Monday, August 25, 2008

Blackberry Cobbler & Beethoven

Scene: Exterior shot. A family consisting of a mother, father, grandmother and 3 small children lounge comfortably on, and around. a well-worn duvet. The late august weather is gentle and warm, the slightest breeze ripples through the air. Before the family is an array of picnic food (salmon cakes, mini quiches, tomato mozzarella salad, and for dessert- blackberry peach cobbler). The adults sit on the grass shaded by a leafy tree sampling and enjoying the fare. Around them is a number of other picnicking groups, each involved in their own versions of repose and relaxation. Before long the children are climbing up the branches of the surrounding trees. Everyone is listening to strains of Beethoven's 9th Symphony that plays somewhere in the near distance.

Yesterday was a picture perfect day, one of a dozen or so in my life. The weather was idyllic, the music was sublime, and I was with the exact people I'd want to share these perfect moments with. In fact, they are what ultimately made it perfect. As the official caterer of these kind of events, as well as daily life, I packed a cooler with light yet full flavored goodies, that added to the beautiful scene, as food can often do.
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a piece of music that is just so brilliant. It runs the whole range of emotions- crescendoing in the exultant choral "Song of Joy". It was a real thrill for me to hear this piece live. And the bucolic New England setting of Tanglewood was literally a breath of fresh and free air.
This cobbler recipe posted below was good and juicy and the biscuit-like topping provides a nice crumbly texture in opposition to the soft and gooey fruit. I would recommend mixing 3/4 -1 c. of sugar with the blackberries and peaches. I scrimped by only using 1/2 c. - and it was a little too tart.

Blackberry Peach Cobbler
In medium bowl stir together 1 c. sliced peaches and 2 c. blackberries with Bold1/2 c. sugar (increase if you want a sweeter cobbler) and 1/2 vanilla bean scraped of it's seeds. Let stand for about 20 mins. until a syrup forms. In the meantime make batter by mixing 1 1/4 c. flour, 1/3 c. sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 c. cold butter cut into pieces, until batter resembles coarse crumbs. Add 1/2 c. buttermilk and 1 tsp. vanilla, mix until smooth batter results. Spread fruit in a baking dish. Drop spoonfuls of batter on top. Bake in 375F oven until batter browns.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Taste Travel

...And that's another thing I really love about cooking/baking, the opportunity for taste-travel. Today I was wistfully recalling my time in San Diego. When I was in college my family lived in this beautiful city, and I would spend most of my summer and winter breaks there. Now that I am a veteran on the East Coast, I really appreciate Sun Diego. Everything about it seems magical to me now, the perfect weather, the gorgeous beaches, the friendly folk, and the fresh and authentic mexican food. My brothers and I would order these incredible fish tacos at the local mexican joint and gobble them down muy rapido.
Tonight's dinner is an homage to my San Diego days long gone- not only was it seemingly a million years ago and a million miles away, it was a whole attitude galaxy away. I love the East Coast, the autumns here are second to none. And the fact that New York City is a major part of the region, is reason alone to live here. Not to mention other great gems like: Philadelphia and Boston, as well as quaint New England villages that are really old and historied by New World standards. The East Coast is a great place to live, but there's something wonderful about California that you just can't get here. Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the beautiful pacific ocean, the people just seem happier and more relaxed out there. The food is delicious- it's as simple as a grilled piece of fish in corn tortilla with some mexican flavored spices and herbs(cumin, chili, lime, garlic, salt, cilantro), cool and creamy salad for a crunch, and fresh sliced avocado to finish it off. Mmmmm.
Tomorrow I'll think about going to Tanglewood this weekend and I'll be conjuring up a juicy berry pie or cobbler. Or better yet: brie and apple sandwiches- apple season is nearly upon us! I love apples- which is probably a big reason why I like living around here.

