Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cozy like your robe and slippers...

Sometimes, in the midst of a tough first week back to school, when you had little to no vacation time over the summer, when you're still trying to convert from a nocturnal to a diurnal schedule again, and when your team loses the pub trivia game for the second week in a row (by one measly point! AAARRRGGGGHHH!), you need consolation. It's time for the ultimate in comfort foods.

So when my finicky oven decided to play nice last night and actually stay on and at temperature for over an hour (whoo-hoo!), I quickly whipped up a giant meatloaf (the beloved Bloody Mary Meatloaf from a previous post) to throw in there, and also a batch of homemade macaroni and cheese. Come to think of it, the Food Network may also have subliminally influenced me as Ina was making mini meatloaves yesterday, and Bobby Flay was eating a scrumptious-looking mac-n-cheese at a restaurant recently as well. Meanwhile, that horrible Sandra Lee was marching to her own frightening beat as she is wont to do by putting chocolate on or in everything, including grilled steaks and rice--ewww! You can't just throw chocolate chips into instant rice and call it mole! Someone please help her! And make her stop saying "tablescape!" It's dumb.

Anyhoo....back to my favorite mac and cheese. It is not fancy at all. In fact, the base recipe comes from an old, much-loved, red-and-white-checkered copy of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. You know the one. Your mom had it. Maybe you stole it from her as I did. ;-) Here's my favorite version of that classic recipe:

Macaroni and Three Cheeses

1 lb. pasta (traditionally elbows, but you can use rigatoni or penne or what have you)

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (or 1 cup milk, 1 cup half-n-half to make it really indulgent!)
1 cup sharp cheddar, grated
8 oz. product that rhymes with "Belbeeta" ;-)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste, and yes, you can use black--you'll just have flecks in your casserole)
dash of cayenne pepper or a shot or two of hot sauce

1 1/2 cups Japanese panko (yes, you can use regular bread crumbs, but it won't be as good!)
6 tablespoons butter, melted (you can get away with as litte as 4 tablespoons if it makes you feel better)

1/2 cup grated parmesan (that's freshly-grated, not that vomitus from the green can!)

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook pasta until just al dente (you don't want it fully tender as it still has to bake in the oven later). Drain and set aside until the sauce is ready.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter (I actually like to bring it to a golden color for more flavor). Add the flour and whisk to blend thoroughly. Cook the roux for a minute or two (to get rid of the raw flour taste), then gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to ensure a smooth resulting sauce. When all the milk is added, cook the mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Lower the heat to a simmer, and add the grated cheddar, whisking until smooth and fully melted. Then add the American cheese, again whisking until smooth and completely melted. (Now don't freak out and call me a poseur gourmande! This is the one and only time that I will ever ask you to use the space-age polymer known as Velveeta. It just melts so beautifully and gives your casserole that certain school cafeteria quality that you know you secretly covet! tee hee) Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and a little cayenne or hot sauce (a little nutmeg is also a nice touch if you'd rather that than the spicier condiments).

Combine the cheese sauce and pasta, stirring well to combine (but gently! don't bust up your noodles!). Pour the mixture into a greased casserole and even out the top with a spatula. In a small bowl, combine the panko, melted butter and grated parmesan, then sprinkle it over the top of the macaroni and cheese in an even layer. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about a half hour, or until the topping is G B & D. It just doesn't get any better--or more soul-soothing--than this!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Heyday at the Haymarket, or What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Have you folks completely given up on me? This is my personal worst--an obscene, 11-day blog-bandonment! I have good excuses, though, I swear! First, after teaching two summer sessions PLUS working at the farmers' market off and on all summer, I tried to squeeze in at least a mini-vacation before the start of the new school year. And as is my way, I try to combine travel and sightseeing with another of my passions, dog showing. So my dog, Grady, and I took off last Thursday for Fitchburg, Massachusetts (central Mass, I'd say about 45 minutes northwest of Boston?) for three days of dog shows. The first day, we did nothing (we lost). I was so depressed that I took myself off to the Trader Joe's in Framingham to cheer myself up. Trader Joe's is, second only to Disneyland, my favorite place in the whole world! And since I don't have one anywhere near me, it is always stop #1 on any away-from-home travel itinerary. Do you folks know the wonders and glories of Trader Joe's? If not, I would describe it as a cross between a health food store and a gourmet shop, with an amazing selection of interesting foodstuffs at shockingly low prices. A friend of mine recently asked, after hearing me gush about TJ's, if it was like Sam's Club or Costco? And no, it's not a huge warehouse like that--in fact, it's smaller than your average grocery store. But you can get such neat things there! I stocked up on olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olives and peppers, salsas and sauces, Cuban-style black beans, all kinds of nuts and dried fruits for baking, Marcona almonds, Morello cherries (European tart cherries that some lady just won the National Pie Championship with), Japanese panko, cookies, candies and snack mixes (they have a sweet, salty and crunchy blend with honey roasted peanuts, cashews and almonds along with peanut brittle bits that is just the best), whole-grained hot and cold cereals, marvelous coffees (like their new one, some kind of organic, shade-grown, fair trade Nicaraguan brew), and other yummy beverages like an organic lemonade and tea mix. My most interesting purchase this trip was Hawaiian sea salt in both the orange-red color that you might be familiar with and even a volcanic black version (I have a vision of using them both on something around Halloweentime)! I also get delicious treats for my doggies there--peanut butter biscuits are the fave at my house.

