Friday, December 30, 2011

A Little Extra Something

Christmas baking is usually a time for me to cut loose and do some creating and experimening, but not this year.  My day job kept me busy right up to the last with nary a spare moment.  With professional obligations weighing so heavily Bella and I decided to stick with traditional family favorites:  My grandmother’s Gingerbread Cookies, my mother’s Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Raisin Oat Bars, and Brandied Almond Fruit Bars.  As we would be baking small batches, we needed to come up with a little extra something to deliver to the neighbors along with our holiday well wishes.  Epiphany--Pumpkin Cranberry Bread!

This past fall, when pumpkins were in short supply else where, a banner crop was harvested in Vermont--in spite of Hurricane Irene.  Our pumpkins were purchased from the neighbors who had a beautiful crop of both carving and eating pumpkins, of which they had several varieties.  Growers insist there are major differences between the eating varieties in flavor, texture, and sweetness, but truthfully I can detect no noticeable differences.  This year we purchased fewer and smaller pumpkins, and they yielded an incredible amount of puree.  With a freezer full of homemade pumpkin puree, a plentiful supply of fresh cranberries purchased at The Morse Farm, and a fast, easy, quantity-producing recipe for Pumpkin Cranberry Bread, it was decided that this would make the perfect additional something for the neighbors.

There is, however, a significant difference in flavor between home processed pumpkin puree and commercially canned.  If you’ve never made your own, I encourage you to try.  It is a very straightforward forward process, and worth the bit of time it takes. (Click here for the link to my post on how to make pumpkin puree.)  Once you eat homemade, it’s hard to go back to a commercially produced product.

Notes for this recipe:  Yes, the pans must be lined with parchment paper.  This is an essential step, skipping it will result in breads stuck to the pan.  Dried cranberries can be substituted for fresh, but the flavor and texture of the bread will suffer.  Orange juice can be substituted for apple cider.  Commercially canned pumpkin puree can be substituted for the fresh.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

3 c. flour

¼ tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated preferred)
¼ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. mace
¼ tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. brown sugar
2 c. fresh pumpkin puree (or 15 oz. commercially canned)
4 large eggs
1 c. canola oil
½ c. apple cider
2 cups fresh cranberries

Grease 1 5x9” pan or 5 3x5” pans, line with parchment paper.  Grease and flour parchment paper and set pans aside.  Preheat oven to 350. 

Measure flour, spices, baking soda, and salt into a bowl, set aside. 

Measure oil and apple cider into a 2 c. glass measuring cup and set aside. Measure brown sugar into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil mixture and stir with a rubber spatula to combine.  Add the pumpkin puree and mix with the rubber spatula just to combine.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Fold in the cranberries. 

Scrape into the prepared pans.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove pans to wire racks.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  To remove breads from their pans, tip pans onto their sides and gently ease out the breads.  Carefully remove the parchment paper.  Gently turn breads back onto their bottoms and cool completely.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Life is Like That From Time-to-Time

It’s Christmas Day.  It may seem unusual that I have chosen to write a blog post today of all days.  Let me begin by saying that it has been an especially busy quarter. The demands of my day job have left little time for doing anything other than working and sleeping.  (Life is like that from time-to-time.)

Bella is off “doing tree” with her other family, and DH and I are grateful for the quiet solitude of this Christmas Day.  Unlike Chistmases past we will not be having 30 people for dinner.  DH and I sit here companionably, waiting for Bella to return, listening to French Carols, reading and watching the gently falling snow through our living room windows.  I find myself, for the first time in many months with leisure time. It is glorious and I can’t think of a better way to spend my first leisure moments in months than to write a blog post.

We had a houseful for Thanksgiving.  Family from away and family from just up the road a piece gathered here to celebrate this most American of holidays. While planning out the day’s menu, Bella and I decided to try and keep it as simple as possible—including the desserts.  Thanksgiving would be incomplete without a pie or two, but they needed to be quick and easy.  That led us to Dutch Apple Pie and Chocolate Pecan Pie, two absolute family favorites. 

The Chocolate Pecan Pie is based on a recipe I ripped from a magazine eons ago.  Like 99.9% of the recipes I use, it has been altered from the original.  So, here it is—Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Notes for this recipe:  Use the best quality bittersweet choclate you can find.  (Belgian Callebaut is my chocolate of choice.)  The pie crust can be made a day in advance, wrapped and stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to roll it out.  The pie can be made two days in advance. To store, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow the pie to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.  If you choose to serve whipped cream with your pie, organic heavy cream provides the best flavor and texture.  Add just a splash of vanilla to enhance the flavor.

