Archive | July 20th, 2009

Griffin to Go: Savory Summer Reading

Griffin to Go: Savory Summer Reading

sexdeathoystersI don’t always pour over cookbooks or food magazines on the rare occasion I find time to read. I’ll finish off an Anthony Trollope novel and then dive into the latest Michael Connelly with the same gusto as I would a new issue of Gourmet or Food & Wine.

But it’s surprising that many of the books I’ve picked up in recent weeks have turned to the topic of food.

The first was a given. Robb Walsh’s “Sex, Death & Oysters” (Counterpoint, $25) was my book club’s latest choice. This is an intercontinental romance between the author, known for his “Tex-Mex Cookbook,” and the bivalve.

[amazon-product align=”left”]1582434573[/amazon-product]

I was green with envy as I read of his search for the perfect oyster. His trip took him from his hometown of Houston and the surrounding oyster beds of the Gulf to Ireland, France, the Pacific Northwest, England, Canada and more.

The book comes complete with recipes and tips for shucking your own safely. But it was the oyster names and accompanying illustrations that I found the most beneficial.

Each page made me want want to dash off to the nearest oyster bar for a dozen with stout or minerally white wine on the side.

[amazon-product]0312383282[/amazon-product]Fans of Janet Evanovich’s mysteries will gladly welcome “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.95), the latest Stephanie Plum novel. So should foodies hungry for a good laugh.

Plum, a bounty hunter with a knack for doing the wrong thing most of the time, finds herself chasing the murderers of a TV chef with the spicy name of Stanley Chipotle.

Her best friend Lula witnessed his decapitation, which makes her the target of the killers. To trap them, Stephanie, Lula and Grandma Mazur decide to enter a barbecue cookoff. Trouble is, none of the three has any business being involved in anything culinary, except for attending brunch at the local Cluck-in-a-Bucket.

Maybe all the food talk did it, but I found this Evanovich’s best book in ages, a saucy laugh-riot that had me lapping up every word.

[amazon-product align=”left”]1416580557[/amazon-product]Even celebrity autobiographies have their food sections nowadays. Kristin Chenoweth’s “A Little Bit Wicked” (Touchstone, $25) offers the following recipe for “Kristi Dawn’s No Calorie Left Behind Butterfinger Pie”:

  • Crunch up six king-size Butterfinger bars. Smash them up in a plastic bag or beat them with a rolling pin while they’re still in the wrapper. Exercise your aggressions. Very therapeutic.
  • Take a twelve-ounce deal of Cool Whip and mix it up with the candy-bar shrapnel.
  • Plop all that into one of those graham-cracker crusts. (Just get over yourself and buy the premade kind. Don’t be all Barefoot Contessa about it.)
  • Freeze! No, not you, the pie. I mean freeze in the freezer; not in the theatrical sense. This is important. If you skip this step, people will assume it’s French onion dip and stick their potato chips in it.

[amazon-product]1594743347[/amazon-product]The final book has plenty of eating it, but it’s not at all appetizing. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (Quirk Books, $12.95), by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, features the beloved saga of Elizabeth and her Darcy sorting out their tangled affairs while hordes of the undead traipse through England in search of some snacks. Puerile and a perfect morsel for making one forget the heat.

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What’s Hot: Cool Gazpacho Secrets

What’s Hot: Cool Gazpacho Secrets

gazpachoandsaladI can’t imagine anyone who loves homegrown or farmer-grown tomatoes not having a favorite way to make gazpacho.  If you have a tried and true recipe, we’d love to hear about it and share it with SavorSA readers.

Gazpacho wasn’t always my favorite cold soup in the past. But I think I finally learned three valuable secrets to  success with gazpacho. First, of course, is the rule to use the freshest homegrown tomatoes you can find.

The second is not so much a rule as a process: Apply the same balancing act to the gazpacho that you do when making a good vinaigrette.  This means that everyone’s gazpacho will be a  little different. It means parting ways with the recipe, if necessary.  I have friends who love tart, acidic salad dressings. I like my dressing a little less acidic.  If you have tasted your way to making a vinaigrette that works for you, then use the same approach in balancing the flavors in your gazpacho.

Finally, think of this soup as a “cool” rather than cold soup. If you want to nestle the bowl of gazpacho down into ice as a serving presentation, that’s fine. But the soup should not be icy. In fact, I think it should be closer to cool room temperature than downright cold.

I’m making my own version now, using lots of olive oil, garlic and roasted red peppers along with those good tomatoes.  Scott Cohen, chef at Brasserie Pavil, puts a helping of cold jumbo lump crab on top of his.  In Spain, we’ve had versions that crowned the cool soup with  salty strips of Jamón Serrano.  Other garnishes: warm, herbed croutons, or  just a sprig of fresh basil.

