Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Perfect Storm Descends on My Kitchen, Part One

It all started with the tomatoes. Despite the fact that I was using them in salad, cooking with them, and even snacking on whole ones several times a day, there was still a good size basket full that was starting to attract fruit flies. Lots of fruit flies.

“I think you should make a big pot of sauce with the rest of them,” the Hubby said for maybe the tenth time. I, of course, wanted to hoard them, to savor them. A sauce seemed so final. But those fruit flies decided it, and I caved in.

The Hubby was planning on making a slow cooked short rib recipe he saw in Bon Appétit, so he thought he could use some of the sauce for his recipe. We discussed how to make the sauce before he left for work. To seed or not to seed? He thought I should seed the tomatoes. I didn’t want to waste one drop. And so the conversation went.

After he left, I came up with a compromise. I seeded the tomatoes for the sauce, but I put the seeds into a tea strainer to save the juice for a future use. I had seen a recipe somewhere for a Bloody Mary Martini and thought this light juice might be just perfect. From about twenty tomatoes, I got a full pint of juice, making me so glad I didn’t discard those seeds.

The sauce simmered for three hours and when it was done, I gave it a quick buzz with my Cuisinart Immersion Blender, because I recently realized that might just be the secret to the wonderful texture of the sauces at my favorite Italian restaurants in the North End of Boston. The Kitchen Genius Hubby actually was behind that discovery. It NEVER would have occurred to me to zap my sauce if I hadn’t seen the results of a couple of sauces he made.

When the sauce was done I tasted it and almost swooned. It had an incredibly concentrated tomato flavor. In fact, it was probably the best sauce I have ever made - and maybe even tasted. Right then and there, I knew there was no way I was letting this sauce be a secondary ingredient in a slow cooked recipe (Sorry, Honey!).

Nope, this sauce deserved the spotlight. It deserved a dish that would showcase its bright and brilliant flavor. It might even deserve homemade pasta. Yes, that was it. Homemade pasta! I had always wanted to make homemade pasta. My Mom made it a couple of times when I was growing up and I remember it as being one of the absolute best things I ever ate during my youth. Even better than holupki.

At the same time as the great tomato cook off, I was fretting over coming up with a recipe for my first Royal Foodie Joust at the Foodie Blogroll. The Joust is a monthly cooking contest started by The Leftover Queen where foodies much more experienced than me are given the challenge of creating an original recipe using three ingredients chosen by last month’s winner.

The ingredients for September were fennel (in any form), dairy and parsley. I admit these ingredients stumped me, particularly the combination of fennel and dairy. I was playing around with a recipe that involved Eastham turnips and fennel, roasted in butter and sprinkled with parsley from my garden, but a few of the other bloggers like Foodycat had such incredible recipes, I almost lost my courage to enter at all.

Michele at Life, Lightly Salted, encouraged me to keep it simple and just cook something I would enjoy eating.

I should have taken her advice….stayed tuned.

The Recipe:

Best Ever Fresh Tomato Sauce

25 medium sized tomatoes (I used a combination of red and yellow)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup white wine
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

To peel tomatoes, place a few at a time in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on counter to cool. Continue until all tomatoes have been dunked.

Heat Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. Sweat garlic for one minute, then add wine. Remove from heat.

Core and peel skin. Remove seeds and place in tea strainer over bowl to collect juice for another use. Add tomato flesh to Dutch oven. When all tomatoes are processed, add remaining ingredients and stir. Simmer for three hours over very low heat, stirring occasionally.

Lightly blend sauce with immersion blender. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Crumb Topped Baked Tomatoes

The still overflowing basket of tomatoes on our counter was getting to the Hubby. “We need to use these for something,” he’d say, and I’d just give him a “mmm” to avoid the whole subject, because I hadn’t decided what to do with the (gasp) last of the tomatoes from my garden.

Since he was in the mood for steak for dinner, he suggested I make crumb topped baked tomatoes, a retro recipe I’ve never made before, but remember seeing in my Mom’s cookbooks when I was younger.

It was an incredibly easy recipe to improvise. I didn’t have any bread crumbs, so I made my own in my Cuisinart Mini Food Processor. This is a kitchen gadget I use almost every day for something. It’s handy, easy to clean and so much simpler than dragging out my big food processor (which lives in our basement because our kitchen is so tiny).

Even if I have larger jobs, I usually just do them in batches in the mini processor, rather than truck down the stairs for the bigger model, which is invariably covered in dryer lint, meaning it needs to be washed both before and after using.

For this recipe I just broke a slice of oatmeal bread into pieces and four pulses later, I had soft fresh bread crumbs. These days I actually prefer fresh made crumbs to the store bought dry variety. They add more flavor, better texture and cost next to nothing.