1 single pie crust (click here for my pie crust recipe)

8 oz. high-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped--divided
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 eggs
¼ c. brown sugar
1 c. corn syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla
1-1/2 c. pecan halves
Whipped cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 400.

Place the butter and 4 ounces of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.  (Be sure the water is not touching the bottom of the top pan.)  While the chocolate and butter are melting, line a 9 inch pie plate with the dough.  Trim, and flute the edge high.  Set aside.  When the chocolate is melted, stir with a rubber spatula to smooth it out.  Remove the bowl to the counter to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork.  Brush a little of the beaten egg onto the prepared pie crust.  To the beaten eggs, add the brown sugar and stir to combine.  Add the vanilla and corn syrup, mix well.  Add the slightly cooled, melted chocolate, stir to combine.

Next, stir in the remaining 4 ounces of coarsely chopped chocolate and the pecan halves, stirring to combine.  Scrape into the prepared pie crust. 

Place in the preheated oven and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until a  knife inserted about halfway between the edge and center of the pie comes clean. 

Remove the pie to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Over Abundance

It had been a long time since I’d made stuffed peppers, but it was the perfect way to use all those magnificent peppers. Our plants produced bushels of them. So many peppers to put by, use, and give away—and we did all of those things. 

After I’d put by all the peppers our freezer could hold, given away as many as our neighbors and friends would take, there was still a bushel of peppers on our porch.  So, I pulled out my stuffed pepper recipe and got busy!  We ate stuffed peppers for several days.  When they were gone, I made more.  The slightly crunchy texture and the nutty flavor of the rice medley combined with the tartness of the tomatoes enhanced by the basil and parsley was absolutely delicious.  Can’t  wait to make these again next harvest season.  Here’s to an over abundance of green peppers! 

Note for this recipe:  Rice Medley is a mixture of rices we purchase at the local Coop.  It contains brown rice, wild rice, long grain rice among others.  White rice can be substituted, but flavor and texture suffer. If substituting white rice reduce water to four cups and cooking time to 20 minutes.

Stuffed Green Peppers

2 c. rice medley mix
1 tsp. salt
8 green peppers
Olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small summer squash, diced (about 1 c.)
1 tomato, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
¼ c. chopped parsley
¼  chopped basil
Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place rice medley mix in a pan with a lid, add 4-1/2 c. water and 1 tsp. salt.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.

Set a large pot filled with water on the stove.  Cover and bring to a boil.  While the water is heating, slice off a small piece from the top of each pepper.  Carefully remove any remaining seeds and filaments and discard.  When the water boils add 1 tsp. salt.  

Place the prepared green peppers into the boiling water.  Blanche peppers for approximately 1 to 2 minutes.  Peppers should still be bright green and not be more than slightly softened.

When the rice is cooked, select a heat-proof pan large enough to hold the peppers and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350.  Place a large skillet on the stove, turn mead to medium and add enough olive to coat the bottom.  When the oil is hot add the onion, garlic and vegetables.  Sauté until vegetables are just tender.  Stir in about 3 cups cooked rice and the herbs.  Mix to combine.  Add more rice if necessary.  Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stuff the peppers gently tamping the mixture to remove air bubbles.  Set the stuffed peppers into the selected heat-proof pan.   Sprinkle to top of each pepper with a little Parmesan cheese.

Open the oven door and pull out the rack.  Place the pan on the ack and fill with two inches of water.  (Water should come half way up the peppers.)  Carefully slide the rack into the oven.  Bake the peppers until the peppers are softened, the stuffing is heated through and the cheese has browned. 

Remove the peppers to a serving dish with sides.  Serve immediately.  Store and uneaten peppers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feel Free to Quote Me

We’re late-comers to Fried Green Tomatoes.  Neither DH nor I have any memory of our mothers (who did most of the cooking in our childhood homes) preparing Fried Green Tomatoes.  Orion, my father in law, was pleasantly surprised the first time I prepared this dish for him.  About halfway through his second serving, Orion told DH & me that his mother used to make Fried Green Tomatoes, but mine tasted different.  The difference in taste would be due to three things—Orion’s mother most likely used flour instead of corn meal and may have given the slices a wet treatment (dipped in egg or milk/buttermilk) before dipping them in flour, and she would have pan fried them either in lard or bacon fat.  There are many recipes for the preparation of Fried Green Tomatoes, and the one below is based on nothing more than our preference for the simple and uncomplicated and our desire to experience the delicious flavor of the green tomato.

