Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil

This year’s crop of famous — and some might say infamous — Jersey corn is still only about waist-high, but those fledgling stalks already have me dreaming of all things corn. We probably have another month to wait until the early ears hit the farmer’s markets and I’m counting down the days.

Same with summer’s bounty of cherry tomatoes. And even though I know I’ll be rewarded if I wait it out, I couldn’t help picking up a pint of grape tomatoes at the grocery store recently to roast with the ultra-convenient frozen corn we nearly always have on hand.

Corn — or maize, as it’s known in many countries — is an ancient grain which is believed to have originated in Mexico. It quickly spread along trade routes into the Americas and Europe — and beyond — due largely to its ability to thrive in extremely diverse climates. The Americas are still responsible for the majority of corn production, both the sweet corn that we prefer to eat and the feed corn that is grown for livestock. Since I’m a believer, as I’ve said before, in the maxim that “things that grow together go together,” it’s little wonder that we’ve paired tomatoes with corn in this dish. Tomatoes, too, originated in Mexico and followed similar exploration and trade routes to become the world-wide crop they are today.

Before the roasting: corn, tomatoes, thyme leaves, olive oil and salt

Before the roasting: corn, tomatoes, thyme leaves, olive oil and salt

This dish qualifies as super simple — a side that comes together so quickly you hardly have to think about it. It’s succotash’s more kid-friendly cousin (nary a lima bean in sight), roasted in the oven to give it a sweeter, slightly more smoky flavor. It’s vegetarian, vegan, and one of those dishes where the quality of the produce really stands out. For those of you concerned about genetically modified ingredients, seek out non-GMO corn and tomatoes and make sure your olive oil is non-GMO too. In my opinion, purchasing produce that hasn’t had its genes played around with means you’ll get the real deal — juicer tomatoes, cornier corn (though perhaps a bit less sweet, but more flavorful!), and olive oil that tastes like the olives from which it was pressed.

Isn't this a pretty dish to set before...well...anyone? Roasted corn and tomatoes with basil.

Isn’t this a pretty dish to set before…well…anyone? Roasted corn and tomatoes with basil.

Get your ingredients together and keep reading for our simple recipe for Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil

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New Potato And Green Bean Salad With Bacon-Shallot Dressing And Chive Flowers

Potatoes. America’s #1 vegetable crop according to the USDA, with over 90% of the potatoes we eat being planted in the spring for fall harvest. How, then, did potato salad become the appointed side dish of summer?

Maybe it has something to do with the long shelf life of many potato varieties, or the economics of feeding large crowds with relatively inexpensive ingredients. However it happened, I’m glad that it did.

Early-season new potatoes are the sweetest of all, perfect, in my opinion, for potato salads. These little guys are simply young potatoes that haven’t matured into larger, starchier spuds. With thin, papery skins and ultra-creamy, moist interiors, new potatoes cook up quickly and make for great bite-sized noshing.

A great side dish for summer entertaining: new potato and green bean salad with bacon-shallot dressing

A great side dish for summer entertaining: new potato and green bean salad with bacon-shallot dressing

New potatoes are readily available in the spring and summer months so there is no reason not to use them as often as you can. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets and road-side stands all offer up wonderful varieties while the weather is hot. For this recipe you’ll want to choose either a waxy variety, like most fingerling potatoes, or an all-purpose variety, like Yukon Gold or Red Gold. Starchy varieties, like Russets, will also work but tend to fall apart more easily after they have been boiled.

Another great farmer’s market find this time of year are green beans. Call them what you will — pole beans, string beans, runner beans, snap beans — these beauties are best when small and freshly harvested. Just-picked green beans are sweet and vegetal and are one of my favorite crops when it comes to pick-your-own. They grow prolifically on their vines which makes them a great crop for kids to help harvest. Teach them to pinch the beans off at the stem (don’t pull!) and they will fill your bag or basket in a matter of minutes.

