Thursday, May 31, 2012

peep show

Tomorrow I will be gone for the day, watching my only niece graduate from high school.  I watched her get born, and I have watched her do many things since then, and I am very excited to stand by and cry tears of happiness and wistfulness while she flaps her lovely wings to get ready to soar--which I am quite confident, in my entirely unbiased opinion, that she will do.

this is she, with a hedgehog
this is she again, with my baby

So I will not be in my appointed location to write you about cake when Friday rolls around.  Lame!  I promised you a week of cake and only delivered two of them.  And one was a re-run, and one was a pie!  But there are still the presents to consider.  I posted the pictures, finally, of the rhubarb upside down cake, where they belong on Tuesday's post. Now you have a reason to head back there, and while you are there, put your name down to win fabulous prizes, which will include (but are not limited to) a jar of my apricot-peach jam, a jar of my indian apple chutney, and a fabulous kitchen gizmo, which will be a microplane if you don't already have one, and if you are the winner and you already have a microplane and don't want another one to gift to you dearest pal, then it will be something else.  Off you go!  I know you are itching to tell me about something you have cooked, and now you have no reason to avoid it any longer.

In other news today, the baby chicks went on a field trip to see the big chickens.

The dogs were the assistant chaperones.  One earned his stipend by scanning the sky for predators...

...while the other pretended to do the same, just from a different perspective.

And once we got back, I used some leftover rhubarb that was lurking around (lurking!  just like you, there, with your story you want to leave in the comments on Tuesday's post) to make some rhubarb lemonade, which I highly recommend if it is hot where you are.

There really isn't a recipe for it that I can give you. Just a method.  I took a few stalks of rhubarb and cut them up coarsely.  I covered them, and a few slices of fresh ginger root, with several cups of spring water.  Maybe I had a cup of chopped rhubarb, and  6 cups of water.  I brought it to a boil and simmered until the rhubarb was soft and colorless.  I strained it through a fine mesh strainer.  I sweetened to my taste with honey, though you could use sugar or agave just as easily.  Sometimes, if it is not so hot that an extra step seems daunting, I dude it up further by throwing some sprigs of lemon balm into the hot liquid to steep a moment.  Sometimes I add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.  Sometimes I do not.  Either way, I pour the lovely pink liquid over ice, maybe a little bubbly water splashed in there, and happy am I.  The cooked rhubarb that I strain out  gets a squirt of honey over it and is eaten by whomever happens through the kitchen when this mixture is no longer so hot that it will scorch your tongue useless for further eating.

Have a great weekend and don't forget to trundle over and leave a story for me--you have until midnight Friday, June 1.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

but wait, there's more!

Are you lurking there in the wings, shy of telling me what it is that you cook that makes you wag your tail with pride and sends your self-esteem rocketing?  Are you shy because you wonder if barnyard animals roam freely around my house, and if you only could be sure that they did, then you would pipe up with your story?

Warm up the pipes!

is there anything here for moi?
Note to the file:  If you have hand-raised a chick in your house, and then introduced her to coop life, she will prefer coop life.  But she will never forget her roots.  Anytime wind or careless residents leave our front door open, this chicken (and only this chicken) wanders in.  There she is, seeing if the children have brought anything home from school for her.

If, on the other hand, you were waiting for a little teasing glimpse of the goodies so coyly offered yesterday with no hint of their identity, then consider this:

Bear in mind, if you are still tempted to lurk and not speak up for yourself, that this is a mere hint.

If, on the third and final hand, it was a recipe for a cake that is a pie that is a cake that stood between you and giving yourself a shout-out, then feast your eyes on that top picture.

A note: the first five times I made this, I neglected to notice that it was supposed to be baked in a tart shell, and consequently I omitted that step.  You can too.  Just use a regular pie pan, not a tart pan with a removable bottom, or your oven will require cleaning.

Another note: the original recipe called for pears, and it is heaven with pears.  With hardly any effort at all, you will create something (especially if you opt to brush on the apricot jam) that looks like it came from the French bakery that used to be on Third Avenue in the lower 70's where my sister used to indulge her weakness for financiers.  I used apricots this time, and it was also heaven with apricots.  I have made it with hazelnuts, pecans and almonds and each time: delish.  Substitute at will.

