September 29, 2011

A Sting on the Lips

At the end of each season, there always seems to be one ingredient, one fruit or vegetable that I had but precious little of.  I'm sad to see the season change, knowing that with it goes some food that I'll have to wait another 9 months for.  For me, this summer, it was corn.

So obvious.  Corn.  It's probably why I passed it up all the time, thinking that I would just make that *next time*.  I can count on one hand the number of times corn made it onto my plate this summer and that's just plain sad.  With butter and salt or hot sauce and lime, a freshly picked ear of corn can do no wrong.  I'm a snob, I like the fresh stuff best.  I'll use frozen in a pinch but never commercially canned - the flavor can't hope to compare.

As summer was winding down and the zucchini from my CSA was piling up, I ran across this fantastic looking recipe over on shutterbean.  Everything besides the feta and corn were already on hand so I called it destiny and added a few things to my shopping list.  

The pizza was everything you'd want in a summer meal; fresh, light but filling, served perfectly with a big salad full of tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs.  But you see that jalapeno right there, right in the foreground, perched precariously on the tip of the slice?  WHOA.  It was a sneaky little pepper, setting both mine and D's lips to tingling and burning and then burning a whole lot more.  I'm usually better about that, testing a just sliced pepper for heat, but I didn't this time.  I don't know, maybe it's just me, but jalapenos usually underwhelm me with their heat.  Half the time I buy them and they are as harmless as a bell pepper.  I just assumed this one was harmless too.

But you know what happens when you assume...

You get stinging lips and watery eyes.

A little more feta and lime juice and a few glasses of water later we finished it up, though I admitted defeat and picked the remaining peppers off my slice.  Until next time, jalapenos, until next time.

Corn Zucchini and Feta Pizza (with Cilantro and Lime)
adapted from shutterbean

Waste no time, and go buy some of the last ears of corn and a zucchini from the dwindling summer squash (if you're not too sick of it yet), this pizza is calling your name.  If you have a favorite pizza dough recipe, use it.  When I'm feeling less lazy and have a little foresight to start the dough the night before, I'm a fan of the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, but this time I just grabbed some premade dough from Trader Joe's.  Whatever.  And please, do yourself a favor and check the heat of the jalapeno before you go tossing it on your pizza with reckless abandon.  Your tastebuds will thank you.

4 servings

pizza dough
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup corn (fresh or frozen, cooked or uncooked)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno thinly sliced
1/2 cup feta
1 big handful bunch cilantro, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)
salt & pepper
juice of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Put zucchini & corn in a bowl, toss with olive oil and set aside.

Oil a rimmed cookie sheet liberally with olive oil. Put the dough on the pan and stretch and press it out towards the edges. If it springs back wait five minutes and then proceed. Continue pressing and stretching until you reach your desired size/thickness (remembering that it will puff up a bit more while baking).

Top the pizza dough with zucchini, corn, red onion, jalapeno and scatter feta and torn cilantro leaves on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper. Cook for 15-20 minutes in the oven. Evenly squeeze lime juice on top of the pizza and serve with fresh cilantro, a little more feta and red pepper flakes for added heat.

September 21, 2011

Summer Came Late

It's September in San Francisco and there's a warm Santa Ana like breeze drifting into the house through my thrown open windows.  Outside, I'd dare say it's hot.  I take every opportunity to celebrate the sun and warmth and this is seriously gorgeous summer weather.  It's days like today that this city really steals my heart.

No matter that I have an exam tomorrow in my management class and I'm supposed to be studying.  Or that I have a lab report to write.  Forget that I have a giant "to do" list staring me down, claiming most my time this weekend.  Today I have no classes, and no motivation speak of.  Sunshine means playing hooky time.  Tonight we will be hosting a movie club night - which let's be honest, sounds so much better than studying.  I just can't take today seriously.

In celebrating days like today, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the food.  The bounty that is the late summer harvest.  It's felt so good to get back into the kitchen, fingers in the bowl, tasting as I go.  Cooking has helped settle me in.

Figs and beets are everywhere right now, on display all over the markets and in corner produce stores alike.  Both sweet and earthy in their own ways, the two work together really well.  The figs, black mission in this case, are candy sweet while the beets have a more wholesome flavor profile.  Layer that with some salty and mild feta cheese and a nutty whole wheat pasty crust and you've got a divine dinner.  I thought it was even better the next day, just barely rewarmed in the oven.

