Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Breads I: Challah


Challah eggs I confess that sometimes I forget I have a blog, and by the time I remember, I’ve made something nice, and it’s already done, and there are no in-progress photos. So I skip it as a subject for the blog.

This time, though, is different. Everyone should know how to make a good, impressive—and very easy—bread for the holiday table. Something simpler and less expensive than, say, a great stollen or panettone (which, shockingly, some people don’t like). So even though I forgot to take photos, it’s that time of year and you may need or want this recipe for challah. I’ll do my best at directions for the braiding. (I also made another bread today, but had already frozen it and only had a half-eaten slice with butter on it to photograph . . . too questionable even by my low standards for what constitutes food worth looking at.)

Why all the breads? Aside from the fact that I love bread, of course? My department is having a holiday pot luck lunch this week, and my contribution is a bread basket. There will be a wonderful New England 100% whole wheat brown bread with raisins and nuts—the one already in the freezer; a huge fougasse in the shape of a Christmas tree; my buttermilk dinner rolls to satisfy the Southerners; some cornmeal crackers; a few loaves of French bread made with poolish and a little whole wheat; and this challah. I have also been pressed to bring one of last year’s contributions again, the ever-versatile and vibrant apricot chutney.

Challah is a traditional Jewish bread served at holidays in various shapes, most notably braided, but also wound into a smart turban or little knotted rolls. My father used to call it Jewish egg bread when I was little, and that about describes it. It is eggy, but contains less egg, butter, and sugar than many enriched doughs, giving it a finer texture and making it suitable for sandwiches, French toast, and eating with butter. Unlike some of its more decorated cousins, it falls squarely into the bread rather than the dessert category. This is, I think, why most people like it. While I am a totally egalitarian bread eater, welcoming all comers, I am very fond of challah. It makes a great ham sandwich. Ironic, I know.


One of the easiest ways to impress your boyfriend’s mother, or make her fear you will replace her. Freeze the whites for later use. Makes 1 huge loaf.

1 package dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
¼ cup warm water

4 ½ cups bread flour, more if needed
2 tea salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup lukewarm water

1 large egg yolk
poppy seeds

Sprinkle the sugar and yeast into the ¼ cup water, stir, and set aside for a few minutes. Butter a half-sheet pan.

Beat the eggs and 1 egg yolk with the butter. Sift the flour and salt into the yeast mixture. Add the egg-butter mixture and the cup of water. Mix until blended and turn out onto a floured board. Knead until smooth, incorporating a little more flour if needed, about 6 or 7 minutes.

Place into a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap to rise until double, about an hour. Punch down and let rise again, about another hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Divide the dough into two pieces, one about 1/3 of the dough, one about 2/3. Set the smaller piece aside, covered. Pat the larger piece out to about 12 inches and cut it into thirds lengthwise, and roll the pieces into ropes with slightly tapered ends. Place them parallel to each other, an inch or so apart, then join them at the top, tucking under the ends. Braid, crossing from left over the center, then right over the left (now in the center) and so on, always crossing alternate sides over the piece that lands in the center. Pull the ends together at the bottom and tuck under. You can do the braiding on the counter and transfer it to the buttered baking sheet, or do it directly on the sheet.

Repeat the braiding procedure with the smaller piece. Make a slight indentation down the length of the braid on the sheet, and brush with water. Place the smaller braid firmly on top, integrating the ends. Mix the final egg yolk with a few drops of water; brush the bread gently all over and sprinkle lightly with poppy seeds. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until it is a lovely mahogany color and is firm at the intersections of the braids. Remove to a rack to cool.


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Egg Noodles


You’ve all heard about my Pennsylvania German grandmother, who, as the song Billy Boy goes, could “bake a cherry pie quick as a cat can blink her eye.” It is hard not to think of her at this time of year, or anytime, really, when cooking or digging into a whole lot of traditional but high-quality food.

Beyond the endless baking and holiday foods, one thing I always associate with my grandmother is egg noodles—with gravy. This is what we usually had growing up as an accompaniment to goulash (meat stew) or pot roast. The pot roast or goulash had lots of rich, beefy, tomato-tinged gravy that would be ladled out of the pot onto the noodles. It was great with the meat. But what I really loved was the next day, when the meat was all gone, but there was leftover gravy, and you could have a meal of the noodles and gravy all alone. This held true for leftover gravy from a chicken or, of course, turkey. You see where I’m going.