But perhaps the thing for which Trader Joe's is the most famous is that it is the distributor for the infamous "Two-Buck Chuck" wine from that wine-in-a-box guru, Mr. Franzia. The wine carries the Charles Shaw label (Shaw was a proper winemaker but lost his label--and his winery--in an ugly divorce, as the story goes) and sells for as little as two dollars in some places, hence the name. Unfortunately for winemakers, Two Buck Chuck has beaten many other wines (up to $20 a bottle!) in blind taste tests. So you see people flying out of Trader Joe's with cases of the stuff! God only knows where Franzia gets his wine from. I've heard that it started with acquiring a huge lot of bottled wine from an airline (American?) after 9/11 when corkscrews were outlawed. I have also heard that he buys leftover wines from California vineyards, which means you could get the dregs of the barrel or you could get wine that that particular vineyard bottles under its own label for much more money. But I figure at three bucks a bottle (it's Three-Buck Chuck in MA), it's worth the gamble. Sometimes the wine is just okay, and sometimes, it's really good. And if it's not the greatest, then I use it for cooking instead. But I digress...

So that was Friday, then back to the dog show on Saturday, where Grady got Winners' Dog, which means that the judge thought he was the best male of the breed that day. That earned him another point toward his championship--yeah! To celebrate, I decided to head into Beantown for some sightseeing. I actually drove to the Alewife station (I find that name charming, though I think it's a fish), and then took the T into the city. I was worried about trying to find parking in Boston proper, as it was a beautiful day and all of the Sox Nation and the Yankee fans were thronging to the city for the big rivalry game. I could care less about that myself, so I headed to Quincy Market (Faneiul Hall Marketplace) to poke around, shop, and watch amazing street performers. Then I had lunch at a cute little pub called The Purple Shamrock because it seemed like the sort of thing one should do in Boston. They were having half-priced appetizers during the game, so I took ordered two different things and made lunch out of it--very Rachael Ray of me, I know. I also toured a very moving Holocaust exhibit right across the street from the pub. But the best thing I did all day was the visit the Haymarket. It's a wholesale fruit and vegetable market right around the corner from the Union Bay Oyster House and the Bell in Hand Tavern, the oldest tavern in America. If I lived in Boston, I would hit the Haymarket every week. They have everything under the sun, including many exotic fruits and veggies that I had never even heard of, and all at about a third of the price of produce purchased elsewhere. I couldn't buy very much, because I had to schlep the bags around as I was sightseeing, but I got two pounds of peeled garlic for $2, a bunch of white asparagus for 75 cents, a pound of snow peas for a dollar, and four golden tomatoes that were roughly the size of a toddler's head, also for a dollar--a DOLLAR! Can you believe? There are also interesting little food shops that surround the Haymarket. I got two chunks of parmesan for five bucks, but I refrained from buying any goat, even though you could order it "fresh-killed, whole or half." [shudder]

Then on Sunday, I am very proud to tell you that Grady got his first Best of Breed and another point towards his title! Ok, so there were only four dogs total and no specials (already finished champions), but it was still pretty exciting! So we had to stay around until the group competition later that afternoon. Well, I guess we didn't have to--I just thought we did, as that's how it works in Canada where Grady is already a Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) champion. But it was fun to be in the group along with Beethoven the basset hound, Morgan the otterhound, and other top hounds in the nation. Of course, we didn't do anything in the group, but the judge called Grady "adorable," and I have to agree! ;-) So that put us home pretty late that evening (it's about a five-hour drive), and I arrived home to find a message from the farmers' market manager that people had been asking about me (and my conspicuous absence) at the local market. She said that people rarely request a specific vendor to return, but she asked if I would come back this weekend if she made a space for me and charged me half-price for the stall rental? How could I say no to that? So this was a week of much stress and very little sleep, between baking and canning every day, and also trying to get ready for school to start on Monday! Plus, I feel like crap. The ragweed is in full bloom, and I can't stop sneezing, I can barely see out of my squinty, watery eyes, and my head feels like it's stuffed with rags. So please, dear friends, I hope you'll forgive my lengthy absence. In fact, I am so exhausted, that I think a Sunday afternoon nap is in order. And when I awake, refreshed, I will post more (including recipes), I promise!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mustard and Leek Pie

Ok, ok! Here's that recipe that I promised. This is one of my favorite recipes from the marvelous vegetarian cookbook from the celebrated restaurant, The Greens, in San Francisco. It was the dish I had in mind when I snapped up some gorgeous leeks at the Jean-Talon Market this weekend. And...ta-dah!

