When you’ve had your fill of fresh sliced watermelon–if that’s even possible, try this very-refreshing gazpacho concoction as a first course soup, or, as a party “shooter.” I trimmed this recipe down from a version Chef Travis Bensink does for crowds at Heirloom restaurant in Chautauqua, NY. It’s really easy to make: Just chop the vegetables, scoop the flesh from half of the melon and blend all together in a large, non-reactive bowl with an immersion blender, adding the olive oil in a slow stream and adjusting the salt/pepper/vinegar seasonings to taste at the end. Pour it all into a fine-mesh strainer to remove all of the pulp for a very-refined, beautifully colored and nicely bodied silky soup.
I brought home one of those beautiful, round, so-dark-green-they’re-almost-black seedless watermelons from the farmers market and made the gazpacho to serve at a party as shooters, and also served it at home as soup. For the shooters, cut a small slice from the left-over half of the melon and trim it into mini wedges to slip over the rims of your shooter glasses. Adorable.
My dad’s a very frugal man. Back when we were little, nothing grew in our little strip of city side-yard but zinnias and lilies—except for this one, vine-y weed. It had succulent green leaves & wiggly, moss-rose-looking pinky-red stems and positively flourished. Dad looked it up and told us it was called Portulaca (portulaca oleracea) a wild-growing edible found in North America as far back as 1430 AD, also known as purslane, verdolaga, pigweed, or—my personal favorite: little hogweed. Dad promptly stopped treating purslane as a weed, and started eating it all sorts of ways, simply because it was edible and it was free. The rest of us did not.
Fast forward 30 years. I’m at a high-end tasting dinner with a bunch of food writers at “The Traveling Chef” Christopher Mangless’ Three Three Five dining studio in Green Bay, WI. Somewhere about small plate 18 or so, there appears this very familiar green. It tastes lemon-tart, and the leaves are, in fact, succulent. Purslane! Planning to tell my dad “…you’ll never guess what I just ate at a fancy restaurant,” I did a little research first and, Wow!
Turns out this wild thing is fantastically good for you. Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. A half-cup raw has 300 to 400 mg of alpha-linolenic acid—that’s five times more than spinach! (A re-boot on why we need Omega-3’s? According to Washington, D.C.’s Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Omega-3s are “essential for normal growth and development and may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, other inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, and cancer.”)
Lets tally that up: Grows like a weed…tastes delicious… is incredibly good for you. Hmmm… Instead of weeding purslane, maybe you should harvest a few handfuls and try this pesto shared with me by Chef Travis Bensink of Heirloom Restaurant at the Chautauqua Institute, Chautauqua New York. It has a nice tart, grassy taste and the inclusion of walnuts instead of pine nuts boosts the alpha-linolenic acid content even more. Travis likes to serve it with fish (Arctic Char or halibut.) But it tastes good with just about anything. (….just ask my Dad.)
I’m not sure when I first tasted home-made spiced peaches. It could have been at Grandma’s house or a church potluck. Or maybe one of dad’s parishioners stopped by with a canning-jar full of the luscious things as a thank-you gift. But the flavor memory of sweet peach exoticized with clove goes deep. To my mind, putting spiced peach with perfect pound cake, a little mascarpone and a drizzle of the rose-colored syrup, is a heavenly thing to do. The combination has a permanent spot on our family-favorite recipes roster.
To make the peaches, I started with a recipe I’d found in my very-thick 1902 “Woman’s Favorite Cookbook,” written by Annie R. Gregory, “assisted by one thousand homekeepers” and published by H.H.Taylor out of Bay City, MI. It called for nine pounds of peaches, five pounds of sugar, a pint of vinegar, and cloves, and assumed—as a lot of old recipes did–that I would know just what to do from there With a little practice, I figured it out. The idea for the whipped cream pound cake started with a recipe I’d tried from a country-singers cookbook: The basics were there, but the recipe needed some changes to improve the texture and flavor. Because the cake has whipped cream as an ingredient, I decided not to plate the finished dessert with more. Instead? A schmear of mascarpone cheese mixed with a little of the spiced peach syrup is very nice.