I will not be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, or any part of it. I tried to calculate back how long it has been since I’ve not prepared the entire Thanksgiving meal or, on the rare occasion, a major contribution to it. I think it is 30 years.

So I am not going to have turkey gravy. But you probably will, and I encourage you to have some of it over some tender egg noodles. And even though I won’t have gravy, I do have some excellent chicken stock in the freezer. So when I saw some homemade egg noodles at the farmer’s market, made by a Tennessee Amish community, I bought them, partly from wonder that they existed here. Who knew? Apparently, the Amish have been migrating from strongholds like Pennsylvania to the South, with Kentucky, Tennessee, and even Texas among their final destinations. Seeing their stand of baked goods, eggs, butter, and these noodles at the farmer’s market was like seeing a mini version of my beloved Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. And of course, reminded me of my grandmother’s food.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I made some of these noodles for my dinner last night, very plain. Instead of thickening with flour into a gravy, I just made a light sauce by caramelizing some onions and reducing good homemade stock down until it thickened a bit. Not like good gravy, but good.

Noodles and apples go nicely together. I happened to have some gravensteins and a local variety, Arkansas Black, on hand, and made some apple sauce and a crisp with the extras—a fitting dessert for the plain noodles. Grandma would have approved.

Egg Noodles with Onion Sauce OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These noodles were about the size of fettucine. For true noodles and gravy, I like a broad egg noodle. Two reliable brands are Mueller’s and Pennsylvania Dutch. Of course, you can make your own, too. Just cook til tender, and pour the hot gravy over.

For a lighter facsimile:

Heat until bubbling 1 tea olive oil and 1 T butter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Slice thin ½ medium-large sweet onion and sauté over medium-high heat til they brown a little and turn golden, and are about half-cooked. Season with salt, pepper, and a little freshly grated nutmeg.

Add ¼ cup good homemade chicken stock, reduce heat to medium and cook til most of it is absorbed. Repeat twice more (another ½ cup), each time reducing a little less, then add a final ¼ cup stock, for a total of 1 cup, reducing just a little; you should have enough sauce to toss with 6-7 oz of noodles, or for two servings. Garnish with chopped parsley.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Red Poblanos: The Perfect Heat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It’s late fall, when the end of the growing season often brings some nice surprises, especially after a disappointing summer of rain and sorry produce. One discovery a few weeks ago was these beautiful red poblanos, brilliant and shiny. Poblanos are already a favorite of mine, in frequent use around my house for a staple in my house, chiles rellenos (recipe to come, I promise), or for making one of my favorite burgers or this simple first course of cornmeal-dusted sautéed peppers.

The red poblano is both a little sweeter and a little hotter than the green, which among all the chiles is relatively mild. It retains a distinctive poblano taste, however, and was satisfying and very pretty for chiles rellenos. Once roasted, however, they looked so much like any other roasted red pepper that I began thinking about what else to do with them.

As many of you know, I spend the academic year in Nashville. The South is a generation behind; this is not a criticism, just a fact. What is available here, and what people like, is reminiscent of the East Coast in the early 1960s. One of those things that people like is pimiento cheese. Now, we didn’t have that growing up, but we did have various kinds of cheese spreads, like WisPride®. Pimento cheese is a little bit like that, and everybody here just loves it. They sell it in the supermarkets—which are, regrettably, like ours were 30 years ago—in big tubs. Of course you don’t want that. But a homemade pimento cheese can be a very nice, even addictive, thing.

When friends from Rhode Island were visiting last month, I made some pimento cheese and some roasted pecans to give them a taste of the South. My girlfriend said, with a note of horror and shock that I would serve such a thing, “it looks like CheezWhiz®.”I told her it was good and, out of politeness or hunger, she tried it. She ate it right up.

Anyway, I used some of these peppers to make a batch of pimento cheese. Their natural heat negated the need for Tabasco and cayenne, standard ingredient when using regular roasted peppers. I can be quite content eating pimento cheese and crackers, accompanied by a cold beer, for my dinner when I get back late from teaching an evening class. A little Southern comfort, far from home.

