Easter Sunday, circa 1967, pre-Easter Brunch at The Loveless Cafe, Nashville TN
That’s me, the tall one with the goofy yellow hat and cat-eye glasses. To my right is my sister Carole, the stormy-eyed tough kid seething in her frou-frou dress (I hate puffed sleeves !) My hand rests on top of baby brother Jim’s head, The Boy, clutching his musical Peter Rabbit (here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail….) To my far left is sweet sister Barbara, demurring, (See, I really like my Easter outfit.)
This Brownie camera shot, no doubt taken by my mom, never fails to make me laugh. And not just because of our dorky of-a-time dress, or the family dynamic the image so aptly captures. It reminds me that sometimes the roots of your vocation are not obvious, but they are there, if you know where to look.
In this case, you’d have to look in that long plastic basket purse I was carrying.
Because it held a bottle of maple syrup.
Well, not this particular bottle, but you get the idea.
You see, I was the ultimate picky eater, and I knew we were going to the Loveless Cafe for brunch. The only thing I wanted to eat—correction, would eat—at the Loveless was a stack of pancakes.
The problem, which I gleaned with horror from a previous visit, was that they served Karo with those pancakes. Ugh. The little pitcher was filled with corn syrup. My stack was ruined.
I was not to be thwarted this time. I ferreted a bottle of the prized maple out of the pantry and tucked it (despite the stickiness risk) into that mammoth purse, which I lugged into church and then to the tables of Loveless. Easter brunch was saved.
Pretty crafty, eh?
And while I grew up hearing and thinking that I was a pain and a hopeless food-hater, someone who lacked a refined palate, or any palate at all, I came to realize that the bottle of maple syrup tucked in my purse told a different story.
It gave a hint that maybe this girl who loved maple syrup knew more about food than she realized. I mean, wouldn’t we all prefer maple syrup over corn on pancakes?
I write this today with those of you in mind who are picky, or have picky eaters in your family. Don’t despair. Inside that person there could be a great cook or chef or lover of good food. It can take time for that to emerge.
Often the things we seem to most reject, are the very things we end up embracing.
Pickiness is just another step along the path.
Today’s recipe makes a simple but delicious bread pudding—sweetened with maple syrup—-but not too sweet. You could spark it with some cinnamon or nutmeg, or add more dried fruit. I kept it basic–maple and vanilla bean, with a handful of sultanas. I wanted the maple flavor to shine through.
Like all bread puddings, it’s a terrific way to use up stale bread. To me, It’s more of a breakfast bread pudding than a dessert, although it could go either way.
I served it warm with some yogurt and bananas (two other things that the long ago picky eater wouldn’t touch!) and an extra drizzle of maple over the top.
MAPLE VANILLA BEAN BREAD PUDDING
3 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 stale baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup sultanas
soft butter, to coat baking dish
Pour half-and-half into a large saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Heat until small bubbles form along the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse the half-and-half. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to get out all the vanilla paste. Stir in the maple syrup.
Place cubed bread into a large mixing bowl.
Pour vanilla-maple mixture over the cubes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and cream until well combined. Pour over the cubes.
Add the sultanas. Stir the mixture well.
Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
Spoon in bread pudding mixture. Allow it to rest and absorb for 30 minutes.
Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. The bread pudding will become puffed and golden, and the custard will set.
Serve warm, with fresh fruit and yogurt, and, of course,
a pitcher of real maple syrup.
And that’s when I realized that any of my zesty trio–but especially the Apricot Mostarda–could be a key ingredient in the glaze.
I had also been working on a story about Cane Syrup for Relish Magazine.
In Abbeville, Louisiana, the Steen family has been making this deep amber delicacy for over 100 years. Now they are the only producing mill in the country, garnering them recognition in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of over 200 foods in danger of extinction.
If you have the chance to cook with this syrup, I encourage you to do so. The taste is distinctive. Cooking-wise, it is interchangeable with other syrups, such as molasses, sorghum, or honey. Steen’s has a prompt, reliable mail order service, and an easy-to-navigate website.
Lighter than molasses, Steen’s lends a deep bittersweet caramel note to foods.
And, mixed with my fruity mustard, sparked with a bit of allspice, it made a simple, yet spectacular ham glaze, with a slightly sweet nod to the South.
I took that southerly turn just a tetch further, and dusted a top-coat of pecan pieces, which readily adhered to the sticky glaze.
What a wonderful combination!
The pecans toasted onto the ham as it baked, making a nice crunchy layer. Bolstered with piquant mustard, it sealed in the meat’s juices.
I baked this ham for our Third Thursday Community Potluck, and wanted to serve something alongside that fit this Southern-style theme.
Sweet potato biscuits seemed like a perfect accompaniment, and are no more difficult to make than regular biscuits–just a few more ingredients.
