Boxty

Spring is in the cold, damp air, the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, it’s light until 6:30 pm, the moss is bright green under the snow – time for boxty.

I had always thought of boxty as Irish latkes – and then I went to Yonkers and had actual crispy, delicious latkes made of dry grated potato, matzoh meal and sea salt. Boxty, on the other hand, always start with mashed potatoes. Most people add a grated raw potato but I never learned that method – mine are just mashed potatoes with a leeks, little flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and perhaps an egg if the mashers are very dry. Somewhere, an Irishwoman is wailing about me using baking powder. Or buttermilk. Or something – I’ve read recipes for boxty and included bacon, whiskey, corn meal, and parsley and they’re all right for somebody, just not for me.

First, go out to the raised beds and get some leeks. The snow has melted off enough to dig the knife down and get to the pristine white roots. Leave the upper leaves on the bed for compost.

Boil two or three potatoes. I don’t have any of ours left in the cellar, but Hannafords had some nice Maine Corollas. Mash the potatoes and add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 C chopped leeks (raw). Mix that up and add enough buttermilk to make it “cohesive” – add an egg if it looks too dry.  Put a little canola oil in a frying pan, add 1 Tbs butter and fry the potato mixture until browned – about 3 minutes on a side.

Serve with applesauce, sour cream, and salad.

Boxty on the griddle,
And Boxty on the pan;
The wee one in the middle
Is for Mary Ann.
Boxty on the griddle,
boxty on the pan,
If you can’t bake boxty
sure you’ll never get a man.
Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don’t eat boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

What’s for dinner?

I love cauliflower and it seems to hold up well in the grocery store vegetable aisle all through the winter. This recipe is a gratin that uses heavy cream rather than cheese with mustard, shallots and sage. I use Raye’s mustard, and for this recipe I used their “Winter Garden” variety (my favorite), which incorporates horseradish and herbs. Raye’s is a traditional stone-ground mustard mill in Eastport – now a working museum. They also make mustard with maple syrup, molasses, and local beer, so this recipe could take on different varieties for a change of pace.

An opportunity to use my favorite blue Crueset dutch oven!

I also managed to use upty-million utensils, but that’s something I can correct the next time.

Cauliflower Gratin with Mustard

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots or winter onions
1 cauliflower cut into 1 1/2-inch cauliflower florets – about4 cups? Up to 6 cups would probably be fine.
1/4 cup white wine and  1  cup vegetable broth
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Raye’s mustard (divided)
2 tsp chopped fresh sage or slightly less dried
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
2 cups coarsely cut bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Add wine, and then broth. Cover and steam until cauliflower is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to bowl. Add cream, 1 Tbs mustard, 1 teaspoon sage, flour, and lemon peel to pot. Boil until sauce is thick, whisking, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in cauliflower. Arrange cauliflower, stem side down, with sauce in 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in 1  tablespoon mustard and 1 tsp sage. Addcrumbs; toss to coat. Spoon crumbs over cauliflower. Bake until topping is golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Molasses crinkles

My grandmother, Martha Louise Miller Barnard Snyder, was born left-handed and forced to use her right hand at school. I have always been fascinated by her handwriting: studied and careful, almost childlike and without any of the affectations that usually accumulate over a lifetime of repetitive movement. There’s nothing very personal about her marks except the sheer impersonality of the textbook isolation of each nicely formed letter. Her teachers might have been able to force her to write with the wrong hand, but she wasn’t going to cave and accept it.

Grandma’s molasses crinkles are wonderful – perfect for making the house smell warmly of spices on a frigid Sunday afternoon. Here is the recipe in her handwriting:

The arrow points to a note that her right-handed daughter, Cynthia wrote on the other side. Cynthia has a school-based hand, too – familiar to anyone who went to school more than 20 years ago in New England.

