Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holy Granola!

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a low-sugar granola? My family likes cereal, and granola in particular, for breakfast. Early on, I realized that if they were going to eat a healthy, nutritional, low sugar granola for breakfast, I was going to have to make it. After doing some research, this recipe was born. It was an automatic hit. I made double batches every other week for six years.

This recipe is easy to make, the ingredients are simple and the flavor is pleasantly mild. Best of all, you can taste something besides sugar. The dried fruits can be altered with every batch as can the nuts, creating endless variety!

Grade B maple syrup is recommended as it has the best flavor. It is all we use—the Fancy or Grade A is for tourists who think that paying the highest price equates to buying the best. But, we Vermonters know that Grade B is the best maple syrup to buy. (Under no circumstances is phony maple syrup ever to be substituted in this recipe. I won’t mention any brand names--you know what they are.) Honey or molasses can be substituted with good results. This recipe becomes gluten-free when oat bran is substituted for the wheat germ.

Maple Walnut Granola

4 c. rolled oats

½ c. wheat germ

¾ c. broken walnuts

½ c. sunflower seeds

½ tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. cloves

1/8 tsp. allspice

a pinch of nutmeg

½ c. pure Grade B Vermont maple syrup

¼ c. apple cider

2-1/2 c. snipped dried fruit

Preheat oven to 350. Measure the maple syrup and cider into a small saucepan, and heat on the stove until warm, stirring occasionally. Do not let this mixture boil! Maple syrup makes a huge mess when it boils and it doesn’t take long for this to happen, so watch the pan. While the maple syrup is heating select a heat-proof 15 x 10 inch pan and measure into it, the oats, wheat germ, walnuts, and spices. Stir to thoroughly combine.

When the maple syrup is ready, pour it over the oat mixture. Stir to evenly coat the oat mixture. When the liquid is distributed evenly, place the pan into the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Give the granola a good stir the granola and bake for another 10 minutes. The granola is ready when it is feels dry to the touch.

While the granola is baking prepare the dried fruit. Use scissors to snip larger fruits, such as apricots, figs, prunes, and dates into desired sizes. Any combination of fruits can be used in the granola. (For this batch I used 1 c. dark raisins, 1 c. dried blueberries, ¼ c. apricots and ¼ c. dates.)

When the granola has finished baking, remove it from the oven onto a cutting board and stir in the prepared dried fruit, combining well. Cool thoroughly. Scrape the granola into an airtight container. It keeps for two weeks.

The Granola is delicious with milk or yoghurt (see my earlier post on how to make your own yoghurt).

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dinner Guest and The Golden Moment

Many years ago a young woman came to my home for dinner. During one of the most boring dinner conversations I have ever had to endure, I was handed a recipe written on an envelope.   Little did I know that this would prove to be one of the best gifts I would ever receive.  I remember little about the young woman, and even less about the man she accompanied to my home.  But, the recipe she handed me that evening endures pasted into my recipe notebook.

Aside from the golden moment, yoghurt is not difficult to make.  It requires milk, starter, and powdered milk.  A thermometer is a necessity.  I prefer to use a glass candy thermometer, but there are other types that work just as well.  A double boiler is also required, but one can be made using two aluminum bowls.

Notes for this recipe:  Since posting this several years ago, I have switched to commercial yoghurt starters.  Why?  It has become increasingly difficult to find any commercial yoghurt with live cultures.  Powdered yoghurt starters will be found in the refrigerated cooler in the dairy aisle of grocery stores.  The cooling temperature is 115 and the yoghurt sits for up to 24 hours.


1 quart milk (2%, whole, 1% or skim can be used. The higher the fat content the richer and thicker the yoghurt.) 
½ c. powdered milk
1 packet powdered yoghurt starter (or 3 Tbsp. of starter,any plain yoghurt with active cultures)
1 sterilized quart container

Pour the milk into the top of a double boiler. Add the powdered milk and stir together to dissolve and blend the mixture. Fill the bottom part of the double boiler with water, and place it on the stove. Set the bowl with the milk on top, checking to be sure the water does not touch its bottom. Turn heat to high. Clip on a thermometer making sure it does not touch the bottom of the bowl as this will cause a false reading. The steam from the boiling water will gently heat the milk to the proper temperature. During the heating process, check the water level in the bottom section of the double boiler, adding more if necessary. Do not let the double boiler run dry.

Heat the milk until the temperature reaches 180 degrees (200 is even better), stirring often to be sure the milk heats evenly. You can hold the thermometer in the center of the milk to double check the temperature. When 180 degrees is reached, remove the top of the double boiler to the counter to begin cooling.

Cool to precisely 115 degrees — the Golden Moment. If the temperature falls below 115, you must heat again. (110 if using yoghurt as the starter.) Stir in the starter. Pour the mixture into the prepared container and cover with the lid. Move to a warm, dark place and cover with a towel. Leave undisturbed for up to 24 hours.  During this time the cultures will be working away creating the yoghurt.  When the resting time has passed, open your container, spoon some of the yoghurt into a dish, add cut up fruit or jam with granola and enjoy!

Store any unused yoghurt in the refrigerator for later use.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Damn the Torpedoes!

