Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Au Pavillion de la Pomme

WOW...this summer is speeding by! And between teaching two sessions of summer school and working at the farmers' market, I feel like I've barely seen any of it, except from the window of my classroom (see the previous post) or my kitchen. But--praise be--this is the last full week of school for the summer, and I will have darn near a month to recuperate before it all starts again!

As Cyd is working something like a swing shift these days and doesn't get off until 7, and because I have to prepare things for the market during the week, doing stuff on weeknights is practically impossible. Then, of course, most of my day on Saturday is consumed with the market. So that leaves just Sunday for us to do something fun. We try to get out of the house and go on little road trips here and there, usually somewhere in Quebec because we love it so. One of my favorite blogs, An Endless Banquet, always gives great ideas for places to go, like restaurants and markets and farms (oh my!).

Last year, they wrote about a great U-pick place about a half hour east of Montreal called Le Pavillion de la Pomme (that's The Apple Pavillion to non-Frenchies). But at this time of year, not only do they have every variety of the most gorgeous blueberries you've ever seen (bleuets), but also gooseberries (groseilles), red currants (gadelles), and the amazingly hard-to-find black currants (cassis) as well! Now, you know I'm not talking about miniature raisins, right? This a whole different animal...er, vegetable...fruit! Anyway, I made a mental note to check the place out this year when the berries were ready. And we were not disappointed! Le Pavillion de la Pomme is located in a beautiful rural area at the foot of Mont-Saint-Hilaire. And although they have already-picked fruit for sale, the fun is getting out there and picking your own! Well...under certain circumstances. I would have been thrilled to let them pick my fruit for me on such a hot summer afternoon, but when I got there, they told me that there were no black currants left--that they had been picked over the weekend before, and there would only be a few more of them but not until the next weekend. I nearly cried and explained that I only needed a pint, a quart at the most, for a recipe I wanted to make, and that I had come ALL THE WAY from another country! They finally took pity on me, gave me my little basket, and told me to search--possibly in vain--at the bottom and back of each bush. So the picking wasn't easy, but by the hardest, I got my quart of cassis! And it was fun, I have to admit. I particularly enjoyed listening to the Russian visitors boisterously laughing and talking together as they picked blueberries, and also the young French-speaking mother and her little (maybe four-year-old?) daughter who were singing sweet little songs together as they picked. It was a little League of Nations right there in the berry patch! And picking under the bird netting was kind of like being in one of those forts that you build as a kid, with blankets thrown over the furniture in the living room. Tee hee.

So heat-stricken, red-faced and huffing-and-puffing, we took our precious treasure back to the little store to purchase both the black currants and two pails of red. Then we motored on a bit further down the road until I managed to procure both raspberries (framboises), and even some of the last of this season's strawberries (fraises).
With that, I finally had all the ingredients I need to make a jam that I had been dreaming about. Awhile back, when I visited Saratoga Springs on my way back from an airport run to Albany, I stopped by Mrs. London's Bakery. In their shop, they sell these beautiful imported jams from a company called Tea Together. And one of the jams had the most enchanting name, Summer Pudding with Vanilla Pod. What could it mean? Well, the British call all desserts pudding, but a summer pudding is usually comprised of fresh macerated berries layered in a deep bowl or other kind of mold with slices of soft, white bread that absorb all of the lovely juices. In the case of this particular jam, the fruits included black and red currants, raspberries and strawberries, along with vanilla beans. Yum! I adapted a recipe for red currant and raspberry jam from the Ball Blue Book, and it turned out sweet, tangy and DEEE-LICIOUS! However, I will warn you, it is the most expensive, labor-intensive, time-consuming, and downright exasperating jam that I have ever made, and it took me three frustrating attempts to finally get it right.

First of all, you must remove all of the stems from the currants which takes, roughly, forever. (I amused myself by watching Season 5 of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Don't you just love Spike?) Then, as I quickly discovered after the first unfortunate batch, currants have dreadful seeds in them, resulting in this inedible shrapnel floating around in your jam. So you must cook the currants in a little water for about ten minutes and then push them through a sieve or food mill (you do this for both the black and the red). Since you're sieving anyway and your carpal tunnel is already exacerbated, you might as well go ahead and do the raspberries, too, and get most of those seeds out of the way. And finally, of course, you need to hull and slice the strawberries (whose seeds are too tiny to bother with). And all of this is BEFORE you even make the jam itself! AARRGH!

