Month: August 2011

Bacon Caprese or Make Cheese While the Sun Shines

Bacon Caprese or Make Cheese While the Sun Shines

While food trends wax and wane (Remember cupcakes?), I never-ha!-fall into the kitschy traps other foodies do.  I did make gingerbread cupcakes for Super Bowl a couple of years ago, but I would have done that anyway.  And you aren’t reading about pork belly here, though I’ve nothing against it.  But I fall off the wagon a bit about bacon.  While I am definitely NOT a bacon fanatic (and it’s on menus in quite odd places), my husband definitely IS.  But he has been a bacon fanatic since Eisenhower was president.
His favorite movie moment is in “Grumpier Old Men,”

Grandpa: What the… what the hell is this?
John: That’s lite beer.
Grandpa: Gee, I weigh ninety goddamn pounds, and you bring me this sloppin’ foam?
John: Ariel’s got me on a diet because the doc said my cholesterol’s a little too high.
Grandpa: Well let me tell you something now, Johnny. Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack?
John: Bacon.
Grandpa: Bacon! A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha! And they keep dyin’. You know? Sometimes I wonder if God forgot about me. Just goes to show you, huh?
John: What?
Grandpa: Huh?
John: Goes to show you what?
Grandpa: Well it just goes… what the hell are you talkin’ about?
John: Well you said you drink beer, you eat bacon and you smoke cigarettes, and you outlive most of the experts.
Grandpa: Yeah?
John: I thought maybe there was a moral.
Grandpa: No, there ain’t no moral. I just like that story. That’s all. Like that story.

So last week when I shelled out the big bucks for a pound of Nueske’s bacon at the butcher counter at Widmer’s for the summer BLTs, I didn’t blink.  In fact, I kept cooking that bacon daily to make sure it was all used before any stray pieces went bad.  You know how good your house smells when you cook bacon (Try it when you have a for sale sign out front..)?  Well, my house still smells like that.  The scent is fixed in the rugs and on the dogs, who can’t stop walking around with their noses up in the air.  Dave acts the same way.  And if there’s a fine layer of fat sprayed all over my stove, he doesn’t wipe it up.  “A little bacon grease never hurt anything.”

In the middle of that bacon for breakfast, bacon for lunch spree came a trip to the Saturday Farmer’s Market in downtown St. Paul.  For all of you who’ve never been, this is the most beautiful market in the United States.  The food that you can’t buy there doesn’t need to be bought.

Spring market bounty

Perhaps I exaggerate.  But not by much.  At the market, I gently loved a few more Minnesota tomatoes enough to coax them out of their owner’s hands and came home to make cheese for caprese.

(See how on my Dinner Place blog.)  But that bacon called.  And before I knew it, I’d fried up the last of it to tuck in between the caprese layers.  Not only that, I threw the haricots verts in a pot of boiling water for two minutes, drained them and topped them with a dop of herb butter.  (Here’s how Ina does this. Why should I reinvent the recipe?)  I couldn’t resist making a beautiful salad of the entire thing with the beans in the middle.

I don’t see a reason for putting up a recipe for the caprese either; here’s one from epicurious.com. Just add the bacon!   I will say this about my caprese:  I place the salad on a bed of spinach and I squeeze lemon over all and dust the whole thing liberally with ground sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.  I then drizzle not too much of my balsamic vinaigrette over everything but the green beans, which are already well-seasoned with the herb butter.  Lemon on the beans–yes.  One of my favorites.

 

Love summer, my friends.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

The end of August isn’t the end of summer, but there are signs.  The flowers look too tired to continue blooming, despite fertilizing and watering.  The road crews appear in a big hurry to get it all done.  There are Christmas decorations out in a few stores.  I’m looking for a guy to plow my driveway.  Acorns are dropping and the squirrels are very squirrely. The big tubs of mums are for sale at Ace.  Our floor refinishing (and installation in the kitchen) is scheduled so that we can do it while windows can remain open.  And, of course, in Minnesota, it’s State Fair Week!  (Half a million sticks for food used so far.  And if you don’t know what that is, it’s anything edible that will stay on a stick.  See what you dream up.)

Neighbor’s Victory Garden (from my driveway)

I close today with lovely news!  I am now newly employed as a choir director at Prospect Park United Methodist Church, which is a church just across the line in Minneapolis.  I’m thrilled, excited, and don’t have words (right) for how light my heart is.  Watch this space for news of their fine singers and what fun stuff we’re up to.   Thanks be to God.  And:  thanks to all who supported me and prayed for my employment.  Cyberhugs as you
Sing a new song,
Alyce

Pesto, Pistou — Presto!

Pesto, Pistou — Presto!

Whirr, whirr, done.  Talk about no cook.  It’s done PRESTO!

If it’s mid – late summer, I’m gunning for basil.  (If it’s earlier, I’m planting it and watering it.)  I’ve got pots full myself, but I also have to hit the farmer’s market for more.  At a buck for a big bunch, I get arm fulls.

