Monday, June 28, 2010

Grilled Apricot, Mascarpone, and Prosciutto Toasts Prove That Apricots Are Worth the Wait

fresh apricots from the Hillcrest San Diego farmers' market

I have waited patiently. The first batch was too tart. The second batch was too mealy. The third batch was just right. That's the thing with fresh apricots. They're impossibly fussy fruits.

According to Western Farm Press, this is a tough year for California apricots: our unusually chilly spring delayed apricot maturity. On the upside, apricots are expected to be larger due to the late harvest. Larger is fine, but let's hope that they're sweeter too.

Like cherries, apricot season is short, typically 4-5 weeks sometime during May-August. Skip a couple of weeks at the farmers' market, and poof! they're gone. So as soon as you spy some, buy some.

Here are some tips on how to select and store fresh apricots:

Look for firm, though not hard, fruits with soft, smooth skin. Choose richly colored fruits -- apricots range from pale yellow to darker orange-yellow, and some sport an attractive reddish blush. Avoid apricots that have a greenish hue as they will not ripen. Tiny brown freckles are OK, but skip fruit that has knicks or bruises. And don't forget to take a whiff. Fully ripened apricots will emit a delicate, floral scent.

Fresh apricots are highly perishable. They can be stored unwashed on the counter-top for one to two days. After that, they should be refrigerated. Apricots are too delicate to be placed in the fruit bin with other fruits; instead, store them separately in a covered bowl or plastic container. Allow fruit to come to room temperature before eating.

Like peaches, apricots are highly versatile. They're sensational eaten simply out-of-hand and tossed raw in yogurt, parfaits, and salads. They make delicious savory salsas and chutneys and are a sweet addition to baked goods such as cakes and muffins. Firmer apricots are wonderful grilled, roasted, or poached and served with ice cream, freshly whipped cream, or ricotta cheese. Softer ones can be transformed into jams, jellies, and even brandy.

This apricot season, you're going to have to be patient. But, trust me, when you find that perfectly ripe apricot and bite into its velvety soft skin and taste its jammy sweet-tart flesh, you'll be amply rewarded.

Grilled Apricot, Mascarpone, and Prosciutto Toasts

You'll love these grilled Apricot, Mascarpone, and Prosciutto Toasts for many reasons: They're easy to prepare. They work equally well as an appetizer or a brunch item. They're guaranteed to elicit smiles from your guests. Don't worry if you don't have a grill. You can either use a grill pan on the stovetop or broil them in the oven.

This recipe is all about opposites attracting: Sweet-tart apricots are a delicious foil to salty prosciutto and creamy mascarpone cheese. A drizzle of sticky, sweet honey and a sprinkling or earthy rosemary round out the flavors. I don't need to tell you that they're remarkably good when paired with a crisp sparkling wine.

Grilled Apricot, Mascarpone, and Prosciutto Toasts
Makes 12 servings, or 24 if sliced in half
Print recipe only here.

12 slices thinly cut, crusty Italian bread
3-4 tablespoons olive oil for brushing bread and apricots
6-8 firm, ripe apricots, split in half, and pitted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
12 slices prosciutto, about 1/3-1/2 pound
honey, for drizzling
1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Pre-heat grill to medium-high. Lightly brush bread slices with olive oil. Grill for 2 minutes, or until grill marks appear. Remove and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, toss apricot halves with remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place cut side down on the grates and grill for 1- 1 1/2 minutes, until lightly marked and softened. Turn over and grill another 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate, and cut each half into 2-3 slices.

3. To assemble toasts: Spread 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese on each grilled bread slice. Top with a slice of prosciutto, 3-4 slices of grilled apricot, a drizzle of honey, and some fresh rosemary. Lightly dust with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve.

