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Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto – Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery ponders “chef ink” before diving into the newest cookbook from celebrated Chicago Chef Rick Tramanto. Read on, and then head to the kitchen to make the “to-live-for” melon & tomato gazpacho with grilled shrimp.

Linda Avery Reviews Steak with FriendsSteak with Friends:
At Home with Rick Tramonto

By Rick Tramonto with Mary Goodbody

photos by Ben Fink






Facts: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 290 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $23.10)

Photos: 240 photos plus illustrations

Recipes: 150

Give to: Meat lovers, Rick Tramanto fans, budding chefs, that friend who throws dinner parties

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

What is it with chefs and artwork? Not what they hang on the walls of their restaurants but body art.

Have you noticed? Some of the most colorful, creative art now graces the limbs of star chefs.

Is it a necessary outlet for all of those overflowing creative juices? (The subject didn’t escape Melissa Lavrinc Smith, who actually wrote a book that targets the constantly growing group of “Inked Rogue Chefs).

Rick Tramonto’s latest cookbook Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto has a lovely cover photo of his family in their home with an array of food spread before them. But, your eyes immediately go to the words Chef and Faith written in a medieval script on the chef’s forearms.

(Yes, I’ll review the book in a minute but bear with me; it’s fascinating and gives insight to this James Beard Award winning chef).

Tramonto has 24 tattoos, those on the left side of his body are about his faith, and those decorating his right side are about cooking.

He likens the restaurant kitchen to the military i.e. strict and regimented: this is a release. Beside that he likes the art.

Last summer, I attended the 10-year anniversary celebration of his restaurant Tru (from which he recently departed). His wife Eileen was at our table and we had had a brief chat about tattoos, so when he stopped by the table she had him rolled up his pant legs to show off the new knife images which took a couple years to finish. Wow – ‘nuf said.

Okay, now the book! And it is a fine one with far more than steak recipes and while instructive, it’s not a how-to-grill book. Tramonto chose steak as the centerpiece because it’s a hallmark of Chicago and it represents an indulgence.

He wants you to know how to cook it perfectly to your taste because “if you overcook it, there’s no going back.” The grilled steak section includes numerous cuts with tomahawk (aka Cowboy cut – a bone-on ribeye), flatiron, skirt and hanger among the lot, and then he moves to classics like Steak Diane, Beef Wellington, and Filet Oscar.

There are 150 recipes and the variety beyond beef is superb (fewer than 30 recipes are actually “steak”) including Peekytoe crab salad, cioppino, garlic sausage, lemongrass duck, even the ubiquitous mac & cheese.

Desserts like Killer Chocolate Pudding and Key Lime Brûlées are mouthwatering. The headnotes are charming, informative, and insightful and you’ll find the sidebars and tips useful. Don’t overlook the Sources section to learn where the pros buy when local isn’t available.

Not to be outdone by fellow Chicagoan Rick Bayless’ inclusion of music, Tramonto recommends Aerosmith, U2, The Rolling Stone, The Beatles and Santana for high energy when grilling up steaks.

Since farmer’s markets are brimming with tomatoes and melons, I decided to try this fabulous gazpacho. Although Tramonto calls it a perfect little appetizer, I think of it as a light dinner or great summer lunch.

Pen and Fork Review Steak with Friends

photo © Ben Fink

From Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramanto

Melon and Tomato Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp

Serves 4

I must have made a hundred different gazpachos during my career and never tire of the fresh, uncooked vegetable soup. When I decided to make a version I knew everyone in the household would like, I turned to perfectly ripe melons and tomatoes for the basis of the soup and then garnished it with grilled shrimp. What a perfect little appetizer before a grilled chicken or steak dinner!

1 pound medium shrimp, deveined with shells on (20 to 25 shrimp)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe heirloom or other tomatoes, seeded and cut into large cubes
2 ripe red beefsteak tomatoes or 4 yellow tomatoes, cut into large cubes
2 ripe yellow beefsteak tomatoes, cut Into large cubes
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
1 small red onion, diced
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 ripe cantaloupe, seeds removed, flesh scooped from rind and diced
1/2 ripe honeydew melon, seeds removed, flesh scooped from rind and diced
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
Pinch of smoked paprika
Sugar
1 red tomato, finely diced, for garnish
1 yellow tomato, finely diced, for garnish

1. Prepare a clean, well-oiled charcoal or gas grill so that the coals or heating element are at medium-high heat. Alternatively, you can use a stovetop grill. Soak 4 bamboo skewers in cool tap water for about 20 minutes. This will prevent them from charring.

