There might not be an easier cookie for changing, dressing up or down, or adding to than a basic shortbread cookie. When it’s Christmas and I need a new cookie, I often give shortbread the nod for just that reason — and because I love it so. What’s not to love? There are few (5) ingredients that go together with no special work or instructions. Chilling time? Sure, but it’s 30 minutes compared to 2 hours for sugar cookies. And shortbread can taste better than sugar cookies, can’t it? Of course it can and it’s perfect with a wee dram some chilly dark night, in case you didn’t know. And thank God it’s getting chilly again.
This week, needing a last cookie to round out a cookie tray for a Friday-night party, I thought I’d make one of my favorite shortbreads. But which one was it? Lemon came to mind, but I’ve only ever done lemon shortbread bars. A fluted cookie sounded right and I knew just the recipe to grab, wrestle with briefly, and know I’d come out with a top-shelf Lemon Shortbread Cookie. I added the word “Barely” to the title as it’s not overly lemon-y. Just enough to still love the shortbread all the while feeling quite happy from the little lemon buzz. Is there anything better than lemon and butter?
A person who loves words is sometimes also an over-thinker. Take this, for example. When I consider the word “tart,” I’m not sure which comes to mind first: “tart” as in a one-crust pie usually baked in a pan with a removable bottom or “tart” as in, “Whooee, boys, those apples got me puckering up” or “tart” as in, “a female who is attractive and has the air of being promiscuous, even if she isn’t.” (Thanks, URBAN DICTIONARY, for that last definition.) Now, part of the problem is the English language. I don’t think “tarte” (tart in French) or “torte” (tart in German) or “tarta” (tart in Spanish) pose quite the same predicament. (Is my verb-subject agreement correct in that last sentence? You decide.) But it might and I just don’t know it. While I speak a little of all three of those languages (I can order a glass of white wine in nearly any tongue), fluent I’m not. This week’s post, all about a plum tart that needed baking one afternoon, had my brain not only trying to figure out a recipe for the darned thing, but also kept me awake (well, perhaps for a moment or two…) considering the word, “tart.”
Last week, while working on my post “Cheep Eats” (sic), I got on a roll cooking chicken drumsticks, my very favorite part of chicken. I kept thinking about a big baked casserole of whole chicken pieces and rice I often made when feeding our family of six. Occasionally I’d swap in pork chops for the chicken. And while I still have that recipe in my now worn BETTY CROCKER COOKBOOK (I don’t see the exact one on the internet despite looking), I knew it needed a big update. I no longer cook with dry soup mixes very often and CURSES! my oven had died, so a new version had to work on top of the stove. I wanted bunches of vegetables included to make dinner a breeze. Is there anyone who doesn’t like a one-pot, whole meal dinner? What I had in mind was a chicken-rich, herby rice pilaf full of those veggies and with plenty of room for herb or cheese garnishes at the end. I know it’s not quite fall, but I’m in the mood for cozy food and this hit the spot!
No matter where you live or what your food budget, you’ve been affected by the sweeping rise in costs at the grocery stores. In the U.S., the basic increase is at about 10% over the last year — somewhat less for produce and somewhat more for meat. To make it through the check-out line without crying, folks have resorted to all sorts of strategies, many of which include reducing meat purchases much of the time. (I’m a constant store cart snooper and am both amazed and saddened by by what shoppers have resorted to in order to feed their families.) While I’ve got the cash to feed our small family of two plus doggies, I, too, have been forced to cut back or at least look at the best buys to keep us fed. Chicken is always a hugely popular dinner yet the ubiquitous boneless breasts many people (not me) have lived on are now sometimes simply out of sight. I did just hear their prices seem to be beginning to drop; thank goodness. What’s available for a song (Why is a song cheap?), however, are the drumstick portions of chicken legs and how wonderful, how easy, and how delectable they are. Chicken legs are not just for kids any longer!! I’ve got a few ways to show you to cook and serve them, including the simplest way, which is to only brown them stove top and finish them in the oven. Sure there are sauces or rubs and great sides like grilled corn or a filling vegetable salad (see above) and only you know exactly how YOU’d want to eat them.
Today, in Colorado Springs, we have a high of 68 degrees F (20 C) with (praise God) rain. It’s by no means the end of summer, but is for sure the harbinger of fall. Our jeans and fleeces never get put away as they do in Chicago or Minneapolis because we never know if we’ll have that bizarre August snow or just the run of the mill welcome and chilly summer evening when we sip a little stronger something out at the fire pit watching the stars. (Remember watching the stars?)
This time of the year, we’re so happy with our Palisades peaches, Rocky Ford cantelope and watermelon, Pueblo or Hatch chiles, jalapeños, home grown tomatoes, fresh herbs, and Olathe sweet corn that sometimes we celebrate our soon-to-end warm weather by making dinner out of just those ingredients. A few additions like salt and pepper, arugula, Sherry vinegar, goat or mozzarella cheese, and maybe a little oil make the meal just what it ought to be. One night there’s a version starring ruby red watermelon and the next day it’s Halloween-orange cantelope instead; sometimes a berry of some sort gets thrown in. I call it, “The Ever-Changing Salad,” not because it must change, but only because by nature, it just does. And we’re so glad of that.
