Monday, December 21, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life, Natch

Merry Christmas from My Family 2009

It’s the end of the aughts and another amazing year watching our daughters grow has come to a close. Laura celebrated her 11th birthday this summer and soon after started middle school. In November, she went to space camp, took a turn in the G-force accelerator and emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis. She can now sing on-key and make up her bed. Will wonders never cease.

Do you know about friendship bracelets? Laura is a champion friendship bracelet knotter. She represented Team USA at the Senior International Knot-offs in the Double Chain Knot (a.k.a. Twin Ties) category. She won a blue ribbon by making a bracelet in five minutes, not counting the overhand knot and measuring the threads. She is also in great demand on the rubber chicken circuit. She recently delivered a speech to a prominent group of bankers regarding the allocation of TARP funds, “The Green Blankie Financial Plan: Maximizing Parental Output for Personal Gain.“

Lindsey is four fingers and has been tapped for the Iron Chef Pipsqueak edition. We’re looking for child size 10 ½ orange clogs as she’s slated for Team Batali. Lindsey plans to bring her best game to the competition and considers her secret weapons her “special” sculptural biscuits and “anything sous vide.” She’s practicing in the bathtub as I write.

Not long after her birthday, Lindsey took a spill by driving her bike over a wall and tumbling a few feet into a briar patch, just like Brer Rabbit. She didn’t cry, and despite having the bike land on her, she was ok. When asked why she drove over the wall, she said, “Because I wanted to fly like a butterfly.” I see the Bonneville salt flats in her future. And blood pressure medicine for both of her parents.

Lindsey is in preschool and on the edge of reading all by herself. Her breakthrough moment was standing in front of the microwave. “Mom, O-N is on. O-f-f is off.” Not exactly Helen Keller at the pump, but a red letter day in our household nevertheless.

Scott & I just celebrated 19 years of marriage, so I guess we’re teenagers for another year. We’re busy with work and the girls, but Scott finds time for fishing and I try to cook and write when I can. This time of year, I thank God for my family and friends and hold hope in my heart for peace and goodwill. It’s my wish that in 2010, we‘ll have more to go around. May God bless each and every one of you.


Lucy & Scott & Laura & Lindsey

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CSA Season Finale

Farmers Fresh Food will continue to deliver boxes for another couple weeks, but today marks my last box for the season. I started in May and for nearly seven months have received fresh local produce each Wednesday.

The fall vegetables have been outstanding, especially the greens. I'm crazy for the lettuces -- I will miss those the most these dark CSA-less months ahead. I've got quite a stash of sweet potatoes and apples to see me through 'til February.

The contents of this week's box:

Broccoli, a big ol' spaghetti squash, collards (yum!), herbs, lettuces and Asian turnips.

Plus, four gorgeous fresh apples. This time of year, I end up with a glut of apples, from friends, grocery store sales and trips to North Georgia apple barns. Homemade applesauce is an easy and kid-friendly recipe.

Homemade Applesauce
1. Peel, core and coarsely chunk six or eight or more apples. A mix of varieties works best. My last batch included Galas and Red Romes. I use apples that are a bit past their prime, including the iffy bruised apples in the bottom of the apple bag.

2. Place apples in large, tall container suitable for the microwave. I use a tall gallon container. Pour apple juice (if you have it, water if you don't) to cover apples by about a third.

3. Place container in microwave and zap at full power for five minutes. Stir and zap for five minutes more. This may require more zapping, just check to make sure the apples are cooked through. Stir in a few tablespoons of butter and sugar, if needed. Let cool and puree in food processor.

4. If you simply must have cinnamon, then spice it up by all means. I like it straight, no sugar added. Warm applesauce makes a first-rate side dish for most kid dinners. It's delish also with a pancake and bacon supper.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fresh Pinto Beans in CSA Box

The last box in November includes apples, herbs, komatsuna (which I think of as Japanese collards), sweet potatoes, Asian turnips, snow peas and hulless popping corn. The snow peas will go in a stir-fry, probably with some shiitakes I picked up at the grocery store. The shelling beans will be cooked in a pork stock; I'm pretty sure they're pinto beans. May have to go Mexicana there. I remember a recipe for a chicken stew with collards and sweet potatoes; that will use up the komatsuna and potatoes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Old-Fashioned Cake

This Thanksgiving, the nonagenarians will outnumber the children at the feast. My mother-in-law celebrated her 90th birthday two years ago, and she has two older brothers. Jerry is 97 and Leroy just celebrated his 96th birthday. The Howards come from hardy South Georgia stock and to see them is to understand what the experts say about body type determining life span. They are long and lean, six feet in their prime, slightly stooped these days, the better to lean closer to ask what it is you’ve just said. But just as hale and hearty as you’d expect. Moderation comes up frequently with them. None of them drank much, if ever, tobacco certainly not. They like green beans cooked in bacon fat, homemade pimento cheese, and coffee with the meal.

So, what do I do when my beloved uncle-by-marriage Jerry asks for a caramel cake for Thanksgiving. How can I say no to to a nonagenarian? I’ve never in my life made a caramel cake. And to be honest, I think it’s something you have to be raised on. Tooth-achingly sweet frosting, best taken with a cup of strong, black coffee.

In the realm of scratch cake baking, it couldn’t be simpler. Just a 1-2-3-4 cake, layers split and a quick brown sugar caramel spread between the layers and over the sides and top. Southerners of a certain generation are fond of this cake, probably because the women who raised them were blue ribbon bakers who took pride in putting out layer cakes for all the special occasions, birthdays and holidays.

1-2-3-4 cake is so named because of the ingredient ratio. I think of it as a yellow cake, even though that properly has extra egg yolks added. One cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour and 4 eggs. It’s a tender cake and once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s as steady a friend as a pound cake. Ready to pull out for nonagenarians and dear ones in your life.

1-2-3-4 Cake

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup milk
3 cups flour (cake flour if you have it, or all-purpose if you don't)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

(a note about salt: salt is essential in sweet baked goods. The salt helps the leavening and it sharpens the flavors. Do not leave it out. As rule, I put a little salt in sweets and a little sugar in savories.)

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth (not gritty, this will take about three minutes). Gradually add eggs and vanilla.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare two 8 or 9 inch cake pans. I prefer to use baking spray, but a little butter and flour combo works really well, too.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients, stir gently. If a 4 year old is helping, be sure to watch carefully at this point or the white stuff will be all over the floor (voice of experience).

4. Carefully work the dry ingredients into the wet, beginning and ending with flour. This means 1/3 flour, ½ wet, 1/3 flour, ½ wet, concluding with 1/3 flour. Don't go too fast here, you're building texture.

5. Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes, until golden. I use the touch test and the toothpick test that Mom taught me: when you think the cake is ready, touch it lightly in the center. If it springs back, it’s done. If the indentation remains, by all means, leave the cake to bake a bit longer. The toothpick test is the back up: if you think the cake is nearly done, poke a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready. If batter or even a few crumbs cling to the toothpick, leave the cake in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. Don’t stray too far, you need be nearby the check the cake again.

