Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Life Altering Epiphany



Not everyone is wheat-free by choice.  Over the past fifteen years wheat has been an-on-again-off-again thing in my life.  In the past it’s been easy to give up all things wheat.  This time some figurative kicking and screaming was involved in climbing back onto this particular wagon.  Everyone in my family would agree that nine months of wheat deprivation has made me a bit cranky.

My gluten-free friends raved about the “flour” they were using to bake cookies, cakes, and other goodies.  Down came the gluten-free cookbook and out I went to purchase the necessary ingredients.  Experimenting is my favorite thing to do in the kitchen.  And, experiment I did.  But, alas, it soon became apparent that for me (and everyone else in my family) wheat was wheat and that was that.

DH and I were in Montreal a few weeks ago and stopped at one of our favorite eateries for buckwheat crepes.  I thought to myself, “What a wicked, wicked indulgence.”  The next thought was, “Wait a minute buckwheat isn’t wheat.  It’s a seed.  I can eat this!”  It was a life altering epiphany.

A few days ago I was finally able to carve out some time to disappear into the kitchen and cook for us.  Within an hour Buckwheat Corn Bread came steaming hot from the oven.  It tasted great with the Chili Con Carne I’d made for dinner.  DH mumbled something I assumed was complimentary as he cut himself another hefty piece and lifted it to his mouth.  The next morning I was in heaven eating it grilled crispy golden brown for brekki.  That afternoon Bella and Steb stopped in…hungry, of course.  A basket of Buckwheat Cornbread was plopped on the table.  They slathered it with butter and gobbled down a couple pieces each.  The cockles of my heart warmed by their obvious surprise when DH said, “It’s gluten-free.”  “No shit!” Bella and Steb replied in unison.

Finally, something wheat-free that wasn’t soggy, pithy, or tasteless.  Sometimes you just have to bite into a piece of bread.   And, Buckwheat Corn Bread will do nicely!

Notes for this recipe:  The buckwheat gives the bread a delicious nutty flavor.  It is a sturdy moist bread with a nice open crumb.  Unlike most gluten-free baked goods, this bread stays fresh for several days.  During that time the flavor continues to develop.   The bread can be left on the counter covered tightly or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Buckwheat can be purchased at most supermarkets in either the baking or gluten-free sections or at your local health food store.  If you don't have a cast iron skillet, get one!  Otherwise, select an 8x8 pan (glass, metal, stoneware) and lightly coat with olive oil.  Skip preheating the pan, scrape batter directly into it, and cook as directed. 

Buckwheat Corn Bread

1-1/2 c. coarse stone ground corn meal  
½ c. buckwheat
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp, olive oil
1 c. buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Put a #8 cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat.   

In the meantime, measure dry ingredients into a bowl.  Stir to combine. Set aside. 

Pour the buttermilk into a 2 cup measure.  Add the eggs and olive oil.  Beat with a fork to combine.  Set aside.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven.  Spray (or wipe) with a light coating of olive oil.  Return to oven. 

Pour the buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients.  Stir with the fork just to combine.  Batter will be thick.  Remove the oiled skillet from the oven.  Scrape the batter into the skillet with a rubber spatula.  Smooth surface.  



  
Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until center tests done with a pick and edges are browned and center is firm to the touch.





 Serve warm or cooled.  In the unlikely event of leftovers, cover tightly and store on the counter top or in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  12 servings.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Freakin’ Delicious

 Clafoutis—the name of this classic French dessert has always intrigued me.  It is a traditional summer dessert made with dark cherries, and sometimes with ground almonds, that hails from the Limousin region of France.

Every summer when the produce starts landing on the porch, I start scouting around for new and interesting ways to use it.  Once the freezer is full and all the old favorite standbys have been made, I feel free to experiment.  For several years the Calfoutis has been calling my name, and this was going to be the year. 

I didn't quite get it together to make this dish during cherry season, but the blueberry crop has been particularly plentiful this year.  So, being the adventurous sort in the kitchen, blueberries it was!  The name the French give this dessert when they use fruit other than cherries is Flaugnarde.  My final result is so vastly different, that it can’t properly be called either.  Once again I have bastardized somebody’s national dish.  C’est la vie!

