Sunday, July 30, 2006

We're gonna be RICH!

Ok, forget the pound cakes, forget the pies, and forget the jams and jellies! We have stumbled upon the key to untold wealth and culinary fame! And as such things often happen in food history (the unleavened bread that becomes a pretzel, the unrisen cake that becomes a brownie, the unmelted bits in a chocolate cookie become Toll House cookies, and so on), we stumbled upon it by accident.

I should stop saying "we" because all credit for this discovery must go to the roommate, Cyd. We were watching the man who should have been my husband, Alton Brown's new show last night, "Feasting on Asphalt." (So far, I'm not impressed. And does he--or his audio people--understand that we can't hear him when he's trying to speak over the roar of his hog's motor? Sheesh!) Anyway, AB and crew stopped at a restaurant in or near Savannah, I believe, and had their breakfast at "The Biscuit Place." And man, did those biscuits look GOOD! Cyd and I began to bemoan the lack of good biscuits around here, the gold standard being the Hardees' biscuit. So we did a quick web search and found a copycat recipe, and decided to try it for brunch today. Cyd got up much earlier than I did, as is generally our custom, though last night, it was because I was up all night trying to keep Grady from screaming, crying, and howling to get to Prunelle who is in full-blown heat right now. UGH! (Spay and neuter your pets! You'll sleep better. Or if you have purebred show dogs and can't, may you be blessed with friends that you could ship one of them off to during that special time of the year!)

Anyway, Cyd very kindly decided to make brunch for us, and wanted to have the biscuits ready for when I finally rolled out of bed. But there was one BIG problem. It would seem for all of her Food Network viewing--not to mention decades of slavish devotion to Martha Stewart--Cyd did not understand that there was a difference between all-purpose and self-rising flour! OOPS! Suffice it to say, the resulting bread product was rather...stumpy...not tall and fluffy as one might have hoped. Still, neither of us had the will or the patience to remake them. We decided just to eat the stubby little buns because we were really hungry. And guess what? They were darn good! They were rich and tender, and I told her if you threw some blueberries or cranberries and some nuts in there with a bit more sugar, you'd have some dynamite scones! And that's when Cyd declared her own fabulousness at inventing....wait for it....BISCONIES!! We're trademarking that name, so don't even think of stealing it! We're gonna take the farmers' market, and the WORLD by storm! Tee hee. ;-)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Farmers' Market, Take Two

Many of you have been very kind and supportive about my fledgling efforts to offer my wares at my local farmers' market, so I thought I'd give a report on my second appearance there today. In short, it was FABULOUS, and way beyond my expectations, thanks in large part to my colleagues at work who came down to patronize me (no, no, I mean to buy stuff from me!). And I think it also went better this time--actually doubling profits from my first attempt (whoo-hoo!)--because I am a wee bit farther along the learning curve. Last time, if you'll recall, I learned to make fewer large (bundt-sized) pound cakes, to consider repricing the smaller loaves, and, most of all, to make more pie for the people! So I did all of those things. I only took two large bundts, and I dropped the price of the loaves by a dollar (from $7 to $6 on the advice of my roommate who said that, psychologically, $7 gets rounded up to ten bucks in the customer's mind, while $6 is still close to five bucks...and I believe her wacky logic might have been correct). And I made twice as many pies this time, which nearly killed me, and yet, I do believe that the people would buy as many pies as I could crank out!

This week's selection included the beloved jumbleberry-peach along with cherry-red raspberry, strawberry-rhubarb crumble, and for the non-fruit crowd, a couple of truly sinful Toll House pies. This was also on the recommendation of my roomie, who I almost had to take to task when the fruit pies sold within the first hour or so (the first two were gone before I even had all of my stuff unloaded and my table set up!), but the Toll House pies sat there, looking very neglected and lonely, until the afternoon. I wasn't too distressed about it, because it was my intention to eat one of them myself this evening if it didn't sell (Cyd was banking on this, too, which may have been the ulterior motive behind her suggestion in the first place), and the other one would be filed in the "Freezes Beautifully" section of the cookbook. And let me assure you, I know in my heart that these were some DELICIOUS pies! I followed the classic Toll House pie recipe, but in an homage to my blogger pal and fellow pecan pie enthusiast, Anna, I browned the butter a bit, toasted the walnuts, and though the recipe did not call for vanilla (WHY??), I added a good glug to gild the lily. Of course, as I was making the filling, I snuck a taste of the batter, and BOY HOWDY, was it good! But late in the day, two young men talked themselves into buying one, providing that I could guarantee that it would be luscious and gooey. I assured them that it was. That left one for me and Cyd, and I was secretly thrilled. But then, wouldn't you know, another couple wandered by eventually, and even though I said it wasn't for sale, that I wanted to keep it for myself (you should have seen their faces until I said I was kidding!), they bought the last pie. Still, it is CLEARLY all about summer fruit pies. I even got my first two special orders! And since I just received the most glorious, 640-page tome written by my new pie hero and personal guru, Ken Haedrich, simply and perfectly titled, Pie, there will be much more pie to follow...oh yes, there shall!