Poblano Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese is a subject of fierce debate in the South, like jonnycakes (thick or thin?) or chowder in Rhode Island. Serve only with 60s-era crackers: Ritz™, or my personal favorite, Club™. Or in celery, also very 60s. Southerners eat pimento cheese sandwiches, on white bread. Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Since red ripe poblanos may be difficult to find, I provide alternate instructions for using roasted red bell peppers. This is a loose interpretation of a recipe from a nice Southern cookbook, Martha Hall Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. You may be tempted to use a food processor. Don’t.

8 oz. very sharp yellow cheddarOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1/3 cup, scant, mayonnaise (Hellman’s or homemade)
1 ½ medium red ripe poblanos, roasted and peeled (or 2-3 oz. jarred or home-prepared roasted peppers/pimientos)
½ tea dry mustard
¼ tea dried sage
½ tea Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

If using regular peppers, also add:

1/8 tea ground cayenne pepper
Tabasco to taste

In a small bowl, mix the mayo, mustard, sage, Worcestershire and, if using standard peppers, the cayenne. Grate the cheese on the largest holes of a box grater and add, mixing.

Using the tines of a good fork, mash the peppers on a board until they are a small, dicey mush. Add them to the cheese/mayo mixture and whisk around with the fork. Season with salt, pepper (and if needed, Tabasco) to taste. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Take out about 10 minutes before serving.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Peaches by the Pound—Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Every time I look at a peach, I think about pound cake. Some people think about ice cream, and I agree that fresh peach ice cream is terrifically good. Others think about pickling them, and still others insist that the only way to eat a peach is dripping out of hand. But for me, the best way to eat ripe, flavorful peaches is gently cooked in butter and brown sugar with a few spices until they glisten with a garnet sauce, and then pour them over a slice of good, rich, homemade poundcake. This is of course a lovely way to end dinner. But it makes for a very nice breakfast. And a fine afternoon pick-me-up. You needn’t choose: pound cakes are large enough and keep admirably enough to suit your fancy all week.

When I buy peaches, I put them on a paper towel on a big plate, well-separated and covered with a cotton towel, and leave them on the counter to soften. Don’t be fooled by the photo, where they are stacked on top of tomatoes. It’s just a pose. Never stack peaches or otherwise allow them to touch. Once they are as you like them, put them in the refrigerator if you are not ready to use them.


4-5 small peaches
2 T unsalted butter
2 T firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ tea cardamom
1-2 drops pure almond extract
pinch of ground white pepper
½ tea good whiskey

Peel peaches: dip briefly into simmering water to loosen skins; if skins have begun to wrinkle, they can be relatively easy to peel without the scalding. Cut in half and pull apart from the stone; slice into a 9” frying pan into which you have put the butter. Heat medium high to melt the butter and sauté for a minute or two. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the brown sugar and spices and sauté another minute, then add the extract and whiskey and simmer another minute more. Set aside. (If you refrigerate before using, give it about 20 seconds in the microwave).

Perfect Pound Cake

This represents the final adjustment to three separate recipes for pound cake, all of which start in a cold oven. Its flavor and texture is, in my opinion, perfect.

2 sticks ( ½ lb) COLD unsalted butter
½ cup shortening
2 ¾ cup sugar
6 large fresh eggs
2 tea pure vanilla extract
1/8 tea freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tea cardamom
pinch salt
1 tea baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup fresh whole milk

Sift the flour with the baking powder and set aside. Butter well a 10” light-metal tube pan.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening for about 3 minutes at medium speed, until well combined and smooth. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar at medium-low speed, then turn the mixer to medium-high and beat about 5 minutes, til fluffy. Scrape down the  sides.

Reduce the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time; when combined, add the vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt. Sift the flour with the baking powder. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry. Scrape down any remaining flour, turn the mixer up to about medium and give it a final quick blend to bring it all together.

Spoon the batter into the pan, rotating it on the counter surface to smooth the top. Place in the lower middle of the cold oven. Turn the oven on to 350 F and bake 1 hour 10 minutes; it will be nicely golden. Reduce the heat to 325 F and continue baking another 15 minutes, or until the sides just begin to pull away from the pan and a fine skewer comes out clean from the highest point. Do not over-bake. Remove to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. If needed, loosen around the edges and center with a knife, and turn out onto the rack to cool completely.

