Monday, July 6, 2015

Simply Divine



It began with an overflowing quart of some of the most beautiful, ruby red strawberries I have ever seen. Tiny, bursting fruit begging to be eaten tonight.  At their very peak of ripeness, warning, "Don't wait! We'll be soggy and bruised by tomorrow!"
There was also the problem with my oven.  It wasn't working.
Not to mention my utter exhaustion from working far to many hours on my feet selling t-shirts to rabid tourists all clamoring for souvenirs to commemorate their vacations on Cape Cod. For the past few weeks, I have been held hostage inside a busy shop on Main Street instead of lounging on the beach and creating concoctions in the kitchen.  It's sad, very sad.
That is why I had to resort to the simplest but by far the best method of all to enjoy these sweeties before Ava swooped into the kitchen to snatch another and another into her mouth, her fingers already stained red from their juices, revealing her thievery.
But first, I called Val to make sure she would be available to partake.  After all, I have her to blame for introducing this decadent recipe when my sister, brother and I were children.  Of course she would make a stop over after a long day of painting the trim on her house, her arms smeared with green paint, her body exhausted, she would not miss enjoying this treat that truly comes but once a year. As it can only be reproduced with the finest, local, fresh and sweet berries, the kind that are as deep red on the inside as they are on their surface.  The window of opportunity is short especially this year as many strawberry crops in the area were hampered by the rough snowy winter of 2015.
Val arrived as I cleared away the dinner dishes and placed small glass bowls on the table.  We sliced the berries into each dish and sprinkled them with sugar.  Next, each portion received a splash of cold, heavy cream.  We ate the soft berries floating in their rich bath in silence only to pause to add a bit more sugar or cream to taste. 
I realized in that moment, it all works out: the oven, the job, the moment I happened upon the strawberries at the farmers' market that very afternoon.  It all came to together.  The simplest of desserts.  The simplest moment.  Divine.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bread Battle

 
 

There is always a potential battle waiting to be waged over a freshly baked loaf of Val's homemade bread.  The kids want at least two slices at breakfast smothered in butter.  Then they want it for a snack and request to have it instead of dinner.  When I see what is left of the whole loaf that my mother had just gifted to me hours ago, I search their faces accusingly while Rob murmurs under his breath, "I only ate a heel." Only a heel, indeed.
Val's bread is simple but it takes some patience and time to mix it, knead it, allow it to rise and knead and rise again.  She bakes it to a perfect brown on top and slices it with an expert hand.  I prefer her to slice our loaf as some people slice it way too thick, thus wasting it.  And I will admit that I can make the cuts a bit lopsided in my rush to eat it all up.
But I am going to win tonight.  No one else is home to argue over or beg and plead to eat the last remaining pieces.  I slather them with some Lemon Garlic Aioli I found in the back of the fridge. (It never lasts that long so it can't be very old.)  Top the sauce with various slices of assorted cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and provolone and add some sliced cherry tomatoes (it's all I have), then sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. 

 
 

The first step is to bake all this in the toaster oven.  After the cheese has melted sufficiently, I heat up my black cast-iron griddle, drop down some dollops of butter and place the open faced sandwich on top of the melting goodness. I cook the sandwich halves until golden on the outside but leave them separate instead of making a real sandwich as to prolong my consumption of the last two pieces of Val's bread.


 

  As for the remaining heel that was left in the bag?  I ate it smothered with aioli and fresh basil as I created my masterpiece.  Oh yeah, when they all get home and ask for toast with no regard to their mother's/wife's needs, they will know.  There is going to be one hell of a fight tonight.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

