Lime-Agave Vinaigrette

August 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

Life, sometimes, can get a bit bitter. Thank goodness we have sweets.
Mary Poppins was right about that spoonful of sugar—it helps pretty near everything taste A-okay.

Like my lettuce, for instance. I am still harvesting lettuce from the garden—in mid August! How crazy is that? But, well … it’s up and bolted on me. That’s a gardening term that means that nice compact head of leaf lettuce has sent up a flowering stalk, dragging all those individuals leaves with it. Worse yet, the leaves become bitter.

Now, typically you’d give up the ship at that point. Chuck it to the chickens, maybe. Not Dainty. Waste not, want not. Right? I mean, this’ll be my lunch for the next four days, come on! Keep the bitter stuff!

But I gotta sweeten it up. Maybe a salad dressing …

And then I remember a vinaigrette Giada DeLaurentis made on the Today Show two years ago. Lemon dressing with sweetness brought to you by agave nectar. Pretty darned good, I have to say.

Open hydrator drawers in fridge. No lemon. But there’s a big plump lime?

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette
3 Tbs lime juice
3 Tbs evoo
1.5 Tbs agave nectar

Combine. Shake. Season if you want, or just sprinkle a light dusting of salt and pepper over your salad.

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette

Lime-Agave Vinaigrette

Hits the sweet spot without the sugar.

Pasta Dough: It’s Easier Than You Think

August 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

Mmmm … fresh pasta.

Fresh linguini

Fresh linguini - the flour lightly dusts the pasta, keeping it from sticking together.

Have you ever had it? I mean fresh pasta. The kind someone has just made right there in the room. Not the stuff you buy in the refrigerated section of your local grocer. Okay, so that’s not dry pasta—but it’s not fresh fresh either.

What? Are you saying, “I don’t have time for that … “? Or, “Oh, that’s soooo complicated …”? It’s not. If you liked to make mud pies as a kid (and who didn’t?), then you can make fresh pasta.

Of course, I say this not having made fresh pasta myself. Jennifer is the pasta maker in our household. And she makes it look easy. She says it’s because it is easy. She first made it in a cooking class last year, and the technique below is from that class. The recipe comes from The Food Network’s Anne Burrell.

Try it. The only way you can screw it up is by making a horrible sauce.

Homemade Pasta Dough (from Anne Burrell)

  • 1 pound all-purpose flour (get yourself a kitchen scale!)
  • 4 whole eggs plus 1 yolk
  • 1/4 cup evoo
  • kosher salt – about 1 Tbs
  • 1-2 Tbs water or more

-Set yourself up on a clean and dry work surface with plenty of room. Pile the dry ingredients (flour and salt) right on the work surface, and create a hole or well in the flour, making a doughnut-shaped ring about 8 inches wide.

-Crack all of the eggs and the individual yolk (I always do this in a separate bowl to catch the occasional shell) and add these to the well along with the wet ingredients—olive oil and water.

-Use a fork to beat the wet ingredients together. Then, you’re going to pull in the flour bit by bit into the egg mixture. I say bit by bit because you don’t want to pull too much of the flour into the center and break the ring’s side walls. Then your egg leaks out and it’s a big mess. As soon as the egg mixture has enough flour in it is no longer runny, you can put aside the fork and get your hands in there. Your hands are the best tools to combine everything completely.

forming pasta dough

Incorporating the flour into the egg mixture

-When the mixture is completely combined, it’s time to start kneading the dough. Use your muscles! Get the heels of your palms in there push the dough away from you, stretching it but not tearing it. Push, fold, turn. Push, fold, turn. Put your weight into it, girl! Your goal is to create a dough that feels smooth and looks smooth. Warning: Eat an energy bar beforehand because you’re going to be kneading for 15-20 minutes. No kidding. But doing this by hand is the best way.

kneading pasta dough

Knead it, girl!

-When you start thinking that perhaps you’re done, take a knife and slice the dough in half. Look at the inside of the dough—does it have small bubbles in it? Yes? Then keep kneading. You want the dough to be smooth throughout.

pasta dough

-Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. Put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use, or use it right away.

