Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Capitol Eats!

Did everyone have a faaaaabulous Memorial Day weekend? I did! I didn't do much during the actual weekend except the market and subsequent recovery period. But Monday, my roommate had to take a friend to the airport in Albany, so I decided to ride along, and I was so glad I did. First of all, it was a GLORIOUS day--just the right combination of warm and breezy--and the trees and grass along the very scenic Adirondack drive were a stunning, verdant, springy, chartreusey color. After the airport, we made our way to the ginormous Crossroads Mall. Now normally, I would run a mile in the opposite direction of a mall, but I had a purpose. I wanted to see a movie that was playing there that will never come to our town. (Plattsburgh gets lame comedies, horror movies, animated films for kids, and only the most major of blockbusters. Quirky little independents never find their way onto our eight hiss.) The movie was "Waitress," and oh, can I just say that I LOVE LOVE LOVED IT?? After all, it was a movie all about pie, so how could I not love it?! Keri Russell was quite charming in the lead, but my favorites were Andy Griffith playing a delightfully surly old coot (he should be remembered come Oscar time!), and Eddie Jemison as Ogie, a nerdy little elf who spouts spontaneous romantic poetry and won't take "no" for an answer when it comes to matters of the heart. The scene where we first meet him had me in tears, truly. RUN, DO NOT WALK to see this gem of a little dramedy. If you are a Hal Hartley fan, you will definitely enjoy this film. Poor Adrienne Shelley, star of the Hartley films, "The Unbelievable Truth" and "Trust" and the writer/director and actress in "Waitress," was murdered over a year ago, before she even got a chance to see the success of this film. So sad. Anyway, definitely put this one on your must-see list (have I underscored that point enough?). I really haven't loved a film this much since "Little Miss Sunshine" last year, and I want to spread the cinematic joy!

After the film, we poked around the mall for a bit. Normally, I loathe such activity, but I did manage to buy four new shirts and one unmentionable undergarment for a mere sixty bucks total, so that eased my general mall malaise. Then we headed north and made two food-related stops in Saratoga. First was a visit to Mrs. London's bakery which I'd seen profiled on the Food Network, I believe, and also in one of the the big gourmet magazines (was it Bon Appetit, perhaps?), Sadly, they were out of the wood-fired bread for which they are so highly-acclaimed, but we did manage to acquire this lovely assortment of pastries.

And then, to top off an already fine day, we stopped for dinner at PJ's Barbecue. What a fun place! It's like a 1950's car hop stand with BBQ pits in back, picnic table seating, hula hoops for the kids to play with, and either live music or P.J. the D.J. spinning the oldies from WBBQ, a makeshift radio station in a shed that blows bubbles from the roof. There are also special parking spots for Yankees and Bills fans as well as for bikers, and they have regular cruisin' nights, too, I'm told. What a hoot! And most importantly, the food was darn good. We sampled their smoky ribs and chicken with the famous Cornell marinade, as well as their spicy baked beans, creamy cole slaw, tasty curly fries, and peppery and oniony macaroni salad. And we washed it all down with their signature beverage, a loganberry soda. Yum! Next time, we vow to try the brisket and pulled pork...and oh yes, there WILL be a next time! :-) For all of my Plattsburghers, take exit 13N right off the Northway; you can't miss it, and it's definitely worth the detour when you're coming or going from Albany.

When we arrived home that evening, I remembered that I needed to make a treat for my trivia gang the next day, and I decided to try a recipe for a blueberry cheesecake that I saw on Joe's blog recently. It was just gorgeous with all that deep purple blueberry sauce dripping down into the cheesecake below, and even though I prefer my cheesecake quite plain and unadulterated (with only a sour cream topping), this one looked incredibly tantalizing. Indeed, it turned out very well, and I only brought three pieces (out of 16!) home last night, as I ended up sharing with my team and also the team from the Episcopal church downtown, affectionately nicknamed the "God Squad." I made some changes to the recipe, though. The original called for it to be made in a nine-inch springform pan, but I only have a ten-inch. Since I also intended it to feed a lot of people, I increased the proportions of ingredients, and I would definitely do that again. Also, I did not make additional blueberry sauce to go on top of the cheesecake, as the sauce that was swirled in was more than enough for me. The one thing I would do differently, however, is to be gentler with the swirling of the blueberry sauce into the cheesecake, and not drag the knife down all the way down through the batter. Though mine looked nice enough, and I liked having the pockets of blueberry goodness here and there in the middle of a slice, Joe's cheesecake was breathtaking with that thick layer of purple on top bleeding into the creaminess below. I will attempt to create that effect the next time I make it, and I will DEFINITELY make this one again! You should try it, too. It's time-consuming, of course, but it's really not hard, and it has a big "WOW" factor--people won't believe that you made it yourself!

Blueberry Cheesecake
(Source: adapted from which was, in turn, adapted from Cooking Light, though this is hardly a "light" recipe!)

