Tag Archives: Cold Soups

Cold Beet Soup with Sour Cream, Cucumber & Dill

Cold Beet Soup with Sour Cream, Cucumber & Dill
Pity the poor overlooked beet. Maybe it’s the unfortunate legacy of scary childhood memories of canned boiled or pickled beets – a form of both beet and child abuse. Treated correctly, beets are both sweet and sexy — with a crimson color unmatched in the culinary spectrum. I am a strong advocate of soups – cold or hot — as the ideal do ahead meal starter. This cold soup is simple to make – virtually fat-free but for the sour cream garnish that you could skip (though I think that would be a mistake) and gorgeous. As is often the case in working with beets, you will add some vinegar — here red wine vinegar — to balance the natural sweetness of the beets and add a little complexity to the flavor.

Do ahead Soup may be made up to five days ahead and stored in refrigerator.

2 cups sliced sweet onion
2 pounds beets, trimmed, peeled and cut into roughly uniform chunks
3-4 cloves garlic
3 cups vegetable or corn stock or water
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For Garnish
1/2 cup small cubed cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 ounces sour cream


1. Combine in pot over moderate heat, onion, beets, garlic and stock or water. Bring to simmer and cook about 50 minutes until beets very soft. Off heat and allow to cool.
2. Transfer beets, onions and garlic mixture and cooking liquid to blender. Add red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Blend until very smooth. Pour into bowl. Chill until very cold — at least 3-4 hours. You want soup to be quite thick, but pourable. Add more liquid if too thick. Water is fine to add. Taste for vinegar. Beets are variable in their sweetness and you definitely want to taste a little background vinegar to counter beets natural sweetness. Before serving, adjust salt and pepper as things need more seasoning when cold.
3. To serve, pour soup into bowls. Place a small mound on cubed cucumbers in center. Top with dollop of sour cream. Lightly sprinkle dill.

Yield About 6 cups to serve 6.
Note: This is a rich soup by virtue of the beets. A cup per person is enough, though by all means if you have four guests, you could serve 1 1/2 cups — or stick with a cup each and save the rest for yourself.

This is a very simple soup to make and virtually fat-free but for the sour cream garnish that you could skip — although I wouldn’t. It’s just not that much sour cream.

Trim ends of beef with knife and peel.

Cutting beets into roughly uniform sizes enables them to cook more quickly and uniformly.

Ready to go — beets, sliced onions, garlic cloves and stock. I used corn stock though you can use any vegetable stock or water.

Place everything in a pot over moderate heat, bring to simmer and reduce heat to maintain a gentle cooking. You want to be careful not to cook the liquid away as you will need this to thin the soup. Add back water if the you seem to have cooked too much away. You at least want to sure the beets, etc. remain covered with liquid.  If it turns out that you don’t have enough liquid left at the end of the cooking to get a thin enough soup you can always add some water to soup after pureeing it in blender.

It will take about 50 minutes for the beets to cook through. Off heat and allow mixture to cool somewhat as it is just safer not to have hot liquid when you blend to avoid getting splattered with hot liquid.

Pour everything into blender adding red wine vinegar , salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. A food processor will not create the creamy smoothness of a blender, but if that’s is all you have, it will be OK.

The soup should be quite thick — though easily pourable. You want it thick enough to “support” the garnish of cucumbers and sour cream.  Refrigerate 3-4 hours until soup is very cold. I needed my soup sooner so I placed it in the freezer and occasionally stirred. You could also place soup in its bowl into a “water bath” — that is, another bowl with ice and water. It helps to stir occasionally.

To make little cucumber cubes, begin by peeling cucumber, cutting in half mengthwise and scraping out seeds with a spoon.

Cut cucumbers into thin and fairly uniform strips. (As I am a bit compulsive, I trimmed the thick portion on the left side of the cucumber lying on top above.) Line strips up in a tight row.

Cut across strips to create cubes. I gave my cubes an additional dice as they still seemed too large. There will certainly be variation in the size of your cubes.

Ideally lay out your soup bowls and pour equal portions into each bowl. This soup is quite rich — not because it has any rich ingredients but beets but their nature have a rich mouth feel. So keep your portion fairly small — a cup or a bit more than a cup. Place a small mound of cucumbers in center, top with dollop of sour cream and sprinkle coarsely chopped dill in a circle around center garnish.

