Tuesday, October 20, 2015

DIY Halloween Creepy, Crawly, Cute Spiders

Christmas seems to arrive earlier every year. The shops have already started offering ornaments,trees and other Yuletide things. By mid-November last year, we needed some extra lights for our tree and I could not find a single store that still carried them. Shocking. Let's not forget Halloween comes before then. Cozy weather makes unexpected quick appearances here, but does not stay long enough for us to get the neck scarves out. The short rainfalls are a welcome change, but the thermostat hasn't dropped enough for us to light the  fire. So, we pretend with festive lights in our fireplace. My little mermaid and I have been working on sprucing the house with autumn colors. We are not fans of the blood-stained machete, skeletons with glowing eyes and other such freaky Halloween stuff, but we do like a few spooky things. While the best cobwebs are made by real spiders (and we have plenty of those around the house), we set up some of the store bought stuff  and made a cute little family of arachnoids to make a gnarly statement. This is such a fun and inexpensive craft with very little, if any mess. These little cuties are a big hit with the kids and add a touch of whimsy anywhere they sit....or hang!

Meet Cecil. He is my new pet spider. The best thing about Cecil is that he does not poop or pee or chew up my favorite flippers. He is a dapper fellow donning a festive striped bowtie and handsome mustache. Cecil has a family. There's his lovely Mrs. who is sporting an elegant designer scarf. Last, but never least, is their li'l sweetheart Daisy who wears a pretty li'l bow in her "hair." We had so much fun making these furry little critters, that we made another set for my sister and her family. This batch was more sophisticated with each little spider holding a teeny flag in hand like an accomplished mountain climber.

Making the spiders was a bit of a last-minute thing. I had a ton of black pipe cleaners left over from a previous craft and got this idea in my head. The spiders are super cute with nothing but the pipers and googly eyes, but I had one black pompom that I used as the head for the Daisy spider. It turned out extra cute. If you can't find pompoms, don't worry about it. These little guys turn out adorable without them. Grab the kids and start making your own now. Here's how.

Pipe Cleaner Spiders
Caution: If using a hot glue gun, protect little hands from getting burned.
Makes 1 spider

5 12" black pipe cleaners
Elmers of hot glue gun
1 small black pompom
1 pair googly eyes
ribbon for bow (optional)

Bend 4 pipe cleaners in half and cut.
For a smaller spider, cut the halves into half again.

Twist the remaining pipe cleaners around your
finger to form a spiral.

Insert the four pipe cleaners through the center of the
Bring the two opposite ends together so that
the spiral fans out. 

Shape the legs so that there are 4 on each side.
Bend the "feet" into shape.
If you have the pompom, glue it into place for the head.
Attach the eyes with glue.
Tie ribbon into small bow and glue into place.
That's it. You're done. Now make some more!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Easy Caramel Sauce + TWO Giveaway Winners Announced!

Congratulations to Alexandra & Carla for winning our giveway! A very warm thanks to everyone who participated. Stay tuned for our upcoming giveaway.
Nutella just met its match. I have created a monster which has me shamelessly sneaking spoonfuls all day and I just cannot stop. Consider yourself warned. The same thing could happen to you. I still have to fight the urge to polish off a whole jar of that chocolaty goodness from Italy, but I'd like to think my taste is more refined these days. Caramel has now taken the spotlight and my goal has been to perfect a recipe for homemade sauce. Working with sugar can be tricky. What happens after it cools depends entirely on how much heat was applied. For years, I have been an expert at making toffee, but getting that gorgeous, shiny caramel that flows off the top of a slice of cake has been a challenge, until now. Grandma's toffee went through a bit of a transformation and became a silky smooth, insanely delicious butter caramel sauce with an ever-so-slight hint of salt. Slap some of this stuff onto an old pair of sea captain's boots and you can serve them for dessert.

