Sunday, August 30, 2009

Early Autumn Incites Baking FRENZY!

So much for our two weeks of summer! I have spotted the first few trees starting to turn color, and a few nights ago, I had to run around the house, closing all of the windows, and digging up some spare blankets to avoid turning on the heat! There was an actual frost warning--IN AUGUST! What ridiculous weather we've had this year. And this weekend has been drizzly and damp, and it has really put me in a serious baking mood.

I usually bake for other people, but as this is my last weekend of freedom before the semester starts in earnest, yesterday, I made some cookies just for ME! Not that I won't share them, of course, but they are just the kind of cookie that I like best--sweet, salty, buttery and nutty. YUM! This recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, and they are simple drop cookies--easy-peasy! You can mix up the dough and bake it right away if you like, or you can chill it for cookies that are less flat and crispy (as pictured below) and more rounded up and chewy...your choice. I really only made one significant change to the recipe. I LOATHE the overpoweringly artificial taste of butterscotch chips, so I swapped out some toffee bits and extra pecans. Delish and truly addictive!

Salty-Sweet Butter Pecan Cookies
(Source: adaped from
King Arthur Flour)

1 1/3 cups pecan halves (I used 2 cups)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon butterscotch, vanilla-butternut, or butter-rum flavor (I used Princess Cake flavor, which is mildly nutty)
1 teaspoon vinegar, cider or white (I used cider)
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups butterscotch chips (I swapped out 1 cup of toffee bits)
1/2 cup granulated sugar mixed with 3/4 teaspoon plain table salt, for topping

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment or a Silpat) two baking sheets.
2) Place the pecans in a single layer in a pan, and toast until they've darkened a bit and smell toasty, about 8 to 9 minutes. Set them aside.
3) In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter, shortening, salt, espresso powder, baking soda, vanilla, flavor, and vinegar, beating until smooth and creamy.
4) Beat in the egg, again beating until smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.
5) Mix in the flour, then the chips and toasted nuts.
6) If you're going to refrigerate the dough, cover the bowl, and refrigerate for about 4 to 5 hours; or overnight. Cookie dough refrigerated for 3 1/2 to 4 hours will spread moderately; chilled overnight, it will spread much less.
7) Mix the 1/3 cup sugar and salt for the coating, and put it in a bowl. To bake cookies immediately (without refrigeration), use a spoon (or a tablespoon cookie scoop) to scoop 1 1/2" balls of dough into the sugar/salt mixture, rolling to coat. Then transfer to the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2" between them on all sides; they'll spread quite a bit. Or use a teaspoon cookie scoop to scoop 1 1/4" balls of dough.
8) Bake the cookies for 10 to 11 minutes — 11 minutes for smaller cookies, 12 for larger ones. Their edges will be chestnut brown and their tops a lighter golden brown. (For dough that's been refrigerated, add 30 seconds to 1 minute to those baking times.) Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pan until they've set enough to move without breaking. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Yield: about 4 dozen 3" cookies, or 7 dozen 2 1/4" cookies. (SHEESH! Mine must have been big ones, as I only got 32 cookies!)

But I didn't only indulge in selfish cookie baking, I also made a pie today--perhaps the most perfectly executed specimen ever to come out of my oven! I'm thrilled that it turned out so well, because it's a gift for my neighbors who helped me out of a (literal) jam lately. I won't go into too many of the gory details, but suffice it to say, I'm still having sewer drainage issues that have been plaguing me since the spring thaw. And my brave and selfless neighbors came over, dug down to the main line in the back yard, and snaked it clear with a couple of long lengths of cable from the barn. Talk about Good Samaritans! So I thought the least I could do was to pay back some of my indebtedness with a homemade pie. Both fellows enjoy all kinds of berry pies, so I rooted around in the freezer and found one bag of blackberries and another quart of wild blueberries. Thus, it was to be a black-and-blue pie! And since I've been making a lot of double-crust pies of late, I decided to go with a crumble topping for this one. My neighbors like a rather sweet pie, so I knew it would go over well. I believe that this recipe yields a perfect transitional pie between the seasons--showcasing summery berries inside, but with a warmly-spiced topping that hints at autumn right around the corner.

