Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lemon-Dill Deviled Eggs

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Web site, the first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. The idea of a "workingman's holiday" caught on and grew in popularity as the labor organizations gathered steam, and by 1885, the holiday was recognized in many burgeoning cities across the United States. Over the next few years, individual states began to recognize the holiday, but it wasn't until 1894 that Labor Day became official on a national level. We can thank President Grover Cleveland for signing the bill into law that made the first Monday of every September a federal holiday.

So, what does Labor Day mean, exactly? Back then, it was a day to reflect on the often poor conditions endured by the average worker and to commemorate the struggles and successes of the labor organizations on the workers' behalf. It was a sort of shout-out to the American laborer and those who advocated for him or her. Nowadays, for many people, it's viewed as a farewell to summer, a last fling at the beach or the barbecue before shaking the sand out of the floormats and herding the kids off to school.

Labor Day is a huge day for picnics, cookouts, family get-togethers, and neighborhood potlucks. If you're fortunate enough to be invited to one of the above and have been asked to bringe a dish to share, consider making some Lemon-Dill Deviled Eggs. Barring adulteration with anything downright gross (and I mean downright - think along the lines of a roving cockroach or someone's wayward Band-Aid), deviled eggs are always, always a hit. (If you're a veteran of the potluck scene, you know what I mean. No matter how over-mayo'ed, how over-paprika'ed, how someone-must-have-dropped-this-on-the-way-in-from-the-car they appear to be, the deviled eggs are always one of the first things to disappear.) You may want to hide these - or consider putting a private stash aside for you and your family. If you bring these, you'll be going home with an empty plate.

Of course, some of us won't be taking the day off. There are those of us who must continue to grease the wheels of the capitalist machine lest it grind to a terrible, shuddering halt. It is only fair that those of us who must work this Labor Day are entitled to certain perks: namely, someone should make a batch of deviled eggs just for us. Or, if the situation arises that we inadvertently come across someone else's private stash of deviled eggs (say, that of a family member who heartlessly went to a Labor Day cookout bearing a platter of deviled eggs, instead of companionably suffering at home on the couch with a bowl of cereal for dinner) while foraging in the refrigerator for sustenance, we may eat every last egg without guilt. After all, the workingman must keep up his or her strength!

Happy Labor Day!

Lemon-Dill Deviled Eggs

  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved lengthwise

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/3 cup sour cream (can use light)

  • 11/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  • Dill sprigs or grated lemon zest and black pepper for garnish

Remove egg yolks from egg halves and place in a small mixing bowl. Arrange the hollowed-out whites on a serving platter. Using a fork or the back of a spoon, mash the yolks.

To the mashed yolks, add mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Fold in chopped dill and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Using a piping bag or a small spoon, fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill or sprinkle lightly with lemon zest and black pepper.

Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. These can be made a few hours in advance. For best results, though, don't garnish until just before serving.

Makes 24.

(Recipe adapted from App├ętit April 2006.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kiwifruit Sorbet

A few weeks ago, I was pushing my cart around the farmstand market where I buy my produce and meats. In a bit of a hurry, I tossed in heads of romaine and red onions, garlic cloves and new potatoes, and various other items destined for the dinner table. By nature, I'm a slow shopper, a browser, a considerer of possibilities. Whenever I can, I like to leisurely stroll the aisles of the market, imagining recipes as I go.

If I find a great piece of meat on sale all the way over at the butcher counter, I may have to double back to the produce section to pick up some mushrooms to saute. A special at the cheese counter on the other side of the store will send me happily back to produce again, to hunt down some red grapes. I'll admit that this stop-and-smell-the-rosemary approach to grocery shopping takes a bit longer. But that's sort of the point.

Unfortunately, this is precisely the reason that my dear husband hates to shop the farmstand market with me. He doesn't cook - at all, ever - so the charm of ingredient browsing is lost on him. Although he's ever by my side on weekly flour-sugar-cereal-laundry detergent-paper towels-cat litter superstore runs (thank heavens!), he doesn't come along to the farmstand market with me, and I don't have to feel rushed there. Except, of course, when I am.

