Indian Pudding as Birthday Cake

Last Friday there were five more candles on my birthday cake than there were when I started this blog. Yup, it’s that time of year. Time to sing the song, put on the birthday hat, and celebrate. Which all happened after a day of zooming back and forth across the state.

Since Isabelle needed to pop over to Hanscom Air Force base to tie up some AFROTC stuff the celebratory birthday eating began at Sofra in Cambridge with their Turkish style breakfast and a pistachio pop-tart. Ana Sorten’s flavor combinations are truly five-star. If you ever are in the greater Boston area I would highly recommend you make time for a detour to check it out. Of course if I, like my sister, lived a few miles from Sofra’s front door I might stop cooking all together.Breakfast at SofraOn our drive back to western side of the state Isabelle asked what I wanted for my birthday dessert, since it’s a tradition in our family that the birthday gal or guy gets to choose the meal and dessert*. Jokingly I told her I wanted, “all the deserts associated with Massachusetts – Boston Cream Pie, chocolate chip cookies, and Indian Pudding.” It wasn’t clear who was going to make the birthday dessert(s) but I knew that somehow there would be something sweet to fill the bill. Honestly I would have been happy to make my own cake/dessert since being in the kitchen is so relaxing; I just didn’t have the time.

When everyone had reconvene back at the house in the early evening we popped over the bridge to the Blue Heron Restaurant for cocktails and hors d’oeuvre. Shawn had a fabu dinner planned at home for later, but I wanted a little bit of an adult beverage sparkle as well as a few foods I was unlikely to cook at home. Their hand cut french fries with homemade truffle mayo are swoon-worthy, as are their chickpea coated fried calamari.

With my birthday bookended by visits to two of my favorite eateries, followed by hubby grilling up some lamby chops, it was a pretty sweet day in the food department. The proverbial cherry on top was Isabelle directing Russell (via text) to stop by Paul & Elizabeth’s restaurant to pick up a few servings of their Indian Pudding. My 55th birthday was complete.Indian Pudding a la ModeIf you didn’t grow up in New England, or spend some time here, it is likely that you have no idea what Indian Pudding is. Basically it is a smash-up of old world meets new world. A variation on the hasty puddings of the Pilgrims, but substituting the ground cornmeal of the Native Americans for the wheat of the old world. Having grown up in New York state (which has much more in common culturally with the New England states than it does with the mid Atlantic states in my opinion), then attended college and ultimately settled in the Bay State, I know all about Indian Pudding. It also happens to be one of my Dad’s favorite desserts. And as far as I am concerned, it should have been acknowledged as one of the official foods of Massachusetts, but we’ll talk more about that later.**County map of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. From the New York Public Library digital collection.Much as I love Indian Pudding I have to be honest and tell those of you have never eaten it – Indian Pudding is butt ugly. Right up there with pet food. If you can get past the visual ugliness it is a yummy dessert. I can pretty much guarantee if you are served a bowl of warm Indian Pudding, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top, your eyelids will flutter as you murmur, “Mmmmmm.” Do your deserts need to be pretty? Make a Boston Cream Pie. If you’re okay with a homely-but-soul-satisfyingly-delicious-on-a-cold-winter-day-dessert than whip up a vat of Indian Pudding, the dish not even a food stylist can make look glamorous.

I started making Indian Pudding when I taught a cooking section for Isabelle’s third grade class on the Foods of Massachusetts. Third grade is the year our state determined all kids in public schools should learn about everything Massachusetts, from its history and geography, to its Peoples (Wampanoags/Puritans/Pilgrims) and products. Me being me I thought those eight and nine-year-olds should also learn about the official and unofficial foods of Massachusetts. So I wrote up a curriculum, which her teacher Pat Bell approved and was in the room, whisk recipes in hand, for a semester.Cornmeal, brown sugar and spices for Indian PuddingWhen I started making this dessert I tweaked the Deerfield Inn’s version. Lately though a thicker, slightly less sweet version, which I adapted from the New York Times has appealed to my taste. When I had my knitting group act as guinea pigs taste testers this week they voted for the thicker, less sweet version, saying, “If you want it sweeter the ice cream does the trick. Or you could drizzle it with maple syrup…” So this is a pretty flexible recipe and can be adjusted to your tastes.