OK, one more note: this totally rocks as a gluten-free dessert.  So little flour is required for the filling that it matters not one whit what type you use, and the eternal bugaboo of pie crust is gluten, so GF flours lend themselves admirably to the creation of pie crust.  I needed more flour than the recipe called for to make a roll-out-able crust, but otherwise the substitution worked like a charm.  I used a new GF flour mix called Maninis, and was quite impressed.

pear and hazelnut frangipane tart
adapted from Gourmet Entertains, November 2001

1 c hazelnuts, toasted, loose skins rubbed off in a towel
1/2 c sugar, divided
1/4 c flour
6T unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
3 firm-ripe Bosc or Anjou pears, or 6 apricots
optional: 1/4 c apricot preserves, heated and strained
 1 recipe pie crust

Preheat oven to 350.

If you are using a crust, roll out the pastry and fit it to a 10" tart shell with a removable base.  Chill it while you do the other steps.

Pulse hazelnuts with 1/4 c sugar until finely ground, then add flour and pulse to combine.

In an electric mixer, beat together the butter and the remaining sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Then beat in extracts.  Reduce speed to low and mix in nut mixture until just blended.

Spread this filling evenly in your chilled tart shell.  Peel, halve and core the pears, then slice lengthwise into 1/4" thick slices, holding slices together to keep pear shape intact.  Arrange these on the filling, fanning them slightly.  If you are using apricots, quarter and pit them, and arrange them on the filling, pressing them lightly down.

Bake until filling is puffed and lightly golden, 30-40 minutes.  Brush the pears only with the apricot preserves.  Cool completely in the pan, then remove sides.

Are you ready to enter the prize sweepstakes?  Go to yesterday's post and leave a comment there!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

see note (and a giveaway!)

Up there you see the finale to BDN 2012, in the form of my husband's birthday pies. Festive, right? For once, pie was my ally. I'll tell you how I made them later on in the week. For the moment, they are just helping me out by setting the party mood.

It's cake week.  Cake and presents.  Does that sound like a party?  I hope so.  The R&P is 100 posts old today, and even though I know a blog giveaway can end shamefully, with only four entries and a serious re-examination of one's direction in life, I am willing to take the risk.  I know who they are, and I like those four people very much.

I will come right out and tell you myself (so no one has to point it out) that today's post is re-hashing a recipe from two months ago, but I do have good reasons for this shameless re-broadcast: one, I told you then it was supposed to be made with rhubarb, which at that time was just a glimmer in springtime's eye, and now I have rhubarb galore to make it with; and two, it is one of those CHECK. ME. OUT. recipes that are simple to whip up and yet make you feel like a million dollars.  Or a hundred, anyways.

When you tip this bad boy out of its pan, odds are you will be greeted with a beautiful sight, and you'll feel pretty pleased with yourself.  Even if part of it sticks to the pan, it's easy to patch it together to make it presentable, and it will still taste just as good, especially with a masking glob of vanilla ice cream.  I once agreed to make 8 of these for a bake-sale at our kindergarten, and it's a testament both to my undiagnosed ADD and the merits of the recipe that each time I made it (occasions separated in time by mere hours), I forgot to add something (something different each time), and every time I got cake.

What more can a recipe offer, other than an auto-pilot setting?

If you'd like to open your mailbox next week and find a care package of treats and gizmos, leave a comment here, describing something you've made that makes you feel swift and jiggy. Something that gives you that little butt-waggly "HA!  Guess who made that: ME!" feeling.  Maybe you made it up and maybe you got the recipe somewhere; maybe you've made it once and maybe you make it every week--I am not fussy.  U.N.-designated observers will ensure the selection process is totally random from all (four) entries received by Friday, June 1 at midnight, and the Big News will be posted Monday.  Suspense!  Intrigue!  Cake!  What a week.

rhubarb upside-down cake

4 T butter
scant 2 cups 1/4" slices rhubarb (from about 4 stalks)
4-5 T brown sugar

1 ½  c all-purpose flour (a GF substitute works fine)
¼  c golden flax meal
1 ½  t baking powder
½ t baking soda
pinch salt
½ c buttermilk
¼ c milk
1 egg
2t vanilla
1 stick butter, very soft
¾ c sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

In a cast iron skillet, melt the 4T butter until foamy.  Sprinkle the brown sugar as evenly as possible over the butter and continue to heat until it is mostly melted (not all of it will be).  Remove from heat.  Sprinkle the rhubarb slices evenly over this mixture--you should have one flat layer covering all of the sugar.  Don't stir.

