TOMATO BREAD PUDDING

I recommend you make this while the tomatoes are still good.

Labor Day brings with it all kinds of cultural restrictions and bounds: no more white, no more linen, no more talk of summer.  Corn loses its sweetness and the Farmers Market offerings begin to change.

Of course, if you live down South like I do, the idea that summer will end on Monday seems laughable, what with the 100 degree temperatures and all.  Still, I know tomatoes won’t last forever and the weather will turn cold eventually, bringing with it corduroys and long-sleeved shirts and excuses for making chili and baked goods with cinnamon and apples.  And chicken and dumplings, and…yeah.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, summer!

TOMATO BREAD PUDDING
adapted from Gourmet

It’s obscenely good.  That’s all that needs to be said.

ingredients:

3 lb. plum tomatoes, such as Roma, halved
1 whole head garlic
2 tsp. herbes de Provence
olive oil

oven: 400˚
pan: one or two foil-lined baking sheets

Toss the tomatoes with herbs de Provence, a few tablespoons of olive oil, and a bit of salt & pepper.  Arrange the tomatoes, cut sides up, on baking sheet(s).  Take the whole head of garlic and cut off the pointy tops, exposing all the cloves.  Wrap the garlic in foil & place on baking sheet with the tomatoes.

Roast it all for 45-50 minutes until the garlic is soft & tomatoes are wilted but still juicy.  Once the garlic has cooled, remove the cloves from their skins and mince it finely.  Alternately, puree the garlic in a blender or food processor.

10 cups cubed (1-inch) Italian bread*
8 eggs
2 cups grated Fontina
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

While the tomatoes & garlic are roasting, toss the bread crumbs in a bit more olive oil and spread them on another baking sheet.  Toast for 20-25 minutes and cool on a rack while the tomatoes & garlic finish.

Butter a 13 x 9 shallow baking dish.  Arrange the bread cubes, nestling in the roasted tomatoes.

In a bowl or large liquid measure, whisk together the eggs, milk, & cream.  Add the garlic and stir in the cheeses.  Pour the mixture over the bread and tomatoes.  Bake until golden brown and firm, about an hour.  Slice and serve with a green salad.

*I used about ¾ of a large loaf

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GOAT TACOS

I’ve wanted to make these for a long time.

In July 2008, Gourmet magazine published a very fine piece of food journalism from Ian Knauer and Alan Sytsma.  In it, the men visited Madani Halal, one of our country’s many halal butcher shops, which carry out the slaughtering and processing of animals in strict accordance with Islamic law.

Halal is a kind of equivalent to the Jewish system of kashrut, or kosher, both signifying what is “permitted” or “clean” to eat.  In accordance with halal standards, all animals must be treated humanely in life—grass-fed only—and slaughtered swiftly in death, one quick cut of the carotid artery coming on the heels of a prayer of thankfulness to Allah for the nourishing gift of the animal’s flesh.  It is a dignified, compassionate, and demanding way of doing things.

The men who run Madani Halal are a father-and-son team, Riaz Uddin and Imran Uddin.  In the article, Imran asks the chefs to choose a goat, which he then slaughters himself, falling silent for prayer beforehand and sweating afterward.  “Do you ever get used to that?” the visitors ask.  “No,” he responds.

Imran goest on to tell Knauer & Sytsma that he hopes halal can become a bridge by which Americans can learn about and accept Islam.  Though their client population is only 65% Muslim, the rest overflow from other immigrant communities, he admitted “We lost a lot of customers” after 9/11.  They faced skepticism from the neighborhood when they acquired more property to expand the shop.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Jill and I both know Muslims; she has worked with many closely.  She has traveled to countries with large Muslim populations, like Egypt and Jordan and Turkey.  We have been invited to many a beautiful dinner spread, breaking bread with our Muslim friends as they break their Ramadan fasts.  And so, for me, there is a huge crevasse of cognitive dissonance between these people I know and the very loud screaming voices I hear about all Muslims can’t be trusted, are of the devil, who hate America, should made to be carry special ID cards.

Someone please explain to me how we manage to so easily lump together a religious group that constitutes a population of 1.5 billion people.  Who constitute practically every ethnic group and nationality, who are spread all over the globe living radically different lives from each other.  How on earth can anyone justify writing off a mass of people this way?  As if they all thought and acted in exactly the same manner, because they fall under the same religious umbrella.  I sure hope I’m not expected to claim the world’s population of Hindus as representative of my thoughts & beliefs.

