Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A girl can dream

I've been thinking about where I want to move next, once I'm finished with culinary school. Yes, obviously somewhere where I have a job, but that also ideally has the following:

- Backyard or patio or deck where I can grow simple veggies and herbs - basil, mint, rosemary, tomatoes, peas, beans -- maybe zucchini?
- A place where I can have an outdoor chair and footstool - or two - and a mini table. Reading or cocktails and a sunset?
- A place with abundant fresh, local food - farmer's market
- An easy place to ride a bike...

I saw the coolest bike the other day - it had a big space in the back that was filled with a kid and a couple of boogie boards. I immediately thought how cool it might be to have one, and ride it to do errands (thinking farmer's market, nursery, bakery)?

I heard about Madsen bicycles...and they have one JUST like it. I think I'm going to have to get one of these!!!!

Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Special Sweet for Summer Sundays

Having grown up spending my summers in Rhode Island, I've come to love the main ingredient - stone ground cornmeal - in our local specialty, johnnycakes. In the village of Adamsville, Gray's Grist Mill has been grinding corn since the 1960's. Their cornmeal is a staple in the kitchen. I keep it in the freezer, so it's always fresh, and use it to dust grilled pizzas, and to lighten up pancakes and waffles.

This past weekend, I was craving some pancakes with real grade B Vermont maple syrup (having gone to college in VT, I take my syrup VERY seriously). I've always wanted to make Ina Garten's Banana Sour Cream Pancakes, and had lots of bananas around. The only problem is that pancakes do a number on my blood sugar, and I tend to get sleepy after eating them. The solution? Add some fiber heft to the batter with whole wheat flour and cornmeal instead of white flour -- which also lightens it up. Sour cream - or greek yogurt - is a lighter, creamy alternative to butter. And ripe, sliced bananas adds depth of flavor. Delicious!

Hearty Banana Pancakes

1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (or greek yogurt)
3/4 skim milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 ripe bananas
Maple syrup

Preheat griddle to 350, and grease well with butter.

Blend dry ingredients together, and stir well to blend. Slice bananas and put aside.

In a small bowl, beat eggs. Add the sour cream and combine, then add milk and vanilla. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and stir to just combine. Pour by heaping 1/4 cupful, and garnish each pancake with 6 slices of banana. Cook until bubbles begin to form around edge (and bottom is golden), then flip. Serve piping hot with warm maple syrup -- and more bananas!

Summer is here -- Haze, Heat, Humidity

This past week, it's been steamy and hot here in Rhode Island. Though the thermometer didn't pass 90 here by the ocean, the sun was SCORCHING hot, and we experienced 100% humidity. There was no use taking a shower -- clothes, furniture, towels were damp, and you were constantly sticky!

So, when the hot and humid summer air sinks in and you don't want to cook, I turn to easy to assemble "cool" dishes for those hot nights - salads, cold soups (like melon or gazpacho - no stove needed), and sandwiches. One of my all time favorites is pesto, mozzarella, tomato, and proscuitto on a crusty white baguette. The tip to making a truly superior sandwich?Fresh heirloom tomatoes (a rarity this summer!) and my favorite garlicky pesto, inspired by Ina Garten. Here's my recipe:
Basil Pesto

1/4 cup (heaping) pine nuts
9 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
5 cups basil
1 cup good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano

In a food processor, process nuts and garlic until well blended (30 seconds or so). Add the salt and pepper and quickly blend. In batches, add the basil and puree for one minute or so (til well blended). With the processor on, pour in the olive oil through the spout until well blended. Add the parmigiano. Taste -- and enjoy!

My favorite sandwich:

I like to use Seven Stars Bakery's Durum Stick, sliced in two like a roll.
Layer on: lots of pesto
Fresh mozzarella - love Maplebrook Farms
Heirloom tomatoes - Wishing Stone Farms

Slice into 3" pieces, and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Raspberry Dreams - Recipe

Here is my recipe for raspberry jam!

