Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Week to Remember

Hard to believe that it has been a week since I posted, but such a delightful week!

On Monday we drove to Marin Co. and picked up friends visiting from Australia, then had three wonderful days with them exploring Sonoma County, visiting the Artistry in Wood exhibit at the Museum, eating wonderful veggies from our garden (including the Caprese salad shown above) and a memorable dinner at GTO's in Sebastopol. Wed. morning the oral surgeon said his work had succeeded so my teeth may stay in my head longer :)

Thursday and Friday I worked the whole day and we had record heat in the triple digits and humidity, so I was beat...delicate flowers from Ireland (by heritage) tend to wilt in extreme heat.

Yesterday we were at SFO picking up the Hand Sister. Dinner was at our local sushi place since we all adore sushi and sashimi. There was a gathering of restored old cars where we parked so we enjoyed looking at beautiful autos from the 30s through the 70s. Today the Hand Sister goes to the East Bay to have fun with old friends and Sweetie and I will be back to our dull normal life (Ha!).

Food posting will be coming soon, I promise.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's Not Campbell's Tomato Soup

When I'm feeling energetic, I turn to the garden and the kitchen to have some fun. It's tomato time! Yesterday I picked about 5 pounds of tomatoes...they are finally ripening...and today I was determined to cook with some of them. I asked Sweetie what tomato dishes he likes and he said he hadn't had tomato soup for a while. That was all it for lunch we had my version of fresh tomato soup.

First off I boiled a big pot of water and, four at a time, let the tomatoes blanch, then scooped them out with a slotted spoon into a colander, then ran cold water over them to stop them from cooking. The skins came right off once I removed the core at the stem end. Fresh off the vine tomatoes smell so wonderful!

Here are the peeled tomatoes, looking a little slimy.

Next I thinly sliced a couple of smallish yellow onions

and minced some garlic.

The onion was sauteed first, then the garlic added for the last minute. The tomatoes and their juices went in on top of the onion mixture. The acid in the tomatoes helped me deglaze the pan and all those browned onion bits added to the intense flavor of the soup. I used a can of low sodium chicken broth, about 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and a tablespoon of minced fresh basil.

All of this simmered together for a few minutes. Next I took an immersion blender and blended the soup right in the pot until it was smoother. Some of the onion stayed as long strands, but I liked that, plus the occasional small chunk of fresh tomato. About 1/3 cup of cream was added and once that was just heated, I ladled it into bowls and garnished it with some more fresh basil (did I tell you that the basil is growing like weeds?) and served it up with a few crackers.

Sweetie was delighted with the fresh tomato soup. The color may have been like the Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup we remembered from childhood, but the flavor was much stronger, full of the tang of fresh tomatoes, basil and black pepper, smoothed out just a bit by the cream.

Don't wait for winter for Tomato Soup. Have some now while the tomatoes are ripe and juicy. Use the air conditioner if it is too hot for soup, but do try this recipe!

By the way, today I joined a friend and we went to see the movie Julie and Julia. If you are a food blogger you will love it! If you read food blogs you may miss the occasional nuance, but you will probably also love it. If you have always loved Julia Child as I have, you will be thrilled. If the first Julia Child recipe you ever made was Boeuf Bourguignon, which is my experience, there will be instant rapport with all three women who make it...and you'll have to see the movie to find out who the third woman is and why that is important.

I especially liked that marriage and the support of husbands was given a big part to play in this movie. Sweetie makes it possible for me to blog; by his support and encouragement, by giving me space and time to write and photograph (even as the food gets cold) and by being an enthusiastic consumer of what I cook and bake and by telling everyone about my blog. He is surely the butter on my bread.

Fresh Tomato Soup
Makes 2 generous servings

1 large or two small yellow onions, peeled, ends trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 - 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, skin removed, cored, diced, keeping juices
1 can chicken broth or 2 cups fresh chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1/3 cup cream or 1/2 and 1/2
basil to garnish, if desired

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute' the onions in the olive oil about 5 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and saute another minute, stirring often.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes, stirring to deglaze the pan. Add the chicken broth, salt and pepper and basil and simmer 5 minutes, uncovered.

