Thursday, September 22, 2016

Green Bean and Shell Bean Fattoush

A new book from Martha Stewart always gets my attention and so do books focused on vegetables. I was delighted to receive a review copy of the latest, Martha Stewart's Vegetables. This brings together dishes for every season with all sorts of vegetables, but it’s not a vegetarian cookbook. The recipes highlight what’s great about the vegetables, and in some cases the star vegetable isn’t the only player in the dish. The chapters group types of vegetables like Bulbs, Roots, Greens, Pods, Fruits, etc. In this case, Fruits refers to tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumber because they are technically fruits due to the seeds held within the flesh. Each chapter begins with an introduction to its type of vegetable with good information about how the plants are grown, their growing season, and some general tips for buying, storing, and preparing. This book is a little breezier about the vegetable information and doesn’t go quite as deep into the taxonomy of the plants as does Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, but it offers a very good overview of the different kinds of plants we include in our meals. And, page after page reveals beautiful dishes ranging from stir-fries to sandwiches to soups, salads, and pasta with inspiration from several types of cuisine. The Herb-and-Scallion Bread Pudding would be perfect for Thanksgiving, Beet Risotto with Beet Greens would brighten a winter table, and Twice-Cooked Potato and Leek Casserole looks like a comfort food dish no one could resist. I want to try the Fried Rice with Collard Greens, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Salad, and Moroccan Vegetable Soup. Right away, I was intrigued by the Green Bean and Shell Bean Fattoush, and all the main ingredients are in season here right now. 

In the book, the recipe name is Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush. But, I have an onion thing. I only use onion if it’s minced or if it’s in pieces large enough that I can easily scoot them out of my way on the plate. So, in my version, the onion was minced and whisked into the dressing for this salad. But, the important parts of this dish were the green beans, shell beans, and cucumber. I found all of those at Boggy Creek Farm. For green beans, I used purple and green long beans that I cut into two-inch lengths before blanching. The shell beans were fresh, golden creamer peas that cooked quickly with just about 15 minutes of simmering. Both kinds of beans were shocked with cold water after cooking and left to drain. The dressing, in my case, was made with minced onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Olive oil was whisked into the mixture. Pita was grilled and broken into shards. The cooled and drained beans were tossed with chopped cucumber, parsley, and homegrown basil rather than mint. Crumbled feta was added along with the dressing, and the pita pieces were added to each serving. 

This was a light and fresh take on using shell beans for me. Each year when their season arrives, I usually add them to a summery stew with chunks of summer squash and tomato. This herby, lemony salad was a delicious way to highlight their mild, buttery flavor. I know I’ll be reaching for this book often as different vegetables appear throughout the coming months. 

Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush 
Recipe courtesy of Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2016 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Photographs copyright 2016 by Ngoc Ming Ngo. 

In late summer, fresh green beans and shell beans make a wonderful pair, one sharp and crisp-tender, the other buttery and plump. They’re the beginnings of our version of fattoush, a Middle Eastern bread salad that’s a fine way to enjoy summer produce. You can blanch the beans in the same pot: first the green beans, and then the shell (and not the other way around, since shell beans release a lot of starch). 

Serves 4 

2 lemons, 1 zested and both juiced 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing 
1/2 pound haricots verts, trimmed 
3/4 cup shelled fresh shell beans, such as limas 
3 pita breads (6-inch) 
1/2 large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped 
1 English cucumber, quartered and cut into 1- inch pieces 
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish  
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

1. Whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic, and season with salt. Whisking constantly, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream and whisk until emulsified. Season with pepper. Let stand 15 minutes; discard garlic. 

2. Blanch haricots verts in a pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender and bright green, about 1 minute. Transfer beans to an ice-water bath (reserve pot of water); let cool, then drain and pat dry. Place in a large bowl. 

3. Return water to a boil. Blanch shell beans until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to ice bath; let cool, then drain in a colander and pat dry. Combine with haricots verts. 

