Monday, August 25, 2014

Farmer's Market Dinner: Braised Green Beans with Tomatoes, Field Peas, and Butterbeans

I am having the best time this summer cooking with Texas produce from the McKinney Farmer's Market. In fact, the produce has been stealing the show for most of our meals, like these green beans, purple hull peas, and butterbeans braised with hunks of summer tomatoes that turn into a comforting sauce. Every single vegetable in this dish (except for the shallot) was from vendors at the market!  
 
So this summer, if you're finding yourself with a glut of tomatoes, give this dish a try or whip up this Lentil and Barley Salad or super easy Tomato Goat Cheese Tart. If you've got okra on your hands, pretty please make this Greek Okra with Tomatoes and Feta or these fabulous Okra Corn Fritters.  Cucumber? Definitely try this Cucumber Salad. Load up zucchini and squash slices on these Vegetable Halloumi Skewers or make a bubbly batch of TexMex Squash Casserole. Or if peaches are still rolling in, I don't think you'll regret indulging in some Peach Cobbler. Whatever you've got, happy summer cooking!
Serves 4
 
Ingredients
1 Tb butter
1/2 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed and cut into bit sized pieces
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup purple hull peas, frozen, canned, or cooked from fresh/dried (or black eyed peas)
1/2 cup butterbeans, frozen, canned, or cooked from fresh/dried
salt and pepper
1 cup rice, cooked according to package directions
(I used Rice Select Royal Blend with light brown rice, red quinoa, and freekeh)
 
Directions
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan.
 
Once hot, toss in the shallot, and cook for 2-3 minutes until soft and translucent.
 
Add the garlic, paprika, and cayenne to the skillet, and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
 
Add the green beans, and cook for about 2 minutes before stirring in the diced tomato. Once the tomato juices come to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and let everything simmer for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
 
While the green beans and tomatoes simmer, cook your rice according to the package directions.
 
After the green beans and tomatoes have simmered for about 35 minutes, stir in the peas and butterbeans, cover, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste (plus a pinch more cayenne if you don't taste quite enough heat for your liking).
 
Serve the bean and tomato mixture over the rice, and enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cucumber Salad

'Tis the season of garden overflow which means it's also the season for piles of vegetables to show up in the break room at work for folks to take as they please. Since we didn't get to plant a garden this year, I'm sure glad my coworkers did, as that's how I came to have a beautiful and quite large Armenian cucumber in my possession this week. Which naturally begged the question, what to do with an Armenian cucumber?? Well, I opted for a citrusy, spicy salad. Since there's no oven required, it's a perfect hot weather side dish!
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 large cucumber, peeled
(I used an Armenian cucumber, but any ol' cucumber will do)
1/2 jalapeno, seeded
1 large lime, juiced (or 1 1/2 smaller limes)
2 Tb olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tb mint, finely chopped
a good pinch of salt
Directions
Thinly slice the cucumber using a mandoline or your fantastic knife skills.
Again with a mandoline, shave thin slices of jalapeno (or use a knife to slices as thin as possible).
In a small bowl, whisk together a good pinch of salt and the lime juice until the salt dissolves. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil.
In a larger bowl, combine the cucumber, jalapeno, and chopped cilantro and mint.
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the mixture, and toss to combine.
Ideally, let the salad sit for at least an hour before serving. Or refrigerate it overnight, and serve it the next day. It only gets better if the flavors have some time to mingle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Night Out in the Big City

Friday night, my husband and I drove into Dallas for a dinner date -- our first in the big city! It's Restaurant Week around here, so we figured that was a good excuse for us to finally venture out of the suburbs for a nice dinner. The prospect of becoming familiar with the Dallas dining scene is an intimidating one, as the metroplex is so much larger than Boston, but we figured that you gotta start somewhere! And we started with Hibiscus.
After battling traffic and a torrential downpour, we arrived at the restaurant, located in a cute little strip of local restaurants and bars in North Dallas. Parking was pretty scarce, so thank goodness for complimentary valet parking! Our first order of business upon being seated was to order a drink.  The Agave and Aperol cocktail was refreshing with a little splash of both bitter and sweet. My husband enjoyed the Brown and Stirred for you rye whiskey lovers out there. As we sipped our drinks, we perused the menu and surveyed the lovely dining area and our fellow patrons who were dressed to the nines -- I swear, in no city do they dress up to go out like they do in Dallas. I think I had the only ponytail in the whole restaurant!
We started the meal with polar opposite appetizers: the dainty goat ricotta bruschetta with prosciutto and peaches and the very generous platter of hearty lamb ribs. While the bruschetta were just fine, the ribs were ridiculously good. Tender meat literally fell off the bone with a sticky, slightly sweet crust. Paired with the kick of horseradish-y whole-grain Dijon mustard, we could have made a meal out of these.