Black-and-Blue Crumble Pie

one nine-inch pie crust, your favorite recipe

Black-and-Blue Filling:
5 cups blackberries and blueberries (in any proportion you prefer)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or ground instant tapioca)

Crumble Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, slightly softened

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and chill the pie crust until very firm. In the meantime, gently mix together the berries, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, corn starch and tapioca flour. Set aside until the oven has come to temperature and the pie shell is well chilled.

Pour the berry filling into the pie shell and even the top with a spatula. Bake on the lowest rack in the oven for 30 minutes. Toward the end of the first half hour of baking, make the topping. Whisk together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Then blend in the butter with your fingers until evenly distributed throughout the dry ingredients, and large, moist crumbs begin to form.

After the pie has baked for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven, add a pie shield (or tin foil) to the edges, then carefully top the pie with the crumble mixture. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and return the pie to the oven for about another 45 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling up from underneath and puffing up the topping all over (especially in the middle!), and the topping is golden to caramel brown.

Carefully remove the pie shield (tucking any loosened pieces of the crumble right back onto the hot pie filling), then cool the pie completely on a wire rack, at least two hours, before serving.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The summer's finally PEACHY!

I command you to walk away from the computer this very minute, and hurry to the store or farmstand or farmer's market, and buy yourself a whole passel of peaches which are--right at this very moment--at their peak of juicy perfection! Of course, my zone (4) is just too frosty for this heat-loving fruit, so our "local" peaches generally come from New Jersey, just a day's drive. Despite the cool, wet summer, the peaches are quite lovely this year. Other than eating them out of hand, the best thing you can do to showcase peaches when they are perfectly ripe is to make a homemade peach pie! But first, an introductory anecdote, as is my way...

Last weekend, my friends and I attended the 154-year-old tradition known as the Redford Picnic (colloquially, "The Fifteenth of Redford") in Redford, NY. Its main function is as a church fundraiser, and there are all the typical games of chance and food booths and homespun music performances that are to be found at any such country fair. The two attractions that make the Redford Fair unique are first, the wonderful 1890's Armitage-Herschell wooden carousel that was donated to the Church of the Assumption in Redford in 1910 and is reported to be the oldest in America that is still in operation. It is comprised of 24 original carved horses and four sleighs, and the carousel can be ridden just once a year at the Redford Picnic, formerly powered by actual horses, and now run by a tractor.

The second event that truly defines the Redford Picnic is the pie booth, where you put your quarter down on a number between 1 and 30, spin a roulette-type wheel, and if it lands on your number, you win a pie! Of course, if you're not a lucky person, you can always purchase a pie for ten bucks. Though the pies are homemade, whether you get an edible one or not seems to be as much of a gamble as the spinning wheel game itself.

My friend June and I both tried to win a pie, but we gave up after a couple of bucks' worth of quarters. June finally bought a pie, mainly for her pie-loving husband, Tom. She chose peach, but I could tell by the looks of it, it was sub-standard. (I suspect that pie-making skills have deriorated quite a bit since the Redford Picnic's inception in 1855!) The crust looked thick and dry and decidedly un-flaky, and the peaches inside--God help us--may have been from a can. Moreover, they were glommed together with little beads of undissolved tapioca. In a word, EWWW!

I felt so bad for them, that when I spied some lovely Jersey peaches in the grocery store this week (for a mere $0.69/pound!), I quickly grabbed a few pounds and decided to make them a proper peach pie. As he ate his icky Redford pie, Tom (born in Alabama and raised in New Orleans) unkindly proclaimed that northern piemakers obviously knew nothing about making peach pie. So I took it upon myself to reclaim the honor of the Yankee piemaking tradition!

Of course, I began with my favorite half-and-half pie crust recipe rom Ken Haedrich, but to make it truly old-fashioned, genuinely Southern, and ridiculously light and flaky, I made it with half butter and half lard instead of vegetable shortening. Then for the filling, I used three pounds of perfectly ripe, peeled peaches, with just a scant half cup of sugar, a little vanilla and a few drops of almond extract (always good when paired with stone fruits), and because they were so juicy, some extra thickener so that the filling wouldn't end up being runny.