Caramel Icing

I’m not sure what a patissier would describe as the difference between frosting and icing, but a personal definition is pourability. I think of icings as liquid candy, a combination of sugar and butter and flavorings that drip off the sides of the cake. Frosting, on the other hand, isto my mind a fluffy mixture of butter and lots of confectioner’s sugar and spread on the cake. Icing is more rustic, frosting more polished.

This caramel icing uses the two varieties of brown sugar for just the right caramel color and flavor. If you don’t have both varieties on hand, just use what you have.

1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk
4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted (don't skip this step, unless you like the look of a pimple-faced cake)

1. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, then stir in the brown sugars, until melted and smooth.

2. Add vanilla and milk and continue to stir. When mixture is thoroughly combined, slowly add confectioner's sugar, whisking to completely eliminate any lumps.

3. Ice the cake right away, because this candy covering won't wait. If it gets stiff and chalky, place the pot back over the heat & add just a touch more milk, gradually whisking it in until you get the texture that you need.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Won! That's Right, Little Ol' Me

I'm just about giddy over this...

Last week, I entered a contest at Pam Anderson's blog that she writes with her daughters, and just found out today that I won! Under the category of Really Cool Things in My Life, this is right up there with shaking hands with Sam Walton, and sitting in the Kroger hot seat at a Braves game. It edges out riding in a DeLorean.

I answered a question about whether I adored or abhorred Thanksgiving. Of course, I adore it, despite the work. I adore it for the best reasons - family, food, and God, but chose to write about the sense of accomplishment I feel when the meal is on the table.

And above is my Lindsey with the Lindsay olives olive leaf wreath (easy for me to say).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Baby Butternuts

This week's box included two of the cutest baby butternut squash ever. I'll probably make butternut squash soup from them, just chunk them and cooked in chicken broth before pureeing.

Also in the box: apples, collards, Italian parsley, lettuce and sorrel, sweet peppers, Asian turnips and radishes. The radishes will go in salads and I'll save the turnips for the Thanksgiving turkey soup. If you asked me why we put turnips in the turkey soup, my only response would be because they're usually in the vegetable drawer.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Assembly of Greens in the CSA box

This week's box featured apples, arugula, kale, a 1/2 dozen eggs, hot peppers (including two poblanos), lots of sweet potatoes and sprouts.

The potato drawer is now the sweet potato drawer. I have plans to make sweet potato pies (plural on purpose) for Thanksgiving. Maybe sweet potato souffle from CI, always reliable. And maybe that veggie sandwich again.

This afternoon, cooked the greens in the fridge (collards, mustard and kale) in a pork stock and then made cornmeal dumplings, for a bowl full of goodness, kind of pot likker soup. Edna Lewis refers to this kind of dish as an "Assembly of Greens." All the squash taking residence on the counter were peeled, sliced and roasted for an hour at 400. I will make a salad with brown rice and vinaigrette with some of the squash and perhaps puree the remainder for a souffle or maybe to use in a cake recipe.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mini Breads in CSA Box

No pictures today, although the mini breads are certainly picture-worthy. Cute Ezekiel and pumpkin-cranberry breads. We sliced the fruit bread and spread each slice with cream cheese. Very nice snack. The Ezekiel bread is made with grains from Ezekiel 4:9: "Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt..." It's very healthy tasting.

Also in the box: lettuce, sweet peppers and oyster mushrooms. The mushrooms are slated for a stir fry with shrimp and edamame.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Goodbye Gourmet, and Ruth Reichl, Don't Forget to Write

The November issue, the final issue, of Gourmet is on newsstands now. I picked it up today to read at lunch, over a ham sandwich and Coke Zero at the bookstore. The Thanksgiving issue has always been the star of the Gourmet lineup, and editor Ruth Reichl has said in the past that as long as she's at the helm, a roasty-toasty turkey will be on the cover of the November mag. I guess then it's fitting that this Rockwellian turkey, bosomy and burnished, is on the cover of the last Gourmet magazine.

It's been a couple weeks since Conde Nast announced it will pull the plug on Gourmet and the issues already in the can will not see the light of print. Some media observers say the final issue marks a sad day for foodies. I say it's a sad day for all who love a perfectly written declarative sentence, the kind that my quirky journalism professor with the geek glasses (long before they were considered coolly ironic), reading aloud a student's work would proclaim "it sings!" With evocative photography and spot-on recipes, Gourmet was a hat trick of words, pictures and food. Words, pictures and food better and distinct from its competitors. Not the brain candy of Paula Deen (bless her butter-basted heart) and some other successfully merchandised chefs/cooks I could name. Not the effervescent entertaining how-to's of Gourmet's kid sister, Bon Appetit. Not the precise execution of Cook's Illustrated, with its clipped narrative describing recipe evolution from disaster to culinary dynamite. Not the idiosyncratic appeal of Fine Cooking, itself newly renovated, hardly a venue for stirring prose, and until recently, not much of one for photographs and design, either.

Gourmet and I go back two decades, when as a newlywed, I decided that the magazine would teach me how to cook. I recently came across a couple issues from those days, and was astounded at the advertising and page count - December 1987 tops out at 278 pages. (I bet the ad staff's Christmas party was a blast that year.) Inside, the much-missed regular feature, Gastronomie Sans Argent, and Laurie Colwin's charming "How to Make Gingerbread." Colwin was one of those writers with a knack for pulling you into her world and making you feel like a cherished friend, one who would serve a cup of Darjeeling alongside a plate of fresh-baked gingerbread, and scribble the recipe on the back of a receipt, apologize for not having recipe cards, and press it into your hand as you left. Colwin departed this world too soon, in 1992, but her books on food are still in print 20 years later. The Gourmet columns are collected in two volumes, "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking," and just like Proust, deserve to be pulled from the shelves and re-read every couple of years.

Now to Reichl, a writer I first discovered through an advance copy of her memoir "Tender at the Bone," a fine entry into the "memoir with recipes" genre along the lines of Colwin. Reichl has a similar gift for sharing her life's story through the food that she eats and cooks and it was starting to look like she would always helm Gourmet. Under her leadership, Gourmet brought in even more fine writers, and broadened the scope of its mission to include the politics of food, for example, publishing a story on migrant workers in the tomato fields of Florida; and farm to table issues. For a time, the letters column had a bit of the rant and rave feel to it. I remember a particular letter writer commenting on an issue dedicated to Latin American cuisines stating that they didn't care to get their politics from Gourmet magazine. I say to any party, Democrat, Republican or Flying Purple People Eater, if there's food, set a place for me at that table, that's my kind of politics.

TV viewers watch Food Network for their favorite chefs. Gourmet's readers thumbed the table of contents to find their favorite writers: Calvin Trillin, Ann Patchett, John T. Edge; and at, scholarly Doc Willoughby, relatable new mom Lesley Porcelli, the enigmatic Francis Lam, (who we'll probably find out one day is Pynchon or Salinger or Harper Lee or some other reclusive novelist who desperately needs an outlet to write about food). Two issues of the past few years stand out: a slim but satisfying edition of food writing featuring the best from its quiver of authors, and the January 2008 tribute to Edna Lewis, the late doyenne of Southern cooks and writers (that issue also included a tribute to the town of my birth, Nashville, Tennessee, composed by novelist and hometown girl Ann Patchett.)

