Monday, April 26, 2010

Must-Have Summer Cookbooks

If you aren't aware by now that tomatoes are about my absolute favorite food on the planet (and probably off the planet, too) then you don't read this blog often enough. Let's just say, a day without tomatoes is a day without air. I have two cookbooks on-hand that I've been reading through for the past month or so and they have become books that I know I'll be using often.

The first is Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil written by fellow Pennsylvanian, Doug Oster and published by St. Lynn's Press, Pittsburgh. Come on, with a title like that, what's not to love? There's no way I'd walk by this one and not pick it up. These three ingredients are so key in many, many recipes and cuisines and this book delves into all three, but not just in recipes, in terms of growing and caring for all three, as well.

Planting, growing, harvesting and storing are covered for all three plants and the recipes run the gamut from old family favorites like Savory Tomato Sauce with Bacon (there's a must-read story behind that one!) to simple and quickly prepared dishes like the Simple Perfect Tomato Sandwich.

This book is also filled with personal stories and anecdotes that make it really worth the read. Whether you're looking for a recipe or a tip for keeping pests away from your tomatoes, you'll want to get your hands on this book.

The second is simply titled Tomato by Lawrence Davis-Hollander published by Storey. Yep, there's a cookbook I wouldn't pass up in a million years. Think tomatoes are all sauce, salad and salsa? Wrong ... and deliciously so. There are 150 recipes featuring ones from Daniel Boulud, Alice Waters, Rick Bayless and many more world-renowned chefs.

The recipes begin with Sauces & Salsas and end with Desserts - Green Tomato Chocolate Cake, anyone? There are special chapters on Cooking with Heirloom Tomatoes and Preserving the Harvest and if you'd like to know of a Tomato Festival in your neck of the woods, there's a spot for that, too. There are fun tomato facts dotted throughout the book, as well that make it flat out fun to read.

I'm not sure which recipe I want to try first, but I do know that this book will get lots of play in my kitchen. There are recipes in here that I never would have thought of despite my fierce love for tomatoes. Check it out today and be prepared for the harvest this summer!

Jersey Diner Coffee Cake

Jersey Diner Coffee Cake
Jersey Diner Coffee Cake
I'm not sure where the title of this recipe came from, but if you've ever had an Entenmann's Ultimate Crumb Cake, this is nearly identical to it. Dense crumbs top a moist, buttery cake and the result is pure joy.

This uses a boxed cake mix and margarine - both taboo these days, it seems - but we so enjoy this cake that I make it with both anyway. There's no reason to eat a whole cake in one sitting, and if you stick to one piece (I dare you!), then you're not ruining your health completely.

I know I found this online somewhere about 11 years ago, but I didn't save that information and I'm clueless as to the author. There are different versions of this floating around, though, so I don't feel as if I'm stepping on any toes. Whoever you are, here's to your delicious creation.

Butter, Sugar and Vanilla
Look at all that butter, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla.

Jersey Diner Coffee Cake
Perfectly crumbed cake.

Jersey Diner Coffee Cake
Makes one 11x15 cake
Printable Recipe

1 pkg Duncan Hines Butter Cake mix (or any other brand)
4 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Blend together until lumps disappear - do not over mix.
Bake in a greased 11x15 jellyroll pan for 20-25 minutes.

Crumb Topping:

4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (I used Floridian Gourmet [see photograph] which is sadly out of business now, but his newest endeavor is HERE - this guy knows his stuff!) 
2 sticks of margarine
1 stick of butter

Melt butters and let cool slightly. Add vanilla.
Mix flour, cinnamon, sugars then add the liquid mixture.
Crumble with hands and place on warm cake. Bake again for 20 min at 350 degrees F.
Let cool and dust with powdered sugar.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Poaching Eggs

Poaching Eggs
Perfectly Poached Egg

When I posted Poached Eggs on Ratatouille Bruschetta, I received comments far and wide (here, Twitter etc.) about the poaching of eggs. It seems that many find it to be a daunting task, so I thought I'd offer a short tutorial about making them.

