Saturday, July 21, 2012

Packed with Nutrients and Flavor

It’s summer time and Three Bean Salad figures prominently on our table.  But, the Bobbie Sue Three Bean Salad would be unrecognizable to most Americans.  Why?  Well, to be blunt, commercial or restaurant Three Bean Salad has earned a distinguished place on my Scary Food List.  Usually made with canned legumes, soggy over-cooked or canned green and yellow beans, these salads are made with enough sugar to stop a tank.  The ingredients label for commercial three bean salad contains a long list of unpronounceable ingredients, which means in addition to qualifying for a high ranking on my Scary Food List, they meet my criteria for processed food.  Bobbie Sue’s Three Bean Salad uses red kidney beans, lima beans, green peas, and absolutely no sugar.  And, it is packed with nutrients and flavor.

Lima beans, also known as butter beans, are a wonder food.  Having been cultivated in Peru for over 7,000 years, lima beans are among of the earliest cultivated crops of the indigenous people’s of the Americas.  They have a deliciously subtle flavor and a rich buttery texture, hence the name they are known by in the American South—butter beans. High in many important trace minerals, they are also high in cholesterol scrubbing fiber.  The high fiber content makes lima beans an excellent choice for diabetics as it helps prevent spiking in post-meal blood sugar levels.  For vegetarians and vegans-- when lima beans and rice are combined a complete protein is formed. 

Regrettably, the growing season in Northern Vermont is not lima bean friendly.  We are able to grow kidney beans and green peas, which is why they are both featured in this recipe.  Enjoy!

Notes for this recipe: Although the texture and flavor will suffer, canned (rinsed and drained) dark red kidney beans can be substituted for dried. Cilantro can be substituted for dill.  Yellow onion can be substituted for red, and finely diced celery can be added in addition to the celery seed.  Please do not substitute yellow mustard for Dijon.  This dish tastes best when made a day ahead.  

 Bobbie Sue’s Three Bean Salad

1 lb. dried kidney beans
3 c. peas (fresh or frozen)
1 lb. lima beans (fresh or frozen)
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic peeled & minced
1/3 c. finely chopped dill
¼ c. finely chopped red onion
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. canola oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. celery seed
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Prepare kidney beans as directed in my previous post Preparing Legumes.  Alternately, you can cover the beans with cold water and soak them over night, and then follow the directions for Preparing Legumes.  Soaking reduces cooking time.  When the kidney beans are cooked, pour into a colander and rinse immediately with cold water.  Allow them to drain well.

While the kidney beans are cooking, select a large pan, fill with water, and bring to a boil. While you wait for the water to boil, place a large colander in the sink, and have a heat-proof bowl and skimmer next to the stove.   Add 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt to the water, when it boils again, add the peas and cook to just tender.  Use the skimmer to remove the peas from the water to the heat-proof bowl.  Transfer the peas to the colander in the sink and spray immediately with cold water, and allow to drain.  When well drained tip them into the bowl with the peas.  Add the kidney beans and set aside.

Return the pan of water to a boil and add the lima beans.  While the lima beans are cooking, tip the peas into a bowl.  Return the colander to the sink. When the lima beans are cooked to just tender, pour them into the colander and rinse immediately with cold water.  Allow to drain. When well drained tip them into the bowl with the peas.  Add the kidney beans and set aside.

In a small bowl place the minced garlic, chopped dill and onion.  Add the red wine vinegar, oil, mustard, and celery seed.  Mix to combine.  Pour over beans, and fold in with a rubber spatula until beans are well coated.  Scrape into an airtight storage container and refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Allow the dish to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Swoon Worthy

It’s summer in Vermont, which means we are eating all manner of locally grown fruit.  We start with strawberries and move to rhubarb.  Then come the black currants, red currants, and the magnificent Gooseberry.  This marvelous berry has a very short, and often fickle, season--three weeks at most. 

Although the Gooseberry has a long and illustrious culinary history in Europe, it tends to be less well known here in the States.  As the Gooseberry is hardy and tolerates cold climates very well, it has a long history in Vermont.  Green and pink varieties are the ones most often grown here.

The Gooseberry resembles a large green or red grape, the skin is most often smooth, and the plant itself has rather long spiky thorns.  (Pickers beware!)  Although tart when raw, the fruit when combined with sugar and cooked has a delicate slightly floral flavor that is swoon-worthy. 

If you happen to be fortunate enough to score some Gooseberries (they will be dearly priced) snatch them up and indulge in the great treat of Gooseberry Pie.  

