Pick Your Own (literally)

September 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

Very little surprises me these days, but the massive, wild raspberry bush that has multiplied in our backyard is a true wonder.  A couple years ago, our neighbor gave us three short stumpy looking plants that we accepted hesitantly with an inward smirk.  Last year we got about 6 raspberries out of them and seriously considered ripping them out.  This summer, the early heat and buckets upon buckets of rain have done some magic with these unruly plants because it seemed as though we just turned around and suddenly they were taller than me and wider than a mile.  I’ve already picked two pints like this one and there are many many more coming.

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This isn’t a stellar photo, but I was too excited to make a big production of the moment and just grabbed my iphone instead of the fancy camera.  I’m very proud of myself for braving the bees all around the bush.  We need the bees (no bees no food), but I used to avoid them for fear of getting stung.   Well, if you want berries, you have to have an understanding with the bees.  I won’t bother you, you won’t bother me.  This is the little phrase I say quietly as I pluck away….

The Destiny of a Peach

August 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Even though I don’t own a cast iron skillet, I was brave enough to try this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, The Yellow House.   I’m a bit jittery when it comes to upside down cakes.  I’ve had my share of flops and breakdowns, and I’m attached to the safety net of parchment paper like you wouldn’t believe.  However, especially with these types of cakes, you just have to wing it sometimes and pray really hard when you do the Big Flip.  Maybe it was all that butter, but before I could say voila the cake slipped out of the pan like a ballerina through the air.  Effortless.

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You can still find me at the farmers market on Sunday mornings.  Peaches are showing up by the barrel.  This variety was a breeze to pit and just looking at the photo of them all sliced and oozing makes my mouth pucker.  I love bringing a simple ingredient home and turning it into a masterpiece.  I think these yellow peaches dreamed of such a destiny all their life.   I wish I had a slice for each and every one of you (with a scoop of french vanilla ice cream of course).

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Notes:
Check out The Yellow House for Sarah’s version of this recipe (she deserves the credit).  I noticed her peaches appear to be the white variety, so the overall color of your cake may vary depending on the type of peach you buy.  Mine were obviously yellow.  There was no fresh lavender available here sadly, so I left it out.  I also had to bake mine closer to 30 minutes (could just be my ancient oven).

Un-Pizza (aka another galette)

August 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Purple tomatoes intrigue me.  The farmer who sold them to me last weekend used the words heirloom and sweet, and he was not kidding.   We have a small menagerie of tomato plant varieties in our home garden, but the weather lately has been cooler than normal for August.  They just aren’t ripening as quickly as we would like, so hence, the sensation of finding a gold mine at the market is thrilling.  Especially if you like galettes, which I do.  And roasting tomatoes with cheese and olive oil.  Freshly julienned basil leaves.  I could go on endlessly about the joys of making your own pizza which is not a pizza but a much healthier  version of dairy and veggie.  This recipe in particular is so versatile you could vary the toppings (and even the cheese) to your heart’s content.  I’m thinking goat cheese instead of ricotta.  Peppers and fennel instead of tomatoes.  You name it.  My only change to yet another Kitchen Vignettes masterpiece is that I used my go-to galette dough recipe from the Baking with Julia cookbook, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post.  It holds up to many ripe ingredients because of the cornmeal.

These are the real stars of summer to me, the things we grow that I wait all year for.  I could think of a thousand and one ways to eat them and would never tire.

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Of Good Bread

June 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Call me crazy, but in the middle of a heat wave I turned on the oven to bake bread. Yes, 450 degrees on a whim. I wanted to try a recipe featured on Kitchen Vignettes, a video blog that is now featured on PBS Food. Aubergine’s videos remind me of the film Amelie – in a quirky Parisian way. It made me want to buy vintage linens and listen to Edith Piaf croon.

This bread requires no kneading, so in a way it was minimal effort on a hot summer afternoon. The dough is baked right in a Creuset dutch oven (my most prized kitchen item), which is genius, even though my bread took quite a bit longer to reach the degree of browness I wanted in the crust. Probably the result of an old oven struggling to keep up. This bread recipe was my practice run. A prelude to shorter days to come spent warming the house in January or February. A slice was divine with salted butter and a slathering of Maine blueberry jam. Breakfast of champions.

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No-Knead Bread
from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, NY

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (you can substitute one of the cups with any other flour you like)
¼ tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups water (I think next time I will try 1 ¼ cups instead – the dough was extremely wet – a little too wet for my taste and I had to work in a lot of flour during the shaping step)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then add the water and stir with your hands until the dough forms into a sticky mass. Place the cover of a Creuset (or other large pot) on the bowl and let sit for 24 hours.