So, I'm not cooking as I go on this day. I'm shopping for a preplanned dinner, which is due to hit the table in an hour or so. It's meant to be a quick shop, just what I need this time, for this one meal. Nevertheless, I can't stop myself from veering past the "marked to move" shelf on my way to the meat case. And it's there, amid the heads of grievously wilted lettuce and postholiday candy, that I find my treasure: a paper sack of tenderly overripe kiwifruit, more than thirty of them, for a mere pittance. I sling it - gently - into my cart and head off in search of steak. Unaccustomed to hurrying, I don't stop to consider what, exactly, I am going to do with nearly three dozen overripe kiwifruit.

It occurs to me that kiwifruit have a lot in common with kittens. Small, fuzzy, beloved by children: they're edible cuteness. Interestingly, kiwifruit are actually berries, hence their other handle, the "Chinese gooseberry."

I like to eat kiwifruit raw, in slices, or diced in fruit salads. I know that if I take the trouble to peel and cut them up, they're one fruit that will not come home in my kids' lunch boxes.

Kiwifruit are high in vitamin C - their tartness gives that away. I didn't realize, however, that they have twice the vitamin C of an orange, or that they're recognized as the most nutrient-dense fruit. Also, a serving of 2 kiwifruit has 4 times more fiber than a cup of chopped celery! Who knew?

Kiwifruit also contain significant amounts of lutein; vitamins E and K; and calcium, folic acid, potassium, iron, magnesium, and copper. A medium kiwifruit has no fat, almost no sodium, 4 grams of fiber, and about 45 calories. Be still my beating heart!

And what did I do with three dozen kiwifruit that turned out to be too soft to eat sliced or diced? Some, I blended into smoothies, with yogurt, orange juice, frozen strawberries from my backyard strawberry patch, and a bit of honey. Others, I blended into kiwi daquiris, both virgin and naughty. But by far the best thing I did with those kiwis was turn them into a wonderful emerald-green sorbet. The pulpy texture of the overripe kiwis turned out to be perfect for this recipe. If you can, get your kiwifruit on the soft side for sorbet - the end result will be a sorbet that is dense and smooth, almost creamy, with no iciness at all.

Kiwifruit Sorbet

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
10 large kiwifruit, very ripe
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt

1. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let sugar syrup boil for 1 minute, stirring; then remove from heat. Let cool over an ice bath, or place in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.

2. Peel and quarter kiwifruit; add to food processor with cold sugar syrup, lime juice, vanilla, and salt. Process until smooth puree. Chill kiwifruit puree until cold.

3. Stir puree and add to ice-cream machine; process according to manufacturer's directions. Freeze finished sorbet for at least 3 hours prior to eating.

Makes about 1 quart; adapted from Bruce Weinstein's The Ultimate Ice Cream Book.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Plum Ginger Sorbet

Plums are an interesting fruit, aren't they? The best ones are a study in contradictions: sweet and tart; juicy and yielding beneath a taut skin. And there are so many varieties - my farmstand market had five or six at last count.

My son loves plums, particularly the purplish black ones with the deep red interiors. So, in an effort to encourage my teenager's enthusiasm for snacking on something that is so blatantly good for him, I went a little overboard and bought way more than could be consumed in a reasonable amount of time, even by a perpetually hungry teenage boy. Unfortunately, plums don't stay at the peak of ripeness forever. And a plum on the downward side of ripe is something of a turnoff - they have a tendency to get mealy and that's nobody's idea of good eating. (Well, except for our resident guinea pig, who was transported with delight at having a plum all to himself.)

So, faced with a couple of extra pounds - told you I went overboard - of really nice but rapidly aging plums, I decided to make sorbet. (You know what they say: If life hands you plums . . .) Why add ginger? Because ginger is just such a great complement to plums. Don't believe me? Check out the ingredient lists on some of those Asian-style salad dressings.

