inch doughnut cutter (or biscuit cutters), cut out about 18 doughnuts with holes. You can gather scraps and re-roll as needed, but you may need to chill dough more to firm it up.

Drop 3 or 4 doughnuts into pot of oil, being careful not to crowd pan. Cook until browned on 1 side, for about 1 minute, then flip over and fry for 1 1/2 minutes longer. Transfer using a spider, tongs or slotted spoon to lined plate to drain. Repeat process with remaining dough. Sprinkle doughnuts with cinnamon-sugar mixture while still warm.

Makes 18 doughnuts.

Recipe from “The Apple Lovers Cookbook” by Amy Traverso (W. W. Norton & Co., 2011).

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Cornbread, creamy dressing riffs on panzanella

The Whole Dish podcast: Fusion fare doesn’t have to be fancy or fussy

My Asian-Latin-Southern-fusion contribution to a school potluck wasn’t consumed in the quantity I anticipated. But that left plenty of the succotash-esquites hybrid, dressed with a sweet chili-sauce vinaigrette, for the next night’s dinner.

Colorful and chock-full of garden vegetables, the salad asked for only a piece roasted of meat and maybe some starch to make a complete meal. But a steamed whole grain didn’t really rise to prominence, and I didn’t fancy potatoes. Cornbread emerged as a likely companion to play up the salad’s resemblance to that Southern bean-and-corn staple, succotash. And I could whip up a batch in less time than it took a pan of chicken drumsticks to roast.

Hungry as I was for butter- and honey-drenched cornbread hot from the oven, my sons all but disdained their portions. That left half a pan of cornbread for the next day’s breakfast and lunch and a second attempt at the boys’ dinnertime.

Had I cozied it up to few strips of bacon and given the kids a creamy dipping sauce, cornbread might have received a warmer welcome. And this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, would have been right up my husband’s alley, composed into a single, hearty salad. A riff on Italy’s quintessential panzanella this dish likewise is something more than the sum of its parts.

Tribune News Service photo

Cornbread Panzanella With Spicy Cilantro-Ranch Dressing

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

3/4 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons lime juice

3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chopped chives

3/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided

3 to 4 dashes hot sauce

4 grinds black pepper, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

2 small ripe tomatoes or 1 medium ripe tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, finely chopped

2 ears corn, shucked

1 (8.5-ounce) box cornbread mix, prepared and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, or 5 to 6 cups 1/2-inch-cubed leftover cornbread

5 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled

In a food processor bowl, combine the garlic, buttermilk, lime juice, mayonnaise, chives, 1/2 cup of the cilantro and the hot sauce; process to a smooth consistency. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Let dressing sit in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

In a salad bowl, mix the tomato, onion and jalapeno. Add a tablespoon of spicy cilantro dressing to vegetables; mix. Let vegetables sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Grill the corn on a hot grill for 10 to 15 minutes until corn is charred all over. Let corn cool, then slice corn off cob and add to vegetables.

Carefully fold the cornbread into vegetables (mixture will be crumbly). Add 1/4 cup dressing until incorporated. Add additional dressing if needed until salad is slightly moist but cornbread is not drenched. Fold in the bacon crumbles and remaining cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Let salad sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Gardener tires of zucchini, but never its blossoms

The Whole Dish podcast: Extend zucchini’s appeal by quick-pickling, pureeing for freezer

Alongside the garden’s last zucchini are the plant’s final push to propagate. Velvety squash blossoms are a delicacy I never seem to enjoy enough, unlike their fruits that have all but worn out their welcome.

Squash blossoms lend tender texture to dishes from pasta and pizza to salads and quesadillas (they’re a traditional filling in Mexico). But they also have more flavor than flower petals typically suggest. Lemon plays up squash blossoms’ subtle tang, and a bit of fat offsets their mild bitterness.

Blossoms stay vibrant amid cooler temperatures and also keep well in the refrigerator for a few days in a plastic bag. Pluck a few each day until you achieve the dozen called for in this recipe from the Chicago Tribune.

Likening squash blossoms to “dumplings on the vine,” food writer Leah Eskin offers the following method for filling and folding them in similar fashion. Stuffed with ricotta, dunked in batter and fried until crisp, they’re a perfectly crunchy, creamy bite that bids farewell to summer.

Tribune News Service photo

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

12 squash blossoms or 4 small (1 pound total) yellow squash or zucchini

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup flour

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/2 cup beer or sparkling water

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Canola oil, for frying

Flaky salt, such as Maldon, for garnish

If you have squash growing in the garden, snip off 12 male blossoms (growing on a straight stem), as opposed to female (which sport a swollen mini-squash at the base). Peek inside — if there’s some six-legged fellow busy pollinating, shake him out. Or find blossoms at grocery stores or farmers markets. Lacking blossoms, use 4 small summer squash sliced into 1/4-inch-thick circles and sprinkled with a little of the kosher salt.

Whisk together the flour, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of the pepper. Whisk in enough of the beer (or sparkling water) to form a thin batter. Set aside.

