Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saranac Summer Solstice Soiree

I have a new colleague at school named Joanna who teaches English. Joanna and her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live on this BEAUTIFUL dairy farm in Saranac called Woven Meadows. And fortunately for me, Joanna and her family were gracious enough to invite their neighbors and friends and colleagues around for a Summer Solstice Celebration this afternoon. It was absolutely DELIGHTFUL! Perfect weather, lots of critters running around, kids at play, and tons of delicious food including a heritage pig roast (porker from Caton Acres Farms just down the road).

Check out this above-ground set-up (photo credit: Woven Meadows):

There were lots of other good eats, too...

Some hot chicks were mingling at the party:

And these ladies did not want to take no for an answer...

How many kids can we fit in a tiny sandbox?

It was a fun day for doggies, too (clockwise: Sadie, Eden, and my baby girl, Dollop)!

In addition to that most succulent Caton Acres roasted pork, there were several tables groaning with potluck dishes. I brought Texas Sheet Cake, and it sold pretty well. But the thing I liked best was a deliciously puckery lemon pound cake (pictured below, to the left of the neon red bundt) that one of Joanna's neighbors dropped off before the party. I am still pestering her for the recipe, and if I ever get it, I will report back and update. In the meantime, I am going to start counting down the days to next year's Summer Solstice Celebration, as I hope it will become an annual event.

UPDATE: Joanna kindly slid the recipe for that delicious pound cake that her neighbor made for the party under my office door, so here it is...

Cruze Farm Buttermilk Pound Cake
(Source: The New York Times)

3⁄4 cup butter, plus more for greasing the pan
3 1⁄2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pan
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
2 ‌1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
3⁄4 cup solid shortening
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cultured buttermilk (see note)
Juice of 1 lemon, strained.

For the glaze:
2⁄3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest.

1. Bring all the ingredients to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan, tapping out excess flour.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. In another medium bowl, whisk the sugar to break up clumps.

3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and shortening, stopping to scrape down the sides. Slowly drizzle in the sugar; cream the mixture well. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding the next when the last has been incorporated. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, mix in a third of the flour mixture until just combined. Add a third of the buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk. Add the lemon juice and mix to combine.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted comes out clean, about 75 minutes. The top of the cake will be lightly browned, and the sides will shrink slightly from the pan. Cool for 20 minutes before inverting onto a cake platter.

5. Before serving, stir together the glaze ingredients and spoon over the top and sides of the cake. It’s even better the next day.

Adapted from Cheri Cruze. Serves 10 to 12.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Margaritas for breakfast? ¡Si!

There's a little jam and pickle company in Montreal called The Preservation Society, and they had a luscious-sounding recipe recently featured in Toronto's The Globe and Mail designed to take advantage of June's strawberry harvest: STRAWBERRY MARGARITA JAM! Boy howdy, doesn't that sound like something else?

According to its creator, chef Camilla Wynne, this jam would be fantastic over ice cream or cheesecake, or even swirled into yogurt for a little breakfast pick-me-up. (Tee hee.) I haven't used it on anything yet, but I can attest---it tastes EXACTLY like a strawberry margarita! Whoo-hoo!

Strawberry Margarita Jam
(Source: The Preservation Society)
Yield: 7 half-pints (I only got 6)

3 limes
3 cups water
2 quarts strawberries
4 1/4 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons kosher salt (I only used 1 1/2 teaspoons, and 1 teaspoon might have been enough!)
1 teaspoon citric acid
5 tablespoons silver tequila
3 tablespoons triple sec

Quarter the limes lengthwise and slice them as thinly as possible. Place them with the water in a bowl and soak overnight. The next day bring the limes and water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until limes are tender and most of the water has evaporated, about one hour. In the meantime, wash, hull and halve the strawberries (or quarter if large), and mix with the sugar in a large bowl. Allow to macerate until limes are ready. Put a small plate in the freezer, and sterilize your jars according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the limes are ready, add the strawberry-sugar mixture and the lemon juice. Increase heat until medium high and boil until froth subsides and bubbles become regular and sputter violently. Stir frequently. The jam is ready when a teaspoon of the mixture spends two minutes on the plate in the freezer then wrinkles when pushed gently with the index finger. Remove from heat and stir in the salt and citric acid. Let rest, stirring often, for five minutes. Stir in tequila and triple sec. Fill sterilized jars to within a 1/4 “ of the rim, seal with lids, and heat process five minutes in a hot water bath.