Tips for making a good gazpacho:

  • Get the best, ripest tomatoes you can grow, buy or beg from friends. Don’t refrigerate them.
  • Make the gazpacho early on the day you are going to serve it. The flavors need some time to blend, but again, the tomatoes in the soup won’t taste as good if they sit overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Decide if you want it to be an appetizer, soup course or main meal. If the latter, consider putting some grilled shrimp or fresh crab on top. (I like gazpacho with diced avocado on top, served with hot garlic bread a glass of white wine, such as an an Albariño.)
  • I put most of the ingredients in a blender and gently pulse until it is a well-mixed, but still coarse, blend. Then, I add diced vegetables that will contrast nicely with the tomato (white cucumber, green avocado).
  • When it comes to the olive oil, salt and vinegar, add to your taste. Start with small amounts and build, tasting as you go. After the gazpacho has cooled and sat for awhile, and just before serving, taste and adjust seasoning again.
  • Use your really good, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil here.  If you put in a tablespoonful, that’s too skimpy — put in 2 or 3 or more.  It is good for you, adds wonderful flavor and puts a pretty sheen on top of the gazpacho.
  • If serving gazpacho for a group, don’t hide its beauty in a crockery serving bowl. I like to use a glass bowl or a clear glass jar with an interesting shape. (I used to save the empty half-gallon maraschino cherry jars from an Italian restaurant I worked at for just this purpose.) Put a ladle in it and let guests serve their own. If you are putting out crab or shrimp, pile it on a plate,  garnish it with fresh basil and let people add their own.
  • The gazpacho does need cooling, if not chilling. I put it in the fridge, covered tightly, a couple of hours before serving. It chills it down but not too much (consider it a cool soup rather than a cold one). If you have leftover gazpacho, you will need to keep it overnight in the refrigerator or it will sour. Cover it well. It will pick up off flavors from the other food in the fridge. To serve the next day, take it out about an hour or so before serving so that it’s not too cold.

Beat-the-heat Gazpacho

6 large homegrown or farmer’s market tomatoes, peeled (see note)
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, roasted, seeded and skinned
1 English cucumber (long ones, usually wrapped in cellophane) or regular cucumber, peeled and seeded
4 large cloves garlic
1 bunch green onions
6 red radishes, trimmed
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more, to taste
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste
Small pinch of black pepper
Red wine vinegar, to taste, if needed
4-6 large leaves fresh green basil
2 medium, ripe but not mushy, avocados, diced

Note: To peel tomatoes, dip each one in water simmering on the stove. The skins will split and loosen after a short time, 30 seconds to a minute. Take them out immediately and the skins will slip off. (I don’t mind tomato seeds. But if you do, go ahead and seed the tomatoes.)

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and the roasted, seeded and peeled pepper and put them in large steel or glass bowl.  Peel the cucumber, seed it if you’re using one that has large seeds in a mushy center.  Cut it in half. Put one half aside and cut the other half into large dice. Add to bowl. Peel, mash and mince cloves of garlic and add to bowl. Cut white parts of green onions off, chop white parts coarsely and add to bowl. Reserve some of the green parts.  Add 3 of the radishes and set the others aside.

Mix the vegetables in the bowl together gently. In batches, put vegetables in blender and pulse until mixture is just at a coarse purée. Pulse the blender slowly to keep mixture from being frothy.

When all the vegetables are puréed, put them back into a large bowl. Stir in the olive oil and lime juice.  Add 2 teaspoons or more of sea salt and small pinch pepper. Stir these in. Now the tasting begins. Add vinegar if more acid is needed. Add more olive oil if you can’t taste it  (doesn’t need to be a strong or overpowering taste, you just want it evident). Add more salt, to taste. When the gazpacho is as well-balanced as a good vinaigrette, to your taste, don’t fool with it any more. Cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside.

About two hours before serving, cut into small dice the remaining three radishes, the other half of the cucumber and thinly slice green parts of onion so you have about 4 tablespoons. Add to gazpacho. Mince 3-4 tablespoons of the fresh basil and add.  Now, put it into the fridge to cool down before serving.

At serving time, take the bowl out of the fridge and taste again for the acid-salt-oil-sweet (tomato) balance. Adjust if necessary. Stir in the diced avocado. Pour it all into your serving bowl or jar.  Serve right away.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From Bonnie Walker

(photo: Cherice Montgomery)

Posted in Featured, What's Hot!4 Comments