Thursday, September 27, 2007

Old Witch's Magic Nut Cake

Last week, my unfortunate English teacher friends had to have their regular, once-a-semester workshop to calibrate the grading of placement essays. The only good part of the lengthy meeting, as I understand it, is that there's food. The budget is not large, but they manage to order some pizzas and drinks, and sometimes, a kind soul steps forward to bring a homemade dessert. I am always lucky, because I am a speech teacher and am, thus, exempt from the dreaded workshop. But my neighbor across the hall, Carey, who coordinates the event, always brings me leftover pizza and Diet Pepsi. (Thank you, Carey!) And last week, another friend and colleague, Marta, offered me a piece of homemade cake for dessert. Now, I am not a big fan of cake as a general rule (that surprises you, doesn't it...but mostly, it's because I hate frosting), so I politely declined. But then she said, "Are you sure? It's a pumpkin nut cake." And those three little words won me over. Even though the cake had those wrinkly abominations (=raisins) in it, it was very good, quite moist and flavorful. Then Marta told me the origin of the recipe, and I became all the more enchanted (so to speak).

The recipe is from the back of a children's book from the 60's called Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon, the sequel to Old Black Witch (commonly known as Blueberry Pancake Witch for the blueberry pancake recipe included in that story). Marta and her son first read the book that they checked out from a library back when he was young, and I guess she's been making Old Witch's Magic Nut Cake ever since, much to the delight of her family. The book is out of print, so I haven't read it myself. But apparently. the witch wants to enter her cake at the town carnival to win the polka dot ribbon for "Most Original Cake" (sounds like my biography, except for the witchiness, of course!). As Marta told the story, the witch is worried that she won't win, so she casts some sort of spell to spoil all of the other cakes. But something I found online said that the witch's neighbor always wins the prize, so she steals the other cake and hides it under her hat so that her own cake will win. (Mind you, if this were my story, I wouldn't stoop to any kind of deception to win the special ribbon--my cake would be victorious on its own merits! Hmph!) If anyone is familiar with this epic tale, please write in and set the record straight on the particulars of the plot, will you?

In the meantime, I encourage you to make the cake. It's perfectly autumnal and very yummy. Of course, I couldn't let well enough alone, so I made a couple of changes to Old Witch's recipe (I hope she doesn't curse me with an evil spell!). First of all, you can guess that I omitted the raisins, but I encourage you to leave them in if you can tolerate the evil little things. And since the raisins were absent in my cake, I doubled the nuts. As a rule, I double the nuts (and garlic) in all recipes, but I will leave that decision up to you. Finally, I did not care for the cream cheese frosting on Old Witch's cake. It wasn't creamy enough, and it had too much powdered sugar (too sweet) for my liking, so I swapped out my favorite cream cheese icing instead. I will share both versions below and you can decide. But I should tell you, when I made the cake for my trivia team this week, it was the frosting that they ooh'ed and ahh'ed over. Here ya go:

Old Witch's Magic Nut Cake
(Source: story by Wende and Harry Devlin)

3 eggs
1 (1 lb.) can pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can swap out white whole wheat if you like)
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup yellow (one might say, golden) raisins (I omitted these, as is my way)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I double this, as is also my way, and I used half walnuts and half pecans)

4 oz. cream cheese
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon juice
1/2 box confectioners' sugar
chopped walnuts to sprinkle

Beat together wet ingredients, mix together dry ingredients and combine the 2 mixtures. Pour batter into 3 pans (or pound coffee cans--or I just used a 13x9). Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool cake(s). Cream together ingredients for icing. Frost top of cakes and sprinkle with more chopped walnuts if desired.

My Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting
(Source: Southern Living)

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 pound (16 oz.) powdered sugar, 3 1/2 to 4 cups
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy (don't use too much powdered sugar--you want it very creamy and supple!). Stir in vanilla.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Another Harvest-time Day Trip

I skipped the market last Saturday to participate in a regional open house/farm tour event. There was one farm in particular that I was quite keen to see. The gal who sells cheese at the market told me about Essex Farms and all of the neat things that they produce there. When she mentioned homemade sausage, I asked if they had a store or somewhere that I could buy some. Ruthie said no, that their products were only available to CSA members. Community Supported Agriculture is a newer model of farming that has grown in popularity in recent years. In this model, consumers interested in agricultural sustainability and safe, organic food partner with a farm by paying a seasonal or annual membership fee, becoming shareholders in the farm's operation and production. More often than not, CSA's are located near big cities so that urban dwellers can have access to farm-fresh produce. They usually pay for the season, and then each week, a big box of whatever's in season is delivered to their doorstep. But Essex Farms (in Essex, NY) does things a little differently. They provide a year-round membership (truly amazing in this part of the world where we have 6-7 months of winter!), and each Friday from 3-7, members come to the farm and take whatever they need/can consume in a week. At Essex Farms, this includes not only produce, but beef, pork, chicken, dairy, maple syrup, flour, honey, herbs, and no doubt, other things that I've forgotten. The membership is not cheap at $2400 annually per adult household member, but the farmers themselves say that they can and do live off of the things that they make or grow at the farm, with the exception of pasta, rice and oatmeal. Also, this dynamic young couple, Mark and Kristin, made a conscious (and conscientious) decision to have a economically diverse membership, so if someone can't afford $2400/year, all they have to do is talk to the farmers, explain their situation, and an arrangement will be made. After all, agricultural sustainability won't work on a grand scale if only rich people can afford to participate!

I could go on and on about all the amazing things that they are doing down there in Essex, but I strongly encourage my local readers to take the beautiful drive to their farm and check it out for yourselves. Meet the farmers and learn about their vision, and as a bonus, you'll probably make off with all the farm-grown goodies that you can eat! Our tour group got cabbage (regular and Napa), Swiss chard, canteloupe, and of course, as many tomatoes as Mark could convince us to haul away!

After the farm tour, we were tired and hungry, so we decided that lunch was in order just up the road in lovely Willsboro, NY. I had heard good things about Turtle Island Cafe, right across from the marina on Lake Champlain, and I was NOT disappointed! Turtle Island Cafe believes in featuring local and seasonal products whenever possible, prepared fresh and quite simply. We ordered several things from their daily specials board, including seafood gumbo (spicy and delicious) and the most amazing Shrimp Stroganoff! Unlike some Stroganoffs, this was not heavy, but light and very flavorful--it may have been a white wine-based sauce? But the best part was the pasta! It was homemade, and I would have happily eaten a plate of those noodles by themselves with just a little parsley, garlic and olive oil. Our meals were also served with an amazing garlic bread (little bits of minced garlic on top--YUM!), and for dessert, we had a scrumptious pecan bread pudding with homemade caramel sauce. As an interesting aside, and to demonstrate how closely connected the local farmers and the restaurant are, I noticed that one of the specials (which we did not try) was a Caprese salad made with fresh mozzarella, basil, and Juniper Hills tomatoes. I asked the waitress where Juniper Hills was, and she said it was a farm near Moriah. I had just met a couple on the farm tour from somewhere near Moriah, and I knew that they sold their produce to local markets and restaurants. In fact, I traded them a jar of my special blueberry-lime jam for the promise of some seeds for a chili pepper that the husband, a retired earth science teacher, was working on dehybridizing. And wouldn't you know, it was the same folks whose tomatoes were being served at the restaurant that we chose for lunch a couple hours after meeting them! Isn't that cool? That's how close to my food I want to be, if at all possible. If I didn't grow it myself, I want to know who did on a personal basis!

