Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

Simple Dal for Winter Nights

It’s February, and you just spent an hour driving home from work in a treacherous ice storm. You’re cold and tired, and there’s not much food in the house. What do you do?

Here’s what we did: ad libbed from an already-easy dal recipe. This requires a bit of time but very little effort, and the results are warming, comforting and satisfying (not to mention gluten-free and vegetarian). This is our version, but you can throw in some vegetables or whatever you’ve got around the house. This serves 2, with some leftovers.

Simple Dal

Throw into a pot:

1/2 lb lentils (use your favorite kind)

1 1/4 pint water

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, broken up a bit but not chopped

about 1 tbsp chopped ginger

1 cinnamon stick

large pinch of turmeric

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Then add:

Juice of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of cayenne

Simmer for 5 more minutes.

In a small pan, heat about 3 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil. Add:

pinch of black cumin

pinch of regular cumin seeds

pinch of asafetida

Let it sizzle for a few seconds, then stir into the dal.

Serve with rice. That’s all there is to it. By the way, this process will leave your dal studded with tender, sweet pieces of garlic.

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Salmon with Dried Shiitakes in a Marsala Cream Sauce; Potato and Carrot Chips

This is a variation on a classic French dish made with Madeira wine and heavy cream that I found while thumbing through Larousse Gastronomique. I like Marsala wine a bit better and it is what I had on hand. For the dish you will need:

Two salmon filets

Flour

Salt

Olive Oil

1 tsp. of butter

4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/2 cup of Marsala wine

1/4 cup heavy cream

Juice of one lemon

Parsley and/or chives for garnish

First, salt the salmon well and set aside. In a bowl, pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms and let them soak for at least half an hour. You can use fresh mushrooms of your choice here. I like to use dried now and again because they have an earthiness and depth of flavor not found in fresh mushrooms. They can overwhelm a dish if you’re not careful, but since I was dealing with a rich fish with sauce I felt they could really add something.

Remove the mushrooms from their bath and remove the stems. Slice the caps in about 1/4 inch slices. Heat some olive oil and the butter on medium high heat. Dredge the salmon in the flour, add it to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add the mushrooms and sauté a few minutes on each side. You want a nice crust. Remove the salmon from the pan. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Be sure to scrape the pan to get all the flavor from the salmon. Reduce the wine by about half and add the heavy cream and lemon juice with the pan off of the heat. Whisk continuously to avoid separation and curdling. Add the salmon back to the pan and cover in the sauce. Plate with some green garnish (I used chopped flat-leat parsley) and potatoes on the side.

For the potatoes:

On a mandolin (or with a knife if you have way more patience than I do) slice a potato on the thinnest setting possible. You should be able to see through them. Chop a carrot finely and put a bit of carrot on a slice of potato. Take another slice of potato and sandwich in the carrot. Fry these in vegetable oil until crispy. Salt and serve on the side. The carrot here is more for visual accent. You can try this with just about anything (meat, shrimp, mushrooms etc.).

This dish is gluten-free other than the dredging flour. You could easily use gluten-free flour as a dredge.

Enjoy!

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Sole Sauteed in Garlic Over Pine Nut Couscous

A very simple family-style dish from my childhood. As a kid, I wasn’t too into most seafood but sole has a very mild flavor that I quite liked. I’d never made this for Sarah but we had these sole filets, so I thought I would give it a go. In my youth the sole was served over pasta. But I thought couscous would be tasty. You need the following:

9-10 sole filets

Two cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

Olive oil

Chicken stock

One cup of water

One cup of couscous

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 cup of panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon of butter

Juice of one lemon

First, boil the cup of water. Toss in the pine nuts and some salt. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Cover and set aside for five minutes. After five minutes, fluff with a fork, add some olive oil and it is ready to serve.

While the couscous is resting, melt the butter in a small pan. When the butter is getting foamy add the bread crumbs and saute until the bread crumbs start to turn brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large skillet heat enough olive oil, over medium high heat, to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic. Saute the fish in batches and remove to a paper towel. Saute one side in the olive oil. When you flip the fish add just a bit of chicken stock to deglaze the pan. When the stock has nearly all evaporated, remove the fish to the paper towel to drain. Repeat until all the fish is done.

To serve, make a pile of couscous in the middle of the plate. Put the desired amount of sole over the couscous. Sprinkle the sole with the bread crumbs and drizzle a bit of olive oil and lemon juice over the top. I garnished with some yellow heirloom tomatoes.

A very tasty and healthy meal. You can adjust the amount of the ingredients depending on how many people you have. This served Sarah and me with a bit of fish left over to give the dog and cat a taste. Enjoy!

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Chana Masala with Bhaturas: Vegetarian Indian Goodness

My friend Diana is in town for a couple of days, and I promised her a vegetarian feast.  There’s nothing she loves more than Indian food, so I broke out my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and made this chana masala for her and our friends Peter and Cat.  It turned out really well, and was less difficult than I expected.  It was spicy without being overpowering, and the lemon really gives it a fresh, tangy taste. 

(Incidentally, I realized about five minutes before my guests arrived that we were out of lemons– Joe used them all making lemon curd!  We only have small corner markets in my neighborhood, none of which carry produce, and I don’t have a car.  Fortunately, the neighborly folks at Ida Mae’s Bruncherie, reviewed here, spotted me a lemon!)

Chana masala, for those who haven’t tasted it, is a vegetarian dish of chickpeas simmered with onions, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and spices.  It’s topped with lemon juice, tomatoes and chopped onion and served with fried bread– in this case, bhaturas.  My friend LeftyProf gave me a real-deal recipe, from his best friend’s mom in Delhi, but when I raced home from work and started cooking, it emerged that we didn’t actually have all of the ingredients!  So I’m going to try that this weekend, and last night I made Madhur Jaffrey’s bhaturas instead.  Props to Peter for doing an excellent job deep frying these– I’m excited to have successfully produced another new (to me) Indian bread!  Read on for the recipes.

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Pound Cake with Lemon Curd

pound cake

Oh, pound cake, you buttery temptress.  So satisfying, yet so versatile.  You’re dessert, breakfast, a coffee break snack.  You’re so easy to make, yet so often you’re served dry and crumbly.  Can I do you justice? 

The good news is that Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, that venerable friend of vegetarians, has a beautiful pound cake recipe.  And my favorite cooking guru Alton Brown has a wonderful recipe for lemon curd that goes with it beautifully.  Lemon curd, if you’re not familiar with it, is a tart, lemony custard that has many, many applications, my favorite of which is as a topping for pound cake. 

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