Archive for the ‘Fruits’ Category

Soup’s On!

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

I’ve been staring out my window at the last remnants of the kale for weeks – trying to figure out what to do with the lonely bunches of leaves scattered across my garden. I love kale – it’s earthy, chewy texture just tastes like nutrition incarnate. I didn’t always hold it in such regard. For years I thought of eating it as punishment. Bitter. Limp. Mushy. These are words that came to mind when thinking of this versatile green. Luckily I finally figured out how to prepare it and now it ranks as one of my favorite vegetables.

I spent weeks gazing at these leafy greens because there are just so many ways to prepare it. Kale chips – doused with olive oil, sprinkled with sea sat and roasted in a hot oven. Simply sautéed with garlic and fresh lemon. Stirred into mixed vegetable dishes. So many options. But I had what appeared to be a bushel of kale – both curly and lacinato (AKA dinosaur – which I prefer for it’s more delicate texture) growing in bunches in the garden. So I finally decided that soup was the ticket. Thick, rustic white bean soup featuring loads of the hearty, chewy leaves.

A quick review of recipes turned up a simple yet flavorful option. AND it features my favorite flavor enhancer – Parmesan cheese rinds! I’ve been cutting these ends off of my blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano for months – storing them in the freezer. Just waiting for the perfect opportunity to make use of the salty, pungent slabs of rind.

This is the kind of soup that tastes best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Just cool it and chill and then warm it back up when you’re ready to serve. It’s also an excellent candidate for freezing. It’s simply a bowl of health – filled with protein as well as anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich kale. Topped with a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano… it makes me almost welcome the chilly days of fall.

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Kale & White Bean Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 4 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (lacitano is preferable – but use whatever kind you wish)

Instructions

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and crushed red pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and stir in kale and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper. Remove cheese rinds before freezing or serving.

Note: while I think it’s perfectly delicious as is – you can spice this up by adding some sausage or pancetta to kick it up a notch. Just cook it up and add before tossing in the carrots.

Fresh Peach Chutney

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

This past weekend was a canning extravaganza! My foodie friend Caitlin and I had been planning for weeks. Emails were volleyed back and forth with recipes and variations and shopping lists and yet more recipes. We could hardly contain ourselves. We were complete jar heads.

We finally agreed on a handful of recipes. Set aside for the time being were tempting concoctions including tomatillo salsa and pickled peppers and berry jams. We’ll save those for another day. This weekend we focused on bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, hot pickled beans, balsamic roasted fennel & onion jam and, my personal favorite, fresh peach chutney. At one point Caitlin’s husband even tossed a few errant carrots into some leftover pickling liquid and, voila, pickled carrots. Divine.

But back to the peach chutney. Peaches are bountiful everywhere I look these days. And friends down in California just finished their annual peach-canning weekend (they “adopt” a peach tree every year and always concoct the most amazing preserve recipes).  So I’ve been inspired to try some new peachy delights. Luckily my friend Leslie shared a mouth-watering recipe for mango chutney with me not too long ago. So – kismet. Why not try it with peaches?

I’m happy to say that the result is sublime. Tart from the vinegar and sweet from the peaches and aromatic from ginger and garlic and cardamom. This was my first foray into chutney preparation and I couldn’t be happier.  I served it last night with a local sharp white cheddar and fresh French bread and am looking forward to pairing it with a cauliflower and chickpea curry soon. The sweet/savory combination would obviously lend itself well to any kind of Indian-inspired chicken dish – or just plain old roast chicken I would think. And, dare I say it, perhaps this new favorite preserve might be a delectable topping for a bit of thick, creamy Greek yogurt. Endless possibilities…

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Fresh Peach Chutney

Yield: ~ 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs firm peaches (approximately 4 large)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vinegar (apple cider or white)
  • 3″ piece ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot chili powder (i.e. Cayenne Pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Instructions

Blanch peaches by cutting a small “X” at the end and dunking in boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove skin and pits. Then cut into a small dice and set aside. Note – if you’re going to do this in advance, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the peaches to prevent browning.

Place sugar and vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat and simmer for 10 minutes

Remove the skin from the ginger (using a small spoon to scrap it off works well) and use a microplane to grate the ginger directly into the hot sugar & vinegar mixture. Press the garlic into the mixture as well and then add the rest of the spices and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add the peaches and raisins and cook, uncovered, for about 25 minutes.

Stir occasionally as the chutney thickens.  (The chutney may continue to thicken slightly when cool). If it doesn’t thicken adequately, you can add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch by spooning a few tablespoons of the hot liquid from the saucepan into a small bowl and mixing in the cornstarch. Then add this mixture back into the saucepan and mix well.

