Saturday, December 18, 2010

Loosing Oneself

My neighbor Elspeth is loosing herself. This is my euphamism for someone experiencing memory loss.  It is the harsh reality many of us will face in years to come, but my neighbor is facing it now.  Elspeth knows her memory is faulty and that it may eventually fail her completely.  For now, with the help of her husband Guy, Elspeth is coping as best she can.  

Elspeth is a wonderful cook, but as her memory issues increase cooking has become more and more difficult. For the past few years Elspeth and I have baked together.  Most of the time we bake cookies.  When we are finished Elspeth happily carries home her portion of our "loot" in a brown paper bag to share with Guy.  Sometimes we are more ambitious.

As a young married woman and the mother of two small children, Elspeth used to make Parker House Rolls to earn house money.   Several times per week Elspeth would rise early and begin her rolls.  When the rolls were finished, she would bring them down street to one of the local markets where they were sold on consignment.  This past fall, as we have done for several years now, Elspeth and I made Parker House Rolls.  Elspeth learned how to make Parker House Rolls from her aunt with whom she was very close.  

I pull down my mother’s old-fashioned bread bucket, and Elspeth and I measure in the ingredients and crank the handle mixing the dough to a perfect elasticity.  We cover the bucket with a towel and let the dough rise.  When it has doubled Elspeth punches the dough down, and we wait through the second rising.  While the dough is rising, Elspeth and I bake cookies.



When the dough has doubled again we turn it onto a lightly floured cutting board and Elspeth begins to knead.  Although her memory is faulty, Elspeth’s hands remember what has to be done.  Her fingers and the heels of her hands work the dough with skill and practiced ease.  As she works Elspeth tells stories—long walks  as a young child every Sunday with her father and siblings, her mother’s final illness, learning how to make Parker House Rolls from her Aunt Rachel, and so many others.  We continue to work rolling out the dough and shaping the rolls preparing them for their final rising.  Elspeth continues to tell stories sometimes repeating herself.  We work on and when the rolls are finally baked and cooled we package them up, and Elspeth heads home with her share of our booty. We have passed another enjoyable day, and I feel blessed and my life enriched.

Elspeth has been unable to find her Parker House Roll recipe for a while now.  This recipe comes from an older Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Notes for this recipe:  Manual method: Do not heat the water any hotter than 110 degrees, as it will kill the yeast.  Machine Method:  It is not necessary to dissolve the yeast.  For the best results, use instant yeast—it is less heat sensitive.  The butter must still be melted in the milk. Rising:  If the kitchen is cold, fill a pan with boiling water, place a cooling rack across the pan, set the bowl on top, and cover completely with a towel. Freezing: These rolls freeze very well.  To freeze, cool the rolls completely, place in a zip lock bag and freeze for up to one month.

Parker House Rolls

¼ c. warm water 
1 pkg. or 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
¾ c. lukewarm milk
¼ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cut up
3-1/2 to 3-3/4 c. bread flour
Additional unsalted butter

Manual Method:

Lightly grease a large bowl with unsalted butter and set aside

Pour the milk into a small saucepan, add the cut up butter, and heat until the butter has melted fine bubbles appear around the edges.  Cool to lukewarm.  





In a large mixing bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Add the cooled milk, sugar and egg.  Mix to combine.  Add half the flour and mix with a wooden spoon to combine.  Add enough remaining flour to handle easily; mix with your hands.  

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 10 minutes).  Knead in more flour if necessary.  Place in the greased bowl and turn to coat.  Cover with a towel and put in a warm spot and let rise until double, about 1-1/2 hours.  Punch down, let rise again until almost double, about 30 minutes.  



Punch down, place the dough on a flat surface, cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes. 




To shape the rolls:
Lightly grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside.  Roll the dough to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut into circles with a 3 inch round biscuit or cookie cutter.  Roll the circles flat if necessary. 





Make a crease across each circle and place a pat of butter on what will become the bottom half of the circle.  Fold the top half so it slightly overlaps.  Place 1 inch apart on the greased baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rise until double, about 20 minutes.  Preheat oven to 375.  Bake rolls 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Remove to a cooling rack or serve immediately.  Makes about 1-1/2 dozen rolls.


