Showing posts with label summer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label summer. Show all posts

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Watermelon Ice Cubes to Cool Down Summer's Sizzle


A summer heat wave is messing with planet earth. Making an icy-cold batch of watermelon ice cubes will definitely take the edge off the heat.
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge.

You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Watermelon Ice Cubes Make A Cool Summer Cocktail



Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge. You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Summertime Open Faced BLT

Summertime is the best of times and the worst of times.

When it's hot and humid, nothing makes me happy except air conditioning. But all that heat is good for the garden and summertime tomatoes benefit from all that sun.
Luckily we have neighbors who generously share the beautiful tomatoes that grow in their garden.

A BLT is my favorite way to enjoy tomatoes.

Acidic-sweet tomato slices cozy up to crisp, salty bacon, crunchy lettuce leaves and the comfort of bread in the most satisfying of experiences.

When the rain beats against the dining room windows and the temperature hovers in the mid-40s, a wintertime BLT with hot house tomatoes on slices of a good wheat berry bread with a touch of Best Foods mayonnaise and a bowl of hot vegetable soup satisfies in a good way.

Summertime is something else altogether. First off, I don't want all that bread. In summertime, I want light and cool, not heft.

Open faced sandwiches are perfect for hot weather and an open faced BLT with a slice of avocado is refreshingly delicious. Add a tall glass of iced tea or icy homemade lemonade and you have all you'll need for a refreshing summertime meal.
Open Face BLT with Avocado

Use any kind of bread you love. Personally I prefer thin sliced French or Italian bread for my open faced sandwiches. Depending on the size of the loaf, you will need two to six slices per person.

My favorite bread for a BLT is the Italian bread from Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica. Light with a thin crust, the bread perfectly compliments the sandwich's toppings.

To keep its shape, the slices should be lightly toasted.

Serves 4

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

8-24 slices of bread, lightly toasted
8-10 slices of bacon
2 ripe avocados, washed
4 ripe large tomatoes, washed, stem and blossom end removed
8 romaine leaves, ribs removed, or a handful of arugula leaves without the stems, washed, dried
8-16 slices of bread and butter pickles (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper
Mayonnaise

Directions

Set the lightly toasted slices of bread aside to cool.

In batches, cook the bacon in a large frying pan or griddle on a medium-low flame. Turn the slices frequently for even browning, being careful to cook through all the fatty pieces. Place paper towels on a plate. When each bacon strip is cooked, lay it on the paper towel to drain.

While cooking, pour off excess grease into a coffee tin for later disposal.

Cut the cooked bacon pieces so they are the same length as the toasted bread slices.

Depending on your preference, make thin or thick slices of tomatoes and set aside.

When you are ready to assemble the sandwiches, cut the avocados in half, remove the peel and discard the pit. Since the avocado flesh will discolor once it is exposed to the air, do this last step just before serving.

Spread mayonnaise on each slice of lightly toasted bread, place avocado slices on the bread, covering the surface. Lay romaine or arugula leaves on the bacon. Add a slice of tomato, pickle slices (optional) and lastly the bacon slices. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with an ice cold beverage, a tossed salad and fresh fruit for dessert.

Variations

Lightly dust the avocado with cayenne for heat.

Instead of lettuce or arugula use watercress leaves for a peppery flavor.

Toss the avocado slices in a mix of 2 parts olive oil and 1 part fresh lemon juice before placing on the sandwich.

To make an open-faced melted cheese sandwich, lay thin slices of Irish or English cheddar cheese on top of the sandwich, place in a preheated, 350 degree toaster oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese, 1 minute in a toaster oven set on broil and cook until the top of the cheese lightly browns. Serve warm.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Turkey Isn't Just for Thanksgiving: Turkey Stew with Dumplings

Usually on Thanksgiving between 20-25 people come over for dinner. Serving turkey is part of the holiday tradition but there's a practical side as well: one turkey serves a lot of people.

Turkey is a food so rooted in a holiday--think egg nog and New Year's Eve--that most people wouldn't think of using it at other times of the year.

Roast turkey in the summer is a practical solution to serving large amounts of food for backyard parties without an excessive amount of work.