When desired consistency is reached, remove from heat and ladle into jars. This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so. Or you can preserve the jars in a hot water bath by processing for approximately 5-10 minutes.

Fruit Crisp – In a Jar!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Summer has arrived in Seattle! Literally … and figuratively in the form of an abundance of fresh produce. I feel like it’s the dawn of an entirely new culinary season. The colors, the smells, the tastes – all so exuberant and refreshing. Can you tell I’m excited?

I’m especially thrilled about the fruit. Everything seems plump and sugary and, well, genuine. No depending on frozen berries or boring apples (nothing personal – they saw me through winter). No more rock-hard peaches that cost a gazillion dollars a pound.

It’s hard to imagine anything better than enjoying it in its natural state. Apricots pried fresh off the pit. Strawberries and blueberries so sweet they’re better than candy. So when I tried a brand new, ingenious preparation of fruit – I was instantly infatuated. Individual fruit crisps – made in cute little canning jars. Kept in the freezer only to be whisked out at a moment’s notice for an instant, homemade dessert. Brilliant!

I’m afraid I cannot take credit for the idea. My dear friend Sonya (a jarring genius) turned me onto a wonderful blog called Wendolonia where a lovely woman named Wendy concocts everything from craft projects to homemade bento boxes. A cunningly creative individual that Wendy. Her post titled “Crisp in a Jar” is what provoked my new found love of these little delights. And she kindly agreed to let me share her recipe.

Step-by-step instructions are featured below. But in a nutshell, you can choose any kind of fruit you like, toss it about with some sugar and flour, pack it into a petite canning jar and cover it with a topping of oats and sugar and cinnamon and a few other simple ingredients. Then screw on the top, place it in the freezer and store for the entire summer.  Subsequently, whenever you’re in the mood for a little treat – break it out, toss it into the oven and just over 30 minutes later – voila! Instant deliciousness.

One of my favorite things about these gems … you can use almost any kind of fruit. I concocted a number of tasty combinations including blueberry/nectarine with a dash of nutmeg, strawberry/rhubarb laced with cinnamon and apricot with a hit of candied ginger.

But the best part – they make the sweetest gifts. I froze a few last night and delivered them to a friend this morning. She was thrilled! Just think about having them on hand to bring to a sick friend. What could be better?

So … I am smitten. I can’t wait to have a dinner party and pop these individual crisps into the oven as the night unfolds and then … ta-da! A platter laden with a variety of jewel-toned desserts, molten inside and crisp on top – emitting the enticing scent of cinnamon and the inescapable allure of bubbling fruit. I think I need to head to the freezer right now – a fruit crisp is calling.

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Crisp in a Jar

The Equipment

Canning jars come in a number of shapes and sizes and are available at grocery stores and hardware stores in every neighborhood. Wide-mouth half pints are really your best bet – wide enough to fill easily and just the right size for an individual serving.

The Fruit Filling

Ingredients:

  • Fresh or frozen fruit — about 1 cup of fruit per jar
  • 1 tablespoon of white or brown sugar per cup of fruit
  • 1 tablespoon of flour per cup of fruit — a little more for frozen fruit or extra juicy fruit like berries
  • flavorings such as vanilla extract, nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

If possible, I would recommend making at least 8-9 jars at a time – necessitating 8-9 cups of chopped fruit along with the appropriate amount of sugar, flour and flavorings outlined above. This way – you’ll be able to use half the crisp topping (recipe below) and freeze the other half. Otherwise, you get into using a half a stick of butter and what’s the point, really … when you can make a bunch and give them away or freeze them for handy, delicious desserts?

Fruit filling instructions:

  • If you’re using frozen fruit, give it a rinse to thaw it a bit and let it sit to drain for a few minutes. This will get rid of some of the excess juice.
  • If you’re using fresh fruit, peel as appropriate (i.e. apples, pears, etc.) and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
  • Mix in flour and sugar. For super juicy fruit – use a ratio of 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of fruit, rather than 1 tablespoon to 1 cup.
  • If you want to use extra flavorings, mix it in at the end. (I used about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon with the rhubarb/strawberry combo, a pinch of nutmeg with the blueberry/nectarine and a tablespoon of finely chopped candied ginger with the apricot).
  • Fill the jars up to the line just below the screw rings. This will give you plenty of space for the topping.

The Crisp Topping

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

This will make a ton of topping – enough for 16-18 jars. If you’re only making a few jars of crisp, you can put the extra in a ziploc bag and freeze it for another batch or you can just make half as much.

Crisp Topping Instructions:

Mix all the dry ingredients together.

Cut the butter up into little cubes. I like to freeze mine before cutting up.

