Friday, July 31, 2009

A Simple Soup

I made this squash soup a few weeks ago when the Farmer's Fresh CSA box was loaded with squash, and a colleague offered me some fresh squash from her parents' garden. I love soup, I can't say it any fancier than that, I just love soup, so I made the Puree of Yellow Crookneck Squash Soup from Scott Peacock's opus, Gift of Southern Cooking. The soup is very simple -- sliced squash is cooked with onion and butter until just tender, then combined with chicken stock and pureed. I skipped the suggested finishing touches of cream and nutmeg, because I love a rustic-textured soup. And,of course, tasty fried lardons of bacon kind of dress up whatever they're sprinkled on. I served the soup with bacon biscuits and fresh fruit for dessert. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fresh: This Week's CSA Box

This week's box was heavy with pecans, unshelled. I guess now that I have 10 pounds of unshelled pecans, it's time to have a shelling party. I'd much rather shell field peas or snap beans, but I can't put off the pecans too much longer. I'm not sure how long unshelled pecans can sit before deterioration sets in.

Other items in this week's box: green beans, a cucumber, a cute pattypan squash, a bunch of arugula, a cantaloupe, two onions and an assortment of tomatoes -- one large heirloom type, a yellow, and a dozen or so pear tomatoes. I bought additional tomatoes at the store and I find myself listening to the voice in my head, chanting, "tomato gravy and biscuits, tomato gravy and biscuits." This weekend, I will obey the voices in my head.

The green beans were featured in tonight's menu:

Roast Chicken
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Green Beans with Country Ham
Brownies with Cream Cheese Swirls

The brownies are from Everyday Food and are delicious. They may soon be my default brownies, except for the fact that the recipe dirties up four bowls (which is probably my fault, I wasn't in a streamlining mood.)
Brownies with Cream Cheese Swirls
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plus two tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch square pan and line with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk flour, coca, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

2. Assemble a double boiler with a pan of simmering water and a heat-proof bowl inserted so that the bottom just touches the water. Place the stick of butter in the bowl, along with the chopped chocolate. Heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove bowl from pan. Add 1 1/4 cups sugar; mix to combine. Add 3 eggs and stir. Add flour mixture and stir just enough to combine.

3. Prepare cream cheese mixture: whisk cream cheese with 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons flour.

4. Spread half of the brownie batter into bottom of prepared pan and smooth with an offset spatula. Dollop cream cheese in 3 or 4 spoonfuls onto base. Pour remaining brownie batter in between cream cheese blobs. With the tip of a knife or the offset spatula, make several figure eights to swirl the cream cheese into the brownie batter. Don't overdo the artistry here, Rembrandt. Just 3 or 4 passes will make a lovely marble effect.

5. Bake in a 350 oven for at least 50 minutes. I used convection and it took almost an hour. Test with a toothpick -- just a crumb or two is acceptable. Fingertip test: the batter should spring back slightly when touched in the center. Cool in pan about 30 minutes, then pull out by parchment paper sling. Everyday Food says you can keep these at room temp in an airtight container for 2 days. Serve with vanilla ice cream -- you won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Made a Pie, Now Where's My Blue Ribbon?

Yes, Ma'am, I made this pie! It's the Black & Blueberry Pie with Lemon-Cornmeal Crust from Fine Cooking's June/July 2008 issue. Thanks to Haven Farms that supplies blueberries to the CSA -- it was a brief but magnificent season, and the last of the berries went into this bee-yoo-ti-ful pie. It was my first lattice-crust pie, which is a very simple technique when you follow the directions, which is one of the many reasons I love Fine Cooking magazine. My favorite instruction is near the end of the recipe, where the author advises to watch the bubbles in the pie - if the bubbles are not in the middle, then the pie will not set. I would have pulled the pie out a half-hour early if I didn't read that! The recipe is on Fine Cooking's website, probably under the subscription-only part, but if you're serious about cooking, a subscription is well worth the investment.

We're eating pie today, so if you're in the neighborhood, call before you come and I'll put on a pot of coffee and serve you up a slice of blue-ribbon-worthy Black and Blueberry Pie.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buttermilk Makes It Better

Rose had me at "buttermilk!" This cake, the Buttermilk Country Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible, is the best-textured yellow cake I have ever eaten. It is tender, just slightly crumbly, not dense like a pound cake, but buttery and sweet. I served it with orchard-fresh freestone peaches from the CSA box and a bit of sweetened whipped cream. The peaches were juicy and surprisingly tart, which is ok in my book, given the context of cake and cream.

