Monday, June 29, 2009

SUMMER STEAMED BEAN SALAD WITH CREAMY HORSERADISH DRESSING

THOSE LAZY HAZY DAYS OF SUMMER... AND DISASTER

Shipwreck!!!

Weekends, as I have explained before, are market day for us: Saturdays we wend our way to La Place de la Petite Hollande, Nantes’ marché populaire, to find inexpensive fruits, vegetables still wearing their dirt, sometimes pre-cooked foods and, of course, a beautiful roasted chicken from the Chicken Lady. This Saturday was no different, especially as we had a date to walk down to the Hangar à Banane on the Loire and watch the launching “à l’ancienne” of the replica of Jules Verne’s (a child of Nantes) boat Le St. Michel. So a skip, hop and a jump found us buying a gorgeous roasted chicken, some cheese and salad and then home.

The building of the replica of Le Saint-Michel, completely traditionally built.

Sundays we normally head out early for Marché Talensac, Nantes’ indoor market, a bit more chi-chi, where we buy seafood fresh off the boats, chilled bottles of white or rosé wine, huge, dense, fresh salads and vine-ripened tomatoes, bulging heads of purple garlic and bouquets of tender, crispy radishes from our favorite vegetable lady, a loaf of bread and the occasional lasagne for the boys from the Italian “traiteur”.

But this Sunday, disaster struck in the most innocent of places! Instead of going to the market and just lazing away the day, as the weather was so beautiful JP decided to take Marty and Simon to the forest about an hour outside of Nantes for a long, leisurely hike. That’s when it happened: throwing caution to the wind, Marty started doing his truffle pig imitation and snuffling up every mushroom he could detect and then, unlike those pigs, scarfing them down before JP even noticed what was happening. And as Marty has never done his homework, refusing to read the mushroom manual “How to Tell the Difference Between the Yummy Mushrooms and the Deadly Mushrooms”, of course he was poisoned. Horrors! Watching a small dog deathly ill and in pain all day, all evening is a sight that no one wants to behold. And I can assure you that Marty was as sick as a … well, as a dog….


Unbeknownst to me, I carried on merrily, packing up more cartons, emptying kitchen cabinets, folding away the winter sweaters into suitcases and thinking about lunch. What would go beautifully with leftover roasted chicken, to be eaten cold, something quick to make, healthy to boot and delicious. Ahha! I had thin, delicate French green beans and thicker yellow wax beans in the fridge and a wonderful recipe for a cold sour cream-horseradish sauce which would just hit the spot. Now in which box did I pack this cookbook…..?


After rifling through a mere 5 boxes labeled “cookbooks” I found the two volumes of Recipes from a Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd, founder of Shepherd’s Seeds and now owner of Renee’s Garden, and Fran Raboff, two slender volumes full of delightful, tasty recipes using vegetables, fruits and flowers from her garden including many heirloom varieties, and I was off to make this easy-as-pie sauce, perfect over steamed green and wax beans or as a dip for vegetables.


CREAMY HORSERADISH DRESSING with green and yellow beans

1/3 cup sour cream
1 Tbs prepared white horseradish
½ tsp Dijon or Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbs vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Using a fork, spoon or whisk, blend all the ingredients together in a small bowl or right in the measuring cup and chill for about an hour before serving.


Steam until tender enough green beans for 4 – 6 people served as a side dish. Refresh the cooked beans under cold running water to stop the cooking and drain well.

I added freshly-sliced juicy, ripe tomatoes for a bit of contrast in both color and flavor, arranged the beans on the plate and drizzled the thick, cold, creamy Horseradish Sauce over it all. And served it with cold chicken. Perfect for summer, and see how quick?


We ate with one communal eye on the Marts and I am happy to say that he was starting to mend by the end of the evening and got a clean bill of health from the vet today. And I do believe that that is his last run in the forest this summer. Back to the safety of the vineyards.


And I want to thank Karen of Domestic Muse for my fabulous apron she sent me for my entry in the Everything Old Is New Again Vintage Recipe Contest. I received it in the mail this week and boy did it cheer me up. Look how perfectly it fits! And I love the cupcakes! Thanks a gazillion Karen and I can't wait until next year's EONA Vintage Recipe Date!

Simon was very proud of the bow he tied that "weren't on his shoes".

Saturday, June 27, 2009

BLUEBERRY RASPBERRY MUFFLE COFFEE CAKE

A QUICKIE AND A HANDFUL OF BERRIES

I so feel like Donna over at My Tasty Treasures talking about quickies and all, but so it goes. (Funny thing is, I stopped by her blog written right after her own move and she mentions a quickie, too) You all know that I am up to my neck in packing cartons, trash bags, piles of books and kitchen utensils, I have been fighting with the phone/internet service and wrestling with tape and bubble wrap, arguing with teens and getting help from no one (to be honest, some of them have excuses, but some do not). So this post will be limited to a quickie.