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender. I ended up using my cuisinart after mixing everything together to get it to the right consistency – which looks like pebbled sand.

Take a hand full of the topping and press it evenly onto the top of the fruit. The original recipe estimated about 1/3 cup of topping per jar – but I used a bit less out of fear of packing it down too much. She obviously had excellent results with her recipe and it is no doubt perfect. I’m just a little timid because a fruit crisp explosion in the oven is that last thing I want. Once all the jars are done, put on the lid and pop it into the freezer. They should keep for three or more months.

Baking Instructions:

When you’re ready to bake one (or more) of the crisps, pull it out of the freezer, remove the lid, allow to thaw for about 10 minutes, stick it on a baking sheet and put it in the (cold) oven. Set the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 35-45 minutes. The filling will be bubbling and the topping turning brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. And enjoy! It’s virtually impossible not to.

Ugly But Good

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I realize I just recently wrote about a gift I received – the healthy granola that a neighbor brought over as I was recuperating. But I feel the need to write about another gift I received during my convalescence. I don’t know if people realize the impact that homemade food can have on someone, but for me at least, freshly made soup or baked goods made a tremendous difference. Just knowing that someone cared enough to cook for me often left me speechless. So I want to do all I can to share these amazing recipes with you.

The soup and baked goods I mention were brought over by Mary and Jeanne – two friends I seldom see but whose vibrance mixed with their culinary skills make them a favorite pair of visitors. They opened the door bearing a large cloth box filled with Italian soup (that recipe will likely grace these pages at a later date), bread from a local bakery, freshly grated parmesan cheese, a few chilled DRY sodas, organic treats for the dog … and the strangest looking little cookies I had ever set eys on.

These baked goods were miniature and oddly shapen. I was at first a bit skeptical that they would be all that good. Being a true American, I am used to the obscenely oversized cookies oozing with chocolate and smelling of butter. These were altogether different. But considering the source, I overcame my initial concern and dug in. And…light, airy, chewy, just sweet enough – divine. A new favorite cookie – by a long shot.

Their Italian name is Brutti Ma Buoni – which translates to “Ugly but Good.” I’ll say. Despite their name – they are refined. And they are one of my favorites not only because they taste sublime. Comprised of mostly feathery almond “powder”, they are studded with chewy apricots and crisp walnuts. Additionally, they are healthy (no saturated fats, high in protein from all the nuts), easy to make and the perfect treat for my gluten-free friends (no flour!).

A number of different recipes resulted from a simple Google search. But I wanted to recreate the ones my friends brought over – I just can’t imagine any better. So the recipe below is copied exactly from a feint xerox copy my friend emailed. I don’t know its origin. The only change I made was to refrain from flourig the baking sheets. Parchment and a mist of cooking spray make these truly gluten-free and this approach worked just fine.

I hope you’ll try them. Don’t be dismayed by their appearance. Just one bite and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be an “Ugly” convert. Buon appetito!

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Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good)

Makes about 32 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups blanched almonds (8 ounces)
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons minced moist dried apricots
  • Parchment paper
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and mist lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.

Grind almonds in food processor until finely powdered and beginning to hold together – it will start to look a bit like small, dry couscous. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl (about 3 minutes).

Blend in sugar, vanilla, almond extract and salt. With machine running, pour in egg white through feed tube and blend until mixture forms a ball. It will turn into the consistency of marzipan – I used a metal spoon to scrape it from the bottom of the mixing bowl – no mere rubber spatula would suffice.

Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Mix in the chopped walnuts and apricots.

Grab a bit (roughly a teaspoon) of dough and arrange on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. It will be sticky and a bit messy - but persevere!

Place both sheets into oven. After 10 minutes exchange the top sheet and the bottom sheet. Bake another 3 to 7 minutes until just beginning to brown. Cool on racks. Store in airtight container

Sunny Citrus

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Memorial Day in Seattle. Elsewhere in the country people are frolicking in the sun and the waves. Here … we have gray skies and a forecast of rain for days. Sigh. I should be used to it by now but I keep hoping that sunshine will become a more common phenomenon around these parts. I suppose for now I’ll have to keep on wishing.

On gray days like this I tend to want to lighten things up in the kitchen. And I immediately think of citrus. Obviously lemons and limes, oranges and grapefruit do not grow around these parts. We must rely on our neighbors to the south and east to supply these delights. But I am reminded of warmer climates when I cut into a juicy orange and during these cooler days I feel the purchase of produce from afar is worth it.