When you’ve finished your farmer’s market shopping, click here to get our recipe for New Potato and Green Bean Salad with Bacon-Shallot Dressing and Chive Flowers!

Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Roasted Red Peppers

Eat or be eaten. Yes, it’s one of the cardinal laws of the wild, but to the regular potluck supper attendee it means something else entirely. Who among us hasn’t arrived late to one of these get-togethers only to find two or three platters which have been scraped clean (our minds begin playing tricks on us as we imagine the mouth-watering dishes these must have been) as well as a bag or two of stale chips, some canned salsa, and a bowl of potato salad that may or may not have been sitting out in the sun too long.

The potluck connoisseur knows to arrive early to stake out the best dishes because, inevitably, there will only be one or two buzz-worthy contenders. For the home cook and regular potluck chef, the pressure is on to select and prepare something falling into that category. Many of us simply punt and load up on deli counter offerings (hey, I’m not judging…I’ve been there). It’s a great strategy if you’re short on time, but that same deli counter offers options that, with just a little advance planning, will have you effortlessly throwing together one of those buzz-worthy dishes the next time you’re invited to a potluck.

Here’s our buzz-worthy recipe for Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Sun-dried tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers

Ambrosia

I imagine that the conversation on Mount Olympus went something like this the first time the twelve Olympians dined on ambrosia:

Zeus: “So, Hera, what’s for dinner tonight?”
Hera: “Oh, you know. The usual. Poseidon and Artemus are whipping up a little surf and turf.”
Zeus: “Again? Oh, Hera, you know that I enjoy the bounty of sea and land as much as the next god, but don’t you think we can mix it up every now and again? With something, you know, a little fruity.”
Hera: “Fruity? Seriously, Zeus, you picked today to get all vegetarian on us?”
Zeus: “Well, how about something sweet. You know how I like sweet little things….”
Aphrodite: “Did someone say sweet? Have I got a dish for you. I call it ambrosia, the nectar of the gods.”
Hera: “Nectar, huh? Well, that does sound kind-of tasty. I’ll ask Hermes if he can just run down to Macedonia and pick up a couple of ingredients.”
Aphrodite: “And while he’s at it, can he ask Dionysus to bring a bottle or two of a nice Beaujolais?”
Hera: “Beaujolais? Sounds lovely, but that sure is a funny name for a Greek wine.”

Make the gods happy and click here for our Ambrosia recipe.

Rice and Quinoa Salad with Radishes, Olives, Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese

Staying with this week’s birthday buffet theme, here’s a versatile and healthy dish that is as perfect for parties as it is for weeknight, make-ahead suppers. It’s one of those nice additions to any plate, both tender and crunchy, salty and tangy, a nice combination of flavors that complements just about any main dish from grilled chicken to poached fish to roasted pork. It’s also nice on its own as a quick lunch or dinner on-the-run.

I began developing this recipe earlier in the summer and have made it for a number of get-togethers now. When friends started asking for the recipe I realized I needed to fine-tune it and get it posted!

I’ve made it both with and without goat cheese, so depending on your dietary preferences feel free to tweak as you wish. If you prefer something like a crumbled feta to goat cheese, substitute that. This recipe is vegetarian but can easily be tailored as a vegan dish if the cheese is left out. It is gluten-free as well, which your gluten-sensitive guests will appreciate.

Rice and Quinoa Salad - the no-cheese version

Rice and Quinoa Salad – the no-cheese version

It’s also a great introduction to quinoa if you’ve been a little hesitant to try it. Quinoa is a nutritious South American seed that is sometimes likened to whole grains like barley or bulgur (tabbouleh, anyone?) because of how it is prepared in boiling water. It is high in protein and all nine amino acids. The outer layer of the quinoa seed, which is removed before it is packaged, is very bitter so you should rinse your quinoa well before cooking to remove any residue. Correctly prepared, it has a fairly neutral taste and pleasant but tender “pop” in the mouth and soaks up the flavors of ingredients with which it is served. Pairing it with rice in a salad like this makes it very approachable for the less-adventurous at the buffet table, and they get all the health benefits of this so-called perfect food.

