Friday, July 31, 2009

Jake is a Teenager!

Oh my gosh - my first baby is 13! Of course, I say it seems just like yesterday that Doug and I were at our wits end for lack of sleep. He was 10 months before he took a "real" nap and 18 months before he slept through the night.

To think that in 5 years he'll be on his way to college is mind boggling. Sometimes 5 years has a tendency to seem like a really long time and then you put it into perspective. Five years ago we didn't have Henry, Ella wasn't in kindergarten, I was only half way through my 30's. It's a reminder to enjoy everyday with my kids....even when it's the final 4 weeks of summer vacation.

Jake is a truly wonderful kid. Kind, empathic, thoughtful and generous. The way he interacts with Henry is amazing, maybe even Noble Peace Prize worthy. I am so glad that we share the same sense of humor and that he has an incredible aestetic for a (gulp) teenage boy.

For the second year running Jake's cake of choice has been classic chocolate, Martha's one bowl version, with a mocha buttercream (thank you Cake Bible). It's sure to be tasty and I hope worthy of a great kid on a milestone birthday.

Happy Birthday, Cakey!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Love To Read

One of my favorite things about our yellow house are the bookcases we built in our family room. They're packed with books, mostly of the cooking variety-arranged by subject. I treasure them all and use them daily. In an age when finding recipes online is so easy, holding a book can't be beat. I jot notes on the recipes about when it was made and for whom. A cookbook falling open to a page, smudged and sticky with remnants of the previous preparation brings comfort.

For as long as I can remember I have been a reader. As a kid I went to the old library in town often. An old historical home full of nooks and crannies and ornate detail it has since been replaced twice, and I am still wistful for the original. I loved the way that library smelled. Sometimes with an old edition, that smell rises from the pages and takes me back to those stacks.

These are fiction or biographical in genre that have enjoyed or am enjoying this summer. Plan Bee by Susan Brackney was a birthday gift from a thoughtful friend. It's the first year with my hive so I need all the insight into bees I can get so it was a perfect gift. Made From Scratch-Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life is a collection of essays by Jenna Woginrich. A young woman longing for a simpler life and the the trials and tribulations of her search. Coop by Michael Perry is a another great read. His wit and observations make me chuckle every night. Also The Birdhouse Chronicles by Cathleen Miller, another back-to-the-country life story (there seems to be a theme here), set in rural Pennsylvania. Emily Franklin's Too Many Cooks - Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes caught my eye and I couldn't rest until I bought it. It chronicles a year in her life and kitchen and efforts to raise her children to be good eaters. Many laughs especially if you live with children. Finally, the classic, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith, is my summer novel pick. It'll be the perfect way to while away hours reading under the shade of a tree.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Can-Can Club - #1

The first gathering of the Can-Can Club took place last Sunday afternoon. Nine of us gathered in the Moveable Feast kitchen to make many fun things using herbs from our gardens and produce from the Geneva Green Market. We started with the two flats of cherries I bought several weeks ago. The Sour Cherry jam is incredible and worth all the time the pitting took.

Next up two flats of blueberries for jam. Holly and Carol put the recipe together and diligently stirred, and stirred and stirred and stirred....

Easy herbal syrups for desserts, fruit and cocktails were made with lemon thyme and lemon verbena. The extra cherry juice became Sour Cherry-Basil Syrup. Yumm!

A lot of the jam was canned in stylish Weck jars and required a hot water bath. Other jams were ladled into hot jars and topped with hot lids and screw bands and then turned upside down to cool. A super easy way to preserve.

We also made a Rosemary-Orange Salt great for grilling, finishing and giving. After many hours of work we all went home with 12) jars of jam, 3 herbal syrups and an infused salt. Lots of goodies, great times with friends and fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Rosemary-Orange Salt
from Homegrown by Michal Nischan

1 cup coarse sea salt
2 T. fresh rosemary leaves
1 t. black peppercorns
1 t. fennel seeds
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
zest of 6 oranges

In a saute pan, combine the salt, rosemary, peppercorns, fennel seeds and pepper flakes, over medium-high heat and cook, shaking the pan gently for a few minutes or until the salt and fennel seeds begin to crackle.
Remove the pan from the heats and add the orange zest and toss with the salt until the pan begins to cool.
Spread the salt on a baking sheet and allow to cool. After cooled, put in an attractive jar. Before using the salt, crush to preferred consistency with a mortar and pestle or grind in a coffee mill reserved for spices.