I just happened to have a quart of Marburger whole-milk buttermilk on hand, one of my secret weapons for tender cakes and quick breads. Not every store carries it, but I find it at Publix and sometimes the Super Wal-Mart stores, and always snag a quart when I do. It is thick and creamy and has freckles in it -- tiny orange flakes that turn golden brown when used in biscuits.

If you don't have The Cake Bible, by all means, go out and get yourself a copy. There is no need to ever purchase a boxed cake mix again. The buttermilk country cake recipe alone will make your reputation as a baker.

Monday, July 27, 2009

From the Library

Sometimes this journal is for me, to record the books and food that make their way through my family's life. Sometimes this journal is for my girls, so they will have touchpoints, memory sparks. So, that's why today I'm writing about the minutia of our life, a visit to the library.

My three-year old is crazy about Maisy and we're working our way through Rosemary Wells' backlist. Two of our all-time favorites, "Shy Charles" and "Peabody" were returned today, so we picked out "Timothy Goes to School" to fill in. Charlotte Zolotow is the mother of one of the best cookbook authors ever, Crescent Dragonwagon, and I have a couple books of her verses. Zolotow is a prolific author, so I have a future with her books. And every child should read "Harry the Dirty Dog." Here's the list (due back two weeks from today!):

1. Maisy Makes Gingerbread by Lucy Cousins
2. I Spy School Days
3. Max Cleans Up
4. Maisy Goes to the Museum
5. Maisy Goes to the Library
6. Maisy, Charley, and the Wobbly Tooth
7. Harry, the Dirty Dog
8. Say It! by Charlotte Zolotow
9. Harry By the Sea
10. No Roses for Harry
11. Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells
12. Yoko Writes Her Name by Wells
13. Hazel's Amazing Mother by Wells

Not that I needed more cookbooks, but a couple titles did call my name from the stacks:

1. The Only Bake Sale Cookbook You'll Ever Need by Wolf and Abrams. I'm not called on for bake sale goods very often, but I'm the queen of sending baked goods to school for the kids, the teachers, and anyone else standing near the Tupperware. I'm in need of inspiration.

2. The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens. I've picked this up at Borders and I'm going to really dive into it. The blurb on the cover says it all: "A cookbook in celebration of cornbread-fed, down-home family stories and cuisine." Plus an introduction by Pat Conroy. What could be better?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache

What could be better than banana cake dressed up with chocolate ganache? The need to send a cake to a family member coincided with the cleaning out of the freezer, which is where mushy bananas go to await their culinary fate. At first, I intended to make either the Pleasant Hill Shaker banana bread that I've made for the past 20 years, or the ATK banana chip snack cake that's a snap to put together. A flash of inspiration struck -- Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cordon Rose Banana Cake with Sour Cream Ganache from The Cake Bible. This cake ups the elegance factor considerably (ganache has a way of doing that) and is no more trouble than the rustic cakes, except for the additional bowl to clean up.

It's hard to believe that it's been 21 years since The Cake Bible was first published. Any person interested in baking, especially at home, must have a copy of this book. The banana cake recipe is from the chapter "Simply Foolproof Cakes," and it's true, if you follow the recipes and take care with the ingredients and techniques, you will produce a tender, luscious cake. One of the unusual (at least to me) aspects of Beranbaum's books is that the recipes are in chart form, with measures and weights for ingredients. The only other cookbook that I have with charts is the industrial Food for Fifty. Still, I measure ingredients, although I'm considering entering the 21st century of baking by purchasing a scale. At first the ingredient charts were off-putting, but a few successful cakes into the book and I wish more cookbook had charts.

Beranbaum's charms extend beyond reliable recipes -- the recipe headnotes and the photographs pull you in, really sell the cakes, make you want to get in the kitchen and bake! Beranbaum's foolproof technique combines the sugar, flour and other dry ingredients together before creaming in the butter, eggs and liquid ingredients. This is much simpler than the usual butter and sugar creaming, then eggs, then flour, and produces a lovely, tender cake with just the right crumb. The Sour Cream Ganache is, as my Alabama grandmother would say, "out of this world!" (making three syllables out of "world.") It's just melted bittersweet chocolate and sour cream, but it is luscious and chocolatey and would redeem any cake, no matter the baker or box it came from (not that I would ever bake a cake from a box, mind you, I was raised better than that.).

