Category Archives: 50 Recipes

Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread

Every time I opened the fridge last week there it was, staring at me and silently saying in a sing-song voice, “My sell-by date is coming up. You’d better do something with me…” I know what you’re thinking, you think I was hearing things, that this was all in my head. Nope, it really was taunting me from the top shelf – a partially used, industrial-sized bucket of cottage cheese.

Late fall colors

If you’ve stopped by this blog lately you know that Shawn and I hosted a coffee hour at our church a few weeks ago. I went a wee bit overboard making tons of food, which of course tired me out, and the food fatigue led to some whining on my part (and a fair amount of resting on the couch), but I’m going to stop now because it also led me back into the kitchen and gave me a handful of recipes to share with the people who stop by this blog (as well as my knitting group, and the Altar Guild, and the neighbors). I promise to try to pace myself better next time. Let’s just say it has been awhile since I’ve cooked for 100.

Fall fluff seen along a walk

So, back to the talking cottage cheese. I knew when I bought it I wouldn’t use it all, but honestly buying the five-pound bucket at Restaurant Depot was cheaper than buying just the right amount of normal-sized containers of cottage cheese at my local grocery store. However all those years of cooking in restaurants had trained me not to waste food, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. Instead I dug into my recipe box and found Mary Massad’s recipe for Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread. I wanted to really notch up the subtle flavors of scallion and dill so I used five times what the recipe called for, and it turned out that super-sizing the flavoring agents was a very good idea!

Cottage cheese dilly bread rising

Cottage cheese dilly bread

Like both of my grandmothers, I enjoy a heaping spoonful of cottage cheese with some fruit, but I know plenty of people who can’t stand the stuff. Whether it’s a texture thing or a taste thing or just something I’ve come across a lot of people who just plain don’t like cottage cheese. The great news is you can easily hide it in other foods. Okay, maybe not in raw foods, but in cooked foods it just seems to melt quietly away. I’m thinking about cottage cheese pancakes, or spanikopita (where it also helps offset the saltiness of feta), or cottage cheese dilly bread. Note – if you’re serving this to picky eaters I would recommend not using the words cottage cheese when you describe what you’ve made. Unless someone is allergic, in which case you should most definitely mention the cottage cheese factor. Of course now that I’ve blabbed you know I’m sneaky and devious about some  food things, but the truth was going to come out sooner or later.

Sliced cottage cheese dilly bread

The original recipe calls for dried dill weed, however I substituted fresh dill instead. The general rule of thumb when substituting fresh herbs for dried, is to use three times as much since the dried herbs are more concentrated in their herbiness (1 unit dried herb = 3 units fresh herb) For this bread I really wanted the flavor of dill and scallion to come through, and since they are both quiet flavors I added more and more and then just a little bit more. Feel free to play around with it. As I was mixing up the dough this time my tastes have changed over the years. To that end I reduced the amount of salt and sugar the original recipe called for. It was a bit like being a sound mixer at a concert – a little more base, down with the high-end for the back up singers. Only I was mixing flavors – up with the herbs, down with the sucrose and sodium chloride. Feel free to play around with the amounts yourself.

Dill and Cottage Cheese Dilly mix

The recipe makes two loaves of bread. You can also turn it into rolls (think Parker House rolls) by rolling little balls and popping those into greased muffin pans, or placing them on a greased sheetpan with a little bit of room between. I think this dough would be amazing made into bread knots and then coated with the garlic coating from the White on Rice Couple’s blog. The sliced loaves of Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, which is perfect with a bowl of soup. Which brings us full circle back to my dear friend Mary who got this recipe from the Bakery Lane Soup Bowl Cookbook (which is now unfortunately out of print), because really, what is better than a steaming bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?

Grilled cheese sandwich made with cottage cheese dilly bread

Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread

2 cups cottage cheese

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, plus more for greasing the pans

1/2 – 1 cup finely chopped fresh dill (stems removed)

3/4 – 1  1/2 cups minced scallions (2-3 bunches)

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry yeast

1-2 Tablespoons honey or sugar

5 cups flour (I used a mixture of white and whole wheat)

In a saucepan warm the cottage cheese and butter until the butter has melted and the cottage cheese is a bit soupy (you don’t want this too hot, as it could cook the eggs). Add in the dill, scallions, and salt then stir to evenly distribute the green bits. Next beat in the eggs. At the same time as you are warming the cottage cheese mixture proof the yeast by adding the honey to the warm water and sprinkling the yeast on top. Now bring it all together by stirring 4 cups of the flour into the cottage cheese -scallion-dill-egg mixture along with the proofed yeast. You’ll have a very gloppy dough.

Turn out onto a well floured surface (here’s where you’ll use that 5th cup of flour) and knead for 7-12 minutes until the dough is smooth and soft like a baby’s bum with a few wee lumps of cottage cheese. Do not fret, these will disappear when the bread bakes. Oil or butter a large bowl, placing the dough in and giving it a turn so it is greased on all sides, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down, cut and shape into two loaves or 24 rolls. Place into greased loaf pans or greased muffin tins or a greased jelly roll sheet (greased is the key word), then cover and let rise till double. You can, if you want, brush the tops of the loaves or rolls with extra melted butter now. Or just before baking. Or after baking. Or not at all. Your choice.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF and bake loaves for 40-45 minutes or until they have a hollow sound when thumped on their bottoms. The rolls can take 25-35 minutes in muffin pans or 35-40 minutes on a jelly roll pan. Again perform the thumping test, which will be all the easier because you greased your baking vessel. If you want to push them in the direction of herbed Parker House rolls brush on the butter now. If you want to go in the garlic direction, again apply the garlic oil while hot. Cool on a rack and store in an air tight container.