Our next meeting is scheduled for August, focusing on peaches and pickles. Updates, tips and photos to come!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Strawberry Cordial

Back in June the kids and I went in search of "you-pick" strawberries. Unfortunately, we were a bit too late but were able to find some at a farm stand on the way home. I bought as many as I could with thoughts of jam. Time constraints forced me to freeze them for later jamming but I saved a few to experiment.

Strawberries, sugar, lemon verbena, water and vodka into the pickle bowl and left to macerate for about an hour. There are many similar recipes found online that call for lemon zest. I opted to use the verbena I have on the patio but f I were to do it again, I'd increase the verbena leaves significantly for a more pronounced lift of lemon.

I dumped it into a jar with a tight fitting lid and let it sit on the counter for about 3 weeks. Once the strawberries have released their color it's ready.

Strain it through a double layer of cheesecloth and transfer to a recycled bottle. Isn't it pretty? I've had it waiting in the fridge for a little nip for quite awhile and this afternoon, I took that nip. It's sweet (but not to sweet) and smooth with the absolut (ha-ha!) essence of a local summer strawberry. On a clear, hot summer afternoon on the rocks with some seltzer water and a twist of lemon would hit the spot. Now we just need that clear, hot sunny summer day.....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tart Cherry Crumb Cake

There were several cups of Montmorency cherries left after the Pie class I taught at Heritage Prairie Market last week. They had already been frozen and pitted so I didn't want to re-freeze them. So....even though there was a pan of Baked Bars in the refrigerator, I knew I needed to act quickly, waist-line be damned. Sometimes you have to take one for the team, right?

This easy tart cherry cake seemed like a good answer. Dessert for dinner last night, but breakfast "for the kids" today, too. Basic buttermilk cake topped with tart cherries and crumb topping. How bad could it be? I had hoped to get a more flattering picture today but...
Fortunately, or not, it's gone so there are no other pictures. They loved it and I'll make it again. I think it's a perfect canvas for blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and other manner of summer fruit. I think I'll try raspberry next. What about you?

Tart Cherry Crumb Cake

4 T. unsalted butter, melted
3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon

1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. buttermilk (sour cream or yogurt would work well, too)
2 1/2 c. pitted sour cherries (I would add extra next time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9" square pan and dust with flour.

Make the topping:
Stir together the butter, flour, sugars, salt and cinnamon.

Make the cake:
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With a mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. In alternating additions, add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth with an off-set spatula. Top with cherries in an even layer, then sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake until brown and a tester inserted comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.

Cool before cutting and make sure to get some before the kids eat it all.

In Stores Now....

I proudly announce Double D's Hot Sauces are now available at Moveable Feast in Geneva. All handmade and bottled, they are really tasty with very different flavor profiles. Not the usual singe your taste buds hot sauce, they have complex flavor and sneaky heat. Still to be added to the shelf is Wingman, a great all-purpose rub. Stop by the shop and stock your pantry!

If you want to try it before you buy it, have a bite to eat at Citizen Kane, also in Geneva. The sauces are available for tasting and enhancing your meal. Be sure to tell them Doug sent you!

Local product in a local shop and a local restaurant. How cool is that?

Yaaaay, Doug! We are all so proud of your endeavor!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Basil, Carrots, Beets and Garlic.....Oh My!

And so begins the saving of the garden. With a late spring and kooky summer, it seems that my garden is totally out of whack. Yesterday I pulled a few carrots. They were thrown into a quick pickle, or "quickle" as Max likes to call them, for dinner. They were delicious. Garlic was tied by the boy scout and hung in the garage. I am collecting beets to pickle, too. My hope is to have enough for a few jars. The Downings are known to polish off a jar at lunch.

We finished a 4x recipe of basil pesto today. After many fits and starts, with processor parts and jars, most of it is finally settled into the freezer. One jar was reserved for a special mayo to grace our favorite turkey burgers tonight. Although Henry didn't want to admit it, because it was green, he loved it, too.

Sunday the "Can-Can Club" is meeting for the first time. I am anxious to make jam from the cherries of a few weeks ago, blueberry jam from Michigan berries purchased at Thursday's market as well as herbal dessert syrups from the glut in my garden.

The tension is palpable. How to save all that summer has offered? Berries still to pick, herbs to save, quickles of all types and that's before tomatos and corn comes in.