It is ideal if all the dairy and eggs are at room temperature here, though as long as the butter is soft, it will all work out fine. Put all the remaining ingredients in a bowl (a kitchen aid/stand mixer is ideal).  Mix on low speed until everything is combined, then mix at medium high speed until the batter is uniformly fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Glop the batter over the rhubarb mixture and gently even out, trying not to disturb the rhubarb layer.  Bake until cake tests done in center (30 min or so).  Cool in pan, then loosen sides with a butter knife and invert onto a serving plate. Re-affix anything that came loose/stayed behind in the pan.

Friday, May 25, 2012

better red

We live in a little town that covers 49 square miles and is year-round home to less than four thousand people (summer is another story), in a county full of similar municipalities.  On Memorial Day, each town hosts its own parade, and the fire and police departments dash from one to the other, now in the parade, now managing traffic for a neighbor town so their officials can muster and march.  In our town the bands and scout troops and oldest living veterans all process to a spot on the town green where memorial trees have been planted for fallen townsfolk.  The Schenob Brook babbles quietly behind the little park, perhaps ten feet wide at that point in its course toward the river and beyond.  After the speeches and salutes, a wreath is set into this quiet stream of water by the Naval representative.

Politics, though on display in the form of elected officials and flags and other trappings of organized government, fall away. 

Attending the parade and standing by my dad, who was in the Navy, as he and all the other citizens who have served receive a paper poppy from the gussied-up girls in the Brownie troop with their white baskets, is our official Memorial Day activity.

But Memorial Day on the calendar marks other occasions: summer officially opens, the population begins to increase, gardens can be planted. For our family, there is still more to acknowledge.  It is the anniversary (21st!) of the first time I met my husband (or so we believe; historical reconstruction suggests he may have sold me a pair of sneakers when I was in the 8th grade and he had a job after school in the Athtletic Attic on 68th and 2nd, but no hard evidence can confirm this).  It is the anniversary (19th) of his proposing marriage (the ideas that get into that man's head!).  And it is his birthday.

So I have no time to chat today.  Have to cook!  He doesn't like a party on his birthday, but he does like a big meal.  "Good Eater" is the understatement of the century in the case of this person, whose appetite is moderately legendary.  If your day has an extra two minutes in it, listen to this StoryCorps interview, and think of my husband when you hear about Herbie the Nibbler.

An enthusiastic eater is a good match for a person who likes to cook, and for this reason and all the reasons above, the birthday dinner is a robust celebration of what he likes to eat.  After one such repast, his dad pushed back from the table and remarked, "that was a broad display of nutrients," and that has become the moniker officiel.  The Annual Broad Display of Nutrients, or BDN.

Which brings us to sauce, yet again. I have been clear about my feelings regarding sauce, which are mine and mine alone, but it's true that a meal with gravy and something to sop it up with is a meal he is probably going to like.

Like other sauces before it, this comes from my trusty and weather-beaten copy of Jerry Traunfeld's Herbfarm Cookbook, and it's another one that has infinite versions extant, because it is a kind of Romesco sauce and Romesco sauce gets around.  And with good reason--it's one more example of an intensely good, simply-prepared condiment that elevates almost any plate.  Plonk it on something grilled or roasted, use it as dip or doll up a sandwich with it. You get the idea.

I adjusted his seasonings somewhat to reflect personal preferences under our roof, but those adjustments are noted so you can decide for yourself.  His recipe calls for toasted hazelnuts in place of the traditional almonds, and it is a brilliant substitution.  Sadly, since I first made this sauce I have become alarmingly allergic to hazelnuts, which over-share I only offer by way of reassurance that if, like me, you have good reason to substitute toasted almonds, you will still get a good bang for your buck here.  I have made it with jarred roasted peppers and with peppers I have roasted personally.  The bottled peppers make it the work of a moment to prepare, which is something we all appreciate when time is tight, and the home-roasted peppers kick it up an appreciable notch.  

I don't know if I should tell you how I roast peppers because it is not exactly high-tech.  But I just plop them onto the center of one of my gas burners, and after that first side is black and charred, I use tongs to flip them over and repeat.  After blackening (by this wacky method or in a hot oven or on your grill), put them in a covered bowl to steam and let them come to room temperature in there; then perform the not-very-pleasant-but quick-enough task of peeling and seeding them. 

