Archive for July, 2011

Panzanella Salad

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Panzanella is one of my favorite summer salads, and I’ve been craving it constantly of late. It’s beautiful and packed with flavor.  It’s another of those practical Italian peasant dishes which utilize leftover stale bread. A true Florentine would disapprove of my addition of cucumber and leftover roast beef, as those are not traditional additions to panzanella.

I fired up my oven the other day to make a chicken pot pie with some leftover grilled chicken.  It was 90+ degrees outside.  I wanted to make the most of the time the oven was on, so I timed things to throw a loaf of whole wheat bread into the oven with the pie.  It’s the first homemade bread I’ve made in a few weeks and was worth the effort.

Panzanella Salad
1 or 2 thick slices of crusty day old bread, cubed
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 small English cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 lb thinly sliced roast beef, cut into strips
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup chopped mint and/or basil (I use a combination of both)
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, roast beef,  capers, mint, and basil  in a bowl.  Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss well. Let the salad stand for 10 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the juices.

Orkney Skull Splitter Beer Review

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

The last beer review I gave you was for a brew that you’ll probably never be able to find.  I thought this might be a good one to review since it’s rather widely distributed, and rather tasty if you ask me.

Orkney Skull Splitter
The commercial description: Named after Thorfin Hausakliuuf, the seventh earl of Orkney, this reddish coloured ale has an intense vinous nose, is rich and satiny in the mouth with a long dry finish and deep rich fruity notes. Described as ’Satiny smooth in the mouth, deceptively light and dangerously drinkable.

My take:  In reading other beer reviewers, I’ve discovered there seems to be some confusion over what style of beer this is. categorizes it as a barleywine, and categorizes it as a Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy.  Regardless, either style makes my top 5 favorite styles.  Another point of interest is a little debacle back in 2008 when the Portman Group, an alcohol watchdog group, raised some objections over the “overly aggressive” name.

When I first poured the beer an oakey aroma immediately wafted up from the glass. I also thought I smelled vanilla, but it was gone so fast I wondered if I had imagined it. As it warmed I was also able to detect sweet caramel malt and a sour fruity note.  It’s a pretty brown beer with a slight garnet tint and a small off white head.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I was going to review this beer and didn’t think to take a picture before I drank it.  Sorry, I guess you’ll just have to go find you own.

This is a solid tasty beer, not for the faint of heart. If you’re a fan of those weak commercial lagers (my husband), this is probably going to be a little more than you’re willing to handle.  The flavor is robust, full of dark caramelized sugars from roasted malt, dark fruits (fig, raisin, prune), smoky earthy peat… maybe charcoal, and some sort of tangy fruit. On the tongue the beer was smooth, silky, and medium to heavy bodied. Like many brews of this variety, the flavors change and evolve as the beer warms.  I have a couple more bottles, and I won’t be surprised to discover more flavors lurking in the depths of my glass the next time I drink it.


Watermelon Margarita Granita

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

The heat of this past week prompted me to try a frozen treat a little more grown up than popsicles, although I’m not knocking popcicles.  I wanted something simple, and I wanted to use up the watermelon taking precious space in my refrigerator.  I was thinking this could also become a more family friendly Watermelon Limeade Granita by omitting the alcohol, and increasing the amount of lime juice and sugar. Don’t be surprised if I give you more granita possibilities before the summer is out. I’m on a granita roll, playing around with different flavors.  I also made an amazing espresso granita that’s my favorite so far.

Puree your watermelon flesh by throwing it into a food processor, or whiz it with an immersion blender.

Watermelon Margarita Granita
2 1/2 cups  watermelon puree
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
1/2 cup tequila

Combine ingredients in a shallow baking dish and place in the freezer. When slushy  ice begins to form around the edges (20 to 30 minutes), use a fork to rake the ice back into the mixture. Repeat this every 20 to 30 minutes until the mixture is completely frozen and granular.

Serve in dishes that have been pre-chilled in the freezer, and garnish with a small watermelon wedge.

Frozen Grapes and Keeping Cool

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Seriously, they’re already calling this the Heat Wave of 2011. They’ll probably make a movie of the week out of it.  Ummm…. nah, I won’t say it.  Needless to say I’ve been through 100 degree weather before, and lived to tell the tale.

