Ileana Morales, Times Correspondent

Ileana Morales

Ileana Morales writes the In Our Kitchen column for the Taste section. She also blogs at alittlesaffron.com.

Email: alittlesaffron@gmail.com

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  1. In Our Kitchen: Tomato Cobbler

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    If you mention that you're making a cobbler, the first thing people will think of is fruit and often it will be peach or apple. But tomatoes love biscuits, too, (and, after all, they're technically a fruit). Recipes that take a traditionally sweet dish and turn things savory always appeal to me.

    I was inspired to make this recipe for a certain friend who loves tomatoes, but all my brunch friends loved it. Cheesy biscuits on top of blistered sweet tomatoes mingling with caramelized onions and garlic? Not a bad way to kick off a Sunday. This will be one to make every season until the cherry tomatoes are gone....

    Red and sweet yellow cherry tomatoes make for a more colorful cobbler. If you’re serving a crowd for brunch, go ahead and make two and bake them at the same time.
  2. In Our Kitchen: Original Plum Torte

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    My announcement one Saturday morning — "I'm making a plum cake!" — fell a little flat. My fiance was not enthused and when I explained that, no, it would not be a cake with frosting, I was met with even more skepticism. But soon the house was scented with cinnamon and the plum torte sat proudly on my cake stand. The cake itself doesn't take long to make, and it took even less time for this recipe to find its newest fans....

    This Plum Torte is best baked in a springform pan, but you can use a regular cake pan if you line it with parchment paper. The flavors intensify if you wait a day to eat it. Wait?
  3. Vacation in Mexico chilaquiles: Tortilla soup meets enchiladas

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    They say it takes 21 days for something — like our morning ritual of chilaquiles and tequila sunrises while on a recent family vacation at a beach north of Cancún — to become a habit. But when you're in Mexico spending most of your day in water that's unbelievably blue and not knowing what time it is (and not caring), I think that number shrinks by quite a bit.

    There was no reason for this morning routine to change — except that we had to go back home. To reality....

    Chilaquiles, a Mexican dish of leftover tortillas simmered in a quick tomato sauce, is often served for breakfast or brunch. It’s even better topped with a fried egg.
  4. In Our Kitchen: Cool off with watermelon granita

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    It's sweaty out there, whew. Jeans are getting pushed to the back of the closet. No pants till September. If, like me, you're looking for an excuse to stick your head in the freezer, the answer is granita. Gra-ni-ta! That's the Italian name for this icy dessert, and you can flavor it pretty much any way you like.

    This one tastes intensely of sweet, fresh watermelon enhanced with liqueur and black pepper. We think it's pretty spot-on and we've looked forward to it for dessert each night this week. Watermelon granita hits the spot when your apartment's AC has given all it can give, and it's time to find other ways to keep cool....

    Cool off with Watermelon and Black Pepper Granita, which is infused with liqueur. It can be made several days in advance and stored in the freezer.
  5. In Our Kitchen: Peach and Plum Crisp

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    This time of summer is like being in stone fruit heaven, with all kinds of plums, fragrant peaches and plump cherries. I paired plums and peaches to make what is my favorite summer dessert: the Peach and Plum Crisp. It's as easy to make as it is delicious, and this stone fruit crisp will be loved by everyone at any potluck or hangout you're invited to this summer.

    This crisp uses up the bounty of summer in beautiful sunset-hued shades of orange, pink, yellow and purple. I made three crisps for breakfast on the July 4 weekend, and one friend said it's the best thing she'd ever eaten....

    Peach and Plum Crisp is a summer staple and a total crowd-pleaser. It uses up the bounty of summer in beautiful sunset-hued shades of orange, pink, yellow and purple. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and it works well with ice cream or heavy cream.
  6. In Our Kitchen: Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers with homemade buns

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    The first time we went to Portland, we hiked, biked, and drank and ate our way around the city and developed a serious crush on the Pacific Northwest. It was July, a perfect time to leave overheated Florida for lush Oregon.