What next? Get rolling! Usually this is done with a pasta roller. There are ones you can attach to your counter and crank by hand. We have one that fits on our Kitchen-Aid and turns automatically—so much easier. Either way, what you want to do is cut that ball of dough into quarters or eighths, pat it into a bit of a square shape of even thickness, add a touch of flour to make it less sticky, and run it through the pasta roller starting on the thickest setting—usually the number 7. Roll it through twice, then take it down one thickness, and so on, patting it with flour now and then. We usually go down pretty thin, usually to a number 2. As it gets thinner, it gets looonger. We usually cut it in half to make it more manageable, especially if you are cranking the roller by hand.

Going through the roller you end up with a flat sheet. Perfect for making lasagna or raviolis. Or, take that sheet and run it through the spaghetti or linguini cutter (an add-on that usually comes with the roller). Separate the noodles, lay them on a platter, sprinkle with dusting of flour, and toss to prevent sticking. Do one flat sheet at a time this way, each time dusting with flour.

And to cook, all you have to do is drop that pasta in boiling water for 2 minutes, max.

Now, that’s great pasta.

Beets: From Seeds to Roasted

August 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

I love me some beets. Love love love.

I know beet love is not a universal thing. I don’t belittle that. There are reasons to not like them. Sometimes there’s a metallic dirt after-taste. They can stain your hands—and cutting boards and dish towels—like you just murdered someone and stored them in the freezer. Then there’s that whole … nah, I’m not gonna go there.

My first beet love was a dish an old roommate would make in summer. Fresh, julienned beets with minced garlic, evoo and balsamic. Had a real nice crunch. Tasty, but only if you’re not dating someone.

Jennifer has an awesome beet soup – that’s my second beet love. It has the kitchen sink in it, too. I don’t want to hold out on you, but when the next beet harvest comes along, it’ll go up on Dainty. That okay?

My daily beet love goes out to the roasted variety. Simple. Delicious. And really quite beautiful.

New to Dainty!

Yeah for new! I’m including growing instructions. Yup, that’s what I said. This urban farmer is going to show that you—yes, you, city kid!— can take some seeds, grow them, and put them on your tasty table.

Growing Beets

What you’ll need: Beet seeds. A patch of soil/dirt, or a big, wide, deep container. Some way to water them.

Step 1: Beets can take cool weather. And hot weather, too. Another reason to love them. Get out in the garden early in spring—Aprilish for New England peeps—to sow your seeds. OR, start some seeds in early- to mid-August (ahem, NOW!).

Step 2: Beets’ big bulbousness develops underground, in case you didn’t know. It helps if your soil (I never called it dirt, but you know what I mean) isn’t rock hard. Is your soil like cement? Then go to the DIY store and buy a bag of “garden soil,” spread it on top of your “dirt,” and dig it in with a shovel or hoe. Sounds like work … it is! Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long.

Step 3: Beet seeds. Never beet “seedlings” because root vegetables (like beets and carrots) don’t like to be moved once they begin to grow. So, get yourself some. There’s all different types. Choose whichever tickles your tastebuds.

Step 4: Sow the seeds according to the seed packet instructions. Here’s a tip: Plant them in several rows maybe 6 in. apart and in a chess board-type pattern. You can squeeze more in the space that way.

Step 5: Water the seeds in … gently. And keep the soil moist as they germinate.

Step 6: Now, you’re going to wait weeks and weeks … watering and even fertilizing with an all-purpose fertilizer (go to the store and ask for it – you’ll get something good). Your seedlings may be too close together. And when that happens, the beets under the ground kind of grow into each other. It’s ok to sacrifice some of the smaller seedlings. If one seedling is too close to another, just pull it up and discard.

Just a warning: If you spot something on your beet leaves that look like random squiggly lines, you’ve got a pest called Leafminer. These little guys tunnel between the top and bottom of the leaf surface. Crazy! They are the bane of my spring garden—because they also love spinach and chard. If you spot a leaf with these markings, remove it … from the entire garden! Put it in the trash. Do not compost. You want these suckers dead and gone far away. You’ll eat those beet tops later … or the chard or the spinach. You don’t want these guys getting to it first, do you? If you are so inclined, look along the squiggly line and you just might be able to spot the white-ish larva. It’s really gross. Okay, on second thought, don’t look.