What am I ever going to do with these torpedoes! This is something I ask myself every summer when the zucchini harvest is fast upon us. Our neighbors, so happy to see us coming their way with zucchini early on in the season, run inside and pull down the shades, especially if we are bearing the grossly over-sized zucchini we call torpedoes.
Torpedoes are perfect for Zucchini Relish and Zucchini Bread, but when I have made all of these I need, then what? The dual dilemma--by this time in the season eating zucchini has become close to torture and being the child of parents raised during the Depression wasting food is inconceivable. Talk about a rock and a hard place! Torpedoes present definite culinary challenges. They lack the tenderness and sweetness of their baby selves and the seeds in some varieties can be quite large when they achieve this size. Over the years I have developed several recipes that use torpedoes and make the late season vegetables a pleasure to eat.

Pan-fried Zucchini Slices

1 large zucchini about 3” in diameter
¼ c. milk
½ c. corn meal
2 tbsp. diced Italian parsley
½ tsp. salt
Canola oil

Wash and dry the zucchini. Place it on a cutting board and cut it into ¾ to one inch thick slices and set aside. Pour the milk into a pie plate. Measure the corn meal into another pie plate. Mix the corn meal, diced parsley, the salt, and a good grind of pepper into the corn meal.

Select a heavy 9 or 10 inch frying pan—a cast iron “spider” is ideal. (Cast iron absorbs heat evenly and holds it well, which means less fluctuation in temperature and no "hot" spots.) Place the pan on a large burner and pour into it about 1/4 inch of canola oil. Turn the heat to medium-high. The tricky part is achieving the proper temperature for frying and maintaining it. Do not allow the oil to become hot enough to smoke. My preferred way of testing oil is to dip my fingers into a bit of water and shake this onto the oil. If the oil sputters, it is hot enough. This must be done carefully to void being burned. There is also a visual test—when the oil is hot enough it will “move” or “shimmer” in the pan. When the oil is hot enough, turn the heat down to medium.

Select a slice of zucchini and dip both sides in the milk, then into the corn meal, and then place in the frying pan. Repeat with as many slices as will fit into the frying pan without crowding, working as quickly as possible. Fry the slices until the underside is a nice golden brown. Flip the slices, being careful not to break the corn meal crust. Cook until the underside is golden brown. Remove to a paper towel covered heat-proof dish and place into warm oven (170) and finish cooking any remaining slices. More oil may be added as necessary. Make sure it has reached the proper temperature before continuing with frying. Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Deluxe Comfort Food

For most people a grilled cheese sandwich is a piece of American “cheese” between two pieces of puffo bread smeared with some margarine and cooked on something non-stick long enough to melt said margarine. This is truly scary food!

Grilled cheese sandwiches, around here, fall into the category of Comfort Food. And, Comfort Food must be prepared with great care and cooked with love and affection. It, quite simply, cannot be prepared when one is angry—it defeats the purpose. As for the grilled cheese sandwich, it must be seen as an edible work of art, the highest form of Comfort Food.

The grilled cheese sandwich begins with a high quality sandwich bread. I like to use a whole grain bread or a seeded rye. If you make your own bread, you need search no further for suitable bread. Cheese—under no circumstances can American cheese, Velveeta or some other pseudo cheese product be used in a grilled cheese sandwich. If you want to create a truly memorable grilled cheese sandwich, a high quality cheddar must be used—preferably Vermont sharp or extra sharp. I’m not saying this just because I live in Vermont, I’m saying this because there is something about the quality of the flavor of Vermont cheddar that sets it apart from other cheddars. It also has the perfect melting qualities to create the desired texture. The tomatoes and the parsley are optional. I add them this time of year because we have tomatoes from the garden and this is version of the sandwich my family likes best—the Deluxe Comfort Food.

The absolute best pan to use is a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan—my grandmother called them spiders. Why? Who knows! Even my grandmother didn’t know. She called it a spider because that is what her mother called it. If you don’t have a spider, I urge you to acquire at least one at the earliest possible opportunity. Until then, use something with a heavy bottom that is not non-stick. So, here is my version of the---

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

4 slices good quality bread, preferably homemade.
Vermont Extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced about ¼ inch thick
Italian parsley
Butter, very soft

Place the four slices of bread on a cutting board. Take the cheddar cheese and cut slices about ¼ inch thick. Place enough of the sliced cheese on two of the pieces of bread to cover the surface. On top of cheese place about 6 leaves of Italian parsley. On top of the parsley place enough tomato slices to cover the surface. Cut the tomato slices in half, if necessary.

For this next step, make sure the butter is very soft or it will tear the bread. Using a spreader, cover the surface of the second slice of bread with a thin, but even coat of butter. Place this slice of bread, buttered side up, on top of the constructed sandwich. Repeat with the other slice of bread for the second sandwich.

Place a nine-inch spider on a large burner and turn the heat to medium. When the pan is warm to the touch, place one of the sandwiches in the pan buttered slice down. Remove the unbuttered top slice of bread from the sandwich and place it on the cutting board. Butter this slice of bread as instructed above. Replace it on the top of the sandwich buttered side up.

