Spritz!

Spritz cookies with a 60's influence, FTW.Spritz cookies are a wonderful tradition this time of year, and an easy treat once you have the little machine that squeezes the dough out in shapes. I have an old copper and aluminum Mirro cookie press, which I guess is not available any more. There are battery powered versions on the market for those of you who need to make these cookies by the gross, I guess? The rest of us mortals should buy the ubiquitous screw-down cylinders and save our money for all that butter we’ll be using in the basic recipe.

1 C unsalted butter softened, or melted and cooled; 3/4 C sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 1/4 C white flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar well, beat in egg and extracts. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Fill cookie press and form on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 37 degrees 10 – 12 minutes. Yields @ 60 cookies.

A few hints:

  • Don’t chill the dough. The cold dough will be harder to push through the die and won’t stick as well to the cookie sheet, but
  • DO chill the cookies once they are shaped on the cookie sheet. The shapes will hold up better in the oven.
  • Avoid handling the dough. It will soften almost immediately in the heat of your hands. If you need to scrape the sides of the barrel or clean residue off to change dies (and you will), use a spatula or a kitchen knife.
  • If you use food coloring don’t color the dough all at once. Instead, fill the press canister with plain dough and add a few drops of color near the top. As you press cookies out, add more plain dough and then more food coloring. Better than tie-dye, and makes the dough less “stiff” than mixing it in.

Serious cookies

Today I took off from work – somehow a day off is even better when it’s a really bad idea – and made cookies. I did errands, cleaned the house, visited my mother, cleaned the house some more, put up the tree, and made cookies. That last item is the important part, because these are serious cookies – you need the whole day.

I lived in Philadelphia in the 70’s and had a wide selection of part time jobs while I went to art school. Around Christmas-time I worked evenings at an Italian bakery that had plaster models of fantastical wedding cakes in the windows and specialized in traditional, labor-intensive treats for the holidays. We made anise biscotti and weird sponge cakes filled with lemon cream, almond crescents, white fruit cakes studded with golden raisins and sprinkled with gold leaf, but mostly we made seven-layer-cookies. Pink, white and green almond cake layers with apricot filling and a chocolate frosting on both sides, we made them in huge sheet pans, sold them all to happy housewives the next day and spent the night making more. I know all about how to make them in a bakery , with a walk-in freezer and professional ovens, but I’d never thought of making them at home until I read this post at SmittenKitchen.

I love this site and I’ve found that I can completely trust her work. So – hop right over there and read the recipe, study the comments, and then take tomorrow off to make cookies! Let me know how it goes.

One hint that’s not on SK’s list – at the bakery we added a 1/2 tsp of baking powder to the batter, and were free to add a Tbs (or more, if the ovens were blasting heat) of cream to the colored divisions right before laying them out in the pan. Both additions made the batter easier to spread in a thin, even layer. As a bonus, here’s a pic of the pink layer (colored with Ameri-Color Super Red gel paste) cooling on the table. Doesn’t that look like a fun way to spend an afternoon?

OMG PINK

PS Because I just posted this and someone is already asking, the other cookies on the plate (equally delicious and a lot easier) are Excalibur cookies from Food from the Field’s blog. Great stuff!

Haole curry

I know, it’s a bad word. Or not bad exactly, Haole  simply means “white” on the Island. White, and foreign in your skin and habits. I learned to make this dish from a Hawaian roomie and she called it Haole curry because it’s not particularly authentic: coconut milk from a tin instead of ladled out of the 55 gallon drum in back of her mother’s restaurant, and green curry from a can instead of mashing chilies, lemongrass and galangal with a mortar and pestle. Nevertheless, it’s cheap, easy, and we ate a lot of it back in art school. Heck, we eat a lot of it now – still a fan of cheap and easy. Thanks, Lilith!

