Summer = Strawberries

By the calendar, summer came one day early (the leap year added one day to February).  But in truth, summer arrives when the strawberries are ready for picking.

And go picking today we did!

So now our household is all about whipped cream and shortcake and berries-a-plenty.  Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food” has this recipe for Cream Biscuits – a/k/a shortcake; just add strawberries and whipped cream!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Stir together in a large bowl: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons sugar (optional), 2 teaspoons baking powder.

Add 6 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces  then add the butter into the flour using your fingers or a pastry blender until they are the size of small peas.

Measure 3/4 cup heavy cream then remove 1 tablespoon and set that tablespoon aside.  Lightly stir into the flour the remainder of the cream with a fork until the mixture just comes together. Without overworking it, lightly knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl (this is pretty vague and not sure we hit the mark) turn it out onto a lightly floured board, and roll out about 3/4 inch thick (ours was about 1/4″ thick).

Cut into 1 1/2 inch circles or squares (we ended up with three or four times as many, but they worked fine all the same).  Reroll the scraps if necessary. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and lightly brush the tops with the reserved cream. Bake for 17 minutes, or until cooked through and golden.  Let cool, then top with strawberries and whipped cream.

…and we hope you find a field to forage…

Kale Chips

This is a great snack recipe I found in a September 2010 Parents magazine.  You want to use organic kale as conventional is high in pesticide residue.  Kale is rich in vitamins A and C as well as being an antioxidant and any clever way you can sneak some into your diet is well worth it. We put raw kale into red sauces and simmer them down until they’re soft. This year we will try growing some in our garden. Can’t wait!

Bunch kale (washed and dried)

2 Tb olive oil

2 Tb lemon juice

1/4 tsp sea salt

couple sheets of parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 and chop kale into 1/2″ pieces. Place in large bowl, adding oil, lemon juice and salt. Have your pint size helper massage seasonings onto kale then place on parchment covered baking sheet. Bake up to 15 minutes or until dark green and crisp.  Cool and serve!

Snow Day Galette

Cranberry & Apple Galette

1 C cranberries

3 peeled, cored and sliced apples

1/3 C brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

pie dough either pre-made or from scratch

mix fruit, cinnamon and sugar together in bowl, pour into center of dough, pull up edges and fold together

bake in 400 degree, preheated oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown

Homemade Chicken Nuggets with Beet Puree Batter

Here is a fabulous recipe (and one we’ve had great success with our increasingly picky eater) from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food.

1 C whole-wheat, white, or panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs

1/2 C flaxseed meal

1 Tb grated Parmesan

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 C broccoli or spinach or sweet potato or beet puree (easy to make ahead of time when produce is fresh, then freeze in small batches until you’re ready to use)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or tenders, rinsed, dried, and cut into small chunks

1/2 tsp salt

non-stick cooking spray

1 Tb olive oil

1. In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, flaxseed meal, Parmesan, paprika, garlic and onion powder, mixing well with fingers.

2.In a shallow bowl, mix the vegetable puree and egg with a fork and set the bowl next to the breadcrumb mixture.

3. Sprinkle the chunks with the salt. Dip the chunks into the egg mixture and then toss them in the breadcrumbs until completely coated.

4. Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the oil. Place the chicken nuggets in the skillet in a single layer, bring careful not to crowd the pan and cook until crisp and golden on one side, 3-4 minutes. Then turn and cook until the chicken is cooked through, golden brown and crisp all over, 4-5 minutes longer. (Cut into a piece to check that it’s cooked through.) Serve warm.

-I find it makes sense to make a large batch at once and then freeze individual servings for your little one.  This makes for an easy, quick and healthy meal.

Happy Valentine’s Day

“Good things last”

Our Great Uncle Don lives by that mantra.  And he knows, having been, for almost four decades, a buyer of furniture and art.  From Louisville, Kentucky – home of the Mint Julip and a refined southern comfort – he travelled the world each year, from Asia to Africa and all the way across Europe.  He has a finely tuned eye.  And his mantra makes sense.

In his eighties now, he doesn’t travel with the same aplomb.  But he loves Peanut Butter Cookies and we baked and sent to him some treats: good things that won’t last.

This recipe for peanut butter sandwich cookies is an adaptation of “Not Nutter Butter” from Nancy Silverton’s  Sandwich Book.  It made 52 individual cookies, or 26 sandwich cookies.

In a medium skillet combine: 4 oz unsalted butter, 1 vanilla bean (or about 1 tsp vanilla extract), and 2 Cups rolled oats and toast them over a medium heat until they are becoming caramelized:

Meanwhile, cream together: 8 ounces unsalted butter, 2 tsp baking soda, and 2 tsp kosher salt until the butter is softened.  Then add 3/4 Cup white sugar and 3/4 Cup brown sugar and mix until light and fluffy.

Next add 3/4 cup peanut butter (we used Whole Foods No Salt bulk peanut butter, but you could use any other brand.  If using natural peanut butter pour off the excess oil before adding.)  And then mix in the toasted oats and 2 1/4 Cup unbleached all-purpose flour.  Blend until just combined.

Using a coffee scoop we portioned the cookies and then pressed them down, gently, to flatten them out:

You might add the cross-hatch marks with a fork.