Remove the dough onto a well floured surface, sprinkle more flour on top, and fold it over itself a few time, shaping into a boule. Return to floured bowl, cover, and let rest for another 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the Creuset with lid in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the Creuset from the oven and sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom to prevent the dough from sticking. Place the dough in the pot and cover quickly. Bake for about 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for at least 15 more (mine needed a good 30 minutes more for a nice brown crust).

Allow to cool for at least one hour before slicing.

The Poet in Me

May 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Every time I open the fridge
to eat the season’s first cherries,
I feel like a thief
stealing rubies.

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A Galette for the Vernal Equinox

March 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

More snow came down last night, and I think it is safe to say we are both feeling just about done with it all.  Done with bare trees and slick roads, done with plows and cold hands.  While it is nice to know the Equinox is on the horizon, the reality is that spring and all the warmth it brings with it has not quite gotten the hint.  Give us something green please.  Let us see the little shoots push through the earth.  Let us have even just a whisper of the heat to come.  I want to open a window so intensely…

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The local farmer’s market is still months away, so I have the grocery conglomerates to deal with in the meantime.  I’ve made my peace with the fact that if you want leeks or other wispy green onions this time of year, you’re going to have to buy ones that traveled all the way from Mexico.  I select the brightest non-wilted gems the shelf has to offer and console myself with a countdown to the first Sunday in June – when the market tents will go up hovering over baskets of bundled emerald stalks.  I do enjoy a good vegetable dish from time to time and I like living within a few miles of where my food is grown, but I’m not what some people would call crunchy by any shade of the imagination.  What I am really partial to is a meal I can cook in one pan on a busy weeknight that packs a lot of color and vitamins.  In the summer, between the market and our own garden, we’ll have the greens right outside our door –literally.

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If you’re like me (a planner on good days), you can make the galette dough on the weekend and have it ready to use for a weeknight.  The dough recipe is interchangeable for sweet or savory dishes, but what I really like about it is the cornmeal, which helps keep the filling juices inside the galette and off the parchment paper.  I used it to make a berry galette last year, so I knew the results this time would be just as promising.

The greens can truly be a bouquet of anything you can find or like to use.  We love leeks for many reasons so that was a must-have for us.  The leafy greens were more or less based on what the sad little store had that week – kale and spinach leaves.  I would have liked to try rainbow chard or dandelion leaves, but there were none to be had.  Pick a nice bunch; you want a big handful of greens because they do cook down a lot in the pan.

It seems a bit silly to share a recipe that isn’t really even a recipe at all.  There isn’t much to it besides a glug of oil and some garlic tossed with edible flowering plants!  The filling will change a hundred times I’m sure as the months go by.  I’m thinking tomato slices and basil in August or even different colored squash.  Maybe by then we’ll be eating outside in the yard with the crickets and a slow-setting sun.  I’ll take whatever treasures Jim pulls from the ground and brings inside.  I’ll wash their dirt down the sink and pull a meal out of my hat.  Right there in the kitchen – where the window will be wide open.

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For the dough:
Recipe from Baking with Julia

3 Tbs sour cream
1/3 cup ice water
1 cup flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
7 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Stir the sour cream into the ice water until smooth.  Set aside.
Place all of the dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.
Add the butter pieces and continue pulsing until you see pea-sized pieces in the mixture.
Add the sour cream/water mixture slowly while the machine runs, just until the dough starts to come together.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a disk.  Wrap with cellophane and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

When ready to use, roll the dough out onto a floured board until it is very thin but still workable.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper before filling.

For the filling:
A couple Tbs of olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 leeks, trimmed and cleaned, sliced thinly
Leafy greens – (such as kale, chard, spinach, etc) – a large bunch or two of different kinds, roughly chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and add the leeks, cooking them on medium until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.

Add the leafy greens, a handful at a time, until they begin to wilt.  Once they’ve all been added to the pan, continue to cook over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes more, just until all the greens are combined, softened, and fragrant.

Spread the mixture on top of the dough, leaving about an inch near the border.  Fold the edges of the dough over the filling into pleats.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until the crust is golden.  Allow to set for a few minutes before slicing.  We got about 4 large slices out of this galette.

The Croissant Project – Tuesdays with Dorie

March 5, 2013 § 11 Comments

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croiss2I’ve heard it said that if you can learn to bake a croissant, a real genuine French croissant, then you could learn to bake anything.  The dough is supposed to be so finicky and the process so daunting, that few home bakers ever take the time to try it.  I think it’s one of those projects that you just have to enter knowing full well you’ll be tied to a rolling pin for most of the day and clumps of flour will collect all around.  Mounds of butter will have to be manipulated and you just have to get over the feeling that maybe this much lard just isn’t healthy at all.  Basically, you have to know what you’re getting into and accept the challenges along the way.  It just occurred to me how the act of forming a pastry is so much like life itself – a little unpredictable and sticky at times, but hopefully worth it all in the end.