The last of the fall colors

Oliver and I have been taking lots of walks of late and the non-bread pictures in this post are what we’ve seen in Northampton and Whately.

Stone wall in New England


Filed under 50 Recipes

Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls

Sometimes you never know what will suit. You can make all the educated guesses you want, but people will surprise you with their likes and dislikes.

So it was interesting for me to note which foods went first at the church coffee hour Shawn and I hosted a few weeks ago. In the blink of an eye two dozen of Rick Ellis’s deviled eggs disappeared, which made me glad, since they had been the last thing I prepared the night before and I almost didn’t make them thinking I had plenty of food (which I did, but then you have the question when is enough enough?). Inspired by Julia Child, the hard-boiled eggs first have their yolks pressed through a chinoise sieve so that the yolks transform into yellow yolk clouds. Next some room-temperature butter blended into the yolk clouds (along with a spoonful of dijon, mayonnaise, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne) which combines to make these the most etherial deviled eggs that will ever pass your lips. Tired and cranky as I was the night before I was glad to have made the effort when I saw what a hit they were.Gluten Free Pumpkin Date Nut BallsThe next platter of food to vanish was Isabelle’s Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls. It almost doesn’t feel like a recipe to me since they don’t go in the oven or get cooked, but they were a smash hit and people were popping them into their mouths as if they were candy. Gluten free, dairy free (well, duh, they’re vegan), with no processed sugars, and a nice amount of nut proteins, these pumpkin date nut balls were a good counter-balance to the mountain of baked goods they were sharing the table with.

If you look on the internet, especially on Pinterest, there are a myriad of variations on this recipe. I’m pretty sure Isabelle’s inspiration was the Free People’s No-Bake Gingerbread Cookie Balls Beth from Tasty Yummies developed. In doing a little investigative research I found dozens of other recipes, some of which included oatmeal, pepitas, and cacao nibs. There seems to be room for quite a bit of improv within the basic recipe.Chocolate pumpkin date nut ballsWhen you deconstruct a pumpkin date nut ball it makes total sense why people love them:

  • Dates – sweet & moist with a rich flavor
  • Pumpkin & pumpkin pie spices – who doesn’t like good old pumpkin pie
  • Almond Butter – more sophisticated than peanut butter; creamy & refined
  • Dark Chocolate – an optional ingredient, but yum-oh-yum

I made these two pumpkin date nut balls two ways – with and without chocolate. A few weeks ago my friend Missy clued me into the fact that if you have something very sweet, such as pumpkin ice cream, you can pair it with an intense barely sweet chocolate (and in our case that night, a handful of toasted pecans). Jumping off from her suggestion I added dark (80%) chopped chocolate to one batch, which I then rolled in cocoa. The other batch I left plain, though that seems such a misnomer, since there is nothing plain about them. Perhaps I should say the non-chocolate batch.Chopped chocolate added to pumpkin date nut ballsWhile this recipe may be endlessly improvised with, it also will need you to be the judge. Depending on how moist your dates are, how runny (or dry) your almond butter is, how moist your pumpkin pie goo is, you may have to adjust the recipe. Too dry? More pumpkin goo, or a spoonful of water. To moist? A few more spoonfuls of coconut. The humidity will also affect this recipe. I’m not saying it’s complicated, just don’t get locked into thinking the measurements below are iron clad; they’re more a starting suggestion.Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut BallsIsabelle’s Pumpkin Date Nut Balls

3 Tablespoons canned pumpkin *

1/4 cup almond butter

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus more for rolling

3/4 cup walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 – 10 madjool pitted dates, about 3/4 cup loosely packed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (optional)

2-3 Tablespoons cocoa for rolling (optional)

Place pumpkin, almond butter, coconut, walnuts and vanilla in a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are chopped and the ingredients have started to combine. Add the dates, vanilla, and spices and pulse several times more. Depending on how powerful your food processor is this can take 2-4 minutes. If you want these chunkier then process them for less time; smoother and you’ll want to go a bit longer.

If your dough is too dry add a bit more pumpkin or a teeny bit of water. Too wet and you can try more coconut. You want these to hold together when rolled, but not be slumping into flattened mounds because the dough is too wet.

If you’re making the non-chocolate version roll dough into shooter marble size balls, a little smaller than an inch. Then roll into coconut to cover and make them less sticky to pick up. Store in fridge until ready to serve.

If you’re making the chocolate version stir in the chopped chocolate by hand. I’m always tempted to add more chocolate, but I find that there is a line between what this dough will accept and what it will eject. You’re chocolate also has to be pretty finely chopped since the balls are not that large and large chunks tend to fall out. You can roll the finished balls into cocoa, to differentiate them from the non-chocolate balls, or coconut if you don’t want them too chocolatey. Your choice.

