Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gotta go back, back, back to school again...

"'s bye-bye fun, get your homework done, you better be in by ten!" (Name that tune, my children of the 80's and lovers of cheesy musicals everywhere!)

Fall semester has officially begun. And it's already flying by, as we are almost at the end of week one. Whew! I am wiped. I haven't yet adjusted my sleep schedule back to regular working hours--not to mention, watching those convention speeches until almost midnight! Plus I have my annual ragweed issues to deal with (I don't seem to sleep well when I can't breathe--funny how that works!). Worst of all, there's precious little time for cooking and blogging! BOO!

But before I linked myself back up to the chain gang, I made a fun treat while I still had some leisure time on my hands: homemade doughnuts! I was compelled to do so by Alexis Stewart who was, in turn, inspired by Nancy Silverton (she of La Brea Bakery fame). Silverton's recipe is kind of a midway point between cake and yeast doughnuts. They are really quite easy make (no rising time, and no rolling out--just a quick pat and punch-out job). You could definitely whip a batch of these together in no time for a weekend breakfast or brunch, or anytime for dessert. Though I coated these in powdered sugar according to the recipe, I think I'd like to try them with a glaze next time, just for shiggles.

Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts
(Source: Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery via
Serious Eats)
makes 15 doughnuts and holes

Special Items:
2 1/2-inch dough cutter or a 2 1/2-inch round cutter plus a 1/2-inch round cutter to make the holes
Deep heavy-duty saucepan, filled halfway with vegetable oil

1/4 crème fraîche or sour cream
3 1/4 cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg (I used 1/2 tsp. nutmeg + 1 tsp. cinnamon)
1 teaspoon (0.3 ounce) packed fresh yeast or 1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 extra-large egg
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For decorating: 1/2 cup nonmelting icing sugar or powdered sugar

1. In a small stainless-steel bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, heat the crème fraîche until just warm.
2. Heat the oil to 375°F over medium-high heat.
3. Over a large mixing bowl, sift to combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg; make a large well in the center. Place the yeast in the well; pour the crème fraîche over it. Allow it to soften, about 1 minute.
4. Pour the buttermilk, whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla extract into the well; whisk together the liquid ingredients. Using one hand, gradually draw in the dry ingredients. The mixture should be fairly smooth before you draw in more flour. Mix until it is completely incorporated and forms a very sticky dough. Wash and dry your hands and dust them with flour.
5. Sift an even layer of flour onto a work surface. Scrape dough out of bowl onto the surface; sift another layer of flour over dough. Working quickly, pat dough into an even 1/2-inch thickness. Dip cutter in flour and, cutting as closely together as possible, cut out the doughnuts and holes. Place holes and doughnuts on a floured surface. Working quickly, gather scraps of dough together, pat into 1/2-inch thickness, and cut out remaining doughnuts and holes.
6. One at a time, drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, leaving enough space between them so they're not crowded. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked. Remove and drain on paper towels. Always check the temperature between batches and allow the oil to come back up to 375°F before frying the next round of doughnuts.
7. Sift a layer of nonmelting icing sugar or powdered sugar over doughnuts and holes.

The day before we teachers had to report back to work for our opening day meeting, my wonderful friend, June, invited us around for a nosh and some sangria while we tried to answer the prevailing question, "How will we get through another year?!" The party even had a theme--to identify your animal avatar which would inspire you and whose traits you would embody over the next school year. June decided that she would be the cuttlefish, a cephalopod like a squid or octopus who is a master of camouflage--far more able to be present but unseen than even the chameleon. Plus, if they don't fancy you, they'll squirt you in the eye with their sepia ink! Tee hee.

Because my avatar (on this blog and both my MySpace and Facebook pages) actually is my dog, Grady, and because we are still riding high on the glory of his recent dog show victory, I naturally chose the PBGV as my animal guide. I may be shaggy in appearance, a little mouthy, and stubborn as all get out, but I am happy and extroverted by nature, loyal to a fault, and never take myself too seriously, always maintaining my sense of humor. The dish that I brought to share also honored the western coastal region of France from which these rugged little hounds originate, the Vendee. I did a lot of reading about the food there, and I learned that their signature dish is mogette, or white beans. And of course, being so near the ocean, fresh seafood and shellfish are plentiful. (They also have a signature brioche that they are known for, but that didn't feel right for this summer cocktail party; I'll have to make that another time.) Instead, I made a lovely white bean and shrimp salad with a fresh tarragon, basil and Dijon vinaigrette. Not only did the salad honor the Vendee region, it showcased some of the fresh herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes that are just perfect right now and are simply made for each other like Liz and Dick. It was easy to put together, beautiful to look at, and altogether delicious. This may become a summer staple dish for me!

Shrimp and White Bean Salad with Herb and Dijon Vinaigrette
(Source: adapted from
Fine Cooking)

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, shredded
1 teaspoon minced garlic (or more!)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 15- or 16-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium ripe tomato, cut into medium dice (about 1 cup)
1 (or more) large shallot(s), sliced thinly into rings (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup (or so) sliced olives (I used burgundy olives)
12 jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 count), peeled and deveined (you may wish to cut these in two as I did, and I also substituted pre-cooked shrimp)
1 medium head red-leaf lettuce (or a lettuce mix), washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)

In a medium bowl, mix the sherry vinegar with the mustard, tarragon, basil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in four tablespoons of the oil.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomato, shallot, and olives. Add three tablespoons of the vinaigrette and stir gently to combine.

