Warm Beet and Tomato Salad

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Cold and flu season have arrived once again…and I’m craving beets.  Not chicken soup, but beets.

This recipe is a simple adaption from an old time home remedy for flu.  Instead of juicing and steeping the raw ingredients into a tonic that is drunk several times a day, they are assembled into a very tasty salad that can be eaten hot, at room temperature, as a main dish or as a side salad.

It cookes up in only 15 minutes, and preparation time is quick and easy if you purchase pre-cooked organic beets from the natural foods section.

Warm Beet and Tomato Salad

Preheat oven to 375 F

2 large pre-cooked beets cut in 1 inch cubes

1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/2 lb small tomatoes, cut in 1/2 or thick sliced

1/2 t pink salt

1/2 t sugar

1/4 t ground black pepper

1/2 t dried mint

sunflower oil

fresh squeezed lemon juice for finishing

 

Combine all ingredients except lemon juice, and cook in a glass dish for 12-15 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to break down.  Remove from heat, squeeze the lemon over the top and stir.  Top with a little more dried mint and serve!

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Vietnamese Egg Coffee (Cà Phê Trứng)

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The country of Vietnam is famous for their coffee drinks, and for good reason.  They taste great.

From iced coffees, to flavored coffees, to coffees made from beans pooped out of a weasel’s butt (kid you not), the Vietnamese have a coffee culture that rivals any big city or college town around the world.

For me, the hands down winner was Cà Phê Trứng, or “Egg Coffee”.  The name is unusual enough that most other westerners we met would wrinkle their nose.  For them, an image popped into their minds of  something akin to egg drop soup.  Only this was strings of egg floating around in a coffee broth.  None had been brave enough to try it.

What a shame!  Because this rich treat is a coffee topped with a fluffy, meringue like custard cream.

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I probably had about 10 of these at 10 different places.

Some places made it with honey, or Bailey’s, or rice wine, and at one place I heard the suspicious sounds of an espresso machine whirring in the background.

The official history of the drink, is that a chef named Giang invented the drink at a hotel in 1946 when milk was scarce, but sweetened condensed milk was prevalent.

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Others say that it’s a recent drink, and has only become popular in the last 4-5 years.

Regardless of the origins, the basic recipe is simply egg yolk whipped with sweetened condensed milk.

Vietnam is not the only country with an egg and coffee mix tradition.  Italian school children would get a similar drink for breakfast in the belief that it would help them with their studies.  I myself decided to test the study theory by drinking an egg coffee about a half hour before class.

I don’t enjoy going to this class, and the egg coffee did nothing to change that.  So it gets 0 points for adjusting my attitude.

It did seem to help me concentrate though, and that level of concentration provided me with the endurance I needed to last the entire time.  For whatever reason, maybe the egg coffee, maybe not, I can also tell that I’ve retained more than usual.

I prefer my Egg Coffee a little lighter and less sweet.  Just the basic kind, with egg and “sweet milk”.  So my recipe uses less of the sugary sweetened condensed milk than other recipes I found.  I also found that if you put the custard mix into the cup first – and THEN pour the coffee in, that it will result in a much more frothy topping.  So yummy.

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Please note that this recipe uses raw egg yolk.  So if that makes you squeamish, or salmonella frightens you, than you can’t make this recipe.  There just aren’t any substitutions for the egg yolk.

Vietnamese Egg Coffee (Cà Phê Trứng)

1 raw egg yolk

1 t water

2 t sweetened condensed milk

Whisk vigorously until it forms a cream. Pour in cup, pour coffee in.

Drink and enjoy!

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Behold the Humble BLT Sandwich

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American readers are well acquainted with this summertime favorite.  It’s good any time of the year, but it’s THE BEST, when the tomatoes are just picked, and still warm off the vine.  In the US you’ll probably eat it at a table outside with some fresh picked green beans and an ear of sweet corn.

The ingredients are simple:  B – is for Bacon  L – is for Lettuce  T – is for Tomato

The recipe is simple also, so I’m not going to write it out in recipe format.

All you need is toasted, whole grain bread.  Sliced tomatoesBacon (American style).  Iceberg lettuce.  Make it really crisp by soaking it in ice water.  Put it in a salad spinner to get out all the excess water.  Mayonnaise, pepper, and salt.

The way you layer the sandwich is going to make a difference.  And honestly, jazzing it up by using a different lettuce is going to taste good – but it won’t be a traditional BLT sandwich.  Tasty, but not the same.

So let’s make the sandwich!

Toast your bread.  On the bottom piece, spread a layer of mayonnaise.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Layer your crispy bacon on top of the mayonnaise.  Put the lettuce on top of the bacon.  Place your tomato slices on top of the lettuce.  Sprinkle the tomatoes with a little bit of salt, and crack some fresh pepper on top.  Place the second piece of bread on top, and secure with toothpicks.  Cut into halves, and serve.