With a stick blender, regular blender, food processor or food mill, process the soup to make it smoother. (I like mine a little chunky, so I didn't blend it totally smooth.) Return to pot (if necessary) and add the cream. Heat over low heat until heated through.

Serve in soup bowls. Garnish with a basil leaf or chopped basil, if desired.

Friday, August 21, 2009

More Peaches...With Blueberries

I confess. These cute little tartlettes were made weeks ago when blueberries were at the peak of ripeness and peaches were just starting to ripen. Life got in the way of sharing the recipe with you, but in many places there are still peaches and blueberries to be found and baked with!

For the crust, use your favorite pie crust recipe. You can use the ready make kind (I'm partial to the Pillsbury kind, especially now that they come in a roll instead of folded) or make the dough yourself. I have included my Mom's recipe for 2 Crust Pie Pastry if you'd like to try making your own.

My Dad loved pies above all other desserts. One of the first things I learned to make from scratch was a good pie crust. Pie pastry is made with very simple ingredients...flour, salt, water and shortening. The technique is the key to flaky pie crusts. My Mom had me read the how to section in the Fannie Farmer cookbook which explained not only what to do but why.
Key points include having all ingredients cold, using a light hand in cutting the fat into the flour, and also to use ice water, not just cold water, and to sprinkle the ice water into the flour mixture a tablespoon at a time (using a fork) so that you gradually moistened the dough. As each portion is dampened with the ice water, you push it aside. Even so over mixing is discouraged, so you can imagine how daunting the prospect was for beginning baker! The good news is that once you figure out just how to do it and how much ice water the flour needs to make a flaky dough, you don't forget how to do it. Maybe one day the Daring Bakers will have a challenge that includes making pie dough by hand.

These little tarts taste great with either peaches or nectarines. You could substitute blackberries for the blueberries, too. The crystal sugar sprinkled on the top of the pastry not only looks pretty, but adds a textural contrast that is a perfect complement to the soft, juice baked fruit.

2 Crust Pie Pastry
(Use half the amounts for one crust, or make two and save the second crust dough for your next single crust pie)

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
ice water - have ½ cup or more ready
¾ cup shortening

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut shortening into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water, a tablespoon at a time, over mixture, stirring gently with a fork until all flour is moistened (usually 6 – 8 tablespoons). Press dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill before rolling out. Divide dough into two pieces. (Some like to divide the dough and then wrap each in plastic wrap, flattening into discs before chilling.)

Roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface until it is slightly larger than the pie tin.
Makes 1 2-crust pie or 2 pie shells.

Peach Blueberry Tarlettes

1 recipe for 2-Crust Pie Pastry
5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 pint fresh blueberries, wash, picked over and drained
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk
2 - 3 tablespoons sanding sugar...larger crystal sugar if possible

Roll out the pastry and cut three discs from each crusts worth of pastry. I have a 5 inch in diameter cookie cutter ring, but you can also cut around a small plate's rim.
Place the 6 discs on a parchment or silicon baking mat lined baking sheet. Gather the remaining dough and use for another purpose. (We used to roll out again, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then cut into fingers and bake along with the pie, removing as soon as they were browned around the edges. Eating them made it easier to wait until after dinner for the pie.)

In a medium bowl, combine the peaches, blueberries, flour, sugar, and nutmeg. Spoon the filling into the center of each disc, making sure to leave an inch of dough uncovered all around the edge of each disc. Divide the filling among the discs as evenly as possible.

Have a small bowl of water nearby. Using clean hands, pull the edges of the pastry, on each disc in turn, toward the center, pleating as needed and moistening the dough surface as needed to have the pleats stick together.

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the milk on the top of each pastry, then sprinkle with sanding sugar. (This step is optional, but makes a nice textural contrast and is pretty. I didn't have any sugar when I did these tartlettes, but I have used it in the past and recommend it.)

Bake tartlettes in preheated 400 degree F. oven for 15-20 minutes, or until pastry is browned and flaky.

Serve warm or cooled. Nice with whipped cream or ice cream garnish.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Peaches and Blackberries

A taste combo of summer that has been a favorite since I was a child is the duo of peaches and blackberries. Ripe juicy peaches have a sweetness and tang that marries well with the strongly berry taste of blackberries. When heated, like in a cobbler or pie, the berries burst, releasing their juices, which color the peaches with a magenta tinge. The peaches soften with heat and their flavor mellows, too. You can make this with either white or yellow peaches or with white or yellow nectarines.