Two decades of Gourmet, and the one word that comes to mind is transcendent, that's my Gourmet experience. Sure, it's wrapped up in its own name-brand world, of Gucci and Baccarat and Rolex, Sotheby's and Chanel. That's not my planet and likely never will be. And maybe that was the problem all along, because magazines, no matter how excellent the editorial product, if they don't have advertisers, they've got bupkis. I've often wondered who the target audience of Gourmet really was, because the advertising, except for the promotions with Goya beans and M&M candies, is geared way out of my price range. It seems unlikely that the Louis Vuitton-wearers of the world would break a sweat over the origins of the tomatoes on their carefully composed salads.

I've always felt a little like the red-headed stepchild relating to this magazine. But I can't deny that the editorial product spoke to my soul. Maybe someday I'll eat a thin-crust apple tart in a bistro in whichever arrondissement one must tour, but for now, I'm content to make that scrumptious tart in my very own kitchen, thanks to the guiding hand of Gourmet.

So, Merci, Gourmet, for 68 years of good food and good living. And here's hoping that an influential someone, somewhere, realizes that Ruth Reichl was on to something important, essential, and life-giving and gives her another shot at culinary magazine greatness. Until then, I'll thumb through the Thanksgiving issue and be thankful for what we all had.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A New Herb in the CSA Box

This week's box includes apples, collards, braising greens, garlic, sweet peppers and sweet potatoes. The herbs are onion chives, English thyme and lovage. Lovage is new to me and one of those tastes that once I taste it, I want more. I use it wherever I would use parsley, although in my mind, it's a stronger taste. It's excellent in fish dishes and would probably be good with chicken. I used the herbs in the briami, just cut them up right over the top of the oil-kissed vegetables (of course, I stripped the leaves from the thyme). Delicious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jazzy, Gingery Carrot Soup

Autumn approaches the middle South on Eliot's cat's feet,

"And seeing that it was a soft October night,
curled once about the house, and fell asleep."

And before you know it, nothing but soup will do. This carrot-ginger soup is an improvisation and an in-between. Not quite warming enough for brisk days in winter, just right for those evenings when the temperatures are beginning to dip into the 50s and 40s. It's satisfying and light and full of beta-carotene goodness, thanks to the pound or so of carrots and the red bell pepper. You see, this isn't a real recipe, it's just what happens when I listen to too much jazz and the vegetable drawer overflows with color and the phrase "carrot-ginger soup" spins around in my head. I would use a recipe, but just looking through the usual suspects in my cookbook collection doesn't turn up a Carrot Ginger Soup recipe. Crescent Dragonwagon's Carrot-Orange Soup from "Dairy Hollow Soup and Bread" comes close, so I followed her lead and then tossed some ginger in to the food processor as the vegetables blitzed.

So, for all you cats out there, here's how to make Carrot-Ginger Soup.

1. Place your favorite soup pot or Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Put a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter in and saute one chopped onion. Add one chopped red bell pepper (roasted is ok, if you have an open jar in the fridge). Add some salt and pepper to the onion mixture and continue stirring.

2. Take a pound or so of peeled, chopped carrots and add them to the soup pot. Stir, add a half cup of water, cover and let steam for about 15 minutes, or until very soft. At this point, you can add either water or vegetable broth or chicken broth, just enough to cover the vegetables. Add a 2 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, roughly chopped. Season to taste and when mixture is cool, puree in batches in a food processor (for vulgarians like me who prefer a rustic texture) or a blender (for those who like an exceptionally smooth puree).

3. This soup can be dolled up with all sorts of green tender herbs, such as parsley or cilantro. A contrasting sprig floating in the middle of the bowl looks particularly pretty. I suppose you could add some cream to the soup, just be sure to amp up the seasoning to compensate for the dairy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lunch Box Favorite: Sweet potato gingerbread

I love cakes that use a vegetable base, like carrot cake and pumpkin cake. It's a stretch to think of these kinds of cakes as health food, but as a treat, they're different from the usual vanillas and chocolates. This sweet potato gingerbread is just right for these cool autumn days. It's delicious without the frosting, but if you have kids, you can't get away with that, you simply must use the frosting and put a slice in your child's lunchbox every day that you possibly can. Your child will be the envy of the lunchbox crowd.

Sweet Potato Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting

3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup baked, mashed sweet potato, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Grandma's molasses (or equivalent mild molasses, don't use blackstrap)
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350. Place rack in center of oven. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, oil, and eggs and using a mixer, whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add sweet potato, molasses, grated ginger, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Add the flour and baking powder and soda to the batter and combine just until blended.

3. Pour batter into pan, using a spatula to evenly spread the batter. Bake until about 45 minutes (I use convection and it was spot on, 45 minutes.) A toothpick inserted in the center will come out quite nearly clean.

4. Let cake cool while you make:

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, (I usually have Neufchatel on hand)
1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups or more (to reach the desired consistency) confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. In a mixer, combine the butter and cream cheese and whip until smooth. Gradually, on low speed, add the powdered sugar until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. I like this frosting soft and melty.

2. Spread the frosting on the cool cake. Can sit out for a few hours, but put leftovers in the fridge. Subsequent servings from the fridge can be zapped for 10 seconds or so to remove the refrigerator chill.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Meet My Pet Cabbage

This week's CSA box was the heaviest ever. Inside: a half dozen apples, a zucchini the size of a cricket bat, a spaghetti squash, braising greens, okra, basil and this 14-pound bowling ball disguised as a cabbage. We put it in our extra refrigerator, next to the apple cider and Mountain Dew stash. We're calling it Audrey II.

The apples will disappear quickly in this house. I plan to make my annual apple pie this weekend, so I hope they last until then. I now have a collection of winter squashes - the spaghetti squash, an acorn squash and a butternut. Maybe I can go "Top Chef" and serve a trio of winter squashes? The braising greens are heavenly. I love sauteed greens, just chopped up a bit and sauteed with olive oil and toasted whole garlic cloves. Taste of autumn for this girl.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sweet Potatoes This Week

Lots of sweet potatoes and apples in this week's CSA box. I love to get foods that store for long periods of time, like the onions and white potatoes that occasionally appear. I think it's a bad year for the CSA potatoes, none so far in the box. Let's hope for a better year in 2010.

Sweet potatoes make lovely pies and quick breads. I once made a veggie sandwich that began with shredded raw sweet potato that was frozen. The slightly thawed sweet potato patty was put on multi-grain bread with some onion and Monterey Jack or Muenster (not sure) cheese and grilled. It was yummy, unusual and really simple, just requiring the advance prep on the sweet potato.

In other CSA box news: braising greens that Susan identifies as Komatsuma. It's like spinach, but not as tender. Mineral tasting, good raw, but definitely chewy.

A nice rope of lemon grass and a couple sprigs of fennel. The herb will go in a braised chicken dish (bacon, carrots, onions, chicken legs). Lemon grass will be a challenge. Maybe some Asian soup?