I can't wait....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cherry Season!

Last week at the Green Market I went a little crazy and bought over 3 flats of tart cherries. Two are actually for "The Can-Can Club", a group of totally cool people getting together to can, cook and bake til our hearts are content - for a little while at least. Our first gathering is the 26th and I can hardly wait. We have big plans including cherry jam, blueberry jam and lemon verbena syrup. Hopefully many hands will make light work and lemon verbena syrup will make delicious summer cocktails! Photos and recipes to follow......

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Love Bake Sales

Max's Boy Scout Troop had their 16th Annual Brat and Corn Boil and part of the festivities included a bake sale. Always a pushover for a bake sale - I must admit I was very excited. These Brownie Cookies are a Martha recipe that the kids, and Doug, love.

Even my friend baked her special cakey chocolate chip cookies. It was so awesome of her to help. Thank you, Georgine!

I made two crisps. One Peach-Local Blueberry and the other Peach-Local Raspberry. I am proud that they were among the first items to sell.

A new Banana Bread recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. (page 49) It's made with canola oil (a pre-rec for my banana bread choices) along with coconut and pecans. Two big loaves and two baby cakes. Yum!

I think besides all the baking I get to do, the best part of a bake sale is presentation. I am in a minority but nonetheless, I persevere. The packages were tied with colorful ribbons from the dollar bin at Michael's and Max and Ella made fun labels to describe the packages' contents.

Did I mention that our items were among the first to sell?

Brownie Cookies

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
6 T. unsalted butter @ room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted, then let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars until lightened in color. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until combined. With mixer on low, alternately beat in chocolate and flour mixture; mix until just combined - do not over mix!

Drop 2 T. scoops about 2" apart onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until toothpick inserted the center of a cookie comes out clean, about 14-16 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

These freeze really well, so double the recipe and stockpile!

Makes 24 good bake sale-sized cookies.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Another Green Market Demo

A last minute cancellation Wednesday put me in a position to do the cook's demo at the Geneva Green Market Thursday morning. It's pretty easy/overwhelming/challenging to decide what to do when there are so many choices at the market. I decided to focus on local farm eggs because they are absolutely wonderful and lend themselves to many recipes. So why the berry pictures?

I poured a custard sauce over these beautiful summer berries. A lovely summer dessert and a good demo, if I do say so myself.

Lavender-Vanilla Custard Sauce

2 cups milk (I like to include a good portion of 1/2 & 1/2 or cream)

¼ of a vanilla, cut and seeded

2 t. dry lavender

6 egg yolks

¼ cup sugar

Scald the milk by heating it just until little bubbles form around the edge of the pan then add the vanilla bean and lavender. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale yellow and thick.

Strain the infused milk into a bowl, and remove the vanilla bean* Slowly whisk a small amount of the milk into the egg mixture to temper. Add the rest of the milk whisking constantly, the return milk-egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook stirring constantly, over medium-low heat until the custard has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 6-8 minutes. Be very careful not to over cook and allow the custard to curdle.

Immediately transfer the custard to a bowl to discontinue cooking. Let cool to room temperature and then serve or refrigerate. The custard will thicken in the refrigerator, and will keep up to 1 day.

Yield: About 2 cups

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pickin' Peas

Add ImageLast year the rabbits ate all my pea shoots before I got the new chicken wire up to keep them out. We were very disappointed since we all love them so much. This year I was determined the peas would be plentiful. This is a portion of our harvest!

Usually when snap peas are in the house we all eat them like popcorn and they are gone before I know it. While eating them out of hand is my favorite way to enjoy them, I always feel I've missed out by not DOING something with them. I, like many of my friends made the smitten kitchen sugar snap peas. They are delicious.

Last night I decided to make a few salads to go with dinner. The "classic" broccoli salad with a very generous gift from a friend but the peas had me stymied. I decided to go with a simple salad with herbs from the garden. This is what I came up with.

Blanched and shocked peas, a quick mayo dressing, fresh tarragon and a squeeze of lemon.

It was delicious and refreshing. A good way to DO something with my peas.

Chilled Snap Peas with Creamy Tarragon Dressing

1# sugar snap peas, trimmed
2 T. mayo
2 T. buttermilk
1 T. chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Quickly blanch peas on boiling water and then shock in an ice bath. Drain well. It's helpful to lay them out on a paper towel lined sheet pant to get them as dry as possible. You want the dressing to "stick".

