tomato salad + scallion shortcakes


I do like food, quite a lot, actually. But nothing can quite win me over like a perfectly sun-ripened tomato, picked at the prime point in the summer where, let's face it, you can just hand me a salt-shaker and call it a day. I don't need anything else to survive these brutally hot months. Unless it's a fresh baked almond croissant, but that's a story for another day.

Another Deb-be-praised recipe, the one that so beautifully graces the cover of her recent cookbook, came to mind when I was charged with the task of preparing lunch for my lovely co-workers at Holstee. On a weekly rotation, we each take the time to put together a meal for our team, which is a fantastic way to commune together and share a basic and familial practice, one of the many reasons why this job rules New York, or pretty much any other place at all. Let me step quietly down from my soapbox of love now.

I know what you're thinking: shortcakes? That aren't, well, sweet? And covered in sugared-up strawberries? Isn't that, well, wrong? In a word, yes, but in the very best way that something can be wrong. Though you expect this classic dessert to never change, the truth is, you can smash any fruit (which tomatoes in fact are) between these buttery biscuits and not go wrong. But add some scallions? And some whipped goat cheese? Oh heavens, there's no turning back.

For this recipe, you'll need a lot of things. So first, the scallion shortcakes:

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 cup 2% or whole milk

For the tomato salad (though I believe there to be no real rules here), I used:

Approximately 2 cups of tomatoes, sliced/diced - using a variety of colors and shapes will make for a prettier presentation, but again: no rules
A good drizzle of olive oil
\Another good drizzle of balsamic vinegar
A shake of salt
Another shake of pepper 

And, ta-da, you've made tomato salad! Now for the goat cheese "cream," all you really need to do is whip together some softened goat cheese and whole milk until the mixture is whipped and fluffy. Add in another thinly chopped scallion to unite the flavors.

Now, making the biscuits themselves couldn't be easier: first, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in the biggest bowl you've got. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter (or, if you're me, a little bit of both), cut in the butter. Since the butter is cold, this will feel like a bit of a futile process at first. Don't give up. It will, eventually, incorporate and your mixture will resemble a coarse meal. You're right on track.

Stir in your scallion. Add your cup of milk and stir again. Sprinkle some more flour onto your countertops to prevent sticking, then pat your mixture out into about an inch thickness. If you have a round cookie cutter, great; otherwise, a simple glass will do to cut out some rounds, re-forming your scraps as necessary.

Space the shortcakes about 2 inches apart and bake for about 15 minutes. Deb suggests rotating the pan for even baking, though I admit I forgot this step. Nonetheless, they came out quite perfect, I have to say.

Split the warm biscuits and give each one a heaping spoonful of your tomato salad and a dollop (yes!) of your artfully whipped goat cheese.

I found these really good, even surprisingly so. My skepticism, if you can call it that, can only be because of my love for tomatoes, feeling that any addition to them only overshadows their natural goodness. But trust me, I've never said no to anything in biscuit form. And now I may never return to sugared strawberries again.


lemon blueberry cake


There is really nothing quite like the berry-citrus combination. Bright, summery and sweet, it packs the perfect sour punch to balance out the ripe berries, all in one perfectly sunny loaf.

Another recipe from THE Deb Perelman, which I had trouble resisting after the smashing success I had with her grapefruit cake (all 4-7 times, as I have now lost count how many times I've made it). Also the fresh blueberries I had were practically shouting, "Bake me into something lovely and light, it's my purplish-navy destiny," and who would I be to argue with that. Though I normally balk (yes, balk) at the taking of fresh fruit, mixing it into a batter or folding it into a crust, covering it with sugar and baking it at 400-plus degrees (because, I ask you, WHAT is better than fresh, seasonal fruit when it's FRESH?), Deb has a way of making me believe. Do I have to mention the grapefruit cake again?

So, for this version of Deb's Ina Garten adaptation, for which she provides an absolutely slew of substitues, should you be berry-less, out of olive oil (gasp!), or anything else at all for that matter, you will need:

1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inch loaf pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour again.

Whisk together your flour, baking powder and salt into one bowl. In a separate bowl, combine your yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly add and whisk your dry ingredients into this zesty-sugary-yogurty combination that is by now smelling heavenly. Once these two bowls are combined, gently fold in your blueberries. Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-55 minutes until it looks all lovely and golden, or until a cake tester (okay, toothpick) comes out clean.

Meanwhile, heat your lemon juice in a small pan over low heat. Add your tablespoon of sugar and stir constantly until dissolved. This will happen pretty quickly, so feel free to stay put and stir, stir, stir. Once your cake is done and has cooled for about 10 minutes, flip it out onto a cooling rack. Place this rack over a baking sheet or another wide platter (preferably one with edges). Poke a few holes in the top using a toothpick, then pour your lemon-sugar mixture over the cake. This gives it that extra lemon ain't-no-mistaking-it pow and I love it. Let cool completely (suchhhh a joke), then serve. Over and over and over.


spinach farro feta fritters


Inspired by the June issue of Vegetarian Times which boasted (and delivered) a bounty of "light summer meals," I re-discovered my love of the fritter. Now, fritters can be anywhere from savory to sweet to lightly pan-fried to completely deep-fried and I have no argument with any of the above-mentioned situations. However, when it comes to a fritter that is dinner-worthy, it's probably best to hang up the glaze or the confectioners sugar (though a good pancake-themed dinner can do wonders every once in awhile) and make way for other ingredients such as spinach, onions and, for just a touch of sweet, golden raisins.

While VT's original concoction was made with a millet-base, I so happened to have a bag of farro on hand. This makes perfect sense, considering it is my new favorite ancient grain. My love for its chewy, distinct texture runs deep, my friends. Having made my fair share of farro salads and warm pilafs, I thought a fritter was just the way to expand my options for using this particular variety. I am pretty sure, however, that millet would work just as lovely, as would any other semi-sturdy grain.

For this recipe, you'll need:

2 cups cooked farro or grain of your choosing
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups finely chopped spinach
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (though you may need more)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons olive oil

Basically, the instructions are as simple as this: mix everything, minus the olive oil, together in a medium-large bowl. Yes, that's really it. Let this mixture stand for about five minutes, as this gives it time to begin to hold together, which you will find rather useful when it comes to the pan-frying stage of the game. After five minutes have passed, VT suggests that you should be able to pinch together the mixture without it falling apart or feeling too wet. Too wet, you say? Add more breadcrumbs. Not pinchy enough? Add slightly more egg. This is a very tricky guessing game, if you ask me, but as long as you follow the recipe amounts closely, you should have a perfectly pinch-able mixture before you.

Next you may shape your fritters, making about 12-14 total, depending on how big or small you make them. Mine were not perfectly round and did not hold together fantastically during this transfer, but I trust you'll find a way to make it work.

Heat your olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. The goal here is to cook the egg mixture through without burning the edges first. So, if your pan is too hot, you'll have a burnt exterior with a raw runny interior. No thank you to that. Keep an eye on each batch and cook them for 5 to 10 minutes per side, or until the bottoms are brown but not black.

I was a big fan of how these turned out, I must say. Filling and fresh with the taste of organic NJ-grown spinach, the feta and raisins providing a balanced flavor, and the farro holding together nicely.

Note: I would have changed just one thing: caramelize your onions before incorporating. Though they spend a bit of time in the pan while frying, the time is unfortunately not enough to really soften or sweeten them. My opinion only, of course, and I'll try that method the next time around.