Category Archives: summer

Almost-summer pleasures

farmersmktLunchSOMETIMES it is refreshing not to cook, but rather to assemble a few choice items together on your plate. Such was this light lunch after a bicycle trip to the local farmers’ market, where we got the fresh snow peas, radishes, cucumber and a loaf of delicious hearty Mountain Rye from Raven Breads. We already had some butter and cheese to complete the late spring/early summer plate. The fresh colors of the peas, cucumber and radishes looked especially attractive, I thought. And it all tasted as fresh and lovely as it looked.

Just in case that lunch seems a little too minimalist, let me assure you that last week I also embraced the late-spring/ almost-summer season more decadently with my usual passion for rhubarb pie. It was  delicious — and all too quickly devoured, before I even thought about getting ice cream to go with it (unnecessary, it turned out).

RhubarbpieTopcrust

FOR THIS PIE, I used the top crust only, cutting the scalloped shapes with my biscuit cutter and roughly twisting strips of dough around the rim. Steve said he didn’t even realize there was no bottom crust! (True, you have to scoop it rather than slice it — but trust me, if you are serving any rhubarb-lovers, they won’t mind.)

The filling: 4 cups of chopped rhubarb, scant 1 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour and some fresh orange zest. Dot with one or two tablespoons of butter before putting on the crust.

As to the crust, I used about 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a little salt, into which I cut 7 tablespoons of cold butter, then just enough ice water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar to hold the dough together. Refrigerate for half an hour, then roll out on lightly floured parchment paper or pastry cloth and cut into shapes or strips.

rosyrhubarb

MY RHUBARB-LOVE was not quite satiated, but I did find more rhubarb at the farmers’ market, and made a simple rhubarb sauce (again with orange zest). A dollop of that sauce with my yogurt is a more modest, but still satisfying, late-spring pleasure!

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Fruit salad, any day

fruit saladEvery year on Mother’s Day, my daughter used to make fruit salad for me. What a treat — the colors and flavors combining in a joyous medley.

This year, she’s far away, but I’ll still be eating fruit salad tomorrow morning. Why not? Who says you have to wait for a holiday or for someone else to make it for you? Fruit salad is great any time — healthful and delicious.

And there are countless variations to suit your taste. I like it with the simplest of dressings — a little lemon juice, some zest and a bit of sugar — or none at all. You can add other flavorings, spices, or vanilla; you can serve with yogurt or sour cream or crème fraiche; you can put nuts or dried fruit in your fruit salad, or whatever you like. 

As spring turns to summer, the choices for fresh ripe fruit increase, of course, but at this time of year I still rely on one of my all-time beloved fruits, the pineapple.  As one of my friends pointed out, if you consider the cost per pound of a pineapple, it is one of the best fruit bargains. (I have written two pineapple posts on this blog — here‘s one of them.)

Happy Fruit Salad Day to you!

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Old friends and new

blue jam

Blackberry-blueberry jam, an attempt to get the blackberry flavor with fewer seeds.

I MARKED THE 8TH ANNIVERSARY OF THIS BLOG, by picking a tub of wild blackberries and making a blackberry cobbler. The first post that I wrote here, in 2009, was about the culmination of eight blackberry cobblers (!) that I made that summer. Well, I only made one this summer, but I can report that the recipe still holds up well and is suitable for any kind of berry. Cobbler and Blueberry Boy Bait are old friends during berry season, recipes I can count on–so familiar I can almost make them by instinct.

blueberryboybait

Speaking of instinct, my dear friend Martha and I read a post touching on this subject in one of our favorite food blogs, Juls’ Kitchen, written by Giulia, a cook and writer in Tuscany (We read it in the Italian version first, as we’re studying the language and she writes so well.) She wrote about making a cake by instinct — and it made me think about the dishes that I make instinctively, or almost so.

basil,tomatoes

Since it’s summer, and I’m enjoying my small crop of cherry tomatoes and basil, grown in pots, one of the simplest and best pasta dishes came to mind — an easy one to make by instinct. I cut the tomatoes in half, add some garlic and a dash of salt, and cook them down a bit to release their juices. Then I add a little of the cooking water from the pasta, toss in a good dose of chopped basil, stir the cooked, drained pasta into the skillet, and sprinkle with grated Parmeggiano or Pecorino Romano. Done. The best old friend of the late summer menu: I can never have too much of it.

summersalad

Leftover wild salmon, leftover rice, chopped cucumber and cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, chopped green onion, cilantro and a dressing of lime juice with a little oil and salt.

