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I know, I know, it has been far too long since I posted anything here.  I am not going to explain, or apologize, just post!

Tonight we are entertaining old friends.  Of course, dinner is not complicated (it’s summer). We are roasting some chickens on the grill and serving them with sweet potatoes and a big, fresh, green salad.

It’s the before-dinner snacks I fret over.  A bit of salami, some cheese and some smoked salmon all sounded good, and we had some pistachios, in the shell, bought in bulk a week or so ago.  The problem with the nuts is that they were a bit stale.  

I’ve toasted pistachios before, so I thought I’d toss them onto a sheet pan and see if a quick toast in the oven would help.  

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I spread the nuts (shells and all) on a sheet pan, and put them in the oven (which I had set for 350 degrees), while it was still preheating (I know, not a good idea, generally).  After less than 10 minutes (and just after the oven had gotten to temperature) I took them out and let them cool.  

The sweet smell of pistachios filled the room as I opened the oven.  Some of the shells were slightly browned, otherwise they looked as they had before toasting.  After the nuts had cooled, we had a taste, and…

…they are fantastic.  

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A little smoky, a little salty, nice and crunchy.  These are some of the best pistachio nuts I have ever eaten.

Give it a try.  I think you will be surprised.

During the summer I look forward to the weekend for a lot of reasons.  This weekend, in addition to my weekly visit to the local Farmers’ Market, I found time to do a little baking.

I’ve posted about baking biscotti here before, but today I am working on a new recipe, inspired by the incredible Amish Milk Polenta that Anthony and Carol Boutard produce at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, OR.

This polenta is amazing cooked up and served under a topping of garlicky greens and caramelized onions, but it’s also incredible as the background crunch in toasty hazelnut biscotti.

These biscotti are a true celebration of local Oregon foods — I also used fresh eggs from Sweet Briar Farms,

and Ken & June’s Oregon Grown hazelnuts.

Here’s the recipe — modified from one I found in Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking: From my home to yours.

Hazelnut Polenta Biscotti

makes 35-40 cookies

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½  teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup white polenta

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 cup turbinado sugar

2 large eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¾ cups finely chopped roasted hazelnuts

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.  Add the polenta and whisk again.  Set aside.

Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Start the mixer very slowly and increase gradually to medium speed as the butter and sugar mix together.  Mix for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the eggs.  Continue to beat at medium-high speed for another 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure everything is well-mixed.

Beat in the vanilla extract.

Reduce the mixer speed to slow and add the flour mixture, mixing only until just combined.

Turn off the mixer and use a sturdy spatula to fold in the hazelnuts, mixing just to blend.

Scrape the dough into two rough logs on the prepared baking sheet.  Smooth them with your fingers (I usually have to wash my hands a couple of times as I do this, the dough is very sticky).  The logs will be pretty flat on top, and uneven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookie logs are golden but still springy to the touch.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack.  Cool the logs on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut them into ½ inch slices.  Return the slices to the baking rack, standing up, side by side.

Bake the biscotti for another 15 minutes (at 350 degrees), or until they are golden and firm.  Transfer them to the rack to cool.

These cookies keep well, even uncovered, for about a week.  I usually put them in an airtight container.

I have trouble keeping these around — it’s hard to eat just one — I think you could easily double the recipe if you want to make a bigger batch.

My new favorite part of the New York Times is Martha Rose Shulman’s weekly recipe column, Recipes for Health.  Every week she posts delicious, easy and tasty recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients and every week I am drawn in once again.

A few weeks ago she posted a recipe for eggplant and chickpeas that made my  mouth water, and finally, last night, I had time and the ingredients to make it.

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables, and roasted until it is velvety and then paired with chickpeas, tomatoes and pomegranate molasses

it turns absolutely spectacular.  Now, don’t worry, pomegranate molasses is available all over the place these days, by mail order, at Whole Foods, or at your local ethnic grocer.  And it’s an ingredient worth having.  Just try it with eggplant and see!

I, of course, made a few changes to the original recipe, so here’s the version I used.