Next I melted some butter in the microwave to toss with the bread crumbs, mixed in some grated some parmigiano reggiano cheese, chopped up some basil and oregano and just like that a tasty side dish was born.

I know it’s simple, but it really is delicious. Stay tuned for the hardest recipe I've ever made...and yes tomatoes are involved.

The Recipe:

Crumb Topped Baked Tomatoes

6 medium tomatoes
1 slice oatmeal bread
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons fresh grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons fresh basil, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced

Cut tops off tomatoes and place in baking dish. Place oatmeal bread in food processor and give it about four short pulses until bread had turned into crumbs. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter, cheese and herbs. Place a mounded tablespoon on top of each tomato. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, until bread crumbs are toasted and cheese is melted.

All Tomatoes, All the Time

Despite the title of this post, I am not even close to tired of homegrown tomatoes. In fact I’m already mourning their eventual passing. For the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying the heyday every which way I can. (Ha, ha – can!)

One of our favorite things to do with tomatoes in any season is to roast them. Slow cooking tomatoes in the oven releases their juices and caramelizes their flavor, making them a sublime ingredient that adds bursting flavor to any recipe.

We’ve been keeping it simple and using them to make crustini, which is a delicious appetizer or accompaniment to homemade soup.

To roast the tomatoes, first cut 8 tomatoes in half and then into wedges. Place in bowl with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove of finely chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon of minced fresh basil, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Toss to coat.

Spread tomatoes on a cookie sheet and put into oven preheated to 300 degrees. Bake for one to one and a half hours, checking every half hour.

You can also toss these gems with some fresh cooked pasta for a yummy main course, add them to beef or lamb stews for a subtle sweet flavor or throw them into a saute pan with some white wine and steam some clams for a fancier appetizer that will get rave reviews.

The Recipe:

Roasted Tomato Crustini

1/2 of a loaf of good quality crusty bakery bread
1 clove of garlic
8 tomatoes slow roasted per instructions above
10 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (use the real deal – it’s so much better)

Cut bread into ten 1/3 inch thin slices. Cut garlic clove in half and rub cut side on bread slices. Bake on cookie sheet in 400 degree oven for five minutes. Take bread slices out of oven and spread with the roasted tomatoes, patting the tomatoes down with the tines of a fork. Put one tablespoon of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese on each slice. Return to oven and bake for another five minutes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bourne Scallop Festival offers Old Fashioned Fudge in New Fangled Way

Is there anything more fun than teeny tiny food? I don’t even like sweets, but these miniature ice cream cones for the bargain price of $1 were simply irresistible. Instead of ice cream they are filled with fudge.

I found these little gems at the 39th annual Bourne Scallop Festival on Sunday. Fall is a great time for food festivals on Cape Cod and for foodies like me, nothing is more fun. The Scallop Fest is held on the shores of the Cape Cod Canal with a lovely view of the historical verticle lift railroad bridge, which had the longest lift span in the world when it was constructed between 1933 and 1935.

The teenagers must have been bored because they decided to join us, and our granddaughter, Skylar, tagged along too. We arrived hungry so we got right to the main event as soon as we arrived. Every year the Scallop Fest serves up three tons of fried scallops to about 50,000 annual visitors. This scallop platter tasted as good as it looks!

Then the kids took Skylar to the Midway to ride some kiddie rides and the hubby and I wondered around the craft tent and home show.

Since I didn’t do any cooking for this meal, I’m borrowing a tried and true recipe from my Mom for her famous fudge. For years my Mom made this fudge to sell at the Brewster Store, an old fashioned general store where she worked. She says the recipe used to be on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa can.

It is one of the few sweets she remembers her own mother making during her childhood and she loves the old fashion texture of this recipe, which is far superior to the marshmallow based fudges.

The Recipe:

Hershey’s Cocoa Fudge

3 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
dash salt
1 1/2 cups milk
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter sides and bottom of a heavy saucepan. Mix first four ingredients in pan and bring to a boil stirring occasionally. Lower temperature of burner to medium and cook until it reaches 234 degrees (soft ball stage). Add butter and vanilla. Do not stir the fudge while it is cooking or after it is done until the temperature lowers to 140 degrees. Then beat the fudge until it loses its gloss. Pour into a buttered 8 by 8 pan. Score fudge while it is warm.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cream of Celery Soup Delights the Senses

These days every meal is inspired by my garden or the food that catches my fancy at the local farmer’s markets. I was thrilled to find some home grown celery again this year. It had never occurred to me to grow celery. Ever.

