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Summer Soup for “Love Apple” Season: Gazpacho


It’s hot in Sevilla in the summer. So hot that you’ll cross the street just to walk (slowly) on a sidewalk shaded by buildings and clench a water bottle in a sweaty fist at all times. Hot enough that the streets are watered to control the dust and tamp down the odors that exude from the pores of an old city clogged with layers of grime from ages of everyday human activity.  And summer is when the mid-afternoon siesta becomes essential for survival, rather than an irritating waste of time when the stores are shuttered and dark.

Imagine yourself inside a walled courtyard. Just behind the door is a narrow city street, but here you sit in the shade beside a gurgling fountain, amid flowers hanging from the walls in glazed pots. Relief. Perhaps your lunch includes a bowl of cold gazpacho.

Gazpacho is one of those dishes that gets a lot of playtime during this sweltering season. It uses ingredients at their prime this time of year – tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers – and requires absolutely no cooking, little prep, and lets a blender do all the work.

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    Tomato Avocado Salad w. Mustard Thyme Vinaigrette

    Tomato Avocado Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

    First off, I need to apologize for giving you a headache with the photo. I’m sure there’s a Photography 101 class that tells you not to use a busy background for your photo, but use one I did. And it matched the food to boot! There’s a fashion faux pas analogy I could make here, but it’s escaping me at the moment.

    Anyway, last week there were a couple of hot days in the Bay Area. Folks on the East Coast who are reading this would likely guffaw if I told you the exact temp and humidity. You might say that “dry heat” isn’t as bad as humid heat or some such. But heat is still hot! On such days I try to find alternatives to firing up the stove, which generally means a sandwich and a salad for dinner. There are only so many mixed baby green salads I can stomach, though, so I was excited to see early girl tomatoes at the farmer’s market the other week.

    Early girls might be my favorite variety of tomato. I think it has the perfect proportion of flesh to juicy seeds, and it has a concentrated, sweet tomato-y flavor. Perfect for sandwiches and salads.

    If you wanted to go simple, you could just mix chunks of tomato and avocado with a pinch of salt and call it a day. It would be delicious. BUT if you wanted to be a rockstar you would whip up a mustard thyme vinaigrette in 2 more minutes to bind the two together. Your choice.

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      Chocolate Pudding Without A Packet

      Chocolate pudding is a wonderful comfort food that few people make for themselves anymore. That’s such a shame because it is really easy, tasty and satisfying to make at home.

      I know what you are thinking, why bother making pudding from scratch when I can dump and stir from a packet without any cooking at all?! I’ll tell you why, because stovetop pudding is delicious and the recipe is so easy it is like making hot chocolate with just one more ingredient and a little more stirring. Plus when you make pudding at home you get to exactly what you want – you can cut down on fat or use super premium chocolate, depending on your tastes.  And you get to enjoy pudding skin – my favorite part!

      Still cold from the fridge and with pudding skin!

      Still cold from the fridge and with pudding skin!

      Stovetop Chocolate Pudding, adapted from Cook’s Country

      (Serves 4)

      3 oz dark chocolate (recommend bittersweet)
      3 T cocoa
      2 ½ T corn starch
      1/3 c + 2 T sugar (up to ½ c if you like really sweet desserts)
      Dash of salt
      2 ½ c milk (whole or reduced fat – not skim)
      2 t vanilla extract or other flavoring

      Chop chocolate and melt in a small heat-proof bowl in the microwave, using 30 second intervals and stirring in between. Set aside to cool slightly.

      Combine cocoa, cornstarch, sugar and salt in heavy bottomed sauce pan. Add milk and stir to combine.

      Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture begins to bubble. Add melted chocolate and continue to stir for 2-3 more minutes. Stirring constantly is important and be sure to scrape the corners and bottom of the pan to prevent the pudding from scorching.  Pudding will be done cooking when it coats the back of a spoon and/or has very thick bubbles (like a mud pot).

      Remove from heat and stir in vanilla or other flavoring – almond extract, coffee or a favorite liqueur are excellent additions.

      Pour pudding into 4 individual cups or ramekins. If you don’t like skin on your pudding then cover each cup with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface of the pudding. (I’m a big pudding skin fan, so no wrap for me!) Place pudding cups in fridge and chill for at least 2 hours. Unwrap and enjoy.

      To really gild the lily and get a textural contrast, try topping the pudding with jam or whipped cream before serving.

        Cedar Plank Salmon

        Getting the fish and grill ready

        Getting the fish and grill ready

        Even in occasionally-gray San Francisco, it’s grilling season. Food, fire, and fresh air. What more could you ask for?
        Cedar plank salmon, before and almost-after

        Cedar plank salmon, before and almost-after

        One of my favorite things to grill is cedar plank salmon. The plank gives a nice, mild smoke flavor to the fish with almost no extra work on your part. You can get the planks for around a buck or two, depending where you buy. You’ll find them either near the fish counter or the charcoal in your grocery store.
        Cedar plank salmon, zucchini, peach, and avocado.  Yes, grilled avocado.  Try it.

        Cedar plank salmon, zucchini, peach, and avocado. Yes, grilled avocado. Try it.

        The plank needs to soak for an hour before you put it on the grill, so that’s the first step. The grill takes about half an hour to heat up. And it takes about a minute to make the sweet, spicy glaze. So plan accordingly. Continue reading…

          Blueberry Buttermilk Tart


          Why light a field of blueberry bushes on fire?

          What I was told, growing up, is that burning the blueberry bushes after they’ve given up their crop at the end of the season makes them healthier and set for new growth in the spring.

          Eating blueberries is one of my memories from lazy summers in Machais, Maine. The Machias I know conjures images of swimming in the lake, slamming porch doors, washing and polishing cars by hand, pie eating, walking barefoot, reading on the glider, doing puzzles.

          I had no idea it (or rather, its port) was the setting for the first naval battle in the Revolutionary War (if Wikipedia is to be believed!), during which the American patriots, inspired by what had just happened in Lexington and Concord, captured their first British ship.

          Cooking with blueberries is appropriate for this time of year, don’t you think?

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            Tomatillo Chicken

            I love summertime at the farmers’ market. Yes, there are hordes of people. And yes, they waddle slowly from side to side and have a knack for stopping dead in their tracks just so that you can slam in to them. But still, I love the farmers’ market. Even in the summer.

            The usual reason for the crowds is the fruit. Candycots, pluots, peaches, nectarines, figs, berries, cherries, mmm. Crowd-pleasers for sure, but summer is also the start of tomatillo season and there are a couple of farmers here and there who’ll have a small box of these treasures at the market.

            bag of tomatillos

            Tomatillos are small, green fruits and are the basis for salsa verde. I grew up in Philadelphia, and I had no idea that salsa was anything other than that canned stuff they sold in the chip aisle until I was 20 years old. Sad, I know.

            I came across this recipe in some old recipe book that I can no longer remember the name of. Helpful, no? Anyway, the important thing is that this is the only recipe that I thought delicious enough to commit to memory from that entire book. What I love about it is that it’s a simple, fresh-tasting dish that’s great for weeknights. Every now and then I think I might roast the tomatillos and onions first, but then the laziness sets in and then I don’t. If any of you decide to do it, let me know how it turns out!

            Tomatillo Chicken Continue reading…

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