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Ingredient of the Week: Cucumber

Kirby Cucumber from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012

“Cool as a cucumber” sounds pretty good right about now, as we approach the hottest days of summer. Cucumbers don’t inspire deep thoughts, which is just fine, since summer heat and an abundance of produce means we would rather be on the patio than cooking over a hot stove. Whether long and thin or short and fat, cucumbers are mostly water inside. They are crisp and grassy-flavored, adding texture and freshness to salads, sandwiches, chilled soups, pickles, and even cocktails!

According to The Produce Bible, there are many varieties of cucumbers. Everyone is friendly with the classic gherkin, a cucumber destined for the pickle jar. They are short, no more than 4 inches in length, have warty skins, and are meant to be pickled whole. The garden cucumber is also known as a slicing cucumber. This stout specimen averages about 8 inches in length, with a thick, green peel and seeds which should be removed before eating, since they are hard to digest. For this reason, many prefer the seedless English cucumber, which is long and slender with a more delicate skin that doesn’t require peeling. Occasionally, you may come across unusual cucumber varieties (like twisty Armenian cucumbers or round cucumbers) at the farmer’s market or specialty grocery store- don’t be afraid to give them a try. A good way to test a new variety out is by adding it to your standby salad.


Summer Pantry

Summer 2011 Pantry

We’re taking a week of summer vacation here at la Domestique! We wish you a wonderful Fourth of July filled with good food and friends. While we’re gone, you can still find plenty of summer cooking inspiration in our Summer 2011 Pantry. Have some fun by picking an ingredient and finding tips and recipes for cooking with it. Click on the image below to visit the 2011 Summer Pantry. Cheers!



What are you cooking for the Fourth of July holiday? Share your menu in the comments section. Click Here.


Cook in the Moment: Apricot Frangipane Tart

Apricot Frangipane Tart (c)2012

My favorite part of a meal shared with friends is that magical moment when the dinner plates have been cleared and the table is littered with empty wine bottles and wrinkled cloth napkins. It’s time for dessert! The husband makes a round of coffees and I dig up a bottle of brandy or maybe a tawny port. The tone of conversation at the table changes as we run out of chit chat. It shifts to talk of dreams, worries, and  plans for the future. We listen and share. Time seems to slow down. Though we’re all tired and full, none of us wants the night to end. I grab a stack of dessert plates and everyone gets a slice of Apricot Frangipane Tart. The room is quiet as we savor this sweet end to the meal. It’s a cakey tart with a baked almond batter and a buttery crust. The apricots are a surprise, hidden under the deep-brown caramelized surface. Discovered upon first bite, the tart and juicy fruit is a delight, a reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.


10 Ways Tuesday: Apricot

Caramelized Apricots with Cardamom (c)2012

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with apricots during summer:

1.  Caramelized Apricots

A few seconds under the broiler results in luscious, juicy apricots- unbelievably good! Cut apricots in half and remove the pits, then place on a baking sheet, cut sides up. Sprinkle with sugar and ground cardamom, then place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, just until the tops are caramelized. Brush the cooked apricots with a jam glaze (heat apricot jam in a saucepan for a minute until liquified). Serve the warm and juicy apricots as a summer dessert with whipped cream or crème fraîche or enjoy the apricots for breakfast with Greek yogurt and toasted nuts.

2.  Apricot Preserves

Rachel Saunders, author of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, writes, “Nothing quite matches the buttery flavor of a really perfect fresh apricot, and apricots make some of the most delectable preserves.” She includes a recipe for Royal Blenheim Apricot Jam, which uses as little sugar as possible to allow the apricot’s extraordinarily sumptuous flavor to shine. The kernels are removed from a few of the apricot pits and tossed into the jam, infusing it with a hint of almond. She also shares recipes for Apricot-Rose Jam and Apricot-Orange Marmalade.


Ingredient of the Week: Apricot

Colorado Apricots (c)2012

An apricot is not a peach. You won’t be overwhelmed by heady fragrance of an apricot from several feet away. You won’t find your face covered in sticky juice after taking a bite into an apricot’s velvety flesh. If peaches are the blockbuster movie of summer, apricots are the surprise hit indie film at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s quite possible you’ve never tasted a truly ripe apricot. This stone fruit must be allowed to ripen on the tree and quickly picked before it drops to the ground. Ripe apricots do not travel well. Their delicate, velvety flesh bruises easily and quickly begins to deteriorate once picked. The cold supermarket produce isle is an inhospitable place for such a fragile fruit. If you’re looking for sunset-colored apricots with tender, juicy flesh and honeyed, musky flavor, you’ve got to go to the farmer. Road-side stands and farmer’s markets are the place to find apricots worth eating (as opposed to those tasteless, juiceless specimens at the grocery store).


Cook in the Moment: Summer Lettuce Wraps with Quinoa, Avocado, Mushrooms and Tahini Sauce

Summer Lettuce Wrap with Quinoa, Avocado, Mushrooms and Tahini Sauce (c)2012

Summer is here, and I am strangely pensive regarding her arrival this year. Maybe it’s because this is the summer I turn 30 years of age? Maybe it’s because I have a feeling this will be my last summer living in Colorado? Maybe it’s because I’m headed to the place where I was born to visit my family, who I only see once a year- if that. Most years I allow summer to pass me by without truly engaging in the season. I’m more of an autumn person, reveling in sweaters and fallen leaves. Somehow, this year is different. It seems I’m slowing down a bit, not pushing so hard. A lot of time in my 20′s has been devoted to running an exhausting race, seeking to please everyone around me and trying to measure up to a definition of success that I don’t really believe in. I’m looking forward to my 30th birthday. I don’t expect anything to change overnight, more like a gradual personal growth that’s been in the works for some time now.