I made this two times – once with cow’s milk and another time with goat’s milk, both full fat. There did not seem to be a difference from the type of dairy used, which was great since a number of my family and friends prefer goat’s milk.

Indian Pudding side by sideI also used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Stone Ground Cornmeal, which has a really nice flavor, is probably pretty similar to what the early settlers used, and is gluten-free (which the settler’s probably didn’t give a hoot about but several of my friends do). In the past I’ve also used Gray’s Johnnycake Corn Meal which is made entirely from Rhode Island Narragansett flint corn, and is grown on the southern coast of Rhode Island. It’s has superb flavor too, and is decidedly a New England product.

Indian Pudding

1 Tablespoon butter or margarine

1 quart whole milk, cow or goat

1/3 – 1 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup molasses (if  you want a less intense molasses flavor substitute 1/4 cup maple syrup for half the molasses)

4 eggs

Ice cream or whipped cream for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease a 2 quart baking dish with the butter. Also put a kettle on so you have enough hot water to make a ban marie.

Heat milk until steaming, then slowly whisk in the cornmeal, spices, brown sugar, and molasses. Cook until thickened, which if you use the full cup of cornmeal should take about 10 minutes (if you use less cornmeal it can take a bit longer). You’ll want to keep whisking during this time so there isn’t any scorching.

Meanwhile crack the eggs into a bowl. Take a cup of the hot mixture and whisk it into the eggs. At this point you can turn off the heat. The hot milk-cornmeal tempers the eggs enough so when you pour them into the milk mixture you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Once everything has been whisked together pour into the prepared pan.

You’ll want to set the baking dish into a bigger baking dish or roasting pan and place partway into the oven (far enough in so it doesn’t tip out). Then gently pour the hot water from the kettle into the larger dish until you’ve reached about half way up the side of your baking dish with the Indian Pudding in it. Slide it fully onto the rack in your oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until set. If you use the lesser amount of cornmeal you may need to increase your baking time considerably. You want there to be just a very slight jiggle in the center of the dish when you take it out.

Serve warm with ice cream (or whipped cream). It is also nice with just a splash of milk. If you want to gild the lily you can drizzle some maple syrup on top.

Indian Pudding with Ice Cream

*Here is one of Isabelle’s birthday cakes, and here is one of Russell’s choices.

**I hope that within the next few weeks I’ll have a new project up and running. Hint – it will be like taking a bite out of Massachusetts. Stay tuned!

 

Photo Credits:

All by Cynthia Allen except for the map of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which is courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

A serious bowl of yummy - Indian Pudding

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Backgammon and the Twelve Days of Christmas

This year one of my Christmas presents came with a warning written on the tag –

“Please insert ear plugs now!!!”

Immediately my son, daughter, and husband stuck their fingers in their ears as I opened the package. And yes, as anticipated by the man I’ve been married to for nearly twenty-two years, I let out a very loud, very high-pitched SQUEEEEEEEE of joy. He’d gotten me a little red squirrel by Elizabeth Radysh, a local artisan who repurposes old sweaters into small Waldorf style animals and dolls. I have been collecting her bunnies, kittens, and chicks for several years now and Shawn had found the tiny squirrel at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival last fall. He was positive I had seen him buy it, but I hadn’t. I’d been too busy watching the flying feet of the Irish dancers, standing not-too-close to the raw egg toss, and marvelling at the winner of the raw garlic eating contest who chomped down 19 cloves of garlic in less than ten minutes, all while wandering around nibbling various garlic-flavored foods. Clearly I was in too much of a garlic haze to notice Shawn doing any secret Christmas shopping. What struck me was how well he knew what I’d love – even down to how I would react when I opened it up. Decades of living together can do that.