5 cups crushed raspberries (don't puree - I leave some whole berries - they break down while cooking)
7 cups white sugar (do not play with this amount - it helps set the jam)
1 package Sure-Jell pectin

1. Make sure you have plenty of clean, dry glass jars. I use the 1 cup quilted crystal Ball jars, as well as the taller quilted crystal (2 cup?) and 3 cup (?) mason jars.
2. Place the bands and lids for the jars in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. This is super important for making sure the jars are properly sealed and shelf-safe.
3. Crush the berries in a bowl and measure out 5 cups. About 3 pints of berries will be needed.
4. Put the berries and pectin in a saucepan (or stockpot - it's easier the first time as it get
s full when boiling) and bring to a full rolling boil under high heat while stirring (full rolling boil is a strong foamy boil that continues even as you stir - it takes a while, so be patient).
5. When it gets to a full rolling boil, I turn off the heat and quickly add my sugar, then turn the heat back on to high. Stir the sugar into the fruit constantly and bring back to a full rolling boil (be careful - it's a very strong and full, foamy boil!).
6. Cook the "jam" at a full rolling boil for one minute, and then turn off the heat.
7. Get the jars lined up in a row for processing. Take the bands out of the pot, and make sure you have tongs to take the dome lids out. I use a special jam funnel that fits around the jam jars, and pour the jam directly out of the saucepan into the jar (leaving 1/4" from the top). I have also used measuring cups to ladle the hot jam. Be VERY careful, as the liquid is supremely HOT!
8. Once a jar is filled, I quickly put a lid and then the band around the jar and tighten to secure, then I flip the jar upside down (this creates the seal). I then repeat with the rest of the jars and jam.
9. Once all jars are filled and sealed, I let them sit and cool for 10 minutes, then I flip them
right side up, checking to make sure the rings are tight and that the dome lids is securely fastened. Let cool completely, and check to make sure the dome lids do stay tight and secure.
10. Enjoy your jam!

Raspberry Dreams

One of my most favorite things to do over the summer is to make jam. I grew up in a family where fruits and vegetables are always taking up a huge portion of our meals -- salads, fruit salads, baked vegetable tians, pies, and more -- and, during the summer, most of these fruits and vegetables either came from our garden (green beans, zucchini, broccoli, lettuce, strawberries, raspberries, peppers, tomatoes, blueberries) or the local farmstand (more beans, corn, lettuce, fava beans, potatoes, more tomatoes). There is absolutely nothing more delightful than sweet sugar snap peas off the vine, picking haricot verts (one in the pail, one in my mouth!) or sun-warmed cherry tomatoes off the vine (I have made a meal of it!). Before we planted our own blueberry bushes a couple of years ago, we would drive to a nearby stand (literally a table by the road, with a coffee can for the money!) and pick up a couple of pints of berries. We always had to pick up an extra, since my sisters and I would often polish off one pint during the 10 minute drive home!

A couple of years ago, I got sick of all the Smucker's jam we would use for peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast (I like the raspberry-ness, but it's too darn SWEET!), and didn't like the local raspberry jam made nearby. Why not make some?

Having the time to pick my own raspberries and make a bunch of batches of jam has been high (if not #1) on my to do list this summer. Typically, I'll make two batches - although it is hardly enough to last my whole family through the year. Nothing tastes as good as homemade jam -- it captures the light, bright juciness of the berries, warm off the plant, so we can enjoy year round. This year, I want to make four batches -- plenty to give away, plenty for us to last us until next June or August.

The most important step of jam-making, I think, is selecting the fruit. I always opt to pick my own berries -- whether it be raspberries or blueberries -- rather than purchasing them already picked. My favorite place for blueberries is either Jones Family Farm, in Shelton, CT or Boughs & Berry Farm, in Little Compton, RI.

I didn't really have a raspberry place (until yesterday), as I'd pick and save berries from my family's yard, and our neighbors. However, I visited 4 Town Farm in Seekonk, MA yesterday and was utterly delighted by the offerings -- and the big, fat, juicy yet firm raspberries they had! In just an hour, I picked ten pints all for myself -- and my jam project. I highly recommend visiting the farm and market, whether you want to pick berries, or simply pick up some greens and tomatoes for dinner. So much to offer, so good tasting -- and easy on the wallet!

I've already made two batches of jam (see my posting for raspberry jam) -- and can not wait to go back and pick more berries, maybe even get some local peaches to make peach jelly. Stay tuned!