2. In a mixing bowl, toss the shrimp with enough oil to coat lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Thread the shrimp equally on the skewers. Grill, turning once, for 2 to 3 minutes total, until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked through. Remove 4 shrimp from the skewers and set all the shrimp aside to cool.

3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix the 3 types of cubed tomatoes with the cucumbers, onion, celery, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, and jalapeno and pulse until nearly smooth but with some chunks remaining.

4. Transfer the soup to a bowl and add the lemon juice and vinegar. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the chives and the paprika and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little sugar, if needed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until well chilled.

5. Ladle the soup into chilled bowls. Chop the 4 reserved shrimp and sprinkle over the top of each bowl. Garnish each bowl with the diced red and yellow tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon chives, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve, with a full skewer of shrimp next to or balanced on top of each bowl.

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BBQ Burgers for Dad

Growing up, the culinary duties in our house fell mostly to my mother, but certain dishes were Dad’s domain, including anything on the grill.

Between Memorial Day and Labor day, the grill was filled with burgers, hot dogs and an occasional steak — a splurge on an journalist’s budget with a passel of kids.

He had it pretty easy whenever he did cook.

Mom prepped all the ingredients, prepared all the side dishes, set the table and cleaned up afterward, too. (What was she thinking?)

I still can see him standing at the grill, long handled spatula in hand, flipping burgers while we kids vied for his attention.

To keep us occupied, he created timed races for us. We’d take off from the patio and run as fast as we could to the back fence and back.

He counted the seconds and then declared one of us victorious, usually one of my long-legged older brothers, or my quick-as-a-rabbit younger brother. I was more like a turtle, and my sister, her nose in a book, couldn’t be bothered with silly races — or sweat.

I loved those long, lazy, summer Sundays in West Texas. The sounds and smells flash back to me anytime I’m standing over the grill, flipping burgers.

So this Father’s Day, even though I can’t be in Texas with Dad, I’ll fire up our grill and throw on a couple burgers to toast the man who made our summers so sweet and memorable.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

Steve’s BBQ Burgers

(printable recipe)

Steve is my baby brother, who’s not a baby anymore. Now at family gatherings, he’s the guy behind the grill, and Dad is all too happy to turn the tongs over to him, especially when these burgers are on the menu.

Nice and smoky, thanks to the liquid smoke and barbecue sauce, they taste even better if you prepare them for the grill earlier in the day. Take them out of the fridge to take the chill off while you heat up the grill.

Serves 6

2 pounds ground beef (not extra lean)

2/3 cup bbq sauce (divided)

1/4 cup liquid smoke

3 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning (divided)

Heat the grill to medium (350 degrees).

Crumble the beef into a large bowl and pour about 1/3 cup of bbq sauce and the liquid smoke over the beef.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of lemon pepper seasoning. Mix by hand until thoroughly combined.

Form into 6 equal patties either by hand or in a form. Make an indention with your thumb on both sides of each patty (helps keep it from puffing up during cooking.)

Brush both sides of each patty with the remaining bbq sauce and then sprinkle both sides with the remaining lemon pepper seasoning.

Grill until medium (140-145 degrees F.), about 15 minutes, flipping only once, about half way through.

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Spa Caesar Dressing

Generally I’m not one to shy away from fat and calories. I did, after all, polish off a Pine State Reggie biscuit with no problem.

But it’s January and a chocolate-filled Valentine’s Day is sure to follow, so I don’t mind cutting back on calories and fat as long as I don’t have to give up on taste.

One way I’m doing that is with this Spa Caesar Dressing, a recipe from my Cool Mountain Cookbook. The first time I tasted this dressing, from Vermont’s most luxurious spa, Topnotch, I knew it had potential beyond just dressing salads.

A serving (2 tablespoons) is only 120 calories and 4 grams of fat, compared to 200 calories and 16 grams of fat of some traditional Caesar dressings.

This “mock” version has the taste characteristics of the real thing — thanks to anchovies, garlic and lemon juice — and it has great mouth feel thanks to the cottage cheese.

But don’t just toss your salads with this dressing. Use it as a dip for a plateful of healthy vegetables, too.

It also makes a nice sauce for fish, too. Just gently heat the dressing, spoon it over your fish and garnish it with some fresh chopped chives.

Spa Caesar Dressing

(from The Cool Mountain Cookbook)

Makes 2-1/4 cups

2 cups lowfat cottage cheese
1/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
3 anchovies, rinsed in warm water, dried and finely chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape the bowl once or twice.

Chill before serving.