After we had refreshed ourselves at the Turtle Island Cafe, we headed to Peru for the annual Applefest at St. Augustine's Church. There was a shocking lack of apple products at the Applefest this year, save for a ton of apple pies, all with soft crusts from being frozen before the event. But I did manage to procure some homemade dill pickles. I know, I know....I have 21 quarts of them at home, but I couldn't resist. Plus, the pickle-maker was so proud, and he and I had a nice chat about our methodologies, which were quite similar. And then, on the recommendation of one of my students, I bought the last loaf of the infamous Applefest beer bread. Well, let me tell you, that stuff was dee-licious, and it made the best toast! So of course, I had to learn to make it for myself. I scoured the internet for a recipe, and the first one I tried yielded a completely inedible loaf. We dubbed it "Bitter Beer Face Bread" because of the revolting aftertaste. I actually had to throw it away it was so awful! And the texture was also not the same as the one I bought at the Appelfest. So it was back to the drawing board. I did some more research and found what seemed to be the definitive recipe on Allrecipes with lots of tester comments recommending an increase in sugar and adding some melted butter on top to make it nearly identical to a product from a company called Tastefully Simple. I guess they must be kind of like Pampered Chef, and their Bountiful Beer Bread is apparently quite popular. But at five dollars for the mix, the product is prohibitively expensive for some. And you still have to add your own beer to it! So why not make your own for a mere fraction of the price? And it couldn't be easier, requiring only three ingredients, and no kneading or rise time! Here's the recipe:

Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour (or 3 cups AP flour + 1 tablespoon baking powder, + 1 1/2 teaspoons salt)
3 tablespoons or up to 1/3 cup sugar (I like mine sweeter, but I think I would use 1/4 cup if making it for others)
12 oz. beer (can or bottle, any kind, though I prefer a lighter brew for this)
2-3 tablespoons melted butter, optional

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and sugar. Add beer and continue to mix using a wooden spoon or spatula just until evenly moistened. Batter will be sticky. Pour into a 9 x 5 inch greased loaf pan. Top with 2-3 tablespoons melted butter, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees ) for 50 for 60 minutes. The top will be crunchy, and the insides will be soft. Serve topped with butter or cheese spread.

*This bread would only be enhanced by the addition of herbs or carmelized onions, and especially, lots of cheese!

After the Applefest, we headed over to Rulf's Orchard to take our traditional horse-drawn wagon ride through the apple orchards and buy a half dozen ears (that's 7 ears at Rulf's!) of the last of the sweet corn, some still-warm cinnamon sugar cider donuts, and a ginormous bag of utility Cortlands. So it's gonna be apple desserts for awhile around here! I started with this one, an apple spice cake with caramel drizzle to take for a trivia night treat for my team. The cake was very moist and flavorful, and it looked pretty, even though I cheated and used Smucker's Dulce de Leche Sauce for the topping. Also, I got carried away peeling and chopping apples, and I ended up with four cups of apples instead of three. Rather than wasting them, I just threw the extra in the batter, figuring, what harm? And I think I'd purposefully make the same "mistake" when making this again in the future!

Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

Serves 10

1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped out white whole wheat for this)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 to 4 Granny Smith apples (I used Cortlands and I also peeled them), cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (3 cups--I used 4)
1 cup chopped assorted nuts, such as pecans and walnuts (optional--I say they are mandatory!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

caramel sauce (homemade or good-quality ice cream topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside.
Working over a large sheet of parchment paper, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; gather sifted ingredients into center of sheet; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until lemon yellow. Fold reserved parchment in half lengthwise; with mixer on medium speed, gradually shake in dry ingredients until just incorporated. Add apples and, if desired, nuts, to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack, and serve drizzled with caramel sauce (recipe follows).

Caramel Sauce

1 cup light-brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened to desired consistency.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Last Batch (?)

