Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cooling Down: All Good Growing Seasons Must End


Sour cherry tree upside down cake fruit 028 Despite our great good fortune in the weather this year, and mine—I’ve had the benefit of two great growing seasons, one in Rhode Island and one in Nashville—it’s clearly over. I came back from a conference trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast the first week of November to nights in the 20s. First frost, indeed.

It’s a bitter-sweet time of year, this transition from the riotous plate of sunny summer to the more sedate and colorless winter board. It’s a little like the realization, on graduating from college, that you will never again have the summer off (until, of course, you realize at middle age that you could become a professor!), but at the same time are ready to move on to being a grown-up. We’ll miss the casual ease of tomatoes and basil and berries fresh from the field, but begin to crave the serious and soul-satisfying stews, soups, and breads purposefully made from a reassuringly well-stocked larder. We’re sorry to come indoors, but anticipate the holidays around the table with family, grateful to by cozy inside.


Farewell to another growing season, with thanks for all the bounty, much of it tucked away neatly in our freezers and cupboards. Here is the fourth annual review, in pictures, of some of this year’s seasonal production.  On Friday I leave for New York to spend Thanksgiving with my son. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Strawberries, Flowers, Orange Puff 015Asparagus 004

Fried feast, scallops, rings, corn cheese cakes, doughnut 008 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Red leaf and chick salad 2 

Sour cherry tree upside down cake fruit 009 Blueberry pie, bolo 003 Sour cherry tree branch

Rasp tapioca, curr, goose, cheese, rye 001 Rasp tapioca, curr, goose, cheese, rye 005 Rasp tapioca, curr, goose, cheese, rye 004

Sour cherry tree upside down cake fruit 018Sour cherry tree upside down cake fruit 010Sour cherry tree upside down cake fruit 019

    Spring rolls, shrimp, DZ cookies, tom, buck 016Campari drink and fish 002Spring rolls, shrimp, DZ cookies, tom, buck 001

 Portugues dinner, country apple cake, cottage 007   Spring rolls, shrimp, DZ cookies, tom, buck 002Spring rolls, shrimp, DZ cookies, tom, buck 003


   Portugues dinner, country apple cake, cottage 028Fish fry, cole slaw, nashville sky 001LC 09 mis fruit and veg 030

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         squash, baby broc, brioche pudding, olneyville 016LC 09 mis fruit and veg 026

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Second Time Around: Baby Zucchini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I am not a big squash fan, but I do like the little finger-size zucchini and golden squash that are the first of the season—and, if we are lucky enough to have a final burst, the last. This year was such a year: a long, dry, very warm (OK, hot) summer. As a result, everything was early, and many of the things I enjoy most when they are small came along twice. Recently I bought some nice little zucchini of my favorite size, well under 1” diameter, from a local couple selling at least a dozen varieties of squash, mostly winter ones, laid out on tables. The little zucchini were snuggled in a basket like babies, which of course they were.

Given that squash is not a preferred vegetable, I tend to be as finicky about how I eat them as I am about their size. I like them split and grilled with olive oil, or stuffed with seasoned mashed potatoes and served next to a steak. When I lived in California, a coworker used to make a salad with zucchini, avocado, and cream cheese that was very nice, and that I still make a variation of occasionally. Just after I bought these zucchs I was looking through my newly acquired Oaxaca al Gusto cookbook by Diana Kennedy, which reminded me of another favorite way to cook them from Kennedy’s first book, Cuisines of Mexico: with cream, cinnamon, tomato, and chile. I had some of the high-fat cream sold at the farmers market —as it turns out, the season’s last. But I did not have anything suitable in the house to serve a zucchini side dish with, and I had been craving a pizza. So I made a kind of deconstructed version of Kennedy’s squash dish, a cream-zucchini pizza in the Mexican style, using the cinnamon- and chile-enhanced cream as the sauce and topping it with pan-fried zucchini.

Zucchini and Reduced Cream Pizza

Pizza Dough
1 ½ cups flour
½ tea salt
2 T olive oil
½ cup warm water
2 tea yeast
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Put the other ingredients in the food processor, and add the water/yeast while the motor is running until it forms a ball; let it run another 15 seconds. Remove and let rise til double, about 3 hrs. Punch down and one aside, covered, for about 15 minutes before using.

Cinnamon Cream Sauce
1 cup heavy cream, preferably unhomogenized  
1 fresh, 4” piece stick cinnamon
½ small chile Serrano, seeded, or ¼ tea Tabasco
¼ tea salt
1/8 tea freshly grated nutmeg
Put all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until the cream is reduced by half. Turn off the heat and let sit a few minutes, or until the cream has a pleasant but not too strong cinnamon flavor. Remove the cinnamon and discard.

