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I have to start with an apology.  Work seems to have been getting busier and busier and I have dropped the blog ball for the last few weeks.  I am sorry!  I will try to do better — I promise.

A sign of how bad it’s been is that I made this incredibly good sweet and sour chard weeks ago, and have not had the time to post the recipe.  I also have to admit that my photos of the dish are sorely lacking.

But, here goes.

Chard.  It’s piled up in the grocery stores here right now, and massively piled up at the farmer’s market too.  It’s not one of those vegetables that I have always eaten, but now that I do eat it I wonder why I waited so long to start.  There’s something about the taste, the texture, how it adapts to so many flavors — not to mention how good it is for you!

*photos taken with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone.

The night I invented this dish I was also making an incredibly tasty dish of chicken thighs and figs (yes, I know I should post that recipe, too — for those of you who must know, I found the chicken recipe in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook) and wanted something tangy and flavorful to serve alongside that.

Here’s what I made.

Sweet and sour chard

(serves four as a side dish)

1 generous bunch rainbow chard (you could also use kale or another kind of chard)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ cup chopped onion

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 large tomato, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup golden raisins

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon coarse salt

½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes

Prepare chard by cutting off stems and chopping them, then removing the stems from the leaves (you don’t have to do this for the full length of the leaf, just near the bottom where the stems are widest) and chopping them.  Chop the leaves coarsely.  Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan.

Add onions and stir until they begin to wilt.  Add garlic.  Stir until it also begins to soften.

Add chard stems, tomatoes and golden raisins.  Stir until the tomatoes begin to release their juices.

Add chard leaves, vinegar, honey, salt and hot pepper flakes, stir to mix and cover the pan.  Let the mixture cook for about 15 minutes, over medium – low heat , stirring occasionally, until chard has softened and is no longer tough.

And it was good.  Don’t just take my word for it — try it yourself.

Whole wheat bread

When I lived in Maine I baked bread almost every weekend.  I started because it was such a long drive to a good bakery and I kept it up because there is really not much that makes me happier than the smell of baking bread or the taste of a fresh loaf.

Now that I live in Portland where there are amazing bakeries on just about every corner (well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much) I find I don’t get around to baking as often as I used to.  Last weekend, though, the urge came upon me and I pulled out one of my favorite baking books:  The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

The book opens automatically to the recipe I have made most often — a simple whole wheat and buttermilk recipe that has never failed me and that can be used to make beautiful loaves that are perfect for everyday toast or sandwiches or rolls elegant enough for company.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread

(adapted from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book)

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

½ cup warm water

¾ cup very hot water

¼ cup honey

1 ¼ cups cold buttermilk

4 ½ cups whole wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine)

1 cup white flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine here too)

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 – 4 tablespoons butter, cut in to small pieces

1 large egg

1 tablespoon half & half

Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside until foamy.

Mix hot water, honey and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup; the final mixture should be lukewarm.  Set aside.

Mix flours and salt and place in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the dough hook and mixing at medium speed, slowly add yeast/water mixture and buttermilk mixture to the flour.

After all of the liquid has been incorporated, stop the mixer and let the dough sit, covered with a towel, for about 20 minutes.  This will ensure that the flour absorbs all of the liquid.

Restart the mixer and knead on low to medium speed for about 15 minutes.  The dough should be sticky, but should pull away from the sides of the bowl.  If it does not, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time (mixing well after each addition) until it does.  You want this to be a soft dough, so be careful not to add too much additional flour.  Add the butter in small pieces as you near the end of the kneading time.

Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it in an oiled or buttered bowl.  Cover and let rise for about 90 minutes or until you can poke it with a damp finger and the hole doesn’t fill in again.  Gently turn the dough and let rise again, this time for about 45 minutes.

Shape the dough into two loaves and place in oiled/buttered loaf pans.  Cover and let rise a third time.

This dough should rise quite a lot in the pan, so feel free to let it go for at least 45 minutes, if not more.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Whisk egg and half & half together and pass mixture through a small sieve until smooth.  Brush loaves with egg mixture and place in the middle of the preheated oven.

(If you want to make rolls, this recipe will make 9 large or 15 small ones.  Shape the dough into balls after the second rise and let rise again as above.  Brush with egg and half & half mixture.  Bake the rolls at 400 degrees for 15 -20 minutes.)

Bake loaves for 55 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped.

Cool completely on a rack before slicing and eating.

Chilaquiles

One of our favorite casserole dinners is an adaptation of a dish I found many years ago in Molly Katzen’s Still Life with Menu cookbook.

The recipe includes some of my favorite ingredients — roasted poblano peppers,

Mexican cheeses (like cotija and queso fresco), and tortillas,

smothered with a tangy buttermilk and egg custard.

It’s the kind of dish you can make in a hurry using canned roasted peppers, or that you can spend more time on, roasting and peeling the poblanos yourself.

Either way, it’s always a crowd-pleaser and something my friends all ask me to bring to pot luck dinners.