Eggplant with chickpeas and tomatoes

1 large eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise then cut in 1/2-inch slices

Salt to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 large can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)

3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, mint and basil

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil and brush it with olive oil.  Place the eggplant slices on the foil, salt them lightly and brush them with olive oil.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the eggplant is lightly browned and feels soft and dry to the touch.

Remove from the oven, and fold over the foil to make a packet around the eggplant slices. Allow them to soften and steam inside the foil while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy casserole or skillet.

Add the garlic. Cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the canned and chopped tomatoes, salt to taste, sugar, pepper and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer, and simmer uncovered over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell very fragrant.

Add the eggplant, molasses and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. The mixture should be thick and the eggplant should be very tender, melting into the mixture.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley, mint and basil and serve, hot, warm or at room temperature.

Still on vacation and now taking advantage of what’s in the farmer’s market here on the island.  Among other things at the market this past Saturday was some beautiful cauliflower — one of those vegetables that people either love or hate.

I’ve found that if you roast it, even former cauliflower-phobes can be transformed to cauliflower eaters.  And if you then puree that roasted vegetable with some roasted garlic, and lemon juice and spices, they might even become cauliflower lovers!

Roasted cauliflower puree

(makes about 1 ½ cups)

1 medium head cauliflower, broken into 1” florets

6-8 good sized cloves garlic, peeled (you can use more if you really love garlic!)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon paprika (you can used smoked paprika if you like)

1 tablespoon kosher salt (plus more to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste)

juice of one lemon

½ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley

Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce, optional, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the cauliflower florets and garlic cloves in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper until everything is nicely coated with oil and spices.

Spread vegetables evenly on a baking sheet and put into the middle of the oven.  After about 15 minutes, shake the pan to make sure none of the cauliflower or garlic is sticking and return the sheet to the oven for about 10 more minutes.  When the cauliflower is tender and just browning on the tips of each floret, it’s done.

Let cool until vegetables reach room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.

Put the cooled cauliflower and garlic cloves, lemon juice, two remaining tablespoons of olive oil and parsley into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth (it will be a little gritty looking—that’s as smooth as it gets).

Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper and add hot sauce to taste.

Serve with really good chips, pita, or thinly sliced rustic bread.  Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

And it really is good on a slice of homebaked bread.

We’re away on vacation, but of course that doesn’t mean we aren’t cooking. We’ve rented a small cottage on an island and one of the main selling points was the “fully equipped gourmet kitchen.” While the collection of pots and pans doesn’t provide us with the usual variety of cooking utensils we have at home, I wouldn’t describe what we are doing as “making do.”

Luckily, there’s a reasonably good grocery store on the island, and we were able to lay in plenty of supplies on our first full day here. Among other things, there were some ripe, white-fleshed, nectarines

that just insisted on being made into a fresh fruit salsa — perfect to serve with the bar-be-que’d chicken thighs we grilled up tonight.

This salsa is one of the easiest condiments around — you can use ripe peaches, or nectarines, or even mangoes — and takes only a few minutes to whip up. Even better, the taste only improves if you make it early in the day and let it macerate for a few hours to let the flavors develop.

It also doesn’t require a lot of complicated ingredients, and it can be served with fish, shrimp, chicken, grilled vegetables or even tofu! Just about anything you can grill will taste good with this salsa on the side.

Fresh fruit salsa with cilantro and lime

(makes about 1 ½ cups salsa – enough to garnish 4 people’s plates)

2 ripe nectarines (or peaches, or one ripe mango)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 scallions, finely chopped

½ cup finely chopped cilantro

juice from ½ a juicy lime (or more to taste*)

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeño (optional)

*if the fruit is very sweet use more lime juice, if it is not too sweet, use less.

Chop fruit into small dice (about ¼ inch dice is good) and put into a small mixing bowl.

Add garlic, scallions, cilantro and lime juice and mix well.

Flavor to taste with salt and pepper.

Add jalapeño, if using, and mix well again.

Set aside (not in the refrigerator) for at least 15 minutes to let the juices from the fruit mix with the lime and other flavors; mixing well again before serving.