Zucchini Topping and Assembling the Pizza
About 4 small zucchini, trimmed and sliced ¼” thick
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Torn fresh arugula or basil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pine nuts (optional)
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 450F.
In a large frying pan, quickly sauté the zucchini slices with the garlic in a little olive oil, turning them, over high heat until they are lightly browned on both sides. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper.
Roll the dough out into a 12” round and place on a pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Spread the cream on the dough; top with the zucchini; and sprinkle with the nuts, cheese, and arugula. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until lightly colored and somewhat bubbly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lemons: $1.97 a bag

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I cannot understand why, for years now, a single lemon in a grocery store costs 60 cents, sometimes more, but you can buy loads of them for a dollar if you happen to live in a city and go to an Asian fruit market. Actually, I do understand, and it is extremely annoying. Most American home cooks use one lemon at a time—to garnish a drink or a plate, to squeeze over a piece of fish, to stuff inside a chicken. They don’t want a lot of lemons growing moldy in their refrigerators. So grocery stores say, aha, we can charge a lot for one lemon, because when you need a lemon, you need a lemon—there is really no suitable substitute, not even a lime in many cases (which also is overpriced)—and you just need one. We end up paying a small fortune for a single lemon, and being resentful, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         and the store ends up making a huge margin. Thing is, we often buy only one because they are too pricey; we might buy more were they not. A vicious circle.

So when I saw an entire bag of lemons for $1.97 at my grocery store—yes, I know, very odd price—I did a double take, and of course  snatched them up. Twelve lemons—that’s 16.4 cents apiece! And they were nice—relatively thin-skinned, smooth, full of juice, and a healthy, average, nonmutant size. I went to bed that night (yes, this is how I fall asleep) thinking about what I should do with them. Lemon curd? Preserved lemons, which I haven’t made in years? (probably because lemons got so expensive) Limoncello?

In thinking about what I might make, and what I haven’t made in a long time, I remembered something I hadn’t thought of in ages. Years and years ago, when my oldest sister Laura Torbet was still living in New York and was working on the Encyclopedia of Crafts, I and an assortment of other people used to go to her big loft studio on W. 23rd Street every day to work on the book. I think there were 6 or 7 of us, and every day we would have some sort of wonderful lunch that my sister would sort of effortlessly throw together. We would gather at a table in the kitchen area and eat between bouts of serious research, writing, and editing about surprisingly technical and brain-frying material. Sometimes we would have a lemon pie made from whole lemons (often called a Shaker Lemon Pie). A friend had given my sister the recipe, as I recall, and she gave it to me and I wrote it down. I still have it.
I got a craving for that pie, thinking about it, and made it, or rather, a variation on it, the next day. I used four lemons, leaving me 8. Hmm, maybe I’ll make some curd after all. The holidays are coming, and I love to slather it between two ginger or spice cookies.
Shaker Honey Lemon Pie
This pie appeals to the waste-not, want-not, farm woman part of me; it is not for everyone, certainly not for anyone looking for something refined—it is not. But it has a sort of genius  to it, and is good warm or cold. It should be sweet-tart, and the skins should have a little chew to them but be tender, not hard. It is very nice with ice cream. Serves OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         6.

Butter-lard or all-butter pastry for a 2-crust pie, divided (see note)
4 medium lemons, as thin-skinned as you can find
1 ½ cups cane sugar
1/3 cup honey
4 large brown eggs
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Cut a slice off the rounded ends of the lemons. Using a mandolin with a guard to protect your fingers and holding the lemons by the pointy end, slice them thinly into a bowl (if you don’t have a mandolin, use a very sharp thin-slicing knife and slice as paper-thin as you can). Put the sugar into the bowl with the lemon slices, and pick up the bowl and toss, coating the slices. Let them macerate for a couple of hours until the sugar is dissolved and the lemons are sitting in the syrup.
In a small bowl beat the eggs with the honey and pinch of salt. Using a slotted spoon, lift the lemon slices out of their bowl and add them to the eggs/honey. Strain and measure the syrup left in the bowl; it should be about ¾ of a cup. Add about ½ cup to the eggs/honey/lemons, and stir gently.
Roll out half the pastry and fit it into a 9” pie plate. Chill for 10 minutes, and roll out the other half while it is chilling. Pour the lemon filling into the pie shell, distributing the lemon slices evenly; it will be very liquid. Top with the second round of pastry, flute the edges to seal, and prick the top gently. Don’t worry if a little of the filling seeps through.
Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F and bake another 30-35 minutes, until the crust is golden. Remove to a rack to cool until nearly room temperature; serve with ice cream. It is also very good cold. Do refrigerate any leftovers.
Note: I upped the fat a little and altered the butter/lard proportion to 8 T butter, 3 T lard; less water was required to bring it together. This makes for a richer, more tender crust that seems to suit and melt into the tart and creamy filling.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall Cleaning: Brioche, and A Few Apples