Salt is crucial to sugar, because it tames the sweetness. This is especially true of caramel. The amount of salt differs dramatically depending on the origin and form of salt used. A teeny teaspoon of good old Morton's packs a lot more flavor than delicate sea salt. Also, coarse crystals and flakes will not dissolve into the caramel as readily as fine ground. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, especially if you enjoy a surprising punch of salt in your caramel.

With Christmas just around the corner, these sweet jars of homemade caramel sauce make perfect gifts for those I love. The ingredients are so simple. Everything you need is already in your fridge and pantry. Stock up on little jars, some old fabric, twine and a pair of pinking shears to make the prettiest little personalized gifts that are sure to make everyone on your list smile with delight.

I remember the first time I made this sweet delight. I have a habit of flipping through food magazines at bedtime. A photo of Clodagh McKenna's buttery bread pudding had been doing cartwheels in my mind all night and I woke up early, hell-bent on making it for my family. It was a rainy Sunday morning, perfect for a cozy breakfast. While the pudding was in the oven, I started making the caramel sauce. I literally threw everything into the pot and brought it to a bubbling boil. It was the first thing to go on the table, before I added plates, napkins and such. Every time I walked through the dining room on my way into the kitchen, I caught a whiff of that sweet, brown butter and I swear my knees almost gave out. I hadn't even tasted it yet, but I knew I had a winner.
Sugar changes dramatically (and irreversibly) depending on how much heat is applied to it. Heat it past a certain point and it will solidify after it cools. There is a perfect temperature threshold where the sugar melts and cooks into a toasty color and flavor, but promises to stay liquid after it chills. Getting there is the trick.. Once the sugar mixture has liquified and turned a deep amber color, it's time to take it off the heat.
A candy thermometer obliterates the guesswork from identifying that perfect stage and guarantees consistent results in the home kitchen. But, enter the giveaway below and I will buy a candy thermometer for TWO of you. This giveaway is open to my international friends. Hurry and enter before Friday October 23rd.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Butter Caramel Sauce
Notes: As with anything made with sugar, take extra precautions to protect children, pets and yourself from nasty burns. Set the pot on a burner farthest from the edge, away from little hands and heat it very slowly. Toward the end, the temperature will rise rather suddenly and the molten sugar will smoke and burn. Keep a watchful eye on the pot at all times.

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 cups

1 1/2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
1 tsp table salt (or 2 if you want proper salted caramel)
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, @ room temp

Clip a candy thermometer, if using, to the side of a heavy-bottomed pot.

Add butter, sugar and salt to the pot and place it over medium heat at the back of the stove.
Use a wooden spoon to stir just until the butter and sugar have dissolved.

Lower the heat a bit and let the mixture slowly bubble away, just until the candy thermometer registers 310*F.
Be careful as this is when the sugar will start to smoke and quickly burn.
The mixture should be quite fluid and a rich, dark amber.

Remove from the heat. Stir vigorously and very slowly stream the heavy cream into the hot sugar mixture.

Finish with the vanilla and set the caramel aside to cool.
Divide among jars and decorate with pretty bows and such.
Store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Caramel sauce is a luxurious, decadent addition to anything sweet, but adventurous foodies know it has earned a slot on the ingredients list of a few savory dishes hailing from Trinidad and Vietnam. Savory or sweet, the choice is yours. Whatever you decide, make the sauce first. Worry about what you will do with it later. Do all the usual things, like drizzling it over ice cream or over warm bread pudding fresh out of the oven on Sunday morning. Ditch the usual cream and sugar. Put this caramel sauce into your morning coffee, or better yet, into your evening coffee for a treat before bedtime. Not a coffee connoisseur? It's lovely in tea, too. And, don't forget to enter the giveaway to win your own candy thermometer so you can make this luscious caramel sauce. If you absolutely cannot help just eating it by the spoonful right out of the jar, I won't be telling anyone.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Candied Rose Petals

