Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another Saturday with not just any Heirloom Tomato Salad

Heirloom tomatoes, burrata, fresh made croutons and fresh herbs.  Happiness!
I was going to my sister and brother-in-law's for a BBQ and decided i had to give the heirloom tomatoes another try; they're everywhere i look.  Perhaps i was disappointed with them earlier in the summer, it may have just been too soon.  I decided to make a salad inspired by a recipe in Suzanne Goin's, Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  Actually, my salad was more than "inspired", it was the salad from Suzanne Goin's cookbook, other than mine had all large heirlooms chopped - no baby tomatoes and no slices.

Fresh organic heirloom tomatoes, opal basil and bermuda onions

First thing Saturday morning I ventured to the Santa Monica farmers market.  This is one serious farmers market.  Usually i go on Thursday to the Century City market, but you can't compare them.  I guess it's also two very different crowds and needs.  But i have a new home for Saturday mornings.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the varieties the Saturday organic market offers.  Cheese!  I actually bought curds and don't have to make my own.  I bought some beautiful blackeyed beans in different color hulls.  Let's see if i can remember to photo them before cooking.  If so, you'll see these beauties soon.

The salad was delicious!  As my father said, "it's a hit!"  The dressing is one that i'll have to make for a variety of salads.  It was easy and has a perfect punch for those times you want something a bit more than olive oil & balsamic, yet it didn't distract from any of the deliciousness that the tomatoes, the croutons or the creamy burrata brought to the dish.  In fact, my mother was wowed by the dressing and said she would love some to have for other salads.  Yes, i'll now have to find some cute bottles to make this dressing even more special.

Here's the recipe with my adaptations --

  • 1/3 loaf rustic white bread
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon oregano leaves
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, assorted sizes, shapes, and colors
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel
  • 2 tablespoons sliced opal basil
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green basil
  • 2 pounds mozzarella cheese (I used mostly buffalo and a little burrata)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced bermuda onions or shallots
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Salad Assembly -
Core the heirloom tomatoes.  Cut them into wedges or large chunks.  Season with the fleur de sel and some pepper.  Spoon a little of the vinaigrette over them, and scatter a little basil on top.

Cut the burrata and buffalo mozzarella into large chunks.
Add the thinly sliced onion.
Toss in the vinaigrette
Gently toss in the croutons.
Scatter the parsley and remaining basil leaves over the top of the salad.
Burrata!  My absolute favorite.

Directions for Croutons -
Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Cut the crust off the bread (i like the crust, so i left the crust on) and tear the remaining loaf into rustic 1-inch pieces.  Using your hands, toss the pieces with 2 tablespoons olive oil, squeeze the bread gently to help it absorb the oil.  Toast on a baking sheet 12 to 15 minutes, stirring a few times, until the croutons are golden brown and crispy on the outside. 
Fresh made croutons

Directions for Vinaigrette -
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the oregano, garlic, and a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt to a paste.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the vinegars.  Whisk in the remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil and taste for balance and seasoning.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, place the garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle the salt over it.  Using the side of your knife, smash the garlic and salt together until you get a paste.  Then cut the oregano very finely into the paste.)
The beginning of a delicious vinagerette

Bon appetito!

Thanks Audrie & Georg!  A happy bar-b-que was had by all.  Oops, until the kitchen sink decided it was too full and had enough!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A healthy Saturday lunch...

I had Rho and Izzy over for lunch and immediately knew what i wanted to make -- the vegetable torte posted by both Stacey Snacks and Proud Italian Cook.  It sounded easy and healthy, while at the same time is apparently quite a presentation.  I was at the Century City farmers market on Thursday and picked up eggplants, squash and tomatoes, and then went to the market and got broccoli, red peppers, zucchini, shallots and whatever else looked good to be grilled.  Let me tell you, it does come out beautiful (although Stacey's topping looks much more delicious than mine.  I didn't both drizzling olive oil on top of the breadcrumbs -- i thought there was enough oil in the dish.  My mistake.), but is definitely a time consuming project.

I picked up Parmigiano Reggiano which i put into a middle layer, and on top -- just beneath the breadcrumbs.  Rho & Izzy thought it was very good, but they both thought it could have used more layers of cheese, which might also hold it together a little better.  For me, this meant it was healthier than it could have been.

I found the breadcrumbs got a bit lost among all those vegetables, but they did add a nice crunch.  I also enjoyed the tomatoes not being grilled, but just cooked into the dish.  Added a slightly different texture.