For the crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup tablespoons sugar
pinch salt

For the blueberry filling:
2 cups fresh or frozen wild blueberries, thawed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar

For the cheesecake:
32 ounces ( 4 packages) block-style cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the crust:
Preheat oven to 325. In a medium bowl, toss together graham cracker crumbs, vanilla wafer crumbs and sugar. Drizzle in the butter and use a fork to combine the mixture until thoroughly mixed. Scoop the mixture into a 9" springform pan lightly coated with nonstick spray - use your fingers or the bottom of a measuring cup to firmly press the mixture down to form a crust. Bake for 10 minutes - remove and let cool on a wire rack.

To make the filling:
Add blueberries and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a food processor - process until smooth. Scoop puree into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick - about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

To make the cheesecake:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until completely smooth, about 3 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch and salt - add to the cream cheese and beat until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix until combined. Pour the batter over the baked crust and smooth with a spatula. Place dollops of the blueberry puree on top of the cheesecake and use a knife to gently swirl the two together. Place the cheesecake in the center of a rack placed in the middle of the oven. Bake until the cheesecake center barely moves when pan is touched, about 65 minutes. Remove from the oven (leaving the oven on) and place on a wire rack. Let the cheesecake cool for a few minutes to "collapse" back down in the pan to mend any cracks and to make room for the sour cream topping!

To make the topping:
In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Scoop the mixture onto the still-warm cheesecake and gently spread the mixture evenly over the top. Place back in the oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and run a thin knife around the outside edge. Allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours. When ready to finish, take the cheesecake out from the refrigerator and remove sides of the springform pan.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thirteen dollars for a &^%$#*@ pie?? (Well....yeah!)

I had a better showing at the farmers' market this weekend, and the weather was glorious--a pleasure to be outside all day. Plus, I finally got a permanent spot outside (yeah!), right between a produce guy and a cheesemaker. On a related note, I am just thrilled that we now have a cheesemaker in the area! It's all cow's milk cheese, but they have quite a selection of different kinds. I chose one called Couronne this week. The texture is soft, like a Brie or Camembert, but the flavor was quite tangy. Yum! They also have a harder, cheddar-type cheese that I love called the Herdmaster (tee hee) that is nutty and delicious, but I can only afford one type of cheese at a time (it's tasty stuff but--whew!--expensive). The best part about being next to the cheese vendor is that, when it gets slow, she keeps feeding me samples of cheese! ;-)

The only low point of the day was when I had stepped over to buy some hydroponic tomatoes from the guy next to me, and the old man in front of me paid for his, then stopped at my table and started shouting, "WHO'S SELLING THIS PIE?" I hustled right back there to serve him, but when I told him how much it was, he started cussing up a storm, telling me in no uncertain terms that it was very overpriced! Mind you, he's yelling this, and even as he walks away, he's still cussing me out, and not even under his breath! Quite embarrassing. It's almost enough to make me stop making pies altogether. They are really not worth it for the amount of time and labor and cost put into them. But people love them so, and no one seems to want to make them at home anymore, so it's satisfying to provide that service for people. But it takes me three days to make them each week, and I can only make eight or ten, having just a single oven. I make all the crusts on Wednesday, roll them all out on Thursday, and make and bake the pies all day on Friday.

And the cost of a proper pie is really ridiculous. I know that some people balk at the price of one of my pies at the market (I went up a dollar to $13 this year), but people don't stop to consider the cost of real fruit! A pie often takes up to six cups of fruit, and how much do we pay for a pint of, say, berries in the grocery store? Three dollars at least? Maybe four? That's $9-12 just for the fruit alone! Even when I use frozen fruit (until things come into season), the costs can be between $6-9 per pie just for the fruit! Apples are a little less expensive around these parts especially, but then you've got to consider the labor of all that peeling, coring and slicing. Cyd helped me last week, but it still took us quite some time to get through five pounds of apples for two pies, even with the help of one of those old-fashioned, crank-handled peeling devices. And have these people ever made a lattice-top crust? It ain't easy and it sure ain't quick, either! It makes me want to yell back at them, "Go get your $4.49 pies at the Price Chopper, then!" But they sure won't look or taste like THIS...

Aren't they lovely? I was so pleased at how they turned out! This is my best pie recipe, hands-down. It's one I've been making for years from a recipe that I got from a dear friend and former roommate, Karen. I met Karen when I was in my first year of teaching college in Kankakee, Illinois. I was only 23, and as a fifth-year senior (she changed majors along the way, I think, and had to finish a few extra courses for her teaching accreditation), Karen was not much younger than myself. When she graduated, she and and another gal named Kim, and my mother (long story!) shared a house. Eventually, my mom moved back to Macon, Georgia (her hometown), and then we got another Kim in place of the first one, and then took in my beloved friend, John, and then a fellow named George, too--and we also had my cocker spaniel, Percy. Never a dull moment in that house, especially with our extended family of friends and boyfriends/girlfriends always coming and going! We really had a lot of fun there. We loved to cook together and entertain, and this recipe was a contribution from Karen, though I'm not sure where she got it originally. It's unusual because it's got both a crumb topping and a lattice crust. And people go CRAZY for it! I used to make it all the time when I lived in Salt Lake City, taking it to church functions and such (no, not THAT church!). It got to the point where I think the pie was being invited to parties more than I was! ;-) Anyway, it's a winner, though admittedly a lot of work...and darn well worth thirteen bucks, I think. Thanks, Karen! (Miss you!)