This might be....I said MIGHT be...the last batch of canning recipes for the season. Then again, you never know. Every time I put my big canning pot away, I end up dragging it out and fillin' 'er back up again! I know I need a 12-step program, but I just can't help myself when I come across something wonderful at a farmers' market. Like when we went to Jean-Talon and I found these sweet little carrots about the size of your finger, I decided that they must be pickled at once. And now that the peppers are in their full glory, I decided to try another recipe that is much talked-about over at the Harvest Forum, a roasted red pepper spread from the Ball Blue Book that I feel should rightly be called Winter Bruschetta. And though Cyd may strangle me if I show up at home with one more tomato, how can I be expected to turn and walk away from all the big boxes of "canners" for five or, at most, seven dollars? So a few pints of good old-fashioned tomato sauce seemed in order, too. However, I am not going gung ho on tomato sauce until one day I can afford the Villaware tomato strainer (the metal, motorized one--not the cheap plastic thingy). After all, when 45 pounds only yields 7 quarts of sauce, you need some help processing those little suckers! Hey, do you think I could I use the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid? Does anyone know? I should try it, just for shiggles! (Oh dear...Cyd's gonna kill me when I come home with yet another box of Romas! Good thing I left the canner on the stove. Tee hee.) Here is a picture of the pickled carrots and the roasted red pepper spread. I forgot to take a photo of the tomato sauce, but then again, the jars just And as always, the recipes follow.

Pickled Baby Carrots
(Source: adapted from
Small Batch Preserving by Topp & Howard )

3 tablespoons dill seed
12 super chili peppers (whole)
12 cloves garlic, peeled
3 pounds peeled baby carrots (I didn't peel mine, just gave them a good scrub)
6 cups white vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups water
4 teaspoons canning/pickling salt
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed

1. Remove hot jars from canner and add 1/2 tablespoon dill seed, 2 super chilis, and 2 garlic cloves to each jar, then fill each with carrots, leaving 1/2 inch head space.
2. Meanwhile, combine vinegar, sugar, water, salt, red pepper flakes, and mustard seed in saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Pour hot liquid over carrots to within 1/2 inch of rim. Wipe down the rims, fix the lids and caps on the jars, and process 15 minutes for pint jars according to standard BWB directions.

Makes 6 pints.

Roasted Red Pepper Spread (or Winter Bruschetta)
Ball Blue Book)

6 pounds, about 8 large red sweet peppers (um, try 12-15! and I swapped out a few of the sweet peppers for some hotter varieties)
1 pound Roma tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves (I used 12, I think!)
1 small white onion
2 tablespoons minced basil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt (I think I used more like a tablespoon!)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Roast peppers under broiler or on a grill at 425 degrees until skin wrinkles and chars in spots. Turn over and roast other side. Remove from heat. Place in a paper bag, secure opening, cool 15 minutes.

Roast tomatoes, onion, and garlic under broiler or grill 10-15 minutes. Place tomatoes in a paper bag. Peel onion and garlic. Finely mince onion and garlic. Measure 1/4 cup and set aside. Peel and seed tomatoes and peppers.

Puree in food processor or blender. Combine in a large pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stir to prevent sticking. Reduce heat, simmer until spread thickens.

Ladle hot spread into hot jars, leave 1/4 inch headspace. (I used half-pints and got six jars from the batch.)

Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Seasoned Tomato Sauce
(Source: another Ball Blue Book classic--of course, I made a quarter of this recipe, as that's all my stock pot will hold!)

45 pounds tomatoes
6 cups chopped onions
12 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons oregano
6 bay leaves
1/4 cup salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
Bottled lemon juice or citric acid

Wash tomatoes; drain. Remove core and blossom ends. Cut into quarters; set aside. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil in a large sauce pot. Add tomatoes, oregano, bay leaves, salt, black pepper and sugar. Stir in crushed red peppers, if desired. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves. Press mixture through a sieve or food mill; discard seeds and peels. (I used my fingers to remove the gel and seeds but did not bother with the skins. I just pureed it all in the food processor.) Cook pulp in a large, uncovered sauce pot over medium-high heat until sauce thickens, stirring to prevent sticking. Reduce volume by 1/2 for a thick sauce. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid to each quart jar. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid to each pint jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. (I included a sprig of fresh basil in each jar as well.) Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints 35 minutes, quarts 40 minutes, in a boiling-water canner.

Yields about 14 pints or 7 quarts (I got six pints from quartering this recipe...hmm, must be from leaving the peels on? Well, the fiber is good for you.)