Hydroponic lettuce. I crave this lettuce in the wintertime. It is tender and flavorful.

A slew of sweet peppers. I will gather all the peppers in the veg drawer and roast, clean and freeze them. I use peppers prepared this way in the winter in soups, chili and braises.

Okra. I can't believe the okra season is soooo long. I may get to try Dori Sanders' recipe for Summer Cabbage with Sweet Potatoes and Okra. Just waiting on a cabbage to appear in the box.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rutabagas, Roasted

Rutabagas are humble food to be sure, and my husband has a story demonstrating this fact. His father, D.B., was a pilot stationed in England during World War II. While walking by a farm in the countryside, D.B. spied a familiar and favorite food from his Middle Georgia home: rutabagas. He asked the farmer if he could have a few to take back to camp, hoping to convince the cooks to boil the rutabagas for him. The astonished farmer refused to part with the rutabagas because, he insisted, rutabagas, also known as Swedes, were not intended for human consumption, they were fit only for the beasts of the field. A soldier returned to camp without a surefire taste of home, and the lucky cattle got to keep their rutabagas.

This story gets dusted off whenever we serve rutabagas to friends who've never tasted the earthy bulbs. I'll admit that I had never considered rutabagas as food for humans or cattle until my husband introduced me to them. His rutabagas cooked with a smoked turkey leg are now a quirky highlight of our holiday tables, partly to honor the past, partly to secure a place in the future for solid, earthy, humble food.

Tonight, the rutabagas were roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. As is true with most roasted vegetables, they were much sweeter than when braised. The color was golden, instead of the amber I expected. Indeed, they looked much like burnished Yukon Gold potatoes. Go ahead, give rutabagas a try. You may have a story to pass on to your kids.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Behold, the B.A.M.

This week's CSA box featured butternut squash, apples, green beans, basil, okra, arugula, hot peppers and alfalfa sprouts.

I love alfalfa sprouts, but rarely purchase them. Sprouts are a crunchy alternative to lettuce and required the invention of a new sandwich, the B.A.M., Bacon (bits). Alfalfa (sprouts). Mayonnaise (Hellmann's or bust). All on Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread. Delish.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Muskydimes in this week's box

Life is kind of overwhelming this week. Rain clouds hovered over our county last weekend, dumping two feet of rain in 24 hours. The resulting floodwaters washed out bridges and roads, ruined houses and took seven lives. It's been a sad and strange week, with children out of school, all of us looking for activities and trying to get through the usual routine. (I'm fortunate that there was little damage in my neighborhood, just washed out landscaping and the like.)

My CSA drop off point was flooded, so my friend and neighbor Susan offered to make the pickup, which was about 45 minutes away from us. I was grateful not to spend an hour and half in the car negotiating the road closings.

In the box, muscadines, which my friend Courtney craved and called "muskydimes." My kids will eat them, but to be honest, the taste is too funky for me. Also, green beans, eggplant, basil, lettuce, okra, sweet potatoes and the prettiest bunch of French breakfast radishes ever - fuchsia roots and icy white tops. Too bad I couldn't get a picture, because they are very special. I like the French method of radish consumption: sliced and spread on buttered baguette slices with a smidge of sea salt sprinkled over.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Note to Self

Note to self: those cute candles that spell out "Happy Birthday" mean so much more to a child who can read. Although, on her 4th birthday, Lindsey was able to name each letter as she stuck it in her chocolate cake.

The cake was my standby from-scratch chocolate sheet cake. Her shirt protects her brand-new Tinker Bell costume.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This Week's CSA

This week's box contains an onion, apples, green beans, squash, basil, arugula and okra.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Apple of My Eye

In this week's CSA box:

A pair of ripe, fragrant, homely (so you know they're good) pears.

A half-dozen crisp and sweet apples, the best of which was snagged by Little Miss (above).

So much for the eating-out-of-hand produce. The real meat-and-potatoes, so to speak, are:

Two zephyr squash, with their distinctive half-green/half-yellow coloring. Possible stir-fry candidate, or maybe I'll give in and make a squash casserole. I love the smell of squash and onions frying in butter. One of the Proustian smells of my childhood, and a top-5 favorite, right up there with standing downwind of the Krispy Kreme store.

Pac choi, aka bok choy. Screams stir-fry to me.

Basil for pesto. I love the CSA basil. It's very dark and unbelievably spicy and fragrant.

Green beans for braising. I've made the green bean soup for the summer, and this bunch has a date with a smoked turkey leg and onion, cozied up in the Dutch oven for an afternoon at 300.

Acorn squash. Just table decor until October when I will roast it with other squash. I hope a butternut is in my future.

Okra. The slightly clogged arteries of my Southern heart go pitter-patter when I see okra. Dori Sanders has a parmigiana technique for okra that is interesting and flavorful, but more time-draining than I need, so I will make a quasi-gumbo beginning with bacon, then canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, seasoning and simmering. Served with sauteed shelled shrimp and steamed rice, it's much less work than gumbo, and the simple flavors are appealing to my kids. Besides, when I need a real Louisiana fix, I head to the excellent Cajun restaurant near my home, Gumbeaux's. (you know it's authentic if they mess up on the French plural and possessive.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Elegant and Easy Homemade Cake

Some days, you just need to bake a cake. No birthdays or anniversaries to celebrate, just a certain late summer light coming through the trees that is worthy of pulling out layer pans and a mixer. This almond butter cake adapted from Susan Purdy's "The Family Baker" is a lifesaver. If you keep butter, sugar and flour on hand and teeny bottle of almond extract, you can pull this cake out of your hat at the drop of a...hat, I guess. Apricot preserves made a pleasant contrast for the filling and I just so happened to have sliced almonds to stick on the sugary glazy top.

Almond Butter Cake

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup milk (if fresh from the fridge, put measuring cup with milk in micro and zap for about 20 seconds to take the chill off.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 and position a rack in the center. Generously grease bottom and sides of pans and dust with flour (there are some cakes you can skimp on this step; not this cake, be diligent). Go to the cake release insurance extreme and use parchment paper as well.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar and extracts until soft and blended, then beat the eggs in, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl and add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Scrape down the bowl and incorporate the jetsam into the batter.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared into the prepared pan or pans, smooth the top and bake fr up to an hour for a tube pan and 35 minutes for layers. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, before turning out and completing the cooling.

The tube cake is the easiest version, and very nice as a last-minute (that is, if you have an hour to bake) or pantry cake. As a layer cake, with apricot preserves as a filling and an almond glaze over top, it's elegant enough for a grown-up birthday or special occasion cake. As a loaf cake, it's suitable for those times when you need "one for us, and one to share."