Makes about 36 pumpkin date nut balls.Isabelle's gluten free vegan pumpkin date nut balls

By the way – the third thing to dissapear at that coffee hour were little pumpkin jack-o-lanterns cut out of slices of orange cheddar cheese and served on a cracker. What interesting choices people made.Pumpkin cheddar cheese*Clearly you will not use an entire can of canned pumpkin in this recipe so you have some options. You can freeze the remaining pumpkin into pre-measured batches for future PDNB or you can fold it into a waffle or pancake batter or you can make Pumpkin Blueberry Muffins. Or maybe you have a different idea, which I’d love to hear about in the comments section.


Filed under 50 Recipes

When to Borrow vs. When to Buy

Fall leavesThis year we have had the quintessential fall. Bright reds ranging from deep burgundy to jammy crimsons, flaming oranges, and amber yellows. A few weeks ago our first frost mellowed the hillsides into a more subdued, yet equally glorious, pallete. Truthfully it has felt a little surreal to be experiencing such a picture-perfect autumn. Often during this season I whine, wishing the colors were just a bit more intense and the leaves lasted just a little bit longer on the trees. However I have no complaints for 2015 – this fall has been perfect.Fall hillsideWhile I have been revelling in the colors there is also a bittersweet edge to the season. November heralds – at least in Massachusetts – the end of the local farmers markets. Golonka’s, my neighborhood farmstand, closed up for the season last Saturday. Each week at the various farmers markets I visit there are less venders, and the colors of available produce are, like the season, becoming more muted. Still, there are delicious ingredients to fill my baskets with so I just throw on a scarf and sweater then venture out to see what is being offered.Strudel-ZAbout a month ago I was in Hudson, New York filling in for my Dad at our art gallery. Since the gallery doesn’t open until 11am I decided to wander up to the Saturday Farmers Market and came across a wonderful stall featuring strudels. Homemade, hand-pulled apple strudel (and other flavors) similar to what you’d find in Europe. All that was missing were the cobbled streets and a steaming cup of Viennese coffee. Since I was alone there was no choice but to go back to the gallery and eat the entire piece of apple strudel myself before it was time to unlock the door. One bite and I was in love and in luck. Love because the strudel was perfect. Layers and layers of seasoned apples, which while cooked, still had a bit of toothiness left in them. Luck because the couple who made the strudel also had a stall at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market, which is where Shawn was going the following weekend to pick up Russell for his college fall break. How serendipitous that my husband could pick up both our tall one and more strudel.Russell about to eat the whole strudelIt got me to thinking though, when should you buy something vs. borrow the idea and make it yourself? This blog came about four years ago as a way of sharing with my friends the various recipes I’ve gathered throughout my life and travels. It is about meeting people and cooking their food, then passing along what I’ve learned, tasted, or been given. For me food is so much better when shared with others, despite my lone strudel munching. Add to that I think it is safe to say I am an adventurous cook. If I have a well-written recipe, which someone bothered to test (do not get me started on cookbooks or internet sites with untested recipes), there is every chance that I can make it myself. Which brings up the bigger question of do I need to? I can think of two different purchases I made at farmers markets this season which answered that question for me.Kale salad from Beets and Barley

Summer Farmers Market bounty

The first was from Beets & Barley at the Tuesday Market in Northampton. They had an enormous chafing dish of Kale Salad. It encapsulated the height of summer flavors combining local kale with cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced baby zucchini, homemade gluten-free croutons, and a tangy lemon-walnut vinaigrette. I wanted seconds, but instead shopped the market for the ingredients so I could go home and make a giant bowlful for my family. Beets & Barley had given me an idea I could easily play with and tweak, something I could borrow.

The apple strudel I purchased from Strudel-Z was a perfect example, for me at least, of when to buy. Sure, I could probably figure out how to make a strudel dough thin enough to read the newspaper through*, but honestly I think I’m okay not doing that. For me where the scales tip is connected to both the amount of time and work I’d need to put into something as well as the more intangible question of how does it taste? Those are very personal questions, which tie into all sorts of other questions and circumstances (for instance do you even live in an area where there is a plethora of farmers markets, how much time do you have, what is your disposable income, do you love to cook, etc.) that basically means there is no single correct answer. After all you just might have the most wonderful grandmother who grew up in strudel country, then taught you to make every imaginable flavor of strudel there is when you were only six-years-old. It’s possible.Apple Strudel from Strudel-ZI am not going to jump down the proverbial rabbit hole of what you should make vs. what you should buy right now, but you are more than welcome to delve into some of those philosophical food questions. For starters I’d suggest Jennifer Reese’s book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and Barbara Kingslover’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. You can also try Jamie Oliver, Mark Bittman, Eric Scholsser, along with many, many others. Leave a comment below if you’ve found someone who you feel adds to this conversation.

In the meantime I’ll tell you how I make this borrowed kale salad. One tip I’ll pass along is from a TV producer I worked with several years ago. We were featuring a kale salad on the show and she suggested massaging the kale. I remember thinking, “Okay crazy lady from somewhere in crunchy-granola-west-coast-of-America we’re going to massage the greens – yeah right.” Though actually she was completely right, and I had to fork down a big mouthful of humble pie. Pressing or massaging helps to break down the cells in hardier greens like kale, which is especially nice if you’re going to eat it raw. To do this you simply roll the kale into a little bundle (with the stems if it’s baby kale and without if it is the big stuff) and then roly-poly it on your counter. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to do this extra step.

