Thursday, August 30, 2007

Canning Queen (Young and Sweet, Only 39)

I'm sorry my posts have been few and far between lately. You may choose from one of three excuses:
1) School is back in full swing, and I'm crazed.
2) I am sick as a dog with the allergies and hay fever (damn ragweed!).
3) Every "free" moment I have is spent with another canning project--they never end at this time of year! And I'd like to share a few winners with you in the thick of this harvest season.

Pictured above are three faaaabulous preserving recipes that, once again, I gleaned from the wonderful GardenWeb Harvest Forum. To the left is the famous Annie's Salsa. One batch made eight pints, and man, is it good! This recipe has taken on mythic fame on the Harvest Forum, and I secretly thought to myself, how good can it really be? Well, I've already decided to make a second batch this week, if that tells you anything! It's a very basic salsa with no bells and whistles, but it's just delicious. There is another version of the same recipe where you swap out a quart of peaches for one quart of the tomatoes to make a "Peach Twist Salsa." I might try that, too, before all of the local peaches are gone.

Pictured in the center is a refrigerator pickle (no processing required) called "Tomates-Cerises a L'Aigre-Doux." That's pickled cherry tomatoes to you, but isn't it much nicer in French? If you find yourself inundated with far too many cherry tomatoes, this is a great recipe to preserve them, plus, the jars look so pretty! Just make sure to use very firm tomatoes (preferably, of different shapes and colors), and though the recipe didn't call for it, I threw in a few small onions, a few cloves of garlic, and a tiny pepper or two for good measure. Furthermore, I didn't have any fresh tarragon, so I used marjoram and thyme in mine, but you can whatever herb you have on hand and/or prefer. You can also choose from many different vinegars. I used mostly cider vinegar but with some tarragon white wine vinegar as well. Mix it up and have fun with it!

Lastly, because I was recently complaining about drowning in zucchini, a lovely gal from the Harvest Forum left a comment on my blog recommending that I try a recipe for Roasted Corn and Zucchini Salsa (pictured on the right), so I made a triple batch and got seven pints for my efforts, which I must tell you were substantial. The cutting and chopping took roughly a year and half (Annie's Salsa did, too, for that matter), but the labor was darn well worth it. The salsa is very tasty, especially if you love things limey, and I surely do (starting with my first crush as a child on Jack Wild, "Jimmy" from H.R. Pufnstuf, but that's another Oprah show)!

Here are the recipes for your canning enjoyment:

Annie's Salsa
(Source: GardenWeb's Harvest Forum)

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped and drained (I didn't bother peeling mine, but I did scoop out the gel and seeds from each tomato before chopping)
2 1/2 cups onion, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped green pepper (I used some sort of large, mild chilies for this--the lady at the farmers' market that I bought them from didn't know their proper name)
3 – 5 chopped jalapeños (I used a mix of jalapeños, serranos, cayennes, and super chilies to make it a little hotter and give it a a slightly more complex flavor)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/8 cup canning salt (kosher will work, too, but you might need a little more of it--taste to be sure)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (this is optional if you don't like cilantro)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar for water bath canning or 1/3 cup vinegar for a pressure canner (I used white vinegar, but you could use cider or red wine vinegar for extra sweetness)
16 ounces tomato sauce
16 ounces tomato paste

Mix all ingredients, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Pour into hot jars, process at 10 lbs of pressure for 30 minutes for pints. Or in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Makes 6 pints (I got 7!)

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes (Tomates-Cerises a l'Aigre-Doux)

(Source: GardenWeb's Harvest Forum)
Makes 1 quart

1 quart water
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 pound FIRM (almost under-ripe) cherry tomatoes (round and plum varieties of all colors can be used)
2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar or more (to taste)
2 sprigs fresh summer savory or tarragon (or fresh herb of your choosing)
12 black peppercorns

In a large bowl, combine the water and salt, and stir to dissolve the salt. Prick the bottom of each tomato once with a clean needle. Place the tomatoes in the salt brine, cover and marinate for 24 hours at room temperature.

In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring just to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly.

Remove the tomatoes from the salt brine and drain thoroughly. Discard the salt brine.
Carefully place the tomatoes in a 1-quart canning jar. Arrange the herbs and peppercorns around the edges of the jar. Pour the vinegar-sugar mixture over the tomatoes. Secure the jar tightly. Let sit in the refrigerator for 3 weeks before tasting.

Serve as a pickle, or as an appetizer, with toothpicks to spear.

Roasted Corn and Zucchini Salsa
(adapted from
Preserving the Harvest)

Note: The ingredients below only make two pints, so you may wish to double or triple the recipe.

3 medium zucchini, cleaned, trimmed, and diced (I used shredded zucchini)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ears yellow corn, husked, silks removed
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 large tomatoes, seeded & chopped
1 cup fresh lime juice (I used bottled as I was tripling the recipe and couldn't be bothered to squeeze enough limes to make three cups!)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 jalapeño chilies, seeded & minced (again, I used a mix of hot peppers)
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Toss the zucchini with the salt and "sweat" for 1/2 hour in a non-reactive colander. Rinse and dry.

Coat corn with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes (until lightly browned). Cool & cut off kernels from cobs. (I cut the kernels off before roasting; it was easier.)

Combine the zucchini, corn, remaining oil, tomatoes, lime juice, vinegar, jalapeños, scallions, garlic, cumin and pepper in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1 inch head space, and cap and seal. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

FOLLOW-UP: Upon opening and sampling this salsa, I must confess that I found it EXTREMELY limey and too acidic-tasting overall for my tastes. However, I came up with a quick fix. Now when I open a (pint) jar, I empty it into a mesh strainer to drain off some of the liquid, then I combine the corn and zucchini salsa with one 15-oz. can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes before serving. Then it's perfectly yummy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A fond farewell to the blueberries....

I guess the blueberries have been going strong for more than a month now, but still, I am sad to see the end of the run! I wanted to create a big blueberry finale, so I bought what will probably be my last pint for the season while at Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, NY the weekend before last. Cyd had been bugging me to try to replicate the fantastic blueberry torte that she had from Rainbow Sweets last year in Marshfield, VT. I think the cake turned out well enough, though not exactly like the prototype, I'll admit.

The torte at Rainbow Sweets, as best as we both could remember and/or tell from the picture, was one split cake layer filled and topped with pastry cream, with whipped cream on top of that, and then TONS of fresh, juicy blueberries to garnish. So I started with a basic (white) genoise from baking god, Nick Malgieri's definitive How to Bake. It came together easily and baked up beautifully; it was fluffy and tall, with an even texture and perfect golden brown color. However, it was nearly twice as high and airier than the cake at Rainbow Sweets. I was also worried that it was going to be on the dry side, as the cake had no fats in it, other than additional egg yolks. So I decided since it was a sponge cake after all (sing it: "It's a sponge cake after all, it's a sponge cake after all, it's a sponge cake after all, it's a spongy, spongy cake!") that I might do well to soak it with a simple syrup before layering on the pastry cream. And even though the original cake had only vanilla flavors (which Cyd prefers, truth be told), that a lemony syrup might be just the ticket. I LOVE lemon and blueberry together--they're MFEO (movie reference anyone?). So that's what I did, but I still found it a bit too dry for my liking, though I should tell you that it definitely improved with an additional day of rest in the fridge. Still, next time, I will try a different cake recipe, something denser with butter in it, I feel, and then perhaps no need for the simple syrup. I must consult with some of my cake-baking mentors. (Keith, you reading this? Jen, my Bakerina, any ideas?) Or maybe I'll ask one of my colleagues at school in the Financial Aid Office who makes professional-level cakes on the side. (Keri, you there? Holla!)

