Strawberry Kisses part 1

Straw for the strawberry plants

I think 2014 will be the summer of perspective for my family, me included. One teenager has her driver’s license, but not her own car which means we have to share my car every day. I’m thinking of setting up a calendar just for the Suburu. It also means we’re all very aware the price of gas is hovering around $4/gallon. The flip side of Belle having her license is I don’t have to chauffeur her brother Russell (who only has his permit) around very much, which after sixteen years of driving them around is kind of nice. Then there’s the reality check that if you are juggling summer school, work, homework and trips to the gym you will have approximately zero time for socializing. Or the dismal reality that ER tables are not meant for people who are over 6′ 3″ (don’t ask, I’ll just say it was not at a visit to the ER and nothing is broken just badly bruised). My favorite sliver of family summer perspective came after both kids received their first paycheck. It became clear how how little money you actually make when you work for minimum wage. These aren’t bad lessons, they’re just life lessons.

Strawberries resting on straw

The good news is that both teens have jobs at a local strawberry farm. The better news is that with the cooler-than-usual spring weather strawberry season is running a few weeks late. So despite it being early July there are still two more weeks of strawberry season to go! Plus we now have two strawberry experts in the family. Did you know strawberries can get sunburnt? I had no idea but I’m not sharing my sunscreen. They have more vitamin C than an orange which is a factoid the citrus growers don’t share with you. Plus there are roughly 200 seeds on each strawberry. Who knew? Or more to the point, who counted?

Strawberries for sale

My favorite statistic was hearing what  people plan to do with the strawberries they pick on this farm. Ninety-eight percent of them say they plan to make either strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam or freeze them. So I decided I would spend the remaining weeks of strawberry season coming up with some other things to do with strawberries, though all three of those methods are great ways to use the season’s bounty.

Strawberry Girll
There is just one little problem. I keep eating whatever I make with strawberries before I can reach for my camera. They are just that good. Grammy Caldwell would approve because these strawberries are red all the way through, not just on the outside. Since I am hanging my head in shame for my strawberry hoovering tendencies I am going to instead direct you to the half dozen tried-and-true recipes featuring strawberries below.

  1. Crêpes with strawberries & a sprinkle of sugar or honey
  2. Macerated strawberries on Angel Food Cake
  3. Strawberry juice mixed with stewed rhubarb juice for astrawberry-rhubarb Quarantine Cocktail
  4. Jessica’s Silver Dollar Pancakes topped with strawberries
  5. Fruit Smoothies with bananas, strawberries and orange juice
  6. Chocolate cake with strawberries, raspberry jam and chocolate ganache

Flat of strawberries

 

I’ll try to grab my camera sooner when strawberry boy and strawberry girl bring home their next batch of just picked berries.

You can read about the strawberry fruit leather I made here and the strawberry chips here.

 

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Let Summer Commence

It’s over – Oliver’s forty-five days of quarantine are finally done! So now summer can officially commence, and let me tell you that all of us are ready. More than ready.

 

quarantine calendar

 

 

No more rabies shots, no enforced use of the leash for every single walk (though trust me we will  be using a leash more often from here on out), and most importantly no more slamming the door in the poor little dog’s face every time we have to slip outside. We can take him to the park, let him romp with his friends, and he can roll around in the grass outside.

 

Good Dog

To celebrate this momentous occasion my friend Hilary re-gifted our family a charming seed rendition of a raccoon someone gave her daughter. I have to admit I giggled when I first saw it because now that our quarantine is over I can laugh about it.

 

Seed Raccoon

 

 

Hope the rest of summer is full of cooking, trips to the farmer’s markets, and free of visits to the ER.

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Lentils of Love

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I admit I was at a loss as to what I should get for my Dad. He’s an avid fisherman, but trying to buy someone a present connected to their passion, if it’s not one that you share, is one of the trickiest shopping trips you can embark on. My brother has gone on numerous fishing expeditions with him, and so has a better sense of which fly might tickle his fancy or what the latest fishing gear is that might not already be in his collection. I tried fly fishing a few times, but found I’m more of a cook than fisherwoman. Plus his preferred choice of catch and release fishing doesn’t bring home much salmon or trout.

Joe and Jay at Togaik Lake

While fishing is not where we connect, food is. I love to cook and my Dad and I both love to eat. His repertoire in the kitchen is primarily the grill, his infamous champagne punch, and willingness to help punch down the bread dough. Where he really excels is as a volunteer taste tester. I don’t think I’ve ever had him pass on taking a nibble or slurp or bite of something, “just to make sure it’s good”. Even when he’s not asked. Self sacrificing all the way.