Kale salad inspired by Beets and Barley

Borrowed Kale Salad

Kale, baby or whole (if whole remove the rib)

Cherry tomatoes, whole or halved

Small zucchini, thinly sliced

Walnuts, roughly chopped

Radish, slivered

Carrots, shredded or sliced into thin discs

Croutons (optional)

Crumbled blue or feta or goat cheese(optional)


As I mentioned above give the kale a bit of a massage, then cut into chunks or chiffonade (very thin strips). Toss in the other vegetables and nuts, then toss it all with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Olive oil and lemon or orange juice with a spoonful of mustard works well. So does a balsamic vinaigrette. A grind of pepper and a sprinkle of salt and you are good to go.

So many possibilities for dressing this salad, just as there are a bazillion ways to build this salad.

This is just a jumping off point more than a recipe. Some other ideas can be found here.

* Serious Eats has a recipe for a strudel dough which looks pretty good if you do want to try it.



Filed under 50 Recipes

Pumpkin Patch Carrot Cake

Last week at this time I was in a bit of a cooking frenzy doing something I thought I’d never do – preparing to host a coffee hour at my church. Sure over the years I brought in the odd batch of cookies here or contributed a bundt cake there, but I’d never felt called to take on the whole shebang. Until last week.

Golden orange fall colors

Coffee hour at St. John’s can be almost anything – from a few boxes of donut holes and a fruit platter to chaffing dishes filled with steaming trays of frittata and spicy eggs set alongside platters of homemade baked goodies. There aren’t that many rules about coffee hour other than that there be, well coffee. Plus a little something to nibble on. Oh, and it’s recommended you have some of it ready for the finish of 8 o’clock service so they don’t feel left out of the fellowship created by caffeine and conversation. Of course you also want to be prepared for the swarm of locust children as they sweep through the parlors on their way from Church School to the service. And don’t forget a few gluten-free goodies (after all we serve GF wafers at communion). I take it back. There are rules, which is probably why I’ve made the occasional donations of food over the years but never tackled the task by myself.

With the kids back at college after fall break it seemed like I could handle a coffee hour. It would be fun I told my husband, we can do all sorts of Halloween-y foods. He agreed. Like Jell-o brains and kitty litter cakes. Yes to brains, no to a litter box filled with edible cat poo at church. I was ready to start cooking.

Jell-O brain ready to be eaten


With my list in hand I went shopping. Shawn took me to Restaurant Depot which was all sorts of fun, even if it wasn’t practical for every item. Did I really need twelve dozen eggs and 50 pounds of butternut squash? Not really, but it was great for phyllo dough, crumbled feta, fresh scallions and dill, as well as the frozen chopped spinach and one-pound blocks of unsalted butter all of which could be turned into spanikopita.

Pumpkin patch carrot cake

I made a platter of my friend Rick Ellis’s Deviled Eggs, which Jane Lear has written about. There was the classic quivering Jell-O brain, which amazingly was eaten with great gusto. I overheard one 7-year-old tell a classmate, “I like brain, it’s really good.” I also had a steaming crock pot of Carrot-Squash Soup, baskets of Foccacia, along with many other nibbles, including my favorite Carrot Cake, made to look like a pumpkin patch.

24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes

If you are a reader of this blog this carrot cake will look familiar because I’ve previouisly posted it all dressed up as 24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes. Since I’ve been making variations of this cake for over forty years the recipe has seen a lot of iterations.

FamilyFun vs Martha

I’ve turned this carrot cake into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden for some Easter recipes I developed for FamilyFun Magazine (and interestingly Martha Stewart ran a Martha-ized Spring version of that cake design a year later – coincidence maybe, but who knows?). This carrot cake has appeared gussied up as the wedding cake at a friend’s nuptuals, was once the label of a carrot cake scented Yankee Candle, and of course has been made into the super fancy 24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes. I love this cake because you can dress it up or dress or down and bake it into just about any shape you want to. Definitely a recipe you should have in your cake repetoire.

Yankee Candle Carrot Cake

While I’ve tweaked portions and a few of the ingredients over the years, the most important thing I can tell you about making a tasty carrot cake is that size matters. Not the size of your carrots, rather the size you grate them. Too chunky and strands of carrot get caught in your teeth, too fine and the carrots clump in the batter. The best tool to achieve the right size of shred is on a box grater. Go for thin shreds and your carrot cake will be golden!

Finely grated carrots

If you’re pressed for time or you’ll be serving this to people who don’t like almonds, forgo the marzipan pumpkins. You can always use the little ones they sell around this time of year. Also I didn’t realize I had no grahm crackers to crush into dirt until 11 o’clock at night so I made a quick mix of brown sugar, white sugar, a bit of flour and some cinnamon. It worked very well. Since this cake was served right from the pan I made my cream cheese frosting very soft, with a 2:1 ration of cream cheese to butter, and cutting way back on the powdered sugar. I don’t think it would work on a tiered cake to make the frosting that soft, but it might be okay on cupcakes it you didn’t try to pile the frosting too high.

Marzipan pumpkins

Pumpkin Patch Carrot Cake


2 cups finely shredded carrots

1  1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 – 7 ounce can crushed pineapples in their juice

3 eggs

1  1/3 – 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) dried unsweetened coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher)

2 cups flour (I often use 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 all-purpose)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan (I also use a piece of parchment paper on the bottom). Set aside.

