It may be off-season for the kids, but the school garden is still a-growing. Above is the last of the sugar snap peas. Below, bee balm is in bloom, lilies in the distance.
One of many pumpkin plants sown by the second graders.
Here's a book that was made for summer: The Coastal Table. In it are seasonal recipes and beautiful photos from the farms and shores of southern Massachusetts. I met author Karen Covey at the Eat Boutique holiday market in Boston last December, where we were promoting our respective books. In a show of local author solidarity and a mutual appreciation of local foods, we each bought a copy of the other's book. I'd been holding off on cooking from it until the good, fresh produce of summer arrived, and, what do you know, here it is!
The school garden is full of edible nasturtium blossoms in bright, sunshiny colors right now. I love using these beautiful flowers in salads or as a garnish, but I've never used them in any other capacity. That's why I decided to start with the recipe for roasted fish with nasturtium butter. This unusual compound butter has delicate bursts of lemon, salt, and the fresh, peppery taste of nasturtiums, which taste a bit like radishes. And if you know anything about radishes, then you know how well they go with butter and salt. This compound butter is a nice way to add a little flavor and color to a simple piece of fish, roasted or grilled. When the butter melts, little ribbony flecks of flower petals are scattered all over the top of the fish like confetti. Hooray summer!
I'm excited to cook more recipes from this book as the season progresses. The beach plum mojito looks divine, as does the chilled sweet corn soup with lobster. I also have my eye on her baked eggs and bacon jam. Since I think this is a book you guys will like, Union Park Press has offered to give away one copy of The Coastal Table to one lucky reader. To be entered to win, add a comment to this post telling me what you like to do with nasturtiums, or what kinds of other edible flowers you find uses for, or just tell me what you're looking forward to eating this summer, flowers be damned. This raffle will close Thursday 7/10 at 10 p.m. EST. Good luck!
Roasted Cod with Lemon Nasturtium Butter
The flavors here are simple and delicate, so make sure your fish is exceedingly fresh. Same with your butter. If you don't have access to nasturtiums, you can substitute a tablespoon or two of your favorite fresh herbs, like Italian parsley, tarragon, and chives, well chopped.
12 nasturtium flower petals
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest from 1 lemon
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
(4) 4-ounce pieces of cod, haddock, or halibut, each about 1-1/2-inches thick
Swirl the flowers in a large bowl of cold water and gently swirl them around to release any dirt. Remove the flowers from the water and place them on a clean tea towel or paper towel until completely dry.
Place the softened butter, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Finely chop the nasturtium petals and add them to the bowl. Gently mix until everything is well combined, with visible flecks of flowers throughout. Transfer the butter mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log, twisting up both ends to enclose. Refrigerate the butter until firm, at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the fish in a large baking dish and add about 2 tablespoons of water to the dish. Roast uncovered until the fish is opaque and cooked through, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the butter from the refrigerator and cut 4 slices from the log.
Transfer the fish to a plate lined with paper towels to remove any excess moisture, then transfer to a serving platter or individual plates. Set a slice of butter on top of each piece of fish. Serve warm.
Reserve the remaining butter well-wrapped for another use (like spread on good French bread with sliced radishes).
We walked into the orthodontist's office last week to two pieces of good news:
1. The 11YO gets his braces off in three weeks; and
2. I have a pie on the cover of Fine Cooking magazine!
The issue was sitting on a table with a bunch of other magazines in the waiting room, and I thought to myself, that pie looks familiar. I didn't know the editors decided to put it on the cover. I had to resist waving the magazine in everyone's face as I walked by (Pie! Wanna see my pie??). Instead, I made a nuisance out of myself by co-opting a corner of the room so I could take photos of each page of my article multiple times. Orthodontic lighting is not flattering, as it turns out (nor is orthodontic carpeting.)
The piece is about no-bake, make-ahead, retro summer desserts to keep you calm, cool, and collected. It includes three recipes. The pie is adapted from the chocolate mousse recipe in my book WINTERSWEET. It's the best chocolate mousse pie ever and cannot be confined to a single season, hence its appearance here as a summer dessert. There's also a recipe for peach almond icebox cake and a blackberry-lime frozen terrine with pockets of dulce de leche tucked inside. I love the bracing tartness against the sweet caramel. It's my new favorite frozen treat.
Fine Cooking subscribers should see a copy in their mailboxes shortly, if not already. The rest of us will have to wait another month or so before it hits newsstands. It's the August/September issue. Keep an eye out!
The 8YO and I had the following semi-silent conversation over lunch at the beach the other day:
Him: My vegetables are sandy. Do I have to eat the rest?
Him: But the sand…
Me: Just eat them.
Him: VERY sandy.
Me: Fine, you don't have to eat them.
I was cleaning out the 8YO's backpack last week when I came across a big stack of handmade cards. Being a nosy mother, I started flipping through them and discovered that they were for me—for helping his second grade class plant pumpkins in the garden the week before. Another stack of cards came home the next day from a class of first graders that had planted sunflowers with me.
The cards were so sweet and earnestly rendered. I loved reading them and seeing what made the strongest impression on each child based on what they decided to draw. Here are some of my favorites:
Watering the pumpkin seeds.
Anticipation of the fall harvest. (It's a rather ambitious forecast—I'd better get busy planting some insurance pumpkins!)
I may have forgotten to mention that pumpkins don't grow pre-carved.
Some kids were fascinated by the wildlife in and around the garden. Others loved tasting the snap peas, mint leaves, and lemon balm.
So on behalf of everyone's favorite garden cyclops, thanks kids!
Here's wishing everyone a happy (and fruitful) summer!
We went camping in Maine last weekend. Before we left, I stocked up on sausages from Moody's Delicatessen in Waltham: chorizo dulce, bierwurst, cheddar and jalapeño, sweet Italian, and garlic sausages. They were absolutely delicious, especially the chorizo and cheddar jalapeño. We used the leftovers to make breakfast sandwiches on our neighbor's vintage camp stove the next morning, browning the sausage slices, toasting buttery English muffins, and melting cheese all over everything.
Looking back, I guess we didn't need 20 sausages for the seven of us on a quick overnight, but with one kid on his way to middle school and both about to surpass me in height, it won't be long before we do!
Readers, let us now turn to page 109 of your well-worn copy of WINTERSWEET, where you'll find a recipe for Cranberry Torte. Though cranberry season is well behind us, that simple butter cake is easily adapted for summertime fruit like black raspberries and blueberries. Just reduce the sugar topping to a sprinkling or omit it entirely. If rhubarb is your pleasure, sub in 1-1/2 cups of chopped fresh rhubarb stems for the cranberries, omit the almond extract (or keep it), and reduce the sugar topping to 1 tablespoon. It's perfect for dessert or tea or brunch or breakfast or a midnight snack or just because. Rhubarb cake doesn't judge.
The first few years I was involved with the school garden, I didn't dare plant anything, only watered. Then I took a chance and planted some seeds, which refused to grow. When I poured those same exact seeds into the hands of a bunch of children with zero gardening experience, they would grow just fine, but if I so much as touched them, instant death. Or so it seemed. Still, I watered everything. And weeded sometimes. Not much. The plants grew well until the rabbits honed in on our location and mowed everything down like little weed-wackers with no taste for weeds. We put up rabbit fencing around their favorite beds, and then everything grew like crazy. It was a good year, and the school's PTO voted in a generous garden budget.