Bake the cookies on parchment paper at 350 degrees for about 17 minutes, or until just beginning to darken on the edges; we like them best when still just chewy in the middle.  They will firm up as they cool.

For the filling, combine 3 ounces unsalted butter, 2 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 Cup + 2 Tbsp powdered sugar, 1/2 Cup bulk all natural no-salt peanut butter, and 1/2 Cup + 2 Tbsp almond butter, unsalted.  Blend until smooth and creamy, and then spread the filling between two cookies.

Stone Turtle

Went to a bread baking class today at the Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School.  Michael and Sandy Jubinsky are two people who love what they do.  For 30+ years Michael was the spokesperson for King Arthur Flour and in 2011, he was voted one of the ten best bread bakers in America.  He knows his stuff.

Michael is retired, and in a typical fashion up here, going stronger than ever.  He and Sandy built a home, a classroom/bake shop and an awesome wood-fired Le Panyol Stone Oven from France. Stoking the fire with kiln-dried oak (4% moisture) and maple hewn from his property, the oven burns up to 1079 degrees at the dome, 982 degrees on the floor and and produces bread with crust and crumb to die for.

Today’s class was Italian-Style Hearth Breads: a biga pre-ferment, equal parts durum wheat and all-purpose flour (11.7% protein – less gluten than bread flour), some olive oil and slow-to-ferment gift you a tight textured, golden-hued piece de resistance.  Perfect for toast!  Great with a glass of wine!

There were ten students in the class.  We each made two loaves, 700 grams each with approx. 64% hydration (ratio of water to flour), proofed, stretched and folded three times, then ultimately shaped into a boule and placed upon a bread peel.  The oven had cooled to just below 600 degrees, and the bread baked for 16 minutes.

We each had a special marking pattern.  My two loaves are in the photo to the right, below.

The 64% hydration is somewhat “moderate”; Stephen Lanzalotta, a local baker, makes breads upwards of 85% + hydration – rather like pancake batter – that he kneads by hand, slowly forming the gluten strands that bind and form a superb crumb; his bread lines stretch out the door, buyers waiting up to an hour to purchase his breads.

Of late, wood-fired ovens are the vogue, but they have been around since at least 300 BC when the Greeks enclosed fire within a flame-resistant mortar shell.  But history here is moot; what matters today is crust and crumb:

Blue Oysters

I went to a mushroom cultivation class today at the Urban Farm Fermentory and came home with a “log” of straw inoculated with spores of a Blue Oyster Mushroom.

It is all new to me…but E loves to eat mushrooms, (and truffles someday, I’ll bet!) so I thought, why not try growing our own?

At the class we learned about sterilizing winter rye berries in a pressure cooker, then, inside an air-sealed glove box, using a syringe to inoculate the berries with spores.  Within a few days the spores will develop, and within a few weeks you have a jar full of mycelium – the vegetative part of a fungus – using the berries as a host.  After the mycelium develops, the berries are packed, along with pasteurized straw, into a plastic bag poked with a series of small holes to allow the fruit – the Blue Oyster Mushrooms in our case – to emerge.

So home I arrived with the straw filled bag, which I am storing in the basement – a dark warm, preferably humid place.  In a few weeks I expect (hope, may be more like it) the bag will become engorged with tiny white strands of mycelium.  At that point I will bring it out into the light, and keep it plenty moist, and it should form a fruiting body: the edible mushrooms.

Fungi are a separate kingdom, distinct from both plants and animals, with an estimated more than 5 million species.  With over 32,000 sexes of spores (don’t ask) only need two to combine to grow into a mycelium mat.  Paul Stamets, in “Mycelium Running” describes a “2,400-acre site in eastern Oregon had a contiguous growth of mycelium before logging roads cut through it. Estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old, this one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees. Mushroom-forming forest fungi are unique in that their mycelial mats can achieve such massive proportions.”

Seems like science fiction to me, but it’s just another part of the wild world of nature.  Incredible.  And edible.  For the most part.

Homemade Granola Bars

I found this recipe in a local newspaper and tweaked it a bit based on items we had on hand:

2 C rolled oats

3/4 C brown sugar (I used 1/2 C)

1/3 C ground flax seed

1 tsp cinnamon

1 C whole wheat flour

3/4 C raisins (I used 1 C assortment of dried apricots, cranberries and raisins)

1/2 C honey

1 beaten egg

1/2 C Canola oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350, line a 9″ x 13″ pan w/foil and grease.  Add oats, sugar, flax, cinnamon, flour and dried fruits together in bowl.

Next add egg, oil, vanilla and honey and mix with hands.

Press mixture into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Let cool and cut into bars. Delicious!  Use any crumbly pieces in cereal with milk or as dessert on top of ice cream.

Dough Letters and Sculptures

I used to refer to this activity as pretzel letters, but it’s really bread dough, and we seldom end up with anything that resembles letters – but we DO have a WHOLE lot of fun!

You can either make or purchase bread dough ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 400. Throw out bit of flour on work surface to minimize sticking. Break off golf-ball size pieces of dough and roll, smoosh, twist, work into letters, whatever works!

Place on baking sheet and brush on coat of beaten egg.  Top with cinnamon, parmesan cheese or sea salt.  Bake for about 20-30 minutes depending on thickness of dough pieces.