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         You know you probably have too many odds and ends in your refrigerator and freezer when it starts getting difficult to find a place to put anything. Going through and using things to make, say, a nice soup, will free your freezer of some bulky stock, perhaps a bone or two, and your refrigerator of an assortment of vegetables, cheese ends, and dairy products. This is a good thing to do at any time of year, but none more so than late fall, when you look at the calendar and realize that holiday baking is just around the corner. You will need all the freezer space you can get, come November.

I made some chicken soup the other day, producing a satisfying amount of new freezer space. In the process of locating the multiple containers of stock, I found some brioche—quite a lot, actually. I had put it away a month or so ago so that I wouldn’t just eat it all, and then rather forgotten about it. In the frig I had three apples—three different kinds, orphans all. There were a few cups of cider left in a half-gallon bottle. I made this fruit pudding; bready, but not strictly speaking a bread pudding as we think of one, as there is no custard—no milk or eggs.

Brioche and Apple Pudding

Be sure to use tart cooking apples. Unlike with regular bread pudding, I think this is better cold. Serves 6-8.

¾ lb leftover brioche (you could use a rich challah)
3 tart apples
1 ½-1 ¾ cups apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
½ cup dried cherries or raisins
½ cup sugar
1 ½ T mixed cinnamon and cardamom, to taste
1 T butter

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Butter a deep baking dish, such as a 6 cup soufflĂ© dish. Slice the brioche about 1/2” thick and toss the slices in a bowl with the lemon zest and dried fruit. Pour over the apple cider and press the brioche a bit with the back of wooden spoon; it should become fully moist, but not watery. Peel and chop the apples into medium dice, and toss in another bowl with the lemon juice. Mix the sugar with cinnamon and cardamom. Using a spoon, layer these mixtures a little at a time in the dish as follows: bread, apples, cinnamon-sugar—forming three or four layers of each. Dot with the butter. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

The cider makes this sweet, so it is nice to serve it with sour cream or plain unsweetened cream poured over.



Monday, October 4, 2010

Rye Flour


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I did a lot of experimenting with making rye breads at home this past summer—or rather, in a summer cottage with a tiny, poorly insulated and poorly sealed old apartment-size stove. Not the best venue for trying to replicate the wonderful old world rye breads I grew up on. But I wanted that taste again, to eat thick slices slathered with salted butter, to make a really good ham and cheese sandwich, or a favorite of my father’s and mine, an onion sandwich with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, and I had some time. It was summer. Not the greatest bread-baking time, but time.

Surprisingly, recreating the taste was not as difficult as I had anticipated. It was getting the bread to bake to the right size and texture. For the moment, I am blaming the oven, as the breads always went in looking perfect, then generally deflated rather than rose with the initial high temperature, and the crusts became a little hard. There are actually several potential reasons for this, but for the moment I am sticking with the oven as culprit. Everyone who tasted them thought they were excellent—and as I said, the flavor was amazingly spot on—but having eaten pounds and pounds of the best ryes growing up, I knew. Not quite. So I plan to try again this winter, in a different oven and without the 100 degree heat and humidity of this summer. I have some sour, waiting silently in the darkness of the freezer. And I will make some fresh as well (it could, after all, have been my starter).

This is all to say that, in cleaning out my too-full freezer, I discovered a bag of rye flour containing barely enough to coat a countertop—a half cup. Not sure why I bothered to keep it, unless it is the hard-dying “waste not, want not” attitude instilled in me by my grandmother. I do find such things very, very hard to throw out. So compelled to use it, I made these rye popovers. Everyone knows that a popover is a very satisfying thing. A rye popover is different—less delicate--but retains the qualities of crisp exterior and partly hollow, tender and stretchy interior.

Rye Popovers

Use a cast iron popover or gem pan for best results. You could also use little ceramic custard molds if needed. Be sure your oven is fully preheated. You can whip these up for breakfast. Makes 6-8, depending on your pan.

½ cup rye flour
½ cup a-p flour
¼ tea salt
1 T unsalted butter, melted
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly butter the pan if it is not well-seasoned, and put it in the oven while it is heating.

