Tomato Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Basil

The first of the heirlooms appeared last week at the local farmer’s market.  There were just a few varieties, but there is the promise of much more to come.  I like the combination of different colors and tastes and I generally come home with several pounds.  Their time is fleeting and we’ll have them for about 4 weeks.  So they  show up on the dinner table just about every night.

If asked, I’d admit that I mostly prefer them sliced with a little salt and pepper.  But this salad was a winner.  How could it not be?  Bacon makes everything better.  And good, creamy blue cheese moves this just a little to the rich side.  Not too much.  The dressing is light and fresh with an interesting mix of herbs that perfectly complements the sweet basil and all the other stuff.

I used this as a topper on some torn, tender butter lettuce, sprinkled it with just a bit of flaked lemon salt and served it with a simple grilled chicken for a quick summer dinner.

Tomato Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Basil

Adapted from Food & Wine

Serves 4 – 6

¼ pound sliced applewood smoked bacon

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon cider or champagne vinegar

1 clove garlic, very finely chopped

1 teaspoon good Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon herbes de Provence

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds assorted fresh tomatoes, cut in quarters or smaller if you prefer

2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (½ cup) – I like creamy Maytag for this

½ cup torn basil leaves

2 cups butter lettuce, torn

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In a medium skillet, cook the bacon slices over moderate heat until crisp.  Drain the bacon on a paper towel and then crumble.  In a small bowl, combine the olive oil with the vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, and herbes de Provence.  Season with salt and pepper.  Put lettuce on a platter and arrange the tomatoes on top.  Season lightly with pepper.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the lettuce and tomatoes.  Top with the crumbled bacon and blue cheese.  Garnish with the fresh basil and a sprinkling of the flaked lemon salt.

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Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Sweet Ginger Soy Dressing

I’m always on the look out for a recipe that allows me to take advantage of what’s fresh and colorful at the farmer’s market.  Right now, the stalls are full of bright bell peppers of all colors.  The sugar snap peas are abundant as well.  So the produce played perfectly into this recipe.

This is a great salad to serve along side any grilled meat or seafood. There are  great flavors and texture with the crunch of the peas, carrots, and peppers.  The dressing is subtle with the sweet of the oyster sauce and sugar and the heat of the ginger and red pepper flakes.  The asian taste is fresh and light.

You’ll add mushrooms for yet another texture.  I didn’t have any on hand and I’d probably been to the store several times that day.  Another trip wasn’t going to happen.  This salad is a quick fix, perfect for weeknights. And it will keep nicely in the refrigerator for several days.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Sweet Ginger Soy Dressing

Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 4

Salad:

½ pound sugar snap peas, trimmed

½ cup julienne cut carrots

½ cup sliced mushrooms

¼ cup julienned cut red pepper

¼ cup julienned yellow pepper

1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro, optional

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Dressing:

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

1 tablespoon peeled fresh ginger, minced

1 ½ tablespoons fresh garlic, minced (about 4 cloves)

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

To prepare the dressing, heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add ginger; sauté 2 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook 1 minute. Stir in oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and salt; bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.

To prepare the salad, cook peas in boiling water 30 seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water. Combine peas and remaining ingredients except sesame seeds. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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Whirl Away Cookies

I have saved the best for last – Christmas cookies, that is.  This is as close to cookie perfection as you can get – my opinion – one that I hope you’ll share.  I don’t understand or know the origin of the name of this cookie.  So don’t ask.  In times of strength that have persisted for so many years, I don’t dream of sharing this recipe.  In a moment of weakness, I relent and you are suddenly the beneficiaries.  So I’m weak for now and I’ve convinced myself there will be no regret.

This is yet another cookie that I remember from my earliest years.  It was a Christmas-only cookie and I’m not sure why.  Something this shortbready delicious should make more regular appearances.  It’s an old family favorite that has never been shared – until last year.  Yes, one of those weak moments.  Our friend Amy Mastrangelo sampled one at our New Year’s party.  She asked for the recipe and I demurred until she started to deconstruct the cookie.  Amy lives here in town and was a Food Editor for Gourmet magazine.  So I’ve got this great foodie friend asking for my family secret.  She got it and I’m a pushover but I was incredibly honored. (Check out Amy’s Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards).  Oh my.

And here’s the script on this cookie.  Buttery disks with just a bit of chocolate that will melt in your mouth.   A surprise of rolled oats that gives these  gems some great texture.  When I was young, they were enough to get me into trouble for not-too-discreetly eating more than I should have.  I was caught far fewer times than I was successful; cookie appropriation was down to an art form.