OOH! This has nothing to do with canning, but I just remembered a great tip for my local readers. Then again, maybe this is a nation-wide sale? Anyway, if you need a new blender, RUN, DO NOT WALK, to your local Starbucks! They have the much-ballyhooed Waring Pro blender on sale for 60 bucks (that's half-price)! They're refurbs, but they come in a tasteful brushed chrome finish, unlike the crazy green color that I bought earlier this summer. AND you won't have to pay for shipping as I did! Seriously, you will thank me for this information. And while you're there, try their new Joya del Dia Blend coffee. It's SOOOO good, with undertones of cocoa. Crazy good! Why are you still sitting there? GO, GO, GO!!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Autummer in Montreal

There are not enough words to describe how much I love this time of year, when the harvest is in full swing and the weather is turning crisp. It's no longer summer, but you don't need your coat just yet (a sweater will do) and the leaves have barely begun to turn. It's AUTUMMER, and nether can I express how much I enjoy Quebec at this time of year, from Labor Day to the first snowfall. But I'm jumping ahead as usual. We begin our story back in good old Plattsburgh.

Last weekend, I worked at the farmers' market, which was practically pointless. I didn't make enough money to justify the additional labor added to my already busy week (not to mention, my physical and mental health!). Oh, there were lots of people walking through, mainly due to the Battle of Plattsburgh celebration downtown, but I guess no one wanted to buy anything and then have to haul stuff back to their cars and let it sit in the hot sun all day during the parade and other festivities. And boy, was it ever HOT and humid, reaching 90 degrees and breaking records. I felt very sorry for all of the historical re-enactors in their heavy, layered garb. But since I was already downtown, and I had never fully experienced the Battle of Plattsburgh (and it has really grown over the years), I decided to check it out after the market closed. Now, celebrating war is generally not my cup of tea. Still, I saw most of the parade from my vantage point at the market. Then I drove over to the historical Kent-Delord House for a tour and to walk through the authentic encampment on the grounds which was quite fascinating. They had, among other things, a doctor, an apothecary (who bought a loaf of maple oatmeal bread from me to serve at tea!), seamstresses, and other kinds of vendors from that period (books, food, etc.). I even spotted a few of my teacher friends along the way, dressed up and occupying some of the tents.

After exploring the big event downtown, I made my way over to my friends, Steve and Lee Ann's new house (they've just moved into town from Saranac Lake which is close to an hour and a half from Plattsburgh, so I'll get to see them more often--yeah!). It was their daughter K's sixth birthday, and she is my long-time buddy. Plus, it was a Harry Potter theme, so I wouldn't have missed that! K actually had two cakes--Harry Potter's face made from a mold and that one looked great, but also an amazing Hogwarts Castle cake carved from rice krispy treats with upside-down ice cream cones for the turrets. So cool!

By the time I got home from throwing down with the six-year-olds, it was already 8pm, and my roommate said that she would completely understand if I just wanted to crash on Sunday. But there is no rest for the wicked at this time of year! So we decided, as we so often do, to point the car toward Montreal and see what we might see along the way. Of course, we had to hit the little farmstands along our route through Napierville and Sherrington. One sign in particular caught my eye, advertising autumn strawberries for sale. Isn't that an oxymoron? (But a darn tasty one!)

Once we hit Montreal proper, we did a little clothes and shoe shopping, then decided we needed a snack. I have always wanted to check out the Big Orange right off of the D├ęcarie Expressway (15N) called Orange Julep Gibeau. Cyd has always made fun of me for this, but I wasn't taking no for an answer! We enjoyed a ginormous, frothy and fresh-tasting orange juice and a big plate of deliciously goopy poutine, and we then had the strength to make it to (and through) the Jean-Talon Market, which is my tabernacle, especially at this time of year. By the time we found parking and a working ATM machine, it was very late, so we had to sprint through the market. And we weren't the only ones in a bit of a dither. The frenzy to preserve as much of summer's bounty as possible before the season ends was palpable.