For the complete library of At Home blog recipes, go to the Recipe Index.

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On the Table: Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA

At dinner’s end, with guests gone and a tired me sitting on the couch, Christina nicely extolled a wonderful dinner. While I appreciated her compliments, I expressed that this dinner was not a culinary triumph that required any great skill. I asserted, as I often do, that preparing a nice meal is more a matter of aspiration and planning than it is any great skill. You could have prepared this dinner.

Here is the slightly ridiculous haul from my drive through Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties. My farm stand shopping is a matter of faith. I have faith that when I get home I will find good uses for all that I have purchased over the week.

Here was my mostly Northern Chester & Montgomery County Menu:

Hors d’oeuvres
Roast marinated sweet & hot peppers with grilled bread
Deviled eggs
Soppressetta from DiBruno’s
Cerviche of diver scallops with coriander

Dinner
Cold Beet Soup with Cucumbers, Sour Cream & Dill

Tomato & Red Leaf Lettuce Salad

Grilled Shiso-marinated Swordfish
Creamy Corn Salad
Grilled Wax Beans

Cherry Grove Farm Toma Primavera

Peach Sorbet with Blackberries & Doughnut Peaches

Dinner began at 7 PM with the Blanc de Blanc Champagne from J.Maki’s Chester County winery. Everyone agreed it was excellent by any standard — not just excellent for being a local champagne.

Light hors d’oeuvres included roast, marinated sweet and hot pepper, deviled eggs and a DiBruno’s house-made soppressetta. The deviled eggs includes mayonnaise, mustard, a tiny dice or cornichon, fresh chives and topped with sweet smoked Spanish paprika. Frankly, the roasted peppers were a pain to peel — but they were possibly the unexpected hit of the evening. I bought them at a stand in a residential street from a “backyard” farmer whose mode of transport was a golf cart rather than a tractor. The peppers were arrayed in little plastic baskets like we use to serve burgers at Frog Burger — $1 a basket, one red sweet and one hot green. But they were very thin-skinned peppers that were difficult to peel after I charred them in the broiler. I cut them into short, thin strips and tossed them in olive oil and garlic. They were served with grilled bread — something a bit different from fully crisp crostini. I plan to post a “How to Make Grilled Bread” Tip in the next week or so. DiBruno’s house-made dried sausages are a go-to easy hors d’oeuvres addition.

Another very easy hors d’oeuvres are sliced diver scallops — also know as dry scallops because they are not packed in that awful white liquid that lesser quality scallops can be packed. They are simply thin-sliced and “dressed” about a half hour before guests arrive with lime juice, olive oil, chives and crushed toasted coriander seed — plus a little sea salt and pepper. There is a similar recipe on page 149 of At Home using pink peppercorns.

Unlike recent weeks when dinner was served family style on the table — that is, on platters where guests helped themselves, this menu was a plated dinner.

This cold beet soup is the third cold soup I have done this month. As frequently noted, I am a fan of soups as meal starters. They are easy, do ahead and lend themselves to dressing up. Here, the soup is dressed up with a small dice of cucumber, a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill. To make the soup, I just peeled the beets, cut into similar-sized chunks, cooked in a corn stock with onion and garlic, pureed in a blender and flavored with red wine vinegar. Look for the recipe tomorrow.

The cold soup co-opted the first course that would likely included tomatoes so I added a small tomato salad to the menu. I picked up some beautiful red accented lettuce from the Z Farm stand on Rittenhouse Square in the morning. The tomatoes and sweet onion came from my trip as did the basil. So, this is just the lettuce, two slices of tomato, topped with small yellow pear and orange tomatoes — cut into half as even the smallest tomatoes should be — dressed with a little balsamic, very good olive oil, Maldon sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and topped with a basil chiffonade. Everything was ready to go to be plated well before guests arrived.