One of my favorite treats featuring these sweet yet tart fruits is a salad dressing comprised of three basic members of the citrus family – oranges, lemons and limes. A friend brought this salad to a dinner party last fall and I fell immediately in love. Bright pomegranate seeds and crunchy roasted hazlenuts strewn about add just the right complements to the tart dressing.

I haven’t changed it much – just made it a bit easier. It pairs extremely well with the butter lettuce – but would be equally delicious with any other kind of greens. I inevitably have dressing left over which I like to drizzle on grilled asparagus or other vegetables. And I am planning to incorporate this dressing into a cold brown rice or quinoa salad featuring nuts and dried fruit and whatever vegetables I have lying about. It is, as I have described, extremely versatile and I hope you’ll give it a try. Especially if you’re looking for a recipe to cheer you up on a gray day.

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Butter Lettuce Salad with Citrus Dressing

Adopted from a Bon Appétit December 2009 recipe

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

Citrus dressing:

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • Juice and zest of one large orange
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • Juice and zest of one lime
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Salad:

  • 2 heads of butter lettuce, coarsely torn
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (dried cranberries are a good substitute)
  • 2/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Instructions

Citrus dressing:
Combine vinegar and citrus juice and zest in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Salad: 
Mix all ingredients in very large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat.

The Gift of Healthy Granola

Friday, May 28th, 2010

As I have mentioned, I’ve had a few health issues of late. So I have found myself sitting around the house, not able to drive because the pain medications I’m taking strongly advise against “operating heavy machinery.” And I’ve also found myself a bit out of sorts because said medications are making me a bit groggy at times. So – combining my inability to drive to the store with a general restlessness and you get a not-so-happy foodie. I am not, at present, able to control what is in my refrigerator. I have had to learn to rely on others to take me to the store. Or, even worse for a control freak like me, I have had to provide a shopping list for friends and neighbors to shop for me. Gone, for the time being, are the days when I can select the brand of parmesan cheese or choose which package of strawberries to purchase. It has been, not to be overly dramatic, agony.

In the midst of this situation, my dear neighbor brought me a bag of homemade granola. I don’t typically purchase granola because of its high caloric count. And a number of store-bought brands use hydrogenated oils as binders – which just won’t do. But when I tried this homemade variety – I was hooked. It is crunchy and flavorful and just the right balance of savory nuts and sweet, chewy dried fruit. My immediate instinct was to sprinkle it over my morning Fage yogurt and strawberries and blueberries. Heaven. It is without question my new favorite breakfast. And then…I ran out. Which brought equal amounts of despair and inspiration. Certainly I could make it myself, right? Sadly, moments later the drugs kicked in and I returned to the couch and took an afternoon nap. That was a few days ago.

Then – yesterday the boredom and agitation got the best of me. I asked my neighbor to pick up a few things from the market and I asked for her delicious granola recipe. It was time, finally, to bake. As soon as I saw the recipe in my inbox I pounced. And I was delighted to find that I had every single ingredient in my pantry – kismet!

I tweaked the directions from the 2006 USA Today recipe slightly – reducing the amount of oil and adding flax seeds. And I made my very own variety – adding orange extract and candied ginger and dried prunes (I ran out of dried cherries…). I mixed the ingredients together and placed the pan in the oven. Not 10 minutes later and my kitchen smelled of cinnamon and brown sugar and maple syrup. Then I added the fruit – the dried cherries and slivered candied ginger and the diced prunes. And I waited. And I peeked and smiled when I saw the oats begin to brown and crisp. Less than an hour from the time I received the recipe in my inbox and I was left with lovely, healthy granola.

I am including my version of the USA Today recipe below along with a number of the excellent tips featured in the original article. I am confident I’ll be making this frequently. As I know from personal experience, it will make a great gift. And considering I was able to take my mind of any discomfort and easily put this together in less than an hour, I figure it’s surely a keeper. What a gift.

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Master Granola Recipe

(Makes 1 quart)

Main Ingredients

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (do not use “quick” oats)
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Extra Ingredients (see complete list below)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons flavorless oil, such as vegetable or canola
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Flavoring (see below) 

Instructions

Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 275 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch metal pan with cooking spray, and then set aside.

Mix oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt and Extra Ingredients — except dried fruit — in a bowl.

Bring syrup, oil, water and any Flavoring indicated below to a simmer in a saucepan over low heat. Drizzle over oat mixture, and stir to combine.

Pour mixture onto prepared pan. Working a handful at a time, squeeze cereal to form small clusters. Bake for 30 minutes.

Stir in dried fruit. The mixture will be quite warm – so work quickly. Continue to bake until golden brown, about 15 – 25 minutes longer. Let cool. (Granola can be stored in an airtight tin for up to two weeks.)