On the buffet

On the buffet

This is, unfortunately for us, an example of a recipe that our girls are a little too timid to try (what was I thinking putting radishes AND parsley in with unsuspecting rice and quinoa?), but quite a few of the kids who try this like it a lot.  Take the four-year-old birthday boy for whose party we made this: though his mom had to twist his arm to get the first fork-full into him because of all the little green bits mixed in with the rice, he — and I quote his mommy here — “gobbled up a whole bowl and for the next hour told me how much he loves parsley.”

Go parsley! Go quinoa! What better birthday present is there, really, than good health and good food. Except, perhaps, Transformers action figures. For the four-year-old boy in all of us.

Pine nuts toasting on the open fire (OK, in the frying pan)

Pine nuts toasting on the open fire (OK, in the frying pan)

Rice and Quinoa Salad with Radishes, Olives, Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese

Ingredients:
3 cups long-grain white rice (Basmati, etc.), rinsed until the water runs clear
1 cup quinoa, well-rinsed to remove any of the white powder that settles on the grains during processing
3 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 cup pine nuts, toasted on the stove top (be careful not to burn them while toasting)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
8 ounces firm goat cheese, crumbled (optional if you want to prepare this as dairy-free)

Cook the rice and quinoa together in a large pot in approximately 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender.  Remove from the heat, drain any extra liquid from the pot and fluff the rice and quinoa mixture with a fork. Alternatively, cook the rice and quinoa together in a rice cooker (as I did), filling the rice cooker with as much water as you would use to normally cook four cups of rice. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before proceeding.

Make the dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, lime juice, olive oil and a generous pinch of Kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper in a measuring cup or small bowl.

Squeezing the lemons and making the dressing

Squeezing the lemons and making the dressing

When the rice and quinoa is still barely warm (not hot), transfer to a large mixing bowl and combine with the sliced radishes (separate them if they are sticking together), Kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, parsley, and the lemon/lime dressing. Mix well to evenly distribute all the ingredients throughout the salad. Crumble in the goat cheese if using and mix thoroughly. Taste and correct for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Radishes go in....

Radishes go in….

Serve at room temperature.

Serves: 10 – 15. This recipe feeds a large crowd but can be easily halved or even quartered for a smaller family meal.

Kid rating: Oooo, this one is hard to pin down. Most kids try this, bypassing the radishes, and like it. Three solid stars, and sometimes four. Our girls are more in the one to two star camp since the parsley (it’s green!) and radishes are just a little too obvious on the plate. But give it a try with the kids in your house. I’m curious to hear about what other kids think, so leave some comments!
Parent rating: four stars, pushing four-and-a-half for the healthy factor. I also love that this recipe is very adaptable. If you don’t like radishes, substitute something like cucumbers or chick peas. Throw in some halved cherry tomatoes if you’d like. Swap cilantro for the parsley. Include some diced garlic mixed in with the dressing. You can use the rice/quinoa base and lemon/lime dressing as the constants and just work around them with flavor combinations you enjoy.  Again, leave some comments if you try a version you like!

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

I’m going to start this post with an endorsement: a six-year-old I know had two servings of this salad at a birthday party this weekend and it was the first thing he asked for at lunch the next day. If that doesn’t get you to try it, I don’t know what will!

While this dish recently joined others as part of a birthday party buffet, it is really more like Christmas in a bowl — only three months ahead of schedule. All green and red, you can’t help but dig in. And when you do, the flavors are both intense and inviting. Crunchy kale, tangy red peppers, sweet raisins, earthy walnuts, and a tart lemon/shallot/garlic dressing tying it all together. And did I mention this, too, is vegetarian and vegan? Bonus!

Feeding a birthday crowd

Feeding a birthday crowd

I sadly have to fess up and admit that, for the longest time, raw kale held little interest for me. My husband and I are big salad eaters but I’d continually pass on the kale at the farmer’s market. Or, when we had it as part of our farm share basket, I’d put it into a soup. Fairly often, I’d freeze it for some future use…which actually meant it went into cold storage until the day I could bring myself to throw it away, all freezer-burned and inedible.