Since I made the pie as a gift, I didn't get to see the inside with my own eyes, but June sent me a picture after she cut the first slice, and it was GORGEOUS! The filling wasn't runny, but neither was it stiff like Jell-O. The peaches softened but did not dissolve into mush, and the bottom crust was golden brown, as it should be. I quote June, the recipient of said pie: "The peaches were perfect. Tender, yet each holding its shape. Their freshness really shone through. The pie was light and yet tasty. The perfect summertime dessert." SUCCESS!

Perfect Peach Pie
(Source: crust recipe adapted from Ken Haedrich's Pie)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen lard, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup ice water

3 lbs. peaches (8-10), peeled and sliced in sixths
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter

Egg Wash (optional):

1 egg
1 tablespoon cream

In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, sugar and salt and pulse to blend and aerate. Add the cold butter and lard and pulse about ten times until the fat breaks into petite pea-sized pieces and the dough looks like crumbly oatmeal. Drizzle in about 1/2 cup iced water, more or less, just until the dough holds together when pinched between your fingers. Divide the dough in half, form two disks on pieces of plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour, or even overnight.

When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and prepare the peach filling. Make an shallow "X" in the bottom of each peach with the tip of a sharp knife. Drop the peaches into boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the peels start to loosen. Remove the peaches to a bowl of cold water, then peel and pit them, and cut each one into sixths. Sprinkle the peach slices with the lemon juice, then gently mix in the sugar, vanilla, almond extract, corn starch and tapioca flour, and set the mixture aside while you form the pie crusts.

Roll out one of the crusts and fit it into a 9-inch Pyrex pie plate, cutting off the excess and forming a stand-up edge between a half-inch and an inch high. Place in the freezer to firm while you roll out the second crust. When the botton crust is firm, pour the peach filling into the pie plate, scatter bits of butter on top of the filling, and cover with the second crust. Pinch the edges together to seal and crimp decoratively. Cut four large slits (or many smaller ones) in the top of the pie, and use a pastry brush to apply a thin coating of egg wash (one egg whisked with one tablespoon of cream) if desired.

Bake the pie for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, reduce the heat to 350 degrees, cover the edges of the pie with a shield or tin foil, and bake for about 45 minutes more. Let cool for at least two hours before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In which I pretend to appear on "Chopped"...

YIKES! Another muggy, 90-degree day today! But I'm not complaining, as my vegetable garden is finally getting the heat that it needs to produce. I planted so late, and the summer has been so cool and rainy, that I wasn't sure that I would see a proper harvest this year. But yesterday while I was weeding the garden (not the hottest--har, har--idea I've ever had when it's 90 degrees), I found a few surprises and what I hope is the harbinger of many good things to come in the next couple of months.

TA-DAH! The first (mini-) harvest! I picked a small red tomato (I believe it was a super-early variety appropriately named, "Manitoba"), three black cherry tomatoes, the first straightneck yellow squash, and a handful of several kinds of basil (mostly, I was just trying to pinch the flowers off of the plants). Being the sort of person who never enjoys things going to waste, I challenged myself to using all of these fresh ingredients in one meal, sort of like my own personal episode of "Chopped."

And HERE'S what I came up with: Bruschetta-Topped Ribeye with Pan-Fried New Potatoes and Jalapeno, Squash and Corn Spoonbread! Are you feeling me, people?! Let me walk you through it...

First, I had the idea to make a cornbread filled with lots of sauteed veggies, but what I ended up with was much softer and moister, more like a squash casserole that you could almost pick up and eat with your hands, or perhaps most like a southern spoonbread. It was DELICIOUS, and as a postscript, the leftovers were great with poached eggs for my breakfast/brunch today. (My second attempt at poaching eggs Julia's way was more successful than the first, yet still nothing to brag about. But I digress...)