Check out Beranbaum's excellent blog and search for "banana cake" and "sour cream ganache" for the recipes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Redneck Ratatouille

(Above: Tomatoes and Basil, Ready for Ratatouille.)
I discovered ratatouille last summer, not in some quaint out-of-the way Provencal restaurant, but in the pages of a half-dozen cookbooks in my own kitchen. It's a recipe somewhat like the alchemy of stock-making, where you need to accumulate enough stuff, in this case, summer's ripest produce, and turn it into gold.
Between the farmer's market and CSA box, I had enough eggplants, peppers, squash, tomatoes (heirloom and cherry), onions, and basil for a big pot of ratatouille. With the recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook as my guide (see last summer's post), salting and draining the eggplant, rather than roasting it, the dish turned out just fine. To cut down on the oil, I cooked the onion and squash in a small amount of water before adding them to the simmering tomato and pepper mixture. (A warning to mommies: it took for-bloody-ever to assemble and prepare all the produce, about two hours, because I was dealing with young children who were not in the proper ratatouille frame of mind.)
What makes mine Redneck Ratatouille is not that I add venison (sorry, a rather lame personal joke), but that I serve it with my version of polenta, using Dixie Mills yellow grits, cooked up with chicken broth and a tablespoon or two of butter. If I had Parmesan on hand, I would have stirred some in, too. The result? C'est magnifique! (even the cranky kids agreed!)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Scaling Mount Nacho

How do you feed five hungry girls at a sleepover? I figured Mexican-ish food would be the way to go, and crafted a Nacho Mountain. This is a pretty basic idea, but I thought it turned out well and the girls made a respectable dent in it. I cooked taco filling, using ground beef and the tried-and-true seasoning envelope. For the mountain, I began with a base of large tortilla chips, put some filling down, big plops all across the platter, topped with queso (just the Velveeta brick melted with a bit of milk in a crockpot, the remainder used as "cheese dip" at the table) and shredded cheese. Then another layer of the small, round chips. Black beans, olive slices, avocado slices and more cheese followed on the top layer. If I were serving grown-ups, I would put some salsa around, but the gringo girls didn't want that much heat, so I served it on the side, with bowls of sour cream, as well.

The dessert, which got demolished before I could grab the camera, was a similar idea. Big platter, lots of freshly washed, whole strawberries; whipped, sweetened cream; and hot fudge sauce (again with the jar, I know homemade would have been better, but the girls didn't complain). I pulled a few extras out to taste in the hot fudge sauce - marshmallows, potato chips. For the record, sliced, frozen Mayfield ice cream sandwiches are delish dipped in hot fudge sauce. Proustian moment: a Shoney's restaurant and the ever-popular (and free on your birthday!) hot fudge cake.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

P.B. Saves the Day

The lazy, hazy days of summer are getting to us, and the girls needed a project to fill up an afternoon that wouldn't be spent at the movie theater, swimming pool or amusement park. In other words, cheap, easy, and light on laundry requirements. Susan Purdy's excellent book, The Family Baker, includes a Kids in the Kitchen chapter filled with age-appropriate ideas for children. A proven favorite in our house is the Peanut Butter Clay Dough, which uses good ol' p.b., powdered milk, wheat germ and honey to make a pliable dough that can be shaped and decorated with whatever cake or candy decorating odds and ends you may have around the house.

I didn't have powdered milk or wheat germ on hand, due to a recent pantry purging (didn't pass the sniff test), so I subbed confectioner's sugar, which gave the dough a much more supple feel. There's not much of a recipe to it, but I began with about eight ounces of chunky peanut butter and two ounces of creamy peanut butter, and mixed in about a 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. To this, I added a squeeze or two or three from the honey bear and stirred the mixture until it formed a pleasing clay-ish texture. My older daughter set out plastic placemats and bowls with leftover Easter candy and cookie sprinkles and mini chocolate chips. The girls were occupied for two hours making their peanut butter clay creations. And I managed some quality time with my hobby: laundry.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer in the CSA Box

All that's missing is a swimsuit and sunscreen! Everything that means summer to me is in this week's CSA box from Farmer's Fresh:

1. Four organic peaches. Someday soon I'll tell the story of my red clay South Carolina childhood and why I get so excited about the first peaches of the summer. (and if I'm lucky enough to find Sunny Slopes, I get all teary.)

2. A pint of blackberries (goodness knows, I have enough of these growing by my driveway, but these are certainly prettier.