I also used Malgieri's pastry cream recipe which was very good. The only change I made was to add an additional teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to fleck the custard with vanilla pretty! Then, I frosted the whole shebang with whipped cream (mind you, Mr. Rainbow Sweets only put cream on the top and left the sides of his cake bare--ppphhhffft!). Now I knew we couldn't eat the whole big cake by ourselves, so I gave nearly half of it away to my trivia team, as I am wont to do. But I knew it was still going to sit in the fridge for a few days, so I chose a recipe for a stabilized whipped cream that would also work better for piping. Most stabilized whipped creams use plain gelatin to give them more body, but the recipe I used has start by cooking some of the cream with corn starch until thickened, and then whipping that mixture with the rest of the cream. Worked great, tasted great, and it is a technique I anticipate using often in the future. Finally, I dumped most of the berries on top of the cake for dramatic effect and a few around the bottom to give it a finished look, and that was it. When I make this again, I think I would prefer to put some of the berries in the middle layer of the cake, but I was trying to replicate the Rainbow Sweets version, so I put them all on top this time. Of course, you can do as you like if you choose to attempt this confection. Here's what the cake looked like when cut, and as always, the recipes follow. If you still have access to blueberries where you live, get 'em before they're gone for good (well, at least until next year...sniff)!

Plain or White Genoise
(Source: Nick Malgieri's
How to Bake)

1/2 cup cake flour
1/4 cup corn starch
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper.

Combine the flour and cornstarch in a bowl. Sift once and set aside. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to the simmer. In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs and yolks. Stream in the sugar and then the salt. Place over the simmering water and heat, whisking frequently, until just lukewarm. Take off the heat and whip by machine on high speed until it triples in volume and forms a ribbon when the whip is lifted. (Beat in the vanilla if using.)

Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the whipped eggs and fold in gently. Repeat twice more. Gently pour into prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake about 25 minutes or until firm and golden. Using a knife to loosen the sides, unmold immediately onto a rack and re-invert so it's right-side up. Peel the paper off when cool. Then for the blueberry torte, use a large serrated knife to split the cake into two even layers.

Very Lemony Simple Syrup

6 tablespoons granulated sugar
juice of 3 lemons
6 tablespoons water

Bring the ingredients to a boil for two minutes (I throw the rinds in there, too, for good measure), stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and becomes syrupy. Remove from heat, fish out the lemon rinds and discard, and then cool the syrup. Using a pastry brush, liberally soak both cut halves of the cake with every last bit of the syrup.

Pastry Cream
(Source: Nick Malgiere's
How to Bake)

2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
3 cup flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I added one more teaspoon of vanilla bean paste--never too much vanilla!)

1. In a large saucepan. bring milk and half of the sugar to a boil over medium heat. In a mixing bowl whisk egg yolks, salt, and remaining sugar; sift in flour and whisk to combine.
2. Slowly whisk half of the boiling milk mixture into the egg mixture. Return remaining milk to a boil and slowly whisk in milk in egg and milk mixture. Continue to whisk, especially in the corners of the saucepan, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Once mixture boils, whisk 1 minute. Remove saucepan from heat.
3. Whisk in vanilla extract. Scrape pastry cream into a shallow glass or stainless steel bowl, press plastic wrap directly against the surface, and chill at least 1 hour.

Use a little more than half of the pastry cream between the two layers of cake, and the rest on top. Smooth evenly with a spatula.

Stabilized Whipped Cream
(Source: Rose Levy Beranbaum's
Cake Bible)

1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cups cream (I used heavy cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Chill mixing bowl and beaters for at least 15 minutes, preferably in the freezer. In a small sauce pan, combine the powdered sugar and corn starch and gradually stir in 1/2 cup of the cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and simmer for just a few seconds (until the liquid is thickened like pudding). Scrape mixture into a small bowl and cool to room temperature. Add the vanilla.*

Beat the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream just until traces of the beater marks begin to show distinctly. Add the cooled corn starch mixture and continue beating until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised.

**Make sure the cornstarch mixture is cooled completely ( to room temp.) before adding to the whipped cream.

Use the stabilized whipped cream to frost the top (carefully over the pastry cream!) and sides of the cake, then garnish as you please with an entire lovely pint of the summer's best blueberries. Chill thoroughly before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lizzie and Emeril: Last Day of Va-Cay in Fall River

Ok, ok, last post on our trip, and then I'll stop torturing you. (It's starting to feel like when you're forced to watch other people's vacation slide shows--although, I always liked those, even if I didn't know the people.)

The last day of our mini-break was Sunday, and we spent most of that poking around nearby Fall River, MA, the hometown of both Lizzie Borden and Emeril Lagasse. Fall River is a lovely town taking its name from the Quequechan River that flows through the city, a Native American name meaning "falling water." OF COURSE, we could not pass up the opportunity to visit one of the most haunted sites in the country. We toured the Lizzie Borden House, but I'm sad to report that neither one of us had any other-worldly encounters there. Boo hiss. Maybe one day we'll return and be brave enough to stay overnight, as it is now a working B&B. However, in the meantime, I did steal some pears (just the drops!) from the pear tree out front. I thought I might make some Lizzie Borden pear butter to commemorate our visit. Tee hee. According to police transcripts, Lizzie said she went to the barn to find some sinkers for a upcoming fishing trip and gathered some pears to eat along her way. When she got back to the house 20 minutes later, she "discovered" the bloody body of her father, having been whacked with an axe while he napped on the couch (though just eleven times, not 41!). After we left the Lizzie Borden House, we checked out Lizzie's home that she bought after she was acquitted of the murders of her father and stepmother, called Maplecroft. And naturally, our Lizzie Borden tour would not be complete without a trip out to Oak Grove Cemetery to see Lizzie's final resting place.

Before we left Fall River, we had to pay homage to the city's rich ethnic heritage and have an authentic Portuguese lunch at a great restaurant called Terra Nostra. We began with Portuguese soup with chorizo, kale, cabbage and white beans, and the most delicious codfish cakes. They were not unlike salmon croquettes, but lighter in texture, with a very crispy exterior, and served with a spicy, vinegar-based raw sauce for dipping. Cyd couldn't resist their crispy, rotisserie chicken for her entree, but I think I had her beat hands-down with a traditional dish of cubed pork and potatoes with steamed little neck clams, all bathed in a rich, wine-and-tomato sauce. Divine! Our whole meal, with appetizers and entrees, was only $32, and we brought half of the generous portions home as leftovers! If you're ever in Fall River, MA, I highly recommend a meal at Terra Nostra.

