Archive | September 2010

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

There is no weather phenomenon that I love as much as warm wind. Last night I luxuriated in an entire outdoor evening of it. Whiskey, wine, potato tacos, patio seating. Unfortunately, it led to my oversleeping and missing yoga this morning (bad Kate). But I was left with such an excitement about the seasonal change. And a happy belly. Today I’m going apple picking. What’s more fall than that?

Last week, I picked up some beautiful tomatillos and cilantro at the farmer’s market. I roasted the tomatillos and garlic while I was cooking some salmon, and then made a sauce to dress the fish. I had to make an editorial decision to leave out a picture of the finished product, because, as tasty as it was, the salmon was not very picturesque. But nonetheless it was delicious, especially with this sauce. I added a side of black-eyed peas to finish it off.

The star of the show was this salsa, really. There is something so undeniably bright about these little green veggies, which belong to both the tomato and the cape gooseberry families. I don’t know how much longer they’ll be around the market. I’m guessing we’ll see a lot more squash and roots tomorrow (market day in Wicker Park). But you certainly could pick these up at any Mexican market. In Chicago, there are millions. The leftover product was a great quesadilla topper.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb. tomatillos, dehusked and halved
4 garlic cloves, whole with skin on
olive oil
1/2 head of cilantro
lemon juice (or lime)
optional: jalapeno, destemmed and seeded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place halved tomatillos and whole garlic in a baking pan with salt, pepper, and olive oil to coat. Roast until well cooked through, about 15 minutes. Let cool a few minutes, and when cool enough to touch, peel the garlic.

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until you get a lusciously smooth sauce. Adjust salt to taste. I didn’t have a jalapeno on hand, so mine was a decidedly mild sauce. But it would be excellent with the addition of a little heat.

Guest Blogger: Sara’s Ratatouille

Sara lives in a beautiful high rise in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. She has a view, a weekly farmer’s market steps from her door, and she has cable. So I’ve made a habit of conveniently inviting myself over on Sunday nights, just in time for True Blood. Last week, she made an absolute feast in honor of the show’s finale. We threw in wine and cheese and a baguette and made a French night of it…after all, Louisiana (where True Blood is set) was colonized by France, so we weren’t completely off base. This ratatouille was so good, that, if you closed your eyes and took a swig of the Cotes du Rhone, you could nearly be transported to the south of France. Or, at least, to the bayou.

Early September reminds me of Provence in the south of France. Provence is known for its exquisite sunlight, which is why some of the greatest artists have spent time there. I spent a Fall semester there when I was at university, and the sunsets were like horizontal rainbows. As many know, the French take great pride in their cuisine, and there is no exception in the south of France. The cuisine is diverse because of the close proximity to northern Africa, Spain, and Italy. The produce is divine and better than any produce I have eaten anywhere. Farmer’s markets were daily and exploded with the most divine organic fruits and veggies, grown the way that they have been grown for generations. To me, ratatouille is the quintessential dish from southern France. It is best made at the peak of the growing season, when the vegetables have their best flavor. Because the flavors in ratatouille depend on the vegetables, herbs, and olive oil, it is important that only the best ingredients are used and with care. It was a special treat when my study abroad mom made ratatouille, and she always let me know how she slaved all day! Because I’m in grad school and don’t have 4 hours to spend making ratatouille the traditional way, I use an abbreviated recipe that I find satisfactory.

Horizontal Rainbow Ratatouille

1 onion, sliced
2 green, yellow, or red peppers, sliced
4 cloves garlic, halved
1 eggplant, cut into 1-in chunks
1 large zucchini, cut into chunks
1 large tomato or a few smaller tomatoes (skin and seeds removed) or canned tomatoes
Dried herbs, such as thyme and marjoram
Fresh flat-leaf parsley and basil, chopped
Good olive oil
Pitted nicoise olives (optional)
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Place the chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 30 min. Then, rinse and dry the eggplant. Coat an oven-proof pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Layer in the veggies in any order. My order is usually onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, dried herbs, tomatoes, seasoning. Cook for 1 hour, occasionally pressing down the veggies with the back of a spatula, until all veggies are tender.

Remove the pan, and here’s the trick I just discovered. Place a colander in a pan and dump the veggies into the colander so that the juices drain into the pan under the colander. Place the veggies back in the original baking dish. Place the juice over medium heat until it boils; then simmer until it is reduced to a darker brown color, maybe about 20 min, depending on the amount of juice. Pour the reduced juice back over the veggies. Check the seasoning and sprinkle with fresh herbs and olives. Ratatouille can be served, hot, cold, or at room temperature. Best with a fresh baguette and French table wine (I like Cote du Rhone).

Plum Galette

It feels like fall. Cooler temperatures, lower humidity, the frequent presence of breezes. Today it rained all morning, but a cool rain. Not the humid tempestuous storms of summer. And everything seems quieter. On summer nights, the streets in my neighborhood are alive with shouts and conversations and people walking home from bars. This seems to be fading away into a more serious season. A realignment before winter.

