Peaches, peaches, peaches, PEACHES

While we were away for a week in Canada, our peach trees were busy ripening their fruit. The weather has been hot and dry, so I lost about 1/2 a bushel to the ground and the red squirrels. That leaves about 2 bushels for canned pie filling, Peach Brown Veronica, peach puree (canned for Daiquiris and ice cream this winter), frozen peach slices and mmmmmmmm, oven jam.

Peach Oven Jam

Wash and then dunk the peaches, 5 or 6 at a time,  in a large pot of boiling water for about 45 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and let them sit in a bowl of cold water until cool enough to handle. The skins should slip off easily. Slice the peeled peaches into a bowl and add 1 tsp of lemon juice and 1 Tbsp of sugar for each batch of 5, and stir.I sliced up almost a bushel of peaches for this batch, but any amount is fine.

If you like, save the pits. They haven’t been processed and should sprout. I’m planning to plant a row in a distant part of the garden to see what comes up.

Next break the fruit into a uniform consistency in the wide setting of a food mill or a food processor. It shouldn’t be mushy. Add one C white sugar and 1 Tbs of lemon juice for every four cups of peaches (this is easy to do in the bowl of a food processor). Pour the mixture into a buttered large, heavy oven proof pan or several (I use two Crueset casseroles) and bake in a 300 degree oven for 1 1/2 – 3 hours, depending on the depth of the pan and water content of the peaches. Stir every half hour or so, more toward the end of the cooking time. The jam should darken in color and become almost translucent at the edges – like pie filling. My Blue Book says the mixture should “round on a spoon”.

Fill sterilized jars with the hot mixture and process 10 minutes in a steam canner. You could reference the Blue Book for regular kettle processing time. This recipe makes a wonderful, full bodied jam for toast or biscuits, but it’s also great on ice cream, as a cake or pie filling or drink mix. And a full stock kettle of peach pieces will net about 5 pints of jam – a fairly efficient way to store a lot of peaches.

Next, we’ll have to do something about the tomato situation.

The Bounty

2010 is officially a wonderful garden year and a bountiful harvest. Everyone on the road agrees: tomatoes are early (sometimes I have only green ones in September), the Brussels sprouts are forming up nicely, the corn has tasseled out – even our Silver Queen.  And the peaches, oh my.

This year I bought a pole bean selection from Fedco. The packet contained yellow, speckled, purple and brown beans and they’re all delicious. They are over-growing their 12′ stakes, but I can’t complain, really.

Perhaps the best part of this season is the longevity of many of our more fragile crops. We’ve had very hot days, but also cool nights and more rainfall than I’ve seen in July. The lettuce is still coming in and the second crop of turnips is off to a rousing start. My April planting of “Bull’s Blood” beet greens  is still viable, and the mesclun that started in late March is just this week too far gone to make another salad. Now we’ll just have to wait and see about the first frost.

Pesto season

Pesto is one of the barometers of a Maine summer. Basil requires long days and hot afternoons to truly grow fat, glossy leaves that give off a distinctive, almost skunky aroma and some years we just don’t get that. 2010 is shaping up to be the best garden year in recent memory, and the pesto so far is A+.

I picked almost a kitchen-sized garbage bag of basil, mostly because I wanted to be able to start the recipe off with “a garbage bag of basil”. I prefer to harvest in mid-afternoon (the plants are free of dew and at their most fragrant), and I simply cut them back by two or three nodes. I use the stems and all, but I do remove blossoms and buds. They seem to make the final product slightly bitter.

Stuff the bowl of a food processor with leaves and stems. Drizzle with olive oil. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 clove garlic and 2 Tbs pine nuts (toasted in a frying pan first) per batch. If you will be adding all the batches together you can keep track and add all the seasonings at once at the end, but I find doing it by increments is easier. Process until smooth, adding more olive oil if necessary.

I have been amazed at the number of people who comment about the photos on this blog – generally about the objects in the background. Turns out food photographers are all about isolating the product – setting the stage with your recipe as the star, and not so much with the bottle of Chinese black vinegar that has nothing to do with the current recipe. As long as you read this blog, you’re going to see that vinegar on the back of the counter. Also the red wine, cassis, port and probably a roll of paper towels.  I don’t set these photos up, sadly, I just live here.