Summer, with its bounty of vegetables, is also such a great time to compose salads. I don’t know if there is an art to this, but I think there is something of an instinct, developed over time, of putting foods together so they marry well. Contrasts of color, flavor and texture work well in a composed salad. Leftovers and seasonal specials are equally welcome. It’s not that my instinct is always so great–some salads I’ve made did not marry well — in fact, probably needed to divorce! But usually, my instincts are not too bad and the ingredients get along pretty well — even complementing each other.

Especially in the lazy days of summer, I tend to forget what I can put together for a simple meal, and I need inspiration from something I’ve seen or read, which I can then adapt to what I have.  The salad above that was like that — I was just reading about a lime-juice salad dressing, and then put this together from leftovers and farmers’ market produce.

Then, as I was sorting through photos for this post, I looked at the photo of this salad and realized I could make it again for today’s lunch, even though I was missing the rice and had more cucumber. Avocado would be nice in this salad too, or black beans, or red pepper.  You could make it vegan without the salmon. You could use parsley instead of cilantro if you are one of the 4-to-14 percent of the population that thinks cilantro tastes like soap. You could add some sesame seeds or nuts on top .  . .

There are as many salad variations as there are mathematical combinations of vegetables with grains, beans, protein, what have you. Here’s a post with some of my late-summer favorites from seasons past: https://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/salads-salads-salads/.

Have fun, eat well and stay cool,
Toby

blackberry foccacia slice

Hmmmm, shall I make a blackberry focaccia as I did this time last year? https://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/blackberry-supper/

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Summer breakfast

summergranolaONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS about summer is my everyday breakfast. It’s simple: plain yogurt, topped with fresh fruit and granola. But each day I enjoy it with seasonal fruit– raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, plums or pears — and I consider it a treat!

Some years ago I wrote here about a granola made with very little oil and some applesauce, to reduce the granola’s usual high calorie count. Well, I have to say, that granola was good, but it was just a little too spartan! (for granola, that is. Muesli, which doesn’t have oil, would be a good alternative if you’re seriously watching weight — and it’s also good with yogurt and fruit.)

These days I just make a more classic granola, using a mixture of oil, maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon to coat the oats, and add a healthy dose of nuts and seeds. It’s not the richest granola you will ever taste (I know someone who makes granola with butter rather than oil, for example) but it’s pretty darned good.

Oh– and is it caloric? Yup, I’m sure it is, but if you just use it as a topping, you can justify that little luxury, can’t you?

This recipe will just about fill a quart jar of granola. Or put some in a zip-lock bag and take it with you on a road trip, on the plane or camping. Make a double batch and share with friends. You can easily adjust the nuts, seeds, spices and dried fruit to your taste (for example, I don’t use almonds as Steve is allergic to them; but hazelnuts or walnuts are great alternatives).

With this recipe and some fresh fruit, it just may be summer all year long!

Summer Morning Granola

  • 2 1/2 cups oats (preferably organic)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon (more or less to your taste) cinnamon,  or other spice (cardamom, ginger, etc.) or mixture
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts
  •  2 to 4 Tablespoons seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame)
  • 1/4 cup oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • optional: dried fruit such as raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees

  2. Combine the oats, salt and spice(s) in a large bowl.

  3. Stir in nuts and seeds to distribute.

  4. In a small pan (or microwave bowl) combine oil and maple syrup and gently heat to warm. Add water and vanilla; whisk together and pour over the oat mixture.