Leek and Mustard Pie
(Source: The Greens Cookbook, Madison and Brown)

1 recipe tart dough (to follow), in a 9-in tart pan, partially prebaked
4-5 cups leeks (about one pound, trimmed), cut into 1/4-inch rings
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine (or water)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup cream or creme fraiche (I used half cream and half sour cream)
2-3 tablespoons good quality smooth or coarse mustard (I used 2T because I have some very strong, imported whole-grained mustard that I get in Montreal)
3 oz. grated cheese or 4 oz. goat cheese (I prefer Swiss, Gruyere or Emmenthal)
2 tablespoons chives, sliced into narrow rounds

Prepare the tart dough and partially prebake it (see below).

Wash the leeks well and set them aside. Melt the butter in a wide skillet, add the leeks along with the water that still clings to them, and cook two to three minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the wine or water and the salt, cover, reduce the heat, and cook slowly until the leeks are tender, about ten to fifteen minutes. Check the pan after seven minutes, and add more wine or water, if necessary (I would use water here, as a half cup of reduced wine is already pretty strong-tasting). When done, season with freshly ground black pepper.

Beat the eggs and stir in the cream or creme fraiche, mustard, leeks and grated cheese. If you are using goat cheese, work half of it into the custard and crumble the other half over the top just before baking.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the custard into the prebaked shell, smooth down the top, and scatter the chives over the entire surface. Bake the pie until the top is firm and golden brown. Let it sit for five minutes before cutting and serving.

Tart Dough

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (bleached works fine, too)
3/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 1/2-3 tablespoons ice water

The recipe from The Greens Cookbook has you working the fat into the dry ingredients by hand, which is fun to be sure, but this is so easily made in a food processor. Whiz together the dry stuff. Add the butter pieces and pulse maybe ten times. Add the shortening and pulse perhaps five more times, until (everyone together now) it looks like coarse meal, oatmeal, petit pois, or whatever your favorite descriptor is). Add the ice water little by little, using only enough until the dough holds together when pressed. Form a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

This is just a wonderful crust recipe for sweet or savory pies. And it is very forgiving...even if it gets a little too warm and it tears or some pieces break off or whatever the crisis, you can just press it back together with your fingers and it still bakes up beautifully.

To partially pre-bake the crust, freeze it (in the tart pan) until very firm, and bake it at 425 degrees for about ten minutes until it looks set and just starts to color. If the bottom crust starts to puff up, just dock it with the tines of a fork or the tip of a paring knife.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Summer in Montreal, or Foodie Heaven

Dear readers, I have been to the river and I've been baptised. I have glimpsed Shangri-La, Nirvana, and bloody Brigadoon all rolled into one! Mecca, my foodie friends, is Montreal's Jean-Talon Market in full swing at the height of its summertime glory. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, drop everything, book a flight or get in the car, and get yourself to Montreal immediately! If you have a passport and the financial wherewithal, Paris might offer a superior experience for the true gourmand. But if you choose to stay on your own continent, you can't get more European than Quebec, and Montreal is truly a foodie's paradise.

It was such a gorgeous day yesterday that the roommate and I decided to hop in the car and head north to see what kind of trouble we could get into. Our first goal was to try to make it in time for Anthony and Michelle's (of Endless Banquet fame) Jamaican barbecue held on a precariously high balcony above a garage somewhere in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal. We managed to find the nearly hidden location, but sadly, they were almost completely sold out of food by the time we got there. We were happy to get the last jerk pork sandwich, but we missed many delights such as Jamaican shrimp, rice and peas, and the worst cut of all, homemade ginger beer. BOO HISS! Oh well, we live in hope that there will be a BBQ #3 before the end of the season!