See you after the long weekend, and do I have something in store for you?  Why, yes I do.

red pepper and hazelnut sauce
makes 1.5 cups

2 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded, or 1.5 cups of jarred peppers, drained
1/4 cup toasted and as-skinned-as-possible hazelnuts or almonds
1 small clove garlic (he called for two standard cloves)
1 T sherry vinegar (he called for two)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
1 T chopped fresh savory (which I like, and happen to grow) or rosemary (which I do not)
1 t salt
scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 c olive oil

Place all the ingredients except the  oil in a blender or food processor and pulse or blend until the nuts are finely ground.  Stop the machine and scrape down the sides.  With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream.  The sauce should have the consistency of thick salad dressing.  Taste and add more salt or cayenne if desired.

This will keep in a covered jar for up to a week, and can be used room temperature or gently warmed in a bowl of hot water; excessive heating will cause it to separate.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

chick lit

here comes trouble

We have had two broody hens this spring, meaning two hens who woke up one morning in a mood that cannot be intentionally stimulated by any external factor that I am aware of, a mood that leads a girl to pluck all the feathers off her chest and sit motionless on a pile of eggs (or apples, or stones, or lightbulbs--anything lumpy will do when the spirit takes them) for three weeks.  Usually she does not know why she wants to or, as we have seen here on the farm, what it will lead to.  Hens of all temperaments, even those without a shred of maternal instinct, will still set, and then may try to kill the babies as they hatch, so shocked are they to find what comes of three weeks of sitting still and being hungry.  All that, for this?

I will spare you the details.  (Those of you who have been reading long enough to endure my egg rants will be grateful).  Trust me that we have reason to be suspicious of broody hens' ability to see the thing through.  So when one gets the notion, we mark her eggs with the date of likely hatch, and try to remain vigilant enough to pre-empt disaster.  A few of our hens are proven champs in the mothering department.  Of course they did not go broody this year.  Two of the dingbats did.  This led, as it always does, to our hand-raising two chicks in the house, an adorable but smelly and time-consuming enterprise.  

But eggs and chickens and humans are an imprecise lot, with wide margins for error, and on Monday when I went into a coop that I considered to be out of the hatching business for the time being, I found what I presumed to be a dead chick, clearly attacked by one of the adult birds.  Cursing vehemently at the waste of life, I picked it up so I could offer it a proper burial.  Contrary to all visual evidence, it was not dead.  Not quite, anyway.

Next month we'll mark the 10th anniversary of our Dancing With The Chickens adventure (our now-driving eldest child was graduating from kindergarten when the first lot arrived by mail).  I have nursed a lot of nearly-dead chickens back to life in that time and NONE of them were chicks.  A newly-hatched chick could be mailed to your Aunt Lavinda in Ohio with a first class stamp.  There is not a lot of creature to work with, from a nursing standpoint.  It is a make-them-comfortable situation, with a universally predictable outcome that involves a small shovel.

So I did the usual chicken triage, with zero expectations.  I am trying to keep this PG for you, but it was not a pretty situation.  There is a reason they observe weight-class distinctions in prize-fighting.  "Stopping bleeding" was one of my tasks.

If the tension of this story is too much for you, you can see the results as they stand currently in the above photo.  As you glance at it, recall that I am protecting you from the gory details of her presenting condition at the time of discovery, and reflect on the fact that, due to and despite epic interventions and with some wild ups and downs, at the close of business on Day 1, she was breathing and that was the best I could say about her.  When dawn broke on Day 2, I came downstairs to find her sprawled on her back, and maybe you do not know this, but this is not a posture ever independently selected by a live chicken.  It is a roasting-pan pose.  "Well, dead now," I said to myself, at which point she leapt up to disagree.

By the end of that day, her Distress Peep (an impressively robust sound these tiny beasts make when they find themselves alone, so their foraging mothers can locate them even in tall grass) was loud enough to prevent rational thought by both of the adult humans in the house.  A supervised visit with the older two chicks was deemed advisable.  "Be nice," we warned them. "No more pecking for this little patient."  After a curious once-over, they demonstrated that they were basically content to let her be in their box, a mistake they have come to rue, endlessly. She is much less noisy now that she has companions.  But this tiny, downy, scabbed and depleted pipsqueak is the terror of the chicken playground.  Are ya sleeping?  Let me walk on your head.  How about now?  Tired?  I will peck your face.  I bet you are weary now.  Lie down.  Comfy? This is me stomping the length of your body from beak to tail. What are you doing now?  Can I do it, too?  Is that eating that you are doing?  Will you show me how?  Are you cowering now?  Teach me how to cower.  Oh, you appear to have fallen over into some kind of avian pediatric coma of sleep deprivation.  Allow me to creep very close to you in a sort of snuggling way AND THEN PEEP LIKE AN AIR-RAID SIREN IN YOUR TINY EAR-HOLE.  How is the sleeping going?  After a few hours of this, I saw one of the exhausted larger chicks jump up and attempt to tower over the perpetrator with a head tilt and tone that clearly expressed "YO!  TIME TO CHILL OUT," but she was unperturbed.

the "big" chicks, now hapless victims of bullying

As you can see, when I am not in the chicken ER, I am watching the chicken soap opera.  It's very absorbing.  Cooking takes something of a backseat.  The only edible highlight of the week has been a fruit leather, and though I have babbled about those elsewhere before, I try not to do that here. I don't really expect the whole wide world to be making fruit leather, and would not want you to think I expect it of you.