I was born and raised a Hindu, inheriting a group of folks who have clashed with Muslims in India for years, each group lobbing back-and-forth their irrational hatred, their violence, their fear.  Of course, the irony is that if my parents had been born just some forty or fifty miles to the West, I might well be a Muslim myself.  And then what?


GOAT TACOS

adapted from Gourmet

To make this recipe, I had to find my own halal butcher, which was easy to do here in Houston.  I wondered but did not have the courage to ask aloud if it was difficult for the proprietress of the shop to be in the presence of food all day as she fasted for Ramadan.   I got myself a goat leg.  I drowned it in a smoky tomato-chile sauce and baked it off for three hours, shredded it as it cooled, wrapping it in tortillas alongside my friends.  I recommend you do the same.

This recipe is a project, certainly, but the results were as delicious as I had hoped.  I will certainly be making it again, most likely as a dinner party dish, since everything can be prepped ahead of time.

ingredients:

3 ½ to 4 lb. goat leg, bone-in*
3 dried guajillo chiles, stems removed
2 dried ancho chiles, stems removed
1 lb. tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. vinegar
½ tsp. cumin seeds
5 whole peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves

oven: 350˚

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, dropping in the chiles.  Simmer until the chiles are soft & pliable, 10-15 minutes.  Drain the soaking water and drop the chiles into a blender.  Add the rest of the ingredients (except the goat leg!) and blend until smooth.

Place the goat leg a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with salt.  Pour the sauce over the goat meat, turn to coat, then cover the entire dish with foil.

Braise for 3 to 3 ½ hours or until the meat is very tender.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, shred with forks and return it to the sauce-filled baking dish.  Discard the bones.

Now whole dish goes back in the oven, covered again, to cook for another half hour.  Towards the end of the half-hour, wrap the tortillas in foil and toss them into the oven to warm.

Serves a crowd (8-10) and keeps well.  If making ahead, reheat in the oven to serve.

* Ask the butcher to cut the leg into pieces if you don’t have a roasting pan big enough to fit it.

accompaniments:

corn tortillas
crumbled queso fresco
salsa verde
cubed pineapple
sliced radishes
cilantro
lime wedges

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MUHAMMARA DIP

It seems I’m making nice with all kinds of former food enemies—first radishes, then rum, and now red bell peppers.

The alliteration is accidental, I promise, or maybe I’m just getting back to my English-teacher self, what with school starting back up this week.  !!!

Green bell peppers can be found in our backyard garden and then, subsequently, on our backyard grill, and I like them just fine that way, or chopped up as part of the Cajun trinity, or stuffed with Indian-spiced meat, the way my mom makes.  But red bell peppers always just seemed lame to me—especially given how expensive they can be—slimy when roasted, boring when raw—not a fan.

In the last few years, though, given Jill’s travels and the diverse Houston restaurant landscape, my exposure to Middle Eastern cuisine grew and I fell in love with muhammara dip.  Not only is it fun to say (much like halloumi!), it’s also quite tasty.  And so I decided to give a homemade version a whirl.

My fellow teacher & dear friend Courtney sampled my version of the dip a few weekends ago when we photographed it, and requested that I post the recipe ASAP—because we’re both trying to be good about what we eat these days and this is just the type of thing that works perfectly for weekday lunches.  Make it over the weekend and stash it in the work fridge.  Pack some type of bread product, throw in some fruit & vegetables, and viola!  Instant healthy lunch.


(I made some flatbreads to go along with this dip, which I promise to post later in the week—provided the new crop of 8th graders don’t do me in.)

MUHAMMARA DIP

We found that the dip tastes even better a day or two after you make it.  So plan accordingly!

ingredients:

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 yellow onion, diced
3 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, & diced
¼ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 T pomegranate molasses or homemade grenadine
1 T harissa
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp cayenne (optional)
juice of 1 lemon

While the nuts cool, process the onion, peppers, pomegranate molasses, and harissa in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Strain the mix over the sink, pressing down to release excess moisture.  Dump the pepper/onion paste into a mixing bowl.

No need to clean out the blender/mixing bowl—just dump the nuts right in and pulse until coarsely ground.  I like the texture of the nuts at this point, but if you want a smoother dip, keep on going.  Add the nuts to the pepper/onion paste and stir in the bread cumbs, salt, lemon juice, & cayenne, if using.  Taste for salt and other flavorings and adjust as needed.

Serve, garnished with a little extra cayenne, with crackers, pita, crudités, naan, etc.

