Friday, January 30, 2009

Peaches in January

There were a few times last summer when I left the farmer’s market pulling the radio flyer wagon so full with fruits that I had to ask Lucca to get out and help me push it up the hill. It was cool, to have so much fresh local produce, but to be honest I was thinking “that was a LOT of money I just shelled out” and also, “now I have to go home and spend an hour peeling and cutting fruit I’m not even going to eat till who knows when?” Oh I of little understanding. If only I had known, I would have gone up and down the hill five times each Saturday and given up sleep to watch the freezer bags fill with Gold. Well, I guess if I ate peach cobbler every January night I wouldn’t appreciate it. But not only is it delicious, and costs pennies in comparison to what it would be if I were to buy the peaches now, it’s so easy! No peeling and cutting. Just open up the bag and there they are, ready to pour into the pan. And with a little variety of toppings, and the occasional addition of vanilla ice cream, you almost could eat this every night.

Peach Cobbler
6-8 peaches, peeled and sliced.
½ cup brown sugar (vary according to sweetness of fruit)

Preheat oven to 350. Put filling into a baking dish. If using frozen fruit, no need to thaw, just sprinkle the sugar over it evenly.

Diane’s Cobbler Topping:

½ cup oats (can be replaced with nuts for a change of pace)
½ cup flour
4 t (½ stick) butter, cold or frozen, cut into pieces.
¼ cup brown sugar
Put all ingredients into a food processor with the sharp blade. Pulse for 30 second intervals until well blended. Spread over the fruit mixture and bake for about 45 minutes.

Pandowdy Topping:
modified from a recipe I cut out from the Boston Globe years ago (didn’t save any of the identifying information)
1 cup flour
2 T sugar
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold or frozen butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
3 T whole milk
Put dry ingredients and butter into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a sharp blade and pulse for 30 second intervals until smoothly mixed. In a separate bowl, gently mix the egg and milk. Pour the wet mixture evenly over the dry mixture, cover and pulse again just until well blended. Dump the topping over the fruit, not worrying about full or even coverage. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling up through the topping.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Meat CSA and a Taste of Summer

Keja and I went to pick up our meat CSA yesterday. We received ham steaks, hamburger, ribeyes, tenderloin, chicken, bacon, and stew meat. This isn't going to stretch my menu skills just yet, because this stuff is easy to make a delicious meal out of. Ah well; I'm not complaining! I am going to make ham steak with a caramel glaze, sweat potatoes, and seared greens. Yum. I just need the steak to thaw! Until then, I'll give you my blueberry cake recipe. The other day I realized that I had not used any of my carefully frozen fruits, and, dreaming of summer blueberries, adapted a conventional sponge cake recipe into blueberry goodness. My three-year old was my sous chef and because we made a cream cheese frosting, he named it Blueberry Cream Cheese Cake.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Cake

Preheat oven to 350

Pull 4 cups frozen blueberries out of freezer and defrost on countertop. Put in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Sift into a mixer bowl:
2 1/4 cups cake flour (or use regular flour, replacing 2 TBSP of flour with 2 TBSP cornstarch in every cup of flour)
1 cup sugar
1 TBSP baking powder

In a separate bowl, mix:
1/2 cup safflower oil
4 egg yolks (keep egg whites)
1 cup of blueberry puree
2 teas. vanilla

Add to dry and mix on low until incorporated, then increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy, approximately 1 minute.

Put contents into another bowl, and in a clean mixer bowl, add 1 cup egg whites (you will probably need 3 or 4 more eggs to get 1 cup) and dash of salt.

Beat on medium until white, then add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until stiff.

Fold flour/berry mix into egg whites until just evenly mixed. Pour into 3 9-inch round pans. Cook until a toothpick comes out clean, VERY approximately 30 minutes, but check sooner. As soon as they are done, take out of the oven and run a knife around the edges. Let cool in pans.


In mixer beat:
3 packages softened cream cheese
remaining blueberry puree
sugar to taste

Frost cake. Frosting may be soft, so put cake in fridge after frosting to harden frosting. If there is extra frosting, serve on the side at room temperature.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


It's been years since I made quiche. I can't remember why. I love the simplicity of this one-dish meal, its incredible ability to absorb whatever random leftovers I have around and turn them into a creamy, crunchy warm and comforting slice. But for some reason it fell out of my repertoire. I think what happened is that quiche is really a winter food, because of the baking but also because of the ingredients, and one year I just forgot to return to it at the end of summer. Like a box of winter clothes that got shoved just a tad too far under the eaves, it's been stored away for a few seasons. Oh, but that just makes the return more delightful.

