Sunday, June 24, 2007

Vive le Québec!

Cyd and I have been working so hard lately, and though there is always lots of gardening and baking to be done, we decided to take the day off and amble across the border into Québec in honor of St. Jean de Baptiste Day. Now I won't pretend to understand the intricacies of Canadian history, but I do know this: around here, Québec's St. Jean de Baptiste Day (June 24, aka the Fête Nationale du Québec ) is a much bigger deal than Canada Day on July 1st (Canada's Independence Day). It reminds me a little of living in Utah, where Pioneer Day on July 24th was celebrated more than the Fourth of July, though they are celebrated in the same month (and in very similar ways). In Québec, besides everyone flying their blue and white fleur-de-lis flags everywhere (from little flags stuck all over their lawns to those flapping from their car antennae), Jean de Baptiste Day is also a night for the traditional lighting of fires, which usually means fireworks, such as those that sparkle over the river in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu on the 23rd and 24th.

As for us, we decided to cross at a different border than we usually do (Lacolle instead of Hemmingford) and take rural routes north into Montreal to see some different scenery on a glorious summer day, and to check out how some of the small towns were celebrating Quebec's most important holiday. Along the way, we made a short detour to Saint-Valentin (where I am told that thousands of people send their letters and cards in February to get that very romantic postmark!) to one of our favorite berry farmers, and the sign said it all: Les Fraises Sont Arrivées! (The strawberries have arrived!) Of course, I quickly acquired a whole flat of the luscious, ruby red, gloriously sweet little gems which will be made into jam within a day or two.

Once we had had our fill of the rural hinterlands, we made our way into Montreal proper and up to the wonderful Jean-Talon Market which was in full swing! The fraises had also arrived there, of course, and people were flying out of the market, clutching their flats and half-flats of the deliciously aromatic strawberries that perfumed the air everywhere we went. After a zesty Romanian hamburger with fresh sauerkraut and homemade whole-grained mustard and then some gelato at Havre aux Glaces (Cyd got dark chocolate and I had Caramel Maple Brulee), we serpentined our way through the market, acquiring two kinds of strudel at the Polish bakery (poppy seed and almond), as well as a lot of delicious produce, including deep burgundy-colored Lolla Rossa lettuce, brussel sprouts, pencil-thin asparagus, shallots, and some fabulous apricots from the next province over in Ontario. We also spotted these garlic scapes. They are the sprouted tops of hard neck garlic that are cut off prior to harvest to redirect the plant's energy down to the bulb below. But the scapes are deliciously garlicky themselves, and have a delightfully pungent kick. Many people just sautee them and eat them as a simple side dish or snip them and use them like scallions or chives, but some of the vendors at my local farmers' market were telling me that they make a fabulous pesto. Some I came right home and produced my own delicious version of garlic scape pesto that I will be serving over the beautiful house-made pasta that we picked up at the Capitol Italian Market that is adjacent to Jean-Talon, and where the world's best cappucino can be had as a bonus while you shop. In any case, I highly recommend that you try making this pesto or using garlic scapes in any number of delicious ways, but hurry--scapes have a very fleeting season! They won't be in the farmers' markets more than a week or two. And while you're at the market, you absolutely must grab yourself a few pints of beautiful, juicy strawberries. They are truly remarkable this year!

Garlic Scape Pesto

3 cups garlic scapes, cut into pieces
1 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan
3/4-1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1/3-1/2 cup water

Add the pieces of garlic scapes, olive oil and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the scapes are broken down. Add the toasted walnuts and process until fairly smooth. Add the parmesan and seasonings and process again to as smooth as you can get it. At this point, mine was still not smooth and was still too thick, so I added some water, a tablespoon at a time, until I got it to the right consistency (it took about six tablespoons total this time). I served it over pasta, and it was delectable!

