This time of year, the fragrance of sweet peppers and paprika swirl through my kitchen. It's a Hungarian tradition in my family - some of the first ripe, green bell peppers picked from the garden are stuffed with ground meat, onions, rice and lots of paprika. The stuffed peppers cook on the stove in a pot of bubbling tomato puree. When the rice is cooked to tenderness, the peppers are ready to eat. But first, the sauce of pureed tomatoes is thickened with a roux of flour and fat, chopped onions and more paprika. Hungarians do love paprika.
If you recall the 1980s, you'll remember Herman, a sweet cream-colored goop that got passed around from one friend to another along with a loaf of freshly baked quick bread. A chain letter was attached to a plastic bag or jar of sugar-spiked, bubbling brew affectionately referred to as Herman. Herman was alive, and needed feeding and a comfortably warm spot on the kitchen counter to bubble and grow. He came with precise care instructions. I clearly remember pouring Herman down the drain after a short life in my small kitchen. He demanded too much of my time.
I watched with anticipation as the hostess of an al fresco dinner party I was attending used a pizza cutter to slice a dark, thin round of baked dough into small squares. She told me it was called farinata. Made with chickpea flour, also known as garbanzo bean flour, the thin cake is popular in the Liguria region of Italy. There it is baked in a wood-burning oven and eaten as a snack. The thin baked chickpea appetizer I nibbled that night was delicately flavored with fresh rosemary.
While I was waiting in line at the checkout in the grocery store the other day, I couldn't help overhearing a conversation between two young mothers. "Are you guys ready for school?" The slender young woman was wearing short-shorts and a sleeveless top. She was sporting the kind of tan mothers get when they spend the summer at ball parks watching little league games. "We went shopping for school supplies last night," she said. "On the way home the boys remembered they want new lunch boxes, too.
Cooks all over the United States have been challenged for more than a month with sweltering heat. A reader in Texas asked me if I could publish a recipe for something that wouldn't melt. Someone in North Carolina living without air conditioning didn't want to turn on his stove or his oven. He was cooking outside on two black rocks heated by the sun. Even though my house is air-conditioned, the grill on my deck is getting a workout. Call in the watermelon.
I've always wanted to host a garden party this time of year when vegetable plots are bountiful and flower beds are in full bloom, showing off their amazing beauty. But the same problem always arises - I have no gardens worthy of putting on display. A couple of weeks ago I attended the best garden party of the summer at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. Their third annual Toast & Taste in the Gardens event provided me with my first visit to the more than 1,000 acres of lush landscape and magnificent gardens.
I've gained a renewed appreciation for quick suppers from a skillet. As a young mother, that sometimes meant the meal began in a box packaged with everything needed except the meat. These days, I pay much closer attention to every single ingredient that goes into the meals I prepare. I prefer to use fresh ingredients and add my own seasonings. Last week I realized it's not just cooks with young active families who need a repertoire of meals made in minutes.
I had been working on Almond Peach Cakes for a week. I was sure the recipe was perfect when I mixed up my last batch. I spooned the sweet, peachy batter into a generously-buttered muffin tin. I slid the pan into the oven and closed the door. I was guessing when I set the timer for 30 minutes. It was one of the details I wanted to be absolutely sure of before publishing the recipe. Just as Ina Garten would do, I went to my computer and began typing the final draft of the recipe for Almond Peach Cakes. Twenty minutes later, the power went out. It flashed on and off a few times. And then, gone.
I came home from the farmers market the other day with a large round loaf of sourdough bread, tiny potatoes, a few onions and a bulb of fresh garlic. Oh, and a big bag of beet greens. Vendors at the market were just closing up shop when one of the farmers asked me if I'd like some beet greens. I might have hesitated for just a moment as a few thoughts quickly raced through my mind. I love beets. My favorite dining partner does not. Do the leafy tops of beets taste like beets? I've never cooked beet greens. What would I do with them? "Sure.
Sweet and juicy cherries are one of my favorite summertime flavors. And chocolate has been an obsession of mine for years. A piece of good quality dark chocolate pushed to the roof of my mouth, slowly melting into a buttery mass of rich cocoa flavor, elicits moans of pleasure from my throat. Why, then, have I always turned up my nose at Black Forest Cake, the German dessert made of several layers of chocolate sponge cake soaked with kirsch, whipped cream and cherries? I know it's not the calories. And chocolate-covered cherries? No, thank you.