Cook your favorite pasta, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Mix in about a cup of pesto per 6 servings, and some grated parm or asiago cheese.  If my mother isn’t coming over we like to add hot pepper flakes. Freeze the remaining pesto in freezer jelly jars to remember summer come some winter dinner.

Buoys, or not.

Today I went down to Southwest Harbor for a concert. The Southwest Harborites were also celebrating the annual Pink Flamingo festival (the lawn ornaments are considered native fauna) and the Coast Guard base was having an open house so it was a high time on the village main street. I took the back road down to Clark Point and stopped at this stand to buy a jar of pear jam.

The sign is quite well designed, with the whole positive/negative space thing going on, and “Antiques” is spelled correctly. What happened to “bouys”? Curse those pesky diphthongs!

I bought a jar of pear jam. I’ve tried to make it myself, and could possibly make gallons of the stuff from the Seckel pear tree’s bounty, but my trial batches were gritty and insipid. This jar from Maine’s Own Treats has a nice clear color. The contents list includes: Pears, Sugar, Applesauce, Apple Juice and Pectin. Applesauce sounds like it might be the secret ingredient. We’re going to try the jam out tomorrow on Sunday waffles and then I’ll decide if this combination is worth another experiment.

I like the “We’re Open” sign, too. There wasn’t a soul around – what changes when they’re closed?

Computer dinner

When we can, we eat dinner together as a family. The number varies with the addition of guests stopping by a supper time and the subtraction of our son away at college, but the plates and napkins, flatware and fruit bowl centerpiece are a constant – except for the exceptions. On those nights when everyone is a little distracted and the schedule is off and it’s just us – we have computer dinner.

Computer dinner requires something fast and easy to prepare and clean up. If there’s going to be an informal dinner it should also be a break for the cook.  Tonight I chose our vegetarian version of Spanish Rice. Brace yourself, this is a narrative recipe:

To serve about 3

Make about 2 C of white rice. I use a rice cooker. I find that brown rice turns an unfortunate color when you add the tomatoes, but maybe that’s just me.

Add 2 Tbs olive oil to a large frying pan and saute 1/2 a large onion, 1/2 C celery and, if your household considers bacon to be a vegetable, about 1/4 C chopped bacon slices. Um, we’re Baconarians? Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned. Stir in 1/2 tsp cumin (optional). Add 1/4 C white wine and deglace. Add the rice and mash around with the back of a wooden spoon until it incorporates the olive oil and veggies, then add a can of Ro*Tel, and a small can of kidney beans. Lower heat and cook for a few minutes until every thing is heated through. Add salt if you didn’t use bacon.  We like to grate a little cheddar cheese over the top, and serve with green salad and corn tortilla strips. I have been known to squeeze a lime wedge over the whole mess, when I had one handy.

This is a dependable, easy meal that won’t spill all over anyone’s keyboard. For maximum effect, make sure you’re all in the same room so you can share random tidbits of information (hello, Joshua Slocum’s entry on Wikipedia) or listen to your son strategize with four of his closest long-distance best friends.

These are the best of times.

Spaetzle

Spaetz is Swabish for “Sparrow”, so spaetzle are “little sparrows”. I’m not really all that clear on the relationship between small, soft egg noodles and baby birds, but whatever. I like it, and I think that’s what I’ll call them from now on.

I made spaetzle last night, and forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, which was delicious and quite attractive. The recipe is extremely easy and fresh pasta is such a treat – it’s really wonderful to be able to make it without an expensive pasta maker and the extra work of drying and tempering. I’d even suggest this for a work-night dinner; fast, uses common ingredients and is capable of being reinvented with every sort of leftover.

For this recipe you will need a colander with large holes, say 3/8″ diameter. Several sources suggest using the large holes of a cheese grater, but the surface is small and hard to hold above the pot. I bought a .99 cent plastic colander at the grocery store which works beautifully or you could buy a spaetzle-board for about $12.00.

