Thursday, October 6, 2016

TBT November 15, 2007 Lessons from Val's Kitchen

 This is the first story I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin (now The Bulletin) back in November 2007. The monthly column was titled: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen"  Thank you to Craig Salters, my first editor at the paper, for allowing me my first byline.  

At the holidays, just call it 'delicious'
by Andrea Norris 

Declan Norris drools over his mom's fruit crisp

Cobbler, crisp, brown Betty, I’ve even heard it called a grunt, buckle, slump and how about this one: sonker! Fall harvest time promises a dish full of an array of apples, all sorts of pears, cranberries, a myriad of nuts, raisins…oh my! I’m going to call mine a fruit crisp because I think the crusty, chewy topping is the best part. (I know you are already licking your chops thinking about the super crispy bits along the edge of the pan.) I’ve done my best to reduce the amount of butter without sacrificing. O.K., I know this dessert isn’t all that impressive on its own. It’s what you put with it that counts. How about some homemade, creamy vanilla ice cream to knock their socks off? I’m up for the challenge. Even freshly made whipped cream is a treat for most. We’ll add that too.
What are my credentials? I grew up in a house of food snobbery, although I didn’t know it at the time and it wasn’t at all intentional on my mother’s part. What is considered today, a “foodie” diet and part of the slow food movement, was a way of life and in fact survival for us back in the 1970’s and 1980’s on Old Meeting House Road in East Falmouth. My mother, Val still has her organic garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables and although she doesn’t grow as many varieties as in earlier years, she still has an abundant crop. Creativity and a knack for learning the “old way” of doing things was the inspiration behind her cooking. Baking was an imperative to save money. I was jealous of the kids who ate bologna on wonder bread while I was “stuck” with homemade jam and peanut butter on thick slices of freshly made that morning bread. She was always trying new dishes to serve at dinner often because the ingredients at hand warranted, in fact needed some jazzing up to mask the fact that we may have had bluefish, quahogs or scallops a few times already that same week. “Oh the horror!” you may scoff. The horror indeed when your father, on top of working full time for the electric company, fished part time and frequently traded with others. Sadly, the days of scallops, bluefish and even eels (well maybe not the eels) filling the freezer are no longer with us as my parents enjoy a well deserved, more relaxed lifestyle. 
Pretty much everything I have learned about cooking and continue to learn, is from my mother (aside from spending many a summer employed in a few fine dining establishments around Falmouth and Woods Hole.). Some recipes are mine or they may be the victim of my “doctoring”, but most come from Val and are examples of the best food I have ever eaten.

Bring on the crisp. Make this recipe with any type of fruit you like that is in season. 
(Makes about 12 servings)
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
6 tablespoons COLD butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
5-6 apples, peeled and sliced (5 cups)
5-6 pears, peeled and sliced (5 cups)
1 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon zest
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 glass baking dish.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour through the salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Lightly stir in the walnuts.  Put aside.
In another large bowl, combine fruit through lemon zest and mix thoroughly. Transfer into baking dish. Cover fruit with topping. 
Bake for 30 minutes until browned and fruit juices bubble around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack until ready to serve hot or cold topped with ice cream, whipped cream and a few chopped walnuts and dried cranberries for garnish.
If you really want to impress, add the homemade ice cream. Make this up to a week ahead and at least a day ahead to insure a firm texture. This recipe works great in my Rival Ice Cream maker Val got for me at Wal-Mart for under $20.00.  
Freeze canister ahead of time, according to manufacturer’s instructions. (I find 24 hours to be best.)
5 egg yolks                             
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar                          
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Step one:
Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water. Cover and place over medium high heat. In the top of the double boiler, combine egg yolks, milk, sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly. Once water is boiling, place top portion of pot over boiling water and heat egg mixture while stirring constantly. Cook for 15-20 minutes until mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. Transfer to medium sized bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool in refrigerator for 4 hours.
Step two:
Set up ice cream maker. Combine cream, vanilla and cold egg yolk mixture. Turn on ice cream maker and immediately pour all into frozen canister. Process mixture according to manufacturer’s directions, churning for 25-30 minutes until the ice cream begins to solidify. Immediately transfer soft ice cream into a large container (44 oz or more) for freezing. Freeze for at least 5 hours before serving.