Dad preparing to punch down dough

When I was going through my first vegetarian phase I made a dish called Funistrada. It sounded great in the cookbook – noodles with a cream sauce – but as this was the 70s and because vegetarian cuisine wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it’s become this recipe had a serious flaw. The cream sauce was made using all whole wheat flour and no herbs or seasonings, though it may have had some cheese. It was as if you made a vat of paper maché goop and layered it between seven layers of noodles. For some reason Dad hadn’t wandered into the kitchen as I was putting it all together so there was no taste testing that day. Which is too bad because Funistrada is disgusting.

I told everyone to dig in as I brought the salad and bread to the table and Dad happily dug in and kept eating. My brother, who has not always been known for his tender ministrations toward my feelings, took one bite of the stuff and spat it back out announcing loudly that it was so awful it might kill him. I was horrified, but after one spoonful I had to agree. It was inedible. My father looked relieved and wanted to know if this meant he didn’t need to finish it all. He had been ready to sit at our kitchen table and eat this nasty stuff because his daughter had made it. I don’t think I would have made the parental sacrifice myself if faced with a plate of Funistrada. So as an honest taste tester perhaps he’s not so good, but as a Dad he’s great, plus he let us order out for pizza that night.

For many years I baked Dad his presents. Cookies were easy to bake and mail, but when he was diagnosed with diabetes the gift of cookies didn’t seem like such a thoughtful present. He manages his illness really well, but it seems unfair to give someone gift they had to take a pill for. So I’ve made donations of honeybees and goats in his name, which is actually a great thing to do for someone who has enough stuff (and who shouldn’t be eating sugar). Then yesterday I was wishing I could just make him something yummy and healthy. I came up with Lentils of Love.

Lentils of Love salad

It’s a dish I made last weekend for Russell’s non-graduation celebration (yes, my youngest is skipping his senior year in high school and instead heading off to Simon’s Rock College this fall). It’s what a good vegetarian/vegan recipe should be. Flavorful, interesting, and edible. I’ve made it on and off for years after I was first introduced to le puy lentils. While some foodies will tell you must use the small green pulses grown in the volcanic soil around Auvergne, France I can tell you the world will not stop spinning because you use green lentils instead. I’m not saying le puys aren’t great, because they are, but rather that the secret to this recipe is a lentil that won’t fall apart and get mushy when you cook it.

The real trick, which Russell’s godfather Rick reminded me of, is to cut the vegetables into teeny, tiny squares, hardly bigger than the cooked lentils themselves. In the past I’d chopped my carrots, celery and onion into small cubes, which was just fine. However, when Rick minced those same three vegetables into a micro mirepoix instead of chopping them I found it elevated the dish to the next level.

Micro mirepoix vegetables

Now, as you will probably note this is not something I can send to my Dad in the mail, so the bonus of these Lentils of Love is that I’ll need to take a road trip to see him, and make them for him in person. Maybe he’ll join me in by cooking something on the grill.

Lentils of Love

1 1/4 cup Le Puy or green lentils

2 1/2 cups water

1 small bay leaf (or half of a large one)

1/2 teaspoon thyme

2 carrots, peeled and cut into micro squares (about a cup)

3 celery ribs, trimmed and cut into micro squares (about a cup)

1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into micro squares (about 3/4 cup)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

dash or two of cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Bring the lentils, bay leaf, thyme and water to a boil, then cover and cook until the lentils are they are soft, but not mushy about 35-43 minutes. There should be almost no liquid left, but keep an eye on things so you don’t simmer them dry. If there is any liquid left drain it then cool the lentils a bit.

While the lentils are cooking cut up your mirepoix. Place in a large bowl and add the slightly cooled lentils (you want them to be warm enough to suck up the oil and vinegar, but not so hot they cook the vegetables), olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. If you need a brighter note to this salad add a few dashes of cider vinegar.

You’ll want to retaste this when the lentils have cooled down to see if you need to tweak the oil/vinegar/salt/pepper ratios. I will often double or triple this recipe thinking there will be tons left over, but no mater how much I make it all seems to disappear in a day or two. Just letting you know.

You could also top this with some chopped walnuts or pecans. Or a crumble of cheese. There is a myriad of possibilities.

Here’s another variation on this recipe (so many tweaks are possible) from Heidi Swanson who tweaked one of Deborah Madison’s recipes.

Dad and me

 

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Quarantine Cocktail

June iris

We’ve made it through 27 days of quarantine after the little incident with the raccoon on Mother’s Day. The dog has had his shot (note the use of the singular), Shawn and I have had our shots (note the use of the plural), and we’ve only got 18 days more to go on Oliver’s state mandated quarantine. Time to celebrate with a spring time cocktail!