Machine Method:

Measure all ingredients into the pan of a bread machine.  Set to “dough” setting.  When the cycle is complete, go to the instructions for a second rising above and proceed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mom's World Famous Garlic Bread












(Photo by Bella)


A few weekends ago Bella was home for our annual Harvest Celebration. She brought along Almira whose company we haven’t enjoyed for quite some time. Almira hails from a little town in Alaska and is back on the East coast studying for her master’s degree.

The evening before the celebration we sat around the table enjoying Marinara and the loaf of my mother’s garlic bread I’d prepared go with it. Almira said, “You know your garlic bread is famous in my home town.” Bella followed up, “It sure is! It was a huge hit at the spaghetti supper at Almira’s church.” Almira chortled, “Yeah, it never made it out of the kitchen.” I looked at Almira quizzically and she explained further, “The kitchen helpers liked your garlic bread so much that they ate all of it before it could make it to the dining room. Yup, your garlic bread was a huge hit!” When I told Bella and Almira that I planned on blogging my garlic bread, they chimed together, “Oh, great!” Bella said, “Almira, you’ll be able to send the link to everyone in your home town.” Almira nodded and smiled and helped herself to another slice of garlic bread.

Bella related another story about her study-abroad time in Italy. One night the students were planning a potluck supper. Everyone was yelling out what they would bring. Before Bella could chime in, the young man organizing the event turned to her and said, “And you can bring the Garlic Bread.” Bella said, "Yeah, Amma's garlic bread is world famous!"

My mother’s prowess in the kitchen was admired by many, and her skill as a caterer was frequently put to use at our church. At least once a year she produced a spaghetti supper as a church fundraiser. These were popular events and required massive amounts of sauce, pasta and...garlic bread. My mother’s garlic bread was famous. I sincerely believe that many people attended the spaghetti suppers just for a slice of her delicious garlic bread.

Notes for this recipe: The bread: Good quality bread is not required. The standard American-style Italian bread in the white paper wrapper will do quite nicely for this recipe.

Mom’s World Famous Garlic Bread
3/4 c. unsalted butter
¼ c. olive oil
6 cloves garlic minced
1 loaf unsliced Italian bread
1 Tbsp. finely chopped basil (optional)
Aluminum foil

Select a medium-sized saucepan with a wide top. Put the butter, olive oil and garlic into it and set on the stove. Turn the burner to medium low and heat gently until the butter is melted. Stir to combine and turn the burner off. Allow to meld for about one hour.

While the butter and garlic are melding, cut two large sheets of aluminum foil and lay them one on top of the other. Fold the edges together once and then twice. Open the two pieces being careful not to pull the fold apart. Smooth them flat.


Place the loaf of bread on a cutting board with the aluminum foil next to it. Cut the bread into 1-inch pieces. As it is cut, place each piece on the aluminum foil, reconstructing the loaf.




If necessary, reheat butter lightly to remelt it, if using, stir in the basil. Dip one side of each slice of bread into the butter replacing it on the aluminum foil reforming the loaf. If there is any butter left, dip the other side of as many slices as possible.

When the butter is gone, use a brush and brush a little bit of garlic onto one side of each slice.

Pull the aluminum foil up around the bread, and fold the ends together to secure them. Tuck up the ends to make a tidy packet around the bread.


Preheat oven to 350 and bake bread for approximately 45 minutes or until the bread is heated through and the crust is crisp. Line a basket with a towel and set aside. When the bread is ready, cut open the foil and place the slices in the prepared basket. Bring the towel up to help keep the bread warm. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Busted!

When I asked DH what it was about the new Baked Apples he liked so much his reply was, “Not a lot of sugar. Your earlier Baked Apples had too much sugar.” That seems to be the focus these days—less sugar. Why? Now that I’ve been busted by The Basil Queen (A Cookie for Bobbie Sue), I have to fess up—I can’t eat sugar. A specialty baker who can’t eat sugar? That would be me!