If using raw shrimp, toss them with the remaining one tablespoon oil and season with salt and a few grinds pepper. Heat a grill pan over high heat and then cook the shrimp until opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (I tossed my pre-cooked shrimp in with the rest of the salad ingredients.)

Toss the lettuce with half of the remaining vinaigrette (add more to taste). For individual servings, portion the lettuce among the serving plates. Spoon the beans on top of the greens and top each salad with two or three shrimp, depending on how many servings you’re making. To serve buffet style, arrange a layer of lettuce, the beans, and then the shrimp.

Finally, though I have no picture to post, I would be remiss if I didn't share with you the magical chocolate chip meringue bars that June made for her party. She suspected, correctly as it turns out, that I might go a different way and bring something savory to the gathering. So she made a pan of sweet treats that came from an old Junior League cookbook, as many most excellent recipes do. Mind you, I'm not even the kind of person that enjoys meringue-y things as a general rule. But these bars--OH!--they were heavenly! There is a traditional chocolate chip cookie layer on the bottom, then it's topped with this crusty but ethereal brown sugar meringue and sprinkled with nuts. It's hard to describe, but it's a bit like biting into a chocolate chip cookie cloud! It's tender and fluffy and crispy YUMMY! This recipe really takes the chocolate chip cookie experience to a whole new level. And these bars would be ideal in those back-to-school lunch boxes that you'll soon be packing for your own little scholars. Have a great school year, everybody! And we're off!

June's Chocolate Chip Meringue Bars
(Source: adapted from Junior League of Baton Rouge's River Road Recipes, 1959)

1 cup shortening (June uses butter, and so shall I!)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon soda
1-2 cups chocolate chips (June uses two cups because that's just how she rolls!)

Cream shortening or butter and the sugars. Add beaten yolks, flour, soda and salt. Spread in a large pan (I think June used a 12 x 17 jelly roll pan) and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Beat egg whites until quite stiff, then add the brown sugar. Spread over chocolate chip mixture. Sprinkle nuts over the top. Bake @ 350 for 25 minutes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dog Show News and Other Fruity Tales from New England

Primarily, this is a food blog, and I usually keep to my proper format. But perhaps you will indulge me this once with a wee brag about my handsome little PBGV buddy, Grady. By way of a preface, I should tell you that I got my first would-be show dog, Prunelle, SEVEN years ago, but she didn't really turn out to be the finest example of the breed. So after a lot of disappointment in the ring, some PBGV breeder friends of mine entrusted me with Grady, AKA Goose Creek Wonder Boy (get the reference?). He is a very nice dog, but as a novice owner-handler competing in the same ring with professionals who have grown up in the dog show world and/or make their living at handling and grooming....well, it's still tough going trying to finish my dog's championship by myself. Add to this my paltry teacher's salary that only allows me to travel to shows three or four times a year, and it will come as no surprise that Grady is four and has been sitting on ten (out of the required 15) points for quite some time. I even got desperate and hired a professional handler (a PBGV breeder) to show him for me last month in West Springfield, MA, hoping to earn what is known as a major--a win of three, four or five points (meaning you have to beat a number of dogs all at once, not just one dog per show for 15 shows--got it?). But still, no luck. Flash forward to this past weekend in Fitchburg, MA. (Fair warning: settle in for a Harry Potter or Twilight Saga-length story! Despite the fact that I am a public speaking teacher, I know nothing about brevity.)

I should begin by telling you that I very nearly did not make it to Fitchburg last Saturday. There was only one other class male (that is, non-champion) entered, and I was worried that I would travel all that way (five hours), and the other male might be absent, meaning no points to be won unless, by some very slim chance, he beat all of the females. And what were the odds that Grady was going to beat all five lovely ladies all by his lonesome own-some? I also almost turned around and headed back when I realized--in Swanton, Vermont when I stopped at Mickey D’s for a bite of breakfast--that I had left my bank card at home, and I had only $15 cash on me. Happily, I discovered a credit card in my bag, and I hoped that that would carry me through the weekend, so I trudged onward. Since I had to leave home at 7am to make it to the show in time, the sleeplessness plus seasonal allergies made me groggy and bleary-eyed. It was a LONG trip, to say the least! Then Mapquest took me on a weird route through New Hampshire and down into the top of Massachusetts via Route 12, and I somehow missed my final turnoff and got horribly lost. I was verging on hysteria when I finally made it to the show site, right at our posted ring time! I didn’t even have time to groom Grady—just ran a brush through him quickly and hurried inside. Happily, Ring Three was WAY behind, and they still had wire weenies, little beagles, and smooth weenies to go. So I tried to remember how to breathe again and calm myself after my panic that I was going to miss the show. Once I settled down and could focus on my surroundings, I was delighted to see some familiar faces near the ring, both human and canine, so that was nice and helped put me in a better frame of mind.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting to do much, if anything, in the competition that day. In fact, my goal for the whole weekend was maybe to go WD (Winners Dog, meaning the best of the non-champion boys) one of the two days and get a single point by defeating the other class male. So imagine my surprise when the judge looked hard at both dogs, gave each one last feel down their backs, and then quietly said that the dog (that was my Grady) would be Winners, and the puppy, Reserve (which is like runner-up)! I was THRILLED! In fact, I was so excited, that I nearly left the area, until my friends reminded me that I had to go back in for Best of Breed! Of course, in the BOB round, the number two (who won our most recent national specialty) and number six PBGV's in the country, respectively, were strutting their stuff and battling it out for breed domination. So the lady who was handling the Winners Bitch (best of the non-champion females) and I were chatting over in the corner, and I was playing with Grady, just trying to make it fun for him, since I thought his work was done. Then finally, we’re all lined up, and the judge seems to really be struggling with her decision for BOB, as well she should with those two fabulous males! And she was looking and looking at the Winners Bitch, and all the time, I’m secretly thinking, “I’m tired, lady. We know the bitch is going to be Best of Winners--meaning the best of the non-champion dogs, both male and female--so just choose one of the specials (champions) and let me go to my hotel and take a shower already!"