Beet Fig and Feta Tart
adapted from five and spice

There is so much playing around you could do here.  Chevre instead of feta cheese, different types of figs - I used the big green Adriatic figs, but black mission would be just as delicious, if not a bit sweeter - even changing up the dried herbs and using a bit of rosemary in place of the thyme and oregano.  For a more adventurous herby twist, za'taar could work too.  If you don't have whole wheat flour for the crust, go ahead and use all purpose, but maybe consider subbing out few tablespoons for cornmeal to get a nice crunch in there.  Some freshly ground pepper in the crust might be nice too.

4 to 6 servings

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar 
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water

In bowl, mix together the flour and salt to combine. With your fingers or pastry blender mix the butter chunks until you have a mixture that is a coarse meal that still has pea sized pieces of butter in it.  Mix in the vinegar and the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to come together. Turn it out and press it into a ball with your hands. Flatten the ball of dough into a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. 

3 medium beets, roasted and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1/4 pound feta cheese
2 adriatic figs (or 4-6 black mission figs)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

Preheat the over to 400F. 

When the tart dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface - preferably on a piece of parchment to make transferring easier later - into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. Don't worry about the edges being smooth, but fix any cracks by pressing the dough together with your fingertips.

Crumble the feta into small chunks and sprinkle half of the cheese onto the tart crust, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges, then evenly distribute the spices over the cheese.  Spread a layer of the sliced figs on top of the cheese, followed by a layer of the beets (still leaving a 1-inch border). Sprinkle the rest of the feta on top.

Fold over the edge of the tart, toward the center, folding and overlapping the dough to keep it circular, but not perfect. Slide tart carefully onto a baking sheet by carefully picking up the edges of the parchments and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

While the tart is baking, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low  simmer and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced by about three-quarters, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

When the tart is finished, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes.  Before eating, drizzle the balsamic syrup all over it and sprinkle the mint leaves on top.  Slice and serve.

September 9, 2011

Meal Ticket

I miss my farmers' market at home.  The people, the farmers, the vendors; it was such an incredible way to spend my Saturday mornings.  But now that's nearly 500 miles away, and I've had to find some sort of replacement.

I made up my mind before moving that we would sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture - for those not in the know) box.  It would be a good way to get to know a farm or two, and adjust to the different offerings and somewhat different growing seasons.  It's also a good way to make you get creative with cooking.

Every other week I get a box full of surprise fruits and veggies and have to sit down and puzzle a menu out.  Yesterday I picked up my second trial box and it looked like this:

Actually this was my first box.  I didn't take a picture of the second box because after walking there and back - oh, the hills in this city! - with the haul, I was hot and sweaty and it just completely slipped my mind.  This time around there was no eggplant, banana peppers or apples.  Got tons of tomatoes, caribe potatoes, an heirloom Tigger melon and watermelon.  More zucchini, tomatillos, basil, bell peppers and eggs.  Also a bunch of chives.

So for the menu here's what I've got:

(thank you previous tenant for leaving behind your new Saveur magazine!)

served over orzo, basil

Spanish Tortilla with Chive Pesto
eggs, potato, onion

italian sausage, spinach, pine nuts and tomato sauce

with feta cheese, lime juice, jalapeno and cilantro

September 8, 2011

City Life

*tap tap*  Is this thing on?

Something happened in the move.  I lost my brain, I think.  It's not completely back, but I'm working on it.

21 days ago I stepped off a plane at SFO and greeted my new home.  Hello, San Francisco.  Sticking out like a sore thumb in seasonally inappropriate little black shorts and a light sweater, my new city welcomed me with a heavy blanket of fog that poured down the hill, making me shiver and sniffle.  It's gonna take some getting used to.  I don't quite yet feel settled.  

The apartment is all set up, school has started for both D and I; we even signed up for a CSA, but I'm still missing San Diego.  I'm missing the warm sunny beach days and California burritos - though truth be told I prefer other burritos more - they just don't do Mexican food the same up here.

The rest of it, the restaurants in San Francisco, blow my mind.  I've probably eaten out more in the past few weeks than I did in the 6 months prior to moving, but it's all in the name of research.  Burmese, Thai, French Creole Soul, perfect breakfast pastries at Tartine, crazy good ice cream at Mitchell's.

Eating good food makes me feel better.  Bring on this new adventure.