It may surprise those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Middle Eastern country to find out that roses are ever-present in beautifully manicured gardens with signature reflection pools and water fountains. The Middle East is not the dry, desolate desert they will have you believe. Dreamlike memories fill my mind with visions of a lush field of wildflowers playing audience to the porch that ran the length of my aunt's country villa near a rocky river in the mountains. The porch held a very important role in the family's social structure. It was where guests were received and treated to freshly brewed tea poured from the samovar that stood at attention, ready to serve. In the hot summer months, it was customary to sleep under the stars, in a modest bed laid over ornate Persian rugs. The soft chirping of the nightingale and  trickle of the water fountain summoned slumber as the sweet smell of the roses and orange blossoms filled the night air. These memories are real treasures from my childhood with my grandparents in Iran that I want to share with Daisy. We like to bake together, decorate the house together and even tend to the roses in the front yard now and then. It's fun watching her moving things around. Just this morning, she moved a couple of tall candle holders off of a low china cabinet and set them on either side of the arched entryway between the living and dining rooms. I never would have thought to put anything there. So clever. She is always up for anything creative. 
Sugared fruit have always caught my eye. They're just so elegant, with that modest sparkle under certain light. The problem I have with sugaring anything is that the "glue" is often raw egg whites and I worry about bacteria. Thankfully there's meringue powder which is made of dried and pasteurized egg whites. Your local craft store will likely have the Wilton brand. Edible glitter adds a little sparkle and may be easier to find online than at the craft store. When I told Daisy the plan, she jumped at the chance to help right away and did a stellar job. We made sparkly white petals, red petals and pink petals in honor of Pinktober. They all turned out beautifully, so dainty and sweet.

Candied Rose Petals
Inspired by Zozobaking

What to Get
food-safe paint brush
two small bowls
small spoon
superfine sugar
2 tsp meringue powder
2 Tb water
edible glitter
organic flower petals

What to Do
In a small bowl, mix meringue powder with water until blended.

Fill the other bowl with sugar and edible glitter. Mix to combine.

Gently rinse the rose petals and set them to dry on a paper towel.
Dip the brush into the meringue mixture and coat a petal evenly.

Transfer the petal into the bowl with the glittered sugar.
Use the spoon to sprinkle the top of the petal with sugar.
Carefully set the petal onto a clean surface to dry.

Store dried petals in a clean glass jar until ready to use.
Now that Fall is officially here, the holidays are not too far away. We have been setting out our pumpkins, cute owls, baskets and pine cones, decorating our front porch and warming up our home. Food is also becoming more festive and while I love savory, you know I'm only just waiting for the sweet that follows.  The beautiful roses in full bloom in our front yard gave me an idea. Middle Eastern pastries are often perfumed with rose water. Preserving the petals in sugar would serve as lovely decorations for some cupcakes we were baking and give a little hint of the otherwise unexpected rosy flavor in the icing. They are so easy and fun to make, especially with the kids. Crown a cake with these pretty petals, nestle one into fluffy frosting swirled over a cupcake or just replace the old faithful cherry on top for a fresh take on hot fudge sundaes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October Shop-Pink: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is near and dear to my heart as it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There were 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 worldwide, including me. I always think about other people who are affected by this devastating disease, wondering How are they coping? Are they as scareed as I was? Breast cancer strikes daughters, mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers, friends, families. The survival rate for early detection is 80%, but the journey is terrifying, nonetheless. There is so much we can do to help those affected and fight for a cure. First of all, look out for yourself. Get the girls checked with self-exams regularly and, when you're old enough, annual mammograms. They saved my life. Another thing you can do to help is SHOP! We girls do love shopping, don't we? There are many merchants who offer donations to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) and the Susan G. Komen Foundation with every purchase. Here are a few favourites. Click on the pictures below to go right to the sites.

KitchenAid has a Cook for the Cure campaign and has committed to donating $450,000 this year to the Komen Foundation. This does not include donations from the sale of their Pink Collection,  a line of their best gadgets in a sweet pink color. Pink was never my favorite color, but recently, I have grown to love it. Get the complete set for your kitchen for a retro-chic mood in the best room of the house.