One of my summer memories includes peaches. After going to a U-Pick orchard and bringing home bushels of ripe peaches right off the trees, the whole family would prepare them, either by canning (when I was younger) or by freezing (when I was older and we had bought a stand along freezer). A huge pot of boiling water was used to blanch the fruit so that the skins would slip right off. My job was to take the still hot peach, slip off the skin, and slice it with the fruit going into a bowl of acidulated water and the pits going in the trash. Later my Mom and Dad would mix the sliced fruit with sugar and pectin for jam or with a sugar mixture for canning or freezing or for pie filling. I helped ladle the fruit into the canning jars or freezer containers.

The same jobs I helped with were also done by my sisters and brothers once they were old enough to work with hot fruit. A whiff of hot peaches brings back a visual of me sitting at the newspaper covered table with peach juice dripping down my arms. Remembering that it was also usually humid and 90+ degrees, you might understand that this isn't exactly a treasured memory, even though I did enjoy those peaches later in the year.

Peach and blackberry cobbler is an old fashioned favorite dessert. Over the weekend I visited Natasha and took along a cobbler to share after lunch. Because I was tired (turns out I have a strong allergic/asthmatic reaction to this time of year in our area ;) I used packaged Bisquick to make the cobbler. I added a little sugar and some ground cardamom and nutmeg to the biscuit batter and sprinkled almonds on the top. It looked wonderful and tasted even better. Soft, warm, sweet peaches and fresh off the brambles (right before being baked) blackberries were surrounded by the cobbler mixture, which soaked up their juices. We topped dishes of the cobbler with a froth of whipped cream (but I had left my camera at home, so no photos) which finished them off nicely.

As you can see by the date of the post, it has taken a while to finish this. Today is Thurs, Aug. 20. Have had a cough for a couple of weeks so went to see the doctor Monday afternoon. Turns out I have a seasonal allergy that is causing the cough, some wheezing, and fatigue. Fortunately the fog returned the next day and each evening since, so a lot of the pollens that were giving me trouble at least get taken out of the air at night. I'm feeling much more myself...less tired and not as cranky, either. Maybe I'll get this post finished before it is September :)

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler
serves 6-8

8-9 ripe peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 pint blackberries, washed and drained or patted dry
2 cups Bisquick (I used the low fat version)
1 cup low fat milk ( or more if needed...the batter should pour)
1 -2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 inch cake pan or use a cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, combine the peaches slices and the blackberries. Pour them into the prepared pan.

In a mixing bowl stir together the Bisquick and milk. Add the sugar and spices and mix just until combines. Batter should be thin enough to just pour.

Pour the batter over the fruit. Spread to cover the fruit.

Optional: Sprinkle top with a tablespoon or two of sliced almonds.

Bake in preheated oven 20 - 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

Serve warm, with ice cream, or whipped cream or pour some cream over.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sweet, Light and Orange Cake

Times with family are such a delight and I especially enjoy Sweetie's family. Yesterday we had the treat of combining a gorgeous day in a bright, sunny San Francisco with both a picinic in Golden Gate Park and a delicious coppino dinner at Sweetie's sister's beautiful home.

His niece, her husband and their lovely daughters were visiting from Tennessee. It was fun to catch up with them and what is happening in their lives, plus we took the opportunity to join them in exploring the new Natural History building, including the cute penguins and the living roof (covered with regional drought tolerant plants). We also had the treat of seeing Sarah, Straight Shooter Man, and Sweetie's sister and her charming husband (who makes a superb cup of coffee).

Since this was a triple birthday celebration I brought a cake. Since the cake had to sit in the trunk of the car for a while, buttercream and chocolate and such were not an option. It helped that I had a request for something light and orange flavored.

Marion Cunningham had the perfect recipe in her book The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. For years I didn't have a plain tube pan since I never make angel food cakes, but a few months ago I found one at a thrift store for $1. It even has a removable bottom and those cute little "feet" for cooling the cake upside down.