I had grilled fresh swordfish earlier in the week for Christina and she lobbied to have it again for our guests. Given my failure to locate duck or lamb or pork on my drive, I went for the swordfish. It was marinated in a little garlic, shredded shiso — a minty, grassy herb that I got from Z Farm and olive oil. It was grilled in my grill pan — good as any you would get off a backyard grill. Served with a properly trimmed lemon wedge. There is a similar recipe on page 198 in At Home. I decided to grill the yellow wax beans. Just lightly tossed in olive oil and grill. Here a grill pan is much better than an open grill as there is no place for the beans to fall. The grilling adds a dimension to the otherwise very simple beans. See At Home page 307 for Grilled Green Beans. And what’s the purpose of a summer’s dinner but for an excuse to eat corn. Here it’s shaved with just a little sweet red pepper for color and purple scallion. What was unusual about this corn salad is that I had some leftover home-made mayonnaise from the deviled eggs and felt that the plate could use something creamy so I dressed the corn salad in the mayonnaise. It was sweet and creamy with a little bite from the scallion. One does not frequently see a corn salad with a creamy dressing.

We served the J.Maki Viognier with dinner. Like the champagne, it was also excellent. If you are not familiar with Viognier’s — a varietal grape that typically not bone dry and with tropical fruit overtones. At Home owners check-out the wine chart on page 32.

Rather than a full blown and filling cheese course added to an already ample meal, I served just a little bit of a Toma Primavera from Lawrenceville, NJ’s Cherry Grove Farm. I would put this cheese up there with the world’s best cheeses. It is available at the Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market. It’s served with a little grilled bread.

Weaver’s peaches were ripe, sweet, spectacular and easy to handle freestones. I made a peach sorbet by simply pureeing a mix or yellow and white peaches — skin and all – them passing the puree through a strainer to remove the larger pieces of skin — adding a ginger-scented simple syrup and then freezing in my ice cream freezer. It is important to “temper” sorbet or ice cream before serving. That means removing it from the freezer so it has a chance to soften somewhat. The peach sorbet was served with a grilled half of a yellow doughnut peach. I used an apple corer to get the pit out while accenting the “doughnut.” These were brushed with honey from Jack’s Farm Stand of two weeks ago and olive oil and grilled. Blackberries provided a color and slightly sour counterpoint.

Prep and Service Strategy
I always counsel that the ideal is to begin planning a weekend dinner at least the weekend before and spread your tasks over time. My current schedule isn’t allowing me to do this, but here’s how I would approach this meal if I were you. The sorbet and roast marinated peppers the weekend before. (Be careful not to eat those wonderful peppers during the week!)  The cold beet soup early in the week. You can also make deviled eggs mid-week though I would not stuff them until Friday or Saturday. Shop on Thursday for everything else except the swordfish and scallops. On Friday, grill bread and store in air-tight bag, dice cucumbers and chop dill for soup, slice onions for tomato salad, rinse lettuce and store in damp towel, blanch yellow beans, make corn salad, chop garlic for swordfish marinade, make lemon wedges and remove pits from doughnut peaches. Friday also set the table and chill wine.

That leaves for Saturday during the day, slice scallops, marinate swordfish, grill yellow beans, slice small tomatoes and make basil chiffonade. Grill doughnut peaches. Place hors d’oeuvres on platters or bowls. Make sure you give yourself one relaxed hour before guests arrive. If you follow this schedule that will be easy.

To turn-out dinner: dress scallops, bowl and garnish soup, arrange and dress tomato salad, grill swordfish and plate entree, cut cheese and plate with grilled bread, plate sorbet with doughnut peach and peach sorbet.

I am not suggesting this is no effort. Nor am I suggesting you try to repeat this exact meal — though I believe you could. What I am suggesting is that by planning ahead and spreading out your tasks, this can all be fun and not a chore — including the shopping.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Cold Lightly Curried Zucchini Soup

For access to all of At Home blog recipes, visit the Recipe Index. Additional cold soup recipes include Cold Corn Soup, Handmade Gazpacho for a Crowd and Cold Cucumber Soup with Dill.

Cold Lightly Curried Zucchini Soup
In summertime, cold soup makes for the perfect lunch along with good bread and cheese and an ideal starter to dinner. Zucchini is plentiful and inexpensive during summer — so much so that its bounty outstrips its uses. Grilling is a simple and excellent use. Ratatouille is a summertime classic, but an ambitious undertaking. The relative blandness of zucchini lends itself to accepting flavors such as the lightly curried accent to this buttermilk enhanced soup. The slight sourness of buttermilk — similar in character to yogurt, adds to the refreshing nature of this soup.