No matter what it’s called, this dessert is freakin’ delicious!  During the baking process it puffs up and browns beautifully and collapses slightly during cooling.  The dessert develops three separate layers, each with its own distinct texture and flavor. 

Notes for this recipe:  Almost any fresh fruit can be used.  Each will change the dishes’ texture and flavor.  (Blueberry is the running favorite.)  Canned or frozen fruit cannot be substituted.  Liqueur: Blueberry Liqueur may be difficult to find (I make ours), so use a comparable complimentary one—Meyers’s Rum, Frangelico, Chambord, Peach Brandy would all work very well.  This dessert can be served warm or cold--it’s delicious either way.

Freakin’ Delicious Blueberry Pudding Cake
1 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
2-1/2 c. milk
4 eggs, separated
1-lb. fresh blueberries
4 Tbsp. blueberry liqueur
1 tsp. vanilla
Knob of unsalted butter
*Whipped Cream (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375.  Select a glass or ceramic heat-proof baking dish about 2 quarts in size.  Grease selected dish generously with the knob of butter.  Set to the side.
  
Measure the flour and sugar in a large bowl. Measure the milk into a 4-cup measuring cup, add the egg yolks, liqueur, and vanilla.  Beat with a fork to combine.  Pour over the flour mixture and stir to combine.  The batter will be very thin.

Place the egg whites in a bowl, and beat to stiff peaks.  Do not beat until they are “dry”.  Fold the beaten egg whites into the flour and egg mixture.  The mixture will be the consistency of pancake batter.


  
Set the buttered pan in the oven for 30 seconds.  Pour about 1/3 of the batter into the pan.  Gently drop the blueberries evenly on top of the batter.   



Pour remaining batter over the blueberries distributing it evenly.


 

Bake 40 to 45 minutes until browned, and the top is puffed and set.  Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly.  Serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream.  In the unlikely event of leftovers, cover and store in the refrigerator.

* Whipped Cream
1 c. heavy cream (preferably organic)
1 tsp. blueberry liqueur
Dash of vanilla

Place cream in a bowl with the liqueur and vanilla.  Beat until thickened.   Give each serving a generous dollop. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Problem Solved!

Tired of being disappointed by graham cracker crusts?  Me, too!  For a cook, it is extremely frustrating to make a pie for a special occasion, only to have the crust become soggy or fall apart upon cutting and serving.

These problems have kept me away from cookie crumb crusts for years.  The solution turned out to be quite simple, even though it evaded me far longer than I’d care to admit.  The answer presented itself a few months ago while I was doing research.  Since then, I’ve made this crust quire a few times.  Not once has it become soggy or fallen apart on cutting and serving. 

This crust takes a little more time to make, but it is worth the effort.  It is very stable, has a very nice texture, and tastes great.  I am happy to declare this problem solved.  Enjoy!

Notes for this recipe: A blender may be used in place of a food processor.  Vanilla or chocolate cookie crumbs may be substituted for graham crackers.

Baked Graham Cracker Crust
Makes one 9 inch or 9-1/2 inch deep dish pie crust

6 oz. graham crackers (11 crackers)
8 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Select a 9 inch or 9-1/2 inch deep dish heat-proof pie plate and keep it handy.

In a food processor fitted with the steel “S” blade process the crackers until they are fine crumbs.




Measure out 1-1/2 cups crumbs and replace in the work bowl.  With the processor running, drizzle in the melted butter, then the lightly beaten egg white.  Pulse until combined. 

Scrape crumbs into the selected pie plate.  Press crumbs evenly across bottom and up the sides of the pie plate.   

When crumbs are pressed into place tamp the top edge to create an even finish to the crust. 





Place pie plate in oven and bake until butter is re-absorbed and the crust is lightly browned.  Remove to a wire rack.  If the crust “puffs up” (develops air pockets) gently pierce with the tip of a small, sharp knife to release the air.  Cool completely. 

The crust can be made one day ahead.  Place cooled crust in an airtight plastic bag and store in the refrigerator.



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eggs My Way

Nutritionally, eggs are among the most complete foods.  They are also relatively inexpensive, which makes them an excellent choice for a weight reduction food plan and college students.  They are also are quick to prepare and delicious when prepared well. 

