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Archive for July, 2011

Summer's best! Grilled artichokes, heirloom tomatoes and caponata

I must admit, I’m not a fan of summer heat — but I am a fan of all the fun we have in summer with our parties, plays and concerts. And there’s nothing quite like a Hollywood Bowl picnic.

Laurie and I love to come up with ingenious ways to outdo ourselves for our decadent sunset meals in the lovely hills. We scoff at the other attendees’ Gelson’s boxed picnics and scheme week after week to achieve the perfect combinations in our homemade extravaganzas. My timing gets pretty tight because I have an 8-5 job almost 100 miles east of the Hollywood Bowl, so I rush home to pack whatever I prepared the night before. This week, we turned the task of making the appetizer over to our nephew Ryan, who loves classical music and German techno rock equally, and who is a damned good cook too. (We’re so lucky in our nephews: they’re smart, they’re fun and they cook!) A couple of years ago Ryan ran across an artichoke recipe that caught his eye, but he quickly made it his own.

This is a pretty simple recipe, in keeping with our motto: entertain without killing yourself or your budget. (Parties come in all sizes, after all–and this is a party for four.)

Grilled Garlic Artichokes

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, zested and then quartered (use two lemons if they’re small)
¾ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, stripped from the stems
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Zest the lemon or lemons and then cut them into quarters. Place the zest in a medium bowl; you’ll be using it in the grilling sauce. Squeeze the juice from one lemon wedge into the water. Trim the the artichokes, then cut them in quarters lengthwise. Remove the chokes and place the quarters in the bowl of lemon water to keep them from turning brown.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat your outdoor grill to medium high.

Add the artichokes to the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes; they should be bright green when you take them off the fire. Drain the artichokes. Juice the remaining lemon quarters and pour the juice into the bowl with the lemon zest. Stir in the olive oil and garlic, season with salt and pepper and the herbs. These herbs are merely guidelines; if you prefer tarragon or basil, go ahead and use them. Sometimes Ryan adds a little mustard if he’s in the mood.

Brush the artichokes with the garlic marinade and place them on the hot grill. Grill the artichokes for five to ten minutes, basting with marinade and turning frequently, until the tips are a little charred. Pour any remaining marinade over the charred artichokes (though there usually isn’t any, so you may want to increase the quantities slightly if you want extra) and pack into a picnic container. We generally use zip-lock plastic bags, which are lightweight and disposable if you’re so minded. Ryan usually keeps them warm for a couple hours by popping them into his un-iced chest. They are always still warm by the time our picnic supper starts at 6:45 at the Bowl.

Serves four as an appetizer–though I have served them by themselves for dinner, along with some yummy grilled bread and extra marinade.

Simple, huh? They don’t taste simple; they’re delicious.

Hazel

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These cupcakes are filled with a cream cheese and chocolate chip mixture. They're perfect for picnics: they're sturdy, they pack well and they have no icing to get all over everything. The only challenge? Bringing enough for all your envious seat neighbors at the Hollywood Bowl.

We love the Hollywood Bowl. We look forward to it every summer. Not only do we hear great music under the stars, as the ads say, but we have great picnics under the stars–and the helicopters and airplanes, of course. We like to grab a table on a hillside overlooking Hollywood, with a view of the Capitol Records building, open a bottle of wine and dig into the feast we have packed.

Our first concert–finally!–is Thursday. Needless to say, we’re planning our inaugural picnic supper with some care.
There are certain essentials for the first one. Later we’ll branch out, but here are the items we must have to start:

Champagne
Ripe, homegrown tomatoes
Ryan’s grilled artichokes
Black bottom cups

We’ll be writing about a number of picnic supper items, but in the certain knowledge that life is short, we’re beginning with dessert. This recipe came from Mary McGinnis years ago, and I’ve tinkered with it a bit. It comes under the category of crazy cake, meaning it’s a cake batter made without eggs.

Black Bottom Cups

Filling
16 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
2/3 cup sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Cake
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and fill 29 muffin cups with cupcake papers.

Beat the cream cheese until it’s soft and smooth, then beat in the egg and sugar. Stir in the chips. Set aside while you make the cake batter.

Combine the dry cake ingredients thoroughly (to distribute the baking soda throughout). Pour in the vanilla, melted butter and buttermilk. Stir until smooth.

Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake cups, filling each one about half full. Add a heaping spoonful of filling to each cup, dividing the filling among the 29 cupcakes.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the filling is barely tinted brown.