10 Ways Tuesday: Avocado

Avocado on Toast with Scrambled Eggs, Basil, and Radishes (c)2012
1.  Avocados Love Breakfast

Avocados get on great with all things breakfast. One of my favorite healthy morning meals is toasted whole-grain bread topped with thinly sliced avocado, scrambled eggs, basil and shaved radish. A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil provides the finishing touch. You could change things up with smoked salmon and crème fraîche or maybe use a fried egg and tomatoes instead. Sliced fresh chile is also a good friend of the avocado.

2.  Avocado Quesadillas

David Tanis shares his recipe for Avocado Quesadillas, a quick, last-minute appetizer, in A Platter of Figs. Ripe but firm avocados are thinly sliced and laid upon a flour tortilla, topped with mozzarella slices. What makes takes this recipe from simple to spectacular is David Tanis’ Onion Relish spooned over the quesadilla before adding the top tortilla. A mixture of finely diced sweet onions, minced jalapeño, cilantro, and epazote leaves. According to Herbs & Spices, the pungent Mexican herb, epazote, was a mainstay of Mayan cooking. The intensely flavored epazote is a combination of flavors: citrus notes, bitterness, and funk. Find epazote in Latino groceries. Serve Avocado Quesadillas with beer as an appetizer. They also make a nice lunch for one.


Ingredient of the Week: Avocado

Avocado (c)2012

This week at la Domestique we welcome summer by opening up the summer pantry. It’s officially hot outside, and we’re soaking up the sunshine by the pool. Most nights, dinner is cooked on the patio grill. The farmer’s market is our playground, and each week brings new finds- like the first cherries of the season! We’re craving lighter fare, looking for nourishing meals to give us fuel for bike rides and ballgames. Hearty salads and chilled soups are just the thing for days when temperatures soar into the 90′s.

The first ingredient of our summer pantry is the avocado. Full of nutrients like vitamin E, potassium, and monounsaturated fat, avocados make lighter meals more satisfying. Native to Central America, this pear-shaped tree fruit has a soft, buttery flesh when ripe, and rich, nutty flavor. A tough, dark, leathery skin surrounds the flesh, which ranges from pale yellow to green in color and holds a large brown seed. A diverse variety of avocados can be found, all originating from three strains: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian. Hass avocados are the most popular here in the United States, and they grow year-round, peaking in the summer. Fuerte avocados are available in the U.S. during autumn. California is the largest U.S. producer of avocados, but the fruit is also grown in various areas across the world, including: Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Portugal, Spain, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. Avocados require a warm climate and will not tolerate frost.


Cook in the Moment: Strawberry Tart

Strawberry Tart (c)2012

You may remember my resolution to celebrate each seasonal fruit this year with a tart? It all started in April with a recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd Tart. The purpose of the tart project is to slow my pace of life a bit, to savor each brief season and the tender fruits that mark the passage of time. This week I celebrate the early days of summer with a fresh strawberry tart. With practice, making pastry dough has become a comforting ritual, rather than a daunting task. However, my first attempt at pastry cream was a failure. Of course I can’t follow one single recipe, so the plan was to make Elisabeth Prueitt’s Pastry Cream from the Tartine cookbook and Martha Stewart’s Cream Cheese Tart Dough from her Baking Handbook.

I chalk the failure up to fear. Elisabeth Prueitt’s instructions for making pastry cream were easy enough to follow, but full of warnings and consequences (get the pastry cream too hot and the eggs will curdle, over whisk and the thick cream will break down into a watery mess, burn the milk at the bottom of the pan and you must start over). The fear made me timid, and baking at altitude is not for the timorous. The method for making pastry cream involves heating milk and sugar on the stovetop, then carefully stirring it into egg yolks with cornstarch. The mixture goes back on the stovetop for just a couple of minutes of constant whisking, until thickened. Lastly, cubes of butter are carefully beaten in (to avoid breaking the mixture) and the pastry cream goes into the fridge to chill. After whisking the eggs and milk on the stovetop for much longer than the recipe instructed, my pastry cream refused to thicken. I threw out the watery mess, took a deep breath, and resolved to begin again. In the big picture all that I lost was a few eggs, some milk, and my time.


10 Ways Tuesday: Strawberries

Strawberries from the farmer's market (c)2012

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with strawberries during spring:

1.  Strawberries and Cream

It was Jonathan Lovekin’s photograph in Ripe that caught my attention- smashed red berries stirred into a bowl of thick, devonshire cream. Juicy, luscious strawberries bled pink through the cream, staining the white tablecloth. I wanted to grab a spoonful and shove it into my mouth, not caring if I took too much and cream dribbled down my chin. This powerful photograph paired with Nigel Slater’s simple suggestion of a recipe was all I needed: “Pick the smallest, ripest berries you can lay your hands on, crimson through to their little hearts. Put them in a bowl and crush them with a fork. Mellow the flavor with a drip of balsamic vinegar. Stir in the merest dribble of golden cream. Fiddle no further.”

2.  Strawberry Tart

If a bowl of strawberries and cream is the purest, most perfect way to enjoy the first berry of the season, a strawberry tart is the most celebratory. A tender, crumbly crust filled with rich, vanilla-flecked pastry cream and studded with fresh, ruby-red strawberries commands the room’s attention when perched atop a cake stand at the table. Over at Food & Wine Elisabeth Pruett of Tartine Bakery shares a Strawberry Tart recipe made with a whipped cream as a filling or you can try Betsy Benardaud’s classic Strawberry Tart with pastry cream filling.


About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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