Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oatmeal Apple Bread with Apple Pie Jam



For Columbus Day weekend, I went to visit my parents in Vermont with one mission in mind – apple picking! The Kitchen Genius and our daughter Julie both had to work, so it was just Tommy, Little Miss Sadie Beans (who traveled quite well in her crate), and me.

My brother Rich and his family, who live in upstate New York, met us up there for a weekend of good food and good times. The sun was shining brightly all weekend - perfect for our purposes, but all wrong for photos, so please excuse the sun spots, etc. To set the mood for this story...here is my Mom and Tom's house:



You can pick apples at orchards all over Vermont, but I was in full foraging mode by that point and while we were driving around looking at the gorgeous foliage, I saw some trees just loaded with wild apples.



Now why would I pay for apples when they were there for the taking for free? As soon as we got home from our drive, I grabbed my step-father’s apple picker out of the woodshed and my Mom and I headed right back out.

On a deserted road with no houses in sight, we found a tree with red apples and one with yellow apples almost side by side. I sampled both and decided the red ones had a lot more flavor.



So I got to work.



It only took a few minutes to fill my bushel basket.



The apples were too small to spend the time peeling and coring them, but they were fine for apple jelly because you strain the seeds and skins. I quartered them up and into the pot they went.



After I cooked them down, I still didn’t have enough juice to make a batch of jelly, but I noticed another apple tree just down the road. It was on a steep hill so it wasn’t easy picking. Luckily my parent’s neighbor Ken Grimm saw what I was trying to do and came over to tell me I was free to pick as many apples as I wanted on his beautiful property.



Even little Sadie got into the action. She found an apple in my parents’ yard from one of their trees. At first she thought it was a ball…but then she realized it was FOOD. Yep, she loved the apple.



On the way home Tommy and I stopped at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire where they have 50 acres of orchards and grow every variety of apples I’ve ever heard of, and then some. I bought a bushel bag of enormous Cortland apples (because you can never have enough apples).

By the time I was finished with all those apples, I had canned applesauce, apple jelly and apple pie jam (which tastes just like apple pie filling and is a new family favorite). I also made two pies and a loaf of Oatmeal Apple Bread from a recipe my dear friend Jennifer shared with me. It took about 10 minutes to throw all the ingredients in my bread machine and this bread is simply heavenly. It’s even better the next day as toast slathered with some of the apple pie jam.



It's so good, I’ve made it three times already. This scarecrow photo is for Jennifer in thanks for such a fabulous recipe. Check out the apple in her hand!



Oatmeal Apple Bread

Print here

(adapted from a recipe by Mary Ann McKenna)

3/4 cup apple cider
1 cup chopped apples ( I pulsed about four times in food processor)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup oatmeal (Bob’s Red Mill old fashioned rolled oats)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon yeast

Put all ingredients into bread machine and set for basic bread, large loaf. Yes, it's that simple.

Apple Pie Jam

Print here

4 cups peeled, cored and finely chopped (in a food processor) apples (I used Cortland)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
1 box powdered fruit pectin
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine apples, lemon juice, butter and pectin in a large Dutch oven pan. Bring to a full boil, then add sugar and cinnamon. Return to a boil and boil hard for 1 1/2 minutes (Mississippi one, Mississippi two…), stirring constantly. Skim off foam and pour into hot, sterilized jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe rims with clean, damp paper towel and cover with lid and screw band. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pumpkin Bread with Raisins and Pecans



Subscribers may notice a few changes and I promise I’ll explain, but let’s get to the food first.

At some point during this harvest and canning season, I became a bit obsessed and began looking for anything I could find to put up for the winter. You’d think I was Caroline Ingalls worrying about a long winter on the prairie, rather than a modern day woman with full access to grocery stores.

It started with one pumpkin I bought at the farmer’s market. It sat on my counter for quite a while, admired in passing, but mostly ignored. Then I bought two more sugar pumpkins to decorate for Halloween (and later eat). A week ago I stopped at a local apple orchard and farm stand and they were selling sugar pumpkins for 50 cents each! Of course I bought five.

Knowing what the Kitchen Genius would say, I actually hid three of them in my Jeep. Every time I turned a corner, the sound of them rolling around tweaked my guilt. Well this weekend it was time to deal with all those pumpkins.

Making homemade pumpkin puree is so easy I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it. First I split the pumpkin in half, vertically and scooped out all the seeds and stringy stuff with a spoon.