Then serve again in a few days or throughout the tomato season.  Because soon the tomatoes, and the green beans, (and the sweet corn if you have it), will be out of season locally, and it just won’t be the same as sitting outside at a picnic table in the summertime with a BLT.

 

Sweet and Tart Easy Plum and Papaya Puff Pastry

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This recipe also yields a ruby red syrup that you can be drizzled on gelato, pancakes or waffles, and even incorporated into cream cheese for delectable french toast sandwiches.

A friend gave us a bag of really beautiful plums that grew on the tree in his yard.  I already had some papaya at the house, and mixing the two of them together made a fine dessert that also doubles as a breakfast pastry.

This dessert is not very sweet, so if you want more sugar, simply add more.  It won’t hurt the results at all.

If you want the juices to be more of a sauce consistency, like you would put in an American style pie crust, simply up the amount of cornstarch to 1 T.

Otherwise, follow the recipe as it is.  Enjoy it plain, with ice cream, with powdered sugar, with vanilla sauce, or with whipped cream.  It’s really good with coffee, and it also tastes fabulous with honey drizzled on it.

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Sweet and Tart Easy Plum and Papaya Puff Pastry

Preheat oven to package directions for puff pastry

8 fresh plums, sliced about 1/2 inch thick and (obviously) pitted, you don’t have to peel them

2 cups sliced fresh papaya, about 1/2 inch thick

1/4 C + 1 T raw sugar (plus some more for sprinkling on the crust)

1/4 t pink salt

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1 1/2 t corn starch

1 egg beaten, or some melted butter

Cut the fruit and put in a bowl.  Add the sugar, and the spices, and the salt, and mix.  Let sit for a little bit.  The salt and sugar are breaking down the cell walls, so even a not so juicy fruit will start to release the liquids from the cells.  Once the liquid from the cells is released, and the sugar mixes with it, it will be super tasty.  The longer you let it sit, the tastier it is.

Line a baking sheet with oven paper.

Ponder life if you’re short on time, otherwise, let it sit for a while.  You can actually let it sit overnight with no problems.

Pour the fruit and it’s juices into a pan and cook for over low heat for about 5 – 8 minutes.  If it sat overnight, then 5 minutes is probably ok.

Mix the cornstarch with a bit of water to make a slurry, and whisk into the fruit mixture.  Let it thicken for a couple of minutes.  I like to run my finger along the wooden spoon and see it make a mark.  A thickness like the thickness of maple syrup for pancakes.

Take off heat and let cool for a little bit.

Roll puff pastry onto the paper lined pan.

Strain the liquid out of the fruit mixture (reserve the liquid) and ladle the fruit into the puff pastry.

Fold into an envelope shape, make and make a few slits on the top for heat ventilation.  Brush the beaten egg onto the top and sprinkle with some sugar. Cook according to puff pastry package instructions.

Let cool down before you cut.  Served best at “still warm from the oven”, or room temperature.

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Spring Fresh Fava Beans

It’s possible that this is the first time that I have have eaten fresh fava beans.  They may have been cultivated for thousands of years, but they haven’t made it into the everyday American diet.

It’s kind of sad really – they have a great flavor and are VERY high in nutrition.  Beating out chickpeas in almost all areas including magnesium.  And we people are getting more and more magnesium deficient, which is not a good thing.  They also have something verrrrrry interesting in the skins that cover the bean itself.  Which is why you may not want to peel them once they are shucked out of the pod.  I’ll expand on that just a bit further on down in this post.

If you belong to a CSA or shop at farmers markets you might run into them once spring arrives.  They are an early legume and will be labelled as either “Fava” or “Broad Beans”.

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To shell them, simply cut off the ends and run your fingernail down the seam to open the pod.  Pop the beans out.

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Boil for 30 seconds in salted water, and then shock them in a bowl of ice cold water.  Drain, and they are ready to use!  Now you can eat them cold in a salad, or reheat them right before serving.

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Some people like to peel them, but most italians will think you are kind of crazy for doing so.  It’s time consuming, fiddly, changes the flavor a bit and….is going to remove a lot of the proanthocyanidins.  Proanthocyanidins are a powerful class of antioxidants.  The same kinds of antioxidants found in pine bark and grape seed for example. You might even notice that your cooking water turned pink once you cooked the beans.  Invisible when raw, the cooking released all those colors of the proanthocyanidins into the water.  Pretty interesting.

A full pound of pods yields about (maybe) 2 cups of cooked beans, so plan accordingly. My original plan was to serve a big bowl of fave (fave is the plural of fava) with a simple seasoning of olive oil, salt and pepper, and oregano.  I did not plan accordingly, so it morphed into something different.

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A beautiful, aromatic skillet of fava beans with spring vegetables, herbs, and a 12 month aged Corsican ham called Bianco and Nero Jambon that I purchased on a recent trip.

