Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Picnic Soup #2: Tomato and Buttermilk Soup

I didn't eat/enjoy/recognize avocados as food until after college (Face masks? Sure. Food, no.). If one of your fellow picnickers shares my old hesitation, you're going to have a hard sell with Cold Avocado Soup. Try this alternative, from Outdoor Dining:
Tomato and Buttermilk Soup

2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) tomato juice
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) buttermilk

This simple soup is cool and refreshing; if desired you can add some chopped tomato, cucumber, and fresh herbs. You can also vary the proportion of tomato juice to buttermilk.

Combine the tomato juice and buttermilk.

Serve Tomato and Buttermilk Soup chilled with open sandwiches, which become extra special when you make them with savory butters.

Variation: Combine buttermilk and apricot nectar for a refreshing drink.

Serves 2
Two ingredients! Just two! No cutting, no dicing, no blanching, no skinning, no skimming, no heating... it's simple, alright! Other than a glorious opportunity to stain things tomato red, this is something you could easily make with any kid old enough to stir the sugar and Kool-Aid packet in to the 2 quart pitcher.

Or was that just my childhood?

This soup shares a page with lots of savory butter suggestions. Pink peppercorn butter, which is "particularly good" with roast beef. Anchovy butter, for eggs, watercress, or cucumber. Herb butters. Walnut butter. If you can whir it up in a food processor, Outdoor Dining suggests you make it into a compound butter. I actually agree, and was just exhorting my brother in law in Pittsburgh to use some of his bumper crop of tarragon to make a compound butter. Compound butters (savory or sweet) freeze beautifully, and it's great to be able to cut off a hunk of a seasoned butter to melt on your grilled whatever.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Picnic Sandwich #2: Pan Bagnia

As lovely and tangy as the patafla is, it still strikes me as an appetizer sort of sandwich. Heck, the suggested menu from Outdoor Dining for patafla lists it in the appetizer slot. Sometimes, you need something a little heartier on your picnic, and if you're in a sandwich mood, this is just the thing:
Pan Bagnia

6 tablespoons olive oil
4 large slices eggplant (aubergine)
16 French beans
4 bread rolls
8 teaspoons olive oil, extra
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
parsley, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper (capsicum), cut into strips
12 black olives, pitted
16 slices prosciutto
1 purple (Spanish) onion, thinly sliced, optional

Heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the eggplant slices until golden brown on each side. Lift out and drain on paper towels.

Cook the beans in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain.

Cut the bread rolls in half and brush the cut surfaces with extra olive oil.

Sprinkle the bottom half of each bread roll with the garlic and parsley, then add a slice of eggplant to each one. Divide the remaining ingredients, including the beans, between the bread rolls, then join the halves of the bread rolls together.

Wrap each bread roll securely in plastic (cling) wrap, then put all four under a heavy weight (such as a heavy bread board) for about 30 minutes.

Serves 4

Tomato and Buttermilk Soup (page 93)
Pan Bagnia
Fudge Brownies (page 43)
There is a new French bakery behind the building I work at, and they serve a lauded pan bagnia. We keep talking about going there for lunch. But, oh, how easy it is to put together these weighted sandwiches on your own!

And weighted sandwiches are lovely. The juices mix, the sandwiches hold together well. You can make it without the prosciutto if you want to keep it vegetarian -- goodness knows there's a lot going on with the sandwich -- but I love the melting-on-your-tongue porky goodness the prosciutto brings. If you buy extra, you could always wrap some cantaloupe chunks with it, and serve it as part of a cheese course/dessert.

Chefly Husband has been known to do a version of this sandwich using a large loaf of bread. He calls it a Big Sandwich. I love it, but am charmed by the individual Not So Big nature of these. I'm also charmed with the idea of green beans on a sandwich. It's so very not what I ever did with green beans growing up. Were I to make these, I'd have to have extra beans on hand; our resident Corgi eats green beans with a passion.

Picnic Soup #1: Cold Avocado Soup

I'm going to go see the Indigo Girls at Wolftrap next week, and have been driving everyone around me a bit crazy by my obsessive menu planning. One thing that has stuck, however, was the idea of a cold soup, transported in a growler I got at a beer pub ages ago. I keep saying "a growler of gazpacho!" It took a while to hit on the gazapcho, though, and Outdoor Dining offers two potential growler-fillers. The first:
Cold Avocado Soup

2 avocados, halved and seeds removed
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) chicken stock
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) buttermilk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 red bell pepper (capsicum), halved
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

A rich, cold soup is a lovely start to a summer picnic; it is easy to carry in a large glass jar or vacuum flask.

Scrape the avocado flesh into a food processor or blender. Add the onion and stock and process until smooth.

Pour into a container and stir in the buttermilk and salt and pepper to taste. Put aside until ready to serve.

Put the bell pepper under a broiler (griller) until the skin blackens. Transfer to a paper bag and leave for about 30 minutes. Scrape off the blackened skin. Put the bell pepper into a food processor or blender with the Tabasco and purée. Transfer to a small jar.

To serve, add a dollop of the bell pepper purée to each bowl of avocado soup.

Serves 4

Cold Avocado Soup
Scallop and Bell Pepper (Capsicum) Salad (page 83)
Why is this soup not coming with me to the concert? Frankly, the idea of garnishing on site seems pointlessly fussy. I know, I could just serve the soup sans puree, but...you should see how lovely this soup looks in the picture. Pale green, with a rush of vivid red. It's gorgeous. The soup will have to wait for a time that I'm eating outside...but within steps of the kitchen.