  5. Spread out the mixture evenly on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes or until a toasty golden brown. (It’s a good idea to check the mixture after 25 minutes.)

  6. Let cool in the pan atop a rack, then add raisins or other dried fruit if desired. Store in a quart glass jar or other container.

 

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Blackberry supper

BLACKBERRY SEASON is making me a little nostalgic. Blog-nostalgic, that is (though I still think blog is a particularly ugly word), as I wrote my first post on Toby’s Kitchen Notes nearly seven years ago, toward the end of berry season, with my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler No. 8.

It seems hard to believe I’d made eight versions of blackberry cobbler in 2009, but I did, along with some other must-have fruit desserts. This year, as I write, it’s just the beginning of blackberry season, and the other day I had a couple freshly picked pints on hand. I really wanted to bake something with them — but not a dessert. Aha — it remembered Nigel Slater’s marvelous recipe: Blackberry focaccia.

blackberry foccacia slice

Blackberry focaccia has only a hint of sweetness, from sugar sprinkled atop the dough.

Half the recipe would be plenty, I figured, as there were only two of us eating it, and it doesn’t keep well for leftovers. (I wrote of this before, so the recipe is here.)

blackberryfoccin progress

The yeast dough is easy, but does need gentle handling, especially when you fold in half the berries after the first rising. The rest of the berries are strewn on top; then, it rises again and you drizzle olive oil and sprinkle demerara or sparkling sugar on top.

blackberry foccacia

Once out of the oven and cooled just a bit, you can sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you like.

We had a choice: ruin our appetites by devouring the focaccia immediately or wait a few minutes, make a green salad, and call it supper.

saladandslice BF

We chose the latter — and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Calling it supper gave it a certain sense of legitimacy, if not outright virtue.  (More nutritious than pancakes with syrup for supper, anyway.) And yes, it was delicious. I plan to repeat this combo!

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Breads of summer

wholewhbreadIF YOU’RE SWELTERING IN THE SUMMER HEAT,  you probably won’t relate, but here in the Northwest, we still have plenty of cool-ish, windy days and rain. I think it’s perfect weather for bread baking, which is an activity I thoroughly enjoy. And isn’t summer made for pleasurable activities?

Sunset1

Cloud watching is another of my favorite pastimes these days. Any time of the year.

Lately, inspired by my son Zak’s incredible breads, I’ve been experimenting with a hybrid (hy-bread?) method of bread making, combining the Jim Lahey no-knead method, with, yes, a little bit of kneading and shaping  using sourdough starter (1/3 cup approximately for one loaf) along with a tiny bit (1/4 teaspoon or less) of yeast. I’ve also been increasing the proportion of whole wheat/ whole grains, with varying success. This loaf I baked yesterday, about 50 percent whole wheat, rated a photo and is being enjoyed in sandwiches today and toast tomorrow.

Breadwwheat

Actually, as I write this, it isn’t quite officially summer yet. Maybe soon my cooking plans will turn to potato salads or berry jams. But it’s very likely that there will also be more good bread-baking days ahead here in the Northwest corner. . .

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August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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Whatever. . .

WHATEVER IS FRESH  — from your garden or your neighbor’s garden, from a farmers’ market,  fruit-and-vegetable stand, u-pick farm or along a path, growing edible and wild — well, that’s what you should be eating right now.

For me, the vegetables and herbs lately include tender carrots and stringbeans (green or yellow), tiny new potatoes, nice little cauliflowers, fresh garlic, cherry tomatoes, basil, parsley, tarragon and mint. And summer fruit: Bluecrop blueberries that I picked at a wonderful organic blueberry farm (Yes, I may have to make the seasonal favored coffeecake, Blueberry Boy Bait ), blackberries from the bushes that grow wild here, and melons — watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew — from a produce stand.