You can bake the sweet potatoes well ahead of time–the day before, if need be.
I used self-rising flour (still trying to use up that mispick that worked so well for this other biscuit recipe.)
For their slap-dash, hands-on method—the less you work the dough, the better—biscuits are fun to make. This batch makes three dozen, which isn’t too many, when you have a big group, and a ham to match. The recipe I’ve given can cut in half without any problem.
I love the color. And the smell!
As biscuits bake, your kitchen will fill with the aromas of ginger and clove.
Stuffed with slices of this ham, dabbed with fruity mustard, such a biscuit is a real springtime treat.
PECAN-CRUSTED GLAZED BAKED HAM
1/2 cup Apricot Mustard
1/2 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup
2 t. Allspice
1/2 cup Pecans finely chopped
Sugar Cured Ham—shank or butt portion
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Trim ham–removing tough outer hide pieces, and any excess fat. Do leave a thin layer of fat–important to sealing in the juices of the meat.
Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into that thin layer of fat–but Not all the way through to the meat layer.
In a small mixing ball, whisk the mustard, syrup, and allspice together.
Liberally coat the entire ham–all surfaces—with this glaze.
Place ham in baking dish. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom.
Coat the upper glazed surface with finely chopped pecans.
Bake, uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. An 8 lb. ham will take 2 hours.
Check periodically, adding a little more liquid so that the sugars don’t burn.
Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also great served room temperature.
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes
4 c. Self-Rising Flour
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 t. Ginger
1 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. ground Cloves
1/2 c. Milk, “soured” with 1 T. Lemon Juice
10 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup ground pecans and turbinado sugar blend (optional)
Ahead of Time: Bake Sweet Potatoes (2 medium sized) in 425 degree oven until done. Allow to cool, and scoop out filling.
In a large work bowl, add dry ingredients: self-rising flour, spices, sugar. Add sweet potatoes, lemon-soured milk (or buttermilk) and butter pieces.
Working with your hands, mix all the ingredients, rubbing the butter pieces into the flour. Work quickly; soon it will all come together in a mass. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour. Beware of overworking the dough–it will toughen.
Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out dough about 1/2″ thick and cut into rounds. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, close-set, (sides touching is fine).
Sprinkle the tops with ground pecan-brown sugar mixture.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Makes 3 dozen 2″ round biscuits.
The Onion Family
garlic, scallions, onions, leeks, shallots, chives
I credit this humble tribe for waking me up, turning me around, and nudging me in the right culinary direction, oh-so many years ago. Once an affirmed picky eater, I had disliked ‘most everything. I had heaped onions and their ilk into my big pile of things never-ever to eat.
It wasn’t until I lived in Holland that I became enlightened to their beneficent ways.
I was an exchange student, just out of high school. Gert, my Dutch mother, was a kind and patient woman who allowed me to accompany her on her daily round of shopping for the meals. Together we’d choose vegetables, a bit of meat, potatoes–of course!–and a hearty loaf of bread. I would help her wash and cut carrots, peel the spuds, trim the white endive.
She understood that I was picky, and that I was trying to push past the barriers I’d long entrenched for myself. Working together on the meals not only helped me to better learn the language and culture, indeed it forged a loving bond, easing me into the fold of her family.
Maybe she sensed that, deep inside me, there was a burgeoning chef, the anti-picky eater.
In any case, it was her skillet thick with sliced onions, simmering in butter, softening, then gaining that rich caramel glaze that I recognize as my revelatory moment: what my writing teacher calls a “Shimmering Image.”
I had come home from a class late one afternoon, and Gert had already done most of the dinner preparations. I don’t remember what the skillet of caramelized onions was for–could have been a base for a soup or stew. It doesn’t–and didn’t– matter. What mattered was the smell. It filled the kitchen with a pungency that was heady and earthy and sweet and compelling. It touched on something–a memory? a desire?
I wasn’t sure. It was nothing I would ever have attributed to onions. I had to have a taste, pickyness be damned!
I grabbed a spoon and dug in. Mercy, what had I been missing?
It’s funny how change occurs. Often it is slow, almost imperceptible in its unfolding. And then there are those Great A-Ha’s! A dramatic turn, where nothing is the same as before. After my indulgent spoonful of sweet sauteed onions, I opened my senses to the world of food.
In no time, the disdained became the embraced.
This simple hearty soup is a celebration of that first skillet of Genus Allium. I’ve put in most of the family—I love ‘em all—each contributing a lush layer of savory-sweet bite. It’s vegetarian, although you could make it with chicken or beef stock, if you like. I prefer the straightforward vegetable. Delete the butter, and it becomes vegan.