Do Ahead Soup may be made up to five days ahead and refrigerated

1 medium onion, sliced — about 2 cups
2 pounds zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced — about 7-8 cups
1 cup diced celery with leaves plus leaves for garnish
1 cup parsley leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup small cubed carrots
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups corn, vegetable or chicken stock (See note.)
2 cups reduced fat buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a thick 4 quart pot, heat olive oil over moderate high heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to wilt. Reduce heat to moderate. Add curry powder, stir well and cook for about a minute stirring. Add zucchini, garlic,celery and parsley. Stir well. Cook about 7-8 minutes until unions wilt and zucchini starts to soften.
2. Add stock and cover. Cook another 8-10 minutes until zucchini soft. Off heat and allow to cool.
3. Transfer to blender and blend until smooth. You may need to do this in two batches.
4. Transfer to bowl, add buttermilk, salt and pepper. Chill at three to four hours until very cold.
5. Bring water to boil in small pot and add carrots. Cook about a minute until slightly softened. Strain carrots and run under cold water or transfer to bowl of ice water.
6. Before serving, adjust thickness adding more buttermilk if too thick. Taste for salt and pepper. Remember that as things get colder they can take more salt.
To serve: Place in individual bowls. Place small mound of carrots in middle and smallish pieces of torn celery leaves in a circle.

Yield 2 quarts serving 6-8.

Note about Corn Stock
Corn produces a simply wonderful sweet stock. Just save the water from cooking your corn on the cob, add back the cobs after shaving away corn (or even after eating — yes, that’s right – the cobs will boil and the stock will be perfectly safe!) and some sliced onion. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and strain. You can boil stock to increase its flavor concentration.

Cold Lightly Curried Zucchini Soup is quite simple to make, cool and refreshing. The buttermilk provides a slight sour undertone, much as yogurt does in the previously featured Cold Cucumber Soup. In fact, you could substitute yogurt for the buttermilk. If you do this, you will need to thin out soup with more stock or water as yogurt is thicker than buttermilk.

Trim the ends from zucchini. Then cut in half lengthwise. Cut slices about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. You do not have to be precise about the thickness as it all gets pureed.

To make small carrot cubes — or to cube other similar-shaped vegetables — begin with a peeled carrot.

With a sharp knife cutting parallel to cutting surface, cut lengthwise slices.

Cut these slices into long strips and line up the strips.

Cut across the strips and create your small carrot cubes. If you want smaller cubes, cut thinner slices and thinner strips. The cubes will not all be the same size — nor will they truly be “cubes” — but they will be perfect for what you need.

Ready to start cooking. This recipe uses the basic technique for making soups based on vegetable purees. Basically this is a light saute of the primary vegetable — here zucchini — along with aromatics like onion and garlic, seasonings — here curry powder — and preferably a flavored stock, but, in a pinch, water.

There is a recipe for Mastering Vegetable Puree Soups on Page 110-111 of At Home followed by the ingredients for Cream of Brussels Sprouts, Asparagus Soup and Roasted Cauliflower Soup. While, except for Spring-arriving asparagus, these are not warm weather vegetables, I have seen local cauliflower at farm stands and Brussels sprouts will start to arrive while the weather is still warm and they would all make wonderful cold soups.  Purchase At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining – available only online.

Use a thick-bottom pot like this enamel over cast iron. This enables even cooking and prevents scorching. Add the onions to hot olive oil.

Cook until onions begin to wilt and soften – about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally so onions cook evenly. You do not want onions to brown.

Add curry powder and cook about a minute. This “toasts” the curry, enhances the flavor and removes any rawness. Stir as you do this to prevent scorching.

Add zucchini, garlic, parsley and celery and stir well. Cook for 4-5 minutes until zucchini starts to soften.

Add stock, reduce heat to moderate and cook for 8-10 minutes until zucchini is soft.

Allow to cool before transferring to blender. This is not for culinary purposes as you could puree while hot. It is for safety purposes so you do not run the risk of getting splashed with hot liquid. Blend until very smooth. (Note: This is an incredible blender. Expensive, but worth it.)  Transfer to bowl and add buttermilk, salt and pepper. Allow to chill for at least 3-4 hours until very cold. Before serving, check thickness. It should have the consistency of thick heavy cream — not at all watery. Liquids will naturally thicken as they chill so you may need to thin more. In addition, cold liquids usually need more salt, so taste and adjust, adding more salt if needed.

Quickly blanch carrots in boiling water for about a minute. You want to remove the raw carrot quality while retaining some “bite.”