    The first place we went was Deschutes Brewery. We ordered beers immediately because a drink with lunch means it's vacation. We often order a vegetarian meal when we go out to eat because those dishes are often more interesting than the meaty ones. This was never more true than the day we ordered the Deschutes beet burger. It was so good, we went back to the brewery for a second time that trip to order it again....

    Making your own burger buns is easy! Promise. Kneading is no big deal, and most of the time is spent letting the dough rest and rise. 
  7. Friends raise glasses of wine to summer by making strawberry cheesecake

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    By the time I watched New York Times food writer Melissa Clark put the finishing touches on the prettiest cheesecake I'd ever seen, I knew Double Strawberry Cheesecake had to be part of my weekend plans.

    I messaged my friend Leanna and said: "I'm making cheesecake this weekend. Help me eat it."

    Turns out she'd just been reading the recipe for the very same video I was watching. I invited myself over to her house to make the strawberry cheesecake together....

    This strawberry cheesecake is different because it mixes fresh berries into the cheese filling rather than just spooning them onto the top in a syrup. 
  8. Dutch Baby Pancake looks dramatic, easy to make

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    We dream about someday running a little B&B. If it did happen, Dutch baby pancakes would be in the rotation. It's the kind of thing I'd always welcome on a weekend morning.

    I say this is a weekend breakfast because it tastes like a treat, not because it's a very involved recipe. It's a simple batter with basic ingredients you probably always have around. You can dress it up as you like, with spices in the batter or jam swirled throughout. I found the most important thing here is to preheat the skillet. When I didn't take that step, my pancake did not puff up at all. Sad, like a kid realizing summer break doesn't actually start until next week. You can't imagine the joy when I pulled the next one from the oven: bold, proud and towering high above the skillet. You've got to preheat, people....

    A Dutch baby pancake puffs to great heights while cooking, but out of the oven, it collapses quickly. Serve with fresh fruit for a great weekend breakfast treat.
  9. DIY Bloody Marys for cocktails as unique as the drinker

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    Everyone thinks they know where to get the best Bloody Mary. But, while any spot serving brunch usually has a bloody or two on the menu — right next to the mimosas— the surefire way to sip one you like is to mix it at home. � Some people are crazy for horseradish and others just want a vehicle for garnishes. You can let your friends have their drinks the way they want them by setting up a DIY Bloody Mary bar. Put out glasses, a large pitcher of homemade Bloody Mary mix, straws and cubed ice and let your friends decide on their vodka and garnishes. This allows you to prep the ingredients before everyone shows up so you don't have to play bartender all day. � You might want to try making fresh tomato juice but I found it easier and just as tasty to use high-quality tomato juice I bought at the store. Blending fresh tomatoes to make your own juice base will yield a thicker juice than what we're used to buying. I included a Yellow Tomato Bloody Mary, which uses fresh tomatoes and offers a striking option at the bloody bar. This fresh tomato juice will also have a more robust flavor. Feel free to thin out the juice to the texture you like using water or, the obvious choice, more vodka. ...

    There are many ways to mix things up with your Bloody Mary, depending on your tastes.
  10. An engagement ring and a tomato pie in Charleston

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    I remember exactly when Danny and I met: Oct. 1, 2010. We were newspaper interns sharing a breaking news beat and an address, each renting a room in a house with another woman and a cat.

    One night, walking on Bayshore Boulevard after dinner, he almost kissed me.

    On a trip to Ikea, he almost kissed me.

    Until finally, one day, he did. By Thanksgiving, we were together.

    By February, I said I love you. By spring, we had keys to our first apartment. And by this time next year, we'll be married....

