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.
Over the past two weeks, I haven’t said much about the Olympics, but I didn’t want them to pass unnoticed. I love the pomp and circumstance of the opening and closing ceremonies and, of course, the games themselves. I dutifully watched an hour or so each night between after-dinner and bedtime. While it’s great when USA wins gold, I like all the athletes and most all the sports, especially gymnastics, swimming, and track.
This year, I was skeptical of beach volleyball as a sport rather than a spectacle. When a night of men’s beach volleyball followed a night of women’s, it seemed clear to me that it was all about the bathing suits, but, by the end, when it was USA vs. USA for gold, I had to admit there was more to it than I originally thought.
My sister-in-law Sheryl sent me a fun Olympic baking set with cupcake wrappers and decorations. Much to Howard’s disappointment, I didn’t get around to making cupcakes, but I did make Olympic muffins and brought them to share at work. They were super cute. I made one batch of raspberry and one of cherry. I preferred the cherry.
Makes 1 dozen
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup fresh cherries, halved and pitted
¼ tsp almond extract
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk
1 egg, slightly beaten
¼ cup butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (or grease each cup well with butter).
Whisk together flour, powder, soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mash half of the cherries with the sugar. This will moisten the sugar with the fruit’s juice. Stir in the almond extract. Add the fruit-sugar mixture, the remaining cherries, buttermilk, egg, and melted butter to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined.
Divide batter into the muffin pans, filling each cup about ¾ full. Bake 12-15 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.
It’s less than two years to wait for the next games in Winter 2014 to take place in Sochi, Russia. I can’t wait!