I just use a simple pate brise for the crust:

2 cups flour
1 stick butter
up to 1/4 cup ice water

Chop the butter into the flour, with a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or in a food processor. Then add the water little by little till it just holds into a ball. Be careful not to touch the dough any more than necessary. Pour the dough into a lightly floured kitchen cloth and use the cloth to shape it into a ball. Still in the cloth, flatten it out. Then roll it out using a lightly floured rolling pin. Butter a pie pan and use the cloth to lift and turn the dough into the pan.

For the filling:
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1-11/2 cups milk
salt and pepper
1-2 cups grated cheese. Any kind works, and I think the best is a mix. Some of my favorites are cheddar, gruyere, and fontina but jack is great, pepper jack is fun, goat cheese is fantastic, a little feta can be nice...

and then the optional add-ins come. My favorites include:
1/2 lb of frozen spinach, thawed and drained (1 box, but you might have blanched and frozen your own spinach last summer!)
1/2-1 cup chopped ham
1-2 heads of broccoli
1 onion, sliced and sauted or even cooked on a very low heat till carmelized
1/2-1 cup mushrooms, fresh or sauted
leeks, sauted
plum tomatoes

Mix all of the ingredients together, pour into the crust, and bake for about 45 minutes at 350. Don't overfill, as drippings make a mess. Instead, pour any extra into a little dish for a crustless quiche for lunch!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pancakes Two Ways

Nothing is better on a snowy Sunday morning than pancakes. If you try these recipes, you have to promise to use nothing short of real Vermont maple syrup. One comes from my Dad, and one from my Mom. Both are fairly thin pancakes, and perhaps because of this, I have never liked fluffy ones. I don't understand the attraction. My Dad's are nutty and hearty; my Mom's tender and light, sort of like a crepe but more flavorful. Both of these recipes are small and will probably need to be at least doubled for a family of four. Enjoy!

Dirk's buttermilk pancakes:

Mix in a bowl:
1 c whole wheat flour
1 teas baking soda
dash salt

In another bowl, mix:
1 beaten egg
1 cup buttermilk

Add wet to dry and combine with a few quick strokes.
Add more buttermilk until the batter is like a thin milkshake.

Heat a little oil in a pan (my Dad uses cast iron) and when the oil pools in the center of the pan, add three globs of batter. When bubbles form, flip and cook a minute or 2 more.

My Dad says that after cooking pancakes in cast iron, the pan is perfect for frying eggs in.

Lee's yogurt pancakes:

Melt in a sauce pan 2 TBSP unsalted butter. When melted, turn off heat and add 1 TBSP honey.

1/2 cup flour
1/2 teas. baking powder
1/4 teas. salt

In another bowl, mix:
1/2 cup milk slowly to 2 beaten eggs

Add to the milk mixture:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
the melted butter and honey mixture

Add wet to dry and stir or whisk until smooth and bubbly.
Cook in a medium hot pan. Cook until just able to flip, about a minute or so. Flip and cook another 30 seconds.

I used to make three small cakes per pan, but out of necessity, started making one huge cake per pan - same cooking time, more pancakes cooked per minute, happier kids.

Friday, January 16, 2009

63 days to Spring

In the midst of announcing the coldest cold spell of the winter—it’ll hover between zero and the teens for the next several days—some television announcer reminded that in 63 days it’ll be Spring. That marker doesn’t always signify much real change on the ground in New England, of course, but it allows a total shift in my imagination. I start to poke around under the snow drifts for the first daffodil spears, and I start to think light and fresh when I’m planning a meal. And, thankfully, even the idea that Spring is close enough to be counted in days away (ok, so 63 days is more than 2 months, but in days it seems so much closer), made some kind of a shift in my thinking. To be honest, I’ve been bored and uncreative in the kitchen lately, thinking all I have to work with are the same old cuts of meat, the same old heavy and dark flavors of winter. Last night, I finally saw what has been right in front of me the whole time: champagne left over from New Year’s eve (and from a few other mostly-empty bottles demonstrating our commitment to a resolution to drink more champagne throughout the year), leeks, a few canned and bottled staples that go into so many winter dishes, and scallops (not only, as Renée discovered, are scallops actually in season now, in New England a generic “product of the USA” on seafood, even in the middle of winter, often translates to local!). The result was, I have to say, not only delicious but absolutely fresh and different from anything we’ve eating in weeks (though it feels like months).

Serves 2-4 (for more, start doubling ingredients)
½ lb scallops per person
2 leeks, sliced
Juice of 1 lemon (or about ¼ cup bottled lemon juice)
About 1 cup champagne or white wine
About ½ cup capers, drained
Salt and pepper

Sauté the leeks for a few minutes. Add in the scallops and salt and pepper. Then add the champagne, lemon juice, and capers. Almost everyone says to cooks scallops lightly, about 7 minutes, flipping them once. But with this recipe and the succulent super-fresh scallops we have right now, my favorite is to bring it to a boil and simmer until the liquid is almost completely gone (about 15 minutes). The scallops end up very well done but still amazingly tender and totally imbued with the flavors of the sauce.