Dressing may be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

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Fresh or Canned? Pumpkin Pie

The 64-dollar question is…does pumpkin pie taste better made with fresh roasted pumpkin or canned pumpkin?

Fresh-vs-Can

The answer is…it depends on what your definition of “tastes better” is.

We are no “America’s Test Kitchen”  — who’s got time for that — but we did do a little experiment. (And when I say “we” you know I mean “me.”)

I roasted a pumpkin and made a pie. Then I made the exact same pie with canned pumpkin. Lots of spices were involved.

SpicesNamed2

You should know, roasting a pumpkin takes a bit more work than opening a can. Driving to Costco to pick up one of their monster 12-inch pies might be the easiest thing of all.

(By the way, if you want the recipe for the Costco pumpkin pie, get a pen, ready? … Take 1 ton of pumpkin pie filling…)

CrimDough

Oh, I’m kidding about the Costco pie.

pumpkin-filling

Back to the fresh vs. canned smack down.

My original hypothesis was that it doesn’t matter whether you start with fresh or canned pumpkin — because all the spices would drown out any taste differences.

pumpkin tart raw

And I was right…sort of. In the end, there was a difference between the two pies.

But it has less to do with taste, and more to do with texture.

Pumpkin-Tart-Whole

The canned pumpkin pie was creamier than the pie made with fresh roasted pumpkin.

Slice-Canned-Pie

If I had to choose one, I would choose the fresh roasted pumpkin pie.

I liked the firm texture, although the canned version reminded me of all the pies from Thanksgiving pasts.

Slice-Fresh-Roasted-Pumpkin

So there you have it. Fresh roasted is the way to go…unless I’m pinched for time. Then I’ll pop open a can without a smidgen of guilt.

What will it be for you?  Roasted or canned…or Costco?


Spiced Pumpkin Tart

Pie or tart, it really doesn’t matter what you call it. I named it a tart because I used a tart pan, but it technically is a pie dough, rolled into a tart pan. I did add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the easy buttery pie dough recipe (adding it with the flour in step 1).

The combination of spices — including white pepper — and peppery, fresh ginger makes this a hyper-spiced pie. I love the flavor but really love the tiny bit of heat — a pie that bites back.

Makes 1 deep dish 9-inch tart

1 recipe for easy, buttery pie dough
2 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
3/4 cup dark brown sugar*
1-3/4 cup fresh roasted pumpkin puree OR 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon each of: ground cloves, white pepper, allspice
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1. Heat the oven to 375° F. Roll the pie dough out large enough to fill a 9-inch deep dish pie or tart pan (about 13-14 inches). Press gently into pan. If using  a pie pan, crimp edges. If using a tart pan, roll the rolling pin over the top to cut the excess dough off. Chill the dough-filled pan in the fridge.

2. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in the evaporated milk and brown sugar.

3. Whisk in the pumpkin puree until blended. Whisk in the remaining ingredients: brandy (if using), fresh ginger, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, white pepper, allspice and nutmeg, until smooth.

4. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Pour the filling into the pan. Place in the oven and bake until the center of the pie barely jiggles when moved and the crust is light golden brown (the crust will shrink and the filling will rise.)

5. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes. Place the tart pan on a large can, and slip the ring down.

6. Slide the pie off the metal bottom onto a rimless serving platter. (This is a little tricky. I use a thin, large metal pizza spiel, but you could use any wide, thin spatula, working slowly and carefully because a) the pie is hot, and b) it will break if you’re not careful.)

7. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour and then refrigerate until chilled.

8. Slice the pie, when chilled, into 8 or 10 pieces. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream if you like.

*If using light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar, add 1 teaspoon of molasses.

[NOTE: This pie will keep for 3 or 4 days, but I think it tastes best the 2nd day, which comes in handy, since it needs a while to chill to firm up.]

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Chilled Avocado-Zucchini Soup

Avocado-Zucchini-Soup3Against the advice of my” best people,” I’m going ahead with this post on a “girly” soup.

Only because it’s delicious and refreshing, both of which led me to eat the whole thing — by myself — over two days.

raw-zucchini

I don’t know about you, but I kind of like girly soups. Especially if I’m serving lunch to my girlfriends.

And I could easily see this soup on the menu at some luxe resort or spa featured in one of my cookbooks (say, The Phoenician in Scottsdale, or Pebble Beach Lodge in California.)

Ingredients-Zucchini

This easy-to-make soup tastes surprisingly good the same day it’s made. I say surprisingly because most soups always taste better the next day.

If it wasn’t for the avocado, it might even qualify as a low fat soup. But don’t even think about skipping the avocado.

