Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Pastimes

It is hot and sticky here in Central Texas.  Mid 90's with about 90% humidity makes for early morning activity and mid day lethargy.  We survive without air conditioning and therefore, around 2 in the afternoon (after lunch) we retire to the cooler bedroom (what a difference rock floors make!) and turn on the fan to nap or read or write.  Our dear grand daughter, Natalie has been with us since yesterday, so today the TV is on and she is watching a cartoon while Scott naps beside her.  This hot spell is supposed to break tomorrow with temps the next week in the upper 80's.  Nice!
After working away from home the majority of the last 6 weeks, it is nice to be back and catch up a bit.  The garden is so overgrown that parts of it are unaccessible unless I want to be chigger bait, but I am still picking tomatoes, green beans, spaghetti squash and a pepper here and there.  The arugula is up- having reseeded in the late spring -and I should be able to start picking it in a week or so...especially if we get some rain.  Cucumbers are just now coming on and the cantaloupe aren't far behind as well as some Italian squash.  Thank goodness for the Farmer's Market every week as it has kept me in cukes until mine come in!  We ate the first peaches from our trees this week and they are so very good.  I pick whatever is ripe every day and we eat them immediately, sometimes 2 or 3 a piece. I am saving all the pits from the peaches we eat as the tree was a volunteer, so I don't know the variety.  All I know is they are some of the best peaches I've ever eaten and we want the orchard filled with these trees.

We butchered our chickens this week.  Scott was worried they'd be the size of turkeys if we didn't get on it.  It took us 3 hours to butcher 10 chickens and by the last 2 I was ready for it to be over.  It was much more fun last year (although fun is a relative term here) with Bernadette's help (see for the complete post on last years massacre butchering), but maybe it was also the novelty of it being our first time.  Anyway, I am glad it is over and the freezer is stocked with chicken for the next year. We are planning to raise a hog this fall after we return from vacation the end of September.  We've never raised a hog before, but it has to be more fun (there's that word again...) than the chickens and we can bring it into town to be butchered. 
After Market yesterday, I picked up Natalie and we drove out to the ranch where I work frequently. They have some new animals so we drove the entire ranch, taking time to wade in the creeks and take pictures of animals. The camel came right over and let us pet it.
The zebras are Nat's favorites and they let us get pretty close.
It took us over an hour and a half to drive the entire ranch and by the time we got to the main road heading home Nat was snoring in the back seat.  Seeing things through her eyes is such a joy!  Everything is a marvel to her and she says the funniest things. She told me yesterday that "This was the absolutely most funnest trip to the ranch ever!"
Eating this time of year is a bit of a challenge.  Not because of a lack of variety that's for sure, but because of the heat I don't feel like cooking or eating hot meals.  We generally have sandwiches or salads for lunch and smoothies for dinner.  I pressure cooked some garbanzo beans this week and made a big batch of hummous.  It doesn't last long around here and is SO easy to make.  You can make it with canned garbanzo beans, just don't add any salt until you've tasted it as canned beans usually have plenty.
I don't really have an established recipe, I just eyeball things in the food processor.  Hommous consists of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame seed butter), garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.  Sometimes I add cilantro or chipotle, but plain is really good.  So I would guess my proportions for this last batch were as follows: 
4-5 cups cooked chickpeas
2 Tablespoons tahini
8-10 medium peeled garlic cloves
1/4-1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Just dump everything into the food processor and turn it on.  Let it run until it gets smooth. If it seems too thick I thin it with the liquid from cooking the chickpeas (or the liquid from the can) instead of adding more olive oil.  It adds nutrients and no additional fat.  I taste it and add whatever I feel it needs-usually more lemon juice.  I tend to use LOTS of raw garlic, as that flavor seems to fade the most with refrigeration.  We eat it on crackers, but more often with veggies-celery, sliced peppers, cucumbers.  Since I am not a mayonnaise lover, I use it as a sandwiche spread.  This was my lunch this afternoon:
I get these terrific wheat pita breads from Ali Baba on Wurzbach (1 block west of I10) in San Antonio.  They make them fresh daily and they are really inexpensive, so I buy 4 or 5 packages and freeze them.
You can cut them in half and stuff them or cut around the edges and use them like a wrap.  I like them better than wraps as they are not as thick. The sandwich above is smeared with hommous, then a bit of tapenade (olive paste), then some feta. I top it with whatever veggies I have at the time, but most always tomatoes, cukes and red onion.  I had gone out to the garden right before lunch and picked a few handfuls of green beans and cooked them briefly.  They were a great addition to the sandwich! I also picked some banana peppers, but forgot to include them-good thing as I could hardly get the wrap around this sandwich as it was!
It was a perfect lunch for a hot summer afternoon!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Birthday and a Few New Recipes

