Friday, January 30, 2015

"Sensational" Fruits of Winter

Mounds of heavy snow fell on Monday night into all day Tuesday creating blizzard conditions.  Howling winds blew our power out at midnight.  In the morning, there was no freshly brewed coffee. Thankfully, I was able to light my gas stove to boil water for some instant Starbucks as I am unable to function without my daily shot in the arm.  I also managed to make toast in a cast iron skillet.  I was feeling very "pioneer woman" about it all until I got annoyed that the power outage lasted well into the day and the heat in our house plummeted to (gasp!) 54 degrees before civilized life and t.v. watching was restored at 4:30pm.
As the snow swirled around looking for a place to settle, before we were able to go out and shovel a path and while the kids somehow managed to occupy themselves without the help of electronics (shocking!) I actually had the brief luxury of hiding in the office wrapped in my pink fleece robe and a woolly scarf while I cracked open and read a book that Val had passed along to me quite a while ago but I had not yet given myself the opportunity to lounge around and look at it.
"Sensational Preserves" by Hilare Walden is fancy and at the same time accessible.  There are some recipes that are a bit exotic to me but look easy enough to execute like "Mushroom Ketchup" and "Ginger Wine" that I can't wait to well as tried and true favorites, basic recipes for fruit jams, jellies and chutneys.
Most of the time, I only think about preserving in the summer months as Val has usually done.  Beginning with strawberry jam in late June when Andrews Farm down the street, is bursting with deep red berries just begging to be put up and enjoyed on a cold winter day like this one and finishing off in August with piccalilli and pickled beets.
But this year I've got bigger plans.  I want to dry more tomatoes, pack them in a jar and cover them with fruity olive oil, mix spice rubs using plants from my garden (or Val's if mine are not successful!) and bottle up some barbecue or other types of sauces for my friends to unwrap at Christmas.  I'm excited just thinking about it!
Since I don't want to wait on this canning project, (I never want to wait for anything.) the chapter titled, "Citrus Fruits" is calling to me now while oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes are in abundance at the supermarket.  That is as long as the produce trucks can make it through all of this snow.
I'm not sure yet about "Preserved Lemons" although the recipe looks easy enough to give it a try, or the "Sweet and Sour Lime Pickle".  I definitely have my eye on what Hilare refers to as "typically English fruit curds".  I imagine slathering the sweet, buttery curd on warm toast or dolloping it into a crusty tarte shell, topping it all off with cold whipped cream.
I think I'll begin with lemon since that is a favorite with most of my people, or perhaps tangerine?  I'll have to decide as I peruse the aisles of the produce section of Stop n Shop and dream up my big citrus plans.  I hope there is enough parking cleared for me at the store once I finally am able to dig my car out of the snow.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Forcing Springtime

