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Griffin to Go: Time to Get Back into the Kitchen


Zucchini makes a great soup that can be served hot or cold.

It’s been a busy few weeks. First, Restaurant Week came and offered too many good meals to pass up. Then a combination of work and meetings made cooking impossible. Besides, who really wanted to cook when the temperature was in the triple digits?

The closest I got to cooking something in earnest was throwing a few hot dogs on the grill — and then running for the air conditioner while they cooked.

But the more time I spend away from the kitchen, the more it seems to call me.

Everywhere I look, there are recipes galore that just begged to be tried. The New York Times offered the idea of grilled peaches with dukkah, an Egyptian nut and spice blend. Yahoo wrote about avocados. The Los Angeles Times offered a refreshing take on icy granitas, a perfect antidote to the heat.

Even a collection of essays from Leo Tolstoy that I picked up at the Borders going-out-of-business sale included a lengthy piece on vegetarianism that made me want to eat every vegetable in sight.

So, this holiday weekend has been a good time to get back to where I feel best.

I started out by making a Zucchini and Fresh Ginger Velouté from Patricia Wells’ great new cookbook, “Salad as a Meal” (William Morrow, $34.99). This soup went together in minutes and is just as good cold as it is warm, so I can have it both ways.

Something easy is exactly what I need when stepping back into the kitchen after an absence, even if it’s only several weeks. There’s no need to have to think about anything tricky. There’s also no need to have to think about whether certain flavors go together. That’s why I always try a new cookbook or pull an old favorite from the shelf and select something I’ve never tried before.

My other two get-back-to-work dishes are also from new cookbooks. Next up is a plate of Caramelized Onion Tarts with Apples on puff pastry from “Real Simple — Dinner Tonight: Done!” (Real Simple, $24.95).  There’s nothing too extravagant here. Nothing requires a special trip to the store, except maybe the puff pastry, if you don’t have that handy in the freezer. That’s the point of the book, and it’s what helps make it a welcome find.

That will be followed on Monday by cake, which I will write about in a day or two. This recipe is slightly trickier, so I won’t write about it until after I’ve given it a try and can hopefully offer you a tip or two. This one will exercise a few culinary muscles that have atrophied. I haven’t baked anything in more than four months and I can’t remember how to cream sugar and butter properly.

What’s the longest time you’ve taken off from cooking or baking? What are you cooking in this heat? Post your answers below.

 

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Dinner from your garden


Sauted vegetables.

Sauteed vegetables.

This year our garden took on an extra dimension of usefulness. Usually, it is composed of herbs, flowers and xeriscape shrubs, surrounded by grass that is lush or less-than-lush, depending upon the rainfall.

This year we put in vegetables. Maybe it was a reaction to being suddenly underemployed, like many others around the country. Or, maybe it was because we had more time to enjoy  in the garden. I like to think it was the latter.

As for the results, so far, let’s just say we’re still in ramp-up phase (kind of like our fab new Web site).

Saturday night, though, we went outside and picked tomatoes, squash and fresh herbs, which we added to some heirloom tomatoes and more squash a friend donated from her garden. The resulting dish was colorful, very healthful and served magnificently as a side to seared burgers and pasta tossed in olive oil and garlic.

There isn’t a recipe here, as such. Just follow these simple tips for a great vegetable saute – even if the garden is just producing odds and ends at the moment.

  • Vegetables you can slice, dice, and just throw into a sauté pan with olive oil include any kind of tomato (even a green tomato, and especially grape or cherry tomatoes).
  • Garlic. Onions. These may not be growing in the garden but they’re always inexpensive at the store. Keep them handy.
  • Some vegetables might need to be blanched, or even par-boiled before being tossed into the saute pan. Green beans are one example — unless you are one of those who really like crisp, not-too-cooked green beans.  You know who you are.
  • Back to the olive oil. I generally don’t put in just a spoonful or so of olive oil. The flavor is beautiful and a little more fat, even a tablespoon or two, won’t hurt. It’s a good fat.
  • How to season: salt and pepper are always good. Try some fresh or crumbled dry oregano, savory, a small pinch of marjoram and an even smaller pinch of rosemary. With these latter herbs, a subtle hint is far better than an overwhelming dose. Chopped parsley adds a fresh dash of green. Sautééed mushrooms are never a bad thing.

Finally, don’t overcook these ingredients, fresh off the plant. Some things, like cherry or grape tomatoes, need only to be tossed around the pan over a medium-high heat until some of the skins burst. Perfect as a side, perfect as the “sauce” for grilled salmon or pan-fried trout. What could be easier, or speak more eloquently of summer?

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