The other fatal flaw I committed on the first couple of batches was cooking the jam too long. When I make jam without pectin, I usually use one of three testing methods (or a combination)--using a candy thermometer to take it to 221, the sheet-off-a-spoon test, and the cold-plate-in-the-freezer test. Plus, I usually have a pretty good feel and eye for the set. Not with this jam! If you take it to the traditional jelling temperature, it sets up way too thick. And it's still going to look runny from the spoon and on the cold plate when it's done. This is a tricky one, this jam. It must have lots of natural pectin at play. So my advice to you, if you are brave and longsuffering enough to attempt it, is to stop cooking it quite a bit before you think you should. And if you err as I did and it sets up too much, oh well. It will still taste amazing, and it'll melt on your warm toast anyway! Here's my recipe:

Summer Pudding with Vanilla Beans
(adapted from The Ball Blue Book of Preserving)

1 cup black currant pulp
1 cup red currant pulp
1 cup crushed raspberries (seeded or not, as you like)
1 cup hulled and cut strawberries
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split

To prepare pulp, cook currants until soft with just enough water to keep them from sticking (about 1/4 cup). Press through a sieve or food mill.

Combine currant purees, raspberries and strawberries in a large saucepot. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add the split vanilla bean. Cook rapidly to the gelling point. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to avoid sticking/scorching. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Remove vanilla pod. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Makes about 4 half-pint jars.

I managed to use up all of the black currants in my summer pudding jam trials, but I still had the other quart of red currants. So I decided to try my hand at making red currant jelly. You know, they say (whoever they are) that red currant jelly is as common on European breakfast tables as Concord grape jelly is here. But for decades, it was illegal to grow anything in the gooseberry family (including black, red or white currants and jostaberries, a black currant/gooseberry cross) because they are hosts for white pine blister rust, which is potentially fatal to white pine trees. In fact, some states still have laws against it, so that's why fresh currants are not common here in our country. (Don'tcha just love Wikipedia?) Nevertheless, I had never made any kind of jelly before as I generally prefer jam, and you would think I might not want to attempt something new and potentially difficult after my nerves had been so frazzled with the other project. But Michelle at An Endless Banquet made it sound easy, and indeed, it was! The hardest part was figuring out what to do for a jelly bag. I was going to go buy one (if I could find one in my little 'burgh), but some wise old canners over at the Harvest Forum on GardenWeb had nothing but disdain for the jelly bag, saying it is way too small and the metal frame that comes with it is far too flimsy. Instead, they recommended at least four layers of cheesecloth lining a colander, an old cotton pillowcase, or a flour sack towel hung from a kitchen cabinet handle. I opted for the latter, except my cabinets don't have handles, so I used a curtain hook (I put the metal racks behind it just to keep the wet bag from resting against the wood finish of the window frame). This worked great and produced gorgeous, crystal clear, garnet-colored currant jelly. We've been eating it with some of the organic cheeses that I buy weekly at the market from the vendor right next to me (score!), and it is nothing short of a magnificent pairing. But you'll have to make your own, as I'm being stingy and NOT selling any of it at the market. ;-)

How To Make Red Currant Jelly in 14 Easy Steps, According to Michelle of An Endless Banquet

1. Place berries in a pot.
2. Add just enough [water?] to cover the bottom of the pot (Michelle recommends about 1/4").
3. Bring to a boil.
4. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
5. Pour the entire mixture in a jelly bag.
6. Let the contents drip into another pot overnight.
7. Measure the juice by volume.
8. Pour the same volume of sugar in a baking pan and place in a preheated oven at 200ยบ F for 30 minutes.
9. For every cup of juice, have 1 teaspoon of lemon juice ready.
10. Bring your juice to a boil.
11. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir.
12. Let it simmer until it comes to a gel, about 1 minute.
13. Carefully skim the foam and discard.
14. Ladle into jars and seal using either a wet or dry canning method.

Excellent on buttered toast, divine with a nice cheese.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer on Lake Champlain

This is the view from my classroom window every day at school. Lucky gal, aren't I? I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer, whatever your view!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A coupla quickies...one brag, one corny recipe.

This is going to be a short(er) entry, as I am on the run today, but I had to post a picture of my raspberries! I planted one bush about three years ago, and every year, I get a disappointing half dozen berries at most (perhaps because I forget to water it and it gets too crispy?). But Cyd and I were sitting on the porch the other day, and though I myself was engrossed in the new Harry Potter, she spied a shload of berries on the bush this year. JUST LOOK! There's darn near a pint of 'em! Oh, and they are so juicy and sweet, especially when freshly-picked and still warm from the sun. I think I might have to throw them in some homemade ice cream or something...I'm still deciding. But aren't they pretty? And I grew them myself! Ta-dah!

