Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grilled Sablefish for a Birthday

This week, Barton Seaver is in Seattle to promote his new book For Cod and Country. It is a lovely book that is divided by seasons and focuses on buying, cooking and eating sustainable seafood. There are techniques to smoke, brine, grill, poach, broil and fillet. It also includes a list of sustainable substitutes for fish that are not readily available. The photos are beautiful and the recipes inspiring. Fish is a favorite in our house and as soon as I looked through this book I knew it was a “must have” for us. I have already marked numerous recipes to try (smoked sable brandade, bluefish with charred green beans and almond aioli, arctic char with blistered cherry tomatoes in garlic oil, spaghetti with mackerel sauce).

I had the pleasure of hearing Barton talk at Blueacre Seafood. Blueacre prepared marvelous appetizers from the cookbook for the evening... what a treat! Barton is a dynamic, engaging speaker and clearly loves his subject. I appreciate his message of sustainability and the value in distinguishing between need and desire, that mindful eating is taking only what we need and not just what we desire. Ultimately, the best way to save the oceans is to eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains... they will nurture us and sustain the fish.

Dinner is a time for joy and reverence. Barton shared a blessing with us that stayed with me; to paraphrase, “Eat with care, eat with joy and eat together.” That speaks to me!

My son, Sam, chose his birthday dinner this week from For Cod and Country. He is an adventurous eater and enjoys trying new fish and veggie dishes. After perusing the book, he decided upon Grilled Sablefish with Shredded Endive and Cherry-Tarragon Salsa. He rounded out the meal with deviled eggs, roasted fingerling potatoes and a green salad (his favorite food). For dessert, he chose decadent banana splits. Don’t worry... he doesn’t take healthy eating to an extreme!

The sablefish combined wonderful textures and tastes. Crisp endive and soft fish, sweet and tangy cherry salsa. I had fresh dill on hand so substituted that for the tarragon. Sam enjoyed a terrific birthday with good food, a Mariners game with his grandparents, birthday wishes from his younger brother who is in Japan for two weeks, and a fun movie (Super 8, an entertaining one to begin the summer season). And we all ate together with care and joy, in the spirit of Barton’s blessing. And Sam loved the sablefish! (As did we all.)

Grilled Sablefish with Shredded Endive and Cherry-Tarragon Salsa
From For Cod and Country
By Barton Seaver
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely diced
2 pints sweet cherries, cut in half and pitted
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
Four 5-ounce portions sablefish fillet
3 heads Belgian endive, bottoms trimmed and cut crosswise into thin strips
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (dill worked nicely, too)

For the salsa, place the olive oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Add the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Before the shallots are fully softened, add the cherries and toss to combine. Cook until the cherries begin to bleed some of their juices, about 2 minutes. Season generously with salt and add the vinegar. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until the liquid in the pan reduces to a slightly thick syrup around the cherries, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.

For the fish, grill on the barbecue. Barton includes grilling instructions for a charcoal grill, but we have a gas barbecue. I cooked our fillets covered over low heat for about 10 minutes. Sablefish is a flaky fish, so take care in grilling and do not move the fillets.

To serve, divide the shredded endive among 4 plates. Gently reheat the salsa if necessary and add the tarragon. Toss to combine. Gently set the fish on top of the endive and spoon the salsa over the top. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Berries Are Here!

Is this a gorgeous sight?  We have a fabulous berry stand right in our neighborhood where a local farm sells its strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and marionberries.  Each year, when we see the stand being set up and the “Coming Soon” sign posted, we let out a little cheer.  Summer is just around the corner and we can begin our daily pilgrimages (those pint boxes are single servings).  Sometimes it’s a couple of weeks before it actually opens depending upon how the growing season is going, but every day we eagerly look and wait.  An-ti-ci-pa-a-tion…

If my husband was not such a calm driver, I may have caused an accident when I let out a loud gasp and thrust my pointed finger in his line of sight at the now open berry stand.  We have had the wettest, coldest spring I can remember in Seattle and I am desperate for summer.  We are on our way to the airport with Isaac for his Japanese adventure so we all have a quick debate over stopping now for strawberries or taking a chance they’ll be sold out if we grab them later.  Japan calls and Isaac insists we get to the airport so on we go.

Fortunately, these little red gems are still waiting upon our return.  These are small, delicate, fragrant berries that almost taste like candy with their sweetness and melt on your tongue.