I must have learned a few things over the years because now when I plant things myself, they actually grow. Still, it's better when the kids do the planting. We had four first grade classrooms come out during science class and plant sunflowers and cucumbers. The second graders are coming out next to plant pumpkins, pole beans, and squash. The afterschool program planted snap peas, radishes, beets, and cilantro. My sons planted spinach and kale. I planted bush beans, lettuce, corn, basil, parsley, zucchini, and more snap peas, not to mention a dozen tomato seedlings, peppers, eggplant, Swiss chard, and herbs. Here are some other things that are doing well:
The rhubarb is going gangbusters. There are four others the same size as this one with big thick stalks.
I planted three-dozen bare-root strawberry plants and fenced them in.
The snap peas are growing up and out of their bed. They don't seem to like the teepee I built for them for support and instead prefer to lean on the tall weeds around the edge of the raised bed. It's a favorite hiding spot for baby bunnies, I've noticed, who enjoy the sheltered canopy (until the hose is pointed in their direction, which is their cue to flee Peter Rabbit-style, leaving coats and shoes behind them).
Apparently, deer love Swiss chard. How do I know it was deer that ate all the beautiful Swiss chard in this photo? The hoof prints. And the fact that only an animal that heavy could bend the entire fence down on one side. Luckily, the Swiss chard grew back within a week. (They didn't touch the lettuce and spinach.)
But perhaps the most exciting thing about the garden this year are the apple trees. I planted a Roxbury Russet and a Jonathan last month, which still look like sticks in the ground at this point. The Roxbury Russet is considered to be the oldest heirloom table apple to originate in the New World, a chance seedling discovered right here in Boston in 1635. I've wanted to plant apple trees behind the school for ages. I just love the idea of kids being able to come outside and pick their own apples, even if the reality is they'll probably end up whipping them at each other when I'm not looking.
So now, my friends with the naturally green thumbs, I need some advice. How do I keep the deer away from the fruit trees? They've already sniffed out the cherry tree and done some significant damage. I don't want the apple trees to meet the same fate or I fear it's going to be venison burgers on special in the school cafeteria come fall.
Yesterday I went digging around for the canister to my ice cream machine. I always keep it in the freezer in a plastic bag so it's ready for action (my ice cream cravings wait for no one). When I finally found it, I noticed that it wasn't in a plastic bag. I mean, ideally, it wouldn't get dirty just sitting there in the freezer, but somehow it always does. Things inevitably melt, drip, and then refreeze in the bottom of the bowl. Crumbs appear out of nowhere. So I've learned to keep the canister in a bag so I don't need to worry about contamination.
I inspected the canister. Sure enough, there were crumbs (where do they come from??). So, I moistened a paper towel to give the bowl a quick, cleansing swipe. Just one problem. Can you guess what it was? Whenever you apply something wet to something frozen, what happens? It sticks. Remember Flick's tongue on the frozen flagpole in A Christmas Story? Well, the same principle applies to paper products, it turns out. The wet paper towel tore as I tried to swipe the crumbs, and little shreds of paper towel pulp froze to the walls of the canister, enshrouding the crumbs, cocoonlike. My instinct—the wrong instinct—was to wipe the area again and again to try to remove them, which caused even more shreds of wet paper towel to rip and freeze. Realizing my error, I grabbed a butter knife and tried to scrape off the frozen pieces, which was only 50% effective and left little shavings of ice and paper towel all over the bottom of the canister. In my infinite wisdom, I then added some water from the faucet to rinse everything out….which instantly froze upon contact, suspending all of the aforementioned detritus in a thick, impenetrable layer of solid ice on the bottom of the bowl like frozen fossils of my lunacy.
For the love of god, Tammy, YOU KNOW HOW AN ICE CREAM MACHINE WORKS! Sub-freezing temperatures + liquid = ice crystals. It just goes to show that even published cookbook authors are morons sometimes. (At least I didn't try to lick the crumbs out of the bowl. I'm not sure how I would have played that one off with the ice cream canister dangling from my face.)
Anyway, a reasonable person would have thrown the whole calamity into the sink, filled it with hot water, and just called it a day. Let it soak and defrost overnight, wash it thoroughly, and then refreeze (in a plastic bag, this time). In a couple of days, I could finally have some homemade ice cream. But I never claimed to be a reasonable person. No, I went ahead and made my ice cream anyway. To hell with everyone, I said. If I want crumbs and paper towel fragments in my ice cream, then, damn it, crumbs and paper towel fragments I will have! You're not the boss of me, Internet!!
After a good night's sleep, which is always a welcome sanity check, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to eat any of that ice cream. No promises, though. It sure does look good, paper towels and all.
If you're anything like me, Memorial Day came and went, and you didn't plant any tomatoes. Then, when you finally got your act together to go buy some—like Sungolds, Cherokee Purples, and Brandywines—you realized that all the local farms already had their seedling sales weeks ago. And all the best heirloom varieties at the garden stores are probably sold out. And now the school garden—which always, ALWAYS has Sungold cherry tomatoes come hell or high water or blight—will be without them for the first time ever. All because of you.
But wait, all is not lost. If you live in the Boston area, you can still find beautiful organically grown heirloom seedlings at LexFarm, Lexington's new community farm on the site of the former Busa Farm. The lovely Farmer E, previously of Waltham Fields, still has an ample supply of gorgeous tomato plants for sale, thank goodness, including my precious Sungolds. And if those singles and six-packs should happen to run out, she has another orange variety called Sunsugar that tastes almost identical but is less prone to cracking after heavy rain. She has red cherry and grape tomatoes, green zebras, San Marzanos, and maybe a dozen other varieties. Other seedlings for sale include sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillo, cucumber, herbs, and flowers, all lush and healthy.
This weekend may be your last chance for the good stuff, people. Don't let time get away from you! Pick up some rhubarb, fresh eggs, and fat heads of lettuce while you're at it. Then pat yourself on the back because now you don't have to be fired from your volunteer job by your very vocal and unforgiving elementary school shareholders. Disaster averted.
Remember how I was complaining that a half-dozen college guys moved in next door? And how I was bracing myself for frat parties every night? I don't want to jinx anything, but the school year just ended and not a single frat party was had. Also, get this, those same college guys are building the most amazing garden in the front yard.
It all started when one of them came by to ask if they could borrow a shovel. Theirs had broken and they were in the throws of a major garden construction project. At least that's what the fresh-faced youth said. I was reluctant to give up my shovel as I assumed "garden" was code for "secret keg storage bunker." But my shovel was right there, we could both see it, so I couldn't exactly say we didn't have one. He returned it promptly and then the project was abandoned for weeks. Typical, I thought. Even the promise of icy cold beverages buried deep in the earth couldn't sustain the efforts of the slacker generation.
Then, last week, that same kid emerged with tub after tub of seedlings. Nah, seedlings imply puny little green sprouts. These were sprouts on steroids. They looked like beanstalks fit for a giant. Spinach, kale, sunflowers. Five-gallon buckets full of mystery plants were suspended from the beams of the porch, vines cascading down between the columns.
What the hell? Do they have grow lights in the basement? My own sprouts emerge only tentatively and in the feeblest of fashions. Our yard adjacent to theirs consists of massive weeds and unruly raspberry canes mixed in with the remnants of our demolished upstairs porch scattered everywhere. The only thing growing at the moment is our pile of white trash.
