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who will pick the Bramley’s now?

20 August 2010

dj

the greatest gifts don’t have price tags attached to them, yet have immeasurable value. they’re often unexpected. and arrive when you need them most. so was the gift of my dear friend, Alex Down.

Alex during a climb, wearing his "Life is Good" t-shirt i sent him when he retired from IBM.

i’ve mentioned Alex in my blog before. we met as colleagues during our tenure at IBM and, finding many paths of commonality, became devoted friends. never having had an older brother—and quite content to have skipped that experience—i was actually elated (and ever-grateful) when Alex boldly and graciously stepped into my life as virtual protector, steadfast e-penpal and confidant. to illustrate, when i was laid off last year, instead of relating my casualty to the state of the economy, he wished a pox on my former employer. all to say, whatever unfolded in my life, Alex lent his constant and faithful support.

through his stories and photographs, i vicariously traveled on Alex’s adventures. and while my travels were on an infinitely smaller scale, i took him with me through those same venues. both technology enthusiasts, we discussed which new laptops and digital SLRs tickled our fancies. thought that tweeting wasn’t particularly for introverts. and wrote to each other giddily when we nearly simultaneously acquired iPhones and iPads. (yeah, we’re geeks.) as storytellers and would-be poets, we critically, respectfully and lovingly shared our work. as food lovers, we talked about his Bramley trees and beekeeping and baking.

Alex playing with his MacBook Pro webcam

we relished sunny days, both living where rain and dreariness often prevail. while on different continents, we found pleasure in star gazing, and he in more complex, stellar events beyond my comprehension. because he was as brilliant as the brightest star (and he would actually know which star that was).

Alex on a dig

 

more often behind the camera than in front of it, i’ve found some photos of the adventurer. archaeologist. astronomer. beekeeper. cyclist. gentleman farmer. optimist. photographer. pilot. rock climber. theorist. dad. husband. beloved friend.

warmhearted and witty, you were one of my greatest gifts. and my heart could not have a bigger black hole in it. love you always.

Alex: ever on the trail of an adventure

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.

it’s always something

5 July 2010

dj

my too-long absence from blogging reminded me of those classic Roseanne Rosannadanna ’70s Saturday Night Live skits, sparkling with Gilda Radner’s comedic brilliance. and closing with the resoundingly true punch line, “it just goes to show you, it’s always something.”

a few months ago, my bulldog Elroy injured his left, rear knee. he wasn’t out frolicking in a dog park or bounding across a meadow filled with wildflowers. no, he blew out his ACL spinning cookies around the family room coffee table. in the midst of Elroy’s recovery—as i hauled him back and forth to our veterinary clinic for aqua therapy—i threw myself into whipping the yard in shape after a series of wild spring wind storms.

i dragged the branches that had snapped off during the storms into the woods. then jumped on the John Deere and mowed the ratty-looking spring growth, posing as grass. i then grabbed the Black and Decker whacker and tidied the perimeter of the house and leveled out a few rows of bushes with the hedge trimmer. finally, i plugged in the electric blower to clear the driveway of the last remnants of debris. just as i thought i was done, i spotted some unsightly small branches under my car. ever anal, i moved to blow them into the woods. i stepped gracefully over the power cord, twisted my foot, and tore the tendon and ligament across the top. doctor’s directive: off the black-and-blue appendage for a month.

banished from standing in my kitchen, cooking and yard work, i thought i’d have more time to write. when i received a call that a proposed surgery had been approved and scheduled. i really don’t remember much the two weeks following my surgery. the fog and recovery lingered on far longer than the doctor had projected. last week, i was ready for short jaunts to the farmers’ market and into the kitchen. (yea!) when Winnie, the geriatric bull terrier, became gravely ill.

rushing Winnie to the vet, my heart pounded with parental fear. she was panting heavily and had completely lost her interest in food, ordinarily her favorite thing in the world. she remained at the vet for three days as they pumped her with fluids, performed test after test, and finally rendered a diagnosis. on Friday afternoon, she came home. the weekend felt dicey, but today, she’s just a little more perky. a little more interested in food, if i feed it to her in my hand (even if that’s just a Winnie manipulation, i’m happy to be her faithful servant). i remain hopeful that she’ll be with us for quite some time to come.