Sweet, moist breast meat, perfect of sandwiches, can also be tossed in salads. Thigh meat is also good in sandwiches with a bit of mayonnaise, thin slices of red onion and arugula leaves. Or, teasing flavor out of the legs and thighs by boiling them in a large pot of water creates delicious turkey stock and several pounds of meat ideal for salads, soups and stews.

Turkey Stew with Dumplings and Vegetables

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
4 cups cooked, shredded turkey dark meat
6 cups turkey stock (fat removed)
2 carrots (washed, peeled, ends removed, chopped into thick rounds)
2 sweet potatoes (cooked, skins removed, roughly chopped)
1 medium yellow onion (peeled, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1 ear of corn (kernels removed) or 1 cup of canned or frozen corn
1 celery stalk (washed, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, finely chopped)
1 small bunch spinach (washed thoroughly, stems removed)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup half and half
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a dutch oven or a frying pan with tall sides, sauté the carrots, garlic, celery, mushrooms, onions, corn, and parsley in olive oil until lightly browned. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the shredded turkey, cooked sweet potatoes, and turkey stock. Simmer. Drop in the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach has wilted. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
To make the dumplings, mix together the flour, baking soda, sugar, season with sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Finely chop the butter, add to the flour and mix well. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until the batter has a thick consistency. Using 2 spoons, make dumplings and ease them them into the hot liquid.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with a salad and a baguette.

Variations

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or Italian parsley to the dumplings.

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers to the dumplings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer's Perfect Dessert: Vanilla Rice Custard with Raisins

Because our house and backyard are shaded by three large trees, we make it through summer's hottest days without air conditioning. It helps that a cooling ocean breeze comes our way in the afternoon.

Eating outside on the deck is a great way to beat the heat. Easy-to-make dishes, relying heavily on salads and grilled vegetables, fish and meat are the way to go. No need to suffer inside in front of the stove when there's a barbecue outside.

Shopping at our local farmers markets--Pacific Palisades on Sundays and Santa Monica on Wednesdays--keeps us happy, with freshly picked fruits and vegetables.
Carrots full of sweetness and crunch, cherry tomatoes that dive bomb your mouth with sweet-acidic juice, flat and spicy leaves of arugula tossed in salads dressed simply with a reduced balsamic vinaigrette dressing, split lobsters on the grill topped with caramelized onions, bread crumbs and butter, Italian sausages poked with a fork to release the steaming juices as they grill on the barbecue....
Sooner or later, the meal comes to an end but before that happens, a closer needs to make an appearance.

Dessert.

The simpler the better, in my mind. Summer is no time for heavy confections. Perfectly ripe grapes or peaches and nectarines bursting with flavor. Figs so sweet you imagine wasps can sense their sweetness from miles around. Grilled fruit. Ice cold melons. Simple sorbets.

For a dinner last week, I prepared an easy-to-make vanilla custard with raisins. For variety I used both regular and golden raisins with a few dried cranberries thrown in.
Serve the custard at room temperature or slightly warmed (250 degrees for 10 minutes).

For a festive addition, try serving the custard with a variety of toppings: bowls of heavy cream, ice cream, whipped cream (there's a theme here) and fresh berries--whichever ones are ripe and sweet--blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or blackberries.

Vanilla Rice Custard with Raisins

Yield: 6

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 45-60 minutes

Ingredients

2 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons raw whole almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the almonds on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove, let cool and roughly chop. Set aside.

Beat together the eggs and sugar until well-blended. Add the raisins, cream and vanilla. Let the raisins soak in the custard for an hour or overnight.

Use any kind of rice you like. Add the rice and chopped almonds to the custard-raisin mixture. Pour into an oven proof bowl.

I like to use a shallow baking dish so there is more of the delicious crust that forms around the edge of the dish.  The shallower baking dish, the shorter the cooking time. And, conversely, the deeper the baking dish, the longer the cooking time.

Create a water bath by putting 1" of water into a baking dish 4" larger than the baking dish you are using the for the custard. Put the baking dish into the water bath and into the oven.

Cook until the custard sets or doesn't jiggle if the baking dish is shaken.