Whirl Aways

My Favorite Flavours family recipe

Yield:  About 48 cookies

1 cup butter

1 cup Confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons Vanilla

1 ½ cups flour, sifted

1 cup rolled oats

Chocolate sprinkles

Preheat oven to 325°. Cream butter, add sugar, beat until fluffy. Add vanilla, flour and oats. Shape into two rolls, 1 1/2″ in diameter. Sprinkle chocolate shot on waxed paper and roll dough to cover outside. Chill about ten minutes (no longer or dough will crack when cut). Using serrated bread knife, gently slice into 1/4″ slices. Bake 25 – 30 minutes. These should not get brown.

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Double Decker Fudge and A Cause For Celebration

Today our lives are different.  There’s a new excitement that will eventually settle in to be reality.  For now, it’s fresh and it marks another beginning, one of just many we’ve experienced over the years.

Of course we knew it was coming- there’s no way something this special could remain secret in this family – but the official call in the wee hours of the morning was as joyful as any we’ve ever received.  I’m talking about our son’s announcement of engagement.   His Lauren – now, our Lauren – said yes Friday evening in the windy chill of New York City when the carriage driver asked his horse Merlin to linger lakeside for important business.

Lauren spent Thanksgiving with us and that made the holiday that much more special.  This thankful post features her recipe for double flavor fudge with a classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate.  Didn’t think about it until just now, but how appropriate the symbolic blend of two.  Perfect for what is new.

So things are different here.  And we are abundantly blessed.

Double Decker Fudge

Recipe Lauren Irwin

Yield:  About 4 pounds

2 cups (12 oz. pkg.) Reese’s peanut butter chips, divided

¼ cup butter, melted

½ cup Hershey’s cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 ½ cups sugar

1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow creme

1 ½ cups (12 oz. can) evaporated milk

¼ cup butter

Line a 13x9x2-inch pan with foil. 

Place 1 cup peanut butter chips in medium bowl; set aside. 

In second medium bowl, blend 1/4 cup melted butter, cocoa and vanilla until smooth; add 1 cup peanut butter chips. 

In heavy 4-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow creme, evaporated milk and 1/4 cup butter. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture comes to a rolling boil; boil and stir 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat, immediately add half of hot mixture to bowl with peanut butter chips only. Pour remainder into cocoa mixture; stir to blend. 

Beat peanut butter mixture until chips are completely melted; spread evenly in prepared pan. Beat cocoa mixture until chips are melted and mixture thickens. Spread evenly over top of peanut butter layer. Cool; remove from pan. 

Remove foil; cut into squares. 

Store in airtight container in a cool, dry place.

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New York-Style Crumb Cake

This cake.  My entire family received D- in self control.  The only reason anyone was able to dodge the big F?  They were all in a crumb-induced catatonic state when I offered more.  They were unable to respond.

I didn’t eat any of this.  Ok, that’s not a completely truthful statement.  I didn’t eat any of the second cake.  You see, the first edition was so good that I was forced to make another in the span of a week.  Anything to make them pipe down and behave.  Geez.

This recipe is from an amazing book, Baked Explorations:  Classic American Desserts Reinvented.  The authors unabashedly push this sort of thing from their bakery in Brooklyn, appropriately named Baked. I can’t imagine the amount of their annual butter bill.  Doesn’t matter, taste this and you’d pay whatever they’re asking.

A healthy wad of sour cream ensures perfect moistness.  I actually think the cake is better the second day.  Versatile?  You bet.  Enjoy it as coffee cake in the morning, dessert at night, and piece on it all day long.  That’s what happened at my house.

It’s that good.  Honest.

New York-Style Crumb Cake

Recipe:  Baked Explorations:  Classic American Desserts Reinvented

Yield:  One 13 x 9-inch cake.  You decide how many it will serve

For the Crumb Topping:

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and warm

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For the Cake:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cups sour cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass 9 x 13-inch pan.

Make the Crumb Topping:

In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the salt, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and whisk until combined. Fold in the flour until it is absorbed and set the mixture aside.

Make the Cake:

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until it is completely smooth and ribbon-like. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat the mixture until it starts to look fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, scraping down the bowl before each addition, beating only until it is just incorporated.

Assemble the cake:

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Use your hands to scoop up a handful of the topping and make a fist. The topping should hold together. Break off in chunks and drop them over the cake. Repeat to use all the topping. Remember, the topping layer will look outrageously thick.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes or until tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Rotate the pan two times during the baking process. Cool the entire pan on a wire rack for about 30 minutes before serving.

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