Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summertime Grilled Kale Salad with Plums and Ricotta

Okay before you say “ohh that sounds horrible,” hear me out. This is my new favorite salad. When the grill is already hot and the meat has been pulled off and is resting, you can prepare this salad in a matter of minutes and it is wonderful. I based it on a recipe from Bon Appetit that caught my eye. The only extra touch I added for this salad is I made fresh ricotta.
If you have never had fresh ricotta before, it is a totally different beast from the container you buy next to the sour cream once a year when you make lasagna. It tastes like…it has the texture of… Hmm, it’s tiny white clumps. You actually make it by adding lemon juice to whole milk and then you have ricotta. It is that easy. You scoop out the little white bits that normally would scare you if you peered into a container of milk. You would hand the container to your spouse and say “taste this and let me know if it’s okay.” And they would give you that “I wasn’t born yesterday” look and you would toss it. But in this instance it is okay. You want these little white grains of dairy lusciousness.  You scoop them out and put them in some paper towels to drain in a strainer and you are done. Fresh Ricotta. You could go ahead and layer it between noodles and make some lasagna but it’s worth so much more than that.
I first tasted fresh ricotta at Zuni Café in San Francisco. My husband is a gnocchi lover; if it is on the menu he always goes for it. At Zuni their gnocchi, normally made with flour in our experience, is made from ricotta. A few tablespoon sized pillows comes floating to your table. The waitress has to keep the dish from floating away they are so light. They come sauced with just butter and sage. Kill me now. I know what heaven tastes like.
Which of course led me to search out fresh ricotta at Cowgirl Creamery in the Ferry Building in SF and make my own ricotta gnocchi. Became my latest new best thing for awhile and introduced me to fresh ricotta.
I moved away. No longer easy access to fresh ricotta, but when I saw this recipe I knew it would not be the same without it. Don’t do it with store bought tubs. By it fresh, make it fresh or just don’t do it.
But I digress. Back to the salad. Cut some plums into slices, working around the pit. They usually don’t come out nice like a peach. Throw them in a bowl. Spray some really dry, curly kale with canola oil or olive oil or rub it all over with oil, but it is easier with spray. Sprinkle it with salt, put it on the grill and watch it. As soon as the leaves start to blacken on the edge flip it over. Cook another minute, pull it off, throw it in a bowl and continue until all the leaves are cooked. Make a dressing of olive oil and balsamic with a drizzle of honey. BA has you add fresh thyme but not using it is not a deal killer. Grab the cooked kale and cut out the big rib in the middle. I just used my hands and pulled the leaves off the rib. Grilling them makes them crispy and softer at the same time. Kale can be tough but just these few minutes of heat on the grill softens the leaves and crisps the edges like a kale chip. Toss the plums and kale with the dressing. Pile on a plate, taking some of the plums that sunk to the bottom of the bowl and arrange on top of the greens. Add a little dollop of ricotta, a few grinds of pepper and some kosher salt. That is it. You are done.
You have the perfect summer salad. The juicy plums and the slightly sweet dressing pair with the crispy yet tender kale. The creamy ricotta pulls it all together and you have a moment of awakening. You find out you like kale. You find out making ricotta is easier than you think. Your teenage daughter could make it with little instruction (thanks Grace). You haven’t spent hours chopping and dicing. And you have the perfect summer salad. Takes no time but wows the taste buds and surprises your dinner guests!
And I found these instructions helpful and took a little of the fear out of making ricotta. But skip the first part and jump to the recipe at the bottom. All that trial and error and science can scare you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chicago Foodies Run Amok!

foodie (ˈfuːdɪ) : A person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food.
I am not sure that is an apt description for the person so enthusiastic about food and its preparation that while they eat, while they cook, while they sleep, they think about the next meal, talk about the next meal, talk about their greatest meal. There needs to be another name to describe the super foodie like mega-lo-mein-iac, giga-gourmet, foodophiliac, a phrase to describe the person who while driving 40 minutes to check out a Japanese market discusses where the next food road trip will be and what to make for the next dinner party will be. A person who belongs to cookbook clubs, not book clubs.

And when you throw a dinner party and let them bring whatever they want things get a little out of hand.

(Shireen) Savory Cannele was the starter served with a glass of chilled white wine. Canneles are the next big thing in food. Move over macarons and pork belly. I had never heard of them 3 months ago. Now I have had them twice in my home and eaten them in two different restaurants in Chicago. I expect to see them showing up at Panera soon! The batter is made a day or two ahead and these little treats are baked for almost an hour until they are carmelized and crusty on the outside and inside hides a custardy silky interior. I have had sweet and savory. I like them all. You just wait. Coming soon to a plate near you.