Serve with the peaches. I like to serve it in wedges, but the texture is so fine you can cut it in paper-thin slices if you like. Divide it and freeze half, wrapped tightly in plastic and foil, if, like me, you live alone. Or give some to a neighbor. Otherwise, you will polish it off yourself in no time.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Little Bitty Pretty Ones: Yellow Crooknecks


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I have a good excuse for my silence last week: I had the dreaded flu. Rumors of its “mildness” are misleading. If you are a young adult, the majority of expected cases, it is true. But based on what we are seeing with faculty, physicians, and others being exposed to those mild cases and for whom the adjective “young” must be dropped, it can be brutal. Delirious for nearly three days, unable to sit up, eat, or stay awake more than an hour at a time, I lost 5 pounds in 5 days, and am left with a secondary bronchial infection. And I was being treated.

So when my appetite slowly started to return, there was little that appealed to me. A bit of fruit, some plain yogurt. Solid food? No way. Back at work, I passed by the Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the office, unheard of for me, who usually takes two. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever want to eat anything solid again, and went to the farmers’ market to look around and see if anything called, “eat me!” Surprisingly, it was these little squash. I don’t like squash. I mean, I can eat it, but almost never buy it except for a few specific purposes. But they were so cute! And sunny! They looked like I wished I felt; grateful for the hopefulness they embodied, I bought them.

Of course, the fact that these squash are a good source of iron, vitamin C, and numerous other vitamins and minerals may have been an intuitive attraction. But really, their smooth yellow skins and perky stem ends are what won me over. They looked appetizing, and I knew they would be a good, plain, easy thing to eat. Feeling confident that my appetite was returning, I also bought some nice pastured chicken. Simply grilled, they both went down just fine.

Grilled Yellow Crookneck Squash

Buy the smallest ones you can find. With summer late this year, these fast-growing squash have offered a second chance for farmers. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

yellow crooknecks, as many as you need
olive oil
snipped basil
lemon juice
salt and pepper

Leave the little squash whole; if you can only find larger ones, split them in half lengthwise. Brush the squash with olive oil and put them on a medium-hot grill (put split ones split-side down), turning them from time to time with a pair of tongs. Cook little ones for about 5 minutes, until they are slightly blackened here and there and a sharp knife enters and releases easily from the bulbous end; do not overcook. Remove to a bowl and toss with salt, pepper, basil, and a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice.



Sunday, August 30, 2009

Apples: Fall’s Favor, Local Flavor


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         If summer must end, and end it must, at least we can face Labor Day with the comfort of pie for breakfast. The apples are coming in, and we can look forward to fresh, not storage, apples, for two months or more, if all goes well. I’ve written before about Lodis and Yellow Transparents, very nice apples for a simple tart or for sauce, but another fine early apple is the Mutsu, a dead ringer for a Granny Smith, but actually a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Japanese variety, the Indo—the apple, in fact, is Japanese in origin. I’m not a fan of the Golden Delicious—to put it nicely—and the Mutsu is not my favorite—for that honor, I still hold the Gravenstein, Stayman Winesap, Cortland, and Jonathan and Baldwin dear—but it is good, juicy, crisp, and tart-sweet—and here now. You may know it as a “Crispin,” another, apt name for it. Use whatever tart, juicy apple you can find, as they will be superior, even if not as cosmetically unreal, as apples from the store. As the great Joni Mitchell sang, “give me spots on my apples"; these Mitsus were beautifully imperfect.

The Mutsu makes good sauce, but I’ve had a hankering for apple pie with store cheese since earlier this summer. Talking one day about food, a new friend and I discovered that the hands-down favorite breakfast of both of us was apple pie. Old New Englander that he was, from a pioneering farm family whose family has lived in Little Compton for hundreds of years, his fondness was for pie with melted cheddar cheese on top; this was the way it had been served to him from childhood. I had grown up eating it with heavy cream or ice cream (yes, even for breakfast), and had not had it with cheese until I came to Rhode Island for college. But I had never had it with melted cheese, only accompanied with a wedge of cheese on the side. I knew apples and cheese were a popular combination for pies in New England—I’d even had cheddar cheese baked inside them, and cheddar crusts. But the idea of cheese melted on the crust was news to me.

So of course I had to try it. There’s an old saying, “An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” See what you think. Me, I quite liked the savory-sweet-spicy combination of the fruit pie and cheese. But it would probably have been even better with a little ice cream, too.