After what seemed like an eternity, she awarded CeeJay (the #2 PBGV in the land) BOB, and then I have to tell you that I almost FAINTED when she pointed to Grady as BOW and the bitch as BOS (Best of Opposite Sex). I began weeping ridiculously—the poor judge must have thought I was insane as she handed me my ribbon! I stumbled out of the ring, blind again--this time with tears--to receive lovely congratulations from my friends. Once again, to explain, when Grady beat one dog, that was only worth one point. But since the bitch won a four-point major by beating four other females, when the judge gave him BOW, he got the same points as the bitch (this is known as “crossing over”). So that was Grady’s second major—and you need two to finish a championship! YIPPEE! Despite my oafish handling and feeble grooming skills, Grady now has 14 out of 15 points with both majors! With my luck, it’ll take another year or two to get that last single. But we’ll get it eventually…I am nothing if not patient and persevering! ;-)

Here is a picture of my almost-champion! Even without proper grooming, he's pretty handsome, isn't he? :-D

And then here is a more casual shot of the little would-be champion following his glorious triumph. Doesn't he look pleased with himself? Not for his win, of course, but for what he's done to the bed! We had only been in the motel room for a few moments, when I turned around and found this (all hail the champion pillow-flipper, noting the haughty and defiant sideways glance):

Unfortunately, the show Sunday was a bust. We had to wait around all day until about 3:30 to show, then the puppy dog beat Grady (of course, he did---that would have been the one last point that we needed! ppppffftt). And on top of that, we still had a five-hour drive home! I took the same general route back, through northern Massachusetts, the southwestern corner of New Hampshire, and all the way up through Vermont. Despite my late departure, I was hoping to hit some cute little rural farmstands along the highways and byways of my journey. And indeed, I did! I managed to score some local peaches before I even left MA, and shortly thereafter, some Shiro (very sweet, yellow) plums and wild blueberries at one elderly couple's farmette in NH. Actually, the road that they lived on was THICK with wild blueberries on bushes that were taller than my head, and there were many folks that had pulled their cars over and were picking to their heart's content. But I hadn't the time, so I was happy to pay the sweet little grandma lady to pick a pint for me!

A little further along my way, I happened upon a terrific berry farm called Monadnock's near Troy, NH. Apparently, they were an Editor's Pick in 2007 for Yankee Magazine's Travel Guide to New England. I'm not surprised, as they grow all kinds of neat things there, including every kind of berry, plus black and red currants and gooseberries. I chose a pint each of raspberries and blackberries, two pints of the most GINORMOUS (cultivated) blueberries, and two more kinds of plums. I didn't remember to ask for the names of the varieties; they were both red-skinned, but one type was larger and looked like a sunset inside, and the other kind was small, but a lovely, deep wine color throughout. And of course, I believe I picked up some Vermont sweet corn before finally crossing back home into New York State. So my seasonal produce acquisitions helped take the sting out of our loss in the show ring that afternoon and made my long road trip seem shorter and much more enjoyable (well, with the help of the "Hairspray" soundtrack...tee hee).

After getting some much-needed sleep Sunday night, I undertook a couple of food-related projects earlier this week using a portion of my beautiful, newly-acquired fruit and even some of the bounty from my own garden than greeted me upon my return home (pictured above, left). First, I made the most faaaaaabulous spicy plum sauce using all three varieties of plums that I bought on my road trip and some of my own homegrown peppers. I only made half of the original recipe, which yielded four beautiful half-pint jars, to see if we liked it. We taste-tested it on pork chops that had been prepared with an Asian-style marinade. SO delicious! So now I think I need to score another couple of pounds of plums and make one more batch.

Spicy Three-Plum Sauce (adapted from the trusty Ball Blue Book)

2 pounds pitted and chopped plums, any kind or combination
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about one small)
1 medium jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (I used four small hot peppers, including cayenne, serrano, and Super Chili--a generous tablespoon when chopped--which made this quite spicy!)
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Bring all ingredients except plums to a boil in a non-aluminum pan. Stir in chopped plums. Reduce heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, stirring often (this took, I'd say, between 30-45 minutes, until it was reduced by more than half). Mash with a potato masher or blend if you want a smoother sauce (I used my stick blender).