Our Plan B was perhaps to take in a movie, but when we realized how close we were to the famed Jean-Talon market, we decided to check it out. The beautiful weather was just so perfect for poking around outdoors, and though we had been to the market once or twice before, it was either too early in the spring or too late in the autumn to get the true JTM experience. Now, I must warn you, the full experience does not come without some suffering. The traffic leading into the market, even on a Sunday, was unreal. And inside, it is likewise very crowded, and the Quebecois seem to have a different sense of spatial relations than Americans (smaller personal space bubbles, and much bumping into you or inadvertent--one would hope--groping without so much as an "excusez!"). But what are a few bumps and bruises and fondles by strangers when all the marvels of the market await you?

I couldn't possibly remember everything that we saw and/or tasted there, and I am very chagrined that I didn't think to take my camera with to document our adventure, but I can share a few highlights. We enjoyed browsing in the the cookware shop and the cookbook store first. Then we sampled local cheeses, wines and ciders, cured meats, jams and preserves, and organic and heirloom tomatoes. I enjoyed a delicious all-fruit popsicle type treat made entirely of crushed blackberries. We also acquired some lovely little marinated picholine olives from a stand and some huge, freshly-baked croissants from yet another cheese shop. I got so overwhelmed by the variety of products in the marvelous spice shop called Olives et Epices that I left without buying anything. But I'm definitely going back for some bittersweet smoked paprika that I had my eye on. We also tried the most wonderful sandwich that must have been of Eastern European lineage. I was going to go back and verify the nationality, but as way leads on to way, we never got back there. It could have been something like Hungarian? It definitely wasn't Middle Eastern as it was spiced differently. Let me describe, and maybe someone out there will be able to identify it and its ethnic origin. It was made of ground beef, but the meat was formed into a log, cooked, and then sections of it were served in a hot dog or sub roll. They garnished it with spicy mustard and a delicious relish that was sort of a cross between sauerkraut and a vinegar-y cole slaw--fresh, crunchy, and tangy, but not cooked. Just delicious! We also ordered some savory crepes at another stall, and though the crepes themselves were wonderful, they were a bit overpriced and a bit skimpy on the meats in the fillings. I had a regular crepe with bechamel, mushrooms, grilled chicken and cheese, and Cyd had a buckwheat crepe with bechamel, spinach, ham and cheese. We both agreed that we much preferred our very favorite Bretonne creperie, Ty-Breiz, on Rue Rachel. Unfortunately, after our gastronomic tour of the world, we were way too full to try the fabulous-looking ice creams (looked more like gelati to me) at Havre aux Glaces, but there's always next time!

After our lunch, we made our way into the belly of the beast--the produce alleys of Jean-Talon, veritably bursting with the freshest, most amazing fruit and vegetable offerings that I have ever seen. There were many times that I would turn a corner into the next allee, and literally gasp in awe at the eggplants in white, orange, and every shade of purple, or the burgeoning baskets of jewel-like berries, or these enormous cauliflowers in snowy white, almost flourescent orange, and vibrant purple. We bought a dozen of the world's biggest, most beautiful ears of corn (and promptly had to make a detour by the car because the weight of the bag was cutting off my fingers). We bought a lovely mix of local mushrooms, and I was enchanted by the thoughtful touch of a small bunch of parsley thrown in with purchase. You'd never get that in the States! The other thing that you never see here but should is the free sampling of most of the fruits and veggies for sale. We could have made another meal out of all the samples of tomatoes and peaches and melons and such that each vendor has cut up and waiting for you to try. And if something is not offered to you, you can always ask to try a sample, and they are quite happy to oblige. That way you are sure of what you are buying, that it is at its freshest or sweetest or ripest.

We acquired many wonderful things at the Jean-Talon market that were featured in our dinner tonight. I made a delicious bruschetta with the tomatoes and garlic that we bought at the market and served it on broiled pieces of the very best bagels on earth, not from the JTM but from St-Viateur's Bagelry very nearby in the Mile End. For those of you who are not acquainted with Montreal bagels, they are quite different from New York-style bagels which are taller and more like bread on the inside. Montreal bagels are denser and chewier, leaning more toward the consistency of a soft pretzel. Delish! Then we had our favorite marinated ribeye steaks with the sauteed mushroom melange and the fresh parsley, of course. With the steak, we had two veggies--the enormous ears of corn on the cob and some beautiful green and yellow wax beans. (I know, I know! This all sounds very familiar doesn't it? It really is our favorite summer meal.) In addition to tonight's featured players, we also bought some of the first early apples of the season destined for who knows what, and some gorgeous leeks that I hope to turn into the mustard and leek tart that I mentioned recently.

But the best discovery of the market as far as I'm concerned was neither a fruit nor a vegetable. It was a pint (oh, a half-liter or whatever--I've already told you that the metric system hurts my pretty little head) of the most luscious and decadent cream that it has ever been my future cardiologist's misfortune that I have come across. Just look at it, friends.