And then….

It must have been another festivity years ago. The time my husband and I celebrated his birthday at Blue Hill at Stone Barn, Chef Dan Barber’s now-iconic farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York. We hadn’t yet been exposed to the growing buzz around Chef Barber’s fresh cooking philosophy. After touring the farm and then making our way through his multi-course tasting menu we were converts. And while I can’t quite remember if kale was on any of the many plates that evening (it almost certainly must have been!), what I do know is that, suddenly, I couldn’t open a magazine or read a newspaper without seeing Dan Barber’s name. And somewhere along the way, I came across his recipe for Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan. It was all over. Raw kale was on the menu at home, too, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with seasonal ingredients and tastes to really bring out the benefits of this overlooked vegetable.

Like Christmas on a plate

Like Christmas on a plate

So, be it a birthday, a holiday, or just another night packed with soccer practice or piano lessons…give this one a try. You’ll be celebrating, too.

Kale Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:
2 large bunches of kale (preferably curly kale), well washed with ribs removed
12 to 14 ounces roasted red peppers
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a pan on the stove top and broken into small pieces (not too small though)
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Lay out the kale leaves on a cutting board, stacking one on top of the other, and slice them into thin ribbons across the grain. Put the kale into a large bowl.

Kale, salad-bound

Kale, salad-bound

After removing any remaining seeds from the peppers, cut them into then ribbons as well, and then slice further so that each piece is approximately 1/4 inch x 1 inch (don’t worry too much about the size…you just want small pieces that integrate into the salad). Place sliced peppers into the bowl with the kale.

To plump the raisins, reconstitute them by placing them in a microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup with water to cover, and then microwaving on high for 1 minute. Raisins will be nice and soft. Drain them, and add the raisins to the salad.

Add the walnuts after they’ve been toasted. Be careful not to burn them while toasting.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, garlic cloves, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper until well combined (this is a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe for jam jar dressings – worth having these at your fingertips). Pour the dressing over the salad and work everything together with your (clean!) hands until the kale is well coated and the red peppers, raisins and walnuts are well-distributed.

The kale salad, being assembled

The kale salad, being assembled

Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for approximately one hour before serving. The lemon juice will begin to soften the kale leaves and make them more tender, and the flavors will really develop.

Serves: 10 – 15 as a side dish. To serve a smaller party, halve the recipe.

It’s worth noting that we’ve done variations on this salad with great results. A close friend of ours doesn’t care for roasted red peppers or walnuts, so I made a version with oven-roasted tomatoes and toasted pine nuts and it turned out nicely too! I shaved some Locatelli cheese into that version, which made it a pretty close cousin to the version Dan Barber makes.

Parent rating: The hostess at the birthday party gave me a report of “four stars” from the adults. And she really is the hostess with the mostess…so to even have a dish on the table with some of her wonderful creations is an honor!
Kid rating: I’m going out on a limb and giving this four kid stars based on the endorsement from the afore-mentioned six-year-old. Sadly, our girls would NOT try this. Perhaps kale really is an acquired taste…and a six-year-old palate is so much more sophisticated than a five-year-old one!

Pickled Beets and Eggs: A “Ruby Slippers” Recipe

Sometimes I feel sorry for the poor beet, growing as it does beside the ever-popular carrot and a row or two away from the universally-embraced potato. Despite their jewel-toned hue (or maybe because of it) they just don’t seem as, well, adaptable as other produce. They don’t get invited to the vegetable soup party — unless you count borscht in that company — nor are they eaten raw on summer veggie platters. Roasted, they make a fine addition to salad but, like a dinner guest who’s had one too many glasses of Merlot, tend to take over the meal and make it all about themselves.

The Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of pickling beets, however, makes the most of this veggie’s strongest characteristic. Put aside, for a moment, the fact that I like just about anything that has been pickled. For the beet, the practice of pickling adds a pleasant vinegar twang and sugary sweetness that complements the earthiness of this root crop. Depending on the type of beets you use, it also results in a lovely deep-red pickling liquid that, when introduced to a hard-boiled and peeled egg, creates a little kitchen miracle: the pickled egg.

Growing up as I did not far from Pennsylvania Dutch country there were two dishes that epitomized summer to me: the three-bean salad, and pickled beets and eggs. It is probably no coincidence that both incorporate vinegar in rather liberal amounts. Once upon a time this quick preservation method was perfect for this time of year — it discouraged bacterial growth and seasoned summer produce at the same time.

Refrigerate up to two weeks in a glass container

Refrigerate up to two weeks in a glass container

I make this dish at least once every summer and every time I’m surprised by the two camps that form around it: those who love pickled beets and eggs, and those who simply do not. Maybe it’s a vinegar thing, or maybe it’s that red eggs are somehow just a little too strange to be embraced by the masses. Being the professional marketer I am, I took this on as a branding challenge. Maybe the pickled egg just needs a new name. I figured “Ruby Slippers” might be just the ticket to a “try.”

I also experimented a little with different types of beets. Pickling with traditional red beets turns hard-boiled eggs a lovely red-purple color. Golden and candy cane beets produce a pinkish egg.

I’ll fess up and share that, like the ill-fated New Coke of the 1980s, the “Ruby Slippers” were not a hit with the little girls in our house nor with some young playdate friends we had over. But we served these on two different occasions and both times, more “mature” guests asked to take some home (oh, how I love those who admit to loving a pickled egg!).  So I stand by the “love-hate” comment and ardently hope that my daughters’ developing taste buds will, in time, allow me to add this back in to a more regular summer menu rotation. But for now, the “Ruby Slippers” are all mine…but I’ll share if you want me to!

Pickled beets and eggs

Pickled beets and eggs

Here is how I made ours, with a strong nod to the John Hadamuscin recipe on About.com.

Pickled Beets & Eggs

Ingredients:
8-10 beets (any variety, but red beets make the most vibrant eggs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled, cooled and peeled

Wash and trim the beets, rub with olive oil and roast them in tinfoil packages (3-4 beets per package) at 400 degrees for approximately 1 hour, until tender.

When cool enough to handle, peel the beets under running water and slice into 1/4-inch rounds or wedges. Put the beets into a large glass bowl or divide evenly into several 1-quart canning jars or another large, glass container (a clean glass vase or two will work)…in total, you’ll need to hold about a gallon. Plastic containers will stain, and metal imparts a slightly tin-y taste.

Distributed the sliced onions among the containers with the beets.

Make the pickling liquid by bringing the sugar, cider vinegar, water and salt to a simmer in a large sauce pan.  Add the cloves, allspice berries and cinnamon sticks and remove from heat. Pour the pickling liquid over the beets. If using more than one container, distribute the spices as evenly as you can.

Add the eggs to the containers with the beets and onions and allow to cool slightly before covering and refrigerating for at least 8 hours.

The beets and eggs will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Serve the eggs whole with beet slices and onions, or for a great presentation, halve or quarter the eggs. Or slice the eggs into rounds and serve over a salad for an interesting twist.

Serves: 6 – 12 depending on how many eggs per person your crew eats

Kid rating: one-half star. Both daughters tried the “Ruby Slippers.” Daughter one couldn’t get past the first bite, and daughter two took an adventurous second bite before calling it quits. They aren’t big vinegar fans — yet — so in a way this didn’t surprise me too much. But if your kids like pickles and vinegar dressings, I can only imagine these would be a hit.
Parent rating: four stars. You can dial up or dial back the sugar to make these more or less sweet. I prefer mine on the less-sweet side. The onions retain a nice crunch and are great paired with sandwiches or in salads. The beets really shine in this preparation too. Make a couple extra beets and eggs because SOMEONE is going to ask for a doggy bag.