Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Barley and Boating

As I write this, we are in the midst of a ANOTHER torrential downpour. It seems that we in the Chicago land area should begin building an arc. Before I begin, I thought I would take a moment to share a salad recipe. Easy to tote and served beautifully chilled or at room temperature. The perfect dish for a picnic or extended stay on a large wooden boat.

A few weeks ago, I taught a class that focused on grains. Not wheat and oats but rather, quinoa, barley, wheat berries - you get the idea. In researching my family ate many grain based meals and sides and they were really well received. One of our favs was this Mediterranean Barley Salad. It's has fresh fennel and parsley in it, both of which I saw at the green market last week. I have since made it with grape tomatoes and sweet peppers - the punch of color is nice. Use leftover grilled chicken and it's a perfect entree. Don't you love recipes like this?

Mediterranean Barley Salad

2 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup pearled barley
1 1/2 t. lemon rind
3 T. lemon juice
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb, use a mandolin if you have one
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped red onion
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1) 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Bring 2 1/4 cups water and barley to a rolling boil in a medium sized sauce pan. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook about 25 minutes. Most of the water should be absorbed and the barley will be tender. Cool to barely room temperature.

To make the dressing, combine lemon rind, lemon juice, olive oil and Dijon mustard in a jar.
Shake well until emulsified.

In a large bowl toss together the barley, fennel, parsley, red onion, olives and beans. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over and toss to coat.

Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Outstanding Rhubarb Cobbler

I love rhubarb and am so glad to have a few plants in my garden. A true harbinger of spring, it's the first to pop up in the spring and it offers endless possibilities. The smell of rhubarb calls to mind the pure joy a snack I didn't have to ask mom for. Ditto mulberries and concord grapes.

The rhubarb above was picked early and was still pencil thin and green. When I asked a farmer friend why my rhubarb never got very thick the answer was most likely over harvesting. Guilty as charged. Maybe it's the variety. I'll have to check but in the meantime, I'll have to work on that.

The rhubarb rite of spring began with a really wonderful gingered rhubarb chutney. What caught my eye about this recipe was the addition of balsamic vinegar. Perhaps needless to say, it's really not photo worthy since it's just brown. Regardless, it's really exceptional and was a great stand in for Major Grey's with curry.

For our monthly neighborhood get together in May, I decided to make a rhubarb cobbler from Outstanding In The Field by Jim Denevan. Remember him? This book thoroughly inspires me when it comes to the seasonal approach.

Sometimes baked fruit desserts tend to get watery and that equals lack of flavor and soggy topping. In this recipe the fruit is cooked before being put into the baking dish. The result? Flavorful fruit syrup surrounding tender baked fruit.

Pre-strawberry season, I decided to add the end of last year's local berries that I had frozen.

A buttermilk cobbler topping came together in moments.

Jake added a sprinkle of demerarra sugar for a bit of crunch and golden brown color.

Need I tell you how delicious it was?

The highest complement, an almost empty pan. The greatest relief, enough left for breakfast.

Rhubarb Cobbler
Outstanding in the Field by Jim Denevan
I added about a pint of strawberries to the mix and cooked it a bit longer to compensate for the extra liquid.

3# rhubarb
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 T. grated orange zest
3/4 cup buttermilk
4 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder

whipped cream for serving

Trim the rhubarb and cut crosswise on an angle into 1" pieces. Place the rhubarb in a medium saucepan with 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the orange zest. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is softened and has released it's liquid, about 20 minutes.

Position a rack in teh bottom third of the oven. Place a foil-lined bakins sheet underneath the oven rack that will hold the cobbler. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rhubarb to a 2 quart baking dish with 2" high sides, or eight 10-12 oz. ramekins for individual cobblers. If using individual ramekins, arrange them on a baking sheet. Simmer the liquid remaining in the saucepan over medium heat until it is reduced by half and is thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Pour it over the rhubarb.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter and egg. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the flour, baking powder, and sald. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and slowly stir until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter over the rhubarb, covering the surface. Bake until golden brown and bubbling and a skdwer inserted into the topping comes out clean, 45-50 minutes for a large cobbler, 20-25 for individual cobblers.