Mix together the carrots, oil, pineapples, eggs, sugar, coconut, and walnuts together until thouroughly combined and no clumps remain. Do this by hand as a mixer is just too much for this cake. Sift the remaining dry ingredients together, or if you’re lazy like me just on top of the wet mixture. Fold together until everything is well blended then pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 60 – 70 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean, and the cake is “quiet” when you listen to it. Cool.


1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened

3  3/4 – 4  1/2 cups powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Gradually sift in the powdered sugar until you get your desired consistency. Stir in the vanilla after 2 cups of powdered sugar have been added.

I dyed a cup of frosting green with some paste food coloring to pipe leaves around the edge of the cake. It is totally optional, especially considering every pumpkin patch I have ever visited in Massachusetts at this time of year has nary a leaf. They are quite dead from frost.



Gel food paste colors

Graham cracker crumbs for light dirt   or

Chocolate cookie crumbs for darker dirt

Last week when I made the marzipan pumpkins I dyed a small chunk green for the leaves and the rest orange for the pumpkins. Gel paste dyes are potent so you may want to knead the color into the marzipan within a plastic bag or while wearing gloves. I ended up with a bit too much green so I created a mutant zucchini. Basically you can treat the marzipan as if it were edible play-dough. Toothpicks are really handy for marking ridges and rolling stem curlicues around.

Pumpkin patch carrot cake

If you’re making this into a garden cake dye small chunks of the marzipan with gel food pastes and go to town! There are some great videos on making marzipan veggies, but honestly I just pull out my seed catalogues and go from there.

Since I was so busy serving up all the yummy coffee hour food last weekend I didn’t stop to take many photos. I’d like to give a shout out to my intrepid photo assistant Isabelle, who helped re-create this cake. She also rolls a fantastic marzipan pumpkin!

And of course lots of coffee hour love to my husband who never once let the coffee pots run dry, while he managed to wash the mountains of dishes I created, and whose heretofor little known talent for pepper carving have been revealed. He even snaped a few pics of the brain before it was gobbled up – thanks sweetie!

pepper pumpkin


Filed under 50 Recipes

Apple Pop Tarts

A few weeks ago my friend Joyce sent out an email inviting anyone who was around to come and pick apples from the trees in their backyard*. These trees had decided to not wait for fall to begin giving up their bounty. It was either pick or watch them drop, so I went over and picked. After a little bit Joyce came out and helped me pick some more. And what the heck, those trees were loaded, so I grabbed another few bags from my car and we stuffed them with several dozen more handfuls of MacIntosh and Granny Smiths. It was a veritable apple palooza.

Basket of apples from a neighbor's trees

Of course then I drove home and realized I had just picked fifty-six pounds of apples. Which is a lot, basically the equivalent of a second grade child. Needless to say I have been processing them ever since. Some are perfect, though many of them are funky, free-form apples. No pesticides, no recent pruning, just grow as-you-may apples. Their shapes can make them tricky to peel, but perfect for my smooth applesauce recipe which requires no peeling or coring, just a foley food mill. The resulting quarts and quarts of applesauce have been just right to mix into several batches of vegan war cake (also known in my Grandmother’s day as a Victory Cake) or dollop on top of zucchini pancakes that Shawn and I have been enjoying for our end of summer suppers. Applesauce-land has been a tasty place to be these past few weeks.

Wild apples

While all things applesauce has been great, the best apple treats (in my opinion) have come from sorting through the apples to find the more regular shaped ones, and then turning them into Apple Pop Tarts. Not the pop tart of your childhood that came in a box wrapped in foil. No, these pop tarts are from one of Nicole Frazen‘s blog posts featuring Camille Becerra’s Rhubarb Apple Pop Tarts. And to be perfectly honest I’ll say it right here – I do not make mine look anywhere near as beautiful as Ms. Becerra’s do. Seriously, check out the blog post because she makes hers look so good you’ll start drooling on your laptop. I think one of the reasons mine don’t look the same is because I’m in too damn much of a hurry to make them, bake them, and then eat them. Plus I’ve tweaked the recipe a lot, and the resulting dough, while delicious, is a bit more finicky.

Apple Pop Tart


For starters I use all apples, not a mix of rhubarb and apples. One batch of pop tarts even featured some wild foraged apples and pears my friend Ronald had given me**. Since these were early apples I found them to be a bit less sweet than the later varieties. They also needed a boost of moisture to get them cooking, which in my applesauce I did with a splash of water, and in the Apple Pop Tarts I did with margarine. I’m pretty hooked on Todd Porter’s Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies where he partially cooks the apple filling before adding it to the pastry. Becerra uses this method in her fruit pop tarts as well. The reasoning behind this (at least to my mind) has to do with size. These smaller pies, because that is essentially what they are, cook faster than a traditional pie so there is less time for firmer fruits, such as apples, to soften up as they bake due to the overall shorter baking times. The pre-baking sauté jump starts the cooking process.

Cooking filling for Apple Pop Tarts

I also tweaked the crust to be a mixture of whole wheat and regular flours. Since my husband doesn’t do cow dairy I swapped out the butter for our favorite margarine. The result is an amazingly flakey crust, which truth be told, would never make it in a toaster, and can even be tricky to pick up in your hand. So perhaps these shouldn’t be called Apple Pop Tarts. How about Flakey Handfuls of Apple Deliciousness? Or I Can’t Stop Eating These Little Apple Pies of Wonderfulness? Or I could go short and sweet with Apple Nom-Noms. They are after all nom nom-alicious.