Step 7: As your beets get bigger—yay, how awesome is that?!—they may push themselves a bit above ground. Just lightly cover with some surrounding soil to keep the beet covered. Don’t want it to get sunburned, right?

Step 8: Harvest! Pull those beets up whenever you want. You can get a good idea of the size by taking your finger and going around the top of the beet under the soil. After a few months you’ll have small beets that will be good for pickling. Three months, and you’ll get a decent beet—the size you’ll see at a market. Don’t go for massive. No one needs massive beets.

Beets and chard

Beets! and chard, too.

Step 9: Time to roast!

Roasted Beets

  • beets, 3-4
  • olive oil
  • course salt, pepper

-Set oven to 425F. Cut off a 1 ft. length of aluminum foil, place in a cast iron pan.

-Wash beets. Cut off tops just above beet. Reserve beet tops for … well, you can saute them for pasta or as a side dish …

-Arrange beets on the foil. Glug olive oil on top of each beet – don’t need a whole lot. Sprinkle with salt and a turn of pepper. Fold foil around the beets so they are snug in the packet. You’ll want the moisture to stay inside.

beets

Beets oiled and seasoned

-Slide into the oven. Cook 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When are they done? When you can just insert a paring knife deep into its heart.

-When the knife slides in, remove the pan. Let cool until the beets can be handled. Actually, just wait until they are room temp. The skins of beet will be soooo much easier to remove when they are completely cool. And then just rub off the skins! For a cool visual, you can keep the short tops on the beet and rub the rest of the skin away if you want.

Beets, cooling.

Beets, cooling.

What to do next? Store in sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Cube or slice and eat with salads. Goat cheese is in love with beets, too, so be sure to pair them whenever you can.

Peeled beets

Naked beets, ready to be sliced or cubed. How beautiful!

Beets on a salad

Roasted beets are fabulous on a salad.

Zucchini and Corn Salad

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

You can’t cook. I mean, you just can’t cook.

It’s 105F in the shade. It’s hot. The thought of lighting that pilot light and having a controlled fire on your stove top makes you break out in hives.

Or …

Or you’re in my friend Katherine’s position and don’t currently have a working kitchen due to home remodeling. Home “modeling,” I should say; her condo is so brand-spanking new, there are no appliances yet. But wait. She has an electric wok and maybe a microwave. Thank god, that’s something. She does dishes in her shower, I hear.

So, Katherine, this recipe is for you and all those other folks who can only make a meal the pre-discovery of fire way. Yes, it calls for you to eat corn and zucchini in their raw states. But it’s surprisingly good, and refreshingly cool.

Zucchini and Corn Salad (adapted from a Martha Stewart Living recipe)

Zucchini and Corn Salad

  • 3 ears corn, shucked
  • 2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced or matchsticked
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

-Remove kernels from corn cob. Martha had a great suggestion: Cut off the cob ends, and stand cob up in a shallow dish. Take a sharp knife and, starting from about the middle of the cob, slice off the kernels in a downward motion, working your way around the cob. Don’t slice off too much of the cob – you want just the nice milky kernel. Flip the cob over and do the other half.

-Recipe calls for two medium zucchini. Not sure about you but my zucchini in the garden this time of year only come in the “extra large” size. I’d say you’re looking for 2-3 cups of zucchini, sliced thinly. Or, make matchsticks: I slice 1/4-in. thick rounds of zucchini and then run them down the large, single-slice side of my stand-up grater. Okay, it’s not the small, square-sided wooden matchsticks; more like the slim matches in those paper booklets. But matchsticks, nonetheless. Add the zucchini to the corn in that small shallow bowl.

-Add lime juice, evoo, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Letting it sit for about an hour before serving lets the flavors develop. Pop it in the fridge if you’d like for a nice crunchiness.

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