Lily celebrated her 22nd birthday on July 1st.  Wow, hard to believe the baby is 22!  We had a family dinner here with her favorite meal, my Special Spaghetti also known as Spaghetti with Anchovy-Caper Sauce (recipe at and an amazing Hazelnut Tiramisu I've been making for special occasions.  It's not difficult and can be made ahead, which makes it high on my list for party desserts! Five days later, Scott finished off the last of it and really, it was as good as the day it was made. The last serving:
Don't be intimidated by the 3 sections of instructions.  The Espresso Syrup can be made days in advance and refrigerated.  The Hazelnut Filling can be made a day in advance and then it can be put together the day (or the day before) you plan to serve it.  Toast the hazelnuts on a pan in a 300 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes and then place them on a kitchen towel and rub the skins off the nuts with the towel.  Some bits of skin may stay on the nuts and that's fine, just try to get the majority off. Warning: this is a RICH and CALORIC dessert.
Hazelnut Tiramisu
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed
1/4 cup all purpose flour
5 eggs, separated
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1 recipe Espresso Syrup
1 recipe Hazelnut Filling
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Garnish: unsweetened cocoa
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 11 3/4 x 16 3/4 x 1 inch rimmed cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Line with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with nonstick spray also. In the work bowl of a food processor, combine hazelnuts and flour. Process until hazelnuts are finely ground. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks at medium speed with an electric mixer for 1 minute. Add ground hazelnut mixture, 1/2 cup sugar and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites at medium high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold egg white mixture into egg yolk mixture. Spread batter onto prepared sheet pan. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes of until cake springs back when lightly touched in center. Immediately loosen from sides of pan and turn out onto parchment paper. Remove parchment paper from bottom of cake. Cool cake completely. To assemble, cut 1 9x9 piece of cake. Place cake in the bottom of a 9 inch square  pan. With a pastry brush, brush cake with half of Espresso Syrup. Spread half of Hazelnut Filling on top of cake. Cut remaining cake to fit pan. Place cake on top of Hazelnut Filling, brush with remaining Espresso Syrup and spread remaining Hazelnut Filling on top of cake. In a medium bowl, beat cream at high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream on top of Hazelnut Filling. Cover. Refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight. Garnish with cocoa dusted over top.

Espresso Syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
1/4 cup coffee flavored liqueur (Kahlua)

In a small saucepan over medium high heat, bring sugar, water and espresso powder to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in liqueur. Cool completely

Hazelnut Filling
16 oz. (2 8oz containers) mascarpone cheese, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream

In a medium bowl, combine mascarpone cheese, confectioner's sugar, chocolate hazelnut spread, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add cream, beat until smooth.

So, after THAT dessert, I needed something light, tasty and summery to get me back on track.  This is my favorite new salad.  I've made it for clients and frequently for us and it is always a hit. I love Summer Rolls and make them a few times every summer, but they are a bit of a hassle.  This salad is all the best ingredients of a Summer Roll and the Dipping Sauce for the Rolls is the dressing for the salad.  I could eat this salad 3 times a week and be a happy girl.  It comes together pretty quick and the ingredients for the salad can vary according to what you have that's abundant.

Summer Roll Salad
adapted from a recipe in Fine Cooking
For the dressing:
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 tsp. minced fresh jalapeƱo or serrano
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger
In a small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients. Taste and add more of any of the ingredients to get a tasty balance of flavors.
For the salad:
6 oz. medium-width rice noodles
3 cup shredded romaine lettuce
1/4 cup roughly chopped or small whole fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumbers
1/3 cup coarse grated carrots (1 large)
1 cup coarse chopped sugar snap or snow peas
3 Tbs. chopped peanuts
Make the salad:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the rice noodles and stir to disperse them. Cook until strands are opaque white and fully tender, but still resilient, 3 to 6 minutes (check the noodles often as different brands cook at different rates). Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them under cold water until noodles are cool. Let the noodles drain in the colander for 10 minutes, fluffing every now and then to make sure they stay loose.
When ready to serve, put the rice noodles in a large bowl with the lettuce, cilantro, cucumbers, peas and carrots. Add the dressing to taste and toss well. Sprinkle with peanuts before serving.
I didn't even think to get a picture until I was halfway through eating it, but here it is.  I look at this picture and think it doesn't look half as good as it tastes!
And now a few of my favorite pics of Dear Lily.  Hope your 22nd year is full of adventures and LOVE!
This was at about 2 years old:
This is one of my favorite pics of her.  She was about 10 years old. We call it the Harry Potter picture, 'cuz she looks like she's right out of that series! 
And this last one is pretty much present day.  A lovely picture even though she looks so pensive.
Love you Lils!!!