Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lamb and Cucumber Kebabs with Feta Sauce

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I always feel a certain sense of accomplishment when I make a recipe from one of my magazines. It's most likely because I read through stacks of magazines, tear out countless recipes and then do nothing with the vast majority of them. They end up in all corners of my house: on tables, in the office, folded in cookbooks... But few of them are ever put to the test. This particular recipe caught my eye for a few reasons. First, it was on a little tear-out recipe card in the June issue of Living. Second, it was short and could easily be made on a weeknight. Third, it combined lamb and feta - yum! And perhaps most appealing, it had grilled cucumbers. The idea fascinated me. I love cukes - but they're for salads and such, not for grilling. Or are they?

Very much to our surprise, the cucumbers kept their crunch on the grill. They were juicy and provided a great change from the veggies we usually grill. Dipped in feta sauce and paired with a juicy piece of lamb, they just couldn't be better. I'm convinced. I wonder what I should grill next (I'm skeptical about lettuce on the grill too, so maybe that'll hit the flames sometime soon.)

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Bottom line, this recipe is an easy way to get great Greek flavors on your table in almost no time at all. The hardest part was trimming the leg of lamb. I bought a boneless leg that was a little over 3 pounds and I used half for this meal and froze the rest for a future dinner. It was more than enough for two of us - Jeff will have leftovers for lunch on Friday. If the sauce is too thick for your taste, add a little more olive oil.

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Lamb and Cucumber Kebabs with Feta Sauce
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, June 2010

For the kebabs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 lemon, cut into 4 pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
About 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 and English cucumber, halved lengthwise then cut into 1-inch thick pieces
Salt and pepper

For the sauce
3 ounces feta, crumbled
4 ounces fat-free Greek yogurt
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon

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To make the kebabs, combine the oil, zest, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and lamb in a non-reactive bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. (You don't need a lot of salt because the feta adds enough saltiness in the sauce). Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate.

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Heat grill on medium high heat. Alternate lamb and cucumber on skewers and finish each with a piece of lemon. Grill 10 to 12 minutes, turning once. Serve with the sauce.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pappardelle bolognese

bolognese

With summer in full swing, we've been doing a lot of grilling and we're certainly getting our fill of the summer's best fruits and veggies. But last week as I planned our menu, I suddenly thought of pappardelle bolognese. Not exactly a mid-July dinner - more something we'd have after a day on the slopes, but when I mentioned it to my husband, his eyes lit up too. So it was decided. Sunday's dinner would be pappardelle bolognese.

A flip through a few cookbooks or an online search will reveal as many variations for bolognese as there are Italian grandmothers. And my recipe below is yet another variation. It's based mainly on the recipe that appears in Molto Italiano, but I changed up a few things. Some call for white wine, some for red. Some use beef, others veal. Some have milk, some don't. The variations are endless. We agreed that this one was just right - mostly meat, just enough tomato and perfect with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano grated over the top.

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This makes a good sized batch - I froze some for future use. Or make it for a crowd - this would serve 6 to 8 people with a side salad and some bread. We like it on pappardelle, but any pasta would work. Had I been a bit more adventurous, I would've made homemade. My version calls for red wine. I used a Zenato Valpolicello and then we had the same wine with the meal. It paired wonderfully.

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Ragu Bolognese
adapted from Molto Italiano

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
4 ounces pancetta, put thru a meat grinder or ground in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup red wine, preferably Italian
1 cup milk
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Pasta, cooked according to package directions
Fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to finish

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Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, carrots and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Don't brown the vegetables.

Add the meat and increase the heat to high. Cook until the meat is browned.

Add the milk, wine, tomato paste, and thyme and stir to combine. Bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over pasta and finish with fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Farmer's market gazpacho, plus how I almost drowned Anthony Bourdain

gazpacho

I have a confession. Last week I almost drowned Anothony Bourdain. I know what you're thinking: what'd he do to deserve that? The answer: nothing. It was an accident. I was running a bath and was taking Kitchen Confidential with me, a book I've wanted to read for years, and I knocked it in the water. It's finally dry, but it's a wrinkled mess - I am devouring it page by page regardless. I can just hear Bourdain's voice in my head as I read. I'm getting through it quickly, so I need your help. What other foodie books should I be reading? Leave your favorites and I'll start a list. Let me know what you like and why.

Now on to the gazpacho. For my last birthday, my husband gave me a copy of 1080 Recipes. It was proudly placed on the shelf next to Phaidon's other pubs: the Silver Spoon and Vefa's Kitchen. And I hadn't used it until now. This gazpacho is Spanish-style. It's thicker than the stuff you typically see here, but it's exactly what I loved as we travelled through Spain last fall. If you've got a bumper crop of tomatoes overtaking your yard or, like me, just buy too much at the farmer's market, this is a great use of ripe tomatoes. For a light lunch or as a first course, it's cool and refreshing on a hot summer day... and olive coated goat cheese balls add a little something special. (They're purely optional, but what a yummy option to have!)

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Farmer's Market Gazpacho
adapted from 1080 Recipes by Simone and Ines Ortega

4-6 large ripe tomatoes, seeded, cored and coarsely chopped (I used 4 beefsteak, 6 vine-ripiened would be about the same amount)
1/4 onion, coarsely chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 small green pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (use white wine vinegar if you don't have sherry)

For the goat cheese balls (optional)
2 oz. fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup pitted black olives (such as kalamata) finely chopped

Working in batches as needed, combine the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, green pepper, breadcrumbs, oil and vinegar in a blender and puree. Add salt to taste. (NOTE: taste it and add more vegetables if you prefer more flavor of one of the vegetables. You can also add some water if it's too thick, but this should be a thick gazpacho).

Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To make the goat cheese balls, using your hands, roll piece of goat cheese into small balls and then roll each in the chopped olives to coat.

To serve, garnish the soup with the goat cheese balls.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Berry-bottom cake with vanilla-almond whipped cream

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The arrival of the farmer's market always excites me - perhaps a bit too much. I tend to overbuy. I mean, there are only two of us and yet I bring home bags full of fresh produce. But who can resist fresh produce at its peak? And after all, I'm supporting local farms, right?

Needless to say, I often find myself looking for ways to use excess produce. This cake was a great way to finish up blueberries and strawberries. I made a simple sheet cake, but the same recipe would make a 9-inch layer cake. Just whip up your favorite frosting to go with it. In lieu of a heavy frosting, I made a vanilla-almond whipped cream. Fast and simple - and nice and light in the hot weather.

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The verdict: I loved it. My husband, not so much. Of course he was in the mood for chocolate (so this week we have brownies... and they are yummy!)

Try it with your favorite fruit or berries. The cake is dense and moist and would suit just about any fruit.

Berry-bottom cake

3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 1/2-3 cups fresh mixed berries (blue berries, strawberries, etc.)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9x13-inch glass baking dish.

Sift flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into a bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar. Add the vanilla and water and mix until combined, then add the eggs, one at a time. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions, alternating with buttermilk. Fold in the berries.

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Spread batter in prepared baking dish and bake until the top is golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

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Cool in pan on a rack.

To make the whipped cream, beat the cream, vanilla and almond extract on high until soft peaks are formed. Gradually beat in the sugar. (Taste for sweetness as you go adding more or less sugar according to your taste,)

If serving cake all at once, spread cream over cooled cake and serve. Otherwise, keep cream in fridge and put a scoop on each piece as you go.

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