Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fried Zucchini Flowers

So I bought those beautiful zucchini flowers at the farmers market...

But what to do with them? The only way I've ever had them is lightly battered and fried, both stuffed with cheese and without. I looked around for some other recipe ideas and found frittatas, risottos, and a few other things...but nothing seemed as good as my original idea. I found both a recipe for batter, and some interesting info on - the blossoms I bought were male blossoms. The blossoms that are still attached to the squash are female blossoms.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cold milk, beer, or water

Thoroughly mix together the dry ingredients, then whisk in the liquid of your choice (I went with beer). Cover with plastic and let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

The batter had an almost dough-like quality. If the batter is too thick when you take it out of the fridge you can add a bit of water to loosen it up, which I did.

Next step - the filling. Zucchini flowers are traditionally filled with fresh ricotta, but I had a half of a big piece of burrata already so I decided that would be soft enough to do the trick. I chopped it up and broke it up with a fork so that it became mashed enough to spoon into the flowers. I used about 1/3 cup of cheese and mixed in a big pinch of salt - probably about 1/2 teaspoon.

And then I stuffed the flowers. I wouldn't say it was easy, but it wasn't that difficult either. It just takes some patience and precision, because the flowers are very delicate. I used about a teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half of cheese for each one, depending on how big the flower was. After spooning the cheese in, gently twist the top of the flower to keep the contents inside. And don't forget to cut the stems off first. Leave just a little bit of stem to hold it by when dipping in the batter.

Finally, time to cook them. Pour enough canola oil in a saucepan to be about 1/2 inch deep, and heat over medium to medium-high heat. I don't know what temperature the oil was, but if you're not sure if it's hot enough just drop a little bit of the batter in and see how it cooks. It should turn golden brown quickly, in just about 10-15 seconds.

Dip the flowers in the batter and twist them around a bit to get them covered. You can let some of the batter drip off the flower if you don't want it to be too thick, or you can just go for it and put it right in the oil.

They cooked quickly. Really quickly. Probably about 30 seconds max and they were done. When finished cooking put them on a plate with paper towel to absorb the oil, and sprinkle with salt.

Mission accomplished! Truth be told, I was kind of worried about messing them up. Zucchini blossoms are something that never even crossed my mind to cook. They have such a short season so I hardly even see them for sale, and they are pretty much only available at farmers markets because they only last a couple days. And I just assumed they were very tricky to cook. But not so!

Several of the recipes I came across had more complex fillings. A lot of cheese mixed with herbs, garlic, spices...I wanted to keep the cheese filling really simple so that it didn't overwhelm the flower. And I think I achieved that. The batter was great, very simple and light. And just a little bit of salty, creamy cheese in the middle was perfect.

Two Things

Something for tonight, and something for this weekend...

  • One of tonight's two episodes of Throwdown with Bobby Flay (on the Food Network) is about chocolate chip cookies. But not just any chocolate chip cookies - Levain Bakery! I don't think this is a new episode, but I haven't seen it yet so I'm excited. It's on at 9:30p/8:30p central.
  • 4th of July is rapidly approaching, which means lots of people will be firing up their grills. If you're looking for ideas beyond hamburgers and hot dogs, check out this NYT Mark Bittman article. He offers 101 ideas for new, fun things to grill. The grilled artichoke, and the Mideast lamb chops sound great.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Streeterville Farmers Market

Streeterville is a little neighborhood just east of Michigan Avenue, right along the lake. It's just a few blocks from my apartment, and on Tuesdays they have their farmers market...and today was the first time I was able to go! The market is set up on the plaza in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art. It's a pretty small market, not as many tents as Division Street or Daley Plaza. But today they had some really great things.

The first thing that caught my eye were zucchini blossoms at the Nichols Farm tent. Aren't they so pretty?

They also had raspberries, red and white currants, and blueberries. Strawberries are already pretty much done for the season, but I was excited to see some other berry choices.

And lots of different varieties of onions, beets, and carrots.

Moving along...Scheeringa Farms had a huge pile of sweet corn. I couldn't pass that up.

