Monday, June 10, 2013

Can't Believe I Won!

About a month ago my good friend Brisa dropped off an entry form for the Beverly Hills Farmers' Market Pie Baking Contest and the $5 entry fee with direct instructions to enter. I thought about it, checked the calendar to see if we had anything else going on that day, sat down and completed the entry form and sent it in. I have to say Brisa knows me, she knows I never have cash, and if she hadn't included that 5 dollar bill with the form I probably never would have entered! I had to include the name and recipe of the pie I was going to make. I decided to make a peach and raspberry pie with a pecan crumb topping, named "Betty's Peach Delight." I never imagined that I would actually win - especially when I saw the other 17 entries. There were some beautiful, delicious looking pies. Many were big 10 inchers, in gorgeous, fluted, ceramic pie pans and here was my little country pie, in an 8 inch disposable aluminum pan. My hopes were not high. As Ian and the girls and I stood under the shade of a potato vendor listening to the winners being called my hopes sank further - I thought maybe I could pull off third ($75 cash prize) but as they announced 3rd, then 2nd place I was ready to go. When they called my name I was shocked, it actually took me a 1/2 second to register that they had called my name! The mayor of Beverly Hills, who had been one of the judges handed me a large check, we posed for a photo opp, then he asked me what inspired my pie. I shared that it was named after my grandmother, who was an avid baker and culinary inspiration. I hope I sounded good because I think it's going to air on Beverly Hills public access television! Here are some pictures and the wining recipe - I hope you try it because it is truely delicious!

Betty's Peach Delight
For the crust:
11/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
5-7 tablespoons ice water
Combine the flour, sugar and salt, cut int the butter with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Slowly dribble in the ice water a couple tablespoons at a time, tossing the dough to distribute. You know you have used enough water when the dough just stays together when squeezed. Firmly press the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap, flattening dough into a thick, pancake shape as you wrap. Refridgerate for 30 minutes.
While dough is chilling prepare the filling and topping, preheat you oven to 450 degrees.
For the filling:
6-8 peaches, peeled* and sliced to equal about 4 cups
2 tablespoons corstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 pint raspberries
Toss peaches with the cornstarch, salt, cinnamon and sugar, then gently fold in the raspberries. You can let this sit while you prepare the topping.
For the topping:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup toasted and roughly chopped pecans
Combine flour and brown sugar, cut the butter into the mixture leaving the butter the size of large peas. Toss in the pecans. Set aside.
Assemble the pie:
Roll your crust to fit a 8 or 9 inch pie pan. Pour in the peach-raspberry filling, cover with the topping, making sure it goes to the edges of the crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the top is golden brown about 45 minutes. Enjoy!
*To peel peaches you can fill your sink with hot water and soak them in the basin for about 15 minutes. Some peach varieties are easier to peel than others, you may need to dip each one into a pot of simmering waer for a 30 seconds to a minute to get teh skins loose. Ask your farmer if the peaches are freestone or clingstone - the freestone are much easier to peel!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Paying It Forward

Today I had the joy of creating a meal for one of my husband's colleagues who is currently on leave, being treated for cancer. For those of you who know me, I too am on leave from my job being treating for colon cancer and for the past few months friends and colleagues have been making and delivering my family meals during the days of my treatments. I was diagnosed this past December, had surgery in January and have been having chemotherapy treatments every other week since January 30. That's why I've had so much time to bake, cook and write! If that's what your thinking you are correct! It has been a bittersweet experience, you all know how much I love to bake and cook new recipes, but the reason for being able to do it is because of a sad, life changing experience that I will never forget. I can't! I'll be going to the doctor for the rest of my life! And for those of you who know me you know I hate the doctor - the irony!
Okay, no more tears, I'm writing today to tell you about the delicious soup I had the pleasure of making. I used the recipe from Martha Stewart you can find it at it was a simple recipe that fed 4 and that's what I wanted. The only changes I made to the recipe is instead of using dried thyme and fresh parsley I made a bouquet garni, you can see it pictued below. A bouquet garni is an easy way to add flavor to any soup or stew. You just bundle the herbs and tie them together with baking string. Because I was using a small amount of fresh parsley and fresh thyme, I used a piece of celery to strengthen the bundle. Tied all together and thrown in the pot they are left to impart their flavor and removed when the soup is ready to serve.
A bouquet garni of celery, thyme and parsley.
I also added green and yellow summer squash (which the recipe doesn't call for) just before the soup started it's 25 minute simmer. Can you see the squash swimming in there?
The soup turned out delicious. I also made Banana Rum Pie to send along for dessert. If you look into the bag below, you will see two 6 inch pies sitting on top of the container of soup. I also bought them a crusty loaf of sourdough, and that small red topped container is parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top of the soup.
It feels good to be able to do something for someone else when so many have done so much for me and my family.
By the way, the Banana Rum Pie - rich, of course saved a couple of 6 inchers for sampling! But that's for another post!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Crackin' Up