 Notes for this pie:  We prefer our pies on the tart side.  If you tend to enjoy a sweeter pie, increase sugar to 1-1/2 cups.  Or, keep sugar the same and serve the pie with a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream.

Gooseberry Pie

10 c. (approx. 2 quarts) Gooseberries, rinsed and drained
1 c. sugar
¼ c. granulated tapioca (a.k.a. instant tapioca)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. milk

Make pie crust and chill.  While crust is chilling, stem and tail gooseberries.  Place stemmed and tailed Gooseberries in a large bowl.  Add the sugar and tapioca, and a good grating of fresh nutmeg (10 or 12 scrapes) mix to combine and evenly coat berries.  Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 425.  Select a 9 or 10 inch deep dish pie plate or 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet and have handy.  Remove pie crust from refrigerator.  Cut into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other.  Roll out the larger piece and place in the bottom of your pie plate.  Triim evenly to about ½ inch from edge of pie plate.  Scrape in the fruit.  Break the butter into two or three pieces and place on top of the Gooseberries.  Roll out the smaller piece of pie crust.  Fold into quarters.  Select a sharp knife and carefully cut vents.  Place and center on top of the Gooseberries.  Gently unfold the crust.  Trim top crust to hang slightly longer than bottom crust.  Fold the overhanging top crust under the bottom crust and crimp to seal.  Put the egg yolk in a small bowl, add the water, and beat with a fork to combine.  Brush evenly over the surface of the pie crust using a small brush.

Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 40 minutes or until filling is bubbling up through the center vents and crust is a deep golden brown.  If the crust becomes too brown, lightly place a piece of tented aluminum foil over it.  When pie is baked, remove to wire rack to cool. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Favorite Things

It is the simple pleasures in life that bring the most satisfaction.  So experience has proven time and again.  For DH and me, one of the life’s simple pleasures is the ritual of afternoon tea.  Whenever we are home together at a time that can be remotely construed as tea time, we stop whatever we are doing and have afternoon tea. In this way we pass a pleasant hour in each other’s company sipping tea, nibbling on scones and catching up.

Tea is a simple event for us.  No fancy china or silver spoons are required.  Just a well brewed pot of tea and something to munch on—preferably scones.  It’s taken us a lifetime to discover these delicately flavored morsels of magnificence.  But, better late than never!  It is no wonder the English have scones with tea, the two compliment each other perfectly. 

To be honest, I was prodded to begin making scones by the disappointment DH experienced every time he purchased a bakery scone.  One bite and his act of optimism was dashed once again.  My foray into scone baking was an act of desperation--I couldn’t bear to see DH repeatedly disappointed.

DH loves Black Currants, and last year planted several bushes in the berry patch.  This week when he returned home with yet another bucket filled with these tasty berries, I decided to combine two of DH’s favorite things—scones and Black Currants.  Yesterday for tea we celebrated the scones by pulling out some teacups and fancy plates and had ourselves a proper tea.  After eating a whopping four, DH deemed the scones a success!

Oh my!  Where has the afternoon gone?  It’s tea time!  Better put the kettle on and get DH.  Today it will be tea on the porch with Bobbie Sue's Swirled Black Currant Scones. 

Notes for this recipe:  A potato masher with a grid base works best for mashing the berries.  The Black Currants will stain the dough indigo—don’t be alarmed!  If you don’t have a ¼ c. scoop, use a ¼ c. solid measuring cup.  Don’t crowd the scones on the cookie sheets—nine per sheet leaves plenty of room for them to spread out and brown nicely.  If batter makes more than 18 scones, just drop them in the larger spaces.

Bobbie Sue’s Rippled Black Currant Scones
Makes about 18 scones

1 c. Black Currants, stemmed and picked over
1 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. water

3 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1/3 c. buttermilk
3 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tbsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 375.  Have two cookie sheets handy.

Put the black currants into a small heavy bottomed saucepan.  Use a potato masher to crush the berries.  Add the water and sugar; stir to combine.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries are cooked and the mixture is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.  Use a two cup liquid measure the 1.3 c. buttermilk. add the eggs and vanilla and beat lightly to blend.  Set aside.

In another bowl beat the butter until light and creamy, add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until almost blended.  Add the buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed just until combined.   

Scrape the Black Currant filling into the bowl and gently fold in until the dough is rippled.  Do not blend in completely.  Use a ¼ c. scoop to drop the scones onto the cookie sheets.  Dip your hand in flour and gently pat each scone to flatten slightly.

Place the filled sheets into the preheated oven.  Bake for 15 minutes at 375.  Reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes or until the scones are set and slightly golden brown.  