yeah, as Roseanne said, it’s always something. but we get through it. with the good, kind thoughts, support and prayers of family and friends. and with a dose of laughter.

always on the sunny side

22 March 2010

dj

a sunny day: a decided cause for celebration in the scenic but often damp northwest, where i’ve become as weather-obssessed as Washington’s television forecasters. on this first formal weekend of spring, i took a drive north for a little adventure. donning my favorite Oakley’s to kick off the season and to temper the bright sun (which i’m clearly no longer accustomed to), i swung out of my driveway—lined with fragrant, pink-blossomed plum trees—and sped (conservatively, of course) up to La Conner, Washington to see the daffodil crop in bloom.

as i continued to meander north, i spotted several flocks of snow geese chowing down in a farm field—all completely unaffected by admiring tourists stopping for a photo op. next, i winded along the Padilla Bay Estuarine Reserve, where a great blue heron emerged majestically—as if on cue—during the late-morning high tide. in short order, i arrived in Edison and was drawn into the lot of Farm to Market Bakery (hardly a surprise. me. a bakery. screeching brakes.). the shop is tiny, but the flavors and portions? HUGE. i happily immersed myself in a generous piece of rhubarb pie (the first of the season, nicely layered, with a dense consistency, wonderful blend of spices and a light, buttery crust) and a glass of whole milk. i heaved a contented sigh.

i’m ushering in spring with a few sunny lemon recipes: a Meyer lemon curd tart, topped with hefty California raspberries and whipped cream. and a skillet corn cake with stewed cherries. both dedicated to my friend, Anne-Marie. bright, funny and eternally optimistic, whenever A-M is tossed the proverbial lemon, she consistently and graciously squeezes it into lemonade. may i grow up to be just like her.

Meyer Lemon Curd Tart
a combination of recipes from Cook’s Illustrated and The Martha Stewart Cookbook, the latter adapted by Marisa and found in her Food in Jars blog.

INGREDIENTS

for the crust
1 3/4 cups unbleached organic white flour
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter, at very cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

for the curd
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 Meyer lemons (you need a generous 1/2 cup of juice; it took me 9 lemons to get there; make sure you strain the juice to remove the seeds)
the zest from the lemons
1 stick butter, cut into chunks

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch and salt.
  3. add the butter, and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds.
  4. pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal.
  5. sprinkle mixture in a 10- or 11-inch tart pan, and press in firmly with your fingers into an even, 1/4-inch layer across the bottom of the pan and up the sides to the edge of the rim.
  6. refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes; set aside.
  7. to make the curd: in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.
  8. add the lemon juice, then begin to stir with a wooden spoon so you won’t aerate the curd.
  9. stir continuously for 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so the curd doesn’t come to a boil.
  10. when the curd has thickened and coats the back of your spoon, drop in the butter, and stir until melted; remove from heat.
  11. to strain the curd, position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl.
  12. pour the curd through the sieve, and remove any bits of cooked egg.
  13. whisk in the lemon zest.
  14. pour the curd into the cooled tart shell, and smooth the top.
  15. refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

serve topped with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. or just plain. really. it’s great either way.

Skillet Corn Cake with Stewed Cherries
a recipe from Emeril 20-40-60 Fresh Food Fast

INGREDIENTS

1 cup unbleached organic white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (i cut this back from the original recipe and used salted butter)
6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal (medium grind)
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 10-ounce bags frozen, pitted cherries (i used a mix of sweet, dark cherries and pie cherries)

DIRECTIONS

  1. place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven, and preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; stir in the cornmeal.
  3. in another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, milk, olive oil and lemon zest until frothy. add 3/4 of the sugar, then whisk to combine.
  4. pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients, and mix just until the batter is smooth.
  5. swirl the butter in the hot skillet (be super careful not to burn yourself) until melted.
  6. pour the batter into the skillet and bake until the center is set, about 25 minutes.
  7. while the cake is baking, set a 10-inch skillet over high heat.
  8. add the lemon juice, cherries and remaining 3/4 cup sugar.
  9. cook until the cherries have released most of their juice, 10 to 12 minutes; remove from heat, and set aside.
  10. when the cake is done, allow it to cool in the skillet for 5 minutes.
  11. slice into wedges, and serve with the stewed cherries spooned over the top.