 Before it's officially ready to bloom, I like to cut a branch of forsythia and place it in a vase inside my house to "force" the buds to open in the heat of the indoors.
 This is what my mind does in January. It tries to force, to will spring to come earlier than planned.
 Oh, I look forward to that first week of the new year, the kids going back to school, the hectic pace of December over, the holidays and school vacation finally behind me.  I can't wait to get to my "projects" that have been hanging over my head: clean out the cellar, finally cull through 6 years of Ava and Declan's artwork and school papers, organize my office....  De-clutter for once and for all, already!! Finally put together those photo albums I have been thinking about since the newborn years so that the kids can enjoy them.  (So many pictures now that the world has gone digital!) And then that day comes, the first day back at school for the kids, the first day of peace and quiet for me and Stella and all I want to do is leave the house to have coffee with a friend or even better, brew up a cup of tea and watch the "Real Housewives of Wherever" as long as I don't have to face having to begin the list of long, daunting projects that loom ahead in my immediate future.
  I long for spring to arrive with it's allure and excuse to get outside.  "I need to work in the yard!  It's such a beautiful day, I shouldn't be inside wasting it, cleaning up all this crap!"  And then I secretly admit to myself that this type of attitude led to the office and the cellar becoming a potential feature on an episode of "Hoarding: Buried Alive".  Instead of focusing on the photo book project that keeps growing out of neglect, I find myself reading past issues of gardening magazines that Val has passed on to me.  (Could she be contributing to the problem, rather than helping with the solution?  Is it wrong for me to try place the blame on her?)  With every article and picture of flower garden pathways, I dream of new outdoor projects, seeds to plant and how to transform my outdoor space.  While I am burrowing into my couch pillows and losing myself in stories of flora and fauna, I should really be deciding what to keep and what to throw into a big black trash bag.  My messy indoor space is calling me, taunting me.
  "It's such hard work for me!" I wail.  I'm attached in some bizarre way to every object I come across that was for now unknown reasons put aside for safe keeping.  Just like the sage seedlings that I planted late last summer then brought indoors hoping that they might grow over the winter, although they are barely limping along and likely won't make it to be planted into the ground when the earth is soft and warm, again, I cannot bring myself to dump them in the compost with the orange peels and the coffee grounds.  If I dread the sage dumping, how can I bring myself to throw away the perfect spelling tests and paper mache "objets d'art" made by my own little cherubs?  I find it nearly impossible to give up the "stuff" and move on.
  But I must persevere!
  Everyday I try and check off at least one task on my list.  These tasks are bite sized as I would never be able to attempt  an entry as all encompassing as "Clean the basement".  Instead, "Clean one shelf in the white bookcase" is much more likely for me.  The other day, I surprised myself and managed to reorganize not just one but ALL of the shelves in this particular spot.  One might think that the momentum would have propelled me further, to clean another space.  Not the case.  My exuberance waned quickly.  I stopped and rewarded my weak self with a cup of strong tea.  I put my feet up, clicked on those Housewives and began to thumb through "Country Gardens: Early Spring 2013".  Perhaps this is just the inspiration I need to keep plugging along on this winter project to be ready in time for the ground to thaw and the forsythia to show it's first buds.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I dream of Tosi

Since Rob broke the oven over Columbus Day Weekend and it cannot be repaired until next week and the kids just finished the last of the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars, I had to come up with a solution to my inability to bake anything sweet for the next seven days.  I began to envision a blog post entitled, "No Oven, No Problem".  Then I went to the supermarket for some inspiration, searching for ingredients to make something "home baked" out of a bunch of store bought stuff.  I came up with a jazzed up version of the ever popular Rice Krispie Treat.
All summer I had been obsessed by the flavors in s'mores: graham cracker with gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate.  My fanaticism continues while I am reading for the second time, Christina Tosi's book about her bakery, "Momufuku Milk Bar".  While Christina is a trained pastry chef, her approach to baking and creating recipes is straight from her childhood favorites.  Her memories of Jello Cheesecake and the milk leftover at the bottom of the bowl after finishing her Fruity Pebbles flavor her baking.  She has ingenious "mother" recipes that morph into a myriad of many more only limited by her imagination.  One of her inventions is the "crumb" which she combines with cakes, cookies and ice cream to make them even more magical.  The graham crumb caught my eye, of course considering this past summer. The chocolate addition would have happened anyway as one of my favorite ways of decorating a cookie or brownie is to melt chocolate and using the famous artist, Jackson Pollack's style of painting, I "Pollack" them with melted goodness.  The following recipe is the type of thing that happens when one falls asleep while reading Christina Tosi's take on desserts combined with childhood memories.

 Rice Krispie "Tosi" Treats
(makes 24 squares)

 2 tablespoons butter
10 oz bag mini marshmallows
6 cups Kellogg's Rice Krispies
4 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons Crisco