Right now, I really should be vacuuming and changing sheets.  My folks are arriving for a visit and in the chaos of the past few days the house cleaning did not get done.  Instead, all I can do is gaze at the half flat of strawberries sitting on the counter and think about what I will create with them.  My parents need lunch, right?  Lunch is more welcoming than mopped floors, right?  At least the chicken coop is clean …

Barley Spinach Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette
Serves 6

4 cups barley, cooked and cooled
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
8 ounces fresh small mozzarella cheese balls, cut in half (or cut a larger sized ball into bite sized pieces)
3 handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 1/2 pints strawberries, preferably small local ones, green tops removed
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste

In a medium sized serving bowl, combine the barley, nuts, cheese, spinach and 1 pint of strawberries.  If the strawberries are very small, keep them whole.  If not, cut in half or quarters as needed.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the remaining 1/2 pint strawberries, vinegar and oil and whiz with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth.  Season to taste with salt.  Drizzle about 3/4 of the dressing over salad and gently mix.  If the salad will sit for a bit, you will need to add more dressing since the barley will soak it up. 

Serve to your guests. They will admire your pretty pink salad and overlook the dusty furniture.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dates and Butter (and Goodbyes)

We’ve been leading up to two goodbyes in our household.  Did I mention they are happening on the same day?  That’s a lot for one mom to handle.  My first goodbye will be my younger son, Isaac.  He is going to Japan to visit Kyoto, Hiroshima and Kanazawa with his Japanese class from middle school.  Big sigh… so far away.  He will have a marvelous two week experience and I’m excited for him.

The second farewell is our exchange student, Mohammad.  We’ve been hosting Mohammad for the past year from Saudi Arabia.  What a special year!  He is 17 years old and truly became our son and brother.  We learned about each others’ cultures, countries and religions, and mostly realized how much we have in common.  Mohammad and my sons, Sam and Isaac, share so many of the same interests.  The sounds of them laughing and chatting together every day makes me smile.  Sports, music, movies, Xbox... all part of the universal language of teenaged boys. Hosting exchange students has allowed our family to expand in such a unique way.  I love that we can bring someone into our home and hearts and establish a relationship that will grow over the years.

It is fun for me to learn about traditional foods that Mohammad eats, especially for the holidays of Ramadan, Eid al Fitr and Eid al Ahda. He shared a simple Ramadan treat with us that is divine.  In Arabic, it is called Tamr Bizebdah, which translates as Dates and Butter.  Hmmmm … dates and butter.    Sweet, rich, sticky and addictive.  Dates are abundant in Saudi Arabia and there are many varieties.  Often, this date and butter dish is referred to by the name of the dates used to make it.  When Mohammad first told us about this treat, he said, “You might not like it.”  When I asked why, he said, “It has a lot of butter in it.”  I smiled and said, “I already love it!”  He cooks pureed dates with butter until it forms a soft pudding which is served warm.  During Ramadan, the first food eaten each evening to break the fast is a date.  Children are given this date and butter confection and it is understandably very popular with them.  It is often served with Arabic coffee or a thick yogurt drink.

During our dinner to celebrate Eid al Ahda, we did a tasting with medjool, golden zahidi and deglet noor dates.  Medjool are the ones that we see here most often and it was wonderful to compare sweetness and textures.  The deglet noor became my favorite.  Expanding on the theme of dates and butter, I made a Date Butter Tart for dessert from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

Mohammad also introduced us to Vimto, and we dubbed it “Saudi soda.”  It has a flavor similar to Red Bull, which kids love. He described it to us as something special that he drinks during the holidays.  Imagine our thrill when we discovered it while eating at an Egyptian restaurant, Shawarma King, in Seattle!   I found I could purchase Vimto at Goodies Mediterranean Market.

The official exchange year may be coming to an end, but the future with Mohammad is just beginning.  Dates and butter (and Vimto) will always remind me of him and his infectious laugh.  And fortunately I’ll say hello to Isaac again in two weeks.  A mom can only take so much at one time!

Dates and Butter (Tamr Bizebdah)
from Mohammad
serves 3-4 children or 6-8 adults (it’s very rich)

13 oz date puree  (I have found packages in Middle Eastern markets of good quality date purees, or you can pit and puree whole dates with a little water to form a paste)
4 oz unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and swirl so it coats the sides of the pan.  This keeps the dates from sticking to the pan.  Add the date puree and stir with a wooden spoon until the dates absorb all the butter. This will take about 10 minutes.   Serve in small glass bowls and enjoy.