I first found homegrown celery around this time last year at the Cedar Spring Herb Farm booth at the Hyannis Farmer’s Market during the CLASH Festival.

A taste test showed that home grown celery has a much stronger celery flavor than store bought celery. Since the chilly autumn days put me in full soup mode I decided to make cream of celery soup. Even though I had never made it before. Even though I wasn’t impressed with the Campbell’s product 20 years ago when I still used Campbell’s products.

Truthfully, I just didn’t really know what to do with this giant bunch of flavorful, but tougher than normal stalks. My expectations for the soup were actually pretty low, but the results were pure YUM!

With no recipe to work with, I followed my general recipe for potato leek soup and even added a few leeks and potatoes because I had also bought both those items at the farmer’s market. I sautéed the diced veggies and covered them with chicken stock. It was necessary to simmer this soup for an hour to cook the celery to a tender stage.

Then I blended it up with my handy dandy Cuisinart Immersion Blender. I love this tool! The kids use it for instant smoothies, but I pretty much only use it for blending hot soups or sauces. It is such an improvement over the (precarious) process of putting hot things into the blender or food processor that has (literally) burned me in the past. For best results with the blending, deeper is better. I’ve found that tilting the pan helps a lot with this process.

Even though this is technically a “cream” soup, most of the creaminess comes from the potatoes. It only needs a little actual cream, making it a guilt free cream soup with sublime flavor. I’ve never tried this recipe with store bought celery, but my instincts tell me it won’t be as good. For me this is a couple of times a year, first soup of autumn recipe.

Tip: Homegrown celery wilts pretty quickly, so if you find some at your local farmer’s market, make sure you cut off the leaves and then cut it in half and put it in a large Ziploc bag with a little water in the bottom to keep it crisp.

The Recipe:

Bunch of home grown celery, washed and sliced into small pieces
2 leeks, washed and sliced
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons butter
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
2 cups of chicken stock + or -
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/3 cup light cream

Sauté celery, leek and garlic in butter over medium low heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Add enough chicken stock to just cover the veggies. Simmer for a half an hour. Add tarragon and thyme and simmer for another half an hour. Use immersion blender to blend soup to a smooth consistency. Stir in cream.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rustic Apple Tart is Plate Lickin Good

It's apple season (!) and even on Cape Cod, where there aren't many orchards, it's possible to find some locally grown specimans that are sweet tart perfection. On the way home from the hairdresser's the other day, I saw a sign for Hemeon's Farm and thankfully there was no one behind me because I made a quick, unexpected detour down a windy dirt road past an orchard of apples, which is simply not a usual sight in my neck of the woods. I bought some delightfully sweet and crunchy Honeycrisp and delicously tangy Cortland apples.

It was actually my second apple find. Days before that adventure I scored some organic Winesap apples at the Orleans Farmer’s Market and decided to make a rustic apple tart instead of my usual pie. Since this was a first for me, I checked out a bunch of food blogs to get some ideas from others. Some recipes used phyllo dough, but that didn’t really appeal to me. Others used a classic pastry, either plain or with a little sugar added.

I love my pastry recipe (passed down from my Grandma) because it’s flaky, tasty and REALLY easy. Plus you don’t need to refrigerate it, and really, I’m just too impatient for any dough recipes that require me to cool my heels while the dough chills. So I decided to use my own recipe and add two tablespoons of sugar.

A really nifty blog called Laura Rebecca’s Kitchen had a terrific recipe for a rustic apple tart that she got from Moon at Peanut Butter Etouffee. From her, I borrowed the filling recipe and the idea to sauté the apples first. She added lemon juice and lemon zest and even though we usually adore tart things, we thought the lemon made the tart too, well, tart. Plus it kind of hid the incredible flavor of the Winesap apples, which have a lovely old fashioned tart flavor all on their own.

She also made a really yummy sounding apple caramel sauce for the top that I planned to make, but I hadn’t given the recipe a careful enough look before starting. When it came time to make it I realized I needed applesauce, but didn’t have any. And I had used all the apples in the house to make the tart.

It was already 7:30 and the family was salivating to dig in to this tart, so we ate the first one in all its naked glory.

Luckily the recipe makes two tarts, so the next night I made the sauce, with a few tweaks of my own. Even though I still hadn’t made it to the store for applesauce, my Mom and step-father brought me bags of Honeycrips apples AND Cortland apples (too funny that I already found my own right around the corner) from my favorite orchard, Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire, which is conveniently located on the route between their house in Vermont and mine on the Cape.