With a great recipe and the right pan, the rest is easy. Eggs are separated, orange zest shaved off the oranges with my trusty microplane grater, oranges juiced and the juice strained through a fine mesh strainer, flour measured and sifted twice with salt, some of the sugar put in a bowl and half the zest rubbed into the sugar ( a trick from Dorie Greenspan), and then the fun begins with the whites beaten with some of the the sugar until firm but still a bit droopy.

In another bowl the yolks get beaten until lemon colored, then the rest of the zest and the juice is added and sugar and zested sugar. I used a hand whisk to stir the sifted drifts of flour, a little at a time, into the yolks, then switched back to the machine whisk to add the first part of the beaten whites. The last part is folding in the rest of the whites with a spatula, down the center, to the bottom, up the side, then turn the bowl a bit, repeat, repeat, repeat just until the whites combine with the batter but are still full of air. The air helps it to rise...see rose pretty well!

I must admit I was a bit nervous since I don't usually make this kind of cake (I like those dense crumbed chocolate cakes the best), especially since we wouldn't know how it turned out until I was slicing and serving at the birthday dinner. When I turned the cake over to rest and cool on those little legs, I was sure the whole thing would fall out of the pan and deflate! Fortunately that didn't happen, the cake came out of the pan just fine, high and light, and the orange glaze added just the right touch of sweetness and fancy.

We served each slice with some of our locally grown, small and sweet and delectable strawberries. The combination was great and all the berries were eaten before I got a photo, so here it is garnished with grapes!

As you can see the crumb is light but much firmer than an angel food cake (because of the yolks). The sweetness is offset by the tang of the orange zest. All in all a lovely cake. Give it a try while fresh berries are around. It would be equally good with blueberries or blackberries.

Fresh Orange Sponge Cake
The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup egg whites (about 8)
1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
2 tablespoons grated orange rind (orange part – zest only), divided
1/3 cup egg yolks (about 6)
1/3 cup strained freshly squeezed orange juice
Orange Glaze (recipe follows)

Have all ingredients at room temperature!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Take ¼ cup of the sugar and put into a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the zest and rub them together with your fingers until thoroughly combined.

Combine the flour and salt and sift them together twice; set aside. Put the egg whites into a large mixing bowl and beat until foamy. Gradually add ½ cup of the sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff but moist, and stand in peaks that droop slightly when the beater is lifted.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until they have thickened slightly, then slowly add the remaining ½ cup sugar and the sugar-zest combo, and continue beating until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored. Add the remaining orange rind and the orange juice and blend well.

Sift the flour over the yolk mixture, and stir gently until smooth, with no drifts of flour visible. (I used a hand held whisk and sifted in some flour, whisked it gently, some more flour, whisked it gently, and so on instead of putting all the flour in at once.)

Gently stir one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter. (I used the whisk attachment and the stand mixer, only mixing until the whites were barely into the batter. Then I took the bowl away from the mixer and used a silicon spatula to finish folding in the whites.) Pour the remaining whites on top, and fold them into the yolk mixture, cutting down in the center with the spatula, taking it to the bottom and up the side of the bowl, then turning the bowl a bit and repeating until smooth and blended.

Spread the batter evenly in an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a straw inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and invert it. If it has little feet, invert onto those. If not, invert over a wine bottle or similar bottle with a thin neck.

Let cool completely before removing from the pan. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the Orange Glaze. Let glaze harden before serving. Marvelous with fresh berries.

Orange Glaze
1 1/3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange rind (orange part – zest only)

Put the sugar in a medium bowl. Add the orange juice and zest and stir briskly until smooth and well blended. Pour or spoon over the cake once it is cool. (I poured, using a spatula to spread the glaze over the top of the cake and letting it drip down the sides.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Heirloom Lemon Cucumbers

Until I bought the seed packets a few years ago I had no idea that lemon cucumbers were considered heirloom veggies.

When we first move to the farm a neighbor brought over some that she had grown and they seemed very strange to me...about the size of a baseball but shaped and colored a bit like a lemon. They have a very refreshing cucumber flavor, a nice crisp crunch and are really easy to grow from seed. They are also pretty, adding a sunny punch to whatever dish they are added to. You don't even need to remove the skin, so that gives extra health benefits. She said her family had been growing them for years but nothing about the heirloom bit.