4. Heat a grill (or grill pan) to medium. Split each pita in half. Brush both sides of pita halves with oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill pita, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 1 minute per side. Let cool, then tear into 1-inch pieces. 

5. Add onion, cucumber, feta, herbs, and pita to the beans; drizzle with ½ cup vinaigrette; toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper; garnish with mint. Let stand at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour before serving. 

TIP The pita is charred on the grill (or under the broiler) to make it sturdy enough to soak up the vinaigrette without falling apart. The longer the salad sits before serving (up to an hour), the better the flavors and textures will be. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Squash, Roasted Tomato, and Popped Black Bean Salad

It just happened again. You know when you pick up a new cookbook, start looking through it, and quickly realize you want to try everything you see? I do mean everything. Every page of A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ Vegetarian Recipes for Quick, Flavor-Packed Meals has something I want to try. This is the new book from Anna Jones, and I recently received a review copy. The recipes all offer fresh, pretty combinations that are plant-focused for eating well. The colors alone in the Bloody Mary Salad with Black Rice made with heirloom tomatoes, celery, and olives, drew me to it. And, the Avocado Fritters with a polenta crust just sound like a delicious idea. The convenient thing about this book is that the recipes are organized by how long they take to prepare. If you’re short on time, stick to the first couple of chapters, and when you’re planning a more elaborate meal look to the Forty-Minute Feasts. There’s also a chapter called Investment Cooking for things to make in advance like nut butters, homemade chickpea tofu, vegetable stock, dips, and more. Last, there are also breakfast recipes and desserts. I plan to try the Salted Almond Butter Chocolate Bars soon. I had two reasons to try the Squash, Roasted Tomato, and Popped Black Beans first. One reason was that I just received a couple of little acorn squash from my CSA, and they were perfect for this salad. And, the second reason was: popped black beans. I thought, what are popped black beans? I love all things popped. I’m a complete popcorn addict, I was delighted to try popped sorghum for the first time and have made it several times since, and I’ve experimented with popped amaranth with less success. But, popped black beans was new to me. A quick online search informed me that this is something that Jamie Oliver has included in a couple of recipes in the past, and I managed to never hear of it. I couldn’t wait to give it a go. 

To begin the recipe, the squash was sliced, tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, topped with ground seeds from a cardamom pod, and roasted until tender. Meanwhile, cherry tomatoes were halved, tossed with olive and salt and pepper, and topped with grated fresh ginger. The tomatoes were roasted for the last 20 minutes or so of the squash cooking time. Just before the squash was finished roasting, the pan was removed from the oven and flaked coconut was sprinkled on top. The pan went back into the oven until the coconut was toasted. The dressing for the salad was a simple mix of yogurt, lime zest, lime juice, and ground cardamom with salt and pepper. And, at last, it was time to try popping black beans. Black beans from one can were rinsed and drained, and the beans were left to dry on paper towels. A skillet was heated over medium heat, and the dried beans were added. The beans were dry fried until the skins popped and became crisp which takes about five minutes. I sprinkled on a little salt as they crisped. The salad was served on a platter with the squash, coconut, and tomatoes scattered about. The beans were added on top, and the dressing was drizzled over everything. 

Now, first, I have to say that the “popped” black beans were tasty, and they’d make a great snack. The edges do become crispy, and that’s always a welcome texture. But, I’m not sure I agree with the name “popped.” The beans don’t transform the way a popcorn or sorghum kernel does. They just become dry and the skins crack. They do, however, work very well as one of the many varied elements of this flavorful salad. There was so much texture from the vegetables and the toasted coconut, and the flavors of cardamom, ginger, and lime combined nicely. Now, I have several more recipes to try from this book. 