When I went to the liquor store to acquire the tequila and triple sec, I got to chatting with a nice couple of guys who were buying up a bunch of something called Key Largo Schnapps. They had it in a cocktail called "Skyy's the Limit" (also featuring Skyy's pineapple-infused vodka) at a bar in Albany. I didn't catch all of the ingredients in the drink other than 7-Up and cranberry juice, but I decided to buy a bottle and make up a drink with it when I got home. Here's what I came up with, and though I don't even really drink myself (despite what this post may lead you to believe), I'm declaring this THE OFFICIAL COCKTAIL OF SUMMER, and I call it...

Gina's Tropical Transgression

In a 16 oz. glass filled halfway with ice, add the following:

1 oz. vodka (preferably, pineapple, orange, or citrus-infused)
1/2 oz. Key Largo Schnapps
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
2 oz. orange juice
2 oz. pineapple juice

Top off with 7-Up (better yet--Fresca!) and add a twist of lime and (naturally) a fruity little paper umbrella and a colorful/whimsical straw!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

All the way to NYC for half a CSA share?

My main activity this summer (besides teaching a couple of public speaking classes) is performing in a parody of some of Broadway's best-loved musicals called Forbidden Broadway. Even though we go up in less than a week (YIKES!), I managed to sneak away for a quick trip to NYC to see friends and to take in some actual Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

I headed down Friday morning for New Jersey, meeting my sweet friend, Jaymie, for a lovely dinner at a cute farm-to-table bistro in Cranford called A Toute Heure. Afterwards, we made our way over to the famed Papermill Playhouse to see our wonderful friend, Kevin R. Free, in Once On This Island (which was GREAT!).

The next morning, I took myself into the Big Apple by car, train, and subway. I did a little shopping and then had a nice lunch at a cute place called the Cinema Cafe.

Then I met some dear friends to see a matinee of a show called The Hunchback Variations at 59E59 Theatres, starring my friend and former roomie, George Andrew Wolff. (I know, I know! I'm calling this trip my "I Knew Them When Tour." Tee hee.)

After the show and catching up with George for a bit, we headed to Astoria to have a terrific al fresco dinner at a Mexican restaurant with the odd moniker of Pachanga Patterson.

Lastly, we worked our way back to midtown for a proper Broadway show, Peter and the Starcatcher, which was FANTASTIC! Christian Borle earned that Tony, let me tell you!

And the ultimate highlight of my trip was seeing John Cameron Mitchell (=Hedwig) after the show!

It was a hard and fast twelve hours in the big city, and the next morning, I was up and on the road towards home. But Jaymie wouldn't let me leave without a parting gift--half of her CSA share! SCORE! It's taken me awhile to tuck in and start using the goods, but first up: Garlic Scape Pesto!

Ok, this is the easiest thing you will ever make in your life! In the food processor, grind up ten scapes, a scant 1/2 cup of shelled pistachios, and a scant 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Get it as smooth as you can, then with the motor running, stream in 2/3 cup olive oil. That's it for the pesto! Then boil a pound of pasta (I used these lovely trumpets), reserving one cup of the pasta water, and combine with the pesto. Re-season if necessary, and serve immediately. YUMMY STUFF!! And if you grab a deli roaster, dinner is done FAST! You're welcome.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Commanded to Make Pie!