Karen's Dutch Apple Pie

Peel and slice enough apples to fill an unbaked pie shell (I'd estimate between 2-3 pounds). Mix together the following and toss with the apples:

1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour (I usually opt for two myself)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash salt
(I also usually add a teaspoon of lemon juice)

Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar

You can make this crumble in a food processor or just use a pastry cutter. Place on top of the apple filling and cover with a lattice-weave pastry top. (I like to egg wash the crust and sprinkle on some demerara sugar, too, but that's just me.) Bake at 350 degrees until crust is browned and the juices bubble thickly. (Karen's recipe says 35-40 minutes, but mine always take about an hour and fifteen minutes!)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Scrumptious Springtime Salad Suggestion (Dig That Alliteration!)

This is gonna be a quickie with no pictures, I'm afraid. I should have snapped a few, but you see, I was hurrying, trying to get dinner on the table before the Lost season finale. (Wasn't it SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOOD? Lord, I do so love that show! How will I ever survive the withdrawals until its return in the fall? ARRRGH!! And don't even tell me about American Idol! I taped it and am on "media blackout" until I view the tape. Not that I expect any surprises--go, Jordin!) Nevertheless, our dinner was simple but remarkably tasty, enough so that I wish to report on it and pass some ideas along to my readership.

Naturally, with the weather indulging us, we're still in a grilling place these days. And when I was rearranging stuff in the freezer today, trying to make room for a few more loaves that I baked for the farmers' market, I excavated a long-lost flank steak which I promptly thawed and marinated all day in a teriyaki-style mixture comprised of roughly a half cup of soy sauce and a tablespoon of each of the following: brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, chili paste, and minced garlic. Oh, and I probably used quite a few grinds of black pepper as well. I cooked the flank steak on the grill to medium on the ends and medium-rare in the middle, then I rested it for ten minutes before slicing it very thinly at an angle and against the grain. Just scrumptious! I served the steak with baked potatoes made from the most gorgeous and gigantic California Long Whites that I spied in the produce department the other day. And they were just so delicious--really sweet and flavorful, even without a lot of condiment embellishment. Look for them in your'll be pleased that you did. Another thing that has just arrived in our grocery stores in the last week or two is the sweet corn. No doubt it's been trucked up from Florida, but today's sugar-enhanced hybrids have an amazing (refrigerator) shelf life, and they keep for quite some time before turning to starch and losing their flavor. Don't get me wrong, nothing beats fresh sweet corn from local farms, but that's still three months away for us, so Florida corn will certainly tide us over until then! And it really was yummy with our dinner.

But what I really want to tell you about is the marvelous salad that Cyd made. We procured some beautiful organic spinach from some nice vendors directly across from us at the market last week. And Cyd added sliced, fresh strawberries and crumbled bleu cheese and dressed it with a raspberry vinaigrette. Gorgeous and delicious! I think it would have only been enhanced by the addition of a handful of nuts--walnuts or pecans or even sliced almonds would do nicely. It may sound like an odd combination, but it's really lovely. With spinach and strawberries in season right now, this salad should become your new springtime favorite!

Monday, May 21, 2007

One post that is NOT about the &^%$ farmers' market!

Of course, I do realize that being consumed with baking for the market each week is interfering with other cooking and subsequent blogging about said cooking. Cyd's been complaining that I don't make proper dinners anymore, nor do we ever get any dessert for ourselves! There may be some validity to her complaints, but I did make a few things recently that weren't baked in loaf or pie pans. Let me share a sampling of the highlights...

First of all, we are grilling a lot lately, as I'm sure many others are. And I found a killer burger recipe on a blog that I shall not name. The author is Canadian, and though I constantly praise and nearly idolize my lovely neighbors to the north, she often has less than flattering things to say about us! (To put a fine point on it, she calls us "wobbly" and jiggly" and "lethargic." The nerve! Maybe she's got a point, but does she have to say it? How mean!) So I may make some of her recipes (and make myself wobblier and jigglier in the process...tee hee), but I refuse to freely advertise/publicly support her blog. HMPH! (I will now climb down from my soapbox and get on with the recipe which is truly yummy.)

Nameless Canadian Burgers

3 lbs. lean ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Montreal steak spice (or your favorite grill seasoning)
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (don't be afraid--it won't taste fishy, I mashed up three anchovy fillets instead of the paste which I could not locate in this country)
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce (your favorite kind...I have a wonderfully zesty, maple-based one from Vermont)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or to taste)

1. Combine everything in a large bowl, using your hands.
2. Make into 1/3 lb patties (quarter-pounders are too skimpy but half-pounders are excessive).
3. Grill to desired doneness (I like a trace of pink myself, but to each his/her own).

I also made another lovely dish one night with some seasoned grilled shrimp and a homemade Alfredo sauce. The sauce is actually an infamous "copycat" recipe that mimics Red Lobster's and/or The Olive Garden's Alfredo (the former is a little lighter and uses half-and-half while the latter opts for heavy cream). Purists may balk at the inclusion of cream cheese, but it's mighty tasty regardless!