You can peel the plums, of course, but this requires blanching them and who wants to do that? Besides, leaving the peels on results in the most amazing color. Instead, just sieve the plum puree to remove the larger pieces of skin. You'll be glad you didn't waste the time blanching and peeling. Enjoy!

Plum-Ginger Sorbet

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and quartered
6 to 8 purple plums
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
Pinch kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons honey, optional

1. Make a simple syrup flavored with ginger: Combine the water and the sugar in a small saucepan and add the ginger. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let boil one minute, then remove from heat. Cool syrup completely in refrigerator or over an ice bath. Remove and discard ginger pieces.

2. Pit and slice plums. [Recipe note: You should have about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of plum slices.] Place plum slices in food processor with syrup, lemon juice, and salt. Process until pureed. Taste at this point. If too tart, add honey to taste and process again to combine. Pour through a wire-mesh sieve to remove larger pieces of skin.

3. Chill plum puree for a couple of hours. Pour into ice-cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. When finished, place in chilled freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid. Freeze at least 3 hours before eating.

Makes about 1 quart

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Savory Avocado Salad

This past Mother's Day, I planted a little garden. Nothing fancy, just a tiny plot designed to be manageable for someone born without benefit of green thumbs. Vining tomatoes, eggplants, bush beans, herbs. Radishes, carrots, and a single St. Nickolaus grape tomato plant.

I did all the things gardeners are supposed to do: pull weeds, stake slender stems, venture out at midnight with tweezers and flashlight to pull an appalling array of slugs and bugs off my basil. And now, lo and behold, it's starting to pay off!

What an amazing thing it is to put a few minuscule seeds and shivering seedlings into the chilly soil of spring and see, just a few weeks later, an actually edible bounty emerge. It's so strange and wonderful to be this involved in process of feeding myself and my family. (Slugs and bugs notwithstanding.)

St. Nickolaus grape tomatoes growing . . .

I've reached an uneasy peace with the bunnies, who have pretty much left my new crop of cilantro alone in favor of the carrots that emerged once the radishes finished. I don't know what the groundhog eats, but he's there to stay, too. The giant moles have uprooted two pepper plants and an eggplant, but they supposedly keep the beetle population down, so they're here to stay as well. The hornworms . . . well, that's a story for another day. Suffice it to say, the good Lord has provided this organic gardener with a solution to at least one of her pestilence woes - no tweezers required.

Ripening on a sunny countertop . . .

Avocados patiently waiting for the tomatoes ripen

And finally, with ripe tomatoes and cilantro from my own garden, a basket of ripe avocados, and sweet red onion on hand, this salad came together for lunch one afternoon. In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, you might like to do as we did: Just mash the salad up with a little jalapeno sauce and use it to top off grill-sizzling cheddar burgers.

Ah, the joys of gardening.

Savory Avocado Salad

2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
Bibb lettuce leaves, hollowed tomatoes, cilantro sprigs for serving (optional)

1. Peel and pit avocados. Dice and place in medium mixing bowl. Halve grape tomatoes and add to avocados in bowl.

2. Sprinkle chopped onion and cilantro over the avocados and tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir gently to combine.

3. Cover salad and let stand for 30 minutes - in refrigerator or at room temperature - to allow flavors to blend. Serve on lettuce leaves or in hollowed-out tomatoes. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro, if desired.

Mixing it up . . .

Monday, August 11, 2008

Crepes with Honey-Almond Ricotta and Dark Cherries

My 12-year-old daughter, by most accounts (not just Mom's, Dad's, and the grandparents'), is a mature, witty child with very few food hangups and an adventurous palate. So you might reasonably think she would be an ideal dining-out companion. Alas, you would be mistaken. Place a menu in front of this girl and it all breaks down. My otherwise delightful child is no picnic when it comes to ordering off the menu in a restaurant. Inevitably, she's simply undone by free will, a victim of the classic human condition.

