Monday, September 6, 2010

Salad Days

I love summer produce a bit too much. Usually, I come home from the farmer's market with an unsettling amount of bags, filled with jewel-toned fruits and summer tomatoes and chard, peppers, squash and other miscellaneous treasures. Each little, edible gem stares at me expectantly from the countertop, begging to be used at its prime, and I try to comply and give the summer harvest the respect it deserves. On occasion, I fail,but I try not to let it happen; I try to use every last vegetable and stone fruit in the most creative, delicious way possible, but when the scent of threateningly soft fruit leaves me in a pickle, my default is salad. Boring, safe, virtuous salad.

It's not what you think, though. I can't leave salads well-enough alone at lettuce, vinaigrette and simple accoutrements - at least most of the time. My salads need a little decadence, a dash of piquancy, a bit of richness and a clean, sharp, uniting note to cut through it all. This salad fits the bill, especially when there's locally caught, small-catch skate at the market, begging to be pan-fried to crispy perfection and served alongside.

Lately, I've been obsessed with bucheron. It's a dry, crumbly goat cheese with a creamy rind, not unlike brie. The flavor is more intense and saltier than most goat's cheeses, which I prefer. Of course, any crumbly cheese will do.

Pickled slices of fennel-laced red onion keep in the refrigerator for over a week, and they only get better as they age. Add them to a tuna salad sandwich for something extraordinary.

Crispy Skate & Arugula Salad with Peaches, Pickled Onions and Bucheron

For the Onions & Vinaigrette
Red Onion
Red wine vinegar
About 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 garlic clove, min
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Peel the red onion and thinly slice it into rings.
Add enough red wine vinegar to each jar so that it fills a little more than 2/3 of the way. Add the fennel, sugar, salt, pepper and garlic to the vinegar. Place in the microwave for about 20 seconds, so that it warms just enough to dissolve the sugar. Stir the contents to combine.

Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette

2 Large, juicy lemons
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp lemon zest from the lemons
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Zest the lemons and add it to the jar. Slice and juice the lemons into a bowl and then pour it into the jar, followed by the honey. Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper (vinaigrettes should always be very well seasoned), and add extra virgin olive oil. Fasten the lid and shake vigorously to combine.

For the Salad

Peaches, however many you desire
Basil leaves

Skate wings
Equal parts flour & cornmeal
Olive oil and buter
Salt and pepper

Mix the cornmeal and flour until combined. Season the skate wings on both sides and dredge in flour mixture, shaking off the excess. Heat oil and butter in a medium-sized skilled until shimmering, and add the skate wings. Sear, 3 minutes per side, until golden brown and crispy-delicious.

Stack the basil leaves on top of one another, roll them up like a cigar and slice them into ribbons (chiffonade, if you'd prefer to talk fancy). Thinly slice the peaches. Gently toss the arugula with the basil leaves, peach slices and a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Scatter the pickled onions and bucheron over the top. Plate with a crispy skate wing and enjoy, preferably with a cool glass of dry white wine.

Oh, and bask in the accomplishment of summer produce well-used.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Beginning with Breakfast

Well, it's taken me a few attempts to get this right, and this post may very well not be my last. Simply put: I adore cooking, eating, writing and thinking about food, and it's about time that I took the next step and committed to a blog. It's a gift I'm giving to myself, and I'm sure I'll thank me later.

What's the blog name all about? Well, the first 2/3 of my full name is Evan Chard; I think that both my parents and the universe planted an epicurean (produce-loving) seed in my unconscious from day one. And chocolate? That's just self-explanatory; I'm an equal-opportunity eater. To me, health is important, but if a food tastes like crap, it doesn't do your body or your state of mind any good. That's the idea I try to live by, and chocolate fits very neatly into that premise. I'm not very picky when it comes to the sweet stuff, either.

I've recently graduated college in New York City, which was not only my academic center, but also my eating and cooking playground; I wanted for nothing in terms of places to eat and ingredients for a glorious four years. Now that I've moved back to the country to work at a food magazine, I'm rediscovering my homeland through cooking at home and dining out. The great farmers markets and restaurants are harder to find in Connecticut, but for what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality.

So let's start small, shall we? Preferably with breakfast - my favorite breakfast - at least during this time of year, when peaches are impossibly, ephemerally sweet and fragrant. Throughout the year, I like to cook oatmeal with seasonal fruit at night, put it in the refrigerator, and then mix it with yogurt, maple syrup and nut butter in the morning for a filling, creamy, cold, perfect morning meal. Contrary to popular opinion, oatmeal is delicious chilled and mixed with something creamy; it's akin to rice pudding, taking on a form that's usually relegated to desserts.

Be forewarned: I use a microwave. Some people aren't cool with that, but I'm not one of those people. There's a time and a place for it.

Overnight Oatmeal with Peaches, Greek Yogurt and Crunchy Almond Butter
Makes 1 hearty serving (I'm big on breakfast), but you can adjust proportions to your appetite.

The night before:
1/2 cup oats
1 cup water
1.5 firm-but-fragrant peaches

In the morning:
1/2 cup fage 2% Greek yogurt
About 1 Tbsp almond butter
As much cinnamon as you can possibly take
A dash of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Slice each peach in half, then into thirds, then each slice each third into thirds again. Combine the oats and water, microwave for about 2.5 minutes, or until the oats and water bubble up. Add the peach slices and microwave again for 1.5 minutes, until they just begin to release their juices, and stir. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, stir in the Greek yogurt, almond butter, Stevia, salt and vanilla; add cinnamon and stir until just combined. Chill for a few minutes to let the flavors mingle, and then savor slowly, preferably with a long, slender iced tea spoon.