Thursday, August 19, 2010

Last Night's Dinner: Pretty Grean Bean Salad

I'm trying to use up what I have in my refrigerator, since I'm leaving for vacation soon. So last night I used my Quail Hill green beans, some good olive oil, sea salt, black olives, and shaved Parmesan (shaved ricotta salata would be good, too) to make this pretty dish. Actually, my husband made this dish. But as always he had to listen to my adamant suggestions while he cooked. Here is the recipe:

Green Beans with Olives and Parmesan
Serves 4

1 pound green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1 tablespoon shredded basil leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan shavings

1. Blanch the beans for 2 to 3 minutes in salted boiling water. Drain and toss with oil and sea salt to taste. Set aside to cool.
2. Stir the olives and basil together with the beans in a large serving bowl. Shower with Parmesan and serve.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

It is that time of year again. I've sauteed zucchini, added it to ratatouille, used it as a pizza topping. So yesterday I folded some grated zucchini into cake batter and baked this majestic chocolate and zucchini bundt cake. My children were at first horrified and then amazed when I revealed the cake's secret ingredient after they had each consumed a large slice. You really can't detect the zucchini at all, but it lends much-needed moisture while contributing to the cake's fine, light texture. When choosing my zucchini for this and other recipes, I go for the smaller vegetables. Yes, the zucchinis that are the size of small watermelons are amusing, but they are also proportionately more watery than normal- to small-size squash, with less flavor. As with any baking project, it's important to measure your zucchini precisely for a good result. I grated two small squash on the large holes of a box grater, to get two cups (9.5 ounces to be exact). Here is the recipe:

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake
Serves 8 to 10

Espresso powder is optional, but gives the cake a deeper flavor. Several years ago I bought a nonstick Gold Touch Bundt pan at Williams-Sonoma and I've never had a problem with sticking since. Still, I always grease the pan with melted butter just in case, and then dust it with cocoa powder, which gives the surface of the cake a beautiful dark sheen.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pan
1 cup pecan halves or walnut pieces
1/2 cup sour cream (not low- or non-fat)
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan and then dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool and then coarsely shop.
2. Whisk together the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla in a large glass measuring cup. Whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder in a medium bowl.
3. Combine the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.
4. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Add 1/2 of the sour cream mixture. Repeat, alternating flour and sour cream mixtures and ending with the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Stir in teh zucchini, chocolate chips, and nuts.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes
out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Enjoying the Vladimir Neilsen Piano Festival

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a recital that was part of the ongoing Vladimir Nielsen Piano Festival right here in Sag Harbor. The dozen or so young pianists (the youngest was 11!) who spend a month of intensive piano study under the direction of renowned Julliard faculty member Victoria Mushkatkol, dazzled a local audience with their skill and sensitivity. Before the concert, the festival's gracious founder Dr. Robert Maimone took me on a tour of the piano camp's premises, a lovely house off of Noyac Road, customized for intensive practice with soundproof rooms housing close to a dozen Steinway pianos (the Steinway concert grand piano that was used for the recital is the same instrument that is profiled in New York Times writer James Barron's book, Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand). I was fascinated to learn from a menu posted in the concert hall that the students had fortified themselves with oatmeal for breakfast and hamburgers for lunch before the concert, and could look forward to celebrating with vanilla cake with chocolate whipped cream afterwards. I also enjoyed the all-natural sodas and excellent cookies set out for us at Intermission. I hope to return for the concert on Wednesday, which is billed as "The Night of the Great Piano Concerti," to see what is on the menu, I mean the program. Tickets are $15 dollars--an extreme bargain--and available at the door.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Special Delivery

Look at what came in the mail while I was admiring the sunflowers at the farm: New cookie cutters for my back-to-school cookie swap. I'm going to use the large ones to make cookies for the party. The small ones will be inside the goody bags.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Allure of the Choco Taco

I have been told by some 11-year-old "experts" that the Choco Taco is simply a reconfiguration of the King Cone, and yet somehow I found it so much more appealing at Sagg Main beach yesterday afternoon. Maybe it is the Choco Taco's relative scarcity. As a poster on Serious Eats put it, "The preeminent dessert taco makes cameos at select ice cream trucks and gas stations, but other times, you think 'did I dream that?'" Of course our Hamptons ice cream trucks would stock this exlusive treat. For a homemade Choco Taco recipe, click here.