As luck would have it, avocado is made up of mostly good fats, so I don’t feel bad about adding it to this soup.

Seriously, the near zero-fat zucchini needs it.

cooking-zucchini

I call for shallots here, but any onion will work. The quick rendezvous with the saucepan is just to tame the shallot and briefly cook the zucchini.

Technically, you could skip the cooking step all together, but it enhances the flavor (and gives me a chance to add a little olive oil, thus sneaking in more flavor.)

Ingredients-Yogurt

I’m using low fat yogurt, not fat free. Fat free works, and yogurt is one of the few fat free products that doesn’t make me shiver with either fear or disgust.

See, I have no fear of fat but I am afraid of certain “fat-free” products, leery of what’s in them. If they’ve taken the fat out, what did they put in its place? Scary.

Generally (read the label), fat free yogurt is all natural and it’s fat free because it’s made with skim milk.

Blender

Once the zucchini and shallots briefly cook, all the ingredients go into the blender, or (my most prized — and expensive — kitchen toy) a Vita-Mix .

Vita-Mix is a blender on steroids and I use it almost daily to make smoothies, vinaigrettes, puree dips, soups and sauces, oh, and whip up blended girly cocktails, too.

There are slightly less expensive versions, but the variable speed was a key feature for me, so I bought the top-of-the-line (and I hear an even newer, more expensive version is on it’s way.)

Just for the record, I don’t have a fancy-schmancy kitchen, but I have invested in nice tools, like the Vita-Mix.

Avocado-Zucchini-Soup2

To add a little texture and substance (and flavor), I top the soup with roasted corn. Because I like spice, I garnish the soup with a few drops of Sriracha –just enough to warm the back of the throat after a few bites.

So, what do you think?

Too girly? I suppose you could “man” it up by added some cooked chopped shrimp or chicken, or even minced steak. Topping it with cooked lump crab might still be girly, no?

Do you have a girly soup you love to serve? Leave a comment. I’d love to know what you think.

Chilled Avocado Zucchini Soup

Serves 4

1 pound zucchini (about 2 large or 3 medium)
2 tablespoons sliced shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 (6 oz.) cartons of Stonyfield organic yogurt (or 18 oz. of another brand)
1 large avocado
1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup cold water

Garnish:

Sriracha (or other hot chile sauce)
Kernels from 1 ear of roasted corn
Parsley leaves

1. Trim and slice zucchini into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the zucchini and shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are tender and zucchini is almost tender (it will turn a shade darker), about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Place the yogurt in a blender. Add the avocado, parsley, lemon juice, salt, pepper and zucchini and shallots. Puree until smooth. If you deem the soup too thick, add 1/4 cup cold water and puree again, adding more water if necessary.* Taste and if you’d like more lemon or salt or pepper, add it. Chill the soup for at least an hour. It will keep 2 days, although you may have to stir it before serving.

3. Ladle soup in to small bowls and garnish with three drops of Sriracha, a tablespoon or two of roasted corn, and a parsley leaf.

*Different zucchini have different water content, so sometimes you might need to add the water and other times not. The soup should a little thicker than heavy cream, but still pourable from a spoon.

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Sesame Soy Glazed Green Beans

I better just say this straight out: my recipe for week three of Summer Fest 2009 isn’t a 5 minute, less-than-3 ingredients recipe. But if you’ve been coming here a while, you know that’s generally not my style.

You’re going to have to use your knife skills. And dirty up a couple pots.

But if you love to cook and love incredibly explosive flavors, this might be the recipe for you.

illustration by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites.com

illustration by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites.com

The Summer Fest cross-pollination blogging project’s third week, created by gardening maven Margaret Roach of Away To Garden, is officially underway with a greens and beans theme.

Earlier this summer I wrote about how to cook Swiss chard and collard greens. Now I’m tackling beans — green beans.

But before I get to my post, here’s what the co-creators of Summer Fest have cooked up:

I borrowed a soy glaze from a recipe in my book The Cool Mountain Cookbook: A Gourmet Guide to Winter Retreats. It really belongs to a sea bass, but I’m sure the bass won’t mind sharing it with the beans.

The result is Sesame Soy Glazed Green Beans.

Sesame-Soy-Green-Beans

The first step involves parcooking the beans — an easy step that’s useful for many green bean recipes, not just this one.

Just drop the beans in a pot of boiling water and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending upon how crunchy (less time) or tender (more time) you want your final beans to be. After the brief boil, shock the beans by dropping them into a bowl of ice water. 

