TBT: Summer Fruit

Hmm. We haven’t done this yet this year. Going over your own archives is, as it turns out, a helpful thing. This was originally posted in July 2008.

My husband asked me last night what I wanted for dinner. We’d both just walked home in dark clothes under an insistent sun, and I had no appetite. I looked at him and said, “Ice.”

Then we grinned at each other. He headed for the basement freezer while I checked the juice pitcher in the fridge.

Every year, when the trees bow under their fruit, the melons drip with ripeness, and you start having to fight the wasps for the raspberries, we collect the sweetest, juiciest fruits we can find and take them home. We don’t eat them. Well, we pick at them a bit as we’re chopping them up–you would too–but these are destined for the freezer.

Nectarines and plums with their skins on, honeydew and musk mellon, pears, pineapple, raspberries, grapes–all fresh–plus frozen blueberries and cherries and whatever else looks good. All go into the biggest bowl we have and get tossed together. Then we stash them in the freezer in gallon bags. Some will come back out on the hot days before fall settles in. The rest will wait until the next summer, when the weather is oppressive but nothing is ripe yet.

Then, on those days that are too hot for solid food, we chop off hunks of our frozen fruit, throw it in the blender, and cover it with juice. It takes an amazing amount of juice, because none of the fruit liquifies as it blends down. But the end result is a brain-freezing mix of pure, sweet, icy fruit.

Uh, unless we add rum. Rum is good, too, although it gets harder to claim it’s dinner then. Either way, they’re the best fruit smoothies I’ve ever had. It makes those hot days something to look forward to.

Meet Lady Dunya

On Saturday, I spent a good chunk of my day making grenadine from scratch. The process involved making pomegranate molasses (from juice because I did have one or two other things to do that day). I also made lemon poppy seed muffins with the zest and extra juice of the lemons, because I had an hour to spare in the kitchen, but I haven’t settled on a recipe I’m entirely happy with there, so I’m not sharing.

The grenadine, though? I’m more than entirely happy. I was a little dubious about the rosewater when I read the recipe, but it took the grenadine from “This is a very nice pomegranate syrup” to “I want to put this on everything and eat it. We should get some vanilla ice cream.”

I didn’t actually get the ice cream. [Read more...]

The Theory of Gluten-Free Flour

I was just talking with an avid baker about the problems of baking for people with celiac disease. (Minnesota has a large Nordic population, which gives a higher-than-average concentration of the disorder.) I mentioned that I developed a flour mix that I like and have had good enough results with that I don’t bother with xantham gum or other additives as long as I’m not trying to make yeast breads (which I leave to professionals).

This is an easy mix in the proportions, though it does take a little bit of extra processing. It’s also based on my thinking about what flour does in various recipes, so others may find it useful in trying to create their own flour mixes for various purposes, like cakes. Personally, I’d get rid of the rice flour for cakes and use only the other three, or even just a mix of tapioca and corn/potato flours.

Gluten-Free Flour Mix

1 lb. rice flour/starch, run through a food processor1 lb. sorghum or oat flour
1 lb. corn or potato starch
1 lb. tapioca flour

Mix thoroughly in a large bowl. I use a whisk but stir slowly so as not to get flour all over my kitchen.

  • The rice flour provides stability in the structure. Running it through the food processor break the grains down further and reduces the graininess in baked goods.
  • The sorghum or oat flour provides a more traditional “wheaty” flavor.
  • The corn or potato starch provides the gelatinizing that wheat startches undergo.
  • The tapioca flour provides a lightness that is frequently missing in non-glutinous breads.

Most importantly, none of these flours taste remotely like beans.

Enjoy.

Cottage Cheese Cookies

A repost. This is my day. Yours?

It’s the time of year when almost everything else takes a backseat to cookie making. As I’ve mentioned before, most of the gifts we give are charitable donations, with cookies to sweeten the deal for the recipients. That’s a lot of baking in a short period of time, particularly if I’ve compressed my holidays by taking a week-long trip in the middle of them, as I did this year.

What am I making this year? Nothing too fancy; I go for variety of flavor over shapes, making at most one “presentation” cookie in a year. There are a couple of trusted standbys: almond sugar cookies and pecan sandies that Ben makes. There are the tweaked classics: Kiss cookies with a coffee cookie and dark-chocolate Kisses, crispy rice bars with chopped pistachios and dried cherries mixed in (‘Cause they’re green and red. Get it? Oh, never mind.). There’s the untried recipe: “Pumpkin cookies with orange icing? Huh. Sure.”

Always, however, are the grandma cookies. I’m sure they had a name at one point, but when I copied down my father’s mother’s recipe, I didn’t keep it. I’ve never seen anyone else make them, so they’ve stayed named after her [until I found out last year what she named them]. They’re a cake-like cookie, with a smooth texture and a mild but rich flavor due to the Dutch-process cocoa. [Read more...]