What I wanted to know was the history of fried green tomatoes.  My research produced something interesting—fried green tomatoes were brought here after the Civil War by Jewish immigrants.  Really? Both tomatoes and corn are native to the Americas.  Are we really supposed to believe that the indigenous peoples of North and South America never thought of combining corn meal and green tomatoes?  Well, somebody might believe these conclusions, but I do not. 

What I believe, and this is purely speculation, is that green tomatoes and corn meal were indeed combined by indigenous peoples.  As iron was unknown to these cultures prior to the arrival of Europeans, their corn meal dredged green tomato slices were most likely “grilled” on hot rocks.  As tomatoes are native to Peru, it would not be at all surprising to find some form of “fried” green tomatoes in ancient Andean cuisine.  It would not be at all surprising to find some version of "fried" green tomatoes in any or all indigenous cuisines of the Americas.  Even if this is nothing more than speculation on my part, it is completely unbelievable that fried green tomatoes were unknown in the Americas until brought here by Jewish immigrants in the 1890’s.  That is pure poppycock!  Feel free to quote me.

Notes for this recipe:  The amount of cornmeal needed will depend on the number of slices to be coated.  Do not crowd the slices in the skillet.  Give them room to cook and be moved.  Slices must be seared on the outside and then cooked slowly creating a crispy cornmeal coating and a sweet soft interior. Achieving this takes patience and practice, but is definitely worth the effort.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes
Corn meal
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Olive oil

Wash and dry tomatoes, and cut them into thick slabs between ¼ and 1/2 inch thick.  Select a flat-bottomed plate with sides (or a large pie plate).  Measure out ½ cup corn meal and pour it onto the plate, add a hefty pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and mix with fingers to combine.  Set aside. Preheat oven to 170.  Place a paper towel on a heat-proof plate and put it in the oven.

Place a heavy flat-bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove.  Turn the heat to the low side of medium-high.  Pour about ¼ inch of olive oil into the skillet.  The oil should be hot, but not smoking.  It is ready when a few drops of water flicked with the fingers into the oil sputters and evaporates on contact.  

While the oil is heating, press the tomato slices one at a time into the corn meal thoroughly covering both surfaces of each slice.  When the oil it ready, put the slices into the skillet and pan fry until golden brown.  Turn over and pan fry until golden brown and the inside is tender.  About 5 minutes per side.  Remove to the paper towel covered plate in the oven.  Repeat with remaining slices, adding more oil as needed.  (Be sure to bring oil up to the proper temperature.)  Eat immediately.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Variation on a Theme

Our garden is coming in.  What we have too much of varies from year-to-year.  This year we have too much summer squash.  When casting about for new and interesting ways to prepare this vegetable, I thought about the Zucchini Fritters Adele made for us several years ago when bushels of this torpedo-sized vegetable threatened the collapse of our porch.  Off I went on a virtual journey to Adele’s blog--Tales of the Basil Queen.  What a journey.  Adele loves to cook and bake—creative, inventive and intrepid, she dares to go where only the most seasoned of cooks cares to venture. 

Reading the Basil Queen’s Zucchini Fritter post the taste and texture memory of these wonderful appetizers lived vividly in my mind, even after the passage of several years.  I knew that not only would the recipe transfer to summer squash, but that it would do so very nicely. 

Adele’s Zucchini Fritters are appetizer-sized morsels of deliciousness.  I wanted entre-sized portions, which was going to require a slight change in texture to support the larger size, and a little flavor enhancement for good measure.  After a trial or two, I settled on adding just a little bit of cornmeal and some minced onion and summer savory.  The end result--a very nice variation on a theme.

Notes for this recipe:  My herb of choice for this recipe is summer savory.  It can be difficult to find, but well worth the effort.  We grow this herb, so my search doesn’t go any farther than the garden.  You can also use other herbs.   Basil or cilantro would be excellent choices.  If using dried herbs, reduce the amount to 1 tsp.