I hate to blog without a recipe, and I do have one to share. As I mentioned before, I have a conundrum. Corn season has begun, and I wish to eat two ears with every meal from now through October, but until Cyd deals with her dental issues, corn on the cob is a problem. So last night, we had a simply delicious chicken that I stuffed with cut limes, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with the house barbecue rub, roasted at a high temperature until crisp and juicy, and then glazed with my special apricot pepper jelly (come to the Plattsburgh Farmers' Market and I'd be happy to sell you some! tee hee). And alongside the marvelous roasted chicken, I made homemade creamed corn. It's so simple and so easy that I can't believe I haven't made it before! (Well, it's because I'm always eating it right off the cob, I guess.) Even when Cyd's teeth are better, I'll be making this on a regular basis throughout late summer and fall...and maybe again tonight!

Creamed Corn
(kind of cross between Alton Brown's version and one from Martha's Everyday Food)

1/2 onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
8 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup heavy cream (you can get away with 1/2 cup, but why would you want to do that?)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for a nice yellow color)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper*

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook 2 to 3 minutes until translucent.
2. While the onion is cooking, remove the kernels from the corn. Stand a corn cob vertically over a large, shallow bowl. Using a sharp knife, use long, downward strokes of the knife to remove the kernels from the cob. Use the edge of a spoon (or the back of your knife) to scrape the sides of the cob to remove any remaining pulp. Pick out any fibrous bits that may have found their way into the bowl by mistake.
3. Add the corn to the onions and butter in the saucepan. Add about a 1/2 cup of water and bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes until the corn is tender.
4. Add the sugar and cream (and tumeric, if using) to the corn. Cook, uncovered, for another five minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced and thickened somewhat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6.

*I wanted my creamed corn very simple last night, but next time, I might add a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the corn as it's simmering, then remove the woody stems before adding the sugar and cream.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The veggies are here! The veggies are here!

Friends, this morning on my way to work, I saw the sign that confirms that the harvest season has begun in earnest--the folks that sell corn out of the back of their pickup truck was open for business up at the corner of Rt. 22 and Miner Farm Road. YIPPEE! I knew it would happen soon, as all of the produce vendors had the first teeny-tiny but very sweet little ears of corn for sale this past Saturday. Of course, my silly roommate has a terrible toothache right now, and the dentist won't be back from vacation until August 7th, so corn on the cob is out and mushy and/or liquid foods are in. And since we have been experiencing a spate of unseasonably cool weather, I decided to make that autumnal favorite, corn chowder. Here's my method:

First, I use kitchen shears to cut a half pound or so of bacon into thin little strips, and I brown them in a big pot. Once they are crispy, I fish them out and set them aside. Then I add a half stick of butter to the bacon renderings and cook 2-3 ribs of diced celery and one large diced onion until soft. Next, I add a teaspoon of tumeric and a half cup of flour to the pot and cook the roux for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Then I add two quarts of chicken stock, a tablespoon of dried parsley, a teaspoon of dried thyme (although fresh herbs would be preferable at present!), a pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and then I stir the broth. Next, I add four large or six medium potatoes (peeled or not, as you like) cut into sizable chunks and simmer them for maybe ten minutes or so until almost completely tender. Then I add about a pound of corn kernels (cut fresh from the cob at this time of year or a bag of frozen will do in off-seasons) and cook for another five minutes or so. Finally, I stir in a pint of cream or half-and-half, correct the seasonings, and serve with a sprinkle of the crispy bacon pieces on each bowlful. YUM!

Not only is the corn coming on, the squash deluge has begun. I have actually been too busy with the farmers' market this year to plant more than tomatoes and peppers, but as prolific as squash is, I'm sure my friends and neighbors will hook me up! And now that zucchini is plentiful, customers at the market have been asking me to make zucchini bread. Here's the one I've been making for the past couple of weeks, and it's yummy! It's a zucchini and carrot bread to which I add a little candied ginger for extra zing. I also use white whole wheat flour for added nutritional value, and if you wanted to take the health issue a bit further, I bet you could swap out some applesauce for some of the vegetable oil. Even though this makes a very dense loaf, it is surprisingly moist, and it and keeps for quite awhile in the fridge. And the spices give it a great flavor--kind of a cross between zucchini bread and carrot cake. So when the zucchini starts overtaking your home and garden, give this recipe a try.

Zucchini-Carrot Bread
(Makes two loaves.)

