There are some baked goodies that I am just too scared to be alone with in my apartment. Like this one. Because the odds are, I will be eating the whole batch myself. Straight from the pan. In 48 hours or less.
And I don’t even really like chocolate. I know, I’m weird. But it’s just that when it comes to desserts, 3 times out of 4, I will pick the fruit-based over the chocolate. Except if the dessert was THIS. Super-rich and chocolate-y brownies. Smothered in sweet sweet caramel, which would almost be TOO sweet if it weren’t for a generous pinch of salt that pulls the whole brownie out of the “ho hum, I’ve had one of these before" category and into the realm of "OMG HAND ME ANOTHER BEFORE I HURT SOMEONE!!!”
So when my lab planned a BBQ and I offered to bring a dessert… I knew I would be saving myself the guilt by getting my lab to eat the other 15 slices. Muahaha, suckers.
Tomato and Eggplant Salad with Grilled Cheese Croutons
Living somewhere where there are distinctly different seasons has made me realize my stomach now has seasons too: when it’s freezing and wet outside, I can’t get enough of hearty, carb-heavy foods (in seconds and thirds), and when it’s hot and sticky and the last thing I want to do is turn on any appliance in the kitchen, all I want is a cool refreshing salad. It’s about the end of June when I realize I am sick of my standard (greens, cherry tomatoes, avocados, some kind of cheese- usually feta or goat, and home-made balsamic vinaigrette with the occasional guest appearance by shredded carrots, radishes, red bell peppers, or sunflower seeds) with at least TWO MORE months of sweltering heat to endure!
I saw this white eggplant at the farmers’ market and seriously could not resist trying it. I have a thing for eggplant and I was dying to grill them and put it in a salad. The white one didn’t taste noticeably different than its aubergine counterpart.. if I had to describe it I would say maybe it was a bit milder in flavor, as most pale versions are (i.e. peaches, green beans).
Enter Mark Bittman, the guy who really knows How To Cook Everything. Last year, his handy-dandy article detailing 101 Simple Salads for the Season helped me through the rest of the summer, and still continues to be an inspiration because of the variety of salad ideas and unique flavor and ingredient combinations.
Salad #44 had caught my eye particularly, because it described, get ready for this: cutting up a crispy grilled sandwich into croutons for your salad.
Let me repeat:
Cheese + bread, warm, crisp, and a bit oozey, as CROUTONS ON YOUR SALAD?!?!?! Umm.. yeah, we have identified what shall now be known as my kryptonite. Bittman warns that this you will be doing forever… and yes, I truly hope so.
Kind of sounds like some kind of horrific fungal disease you could catch by walking barefoot in a public gym bathroom, doesn’t it? Luckily, it’s not!
A clafoutis is an egg-y, custard-y French dessert, traditionally made with cherries, but easily adaptable to any fruit you wish. Because it’s summer and I’m smitten with sweet cherries (but not so much their price per pound…), I made cherry clafoutis with a hint of almond flavor.
As they bake, the clafoutis puff up to monstrous heights, but unfortunately, even wonderful French desserts cannot defy the law of gravity forever, and eventually fall back to a more humble height (right, soufflés?). But that’s ok, because they are still tasty! Clafoutis are so simple to make and its simplicity really allows the fruit to shine, plus, they are not too sweet so you never feel too guilty consuming them (even for breakfast)!
This salad was the end result of a little cooking game I like to call: food tetris.
You know how you often buy ingredients for a particular dish or meal, but you don’t use up the whole carton, package, or bunch? What do you do with the leftovers?
I really really get a kick out of using up every last drop in the carton, the last chunk of cheese, those last few (wilted) leaves of herbage, or that brown banana that is attracting all those flies into another meal or dessert. It satisfies not only my unwillingness to waste food (a habit ingrained into me by my Asian parents, who constantly reminded to me to eat every grain of rice remaining in my bowl no matter what because when THEY were young, sometimes the ONLY thing they ate for dinner was just rice), but also satisfies my love of puzzle-solving. One of my favorite past-times as a kid was fitting together hundreds of tiny puzzle pieces to form the picture of a jungle scene filled with exotic animals or a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (while watching All My Children and Days of Our Lives during summer afternoons). When I learned how to use a computer, I played Tetris tirelessly for hours and hours, relishing the feeling of seeing rows upon colorful rows disappear if I stacked all the pieces in the most efficient configurations.
I get the same satisfaction now when I pack things so that every corner and space is filled or utilized so that everything is packed in the smallest amount of space possible, whether I am packing a suitcase for a trip, or the trunk with groceries and other odds and ends, or a moving van with ALL my possessions. This freaky need for utmost efficiency and also presents itself in my kitchen too, I try to cook dishes or bake items that use up whatever is left from previous meals in order to use EVERYTHING that passes through our kitchen before it goes bad. I don’t succeed all the time. But I did with this salad.