Farro, that wonderful nutritious and nutlike grain, cooks up beautifully in the soup. It adds body, and a pleasant chewiness. Serve the soup with crusty bread—or try this easy, airy spoonbread. Essentially, it’s a cornmeal mush souffle—and it is divine.
FIVE ALLIUM FARRO SOUP
2 medium Yellow Onions, sliced “pole to pole”
2 Leeks, cleaned, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 large Green Onions or 1 bundle thin green onions, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 large or 2 medium Shallots, diced
5-6 cloves Garlic, chopped
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Butter
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
a few sprigs fresh Thyme (optional)
a few sprigs of Chives, finely chopped
1 quart Vegetable Stock
1 cup Farro, briefly soaked in water and drained
Heat a stockpot and add olive oil and butter. Add your cut onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic. Stir well to coat the pieces. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes (or so), the onions will begin to release their natural sugars and caramelize.
Pour in vegetable stock and stir well, scraping any browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Add the farro. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
If the soup get too thick, add water–2 cups–to thin. You will not sacrifice flavor. Check seasoning—add some red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme at the end of the cooking cycle, if you like.
Spoon into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.
Have you ever eaten spoonbread?
It is a Southern delicacy, light–airy—so like a souffle.
Some recipes call for separating the eggs, beating the whites and yolks separately, and folding into the mix, just as you would for a souffle. This recipe, based on the famous one served at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky, calls for whole eggs, beaten into the cornmeal mush for a long time.
It, too, results in a Grand Puff.
You’ll enjoy dipping your spoon into this special treat–a bit elegant, but rustic at its roots.
2 cups Lowfat MIlk
1 cup Yellow Corn Meal
1 t. Salt
3 T. Unsalted Butter, plus 1 T. for coating baking dish
3 lightly beaten Eggs
1 t. Baking Powder
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a saucepan, heat milk. Stir in cornmeal and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens, but becomes smooth—corn meal mush. Stir in butter until it is melted. Remove from heat.
Place eggs into a stand mixing bowl. Add baking powder. Begin beating. Gradually add cornmeal mush. Keep beating—up to 15 minutes total. This seems long—but it beats sufficient air into the batter, which will make a delectably light spoonbread.
Pour batter into buttered baking dish or casserole.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until spoonbread has risen, with a browned top, and a toothpick, once insert, removes clean.
Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.
She’s at it again. Friend Maggie has become quite the baker, and during our visit last week, she showed me how to make her latest favorite: a delicious—and easy— granola bread.
Doesn’t it look tempting?
It’s chock full of dried fruits, almonds, and honeyed grains. The dough itself is barely sweetened; the abundance of jewel-like fruits provides bursts of sweetness throughout the loaf.
If she could, Maggie would have you over right now, for “a set” on her porch in the country. We’d savor the fall afternoon with a buttery slice and cup of coffee. Lining the front of her yard are the shrubs called burning bush–at this moment in their brilliant red blaze. We’d watch the flurry of chickadees, snatching and storing seeds for the coming winter. We’d talk about oddities we experienced gardening this year–how the tomatoes put more of their energy into vines than fruit, and did you know that groundhogs could climb a fence and eat green beans?
Instead, we’ll have to do the next best thing, and show you how it’s done…
What a fetching assembly of ingredients!
You could make this bread with just raisins and granola, if you prefer. And, if you’d rather put in pecans instead of almonds, you’d be well-pleased with the results.
Maggie had all kinds of dried fruits–apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries—in her pantry, so we took the “more is better” approach. For this bread, it proves to be the right one!
Yes, it’s a kneaded, yeasted bread, but don’t be dismayed. Remember, Bread=Time. And most of that time means leaving the dough alone. (after a vigorous kneading!)
This recipe calls for one major rising, followed by a brief one, once the loaves are formed.
The holidays are drawing near. Wrapped up in festive packaging, her fruit-n-granola bread would make a much appreciated gift.
Even better though, would be to have a loaf on hand to serve guests, sliced and smeared with soft butter. Served alongside a cup of hot coffee or tea—ah, I can’t think of a more pleasant way to share a chilly afternoon visiting with friends.
MAGGIE’S FRUIT-N-GRANOLA BREAD
1/3 cup Rolled Oats (not the “quick” kind)
1 1/2 cups Dried Fruit (use a variety & dice if necessary)
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter (substitute vegetable oil for vegan)
2 tablespoons Honey
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup boiling Water
1 cup Granola (chop into coarse crumbs if necessary)
1 cup lukewarm Water
1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
2 1/2 cups Unbleached All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup Almonds, roughly chopped
In a large bowl, combine oats, 1/2 cup of the dried fruits, butter, honey, and salt. Add boiling water, mix well. Stir in granola and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water. Cover bowl with a dish towel and set aside to ferment.
When granola mixture has cooled down to lukewarm, stir in yeast mixture.
Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time. Stir in the remaining dried fruit and almonds. The dough will be fairly sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands, and adding flour as needed. knead the dough for about 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth and no longer sticky.
Place dough into an oiled bowl, making sure to coat all over. Cover bowl with a dish towel and place in a warm area – the oven with light on is a great place. Let rise until it’s doubled in size – 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch dough down. Cut in half and shape into two slightly oval balls. Place on an oiled sheet pan. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 15 – 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. It should have a golden brown crust and sound slightly hollow when tapped. Foolproof test is 190F on an instant read thermometer. Let cool on a wire rack.
Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing! (Gives you time to brew up that pot of coffee-)
Makes two small round loaves.
Shopping in haste I grabbed a bag of self-rising flour off the shelf instead of all-purpose. That error slipped unnoticed until I got home, and started unsacking the groceries. Argh. I don’t use self-rising flour. I have an attitude of disapproval towards it. Its ready-blend of salt and baking powder can get you into trouble.
I’m one of these control freaks–I prefer to put in my own quantities of leavening. As needed.
And, I’ve seen the tragi-comic results when self-rising is mistaken for all-purpose. I recall the layers of a certain multi-tiered wedding cake gone awry, at the hands of such an ingredient mispick.
Convinced that she was working with all-purpose, our baker Tonya added the baking powder and soda that her recipe called for. Super-leavened, the batter sputtered and foamed over the cake pans in rolling waves, forming strange baked stalagmites on the oven floor.
Nonetheless, it was not worth it to return the unwanted bag. I decided to see how I could use the nefarious flour. (Hint-Hint! If you have good recipes, tell me about ‘em!)
And then, I remembered some friends talking about Tammy Algood’s “Two Ingredient Biscuits.”
” It’s so simple and good, it’s crazy. Just 2 Cups of Self-Rising Flour and 1 Cup of Heavy Cream.”
“Yep, that’s it.”
Not counting, of course, the pat of cold butter and deep amber ribbon of sorghum you'll want to put on the biscuits, all hot-n-tenda from the oven.
Mixing up the dough should go quickly. Don’t overwork it. The trick to light biscuits is a light hand.
And, a wet sticky hand.
You could hand-form the shapes, or glob them, “drop biscuit” style, off the end of a spoon, right into the baking pan. I like to get out the rolling pin and give the dough a couple of turns to smooth and slightly flatten the surface, before I cut the rounds.
I don’t roll thin. Think Thick. Big Hot Biscuits is what its all about. As you cut the rounds, place them in a buttered cake pan, their sides touching. And, don’t worry about ‘em being perfectly round. I like a wonky-shaped biscuit. It seems honest.
A hot oven is key. Have it preheated to 450 degrees. If you like, (and I do!) slap a little sliver of butter on top of each biscuit before you put ‘em in the oven.
In less than 20 minutes, you’ll have fat, fluffy biscuits, ready for whatever fixin’s you like. Guess I’ll have to reconsider my anti-self-rising stance.
Biscuits connote The South, picnics, country ham, big breakfasts, sweet butter, sorghum. Have you tasted (or cooked with) sorghum? I’ve taken a fancy to this syrup only in recent years. Not to be confused with molasses,(a by-product of cane sugar) sorghum results from cooking down the cane of same-named plant. It’s flavor is distinctive: strong, but not overbearing; caramel sweet with a somewhat minerally edge.
And a gorgeous amber pour.
TWO INGREDIENT BISCUITS
2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1 Cup Heavy Cream
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Measure flour into a mixing bowl. Pour in cream and quicky mix together. This will form a mass. If it seems too dry, add a little slug of milk or cream—the wetness of the dough actually helps steam up the biscuits!
Pat dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, and with the gentle pressure, roll out the dough—but not thin–about 1/2″ thick. Cut into rounds–at least 2″ in diameter—and place each biscuit in a greased round cake pan.
Let the biscuits touch, as you place them side by side in the pan. Biscuits bake up taller and more tender when they touch, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
Optional: place a sliver of cold butter on top of each biscuit before you put the pan in the oven.
Bake for about 15 minutes. Tops (and bottoms) will be browned, and the biscuit interior will be white and fluffy.
Serve immediately, with butter, sorghum, honey, blueberry preserves…
Makes 8-12 biscuits.
Since her acquisition of a mighty stand mixer with a dough hook, Maggie has become an avid baker. Oh, she was already accomplished, when it came to quick breads, cakes, skillet cornbread and such. Yeasted breads had her daunted–that dreaded yeast!
There seemed to be so many hurdles: how to successfully activate it (is this water too warm? not warm enough? did I just kill it?) and feed it (does it really like sugar?) and work it into a sponge (so sticky!) And then there was that all rising time, followed by punching down. And, another uprising!