And to follow through on my “variations on Renée’s favorites” (sometimes just a different version of mac n cheese can add the sense of change and newness I seem to so crave in the winter) I have to put in a plug for Emeril’s mac n cheese,

Monday, January 12, 2009

Drum Roll Please!

I just discovered something in season in New England! Sea scallops! I was perusing the fish counter and stopped at the scallops and the fish monger said that they are best in the winter. And, you couldn't get much more local, assuming you are eating New England ones. Yum! No more braised snow balls for me!

Pan fried sea scallops. Feeds 2.

Melt 2 TBSP unsalted butter and a TBSP toasted sesame oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Add 1 pound sea scallops to pan. Salt and pepper them. Let them cook on one side for 4 minutes or so, peaking to see if they are browning. When they have formed a caramelized crust, turn them over carefully with tongs. Salt and pepper this side. Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, until they start to split in the middle and the bottom side is turning brown. Remove to plates.

Add a splash or two of tabasco sauce and half a cup or so of dry white wine and deglaze, scraping the crunchy bits off the bottom of the pan until it's clean and the sauce is bubbling (a minute or 2 max). Check to see if more salt or pepper is needed. Pour over scallops. Sop up sauce with something - bread, rice, your fingers; If I were not setting a bad example, I'd lick the plate.

While not really seasonal, per se, mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, especially with a 3 year old in the house. Of course, his favorite kind is from a box, but he ate this and, if my memory serves, even said it was good.

Macaroni and cheese

Cook 1 pound macaroni. When done, drain and return to pot. Drizzle with olive oil and stir in to prevent sticking. Add 2 or 3 coarsely chopped plum tomatoes.

Meanwhile, in a sauce pan warm 1 cup milk and 4 or 5 large, chopped sun-dried tomatoes. When warmed, set aside.

In new pan melt 2 TBSP butter, add 2 TBSP flour and stir until browning and smells good. Slowly add 1 cup milk, stirring constantly. Add milk/tomato mixture, stirring until thickened. It should be the consistency of heavy cream, or just slightly thicker. Add 8 oz cream cheese, broken into 6 or 8 pieces. Stir until melted in. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour over macaroni and add 1 cup grated mozzarella (or torn fresh mozz) and 1 cup grated cheddar cheese. Stir well and put in a large shallow pan. Liberally cover with panko bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the topping is nicely browned and the cheese bubbly.

And finally, a seasonal (and locally-grown) dessert/breakfast/quick bread/snack.

Chocolate chip cranberry bread

Mix together:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. baking soda
1 1/2 teas. baking powder

In another bowl, mix:
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teas. vanilla
2 TBSP olive oil

Add to dry mix.

Add 1 to 2 cups fresh cranberries, depending on personal taste.
Add 1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips, depending on personal taste (I use Ghiradelli bittersweet chips).

Bake in a greased bread pan at 350 for approximately 1 hour, until knife or toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January Dreams of a Backyard Garden

Martha Stewart Living, Architectural Digest, and even Better Homes and Gardens, endlessly offer enticing headlines about small backyard gardens that turn out to fill three times as much space as I have. Everything is so iced over the past few days I haven't even been out to measure it, but I've got a space that's 8-10 feet wide and 30 feet long. It's on a rather steep hill, so it's broken into five little terraced squares. The top two get very little direct light. I fit a lot into those little spaces: berries, lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, peas, green beans, herbs and every year a little something different too.

I'm not much of a planner when it comes to gardening: I prefer trial and error, and throwing things down wherever they seem to fit best at the moment I'm putting them into the ground. I have had remarkable success simply by being attentive to the plants. Every day, I wander around the garden, weed a little or a lot, pinch, tie, and stake, and if something isn't doing well I pull it out and try something else. I always overcrowd, and the result is usually rather rough and tumble but quite productive.

Unlike with cook books I bore easily of books about gardening, and rarely follow their advice. As much as I think carefully about what goes where and when and how in the kitchen, I just throw something in here, stir a little there, and see what happens in the garden. I find gardening to be incredibly intuitive, and am probably not at all qualified to write about it in a way that anyone could be expected to follow.

But this year I'm hoping to be just a tad more deliberate. I want to try to grow not just things we'll eat fresh off the vine but perhaps a bit we can put away for the winter. I want to focus on heirloom and native plants. And I'm definitely putting in a fruit tree: plum, apple, pear, or peach?

Now is the time to pour through catalogs, place orders, and dream. If anyone knows of great sources for New England heirloom/native fruits and veggies, please share!