All of a sudden I seem to be finding ripe lemon cucumbers in the garden. I planted quite a few plants since the seeds all seemed to sprout and produce fine looking seedlings. The mini heat wave we are having has brought on all kinds of ripening...even the tomatoes are starting to show some color.

Prep is really easy. I washed them off, cut the stem end off, just a little bit, and then cut them into wedges, and halved the wedges. I cut a really large locally grown (although not in my garden)beefsteak tomato into pieces about the same size. The addition of a scallion added bite and the dressing had both balsamic and apple cider vinegar to play off of the olive oil. You could used finely chopped red onion instead of the scallion and add some fresh basil if you have it handy. Summer in a bowl with sweet and savory, soft and crunchy all together.

This salad benefits from some time chilling to let the flavors meld. I like it icy cold, but you could also take it to a picnic because it is OK at room temperature, too.

Anh of a Food Lover's Journey is hosting Herb Blogging Weekend this time. This is my entry and I took the liberty of copying the information so that you can join in the fun if you want to:

Weekend herb blogging this week (10 Aug – 16 Aug): This event was originally created by Kalyn and it is now in the care of Haalo.

Rules of WHB can be read here.

Please send your entry to Anh by:3pm Sunday - Utah Time10pm Sunday - London Time11pm Sunday - Rome Time7am Monday - Melbourne (Aus) Time (times have been adjusted for changes in daylight saving)

Send your post to anhnguyen118[at]gmail[dot]com with the following details:

• Your Name

• Your Blog Name/URL

• Your Post URL

• Your Location

• Attach a photo: 300pix wide

Heirloom Lemon Cucumber Salad with Tomatoes
Serves 2-4

2 – 4 lemon cucumbers
1 – 2 large tomatoes (heirlooms if you have them)
1 scallion (green onion), chopped, including the green parts
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Optional but good – chopped fresh basil

Cut the lemon cucumbers into bite sized pieces. Cut the tomatoes in bite sized pieces.

In a salad bowl, combine the lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, and scallions. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the two vinegars, then whisk the olive oil into the vinegar mixture in a thin stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and stir to mix well. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours to let the flavors combine.

Serve chilled.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Remembering Max

Ten years ago today my son Max would have turned seventeen. He never made it that far due to an auto accident almost a month before. He is missed every day, but on his birthday I celebrate the time we were blessed to have him in our lives. This is not a sad day now, but one to remember the good times.

If you didn't know him, the images above might not make much sense. I'll talk a bit about each, starting at the left. It's a food...and this is a food blog (mostly).

He loved blackberries from an early age. Once we moved to our farm, he and his friends would make what he called feasts. They took grape leaves from the vines by the driveway

and mounded them with blackberries from the vines by the chicken house, added Gravenstein apples from those trees and a few walnuts if they had ripened before the blackberries finished being ripe.

The next image is a saxophone. He played on in middle school, but switched to the trombone in high school because there were too many saxophone players. Music was a big part of his life...from zero period jazz band at 6 am to regular band classes and a love of all kinds of music which he played with an early MP3 player.

He had to get a work permit to work at Crown Books the summer between freshman and sophomore years of high school because he wasn't old enough to work. Because he loved books, got to work with college kids, including college girls, and because once he dressed up in a dress shirt and tie people treated him as if he were older, he very much enjoyed his job at the book store. Once they learned that he was a whiz with computers, they had him not only updating their computer files, but ordering all the computer books for that section. Quite a lot of responsibility for someone barely 15.

The next image is for Star Wars, one of his favorite movie series. He would be thrilled to learn that one of his school buddies is now working on a Star Wars TV show down in Marin.

Sweetie called Max and Xam kennel mates because they slept together for years until they both got to be too large to easily share a twin bed. (There is a cute photo of the two of them asleep in the photo collage below.) His friends called Xam the anti-Max because Xam is Max spelled backwards. They were best buds.

Soccer was a big part of his life from about age 5 until age 14. He played travel club soccer for the last seven of those years. He started as a striker, but found in later years that he loved defense.

The computer was such an important part of his life that it is hard to explain it. He was in 4th grade when he received a Casio watch which had a tiny keyboard. He used it to keep track of his assignments and used the timer feature to remind him when recess was almost over. There was always a computer in the house since Sweetie was an early user at home as well as at work. Early programs that he enjoyed included a story writer one and a math drill one.