But the most surprising and exciting development of the day, and my newest farmers' market lesson learned is that THE PEOPLE WANT JAM! I took 36 jars with me to sell, and I returned with only eight jars, I think. I sold most of the lovely strawberry-rhubarb which you may recall from a post last month, most of my signature blueberry-lime that I made last weekend (though the people were a bit nervous about the lime factor, to be sure), and every single jar of the garlic-onion-pepper jelly that I made last fall from about two dozen kinds of peppers in my garden. The folks were a little frightened initially, but it was all about offering free samples. Nearly everyone who dipped their Cheez-It into the spicy goo coughed up four bucks for a jar immediately after tasting it (reading that back, it sounds wrong, doesn't it?). And to think, I threw a box of the pepper jelly in the car on a whim, thinking that not many people would dig it as much as we do around here. It also helped when I explained that we mainly use it to glaze roasted chicken (but don't put it on until halfway through the baking time, or all that sugar will make a burned bird). So now, I guess I need to bust out the canner again, and make more jam. Perhaps another savory flavor, like the blueberry chutney? Hmm...we must ponder this further. We must also try to figure out why some members of the public (excluding small children, naturally) feel that it is appropriate to grab a handful of your sampling crackers to munch on as they pass by your table. Do they think that I am hawking product for Nabisco? ("That caviar is a garnish!" Name the film...)

Anyway, long story short (too late!), it was a very successful Saturday at the market, and it made me feel like all the work over the past two weeks was worth it! The problem is, I'm due back there next Saturday, so now I have only one week to prepare. UGH! The no sleep rule will, no doubt, be in effect, but not tonight. I'm beat! But before I bid you all adieu, I must show you some of the treasures of the season acquired today from my fellow vendors...

Behold the tomato that I paid $1.75 for, and I was happy to do it. An organic, heirloom Purple Cherokee that is miraculously ready a month before my own heirloom varietals (ok, they have greenhouses!). Unfortunately, I think the farm stand down the road that we bought from last week was peddling grocery store tomatoes. :-( So this taste of things to come must serve to tide us over a bit.


And this was THE find of the day. Absolutely GORGEOUS sweet, fragrant plums that looked like a sunset and smelled like summer itself. And no, I will not be making these into a pie! These are to be snacked on and savored fresh.

I also bartered jam for a loaf of walnut chive bread from the marvelous bread vendor (who, by the way, informed me that the lady that bought my tragic cherry pie last time was looking for me last week--she wanted to buy another one! LOL!), and some lettuces and corn from another nice fellow. Happy, happy girl! I hope everyone out there is enjoying the summer season and regularly visiting your local farmstands and markets.

P.S. I must give a shout-out to my dear friends, Tom and June, on their 29th wedding anniversary today! Anyone who knows them envies their relationship which is still full of great love, deep friendship, good humor, and mutual respect even after all these years. And although June got to the market too late for the coveted cherry-red raspberry pie, I hope they enjoyed the strawberry-rhubarb crumble pie that she did manage to procure for their special evening together. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Tom and June! :-)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Strange (but tasty!) squashes abound...

I have a favorite gardening blog called DirtSunRain. And to paraphrase the author of that site, my blogger pal, Steven, nature is lots of fun when you just let her do her own thing, and then you may reap sometimes surprising results. Last year, I planted all kinds of summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkins. And this year, I got all kinds of volunteers that came up in the latter part of the spring, so I decided to grow them out and see what they might produce. There is one patch that appears to be various colors and types of zucchini, but now I'm not sure if there wasn't some cross-pollination with some yellow crookneck squash as well. Indeed, I thought the squash that I picked for dinner tonight was a Gold Rush zucchini, but the skin was bumpy like crookneck, and furthermore, it had a band of green around the base. So who knows its parentage, but it turned out to be a tasty little mutt!

