Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer Picnic: Two easy salads

Outdoor picnics in the summer are one of my favorite activities. Nice weather, good friends, an excuse to lazily drink bottles of chilled wine paired with cheese and baguette...what's not to love? However, in recognition that many hours of wine, rich cheese and thick bread can induce quite the calorie-laden food comma, I introduce to you Grilled Summer Vegetables and Danish Cucumber Salad to add some easy, reliable, light and healthy accompaniments for a wholesome picnic spread.

Proven to be tried and true favorites, I know these two recipes by heart. Grilled Summer Vegetables star all the hot seasonal produce right now; their natural goodness subtly sweetened with a balsamic-honey glaze. I discovered their best use last month: sandwiched in between baguette and cheese. Tear off a piece of baguette, top with grilled veggies, and finish with a thick creamy slice of brie cheese. The soft, buttery cheese will meld with the crunchy balsamic vegetables, and the vinaigrette will seep into the bread. Yum!
Danish Cucumber Salad is a truly refreshing salad that's a must for hot summer days. Cucumber rounds and fresh dill are tossed in a sweet cidery vinaigrette to give an almost pickled taste, and thinly sliced onions contribute a nice bite.  A dash of cayenne pepper creates a hint of spice in the cool, light dish.

Grilled Summer Vegetables
any combination of the following vegetables, chopped into about 1 inch x 1 inch pieces:
onion, red pepper, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, portobello mushroom, carrots

equal parts quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
1/4 that quantity of honey (for example, 2 tbsp balsamic + 2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp honey)
salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary

Make 1/4 cup vinaigrette for every 3 cups chopped vegetables

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
2. Line a large pan with tin foil, and spray with olive oil mister or cooking spray.  Add chopped vegetables to pan.
3. Whisk together vinaigrette in a small bowl. Pour evenly over vegetables in pan, and toss to coat.
4. Bake for 45 minutes, turning once in the middle, until vinaigrette thickens and caramelizes vegetables.

Danish Cucumber Salad


2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet or red onion, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
3 tbsp snipped fresh dill

1. Sprinkle salt over cucumbers and let drain out in colander. Transfer to large a bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, heat water and sugar together over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add cider vinegar, salt, pepper, & cayenne to saucepan. 
3. Add contents of the small saucepan to cucumbers and onion.  Stir and let marinade in the refrigerator for one hour before serving.
Happy picnicking!!!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Maine Blueberry Cornbread

What a great marriage of two abundant summer staples in the height of their season-corn and blueberries- in this Maine Blueberry Cornbread recipe! Like any good couple, they complement each other well: the blueberries bring moisture to the traditionally dry bread, plus a sweetness to the course, earthy base. I think these two are going to be very happy together.

 I love how this recipe adapts a traditional hearty winter bread into a light, sweet treat for summer.  However, because frozen blueberries are an option here, this cornbread can be made all year around. Whole wheat flour added to course cornmeal creates an earthy whole grain base, and 2/3 of the fat traditionally derived for butter are substituted for a heart-healthy vegetable oil such as olive oil or canola. Honey adds a lovely floral fragrance that gives more depth to the bread than granular sugar, and further brings out the natural sweetness of the blueberries.
I toyed with the idea of adding fresh corn kernels to the recipe, but ultimately decided against it to preserve the light and airy nature of the cornbread. If possible, eat this blueberry cornbread while still hot: the blended flavors are truly mouthwatering fresh out of the oven. 
Optional toppings include, jam, butter, or an extra drizzle of honey. Try a few fancy butter ideas from Recipe Girl: honey-cinnamon butter (1 stick softened butter + 1 tablespoon honey + 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon) or maple butter (1 stick softened butter + 1 tablespoon maple syrup).
Chop into large squares for an easy on-the-go breakfast or serve as a mid-afternoon snack with a hot cup of tea. This Maine Blueberry Cornbread also makes a great addition to a late summer picnic: wrap a loaf and pass around to break off piece by piece.

Maine Blueberry Cornbread (original recipe here)
Yield: 6 Servings
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
¼ cup honey
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 tablespoon butter (can use an extra tbsp of vegetable if you want to avoid butter. However, the more butter used, the more fluffy the bread, so keep that in mind!)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 large egg
¾ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, no added sugar), plus ¼ cup


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a bread/loaf pan with nonstick spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix gently. (Flour, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt)
3. In a small bowl, add the oil, softened butter, honey, buttermilk and egg and mix until creamy. Add to dry ingredients until a lumpy batter forms. Gently fold in the blueberries, and once patter is set in pan, sprinkle  remaining 1/4 cup blueberries on top.
4. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the bread is golden brown, and a toothpick insterted into the center comes out mostly clean.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bourbon Soaked Cherries with Greek Yogurt and Hazelnuts

Considered by some to be the unofficial fruit of summer, cherries are in their prime right now, and this Bourbon Soaked Cherries with Greek Yogurt and Hazelnuts recipe is a sinfully delicious way to boozily celebrate their season. Simmered with brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon, the cherries envelope a rich and fragrant spiced flavor that creates a perfect harmony between sugar and spice. The bourbon cuts the sweetness so the sugar doesn't overpower.

