Sunday, June 29, 2008

Barley Salad

My goodness it's been hot here the last few days. Really hot, the kind of heat that I take personally. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for this as far as I'm concerned and it makes me lethargic and grumpy. And strangely hungry. Because the fact is, there are only so many cool drinks and smoothies I can consume before I realize that I really haven't eaten much of anything at all.

I'm always on the lookout for a good, substantial salad that can be made ahead and kept cool in the refrigerator. No one in my family will touch potato salads and pasta salads seem to get old fast. But leafing through my new copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian I came across a salad that looked substantial and and cooling with its dressing of lemon juice and fresh dill tossed with cooked barley, scallions, and chunks of cucumber.

We ate this the other night on the patio along with freshly baked challah, homemade mozzarella, marinated carrots, lemony-garlic chickpeas, and fresh fruit. The barley salad was crunchy and toothsome and the yogurt and cucumbers somehow seemed to cool down the sweltering air.

This would make a lovely traveling dish, whether for a brown bag lunch, a potluck, or a picnic. The recipe is here. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I just got my own copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I am in love! I had it out from the library last month just long enough to experiment with the challah recipe which was delicious but kind of funny looking. Only this week did I start with the basic bread recipe and!

Here's the deal: you make a wet dough, let it rise once, and set aside until needed in the refrigerator. For days, if that's what works for you. No kneading, no proofing, no careful timing. The downsides are these: the wet dough can be tricky to work and you need to have space in the refrigerator to store the dough. If you can handle those, then give this book a look because the upsides are many: delicious, wholesome bread on your timetable with virtually no effort whatsoever.

While I love fresh bread as much as anyone, I am not one of those cooks to rhapsodize over the meditative glories of kneading dough. I freely admit to using a bread machine for making my family's challah week after week for most of the last 10 years though of course I braid it and bake it in the oven for the characteristic shape. And the machine has been a workhorse for turning out loaf after loaf of hearty, whole grain bread which is perfectly serviceable for sandwiches and toast. But the machine simply can't do anything in the realm of crusty peasant breads. And all the recipes I've looked at over the years involving numerous carefully timed rises and knock-downs, sponges and starters, and complex baking equipment left me cold.

The other afternoon, after I bought the book, I put some water, yeast, flour, and salt in a big bowl, stirred it together, and went to work. While I was gone, the rest of my family pulled off chunks of dough and and made numerous pizzas, some with standard mozzarella and tomato sauce, others with roasted red peppers, basil, and goat cheese. My kids have never gone for homemade pizza but everyone declared this to be the best pizza ever. So there.

I took the last of the dough and made a quick baguette this morning which was almost immediately devoured. I considered posting a video of the knife slicing through the crackling crust but without the aroma it wouldn't have been complete.

I immediately mixed a new batch of dough in the same bowl without washing so as to collect all the old dough bits and incorporate their sour flavor into the new dough. I am looking forward to experimenting with many of the recipes in the book and I encourage you to give it a look, too. Normally I would post a recipe at this point, but I think it's worth reading the book to get the technique down.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Meal for Midsummer's Eve

So we had a bar mitzvah last weekend. And fed somewhere around 100 people. There were bagels with whitefish salad, huge pans of spanakopita, quinoa salad, fruit, green salad, and hundreds cookies, nearly everything cooked by friends just for us. The night before the bar mitzvah, a very dear friend brought us a delicious Shabbat dinner of moussaka, asparagus, and tiny jewel-like pastries among other delights, with a spare pan of moussaka just in case. We've been eating well on all these leftovers and only last night did I really get around to cooking a proper meal after finally cleaning out the refrigerator.

There were lots of reasons to make something truly memorable. Our very dear friends are still staying with us, and not only was it Friday night which always calls for a special dinner, but it was also the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. The weather was lovely enough that I decided it was time to haul the trusty old Weber kettle out of the garage even though we're not big grill people. Maybe it's that we eat so little meat. And, honestly, it's kind of pain. We never seem to have charcoal on hand which wouldn't be such a big deal except that I won't eat food that tastes like gasoline so only Lazzari will do. Luckily it's easier to find than it used to be. And it seems to take forever to get enough heat to cook, after which the fire seems to fade all too quickly. Really, a big production and yet only the grill would do.

The meal I had in mind is a summer favorite of mine: grilled vegetables with a basil aïoli. I confess that my usual approach to this tasty sauce has been to mix crushed basil and garlic in to store bought mayonnaise but, perhaps feeling a bit too full of myself, I decided yesterday was the day to make my own from scratch. I started using Mark Bittman's basic mayonnaise recipe from this book, met with utter failure, and saved it using Deborah Madison's instructions from this book. Despite a few pitfalls and blender-induced temporary hearing loss, in the end I had a beautiful, velvety and perfectly emulsified sauce that made the grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers sing. To complete our feast, we had fresh challah, Orangette's simple but insanely tasty chickpea salad, a variety of cheeses, and the first summer fruits of the season. Of course we ate outside next to my bubbling washtub fountain surrounded by the sound of birds tucking in for the evening. You simply can't do better than this: tasty food and dear friends on an early summer evening. I'll give you a recipe for what I made but of course you can use this approach to grill and serve anything your heart desires. Just make sure to enjoy it outside, on a perfect evening with people you really love.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Love This

I received the following in the comments:

This blog could be more exciting if you can create another topic that everyone can relate on.

Who can't "relate on" food?

This blog would be more exciting if I cooked more often and had more to write about. And if the spambots went away.......

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salsa Verde

If you keep up with my other blog at all, you know that my son's bar mitzvah is coming up in a matter of, well, days. So there hasn't been a great deal of excitement on the cooking front. A lot of pasta, salads, smoothies, and veggie juices as we try to get one kid through final exams and another ready for his big day on Saturday.

But when your kid says, "Mom, your green salsa is the best. You'll make it for my bar mitzvah party, right?", what's a mother to do? In addition to buying 3 pounds of coffee, 2 bottles of Manischevitz, numerous 6-packs of Hansen's soda at the supermarket today, I added a few pounds of tomatillos, some fat jalapeños, limes, and a few bunches of scallions to the party supplies in my cart. Because if my kid wants my salsa verde for his bar mitzvah party, you can bet he's going to get it.

This particular salsa is thick and tangy. The tomatillos are very gelatinous so you want this to come to room temperature before serving or it's just a bit weird. Obviously the heat can be managed by your use of chiles, but then again, you never know when you're going to get surprise firecracker. The tomatillos and chiles are roasted but that's the only time consuming part. Then everything is tossed in the blender and whizzed until smooth. So simple, and so very tasty. My recipe is here. Do give it a try.