Strain carrots and run under cold water or place in ice bath to stop cooking and retain texture.

To serve, place in bowl with a small mound of carrots in center and a few pieces of celery leaves scattered around. You have an easy, do ahead and delicious start to a dinner or the centerpiece of a lunch with a tossed salad, some good bread and cheese.

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Cold Cucumber-Yogurt Soup with Dill

Cold Cucumber-Yogurt Soup with Dill

Some crops are so prolific that their yield outstrips their uses. Late summer zucchini comes to mind. Cucumbers are another. Make sure to check out the end of this recipe for more things to do with cucumbers. (On the other hand, you can never have too many tomatoes.) This easy recipe uses the classic combination of cucumbers, yogurt and dill as a basis for a cold, chunky and refreshing warm weather soup. We made an even simpler version of this soup in the early days of Frog that used only cucumbers, yogurt, water, dill, salt and pepper. Here I have added an undercurrent of red wine vinegar and a little olive oil. For a small variation, don’t mix the olive oil into the soup — as the recipe instructs, but instead drizzle a very fine olive oil on top of each serving as a nice added garnishing touch.

Do ahead You can make soup two to three days in advance and store in refrigerator.

6 medium to large whole cucumbers, about 3 pounds
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill plus about 1/4 cup larger torn dill leaves for garnish
2 cups whole milk plain yogurt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon quality red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 thinly sliced radishes, optional garnish
2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup water

1 . Slice cucumbers in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scape out seeds and discard. Cut half cucumbers into a few pieces each. Place in work bowl of food processor. Process until smooth puree.
2 . Cut balance of cucumbers into long, thin strips. Line into piles and cut across into cubes. Dice into small cubes — 1/4 to 1/8th inch.
3 . In a large bowl, combine yogurt, vinegar, olive oil and mix well. Add pureed cucumber, diced cucumber, garlic, red onion, 1/2 cup dill, salt and pepper.
4 . Adjusting consistency: Soup should have consistency of half and half. The chunks of cucumber should be prevalent, but this is a soup and not a salsa. Gradually add a little water until it reaches right consistency.  It will thicken as it chills and you can always add a touch more water if it seems too thick after it chills. But once you add the water, it’s impossible to go back and you will have to serve a thin soup.
5 . Chill until very cold, at least two hours. Check for salt and pepper. Serve in bowls with feathery sprigs of dill in spread on the top. For optional garnish, place 5-6 overlapping radish slices in center.

Yield 6-7 cups serving 6

Simple to make with relatively few ingredients. Use plain whole milk yogurt. I used Greek yogurt, but that is not necessary. In fact, the next time I make this I will not use Greek yogurt.

Regardless of how you use them, cucumbers are always better if you scrape out the seeds – — except for whole pickled cucumbers. Cut peeled cucumbers in half lengthwise and with a spoon and scrape out the seeds as seen on the “upper” cucumber.

To cut cucumbers or other vegetables into small cubes, start by cutting long, thin strips. Then cut across the strips to make cubes.

Here are cubes that I felt were a bit too large.

So I diced the cucumbers more until they were fairly uniform and the size I wanted.

I chopped all my cucumbers and then divided them into equal piles and pureed one pile. But then I decided it made more sense to take half the cucumbers before chopping and cut them into “food processor-friendly” chunks. Since I was going to puree half the cucumbers, there was no reason to dice this half — extra work. This re-think is reflected in the recipe above. Please note the dough scrapper that I consider an essential “prep tool.” For more on how to make your prep work easier, see At Home Page 21 –  Setting Up for Prep and Cooking.

A Note about the chopped garlic: Chop the garlic very fine. I love garlic. When I made this soup Christina expressed the concern that maybe it had too much garlic for a dinner party so I backed off the garlic a little in the recipe. Regardless of your garlic preferences, this is raw garlic and you don’t want your guest biting into a big piece. So don’t skimp on the garlic but especially don’t skimp on the chopping. See At Home Page 39 for tips on making chopping garlic  easy.

Here’s the finished soup. Make sure it spends at least two hours in the refrigerator before serving. It will thicken more as it chills so adjust with a touch of cold water if needed. Also, the colder something is, the more salt it needs so check for salt.

And here it is ready to be served. Note the over-lapping slices of radish and the feathery leaves of dill.

