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wake-up call

27 December 2011

dj

time to get up, a voice said softly, as one of my counselors drew back a canvas flap of our spaciously appointed platform tent. ok, thanks, i replied. hunkered down in my cozy, bright orange, flannel-lined sleeping bag, i wondered if the temperature inside the tent was even colder than it was outside. irrelevant. it was my early-morning destiny to get up before the rest of my campmates and high-tail it down to the dining hall. today, it was my privilege to serve as a hopper.

in stunning camp uniform

fewer girl scout camp chores were more revered than hopper. hoppers set massive dining tables with shiny silverware and sparkling glasses. they neatly stacked plates, positioning them strategically in front of where the head of the table would reign supreme. and they ensured that serving spoons, condiments (like real maple syrup and homemade jams) and pitchers of icy water were at the ready. most importantly, when the cooks had piled serving dishes high with hot food, hoppers were poised to swiftly and gracefully move the delicious fare from kitchen to table.

i unzipped my sleeping bag and gingerly put my feet on the cold wooden planks. shivering, with lips the color purple, i threw on a sweatshirt, shorts and sneakers, cursorily brushed my teeth and speedily hiked to the dining hall. upon arrival, i went about my hopper business. those counselors who didn’t have direct camper responsibility stood on the back porch chatting and drinking cups of steaming-hot coffee. a few of them looked disheveled, as if they’d been up (or out) late the night before. the cooks and their assistants stirred large pots of oatmeal and cream of wheat and scrambled dozens of eggs. they talked and laughed as they fried bacon and flipped pancakes.

i grabbed two metal pitchers and walked down the hill to the pump, where i filled them and tried valiantly not to spill a drop on the return trip. carefully placing them on my table, i stood back to evaluate my work. yes, i was ready. the breakfast bell sounded, and campers and counselors filed into the dining hall. i stood at my post, craning my neck just a little, hoping that two of my favorite counselors would choose to sit at my table. after singing a short grace , it was time for hoppers to jump into action. we maneuvered to the kitchen window, picking up heavy serving dishes and carrying them back to our designated tables. there, sitting at the left hand of a favorite counselor, i watched my table like a hawk, fetching and refilling to give the best possible service. i loved every minute of it. when other campers weren’t elated with their assigned hopper kapers, i happily volunteered to take their places. i’ve been hanging out in the kitchen ever since.

if you’re looking for a speedy breakfast treat, try these lemon pancakes. a little more upscale, perhaps, than we may have been served at camp. but the huckleberry compote isn’t out of the realm of New Hampshire girl scout cuisine.

lemon pancakes with huckleberry compote
a variation on a Emeril LaGasse recipe
makes enough pancakes for four


INGREDIENTS

for the compote
2 cups huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or corn starch)
2 tablespoons water

for the pancakes
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 cup organic buttermilk
1 large organic egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into tablespoons
confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a saucepan over medium heat, combine huckleberries, lemon juice and sugar.
  2. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook the berries for 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. in a small bowl, dissolve the tapioca flour into the water.
  4. slowly add the tapioca mixture to the huckleberries, and stir until thickened.
  5. set aside and keep warm.
  6. in a small mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  7. in a medium mixing bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and 2 tablespoons of melted butter until completely incorporated.
  8. add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and whisk until slightly smooth; retain some lumps.
  9. fold the lemon zest into the batter and let rest for a few minutes.
  10. in a skillet or griddle, melt a few tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
  11. to form each pancake, pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet.
  12. cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the batter bubbles, and the pancake is golden brown.
  13. continue to add butter and cook pancakes until you’re out of batter!
  14. serve by sprinkling pancakes with confectioners’ sugar.
  15. place a generous dollop of compote on each serving.

an alternative: serve the pancakes topped with fresh raspberries or blackberries.

little bird love letter

20 November 2011

dj

after a year, i still can’t believe my mom is gone. it just feels like she’s back in New England, and we’ll be seeing each other again soon.

i spent this weekend doing those things we enjoyed together. with Tootie in tow, we began our journey at a local nursery, progressed to mom’s favorite shopping mall and stores, grabbed a bite of Asian fusion. we bought the ingredients to make her favorite meals: my top-secret chile recipe, lamb rib chops with roasted herb fingerlings and bacon-laden brussel sprouts, perfect northwest mac and cheese. i cooked all of it, and  we raised our glasses to toast her.

the truth is, in the year since mom’s passing, there have been more downs than ups (reminds me of the Upson Downs schtick in Auntie Mame, which we watched countless times). sometimes i call her to let her  know i’m on the way home. sometimes i make way too much food. sometimes i just stand in her room, breathing in the essence that lingers in the air. always, i set a place for her at the table.