An older woman and her daugher rushed by us with a HUGE box of canning tomatoes that neither could carry alone. Another man was carting two shopping bags full of red peppers, and I asked him what he was going to do with them. He shrugged his shoulders in that Gallic way and said, "Phfff! I have kids! They'll eat through one of these bags in a week." I was quite surprised, but he said he roasted them with olive oil in the oven, and the kids ate them with everything. Hmmm...while our kids are eating Doritos, theirs are eating roasted red peppers? We could learn something from those folks, eh?

We hurried through the market, seeing many wonderful sights and buying many wonderfully fresh veggies (see a few more random pictures below). Then we paused for some gelato at Havre Aux Glaces (espresso and dark chocolate--YUM!) and also bought some Romanian hamburgers and fresh kraut to take home and make on the grill.

Before we departed Little Italy, I had to try and take some pictures of the beautiful gardens that surround Jean-Talon. The apartment buildings have courtyards the size of postage stamps, but the Old World residents manage to do magical things with them.

Now, it should be understood, most Montrealers (and Quebecers at large) take great pains to have a nice yards and lovely flowers, even if they just have a tiny apartment and some windowboxes on the balcony. But I love these old Italians best because they value edible gardens! And since their space is so limited, they grow everything vertically, and anything nailed down has some sort of vine growing on it, be it a tomato or squash or what have you! It's truly amazing to see! (Look closely at the next picture and note the dangling gourds toward the back that someone has grown using a trellis made of tall stakes and some kind of fencing anchored to a staircase...ingenious!)

And another resident (not pictured) even has a small orchard in front of his or her apartment, and it was hard for me to restrain myself from stealing a few ripes pear, which you know I am apt to do from time to time. However, the residences are gated off with big "keep out" and "no parking" signs (after hours, the market attracts an unsavory element), but did I let that stop me? Nooooooo! And one kind lady even invited me in for a tour! Her English was practically non-existent, and my Italian is completely non-existent. So we did our best to communicate by speaking broken French. Here is her husband, taking a break under their grape arbor, and can you see the squash vine attached to the fence behind him? These urban farmers don't waste an inch of space, and I celebrate them for it!

After the market, we picked up a dozen piping hot sesame bagels at St-Viateur's to take home, and then decided to try something different for dinner. We ate at Casa Gaucho on Parc, an Argentinian Grill. We weren't exactly sure what Argentinian cuisine might be, but we suspected that beef would be involved (after all, a gaucho is a cowboy). When we walked in and saw some the cowhides adorning the walls, our suspicions were confirmed. As my friend, June, informed me later, Argentinian food tends to be meat, meat, with a side of meat! Tee hee. The signature dish of Argentina is the mixed grill, but I became squeamish at the inclusion of kidneys, sweetbreads, and blood sausage. So we opted for the short ribs on the advice of our waitress. However, she should have advised us to get the small portion, as the TWO rack of ribs that they served us were Fred Flintstone-sized! Then again, the leftovers made for a tasty lunch the next day. We also sampled one of their delicious empanadas which were likewise stuffed with meat and olives and such. But the best part of the meal was the homemade chimichurri sauce that we ate on everything. Chimichurri is the Spanish-speaking cousin of the persillade that I am so fond of (and both are surely the descendents of pesto). It's basically a combination of parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil and perhaps vinegar, too, used to marinade meats and as a condiment. I could practically eat the stuff straight myself, I love it so much! There was also a spicy red pepper sauce that we enjoyed, but it was all about the chimichurri on some MEAT! :-) After such a hearty meal, I could barely keep from nodding off at the wheel as we made our way back to the border. But it was a fabulous day, and a very fitting beginning to my favorite season. Get out there and immerse yourselves in some harvest-time will be richly rewarded for your pains. (And don't worry: the couch will still be there alllllllll winter!)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wild Grapes (A Tideover Post)

So my excuse this week for not posting is that I haven't really been doing any cooking. They didn't manage to get around to refilling our fuel tank for the stove until last night (Thursday)! UGH! And then--bless his heart--our next-door neighbor, Ken, came over and got the pilot light relit for us with some effort, but it was almost 9pm on a school night by that time. So now I have to try to do all of the baking that I can do for the farmers' market in one evening (tonight)! AAARRRRGH! No sleep rule firmly in effect. :-(