Pasta Alfredo with Shrimp

Alfredo Sauce:
1 cup half-and-half

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon cream cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly-grated
1 teaspoon granulated garlic

In a saucepan, melt butter. When butter is melted, add the cream cheese. When the cream cheese is softened, add half-and-half and the Parmesan cheese. Add garlic powder and stir well. Simmer this for 15-20 minutes on low. You may wish to season with a little salt and pepper.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare a half pound of the pasta of your choosing (I used pappardelle because I love it so). Also, season your shrimp (about a half pound) with a preferred seasoning blend (lemon pepper is great, Old Bay is a classic, or what have you), then grill them or sear them in a pan with olive oil on the stovetop. Add al dente pappardelle (or fettucine or linguine) to pasta bowls. Ladle some of the Alfredo sauce over the pasta, then top with your seasoned shrimp. Delish!

Also, as promised, I finally managed a version of the amazing salad that I had at the Yellow Porch restaurant in Nashville. This is less a recipe that a methodology and an arrangement, but it will give you the general idea. You start with some torn butter lettuce (Boston/Bibb, or whatever your grocer calls it) and add some shredded radicchio, though we used Treviso (similar to radicchio, but with an elongated shape like endive) because it enchanted us in the store that day. Then you will want some lovely spring radishes, sliced paper thin with a mandoline, or you can even grate them, if you prefer. Next, you should add some bleu cheese crumbles (the best you can afford…I prefer a Danish bleu myself). Then you will want to add some candied bacon. To candy the bacon, cut up a half pound of bacon into big chunks, then fry it until it’s almost as done as you like it. Then add a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and a couple of tablespoons of water. Cook over a low heat until the water has cooked off, and the bacon is covered in sweet, syrupy goodness. Next, you will top the salad with crispy onion strings. I sliced a small onion very thinly, then mixed up a tempura batter of sorts (half a cup self-rising flour, some seasonings like granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and a half cup—or more—of ice water). I tossed the onion pieces in the tempura, then fried them in vegetable oil until golden brown. And then you should encircle the whole affair with some quartered, hard-cooked eggs. Finally, the salad should be dressed with a champagne vinaigrette, but as I did not have any champagne vinegar, I made my dressing out of white balsamic. I minced up a few cloves of garlic with a little coarse salt and black pepper. I added a tablespoon of whole-grained mustard, and equal parts white balsamic vinegar and EVOO (maybe a third of cup each?). I mixed it all up in the blender to emulsify it without having to whisk forever, and that was that. Honestly, I may never want another type of salad ever again. This is my hands-down favorite. It just has an incredible balance of flavors—the spiciness of the radishes and radicchio, the sweetness of the butter lettuce and the candied bacon, the crispiness and flavor of the onions, the richness of the eggs, the bite of the bleu cheese, and the tang of the dressing. It just comes together in an amazing way. You should try it, and you might consider making it your dinner, as it’s definitely hearty enough on its own.

And finally, I did bake a sweet treat for myself (and for my trivia team) lately that was worth blogging about. I saw these on The Smitten Kitchen, and I knew I had to try them! I don’t drink, with the exception of a one or two margaritas semi-annually, so these little cookies are right up my alley. They really do taste like a fun!

Margarita Cookies
(Source:, adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Sabl├ęs au Citron)
Makes about 50 cookies

2 sticks (8 ounces; 230 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons tequila (I didn’t have any on hand—I told you, I don’t drink!—so I substituted fresh lime juice)
Grated zest of 2 limes
Grated zest of half an orange
2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour


Approximately 1/2 cup clear sanding or other coarse sugar (regular sugar will work, too—it just won’t look as pretty)
2 teaspoons flaky Maldon sea salt (if you are going to swap out kosher salt or coarse sea salt as I did, cut this by half, or even less than one teaspoon or the cookies will end up WAY too salty!)

1. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in 1 of the egg yolks, followed by the salt, tequila, grated lime and orange zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s OK—just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches (2.5 to 3.2 cm) thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (I used Silpats).

4. While the oven is preheating, work on the sugar coating: Whisk the remaining egg yolk in a small bowl until it is smooth and liquid enough to use as a glaze. Mix the coarse sugar and flaky salt well and spread the mixture out on a piece of wax paper. Remove the logs of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap them, and brush them lightly with a little egg yolk. Roll the logs in the sugar, pressing the sugar/salt mixture gently to get it to stick if necessary, then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/4 inch (7 mm) thick. (Note: To get the sugar/salt mixture to stick better, you can move the log over to a piece of plastic wrap, and in the sort of technique you’d see a sushi chef use to shape a roll, use the plastic to press the sugar in by wrapping it tightly.) You can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer. Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.

5. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. (It’s fine if the yolk-brushed edges brown a smidgen.) Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Keeping: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature. Because the sugar coating will melt, these cookies are not suitable for freezing.

Bad week at the farmers' market...