Laurie

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Our nephew Sam is a professional chef who trained at the New England Culinary Institute and has worked at fine restaurants around the country, including McCrady’s in Charleston and Wilshire in Los Angeles. Some months ago he hinted broadly that he would like to contribute to this blog. We immediately took him up on that hint. And then we waited…and waited. For the family Fourth of July potluck, he brought a delicious potato salad, and before I let him touch the black bottom cups, I made him promise to send us the recipe.

Guess what? He came through–and here he demonstrates that professional chefs use shortcuts and mixes, just like mere home cooks.

Sam’s Super Ranch Potato Salad
5 pounds red bliss potatoes cut into 1/4-inch rounds
8 hardboiled eggs, sliced
1 red onion, small dice
2 stalks celery, small dice
1 bunch green onions, cut fine, including white parts
2 bunches parsley, fine chiffonade
1 pound bacon, diced small and rendered
2 packets Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix, buttermilk variety*
2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups buttermilk
red wine vinegar to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of very well salted water; this is your only chance to pump those bland potatoes full of flavor, so make sure you do it.

When the potatoes are a little past fork tender (break one up and taste it to make sure the texture is where you want it), drain the water and spread the potatoes on a sheet pan. Place in the fridge to chill. If you mix the salad while the potatoes are still warm, you’ll end up with mashed potato salad. Gross.

In the meantime, place the eggs in cold water in a saucepan and bring it up to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid and let the eggs sit for 11 minutes. Cool the eggs enough that you don’t burn your fingers, then peel them. If you peel a hard-cooked egg while it’s still warm, the membrane hasn’t yet had a chance to reattach to the egg, so it will peel very easily. Slice the eggs.

Mix the ranch dressing per the package instructions. (Please note, I’ve worked for some of the best chefs in the country–guys who are James Beard Award winners, on the Food Network, etc.–and they have had “ranch” dressing on their menus. None of which was anywhere near as good as making your own from the Hidden Valley package. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. Whatever you do, DO NOT USE THE BOTTLED dressing–I’ll find you and take it away!)

Gently toss your ingredients together

When the potatoes are cool, gently, very gently, fold in all the ingredients. Take care doing this. There are a lot of different textures going on that you’ve worked hard to create, so don’t go messing it up by mixing too quickly. Season with salt and black pepper–yes, you’ll need more salt–and red wine vinegar to taste. You’ll need that acid to cut through the rich flavors of the salad and to not bog down your taste buds. Enjoy.

Sam Perry

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Snickerdoodles

Crunchy, a little chewy, and truly old-fashioned, snickerdoodles may be the perfect cookie for any picnic.

I love snickerdoodles, but they have always kind of baffled me. They are traditionally leavened with baking soda and cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is the kind of ingredient that most kitchens just don’t stock these days. I know of only two uses for it off-hand–to stabilize egg whites for meringue and for snickerdoodles.

Pretty much every snickerdoodle recipe I’ve encountered calls for a ratio of one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar. That is essentially the recipe for single-acting baking powder–and yet baking powder doesn’t yield the classic snickerdoodle flavor. Apparently there’s just something about cream of tartar…. The King Arthur Flour site has an intriguing disquisition on leavening–hartshorn? really? I thought hartshorn was strictly for fainting ladies in Victorian novels–that discusses cream of tartar at some length.

You’ll find lots of variations–I’ve seen people boast of adding chocolate chips and dried apricots and coconut to snickerdoodle dough–but I think the point of a cookie like this is its very simplicity. So you won’t find any extras here, and you won’t find baking powder either. I’m not saying a snickerdoodle made with baking powder isn’t good–it is–but it’s a sugar cookie, not a snickerdoodle. Go figure.

Classic Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For Rolling:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cream together the butter, sugar and eggs. Sift the dry ingredients. (Modern flour doesn’t require sifting, but it’s important to distribute the baking soda throughout the batter, and sifting is an easy way to do that.) Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-egg mixture.

If the dough is too gooey to handle, chill it for about half an hour. I generally do not chill my dough, which might be why my cookies turn out different from Hazel’s, even though we use the same recipe. I wet my hands and roll dough into one-inch balls. Dip each one into the cinnamon sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (I love my Silpats and always use them) about two inches apart. Bake for eight to ten minutes, until they are barely brown. They will puff up and then flatten out, leaving the tops crinkled. This recipe makes about five dozen cookies, just the right amount for a party, but you can halve the recipe–useful tip: half of 3/4 cup is six tablespoons.

You know my usual advice: Eat them hot out of the oven.

Laurie

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