Meanwhile, just over the property line, raised beds were being built. Terracing was carved into the hill. The term "hardening off" was used, and not in the way I expected a college guy to use it.
So why am I over here acting all pissy about such a positive development?
I'll tell you why. Because for years my story about why I'm such a crappy gardener has been that that our yard is not suitable for gardening--not enough sun, poor and rocky soil, north-facing slope. It's the shitty terroir, not me. Then along come these whippersnappers who recreate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon a mere three feet away. They've single-handedly ruined my cover.
I've been doing pretty well with the school garden of late, or so I thought, but now I totally have to up my game. Come September, we'll see who has the better garden, them or me.
It's on, College Boys!
I think I've mentioned how much I love rhubarb: rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb parfaits. I may be a minority on this, but I like my rhubarb to stand alone. However, in the interest of diversity on my blog, I offer you these Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars. The rhubarb in our school garden is going gangbusters, and there's no way elementary school kids are going to eat it all unless it's mixed with something they know is good. Like strawberries. And a sweet crumbly topping. You have to earn their trust first, and then maybe you can subtract the berries. (Maybe.)
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumb Bars
This makes enough to feed a crowd. For a smaller group, halve the recipe and make it in an 8x8-inch pan. Prepare to eat it all within a few days as the moisture from the fruit tends to uncrisp the topping over time.
21/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold, cut into 6 pieces
2 oz. cream cheese
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (optional)
1/2 pound (2 cups) strawberries, hulled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 pound (4 cups) rhubarb, cut into roughly 1/2-inch thick pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13-inch pan.
For the dough, put 2 cups of flour into the bowl of the food processor along with the brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and cream cheese, and pulse the motor until the mixture is moist and crumbly. Dump everything out into a medium bowl. Measure 3 cups of the mixture and add back to the food processor along with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, egg, and vanilla. Blend just until it starts to come together into a dough. Press the clumps evenly into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes until puffy.
Meanwhile, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, brown sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Spread the fruit in an even layer over the surface of the partially baked crust.
To the bowl of reserved streusel topping, add the walnuts and cardamom if desired, and work in with your fingers until pebbly. Sprinkle the topping over the surface of the fruit. Bake again for 40 to 50 minutes until the topping is light golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing. Store uncovered for a day or two to keep the streusel from getting soggy.
I was all ready to pack the slow-cooker away to prove that, yes, winter is finally over now that it's May, but then I remembered: We still have another month of baseball and soccer ahead of us. A whole month of practices and games, 80% of which eat into the weekday dinner hours. Maybe I shouldn't be so hasty. Crockpots aren't just for the winter, after all. With a little advanced planning, they can save us from the temptation to eat from the concession stand three to four nights a week instead of having a proper meal. Which is something I would totally do and then not tell you.
So here's one of those 8 o'clock post-game meals the kids loved. Serve these tender, sticky, sweet and sour ribs with leftover mashed potatoes and microwave peas (for example) and you'll have dinner on the table in under 20 minutes. That's enough time for both kids to emerge from the shower squeaky clean and willing to eat whatever you put in front of them. Especially when it's awesome.
Maple Balsamic Slow-Cooker Ribs
Throw the ribs in the crockpot before work and then finish them in the oven right before dinner so you get the best of both worlds: the tenderness of long, slow cooking combined with high heat caramelization.
1 3-lb. rack of spare ribs, cut between the ribs into 4 slabs
Salt and black pepper to taste
6 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh sage
1 cup water
1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, smashed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Blot the ribs dry with paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper. Arrange 4 of the garlic cloves in the bottom of the slow-cooker along with the bay leaves and sage. Set the ribs on top, overlapping slightly. Pour in the water. Cover the pot and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high from 4 to 6 hours until the meat is very tender and threatening to fall right off the bone (times may vary).
Twenty minutes before serving, combine the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, remaining 2 cloves of garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, 5 to 7 minutes.
Preheat your broiler on high. Carefully remove the ribs from the crockpot and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush one side with the sauce and broil about 2 minutes until glazy and caramelized but not burned. Keep a close eye on the meat as broiler times may vary. Remove the pan from the oven, flip the meat carefully, and brush the other side with sauce. Again, broil 2 minutes. If you have any sauce left, you can flip once more, apply the glaze, and broil for one minute longer, but you don't want to dry out the meat, so leave it at that. Let cool slightly. Serves 4.
Pork: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
Maple syrup: Williams Farm Sugarhouse, Deerfield, MA
Here's a good recipe for chewy granola bars packed with salty peanuts and chocolate chips. I'm not going to claim this is health food despite all the oats and nuts. After all, these bars contain quite a bit of the sweet stuff, too. But they do pack a lot of energy into a tasty, portable package if, say, the kids need a boost before soccer or baseball or lacrosse.
Put it this way, before the 11YO had one of these granola bars, he planned to just walk the Moody Street 5K. Next thing you know, all the granola bars are gone and he's practically right behind me on the course, running with his best friend. Maybe there's no correlation. Maybe he was carried by the crowd's cheers. Maybe he's faster without his appendix. But here's what I do know for sure: the kids are already requesting more granola bars.
Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
If you don't have brown rice syrup, you can substitute, as I did, with golden syrup, date syrup, or honey.
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup crisp rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and line it with parchment paper, letting the ends overhang a little.
In a large bowl, stir together the peanut butter, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup with a large fork until smooth. Mix in the oil, vanilla, and salt. Add the oats and crisp rice cereal, and stir with the fork until well mixed. Next, run your hands under running water and then knead the mixture firmly, allowing the cereal to crunch up under the pressure. Add the peanuts and chocolate chips, and knead again until well distributed.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and press in as firmly and evenly as you can. The firmer you press in the mixture, the better the bars will hold together. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until the edges appear golden.
Let the bars cool completely in the pan. Remove from the pan by pulling up the sides of the parchment and set on a cutting board. The best way to slice the bars is to use a chef's knife and press down in one firm motion. Do not saw through the bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Source: Adapted from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
8YO: We are NOT drinking this orange juice. It contains bacteria that's harmful to children.
Yesterday I had bought a quart of orange juice from Russo's, fresh-squeezed and unpasteurized. On the bottle was a warning label about the risks associated with the lack of pasteurization for young children as well as the elderly and immune-compromised. The 8YO had read the label, processed it, and reached what can only be praised as a logical conclusion. I was proud of his thought process but I also felt it necessary to defend my choice, to prove that I wasn't trying to poison anyone.
I explained that most orange juice at the store is cooked to a high temperature to kill any bad bacteria before you buy it. But this particular orange juice was just squeezed yesterday like we would do if we were making it ourselves. We don't need to pasteurize really fresh juice if we use clean hands and keep it in the fridge.
He was still skeptical, you could see it in his face. It was Mom's word against an oversized, official-looking label. Could I be trusted?
I poured us each a glass. He stared at his suspiciously. I brought the glass to my lips. He watched me intently. It reminded me of the scene in The Princess Bride when Vizzini and the Man in Black engage in a battle of wits over whose goblet has been poisoned. The 8YO did eventually take a sip, but only after I tasted mine first and didn't immediately keel over.
Him: I don't like it.
Me: Why not? I strained out all the pulp.
Him: I just don't.
Me: Are you sure? This is some of the best orange juice I've ever had.
Him: Well, you're a girl.
He's got me there. I am a girl. And, as everyone knows, we girls love our juice teeming with harmful bacteria.