After my paltry showing at the inaugural farmers' market of the season last week, I redoubled my efforts and even got Cyd in on the fun (taught her how to make pound cakes and pie crusts!). By Saturday morning, we had a very respectable load of baked goods and preserves to take to town. And the weather, which threatened to be dismal, actually gave us a reprieve and was decent. Even though it seemed to start out slow, the people finally started to come, just an hour later that they normally do. Still, all the vendors reported the same thing at the end of the day: lots of lookers, very few buyers. BOO HISS! It was truly depressing. Last year, I sold pies before I could get them all unloaded from my car, and they were definitely gone within the first hour at the most. But I actually had pies left over this week! And because the various loaves and quick breads sold so well last week, I made extra this time, and ended up bringing most of those home, too. Ridiculous! Ah well, I guess that means less baking we'll have to do for this coming weekend. But I sure hope the sales pick up. Here's what I made for this past week:

4 vanilla pound cakes
4 chocolate pound cakes
2 banana nut breads (selling well...will try making 4 for next time)
2 blueberry-lemon loaves (recipe below)
2 cranberry-orange-walnut breads
2 raspberry-lemon loaves (DIVINE...the batter was yummy and the cakes smelled like summer as they baked, recipe to follow)
1 lemon poppy seed cake
2 maple-cinnamon swirl loaves (recipe below)
2 sour cherry almond crumble pies
2 jumbleberry-peach pies
2 blackberry crumble pies (made with the last of the wild blackberries from last summer, recipe below)
2 strawberry-rhubarb pies (made with my own hand-picked rhubarb! recipe below)
2 browned butter toasted pecan pies (world's best)
2 pans of amazing, practically flourless brownies (next time, I'll provide samples--the people just don't know! recipe follows)
6 bags of Anna's toffee stuff (no problem selling out on this stuff)
4 dozen "rainbow" eggs
And of course, lots of jams and preserves (pepper jelly is still my perennial bestseller)

Blueberry Muffins
(Source: The Best Recipe Cookbook)

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 stick), softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon flour (if using defrosted frozen berries)

1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle-lower part of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together, beating until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each one. Beat in the grated lemon peel.
4. Beat in one half of the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Beat in one third of the yogurt. Beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients. Beat in a second third of the yogurt. Beat in the remaining dry ingredients and then the remaining yogurt. Again be careful to beat until just incorporated. Do not over beat. Fold in the berries. If you are using frozen berries, defrost them first, drain the excess liquid, and then coat them in a light dusting of flour.
5. Use a standard 12-muffin muffin pan. Coat each muffin cup lightly with olive oil or grapeseed oil using a pastry brush, or with a little butter. Or use one of those convenient vegetable oil sprays. Distribute the muffin dough equally among the cups. Bake until muffins are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a long toothpick (we use a thin bamboo skewer) to make sure the center of the muffins are done. Set on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from the tin and serve slightly warm.

*I baked the batter into one large loaf instead of muffins, but it was SO big, that I think I'll scale the recipe back to two-thirds next time.

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins

(Source:, adapted from Bon Appetit July 2006)

Yield: 14 large or 56 miniature muffins or one large loaf*

1 1/8 cups sugar, divided
4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel (from two large lemons)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 1/2-pint containers (about) fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 14 standard muffin cups (or 56 minis) with paper liners. Mash 1/8 cup sugar and lemon peel in small bowl until sugar is slightly moist. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat remaining 1 cup sugar and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in egg. Beat in buttermilk, then vanilla and lemon sugar. Beat in flour mixture.

Divide batter among muffin cups (the 2/3-3/4 level worked well for minis). Top each large muffin with 4 raspberries (or mini muffins with one each). Bake muffins until lightly browned on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes (baking time was on the shy side of 20 minutes for mini muffins).

*Instead of making muffins out of the batter (which I will do in the future, because they are SO cute, especially the minis!), I gently folded the berries into the batter and baked it into a large loaf which had to bake longer of course, but came out beautifully! However, I don't think I'll make this for market again, as the fresh fruit makes for a very small profit margin. but if you're going to make it for yourself or people you love, it's darn well worth it!

Maple Cinnamon Swirl Loaves
(Source: Adapted from Taste of Home Magazine)

1/3 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided (for the two additional tablespoons, I used maple sugar)
3 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Spread half of the batter in two greased and floured 8-in. x 4-in. x 2-in. loaf pans. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar (or maple sugar); sprinkle half over batter. Spread with the remaining batter; sprinkle with remaining cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Yield: 2 loaves.

Blackberry Crumble Pie

(Source: adapted from two different Ken Haedrich recipes in Pie)

1 recipe for a single pie crust (your favorite)

4 1/2 cups blackberries
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (I added an extra tablespoon of tapioca flour, too)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

Cinnamon-Crumb Topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup rolled oats

Stir together the berries, sugar, thickener(s), lemon juice, and salt. Set aside to juice for 10 minutes, then scrape the filling into a chilled pie shell and smooth the top. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter pieces in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times until the butter is cut in and the mixture looks like coarse meal. Empty into a bowl, and mix in the oats by hand. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Remove the pie from the oven and reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Carefully dump the crumbs in the center of the pie and spread them evenly over the top (a fork helps). Return the pie to the oven and bake until the juices bubble thickly around the edges, another 30-40 minutes. (If necessary, cover with foil for the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.)

Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least two hours before serving.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
For this pie, the amount of sugar and tapioca you use is relative, depending on the fruit’s quality and your taste. If you prefer a less sweet pie or if the fruit is especially sweet, use the lower sugar amount. If you like your pie juices fairly thick, or if the fruit is really juicy, then opt for the higher amount of tapioca. If you are using frozen fruit, measure it frozen, but let it thaw before filling the pie. If not, you run the risk of partially cooked fruit and undissolved tapioca. If you are short on time, you could use a refrigerated pie crust.
Makes one 9-inch pie, serving 6 to 8

One recipe for double-crust pie (your favorite)

Strawberry-Rhubarb Filling:
3 cups fresh strawberries , hulled and sliced
3 cups fresh rhubarb , trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 -4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca (I prefer tapioca flour)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into small pieces

Remove dough from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss fruit with sugar, lemon juice and orange zest, vanilla extract, and tapioca; let stand for 15 minutes.

Roll larger dough disk on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer and fit dough into 9-inch Pyrex pie pan, leaving dough that overhangs the lip in place. Turn fruit mixture, including juices, into pie shell. Scatter butter pieces over fruit. Refrigerate until ready to top with remaining dough.

Roll smaller disk on lightly floured surface into 10-inch circle. Lay over fruit. Trim top and bottom dough edges to 1/2-inch beyond pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute dough in your own fashion, or press with fork tines to seal. Cut four slits at right angles on dough top to allow steam to escape (or fashion a lattice crust instead, as I did). If pie dough is very soft, place in freezer for 10 minutes before baking.

Place pie on baking sheet; bake until top crust is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; let cool to almost room temperature so juices have time to thicken, from 1 to 2 hours.

San Francisco Fudge Foggies
(Source: Barbara Feldman of San Francisco, winner of Best Overall Recipe in Chocolatier Magazine's Great Chocolate Challenge, 1986)
Makes 16 foggies

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/3 cup strong brewed coffee
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces (about 2 cups) walnut halves, coarsely chopped

Position a rack in the center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with a double thickness of aluminum foil so foil extends 2 inches beyond sides of pan. Butter bottom and sides of foil-lined pan.

In top of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering water, melt chocolate, butter and dissolved coffee, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove pan from the heat. Cool mixture, stirring it occasionally for 10 minutes.

In large bowl, using a hand-held mixer set at high speed, beat eggs 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat 2 minutes, or until mixture is light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in chocolate mixture until just blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour. Stir in walnuts. Do not over-beat. Transfer batter to pan. Bake 28 to 30 minutes, or until Foggies are just set around the edges. They will remain moist in the center.

Cool the Foggies in a pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours. Remove top foil and run a sharp knife around edge of Foggies. Using two ends of foil as handles, lift Foggies onto a plate and peel off foil. Invert them again onto a smooth surface and cut into 16 rectangles.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lazarus, come out of your tomb!

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I don't know how, but I managed to live through yet another semester and school year. I still have final grades to compute, but things have screeched to a near-halt, or at least to a much more humane pace. Of course, the close of finals week wasn't the end of it. No, indeed. The farmers' market opened this weekend, and I made the perhaps foolhardy decision to be a full-season vendor this year and the even crazier decision to be ready to sell things this Saturday morning. Suffice to say, I had 3-4 hours of sleep a night for about two weeks, and Friday night in particular, I went to bed at 5am and was back up at 7am to finish packaging baked goods and start loading the car. Compared to last year's offerings, my table was pretty bare this first week out. I decided fairly early on that I wasn't going to be able to make any pies; they are just too labor intensive, and plus, I need all day Friday to bake them, and I was at graduation until almost 8pm. Still, I had quite a few people stop by my stall, and exclaim how disappointed they were that there was no pie. In fact, my friend, June, dispatched her poor husband, Tom, down to the market to acquire a cherry pie that I had led her to believe might be there. :-( Oh, how I do hate to let people down! But I count it a miracle that I was there at all and with at least some things to vend.

I took ten pound cake loaves, half vanilla and half chocolate. I also made two loaves of the world's best banana nut bread, two cranberry-orange loaves (recipe follows), two almond poppyseed cakes with lemon glaze (recipe also below), four batches of shortbread including two kinds--maple (recipe below) and Turtle/caramel-chocolate-pecan, and just for fun, a few packages of Anna's crazy Frito and pretzel toffee stuff. Oh, and I also took four dozen of my hen's eggs and lots of jams--both sweet and savory--leftover from last season. I am pleased to say that most everything sold, despite it being just the first weekend, and a very BRISK one at that! I am off this week, so I will have more to offer next week, including pies. :-)

Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread
(adapted from
John Kerry's Massachusetts Cranberry Bread)

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
few drops fiori di Sicilia, optional
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (though pecans would be yummy, too!)

Grease and flour a loaf pan. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Stir in the orange juice, vanilla, and fiori di Sicilia. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together and blend into the batter, reserving a few tablespoons. Toss the cranberries and chopped walnuts with the remainder of the flour mixture, then fold into the batter. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Test with a toothpick.