Quick & Simple Fish Taco's
prepare 1-2 lbs. of firm fleshed white fish (I used tilapia) in a sheet of heavy duty foil, rub both sides of fish with taco seasoning (cumin, chili, garlic , salt, lime, cilantro). Seal foil into packets. Heat up grill. Place packets on grill- for about 10-15 mins. or when fish flakes easily.
In a bowl mix 1 c. sour cream, 2-3 tbsp ranch dressing, and 1/2 c. chopped green chilis, with shredded cabbage and 5-6 chopped scallions.
Serving suggestion: Cut fish into chunks, and place in a fresh corn tortilla and top with salad and slices of ripe avocado. Fold. Enjoy. OK.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rice Crispy Treats In Heaven

Rice Crispy Treats. Wonderful, buttery, sweet, chewy. Marshmallows, butter, vanilla extract, rice crispies. Simple square American homespun joy. I am racked with junkfood guilt, but I just love 'em. You can legitimize them by using baking quality butter, expensive "artisan" marshmallows the kind you get at Williams Sonoma or hail!hail! Whole Foods, and interesting natural flavor extracts or essences (almond, vanilla, orange). But there's something so simple and good about the yummy, slumber party, back-of-the-box standard.
I think heaven is a huge, light-filled candy store/bakery, a good sized display is devoted to these rice crispy treats, they're next to the tollhouse chocolate chip cookies.

Rice Crispy Treats
Melt 3-4 tbsp. butter in a saucepan add packet of marshmallows. Mix vigorously until thick and fluffy, add 1 tsp. vanilla extract (or whichever you prefer). Remove from heat, mix in 3-4 c. rice crispy cereal. With a spatula sprayed with baking spray, tamp down rice crispy fluff into pan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The World's Best Tofu Recipe

I've found the world's best tofu recipe and I just want to shout it from the rooftops, tell everyone I know. Whole Foods was where we first forked, I ordered it for lunch one day thinking hmmm...looks good, sounds interesting and exotic and a little less than wholesome -if you know what I mean. I was gone at first bite. "Pan Fried Sesame Tofu" had me at first bite. I got home and promptly Googled this tasty morsel. I've made it over and over again, and have always been satisfied with the results. Dinner tonight was over in like 10 minutes- everyone just devoured this dish. I made some adaptations but it's essentially the same recipe on the whole foods website. Use two blocks of tofu, you won't have any regrets, or leftovers.

Pan Fried Sesame Tofu

Wrap 2 blocks of extra-firm tofu in paper towels, place on cutting boards, weigh it down with another cutting board or baking sheet and a heavy pot to squeeze out liquid. Set aside for about 20-30 mins. In the meantime, put 1/2 c. honey, 4-5 tbsp. tamari, 3 tbsp. finely chopped ginger, 3-4 tbsp. toasted sesame oil, 4 cloves finely chopped garlic, and a few good dashes of hot pepper sauce into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and keep warm.
Cut tofu into cubes. Dust well with cornstarch. Heat enough oil to fry these tofu squares well- until golden brown. Trim and cut 1 bunch of green onions and cut into 1" pieces. Throw onion pieces into pan until they soften slightly. Transfer cooked tofu and green onions into bowl and toss with the warm sauce. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Goes great on a bed of basmati, jasmine, or brown rice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Fruit From The Tree of Wisdom