*Tip: This recipe makes a huge batch, so you might want to halve it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Unpaid Product Placement

Whew! Another extremely exhausting week at the farmers' market is behind me, praise the Good Lord! My roommate started a new job this week (another "amen" there!), and she wasn't able to help me as much as she usually does, so I had to do double (or triple!) duty. I am wiped, but I am pleased to say that this was my best week so far this season! I came home with only one poppy seed cake and the special red velvet cakes that, apparently, no one in the North Country understands or desires (too bad for them, as the cakes were scrumptiously tangy and came with a sidecar of luscious cream cheese frosting...yum!).

I am WAY too tapped to post the new recipes today (I'll get to it, I promise!), but in the meantime, I would like to offer two product recommendations--something I rarely do on this blog--but they are well worth it. First of all, I proclaim the (soft) drink of the summer to be...drumroll, please...SIERRA MIST LEMON SQUEEZE!

It's so refreshing and delicious, particularly if you add a squeeze of fresh lime to it! I just wish it came in diet, too. (Maybe it does, but I haven't found it in my stores yet.) Anyway, if you want to try it, better get on it, because this flavor is seasonal and will only be available until September.

Secondly, I have to pass on a tip that I overheard at the grocery store. I was wandering down the cleaning products aisle, and I overheard this lady telling her friend that a certain product was the most amazing thing ever for cleaning pots and pans with baked-on residue. As a person who WEEKLY tries to destroy her pans (not to mention her oven!) with many baking projects, I had to see what they were talking about. The tidbit that I overheard that really got me was when the woman said, "Well, I do a lot of baking, and this is the only thing that I have ever found that really got my pans clean." Sign me up! She was talking about Dawn Power Dissolver. It comes in a dark blue bottle, it costs about two bucks, it smells like hell and is probably filled with many environmentally unfriendly chemicals, but it WORKS like a charm! And mind you, I bake fruit pies every week that despite all precautions, always seem to explode all over everything, and you practically have to take a jackhammer to the scorched residue. But with this stuff, you spray it on, let it sit for awhile, and when you come back later, the goo just melts off. Amazing! I have also used it on the stovetop around the burners that get pretty crusty. And I have heard that it does a great job at getting tomato residue off of plastic storage containers, but I haven't tried that yet. In any case, it's great stuff, and a real help for home cooks that have to do their own dishes, and a lot of 'em!

I can't end this post without one semi-recipe, something easy and seasonal, I think. Cyd acquired a ginormous bouquet of fresh dill at the farmers' market last week, and we have been trying to think of different ways to use it. Cyd prides herself on her compound butters, and they are a delicious way to preserve fresh herbs that are bountiful at this time of year. All you have to do is soften some butter and mix in whatever tickles your fancy. One of our favorite combinations includes dill and chives or scallions, minced garlic, and lemon zest. You can store it in a plastic container in the fridge, or you can shape it into a log, wrap it in parchment or plastic wrap and freeze it nearly indefinitely. We made a simple but simply fabulous appetizer with whole-grain toast points spread with the compound butter and topped with some cracked pepper smoked salmon. DELISH! It's also yummy on fish or chicken, or on veggies like asparagus. Just grill up nearly anything you encounter in your fridge or freezer, slather it with some of the compound butter, and you have an easy summer supper.

So consider those your seasonal tips of the day, brought to you by Sierra Mist, Dawn, and the butter producers and herb farmers of America. :-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Raspberries + Peaches = Summertime Bliss!

It's that time again...that time where I get the strange but incessant craving to stand over my jam pot in the heat of summer and turn out endless little jewel-toned jars of fruity sweetness. This latest jam session was triggered when I ran out of my peach ginger habanero chutney last week at the market, so I had to start with a batch of that. But I was really inspired by a gal called Miriam who lives in my old stomping grounds of Salt Lake City. I was first directed to her blog from the Bakerina's website. Apparently, they are knitting colleagues. I don't know from knitting myself, but Miriam's blog also dabbles in the culinary arts, and she is a passionate jam-maker in particular. Her signature jam is purple raspberry and peach which her loved ones refer to as "liquid crack" (tee hee), and she even won a blue ribbon at the Salt Lake County fair with it last year! Not that I am surprised. Is there anything more blissful than the summertime union of raspberries and peaches? NO, I say!