Then I put them face down on two baking sheets covered with aluminum foil that was lightly greased with olive oil. (I had to repeat this procedure twice to process all my pumpkins.) Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour until tender when poked with a knife.



Cool thoroughly and scoop out the pumpkin flesh into a bowl. Mash with a potato masher and it is ready to use or freeze.



I froze 18 cups, but I also wanted to bake something with the fresh pumpkin. On Saturday I came across a recipe for pumpkin bread by Pam at For the Love of Cooking. I made five changes to her recipe to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand, so I’ll included my revised recipe here (so I can remember it next time I want to make it), but I urge you to head over to visit Pam because she has some really wonderful recipes and beautiful photos.



Saturday night we used the pumpkin bread as the base for a pumpkin shortcake made with Cape Cod Creamery pumpkin ice cream (double pumpkin!) and whipped cream. Do I really need to tell you how good this was?



Now onto the business…and this might interest anyone whose blog subscriptions are handled by FeedBlitz.

One of my subscribers (thanks Christie!!!) brought it to my attention that there was an ad for third term abortions at the bottom of the email post she received from me. I’m not going to get into the politics of THAT. Suffice to say, I do not want ads like that on my blog.

I even find the ads for belly fat offensive. This is a food blog, not a diet site. So I’ve decided to pay a small monthly fee to be ad free. I think it’s worth it.

The second change I made was at the suggestion of the lovely Pam who inspired me to make pumpkin bread. She warned me that having all of my content available in an email left me incredibly vulnerable to content theft. This happened to her a while back and it was a nightmare.

So from now on (if I formatted it correctly), there will be only about 100 words of the post (a teaser) in your email and you will need to visit the actual site to read the rest. I hope you don’t mind one more click to read my posts, but if you do, please let me know in the comments section. You do not have to have a Google account to leave a comment. Or you can email me privately at lauriehiggins@comcast.net. Thank you for your patience and support while I work out the bugs in the new format.

Pumpkin Bread with Raisins and Peacans
recipe adapted from For the Love of Cooking

2 cups fresh pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 X 5 loaf pan with butter. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pumpkin, oil, eggs and brown sugar on medium speed until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Stir into the pumpkin mixture and mix on low until combined. Fold in the raisins and pecans and pour batter into loaf pan. Bake for 55 – 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the loaf.

For a printable recipe click here

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wild Mushrooms or the Scary Side of Foraging



The Kitchen Genius has wanted to gather wild mushrooms for a couple of years now. He has four different books that he pores over every so often, but I’m not convinced I trust his identification skills. We were in full foraging mode when we discovered a local mushroom gathering class taught by Lawrence Schuster, a member of the Boston Mycological Society.

We joined a group of about 25 people gathered at Nickerson State Park one morning about a month ago. Lawrence gave us an overview of the different mushrooms we might find and each description made me even more uneasy. There were mushrooms that could make you hallucinate, mushrooms that could give you a pretty bad bellyache and mushrooms that could KILL you. Cue scary music here.

He then sent us off into the woods for an hour to see what we could find. At first it was hard to spot any mushrooms, but the one thing I’ve discovered about foraging is once you find the first couple of whatever you’re gathering, it’s like you discover a new set of eyes. Pretty soon our basket had a respectable collection. It was a bit addictive and we found ourselves alone in this beautiful grove of pine trees.



The grass was matted down in spots where it was obvious deer had slept and it was so peaceful – until we found the first deer leg bone. We were in an area not far from our house where I hear coyotes howling like raucous teenagers at night. I looked around, wondering where the coyotes go during the day. Another leg bone and the remains of a freshly killed rabbit increased my unease. When we saw a five foot long snake stalking a chipmunk, I decided it was time to head back. We had plenty of mushrooms in our basket.



Everyone piled their mushrooms onto two picnic tables and waited for Lawrence to tell us what we could actually eat. That smart man did no such thing. He identified a lot of mushrooms, but basically said we were all much too new to mushroom gathering to eat anything we found.



Out of all those mushrooms, there was only one that he would give his blessing, the Hen of the Woods.



The man who found it shared a piece with us, but when we got it home, all those warnings scared me. I went online to do more research and discovered that Hen of the Woods is one of the safest mushrooms because nothing else looks like it.

KG made a simple chicken and pasta dish with boneless breasts, white wine, onions and mushrooms.