The goal for the last few years has been to rework recipes reducing or eliminating sugar. It’s been an interesting journey, and one that had to include baked apples. It’s taken a time or two to figure out how to replace sugar and retain the flavor of this dish, but it was worth the tinkering. The reduction in sugar allows the flavor of the apples to really come through, with the apple cider adding natural sugars and the brown sugar further enhancing the taste bud experience and giving the dessert additional depth. The side benefit, a wonderfully delicious sauce to spoon over the Baked Apples when they are served. Oh, yum! (Bake extras it saves time!)

Notes for this recipe: Apples: I like to cook with Empires, which are a wonderfully crisp and flavorful apple. They are also a decent keeper. But, any crisp, firm apple can be used. Do not substitute apple juice for the apple cider—the flavor of the dish will suffer. Up to half of the apple cider can be replaced with water, but the sauce will not be as thick or as flavorful. Coring apples: There's a handy gadget I've had for years--a hollow tube with a wooden plunger--I use to core apples. Works perfectly and blissfully low-tech! You can see it pictured below in the photo to the right of the ingredients list. Doing an on-line search will turn up similar gadgets with the wood now replaced by plastic.

Baked Apples

6 fairly large apples

Raisins

Brown sugar

Unsalted butter

Cinnamon

Nutmeg

Apple Cider

Select a non-reactive baking pan large enough to comfortably hold the apples without them touching and set it aside. Preheat oven to 350.

Wash and core the apples. Cut a strip of peel from around the middle of each apple and set inside the selected pan. Gently pack the core cavities with raisins to about ¼ inch from the top of the apple. Press brown sugar on top of the raisins so that it is flush with the top of the apple. Cut a slice of butter equal to approx. 1 tsp. and set on top of brown sugar. Give each apple a sprinkle of cinnamon and then a grate of fresh nutmeg.


Pour apple cider into the pan until it is halfway up the cut away strip. Put the apples into the oven and bake for 60 minutes or until tender. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool slightly. Serve warm or cold.


To serve: Select some large dessert bowls and have them handy. Select a serving spoon with a bowl large enough to scoop up an entire apple. Use the spoon to move the apples into the selected dessert bowls. Divide the sauce among the dishes and serve. In the unlikely event of leftovers, store any remaining apples in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Blue and White Box

The town next to the one in which I grew up had a bakery that produced superlative cookies and breads. Their blue and white box on the counter always meant a special treat, especially if it contained Hermits.

Years after I had left the town of my childhood, these Hermits lived large in my memory. With the bakery long out of business it was impossible to sample these particular Hermits again. All others paled in comparison. Most failed and wound up in the trash bin. All recipes were found lacking. And resignation took hold. The disappointment was palpable.

One day while sitting in a waiting room flipping through some magazines a recipe captured my eye. Hmmmmm, now that looked intriguing. For the first time in years I felt hope that I might actually once again bite into the Hermit of my childhood. I copied the recipe out and made it within a day or two. It did not disappoint.











Although there is no blue and white box to signal a particular treat, these cookies have become a family favorite. And, disappear almost as quickly as those from the blue and white box.

A historical note: Hermits are a very old cookie and are said to have originated on Cape Cod. An excellent keeper these cookies often went to sea stored in tins and packed into sea trunks.

Note: Rotating cookie sheets--for me this means moving the cookie sheets--the sheet on the top rack is moved to the bottom rack and the sheet on the bottom rack is moved to the top rack. The sheets are also turned 160 degrees in this process (a half turn--front to back or back to front). This allows for more even baking.

Hermits

2 c. flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cloves

1 c. brown sugar

½ c. unsalted butter, softened

1/3 c. molasses

1 egg

1 c. raisins

1 c. pecans coarsely chopped and toasted

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two cookie sheets.

Measure dry ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine.

In another bowl beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses until well combined. Beat in egg. On low add flour and mix just until combined. Stir in raisins and pecans.

Divide dough into quarters.





With lightly floured hands, shape each quarter into a 12” x 1-1/2” log. On each sheet place 2 logs leaving 3 inches in between.


Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until logs flatten and edges are firm. Rotate sheets halfway between baking time. Cool 15 minutes on baking sheets. Place logs one at a time on cutting board and cut into cookies. Transfer slices to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spread That on Your Cracker and Eat It!









Cannellini beans are an Italian white bean and are often referred to as “white kidney beans.” They retain their shape very well when cooked, and are firm with a wonderfully smooth texture and a slightly nutty flavor. Cannellini can be found in cans already processed or you may prepare them yourself. (Click for my instructions for preparing beans.) They double in size—1 cup of dry beans will result in approximately 2-1/2 cups of cooked beans.

The delicate flavor of the beans combined with the refreshing flavor of the dill makes this an especially tasty spread. It goes well with crackers and bread. For the best flavor make a day in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Allow the spread to sit at room temperature 20 minutes before serving. This spread was a huge hit, and there's been lots of pestering for the recipe by everyone who enjoyed it. Finally, you may now spread this on your cracker and eat it!

Dilled Cannellini Bean Spread

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed & drained

½ of a red pepper, chopped

3 Tbsp. chopped dill

1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic crushed & chopped

Kosher salt

White pepper (freshly ground)

Olive oil

Crackers

Fit a food processor with it’s chopping blade. In the work bowl place the cannellini beans through garlic. Using the pulse option, process just until ingredients are combined. With the machine running pour only enough olive oil through the feed tube to make the mixture smooth, but still thick and spreadable. Remove lid and add salt and pepper to taste, and more dill, if desired. Mix to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving. Can be made the day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve with crackers.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Coming Full Circle

Madame was one of those people for whom the beauty and elegance of life was essential. There were no coffee mugs in Madame’s home. She considered them to be ugly and refused to succumb to their convenience. “Sweetie,” Madame would say in her still heavily French accented English, “They just have no elegance!” Madame worked to create the life of beauty and elegance she valued, and did her best with everything and expected the same of those who surrounded her.

On her recent visit home I told Bella that I had finally written down the measurements and ingredients for Madame’s vinaigrette, but was struggling with the post. Bella suggested that I talk about how a visit to Madame required the best. Bella said, “You know, my best dress, my best shoes, and the socks with the lace ruffles. I had to wear a hat and gloves and carry my best purse.” And, most importantly, Bella remembers needing to be on her best behavior. (Some visits were quite short!) Then Bella said, “And I couldn’t chew gum. Remember the time we were standing on the steps and you looked down and I was chewing gum? You had already rung the bell and you looked at me and said, “Get rid of that gum! And, whatever you do don’t swallow it! It’ll be in your stomach for seven years!” So, I spit the gum into my purse just as Madame opened the door!”

For many years I have considered Madame’s vinaigrette to be the essence of culinary artistic simplicity. Every time it is served our guests rave about its subtle flavor and elegance. What finally spurred me to record the recipe was my nephew Wort. On his recent visit we had served this dressing with salad one night for dinner. Wort looked at me and said, “Auntie, this is the best salad dressing I’ve ever had.” From Wort, high praise in deed! For that brief and shining moment the beauty and elegance to which Madame aspired and tried to instill in those she knew blazed brightly. I felt like we had come full circle with Madame for whom we always did our best.

Notes for this recipe: I have adapted the recipe slightly. Madame always used vegetable oil, white wine tarragon vinegar, and jarred mayonnaise. She would never have added mustard of any kind! I use only homemade mayonnaise, and for the best results suggest that you do, too—click for my mayonnaise recipe. Substitutions for the Dijon mustard are not encouraged--use Dijon or omit this ingredient.  The amount can also be reduced.
















Madame’s Vinaigrette
1/3 c. white wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sprig fresh tarragon



Select a 2 c. glass jar with a tight lid. Into it measure the vinegar and olive oil. Add the mayonnaise and mustard. Put the lid on the jar and shake. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the sprig of fresh tarragon. Store in the refrigerator or use immediately. Store any unused dressing in the refrigerator.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ritual of Summer

Blueberry picking has been one of the rituals of summer since childhood. Every summer we would travel to the family farm in New Hampshire. On any farm summer time is filled with work from dawn to dusk. Many of our days were spent bringing in the hay, but in between haying and the regular barn chores there were often more pleasant tasks to be attended to. On sunny days during blueberry season my grandmother would send my aunts to pick wild blueberries. I have pleasant memories of picking wild blueberries on rocky mountain outcroppings with my mother and her sisters.