Quick and easy finisher:
(12 servings)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsps vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
Combine ingredients in a stand mixer. Place dish towel over top of entire machine (to avoid spray). Mix on highest setting for 45 seconds to 1 minute until thickened. If you are feeling strong, you can whip this by hand with a wire whisk until soft peaks form.

Andrea Norris lives in East Falmouth and is currently writing a cook book documenting her mother, Val’s famously delicious recipes.
Contact her at:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Picky Eater

 My lovely little boy doesn't like crusts on his sandwich.  Because I don't like to waste anything, I find this to be totally and utterly irritating. 
  So, in the morning when one of us makes his sandwich for the beach cooler or the lunchbox, we diligently cut off the crusts before spreading Nutella or butter for a roast beef sandwich, whatever his taste buds dictate that day.  The crusts are tossed into a plastic bag stored in the freezer awaiting their future fate on our dinner plates.  Every time I opened the freezer door this summer, the bag, growing larger by the day, tumbled off of its perch onto the floor.  Annoying. 
  Unfortunately, all I could think of to make with these crusts was breadcrumbs which I found to be even more annoying because, really, how much breadcrumbs does one possibly need?  Until yesterday, when it occurred to my overworked brain that I could make a number of variations of the bread pudding variety.  DUH.
  The first recipe that came to mind was a long lost strata recipe made with goat cheese, loads of heavy cream, chunks of salty ham and rosemary, if I recall correctly.  Sadly, I have no idea where this recipe is now.  Also, I know my kids would not dare even try a bite, so that would leave me with a large pan of incredibly fattening fare to eat myself, although I'm sure Rob would help out.  But it is a really delicious dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  Next, I remembered making "Good Morning Bread Pudding" at the Kids' Culinary Camp I taught a number of years ago at Highfield Hall.  Now this is something Ava and Declan would surely be glad to eat.  And what about that delightful, creamy sweetened bechamel and bourbon sauce to go with it?  Talk about naughty.
  With a few hours to spare on Saturday morning, I set about using up all those frozen crusts.  As I preheated the oven and whisked the eggs, Declan came sauntering into the kitchen, glanced into the pan that held the thawing crusts and declared, "I'm not going to like that."
  Have I mentioned how much this picky kid makes me absolutely insane?
  Needless to say, I wasn't very patient or nice with my retort, "It makes me angry that you decide what something tastes like before you even try it!"
  Declan slunk away and hid under a blanket on the couch.
   It must have been the smell of brown sugar and cinnamon baking in the oven, the scent of vanilla cooking in the sauce on the stove that brought him around.  Once I pulled the pudding out with its crispy, crunchy top and soft underbelly of eggy goodness, both kids came into the kitchen, noses sniffing the air, bellies growling.  Ava tried the sauce first and declared it a hit.  Declan gingerly did the same, then poured a bit too much on his plate.  He ate every last morsel before he held his stomach in protest against
another bite.
  That kid drives me nuts.

Good Morning Bread Pudding
(makes one large pan)

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups stale bread, torn into pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a large casserole dish or a 9x11 baking dish.
In a medium saucepan, heat milk and butter on low until butter melts.  Remove from heat.  In a large bowl, combine sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.  Whip with a whisk until whites and yolks are thoroughly combined.  Slowly add milk to egg mixture, stirring the entire time as not to cook the eggs.  Place bread in greased pan.  Pour milk and egg mixture over bread.  Bake for 45-50 minutes until set.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.  Serve with warm maple syrup and Bourbon Sauce (recipe follows).

Bourbon Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter.  Add flour and stir with a whisk to create a roux.  Allow butter and flour to cook for about 5 minutes.  Be careful not to brown the roux.  Heat milk for 30 seconds in microwave.  Slowly add to roux, stirring with whisk to prevent lumps from forming.  Add sugar and salt.  Continue stirring for 3-5 minutes until mixture bubbles and thickens.  Add vanilla and bourbon.  Cook for 2-3 minutes more.  Serve warm with bread pudding.