i’ve found solace and joy in shaping pie dough and in tweaking new baked-goods’ recipes. i remember how mom’s face would light up with an adorable expression when she tasted something she thought was mmmmm (translation: yummy). the very last thing i baked for mom elicited that kind of enthusiasm: a cinnamon roll based on a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Cafe.

mom and i had seen Boston-based Chef Chang on an episode of Food Network‘s Throwdown (her sticky buns whooped Bobby Flay’s, btw). mom was thrilled that Chang’s bakery was in Bean Town. i was thrilled with the anticipation of  exploring an amazing sticky bun recipe. i immediately placed an order for Chang’s soon-to-be printed cookbook. (if you’re looking for a well-written, conversational baking book, with delicious fare, flour is definitely it. would highly recommend as a must-have.)

as part of my homage to mom (who at 80-plus still remembered her high school French), you’ll find the recipe for little bird cinnamon rolls here.

today, might head down to Pike Place Market, grab some chai at Starbuck’s original storefront, and pick up a rhubarb or white chocolate and cherry piroshky. wherever i go, i’ll be missing you, little bird.

little bird cinnamon rolls
makes 8 healthy-size rolls 

INGREDIENTS 

for the dough (based on Joanne Chang’s basic brioche)
2 1/4 cups organic all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cold water
5 eggs
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons euro butter, at room temperature, cut into 12 pieces

for the filling
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 tablespoon melted butter
1/3 cup dried currants (optional)

for the frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons honey (modify this based on your desired sweetness level)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)

DIRECTIONS

  1. butter a large bowl; set aside.
  2. in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water and eggs.
  3. using the dough hook, beat the ingredients on low speed, until they come together, around 5 minutes. (scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed.)
  4. after the dough has come together, continue to beat for another 4 minutes; the dough will be dry/stiff.
  5. on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time; make sure the butter has been incorporated  into the dough, before you add another piece.
  6. once all the butter has been added, beat on low for 10 minutes, until all the butter has become one with the dough.
  7. after the butter is thoroughly incorporated, beat on medium speed for another 15 minutes, until the dough is soft and shiny. this takes a while, so be patient and vigilant; it will happen.
  8. with the dough in its now-smooth and shiny state, beat on medium-high for 1 minute, until the dough, when tested, stretches and can give a little.
  9. gather up the dough and place in the large bowl.
  10. cover with plastic wrap (so it’s touching the surface of the dough).
  11. place in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight to proof. (i do the latter, then get up in the morning and move to the next step, so we have fresh rolls for breakfast.)
  12. butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish; set aside.
  13. in a medium bowl, mix the dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cloves, salt and 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, until it becomes a sort of paste; set aside.
  14. on a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12 x 16-inch rectangle, 1/4-inch thick.
  15. with a brush (i use silicon), spread the 1/2 tablespoon butter over the surface of the dough.
  16. evenly spread the filling paste over the entire surface of the dough, pressing down gently with your hand.
  17. sprinkle on the currants, if using, then press in gently.
  18. beginning with the short side of the dough, roll tightly to create a spiral with the filling.
  19. pinch very gently to seal the log.
  20. even the ends of the dough log, by trimming with a bench scraper.
  21. cut log into 8 even pieces, around 1 1/2 inches wide.
  22. evenly space the rolls in the baking dish, and cover with plastic wrap.
  23. let the dough rise in a warm place for around 2 hours or until they’re touching and puffy.
  24. preheat oven to 350F.
  25. bake the rolls on the middle rack until golden brown (this takes only 22 minutes in my oven), around 30 minutes.
  26. while the rolls are baking, prepare the frosting.
  27. with a hand mixer fitted with a beater attachment, mix the cream cheese until it’s fluffy.
  28. add the honey and vanilla paste, and continue to beat until smooth and completely incorporated; set aside.
  29. let the rolls cool in the baking dish for 20 minutes (so the frosting doesn’t completely melt, when you spread it on).
  30. spread the frosting over the tops of the rolls.

serve with a good cup of coffee (or tea, of course). crank up the Ink Spots Java Jive, and kick back. coming at you, ma, Air Mail Special. love you always.

snack redefined

18 October 2011

dj

at the onset of this year’s late summer, our property transformed into Watership Down. rabbits of all sizes converged to scamper and graze on freshly mown grass and tasty (from what i’ve heard) green offshoots. the young rabbits hid timidly behind bushes and boulders, as i ushered the dogs out the front door for a trot around the yard; the elders briefly looked up, then boldly continued to munch on their greens. this rabbit dance went on for months. then, the first cold snap arrived, and the population went underground. oh, every now and then i see a little cottontail scurrying into the woods. but for the most part, it’s a ghost town. well, until the hootenanny.