My piano teacher and I hit the farmer’s market.

Here it is taking a bath in my kitchen sink with the Japanese eggplant and yellow zucchini I’m cleaning for the ratatouille I blogged on the  Dinner Place blog (The Solo Cook.)  They really like to get in the tub together.  I loved looking at this gorgeous mix of veg.  Could the colors get any better?

What is pesto?  Lots of you DO know.  But!  If you don’t:
Take the basil, whirr it in the food processor (traditionally mortar and pestle) with lots of garlic, pine nuts and/or walnuts, olive oil, Parmesan, and you have saucy green love.  In Italy, it’s pesto.  In France, pistou.  And it’s Presto! (Very quick, indeed, in the language of music) wherever you make it.

When I decided to blog pesto, I almost didn’t.  Pesto isn’t something new.  It may be four hundred years old in Europe and it’s certainly no culinary upstart in the United States.

The first time I ran across pesto was in the late ’70s in THE SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK (by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin.  Workman, 1979; 362p).  This was a life-changing cookbook not only for me, but for women everywhere who cooked.  If you want to know why, check out the cookbooks that were written and printed before this one.  It’s so important in my life that I have nearly worn out my paperback copy and, while I still use it, bought a hardback copy for a back-up and for my kids later on.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided to just go ahead and put pesto on my roster of blog posts.  How could something I love so much not be here?

I still basically make pesto from that recipe, though I use others, too–the one from THE GOURMET COOKBOOK (edited by Ruth Reichl and published in 2004 by Houghlin Mifflin) comes to mind.  By this time, I’ve adjusted any and all of them to my own tastes (as should you) and am purely and simply summer-happy whenever it’s time to use all that basil. 

Pasta with Pesto….the most popular use, I’ll guess:

Here with 365 (Whole Foods brand) whole wheat pasta

  Other ways to use pesto:

  •  on/in an omelet
  • as a veggie dip
  • on grilled chops
  • as a sauce for fish or chicken
  • on pizza
  • with crackers
  • on grilled vegetables
  • topping lamb chops
  • gracing grilled baguette
  • dribbled on sliced tomatoes or sliced tomatoes and sliced mozzerella in place of basil leaves.

 Or…  well, you go next.  How about in a spoon in your mouth– or mine?

In Italy,  pesto often has cheese in it; in France, not so often.  The French version, pistou, is often used as a condiment at table to, well, to create a different or simply more engaging vegetable soup.  A simple bowl of fresh vegetable soup and a big bowl of pistou on the table.  Everyone helps themselves and no one would deny the pistou makes the meal.  Some folks want a teensy bit and others want a big dollop.  Just for fun, here’s a recipe for Wolfgang Puck’s Soupe au Pistou; this one happens to have tomatoes in the pistou, which also sounds lovely.

By the way, there are those even in the Italian mode that leave the cheese out of the pesto (to keep it bright green) and grate it on top.  There are other purists who only make the pesto from tiny, fresh basil plants with just six or so leaves and use much less basil.  Si place; do as you like! (I use the big plants that I love to grow in the garden all summer.)  The addition of pine nuts to Italian pesto is a fairly new thing; people couldn’t afford them in years past and used walnuts–as did many Americans.  I use a combination of the two as pine nuts are nearly $30. a pound.

No matter how you make it or with what (and you can make it with all kinds of herbs or greens besides basil), enjoy the bounty.  And, by the way, pesto freezes.  So, if you can, buy extra basil, make copious amounts of pesto (freeze lots) and take some out for New Year’s Day for a quick whiff of summer.

By the way, you can buy ready-made pesto.  It’s pricey, though, and it’s not as good.  Nor does it keep.  So if you buy a quart at Costco, you better plan on eating a quart right quick.  Better to make it. Yourself.  In July or August.  And be….happy.  Here’s how:

Pesto a la Alyce, The Silver Palate, and The Gourmet Cookbook makes 2 cups

2 cups fresh basil leaves, clean and very dry  (pat carefully with light weight cotton or paper towels)
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
1/2 c pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the basil, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor (if using a blender, do half at a time) and pulse til well chopped and combined.  With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil.   Shut the machine off and add the cheese.  Stir well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir again.

I never told you this:  if the pesto seems a tad tame, dot in a few drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce, but don’t tell anyone.  Definitely not in the regular pesto regime. Don’t over do it; just give it a bit of body.

Keeps in frig (cover with plastic wrap right on the surface of the pesto) 2-3 days if not using immediately.  Freeze for up to six months.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

Long beans grown by our local farmers:  saute or use in stir fry.

The babies.

Above:  Minnesota summer wildflowers.