Let rest for 10 miutes and serve warm with whipped cream.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Real Strawberry Strawberry Shortcake

When my brother and I would spend time with my grandparents in Tolono every summer, it miraculously coincided with strawberry time. Luck, perhaps. Grandma took us every season to the patch where we loaded up on as many as we could pick and then headed home were we ate the tiny, shiny fragrant berries until they were gone.

Years later, when pregnant with Jake I went down to spend a weekend with my Grandma during berry season. This time, I drove her burgundy Chevy sedan and we headed to a new patch. We had no idea where it was, Grandmas was nervous, I forged ahead, a firm believer you can never really get lost. Upon arriving Grandma donned an enormous hat to protect her from the sun. I, with my stomach sticking out a good two feet by this time, had chosen to wear an enormous aqua and yellow maternity top. Lovely. I looked like an Easter egg. We must have looked hilarious. I've always carried that image in my mind. We picked enough berries that day to gorge on and for me to bring some home. It was with these berries I attempted my first strawberry jam. Grandma consulted over the phone, quick snippets of updates and advice back at a time when long distance was a costly treat. I think of her every year at this time. The smell of warm strawberries makes me think of her.

Last week at the first Geneva Green Market my favorite fruit grower had these beautiful berries. I left with 2 quarts, one for a dessert to be determined and one for smoothies.

After consulting my favorite book for fruit desserts, I decided on the perennial favorite, Strawberry Shortcake. At what point did strawberry shortcake become something you could buy in the produce section of the grocery store? Marginal, at best - even organic, grocery store berries are merely a shadow of what a strawberry truly is. Placed in a nasty sponge cake cup and topped with non-dairy topping. Poetic justice.

This shortcake recipe calls for a bit of cornmeal which was the tipping point. I love the bit of crunch cornmeal imparts in baked goods of all kinds. I happened to have plenty from Three Sisters Garden and was excited to be able to use it in this sure to be delicious recipe.

The other nice addition was the citrus zest. Lots and lots of lemon and orange zest made these biscuits super fragrant!

Brushed with a bit of melted butter and dipped in sugar means....

...a pleasantly crunch top then a citrus punch. A punch with explosion. ;)

All done and ready to serve. This one is made with a dollop of creme fraiche. I like the counterpoint of the tanginess. My favorite way, (I mean if I had truly eaten more than one) was with heavy cream poured over the berries and bottom cake.

Grandma would have like it like that, too.

Strawberry Shortcake
Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber

1 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature, for sheet pan

2 dry pints ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 T. granulated sugar
2 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 1/2 cups (12oz.) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
2/3 cups granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup to top shortcakes
1 t. fine sea salt
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
4 t. lemon zest
4 t. orange zest (about 1 large orange)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Chantilly cream ( I served it with heavy cream or creme fraiche)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking sheet.

To prepare the fruit, toss the strawberries in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Mash a small amount of the berries so they release their juice. Place the berries in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to draw out the juices.

While the strawberries are macerating, prepare the shortcake. Mix together the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a bowl, then stir the cream, lemon zest, and orange zest until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and form into a ball, then knead 8-12 times, or until the dough holds it's shape (but be careful not to overwork it). Cut the dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Dip each ball into the melted butter, then dip half of the ball into a small bowl with 1/3 cup sugar. Place each ball on the prepared baking sheet, sugar side up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and baked through. Cool on a wire rack.

While the shortcakes are cooling, make the Chantilly cream (if desired).

To serve, cut the shortcakes in half horizontally. Place the bottom of the shortcakes on a small plate, then ladle a scoop of the juice berries on the shortcakes so the fruit covers part of the shortcake and cascades down the side onto the plate. Top the berries with Chantilly cream, and lay the top of the shortcake biscuit tipped on it's side next to the shortcake. Serve immediately.

Storage: Once assembled, these shortcakes will not keep; however if the berries and shortcake are kept separated, you may make the leftover shortcakes the following day. Store the shortcake biscuits in an air-tight container at room-temperature, and keep the strawberries refrigerated.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Easy Livin' and Caesar Dip

We've been busy around the yellow house. Really busy. A cute hen house has been built, a porch redecorated, and pots are over flowing with flowers. I've worked really had on my vegetable garden - I think it's the best one ever. I think I say that every year. This year I mean it. Doug (with Henry's incessant prodding) has begun work on our new grill patio and is building an inspired retaining wall to re-use the limestone from a removed path.