I wanted to prepare it fairly simply as befits a gorgeous garden-fresh veggie, so I seeded it but left the pretty skin on, chopped it into maybe half-inch(?), bite-sized pieces, and sauteed it in a few tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter along with some chopped onion and a few cloves of minced garlic. Once the squash was fairly tender, I seasoned it up with my favorite herbed sea salt blend (called Herbamare), freshly-ground black pepper, a mere splash of balsamic vinegar, and a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh basil (the beautiful purple-colored opal basil as well as some lemon basil). Then I garnished it with a generous handful of shredded parmesan cheese and let it melt on the top a bit before serving. WOW! So easy, and so delicious! This is the glory of summer! And did I mention that we purchased the first local tomatoes from the woman down the road who had her plants in the ground (protected by Wall-o-Waters) by March? But I will save the tomato post(s!) for another day. Tonight, I leave you with a picture of my squash dish. (Don't hurt your head when you try to dive through your monitor to get at it!)

UPDATE: I decided to prepare the other half of the mongrel squash in the same manner as above and take it for a potluck at work today, as it seemed like the sort of thing that would be good hot or even once it cooled to room temperature. It was a gamble as people tend to fear what they do not recognize instantly on a buffet, and after all, it is squash, and some people have vegetable issues. But when I went to pick up my casserole dish after my class let out, I was thrilled to see that they darn near ate every last bite of it! And the lovely gal who organized the affair, Jenny, assured me that it was delicious, and that she doesn't even like squash! ;-) Tee hee.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Straight up food porn.

Have you ever been so enchanted with the meal that you've created that you must photograph it? Ok, maybe that's only an obsessive food blogger's issue. But will you please look at the amazing dinner that we had tonight? Behold the half-pound Delmonico steak, marinated with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, Montreal steak seasoning, and TONS of garlic, then cooked on the grill and topped with sliced and sauteed baby portabellas.

Then when I went up to the store this afternoon to get my daily fix of the teeny-tiny but delectable sweet corn from the back of the farmer/neighbor's pick-up, I spied some lovely, freshly-picked string beans, so I had to have those, too! I prepared them first by browning some thick bits of pancetta in a little olive oil, then adding half of a chopped sweet onion, and--of course--several cloves of minced garlic. Then I added in the beans and sauteed them for awhile until they picked up some color and flavor. Finally, I added some chicken stock, covered the pan, and let them steam until tender.

We considered having a salad. We flirted with the idea of a baked potato (especially as they had some nice red ones for sale at the corn truck). We perhaps should have also purchased some of the first wild blueberries of the season and fashioned an amazing dessert of some sort. But all of this felt like it would be gilding the lily. Indeed, I may never cook or eat again, as I can't possibly top this magnificent summer supper! Forget the farmer's market...I clearly need to open up Lindsey's Luscious Steakhouse!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Hummus!

Sorry, gang. I have not been preparing exciting foods to blog about lately, as I am gearing up for the farmer's market next weekend. (The last of the double-dark chocolate buttermilk pound cakes have just come out of the oven, thank you.) But I made a snack to go with lunch today, and it falls into the same category as jam: why would anybody buy it? The snack? Hummus and pita chips. So easy, so good!

In my usual fashion, I offer general guidelines rather than a recipe. For the hummus, I drain a 15 ounce (?) can of garbanzo/chickpea/ceci beans and dump them into the food processor. I throw in maybe four big cloves of garlic ("never too much garlic!"), the juice of at least one lemon, probably two (I like it very lemony), a couple of good pinches of salt, a tablespoon of tahini (sesame paste), and then I swirl some olive oil around the bowl maybe four times (approximately four tablespoons) and process until smooth and creamy. Taste it to see if it needs more salt, and you may want to add more lemon juice or olive oil (or both!) to get it to the desired consistency. I like to sprinkle some parsley on the top for color and for freshness, and that's it!

As for the pita chips, I confess, I used to buy them, too. But then I took a Lebanese cooking class, and the teacher showed us a very easy method. You use a pizza wheel to cut pitas into triangles. Then you separate each piece into two (peel apart the two layers of the pita) and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle the pita chips with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt. Bake them at 400 degrees for 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown. (Watch them! They will go from too pale to burnt if you look away for a second!) You won't believe how good these pita chips are. You better make a bunch, because they will disappear! Serve them with the hummus. DE-LISH!

