I can’t remember a year when the tomato crops have been better. Heirlooms in myriad varieties, red, yellow and orange cherry and grape tomatoes, as well as field tomatoes (or what I call just plain old summer tomatoes) are having a heyday in western New England this summer. They started appearing in August and are still going strong—so strong that I have been using them creatively week after week in recipes like the simple BLT Soup featured here.
After making countless BLT sandwiches, I decided to try the popular trio in a soup and loved the results. Nothing could have been easier. After frying a few bacon slices until crisp, I used a small amount of the drippings to sauté chopped onion, garlic, and fresh tomatoes, and then simmered this mélange in chicken stock and fresh orange juice. Seasonings of basil and cayenne pepper rounded out the flavors. When done, the soup was pureed to a crimson smoothness.
Okra at the Amherst Farmers’ Market
If you’re one of those who cringe when you hear the word “okra,” then you should have a look at Virginia Willis’ Okra. Published this spring just in time for cooks to take advantage of this summer crop, this slim volume is filled with recipes that will convince “okra doubters” that when cooked properly, okra is not “slimy or gummy” but rather a delicious vegetable.
In Okra, the author addresses the fact that people either love or hate okra. “It’s a contentious vegetable,” she proclaims. But to all those who think they don’t like this versatile ingredient, she says, “They just haven’t met the right okra!” To make her point she follows up with a sampling of recipes with both Southern and international accents.
Like Virginia, I grew up in the South in Tennessee, right next to her native Georgia, and have fond memories of delicious okra dishes that my mother prepared during warm weather months. Sliced okra, coated in cornmeal, then fried in bacon drippings until crisp and golden, was a favorite as was shrimp and okra gumbo served over rice.
Anxious to cook from this book, I’ve prepared Oven-Fried Okra several times—it’s easy Continue reading
My son, Mike, is a talented cook, and during our family’s summer vacation, he and I teamed up to prepare the evening meals. Often we went to the market, chose what looked good, and decided how we’d use if after returning home. That was certainly the case with a colorful tomato and onion confit we whipped up one night.
A cache of plump, ripe summer tomatoes, a mound of garlic heads, and a bag of onions, were the inspiration for a simple but vibrant tomato and onion garnish. We chopped the onions into large pieces, sautéed them until golden, and then added tomatoes and a hefty accent of pressed garlic. Cumin, turmeric, and cayenne pepper added heat and color to our mélange. We served this quick confit with couscous and grilled Moroccan merguez sausages (easily found in France where we were staying). Back home I substituted lamb chops marinated with the same spices used in the confit with equally delicious results. Continue reading
What I love about cooking in France is that the French are real sticklers for using seasonal ingredients. There’s no way you’d see asparagus in their groceries in the winter. (In my supermarkets at home, sadly I don’t have to look hard to find non-local asparagus from Chile displayed throughout the cold weather months.) In Paris bundles of the long, sleek spears appear only in late spring and early summer. And what a glorious scene they make— verdant-hued stalks, tender, petite wild asparagus, and snowy- hued white varieties take center stage at les primeurs (produce stores).
Since arriving several weeks ago, I’ve taken advantage of this bounty. At first, I used the stalks as a side to sautéed lamb chops or roast chicken, but then I got more imaginative and included them in a delicious brodo. Continue reading
This summer the price of lobster in my local supermarket reached an all-time low of $5.99 a pound, prompting me to add this popular crustacean to menus on more than one occasion. For two family birthday dinners we steamed lobsters, and served them with pots of melted butter and sides of corn on the cob and salad.
Then I got more creative when one local grocery chain started cooking lobsters, removing their succulent meat, and selling it fresh or frozen. I bought home a small container to use for—lobster BLTs! My first attempts were good, but not stellar. I prepared a delectable mixture of lobster, mayo, lemon, and tarragon as a base for the sandwiches. But then I overwhelmed it with too much bacon and an unnecessary addition of sliced avocados. Continue reading
Fresh blueberries are in full season here in New England. At the local farmers’ market, every fruit vendor has bountiful displays of these luscious little orbs neatly packed in pint and half pint boxes. And, they’re not the only ones featuring this summer staple. The bakers are including them in pies and muffins, while the local yogurt maker is turning out blueberry smoothies sweetened with maple syrup.
I wasn’t surprised then when my culinary assistants, working in my kitchen last week, were all abuzz about blueberry recipes. Mary Webber, a new member of our team, described a simple blueberry pan cake that she has baked for years, and had us all pleading for the directions. Continue reading
Last weekend en route to the supermarket, I couldn’t believe the temperature gauge in my car. I looked twice thinking I had read it wrong because it was registering 105 degrees. We were in the midst of yet another heat wave here in New England, and definitely headed for a scorching, even record-breaking day. It just so happened that my husband and I had invited a few friends over for wine and appetizers late that afternoon, and had planned to entertain on our porch.
It didn’t take long to figure out that our gathering would have to be moved inside where there was air conditioning. To counter the heat, I changed the menu to include refreshingly cool skewers of watermelon, feta, and mint. Then when I spotted fresh figs in the produce aisle of the grocery, I added those to my cart to serve with some creamy blue cheese and walnuts. Continue reading
After a month of cooking in a Paris apartment rental with no grill anywhere in sight, I couldn’t wait to pull out my Weber after returning home. The temperatures, hovering in the 90s in New England every day this week, have also been an incentive to move my kitchen outdoors.
Instead of the usual medley of steaks, chops, and burgers, though, I opted for fish, and settled on a delicious combination of salmon fillets and fresh corn on the cob, both brushed with a refreshing lime and cilantro-scented butter. This recipe is a breeze to make. You marinate the salmon for 30 minutes in a mixture of lime and oil seasoned with garlic and ginger, and halve and blanch the corn quickly in a pot of boiling water. Both are then brushed with the seasoned butter while they cook atop a hot fire. Continue reading
I returned home from Paris this week with some sound French cooking philosophy. Everyone cooks seasonally there, not only by choice, but often by necessity. Mounds of asparagus, green and white or plump and slim, appear in markets in mid-spring only to completely disappear later in the summer. Deep crimson and incredibly juicy strawberries pop up in June and are available for a few weeks. Even fish have their own cycle. Late last month when I innocently asked a Parisian fishmonger for scallops, he looked at me sternly and announced “C’est fini, Madame!”
However, in New England the latter are in their prime right now. At a local grocery store fresh sea scallops from Cape Cod caught my eye while I was restocking my larder, so I bought a pound along with “native” (translation: homegrown) tomatoes and a bunch of arugula. I added a package of Spanish-style chorizo to my cart and had the makings for a delicious main course salad for our first night home. Continue reading
My husband never met a stranger and is prone to issuing last-minute invitations to our house for drinks and appetizers. That was why it was not surprising that only one day after we arrived in Paris last week—still in full jet lag mode—I found myself scrambling to make hors d’oeuvres and buying rosé to serve friends passing through the City of Light.
A new recipe I had tried on the other side of the Atlantic turned out to be the pièce de résistance of our impromptu get together. I brushed baguette slices with olive oil, toasted them quickly in the oven, and then spread then with some creamy Gorgonzola. However, it was the cooked sweet and tart cherries that I spooned on top that gave these nibbles their dazzle. Continue reading