French Breakfast

The Falmouth Farmers' Market opened for the season today in it's new location at Marina Park.  There was a nervous excitement in the air as all of  the vendors and board members who make the market happen were a bit nervous about having to move the market from it's original spot on Main Street.  But the majority feeling amongst the shoppers who were there at the opening bell was one of optimism as the new site is more spacious and likely easier for access and parking during the madness of the summer months.  Aside from all of this, I was there to check out the goods.
My first stop was at Rein's Real Baking as I spotted what looked like a chocolate filled chocolate whoopee pie in the pastry case.  Indeed it was, and I purchased one immediately to quell my growling stomach. I can never just walk by Carrie's set up for Peach Tree Circle Farm.  Her style, quality of produce as well as interesting flavors of jams and jellies cannot be compared.  Plus, it's fun to chat with her.  Once I spotted the tiny fresh radishes, only $1.00 for a bunch, I knew what I was going to have for lunch today: tartine with sliced radishes, sweet butter and a generous pinch of sea salt.  I informed her of my plan.
"Well, then you will have to buy the French Breakfast radishes."  she said.  SOLD.
As I made my way along the tents of homemade soaps, Italian olive oil and local cheeses, (I'll be back next week for some cloumage from the Shy Brother's Farm) to procure a baguette on which to smear butter and layer on radish slices, I got sidetracked at Westport Rivers Vineyard.  How can I say "No." to a sample to go along with the chocolate whoopee pie I was shoving into my mouth?  The port style wine was divine but I had my eye on the quirky label on the bottle of Farmer's Fizz.  This estate grown proseco style wine is slightly sweet and bubbly with notes of fresh peach...out of this world and likely a great way to end a hot summer day after spending time at the beach.  Of course, I bought a bottle!
I cashed in my last $2.50 for a demi baguette from Pain d'Avignon and bid good-by to some of my friends on the Falmouth Farmers' Market board who were hard at work trying to duct tape the market sign to the information table.  I explained I had to fly home and eat my intended lunch as I devoured the last bite of my chocolate treat.  As I got into my car, I noticed most of the parking spaces were taken and many more eager shoppers out on the lawn, talking with farmers, so glad that springtime and the market have arrived once again.
 
 
 

I am completely lazy when it comes to making my radish tartine.  However if you are a bit more ambitious, check out Falmouth Farmer's Market board member, Patricia Gadsby's recipe for making homemade scallion herb butter.  Her sandwich is more elaborate and sounds utterly delectable.  If you decide to make it, invite me over for lunch.
http://www.capenews.net/falmouth/briefs/falmouth-farmers-market---may/article_a94cf806-fe44-11e4-985c-dbb0fc10ebe1.html

 
Super Easy Radish Tartine for Lazy People
Serves 2
 
1 fresh demi baguette (4 slices cut on an angle)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4-5 small fresh radishes
sea salt
 
Slice 4 thin slices off the baguette on an angle to create as much surface area for the butter as possible.  Smear a generous amount of butter on each slice of bread.  Thinly slice the radishes and arrange in one layer over the buttered bread.  Generously sprinkle radish layer with sea salt. Enjoy immediately. 
 
 



"YES!" Woman

http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Cooking-Club-Summer-Culinary/dp/1460995155/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432117999&sr=1-1&keywords=kids+culinary+camp

I've finally finished putting all the recipes from the Kids' Culinary Camp into a book available for purchase on amazon.com.  These are the recipes I developed for the cooking camp I taught for 3 weeks along with my sister, Karyn's assistance back in the summer of 2012.  Evidence of yet another situation I got myself into by saying, "YES!" before I really knew what it was all about.
I was asked in February of 2012 by the woman who runs the culinary program at Highfield Hall if I would take on the kids' summer program.  Before I thought about it, before I formulated even one question, a loud "YES!" came out of my mouth.  I clearly wasn't thinking at all during that long, cold snowy winter because I also had previously agreed to take on a gourmet to-go food business with someone I knew from my days at Falmouth High.  I didn't inquire about any details on that offer either before I dove in head first.
Anyone who really knows me, understands that I am in my most vulnerable state of mind in February.  According to my good friend, Deb, I am always coming up with new businesses and wild ideas in the shortest, yet most brutal month of the year.  She and many members of my family try and detour me from accepting any tasks, volunteering positions, jobs or new business ventures until my head is clear, usually by the end of April when the sun is shining on a more consistent basis and I can get outside to eradicate any cobwebs and pie in the sky ideas that have taken up residence in my brain during the cabin fever inducing winter season.
While the camp was fun, I did throw out my back in week two likely due to the stress of it all.  The recipes were a huge hit, that is why I decided to actually publish them in a book.  The kids were great and willing to attempt new foods likely because parents weren't around.  I know this because my own cherubs will likely take a bite of something I have been trying desperately to get them to eat only when they are off with another adult and then I hear later that they devoured the whole thing.  In spite of not knowing anything about the adventure that lay ahead of me, the camp was a success and I'm glad I naively said, "YES!".
Will there ever be another Kids' Culinary Camp?  I don't know. It may be a while before I come out of retirement.  Until then, follow the link to buy the book.  A culinary program in your own kitchen awaits.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

This story first appeared in the monthly column I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin entitled: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen".  It was published in May 2009.


My Every Day, Extraordinary Super Mom

I have been wracking my brain, trying to recall an event or incident that fully describes the essence of my mother, Val; one that encapsulates how extraordinary she is.  Here in lies the problem: nothing in particular comes to mind.  Nothing stands out from the rest.  Sure, she has been there to fight for me when my sophomore English teacher did not want to let me out of 10th period early enough to make an away field hockey game.  She baked countless batches of chocolate chip cookies for school parties and bake sales.  Chauffeur, prom gown seamstress, brownie troop leader, the list of sacrifices goes on and on.  Still nothing.

