Archive for August, 2010

In preparation for the recent gathering of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans (my cooking club of nine friends), I was inspired by a plethora of pepper possibilities.  The first was an article in the July issue of Bon Appetit by Molly Wizenberg, exalted author of the blog, Orangette, and the second was a recent dish I devoured at Mercat a la Planxa in downtown Chicago.  Molly’s article was about her rhapsodic experience in France eating flash-fried Shishito peppers, and at Mercat a la Planxa, I ate flash-fried Padron peppers with an amazing sauce called Salbitxada.  Neither of these peppers are hot, tho I can’t lie – once in a while they’ll deceive you and you will get a zinger.  Nothing that will make your head explode, just a little spicy surprise.   The Shishitos especially seem to take on a silky, texture and their sweet, savory deliciousness make them easy to pop in one after the other.  The only thing left on the plate will be a bunch of stems – you eat the whole pepper, including the seeds.  The Padrons can be a bit more meaty, but they are just as delicious.  (And both are way too crazy for our friend The Lazy Cook!)

I knew the first thing I had to do was track down these peppers.   They can be a little hard to find, and if you just cannot find them, try any kind of Latin market and ask for small, mild peppers.  I about jumped for joy when I finally found them at the Chicago Green City Market, as the farmer told me Chicago chefs usually scoop them all up (indeed a recent review of Stephanie Izard’s new restaurant, The Girl & the Goat, cited a dish with Shishito peppers.)  Peppers in hand, I was ready to cook!

Salbitxada sauce is a classic Spanish accompaniment to roasted or fried vegetables.  It’s thick and a little coarse, and made of ground almonds, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and parsley.  It’s a no-cook sauce and pretty easy to make.  It’s fresh and tangy tasting, light and summery – I still have some left-overs and I dolloped a bit on some scrambled eggs this morning!  And it might make friends with some grilled zucchini tonight, too.

Here’s how to make it:

Flash Fried Padron & Shishito Peppers with Salbitxada Sauce
1 cute little box of Shishito peppers (I get mine at the Chicago Green Market)
1 cute little box of Padron peppers (try to find small ones)
Veg oil for flash-frying
1 clove garlic
lemon juice for spritzing
Coarse sea salt
2 Tbl blanched almonds, unsalted, untoasted (I used slivered ones, from Trader Joe’s)
1 jalapeno or 2 serrano peppers
4 cloves garlic
2 ripe tomatoes (or five small ones)
1 Tbl chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbl balsamic vinegar
1/2 extra virgin olive oil
salt/pepp to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees
1) Toast almonds for about 5-7 minutes (watch closely, don’t burn them!) and then grind them in a food processor til they’re like coarse sand

2) Peel and chop tomatoes (I just plopped mine into boiling water for 1 minutes, put them in ice water and slip the skins right off)

3) De-seed the jalapenos and remove the white pith; chop
4) Chop the garlic
5) Add peppers and garlic to almonds in food processor – whiz it about til everything’s about the same size
6) Add tomatoes, parsley, vinegar to food processor – let ‘er rip til everything’s fairly smooth

7) With machine running, slowly add olive oil in a stream, til it’s all thick and delicious-looking
Remove to a lovely serving bowl or practical plastic fridge container.  This sauce will keep about 5-6 days, refrigerated.
Heat a cast iron pan til it’s HOT!  Screamin’ hot!  Add a thin film of veg or canola oil (not olive oil – it will fill your kitchen with smoke!).  Plop in the Shishitos – watch them jump about like tiny green Japanese firecrackers!  Fry for about 1-2 minutes,  Add the chopped garlic and salt – be generous with the salt.  Fry for another 1-2 minutes until they are blistered.  Remove to a plate and shower with lemon juice and serve!  Great with beer or Cava.
Same method – but I skip the garlic on these.  Flash fry and salt generously – dip in Salbitxada sauce and sigh with happiness!

These were a hit with my fellow cooks in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans, and again last night at a family backyard bash.  I hope you enjoy them, too!

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If there’s one thing that both the Lazy Cook and the Crazy Cook agree on, it is that we luuuuuv summer for its abundance of gorgeous, fresh produce.  And so we set out early one (HOT!) recent morning, meeting up at the Chicago Green City Market for a little shopping expedition, and are sharing our finds with you in a fun little video! 

Chicago’s Green City Market was started by the amazing Abby Mandel back in 1998, with a handful of farmers in an alley next to the Chicago Theater.  Today it is a thriving center of local farmers offering the best locally, sustainably grown foods.  Alice Waters has even called it, “the best sustainable market in the country.”  From locally grown and/or produced microgreens to artisanal ice cream (I’m talkin’ to you, Snooklefritz ice cream!) to fresh meat, eggs and honey, you can find amazing ingredients and prepared foods (check out the fresh berry crepe we splurged on at the end) that delight the senses.