Apple Pie with Store Cheese

My friend says his mother always used yellow cheddar, but I used the ultra-sharp store cheese, which I almost always have on hand.

Pastry for a double-crust pie

Use any crust recipe you like—homemade, please—or my usual butter-lard crust or all-lard crust. Make according to directions, pat into two discs, and chill, wrapped in wax paper, in the refrigerator. Remove when you start the pie so pastry is still cold and firm but not hard when you are ready to roll.

The pie

8 large apples
¾ cup sugar
1 ¼ tea best, fresh ground cinnamon
¼ tea ground cardamom
pinch salt
3-4 T flour
2 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. Use a 9” pie plate, preferably glass and deep dish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Place the sugar and spices in a large bowl. Using a small sharp paring knife, peel and quarter apples lengthwise; starting at the stem end (which helps prevent   breaking), core the apple quarters—the cores generally pop out. Slice each quarter into 4 or 5 slices right into the bowl, tossing briefly with the sugar after each apple to prevent browning. (Lemon juice, by the way, is unnecessary with fresh apples, which contain a lot of pectin, and I don’t particularly like the added  taste). Add the flour and toss; I use the full ¼ cup flour for very juicy apples, 3 T for less juicy ones.

On a floured board, roll out your dough into a circle 2-3” larger than your overturned pie plate—I use a deep dish plate, so that implies the larger circumference. Loosen the pastry and fold it lightly in half, lift, and unfold into the plate, fitting and smoothing it in gently along the bottom and letting the edges hang over. Pile the apples into the plate, pushing some down into edges; pour over any remaining juices; and dot OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         with the butter. Roll out the second round of pastry, roll it loosely around your pin to lift it up, and unroll it over the top of the  apples. Tuck both crusts under along the rim of the plate, crimp, and prick around the edge and in the center with a fork. I do not glaze my pie. Bake in the center of the oven until golden; the syrupy juices begin to ooze out; and a skewer enters and removes easily from the apples. Turn once during baking; if the edges get too brown before the pie is done, cover the rim with foil or one of those handy pie protectors (an aluminum ring that sits on the edge). Total baking time will be about 40-50 minutes, depending on your apples.

Cool completely or to nearly room temperature before cutting. To serve with cheese, grate store cheese over the top and broil briefly until melted and the cheese begins to brown.



Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bunches of Basil, Pecks of Potatoes


The appearance of the sun so late in summer means that one herb that did poorly during the heavy rains, beloved basil, has recovered sufficiently to be available in big bunches alongside a late summer treat, local potatoes. The aromatic basil is often called the king of herbs, and it’s hard to argue with that. It’s not the most versatile in the world, but it certainly behaves like a king. It dominates the summer table, reigning supreme over tomatoes and corn, infusing cream sauces, mayonnaise dressing, vinaigrettes, butters, and other fatty mediums for garnishing or marinating vegetables. (Or meat or fish, for that matter.) It is powerful—use sparingly—and as with all power, fleeting and fragile—use fresh, at the last minute, and don’t subject to high heat.

New potatoes and parsley are a classic, an old favorite of New Englanders and anyone who has ever had access to creamy new potatoes and knows that, as with all perfect ingredients, plain is best. Our grandmothers, unless they were Italian, didn’t have or even know about fresh basil as a rule, but if they had, I am sure that new potatoes and basil would have been just as popular. Before summer ends, I always put some pesto, minus any cheese, into the freezer against that inevitable point in winter when you just cannot face one more meal of roast chicken and steamed broccoli or you will go out of your mind. A dish of pasta with the incredibly fresh spark of pesto, miraculously preserved by that gift to all eaters, the freezer, is a wonderfully restorative thing. Put some by, and come February, spring will seem a real possibility, a memory-turned-hope. And for now, treat yourself to the luxury of new potatoes with a little pesto dressing.

Roasted Pine-Nut Pesto for the Freezer

This makes a little over a cup. Use the remaining few tablespoons for pasta (adding parmesan cheese), with new potatoes (with or without cheese), or mixed into chopped tomatoes for crostini. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
½ tea, generous, kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups, firmly packed, fresh whole basil leaves (a big bunch or two)
½ cup good olive oil
¼ tea, generous, freshly ground pepper

In a small skillet, lightly toast the pine nuts with the salt.