You know you're getting old when you start spouting crotchety sayings like "youth is wasted on the young", but I guess you need a little wisdom in you to realize how true this trite little sentence is. When I went to college in the early to mid 90's I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, hell, I barely knew how to write a check. College for me was like an all-you-can-eat slacker buffet. I chose triple helpings of sleeping in, staying up late, time frittering, junk food consumption. I majored in subjects I found interesting, art history and english, but made no effort to prepare myself for the job market after graduation. My attitude belonged to a billionaire's daughter- except neither Mom nor Dad were billionaires (however they were enormously patient and generous). I was just going to figure it out as I went along. As long as I was doing it in NYC, it was God's work. It probably is not shocking that I had 30 different jobs in the 6 years after graduation. Back then I guess my main aspiration was to live in New York, and my many different jobs just supported my
habit(ation). Most of my jobs sucked. The best part of working at all these places is that I met a lot of different types.
I didn't discover the Joy of Cooking until I got engaged. My mom is a great cook, and I pretty much stayed out of the kitchen- you know what they say about too many cooks.. So maybe I would've done things differently if I knew then what I know now. Or maybe it just took me a while to figure it out and I got a great education in art history, english lit, and New York City in the meantime. I waver between these two views.
Finally I've clued into what I like to do and how I need to do it. I like to cook/bake and I like to write. I hate working in an office, I cannot keep office hours, and I don't do well with enforced order and bosses. I'm starting to translate this all into something, with my small homemade chocolate business, and with my various forays into food writing; this blog, and articles I submit for a parenting newspaper.
To coincide with the back-to-school edition, inspired by something I saw somewhere, I whipped up a batch of these Applicious Cupcakes. I was pretty charmed with the results, despite the amount of red food dye I had to use to make the frosting red. The cupcake recipe itself is semi-wholesome, so I hope it makes up for the sugary food dyed frosting. It's to celebrate going back to school. School where you're supposed to learn how little you know, but seldom do-until it's too late, but really it's never too late.

Applicious Cupcakes
Mix up yellowcake mix, 1 c. apple juice, 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce, 1/3 c. finely chopped dried apples, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp. apple pie spice, 3 eggs in a big bowl. Lay out 24 cupcake liners in muffin tins. Scoop batter into each liner to fill up 3/4 of the way. Bake until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.
icing (this is where it gets a little scary): Beat 1 c. butter/marg. until smooth, add 2 c. confectioners sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Add 2-3 tbsp. milk or non dairy creamer or soy milk to smooth out if necessary. Stir in 1-2 tsp. red food dye paste (there is a natural food dye you can use, I just didn't have time to hunt around for it) until frosting reaches desired shade of red. Frost cupcakes. Then, break 12 pretzel sticks in half. Stick into frosted cupcakes (this is the stem), cut green fruit roll-ups, fruit leather, or sour apple fruit tape into the shape of leaves. Place near the stem. Voila! A totally adorable back-to-school treat!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Berkshires and Beyond

Yesterday saw us spending another carefree summer's day in the countryside. This time it was the Berkshires, which is an area I particularly appreciate. This gorgeous region always provides a fun time for us. I love the genteel country feel of the towns and villages, with their colonial era clapboard houses and tidy little cottages. I love visiting the local bakery and cafe, scouring the antique shops and used bookstores. Yesterday in Kent, CT- a beautiful, white picket-fenced, New England town- I was sure to visit the local chocolatier. I ordered a couple of different caramels and a truffle or two. The caramels were interesting. One had a light crust of salt on it, it was certainly different, perhaps a little too heavy on the salt. The other caramel had a sprinkling of black sesame, which was so subtle it was completely overwhelmed by the chocolate covered caramel.
Hubbabubba enjoys fishing these parts. The Housatonic River makes for some incredibly verdant scenery. Hubbabubba fished, the kiddles and I took a hike and played along the riverbank. Munch was secured in a pack on my back. Big Boy Kiddle annointed himself trek leader and Kidlette was second-in-command. With a big stick he swashbuckled through the brush, she made me say "thank you, Leader" every time she held a branch aside so I could get by.
My job was the official caterer of our expedition. I filled a cooler with picnic fare. I made a pasta salad that was recieved somewhat tepidly. But, honestly, how could a pasta salad made with wholewheat pasta, spinach, and feta cheese beat fresh-baked peanut butter cookies? Crusty still-warm french baguette...? They took a few perfunctory bites and were like "next?"
The next yummy thing in this case was homemade ice cream that would make Ben and Jerry weep (and I am very fond of both of them). On the way home we stopped at Main Street Sweets in Tarrytown, NY. A line that stretches out the door is usually a surefire way for me to lose my taste for whatever's inside the door- but this place is worth it. They do ice cream very well. Admittedly I was a little dissappointed that the Peachy Peach I ordered wasn't as...peachy as I remembered it, but the kiddle's vanilla and strawberry scoops were just outstanding. Fresh and creamy and pure and everything good about ice cream. A perfectly sweet ending to a perfectly sweet day awwww.....