It’s interesting to me how much my thoughts about food connect with the weather. They’re inextricable. What I’m eating inside in my kitchen is somehow linked to how the outside world makes me feel. Part of it, of course, is the availability of seasonal produce at the markets. That largely dictates what I make. But it’s also a mood. Tonight I wanted comfort so I made pasta from fresh plum tomatoes. Just garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil, plus salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. It turns a bit colder and I want tomato sauce and carbs.

I also want to put things in pie crusts. In the last week alone, I’ve made a plum galette, a mushroom galette, and a tomato tarte tatin. It’s fall, we’re getting serious, we need baked butter. Or, I do. And the galette is the perfect pie shape, in my opinion. I love the free form, forgiving nature of it. Throw the filling in, wrap the sides over it, and throw it in the oven. It may look like there are a lot of steps to this recipe, but the pate brisee recipe is the easiest thing you’ll ever make. And really, the tart is only a matter of toasting the hazelnuts and cutting the plums. If you get ambitious, you can also make the plum jam, but luckily, I had Matt’s homemade jam in my fridge.

The plums lately have been amazing. Delicious. Gorgeous. Make this before they leave the market and we’re eating cabbage all winter. Make this before things get too serious.

Plum Galette
from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2003

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
Pate Brisee (recipe to follow)
1/2 c. finely ground toasted hazelnuts
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tbsp. salt
1 & 1/2 lbs. ripe plums, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. plum jam (recipe to follow if you want to make your own)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in lower third. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out pate brissee to 1/8 inch thick, in a roughly circular form. Transfer to a parchment-lined springform pan. You really have a choice here. You could make a rectangular galette on a baking sheet if you so desired.

In a bowl, combine flour, hazelnuts, brown sugar, conrstarch, and salt. Spread to cover the middle of the dough, leaving a 3-inch border all around.

Arrange plums in a circular fashion so that they undulate out from the center. Again, you can alter per shape and look desired. Sprinkle plums with granulated sugar. Fold dough to enclose edges; brush dough with egg wash. Chill 30 minutes in refirigerator.

Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 400 degrees. Bake until pastry is golden brown and plums are softened, about 30 minutes. Before serving, heat jam in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until melted. Let cool a few minutes, then brush evenly over fruit.

Pate Brisee
from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2003

2 1/2 c.  all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
8 oz. chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 c. ice water

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse flour and salt. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, add water in a slow, steady stream; process until dough just holds together. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Wrap well and chill at least 1 hour in refrigerator.

This dough recipe was enough for two tarts for me.

Matt’s Plum Jam
from the brain of Matt Wheeland

3 lbs. firm plums, cut in half and pitted
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
7-1/2 cups sugar
1 (3-ounce) package commercial pectin

Place plums, water, and lemon juice in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil while stirring often. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft. You should have 4 to 5 cups of fruit at the end, and you can base your pectin and sugar needs on that.

Stir in the sugar. Return heat to high and bring back to a rolling boil while constantly stirring. Add pectin and return to a boil while stirring. Continue to stir and boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Let sit for 1 minute, then skim off any foam.

Pour even amounts into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8-inch of space at the top. Wipe rims and seal with sterilized lids. Process in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Panini Press Files: Spicy Labor(less) Day Sandwich

Lessons learned yesterday:

1. Sandwiches are infinitely better when you call them panini and squish them between two hotplates.
2. It is impossible not to buy cheese from the cute cheese vendor at the farmers’ market.
3. Always listen to a lady who insists you buy these certain wonderful cucumbers. Any lady who cares that much about you or about cucumbers won’t steer you wrong.
4. Horseradish cheese and jalapeno jelly are a win-win combo.

The morning’s weather in Chicago was perfect yesterday. Breezy and sunny and mild. It was a lovely morning to walk around the farmers’ market, even though summer is clearly on its way out. The peppers and the eggplant were nearly past their prime. There were more apples than anything, and even a small batch of winter squash.

I came home and cobbled together this sandwich, er, panino. I have more elaborate recipes to share with you, but it’s Labor Day weekend, and I’m sure that you are as little interested in laboring this weekend as I, even if cooking is among the more pleasurable labors known to man (or, me). So, here’s an ode to feeding yourself creatively, deliciously, and laborlessly on this holiday. Everything but the avocado in this concoction is a farmers’ market item: wheat bread, horseradish cheddar, cucumber, and a fantastic sweet jalapeno jelly that I bought at a farmers’ market in Oakland a few weeks ago. It’s kind of like ketchup doing kung fu. You could use Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce as a substitute.