Date Butter Tart
from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
serves 6-8

For the pate sucree:

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 extra large egg yolk
11/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
31/2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspsoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter

For the tart:

35 to 40 deglet noor dates (another variety may be used, just make sure they’re plump and juicy)
1/2 vanilla bean
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 extra large eggs
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Vanilla ice cream

Make the pate sucree: Whisk the cream and egg yolk together in a small bowl.  In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter on medium speed until you have a coarse meal.  (Or use a food processor and pulse until you have a coarse meal.)  Gradually add the cream and yolk and mix until just combined.  Do not overwork the dough.  Transfer to a large work surface and bring it together with your hands to incorporate completely.  Shape it into a 1-inch disc and put in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up.  Place it on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the dough and roll it out into a 1/4 -inch-thick circle.  Starting at one side, roll and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to pick it up.  Unroll the dough over a 10-inch tart pan.  Gently fit the dough loosely into the pan, lifting the edges and pressing the dough into the corners with your fingers.  To remove the excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top of the tart pan for a nice, clean edge.  Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and line the tart shell with a piece of parchment paper.  Fill the lined tart shell with beans or pie weights and bake 15 minutes.  Take the tart out of the oven and gently lift out the paper and beans.  Return to the oven and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the tart is an even golden brown.  Set aside on a rack to cool completely.

Make a vertical slit in each date and carefully remove the pit.  Use your finger to press the dates back into their natural shape.  Place the dates, slit side down, in concentric circles in the tart shell, leaving 1/2 inch between each date.

Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter.  Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute.  Add the vanilla-streaked butter and the vanilla pod to the pan and cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the butter browns and smells nutty.  Discard the vanilla pod.

Whisk the eggs and 2/3 cup sugar together in a bowl.  Whisk in the flour and salt and stir in the warm butter to incorporate.

Pour the batter over the dates in the tart shell.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake 30 minutes, until the filling puffs up, browns and sets.  Cool tart at least 20 minutes and serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dinner at Poppy

Bob and I celebrated our 18th anniversary last weekend with a lovely dinner at Poppy in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. I don’t feel old enough to have been married for 18 years! We met as undergrads at UCLA. I had just transferred from Boston University and moved into an apartment on fraternity row. Bob was the boy next door. So cute with his blonde curls, blue eyes and motorcycle! Soon I was looking for reasons to knock on his door (quarters for laundry?) and we began exploring the beaches and falafel stands together. Here we are, almost 24 years later, still having fun exploring together on a motorcycle.

Poppy is a marvelous discovery. It is the creation of Jerry Traunfeld (former executive chef of the Herbfarm) and serves inspired Northwest cuisine in the Indian thali style. This means you have the pleasure of tasting multiple small bowls of delicious dishes. The exposed brick, wood beams, large windows and blonde wood tables create an open, inviting atmosphere. I enjoyed a peek into the kitchen through a long row of windows and a pretty patio out back beckoned with bountiful herbs and hanging lights.

We started our meal with the eggplant fries with sea salt and honey (brilliant, you must order these!),

a grilled artichoke with walnut stuffing and pequillo pepper sauce,

and glasses of Laphroaig (Bob) and sparkling rose (me).

Our 10-item vegetarian thali included a morel mushroom risotto, goat cheese blintzes with asparagus, pea sprouts and hazelnuts, asparagus and sage soup, a leek gratin, seabean, radish and grilled green onion salad (loved this combo!), beets with spice bread and mint, roasted cauliflower with sesame and dill, rhubarb pickle and divine nigella-poppy naan. Big sigh… food heaven. The fresh flavors leap out and stay with you.

Other 7- and 10-item thali options include fish and meat combinations. I wish we had saved room for dessert (a la carte pastry and ice cream choices, or indulge in a sweet thali for two) but this will give us another reason to return, in addition to the seasonally changing menu. A fantastic evening -- thank you, Poppy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Omelet for my Dad

Father’s Day is this weekend and I am thinking about my Dad. He is a lovely man, kind and patient and always interested in whatever is going on with my two brothers and me. He shared his love of books, reading and travel with me at a young age and these are great loves of mine today. Since having my two sons, it warms my heart to see what a caring grandfather he is, too.

One of my favorite memories when I was quite young is of an elaborate treasure hunt game my Dad created for my siblings and me. We turned out all the lights in the house, and armed with a flashlight and our first written clue we ventured from the “safe zone” of the staircase into the “caves and swamps” in search of the next clue. My Dad hid as a swamp monster or other creature and let out growls and noises to add shivers to our venture. Each time we found the next clue, we ran screaming with glee to the safety of the staircase to figure the riddle out. This could last for hours, and I so appreciate the time and effort my Dad put into thinking of creative clues and hiding in dark corners and under tables.