Mercy. There seemed to be too many opportunities for things to go awry.
But when we talked a couple of weeks ago, she declared that she had conquered these fears. She was baking delicious ciabatta and focaccia breads with ease.
“I’ve got it down, Nance,” she said. “When you come out, we’ll make some. We’ll have it in the oven in under two hours. I’ve got the garlic and tomatoes, if you’ll bring the basil. It’ll be ready for lunch. Steve thinks its the best bread he’s ever eaten.”
I couldn’t wait! Off to the country…
Maggie had the modest ingredients assembled prior to my arrival, so we could get right to it. We decided to make a basic bread—just embellished with sea salt and olive oil. But it would be very easy to fleck the surface with fresh rosemary, or green onions, or sundried tomatoes.
We tested the water–very warm, almost hot (it should range between 105-115 degrees) and dissolved the yeast with the sugar. In less than 10 minutes, it had developed a foamy scum on top of the liquid. Proofed! Activated!
“What’s great about this recipe is that it only requires one rise,” she said.
Then she added the other ingredients. This is where the dough hook is so helpful—it churns up the flour mixture into a ropy sponge. When the dough comes together and climbs up the hook (it takes about 10 minutes) it is ready to form into a ball and knead by hand until smooth.
“So much of this is by feel,” Maggie said, hands busy shaping the dough. “What I learned is this: RELAX. It’s just bread. If you mess up, just throw it away, and try another time. I think that the reason I had failed in the past was because I was too uptight in the process. That kind of thing gets communicated into the bread.”
Meanwhile, the dough had achieved the right elasticity.
With that, she pressed the dough onto a baking sheet and set the focaccia aside for its one-time one hour rise.
Post-rise, we dimpled the surface to accept the fruity oil. We sprinkled the surface with a couple of fancy sea salts, gifts from one of her friends–Hawaiian pink and Fleur de Sel.
Once in the oven, we could turn our attention to lunch. A plummy Italian heirloom from her garden awaited.
I whipped up this intense aioli, using my garden basil, and Maggie’s garden garlic. Sometimes with these emulsions, I use the whole egg. This time, I wanted a smaller, more powerful amount, and in the Provencal manner, used just the yolk.
Place a swipe of this indulgence on your focaccia, still warm like ours, and slap a ripe tomato slice on top. A spritz of salt, another aioli dollop, and dive in. You’ll experience a summer treat that, as Maggie is wont to say, “is moanin’ good.”
MAGGIE’S EASY & BASIC FOCACCIA
5 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 2/3 cups Warm Water
1 packet (approx 2 t.) Rapid Rise Yeast
1 t. Sugar
2 1/1 t. Salt
Olive Oil – 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp for coating plus more for coating bottom of pan
Sea Salt/Kosher Salt – to taste
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together Warm Water, Yeast and Sugar. Cover and keep for 5-10 mins until foamy.
Add Salt, Olive Oil and 4 1/2 cups of All Purpose Flour (more can be added as needed).
Mix with the dough hook until dough starts to come together. Let the dough mix for another couple of minutes, adding more flour as needed. Once you have a fairly smooth ball of dough, turn out onto a floured board. With floured hands, knead dough for 1 minute or until a smooth ball forms.
Generously drizzle Olive Oil to coat the bottom of a 15×10 inch baking pan. Place dough ball in pan and press into the bottom into an even rectangle shape. Cover with kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to rise.
Preheat Oven to 425
With your finger, gently make indentations one inch apart all over the dough. Brush the remaining Olive Oil on the top of the risen dough. Sprinkle with salt. Bake Focaccia for 20 – 25 minutes (Keep an eye on it towards the end – all ovens are different).
GARLICKY PROVENCAL-STYLE BASIL AIOLI
1 clove Garlic
1 Yolk from a farm-fresh egg
Juice from 1 Lemon
3 T. Basil Leaves, coarsely chopped
pinch of cracked Black Pepper
8 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
food processor fitted with a swivel blade
Process the garlic and egg yolk together for a couple of minutes. Add lemon juice and process another minute. Then
add the basil—pulse until it is coated with the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, and add the olive oil, while processing, just drops at a time. Scrape the sides of the food processor from time to time. Continue adding olive oil. The mixture will become very thick and creamy–like garlicky basil melting in your mouth. Cover and refrigerate.
This makes a small amount–use within one day (so good, it’s easily done.)
I have told you all about my friend Maggie and her place out in the country, where I take carefree breaks from my city ways to hang in her kitchen, drink coffee, visit, and cook. On a given day, we might bake bread, or stir up a pot of gumbo, or can tomatoes, or fix a grand salad, using her garden’s finest. All, I should note, with splendid results.