So I made a quick homemade applesauce with two of the Cortland apples and then proceeded to make the recipe. This sauce was so yummy my son and granddaughter fought over the leftovers today. The Boy wanted to dip apple slices into it while my little Sweetie wanted to just eat it plain with a spoon. They both licked their bowls clean. Hard to decide whether to be appalled by their manners, or thrilled I made something they loved so much. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m thrilled, of course.

The Recipes:

Rustic Apple Tart with Apple Caramel Sauce

8 medium size baking apples (I like winesap, Cortland, and MacIntosh, but use whatever is your favorite.
3 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons flour

Saute apples in butter until lightly brown. Add sugar, salt, cinnamon and lightly stir. Sprinkle with flour and stir gently. Cook until lightly thickened, about three minutes. Cool 30 minutes. In the meantime make pastry:

Sweet Pastry Crust:

3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of Butter Flavored Crisco
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Put shortening in a mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and beat with mixer until smooth. Add milk, salt and sugar and beat again. It will look like whipped cream. Add the flour one cup at a time and mix by hand. Divide dough in half to make two tarts.

Roll each half until as thin as pie crust. Divide filling between the two and gently fold edges up, doing opposite sides at the same time to keep it even. There should be a circle in the center where apples peak through. Place tarts on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn down to 375 degrees and bake until crust is light brown and apples begin to bubble, about 15 minutes more.

Apple Caramel Sauce:

1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons Karo syrup
1/2 cup apple sauce

Cook until it bubbles and is slightly thickened, about 15 – 20 minutes. Drizzle over tart and scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Holupki, Or Stuffed Cabbage by Any Other Name

For our family dinner party Saturday night there was really no topping the kitchen genius Hubby’s appetizer of quail eggs in shiitake mushroom “nests,” so I didn’t even try. Instead I choose a retro recipe from my childhood that was sure to please our dinner guests (my parents and aunt and uncle) just for the sheer back home nostalgia – holupki.

Holupkis were one of my absolute favorite childhood dishes. I would actually request them for my birthday which is usually the hottest day in June every year. (Thanks, Mom!) Really this is the perfect recipe for fall or winter because it is comfort food all wrapped up in a handy little cabbage package.

I have my own informal recipe for holupki that I picked up from my Mom over the years, but I wanted to see if I could kick that up a notch. My aunt recently lent me “A Book of Favorite Recipes” compiled in 1968 by The Sisterhood of St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Johnson City, New York (one of the “triple cities” that includes Binghamton).

I figured the cookbook must have an authentic recipe and sure enough it did, but the ladies in the “Sisterhood” called them Holubtsi. One of my childhood neighbors who was Polish called them Golumki, but a quick Google search shows the authentic Polish name is Golobki and Holupki is the Slovakian name. Even thought this dish has so many different monikers, the basic ingredients are the same: Cabbage stuffed with a meat and rice mixture and cooked in a tomato based sauce.

Except when it’s not the same. From the “Sisterhood” I learned you can also stuff Holubsti with potatoes or buckwheat. New twists on an old favorite to try! Wow, the kids will be so happy!

Even the rice and meat version gave me some ideas. Since my recipe was kind of plain, I welcomed the idea of adding finely chopped onions and garlic but the recipe still called for cooking the little darlings in tomato soup, which I was trying to get away from. In the end, though, it seemed a little sacrilegious to do away with the tomato soup altogether so I combined one can of it with a large can of crushed tomatoes.

My recipe called for braising the holupki in a Dutch oven on the stove, but I loved the idea of baking them in the oven instead and the Hubby was positive this was the way to go.

Yep. Best holupki I’ve ever made or tasted. During my Google search for the correct spelling of all the different names, I came across a story that shows Holupki are still very popular in Binghamton. In fact the folks at Saint Cyril's Church hold a festival each year where they serve up 10,000 Holupki. That's one church supper I wish I could have attended.

The Recipe:

Makes 12 – 15, serves 6 - 8

1 large head of cabbage
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup cooked rice
1 onion chopped finely
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons fresh parley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 10 1/2 ounce can tomato soup
1/2 soup can of water reserved after boiling the cabbage
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Remove core from cabbage by cutting around it with a sharp pointed knife. Put cabbage in a Dutch oven and fill with water to cover about one third of the cabbage. Simmer for ten minutes and remove cabbage to cool.

Cook rice at the same time. While cabbage is cooling mix together ground beef, rice, onion, garlic, parsley and 3 tablespoons of the crushed tomatoes. Peel leaves off cabbage and fill with one heaping spoon full of meat mixture on side closest to stem. Tuck bottom of cabbage over once, then fold sides in towards center. Roll it up and place on separate cookie sheet.