He was still in middle school when he and two other friends did a web site for Traditional Medicinals for a good fee. He was on the Internet as early as one could be and not work for the military or government. At one point I heard him laughing while he and a friend were on so I went to see what they were up to. They were on the Internet telling someone that they were PC salesmen. I asked how old they had portrayed themselves as and was told 26. I guess 26 seemed old when you were 12. By the time he died, Max had 30 college credits in Computer Science. Many of his friends work in the field these days. Seeing as they all came here and did all night computer parties where they networked their computers to play games (around 1997 - 1999) I'm not too surprised.

The background is of the beach at Bodega Bay...a favorite place, especially when he was in high school.

A few of his favorite things...and happy memories for me.

How Max looked at many ages. Unlikely as it might be, if you remember him from one of the photos, do leave a comment talking about it.

As you can see, baking has been part of family life for a long time. making Christmas cookies together, especially the decorated kind was a true tradition. Coloring Easter eggs was another, and picking out and then carving Halloween pumpkins was an annual family adventure.

Max had a very good sense of taste and enjoyed trying new foods. From the time he could walk he would take walks with his Dad in the neighborhood. At this time of year he would show up after the walk with a face smeared with blackberry juice and juice purpled fingers...and a big smile. After he learned a song at pre-school about artichokes, we had to have them, including different things to dip the cooked leaves in like melted butter and mayonnaise. He had a life long love of artichokes. Later, on a trip to Seattle, he tried snow crab and that became a special treat when we could find it. The same thing happened with lobster and blue crab...tried 'em on trips and would eat them as often as possible after that. When we went to Victoria, BC we tried a number of clam chowders, finally deciding that Pellikanos had the best one. Returning home we had to try local clam chowders to see if any were as good.

A couple of summers before his last one we did some food tastings that I planned. First I had him try regular Kraft grated Parmesan cheese, then some grated domestic Parmesan cheese, then some of the real deal Parmesan-Reggiano from Italy. He was blown away when he tasted the third one all by itself. He had enjoyed it often since it was what I cooked with whenever possible, but tasting it by itself, especially in comparison to the other two helped him understand how important good ingredients can be. We did the same sort of thing with dark chocolates and maple syrups. A fun experience!

Some people don't enjoy foods they have to work to picking crab or walnuts ...and others do. Max and his grandad Max both did and one or two times they got to enjoy it together as here, where they are picking the meats of walnuts from our trees.

Strangely enough, since he enjoyed new foods, he also enjoyed food routines. I'm pretty sure he packed the exact same lunch each day during 4th and 5th grades, with no variations. He loved popcorn and that was a favorite after school snack, easily made in the microwave day after day after day. For fast food his favorite places were Burger King and Taco Bell. His favorite soda was Pepsi. We had lots of Burger King and Taco Bell meals while doing that club soccer thing.

More happy memories...and food memories can be really lasting because they usually include the associated fragrances...which are supposed to be very long lasting. Happy food memories to each of you dear readers. Hope these memories spark some of your own.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Today I had a surpise visit from someone I became friends with when I lived in the open ward looney bin that was the City of Berkeley. By now it might be a very sane place. Back then there were mentally ill people wandering the streets, having been released to the community by then Governor Ronald Reagan (before he became President) who felt that mental health was a 'neighborhood problem', which is what it became in time. The politics were a bit nutty, too. Good news is I learned to think crazy which has come in handy in later life more often than one might expect.

It took guts and good will for this friend from long ago to drive up the highway and show up. We have been on the outs for a few years. This is an exceedingly rare thing for me so I've probably behaved badly in the process. Hugs were exchanged and we talked and laughed. I'm glad she came. Sometimes doors you thought you have shut spring open again unexpectedly.

When she arrived I had just begun to make a chicken dish for dinner. This is the kind of dish you can usually make with ingredients that your have on hand in your pantry and freezer. Veggies from your garden or from the market or farmer's market work well in this stew. For seasoning not only did I saute' lots of onions and some celery and chopped carrots, but I added flat leaf parsley, dried sage, rosemary and thyme, plus some pepper. Brought back the old song and that seemed appropriate somehow.