Poaching Eggs

  1. Fresh eggs are best - the white will become watery and more likely to 'thread' with older eggs. Crack the egg into a small bowl, using one bowl for each egg you intend to cook.
  2. A pot of water is not necessary, rather two inches or so of water will suffice when cooking the eggs. Fill a small pan with two to three inches of water and bring to a simmer only - do not boil! Using a wider pan will allow you to cook more eggs at a time.
  3. Add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of vinegar to the pan. The vinegar will help the whites stay together and usually does not affect the taste. Lower a bowl with an egg just to the edge of the water and gently slip into the water.
  4. Some will say to turn off the heat and cover for 3 minutes, I say it's not necessary and have never lost an egg yet.
  5. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, skimming the surface of the water to remove whites and foam that accumulate.
  6. Remove eggs carefully with a slotted spoon and serve as desired.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eggplant Spread

I'd noticed recently that I was eating far more bread than a person should. After all, what's not to love about the eggshell crisp crust and tender insides of a freshly baked French baguette? No one person needs to consume 18 inches of bread all by themselves, though, so I needed to scale back. This veggie-full spread, which is neither caponata nor ratatouille, but reminiscent of both and just as delicious, served on fresh zucchini rounds was just the ticket.

This recipe calls for tomatoes concassè. Just what is that? Here is a quick tutorial to help you understand the method.

Tomatoes concassè is peeled, seeded and chopped or crushed tomato. The easiest way to peel a tomato is to heat it briefly in boiling water. Follow the photos here and description below. (Click the photo to enlarge.)

Tomatoes concassè
  1. Cut the core from a tomato and turn in upside down.
  2. Cut a small 'X' in the bottom of the tomato and drop into boiling water for 30 seconds.
  3. Remove from water and cool in ice water or very cold water. The heat will cause the peel to separate from the flesh of the tomato and the 'X' will aid in peeling quickly.
  4. Remove the peel and cut the tomato in half crosswise.
  5. Seed by gently squeezing the tomato, cut side down, over a bowl. Crush with your hands (as I did for this dish) or dice with a knife.

Eggplant Spread
Makes 6 cups
Printable Recipe

2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic - minced
1 cup red onion - chopped
2 small eggplants - diced
2 cups baby bella mushrooms - sliced
1 Tablespoon sea salt
6 plum tomatoes concassè
2 Tablespoons capers - drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
basil, oregano and parsley - 1 teaspoon dried, each
1 cup pitted Nicoise olives
1/2 cup shredded fresh Parmesan

In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic.
Cook just until onions begin to sweat and are translucent. Add eggplant and mushrooms. Sprinkle salt over all and reduce heat to low. The eggplant and mushrooms will leach their juices and aid the cooking process this takes about 20 minutes.
Once eggplant is softened, add tomatoes, capers, anchovy paste, herbs and olives. Cook for another 20 minutes until all vegetables are soft and flavors are blended.
Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.
Serve hot or cold with your favorite dippers or bread.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colón

Suzan Colón's Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times, published by Doubleday is just over a baker's dozen of recipes, countless family stories and personal experience woven together to form one of the most comforting books I've read in a long time.

Suzan was working at her dream job at a large magazine when she was laid off and forced to scale back in many areas of her life. She came from a long line of family who lived through lean times and came through it seemingly no worse for the wear. With her own lean times looming large, she put her ancestors' experiences to work for her and tells the tale in this book.

Expensive dinners, posh lunches and anything unnecessary took an immediate backseat and out came tried-and-true family recipes, with stories included, of a more frugal nature.

The recipes each have a story attached, something I thoroughly enjoy. When I wasn't laughing, I was crying - the similarities between several of her family members and several of mine are uncanny and I was often overwhelmed with emotion while reading. That's a good thing - I like stories that make me feel - and this one does just that.

Not to be ignored are the many tips for saving money that are dotted throughout the book, and the simple yet powerful wisdom of Suzan's grandmother is priceless.

I finished this several weeks ago, but I'm already thinking of reading it again - it's just one of those books you don't want to end, but end it did, so I'll just restart it.

Here is one of the recipes from the book, nearly identical to my own great-grandmother's brown sugar cookies, which makes it very special to me.

Suzan's Favorite Butter Cookies
Yields 4 dozen

1 1/2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt

1. Sift baking soda with flour and salt.
2. Separately, beat egg and sugar until light.
3. Add butter and vanilla to egg and sugar.
4. Combine with flour mixture. (You may also add 1/2 cup of coarse walnuts.)
5. Divide dough into two parts and roll in wax paper.
6. Keep in freezer overnight.
7. Slice and bake 10 - 12 minutes at 350 degrees F.