Summer Squash Fritters

2 very large or 5 or 6 smaller summer squash
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup finely minced onion
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh summer savory
½ c. milk
1 egg
1/ 2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. corn meal
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
Olive oil
Sea salt

If using a large summer squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds.  Grate summer squash using a food processor or box grater.  Place the grated summer squash in a bowl, add the tablespoon of Kosher salt, and stir with a rubber spatula, mix to combine.  Set aside and let sit for 30 minutes. 

During the 30 minutes mince the onion and summer savory, and set aside.  Measure the milk into a glass 2 cup measure, add the egg, and beat with a fork until combined, and set aside.  Measure the flour, the baking soda, and corn meal into a bowl, add a good grind of black pepper, and the Kosher salt.  Stir to combine and set aside.

When the 30 minutes have gone by, place a colander in the sink and scrape the summer squash into it.  Using your hands, squeeze as much liquid as possible from the summer squash.  When the squash is dry measure out two cups into a mixing bowl.  Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 170.  Line a heat proof plate with a paper towel and place in the oven.  Place a heavy flat bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove, turn the heat on to the low side of medium high, and pour in about ¼ inch of olive oil.

While the oil is heating, add the flour mixture to the summer squash and mix in.  Add the milk mixture, the minced onion and summer savory, and stir just until combined.  Check the oil in the skillet.  The oil must be hot, but not smoking.  To check if the oil is ready, dip your fingers in a little water and flick them towards the heating oil.  If the oil sputters and the water evaporates on contact, the proper temperature has been reached.

Using a metal ¼ c. solid measure or a ¼ c. scoop drop mounds of the summer squash mixture into the heated oil.  Flatten slightly.

When golden brown, turn the fritter over and cook the other side until nicely golden brown.  

Remove to paper towel-lined plate in the oven and repeat with remaining batter, adding oil as needed. (Be sure to heat the oil to the proper temperature before adding more batter.)  Just before serving, grind a little sea salt over the fritters.  Serve immediately.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Distinctly American

Chemically leavened with an open crumb texture, the muffin is perhaps one of the most American of foods.  Yes, the British have the yeast-based crumpet (what we can an English muffin), but the chemically leavened muffin is distinctly American. 

In the 1980s muffins underwent a metamorphosis--they went from being standard and rather ordinary fare to being anything but. They can be sweet or savory; chemically or yeast leavened; tiny, regular or jumbo; have a snazzy topping or not--but no matter which—they are delicious.  In our household we tend to prefer the simpler, more traditional muffins.  Our general rule, if it’s too sweet to tolerate a pat of butter, it’s not a muffin. 

It’s blueberry season in Vermont, and as I was casting about for something blueberry when this recipe came to mind.  Easy and quick these muffins are moist, not too sweet, and chock full of blueberries.  Although you can put a pat of butter on them, they do very well without.  And, yes, the photographs show ingredients for a double batch -- my solution to the rapid consumption problem!

Notes for this recipe:  Do not over mix when adding the flour and milk or when folding in the blueberries.  Over mixing will result in a less tender muffin.  
Blueberry Muffins

2-1/2 c. blueberries, divided
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (1 tsp. jarred)
½ c. milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease 12 regular muffins cups or line with papers.  Set aside.

In a small bowl mash the ½ cup blueberries with a potato masher being sure to pop all of them.  Set aside.  In a bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  Set aside.  Measure milk into a measuring cup, add vanilla extract, and set aside. 
In a medium-large bowl beat the butter on high speed until pale and light.  Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is very fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time alternately with ½ of the milk/vanilla mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix only until combined. Fold in the mashed blueberries, just until combined.  Fold in the remaining blueberries. 

 Using a ¼ c. scoop fill the muffin cups with batter.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle comes clean.  

Remove muffin tin to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Use a knife to loosen muffins from the tins and carefully remove to wire racks to cool completely.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Matter How You Slice It

During the Vermont summer we move from one fresh fruit to the next.  It’s July and we are now smack in the middle of raspberry season.  Up here we have a choice of pick-your-own at a nearby farm or a nearby thicket.  Raspberries can also be purchased at farm stands and farmer’s markets.  And, yes, they an also be purchased at the local supermarket, but the flavor of these commercial berries is so noticeably inferior, why would we?!

There are so many ways to prepare raspberries—pies, muffins, shortcakes, ice cream, jams (to name a few), but my absolute favorite is Raspberry Slice. I discovered this delectable dessert many years ago in a cookbook published in England—a cherished gift from a friend and my introduction to the delights of European baking. 