Whisk mayo, buttermilk, tarragon, salt and pepper. Pour over peas, toss to coat and chill.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Simple Summer Supper

I always think of strata as a great brunch dish and not so much a supper dish. When I came across this recipe, I really wanted to try it and DID NOT expect the rave reviews from the kids that it received. The best thing about a strata is that the prep is easy and it's done the night before. Really nice on a busy summer day. A perfect meal and all you have to do is bake it and toss a salad. Adding a handful of baby tomatoes and a little glass of wine wouldn't hurt either.

Herbed Spinach and Goat Cheese Strata

10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed.
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 t. salt, divided
coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
8 c. ciabatta, cubed
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 3/4 c. milk
8 eggs
2 T. whole grain mustard
2 t. fresh rosemary, minced
1 T. fresh thyme, minced

Place thawed spinach in a colander and squeeze out the excess water. Sometimes I wrap it in a flour sack towel to get it really dry. A potato ricer works nicely for this as well.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Add 1/4 t. salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in spinach and remove from the heat.

Toss the bread cubes, spinach mixture and cheeses together in a large bowl. Place the mixture in a buttered 13x9 baking dish or 3 quart gratin dish.

Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard and herbs. Add 1/4 t. salt and pepper. Pour evenly over bread mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the strata from the oven and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap and bake, uncovered, about 45 minutes until puffed and golden brown and throroughly cooked.

Served 10 (my family of 6 didn't come near to finishing it - cut it in half for a smaller family)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tools of Summer

Many years ago at a yard sale I bought this pair of baskets. I think they are gym locker baskets. Whatever they are, they're perfect for stowing the necessities of summer for front porch living. The contents varies daily but sidewalk chalk, water shooters, bug spray and wiffle balls seem to be staples. When I look through the screen door and see it full to overflowing, I know that summer is in full swing. Unless of course, all the stuff is strewn about the yard but that's another story....

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cake For A Festive Fourth

I am a cookbook junkie and this is my current favorite. I've made several recipes out of it so far and they've all been wonderful. Since I always think of cherries in July, I decided to make a Cherry Upside Down Cake for our festive meal on a dreary 4th of July.

This recipe includes several techniques - a quick caramel to coat the bottom of the baking pan.

Folding beaten egg whites into the finished batter for a great finished texture. Using my new (and steal-of-a-deal) handmixer the job is not nearly the hassle I have always thought it to be. I now believe everyone should have a handmixer in their kitchen.

Line the cherries up like soldiers on the caramel and cover with cake batter.

After an hour in the oven - this is the result. It was beautiful and delicious. Yet another cake for another birthday party!
Happy Birthday USA!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Recipe For Summer

This recipe starts with a bottle of rose on a beautiful day...

A trip to the garden for some rhubarb...

Into the pot with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla bean...

Add some super easy vanilla rice pudding and it's dessert!

Vanilla Rice Pudding with Rose Poached Rhubarb

Rice Pudding:
1 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
3/4 cup sugar

Poached Rhubarb:
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup dry rose
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1# rhubarb, cut into 1" lengths

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook over high heat for 3 minutes. Drain the rice and return it to the saucepan. Add the milk, cream, vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until the rice is very tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the sugar and remove from the heat. Discard the vanilla bean. Turn the pudding into a 9x13 ceramic pan, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours.

In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugar, wine, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the rhubarb and simmer another 15 minutes. Pour the rhubarb and poaching liquid into a bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

Spoon the rice pudding into bowls and using a slotted spoon top with some of the rhubarb.

A perfect light summer dessert! Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Murray is......

Continuing with the Downing Summer Birthday Extravaganza - today is Murray's birthday. This lucky dog celebrated with family, friends, hot dogs and watermelon. The birthday boy (and his crazy mother) were so grateful to have so many turn out to celebrate the

While I am not anxious for the year to pass too quickly, I do look forward to celebrating another year with the Best Dog Ever. How old shall I let him be next year.......Doug suggested infinity....

Happy Birthday Dog Boy! Mama loves you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finally, He Sleeps

Henry is always running with the big kids and sometimes we all forget he is only 5. For the last several days, he was on the brink - a major meltdown was coming or a good long sleep was needed. Since it's difficult to get him to slow down, let alone stop, I was thrilled to see him asleep on the sofa last night at 6pm. My sweet sleeping baby....even though he's 5.