To can: Fill hot, clean jars with hot sauce, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims, adjust lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes at 0-1000 ft., 25 minutes, 1001-6000 ft., or 30 minutes, above 6000 ft. Makes about 4 half-pints.

*This sauce is great for dipping, as a grilling sauce, or brushed on baked pork chops or chicken.

Lastly, I used the raspberries, blackberries, and some of the high-bush blueberries to make a yummy triple berry pie with a unique, vanilla-scented crust by special request for one of my most faithful farmer's market customers from last year. I adapted a recipe that I found online from my favorite new t.v. show last season, "Pushing Daisies." (Did you watch it? It's offbeat and visually amazing and wildly creative....and funny...and touching...and romantic. The main character is a pie-maker with a special, supernatural gift, beyond his touch with pastry. And it has a terrific supporting cast, including Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene of "Little Shop of Horrors" fame. Oh, just do yourself a favor, and head over to to watch all of the episodes from season one before the second season begins in October--I can't wait!). Anyway, I didn't use the cardamom, and I made a traditional two-crust pie instead of a lattice top, but it looked and smelled great when it was done. Sorry, I can't tell you how it tasted or even show you what it looked like when it was cut, as it was a special order, but I got good feedback from the recipient after the pie (and two pans of San Francisco Fudge Foggies!) were delivered. Here's the recipe that I used for the pie that I highly recommend to showcase your own luscious summer berries:

Chuck's Triple Berry Pie with Cardamom and Lattice Crust
(adapted from a recipe on

For crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (can substitute lard here)
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For filling:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (I used 2 T cornstarch plus 1 T tapioca flour)
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (I omitted this and added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (about 8 ounces)
1 cup fresh blackberries (about 5 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix 5 tablespoons ice water and vanilla in small bowl; add to processor and blend using on/off turns until mixture begins to form moist clumps, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into two balls. Flatten each into disk; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared two days ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Soften dough slightly at room temperature before rolling out.

To make the filling, whisk one cup sugar, cornstarch and cardamom in large bowl to blend well. Add all berries, jam and lemon peel and toss gently to coat with sugar mixture. Let stand until berries begin to juice, about 20 minutes.

Preheat to 375 degrees F. Roll out one pie crust disk on generously floured surface to 121/2-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter pie dish. Spoon filling into crust. Roll out second pie crust disk to 12 -inch round; cut into thiteen 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide strips. Arrange seven dough strips across filling, spacing evenly apart. Place 6 more more dough strips diagonally across first seven strips forming lattice. Trim strips even with overhang on bottom crust. Tuck ends of dough strips and overhang under; press to seal. Crimp edges decoratively, forming 1/2-to 3/4-inch high standing rim above sides of pie dish. Brush lattice strips (not crust edges) lightly with cream. Sprinkle strips with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. (I made a regular two-crust pie glazed with egg wash and omitted the extra sprinkling of sugar.)

Bake pie 30 minutes on a lined sheet pan on a lower rack in the oven, then cover crust edges with a foil collar to protect from overbrowning. Continue to bake pie until filling bubbles thickly in center and the crust is a deep, golden brown, about 50 minutes longer. Transfer pie to rack. Cool completely. (Can be prepared eight hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

To serve, cut pie into wedges. Serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Big "O"

So here's (one of ) the weird thing(s) about me. I HATE sports as a general rule, but I just LOVE the Olympics! So much so that four years ago, Cyd and I were camping on Cape Cod, and I actually drug us from our tent in Shawme-Crowell State Park into Sandwich, MA to find a sports bar just so that we could watch the women's gymnastic finals! Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead in a sports bar...unless the wings were truly exceptional. ;-)

So I have been glued to the t.v. lately, sometimes watching gymnastics until 2am! And last night, I made an international, polyglot dinner to celebrate all the nations of the world coming together to compete on the global stage! I didn't really mean to be all over the map with my dishes--it kinda just worked out that way. But everything was might tasty, so I wanted to share the recipes with you good people, in a spirit of peace and good sportsmanship. ;-)

Our pre-function came from sun-drenched Italy in the form of garden-fresh bruschetta--the first batch of the year! I never use a recipe for that. I just halve and de-goo some garden tomatoes (this time, I used the super-sweet orange Sungellas and the tangier red Subarctic Plenty), then chop them along with a little onion, several cloves of minced garlic, a glug of olive oil, a generous splash of good balsamic, a chiffonade of mixed basils, and salt and pepper to taste. Then I serve it on garlic toasts (crostini) or bagel crisps or even Triscuits in a pinch (the new Olive Oil and Black Pepper ones would be a fine choice). So delicious! We could easily eat this every night before dinner until the tomatoes are done.