A few weeks ago, I found myself with a glut of shiitake mushrooms. A sudden spell of warm weather caused my five logs to flush all at once with these small, rather dry, cracked mushrooms. The next day called for rain, so I decided to keep them out a little longer to let them grow a bit more and rehydrate. When I woke up the next morning, the temperature had plummeted, there was snow on the ground, and I ended up with several pounds of huge, rather waterlogged, partially frozen mushrooms (insert frowny-faced emoticon here).
Frozen mushrooms aren't the best. The way mushrooms grow from tiny pinheads to full-grown specimens is basically by inflating with water. But if that water should freeze, it will expand and rupture the cell walls. The results are pretty slimy. I know because I cooked the frozen ones anyway. Not the best.
On the upside, some of the mushrooms didn't freeze and these banh mi-like sandwiches were a great way to enjoy them. A banh mi is a sandwich that evolved in Vietnam during the French colonial period. It's usually some kind of meat, like pate or pork belly, in a baguette with pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and spicy chili sauce—a fusion of both cultures in one tasty package. For this vegetarian version, shiitake slices are sautéed in soy sauce and garlic, then added to a baguette slathered with Sriracha mayo, layered with quick-pickled cucumbers and radishes, and garnished with cilantro and mint. Fresh-tasting and satisfying, this was lunch all week.
The idea was inspired by a recipe in the vegan cookbook Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, except I unveganed it by adding the mayo back in. Vegans and non-vegans alike will want to check out this book: it's full of things that even I would eat, and the food photography and overall design is great. And if you have the same pet peeve I have about authors' faces on the cover (no offense to anyone's face—all I want to see is the food), you can remove the dust jacket and underneath it, printed directly on the cover, is a nice colorful alphabet soup with little pasta letters spelling out "Let's Eat."
Avoid super-crusty baguettes for these sandwiches unless you want the roof of your mouth shredded. Aim for something mid-way between a soft sub roll and a traditional baguette (Russo's shoppers: try the medium sub rolls that come in bags of three on the bottom shelf). Also, I used regular red radishes, which turned the picking liquid pink and gave the vegetables a rosy hue by Day 2. If you want a more manly sandwich, maybe stick with the traditional white daikon radishes.
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 cup thinly sliced English or Persian cucumber
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, caps sliced 1/4-inch thick, stems removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Sriracha
Salt to taste
4 soft baguette rolls
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Fresh mint leaves
For the pickles, whisk together the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Stir in the vegetables and let them sit in the liquid until ready to serve.
For the shiitakes, preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil and then the shiitakes. Sauté until they soften, release their moisture, and brown a bit in spots, 5 to 10 minutes depending on how much moisture they contain. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding the soy sauce, stirring until well mixed and fragrant. Remove the mushrooms to a shallow bowl to cool slightly.
For the Sriracha mayo, whisk together the mayo, Sriracha, and salt. As written, the spice level is about medium, but you can adjust it to your liking by adding more mayo or more Sriracha.
To assemble the sandwiches, split the baguettes lengthwise by cutting out a narrow wedge from the top. Then hollow out the rolls a little by pulling out some of the extra bread inside to make room for more filling. Spread the inside generously with Sriracha mayo. Add some cooked mushrooms, then some pickled radish and cucumbers, and then cilantro and mint. Eat up. Any remaining sandwich components can be stored several days covered in the fridge. Makes 4 sandwiches.
Source: Adapted from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
This was the post that was supposed to go up last week before we drove down the Cape for Easter, but then things got all biblical in the blogosphere. Typepad, my blog hosting service, was cyberattacked on the eve of Good Friday, rendering thousands of blogs inaccessible, mine included. FotF was resurrected on Saturday, then crucified again on Easter Sunday in ironic fashion.
We were too busy eating quiche and jellybeans to really care on Easter. I sort of noticed on Monday, but then promptly forgot because the Boston Marathon was so exciting! Americans like Meb and Shalane digging deep for #BostonStrong was an amazing thing to watch. But then on Tuesday, when service was still down, I definitely noticed. I needed to write. Was my blog coming back? Ever?
I hadn't considered a scenario in which you could actually lose access to all of your work indefinitely. I took it for granted that my eight years worth of words and pictures would always be there until I died and stopped paying the bills. Now I wonder: is that really true?
FotF seems to be running smoothly at the moment, so thank you for your patience. Also, thanks to Typepad for pulling those all-nighters. Hopefully, that's the last time this happens, but if you should arrive here to find a big empty space again in the future, check my Twitter or Facebook feeds for status updates. I also have a space on Medium that can serve as my emergency backup blog in a pinch. Because there ain't no emergency like a food blog emergency.
Anyway, here's that cake. You're probably guessing it's Lemon Poppy Seed, and you're close but no cigar. This version is made with grapefruit, an adaptation of the Grapefruit Buttermilk Cake in my book. It's tender and moist with a subtle, citrusy flavor. The 8YO adores it. It's something sweet and bright and hopeful. Just do me a favor and don't give any to the hackers. No cake for them.
Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cake
I prefer tart white and pink grapefruits for baking, but the sweeter red grapefruits will also work.
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest (shiny yellow or pink part only)
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/3 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) buttermilk
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from about 1/2 grapefruit)
1/3 cup (70 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
1/2 cup (65 g) confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Butter a 91/2 x 51/2-inch (24 x 14-cm) loaf pan. Tear out a sheet of parchment paper. Fold it in half or thirds so that it can lie inside the whole width of the pan, ends hanging over the long sides of the pan. This paper hammock makes it easier to lift the cake out of the pan later.
For the cake, mix the sugar with the grapefruit zest in a small bowl. Rub the mixture together with your fingers so the zest releases its oils.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar mixture until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and mix again.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture and mix on low speed just until combined. Alternate adding the buttermilk and the rest of the dry ingredients in halves to the sugar mixture, mixing until just combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Add the poppy seeds with the final addition of dry ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the top is golden and puffed, and a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the syrup, combine the grapefruit juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup 1 minute and then remove it from the heat. With a toothpick or skewer, poke holes all over the top of the cake. Pour the syrup over the cake, a little at a time, brushing it with a pastry brush to ensure even soaking. When all of the syrup has been added, let the cake cool completely. To remove the cake from the pan, lift up the edges of the parchment paper and set the cake on a plate, then slide the paper out from underneath.
For the glaze, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon of grapefruit juice with the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. You want the consistency to be loose enough to drizzle, but not so thin that it soaks into the cake. If it’s too thin, add more sugar. If it’s too thick, whisk in some water a few drops at a time. Drizzle the icing over the top of the cake with a whisk (if it dribbles over the sides, all the better). The cake can be stored at room temperature covered in plastic wrap for 2 to 3 days.
I made some bratwurst from Moody's Delicatessen for dinner the other night with braised cabbage and onions. (These cold nights have us still craving winter food in the middle of April.) The 11YO finished his plate and asked for more sausage.
Me: We should probably save the last one for Daddy when he gets home.
Him: Aren't there more than four? Why didn't you buy more?
Me: Well, these are bigger than the ones we usually get. They're also twice as good. But since they're twice as expensive, I only bought half as many. Therefore, we should eat less of them while simultaneously enjoying them doubly.
(Or something like that. Isn't that the equation?)
Him: But why? If the quality is better, shouldn't we eat more?