Variations:

Kathryn’s Version

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, 1/4 cup chopped almonds, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries, 1/4 cup chopped prunes (or use all cherries if you have an adequate amount), 2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger
Flavoring: 1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon orange extract

Nutty Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup slivered almonds, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 2 Tbs. sesame seeds, 6 Tbs. currants
Flavoring: none

Tropical Granola

Add the coconut along with the cashews and banana chips.
Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted cashews, 1/4 cup chopped banana chips, 1/4 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/4 cup chopped dried pineapple
Flavoring: 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Trail Mix Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts, 1/4 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/4 cup dark or golden raisins, 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips*
Flavoring: none
*Stir chips into the granola only after it has completely cooled.

Pear Granola with Hazelnuts And Vanilla

Extra Ingredients: 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries, 1/4 cup chopped dried pears
Flavoring: 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mom & Me … Strawberries & Rhubarb

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

I love pie. Almost every kind. My two favorites, however, are rhubarb and strawberry. Not the popular combination of the two. Plain rhubarb in a regular old pie crust – which is tart and refreshing and just sweet enough. And plain strawberry with a graham cracker crust – the almost savory notes of the crust combining perfectly with the sweetness of the berry filling. Two separate pies. Because, really, can you have too much pie?

These are my favorites because they are the ones mom used to make. She made the strawberry version for Easter dinner. As you can see from this picture – featuring the two of us in the dresses she sewed by hand – Easter was a time of celebration in our family. And, much more than the enormous ham and various side dishes, I remember the pie. And the rhubarb was always dad’s favorite. And quickly became one I requested during the spring – when rhubarb was plentiful in the garden.

As you may have gathered over the many posts that reference my mother – she had an enormous impact in my culinary abilities and inclinations and my general love of food. I am thinking of her today more than ever. My mom passed away two years ago to the day today. April 11, 2008. A year ago, on the first anniversary of this difficult day, I was in a different place. I was angry and miserable and sad and felt very, very alone. I am happy to report that, though I miss mom more than words can say, today I have found a bit of peace. Today I wanted to celebrate my mom. So I baked pies.

I thought up this concept weeks ago as I searched for the best way to honor her. I asked dad to email the recipes. I conjured up how I was going to photograph the gorgeous crimson fruits. Oh, how I planned. And then, life threw me a curve ball.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. Mom was diagnosed with almost the exact same kind of breast cancer at age 56 and recovered – surviving for nearly 14 years before succumbing to pancreatic cancer. The news was, obviously, a blow. The past week involved a last-minute trip to California to spend time with my brother and father (who is going through radiation treatments for prostate cancer and is unable to fly up here to be with me). It has also included 7 doctor’s visits, a more thorough understanding of the Swedish Cancer Institute than I ever anticipated (or desired) and a few changes in my plans for the summer.

I don’t want to focus too much on my cancer in this blog. This is a place for talking about cooking and nurturing and musings about glorious dishes and recipes. Naturally, some of my future writing will be informed by my situation. My interest in fresh produce and healthy eating has been amplified since my diagnosis.

But today I just want to focus on remembering mom. And eat pie for breakfast. And share it with dear friends. And with you.

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Strawberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 8-inch graham cracker crust (see below for recipe)
  • 2 pints (4 cups) strawberries – divided
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Instructions

In a medium saucepan, crush 1 pint (2 cups) of slices strawberries with a fork, potato masher or pastry blender. You don’t want a puree, but you’ll want most of the berries to be unrecognizable at this point. Mix in the cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly. You can continue to mash the berried throughout the cooking process as they warm and become more pliable. Cook approximately 7-10 minutes until clear and thickened. It will turn syrupy and glossy and a beautiful, deep red. Remove from heat and cool.

Halve or quarter remaining pint of strawberries – depending on their size. You’ll want them bite-sized but not too big that they’ll need to be cut when in the pie. Once the strawberry mixture is cooled, mix these sliced strawberries in until combined.

Pour the mixture into the crust and refrigerate until chilled – at least one hour.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 6 1/2 ounces graham crackers (12 crackers), finely ground (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined.

Firmly press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of an 8-inch pie dish. Bake until crust is fragrant and edges are golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

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Rhubarb Pie

I have to admit, this was the first time I attempted a double-crust pie. For what it’s worth – the final product I placed in the oven was not pretty. The top crust was patched together, resembling a quilt more than a nice, pristine sheet of dough. However I am trying, hard, to be less of a perfectionist. To “not sweat the small stuff.” And it’ll taste just as good, right? Another note – rhubarb is, by its nature, a watery vegetable (yes, it’s a vegetable – not a fruit). So the consistency of the pie might be runny. I seem to recall mom used instant tapioca instead of the cornstarch from time to time. Something to consider for the next pie I bake.

