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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gazpacho: A Perfect Summer Soup

Gazpacho is one of those soups that a lot of people think they don't like just because it's cold. I often serve it at summer dinner parties because it takes five minutes to make, it doesn't heat my kitchen, and it introduces people who wouldn't otherwise try a cold soup to what is probably my most favorite Spanish dish. I recently served it to my parents when they visited along with arroz al horno, and my dad, who is notoriously anti-vegetables (with good reason if you've ever heard the horror stories about my grandmother's food "experiments") actually asked for more!

I make it the way I learned when I lived with a madrileño family in Valencia as an au pair. The grandmother insisted that gazpacho should be strained after blended, but if you use a good food processor and let it go for a while, you don't have to dirty another bowl/utensil. I've also heard of people adding bread to their gazpacho--this may be traditional, but not how my "family" made it. And one last piece of advice: make this only when you can get from-the-garden tomatoes--it makes a huge difference!

¡Buen provecho!

Mindy's Gazpacho
Serves 4

2 large tomatoes, quartered
1/2 large cucumber, cut into a few large pieces
1/2 medium onion, halved
1/2 bell pepper, cut into a few large pieces
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
A couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil
1 glug red wine vinegar (start at about a teaspoon and add to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all of the vegetables into a food processor and process until smooth. Add the olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper and whir again. Taste to see if you need to add any one vegetable to balance the flavor. (But don't get too crazy here...the flavors marry over the course of the chilling, so it will balance out some on its own.) Chill for at least an hour and up to a day. It tastes better the longer you can chill it. Serve with homemade croutons.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nutella Challenge: Nutella and Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream

I love Nutella. I learned about the jar that is hazelnut and chocolaty goodness when I lived in Spain after college. Up until now, though, I've only used it to spread on bread like peanut butter (which is absolutely amazing, by the way), but when Paula at Bell'Alimento asked if I'd like to join in her Nutella challenge, I jumped at the chance to improve my Nutella repertoire.

One thing I missed while living in Europe was my ice cream maker. I decided that it's debut would be something to do with the Nutella challenge, and I will definitely be making this again. I knew the base would be the pure creaminess of a sweet cream ice cream with a ribbon of Nutella, but I wanted something more. That something came in the form of chopped hazelnuts (the only type of hazelnut I could find in the local Kroger). Thus, my Nutella and Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream was born. My taste testers were torn--either add more Nutella or leave it as is. My vote was to leave it as is, but you can add as much or as little Nutella as you'd like.

Nutella and Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream
Ice Cream Recipe from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and Dessert Book

1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups half and half
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla

2-3 heaping Tablespoons Nutella

Toast the hazelnuts lightly. While they are toasting, lightly oil a baking sheet. Place the sugar in a dry saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a fork until melted. Swirl the pan (without stirring) until the sugar is a lovely golden brown. Add the hazelnuts and stir until completely coated. Spread on the baking sheet and let cool. Once cool, break into pieces and let cool even more in the refrigerator.

Whisk the cream, half and half sugar and vanilla in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions to make your ice cream. About 2 minutes before the ice cream is done, add the praline pieces. When those are fully incorporated, stop the ice cream maker, and with a small spatula or spoon, carefully swirl the Nutella in one tablespoon at a time. (Don't over stir--just stir enough to create swirls in the ice cream.)

Transfer to a freezer-proof container with lid and freeze for at least an hour, but up to a day. (This ice cream recipe is best eaten within a day.)

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!

This year I wasn't able to grow my own tomatoes since I returned to the States in the middle of summer, but luckily I've received some beautiful tomatoes from my CSA over the past few weeks. Tomatoes are one of my absolute favorite foods, and I just hate to do anything else to them other than slice and eat them when they're this fresh. We often eat this dish when we grill after work...it's so easy to make and so delicious to boot! I debated on whether or not to post this because it seems so basic, but I remember my great grandmother making a plate like this (minus the herbs) every time we went to her house for lunch. As I get back into the swing of working and adjusting to life in the United States, I need the reminder that delicious, healthy food doesn't need to be complicated.

Just slice your tomatoes, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, add some chopped fresh basil (or other herb of your choice) and drizzle with some good olive oil.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summery Peach Tart

When we returned to the U.S. about a month ago, one of the first things we did was make a trip to Williams Sonoma with a gift card we received to stock up on the cooking supplies we had in France, but lacked in our kitchen here. I now have three tart pans in different configurations--round, long rectangular, and wide rectangular!

When some friends asked us over for dinner the other night, I jumped at the chance to use one of my new pans, and offered to make dessert. Peaches are cheap and plentiful now, so I decided to try my hand at a peach tart. I also decided to try out the recipe for a pressed (not rolled) tart crust from David Lebovitz's blog. Nothing like taking experiments to friends to try out!

The crust was delicious and easy to make, if a little crumbly and full of cracks. I've since decided that the American butter that is available to me is just not good enough and I have stocked up on French Président butter in my freezer. (The butter, by the way, does make a difference. I used the Président today, and with less cracking. I've heard that American butter has a higher water content, so will cause cracking in recipes like this.)

I am now officially a butter snob.

Anyway, the peaches were great in this, and it was so simple to make. Just pre-bake the tart crust according to the directions on David Lebovitz's website (although I suggest you slightly increase the recipe to 1 1/4-1 1/2 times so that the crust isn't too thin.) Then bake again once you've arranged your peaches. Et voilà, a beautiful and tasty summer dessert!

Summery Peach Tart
Makes one tart

1 tart crust or pie crust
5-6 large peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp mace (or 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8-1/4 cup sugar (I used 1/8 cup, and the result was good, but there wasn't much "sauce" for the peaches.)
4 tsp flour
2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat. Arrange the peaches in the tart crust (or just dump them in). Make sure to pour any juices leftover in the bowl over the peaches. Bake in the oven for about 35 minutes or until the juices are bubbly. If the edges of the crust start to get too brown, place foil over the edges part-way through cooking. (I didn't have this problem at all with this crust.) Allow to sit before serving.

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Eye Candy: 7two7 Glass

We interrupt the regularly-scheduled programming today with a spotlight on 7two7 glass. I recently reconnected with a high school friend, Vicki, through Facebook, and found out that she's become a wonderful glass artist. And lucky for us, she sells a lot of her work (especially jewelry and ornaments) on Etsy. Her prices are extremely reasonable ($5-$30)--and I know this because we have a top glass-blower who teaches at the college where I work. Her items would make great gifts...for someone else or for yourself! Check her one-of-a-kind work out on her Etsy page...

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