But my favorite dish of the night was their Heirloom Pappa Al Pomodoro, a chunky heirloom tomato soup with plenty of garlic, Tuscan kale, croutons, and wide strips of parmesan cheese. I am barely exaggerating when I say that this soup is the stuff that dreams are made of.
For my entrĂ©e, the brook trout was very good, especially when swiped through the accompanying lemon confit, though it was a bit weird that it was served on top of ice cold (and slightly bland) potato salad -- I would have much preferred warm. My husband's beef tenderloin was fabulous and cooked perfectly though served only with a slice of tomato and a thick slice of grilled onion (I think he would have given his right arm for some mashed potatoes instead). Finally, their much raved about side dish of macaroni and cheese was pretty disappointing. The sauce, while I'm sure it's made from scratch, tasted exactly like powdered cheese sauce. And while I love Kraft Mac and Cheese, it's not the flavor I expect at a nice restaurant.

But ok, let's end this on a positive note! Even though Hibiscus fell a tad short of our expectations, we had an absolutely lovely evening. It was so refreshing after spending all of our evenings around the house with the puppy. I wore a cute dress! I had a hot date! We didn't have to keep reminding the dog to stop jumping or chewing on things while we ate. And that tomato soup! Thank goodness for tomato season and for that bowl of soup! Hibiscus isn't even a scratch in the surface of the DFW dining scene, so here's to planning many more date night adventures!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Caprese" Toasts

After bringing home a few beautiful heirloom tomatoes from the McKinney Farmer's Market this weekend, I had a brilliant (if not totally original) idea to put them to good use. Why not riff on the classic Caprese salad to create a light but very satisfying summer dinner? A simple pesto stands in for the basil leaves, and the tomatoes and mozzarella are broiled so that the tomatoes are warm, and the cheese is nice and melty. All of that is piled onto a thick slice of buttery toasted bread. Not bad. Not bad at all.

P.S. As you might guess, this combination also makes for a killer grilled cheese sandwich!
Serves 2
(4 if served with heartier side dishes)
 
Ingredients
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 Tb pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan
salt
 
1 round loaf of crusty bread (I used a Country Italian loaf from my grocery store bakery)
2 Tb butter
2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced and most of the seeds/juice gently removed (regular tomatoes are also completely acceptable)
1/2 lemon
1 Tb olive oil
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into ~1/4" rounds
salt and pepper
 
Directions
First, make your pesto. If you want to use jarred pesto, skip this step. In the bowl of a food processor, add basil, garlic, pine nuts, and a smidge of olive oil. Process until a paste is formed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then slowly drizzle in olive oil with the machine running until the pesto reaches your desired consistency. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times during this process if needed. When done, pour the pesto into a bowl, and stir in the parmesan and salt to taste. Set the pesto aside while you prepare your toasts.
 
Set the broiler to High while toasting the bread.
 
Slice four 1" (or slightly thicker) slices of bread from the loaf. Heat a large cast iron skillet (or any large skillet) over medium-high heat. Add in a pat of butter (about 1 Tb), and once it is melted and hot, place the bread into the skillet, swirling them a bit in the butter to ensure good coverage.
 
Let them toast for a couple of minutes, checking them occasionally. Once the bread is toasted and golden, remove it to a plate, and melt another pat of butter in the skillet. Add the bread back to the skillet, toasted side up, and cook until the other side is toasted and golden brown.
 
Remove the toasted bread to a foil-lined baking sheet. Spread generously with the pesto. Top with a couple tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
 
Place the toast under the broiler for ~2 minutes to cook the tomato.
 
Remove from the oven, and place mozzarella rounds on top of the tomato. Place back under the broiler for another ~2 minutes.
 
Once the cheese is nicely melted, remove and serve immediately.

The McKinney Farmer's Market

One of my favorite things about summer is the farmer's market. And being in a new city means that it's time to explore a new one - the McKinney Farmer's Market! On Saturday, I grabbed my favorite market bag, and when we stepped into the historic Chestnut Square, we found a vibrant, bustling market.
The area is filled with booths and vendors offering Texas produce. I can't tell you how my heart sings seeing things like fresh shelled butterbeans and purple hull peas, okra, and Texas peaches. There was also plenty of watermelon, tomatoes, squash, cantaloupe, corn, and 7 garlic varieties! We found fresh goat cheese, locally roasted coffee, local honeys, jams and pickled vegetables, jerky, meat, and maybe most exciting of all, homemade tamales from The Tamale Company. A local musician serenaded the crowd with his guitar, and there were even pony rides for kids!
We came home with quite a haul! San Marzano tomatoes and jalapenos for fresh salsa, juicy heirloom tomatoes, butterbeans and purple hull peas, okra that I'm using for Greek-Style Okra and Tomatoes with Feta, Chet's Italian garlic, a mild variety, for salsa and pesto, ears of corn for the grill and for these Corn and Squash Fritters, wildflower honey, green chile chicken tamales, peaches that will become peach cobbler, rosemary garlic goat cheese, Lucido's apricot jam, and Coffee Del Rey coffee beans.
I'm so tickled to have such a great market in our new city, and for once I'm thankful that we have a puppy that wakes us up at the crack of dawn these days, so I can actually get there when it opens at 8:00 rather than sleepily dragging in at 11:00 right before it closes at noon. And this has been such a fun week of meals as I work on putting everything to good use! Now that I think of it, it's almost time to restock!