No ultra-pasteurization here to render this sumptuous cream somewhat flavorless. And you're seeing correctly...that's 45% milkfat, and in any language or mathematical system, that is both sinful and heavenly at the same time. So what could I possibly do with this celestial substance (that I must confess, cost me an arm and a leg)? Obviously, I wanted to do something that showcased the simple, sweet perfection of the cream. Probably the best application would be to treat it as a condiment, that is, to pour it over summer's sweetest, ripest berries and call it a day. But a recent post on the Bakerina's website gave me another idea: I would make the most decadent vanilla bean ice cream known to man or woman! Indeed, I have no idea how my beloved Bakerina can call this ice cream with a straight face. She must utter the words with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as it is clearly the richest of frozen custards. But whatever you call it, when you combine the Creme d'Antan and some fresh egg yolks from our own chickens, along with some milk, sugar, vanilla bean, and a pinch of salt, you have something to die for...though I hope not literally. ;-) One taste of this frozen confection, and Cyd declared that it was what she had been waiting her whole life for and that it filled in an empty spot within her very being. She always thought she was waiting for her soul mate, but nope, it was this ice cream! Tee hee. We served it for dessert with a few more of the wonderful Mexican Chocolate cookies--not that either needed an accompaniment. (On a related note, my blogger pal, Anna, had another brilliant idea, to sandwich the cookies with some Dulce de Leche...yum!) Indeed, this frozen custard is dessert perfection on its own, or perhaps as the Bakerina favors, with a very ripe fresh peach crushed into it. This kind of cooking, to my mind, is the real joy of the season, bringing together all of the delectable finds from farmers' markets and roadside stands. And I sure hope all of you are out there finding your own culinary treasures. Hurry, hurry! It's over all too soon!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ay-yi-yi! Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies

Today there was more baking just to please me, and these little gems are incredible! They're easy to make, they can be frozen almost indefinitely until you're ready to bake them off (if you have that kind of willpower), and they are DELICIOUS--like a spicy little brownie bite! The exotic flavor combination of chocolate, cinnamon, cayenne and even black pepper make for a sophisticated dark chocolate cookie for grown-ups. They are simple, but elegant enough to serve for guests. You simply must try these at once!

Note to John and Keith: These would be perfect to bake in a toaster oven. ;-)

Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies
(Source: Maida Heatter's Great Book of Chocolate Desserts)

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup quality Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whisk the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl and set aside. Put sugar, vanilla, and egg into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale, about three minutes. Add butter and continue to beat on high speed until smooth, about three minutes more. Using your fingers (I added the dry ingredients a little at a time on low speed in my stand mixer), work flour mixture into butter mixture until dough is just combined (in other words, do not overwork the dough). Divide dough in half and roll each half into a 9-inch log. Wrap each log in parchment paper, twisting ends tightly to make a uniform cylinder. Freeze dough logs for at least eight hours and as long as overnight.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Unwrap dough and slice each log into rounds 1/3-inch thick. Place rounds one inch apart on parchment paper-lined (I used Silpats) cookie sheets. Bake cookies until slightly puffed and tiny cracks appear on surface, about eight minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to let cool. Makes about four dozen cookies.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Love-Apple Season

Well, my friends, it has begun. The time that all gardeners dream about in the longest, darkest days of January, what we imagine when we start those little seeds under grow lights in February and when we're transplanting them in March. It's the payoff that keeps us rototilling and digging in April, planting, planting, and more planting throughout May and even into June, and then there's the incessant watering and weeding for two more months until the first blush appears on the (literal) fruits of one's labor. And then? THE DELUGE! When they come, they come hard and fast like quintuplets at 32 weeks (ok, I confess...tonight finds me sucked into the Discovery Health Channel and a multiples marathon!).

So once you've had those gorgeous, fresh, garden-ripe tomatoes every way that you can think of. and there's still a ton more cluttering up your counters and windowsills, what then will you do? Turn to Lindsey's Luscious, of course, for a few more great tomato recipes!

My absolute favorite way to eat garden tomatoes is to make bruschetta. Truly, we have it for a pre-function before dinner almost every night during the high holy season (August-September). I can't even offer a proper recipe, but I will share general guidelines. First, acquire a delicious baguette. Slice it up and brush one side of each slice with some olive oil, then broil until golden-to-caramel-brown. Finally, rub each slice vigorously with a cut garlic clove. (Ok, cheaters and corner-cutters, listen up. Second-best choice for bruschetta-bearing vessels are Nonni's Garlic Parmesan Panetini. I like to buy mammoth bags of them at Costco.) For the bruschetta itself, dice a couple-to-few pounds of tomatoes then drain for a bit in a colander or strainer. When most of the excess juice is drained, add the tomatoes back to a bowl, coat them with a few swirls of olive oil, a good splash or two of balsamic vinegar, at least two cloves of garlic, finely minced, salt and pepper to taste, and at least one fresh herb of your choice, finely chopped--basil is traditional, but I prefer thyme, especially my favorite, lime thyme. Serve on the garlic toasts. (Remember the Lindsey's Luscious motto: NEVER too much garlic!)