Cheese and crackers is probably my favorite appetizer. I love soft brie, firm chedder, I recently sampled and bought a sheep's milk gouda that was spectacular. Buttery and firm, delicious by itself, but even better with crackers. We usually have on hand a couple different kinds of crackers, we like the brand Milton's and there a couple of Trader Joe's crackers that are good. But recently, when facing a cracker shortage I decide to make some. It was much easier that I thought is was going to be, and fun too!
 After rolling out the dough, you can add seeds, herbs, salt (definetly salt) and roll them into the dough.Then you cut it into pieces and bake.
A dough scraper should always be at the ready when handling dough, and cracker dough is no exception. After cutting the thin pieces of dought into my cracker shapes, the dough scraper was key in transferring them to the sheet pan for baking.
 I made one batch of poppy seed and sea salt, and another with Herbs de Provence and sea salt. They were both delicious. I think next time I'l do one with parmesan cheese - how could that go wrong?
 Despite the ease of mixing and baking up these delcious snacks, the clean up is always there to snap you back to reality. The second bowl with the pastry blender in it is from my crust making - sweet potatoe pie was also made on the same day.

 There are plenty of cracker recipes out there - I used the one in a fabulous little cookbook called D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington. It's a great read and has many interesting techniques and recipes. Until the next food adventure!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring Has Sprouted

Part of feeding a large family is always having food. We make the weekly and sometimes mid-week treks to Trader Joe's but the way I feel that I would rather feed my family would be to raise our food. The latest book I have checked out from the library is called "Backyard Homesteading: A Back-to-Basics Guide to Self Sufficiency." It has chapters on beekeeping, raising chickens, raising goats and 3 chapters devoted to raising your own food.  I already have the chickens, (we eat their delicious eggs) and I have 10 garden beds filled or soon to be filled with edibles. I enjoy working in the garden, I can spend hours out there, weeding, turning compost, replanting, whatever needs to be done is a joy for me, not a chore. Currently I have seedlings of tomatoes (some my Dad started and gave me,) squash, corn, kale, basil, dill, chervil and borage.

Lots of basil starting here!
In the garden my potatoes, sugar snap peas, lettuces and carrots are all coming up, all directly sown. I also have parsley that started coming up all over 2 of my beds, seed that had been laying dormant over the winter. I can't wait to turn all that parsley into delicious, pungent salsa verde!

It will have to come out so that all the tomatoes and squash can go in. I have also planted soybeans for the first time. For some reason I had made the assumption that it would be difficult to grow soybeans, but after reading up on it they are just another legume. This weekend I plan to direct sow my string beans. We'll see if that gets done amidst the soccer, softball and T-ball games. I hope you all have something edible growing in a spot of dirt, or on a windowsill! Happy growing and eating!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How Does Your Jelly Roll?

If you thought this was about that lovely swiss sponge cake rolled and filled with jelly you may want to stop reading. This is about my first attempt at making strawberry jelly, alone. A few years ago my Aunt Theresa (TR) came over with a crate of apricots and walked me through the jelly making process. I actually think what we made that day and what I attempted to make today is considered jam, but then I wouldn't have a clever title for my post now would I? The process that TR showed me seemed easy enough, what I took away from it, the most important part of jelly/jam making, is to have all you ingredients and equipment gathered and ready before you start.
I didn't write anything down that day, figuring there would be enough information on the interenet if I got in a jam (hee hee.) Fast forward a couple of years, no gifted jellies from TR or my cousin Casey left in my larder, I decided to make my own!
My first recipe search yielded a recipe for Easy Strawberry Jam by Ina Garten. Do you know her? The Barefoot Contessa, I have a secret crush on her, I want to fly to the Hamptons and sneak into her barn so I can peek in her windows and watch her cook. :)Her recipe seemed easy enough, but was one that you served right away, or kept refridgerated and used in a few weeks. It also used an apple to create pectin that is necessary for the jelly to set up. I liked this because I had been doing research on how to make pectin - but I'll save that for another post. I figured with this recipe and my previous experience with TR I would be able to create a few jars to restock my pantry.
You can search "Ina Garten Easy Strawberry Jam" for the recipe, or you can follow my adjusted one. Adapting recipes to what I have is always necessary to me. Some of the ingredients I don't have and will not go buy for just one recipe. For instance, I will never follow a recipe using self-rising flour. Why? I always have all purpose flour on hand, with the addition of baking powder or soda you can avoid buying this extra ingredient. Be flexible, but in baking as in jelly making, you do have to be exact.  My adaptation of Ina's recipe omitted the orange flavored liquor, and the blueberries because I don't keep orange flavored liquor, and blueberries aren't in season. I replaced the liquor with the juice and zest of a half of a lemon. I did this for a flavor element, not for the acidity that is necessary in canning. I also used regular sugar, not superfine, and did not run it throught the food processor. I also made it using less strawberries, so here is the modified ingredient list:
2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled and cut into chunks
2 cups sugar
Juice and zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1/4 of a Granny Smith Apple, peeled and cut into chunks
Washing and hulling the strawberries is task I enjoy. I employ a tomato corer and it makes the job quite pleasant.
perfectly cored
 tomato corer and beloved paring knife
For the most expeditious process I set up the colander with the washed strawberries next to my compost bowl (GOT TO HAVE ONE) next to the pot that the jam will cook in. Leaves and core in the compost bowl, strawberries in the pot. Once they are all hulled then I went back and cut them all.
Toss the strawberries with the sugar and lemon zest and juice.