A note from me, too: leave them ball shaped, don’t flatten into discs. They are very delicate and will spread out on their own while baking. I add a Tbs of sour cream to the shortening, sugar, molasses mixture to help out the baking soda.

Now I’m off to get a cup of tea and a cookie.

Crispy

When did I turn into the mom who has the ingredients for rice crispie squares on hand at all times? When The Boy was small I tried to make healthy treats, and alternated whole wheat hermits with what I think of as “heritage comfort food”; Fannie Farmer brownies and blueberry buckle, pumpkin pie and the blondies from the King Arthur Flour book. Now that we’re all adults, our favorite treat are the crispies-with-browned-butter-and-sea-salt from Smitten Kitchen. They are just, wow.

I’m not sure how Ms. Kitchen feels about lending out her recipes, so I’m just going to link to it (above). A few pointers from my experience making LOTS of these:

1. Work fast. This is one of those “quick before it hardens into concrete” recipes – make sure you have everything prepped before you start.

2. If someone has actually been eating the cereal as CEREAL, the recipe will work with as few as 4 C of crispies, even though the recipe calls for 6 C.

3. Decant the marshmallows into a bowl. You’ll thank me as you are not dangling an open bag of marshmallows all stuck together in a clump over the pot of sizzling brown butter. And I receive 4 zillion bonus points for using the verb “decant” to describe marshmallows.

4. The recipe says to turn the heat off after you pour the marshmallows into the butter, and that the residual heat will melt them. This has never worked for me – I turn the (gas) burner to low. Residual heat may very well work on an electric stove, but keeping the pot on low heat won’t harm the result.

5. If you’re taking these to a bake sale, make a batch to eat at home. Taking them all away is just cruel.

The Betterbee catalogue is just a bonus. It came today and I’m reading it every chance I get. The rest of the photo is the start of my new campaign to rid the world of over-wrought food photography. You know who you are.

Bacon

I stopped at Pectic Seafood (OMG don’t click on this link if you’re allergic to Flash!) on my way home last night and picked up a pound and a half of absolutely gorgeous haddock, which is not a euphemism. While I was there I had to check out the donuts (handmade each morning) and cruise the coolers full of duck sausage and local goat cheese. There was a new display – four shelves – of bacon, so I bought a pound of Broadbent’s Country Bacon and went on my way. Donuts, bacon and fish to fry – nothing wrong with that.

We had the fish last night, dredged in matzo meal and pan fried in a little olive oil. I went all out and made tartar sauce and it was wonderful. Tonight we tried the bacon.

Oh my heavens. I’ve been eating the stuff from the grocery store and forgotten all about real bacon. Lentil stew with sweet potatoes and bacon, cheddar buttermilk biscuits, and a tossed salad – just the right menu for a Winter Storm Warning night in January.

Lenny’s Lentil Stew

Lenny was a housemate of mine long ago. This dish was his only contribution to our weekly communal dinners and to his credit no one ever complained. Double, triple or multiply this recipe by exponents – you really can’t go wrong. I’ve written like I learned it, folks – Lenny was a plain food type of guy.

For two people: get out two saucepans and fill one halfway up with water. While the water heats, peel a sweet potato and cut it into 1/2″ cubes and dump them into the now boiling water to cook until soft. In the other pan, dump in a can of lentils, 1 C tomato sauce, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 1 tsp marjoram, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, or Szechuan peppercorns if you have them. Heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. Check the sweet potatoes – when done, drain and dump them into the stew. You can add little pieces of cooked bacon if you think you can slip it by the vegetarians. Serve with biscuits even if you have to buy them, but you could try to talk Amy into making a batch even if it isn’t her night to cook.

Pfeffernusse

“Pepper nuts” are small, firm molasses cookies that taste of anise and spice. They are traditionally dredged in confectioner’s sugar after baking. Store them in a tightly closed tin with a slice of apple to keep them from drying out.