As you may already know, I make a fine berry and peach pie, and a few years ago, I remember making a decent raspberry-apricot jam. But this combination may be my favorite yet, edging out even my beloved blueberry-lime. Now I would be happy to share the recipe, but really, all you need to do is to follow the instructions for raspberry jam on whatever brand/type of pectin that you choose to use, but swap out one cup of peeled and chopped peaches for one cup of the raspberries. Also, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice per batch because it seemed like the right thing to do. For five cups of fruit total (using Sure Jell powdered pectin), I ended up with eight half-pint jars. The jam is just delicious, the texture and color are so lovely, and all of the jars had set up perfectly by the following morning. Now we'll have to wait and see if my customers at the market find this jam as enchanting as I do (fingers crossed)!

However, it's important to admit to my readership that successes in the kitchen are often balanced by failures. After making my favorite Sara Foster crumb cake for the market last week, I got to thinking that I should try the much-heralded CI version. And on the strength of many great reviews from people I trust, I went ahead and made a double batch to share some with my trivia team. But it was just DISASTROUS! The cake itself was wonderful--very fluffy and tender--but the crumbly topping (which is the whole reason that one makes a CRUMB cake!) was tooth-shatteringly inedible. Here was the problem: I didn't have enough cake flour, so I used all-purpose for the topping. BAD MOVE! So I ended up cutting the top off of the cake and using the bottom for strawberry shortcake. That helped soothe the pain of loss somewhat.

But the failure of the crumb cake created another painful problem, that is, what to make for trivia night? And I only had an hour to throw something together! So I defrosted a pound cake, made some Bird's custard with a vanilla bean added for good measure, bought some more of the beautiful raspberries that were on sale at Price Chopper this week (Plattsburghers, take note--they are two packages for four bucks!), and grabbed a can of whipped cream. I threw all of these bits into a cooler with ice packs and headed into town for our weekly game. I told them that since our team name is the Deconstruction Crew, that it was a deconstructed raspberry trifle! (They bought it!) I assembled each plate at the table, starting with two slices of pound cake, topped with the vanilla custard, then a generous handful of raspberries, and a good squirt of whipped cream to finish it off. It looked beautiful (things with fresh berries as a topping always do), and everyone "oohed" and "ahhed," and some even had second helpings. So crisis adverted there. But when I got home and told the tale, Cyd got jealous, so I had to make her a peach melba version of the same with both raspberries and peaches. See how pretty? (Trust me, there's cake and custard under there somewhere!) So get out there and make some luscious raspberry-peach combinations of your own, why don't you?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A few new items for the market...

Well, I just finished my first full month at the farmers' market (though it feels like it's been longer!). I'm still doing well, but I think for my own sanity--not to mention for the pleasure of my regular customers--I need to mix things up a bit and make some new things to sell. In addition the stuff I usually do, I made two new cakes and two new pies last week. The two cakes were old stand-bys, New York Crumb Cake and Blueberry Buckle. The crumb cake recipe is Sara Foster's from the famous Foster's Market in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. It's one of my very favorites with a thin layer of tender cake topped with more crumb than cake, which is as it should be. The blueberry buckle is a traditional New England recipe made with two whole cups of berries in the batter and a crumbly topping that all bakes up into lovely, sandy-looking hills of cake--definitely a summer favorite, especially when our local wild blueberries are ripe for the picking. Here are those recipes:

New York Crumb Cake
(Source: Sara Foster via

2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for pan
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Place rack in center of oven, and preheat oven to 325°. Lightly brush a 9-by-12 1/2-inch baking pan with canola oil, dust with flour, and tap to remove excess. Set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, the granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a second bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, canola oil, and vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 2 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Pour melted butter over flour mixture, and toss with a rubber spatula until large crumbs form. Sprinkle crumbs over batter, and bake, rotating pan after 10 minutes. Continue baking until a cake tester comes out clean, about 10 minutes more.

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Using a serrated knife or bench scraper, cut into 3-inch squares, and serve. This cake can be stored, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 1 nine-by-twelve-and-a-half-inch cake (or two eight-by-eight cakes).