Jalapeno, Squash and Corn Spoonbread

4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
1 very large or two small jalapenos, seeded, ribbed and diced
1 6 to 8-inch summer squash, seeds and spongey core removed, then shredded
2 ears of corn, husked, de-silked, and kernels cut from the cob
1 can cream-style corn
salt and pepper, to taste
2 small packages of cornbread mix (I used Martha White), batter prepared acc. to package

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the diced onion, jalapeno, squash, and corn from the cob, and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are tender. Add a can of creamed corn and mix everything together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the cornbread mix according to the package directions (I used two small boxes of Martha White and made the batter with milk), then stir in the sauteed vegetables. Spray two regular muffin tins liberally with nonstick cooking spray, then using a large scoop, fill almost to the top of each muffin cup (you will probably get 18-20).

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until set in the middle and golden brown around the sides. Run the point of a sharp knife around the spoonbread muffins when they come out of the oven to loosen, but let them cool in the pan for at least ten minutes or they will fall apart as you try to extract them!

While the spoonbread was baking, I diced the tomatoes, added minced garlic, salt and pepper, a drizzle of EVOO, a good splash of balsamic vinegar, a few pinches of parmesan cheese, and a chiffonade of Genovese, Aromatica, lemon and lime basils, and set the bruschetta aside for the flavors to meld while I got onto the meat and potatoes.

I liberally coated a bone-in ribeye with the house barbecue rub, and threw it immediately into a hot pan with two tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil to sear. Meanwhile, I nuked four smaller new potatoes that I acquired from a farmstand down the road about five miles from me, and when they were tender, I halved them and peeled them. When I flipped the steak over to cook on the other side, I placed the potato halves face-down in the meat drippings to brown. When the meat was done, I removed it from the hot pan to cool for a bit and to let the juices settle, and kept browning the potatoes on all sides. When they were crispy and golden, I added them to my plate, topped the steak with the bruschetta, and threw a spoonbread muffin on the side.

If that doesn't do it for ya, I don't know what will! A fitting feast to celebrate the beginning of the harvest in the North Country! REVEL in it, my friends! It was slow coming, and it'll be gone way too soon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Simulacra

Friends, at long last, summer has found us. We have been flirting with 90 degrees for about a week, and there has also been some icky humidity--not Deep South muggy or anything, but uncomfortable nonetheless. I, for one, am extremely happy that it held off until my short break between the last summer session and the beginning of fall semester. And as long as there's enough heat to ripen my tomatoes and peppers, it's all good. However, as the temperatures rise, we're often less inclined to spend time in the kitchen in front of the hot stove. So I've been eating a lot of entree salads for dinner, and of course, drinking different sorts of refreshing frozen beverages. In fact, I have two recipes to share with you to help you endure the dog days of summer, as late as they may have been in coming.

First off, I simply must tell you about my new favorite salad with which I have become more than a bit obsessed! Awhile back, I was reading The Pioneer Woman's blog, as I am wont to do, and she was documenting her trip to the annual Blogher conference in Chicago. While visiting the Windy City, P-Dub enjoyed a lovely meal at a well-known restaurant called Bandera, and she was particularly effusive about a salad that she had called the "Macho Salad." I did a quick internet search and found a copycat recipe from a sister restaurant to Bandera in the same group called the Cherry Creek Grill. So I made the salad one night, and have had it at least three more times since then! I love this salad--it's creamy and sweet and tangy and crunchy and altogether DELISH! However, I refuse to reprint a precise salad recipe, as I believe you should use as much or as little of an ingredient as you prefer, and you may wish to add or omit or substitute an item. It's YOUR salad...make it the way YOU want! But here's the general blueprint:

Cherry Creek Grill/Bandera's "Macho" Salad
Malisa's Food Blog)

fresh greens
diced chicken or turkey (I cheated and shredded up some breast from a deli roaster)
chopped tomatoes (I will add these when mine are finally ripe)
chopped dates (this is the key ingredient--I love the sweetness they add!)
diced avocado
crumbled goat cheese
sliced, toasted almonds
cornbread croutons (I've substituted focaccia croutons and in a pinch, used a handful of seasoned cornbread stuffing cubes)
freshly-ground black pepper

Dressing (this is easily enough for 4 to 6 entree salads):
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced (I doubled this, as is my way!)
1/4 teaspoon dried basil (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh)
1 1/4 cup olive oil (I used half olive and half canola oil)

After you have your nice, healthy salad for din-din, you're allowed to have a special treat for dessert. One of my all-time favorite summer splurges is the Orange Slammer from Friendly's. It's SO yummy, and really cools you off on a hot day. Buit what is NOT cool is the price! It costs $4.60 or thereabouts--as much as some sort of fancy coffee beverage at Starbucks! Ridiculous! So I usually only enjoy a couple of them each summer. But the last time I was in there, I lucked out and got to watch and learn as a new employee was trained on the Orange Slammer methodology.

