Sunday, September 29, 2013

Figs, So Simple

It's hard to beat the perfection of fresh figs over plain, whole milk yogurt.  Indulge while figs are in season. Today, no recipe; just cut the figs in slices or quarters. 

Perfect little 4pm snack, breakfast treat, late night dessert too.  No need to add honey even; the sweetness is inside each fig. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Corn Muffins with Grapes

We do not all feel harvest time in the same way that our grandparents did.  Then, even city-dwellers were aware of when certain foods were at their peak and ready for market.  We see grapes all year these days but some varieties, like red grapes from our northern hemisphere, are abundant now.  It's nice to acknowledge the harvest season and nicer still when you can make something easy and pure. 

These corn muffins with grapes are a fun school lunch or after-school treat.  Adults really like the grape surprise inside too.  Simply take your favorite corn muffin recipe (or the one below) and drop a few grapes into each muffin tin before baking. 

This recipe was inspired by Harvest Grape Breads, a wonderful slightly sweet flat bread or focaccia from Tuscany. After looking around at Harvest Grape Bread recipes, I found a Harvest Cake made with grapes, olive oil and semolina.  Thus was born an original recipe for corn muffins with grapes.  In the recipe below, you may substitute olive oil for up to half of the butter. 

Corn Muffins with Grapes
Yield: 12 muffins

1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup red seedless grapes (about 40 grapes) washed and dried

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Grease a regular sized muffin pan (12 muffins) with vegetable oil or spray.
  3. Melt butter in microwave or small pot over low heat.
  4. While butter melts combine cornmeal, flour and salt in a small bowl. 
  5. Stir melted butter and sugar together in a medium bowl.
  6. Add eggs and beat until well blended. 
  7. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stir into mixture sugar mixture.
  8. Stir in cornmeal mixture until well blended and few lumps remain. 
  9. Scoop batter into the prepared muffin pan.
  10. Press a few grapes into the tops of each muffin.  (Batter will rise up around grapes.
  11. Bake at 375˚F for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center muffin comes away clean.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Basil's Moment

Home gardens are closing up and a bag of over abundant zucchini from a neighbor may arrive unannounced at your door.  If you are lucky as me, there is basil there as well, lots of it.

The key now is to preserve the bounty quickly.  Most of this year's basil windfall will become pesto, frozen in small quantities to make pesto noodles, add to soups or smear on baked chicken breasts.  I'll also freeze some chopped basil alone in olive oil. Make sure the chopped basil is completely coated with oil before storing.   Preserving in oil is fine as long as you are freezing the mixture.  Do not solely rely on refrigeration to retard the growth of bacteria. 

Below is a simple recipe for pesto and since our basil arrived with just picked zucchini, I've included a recipe for a buttermilk-basil sauce for zucchini and tortellini.  This sauce makes a nice salad dressing as well.  

Buttermilk Basil Sauce for Pasta Salad
Yield: Enough to coat about 4-5 cups pasta/vegetables
Note: A mini food processor or immersion blender is perfect for this small quantity.  If you have neither, you can rough chop then mince the basil and combine with remaining ingredients to make a more rustic but equally tasty version of the dressing.

1 cup basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

  1. Combine basil and cheese in a food processor and pulse to create a rough chop.  
  2. Add buttermilk and olive oil and process to a smooth dressing.  
  3. Add black pepper to taste.
To use, pour over  cooked noodles (short pastas, tortellini, macaroni, etc) and steamed and drained zucchini or other favorite vegetable (about 4 cups total veggies and pasta).  Serve hot or at room temperature.  (Cover and refrigerate to store.)

Basil Pesto
1 1/2 cups

3 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried, large stems removed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
1/8-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch salt

  1. Combine the basil, garlic and nuts in a food processor with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  
  2. Pulse to create a coarse chop of the ingredients.  
  3. Slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil as you process to create a smooth paste.  
  4. Add cheese and remainder of olive oil as needed to create a thick but pourable consistency.  
  5. Add black pepper and taste.  Add salt, if needed (the dry cheese will add salty flavor so taste before adding more salt). 
To use, toss several tablespoons pesto sauce with hot, drained pasta. Toss to allow warm pasta to melt the cheese and coat pasta with sauce. Serve hot or at room temperature.  Pesto may be refrigerated for 1-2 days covered in olive oil. 

Storage: Unused pesto will keep in the freezer for 3 months.  Many recommend freezing portions in ice cube trays.  We like to freeze 1/4 cup servings in snack-size plastic bags.  Any leftover thawed pesto is enjoyed on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise or as a base for dip. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Have You Tried Tempeh?

Move over tofu, tempeh is easy to find, store and cook.  Like tofu, it absorbs marinades and sauces beautifully but, for many, has a much more appealing mouth feel than tofu.  That’s due to tempeh’s more chewy texture, a result of its unique production process.

Most tempeh found at supermarkets here is a mix of grains and whole soybeans.  The taste is reminiscent of mushrooms with a little nuttiness. In fact, it goes very nicely in dishes with mushrooms like this starter tempeh recipe with pasta and mushrooms.  Despite having some Asian flavors in the marinade, this is not an Asian dish.  The cheese and mushroom flavor is what comes forward most.

The key to really tasty tempeh is to pre-steam before marinating.  This takes only 10 minutes in a steamer basket.  It opens the pores of the tempeh and allows the marinade to really penetrate. Cut your tempeh into the size you will use before steaming and simply cover and steam over (not in) boiling water or flavored broth.  Once steamed, cover with marinade and let rest turning occasionally for at least a half hour.  Now you are ready to grill, sauté or mix into stir-fries. 

Tortellini with Tempeh and Mushrooms
4 servings

1 package tempeh, cut into ½ inch blocks and steamed for 10 minutes
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sherry
2 teaspoons lemon juice or rice wine vinegar
8 oz sliced mushrooms (try a mixture of portabello and morels)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 16-ounce package fresh tortellini (cheese or your favorite flavor)
1/4 cup cream or while milk
2-3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
Black pepper to taste
Optional garnish: fresh herbs (basil, parsley)

  1. Place sliced, steamed tempeh in marinade of soy sauce, sherry and lemon juice.  Set aside for half hour, turning tempeh several times to coat completely.  
  2. When ready to cook, Boil water and cook tortellini according to package directions.  
  3. Meanwhile sauté mushrooms in a wide skillet in olive oil over medium high heat.    When mushroom are almost tender, lower heat and add tempeh and cook until tempeh is heated through.  
  4. When tortellini is ready, carefully drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.  
  5. Add cream and about an ounce of the pasta water to the mushroom-tempeh mixture.  Fold in tortellini and let all the ingredients cook together over low heat for a minute or two.  
  6. Sprinkle with cheese and add more pasta water as needed to create a light sauce.  
  7. Add black pepper and herbs, if using.  Serve at once.  Pass around extra cheese or herbs at table.