July salad

My July salad: tiny potatoes, green and yellow stringbeans, carrots, cherry tomatoes and green onions in a mustard-vinaigrette

What to do with them? Well, it’s a theme I keep coming back to — salad. It doesn’t require much cooking, and it’s perfect for summer eating — lunch, dinner, picnics, road trips, snacks. . .

Here are a couple of my favorite previous posts about summer salad, for more ideas:

Salads, salads salads

Summer’s salad days

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A plum welcome to summer

plumsontowel

I HAVE WRITTEN BEFORE about the marvelous Santa Rosa plums of early summer, and my gratitude to Luther Burbank for developing them. But again I feel the need to praise these plums. If I were to have just one fruit tree, it might have to be a Santa Rosa plum, not only for their deliciousness at the start of summer, but also because they are so hard to find in the market.

I had enough, briefly, to eat plenty of plums au naturel and to make British cookbook writer Nigel Slater’s brilliant plum tabbouleh. (I did substitute a pinch of crushed red pepper for the small red chile he calls for). I even made some plum crumble with a topping of butter, brown sugar, flour and hazelnuts.

plumtabbouleh

The plum tabbouleh drew me back to one of my favorite books, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard, and to Nigel Slater’s lovely homage to plums.

“When I find the perfect plum, jelly-fleshed and incandescently ripe, its golden skin flashed with crimson freckles, I make a great fuss of it,” he writes. “I have even been known to get out a small plate and a napkin. I eat slowly, imagining time stopped. More usually, I come across such a fruit without warning, having little alternative but to eat it from the hand, spitting the pit into the long grass below.”

And why are these plums so hard to find? Although Slater is speaking of Britain and not of Santa Rosa plums, I think his sentiments could apply to the U.S. as well.

“It breaks my heart to think of the plum orchards we have lost in the last two decades,” he writes, “but what else can a farmer do when the crop is no longer profitable, consumers have more interest in peaches and nectarines, and the stores continue to sell imports even during our own brief season? I salute the British plum grower.”

Well, I salute all plum growers, and in particular my friends John and Cathy who gave me the pleasure of a few days full of plums from their Santa Rosa plum tree. What a happy welcome to summer!

plateofplums

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Al fresco

zuccflowersIt’s well into August and the farmer’s market is bursting with pretty much everything. We finally got some rain here last week, which made the farmers really happy.

farmersmktEverything is fresh, beautiful and tasty!

newpotatoes

salmonsaladWith all these fresh selections, I’ve still been mostly in the salad mode, which has the great advantage of using little or no heat.

capresesaladI’ve  even had enough Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and basil from my own teeny garden to make a Caprese salad (with fresh mozzarella).

pizzaAnd occasionally I have turned on the stove or the oven, to make pasta with roasted or sauteed tomatoes and basil — or pizza with those same ingredients. (Mmmm, it had been such a long time since I had pizza.) And green salad alongside, of course.

springrollskin

Another great way to eat your salad is in a fresh spring roll — also called summer roll or salad roll.

springrollwrapI’d never made these before but it turns out to be pretty simple — just a lot of chopped salad ingredients (plus some thin Asian noodles — I used brown rice ones), some shrimp or chicken or tofu if you like, and the spring roll skins, which are briefly soaked in hot water, then rolled around the filling like a burrito. You can find instructions here and many other places on the Web, and adapt them as you see fit. And make or buy a nice sauce to dip them in.

alfruit dessertAlso,  all the marvelous fresh fruit this time of year makes it easier to eat a little lighter than usual. We’ve really been enjoying a simple dessert lately: a bowl of fruit with a nice dollop of maple-sweetened yogurt. Sitting outside on a warm evening with a slab of watermelon or a juicy fresh peach is appealing too.

bbbcakeBut I really couldn’t let August go by without baking at least one Blueberry Boy Bait! I made it when we had some company coming, and it was a fitting afternoon treat.

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

And what better way to enjoy it, as with so many of these meals and snacks,  than al fresco — the perfect summer way to dine!

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