To be fair, this crisis is always worst at breakfast. Perhaps it's a low-blood-sugar thing, or maybe it's just that the stress of making a choice is compounded by the sweet-versus-savory dilemma that has to be conquered first. Who knows? Not I, not she. But what I do know is that between the time the hostess drops the menus on the table and the waitperson returns to take our orders, high drama will ensue. And please, forget about offering helpful suggestions.

So, what I have learned, is that the best choice, for all of us, is no choice for her. My husband or I orders for her. She gets one chance to express a preference, but any waffling immediately overrides this, and then we choose on her behalf. And because we've known her for every minute of her twelve-plus years, we can make a pretty good selection. In fact, she's always, always been satisfied with our choice. (And, I suspect, a little relieved.) Furthermore, once the order is in, my girl is all sweetness and light again.

Case in point, we recently took a family vacation to Boston. (A fine city - we love it.) The restaurant we chose had a limited weekend menu, but a few interesting options. There was waffling, so I went head and ordered crepes for her. Crepes with strawberries and sour cream. She thanked me for making an interesting choice: "Crepes! Who eats crepes for breakfast! I wish we'd gone to Dunkin Donuts."

I explained that crepes were a lovely breakfast food. Like pancakes, but more ladylike, more refined. I suggested one could, in fact, learn a lesson from crepes. My suggested was rejected as unhelpful and provocative. Mild to moderate sulkiness followed. She sulked a little too.

But then, the waitress arrived with plates. I took the crepes and placed them in front of my daughter, lovingly witholding a motherly "I told you so." Oozing with luscious sweetened sour cream and bathed in strawberries and syrup, suddenly crepes seemed like a very good idea. I had a moment of weakness where I considered switching plates with her - whole-grain pancakes being a very good object lesson in this case - but I settled for a single heavenly bite. And later, a demure apology: "I didn't realize what they'd be like. I was confusing the crepes with tuilles." (Yes, and how could I not forgive this child?)

So, what lesson was learned from this experience? Not, as hoped, "When in doubt just listen to Mom," but "Hey, crepes are pretty amazing." Needless to say, the requests began pouring in the minute we got home.

Now, I will confess here that I'd never made crepes before. Why? Frankly, for the same reason I've never frenched a lamb chop: I was intimidated. Pancakes, fritters, flapjacks - bring 'em on! Grease up the skillet, dump in little piles of batter, fry-flip-fry, voila! Crepes, on the other hand, are delicate, lithe things that require specialized techniques and equipment. Or so I thought.

I was wrong. My crepes did not require anything special at all. I used my smallest frying pan, made one at a time (they cook VERY quickly), and the whole batch was done in about half the time it takes to make as many pancakes. I am now a crepe-making devotee. And if you give this recipe a go, I think you will be too. Enjoy!

Basic Crepes with Honey-Almond Ricotta and Dark Cherries

For the Crepes:
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (skim okay)
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil or melted butter

For the Honey-Almond Ricotta Filling:
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup light sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 tablespoons honey

For the Cherries:
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups frozen dark sweet cherries, thawed, with juices

1. To make the crepe batter: Place eggs, milk, flour, salt, and oil or melted butter in blender container and process until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare filling and cherries. [Recipe notes: Feel free to replace up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour.]

2. To make the filling: In a small nonreactive mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, sour cream, almond extract, and 2 tablespoons of honey. Stir until well mixed and set aside.

3. To prepare the cherries: Drizzle 2 tablespoons honey over cherries in a mixing bowl; stir to coat cherries. Set aside.

4. To make the crepes: Heat a crepe pan or small skillet over medium-high heat. Brush or spray pan with vegetable oil and pour about 1/4 cup of batter into center of pan. Swirl the pan so that the batter coats the bottom. After about 2 to 3 minutes, carefully work a thin spatula under the crepe and flip it. Cook for another minute, then slide onto a serving platter. Keep warm in 170 degree F oven until all the batter has been cooked. [Recipe notes: Place small sheets of waxed paper between crepes to keep them from sticking to each other. I laid them out on the plate like a three-leaf clover, then placed a sheet of waxed paper on top, then another layer, and so forth.]