I am on the board of the community choir that I sing in, and for our last meeting of the year, we were invited over to the artistic director's condo on the lake for a potluck. At first, we received no word about who was to bring what, so I decided on my Moroccan couscous salad, which appeals to most folks and is a nice option for the vegetarians among the partygoers. After I'd already decided what to make and shopped for the ingredients, THEN I got a last-minute email compelling me in no uncertain terms to make some sort of homemade fruit pie. *sigh*

Given the season, I chose to adapt a recipe that I had used before to make a couple of strawberry-rhubarb pies. The guests were nothing short of orgasmic about their dessert, and one woman who insisted she hated rhubarb, ultimately broke down and tried a piece (because everyone else was going on and on about it), and was surprised that she really liked it.

So if rhubarb and strawberries are still happening in your neck of the woods: MAKE THIS PIE NOW!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
(Source: The crust is from Bon Appétit, the filling was my own concoction.)

Double Crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (more or less) ice water

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
4 cups rhubarb, sliced
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup thickener (any combo of flour, corn starch or tapioca)
1 tablespoon butter, in small pieces
1 tablespoon cream turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fit pie plate with bottom crust rolled out from half of the (chilled!) dough. Gently mix together the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and thickener(s). Pour into bottom crust and dot the filling with butter. Top with the other crust, cut vent holes or form a lattice. Brush with cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another hour, or until the middle of the pie bubbles. (Cover the top of the pie with tin foil if the crust starts to get too brown.) Cool for at least two hours to let the juices thicken before cutting and serving.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Beau's Big Day

My friend June has a darling chocolate-colored miniature poodle named Beau. The first time I ever laid eyes on that puppy, I declared him to be a future agility star (as he was all springy legs). Turns out, I may be a prophet. June entered him in an agility class a few months ago, and he excelled. Only one other dog signed up for the class, so they got a lot of hands-on, quality time with the much so, that they decided to enter their first agility trial today down in Westport. Of course, I insisted on going and rooting for Beau and June. And...drumroll, please...he qualified on BOTH of his first competitive runs! YAY!

It was a long day, as we had to be there at 7:30 to get him measured for his jump height, and we didn't leave until about 5pm. But June had a nice sun shelter and some comfy chairs, and we chatted amiably with the two ladies from the independently-owned pet food shop in town, and also a local vet. Other than Beau's victorious runs, the best part of the day was lunch, prepared by June and myself. I brought honey-dijon chicken salad with apples, walnuts, chives, and craisins on mini-croissants, and June made this amazing black rice salad with mango, orange, and peanuts. Yeah, I had never heard of black rice either, but if it can be purchased in my tiny town, I have no doubt that you can source it where you live, too. Our lunch was so beautiful, that people passing by our shelter kept asking where they could buy some. Um, sorry, but a burger is about all you can get on the food cart at the Essex Fairgrounds. ;-) But as I told the folks, you can (and SHOULD!) make this stuff at home.

Black Rice Salad with Mango and Peanuts
(Source: Epicurious)

2 oranges
1/4 cup (or more) fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam; optional)
2 cups black rice (preferably Lotus Foods Forbidden Rice)
Kosher salt
2 just-ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2" dice
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup finely chopped red onion (about 1/2 large onion)
1/2 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, seeded, minced

Remove peel and white pith from oranges. Working over a medium bowl to catch juices and using a small sharp knife, cut between membranes to release orange segments into bowl. Squeeze membranes over bowl to release any juices. Strain juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl; reserve orange segments.

Add 1/4 cup lime juice, oil, and fish sauce (if using) to bowl with orange juice; whisk to blend. Set dressing aside.

Bring rice and 2 3/4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Season lightly with salt. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Spread out rice on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with dressing, and season lightly with salt; let cool.

Place mangoes and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add rice and toss gently to combine. Season lightly with salt and more lime juice, if desired.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

"Chew" on this...

My dear friend, Heather, poses the same question every evening on Facebook: "What's for dinner?" When I have made something special, it's fun to brag about it, but what I like even more is reading all of her other friends' responses. I always get such great ideas when I'm in a rut. Once night, someone posted about a chicken dish that she saw on the daytime talk show, "The Chew" (gag--what a dumb name, am I right?). It was a viewer-submitted contest winner called Donna Giblin's Artichoke Chicken. Now my friend, Jay, pointed out that the name is a little off-putting (took me almost a month to get that joke), but I can report that it is a very easy and very tasty recipe. As it is a one-dish affair, it's easy enough for a work/school night meal.

