Dog Day Afternoons {CtBF}

I like relatively unstructured summers.  Even though I’m no longer in school or have anyone in my family in school, my whole frame of mind changes when Memorial Day arrives.  Summer feels like a lazier time than the rest of the year.

I wait all year for August, a solid month of perfect tomatoes.  Meal preparation becomes conflicting.  I’m torn between the simplicity of enjoying the tomatoes sliced and raw and the desire to transform them into something more.  Caprese salad, Panzanella, tomato tarts of many forms, sauce, salsa.  The list goes on and on.

Insert into my tomato frenzy, recipes for Cook the Book Fridays.  I’ll be honest that I haven’t been inspired.  I did cook the two recipes selected so far for August, but in the heat of the dog day afternoons, sitting at the computer is not high on my list of activities.  I’d rather be gardening or playing with tomatoes.  This afternoon is rainy, so I’ve managed to sit myself in my chair and start to write.

The first assignment for August was Stuffed Vegetables.  David Lebovitz suggested stuffing zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes.  Given that Howard doesn’t eat zucchini or eggplant, and even if I were filling a tomato, that filling contained the dreaded zucchini and eggplant, I had to get creative.  Actually I wasn’t that creative.  My solution was to scale back and stuff one zucchini just for me.  The filling was delicious!  Ground beef was extended with diced zucchini, eggplant and tomato along sautéed onion and garlic and lots of herbs.  An egg binds the mixture together.  I filled both halves of a single zucchini for two satisfying lunches for myself.  The filling would be delicious in stuffed pepper, though I’d have to keep quiet about the full list of ingredients…

The second recipe assigned in August was Kirsch Babas with Pineapple Cherries.  Howard wasn’t excited about this one.  I wasn’t either.  Despite the tropical fruit, babas seemed much more like a winter dessert.  And what’s a baba anyway?  It’s an eggy yeasty cake doused in alcoholic syrup.  See, doesn’t that sound like something you’d enjoy around the holidays?

Knowing I was the only eater, I halved the recipe.  What I set aside for the first rise was much more like batter than dough.  I didn’t know if that was a result of halving the recipe or some other mistake.  It did rise, and once the softened butter was whipped in, it miraculously transformed into a soft, sticky dough.  The little cakes rose again, quickly (less than an hour).  My kitchen in the summer is a very warm place.

 

The finished cakes are soaked in a light simple syrup spiked with alcohol.  In my case, it was a mixture of kirsch and rum (I ran out of kirsch).  I’ve never soaked cakes in this way before.  They were like edible sponges.

These babas were meant to be accompanied by sautéed pineapple, however, the kirsch (cherry brandy) inspired me to substitute cherries that I already had on hand.  In the end, I thought the babas were interesting though unremarkable and certainly more work than they were worth, even if it had been winter.

If either of these recipes interest you, they can be found in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.  Stuffed Vegetables is on page 160 and the Babas on page 279.  Follow the respective links for my friends’ impressions of Stuffed Vegetables or Kirsch Babas.

And for those of you I’m not connected with on Facebook, I want to share the sad news that on the last day of July, we said an unexpected farewell to our beloved dog Bella.  Her distinct personality filled our life with love and joy and, of course, exercise.  In our grief, I know that she adored us as much as we did her (though maybe she preferred Howard more than me), and her life, at least since we rescued her 9 years ago, was a good one.

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Animal Quackers {CtBF}

Duck fat:  The liquid gold byproduct of Howard’s duck confit.  Decadent vehicle for frying potatoes.

Here’s a new one to add.  Fat to use for cookies.  What?  Cookies, you say?

The recipe on deck this week for Cook the Book Fridays is Duck Fat Cookies or sablés à graisse de canard, if you want to sound more elegant. In reading the notes accompanying this recipe in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, It wasn’t clear to me whether these cookies are actually made in southwest France where residents eat lots of duck fat or if these were just inspired by those customs.

Most of the ingredient list reminded me of the Victorian currant cookies that I sometimes make at holiday time.  Currants are steeped in brandy to plump them up before mixing them into a shortbread-like cookie dough.  However Victorian currant cookies don’t include any duck fat.  In Duck Fat Cookies, more than half of the fat is duck fat.  Interesting….

The dough came together easily in the stand mixer.  The texture of the dough was very tender.  The dough was divided and shaped into logs and chilled.  Refrigerator cookies, one of my favorite inventions!  I baked one log, freezing the other for another time.  My cookies never really browned, even lightly, though I baked them extra time.  I should have used a slightly higher oven temperature.

The cookies were wonderfully sandy, earning their name of sables.  However, the taste was rather odd.  I used duck fat leftover from Howard’s homemade duck confit, and I could taste the residual spices used to flavor the duck.  In contrast with the sweet dough and the dried fruit, the savory spices were jarring.  The first thing that came to my mind was the memory of a similar contrast in Salted Olive Crisps, where olives dotted a sweetish dough.  I’m thinking savory additions, such as olives and nuts, would make a better combination with the duck fat dough.

To see how the others from Cook the Book Fridays made out, check out their links here.  To try them yourself, you can find the recipe on page 297 in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.

The highlight of my week, and maybe the whole summer, was a daytrip we took to Duxbury, Massachusetts for a tour of Island Creek Oyster Farm.  We booked the tour back in April when there was no way we’d know the weather would be picture perfect.  We enjoyed a two-hour tour that included a visit to the hatchery where over 20 million oysters were seeded this season and a boat ride in Duxbury Bay to see where the oysters are farmed.  The culmination of the afternoon was enjoying unlimited oysters at the new raw bar after our tour.  Howard and I ate 4 dozen each.  It was a fabulous day!