At home we picked blueberries at Oscar & Lolita’s. Mom would always make a pie for dinner and several more for the freezer. When my folks moved to Vermont Oscar gave them fifteen blueberry bushes. Dad planted them in the backyard where they thrived. Mom froze quarts of blueberries and made dozens of jars of jam. When my parent’s freezer was full the neighbors were invited to pick. As my folks aged and we needed additional help with their various gardens, the neighbors pitched in. When my folks passed on, DH and I transplanted some shoots from their blueberry bushes to our farm. But, what to do for blueberries while we waited for the shoots mature?
One night over a glass of wine with our friends CC and Ned, DH & I mentioned our blueberry dilemma. CC and Ned looked at each other and said, “We have blueberry bushes. Come and pick all you want!” For the past few years that is exactly what we’ve done. In exchange for their generosity, we give CC and Ned a case of jam and a blueberry dessert or two during the season.
One of the blueberry desserts I like to make is Carole’s Fresh Blueberry Tart. This recipe comes from my friend Carole, another blueberry picker. The dessert looks and tastes fabulous, but isn’t complicated or difficult to make. This year my cousin Cole was visiting and helped make the Tart for CC and Ned. CC asked if I could teach her to make the Tart. So, here’s Carole’s Fresh Blueberry Tart via Cole and CC’s cooking lessons. Enjoy!
Notes for this recipe: The tart crust is blind baked—a technique used to bake empty crusts, which are later filled. There are several ways to blind bake a crust, the one used in this recipe is the technique I prefer and requires parchment paper and dried beans. The beans may be saved and reused. The lemon zest must be very finely grated--a micro-grater produces the best results. Use only fresh lemon juice and unsalted butter. If you don’t have a tart pan, a deep dish pie plate is an adequate substitute.
Carole's Fresh Blueberry Tart
CRUST:
l-l/4 cups flour
3 Tbsp. confectioner's sugar
l/4 tsp. salt
10 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Parchment paper
Dried beans or rice
FILLING:
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. cold water
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. grated lemon peel
6 cups fresh blueberries
For Crust: Preheat oven to 425. Select 10” false-bottomed tart pan or a 9” deep false-bottomed tart pan.

Measure the flour, powdered sugar and salt into the work bowl of a food processor. Blend for 5 seconds.




Add butter, and pulse until it is cut in. Then blend until the dough forms a ball.



Gather the dough and form into a palm-sized disc. Place the disc of dough into the bottom of the tart pan.



Gently push the dough evenly over the bottom, and into the corner of the tart pan.


Use your thumb to push the dough from the corner and up the side of the tart pan. If using a deep tart pan, the dough should go up the sides 1 inch.


Line the crust with a piece of parchment paper. Fill the paper with the beans or rice.



Place the tart pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is set and lightly golden brown. Carefully remove parchment and beans and bake for another 5 minutes or until the crust is dry to the touch. Remove tart pan to a wire rack to cool completely.


For Filling: Whisk sugar, cornstarch, salt in medium saucepan to blend. Gradually add 2 TBSP cold water and lemon juice, whisking until smooth. Add butter and lemon peel. Add 2 cups berries and mash with potato masher. Cook over med. heat until mixture thickens and boils, stirring occasionally.




Remove from heat. Fold in remaining 4 cups of berries. Scrape the filling into cooled crust.





With a rubber spatula spread the filling to the edges and smooth. Refrigerate till cold, at least l hour. Can be prepared l day ahead. Cover loosely with foil, refrigerate.