Elisabeth Radysh's little red squirrel

Pink bunny by Elisabeth Radysh

That much time together can also give a couple funny little habits. Our most recent couple quirk has been nearly nightly games of backgammon during dinner. We’ve played various board and card games over the years, but our new the-kids-are-away-at-college tradition is to eat dinner while we simultaneously play two to four games of backgammon. Not so much because it matters who wins (it doesn’t), rather just for the fun of playing. Though I will note for those of you who do play the game there have been several gammons this fall and even one backgammon. With the kids home from college for their winter breaks these dinner & game nights have been mostly curtailed since to be frank, as much fun as it can be to play backgammon, it is not a spectator sport.

Backgammon

With backgammon somewhat on the back burner what I’ve enjoyed most this holiday season (aside from the kids being home and my red squirrel) have been the twelve days of Christmas. Despite the myriad of retailers who want you to believe the twelve days of Christmas happen before December 24th to you to shop, shop, shop; they actually fall between Christmas and Epiphany. For me they’re enjoyable because they are the quiet moment (relatively speaking) which bridges the end of the old year and the start of the new. Since all of the cookies I had baked before Christmas somehow disappeared by December 25th I have been thinking about renaming these days the twelve days of rebaking Christmas cookies. I find it quite peaceful to bake after the holidays so this has not been a hardship whatsoever. Here’s what I’ve remade so far:

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas cookies - SnowballsSnowballs aka Mexican Wedding cookies

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas Cookies - Molasses SnapsArlene Sullivan’s Molasses Snaps 

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas cookies - ScandanavianasChristmas colored Scandinavians

12 Days of Rebaking Pecan Butterscotch CookiesShawn’s Pecan Butterscotch cookies

12 Days of Rebaking Christms Cookies - Vegan Pumpkin Spiced Date Nut BallsFor my GF friends, and those trying to stay away from refined sugar, I’ve been not-baking these

Pumpkin Spiced Date Nut Balls

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas Cookies - SnickerdoodlesAnd of course Grammy Caldwell’s A+ Snickerdoodles

To celebrate the new year we’ll enjoy a few glasses of my Dad’s famous Champagne Punch and spend a quiet night at home playing backgammon. Happy New Year to all – I’ll see you next year with the second round of Rebaking the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies.

Joe Caldwell's Champagne Punch

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Giving Thanks

The kids are home from college and catching up on some much-needed rest. I’ve done my shopping, though I’d forgotten about the locust-like tendencies of teenagers and twenty-somethings who have been surviving on dining hall food for months, so I’ll be off to the store again this morning for a few more staples. It is gratifying to see that both Isabelle and Russell like to cook and it is usually the first thing they do when they get home.

This year we’re going to try something new. Not to eat, since that will consist of our tried and true favorites, but rather to read. Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader *. It’s a a free download you can print out and share at your Thanksgiving meal.

The Thanksgiving Reader by Seth Godin

If you wanted some Thanksgiving food ideas you can try these:

I’ll be making several of these Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pies

These are tastey no-bake treats for your vegan and/or gluten-free friends

Our stuffing, well dressing really since we cook it out of the bird, is a variation on this recipe

I made a double batch of Ginger Cranberry sauce yesterday

If you love applesauce here’s an easy one to whip up

I’m going to try The Food Lab’s dry brine turkey this year

We’ll probably make a Thankful Pie with some of the leftovers

For my vegetarian friends I suggest you check out 101 Cookbooks

If you’re a really adventurous vegan you may want to tackle J. Kenji López-Alt’s Vegetable Wellington, it looks amazing

Getting ready for Thanksgiving

I am grateful for my family, the food we will be cooking, and being able to share this food journey with you my readers. Wishing you a very happy Thankgiving.

* Since I’m writing this post the day before Thanksgiving and there seems to be a high demand for the reader you can also click here to go directly to the pdf.

 

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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

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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.

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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)

Vinaigrette

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.

 

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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

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.

Frosting

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.

Decoration

Marzipan

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

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