Poppy Seed Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 small pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
4 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 cup hot water

Mix all the ingredients with a mixer, adding the hot water very slowly. Continue to mix for ten minutes. Bake in a greased and floured bundt pan (or two large loaf pans) at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes (or less for two loaves). Drizzle warm cake with the following glaze (whisk ingredients together until smooth):

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon almond extract

Maple Shortbread
(Source: Gourmet, November 1999)

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and put a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom in freezer to chill. Blend butter, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons maple sugar, and vanilla in a food processor just until smooth, about 30 seconds. Sift flour, cornstarch, and salt over butter mixture and pulse just until clumps form (about 8 pulses). Press evenly into chilled pan, then sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons maple sugar. Prick all over with a fork and freeze 5 minutes.

Bake in middle of oven until edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes and, while still warm, cut into 8 wedges. Cool completely before removing from pan.

*I doubled this and baked it in a 13 x 9-inch pan. Then I cut it into eight rectangles then 16 triangles, and drizzled the pieces with a simple maple glaze (powdered sugar, maple syrup and milk).

I have a funny epilogue to share before I wrap this up. So I got home from the farmers' market late Saturday afternoon. Cyd stayed in town to spend the night at a friend's house. I was just as bone-weary as I have ever been, but I unloaded the car, let the dogs out, grabbed something to eat, and checked my e-mail. My friend, Rosanne, was online and we chatted for awhile. But she kept admonishing me, in her motherly way, to sign off and go take a much-needed nap! So that's just what I did. I took my doggies upstairs with me and crashed. Not long after I lay down, the stupid old basset hound jumped off the bed and began click-click-clicking on the wood floor, indicating that she had to go potty. I was very annoyed, because the clock revealed that I had been asleep for less than two hours. But I needed to go to the bathroom, too, plus it was very cold in the room (the window was wide open) which was making me uncomfortable, so I decided to just get up. I let the dogs out and proceeded to make myself a hamburger, because I was really hungry. This seemed odd, as I ate right before I took my nap, but I chalked my appetite up to PMS. ;-)

When I went to check my e-mail again, my friend, Lynn, was online, and she wished me a Happy Mother's Day (from the dogs). I laughed and told her she was a day early, but thanks anyway. In the meantime, I couldn't figure out why the cable box was showing morning programming, and why there was a preponderence of church-y shows on. Then I looked down at the clock on the laptop, and it also said 8:30AM!! No wonder it was still so light out at 8:30. No wonder my neighbor was home though he works nights. No wonder I was so hungry. In short, like some sort of alcoholic or an MPD like Sybil, I had blacked out for almost 14 hours, losing an entire day! I can't believe that I passed out and never moved a muscle all night. And I really can't believe that the dogs let me sleep that long. And most of all, I can't believe that it took me a full two hours after getting up to realize that it was the next day, as I sat there eating my "dinner" of a burger and fries at 8:30 in the morning! Isn't that just the dumbest thing you've ever heard? And what's worse, by 10:30am, I conked out on the couch and didn't budge for an additional four hours! Hmm...think I was a little bit tired? ;-) And now, I get to do the baking all over again to be ready for next week's market. Ugh! But this time, I will pace myself so that I get more than 3-4 hours of sleep a night! And on that note, to bed. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The week that will not end!

Hello again, friends. Ok, so I had a great time in Nashville, but since I got back, I have gone from playing catch-up like crazy to doing a big old belly-flop into a bottomless pool of final papers and (exams. That's right, this is the last week of spring semester and the school year, and yet it feels like that dream where you are running down a hallway that just keeps getting longer...and longer...and longer. So I hope that explains my lack of blogging here of late. But as I am already losing sleep tonight by beginning my farmers' market baking (that's a whole 'nother story for another time), I'd figured I'd try to bring you up to speed on my culinary goings-on.

You'd think that I'd have great food stories to tell from Music City, but I was at a conference of sorts at a big hotel that I rarely left (I didn't have a car there). I won't bore you with tales of overpriced and underwhelming hotel restaurant and banquet food, but I will tell you about the BEST meal that I had when I managed to go out with some friends one night. Indeed, it was the best meal I've had in years!

A nice gal at the concierge desk recommend a restaurant called The Yellow Porch, and it was fantastic! The emphasis was on fresh, seasonal, locally-grown ingredients (be still my heart!), and their insistance on simple but superb ingredients really shined in the resulting dishes. They started us off with some wonderful bread--crusty and floury on the outside but so tender in the inside--that we dunked in some sort of flavored, herby olive oil. It was so delicious that I almost spoiled my dinner on that! But I had to try a salad that was one of the evening's specials. It was made with Farmer Dave's bibb lettuce (not sure who Farmer Dave is, but I love him for his soft, buttery greens!), local radicchio, crispy onions (not those horrible things from a can, but onions lightly fried in something like a tempura batter), shaved spring radishes, hard-cooked eggs, Point Reyes bleu cheese (divine, as always!), and candied bacon. Now I ask you, what kind of damn genius thought to CANDY bacon? May he live a thousand years! (He may need that blessing if he candies a lot of bacon!) And all of this was lightly dressed in a house-made champagne vinaigrette. HEAVEN HELP ME, it was the best salad I've ever had in my life, and don't think that I won't be attempting a home version of it very soon.