This recipe began one morning several years ago when I was going through a period of rigid dietary restrictions.  Frustrated by the number of foods I couldn’t eat, I began experimenting with the few I could.  And, so began the dish I now call “Eggs My Way.”  This became one of my father’s favorite breakfasts.  He liked it served with a cup of strong tea, and a side of homemade bread toasted, thickly spread with butter and honey or jam (or both!).

Tonight while chatting with Bella (who was making an omelette for dinner) I decided that it was time to make Eggs My Way.  This is another dish I’ve promised her repeatedly to blog.  The longer summer night meant it was still light and the perfect time to pull out my pad and camera and fulfill this promise.  So, here is the long awaited recipe for Eggs My Way.

Notes for this recipe:  Cheese: experimentation proved that cheddar works best.  I prefer Vermont cheddar, the sharper the better.  Skillets:  Any skillet that has a flat bottom, holds the heat well, and produces even browning will work.  Cast iron is my skillet of choice.  As this “omelette” must be flipped whole, do not use a skillet larger than 8 or 8-1/2 inches.  This “omelette” serves one person.  If you wish to make two “omelettes”, use two skillets or put a plate in a 170 degree oven to hold the cooked one while you prepare the next.

Eggs My Way
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ Tbsp. olive oil
3 large eggs
½ Tbsp. water
White pepper
Kosher salt
½ c. cubed extra sharp Vermont cheddar cheese

Select a No. 5 cast iron skillet or an 8” to 8-1/2” skillet and set it on the stove top.  Turn the burner to medium.  Add the butter and olive oil.  While the pan is coming to temperature, crack the eggs into a bowl, add the water, a good grind of white pepper, and a pinch of Kosher salt.  Beat the with a fork until mixed well. 

When the butter and oil are melted tilt the pan to swirl them evenly around the surface.  When the fats are bubbling hot, but not browned, and sizzle when a flick of water is dropped on them, pour the eggs into the skillet.  The eggs should sizzle when they hit the surface of the skillet, and the edges will begin to brown immediately


Sprinkle the cubed cheddar evenly over the surface of the eggs. 





When the bottom of the eggs are nicely browned, use a spatula to flip the entire “omelette” over.   





Cook until this side is also nicely browned.  Using the spatula transfer the “omelette” to plate and serve immediately or keep warm in the oven while you prepare another one or finish any side dishes. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Long Standing Promise

 Summer in Vermont is the season of Farmer’s Markets and fresh local produce. Every day of the week most people in Vermont can purchase fresh local organic produce by traveling to a Farmer’s Market in their own, or a few miles down the road to a market in a nearby town.  Or, you can grow your own as we do.

It was a delightgul surprise to come home from work last week to find a half-bushel of yellow string beans on the porch, compliments of DH.  In spite of the lousy weather, a record 34 consecutive days of rain, DH has managed to keep the gardens growing. 

String Bean vinaigrette is a salad that's been in my culinary repertoire longer than I can remember, and it is one of Bella’s favorite summer dishes.  Every year she calls and asks to be reminded how this salad is made.  Every year I tell her I’ll blog the salad, and every year when I make it I forget to pull out my pad and camera to record the what and how’s of the recipe.  This year Bella purchased her beans (at the farmer's market near her home) before DH put the half-bushel on the porch.  Her annual inquiry was a reminder of my long-standing promise.  So, it is with great pleasure that I finally post this classic and delicious salad on my blog.  Enjoy!

Notes for this recipe:  This salad calls for “frenching” the beans—cutting the beans in half length-wise along the “string”.  This is an essential step, and cannot be eliminated without dramatically changing the texture and character of the dish.  Frenching with a knife is a labor-intensive process.  However, Pampered Chef makes a tool called a “Bean Slicer” that turns this task into a breeze.  This tool also includes a “tailer” neatly designed into the handle.  Click here for the link.  The beans must also be “tailed”, which is breaking off one or both ends.  For this dish, I break off only the stem end, the end that connected the bean to the plant.  Blanching the beans: Do not overcook the beans.  The success of the dish relies on the beans being blanched only until they are crisp tender.  This dish is best when made ahead allowing the flavors to meld for several hours or overnight. 