Some other things to do with cucumbers:
Cucumbers with Lime Salt  See At Home Page 67
Cucumber red onion salad  See At Home Page 255
Asian Cucumber Salsa  See At Home Page 210
Sauteed cucumbers with garlic and mint – peel and seed cucumbers and cut into “batons”
Vietnamese pickled cucumber slices  See At Home Page 219  Substite sliced cucumbers for dikon
Pickles with Kirby cucumbers  See At Home Note on Pickling on Page 220
Pimm’s #1 Cup Cocktail  – a wonderful summer cocktail that we are serving at a party on July 17th
Cucumber Vodka  — vodka infused with cucumber — and Cucumber Cooler  See At Home Page 52

Maple Acres Pickling Demonstration
Speaking of what to do with cucumbers, Maple Acres is holding a “Pickling Demonstration” on Saturday, July 3rd at 11:00 AM. I love pickling and think it is very underused by home entertainers. (I always keep a container of Vietnamese pickled carrots and daikon in my refrigerator.) So, this Saturday is a good day to visit Maple Acres.

New Blog Recipe Index
If you are not reading the blog on the blog site you are missing out on lots of features including a better looking blog. It’s easy to get to the blog site by just clicking on the blog title. We have recently added tags that enable you to search blogs that might interest you. And today we added a Recipe Index that provides an easy way to locate the nearly 80 recipes that have been featured in the blog since it started about a year ago. Use the Recipe Index to check-out the Cold Corn Soup and other recipes from last summer. This July 4th Weekend there should be lots of fresh local corn around.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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On the Road: Maple Acres Farm, Plymouth Meeting, PA

“Cooking that’s sensitive to seasonal changes is a way of staying connected to your particular place in the world.”
From At Home’s Foods by Season — Page 9

This is the first of my summertime Farm Stand series. Each week this summer — time permitting, I will take you along on my trips to area farm stands and help you look at them through my eyes. Each week I will also publish a recipe based upon my visit. These recipes may either accompany the blog about my visit or be posted the following day or so if I feel the blog about the visit is too long.

My goal is to inspire you to visit and support area farmers and to share what you find with friends and family…At Home! If you know of others who might enjoy following me on my travels and collect a summertime’s worth of recipes, I hope you will pass along information about my blog and encourage friends and family to sign up. Who knows? Maybe, in return, you’ll get an invitation to their homes to enjoy a farm stand lunch or dinner?

Note: I am still looking for recommendations for farm stands and farmer’s markets to visit within about 50 miles from Philadelphia. Please share your recommendation via the Comments button at the bottom of the blog.

Maple Acres Farm, Plymouth Meeting

For years my go-to farm stand has been Maple Acres Farm in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. On occasion I personally handle smaller Frog Commissary events in area homes. These customers give me wide latitude in menu planning so I am able to make for them what I think they would enjoy and I would enjoy making. During the summer this frequently means a trip to Maple Acres where what’s been “just picked” guides my plan. Located on Narcissa Road in Plymouth Meeting, Maple Acres is a working farm just northwest of Philadelphia — and to the best of my knowledge, the closest working farm to the city. It is about five minutes from the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

I last visited Maple Acres in mid-Spring and the cupboards were nearly bare. What a difference a blazingly hot spring makes. Today Maple Acres benches are filled with a mix of home-grown and neighborhood grown produce with the promise of more to come.

In addition to providing wonderful fresh produce, Maple Acres’ wide expanse of fields provides a welcome respite of open space in an area crowded with suburban homes and shopping malls.

My quest was for the unusual variety of eggplant I find each summer at Maple Acres — all manner of color and shape from the traditional plump purple to long and thin green and white to peach-sized orange eggplant. My plan was to do a blog recipe for these grilled eggplant – a summertime staple. Upon arrival I discovered that I was just a bit early for my eggplant. In a few weeks the eggplant will be available along with the sweet and hot peppers I love so much that line an entire bench each year — the mild peppers usually in green baskets and the hot peppers in red.  Home-grown produce like zucchini and summer squash occasionally shares space with commercially grown produce — especially prior to July 4th — such as these sweet red and yellow peppers, provided as a convenience to shoppers, while Maple Acres own sweet peppers mature in the neighboring fields under the bright summer sun.