My second favorite thing to make during the tomato rush is an absolutely delectable tomato tart. It is so elegant and quite the showstopper when shared with guests, and yet, it's really quite easy. Again, I offer a basic methodology. Prepare a pie crust according to your favorite recipe (or even one of those prepared refrigerator-types). For this, I really love the very short pastry from The Greens Cookbook that is the base of another beloved recipe, their leek and mustard pie, but we'll save that recipe for another day. Pre-bake the crust of your choice it in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes (covered in tin foil or parchment and lined with weights/dry beans). Remove the beans and the foil or parchment and smear a goodly amount of pesto (homemade from the bounty of your herb garden, naturally, but if you must, use some from a jar--Classico brand is pretty good) in the bottom of the crust, then add a generous layer of shredded aurrechio cheese on top of that (a sharp/aged provolone, but mozzarella would be fine, too--ooh, or fontina would be yummy). Then place thick slices of tomatoes that have been drained on paper towels for an hour or so on top of the cheese, arranging and fitting them to completely cover, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. Bake the tart for a half an hour in a 350 degree oven. Serve hot or even at room temperature (if you can wait that long!). Look at it! Is it not the most gorgeous thing?? And wait until you taste it! Heaven, sheer heaven!

Lastly, I offer a fairly simple but scrumptious recipe for homemade Cream of Tomato soup. This can be made with canned tomatoes in the off-season, but in the late summer and fall, I recommend that you use fresh tomatoes and roast them. Place two or three pounds of tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil. Roast at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until the outer skins are caramelized and the tomatoes are soft. Then proceed with the following recipe, substituting the roasted tomatoes for the canned ones:

Creamy Tomato Soup
(Source: How to Boil Water)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 slice bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes
3 parsley sprigs
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until crisp and most of the fat has rendered, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Pour in the broth and crush the tomatoes through your fingers into the pan. Bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Tie the parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaf together with a piece of kitchen twine and add to the pot. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Remove and discard the herb bundle. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth (I used my stick blender instead!). Return the puree to the pot and reheat over medium heat. Whisk in the heavy cream, salt, and pepper, to taste. Divide among warm soup bowls and serve immediately.

Monday, August 07, 2006

ISO Belgian pie....

You would think after baking as many pies as I have over the past month that I would be all pie-d out! But you would be wrong if you thought that. I am just starting to get good at it! Cyd wandered into the kitchen on Friday (now known as Pie-day), spied the strawberry-rhubarb pie cooling on a rack on the counter and gasped at its beauty, declaring that I had really found my pie groove! But I must confess, it's very nice to not have to bake for the market this week, so that I can just make something that sounds good to me. What might that be, you ask? Well, I returned to Pascale Le Draoulec's book, American Pie, and I finally got around to trying an intriguing recipe, indigenous to the Belgian communities in Kewaunee and Brown Counties (near Door County), Wisconsin called, appropriately enough, Belgian Pie. It has taken me forever to try the recipe because I knew it was going to be very involved. Not difficult, mind you, but time-consuming as there are several steps. Belgian pies come in three traditional varieties, prune, rice or raisin (although any pie filling would work, including apple, cherry, poppy seed, etc.). And it's not really a pie so much as a raised sweet dough with one of those three fillings, and always a sweetened, cottage cheese topping. Indeed, it calls to mind a Danish more than a pie, but we'll let those Belgians march to their own beat.

No offense to Ms. Draoulec whose book I love, but she didn't make it easy for me to prepare the Belgian pie of my desiring. First of all, I have no use for prunes or raisins, so I definitely wanted to try the rice filling, but the recipe in her book is for the prune version. So I scoured the internet for a recipe for the rice filling, but the one I kept coming across was made with instant pudding, and I did not prefer that. In my web search, I ran across another prune pie recipe from Kim Potier. Ms. Potier is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Peninsula Belgian American Club, and I managed to track her down via e-mail. Kim has been an invaluable resource to me, as I am someone who has never even seen a Belgian pie, let alone made one. Kim shared a couple of recipes for the rice filling from a Belgian cookbook that her club sells, called Belgian American Heritage Customs and Cookbook by Margaret Draize. She also explained that the pies are made in something more like a cake pan than a pie pan which was a very helpful tip. But there were more complications. One of the rice filling recipes was metric, which hurt my pretty little American head. Plus, it had ambiguous instructions such as "do not cook until too thick." Well, if you've never made it before, how do you know how thick "too thick" is? Furthermore, the recipe didn't say how many pies the filling was for. So I went with the other recipe she sent that was titled "Rice Pie Filling for Three Belgian Pies." That was comfortingly specific, so that was the one for me! And whatever else comes of this experiment, I won't ever make rice pudding any other way. Delicious! But my Belgian pie troubles were far from over (that sounds delightfully ominous, like a Lemony Snicket book, doesn't it?)...