Looking back, memories of my Dad in the kitchen revolve around pancake making. My Mom did all the cooking while I was growing up, sharing recipes and teaching me. She is a marvelous cook and baker and makes the most incredible pie crusts (pie crust cookies are a favorite of my Dad’s, made from leftover scraps). On Saturday mornings, though, he would create works of art for my brothers and me in the forms of dinosaurs and silver dollar pancakes. We loved them!

Cheese omelets remind me of my Dad, since this is a favorite meal he enjoys any time of day. Recalling a French rolled omelet I had seen in Cook’s Illustrated a couple of years ago, I located the recipe and made it in his honor. I love the technique used here of scrambling the eggs using chopsticks.

My Dad is always ready to share a bottle of Champagne, so be sure to have some chilled bubbly ready to pop and enjoy with this fluffy, buttery omelet. Cheers to you, Dad, and to all you fabulous fathers!

French Omelet from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
6 large eggs, cold
Table salt and ground black pepper
1/2teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons shredded Gruyere cheese
4 teaspoons minced fresh chives

Cut 1 tablespoon butter in half again. Cube remaining tablespoon butter into small dice, transfer to small bowl, and place in freezer while preparing eggs and skillet, at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place oil in 8-inch nonstick skillet and heat over low heat 10 minutes.

Crack 2 eggs into medium bowl and separate third egg; reserve white for another use and add yolk to bowl. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt and pinch of pepper. Break yolks with fork, then beat eggs at moderate pace, about 80 strokes, until yolks and whites are well combined. Stir in half of frozen butter cubes.

When skillet is fully heated, use paper towels to wipe out oil, leaving thin film on bottom and sides of skillet. Add ½ tablespoon reserved butter piece to skillet and heat until foaming subsides, 45 to 90 seconds. Swirl butter to coat skillet, add egg mixture, and increase heat to medium-high. Use 2 chopsticks or wooden skewers to scramble eggs using quick circular motion to move around skillet, scraping cooked egg from side of skillet as you go, until eggs are almost cooked but still slightly runny, 45 to 90 seconds.

Turn off heat (remove skillet from heat if using electric burner) and smooth eggs into even layer using rubber spatula. Sprinkle omelet with 1 tablespoon cheese and 2 teaspoons chives. Cover skillet with tight-fitting lid and let sit 1 minute for runnier omelet and 2 minutes for firmer omelet.

Heat skillet over low heat 20 seconds, uncover, and, using rubber spatula, loosen edges of omelet from skillet. Place folded square of paper towel onto warmed plate and slide omelet out of skillet onto paper towel so that omelet lies flat on plate and hangs about 1 inch off paper towel. Roll omelet into neat cylinder and set aside. Return skillet to low heat and heat 2 minutes before repeating instructions for second omelet. Serve on warm plates.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fresh Blueberry Herb Salsa

I am craving summer meals and there is nothing that says summer more than salsa! Salsa can be very creative, using different fruits, veggies, herbs and spice. The key is fresh flavor. Blueberries are a favorite of mine, eaten by the handful or baked into a cobbler. You don’t see blueberries used in a savory way very often, so I decided to try them in salsa. Delicious results! The blueberries and fresh herbs get a kick from the heat of the grilled jalapeno, and lime juice brings the flavors together.

This salsa would be terrific served with grilled fish (perhaps in a corn tortilla)and a glass of sangria, or to jazz up a cheese plate. I served it with a wedge of Brie and baguette slices.

After grilling your jalapeno, taste a little bit to see how spicy it is... this morning I let out a “Whoo!” when I tasted one I had just grilled, so I did not use the whole chili.

Fresh Blueberry Herb Salsa
Makes 2 cups

1 jalapeno (or more to your taste)
3 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed
¾ cup red onion, chopped
2 juicy limes
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup fresh basil, sliced thinly
½ cup fresh mint, sliced thinly
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

Grill the jalapeno on the barbecue or over a gas flame until it is blackened and soft, about 7-8 minutes. When it is cool, slip the charred skin off and cut off the stem. Slice in half and taste the chili. If it is mild, plan to use the seeds, otherwise you can scrape the seeds out. Chop the jalapeno and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 2 cups of blueberries, the jalapeno and the red onion together about 5 or 6 times. You want a rough mix.