MOJITO POPSICLES

Rum and I haven’t always been friends.

After a collegiate night of bad choices featuring one too many glasses of Diet Coke & cheap rum, I swore off the stuff for years.  But a few months ago at my favorite Houston bar, I took a tentative sip of a friend’s rum-based cocktail.  And rum and I have been going steady ever since.  Dark & stormys?  Rum swizzles?  Mojitos?

Yes, please.

Popsicle recipes seem to be the trend of this summer, and I’m okay with that.  I love this version, and this one too, both capturing the whimsy and nostalgia of eating off a dripping popsicle stick but using more sophisticated flavors.  I wanted to do something based on a cocktail and turned to my newfound love of rum for inspiration.

These little guys were a big hit when I served them to friends this weekend: tangy, refreshing, and dead-easy to make.  You’re going to want more than one, I promise.

MOJITO POPSICLES

I found these little plastic shot glasses in the dollar section of Target and used them to make 12 mini-pops, with kids’ craft sticks providing the assist.  You can make bigger popsicles, of course, in which case I’m guessing this recipe will yield 6-8.

If you’ve never bought superfine sugar, you should be able to find it on the baking aisle of well-stocked grocery stores or at specialty baking stores or cooking-supply stores like Williams Sonoma.

ingredients:

1 packed cup mint leaves
1 cup water
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup white rum (I used Flor de Caña)

Purée all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Skim off any foam, then pour the mixture into molds.  Freeze for an hour, then insert the popsicle sticks (if the popsicles aren’t firm enough, wait a little bit longer).  Freeze until the popsicles are firm, overnight or up to 24 hours, depending on the size of your molds.

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TOMATO-CORN PIE

I’m from the South.  I’m a Southern girl.

I love this song like I love a biscuit crust.  It’s the soundtrack for today’s post.

Check my Southern-fried style
And my Southern flow

(Southern girl)

I share my life with another Southern girl—and if you missed her beautiful okra post from last week, I dare you not to fall in love with her fried & pickled versions.  Jill and I both have a sense of what it means to be a badass Southern woman, banging around in kitchen, with a cast-iron skillet and a will to match.  We model our vision on our mothers, her father’s sisters, women I knew in my Memphis childhood.

They are brash and busy and hilarious.  They do not coddle, or mince words.  Their praise does not come easily, making it even more valuable. They look as good in hunting cammo as they do in cocktail dresses.  They can be as frightening as they can be gracious.  Their respect, once lost, is difficult to earn back.  They are loyal and they don’t take any shit.  They cook everything well.

Southern Girl, and I’ll rock your world
Fly as a bumble bee
Can’t nobody f*** with me

Man, I sure hope I’m worthy of a lyric like that someday.

TOMATO – CORN PIE
adapted from Gourmet

This recipe made the internet rounds last summer, but you might have missed it.  AND THAT WOULD BE A SHAME.  Because this pie is crazy-delicious.  A wee bit time consuming but not all that difficult to put together.  And totally worth it.

While you’re going through the trouble, I highly recommend making two pies, so you can eat one and gift the other to some lucky soul.  Know any new parents?  Grieving friends?  Vegetarians?  Coworkers who can’t cook to save their life?  They’ll love you forever if you give them one of these.

for the filling:

1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

½ cup mayonnaise, with the juice of 1 lemon stirred in

4 large summer tomatoes, diced & squeezed gently to release seeds and juices

2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob

handful of basil, chopped

palm-full of chives, chopped

salt & pepper

Combine the tomatoes, corn, herbs, salt, & pepper in a bowl.  Toss gently and set aside.

for the crust:

2 cups flour

¾ cup buttermilk (regular milk will work, too)

6 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 T baking powder

¾ tsp. salt

Whisk together the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with your fingers, pressing and crumbling until the mixture looks like a cross between gravel & sand.  Pour in the milk or buttermilk and knead the dough lightly with your hands until it just comes together into a ball.

pan: 9 or 10-inch pie plate

oven: 400˚

Divide the biscuit dough in half.  On a floured surface, gently roll or press out one of the halves until it will cover the bottom & sides of your pie plate.  Drape it in the pie pan, snugging it in and adjusting where need be.  If there’s overhang, leave it there for now.

Time to fill your pie!—and be warned, this baby’s gonna be FULL when all is said & done, but fret not—all will end well.