To remove the tart from the pan for serving: Select a flat serving plate or platter and have it close to your work surface. Hold the pan in one hand and with your other gently push up on the false bottom. When you feel the tart give way, continue gently pushing up allowing the rim of the pan to fall down around your arm. Place the tart on your work surface. Slip a long thin angled spatula between the false bottom and the crust. Gently slide the spatula around to separate the crust from the bottom. Very gently slide the tart onto the selected serving plate or platter. Allow the tart to sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Something Blue



















I could go into some heady discussion about the history of blueberries, how they are native to North American and they have been a part of the culinary landscape here for centuries. That would only detract from the purpose of this article, which is to rave about this deliciously spectacular orb and the magnificent Blueberry Buckle. Many years ago while reading a science fiction novel’s description of some blue food the characters were eating I wondered what it would be like to eat something blue. Then it hit me! We have the blueberry! How could I have forgotten?! (Obviously, not one of my finer moments.)

Over the years I’ve made a myriad of blueberry baked goods. When I was baking professionally, the list was quite extensive, now I make what we like, which tends to be the tried and true old-fashioned favorites. One of these is Blueberry Buckle. This deliciously moist buttery cake dense with blueberries hails back to Colonial days. The blueberry part of the name is obvious. The buckle part of the name refers to the top of the cake, which “buckles” or “warps” during baking. This recipe need not be limited to blueberries—diced peaches, sliced strawberries, raspberries, halved cherries all work well, too.

Blueberry Buckle
Topping:
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
Cake:
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
½ c. milk
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a round 9” baking pan. Line bottom only with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper and dust the entire pan with flour, tap out excess flour.






Measure the topping ingredients into a small bowl. Using your fingers, blend the mixture completely. Set aside. Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Stir to combine and set aside. Combine the milk and the vanilla and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat the brown sugar and butter until creamed. Add the egg and beat until blended.  Add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix only until blended. Fold in the blueberries. Scrape into the
prepared pan.





Sprinkle on the topping. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. The edges should be browned and slightly pulling away from the pan. Remove Buckle to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pan. Place a second wire wrack over the top of the cake. Turn the cake upside down onto the second rack. Remove the pan, peel off the parchment from the Buckle’s bottom. Place a cooling rack over the bottom of the Buckle and gently flip it top side up. Cool completely or serve warm.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just In Time

DH has a poster sent to him by his Aunt Vi of a man in a mask standing on a neighbor’s porch with a "Saturday night special" and an armful of zucchini. The caption reads, “You may be a red neck if you’ve ever forced your neighbors to take your unwanted zucchini.” That pretty much sums up week three of the zucchini harvest! Right now our neighbors are happy to see us. In a week’s time they will be locking their doors and cowering in the corner when they see us coming. And you think I’m joking!

There are several ways we put zucchini by for the winter months. It is grated and put into zip lock bags and frozen to be used in soups, stews, and casseroles. Zucchini Relish is a favorite and 24 pints of that have been put by. And then there is Zucchini Bread which is baked into small loaves and frozen. For years I used my mother’s zucchini bread recipe. It is quite a well known recipe, but to our taste it was too sweet, had too much cinnamon and was far too oily. So, I began tampering. After two years and I don’t know how many attempts this morning it happened—the recipe is finished! And just in time, too!

Notes for this recipe: The zucchini can be grated in a food processor using the grating blade. It can also be grated by hand. The recipe makes 1 9 x5 inch loaf, 3 3x5 inch loaves or 2 4x6 inch loaves. This recipe freezes extremely well. Wrap the loaves in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, label and freeze. This bread also makes a lovely dessert served with fruit and a cup of tea or coffee. It is not necessary to use an electric mixer for this recipe--I generally use a whisk and a spatula. Quick, simple, and low tech with the same delicious results!















Just In Time Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1 c. brown sugar
1-1/4 c. canola oil
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. salt
2 c. grated zucchini
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan (or 2 to 3 smaller pans) and set aside.


Grate the zucchini and set aside. Measure dry ingredients into a bowl, stir to combine and set aside.






In a large bowl beat together brown sugar and oil. Beat eggs until creamy, add to sugar and oil and beat until well combined. Add vanilla and stir to mix.





