Saturday, April 15, 2017

Warm Tarts for Chilly Spring Days

Easter falls later on the calendar this year although looking outside, you might not realize it.  Yes, there are crocuses and daffodils finally opening their buds to the sun but the air is chilly and raw.  We've had so much rain!  I suppose all this precipitation is a good start for the season but it sure puts a damper in everyone's attitude, especially Declan's.  He gets so mad when the coach cancels practice, again. 
"They are such babies! Why can't we practice in the rain?!  It's not that cold!!"
I try to calm him down.  Seriously, 38 degrees, torrential rain, it's just silly to cancel.  The weather is fine.  But I wouldn't want to be out in it.  That sideways rain, the kind that pelts your face and ruins your hair in spite of my best efforts to deal with it by wearing a thick rubber raincoat and still sporting my winter boots.  The rain manages to seep in wherever there is a crack in the armor.  Forget using an umbrella.  The wind is so strong, it renders it useless in seconds.  It turns the  pop-open travel umbrella into a little black kite, sailing 100 yards across the supermarket parking lot.  Or even better, forcing the umbrella inside out bending the metal prongs, warping them permanently and ripping the fine fabric into a spider web of threads before I am barely out of the car.
  When the sun finally does appear, on a few occasions in early April, the ground is so damp and the air still bitter, winter coats are de riguer.  Don't forget your gloves, scarves and hats, too.  All the parents at Declan's soccer game last Saturday looked like they were ready to go sledding instead of attending a springtime match.  No one dares put away the snow gear until we are well out of the woods, around June 1st, if we are lucky.  But who wants to adhere to such sensible rules on Easter Sunday?  Pastels and bright white fabrics are featured in the new Spring lines in all the fashionable boutiques and stores.  Pedicured toes show off the latest sandal styles in all the magazines.  Everyone is sick of drab winter colors: dark grey, black, hunter green.  We are ready to give heavy coats and big boots the heave-ho.  I've already spotted bare legs and ice cold feet belonging to shivering, yet stylish women.  I'm sure I will see plenty more goose bumped and red skinned outside church this Sunday morning.  Fancy ladies and chic girls rubbing their arms and hopping up and down and in an effort to warm up while the little children search for plastic pink, yellow and blue eggs filled with candy.  As soon as these fashionistas get home, I have a feeling they will be back to fleece and flannel for at least a few more weeks.  Mother Nature will make sure of it.
  Warmer parts of the country may be celebrating the arrival of new spring clothing lines and accessories but I envy them more for their earlier spring harvest.  While we are still eating the last from the root cellar, in warmer climes, they get to feast on spring greens and quite possibly, the first sprouts of rhubarb.  Although we are quite a few weeks away from harvesting any rhubarb on Cape Cod, as luck and advance planning would have it,  I still have some from Val's huge rhubarb patch stashed away in the back of my freezer.  I was so frantic last year when the weather began to turn hot, just before the rhubarb stalks grew fat and fibrous.  I harvested and chopped so much of the ruby red and dark green stems, that I thought I had gone to far.  Even though I filled half my freezer, there was still so much we left to wither in the hot summer sun.
  I pickled it, made elixirs, froze quart after quart.  I ate a lot of rhubarb in June, July and August.  Then, I forgot about my freezer stash.  It took the angle of the sun and the date on the calendar to remind me, again. 
"Wow, I need to use this good stuff up before Val's plants begin producing again." I said to myself.
  I've been making free form tarts and quick sauces to go alongside poultry and pork.  I eat any leftovers with vanilla yogurt and whipped cream.  I just can't get enough of the sweet/tart flavor and the promise that someday soon I will be able to take off my wool socks and let my feet feel the green grass warmed by the sun.