Pfeffernusse

1/2 C shortening (I use Crisco, not butter), 3/4 C brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 C molasses, 3 drops of anise oil, 3 and 1/3 C flour, 1/2 tsp soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 Tbsp hot water. This makes a stiff dough, so I use a food processor to mix everything thoroughly. You may have to redistribute the ingredients a few times.Try to find anise oil, not anise flavoring, for the most authentic taste.

If you have time, let the dough sit in a cool place or the refrigerator for a few hours.

Now, the fun part: use a melon baller to scoop out the dough. You may have to gently re-shape an edge here and there, but this method makes quick work for about 8 dozen perfectly sized little nuggets that will bake uniformly and look great on a plate of assorted cookies. Bake about 12 minutes at 350 F, until slightly more brown on the bottom. Leave them on the sheet to firm up after removing from the oven, then cool on a rack. I like to use a large tupperware container with a cup of confectioner’s sugar in it to dredge the cookies when cooled.

Enjoy with a strong cup of black tea and a napkin!

Compost

Today, December 4, 2010, was a perfect day in the garden. I’m writing this so I can look back on this post in years to come and say, what? Really? Because your typical Maine early December day is not a balmy 40 degrees, perfectly still, with the sun peeping out from the low, smooth gray cloud cover like it was today. Yes, I needed a fleece vest, wool tights, gloves and a hat but still – no mosquitoes! The day length this time of year is tough too. I had to clean up my tools at 3:30 this afternoon, ahead of full dark at 4:30.

We have a big black “Earth Machine” composter just to the right of the front door. I bought it through the town Conservation Commission and, as much as I hate to buy plastic to make dirt, it works like a charm. A full year of kitchen waste goes in and I dig the results out of the bottom door in the fall, complete with a vast families of red worms that take up residence and multiply over the summer.

Step 1: Spread a tarp in the immediate vicinity, grab a wheelbarrow, shovel, compost turner (optional but handy) and a stout pair of gloves (required). Open the small door at the bottom of the compost bin and poke around with the turner or a long handled weeder to break up the stuff on the bottom of the bin. It will be moist and full of eggshells and avocado pits that don’t compost completely, and full of worms.

The compost turner is the metal stake with the green plastic handle in the photo. The business end has two metal “wings” bolted to a fairly sharp point. You poke into the pile and when you pull the tool back the wings flip down and pull material with it. Very handy for stirring the pile, or breaking up clumps.

Step 2: Shovel the loosened compost into the wheelbarrow and distribute around the garden. I prefer to dig a hole in an established bed and dump a few shovel-fulls of compost in the hole, then cover it with soil. The worms will spread out through the rest of the bed on their own, and they won’t freeze solid tonight, which they might if I just sprinkled them in a thin layer of compost over the top. Of course, you could argue that I could just do this earlier in the season and not have that problem, but whatever. I can’t believe I’m doing this in early December either.

Step 3: Clean out around the lower door. Over the summer the dandelions and Chinese Forget-me-Not love to root into the nice stuff in the bin and the door becomes overgrown – or maybe that’s just me. Once the door is closed, tamp down the remaining uncomposted material in the top of the bin until it falls to the bottom. The compost turner is a good choice for this, but a shovel handle works too.

Step 4: All set to go for 2011! I use only vegetable and garden waste in this bin – as per the instructions from the manufacturer. We do contribute a lot of coffee waste and fortunately it doesn’t seem to interfere with the composting process. I don’t find raccoons and skunks to be a problem, but then again I have coyotes.

Worms + raw material = dirt. Better than gold.

Pre-game

The menu for Thanksgiving Dinner 2010 stands as follows:

Martha Stewart’s Gruyere Thyme refrigerator crackers, made with Seal Cove mixed milk aged cheese “Olga” instead of Gruyere. Thank you for the delicious sample, Betsy! The crackers are incredibly simple to make but do need to chill overnight, so I’m making them in between blog posts. They will be our appetizer, with. . .