Coming up soon….ratatouille a la Minnesota

Sing a new song, Alyce

Fried Cheese-Snake Squash Salad or I’m Sure This Has a Better Name

Fried Cheese-Snake Squash Salad or I’m Sure This Has a Better Name

 Last Friday night was a use-what’s-on-hand night:

  • The first of the Minnesota corn (very tiny kernels, but yummy)
  • One of the pork tenderloins I’d gotten on sale at Kowalski’s (froze 4 of them in April)
  • Salad makings that wouldn’t be good the next day. I sautéed the greens with garlic and lots of fresh herbs:
My own garden herbs:  marjoram, sage, chives, tarragon, basil, and thyme.

I added raisins and chopped cashews to the sautéed greens.

The first of our tomatoes went in at the end.

 Despite heat and humidity that all Minnesota is ready to get rid of, we ate outdoors under our big maple tree that reaches toward the house and garage, creating a canopy to cover the patio.  That soft, shady spot is often the coolest place anywhere and you can bet I’ve looked.  Along with everyone else on Wheeler Street.

Next night, a quick look-see in the frig assured me I had enough to throw together some sort of salad as I had a snake squash (can’t find right name) from my victory garden neighbor:

Tastes like a cross between a mild zucchini and yellow (summer) squash.

Some asparagus (now out of season, but still my favorite) was sagging in there and a little bit of the pork tenderloin called me.  What really appealed was the rest of my fresh cheese (blogged at Dinner Place), which I knew would fry.   Could there be anything bad about fried cheese?
 

Alyce’s 2-1 cheese

 What about a salad of greens, sautéed squash and asparagus, with avocado, blueberries, and thinly sliced pork tenderloin topped with fried cheese?  With a perky, ramped up orange vinaigrette?  I was sold.  Moral of story:  make up your salad as you go along.

I cooked the squash and asparagus in a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and set that aside.

Sliced up my avocado.  Creamy and fatty, it would be a good foil for my spicy greens.

Blueberries for color, texture, contrast of taste, and sweetness.

About 3-4 oz cooked pork tenderloin–or how much of whatever meat you have.

My homemade cheese fried in olive oil and black pepper.  Dave was so excited.

Et voila–

 Fried Cheese Snake Squash Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

MAKE YOUR VINAIGRETTE FIRST:

Place the following ingredients in a small jam jar, close tightly with lid, and shake well until emulsified. I like to do this to “America” from West Side Story:  Shake to this rhythm..123,123, 123. (Thanks, Leonard Bernstein.) Set aside while you make the salad.

  • 1T fresh orange juice
  • 1/4t kosher salt
  • 1/8 t freshly ground pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 t honey
  • 1/2-1 t minced shallot (or garlic)
  • 2T extra virgin olive oil.

MAKE THE SALAD:

  •  2 T olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup each:  sliced zucchini (or snake or summer squash) and  chopped asparagus (or green beans)
  • Kernels from 1 ear of fresh cooked corn (you can cook it in unshucked in the microwave.)
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
  • 6-8 cups baby greens, your choice
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs of your choice, optional
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts chopped
  • 2-4 ounces sliced, cooked pork tenderloin, steak or chicken
  • 2T fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and Freshly ground pepper
  • 6-8 small pieces fresh cheese
  • Orange vinaigrette (above)
  1. In a large skillet, sauté squash and asparagus in oil over medium heat for five minutes.  Dust with salt and pepper.
  2. Remove veggies from pan and place in a large bowl.  (Keep pan out; you’ll use it for the cheese)
  3. To the squash and asparagus, add the corn, chopped avocado, blueberries, walnuts and pork, keeping the ingredients at the center of the bowl.
  4. Around the pile of veggies and meat, place the salad greens and fresh herbs.
  5. Set aside or in refrigerator.
  6. In the skillet, pour another tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat once more. Grind some black pepper into the oil as the pan heats.  Place the cheese slices in the pan and cook a few minutes or until nicely browned.  Turn carefully with a spatula and let the other side brown.
  7. Take the salad and drizzle with the lemon juice.  Dust the whole thing with some salt and pepper.  
  8. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and top with the browned cheese. 
  9. Eat immediately.  Won’t keep.
  10. Take downstairs and watch movies.   
Wine:  The Wine Thief  (2 doors west of me on St. Clair)  has a lovely, palepalepale rosé called “Whispering Angel.  Drink it.
  

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

Fern garden.
On the wall ladies’ room in restaurant The Angry Trout
In our south garden

Heavy, heavy hydrangeas after rain– next to drive

As my mom would say, “Morning, Glory.”
This incredible flower showed up in my corner garden yesterday.
My pharmacist’s assistant tells me this is a perennial hibiscus.

I’ve been making blueberry jam, actually blueberry-orange conserve.
Miss Gab

Tucky-Bucky

Hot and muggy.  Lots of storms and rain.  Tomatoes are coming. The first ones weren’t so good.  Wonder if it’s like pancakes–throw out the first ones?

Sing a new song; enjoy August,
Alyce