These bourbon soaked cherries can be used in a variety of ways: put the ultimate twist on a Manhattan by adding a few to bourbon's best known cocktail, or drizzle over  a bowl of vanilla ice cream to top off a sweet treat.  The best part: these drunken cherries are made to get better with age- so make a huge batch that will keep straight through the'll appreciate the reminder of summer when the weather cools.

Tart cherries: the highest anti-inflamatory food

New research from Oregon Health & Science University found that tart cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food, and can significantly help reduce inflammation and pain for people suffering from joint paint and arthritis.  Additionally, the benefits of drinking tart juice have proven valuable for athletes who may be prone to these issues as a result of strenuous joint movement.  Anthocyanins- the compound responsible for cherries' bright red color- is the antioxidant keeper of this benefit. The compounds contain anti-inflamatory levels equal to those of common pain medications.

Bourbon Soaked Cherries with Greek Yogurt and Hazelnuts (from Local Kitchen)
Yield: 4 pints of booze-addled cherries

4 lbs cherries (sweet, tart or sour)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup filtered water
4 cups bourbon
2 whole cloves
dash of cinnamon

Greek Yogurt or Vanilla Ice cream
Optional toppings: honey, dark chocolate bits, chopped hazelnuts/almonds/pecans

Follow steps 1-3 for long-term storage. If eating immediately, only follow step 2; but add remaining 3 lbs of cherries to bourbon mixture along with the cloves and cinnamon. Let cool for 15 minutes, then spoon over greek yogurt and sprinkle with hazelnuts.

1. Sterilize 4 glass pint jars and lids (run through the dishwasher, heat in a 250 degree F oven, or submerge in boiling water for 15 minutes). Keep jars hot until ready to fill.
2. Wash and pit the cherries*.  Transfer 1 lb of cherries to the bowl of a food processor and process until puréed; add to a medium stockpot with water and sugar along with whole cloves and a dash of cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, lower heat and cook slowly until a thick syrup forms, about 15 minutes. Stir in the bourbon and keep on the heat at a very low simmer.
3. Fill hot jars with pitted cherries; tap down into the jar, but do not tightly pack; leave a generous 1/2-inch of headspace. Pour the cherry syrup-liquor mixture over the cherries, covering the topmost cherries and leaving about a 1/2-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles with the handle of a wooden spoon; adjust headspace with additional liquid if necessary. Wipe rims, affix lids, and screw on the band to fingertip tight. Allow to rest at room temperature until the jars seal. Store in a cool, dark spot for at least 1 month before use.

*If you don’t have the patience to pit all the cherries/ are sans cherry pitter (yes it exists), just pit the ¼ amount that needs to be pureed.

Breyer, Melissa. "New Study Says Tart Cherries Are Highest Anti-Inflammatory Food, Can Ease Joint Pain." TreeHugger. Discovery Communications, 31 May 2012. Web.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Feta-Walnut Pate

Hummus lovers beware: this Feta-Walnut Pate spread could take the place of your beloved token veggie and pita dip!

I discovered this recipe on a lazy day around 3pm. Hungry for a snack that was substantive and filling, I was  craving something crunchy and savory, and my usual peanut butter and apple wasn't cutting it. I flipped through my favorite vegetarian recipe bible, Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, and found this Feta-Walnut Pate.

The combination of walnuts, feta and parsley was just right-earthy and nutty with a dash of smoke from the paprika and cayenne. Raw food can sometimes taste a bit cardboard-y to me, but this pate boasted a full array of rich flavors, reminiscent of foie gras. This was not surprising as vegetarian foie gras (aka "faux gras") often incorporates nuts as a key ingredient.

My favorite part of this dip is the consistency. It's perfectly spreadable crunch rolls on easily to a pita chip or carrot slice, like a thick pesto. Don't be surprised if you end up eating it by the spoonful straight out of the bowl!

Use this Feta-Walnut Pate as the perfect epicurean appetizer to a dinner party, your guests will be excited to taste something new on the appetizer circuit. A quick mix of ingredients in a blender, and this spread is the ultimate gourmet start to a meal.
One suggestion: feel free to add some black beans to the ingredient mix. Add just enough as to not compromise the crunchy consistency. The beans add a nice subtle flavor that compliments well with the feta, plus some additional protein and fiber to the dish. Also, you'll notice the ingredient amounts are not always exact- this recipe is designed for you to taste as you go, and adjust accordingly.

Feta-Walnut Pate (from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook)
Yield: 6 servings

1 cup chopped walnuts
a handful of fresh parsley
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup water or milk
1 tsp. paprika
cayenne, to taste
a little olive oil
a little oregano (dried, or even better: a few fresh sprigs)
optional: 1 small clove of garlic
optional: 1/4 cup black beans

1. Place the walnuts and parsley in a blender or food processor, and blend with a series of quick spurts.
2. When the nuts are ground, add remaining ingredients except olive pil and oregano, and puree until smooth.
3. Tansfer to a small serving bowl, cover tightly, and chill. Just before serving, drizzle the top with a little olive oil, and garnish with a small sprigs of fresh (or a light sprinkling of dried) oregano. Serve on sesame crackers or toasted pita wedges, or as a dip for raw vegetables. For a more aesthetically pleasing presentation, cut the top off an orange or yellow pepper and scrape out the seeds. Pour pate inside and use pepper in place of a serving bowl.