Now, you may be asking yourself. Why didn’t Chef Gwen say “blanch the beans?”

True, blanching also means dropping food into a pot of boiling water but unlike parcooking,  blanching is a quick in-and-out step.

The point of blanching is to keep the bright color (especially for green vegetables), or loosen the skin for easy peeling (tomatoes, peaches) or soften the food, like a cabbage leaf destined for stuffing, for example.

With parcooking, we want to move the cooking a little further along than a quick blanch. With either technique — blanching or parcooking — shocking the food with ice water is key to stop the cooking.

Cut-Demo-1

After parcooking and shocking the beans for this recipe, the next step is slicing the beans at an angle to create bite size pieces with attractive points. In the picture above, you can see the knife is positioned on a whole bean at a severe angle. The more angled your knife, the pointier the ends will be. (Is pointier a word?) You get the point.

The next step is to make the soy glaze. It doesn’t take long so having all the ingredients measured beforehand is key. Get a small saucepan very hot and pour in the soy sauce. Boy, will it ever sizzle! Then quickly stir in some honey and rice wine vinegar, followed by a slurry.

A slurry is a fancy name for a starch (in this case cornstarch but it could also be arrowroot) and cold water. The slurry, when added to boiling liquid, will thicken the liquid quicker than you can pour a glass of wine.

Glaze

Once the glaze is made (it takes less than 5 minutes) the next step is to briefly saute the beans with some flavor enhancers. I use peanut oil for Asian inspired sautes because I like the flavor. It also has a high smoking point, compared to say, olive oil, so it’s a good oil for serious frying, although we’re not using extreme heat in this dish.

Garlic, fresh grated ginger and red chile pepper flakes are the flavoring ingredients for this recipe. The brief saute only takes a couple minutes, and then the glaze is added and cooked just until it’s heated through.

Beans-Cooking

Toss in some sliced red bell pepper for color just before the glaze is added. While the beans are sauteing, put a small skillet on another burner and toast some sesame seeds. You can buy sesame seeds already toasted, but it’s really easy and only takes a few minutes to toast them yourself.

Just put a dry skillet over medium-high heat and give the pan a shake every once in a while. You can tell they’re done when they turn a shade darker and start to smell nutty. Seriously, that’s it. Takes maybe 5 minutes.

Sesame-Soy-Green-Beans3

It probably takes 30 minutes from start (parcooking) to finish (glazing), so that’s not too bad, is it?

And the flavor? Well, it’s a party for your mouth — a little spicy, a little salty, a little sweet and tangy, and richly flavored with soy. Fantastic.

I’d love to hear what you think about this recipe, and if you’ve got a greens or beans recipe, leave a link. So drop a comment, and then head over to the other Summer Fest blogs and do the same. You’ll be amazed, reading through the comments, at what other greens and beans treasures await you.

Soy Sesame Green Beans

Serves 6

1 pound green beans
2 teaspoons peanut (or vegetable oil)
1/2  to 1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes
1 cup sliced red bell pepper (about 1/2 of a large pepper)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds*
Glaze:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch whisked together with 1 tablespoon cold water (slurry)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set up a large bowl of ice water. Drop the beans into the boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 4 minutes. Remove beans with tongs or a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water.

2. Remove the beans from the ice water after a few minutes, when the beans are cool. Pat dry. Slice the beans, at an angle, into 2-inch, bite-size pieces.

3. Make the glaze: Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes. Pour in soy sauce (it will sizzle furiously). Stir in honey and vinegar. Stir in slurry. The mixture should quickly thicken, probably in less than a minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the green beans and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in the garlic, ginger and pepper flakes. Saute for another minute or two. Stir in the glaze, tossing to coat and cook just until heated through. Remove from heat.

5. Place the beans on a serving platter and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.

* To toast sesame seeds, heat a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the sesame seeds. Shake the pan occassionally to prevent burning the seeds. The seeds are toasted when they turn a shade darker and smell nutty. It should take about 5 minutes, give or take.

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Nectarine Blueberry Crostata

illustration by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites.com

illustration by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites.com

Summer Fest 2009 is a multi-week, “cross-pollination” of blogs, created by Margaret Roach from Away To Garden. She enlisted the help of several top food bloggers with the goal of sharing recipes and tips.

The best part is that everyone can participate in the fun, just by leaving comments, and if you’ve written about the topic, leave a link, too. But even if you don’t have a blog, you can still leave a comment. It’s all about sharing — I know I’d love to hear from you.

The first week was all about herbs, this week is fruit-from-trees. Next week is greens and beans, with a grand finale of tomato week.