I would make this again, but it's very similar to a Nigella recipe that I like a little bit better. The only change I would make to this version is to marinate the chicken overnight (or at least the morning of)--if you have the time--for additional flavor and tenderness. I served the baked chicken and veggies (onions, Baby Bella mushrooms, and artichokes) over wide eggs noodles, and I turned the drippings into a pan gravy. YUM!

Donna Giblin's Artichoke Chicken
(Source: The Chew)

3 1/2-4 pound chicken legs and thighs
1 cup artichoke hearts (halved)
1 medium onion (cut into chunks - to match the artichokes)
1 pound white button mushrooms (halved or quartered)
2 tablespoons brown mustard
1 clove garlic (minced)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper (to taste)

Place chicken, skin side up, in a baking pan. Distribute onion, artichoke and mushrooms over the top. Combine olive oil, mustard, red wine, red wine vinegar, garlic, dried spices, salt and pepper and pour over the chicken.

Bake at 350º for 1 1/2 hours, basting every 1/2 hour.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Little pots of lusciousness...

This past weekend, my roomie and I ate dinner at a new bistro in town. Overall, the experience was good--the space has a lovely ambiance and an entertaining open kitchen, plus our server was terrific. Unfortunately, the entrées weren't that impressive: mine was a pretty basic fish and chips, and Cyd had beef tips, but the mushroom sauce had separated and was extremely oily. We sent word to the kitchen, and they corrected the problem (and took 10% off our bill), so no big gripes there.

Food-wise, the highlights of the evening were at the beginning and the end. For an appetizer, we shared a mac and cheese with smoked gouda and pancetta. YUM!! It was served on a hot slab of rock with a pretty sprinkle of sweet orange pepper and a drizzle of aged balsamic, which I thought was very cool.

But the thing that blew our minds was dessert, a duck egg crème brûlée. It was so incredibly ethereal and delicious that, as is my way, I had to come right home and try to recreate it for myself. I had a couple of problems, though. One was that I didn't know where to get duck eggs, and two, I didn't have a torch.

So I decided to practice using chicken eggs, and as I realized that the thing I like best about crème brûlée is the cream and not the crunchy topping, the solution to problem #2 became: POTS DE CRÉME! Pots de créme are exactly the same as crème brûlée (custards you bake in a water bath in the oven), except that you don't top them with sugar and torch them at the end. Plus, pots de créme are served cold, which I much prefer. Actually, crème brûlée should be served cold, too, but more often than not, a restaurant pulls them from the fridge, then torches the sugar topping and serves them immediately so that the custard is warmish when it gets to the table. ICK. Me no likey. Clearly, I needed to make my own way!

First, I watched an excellent video tutorial on crème brûlée from the French Culinary Institute on YouTube, then I found an excellent pots de créme recipe from the New York Times that worked perfectly, except for one thing. The custard underneath turned out perfectly silken, but I realized that I needed to skim the foam off the top of the ramekins before baking. Still, it made for an interesting difference of texture, almost like I bruléed it on top. Overall, DELICIOUS!

Vanilla Pots de Créme
(Source: New York Times)

2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half
2 vanilla beans or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar (scant!)

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Pour cream into small saucepan. Split vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into cream. Put pod in cream, too. Heat cream until steam rises. Cover pan, turn off heat and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. If using vanilla extract, just heat cream and let it cool while you proceed.
2. Beat yolks and sugar together until light. Pour about a quarter of the cream (remove vanilla bean pod) into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. If you are using vanilla extract, add it now and stir. Pour mixture into 4 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with water halfway up the side of dishes. Cover with foil. 3. Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until center is barely set. (Heavy cream sets fastest; half-and-half more slowly.) Chill, then serve.

Exciting Epilogue: I am fencing in my front yard in a few weeks, and when I went into the office to sign paperwork and make my down payment, I got the chatting with the fencing guy (as is my way). Turns out, they have a little farmette down the road with chickens AND ducks, and since they don't know what to do with their duck eggs, they have been THROWING THEM AWAY! So they are going to save some for me to pick up soon. SCORE!!