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated, raw zucchini (no need to peel it)
1 cup carrots, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons vanilla
2-3 tablespoons finely-chopped candied ginger
3 cups flour (I use white whole wheat for this)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/3 of a nutmeg, grated
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two loaf pans or spray with cooking spray with flour. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add sugar, oil, zucchini, carrot, vanilla, and candied ginger. Mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add to zucchini/carrot mixture. Mix just until combined then fold in the walnuts. Pour into prepared pans and bake for about an hour. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then remove from pans. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sour Cherry Epilogue

So whatever became of all those sour cherries that you lovingly and gingerly carried home from Columbia County two weekends ago, Gina? Glad you asked! A good many of them were simply pitted and frozen for future pies. And no, not pies for the farmers' market...pies we will make and selfishly hoard for ourselves and perhaps a few very special friends. Then the remainder of the cherries were fashioned into the most perfect of jams. The recipe is your basic Sure Jell formula, but with a teeny bit of vanilla and a mere whisper, a ghost, an innuendo of almond extract--flavors intended not to call attention to themselves but simply to make the cherries taste, well, cherry-er. The jam is also a beautiful, sparkly, classic cherry-red color, and it tastes bright and tangy and heavenly. For those who wish to try this at home (and I strongly encourage it), here's the recipe:

Sour Cherry Jam

4 cups prepared fruit (about 3 lb. fully ripe sour cherries)
1 box powdered fruit pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter
4-3/4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
few drops of almond extract

Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

Stem and pit cherries. Finely chop or grind fruit (I prefer a rougher chop as they break down a lot as they cook). Measure exactly 4 cups prepared fruit into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot.

Stir pectin into prepared fruit in sauce pot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon. Stir in vanilla and almond extract.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.) This recipe makes about six half-pint jars.

Monday, July 16, 2007

On the shores of Cheddar Bay...

Yes, yes, I KNOW! I know I haven't been posting much. That's because I am not cooking much, other than the same old same old for the farmers' market that I've already blogged about. But I do have a tide over snack for you today that I've been meaning to share for sometime now.

Let me preface this entry by saying that I live in a very small city (actually, I live 20 miles north of a very small city, but that's neither here nor there), and we are not blessed with great eating establishments, Michigan joints notwithstanding (please refer to your October 2006 issue of Gourmet for all the details of Plattsburgh's only culinary claim to fame). What's worse, sometimes we get decent places and then they go away. Just this week, in fact, I was dismayed to learn that our one little gourmet shop/caterer in town, The Grand Onion, is going out of business...BOO HISS! And it's not just small, privately-owned operations, either. Years ago--even before I moved here--Plattsburgh had a Red Lobster that that closed down. I mean...what in the world? How could a big box chain like that fail? When Applebee's came a few years ago, people stood in line for hours to get in, for crying out loud! Anyway, there are still folks around that remember Red Lobster being here and some of them even used to work there.

In the first summer session, I had a nice fellow named Larry in my class, and he used to be a cook at the now-defunct Red Lobster. He even went through the intensive training in Orlando or wherever it is that they send them, and he earned the highly-desired Red Lobster chef's coat! Whoo-hoo! And for his informative speech my class (have I ever mentioned that I teach public speaking? well, I do), he decided to teach us how to make a excellent knock-off of the famed Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits. (Where is Cheddar Bay, do you suppose? Wisconsin, perhaps?) Now because Larry would like to work for them again one day if he has the opportunity, he kept some parts of the recipe as trade secrets, but he did share some great tips. The most important of which is to start with good old Bisquick as your base. In fact, they are told at Red Lobster if they ever run out of their own secret biscuit mix (which has to be shipped in unmarked cartons or it frequently gets stolen off of the trucks!), that they should run to the store and buy some Bisquick and use that in a pinch. Also, Larry insists that, despite all of the copycat recipes on the web advising the use of milk to keep the biscuits tender, that it's all about the ice water in the mix. And lastly, to simulate Red Lobster's buttery topping, Larry recommends using a liquid butter-type product such as I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray. That skeeved me out a bit, so I just used regular melted butter, but you do what you need to do. I also chose to make mine in a muffin tin, to get crispier sides. But that made for less surface area on top to spread the buttery goodness over. So I think I will make them as Larry does, with a muffin scoop right onto a cookie sheet, for next time. Still, these were darn good and a very reasonable facsimile of the legendary Cheddar Bay Biscuits of Red Lobster fame. And until that restaurant returns to us in poor old Plattsburgh (though in truth, I'd much rather have an Olive Garden and/or a Chili's!), these might just have to do. Enjoy!