A sweet sip to go along with a setting summer sun

Last fall, I visited Grgich Hills out in CA for a wine tasting and tour. Very much disappointed with the windowless room (I felt trapped in a basement) with tons of people around (I was a tourist, too -- but not as crazy as most the others!), I have kind of stayed away from their wines.

However -- earlier this summer, I had an opportunity to taste their Fume Blanc wine at a local restaurant. Why not, I thought?

I was utterly delighted -- and surprised! Having discovered sweet, dry wines earlier this year when travelling to Miraval over the Christmas holidays (yes, I was detoxing at a spa...and yes, still drinking, albeit in moderation!), I've been tracking some of my new favorites -- including Chateau Ste. Michelle's Columbia Valley riesling. I'm happy to say that Grgich's Fume Blanc is a new favorite, and a pleasant summer sip.

My time and place of choice? Sunset, sitting out on the lawn, overlooking the sea.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Weekend Project II

August is here, and summer has finally arrived! This week, we hope to see temperatures consistently in the mid-80's. I mean, not complaining, but what is a summer without hot sunny days?

One of my favorite morning treats on a hot summer day is iced coffee. Once I started working in the real-world, I started regularly drinking coffee in the morning. Nearly five years later, my morning is not complete without some java. Winter drink of choice? A homemade large 2% cappucchino. My summer drink of choice? An iced coffee, without the strength compromised.

Easy you may think - brew coffee, and put in fridge - right? Wrong! I like to cold-brew my coffee.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times published a recipe for cold-brewed iced coffee. It's less acidic than brewed coffee, and I think a smoother taste. Cold brewed coffee also produces a concentrate - so you can water it down and make it hot, or "water" it down with milk. Your choice!

It's super easy to make:

1 1/2 cups water (you can double, triple...make five or six times as much!)
1/3 c medium grind coffee
Large container (preferably with spout for easy pouring).
Gold coffee filter

Mix together coffee and water in a large container. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours or so. Pour the coffee and grinds through sieve, discarding solids. Rinse container and refilter with gold coffee filter (you can repeat if you wish - it will remain a bit cloudy - totally okay!). Mix with water and/or milk as you wish and enjoy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Coastal Granola!

I love granola.

Many granolas are cloyingly sweet and full of fats. They might not be crispy enough or fruity enough or nutty enough for your liking. It's a perfect meal in one - protein and fats (nuts), whole grains (oats), and fruits (whatever sweet treat the blend has). I've hiked my way through Switzerland with a custom nut-fruit-chocolate blend of granola. Granola is also my go-to, get-home-late-from-work-and-don't-want- (or too tipsy and tired from happy hour) to-cook-dinner snack. In a bowl with milk, or over yogurt - or alone - you can't go wrong!

These days, however, many granolas are cloyingly sweet and full of fats. They might not be crispy enough or fruity enough for my liking. I'm a huge fan of Bear Naked granola, but I haven't had any since mid-May. My granola pangs came back this past week in full force, however, my family this summer has moved on (or won't give in to their granola cravings). I could not stop thinking about my two favorite kinds: 1) Kingslake and Crane - I used to get this at Maya's To Go in St Barths; 2) the homemade granola from fellow Martha-alum John Barricelli's SoNo Baking Company (maybe he'll divulge the recipe in his new cookbook coming out in March!). Both are crispy, toasty, with a touch of sweetness - and lots of fruit and nuts.

What is a girl to do? Create her own, of course! Working off of my favorite flavors, and some hand-me-down recipes, I developed the one below. Lo and behold, it reminds me a lot of those favorites above - perfection!

My Coastal Granola

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup walnuts

1 cup almonds * can choose others you wish – good: cashews, brazil nuts, pecans

1 cup angelflake coconut

Optional – flaxseed (1/4 cup)

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1/2 cup raw honey

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup dried cherries ** can also use raisins, apricots, etc

Preheat oven to 350. Combine oats, nuts, and coconut in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine oil and honey with 2 tablespoons of warm water. Stir to combine. Pour liquids into the dry ingredients and toss to coat. Pour onto silpat lined cookie sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes (note sides will turn golden first) until evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. Once cool, toss with fruit and store/freeze.