P.S. In place of the broiled sugar, try topping your custards with some local strawberries that are just coming on (at least in these parts). They are so perfectly red and sweet this year!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

One more spicy soup before the summer heats up...

This is seasonally inappropriate no doubt, but summer hasn't really arrived yet in the North Country, so there is still time for SOUP! This one is pretty and pretty healthful with all the veggies, and interestingly, it calls for rice as a thickener instead of cream. Keep this one in mind for when you start harvesting sweet peppers from your garden in a couple of months; I'm sure it would freeze beautifully for a little warmth and comfort in the fall and winter.

Spicy Red Pepper Soup
(Source: adapted from All Recipes)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (I used two tablespoons)
6 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped (I used a whole head, just smashed and peeled)
2 quarts chicken broth
1/2 cup long grain rice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (I simmered the soup all day in the crock pot with a big thyme bundle tied with kitchen string)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used 1/8 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I used 1/8 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon salt (I used 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (I used 1 teaspoon)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the bell peppers, carrots, onions,
celery, and garlic. Cook and stir the vegetables until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, rice, thyme, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the rice and vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat. and cool 30 minutes.
2. Blend the cooled soup until smooth using an hand-held immersion blender directly in the pot. Or use a blender, and blend the soup in batches until smooth.
Gina's Notes: To make this in the crock pot, I sauteed the veggies first on the stovetop (an extra step, but well worth it for flavor, in my opinion). Then I added everything except the rice to the crock pot on high for about two hours, then added the rice and let it go for another two hours (still on high), then mixed it all with stick blender right in the crock pot! When it was all done, it looked pretty, but it tasted kind of boring. I ended up adding a couple more teaspoons of granulated garlic (if you can imagine such a thing), a couple of teaspoons of ground celery, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of dried thyme, two teaspoons of sugar, and a heaping tablespoon of chicken soup base/bouillon. But what really made it pop was serving the soup with a generous garnish of baby/cocktail shrimp that I tossed in some bottled vinaigrette and a squeeze of lime juice. That did the trick!

P.S. I like things spicier than most folks, I think, but I cut the cayenne and red pepper flakes in half, and it was still plenty hot! So begin conservatively with the spice and ramp it up at your own peril. Also, unless you are feeding the Duggar Family and/or want to freeze some for the future, you might wish to halve the recipe, as it makes FIVE QUARTS of soup!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

A Quickie Dessert for Your Honey Bun!

I was searching the interwebs for something or other, and I happened to run across a recipe for something called "Honey Bun Cake." I found lots of variations, and though I'm not sure it tastes all that much like a honey bun, it reminds me of one of my favorite box mix adaptations, the Sock-It-to-Me Cake. In any case, you can have this one thrown together in no time, and it would be perfect for a casual get-together or a brunch.

Honey Bun Cake
(Source: adapted from All Recipes)

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream (I used a cup of nonfat plain yogurt because I was running low on sour cream)
1 cup brown sugar (I would cut this to 3/4 cup next time)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (I used 2 teaspoons)
2 cups confectioners' sugar (I only used one cup)
4 tablespoons milk (I used 2 tablespoons of half-n-half)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used one teaspoon)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs and sour cream. Stir by hand approximately 50 strokes, or until most large lumps are gone. Pour half of the batter into an ungreased 9x13 inch glass baking dish. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over the batter in the cake pan. Spoon the other half of the batter into the cake pan, covering the brown sugar and cinnamon. Twirl the cake with a butter knife or icing knife until it looks like a honey bun (or whatever design you want to make).
3. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Frost cake while it is still fairly hot. Serve warm.
4. To make the frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth.
*I made this cake in my Baker's Edge pan (unsprayed). When it was done baking, I poked holes all over it with a bamboo skewer and brushed on a half batch of the glaze. Then I sprinkled the top with maybe a half cup of crushed toasted walnuts.