Ben’s Perfect Pie Crust

There was a request in the comments of my pumpkin cheesecake pie recipe for one of my husband’s pie crusts. We don’t ship them, sorry, but Ben was nice enough to write up the instructions to share.

Makes 1 9″ crust.

This is a hybrid of the Flaky Pastry Dough recipe from The All New All Purpose Joy Of Cooking and at least two of Alton Brown’s pie crust recipes from I’m Just Here for More Food and from Good Eats plus a recommendation from Shirley Corriher’s Cook Wise. Also just a touch of je ne sais quoi from me.

You will need:
6 1/2 oz all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes

1 oz ice cold water
1 oz nocino or other alcohol*

a rolling pin
a food processor -or- a couple butter knives or a pastry knife

  1. If using a food processor:
    Toss the flour, sugar, and salt into the hopper of your favorite food processor and pulse 5-10 times to sift. Cut 2 oz of the butter into 1/2-Tbsp slices, add them to the food processor, and pulse until gone, about 5-10 more times. Cut the other 2 oz of butter into 1-Tbsp chunks. Add them to the food processor and pulse about 5 times, leaving the mixture very chunky. Add 1 oz of ice water and pulse about another 5 times. Wait 30 seconds for the water to be absorbed by the flour. Add the 1 oz of alcohol, then pulse until the mixture clumps together and starts falling off the sides of the hopper, about another 5 times.

    Old skool:
    Mix flour, sugar, and salt together and sift into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into 1-tsp slices and add to the bowl, then use two butter knives, crossing over like in a cutting motion, or a pastry knife to cut the butter into a pea-sized texture. (A great way to get an extra flaky dough is to wait on the bowl until the next step, make a pile of flour and butter on your board and roll it with a rolling pin and scoop it back into a pile a few times to make the butter into gigantic flakes, then put in the bowl.) Add 1 oz ice water and mix with a butter knife until well combined. Wait 30 seconds for the water to be absorbed by the flour. Add 1 oz alcohol and mix with the knife (not a pastry knife) until well combined.

  2. Put the still-chunky-looking pie dough into a ziplock bag, baggie, or the middle of a large piece of cling film and wrap it up. Form the dough into a 4-5″ circle and put in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. An hour would be better, a day is okay…a week is probably fine.
  3. After the dough has chilled, sprinkle some flour on a large counter surface or a cutting board. You’re going to need about 20″ of space to work in, but more is always better. Cut open the bag or unfold the cling film and place the dough on the flour with the plastic bag or film on top. Roll out the crust by rolling the pin away from you, then toward you, then rotating the dough 1/8 turn and repeating. Be patient and be gentle; this is where your dough can start to look more like a map of the United Kingdom than a round pie crust. If the dough has been chilled for more than an hour, be more patient as it is very firm and will take some time to soften up a bit.
  4. As you’re rolling the dough out, you may need to pull the plastic off and lay it down again to keep the edges from curling up off the board like a lens. If at any point the crust starts to stick to anything, add a bit more flour. Keep going until you’ve rolled the dough into a 12″ circle-like thing. If you used the Old Skool method above, skip to the next step. If you used a food processor, fold the dough in thirds, and then in thirds again, the long way, so that you have a square of dough. (“But wait”, you say, “I’ve already made the perfect crust!” “Okay then”, I say, “go ahead and put it in the tin and roll with it, but it won’t be as flaky as it could be.”)

    You can probably get away with tossing out the plastic and sprinkling a bit more flour on the dough and rolling pin now. Repeat the rolling and turning as above until you have rolled out a circle big enough to fit your pan with a bit hanging over the edges. If this is a top crust, you’ll want to roll it out closer to the 9-10″ mark, if it’s a bottom crust, you’ll want to aim for something more like 13-14″ depending on the depth of your pie pan.

  5. Throw the bottom crust into your tin. If you like, brush it with an egg wash (1 egg + 1/4 cup water, whisked together (if you’re making a vegan pie crust, then you’re already fucked because you used butter (you could go with vegetable shortening, but it’s just not the same (some people like it more though; they say it’s more tender, but I don’t care; butter is yummy)))) to help keep it from getting gooey when you add the filling. Then add the filling. Then add the top crust, if you’re going to use one. If there will be a delay between rolling out and using any of the crusts, make sure to cover the crust and put it back in the ‘fridge until you need it again. Use your favorite method of sealing and crimping the crust(s) around the edges (brushing water on the bottom crust can help) and cut off the bits that hang over the sides. Decorate the top as you like with a knife for venting. I’m fond of cutting a nice π into it.
  6. Ahh…the bits. Sprinkle these with cinnamon sugar, slide them onto a baking sheet, and toss them in the oven for the first 10 minutes or so of baking. The time will depend on the cooking temperature for your pie. When they’re golden brown, they’re delicious.