Ingredients

  • Crust for two-crust pie (recipe below)
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 5 cups (~2 ½ pounds) rhubarb (cut up into 1” slices)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter (chilled and cut into small pieces)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix sugar and cornstarch together. Add to cut up rhubarb and mix thoroughly.

Line the pie pan with one of the crusts. Pour rhubarb mixture into pie pan.  Ensure the sugar is equally spread across the pie.  Dot with pieces of butter. Cover with second pie crust and cut slits in the top to allow steam to release.

Place pie on top of baking sheet (in case any of the juices spill out – not easy to clean up) and bake for approximately 40-50 minutes.

Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Crisco (chilled)
  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Instructions

Mix salt & flour together. Cut in the chilled Crisco until small crumbly flakes form.

Put the 6 tablespoons of ice cold water in a small bowl. Mix a handful of the crumble mixture into the water. Pour this mixture back into the bowl full of flour and salt mixture and use your hands to blend until completely combined. Handle gently and do not over knead.

Shape dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch-wide disks. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

Rather than attempt to explain the process of rolling out a proper pie crust, I will defer to Martha Stewart’s instructions. You will note that I did not use her actual recipe – the one featured above is from my friend Kathleen – one of the best bakers I know. If you follow the steps listed on Martha’s site – you can’t go wrong.

Purple Potatoes and Preserved Lemons – An Education

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I went to my first cooking class the other day. Not the first in a series. My first cooking class ever. Hard to believe. I’ve been in love with food for as long as I can remember and cooking since I was old enough to knead dough to make cheddar cheese pretzels from my “The Kid’s Cookbook.” And I’ve been enraptured with TV cooking shows since the days of The French Chef (I still remember sitting next to mom as she frantically wrote down notes to try to capture one of Julia’s recipes. This was back in the day before remote controls and the Internet and DVRs … how far we’ve come). But I digress.

Last week I attended a “Gourmet Vegetarian Celebration Feast” at the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center. Situated on Lake Union with a stunning view of the water near downtown Seattle, this is a school that has been around for a while. I’ve been meaning to take a class for years and have to say that I wish I hadn’t waited so long. I consider myself somewhataccomplished in the kitchen and suppose I figured I could learn whatever I needed to learn from my TV friends Giada, Bobby and Ina.  And there’s always Google to help me hunt down explanations of gastronomic terms and exotic ingredients, right? These technological solutions have served a purpose and allowed me to grow my culinary skills. But I must say there is nothing like first-hand experience.

The chefs at Blue Ribbon taught me a lot. For instance, I didn’t know that potatoes as we know them are imposters… the whites and yellows that are plentiful in the grocery aisles have been stripped of their original color – which aparently was purple. Purple! Who knew? They make a gorgeous mashed potato, in case you’re interested.

I also didn’t realize that olive oil is a perfectly good substitute for melted butter when working with Phyllo dough. And apparently our local organic grocer PCC has a whole wheat variety of Phyllo that works wonders. Genius.  Another favorite tip? When cutting up vegetables, reserve the “unwanted parts” (i.e. the dark green ends of leeks and the tips of carrots and celery, etc.) – toss in a Ziploc and keep them in the freezer. These flavorful bits can then be used in the future to make sumptuous vegetable stocks. 

I also learned that I have been misusing preserved lemons. I’ve preserving lemons at home for years but had no clue that one is only supposed to use the rind – not the flesh. Good to know. (For those of you unfamiliar with this delicacy – I highly recommend you try them. Jars of this vibrantly piquant delight frequently used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines can be found at most gourmet markets. I’ve included a recipe below that features them – but they can also be chopped up and added to a myriad of dishes – whether scattered over salads or added to savory soups they add a new dimension of tartness and brightness that will get you hooked.)

I’m digressing again… What I’m trying to say is that I learned far more than expected from this enlightening 3-hour class and I would highly recommend that people hunt down cooking classes in their own communities. Chefs from all walks of life are out there – eager to share their knowledge. And it’s such a simple and entertaining way to expand your culinary knowledge, aptitude and enjoyment.

The recipe that follows was one of my favorites from class. There were several other contenders including Phyllo Filled with Leeks, Lentils & Blue Cheese and Corn Soufflé-Stuffed Tomatoes. Stay tuned for these recipes to be featured in future posts.