(Lisa) Cold Pea Soup with crème fraîche - This second course was inspired by a dish I had at Tru, one of the top resturants in Chicago. It amazed me with its simplicity and depth of flavor with simple ingredients. Tru's menu item was "english pea soup, below 0° lavender crème fraîche." My version was a simple pea soup made with frozen peas, vidalia onions and some chicken stock. Pureed in the food processor and strained through a fine strainer, the pea soup became silky and bursting with spring flavors. I wanted a contrast in textures so I bought a handful of fresh peas from the farmer's market, shelled them, and blanched them. To recreate the 0 degree creme fraiche, I made crème fraîche (think french sour cream) from scratch (really easy and much cheaper) and made a crème fraîche sorbet the night before. Earleir in the day of the dinner I scooped out small spoonfulls and froze them individually on a cookie sheet so they would be as icy cold as my freezer could get them. I served the dish by pouring the chilled pea soup into chilled little terrines, sprinkling with the fresh peas and then dropping the dollop of cold crème fraîche sorbet in the middle. The sweetness of the pea soup contrasted with the tart iciness of the sorbet. The crunchy fresh peas were a nice contrast to the unctious creaminess of the sorbet and soup. A total success!

 (Shireen) Vegetable Terine - The third course was a vegetable terrine made with eggs and studded with fresh vegetables, served at room temp. Topped with a room temp garlicky tomato sauce. It should have been a beautiful slice but I manhandled it a little too much, thwacking on it to get it out. Sorry Shireen!

(next course - no pic - oops! forgot - too excited to eat! - picture a small nest of wide hand cut pappardalle with a mound of shredded rabbit ragu on top studded with small bits of carrot, pancetta, celery and onion) (Doris - I am out of pancetta - we need to make more!)

(Lisa) Lemon Sorbet with Rose Consumme. Another Tru inspired dish that came out just the way I wanted it to. I made a simple syrup that I infused with rosebuds and added some rhubarb too (thanks Doris) to get the beautiful color. The sorbet is lemon juice, lime juice, sugar and two kinds of basil. The floral fruity notes of the rose and the tart sweet consomee with hints of rhubarb  contrasted perfect with to the oh so refreshing lemon lime sorbet! a perfect palate cleanser.

(Doris) Smoked Chicken Thighs with Lemon Ginger BBQ Sauce. The recipe called for quarters which in a moment of sanity we decided might be too much after the previous courses so thighs were the substitute. The chicken thighs were rubbed with spices, then smoked on the grill, then mopped with a sauce and grilled directly then basted with a finishing sauce. The result was smoky, sweet, and tanby with citrus and spicy hits of ginger.
(Pam) Arugula Salad with Roasted Grapes and Shaved Parmesan. Nice peppery bite to accompany the chicken.

Did we cry uncle? No more food please! Stop! - Nope - we went for a walk and came back for dessert.

(Doris) Fresh Plum tart - buttery crust with tart plums poking out, glazed with a little jam and sprinkled sugar. Pretty as a piece of jewelry. (For the record, I skipped this but woke up thinkging about it so walked straight into the kitchen and had a piece - perfect breakfast!)

(Doris) Grand Finale - a beautiful Charlotte Russe -  Light and airy, jewel like berries bedded in cream and nestled in a lady fingers coat drizzled with creme anglaise to gilt the lily!

We vowed next time to not make so many courses but don't believe us. We will set the menu and then someone will say "I have been wanting to make ...(insert here some exotic, crazy, super deilicious and scary for a mere foodie to make dish.)" 

But I wouldn't expect any less from a gourmandeer...a hedonistaterian...a gastro-  You get the idea.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Farmer's Market Lunch

We went to the Evanston Farmer's market on Saturday. After a winter of hot house veggies and dark grocery store produce departments it's was like waking up from a winter's nap in a dark room to find yourself in the Garden of Eden! I wanted to buy everything I saw - the potted fig trees, the first cherries of the season, armfuls of greens and herbs, artisanal breads, bouquets and more. I restrained myself.

Okay, so maybe not totally restrained myself. I bought Grace the chilled young coconut that the guy lopped the top off and stuck a straw into. It was a amazing and brought quite a bit of attention from the other market goers - "hey where did you get that?" I bought a chicken mole tamale - tasty! I bought a huge bouquet of cheap dark purple gladiolas that are still making me happy. I bought a 6 inch strawberry rhubarb pie. And I actually bought some edible things to take home to make a killer lunch!

I made an open faced sandwich from a ten grain bread from an artisanal baker. I then spread a good covering of soft chevre from Wisconsin. A layer of thin slices of hoop house tomatoes, not quite summer tomates but pretty darn tasty, went on top of the goat cheese. A green layer of locally grown organic English cucumber thinly sliced added a nice crunch to the sandwich. Crisp red radishes added a little sharp bite. To top it off a sprinkling of garlic salt and a shower of baby arugula greens and radish greens to crown it. It made me happy to make it and to eat it!

I promise I will try next time to behave except they have this great...