Almond Glaze

1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1 or 2 tablespoons milk or cream or what have you
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, or a little glug
sliced almonds, for garnish, optional

Stir together, let sit for a few minutes to dissolve any lumps in the sugar. Pour over cooled cake. Top cake with slivered almonds.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blueberry Muffins

The blueberry season is so brief, I have to take advantage of each berry that comes my way. The super-sweet local berries are gone now; even the birds are looking for something else to eat. Supermarket berries are usually flatter in flavor and not nearly as sweet, but they do cook well, and when they're cheap, I bake a lot of blueberry things. This week, I made blueberry muffins adapted from a recipe in "The Family Baker." Give them a try.
Blueberry Muffins

2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, picked over and rinsed

demerara or granulated sugar for topping

1. Preheat oven to 400 and position a rack in center of oven. Coat muffin cups with baking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and melted butter. Place a sifter over the bowl and measure into it the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Sift the dry ingredients onto the wet and stir just to blend. Gently fold in the berries.

3. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling nearly full. Generously sprinkle sugar on top. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, until the muffins rise and are golden on top. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.

These keep for a few days, well-wrapped at room temperature. Just zap them for 15 seconds for a breakfast treat. You'll be the queen of the cafeteria if you toss a wrapped muffin in your child's lunch box.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beware, I'm Packing Tupperware

I needed to bring a kid-friendly vegetable to a potluck, so I pulled out the Tupperware, chopped up some carrots, celery hearts and cukes, and made this summery cottage cheese dip. It's probably healthy, but more importantly, it tastes great!

Cottage Cheese Dip & Crudites
adapted from Frank Stitt's Southern Table

2 cups cottage cheese (I use Breakstone's 2%)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper (go easy if you're serving the kid set)
1 tablespoon each chopped fresh chives and parsley
2 scallions, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, tiny diced
2 carrots, peeled, seeded, tiny diced
2 celery stalks, peeled, seeded, tiny diced

Stir together all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with crudites or torn flatbread pieces. Leftover spread keeps for a few days in the refrigerator; be sure to drain before serving.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tarts, apples and otherwise

Apple Tart on Puff Pastry. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 While watching "Top Chef: Master" this summer, I became intrigued by the judge and food writer/critic Gael Greene, and picked up a remainder copy (for $1!) of her memoir "Insatiable." This is one of those books most people either love or hate (could explain the price), and I'll say I either love or hate different parts of the book. It's a TMI memoir. After a few certain chapters, I wanted to take a shower in Lysol and pull out Billy Graham's biography. But I keep reading the book, just like watching Albee's George and Martha; I want to see what happens next. I know I'll eat (vicariously) well. The food, the food is wonderful, and that's why I made this tart, because somewhere in between husbands and boyfriends and lovers, Greene mentions a French thin crust apple tart.

The recipe is based on one from The Gourmet Cookbook and is also found on

Thin Apple Tarts

2 Golden Delicous apples, peeled, cored, and halved
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-oz package), thawed

1. Using a mandolin, cut apple halves crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices and transfer to a bowl.

2. Bring water, sugar, lemon juice, and butter to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then pour over apples. Turn apples until slightly wilted, then drain in a colander set over a pot used to cook the syrup, reserving liquid.

3. Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll out pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface into a square and cut out 4 (6-inch) rounds, using a small plate as a guide. Transfer rounds to a lightly buttered, Silpat-lined baking sheet and top with overlapping apple slices. Bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

4. Boil reserved liquid in saucepan until reduced to about 1/3 cup, then brush on baked tarts. In my neck of the woods, this is considered a showstopper of a dessert. Leftovers make a pretty snazzy breakfast (and for those who judge me, it's got to be better for you than a Pop-Tart). I will definitely make these again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's New and It's Blue

The last of the fresh and sweet local blueberries deserved special treatment. This yummy, kid-friendly dessert was easy to assemble and didn't heat up the kitchen, like the usual blueberry go-to's, cobblers, crisps and pies. The individual parts can be assembled up to a day ahead and the parfaits layered and served lickety-split. Any bits leftover can be stirred together and eaten as a late-night snack or "special treat" breakfast.

Blueberry & Lime Parfaits

4 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1/3 cup Sprite or water
1/3 cup maple syrup (don't use pancake syrup, get the real stuff. You could also substitute honey)
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (remove zest before squeezing; you'll need it)
4 oz. cream cheese (I use Neufchatel)
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1 cup low fat sour cream

1. Place 2 cups blueberries in a saucepan, crush two or three times with a spoon against the side of the pan. Add Sprite or water, syrup (or honey) and lime juice and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Cool and add remaining 2 cups blueberries, holding back a few for garnish.

2. In a mixer, beat cream cheese with sugar, zest and vanilla until well combined. Add sour cream and mix at low speed until combined. Of course, you are very organized and have made this early in the day, so grab your trusty plastic containers and store these two mixtures separately until you are ready to assemble the parfaits.

3. To assemble the parfaits: Find suitable serveware. (Parfait glasses serve a generous portion for adults. I used the short tumblers pictured for the kids' servings. Be sure to use glass that will allow you to see the swirly indigo layers.) Place about 2 tablespoons of the blueberry mixture in the bottom of six parfait glasses. Add a large dollop of cream mixture. Divide remaining blueberry mixture among glasses, then top with a small dollop of cream mixture. Top with reserved blueberries.

This Week's CSA

In the box this week, 5 beautiful Gala apples, okra, a pretty Globe eggplant, a half dozen Chinese eggplants, fresh dill, a pint of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, and an AWOL winter squash. Farmer's Fresh promises a squash in next week's box.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Brought to You in Technicolor

(Above) Ratatouille raw: heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, Japanese eggplants, handfuls of basil, onions, groovy duotone Zephyr squash.

Four hours and more than a few dirty pots later, this technicolor display of vegetables became ratatouille, the foundation of a somewhat French meal for my Francophile friend who insisted that couscous is the proper accompaniment to a pot of this vegetable stew.

Menu a la Francaise

(forgive the pidgin French. If you were in my high school
French class, you would understand.)

Salade Au Vinaigrette

Ratatouille avec Couscous

Baguette avec Garlic Butter

Thin Crust Apple Tart

Vanilla Coffee with Vanilla Sugar

(Above) Plus more from the week's CSA box. Tomatoes, squash, peppers, okra and apples.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. They are charming and yummy. Little Miss gobbled them up with Ranch dressing. She likes to put a tomato in each cheek and pretend she is a squirrel.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Late Summer Supper on the Porch

My deep front porch is made for rainy days. With the gentle storms of the past few days, we sit at our picnic table in the corner of the porch and watch the bird feeder.

Tonight's Menu, recipes can be found elsewhere on this blog:

Green Bean Soup with Scallion Butter: most would think of this as baby food, a rustic puree of green beans cooked with sauteed onions and chicken broth. I make it mostly for myself, although the family will eat small bites and declare it's delicious. It's nourishing and just made for rainy days.

Chicken Slaw: I used up the CSA cabbage and made a giant bowl of this addictive slaw. Dear husband took the last of the shredded chicken and made chicken salad sandwiches with pickle relish for the girls.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CSA: What do I do with Purple Cabbage?

When I pick up the CSA box each week, I know when there's a melon or cabbage, because I grunt when I lift it. This week's box featured a personal watermelon and a beautiful purple cabbage that's approximately the size of a bowling ball.