An assortment of fresh veggies

Ingredients -
  • 2 large italian eggplant
  • Vegetables
  • More vegetables
  • and even more vegetables
  • 1 cup of caramelized onions
  • 1 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 1 cup of fresh ricotta cheese or mozzarella*
  • 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 4 Roma tomatoes (not grilled)
  • fresh basil leaves
  • salt & pepper to taste
*Although i didn't use ricotta or mozzarella when i made this dish, i would definitely use it next time around.  I would combine it with the parmigiano on probably 2 or 3 separate layers.  I grilled all of the vegetables separately the night before.  While grilling, i seasoned the vegetables with salt & pepper and fresh chopped basil.

I then layered everything in a 9" spring form pan.  As you can see, my veggies didn't layer quite as neatly as Stacey's or Marie's.  Perhaps i grilled the veggies a bit too long.  One piece of advice is to use the eggplant on the bottom and top layer.  The only thing i put on top of the top layer of eggplant were grilled shallots, grated Parmigiano and the breadcrumbs.  Oh, and a drizzle of olive oil will make the breadcrumbs golden brown.

Bake in a 350°F. oven for about 45 minutes. 
Let cool for about 15 minutes before removing the side of the pan.  It will be much easier to cut.  Oh... and use a serrated knife!

The ultimate protein 
   (part chicken, turkey, dinosaur)...

I wanted to serve a protein with the vegetable torte.  I was tempted to make grilled shrimps, but after seeing Marie's roasted chicken, i just had to give my hand at this one.  I had never made a roasted chicken, and i figured we could have roasted chicken served room temperature.  I bought what i'm thinking was a cross between a chicken and a turkey, or maybe some kind of prehistoric dinosaur.  This chicken was enormous!  Unfortunately, i forgot to see how much it weighed, but it took just over 3 hours to cook.  When i took the chicken out of the oven, Rho commented that she was surprised i cooked it breast side down.  Much to my surprise, i somehow mistook the chicken's "rump" for the breasts.  Unfortunately, the very crispy skin was the underside of the chicken.  Oh well, once you cut it apart, nobody would know the difference.

Crispy and filled with aroma, but cooked upside down.
 I slathered it with olive oil that i infused with lemon zest and chopped rosemary, and then seasoned with kosher salt and pepper.  I then stuffed the cavity with a couple lemon halves, a head of garlic and some rosemary.  Rarely have i had a chicken where i taste much flavor; i sometimes think it's more of the aromas that surround the chicken.  I was hoping to have plenty of "aromas" surrounding my chick-turk-asaurous.   I think it was good, but not outrageously delicious.  (But is any roasted chicken outrageously delicious?)

Side note -- i've now been back to the market and i think the chicken/turkey/dinosaur weighed about 7.5 pounds.  (Not 75 pounds; 7 and one-half pounds.)

Fresh Fruit for dessert --
For dessert, i served green muscato grapes, white figs that i lightly sauteed in a balsamic, and blackberries.  I'm just learning to enjoy figs.  I LOVE the dried variety, and fig jams too, but the raw figs -- not so much.  
Green muscato grapes, blackberries, and white figs sauteed in balsamic.

Unfortunately the foods didn't turn out quite as delicious as i had hoped.  Maybe this is a sign i should have done "summer salads" or something chilled.  But regardless, we had a great afternoon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Roasted Tomatoes with Ricotta Cheese and Balsamic

Ever since i can remember i've thoroughly loved ricotta cheese.  But not just any ricotta - i prefer Poly-O ricotta.  Even their "part skim" is very good.  When Amanda worked for me i turned her onto it and i remember she told me her mother bought ricotta as she requested, but she bought Precious brand, which just won't do.  Once a Polly-O girl, always a Polly-O girl.  Um... until you learn to make it yourself.

After completing my new kitchen i thought it would be fun to take a cooking class or two.  I then decided a mozzarella or ricotta cheese making class would be ideal.  Low and behold, HipCooks in West LA had just listed a new class entitled "The Cheese Whiz", where we would learn how to make mozzarella, ricotta, chevre, mascarpone and fromage fort.  I was in heaven!  Not only would i learn to make these two wonderful italian cheeses, but i got mascarpone and goat cheese as a bonus. 