3. Two cute eggplant (ratatouille will be on the menu this week!)

4. A fragrant bunch o'basil.

5. An assortment of sweet peppers.

6. Two big and a half dozen small tomatoes.

7. A storage onion and its baby cousin.

I can't wait to cook with all of this incredible produce!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Picnic in the Park

Every now and then, July's oppressive heat and humidity hover over someplace else and we get a cool, dry, good hair, mid-summer day. Such an occasion is worthy of a picnic, so my girls and I made a picnic playdate and met some friends at our favorite park for food and playtime. I'm very proud that the menu was mostly made by the girls. Here's the menu:

Summer Picnic in the Park

Pasta Salad with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini and Dijon Vinaigrette

Homemade Pimento Cheese and Wheat Thins

Barbecue Chip Sandwiches

Watermelon "Pies"

Abbey's Blondies

Laura made the pimento cheese and blondies, a recipe from each of her grandmothers. Lindsey decided on barbecue potato chip sandwiches, and frankly, I'm not sure where she got her inspiration from, but they were tasty. In the summer, we always have a watermelon cooling in the fridge. We usually cut it in chunks and eat it throughout the day; this time, it was cut in wedges, with the rind on each slice, to make a convenient handle.
I've made this pasta salad for at least a dozen summers. It's based on a salad from Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends, one of my favorite cookbooks. The original recipe uses fresh snow peas and broccoli, which are tasty, but this time decided to keep it seasonal and simple with zucchini from the CSA box and the sweet cherry tomatoes from the farmers' market (pictured above).
Pasta Salad with Summer Vegetables and Dijon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
3 green onions, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound rotini, or some other short pasta such as penne or fusilli, cooked al dente according to package directions, and drained
3 or 4 zucchini, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch batons
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Other suitable vegetables: broccoli, green beans, asparagus, red and yellow bell peppers, fresh snow peas. Be sure to blanch and shock the green vegetables as described before adding them to the salad.
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
1. To make the dressing, in a food processor, add the green onions, vinegar, mustard and garlic, and process for 10 seconds or until incorporated. With the processor running, pour in the oil. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper. If you're making the salad in advance, put the dressing in a tightly sealed jar and place in the refrigerator.
2. To blanch and shock the zucchini (and other green veggies, if using), fill a pot with water and set to boil. Set out a bowl with water and ice. Place the zucchini batons in the water and boil for three minutes. To stop the cooking, transfer the vegetables into the ice water, then drain the vegetables.
3. When ready to serve, fill a large bowl with the pasta and vegetables and dressing. If the vinaigrette has separated, whisk it thoroughly before tossing with salad. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly, (being shy on the salt because you still need to add Parmesan). Add the cheese and serve. The covered salad can hold in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Aurgula, Part Deux: Not a Pretty Story

After the delicious pasta with arugula, garlic and peas, I was ready for more dishes incorporating my new friend arugula. I am sad to report that the arugula did not cooperate. When I fetched it from the crisper drawer, the remainder was soggy and slimy, compost on the hoof, one might say.

I've been very pleased with my method for keeping CSA greens fresh for at least a week, but arugula must have a shorter lifespan than the lettuces and chard. This is what I do:

1. First, I'm careful to pick up my produce as early in the day as possible and to get it home and refrigerated ASAP. The pick-up station, an office, is air-conditioned, but these tender vegetables need TLC.

2. I pull out my trusty OXO salad spinner and get to work. For the greens, I rinse them in several changes of water and then employ the girls to spin, spin, spin their frustrations out. It's cheaper than therapy (for all of us!).

3. When the greens are sufficiently dry, I get out a Ziploc bag (love the kind with the slide-lock!) and put two sheets of paper towel in the bottom. In go the greens, topped with another double layer of paper towels. Into the crisper drawer. I check these bags every few days and replace the paper towels if they are over-damp.

Before the arugula, I had problems with frisee, which has so many fractal-like nooks and crannies that it was difficult to thoroughly dry. Maybe I'll get another chance to perfect my green preservation technique for frisee. Arugula will just need to be used more quickly.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Arugula: First Installment

I used about half of this week's arugula in a pasta with peas. It was perfect for a summer night's supper, with a baguette to go with, and a vinaigrette-dressed salad beforehand. Watermelon and cantaloupe chunks completed the best of summer menu.