You might also like these apricot recipes from Food Blogga:
Fresh Apricot Muffins
Fresh Apricot and Cherry Cobbler with Buttermilk Biscuit Crust
Apricot, Ginger, and White Chocolate Scones (made with dried apricots)

Here are more apricot recipes you might enjoy:
Roasted Apricots with Brie recipe from She Craves
Roasted Apricots with Rosemary recipe from Cookworm
Grilled Apricots with Dark Chocolate, Honey, Pistachios, and Cream recipe from 5 Second Rule

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Announcing the ThinkFood Cookbook

Forgot something at the grocery store? Need your iPhone to calculate the waiter's tip? Having trouble doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle? OK, everybody has trouble doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. And if you're one of those people who doesn't have trouble doing it, then don't tell me. I just don't need to know.

Maybe you need more brain food. Yup. There are foods that help your boost your brian's fitness including dark chocolate, flaxseed, salmon, and tuna.

Not sure how to get more brain-healthy foods into your diet? Then you'll be glad to know that there is a new cookbook called Thinkfood, Recipes for Brain Fitness.

Posit Science (a leader in brain training software) joined forces with 50 bloggers, including me, to create this cookbook, featuring 50 unique, delicious, brain-healthy recipes ranging from appetizers to entrees to desserts.

The cookbook won't be released until July, but in the meantime, you can sign up for their free email Recipe of the Week campaign. Each Wednesday over the next 50 weeks, you'll receive a brain-healthy recipe, meet the blogger who created it, and get tips about brain-fitness foods. My recipe will be featured in September, so I'll give you a heads up then.

So before you tackle the Sunday Times crossword puzzle this weekend, you might want to power up on a chocolate croissant. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get Excited Over Savory Zucchini Bread with Cilantro, Scallions, and Cheddar

Savory Zucchini Bread with Cilantro, Scallions, and Cheddar

It's too early to get excited over zucchini. I know. There is a reason it's called "summer squash."

But when you stop at a road-side farm stand where they're selling big, no, make that colossal zucchini 4/ $1 you buy them. Then you try desperately to figure out how two people will eat all that zucchini, all 12 pounds of it.

farm fresh zucchini

Turns out, it's not that hard. So far, I have made breaded, baked zucchini, sauteed zucchini and onions, and sauteed zucchini and fennel. I have added zucchini to our nightly salad, tossed it in a veggie soup, and ate some raw with hummus. Of course, I made zucchini bread. How could I not?

Though I adore my Mom's Zucchini Bread with Pineapple and Coconut, I wanted to try a savory zucchini bread instead. Since I had a hankering for Mexican food the morning I made this, I adapted Mom's recipe by omitting the pineapple, coconut, and vanilla, and adding black pepper, cheddar cheese, cilantro, and pepitas. This savory zucchini bread is muy deliciosis.

Savory Zucchini Bread with Cilantro, Scallions, and Cheddar

Here are a few tips on how to eat this savory zucchini bread:

1. Always cut it into thick slabs. Who likes skinny slices of zucchini bread?
2. Eat a slice when it's hot-out-of-the-oven with a generous pat of creamy butter.
3. Toast leftover zucchini bread on a griddle, and use it to make a sandwich.

I think I'll take a drive back to that road-side farm stand on Sunday. I'm all out of zucchini, and I feel a craving for savory zucchini bread coming on.

Savory Zucchini Bread with Cilantro, Scallions, and Cheddar
Makes 2 (8 1/2 X 4 1/2-inch) loaves
Print recipe only here.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 cups shredded zucchini, with the skins
3 scallions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (or mixed Mexican cheeses)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons unsalted pepitas

1. Place oven rack in center of oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Coat 2 (9 X 5) loaf pans with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl combine flour, salt, black pepper, baking soda, and baking powder.

3. In a medium bowl beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer. Add oil and beat until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir by hand. Fold in zucchini, scallions, cheese, and cilantro.

4. Divide batter evenly between two pans. Sprinkle the top of each loaf with 1 tablespoon pepitas. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and place on a wire rack.

Note about scallions: If you prefer, you can saute the scallions first by warming 1 teaspoon canola oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Saute 3 minutes, or until lightly browned and wilted.

