Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Golden Beet-Avocado Salad

A few weeks ago I wrote about Montmartre, a great little French restaurant I found in D.C. It was the sort of neighborhood bistro that you might find in France, with several tables of folks speaking French (always a good sign).

I ordered gazpacho and a salad. The gazpacho was delicious but I really loved the salad. I spoke to the server, Anne, who gave me a little hint as to how it was prepared. It was composed of roasted yellow beets, grape tomatoes, red onion and avocado. It was a very felicitous combination, and I couldn’t wait to make it at home.

Anne said they rubbed the beets with olive oil and roasted them. I’ve always wrapped beets in foil to roast, but found that this method sort of concentrated the natural sweetness of the golden beets.

They sprinkled it with a mixture of chopped fresh herbs; I used cilantro with equal success. And they used grape tomatoes, but in this season, good farmers’ market or home-grown tomatoes would be perfect.

Because of the lemon juice in the dressing, you can keep this for a day or two without having khaki colored avocado. This will make a great side dish to any of your grilled dinners this summer.


Juice and finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup good fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ripe but still firm avocados, peeled and cubed
3 golden beets, roasted, peeled and cubed (see note)
¼ cup slivered red onion
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (or 2 cups diced tomato)
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup minced cilantro, plus a couple of sprigs to garnish

Whisk the lemon juice and zest with the olive oil in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining ingredients and toss just until combined. Let rest for an hour or so for flavors to meld. Serve garnished with additional cilantro sprigs. Serves 6 or so as a side dish.

NOTE: Golden beets are available at Fresh Market. Cut off tops, leaving 1" of stems. Rub with olive oil, put on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Check to see if a small pointy knife can penetrate easily. If not, roast until it can. Let rest until cool enough to handle, then peel and cube.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Daley Plaze Farmers' Market - Chicago

Random shots, it was all quite appealing. Unfortunately I couldn't bring a lot back with me!

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

A lovely new café in Chicago

I get a weekly e-mail from Daily Candy that gives the weekend special activities in several major US cities. Since we were headed to Chicago, I looked up their recommendation for this weekend. One of the suggestions was a new café opened by the Omni Hotel. Café 676 has only been open a little over a week, but you wouldn't have known that from the service, or execution of the food. The alfresco new-comer uses ingredients from its hotel rooftop garden to use in salads, snacks, and sandwiches

The one page menu is widely enough varied to have something for everyone, yet each dish shows a nice touch of creativity. There are "Snacks," each priced at $4.00, a few bites of a perfectly aged cheese with a lovely accompaniment. Then a list of soups and salads, and a few amusing more substantial dishes.

Tom ordered the "Great Lakes Niçoise Salad." A riff on the classical French version, the fish was a perfectly grilled filet of walleye. I wasn't familiar with this fish but is was delicious. The salad wasn't the composed version typical of the South of France. Besides the usual haricots verts (skinny green beans), hard cooked egg and tomato, there were chunks of blue potato that did nothing for the visual appeal of the salad, and the dressing, a white wine vinaigrette was a little sharp for both our tastes. A little more olive oil would have softened it nicely.

I ordered the "Sweet Corn Soup." Smooth and creamy with a bit of spice that I wasn't quite able to identify, it was laced with tasty bits of crisp-tender veggies. I loved it.

After that, I had two "Snacks." Both were cheese. The first was the "Julianna," perfectly aged goat cheese from Capriole Farmstead in Indiana, accompanied by a sweet-tart Meyer lemon compote. The other was robiola, a rich and mildly pungent cheese from the Lombardy area of Italy, with a not-too-sweet strawberry jam. Each made a perfect match.  All were accompanied by crisps made from thin slices of sourdough bread.  The bread is house-made with, they claim, a 105-year old sourdough started.

Although the beer and wine was a little on the pricey side, on the whole we felt pleasant dinner, enhanced by the people-watching opportunities offered by being right on the corner of Michigan Avenue on a warm Saturday evening.  We both agreed that if we lived here, this would probably be a perfect place to stop after an evening out for a glass of wine and one of the snacks, or a nice afternoon stop after shopping for a cup of tea and of of their delicious sounding sweets.  But we probably wouldn't make it a meal destination in a town where there are so many!
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Insalata Caprese Redux

I had a goodly amount leftover of the Insalata Caprese that we spoke about a couple of days ago. I stuck it in the fridge thinking it would be my lunch the next day. Which didn't happen.

So that evening I had planned veal chops with pasta. I did as I planned with the veal chops: I rubbed them with a good olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and grilled them. (I'd planned on doing them on the outside grill but it was WAY too hot. The stove-top ridged cast iron grill had to do!) I made a lemon-caper butter that I dropped on top as it came off the grill.