Make the Graham Crust and allow to cool. Crumble crust into small crumbs.
Heat the butter and marshmallows in a large pot on low until melted.  Add the Rice Krispies and stir to coat.  Spray a 9x13x2 inch pan.  Using a sprayed spatula, press mixture into pan.  Cool treats.  Flip treats onto a cutting board and cut into 24 square pieces.
Place squares slightly apart on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  
Melt chocolate and Crisco together in a microwave safe bowl on high using 20 second increments. 
Pollack the Rice Krispie  squares with the chocolate and quickly sprinkle the wet chocolate with Graham Crust crumbs.  Pollack on top of the crumbs again, if desired.  Allow chocolate to harden overnight.  Place squares in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  (If they last that long.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Sometimes I just don't feel like cooking.  But I want something delicious and satisfying to eat without leaving my house to go and get something that someone else cooked or baked.  Lazy.  There are also other mouths to feed.  My kids get home from school asking for a snack.  While their mouths are still full, they question, "What's for dinner?"  Don't they know I'm tired and I have no idea what the heck I am going to put on the table?  Monsters.
Sometime around the end of June, I began to crave s'mores.  Not that s'mores are difficult to make but they don't keep or travel well.  What to do if there is no open flame available to toast the marshmallows at a moment's notice?  I researched s'mores bars on the internet.  Thanks to sites like Pinterest, Food Network, and good ol' google, I was able to come up with some starter recipes.  But they were all a bit too involved.  By involved, I mean there was measuring required.  I didn't want to measure at all.  I wanted something easier than that.  Oh, and I didn't want to dirty any bowls and barely any utensils.  Too lazy to wash dishes. I managed to come up with a version of my own that is a blend of Val's Magic Cookie Bars and a few of the s'mores recipes I found.  It's crazy easy and quite addictive.  Just let the bars sit overnight after taking them out of the oven so that they stay intact when cut.  Or, don't wait and eat the gooey fabulousness while they are hot.  But you may need a plate and a fork which defeats the purpose of not washing anything extra.

S'Mores Bars
(makes 16 bars)

 1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 package graham crackers (4-5 oz)
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk (7  oz)
1/2 bag semisweet chocolate chips (6 0z)
1/2 bag mini marshmallows (5-6 oz)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place butter in an 8x8 baking dish and put baking dish in oven to melt butter.  Meanwhile, leave the graham crackers in their packaging and use a meat tenderizer or rolling pin to smash them into crumbs.  (Be careful not to break open packaging during this process as it will create a mess!).  Once butter has melted, remove baking dish from oven.  Using a fork,stir smashed graham crackers into butter. Press graham/butter mixture to create an even layer.  Open sweetened condensed milk and drizzle half of its contents in an even layer over the graham/butter mixture.  Evenly pour chocolate chips over condensed milk then top chocolate chips with an even layer of mini marshmallows.  Place baking dish back into oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until marshmallows are puffed up and lightly browned.  Remove bars from oven and allow to cool for at least 25 minutes but best to cool overnight before using a sharp knife to slice into 16 pieces.  These transport well to the beach and are delightful when kept chilled in a cooler!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans."

Wednesday was Rob's birthday.  In spite of our family's crazy hectic schedule, I planned a dinner that is a little fancy and a little rustic at the same time but all of it needs to be gobbled up by 5:15pm since Declan and Rob are headed to soccer practice at 5:30pm.  On the menu:  Roasted chicken a la Mario Batali, Crispy Buffalo Potatoes, chunky blue cheese dressing with fresh cucumber spears, Parker House Rolls, and for dessert, Goo Goo Pie Parfaits.(Let's just say that I got a little inspired by the October 2014 issue of Food and Wine Magazine.)
 I created a timeline, I planned it all out.  I even had Rob open his gifts in the morning before heading off to work so that wouldn't hold up the meal.  I'm sure you know what's coming next:  It did not exactly work out as I planned.
While I was out purchasing some dry rubbed sage for the baked chicken, my cell phone rang.  Rob.  Hmm.
"Hi. It's me.  You're not going to believe this.  I got half way to Boston and they called to tell me that the meeting is tomorrow.  Not today.  I'm planning on stopping at the office and coming home early."
My mental response: "AAAAAH!!!"
My actual response:  "Well, you will have to find something to do.  I have a very busy afternoon planned!"
Probably not the nicest thing to say on someone's birthday.  But dammit!  I was preparing a special meal for him!!!
Once I calmed down from that news and I arrived home from my sage purchasing, I started on the dough for the Parker House rolls and attended to other tasks.  I finally had a few minutes to relax and my cell phone rang again.  This time it was work.
"Hi Andrea.  We have a little problem, well when don't we have a problem?  I have an issue with my sinus  it feels like my face is paralyzed.  I thought I could make it until Oct 9th when I have an appointment but I think I need to go to the emergency room.  Do you think you can close the store tonight?"
My mental response:  "F'ing Seriously?!!!"
My actual response: "Listen, it's Rob's birthday so if you can get someone else to come in, that would be great. Go to the emergency room NOW.  Let me know what they say.  If I have to, I'll close the store since the boys have soccer practice tonight, anyway."
My boss isn't a tyrant and she was doing all she could to be sure I didn't have to close but there wasn't anyone else to do it.  I crossed my crossed my fingers that #1 her face isn't paralyzed and #2 I don't have to close the store, after all.
How does this happen?
As all of the turmoil was happening, I realized that the caramel component I made for the dessert(while doing to many other things at the same time) looked a little dark. I tasted it.  Bitter.  I tasted it, again.  Maybe it's supposed to be bitter.  I left it.  Then the kids got home from school.
"Ooooh! it smells good in here?  What is that?  Can I try some?"
I gave each child a little caramel on the tip of a spoon. Declan's scrunched up face and and squinched eyes said it all. BITTER.  I had burned the caramel.  (insert sad face emoticon here, hash tag, frustrated.)