You might also like these quick bread recipes from Food Blogga:
Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
Lemony Blueberry Cornbread with Basil
Healthy Cherry, Banana, and Oatmeal Breakfast Bread

You might also like these zucchini bread recipes:
Zucchini Cheddar Bread recipe from Honey and Jam
Savory Onion Zucchini Bread recipe from What Geeks Eat
Zucchini Bread with Roasted Red Peppers and Feta recipe from Closet Cooking

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fresh Strawberry and Lime Cream Scones with Lime Glaze

strawberry love

Happiness is a glossy, cherry red, heart-shaped strawberry.

Fresh Strawberry and Lime Cream Scones with Lime Glaze DSC_0015

Elation is a Fresh Strawberry and Lime Cream Scone with Lime Glaze.

How do you feel now?

Fresh Strawberry and Lime Cream Scones with Lime Glaze
Makes 8 large or 10-12 small scones
Print recipe only here.

If you've never paired strawberries and lime, then get ready for a delicious surprise. The tangy lime enhances the strawberries' sweetness and makes the glaze a mouth-tingling treat!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
The zest of 1 small lime (about 1 tablespoon
The juice of 1/2 small lime (about 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces

Egg Wash:
1 egg, lightly beaten OR 1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon milk, lightly beaten

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon lime zest lemon zest (1/2 teaspoon if you'd like a less pronounced lime flavor)
2 teaspoons lime juice (1 teaspoon if you'd like a less pronounced lime flavor)
a few drops of milk as needed

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place oven racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and stir.

3. Cut the butter into small pieces, and add to the flour mixture. Mix with a pastry blender or fork, until a coarse meal forms with tiny pea-sized butter pieces.

4. Whisk eggs and heavy cream in a small bowl. Stir in zest and juice. Add to the flour and butter mixture. Begin to gently mix with a spatula. Add the strawberries. Mix until just combined. (It's OK if a few berries bleed.) Do not over mix, or the dough will become leaden.

5. Using a floured surface, shape the dough into 1 large or 2 small disks, about 1/2-inch thick. With a wet knife (to make slicing easier) cut the dough into triangular shaped scones. Place scones on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Brush scones with egg wash.

7. Bake scones for 15 minutes, rotating pans mid-way through, or until puffed and golden; transfer to a rack to cool. Cool completely before glazing.

8. For the glaze: Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. The glaze should cling to the back of a spoon. For easy clean up, place a sheet of parchment paper underneath the wire rack before glazing the scones. Drizzle glaze over scones. Cool completely until the glaze hardens.

Looking for more strawberry recipes? Then check out my Strawberries 101 post. You'll find several sweet and savory strawberry recipes as well as everything you need to know about selecting, storing, and eating strawberries.

You might also like these breakfast treats featuring strawberries:
Baked Strawberry Pancakes recipe from Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen
Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess
Whole Grain Protein Waffles with Strawberry Banana Compote recipe from Good Things Catered

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What do Hello Kitty, Plasma TVs, and Broccolini Have in Common?

light and creamy parpadelle with broccolini

When you hear the word "Japanese," what comes to mind? Sushi? Honda? Anime? Karate? Hello Kitty? The Japanese invented of all them.

They also brought us karaoke, the CD player, and the plasma t.v., all of which pale in comparison to their greatest achievement, the invention of broccolini. Broccolini, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale, was invented by the Sakata Seed Company of Yokohana, Japan.

broccolini (also called baby broccoli) from Hillcrest Farmers' Market in San Diego
(Broccolini at the Hillcrest Farmers' Market in San Diego.)

What's so special about broccolini? Everything. Unlike bulky regular broccoli, broccolini has long, slender stems that are graced with delicate bunches of buds. Broccolini's flavor is sweeter than broccoli and has hints of earthy asparagus. When cooked, it's much more tender than broccoli yet has a satisfying crisp texture when eaten raw.

Like broccoli, broccolini can be boiled, steamed, sauteed, roasted, and even grilled. Avoid overcooking it; broccolini prefers a light hand. Since it's so tender, it can be sauteed raw. If, however, you prefer to boil it first, then consider a par-boil. Par-boil broccolini for 1 minute, then plunge it into a bowl of ice water to "shock" it. This will stop the cooking process, maintain its vivid green color, and ensure tenderness. Just drain and pat dry before sauteeing.

fresh broccoli rabe or rapini
Broccoli Rabe (rapini).