Clinique, Tom Ford and Prescriptives are supporting the BCRF with some of their classic cosmetics available through their BCA Campaign. Even Clinique's all-time bestselling Dramatically Different Moisturizer with its signature canary-yellow hue is on the table.

The Ford Motor Corporation has established Warriors in Pink, offering apparel for men and women, accessories and car decals. Their cozy gray and pink cardigan caught my eye and I am looking to get one for myself as well as for a friend.
Powerhouse breast cancer foundation in honor of Susan G. Komen has a nice shop full of useful gifts for every member of your family. This pom-pom scarf is too cute to resist. Pet lovers, this one's for you -  waggo.com is donating 30% of sales from their line of  adorable products and toys for your furry friend to the BCRF! Avon is a veteran supporter for the cure and has a shop full of adorable gifts like these snuggly pink booties.

You can also shop direct at the BCRF. Whether you are buying something for that someone special, looking for a birthday gift, doing early holiday shopping or just looking for a little something for yourself, your purchases can do double-duty and help save the lives of men and women affected by breast cancer. Tie that pink ribbon proudly to show your support for Pinkies worldwide!

More Pinktober ideas....

Piggy Celebration Cake!

Touch of Pink Tuxedo Pumpkins!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Torched Peaches with Mascarpone and Avocado Honey

Summer has given way to Autumn as the air fills with the anticipation of cozy weather. The heat and humidity will not be missed. I am ready for a change in seasons.  In fact, I am doing a rain dance, praying for chilly evenings . But the sweet harvest of the warm months will be difficult to forget. Luckily, there are still a few fresh peaches in the fridge.

Every trip to the market includes a stop by the peach bin, where I shamelessly hold a peach up to my nose for a sniff. Daisy watches carefully and takes note. She helps me pick the good ones. If the peach has no fragrance, it's probably not going to have any taste either. That's my test.We grab as many as we can carry and make a mad dash for the cash register.

On the way home, we talk about all the things we are going to bake with our newfound bounty. As I pull in to park behind our garage, I snap my seatbelt loose only to earn a lecture from my pint-sized companion about motor vehicle safety practices.

While I fumble with all the bags of groceries, Daisy runs into the house, straight to the kitchen, commanding me to cut a peach into slices for her. There's nothing better than sweet fresh peaches. Luckily, a few have managed to survive in the fridge and we agreed to work them into something baked. Daisy ran to the garden and picked some of the lemon thyme Daddy has planted for us. I grabbed the mascarpone from the fridge and the gorgeous avocado honey we got in Cambria. Something very special came together without even bothering Mr. Oven. We put my favorite kitchen gadget to work for a raw, decadent dessert, Torched Peaches with Mascarpone and Avocado Honey. And, while our li'l treat certainly sounds posh, there is nothing complicated about making it. There is very little prep-work. You can wash fruit, can't you? Then, this one's for you.

Torched Peaches with Mascarpone + Honey
Serves: 4
Prep: 10 mins
Torch: 2 mins

4 large peaches
8 Tb mascarpone cheese
2 Tb brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest
2 Tb avocado honey
2 sprigs fresh thyme

Wash peaches, halve and remove the pips.
Dab cut side dry with a paper towel.
Use a torch to caramelize the tops.

Combine mascarpone, brown sugar and vanilla.
Spoon into the pip crater of each peach half.
Sprinkle the tops with lemon zest, fresh thyme leaves and a general drizzle of honey.

Our trip to Cambria several months ago sparked the idea for this lovely dessert when I found avocado blossom honey at The Garden Shed, one of my favorite stops. I never even realized that avocado trees had flowers that would drawn the attention of bees. The flavor of this honey is more mild than typical clover honey and the sweetness more tame, making it a great addition to any dish, really.