As I clear out closets and empty shelves, as I try and wedge things into boxes just so, like huge 3-D puzzles, not too heavy, not too light, I wonder why I ever thought that this would be either easy or fun. Our Boston, Marty stares at me with those big cow eyes of his, sad and forlorn, lost amidst the cartons. I feel his eyes burn holes into my back each time I drag the tape dispenser across the bottom of a box and he looks daggers if I push one too close to where he is sleeping. Heavy sighs of discontent coming from an 8 kg dog are worse than all the vitriol spewed by all the harried and harassed teenagers put together.

Why does the caged dog sing? Marty is caged!

I remember our move from the suburbs of Paris smack dab in the middle of one of the worst heat waves in France’s history. No air conditioning, we had all the French windows flung wide open trying our darnedest to stir up the slightest breeze, sucking on popsicles one after the other. And by the end of the packing process I had become so crazy and lost in what goes where that we were tossing loose objects, lamps and hatboxes, clothes and toys straight into the back of the moving van as they were closing up the doors. Clem and I then hopped on a train to Nantes, carrying violins and boxes of valuables, where we spent the night in the boiling hot apartment, on the floor on bare mattresses waiting for the movers to show up at the crack of dawn the following day. JP and Simon followed in our tiny car (sans air conditioning) with the monster boxer gasping for air in the back seat.


And here we are again but with a new dog (poor Kikka passed away a mere month after our arrival in Nantes) and a lot more furniture. This time around, I have decided to get rid of everything that we have been dragging behind us for way too long, fabric scraps and broken toys, baby clothes half disintegrated and the kids’ old school notebooks. I have saved two boxes of baby clothes and a store-sized collection of Legos, an old telescope (never used) and all of my wooden hat forms. The junk man took away an entire truckload of junk, half empty paint cans and pieces of old armoires, the old bathroom set that was installed when we arrived here, rolls of leftover wallpaper and a ton of other useless things. And as we are moving just a few blocks away, we can throw a load or two of things in the car and drive them over if need be.


Well, enough blathering on about the move and let’s bake! Oh joy berries are in season and although they are somewhat pricey here in Nantes I just cannot keep myself from baking with them. I have been sitting on a recipe for Blueberry Muffle from my former college roommate Cindy, an extraordinary woman and a great friend. Why this is called a Muffle I have no idea, though somewhere in my Swiss cheese for brains memory I do believe that she explained it to me many moons ago. What I do know, though, is that it is a fantastic snack cake, like a coffee cake only much lighter and airier, with plump, juicy, tangy berries and a streusel topping.


This Muffle is a snap to throw together, even quicker when you have leftover streusel in the fridge from another recipe. I had to change the recipe somewhat in order to have a smooth,
creamy batter and instead of using all blueberries I used half blueberries and half raspberries. Cindy also suggests folding the berries into the batter before spreading into the pan, but I sprinkled the berries on top once the batter was already in the pan. I loved the way this looked.


This is so easy and so fantastic that it is a must-do! JP took most of it to work the morning after I baked it (I kept it in the fridge overnight as I was afraid that it would get stale in the heat and just brought it to room temperature before he left for work). He has bi-monthly Board Meetings with his team and he has started to take home-baked goodies with him, which are served with coffee. Yesterday, JP had started the meeting only to be interrupted almost immediately by his new Technical Director who, having seen another Director biting into a square of the Blueberry-Raspberry Muffle, exclaimed “Who gave the green light to start eating?!” and grabbed his own piece! Needless to say, the plate of cake was scarfed down in record time.

And I am also in a hurry with this because I so want to send it over to Reeni♥ at Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice for Blogger Secret Ingredient (BSI : Blueberries). Reeni♥ made fantastic Ricotta Filled Crespelle with Blueberry Sauce! How yummy is that?


BLUEBERRY-RASPBERRY MUFFLE

4 Tbs / ¼ cup (60 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ cups (190 g) flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup (125 ml) milk
1 ½ - 2 cups blueberries or half blueberries + half raspberries (or other fruit)


Streusel topping (this is Cindy’s recipe although I used a half-recipe by Carole Walter) :

½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbs / ¼ cup (60 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (45 g) flour

For the Streusel topping, blend the dry ingredients together then cut or rub in the butter until it forms a crumb-like consistency. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease (with butter) and lightly flour a 9 x 9-inch (22 x 22 cm) baking pan.

Pick over the berries and discard any bad ones as well as stems and leaves. Rinse quickly if desired and gently pat dry. Set aside.


For the cake batter, combine the softened butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat until blended and fluffy. Beat in the egg until blended. Stir in the vanilla.

Combine the dry ingredients and beat into the butter/sugar/egg mixture until blended. Add the milk and beat until blended, smooth and creamy.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Sprinkle the berries evenly over the batter.


Sprinkle the Streusel topping all over the batter and berries.


Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until set in the center. The cake may be slightly golden where it peaks through.


Remove from the oven and allow to cool before slicing and serving.