I recently wrote in a letter to a publisher: “So, who is Val?  She’s my mother and I wrote the [cook] book about her.  It seemed there isn’t anything she can’t do.  She refinishes furniture, makes wedding gowns and farms her own organic garden. Then she takes a break to make dinner: quahog chowder with homemade bread or barbecued chicken with a cool and creamy cucumber salad and blueberry pie for dessert.” It’s all true, pretty awesome day in and day out.   If you know Val, you can vouch for me.

In my attempt to find that “nugget” of a memory that would tell the complete story, perfectly depicting my mother’s love, I’ve come to realize that the mundane stuff, the everyday, small acts of caring, are what is the most important.  I actually had this epiphany when I was rigging up a pair of adult sized headphones for my five year old daughter to wear on her tiny head. Sometimes, tying my son’s shoes for the tenth time in one day, can grate on my nerves, still other moments I cherish as I acknowledge the swiftly passing time.   The little things I took for granted from my own childhood have formed pebble by pebble into a mountain of memories. Crisp clothes fresh from the clothes line, going to the beach every day for swimming lessons during summer vacation, even when storm clouds threatened  (“You need to learn to swim in all types of weather!”), clich├ęd phrases: “You’re treading on thin ice!”, a favorite meal to celebrate my birthday, it was all Val’s way to say, “I love you.”

One day in these last few years (it has all run together for me ), an elderly woman stopped me in the grocery store while I was trying to control my unruly children who both wanted to push the carriage without the help of the other one.

“The days are long but the years are short…” she said with a wistful smile.

At that moment I was thinking about how incredibly long my day had already been trying to keep Ava and Declan from killing each other.  I smiled and nodded my head in agreement.

I think of that phrase often as my children are growing up so fast.  How did Ava get to be five years old already?  How am I forty?  Where did all of those moments go?  The ones that the parenting magazines tell you to put in a scrap book or a time capsule?  Just like kids do, it’s easy for moms and dads to take mundane life for granted, too. It makes me wonder if Val ever felt frustrated and too tired to make dinner or help with homework.  That’s when it hit me.  Of course she was tired and overwhelmed and sick of explaining fractions for the umpteenth time.  The thing is, I never knew it.

I can only hope to strive to be like Val: patient and loving even when it seemed like I didn’t deserve it.  She created a consistent life where it was safe to be a little naughty and “tread on thin ice!” because I knew she would still love me.  She has always been there to pick me up when I fall down or just to lend a helping hand when I feel like I’m failing.

I just got annoyed because I had to stop writing yet again to see why my son is crying. He has been fussing all afternoon over his sister’s teasing and a toy that won’t work the way he wants it to.  As I got out of my chair and stormed over to the door in disgust, I saw that he had fallen and scraped his knee.  Real tears ran down his cheeks as he said between sobs, “I-I want my m-m-mommy!” My feelings of frustration gave way to a desire to comfort when I scooped him up and held him close to shush his sobs and wipe his tears.  He nestled his face into the crook of my neck and took a long deep breath.  Just the kind I like to do when I hug my own mother and inhale her perfume. It may not seem extraordinary to anyone else, but it is always there when I need it.

 

Enjoy these breads toasted and smeared with butter and jam for breakfast, served with ice cream for dessert or like Val does, alongside a cup of hot cocoa.  They are versatile and understated.  She bakes a batch and puts a few in the freezer so there is always a snack at the ready for comforting a small child’s bruised shins or an adult child’s bruised ego.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

(Makes 3 small loaves)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cup sugar, divided

3 eggs

2 teaspoons lemon extract

grated rind of one lemon

¼ cup poppy seeds

2 cups flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

½ cup lemon juice

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and dust with flour 3 small loaf pans (6”x3”x2”).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar for two minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon rind, lemon extract and poppy seeds.

Add 1 cup flour, beat well. Add buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat in remaining cup of flour until just mixed. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean.

While loaves are baking, in a saucepan, combine ½ cup sugar and lemon juice to make syrup. Heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let rest until loaves are done cooking.

Poke small holes in top of cooked warm loaves with a toothpick. Pour syrup over top of loaves reserving a small portion of syrup for the bottom of the loaves.  Let rest for 15 minutes. Turn loaves out onto a cooling rack and brush bottoms of loaves with remaining syrup. Cool completely, slice and serve.

*Can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen.
 