With just a short list of ingredients and no cooking or baking required, these seared peaches pair beautifully with cool, creamy mascarpone cheese and sweet honey. Make sure you grab a plumber's torch from your nearly home improvement store. Fresh thyme adds just a bit of fragrant spice to the mix, making it a seemingly rich, yet luxuriously light finish to supper. Serve these sweeties with your favorite bubbly and dazzle your guests.
Fall may officially be here, but the mercury just keeps rising, at least for us poor souls in Southern California. For now, we will dream of falling leaves and chilly breezes as we enjoy that last kiss of summer.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

In a perfect world, there would be more chocolate chips in a a cookie than dough. Our world is not perfect, but our cookies can be. Thanks to a secret ingredient that replaces some of the butter in the batter, the cookies hold their cute, li'l dome shapes and bake to a lovely texture. The outer layer has a delicate crumble that cracks under the tooth and leads way to a moist center with rich, creamy chocolate chips. That, my friends, is the perfect chocolate chip cookie and you can make it in a snap.

People collect all sorts of things. Some collect vintage automobiles. Others are on the lookout for costume jewelry. Despite having several really good chocolate chip cookie recipes, I can never resist trying a new one. Chocolate chippers are a childhood favorite for many of us and follow us well into our silver days. Some people like thin, crunchy cookies while others prefer chunky, chewy ones. Either way, cream cheese is the secret ingredient that brings a fresh punch of flavor to the good old chipper and magically changes the texture to a light crumble everyone can appreciate. I took a batch of these li'l sweethearts to the office yesterday and got so many requests for the recipe. All it takes is a few pantry items, a big bowl and wooden spoon. Prepare the batter and store it in the fridge for up to a week. That way, it's ready when you are. Make these cookies with the kids for the kids and for that little kid in you.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Prep: 15 mins
Bake: 30 mins
Makes: 4 dozen cookies

1 stick salted butter, @ room temp
1/2 brick (4 oz) cream cheese, @ room temp
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 free range large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips (+ maybe a smidge extra)
1/2 cup raw pistachios (optional)

Set cream cheese out onto the kitchen counter
maybe 30 minutes before you start making the cookie batter.
Set butter over low heat until toasty and nutty, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugars until smooth.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Slowly incorporate flour mixture.
Fold chocolate chips and pistachios (if using) into the batter.

Take a tablespoon of cookie dough and roll into a ball.
Arrange them about 1" apart and chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375*F.

Bake 8-10 minutes.
Use a spatula to gently lift cookies and set onto a wire rack to cool.
Serve still warm with little shots of ice-cold milk.

There is no shortage of chocolate chip cookie recipes out there and I have tried very many of them. This one, I have already made 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Yes, they really are that good. My niece and nephew get a weekly supply of fresh cookie batter delivered and Her Royal Littleness will finally put all her toys away just so she can have a couple. You would think after several really good recipes, I would give it a rest and stop looking, but I just can't. Maybe I'm trying to make sure what I have really is the best stuff. You know, because before long, my little Daisy will be old enough to run home from school and say, "Mommy! Can you bake 600 cookies for the tomorrow's bake sale?" It's a small sacrifice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Albaloo Polo - Persian Sour Cherry Rice

Sour cherries are a Middle Eastern treasure. We just love them. We sugar them, we pickle them, anything to make them last until next summer.
We especially love tossing them into rice which is ever-present on the dinner table. I remember when I was a kid, my parents would take us cherry-picking somewhere not too far from Los Angeles.

Cherries love cold weather and these days, fresh sour cherries are hard to find here in Southern California. Daisy was a newborn last time we got Balatons, a variety from Utah. There were only a few boxes this year and they disappeared quickly, even at a whopping $15/kilo. Sadly, I only got 4 lbs which made maybe 2 cups of preserve. Luckily, there was just enough left over for one of my most favorite dishes, Albaloo Polo

Sweet-tart juicy cherries pair well with beef or chicken layered between fluffy saffron-scented rice.This is a comforting dish that requires some patience in preparation, but don't let that intimidate you. It's done in stages which makes it perfect for planning ahead. You can even cook the meat with the onions and cherries, then freeze them for when the mood strikes. The rice is the last step, which should be done fresh before serving. You can enjoy Albaloo Polo even on a busy weeknight.