But this is not because it is really hard to do.  It's just because it sounds like a demonstration sport at the Self-Reliance Olympics, if you have never tried it, and I am afraid I will put you off by discussing it.  

The truth is that, if you happen to be in possession of a food dehydrator, or a convection oven with a reliable low-heat setting (I have access to a food dehydrator, thankfully, because I have a convection oven with an entirely UNreliable low-heat setting and have only been able to make fruit shards when I try to use it for this), then this is really simple to make.  Really.  About 5 minutes of active time.  Like yesterday's energy bars, one stupendous aspect of making this yourself is that you can dude it up with all the things you like, and skip ingredients you prefer to avoid or simply can't pronounce.  I recently came into possession of a bag of pomegranate powder which makes lots of claims regarding its usefulness for my health, and while I can't report on the truth of these claims (not yet, at least), I can attest that it is stupendously tasty.  I had strawberries, so I used them, but any other flavoring fruit would work.  Because the flavors concentrate as it dries, not much is needed to give you a nice kick.  You can omit the honey, which is here more for texture (it makes a softer, shinier leather) than for sweetness, which already abounds.  Fresh ginger would be nice here.  Some orange zest. Navitas, which makes the pomegranate powder, produces an impressive variety of powdered superfoods you might consider (my Healthe Foode Store stocks most of them and yours might, too).  Fruit leather is a pretty irresistible vector of delivery, even to reluctant eaters.

strawberry superleather
makes two sheets about 10x10"

1 quart unsweetened applesauce
small handful of strawberries (3-5)
1T honey (optional)
1/4 c golden flax meal
2T pomegranate powder (also optional)

Using a handblender or stand blender, whizz these things to a smooth puree--the more like baby food it looks, the more tender the resulting leather.  Divide between two parchment- or silpat-lined trays and dry 6-8 hours on a medium setting in your dehydrator, or carefully monitor in the lowest heat and convection setting of your oven, rotating often to prevent scorching in any hot spots.  When dry enough to handle, I generally peel it off the parchment and flip it over to ensure there are no gummy areas.  Cut in strips of desired size and store airtightly.

Monday, May 21, 2012


My children and I were just discussing the idea of borders.  How there are some, geographically speaking, that you cross with a big process and plenty of hoopla (lines, guards, documents, stamps) and some you pass without a notion that you’ve done so, like the two town lines we cross between home and their school.  There are gradual transitions that are noted and celebrated as if they happened all at once, like the milestone birthdays which punctuate the long process of growing (one nephew turned 18 last week, and another 21), and others that we forget to realize have happened until they have.  On which day did the landscape around here go from “greening” to Green?

I could not pinpoint the day, myself.  But I know it has happened, and here is how: The food is back.

Last week the farmers’ market opened for the season, and I was skipping merrily across the parking lot—okay, maybe not merrily, since the re-opening of the market means the reconvening of lots of people in cars jockeying for not much space and asserting ownership of the road and perhaps not practicing the Attitude of Gratitude in a way that is palpable to others, but I was dashing, anyway—and I paused, for a moment, just to savor the notion.  The food is back!  The food is back! Ahhh, the food is back.  I stood on the threshold and breathed. 

It is so good to be able to eat food from the dirt around me, and so good to hand my food dollar to the person who planted the seeds and pulled the weeds and gussied the lettuce up to bring it to my attention.  We have been eating a lot of greens, very happily.

The specific food I am going to rattle on about today doesn't have much to do with the market.  Nothing, in fact.  It's here because I have been trying to recreate a Lemon Zest Luna Bar for my daughters, who are both fond of those little two-dollar-and-a-plastic-wrapper-that-will-live-forever snacks, and right before the hiatus of last week I managed something that they both pronounced to be "wrong, or still not exactly right, but really good."