Cover the crust with half of the tomato/corn mixture.  Sprinkle half the cheese on top.  Layer the rest of the tomato/corn mixture atop the cheese, then pour the lemon mayonnaise on top of everything.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Now, roll out the other half of the biscuit dough until it’s big enough to cover the behemoth of a pie you just constructed.  Gently drape it over everything, pinching it together with the bottom layer around the rim of the pie plate.  Don’t worry if you have to patch & cobble the top crust—I’ve done this before and the pie still tastes delicious.

Use a sharp knife to cut four vents in the top of the pie, as if you were drawing a cross or a compass-N, S, E, W.  Melt a little butter on the stove or in the microwave, then brush it all over that biscuit crust.  Awww yeah.

Bake the pie for 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden.  Cool for at least 10-15 minutes on a rack before serving.  Serve hot or warm.

You can also cool the pie completely, refrigerate it, and then reheat it the next day, in a 350˚ oven for 20-25 minutes.

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DUTCH BABY

Don’t worry, this recipe does not involve an actual baby.

See?  It’s a pancake.  Sometimes they are called by another name—German pancakes, and indeed, food historians suspect that the moniker “Dutch” is actually a corruption of “Deutsch,” which makes much more sense.  As for the “baby” part, I have no idea.  Perhaps the first tasters were so amazed that they cried out “oh baby?”

Whatever the etymology of the name, these pancakes are delicious and perfect when you have guests for brunch.  Pull the eggs out of the fridge the night before—they won’t spoil, I promise—just as with a good batch of popovers, room temperature eggs help insure that your pancake will puff.

In the morning, slip the pancake in the oven while you make coffee, fry bacon, etc.  So much easier than flipping individual pancakes like a short-order cook, but no less satisfying.  Heck, even Sonya, my breakfast-obsessed photographer, said, “I think I might like this better than a regular pancake!”  Oh baby, indeed.

DUTCH BABY PANCAKE

Should you be craving some “regular” pancakes, we’ve got a recipe for those, too.

ingredients:

3 eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup flour
¾ cup milk (go decadent, use whole or 2%)
2 T butter
1 T sugar
pinch salt

oven: 400˚
pan: 8-10” cast iron skillet or Dutch (ha! of course) oven

As the oven is heating, toss the butter in your skillet and place it into the oven to heat.  In the meantime, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Once the oven has pre-heated, check the skillet.  When your butter is nutty-brown and slightly foamy, pour in the pancake batter.  Return to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pancake is puffed and golden.

Cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.  I like mine with a healthy dusting of powdered sugar and squeezes from fresh lemons; Jill prefers hers with syrup and berries.

VARIATION—When browning the butter in the oven, include some thinly sliced apple and a dash of cinnamon.  Pour the batter over the whole mess and bake the same as above.  Makes a lovely treat, especially in fall or winter.

SUMMER REFRESHMENT, REVISITED

It’s really freaking hot, therefore refreshments are in order.

I’m revisiting two favorites from blogs past, both of which are easy to make and have become my essentials for summer survival.  Something about homemade iced coffee feels like a treat to myself, one I don’t have to feel very guilty about, and I am kind of obsessed with guava nectar.  And ginger beer.  And gin.  Opa!

If you’re interested in other summer staples, you can scroll through last year’s Summer Classics Series, with recipes for standards like coleslaw & potato salad, plus popular desserts like key lime pie & gingersnap-mascarpone tart.  It may feel like summer’s going to last forever, but when you start flipping through those calendar pages, fall isn’t so far away.

LUCKY DOGS

Guava is a little bit sweet, a little bit puckery, and pairs beautifully with spicy Mexican or Indian food.  You can read the story of how these cocktails got their strange name here.

1 can guava nectar
1 bottle Reed’s or other strong ginger beer
3 oz. gin or vodka
juice of one lime

Combine all ingredients, then pour into two glasses over ice.  Garnish with extra lime wedges.  You can easily double or triple the ingredients to make a pitcher.

COLD-BREW ICED COFFEE

This cold brewed iced coffee recipe was adapted from one I found in the New York Times.

4 cups bottled or filtered water
2/3 cup ground coffee, medium to coarse grind*

In a large liquid measuring cup or bowl with a pour spout, combine the two ingredients and stir.  Cover the mixture and let it sit at least overnight or up to 24 hours.

To remove the grounds from the concentrate, you can use a French press or pour the mixture through a wide-mouthed jar fitted with a coffee filter.  Store the concentrate in the fridge.

To make iced coffee, fill a glass with ice, then half or two-thirds of the way full with coffee concentrate.  Add milk, soymilk, or sweetened condensed milk to taste.

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