 

 

Holiday Cranberry Bread

(Makes 3 small loaves or one large)

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

grated rind and juice from one orange

2 tablespoons butter (very soft)

¾ cup boiling water

1 egg

1 ½ cups raw cranberries, cut in half by hand*

½ cup chopped walnuts

 

Grease 3 small loaf pans or one large one.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine orange rind, juice, soft butter, boiling water, and egg.  Add dry ingredients, cranberries and walnuts. Mix by hand (as not to crush cranberries) until combined. Pour into prepared pans and let stand for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake a large sized loaf for 60-70 minutes and the smaller loaves for 25-35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes and turn bread out of pan(s) back onto rack to continue cooling for at least 30 minutes.  Slice and serve.

*Val cuts each cranberry in half to reveal star pattern in the middle of the fruit. It makes a better presentation and larger chunks than chopping them in the food processor. Do what you like.

 

 

Andrea Norris lives in East Falmouth, just a few miles away from a comforting hug and a warm slice of Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. Check out her blog: http://www.notesfromvalskitchen.blogspot.com

Friday, May 8, 2015

Twice Baked Buttery Goodness



Since I'm just now getting back into the "normal" swing of things, I began craving something comforting yet easy to make for dinner.  (Honestly, who am I kidding?  When am I NOT craving something comforting yet easy to make for dinner?)  Potatoes almost always fit into that description and are most readily available stored by the bagful in my downstairs, extra in the cellar refrigerator.
Butter, sour cream along with salt and pepper make any potato recipe really sing and that's about all you need for this recipe if you are going to keep it bare bones.  If you want to make it "fancy", all that is required is a tiny bit of olive oil along with some dried parsley and paprika that most "normal" folks have somewhere in their pantry.  I added a few tweaks to Val's original recipe; the addition of olive oil on the outside of the skins makes it a bit more decadent and keeps the skins soft.  Also, when Val is feeling a bit gourmet, she adds chopped fresh herbs to the mashed potato mixture.  I prefer to keep it ultra simple, the way she used to make them when I was a little kid in the 1970's and fresh herbs were not readily available in supermarkets during the middle of snowy, cold New England winters especially here on remote Cape Cod.
I love how this recipe implies that it is decadent but it couldn't be any simpler.  Be warned, your dinner guests will usually ask for seconds, it may be necessary to double the recipe. Val usually makes her "Stuffed Potatoes" to accompany a special meal like a birthday dinner.  Because of the heavy amounts of butter and sour cream and the required use of a hot oven, they most often make their splendid appearance during the colder months. But that will never stop me from making them whenever I have a craving for buttery goodness and a heaping scoop of sour cream, I mean twice baked potatoes.

 
 
 Stuffed Potatoes
(serves 6)
 
6 medium sized baking potatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
5 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon paprika
 
 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Scrub potatoes.  Dry potatoes, prick them all over with a fork (3-4 times).  Rub with olive oil and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake potatoes for up to one hour until potatoes are soft and cooked through.  Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
Using a kitchen towel to hold a hot potato, cut a small oval out of the top of the potato.  Discard top and use for another meal.  Scoop out flesh of potato into a mixing bowl.  Continue with the rest of the baked potatoes.
Add 3 tablespoons butter and sour cream to potato flesh.  Mash potatoes until soft.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Dollop potato mixture back into potato "shells" and place back onto rimmed baking sheet. Dot remaining butter onto the tops of each potato.  Sprinkle tops of potatoes with dried parsley and paprika.  (At this point potatoes can be refrigerated up to 24 hours.)
Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Place potatoes in oven to crisp the tops and melt the butter.  Serve warm with something equally comforting.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Run Down

I've been under the weather the past few days. Runny nose, cloudy head, achy body, the works.  I haven't really been hungry for much of anything which doesn't bode well for trying to write a blog post about food and cooking. The only two things that could possibly help me is lots of sleep and this recipe for my own version of chicken noodle soup.  It's ridiculously easy which is why even in my weakened state that I can still manage to put it on the stove.  With just the first bite of chicken/lemon goodness along with the salty flavor of the parmesan, I know that I am on the mend.  The hint of green makes me feel good too, like I'm eating my vegetables, but you can leave it out if you don't have any chives on hand.  Since I only make this magical concoction when I am truly in need of sustenance for my sickly body, I never thought about doubling or even quadrupling the recipe for a quick family dinner.  I suppose, that might be a good idea. 
 
 


 
 
Orzo in Chicken Broth
(serves one)
 
 
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup orzo
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1-2 dashes Tabasco sauce
black pepper
 
 
Pour the chicken broth into a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add orzo and cook for 11 minutes until just soft. Remove from heat.  Add lemon juice, grated parmesan, chopped chives and Tabasco.  Pour into a soup bowl.  Generously season with fresh black pepper.  Enjoy with a box of tissues.