The elegant presentation of the Raspberry Slice belies its simplicity.  The flavor and texture are positively rapturous.  No matter how you slice it, Raspberry Slice is absolutely delectable. 

Notes for this recipe:  When preparing the genoise do not over beat or over mix as this causes the texture to be coarse and increases the chances that the cake will fall during cooling.  The genoise can be made one day in advance.  To store:  cool completely, wrap carefully in plastic wrap, place on an open sided cookie sheet and store in the refrigerator.  This dessert is not a keeper and must be eaten within several hours of assembly.  Organic heavy cream is recommended due to its superior flavor and whipped texture.  Double boiler:  make your own using two stainless steel bowls (see the picture below).  Cutting and serving:  Use a very sharp knife (to cut cleanly) and a cake server (to support the slice during cutting) simultaneously for cutting and serving.  Finally, my apologies for the pictures--working alone has its drawbacks!

Raspberry Slice

1 recipe genoise baked in a sheet pan (recipe below)
1 pint heavy cream (preferably organic)
Splash of pure vanilla extract
1 quart fresh raspberries

Cut the genoise into four equal sections each about 4 inches wide.  Select a platter for the cake and set aside.  Put the heavy cream in a bowl, add the splash of vanilla extract and whip the cream.  

Place one section of the genoise on the selected platter and spread with about ¼ of the whipped cream and top with 1/4 of the raspberries.  

Repeat with 2 of the 3 remaining layers.  Put the last slice of genoise in place and pipe 2 heavy lines of whipped cream down the sides of the slice.  Pipe rosettes at each end and around the base of the slice.  

Carefully fill the space between the piped lines with the remaining raspberries.  Serve immediately or chill up to 2 hours before serving allowing the cake to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.  Cut the cake with a sharp knife.

6 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour, sifted with a pinch of salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp, unsalted (sweet) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter two 8-inch round baking pans or one 11-1/2 x 15-1/2 inch sheet pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the parchment paper.  Set pan(s) aside. 

In a bowl over simmering water gently whisk the eggs and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is lukewarm. 

When the mixture is lukewarm, remove the bowl to the countertop.  Beat the egg and sugar mixture with a hand mixer at high speed until it becomes thick and pale.  The mixture will fall in a thick ribbon from a rubber spatula and mound on top of the batter for several seconds before sinking when it is ready.  

Sift the flour over the batter and gently fold in, only until it is mixed in.  Drizzle the butter over the batter, add the vanilla, and gently fold in only until incorporated. 
Pour the batter into prepared pans.  Bake until the cake pulls away from the edges of the pan, is lightly golden, springs back when gently touched, and tests clean in the center.   About 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove cakes to wire rack.  Cool in the pans for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges and very gently turn the cakes onto wire racks.  Gently remove the parchment.  Cool the cakes completely.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summertime Favorite

Potato Salad is a favorite summertime side dish.  We serve it at barbecues and picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers.  It is considered an important part of the “fixings.”  But, not all potato salad is created equal.  Actually, most potato salads hold a distinguished place on my Scary Food List. 

I grew up with American-style potato salad: over-cooked potatoes drowning in commercial mayonnaise, or even worse---sandwich spread.  The addition of chopped celery, green peppers and onion would sometimes redeem these mayonnaise-drenched side dishes.  The addition of hard-boiled eggs was an instant no go.  I’m a real hard-boiled egg fan, and I am quite partial to Deviled Eggs, but in potato salad? No thank you.

For this potato fan, German Potato Salad was a revelation. It is easy to prepare and travels well. Best of all, potato salad never tasted so good. 

Notes:  Do's:  Yellow onion can be substituted for red onion; Red potatoes can be substituted for Yukon Golds; Curly parsley can be substituted for flat leaf parsley;  Select potatoes that are about the same size Don't:   Substitute yellow mustard for the Dijon; Over cook the potatoes or allow them to sit in the water once they are cooked, as this will cause them to be mushy; Peel the potatoes before or after cooking. 

German Potato Salad

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
4 Tbsp. chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, mined
1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. red peppercorns, crushed (optional)

Put the potatoes in a large pot with salted water to cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and lightly boil potatoes until they just tender and test done with a paring knife.  (When the potatoes are "just" tender, there should be a little resistance to the knife as it pierces the flesh.)  Watch potatoes carefully and be sure not to over cook them.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse with cold water.  Drain well, and cool only enough for them to be easily handled.  