IGA Item of the Week

After weeks of enjoying simple meats and vegetables drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, I started to crave some fresh new flavors for my dinner. That's why a grabbed a tube of prepared wasabi paste at the IGA, and used it to make a sushi rice-and-cucumber salad (an adapted and simplified version of this one) to go along with some sesame sauteed tofu. Here is the recipe:

Sushi Rice and Cucumber Salad
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups short-grain sushi rice (I bought mine at Provisions)
1 3/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon wasabi paste or more to taste
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, halved, and cut
1 carrot, peeled and grated with a vegetable peeler
2 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped

1. Rinse the rice several times in a bowl of water to remove excess starch and then drain in a fine strainer. Combine the rice, water, and salt in a nonstick pot, bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.
2. Combine the rice vinegar and sugar in a small pot and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Spread the cooked rice on a baking sheet, drizzle with the rice vinegar mixture, and toss to coat. Let stand until cool.
3. Whisk together the vegetable oil, wasabi paste, and ginger in a small bowl.
4. Combine the seasoned rice, cucumber, carrot, scallions, and wasabi dressing in a large bowl and toss to combine. Serve immediately, seasoning with more salt as necessary, or cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hospitality at the Watermill Center

The Watermill Center opened its doors the the community yesterday in the most welcoming way possible, and I took full advantage of everything on offer. Not only were there dozens of artists enacting intriguing scenes and painting amidst foil-wrapped trees, there were freshly baked cookies, decorate-your-own cupcakes, and free Mr. Softee for everyone!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vintage Berkel Slicer Debuts at Cavaniola's

Yesterday when I stopped by Cavaniola's Gourmet to pick up some fresh mozzarella for my Quail Hill tomatoes, I got my first look at the shop's vintage, fully restored Berkel flywheel meat slicer, complete with a glistening Prosciutto di parma, ready to slice (Cavaniola's is also slicing Iberico and Mangalica hams). How exciting to think that we will now be able to enjoy prosciutto sliced to perfection as it is in the best salumerias in Italy. When I got home and unpacked my bag, I saw that Michael had included a beautiful slice of Prosciutto for me to sample. I learned more about his new machine from this charming video. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

More Reasons to Join Quail Hill

The cucumber crop at Quail Hill has been the gift that keeps on giving. Just this morning, members were invited to take home 12 cucumbers each! After enjoying a hayride tour of the farm! I've ordered my pickling spices, but in the meantime I'm enjoying the following salad, which is as refreshing to eat as it is simple to prepare.

Cucumber Salad with Champagne Vinegar
Serves 6

4 small cucumbers, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1. Combine the cucumbers and salt in a large colander set over a bowl. Fill a large zipper-lock bag with ice, place the bag on top of the cucumbers to weight them down, and let stand, removing the bag of ice to toss the cucumbers once or twice, for 30 minutes.
2. Toss the salted cucumbers (no need to rinse them), oil, vinegar, and parsley in a bowl. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and chill for up to 3 hours before serving.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Like Myself (on Facebook)

Yesterday my publisher helped me set up a facebook page for my new book (click on the link to your right to view it). So far, I'm my only fan. Mom, if you are reading this, please tell me that you like me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If you dig your own potatoes...

I need these gloves by Saturday, when I'll get my next share of organic potatoes from Quail Hill.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Doodles at Dinner

I couldn't resist these tear-off placemats, on display at the Golden Eagle the other day. I will use them the next time I serve particularly messy (ribs? lobster?) dinner party food, and make sure to put crayons on the table so that everyone can doodle while we have coffee and cookies.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Drinks Before the Carnival

When I first saw this carnival sign in the window at the Harbor Heights service station, I thought it had been there for years. I love the vintage style of it! But then I started to see signs all around town, and realized that the carnival is BACK. In general, I prefer vintage carnival signs to attending an actual carnival, but there is something magical about the sight of the ferris wheel lights against the backdrop of the bay. Somehow the thought of the bay gave put me in mind of this classic summer cocktail. Here is the recipe. Don't drink too many before riding the Gravitron.

Bay Breeze
Makes 1 drink

I like to moisten the rim of my glass with the lime wedge and dip it in salt, Margarita-style, before fixing my drink but you can just squeeze your lime into the drink once it is mixed if you prefer.

Wedge of lime
Sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 cup vodka
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup cranberry juice

1. Rub the lime wedge around the rim of your glass to moisten it. Spread the salt on a saucer and dip the moistened edge into the salt to coat.
2. Fill the glass with ice, pour in the vodka, pinapple juice, and cranberry juice, squeeze in whatever juice remains in your lime wedge, and drink immediately.