You can tell I got a little carried away with the colander. . .

Spaetzle for two or three – the recipe doubles easily.

2 eggs, 1/3 C whole milk, 1/4 C parsley, minced; 1/4 tsp salt; 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour. Mince the parsley very fine.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large bowl, add the eggs, milk, parsley and salt and mix well. Add the flour a little at a time while mixing – the dough should be a little runny. Let it sit for 10 minutes. If it sits longer than that, it will begin to “bind”, so add a little more milk at that point.

Carefully hold the colander over the pot of boiling water (or place the spaetzle-board across it), spoon the dough into the container and then push the dough through the holes with the back of a wooden spoon. Wriggly “little sparrows” will drop into the water, fall, and then rise as they cook. I wait 3 or 4 minutes, but taste one at about 2 minutes. They don’t take long to cook and a lot depends on the consistency of your dough.

Drain the cooked spaetzle and, when most of the water has run off and they begin to dry, spread them on an oiled cookie sheet (I use a Silplat) until you’re ready to use them.

For the basic dish, simply saute the spaetzle in butter and serve with applesauce.  I toss them with roasted broccoli and sauteed leeks, topped with Parmesan, but I’ve also had them with tomato sauce, with a glaze of reduced cider and topped with bread crumbs – go nuts!

We had creampuffs for dessert, with creme anglais and chocolate ganache. Next post is the recipe, which is blindingly easy.

Somebody’s Grandma’s Banana Bread

Occasionally I forget to look around the house before I find myself in the grocery store on lunch hour, wondering if we have bananas. And then we end up with too many bananas.

This is a terrific recipe for banana bread, but it’s not my grandmother’s. For one thing, no one in my family is “Grandma”. Women who’s children have children are addressed by their name, say “Martha”, or by their title and surname, as in “Grandma Burnham”. That goes double for recipe cards. The card for this recipe is so stained and creased that I’m not sure who wrote it but it doesn’t matter. This is the fix for when you’ve been to the store without a list. Again.

Grandma’s Banana Bread/Cake

Preheat oven to 350 and grease and flour a 9″ tube pan.

Toast 1/2 C walnuts or pecans in a frying pan until “sweating” and fragrant. Process them in the food processor until chopped fairly small. Don’t clean the bowl. Empty the nuts into a bowl and mix with 1 Tbs of the flour and spice mixture below. Sometimes I add 1/2 C raisins to the mix. Set aside. This recipe calls for 1 C mashed bananas. I regularly throw 3 into the cuisinart and process until smooth. I think you get more banana taste that way. Set aside.

Combine in a small bowl: 2 C flour (can be partially whole wheat), 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp allspice (optional, but I like it).

In a large bowl cream 1/2 C shortening (I use melted butter, but anything goes here), 1 C sugar. Add two eggs and 1 tsp vanilla and beat well. Use neighbor-lady eggs if you can get them.

Add the flour mixture, then the bananas, then the nuts and stir everything together. Dump it into the tube pan and spread evenly. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the bread is quite browned on top and firm to the touch.

I’ve frosted this bread with orange cream cheese frosting (which is delicious), but more often I serve it with butter and jam for tea.

I had a friend, years ago, who couldn’t stomach the tiny pieces of flour that occasionally stick to the walnuts and raisins in this cake. I found him picking them out at the dinner table one night, and thereafter mixed the nuts with cocoa so it didn’t show. I have no idea how wide-spread that affliction may be, so use that information if you have to, down the line.

Stuffed naan

Flatbread dough filled with a soft herb/cheese/onion mixture – this is  an easy recipe if  a little messy ( as all the best ones are). When I make this dish for company I finish the breads ahead of time and warm them, wrapped in foil, in the oven. This is a vegetarian version, but ground lamb is a popular addition. Actually you can use any combination of ingredients for the filling as long as the result is fairly soft and smooth – hard bits will force their way through the soft dough and spoil the surface.

Stuffed Naan

naan step 13 3/4 C unbleached white flour (I make some of this up with chapati (chick pea) flour and whole wheat to add flavor, but all white flour makes a dependable texture), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, about 1 1/4 C plain yogurt, unsalted butter for brushing the finished breads.