If the potatoes are large cut them in quarters or halves, leave small
potatoes whole.  Do not peel.  Put the potatoes in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. 

Gently mix with a rubber spatula coating the potatoes well.

Serve the salad slightly warm or cool completely--about 30 minutes, before covering tightly and placing in the refrigerator.  Allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.  Adjust seasoning and serve.  Store any leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Short, But Ever So Sweet

Strawberry season means that summer in Vermont has arrived.  The season is short, but ever so sweet.  This year we picked late, but found the berries plentiful and flavorful, in spite of the wet growing season.  Too much rain during the ripening of berries can water log the fruit often resulting in a less flavorful berry. 

Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits.  As a kid every strawberry season I’d break out in hives from over indulging.  As an adult, practicing restraint remains a challenge!  Although I love strawberries and know how to grow and prepare them (in ohh so many ways) I realized that I didn’t know all that much about their origin, and decided to do some research.  Here is what I learned:

Strawberries are a member of the rose family, and the strawberry itself is what is known as a “false fruit.”  The actual fruits are the 200 or so “seeds” that dot the surface the berry.  Each of these “seeds” is a teeny tiny fruit containing a single seed. 

Strawberries are native to Eurasia and the Americas, and have been cultivated for centuries. Romans cultivated strawberries and believed them to alleviate many medical conditions, including gout, melancholy, and infection.  The French began cultivating strawberries in the 14th century, and believed them to be an aphrodisiac.

In the Americas although wild strawberries were plentiful they were cultivated by indigenous peoples on both continents.  Colonists relied on the ready availability of wild strawberries. In the mid 1700’s when the expansion of settlements made the harvesting of strawberries in the wild difficult, colonists began selecting for cultivation the plants that produced the largest fruit.

The earliest recorded existence of an American strawberry species in Europe is in England in 1624.  South American strawberry species produced larger fruit, and were brought back to Europe from Chile early in the 18th century by a man named Frezier.  (Anyone want to guess where “fraise” the French word for strawberry came from?) And the rest is horticultural history!

Notes for this recipe:  For best results use only fresh, in season native strawberries.  Cloves and mace may seem like odd choices for a strawberry recipe, but this paring is no accident.  After years of experimentation, my dislike for the overuse of cinnamon coupled with my belief this spice does nothing to compliment the delicate strawberry, I finally settled on clove and mace.  These two spices add a fresh cool dimension to the pie and enhance the subtle flavor of the magnificent strawberry.  Yes, the pie in the picture was baked in a cast iron skillet, the precursor to Pyrex.

Strawberry Pie
2 lbs. strawberries, hulled, halved & if very large, quartered
¼ c. tapioca
¼ c. sugar
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 9” pie plate

Prepare pie crust, wrap in wax paper and place in refrigerator while preparing strawberries.

Place prepared strawberries, tapioca, sugar, mace and cloves in a large bowl.  Mix gently with a rubber spatula to combine.  Set aside to macerate and juice for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425.  Roll out half of the pie crust and fit into selected pie plate.  Trim so edge of pie crust hangs slightly below the lip of the pie plate.  Using the rubber spatula, scrape the prepared berries into the pie crust.  Roll out the remaining pie crust.  Fold into quarters and cut to create decorate vents.  Place folded crust on top of the berries.  

Unfold and stretch ever so slightly to open vents.  Trim crust to hang slightly below bottom crust.  To seal the crusts and create the edge, fold the upper crust under the lower crust, pinch and flute.

Place the pie in the oven and bake at 425 for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until juices are bubbling through the center vents in the top crust—about 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove pie to a wire tack and cool completely or serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  Store any leftover pie tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dessert in a Pinch

Every cook needs to have a dessert recipe that is quick and easy to make for those “dessert in a pinch” moments. With about a 10 minute preparation time these bars have saved my proverbial bacon on numerous occasions.  The bars travel extremely well making them ideal for picnics and pot luck suppers.  They look and taste fabulous belying their ease and simplicity.  Best of all, my family loves them--which explains why there isn't a picture of the bars stacked on the serving plate!

Notes for this recipe:  Almost any flavor jam can be used for this recipe.  I prefer deeply colored jams as they provide the best color contrast.   (DH's favorite is Black Currant.)  To soften butter quickly:  place the butter in the microwave for approx. 10 to 12 seconds.