it began last Friday night, when a great horned owl announced he’d moved into the hood. every night (and all night) since, he’s proclaimed his presence. it doesn’t take great intellect or insight to ascertain why owl arrived and how our homey little habitat came to be advertised by the Welcome Wagon.

in the summer of 2010, our human neighbor to the north and west started demolishing trees. not just underbrush, but full-size cedars, alders and cottonwoods. day and night. crash. boom. earth- and ear-shattering thuds. soon, the summer ended, peace was  restored and the rainy season began. i prayed his big heavy, yellow equipment would rust. five or so inches of water sat on top of the grass i’d babied for the previous five years. the disruption to soil caused water to drain like a babbling brook across the gently sloping backyard. with the arrival of spring came birds. i felt like i was in a Hitchcock film. summer brought more bulldozing (who would have imagined the eight acres next door still had any trees left?). more rabbits. woodpeckers. mice. moles. wait, where were the locusts?? oh, that must be what’s on tap for next summer.

today, i’m putting out the welcome mat for owl. and i giddily hope the human neighbor who completely disrupted the habitat will be the big bird’s first snack.

speaking of snacks, here’s a treat that’s great any time of year. i made it this summer with loganberries and with huckleberries (i’ve never had fresh huckleberries; they were awesome!!). it’s not too sweet. delicious for breakfast or a late-night bite. woo-hooooooo.

Classic Buttermilk Coffee Cake
a very slight variation on a recipe from molly katzen’s sunlight cafe 

INGREDIENTS
organic everything

for the fruit
2 cups fruit (i use berries or rhubarb)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

non-stick spray or a tablespoon of melted butter

for the batter
1/2 cup (1 stick ) butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk

for the topping
use 1/3 of this topping recipe OR
1/3 of this topping recipe  OR
no topping at all

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a small bowl, toss the 2 cups fruit, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon flour; set aside.
  2. preheat the oven to 350F (metal) or 325F (glass).
  3. spray or butter an 8-inch round or square pan; set aside.
  4. in the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for several minutes at high speed.
  5. add the sugar, and beat for several minutes longer.
  6. add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, then beat in the vanilla.
  7. in a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda; slowly mix together with a whisk.
  8. add the dry ingredients in 3 installments to the butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk; begin and end with the dry ingredients.
  9. after each addition, use a spatula to stir from the bottom of the bowl just enough to blend. be sure not to over mix!
  10. transfer 1/2 the batter to the prepared pan, and spread evenly.
  11. spread the fruit mixture evenly over the batter.
  12. add the second half of batter to the pan, and spread evenly.
  13. sprinkle your topping of choice over the batter.
  14. bake the cake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted all the way into the center comes out clean.
  15. cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

whoopie – Winnie turns 98!

5 September 2011

dj

today, Winnie the English bull terrier turns 98. that’s 14 in people years. she’s as spirited and demanding as she was at three months, when she first became a member of our family. yeah, sometimes she forgets things. like why she was walking down the hallway. but who doesn’t? she’d rather snatch a little nap before dinner, instead of gnawing on some rubbery-tasting toy. but who wouldn’t? and if she can look pitiful and manipulate someone into giving her part of his/her dinner, well, who could blame her?

Winnie spent the afternoon sunning on the deck and taking a spritely jaunt around the yard. tonight we’re serving her an appetizer of flax treats, followed by a course of organic dog chow sprinkled with pieces of  organic flank steak. for dessert? a slurp of vanilla ice cream. only a slurp, so she can retain her girlish figure. she’ll be in bed by 7:00. but who wouldn’t, after such a glorious day?

the humans took their hats off to Winnie by baking and consuming a few too many whoopie pies; you’ll find the delightful recipe below.