The day's purchases - I did get some of that corn. I also got tomatoes and a bunch of fresh basil from Scheeringa. I bought raspberries and blueberries from Ellis Farms in Michigan:

I got some flowers from Wichert Gardens again - this time zinnias.

And...drum roll please...zucchini blossoms from Nichols. That's the fresh basil I bought from Scheeringa next to them.

As I write this, I have a belly full of zucchini blossoms. How did I cook them? How did they turn out? You'll just have to wait and see. I'm sure the suspense is killing you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Technical Difficulties

I just bought the domain name Yay! Supposedly it takes up to 3 days for the full transition to take place, so if some parts of the site aren't working please be patient. Once the switch is complete you'll always be able to access my blog through the new web address, and through


I thought I had written a post about Quartino, but looking back I realized I only wrote about their white bean garlic spread. Which is heavenly. I had Quartino on the brain after walking by and seeing their World Cup sign out front, and we've been having some really perfect weather and decided to take advantage of their outdoor seating. All this equates to me finally being able to take some decent photos of their food, since it was light out and I could use the camera on my phone. I have a self-imposed ban on flash photography in restaurants. Of food, not of people.

Predictably, we put in an order of white bean garlic spread as soon as we sat down.

They currently have a special wine menu of "World Cup Wines". How fun! Too bad the U.S. is already out. And Italy. And France. And some other countries on there, too. Jeez.

We also got fried calamari...

And the veal meatball sliders, which are SO good. They look a lot bigger in this picture than they really are - they're just normal slider size.

And on to the main course - pasta and pizza. I was hungry, ok?! I think I've ordered this pasta every time I've come: house-made cavatelli with tomato, fresh basil, and fresh ricotta.

They let you do half-and-half pizzas, which makes me very happy. Here we have half margherita and half sausage.

We ended up taking a lot of the pizza home in a doggie bag. Speaking of more picture. Before dinner we had a drink at Clark Street Ale House, and this sweet lady was hanging out. Dogs + bars = awesome.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ghiradelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop

A post about a sundae on a Sunday! Sorry, I had to. I feel a little silly writing about this place. It's very touristy. I may as well write a post about TGI Friday's in Times Square. Ok, it's not that bad, but still...Ghiradelli chocolate is Ghiradelli chocolate, and when the need for an ice cream sundae hit I didn't have a lot of choices.

When was the last time you had a real, honest to goodness ice cream sundae? Not eating out of a pint from the grocery store, or having some ice cream on the side of a piece of pie. I mean the whole nine - ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts, cherry on top, and maybe even a brownie on the bottom. Until last night, I couldn't tell you when or where my last ice cream sundae was. After dinner last night it hit me that I NEEDED one. I wish we had a little hometown place like Vic's, or Graeter's, or Scoops near us. But we don't. Might I add, two of those three places I just listed are so small and old school they don't even have their own websites. So off to Ghiradelli we went.

We went at 10:00 and it was a total mob scene. I don't know what I expected, but I knew they were open until midnight so I should have figured that they stay open that late for a good reason.

After looking over the menu while waiting in line...

We chose a brownie sundae with cookie dough ice cream instead of vanilla, and dark chocolate hot fudge (vs. milk chocolate). Ok, "we" didn't chose. I chose. I was the boss of this field trip. But how cool is it that you can choose dark or milk chocolate hot fudge?

Then they give you a number, and you can go watch the sundae makers. And there's a lot of them!

We happened to be stationed right by the chocolate and peanut butter department. I almost grabbed the canisters and made a run for it.

At long last, our sundae was ready.

I know, kind of lame that we shared one. But while we were studying the menu I realized that any sundae that costs $9 is probably pretty big, and it was. Anyway, we took it home to get away from the crowd. And it was so, so very good. I had forgotten how the addition of hot fudge can exponentially increase ice cream enjoyment. Maraschino cherries, ew. But you gotta get a cherry on top. And Peter likes them, so he ate it.

I had sweet ice cream sundae dreams that night. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Angel Food Cake

Nothing reminds me more of summer than desserts that incorporate berries - angel food cake with fresh strawberries, strawberry shortcake, blueberry pie...mmm. I've actually never made an angel food cake, but I already had a tube pan from a couple birthdays ago when my sister made one and brought it down to New York for me. After a bit of research, I decided to go with Alton Brown's recipe.