In the meantime, I will share another excellent recipe for seasonal preserves with you. Ken and I tried to go berry picking the weekend before last, and though we were disappointed to have missed the blackberries, we were delighted to discover lots of wild grapes! I forgot to take a picture of them, but here's what they look like:

It is is VERY important to be able to accurately identify wild plants so that you don't end up poisoning yourself or the people you love and/or share your preserves with! There is a plant that looks very similar to wild grapes that is toxic, and it's called Moonseed (pretty name for such a mean plant!). The berries look similar, but the leaves are different. True wild grapes have leaves that are similar in shape to maple leaves, but with pointy(-er) edges. Wild grapes are insidious vines that grow over other bushes and trees (threatening to choke out other plants). You may even have them in your back yard, and I also saw some right in downtown Plattsburgh the other day, growing over a fence (next-door to the Koffee Kat on Margaret Street, for my local readers). The seeds in wild grapes are oval-shaped, whereas they are crescent-shaped in the moonseed berries--hence, the lovely name. So just be careful out there!

Wild grapes are much smaller than table grapes and very tart, but they make a delicious jelly. (I wouldn't recommend them for jam as they are too seedy.) I found this recipe online, and the jelly I made from it was quite wonderful.

Wild Grape Jelly

3 lbs. wild grapes, stemmed
3 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 (85 ml) package liquid pectin (I used Certo)

In large saucepan, crush grapes with potato masher; pour in water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until fruit is very soft. Transfer to jelly bag or colander lined with a double thickness of fine cheesecloth and let drip overnight. (I used a flour sack towel tied to a curtain rod as I did when I made the red currant jelly earlier this summer.)

The next day, measure the juice (you should have 3 cups/750 ml) into a large heavy saucepan; stir in sugar. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Return to full boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon.

Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8 inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Monday, September 03, 2007

My Annual Oven Tribulations (Revisited)

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my months-long ordeal with a faulty oven and the subsequent tortures of trying to have it replaced with one that worked, all culminating in an emergency call to the local fire department. Well, nothing that dramatic has transpired since, thank goodness, but I did have a setback in my farmers' market preparations this week. Halfway through baking two more loaves of the zucchini-carrot bread, I ran out of propane for the range! And right before the long weekend, naturally! So I had to run the half-baked loaves over to the neighbor's house to use his oven (bless his heart!). After that, I baked two pans of brownies. I was going to give up on the rest of the things that I wanted to make for the market, but the city court judge in town comes by my booth every week to buy a blueberry pie for her husband and brownies for herself. And since I wasn't going to be able to do any pies this week, I figured she'd throw me in the clink if I didn't at least have the brownies for her!

But this did not solve the problem of how to make the pepper jelly that is my bestseller week in and week out at the market. And I'll be danged if I was gonna haul all the canning stuff over to the neighbor's! So I decided to try cooking the jam on the infamous hot plate that I got for nine bucks at the Wal-Mart on the last go-round with the oven. It did fine cooking the jam, but I didn't think it would support the weight of the canner once it was filled with water and the jars. So I thought I might try using the sideburner on my old BBQ grill. And guess what? It worked like a charm! It seemed to come to the boil faster, and I also didn't have to heat up the kitchen with a big bubbling cauldron. I should have thought of this long ago! And in another burst of creativity (desperation?), I used the simmering canner as a double boiler to melt the chocolate for the brownies, propping the metal bowl on top of the steaming kettle full of jars while they were being sterilized.
Am I not extremely clever and resourceful?? Tee hee. Where there's a will, the determined canner will find a way! In fact, I just made a third batch of the wonderful Annie's Salsa using the hot-plate-and-grill canning method yesterday (bringing my seasonal total to 22 pints, for those keeping count). I may never go back to using the stove, even after we get a propane fill-up! ;-)