I’m not sure if you have ever had trouble getting a fruit pie to “set up.” But I do know the oxalic acid in blueberries can make it a challenge. With this recipe, I use plenty of cornstarch (or tapioca starch) and let the pie bake a full hour, or even a little more, until the filling bubbles like a cauldron. I like LOTS of berries in a pie, so use a good six cups of them, mounded in a deep-dish, nine-inch pie plate. During the heat of summer, I don’t like to fiddle with lattice crusts (a delicate pie pastry is even more-so in a hot kitchen) so did mine with a regular crust on top. Do be sure to cut some good sized vents or decorative holes, on top.
I’m putting this post up again, in answer to a request for this Ebinger bakery classic. This recipe comes to us compliments of Chicago-based chef and baker, Gale Gand, who went to great lengths to re-created the Blackout Cake. As Gale tells it: “Ebinger’s was a chain of bakeries in Brooklyn renowned for the purity of its ingredients, the sparkling cleanliness of its stores, and the deep chocolatey-ness of this cake. Even though the last Ebinger’s finally closed in 1972, devotees kept Blackout Cakes in their freezers for years afterwards.” Recreating the cake, Gand didn’t have access to one of these freezer fossils for analyzation purposes. Instead, she relied on the taste-memories of Ebinger’s fans who grew up in Brooklyn. Gand included this group as her taste-panel. Says Gand, “They’re a tough crowd, but they tell us we’ve finally got it right. The custard filling is finally the perfect deep, velvety, very, very, dark brown.”
Risotto swept American diners off their feet in the late ’80s and early ’90s, helped along by chef experts such as Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan, who made it look so easy and so good. But super creamy, calorie-laden versions like Risotto Milanese, made with high-starch short grain white rice and plenty of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano are a tad rich for today’s tastes. This silky vegan update uses quick-cooking barley, a high-fiber, high-protein par-boiled whole grain that has a satisfying nutty flavor. As with classic risotto, we make this one with a sofrito of olive oil and onion, toast the barley in the sofrito and then add white wine, vegetable stock and hand-shelled sugar snap peas. For a little textural contrast and crunch, we sprinkle each serving with pea shoots.
Ham, turkey and melted cheese on egg-dipped, butter-crisped white bread, the Monte Cristo sandwich made waitressing at the local Denny’s in that godawful brown polyester uniform, almost worth it. Perhaps because the fried bread’s a lot like French toast, The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures puts the Monte Cristo in that “strange netherworld between breakfast and lunch,” making it perfect for Hobbit “elevensies.”
Most basically an Americanized Croque Monsieur, the Monte Cristo is purported to have first appeared under that menu moniker in 1950s California. Disney started serving it in 1966 at its Blue Bayou and Tahitian Terrace restaurants on New Orleans Square in Disneyworld, and chain-restaurants popularized it ever after. LRF’s triple-decker version riffs on a Los Angeles recipe that Gourmet magazine ran in 1968, in response to a reader request.
Chefs love bananas in whimsical desserts that take classic flavor combinations and update them. This sundae from Chef Bill Corbett (Absinthe Group) in San Francisco is a great example. Following Corbett’s recipe you’ll learn to make old-school brown sugar crumble, banana ice cream and bourbon-laced caramel. It’s a homey-flavored dessert, with star-chef appeal.
Another summer favorite! A bunch of Chicagoans wrote to tell us they missed this spicy-good signature shrimp appetizer from Joe’s Be-Bop Cafe & Jazz Emporium (Navy Pier’s erstwhile, family-friendly jazz club.) Marinated in chili-spiked buttermilk overnight before being dipped in Cajun-seasoned flour and deep fried, these crunchy shrimp get extra kick from chipotle/cilantro/lime dipping sauce.
Time to revisit some summer favorites! This is the corn relish recipe that has won self-professed “ribbon slut” Barb Schaller eight blue ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair. (Those, and a mock marriage proposal from Garrison Keillor.) Crunchy, colorful and easy to make (well…mostly easy–cutting all of the corn off the cobs takes a little practice), the relish cooks up in 30 minutes flat. Follow Ball canning instructions to can, or, store finished relish in refrigerator.