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.

RSS: It's Really Simple

Sometimes, I'm able to post every day and other times, it may take a week between posts. If you want to catch all my posts and find out what's happening in my kitchen, click on RSS or subscribe on the right. You can also follow my blog by clicking on, appropriately enough, "follow."

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

Be a Follower!

If you want to get new posts, just click on the follow link on the right.