    Make the most of early summer tomatoes by baking them into a pie. Tomato is a fruit, remember? Campari tomatoes are used here, but use any tomato variety you like.
  11. Hazelnut, cacao, coconut, sesame granola is breakfast champion

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    I flipped through Megan Gordon's Whole Grain Mornings cookbook seeking breakfast inspiration and began with her recipe for the Very Best Oatmeal, of course. Oatmeal is a morning staple in our house and I couldn't resist that title. You know how roasting nuts brings out their flavor? They are greatly enhanced by heat, especially when we're talking hazelnuts or walnuts, which are almost inedible without first being toasted. Gordon figured out the same move works for oatmeal. Toast the oats in melted butter until they get a little color and you can smell the aroma. It's a big improvement to everyday oatmeal. She also has a different method for cooking the oats, a sort-of steam method requiring less stirring, which makes things easier when I'm running around in the morning trying to get ready....

    A batch of this granola boasts sesame seeds, hazelnuts, coconut flakes, cardamom, maple syrup and coconut oil.
  12. Make-ahead Easter brunch of creme brulee casserole, sliders, quiche

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    Brunch is my favorite meal these days, and I know I'm not alone.

    One of my favorite spots recently said it would be more than an hour before we saw any eggs or pancakes. The Portlandia episode in which a long line evolves into a brunch village complete with an overlord suddenly doesn't seem so outlandish. For our next Sunday out, I reserved a table.

    Wait, what? Brunch is supposed to be easy. Lazy. Indulgent. We smooshed two words into one for this thing and yet there's nothing shortened about the meal itself. ...

    Deviled eggs have made a comeback, and I’m excited whenever I see them on a brunch menu. You can serve them at home, too, and top them with just about anything you can come up with.
  13. Italian jam shortbread tart is fine for entertaining

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    Tiramisu, one of my first dessert loves, is one recognized by you, me and everyone else in America. The Italian treat of creamy mascarpone cheese and coffee liqueur-soaked ladyfingers comes in all kinds of versions, many delightful and some bastardized and served in places that don't offer anything else Italian on the menu.

    I still carry a torch for tiramisu, but there's a new Italian dessert in my life: fregolotta. I wish everyone knew it just as well. This one is a shortbread tart topped with jam and nuts, and it's my go-to dessert. ...

    This tart is traditionally made with almonds, but hazelnuts work well, too. As a matter of fact, you’ll get rave-worthy results using whatever nuts and jam you have on hand. Because the dessert comes together quickly, it’s a good choice if you’ve volunteered to bring a dish to a party.
  14. French radishes: good with a little salt and butter on bread

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    The Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg is a trek from our place in the 'burbs of north Hillsborough, but the trip is worth it every time. We hit up the first coffee stand we see and mosey around the rest of the market in search of this morning's pastry.

    We head to my favorite tent, the big one for Worden Farm. Their tables are always stacked high with fresh organic produce, but today, we're late. They're out of that deeply green savoy cabbage I can never get my hands on and the line stretches long and loops several times around like a garden snake. I hustle over to the greens and fill my basket with arugula, kale, and Brussels sprouts. I grab a bunch of perky sunflowers and start to slow down near the kohlrabi, propped up like purple roses, when I see the radishes. The French breakfast ones with their elegant, long shape and pink and white tones....

    Though it’s called a breakfast radish, we’ll go with a fine afternoon picnic nibble. The simplicity of four ingredients is exactly right. Serve with a bottle of wine, cheese and prosciutto. Done.
  15. Versatile cruciferous cauliflower trending, popular in restaurants

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    The family of cruciferous vegetables seems to be taking turns with its members, thrusting one or two into the spotlight at a time for its 15 minutes of fame. We've had Brussels sprouts every which way and kale found its way onto all our plates. • Now, cauliflower takes the stage. • Yes, I'm talking about the paler, less popular — though that's less true lately — cousin of broccoli. The variety most commonly found is a creamy white color, but more and more you'll find it in shades of purple, orange and bright green. Romanesco, a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower, is especially striking with its fractal-like clusters and lime green color. ...

    In Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Gratin, the vegetable gets its moment of luxury with a thick sauce of Gruyere cheese and cream. Caramelized onions are swirled in for a bit of sweetness.