Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Guess Where I've Been?

Here's a clue.

Ahh, Italy. This is a morning view from our hotel room in Portovenere, at the tail end of the Cinque Terre region on the Ligurian Sea. Isn't it amazing?

Don't even get me started on what pesto tastes like in its homeland!

More from me soon -- need to unpack, then start re-packing for the big move to San Francisco. And cooking? Well...that may have to wait for October!

Hope everyone's been well!

Friday, September 01, 2006

La Festa al Fresco: Peachy Caprese

So this is all very frustrating, because just when I made something really pretty, my camera has to go missing. Fie! Blast! PIFFLE!

Perhaps it's suffering from stagefright.

Sigh. If it turns up, I'll add the pictures, but I fear that you'll just have to use your imaginations for this one.

Lis from La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice are hosting an end of summer garden gala -- for which we are all presenting dishes with an Italian flair and showcasing fresh summer ingredients. How could I resist??

Now, I've been ruminating on insalata caprese lately, that jeweled combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fragrant basil. Gorgeous as it is to look at, I've never so much as had a bite. That's because although I worship fervently at the altars of fresh mozzarella and basil, I don't eat raw tomatoes. (And that's sort of putting it lightly.)

But it's such a summery salad that I've always felt a bit put out about shunning it. (I am a creature of inner conflict.) When it comes to raw tomatoes and BNA, never the twain shall meet, but I wanted to make something in the caprese vein nonetheless.

Why not replace the tomatoes with something unexpected (for me at least) -- peaches? A perfectly ripe peach is such a wonderful thing that I never want to meddle with it. And so most of mine are eaten as they are, slurpily, over the kitchen sink. But perhaps I'd been underestimating the power of the fresh summer peach.

I sliced two peaches horizontally (a tricky proposition; don't slice your palm like, ahem, I did) and layered them with thick coins of fresh mozzarella -- the ruddy gold and creamy white were lovely together. I'm not bashful about basil so no shredding or mincing for me -- two whole leaves for each fruit and cheese layer, though I chose tender ones rather than those with thick ribs.

Then I drizzled a thin stream of my best extra-virgin olive oil over the plate and sprinkled on a bit of good balsamic vinegar. (Here you have to imagine a very nice photo. Go on, be kind to my photographic skills.)

The combination is wonderful -- the juiciness of the peach brings out the sweetness of the cheese, and the basil adds a bright splash at the end. Next time I might even try a bit of fresh ground pepper.

Now that's a BNA-approved insalata caprese!

I hope you enjoy Lis and Ivonne's Festa al Fresco! Happy Summer!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Color Swap

Devorit: So here's what I don't understand.
BNA: What? The appeal of culottes?
D: That too. But I speak of your blueberry obsession.
B: What of it?
D: You never used to be such a blueberry freak.

B: This is true.
D: In fact...
B: Blueberries were your gig.
D: Precisely.
B: Strawberries were my fruit.
D: Blue is mine!
B: I did favor red.
D: In. All. Things.
B: Hey, that Christmas tree story is exaggerated.
D: You mean how the entire tree had a skirt of red ornaments illustrating how high you could reach?
B: It was an artistic choice!
D: I'm not giving in on this swap over to blue, just so you're clear.
B: Not even for a blueberry lemon (almond) muffin?
D: ...did you just pronounce a parenthetical?
B: Or a slice of Karina's blueberry bread?
D: This isn't over, youngling.

Blueberry Lemon (Almond) Muffins
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 c. fine polenta
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
three shakes Penzeys Baking Spice
1 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen (unthawed)
1 c. lf buttermilk
1 T. grated lemon zest
1 egg, preferably organic and free-range, lightly beaten
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. almond extract
vanilla sugar, optional

Heat the oven to 400 and spray a muffin tin with baking spray.

Mix the dry ingredients through the baking spice together. Add the blueberries and mix gently.

In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients through the extract. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet stuff. Mix just to combine; overmixing makes unhappy muffins.

Scoop the surprisingly fluffy batter into the prepared muffin tins and sprinkle the tops with vanilla sugar. Bake 20 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Remove from the pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.

* I like to add the Baking Spice to give the muffins a hint of warmth in the background. You can substitute cinnamon if you don't have the Baking Spice.
* The almond will be in the background as well -- thus the parenthetical in the name.
* The polenta gives the muffins a bit of crunch and a sturdier structure.

Karina's Blueberry Bread
Adapted from Cooking By Moonlight

2 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 tsp. Penzeys Cake Spice
2 eggs, preferably organic and free-range, lightly beaten
1/2 c. melted butter
1 1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/2 c. nf milk
1 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen (unthawed), tossed in a sprinkle of flour

Heat the oven t0 350 and spray a 9-inch loaf pan with baking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then add the sugars and the Cake Spice. Make a well.

In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients, then pour into the well and mix gently to just combine. Add the berries and stir them in gently. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake 50 minutes to an hour or until a knife comes out clean. (I like to rotate quick breads like this 180 degrees in the oven at the halfway mark to ensure even browning.) After cooling the bread in the pan for about fifteen minutes, remove it to cool completely on a wire rack.