Undaunted by my missing eggplant, I wandered the aisles while I mulled my recipe possibilities. Just then I heard one of the dedicated Maple Acres workers say, with a touch of dismay, that they had more cucumbers than they knew what to do with. Cucumbers trail badly in the glamor vegetable race — lost in the shadow of the tomato, corn and the aforementioned eggplant. An early arriver on the farm stand benches, cucumbers have a lovely flavor and crunch. My farm stand recipe from Maple Acres will be a Cold Cucumber Yogurt Soup with Dill. Look for this recipe tomorrow.

A plastic bag of these quickly blanched green and yellow beans sits in our refrigerator for a healthy and delicious snack. In the middle are broad Romano beans, another favorite. A regular summertime salad of mine is a simple mix of  yellow and green beans that I dress with lime juice, olive oil, just the slightest touch of sesame oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper. Also, check out At Home’s simple recipe for Grilled Green Beans on Page 307 – an unusual way to treat beans.

As with most farm stands, Maple Acres supplements what it grows with other locally sourced produce. Here are first of the season Jersey peaches — sweet, juicy and delicious. They were still hard when I bought them, but after two days in a brown paper bag on my kitchen counter, they were ready to eat.

Maple Acres now sells Jersey tomatoes. In a few weeks Maple Acres will offer several varieties of their own tomatoes — including big, fat beefsteak, plum and several heirloom types including a green striped and fuzzy yellow. I am a big fan of fried green tomatoes — available at Frog Burger — and, on request, you might get them to go out and pick a few for you. (See At Home Page 360 for my recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes.) As the season progresses, prices come down and you can often find bargain baskets of over-ripe tomatoes — perfect for gazpacho or making batches of fresh tomato sauce and freezing.

This year a neighbor will be providing baked vegetable tarts. Pop them in the oven to re-fresh and you have the perfect at home lunch or dinner first course.

Over the past several years Maple Acres has greatly expanded its “product line” including meat. They raise their own beef and pork. Sold frozen, I can vouch for how good it is. Use the pork shoulder for my Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder Infused with Lime, Garlic & Thyme on Page 168. My lunchtime break from writing this blog was two olive-oil fried Maple Acres eggs  with diced Jersey tomatoes, fresh basil, salt and pepper. The eggs were still warm when I bought them.

And fresh lamb from a local farm has been added. See At Home’s  Grilled Boneless Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Honey & Lemon on Page 196.

In addition to produce, Maple Acres sells flowering plants and big, healthy pots of herbs. Many a year Maple Acres was my source for lavender — the essential ingredient for At Home’s great lavender ice cream — the ice cream I made for Christina the first time I cooked diner for her. See Page 414.

Several fields of flowers supplements meat and produce sales. In addition, Maple Acres has its own line of jarred products such as Tomato Butter and its own ketchup.

A bargain is the “cut your own” 10 for $1.50 zinnias. They provide the scissors and a field of zinnias and you provide the labor. Zinnias make for the perfect summer flower arrangement. If you are a novice flower arranger, check our “Simplified Flower Arranging” on pages 28 and 29 of At Home.

If you prefer, you can purchase cut zinnias along with a beautiful variety of other field-grown flowers including enormous sunflowers.

Beyond the field of zinnias is one of several large fields of corn. Even though my eggplants and the peppers are not quite ready, our hot spring has resulted in fresh corn’s arrival several weeks prior to its traditional July 4th entry.

Corn is picked four times  a day. Right now there is white, but as the season moves along you can select from bi-color or white. My preference is for bi-color, part a flavor preference and part a color preference as bi-color looks better in the many fresh corn salads I make over the summer. (Note: Frog Burger at The Franklin Institute sells a wonderful fresh corn and sweet pepper salad.)

So, this is the first of my summer’s worth of farm stand visits. Despite what feels like already unrelenting heat, new crops await at Maple Acres and other area farm stands.

I encourage you to take a trip to Maple Acres Farm, 2656 Narcissa Road, Plymouth Meeting, PA  19426  (610) 828.7395. You can also visit and become a Fan on their Facebook site.

Look for Cold Cucumber-Yogurt Soup with Dill tomorrow.

Buy At Home Today
At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining is bursting with farm stand inspired recipes perfect for summertime entertaining. At Home is only available online at Athomebysteveposes.com. Books come with a key code that provides digital access to all of At Home’s contents plus lots of classic recipes from The Frog Commissary Cookbook. You can also click on the Buy the Book button on the At Home blog.

