28 May 2010

Book Review - Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods









When Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods arrived in the mail for review, the first thing I did was look at the photos. And gorgeous photos they are; this is a coffee table book. Edible has 80 recipes, but it's much more than a cookbook. If you like knowing "the story" behind what you eat nearly as much as you like eating, you'll enjoy Edible. With inspiring stories about some of the people at the forefront of the local foods movement from coast to coast, it gives readers in any circumstances ideas they can incorporate into their lives.

There's the story about Allandale Farm. (I have great respect for farmers and, in this era of celebrity chefs, I wonder why we don't have celebrity farmers. But don't get me started on the whole sad "celebrity" thing!) Allandale Farm is in Boston! Just seven miles from downtown Boston, it is one of the oldest privately held family farms in the country.

There are stories about country farms and city farms, school programs and community programs, fishermen and farmers, butchers and bakers, chefs and all sorts of people involved in bringing the food to our tables. I love reading about what's cooking in different regions.

The recipes are arranged by season and indexed by region. There are lots of delicious vegetable dishes I'll be experimenting with as soon as the ingredients are in season. Double Corn Spoon Bread, Mushroom Soup au Gratin, Vermont Cheddar Ale Soup, Wild Onion and Spinach Tart, Egg Noodles with Fresh Spring Vegetables look like terrific choices for us "comfort food" types.
Yesterday I tried a recipe from the summer section--Frozen Maple Mousse. It said, "This is a great ice cream-like dessert that doesn't require the use of an ice cream maker." Well, that's good for me because I don't have an ice cream maker. I divided the mousse among six 3/4-cup ramekins. Probably could have made seven, but then I wouldn't have had quite so generous a "cook's treat" to enjoy unfrozen.

I made it as written--had to restrain myself from adding a pinch of salt and a little vanilla--and was amazed at what three simple ingredients had turned into! I'll probably make it with just 3/4 cup of maple syrup next time, but that's just me--I like desserts a lot less sweet than most people prefer. And, rather than garnishing with toasted slivered almonds, I might just stir in some toasted chopped walnuts or pecans before freezing.




Frozen Maple Mousse

Courtesy of Edible Green Mountains (Vermont)
Makes 8 to 10 servings

This is a great ice cream–like dessert that doesn’t require the use of an ice
cream maker. If you have a fondness for maple syrup, you will love this:
It’s got a very intense, concentrated maple flavor. For best results, use
Grade B maple syrup; “B” just means darker, not inferior.

1 cup pure maple syrup (see headnote)
4 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
Toasted slivered almonds, optional

Pour the maple syrup into the upper bowl of a double boiler or into a large
stainless steel or tempered-glass bowl. Place the egg yolks into a medium
bowl; set aside.

In the lower pot of a double boiler or in a medium saucepan, add 2 inches of
water. Bring up to a simmer. Place the bowl containing the maple syrup on
top of the saucepan. Heat the maple syrup to hot (just barely simmering)
but not boiling, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bowl of maple syrup from the heat.

While continuously whisking the egg yolks in their bowl, slowly add 2
tablespoons of the hot maple syrup to temper the egg yolks (so they will not
curdle). Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the bowl of maple syrup.

Place the bowl of maple syrup and egg yolks on top of the saucepan. Cook
the mixture, whisking continuously, until it is thick and smooth, 15 to 20
minutes. Remove from the heat. Place a piece of parchment paper directly
onto the surface of the maple syrup mixture to prevent a skin from forming.
Refrigerate until completely cooled, at least 1 hour.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
(The cream keeps its shape when you pick up the mixer beater from the
bowl.) Stir 3 heaping spoonfuls of the whipped cream into the cooled maple
syrup mixture. Gently fold one-third of the remaining whipped cream into the
maple syrup mixture. Repeat until all the whipped cream has been folded in.

Pour the mixture into individual ramekins or a freezer-proof
serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 6 to 8 hours.
(The mousse will keep well for up to 2 weeks in the freezer.)

To serve, garnish with toasted almonds, if using.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian (Wiley).

21 May 2010

Biscuits - Try Homemade and You'll Never Go Back


Biscuits--yes, plain old-fashioned biscuits--are one of those things that can make your reputation as a cook. Even if you really can't cook a lick, if you can make a certain few things, everyone thinks you're a good cook. What are these few things that if mastered make it possible for you to fake it as a cook for the rest of your life? Pie, some kind of yeast bread and biscuits.

Of the three, the easiest is biscuits, so let's start there. If you've only ever eaten the kind that come in a tube that you whack on the edge of the counter to unravel, a homemade biscuit will be a revelation. And once you see how easily and quickly they can be made from scratch and how much better they taste, you will never again resort to a mix or a frozen or canned biscuit.



The three keys to good biscuits are:

1 butter rather than shortening (the less said about that, the better; I don't want to get into one of those Oprah-versus-the-beef-industry things!)