I also like hummus on sandwiches and to dip raw veggies into, but my very favorite application is to bread and fry some fish fillets, and serve them on a bed of lentils and rice (try this incredible recipe for muhjadarrah), and top the fish with with some thinned-out hummus as a sauce. Soooooo yummy! When June and I co-hosted a Lebanese dinner at her house (we took the cooking class together and decided to create a practical final exam for ourselves, inviting our friends to come and evaluate our learning), we made this dish for the entree. Even people who are a bit "iffy" about fish enjoyed it!

Ok, I need to wrap this up and head back to the kitchen to make pie crusts. I am going to be ready for that farmer's market next week or kill myself trying! Seacrest out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

More jam today!

Oh, friends. All the heat and humidity and the bugs and the planting and the weeding and the watering and the sore body and the sunburns...it was all worth it! Because now, we begin the reaping! I have tender, succulent baby summer squashes, both gold and a Mediterranean grey (koosa), the first few ripe tomatoes (ok, only grape tomatoes thus far), and BLESS THEM, the good folks that sell sweet corn out of the back of their pick-up up the way are vending at last! We had two ears apiece at lunch; they were Lilliputian but ever-so-tasty!

And of course, the attempts to preserve summer's bounty continue. Today's jam is one of the first flavors that I ever made, way back in the day, and it's still my very favorite: BLUEBERRY LIME! It's made with added pectin, so it might be cheating a bit, but it's so easy and so good! Truly, I have no idea why people buy their jam at the store, especially with all those preservatives added and high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient. Ugh. When in less than an hour, you have jam for the rest of the year, through the dark, winter months when we all yearn for a taste of summer sun and sweetness. However, I will not be hoarding this batch for myself. I will be selling these jars at the farmer's market next Saturday (let's hope!), along with some of the strawberry-rhubarb, and perhaps my signature hot pepper jelly from the end of last year's harvest as well. Wish me luck!

Blueberry-Lime Jam
(Source: Ball's Blue Book)

4 1/2 cups blueberries (I prefer wild blueberries, if you can find them)
1 package (1 3/4 oz.) dry pectin
5 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest, finely grated
1/3 cup lime juice (fresh, of course!)


Crush blueberries one layer at a time. Combine crushed blueberries and pectin in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar, stirring until fully dissolved. Stir in grated lime peel and lime juice. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Yield: about 6 half-pints

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

From marriage pie to adultery pie! (So soon?)

Why adultery pie? Because this one's cheatin'! ;-)

So Monday night when it was 85 billion degrees out and the air was disinclined to move at all, I wanted some dessert, but I was not about to fire up the oven to bake anything, which would have been redundant. So here's what I did to make a delicious Mud Pie/Hula Pie type of deal (and coming from the gal who vowed to make more "real" pie, I am bound to receive some flack for this...bring it on!):

Truthfully, this is not a recipe so much as it is an assembly process. You make (or buy!) an Oreo crust. You fill it with 2/3 to maybe 3/4 of a carton of your favorite brand of coffee ice cream (we are passionate Breyer's people here) that has been softened, which takes about 30 seconds in the unmerciful summer swelter, though you could even do this on defrost in the microwave. Spoon it into the crust and then pack it down in there and smooth it well with a spatula. Freeze this for an hour or two until it firms up again, then top the pie with your favorite chocolate sauce (I shared a great recipe back for the same back in May if you'll recall) and a lot of very roughly chopped roasted macadamia nuts. It can go back in the freezer to harden more or at this point or you can consume it as is with a dollop or squirt of whipped cream if you have it. Ta-dah! An absolutely scrumptious dessert made with just four ingredients and no cooking involved! Ooh, I just love it! (Faithful readers have surely deduced my kryptonite by now...it's ICE CREAM!)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Farmer's Market Debut!

It has been my dream for years to sell homemade goods at our local farmer's market, but being that this is New York State, the official procedures are very involved and time-consuming. In fact, I didn't even have time to get ready last year before the season was almost over! This year, I vowed that it would be different. So I had my water tested in March, and started contacting the state office for agricultural markets and food safety in April to have my kitchen inspected (the idea was to be ready for the opening of the market in May). SIX WEEKS later, I finally got the inspector to confirm that I did not have a dirt floor and that my fridge was at the right temperature. But once again, the market had begun, and all of the highly-coveted outdoor spaces had already been claimed. So the market manager told me that she would contact me whenever a seasonal vendor couldn't make it on a given Saturday. Well, yesterday was the big day at long last! I am pleased to report that, largely due to the generous support of my friends from school (I sent out an "everybody" e-mail at work last Thursday to let people know that I was going to be selling at the market), I did very well, and I had a great time, too. I even sold cakes to our City Court Judge and to our former mayor and his partner! And though I only had a few days' notice to bake, I sold almost everything that I took with me, but I also learned what I might do differently next time.