the combination of the lemon flavor, olive oil and cherries: surprisingly, totally delicious! i served as an accompaniment to some crock pot pulled pork and mashed maple-sweet potatoes.

rainy days and sundays

16 March 2010

dj

what i’ve got they used to call the blues. uh, yeah. perhaps generated by a relentless Sunday afternoon downpour? just a thought. nothing better than discovering one of the best cookie recipes ever to warm the heart and to make the entire house smell like heaven. amen.

Chocolate – Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries
a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, with a tweak or two
makes 16 oversize chewy, buttery, decadent cookies

INGREDIENTS

12 tablespoons organic butter, softened but still cool (i used salted butter and cut the salt in the original recipe in half)
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached organic white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup organic old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup pecans, chopped (recipe says to toast, but not my personal preference)
1 cup dried tart cherries
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (like Scharffen Berger), chopped into uneven chunks (about 3/4 cup)

DIRECTIONS

  1. heat oven to 350F.
  2. line 2 large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. in a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  4. in another medium bowl, combine the oats, pecans, cherries and chocolate chunks; set aside.
  5. in a stand mixer with a flat beater attachment, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until there are no sugar lumps.
  6. scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg and vanilla.
  7. beat on medium-low speed until fully incorporated.
  8. with the mixer on low, add the flour mixture until just combined.
  9. with the mixer still running on low, gradually add the oat mixture until just incorporated.
  10. with a rubber spatula, give the dough one final stir to ensure there are no flour pockets and ingredients are evenly distributed.
  11. divide the dough evenly into 16 portions, each about 1/4 cup.
  12. roll the dough between your palms into balls about 2 inches in diameter.
  13. stagger 8 balls on each baking sheet, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart.
  14. using your hands, gently press each dough ball until it’s 1-inch thick.
  15. bake for 12 minutes (in my oven, 10 minutes), then rotate the baking sheet and continue to bake until the cookies are medium brown and the edges have begun to set, but the centers are still soft (the cookies will seem underdone and will appear raw, wet and shiny in cracks), about another 8 to 10 minutes (in my oven, another 5 minutes).
  16. cool cookies on baking sheets on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
  17. using a wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack, and cool to room temperature.

down with a giant glass of organic whole milk. glorious!

how sweet it is

27 February 2010

dj

my friend Lourdes exudes a burning passion for baseball. she gives thanks for the end of football season because it means spring training looms on the horizon. when i was small, my dad took me and my sister to watch the Red Sox play at Fenway Park; i fell asleep during the game. that feeling of being lulled into a coma lives on. but lately i’ve been thinking about being thrown a curve ball. or two. when life doesn’t unfold exactly as i’d planned. or hoped.

at these times, i have to remember to embrace the sweet things. like a handsome bulldog raising his heavy head up for a little scratch behind the ears. a sunny day in February, unseasonally warm enough to jump on the tractor and mow the lawn for the first time in months. a crisp, clear night, where Cassiopeia dangles just above the backyard tree line, twinkling like a shiny mobile. a winter run of California strawberries so red, plump and fragrant that i’m inspired to to break out—and experiment with—a new shortcake recipe. which is exactly what i did.

an integration of two different shortcake recipes, the end result offers a deep chocolate flavor and feels light while retaining a dense texture. who could go awry when fusing strawberries, chocolate and whipped cream?

for my friends and family (my mother is still a HUGE Red Sox fan; i picked her up a pink Sox cap on my last trip to Bean Town) who are baseball fanatics, go whomever! for the rest of us, enjoy whatever the fairer weather brings.