We headed home about 2pm, as I was on a schedule. I wanted to make it back to Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, NY to buy more frozen pie cherries before they closed at six. Even though we got stuck in some awful traffic around Springfield (mostly NYC folks heading back from Cape Cod or wherever they were for the weekend), we made it just in the nick of time, and managed to purchase six buckets--36 pounds of cherries!--to haul back home to the freezer. (Two were for my cherry-loving pal, June, mind you.) We decided to make one final stop before getting back on I-90, a Greek pizza joint (don't ask) called Four Brothers Pizza in Valatie. We enjoyed a "small" antipasto salad with their homemade Greek dressing (between the two of us, we couldn't finish it), and a very good Brothers Combo pizza with several different meats and veggies. The crust was cracker-crisp, and it was clear that the brothers used quality ingredients at their restaurant--from the garden-ripe tomatoes in the salad to the generous amount of ooey-gooey mozzarella cheese on the pizza. We ordered a medium pizza, and still brought some of that home with us. So that's another good restaurant recommendation if you find yourself in the Albany area/Hudson region.

We arrived home late Sunday to some hyperactive dogs that were VERY glad to see us. As soon as we got them fed and settled down and the car emptied of all our bounty, we hit the hay. Poor Cyd had to be a work bright and early, but mercifully, I still have a few days to recover from our whirlwind, whole-week-in-a-weekend vacation before I'm due back at work on Friday. But I'm back at the market on Saturday, so I have some work to do at home, too. Sheesh! Vacations are never long enough, are they? But this was definitely a fun and memorable one. I hope you enjoyed the lengthy travelogue. (We will soon return to our regular programming of cooking and recipes, I promise!)

Summer Va-cay, Part Deux

After the concert in Lowell, we did another late-night drive down to Seekonk, Massachusetts on the South Coast, which is basically a suburb of Providence, RI. This was intended to get us closer to Cape Cod, our destination for Saturday. We got up at the crack and took planes, trains, and automobiles to one of our very favorite places in the world, Martha's Vineyard. When we got off the ferry at Vineyard Haven, we took another bus down to West Tisbury to attend the annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair. One of my customers at the Farmers' Market told me about this old-fashioned, family-oriented event on the Island, and she did not lead me astray. The weather was just glorious, and the fair really had a homey, yesteryear feel. When we first got there, we toured all of the exhibits--gardening, cooking, sewing, crafts, etc. They were AMAZING! Just look at some of the cooking entries....

I just thought the displays were so pretty, especially the display cases for the baked goods. And can you believe the number of entries? These people take their cooking and gardening seriously! (My kind of folks!) Each contest was broken into junior and adult categories, and there were tons of entries in both divisions. My favorite had to be the butter and eggs competition. Who does that anymore?? After checking out all of the exhibits, we had to stop for a bite of lunch, and there were all kinds of cuisines available. We started with some Jamaican food, including beef patties and spicy jerk chicken. Then we waited in the looooong line at the BBQ smokehouse booth for some pork ribs (and I have the sunburn on my shoulders to show for it!). The ribs were not quite as tender as I had hoped, but the sauce was lip-smacking good. In fact, when we went over to check out the animal exhibits after lunch, a donkey smelled the residue on my hands and bit me! Tee hee.

Speaking of the livestock exhibits, just LOOK at this beautiful, restored barn. Too often at fairs, animal exhibits are dark and airless and crowded and dingy, but not at the MV Agricultural Fair! Everything was so open and airy and clean! It was a pleasure to spend time in there, visiting the critters. Our last stop at the fair was the pig races (they race around a teeny ring for Oreos at the finish cute!). But I had a hard time focusing on the pigs because I became convinced that I was standing right next to some Kennedys! I tried to take a few surreptitious pictures. Here's the best one, and it's kind of crappy and backlit (but I didn't want to be hauled away by security). Once I got home and did some Googling, I am sure I was hanging with Eunice Kennedy Shriver (JFK and RFK's sister and Maria's mom, in the pink hat on the right), her husband, Sargent Shriver (older man, blue hat), her son, Mark Shriver, a representative in Maryland (behind, far left, blue t-shirt)....and another Kennedy or Shriver yet to be identified (the one with the little boy on his shoulders). Please, readers, feel free to scrutinize the picture and give me your input. I'm also convinced the man in the red shirt with the backwards cap is someone famous, too, but I can't quite place him. Actor? Musician? He's somebody!

And I'm not done with my celebrity sightings, yet! After the fair, we made our way to the cozy fishing village of Menemsha. Unlike Vineyard Haven, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs, Menemsha is off the beaten path and less touristy. As our bus driver put it, "The only thing to do in Menemsha is to get some seafood for dinner and watch the sunset on the beach." And that was just what we intended to do! We staked out our place on the beach, and then I walked up to the fish market to obtain lobster rolls and the best homemade clam chowder for our dinner, when WHOM should I encounter with film crew in tow? Wait, I took another stalker picture to prove my brush with fame. That's right! It was Giada De Laurentiis, no doubt filming one of her weekend getaway shows. And what was she filming, you ask? Why, getting dinner at Larsen's Fish Market and watching the sunset on the beach, of course! It really is THE thing to do. I couldn't understand why police and fire trucks were standing by, but by about 7pm, I got it. The beach was just THRONGED with sunset-watchers, and the officials were there to direct traffic and keep the crowds under control. It's a whole big scene ranging from a large party enjoying beer and a full multi-course cookout to a singleton with a nice glass of wine, a fuzzy pal, and a good book. It's got my vote for the nicest thing you can do on a trip to the Vineyard.

After the sunset, we headed back to Vineyard Haven. We had a little time before we caught the ferry back to Woods Hole, so we did a little shopping, mainly for an MV t-shirt for my faithful neighbor/dogsitter, some fudge at Murdick's (originally of Mackinac Island, MI fame) for Cyd to take home, and some ice cream at Mad Martha's, an Island fixture, for both of us. What a fabulous day on our favorite Island!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation (2007)

You may have inferred from my brief post yesterday that I am home from our mini-break weekend to Massachusetts. But it's taken me awhile to sort through and edit the photos so that I was ready to share. I have so many pics, I think I'll break this into separate posts by days.

We left Thursday night and did a crazy late-night drive to Leominster, MA, where I was originally going to stay for the big dog show. It was about a five-hour drive, and we just CRASHED when we got to the motel. No exciting culinary tales to tell...just fast food, I'm afraid. We slept in the next morning and treated ourselves to a big Denny's pancake breakfast/brunch. (I know that doesn't sound too exciting, but we don't have a Denny's in Plattsburgh.) From there, we headed out to tour around Concord and Lexington for part of the day. We were originally looking for the Old North Bridge and the Old Manse (as in "Moss on the Old Manse" by Hawthorne), but we overshot it a bit and ended up on this lovely, windy country road running from Concord to Carlisle. And lucky we did, as we found this WONDERFUL organic farm called Hutchins Farm. They had the most amazing produce at the farmstand, and we bought tomatoes (Sungolds), melons (Butterscotch, Charentais, and canteloupe), and the most incredible loaf of chewy, holey, garlic foccacia. Of course, between the ripe melons and the pungent bread, we had quite a fragrant car for the rest of our road trip, but it was worth it!