We did a lot with the various cheeses, and i was impressed with how easy it is to make these different cheeses, as well as the lovely hors d'oeuvres we made in order to sample the goods.  I decided that, since this is the height of our tomato season, i would make the roasted tomatoes stuffed with ricotta cheese and then drizzled with a balsamic reduction.  Yummm.  Other than the small amount of fat in the cheese, it's actually a healthy and low calorie dish that can be used as an hors d'oeuvres, a snack, or have one or two along with a green salad and call it lunch!  Also, the nice thing about making ricotta is that you use buttermilk, which contain the enzymes necessary to turn the milk into curds and whey.  No necessary cheese-making enzymes necessary for ricotta.  We'll save those for the mozzarella.

Ingredients and necessities -
  • 1 gallon of organic, whole milk*
  • 1 quart of buttermilk**
  • thermometer
  • a large, non-reactive stock pot that holds at least 8 quarts
  1. Pour both containers of milk into the pot and place on a medium burner.
  2. Slowly and occasionally stir the milk ensuring nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.  Just stir occasionally; you don't want to stir too often.
  3. When the milk gets to about 120°F., you will notice the curds forming.  
  4. The goal is to get the milk to 180° F.
  5. Turn your stove off and remove the pot.
  6. You now have a pot of curds and whey.
  7. Carefully, and with a serrated spoon, scoop out the curds and place into a cheesecloth lined colander or strainer.  Use about 4 or 5 large layers of cheesecloth.  
  8. Gently pull together and twist the top of the cheesecloth so that it compacts the curds (which is now ricotta). 
  9. Place it in the colander or strainer and put that over a bowl in the refrigerator.  
  10. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and then your ricotta is ready to be eaten.
The whey, or liquid extracted from the cheese, is actually an excellent source of protein.

*I tried making this with low fat milk, but i was only able to get about 2 tablespoons of cheese out of a gallon of milk.  Apparently, for this recipe, you must use whole milk.

**Buttermilk is actually a low-fat milk product, and not made from butter.  In fact, it's the remaining liquid after churning milk into butter, which is why you might see very small flecks of yellow in the milk, which are tiny pieces of butter that didn't make it to the top in the skimming process. 
    Bon appetito!

    Ingredients -
    • Any kind of delicious tomato (I find compari, or roma tomoatoes are a great size and work well for roasting.  Heirlooms are too large, although they would be delicious.)
    • fresh oregano or basil
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • kosher salt
    • pepper
    • fresh garlic is optional
    1. Slice the tomatoes in half (lengthwise).
    2. Scoop out the seeds.
    3. Lay the tomatoes face up (scooped out side face up) on a cookie sheet.
    4. Sprinkle the chopped herb, salt and pepper so that each tomato half has a little of each.
    5. If you want the garlic flavor, now's the time to add it.
    6. Brush a little extra virgin olive oil on top of the tomatoes.
    7. Slowly roast in a 300°F. oven for about 4 hours or until the tomatoes look shriveled up enough, yet you don't want them charred. 
    8. After the tomatoes have cooled down, fill each one with some of your homemade, delicious ricotta cheese.
    Over a low heat, pour 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar into a pan, stirring occasionally.  The heat will slowly reduce the liquid, turning the balsamic into a delicious syrup.

    Drizzle a little onto the top of each tomato stuffed with cheese, and enjoy.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Time for Orange Thyme Tea Cake

    I find that summer is ideal for fruity desserts, and i love incorporating herbs in dessert, so this cake sounded perfect for me!  Other than Jessica, who doesn't enjoy a citrus graced dessert on a warm summer day?

    I found this recipe from Lynn Smythe, the herbs & spices feature writer at  With over 90 varieties of herbs and veggies in her organic garden, she sure knows her herbs.  You'll notice i added a bit more of the orange zest and juice, which i figure just enhances the orange taste.  You can stay true to Lynn's recipe or vary it as i did.  In fact, i think this would be delicious with lime or grapefruit (but be sure those devouring the grapefruit variety don't take lipitor since it can cause muscle pain).  I also understand that there are different varieties of thyme, such as orange thyme or lemon thyme.  None of my markets had those interesting varieties, so i used plain ol' fresh thyme.

    Now that i've baked this cake, i must say it's extremely moist.  I'm anxious to hear what my taste-testers think.

