Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grilled Peach and Portobello Salad (with roasted asparagus and Cajun garlic bread)

Inspired by Panfusine and the mounds of peaches spilling over the produce aisles, I created this salad. I was afraid that the fruit would add a ruinous sweetness, but grilling it deepened its flavor, lending the salad a subtle and mature taste of midsummer. Spicy arugula, sundried tomatoes, salty feta, and scallions balance the earthiness of the mushrooms and deliver pungency. Lemon kicks the salad into life.

serves 4 to 6


3 or 4 portobello mushrooms
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
2 peaches, sliced
1 yellow tomato, cut in wedges
handful or so of sundried tomatoes (I use the basil-scented kind that comes sliced in a bag)
1 scallion, sliced
aged feta
1 lemon

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1 crusty baguette 
garlic powder
Cajun seasoning
dried basil


Preheat the oven to 425.

Slather the mushrooms in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The tipsy crumpet has a failsafe method: pour a puddle of olive oil into your hand, then hastily slap it on the mushrooms, trying to smear them all with an equal amount. Do the same with the vinegar. Add a little salt and pepper.

Coat the asparagus with olive oil, then grind some salt and pepper over the spears.

Put mushrooms on one baking sheet; put asparagus on another. Put both sheets in the oven.

Let roast for 10 minutes. Flip the mushrooms. Add the peaches to the mushroom sheet. Roast for another 10 minutes, checking with a fork to see if everything is tender. Remove from oven when this occurs.

Meanwhile, slice baguette into sections, then cut each section lengthwise. Drizzle the interior of each side with olive oil, then sprinkle with garlic powder, Cajun seasoning, and dried basil. Put baguette slices in oven and bake until the outside is crunchy and the interior is steamy-tender.

Lay down a nest of arugula on the plates of you and your guests. Add tomato wedges, sundried tomatoes, and scallions. 

When the mushrooms are cool enough to handle, slice them into wedges.

Top the salad with the mushroom wedges and peach slices. Crumble feta on top. 

You could chop up the asparagus and put it in the salad, but I prefer it as an accompaniment, its long green elegance adding variety to the plate.

Squeeze lemon liberally over both salad and asparagus. Serve garlic bread in the center of the table, wrapped in foil.


  • You can grill the mushrooms, peaches, and asparagus on an outdoor grill instead of using an oven.
  • I tried this salad both hot and cold, and it works better when the warmth and juiciness of the grilled ingredients contrast with the cool dryness of the arugula.
  • This salad needs no other dressing but lemon, but you can experiment with olive oil and various vinegars. Champagne vinegar might be nice.
  • Bleu cheese would be a good replacement for the feta if you're so inclined. I recommend a porous, soft cheese and not a hard cheese so that it can better meld with the ingredients.


4 stars. Seasonal salad with piquant flavor accents.

The crumpet tiptoes to the abyss

I have a Korean friend and a Japanese roommate. This situation quickly led to a kimbop dinner. Kimbop, which can be spelled a variety of ways, is a delicious food concept in which you wrap egg, pickled radish, carrots, spinach, and pickled gourd in a cylinder of seaweed and sticky rice, then slice it into snack-sized circles.

This is what kimbop looks like when prepared by Asian people.

This is what happened when I took over.

Here's another view of the carnage.

If you're white like me, stick to things like potatoes au gratin, where you can hack a bunch of root vegetables, throw them into a pan with cheese, and call it dinner. For foods involving precision and finesse, cultivate a diverse friend circle.

Beet Brownies

Vegetarian Times calls these red velvet brownies. Let's not be euphemistic: the red comes from a can of root vegetables. Yet they are so good, even your most mainstream dessert-loving friends will clamor for them. The beets give the brownies a rich hue, a moistness as of rain-drenched earth, and a succulent cellulose toothsomeness. This is basically a Vegetarian Times recipe, but with more chocolate. 

one 9 x 9 pan is best, but you can use 9 x 13 for flatter brownies, like those shown above


2 large cooked beets (HA HA) or 1 15-oz. can beets, rinsed and drained (the lazy crumpet opts for this)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder (I heave in four tablespoonfuls and hope it's the right amount)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbs. instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (My approach is to pour these in without measuring. What's the worst that can happen?)
  • Process

Preheat oven to 350. Butter the pan if you want.

Puree the beets. I use an immersion blender stick attached to a chopper/grinder. 

Mix the melted butter and sugar until frothy. Add the vanilla and eggs, then stir in the beets. You'll have a lovely pink batter.

Mix the flour, salt, cocoa powder, and espresso powder in another bowl. Gently combine the two mixtures.

Pour in as many chocolate chips as you want. Give a few swipes to the batter to make sure they're uniformly dispersed.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size pan you use.


None. This is a simple recipe and hard to improve or mess up. You can even cut the brownies relatively quickly after they come out of the oven.


4 stars. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Citrus-Scented Ricotta Berry Muffins

Ricotta adds protein and calcium, giving the muffins a profundity they would otherwise lack. Tart berries enlivened by orange zest perk the palate, and chocolate lends a sybaritic note. These sturdy goods are best for breakfast, when you can enjoy the crackly give of the oat-flecked top and awaken to the marriage of fruit and chocolate in the interior.

makes 6 jumbo muffins or 12 regular ones


1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar 
2 eggs
8 oz ricotta cheese (I used fancy artisan whole-milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 grated orange rind

1 cup white flour
1 cup oat bran
some healthy shakes of ground flaxseed
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

raspberries and blackberries
2/3 of a cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

splash of Grand Marnier
juice of an orange
enough buttermilk to turn this melange into something resembling muffin batter


Preheat oven to 350.

Mix the wet ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients in a different bowl. Gingerly mix both together. Add the berries and chocolate, then add the rest of the moistening ingredients.  Mix until batter is just consistent. Pour into muffin tins.

Bake for 20–30 minutes, depending on muffin size. Test obsessively with a knife to see if done. Normal took 20 minutes for me; jumbo, 28.


  • After years of making leaden fiber bombs that no one wanted to eat, I've determined that half whole-grain and half white flour is the perfect combo when you want a wholesome pastry that doesn't taste like a punishment. But you could go with all white flour and be fine.
  • You don't really need flax. I like adding it to everything and pretending that it negates the butter content.
  • I usually add too many berries, creating bloated muffin monsters that billow and threaten to collapse under their own weight. One small carton's worth should be fine.
  • I don't like overly sweet baked goods. 3/4 a cup of sugar is just right for me, giving the muffins a gentle sweetness without clobbering me over the head.
  • These are best enjoyed steaming hot out of the oven, where you can almost fool yourself into thinking you're eating pie.


3.5 stars. You won't be able to binge on them, but you will look forward to eating the next one.

The oat bran and ricotta give these muffins some density. If you prefer a lighter baked good, you may want to reduce the volume of these ingredients.