Chestnut Hill Book Festival

I will be appearing at Laurel Hill Gardens on Saturday, July 10th at 2 PM in conjunction with the second annual Chestnut Hill Book Festival. I lived for many years in Chestnut Hill and always looked forward to my many visits to Laurel Hill. Most the herbs from my herb garden came from Laurel Hill along with many years worth of annuals and perennials. So, I am especially pleased to be there. As At Home is not available in book stores, this will be an excellent opportunity to get your signed copy and hear me discuss planting an herb garden. Laurel Hill is located at 8125 Germantown Avenue.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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My Handmade Gazpacho for a Crowd Recipe

The optional jalapeno is quite mild and if you really would like a kick to your gazpacho, double the jalapeno or add some hot sauce to taste. This recipe will yield about 4 quarts of a thick gazpacho — plenty for 10-12 guests. Feel free to halve the recipe. Cilantro is my prefernce with this soup– although this time around I decided to use basil because I was serving this with couscous and corn salad, which uses cilantro.

Do ahead Gazpacho is actually best made a day or two ahead as the flavors blend. You could make it up to four days in advance and keep it in the refrigerator.

3 1/2 pounds excellent ripe tomatoes, small dice
Preferably peeled and seeded – see yesterday’s blog
3 medium sweet peppers, ideally green and at least one other color, small cubes
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes (see below)
1 medium red onion, finely diced
1 medium jalapeno, stem, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced*
1 bunch scallions–green and all, finely diced
4 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
6 cups tomato juice
3/4 cup good quality red wine or sherry vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons chopped basil or cilantro, optional

Optional croutons
4 cups small bread cubes–use a good quality country-style bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1. Once all of the vegetable are chopped, combine ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Taste for vinegar. The gazpacho should have a definite edge of vinegar without tasting sour.

Yields 4 quarts Serves 8-10

A quick lesson in cutting small cubes with photo below:

1. Cut whatever vegetable you are using into long, uniform stripes. If it’s peppers and you are really compulsive you can trim the ends and cube them separately, but that level of compulsiveness is not recommended.

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2. Line up the strips and cut across into small cubes.

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If the cubes seem too large, you can dice them–not as perfectly cubed, but perfectly fine.

Optional croutons
1. Allow bread cubes to dry out at least overnight. The drying prevents bread from absorbing too much oil.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place dried cubes in bowl. Pour oil down and around edge of bowl and toss croutons to distribute oil. Transfer oiled cubes to rimmed baking sheet. Bake on middle shelf of oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden. Allow to cool. Add 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt and toss.

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Gazpacho with optional croutons and a few torn leaves for garnish.

Pass croutons on the side in a bowl with a soup spoon for your guests to add to their soup.

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Cold Corn Soup Recipe

Cold Corn Soup

Do ahead: Soup can be made up to four days ahead and refrigerated.

Yield about two quarts serving six

4 plump and generous ears sweet corn, shucked with all silk removed

2 medium sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 quarts water

Salt to taste

Fresh basil, tarragon, chervil or other fresh soft herb for garnish, optional

1. Bring two quarts water to boil. Add corn. Cook for two minutes. Remove. Reserve cooking water.

2. Run corn under cold water to cool. With a sharp knife, slice all corn kernels away from cob. Using the blunt side of your knife’s blade, scrape along the naked cob to extract any corn nuggets and milk. Reserve and set aside. A dough scraper is a handy tool here to scoop up the milky mass.

3. Return corn cobs along with onion to cooking water. Simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Remove cob, taking care to pull off and save cooked onions. Strain out onions reserving both the onions and corn stock.

5. Add reserved corn and onions to blender jar. Add half of stock and blend and blend and blend until soup is creamy and smooth. Add more stock as necessary to blender and obtain a soupy consistency. Add stock slowly as you can always add more, but once it gets too thin there’s not much you can do except make more to add to your too thin batch.

6. Add salt to taste remembering that is things get cold, saltiness reduces. Chill until cold, at least two hours. Taste for salt and adjust to taste. Garnish with a little chopped fresh herbs.

You can also serve this in a demitasse or sake cup as an hors d’oeuvres. Half the recipe to serve 12-15, depending on size of your cups.

I served mine with a sweet and hot pepper and red onion relish, but that’s a blog for tomorrow’s post. Check in early–before you head to your local farmers’ market.

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