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcakes
a variation based on recipes from The Best of fine Cooking Chocolate! and from Cross Creek Cookery

INGREDIENTS

for the dough
2 1/4 cups organic white flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus some for sprinkling
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus three tablespoons (i used Green & Black’s organic cocoa powder)
8 tablespoons organic butter
6 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped; more for garnish
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 3 tablespoons for brushing
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 egg, well beaten

for the topping
4 – 5 cups strawberries, cut in 1/2-inch thick slices (around 3 pints)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.
  3. cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas.
  4. add the grated chocolate, and toss to combine.
  5. in a liquid measure, combine the heavy cream, vanilla and egg.
  6. make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then pour in the liquid ingredients.
  7. mix with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened and just combined; it should look shaggy and still feel a little dry.
  8. while the dough remains in the mixing bowl, gently knead by hand to pick up any dry ingredients remaining in the bottom of the bowl, then form the dough into a loose ball.
  9. turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and pat it into an 8-inch square, 3/4- to 1-inch thick.
  10. transfer dough to the parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
  11. preheat oven to 400F.
  12. remove dough from fridge, and trim about 1/4 inch from each side to create a neat, sharp edge (i used a pastry scraper to do this).
  13. cut the dough into 9 even squares, each about 2 1/2 inches square.
  14. spread the dough squares two inches apart on the baking sheet.
  15. brush each shortcake with a thin layer of cream; sprinkle generously with sugar.
  16. bake until the shortcakes are mostly firm to the touch, about 18 minutes.
  17. pour the cream into a small, cold mixing bowl, and beat with a hand mixer until the cream begins to thicken.
  18. add the sugar and vanilla, then whisk by hand until the cream is softly whipped or until the whisk leaves distinct marks in the cream. it should be soft and billowy, but still holds its shape.
  19. while the shortcakes are still warm, split them in half horizontally with a serrated knife.
  20. for each serving, set the bottom of the shortcake on a plate, covering with 1/2 cup of strawberries; add a generous dollop of whipped cream, then cover with top of shortcake.
    some people like to sprinkle sugar on the strawberries and let it sink in to sweeten, before placing on the shortcakes; i think this recipe is sweet enough without doing so.
  21. top each shortcake with another dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of grated chocolate.

simple childhood pleasures

19 February 2010

dj

i love working with dough. a clear throwback from my Play-Doh period, in which i immersed myself in sculpting the brightly colored, salty-tasting goop into unrecognizable shapes. the other day, i felt the urge to craft something a bit more practical, easily identifiable and with a significantly improved flavor profile.

as i contemplated my packets of yeast, i recalled a particular conversation between my dear childhood friend Harriet and her mom, Mrs. Welsch. the chat centered on Harriet’s school-lunch preferences. ‘”Wouldn’t you like to try a ham sandwich, or egg salad or peanut butter?’ Her mother looked quizzically at Harriet while the cook stood next to the table looking enraged. “Tomato,” said Harriet not even looking up from the book she was reading at breakfast. “Stop reading at the table.” Harriet put the book down. “Listen Harriet, you’ve taken a tomato sandwich to school every day for five years. Don’t you get tired of them? ” “No.”‘

yes, ok. so, Harriet is a fictional character (aka Harriet the Spy, created by author Louise Fitzhugh), and as a voracious young reader, i probably spent more time in my tree house lulling away the hours with her (and other fictional favorites) than with living, breathing humans. to toast Harriet , her love of tomato sandwiches and our common bond of faithfully following our respective true norths, i elected to bake a simple, hearty loaf of white bread. the perfect canvas on which to slather mayo and gently place the revered tomato and sorry, Harriet, a few strips of bacon from Skagit River Ranch.

Classic White Bread
a variation based on a recipe from Martha Stewart Living
makes 2 loaves
i found the amount of coarse salt in the original recipe to be completely overpowering, so i cut the suggested quantity in half. i also increased the amount of honey to give the loaf a sweet finish.