And here’s an interesting side story: Abby Mandel, founder of the Green City Market, was an early catalyst for my whole family’s passion for food and cooking.  My mom started working with Abby in the 1970s, when she started teaching cooking classes in Glencoe – sewing custom aprons.  Then she found herself as Abby’s right-hand at those very cooking classes, and she progressed to working full-time with Abby, helping manage her growing empire and editing her cookbooks. 

 Before I knew it, I was pulled into the ranks, usually during high school summers, assisting with cooking classes and large catering jobs.  I will never forget staying up all night with my friend Amy (author of the World Plates blog) making 100 pounds of spinach fettucine for a big gala at the Art Institute. By 6 a.m., we had ribbons of fresh, green pasta dangling from yardsticks, dowels and hangers on every possible thing in the house – doorjambs, kitchen chairs, you name it.  Or the time Abby sent me down to her basement tore-assemble,  box up and return about 80 food processors that had been sent to her after she made a huge splash introducing the Cuisinart to the America, thanks to Carl Sontheimer.  So I have a special place in my heart for Abby Mandel and for the Green City Market she started 12 years ago!

Come back soon as we post videos of what we created with our haul from the Green City Market!  Happy shopping and happy summer to you!

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Yes, I know, it’s a bit presumptuous to title this “the best,” but as a life-long lover of gazpacho, I stand by this recipe!  Juicy, ripe summer tomatoes party it up with sweet red and orange peppers and refreshing, crunchy cucumbers (from my Harvest Moon CSA, of course) and a few other secret ingredients (well, not so secret after this post, huh?) to make a cold, tangy, summery soup that has infinite possibilities for meals and snacks!  Plus which? It’s good for you and it’s gorgeous! (Delicious, gorgeous food makes me very happy.)

Now the Lazy Cook would probably call this “Gaz-choppo” because yes, there is chopping involved.  But that’s when I turn on my iPod and just jam out to some great music and chop away!  And the Cuisinart does a fair share of the work here, so it really doesn’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes to put this together – but then you want to chill it for a bit to let the flavors get to know each other and explode in all of their delicious happiness. 

After all the batches of gazpacho I’ve made and eaten over the years, and all the recipes I’ve tried, this one hit the mark.  The sharp tangy hit of balsamic and Worcestershire seems to bring everything to life.  Of course, the quality and ripeness of the vegetables play a big part, too, but now’s the time to find the best in your farmer’s market or maybe your own backyard.  And in the entire recipe, there’s only 1/4 cup of olive oil, so this is pretty low-cal and low-fat, too.  Paired with some crusty bread and maybe some good cheese, it’s one of my favorite light summer meals.

INGREDIENTS (makes about 2 quarts)

4 or 5 medium-size ripe tomatoes

1 orange pepper

1 red pepper

1 1/2 cucumbers

3 scallions

1/2 red onion

4 garlic cloves

1 Tbl. Worcestershire sauce (or more; taste for yourself)

1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C. balsamic vinegar

12 oz. tomato juice (canned or bottled)

1 Tbl kosher salt

freshly ground pepper, to taste


1. Chop each veg (tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion) into chunks, about 2 inches in size, but don’t obsess about the size.  Here’s how I chopped my peppers:

2. Using the metal blade in your food processor, chop each veg separately – pulse for as many times as you need to get the texture you like (I like this a little chunky so you get some good chewy, chunky texture in each bite).  After each veg is to your liking, put it into a large bowl.  Put all the veg into the same bowl and make it a big one (several quarts in size) because it’s got to take all the other ingredients, too.  Here’s how I do it:

– Chop the peppers; put them into the bowl

– Chop the cucumber; put it into the bowl

– Chop the tomatoes; put them into the bowl

– Chop the onion, garlic and scallions together – a little more finely than the others veg (I don’t like big chunks of these).

3.  Add all the other ingredients: the balsamic, olive oil, Worcestershire, tomato juice and salt and pepp.  Stir it all about.  Taste it for seasoning.  Add more salt or pepp if you need to.

3. And you’re done!  Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours  to let the flavors come together.

The Fun Part

I love gazpacho so much I sometimes eat it multiple times per day, every day, until it’s gone.  But I need a little variety, and gazpacho is like a blank canvas.  You can dress it up with a million different things!  Following are some of my favorite ideas.  Let me know what you like and please share your own ideas with me! 

  • A dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • Diced avocado
  • sautéed or roasted sweet corn, cut off the cob
  • Chopped-up raw cauliflower (the earthy crunch is really good in here)
  • A spoonful of black beans or cannelini beans
  • Parmesan croutons (just toss some bread cubes in a saute pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil for about 10 minutes until they’re crisped, and then sprinkle on grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese)
  • Minced hard-boiled egg
  • Shrimp – roasted, grilled or boiled
  • Shredded, roasted chicken
  • Hell, throw some vodka or tequila in it and call it a cocktail!

The point is – gazpacho is a crafty little summer soup that can masquerade as a meal, a snack or even a fancy, light entrée, depending on what it’s wearing!  Have some fun with it, and have a delicious summer!

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