A quick Google reveals that the hollowed-out shell can be used as a decorative vegetal container, perhaps for dips. I'm not putting together a buffet this week, so I'll just have to file that away for future reference. The outer leaves can be used as containers for salads, so I could go that route. I have used purple cabbage previously in my recipe for Chicken Slaw, and that is a dish that my husband really likes, so that's it, a done deal. The chicken slaw is an early post from last year, just cooked, shredded chicken, mixed with shredded cabbage and carrots and onions and cheddar cheese, tossed with a mustard vinaigrette. It's a great summertime meal.

I like sauteed cabbage with bacon or sausage, your usual porkular suspects. Throw some potatoes, leeks and mustard in there, and you have a perfect late summer, taste of autumn, man-pleasing supper.

Also in the box: green beans, due for a braising with tomatoes and onions.

Field peas. Redemption in field peas. Last week's peas were a disaster. In contrast, this week's were clean and dry and fresh. A joy to shell, and an even greater joy to eat. While Lindsey Lou and I shelled the peas, I put a pot of water on to boil, threw in a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some pepper, a diced onion, two diced Roma tomatoes and one banana pepper, (all from the CSA, so this was something of a hat trick.). When the peas were shelled, I tossed them in the water and let boil for about 45 minutes. Delicious, and probably the best field peas ever.

Another pot of ratatouille is in my future, because I now have a bucketload of the cutest Japanese eggplants, yellow squash and basil. The pepper selection includes banana peppers, jalapenos and a poblano. The only use I know of for poblanos is chiles rellenos. I need to find a use for a single pepper.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Apron Strings: Red Clay & Jell-O

In the summer days of my red clay South Carolina childhood, my mom would feed us breakfast, let us watch some tv on the black-and-white set with the rabbit ears, then send us outside to play until lunch. My older brother didn't need to be told, his friends usually came around on their bikes, asking if Will could come out and play. He'd grab his bike and be gone for the day. Sometimes I'd play with my younger brother, Tom. I remember elaborate adventures involving Barbie, Big Jim and G.I. Joe, where the well-dressed girl dolls were usually rescued by the rough, camouflage-cloaked boy dolls. We'd play until lunch time, then we'd be turned outside yet again, allowed to ride our bikes throughout our small neighborhood of 70s ranch houses. I'd find my friend Jill and we'd amble through the pastures surrounding her home. We would walk to the creek and follow it to the pond, which was a favorite of Will's, if he could find a buddy to fish with.

In late afternoon, my brothers and I would head home, and if we were late, Mom would stand on the back porch and yell for us to come in for supper. And this is what I remember most: being sweaty, hot and hungry, stepping into a cool house and a warm kitchen. Somewhere along the line in my spiritual journey, I've adopted the idea that heaven is like your best childhood memory. Heaven for me is stepping into our Gaffney ranch house after an afternoon at Jill's house. The air-conditioning and smell of food cooking hit me at once.

My mom, with one of her hostess aprons around her waist, would fix a meal worthy of the hardest-working farmhands; a meat like a roast or my favorite, country fried steak, two or three vegetables, the best the season had to offer, sliced fresh tomatoes, (which I never ate as a child and am struggling to eat as an adult; it's a texture thing.), and that classic Southern side, a Jell-O salad (Grandmother would always call it a "congealed salad.") What this country needs is a Jell-O revolution. Bring congealed salads back to the dinner table!

So this brings me to my supper tonight, right from the Warren family table in Gaffney, South Carolina, ca. 1974. Country Fried Steak and Gravy served with rice, fresh from the cob corn sauteed with butter and a smidge of salt, and squash casserole made without cream-o-whatever soup, topped with buttery bread crumbs.

Country Fried Steak and Gravy is one of those dishes that you can get started on the cooktop and then put in the oven to braise for the afternoon. The longer the meat sits in the gravy, soaking up the gentle heat of the oven, the more tender it will be. If you put this together about 2:00 in the afternoon, set it to braise in the oven, about 6 p.m. you'll be ready to eat. The bonus us that you can clean the kitchen and set the table so that dinner will be easy-breezy. There's nothing more discouraging to the cook is to look at a sink of dirty dishes while you're trying to enjoy a meal.

Country Fried Steak with Gravy

1 pound cubed round steak (packages are usually 1 1/4 pounds, and that's ok), cut into 4 oz. portions
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
1 (14 oz.) can beef broth, preferably low-salt
4 sweet onions (preferred, but any storage onion is fine), peeled and thinly sliced
a couple tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Heat oven to 300. Have an oven-safe braising dish with a lid nearby. In a skillet, over medium heat, pour in oil. In a pie pan, combine flour, salt and pepper and dredge steaks.

2. Place dredged steaks in oil. Do this in batches so that the steaks brown well on both sides. Place browned steaks in braising dish. Continue until all steaks are in dish. Cover braising dish while you cook the onions.

3. Pour a little more oil into the pan and add onions. Scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When onions are soft, add remaining seasoned flour from the dredging pan. Whisk and cook the flour until there are no lumps. Gradually add beef broth, continuing to stir until smooth. If gravy is thick, add water until it reaches the desired consistency. Correct seasoning and pour onions and gravy mixture into braising dish over meat.

4. Place dish in oven for a minimum of one hour (tough but toothsome) up to three or four hours (tasty and meltingly tender meat). Every half hour, check the liquid and adjust if it gets too low by adding water.

5. While the simmering dish fills your house with that home-cooked smell, you can make a pot of white rice (my favorite) or mashed potatoes (more work, but more traditional). Tie on the last of your Mom's hostess aprons, set the table with your Mom's Pfaltzgraff and raid the pantry for a package of Jell-O.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Balloons Over Georgia

How About Them Apples?

The season's first apples are in this week's CSA box. A half-dozen fragrant and perfectly formed Ginger Gold apples. I used to be a Gala girl, then had a fling with Fujis, but now I'm mad for Ginger Golds. I made the world's best apple pie with these beauties last year, (words are insufficient to describe the celestial taste and perfume of that pie), so I'll probably have to hide these to get a sufficient stash for a pie.

Also in the box: green beans, destined for green bean soup, which sounds gross, but is actually bliss.

Okra. I've wanted to make Dori Sanders' Okra Parmigiana since re-reading her "Country Cooking" book over the winter. Fresh pods are a must for this dish and this bag of okra is especially lovely and unblemished.

Field Peas. As pristine as the okra pods are, not so the field peas. I love field peas and actually look forward to some quality shelling time. I am sad to report that the field peas were mildewy and already smelly, probably picked to early and packed too wet. I've reported this to the CSA; they're always good about issuing credit for the occasional bad produce.

A couple of storage onions; I always need onions. Seems like every recipe worth making requires an onion to start with.

And four tomatoes. The tomatoes aren't as big this year; but they are very flavorful. I love the thin skin and pinkish hue of the heirlooms; heirlooms are to store-bought tomatoes as Ginger Golds are to Granny Smiths as Wyeth is to Kinkade.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Use 'Em Up Soup, or Soupe Au Pistou

I amazed my Francophile colleague when I told her I made Soupe Au Pistou. Apparently she longs for the Provencal farmhouse meals she enjoyed during her year abroad. This soup is loaded with fresh vegetables, mostly from the CSA box and farmer's market goodies jammed in the crisper drawer of the fridge. I would have taken a picture, but it tasted better than it looked. The recipe is adapted from the May 2009 issue of Gourmet.