2 not over-mixing after adding the liquid (working the dough too much after the liquid is added makes a tough biscuit)

3 very hot oven (for a crisp and golden exterior and a fluffy interior)

My basic recipe has many variations. Sometimes I use milk, sometimes buttermilk, sometimes a combination of milk and buttermilk or milk and sour cream or milk and plain yogurt. It's very flexible.




Biscuits


(Makes 12 biscuits)

2 dip-and-sweep cups (10 ounces/283 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/57 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (if using food processor, put butter in the freezer for 15 minutes)
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour cream or plain yogurt
2/3 cup milk


1 Preheat oven to 500F/260C/Gas10. Lightly spray an insulated baking sheet with cooking spray. If you have a food processor and want to use it for this, with metal blade in place, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in work bowl of food processor. Pulse 3 times to combine. Add frozen butter and process for 8 to 10 seconds or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to mixing bowl. In 1-cup glass measure, combine buttermilk (or sour cream or plain yogurt) and milk; pour over flour mixture and gently mix until just combined.

2 If you don't have or want to use a food processor, whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. With your fingers or a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the cold butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs with some bigger chunks remaining. In 1-cup glass measure, combine buttermilk (or sour cream or plain yogurt) and milk; pour over flour mixture and gently mix until just combined.

3 On a lightly floured surface, gently pat the dough into about a 3/4-inch-thick 6x8-inch rectangle. Cut into 12 square biscuits, and then gently round each biscuit by hand (as in photo above) or leave square. (If you use a round biscuit cutter, you either waste dough or have some tough biscuits made from re-rolled dough.) Place about 2 inches apart on the
insulated baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: Biscuits may be frozen, double-wrapped, for up to one month. Thaw at room temperature, wrapped, then unwrap and heat at 350F/180C/Gas4 for 5 minutes or so. Keep some on hand for biscuits and
gravy!

14 May 2010

Apple Pie






Apple pie has always been one of my favorite desserts. My earliest food memory is of being in the kitchen watching my Southern grandmother make one when I was not yet three. I found it fascinating that she could peel the apples in one continuous spiral. She served her apple pie with vanilla ice cream and a cup of coffee. Tea was the beverage of choice of my English grandmother, and her apple pies were more likely to have a side of custard sauce or whipped cream. But I don't recall ever seeing her follow that other (unappealing to me) English tradition of Cheshire or Cheddar cheese with apple pie.

Of course, at this time of year, apple pie is only tiding me over until peach season. Once the peaches start coming in, peach pie with a golden lattice crust will be on the menu at least once a week. I love eating with the seasons. Buying only in-season produce grown as close to where we live as possible not only gives us the pleasure of anticipation, it supports our local farmers. And both apples and peaches are on the Top 12 list of fruits and vegetables most important to buy organic because of having the highest levels of pesticide residue in the conventionally grown.

I'll post the recipe for my organic, all-butter pie crust another time. And here's a link to an interview of me by Australian writer Grant Soosalu, Food for Thought: Delightful Repasts.


Apple Pie

(Makes one 9-inch pie, 8 servings)

Pastry for double-crust pie
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (3 cups peeled and thinly sliced)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious apples (3 cups peeled and thinly sliced)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate with cooking spray and line with pastry; cover with parchment and place in the refrigerator. Roll out pastry for top crust on parchment; place on a baking sheet, cover with parchment and place in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 425.

Peel and quarter apples, cut away cores and cut (the short way) 1/4-inch-thick slices into a large bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure). Add lemon juice and toss gently. You can use all Granny Smiths, but I think the combination of the crisp, juicy, tart Granny Smith with the sweeter Golden Delicious adds a certain complexity to the pie and allows you to use less sugar.

In small bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt; add to apples and mix well. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate and put top crust in place; seal and crimp edge; prick top with fork, marking eight wedges, to vent. Place a foil-lined baking tray on the bottom shelf (I usually have a used piece of foil I'd like to get another use out of before recycling) to catch any drips from the pie on the shelf above.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 3 hours before serving.

07 May 2010

Afternoon Tea Review - The Langham Huntington









A lifelong tea aficionado, I search out afternoon tea venues wherever I go. Sometimes I find a quaint tearoom, sometimes a posh hotel. The Langham Huntington, a grand hotel at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, has been a southern California landmark for more than a hundred years. (Just thinking about it makes me start writing in my formal "magazine" style! Must stop!)

Once on property, it's hard to believe you're so close to the city and just 26 miles from LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). The Lobby Lounge, with panoramic garden views, provides the perfect setting for a traditional British-style afternoon tea on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The extensive tea selection and sophisticated menu rival that of Langham’s flagship hotel in London. (Oops, there I go again! Just can't be "blog casual" about this place!) The savories and sweets are miniature works of art, too pretty to eat but too delicious not to! For reservations, call 626-585-6218 (1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue, Pasadena).

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