After we backtracked to the Old North Bridge and the Old Manse, we headed up to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to see the graves of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau who are all buried in the same part of the graveyard. They were, apparently, all contemporaries in the local literary society in Concord in their day.

By the way, are you creeped out by the thought of visiting cemeteries for a vacation activity? Maybe I'm twisted, but I love it! When I was in Savannah, Georgia, I took the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tour, and I enjoyed visiting the beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery where many of the key characters, including Jim Williams and Johnny Mercer, are buried. Likewise, when Cyd and I were in New Orleans several years ago, we also toured Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District, the infamous cemetery from Ann Rice's vampire books. Fun! But back to this trip...

After Concord, we were headed to Salem, but we got caught in some HORRENDOUS traffic, and didn't get to spend much time there. (We are already planning a return visit at Halloween!) But I did have enough time to buy an awesome souvenir, though, a metal lunchbox with Glinda and Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) on either side asking, "Are you a good witch...or a bad witch?" As a rabid "Wizard of Oz" and "Wicked" fan, this was perfect for me, and don't think I won't be taking my sandwiches to school in it! ;-)

After that very brief shopping stint, we had to head back to Lowell where we had concert tickets that night in Boarding House Park. But we stopped at my beloved Trader Joe's along the way and filled our cooler with goodies to take with us. We chose some champagne grapes, a tortellini salad with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes, teriyaki chicken with soy-ginger-garlic noodles, some runny, double-creme Brie and a delicious smoked Jack to go with our foccacia and Sungold tomatoes. We washed it all down with a tangy Italian lemon soda and some sparkling apple cider. For a sweet finish, we had dark chocolate pretzel bites that tasted like they had a hint of cinnamon as well. The food was delicious, the concert was great, the weather held out and was beautiful, and most anywhere you sat in the park had a great view. We chose to sit in the back and put our feet up on the cement railing, listen to the music, and enjoy our picnic. Ah, that's the life, (and this was just the first day)!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Check me out!

It has recently come to my attention that I've been blogging here for a year and a half, and yet I've never shown you what I look like! I apologize. I have been remiss. Here's a shot of me on the move, strutting around town when I'm not at home, stuck in the kitchen.

Friday, August 17, 2007

One more muffin before I go...

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve thrown caution to the wind, packed my bags, and we are heading out of town for a few days of proper vacationing. I’ve worked very hard this summer, and I think I deserve at least one long weekend of respite! Actually, it was supposed to be a big dog show weekend, but then not one other dog of my breed in my region decided to show up (boo hiss….that’s 86 bucks down the proverbial crapper). So I will leave the critters with a sitter and head to Massachusetts purely for recreational purposes, just wait and see if I don’t! I’m not exactly sure what kind of trouble Cyd and I will get ourselves into, but I’m definitely feeling some beach time coming on—perhaps on our favorite Martha’s Vineyard? Someone at the farmers’ market told me about one of the oldest and most wonderful agricultural fairs in the country in West Tisbury on the Vineyard, and that’s happening there this weekend as well. Whatever we do, it’ll be nice just to get away from chores and responsibilities for a few days. That and getting to go to Trader Joe’s, of course! ;-)

But I couldn’t leave town without one last baking project. A nice woman at Cyd’s work gave us a quart of wild blueberries about a month ago from her own backyard, and all she asked in return was a homemade blueberry muffin. I have several good recipes, but there was one recently posted on one of my favorite blogs, Culinary in the Country, for a blueberry crumb coffee cake from Dorie Greenspan’s baking book that I thought I might adapt into muffins. Well, the muffins turned out delicious, very lemony with lots of zest massaged into the sugar to release all of the essential oils, and both tangy and tender from the addition of buttermilk. But the streusel didn’t stay lumped up on top of the muffins as I expected it to. It kind of melted on top of each one, and came out more chewy/crispy than soft and crumbly. And yet, that was what everyone at Cyd’s work commented on and loved about them! See? There are no mistakes in the kitchen, only new recipes. Tee hee. But if you want the streusel to remain unadulterated in its traditional form, just bake it in an eight-inch square pan as the recipe originally dictates.

Blueberry Crumb Cake (Muffins)
(Adapted from Baking: From My Home To Yours, Dorie Greenspan)

For the topping:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For the cake:
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (instead of AP and WW flour, I used all white whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries - fresh or frozen (if frozen,do not thaw)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, add butter, sugars, flour and salt. Pulse the ingredients together just until the mixture forms moist clumps. Scoop the mixture into a small bowl and stir in walnuts. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until needed.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a large mixing bowl (I did this in my stand mixer), add granulated sugar and zest - rub the two together with your fingers until the lemon zest is evenly distributed and the sugar takes on a light yellow hue. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, toss together the blueberries and 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour. Add the blueberries into the batter and fold just until combined. Scoop the mixture into an 8" baking dish* coated with nonstick spray. Remove the crumb mixture from the refrigerator and break it into irregular pieces all over the top of the batter - lightly press them down to adhere.

Bake until the crumbs on top are golden and a toothpick placed in the center comes out mostly clean - about 55 to 65 minutes. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

*This recipe makes 24 regular-sized muffins if you prefer. Bake them for 25-30 minutes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Save us all from.....THE ZUCCHINI!

On their vacations, most people would head for the nearest beach with a book from their summer reading list. But not me, Crazy Canning Lady! Already this week, I've managed to produce 11 jars of the much-heralded blueberry-lime jam, and five pints of.....wait, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, my typically lengthy exposition.

I have had a long-standing belief that there should be city ordinances regulating the planting of zucchini each year. I think one plant per neighborhood is all that should be allowed. But we all seem to feel it necessary to plant several "hills" of different varieties, and then by late summer, the sinister summer squashes creep inside our houses and threaten to smother us all in our sleep! No matter how often you harvest, another full-grown squash miraculously takes the place of the one you picked the day before. And if you don't pick them one day, they are the size of RV's by the next! So this year, with the farmers' market baking and canning consuming all of my time, I decided just to plant tomatoes and peppers, and nothing else. But let me tell you, the only thing worse than having to contend with your own prolific squash plants is making the mistake of telling people that you didn't plant any this year, and then being DELUGED with their "gifts" of zucchini.

