Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cooking in Cape Coed 2

A couple of years ago, Mihai and I missed the chance to spend a week with our friends in Cape Cod (I don't remember now what kept us from going), so we were happy that we could make it this year for a repeat of Cape Coed (Cape Cod + attendance by guys and gals = Cape Coed). We were there for just a few days, but the combination of good weather and great company made it a very worthy trip. (The only downside was my sun-induced burn/rash - apparently Japanese car windows are not made of proper glass that would block the harmful UV rays. Duly noted and sunblock will be applied before any future car trips.) I also got to amuse myself by helping out in the kitchen during the few days we were there, and decided to write about it all in one slightly-longer-than-usual post.

Day 1: Raspberry Yogurt (Birthday) Cake

Unfortunately, I don't actually have a picture of this simple cake I made for Anna's birthday on our first night in Cape Cod. I think I was a little preoccupied by the fact that we inserted the birthday candles into the cake while it was still rather hot (and we had of course forgotten to buy the little plastic candle holders), with the result that the candle wax melted into the cake before it was time to bring it out. Luckily, my kind friends reassured me that the wax cannot possibly be poisonous and proceeded to bravely eat the cake anyway. The recipe can be found on Clotilde's site.

Day 2: Summer Squash Gratin

Our group included a couple of vegetarians, so this squash gratin (that I had tried out earlier this summer and hadn't blogged about) seemed like a delicious, filling main-course. I followed Heidi's recipe pretty closely, but I did take out the red pepper flakes and used the store-bought breadcrumbs that were available rather than making my own in the vacation-house conditions. (Though let's be honest, I would probably use store-bought panko, just like I did in the version of the gratin pictured above, rather than buy bread for the sole purpose of making breadcrumbs.)

Day 3: Carrot-Avocado Salad and Tomato Pie

I'll admit that carrots and avocados sound like an unusual combination for a salad, but Mihai and I think that it is actually a surprisingly delicious combo. We had first thought of trying it out when we had tried this salad earlier in the summer:

Our verdict on this one was that even though we had a much lower bean-to-carrot ratio in our version than in the original recipe, there were still too many beans for our taste. We did like the cooked carrots a lot more than we expected and were curious how much more to our liking the salad would be with avocados instead of beans (both are filling enough to make this more than a side salad). As if reading our minds, Deb posted about such a salad just a few days later. This was much closer to what we were thinking, but more of a side dish than a main-course - I changed the proportions (much more avocado) in the version below.

Carrot and Avocado Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 bunch carrots, peeled and cut into ⅓-inch segments on a bias
5 avocados, pitted and sliced
a handful of cilantro, chopped
a few tablespoons olive oil, divided
juice of half a lemon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt

1. Either roast the carrots or cook them in a skillet on the stovetop. (Mihai likes the skillet method result; I am a bit lazier and prefer the ease of the oven roasting.)

Option A) Roast the carrots.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss the carrot pieces in a medium bowl with two tablespoons of olive oil, cumin, and a generous of a helping of salt. Spread them on a roasting sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until tender and browned.

Option B) Cook the carrots in a skillet.

In your largest skillet over medium high heat, toss the carrots with a splash of olive oil. Let them cook in a single layer. Keep cooking, tossing gently every three or four minutes until the carrots are deeply browned.

2. Once the carrots are cooked, toss them in a bowl with the chunks of avocado, chopped cilantro, a couple more tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, and salt to taste.

Serves at least seven.

Tomato Pie
Adapted from Simply Recipes

I also made this Tomato Pie - I know it doesn't look pretty, but it sure is delicious (if you read the ingredient list, you'll understand why - anything covered with a mixture of mayo and this much cheese which is then baked in the oven cannot help but be scrumptious).

1 9-inch pie shell (I used Clotilde's Easy Olive Oil Tart Crust)
½ yellow or red onion, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield approximately 3 cups chopped tomatoes
¼ cup sliced basil (about 8 leaves)
2 cups grated cheese (combination of Gruyère and Mozzarella)
¾ cup mayonnaise

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you'll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. (With the olive oil crust I used, I didn't have to weigh down the crust with beans or rice, but perhaps this would be more of a necessity with a conventional butter crust.)

2. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. (Kushal helped me with this and I had him just use his clean hands.)

3. Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.

4. In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of salt. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.

5. Place in oven and bake until golden and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes.

Serves eight.

Day 4: Watermelon-Feta Salad and Beets with Goat Cheese

On the last day Mihai and I were in Cape Cod, the boys grilled yummy burgers and Anna made guac, so we probably had too much food overall, but isn't that part of what vacation is all about anyway? (To be fair - I hadn't originally planned on serving the beets along with the watermelon-feta salad, but they were left over by part of the group that had arrived before us and it seemed a shame to let them go to waste.)

Watermelon-Feta Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3-4 large tomatoes, diced
¼ watermelon, diced
1 large yellow (or orange) bell pepper, seeded, cut into ⅓-inch cubes
1 large English hothouse cucumber, cut into ¼-inch half-moons
5-6 very thinly sliced radishes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 oz feta cheese, cut into small cubes
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves, divided
½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Toss first five ingredients and two tablespoons olive oil in large bowl. Add half each of cheese and mint.

2. Mix the remaining cheese, mint, and oil in a processor (or just a small bowl if you don't have a processor handy); add yogurt and oregano. Process just to blend (do not over-mix). Season dressing with salt; mix into salad.

Serves at least seven.

Beets with Goat Cheese

1 bunch beets
a few ounces goat cheese
a few sprigs of basil
extra virgin olive oil

1. Boil the beets in a pot of water (with a splash of white vinegar added) for approximately 45 minutes or until you can easily pierce the beets with a fork or a knife. Pour the water out of the pot.

2. Peel the beets, slice thinly, and arrange on a platter.

3. Crumble goat cheese over the top of the beets, chiffonade the basil leaves and sprinkle on top, and then drizzle with the olive oil.

Serves at least seven.