Surprisingly, we had a second appetizer last night (or perhaps it was a side salad?), also to take advantage of the garden's bounty. You see, I grow the tomatoes and peppers, but my neighbor, Ken, grows the green beans and cucumbers for us to share. I don't really understand him, because he gets all excited in the spring to plow and plant, and he does most of the watering for both of us all summer long. But he hates to weed (don't we all?), and he never seems to harvest anything he grows! I went out there yesterday, and he had picked a dozen or maybe fifteen big cucumbers and just left them to rot on the ground! I "rescued" six or eight of them and brought them inside to decide what to do with them. They were oversized and, thus, very seedy. So I halved them, scooped out the seeds and cores, and then cut them very thinly on a mandoline-type slicer. Often times, I enjoy simply pickling cucumber slices in the fridge with white vinegar, a couple cloves of garlic, and maybe a sprig or two of dill if I have it. But yesterday, I remembered a student that I had in class years ago who did her informative speech on kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage), and she made a dynamite cucumber kimchee that she brough to share with everyone. I am not fond of many cabbage dishes, so I had never tried kimchee, though I do love almost anything pickled. It was SO GOOD! Fresh and spicy and fabulous! Who knew kimchee could be made from nearly any vegetable? From cabbage to cucumbers to turnip greens to name it! Kimchee just means "pickles" in Korean. And of course, every person has their own favorite recipe. Here's mine:

Fresh Cucumber Kimchee

6-8 large pickling cucumbers, peeled, cored, seeded, and sliced very thinly
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly julienned or shredded
4 green onions, thinly sliced or chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon red chile paste (start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

sesame seeds to garnish (black ones look so pretty and very Asian!)

Mix everything except the sesame seeds together. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to let the flavors meld* (tastes even better after a day or two). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve as a condiment or a summer salad side dish (ooh, that alliteration!). Cyd said it might be wrong, but she'd like it on a hot dog! Tee hee.

*Traditionally, kimchee is fermented. If you prefer, leave the kimchee out at room temperature until it smells as sour as you like it, then refrigerate.

If you think Korean pickled condiments are strange, wait until you get a load of what we had for our entree! Recently, I was searching online for for different kinds of dill pickle recipes, and I ran across the oddest thing--a Polish pot roast made in a pressure cooker with--wait for it--dill pickles! Well, I don't have pressure cooker, but I just had to try a recipe with dill pickles used in a savory way, and I figured that the roast might do just as well in the crock pot. Good heavens, let me tell you, the roast turned out INCREDIBLE! It was fall-apart moist, and oh-so-flavorful. And the juices from the meat, combined with beef broth, white wine, and a sour cream finish, made for the most luscious sauce in which to bathe a pile of golden egg noodles. Cyd said it was the best pot roast that she's ever had! Just for fun, I told her there was a mystery ingredient and made her try to guess it, but she couldn't. When I finally told her about the pickles, she marvelled that you couldn't really pick them out of the mix, but it all came together in a magical way. Gotta love those crazy Poles! I bless Mrs. Gee, whoever she is; this recipe is a definite keeper and destined to be classic in this household!

Mrs. Gee's Polish Pickle Pot Roast
(Source: adapted from
Recipe Jungle)

2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used olive oil)
1 beef arm roast or chuck roast, about 1 1/2 - 2 -inches thick (I used 4 lbs. of chuck)
*salt, pepper and granulated garlic
1 large onion, small dice
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
1 cup Rhine wine (I used Chardonnay because that's what I had open)
1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon coarse grind black pepper
*I also added one tablespoon paprika, because it seemed right and good.
2 large Polish dill pickles, coarsely chopped
1 large can sliced mushrooms (fresh mushrooms would be better)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream

Add the oil to large heated skillet. Season the roast liberally with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Brown the roast on all sides. Remove the meat to a platter and set aside. Add the onions and garlic (and fresh mushrooms, if using) to the pan and saute until they begin to take on a little brown color. Add the wine, broth, salt, pepper, paprika, pickles, and (canned) mushrooms to the pan with the onions and garlic and stir well to blend.

Add the meat to a slow cooker and cover with the sauce. Place the lid on the crock pot and cook on high for 3-4 hours (or on low all day) until almost falling apart. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and set aside. In the meantime, combine the flour and sour cream together in a small bowl. Stir some of the hot liquid from the crock pot into the sour cream mixture, then pour the mixture into the pot and stir to blend. Cook on high for awhile until sauce thickens. Add the meat back to the pot to rewarm (it's even better if you let it simmer in the sauce for another hour or so).

Serve over potato pancakes or mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

From Eastern Europe, we head back to Asia for dessert. Now pay careful attention, friends. If you glean nothing else from this post, take note of this! After making two appetizers, the pot roast and a side of egg noodles, I didn't have much patience left for a fussy dessert. My original plan was to make homemade ice cream, but the recipe I had in mind was awfully involved. However, when I was Googling it to print, I ran across a much simpler and equally as tantalizing David Lebovitz recipe for Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream. It has only three ingredients, but it is just AMAZING stuff! I cannot get over how good it is. It took all the restraint in the world to keep me from eating it all in one sitting! Cyd was not as delighted, I must admit, but then again, she doesn't like coffee-flavored desserts. It's odd, because she's a total Starbucks addict, and she could eat sweetened condensed milk with a spoon, but she doesn't like sweetened coffee. That's what Vietnamese coffee is--strong coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. So fine...that's just more for me! Make this TODAY, coffee lovers, and you will bless me (and David L.) for it! In fact, enjoy it while watching women's gymnastics tonight. GO TEAM USA!