If you're wondering whether or not broccolini is the same as broccoli rabe (rapini), it isn't. Broccoli rabe is a robust Italian vegetable known for its distinctive bitterness. In fact, if you'd like to learn more about broccoli rabe, then check out my latest piece on NPR's Kitchen Window: "You Don't Have To Be Italian To Eat Broccoli Rabe."

The piece contains four recipes featuring broccoli rabe:
Broccoli Rabe and Mushroom Frittata with Grape Tomato Salsa
Lemony Broccoli Rabe and Cannelini Bean Crostini
Broccoli Rabe, Fennel, and Hot Sausage Pizza (pictured below)
Sicilian Anchovy and Broccoli Rabe Pasta

broccoli rabe, fennel, and hot sausage pizza DSC_0005

Now, if the Japanese had invented the iPhone 4, maybe that would be their greatest accomplishment.

Light and Creamy Parpadelle with Mascarpone Cheese and Broccolini
Makes 2 large or 4 small servings
Print recipe only here.

1/2 pound parpadelle (I used fresh pasta)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3-3 1/2 cups broccolini, thicker stems trimmed and sliced
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
Zest of 1/2 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons hot pasta water
3-4 tablespoons grated Reggiano-Parmigiano or Grana Padano cheese
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling, optional

1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Note: Fresh pasta cooks very quickly (3-5 minutes), so cook it once the sauce is nearly finished.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add shallots and saute 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add broccolini and saute 2-3 minutes, until just softened and lightly browned. Add white wine and leave alone for 2 minutes, letting the alcohol evaporate.

3. In a small bowl, whisk mascarpone cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and hot pasta water until smooth and creamy.

4. Drain pasta and add to the skillet with the broccolini. Add the cheese sauce, lightly tossing until well coated, about 1 minute. Serve immediately. Top with grated cheese, and, if desired, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

You might also like these recipes from Food Blogga:
Broccolini and Sun-Dried Tomato Calzone
Easy Chicken Saute with Broccoflower, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Olives
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) on Crispy Polenta with a Creamy Goat Cheese Sauce

Here are more broccolini recipes you might enjoy:
Lemon and Broccolini Soup recipe from Technicolor Kitchen
Spaghetti with Shrimp, Broccolini, and Basil recipe from TasteFood
Thai Pork Belly with Garlic and Broccolini recipe from Viet World Kitchen

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cherry and Blackberry Clafoutis, Pits Not Included

cherry and blackberry clafoutis

Clafoutis. You've eaten one. You've probably baked one. You've definitely heard of one. But can you define one? What is a clafoutis?

It's not quite a cake or a custard or a flan or a pudding. It has been called lots of names, including "a baked fruit dessert," "a baked custard with fruit," "a crustless pie," "a fruit-fill flan," and my personal favorite, "a sweet frittata." Purists called it a flognarde, but that lacks the panache of clafoutis (pronounced cla- foo-tee).

Clotilde Dusouslier, the charming Parisian food blogger, calls clafoutis "the epitome of the French grandmotherly dessert: unpretentious, easy to make, and blissfully comforting."

Call it what you will, especially if you're high school French is a little rusty. Just be sure to make one.

With its eggy base, I place clafoutis in the realm of custard rather than cake. This prized Limousin dessert is traditionally made with cherries though gets along equally well with fruits such as pears, apples, and berries of all sizes and colors.

Although clafoutis can be enjoyed year-round, they're particularly partial to spring time when luscious fruits such as apricots, cherries, and strawberries are at their peak.

farmers' market apricots and cherries

A trip to the local farmers' market inspired my recipe for Cherry and Blackberry Clafoutis (as did my friends and co-bloggers Nicole Weston of the always freshly baked Baking Bites and Garrett McCord of the engagingly written Vanilla Garlic.)