So I have that for you.  It may not be a market food, but it's a border food for sure.  The border between "save yourself a step and just buy it" and "look!  I can do it myself!" is one I dance across frequently, generally with a grateful leap to one side or the other.

There are some things I've gone to the trouble of making myself that I would never willingly bother with again.  I'll just be grateful someone else is taking the time and giving me access to the results.  But an energy bar definitely falls into the category of Worth The Minimal Bother.  I can pick and choose what I want to include and avoid ingredients with really long names.  Does this lemon one below not appeal to you?  A chocolate version is in the pipeline here, and my dear Alana has a set of car snack recipes you may want to try out (that's a link to her version one, and I think she's up to CarSnack 4.0 now).

A note on the frosting: this is definitely the beta version.  It's just a little too soft.  After a day, it was lightly set but not exactly firm, and consequently made wrapping and toting more of a challenge.  But it was darn tasty, so I am including it anyway.  (Version II, in which a tablespoon of melted coconut oil, which is hard at room temperature, was added, led out of softness to frank runniness.  Go figure.)

Another ingredient note: rice syrup, which would be my preferred sticky sweet ingredient here, has been at the center of an arsenic controversy recently (as has rice itself, as if we all need another thing to worry about in our food).  Though I lament and resist the cookie-fication of the granola bar (a phenom that followed on the heels of the cupcake-ization of the muffin) and hence would prefer to avoid cane sugar in my energy bars (reserving it for dessert), Lyle's Golden Syrup makes a good substitute for rice syrup here.  You could also use honey, or if gluten is not an issue, barley malt, which so far seems to be free of Agatha Christie-style danger warnings and some even assert is far enough from its grain source to be safe for the gluten-intolerant.

wrong but good lemon energy bars

1 stick (8T) unsalted butter
3/4 c thick, sticky, sweet something (barley malt, rice syrup, honey or Lyle's)
3/4 c oat bran
3/4 c almond meal
½ c golden flax meal
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
fat pinch of sea salt
3 c crisp rice cereal

Preheat the oven to 325.  Tear a piece of parchment long enough to line a 10 x 13" baking dish.

In a large pot, melt the butter with the sweetener and stir until they are well mixed.   Add everything but the rice crisps and stir well, then stir in the rice.  When the mixture is well-combined, glop it onto the parchment:

and then, using your hands or the butter wrapper, ploink it out nice and flat and even.  This will seem hopeless at first, as the lump and the sliding parchment appear doomed to move perpetually in concert, but shortly you will see that it works out just fine:

Bake for about 25 minutes, until dryish and set in the center and the edges are lightly golden.  Cool in the pan.

wrong but good frosting

3T vegetable shortening
1T nonfat dry milk powder
2t honey
3t lemon juice
½ t finely grated lemon zest

Mix well in the order given and try not to eat it all before the bars are cool.

Use the parchment to slide the bars out of the pan onto a cutting surface and cut them as you please.

Spread (see above) or pipe (see below) whatever frosting you have left on the bars, and let me know how they rate in your house.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

cobbled together

People will tell you a lot of things about cobbler.  They will tell you to add cornmeal to it, for example, and that is fine.  But they also without any provocation or insult on your part against them will tell you to use white bread instead of biscuit dough, or to cook the fruit on top of the crust, to use pie crust instead of biscuit dough (hello!  That’s called pie) or to cook the crust separately from the fruit.  That was all the rage in Cobblertown some years ago—cook an enormous biscuit on a baking sheet, and bake some fruit, and right before you serve it, plop the one on top of the other.  It’s true that in this way you escape the dreadful fate of a biscuit that is undercooked on the bottom and burnt on the top from your efforts to correct that situation underneath. But now what do you have instead?  Now you have a soggy biscuit, and in my opinion you are no better off.

We make our way through a decent amount of cobbler in our extended family.  Two nephews out of three prefer it to birthday cake.  Here is the only true thing I have learned about cobbler from reading: plop your biscuit on top of piping hot filling and raw, doughy undersides are a thing of the past.

For the biscuit I always use a recipe from a cookbook called American As Apple Pie by Philip Stephen Schulz, which offers 12 variations of 20 classic American dishes, like chili and brownies and stew.  Schulz has a recipe for biscuits that cuts out the usual cutting-in of butter by substituting heavy cream for both the butter and the milk.  It kind of makes a boring biscuit on its own, truthfully (his Buttermilk Skyscrapers are a much better option) but it is a perfect way to make cobbler in a hurry, which is how you generally want to mix up a cobbler.