* Karina specifies fine sea salt, which I didn't have. I used kosher salt and the measurement seemed to work well.
* Tossing the berries with a little flour will help prevent them from bleeding into the batter.
* This is a very sweet bread, almost a cake -- absolutely delicious. It lasted approximately 2 days in our apartment. Thanks Karina!!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

WCB #62 -- "Helper" Kitty

So there I was, fiddling with the camera and trying to get a shot of what I think will be the last big blueberry glut of the summer, when -- orange blur dashed through the frame.

Of course it was Widget. At any given time, it's a good bet that he's somewhere he's not supposed to be. He probably thinks he's being helpful. Or, being Widget, he thinks he's being UNhelpful and that pleases him to no end.

This installment of Weekly Cat Blogging is hosted by Heather at Heather's Space. Go see all the other furbeasts -- hopefully in more detail than mine!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

An Ugly Duckling Crostata

A crostata is such a friendly, forgiving dessert. The dough comes together with hardly any effort in the food processor -- even pie-crust-phobes like myself can do it. Any high-quality jam that catches your eye can become a silky jewel-like filling (although you'll want to consider the seed issue). And the free-form shrug of a structure is so much less intimidating than, say, a lattice-weave crust.

Which is not to say that my blueberry crostata isn't -- well, misshapen is putting it kindly. Next time I would spend a little more time keeping the edge even. But isn't this why klutzes like me adore rustic desserts?

Blueberry Crostata
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Serves 6-8ish.

1.5 c. all-purpose, unbleached flour
2 T. granulated sugar
juice and zest of one big lemon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
10 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into half-inch pieces
3 T. ice water
3/4 c. high-quality blueberry preserves
1/2 c. fresh blueberries

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, zest, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add the ice water gradually, pulsing the dough, until it begins clumping together. Gather the dough out of the processor, shape it into a ball and then flatten it into a rough disk, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill about an hour.

Heat your oven to 400. On a large piece of parchment paper or Silpat, roll out the dough into a more or less 11-inch round. Move the dough and paper/Silpat to a large baking sheet. Mix together the preserves and the lemon juice, then spread over the dough, leaving a two-inch border. Fold the border over the edges of the filling, being as careful as you can to seal up cracks. (As you can see from the top picture, we had some leakage. Oh well.) Sprinkle the fresh berries over the jam.

Bake until golden, about 40 minutes. Let the crostata cool about ten minutes before moving it off the sheet. Best lukewarm with strong coffee.

* Almost any jam or preserves will do; you may want to stay away from very sour preserves.
* Next time I would paint the crostata with a light egg wash before baking.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Thatsa Spicy Turkey Burger!

I don't know how I ever lived without my grill pan, I really don't. I think I bring it out at least three times a week these days. Of course, this also means that Dimples has become quite adroit at dismantling our smoke alarm. Things do smoke prodigiously on the grill pan, and since our alarm's overly sensitive as it is, it's getting as much of a workout as the pan. Our neighbors are probably wondering what our fascination with flame is.

Anyway, the Patient Co-Worker came over last weekend and we hauled out the grill pan for a round of spicy turkey burgers. These are quick to shape and easy to grill. People often complain that turkey burgers are dry, but here the moisture from the mayo, chile, and cheese keeps them moist and juicy. Garnish with generous dollops of barbeque sauce or chipotle mayo.

Spicy Turkey Burgers
Adapted from some cooking magazine

Makes 4 patties.

1.5 lbs. ground turkey breast (preferably organic)
1/4 c. dried breadcrumbs
kosher salt
freshly-ground black pepper
one jalapeno chile, minced
2 T. reduced-fat mayo
1/2 c. shredded pepper jack (cheddar will work in a pinch)
buns and condiments of choice

Heat your grill pan over medium-high heat.

Mix the breadcrumbs, chile, mayo, cheese, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a large bowl. Add the turkey and gently mix to combine. Divide into four equal portions and gently shape into 4-inch patties. Press your thumb into the center of each to create a small depression (this will keep the burgers from "doming" on the grill).

Salt and pepper both sides of the burgers. Grill 5-8 minutes per side and serve with whatever you like.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Periodic Randomly-Selected Ireland Photo #1

Fair warning -- this has essentially nothing to do with food.

Two Novembers ago, my sister Devorit, my friend Gadget, my cousin, her husband, and I took advantage of surprisingly low airfares to jet over to Ireland. We spent, what, eight days or so driving through the hills and dales, more or less following a loop from Dublin to Limerick to Cork and back to Dublin (and with many frolics and detours in between).

I've been meaning to try to duplicate a Guinness gravy over which we oohed and aahed at an obscure golf club restaurant in the middle of an Irish nowhere, come to think of it. I'll add that to my list of things to really try to accomplish in 2006.

So anyway, Devorit had our mother's digital camera and she took gadzillions of pictures. And yes, that is a technical term. My photo program shudders when I click on that folder. The "I'm working, please wait" hourglass that blinks onto the screen has a plaintive cast. Plus, when I uploaded them, the pictures unfortunately got shuffled out of order. So I've rather shamefully never gone through them, really. Too intimidating a task.

Now yesterday I was looking for a different picture when my eye fell on the Ireland photo folder. And in a moment of whimsy, I opened it and clicked at random. And this is what I saw:

Indiscriminate dumping: RIGHT OUT.
Discriminate dumping: carry on.

Thus begins a PBPO occasional series: randomly-selected Ireland photos. Stay tuned.