On long days of cooking or testing recipes, I’m blessed to have a TV in my kitchen and I often have it tuned to PBS: Create TV. I’m not that picky; I leave it on and whatever happens happens. It may be Rick Steves. A stellar quilter whose name I can’t quite remember. Sicilian chef Nick Stellino. Cool travel woman Samantha Brown. And if God is good– really good — Jacques Pépin may make an appearance. Of course, I live for that moment and stop what I’m doing to watch. So maybe I AM picky. One day, making dinner awaiting my husband’s return from building a house for Habitat for Humanity , my friend Jacques came on making a duck breast salad. (Don’t we all feel we’re friends with Chef Jacques Pépin?! I know I do.)
For those of us who live in Colorado –and lots of other places, too — late summer is indeed a special time because…peaches. Palisades peaches (mostly known as Colorado peaches in other states) are some of the best examples of this gorgeous juicy fruit anywhere. Our peaches are only a bit smaller than their California cousins and perhaps a tad more tender than their Georgia sisters, and that’s what makes them oh-so-special. There is, to me, the tiniest edge of lemon in our local fruit; the acid helps make them even more pleasing. They are, as you’d guess, best eaten out of hand but when you’re flush with peaches (oh, please, God, let that happen to me), there are a few other ways to enjoy them! Pies, cobblers, salsa, cheesecake, and ice cream come to mind–but there’s also one of Alyce’s newest favorites...Peach Scones. Why shouldn’t Palisades peaches make an appearance in breakfast, brunch, and tea-time pastries?
If you’re lucky enough to spend a little summertime in Europe, and particularly in France, you might see quite a stunning visual array of savory tarts, quiche, pizza, pissaladiére, Flammkuchen, Zwiebelkuchen, and many other pastries in bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. The pastry or crust fillings may include a little bacon or anchovy here and there, but often as not vegetables and/or cheese are the superstars. Baked before the day gets hot or in a blissful outdoor oven, these tasty light meals are the perfect hot weather treats served warm or at room temperature on their own or with a crisp green salad on the side. A little white wine? But of course.
Here in the states, we’re typically more into pizza across the board (a few quiches, too, I’ll admit) but lately I’ve been spying — and maybe you have, too –quite a few Tomato Pies showing up here, there, and everywhere while the ruby red tomatoes are coming in hot and heavy. (I will have to make one as they feature tomatoes and mayo–one of my warm weather favorite combos.) My tomatoes here in Colorado are still just barely ripening — and they’re all of the cherry or grape variety given our short growing season. But a slew of sweet Camparis on my counter found me searching for a French-style tomato tart I remembered seeing somewhere. But where? A little google mining brought me to Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa website and a reminder about Anna’s Tomato Tart, which is in Ina’s COOKING FOR JEFFREY book — right on my own shelf! Now I didn’t particularly want a tomato-ONLY tart, but rather had in mind something with a sort Provençal feel that included olives, fennel, mushrooms, peppers, and more. Anna’s tart would definitely serve as my springboard. Scroll down to read up on the late cook-caterer-writer, Anna Pump and her great store on Long Island– Loaves and Fishes.Links to other savory tart recipes included there, too.
Bruschetta (broo-SKET-ta), the incomparably attractive Italian appetizer, is simply too big of a starter come the dog days of summer. I mean, it’s like eating pizza for hors d’oeuvres before Thanksgiving dinner when the temps are 95 F in the shade–like today. Typically grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped silky ruby-ripe tomatoes and a scatter of fresh basil slivers, I like to instead offer it up with a variety of toppings for an al fresco dinner and let everyone make themselves happy. And while I thought I was being somewhat imaginative this July, when I dug out some of my Italian cookbooks to get a little background, I of course discovered that while not everyone, certainly certain someones have been there before me. (Curses, foiled again.) Folks like one of my favorite food writers, Lynne Rosetto Kasper.
If it’s high summer and there are tomatoes (and it wouldn’t be summer without tomatoes), I’m making caprese of some sort. Maybe every week. I don’t stir up chimichurri quite that often, but unlike caprese it shows up throughout the year mostly with pork (love it with ribs!), but sometimes on beef or shrimp or ________. A couple of weeks ago I made three of my Chimichurri Pork Chops only because the package had 3 in it–weird, I know. What to do the next day with the lonely fellow left on the platter? I had fresh mozzarella, zucchini to grill, plenty of tomatoes, and why not serve a hybrid of caprese and chimichurri pork layered with grilled zucchini? Since chimichurri is packed with other fresh herbs, the basil could be skipped. A big handful of fresh greens at the center would set the seal on this stunning deal. I’m wanting it again already.