For the crust, I wanted to make the sweet dough from the recipe in Le Draoulec's book (credited to Emily Guilette, aged 91 at the time of the book's publication in 2002) because it was made with, of all things, mashed potatoes! But the recipe was only for one pie, and the rice filling recipe was for three pies. I had read that Belgian pies were very small, so I decided to go ahead and make three of them. But tripling the dough recipe wasn't my only concern. The instructions say to let the dough rise until doubled, but there is no yeast in the recipe (one must assume that it was inadvertently left out of this publication). So how much to use? I found one recipe that called for three cups of flour and one ounce of fresh cake yeast, and another that called for six to seven cups of flour and two ounces of fresh yeast. So since the recipe I was using would be four and a half cups if tripled, I decided to go with the two ounces of fresh yeast, converted to 2/3 of an ounce of instant yeast that I believed would be more than enough. However, as it took nearly three hours for my dough to double, it might have needed more yeast overall. And Ms. Guilette's said that the amount of flour needed would vary, so I ended up using six cups of flour total before I panicked and stopped adding more. Still, the dough was extremely soft and sticky.

Then there was the cheese topping issue. The recipe in American Pie called for a 24-ounce tub of cottage cheese for one pie, so I bought 72 ounces for three pies. The problem was that my food processor wouldn't hold all of that, so I thought I would make it in two batches. But once I finished processing half of the topping, it looked like it was more than enough for all three of the pies, so I decided to leave well enough alone. And as it turns out, I had way more of the cheese topping that I needed for all three pies. I couldn't bring myself to throw it away, so I dug out my mini tart molds, pressed a quick graham cracker crust into each, and filled them with the leftover cheese mixture. Presto! Five little cottage cheesecakes! After all, the filling was just the blended cheese, egg yolks, and sugar...sounds like cheesecake to me! All I added was a little vanilla. (Yes, I am very pleased with myself. Could you tell?)

You might think that all of this confusion and guesswork and recipe amalgamation and fuzzy math would be a recipe for disaster, but I think the pies turned out WONDERFUL! However, they are NOT small, so I think I will have to eat one, give one away, and freeze one. I am going to share the final version of the recipe(s) that I used if you want to try your hand at Belgian pie, too. And if anyone out there has actually had Belgian rice pie, please let me know if this even comes close to looking authentic. I would appreciate the feedback. Thanks!

FOLLOW-UP: I have received much feedback letting me know that, while my pies looked tasty, they are far from correct. Apparently, Belgian pie crusts are much thinner, sort of like thick pizza dough. So perhaps the amount of dough I thought was just for one pie should have made two or three! Also, I now understand that the cheese topping usually only goes on fruit pies, not on rice pies. So I guess I'm going to have to try again in the future. In fact, I am very grateful to a very nice man of Belgian descent from Door County, Wisconsin who emailed me and gave me his family recipe for Belgian pies, so I'm going to have to give that a try! Anyway, as this has become one of my most popular pages for visitors to my site, I don't want anyone to be led astray by my strange initial Belgian pie experimentations! When I finally get it right, I will let you know...

(Frankenstein) Belgian Rice Pie

Potato Crust:

1 egg plus one yolk
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1/4 can (??) condensed (see what I mean?? I used sweetened condensed) milk
1 1/2 cups flour (or more...I used two cups)
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (or a little less of instant...maybe one envelope=2 1/4 teaspoons)

Mix crust ingredients together until well-blended (I did this in my stand mixer). Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down then press dough into a greased, nine-inch cake pan (spritzing your fingers with pan spray helps!). Dock the dough with the tines of a fork. Cover with the rice filling (recipe follows) and a smaller circle of the cottage cheese topping (recipe also follows), about one cup (topping should be 1/4-1/2-inch thick). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (until the edges start to brown). Serve warm or cold.