Him: I don't understand life.
The kid has a point. I don't understand life, either. Next time, two packages of the good sausages!
Wow, it feels so nice to finally get outside and run around. Or, in my case, to rake all the leaves we never raked in the fall. Or, in Husband's case, to deal with the Christmas tree he flung out the back door right before a snowstorm, where it has remained in a heap ever since, lights and all.
Other things we enjoyed this weekend:
Local folks, if you haven't had a chance to get down to Moody's Deli & Provisions, you should do so right away. I mean it. Just take exit 26 off 128 (that's one stop north of the Pike) and go straight until you hit the city center and take a right on Moody Street. Go over the river and it'll be five or six blocks on your left. If you hit the old middle school and fire station, you've gone too far.
A few things to know: Meat is the main draw of the place. Locally sourced meat, to be exact, which is then smoked or cured or otherwise prepared right on site. We're talking salami, soppressatta, Italian sausage, chorizo, bratwurst. On one visit a few months back, they had rabbit terrine with cognac-soaked cherries and handmade pork sausages with fennel and orange. On a more recent visit, they had a country pork terrine as well as house-made lomo and coppa (tasty thin slices of cured pork from the shoulder and neck). I don't even want to know what sort of unholy nightmare the permitting process must have been to allow the meats to hang down like an old Italian butchery, but I sure am glad everything worked out. What a gem!
The sandwiches are killer. I've had both the Cuban (smoked ham, pulled pork, chipotle aioli, and sweet pickles on ciabatta) and the bahn mi (crispy pork belly, country pate, smoked pork, daikon, carrots, cilantro, and sriracha aioli on a baguette). These are the kind of sordid sandwich experiences where you have to floss afterwards and then take a nap. God, I love a good sandwich! Don't forget the homemade truffled potato chips for $2. Keep in mind that the prices, which run between $9 and $14 for a lunch-sized portion, reflect the fact that the meat is raised right here in New England and prepared right there in the store. Care and craftsmanship are worth something. Yes, even today, cynical Internet. Word is that the breakfast sandwiches are amazing, too, especially the pork roll. They're also half the price.
Depending on availability, you can get local milk and cream, eggs, maple sugar, homemade stock, lard, and Iggy's baguettes. Just yesterday I found jars of preserved lemons, bacon jam, and some kind of bourbon caramel in the cases. Walk away, Tammy. Just grab your sandwich and walk away. They also have a small rotating collection of local cheeses like Von Trapp Farmstead Oma, Great Hill Blue, and Bonnieview, as well as some imported options like gorgonzola and ricotta salata. It's not as complete a selection of cheese as, say, Russo's or Formaggio, but treasures abound.
Moody's is an amazing place to stop by and pick up the fixings for a fabulous cheese and charcuterie plate with some bread, pickles, and olives. I just can't believe this place is so close to where I live! I could run there if I had to. And, at this rate, I will! So if you do stop in (what are you waiting for? gas money? plane tickets?), be sure to tell Chef Joshua Smith thanks for taking a chance on Waltham!
(Moody's Delicatessen & Provisions, 468 Moody St., Waltham, MA, 781-216-8732)
Mushroom season is almost upon us! And without any book events on the horizon, that means there's nothing to stop me from diving face first into the poison ivy. Nothing except my vanity, that is, which is inconsistent at best.
Brace yourselves for my hideous form!
In the meantime, here's a great recipe for individual mushroom strudels. I had these for lunch all week. They're like a food snob's Hot Pocket. Just pop the leftovers in the toaster oven and serve them with a little salad. (Oh, who am I kidding, there was no salad. Phyllo laughs at salad.)
I made these strudels with regular old button mushrooms combined with dried Serbian black trumpets rehydrated in water, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like. They were inspired by one of my favorite books on edible fungi, The Complete Mushroom Book by Antonio Carluccio. It's an amazing book. As Amazon reviewer Richard Powell notes, "You get the impression that you have been taken into a confidence, that you are being let in on some secrets. Reading this book is a bit like reading a dusty sacred text with golden page edges." My thoughts exactly. The beautiful photos don't hurt, either. And the recipes? Fabulous. Lots of nice pastas, risottos, and sautés, though maybe the morels stuffed with foie gras were a little over the top. I mean, if I had both morels and foie gras on hand, I might be inclined to spread out the wealth a little, maybe give them each a chance to shine independently. Foie gras stuffed inside morels in a cognac cream sauce is like the turducken of luxury foods. A little rich for a Tuesday night, but let's file that idea away for my last supper.
If you can't be bothered with phyllo dough, you can just sauté the mushrooms (omit the flour) and then serve them over polenta, rice, or the whole grain of your choice.
1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Leaves from 1 spring of marjoram
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
12 sheets phyllo dough (9x14-inch)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a baking sheet with butter or line it with parchment paper.
Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp paper towel. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms and nutmeg, and sauté for 4 minutes more until the mushrooms have cooked down and released their juices. Reduce the heat to low and add the sherry. Cook for about 2 minutes stirring now and then to evaporate the alcohol. Stir in the flour, marjoram, salt, and pepper, and remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool while preparing the pastry.
Set a sheet of phyllo on the counter, short side facing you. Brush it with melted butter. Add another sheet of phyllo on top, and brush that with butter. Top with a third sheet of phyllo. Spoon one-fourth of the mushroom mixture on the side closest to you, leaving an inch of space all around the bottom and sides. Sprinkle the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Fold the bottom edge of the phyllo over the top of the mixture, fold in the sides, and then roll it over and over into a neat package not unlike a burrito. Brush it all over with beaten egg and set it on the baking sheet seam side down. Repeat three more times.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Serve warm. Makes 4.
Source: Adapted from The Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt by Antonio Carluccio
It's been a long winter so perhaps it's time to get together and toast a local farm that does so much for our community. On Friday, April 11 from 6:30 to 9:30 pm, Waltham Fields Community Farm is hosting its annual Sprout benefit at the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham. Listen to live music, feast on local food from Cuisine en Locale, and bid on some fabulous silent auction items including CSA shares, hotel stays, sports tickets, restaurant gift certificates, one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, and a baking gift basket complete with a signed cookbook from a mysterious local author.
Ever since my friend Red made Ottolenghi's cinnamon and hazelnut meringues for a dinner party, I've been dreaming about their sweet, cloud-like forms. I love anything with nuts and meringue. Just say the word dacquoise and I swoon.
Recently, I found myself with a backlog of egg whites in the freezer, and if there's anything that makes Husband crazy, it's random little Tupperware containers of things kicking around that he claims I'll never use. But I will use them. You bet I will! Quickly, before he chucked them in the trash or out the window, I got my hands on that Ottolenghi recipe. I made a few changes, substituting regular table sugar for the caster sugar and dark brown sugar for the turbinado since that's all I had. Then I flavored the meringues with pistachios and cardamom instead.
Boy, was I smitten. I can't imagine a more regal treatment for those precious not-forgotten egg whites. Gluten-free folks, take note—these are excellent. Keep them in mind for Easter, when they'll serve as a more elegant, grown-up version of marshmallow Peeps. They'll also work for Passover.
Move over coconut macaroons!
My only stipulation for meringues is that they be soft in the middle. Hard, chalky, dried-out meringues get no love from me.