Nectarines

I’ve chosen nectarines for my Summer Fest fruit-from-trees post. I’ve got nothing against fuzzy peaches, but I just love the smooth-skinned yellow nectarines.

Before I dive into my post about wrapping nectarines and blueberries in a free form pie dough for a very rustic crostata, here’s a look at what some of the other Summer Fest participants are doing:

You’ll find even more links to other great Summer Fest posts by reading the comments on these co-creator blogs. Why, I think you could spend a whole day reveling the wonders of fruits from trees.

Let’s talk about pie, shall we? Crostata is an Italian term for a rustic, free-form, open-faced pie.

This recipe is adapted from a pear and dried sour cherry recipe in my cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook. But since it’s Summer Fest, and pears are definitely not in season, I’ve replaced the winter fruit with what’s in season now.

Sugar-Sprinkle

Nectarines, like peaches, give off lots of juice during baking. I don’t want the juice oozing out of my open-faced pie, so I sprinkle the peaches with sugar and let them sit for a while. It’s really a little bonus for the cook, too. You can drink the juice (maybe mix it with a little rum and a splash of soda? Just sayin’.)

Rolling-Pin

The reason I love crostatas is because they’re fast and easy and you don’t have to be a champion pie crimper. Didn’t roll out your dough into a perfect circle? Who cares! Of course, I do like my silicone pastry sheet with measured circles that lets me know when I’ve reached roughly the right size.

Mound-Filling

You don’t have to expertly arrange the fruit either. You can just mound it in the center of your not-so-perfect pie dough, letting the fruit fall where it may. Then just pick up an edge and pull it toward the center. Pull up another section a couple inches away, and pleat that over the first piece, working your way all around the pie.

Crostata

Brush the pie edges with a little milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Granulated sugar works just fine, but raw sugar adds a little more character.

Slice

That’s my take on fruit-from-trees for Summer Fest 2009. What do you think?

Nectarine Blueberry Crostata

My Dad would not like this rustic pie for two reasons. 1.) He really hates blueberries. Says they make your breath smell bad. 2.) This pie isn’t very sweet. It’s what I call barely-sweet. That’s why you can add whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream and it doesn’t make the whole dessert just one big tooth-jarring sugar bomb.

The recipe calls for 1-1/2 pounds of nectarines, which is about four large ones. I usually buy one more than I need because there is always one nectarine that’s either not ripe enough, or has a bad pit, or bruised. It’s always something.

Serves 6

1 recipe Easy, Buttery Pie Dough
1-1/2 pounds just-ripe nectarines
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon milk or cream or in between
1 tablespoon sugar (I like raw sugar, or big crystal white sugar)
1 tablespoon peach or apricot jam (for glazing, so any light colored jam will do, even strawberry)

1. Make the pie dough and let it chill while you prepare the filling.

2. Cut the nectarines into 1/2-inch wedges. Place in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes. The nectarines will give off about 1/3 a cup or so of juice.

3. Drain the nectarines and return to the bowl. Add the blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss gently.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the pie crust out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. And by circle, I mean something similar to round, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Fold the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a lined baking sheet and unfold.

5. Mound the filling onto the center of the dough, leaving a 2-1/2 to 3-inch border all the way around. Fold the border over the filling, pleating as you go. A good portion of the filling will be uncovered.

6. Brush the dough with the milk or cream, and sprinkle with the sugar.

7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the dough is browned and cooked through.

8. Warm the jam in the microwave for 10 seconds or so and brush the jam on the fruit, to give it a little sheen. Rest the pie 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream if you like.

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Easy, Buttery Pie Dough

You know I’m not a baker. I think I’ve mentioned that before. Well, pie dough used to be one of those “baker” things that freaked me out. It doesn’t anymore because I figured out that using my food processor removes my biggest fear — overworking the dough. Now, there are gazillions of pie dough recipes on the internet and in cookbooks (including one of my own).

This recipe, adapted from my own The Great Ranch Cookbook, is the easiest, butteriest one I’ve tried. I say “adapted” because in the book, I write how to make it by hand. Here, I use the real workhorse in my kitchen, my Cuisinart food processor. And it takes all of 15 minutes — less if don’t have to dig your machine out from underneath a cabinet.

It’s really quite simple, with only four ingredients: flour, salt, butter, milk.

Put the flour in the bowl of your food processor, sprinkle with a little salt, and top with ice-cold butter cubes.

Butter1

Here’s a trick I learned from a real pastry chef:

Plastic-Wrap-2

Cover the bowl of the food processor with a piece of plastic wrap before you secure the lid. Why? To keep the flour from wheezing out through the gap between the lid and the bowl.