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Schiacciata all’Uva

It’s no secret that I love Italian food. And, I love learning more about the food from each and every region of the country. I was delighted to read a review copy of Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies. Of course the subject matter made me happy but so did the pretty color marbling with bright orange on the book cover and the full-page photos inside of both life and food in Florence. The recipes are grouped by where you would find these types of food in the city. The Pastry Shop, The Bakery, and The Trattoria are some of the chapter names. Right away, I wanted to bake Sfogliatine or Budini di Riso or Bomboloncini to go with a morning cappuccino. There are stories along the way about how different foods became traditional like the Pane Toscano, the bread made without salt because it was too expensive. I enjoyed reading about Pappa al Pomodoro and how it originally would have been a porridge-like soup made with bread and no tomatoes prior to tomatoes being introduced from the New World. Naturally, there are pasta dishes, and one I want to try this fall is a pear, pecorino, and ricotta-filled ravioli. There are also several versions of crostini toppings and panini fillings as well as chicken and meat dishes, and every dish is simply prepared with proven, time-honored flavor combinations. The Schiacciata all’Uva is a grape focaccia made with wine grapes harvested in September and October. This slightly sweet rendition of the chewy flatbread appears just briefly in bakeries in the fall, and it’s typically made with concord grapes or more traditionally with canaiolo grapes. Sadly, I didn’t have access to either of those varieties and used black grapes instead. Usually, seeds are left in the grapes and give the bread some crunch, but the grapes I bought were seedless. It is noted that standard, red grapes aren’t deeply-flavored enough to be a good substitution here. You want a dark grape that will stain the dough. 

I began the recipe the night before I intended to bake. Flour, yeast, and water were combined and mixed. Olive oil was added, and the sticky dough was left in a covered bowl in the refrigerator to slowly rise overnight. I let the dough come back to room temperature for an hour or so while washing the grapes, removing them from the stems, and drying them. I borrowed a couple of tips from the Wild Yeast blog. Rather than adding anise seeds to the bread, I opted for fresh rosemary as seen there. Also, the recipe in the book suggests spreading about half the dough on a baking sheet, adding some of the grapes, then topping it with the remaining dough and the rest of the grapes. Given how sticky and difficult to maneuver this dough is, I went with the technique from Wild Yeast instead. I folded some of the grapes into the dough while it was still in the bowl. Then, I spread the dough onto the baking sheet and topped it with the remaining grapes. I dimpled and flattened the dough without crushing the grapes, drizzled on top olive oil, sprinkled on chopped rosemary, and I added just a little turbinado sugar and flaky sea salt. The flatbread baked for about 30 minutes until golden. 

The grapes added plenty of juicy sweetness with very little additional sugar, and I liked the hints of savoriness from rosemary and sea salt. As I cut the bread into pieces, they quickly disappeared. There was an addictiveness to the chewy texture and pop of the grapes. Now, I want to try making the same dough into small rounds topped with vegetables as it’s also shown in the book. And, I want to go to Florence and eat all of these things right where they were invented.

Schiacciata all ’Uva 
Recipe taken from Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 9781743790038, $39.95 hardcover. 

500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting 
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/2 1/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast 
400 ml (13 1/2 fl oz) lukewarm water 
75 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing 
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape; see note) 
80 g (2 3/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar 
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional; see note on following page) 
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional) 

NOTE Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or wine grapes, or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes. 

Born in and around the wine-growing areas of Florence and the Chianti, this delicious bread is a tradition governed by the very seasonal nature of grapes in Italy, and one that also has an extremely close tie with the wine harvest in autumn. For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them. And then, as suddenly as it appeared, the grape focaccia is gone, not to be seen again until the following September. These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) but sometimes you’ll still find it made with native Tuscan wine grapes known as canaiolo – the small, dark grapes make up part of the blend of Chianti wine, playing a supporting role to sangiovese. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread. 

PREPARING THE DOUGH This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time. Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre. Dissolve the yeast in about 125 ml (4 1/2 fl oz/1/2 cup) of the lukewarm water. Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water. Add 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine. 

This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight. 