You add four or five good scoops (about a pint) of orange sherbet into your blender and add a cup and a quarter to a cup and a half of a fizzy beverage. Which fizzy beverage? Well, IF you can find a good-quality, flavorful sherbet (like Friendly's!), then all you need is seltzer (for my North Country peeps, Stewart's even sells a mandarin orange flavor under their house label). The problem is finding a decent orange sherbet! As far as I can tell, none of the higher-quality ice cream brands has a plain orange sherbet (though many of them have an orange and vanila swirl variety). So you may well end up having to buy house brands of sherbet. If your sherbet is of a lesser quality, you might want to add a little more zing with some lemon-lime soda, or if the sherbet really needs a flavor boost, use orange soda (and I prefer to use diet sodas myself). Whichever carbonated beverage you choose, add a half teaspoon of vanilla before you blend it up. Serve your frosty, citrusy beverage with a whimsical straw, and enjoy it along with the last burst of summertime!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Julia would not be pleased.

I know I'm a week late on this post, but cut me some slack, eh? I've been finishing summer school (YAY!), and I'm still working on a big side project at school that needs to be completed this week. Ugh! Anyway, my friends and I went to see the highly-anticipated foodie film, Julie & Julia last Saturday night. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and capped off the evening with a post-movie discussion/analysis over a decadent Espresso Chocolate Truffle Mocha at Starbucks. (Have you had one of those? Good heavens! It's like liquid candy!)

Since you couldn't join us last week, here's my mini-review. In short, it was worth EVERY PENNY of my nine bucks to see Meryl embody the completely contagious joie de vivre of Julia Child. All I have to say is, they better start polishing her Oscar now! There are also strong supporting roles, including the always-wonderful Stanley Tucci, who is delightful as her husband, Paul--they have such WONDERFUL chemistry together! (Only actors of their caliber could make us see Julia as a sex object!) And also, one of my very favorite actors, Jane Lynch, plays Julia's equally tall, equally hysterical sister. Love that! However...

I understand the filmmaker's aim, to draw the parallels between the lives of these two women, each struggling to find her identity and purpose and passion in life, by interweaving their stories. However, that gives us only half the typical amount of time to devote to each story. Unfortunately, the Julia Child story is the one that really engages the viewer (leaving us wanting more of her biography!), as there is simply not enough time to depict fully the roller coaster of triumphs and tragedies in the kitchen so charmingly detailed in Julie Powell's blog and subsequent memoir. I am a big Amy Adams fan, by the way, ever since her first role as Leslie Miller in Drop Dead Gorgeous, one of my very favorite (black!) comedies. But I would call her performance in Julia & Julia affable, but insipid. I do not fault Ms. Adams or her talent; she simply wasn't given much to work with. I can tell you, as someone who followed her blog early on, before it was a book or a movie, Julie Powell is much wittier and more entertaining than the film reveals. Again, I think it's because so much of her culinary journey was short-changed by the parallel lives format.

I hate to speak unkindly toward the film's writer-director, as Nora Ephron also wrote the screenplay for my very favorite film, When Harry Met Sally. But other than Sleepless in Seattle, I generally do not prefer her directorial efforts, and in the case of Julie and Julia, I fault her adaptation as well. She clearly privilieges the Julia over the Julie in both plot and characterization. So in short (too late), the film is palatable, but Meryl is truly DELECTABLE!

The other thing that's tantalizing about the film, as you might guess, is the FOOD! In fact, my friends and I decided immediately after our viewing that we needed to have a theme dinner soon involving, at the very least, Bouef Bourguignon with Raspberry Bavarian Cream for dessert! And I myself feel compelled to make the Sole Meuniere that Julia and Paul sample when they first arrive in Paris. But until we get around to those more involved dishes, I thought I might honor Julia by mastering the art of poaching an egg. At least, that was my goal...