Rhubarb plant

While I have worked with food most of my life, one job I’ve never had is tending bar. I appreciate a good cocktail, have made many for photo shoots (with fake ice cubes and dots of glycerine to give the visual impression that the ice is actually cold), but have not explored mixology. Given that my rhubarb plant is ginormous (gigantic + enormous) this year and getting ready to take over the garden it seemed like the perfect time to try something pink and fun.

Rhubarb

My habit of procrastination is something my gardens have to suffer through. I buy packages of seeds dreaming about bowls of fresh peas and enough basil to finally fill my freezer with pesto, but don’t always get around to planting them in the ground so they can grow. My weekly visits to the farmer’s markets find me coming home loaded with berries, bread, eggs and vegetables, as well as several plants which inevitably take weeks to get in the ground. One of the hard truths I’ve realized about myself is when it comes to gardens the best foods for me to grow are ones that more or less grow themselves. Rhubarb is close to the top of that list. Once it’s planted and happy it will continue to grow year after year. The bonus is it’s one of the first things up in the spring along with chives.

Chive blossoms

Usually I never do anything too fancy with my rhubarb. I simmer the cut up stalks with some orange juice, sugar, and a chunk of ginger. Occasionally I’ll add a stick of cinnamon, but not always. Once the fruit has softened I serve it over ice cream or yogurt. The stewed fruit would look muddy and odd in a cocktail so I strained the juice, then added some gin, seltzer, and a twist of orange. It was a lovely late spring cocktail and just the thing to help boost our spirits for the final days of quarantine. If it’s not 5 o’clock where you are skip the gin and top off a jigger or two of syrup with seltzer for a refreshing spring tonic.

Ingredients for stewed rhubarb

Ingredients for Quatantine rhubarb cocktail

 

Quarantine Cocktail

Generous 4 cups of chopped rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds before trimming)

1 orange

3-5 slices of fresh ginger, depending on taste

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup water

Place all ingredients in a medium size saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 7-12 minutes. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes so the flavors can meld. Strain the liquid from the solids, reserving the solids (from which you remove the orange rinds and ginger slices). Let cool. Save the solid ginger infused rhubarb solids for mixing into a bowl of ice cream or whipping into a milkshake or spreading on toast as a kind of non-jam.

Gin

Rhubarb ginger syrup

Seltzer

Orange twist (optional)

I used the following measurements, but feel free to experiment with whatever suits your tastes. 1 part gin to 2-3 parts syrup topped with seltzer and served over ice. If you feel like being fancy add a twist of orange.

Quarantine Cocktail

Note: For those of you new to rhubarb don’t forget while the stalks are edible – the leaves are poisonous.

Swallowtail butterfly

 

 

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Signed Raspberries with Chocolate Ganache

If I were to sign my name with food instead of letters, what food would I use? It could be almost any recipe from this blog, though lately I think my culinary John Hancock would most  likely be Raspberries filled with Chocolate Ganache.

Raspberries filled with Chocolate Ganache

It’s a great dessert recipe with only three ingredients, but best of all it makes you look like a rock star* in the kitchen. Most people I’ve met think stuffing a raspberry is kookoo, that is until they eat one. Close your eyes and imagine a tart, juicy raspberry filled with a tiny dollop of smooth creamy chocolate ganache. Are you drooling? I know I am because these are so good you want to pop them into your mouth like candy, but the flavors are such a sublime pairing you want to savor each one. I have yet to take these anywhere without hearing at lease one person moan out loud when they eat their first one. I love foods that evokes such an earthy response!

Ingredients for raspberries with chocolate ganache

I first found the idea for this recipe on pinterest. There was no recipe linked to the image, but it seemed fairly straight forward. I modified a basic ganache recipe from Rose Levy Bernenbaum, which I then stuffed into a pastry bag with a plain tip, and started to fill the raspberries.

At first it didn’t work because the ganache refused to come out. It was malleable within the pastry bag, but no matter how hard I squeezed it would not squirt into the raspberry hole. I nicknamed this problem pastry bag constipation. Apparently the metal pastry tip changed the temperature of the ganache enough to solidify it within that small metal portion. Take away the pastry tip and things started to flow.  So now I use a disposable plastic pastry bag without a tip, and cut the tiniest of holes at the pointy end. If you have any ganache leftover you can freeze it (that is if you don’t squirt it into your mouth or all over a bowl of ice cream. Or use it to sign your name…

Filling raspberries with chocolate ganache

 

Raspberries Filled with Chocolate Ganache

If you are making these for a crowd wait until raspberries are on sale or you can get them in season. This much ganache will fill approximately 2  1/2 pounds (roughly 4 pints) of raspberries.