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream
(adapted from
Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

1 can (1 1/8 cups) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dark roast ground coffee
1/2 cup half-and-half
pinch salt

Brew a very strong coffee with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of ground coffee.

Whisk together the condensed milk, brewed coffee, half-and-half, and salt. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge or, to speed things along, in an ice bath. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions, then transfer to another container to harden in the freezer for at least two hours before serving.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The cookie heard 'round the world!

As usual, I am a bit behind the bandwagon on this one, but today we shall explore the infamous New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie that has been burning up these internets since the article was published a mere month ago. Typically, one chocolate chip cookie recipe is fairly similar to the next in terms of ingredients and proportions, but a tweak here and there can change the character of the resulting cookie, as can differences in technique. What makes this recipe unique can be reduced to six bullet points (if you don't want to take the time to read the article--though I highly recommend it):

1) using a combination of flours (bread and cake)
2) using high-quality chocolate disks rather than chips
3) letting the dough rest and chill for 24-36 hours
4) making the cookies large (up to six ounces!)
5) sprinkling them with a little salt before baking
6) serving them warm

Let's discuss each item in more detail, shall we? First of all, though I did use both bread and cake flours as directed when I made the cookies, I can't see why all-purpose wouldn't work just as well, saving you a trip the store for specialized ingredients. After all, that's pretty much what all-purpose is, right? Bread plus cake flour! I truly believe that you won't notice any difference in texture using your old friend, AP. Secondly, we all know that using better chocolate makes a better chocolate chip cookie. If you don't live in some podunk town, and you have access to and the means for Jacques Torres disks or Valrhona fèves, then knock yourselves out! But the rest of us in the real world will be using Ghiradelli 60% chips like normal human beings, and the cookies will still be DARN GOOD.

Now letting the dough rest for up to a day and a half is probably this cookie's claim to fame and what has everyone's lips a-flappin' or keyboards a-bangin'. Is it necessary? Well, the cookies would still be good if baked straight away. But when you let them rest at least overnight, the dry goods have a chance to absorb the wet ingredients fully, thus improving the texture. And if you can hold out for 24 or even 36 hours, the dough develops some butterscotch or caramel undertones that are truly outstanding. I highly recommend this step, regardless of what recipe you use.

The fourth point concerns the size of the cookie. The recipe below advocates 3 1/2 ounces, though some bakers make them almost double that size! Personally, I find a six-ouncer to be excessive as I boldly proclaimed when making the Levain Bakery knock-offs awhile back. I prefer four ounces, which is still quite large, and certainly big enough to maintain a variety of textures--from near doughiness in the middle to chewiness on the outer edges. This is the point of making them large, but I don't think we need to go overboard and have a whole day's calories in one cookie! Though the NYT article does not come right out and say so, another important method in making superlative chocolate chip cookies (as the Levain ladies taught us) is to underbake them a bit to get that wonderful texture in the middle. Also, in the Levain tradition, I suggest shaping the cookies into tall, shaggy haystacks rather than round golfballs. That will also give you a softer inner texture.

The fifth recommendation comes from our dear friend, Dorie Greenspan. Remember, this is the woman who gave us the transcendent World Peace Cookies, whose magic comes from the blissful pairing of dark chocolate and salt. I am always a fan of salty and sweet, so I stand by this recommendation. Just make sure to use unsalted butter in the recipe and a light hand in sprinkling or the cookies will be TOO salty! Finally, serving chocolate chip cookies warm? Um, DUH! No commentary required there.

So does all of this add up to the world's best chocolate chip cookie, as so many have proclaimed? If I am answering the question--and I AM, as this is MY little blog--I will have to give a resounding "NO!" Oh, they are excellent, to be sure, and it should be said that my roommate absolutely LOVED them. The recipe is an adaptation of Jacques Torres' chocolate chip cookies, and I know my pal, Anna, proclaims that to be perhaps the best recipe in all of creation. Still, I don't think they hold a candle to the Levain copycats--not even close! Of course, I recognize that saying that one chocolate chip cookie is "the best" is rather like saying that one painting or sculpture is better than all others. With chocolate chip cookies, if often comes down to your favorite style and preference. As the man who should have been my husband, Alton Brown, demonstrated so wittily on his show, some people like them crispy, some like them cakey, and some like them chewy. Moreover, I would add that some people like a higher chocolate-to-cookie ratio, while some, like myself, enjoy more cookie than chocolate. And then there's the nut controversy. I can't get enough nuts in my chocolate chip cookies (which is probably why I'm crazy about the Levain-type cookies), while some people loathe them (as I do raisins) or are even allergic to them. So to each chocolate chip cookie baker, his or her own. But if nothing else, I think this recipe gives us some great tips and techniques to apply to any of our favorite versions.

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: adapted from Jacques Torres, via
The New York Times)
Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)--I reduced the amount of chocolate by a least a half cup, maybe even by a cup!