Fruit: Forelle pears (here on Peanut Butter Etoufee – welcome, pull up a fork!), Red Globe grapes and Courtland apple slices.

We will have turkey. R received a beautiful-but-deadly Wusthof 4″ boning knife for his birthday, so we’ll have a rolled, boneless turkey a la Julia Child – pan roasted in butter, and then finished in the oven in a remarkably short period of time. It will share oven space with sweet potatoes in maple syrup and turnips, par-boiled and then roasted with sea salt. Oh, and stuffing! This year the Morning Glory Bakery in the village provided 15 cup bags of their assorted breads cubed and baked – both savory and efficient. I added butter (duh), chopped onions, shallots and celery, vegetable stock, Black Mission figs and Northern Spy apples. R. will roll some up with the turkey and we’ll serve the rest on the side for the vegetarians in the audience.

We’ll have Savoy cabbage, carrot and apple slaw in the big wooden bowl with Susan’s favorite dressing for which I promise I will find and record the recipe (sorry, Susan!). There may be rolls.There will be cranberry sauce with local berries, sweetened with pomegranate molasses, which makes the sauce explosively tart and gives it a wonderful dark color.

Then there will be pie! Just two this year: Fannie Farmer pumpkin made with the New England pie pumpkins we grew over the incredibly balmy summer of 2010, and Martha Stewart’s (again) Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, because it is just so good.

Recipes for what makes the grade to follow over the weekend. Keep warm, everybody.

Pumpkin Pie II, the crust

We had a discussion about pie crust on the ride home today. My grandmother’s pie crust was perfect, every time, and she used to say the ability skipped a generation to explain my mother’s total failure at pie making. Sorry mom.

Personally, I think it’s all chemistry. Here’s the rather weird recipe that always works for me. If you don’t have a food processor handy, use two sharp knives to cut in the butter.

In a food processor: 3 C flour, 1 Tbs sugar (optional), 2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp baking powder (non-aluminum). Pulse once to mix. Add 1 C (2 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter cut into 1″ chunks. Pulse until the chunks disappear. Add 1/2 C cold water mixed with 2 tsp apple cider vinegar. Pulse just until most of it holds together. Add a little more water if needed.

Dump the contents of the bowl out on to a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold the paper up around the lump of pastry and force it all together. Then cut the lump in half and layer one half over the other, press down. Do that again. Then wrap the (hopefully more cohesive) loaf of pastry in the waxed paper, then a plastic bag, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or overnight) to let the gluten relax.

Take it out, hit it flat a few times with the rolling pin, and use half to make the bottom crust of a pie. If you’re not using a top crust, you can make a pie tail with the other half. Your children will be sooooooooo happy.

Roll out a rectangle, spread with 2 Tbs of softened butter, 1/4 C sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle with a handful of raisins, currants or blueberries.

Starting from the bottom long edge, roll the pastry up. Press the edges together and bring both ends around to touch. Place in a foil lined pie plate and bake with the pie until browned.

Equipment post – Victorio food mill

Tonight I made 10 pints of tomato sauce. I started with two full stew pots of plum tomatoes (one after the other because who has two pots that size?), cooked down to pulp and drained. Tonight I put the cooled mess through the food strainer. I like the Victorio mill – the hopper is big enough to accommodate half the pot at once and the mechanism is smooth and easy to turn. It’s a little messy but I think that’s the nature of the process – turning fruit into puree – rather than the machine.

The clamp is narrow and won’t fit on just any surface. You need a sturdy table or, in this case, the tin edge of the Hoosier cabinet. I put a section of newspaper on the floor and clear everything out of the sink in preparation. The parts fit together and come apart easily – which is nice when you’re processing peaches and find you’ve missed a pit and everything grinds (literally) to a halt until you fish it out.

Now the steam canner is full of pints of bright red tomato sauce, and the kitchen table is crowded with last night’s crop of grape juice and food mill parts. There’s no better way to spend the first cool nights of September.