Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Wish for All of You: Il Dolce Far Niente

It's hard to believe it's August already!  I feel myself wanting to hold on to every minute of Summer - as I usually do at this time of year.  This is the "lazy" month of Summer - or it should be!  I still hold with the French and Italians who pretty much close down for August - their countries that is!  How perfect! It is time, my friends, for "il dolce far niente" - "the sweetness of doing nothing". Yes, we soon will be in the thick of cooling weather, longer work days, canning, freezing, tending our gardens, and otherwise getting ready for  Fall.  And, for sure, this Fall will be a challenging one!  But for now, be sure to wallow in the wonder of this season - and these days of this season.  Bite into a tomato right off of the vine; eat a raw cob of corn; slurp really good Italian Water Ice; play games - Board games even; eat lots of ice cream; sit outside way too long in the evening and watch fireflies; listen to baseball on the radio; wander around every Farmers Market you can find; stay in the water until you turn into a prune; read "junk"; walk on the beach with a dog; and wallow in the wonder of really cooling summer rainstorms and summer breezes after really hot August days.

That's all!  No food news. No rants. No recipes. Just my sincere wish for you. Despite what they may have told you, it is sweet to do nothing - even if just for a little while!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Seasonal No Bake Tart

The last thing I want to do during these very hot days is fire up the oven.  Our temperamental Viking (don't get me started!) takes forever to come to temperature and sometimes when it does our exhaust fan decides to take a break!  Instant first floor heating - very effective.

So when I come up with anything wonderful that can be done on the stove top, outside on the grill or, best of all, with no heat at all, I am all over it!

This combines a couple of my favorite things:  fresh berries, my own mixed berry jam, and marscapone cheese.  The only waiting period you need is for it to set up nicely in your refrigerator.  It's a gem.  Easy and a great sweet treat in the heat.

Recipe:  Berry, Marscapone Tart - again, we're looking at a very versatile recipe; with the marscapone mixture you can try all sorts of combinations - like shaved chocolate on top, Nutella in the middle.  But for now, I'm going with Berries.  The recipe takes about 15 minutes, not counting the time in the refrigerator.

Left over Angel Food cake - or just angel food cake if you don't have any left over! (The PA Dutch folks in the Reading Terminal Market make a great cake and it's reasonably priced); Your favorite berry jam; some fresh berries; 1 cup of Marscapone cheese; 1 cup of heavy cream; 3 tablespoons of sugar; a teaspoon of good vanilla extract; and a tart pan.  I use a long narrow tart pan - it's about 13 inches long and about 4 1/2 inches wide.  This pan makes just enough for our household, but if you want to make a bigger tart, I would double the ingredients.

Take slices of the angel food cake and line the bottom of the - ungreased - tart pan.  Push the pieces down, you really want them to start to sort of meld together to create a bottom "crust".

Spread your favorite berry jam over the angel food in the tart pan - be generous! This is a layer of berry flavor.

Beat the Marscapone cheese, the heavy cream, the sugar, and the vanilla until it's the consistency of heavy whipped cream - you'll see when it's all incorporated and dense and delicious. I use a hand mixer.

Spread the cheese and cream mixture over the jam layer; again, be generous, you'll have plenty for a nice high layer of fluff.

Dot the top with some of your favorite fresh berries.

Put the whole thing in the refrigerator for at least an hour to firm up.

The result is a very light, fruity, creamy delicious treat!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Smothered Okra - a little Louisiana in Philly!

Okra - you get a bit of a look from most folks here in the North when you talk about okra.  Some folks are familiar with it, pickled and spicy and floating in a martini (frankly this was my biggest use 'cause a friend of ours used to send them);  there's fried okra - a walk along snack at fairs and the like; and we know very often it's in gumbo - but it is usually cooked down and used as a thickener.  The most common criticism is that okra is "slimy" - and if it's used in certain ways, it is.

We decided to try making "Smothered Okra".  It's a Louisiana favorite and we've had it there as a side dish. Our decision came about as we studied some gorgeous, purple, young okra at the Fair Food Farmstand.  The following illustrates our first attempt at making smothered okra - it was very, very delicious.  We had it with a bit of left over sable fish, but you can add shrimp (most popular version in LA) or chicken or some spicy sausage or all of those for an okra gumbo.  Okra is full of things that are good for you; it's delicious when handled correctly; and it's easy to grow in the city.  In fact Burpee offers a "compact" okra plant that can be grown in a container.  Okra will definitely be growing in our garden next year - and yes, I'll be pickling some for those martinis!

*Recipe:  Smothered Okra - the making of this dish, like so many old time dishes, is really more of a technique than a recipe.  You can play around with the ingredients, but I do suggest trying this basic recipe the first time - the aroma and the flavors will hook you on Okra!  Do note that frying okra and using a bit of vinegar combats sliminess and gives the okra a great mouth feel in the finished dish.  Also, this is NOT the time to pull out your favorite cast iron pan - cast iron turns okra black!

Ingredients:  (we made this recipe for 2; it is common in Louisiana to make huge batches of this and freeze it in small batches - that's definitely going to be next for us, while we can get great local okra).

1 tablespoon of canola oil; 1 pound fresh okra, cut into rings, toss the end pieces/stems; 1 teaspoon of white vinegar; 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; 2 tablespoons of flour; 1/4 of an onion, chopped; 1 small stalk of celery, chopped; 1 clove of garlic, chopped; 1 small bell pepper, chopped; 1 bay leaf; 1 teaspoon fresh thyme; 1 lg heirloom tomato, chopped (for bigger batches, you can use canned tomatoes or more fresh ones; we also threw in some of our sun gold tomatoes and some of our sweet pea currant tomatoes - it really depends on how "tomatoey" you want it); a dash of hot sauce; two dashes of Worcestershire sauce; and a 1/4 cup of tomato juice or, in our case, of Clamato.

Heat the oil in a saute pan.  Fry the okra rings over medium heat.  Add the vinegar as the okra fries - the vinegar eliminates the "sliminess" factor.  When the rings are browned, put them aside in a bowl.

Make a roux in the saute pan with the bacon fat and the flour - you want to cook the roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is approaching dark brown.

Add the onion to the roux and saute until the onions are soft, slightly browned.

Then, add the celery, garlic, bell pepper, bay leaf and thyme - mix well.

Add the okra and the tomatoes.  Add the tomato juice or clamato, the hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper.  Cover the pan and simmer the mixture for 20 - 25 minutes; if it appears to be getting dry, just add a bit of water.

Serve over hot white rice.  Enjoy!

*Recipe adapted from The Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook, Poppy Tooker, ed.