Of course, I was quite worried that my entree would never live up to my first course, but it was also incredible. I ordered a house favorite, the marinated flat-iron steak. I have tried before to get on the flat-iron bandwagon, but so far, mine have always been on the tough and tasteless side. But this was so amazingly flavorful and tender, and it was served with sea salt-roasted fingerling potatoes and seasonal vegetables, including zucchini, yellow squash, haricots verts, and tomatoes, with a mustard vinaigrette and spiced brown butter. TO DIE FOR! Ok, the tomatoes were the low point in the dish . Yes, I was in the Southland in the springtime, but even so, their tomatoes aren't ripe yet down there either! Nevertheless, it was just a superlative meal. I can't say enough about it. I don't want to sound full of myself, but you other cooks out there know, it gets to be very disappointing to eat out sometimes when you pay good money and end up with food that you could have made better at home! So this meal was surprising and marvelously so! If you live in the greater Nashville area, RUN do not walk to The Yellow Porch at your earliest convenience. You won't be sorry.

Of course, I've been up to my eyeballs in grading papers since returning home, so there hasn't been a lot of exciting cooking. But the weather has been so lovely that we managed to have the first cookout of the season this past weekend. We had spice-rubbed ribeyes, and I also made some of my pal Randi's Coal-Fired Wings (delish!). I served the grilled meats with mashed potatoes and a yummy marinated bean salad fashioned from odds and ends in the pantry and produce drawer. And I also made some rolls and a dessert from the latest issue of Taste of Home magazine that I impulsively bought at the grocery checkout recently. You know, I don't know why I've let my subscription lapse, because I started with issue #1 of that excellent publication, and I just love it. It's so homey and comforting, and all of the dishes are like something your grandma would make or that you'd get at the best church potluck.

The two recipes that I tried this weekend were poppyseed cake which I made into cupcakes for our dessert, and honey muffins to go with dinner. The texture of the poppyseed cupcakes was a little on the heavy side for my tastes, but they were very flavorful and topped with a luscious cream cheese butter frosting that, like the cake itself, was not overly sweet. They also held up really well, and I took the leftovers to share with my trivia team tonight. Everyone thought they were very good. But I must tell you about the honey muffins. Man, were they awesome! The recipe made a dozen, and we had half of them polished off (warm from the oven--YUM) before dinner was even done! Tee hee. They are feather-light and with a pronounced honey flavor and sweetness. They also reheat very well the next day. You can be sure that I will be making this recipe again and again. You should try it, too!

Grandma's Honey Muffins
(Source: Taste of Home, April/May 2007)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup honey

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk, butter and honey; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill sprayed muffin tins three-quarters full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from pan onto a wire rack to cool. Yield: one dozen

Poppyseed Cake
(Source: Taste of Home, April/May 2007)

1/3 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk
4 egg whites
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

In a small bowl, soak poppy seeds in milk for 30 minutes. Place egg whites in a large bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the shortening, sugar, and vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder and add to creamed mixture alternately with poppy seed mixture. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then fold gently into batter.

Pour into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish (or muffin tins lined with cupcake papers). Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes (or less for cupcakes, of course) or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

For frosting, in a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Spread over cake(s). Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 12-15 servings (I got 18 cupcakes)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lindsey's Luscious but Anna's Awesome!

Since I have been out of town and, thus, not cooking, I thought I might profile a new, up-and-coming guest chef for this posting. Do you remember me mentioning a regular reader named Anna awhile back? She is the daughter of a friend and a colleague at school, and she is an aspiring chef (at least this month anyway!). Anna's mom, Martie--whose maiden name was Martha Stewart, if you can believe--recently informed me that they made the wonderful chocolate icebox cake that I had posted about, and that the family just raved about it. They also sent me the cutest picture of young Anna, posing with her creation, and I wanted everyone to see. Isn't that great? I am so proud of her! :-)

Anna also sent me a gorgeous picture of herself posing with some fabulous-looking salsa. I was struck first by her beautiful blue eyes (click on the pic to enlarge it), but that salsa looked pretty good, too! So I asked her for the recipe, and I am pleased to share it with everyone, with Anna's permission, of course. Way to go,'re awesome! (Then again, what do you expect from the daughter of Martha Stewart? Tee hee.)

Anna's Awesome Salsa

3 cups of chopped tomatoes (Anna uses a combination of plum/Roma tomatoes and a few vine-ripened tomatoes)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 red or yellow pepper (like myself, Anna doesn't prefer green peppers!), chopped*
1/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
chopped basil (to taste)
chopped flat leaf parsley (to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
dash of cumin

*Anna and I live in the North Country, the polar (pun intended) opposite of the Southwest with its fiery cuisine. Folks around here can be a bit timid when it comes to hot sauce and chiles. But when I make Anna's salsa, I might be inclined to throw in a jalapeno or two (seeded and chopped) or even a serrano pepper for even more kick. But use your own discretion as to the heat level, of course.