Using quality ingredients is the secret to success in cooking. With its unmistakable sweet fragrant flavor, saffron is crucial in this dish. I get mine online from Persian Basket. They carry the highest quality threads. Saffron should be gently ground in a mortar and pestle with a bit of sugar, then steeped in hot water like tea. This releases the essential oils for maximum flavor. For convenience, there is now bottled liquid saffron available.

Fresh sour cherries are not always easy to find, even during the summer season. Dried sour cherries are widely available. Look for canned varieties at your supermarket or the dried Tart Montmorencies in the dried fruit and nut section of your local Trader Joe's. Regular sweet cherries are fine, too, and easy to find in your grocer's frozen food aisle. Just add a bit of extra lemon juice to adjust the flavor. Admittedly, there are some non-traditional elements to my recipe (i.e. the Worchestershire sauce), but the results are stellar. I only hope Persian mothers will forgive me.

Albaloo Polo - Persian Sour Cherry Rice
Serves 6
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 30 mins

1 tsp saffron
1 tsp sugar
2 Tb hot water
1 1/2 cups pitted sour cherries
1 lemon, juice + zest (or 2 lemons if using sweet cherries)
2 Tb butter
1 medium white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 lb ribeye steak (certified humane, pasture-raised)
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
salt + pepper to taste

2 cups basmati rice
2 Tb salt
3 cups water

3 Tb raw pistachios

Heat a few tablespoons of water.
Crush saffron threads with a bit of sugar.
Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and set aside to steep.

Meanwhile, place cherries, lemon juice + zest and a bit of butter
over low heat and cook 10 minutes.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a large pan over medium-high heat.
Chop onion and add to pan.
Sautee until golden-brown.

Using the flat of the knife blade, give the garlic cloves a good bashing, then
mince finely. Set aside to rest at least 10 minutes.
Add to pan and fry a minute or two.

Trim and cut steak into 1/2-inch cubes.
Add to pan, along w turmeric, Worchestershire.
Season to taste.

Rinse rice several times until water is clear. (Do not discard the wash water - reserve to water your plants. We're going through a severe drought this summer and every drop counts.)

Add 2 tablespoons of salt and enough water to just cover the top of the rice.
Place over medium heat, gently stir a couple times with a wooden spoon,
put the lid on and let the rice steam, ~10-15 minutes.

Now, it is time to layer everything.
Move most of the rice into a large bowl, leaving an inch on the bottom of the pot.
Gently fluff the rice with a fork as you go.
Sprinkle cherry-butter mixture over the rice.
Top with more rice, then with the meat mixture.
Finish with the last of the cherry mixture and rice.
Lower to heat, put the lid on and let the rice steam another 15-20 minutes.

Invert rice onto a large platter, crown with a generous sprinkling of pistachios
and serve with fresh salad.

Middle Easterners, in general, cannot live without rice. It is our regional staple and appears on the table nearly every night. If you plan to tackle this dish all at once, save time by using as many of your stove burners at once as possible. The onions can be sauteed while the cherries are cooking in butter and the rice is steaming. Remember Albaloo Polo lends itself well to cooking in stages. Much of the prep-work can be done early on and even frozen so that it all comes together shortly before dinnertime. Cherries aren't just for pie, anymore.

Summer's bounty brings some of my most favorite fruits - luscious peaches, velvet apricots and glorious cherries. Some summers pass without the appearance of fresh sour cherries.  Fresh, frozen or dried, sweet or sour, whatever cherries you find, you must try this Persian classic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Salted Tomato Bruschetta