Every bite felt a bit dangerous and the Hen of the Woods was a bit tough (probably because it hadn't rained in a few days). Since then Lawrence has sent at least 10 emails warning those in the class against poisonous mushrooms, including one about a local mother and her son who got very sick from mushrooms they found in the forest.

So for now, I’m perfectly content to buy my mushrooms from the grocery store or from my friend Julie Winslow who sells shitake mushroom at the Orleans Farmers’ Market. That's wild enough for me...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Foraging Fun



Anyone who has spent a day foraging deserves a martini, right? I promise you, there is nothing more perfect than a martini made from the fruits of the day's labors. Guess what flavor this is...

Not that I need a martini to reward me because foraging for food is one of my favorite activities. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt. You never know if you’re going to hit the payload or get skunked, but either way, it offers some relaxing time outdoors.

Sadly my beloved beach plums went the way of tomatoes this year. Some bushes were completely bare and even the plums we finally found tended to be a bit shriveled, or even worse cracked, rending them unusable. They were about half the size of the beach plums we gathered last year. I still found enough to make my beach plum brandy, but beach plum jelly takes about 10 cups of berries and these didn’t look juicy enough to even try.



In despair, I expanded my search to the neighboring town of Eastham and didn’t find a single berry there. As I wandered along the edge of a gorgeous marsh on Cape Cod Bay, I noticed an abundance of another fruit that I had never considered. Rose hips!



To be honest, rose hip jelly has never sounded all that appetizing to me, but I was determined to go home with SOMETHING. The question was, how many rose hips did I need? I whipped out my cell phone and called the Kitchen Genius and asked him to look up a recipe for me. He found one at Simply Recipes, the fabulous food blog of Elise Bauer, who was kind enough to offer me tips on how to take better photos when I was a blogging newbie.

Rose hip jelly reminds me of a tangy apple butter. Mine wasn’t entirely clear like most jellies but it is quite tasty and has more vitamin C than orange juice – all good.

But not my absolute favorite. That distinction is reserved for the wild Concord grapes we found that might replace beach plums as my favorite thing to gather. KG and I headed out one Saturday, lured by stories of lanes that smell like grape jelly and sure enough we found some.



The only problem was they were about 20 to 50 feet above our craning heads and tricky as all get out to actually pick because they have a tendency to grow on steep embankments. At one point KG was high up in a tree, shaking a vine that rained pungent grapes on my head and I fell in love with that man all over again. Who else would enjoy such an activity as much as I do?

I made grape jelly and grape cranberry marmalade, but my favorite grapey treat was grape crush martinis. Total YUM! And especially nice with oysters…more foraging to come…



Grape Crush Martinis

Take a quart canning jar and fill it about half way with Concord grapes. Muddle them to release their flavor, add 3 tablespoons of sugar and fill the jar with a good quality vodka. Put the jar in the fridge for at least two days. Pour the mixture through a tea strainer to remove the grapes. Fill a martini shaker with ice and strained grape vodka. Shake vigorously and enjoy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Homemade BBQ Sauce, No Corn Syrup Need Apply



Is that a rooster in the henhouse?

Yep, it is. Tinkerbell is in fact Mr. T. And you know what that means, don’t you…



Just kidding. Couldn’t resist a bit of macabre Halloween humor. But seriously, this news was not easy to swallow. Despite growing evidence that sweet Tinkerbell was increasingly looking different than her friends, I held out hope she was just maturing faster. Um…silly me. Everyone who looked at her could clearly see that she was in fact a he.



Even though the Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others" ran through my head every time I looked at my chickens, it took the first cock-a-doodle-do to convince me. And once he found his voice, he used it pretty much all day long, much to the annoyance of my neighbors.

The problem was Tinkerbell was our granddaughter’s chicken and he had become my favorite. Back when the chickens were still living in our house, I would go down to the basement to say good night to the chicks. When I opened the door to their coop, they would all run over to me, but Tinkerbell was always the bravest. Every single night he came right up to me, and I cupped my hands around him and run my thumbs down his wings until he fell asleep in my hands.



There was no way I was going to kill him and there was no way I was going to give him to anyone else who would. Luckily I found a local veterinarian who raises chickens, ducks and turkeys for show and she had just lost her favorite rooster of all time – a Blue Andalusian, just like Mr. T. She even offered to trade me one of her hens so my granddaughter would still have a chicken.

We made the switcheroo at dusk because that’s supposed to be the best time to introduce a new chicken to a flock. The idea is that the other chickens will wake up and wonder, “Is she new or did we just not notice her before.”