This made a nice stew with lots of veggies, some of which cooked with the chicken and some were added toward the end of cooking. I like my stew with a thickened broth, but you could serve it as is, although it might be more of a stew or chowder that way. With a few slices of the chunky zucchini bread we had a fine, easy meal.

Hope you had a great weekend! My your surprises be as welcome as mine was.

Scarborough Fair Chicken Stew
Serves 4

1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf or Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups chicken broth
4 boneless skiness chicken breasts, cut in large dice (bite sized pieces)
1 large or 2 medium Idaho type potatoes, cut in cubes about 1/2 inch across, peeled if you like
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup fresh or frozen corn off the cob
1 cup fresh or frozen green beans, in bite sized pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
enough flour and water in a slurry to thicken the broth, as desired

Saute' the onions, carrots and celery in the olive oil until the onions are transluscent, about 5 minutes, stirring every so often.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chicken broth, pieces of chicken, cubes of potatoes and broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the point of a sharp knife.
Add the corn, beans, and peas and stir to combine well. Cover and continue to cook another 2-3 minutes, until the beans are almost tender.
If you are thickening your stew, add the slurry and stir well to combine, then keep stirring until the broth thickens and begins to bubble. Serve hot.
You can use more and different vegetables to reflect what you have on hand or in the garden or from the farmer's market, but this combo was very tasty!

Here is the song from the title:

Are you goin to Scarborough fair? parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Without no seams nor needlework, then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to find me an acre of land, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Between the salt water and the sea strand, then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

And to gather it all in a bunch of heather, then she'll be a true love of mine

Are you goin to Scarborough fair? parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Back to Bread Baking

Take a look over at the Bread Baker's Dog for the latest loaf. You might be surprised.

Monday, August 03, 2009

That's One Huge Stuffed Squash!

Despite our best efforts, a giant yellow zucchini grew and grew, hidden by the big squash leaves, and became large enough to stretch from one end to the other, lengthwise, of a half sheet pan. Once these babies get to that size, there are limited ways to use them. One that works well is to stuff them. I'm only showing this blurred photo so you get an idea of how large this sucker was. Even this photo isn't of the whole thing.

Sweetie sliced this yellow behemoth into two along the length of the squash, then removed the seeds from one of the halves. I sliced a bit off the bottom to let it sit a little flatter on the Silpat (silicon baking mat). You can also line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Some of the stuffing always seems to escape the squash, so lining the pan is just smart.

The stuffing sort of came together from things on hand. I found a rice mixture in the pantry. It has wild rice, brown rice, arborio rice and medium grained white rice in it. If I had been smart I would have used all medium grained white rice because the wild and brown rice (an probably the arborio, too) made it pretty chewy, still a problem for me. Sweetie thought that it was a great combo, especially since I had added a half of a sauteed onion and some dried rosemary to it before it cooked, and cooked it using chicken broth for part of the liquid (but it would also taste great if you used vegetable broth).

The meat part was browned ground turkey, just seasoned with some pepper, broken into small pieces after browning. Another addition was spinach. You chop it, steam it, drain the excess liquid out of it and then measure a cup of it. Once the rice, meat, and veg cooled down, I added cottage cheese and feta cheese and an egg. This is one great stuffing! You could also use it to stuff savory turnovers or to make a meat pie or stuff peppers, etc.

Once the stuffing had been stuffed into the squash we added some pine nuts and put the whole thing in to bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

If you wanted this to be vegan, you could replace the turkey with smoked tofu or seitan and leave out the cheeses. I would also increase the spinach amount and maybe even add some corn.

The filling gets nicely crusty on top, the pine nuts brown, and the squash softens. A nice slice of this and a salad is a fine summer meal,

as long as it is cool enough to heat up the oven. I suspect that you might be able to duplicate this dish on the grill, but can't be sure until we try it. Although I didn't look at the recipe, this is reminiscent of the Zucanoes the Molly Katzen wrote about in the Moosewood Cookbook.

Giant Stuffed Squash

One half giant squash ( or 1/2 dozen halved medium zucchini), halved lengthwise, seeds removed to make a shell with some squash left in the shell
2 cups cooked rice (I used a rice mix, but use your favorite rice)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. ground turkey, browned and broken into bite sized or smaller pieces
1 cup chopped, steamed and drained spinach
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup feta cheese, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon pine nuts

Place the squash shell(s) on a large baking sheet, lined with silicon mat, parchment or foil. Set aside.