My original vision was to make my fortune based on pound cake. I LOVE pound cake, and I have just a scrumptious heirloom recipe that I use. And I am aware of many other profitable businesses that I wanted to model myself after, such as Nonnie's Traditional Southern (as seen on Oprah) and Maridee's Country Cakes (as profiled on the Food Network). The problem is combatting the "Oh, it's just pound cake?" factor. People don't seem to understand that there's that crap you can buy pre-made in the grocery store, and then there's REAL, homemade, decadent pound cake--even though I did give free samples. And they balked a bit at the prices that I set, too. I charged $7 for a large loaf and $12 for the larger bundt. Mind you, Nonnie's charges SIXTY BUCKS for a bundt-sized pound cake (but in a gorgeous, decorative hatbox), and Maridee charges THIRTY for the cake alone. So I thought $12 was very reasonable. After all, real ingredients cost real money, as does hand labor--something the people of semi-rural Plattsburgh just don't seem to appreciate. Also, I learned that people mostly wanted to buy smaller cakes and not the large bundts, unless they have an event coming up. (The only products that I didn't sell were the few big bundt cakes that I took, despite the fact that I assured people that you can easily freeze half for future cravings.) So lesson #1 was to make even more of the half-sized loaves and consider re-pricing them.

The other thing I learned was to MAKE MORE PIE! Like I said, I only had a few days' notice to bake, so I only made a few pies to take (ooh, a rhyme!). I made just two flavors, the beloved Jumbleberry-Peach and Black Cherry Almond Crumble. I usually make cherry pie with canned pie cherries because you can't find them fresh or frozen here. But this time, I thought I'd try using frozen sweet black cherries. Of course, my friend, June, cherry pie connoisseur ne plus ultra, said that she could not in good conscience sanction a sweet cherry pie, as she fervently believes that one may only make cherry pie with sour pie cherries (or it's not tangy enough). Truthfully, I agree with her, but I thought I'd give it a whirl. As Ina would say, how bad could it be? I used some lemon juice in the filling to give it more tang, cut back on the sugar, and added some spices, too. And let me just say that the pies went in the oven looking GORGEOUS! However, they came out like...well...I wanted to cry when I saw them, and NOT out of joy. The sweet cherries had exuded so much juice that the crumbly topping was submerged, and therefore, did not get crispy. Moreover, I wasn't entirely certain that the filling had set or that the bottom crust got done (because you can't see the bottom of those disposable metal pans). And the worst part was that one of the pies got scorched on one side in my wonky oven! To reiterate, I was in tears. I told my roommate that I had made "Blackened Abortion Pie," which is what it looked like, and I declared that I couldn't possibly sell them at the market. What a tragic waste of time and ingredients! But faithful Cyd, another celebrated pie connoisseur, assured me that she would still buy something that looked like that, and to take them to sell anyway. She also advised wrapping the pies in multiple layers of plastic wrap to covereth a multitude of sins. ;-) Tee hee.

So that's what I brazenly did. Of course, I sold the Jumbleberry-Peach pies within the first hour which did not surprise me. They were BEAUTIFUL! I did this rustic-looking lattice top with wide strips...just lovely. Of course, there was some squawking over the pie pricing, too. I charged $12 for a 9-inch pie, but one woman commented on how she buys her pies for $10 at the farmstand that I posted about the other day. And I told her, sure, but they use pre-made frozen crusts and canned filling! (And I'm not sure on this point, but I think their pies are 8-inch, too.) Furthermore, the ingredients alone come to between six and eight dollars for each pie, again, as real ingredients such as expensive fruits cost more. Not to mention the labor! Whoever coined the expression "easy as pie" never made one from scratch! If I charged ten dollars a pie, that may be a profit of only two dollars each. And I don't think I'd put in the effort (during a heat wave, I might add!) to make a homemade pie for two bucks, not to mention spending the money on electricity and propane to bake it, the gas to drive it a half hour to the market, and the stall rental fee for the privilege of selling it to customers! Basically, I'd be making pies for free! But as is my way, I digress...