Larry's Almost Cheddar Bay Biscuits

2 1/4 cups Bisquick
3/4 cup cold water
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (preferably, sharp)

4 oz. liquid butter (such as I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/8 teaspoon dried parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix together the Bisquick, cheese and ice water (water temperature must be between 34 and 36 degrees). Stir ingredients just until soft dough forms. Dough must be portioned and placed in the oven within 10 minutes (use a muffin scoop for equal-sized biscuits). Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate biscuits about halfway through so that they bake evenly.

Mix together the liquid butter (open the spray bottle and pour), garlic powder, garlic salt (I don't have garlic salt, so I used 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic plus a good pinch of salt), Old Bay, and parsley. Once biscuits are golden brown, remove from the oven, and immediately brush garlic topping over hot biscuits and serve.

Monday, July 09, 2007

On the Trail of Sour Cherries: A U-Pick Road Trip

I can't be the only crazy foodie in Christendom that makes her travel plans around regional eats, can I? You already know about my regular forays into Montreal and the surrounding areas of Quebec. At the other end of the spectrum, there are whole vacations devoted to cuisine, such as when I went to New Orleans some years ago just for the food, and more specifically, to find the best pecan pie in the Crescent City. (By the way, and Liz Taylor agrees with me here, it's to be found at the Camellia Grill. The pie itself is decent, but it all comes down to how they drizzle a slice with butter and then cook it on the grill for a minute or two before serving it up all warm and gooey. Wow! But I digress...)

Even when I'm going somewhere for a non-culinary purpose, I still feel compelled to plot out a few foodie side trips. This past weekend, I was in West Springfield, MA for some dog shows (we lost...boo hiss...although we did get reserve a couple of days, which is like runner-up). And on the way back, I made it my business to track down some farms in lovely Columbia County (15 miles or so east of Albany, the beginning of the Hudson region) that might have the nearly-unattainable objects of my desiring, FRESH PIE CHERRIES! As is my way, I did some research before I left, and I found two places in Ghent and Kinderhook, and a few more in Hudson and Germantown, but I was hoping not to have to go that far south and/or too far from my regular route (I-90). Lucky me, I struck gold (or maybe rubies, in this case) at the first place I tried, the beautiful Love Apple Farm in Ghent, NY. I don't know what possessed me because they were NOT cheap, but I made off with an entire PECK of puckery beauties (that's eight quarts to non-rural readers). They were $1.50 a pound if you picked them yourself, but I was quite happy to pay $2 a pound for them to do the picking for me. After all, I'm going to have to do all of the blasted pitting (although I pray that Cyd will find it in her heart to help--and she better if she wants a pie out of it)! However, had it not been late in the day with nearly three hours left to drive home and were it not so terribly hot, and had I brought some company along (other than my dog, Grady, whose paws don't allow for gentle fruit retrieval from trees), it would have been a fun outing to go picking in the orchards, and afterwards, there's a petting zoo with cute baby animals, too. :-)

I'm not sure if you can make out the sign here (click on it to make it bigger), but I enjoy the house U-pick rules at Love Apple Farm:
1) No throwing fruit. (I love that this is priority one.)
2) Must pay for all that you pick. (That's fair enough.)
3) Lift your trunk upon return from orchard. (Ooh, not much love and trust at the LOVE Apple Farm, eh?)
And then a final warning, 4) Pick at your own risk. (What are the dangers of cherry-picking, I wonder? Since fruit-throwing is strictly verboten, that leaves...what? Jealous bird attacks?) After a hot day of picking fruit in the orchards, you can cool off with some ice cream at Love Apple Farm. In the lower right corner of the picture, you can also see a few of their ice cream flavors that day. I didn't have any, but the most amusing flavor was ELVIS (vanilla with peanut butter and banana)...tee hee.

However, I did avail myself of a most unexpected food find (and aren't those always the best ones?), an authentic Mexican lunch from "Leticia's Cosina!" I saw a lot of Latino folks around the area, and I assume, much like where I grew up in Oregon in the pear capital of the world, they have a lot of seasonal migrant labor in the Hudson area. (I overheard one customer saying, "See you next season!" to Leticia and her crew while I was eating my lunch out on the covered patio.) I chose two tamales and a soup called Sopa de Cameron, or cold shrimp soup. And look at the cute little apple plate on which they were served! The tamales were okay, but nothing to rave about (they will be much improved when the pico de gallo includes seasonal tomatoes in another month or so). But the SOUP...oh, the soup was sheer heaven! It was like gazpacho--tomatoey, zesty and tangy with lime--but with the sweetness of little shrimps and avocado chunks. DELISH! You KNOW I am going to have to try to recreate this refreshing soup at home, since I am clearly in my cold soup period.