Adding filling to homemade apple pop tarts

Honestly I always double this recipe. There are hungry teenagers who visit from college, church meetings we attend, plus friends who all appreciate an Apple Pop Tart or two. When Russell was home last weekend from Simon’s Rock his question was, “How many of these can I take back to school?” Also my APTs tend to be large, not because I’m greedy, but rather because I like the apple-crust ratio when they’re two fists sized, rather than one fist sized. Totally up to you what size you make them, and of course if they are too large you can always cut one in half and share it, like a good friend.

Just out of the oven apple pop tarts

Early Fall Apple Pop Tarts

This is for the non-doubled amounts.


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons margarine (I use Earth Balance)

generous 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 scant teaspoon kosher salt

2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

1 egg

1-4 Tablespoons ice water


2 to 2 1/2 pounds mixed apple varieties

2-4 Tablespoons margarine

1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar, depending on taste

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

1-2 Tablespoons flour if apples are very juicy

zest from one small lemon (optional)

Make the crust first so it can chill for a bit. Combine flours, shortening, margarine, salt and sugar together in a food processor. Pulse several times to crumble fats into the flours. Do not let machine run continually. Drop in egg and 1 Tablespoon cold water and pulse 3-4 times. Open the top and give the dough a pinch. If it holds together dump it all into a large plastic bag or onto a piece of plastic wrap (giving it a quick knead or two to get the drier bits combined with the moister bits. If the dough does not hold together add water 1 Tablespoon at a time, pulsing 2-3 times to incorporate. You don’t want a dry dough that doesn’t hold together, nor do you want a wet sticky dough. Just enough moisture to hold together. I have found with the high amount of fats in this recipe along with the egg that I need very little water. Form the dough into a rectangle (more or less) and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Side note: I like the mix of whole wheat and plain flour. You can also use regular whole wheat flour and white pastry flour, or even all white flour. I have not tried it with all whole wheat. Also I haven’t tried it with butter (instead of margarine), though my guess is it would be as yummy.

To make the filling I put the margarine, sugar and spices into a large cast iron skillet and turn the heat on for a few minutes to melt the margarine, then quickly turn the heat off. Next peel and core the apples, slice into thin slices, tossing every so often with the melted margarine and sugar. If your apples are smaller you’ll need more of them since they’ll yield less usable apple (for some reason there seems to be the same amount of core in a small apple or a large one). Once you’ve sliced the apples all up, turn on the heat to medium or medium high and start cooking. Stir the apples around so the sugar doesn’t burn and they cook evenly. For a double batch this takes me 17-24 minutes. I want the slices to be slightly soft, but still have a bit of crunch to them. Cool mixture quickly by spreading it out onto a jelly roll pan. Or if you’re not in a hurry, scrape into a bowl and let cool, lightly covered, overnight.

To make pop tarts preheat oven to 400ºF. Liberally sprinkle your work surface with flour and roll out 1/2 dough at one time. Making sure the dough and counter are floured roll out cold dough to 1/4″ thickness, moving it around as you roll so it doesn’t stick. I then slice dough into rectangles roughly 4″ x 10-12″. Move dough strips onto baking sheet covered with siplpat mat or parchment paper. Spoon on about 1 cup of apple fillings, then fold dough over and seal edges with a fork. Poke a few small steam vents along the top to prevent the pop tarts from exploding.

Bake 15 – 20 minutes then swivel the baking sheet 180º and bake another 15-20 minutes or until the dough is nicely browned and you see some of the filling bubbling along the steam vents. Cool and eat. Makes 4-5 large apple pop tarts. See why I said I always double the recipe?

Apple Pop Tarts ready to pick up and eat

*What do you do if you don’t have friends with apple trees? My first suggestion is, if you live in apple growing country, to buy several different varieties of apples to use. Ask the farmer as they will have great suggestions for which apples are the best cooking apples. If you don’t live in apple growing country, then get a mix at the store – MacIntosh, Granny Smith, Empire, Cortland, Mutsu, maybe throw in a pear to mix things up. What you want to do is layer the flavors of apples. More like four part harmony than a solo.

Apple Pop Tart ready to eat

** Ronald didn’t just give me a bag of wild apples, pears and crabapples. He also gave me little bags of wild olives, grapes, juniper (homemade gin anyone?), a tuber you use like a potato, Queen Anne’s lace which you can use like pepper, and all sorts of other goodies from the woods. He had a Foraged CSA share this year. Some amazing young woman tromped through the woods and brought him all sorts of wild edibles. How nifty is that?

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Sour Cherry Gin Jings

My friend Amy is an awesome person to have a cocktail with because she’s funny and smart with a big heap of sass spooned in. We knew of each other through a mutual friend and then when finally we met in person, on a food styling job of course, we just clicked. We don’t see each other all that often because well, I’m up here in Massachusetts and she’s down in the big bad Apple or across the pond on a job in merry old England. Thank goodness for the smörgåsbord of ways to stay in touch. One thing, among many, that Ms. Lord and I have in common (besides food styling, being Moms, and our sassy attitudes) is our mutual love of good food and gin.

Amy Lord by John Moloney

In last week’s post on Sour Cherry Crumble I mentioned that I’d been sipping on a quick and easy cocktail I called Sour Cherry Gin Jings. Up to my elbows (literally) in sour cherries, at the end of the day I’d grab a handful, pit them, muddle with some simple syrup, mint, a shot or two of gin, and top it all off with a splash of seltzer and a few ice cubes.