7 large egg whites
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 225°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Place the egg whites and both of the sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk together. Put about an inch of water in a small pot and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, and rest the bowl on top of the pot making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Stir the mixture occasionally as it heats until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Rub some of the mixture between your fingers to make sure you can't feel any sugar crystals. If you still feel some grit, you can put it back on the heat, stirring, for a few minutes longer, but you don't want the mixture to overheat. Remove the bowl from the heat before it gets too hot to touch.
Fasten the bowl back to the stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whip the mixture on medium-high for about 8 minutes until it cools and the meringue is firm, glossy, and holds its shape when you lift up a bit with your spoon. Mix in the ground cardamom. Using a large spoon, scoop up an apple-sized amount and use another spoon to scrape it onto the lined cookie sheets. Space them an inch or two apart and sprinkle with nuts.
Bake for about 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours, until the meringues are crisp and dry on the outside, but still a little soft in the center. Poke your finger through the bottom of one of them to be sure they're done to your liking. They should not be brown in any way. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store the meringues covered at room temperature. Makes about 20.
Source: Adapted from Ottolenghi: the Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi
I had a dream the other night that I showed up to one of my book events totally unprepared. I had no notes for the presentation, nothing printed for a reading, and no time to cobble anything together at the last minute because the event was starting RIGHT NOW. You could hear the announcement over the PA system.
Oh $#%@&*! What did I write about again? Was it some kind of a cookbook? Help! For a few terrifying minutes, I waited it out, hoping the nightmare would do its usual shape-shifting with regard to scenery and time and logic, but it never did. Want to know why?
Because it was REAL!
There must have been some kind of miscommunication with the events coordinator. My understanding was that I would have a small table set up at the front of the store near the door so people coming and going could see my book, have a cookie, and chat if they wanted. This format had worked well in the past. It's not terribly stressful because you're dealing with a few people at a time and who doesn't like free food?
What I ended up walking into, however, was a full formal talk with a podium and row upon row of chairs. And there I was arriving just five minutes before show time with zero backup plan and, more importantly, no astronaut diapers for when the stress finally got the best of me. Would a tampon work instead, I wondered? A cork? Dear god, where are the restrooms in this place??
I've given several presentations as part of my book tour. Some of them were even pretty good. But that was after lots of practice and serious pre-game mental preparations not unlike how Rocky trained for a big fight. By the time we got around to this event, I hadn't given a talk in over a month. Not only that, but those five days in the hospital with the 11YO had something of a lobotomizing effect on me. As I situated myself behind that podium, I realized I had nothing. My mind was a total blank. I could feel the panic rising. In fact, I was so focused on trying to manage my internal nervous breakdown that I didn't notice one tiny detail: nobody was sitting in any of the chairs around the podium. That didn't necessarily mean anything, though. I've had events before where people didn't start filtering in until 10 minutes after it was supposed to start, and we eventually ended up with a full house. I was always very surprised at how well attended my events were.
But in this case, those 10 minutes flew by and there still wasn't a soul around. The cold hand of terror gradually started to loosen its grip. After all, who in their right mind wants to hear someone talk about winter desserts in the back of a store at the mall on a dark night in the middle of the week with the wind chill below zero and only a few days left until spring? Maybe nobody would show up and then I could go home and go to bed!
Eventually, four people wandered out of the woodwork and sat down, more out of sympathy than anything else I can imagine. I ditched the podium entirely. I ended up talking to a pair of vegans about sugar substitutes and spent 45 minutes with a 14-year-old discussing how to get a sci-fi book published.
I've never been so grateful for the poor turnout in my life.
To follow up on my earlier dumpling post, here's the recipe for the veggie dumplings I make with shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, and carrots. The recipe for the pork version, which started this whole dumpling kick more than 10 years ago, is here. If you run out of steam with your dumpling making, don't beat yourself up about it. Both fillings make fantastic omelets. I've done that many times myself (with a dab of spicy sambal oelek on the side). Enjoy!
This year, I tried to take my crimping skills to the next level by watching this video. My technique isn't perfect, but I get the job done. You can also use pre-made gyoza wrappers instead of making your own dumpling skins.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, minced
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps halved and sliced
2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying
Soy sauce, for dipping
Rice vinegar, for dipping
For the dumpling skins, put the flour in a medium bowl and gradually add the water, stirring with a fork until the dough can no longer be stirred. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with floured hands until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. If the dough is too dry to come together, add a little more water. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add more flour as necessary. Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.
In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onions and ginger until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for a minute. Next, add the cabbage, carrots, and Chinese chives. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft and all excess liquid has evaporated. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool. Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and chopped cilantro. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cut the dough into 8 wedges with a sharp knife or bench scraper. With your hands, roll one piece of dough into a 1-inch thick rope. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces and roll them into balls. With a rolling pin, roll out the balls into 3½-inch rounds. If your circles aren't coming out very circular at first, don't worry, you'll get better with practice. Keep the remaining dough covered to keep it from drying out.
For each wrapper, put 2 teaspoons of filling in the center and fold the dough over to form a half circle. Pleat and press the edges together with your fingers. If they don’t stick, use a little water in between to seal. Transfer the dumplings to a floured baking sheet and cover with plastic. Freeze on individual trays until completely frozen, and then store in freezer bags until ready to use.
To pan-fry, heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches of no more than 8, add the dumplings with ½ cup water, cover, and cook until the bottoms begin to brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, covered, until the bottoms are toasty brown and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes more. If they should stick to the pan, carefully loosen the bottoms with a spatula (be careful not to splash hot oil on yourself). Transfer the dumplings to a plate. Serve with a dipping sauce made from equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Some friends of ours throw a Chinese dinner party every year. Everyone brings a dish: scallion pancakes, hot and sour soup, various stir-fries with chicken and tofu, Asian slaw, and braised bok choy. I always bring the dumplings—two kinds, pork and shiitake. I make the fillings from scratch and I also make the dough, rolling it out into little circles and then filling, folding, and crimping them into little surprise-filled purses. For the party, I pan-fry them so they're crispy on the bottoms and steamed on top. The rest I freeze for future dinners.
This year, I made 150 dumplings. As the hours passed, I found myself wondering why I spend so much time making them myself. I'm not Chinese, for one thing. Sure, I love dumplings, but I love chocolate even more and I don't spend hours hand-grinding cocoa beans to make my own. I buy my chocolate at the store like a normal person. That same store sells dumplings pre-made in the freezer section in six different flavors. I could bring those dumplings to the party instead and no one would be the wiser. But every year, I make my own. Why?
I had many hours of dumpling-making ahead of me to ponder this question. I'm lazy by nature and, frankly, it didn't make any sense. There had to be more to it. Something more than an oil-splattered clipping of a Taiwanese dumpling recipe I tore out of a Saveur 15 years ago. And then it hit me.
When I was in seventh grade, we moved for the fifth time to a town south of Boston where I met a quiet girl from Taiwan. We were both new to the school: she from halfway around the world, I from the town next door (though, from a social standpoint, it might as well have been halfway around the world given how welcoming middle schoolers are). She was my first friend there. For a long time, she was my only friend. She knew very little English, but I was hardly a chatterbox myself. We got by and she learned fast. Always quick with a smile, she was a dedicated student and an incredible piano player. (I'm tempted to call her by her first initial, I, except that would make for a very confusing first-person narrative.)