Any fruit will do.  I don’t use much sugar because cobbler is usually a vehicle for the transfer of large amounts of vanilla ice cream from carton to pie hole, and certain fruits (or palates) may want more or less of the stuff.  You can gild the lily by painting the top of the biscuit with heavy cream and dusting it with sugar, but if time (or the amount of cream on hand) don’t permit, you won’t miss it.  A little lemon zest is nice in the biscuit, if you think it is.  Maybe a little minced crystallized ginger in the fruit, too, if you have it.  But plain is fine.

rhubarb-apricot cobbler

For the fruit:
about 5 c of sliced or chopped fruit
in this case here:
  • 10-12 apricots, sliced (about 3 c)
  • 3-4 stalks rhubarb, sliced (about 2 c)
½ c sugar
¾-1c fruit juice (I used pear; apricot would be good, too, or anything else that is handy), depending on the juiciness of your chosen fruit--I used the larger amount for this combo
3T minute tapioca

For the biscuit on top:
Scant cup of flour
2t baking powder
1t sugar
½ t salt
1 c heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425 and butter a 10x10 baking dish.

Bring the rhubarb, sugar and fruit juice to a simmer in a saucepan, and once it just starts to soften (it will suddenly lose its color, by way of warning), sprinkle on the tapioca and mix in the apricots.

While this is underway, mix the dry ingredients for the biscuit, and stir in the cream. You should have a wet dough.  Add a little more cream or even some milk if that is not what you have, and try to avoid a lot of mixing.

Pour the hot fruit into the prepared dish, and using wet hands grab lumps of dough, flatten them, and glomp them on top of the fruit.  The dough rises plenty in the oven and any weaknesses in your glomping plans will be mercifully overcome.  You can brush the cream and sprinkle the sugar on now, if you want to and time permits.

Bake about 25 minutes, until the top is nice and golden.  Serve nice and warm, and eat the leftovers for breakfast (so very similar in composition to a muffin that it kind of begs for that deployment.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

good directions

Well, I went and said all those mean things about recipes and then I used one last night that totally restored my faith in the medium.  We had tandoori chicken burgers from Dinner: A Love Story and I have no complaints at all, other than the fact that as I cooked them I realized I had forgotten to put the ginger that was called for into the burgers and it was too late to remedy that. I don't think I can blame that on the recipe.  As a bonus, they were plenty tasty regardless.

Yesterday I was hungry all day but couldn't tell what for.  When I stumbled across the recipe for the burgers I felt a little light bulb go on in my appetite, and I trundled out to buy what I needed. Throwing it together took very little time, as promised, and the payback was huge.

On top of said burgers, we glopped a yogurt sauce of my own device that should either send you scurrying to make some lemon pickle, or at least to find a good source to buy some lemon pickle (any Indian grocery, or often your local Gourmet Shoppe), or you could just come over here with an empty jar and raid my fridge.  It was just right on the burgers, but it's another staple sauce, I think: multi-purpose and made in a minute.

With the burgers, and some sliced avocado and tomato to accompany the sauce on top, we ate roasted squash, and a cucumber salad.  Wednesday is generally the first night of the week that we can all assemble and eat in a seated and somewhat normal fashion, so I am predisposed to like Wednesdays, but even allowing for that bias it was a very solid dinner.

super savory yogurt sauce
1 c plain yogurt (if all you have is Greek yogurt, as I did, you may want to thin it a little with something, and what I used was buttermilk because I had it on hand, but I bet water would do the trick)
1 heaping T lemon pickle, very finely chopped 
1-2 T fresh cilantro (or substitute fresh mint), chopped

Mixy mixy mixy.  That's it.  Maybe you want a little more pickle in it. Depending on the saltiness of your pickle and your personal devotion to sodium, maybe you want a pinch of salt.  

My husband licked the bowl, and my son special ordered a new batch to go in his lunchbox for dipping purposes.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

recipe for trouble

Back in the days when we went to a school far, far, away from our house, we used to occasionally give rides to a nice fellow in the 9th grade who needed to make the same commute.  He had been schooled in manners and conversation and was carefully polite at all times, so he was not exactly relaxed but still a pleasure to have in the car.  He and my oldest nephew were about the same age, and said nephew was looking into a nature/survival camp that I knew this boy had attended, so one morning I asked him about it.  He warmed to the topic, especially when describing the day at camp when they made mustard from scratch.  “That stuff was amazing,” he said, genuinely enthusiastic and energized by the recollection.  “One whiff cleaned the boogers right out of your nose.” 