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Warm Chickpea Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center

This can be served as a side salad alongside your main course – or can make one in and of itself.  Cut up some crusty whole grain bread or cook up some brown rice or other grains to make it a complete meal. If you’re not serving it all immediately, you can reserve the chickpea mixture apart from the arugula and then mix separately when you’re ready to serve. Also – the leftovers make a great lunch – try filling a whole wheat tortilla with the mixture for a delicious wrap.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry or 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (reserve liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • ½ preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon agave or honey
  • 2 Bosc or Bartlett pears, chopped
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 1 pound arugula
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

In a large, heavy sauté pan, heat oil on medium high. Add onions and cook until they start to turn brown and release some juices (about 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add garlic and preserved lemon and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, then turn heat down to low and cook until all onions are caramelized (about 5 minutes).

Add the vinegar to the pan and deglaze – ensuring all the bits of onion and other ingredients are gently pried from the bottom of the pan.  Add the pears and sauté for about 3-10 minutes, depending on how ripe your pears are – mine were somewhat firm and took closer to 10 minutes. Check them before moving to the next step – you don’t want them to retain any crunch. With a spoon, smash a few of the pears and add the Dijon, yogurt and agave or honey and stir well. Add the chickpeas and liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

Toss with the arugula and walnuts and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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End note – this is for those of you who doubt their cooking abilities and have hence resisted taking a class. I see this concern as similar to those of us who don’t go to the gym because we’re not in shape. Or others who clean the house before a housekeeper visits. I am admittedly guilty as charged on both counts. But here’s the thing….even those of us who have spent some significant time in the kitchen are there to learn and many of us need instruction as much as the more novice chefs in the room.

Case in point – I was a total disaster when it came to trying my hands the Pavlova (a fancy term for a baked meringue dessert). Pristine egg whites are the most critical element to a successful Pavlova and it fell upon me to separate a few eggs. Simple enough, I thought. I gently selected an egg, cracked it on the counter and proceeded with my first attempt to make sure that the bright orb of yolk remained distinctly separate from the runny whites. I had done this countless times before – a walk in the park I thought.

With everyone’s eyes upon me, I started the separation process and, as you may have guessed by now, the yolk fractured, leaving spots of bright yellow throughout the transparent white. The friendly chef chortled good-naturedly but made it abundantly clear that the mess that lay in my bowl would need to be discarded. Then she encouraged me to try again. So back to the container of eggs I went.  Egg elected, gently cracked, divided into two halves, separation process resumed. The white landed in my bowl and I smugly tossed what appeared to be an unharmed yolk into a separate bowl. The chef was lurking at this point. With good reason. A thorough investigation of my egg whites resulted in the discovery of a hint of yellow. Not good enough. Not my proudest moment. Happily I got it right on the third try. Yet another lesson learned.

Photo note: as mentioned in previous posts, I try to take all the pictures featured on this blog. However I was unable to hunt down a purple potato this week so the picture featured above is not my own.

And the Winner Is… Caramelized Onion Tart with Apples

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I love the Oscars – the glitz, the glam, the spectacle. And munching lovely appetizers while watching the show is a long-held tradition. Sadly, the Oscars comes at time of the year when our local produce is not putting on such a show. There are lots of dark, drab colors and lackluster shapes and forms at the farmer’s markets these days…not exactly inspiring for a dish appropriate for a swank Oscar fete. Or so I thought.

It’s amazing what a little caramelizing and some puff pastry can do. I found this recipe in the Real Simple archives and thought it would be just the ticket. And it did not disappoint.

In contrast to the often overly loquacious acceptance speeches of our friends in Hollywood, I will keep this short and sweet and leave it at that. On to the recipe. Enjoy!

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Caramelized Onion Tarts with Apples

Makes 2 tarts

Adapted from Real Simple

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 red apples (i.e. Braeburn)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche, sour cream or soft goat cheese
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme (optional, though highly recommended)

Instructions

Heat oven to 400º F.

Peel the onions, cut in half and thinly slice. Cut the apples in quarters, remove the core and cut each quarter into thin slices.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Stir in the apples, a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until just tender, 3-5 minutes. The apples will still be a bit crisp inside and slightly warmed throughout.

Place each sheet of pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Spread with the crème fraîche, sour cream or goat cheese*, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with the onion mixture, sprinkle with fresh thyme and bake until the pastry is crisp and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. To enhance the browning process, spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray after about 20 minutes. Cut into pieces before serving.

*To experiment, I slathered half with goat cheese that was room temperature and easy to spread. I slathered the other half with sour cream. Personally, I prefer the piquant flavor of the goat cheese, however the sour cream option is savory and delicious as well.

Tips

I made the onion and apple mixture in advance and left it in a covered bowl at room temperature for an hour before assembling. You can also prepare and save the mixture a day or so in advance and keep it in the refrigerator in a sealed container, bringing up to room temperature before preparing.