After my time at Love Apple Farm, I decided to go ahead and check out Samascott Orchards which was just a couple more miles down the road in Kinderhook. Kinderhook is just a darling little postcard of a town, and Samascott's looked to be U-pick heaven! They have a little table set up in the middle of the parking lot with scales and a cash box. On the way in, you stop and pick up a map to locate the pickings of your choice, and then on the way out, you stop at the table again and they weigh your haul, collect your payment, and send you on your way. It's a U-pick drive-thru! Isn't that fun?!

Heading back to the interstate, I made a final stop at Golden Harvest Farms in Galatie, NY. I was saddened to realize that the peaches advertised on their roadside sign that caused me to slam on my brakes were from Georgia. But they did have apple cider donuts, hot from the fryer, that were the best I have ever tasted, and I consider myself an apple cider donut connoisseur, mind you. They were huge and fluffy and spicy, and this all but cements my working theory that fried doughs are best left to those from Germanic communities (this theory having derived from the most amazing funnel cake that I once had years ago in a largely Amish area in Ohio, but again...I digress). So I bought a dozen donuts and a pint of locally-produced milk, and I was happy as a clam at high tide, riding down I-90 toward Albany, covered in sugar and an equally sticky smugness in acquiring 20 pounds of beautiful sour cherries. And in a few weeks, the Morellos (a European tart black cherry that I have only ever seen in a jar at Trader Joe's) will be ready, not to mention, the local peaches. I feel another road trip coming on! ;-) So my friends, if you are in the general region, I highly recommend a very scenic day trip to the farms and orchards of Columbia County, New York. It's a truly seasonal adventure that should not be missed!

However, if picking fresh cherries is not feasible for you, or not your style, I can still recommend a wonderful recipe using cherry jam. My dear friend, June, made this meal for us from the ubiquitous Rachael Ray a few weeks ago, and it was so good, that I had to make it again at home! I like to think that it still honors this brief but magical cherry season any time of year without having to make the long summer road trip.
Spanish Pork Chops with Linguica Corn Stuffing and Cherry-Rioja Gravy

(Source: Rachael Ray via http://www.foodtv.com/)

4 thick-cut boneless pork chops, center cut, about 2 pounds
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup rioja or other dry red wine, eyeball it, about 1/4 of a bottle (I used Shiraz myself)
1/2 cup black cherry preserves or all-fruit spread (Polaner makes a great one, though soon, I will have my own homemade sour cherry jam!)
2 cups beef stock, divided
1/2 pound linguica or chorizo, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped (or 4!)
4 corn muffins, crumbled (I cheated and made mine from a Martha White mix)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, eyeball it in your palm (regular paprika would work)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, 4 to 5 sprigs
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, 2 turns around the pan. Add the chops and caramelize the meat, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer meat to a sheet pan and place in the oven to finish cooking through, 12 to 15 minutes. Return pan to stove, reduce heat a bit and add butter to the skillet. Add flour to butter and cook 1 minute. Whisk wine into pan and reduce 1 minute then whisk in preserves and 1 cup of stock. Season with salt and coarse black pepper and let gravy thicken over low heat.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan. When oil smokes, add linguica or chorizo and brown, 2 minutes. Add the celery, onions, peppers, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes then crumble muffins into the skillet and combine with vegetables. Dampen the stuffing with remaining 1 cup of stock and season with smoked paprika and thyme. Reduce heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

Remove meat from oven and whisk the drippings into your gravy. Pile stuffing on plates, chops alongside and ladle gravy over both. Scatter parsley over meat and stuffing.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Try to keep your raging jealousy in check....

I begin with a story of my stupidity. Last week, I was trying to make the legendary Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Pie to be served with some of the exquisite St-Valentin strawberries. The recipe says to begin by mixing the dry ingredients in your blender. I knew better, that my blender requires liquid first to function properly. But did I listen to my instincts? Nooooo! But I guess I learned my lesson when SMOKE started pouring out of the base of my poor old Cuisinart! Am I am idiot or what? (Shh. That was a rhetorical question, thank you.) Instead of crying over burned blenders, I took it as a sign from the gods/goddesses of kitchenware that it was finally time for me to pursue that holy grail of blenders...(gung, gung, GUNG)...a WARING! The reviews I read encouraged me to stay away from the kitchen models and spend the extra money on a professional/commercial bar blender that would crush ice effortlessly and last long enough to bequeath to my progeny, should there ever be any. The trouble is, the cost was a bit prohibitive, starting at about $130 and heading upwards to nearly $400! But then this beauty entered my life:

Ok, so it's a refurb in a color that some might find offensive but that I find charming and kitschy-cool (think Jadite, think...MARTHA!). But it's a Waring Pro and more blender than a gal like me will probably ever need, and all for the rock-bottom price of 66 bucks! That's half-price, friends! And look at the sexy, svelte curves of her vintage beehive design, and if you could feel her substantive weight, her sturdy character that promises a relentless work ethic, you'd say to yourself, now THAT'S a blender! Try not to hate me 'cuz I have one and you don't.