many happy returns of the day, pumpkin! my life and cherry coffee table wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Chocolate Whoopie Pie with Mint Buttercream Filling
a variation on a recipe found in whoopie pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell
a really cool whoopie pie cookbook 

makes about 40 2-inch cakes = 20 2-inch whoopie pies

INGREDIENTS

for the cakes
1 2/3 cups organic all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (i use Scharffen Berger)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons organic butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons organic vegetable shortening (i use Spectrum)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

for the filling
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons organic butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  3. in a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  4. in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, shortening and brown sugar on low speed until just combined.
  5. increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes.
  6. add the egg and vanilla; beat for another 2 minutes.
  7. add half the flour mixture and half the buttermilk to the batter in the work bowl and beat on low until incorporated.
  8. scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  9. add the remaining flour mixture and the last 1/2 cup of buttermilk, then beat until completely combined.
  10. using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop, drop the batter one tablespoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cakes at least 2 inches apart.
  11. bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until the cakes spring back when pressed gently.
  12. remove from the oven, and let the cakes cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
  13. to make the filling, in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the confectioners’ sugar and the butter, beginning on low and increasing to medium speed, until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute.
  14. add the heavy cream, vanilla, mint extract and salt.
  15. beat on high until smooth, about 3 minutes.
  16. to assemble the cakes, spread the filling onto the flat side of one of the cakes using a knife, spoon or pastry bag with a round tip to pipe the filling.
  17. top with another cake, flat-side down.
  18. repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling.
down cakes with a tall glass of icy-cold whole milk.

ode to tomatoes

16 August 2011

dj

thick, juicy slices of deep red summer tomatoes
artfully sprinkled with sea salt
dribble down our chins
and splash onto shiny gold and white Formica
got napkin?

a summer celebration
begin with a base of zesty pepper – parmesan crust. top it with a layer of light, fluffy chèvre from Bow, Washington’s Gothberg Farms. and then a layer of basil-pecan pesto. finally, a layer of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, roasted low and slow in the oven. that’s the heirloom tomato tart. poetic, indeed.

missing the mother-daughter tomato-eating ritual this summer, ma. can’t say the same for your ’50s-chic Formica.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Tart
a mashup of recipes adapted from epicurious and Ashleigh Rodriguez’s beautiful not without salt blog
makes one 9-inch tart

INGREDIENTS

roast the tomatoes in advance
2 – 3 firm, medium-size heirloom tomatoes (this may leave you with extra slices, but that’s not  a bad thing)
olive oil
sea salt

for the crust 
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 stick good-quality butter, very cold, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups grated parmesan (i use Parrano)
2 tablespoons ice water

for the pesto (this will leave enough left over for pasta!)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pecans (or nuts of your choice)
2/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano, coarsely ground (again, i use Parrano)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups loosely packed, fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

for the rest
8 oz chèvre at room temperature
fleur del sel
freshly cracked pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 225F
  2. cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. slice tomatoes ¼-inch thick; place on baking sheet.
  4. drizzle olive oil lightly over tomatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt.
  5. roast tomatoes for approximately 4 hours or, as Ashleigh instructs, until shriveled around the edge while still maintaining a bit of juice.
  6. refrigerate the tomatoes in a container overnight.
  7. day two, prepare the crust.
  8. in the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, pepper, butter, and cheese, pulsing quickly to get a coarse texture, with some pea-size butter pieces remaining.
  9. with a few speedy pulses, incorporate the ice water until the dough begins to form and sticks together, when pinched between your fingers.
  10. press dough into your tart pan, evenly across the bottom and up until you reach the top of the sides.
  11. chill the dough in the frig for 15 minutes.
  12. preheat the oven to 350F.
  13. remove the tart pan from the frig, and prick a few times with a fork.
  14. cover the tart with non-stick foil, and fill with pie weights or dry beans.
  15. place the tart on a baking sheet, then on the middle oven rack.
  16. bake for 15 minutes.
  17. remove tart from oven, and carefully remove the foil and pie weights (these will be hot!).
  18. return the uncovered tart to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown; let cool completely.
  19. to make the pesto, drop the garlic into a bowl of a food processor and finely chop.
  20. stop the food processor and add nuts, cheese, salt, pepper, and basil; process  until finely chopped.
  21. add lemon juice.
  22. with motor running, add olive oil, blending until incorporated; set aside.
  23. now for assembly!
  24. spread an even layer of chèvre over the surface of the cooled tart shell.
  25. spread an even layer of pesto over the chèvre.
  26. top the chèvre with as many roasted heirloom tomato slices as you deem artistically appropriate.
  27. top with sprinkles of fleur de sel and freshly cracked pepper.
toss on a few basil leaves, and call it good. very good.

strawberry fields and bikes forever

7 August 2011

dj

i didn’t learn to drive until i was 21. while  all my high school friends gleefully participated in drivers’ training, i hiked or biked. on those rare occasions that i needed a lift, my dad, then semi-retired, willingly obliged. i think he was just happy to get out of the house. he shuttled me to Saturday morning football games, where i played piccolo in the marching band. as an undergraduate living in Denver, i relied on my beloved, baby blue Gitane Mixte 10-speed for transportation; she and i were one. even when i got knocked off by a car driving too close to the curb. helmets? back then, we didn’t need no stinking helmets. well, we did. but i don’t think there was any such thing. regardless, we both survived and went on to have many wonderful adventures together. like this one.