Initially, I was quite grateful, as I do bake zucchini bread weekly for the market, and it kills me to have to BUY zucchini. But now that the harvest is in full swing, I am DROWNING in it! This week, I had a big cardboard boxful of a yummy, light-green, ribbed variety dropped at my back door (thanks to Kelly and Dana, my friends/colleagues/neighbors/fellow carpoolers), and a huge basketful of monster-sized organic black beauties given to me at the farmers' market by Ruthie, the cheese vendor in the stall next to me. (I gave her some red currant jelly in return, which I think was an excellent trade.) I saved a few of the smaller squashes just to eat with our dinners this week, and it took me several hours yesterday to peel, core and shred the rest. I ended up with 21 pint-sized bags for the freezer (no more room left in there!), and still had ten cups left over. But I took that as a sign from on high, because ten cups is the perfect amount to make a batch of zucchini relish. What's that, you say? Zucchini relish? Yes, indeed, it's good stuff! You use it anywhere you might use regular pickle relish, say on a burger or hot dog, or stirred into potato or macaroni salad. Or you could use it as a zesty condiment for any grilled meats or fish. Some folks love it so much, they eat it straight from the jar with a spoon!

A quick Google search will yield a legion of recipes for zucchini relish, but I was struck with how similar most of them are. Then again, I suppose to make a shelf-stable product, you would have to maintain basic proportions of ingredients. But I do think you can be a little creative with your relish, as long as those proportions are generally maintained. As for me, I worked with two recipes that were nearly identical, one from my dear friend Kurt's mother, Muriel, and one from the GardenWeb's Linda Lou, of the apple pie jam fame. I particularly liked that Muriel adds carrots to hers, giving the resulting product a lovely confetti look and sweeter taste. Linda Lou's, on the other hand, has extra onion for more kick, and I love the addition of celery seed, one of my favorite spices.

However, there were several places where I parted company with both Muriel and Linda Lou. Though Linda Lou uses less sugar than Muriel, I really wanted a relish that was not too sweet. (As you may recall, with cucumbers, I like sour dills, not sweet pickles or even bread-and-butter varieties.) In my review of recipes online, I saw recipes with as little as three cups of sugar all the way up to six cups. So I opted for the low end on the sugar. Also, instead of a regular green pepper, I swapped out hot peppers (anaheims, jalapenos, serranos and super chilis) instead for some punch. In the same vein, I also added a few cloves of minced garlic, as is my way. And though both Muriel and Linda Lou (and many others out there) call for it, I simply cannot support the addition of nutmeg to this relish. Some people swear by it, that it makes the relish truly special, but I am just not a big fan of nutmeg in savory applications. As a final note, I should mention that I peeled my zucchini before grating it, but you might choose not to. It certainly makes a prettier relish if you don't peel it. But peeled or not, if your zucchini are large, you will definitely want to remove the spongy core and the seeds, neither of which are good eats. Anyway, that's why my relish isn't green but looks more like a sort of golden sauerkraut (due to the tumeric and mustard seed and maybe a little from the carrots). Actually, I suppose you could use cabbage instead of zucchini, if you were so inclined, but that would make it chow-chow, wouldn't it? Ok, ok, enough nonsense. On to the recipe:

Zucchini Relish
(an homage to Muriel and Linda Lou)

10 cups zucchini, peeled or not, cored, seeded and either ground (who has a grinder anymore?) or shredded (which I much prefer)
3 cups onions, peeled, ends removed and grated or finely chopped
2 cups carrots, ground or shredded
1 red pepper, seeded, cored and finely chopped
1 cup mixed hot peppers, seeded, cored and finely chopped (or one green pepper if you're a wuss)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 tablespoons canning/pickling salt
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons mustard seeds (I used yellow--brown would be spicier)
2 teaspoons celery seeds
3/4 teaspoon tumeric

Combine all of the shredded/chopped vegetables with the salt in a large, non-metallic bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain very well. (Some people choose to rinse the mixture to remove more of the salt, but I like my pickled relishes a little on the salty side!)

Bring the vinegar, sugar, and spices to a boil in a large stock pot. Add the drained zucchini mixture, stir well, and bring back to a vigorous boil. Some recipes call for up to 30 minutes of simmering the relish, but I think it gets too mushy and colorless if you cook it that long. I would opt for 10-15 minutes until much of the liquid evaporates and the mixture just starts to thicken. Pack in hot, sterilized jars (using that plastic stick thing that came with your canning kit, or any non-metallic spatula, to remove air bubbles from the thick relish). Process in a boiling water bath, 10 minutes for half-pints, and 15 minutes for pints. As with all pickled products, let the flavors develop for at least a month before opening and consuming.

Yield: 5 pints

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Bakerina's "Cornbread Thing"

CORN, CORN, CORN! God help me, but I need a 12-step program! I just can't stop myself from buying at least a half dozen ears every other day. Mostly I just eat it off the cob, but one does wish to find new ways to profile this delicious summer crop. So for dinner tonight, I thought I might try making what the Bakerina dubs "The Cornbread Thing." It's a fresh corn salsa served with sour cream or yogurt over homemade cornbread. And though it makes a fine vegetarian supper on its own, we had it as a side dish along side a grilled steak tonight. Scrumptious! First, let me share my favorite cornbread recipe. Several years ago, my friend, Mari, invited friends over for a game night/New Year's Eve celebration. Amid the Scrabble and Balderdash and what-not, we enjoyed some chili and the most wonderful, tender, slightly sweet (Yankee-style) cornbread that I'd ever had! I asked her for the recipe, and I've only made small adjustments to it since, swapping out some of the sour cream and milk for buttermilk, which I dearly love for the tanginess that it offers. Normally, this cornbread calls for some corn kernels to be added in, but since I was serving it with the corn salsa, I omitted that this time. And though you can bake this in a regular glass dish or what have you, today I decided to bust out some cast iron pieces and bake the batter in wedges and corn sticks. (The corn sticks take me back to my youth--my mother had the same pan--and they never fail to delight me.)

Mari's Cornbread
(Updated 1/26/2013)
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder (up to 4 t)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar (up to 2/3 C)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt or sour cream (Mari uses 2 cups)
1 cup buttermilk (Mari uses 2/3 cup regular milk instead)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (up to 4 T)

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Make a well and add the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined. Add a handful of chopped scallions or chives (up to a cup), a handful of shredded cheddar cheese (up to a cup), and two small cans (or one large) of corn kernels, drained. Of course, these may be optional ingredients in some people's view--not mine.

Bake in a greased and floured 10 x 13 pan for 20 minutes at 400 degrees until golden brown around the edges.

Mari's "Geek" Variation: Cook six pieces bacon until crispy. Use the bacon grease in place of the oil. Add 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese instead of the scallions. Add the crumbled bacon pieces to the mix right before you pack it into the pan.

And then here's the recipe for the corn relish/salsa adapted from the Bakerina who, in turn, interpreted the original recipe from Penzey's Spices. You should prepare it a day ahead for full flavor development, then serve it over the split cornbread with sour cream or thick, Greek yogurt, and a garnish of fresh cilantro leaves. So good! Then again, this would be delicious in place of any other salsa in any other context, even just on tortilla chips or nachos.