4–12 ounce boxes of raspberries

6 ounces good dark chocolate

6 ounces heavy cream (about 3/4 cup)

Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until simmering. As it is heating up finely chop the chocolate. When the cream is bubbling along the edges pour over the chocolate and gently stir to mix all together. Let the ganache cool a bit and then pour into a disposable pastry bag which you have set into a tall glass. Secure end with a rubber band and when the ganache cools to room temperature (you don’t want to cook the raspberries) snip the end off the pastry bag and pipe the ganache into the raspberries. If you find that you have started piping while the ganache is still semi liquid then make sure the raspberries are upright in a container so they don’t drool. Keep cool until ready to serve. Since raspberries are so delicate you do need to make these fairly close to the time you plan to serve them.

Liquid ganache filling

When people tell you how great they are  just smile and say, “It was nothing.”

Chopped chocolate

 

*I felt like this dessert achieved full Rock Star status when my son’s 11th grade class requested I bring it to their school’s semi formal. There were any number of things I could have made for them, but his one was the one recipe they all voted on.

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The Cape of Shame

Today is day three of a forty-five day quarantine.* It looks like it will be a long month and a half.

The Cape of Shame

Mother’s Day was beautiful – 70s, sunny, enough breeze to keep away the bugs. I was enjoying myself sitting out on the deck for the first time this season and painting. Someone let the dog out so he could enjoy it too. We all, humans and animals alike, have had a serious case of cabin fever after such a relentless winter. Then – zoooom – the dog launched himself off the deck to go chase something furry. What can I say? He’s a terrier.

I kept on painting and sipping my wine until his barks switched from “I’m the boss and you’re in my yard” to “I’m in trouble, but that doesn’t matter cause I’m still going to get you”, punctuated with yelps of pain. We all dashed down and found our Jack Russell Terrier had taken on a raccoon. There was a lot of racing under and around the wood piles, with lots of barking and growling. We couldn’t really reach them, and even if we could have, no one wanted to get between the two combatants. Finally my husband managed to separate them after Oliver had grabbed the raccoon by the back of its neck and given him a vicious shake. I took off my work shirt and wrapped the dog with it since he was covered with dirt and blood and who knows what. He was also crazy out of his little walnut sized brain with the excitement of the hunt.

Shawn came up to the house to bathe Oliver while I called our town’s animal control officer. By the time the ACO arrived Oliver was ready for round two and the raccoon had crawled back under the wood pile. The officer decided not to dispatch the raccoon in part because he didn’t have a clear shot and in part because he felt the raccoon wasn’t acting all that strangely. We knew we’d have to get Oliver a rabies vaccine booster and figured that was that. Our Mother’s Day dinner would be a little late, but we’d all move on.

Turns out it’s not that simple. Yes, if your pet is up to date on their shots, they do need a booster, but they also get put under house arrest/quarantine for 45 days. In the house, with only short leashed walks (by an adult), for a month and a half. Did I mention we have a Jack Russell Terrier?

Also because my husband and I had both touched Oliver we too needed to get rabies shots.  A lot of them. Starting with five given at the ER, followed by several more at our doctor’s office over the next three weeks. It is a serious pain in the ass, and I mean that literally since that is where many of the initial shots go. As my sister said via text:

Super bum-mer! Pun intended!!!

 

Cape of shame indoors

So I made Oliver a cape of shame. His very own necktie with a hot pink Q on it for quarantine. Think The Scarlet Letter meets Wishbone. My god-daughter suggested the orange and pink color combination after a favorite pair of sandals she had last summer. I hope Oliver likes wearing it for the next few weeks.

A short walk with the cape of shame

After my Easter disaster and now the Mother’s Day debacle the nurses at our local ER cannot wait to see what I do for Memorial Day.

*From some of the emails I received I realize I need to clarify that the 45 day quarantine is for the dog, not my husband or myself. Though if we start foaming at the mouth and acting all crazy I believe we will get our own special quarantine in a hospital somewhere.