To make you feel better, I will share an excellent recipe for you to make in whatever humble little blender you might have. This dish comes from my friend, Becky, who is both a brilliant philosopher and an imaginative cook. When the summer starts to swelter but the garden-fresh tomatoes aren't ready to make gazpacho yet, this is the chilled soup that will fill the bill. Apparently, Becky reworked a classic Fannie Farmer recipe and came up with this simple yet delightfully refreshing soup that is nearly the color of my new blender and tastes like you're eating a cloud...a tangy, creamy, cool, green cloud. ;-)

Cucumber-Avocado Soup

one good-sized cucumber (preferably English and seedless)
two ripe avocados
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half and half
salt (to taste)
lemon juice (to taste)
fresh chives (to taste)

Peel, slice, and seed the cuke. Peel, halve and pit the avocados. Add both to the blender. Add the chicken broth and half and half and blend until very smooth. Add enough lemon juice and salt to please you (you might try 1/4 cup lemon juice--I think I ended up using the juice of two lemons--but it's all about balance, says Becky the philosopher). Add some fresh chives, starting with about two teaspoons or more to taste, realizing that the chives will take awhile to fully flavor the soup. I also like to add a good pinch of cayenne. Then chill the soup thoroughly. Garnish with sour cream and another sprinkle of chives.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Market Pies and Mittitei

My life seems to be divided into two modes these days: getting ready for the farmers' market each week and then COLLAPSING FROM EXHAUSTION for a day or two afterwards before it all begins again! But last week, I cut back a lot. My first summer session class ended, and psychologically, I guess I just went into "time off" mode. I did make a lot of jam, though, including two batches from the lovely St-Valentin strawberries (16 jars) and also two batches of my new favorite thing in the whole world, apricot pepper jelly made from the beautiful, fragrant Ontario apricots from the Jean-Talon Market (14 jars). I'm not sure that I don't love it more than my regular onion-garlic-pepper jelly...it's SOOOO good! But beyond jam, I didn't do much in the way of baking, other than to make pies. I promised awhile ago to share the recipes for some of the pies that I've been making lately, so here you go...

Rita's Simply Blueberry Pie (pictured, top right and center right)
(Source: Rita Pooler, winner of the Wild Blueberry Pie Invitational at the annual Union County Fair in Maine, via

1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 cups fresh berries (preferably, wild!)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter

Crust (I used my favorite crust recipe from Ken Haedrich instead):
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup rice water

1 egg white
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Make the filling: Sprinkle lemon juice on berries. Mix flour, sugar, and cornstarch. Add to berries, and toss lightly. Set aside.

2. Make the crust: In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in vegetable shortening and butter until coarse. Add ice water, and mix gently until moist. Form two balls, and roll out one of them to line pie plate. Spoon filling into unbaked crust. Dot with butter. Roll out second ball, and cover pie. Fold edges of top crust under bottom crust, and flute edges. Slit top of pie to vent.

3. Make egg glaze: In a small bowl, beat egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush top of pie with mixture, and sprinkle with white and brown sugar. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, and bake until filling bubbles, about 45 minutes.

Cherry-Red Raspberry Pie (pictured, top right and top center right)
(Source: Phyllis Bartholomew, grand prize winner of the 2004 National Pie Championships in Celebration, FL, via

Crust (again, I used my favorite Haedrich crust recipe):
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons super rich butter powder, optional*
1 cup shortening
1 whole egg
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup ice water

1 (10-ounce) package frozen red raspberries, thawed
2 cups canned pitted sour cherries in juice
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Milk, for brushing crust
1 tablespoon sugar, for sprinkling

For the crust: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours and the butter powder, if using. Add the shortening and using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside. In a small bowl, beat together the egg, vinegar, salt, and water. Add egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine with a fork, just until the dough comes together. Do not over mix. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

For the filling, drain the thawed raspberries, reserving the juice in a measuring cup. Drain the cherries and add enough of the juice from the cherries to make 1 cup liquid total.

In a saucepan mix the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the juice and add the cherries, and simmer over medium-low heat until filling is thick and clear, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Very gently fold in the raspberries. Set aside.