 Remove scones from sheets to wire racks.  Eat warm with plenty of butter or clotted cream or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


To say that life has been unsettled lately would be an understatement.  Orion, DH’s father, had surgery a few weeks back.  DH spends most of his time helping to care for his father.  Most of my spare time is spent visiting with Orion and preparing food for those who come and go. 

Cooking away from home requires planning, especially when it’s in Orion’s kitchen, which is woefully inadequate.  Anything more than heating up a can of soup or frying an egg means bringing ingredients and equipment from home. When I was cooking professionally pack-kitchen-will-travel was easier--the pack in and out lists lived on the computer and could be printed by pushing a button.  No longer!  Even the most careful planning can’t always accommodate menu changes that happen once I’ve arrived at my destination.

My laptop, which accompanies me on home-away-from-home culinary excursions, contains most of my recipes. which means recipes are rarely a problem.  Equipment is often a different story.  Several weeks ago I found myself having to punt.  Cornbread was on the menu.  Ingredients were not a problem, but a pan was!  All I had to work with was a cast iron skillet.  What to do?  What to do?  Adapt the recipe, of course.  The batter needed to be strong enough to support the structure of the bread in this much larger pan.  A little more leavening?  Sure, why not?  It worked, and Skillet Cornbread was a huge hit.  

Since that day two weeks ago, the recipe has been made three times, and has performed consistently.  Each time, delicious!  Particularly, when the day old bread is cut in half, the cut sides slathered with butter, and grilled to a crisp golden brown in a hot skillet.  On, yum!

Skillet Cornbread

2 c. flour
2 c. cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 c. milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 450.  Select a 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet and lightly coat with canola oil.  Place in preheated oven. 
Measure flour, cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and brown sugar into a bowl.  Stir to combine.   

Measure milk into a 4 c. measure.  Add the eggs and canola oil, and beat with a fork to combine.  Pour into dry ingredients and mix with the fork just until combined.  Remove the heated skillet from the oven and place on a flat surface.  Using a rubber spatula scrape the batter into the hot skillet.  Smooth the surface and put the pan back into the oven.  Bake at 450 for 20 minutes or until a pick inserted into the middle of the bread comes clean.   

Remove the cooked bread from the oven and place on a flat surface.  Using the tines of a fork rub the 2 Tbsp. of butter over the hot surface of the cornbread.  Allow the bread to cool for 20 minutes before serving.  To serve, slice into thick wedges.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sweetness for the New Year

Around 700 B.C.E. the Roman’s added the months of January and February to their calendar, which up to then consisted of only ten months.  Until 46 B.C.E. the Roman’s celebrated New Years on two dates—January 1 and March 1.  Why March 1?  This was the day that the Vestal Virgins relit the fire on Vesta’s hearth, making it one of the most sacred days of the Roman year.

New Year’s was celebrated on January 1 for the first time in 143 B.C.E.  January 1 was the beginning of the Roman civil year.  It was on this day that the Roman Consuls, the two most powerful civil officials of the Roman Republic, began serving their one year terms.  January 1 was not hard and fast, and many Roman’s clung to the tradition of March 1 for their New Year celebrations.  It was not until 46 B.C.E. when Julius Caesar declared January 1 the official first day of the Roman year that celebrating on March 1 ceased.  What Julius Caesar said, went and as of 46 B.C.E. January 1 was celebrated as the first day of the New Year throughout the Roman Empire. 

Wishing to distance themselves from the pagan-tainted celebration of January 1 as the first day of the New Year, Medieval Christian Europe changed New Year’s Day--a number of times.  When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582, January 1 again became the first day of the New Year.  England and colonial America celebrated the New Year in March until 1752, when they officially adopted the Gregorian calendar.

The ancient Roman’s had a New Year’s Day gift giving tradition.  Romans were extremely superstitious, and their New Year gift giving traditions were all about luck. Gold and silver were given to bring prosperity, lamps to bring light, tree branches for regeneration, and sweet cakes to bring sweetness in the New Year.  So, what were Roman sweet cakes like?

Roman’s loved sweets, but their baked goods bear little resemblance to those of today mostly due to the difference of key ingredients. Emmer, a type of wheat, was a dietary staple used to make bread as well as cakes and pastries.  Oils and soft cheeses were the Roman fats of choice.  Although they were familiar with butter, Romans considered it uncivilized and did not eat it.  The refined sugar we use today was unknown to Romans.  (Some Romans may have been familiar with sugar cane as there is a legend that Alexander the Great and his army encountered it during the India campaign.) Honey and fruit pastes were the sweeteners used by Romans.  They did have a type of sponge cake similar to those known in present day Italy. The high egg to flour ratio of these cakes provided volume and the eggs acted as the leavening agent—baking power and soda were also unknown to Romans.  Romans did have cookies.  These were often made from soft cheeses and flour, rolled into balls and deep fried.