soon after i earned my undergraduate degree, i returned to New England. by then, i’d learned to drive. bless my friend Janet for the grace and patience to teach me how to manage a stick. but early on this sunny summer morning, i headed out with a co-worker to pick strawberries. cars? we didn’t need no stinking cars. we hopped on our trusty bicycles, donning knapsacks in which we planned to stow our precious cargo. five miles later, we arrived at the farm.

we began picking berries, gingerly placing them in our baskets. when one basket became full, we grabbed another. we were having so much fun, we hadn’t noticed the temperature had risen. it was hot. and muggy. we paid for the strawberries and went to load our packs. gulp. how were we going to get all of these back to the house?  carefully and strategically, we maneuvered the strawberry containers into the packs and placed the rest in the front basket of Susan’s old touring bike.

the canvas packs, heavily laden with strawberries, slowed our ride. both in great shape, even we gritted our teeth as we pedaled over the hilly streets. of course, we eventually made it back to my parent’s place. packs stuck to our shirts, shirts stuck to our skin. we looked at each other, grinned and unloaded the berries. i gave most of them to Susan, keeping just enough for me, mom and dad. i didn’t bake much then, but wish i had. because i would have been able to make the amazingly rich and flavorful strawberry pie recipe that follows, courtesy of Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

these days, i buy Washington strawberries from local farms. no more pickin’ and haulin’ them home on my bike. i ride when i can, and i still love to feel the wind through my hair. even if it’s through the vents of a Giro.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Strawberry Balsamic Pie
a recipe generously shared by pie goddesses Emily and Melissa Elsen
makes one delicious, 9-inch pie

INGREDIENTS

for the crust (after years of searching, Emily and Melissa’s crust recipe is the best ever)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (two sticks) of good-quality butter, very cold, chopped
1/8 cup of sugar
3/4 tsp spoon salt
1/2 cup (or more if needed) ice water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

for the filling: step one (presoak)
four to six cups of in-season, ripe strawberries, washed and quartered
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt

for the filling: step two
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
a dash or two of Angostura Bitters
several fine grinds fresh black pepper

to prepare the pie pan
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons sugar

for the topping
1 egg
1 tsp heavy cream
1 tablespoon raw sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. whisk together the dry ingredients.
  2. with a pastry blender, combine the dry ingredients with the cold, chopped butter; be careful not to overwork.
  3. combine the ice water and vinegar; slowly add to the butter mixture by hand, being careful not to overwork.
  4. divide the pie dough into two discs, wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
  5. coat the cleaned, sliced strawberries with the 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 tsp salt; let soak for at least one hour, up to 3 hours. (the pre-soak stage will help release some of the juices from the berries and yield a less watery pie.)
  6. after soaking, drain the berries thoroughly and place in a large mixing bowl.
  7. combine the berries with the balsamic vinegar.
  8. add the Angostura Bitters and black pepper.
  9. add the brown sugar and cornstarch; combine gently and set aside.
  10. roll out one disc of dough and place in pie pan.
  11. dust the bottom of the crust with the tablespoon flour and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
  12. using a slotted spoon, scoop the filling from the bowl, allowing each scoop to drain most of its liquid before placing into the pie shell.
  13. continue filling the pie shell until it’s even with the top edge of the pie pan.
  14. roll out the second disc of dough and cut into 7 – 8 strips.
  15. weave the strips on top of the pie, forming a lattice.
  16. preheat oven to 400F.
  17. while the oven is heating, whisk the egg and cream.
  18. with a pastry brush, coat the entire top of the pie with the egg mixture.
  19. sprinkle the top of the pie generously with raw sugar.
  20. place the pie on a cookie sheet (critical step to keeping your oven free from burning pie filling).
  21. bake for 20 minutes at 400F on the bottom oven rack.
  22. reduce heat to 350F, and bake on the middle oven rack for 35 – 45 minutes more, checking for browning throughout the baking process.
  23. if the crust edge begins to brown too much, gently cover the pie with foil.
  24. the pie is done when filling begins to bubble, and the crust is golden brown.

allow to cool before slicing and devouring.

addicted

9 April 2011

dj

i used to walk among the fragrant flowering plum trees that gracefully line my driveway, savoring their aroma and admiring delicate blossoms.

i used to wait with anticipation for the breathtaking tulip fields to set the northwest Washington countryside ablaze with color. i used to welcome spring by grilling fresh, thin asparagus and wild King Salmon, chased by a dense shortcake topped with the season’s first juicy strawberries.

i used to be a person of moderation, content—even happy—to consume small bites.