Put all the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of your food processor and process until the dough follows the blade around in a ball. You may need to add more flour, or yogurt. This dough isn’t fragile and some extra whapping around won’t hurt it.  Dump the dough out on to a floured board. It will be soft and sticky, but try to gather it up into a ball (you may have to push it around some with a little extra flour), and put it in an oiled bowl in a warm place to rise for about an hour. This is not a yeast dough – the time will temper the gluten in the flour but it won’t appear to rise.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium bowl mix: 1 8 oz farmer cheese (or paneer, ricotta, small curd cottage cheese), 2 Tbs fresh parsley, cilantro to taste, 1/4 C sauteed onion and 1 C cooked potato. I generally make naan in conjuction with a curry, so I cook the potato and onion for that as well. Leftovers work fine, too. Mash everything together thoroughly – you should have a dry, sticky mix that won’t ooze out of the bread, or stick up through the dough.

Heat an 8 – 10″ frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium low heat – add a little vegetable oil if it’s not seasoned. Keep in mind that the pan will need to go under the broiler in a minute, so no non-stick surfaces or wooden handles allowed. Dump the dough out on to a floured board and divide into five or six balls. Some people make lots of small breads, but it takes a lot longer that way. I like to make a size that just fits in my frying pan. naan step 2

Roll a ball out to about 6″ in diameter, and drop a healthy amount of filling on the center – about 1/4 cup. Keep the rest of the dough covered so it doesn’t dry out. Gather the edges up in pleats to the center and twist slightly to make a spiraled top to your dough ball of filling. Which is a great name for a band. Flatten the ball, flip it over and roll it out to the size of your pan. Now you see why you want a soft filling.

naan step 3Turn on your broiler to low. Pick up the bread and place it in the hot pan, shaking slightly so it doesn’t stick. Cook until the underside is nicely browned. Now put the pan and all under the broiler and turn off the burner. Make another naan.  In a minute (or few), the top will puff up and develop brown spots.naan step 5 Pull the pan out and slide the bread onto a cutting board. Race back to the stove and turn the burner on, slide the next piece into the pan. Now go back to the first naan and rub the top with a stick of unsalted butter. Cut into wedges and serve to the first lucky participant with a bowl of spinach curry and sides of yogurt and mango chutney.

Next week I’m going to try this recipe with a banana chocolate filling and powdered sugar on top. I promise to take pictures.

Good dinner.

That’s what everybody at our house calls this dish. It’s a mix of vegetables sauteed in olive oil over couscous, served over salad greens and topped with feta cheese – easy, fast,  fairly cheap and not too bad for the Growing Boy.

couscous 004

First, make couscous. Typically you add 1 C couscous to 1 C boiling water and a little salt. Cover the pot and turn off the heat, allow to stand 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork, cover and let stand until ready to use. This amount feeds the three of us (in this recipe) without leftovers.

For the vegetable mixture:

2 zucchinis, matchsticked: cut each squash into 1/4″ discs and then pile the discs and slice into little sticks. You’ll also need 1 red bell pepper and 1/2 an onion, diced, other cooked vegetables as you wish: asparagus, cauliflower (yellow or purple is nice), green beans, snow peas; and 1 serving for each person of salad greens.

couscous 001You’ll also need the nicest Herbes de Provence you can get your hands on. I have a friend who went to a French cooking school and brought me back a little jar of herbs that has been a whole education for me just in itself – I don’t know what I’ll do when they’re gone.

Saute the onion and pepper in a good quantity of olive oil (3 Tbs) until softened but not browned. Add the zucchini and cook until soft, adding more olive oil if it is absorbed. Add the cooked vegetables and stir until blended and heated through. Sprinkle generously with the herb mixture and a little sea salt.

couscous 003

Add the couscous and stir gently. Serve by mounding the mixture on a layer of salad greens, top with feta cheese. Strips of heated nan are a nice accompaniment. If the mixture is dry, I add a small amount of salad dressing just before serving.

Good dinner!