Now, pulse several times, in long bursts, just until…

Coarse-meal-3 …the mixture looks like coarse meal, with some pea-size chunks of butter.

Remove the plastic, and the pour spout stopper and put the lid back on. With the motor running, pour in the milk.

Ball-4

Turn off the machine as soon as the dough starts to gather in a ball. If you wait until it’s all gathered together, you’ve gone too far, and your dough will be tough, and forget about any flakiness.

Pie-Dough-Disk-5

Trust me, the dough will come together. Scrape all the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and pat it together into a flat disk. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate until it’s chilled. You can even freeze it at this point for a couple months, but place it in freezer bag for even more protection.

Easy, Buttery Pie Dough

Makes a single crust for a 9-inch pie

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon if using table salt)
1/2 cup cold butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold milk (any kind…except chocolate, of course)

1. Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.

2. Sprinkle salt over flour. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and secure the lid. Pulse once or twice to blend.

3. Remove the lid and the plastic and place butter cubes on top of flour. Cover the bowl with the plastic again and secure the lid.

4. Pulse several times, in long (4 second) bursts to cut the butter into the flour. Stop when the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter still visible.

5. Remove the lid and the plastic. Secure the lid back on the bowl and remove the pour spout. Turn the motor on and pour in the milk in a steady stream. Turn the motor off as soon as the dough begins to gather into a ball. It won’t take long. Seconds, really.

6. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and pat into a thick, circular disk. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

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Cranberry Grapefruit Salsa

Summer Fest 2009.

Sounds like a groovy 60’s, peace-love kind of thing, doesn’t it?

Oh, it’s groovy, alright. Summer Fest is a blogging project masterminded by a group of talented food and garden bloggers with the sole purpose of sharing, so it does have something in common with the free-spirit decade.

illustration by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites.com

Matt Armendariz illustration

I found out about it on Margaret Roach’s lovely blog, Away To Garden. You can also read about it, if you haven’t already, on one of the other co-creator blogs:

Mattbites
Steamy Kitchen
White on Rice Couple

And, look for “special appearances” by:

Shauna James Ahern, aka the Gluten-Free Girl, the lovely and talented Marilyn Pollack Naron from Simmer Till Done and writer-cook-mom-multitasker Paige Orloff from The Sister Project.

The whole point of Summer Fest 2009 is to share.

Share tips, recipes, anecdotes, sad-but-true mishaps, brilliant successes, not-so-brilliant successes — anything. How? Leave a comment. Here and on the co-creators’ blogs.

Each week will feature a different theme. This week is all about herbs. Next week is stone fruits (not stoned fruits, mind you), followed by beans & greens and a glorious finale week celebrating that special Queen of summer fruits: the tomato.

Of course I want to join in on the fun, so I’m talking about two of my very favorite herbs, cilantro and mint, using them together in a bright, kicky citrus salsa. I really shouldn’t say favorite, because truth be told, I love ALL herbs. Never met an herb I didn’t like. Can’t say that about all edible plants (ahem, brussels sprouts?)

Cilantro

The great thing about cilantro, other than the lemony flavor, is that you can use the whole herb, leaf to stem. And you certainly can’t say that about rosemary, can you? Oh, wait, actually, you can.

You can use rosemary stems to flavor stocks, soups and sauces, and if they’re woody enough, you can even use them as spears for grilled shrimp, but with cilantro, you can eat the whole sprig.

Mint

About mint. Mint is a greedy little herb, I learned after the first planting. It will take over a garden before you know it. Consequently, I’ve banished it to a pot, where it grows nice and contained, and frankly seems happier with boundaries (kind of like my dogs, and children so I hear, and in no way am I condoning the planting of children in pots.)

I’m always making salsas around here (living in the southwest, salsa-eating is state law…kidding…sort of).

Earlier this summer, I posted a recipe for fresh cherry salsa but today, I’m making a cranberry grapefruit salsa. This recipe is really more of a holiday salsa. Citrus is a winter season fruit and even though it’s available year-round.

Top grilled fish (halibut and tuna come to mind) with this mouth-puckering salsa, or serve it with blue corn chips. It’s even fun to serve with cheese quesadillas instead of traditional tomato salsa.

So, welcome to Summer Fest 2009. What do you think?