* A note about alcohol: Using alcohol in a pie crust serves multiple purposes. From a chemistry standpoint, it will make the dough easier to work when you’re rolling it out, but it won’t help the flour create gluten. It also adds flavor you wouldn’t get from adding water. I like to use something that will harmonize well with the pie filling. You could use vodka, but I’d encourage you to think about whether you’re cooking for chemistry purposes or for eating. Whatever you use, you should adjust the sugar accordingly. Nocino is fairly bitter, so I’ve doubled the sugar to make up for it. If you’re using Grand Marnier or Cointreau or (OMG) Midori (for some reason) you’ll want to at least halve the sugar in this recipe. For something more neutral like rum or bourbon, you’ll want to exactly halve the sugar.

Grandma’s Cranberry Relish

Or, how to make all the kids eat their cranberries while still entertaining adult palates. Seriously. Also, if you have a food grinder, this is far easier than watching over cranberries as they cook into sauce.

3 12-oz. bags fresh cranberries
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 lb. mini-marshmallows

Wash and drain the cranberries. Grind using a medium die.

Mix in sugar and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Drain the crushed pineapple thoroughly. Mix the juice with some rum. This is for you, not the kids.

Whip the cream to very stiff peaks, just shy of butter.

In a bigger bowl than you think you’ll need, mix the pineapple and marshmallows into the cranberries. Fold in the whipped cream just until you have no large red streaks.

The end result is fluffy, unthreateningly pink and has distinct sweet and tart elements. Serves dozens and freezes remarkably well.

Not Your Average Pumpkin Pie

This is another recipe developed for our friends’ harvest festival. If you’re looking to do something a bit different but with a traditional touch this Thanksgiving, this is a fairly easy option.

Spicy Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
1 9-inch pie crust (I recommend my husband’s, but do what you can)
16 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 lb pie pumpkin
3 t Ceylon cinnamon
1-1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground clove
1/3 of a nutmeg, freshly grated
2 T chopped candied ginger (see below) [Read more...]

Cranberry Tartlets

It is that time of year again. Om nom nom.

We try to do something new every year for Thanksgiving. This year, Ben will be figuring out how to time a smoked venison roast and a grill-roasted turkey to be ready at the same time. I will be trying to get over my disbelief in bread pudding long enough to produce a good stuffing, since my mother won’t be bringing hers all the way from Arizona. We’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, have some tasty, proven recipes in case you’re looking for something to add to your holiday meal. (Yes, I know those of you outside the U.S. aren’t having your harvest festivals this week. You can still eat well.) This one I made for our friends’ fall pig roast a month ago.

This is based on this Smitten Kitchen recipe but modified for my tastes and to get around annoying processes. It produces 10 tarts that are highly flavorful but not too sweet. [Read more...]

The Trick to Ginger Snaps

…is to remember that most cookie recipes are a little bland. That means you want to take the elements that give the recipe its flavor and amp them up. Use very fresh (dried) ginger. Use more ginger. Don’t use plain sugar or plain fat. Doing all that, a recipe like this one becomes something more like this, where I had to make a second batch on request a few days later:

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (not cassia, if you have real cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup dark molasses

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or these awesome things.

Sift together the dry ingredients. Fresh dried ginger will be sticky and tend to clump up, which you don’t want in your cookies.

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl, then the molasses. Add the flour mixture slowly until you have a soft dough.

Roll the dough between oiled hands into one-inch balls. Place three inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for 1o minutes.

Allow to cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container for the short period of time it will take you to finish these off.

Cookie Time

For holiday gifts, my husband and I mostly give charitable donations. I say mostly because there are children in the connection who wouldn’t quite appreciate them in the spirit given, and there are a few people in enough need to warrant helpful gifts and a few people with specific gift traditions where ending them would leave a hole in the holidays. Mostly, though, we give donations.

Oh, also cookies.

Very soon, our kitchen is about to go into production mode. Extra butter, extra sugar, extra eggs. Fresh spices and nuts and fruit. A dishwasher running constantly. Cooling racks on every surface and pans rotating in and out of the oven.

People may not get commercial gifts from us. That doesn’t mean they don’t get our time and attention.

There will be the grandma cookies, of course. It isn’t Christmas without my Grandma Lylah’s “cottage cheese cookies” (so much better than that sounds). There may be ginger snaps, because it’s been a few years. Aside from that, however, I’m finding myself wanting to try new cookie recipes.

So, help a blogger out here. What are your favorite holiday cookies, and where can I find the recipes?