I am no master at this task by any means.  I had trouble achieving the desired 6-spiral shape of the croissants.  I had trouble proofing and clearly mine are not very bronzed.  Yet when I think of all the times I tried other croissant recipes or methods and came out with rocks in my oven, I think these were a huge improvement and quite tasty!  As you can see from the photo, my “wallet” fold was textbook.  I even acquired a marble slab for the project (thank you sweetheart!), which was heaven and will get a lot of use (not to mention extra chocolate batons).

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Jim and I keep joking with each other about opening a bakery someday.  It’s a joke for many reasons (cash, cash, cash), but when he shot the photo of all the croissants in the sea basket like an offering to the masses a part of me wondered what it would be like to see your own creations in a shop window.

If I could learn to bake anything, who knows what could happen?

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croiss5The link to the recipe is featured on this week’s TWD host: http://www.girlplusfood.net/
This video was also instrumental: http://video.pbs.org/video/2250835454/

Of Butter & Bread

February 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

These days, when we’re either digging out from a blizzard or listening to the winds whack the windows or starring at the leak in the bedroom ceiling (from the blizzard), I do like to get the oven going.  And not just for dinner.  I decided on a whim to make bread when I stumbled on the Sunday Dinners feature at Food52.  I’m not as avid a follower of their site as I used to be, but Sunday dinners in general tug at my heart so I started lurking.  I wouldn’t necessarily call this a dinner bread, but that’s just because I prefer a lighter crumb with a heavy meal.  This loaf is to me better suited for either sandwiches or as breakfast food spread with butter and drizzled with honey (or sprinkled with sugar Texas style).  What makes it special is the presentation once it’s braided.  Braids are not just for challah I suppose.  No matter how deformed your dough is, braid it like a schoolgirl and suddenly you’re a pro.

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I think I will bake this often, given how many poppy seeds I now own.  Those tiny containers cost a small fortune and seeds end up all over the counter, but they add so much flavor and texture to the crust, which I rarely eat by the way.  This time, I didn’t waste a bite.  If you make this, don’t skimp on the seeds.  Even sesame will do nicely.  I like the combination of honey with buttermilk and whole wheat with bread flour.  It cuts the weight of the wheat a bit and lends a mild flavor to a typically intense grain.

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Bread making is definitely an art form and a rarity for most people, I imagine.  We’re lucky to have many decent bakery options locally, but there’s something to be said about learning to work with yeast and kneading dough so intensely that your muscles ache.  Homemade has become a luxury – a real labor of love.   In Winter nothing feels as good as having the oven on, so I don’t mind the triple rise.  I don’t mind at all because I usually have a good book to read between the timer buzzes (currently reading The Lost Art of Mixing) and Jim to eagerly await a slice.

Farmhouse Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Tom Hirschfeld of Food52
 
Note: I cut the original recipe in half as this was my first try with it.  I’ve written what I used, but next time, I might cut the whole wheat flour down to only 2 ½ cups to lighten the loaf even further.  Or, I might double it all back to the original method since the bread was that good!

1 ¼ cups buttermilk, warmed slightly
1 Tbs honey
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
2 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup bread flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 egg (look for the smallest egg in your carton)
1 ½ Tbs unsalted butter, softened
poppy seeds for sprinkling
1 egg white mixed with a Tbs water for egg wash

Place warm buttermilk in a large bowl.  Add the yeast and honey and whisk together.  Allow mixture to sit for 5-10 minutes.
Add both flours, egg, and salt.  Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients in a circular fashion until the dough starts to form.
Put the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead it until smooth and springy.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise in a warm room for one hour.
Punch down the dough and allow to rise again for one hour.
Punch the dough down again and divide it into three pieces.  Roll each piece into a log and braid them together.
Place the braided bread into an oiled loaf pan and allow to rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  Release the bread from the pan and allow to cool before slicing.

Putting the Apron Back On

February 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I guess I can’t ignore the obvious.  Four months have passed since my last post, and in the blog world I’m sure that means all manner of bad things such as Followers un-following or the Faithful losing faith.  All I can say without saying too much is that we needed to shift priorities for a while to focus on my health and shut the door on 2012, an unlucky year.

Now I am here typing at a beautiful new (to us) desk we purchased second-hand, with my favorite books and pens, organizers and calendars around me.  It is just the kind of space I need to put my thoughts in order and get back to the music of writing.

This year will be better I tell myself in my best que sera sera mood.  Not every day can be a good day, but I always find my way to the kitchen eventually.  Baking – the focus of measuring and timing has soothed me many times before.  So, when Ina Garten writes in her new book Foolproof about these doughnuts and how one should eat them for dessert with hot chocolate, I just had to make them.  You need a special doughnut pan, and while I’m not a fan of buying pans that can only be used for one purpose (except madeleines because what would life be without them?), I have to say that for only $10 per pan it was money well spent.  My lesson for the day: buy two.  Even after cutting the original recipe in half, there was too much batter to fit into just one pan.