Rotate every 30 minutes for even cooking. If the top of the custard is getting too brown before setting, gently lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top.

Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or fresh fruit.

Variations

Instead of one kind of raisin, use golden as well as dark raisins.

Instead of all raisins, use dried cranberries or any other dried fruit, roughly chopped.

Instead of almonds, use whatever roasted nuts you prefer.

Add a touch of cayenne powder for a hint of heat.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Potato Salad

When I was a kid, we didn't do many family outings. My dad wasn't into it. And yet, somehow my mom convinced him to spend a couple of days each summer at Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica. I don't know what they did on the beach because I spent the whole day in the water. The only time I took a break from body surfing was when we'd have lunch. My mom would open her Tupperware containers and we'd feast on fried chicken and potato salad.

Recently when I was putting together a menu for a dinner party, my mind must have reached back to those childhood memories because I instantly decided that the centerpiece of the meal would be fried chicken and potato salad.

The key to my mom's fried chicken was an overnight soak in buttermilk. My dad used to drink buttermilk, so there was always some in the refrigerator. The other important feature of her technique was a light dusting in seasoned flour. She talked at length about her dislike of heavily breaded soggy fried chicken. The goal, she always said, was a thin, crisp crust that contrasted with the sweet juiciness of the chicken. I've made a minor adjustment to her recipe by adding a touch of sugar, cayenne, and chopped onion. Her approach works well for onion rings and other vegetables like broccoli.

I remember her potato salad as a bare-bones affair of boiled potatoes, sweet pickle relish, and mayonnaise. For mine I add carrots and corn for sweetness, capers for a bit of acid, and a touch of cayenne for heat.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, washed, cut apart, wing tips and bones reserved to make chicken stock
1 quart buttermilk
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts safflower or canola oil

Method

When you cut up the chicken, separate the two parts of the wing and cut the breast meat off the bone. Keep or discard the skin as you wish. The breasts can be left whole but will cook more evenly when cut into strips or tenders.

Toss the chicken pieces with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Put the pieces in a container, add the buttermilk, stir, cover, and refrigerate.

Using a wok or deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil to 325 - 350 degrees or until a piece of parsley browns immediately when dropped in the oil. Before you begin cooking, prepare your counter. Have a slotted spoon or an Asian style strainer ready. Lay two paper towels on top of a piece of brown grocery bag paper on a large plate.

In a brown paper bag mix together the flour, sea salt, pepper, cayenne (optional), sugar (optional), and onions (optional). Take the chicken out of the buttermilk, remove the excess, drop into the paper bag with the seasoned flour, close the top of the bag, and shake.

Cook the chicken in batches. The pieces shouldn't crowd one another in the oil so they cook evenly. Gently drop each piece into the hot oil, making sure that the pieces don't touch. Turn over when browned on all sides. Remove when golden brown and drain on the paper towels. The pieces will cook quickly: chicken tenders (breast) 2-3 minutes; wings 7-8 minutes; thighs & legs 10-12 minutes.

If you are making deep fried vegetables like onion rings or broccoli florets, they cook even more quickly: thick rings cook in 30 seconds, thin rings in 5-6 seconds; broccoli in 30 seconds.

Just before serving, lightly dust the cooked pieces with sea salt and pepper.

Potato Salad

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
3 quarts water
1 scallion, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped
1 carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, grated
1 ear of corn or 1/2 cup corn kernels
2 tablespoons olives, preferably Kalamata or cracked green, pitted, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the potatoes, kosher salt, and water into a pot, bring to a gentle boil, and cover. Cook 30-45 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the potatoes. They should be firm, not mushy. The potatoes are done when a fork goes in easily. Remove from the salted water. Let cool. Peel off the skins.

In the summer, grill an ear of corn and cut up carrot seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Cut the kernels off the cob, finely chop the carrot and add them to the salad.

In the winter, canned corn will do. Saute the corn and finely chopped carrots with olive oil until lightly browned. Add to the potato salad along with the chopped scallions, olives, capers, and mayonnaise.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only.

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh celery.

