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The Cookers And Kibitzers Club: Enjoying Good Food & Conversation

IN THE August 18 ISSUE

FROM THE 2012 Articles,
andFood,
andIrene Morse
SECTIONS

by Irene Morse


Recipes at the end of this article.

We formed a cooking group because we are all friends, we all like to eat and we all enjoy a little glass of bubbly from time to time…to time…to time…

Some of us like to cook, others not so much, so we formed the Cookers and Kibitzers. Several in the group are excellent cooks. Some were specifically promised that they would never have to pick up a utensil; their contributions would be to open the wine and kibitz. Deb became the official photographer.

Eggs from Backyard Chickens

Then we discovered that, even among our non-cooks, hidden talents lie. Surprising even herself, Janet became the crepe savant, taught us how to roll grape leaves and made a full-on lemon meringue pie from scratch. Eventually each of us took our turn at creating something wonderful. We don’t have many failures but, if we do, we simply pour another glass of wine and move on. We are not obsessed with perfection; we simply enjoy the cooking and the friendship.

We picked a day and time to meet every month but, beyond that, there is not much organization. We generally meet in my kitchen but we’re all willing to switch it up a bit.

We choose menus based on what one or more of us may want to try and sometimes the menu is designed around the use of certain food, type of food, ethnic fare or cooking utensil. We once built an entire meal around the spring-form pan.

We try to stay “seasonal” and to use high-quality ingredients; sometimes we celebrate a holiday. We did a meal of wine pairings. We love to try new or “challenging” things–our Chocolate Chocolate Soufflé with Grand Marnier was a thing of beauty!

Most of us watch our calories to some extent. We all subscribe to the wisdom of Julia Child, however–Everything in Moderation–so our menus sometimes contain cream or butter, a bit of wine in the cook-pot as well as our glasses, and almost always include dessert.

We have a few idiosyncratic food issues, of course. Deb has the worst affliction of all; she doesn’t eat chocolate. I’m allergic to cilantro. Francie prefers to eat things that swim or fly and doesn’t eat any kind of ground meat. Margaret doesn’t like orange vegetables if they are cooked and Janet would prefer to just forget about cauliflower. Several in the group would skip the raisins if asked. For the most part, however, we are pretty adventurous eaters and will try everything we prepare.

We met at Beth’s house in August and prepared our menu entirely from the bounty of our gardens and the Farmers’ Market. We bought only tahini and pie crust at the grocery store; we decided salt, pepper, a dash of Balsamic or olive oil for sautéing didn’t count.

Several of us have gardens so tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant were no-brainers. Margaret’s peach tree provided the main ingredient in our dessert and Carol’s herb garden offered plenty of flavor enhancements for our bruschetta and frittata. Deb brought the eggs from her friend Glena’s backyard chickens.

Peach Crostata

The Farmers’ Market is a rich cornucopia this time of year and we were able to buy a flavorsome loaf of “Garlic Captain’s Bread” for our bruschetta, a wedge of goat cheese, a bag of sliced almonds and a jar of Greek olives in addition to the vegetables we needed for our meal.

The menu: Served the six of us who were there that day for $8 each (not including wine).

Bruschetta, traditional tomato and basil
Bruschetta, squash and caramelized onions
Babaganoush
Cucumber and red onion salad
Frittata
Peach Crostata

Frittata

Reflecting our laid-back approach, we like to sit with a glass of wine and chat over a first course. The view of Beth’s lovely back yard through floor to ceiling windows in her dining area was the perfect setting.

While the Crostata bubbled away in the oven, Janet regaled us with stories from her recent diving vacation to Little Cayman Island. Located about 220 miles south of Cuba, there are three islands that make up the Caymans: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

The islands comprise the peaks of an underwater ridge that gives way to the Cayman Trough, estimated at 6,000 to 20,000 feet deep, making this a supreme diving location. She told us of swimming back and forth, parallel to the ridge, enjoying the panoply of beautiful coral and myriad colorful fish.

Janet prefers to dive unencumbered and, therefore, doesn’t carry a camera. One day, however, she came across a beautiful coral arch and let her imagination fantasize a picture of a brightly colored tropical fish swimming toward her through the pergola.

To her amazement, as she lingered there, a perfect, round, dive-suited derriere hove into view, framed in the coral arch. Sometimes our fantasies turn into good stories to share with friends over hors du’ oeuvres.

As always, our designated driver, Carol’s husband, showed up to ferry home those of us who might have enjoyed the afternoon a bit too much for safety. We agreed to do a wine-tasting road trip in September.

Cooking Tip of the Month: The secret to cooking eggs well is patience. Eggs must be cooked very slowly and usually over a medium low to low heat. If cooked over too high heat, eggs will become rubbery. A scrambled egg (or frittata), whipped to incorporate a bit of air and cooked agonizingly slowly over low heat, will reward you by being as light and fluffy as a delectable cloud.