Mix the cooked rice with the sauteed onion, dried rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. (I used chicken broth for part of the liquid to cook the rice, but all water is fine or you can use vegetable broth.) Set aside to cool.

In a heavy skillet, preferably non-stick, brown the ground turkey, seasoning with pepper to taste, then break up to small pieces. Set aside to cool. When cooled, stir in the rice mixture, the spinach, cottage cheese and feta cheese.

Stuff the squash shell(s) with the turkey mixture, packing the mixture in and mounding it slightly over the top of the shell(s). Sprinkle evenly with the pine nuts.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes to one hour for the large squash, and for 35 to 45 minutes for smaller shells. Squash should be tender when pierced with a sharp knife and top of filling should be brown.

Remove from oven and let sit 2 - 3 minutes, then cut in slices and serve while still hot.

Serves about 5 or 6.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

ButterIrish Pudding?

It's come to this. The only things that are comfortable to eat have to be the consistency of pudding. As the happy owner of Dorie Greenspan's fabulous cookbook, Baking: from my home to yours, I have the means to make that an OK thing. Really, who would have thunk that dental work would give me the excuse needed to make the rich and ravishing Butterscotch Pudding?

The two keys to this recipe are diligent stirring and having a food processor. Check and check. It also helps to have the ingredients. A quick check of the pantry showed that I did have everything, but I forgot to check liquor cabinet (which is actually just a shelf in the corner of the living room amongst the many, many military books that Sweetie has collected). Turns out that the Scotch to make this butterscotch had been used up on the last grilled salmon he made.

It also turns out that Irish whiskey makes a great flavoring for this pudding. Somehow ButterIrish Pudding doesn't have the same ring. It does have a wonderful smoky flavor which reminded me pleasantly of the peat smoke in Cousin M's stove.

Allow enough time to make this gentle dessert and for it to cool for at least 4 hours in the fridge to reach a lovely, silken, mouth filling perfection. If you must gild the lily, a dollop of whipped cream and/or some candied nuts work well. Since I'm still at the soft food stage, I stuck with unadorned pudding. My camera skills also seem to be impaired...darn those drugs...but it was yummy pudding even if pics don't quite reflect that. A little thinner than I had hoped, but I added an extra egg yolk by mistake (can I blame that on the drugs, too?), so not too surprising.

Real Butterscotch Pudding Recipe

Taken from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home To Yours (page 386)
Dorie says, "Here's the real deal--butterscotch pudding made with real butter and real Scotch whisky. It is, as all good puddings must be, smooth, creamy and comforting, but it's also got a little kick, making it anything but a nursery sweet."

• 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
• 3 Tablespoons water
• 1 3/4 cups whole milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1/4 cup cornstarch
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 3 Tablespoons sugar
• 3 large egg yolks
• 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 2 Tablespoons Scotch whiskey (preferably a strong single malt)

Have six ramekins or pudding cups, each holding 4 to 6 ounces 1/2 to 3/4 cup), at hand.

Put the brown sugar and water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stirring and lowering the heat if necessary, boil for 2 minutes. Add 1 and a 1/2 cups of the milk and the cream and bring to a boil--don't worry if, as it's heating, the mixture curdles.

While the milk is heating, put the cornstarch and the salt in a food processor and whir to blend. Turn them out onto a piece of wax paper, put the sugar and egg yolks in the processor and blend for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and pulse just to mix, then add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to blend.

With the machine running, very slowly pour in the hot liquid, process for a few seconds, then pour everything back into the saucepan. Whisk without stopping over medium heat--making sure to get into the edges of the pan--until the pudding thickens and a couple of bubbles burble up to the surface and pop (about 2 minutes). You don't want the pudding to boil, but you do want it to thicken, so lower the heat, if necessary.

Scrape the pudding back into the processor (if there's a scorched spot, avoid it as you scrape) and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter, vanilla and scotch and pulse until everything is evenly blended.

Pour the pudding into the ramekins. If you don't want a skin to form, place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of each pudding to create an airtight seal. Refrigerate the pudding for at least 4 hours.

Makes 6 servings.