Peel, without smashing, the garlic and put in the food processor. Add the pine nuts and salt, the basil, the olive oil, and pepper. Process until it is a smooth puree, stopping occasionally to push the mixture down with a rubber spatula. Taste for salt and pepper.

Put into a ½ pt canning jar; cover the top with plastic wrap, pressing it down on the surface; and top the jar with its lid and ring. Freeze.



Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summertime, and the cream is good


It’s odd to think I have a lot in common with a dairy cow, but the truth is, I do. We both like to laze the day away in a nice field, grazing from time to time if we get hungry. And we both are at our absolute best in the long, warm days of summer. Despite any appearance to the contrary, which you might gather from glimpsing either one of us lying on the grass from a passing car, we are amazingly productive when the weather is good. We feel great, and work hard.

So it is that at this time of year, local dairy products are a precious gift of high-fat milk and cream. It is, in fact, all that rumination and grazing in the grass that is responsible for dairy’s productivity and high fat content in the summer months. If you are able to buy local milk and cream right about now, and it is not homogenized, you are truly lucky. I currently can buy nearly 50% heavy cream and light cream that is in the high 30s. In glass bottles, too: I make a $1.00 deposit on the bottle, credited next time when the bottle is returned.

When good cream is available, it should be used simply. For heavy cream, whipped, of course, (unhomogenized cream beats lightning OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         fast, and is amazingly good); poured straight over a fruit pie or a cake, crisp, or buckle; frozen into a mousse or ice cream; as a base for salad dressing; or made into a simple sauce for pasta. Light cream is good for most of these uses, too, and is my choice for summer soups  and chowders, which I prefer on the thin side.

Thinking about my affinity with cows, I could mention a few other things that we have in common. For example, we both have brown eyes, and, umm, large udders. We both wear a lot of black and white or brown and white. I am getting old enough to be called an “old cow,” if only behind my back. But I won’t mention these things, lest you think I am a bit strange. But really, it can’t just be coincidence that cream and I are such good friends.

Summer Garden Soup

I often say that in the summer I could live on corn and tomatoes. Neither is very good in Rhode Island because of the rain this year, but what there is can be turned into a simple summer soup—a kind of light vegetable chowder.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2 T butter
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
6 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 ears corn, shucked
1 ½ cups corn stock
1 small bay leaf
½-3/4 tea salt
few twists of the pepper mill
1 cup cream

½ cucumber, skin on, chopped fine
few sprigs parsley, chopped fine

Cut the corn from the cobs.

Melt the butter in a 3-qt chef’s pan. Sauté the onion in the butter until translucent, about 2-3 minutes, then add the corn and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato, ½ tea salt, pepper, and bay leaf, toss for a minute, then add the corn stock. Bring to a low boil, reduce to a moderate simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape.

Remove from the heat and let cool down just a bit. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Stir in the cream and taste for salt and pepper; you may want another ¼ tea of salt and a little more pepper. Serve warm, not hot, or cold, garnished with the chopped cucumber and parsley.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Blueberries Abound


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         My first blueberries of the season were from my friend Linda’s husband’s blueberry bushes. They were very large and perfect-looking, and quite juicy, though a bit sour. Since then, blueberries have been busting out all over, and it seems as if they are having a long season. They are still a bit on the sour side—and I do mean sour, not tart—and not as naturally spicy as a really fine blueberry can be. Fortunately, blueberries are one of those fruits for which sugar, lemon, and a little spice bring out its best. While this year’s berries may not be the best for eating out of hand, they are big and juicy, worth freezing, and good for most cooking and baking.

So far this summer I have made blueberry sauce, some of which I mixed with mustard as a dipping sauce for grilled OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         chicken chorizo; some blueberry jam; blueberry fritters; and several of the following old-fashioned buckles, some all-blueberry, some half-blueberry, half-currant. This is one of those addictive recipes that you cannot get enough of. And it’s so simple to make, why should you?

Blueberry Buckle

This is excellent for breakfast or dessert, a kissing cousin to my favorite blueberry breakfast cake.

1 cup a-p flour
1 cup sugar
2 tea baking powder
½ tea salt
½ tea cardamom and cinnamon, mixed, or spice of your choice
2/3 cup whole milk
2 cups blueberries or half blueberries and half some other berry

heavy cream, preferably unhomogenized

Place the butter in an 8” square pan or 1 ½ qt casserole dish. Turn the oven on to 350F, and put the dish into the oven to melt the butter. When you hear it begin to sizzle, remove it—do not allow it to brown.