ASSEMBLING THE SCHIACCIATA Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way (see note). Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°). 

Grease a 20 cm × 30 cm (8 in × 12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread the dough out evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick. 

Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of the aniseed, if using. Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the bottom surface. Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata. 

Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil. 

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. 

Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice. This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day. 

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pecan, Oat, and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A few weeks ago, Kurt and I had a conversation about sports drinks. We’d both been out in the hot weather and were feeling dehydrated, and Kurt asked if a good, all-natural sports-drink type of product exists. My short answer was no. But, the more I thought about it, I decided the best option might be coconut water. I personally have not conducted any scientific tests, but I do find coconut water to be very refreshing and hydrating after working out outside in the heat of summer. And, incidentally, when I choose a brand of coconut water, Harmless Harvest is my favorite. I want to point out that this conversation and the beginning of my preference for Harmless Harvest all happened prior to that company contacting me about their Harmless Movement campaign. I was delighted to receive gifts of a branded mason jar and espresso cup and coupons for samples of coconut water. My reasons for choosing Harmless Harvest are: they use organically-grown, special green coconuts and never use ultra-processed mixes or blends; their farmers use traditional cultivation methods ensuring unique coconut flavor goes directly into the bottle; rather than pasteurizing the product, they use a special multi-step micro-filtration process to protect flavor; their product contains no GMOs, no additives, and no preservatives; and theirs is the first-ever Fair for Life-certified organic coconut water. It’s very rare that I’m approached by a brand that I am so happily willing to promote. I was able to sample a flavor option I hadn’t tried before as well. Harmless Harvest makes a coconut water with Fair Trade coffee and a little caffeine boost. I thought a snack with some dark chocolate in it would be a good match for coffee-flavored coconut water. I pulled a recipe from my files from the May 2015 issue of Living magazine, and this not-too-bad-for-you cookie with no butter, no flour, and no sugar quickly became my new favorite treat. 

Not often do I shout from the rooftops about a vegan cookie with no flour in it, but this really is a delicious cookie. First, pecans are finely ground, and that’s what gives the cookies body and great flavor. To the ground pecans, oats, baking powder, salt, cornstarch, olive oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract were added. The mixture was stirred to combine, and the dough was ready to portion and bake. Keep in mind that this dough doesn’t spread or settle as it bakes, so after placing mounds on a cookie sheet, press each to the thickness you prefer before baking. The cookies baked at 325 degrees F for about 20 minutes. 

Kurt’s favorite cookie is oatmeal-chocolate chip, so he was excited to find these cookies in the kitchen. He took a bite and declared them fantastic before I let him know they contained no butter, no sugar, and no flour. None of that mattered. They’re rich from the pecans and olive oil, nicely sweetened with maple syrup, and the big chunks of dark chocolate don’t disappoint. And, they go perfectly with Harmless Harvest coconut water with Fair Trade coffee. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds

My virtual travel via cookbook reading has now taken me to Central Asia into Uzbekistan and the surrounding areas. I was intrigued to learn more about the food from this part of the world, and a review copy of the new book Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus made that possible. Samarkand is a city along the Silk Route in the Zerafshan River valley in Uzbekistan where trade brought immense prosperity from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries. Trade also brought a mix of cultures and cuisines, and the book includes dishes from the different ethnic groups that have influenced this city’s food. There are strong similarities to Turkish food but also elements of Russian and even Korean. A variety of spices are used for flavoring dishes but not to add heat, and herbs and fresh and dried fruits are used frequently. There are several fresh vegetable dishes in the book like a salad of Radish, Cucumber, and Herbs made with scallions, cilantro, and dill and Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls with pomegranate seeds, mild green chile, and garlic. Among the hearty soups, I’m most curious about the Apricot and Red Lentil Soup with cumin seeds, thyme leaves, lemon juice, and dried apricots. One chapter is devoted to Roast Meats and Kebabs and another to Plovs and Pilafs. Plov is a layered pilaf popular throughout the region. It’s a celebratory dish that represents “hospitality, community, and identity.” One of the pilafs I have to try is the Pumpkin Stuffed with Jeweled Rice which involves partially cooked rice with dried fruit, orange blossom water, saffron, sliced almonds, chopped pistachios, and spices that gets spooned into a hollowed and partially cooked pumpkin to finish cooking together. And, from the Breads and Doughs chapter, I did try the Kyrgyz Swirled Onion Flatbread. I was amazed to find the process for forming these flatbreads to be the same as that of making the Scallion Flatbreads I learned in a class taught by Grace Young. (The recipe is also found in her book The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.) Rather than using scallions and sesame oil, here onions were caramelized in butter and spread on flattened dough. Circles of dough were rolled into ropes, twisted into spiral shapes, and then rolled flat again to disperse the onion filling throughout a flattened dough round. The rounds were then cooked with just a little oil in a hot skillet and were crisped on the surfaces and deliciously chewy in the middle. The other dish I tried was fresh and bright for summer with zucchini, yellow squash, and lots of bright flavors. 

The Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds salad was easy to put together once all the ingredients were gathered. First, I tried to track down dried rose petals. Our Middle Eastern grocery store would normally have them, but they were out the day I was looking. I ended up using dried whole rose buds intended for tea, and I snipped off the stem end and loosened the petals. Pine nuts are easier to find, and they were toasted and cooled before being added to the dish. Ground sumac is also easy enough to locate these days, and it adds a lovely, lemony flavor. I used a mix of green and yellow zucchini from the farmers’ market, and they were grated into a big bowl. Poppy seeds, the toasted pine nuts, dried rose petals, zest and juice of a lemon, olive oil, ground sumac, cilantro leaves, and salt and black pepper were added, and the salad was served. 

The salad was crunchy, lemony, and so pretty with the mix of colors. And now, there are so many more flavor combinations I look forward to trying from the book. The Grape and Pistachio Orzo pasta salad with basil and Green Beans with Hazelnut Tarator are two I’m eyeing. When I can’t jump on a plane, virtual travel through food is the next best thing. 

Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Samarkand

Raw zucchini has a pleasing crunch and nutty flavor that pairs well with the sweet taste of poppy seeds and pine nuts. In summer, a mix of green and yellow zucchini looks lovely with the pink rose petals. 

Serves 4 

4 small or 2 large zucchini, unpeeled 
1 tablespoon poppy seeds 
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted 
2 teaspoons dried rose petals 
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac 
a handful of cilantro leaves 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Coarsely grate the zucchini into a bowl using a box grater. Toss with the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. An extra pinch of salt flakes over the top is good as well. Serve immediately (it will soon get watery). 

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Peach Ricotta Scones

I’ve somehow let this summer slip by without baking much with local fruit. All the blueberries went into bowls with chunks of cantaloupe instead of being added to muffins or pancakes or turnovers. So, I was determined to do some baking with peaches before they’re gone for the year. I had extra motivation when I received a sample of Chameleon Cold Brew Texas Pecan Coffee. I’ve been a fan of this locally made cold brew coffee for years, and I couldn’t wait to try their new pecan flavor. The coffee is made with 100 percent organic, Fair Trade Arabica coffee and Texas Hill County limestone-cured water, and there is no added sugar in the flavored varieties. My plan was to whip up a breakfast full of Texas flavors with something deliciously peachy to go with this pecan coffee. I knew just what I wanted to bake. When I first mentioned the book Little Flower Baking I gushed a bit about how many recipes I wanted to try, and the Peach Ricotta Scones was one of them. They’re made with peaches mixed into the scone dough and an extra slice of peach of top of each one. And, the dollop of flavored ricotta on top was a revelation in scone-making. 