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4-ounce packets active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)
4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for bowl and pans
7 cups organic white flour
1 short tablespoon coarse salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. butter a large bowl (for the initial rise) and 2 loaf pans; set aside.
  2. in a measuring cup, sprinkle yeast over 1/2 cup warm water.
  3. add two teaspoons of honey to mixture and whisk until yeast dissolves.
  4. let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  5. transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer.
  6. add melted butter and remaining 1 3/4 cups warm water and 4 tablespoons honey.
  7. whisk flour and salt in an another bowl, then add 3 cups of these dry ingredients to the stand-mixer bowl and combine on low speed until smooth.
  8. add remaining 4 cups of dry ingredients 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a ragged, slightly sticky ball.
  9. knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic (my favorite part of the process!), but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes.
  10. shape into a ball, transfer to bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  11. let the dough stands in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 1 hour. the dough shouldn’t spring back when pressed.
  12. punch dough down, and divide in half.
  13. shape 1 dough half into an 8 1/2-inch-long rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick.
  14. fold along sides of dough into middle, overlapping slightly; press seam to seal.
  15. transfer dough, seam side, down to loaf pan.
  16. repeat with remaining dough.
  17. brush each loaf with melted butter, or dust with flour for a more rustic look.
  18. drape loaves with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until the dough rises about 1 inch above tops of pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  19. preheat oven to 400F.
  20. bake, rotating pans after 10 minutes, until tops of loaves are golden brown, about 20 minutes. recipe indicates total cooking time of 45 minutes; my loaves were done in less than half the time.

with any remnants of your loaves, consider making thick slices of cinnamon-orange french toast, topped with Vermont maple syrup. i haven’t regretted the indulgence for a single second.

my little dumpling

2 February 2010

dj

sometimes good fortune comes your way when you least expect it. and in an equally unexpected form. no, i don’t mean like a winning lotto ticket or receiving an inheritance from a long-lost relative. i can’t deny those would be quite lovely, but i try, upon occasion, to be a realist. i mean something that elevates your spirit and quality of life. something—or should i say someone—like Elroy.

almost two years ago to the day, i found myself face to face with a snorting, chortling, droopy-tongued, wild-eyed English bulldog. toting a floppy toy in his broad jaw and panting heavily, he scurried frantically around his foster mom’s home, searching for a place to light. surrounded by two adult English mastiffs of mammoth proportions, a petite female English bulldog, a cat and several children, he seemed overwhelmed by this friendly, but bustling crew. yeah, one of the mastiffs was kicking back on the living room sofa, but so…

at this first encounter, i wasn’t certain Elroy and i were that match made in heaven. i had envisioned adopting a couch potato—a delightful creature of habit who wouldn’t raise an eyebrow until it was time to chow down. but once he settled into a more private, quiet space, Elroy became that laid-back dude i’d been yearning for. as i introduced myself, he cocked his head to one side and immediately stole my heart. apparently, i’m a sucker for big brown eyes, a single spotted ear and an extreme under bite.

in our quiet little life, Elroy hangs out with me as i work and happily pads after me, wherever i go. sure, he has a few previously acquired quirks, but who doesn’t? several weeks ago he spun a few cookies around the family room coffee table and blew his ACL. he’s recovering nicely (as shown in the photo above) from last week’s surgery. and i’m grateful every day for his presence.

i did a short gig as a conehead following my surgery.

Elroy may not be the consummate couch potato, but he’s my little dumpling. to celebrate our two-year anniversary together, i made the humans this extreme comfort food with Elroy’s leftover, post-surgical chicken. ideal for chilly winter weather, when all a bulldog wants to do is have a good meal, then fall into a peaceful slumber.

you can find out more about adopting and supporting swell dogs like Elroy through a variety of organizations, including the Humane SocietyN.O.A.H. and Bulldog Club of America Rescue (if you live in the northwest, as i do, visit Bulldog Haven NW).

Chicken and Dumplings
a variation on a recipe from Tyler Florence and Food Network
as always, i invite you to take a look at the original recipe.

INGREDIENTS

for chicken and stock
1 whole organic chicken ( 3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
10 Tellicherry peppercorns
1 tablespoon coarse salt

for dumplings
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/8 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup buttermilk

for sauce
4 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, diced
1/3 heaping cup organic all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock (this will come from the whole chicken you’ll cook)
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen pearl onions
1/4 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
chopped chives, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