I also froze one sheet for later use. I placed it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chilled in the freezer for an hour, then wrapped it in plastic wrap. To cook, I baked it frozen at 400º F for approximately 45 minutes.

An Offering of Cranberry Chutney

Monday, March 1st, 2010

I know what you’re thinking. What is she doing talking about cranberries in late February? Thanksgiving was eons ago.  Please allow me to explain…

I recently finished the most delightful book titled A Homemade Life written lovingly by Molly Wizenberg. Many of you fellow foodies will immediately recognize her as Molly of Orangette fame, the award-winning (deservedly so) blog and Delancey, the pizza joint in Ballard that everyone is raving about that is high on my list of places to try. In my eyes, her book is in large part a tribute to her beloved father. For many reasons, it hit quite close to home.  Her book is also an homage to all things food. She generously shares favorite recipes interspersed with personal accounts of family comings and goings. Molly is often amusing, always eloquent and truly inspiring. If you like books about food – read this one.

As I was reading this treasure, I was in the midst of trying to figure out what to get for my friend Adam’s birthday. A man who seems to have everything, he is frustratingly difficult to shop for.  So making him something sounded like a fine idea. But what? Nothing seemed perfect.  So I let it go for a bit, figuring I’d just buy him a gingham pocket square or two (he is pretty fancy, that one). 

Then I came upon Molly’s recounting of and recipe for Cranberry Chutney with Crystallized Ginger and Dried Cherries. Oh, how I love it when the perfect answer turns up when you aren’t even looking for it. You see, cranberries were the ideal solution for a homemade gift for my friend. Last November I had the pleasure of celebrating Thanksgiving with Adam and his wonderful family and friends down in Cannon Beach. The dinner table was set, the candles lit, the turkey carved. Then Adam asked his dear mother about the cranberries. For a man of such refined taste, I found it baffling to learn that he is, without apology, squarely in the camp of canned cranberry sauce of the jellied variety. Not even the kind with the whole cranberries. Nope, he wants the ruby red, gelatinous mass that slips out of its container intact, imprints from the can festooning the outside of the cylindrical form. Somehow, I found that endearing.

 

So, knowing of his love of cranberries (albeit the highly processed variety), I decided to cook up a batch of Molly’s famous Chutney. Granted, finding fresh cranberries this time of year was out of the question. Thankfully a fancy store down the road carries them in their frozen fruits section. And it’s highly likely that this Chutney would be significantly improved by the use of fresh cranberries. But I love this recipe.   And, because I simply can’t wait for Adam’s assessment before publishing this post, let’s just say that I hope he loves it too. His swanky birthday party was last weekend and I proudly presented him with a few jars. It’s unlikely he’ll have a turkey sitting around to pair it with – but I can just imagine it accompanying some lovely cheese, slathered on a sandwich or nestled atop roast pork or vegetables.

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Cranberry Chutney with Crystallized Ginger and Dried Cherries

Recipe by Molly Wizenberg

As written, this is a perfect recipe. So I have included it below in its original form (with Molly’s permission). In my version, I made only two substitutions – based exclusively on seasonality and my own frugality. The cranberries were frozen. And I substituted 2 teaspoons of pure orange extract and the zest and juice of a half a large orange for the Grand Marnier.

Ingredients

  • 24 ounces apricot preserves
  • ¾ cup raspberry vinegar, or ¾ cup white distilled vinegar plus 1 ½ tsp raspberry preserves
  • A pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier
  • 2 bags fresh cranberries, nasty ones discarded
  • ½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 ¼ cups dried tart cherries

Instructions

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the apricot preserves, raspberry vinegar (or vinegar and raspberry preserves), salt, cloves, and Grand Marnier. Stir to mix, and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to cook – it will bubble aggressively, and you should stir regularly to keep it from scorching – for about 10-15 minutes, or until it has thickened slightly.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the cranberries, and cook until they are soft but not popped. Molly states that she knows they’re ready when she “hear(s) one or two of them pop; that’s a good indicator that most of them must be getting pretty soft.” Add the ginger and cherries, stir well, and remove from the heat. Cool completely before serving. The chutney will thicken considerably as it cools.

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End note: I have been asked many times about the photography featured in this blog. Aside from three pictures, they are mine. One such exception is the canned cranberry sauce featured in this post. I considered trying to recreate the photo but ultimately resisted for two reasons. I love this picture for its simplicity – I can almost hear the “thwack” as the entire contents of the can hit the surface, ejecting small drops of moisture far and wide. And I could not, in all honesty, imagine being able to reproduce it. Secondly, I just wasn’t up for eating the jellied mass once done with the photo shoot. And Adam was nowhere in sight…