Here's how I made it:

Farfalle with Peas and Arugula

1 pound dried farfalle (bowties) pasta
1 pound arugula, washed and torn into bite size pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup frozen English peas
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup freshly shaved parmesan cheese

1. Put a pot of water on the stove and set to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil and saute the minced garlic just until slightly softened. Add peas and season with salt and pepper. Judicious use of fresh herbs at this time may be helpful, perhaps thyme, definitely parsley. Add the arugula in small portions, cooking each until wilted.

3. When the pasta is ready, use a measuring cup to scoop out one cup of the pasta water. Use this to freshen the sauce, if necessary. Drain the pasta and pour into a lovely, large bowl, the show-offy artisanal one that you use for your prettiest pastas. Toss the garlicky greens and peas with the pasta, squeeze a bit of the lemon over all, and serve with fresh parmesan shavings (if you have the good stuff, by all means, use it on this.).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing...Can Be a Good Thing

(Above) Arugula: An Adventure Awaits

(Above) Another Bountiful Box!

This week's CSA box from Farmer's Fresh was stuffed with beautiful veggies, including eight ears of corn! Throughout the season, portions are pretty standard for my family package, but every now and then, the fields must be flowing with milk and honey, because I'll get something like eight ears of corn. I have three ears left over from last week, so this gives me an opportunity to try something new and intensely corn-y. I love corn soup and will probably make that again, or maybe try to replicate my grandfather's fried corn, which is not deep-fried, but a creamy sautee of sweet corn in bacon drippings. Just a note about the corn, which we enjoyed last week "on the cob" (I know, that's a weird way to write it.), it is not as sweet as supermarket corn, which is ok with me. This corn is pleasantly corn-tasting, more so than the supersweet grocery store ears.
Also in the box, arugula, ready for its glamour shot in the salad spinner. It didn't really need the wash, but just like my kids, it got a bath anyway. I love the funky arugula smell! This hefty bunch will be put to use several ways - to punch up salads and pastas. Fine Cooking has two recipes that I've tagged - Pasta with Peas, Arugula and Prosciutto, and Arugula Salad with Nectarines and Fresh Raspberry Vinaigrette. I may be Madmomming (ad-libbing) a bit, and will report back.
Coming out of the box today:
1. Blueberries - these may possibly be the last for the season. Last year, we had blueberries into August, and I haven't made my blueberry pie for the summer. I may be foraging for blueberries soon.
2. Two zucchini. Maybe grilled with some sort of vinaigrette, or maybe tossed into an arugula pasta. I'm also planning a ratatouille, so if they can hang out until I get eggplant, tomatoes and peppers together...
3. A fragrant bunch of parsley. Tabbouleh, anyone? I love tabbouleh, really grain salads in general, and I think it's time to introduce them to my kids (good luck). Tabbouleh is a good opportunity to showcase the...
4. 6 tomatoes. Two teeny-weeny plus one normal Roma; and one each yellow, orange and red heirloom-type tomatoes.
5. A cute head of garlic. Not nearly as big as the farmer's market garlic I found last month, but it will certainly go to good use in my garlic-loving kitchen.
6. Another pretty cantaloupe. Last week's was sweet and juicy and this one holds promise as well. It can only be better than the supermarket melon I bought two days ago. Pale orange flesh, even paler flavor. If you're a smoothie artiste, as I sometimes pretend I am, melon makes a great fiber-rich filler, just chunk it up and pulverize along with juice, dairy and whatever other fruit is on hand.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Birthday Cake

For #11, Laura chose a simple cake. Not last year's insane waterfall, that required me to bake three cakes and mix up a triple batch of frosting. This year, Laura is all about simplicity - a steak dinner and a chocolate cake are the only requirements for the family party.

This is my back-pocket chocolate cake recipe. If you own even one community cookbook, you've seen this recipe. Sometimes called "Texas Sheet Cake" or "One-Pot Chocolate Sheet Cake," it's pretty straightforward. I add vanilla and sometimes a cup of leftover coffee to amp up the flavor. It's unbelievably easy, and because it's made with real ingredients and not a cake mix, the flavor is outstanding. Maybe not chocolate mousse cake outstanding, but more in the vein of "I really should bake more, because this cake is really good."

You will wonder how Duncan Hines can stay in business after you make this cake. And you will be the most popular room mom in your kid's school!

Back-Pocket Chocolate Sheet Cake

4 ounces (4 squares) unsweetened chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup hot water or coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream or plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Chocolate icing

1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 ounces semisweet chocolate (chips or squres)
2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 to 3 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a 9 X 13 baking pan with baking spray.

2. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt together the chocolate, butter and water (or coffee, if using). Whisk until smooth, add vanilla, then remove from heat. Add the flour, baking soda, salt and sugar and whisk to thoroughly blend. Beat in buttermilk and eggs.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spread it evenly and bake 35 to 40 minutes. I use convection and it usually bakes the lesser amount of time. Cool the cake.

3. For the icing, in the same (cleaned) saucepan that you stirred together the cake batter, combine butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring continually until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove pan from heat and gradually whisk in 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add vanilla and milk until icing is smooth enough to spread. Pour icing over warm cake. This is heaven right now, but if you wait til it cools, you will be rewarded with a sweet chocolatey and less messy cake.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Buttermilk Scones: A Pictorial Tutorial

I turn out a batch of buttermilk scones at least every other week. The recipe is easy-breezy, and produces a tender, buttery, sweet biscuit. See prior post the Perfect Scone for the recipe for Mean's Buttermilk Scones. My shaping technique is unconventional:
1. Line a round cake pan with plastic wrap. Pat dough into pan and cover with another sheet of plastic wrap. Refrigerate a couple of hours or overnight.

2. When thoroughly chilled, remove the dough disk from the pan and place on cutting board. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and cut the dough circle into 8 wedges.

3. Place wedges on Silpat-lined baking sheet. Brush with cream and top with demerara sugar.

4. Enjoy warm, buttery and sweet homebaked buttermilk scones.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Barbecue Bacon Chicken Breasts

I've been caught up in summertime busyness, and I've gotten behind on my CSA posts. Stay tuned, pictures and recipes will be coming forth soon!

But today, I want to to write about our supper of chicken, farm-fresh corn on the cob, and sweet, ripe cantaloupe. The chicken was easy and combined two of my favorite things: bacon and my homemade barbecue sauce. I start with the sauce, like so:

Not-So-Secret Sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder (I use Penzey's "regular")
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over low heat, add onion and cook until translucent, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients, stirring well. Use on ribs, pork, chicken, peanut butter sandwiches, ice cream, you name it, it will change your world.

But for weeknights, try it like so:

3 slices bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces
three or more chicken breasts, boneless if you want to cook fast, avec bone if you have time on your hands
chicken broth or water
salt and pepper

1. In a nonstick skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to drain and pour out all but a tablespoon or so of bacon grease. (Remember what your daddy told you and be responsible with the bacon grease, do not pour it down the sink!)

2. Season the chicken breasts and saute in bacon fat until brown on both sides. Pour a cup or so of barbecue sauce into and around the chicken. Bring to a simmer and cover skillet. If liquid looks skimpy, add about a cup of water or chicken broth. Continue to cook over medium heat until cooked through, about 15 minutes. You can also put the covered pan in the oven at 300 for up to an hour (be sure to check on the liquid level throughout the cocooning time).

3. Before serving, sprinkle the bacon pieces on the chicken breasts. I think some shredded cheese might be nice too, Monterey Jack or Cheddar, kind of a BBQ riff on chicken parm.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Everything Tastes Better with Cheese Sauce

Tonight's Menu featured my family's comfort food favorite: oven-braised pork chops with vegetables (see prior post), so tender the meat was like butter; cauliflower with homemade cheddar cheese sauce; and for dessert, my husband's favorite, pineapple upside down cake.
Cheese sauce is a glorious thing to be able to make. It can turn any vegetable, like the steamed cauliflower, into a kid-friendly treat. Leftover sauce and veggies can be thinned with chicken broth and chunked with pasta and chicken for a warming soup. I learned this sauce as a dutiful daughter, standing at my mom's kitchen stove, whisking in a Revere saucepan. I recommend a nonstick pan these days, for ease of cleaning up, and be certain to shred your own cheese - the pre-shredded cheese has powdered cornstarch-like stuff on it that keeps it from melting properly in the sauce.

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper (use the stuff in the can, not the peppermill stuff for this)
2 cups milk
8 ounces or 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste

1. In nonstick saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Cook for a minute, stirring continually, until smooth.

2. Meanwhile, heat milk in microwave for a minute or so, just to get the refrigerator chill off. With a whisk, gradually stir the milk into the butter/flour mixture. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring continually, until bubbly and thickened. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, if desired, and shredded cheese.