Using a little more than 1/3 of the dough, roll it out between 2 pieces of plastic wrap to a size that will overlap the edge of a 9-inch glass pie dish. Fit dough in pie dish, trimming off excess.

Add the filling. Roll out the remaining dough to fit the top. Place the dough over the filling, cut off the excess, and crimp edges to seal the dough. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut 3 or 4 slits for steam vents.

Place on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, and then move to the middle shelf, reduce the heat to 350 degrees F, and continue to bake until the crust is a golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes more. Cool completely before cutting.

*Cook's Note: Butter powder is available online and at some specialty baking stores.

Vanilla Bean Peach Pie with Almond Crumb Topping (pictured center left and bottom left)
(Source: adapted from an amalgamation of two recipes from Ken Haedrich's Pie)

single pie crust, your favorite recipe

5 cups peaches, peeled, pitted and thickly sliced
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (or granulated sugar plus 1/2 scraped vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice

3/4 cup whole or slivered almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cold, cubed
1/2 cup rolled oats (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pastry and fit into a 9-inch pie pan.

Mix together the peaches, vanilla sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Turn the filling into the pie shell and smooth the top. Place the pie on a center rack in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the almonds, sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the pieces are reduced to less than pea-sized. Add the oatmeal (if using) and gently mix with your fingers (don't process--leave the oatmeal whole). Refrigerate topping until ready to use.

After 30 minutes, remove the pie from the oven and reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Carefully dump the crumb topping in the middle of the pie and spread it out evenly and tamp it down lightly (I use a fork). Return the pie to the oven and bake for another 30-45 minutes, or until the juices bubble thickly around the edges.

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

After baking pies all day Friday and working at the market all day Saturday, I was in no shape to prepare an elaborate dinner that night! So I decided on an easy grill-out meal but with an ethnic twist. As I have blogged about previously, we have fallen in love with the super-tasty burgers Romains at the Jean-Talon Market, and I was determined to figure out how to make them at home. I found a recipe online called Mittitei or Grilled Romanian Hamburger that sounded just right. Basically, it's just like an American hamburger but with different spices, and it's shaped into a cylinder like a hot dog. It's served in a regular hot dog bun with a robust mustard (I actually made my own based on an Alton Brown recipe) and some sauerkraut. It would be best if you made your own sauerkraut, but most of us don't have the time, patience or space to ferment our own kraut. So if you buy it, just try to find the freshest kind possible that still has some snap to it, like Claussen's refrigerated sauerkraut (I used another brand called Krisp Kraut this time). And, voila! These were delicious and very similar to what we buy in Montreal. I will definitely be making these many times again this summer!

Mittitei (Grilled Romanian Hamburger)
(Source: adapted from

2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic (I doubled this, as is my way!)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I doubled this, too.)
1/2 cup beef stock, fresh or canned
Vegetable oil*

Combine all ingredients except oil in a deep bowl. Knead vigorously with both hands until ingredients are well blended. Then pour in the stock and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Taste for seasoning. Divide the mixture into 18 equal portions and roll each one into a cylinder about 3 1/2 inches long and 1 inch thick, moistening your hands with cold water as you proceed.

Grill or broil on the highest setting about 3 inches from the heat for about 8 minutes, turning them with a spatula or tongs every few minutes until they are crisp and brown on all sides.

*The recipe never says what to do with the oil, but I brushed each piece of meat with a little oil, using a pastry brush before grilling.

Best Mustard Ever
(Source: Alton Brown via

1/4 cup dry mustard powder
2 teaspoons light brown sugar (I used 3-4 tablespoons!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used a whole teaspoon)
1/2 cup sweet pickle juice (I used dill pickle juice, as it's all I had)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup mustard seed (AB didn't specify, but I used both yellow and brown mustard seeds from my local co-op, and WHOO-WHEE, was that mustard spicy! For a milder mustard, use all yellow mustard seeds.)

In a small, microwave-proof bowl whisk together the dry mustard, brown sugar, salt, turmeric, paprika and garlic powder. In a separate container, combine the pickle juice, water and cider vinegar and have standing by. Place the mustard seed into a spice grinder and grind for a minimum of 1 minute, stopping to pulse occasionally. Once ground, immediately add the mustard to the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the liquid mixture. Whisk to combine. Place the bowl into the microwave and heat on high for 1 minute (I had to nuke it in my crappy microwave for almost five minutes to get it to thicken). Remove from the microwave and puree with a stick blender for 1 minute. Pour into a glass jar or container and allow to cool uncovered. Once cool, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.