Add dry ingredients and mix on low until combined. Stir in grated zucchini and chopped nuts (if using). Pour into prepared pan(s). Bake for 1 hour or until done. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove loaf from the pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Born on the 4th of July

















As the guest list for the 4th of July Ultimate Rib Extravaganza was falling into place, it became clear—appetizers were a must. I dipped into my “Recipes for a Hoard” file and pulled out the tried and true Black Bean Salsa. Many permutations of this recipe have been served at various events, and the 4th of July Ultimate Rib Extravaganza wasn’t going to be the exception. Celebrating the 4th was going to be a weekend long event, with houseguests, dinner guests, and then the big event on the 4th. Planning ahead was going to be essential if I was going to be prepared and not a frantic mess.

Saturday morning found us at the local Farmer’s Market. DH carved a straight line to his cousin’s stand, Gizmo’s Pickled Plus and settled in. The rest of us scattered taking in the ambiance and variety of the Market. A tap on my shoulder found Bella at my elbow with our good friend Jo in tow, a truly delightful surprise, which turned into two more for dinner. It had been far too long since we had enjoyed Jo and Angel’s company; they would be a welcome addition to our al fresco dinner party.

Several hours later we arrived home laden with our purchases, and attempted to cram them into an already burgeoning refrigerator. We took a short break and began the day’s real work—preparing food.

In addition to preparing for the 4th of July Ultimate Rib Extravaganza there were now additional preparations to make for dinner. Another pound of hamburg needed thawing, and I wondered if someone needed to go out for more sweet corn. I lingered on that for about two seconds before I was distracted and off in another direction. The kitchen was bustle of activity. My nephew Wort was making ice cream and sorbet, Adele was doing the ribs, I was making pies and lists, and Bella and Christy were in the dining room coloring and accusing each other of monopolizing crayons in between doing the dishes.

Around 5 o’clock everyone was starving, and dinner was still a ways off. Out came the ingredients for Black Bean Salsa. I whipped together this and some Dilled White Bean Spread, arranged everything in a cloth-lined basket and brought it to the porch. Wort opened a growler of beer and everyone settled in for a good gnosh. It was all delicious, but what the blazing sun would be served for appetizers tomorrow?!

The next morning I pulled the remnants of the Black Bean Salsa from the fridge--not much left. It was time to forage. There were a couple ears of corn-on-the-cob left from the previous night’s dinner. There was still a tomato or two, a variety of peppers, lots of fresh cilantro, a ripe avocado, limes, and a can of black beans-- a veritable treasure trove. What I didn’t have were chips. Bella and Wort made a supply run and we were good to go. So, here it is--Black Bean & Corn Salsa, born on the 4th of July.

Notes for this recipe: The Salsa will be best when made ahead of time giving the flavors time to develop and meld. More or less cilantro, garlic, and cumin can be added to suit your palate. The avocado can be omitted. The picture shows Black Bean & Corn Salsa from our Saturday night festivities. Click on "cooked corn" below for the link on this blog for cooking corn how to.

4th of July Black Bean and Corn Salsa

1 avocado peeled, pitted & diced
Zest & juice of 1 lime
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 ears of cooked corn, kernels cut from the cob (or 1 c. frozen, thawed or 1 c. canned, drained)
½ red pepper, seeded & diced
½ yellow pepper, seeded & diced
¼ green pepper, seeded & diced
1 tomato, sliced & diced
2 Tbsp. green onion tops, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
1/3 c. chopped cilantro
2 tsp. cumin
Kosher salt
White & Blue corn chips

Put the diced avocado in a small bowl. Pour the lime juice over and gently stir with a rubber spatula. Add the zest. Set aside.

In a larger bowl combine the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Add the avocado & lime juice mixture. Stir gently to combine. Season with salt to taste. Scrape into a serving bowl and set aside for an hour. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Line a basket with a towel. Set the serving bowl in the basket and surround with chips and serve.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sacred Events

Every year for at least twenty years we’ve made a pilgrimage. Less than a handful of times have we missed this most sacred of events—strawberry picking. Sacrilege? Heresy? Hardly! One could worship worse things than the beautiful and succulent strawberry. And worship it I do!