This time was a little different. I know, everything looks pretty nice in the picture. But, things went a bit mad, green tomato mad.
It was unintentional, this madness. Our initial plan had been to cook with pears harvested from her craggy, fruit laden tree–perhaps we would make pear butter, or pear butter coffeecake.
But, this fall had odd weather, super warm in September and October, and Maggie’s tomato plants had an unexpected resurgence. They were covered, almost as much as they were in summer, with fruit. When her husband Steve learned that a hard freeze was coming, he hastened to the garden to gather what he could. He returned with a 10 gallon bucket, piled with all manner and size of green tomatoes.
So, outside of breading them in cornmeal and frying them crisp, what do you do with 10 gallons of green tomatoes?
Maggie and I decided to find out.
Some ‘net surfing turned up ideas for charred green tomato salsa, green tomato ketchup, and green tomato cake. A few recipes called for slicing, salting, and sweating the tomatoes to remove excess water. Other recipes called for tying the slices up in cheesecloth, and letting them drain overnight.
Needless to say, this notion was rejected.
We plunged headlong into green tomato projects, making things up as we proceeded. It would be some time later before certain aspects of a green tomato’s nature would be revealed.
We oven-roasted green tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, and onions to a char for salsa.
While those cooled, we chopped more tomatoes for the bundt cake, and improvised a quickbread style recipe, not unlike ones that you use for, say, carrot cakes, or zucchini cakes.
Maggie had a small bundt pan. So, we used the excess batter for muffins. The muffins, we thought, would be our afternoon snack with coffee. Then, we turned our attention to the task of the green tomato ketchup.
Whoa. We quickly cleaned, cored, and quartered a mighty mound, and tossed them into a big pot. For spicing, we used the same ingredients–cinnamon stick, whole clove, and allspice– as I had for my Real Red Ketchup.
At one point, Maggie surveyed the counters, covered with cake pans and batter, vinegars and spices, food mill parts, canning jars, and then the cauldron of green gurgling on the stove and said, “I feel like we’re mad scientists and this is our laboratory.”
And, like any good mad scientists, we recognized that cooking in this manner was very experimental. And, our green tomato experiment yielded mixed results.
1. Charred Green Tomato Salsa: This had terrific heat and tangy flavor, not unlike tomatillo, which it resembled also in texture– that gelatinous mouth feel, the kind you notice, at times, with cooked eggplant. We decided that this would be better as a sauce baked over enchiladas.
2. There was likely a good reason to salt and drain the green tomatoes in advance. Our ketchup did not get as thick as we would have liked. The taste was surprisingly good, pretty ketchup-y, really. There was something visually jarring about the color. Close your eyes when you taste it.
3.Green tomatoes need to be chopped very very finely for the bundt cake. Or, pulse them in a food processor. When the muffins were warm, the larger pieces of green tomato were fine—they reminded me of apple, in a way–but as the muffins cooled, the pieces became weird, a little unpleasant–that same gelatinous texture thing. Otherwise, we gave this cake a thumbs-up. I’ve given you the recipe, with the appropriate remedies.
4. It’s always a good idea to find clever ways to use what you’ve got. (Think–there have been thousands and thousands of farm women who had bushels of green tomatoes and little else to work with.)
5. Mad or not, kitchen experiments are fun. And, we welcome any green tomato tips, tricks, or recipes! Suggestions?
GREEN TOMATO BUNDT CAKE
2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 t. Salt
1 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Allspice
1/4 t. Clove
1/4 t. Black Pepper
1 c. Brown Sugar
3 c. Green Tomatoes, chopped very finely
1/2 c. Buttermilk
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1 c. chopped Walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure and sift dry ingredients together.
Whisk eggs and brown sugar together. Stir in buttermilk and oil, then tomatoes. Stir in dry ingredients and walnuts. Pour into greased and floured bundt pan.
Bake 50-60 minutes. Allow to cool, and remove. Dust with powdered sugar.
Beautiful collection! Maggie is ready for winter.
When my daughter Madeleine was nine years old, she gave me an electric waffle iron for Christmas. This always makes me smile to think about, because, waffle lover that she is, the iron was really as much a gift for her as it was for me.
In those days, mornings were hectic. I would get Madeleine off to school, then race to the cafe, or the catering kitchen, so we reserved waffle making for Sundays or special occasions. I can remember numerous birthday slumber parties followed by big birthday breakfasts. I’d set up my work station, and the girls, a bit bleary-eyed from all-night Twister, giggly Truth or Dare, or a staged production of “Murder, She Wrote” would shuffle into the kitchen as I turned out waffle after waffle after waffle.
Waffle making diminished after Madeleine went off to college. The trusty iron, with drips of batter permanently annealed to its sides from overzealous pours, got relegated to the stove’s bottom drawer. Whenever she was home for the holidays, though, I’d rifle through the collection of cookie sheets and pot tops, and resurrect the maker.