We remained good friends all through high school, running track together and trying to learn the high jump. Then, during our junior year, she invited me to spend two weeks with her family in Taiwan that summer. I was intrigued. I'd never been out of the country before, didn't know anything about passports or visas, but I did have thousands of dollars saved up in the bank from working in a sandwich shop for $5/hour every weekend for two years. I wanted to go, but it would require traveling halfway around the world alone on the return trip. I didn't expect my dad to go for it—but he did! Excited and nervous, I bought a round-trip ticket and prepared for what still qualifies as the longest flight of my life (23 hours from Boston to Detroit to Seoul to Taipei).
Those two weeks in Taiwan were hot and busy, an exotic mix of cultural attractions and family activities. I remember being amazed at how different a city looks when all of the signage is vertical and cryptic. The roads were clogged with cars and people driving what looked like toy motorcycles. I felt like I was on Mars. Pedestrians were carrying umbrellas not just for cover from the daily downpours, but for shade from the subtropical sun. We saw the cities (Taipei, Taichung) and the seashore. We saw steaming volcanoes and serene Buddhist temples. We toured museums, universities, and parks. We even saw a movie (Chinese Ghost Story, Part II).
And then there were dumplings. Lots of dumplings. The food was absolutely incredible. And like the young, naive traveler that I was, I ate every single thing that was put in front of me. Every mushroom, every type of seaweed, every little fish floating in the soup with its head and eyes intact. Everything. And the truth was, I loved most of it. I quickly learned that American food doesn't taste like American food in a foreign country. The hamburgers were all wrong and the fried chicken was an entire fried chicken, arriving whole with the feet still attached and the head barely lobbed off at the neck. No, the Taiwanese food was much better, and my friend's mom cooked a lot of it. Fresh, clean stir-fries with meat and various unknown greens from the market across the street. It was some of the best food I've ever had in my life to this day. It will probably come as a surprise to no one that, towards the end of the trip, I got fantastically ill. Luckily, I's parents ran a medical clinic. Judging by the gap in my otherwise regular journal entries, I think I slept for two days straight and the entire flight home.
That trip was my first clue that the world was a much bigger place than my tiny little pocket of experience had led me to believe. And even though I stayed close to home for college, I was off studying abroad the first chance I got. Meanwhile, my friend had long surpassed me academically. I knew she would go on to do great things, and she is: treating cancer here in the States. I think of her often.
That's why I make dumplings. Because they remind me of my friend.
Hey, everyone, it's March 14th, which means it's Pi Day! Enjoy your allotted 3.14 pieces of pie. The great thing about a non-repeating number that never ends is that you can always have a tiny bit more pie, mathematically speaking, so enjoy the loophole while you can!
In honor of the day, I have a pie recipe for you. That's two in one week if you count the chocolate tart. The inspiration for this chicken potpie came from Joanne Chang's new cookbook, Flour, Too. If you don't know who Joanne Chang is, then you must not be from Boston because if you were, you would know her bakery and you would know it well. It's paradise. Especially when you're walking from the ICA in the fricking freezing cold with the horrible, horrible wind. The whole place just swaddles you with warmth and butter.
I pulled this potpie filling straight from the book (actually, it's chef Cory Johnson's recipe). But I already had some of my own pie dough in the fridge, so I used that instead of the cookbook version. It's a dough I've been playing around with that has cornmeal and buttermilk. The other difference is that I only had enough dough for the top crust, so I didn't bother with the bottom crust. The crisp, flaky top is the best part anyway. Plus then I didn't have to do any blind-baking (score!). If you want the full Flour recipe, well, you'll have to buy the book. But if you're willing to slum it with the likes of me, here's what I did. It's still pretty awesome.
If you just want a regular pie crust, no funny buttermilk-cornmeal business, just omit the cornmeal and sub in icy cold water for the buttermilk.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 to 5 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 small russet potato, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream
For the crust, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse in 1-second beats until you have chunks of butter the size of peas, 8 to 10 pulses. Add 3 tablespoons of buttermilk through the feed tube, and pulse until the dough starts to clump. If it doesn't clump after 12 pulses, add a little more buttermilk, pulsing the motor after each addition, until the mixture clumps together. (You can also cut the butter into the dry ingredients with an electric mixer, a pastry blender, or your fingers. Add the buttermilk in increments, fluffing with a fork, until the dough holds together when pressed.) Dump the dough onto the counter and form it into a ball. Flatten it into a disk about 3/4-inch thick and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
For the filling, heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it foams. Add the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it softens a bit. Add the carrot, celery, and potato and sauté, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Add the chicken and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until the chicken pieces start to turn opaque. Stir in the flour, mixing to coat all of the meat and vegetables, and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. By this time, the filling will start to look a bit sludgy and a brown film should be forming on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the peas, thyme, salt, pepper, and cream and stir well. Simmer, scrapping up the browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan, for about 5 minutes or until the filling thickens. Remove from the heat and spoon into a 9-inch pie plate or other similarly sized casserole dish.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and at least 10 inches in diameter. With a bench scraper or spatula, flip one side of the dough over the top of the rolling pin, gently loosening the dough if it sticks to the counter, until it is fully draped over the pin. Center the dough over the filling and unfurl. Gently tuck the edges of the dough down into the gap between the filling and the sides of the plate to enclose. Crimp the edges decoratively if you want or leave as is. Cut a few steam vents into the dough with a paring knife. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any overflow. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes on the top rack of the oven until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. Pie will keep for several days covered in the fridge. To reheat, I actually lift off the crust and heat it on a pan in the toaster oven and heat the filling separately in the microwave. Then I reassemble. That way, the crust is nice and crisp instead of soggy.
Source: Filling adapted from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang
Chicken: Chestnut Farm, Hardwick, MA
Carrots: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
Butter: Cabot, Cabot, VT
Buttermilk: Kate's, Old Orchard Beach, ME
Cream: High Lawn Farm, Lee, MA
As I mentioned before, it was my dad's birthday over the weekend. I usually make baklava, per his request, but this year he wanted to try something different.
He picked up my book (proudly on display on his coffee table for all of his cats to see), and picked out the Salted Dark Chocolate Tart (page 83). He loves chocolate and pistachios, so it was a logical choice. Also, it's rich and delicious. I knew he would like it, and I know I like it, and even the kids were enthusiastic about it once they scraped all the pistachios off. Or maybe they ate two pieces each because they were just so glad to be done with their death march around Sturbridge Village. Either way, we capped off a nice afternoon of barbecue and American history with what essentially is a chocolate truffle pie. And now I'm offering the recipe here. Because I know some of you aren't going to buy my book, but I love you anyway.
Also, want to know what makes a great serving plate for desserts in a pinch? The rotating plate on the inside of your microwave. It's perfectly flat, and the textured, tempered glass almost reads as "fancy." You'll want to clean it off first, of course. Spaghetti sauce splatters detract from the presentation and flavor, but it's nothing a little soapy water and some elbow grease can't handle. Just a little bachelor wisdom from my dad I'm passing on to you!
The recipe is straight out of my cookbook, except I'm substituting a potentially easier way to make the crust. Have at it!