Mini Rhubarb (or any fruit) Tarts
(makes 4)

6 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, diced
6 tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Mix the filling: combine rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon flour.
To mix the crust, place 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, salt and diced butter into a food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse peas.  Slowly add enough water until the dough just comes together.  Separate dough into 4 small disks and wrap each in plastic.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough disks on a lightly floured board.  Place each section of rolled out dough 2 per cookie sheet.  Spoon 1/4 of the rhubarb mixture into the center of each dough piece.  Crimp dough up around the fruit, pressing down slightly on the bottom edges to make sure the crimp stays in place.  Brush the edges of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle tarts with Turbinado sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until tarts are golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cook for 10 minutes before serving.  Yummy with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream!


Saturday, March 4, 2017


"%$^*ing Nutella", I mutter under my breath at 6:30am every morning.  Declan has to have Nutella on toast, well not just on toast, on anything one can possibly put into the toaster oven: country white bread, English muffins, rolls, biscuits, even everything bagels.
  It all begins with the morning "helplessness".
  "Mama, can you split this, slice this, get this, for me???"
Declan is about to turn eleven years old.  I was making my own lunch to bring to school, cooking my own grilled cheese sandwiches and burning batches of cookies in the oven when I was younger than he is now.  I guess I created this baby monster by not wanting him in my kitchen except when invited by me.  The main reason is that he is a slob.  Not in the usual kid messy kind of way.  It's more like he is Pigpen and the Tasmanian Devil wrapped in one; the mess is so dirty and EVERYWHERE. I find evidence of his Nutella on toast all over the house, long after he has boarded the school bus. Dark brown, pasty chocolate and hazelnut spread on cabinets, drawer pulls and blankets.  I even once noticed a long, dark, trail made by small fingers at just the right height on the pristine white bathroom wall while I was using the toilet one morning.  You can imagine that my blood pressure spiked before I realized that it wasn't actually a poop hand print.   It would make my life far easier if I stopped supplying the Nutella.  However, the chocolate, hazelnut spread makes up approximately 95% of my son's diet.  It would not do to have a malnutrition-ed child in the house. By the way, this Nutella addiction is all my fault for introducing that drug in the first place.
  Once I've sliced, fork split or found the desired bread vehicle for his breakfast, I leave Declan to toast, watch over and retrieve his breakfast.  He then slathers the Nutella on top.  I cannot bear to watch this process.  It's slow and drama filled.  Declan, like myself, is not a morning person.  He is barely functioning at that time of day on top of being horribly messy.  As he manages to get Nutella all over the blades and handles of at least 3 table knives, the smearing takes approximately, 10 minutes with much of the gooey, now heated chocolate spread landing along the edges of the plate, not on the bread and all over his hands soon to touch everything in sight.  Then he takes his sloppy Nutella covered hands, plate and toast over near my couch to watch t.v. and prolong this daily agony we call, "breakfast".

  He is only allowed to sit on the floor-and yet, somehow I find on many mornings, after he has left for school, a shmear of Nutella on a light blue throw pillow, the buttons on the t.v. remote clogged with chocolaty goodness. I never know where I might see evidence of the offending meal as I get ready for my own day, once that kid has left the house.  I curse as I scrub the caked, muddy evidence of my child from every nook and cranny.  I shudder to know that I will find more evidence of this morning's meal throughout the day.  I wipe down the Nutella jar and go to put it away until tomorrow.  But then I stop and pull a large soup spoon out the drawer, unscrew the cap and dig out a glob.  While that slobby kid is at school, I secretly savor the Nutella chocolatey goodness as I lick it off the spoon.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Elegant Food