Meanwhile, back at the market, I was down to just the cherry pies left. At one point, this lady came along to consider buying one of the pies. She had the demeanor of a lawyer, kind of brusk and business-like. She bought a cherry pie (I wisely swapped the scorched one for a nicer one), and then I noticed that she had taken one of my cards. I immediately thought to myself, she is just the sort to call me and say, this is the worst, god-awful pie I have ever had, and I demand my money back, or I'll take you to small claims court! On my way home from the market, I was seriously planning what I was going to do when she called, because I just knew she would. My plan was to give her a refund AND bake her a better pie to apologize. Well (hang in there, this is the big finale to the world's longest story), sure enough, she called last night and left a message while my roommate was online. So Cyd brings me the phone to hear the message, holding it up to my ear as I am washing dishes in the kitchen, and as soon as I hear, "Gina, this is So-and-So, and I bought one of your pies today," I thought, Oh Lord, here we go! I am really going to cry now. But she continues, saying, "...and I just have to tell you that it was THE BEST PIE I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE, and I sure hope you'll be back at the farmer's market next time so I can buy another one!" LMAO!!! Is that PRICELESS or what?? It just goes to show that the worst homemade pie still is still miles and days better than the best pre-fab pie.

The epilogue is (there's more??), June came down to check on me at the market, and she was eyeing the last cherry pie, and I told her, no, don't buy it, becuse it didn't turn out like I would have hoped, and besides, you prefer sour cherry pie anyway. So she ended up buying a double-dark chocolate buttermilk pound cake (the only large bundt I sold all day). And though she reported that she and her husband loved the cake, now she is going to be mad at me for talking her out of that cherry pie! Anyway, that's the end of my tale, but I couldn't be happier about that phone call than if I had won an Oscar! And the big market lesson #2? BAKE MORE PIE! Maybe it's a sign from the universe and/or a telepathic message from Pascale LeDraoulec? We'll see in another couple of weeks when I return to the market if I'm any further along the learning curve...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Smooth(ie) Sailing

It started with my Orange Julius obsession. And now I have a new one. Here is my story...

When I was away last weekend, I attended the annual Sailfest celebration in New London, CT, only about an hour from where I was staying for the dog show. In fact, if you caught the news last Saturday night, you would have heard about some old man who plowed into a couple of dozen festival attendees with his car at the very same Sailfest. This was just a half hour before I got there, and had I not gotten lost (I wrote down the wrong exit number and overshot my destination), I would no doubt have been one of those unfortunates who was run down. Happily, as it turned out, I was not run over, plus I ended up getting to see the most precious little seaport of Mystic, CT, and I had the most delicious pizza for lunch at Mystic Pizza, made famous by the Julia Roberts/Lili Taylor/Annabeth Gish 80's film of the same name.
I was not expecting the pizza to live up to its hype, but it was truly in my top five pizzas of all time. The dough was tender inside and crispy outside like great bread. I had the house special with sausage, pepperoni, meatball, mushrooms, and onions but without the green peppers that I don't care for. It doesn't sound all that "special," but it was all about the fine quality of the ingredients. Being in a town of Portguese influences, the meats seemed home-cured in that Old World style, and they were not chintzy with the delicious toppings, either! Great stuff. Check it out if you're ever there.

But pizza is not even what I wanted to post about, so let's move on, shall we? After my wonderful lunch, I backtracked to New London to check out Sailfest. There were tons of incredible food vendors there. Of course, I was already full from lunch, but the many ethnic chicken kebob-type things were making me hungry all over again! I did not indulge, but I couldn't pass up a free sample of the new smoothies at the Dunkin' Donuts truck. I tried both the wild berry and the mango-passion fruit varieties. And let me tell you, they were SO GOOD! In fact, when I was done at the festival, I stopped at the first Dunkin' Donuts that I passed and bought myself a large wild berry smoothie. I almost fainted when the guy told me what I owed--it was almost five bucks! Good heavens! I am an impoverished teacher, so I cannot afford to develop a commercial smoothie habit. Thus, I have devised my own homemade version that I will now share with you good people. And trust me, this is good stuff...not like the glop that my ridiculous roommate makes and calls a "smoothie." She just mixes nearly an entire tub of yogurt with a mish-mash of (often) uncomplementary fruits in a blender and calls it a smoothie. Where I come from, we call that yogurt with fruit in it. Dumb, very dumb. ;-) Try this instead...