In order to maximize my small space, I know that I need to think carefully about timing, and plant in waves. Peas and lettuce love the cold weather of early spring, and can't stand the warmth of New England summer. So I'll plant those first, and a few weeks after they go in, right up alongside or even in between them, will go something that takes a while to get going, then thrives mid or late summer when the peas and lettuce are gone.

Beans and cucumber are the perfect companion to peas as they can make use of the same trellises. These three are great to line the edges of a little plot and form a kind of natural fence. So far, the best bean I've found is Blue Lake, but I like to make at least half my bean planting something else, for variety. And beans and cucumber also die out toward the beginning of fall in time to pull up replace with a last planting of fall lettuces: arugula and mache are my favorites.

Nasturtiums are essential filler because they add wonderful color and spice to a salad and because they have some amazing natural pest-deterrant qualities.

Between spring the lettuce rows, I put rows of green onions and leeks. What's great about these is that they last through the first winter snows, but they're also wonderful mid-to-late summer when they first develop a little white bulb at the base.

I have the blessing of a wealth of volunteer tomatoes, so as soon as those start popping up I start transplanting them. They have to go in a different spot each year, and they need lots of sun and plenty of water in the early stages. It's also essential to put up nice big cages while the plants are teeny tiny. Partly, this allows them to grow into the cages and allows you to pinch and tie as they do so, but mostly it stops me from over-planting them. Tomatoes and are so yummy, and I have so many little seedlings, I just want to line them up a few inches apart. The cages remind me how big they'll grow and how much space I'll need to get between them as they do so.

So now I'm going to pour through catalogs and wait for recommendations!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thoughts from a snowy day, including roast beef

Like Keja, I am feeling uninspired about eating seasonal food right now. We live in New England. Currently it's 23 degrees and in the middle of snowing a projected 6 to 10 inches before nightfall. And I'm supposed to eat what? Sticks from the backyard? A snowball? I am not prepared with a freezer full of supplies. Hopefully I will be this time next year, and once our meat CSA starts in a few weeks I'll feel better, but right now all I can tell you about is that I'm making hard cider in the fridge. My son discovered it when I poured him a glass of cider a few weeks ago and he said that it tasted funny. I checked, and sure enough, it was starting to sparkle. So, I've kept it going, releasing the gases it builds up every day.

I know that buttermilk lasts ridiculously longer than the date stamped on the top would indicate. Months longer, literally. As long as it smells fine and doesn't have mold on it, shake it up and you're good to go.

I want to try a garbage can root cellar. My parents did this one year, without a ton of success, but I think it deserves a second chance. As I recall, you fill a garbage can with soil and bury carrots, beets, potatoes, etc., in the soil. Does this sound right?

I have gotten better about buying non-perishable things on sale, whether I need them or not. We have limited storage space in our kitchen, so it goes against my inclination to keep only what we'll need soon, but it is pretty handy to have bags of flour and chocolate chips on hand, and rather than put them on the shopping list every few weeks, since I use them a lot, I just keep in the back of my mind that if they're on sale, I buy them. I should probably put the flour in the big freezer, to avoid rancidity.

And a recipe. This one is about roast beef, which we had for Christmas. A standing rib roast is my very favorite cut of meat, period. Cut into steaks, it's called a ribeye or a Delmonico. A boneless roast is the same as prime rib. We had bone-in, which is both cheaper by the pound and tastier because it's on the bone. Then, you can make stock afterwards. It's very simple to make. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Salt and pepper the roast and put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until nicely browned all over. Turn the oven down to 300. If you are putting vegetables in with the meat, add them now. Cook at the lower temperature until the meat is 126 degrees for medium rare. If it's taking too long, you can put it up to 350, but don't go any higher, and only do this if you're desperate.

A few notes on cooking meat:

- a time per pound equation is a completely unhelpful way to gauge how long something will take to cook, no matter what type of animal or cut. A long thick roast, weighing 8 pounds, will not take twice as long to cook as the same thickness roast that's only 4 pounds. It likely won't take any longer. Go by thickness. Chris Schlesinger (of East Coast Grill fame) and John Willoughby wrote a great cookbook called "How to Cook Meat" and they go into detail about judging how long something will take to cook. I highly recommend getting this book and keeping it within easy reach.

- meat thermometers and most cookbooks outright lie about what internal meat temp corresponds to rare, well-done, etc. If you follow their instructions, you will overcook and (in my opinion) completely ruin otherwise lovely pieces of meat. Use this guide and you'll have perfectly cooked beef: 120 is rare, 126 medium-rare, 134 medium, 150 medium-well, 160 well done. Again, I recommend "How to Cook Meat" for the guidelines on internal temps for other types of meat.