Pour the mixture into a serving bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup of blueberries, the juice of 2 limes, salt and fresh herbs. Stir and enjoy!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Delightful Dukkah

Meet my new spice mix addiction…dukkah. You, too, can be addicted to dukkah! Dukkah is an Egyptian spice mix that is incredibly versatile. Traditionally, nuts, sesame seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds are toasted and ground together with salt to form an aromatic mix to sprinkle lavishly. You can be creative and add other seeds and spices to make it your own (such as dried mint or coconut). I had eaten dukkah while traveling in Egypt and Israel and loved it. Searching for it back at home, though, I was disappointed in the store bought version, a musty and bland powder.

This past week, I had the pleasure of testing a recipe at Food52 that was a candidate for an Editor’s Pick (and won!). Antonia James submitted her recipe for Hard Cooked Eggs with Lime Aioli and Dukkah. Let me just say, her dukkah is terrific. It has crunch and pizzazz. The toasted spices are fragrant and pounding with a mortar and pestle is always so much fun. Bob used to live in Jerusalem and when he caught a whiff he was transported back. All week, I have been liberally dusting dukkah on roasted fingerling potatoes, salads, tomato sandwiches and even my morning oatmeal (which made a lovely savory porridge).

I made canapés from the Food52 recipe and could not assemble them fast enough for my family (toasted baguette slices slathered with aioli, layered with sliced hard cooked eggs and sprinkled with dukkah). These canapés will make regular appearances at summer parties. And the dukkah has become a pantry staple.

from Antonia James at Food52

2 heaping tablespoons raw sesame seeds
2 tablespoons lightly roasted pumpkin seeds (or, more traditionally,¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed, or roasted garbanzos)
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon grains of paradise or freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Toast the sesame seeds in a small heavy skillet. Remove and partially crush using a mortar and pestle, just enough to release a bit of fragrance.

Finely chop the roasted pumpkin seeds (or hazelnuts or garbanzos).

Toast the cumin seeds and the coriander seeds, separately, in a small heavy skillet just until fragrant. Watch carefully, and remove immediately, lest they burn.

Crush the seeds together using a mortar and pestle, or by pulsing in an electric spice grinder. They should be coarse, and not fine.

Combine all of the ingredients in the mortar and pestle and pound lightly a few times. Give the blend a few final good stirs, to combine. It should smell divine.

Store any leftover dukkah in the refrigerator, tightly covered.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Israeli Cheesecake

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday being celebrated this week that remembers the time when Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is also an agricultural holiday marking the end of the spring barley harvest and beginning of the summer wheat.

It is a delicious holiday and dairy foods are traditionally eaten. When faced with the new laws of keeping kosher (separating meat and dairy) at Mount Sinai, I guess it was easier to eat only dairy foods. From a seasonal perspective, goats, sheep and cows graze more in springtime and produce more milk. This allows for a lot of yummy churning and cheesemaking. To represent the harvest, grains such as barley and wheat berries are also eaten. I just love how the season and holiday observance are woven together!

Ask many Jews what represents Shavuot and you’ll get the quick response, “Cheesecake!” Our community holds an annual cheesecake bakeoff and this year a lovely variety of cheesecakes were displayed, including a classic New York, a vegan delight, a fig and basil, a savory, an apple and caramel, a New York fudge, a raspberry swirl, micro minis, Oreo crust mocha and Israeli cheesecake. Wow! That’s a lot of cheesecake tasting and, not surprisingly, a large crowd always turns out to sample.

I contributed the Israeli cheesecake, which comes from Janna Gur’s lovely book The Book of New Israeli Food. Her photos and recipes are a real treat for the eye and palate. Plan ahead when making this cheesecake because it needs to be chilled for at least 24 hours. Also, it calls for gvina levana, which is an Israeli soft white cheese. If you do not have access to a market that sells it, you can substitute quark or cream cheese in an equal amount.

Israeli Cheesecake (for an 8x8 inch square baking dish)
from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur

The crust and topping:
7 ounces crumbled petit-beurre cookies (or any butter cookie or biscuit that isn’t too sweet)
4 ounces melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

The filling:
7 ounces butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, preferably organic, room temperature
1 egg yolk, preferable organic, room temperature
9 ounces gvina levana (or other cheese such as quark or room temperature cream cheese)
7 ounces sour cream

Combine the crumbled cookies with the sugar and melted butter. Press two-thirds of the mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish. Freeze for 15 minutes until the crust solidifies. Keep the rest for the topping.