When all the meat mixture is used up, slice enough of the remaining cabbage core to lightly line a 13 by 9 baking dish with deep sides. Place holupki on top of sliced cabbage.

In a saucepan, whisk together remaining crushed tomatoes and can of tomato soup. Heat to the simmer point and then pour the mixture over the top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours.

Serve with mashed potatoes drizzled with extra sauce.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quail Eggs Find Nice Nest

Saturday mornings have taken on a new meaning. They used to be the one day of the week with no school for the kids or church (read perfect excuse to lounge in bed, roll over and lounge some more). But now they have become my favorite day to shop and forage for the best food we will eat all week.

The Saturday morning Farmer’s Market in Orleans is small, but offers an abundance of really good food and interesting choices. With my handy dandy green mesh bags in tow, I browse, chat and buy. Carrying those heavy bags back to the car makes me so happy.

Last week the Hubby and I went foraging for beach plums and hit a bonanza, so this week I hit the best spots that had unripe plums again. Found five more cups! So in addition to beach plum brandy and beach plum jelly, I will be making a beach plum cordial.

The Hubby has such bad poison ivy from last week’s excursion that he would have been excused on sheer sympathy alone, but he was actually working today so I went alone. As I wandered among the dunes, looking up from my careful search for beach plums to catch the water view, I compared my morning of “shopping” to my experience at the grocery store. Uh, no contest.

Obviously this is true for my sensory experience, but it actually proved true for the food too. One vender at the Farmer’s Market was selling quail eggs in tiny egg cartons that were so darling they looked like they belonged in a doll house. Another vendor sold locally grown shiitake mushrooms and those two ingredients were the basis of an incredibly unique and yummy appetizer for the family dinner party we had tonight.

The food genius Hubby came up with a recipe that is an upscale version of a mushroom omelet. Kuddos to him, but he had a harder time with one aspect of implementing it. Cracking those itty-bitty quail eggs just isn’t a job for big man fingers. He broke two yokes. The first egg, he tried to crack the usual way. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room here and the shells have a thick membrane that makes this task hard.

After his first broken yoke, he tried to cut the top off the eggs and lightly shake the egg out of the top. It was kind of painstaking, and if the cut is too small the yoke doesn’t want to come out. Meanwhile I used a steak knife and sliced through the shell, just enough to “crack” it and then carefully opened the egg with the same motion I use with regular chicken eggs. Works like a charm if you have slender girl fingers, manicures welcome.

In other blog news, I’ve spent the past few days researching food blogs and there are SO many good ones out there. I’ve found my peeps! My blog was accepted on the Foodie BlogRoll (check out the new cool widget on the sidebar – and be sure to visit some of the featured blogs).

Today I was featured on the Most Recent 5 Blogs section. My visitor count expanded times ten. Thanks so much for all the visits, Foodies! And thank you to Michele at "Life, Lightly Salted" for leaving a comment. Her blog is actually so cool looking that while I was reading it , it actually caught the attention of the Boy who asked with disbelief, “Is that YOUR blog?”

Uh, no.

Look for the surprise retro Binghamton main course of our dinner party tomorrow…

The Recipe:

Serves 6 as an appetizer

Quail Eggs in Mushroom Nests

3/4 pound of shiitake mushrooms (about 3 cups sliced)
2 medium shallots
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil’
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
1/4 cup light cream

Heat skillet and melt butter. Add olive oil and turn burner to medium high. When skillet is hot add mushrooms and shallots and sauté for five minutes or until tender. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Stir, then add gruyere cheese and cream. Stir until well blended.

Divide mushroom mixture among six custard cups. Press down with a spoon and create cavity in center to make a “nest” for the quail eggs. Carefully crack one quail egg into each mushroom nest. Bake at 350 degrees for about five minutes. Check to see if eggs have set. If not, check again in one minute. Take out of oven and let rest for three minutes to continue to cook eggs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beach Plums! Finally...

This year I actually found and picked my own beach plums! There is something so satisfying about realizing a long held goal, and I have wanted to pick beach plums ever since I first tasted homemade beach plum brandy 18 years or so ago.

Back then I was a waitress at the Hearth ‘N Kettle restaurant in Orleans and a 70 (plus) year old cook named George Tingley brought a bottle of his homemade beach plum brandy to the annual Christmas party. It was the most delicious nectar I had ever tasted. The next day at work, I asked George for the recipe and wrote it down on the back of slip from my dupe pad.

That little slip of paper has been wasting away in my recipe box for all these years. Why, you ask? Simply because I had no idea what an actual beach plum looked like. For some reason, I thought beach plums would be, well, more plum size.