1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts, optional
sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them (ditto with the nuts, if using). Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Off for two weeks....and lovin' it!

And that's all she least until the end of the month! That's right, friends, Summer Session II is complete, and I am now officially on a break until the fall semester begins. It's just a couple of weeks, but I am looking forward to not having to go anywhere or do anything for a little while. I am going to stay up too late and watch many movies and finish reading the Meyer Vampire saga, my summer reading guilty pleasure (I'm about halfway through the third installment, Eclipse--and these books are filling a small part of the hole left in my heart when Buffy ended). Of course, there are some projects around the house that I should tend to...and maybe I will and maybe I won't if I don't feel like it! However, I simply must turn my attention to the garden(s). With the incessant rain have come GARGANTUAN weeds! I actually went out there today and had almost finished one big row in the tomato patch when the monsoons came, complete with HAIL! I beat a hasty path to the house, but I was still soaked to the skin by the time I got inside. So I gave up for today. After all, it's only Day One of my vacation, and I suppose I needn't do it all in one day (my back and hamstrings will thank me, too)! But observe the first fruits of my labors: imagine my surprise as I pulled up thickets of waist-high pigweed to reveal THIS!

The red one is a very early Siberian variety called Subarctic Plenty which was developed in the 1940's to give those serving in the US Air Force in Greenland a chance to have fresh tomatoes. This particular variety bears fruit under very cool conditions and the shortest of growing seasons. Given our non-summer here in the North Country, I can certainly confirm these claims! Then the little orange golf balls are called Sungella, a new larger-fruited cousin of the ever-popular Sungold cherry. I am just amazed at how prolific this one plant is! The haul you see here came from just two branches (and I left many more unripened ones behind on those branches), plus I had already pilfered a half dozen of the ripest ones to cut up in a bowl with some lemon basil and olive oil for Cyd's salad with supper. Very impressive! Oh, and I stole a couple of monster cucumbers from Neighbor Ken's corner of the garden (with his permission, naturally). So, the tomato harvest has begun at long last! I can hardly wait until I get to use my new Roma tomato strainer that I splurged on a couple of weeks ago to make lots of lovely sauce!

Besides gardening, I am looking forward to having more time to cook things and blog about them. Today's offering comes from our beloved Dorie Greenspan. There are still so many recipes that I wish to try from her wonderful book, but this one was nothing short of a necessity. I needed to make something to use up some of my surplus of frozen bananas. Every time I opened the freezer, a few of them came tumbling down upon me! Usually, I make Aunt Elva's stupendous banana bread, but I thought I might try something new this time. That's where Dorie came in. I decided to try her Classic Banana Bundt Cake. Of course, I had to make my own way with the recipe, adding toasted pecans and a cream cheese glaze. But I must say, this is an excellent cake that's sturdy but moist, and very flavorful--even more so the next day. It's easy to put together, too, and I think it would be ideal to take to a potluck or to share with your co-workers during a coffee break. It certainly makes plenty!

Classic Banana Bundt Cake
(Source: adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
about 4 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups)
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used some of the fabulous Liberte' yogurt that we get in Canada--very thick)
1 1/2 cups toasted pecans, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously butter a 9 to 10 inch (12-cup) Bundt pan. Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about one minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas. Finally, mix in half the dry ingredients (the mixture will curdle -- just keep mixing), all the sour cream or yogurt and then the rest of the flour mixture. Then add the nuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the pan, rap the pan on the counter to de-bubble the batter and smooth the top.

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after about 30 minutes; if it is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding on the rack to cool to room temp.

If you have the time, wrap the cooled cake in plastic and allow it to sit on the counter overnight before serving -- it's better the second day.

*If you'd like to glaze the cake, soften a half a stick of butter (four tablespoons) in a bowl for about 30 seconds in the microwave, then add four ounces of cream cheese (half a package) and microwave both for about another minute. Whisk until smooth, then add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and one cup of powdered sugar, and whisk again. You may get fancy with applying the glaze, but as I wasn't making this cake for company, I just drizzled it on sloppily with the whisk. The cake doesn't need a glaze per se, but it sure is a yummy addition!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Can't get to Cape Cod this summer?

Me, either! And I'm within driving distance, too! BOO HISS. This summer seems to be slipping through my fingers, and though summer school ends this week, I still don't have any real vacation plans. Oh, to be sure, I'll probably squeeze another dog show in there before fall semester begins (YIKES!), but I'm not sure that I'll make it to my beloved Martha's Vineyard or anything grand like that this year. :-(

But wherever you are and whatever your vacation plans, you can still treat yourself to an authentic coastal New England supper. That's what I did this past weekend to console my poor, beach-less self. First of all, I wanted to make a seafood chowder that would be somewhat reminiscent of the excellent one that I had at Farnham's in Essex, MA over the Fourth of July weekend. I scoured these internets for a recipe that seemed close, and I found a festival award-winning chowder from a restaurant called the Venus de Milo in Swansea, MA (near Fall River). Even with a few key substitutions, it turned out really well. Mainly, I swapped haddock for lobster as Farnham's includes haddock in their seafood chowder. In another cost-saving maneuver--since clam juice is SO expensive for such small bottles--I used half clam and half chicken broth. Even so, this made for a very thick, creamy chowder. If you wanted a lighter, thinner version (such as the one at Farnham's), you could always swap out milk for cream, or thin it out with more stock. Though this picture doesn't do it justice (and Cyd rudely called it a "strange, fleshy color"), I think it's a lovely bisque hue, just blushed with tomato--not red like Manhattan clam chowder. In any case, this recipe is a keeper, and a perfect use of any of the fresh summer seafoods that you love. Plus, it's a hearty meal in itself, though you may want to accompany it with a green salad and some crusty bread for sopping.