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 8 pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
Few drops of vanilla
1-1/3 cups bittersweet chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Chambord or crème de cassis (optional)
1-1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 pinches large, coarse-grained sea salt, like Maldon or Fleur de Sel
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios (optional)
For the crust, add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse in 1-second beats until you have chunks of butter the size of peas, 8 to 10 pulses. Add 1 tablespoon of milk with a few drops of vanilla through the feed tube, and pulse until the dough starts to clump. If it doesn't clump after 12 pulses, dribble in the remaining tablespoon of milk a little at a time, pulsing the motor after each addition, until the mixture clumps together. (You can also cut the butter into the dry ingredients with an electric mixer, a pastry blender, or your fingers. Add the milk in increments, fluffing with a fork, until the dough holds together when pressed.) Dump the dough onto the counter and form it into a ball. Flatten it into a disk about 3/4-inch thick and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and 12 inches in diameter. With a bench scraper or spatula, flip one side of the dough over the top of the rolling pin, gently loosening the dough if it sticks to the counter, until it is fully draped over the pin. Center the dough over a 10-inch tart pan and unfurl. Gently fit the dough into the corners of the pan without stretching it. Clip off the excess dough by rolling the pin over the top. Gently press the dough against the sides of the pan with your fingers so the dough level rises slightly above the pan's edge to compensate for shrinkage. Use the scraps to reinforce any areas that are too thin. Poke the bottom crust with a fork about a dozen times. Line the dough with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights all the way to the sides to keep the dough from shrinking (dried beans or rice work well). Bake the crust for 20 minutes, and then carefully remove the foil and weights. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bottom crust is cooked and dry. Let it cool completely before filling.
For the filling, combine the chocolate, sugar, salt, and Chambord in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream and butter until the butter has melted and the cream is hot with some bubbles forming around the edges. Do not boil. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and let it sit for 1 minute. Gently whisk just until smooth so as not to create air bubbles. Pour the filling into the tart shell and set it on an even surface in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or until firm.
Just before serving, sprinkle the tart with sea salt, or ground pistachios, or both! The tart can be stored covered in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, but the salt will start to break down (totally edible, just not as pretty).
Source: Adapted from WINTERSWEET by yours truly.
It was my dad's birthday over the weekend, so the kids and I drove out to his neck of the woods to wander around Old Sturbridge Village for the afternoon. You know how much I love those old-timey reenactment places. They have to drag me out of Plimoth Plantation every year. It's embarrassing for everyone.
But first we needed lunch. My dad's a meat and potatoes guy, so I thought it would be a good time to check out B.T.'s Smokehouse for some true barbecue. I've been hearing murmurs about it, paranoid whispers really, so I figured it had to be good. The place is easy to miss, seemingly tacked on to the back of a gas station, but you can smell it as you drive by. Even with the windows up, there's no mistaking the smoky scent of succulent meats. If you're lucky, you'll bank a hard right turn and squeal into the parking lot without incident.
We all got the pulled pork. One of us maybe should have gone with the brisket, but none of us wanted to miss out on the pork. I stand by my decision. I didn't even apply any barbecue sauce. The pork was so good on it's own, it didn't need a thing. Barbecue perfection as far as I'm concerned. The fries were delicious, too, lightly spiced, and the coleslaw was feral with vinegar. That North Carolina-style tang worked well with the rich meat, I thought. The meal was so good.
If you're headed to western Mass. or New York or wherever you people go in your free time, you'll want to stop by and get yourselves some barbecue for the road. Seriously. You do NOT want to find yourselves starving in the middle of nowhere with no other options than a fly-infested McDonald's inside of a Walmart. Trust us. You will not be sorry. Just head west on the Pike and take one quick exit on 84. Or, if you live nowhere near here, why not try making your own? Crockpot pulled pork is never the same as real barbecue, but it'll tide you over.
B.T.'s Smokehouse, 392 Main St., Sturbridge, 508-347-3188
Photo by Peg Mallett
Last month, I spent several weekends hanging out at some of the winter farmer's markets in the area. The reason I was there was to try to get my winter dessert cookbook into the hands of the people who might like it best: local food lovers. Plus, the ingredients for the recipes could be obtained right there on the spot: apples, squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, maple syrup, honey, cheese, cornmeal.
I've been a frequent shopper for years at the Wayland Winter Market held inside Russell's lush (and, more importantly, warm) greenhouse, but I had never visited the ones in Cambridge or Somerville. I really enjoyed seeing the different spaces and vendors while chatting with people about my favorite subject—food. But perhaps even more fun was eating my way through the stalls.
In the past, I've limited myself to buying only raw ingredients at farmer's markets. I'd pick up a bunch of veggies from Red Fire Farm or Winter Moon, a bag of apples from Apex, and a carton of eggs, but I rarely bought anything pre-made besides cheese. This time, though, when lunch rolled around, I was hungry. I wanted food and I wanted it now. I also had plenty of cash from selling my books (talk about eating my profits). So here are a few of my favorite vendors, some of which can be found at more than one market, some at all three, and some on alternating weeks (check ahead to make sure they'll be there when you are):
Mandy's Seafood Chowder: This is the real deal: Actual seafood—shrimp, scallops, clams, fish—in lobster stock with just a touch of cream and zero gluten. Absolutely delicious by the cup, she also sells little pouches you can freeze and then heat up in boiling water for dinner. The kids love it. Market: Wayland.
Hosta Hill Crimson Relish: Specializing in fermented foods like sauerkraut and tempeh, I fell hard for the crimson relish, a lacto-fermented salsa made with cabbage, onions, carrots, daikon radish, garlic, and a healthy dose of dried red pepper. Great on sandwiches or to snack on with crackers or pita chips. Markets: Cambridge, Somerville, Wayland.
Wolf Meadow Farm Cheeses: Cheesemaker Luca Mignogna makes a mean mozzarella. Ricotta, too. I ate his cheese straight out of the container with a spoon and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. My only question is where is he in the summer when the heirloom tomatoes are out? Market: Cambridge.
Q's Nuts: Fresh roasted nuts? Yes, please. These tasty snacks come in dozens of exotic flavors, but the ones I fell for were the chocolate-orange-cardamom almonds. Markets: Somerville, Wayland.
Tamales from Tex Mex Eats: I got a tip from the woman who runs the Cambridge market to try the tamales. She was right. Chef Amanda Escamilla makes traditional pork tamales that will knock your socks off and put them right back on again. So goddamned good. Market: Cambridge.
Valicenti Organico Fresh Ravioli: Sensing I might be too tired to cook that night, I bought a package of ravioli filled with porchetta, fennel, and chili. I boiled it up and served it straight up with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Delicious! The kids loved it, too. Valicenti Organico has an incredible selection of handmade pastas and sauces made with local ingredients from their New Hampshire farm. They have dozens of seasonal flavors like Pear, Prosciutto, and Gorgonzola, and Roasted Pumpkin with Brie, which can also be ordered online. Market: Cambridge.
Only a few more weeks until the winter is over. Don't forget to visit these markets while you still can. There's local fish and meat for sale at all three locations. Soluna Garden Farm offers hot tea and spices at all three as well. The Somerville market has two doughnut vendors and kombucha. Wayland has gelato (and this Saturday is Cheese Day!). Cambridge has locally made dog biscuits. Go!
Wayland Winter Farmer's Market, Russell's Garden Center, 397 Boston Post Rd., Wayland, MA, 10am-2pm thru March 15 (parking in the rear)
Cambridge Winter Farmer's Market, Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender St., Cambridge, MA, 10am-2pm thru April (on-street parking for Cambridge residents or cheap parking at the Green St. garage)
Somerville Winter Farmer's Market, Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave., Somerville, MA, 9:30am-2pm thru March (parking in the rear)