Research for new product was constant when I was baking professionally.  As on-line services were not widely available here in Vermont, research was done the old-fashioned way—with books.  One year while doing research for holiday offerings, I stumbled across the Roman tradition of giving sweets at the New Year.  A bit of digging produced a baked cookie recipe claiming to be the very same ancient one used by Romans.  Intrigued I did some research into the culinary practices of ancient Rome.  Although Romans baked bread and cakes, I could not find any reference to or recipes for baked cookies.  This does not mean that Romans did not or could not have baked cookies, just that I was unsuccessful in finding any references to this culinary practice.

The recipe below is that very same “ancient” one unearthed during my research.  Well, as you know from reading this post, this recipe cannot be the same one used by Romans.  It is a delicious cookie—dense, but crumbly when bitten into.  The cookie melts on the tongue, and the subtle flavor means eating just one is impossible.  So, did the Romans have a cookie similar to this one that they gave at the New Year to wish the recipient sweetness that has been adapted over time?  The whimsical part of me says, “I have no doubt!”

Notes for this recipe:  For the best flavor use organic honey.  Don't panic if the dough separates when the honey and egg are added to the butter, it will come together when the dry ingredients are added.  These cookies keep extremely well, and the flavor develops over time.  They can be made several weeks in advance and stored in an air tight container with layers separated by waxed paper.

Roman New Year’s Cookies

2-1/2 c. flour
3 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. organic honey
2 eggs
¾ c. sesame seeds, toasted*

In a bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.

In another bowl beat the butter until light.  Add the honey and eggs and beat until well combined.  Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on low to combine.  Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease cookie sheets and set aside.  Place the toasted sesame seeds in a small wide mouth bowl, set aside.

Using a 1 tbsp. scoop measure out the dough onto the counter.  Using your hands, roll each scoop of dough into a ball.  

Then, roll each ball into the toasted sesame seeds and place on prepared cookie sheets.


Use the bottom of a glass to flatten each ball slightly.

Bake cookies for 8 minutes or until golden brown, rotating halfway through baking time.  Remove cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

*To toast sesame seeds:  Preheat over to 350.  Measure sesame seeds onto a baking sheet with sides.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for 3 to 8 minutes, stirring as needed,  until the sesame seeds are golden brown.  Watch carefully to prevent scorching.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We Never Suspected the Dog!

Dried fruit has a long and illustrious history.  It is one of the earliest methods of food preservation, and has been used for millennia in the regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. (Date palms were one of the first cultivated trees, and became economically important in the Ancient Near East.)  Dried fruits have a very long shelf life and retain most of their nutritive value after drying, making them a stable and desirable source of food.  They also have bioactive properties important for maintaining nutritional health and preventing chronic illness. 

Until this year, I had not paid much attention to how prominently dried fruits figured in our holiday baking traditions.  They go into fruitcakes, cookies, bars, confections, stuffings, puddings, appetizers—and more, but you get the idea.  Brandied Almond Fruit Bars are a particular favorite of DH’s.  A few years back, Bella and I were assembling the cookie plates we deliver to friends.  When we reached the layer in the tins where the Fruit Bars were stored, there was nothing but crumbs.  The guilty look on DH’s face was a dead giveaway—we never suspected the dog!

The recipe for Brandied Almond Fruit Bars has been in my box for many years.  It has been altered significantly from the original and tinkered with endlessly.  A few years ago it finally settled to its current form with which I am greatly pleased.  These are delicious, nutritious and beautiful to behold.  Enjoy!

Brandied Almond Fruit Bars

½ c. brown sugar
½ c. unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 c. flour
¾ tsp. salt

Fruit layer:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla
½ c. flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. golden raisins or sultanas
1 c. dried cherries
1 c. snipped apricots
1 c. raisins
¼ c. apricot brandy
1 c. sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan and set aside.

To prepare the crust:  In a medium-sized bowl beat the brown sugar and butter until pale and light. Scrape the bowl. Add the flour and salt and mix until crumbly.  Use your fingers to finish the dough.  Press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Set aside.

For the fruit layer:  In another bowl cream the butter and brown sugar until light.  Scrape the bowl.  Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt stirring to combine.  Fold in the dried fruits and brandy.  Gently fold in the

Scrape the fruit mixture into the pan on top of the crust and spread evenly.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and fruit is set and beginning to brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Score and cut into 1 inch squares.  Store in a wax paper lined airtight container for up to two weeks.  Separate layers with waxed paper.