August 15, 2011

Summer's Bounty, Part 2

The kitchen renovations are almost complete (finally!) and we're far enough along that I've been able to cook in our actual kitchen and use some of the new appliances for the past couple of weeks.  Just in time for the best fruits and veggies of the season.  Unfortunately we were not able to get together as a team this month, but I managed to busy myself all alone with the new double oven.  An oven which, I am convinced, has magical powers.  Everything that came out of it tasted amazing.  People were quick to give me the credit... and I was quick to take it.  Seriously though, this oven is, like, my newborn baby.  I haven't left its side all week and even though we've only spent a few days together, I can't seem to remember life before it. 

But I digress.  This past weekend we had guests over to see the (almost-just about-nearly) completed kitchen, so what started out as food experiments ended up being salad, appetizers, cocktails and desserts for seven.  (For the main course we just grilled some chicken).

Then in the midst of my cooking, our decorator called to ask if she could pop in to show our renovations to two new clients.  Let's just say they definitely got to see the new space in action. 

The above veggies--tomato, eggplant and squash--were gifts from three different neighbors' gardens.  I combined them with the zucchini, onion and red peppers we already had to make the next two dishes.  I also snagged some jalapeno peppers from the neighbors across the street to use in our muffins (coming up soon!)...If you are not fortunate enough to have a vegetable garden (or generous neighbors), try Pochuck Valley Farm for red peppers, onions and garlic, and Lillian's Market (Cumberland County) for squash and zucchini.  Though you can find great Jersey tomatoes just about anywhere this month, try Ploch's Farm (Passaic County) for tomatoes and eggplant. 

I found this recipe for Summer Vegetable Tian at Williams-Sonoma, which made use of most of the ingredients.  I should have gotten a picture of one serving so you could see all the layers.  The finished product is deceptively unnattractive here, but I have to say man was this good.  We had it as a side with chicken and it's also recommended with halibut or another light fish, but I think it would be just as good as a vegetarian main dish. 

Beneath the tomatoes is a coating of olive oil and a layer of sauteed onions, garlic and red peppers.  I was surprised this held up great as leftovers even a couple of days after the fact. 

The breadcrumb and cheese topping tasted much better than it looks here.  I did have to stifle my urge to cover the whole thing in a layer of cheese, as I now see how that might have detracted from the whole "light summer dish" concept.  :)  I'm just one of those people who thinks everything is better with cheese. 

With the two rather small eggplants I decided to do these Eggplant Fritters, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

  I did not like their serving suggestion (plain over salad greens) so I would suggest these two options instead:
1) garden veggie burger patty on a bun, with balsamic dressing, lettuce, tomato, mozzarella and baby spinach.
2)  "eggplant parmesan heroes"... two patties on a hero roll with tomato sauce, bit of ricotta, parmesan and melted mozzarella. 

I found this recipe for a simple and refreshing Watermelon Summer Salad at the adorably-named Let There Be Bite.  I changed things up a little by adding cucumber for more crunch and color.  I wasn't too sure about the pieces of torn mint, but it was so light and refreshing. This month I also wanted to make sure I included at least a couple of recipes that made use of the variety of locally grown melons.  Try Hallock's Farm in Ocean County for cucumbers and watermelons. 

Next up, our Cocktail of the Month, also courtsey of Martha Stewart:

White Sangria
(peaches, honeydew melon, white wine, brandy, sugar and seltzer)

Add ice and seltzer to the individual drinks when ready to serve.  I used Tomasello Winery's French Colombard white.  This was light enough that everyone who normally doesn't drink alcohol really liked it.  I couldn't tell if leaving out the honeydew melon would have made that big of a difference.  Probably not, but if you're looking to use up the rest of some melons you already have, I can't think of a better way.

Bonus "Cocktail":  Yes, that's right...the cold, rainy weather of the past few nights, combined with what was left of the unused brandy from the above drinks, insipired me to create a warm, comforting nightcap of fresh-brewed peach tea, brandy, and locally produced honey.

Meanwhile, back in vegetable land... I used the rest of our abundance of zucchini to make this savory Zucchini and Ricotta Galette, which I discovered in an old Smitten Kitchen post.  This was easy, yummy, and rich enough to be a nice light dinner just by itself.  The dough, which I also used for the fruit galette below, provides enough for three galettes.  To me that's a perfect recipe for a late night "girls' night" gathering.  Two savory galettes and one dessert galette (plus wine of course) would be easy to whip up and more than enough to feed the wine club. 

This Berry Galette is made from the very same dough.  The only substitution I made was that I decided to add one peach instead of the blueberries, and cut the amount of blackberries.    You can try Treelicious Orchards (Warren County) for pick-your-own peaches and plums, as well as Alstede Farms (Morris County) for blackberries. 

Oh, pardon the shadows as I get used to the new lighting and layout of the kitchen. this not beautiful?  This should be titled "what beautiful Victorian fairies eat for breakfast."  The nice ones, anyway.  What a pretty dessert for a little girl's birthday tea party...or something like that... well, I did get a little crazy with the sugar glitter.  It's suddenly been appearing on every dessert I make.  But I mean, can you ever really have too much sugar glitter? 

As lovely as the galette turned out, I think this Plum Buckle is my new favorite.  I didn't even use the right kind of cake pan because I couldn't find half of our pans, yet it still turned out ridiculously good.  Probably because of the new magic oven.  I made this cake three times just over the weekend (and as of Monday all three cakes are gone).  I am making no absurd claims when I say this creation, warmed and served with a dollop of whipped cream, is basically seduction on a plate.  Non-cake people will love this cake.  Non-fruit people too.  I tried to do it justice with pictures, but cutting into it revealed at least four or five lovely shades of pink, purple and orange.  And yes, there's some sugar glitter on top because frankly I just couldn't help myself. 


I Think, Therefore I Can

We are not quite brave enough to attempt canning (for the first time) here on our blog, especially since my kitchen is still in the midst of renovations.  However I did want to at least provide some info for other readers since seasonal cooking and canning practically go hand in hand.  I wanted to share a couple of good resources I found that should be enough to get you started if you're really serious about it.  In my case, the more I read about the process, the more I realized how NOT serious I am about attempting it.  Maybe next year.  But for those brave souls out there with your berries, peaches and tomatoes, read on. 

First we have a whole book on the subject. 

Actually, there are many books on canning, but this was the one I skimmed through because it was featured at my local farmer's market, and it got decent reviews on Amazon.

If you aren't fully committed to canning, at least enough to go out and purchase a book on the subject, I'd like to direct you to this fantastic site:

In addition to listing the best pick-your-own farms across various regions, Pick Your Own also offers detailed canning and preserving directions for just about anything.  It seems especially geared toward newbies and even offers links to purchase canning supplies. 

Labor Day (and back-to-school madness, and cool Fall weather) is just around the corner.