26 September 2009

Lunch time

One of my mandates is that the best sandwiches require at least 9 ingredients. When I make a sandwich, I carefully prepare each component, from the perfectly toasted bread to the drained tomato slices seasoned with salt and pepper. Yes, I'm a bit zealous about my mis en place, and it is not unheard of for me to spend 20 minutes composing my lunchtime sandwiches! But lest you think my sandwiches are complicated, let me tell you that my enjoyment comes almost as much from the process of creation as from eating them. I savor the moments of twisting the salt grinder, folding the turkey in just the perfect way over my growing stacked masterpiece, and cutting the sandwich with a darling diagonal cut.

I've got to share my sandwich with you today, because it is bursting with flavor and stars thick, meaty slices of my homegrown tomatoes. My seven tomato plants are just coming in with their luscious fruit now, and they are yielding giant red beauties, many more than 6 inches in diameter!

Erica's Sandwich
Toast sourdough bread until golden, let cool. Meanwhile, thickly slice homegrown tomatoes and remove the watery seeds. Sprinkle with finely ground sea salt. Once toast has cooled, generously spread with Dijon mustard. Layer slices of avocado over, sprinkling with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mash avocado against the toast gently with a fork (so the avocado slices don't come shooting out when you bite into the sandwich), then cover with a thick bed of alfalfa sprouts. Blot tomatoes with a paper towel, then place over the sprouts, sprinkling with more salt and black pepper. Add a couple slices of roasted turkey breast, and top with green leaf lettuce. Mmmm....

Okay, so sometimes salt and pepper each count as an ingredient to get me to my golden-sandwich-number 9.

14 September 2009

Cantaloupe Coolers!

Mmmm, a cool, lightly-sweet treat of a drink! I love this new combination of flavors...and I've been enjoying it a lot lately as a thirst-quencher after gardening in the warm sun or after rock-climbing. It easily transforms into a pleasing happy hour drink, too, by just adding a splash of vodka.

Cantaloupe Cooler

2 cups cubed cantaloupe
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 quart chilled club soda

Puree cantaloupe with an immersion stick blender (which I find makes it easier to chase the unblended chunks of fruit) or in a regular blender. Pour melon into a fine-meshed sieve and collect juice, stirring melon pulp to help release juice. Discard pureed solids. Mix lemon and melon juices together in a pitcher. Chill well. (Can be stored in refrigerator, covered up to 3 days.)

Just before serving, slowly add the juice to the club soda. (Note: avoid pouring the soda into the juice, as this will produce some not-so-pleasant orange foam!)

08 September 2009

Polpette di tacchino con peperonata

Hooked by a beautiful photograph of luscious looking meatballs and intrigued by Gourmet Magazine's unique suite of ingredients, I tried out this tasty recipe for chicken meatballs with roasted red bell peppers. Except I made some alterations and therefore present to you polpette di tacchino con peperonata, aka turkey meatballs with red peppers.

Though baked, these meatballs retain moist interiors while the exterior takes on a tawny roasted color. Paired with soft sweet red peppers dotted with briny capers, this is a delicious combination of flavors and colors! If you work it right, you can get this on the table along with some crusty Italian bread and a green salad for a delicious meal in 45 minutes. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Polpette di tacchino con peperonata
(Turkey meatballs with roasted red peppers)

For peperonata:

3 red bell peppers, cut into 1 1/2" strips
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

For meatballs:

1 cup Italian bread torn into small pieces
1/4 cup milk
4 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 large egg
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper

First make the peperonata:
Preheat oven to 400°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Toss bell peppers with 1 tablespoon oil and sea salt, then roast in a 4-sided sheet pan in lower third of oven, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 35 minutes.

When finished roasting, sprinkle with capers, vinegar, and red pepper flakes and gently toss to distribute over all the peppers.

Make meatballs while peppers roast:
Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to distribute milk and break up the chunks of bread.

Saute pancetta, onion, and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Cool slightly.

Lightly beat egg in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon tomato paste, then gently combine with chicken, pancetta mixture, bread mixture, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. To get the most tender meatballs possible, avoid overworking the mixture. Form 16 meatballs and arrange in a baking dish. Brush the remaining tomato paste over the tops of the meatballs. The brushed tomato paste will add beautiful color to the tops of the baked turkey meatballs.

Bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

While the meatballs are baking, it'd be easy to throw together a salad of shredded carrot, thinly sliced celery and radishes, and red leaf lettuce. The fresh, crunchy salad plus some Italian bread rounds out the polpette and peperonata for a simple and flavorful meal!

06 September 2009


One of the ways I am inspired to cook is by seeing beautiful ingredients. For example, there were four giant, crisp green apples in my fruit bowl, and whenever I looked at them a vision of homemade apple pie kept coming to mind. So I followed the vision and made a pie, just like that. Not because it was Thanksgiving (when I am supposed to crank out three pies) or because anyone asked me to, but simply for the joy of making these fruit into what they wanted to be. I blanched the apple slices before mounding them into the pie shell so that they would be tender and juicy after baking and not crisp and dry (as so often is the case with my apple pies!), and I spiced them up with cinnamon and cardamom.

Then my sister visited and asked me for her traditional birthday banana cream pie. I've been making these banana cream pies for I don't know how many years! I thought I was off the hook this year, with Anna having moved out to Pittsburgh, but when she came in August for a short visit, how could I say no? This year I made it with less filling than usual because she likes a higher crust-to-filling ratio. Plus, that way we all can take bigger slices!

If you are thinking that I'm not a fan of making pies, you're right. I think my main reluctance in making pies comes from having to deal with finicky pie crust and wrestling it into the pie dish without it falling apart on me. However, I've learned that using a food processor, very cold butter, truly ice-cold water, and minimal time processing really helps in getting a tender, flaky crust. To more easily get the dough rolled out and into the pan, I shape the dough into discs (not balls, as some recipes might direct you to do), wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes. (This helps prevent gluten from developing and making your crust rubbery.) Then I roll the dough out into a circle on the plastic wrap itself, invert the pie plate over the rolled-out dough, and then slip my hand under the plastic wrap and flip the pie plate together with dough to get it right side up. After making sure the dough is centered in the plate, I then carefully peel the plastic wrap off of the dough. And there you go!

Do any of you have some great pie-making tips? I'd love to hear from you!