Sour Cherry Gin Jings

Imagine my surprise last Saturday when I went to see my sour cherry dealer farmer and he unbelievably had a few boxes of those glowing red orbs tucked between the baskets of plums and blueberries. When he looked up from making change for another customer and watched me making a determined beeline towards his booth, he smiled and said, “I wondered if you’d show up today.”

Truth was I almost didn’t. After all he’d told me the week before that the season was over, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to torture myself or not. Sitting on his counter were less than a handful of boxes of sour cherries for us hard-core addicts. We chatted about pitting (he doesn’t use a pitter, just squashes them like my friend Marisa does), then got into a philosophical debate about gin vs. vodka in summer fruit libations. I think he’d like this wacky watermelon margarita Todd Porter and Diane Cu whipped up, even though it has neither vodka nor gin in it.

Pitting Sour Cherries

When I got home I decided to try out this super simple technique Marc Matsumoto featured on his blog No Recipes during strawberry season. After all these really were the last few boxes of sour cherries for this season and they deserved some special treatment. To remove the pits I plunked down a layer of sour cherries in a pie plate, topped them with a slightly smaller pie plate, and squished those pits out. Then all the cherries and juice went into a plastic bag, and spent the night in the freezer. The next day I popped the frozen cherries and juice into a large jar, added a bit of sugar, gin and waited.

Making sour cherry gin

Since the amount of sour cherry gin or vodka is directly limited to the amount of sour cherries you have access to (I’m guessing that most of my readers do not have a tree in their backyard), my advise is to consider who you share these cocktails with. Limited supply and all. Though of course to look at if from a different perspective this would certainly be a way to make some new friends.

Sour Cherry Gin or Vodka

1 1/2 – 2 quarts sour cherries, washed and pitted

1/2 cup turbinado/raw cane sugar

5-7 cups gin or vodka, enough to cover the cherries

Place the sour cherries and any juice you captured into a plastic back and put the freezer overnight. The next day put all the frozen cherries into a large clean jar, sprinkle with sugar and cover with gin or vodka. Let sit in fridge for 3-6 days. Drain alcohol into a clean jar that has been sterilized. Store in fridge. you can save the remaining fruit (which will have lost most of its color) by zapping in the blender with a few tablespoons of sugar. Freeze into cubes and add to adult beverages as the mood strikes you.

Sour Cherry Gin

Sour Cherry Gin Jing

Splash a jigger of sour cherry gin into a glass with some ice and a bit of the leftover marinated sour cherries. Add a spring of mint and some seltzer.

Sour Cherry Vodka Sparkler

Splash a jigger of sour cherry vodka into an old-fashioned glass, top with seltzer and a squeeze of lime.

Sour cherry vodka cocktail

Any other suggestions? The possibilities are only as limited as your supply of  Sour Cherry Gin or Vodka. Drinks on the deck anyone?

Beautiful day in Whately

Photo Credits:

Amy Lord by John Moloney
All others by Cynthia Allen
And no, the vista pictured above is not a view from my deck, though it is a short walk from my house. I think a thermos full of cocktails might be arranged…

P.S. Amy dear I am saving you a batch of this gin-based elixir for when we next meet up! Hopefully it’s soon~


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100 Pounds of Cherries

Clouds over WhatelyI have to say it’s been a delightful summer so far. Beautiful days with blue, blue skies full of enormous cumulus clouds, and nights cool enough to need a light blanket. It’s almost as if I’m in Maine not Massachusetts, and I like it very much. Of course Mother Nature has had a few bitchin’ days here and there. It’s as if she morphs into a menopausal menace who forces everyone to live through her horrendous hot flashes made up of 98º F which she then combines with 98% humidity; because you know if Mamma suffers, than everyone has got to suffer. Fortunately those nasty days have been fairly limited, and for the most part I get to start each morning listening to the birds sing and the bumblebees buzz in my hostas. A few days ago I was treated to a viewing of the proverbial birds and bees when I watched a pair of hummingbirds fly from my nasturtiums to my morning glories and then on to the hostas, fighting as they went of course since that is what hummingbirds do, while dozens of bumbles sedately moved from one hosta stem to the next, occasionally stopping by the other flowers to test their tastiness. It was actually thrilling to see both birds and bees seeking nectar and pollen from the same plants.

Morning Glories and Nastursium

A bonus to this pleasant weather is that I’ve actually felt like turning the stove on to cook. Unlike summers past where it has been so hot I’ve felt like I was melting (and as a result of that heat I whined about the temperature a lot – like here and here and here), it has actually been okay to bake things. Which is good because I have been on a sour cherry binge. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I have been going to the farmer’s market every Saturday and bringing home baskets upon baskets, and then case upon case of sour cherries from Outlook Farm.Outlook Farm cherries

Some of the things I’ve done with this massive amount of sour cherries has not needed any heat. My Sour Cherry Gin Jings which are made up of muddled sour cherries, a squirt of simple syrup or maple syrup, a shot or two of gin, sometimes juice/sometimes not, all topped off with some seltzer and mint are made on the counter or sometimes out on the deck as the sun is setting. Quite refreshing and no heat required.

