Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Holding on to Summertime

It's funny to think that today's the last day of summer because I'm not sure we really even had a summer here in the Pacific Northwest. It's like we went from spring straight into fall this year. We only broke out the sunscreen a small handful of times, the figs on our tree are still rock hard, and the leaves are already threatening to turn. This blink-and-you'll-miss-it summer has left many of us feeling shortchanged. Luckily for those of us in denial that the season for basking in the sun is over, the markets are still loaded with summer stone fruit like peaches and nectarines. So here are some sunny Nectarine Shortcakes to help us hang on to summertime for a few moments longer. Enjoy!

On another note, my book Seared to Perfection: The Simple Art of Sealing in Flavor officially comes out next month, and I just received my copy last Friday. It was an amazing feeling to hold the finished book in my hands for the very first time. I almost passed out from pride. With an irresistible-looking steak on the cover and fiery red and orange print within, the book looks fantastic, even if I do say so myself. I had quite a moment when I put my own book on my own bookshelf, with the rest of my cookbook collection. And I had another moment when I signed a copy (with I pen I bought especially for the purpose) for the first time. (In case you're wondering, it was for my husband, the Official Taster and Recipe Testing Timekeeper.) By the way, you can get your hands on a copy right away because Amazon is already shipping.

Seared to Perfection is mentioned in Publishers Weekly's Fall Cookbooks, By the Trends under More Meat, Please (love it!) and earned a notable mention in the single subject category in The Eater Fall 2010 Cookbook and Food Book Preview on Eater National.

Nectarine Shortcakes
Printable Recipe

For the shortcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 ounces (¾ stick) cold unsalted butter, shredded
1 large egg
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons Turbinado sugar

For the sugared nectarines:
8 nectarines, peeled, pitted, and cut into eighths
¼ cup sugar

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the shortcakes:
Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Blend together the egg and ½ cup of the cream in a small bowl, add to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Transfer to a work surface and knead a few times until the dough just holds together. Pat the dough into a 6-inch wide, 1 ½-inch thick circle and cut into 8 wedges. Arrange the shortcakes a couple of inches apart on a parchment-lined baking tray. Lightly brush the shortcakes with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cream and sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

Make the sugared nectarines:
Toss together the nectarines and sugar in a medium bowl and let macerate, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until soft and juicy.

Make the whipped cream:
Whip the cream to medium peaks. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue to whip to stiff peaks.

Assemble the shortcakes:
Split the shortcakes in half horizontally and arrange the bottom of each one split side up on an individual plate. Divide the sugared nectarines and then the whipped cream among them. Replace the top half of each shortcake and serve immediately.

Serves 8. Here's my secret to the most irresistible shortcakes ever: I use my scone recipe instead of a bland biscuit, and I don't skimp on the fruit and whipped cream. Work quickly and with a light touch to prevent the butter in the pastry from melting. If you can get your hands on it, use Tahitian vanilla, which has a uniquely floral character, for the whipped cream. Peaches may be substituted for the nectarines. If you enjoy this recipe, try my Strawberry Shortcakes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Helping of Homemade Takeout

Here's the fried rice to go with the Hot & Sour Soup I told you about before.

Lapchong & Shiitake Fried Rice
Printable Recipe

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons canola oil
2 large eggs
4 ounces lapchong, diced
2/3 cup thawed frozen peas
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups cold cooked long grain white rice
½ cup sliced green onions
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Combine the shiitakes and 1 cup hot water in a small bowl and let soak for 10 to 12 minutes, or until rehydrated and pliable. Remove the shiitakes to a cutting board, trim off and discard the stems, and dice the caps.

Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl. Heat a wok over high heat until very hot and smoking. Add 2 teaspoons of the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the wok. Add the eggs and stir-fry for 30 seconds to a minute, or until scrambled. Remove the eggs to a plate. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to the wok and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the lapchong and stir-fry for 30 seconds to a minute, or until golden brown. Add the peas and carrot and stir-fry for 30 seconds to a minute, or until golden brown. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the rice, green onions, shiitakes, and eggs, and stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through. Add the soy sauce and stir-fry about 1 minute more, or until the rice is coated. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

Serves 4. To cool cooked rice quickly and safely, spread it in a thin layer on a baking tray and refrigerate after the steam has come off of it. 1 ½ cups uncooked long grain white rice will yield about 6 cups cooked. Chinese lapchong sausage is available in Asian markets.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes and a Caprese Crostata

Caprese salad lovers, the following dish is for you.

It was inspired by a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market and the desire to transform a light salad into a substantial meal.

Make it before tomato season is a thing of the past.

Memories of this crostata, with basil pesto and parmesan crust accenting the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, will carry you through until next summer and give you the resolve to just say no to winter grocery store tomatoes!

Caprese Crostata
Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
½ teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, shredded
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons, or more, cold water
1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and cut into 3/16-inch thick slices
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the flour, ¼ cup of the Parmegiano, and kosher salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water and pulse until the dough just comes together. Test the dough by squeezing a small amount together with your fingertips. If the dough holds together, it’s ready. If it’s crumbly, add up to 1 more tablespoon of water and pulse 2 more times. Transfer the dough to a work surface, bring together into a ball, and then flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Combine the basil, garlic, pine nuts, 3 tablespoons of the oil, and remaining ¼ cup of Parmegiano in the food processor and pulse until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 13×17-inch, 3/16-inch thick rectangle. Roll the dough up on the rolling pin and transfer it to a parchment-lined baking tray. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Spread the pesto evenly in the center of the dough rectangle, leaving a 2-inch border at the edge, and layer the tomatoes and mozzarella on it, arranging them in neat, overlapping rows. Fold the edge of the dough over the tomatoes and mozzarella, pleating it as you go. Refrigerate for another 10 minutes.

Lightly brush the tomatoes and mozzarella with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Bake for 25 to 27 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool slightly. Sprinkle generously with fleur de sel and pepper, cut into portions, and serve.

Makes 1 large crostata, serving 6 as a vegetarian main course. Wonderful drizzled with Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. Drain the mozzarella thoroughly on paper towels so that there's no excess moisture to turn the crust soggy. It's not absolutely necessary to wash the food processor between the crust and pesto.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mixed Berries

This is what summer's all about.

Sweet, luscious berries.

Certainly nature's most generous gift to us.

Strawberries. Raspberries. Blackberries. Blueberries.

Each one, perfection.

But combine them, and magic happens…The individual flavor notes meld and together gain in intensity, like instruments in an orchestra.

So it's no surprise that the flavor of these Mixed Berry Mousse & Gelée Verrines was described as "intoxicating" and said to "taste like wine". Magic indeed.

Mixed Berry Mousse & Gelée Verrines
Printable Recipe

10 ounces raspberries
10 ounces blackberries
10 ounces blueberries
8 ounces strawberries
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 ¾ teaspoons gelatin
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Chambord
1 cup heavy cream

Puree the berries in a food mill using the finest disc. If the puree has seeds, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove them. Divide evenly among 2 large bowls.

Stir ¼ cup of the sugar into ½ of the berry puree. Slowly sprinkle 2 ½ teaspoons of the gelatin over ¼ cup of the Chambord. Place the bowl of the gelatin mixture over a small pan of simmering water and heat until melted. Stir into the berry mixture. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Stir 1/3 of the cream into the berry mixture, then fold in the remaining cream. Divide the mixture among 6 dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Stir the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of Chambord into the remaining ½ of the berry puree. Measure ¼ cup of water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over the remaining 2 ¼ teaspoons of gelatin. Place the bowl of gelatin over a small pan of simmering water and heat until melted. Stir into the berry mixture. Divide among the dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Serves 6. Serve topped with additional fresh berries, if desired. Can be made up to a day ahead of time and kept covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
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