Adjust the temperature to ensure that the spider does not become too hot and burn the sandwich. When the bread is golden brown, carefully flip the sandwich and brown the other
side. The goal is to brown the sandwich slowly and evenly so that the cheese is melted at the same time the bread is perfectly browned. This takes practice and patience. If you have enough pans, you can grill more than one sandwich at a time. If not, remove the grilled cheese sandwich to a heat-proof plate and put it in a warm oven (175 degrees) while you cook the remaining sandwich.

When the sandwiches are cooked, plate them and cut them in half. Serve with dill pickles or other condiments of choice. Welcome to the land of Deluxe Comfort Food.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pa's Potatoes

There is nothing my father enjoyed more than a backyard cook out. Our family (grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins) would gather in the backyard often during the summer months for these events. The food was always good and plentiful.

My mother was the primary cook at our house,

but my father had several signature dishes
he liked to make. One of these was a grilled potato. I remember the first time Dad made these potatoes, I must have been 11 or 12. As always he was very enthusiastic while everyone was skeptical--not all Dad's ideas were winners. But, this one was to be a colossal hit and take its place among the family favorites.

Like all of my father's special dishes, the origin
remains a mystery, but the final result does not!

Pa's Potatoes

4 Medium sized red skinned potatoes
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled & cut in half length-wise
Cilantro (Basil or Italian parsley can be substituted)
Salt (Kosher)
Pepper (fresh ground)
Aluminum foil

Turn on the grill to low and allow it to heat while preparing the potatoes. Tear off four pieces of aluminum foil about 12x12 inches and set aside. Cut the potatoes in half and set them out side by side on a cutting board. On one half of each potato place one slice of onion, a clove of garlic, some cilantro leaves, a pat of butter, a sprinkle of salt, a healthy grind of pepper. Place remaining half of the potato on top of the "loaded" potato half.

Take a piece of the aluminum foil, place a potato on it. Wrap the potato with the aluminum foil. Place the wrapped potatoes on the grill. Close the grill and "bake" the potatoes for approximately 45 minutes turning as needed.

The potatoes are done when they feel soft through the aluminum foil. Remove them to a platter and serve the potatoes wrapped. Unwrapping the potatoes is like unwrapping a gift, it is all part of the experience.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Simply Sublime Succotash

Succotash is a time-honored tradition in my family. As a child I remember that every year around harvest time we would head to Great Aunt Gen’s and partake of her wonderful Succotash. My childhood memory of this particular family gathering is one of my fondest. The table was set with its finery and the many family members gathered around awaiting the steaming tureen of Succotash. As soon as it arrived and was served the only sounds were the ooohhhs and aaaahhs of appreciation. It was a grand occasion and Great Aunt Gen beamed.

My mother carried on the family Succotash tradition. Mother used to make Succotash as soon as the corn came in. I’d stop in and she’d be cutting corn off the cob and frying the bacon she would crumble and use as a garnish. I asked my mother to write this recipe down, and I am sorry to say that she never did, much to my disappointment.  Now I carry on the family Succotash tradition. Last night when the ears of corn arrived fresh from the garden it was clear what needed to be made----Succotash. After making a few notes, I began as I have many times before, only this time, I was writing the recipe down!

Egg salad sandwiches were my mother's preferred sandwich with Succotash, but here we break from tradition. While the Succotash is simmering, I make our sandwich of choice--Fried Egg Sandwich.  With slices of toasted homemade bread lavishly spread with homemade mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, thick slices of maple cured bacon, lettuce fresh from the garden and a fried egg, this sandwich is both satisfying and the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of Succotash. Add some homemade dill pickles and a glass of cider and you have a meal both satisfying and sublime.
This recipe will generously serve two people. There will be no leftovers.

Notes for this recipe:  Lima Beans:  I use frozen, but if you can find fresh, go for it!  Seasoning--this time of year I like to use summer savory fresh from the garden. It is a difficult herb to find, but worth the hunt if you can find it fresh. Thyme sprigs make a good substitute, and are much easier to find. I generally toss in a few fresh sprigs of either herb along with a bay leaf, a generous grind of white pepper and some kosher salt. 

Simply Sublime Succotash
6 ears corn-on-the cob
Olive oil
1 medium onion
8 ounces frozen baby lima beans
Fresh thyme or summer savory
Kosher salt
White pepper, freshly ground

Shuck the ears of corn being sure to remove all the silk. Next cut the corn off the cob. Place the wide end of the cob on a cutting board. Firmly hold the cob by the pointed end and using a very sharp knife cut the kernels off the cob. A slight back and forth motion with the knife is most effective. When the kernels are off, scrape the cob with the knife to release the “milk” and remove any of the remaining kernel. Set aside. Peel a medium sized onion and dice it. 

Set a heavy quart pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Pour in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until slightly golden brown. Add the corn and about 8 ounces of frozen baby lima beans.  Give the mixture a good stir to combine. Now add milk, enough to cover the corn and lima bean mixture.  Add the thyme or summer savory and bay leaf.  Stir to combine.  Let this mixture simmer gently for about 20 minutes.  Do not allow the Succotash to boil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.