Waffles had become part of a homecoming tradition.
Even in recent years. Bill would ask, “Why do we only have waffles when Madeleine is here?” I’d have to smile and shrug.
That waffle iron began showing its age, and got rather “tippy.” One of the feet had broken off in an accidental nudge off the counter. At some point, the hinge mechanism had sprung, so it was a balancing act, trying to level the iron, prop the lid, and pour the batter. Eventually, waffles would mercilessly stick, and after a twenty year run, we retired the iron.
But the tradition? No way! A new waffle iron appeared under our tree a couple of Christmases ago, courtesy of the waffle-loving girl. And, because today is that girl’s birthday, I’ve made some waffles—easy, healthy, delicious—for all of us.
Happy Birthday Madeleine!
These waffles are embellished with some butter, yogurt, and strawberries in syrup
HONEY BUCKWHEAT WAFFLES
1/2 cup Buckwheat Flour
1/2 cup Unbleached White Flour
1/2 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Baking Soda
1 large Egg
1 c. 2% Milk
2 T. Vegetable Oil (I used Olive Oil!)
1 T. Plain Yogurt (Greek Yogurt is extra nice!)
1 T. Honey
Regular Waffle Iron, heated
Maple Syrup, or
Strawberries in Syrup
Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with milk, yogurt, and honey. Add this to the dry ingredients, stirring so until well combined. Do not overbeat.
Spoon onto heated waffle iron and cook.
Makes 6 luscious waffles.
When Gigi planted a fig tree on the border of her urban garden four years ago, she had no idea that it would take to the place with such ardor. But the tree settled right in to its new home, rapidly spreading upward and outward: a sprawl of great leafed branches ultimately producing hundreds of honeyed knobs of fruit. “It seems very happy here,” we both observed. “This could be the year of the fig.”
Throughout July and August, I’d get calls from Gigi, field reports you might say, about the status of the figs.
“If these all ripen, well, this is one rockin’ fig tree,” was one update.
“Thousands of figs! I picked two 5lb. baskets in less than an hour.” was another.
Over weeks, and as the summer heat became more severe, Gigi cultivated a relationship with the beloved tree; to me, it was really a reverence:
“It’s unbearably hot, and I keep telling her how wonderful she is, making all this fruit.” She set up a special watering system, “I told her I’d take care of her. I know she’s thirsty.”
To date, She has produced enough figs to make 100 pints of preserves. One hundred pints from a four-year-old tree! It seems unimaginable—
but true! Despite temperatures stuck in the nineties and rainfall spare, Gigi’s mighty fig tree became so laden with plump fruit you could easily pick a basketful in no time at all.
Which, given the intense heat and the sticky milky mess that you get allover your hands and arms from picking, was a very good thing.
Gigi set up a system of ladders and planks within the inner sanctum of the tree, cloaked under the leafy branches. It was with childlike glee that I clambered up and around the limbs, concealed from the outer world, immersed in the heady enclave of fig leaves and fruit.
And, soon, I had picked a large bowlful of figs, most dark purple, some yellow-green with a flush of rouge, all exquisite, ripe, and beautiful.
It was time to try something new with my fig bounty. Last year, I made luscious preserves with Maggie. Gigi had already been playing with different recipes: cutting back on the sugar, adding ginger to some batches, orange juice in another, and white balsamic vinegar in yet another. All methods were cooked on the stovetop. While each batch was delicious, none had the figgy caramel syrup she was seeking.
Then, one afternoon, I got a text: “Roasting is the way.”
Why, of course! But wait, another text followed–
“No olive oil. Sugar and white balsamic vinegar only. 425 degrees.”
A-ha! (Love the economy of a texted recipe.)
After carefully rinsing my figs, I placed them on a baking sheetpan, along with a few wedges of lemon–my addition. Then, I dusted with sugar, sprinkled white balsamic vinegar over the batch, and put them into that hot oven to roast. It didn’t take long—ten minutes or so—and the figs got puffed and charred, coated in a rich caramel created from melting of the sugar, vinegar, and natural fig juices. It was amazing.
After scraping into jars, I processed some in a hot water bath, as I had with Maggie’s figs, but kept one jar in the fridge–ready for this pizza I’ve been dreaming about since we first made it last year, about this time.
Covered with roasted figs, shaved gorgonzola, leeks, and ripples of prosciutto, this is one dreamy pizza. And, don’t forget–A few sprigs of rosemary, and drizzle of the figgy syrup takes the dream to wonderland.
ROASTED FIG-PROSCIUTTO-GORGONZOLA PIZZA
1 pkg. Dry Active Yeast (2 t.)