I had one cob of grilled corn, a little more than a cup of plain couscous (the other half had been made into a tasty tabbouleh salad), a handful of cherry tomatoes, some almost-too-far-gone-to-eat spinach, and a few other odds and ends (some feta and pistachios). I made couscous patties by mixing what I had with more chopped parsley and an egg, and then pan-fried those suckers. They ended up better than I expected- crunchy on the outside and the individual grains still providing some crunch on the inside, which made for a wonderful textural addition to this salad. The dressing is a simple and versatile buttermilk dressing, flavored with fresh basil. The salad actually ended up so tasty (and filling!), an added bonus to a successful game of food tetris!
If there was a mascot for the season of summer, it would be…
Sweet and perpetually juicy, the ubiquitous guest at BBQs and picnics, WATERMELON!
My dad taught me how spit out the little black seeds when I was young, stressing the importance of being constantly vigilant against swallowing any (because, you know, a watermelon plant will grow in your tummy!). When I was a bit older (and when eating outside), I competed in heated spitting battles with childhood friends: trying to shoot seeds the farthest or at each other arbitrary targets.
Now that I think about it… I haven’t even seen seed-FULL watermelons in the last few years! Thanks to genetic manipulations by selective cross-breeding, we can produce triploid watermelons (having 3 sets of chromosomes, unlike the naturally occurring watermelons that have 2 sets). These fruit are sterile, a.k.a. seedless. Hmm, biology actually CAN be useful! It’s strange to think that perhaps my kids will never have to learn how to spit out seeds from any fruit (even I barely remember that grapes and oranges used to have seeds), let alone compete in spitting contests while they eat watermelon.. how sad.
Anyway, this salad is hardly brand-spanking new, but I have rarely ever eaten watermelon in any other way besides by itself. And cheese is certainly not the first thing I think of to eat with fruits. But somehow… this totally works! Think creamy and juicy, salty and refreshing.
Watermelon Feta Salad
adapted from various sources
some watermelon, cut into chunks some feta cheese, crumbled a little basil (or mint) if you wish, minced freshly ground black pepper
All summer I had been dying to take advantage of the season’s best strawberries and rhubarb and bake my very first strawberry rhubarb pie! It wasn’t until over a week ago that I finally had the time, ingredients, and, perhaps most importantly, acceptable kitchen temperature (it temporarily dipped below DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT TURNING THE OVEN ON IN THIS HEAT). But before I could even share it with you, I went home to California for 6 days and I was distracted with: favorite Bay Area foods (Burmese, sushi, dim sum, and my Grandma’s dumplings); a surprise 60th birthday FEAST (12 courses of tasty Chinese food!!!!) and reunion with dear cousins currently living around the world; lychee smoothies with the guy who took me on my first date in high school (we saw Titanic); a wind-y carsick-inducing (though beautifully scenic!) family trip to Muir woods and Stinson beach in the new family car; visits to both sets of grandparents; buckwheat crepes, ice cream, and wine in the afternoon in the Mission; inhaling half a Chicago-style deep dish pizza while watching the Bachelorette finale with my best friend (and her best canine friend); new earrings; spending a day with my parents washing the cars, yardwork, and picking out kitchen countertop and flooring samples; lunching and laughing with the two lovely ladies I used to play Barbies with; enjoying the spectacular WICKED with my mom; perusing (and drooling in) the used cookbook section of my favorite independent bookstore, Green Apple Books in SF, AND 4 hours of Top Chef and 5 hours of the Kardashians (in Miami… dra-MA) thanks to in flight TV!
Whew. All THAT and there was sadly NO TIME for either a post on pie or one of my California visit staples: In N Out cheeseburger and fries with a half vanilla/half strawberry milkshake!
But, better late than never, right? This strawberry rhubarb pie starts with a pre-baked bottom crust (inspired by this twice baked pie) that stays decidedly NON-SOGGY, despite the best efforts of the juicy fruit filling. It’s a bit of extra work, but I really liked the result.
I’d never had rhubarb before (celery’s red doppelganger by appearance.. but apparently of no actual relation), and was so excited to try. This filling showcases the opposing sweetness of ripe strawberries and tartness of fresh rhubarb- and the ultimate harmony when the two are together. Like Batman and Robin. Larry and Balki. Andreas and me (haha). As a strawberry-rhubarb-combo-virgin, I had imagined it would be good… but I had no idea HOW GOOD. The rhubarb, once cooked, becomes soft and smooth, with a great citrusy-tart flavor and a bit more bite than the even softer strawberries, thus creating a great texture that other fillings lack. I am now daydreaming about this new super duo (Strawbarb? Rhuberry?) over yogurt, ice cream, panna cotta, in jam, as sorbet…