And to go with it, I cooked imported fettucine nicely al dente and drained it, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Meanwhile, I chopped the tomatoes and mozzarella balls with the balsamic dressing left. Once the pasta was drained, I put it back into the pasta pan and added the caprese salad with a little drizzle of olive oil, a splash of the reserved cooking water and more fresh basil tossed into it.

I put the pasta on the plate and topped it with the veal chop. When some of the caper butter drizzled down onto the pasta...well all I can say is "Multo buono!"


1 stick butter, at room temperature
Juice and finely grated zest of two lemons
1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 tbsp minced parsley, preferably Italian
1 good pinch kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients. Leave at room temperature so butter is soft. Use for grilled veal, pork or full flavored fish like swordfish, halibut or tuna.

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad


At the Agricenter Farmers' Market yesterday I got some great looking tomatoes from the Tomato Lady. I had some bite-size fresh mozzarella balls, so what could I do but Insalata Caprese?

Since Mantia's closed, I am not aware of anyplace in Memphis that sells real fresh mozzarella. The best is made the day it is eaten, kept in lightly salted brine at room temperature until consumed. All I've been able to find is the packaged kind, and let's face it, it wasn't made yesterday even.

So here's a tip: Put it in a cup or bowl with enough lightly salted water to cover. Stick it in the microwave. For the little bite sized balls, set the timer at 30 seconds, for a big ball, 60 seconds. Then let set in the brine for an hour or so.

So anyway: an assortment of wonderful tomatoes, my "re-freshed" mozzarella, slivers of fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette...summer doesn't get any better than this!
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Friday, August 06, 2010

Laretha's Tasty Corn Sauce

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that one of the friends I really enjoy cooking with is Laretha Randolph. Over the years, she has given me lots of good recipes that I’ve passed along to you.

Recently we went to the Randolph’s for dinner and she came up with another goodie, perfect for the summer season: a tasty and really REALLY easy-to-make corn sauce.

She had made fresh salmon croquettes adapted from a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. As wonderful as the sauce was with the croquettes, Laretha says it is also a great dressing for a salad with hot fried okra on top.

This would also be really good with grilled salmon, tuna or swordfish.

With fresh locally grown corn abundant in all the farmers’ markets, there’s no better time to try this than now!


4 ears fresh corn, shucked
1 cup corn oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt (or to taste)
Your favorite salmon croquette recipe
Salad greens for 6 servings

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the ears of corn on a lightly greased baking sheet and roast until done through and lightly golden in places.

Cut the kernels from the corn. Scrape the cobs with the edge of the knife to get all the good juicy parts. This should give you about 2 cups. Reserve ½ cup for garnish.

Put the rest of the corn into a blender or food processor with the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. The sauce will be thick. Taste and add a little more salt if necessary.

Toss about half the sauce with the salad greens. Divide among six plates. Put the salmon croquettes on the side and spoon the rest of the sauce over them. Sprinkle with the reserved corn kernels and serve immediately. Serves 6.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fig Chutney Redux


For pre-dinner appetizers, I made quesadillas with flour tortillas and a piece of brie sliced thinly. Warmed in a dry skillet and served with the fig chutney of earlier this week, it made a very tasty beginning to our dinner. One of our guests opined that Cambozola, a soft-ripened brie type cheese that is laced with a bit of blue cheese, would be even more delicious. And since I have more chutney, I am certainly going to try it.
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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Yummy Figs!

Earlier this week, my good friend Michelle Reuter, wife of our church pastor, Lane Reuter, gave me a heads-up about the fig trees on the church grounds. She said the figs were just falling onto the ground and being smashed by cars, or rotting in place. SO after services this morning, I got myself a little bag and gathered these figs. They were so fresh and wonderful. And I had just paid $7.00 for a small box at the Agricenter farmers' market on Saturday.

Once we got home, we had to have a couple each stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in prosciutto and roasted just until the cheese was a little oozy. Sorry there's no picture, we gobbled them down too quickly.

I was thinking of making fig preserves, but quite frankly, I'm just not a jam-and-jelly eater. So, I thought, how about chutney? I've done a few before but never with figs. I went online looking at recipes but none sounded quite right, and every one that sounded good called for something I didn't have. So I improvised. I wish I'd had fresh ginger, but given the limitations of what I had, I thought the results were more than just acceptable. In fact they were quite good, and I plan on grilling pork tenderloin for dinner tomorrow evening to go with the chutney!


1-1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup dry red wine (I used a good zinfandel, because that's what I had open)
1-1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup red onion, very finely minced
1 cup golden raisins
2 large lemons, juice and finely grated zest
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
2 lbs fresh figs, rinsed and quartered

In a dutch oven, or wide deep skillet, mix everything except the figs. Simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Add the figs. It'll look like there's not enough liquid, but the figs exude a lot of liquid, and soon they'll be covered. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup, about 45 minutes.

I put them in sterilized jars, sealed to keep, but you can keep this in the fridge for a good while, and I would think it would freeze nicely if you aren't going to use it within a few weeks.
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