Friday, May 25, 2007

Strawberry Fields...

I spent last weekend at my parent's farm near Lake of the Ozarks. They have a great garden with potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, squash, onions, peppers and...strawberries. Strawberries that were ready to be picked and turned into a childhood favorite, my grandmother's strawberry pie.
I do subscribe to the philosophy that most things related to Southern cooking have gelatinous qualities. Julia Reed, who writes fashion/food/politics for Vogue, Newsweek and the New York Times (she is my hero) has a great book about the South and devotes an entire chapter to jello molds. Most wouldn't consider Missouri the South, but I grew up with many Southern traditions.

This recipe is really easy, calls for about 2 pints of strawberries and just begs for a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Strawberry Pie from my grandmother:
Prepare either a homemade or store bought pie shell. Bake and cool.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 drops red food coloring
3 tablespoons strawberry gelatin

Cook together all ingredients but gelatin. When mixture is smooth and clear, add gelatin. Stir to dissolve.
Cool and pour over fresh, whole strawberries in freshly baked pie shell. Cool in refrigerator a few hours to let set before serving. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Warm Fava Bean Puree w/ Warm Pita Bread

I have been fascinated with fava beans lately. Maybe it is the the way "fa-va" rolls off the tongue or maybe it is because Bon Appetit and other cooking magazines continue to tempt me with their shiny green beans. Or maybe it is the gentleman who owns the Al Habashi Mart in the City Market who has convinced me, after many conversations and preparation suggestions, that fava beans are the perfect food.

Al Habashi Mart is the a great place to buy bulk spices, rice, grains, dried fruits and nuts. The grocery also has fresh pita bread and all your Middle Eastern food necessities.

The catch is: they are not easy to prepare. Fresh fava beans have to be shelled twice. Boiled first for about 3 minutes, then peeled back to gather the beans inside the pod. Boil again to get the outer shell off the inside bean. A couple of weeks ago I made grilled lamb skewers with warm fava bean salad. I used the fresh beans so it took awhile, but and the meal was amazing.

Last weekend Alhabashi Mart had large, green, dried fava beans...I knew it was time to try the recipe from my latest Bon Appetit. Now, this may look like poop/dog food on a plate, but I assure it is wonderful. This is an interesting twist on hummus and would be great for a party. The paprika and cumin with the lemon juice and olive oil give it a great Moroccan flair. I was liberal with all of it, especially the olive oil. The beans really soaked it up. My husband was thrilled to drench his in Sriracha sauce also purchased in the City Market and make little fava sandwiches in his pita.

Recipe from chef Rafih Benjelloun, Bon Appetit, May 2007:

Makes About 2 Cups

1 pound dried shelled fava beans or dried large lima beans

3 1/2 cups water

7 tablespoons olive oil, divided

6 large garlic cloves, peeled

5 teaspoons ground cumin, divided

1 teaspoon (or more) salt

2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Warm pita breads

Place beans in heavy large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover by 3 inches. Soak overnight.

Drain beans, return to same saucepan. Add 3 1/2 cups water, 4 tablespoons oil, garlic and 3 teaspoons cumin. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low simmer uncovered 20 minutes. Mix in 1 teaspoon salt. Continue to simmer until beans are tender and breaking down,m and mixture becomes thick (like mashed potatoes), stirring occasionally, about 50 minutes longer. Season with pepper and more salt if desired.

Spoon puree into shallow bowl. Mix paprika and 2 teaspoons cumin in small dish; sprinkle over puree. Drizzle with lemon juice, them remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Serve puree with warm pita bread.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What to do with Rhubarb?

This summer we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, so we pick up a grocery bag full of fresh 100% organic produce (grown locally) each Saturday in the City Market.
This weekend was our second week and so far we have had great asparagus, swiss chard, spinach, radishes and to my delight...fresh strawberry jam! My husband is perfect because he likes toast and I like jam. He likes the cupcake, I like the icing. It works out very well.

We have also received rhubarb two weeks in a row. Instead of letting it go to waste...again, I decided to make a rhubarb crumble. It was great; much to everyone's surprise. (Was the visible and verbal shock 1) that rhubarb was good OR 2) that I made it and it tasted so good?) Rhubarb has a real tart flavor and the cup of sugar definitely counters it, I would use 3/4 cup of sugar next time. Side note: I love crisps and crumbles. They remind me of growing up because my mother would always make fruit crisps and there is no better way to take enjoy fresh spring is easy and delish.