I scooted the children off to begin their homework and threw the ingredients for a new caramel sauce into a pan and got to work again.  I checked the chicken which was now in the oven.  Did I mention that roast chicken is one of the things I have been trying to master for a while?  It's just not in my comfort zone, so of course, I chose to add this recipe to my list for today.  What the hell is my problem?!!
The next hour was a blur as I focused on the meal coming together. Chicken roasting, potatoes crisping up, rolls nice and golden, cucumbers sliced, blue cheese dip mixed and in the fridge, serving bowls and utensils out and ready to go, chocolate custard chilling and the second batch of caramel cooling on the counter.  I managed to get it all on the table by 4:45pm (30 minutes before the boys had to take off for soccer practice) in spite of the chicken juices dripping all over the butcher block and running off the other side all over the floor (needless to say, the dog was very happy!).  In the middle of it all, I received a text from my boss.  She was fine and sent back to work with a heavy dose of antibiotics. Val came over to lend a hand and add to the festive, yet hectic occasion.  I finally sat down and ate too many rolls slathered with butter, glad I pulled it all off.
Then I realized, I never took a photo of the chicken before it became merely a carcass and the buffalo fries were completely devoured.  However I did manage to photograph Declan's dessert by yanking it out of his hands after he took a few bites.  As for the rest, you'll just have to take my word, for it.
While writing this, I remember one last thing and perhaps the most important detail that I forgot: I never put a candle in Rob's dessert and we failed to sing "Happy Birthday" to him.  So much for a spectacular celebratory dinner.  At least I heard that the team of 8 year old boys serenaded Rob on the field before pummeling him with soccer balls.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's so very French

I love the cooking show, "French Food at Home".  Watching it makes me feel sophisticated, chic and oh so in a word: French.  I am seduced by the simple recipes and how everything seems to go well with a glass of wine or even champagne.   The host of the show, Laura Calder explains how to elegantly present basic meals, small bites and desserts in her funny French Canadian accent.  The set is a quaint little cottage.  The show's image is that of an effortless chic I can only dream about.
Because I still have lots of tomatoes to devour before the fruit flies get to them first, I made two recipes that would surely win a spot on my new favorite guilty pleasure list.  The first from Peter Rabbit's Natural Foods Cookbook.  Yes, the very one that Val gave to me when I was about 9 years old.  Duchess and Ribby's Tomato and Cheese Pie (the cat and dog from their starring roles in "The Pie and the Patty Pan" by Beatrix Potter)  is quintessentially English but I think would translate well to an afternoon picnic in Provence especially if served with a slightly chilled Beaujolais Nouveau .

The second from the cook book of my dreams: "Tartine" by Chad Robertson. This recipe for Tomatoes Provencal would go nicely at the picnic as well for obvious reasons.