Chickens aren’t terribly smart, but they also aren’t stupid. Our ladies completely shunned the new chicken. No matter what side of the run she was on, the other five hung together on the opposite side. It was quite amusing to watch the choreography of avoidance.

We didn’t really get a good look at her the night before, but in daylight she was quite a sight. All of the feathers on both her shoulders were torn off and she had two raw patches from the rooster constantly having his way with her (making me glad I got rid of Mr. T. before all my chickens got this beat up!) Plus she was mean.



The Kitchen Genius hated her and wanted to give her back. “We had such a nice little family out there before,” he said. He nicknamed her The Beast. Our teenage son called her Chewbacca and she does bear a striking resemblance. Our granddaughter named her Jasmine (because it’s all about the Disney princesses) and was so proud to have her chicken lay the first eggs.



Green eggs! Of course I fried those eggs up for little Skylar.



Just last week we finally got our first egg from one of our original chickens. I have no idea who is actually laying (and I’m considering installing a camera so I can spy on them) but the tiny eggs crack me up. Here’s our first actual egg compared to one I bought at the farmers market.



The rest of the chickens have finally accepted Jasmine, even though she's still a bit standoffish. KG loves to put them in their mobile pen and move them around the yard. Here’s a picture of Sassy giving herself a dust bath.



Everyone else thought that was a good idea too.

video

And just because it's Halloween…

After 20 years of carving pumpkins, I don't even have to be home when that task is done. It would make me sadder if my kids didn't take up this mantle with such gusto. They even bought their own pumpkins.

Here’s Julie and Gary’s pumpkin this year. They're still thinking, "Yes We Can!"



Tommy remains in classic rock mode:



Hope you all had a wonderful Halloween!

Homemade BBQ Sauce

1 pint crushed tomatoes (I used home canned)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon medium cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until sauce has thickened.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Canning Fever



I can't believe it's been over two months since I've posted! It's a bit horrible how one busy day slips into the next, and into the next and so on...and suddenly there is no time for the things you love.

Over the summer I took on a second writing job and the editor said she would pay me for as many stories as I could write. At the time it seemed frivolous to write for free here (no matter how much I love it) when a paying editor was waiting for my best foodie stories.

It was all writing, all the time, to the point that even our little puppy, Sadie, objected. Every time I set my laptop aside to consult my notes she would climb into the empty space. When I gently placed her back by the side of my leg, she would put her face mournfully on the corner of my laptop as if to say, "Really? This is what you want in your lap instead of me?"



Just like a toddler, her behavior was worse when I was doing telephone interviews.



Yes, that is one of my reporter's notebooks in her mouth. Note all the toys around her that she could have played with...



And the shreds of my notes hanging from her mouth. Luckily, I had already filed the restaurant review she's eating here, because I'm pretty sure editors aren't any more sympathetic than teachers to the line, "The dog ate my homework."

Despite Sadie's dismay at my writing obsession, I planned to get back to blogging right after Labor Day, but then things picked up at my day job (more writing!) and a new deadline imposed itself - the harvest season.

This summer I doubled my garden space with the intent on canning or freezing all my extra produce to get us through the winter. It seemed like a good plan last spring and I spent every Saturday in June and July out in the garden.

Unfortunately this past summer had to be one of the worst ever in New England. It never really got warm and rained every other day. It was a disaster for gardens and the whole Northeast faced a tomato blight that was all the talk at my local farmers market.

My garden produced plenty of food for our daily needs, but not enough to can for the winter. Luckily my Mum and stepfather live in Vermont where there are more farms than stores so they brought me about 90 pounds of tomatoes, a bushel of peaches and many other fine things.

So in between writing day and night for the past few months, I've also managed to can tomatoes, bread & butter pickles, sweet relish, corn relish, peaches, peach and yellow pepper relish, strawberry jam, peach jam, blueberry peach jam and strawberry peach jam (are you sensing a theme here?)



The list goes on, but that's for other posts...and I promise to be back on my game and posting regularly from now on. Up next, a chicken update and foraging for free food...please stay tuned...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sesame Snow Pea Salad and a New Puppy!



When we got home from Maine, our snow peas were ready to pick. This was a good thing, since the Kitchen Genius had a family reunion the next day and we didn't have time to go to the grocery store. He whipped up an absolutely delicious sesame snow pea salad that everyone loved.