Recipes:

Traditional Bruschetta, serves 6
Baguette
3 medium tomatoes, finely diced
3 Tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Thinly cut 6 slices of baguette and lightly sprinkle (or spray) with olive oil. Toast in the oven or toaster oven. Arrange on a plate.

Combine tomatoes, basil, garlic and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to blend.

Heap tomato mixture onto toasted baguette slices and serve.

Squash Bruschetta, serves 6

Baguette
1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1 medium yellow zucchini–or crook neck squash–finely diced
½ summer squash, finely diced
½ medium red bell pepper, finely diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp chopped chives
1 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Thinly cut 6 slices of baguette and lightly sprinkle (or spray) with olive oil. Toast in the oven or toaster oven. Arrange on a plate.

Cover the bottom of a sauté pan with a thin coating of olive oil. Add separated onion slices and sauté on low heat until golden.

Cover the bottom of a sauté pan with a thin coating of olive oil and add diced squash. Sauté over medium heat for ten minutes. Add thyme, chives, bell pepper and garlic. Sauté for an additional five minutes. Squash should be al dente. Season with salt and pepper.

Heap squash mixture onto toasted baguette slices, top with caramelized onions and serve.

This recipe is a deconstruction of a hors du oeuvre Irene enjoyed in a London restaurant one time. She admits that she may not have got it exactly right, but this recipe sure is tasty. The original didn’t contain red bell pepper, it was added for color.

Babaganoush, serves 6 (This is from a Foodnetwork recipe)
1 large eggplant
1 clove garlic
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp salt
Salt and pepper
Baguette or Pita chips (optional)

Preheat oven–or toaster oven–to 450 degrees F.

Cut eggplant in half length-wise and prick with a fork. Place, cut side down, on a foil or parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake until eggplant is soft inside–about 15 to 20 minutes.

Scoop the pulp into a food processor.

On a cutting board, work garlic and salt together with the flat side of a knife until it becomes a paste. Add to eggplant mixture. We decided this step might be omitted if the garlic is ground very fine in the food processor; the garlic paste is very flavorful, however.

Stir in parsley, tahini and lemon juice. Process until mixture is smooth.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with toasted baguette slices or pita chips.

Cucumber and Red Onion Salad, serves 6

3 medium Armenian or Japanese cucumbers
1 medium red onion
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash and thinly slice cucumbers into a bowl. If skins are thick or bitter, peel the cucumbers. If cucumbers are “seedy” cut them in half and scoop out the seeds before slicing.

Thinly slice the red onion, separate the rings and add to the bowl.

Add vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

This salad just gets better and better if it sits for a while. Prepare the salad first and let the flavors come together in the refrigerator while you’re readying the rest of the meal.

Frittata, serves 6

1 dozen eggs
1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1 medium yellow zucchini–or crook neck squash–finely diced
½ summer squash, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
4 Italian curly peppers or ½ green bell pepper, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
12 pitted Greek olives, thinly sliced
12 grape tomatoes, sliced in half (or cherry tomatoes, quartered)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp chopped chives
6 oz crumbled goat cheese
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whip with a wire whisk until fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.

Using a sauté pan that can transfer to the oven, cover the bottom with olive oil and add the squash, onion, peppers and garlic. Sauté for five minutes.

Add the eggs, olives, tomatoes, thyme and chives to the pan and turn the heat to low. Add the crumbled goat cheese.

Cook over very low heat. When the eggs begin to firm in the pan, gently pull them away from the sides with a spatula letting the loose egg mixture run to the bottom. Continue with this process until the eggs have become about the consistency of pudding. Place the frittata under the broiler, at 500 degrees, for one or two minutes until the eggs are firm and the top is a golden color. Serve immediately.

Do not overcook the eggs; the hot eggs will continue to cook any undercooked eggs for a few minutes after the pan is out of the oven.

Peach Crostata, serves 6
1 pre-made pie crust
6 peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
¾ cup sliced almonds
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, broken into pieces
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover a round pizza pan with parchment paper and place the pie crust on it. Push out gently with your fingers until the crust fits the pan.

Cover the crust with the butter pieces, sugar and cinnamon. Add the peaches in an overlapping fan pattern to within two inches of the edge of the pie crust. Sprinkle the almonds over the peaches.

Pull the crust up and over the edge of the peaches and pinch it together to hold some shape.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

This dessert is rustic; don’t try to make it look perfect. The crust will be golden brown and the peaches bubbly. Serve warm. It’s good with ice cream, too.

Cookers and Kibitzers often use store-bought pie crust to save time and energy. We have a great, easy, no-fail pie crust recipe, however, and we’ll share it in upcoming recipes.

Irene Morse is a freelance writer. When not hanging out with her husband, Gary, and their large family, she enjoys traveling in search of adventure and examining the human condition through drama and community theatre. Read her family’s Christmas story in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Christmas Magic, 2010. Her column on theatre appears regularly in the local newspaper. Email her at irene [at] ingramct.com.

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