FUGGEDDABOUTIT.

now there’s nothing. nothing but the intoxicating scent. the buttery, spicy flavor. the chewy, rich, dense texture. i can’t sleep. i can’t stay out of the kitchen, where they’re neatly tucked in an airtight container. i’m addicted. addicted to the most insanely incredible cookies i’ve ever eaten. my ordinarily disciplined existence? completely gone. forever. immense pleasure permeates my entire being. move over Lay’s potato chips: chewy chai-spice sugar cookies give new meaning to no one can eat just one. bake at your own risk.

Chewy Chai-Spice Sugar Cookies

a slight variation on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated
makes 24 cookies (that’s 1/hour, if you exercise restraint)

INGREDIENTS
i use all organic ingredients in these babies

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 heaping teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
1/4 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 heaping teaspoon ground cloves
2 grinds (a generous pinch) black pepper
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil (i use sunflower oil)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350.
  2. line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. in a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  4. in a large bowl, add 1 1/2 cups sugar, cream cheese, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and pepper.
  5. pour warm butter over ingredients, and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain).
  6. whisk in oil until incorporated.
  7. add egg, milk and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth.
  8. add flour mixture, then mix all ingredients with a rubber spatula until a soft, homogenous dough forms.
  9. place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar on a plate.
  10. form the dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each.
  11. with your hands, roll each piece into a ball (should be about the size of a mutant/large walnut).
  12. roll each ball in the plated sugar, then evenly space on the baking sheets.
  13. using the bottom of a drinking glass (or in my case, my hand), flatten the dough balls until they’re each 2 inches in diameter.
  14. sprinkle tops evenly with sugar.
  15. bake, one sheet at a time, for 11 to 13 minutes, rotating after the first 7 minutes.
  16. edges should be set and just beginning to brown. (i actually take them out before the browning phase.)
  17. cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes.
  18. transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

the Italian hurricane

11 October 2010

dj

balancing a stack of hefty textbooks (don’t ask me why we either didn’t use, or hadn’t yet invented, daypacks), i swung open the front door. my glasses immediately steamed, obscuring, in part, what lay ahead. directly to my right, my dad stood at the stove, stirring something in a very large skillet. “hi, dad.” “he-ey,” he replied, with a big grin on his face. then turned his attention back to the frying pan.

as the fog cleared, i gasped: nearly every pot and pan from our cupboards protruded from the kitchen sink. it felt like a nightmare of mammoth proportions. not only would i have to wash and dry all the Revere Ware, my mother would expect me to “Twinkle” (as if it were a verb) the copper bottoms of each piece. i didn’t know anything about cursing back then, but if i had, i would have. i set my books on the kitchen table and gritted my teeth. “so, what are you making,” i asked in as calm a voice as i could muster. “well,” dad said, “spaghetti and meatballs. sausage, onions and peppers. oh, and eggplant.”

with his entire arm, he gestured grandly across the breadth of the stove, where yet even more cookware held his bubbling, spattering and begrudgingly fragrant menu. a first-generation Italian-American, my father loved to spend hours in the kitchen reinterpreting Italian cuisine. his creations were actually quite delicious. but hurricane Gus left a trail of unsurpassed culinary destruction.

after dinner was served—and we were all totally stuffed—my dad washed the dishes, and i dried. i figured he had a little pang of guilt about the sheer volume of cookware he’d used. yeah, i still had to polish the copper-bottomed pots and pans, but i really didn’t mind. that much.

with end-of-summer bounty, including basil, cherry tomatoes and eggplant, i put together this glorious version of eggplant parmesan. fresh, but rich and cheesy, it tastes even better after it sits overnight in the fridge. i think my father would have appreciated my interpretation. he-ey, dad, this one’s for you.

Eggplant Parmesan
a variation based on a Tyler Florence recipe

INGREDIENTS

for the speedy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
3 pints cherry tomatoes, each tomato cut in half
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine (i used a 2007 Subduction Red from Syncline Wine Cellars)
1/2 pound hot italian sausage, browned (optional)
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, whole leaves

for the eggplant
2 medium eggplants (or 4 small eggplants)
olive oil
2 eggs
seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (e.g., Progresso)