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To make a similar skillet dish, thinly slice 1 or 2 new red onions and saute in olive oil until translucent.  Add a small amount (maybe 3-4 oz or so) of chopped corsican ham.  An aged prosciutto or ham will work just fine.  The fat from the ham will add a little more oil to the pan, as well as salt, and the onions will start to caramelize quite well.  Move to the edge, and add some thin sliced asparagus and fresh herbs.

Cover, and cook until the asparagus is fork tender.  Toss in your fava beans (fave) to heat through, and serve!

Spring Fresh Fava Bean Preparation

2 lbs fava bean pods

Pot of boiling water, salted

Bowl of ice cold water

Remove the beans from the pod by cutting off the heads and tails of the pods, and running your fingernail down the seam.

Boil the beans for 30 seconds.

Remove with slotted spoon and shock in the ice water.

Drain and serve cold in a salad, or gently reheat later for other dishes.

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Caponata en Croute

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Caponata is a well known and much loved Italian antipasto that originated in Sicily.  A savory mix of vegetables and fried eggplant is perked up with sweetened vinegar and left to sit overnight in the refrigerator.

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Tonight we ate it “en croute”, wrapped in puff pastry, as the main dish.  It was served with a fresh salad and a little bit of fish.

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It’s incredibly versatile, and can be used as a side with Mahi-Mahi or roasted meats, as a main course, or as an appetizer that is served either on it’s own or with toast points.  Some versions even include pine nuts, almonds, or pumpkin seeds, and a bit of cocoa powder.  Like an Italian version of mole.  Feel free to add those if you are so inclined!

Caponata en Croute

Serves 4

Caponata the night before…

2 small eggplants, sliced in 1/2 inch strips (see instructions)

2 small red onions, cut in half, and then cut in 1/4 inch slices

1 celery stick, cut in 1/4 inch slices, and boiled for 4 minutes

1 large sweet red pepper, cut in 1/2 inch strips

1 T capers (if packed in salt, rinse and soak for at least an hour, changing water at least once to purge the salt.  If packed in vinegar, just rinse)

12 green olives, thinly sliced

6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded

1.5 T raw sugar mixed with 2 T red wine vinegar

about 2 C olive oil (give or take) for frying eggplant

black pepper and salt

Sprinkle eggplant strips with salt and let sit in a colander for at least an hour.  Rinse thoroughly, and press between dishtowels to dry.

Saute pepper and onion slices in olive oil with a pinch of salt.  Use a pan or pot with a cover – this will help the vegetables to retain moisture, and get a great texture.  I start with the peppers, and then add the onions once the peppers are about 1/2 way done.  Once the onions are nice and soft and translucent, add the tomato puree and cook for about 15 minutes with the cover on, stirring occasionally.  Take pan off heat and set aside.

Add olive oil to fry pan and heat to med/med low.  Whatever fry temperature is for your particular stovetop.  Fry the eggplant in batches, removing from the oil when they are golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

Add the eggplant, capers, olives, and basil to the pepper and onion mixture.  Return the pan to the stove top and heat to medium.  Once it’s nice and hot, stir in the sugar vinegar mixture, cook for an additional 10 minutes, remove from heat, and let cool down.  Transfer to a container and let sit overnight and up to 3 days.

En Croute the night of…

1 rectangular sheet store bought puff pastry dough (use one made with oil if you prefer a vegan version)

1 beaten egg for brushing top of pastry (use oil if you don’t want to use egg)

dried oregano and Maldon or other flaky salt for sprinkling on top of pastry

Let caponata come to room temperature. Spread in center of pastry dough, and fold over edges.  Brush top with beaten egg or oil, and sprinkle with herbs and salt.  Cook according to package instructions.  The caponata is already cooked and does not need to be hot, so really you’re just cooking the pastry.

Enjoy!

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Straight From the Bottle Buttermilk Syrup

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Buttermilk Syrup

3/4 C cultured buttermilk

1/2 C unsalted butter, cubed

1 C sugar

1/2 t baking soda

Add all ingredients except baking soda to a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Stir occasionally.  Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat, and whisk in baking soda.

There aren’t many words to describe how good this syrup is, and there aren’t many words to describe what it actually tastes like.

It’s just really really good.

When it’s first made, it’s all froth, like this.

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As it settles, the parts come together in a more homogenized way.

Obviously, this syrup can be used on all manners of breakfast items like pancakes and french toast, but there are other ways to use it as well.

I think it might taste good in a whiskey cocktail for example.

And I know that it tastes good on chicken and waffles, and it also tastes good as a sweetener in coffee.

I also know that it tastes good by the spoonful, and based on the evidence, I’m sure it would taste good if you drank it straight from the bottle.

Personally I’ve never crossed the “drank straight from the bottle” line, but if I did, I would cover the bottle in plain brown paper, and tie it off with a piece of repurposed baling twine taken from some beautiful green hay.

Which is how I finally came up with the name of this blog post:

Straight from the Bottle Buttermilk Syrup.

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