Since I am on Cape Cod instead of in the south of France, I'm determined to make the best of it. A leisurely lunch on my deck overlooking my wild and woolly garden I have decided is better than being to far away from home, anyway.

Duchess and Ribby's Tomato Cheese Pie
(serves 6)

4 slices stale bread
2 medium tomatoes
one handful of fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
3 dashes hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a pie plate or 8x8 baking pan.
Tear the bread into small pieces and place them in pan.  Slice the tomatoes into small pieces and arrange them over the bread.  Tear the basil into small pieces and arrange over the tomatoes.  Sprinkle the cheese over the basil.  Beat the egg and combine with the milk, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Pour mixture evenly over the cheese.  Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet and put into the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes until browned and bubbly.  Remove from oven and cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomatoes Provencal adapted from "Tartine" by Chad Robertson
(Serves 4 to 6)

4 medium-large ripe tomatoes, or use whatever size you have
olive oil
for bread crumbs:
2 slices day old bread
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Slice tomatoes crosswise and arrange on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Spoon olive oil ( I use a squeeze bottle) onto each tomato half and season with salt.  Bake until the tops start to slightly carmelize, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make bread crumbs.  Place the  bread in a food processor and pulse to fine crumbs. Add the herbs, lemon zest, Parmesan and olive oil and pulse to combine.

Remove tomatoes from oven and spoon bread crumb mixture onto the tomato halves.  Bake until the crumbs are toasted and browned, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tomato Pie Revision or How to Eat a Bumper Crop

The tomatoes are ridiculously abundant in Val's garden this year.  I have been picking them like crazy and insisting that friends take them. (I'm not sure how much longer they will remain friends with me at this point as they are all likely sick of my pushing fresh tomatoes on them.) Believe it or not, I am getting a bit tired of "The Most Amazing Tomato Sandwich...EVER!"  I can only serve cherry tomatoes to the one child of mine who will actually eat them, so many nights at dinner.  I have begun to look through cook books to see what can be made with the delightful fruit.  I know I will mourn its passing once October rolls around.  Until then, I am on a quest to use it as many ways as possible to enjoy the @#$% out of what is here now.
There is a delicious looking recipe in Tartine by Chad Robertson for "Tomatoes Provencal".  I'm sure I will be trying that one out in some fashion to use up the multiple bags of cherry tomatoes I continue to harvest almost daily. But today I don't have any fresh breadcrumbs readily available and the toasting then the dirtying of the food processor has me in a snit. I'm looking for something just as satisfying with less demanding clean- up.
One of the entries in the September chapter of the VCCK cook book named "Summer Harvest" is "Tomato Pie with Herbed Whole Wheat Crust".  I really want to eat it for dinner tonight but I am also too tired to make the pie crust.  Here is a version with puffed pastry for those of you who are as lazy as I am. 

 Tomato and Cheddar Tarte
(serves 6 or more)

approx 3 tablespoons flour for rolling out dough
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg and water for egg wash
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 medium sized fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Dust work surface with flour and roll out puff pastry .  Transfer pastry to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment.  Brush with egg wash.  Fold in all sides of the pastry about 1/2" and press down with tines of a fork.  Brush the folded edges with egg wash.  Prick entire surface of puff pastry with a fork to create air holes.  Bake pastry for approximately 10 minutes to par cook the dough.
Meanwhile, grate the cheese and slice the tomatoes. Combine nutmeg through pepper in a small dish.  Set aside.
Remove pastry from oven.  Cover inside edges of pastry with cheese and top with tomato slices.  Sprinkle with herb mixture.  Drizzle olive oil over the dried herbs to moisten.  Place tarte in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are golden brown and tomatoes and cheese are bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.  Remove tarte from pan to cutting board.  Cut into squares and serve warm.

If you a lucky there will be leftovers to reheat in your toaster oven for a snack or for a delicious breakfast rounded out with scrambled eggs.  If you are like me, someone else in your house already had this idea before you got up the next morning. That someone ate the rest of the tomato tarte disregarding rule #1:  Leave all last servings of anything especially baked items for the cook/baker.  I'm about to write someone up for breaking the rules.