for the filling
1 container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/3 cups Parrano cheese, grated (or a combination of Parmesan and Romano cheese)
2 pounds mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup  fresh basil, whole leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.
  2. add the onions and garlic; cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften.
  3. add the tomatoes and bell pepper, and let simmer. tomatoes will begin to break down and pepper will soften.
  4. add the red wine and let it cook down into the simmering tomato sauce.
  5. salt and pepper to taste.
  6. stir in the browned sausage, if you’ve decided to include it, and continue to cook.
  7. stir in the tomato paste to thicken slightly.
  8. just before you remove the sauce from heat, stir in the basil leaves, then set aside.
  9. to prepare the eggplant, crack two eggs in a shallow bowl; season with salt and pepper and beat with a fork to mix.
  10. put the flour in another shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  11. arrange the eggplant, beaten eggs and bread crumbs on a work surface near the stove.
  12. heat about 1/4-inch olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  13. when the oil is hot, dredge several eggplant slices in the egg, then coat them in the bread crumbs.
  14. put as many eggplant in the skillet as will fit comfortably in a single layer and cook until tender and well browned on both sides; drain on paper towels.
  15. cook all of the eggplant slices this way, adding more olive oil to the pan as needed.
  16. stir together the ricotta and 1/2 cup of the Parrano cheese.
  17. stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper.
  18. preheat the oven to 350F.
  19. put the eggplant, ricotta mixture, tomato sauce, the shredded mozzarella cheese and the remaining 3/4 cup grated Parrano cheese on the counter.
  20. grease a 9 x13-inch baking dish with a very light coat of olive oil.
  21. to begin assembly, spoon some of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the baking dish; add a layer of eggplant.
  22. spread  half of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant.
  23. spoon another layer of tomato sauce over the ricotta,  and sprinkle with about one-third of the mozzarella.
  24. repeat the process, then finish with the rest of the eggplant, the rest of the tomato sauce and the rest of the mozzarella.
  25. sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup Parrano.
  26. bake for about 1 hour, until golden and bubbling.

let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

a little slice of heaven

27 September 2010

dj

Les Price, the great sower of all things apple at Jones Creek Farm, observed that i had a penchant for English varieties. i peered into the bags of apples i had just gingerly picked from the orchard: Ellison’s Orange and Cox’s Orange Pippins and gave thought to the 40 pounds of Bramley’s i’d toted home just the weekend before.

i began to delve deeper into my mostly subconscious affinity for all things British : Winnie, the English bull terrier, Elroy, the Old English bulldog, Ralph Vaughn Williams, a recent, torrid love affair with a certain MINI-Cooper, Hidcote lavender, and of course, my beloved friend Alex. yes, an astute assessment on Les’s part and a startling revelation on mine.

bringing it back to the apples, i put up nearly 100 pounds of English varieties. and i knew when i was finally ready to bake, i’d want to dedicate the first pie of the season to Alex. this special pie could not be ordinary, although i venture to say few pies made with these varieties would be considered as such. it had to be spectacular.

a recent segment of Unique Eats on The Cooking Channel had featured Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in Brooklyn, New York. impressed by their creativity, originality, seasonal approach and commitment to local/organic ingredients, i decided to send them a note to request the recipe for their salted caramel apple pie. Emily and Melissa quickly and kindly responded with this perfectly extraordinary culinary tribute to Alex.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ Salted Caramel Apple Pie
a recipe generously shared by Emily and Melissa Elsen…heartfelt thanks

set aside about four hours to tackle the recipe—it will be time well-spent.

INGREDIENTS

for the crust
1 recipe of your favorite (2-crust) all-butter pie crust

for the salted caramel
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (i used salted and cut back slightly on the sea salt)
1/2 cup fresh heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (recommended: Maldon sea salt flakes)

for the filling
4 to 6 lemons
5 to 6 medium to large apples (recommend a mix of varieties, including some tart)
1/3 cup raw sugar (castor, unrefined, large granule sugar)
2 tablespoons flour (to me, it seems like the amount of flour depends upon how juicy your apples are, so increase accordingly. the Bramley’s exude a lot of juice.)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (i increased this to 1/2)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters (i didn’t have this ingredient, so i don’t know what i was missing. perhaps Emily or Melissa can comment, but the pie was wonderful nonetheless.)

for final assembly
1 egg beaten
raw sugar, for sprinkling
1 teaspoon sea salt (flake)

DIRECTIONS

the crust

  1. prepare one 2-crust batch of your favorite all-butter pie crust.
  2. roll the bottom crust to fit a 9-inch pan, and cut the top crust as a lattice, approximately 1-inch in width or as desired.
  3. chill the rolled crust while you prepare the salted caramel and apple filling.