Gina's Citrus Berry Smoothie

1 cup milk (surprisingly, I prefer lowfat milk)
1/2 cup (good-quality) vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1 cup berries of your choice (I like a blend of raspberry, blackberry and blueberry)
1/4 cup sugar (or Splenda, if you're trying to be good)
about 8 standard ice cubes


Blend until smooth...hence, the name.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here for...marriage pie.

Friends, I am in love. No, no, not in that way. But with a lovely memoir that I just discovered (and only four years after it was published--whoops!) called American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads by Pascale Le Draoulec. In the book, Ms. Le Draoulec takes a job as the food critic at the New York Daily News, and decides to road trip from San Francisco rather than flying to make the move. And the theme and guiding force in her travels is PIE--to go wherever friends or strangers recommended a good piece of pie could be found. In seeking out places where real people still made real pie, Le Draoulec hoped to find the roots and the essence of America, particularly as a first-generation American born to French parents. Before this memorable road trip, Le Draoulec only knew of tarts, not pie. But in her travels in not one, but two, Volvos named Betty with her companion, Kris (among others) riding shotgun, the author found way too many specimens that she termed, "dumpster pie"--pies that masqueraded as the real deal, but after the first bite, quickly found their permanent homes in the nearest dumpster. But they also discovered such wonders as an "accidental" apple-blueberry pie in Natchez, Mississippi, hubbard squash pie in Vermont, belgian pies from Door County, Wisconsin, and many other delectable specimens (and don't think I won't be trying my hand at each of these recipes in due course!). But the pie that was the pinnacle of the road trip was found in Montana at the Spruce Park Diner. It was a huckleberry peach pie, a so-called "marriage pie" where two fruits complement each other yet retain their individual characteristics. I was intrigued, especially as one of the best pies in my repertoire is a Dutch peach-blueberry pie, so I felt sure that this one would be right up my alley! (Remind me to post that recipe at some point, will ya?)

Huckleberries are wild, bluish-black berries whose flavor is often described as being like blueberry but more tart and less tame. Of course, as I am east of the Rockies, I have no access to huckleberries. But I thought perhaps a triple berry mix of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries in combination with peaches might yield their own magical result. The only error in judgment I made was to try a crust recipe from Chez Panisse that, although extremely flaky and tasty, was just too short of a dough to be able to work with properly. You could either chill it until it was brittle, or leave it out for a few minutes and quickly have a dough too soft to even lift off the work surface. GRR! Furthermore, after the crust was baked, it lacked structural soundness. You can see in the picture that part of the top had already shattered, the lattice had snapped in half, and just seconds after I took the picture, the rear portion of the crust fell backwards, breaking off from the filling. UGH! It still tasted awesome, but next time, I will try a different pastry recipe. I still don't have a definitive pie crust that I always use, but I am honing in on it slowly but surely. My ideal crust has both butter for flavor and shortening for exceptional flakiness. I know, I know, I can hear the purists gasp and clutch their hearts, but the best crust I ever had was from a couple of gals calling themselves Sister Pie in Sebastopol, CA, one of the greenest, crunchiest, most organic spots in the country, and their crust was made with shortening (organic shortening, but still, I think I've made my point!). Truth to tell, I am also not above using a butter-lard combination, again for both flavor and flakiness. Here next to Quebec, lard crusts are very popular. You can even buy frozen ones in their grocery stores. But I digress...

My point is--and I do have one--is that this book was so inspirational to me and reinforced so many of my own food philosophies which are sorely tested in this fast-paced world of culinary shortcuts. Why, I was just at my favorite local farmstand this past weekend, and I saw that they are now selling their own preserves. But I was HORRIFIED when I looked at the label and saw that the main ingredient in their "farmstand" jams and jellies was high-fructose corn syrup! YEGADS! And to make bad matters worse, a sign listing the different varieties of their "homemade" pies indicated that only the apple pies contained fresh fruit--all others used canned filling. CANNED FILLING! At a FARMSTAND! What is the name of all that is holy is the world coming to? It's just so discouraging. But then I read a book like American Pie, and my faith is restored. There are still people out there who care enough to take the time to make real pie the right way. And I aim to be one of them! So it's July, and though we're already at the halfway point of 2006, I am adding another resolution. In addition to starting a food blog, always having homemade vinaigrette in the fridge, and baking more bread, I also vow to bake more pie, REAL pie. If you wish to join me, you might want to start with the recipe below or a variation thereof. It is a definitive example of "marriage pie."