Sift the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices into a small bowl. Whisk in the milk until just combined. Pour into the melted butter; do not stir. Pour the berries over all. Bake at 350 F for about 35-40 minutes, until golden and bubbling with juice.

Let cool on a rack at least 10-15 minutes. Serve warm with heavy cream poured over. In the unlikely event that there is any left over, this reheats nicely in the microwave.



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Raspberry Riches


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many, and such beautiful, raspberries as over these past few days. Both the stand itself and the counter of the sorting trailer at the fruit lady’s were a veritable showroom of raspberry perfection. Off to the side were the equally wonderful currants, including the last of the white ones; a few pints of big blueberries; and one pint of jostaberries, a flavorful black currant and gooseberry cross. But the raspberries dominated the scene.

Their abundance fits into the pipeline theory of supply and demand. The raspberries continued to ripen up over several non-picking days of rain, and by the time it cleared (temporarily; we are getting inches of rain as I write this) there were two or three times the usual daily amount to pick—I’d estimate a good 6 quarts in overflowing 1-cup containers were out when I stopped by late in the afternoon, and that is after the heavy morning buying. All too often in past summers you would arrive too late, or stand politely over the last cup with someone else, taking turns saying, “no, you take it,” or “no, you” (or, just as often, someone would come up behind you while you were getting your money out for the can and snatch that last cup with a determined, needy entitlement). So many raspberries in the pipeline means that farmstand graciousness prevails, everyone gets their share, and we can pop an entire container in our mouths on the way home and still have plenty for baking. We are truly long in raspberries in today’s market.

I will confess, though, that raspberries are not my favorite for baking. Of course they are very good. But their flavor is sweetest and raspberry-truest when fresh, so for the most part I eat them out of hand, and I think most people do too. Subjected to heat, they become a bit sour, although nicely juicy, and a bit overpowering. Compensate with a little more than usual sugar, and use them for plain things that you don’t want too sweet anyway, such as sour-milk pancakes, muffins, or buckles—or go the other extreme and use in them in a sorbet, which has a high proportion of sugar. Also on the high-sugar side, raspberry jam is always nice, and there are enough now that you could easily do that; be very careful not to overcook it to preserve the flavor. And of course, there are also plenty available for freezing for the dead of winter, which I recommend. Spread them out on a cookie sheet, place in your freezer for a few hours, then seal in quart plastic bags.


Raspberry Cardamom Muffins

This is a standard muffin recipe. Makes 12.

2 cups pastry or a-p flour
½ cup sugar
½ tea cardamom
½ tea salt
4 tea baking powder
1 cup whole milk
2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T lard, melted
1 large egg
1 cup, generous, raspberries


2 T sugar
½ tea cardamom

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a muffin tin and set aside.

Sift dry ingredients and stir together. Lightly combine milk, egg, and fats, and stir in, folding the mixture over, until just combined. Fold in the berries. Distribute the batter in the muffin tin and, if desired, sprinkle with a little cardamom-sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes; let cool in pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a rack.                                  

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Currently Featuring: Currants


Nature is full of surprises. Just when you think that all is lost, and there are signs and stories everywhere of devastation and doom, you spot something red as you’re driving up Main Road. Your heart skips a beat. It’s sour cherry time . . . could it be? Trying to be pragmatic and not set yourself up for disappointment, you hypothesize, as you make a U-turn, that it’s raspberries. No; not cherries but not raspberries either. Something better and wholly unexpected: currants. Red ones, white ones—and black ones too. And only $1.50 a pint (that paradox of the generous and stingy, the fruit lady).