Friday, June 26, 2009

ZUCCHINI CARPACCIO AND TOMATO MOZZARELLA CAPRESE SALAD

EASY DOES IT

Summertime and the livin is easy
Fish are jumpin and the cotton is fine
Oh your daddys rich and your ma is good lookin
So hush little baby, don’t you cry

One of these mornings
Youre goin to rise up singing
Then youll spread your wings
And youll take the sky
But till that morning
Theres a nothin can harm you
With daddy and mammy standin by
- George and Ira Gershwin / Dubose Heyward


Slow and easy, relaxed and cool. Summer is finally upon us, easing into place, wrapping herself around us in her warm embrace. She brushes a loose strand of hair from our face with a still-cool hand and whispers loving promises in our ear, promises of gentle breezes washing over us, promises of lazy days and naps in the green grass under trees and promises of the soothing lullaby of crickets and frogs as she gently rocks us to sleep at night.


Yet beware! Soon she will release her rage and breath her fire all around until we drop to our knees and beg for respite. Our clothing sticks to us, pressing against our burning skin like devils’ hands and we tear at the little that we wear as if those hands were trying to choke us. We wander around the house desperately seeking the one cool place, praying for comfort, as in one final despairing attempt we stand in the one cold spot in the house, bathed in the glow of the refrigerator light.


We toss and turn all night, wretched in the heat, the sheets knotted around our ankles, cursing the gods of summer as we count the ticks and the tocks of the night inching along on little sloth feet, praying for morning to finally arrive hoping that with it will come the hint of even the slightest breeze. We drag ourselves out of our bed, step over the poor dog splayed across the parquet floor panting even in his sleep and readjust the fan one more time knowing that anyway we will find no relief.

We wander into the kitchen in our mindless hot-weather roamings and wonder if we even have an appetite. We lean into the fridge and think that maybe the only thing inside worth coming for is the cold air. We should be working but have no strength and we wonder why oh why did we pray so hard for this unforgiving season to arrive. Do we dream of beaches and bike rides with the sun beating down on our backs and the day ending with our face the color of lobster? Or long car drives battling between the icy air conditioning or the open window, the air rushing at us only hotter than burning cement. We stare out the window, peering up into the sky and hoping upon hope for one of summer’s flash thunderstorms and the wind and drop of temperature that accompanies it. We slip into last year’s swimsuit and trudge down to the beach, loaded down with towels and coolers, children and dogs skipping excitedly alongside us, forgetting that by the end of the afternoon they’ll be hot and tired, itchy with sand in hard-to-reach places and thirstier than Moses after 40 years in the desert.


Ah, to sit on a shaded terrace somewhere, a glass of chilled pinot grigio or Prosecco in our hand, the soft breeze rustling the leaves in the nearby trees while the waiter brings us a platter of oysters and cracked crab nestled in ice, the quiet chatter around us lulling us into daydreams, only the gentle droning of the dragonflies and the clatter of glasses breaking through the murmurs. Or sitting lakeside, feet dangling over the pier, toes making lazy circles in the cool water, waiting for the barbecue to heat up and someone to bring us a plate of grilled shrimp and refill our glass with chilled Rosé, only to end the evening strolling back through the cool grass to the chalet where we will slip in between the cool sheets and snuggle up with the one we love.


Well, if it could only be that way. Here we are working and packing, vacation a distant dream, tossing and turning in the heat, trying to deal with the summer weather. We still need to put a meal on the table occasionally and we are loath to light the oven and simply add to the heat. We open the windows and pull closed the shutters and make a list of all the possibilities; the salads and cold soups, leftover Chinese food and thick slices of chilled watermelon. What to make? What to make?

Here is the ideal summer meal, light and cool, healthy and a snap to put together. I am sending this over to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her super SOUPER (SOUP, SALAD and SAMMIE) SUNDAYS. My first time ever with Deb and her gang, but this salad is too delish not to share!


ZUCCHINI CARPACCIO served with a MOZZARELLA TOMATO SALAD


For the Carpaccio you will need:

Zucchini, 1 or 2 for two people depending on what you are eating with it
Sea salt
An excellent quality extra virgin olive oil, I use peppery Carapelli
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Peel the zucchini, cut off the two ends and discard all. Using a potato peeler, peel the zucchini into long, thin, wide strips all around until you get to the center section with the seeds. This seedy center you discard.


Pile the strips of zucchini onto a plate. Drizzle olive oil over the carpaccio, sprinkle with sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Using the potato peeler, peel curls of cheese off of the block of Parmesan and distribute over the Zucchini Carpaccio.


For the Mozzarella Tomato Salad :

Again, quantities depend on how many people, what you are serving this with and how much people eat.

Juicy, ripe seasonal tomatoes
Balls of fresh mozzarella, preferably the more flavorful buffalo mozzarella, if available
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Very good quality extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
A handful of rocket or basil leaves


Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella into medium-thick, even slices. If using rocket, distribute it evenly over serving platter and then lay the tomato and cheese slices all over it in an overlapping pattern. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and a bit more generously with freshly ground black pepper. If using basil, distribute the leaves on top of the tomato and cheese slices.


Serve as is, with a bit of fresh bread if you like and a bottle of chilled white or rosé.

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