Strawberry Crumb Bars

1-1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-2/3 c. flour
1 c. rolled oats
1 c. good quality strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350.  Select a 9x13 inch pan and lightly grease with butter.  Set aside.

Cream the butter at medium speed.  Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and blend on medium speed until combined.  Blend in the flour and rolled oats.

Press 2/3 of the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Spread the jam evenly over the dough.

Pinch pieces of the remaining dough on top of the jam.   

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges and topping is lightly browned.  Remove to a cooling rack.  Cut into bars while still warm.  When cooled completely, remove the bars from the pan and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

End of an Era

Madame Renee was an avid animal rights advocate.  She adopted stray cats, fed the seagulls and squirrels, and could often be seen in City Hall Park feeding the pigeons. Every year Renee sponsored a bazaar to benefit Save the Seals, one of the many animal rights organizations she supported.  My job at the bazaars was to run the kitchen, which I did with my most able assistant—Laura, Renee’s niece.  The menu was always simple, well-prepared fare of sandwiches and salad.  It always contained two of Renee’s many specialties—her mushrooms and her salad dressing.  I can not count the number of times someone would come into the kitchen, pull me aside and ask if I knew how to make these specialties.  A vow of secrecy kept me mum about the salad dressing, but I truly did not know how to make the mushrooms. One afternoon Madame Renee invited me to her home and told me with great sadness over a cup of tea that she would no longer be holding her annual bazaar, “Sweetie, it is too much for me now.”  It was the end of an era.

A year or so after Madame Renee died her niece Laura and I were having lunch.  Our conversation meandered as it always does when good friends chat.  We had covered quite a bit of territory, including our shared kitchen duty at Renee’s bazaars.  Laura asked if I knew how to make Renee’s mushrooms.  I told Laura that I thought I knew how to make them, but that I never actually had.  I explained that one day when I was visiting Renee, she was cooking some mushrooms she had just finished preparing.
And that Renee had then proceeded to explain how she prepared the mushrooms and how they needed to be cooked.  This was a great privilege for me as these mushrooms were one of Renee’s great secrets. 

Laura has asked several more times since then about Renee’s Mushrooms, and each time I’ve explained that I wasn’t ready to begin recreating the recipe.  Last fall when Laura and I lunched together, I promised that the recipe would be ready when she returned to Vermont in the spring.  The better part of the winter was spent giving the recipe tremendous amounts of head time. Relying on my taste memory, and what I remembered of Renee’s instructions (I never did write them down), I began recreating Renee’s mushrooms.  As he’d eaten Renee’s mushrooms many times, DH was my primary taster for this project.  On the second go round we nailed it!  My promise to Laura has been fulfilled and Renee’s mushrooms will live on.  It is with great pleasure that I post here Renee’s Mushrooms.

Renee’s Mushrooms can be used as garnish, sliced and put in salads, or as part of an antipasto platter.  They can also be sliced and put in sandwiches, pasta salads, or eaten by themselves.

Notes for this recipe:  Renee always peeled her mushrooms.  Although the peel can be left on, Renee said peeling produced a more tender mushroom.  Rolling the peeled mushrooms in lemon juice prevents them turning brown.  The cooking liquid from the mushrooms can be used in soup stock or sauces.

Renee’s Mushrooms

10 to 15 white mushrooms
2 lemons
Italian parsley (flat leaf parsley)
Kosher salt
White pepper

Select a non-reactive saucepan with a lid large enough to comfortably hold the mushrooms.  Juice the lemons into the selected pan, reserving one of the juiced lemon halves.  Gently brush any dirt off of the mushrooms.  Remove the stems and set aside for another use. Peel the mushrooms.  

Gently hold the mushroom with the cap facing your palm. Place the blade of a paring knife against the lip of the cap where it curls towards the gills.  Pick up the skin with the edge of the blade and pull it towards your palm.  It will probably come off in a wedge-shaped piece.

Roll immediately in the lemon juice, and leave in the saucepan.

When all the mushrooms are peeled and acidified fill the saucepan with enough water to cover the mushrooms.  Add the reserved juiced lemon half, about six good-sized sprigs of parsley, a healthy pinch of Kosher salt and a good grind of white pepper.  Place the pan on the burner and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer the mushrooms until they are cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes. The mushrooms will reduce in size considerably during cooking.  

Remove the mushrooms from the liquid to an airtight container with a lid.  Cool completely.  Store the cooled mushrooms, covered in the refrigerator.  Use within 2 days.