These are not your doughnut shop fried variety.  They remind me a little of cider doughnuts from the farm stands in autumn.  More like muffins, denser, but without the grease and glaze of the mass-produced ones.  If you want to experiment, you could try substituting half the milk with cider or adding other spices, mixing in cocoa for chocolate doughnuts or drizzling them with ganache and sprinkles.  I stuck with sugar and cinnamon for my first batch just to see if the recipe worked, but adventures will be plentiful in future doughnut whims.

For now, it feels good to be back in my world of words, among whisks and spoons and things like freshly ground nutmeg!

Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Foolproof

*Note: the measurements below are the ones I used to cut the original recipe in half.  If you fill the doughnut wells too much, you’ll get muffin-top doughnuts, not the pretty circles you want.  Fill them only halfway at most and you’ll get a dozen out of this recipe (assuming your pan is similar to my six count one).

For the Doughnuts:
1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 egg (I picked the smallest egg in my carton)
2/3 cup whole milk
1 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Topping:
4 Tbs (half stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 2 six count donut pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, beat the egg, milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well.

Fill the doughnut wells only half way up and bake for about 17 minutes.

Allow the donuts to cool for a few minutes before popping them out of the pans.

For the topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.  Dip each doughnut slightly in the melted butter and roll in the sugar mixture.

Tarte aux Pommes

October 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have become something of a cliché these days.  It’s October and the leaves are turning all shades of flame.  I have mums on my front stoop.  I’m considering buying a pumpkin.  Freshly sharpened pencils would be nice too.  Fall in the suburbs in New England brings out a lot of stereotypes.   Yes, I pick apples and buy cider by the jug-full.  We like to leaf peep.  As I write this post, a double-crust apple pie bakes in the oven.  Someone reading this in say, Southern California, is probably rolling their eyes.  Those New Englanders and their apples.

I can’t help it.  The nice thing about baking with apples is that you automatically have to throw certain other things into the mix, because they simply have to go together.  Like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg.  I still get a little thrill every time I have an excuse to whip out the fresh nutmeg we purchased in Mystic.  I love the way it sprinkles the fragrant mocha-colored dust from the zester.  This is what baking is all about for me; what the ingredients remind me of, the memory of the places where I’ve eaten and the people I was with.

So as to not be so traditional and homey, a couple weeks ago I made  a french tarte aux pommes.  It might as well be the french equivalent of apple pie in its steadfast-ness, but let me tell you, it is more like the sexiness of Paris than the valleys of central Connecticut.  It is pretty.  It has concentric circles.  It’s something I bet you won’t see at every upcoming holiday table (such a shame) and tastes very much like a sweet apple sugar cookie – if anything like that ever existed.  The recipe is a bit of a mish-mash of different techniques.  For example, the dough is Julia Child’s Pâte Brisée Sucré, because, well, it’s the best.  The filling, while not keeping to the standard french apple-sauce mixture, was found on one of my favorite sites Sweet Amandine.  It is as uncomplicated as can be and when served with a scoop of french vanilla ice cream – is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before.

There are advantages to any place, but I’ll take the apple orchards and the cider mills.  I’ll take the mums and corny carved pumpkins.  I’ll also take the pies and tartes and anything else that you can bake when the leaves start to fall and the skies turn dark before you even get home.

Tarte aux Pommes

Pâte Brisée Sucré
Adapted From Julia Child (Mtaofc)

I doubled Julia’s original proportions because my tarte pan is closer to 10 inches.

1 1/3 cups flour
2 Tbs sugar
¼ tsp salt
8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbs cold shortening, cut into small pieces
5-6 Tbs ice water

I like to throw all the dry ingredients into a food processor.  Pulse to combine.  Then toss in the sliced butter and shortening and pulse 8-10 times until you get course crumbs.  Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time, and pulse just until everything starts to come together.

Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a flat round disk.  Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before using.

Filling
Adapted from Sweet Amandine (who adapted it from someone else)

2 apples, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 dashes of cinnamon
3 Tbs flour
2 Tbs turbadino sugar (if you don’t have any, just use granulated)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the dough and fit into a 9 or 10-inch tart pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork, and arrange the apples over the dough in concentric circles.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and flour. Pour the mixture over the apples.  Bake the tarte for approximately 50 minutes or until the filling is slightly puffed and golden.

Once the tarte has cooled, sprinkle the sugar on top and either place beneath the broiler for a minute or use a kitchen torch to brown the apples a little further.

Serve at room temperature.

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