Rice Filling:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons rice (or 5/8 cup plus 2 teaspoons--sorry, I am trying to convert the recipe to make enough filling for just one pie...and how else are you going to get 1/3 of 2/3 cups of rice? If I were you, I'd just make the rice filling for three pies and save most of it to eat as a scrumptious rice pudding!)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/3 cups milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
pinch salt
1/3 cup sugar (next time, I might reduce this to 1/4 cup...the pudding was awfully sweet)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring rice and water to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Add the milk and heavy cream. Cook until rice swells and milk/cream mixture is greatly reduced and the mixture has thickened considerably (looks almost like rice pudding--perhaps 30-45 minutes of simmering and stirring occasionally). Add the salt, sugar, and egg. Cook about three minutes more until custard sets up (really looks like rice pudding, because, well, that's what it is). Remove from heat and add the vanilla (or preferably, the scrapings from a vanilla bean or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste).

Cottage Cheese Topping:
8 ounces small-curd cottage cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter, melted

Combine ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until as smooth as you can get it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

They STILL wanted more pie!

I must apologize for my lengthy absence from posting. I had one week's turnaround time from my last appearance at the farmers' market until the one yesterday, and I had to set a very strict schedule to get through the week and be ready for Saturday. And let me tell you, I was BUSY! Of course, I made a dozen pound cakes (both vanilla and chocolate), and I made eight pies. And can you believe that all of the pies were gone in the first hour of the market's opening? I spent the rest of the day apologizing for the lack of pie. It is clear that they would buy as many pies as I could crank out, and yet, I am only one woman with one temperamental stove! ;-) This week's varieties included classic sour cherry, jumbleberry peach, blueberry crumble, peaches and cream, and my very first special order pie, a double-crust strawberry-rhubarb. Since my rhubarb was all but kaput, I had to pilfer some from my neighbor's yard. But the resulting pie turned out so perfect that I was compelled to photograph it for your viewing pleasure.

But the main activity of the week was JAM! In addition to the strawberry-rhubarb that I still had plenty of, I made more of the blueberry-lime, and we even went blackberry picking to make some wild blackberry jam. (I was worried that we were missing the season, but it's barely begun. The branches are heavy with fruit, but the berries are mostly still red and unripe. I will report back on their progress in a few weeks.) But the jam I was most pleased with was a GORGEOUS Summertime White Peach and Nectarine concoction that turned out so pinkish-orangey stained glass. Behold it...

I also decided to add a few more spicy/savory sauces to my repertoire, including the beloved Blueberry Habanero Chutney that I believe I improved upon a bit with the additions of garlic and some fresh lime juice. Then I also thought that the same recipe might yield a delicious peach spinoff. So I made a single batch of that. I think it turned out well enough, but I am going to keep tinkering with it. I think I might want to try it with some fresh ginger next time--Peach Habanero Ginger Chutney, yum! And I still need to make some of my favorite carrot-cayenne sauce, and after yesterday, I am completely out of pepper jelly. I am actually going to have to break down and BUY peppers to make more, since mine aren't ready yet. But the people at the farmers' market can't seem to get enough of those spicy condiments.

And on top of all of these market offerings, I did a quick pass through the garden and grabbed a couple of bunches of beautiful rainbow chard, three types of basil (purple opal, Italian large leaf and lemon), and also a sampling of those odd, mystery squashes that came up as volunteers this year. I sold the chard and most of the basil, but the people at the market obviously found the unusual appearance of the squashes a bit off-putting, so I ended up giving them away (free squash with purchase! ha ha). Oh well...I think they're pretty, and tasty!

But all-in-all, it was another excellent day at the farmers' market. The weather was glorious, I sold most of what I took to sell, and I even ended making a little more than I did last week. Oh, and of course, I got myself some lovely fresh veggies to boot, including delicate, red-leafed acorn lettuce, some truly stunning purple wax beans, and freshly-dug potatoes--yum!

Unfortunately, I'm not sure when I'll be back at the market, as I only substitute when a regular vendor is absent. Then again, it might be nice to have my life back and to be able to make something just for fun and to post recipes again!

Ok, maybe just one recipe, for old time's sake. This is one of the easiest pies that you can make and a summer favorite around here when the peaches are at their peak. I made two of these pies with the Summertime Whites that were on sale at my local megamart this past week. Try it's like one of those "impossible" or "magic" recipes, and this one never fails to enchant!

Peaches and Cream Pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
2 cups sliced fresh or frozen (defrosted) peaches
1 cup whipping (or heavy) cream

Mix sugar and flour together and sprinkle 1/3 of mixture into pie shell. Add peaches and sprinkle with the remaining sugar-flour mixture. Pour cream over top. Move peaches around a bit with a fork so that the cream completely covers the peaches.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot or cool on a rack (cold out of the fridge is great, too!). Yield 6 to 8 servings.