I started by bringing about two inches of water to the barest simmer in a large saute pan. Although I was certain that my eggs were as fresh as can be (thanks to my hens), I took a tip from Julia and boiled them for a mere ten seconds to start setting the whites. I thought it might be a good idea to poke the large end of each egg with a large push pin like I do when I'm boiling eggs (it helps the egg release from the shell more readily). But mostly, it just made little squiggly white worms swimming around in the pan!

So I fished the squigglies out, and added two tablespoons of white vinegar to the water, as per Julia's instructions. (The vinegar helps the eggs hold their shape as they cook.) Once the water came back to the simmer, I cracked each egg and gently slipped it into the water, immediately trying to lift the white up and over the yolk, in the classic tradition, but I must admit that I had little success and getting the white to cling to the yolk. (Sigh.) Still, I persevered and worked my way clockwise around the pan, cooking a maximum of four eggs at a time.

After the first egg went in, I set the timer for four minutes. When the timer went off, I used a skimmer to lift the first egg out, and I pressed it gently with my finger to test for doneness. (It needed perhaps another 30 seconds to a minute for my tastes. I like the yolk to be jellied, not liquid--what the Frenchies call "mollet.") When it was ready, I removed it to a bowl of cold water that I had standing by. This washes off the vinegar and stops the cooking.

I proceeded with the rest of that batch of eggs, and then poached four more. Julia tells us that the eggs can stay in the cold water for several hours, but I drained and refrigerated all but the ones I was planning on eating for breakfast. (If you're poaching, might as well do a bunch, for a quick breakfast for a few days or to top entree salads for lunch or dinner.) To reheat, you simply slide the egg back in the simmering water for thirty seconds, drain on a paper towel, and serve.

Julia says (hear that voice in your head now), "A perfect specimen is neat and oval in shape, and the white completely masks the yolk." It all sounds so easy, right? Then why do mine always comes out looking like MUTANTS, despite my best efforts and Julia's (and Martha's) tutelage? I mean, don't get me wrong, they are tasty little mutants, but not pretty enough to serve for company or anything. (In the picture to the left, only the egg in the back came out halfway decent-looking, and you can still see the yolk bulging out of the side a little bit!) I guess I just need to keep practicing, but for the life of me, I just dont see why we need to poach eggs at all, when it's so much easier to BASTE them--a technique I learned as a breakfast cook at Crescent H Ranch in Jackson Hole back in the day.

To baste eggs, you melt a little butter in your pan over medium-low to medium heat, crack in your eggs, and sprinkle each with salt and pepper. Then you toss two big ice cubes into the pan and cover it tightly with a lid. Cook/steam for about four minutes (or to desired doneness--press the yolk lightly with your finger to test it), and that's it! I guess they're sort of a fried/poached combo, but it's well-suited to Eggs Benedict and all other poached egg applications--with a lot less fuss! (I hope Julia isn't rolling over in her grave now!)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Fear of Falling and the Great Cooking Magazine Backlog

I am embarrassed to admit that I have fallen woefully behind in reading my cooking magazines, and it's even more embarrassing to admit why that is. You see, one of my favorite things to do is to crawl into a nice, hot tub with a couple of issues of Gourmet and/or Bon Appetit and simply luxuriate. You might think that the summer's heat has been keeping me from taking hot baths, but given this year's "summer" temperatures or lack thereof (it was 45 degrees the other night when I went to bed--in AUGUST!), that's not the problem. Instead, it is the sorry state of the plumbing in the bathroom. During the spring floods, we had sewer issues in the basement that I don't even want to talk about in polite company (especially distasteful on a food blog!), and on the heels of that nasty crisis, the wood around the bathroom window has become so rotten, that when I shower, water leaks down, inside the walls, through the dining room ceiling below, and into a big bucket that I place in just the right spot so that the wood floors aren't ruined. This has actually been going on for years (yeah, my landlady rocks!), but only recently has the floor underneath the bathtub started to sound squeaky and feel a little spongey. So I became terrified that I was going to fall from the bathroom through the living room floor, all the way to the basement, and the paramedics would find me, still in the bathtub, naked and paralyzed, clutching a soggy issue of Gourmet. (Though I might prefer death to this humiliation!) Eventually, the landlady did come over and brought a plumber to check things out (nine years later--thanks!), and though the wall and the window will have to be replaced, he assured me that the bathtub is sound. You can hardly blame me for being distrustful, though, so I try to shower quickly and run away to avert disaster of the watery, plummeting variety. I have not yet been brave enough to fill the tub with the extra weight of water; consequently, my leisure reading has suffered.