Sour Cherry Gin Jings

Mostly I’ve been working on a pretty stellar Sour Cherry Crumble. I know, I know you want to get our your tiny violin and play some sad songs for the suffering I’ve gone through this past month taste-testing six I mean seven, well actually nine sour cherry crumbles. I also whipped up a batch of Sour Cherry Hand Pies to pack in a picnic Isabelle, Russell, Vivian, and I took to The Clark Museum*. They were lovely, but needed more filling according to my intrepid taste testers and myself. Basically it’s been a month of sour cherry feasting.

What I’ve come to learn is that while most berries are juicy, sour cherries seem to explode with juice. This juiciness necessitates a few alterations to how one would normally approach a berry dessert. If you treat the sour cherries like a blueberry for instance, and just toss them with some sugar and flour, then sprinkle with a crumb topping you’ll watch in fascination and horror as the cherry juice first bubbles up and over the pie plate (more so than any blueberry ever could). This juice-ifying can be at times so violent that it will even eject whole cherries from the pie onto the baking pan (which you hopefully put under your pie plate because if you didn’t you’ll be scrubbing the bottom of your oven for a week). As the cooking continues the cherry filling proceeds to swallow the crumb topping like a molten sea of red lava before the topping ever has a chance to brown and crisp up. The first time I watched this happen it reminded me of the cheesy special effects of a Godzilla movie.

My solutions to this sour cherry juiciness are two-fold – first use a bigger (or at least deeper) dish and second pre-cook the filling a bit before proceeding with the pie or crumble making. I can already hear the whining, “But do I really have to take this extra step?” To which I answer, “Read the paragraph above.” Do you really want to deal with sour cherry ooze?

Making sour cherry pie filling

The other thing to note about cherries, sour or otherwise, is that they have pits, and you must get rid of said pits before you make a pie or crumble or cocktail. This is a tedious job which can be made less tedious by listening to a book on tape. Something like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice or whatever book strikes your fancy (I certainly don’t expect everyone to be an Austin fan, but trust me when I say a book or podcast will help the process go faster). Our library system now offers ebooks and audio books which you can download onto your tablet or computer. This means you will never be without a book to read or listen to as long as you can charge your device, which is cause for a happy dance in my opinion.

I’ve written before on this blog about not wanting to own kitchen tools that only serve one purpose. One hundred pounds of cherries later I do wonder if I should break my rule and invest in a cherry pitter. My knitting group certainly recommended I think about it as they scoffed down multiple helpings of a gluten-free sour cherry crumble I made for them (everyone in my knitting group is GF, with the exception of moi). Maybe next year I’ll invest in a pitter. Or not.

Sour Cherry Crumble PieSour Cherry Crumble


1 quart sour cherries, pitted

3/4 cups sugar

juice of 1/2 small lemon

1/2 – 2  Tablespoons corn starch


2/3 cup flour (or same amount as cup4cup GF “flour”)

2/3 cup old-fashioned oats

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

3 ounces (3/4 stick) margarine or butter

If you’ve already pitted the cherries you can start with the recipe.  If not turn on your book on tape or favorite CD and pit away. Don’t bother wasting the energy of preheating the oven while you pit.

In a medium size saucepan stir together the cherries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, more towards the end than at the beginning, for 14 – 20 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken and has bubbled away for several minutes. Don’t let the mixture burn, because it will if you don’t attend to it, and you did after all just spend a whole heck of a lot of time pitting those cherries, so burning would be bad.

After the mixture has been started to bubble around the edges of the saucepan preheat the oven to 400ºF. Once the mixture has thickened and cooked a wee bit scrape it into your pie plate. As I said before I found it helpful to use something slightly larger than you’d normally use for a fruit pie. An 8″ square Pyrex pan is a good choice. So is a 12″ round pie plate. All my pie plates are glass or ceramic, so I don’t know if the acidity from the cherries and lemon juice would react to a metal pie plate. Better not to find out is my advice. Set your pie plate on a jelly roll pan which has been lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Even using the bigger pie plate/dish there will still be some spill over.

Pop in the oven for 45 minutes and then start to make your topping. Do this by rubbing the margarine (if you’re serving people who have dairy allergies or are vegan) into the flour/oatmeal/sugar mix with your fingertips until it is crumbly and had lumps the size of peas. If the cherry pie has been in the oven about 10 – 15 minutes carefully sprinkle the crumble over the top, making sure you do not dump too much in any one spot. If you like less crumble that this recipe makes simply sprinkle on what you like and freeze the rest for another pie or to put on top of muffins. Continue baking the pie until the topping is nicely browned and the sour cherry goo has bubbled up (hopefully not over too much) around the edges of your topping. When everything is brown and bubbly and smelling divine remove from the oven and cool.

Sour cherry pie

Here’s something I learned from SCC #8 – if you try to eat this right out of the oven it will be like soup. Plus chances are very good that you will burn your mouth, even if you try to eat it a là mode. So be patient and wait for it to cool down, then enjoy.

Sour cherry pie about to be gobbled up

*If you are around western Massachusetts this summer it really is worth your time to take a trip over to the The Clark Museum. They have a lovely Van Gogh exhibit, along with James McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 which I was thrilled to see, plus they are showing the winning Super Bowl art wager (on loan for three months from the Seattle Art Museum) – Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and they recently finished an exquisite renovation of their building so that it now has this series of gorgeous reflecting pools, plus plenty of picnic tables for enjoying your lunch outside at.

Vivian at Clark Art Museum


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