The Spruce Park Diner's Rustic Huckleberry Peach Pie by Laura Hansen
(Source: Pascale Le Draoulec's American Pie)

Crust:
1 9-inch double-crust (Laura uses the recipe on the back of the Crisco can)

Filling:
3 cups of huckleberries (fresh or frozen)--I substituted a triple berry blend here
2 cups of peaches, sliced and peeled (fresh or frozen)
1 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of tapioca (I used four tablespoons of tapioca flour, and it was perfect--the filling held together but was still supple and juicy)

*I also added a teaspoon of vanilla and just a pinch of pumpkin pie spice to the filling.

Pick your huckleberries clean of stems and leaves. If you plan on freezing them, do not wash them as they will release too much juice when they cook. In your favorite mixing bowl, gently toss huckleberries, peaches, and sugar together. Add tapioca, mix well but gently. Score bottom crust with a fork (I did not do this as I was afraid of leakage). Pour fruit mixture in your deep-dish pie tin lined with your crust. Cut the remaining dough into four wide bands, interlay them on top of the pie to create a weave effect. Sprinkle top with 1 tablespoon of sugar (I brushed on some egg wash before sprinkling on the sugar). Bake at 350 degrees for 75-90 minutes (mine had to go the full hour and a half for the bottom to get done--and it does bubble over, so bake it on a lined sheet pan or be prepared to have berry napalm all over your oven!). Top crust should be golden brown.



Friday, July 07, 2006

A quickie out of guilt...

No, friends, I have not abandoned you. But this week saw the start of the second summer school session, so I had to get ready for that. And then (way too) early this morning, I left for West Springfield, MA (well, technically, I am writing you from the glamorous Motel 6 in Enfield, CT, but close enough) to compete in some dog shows over the weekend. So it will no doubt be next week before I can do a proper post, but here's a quick tide-over snack, if you will. This hardly even counts as a recipe, but we have become OBSESSED with it at my house, and have been coating an amazing array of foods with it from chicken to baked potatoes to pizza and pasta. We have threatened to flavor ice cream with it next! Tee hee. This remarkable condiment is called persillade, and despite the fancy French name, it can be whipped up in seconds, and has but three main ingredients. Persillade is a parsley and garlic sauce, not unlike a salsa verde, green sauce, chimichurri, or pesto. And man, is it DELICIOUS! All you do is run out to your herb garden and hack off a fistful of either flat-leaf or curly parsley (or both!), rinse it off, and toss it into the food processor (you want about three tablespoons of chopped parsley in total). Also throw in three cloves of good garlic (I like hot, reddish-purple varieties myself) and process until finely chopped. Then stream in two tablespoons of a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil until you have a pesto-like consistency (not completely smooth...with bits still visible in the emulsion). Season with salt and pepper to taste, and that's it! Then keep it in the fridge and use it on anything that would benefit from a hit of herbal freshness and big garlicky kick. It is just scrumptious on everything--meat or fish, potatoes or pasta, and all kinds of veggies. It has become the definitive summer condiment here at Lindsey's Luscious. Next time I make it, I might also squeeze a little fresh lemon juice into the mix, but it's yummy enough without. Punch up your summer cuisine with persillade! You'll thank me for it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

One for the chocoholics!

Sometimes, you just need some chocolate. And this recipe will either satiate that need...or kill you in the process! I ran across this on another blog and had to give it a try. The cookies are incredibly rich and so chocolately that one cookie is usually more than enough. But if you want to go for broke, sandwich two of them together with some good vanilla bean ice cream...YUM!

TRIPLE-CHOCOLATE COOKIES
(Source: Bon App├ętit, July 2005)

10 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used black cocoa--try Hershey's Dark)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. (I used Silpat-lined baking sheets.) Stir chopped chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth; remove from over water. (I did this in 30-second intervals in the microwave instead.) Cool melted chocolate 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another medium bowl until crumbly. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until mixture is light, pale, and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add lukewarm melted chocolate and vanilla and beat just until blended. Fold in dry ingredients, then chocolate chips.

Drop chocolate cookie batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, 1 baking sheet at a time, until tops are evenly cracked but cookies are not yet firm to touch, about 16 minutes (mine took a minute or two less than that). Cool cookies completely on baking sheets. Using metal spatula, carefully transfer 4 cookies to each of 4 large resealable plastic bags, arranging in single layer (I used one gallon-sized bag with wax paper between the cookie layers). Freeze cookies overnight. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep frozen.)

Makes about 16.