This year DH and I were able to make the pilgrimage together. It was a glorious mid-June Vermont day—cloudless blue sky with a brilliant sun. We arrived at Norris Berry Farm mid-morning, and checked in. We blocked up, donned our sun hats, grabbed our flats (the large rectangular cartons to hold the picked strawberries), and headed to our designated patch where we each selected a row and got busy.

We toiled for hours in the hot sun picking our rows while others came and went. The person who most captured our attention was the young woman carrying a latte in one hand and a quart basket in the other. Miss Latte wore a mini-shirt and a pair of designer sandals. As DH and I scooted along on our butts this young woman hopped from row to row looking for the biggest and most beautiful berries. She was what we call a top grazer. Miss Latte ignored strawberry picking etiquette--you select a row and pick it, placing the flag for that row where you stop. No silly rules or etiquette for Miss Latte! DH and I chuckled and exchanged a knowing look. Go ahead, Miss Latte, pick the biggest, most perfect berries! We are quite content with the smaller ones. As strawberry devotees, we know that the smaller berries pack the most flavor. Miss Latte was not the only picker obsessed with finding the largest berries, which makes me ask, "What is the obsession with big berries?!"

The answer must be Clamshell strawberries, those tasteless monstrosities available for purchase year round in supermarkets. I’ve concluded that this product appeals to our cultural training that bigger must be better, even if it tastes terrible. If shoppers knew how these crops were grown and the environmental impact of the agricultural methods used, would it make a difference in their purchasing habits? Clamshells are cultivated using a form of modern commercial production called the “plasticulture” system. Which means lots of plastic is used.

The plants are covered with plastic to prevent weeds from growing and pests from invading. The plants are “fumigated,” which is a less frightening way of referring to the pesticides used to kill pests and weeds. Talk about toxic! This is not a product I purchase, period. We eat strawberries when they are in season and pick or purchase them from a local grower. This year we picked four flats of these tasty morsels, which were turned into jam or frozen. Come January this little bit of summer will be most welcome.

One of our favorite summer desserts is Strawberry Shortcake. A tender, slightly sweet biscuit doused with strawberries and bathed in whipped cream. But here’s the burning question--"Why is Shortcake called shortcake?" I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t because the biscuits are short in stature! Shortcake’s name derives from the ratio of fat to flour and how this affects the length of the gluten strands. Gluten strands are “shortened” by increasing the ratio of fat to flour resulting in a much more tender product. Hence the name shortcake. By adding sugar, milk and baking powder the chemical reaction is complete creating a tender, moist biscuit.

Notes for this recipe: Our preference is for unsugared strawberries, but it can be added. A tablespoon or two would be sufficient. Although many shortcake biscuits call for eggs, this one does not. Why? I prefer them without. Whipping cream--don’t over whip or it will turn to butter, and confectioner’s sugar can be increased to 1 tablespoon if you prefer yours a little sweeter.









Strawberry Shortcake

1 qt. strawberries

Biscuits

Whipped Cream

Hull strawberries. In a separate bowl mash approximately 1/3 of the berries. Halve the remaining strawberries into a larger bowl. Add the mashed berries. With a rubber spatula, gently mix to combine. Set aside.

While the strawberries are resting, make the biscuits.

Biscuits

2 c. flour

4 Tbsp. brown sugar

3 tsp. baking power

1 tsp. salt

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with shortening or canola oil and set aside. Into a bowl measure the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Thoroughly cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two table knives. Add the milk. Stir with a fork to combine. Using two spoons drop the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet to make 8 biscuits.

Bake for 15 minutes or until biscuits are a light golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely.

While the biscuits are cooling give the strawberries a gentle stir, and then make the whipped cream.

Whipped Cream

1/2 c. heavy cream

½ tsp. vanilla

½ Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar

In small bowl beat the whipped cream until it is thickened. Gently stir in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar.

To assemble the Strawberry Shortcakes: Cut a biscuit in half horizontally. Place the lower half of the biscuit in a dessert-sized bowl. Fill a one cup solid measuring cup with strawberries. Pour them on top of the biscuit. Add a good dollop of whipped cream and cover with the top of the biscuit. Serve.