Corn Relish

6 ears fresh corn on the cob
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons water
1/2 large sweet onion, finely diced, or 1 bunch scallions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (I used 4!)
2 medium or 1 large fresh jalapeno chile, finely diced (I used 1 large jalapeno and 2 serranos...I'm not afraid!)
1 large ripe tomato, diced, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (I opted for the latter, as I bought a basket of heirloom cherries yesterday at the farmers' market)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 2 large, fat limes
1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

Cook the corn (I nuke mine in the husks for 12-15 minutes). While the corn is cooking, combine the chili powder and water and let sit for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the onion, garlic, jalapeno and tomato. To the chili powder paste, add the sugar, salt, olive oil and lime juice. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and stir to combine. Carefully cut the corn kernels off the cobs -- this is most easily accomplished by cutting off the tips, placing the cut end into a wide bowl, and slicing down the cob as deeply as possible without picking up too much of the cob. Add the corn to the rest of the veggies along with the cilantro, stir, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, stir well again before serving.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Taking the chocolate icebox cake up a few notches...

I have been up to my eyeballs in pies and tarts featuring all of the season's best stone fruits and berries in any and all combinations. And they have been glorious to be sure. But sometimes, people need CHOCOLATE! I found a Martha recipe that was just the ticket. It's basically a twist on everyone's favorite chocolate icebox cake, but instead of whipped cream, you layer the chocolate cookies with a simple bittersweet chocolate mousse and mold it in a lined loaf pan. YUM!! It's quite easy to make (only five ingredients...actually, four plus a garnish!), and yet decadent and elegant enough to impress even the most discerning of dinner guests. I definitely recommend this one to the chocoholics among you.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Torte
Martha Stewart Living)
Serves 12 to 15

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 65 percent cacao), chopped
3 cups heavy cream, divided
3 tablespoons sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
12 ounces crisp oval butter wafer cookies (20 total...I needed about 30 myself)
good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Make mousse: Put chocolate in a large bowl, and set aside. Heat 1 1/2 cups cream over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan until cream is steaming and small bubbles form on edges. Pour cream over chocolate. Stir until mixture is smooth. Let cool completely.

Put remaining 1 1/2 cups cream and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold whipped cream into chocolate mixture, one third at a time.

Assemble torte: Line a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang on sides. Spread enough mousse (3/4 to 1 cup) over bottom of pan to cover. Arrange 5 cookies (more like 7 1/2) on top in a single layer to cover, breaking them to fit as necessary. Spread enough mousse (3/4 to 1 cup) on top to cover; smooth into an even layer. Repeat process with remaining cookies and mousse until pan is full. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface, and refrigerate torte until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Remove plastic wrap from surface. Invert torte onto a serving plate; unmold, using overhang to coax it out. Remove plastic wrap. Dust with cocoa.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More Bounty from the Corn Truck!

I was at home yesterday as Wednesday is usually the day I bake all of my cakes and breads for the market. Cyd had the car to get to work, so I decided to mosey up the corner store to see what kind of trouble I could get into. The corn truck had been AWOL for about a week (a staggered corn planting clearly went awry), but happily, it was back! Can I just say how fabulous it is to live in a hamlet comprised of 18 houses, one mini-mart and, of course, a Catholic church, and yet I can walk less than a block from my house and score a pound of green beans, a pound of wax beans, a bunch of new red potatoes, and a half dozen ears of corn, all for about seven bucks? And how equally wonderful is it that veggies that were in the ground in the morning were fashioned into a lovely dinner by nightfall? Dont'cha just love this time of year for that very reason?

My feelings about seasonal produce are that it is often best consumed in its freshest, unadorned, unadulterated state. So for dinner, I kept things very simple. I grilled a few chicken breasts with the house BBQ rub and served it with some of the infamous apricot pepper jelly. Then we had corn on the cob (now that Cyd's teeth are better). Have I ever mentioned how we prepare corn on the cob? Maybe it's old news to some, but I think it's the easiest, best way to make it. Forget the big pot of boiling water--just toss the whole ear, husks and all, right into the microwave and nuke it for 10-12 minutes. Then shuck, butter and season, and devour. Works like a charm! The corn is perfectly steamed, and I think that the corn flavor is less diluted than if you boil it. This is a great tip for this time of year, if I do say so myself.

Finally, the beans and potatoes inspired me to put together some sort of simple salad featuring only those two star players. So I scrubbed the potatoes but left most of the peel on. (I usually peel potatoes, but the new skins are papery-thin...hey, that rhymed!) Then I cut them into big chunks and brought them to boil from cold with a few good pinches of salt in the water. When they were tender, I tossed them into an ice bath to shock them. Then I threw about half of the green and half of the yellow beans into the same pot and boiled them until tender, which took about ten minutes, I'd say. Most people would like their beans crisper than I do, so you might opt for just five minutes. Then I tossed the beans in the ice bath to stop them cooking. Finally, I whipped up a mustard and shallot vinaigrette in my new Waring Pro blender (so in love with that thing!) and dressed the veggies liberally. I thought I was done, but it seemed to need something. There was a zested lemon sitting on the counter from an early baking project, so I squeezed it over the salad, and that was just what it needed to brighten the flavors and give it a little more zing. Simple, but scrumpious! Here's the recipe for the vinaigrette if you want to try, and I fervently admonish you to do so at the earliest convenience!

Mustard and Shallot Vinaigrette

Throw all of the following ingredients into a blender and hit "turbo" until the dressing emulsifies:

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar (or another white-wine-based vinegar)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (preferably,whole-grained)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup olive oil (you'll want extra-virgin for this)
2 large (or 3 smaller) shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2-6 tablespoons fresh herb(s) of your choice--I went with just 2 tablespoons of lime thyme myself, but also consider flat-leaf parsley, dill, basil, tarragon, or what have you

Dress the potatoes and beans with this yummy vinaigrette, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the whole thing, toss gently, and and then chuck the salad into the fridge until dinner time. (It's good at room temperature or cold, but either way, it needs a little time for the dressing to soak in and fully flavor the salad.)

*Post-script: I used the remainder of the green and yellow beans to more dilly beans (that makes nine pints this week!). Perhaps a reminder of that excellent recipe is in order? Done.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Special requests from the farmers' market...

Mostly I've been making the same old-same old for the market each week. But there have been a few new items by special request that I've been meaning to blog about. (Whoo! Two posts in two days? Somebody must finally be on va-cay!) First, a little story, as is my way.

There is this sweet old man who looks a little like Santa Claus who comes to the market each Saturday. He's all but mute, just shoving his money at me and pointing to the pie he fancies. But week in and week out, he's there for his pie, bless his heart. A couple of weeks ago, instead of handing me his money, he pressed a folded piece of paper into my hand and said several words in a row. He said, "My wife told me to give this to you." I opened the paper, thinking it might be a note indicating her husband's diabetic status and forbidding me to sell him anymore pie! But it was a recipe. The old fellow went on to explain that this was his favorite pie, but that wife couldn't be compelled to make it for him anymore. So she figured she could give me the recipe, and I might make it for him instead. Isn't that a riot?? Well, I was happy to oblige, though it sounded like a truly hideous combination of elements--Rhubarb Raisin Pie. ICK! My hatred of raisins is well-documented, so I know I'm biased. But I made it anyway. And I must admit, the filling smelled quite good before, during, and after baking. So much so that Cyd now wants to try it, perhaps as a crisp instead of a pie. Here is the recipe from my best pie customer and his wife, if you're brave enough to try it:

Raisin and Rhubarb Pie #1 (There's more than one version?? tee hee)

3 cups finely cut rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter (it says "or margarine," but I oppose that substitution)
*I also added a little vanilla, maybe half a teaspoon? Oh, and I glazed the top with an egg wash.