Add 1 broccoli floret either grilled or lightly sauteed then finely chopped

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Easy Summer Meal of Heirloom Tomatoes and Sautéed Chicken Breasts

A good friend had a problem: his wife's birthday was a week away and he had to organize a dinner for 25. Clay likes hosting Lesli's birthday party but doesn't enjoy the pressure of putting together the meal. In the past he had side-stepped the stress by ordering out.

For many years, the dinner party was catered by Versailles a popular Cuban restaurant. This year he decided a pot luck dinner would make the meal more personal. Truth is Clay's talents lie in painting and photography and while he enjoys eating, he's happy to leave the cooking to others. But he had committed to preparing the main course and a side dish and even that felt burdensome. We discussed all this at our weekly Sunday brunch. I figured it was the manly thing to do to help him plan, shop, and prepare the dinner.

The central question was obvious: what to make for the main course that would feed 25 and wouldn't require a huge amount of time in the kitchen? In the winter, the obvious answer would be a roast or a comfort dish like chicken and dumplings. Since Lesli's birthday falls in the middle of summer when the air is warm and eating outdoors is the order of the day, something lighter was required.

Given that Lesli and my wife, Michelle, prefer simply prepared meals, we settled on easy-to-make grilled chicken breasts and Italian sweet sausages. For a side dish we talked about sautéed spinach, green beans with garlic and mushrooms, or grilled artichokes, any of which would go well with the grilled meats. In deference to eating locally, we made a plan to shop at the farmers' market the day of the party and decide what to make while we were at the market.

Saturday morning we met early at the Santa Monica farmers' market. Walking past the farmers' stalls we saw vegetables we hadn't thought about: summer squash and Japanese eggplants for grilling, plump carrots for a Moroccan flavored salad, and baby bok choy that we could stir fry with ginger, garlic and soy sauce.

Finally we settled on the obvious summer choice: a salad of heirloom tomatoes in a simple vinaigrette. Right now the profusion of tomatoes in the market is nothing short of phenomenal: Brandywines (red, yellow, black), Cherokee Purples, Green Zebras, even a sweet cherry tomato called Snow White.

We also saw fresh Italian parsley, shallots, ginger, and garlic. Those flavors could bring a helpful lift to the chicken breasts. We decided on a simple butter sauce and a crispy topping of bacon, shallots, garlic, ginger, and Italian parsley leaves.

The nice part about pot luck meals is you discover things you didn't know about your friends. Talking with Melissa about what she was going to bring, I learned that she and her husband had just gotten back from a trip to Napa. She happily applied her recent experience and brought a terrific platter of cheeses (each one with its own flag-label) accompanied by a fig spread, grapes, strawberries, and nuts.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
1/2 basket ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes (washed, stems removed, halved)
1 ripe avocado (washed, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup olives (cracked green or black, pitted, roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a very low flame heat the vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced to 1 tablespoon.

Cut the large tomatoes into quarters or chunks or slices--whatever you prefer--gently toss them with the cherry tomatoes, avocado, olives, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.

Variations

Add cilantro or Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped.

Add red onion or scallions, peeled, finely chopped.

Chicken Breasts with Butter Sauce and a Crispy Topping

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (washed, pat dried)
4 slices bacon (finely chopped)
4 shallots (peeled, finely julienned)
2" piece of fresh ginger (peeled, finely julienned)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely julienned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (washed, dried, leaves only)
1/4 cup sweet butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
6 cups safflower oil

Method

Make the crispy part first. Heat the oil in a deep pan like a wok so that when the ingredients are added and the oil foams up, the pan is deep enough that the oil won't flow onto the stove. You can tell this was a lesson I learned the hard way. Test the oil by dropping in a parsley leaf. If it crisps in 5-6 seconds, the oil's hot enough. Cook the bacon, ginger, garlic, parsley, and shallots separately. Have a slotted spoon or a fine-mesh strainer ready because they will cook in a few seconds. Remove each and let drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil onto a plate, then season with sea salt and pepper. Dredge each chicken breast half through the seasoned oil. Either grill the breasts on a barbecue or sauté in a medium-hot pan until browned on each side. Put the breasts on a plate and cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil. Heat butter and chicken stock in a sauté pan and reduce until thickened.