A is for Abundance

(Above& Below) Cantaloupe

(Above) Sweet Corn

(Above) Lettuces

(Above) Abundance of vegetables.

The "A" in CSA stands for Abundance this week. The box was packed full of green beans, corn, lettuce, jalapenos, blueberries, a cantaloupe and herbs. I'm very excited about using the green beans in an oven braise with tomatoes. Here's the recipe, a variation of one found in "All About Braising" by Molly Stevens. Her recipe is cooked entirely stovetop and is finished in about an hour, yielding firm, but tasty beans. I like my beans cooked very soft and in the oven; it's easier to chase kids that way.

Braised Pole Beans with Tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound green beans, preferably Romano, or pole beans
2 or 3 chopped ripe tomatoes, such as Roma, or heirloom tomatoes, if you can get them, or use one 14.5 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup water, or more for braising
salt and pepper to taste
soy sauce, optional
In a large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat and saute garlic for a couple minutes. Add the oregano, green beans, tomatoes, water and seasoning. Go easy on the salt. You may want add soy sauce instead of salt. After ingredients come to a boil, put the lid on the pan and place in the oven set at 300 for a couple of hours. Check every 20 minutes or so to make sure the beans are cooking along and that the liquid is high enough - you want at least half the beans submerged in liquid.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In Praise of Briami

The highest and best purpose for vegetables must be briami, a Greek oven-roasted vegetable dish introduced to me by a message board friend, Evelyn from Greece. To the carnivorous American mind, roasted veggies are a side, a Mom-concocted conspiracy to fill the third of the plate between protein and starch. Briami, however, is sheer vegetable heaven, suitable for a main dish. I can write this because it worked in my family.

Here's my version, based on Evelyn's original, which can be found at Recipezaar (see prior post).
Briami Chez Moi

4 zucchini, peeled and trimmed into 1-inch chunks
4 red potatoes, peeled and trimmed into 1-inch chunks
4 Roma tomatoes, or maybe more, cut into 1-inch wedges (if heirloom tomatoes are available, use them! the result will be pure ambrosia)
1/2 a head of garlic (I used the most beautiful fresh farmer's market garlic imaginable, so fresh it actually dripped with garlic juice!)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 6 or 8 wedges
a few ounces of shredded Parmesan cheese (or, if you have the good stuff on hand, chunk up a few ounces)
3/4 cup olive oil, or a little bit less if this amount just seems too indulgent
1/4 cup water, or slightly more if using additional vegetables
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon dried oregano, or fresh herbs like basil, oregano, thyme and mint

1. Preheat the oven to 425. Line an aluminum half-sheet pan with foil and spread out vegetables. Top with cheese. Pour olive oil and water, seasonings and herbs over all and toss until thoroughly coated. Roast for at least an hour, stirring every so often, just to monitor that all is cooking evenly. Your house will smell so good at this point. If your windows are open, expect neighbors to drop by unexpectedly. Small children will ask what you're cooking and will probably eat a sample. Pets will be driven mad by the aroma of garlic.

The oil soaks up the flavorings and the water steams the vegetables. I served this over rotini; couscous would be nice as well. If you must have protein, a white-fleshed fish simply prepared would be delicious, or maybe some leftover cold roast chicken. A brainschweiger and baguette is an indulgent, but delightfully kid-pleasing choice.

Leftovers, should there be any, can be turned into breakfast (or lunch or supper) hash. Just chop a bit finer, cook in some water in a nonstick skillet (goodness knows, there should be enough oil leftover). When it is warmed through, crack an egg or two into the bubbling mixture, cover and let fry until desired doneness. You will need to plow the lower 40 after such a meal, but it will be ever so worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm a Poet, Did You Know It?

(Above) Roasted beets. So pretty.

(Above) Blueberries and blackberries.

(Above) Everything else.

This week's CSA box included:
A fresh bunch of broccoli, fit for steaming.
Luscious blueberries, of which I am dreaming.
Blackberries, they make the crows caw.
Cabbage, ready for slaw.
A squash, some call it a pattypan.
And herbs, beets and onions for the roasting pan.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Follow Me

I always wanted to be the leader when it came time for Follow the Leader. So, I'm trying a new Google thing, Follow. Look to the right of this page and you'll see a Follow Me box. If you want to follow my crazy food projects, just click on the box. I'll try not to sing the old John Denver song, "Follow Me," because it makes me misty, but we'll have a great time cooking together.