Blueberry Buckle
(Source: adapted from

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup soft shortening
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
at least 2 cups fresh blueberries, preferably wild

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine

Combine and blend the sugar and shortening until fluffy. Blend in the egg and vanilla. Add the milk, alternating with the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt). Carefully fold in the blueberries. Place the mixture in a sprayed cake pan, 8 inches square. Separately combine the topping ingredients (I did this in the food processor), and sprinkle them on top. Bake 45 - 50 minutes at 375°.

In addition to these cakes, I also made a couple of new pies for this week's market. One was a special order for a shoofly pie, which is an old Pennsylvania Dutch favorite made with molasses. I would describe it as sort of like a very dark pecan pie without the nuts. Unfortunately, the woman never showed up to pick it up--boo hiss! However, my neighbor Ken will enjoy it, as he loves Quebecois sugar pie, which is a close cousin to the shoofly pie.

And even though it's HORRIBLY un-seasonal, I decided to make a sweet potato pie. It turned out SO beautiful, perfectly level and just set, with a gorgeous orangey color and a divine aroma. To make it truly spectacular, I added a thick praline layer on top. I only made one of these pies to see if people would go for it, and my little protege, Anna, and her mom, Martie, very wisely snapped it right up! So now I'll have to wait for their review. But I am confident that it was as delicious as it was lovely. Here are those two recipes from my beloved pie mentor, Ken Haedrich, who has never once let me down.

Shoofly Pie
(Source: Pie, Ken Haedrich)

1 single-crust pastry
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
½ cup molasses
¾ cup boiling water
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine the flour, ½ cup brown sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a fine meal and forms small clumps when you pinch it together. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combining the remaining ½ cup of brown sugar and the molasses. Add the boiling water and stir to dissolve. Whisk in the baking soda, vanilla, and egg. For a “wet-bottom” shoofly pie, pour the molasses mixture into the prepare pie shell and top with all of the crumbs without tamping down. For a “dry-bottom” shoofly pie, spread half of the crumbs in the bottom of the crust, pour the molasses mixture over that, and then top with the remaining crumbs.

Bake for ten minutes at 425 degrees then reduce the oven to 350, rotate the pie, and bake for an additional 25 minutes or until the filling is set and wobbles together as a whole (the center should not be soupy). Let cool thoroughly on a wire rack before serving.

Sweet Potato Pie with Praline Topping
(Source: adapted from Pie, Ken Haedrich)

single-crust pastry, partially baked
2 large sweet potatoes, baked
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
scant ½ teaspoon salt

Pierce the sweet potatoes deeply several times and bake for about at hour at 400 degrees (you could boil, steam or microwave them, but baking concentrates the flavor and sweetness). Let cool enough to handle then peel. Puree the flesh of the sweet potatoes until smooth. Measure out 1 ½ cups into bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugars, eggs and yolk, then the cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and spices and blend until very smooth. Pour mixture into cooled pie shell and bake for 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees, rotating once after about 30 minutes, until filling is just set and the edge has risen slightly. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or refrigerate and serve chilled.

Or better yet, add this praline topping.
1 ¼ cups chopped pecans
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients and place on top of cooled pie and place under broiler for less than a minute until topping is melted and bubbly. (I recommend using foil or a pie shield to keep the crust from scorching.) Let pie cool completely again and/or refrigerate.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Best BBQ Side Dishes in a Supporting Role

It's not exactly barbecue weather here this week. (Oh, how I wish I had managed to get my garden in before all this rain came! Oh well...) Nonetheless, I have a couple of items for you take to your next potluck gathering that are sure to be hits.

The first is a recipe for baked beans that I have made for years and years, but always play kind of fast and loose with. In fact, it's a perfect dish for cleaning out your pantry and fridge. And it's so hearty, it's almost a meal in itself (indeed...I had them for my lunch today). I first had beans like this at a divisional gathering in my first teaching position. Toward the end of my time at that school, I had a dreadful boss (division coordinator), but she could make some mean beans! And I currently have an English teacher colleague here at school that makes a similar dish that's just excellent. Here's my version, but again, feel free to swap out ingredients based on what you have on hand and what your mood is on any given day.