I thought of him yesterday, when I fell prey to a chic and gourmet-looking recipe for mustard.  You know that old saw about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing repeatedly, but expecting a different result?  This is how I sometimes feel about recipes.  I do love recipes, and thanks to them I have arrived at some lovely places.  I have a handwritten recipe card from a dearly departed friend, and one of the instructions among the sparse few given is “batter will look curdled but this is OK.”  Love that.  Love when a recipe alerts you to the likelihood that you may think you have botched it when it’s going just as it should.  I also like a recipe that warns you of actual pitfalls for disaster, and that gives you remedies to hold in reserve.  I like a loose guideline, like most of Nigel Slater’s breezy “this is how I do it but do it how you like” instructions, that empower you to make things just the way you want to eat them, and I like a schoolmarm to hold me accountable step-by-incremental-step when I am doing something complicated.

It is always possible that someone’s tastes will differ from mine, and that a recipe that causes them to write swooning words of praise will turn out to emphasize or omit the very thing I dislike or rely upon.  But this can generally be spied from a distance and corrections made for personal preferences. 

Here is what I don’t like: recipes that trick you into thinking something will turn out better than it sounds, and recipes that omit either necessary warnings or crucial information.

It seems to be a rule of the universe that I only fall prey to these when they require a significant cash outlay for ingredients I may never find a use for again or which I will waste, or which will produce a monstrous quantity of something inedible.  To wit, the gluten-free version of my revered and cherished Jim Lahey Overnight Bread, not perpetrated upon me by that walking saint but by another (this has to be the triple crown title-holder for Worst Smelling Food, Most Costly and Ultimately Useless Ingredients and Most Haunting Bad Flavor); a very pricey roast pork that was too salty even for the dogs, and the mustard mentioned above. 

About the nostril thing, I can attest that my young passenger of years back was totally on the up and up.  About how good the outcome would be, I cannot say the same about the recipe-writer.  The mustard and I have had 24 hours to recuperate, though and I begin to suspect one of the problems with the recipe is that it forgets to tell you to let it mellow for a spell before you throw it out.  It tastes significantly better today than it did yesterday, which is a low bar but still gives me hope.

Maybe you can see how this leads us directly to potatoes.  Here is how: my mom gave me a new cookbook and I immediately felt a pull towards a fennel and potato dish.  I thought I had more of the things it required than I turned out to have, by which time it was Sunday afternoon and I was not going back to the store.  I made the necessary adjustments for limitations of ingredients, and a few more for taste and the future health of the arteries.  It was delish.  Now you can see the whole arc of reason, right?  Thought so.

What is brilliant about this recipe is that it saves the harried cook from painstakingly layering potatoes and their seasonings by mixing it all in a bowl first, which custom-coats each slice of tater.  I cut the heavy cream called for with half and half, and lacking the specified onion went with garlic, which seems right.  Onions are always sweeter than I expect them to be, and the fennel is plenty sweet too—garlic kept things on a nice savory track.  Not a speck of it was left over.

fennel and potato gratin
heavily adapted from Lisa Caponigri’s Whatever Happened To Sunday Dinner?

1 large (soft-ball sized) fennel bulb
3 T olive oil
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 large russet or baking potatoes
1 c heavy cream, divided
1 c half & half
2 ½ c coarsely grated fontina (about half a pound), divided
1t sea salt
fresh pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.  Oil or butter a heavy, shallow baking dish (I used my big enameled cast iron one, which is about 10x14).

Trim any stalks from the fennel bulb, slice off the bottom and remove the outer layer if it is bruised or grubby. Split it in half lengthwise and then slice it into about ½ “ strips.  I ended up with about 3 cups.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Sauté the garlic for a minute, then add the fennel and cook, stirring regularly, until it is just tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, scrub and thinly slice the potatoes—no more than ¼ “ thick.  In a large bowl, combine ½ c of the cream, the half and half, 2 c of the cheese, and the salt and pepper.  Add the potatoes and toss to combine.

When the fennel is cooked, toss it in with the potatoes.  Dump this mixture into the prepared baking dish and press everything down with a spatula to even it out and submerge as much as possible.  Drizzle the remaining cream and the reserved cheese on top.  Not all the potatoes will be under the level of the sauce, but the top ones should be dressed with a topcoat of cream, between what was clinging to them and what you have just added.  

Bake until browned and tender, about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours.  If the top is browning too quickly, reduce the oven heat to 325 for the last half hour of cooking.  Let stand about ten minutes before you serve it.