Stack the crepes between layers of waxed paper . . .

5. To assemble the crepes: Warm ricotta mixture and cherries in the microwave (or place bowls in the oven to warm while you are making the crepes). Lay a crepe out on a flat work surface. Spoon a dollop of the warmed ricotta mixture onto the crepe and top with a spoonful of cherries and juice. Fold up the two sides, dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve immediately.

Spoon warmed ricotta filling and cherries over the crepe . . .

Leftover unfilled crepes may be frozen for future use. Simply layer them with sheets of waxed paper, wrap in plastic wrap and then in foil. Use within a couple of weeks for best results.


Serves 4 to 6

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mixed Berry Yogurt Cheese

If you've never had it before, you might find yourself struggling to work up any degree of enthusiasm for a spread with a name like "yogurt cheese." That's okay. My own son, who wolfs this stuff down, finds the "cheese" part of the name a bit of a turnoff and insists that I refer to it only as "Yogurt Fruit Spread." So, if you find that a more palatable term, by all means, go with it. ("A rose by any other name . . .")

Yogurt cheese (aka, "Yogurt Spread") has a pretty low profile in the American mainstream. And that's too bad. So let's change that, starting now.

What is yogurt cheese? Essentially, it's yogurt with most of its liquid removed. The taste is pleasantly tangy, like yogurt's, but the body is smooth and spreadable like that of cream cheese, though much lighter. Neutral on its own, it can be flavored with either sweet or savory agents, so the variations are nearly endless. If pressed, I'd say it's sort of a cross between a non-goaty goat cheese, a Neufchatel, and a bowl of Greek-style yogurt. But really, it's in a class by itself.

I'd never heard of yogurt cheese before I started making my own yogurt. And although you can certainly make it with storebought yogurt, I haven't. This means that my yogurt cheese, made from yogurt that contains no pectin or gelatin, may turn out a bit differently than yours, but if anything, cheese made from storebought yogurt that contains these additives (and even big-name organic versions typically do) will probably set up firmer.

Plan on 24 hours for this to release enough liquid to spread well, though you can let it go a bit longer if it's still releasing significant moisture. Factors such as whether or not you've used frozen berries and if your yogurt contains stabilizers will affect the rate at which your cheese sets up. You can dip a spreading knife into the yogurt cheese at twelve-hour intervals and see how it's coming along. If it's still fairly loose, with a lot of moisture, re-cover the sieve and return it to the fridge for another few hours. [Note: As with regular yogurt, it will continue to exude moisture indefinitely, but once the cheese is spreadable, it's ready.]

Checking the texture of the cheese
. . . this batch still has a lot of moisture in it

This is a really good recipe for kids (okay, for everyone else, too). Loaded with calcium, low in fat (if you use low-fat or nonfat yogurt), and full of the antioxidants that berries provide, this sweet, healthy spread is a perfect topping for bagels, muffins, graham crackers or Nilla Wafers, or fruit slices.

Mixed Berry Yogurt Cheese

  • 11/2 cups plain yogurt

  • 1/2 cup mixed berries, fresh or frozen

  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

  • 2 tablespoons honey

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, breaking up the berries a bit as you stir.

Adding the frozen mixed berries . . .

Drizzling the honey over the berries and yogurt . . .

. . . and mixing.

2. Line a sieve or small colander with a triple layer of coffee filters or white paper towels and set it over a bowl.

3. Spoon yogurt mixture into the sieve. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Check the bowl a couple of times during that period, and discard the liquid that has accumulated there.

4. When the yogurt mixture appears relatively firm, like cream cheese, and there's only a tablespoon or two of liquid in the bowl, your yogurt cheese is ready.

5. Spoon the cheese out of the sieve and into a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. The cheese will keep for 3 to 4 days. [Note: Any liquid that continues to accumulate around the cheese can be gently blotted off with a folded paper towel.]

Yield: About 1 cup yogurt cheese



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