Start cooking! Once it came to a boil I added the apple and kept in a a low boil. When I could see the fruit breaking own, I went in and used a potato masher to make it a smoother consistency. The mixture cooked for about 35 minutes, and I stirred it every 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, I had a large pot of water boiling, ready to sterilize my jars, lids and rings. I remembered that the lids need to stay in simmering water until you are ready to put them on the jars. So here comes the hiccup, Ina's recipe reads " at room temperature, then store covered in the refridgerator." So I let the mixture cool - NOOOOO! As I ladled the room temperature jelly into my sterilized jars I remembered, when TR and I did this it was hot! I went ahead and filled the jar with the delicious room temperature jelly, wiped the edge of the jar clean, gently placed the hot lid on the jar, secured the ring and turned them upside down on my towel. Now, if I had been making 10-12 jars of jelly like TR and did with the apricots that day this would be tragic. But this recipe only yielded 2 1/2 jars.
Even though lid doesn't pop when pressed I will keep them in the fridge. They will be consumed quickly in this house. I think I'm going to gift the "baby" jar to my friend Amy who is expecting, with specific instructions to keep refrigerated!

Too Tart for Words

I love pie, and crusts are one of my favorite things to make. I appreciate that one recipe yields two. You can use both, or save one in the fridge while you wait for a second round of inspiration. This and my love of flour (read more about this in my first post on pizza dough) is what makes me gravitate towards baking, but these baking skills come in handy for savory dishes too. When recently faced with the what's for dinner thought, I looked around the kitchen and saw the makings of a savory tart. First I made my basic crust recipe, 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 12 tablespoons butter or lard or a combination of the two and 5-7 tablespoons of ice water. I found that grating the hard, cold butter on a box grater is a simple way to get it incorporated into the flour. You still have to cut it into the flour (sometime I use a pastry blender, sometimes my fingers depending on how many dishes I feel like washing) but it doesn't take as long. Once the 2 crusts were chilling in the fridge, I looked around to see what would go in the tarts. I saw I had a butternut squash calmly waiting to be roasted. Butternut squash is so patient, probably because it knows that many people avoid it, preferering to purchase the pre-cut, pre-peeled, bagged butternut at Trader Joe's. I'm sure it tastes fine, but I just can't go there. I think if you take the time and gather the right tools you will find that peeling, cubing and roasting a butternut squash that you grew and cured yourself is well worth the time. Okay, you don't have to grow your own, but at least find a good organic one at the farmer's market. You should start with a cutting board, made sturdy by placing a thin towel underneath it, a large butcher knife, a small paring knife and a spoon.
First cut the butternut squash at the point where it starts to get wider, then take each section and cut them into rounds. It's more managable if it's in half first. For the top section without seeds, cut the rounds into quarters. Scoop the seeds out of the other rounds and cut those into about 1 inch sections. Use the paring knife to peel the skin off the outside of the squash. Some people will peel the entire squash with a vegetable peeler but nevers get all the skin off for me. Once peeled, you can cut the pieces of squash even smaller, as I did for this tart.
Now roast your pieces. I tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I decided to roast some potatoes too that could be the filling for the second tart. Just a couple of russets, peeled and cubed. The squash and potatotes can share a sheet pan, roast them in a 400 degree oven, start checking them at 20 minutes, roast until browned and tender. Try not to eat them all as they cool, you need them for your tart! While these were roasting I carmelized an onion, this was a purple one because it is what I had, you could do white, brown, or even shallots. As the squash cooled, I grabbed some baby spinach. Yes it was from a bag. I have none growing right now! I threw that baby spinach in the pan with the hot, carmelized onions and tossed it until it wilted a bit, then I added the butternut squash to the mix.
Now for the crusts. If you made your crust way in advanced, like the day before, or the week before and it's been sitting in the back of your fridge waiting for that inspiration, pull it out and let it warm up. You wouldn't wanted to be rolled on when you were all cold and stiff would you? Roll the crust out on a well floured counter, or for the sake of less clean up, roll it out directly on your sheet pan. I abhor these "airbake" cookie sheets for baking or roasting, but for a tart they work perfectly. I use the word tart loosely, I am too busy and well, lazy, to make a proper tart for a weeknight dinner, instead I opt for a lovely alternative I call free form. Once the crust is rolled out, pile the squash, spinach, onion mixture in the center, grate some cheese over the top. I used gran padano, then fold up the sides, leaving the filling peeking out the center. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is nice and browned. Slice and serve. If you are wondering about the russets, they too got put in a crust, topped with mozzarella cheese. Equally delicious, but not as colorful.