Chilaquiles
Recipe adapted from Still Life with Menu, by Molly Katzen

2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 fresh poblano chiles, roasted , peeled and sliced*
OR
2 4 oz cans whole green chilies (you can also use roasted red peppers if you like, and you can also add things like chicken, crabmeat, or sautéed shrimp)
12 corn tortillas
2 -3 cups grated cotija and queso fresco cheeses, mixed (you can  also substitute Monterrey Jack)
salt and pepper to taste
4 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter or oil a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onions and garlic.  Sauté until onions are translucent.  Add the roasted or canned green chilies, roasted red peppers and shrimp or crabmeat if you are using them.
Tear the tortillas into bite sized pieces and spread 1/3 of them in the bottom of the pan.
Distribute 1/3 of the chili-onion mixture and 1/3 of the cheese over the tortillas.  Repeat these layers twice more, saving a healthy amount of cheese to sprinkle on top.
Beat the eggs and buttermilk together with salt and pepper and slowly pour this mixture over the casserole.
Top with remaining cheese.

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, or until bubbling and browning on top.

*To roast fresh poblanos, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the whole peppers on a baking sheet and roast them for about 10 minutes, until they begin to char.  Turn the peppers and return them to the oven for another 10 minutes or so.  When the peppers are charred all over, remove them from the oven and let them rest, covered with aluminum foil, until they have cooled.  Carefully peel away the charred skin and remove the seeds before slicing them into strips.

Fresh tomatillo salsa

I am not sure why it never occurred to me that I could make tomatillo salsa with raw tomatillos.  In previous summers I had made salsas with roasted or par-boiled tomatillos, but never with the raw, unadultered fruit.

The other day, in a hurry to come up with something to accompany the chiles rellenos I was working on, I decided to experiment.  The result was an eye-opener.  Not only was this the easiest salsa I had ever made, it was tart and tangy with just a little bit of heat (the jalapeño provided that).

It went perfectly with the rellenos, and equally well later in the week on eggs for breakfast, and again (when I made a second batch) on some pan seared albacore tuna. It goes with everything!

Here’s the recipe:

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Makes about 1 cup

8 – 10 medium fresh tomatillos, outer skin removed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
½  to 1 fresh jalapeño, seeds removed
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp coarse salt (more to taste)
freshly ground pepper to taste

Put first 5 ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and process until everything is chopped fine.  Add salt and whir again.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is, or let the salsa sit for about 15 minutes and drain excess liquid.  Can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Quick, tasty and colorful — it’s a burst of summer in a spoon.  I think you could also freeze it (if freezing works with pesto, why not with this?) and  give yourself a reminder of summer months from now when the sun hasn’t shone for weeks.

I am sure I am not the only person who keeps finding herself with over-ripe bananas lying around in a bowl.

When I’ve found myself in that situation in the past, I usually make banana bread.  Today I wanted to try something different.  I had just come across a link to a recipe that Mark Bittman had posted in February for Whole Wheat Muffins that used mashed bananas as one of the ingredients, and they looked perfect.

The recipe uses supplies most of us have in the pantry all the time (you can substitute regular whole wheat flour for the whole wheat pastry flour MB recommends) and take about 10 minutes to mix up.  The hardest part is filling the muffin cups with the batter — and then having to wait for the muffins to bake.

MB suggests that they are best eaten warm, so I tried one right out of the oven.

It was delicious.

Hard as it was to resist, I managed to save a few for later.

We all want to eat healthy food (at least most of the time!), and, if you are anything like me, there’s not a lot of time or energy left at the end of a busy day to invent and prepare new, tasty meals.  That’s why I try to keep a few things on hand that make dinner prep easy and give me time to relax and enjoy good food even after a long day at work.

Pasta (one of the staples I always have in my pantry) paired with homemade pesto (this is something I make on weekends and then keep refrigerated or frozen for use later) has always been one of my favorite go-to, quick dinners.

This version, which includes some tofu (handily disguised so any tofu rejecters in your house won’t even know it’s there) for extra protein and flavor, is particularly delicious.

For this dish I used Parsley Pesto (which I made by combining one bunch fresh parsley, stems removed, 3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, three cloves of garlic, a generous pinch of salt, and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in the food processor) and 12 ounces of medium firm, organic tofu (I like the local, Ota brand).

After whirring the pesto and tofu together in the food processor I simply tossed about a cup of the mixture in a big bowl with some al dente pasta.

The result was fresh-tasting and also hearty.  It’s a new favorite in our house!

As the summer growing season reaches it’s peak, even the grocery store has fresh, local produce in abundance.  This weekend I couldn’t resist the incredible bulbs of fresh fennel I found at New Seasons.

As I was paying for my groceries the cashier asked me how I liked to prepare fennel and I realized I wasn’t quite sure what I planned to do this time.  I love roasted fennel — roasting mellows the bubls’ natural anise flavor to a rich sweetness that goes well with chicken or almost any fish.  I also love raw fennel — I usually make a salad of thinly sliced fennel paired with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing.

Given the heat of this particular day, I decided to make a salad.  For a change, though, I chose to experiment with a dressing using the cherry vinegar I made a few weeks ago.  To mellow out the fennel flavor, I turned to one of my other favorite (and abundant!) late summer vegetables:  zucchini.

Preparation was quick and easy:  I julienned the fennel and zucchini and added a little bit of finely minced (very fresh) onion.

For the dressing I whisked together 1 part cherry vinegar, 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice, three parts olive oil, a tablespoon of dijon mustard, and hearty pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  The result was a beautifully pink, slightly sweet and tart, vinaigrette.

The final salad was the perfect accompaniment for the bar-be-qued chicken and oven-roasted sweet potato fries that made up the rest of our dinner — all washed down with a lovely bottle of dry rose wine.  A delicious late summer supper.

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