    Lots of fresh orange zest and chopped thyme

    Ingredients -
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 cup butter - room temperature
    • 2 eggs - room temperature
    • 2 teaspoons orange zest from one orange
    • 2 tablespoons orange juice from one-half of an orange
    • 2 teaspoons fresh orange thyme leaves

    Directions for the Orange Thyme Tea Cake -
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
    In another bowl, cream the sugar and butter together until well blended.
    Add the eggs, orange zest, orange juice and thyme to the butter/sugar mixture and mix well.
    Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and stir until well blended.
    Pour the batter into a greased and floured nine inch square baking dish.
    Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
    Remove the pan from the oven and poke a bunch of holes in the top of the cake with a fork.
    Immediately pour the glaze over the hot cake and let the glaze thoroughly soak through the cake.
    When cooled to room temperature, cut the cake into approximately 16 pieces turn the cake out of the pan, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar, and enjoy!

    Ingredients for the Orange Glaze -
    • 1/3 cup orange juice
    • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    Directions for the Orange Glaze -
    Place the orange juice and granulated sugar into a small bowl.
    Use a large spoon to mix the ingredients together until all the sugar has been thoroughly dissolved.

    Yummy & Healthy Potato Salad

    While waiting for the butter to soften for a dessert i'm getting ready to make, i decided to put some gorgeous, colorful potatoes to work, but in a healthy way.  I do love potatoes, and find they're very satisfying and can be satiating at any meal.  But the key is to do the potato without butter, sour cream or mayo.  I decided to take some herbs, diced onions, salt and grainy mustard and see what i could do.  I was quite pleased and found this not only delicious, but very easy.

    Various small potatoes
    1/4 cup very finely chopped white onion
    1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar
    1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
    a couple dashes of kosher salt
    12 fresh basil leaves
    12 fresh mint leaves

    In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the whole grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil until emulsified,  Add a dash of kosher salt, and set aside.
    Boil the potatoes until they're barely soft to the touch with a fork.  You don't want them too soft where they'll fall apart, but you don't want them too hard either.
    While the potatoes are warm, slice them into large chunks and lightly salt them.
    Place in a large bowl and add the dressing that you made.  
    Add the onion and herbs.
    Carefully mix so that everything becomes incorporated.

    Bon appetito!

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    Girls' Summer Lunch

    I had two friends over for lunch and wanted to think of something light, yet classic so i could put my own twist on it.  I decided a caprese salad would be ideal since heirloom tomatoes are in the height of their season, and i'm always game for celebrating the delicious tomato.  When i was at the market, the produce man said the heirloom tomatoes were not as good as some years, but the little baby heirlooms were good, so i bought a variety of big and baby heirlooms.  I then decided that i would cut the tomatoes and the buffalo mozzarella and basil and serve it on a bed of wild arugula.  I also decided to grill some white peach slices and throw those into the mix.  I used a delicious store-bought salad dressing -- although i either should have used a bit more of it, or i needed something else with more of a "punch".

    Unfortunately, I found that none of the tomatoes had the delicious sweet taste that heirlooms usually have.  I was very disappointed because i LOVE LOVE LOVE a good tomato.  I even threw a dash of salt on the tomatoes while they sat hoping that the salt would bring out the sweetness.  No such luck.  Overall, it was a pretty bland salad, but i think i'll work on spicing it up for the future since it's overall healthy, easy, and should be delicious.

    Wild arugula.
    Grillin' peaches.  Delish!!!
    A variety of heirloom tomatoes - although this wasn't a great batch.

    Here goes...

    1 package of wild arugula
    3 or 4 large heirloom tomatoes
    (optional - 1 basket of baby heirloom tomatoes)
    2 white peaches (too firm to eat, but perfect for slicing and grilling)
    basil leaves
    Lucini's Fig & Walnut Savory Balsamic, or a vinaigrette of your choice

    I thoroughly washed the arugula and kept it in the fridge while i prepped the rest of the salad.
    Slice the peaches into quarter inch thick slices so that they don't fall apart while you're grilling them.
    Grill the peach slices and set aside.
    Cut the baby heirlooms in half, and slice all the other tomatoes into bite-sized chunks.
    Sprinkle with salt to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes (if there's any sweetness to bring out).
    Chiffonade the basil leaves and mix into the tomato mixture.
    Slice the buffalo mozzarella into bite-sized pieces also.
    I then tossed the arugula with the balsamic vinaigrette and placed the tomatoes and cheese on top. 


    For dessert i decided to serve fresh strawberries and blackberries with my homemade schlag.  Can't go wrong with berries if it's their season.  (Although who would think you could go wrong with heirloom tomatoes?)