Soupe Au Pistou

1 large onion, washed and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 or 5 small red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bag baby spinach, or greens such as chard
6 cups water
2 cups frozen lima beans
3 or 4 yellow squash or zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup small pasta shells


1 small tomato
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere (optional)

1. For the soup, in a large soup pot, pour in oil and cook together the onion, celery, carrot and garlic, with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally until the vegetables get some brown on them, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add potatoes and cook five minutes more. Taste for seasoning. Add water and bring to a boil, stirring up brown bits.

3. Stir in lima beans, squash, green beans, pasta and tough greens (such as chard, if using. If using spinach, hold off 'til just before serving.) Taste for seasoning. Some thyme, fresh or dried, would be appreciated about now.

4. For the pistou, heat a dry small non-non-stick skillet (you read that right: do not use non-stick) over medium heat until hot, then char tomato on all sides. Hint: lock the tomato in locking tongs and use that to brace the tomato while it's charring. Let the tomato cool, then core.

5. Using the food processor, blitz the tomato, basil, parsley and garlic. Add oil and optional cheese and blend well.

6. Remove soup from heat and stir in pistou. Correct seasoning. Serve soup with pistou alongside.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This school calendar is so crazy! While daughter #2 learned to swim, daughter #1 started middle school. Food posts coming soon. I got caught up in back-to-school stuff and can't wait to write about food again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Watermelon in this Week's Box

In this week's CSA box:

1. Green beans. I'm running out of green bean ideas, so these will go in a pot with a smoked turkey leg and be cooked until just nearly mushy. It will be a nice side dish with the Chicken and Rice dish from Gift of Southern Cooking.

2. Summer squash. These are very fresh and will have to keep for a few days until I can make a squash casserole, which is best done as a two-day affair: sauteed squash and onions one day, the next day, fold in sour cream, an egg, salt and pepper, and bake in a greased casserole in a moderate oven for at least a half hour. Top with toasted, buttery bread crumbs and bake for another five minutes or so.

3. Lettuces and sorrel. Because you can never have too many salads.

4. A personal watermelon. I'd like to know the variety of this melon; it has a very thin rind. It's sweet and has a crunchy texture.

5. Two onions, which will be used in the squash casserole.

6. Tomatoes. Mom's helping me in a project at home, I think I'll pay her in homegrown tomatoes.

7. More corn! This will be taken off the cob and sauteed, for an easy, tasty side dish. I've always wanted to make a version of my grandfather's fried corn, which was thickened with flour, but not this week. The lightness of a quick saute calls to me.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Simple Soup

I made this squash soup a few weeks ago when the Farmer's Fresh CSA box was loaded with squash, and a colleague offered me some fresh squash from her parents' garden. I love soup, I can't say it any fancier than that, I just love soup, so I made the Puree of Yellow Crookneck Squash Soup from Scott Peacock's opus, Gift of Southern Cooking. The soup is very simple -- sliced squash is cooked with onion and butter until just tender, then combined with chicken stock and pureed. I skipped the suggested finishing touches of cream and nutmeg, because I love a rustic-textured soup. And,of course, tasty fried lardons of bacon kind of dress up whatever they're sprinkled on. I served the soup with bacon biscuits and fresh fruit for dessert. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fresh: This Week's CSA Box

This week's box was heavy with pecans, unshelled. I guess now that I have 10 pounds of unshelled pecans, it's time to have a shelling party. I'd much rather shell field peas or snap beans, but I can't put off the pecans too much longer. I'm not sure how long unshelled pecans can sit before deterioration sets in.

Other items in this week's box: green beans, a cucumber, a cute pattypan squash, a bunch of arugula, a cantaloupe, two onions and an assortment of tomatoes -- one large heirloom type, a yellow, and a dozen or so pear tomatoes. I bought additional tomatoes at the store and I find myself listening to the voice in my head, chanting, "tomato gravy and biscuits, tomato gravy and biscuits." This weekend, I will obey the voices in my head.

The green beans were featured in tonight's menu:

Roast Chicken
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Green Beans with Country Ham
Brownies with Cream Cheese Swirls

The brownies are from Everyday Food and are delicious. They may soon be my default brownies, except for the fact that the recipe dirties up four bowls (which is probably my fault, I wasn't in a streamlining mood.)
Brownies with Cream Cheese Swirls
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plus two tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch square pan and line with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk flour, coca, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

2. Assemble a double boiler with a pan of simmering water and a heat-proof bowl inserted so that the bottom just touches the water. Place the stick of butter in the bowl, along with the chopped chocolate. Heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove bowl from pan. Add 1 1/4 cups sugar; mix to combine. Add 3 eggs and stir. Add flour mixture and stir just enough to combine.

3. Prepare cream cheese mixture: whisk cream cheese with 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons flour.

4. Spread half of the brownie batter into bottom of prepared pan and smooth with an offset spatula. Dollop cream cheese in 3 or 4 spoonfuls onto base. Pour remaining brownie batter in between cream cheese blobs. With the tip of a knife or the offset spatula, make several figure eights to swirl the cream cheese into the brownie batter. Don't overdo the artistry here, Rembrandt. Just 3 or 4 passes will make a lovely marble effect.

5. Bake in a 350 oven for at least 50 minutes. I used convection and it took almost an hour. Test with a toothpick -- just a crumb or two is acceptable. Fingertip test: the batter should spring back slightly when touched in the center. Cool in pan about 30 minutes, then pull out by parchment paper sling. Everyday Food says you can keep these at room temp in an airtight container for 2 days. Serve with vanilla ice cream -- you won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Made a Pie, Now Where's My Blue Ribbon?

Yes, Ma'am, I made this pie! It's the Black & Blueberry Pie with Lemon-Cornmeal Crust from Fine Cooking's June/July 2008 issue. Thanks to Haven Farms that supplies blueberries to the CSA -- it was a brief but magnificent season, and the last of the berries went into this bee-yoo-ti-ful pie. It was my first lattice-crust pie, which is a very simple technique when you follow the directions, which is one of the many reasons I love Fine Cooking magazine. My favorite instruction is near the end of the recipe, where the author advises to watch the bubbles in the pie - if the bubbles are not in the middle, then the pie will not set. I would have pulled the pie out a half-hour early if I didn't read that! The recipe is on Fine Cooking's website, probably under the subscription-only part, but if you're serious about cooking, a subscription is well worth the investment.

We're eating pie today, so if you're in the neighborhood, call before you come and I'll put on a pot of coffee and serve you up a slice of blue-ribbon-worthy Black and Blueberry Pie.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buttermilk Makes It Better

Rose had me at "buttermilk!" This cake, the Buttermilk Country Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible, is the best-textured yellow cake I have ever eaten. It is tender, just slightly crumbly, not dense like a pound cake, but buttery and sweet. I served it with orchard-fresh freestone peaches from the CSA box and a bit of sweetened whipped cream. The peaches were juicy and surprisingly tart, which is ok in my book, given the context of cake and cream.