Instead they are somewhere between the size of a large blueberry and a grape. My moment of illumination came while shopping for fresh local peaches at Crow Farm in Sandwich. At the cash register there was a canning jar full of water with a branch sticking out of it and a sign that said, “Beach Plums.”

“That’s a beach plum?” I asked the cashier.

“Sure is,” was her reply.

I didn’t actually have time to go scavaging for my own last year, but just two week later a vendor at the Mid Cape Farmer’s Market in Hyannis was actually selling beach plums and that’s where I learned that they can be either purple or golden, just like real plums. I bought four pints and FINALLY made my long awaited brandy.

We drank beach plum martinis and sipped it straight up from cute little cordial glasses I bought at a thrift store in Harwich. It was a huge hit and my favorite gift to give away last Christmas.

So this year we promised ourselves we would find our own. A few weeks ago the Hubby came home with a gift for me: a book called Plum Crazy that is the beach plum Bible, with everything from the history of beach plums to how to find them to dozens of recipes - including the exact same recipe George gave me all those years ago.

Last Saturday we set out on our quest. This is not a mission for the faint of heart. First of all, beach plums are pretty darn hard to spot. Secondly, they grow in the most obscure and hard to reach places.

After an initial small success (like three dozen plums – think about a half a cup), we hit two dry spots and got more desperate in our search. We trudged through sand and underbrush, trespassed on private property and got rained on. In a particularly difficult spot, after we both acquired some nasty scratches on our legs and arms, the Hubby (who had actually read the book) warned me that perhaps we should have worn long pants because beach plums tend to grow right next to poison ivy. Here's what they look like in the wild:

It was too late to go back and at our next spot, we hit a payload. And then we moved on and found more, and more. Four and a half hours later, we were dirty, injured and triumphant. We had 14 pints of beach plums!

If I had my way, all of those little jewel colored gems would have gone to brandy, but with brandy at close to $20 a bottle, reality set in and we could only afford to make five bottles. That’s two more bottles than last year and actually the scarcity makes it more treasured. We still have a tall jelly jar of last year’s brew that we’re saving to test against the new batch to see how aging affects it and enough left in the last bottle for a few more toasts.

Or perhaps medicinal use. The Hubby, poor man, discovered the truth of that poison ivy warning. His legs and arms are simply COVERED with an itchy rash. Apparently he’s allergic and I’m not, which means this job falls to me next year.

The Recipes:

Beach Plum Brandy

2 cups whole beach plums
2 cups sugar
4/5 quart (one bottle) brandy

Pick all stems of beach plums, wash and place single layer on a towel to dry thoroughly. Place all ingredients in a large clean glass jar (a beer growler works well). Cap and shake. Let the mixture stand for two weeks at room temperature, shaking or stirring once a day. Strain the brandy through a tea strainer lined with cheese cloth. Then line a funnel with a coffee filter and strain into a clean jar two or three times until brandy is entirely clear. Replace coffee filter frequently as it clogs easily. Wash the jar each time in between each round of filtering. Store for two or three months.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sweet End of the Summer Sunshine

This time of year corn on the cob just beckons me, because I know it will soon be gone. I find myself buying it every time I see it, even if it doesn’t fit into my menu plans. So far the best corn I’ve had all season has come from Hart Farm in Dennisport, but the Hubby found some corn at Stop and Shop in Yarmouth (of all places) that was so unbelievably sweet I could have eaten it raw.

Corn that wonderful needed a great recipe. Luckily, I just got a copy of Cook’s Illustrated American Classics and there was a recipe for fresh corn chowder I was dying to try. I love corn chowder and I was intrigued by the recipe. Of course, I changed things up a little to reflect my preferences. For example, I prefer bacon to salt pork and I used 2% milk and light cream instead of whole milk and heavy cream.

The recipe also tested ways to save some of this season’s corn to make chowder in the wintertime when it will be especially welcome. The best method for preserving the fresh taste of corn, according to the tester at Cook's is to blanch the whole ears for five minutes and then shock them in a cold water bath and spread the ears on a clean towel to dry. When fuly dry put the corn into a zip lock bag, press out the air and seal the bag. Date and freeze. When you want to prepare the recipe, cook the corn for two to three minutes instead of ten minutes.

Voila, the fresh taste of summer on a cold winter day!

The Recipe

Fresh Corn Chowder

8 medium ears of corn, husks and silks removed
5 slices of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups organic chicken broth
2 cups red skin potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup light cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground cracked pepper

Stand corn on end in a bowl and cut kernels from four ears of corn. Set aside. Grate kernels on box grater from remaining four ears of corn and put in separate bowl. Firmly scrape any pulp remaining from all 8 cobs into same bowl as grated corn.