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The Frugality of Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream

One of the biggest challenges I faced when switching from being a chef to food styling was the waste. Not the oh, this is moldy let’s throw it out waste, but this strawberry is too darn big or that bun has a little dimple on one side or the pith of this lemon is a quarter of an inch too thick or this slice of swiss cheese doesn’t have enough holes to read as swiss cheese. Some of these defects you can change or manipulate. Not enough holes in the swiss cheese? No problem, get out your trusty plain pastry tips and cut a few more holes. If the bun is dimpled on one side swivel it so the dimple is away from the camera’s lens. But a strawberry that is too shaped funny? There is not a lot you can do about it. You can’t send it to the gym or carve it into the right shape the art director wants. Instead you buy lots and lots and lots of strawberries. The rejects – those that are too big, too small, too light, or who might have a slight bruise – get used as stand-ins or nibbled on as we work with the perfect ones. If we have the time we’ll try to arrange for a food bank pick up at the end of the day, but it’s not always possible. A chef, on the other hand, buys what they need. They minimize waste. It does need to look good, but it also has to taste good, and food costs have to be kept in mind. As a chef I would use all of the strawberries below. As a food stylist I would reject all but the bottom one, and even that one is a bit iffy as a hero strawberry.

Unphotogenic Strawberries

 

As much as I am a food stylist with an eye for the most gorgeous, I am also a former chef who is frugal down to her bones. And the later is why I love to make Angel Food Cake because the former chef in me cannot throw away an egg white. If I make a batch of my Grammy Thompson’s Scandinavian Cookies or whip up my Mom’s hollandaise sauce to dip some steamed artichokes into I always slip the leftover egg whites into the freezer.  Yolks won’t freeze, but the whites freeze beautifully. Every time I open the freezer door I eyeball my stash of frozen whites, judging if I have enough to make an angel food cake. I’ve twiddled with Jasper White’s recipe over the years and have found that two cups is the right amount for this classic dessert.

 

Small Angel Food Cakes

I think this cake would be a wonderful cake to make for Mother’s Day. So if you don’t have a stash of frozen egg whites waiting for you then cook up a load of eggs benedict or something else that uses egg yolks and then get ready to whip up an angel food cake.

Egg Whites Soft Peak and Stiff Peak

 

Angel Food Cake before-after

Angel Food Cake

1  1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups egg whites, thawed to room temperature if they were frozen

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1  1/3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. You’ll need a 10″ tube pan with a removable bottom. Cut out a parchment paper liner for the bottom of the angel food cake pan since this cake will want to stick otherwise. I usually trace a circle around the insert, then fold the circle in quarters and snip the pointy end so it will look like a giant doughnut and shimmy down the center tube. Do not grease the pan.

Normally I am not too much of a stickler about sifting flour, but for this recipe it is imperative. You sift it before you measure it, then sift along with the salt two more times. You want light, fluffy, aerated flour so your angel food cake can almost take wing.

Then it’s time to beat the egg whites. My stand mixer is on the fritz so I did this with a sturdy hand-held mixer. It took almost 15 minutes so be prepared if hand-held is all you have. It should be slightly quicker if you do have a good stand mixer. I cannot begin to guess what whipping this by hand would take. Start by putting the egg whites,  cream of tartar, and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. I used my stand mixer bowl since I knew it could hold the volume. As the mixture starts to get foamy slowly dribble in the sugar a few Tablespoons at a time while you continue beating. Keep going until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Do not overbeat.

Sift half of the flour/salt over the egg whites and with a large spatula or your hand (remember to take off your watch first) fold it in. Lumpy is ok. Sift the remaining flour/salt mixture and loosely fold that in too. It is a delicate dance of incorporating the dry mixture into the wet while at the same time not loosing too much volume from all the whipping.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove and if your pan has “legs” (3 short prongs riveted onto the top edge) turn the cake upside down on these. If not slip it onto an empty glass bottle.

I have some small angel food cake pans which required me to find some tiny things for them to rest upside down on as you can see in the picture. Why does the cake need to cool upside down? I don’t know, but it does.

To remove it from the pan once it’s cool simply slide a very thin paring or butter knife around the outside edge of the pan, with the knife blade slightly angled toward the pan rather than cake. Do the same around the tube in the middle. With a little jiggling the cake should come out and you can peel off the parchment paper.

Accompaniments are endless. Macerated* fresh berries and a dab of whipped cream. If you’re making this recipe in late June enjoy a slice of cake served with the Holy Trinity of Fruit. My friend Rick Ellis adds a little powdered ginger to his angel food cake then serves it with peaches which have been tossed with sugar and a shot of bourbon. I personally love a ladle full of stewed rhubarb and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whatever you serve it with remember that angel food cake needs to be torn or pulled apart with two forks. If you’re very gentle you can saw slices with a bread knife. A regular knife will just squash it.

Angel Food Cakes cooling

*Macerating simply means adding sugar to let the juices come out. If you have strawberries rinse, slice, and toss with a few spoonfuls of sugar. With self-contained berries such as blueberries or raspberries you may need to smush a few in order for the juices to run.

Macerating Strawberries

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