Every single recipe in Outdoor Dining is accompanied by a beautiful full-page photo. André Martin did the food photography, and Donna Hay, the food styling. Together, they make every dish look like something you simply have to try, right this very second. It's worth picking up a copy of the book (used, as it appears to be out of print), as the photos add so much.

I'm heading out of town for a wedding, so will be doubling up today, and when I return.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Picnic Sandwich #1: Patafla

Once tomatoes come into season -- real tomatoes, proper tomatoes, warm from the garden or farmers market and dripping with flavor tomatoes -- I can think of nothing better in life than tomato sandwiches. Bread, mayo, tomato, go! Sometimes, though, you want something a little more elegant. Outdoor Dining offers this simple, tangy, tasty, tomatoey sandwich:

4 tomatoes
1 large purple (Spanish) onion, finely copped
2 oz (60 g) capers
4 dill pickles (gherkins), finely chopped
2 oz (60 g) pitted black olives, chopped
4 oz (125 g) stuffed green olives, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped chili
1 long French loaf
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

This is a lovely Mediterranean picnic loaf -- make it the day before to allow the piquancy to develop.

Peel the tomatoes (make two small slits in the skin near the top of the tomatoes and drop into boiling water for about 30 seconds -- the skin will peel off easily). Cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the seeds, then chop and put into a bowl. Combine with the onion, capers, dill pickles, black olives, green olives, and chili.

Cut the French loaf in half lengthwise and scrape out the soft bread inside. Add the soft bread to the other ingredients in the bowl and knead together, moistening with a little olive oil.

Add salt and black pepper to taste, then fill the two halves of the loaf with the mixture.

Press the halves together, then wrap tightly in plastic (cling) wrap and keep in the refrigerator overnight.

Cut into slices to serve.

Serves 6-8.

Vitello Tonnato (page 99)
Cheese and Fruit
Important to use a bread with a firm crust, or the whole thing will go too far into the soggy realm. If you are morally opposed to soggy bread, by the way, don't try this sandwich (even though, hey, a firm crust will do wonders here). There are those in my family who blanch at the idea of so much as dipping a grilled cheese sandwich into a bowl of tomato soup; thankfully, I can balance that out with the family members who love milk toast when feeling poorly.

I think there's something very cozy about sandwiches for outdoor dining. You don't need utensils, assuming you sliced before heading out. You don't need plates, even, if you have a napkin you can eat over.

The balance of tomatoes and briny additions is great here, but if there's something you aren't very fond of (say, green olives, or capers), make it up by increasing the other items. I'd also feel free to substitute bread and butter pickles for the gherkins, if that's what you have in your fridge.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Outdoor Dining, Margaret O'Sullivan; Miniature Frittatas

I am a sucker for impulse purchases. Interstingish looking things, attractively displayed near a line I'm apt to be standing in for a while? I'll pick them up. I'll peruse. And I may well buy. For a lot of folks, this is how magazines, chewing gum, and odd pastry items end up in the house. For me? It's cookbooks. And so it happened that I was standing in a Williams Sonoma, flipping through Outdoor Dining, by Margaret O'Sullivan (Lansdowne Publishing Pty Ltd, 1995). The cover shows miniature smoked salmon frittatas, and every page inside hints at the sort of life where finely crafted picnics just sort of happen.

I had to buy it.

And a good thing I am such a light touch for the marketers! This is a great cookbook; I've prepared lots of the dishes, and keep meaning to try more. They all turn out. They're all tasty. And, as we're officially in Summer (Observed) now that Memorial Day has passed, and I've my first outdoor concert of the season to go to next week, it seems time to take out this old favorite.
Miniature Frittatas

4 oz (125 g) smoked salmon, finely chopped
3 oz (90 g) goat cheese, crumbled
fresh chives, chopped
6 eggs
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) single (light) cream

These miniature frittatas make a great picnic starter -- serve them with chilled champagne. You can vary the fillings: chopped artichoke hearts, prosciutto, asparagus tips, Ratatouille (page 23), sautéed mushrooms or leek, or smoked salmon and goat cheese as combined here.

Grease a 12 cup cake (patty cake) pan. Divide the smoked salmon, goat cheese, and chives between the cups.

Lightly beat the eggs with the cream and pour into the cups.

Bake in a moderately hot oven (400°F/200°C/Gas Mark 6) for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

Turn onto a cake cooler and serve at room temperature.

Serves 4-6
I use a mini muffin tin when I make these; depending on your pan and how much stuff you stuff into your frittatas, your baking time will vary, so keep an eye on them. As the recipe suggests, these work with just about anything. Don't like goat cheese? Plop in some other cheese that does suit. Try cooked, peeled baby shrimp instead of the salmon. Whatever you have just a bit of left in the fridge is fair game.

I tend to prefer dry-smoked smoked salmon to wet, so I go for some nice, thick, crumbly reminds-me-of-Oregon salmon as opposed to more elegant thin slices of fish. Use that which makes you happy.

I've made these for brunches -- they're a star of my traditional Thanksgiving parade-is-on-TV breakfast -- and for dinner parties. They're always a hit. The only time they've come close to failing is when I was working with an unfamiliar oven and insufficiently prepped my pans. Grease them well, folks.

Many of the recipes in Outdoor Dining have menu suggestions in the sidebar -- this one is no exception:

Miniature Fritattas
Barbecued Double Lamb Cutlets with Ratatouille (page 23)
Honey Wafers (page 51)
One could do worse.

In a quasi-related note, I evidently can't type "miniature" without first mistyping it as "minature."