String Beans Vinaigrette
1 lb. green or yellow string beans
Kosher salt
½ c. olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ small white onion, peeled, and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley or other mildly flavored fresh herb,  finely chopped (optional)
1 clove garlic, peeled, and minced
½ c. shredded good quality Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Sea salt, freshly ground, to taste

Rinse and drain the beans.  Set a large colander in the sink.  Fill a large pot with water, place on the stove, and bring to a boil. 

While the water is heating, tail the beans, breaking off only the end that connected the bean to the plant.  Then, “French” the beans, cutting them length-wise down the “string” using a knife or a tool designed specifically for this task.  (See “Notes for this recipe” above.) 

When the water boils add the Kosher salt, and add the prepared string beans.  Cook the beans are crisp tender (3 to 5 minutes).  Pour the beans into the waiting colander and rinse immediately with cold water. 


While the beans are draining, whisk together the olive oil and white wine vinegar.  Set aside.  Transfer the drained beans to a bowl, add the chopped onion, capers and parsley (if using), the minced clove of garlic, and the oil and vinegar mixture.   


Toss lightly to coat the beans.  Add a good grind of both
white pepper and sea salt.  Transfer the beans to a storage container with a tight lid and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. 



Just before serving toss in the Parmesan cheese and add white pepper and sea salt to taste.  In the unlikely event of leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Sublime Comfort Food

For me, French Toast American-style is a sublime comfort food.  In the winter when DH is away and I am dining alone, I turn to this ultimate sinful luxury food for my evening meal.  I revel in its preparation, and await its completion with mouth-watering anticipation.
 

As a kid, I was naïve enough to think that any one who cooked was as great a cook as my mother, and made French Toast just like she did.  Back in the distant past of my childhood we slept over at the homes of our friends, too.  Their parents wanted to serve a special breakfast for their young guests, and, when I was a kid, that usually meant pancakes, waffles, or French Toast.  After I worked my way through one particularly bad French Toast breakfast which was undercooked, and another of the ultimate convenience breakfast food of my childhood, toaster French Toast, I learned how to refuse politely, “Thank you for offering, but I’d prefer cereal.”  To this day, French Toast is not a food I eat if it is prepared by someone else, or order if I am eating out.  I like this food too much to endure it badly prepared.  (DH’s childhood experiences with French Toast were so bad, he’s been scarred for life; this is a dish he still refuses to eat.)

The mistake most cooks make is to think that French Toast is easy.  My experience is that the “easiest” or “simplest” dishes are often the most difficult. French Toast requires a certain level of care to prepare well.  The bread must be of a sturdy/dense texture and have a neutral flavor—white, oatmeal, or a semi-whole wheat bread work very well.  But, raisin bread makes a particularly fine French Toast.  The slices of bread are soaked in an egg and milk mixture, which upon cooking produces a custardy bread pudding texture.  The infused slabs of bread must be cooked slowly in foaming melted butter over medium heat in a cast iron pan which, for me, is the perfect cooking surface for the quality of heat required to produce the brownness and surface texture I prefer.  This process takes time, but every forkful is worth the care and patience it takes to make this sublime comfort food.

Notes for this recipe:  If making for two people select a large low-sided pan for the soaking (double eggs and milk for each soaking cycle.), infuse two slices at a time, and use two frying pans for the cooking.  Be careful not to over soak the bread or it will become a sodden mess.  Preheat the oven to 170 (warming temperature) and put a heat-proof plate or platter inside on which to place the cooked French Toast.

 French Toast (American-style) For One 

2 One half inch thick slabs of Raisin Bread or neutrally flavored, densely textured bread, preferably homemade, such as, White Bread, Oatmeal Bread or a mild Whole Wheat Bread.
2 large eggs
6 Tbps. Milk, divided
Cinnamon & nutmeg (optional)
Butter
Maple Syrup


Turn the oven to 170 (warming temperature) and set a heat-proof dinner plate inside. 

Select a 10” low-sided pie plate.  Crack one of the eggs into the selected pan, and add three tablespoons of the milk.  Mix with a fork to combine.  If using. add a pinch of cinnamon and a little scrape of nutmeg.  Mix with a fork to combine.  Place one slice of bread in the egg mixture and soak until half the liquid is absorbed.  Using the mixing fork, carefully turn the slice of bread over. 