  1. place the chicken and all stock ingredients in a large Dutch oven and cover with water.
  2. over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour until the chicken is tender.
  3. when the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and place on a cutting board.
  4. shred the chicken into bit-size pieces and set aside.
  5. strain the chicken stock and set aside, but keep the pot for the next step.
  6. in the Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
  7. add the carrots (and fresh pearl onions, if you’ve chosen to go fresh) and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
  8. stir in the flour to make a roux, and cook for 2 minutes.
  9. one cup at a time, slowly pour your reserved chicken stock into the pot, mixing well after each addition.
  10. add frozen peas (and frozen pearl onions, if you went in this direction).
  11. let the sauce simmer until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes.
  12. while the sauce is cooking, prepare the dumpling batter by sifting the dry ingredients together in a medium-size bowl.
  13. in a small bowl, whisk the eggs, chives and buttermilk together.
  14. pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, and gently fold until the dough comes together. (the batter should be thick, like biscuit dough.) set aside.
  15. when the sauce has thickened, add the heavy cream and freshly ground black pepper.
  16. fold the reserved shredded chicken to the sauce, and bring to a simmer.
  17. using two spoons, carefully drop heaping teaspoons of the dumpling batter into the sauce. (the dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching each other.)
  18. let the dumplings poach for about 15 minutes, until they’re puffy but firm.
  19. garnish with chives before serving in low soup bowls.

don’t be a sourpuss

19 January 2010

dj

a cooler filled with bologna sandwiches, made with Wonder bread and slathered in French’s mustard. brightly colored pails and shovels. ditto beach towels. Bain de Soleil and zinc oxide. diametrical sun-exposure philosophies. four little girls and two moms in one-piece swimsuits and flip flops, all tucked snugly in an aqua-colored 1963 VW Beetle. headed for an adventure at a nearby lake, it was apparent someone in the back seat wasn’t very happy.

arms crossed over her chest and bottom lip stuck out in a pout, our next-door neighbor’s eldest daughter—then about age seven—wedged herself against the tiny rear window of the car and squinted at the passing scenery. don’t be such a sourpuss, her mom teased. the squint turned into a glare. i didn’t know what had transpired prior to our departure to warrant this gloomy state.

it took us only a few minutes to arrive at our destination, not enough time for a 180 on the mood. we piled out of the VW, grabbing beach gear and running toward the water with it. our sourpuss lagged behind, her mom grabbing her around the waist in an attempt to tickle her into happy submission. no dice. when you are ready to be civil, you can join the rest of us, her mom said quietly, applying a calm, matter-of-fact approach.

i got into the water and began to swim; my sister and her younger friend dug holes in the sand. a very exciting proposition for a three- and a four-year-old. the moms kept their eyes on us, as they chatted incessantly. sourpuss remained on the periphery, kicking a little sand up with her feet, lip still protruding. soon it came time for lunch, and even she could not resist the fabulous meal the moms extracted from the cooler. i actually think she became weary of solitary confinement. we all ate and laughed and went for a walk on the beach to comb for whatever. it was, after all, a manmade lake.

the six of us shared many wonderful adventures over the years. yes, we all had our little quirks. but they never tarnished the sheer joy of hanging out together. to celebrate sourpuss memories, i baked a tart and tangy, yet sweet, coffee cake. filled with robust lemon flavor and that zing of tart cherries. then i sat back with a cup of tea, a moist piece of cake drizzled with icing and wrapped myself in those good times. hope you can take some time to do the same.

Lemon–Sour Cherry Coffee Cake
a recipe from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

for the cake
1 1/2 cups dried tart cherries
4 cups unbleached organic flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
5 eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (i had Meyer lemons, so used those)
1 cup plain yogurt