Mix together and bake as a two-crust pie. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then 375 for 30 more minutes. (I know I baked this longer...probably an hour, maybe even an hour and fifteen, until the filling bubbled in the center.)

Another request I had recently at the market was for apple jam. I was actually planning on making some, but closer to fall when the apples are plentiful. But we saw the first apples in the markets this week, if you can believe it--the Vista Bellas. Those are fresh-eating apples, though, so I coughed up the big bucks for a few Golden Delicious at the supermarket (gasp!) to try a recipe from Garden Web. I have sung the praises of the Harvest Forum before because I always find great ideas, tips, and recipes there. There are two women in particular who are the Belles of the Ball (Jar) over on those message boards, one called Annie who is most famous for her salsa which I will try when the tomato deluge begins, and Linda Lou (I'm not making that name could I?) who is famous for her apple pie jam, among many other things. It seems like a strange recipe with brown sugar involved (never seen that before...and it does make for a very dark, murky, and mysterious jam), but it turned out very well. One batch made seven jars, and it's really yummy--tastes just like apple pie as it's spiced with cinnamon and a touch of allspice. It would be delicious on toast, of course, and especially on pancakes or waffles or French toast. And folks on the GardenWeb also recommend it as an ice cream topping. In fact, if you top the vanilla ice cream with some heated apple pie jam and some crumbled graham crackers, they say it tastes just like apple pie a la mode! But the lady at the market had something like it with pork chops, so savory applications should not be ruled out. And wouldn't this jam make for lovely holiday gifts? Earmark this recipe for apple time!

Linda Lou's Apple Pie Jam
(via GardenWeb's Harvest Forum)

4 cups tart apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 box pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter

Add water to chopped apples to measure 4 cups. Place apples and water into large, heavy saucepan. Stir in lemon juice, cinnamon and allspice. Measure sugars. Stir pectin into fruit. Add butter. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Quickly stir in both sugars. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle quickly into hot, clean jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands on finger tight. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Lastly, I wanted to recommend a recipe that I recently tried for a galette (aka crostada), that is, a free-form fruit tart. I didn't make it for the market (technically, only two-crust pies are allowed), but I made it for Cyd because she had to work when I went to the St. Chrysostome market last week. Poor thing! I picked up some fragrant little peaches from Ontario, and a pint of the loveliest, plump blueberries. Have you noticed how good the blueberries are this year? We tend to prefer the small, wild ones in these parts. But the larger, cultivated varieties are rocking this year! Delish! Anyway, I adapted an excellent recipe from Bon Appétit for a Nectarine and Blackberry Galette, and made a wonderful peach and blueberry version that turned out great. Any combination of stone fruits and berries--which are at their glorious peak right now--would work, I'm sure. And for those of you afraid to make pie, this is so much easier, and just as pretty!

Peach and Blueberry Galette
(Adapted from Bon Appétit, July 2002)

Makes one smallish galette, good for 4 to 6 people

single pie crust, your favorite recipe

1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 smallish peaches, each pitted and cut into 16 slices
1/2 pint (1 cup) blueberries
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)
raw sugar crystals
peach preserves, heated (I used apricot-raspberry, because the jar was open)

Roll out dough on lightly floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, turning dough occasionally to prevent sticking. Slide rimless baking sheet under parchment. Transfer dough on parchment to refrigerator. Chill until dough firms slightly, about 30 minutes.

Make filling: Stir sugar and cornstarch in medium bowl to blend. Mix in fruit and vanilla. Let stand until juices are released, stirring fruit occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Transfer baking sheet with dough to work surface. Let stand 8 minutes to allow dough to soften slightly if too firm to fold. Spoon fruit and juices into center of dough.

Arrange fruit in even 9-inch-diameter layer in center. Brush 2-inch border of dough with egg glaze. Lift about 2 inches of dough border and pinch to form vertical seam. Continue around tart, pinching seam every 2 inches to form standing border. Fold border down over fruit (center 6 inches of fruit remain uncovered). Brush folded border with egg glaze; sprinkle with raw sugar.

Place baking sheet with tart in oven. Bake until crust is golden brown and fruit filling is bubbling at edges, about 55 minutes. Remove from oven; slide large metal spatula under tart to loosen from parchment. Brush fruit with preserves. Slide tart onto rack. Cool 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Pickle Party and Everyone's Invited!

So…my beloved friend, Kurtis, e-mailed me in a dither the other day. I prefer e-mail to the phone, and he is the exact opposite (which is why we lose track of each other for months on end!), so you know when he deigns to drop me an e-mail, it’s SERIOUS! The crisis? He had people coming over at 8:30 the next morning (why, God, why??) for his annual pickling party and, as he put it, the much-hallowed dill pickle recipe seemed to have “disapparated” from his kitchen, perhaps spirited away by some disgruntled house-elf? Thus, his panic. But he never had any real cause to fear, for I am woman rarely separated from her dill pickle recipe. You didn’t think you were going to get away with a long-winded tale of where this recipe came from, did you? I thought not. ;-)

Years and years ago, I was a young college professor, fresh out of grad school, single, living near Kankakee, Illinois, thousands of miles away from my friends and family. And I had trouble meeting people and making friends when I first moved there because I was only 23. Most of my colleagues were decades older than I with young families to contend with, but I certainly wasn’t going to consort with fresh-out-of-high-school 18-year-olds, either (that five years makes a big difference!). Eventually, I ended up befriending some of the older students—seniors and some fifth-years—that were just about the same age as I was. Shout outs to John/GJ, Phil/Phulluxe, Tony/Twonky, Carl/Quakky, Padfoot, Wormtail (kidding...wanted to see if you were reading closely), and of course, my sweet friend, Karen/Karumz. Once in awhile, one of these dear people would take pity on me during major holidays and take me home with them to join their families so I wouldn’t be alone. One year, I went home for Thanksgiving with Johnny to Sullivan, Missouri, a teensy weensy little cowpoke town somewhere about an hour southwest of St. Louis. I had a lovely time visiting his large family (four brothers and one sister just in his family with all of the extendeds nearby), but the Thanksgiving meal was difficult. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there was great food and good company, but you had to WAIT for it! I can’t remember what time we were supposed to eat—seems like it was 1:00pm or some such. And people never let you eat before the big to-do, so we hadn’t even had breakfast. But Cousin So-and-So wasn’t there yet, and then we had to wait for Aunt What’s-Her-Face, and eventually, it became 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and we hadn’t eaten yet! At some point, they must have felt bad for us, and began putting out little tidbits to snack on. Someone made the grave error of putting a whole crystal boat full of dill pickle spears right in front of me and, God and the Volkmann Family forgive me, I think I ate the whole dish by myself! Not only was I starving, but they were the BEST pickles I have ever had in my life, and I am VERY picky when it comes to my dills! When I told John how much I enjoyed them (not that he couldn’t tell by the empty dish in front of me!), we staged a raid on Grandma Blesi’s larder before heading back to school in Illinois. I remember John taking a lot of preserves like the family’s famous apple butter that they make outside in a big open kettle every fall (some with anise, some without) and also something he calls pear honey that I think has canned pineapple in it (don’t ask!), but I myself made off with two prized quarts of dills. Thank you, Grandma Blesi! :-)