Sitting outside thinking about the vagaries of survival, how tough old things like potatoes can be so vulnerable, snuffed out even while in hiding underground, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         and delicate little transparent jewels like currants can power forth into glory, I saw another little miracle of survival. Out in the field, four wild turkeys, foraging for food. I am not a hunting sort of girl, but I couldn’t help but wonder how they would be to eat. You know, with a little currant sauce. And then I saw some other movement in the grass alongside them, poking out from time to time: little turkeys-to-be. There were two litters (broods? hatchlings?). One, associated with the three turkey hens (don’t ask me why three, but they traveled together), of six little turkettes, the size of baby ducks. I saw them ( I think they are really called poults) first. Then much later, I saw with the turkey that stood apart—and that was lighter in color, probably a turkey version of an ugly duckling—several tiny, tiny chicks, like the ones that they used to sell, rather irresponsibly I now realize, in the 5&10 at Easter when I was a little girl. They could not have been more than a few days old. Born in a downpour, no doubt, yet waddling around quite nicely.

It is reassuring to see life among the ruins, and to see very old-fashioned, near-disappeared fruits like currants outperforming their more modern counterparts. Is it something about these untouched things? My fruit lady’s currant bushes are old—most likely minimally bred for commercially appealing features and mass production. Could that be their secret? Could it be that what is closest to nature is what is best suited to respond to nature’s vicissitudes? I wonder, and the currants make me hopeful. I’ll be watching for the cherries.

This is what you might serve if you shot a wild turkey. Of course, you can always serve this with pork or poultry, or use your currants for a pie or a buckle, or for some nice jelly.


You can use this as is or stir it into another sauce base. It’s also good with cheese. Makes about 3 ½ 8-oz jars.

4 cups currants (I used red and white mixed)
½ cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tea mixed spices to taste: cinnamon, clove, cardamom (of course)
2” piece stick cinnamon (optional)

Stem and rinse the currants. Combine the sugar, vinegar, and spice in a stainless steel or enameled pan; cook at a good boil for a few minutes (3-5) until it reaches a very light gel stage. Take off the heat, add the currants, and toss. Put back on a medium fire. The mixture will thin with the currant juices, and foam up a little like a jam; do not skim. Cook another 3-5 minutes, until it is clear and syrupy. Put into jars and seal.



Saturday, July 11, 2009

Salad Days: New Beets and Onions


While we are waiting for the real summer produce to arrive, we are blessed, at least, with the earliest of earthly delights: the lettuce, of course, and beautiful tiny beets and onions. Not to belabor the weather—it is, after all, sunny today, although it still feels like fall, and I am still sleeping with a blanket—but the damage to the crops has been officially confirmed by the local newspaper.

It appears that just about every crop has been seriously affected, in many cases destroyed, by the flood of rain, and in some cases hail: from tomatoes to peppers and corn, even the apples. At our local major potato grower, Ferolbink Farm, they’ve plowed under 8 acres, and anticipate the loss of more. A fungus called “late blight,” which is related to the one that caused the Irish potato famine in 1849, has hit our local farms; a combination of the rain and resistance is making it impossible to keep it at bay. It is exacerbated by cross-over from residential gardens, and invades everything. The farmers are going out of their minds.

We share their pain. We need to buy what we can from them. Most things are more expensive than usual, but that seems reasonable given that yields are much lower than the growers ever could have anticipated, given that we have never, ever, in recorded history, have had a spring and early summer like this one. Choices are limited, but slowly expanding. Lettuce is doing all right. Cabbage, too. Beets appear to be squeaking by. There are quite nice tiny leeks and small onions. Everything is young and new—salad days.

Rainy Summer Salad

This will perk up a gray day. Season this well with salt and pepper to taste to balance the sweetness. You could serve this alongside a piece of grilled chicken, without the lettuce base, if you like. Serves 2. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3 small new onions
5 or 6 very small beets, roasted and peeled
2 ears corn
1 T butter
1 tea olive oil
¼ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
2 T maple syrup
¼ tea salt
½ tea grated orange rind (optional)

6 or 7 Boston lettuce leaves
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tea maple syrup
2 tea freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper

Thinly slice the onions and the roasted beets (see here for instructions), and cut the corn off the cob.

Melt the butter with the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When sizzling, add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften, about 1 minute, then reduce the heat somewhat and add the corn; sauté an additional minute or so, until the onion just starts to brown. Add the orange juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the juice has been reduced and there is only a little liquid left; add the 2 T syrup, salt, and pepper, zest if using, and cook for another minute. Add the beets and toss for a few seconds. Taste for seasoning. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Make a dressing by whisking the oil, syrup, lemon juice and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the lettuce leaves and turn around in the dressing until they are thoroughly but lightly coated. Arrange the leaves on a plate and place the beet salad in the center.