Cook bacon in Dutch oven over medium high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is almost crisp. Remove bacon bits with metal slotted spoon and drain on plate lined with paper towel. Add butter to pan and melt. Add onions and cook over low heat until tender. Add garlic and cook two more minutes. Stir in flour and cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Whisking constantly, slowly add chicken broth.

Add potato, bay leaf, thyme, milk, grated corn and pulp, and half of reserved bacon. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, about 8 – 10 minutes.

Add reserved corn kernels and cream and return to simmer. Simmer about five minutes until corn kernels are tender, but still slightly crunchy. Stir in parsley, salt, pepper and remaining bacon. Remove bay leaf and serve immediately.

Summer in a Jar

Until this year, I hadn’t canned in too many years to count. It felt really good to get back to it. My Mom canned or froze most of our food when I was growing up, and I canned in my early years of adulthood and again briefly in our early years of home ownership.

Even though I helped my Mom with the preparations for canning (snapping beans, shelling peas, peeling carrots, shucking corn), I actually learned how to can from my Dad’s mother. At the time I live in an apartment, so I stored everything I canned on the shelves in my grandmother’s basement and we both shared it freely. Even writing this brings back such wonderful memories. Canning has done the same.

I love the feeling of tomato juice running down my arm and dripping off my elbow as I peel big juicy tomatoes. And the smell of fresh tomatoes just makes me happy. But I haven’t had access to enough tomatoes to can for many years. This year would have been the same despite my garden, if my Uncle Foster (gardener extraordinaire) hadn’t given me a big box of tomatoes from his two gardens. Thanks, Uncle Foster!

Between his tomatoes and mine, I had enough to can 13 quarts of tomatoes and 7 pints. It was much more than I expected and I plan to use every single quart to make the homemade “farm pizza” I grew up with. It is a recipe that you can only make with home canned tomatoes and my Mom still makes it as a special treat when any of us kids visits her in Vermont. Look for the recipe in a future blog entry…

The Recipe:

Canned Tomatoes

Wash jars and closures in hot soapy water. Fill jars with hot water until needed. Put lids in a bowl with boiling water until needed. Wash tomatoes and put in a wire basket and lower into boiling water in a large saucepan. Remove after 30 seconds or as soon as skin begins to crack.

Dip in cold water, cut out core, remove skins and cut out any green spots. Leave whole or cut in half and place in jars. Fill jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space at top. Add 1 teaspoon non-iodized salt to each quart, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint. Run a non-metal spatula between tomatoes and jar to remove trapped air bubbles. Wipe top and threads of jars with a clean, damp cloth. Put lid on top and screw band down firmly.

Put jars in rack of a water bath canner filled with hot (not boiling) water. Water should cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Put cover on canner and bring water to boil. Process quarts 45 minutes (pints 40 minutes). Remove jars from canner and set on counter. Cover with clean dish towel to keep out of draft. Allow jars to cool about 12 hours. Test seal by pressing down on top. If it is solid, the seal took. If it is bouncy, put jar in fridge and use immediately. Store jars in dry, dark, cool place.

(For extra safety the FDA recommends adding 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart or 1 tablespoon to each pint to raise the acid level. My mother never did this and laughed at me for my worries. A reader comment on Martha Stewart’s website said that the FDA have revised this caution, but I have not confirmed this. I added the lemon juice.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Baby Food

Sometimes the Hubby just takes over in the kitchen and when that happens there is nothing to do but get out of his way, and hover nearby with pen and pad in hand. The inspiration for this meal was some veal cutlets he found. Then he picked up an adorable package of baby artichokes, a container of baby mozzarella balls (do you notice a certain theme going on here) and some fresh pasta.

Instead of using red sauce for the veal parm, he decided to roast some tomatoes from our garden with some fresh herbs to really caramelize their sweet flavor. He wanted to make a Sicilian style pasta dish to go along with the veal, so he created a dish with the artichokes, some lemon juice and fresh sage.

The result was total yum, if a little politically incorrect.

The Recipes:

Garden Fresh Veal Parmesan

Serves 4

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Toss tomato wedges with above ingredients and place in baking pan. Bake at 325 for one hour.

4 veal cutlets, pounded thin
2 slices fresh bread
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 container of miniature fresh buffalo mozzarella balls

Make fresh bread crumbs by placing slices of bread in food processor until medium fine crumb emerges. Pour in bowl and add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Dredge cutlets in seasoned flour, dip into egg and then coat with seasoned bread crumbs.