Cranberry-Grapefruit-Salsa

Cranberry Grapefruit Salsa

Makes 3 cups

2 large navel oranges
1 pink grapefruit
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeno (remove the seeds if you must)
2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons chopped mint
1/2 lime, juice only
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
*1-2 teaspoons Agave nectar or sugar (optional)

1. Cut peel and white pith from oranges and grapefruit. Cut between the membranes to remove the citrus sections, then cut the sections into small chunks.

2. Place the citrus in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients (cranberries through lime juice). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Rest the salsa about 1/2 hour, give or take, before serving. Will keep about a day, maybe 2, although it looks best the day it’s made.

*Sometimes, you just want a little sweeter taste than what some citrus offer. If your lips purse together and you shake your head after the first taste, add a teaspoon or two of agave nectar or sugar to tame the tartness.

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How to Cook Collard Greens

Market-Greens

Meandering through the Portland Farmers Market, I spotted this stack of beautiful collard greens. The bug holes on the right only endeared it to me more. I mean, if the bugs won’t eat it, should I?

Growing up in West Texas, my mother’s garden overflowed with mustard greens, a bitter, curly-leafed green that I wasn’t particularly fond of. Years later, I tasted my first collard greens and I liked the flavor (less bitter) and texture (smoother) much better.

You don’t have to cook them Southern-style (to death, with ham or bacon fat and onions), but cooked this way they do go hand-in-hand with hot cornbread (or is it corn bread?)

Chiffonade

I cut a “V” just like I did here on Swiss chard, and roll the leaves into a cigar and then cut them into strips, just like I blabbed about here with basil, only with greens, I cut thick, 1-inch ribbons.

Collard greens are a staple in many southern  — especially soul food — restaurants, yet they generally don’t cut the tough stems out before cooking. For me, it’s paramount. I hate tough stems swimming in a pile of earthy greens, and even worse, I hate stringy stems — which is what happens when the greens are cooked long enough to soften them.

Leeks

Now we need a little onion for flavor. I used a leek for no other reason than I had one. Feel free to use whatever onion suits your fancy: white, yellow, red, scallions, whatever.

Of course you need some fat to saute the leeks and greens in. I keep a jar of bacon grease in the fridge for just such purposes.  Who doesn’t love bacon grease? (Don’t answer that if you are a vegetarian, please.)

Bacon-Grease

You could fry up some bacon strips, using the rendered fat for sauteing, and then crumble the bacon as a garnish for the greens. Heck, most folks just leave the bacon in the pot, simmering it right along with the greens. Me? I prefer adding it as a “crunch” topping.

Unlike Swiss chard and spinach, collard greens need a bit more cooking reach tenderness. And in the South, “a bit more” means hours. You don’t have to cook them that long, although most southern cooks I know cook them f-0-r-e-v-e-r. Food scientist and “culinary sleuth” Shirley Corriher (CookWise, BakeWise) says that extended cooking isn’t kind to the flavor of collard greens and other members of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, turnips, etc.) And she’s from the South!

Cooking-Greens

Simmering collards in liquid is crucial for a silky texture.You can use water, or for more flavor, chicken stock or broth.

I’d show you a final picture of the cooked greens but I didn’t take one. Why? Because they’re ugly. Dull, army-green doesn’t make for a pretty picture, although I have to say that this picture honors the humble green as best as can be expected.

Even if cooked collard greens don’t win any beauty contests, they certainly do win as a delicious side dish, perfectly suited for any southern meal from pork chops to fried catfish. Don’t forget the slice of hot, buttered cornbread. Or is it corn bread?

Southern-Style Collard Greens

Serves 2, maybe 3 *

1 bunch collard greens
1 leek (or 1 cup chopped onion)
1 tablespoon bacon fat
4 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 (or more) teaspoon of hot pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the stems out of each green leaf in a “V.” Roll the leaves into a cigar and cut into thick ribbons, about 1-inch thick. Dunk the greens in a water bath, drain, and spin dry in a salad spinner.

Cut the top off the leek. Cut the remaining part of the leek in half, lengthwise and rinse under cold running water, fanning the leek layers to remove any trapped dirt. Pat dry. Cut each half crosswise into 1/4-inch half-moons.

Melt the bacon fat in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and saute until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the greens, tossing occasionally to wilt, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour in water or chicken broth and stir in pinch of sugar (the greens won’t be completely submerged). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.

Stir in the vinegar and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more vinegar or hot sauce to your personal tastes. To serve, you can either portion out the greens in individual ramekins to include some of the pot likker (cooking liquid) or you can drain them and put them directly on the serving plate.

*If you plan to double this recipe, you don’t need to double all the ingredients, just the collard greens. For the remaining ingredients, use 1-1/2 times the amount instead of 2 times the amount.

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