Stir together the ricotta, remaining Parmesan cheese, the mint, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of the pepper. Open each blossom. Spoon in about 2 teaspoons ricotta mixture and twist blossom closed.

Choose a deep, heavy pot for frying blossoms. Pour in the canola oil to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 365 F. Dip 1 filled blossom in batter and lower it into oil. Repeat with a few more blossoms, without crowding. Fry until golden-brown, for about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with the flaky salt. Repeat, frying all blossoms. For squash circles, pat dry and fry as directed above, for about 2 minutes per side.

Munch fried blossoms hot or warm. For circles, top each with a dollop of ricotta mixture before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

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Lemon adds late-season zest to zucchini cake

The chill in the air and downright brisk mornings are foreshadowing the garden’s demise.

But you wouldn’t know it from the number of zucchini we picked this past week. There was enough for my mother-in-law to keep a couple on hand and for my mom visiting from the coast to take home a pair.

Still, I was left with squash large enough that the only purpose for which I could muster any enthusiasm this late in the season was zucchini bread. The recipe, a Becky Crocker classic, fit in perfectly with my plans to bake and freeze easy but somewhat wholesome breakfast items for my kids. While they eagerly mixed up oats for granola and gave the breakfast bars a thumbs-up, the zucchini bread fell flat.

Chock full of golden raisins and pecans, the bread shouldn’t have been a tough sell. Maybe it was the whole-wheat flour, or the flaxseed meal I substituted for what I consider an unconscionable quantity of oil by the recipe developers. Or maybe the boys were just expecting a bite of something sweeter, although the amount of sugar verges on too much for my palate.

If I really wanted to earn their approval, I’d revisit the concept with this zucchini cake, enhanced with zesty lemon flavor, of which they are both fans. And anything with frosting is bound to beckon the little buggers.

This recipe, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, uses almond milk, making it dairy-free, if not vegan. It should work well for anyone with a dairy sensitivity. If you don’t have cake flour, substitute 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour.

Tribune News Service photo

Lemon-Zucchini Cake

2 cups cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla-flavored almond milk

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, squeezed dry

2 tablespoons lemon zest

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on either side of pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and olive and oil; whisk to combine. Add the eggs and almond milk, whisking together. Add the vanilla or almond extract and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice; stir to combine.

Add flour mixture and stir just until incorporated. Fold in the shredded zucchini and lemon zest.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. Top of cake should look dry.

Place loaf on a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes. Use parchment paper to carefully lift cake from pan. Let cool completely on rack.

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Whisk until smooth, adding up to another tablespoon lemon juice to reach a thin consistency. Drizzle glaze over cake. Slice and serve.

Makes 10 servings.

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Wary of watery potatoes? Roast them for salad

With the utmost respect for my mom’s cooking, I poked fun two summers back at our running debate over potato salad.

The setting was my house this past week, the dinner smoked pork ribs and baked beans. But because I planned to teach cooking that evening, rather than partake in meal preparations, my mom was asked to make the potato salad. And predictably, her version drew rave reviews from all assembled.

To be fair, my mother-in-law, the dish’s most vocal admirer, has expressed fondness for my potato salad, as well. Hers, she laments, is too watery. It’s a failing that my mom and I easily sidestep by several methods, on which we agree.

Avoid soggy potatoes by either boiling them in their peels, as my mom does. Or peel them, cut them into quarters and cook until just pierced with a fork, then drain them in a colander placed over a large pot. If the potatoes are slightly undercooked, cover the colander with a clean kitchen towel and let sit for 15 minutes, which allows the potatoes to steam and continue cooking.

Waxy varieties, such as Yukon gold, I maintain, don’t soak up as much water and turn to mush. My mom insists on starchy russets, which is why she doesn’t peel them prior to cooking. Or if you’re still wary, eliminate the water from the equation and make potato salad from roasted spuds. This recipe, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, is a smart way to repurpose leftover roasted potatoes and even deviled eggs.

Tribune News Service photo

Roasted Potato Salad

10 cups leftover roasted potatoes (or see note for roasting)

6 leftover deviled eggs or 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup sliced scallions

1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh chopped herbs such as parsley, tarragon and dill

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon Morton’s Nature’s Seasons Seasoning Blend or favorite all-purpose seasoning

1 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

In a large bowl, place the roasted potatoes, eggs, celery, scallions and herbs of choice. Season with the salt and pepper to taste and a seasoning blend. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar and mustard. (You can use less mayonnaise if using deviled eggs.) Pour over salad and gently stir to blend all ingredients. Chill until ready to serve. Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: To roast potatoes, preheat oven to 375 F. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil on a baking sheet with sides and place it in oven while it preheats. Quarter potatoes. When oven is preheated, use oven mitts to remove baking sheet and place potato quarters on baking sheet. Season with all-purpose seasoning and toss wedges to coat with oil and seasoning. Roast for 25 to 35 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden. Remove from oven and cool before using in salad.

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    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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