However, with all the work that's been done, we have taken a few moments to enjoy the good things. Like the amazing fragrance of the honeysuckle vines that have bloomed as never before.

Gathering on the porch for fruity rum drinks and catching up with friends. Always a great place to people watch - we've met new neighbors and a couple nice dogs, too.

Slowly but surely, I've been returning to the kitchen. I may be a farmer at heart but the kitchen is where I belong. Memorial Day weekend I put together a tasty little dip for snacking on the patio. While it only took a few minutes, it is one of those recipes that makes me sooooo happy, I just had to share it.

Essentially, a Caesar salad dressing with a bit more body, served with big, crunchy croutons and small leaves of romaine. A perfect patio snack. Whip some up and then kick back and enjoy.

Caesar Dip with Big Croutons and Romaine
adapted from Gourmet Game Night by Cynthia Nims

1 (1 1/2#) round loaf artisan bread
1 large had romaine lettuce, trimmed

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cup top-quality mayonnaise (I used homemade)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (this quantity makes it really lemon-y)
2-3 anchovy fillets (in a pinch substitue anchovy paste to your taste)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the broiler and set the oven rack about 6" below the heating element.

Cut 4 slices from the center of the bread loaf, each 3/4" thick, saving the rest for another use. Cut the bread slices across into strips about 3" long and 3/4" wide (you should have about 24 strips). Arrange the strips on a baking sheet and broil until lightly browned and crisp, 3-4 minutes turning the pieces half way through. Set aside to cool. Don't stress too much about this part - I made as many as I could out of the bread - there was plenty of dip. I also like the croutons crispy on the outside but still chewy on the inside.

In the food processor place the Parmesan, mayonnaise, lemon juice, anchovy fillets and garlic then process until smooth. Taste the dressing for seasoning, adding salt (if needed) and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

I initially used only the smallest leaves of romaine whole for serving. The larger leaves, can be cut in half vertically. The orginal recipe suggests removing the central rib but I like the extra crunch the rib provides when using the larger leaves.

This recipe makes lots and keeps well.

Now back to incessant grind of yard work, pseudo-farmer, cook.....


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Making of a Hen House

When the chickens begin to roost on the garage door runners, it's time to finish their house

Ten years ago we bought the yellow house and were lucky to acquire this cute little play house, too. Built by a neighbor over 20 years ago now, we painted it yellow, hung window boxes and much fun was had by many little people. At some point, it was sadly abandon, I believe, due to the spiders that had moved in. For years, it has sat under a big maple waiting for its' next batch of kids. And then I got to thinking....

The playhouse was integral in our chickens acquisition since I knew it would be a perfect hen house. The first step was to create a foundation from some patio blocks no longer in use. This also gave us the opportunity to level it. It is very important to Doug that the house be level - perfectly level.

The next task was to insulate the walls and roof. Luckily, we had some insulation in garbage bags in the the rafters of the garage. I am not sure why Doug insisted we keep it but I was really that glad after many years of storage to find a use for it. One less chicken related expense. Bonus.

I am tremendously grateful that the playhouse building neighbor was willing to build a chicken run, too. Painting the run was a family activity on Mother's Day.

"I Have the Most Awesome Husband - Part II". Doug covered the run with hardware cloth - not an easy project and one that inflicted many injuries. This is just another part of the work Doug has done to support my endeavor. All this from a man who hates birds. Did I say he's the most awesome husband ever?

The inside was finished with plywood and everything was painted bright white. The windows lined with hardware cloth allow for great a breeze, a left over 2x4 became a removable roost and an old boot tray works perfectly to catch much of the mess and allow for easy upkeep.

We still have a few things to finish. A wall mounted self-feeder needs to be installed and a hole cut to allow access to the run directly from the house, the door and window "shutters" replaced, a few geraniums and new window boxes will finish it off......

Moving day was very exciting, perhaps more so for us than the girls. I am so relieved to have them in a proper house. Doug is just really happy to have them out of the garage.

Welcome home to the Yellow Hen House, Charlie, Rita, Lily, Milly and Martha!