I just happened to have a quart of Marburger whole-milk buttermilk on hand, one of my secret weapons for tender cakes and quick breads. Not every store carries it, but I find it at Publix and sometimes the Super Wal-Mart stores, and always snag a quart when I do. It is thick and creamy and has freckles in it -- tiny orange flakes that turn golden brown when used in biscuits.

If you don't have The Cake Bible, by all means, go out and get yourself a copy. There is no need to ever purchase a boxed cake mix again. The buttermilk country cake recipe alone will make your reputation as a baker.

Monday, July 27, 2009

From the Library

Sometimes this journal is for me, to record the books and food that make their way through my family's life. Sometimes this journal is for my girls, so they will have touchpoints, memory sparks. So, that's why today I'm writing about the minutia of our life, a visit to the library.

My three-year old is crazy about Maisy and we're working our way through Rosemary Wells' backlist. Two of our all-time favorites, "Shy Charles" and "Peabody" were returned today, so we picked out "Timothy Goes to School" to fill in. Charlotte Zolotow is the mother of one of the best cookbook authors ever, Crescent Dragonwagon, and I have a couple books of her verses. Zolotow is a prolific author, so I have a future with her books. And every child should read "Harry the Dirty Dog." Here's the list (due back two weeks from today!):

1. Maisy Makes Gingerbread by Lucy Cousins
2. I Spy School Days
3. Max Cleans Up
4. Maisy Goes to the Museum
5. Maisy Goes to the Library
6. Maisy, Charley, and the Wobbly Tooth
7. Harry, the Dirty Dog
8. Say It! by Charlotte Zolotow
9. Harry By the Sea
10. No Roses for Harry
11. Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells
12. Yoko Writes Her Name by Wells
13. Hazel's Amazing Mother by Wells

Not that I needed more cookbooks, but a couple titles did call my name from the stacks:

1. The Only Bake Sale Cookbook You'll Ever Need by Wolf and Abrams. I'm not called on for bake sale goods very often, but I'm the queen of sending baked goods to school for the kids, the teachers, and anyone else standing near the Tupperware. I'm in need of inspiration.

2. The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens. I've picked this up at Borders and I'm going to really dive into it. The blurb on the cover says it all: "A cookbook in celebration of cornbread-fed, down-home family stories and cuisine." Plus an introduction by Pat Conroy. What could be better?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache

What could be better than banana cake dressed up with chocolate ganache? The need to send a cake to a family member coincided with the cleaning out of the freezer, which is where mushy bananas go to await their culinary fate. At first, I intended to make either the Pleasant Hill Shaker banana bread that I've made for the past 20 years, or the ATK banana chip snack cake that's a snap to put together. A flash of inspiration struck -- Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cordon Rose Banana Cake with Sour Cream Ganache from The Cake Bible. This cake ups the elegance factor considerably (ganache has a way of doing that) and is no more trouble than the rustic cakes, except for the additional bowl to clean up.

It's hard to believe that it's been 21 years since The Cake Bible was first published. Any person interested in baking, especially at home, must have a copy of this book. The banana cake recipe is from the chapter "Simply Foolproof Cakes," and it's true, if you follow the recipes and take care with the ingredients and techniques, you will produce a tender, luscious cake. One of the unusual (at least to me) aspects of Beranbaum's books is that the recipes are in chart form, with measures and weights for ingredients. The only other cookbook that I have with charts is the industrial Food for Fifty. Still, I measure ingredients, although I'm considering entering the 21st century of baking by purchasing a scale. At first the ingredient charts were off-putting, but a few successful cakes into the book and I wish more cookbook had charts.

Beranbaum's charms extend beyond reliable recipes -- the recipe headnotes and the photographs pull you in, really sell the cakes, make you want to get in the kitchen and bake! Beranbaum's foolproof technique combines the sugar, flour and other dry ingredients together before creaming in the butter, eggs and liquid ingredients. This is much simpler than the usual butter and sugar creaming, then eggs, then flour, and produces a lovely, tender cake with just the right crumb. The Sour Cream Ganache is, as my Alabama grandmother would say, "out of this world!" (making three syllables out of "world.") It's just melted bittersweet chocolate and sour cream, but it is luscious and chocolatey and would redeem any cake, no matter the baker or box it came from (not that I would ever bake a cake from a box, mind you, I was raised better than that.).

Check out Beranbaum's excellent blog and search for "banana cake" and "sour cream ganache" for the recipes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Redneck Ratatouille

(Above: Tomatoes and Basil, Ready for Ratatouille.)
I discovered ratatouille last summer, not in some quaint out-of-the way Provencal restaurant, but in the pages of a half-dozen cookbooks in my own kitchen. It's a recipe somewhat like the alchemy of stock-making, where you need to accumulate enough stuff, in this case, summer's ripest produce, and turn it into gold.
Between the farmer's market and CSA box, I had enough eggplants, peppers, squash, tomatoes (heirloom and cherry), onions, and basil for a big pot of ratatouille. With the recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook as my guide (see last summer's post), salting and draining the eggplant, rather than roasting it, the dish turned out just fine. To cut down on the oil, I cooked the onion and squash in a small amount of water before adding them to the simmering tomato and pepper mixture. (A warning to mommies: it took for-bloody-ever to assemble and prepare all the produce, about two hours, because I was dealing with young children who were not in the proper ratatouille frame of mind.)
What makes mine Redneck Ratatouille is not that I add venison (sorry, a rather lame personal joke), but that I serve it with my version of polenta, using Dixie Mills yellow grits, cooked up with chicken broth and a tablespoon or two of butter. If I had Parmesan on hand, I would have stirred some in, too. The result? C'est magnifique! (even the cranky kids agreed!)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Scaling Mount Nacho

How do you feed five hungry girls at a sleepover? I figured Mexican-ish food would be the way to go, and crafted a Nacho Mountain. This is a pretty basic idea, but I thought it turned out well and the girls made a respectable dent in it. I cooked taco filling, using ground beef and the tried-and-true seasoning envelope. For the mountain, I began with a base of large tortilla chips, put some filling down, big plops all across the platter, topped with queso (just the Velveeta brick melted with a bit of milk in a crockpot, the remainder used as "cheese dip" at the table) and shredded cheese. Then another layer of the small, round chips. Black beans, olive slices, avocado slices and more cheese followed on the top layer. If I were serving grown-ups, I would put some salsa around, but the gringo girls didn't want that much heat, so I served it on the side, with bowls of sour cream, as well.

The dessert, which got demolished before I could grab the camera, was a similar idea. Big platter, lots of freshly washed, whole strawberries; whipped, sweetened cream; and hot fudge sauce (again with the jar, I know homemade would have been better, but the girls didn't complain). I pulled a few extras out to taste in the hot fudge sauce - marshmallows, potato chips. For the record, sliced, frozen Mayfield ice cream sandwiches are delish dipped in hot fudge sauce. Proustian moment: a Shoney's restaurant and the ever-popular (and free on your birthday!) hot fudge cake.