Friday, September 9, 2016

September, School Days and Dinnertime

  No time for melancholy or sadness over the end of summer.  The scary feelings and anticipation of the first day of school have passed.  We are now at the end of the first week of school.  The leaves haven't yet changed and the air is still humid but there is a distinct, pervasive vibration that September brings.  Excitement and newness in the classroom signifies the end of freedom for a long while.  Flip flops and bare feet trapped inside sneakers and socks.  Books, computers and lockers replace sun, surf and sand castles.
  I always loved going back to school, so I try to convey this excitement to my kids even though this summer that just ended was almost too good to let go.  A whirlwind of activity: going here, going there.  Packing coolers, applying sunscreen, meeting friends, floating down a lazy river, jumping off the dock over and over again, eating ice cream instead of a well rounded dinner.  Exhausting. But completely filled with just about every fun summertime activity you could ever think of.  All of the memories stored in photos on my computer and phone.
  The crowds are gone, the mood in town is calm, slow.  Even the supermarket is all of a sudden, eerily quiet.  No waiting in line at the deli for lunch meat.   And the house is empty for most of the day which isn't a huge change from this summer.  The only difference is that now, I am in it and the kids are working hard at reading, writing and arithmetic.  The morning starts out great: sweet relief once they get on the bus especially after a particularly rough morning.  A sibling's harsh words, red rimmed eyes.  A swing of the backpack, the door slams. I open it and say, "Good bye, I love you, have a great day!"  She barely looks back at me.  The hours slowly creep by.  NPR and the Food Network voices fill the void that silence creates.  It's a bit lonely, really.
  The house springs back to life again at 3:17pm with another door slam and a "HI MOM!!!!"
"So, guess what?  Today, Lola totally went to the wrong class during 6th period and didn't realize until half way through that she wasn't supposed to be at band, she was supposed to be in science, she said, "OH NO! I'M IN THE WRONG CLASS!" so she ran down the hall and her notebook and ruler came flying out of her hands!" 
 The ultimate junior high embarrassment.  But all is well signified by giggles and a smile.
  I guess it went o.k. today?
 Five minutes later: "Hi Mom! What smells good?  What are you making? Can I have something to eat?" Dirty, sweaty, filthy boy hands reach for a handful of grapes.
"I was talking to Mom and you interrupted!!!"
Sibling rivalry, bickering and laughter. Household balance restored.
  The smell of roasting root vegetables, softening onions and crispy chicken skin fills the air in the kitchen.  Just last week, I would never have attempted to slowly bake a chicken for dinner, opting instead for a quick meal of pasta, grilled cheese or possibly a take-out pizza at the beach with a sunset swim. But now it's time again for those comforting meals at home.  The ones that signal that even after a crappy morning fight and misstep at school, everything is really going to be o.k.  Grab some fruit or sneak a cookie while you do your homework.  Because dinner will be ready soon.

  I've been trying to amp up my game in the roasting department.  It's not something that I naturally gravitate to when thinking about mealtime. This recipe is Ina Garten's with a few added details that have helped me.  Also, I substituted potatoes for the fennel in her recipe. I don't like fennel and my kids would likely pass out if I didn't serve potatoes with something like this.

Perfect Roast Chicken
(adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, queen of roast chicken)

1 roasting chicken (5-7 pounds)
Kosher salt
ground black pepper
1 large bunch of thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4's
a handful of carrots cut into 1" pieces
6 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
olive oil
good bread

  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  Remove the chicken giblets.  Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry.  Liberally salt and pepper the chicken inside and out.  Stuff the cavity with 1/2 bunch of thyme, lemon halves and garlic halves.  Smear the butter all over the chicken and sprinkle again with salt and pepper.  Place the onions, carrots and potatoes in a roasting pan.  Toss with salt and pepper, a couple of teaspoons olive oil and remaining thyme.  Spread the vegetables evenly around the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.  
  Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours or until a thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.  (Calculate approximately 15 minutes per pound for cooking time.)  Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter, cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  Slice the chicken and serve with the vegetables along with some good bread to soak up the delicious juices.