  We are a few snow days in, shoveled out and partially melted but tomorrow threatens another missed day of school due to predicted high winds and blizzard conditions.  Ugh.  Thankfully, I have a February winter reading arsenal at my disposal.  Among the books I secretly ordered from Amazon, I have two of the Pink Smock Provender cookbooks (Pink Smock Provender, 1980 and More Pink Smock Provender, 1988) put together by the ladies of the Falmouth Hospital Auxillary for fundraising  purposes and bragging rights.  I also scored the Woods Hole Golf Club Centennial cookbook, Simply the Best Course which features an array of favorites from ladies who know how to golf and entertain.
  In this food-focused time of super chefs and cutting edge restaurants, cookbooks, food blogs, competitive cooking shows and internet sensations, it can be hard to believe that some of these featured recipes were sought after secret weapons for these society dames.  Among some of my favorites: "Cheese Things" to be served as an appetizer with cocktails, "Deviled Egg Salad" made with mayonnaise, hard cooked eggs and gelatin to firm it all up, "Hot Dog-A-Cheapie" for lunch and let's not forget, "Tomato Soup Cake"  as dessert.  For dinner guests, "Beef Casserole" that according to my grandmother's good friend, Frances Eastman as she is quoted at the end of her entry, "Easy casserole to make and elegant to taste."  When Mrs. E deemed something to be "elegant", it was of the highest compliment.  If you need something to wash all this food down, you can find in all the books' pages some type of punch like the one Mrs. Eastman often served at bridal showers and luncheons.  It featured Cold Duck, a can of Hawaiian Punch, pineapple juice, ginger ale and 1 pint of vodka. This light and refreshing beverage is called simply, "Summer Punch".  Elegant, indeed.
 Although there are plenty of entries that leave me scratching my head at the list of ingredients and not at all eager to try them, there are a few (only about 3 in total, don't get excited) that I tagged with my trusty post-its.  In particular, "The Famous Faxon Fudge Brownies" are a must try.  A brilliant addition of 1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk makes them super fudgy.  However, I did opt to leave out the walnuts and bag of coconut since my people would have frowned upon the use of those ingredients.  They deemed the brownies utterly delicious.  I now have the recipe earmarked as a favorite to be baked numerous times again, in the future.

  While relaxing and perusing this tome late one night, I leaped out of bed in joy when I discovered Marty Patrick's recipe for her famous "Key Lime Pie", a dessert that I had tasted but one time in my life, but it still haunted me.  The taste of sour lime perfectly blended with smooth, sweetened condensed milk, nestled into a graham cracker crust. Marty had mixed in fresh blueberries that popped when bitten and added something for your teeth to sink into amidst all that creamy filling. I had felt that I may never get the recipe as sadly, Marty is no longer with us.  You better believe I tagged that one with a post-it.
  Many of these featured recipes may not stand the test of time but I enjoy reading what people ate in the past .  Val and I had a laugh when she texted me this photo of Mrs. E's "Summer Punch".

  I then I had to google Cold Duck...I was not surprised at its slip from popularity when I read the beverage's ingredients.
  Who knows?  Maybe someday, there will be someone just like me reading this blog and laughing out loud at my go-to recipes and concoctions.  Time and recipe ideas march forward for all of us. Until then, I will continue to create recipes and menus, trying out and tweaking some of the old ones and hoping that Mrs. E would think they are as "elegant" as I do.

I opted to make a graham cracker crust instead of the regular pie crust used in Marty's recipe in "Simply the Best Course".  Also, she does not mention adding fresh blueberries they way I remember her pie.  Like many talented cooks, I am sure she often played with her own recipes depending on ingredients on hand.
Key Lime Pie
(adapted from Marty Patrick, Simply the Best Course)
makes one pie

graham cracker pie crust
3 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup Key lime juice or fresh lime or ReaLime
1 teaspoon  salt
grated rind of 1 lime

Mix sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and salt.  Fill pie crust and chill until firm.  Garnish with grated lime rind.

To make a homemade graham cracker crust:
1 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers (regular or gluten free)
6 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a standard 9"pie plate.  Mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.  Press into bottom and up sides of pie plate.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely before adding filling.

The Famous Faxon Fudge Brownies
(Sandy Faxon, Simply the Best Course)
makes one 8x8 pan

4 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs, whipped
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1/3-1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 can walnuts (optional)
1 small bag coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 pan.  
Melt chocolate and butter on low in a heavy bottom saucepan.  Add sugar and mix well.  Add eggs and vanilla, mix again.  Add flour and salt; mix until just blended.  Pour batter into greased pan and top with condensed milk.  Swirl and mix in the milk a little bit.  Bake approximately 30 minutes.  (slightly under cooked)