Meaty Barbecue Beans

1/2 pound ground beef
2 links Italian sausage (mild or hot*)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (a few cloves)
five cans of beans, one should be Bush's Baked Beans, but then add any combination of light red or dark red kidneys, pintos, black beans, cannelini (white kidney) beans, Great Northern beans, and my very favorite, butter (or large lima) beans--drained
a bottle of chili sauce (I only had half a bottle on hand, so this time, I added some leftover BBQ sauce from PJ's in Saratoga*, or you could also swap out ketchup in a pinch)
1/4 cup maple syrup (or 1/4 cup brown sugar, or 1/8 cup of each)
1/4 cup mustard (yellow or Dijon or spicy brown or what have you)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon chili powder (preferably, dark)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (preferably, smoked)
salt and pepper to taste
half pound of bacon

*I used hot sausage this time, but if I had used mild, I would have added a pinch of red pepper flakes, or better yet, a minced chipotle.
**Had I not used a smoky BBQ sauce and smoked paprika, I might have added just a few drops of liquid smoke as I am wont to do. It gives it a little somethin-somethin!

In a large skillet, brown the hamburger and sausage with the chopped onion and garlic. Drain. Toss this mixture into your crockpot, and add all of the remaining ingredients except the bacon. Stir everything together and fire up the crockpot.

In the meantime, fry the bacon in the skillet until browned to the level that pleases you. Drain on paper towels and then cut into half-inch pieces. Toss them in with the beans and cook everything on high for an hour or two, or on low for several hours or until the barbecue is in full swing!

Yield: a crockpot-full of beany goodness

Alternately, if you want to be fancy about it and/or make this dish in the oven, pour the beans (sans bacon) into a 9 x 13 casserole, top with the bacon slices (cut them in half for ease of eating later), and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees or until the bacon is properly browned on top. (I have been known to parcook the bacon a bit beforehand to speed up the process when I'm in a rush.)

Ok, so you've got some sort of carcass burning on the grill, you'll have corn on the cob, of course, and the meaty beans. And you'll probably have the good sense to assemble a green salad as well. Now all you need is a dessert that's easy to throw together, looks nice, feeds a lot of folks, and transports well. I have just the thing...or rather, Anna does. Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Bars....YUM, YUM! These bars came together pretty easily, baked up beautifully, cut perfectly, and were easy to pack up and carry to trivia tonight. I think they would be a marvelous addition to your next to-do.

Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Bars
(Source: adapted from

8 oz (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (if you are using unsalted butter, increase this to 1/2 teaspoon)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans, divided (you may use walnuts if you must)
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam (I used non-seedless purple raspberry jam from the world's best jam-maker up the road, and I needed more than 1/3 cup...maybe 1/2?)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan (baking spray with flour added works great--they will come right out of the pan for easy cutting after they've cooled).

Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add flour and salt and stir until crumbly. (Note: I used a stand mixer, and it did not turn out crumbly, but formed a soft dough instead). With floured fingers, press 1 3/4 cups crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared baking pan; reserve remaining crumb mixture. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown (mine took 14 minutes).

After the crust is cooked, combine 1 cup chocolate morsels and sweetened condensed milk in small, heavy-duty saucepan. Warm over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla; quickly spread over hot crust.

Stir 1/2 cup of pecans into reserved crumb mixture; sprinkle over chocolate filling (again, my soft dough did not "sprinkle"--I just pinched off small pieces of the dough and dropped them on top of the chocolate layer, and they spread during baking). Drop (half!) teaspoonfuls of the raspberry jam over crumb mixture. Sprinkle with remaining morsels and the other 1/2 cup of pecans.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set (it will probably even puff up to let you know). Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars (I opted for 32). Then I refrigerated them until party time which may have been unnecessary, but I wanted them to hold their shape and remain sturdy for transport.