1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cake flour, sifted
12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon orange extract, or extract of your choice
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a food processor spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine (**you can buy superfine sugar if you don't have a food processor**). Sift half of the sugar with the salt the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.

In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, extract, and cream of tartar. (I used vanilla extract.)

After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks...

...sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan.

Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry).

Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.

Easy, right? Well, I somehow managed to mess it up. Once I put the cake in the oven and put the timer on, I closed out of the window on my computer with the recipe. I mean, put the cake in the oven, wait until it's cooked, and you're done - right? Wrong. I missed that whole "Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour" part. So this happened:

And, subsequently this:

UGH. So mad. What an easy last direction it was to follow and I totally missed it, and as you can see the cake fell. Actually, one side of it fell which shows me that next time I need to rotate the cake halfway through to make sure it cooks evenly. I also could have probably mixed the batter a little longer to get bigger peaks, but I don't think that was the main problem. Up until that point, the cake was fairly easy to make. It does require more attention and care than a regular white cake with icing since you have a lot of egg whites to work with, but it wasn't bad. But that stupid last direction is haunting me. It's like finding out you got a bad grade on a test because you accidentally didn't complete part of it. Moving on...

The cake still tasted great, it was just a little more dense than it should be. So not a complete loss, but I guarantee next time I make it I won't forget that last step.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup Fever!

I forgot to post this last night - I walked by Quartino yesterday and this is what their sidewalk sign said:

World Cup soccer and delicious Italian food? Yes please!

Greek Lamb Kabobs with Tzatziki and Tomato/Cucumber Salad

Last night I wanted to break out of the usual fish, steak, pasta/pizza routine. Chicken can be so, well...boring. So I thought, why not lamb? Rack of lamb can be really expensive, but lamb shoulder - not too bad. And perfect for kabobs. And then the menu started forming in my head. Kabobs with lamb and red onion, tzatziki sauce for dipping...and some pitas, of course. And a refreshing tomato and cucumber salad on the side.

After looking at many, many Greek marinade recipes online I came up with this one. and I must say, the fresh oregano made the difference. I usually just use dried oregano, but since this marinade only had a few ingredients, I figured I should go for the fresh version. It smelled so good!

juice of 2 lemons
4-6 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil (depending on how much lemon juice you have - the oil should be double that amount)
2 Tbl. fresh oregano, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 lb. of lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut into square slices for kabobs
wooden skewers

Mix all ingredients except oil and lamb in a bowl or tupperware.

Slowly add the oil while whisking, so the mixture emulsifies.

Add the lamb and put the lid on, or plastic wrap if you're using a bowl, and shake just a bit to get the lamb covered by the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2, but up to 8 hours.

Put the lamb onto skewers with pieces of red onion in between, and grill for about 5-6 minutes on each side.

Tzatziki sauce:
1 7-oz. container Greek yogurt (I used 2%, but use whichever fat content you like)
2 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl. lemon juice
2 Tbl. fresh dill, chopped
3-4 Tbl. cucumber, skinned, seeded, and minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. I think it's important to use Greek yogurt for this sauce because, a. it's a Greek sauce, and b. the texture is so much richer and thicker than regular yogurt.

And last, the salad:
2 large tomatoes, preferably beefsteak
2/3 of a large cucumber
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl. white wine vinegar
big pinch salt
freshly ground pepper

First I should make a note - 2/3 of a large cucumber sounds weird, but what happened was that I bought one big cucumber and used 2/3 of it for the salad and the other third for the tzatziki. So that's where the measurement came from.

Chop the tomatoes and cucumbers into a medium/large dice. When cutting the tomatoes, try to get rid of the seeds and guts. Combine in bowl with the rest of the ingredients.

Heat up some mini pitas in the oven at 350 for 3-4 minutes, and there's your Greek feast! The nice thing about this meal is that 90% of it can be done in advance, and left in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat. The lamb, tzatziki, and salad all get more flavorful the longer they sit in the fridge - so all you have to do once you're ready to eat is cook the kabobs and heat up the pita bread. Opa!