Spicy Labor(less) Day Sandwich
2 slices wheat bread
1/2 avocado
salt and pepper
6-8 thin slices of cucumber
1 slice horseradish cheddar
1 tsp. jalapeno jelly
optional: sliced peperoncini

Preaheat your panini press and brush some olive oil on it. If you don’t have one, preheat a cast iron skillet over medium with some butter, as you would for a grilled cheese.

Spread the jelly on one side of the bread and smoosh the avocado into a layer on the other side. You’ll want a nice ripe one in order to do this. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the avocado. Add the sliced cheese and slices of cucumber, and peperoncini if using. Close the sandwich and pop in the panini press or pan. Grill until the cheese is melted and both sides of the bread are a nice golden brown color.

Serve warm. Then do no more labor for the day. Except maybe for dinner.

Gill-ty Pleasures: It’s Pimm’s O’Clock!

As someone who is generally content with just ice and liquor for my imbibing needs, I had no idea the extent of cocktail possibilities until I met Melissa Gill. Whatever the occasion, she always has the perfect cocktail pairing in mind. She brought hurricanes to Sara’s Mardi Gras party (naturally), French 75s to Thanksgiving, and made old fashioneds to help us pack for her move to Seattle. I’m so impressed by her mixology skills that I’ve asked her to be my roving cocktail reporter, which, graciously, she’s agreed to do. So, I’d now like to introduce a new occasional column by this mixologist with the mostest called Gill-ty Pleasures. The column will be an account of her adventures in booze and her reports from the front lines: new drinks; perfected recipes for traditional ones; food and booze pairing ideas. For her first feature, we did a Pimm’s Cup taste-off together. I was happy to help. In the name of research.

“It’s Pimm’s O’Clock!”
After traveling to Dubai last December to visit my Dad, Pimm’s Cups have become a recent obsession of mine.  Dubai has a large population of English expatriates, so there is an influx of British cuisine and drinks. I haven’t seen the cocktail much around my favorite haunts in Chicago, so Kate and I decided to have a Pimm’s Cup evening.

Pimm’s falls under the fruit cup cocktail category, an English drink that is most often gin-based. Typically, the base alcohol is flavored with fruits, herbs, and spices, which also help to reduce the alcohol strength.  Often, the liquor is mixed with a soft-drink and various fruits, such as strawberries, apples, oranges, and even cucumbers.  Although Pimm’s No. 1 is gin based, there are actually a variety Pimm’s based with vodka, rum, brandy, and whiskey. Most have been phased out of production.

When I started researching recipes, I noticed not only the prevalence of recipes, but a wide variety of ingredients of each. The recipes seemed to fall into two categories, those with Pimm’s and an added sweetener, and those that include an additional liquor, such a gin or vodka. We selected three recipes and sampled each.  Although they were all quite good, there was one clear winner.

But first, the runners up:

Pimm’s Cup, Runner Up #2
Adapted from Food Network

2 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
6 oz. ginger ale
2 oz. lemon lime soda or club soda
1/4 c. cucumber pieces

Put ice in a highball glass or mug. Add Pimm’s, ginger ale, and club soda. Stir and garnish with cucumber. Serve.

This was refreshing, but it was also quite sweet. The Pimm’s was overpowered by the sugar in the ginger ale. If choosing this recipe, I would suggest to use club soda instead of the lemon lime soda, or to adjust the ratio of the ginger ale to club soda equally. It could also be enhanced with a greater assortment of fruits.

Pimm’s Cup, Runner Up #1
Adapted from NPR

2 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
4 oz. lemonade
Club soda
Sliced English cucumber
Optional: lemon slices

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Mix Pimm’s with lemonade and stir or shake. Top off with club soda and stir lightly. Garnish with cucumber and lemon wedge (if using).

We both thought that this cocktail was missing the kick from the ginger compared to the previous cocktail. It wasn’t bad, but it definitely was flat in comparison.

And now for the winner!

Pimm’s Cup, Grand Prize Winner
Adapted from

1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/2 tsp. peeled, freshly grated ginger
4 to 5 mint leaves
1 lemon wedge
1 oz. dry gin
1 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
1 English cucumber, sliced lengthwise and then diced
1 1/2 to 2 oz. combination of ginger ale and soda water
Optional: Add diced strawberries, orange, apples, and/or lemon

Place simple syrup, ginger, mint, and lemon in a cocktail shaker and muddle gently. Add gin and Pimm’s and stir to combine. Do not shake. Fill a Collins glass halfway with ice. Add cucumber (and fruit, if using. Strain the contents of the cocktail shaker into the glass and top with ginger ale and/or soda water. Stir gently and add additional ice cubes to fill.

This was the clear winner. There was a pleasant complexity with this cocktail. We thought the inclusion of the gin complimented the Pimm’s, without masking the liqueur’s unique flavor. Also, the fresh ginger was a nice addition to the ginger ale.

Although it’s now September, I hope that there are still some warm days ahead to enjoy Pimm’s Cups. Cheers!