the salted caramel

  1. cook the sugar and water together over low heat until just dissolved.
  2. add the butter and bring to a slow boil; continue cooking at a low boil until the mixture turns a deep, golden brown color, almost copper. important note: this process takes awhile, depending on the heat source. keep an eye on it: if the caramel begins to smoke, you’ve burned it, and you’ll have to start over.
  3. when the mixture has turned a copper color, remove it from the heat, and immediately add the heavy cream – the mixture will bubble rapidly and steam, so be cautious as the sugar will be very hot.
  4. whisk the final mixture together well over low heat and sprinkle in the sea salt; set aside.

the filling

  1. juice the lemons into a large mixing bowl.
  2. core, peel, and thinly slice the whole apples.
  3. dredge all the apple slices in the freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning and to add flavor; set the prepared apples aside.
  4. in a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and Angostura bitters.
  5. sprinkle the mixture over the apples in the mixing bowl; use your hands to gently mix and coat the apple slices.

the assembly

  1. preheat the oven to 375F to 400F, depending on your oven.
  2. gather your rolled pie crust, salted caramel and apple mixture.
  3. layer 1/3 of the apples in the bottom of the crust; gaps between apples should be minimal.
  4. pour 1/3 of the caramel over the apples.
  5. add 1/3 of the apples and caramel for a second layer, and then add a third layer of apples, and then a third layer of caramel. important note: save a small portion of the caramel to pour on top once the lattice is assembled.
  6. assemble the lattice crust, and flute the edges.
  7. pour the last bit of caramel on top of the pie.
  8. brush the crust with the beaten egg, then lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and sea salt.
  9. bake the pie on a baking sheet larger than the pie pan for 20 minutes (otherwise the caramel will bubble over and burn on the bottom of your oven, and that would be bad).
  10. reduce the oven temperature to 325F to 350F, again, depending on your oven, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.
  11. test the apples with a long toothpick or small knife; the apples should be just soft.

let the pie cool, then slice and revel in the sweet, buttery, salty, tart contrast and deliciousness of this truly amazing pie. cheers!

practice makes improvements – and sometimes that’s good enough

6 August 2010

dj

few master a skill or craft at first attempt. undeniably, some are simply naturals, whether by gift or genetics or gosh-darn good luck. most of us need practice—and a lot of it—to refine and ultimately excel at whatever we choose to undertake. sometimes we never really get there. but with perseverance, we can prevail. well, we can, at least, improve.

like my buddy Elroy. following his surgery, he began a course of aqua therapy to strengthen and regain full use of his knee. i’ve heard people say that a bulldog manuevers in water as adeptly as a bowling ball. needless to say, i had some maternal reservations. but Elroy enthusiastically entered the therapy tank and happily padded along its treadmill. the first session (catch the Olympic hopeful in action) was short. we both left feeling drained (my role as cheerleader was likely a ridiculous sight) but exhilarated. the next session didn’t go quite as smoothly. boredom from the redundant task of keeping pace with the treadmill and from lapping up the chlorinated water slowed Elroy’s progress. but he admirably plugged through six sessions (enticed by a very large balance ball) and markedly increased his mobility. no, his middle name will never be grace, but for a lumbering bulldog, he’s rather spritely.

after quite some time away from the kitchen, i’ve been reacquainting myself with old favorites like chocolate-chunk oatmeal cookies with pecans and dried cherries, which i made three times just to make sure i had it down (yeah, right), and a batch of scones. i tossed together a peach pan dowdy, with a not-so-picture-perfect crust, and i smoked a few chickens with cherry wood. i also discovered a great recipe for the fudgiest brownies i’ve ever tasted. so, i’m sharing that with you here. it’s been great just to dive in and revel in the process.

what i’ve learned is this:  you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the journey. whatever your passion, follow that true north. and, like Elroy and me, enjoy the ride.

Chocolate Brownies
a variation on a recipe from bonappetit

INGREDIENTS

2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces bittersweet, chopped
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

DIRECTIONS

  1. set oven rack in lower middle position; preheat to 325 F.
  2. line an 10-inch square pan with non-stick aluminum foil; spray foil with nonstick spray. (i also make a batch and a half in a 13x9x2-inch pan, so the brownies have some height.)
  3. whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl.
  4. combine both chocolates and 10 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat; stir until melted and smooth, then remove from heat.
  5. whisk sugar and vanilla, then eggs into chocolate mixture until it’s glossy and smooth, about 1 minute.
  6. add dry ingredients, and whisk just to blend.
  7. pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 25 – 30 minutes.
  8. cool completely in pan on rack.

these brownies are densely rich and seriously chocolately. serve with some of your favorite ice cream on top. salted caramel sauce. or plain. they’re amazing either way.