Thursday, June 23, 2011

the arrival of summer and panzanellas!

it's time for a confession.
while i can imagine it's a healthier attitude to love all the seasons for what they have to offer... summer is, has, and (dare i say it!) will always be my favorite season. maybe it was the four years in chicago or the three in northern germany that did it, but we could make 3 of the 4 seasons summer and i would feel just fine about that. longer days, less layers, outdoor barbecues, sandals, long hikes, sunny skies, open air theaters. summer is a healing season.

it's also the season of picnics!! last week, i went to an outdoor picnic in berlin's treptower park. i'm staying in berlin for the month of june and renting a flat from a friend. as she hasn't been living here since some months, her kitchen isn't necessarily the best equipped with oils, spices, and all of those little things that make dishes so tasty. so i was looking for a simple, light dish i could bring along and whose ingredient list wasn't too long. this panzanella was a clear winner. fresh summer vegetables and herbs and a light vinaigrette to tie it all together. the only thing that isn't fresh about this recipe is the french baguette, which you should remember to buy a day beforehand and leave out on the counter overnight to go nice and stale.

summer's panzanella
loosely adapted from smitten kitchen

for the salad:
3 tablespoons olive oil

½ loaf french bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (5 cups)

1 tablespoon salt

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cucumber, unpeeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick

2 bell peppers (1 yellow and 1 orange, for some color!), seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

15 basil leaves, coarsely chopped

½ cup chives, finely chopped
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly diced

for the vinaigrette:

2 roasted garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard 
2 teaspoons runny honey (haa!)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste 

toss your bread cubes together in a bowl with the olive oil and salt. place on a tray alongside two cloves of garlic and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until browned.

in the meantime, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. like i mentioned above, feel free to leave out the dijon mustard if you don’t have any on hand. it adds a nice kick but isn’t essential. once the bread is done, allow to cool. mince the garlic finely and add to the vinaigrette.

in a large bowl, throw together the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and olives. add the bread and toss with the vinaigrette. salt and pepper to taste.

i would let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors to blend. make sure to serve within a few hours so you can eat it while it’s crunchy and before the bread turns too soggy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

start-the-week-out-right pasta.

i always look forward to cooking dinner on sunday. it's a nice way to both close out the prior week and prepare for the one to come. and given that my sundays often include lounging around, baking (!!), organizing, and not all too much physical activity, my stomach tends to crave something light and nutritious once evening rolls around.

i started making this dish some months ago when the weather turned warmer and the sun started to linger in the sky later and later. simply put, it's any fresh vegetables and herbs lying around paired with a short noodle and dressed lightly in some balsamic and a dash of oil. it's so easy to make and it leaves your belly in a satiated, wholesome state.
i'm a bit of a green freak, so my vegetables of choice almost always include one (or more realistically, all) of the following: spinach, asparagus, broccoli, leeks. however, i just made a variation of this dish this last sunday with cauliflower and a touch of cumin mixed it at the end, and it was far from disappointing.

secondly, while of course any pasta noodle will do, i choose a short one for this dish as you can eat it with just a fork. confession: i like one utensil dishes.

sunday (or any day!) noodles

300 g tricolor fusilli pasta (or any other short noodle)
1 leek, chopped
1 cup black or kalamata olives, halved
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch asparagus, diced into 1 inch pieces
1 cup crimini mushrooms, diced
½ package basil tofu, chopped into ½ inch cubes
½ cup chives, ½ cup dill, ½ cup basil – all roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

begin by heating a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. finely chop your onion and garlic and add them to the hot oil first. lightly fry until the onion begins to turn translucent.

add the asparagus, mushrooms, and leek to the pan. give it all a toss, and cover to let steam. when vegetables are almost ready, add the tofu and olives and keep warm by turning off the heat and covering.
meanwhile, cook your pasta in a pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.

when everything is ready, transfer however much pasta you want to the pan of vegetables and toss in the herbs. turn the heat back on briefly to stir everything around and make it’s at serving temperature.

remove from heat and add around 1-2 tablespoons (each) of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, depending on how you like it. salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

almond peach muffins

the fact that i can't even remember the last time i posted a muffin recipe is, as you can well imagine, a serious problem. mind you, it isn't that i haven't been baking muffins in these past months. quite the opposite in fact!

the issue is that i've fallen in love with apples and can't stop putting them (in obscene amounts) in every last one of my muffin creations. and given that there is already one very delicious apple muffin post on this blog, i've been hesitant to post another one. (that said, stay tuned for an oatmeal apple cake coming soon!).

so you can imagine my joy when peaches came into season. i have never baked with peaches before. i have to say that while they are slightly messier than apples, in exchange for putting up with a bit of mess, you are rewarded with a whole lotta juice and moistness. a fair trade? i think so.

these muffins were left in the oven for slightly too long, which is why they are a wee bit darker than they would be in my dreams (yes, thank you very much: some of us do dream about muffins). just pay attention to them when baking - it would be a shame for a batch of these to go to waste.

almond peach muffins

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
½ cup yogurt
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup soy milk
3 peaches, peeled and chopped
½ cup chopped or slivered almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

preheat oven to 375 degrees F. lightly grease a muffin tin.

in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. in another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk, yogurt, and vanilla. stir wet into dry ingredients until well combine.

fold in the peaches and almonds. fill muffin tin cups ½ full and bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. cool for 10 minutes before devouring.