Since he came up with this yummy recipe I've made it again twice - first with the last of the snow peas and then again when my bean crop came in, substituting green beans for the snow peas. Sugar snap peas would also be great.

He used a toasted sesame ginger seasoning made by Victoria Gourmet in Woburn, Massachusetts. You can order it on the link above or substitute 2 Tablespoons black and white sesame seeds, toasted, 1 teaspoon finely chopped gingerroot and salt and pepper to taste.

The Bruno family reunion was a blast and the food was incredible, of course, with an enormous Italian buffet. There was eggplant, chicken marsala, lasagna and all the other family specialities including the giant meatball!

Here's KG getting some sister love while his cousin looks on:



And for everyone who left kind messages when our sweet Bonnie passed away, I wanted to introduce our new puppy, Sadie. She's an absolute love and quite a little clown.



Just so our cat Daisy doesn't feel left out...



Sesame Snow Pea Salad

2 pounds snow peas
1 large red pepper, cut into 2 inch strips
1/4 cup garlic scapes or scallions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon Hoisin Sauce
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons Victoria Gourmet Toasted Sesame Ginger Seasoning
dash of red pepper flakes

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop pea pods and red pepper strips into pot and boil for 1 minute. Drain and immediately shock the veggies by submerging in ice water. Drain again very well. In the meantime mix dressing ingredients together. Toss with pea pods and red peppers.

For a printable recipe click here

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill



Since we got home from our vacation in Maine, it has been all work all the time. So I decided to go back to vacationland for a much needed respite. One of the best things about photos is they take you right back to the moment and I actually felt calmer than I have in weeks just looking at the pictures.

One of my favorite vacation memories is visiting Blueberry Hill. With a name like that I just had to visit it, because Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is one of my favorite children's books.

Blueberry Hill was NOT easy to find. With no formal directions or guide book information, we drove around the gorgeous countryside for (quite) a while, before we finally stopped here for directions:



You know what that sign means, don't you? Whoppie pies for lunch! Tommy got the famous brownie one. It was so big, even he couldn't finish it.



The Kitchen Genius and I shared a pumpkin chocolate chip whoppie pie and it was so good, I'm determined to find a recipe in the fall when I have more time.



Of course we also bought a bottle of blueberry wine, which was quite tasty with the cheese we found at a farm on the way home.



The store owners gave us directions and we finally found Blueberry Hill. The view was magnificent - lake upon lake in every direction we looked.



And the whole hill is indeed covered with blueberry bushes. We used the bags our whoppie pies came in to gather a few cups. It took a while because wild Maine blueberries are as tiny as a baby's fingernails and Tommy was just like Sal and little bear in the book and simply ate his way down Blueberry Hill.



Back at the campsite I decided to make blueberry muffins over the campfire. Just kidding... My Mom was camping nearby in her beautiful camper that has a fully equipped kitchen, and she even had one of my favorite cookbooks, Recipes From a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw and her mother, Martha. I interviewed Linda and Martha a few years back when their cookbook first came out and they are incredibly nice as well as being being fabulous cooks.

I planned to make their "Foggy Morning Blueberry Muffins," but my Mom didn't have any muffin tins in the camper, so I used the same recipe but put it in a loaf pan. I also added a thick layer of crumb topping because my blogger friend Dawn at Vanilla Sugar insists this is the best part. She's right!



For my dear friend Jennifer, I'm also adding a few photos of the local rodents. There were several very camera shy red squirrels, which are much smaller than our plump Cape Cod gray squirrels.



The kids named our resident chipmunk Chippy (Does every kid name a chipmunk Chippy?) Her hole was right next to our campsite.



And how do I know Chippy is a female? She spent the whole week we were there gathering food - just like Sal's mom and me.



The Recipe

Foggy Morning Blueberry Muffins
(from Recipes From a Very Small Island by Linda and Martha Greenlaw)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half, or whole milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspooons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease muffin tins or fit with paper liners
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs, half-and-half and vanilla until the batter is smooth.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the egg mixture, whisking until fairly smooth. (The batter will be stiff.) Fold in blueberries.
4. Divide among the muffin tin, filling about three-quarters full.
5. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the tins for five minutes and then unmold onto a rack.

*Changes I made:

I made a large loaf of blueberry bread instead of muffins. I added a crumb topping made with 1/2 cup of butter and 3/4 cup brown sugar, and sprinkled it on top and then baked the loaf at 350 degrees for an hour.

For a printable recipe click here