While the bread is soaking, set a 10-inch skillet or a griddle on the stove over medium heat.  When the skillet is hot to the touch, add about ½ tablespoon of butter.  When the butter is foaming (be careful it does not brown), swirl to coat the skillet.  With the fork carefully transfer the infused slice of bread from the soaking dish to the frying pan.  If there is any liquid left in the pie plate, scrape it onto the surface of the bread.   

Watch carefully while preparing the soaking mixture for the second slice of bread.  When the slice is slightly crispy and lightly browned, turn over and brown the other side.  When the second side is cooked, remove the slice to the plate in the warmed oven and top with a pat of butter.



While the first piece of bread is cooking, crack the second egg into the soaking pan, and add the three remaining tablespoons of milk.  Mix with a fork to combine.  If using. add a pinch of cinnamon and a little scrape of nutmeg.  Mix with a fork to combine.  Place the remaining slice of bread in the egg mixture and soak until half the liquid is absorbed.  Using the fork, carefully turn the slice of bread over.  When the first slice has been removed from the skillet, add another ½ tablespoon of butter and repeat cooking process.   

 
When the second slice of bread is cooked, place on top of the first slice and top with another pat of butter.  Add maple syrup to taste, grab a knife and fork, and savor every mouthful.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Tale of Two Girls

  
Jannie and Bella met at school when our family moved from the country into the city.  They became good friends in Mr. B’s third grade class, and became fast friends on an early summer evening.  This is the tale of two girls.

It was as warm and sultry an early Vermont summer evening as we could expect, and it was the season for girl’s softball.  Bella and Jannie were outfielders for their team the Indians.  Neither girl was particularly coordinated or had anything but rudimentary eye-hand coordination, but they played with heart and enthusiasm.  It was game night and, win or loose, at some point during the game there would be Softball Bars.

The sun was setting casting its burgundy hues across the twilight sky, and we were about to witness a grand event.  It was a close game and in the final stretch when it happened.  The batter from the opposing team hit a grand slam--what everyone knew was going to be a home run.  As the ball flew and flew farther and farther down the field, Bella and Jannie followed the ball with their eyes.  They moved back and back and back.  Then, the ball fell into Bella’s glove.  The girls were stunned.  Their disbelief paralyzed Janie and Bella for a few seconds. Then they came to their senses, dropped their gloves (and the ball), and gave each other celebratory hugs.  Everyone was screaming, “Throw the ball.  Throw the ball,” which neither of the girls heard.  They were busy celebrating.  Rousing themselves from their reverie the girls picked up their gloves and Bella the ball, which she then threw.  After the game, Mr. N., the Indians' softball coach, congratulated Bella on her fine catch and Jannie for her backup support, "Girls, next time, could you hug after your throw the ball?"  Bella's remembrance of Mr N, "He was such a great coach!"

It was this grand event the cemented a friendship that has thrived for more than twenty years.  Now the girls are young women seeing each other when they can.  Like Jannie and Bella, our families have grown and changed.  DH and I often have dinner with Jannie’s folks, and we travel to visit Jannie when we can. Our daughters keep in touch and stay close as they build their lives separated by time and distance cherishing the friendship that was cemented one summer evening on a softball field by a grand event and a tale of two girls.

Notes for this recipe:  Although best results will be achieved with unsweetened flaked coconut and natural unsalted peanut butter, sweetened shredded coconut and hydrogenated commercial type peanut butter may be substituted.  Use "old-fashion" oatmeal, not instant.
 

SOFTBALL BARS

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. white flour
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. oatmeal (old-fashioned)
1/2 c. natural, unsalted peanut butter
1/2 c. raisins  (choc. chips can be substituted)
1/4 c. unsweetened flaked coconut, firmly packed

Preheat over to 350.  Grease 13 x 9" pan and set aside.  Measure dry ingredients into a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter until smooth.  Add the peanut butter and cream until blended and smooth.  Add sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth and creamy.  Add the egg and beat at medium speed until well blended.  Add flours, soda and salt, and beat at medium speed until well blended.  Add oatmeal and beat until well blended.   


 


Add raisins and coconut and beat on low just until mixed in.

 





Scrape dough into prepared pan pressing gently into place with fingers.  




Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until sides are golden brown.  Center will be soft.  Score while still warm.  Cool on wire rack and remove from pan when completely cool.