Serve at room temperature alongside grilled meats, fish or vegetables.

It’s here.  That part of the summer when the piles of zucchini start getting bigger and when (at least in the midwest) you have to be careful to lock your car so that no one can leave a bag of garden-fresh zucchini on the front seat.

At least that’s the joke they tell.  Funny thing is, I actually like zucchini.  My brother, though, that’s another story.  He’s famous in our family for refusing to eat zucchini and for smuggling it out to the trash in a napkin whenever it was served.  I’m not sure he would like this zucchini, but so far, everyone who has tried this version has loved it.

So, I thought I’d share it here. Just in time.

It’s not a hard recipe.  The trick is to make sure the oven is hot enough (I like it at about 450 degrees) and that the zucchini is cut into thick slices (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick).  The rest of it doesn’t seem to matter as much.

(Note:  the beautiful, ripple-edged zucchini in this picture were a gift from SV who grew them in her garden.  Thanks!)

Easy roast zucchini

(serves 2-4 people as a side dish)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

About 2 pounds fresh zucchini

1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon Nanami Togarashi assorted chili pepper* (or cayenne pepper to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)

Spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a sheet pan.

Slice the zucchini into rounds ½ to ¾ inch thick and place them on the oiled pan, sliding them around to ensure that the undersides are coated with olive oil.

Brush the tops of the zucchini slices with the rest of the oil.

Mix all of the spices together in a small bowl and sprinkle them as evenly as possible over the tops of the zucchini slices.  I sometimes use the brush I used to spread the oil to more evenly distribute the spice mixture.

Put the pan into the oven.  Check it after about 20 minutes and shake the pan a bit to make sure that none of the zucchini is sticking.

Put the pan back into the oven and check it again after about 5 more minutes.  If the zucchini isn’t browning yet, put it back for another few minutes.

When the edges of the zucchini start to brown, flip the slices over and return the pan to oven for another 5 or 10 minutes, until all the slices are turning brown around the edges.

Slide the zucchini into a serving bowl, spiced side up.

Serve straight from the oven or at room temperature.

*available at Asian food stores (I got this jar at Uwajimaya)

Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think.

It’s not on the James Beard Foundation website yet, but it’s official, Kim Boyce has won the JBF award for Best Baking and Dessert Cookbook with her wonderful 2010 book Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-grain Flours.

To celebrate that fact — and to express my delight that she has relocated to Portland — I decided to take some time this afternoon to bake something from the book.

One of the great things about Good to the Grain is that, in addition to the recipes, which range from sweet to savory and include things like pancakes, puddings and granola as well as breads, muffins and scones, Kim includes a lot of helpful information about each of the flours she uses.  So, if you are worried about baking with something like teff, you can count on Kim to allay your fears with the background information she provides.  When I first got the book, I was so inspired I immediately went out and bought a few whole-grain flours (in addition to the whole wheat all-purpose and bread flours I keep on hand anyway) so I knew I had graham, buckwheat and oat flours in my pantry.

Today I spent quite a bit of time flipping pages and reading about ingredients and techniques before settling on Oatmeal Sandwich Bread.  It’s probably not the most unusual recipe in the book (and not even one that requires any unusual flours, using only whole wheat flour, bread flour and rolled oats) but definitely the one that spoke to me this afternoon.

The recipe is straightforward and the instructions easy to follow.  I love the fact that Kim uses the autolyse method where you mix together all of the ingredients except the salt and let them rest together for 30 minutes before adding the salt and kneading the dough.  This allows the dough to begin to form gluten on it’s own (without kneading) and to more fully absorb the liquid.  All in all it creates moister dough, better texture and flavor in the finished bread, and also increases the life of the loaf.

The loaf that emerged from the oven smelled wonderful and tastes great.  The molasses and oatmeal both come through, as does the sweet, nutty flavor of the whole wheat flour.

So, congratulations Kim, on your well-deserved award!  And thanks for adding another recipe to my collection of favorite breads; I’ll be making this one again.

And congratulations also to my friend Betsy Amster, Kim’s literary agent and new Portland resident as well.

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