for the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 325F.
  2. oil a 12-cup bundt pan.
  3. place the dried cherries in a medium bowl, and cover with hot tap water.
  4. let the cherries soak for 10 minutes, then drain thoroughly; set aside.
  5. sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl; toss with your hands and set aside.
  6. combine the butter, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  7. using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture becomes smooth and pale in color.
  8. add the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding another.
  9. after all the eggs have been incorporated into the batter, slowly add the lemon juice, and mix for 1 more minute.
  10. scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix for 30 more seconds.
  11. remove the bowl from the mixer (i actually didn’t do this, and the cake seems perfectly swell), and alternately add small amounts of the flour mixture and the yogurt to the batter, mixing with a wooden spoon until add dry ingredients are incorporated.
  12. set aside 10 – 12 cherries for garnish, then gently fold the remaining cherries into the batter. be careful not to overmix.
  13. pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan, filling two-thirds of the pan.
  14. bake on center rack of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown.
  15. check the center of the cake with a skewer; if it comes out clean, the cake is done.
  16. cool the cake on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes.
  17. loosen the sides of the cake with a sharp knife (i didn’t need to do this; it fell right out of the non-stick NordicWare bundt pan), the place a serving plate upside down, on top of the cooled bundt pan.
  18. invert the pan to remove the cake, and let it cool completely.
  19. sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl; add the lemon zest and lemon juice.
  20. mix with a spoon until smooth, then drizzle over the cooled coffee cake.
  21. top with the reserved plump cherries.

oh, you softie

7 January 2010

dj

well-honed technique. vast experience. a combination possessed by the finest master craftsmen. i was one of these craftsmen. an award-winning fire builder by the age of 10 (according to a panel of expert girl scout counselors), i specialized in the log-cabin style. in the heat of competition, i’d scour the woods for the kindling i knew would ignite the fastest. locating the right-size branches, i’d construct a design that would make my counselors beam with pride. arms piled high with the highest-quality materials and with the clock ticking, i’d sort my stash and become immersed in my creative process.

meticulously building the log cabin came naturally (the persistent perfectionist). and i had refined my technique sufficiently to streamline the process. surely and swiftly, i lit my match, then touched it to the kindling. blowing steadily, but softly, i encouraged the flame to engulf the smaller pieces of wood. soon ablaze, the dry wood began to crackle, flames leaping high (don’t worry; there was a water bucket within reach). i heard a whistle blow, and one of the counselors announced the victor: me. blush. not bad for a nerdy bookworm.

to the victor go the spoils. in this case, the counselors came and sat around my fire. i added a few logs, so we could settle in for our evening program of eating too much sugar and singing. there was just enough daylight remaining to prepare for the most important portion of the event: roasting marshmallows, and making s’mores. it was my reward to find some green, yet sturdy, willow branches to use for roasting. with my trusty girl scout emblem-embossed jackknife, i expertly carved sharp points on each of five branches, then handed four of them to my beloved counselors. with the last branch, i pierced a marshmallow, and held it over the coals of my fire, until the ooey-gooey substance became golden brown. then i popped it in my mouth. heaven. i passed on the graham crackers and Hershey bars, content to revel in soft and puffy confection.

thanks to Ashley Rodriguez, whose not without salt blog inspires and illuminates. and from whom i borrowed this wonderful marshmallow recipe. it’s really fun to make and took me back to a very sweet time in my life.

homemade marshmallows
a recipe from Alton Brown, adapted by Ashley Rodriguez

INGREDIENTS

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup (or glucose)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds removed
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
nonstick spray

DIRECTIONS

  1. place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer, along with 1/2 cup water.
  2. in a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt.
  3. cover the pan, and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. uncover the pan, clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240F (approximately 7 to 8 minutes). immediately remove from heat.
  5. with the whisk attached, turn your stand mixer on low speed and slowly pour the syrup mixture from the pan down the side of the bowl and into the gelatin mixture.
  6. when all the syrup has been added, increase the mixer speed to high (be careful that the hot mixture doesn’t splat on you).
  7. add the vanilla seeds, and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes.
  8. while the mixture is whipping, combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside.
  9. line a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan with aluminum foil (i used nonstick foil), then coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  10. completely cover the sides and bottom of the pan with the sugar and cornstarch mixture, and return the remaining quantity to the bowl to use later in the process.
  11. pour the whipped mixture into the prepared pan, using a spatula sprayed with the cooking oil to spread the mixture evenly in the pan.
  12. dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar/cornstarch mixture to lightly cover, and reserve the rest for later.
  13. let the marshmallows sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
  14. turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board, and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel or sharp knife dusted with the sugar/cornstarch mixture.
  15. once the marshmallows have been cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture.
  16. store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks (really? i can’t imagine these marshmallows being around that long).

try the marshmallows in a mug of rich hot chocolate or as part of a decadent s’more.