No recipe here…. just throw those puppies into the freezer for a couple of hours and you’re all set.  I like frozen grapes better than ice cream, and I really love ice cream. A lot.  Also, they’re a little more figure friendly, and you won’t feel guilty letting the kids gorge themselves. I’m working on a more complicated frozen treat, but I won’t know how it turns out until later this evening when I pull it out of the freezer.  If all goes well, I’ll have a frozen watermelon margarita for you by the weekend.

My family and I are managing to stay cool, but the animals are having to find their own ways to cope.  The family cat just plays dead all day.

And the chickens have been hanging out under the lilac bushes and playing in the sprinkler.


Nasturtium Vinegar

Monday, July 18th, 2011

I’ve loved nasturtiums ever since I planted some along an ugly wire fence when I was a little girl. They were a vining/trailing variety, and I was amazed at the transformation the bright green foliage and jewel-like blooms brought to the depressing fence that bordered the porch of the house my family lived in at the time.  Later in life I discovered you could eat nasturtiums.  Just like the blooms livened up an ugly fence, they can also liven up a plain salad with their intense color and peppery taste.  Nasturtium vinegar is an easy way to capture the color and flavor of the flowers, so you can have a little taste of summer to brighten up a dreary winter day.  This is so simple, I’m almost ashamed to blogging it.

Stuff some nasturtium flowers into a jar, and pour a mild white vinegar over the blooms. Rice wine vinegar is my favorite to use for herb and flower vinegars.

I’ve made a couple of batches of this so far this summer. I usually pick a few blooms each day and add them to the jar of vinegar over a period of two or three weeks. I like to enjoy the flowers in the garden, and this way I don’t have to pick the plants clean.

After 2-4 weeks the vinegar can be strained and bottled.

Pasta E Fagioli Salad with Fennel

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

I promised you a recipe using the Florence fennel I harvested the other day, and for a change, I’m delivering in a timely fashion.  Fresh produce waits for no one!  This salad is a take on a traditional Italian dish, Pasta E Fagioli, or pasta and beans.  Mediterranean peasant food is my all time favorite.  If I have to be more specific, then it would the simple practical Tuscan dishes which utilize fresh seasonal produce, cheese, hearty breads, and leftovers.

My sister, the world traveler, just gifted me this tin of cold pressed organic olive oil she picked up on a recent trip to Cyprus. I thought this recipe would be worthy of such a high quality olive oil. Some day I would love to visit Greece and Italy, but for now I’ll have to live vicariously through my sister’s traipsing around.

Pasta e Fagioli Salad with Fennel
4 ounces whole wheat penne (1 1/2 cup dry)
1  15 oz can Cannellini Beans (of course, I recommend organic)
1/2 medium bulb Florence fennel, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste (I used a little more than a teaspoon of salt)
Small bunch of greens of your choice

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  I’m always sure to salt my cooking water because I hate bland pasta.

Combine the beans, fennel, tomatoes, onion, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a roomy bowl.

Drain the pasta and toss with the bean mixture. Place greens on a platter or plates, and spoon mixture on top. Garnish with chiffonaded basil.

I would have preferred to use my favorite arugula, but my current planting isn’t ready yet. I still had a little bit of spinach left in the garden, so that’s what I was stuck with.  Cress would be a good choice for greens also.  I guess I like anything with a bit of a peppery bite.

Fennel Success!

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

I’m pretty excited about the Florence fennel I grew this year.  I’ve been experimenting with growing it for a couple of years, and this year I think I’ve got it figured out. I started the seed indoors back in March, and transplanted the seedlings into the garden in May.  I also dug quite a bit of compost into the soil, as fennel is a heavy feeder. The plants have had a couple of brushes with storms and high winds, which resulted in some strange twisty looking fronds, but overall I’m very happy with the results.  You probably don’t remember the scrawny little plants I showed you last fall.  Pretty pathetic, huh?

So, you should understand why I’m quite pleased to show you the first bulb I cut this afternoon. I figured I should get my hand in the shot for the sake of scale. Not bad for Hoosier grown fennel, if you ask me.  Hey man! Someone’s gotta toot my horn!

You ask, how do you use fennel?  Well, to begin with, I use it in place of celery.  Why?  Celery is an evil, vile vegetable, and I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would eat it when fennel is so much more tasty!  Also, my husband is allergic to celery. Here’s an Arugula Fennel Salad I made last summer, and Autumn Ham Soup with Pumpkin and Barley from last fall.  Now that I’ve cut my first bulb, I just might have to work on a new salad combination.  Stay tuned!