Best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver penned the phrase: “Cooking is 80% confidence”, but for whatever reason she never got around to divulging the rest of the equation. So if it were me I would add: “… and 20% reading”, i.e. if you can read – you can cook! But there is a distinction between faithfully following a recipe, and creating something entirely new, inspired by your memory, guided by your tongue or compromised by the limitations of your grocery cabinet.
There are two reasons why I seldom (never) post recipes on my blog:
- I don’t want rogersdigest to turn into a re-publishing link for recipes that have debuted elsewhere.
- If I happen to invent a dish, a large part of me wants it to remain a secret.
What to do?
Well, maybe it’s the weather or maybe I’m just in a curiously generous mood, but I thought I’d share a couple of surprisingly successful – yet simple dishes that have come dangerously close to “hit” status this past summer.
The first comes in the form of a challenge I frequently set for myself – whereby I try (with mixed success) to recreate a dish I’ve recently enjoyed in a restaurant. Using the smattering of ingredients they list on the menu (rarely the whole story) and my ability to decipher the proportions (with varying accuracy) in the hopes that eventually I might get lucky. This creamy, yet ridiculously light and refreshing rendition of a Cucumber Gazpacho is within sipping distance of its original from the Little Beet Table on Park Avenue.
Cucumber Gazpacho – Serves 4
- 4 large cucumbers
- 1/2 cup green, seedless grapes
- 3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk (if you can’t find unsweetened, then leave out the grapes)
- 1 small clove of garlic
- 3 – 4 Tblspn white wine vinegar (to taste)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- ½ cup roasted Marcona almonds for serving (or for snacking while you cook)
- 1 Tblspn Chili oil (optional but highly recommended) *
- Peel, seed and roughly chop the cucumbers. Discard the peel and seeds. (Did I just write that?) Add the first 6 items to a blender (i.e. stop before you get to the salt) and puree thoroughly until smooth. Season with salt and feel free to juggle extra vinegar, salt or grapes to balance the sweet:salt:sour ratio. Don’t stop until you’re happy.
- Use a spatula to press through a fine sieve into a large bowl to remove all the solids.
- Refrigerate for at least 3 hours until well chilled. (If you don’t have 3 hours don’t add ice cubes. Leave the mixing bowl in the freezer while you’re making the soup.)
- Divide into serving dishes and toss in a few Marcona almonds. Dribble a few sparse freckles of chili oil on top and serve immediately.
* You can make your own chili oil by adding 1 Tblspn crushed red pepper flakes to ½ cup olive oil. Simmer over low heat in a small saucepan until fully absorbed for about 20 minutes. Strain and discard the chili flakes and let the oil cool to room temperature before using.
This shamelessly simple, down & dirty but delicious Crunchy Caramel Peaches was the result of a desperate think-outside-the-cereal-box moment when a crowd showed up with an unmistakably “what’s for dessert?” look on their faces. In less than 6 minutes, I whipped up whatever I could find before it became the most frequently requested dessert of the season.
Crunchy Caramel Peaches – Serves 4
- 2 ripe peaches
- 2 Tblspn butter
- 1 Tblspn Dulce de Leche *
- Vanilla Ice-cream
- Granola (The nuttiest one you can find. i.e. full of nuts – not crazy! See recipe below)
- Halve, pit and dice the peaches. Discard the pits. (There I go again.)
- In a large skillet at medium-high heat, melt the butter and sauté the peaches until they soften slightly and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (You’ll know you’ve gone too far when they start to disintegrate and you have the makings of peach marmalade in your pan. If so, discard and start over at #1.)
- Add the Dulce de Leche and continue to cook, stirring constantly until well blended for about a minute.
- Dollop a healthy spoonful of the peach mixture over one or more scoops of Vanilla ice-cream, and top with a handful of granola. Serve right away.
* Don’t use Caramel sauce or the sugar will crystalize. If you can’t find Dulce de Leche, you can either curl up in a corner and weep for 20 minutes, or you can make your own by boiling an sealed tin of condensed milk submerged in a deep pot of water for 2 hours. (Oh, and you might want to remember to top up with extra water as it evaporates from time to time or the tin will explode. Trust me. I’ve done it before. Took nearly 2 months to clean up the mess. And let the tin cool completely before you open it, or you will have 2nd degree burns and stalactites of molten caramel dripping from kitchen ceiling. #notfun, #betterthingstodowithmytime)
Have you ever noticed on the label how much sugar they add to store bought granola? It’s insane! And not surprisingly, the better they taste -the more sugar/syrup/honey they add. And those that are supposedly “good for you” just have insipidly dry, boringly beige oats. For me, granola has to be choc full of rich, dark, brown, sticky clusters of nuts, so that when you make your way through the crunchy deliciousness, you get a mélange of flavors from hazels and pecans and almonds and pistachios with every bite.
This recipe comes with a strict warning: Keep out of reach of habitual in-between-meal snackers, or you’ll have nothing left for breakfast!
Sugar-free nutty Granola – About 12 servings, depending on whether you lock it away or not
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup raw coconut flakes (unsweetened)
- 1 cup pistachio nuts that are roasted, unsalted, shelled and talented
- ½ cup roasted hazelnuts chopped in half – big pieces, not crumbs
- ½ cup raw pecans
- ½ cup raw almonds
- 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 2 tspn salt
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
- 1/3 cup Blackstrap molasses (see, no sugar/syrup/honey here)
- ½ cup dried tart cherries
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Combine the first 9 ingredients (all the dry stuff except the cherries) in a large bowl.
- Warm the oil and molasses in a small saucepan and stir constantly until combined.
- Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir well. (Except the cherries. That comes later.)
- Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a latex baking mat.
- Place in the center rack of the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
- Stir the mixture around and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely. This is where everything becomes nice and sticky so don’t rush this part. Go do something else. Read a book. Binge watch House of Cards. Practice the piano. Vacuum the drapes.
- Evenly distribute the tart cherries into the granola as you pour it into an airtight container. #yum.