Flash forward about three years. I have left Illinois to begin work on my Ph.D. at University of Utah. John moved with me (which would make a long story much too long!), and we shared the middle floor of a small house in Salt Lake City. The house had a large, fenced-in back yard and a huge garden area. I was always a pale, bookish sort who would rather be inside in the AC watching a movie than helping my tanned, outdoorsy mother in the summer garden. But something happened to me in my 27th year, and I suddenly began engaging in what I can only assume were nesting behaviors. I began happily digging in the dirt and growing all kinds of vegetables, and Johnny designed a large, lovely herb garden for us as well. Then, at harvest time, I became obsessed with learning how to can. My mother, despite her age and being from the Deep South, never did any canning. She was a big-time freezer—it was all Seal-a-Meal and plastic freezer containers for her—and we always kept an upright freezer full of stuff, even though it was just the two of us (I still do this myself…must have come by it honest!). So when I decided to learn how to can, I knew the first thing I had to make was the Blessed Blesi Dills, and I knew just who to call—John’s mom, Carol, in Sullivan, MO. Of course, I scared her at first, and had to quickly reassure her that John was okay, and that wasn’t why I was calling. After her panic had subsided, she was happy to spend an hour or so on the phone with me, giving me my first canning lesson and pickle tutorial. I remember that my first efforts were flawed because I boiled the lids (a no-no, as it can soften the adhesive), and I also over-tightened the rings on the jars before putting them in the canner, and some of the lids ended up buckling. But I just left those in the back of the fridge for a month or so and ate them first. And BOY HOWDY, were they good—just as good as Grandma’s Blesi’s of beloved memory. In fact, I'll have you know that I went on to win the Utah State Fair with those pickles, leaving all those Mormon homemakers gnashing their teeth! Tee hee. This led me to pickle everything from green beans to beets then on to zucchini and corn relishes, salsas, chutneys, and finally, to jams, which is how you find me today, selling preserves each Saturday at the farmers market.

Strangely, it has been SEVEN YEARS since I have made the Blesi Dills, as I made a TON of them before I left Salt Lake City and brought boxes and boxes of them across country when I moved. They lasted a really long time when my SLC friends weren’t always coming over and stealing them (as I did from Grandma Blesi—karma's a bitch). But I used up the last jar this past winter, and since then, I have been—GASP—buying pickles! Oh, the horror, the humanity! So when Kurt e-mailed me for the recipe, I was inspired to get off my duff and make some for myself, or maybe it was that he shamed me by pointing out that the recipe should have been posted to my blog ages ago! It’s true, but you see, I was always concerned that I wouldn’t be able to source key ingredients here. The recipe called for four-inch pickling cukes, but I have never pickled anything over three inches in my life (stop that giggling, Beavis), and I prefer them to be two inches or smaller, like cornichons. I had a source of teeny cukes in Ogden when I lived in Utah, but I wasn’t sure I could find them here (someone willing to pick them small, which is more labor-intensive). But my favorite produce guy at the farmers’/flea market in St. Chrysostome, QC had me covered! The other problem was where to find fresh grape leaves. Lots of people have grapevines, I suppose, but how would you know who does and where to find them? But a few weeks ago, I spied a new sign just up the road from me that said “Vineyard/Wine Tasting” on it. I can’t even imagine what kind of wine can be made in Chazy, New York, but I am happy to report that the vintner is a very nice man who has granted me unlimited access to his vines and a perpetual supply of grape leaves (which may inspire me to make some stuffed grape leaves like I learned to make in a Lebanese cooking class, but that’s for another post another day). With the help of my local suppliers and Cyd, who is a mean pickle-packer, we put up 13 quarts and one leftover pint this past weekend! And I’m not sure I’m done yet. I may have the strength for one more pickling session next weekend, as the man at St. Chrysostome said he’d have more cukes of the miniature, cornichon-size. That might be too tempting to pass up! If you want to try making some of your own (because NYS law forbids their sale at market for no good reason, plus, I’m not sure I could be persuaded to part with my preciouses anyway!), the recipe follows:

The Blessed Blesi Dill Pickles

20-25 (4-inch) cukes, blossom removed, washed and (preferably) soaked overnight in the fridge for crispness

Brine (brought to a boil then kept hot while you pack the jars):
1 cup pickling salt
3 quarts (12 cups) water*
1 quart (4 cups) cider vinegar *

For each quart jar (packed tightly with cukes, as they will shrink in cooking) add:
1/8 teaspoon powdered/granulated alum
1 clove garlic (or two!)
1 small hot red pepper (or a serrano)
2 heads fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon dill seed)
1 grape leaf, washed and stemmed (place on top after covering the cukes with brine, leaving 1/4 to 1/2-inch headspace)

Once the jars are filled and capped (fingertip tighten only!), process 20 minutes from cold**. Store in a cool, dark place, and don't eat them for at least a month to reach full flavor.

*It would seem that these old, grandma-style recipes were developed back in the day when vinegar was much stronger, and thus, had to be diluted more. When using 5% vinegar these days, the safe ratio for brine is 1:1. Mind you, I have been making these pickles with the weaker brine for many years without incident, but I think it would be a wise move to amend the recipe to two quarts each of water and vinegar.

**I have another concern with Grandma Blesi's recipe (blasphemy!). It's the part about processing 20 minutes "from cold." What does that mean? Is the water in the canner cold? If so, it wouldn't even reach a full boil by 20 minutes. Are the jars cold when you put them in? Cold jars would break in hot water, but that's besides the point, as they would have hot brine in them anyway. But if you boil the jars for a full twenty minutes, you'll get overcooked, wrinkled pickles. I consulted my faithful Ball Blue Book, and all of the pickle recipes call for 15 minutes of processing for quarts (10 or 15 for pints). So that's what I did, processed them at a full boil for 15 minutes, but I still had a few pickles here and there that had some unattractive wrinkling on the ends. So when I do my next batch, I am going to throw caution and USDA regulations to the wind and try processing them for just 10 minutes at a full boil. I think that will do the trick! (I will report back on my results.)

Follow-up: Thanks to Cyd's legendary pickle-packing skills (that she is not the least bit humble about!), we managed to put up another six quarts of pickles taking the season's total to 20 (plus a pint)! And this time, I tried processing the jars for ten minutes instead of fifteen. Well, that seems to have done it, as the pickles appear fully cooked with barely any wrinkling. Of course, we won't really know the outcome until a tasting a month or so from now, but I think ten minutes is the way to go. FYI...