Beat the butter with the sugar, egg and egg yolk in a mixer until creamy and fluffy. Gently fold in the cheese and sour cream and pour the filling into the prepared crust. Coat with the remaining cookie crumb mixture and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Snappy Raspberry Lime Rickey

Sunshine is streaming through the window as I write. I repeat, SUN. How happy am I? A warm breeze and rays of light fill the kitchen. Of course, rain may return, but that is not in my thoughts right now. Instead, I have soda fountains and palm trees on my mind.

Growing up in the Boston area, Raspberry Lime Rickeys were a favorite summer sipper of mine. I ordered them at Brigham's Ice Cream and loved the sweet raspberry flavor with a hint of lime. Part of the appeal for me was also wondering, "Who's Rickey?" (I’ve since learned that in 1883 Colonel Joe Rickey from Missouri added some lime to his morning bourbon and sparkling water and the “Joe Rickey” was born.)

In high school, I worked at the Putnam Pantry in Lexington MA, an ice cream parlor featuring a sundae smorgasbord and chocolates. One of the many delights served were Raspberry Lime Rickeys. Looking back, I recall an extremely sweet, syrupy drink and decided to tart it up a bit which makes for a bright, refreshing drink.

Snappy Raspberry Lime Rickey
Serves 2 (Recipe easily doubles)

2 cups frozen organic unsweetened raspberries, defrosted (save the juice)
4 tablespoons agave syrup
1/4 cup water
12-15 fresh mint leaves
3 large limes
2 cups seltzer

In a medium saucepan, mix the raspberries, their juice, agave syrup and mint leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, mashing any whole berries until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool.

Squeeze enough lime juice to measure 1/3 cup (about 2 large limes). Strain the cooled raspberry mixture, mashing well to get all the syrup. (Syrup can be prepared ahead and kept chilled.)

In a pretty pitcher, combine the lime juice, raspberry syrup and 2 cups of seltzer. Add ice and serve with lime wedges to garnish. Sip on some summer!

(In the spirit of Col. Rickey, feel free to add a splash of spirit! I prefer gin or vodka over bourbon for this drink, though.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fruity French Toast

I adore breakfast food, anytime of day and I’m sure many of you will agree with me. Sometimes savory and sometimes sweet, it’s all good!

Many years ago, right after college, my friend Rebecca and I shared an apartment in Los Angeles (Redondo Beach, specifically). Our favorite part of the apartment was its location a block from the beach, which helped nurture the sun goddess in each of us. Our next favorite thing was the old (charming?) kitchen with its pink and turquoise tiles. So retro and cool! We spent a lot of time in this kitchen discovering the fun of cooking together and creating new dishes. Lots of giggling and mishaps from two 22 year old girls, as well...

Our favorite meal was breakfast. Every weekend we went out at least once to a diner or local breakfast spot and often we made breakfast for each other. Rebecca’s specialties included lemon poppy seed scones, blueberry muffins, scrambled eggs served with a delicious tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, and blanched asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. Our absolute favorite was banana pancakes and it was our quest to find the best ones at the diners we frequented.

One year for Rebecca’s birthday I wanted to make a fruity French toast. I didn’t want to spend the morning standing over the stove, so decided to try baking it instead with fruit. More time for mimosas and chatting on the balcony! The result was quite yummy. The French toast was crispy on the outside and custardy on the inside. I’ve since expanded the ease of making this to include soaking the French toast overnight so very little prep is needed in the morning. It’s a great dish to add to your brunch menu or to give you more time to visit with your out-of-town guests.

I make it here with raspberries, cherries and bananas, but you can use whatever fruit you prefer (I encourage you to include bananas).

Fruity French Toast
(serves 5-6)

1 large loaf of brioche or challah
8 eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup maple syrup
4 bananas, sliced
24 ounces fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries (frozen works very well)

The night before serving, slice the bread into 10 thick slices. Whisk the eggs, milk, baking powder and vanilla together in a bowl. Dip each piece of bread into the mixture and place on a rimmed baking pan. You may have to layer a bit to make them fit. Pour any extra egg mixture over the top evenly, cover with plastic wrap and pop into the fridge.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the maple syrup, bananas and fruit together in a bowl. Butter two 9x13 baking dishes and divide the fruit mixture between the dishes. Using a spatula, carefully lay the slices of soaked bread on top of the fruit. Bake the French toast until it is golden brown, about 25 minutes. To serve, scoop and flip each piece onto the plates so the fruit is on top. Enjoy with coffee, or better yet a mimosa and a dear friend.