Some memories are like hazy dreams, but tastes and aromas are unforgettable, like the smell of salted ripe tomatoes. Something magical happens when salt is sprinkled over slices of tomatoes, especially if they are nice and ripe. It takes me right back to my childhood in Iran. I see my grandmother Nina in her favorite apron standing at a white wooden table facing a big sun-drenched window in the basement. There is a mountain of plump red tomatoes stacked near one of those old hand-cranked food mills and rows of glass jars shimmering in the sunlight. Every summer, my grandmother would preserve fresh tomatoes the old fashioned way so we could enjoy them through the long snowy winter.
We left those long winters behind when we moved to California where fresh produce is plentiful year-round. Small grocers in our little town carry fruits and vegetables from local farms. We're happy to support family businesses and our farmers. The really good stuff is usually somewhere near the cash register. Berries, pluots, and a big box of luscious, fire-engine-red field tomatoes or դաշտի լոլիկ (dashti lolig as they're called in Armenian). They look so pretty that it's hard to believe they're real. While waiting for my turn to pay for my groceries, I pick one up. Then another one winks at me. So I pick him up, too, and another and another, as many as I can carry. What I'm going to do with them is a mystery, of course. Maybe they'll get stuffed or maybe get tossed into panzanella. It's not until I see the tomatillos and dive out of line, fumbling like a clumsy circus clown to grab a few that the question "What are we having for dinner tonight?" finally gets an answer. Refreshing and ready in minutes, gazpacho is exactly what this hot, humid weather demands. Plus, those juicy tomatoes will do nicely the perfect sidekick in the form of a bruschetta.
As I became more interested in cooking over the years, I discovered the tomato's cute, green look-alike that's a staple in the Mexican kitchen: The tomatillo. This little guy wants you to believe it's a tomato with a superhero cape, but is technically unrelated to its red counterpart. They may not be family, but they certainly get along famously and are often paired in traditional salsas. Expanding on that idea, a meal-size portion of gazpacho would do nicely. The subtle tart taste of the tomatillo highlights the tomato's sweetness beautifully. Put your blender to work and whip up a creamy batch with tomatillos and avocados. Offered with crusty bread topped with luscious salted tomatoes, this chilled soup is a soothing treat everyone craves at the end of a long, hot day.
Make it vegan. Make it vegetarian.The men will ask, "Where's the beef?" Frozen cooked, peeled shrimp add just the right amount of protein and flavor. Smooth cannellini beans are a great meatless option. Whether you roast the tomatillos or not, this gazpacho promises to please. The only things I cooked were the leeks and garlic. Everything else went into the mix in fresh form and the results were stellar. 

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Salted Tomato Bruschetta
Serves: 4
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes

2 large tomatoes
2 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
1 leek
4 tomatillos
3 Persian cucumbers
1 Granny Smith apple
1 avocado
Salt + pepper to taste
1 lime
1 cup ice
1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, cooked (optional)
2 Tb crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 loaf crusty bread

Wash and chop tomatoes into small cubes.
Collect in a bowl and sprinkle salt over the top.
Gently stir with a spoon to coat the tomato well with the salt.
Set aside.

Drizzle some olive oil into a pan and place it over medium heat.

Wash and slice the leeks. 
Add to the pan and cook for a few minutes.
Place the garlic cloves under the flat of the knife blade and give them a good bashing,
one at a time.
Mince and add to the pan and cook until sweet and fragrant, maybe 3 minutes.

Peel and wash tomatillos.
Toss them into a blender or food processor.
Wash the cucumbers.
Peel the apple.
Cut avocado down the center, remove the seed and scoop out the flesh.
Add 2 of the cucumbers, apple and 1/2 the avocado to the blender.
Add cooled garlic + leek.
Blitz until smooth.

Chop the remaining cucumber and 1/2 avocado.
Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice.
Chop shrimp and combine with the cucumber and avocado.
Season with salt and pepper.

Divide gazpacho between 4 bowls, top with 2 tablespoons of the shrimp salad.
Add a dash of crumbled feta cheese and finish with a sprinkle of fresh thyme.
Top slices of crusty bread with the salted tomatoes and serve.

Summer is coming to a close and some of us are anxious for the cooler days of Autumn. Until then, reap the rewards of the sunny harvest and revive a long-forgotten treasure, the gazpacho. Cool and refreshing, this vibrant soup is sure to renew a soul worn by the heat. Being healthy never tasted so good.