1 c. warm Water
1 3/4 c. Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Rye Flour
2 t. Sea Salt
1 T. Olive Oil
Sprinkle yeast into bowl of water, stir well, and let stand for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Combine yeast water in a mixing bowl with flours, salt, olive oil. Mix until it forms into a ball. It will be moist, but not sticky. Cover and allow to rise for one hour.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Divide into two and form into balls. Cover and refrigerate, if you are not going to use immediately.
Otherwise, let stand out for 30 minutes, then roll out into whatever pizza shape—round, oblong, rectangle—suits you. Use additional flour, as needed, to prevent sticking.
Cover with toppings, and bake in a very hot oven–450 degrees–until browned and bubbly–10 minutes.
Roasted Figs and their syrup
Shaved (or crumbled) Gorgonzola Cheese
Two resolutions intersect nicely in this post. (I enjoy the economy of a such a thing! ) Desiring both to incorporate more whole grains in our diet AND bake more bread, I’d like to share a couple of truly simple and delicious recipes that are done on the fly—in terms of bread-time. Neither requires extensive pre-planning.
One is Brown Irish Soda Bread, here just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day. Whole wheat and rye flours are mixed in with unbleached white, which gives added dimension of flavor to Ireland’s national dish, without added heaviness. A handful of currants are just right for a little pop of sweet, pleasant background interest.
From start to finish, this baking project takes under an hour, and rewards your efforts with two pretty loaves.
Maggie and I baked this together in her kitchen, and used her buttermilk. What a good find! Organically produced, it was not reduced in fat; its rich, luxurious pour contributed to the bread’s supple texture and subtle tang. If you can find whole buttermilk, I recommend it.
Rather than make one large loaf, we divided the dough into two rounds. We brushed a little melted butter over the top and sprinkled some currants before placing in the oven to bake. And then, we waited—-but not long. Just enough time to brew up a small pot of coffee…..
Who knew that so few ingredients could make something so good?
The other is Focaccia, such an easy yeasted, flatbread! With minimal kneading, it only has to rise once!
Again, combining a variety flours, I baked this one with a topping of frizzled leeks, olive oil, and flakes of crystally Maldon Salt.
If you don’t have leeks, use uncooked chopped green onion, which I like almost as much. It reminds me of focaccia used for grilled sandwiches in a little corner cafe in North Beach, San Francisco:
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe.
I discovered Mario’s Bohemian over fifteen years ago, a charming, odd angled neighborhood bar with a minimal menu—terrific sandwiches made with a green onion-flecked focaccia that was freshly baked in the ‘hood, and brought in daily. (I loved the sandwich with grilled eggplant.)
Even though it’s kinda touristy now, it’s so small and still retains its community sense of place. You can get a great cuppa Graffeo coffee there too….beans roasted just up the street.
Of course, the bread is delicious by itself, or as an accompaniment to a bowl of soup. But you might want to try it as a grilled sandwich, in the Mario’s Bohemian manner. Yesterday, Bill had his with this bowl of tomato-vegetable; I had mine open-faced, with a slice of roast beef topped with horseradish cream sauce and greens. We were both very happy.
Frizzled Leek Foccacia
3 Cups Flour: 1 ¼ c. Unbleached All Purpose
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
¾ c. Rye Flour
1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
1 cup tepid Water
3 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Honey
1 T. Red Wine (opt.)
1 t. Salt
1 Leek, sliced thinly, sauteed briefly in olive oil and salt
Sea Salt, Maldon Salt
Stir water and yeast together in a bowl. Add olive oil, honey, salt, wine. Stir in flours until all is incorporated, forms a sticky ball. I added a little wine and honey to this, to give the yeast a little something more to eat. It seemed to enjoy it, and got well activated.
Gently knead for a few minutes to help release glutens.
Cover and allow to rise at least 45 minutes.
Turn out onto oiled baking sheet pan, and gently press out to all sides. Spread leeks over the top, dust with salt flakes, drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover again while you wait for the oven to heat: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top and bottom of flatbread is brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Brown Irish Soda Bread with Currants
1 ½ cup Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1 ½ cup Whole Wheat Flour
¾ cup Rye Flour
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Salt
1 T. Brown Sugar
½ -1 cup dried Currants
2 cups Buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Make a well and pour in buttermilk and currants. Begin working the liquid throughout the flour, dough will be a little wet and sticky, scone-like. Turnout onto work surface and lightly knead. If it’s too wet, add a little flour. Divide and form into 2 balls.
With a sharp knife, score an X across the top, bringing the knife to the edges. This will help the bread rise evenly. Place onto a buttered baking sheet pan and place into the oven.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until done. The rounds of bread will have a hollow sound when thumped.
Slice and serve warm with a slap of butter on it, and enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea. To the Luck of the Irish!