Rather than vy for attention, the sweet cherries and tart blackberries complement each other, while the almond extract infuses the custard with a rich, smooth flavor. You could top the clafoutis with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of creme fraiche, but I wouldn't. Its most comfortable with a simple snowy white cap of confectioners' sugar.

fresh cherries

A note about using cherries in clafoutis: Purists claim that cherry clafoutis should be made with whole cherries, pits included, which impart a nutty almond flavor. I'm assuming those purists have not spent the fortune on Invisalgn that I have spent to get their perfectly straight smile. So I removed the pits (along with the risk of a chipped tooth) and added almond extract instead.

To pit a cherry, you can use a cherry pitter. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way, like I do: Place the cherry on a cutting board. Place the flat side of a wide knife on the cherry and press gently until it splits. Open the cherry and remove the pit.

Cherry and Blackberry Clafoutis
Makes 6 servings
Print recipe only here.

This recipe is adapted from two originals: Blackberry Clafoutis by Nicole Weston of Baking Bites AND Cherry Calfoutis by Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic (Posted on Simply Recipes).

1 cup fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2/3-3/4 cup fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons of slivered almonds
3 eggs
2/3 cup of sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons Amaretto OR 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch or 10-inch round baking dish with butter, or coat well with cooking spray. Toss in the cherries, blackberries, and slivered almonds.

2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth.

3. Add milk, Amaretto (or almond extract, if using), and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth. Pour into the baking dish.

4. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. When you pull it put of the oven it will wiggle a bit which is normal. Place on a wire rack to cool. The clafoutis will have puffed up quite a bit and will deflate while cooling. When cool, dust the clafoutis with confectioners' sugar. Serve.

You might also like these springtime fruit desserts from Food Blogga:
Strawberry Cardamom Cake
Strawberry-Rhubarb Sponge Pudding
Almond Panna Cotta with Glazed Cherries
Fresh Apricot and Cherry Cobbler with Buttermilk Biscuit Crust

Here are more delicious clafoutis recipes you might enjoy:
Strawberry Clafoutis recipe from Seriously Good
Plum Clafoutis recipe from Taste Buddies
Apricot Clafoutis recipe from La Recette du Jour
Raspberry Clafoutis recipe from Feeding Maybelle's Mom
Red Grape and Fennel Seed Clafoutis recipe from Make Life Sweeter

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The June 2010 Issue of Cooking Light Features My Light Potato Salad Recipes

June 21st may be the official start of summer, but everyone knows that summer really begins on Memorial Day weekend.

This is an important time of year. Not only can you now wear white with confidence, but you can also start hosting cookouts. That means it's time for grilled hot dogs smothered with mustard and relish, buttery ears of crisp golden sweet corn, and big bowls of creamy, tangy potato salad.

I'm excited to announce that I am featured in the "Cooking Class" section entitled "Light Potato Salad" in the June 2010 issue of Cooking Light. It's on page 133 (not that I have it memorized), but if you don't have the print version, you can still get the recipes online and check out the reader reviews.

In the piece, I give you tips on how to make perfect potato salad and how to make lightened potato salads that are small on fat and calories and big on flavor. These potato salads are so flavorful, you won't even miss the mayo. Neither will your belly in your bikini.

Farmers' Market Potato Salad: This salad was selected as one of the "Greatest Hits: 2010" by Cooking Light staff. 

This warm potato salad features tender tri-color fingerling potatoes and beloved summer veggies including sweet corn, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes. It's dressed with a zesty Dijon and tarragon dressing. One reader said, "It is truly the best potato salad I've ever had, hands down."

Lemon-Arugula Potato Salad: My personal favorite, this salad features creamy Yukon Gold potatoes blanketed with peppery arugula, pungent shallots, and tart lemon.

Lemongrass and Ginger Potato Salad: This Asian inspired potato salad features bold lemongrass and fragrant fresh ginger. It's the ideal companion to grilled meats and seafood, such as chicken and shrimp.

All photos by Becky Lulgart-Stayner; food styling by Cindy Barr.