Now that summer school is finally over, one of my (albeit minor) goals is to get caught up in reading my cooking mags, which will be no small feat, as there's a substantive stack of them! But I started with the March issue of Gourmet, and I was immediately inspired to make two excellent recipes found therein. For two weekends in a row now, I have treated myself to a yummy batch of something the fictitious Fannie Farmer named "Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots." They are these practically flourless, ethereally light silver dollar-sized pancakes. And they are very quick, too. The sour cream-based batter can be whipped up in a minute or two, and even though you have to prepare the little pancakes in multiple batches, they cook so quickly, that it goes very fast. (Also, as I was making them just for me, I only made a half batch.) If you love crepes or Swedish pancakes or Dutch babies, this is the recipe for you! The Heavenly Hots cook up very puffy from the eggs and sour cream, but as they have so little flour, they deflate like those other types of eggy pancakes do. In fact, when I made them a second time for brunch yesterday, I decided to double the flour, and I think I liked them even better, as they maintained a little more structure as they cooled. I served mine with browned butter and powdered sugar, which are my favorite crepe/Dutch baby toppings. But I believe blueberry jam, or a fresh blueberry sauce now that the fruit is ripe for the picking, would be IDEAL to serve with these little sour cream pancakes, especially if you were to grate a little lemon zest in the batter!

Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots
(Source: originally from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book via the
March 2009 issue of Gourmet)

4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cake flour (yes, this recipe is correct as written!)
2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
*I added a teaspoon of vanilla, too.

Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and stir until well blended. Add the salt, baking soda, flour, sour cream, and sugar (and vanilla, if using), and mix well. All of this can be done in a blender, if you prefer.

Heat a griddle or frying pan until it is good and hot, film with butter, and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto the griddle—just enough to spread to an approximately 2 1/2-inch round (=a tablespoon of batter). When a few bubbles appear on top of the pancakes, turn them over and cook briefly.

*While you are cooking successive batches of pancakes, keep the finished ones on large oven-proof platter or cookie sheet in a warm oven.

So that's what's for breakfast. Now, what shall we have for lunch? Though I may take issue with a simple grilled sandwich as the cover of GOURMET magazine, I could not deny its tempting allure. The dish that was March's cover girl was the Monte Cubano, a cross between a Cubano (the Cuban sandwich that usually has roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard) and a Monte Cristo (which has ham and turkey and cheese and is then battered and fried). How GOOD does that sound? And it's SO simple! I was even thinking that this would be a terrific recipe for your panini grill (shout out to my friend, June, who just got a new one!).

Monte Cubano
Gourmet, March 2009)

2 slices firm bread
1 to 2 teaspoons mustard
4 or 5 dill pickle rounds
2 slices boiled or baked ham
2 slices smoked turkey
3 thin slices Swiss cheese
1/2 garlic clove
1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Spread one slice of bread with mustard and top with pickles, meats, and cheese. Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt, then mix with mayonnaise. Spread on remaining slice of bread and assemble sandwich. Beat together egg, milk, and 1/8 tsp each of salt and pepper, then soak sandwich in egg mixture.

Melt butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Cook sandwich, uncovered, until underside is well browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook remaining side, covered, until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, one minute.

As both of the above recipes call for eggs, I thought I might end this post by sharing a picture of the weird eggs that one of my hens has been laying for me lately. Often, when pullets first start to lay, they'll give you tiny eggs, but even the youngest of my girls are almost three! Very peculiar...