In a 4-cup measure or a small bowl, preferably with a spout, sift the flours together with the salt. Pour the milk into a 2-cup measure, add the eggs, and beat with a small whisk until lightly incorporated. Make a little well in the flour and pour in the milk/egg mixture and the melted butter. Whisk for a minute or so until thoroughly smooth.

Pour the batter into the hot pan, filling the openings about 2/3 of the way. If you are using a full size iron popover pan, bake at 450F for 25-30 minutes; they will be high. Reduce the heat to 350F and bake another 15 minutes, until tawny and shiny. If you are using an aluminum pan or smaller gem pan, the timing will be shorter, perhaps by as much as a a third. Bake them at the higher temperature until they are fully puffed, then reduce the heat and bake until they are nicely colored and dry; you can use a small wooden skewer to check them if needed. Watch them and use your judgment. Turn out immediately onto a rack, and poke them once with a tiny skewer or the tip of a sharp knife. You can eat them now, with butter and, if you like, jam. I do, and am partial to apricot with the rye flavor.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Abundance of Apples


We are long in apples right now. Sauce apples, eating apples, cider apples, baking apples, apples my grandmother loved, new-fangled apples (most too sweet for my taste). I stick to my favorites as I find them—I picked up some Jonathans, Cortlands, and Macintosh, last week—and then try local varieties that I haven’t seen before. Last year it was Arkansas Blacks. This year it’s the Wolf River. It looks very much like our Rhode Island Greening (hard to find, now), but not as versatile. Still, I was glad to find it.

The abundance of apples to be had for a very good price got me thinking about how much I absolutely love to cook and bake with this fruit. In fact—and I thought about this long and hard before putting down the words—if I had to choose apples over my other fruit obsession, sour cherries, I think I would have to go with the apples. This feels a little like choosing which of your children is your favorite. While everyone says that’s not possible, there is some recent research saying that, actually, you can—that people do have favorites among their children. So of my beloved fruits, I am a bit more partial to the apple.

This only makes sense, if we consider that, for me, the apple is something analogous to the first-born. I learned to make applesauce when I was very young; it was, if not the first, among the very first of my lessons in cooking at my grandmother’s side. The first pie I ever made was apple (the second, as I recall, was lemon meringue). I made apple butter for years and years before I ever made cherry preserves. Of course, availability has a lot to do with it, what with apples being grown everywhere in great quantities and variety, and sour cherries both few and far between. This is another reason for choosing them—if one had to choose.

Fortunately, I don’t. But while it is apple season and not cherry season, I will certainly put them to good use. And in honor of thinking back to baking in my younger and much younger days, I offer this quintessentially French apple tart. I made it all the time back in the 70s and 80s, when I cooked mostly French food. I haven’t made it in years, but it’s due for a comeback.

Country French Applesauce Tart

This homey tart combines an applesauce base with sliced apples and an apple glaze. Use an all-butter pastry for this. The directions are general; this is more of a method than a recipe. Serves 6.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tart Pastry 

2 cups a-p flour
8 oz (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 egg
½ tea salt
2-3 T ice water

In the food processor, pulse the flour and salt briefly. Place the butter into the bowl, cut into 8 pieces, and turn them over to coat; drop in the egg. Pulse until crumbly. With the machine running, add the water, a little at a time, until the dough comes together. Form into a disc and chill.


1 ½ lb apples, cut in quarters
3 T butter
½ cup white wine
½ cup sugar
½ tea cinnamon
1 tea grated lemon rind

Put everything into a pan and bring to a boil; reduce somewhat and cook until the apples are soft. Strain, without pressing, the liquid, and reserve. Then put the apple mixture through a food mill. Taste the sauce and add a little more cinnamon if you want; this tart should not be as heavily spiced as an American apple pie, though.

The Tart

3-4 firm, tart apples
1 ½ -2 cups applesauce
The reserved liquid from making the applesauce

Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll the dough out to 11” or so to fit a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom. You will have extra dough, with which you can make little jelly turnovers or a mini version of the tart if you want.

Cook the reserved liquid from the applesauce down until it forms a light, soft, syrupy jelly; add a little sugar if needed. It should be fluid enough to use as a glaze. Thin it with hot water if you overdo.

Put about 2 cups of the applesauce into a small bowl. Beat the egg and stir it into the applesauce. Fill the tart shell about 2/3 full with the applesauce (perhaps 1 ½ cups or so; you will have leftover). Peel and core the apples, and slice them thinly. Arrange the apples in concentric circles, slightly overlapping each slice, working from the outside in and reversing direction of the slices with each circle. Form a little circle of apple and place it the center. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the edges of the apples begin to brown. Remove and let cool for at least 20 minutes; glaze with the apple jelly, slightly warmed. Remove the tart from the pan.

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