I’ve made just about every kind of scone there is from sweet to savory; with cream or buttermilk; cut into squares, circles, and triangles. But, this was the first time I’ve topped them with ricotta. Of course, I have opinions about making scones too. Here, the peaches were to be sliced and frozen before being mixed into the dough. That makes sense because peaches are very juicy and wouldn’t mix well into the dough after just being cut. However, next time I’ll cut the peaches into chunks rather than slices. The slices were a little too big to incorporate easily. Also, I usually mix the dough by hand rather than in a stand mixer. In the mixer, the dough can quickly become overworked, and the peaches broke and didn’t mix in as nicely as they would have by hand. To start, I used a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour combined with a little sugar, salt, and baking powder. Chilled, cubed butter was added to the flour mixture in a stand mixer and mixed until crumbly. Cream was added while mixing until the dough came together, and the frozen peach slices were added. The dough was transferred to a work surface and patted into a thick square before being cut into squares. The squares were placed on a baking sheet, and each was pressed on top to form an indentation for the ricotta. Whole-milk ricotta was mixed with vanilla bean seeds, a little sugar, and almond extract. A tablespoon of the ricotta mixture was placed in the indentations in the scones, and an extra slice of peach was placed next to the ricotta on each one. The baking sheet then went into the freezer for an hour before being baked. 

Although I would make a couple of minor changes to the process next time, I wouldn’t change a thing about adding vanilla seeds and almond extract to ricotta and spooning it onto scones. I highly recommend trying that. Also, the freezing step before baking was essential. The ricotta firms up and stays in place well after being well chilled. And, the mix of Texas flavors with the cold brew pecan coffee? The nutty, smooth, nicely cold coffee was exactly right with peach scones. 

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thai Chicken and Watermelon Salad

It’s been over a week since we returned from vacation, but I’m still not really ready to be back to our usual schedule. It is still summer after all. We escaped the Austin heat and spent a week in the mountains in Colorado where we hiked on trails under bright, sunny skies in Beaver Creek, Vail, and Breckenridge. This wasn’t really a food-focused trip, but a few meals were definitely memorable. The homemade donuts at Northside Kitchen were nearly habit-forming, and we had to stop in for one last fix on our way to the airport. Another gem was found in Aspen. I highly recommend a visit to Meat and Cheese which is a gourmet shop and restaurant with very well-sourced items both to purchase and on the menu. Another meal that I keep thinking about involved a simple salad with watermelon, grilled chicken, and arugula at a spot in Avon. I love using watermelon in savory dishes, and the light, crisp, sweet chunks are perfectly refreshing summer food. Watermelon with seared haloumi, basil, and olive oil is one of my favorite salads, and watermelon with feta and olives is another. But, that salad with grilled chicken got me thinking about this recipe I knew was stored away in my files from a few years ago. In the September 2011 issue of Food and Wine, those ingredients were given a Thai spin. As soon as we got back home, I found the recipe and fired up the grill. 

First, the chicken needs to be marinated while the grill is being prepped. Lemongrass is needed, and I was thrilled to have some growing again that I could use here. It was minced and mixed with canola oil, and I added some minced serrano chiles as well. The chicken was added to the oil and left to marinate for 30 to 60 minutes. After being grilled, the chicken was allowed to cool before being chopped into cubes. The watermelon was seeded and cut into cubes as well. The dressing was a simple mix of Thai chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, water, and more canola oil that was mixed and pureed in a food processor. The original recipe suggests mint and cilantro, and they would be great but I used Thai basil, purple basil, and Genovese basil instead since that's what's growing in my herb garden. I also added some frisee leaves. The herbs, frisee, and watermelon chunks were tossed with the dressing. That mixture was plated and topped with the cubed chicken. I garnished with more herbs and a chiffonade of lime leaves from my tree. 

This salad is everything I want in a summer meal. It’s light but still satisfying and full of bright flavors. Lime juice and chiles are meant to be with juicy watermelon, and the flavors of the chicken and herbs pair well with it too. If vacation has to be over, at least I can still eat like it isn’t. 

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