The recipe called for 6 cups of chopped rhubarb. I had about 4 1/2 cups, so I raided the freezer and found half a bag of Dole Frozen Mixed Berries with no sugar. So I actually made a rhubarb & mixed berry crumble.

Here is the recipe, from The Ultimate Southern Living (of course):
Rhubarb Crumble:
1 cup uncooked regular oats
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter
6 cups chopped rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup sugar
Combine first 4 ingredients; cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly.
Combine rhubarb and sugar; toss gently, and place in a greased 8- or 9-inch square baking dish. Top rhubarb mixture with oats mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve with ice cream, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Succotash, 15 E. 3rd Street

Succotash is at the top of our list of favorites in the City Market. Beth is the owner, chef, interior designer and caterer extraordinaire. The food is always amazing. Brunch on Saturday or Sunday is wonderful, huge pancakes, french toast, omelets, salads, smoked salmon, wraps and really great Cafe du Monde chicory coffee. Only if you have been to New Orleans for Beignets and Cafe Au Laits do you know what I mean. Beth serves it rich and dark and we love it.

I've also used Succotash catering, both for personal and professional use. She always brings so much food, no one leaves hungry and the presentation is gorgeous with a lot of color and freshness. The best in recent memory was the BYO Cobb Salad. We started with her famous lima bean hummus and bread, followed by tomato bisque. The Cobb included mixed greens, roasted chicken, bacon, crumbled blue cheese, huge green olives, hard boiled egg, tomatoes and homemade buttermilk or balsamic vinaigrette dressings. For dessert, fresh chocolate chip cookies and her peanut butter brownies that are worth a trip to Succotash on their own.
And because we can't get enough of Succotash, our favorite treat is the Wednesday night dinner. They are only open one night a week, and on Wednesday's they serve a dinner that they choose. It usually includes soup, salad, an appetizer option (lima bean hummus, smoked salmon crostini), the main course and dessert. For $12 per person. No joke. And you can walk two doors down to the Wine Cellar and pick up a bottle of wine to go with dinner.
Last night was beautiful, so we picked up a bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz, which was huge, jammy, slap-you-in-the-face wine. Or, as my husband and I like to joke when wine tasting, "that is grapey."
If you don't take my word for it, here is a link to an online discussion of this killer vino:
The special was roasted chicken, roasted asparagus (so fresh), mashed potatoes and gravy. Trust me, this woman can cook. She is amazing. Dessert was her 7 layer citrus cake with ice cream and a strawberry. It just doesn't get any better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

City Market Produce

Last night the weather was just too beautiful to stay home so we went to Harry's Country Club early (this is a theme...) and then returned home for dinner with our neighbor. He couldn't resist the temptation of Harry's on a beautiful day either.
My plan for two was to grill chicken breast which had been marinating for two days and steam an artichoke. Then our neighbor joined with City Market tomatoes and asparagus. May is THE month for artichokes and asparagus, so eat up. I pulled some shrimp out of the freezer, thawed it under water, skewered it, added a dash of Newman's Own Light Italian Dressing. The husband fired up the grill...added a little olive oil, cilantro, salt and pepper and we were good to go. Dinner for three, from the City Market, at 9:00.

Sun Ray Cafe

I must forget the amazing time we always have at Sun Ray Cafe, just a block off Summit on 17th Street, because every time we go...we rave. We always have the most incredible food and fun. The occasion was my husband's birthday celebration with some of our dearest friends.
Sun Ray is a locally-owned Greek restaurant and we usually go with a big group and we typically order family style. I highly recommend this approach. This means that the most delectable, fresh, beautiful food is brought to your table for about 3 hours straight. The first course includes: pita and assorted breads, olives, hummus, feta. The next course is mussels in white wine sauce, followed by Greek salad with a secret weapon - mint. Mint is one of those herbs that takes over the garden in about five minutes; it takes over the salad at Sun Ray and it totally works. And you can tell in this photo that the tomato seriously looks (and tastes) like a July tomato, not an April tomato.
By this point, you think you can't eat anything else. Until the next courses start coming...fresh roasted asparagus, lamb chops, scallops, salmon, filet, rib eye....seafood and meat as far as the eye can see. We passed it around and savored every bite. Our sweet ending was perfect with plump blackberries and small tastes of chocolate cake and baklava.
Sun Ray is a byo restaurant, which we love. But this also means that your wine glass is never empty. Assuming, of course, that you have learned your lesson at Sun Ray. (We have.) The key to a good time: bring wine for the owner, the server and of course, yourself.
We excelled in the latter and had a great time with our great friends, who make every visit better than the last.