Heat oil in sauté pan over medium high heat. When sizzling, add cutlets and fry three minutes per side until golden. Put fried cutlets in baking pan and top each one with three tomato wedges and three slices of fresh mozzarella. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Sicilian Lemon Sage Pasta with Artichokes

18 baby artichokes
1 large clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
1 package of fresh pasta

Peel outer leaves from artichokes until yellow center remains. Cut green tops off and cut in half. Keep in a bowl of water with 3 tablespoons lemon juice until ready to use to keep from browning.

Put olive oil in sauce pan and add onion. Chop garlic and grind it with edge of knife into 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt to make paste. Add to pan and sauté one minute. Drain artichokes and add to pan. Cook about seven minutes or until tender. Add salt and pepper, lemon juice and sage.

In the meantime cook pasta according to directions. Toss pasta with artichokes and fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Devil of a Time with Eggs

This year Labor Day weekend was filled with plenty of family fun. My Aunt Sandie and Uncle Jerry came for their annual visit from Hawaii and their daughter-in-law Tracy and her two boys came up from Florida. We all got together at my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Foster’s house in Harwich Port and had – spiedies! Of course, because that’s what folks from Binghamton do when they get together.

We also decided to celebrate my Grandmother’s 86th birthday, so Aunt Shirley made her a chocolate chip zucchini cake.

The Hubby suggested that I make some deviled eggs because my cousin Deanna’s son EJ loves them, and for some reason he especially loves mine. In keeping with my “eat local” motto, I paid an extra dollar for local fresh eggs from Sandwich. I cooked them eggsactly how the experts say to do it. (See instructions below – it usually works like a charm). But not this time.

I’m not sure if it was because the eggs were so fresh, or because the shell membranes were thicker, but those were the hardest eggs I have EVER peeled. It took me an hour to peel a dozen, one painstaking chip at a time. It was so frustrating I almost gave up. But I didn’t.

The results tasted delicious, but they looked a little chewed up, as you can clearly see in the above photograph. Have you ever noticed this only happens when you cook something to bring somewhere? Oh well. Sometimes I garnish the eggs with a sprinkle of paprika, but I was out and the kids regard paprika with much suspicion, so usually the eggs are naked in all their golden glory.

Deviled Eggs

1 dozen eggs
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons country Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

Put eggs in pan of cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and set timer for 15 minutes. When timer goes off, immediately plunge eggs into ice water bath to cool. Peel eggs and slice in half lengthwise. Remove yolks with spoon and place in a bowl. Mash thoroughly with the tines of a fork. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Spoon a rounded teaspoon of yolk mixture into egg shells. Garnish with a sprinkle paprika if desired.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Campfire Pot Roast

I saved my favorite campfire food for our last night. Every single time I have gone camping, I have made pot roast in the cast iron Dutch oven my Mom gave me one Christmas after I seriously coveted hers. Since pot roast takes about three hours to cook, this recipe requires leaving the pond early and settling in at the campsite tending the fire for the long haul.

Our granddaughter, Skylar had her first camping experience with us that night. She was thrilled to join “the girls’ tent” with Julie, but like my kids, she was totally unimpressed by the pot roast. I actually anticipated this and made roll-up sandwiches for all the kids for dinner.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with such a time consuming recipe that no one but the Hubby and I will eat, but certain foods bring me right back to the flavors of my youth and that makes it all worthwhile.

For dessert I made baked stuffed apples, wrapped in tin foil and cooked over the fire. It was the perfect end to a pretty wonderful camping experience.

The Recipe:

Campfire Pot Roast

Serves 4 - 6, depending on appetite

1 tablespoon olive oil
5 – 7 pound pot roast of your favorite cut
2 medium onions, cut in quarters
2 stalks celery, cut in thirds and then halved
2 cloves of garlic, cut in thirds
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
5 medium size potatoes, cut into quarters
1 bag carrots, peeled and cut into thirds (slice thick pieces in half again)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups water

Build small fire and let flames die down. Place cast iron Dutch oven on the grate over the fire and add olive oil. When heated, put pot roast in and brown on all sides. Add celery, onions and garlic and brown for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add one cup of red wine and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and simmer for two hours, occasionally flipping pot roast. If liquid level becomes too low, add more water.

Add potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour. Remove pot roast and slice or cut into chunks. To make gravy add 1/4 cup of flour to 2 cups of water in gravy shaker. Thoroughly shake to remove lumps. Making sure juice in pan is boiling, add flour mixture a little at a time until gravy is formed, stirring constantly. (You should not need all of the flour mixture. As soon as gravy thickens, stop adding flour mixture. Put chunks of meat back in pan to coat with gravy.