Monday, June 20, 2011

Strawberry Crostata

Recently I've been reflecting on patience. Or, more accurately, my lack of it. I don't like waiting, waiting, waiting, and yet I feel like that's all I've done lately. Waiting for work stuff to get figured out, waiting for Cassandra to visit, waiting for my vacation to begin.

Then I come home to my kitchen and recognize I have impatience there also. I ignore steps to recipes that seem too complicated. I rarely take the time to let butter come to room temperature before creaming with sugar. I despise working with yeast and having to let it rise for hours.

So if you are impatient like me and you need a quick and easy early summer dessert, this strawberry crostata is for you. It's supposed to be rustic, so make it free-form and no worries if the dough rips. That just adds to the charm.

The homemade dough comes together in 30 seconds if you have a food processor, then a mere 30 minutes of chilling in the fridge while your oven preheats. You have to work quickly and impatiently so that the butter in the dough stays cold while you work - that's the key to a flaky crust.

My strawberries were picked from the backyard of very good friends, the Jones family. They're so tiny and ripe that no slicing was necessary and only the faintest hint of sugar was needed. If you have some cream cheese on hand, a layer of that under the strawberries wouldn't be a bad thing here.

With a big scoop of whipped cream, this is a knockout summer dessert (and breakfast) that's not too sweet but still indulgent. The best part is that it requires no patience whatsoever.

Strawberry Crostata, inspired by Ina Garten
Serves 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp ice water
2 cups strawberries
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 egg white, beaten
more sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cold butter and pulse 15 times. Turn on the processor and dump in the ice water. Process until the dough comes together. Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, toss your berries with sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice.

Roll out your dough on a floured piece of parchment paper. It should get about 6-8 inches in diameter. Transfer dough to a baking sheet.

Drain and discard any liquid from your berries and dump them in the center of the dough. Fold up all the edges and crimp them. Brush the top of the dough with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. The strawberry liquid will ooze out, there's no way to prevent it so don't panic. Enjoy a slice of crostata warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pan Bagnat

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

This week, aren't you just craving crunchy, cool salads? I am. And I don't mean the kind of salad I usually make, which is spinach or other baby greens topped with seeds or nuts, craisins, and parmesan. No, that's too elegant and fancy of a salad for what I've been wanting lately.

I want an everyday workhorse retro salad today. I think they're called Chef's Salads in restaurants. I like that title because it seems to mean that as my own chef, I can put whatever I want on my salad. So, I've decided I want crunchy lettuce like iceberg or romaine, and plain un-fancy vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Instead of cheese I'll use avocado, and for my protein I'll have hard boiled eggs. Yum.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'm a balsamic vinaigrette dressing type of girl. However, it would feel just wrong to put that kind of dressing on this salad - like wearing stilettos and diamonds with yoga pants and a tank top. This salad needs a complementary retro-style dressing such as bleu cheese or thousand island. Or, what I made tonight: the Midwest's most popular condiment - ranch dressing.

I don't know if this is actually a traditional ranch dressing (what, exactly, makes it "ranch" anyways?) but it tasted similar and was a lot better for me than the junk that's served at restaurants, which is probably filled with chemicals and additives.

Also, this gave me an excuse to use the first of my potted herbs, which are sprouting up beautifully after copious amounts of sunshine and rain in the past couple weeks. And finally, it's a great way to use up any buttermilk you have in your fridge leftover from a big batch of banana waffles.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
1/4 cup mayo
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (if you don't have greek style yogurt, strain regular yogurt through a coffee filter for 30 minutes - or use plain yogurt and just have a runnier dressing)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
A big handful of mixed fresh herbs (I used chives, basil, parsley)
1 tsp dried dill
pinch of salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl or shake in a mason jar. Use as a dip for vegetables or as a salad dressing.

ONE YEAR AGO: Mini Frittatas
TWO YEARS AGO: Homemade Yogurt

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Creamed Leeks, Two Ways

This time of year is difficult for me to be creative and inventive in the kitchen. On one hand, the changing seasons make me crave new tastes and textures. On the other hand, here in Minnesota there's no fresh local produce yet and there's too much temptation to go out and socialize instead of staying home to cook. So, I guess I'm trying to explain why the posts are lighter lately and hope you understand.

Spring leeks are mild and sweet and I read somewhere that's because they spend the whole winter in the frozen ground. I love the delicate flavor of leeks and wanted to highlight that in this spring dinner so I paired leeks with cream and peas and used that as a base for grilled salmon.

This is dead simple and so yummy. You can make this with your eyes closed and your guests will be amazed at how elegant you are!

I had a ton of creamed leeks leftover so I made a bonus round 2 recipe: Creamed Leek Pasta. Add the creamed leeks to cooked whole wheat spaghetti, add a cup of starchy pasta cooking liquid and a cup of grated parmesan cheese. Awesome.

Creamed Leeks
5 leeks, white and light green parts only
1 cup frozen green peas, optional
2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter (or any combination of the two)
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
squirt of fresh lemon juice, optional

Recipe Note: Leeks are the only vegetable I know of that you cut first and clean second, because of the dirt that grows into the layers. To clean, remove the tough dark green ends and the hairy root end. Slice the long way in half, then cut into half moons. Add the cut leeks to a big bowl of cold water and swish to release the dirt, which should sink to the bottom. Scoop out the leeks and shake or pat them dry before adding them to your skillet.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add your butter and/or olive oil. When it's hot, add your cleaned leeks and some salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes or until leeks are softened. Add cream and peas and cook another 5 minutes or so until cream slightly thickens. Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Serve under fish or chicken, or with pasta and parmesan cheese. Or just eat a bowl of it like this. Really, you can't go wrong.

ONE YEAR AGO: Tofu McNuggets

Friday, June 3, 2011

Peanut Butter Hummus

Every now and then I get sick of myself and this blog and think it's time to pack it in. Then motivation comes from the strangest places. My awesome friend Ashley told me today over a lovely lunch that her dad made Chocomole and made everyone in the family taste it! I'm not sure it was a total home run with everyone, but I was so happy to hear about it. And it totally renewed my blogging energy.

So in the same vein as Chocomole, I present to you Peanut Butter Hummus. I wanted to merge the name like Chocomole, and like they do with trendy celebrity couples, but someone and his wife thought Peanummus sounded way too dirty for my blog (say it out loud a few times and you'll understand).

Peanut Butter Hummus is delicious. It's a lighter, fluffier, healthier version of peanut butter. You can and should bring a big bowl to work and eat with apple slices for breakfast or a snack (or both). You could fold in a handful of raisins and dip celery sticks into it. You could even eat it with a spoon like I did when the apples ran out.

Peanut Butter Hummus, adapted from Nourishing Flourishing

Recipe note: I didn't have a sweet potato on hand the first time I made this. I added it for the second batch as you can see in the photos and I didn't notice a huge improvement or change in taste or texture, so I'm listing it as optional. Be your own chef and try different variations until it's to your taste.

1 can or pint cooked or canned garbanzo beans, drained
1/3 cup peanut butter, any kind
1/4 cup cooked sweet potato or canned pumpkin, optional
up to 5-6 pitted dates (or approx 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey)
2 tsp vanilla
water, up to 1/4 cup or so

In a food processor, dump your beans, peanut butter, a bit of sweetener (3 dates or 3 Tbsp honey or maple syrup), and the vanilla. Blend. It will probably look really thick and dry.

Add water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it's a smooth dipable consistency. Taste and add more dates or honey or maple syrup until it's sweet enough for you.

Serve with raisins, apples, celery, or anything else that sounds good.