Seafood Chowder
(Source: adapted from the
Venus de Milo Restaurant)
Makes about 2 1/2 quarts or 12 servings

1 cup/8 oz. small gulf shrimp
1 cup/8 oz. small sea scallops
3 1/2 cups clam juice (I used 2 cups clam juice and 1 1/2 cups chicken broth)
1 cup/8 oz. lobster meat (if you can afford it, go for it, but I swapped out haddock in mine)
2 cups 1/2 inch diced potatoes
4 oz. butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced celery
1 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 1/2 cups light cream (you can substitute milk for a lighter base)
salt as needed
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 bay leaves

Peel and devein the shrimp and cut into bite-sized chunks. Wash the scallops and drain. Place the clam juice in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Cook the shrimp in the clam juice then remove and set aside. Do the same thing with the scallops (and haddock, if using), saving the stock. Cut the lobster meat into bite-sized chunks. Wash the diced potatoes, drain and place in a stock pot with the hot clam stock. Bring the potatoes to a boil, add the bay leaves and simmer until the potatoes are tender.

In a separate stock pot, melt the butter and saute the onion, celery, and garlic until the onions become transparent. Add the tomato puree and cook for several minutes, add the flour to the butter and onion mixture to make a roux and cook over a low heat for several minutes. Add the hot clam stock through a strainer a cup at a time and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining potatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the light cream (or milk), black pepper, and the lobster (or haddock), shrimp, and scallops and return to a simmer. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately (though it's even tastier on Day Two!).

So that's a proper seaside New England supper, but now we need a fitting dessert. At this time of year, I always advocate the use of seasonal fruit at the peak of sweetness. If I were making this for company, I might have gone all out and made a pie. But as Cyd has little use for pastry crust and truly prefers crumbly topping, I decided to make a crisp instead. I only had one pint of lovely blueberries on hand, so I pulled a pint of beautiful sour cherries out of the freezer that I had left over after making two batches of jam last month. And PRESTO, I created a beautiful and delicious cherry-blueberry crisp! Actually, I was inspired by a pie recipe from Martha's Vineyard's First Lady of Pies, Eileen Blake. Not only does she make the definitive blueberry pie on the Island, she makes something called a Burgundy Pie with blueberries and cranberries that sounds wonderfully sweet-tart like my sour cherry-blueberry combo. Every time I've been to the Vineyard, I've only ever seen Mrs. Blake's home and famous pie hut in front (usually manned by her husband) from the window of the bus that circles the island. I always vowed that one day I would stop there and buy a pie as the locals do (including movie stars and presidents!), but I just read the sad news that Mrs. Blake passed away last week after living on Martha's Vineyard for over 40 years. For one kind blogger's reminiscence and pictures of Mrs. Blake's blueberry pie, follow this link. (My thanks to Evan and Ali of The Little Red Bike Cafe in Portland. If you live there, I envy you, and you MUST go try their "Bike-Through Nights" for pie and ice cream. Maybe you'll get lucky enough to try their Salted Caramel and Candied Bacon Ice Cream which sounds wrong, but OH SO right! Tee hee.)

Until I get around to making the Burgundy Pie, I urge you to try this delicious crisp. Of course, it can be made with all blueberries, especially as the blueberries this year are so amazing! In fact, I chose to take the berry-liciousness over the top by serving the crisp with homemade blueberry ice cream. Some berry ice creams seem overly-tart to me, but this one is smooth, creamy, rich, and altogether scrumptious! And have you ever in your life seen a more beautiful color?? Trust me, you're gonna love this dessert, even if you're thousands of miles away from Cape Cod.

Cherry-Blueberry Crisp
(Source: adapted from

2 cups pitted sour cherries

2 cups blueberries
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used 2 T AP flour and 2 T tapioca flour)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, combine cherries, blueberries, one cup sugar, and four tablespoons of flour. Pour into a (sprayed) 9x13 inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, oats, and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit mixture.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Blueberry Ice Cream
Gourmet Magazine, August 1997)
Makes 1 quart

2 cups picked-over blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

*1 teaspoon vanilla, optional

In a saucepan bring blueberries, sugar, and salt to a boil over moderate heat, mashing berries and stirring with a fork. Simmer mixture, stirring frequently, five minutes and cool slightly.

In a blender, purée mixture with milk just until smooth and stir in cream (and vanilla, if using). Pour purée through a sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids with back of a spoon. Chill mixture, covered, at least two hours, or until cold, and up to one day. (Better yet, chill it quickly in an ice bath!)

Freeze mixture in an ice-cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden. Ice cream may be made one week ahead.