Arrange the breasts on a platter, drizzle with the butter sauce, and top with the crispy bits.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day is a Perfect Time to Make Beet Salad & Potato Salad

The summer season of travel, picnics, and barbecues traditionally begins on Memorial Day. Given the high price of gas, there may be less travel and more eating close to home this year. With good weather comes spontaneity. The kids are home or friends stop by, nothing is easier than turning on the barbecue and grilling some hamburgers, sausages, chicken, or a nice steak. Pull together a couple of easy-to-make salads and the meal is complete.

I've already talked about egg salad with bacon and shrimp, carrot salad, spinach salad, and arugula salad. I want to add to those favorites two more: beet salad and potato salad.

Roasted Beet Salad
Serves 4
Time 1 hour

The beets my mom served when I was a kid were either boiled or canned. For some reason she never roasted beets. That's such a simple way to prepare them. They steam inside their skins. Because they take very little effort to prepare, they are a great addition to a meal when you feel pressed for time.

1 bunch of large beets
Olive oil

Cut off the leaves and stems, reserving them to use later (a quick side note: after you wash them, if you chop up the leaves and stems, sauté them with olive oil, garlic and shallots; they'll caramelize and you can serve them as a side dish or tossed with pasta; they're delicious). Thoroughly wash the beets to get rid of any grit. Do not remove the skin or cut off the root. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking pan. Place the beets in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Turn the beets every 20 minutes so they cook evenly. Use a wooden skewer to test if they're done.

Let cool, then peel off the skins, cut off the root and the top part. Serve them up the way you like--julienne, rounds, or roughly cut--put them in a bowl and dress with olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

Use a vinagrette dressing, add feta, sliced scallions, and chopped Italian parsley.

Top with roasted walnuts.

Add roasted carrots.

Add green grapes sliced in half.

Potato Salad
Serves 4-6
Time 45 minutes

As a side dish potato salad goes with any grilled meat or fish, perfect for a dinner party or a picnic.

2 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold or King Edward), washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons grated carrots
1 tablespoon corn kernels
1 scallion, end trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Best Foods/Hellman's)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Put the potatoes in a pot, fill with water to cover, add the Kosher salt, cover with a lid or piece of aluminum foil, and boil on high heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked but still firm. Remove the pot from the heat, pour off the hot water, refill the pot with cold water and let the potatoes cool.

Sauté the corn with a little olive oil for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool. In a large bowl, mix together the corn, carrots, scallion, and parsley. Peel the skin off the potatoes--save the skin for a breakfast sauté with eggs--chop the potatoes into dime-sized pieces, and add to the bowl. Toss all the ingredients together and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and mix well. Taste and adjust the flavors with more mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add celery or capers.

Add crispy bacon.

Add grilled shrimp.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Corn is Back It Must Be Summer

Living in Southern California, we're frequently accused of being citizens of LALA land, a region of delusions where the inhabitants have lost touch with nature because there are no seasons. But there are seasons. Our winters are cold. Those of us with fireplaces use them frequently from January through March. And yet we have to admit, we don't suffer the ravages of weather that afflict other parts of the country.

If T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, we Angelinos keep track of the seasons by watching the ebb and flow of the produce in the farmers' markets. We know summer is over because the peaches and nectarines are gone. Conversely, when the first corn appears at the farmers' markets, we know that winter is definitely over.

Several weeks ago a few pieces of corn were for sale at the Palisades Sunday market. Then yesterday at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, a giant mound of corn materialized at Gloria's Fruits & Vegetables stand. Seeing so much corn a dozen recipes came to mind, but the best way to celebrate the return of corn is the simplest: corn on the cob with a slab of butter, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. One taste and we know for certain that summer's back.

Corn on the Cob

4 ears of corn, shucked, washed
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Sea salt and pepper

Leave the cob whole or break in half, put into a large pot of water, and turn the burner on high. When the water boils in 10-15 minutes, the corn is done. Drain and serve with butter, sea salt, and pepper.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes.

Ready. Set. Go. Time to Think About Thanksgiving and Electric Knife Sharpeners

Thanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday, a time when family and friends gather together, share a meal and talk about what they hop...