Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer's bounty - in the kitchen with VBG...JULY 2012

Summer is a great time to partake of the abundance of fresh produce. Whether from the farmer's market or a pick your own farm, you can't go wrong. In both cases it is freshly picked not languishing in some big box grocery refrigerator for a week. Consuming less animal protein is great for you and even better for the planet. I started this blog because I was flirting, successfully at the time, with a vegetarian/vegan diet.  Well my on again, off again romance is back on... again and here's what I'm cookin' this month.

A couple of my first jobs were as short order cooks in "sub shop" type restaurants.  Both times the owners were Greek so in addition to your usual pizzas and subs they also sold Greek specialities like souvlaki, spanakopita, tzatsiki sauce and gyros.  I learned to make them all even though the person who taught me the most, Maria, didn't speak a word of English. While her verbal direction was sorely lacking, I did pay attention to what she did and I perfected spanakopita (spinach pies).  This delectable dish of spinach, sauteed onions, dill and cheeses baked golden brown in buttery paper thin dough never fails to win raves and is one of my signature dishes.  I personally think every woman should have at least 3 "slap yo' Mama" dishes in her arsenal. By the way, that is just a saying that my Mama often uses to describe the deliciosity of a dish - don't really slap your or anybody's Mama - it ain't cool! And yes, I really have impressed a couple of beaus (and a Mama) and more than a few friends with this dish.





PERFECTION
I'm not a huge fan of diners, though I think they make two things well enough to warrant an occasional visit: pancakes and pie/cobbler. IHOP is number #1 in pancakes in my book but they are so few and far between these days. I can be perfectly content with the Bisquick melt-in-your-mouth version at home laced with bananas (what's not better with bananas?)- talk about yummy. It's listed on the back of the box, right beneath the basic pancake recipe. As for cobblers and pies, a rendezvous with the right companion at the local diner for some coffee and a communal hunk of homemade pie/cobbler can make everything seem right with the world for a couple hours.

The only pie in my repertoire until a couple weeks ago was sweet potato.  This gurl didn't get voluptuous due to sweets,I'd rather spend my calories on entrees. Beginning when the wunderkind was 2, nearly every year we pick our own fruit through out the summer starting with strawberries. I normally pick spinach for my spinach pies during the first and last visits of the season as well. Well this year's crops of both strawberries and spinach were early because of the mild winter weather so we missed them but we were right on time for blueberries! 

Blueberries are a cinch to pick.The bushes grow to about 5 feet, aren't prickly so you can easy pick your fill without ever bending over!  To be fair you really should pick all the ripe berries you see on your plant before moving on so it will continue to produce more throughout the season. C'mon now - you can practice your bend and snap for the low hanging berries. The Wunderkind inhales produce, a good thing but definitely pricey when you consider I opt for organic on most grocery outings.  The three of us picked 15 pounds, you read it right...fifteen...in about an hour and half. My mother quipped that I pick like a certain ethnic group member known for their horticultural prowess and I've got mad tan lines to prove it. I also picked 4 pounds of chard as well as some beets.  In full disclosure two members of our picking party, moi not included, had to be reminded we were not there to have lunch in the blueberry field, but to take our harvest home to be consumed. This year's outing was definitely sadder than past outings because we were without our main man, Pop-Pop aka McTookie, the baker. We went Father's Day weekend and in previous years this has almost always been a multi-generational family outing. Gone but not forgotten we visited his grave and placed a sprig of blueberries atop it. In honor of the Big Guy, I made my first blueberry cobbler.  The picking crew said I did him proud and I think he'd agree.
A Day's Bounty

By the way, a friend and I had a taste test with those berries I picked and ones she'd purchased from her grocery store. We agreed mine were definitely sweeter and larger than the store bought and frankly, I would have been shocked if it turned out otherwise.

And finally summer means everybody and their brother has a garden or deck full of tomatoes and herbs.  This year, I have 5 plants myself - 3 in pots and 2 in ground. The pots are struggling because despite the drought everywhere else, in my little corner of Smallville it poured each evening for about 2 weeks straight and my potted gems got waterlogged. I did harvest half dozen tomatoes on Sunday (and there are at least that many yet to ripen) so all is not lost. The in-ground ones are growing great. A super easy and tongue-titillating dish that we make weekly in summer is bruschetta. Many restaurants sell it for upwards of $7.00 whent is costs about $1.25 to make in summer.  It is easily made with just 6 ingredients, then served over light grilled or toasted slices of crusty bread.  Somedays it's an an appetizer other times it's an entree. This really is best made the day you plan to serve it and should be eaten about 15 minutes of topping bread otherwise it will get soggy 



SPANAKOPITA (Spinach pies)
2.5 pounds fresh spinach, well washed  (baby leaves work well)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 extra lg sweet onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup feta, crumbled
2/3 cup shredded gouda, havarti or aged cheese
1 bunch fresh dillweed chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
18 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
  1. Saute onions in olive oil until translucent (about 4 mins), add dill cook an additional 3 mins, add spinach and 1 cup of water. Simmer under medium low heat until all liquid is evaporated. 
  2. Remove spinach-onion mixture to bowl add cheese, and mix well.
  3. Brush the bottom of an 8x8 inch baking pan with butter.
  4. Unroll dough - it looks fragile and it is but don't sweat it. This is the easy way to handle it. Take one sheet and bunch it up in the bottom of the pan, do this until the the entire length and sides of the pan is covered.  Do this about 8 more times and you'll have a sort of phyllo pie crust. Now lightly brush those sheets with butter.    you can bunch it up a bit of the Brush the top of a sheet of phyllo dough with olive oil and place it in the pan. (You may have to cut the phyllo dough to fit the pan.) Repeat until you have 6 layers.
  5. Spread your spinach-cheese mixture across your "crust"
  6. Top with remaining sheets just like you formed the bottom crust. Brush those sheets with butter.
  7. IMPORTANT before you bake this, it's best to cut it. Yes before. This makes it look much nicer when you serve it. You may need to hold the dough as you guide the knife through. Depending on if you want to use it as side dish or entree you should get between 6 and 12 pieces.
  8. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until golden brown on top, about 35 minutes.
  9. The spinach-cheese filling freezes very well so I usually cook a double batch and freeze half. The finished spanakopita also freezes well.
  10. A note about preheating- I don't care how hungry you are do not reheat this dish in the microwave, you'll ruin it.  Wrap a piece or two tightly in foil and pop it in a 400 degree oven for about 20 mins.

BLUEBERRY COBBLER 

7 cups fresh blueberries
1 1/4 cup sugar, divided 
6 tablespoons cornstarch 
3 tablespoons lemon juice  
1/8 plus pinch teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg 
4 tablespoons softened butter 
3-4 good quality pie crusts

Combine blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and nutmeg in a mixing bowl.

Butter bottom and sides of baking dish then transfer berry mixture to baking dish.
Cut or tear pie crust and layer across berries.
Bake, uncovered, at 360° for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.  12 servings.

BRUSCHETTA

3 cups very ripe tomatoes - I used grape tomatoes this time for ease in cutting but any ripe tomato will do.
bunch of fresh basil leaves only, chopped
5 cloves fresh garlic, diced
2 tbsp diced sweet onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Mix ingredients, taste for salt.  Let sit for up to an hour then top bread and enjoy.  

 Bon Apetit!

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