Haole Curry – this is the “green” version:

Buy a can of coconut milk (splurge and get the organic variety – it’s a higher quality) and a jar of green curry. I’ll assume you also have fish sauce and brown sugar in  your cupboard? Steam green beans, snow peas, broccoli, or a combination of your choosing – you’ll need about 2 cups of assorted veggies in small pieces. Carrot slices are nice sometimes, and if you want to go really crazy you could sautee some diced red pepper. The idea is to have a pile of cooked veggies cut up and ready to go. Drain a package of extra firm tofu and cut into cubes. Make a pot of rice.

Now dump the can of coconut milk into a large sauce pan. Add 3 Tbs brown sugar, 3 Tbs fish sauce, and between 1/2 and 1 tsp green curry and whisk until the lumps in the brown sugar and coconut milk smooth out. I use the larger amount but I started my son out on 1/4 tsp.  Heat gently – it doesn’t need to boil.  Add the tofu and veggies, and as soon as the mixture is hot enough for you it’s ready to eat.

Garnish with chopped peanuts, diced scallion or green onion, and chopped Thai basil. I’m growing Thai basil for the first time this year and am planning have it be a regular in the garden going forward. It’s a pretty little plant with yellow-green leaves and bright purple blossoms, hardy and extremely drought tolerant.  The curry is delightful with a couple of aromatic leaves sliced thin and sprinkled on the mix.

Spaetzle, new and improved!

I would have thought it would be difficult to improve spaetzle. Flour, eggs, milk, maybe some herbs, definitely a few Tbs. of butter, press through a colander with the back of a wooden spoon over a pot of boiling water and presto – dinner! Then my friend Susan presented me with a spaetzle-maker, and suddenly spaetzle was even easier. Neater! More uniform! Honestly, it’s a grand day when you come across a well-designed kitchen utensil.

Earlier this week I came across a recipe for spaetzle that used ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as part of the dry ingredients. They add some protein to the dish and offset all those carbs and it sounded pretty tasty, too. Tonight we had speatzle with pepitas with a little bit of very good Parmesean grated on top, and a huge green salad (because every meal has to include a large green salad at this point because we’re drowning in lettuce).

Pepita Spaetzle

4 servings as a main dish

1/2 C pepitas, @ 3 C all purpose flour, 3 eggs, 1 C milk, 1 tsp sea salt, herbs

In a food processor, pulse the pepitas and 1 C of  flour until finely ground. Empty the mixture into a large bowl with 2 C of flour. Add chopped herbs if desired: chives, summer savory, parsley and thyme work well. Whisk the eggs and salt in a small bowl with the milk, make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid, stir. The mixture should be cohesive, thick and springy. If it’s not, add a little more flour, up to 1/2 a cup. Allow the batter to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes or store up to 1 day in the refrigerator.

Bring a large pot of salted water to full boil. Rest the spaetzle maker across the top of the pot and load the square container with batter. Move the container on its track back and forth until nearly empty, refill and repeat quickly until the batter is used up. Stir the spaetzle gently and cook for @ 3 minutes.

Ladle the spaetzle on to a wire rack over a clean towel to drain. You could use a pasta board or a dishtowel, or just decant them into a colander. Add 4 Tbs of butter to a large frying pan and cook the drained spaetzle briefly, just enough to coat them and heat through. Sometimes I sautee 1/4 cup of diced red onion in the pan first.

Serve with grated cheese, a German white wine, and a green salad. Thanks, Susan!

 

Spicy greens for dinner

This is a year for leafy greens. I planted Maruba Santoh, tatsoi, bok choi, Savoy cabbage, and assorted mustards and they’re all happy and huge in the cool rainy weather. This year I mulched the greens with seaweed to see if it had any impact on flea beetles, and I think it worked. Hard to tell whether the rain or the salty, sandy mulch had more of an effect, but flea beetle damage is minimal this year so far. So, what to do with all those greens?

Spicy Greens with Chicken or Tofu

Serves 4, or two with leftovers. This dish is very good left over.

1/4 C soy sauce, 1/4 C dry Sherry, 1 Tbs brown sugar, 2 Tbs chili sauce or Surachi (or to taste)

1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-wide strips, or 1 package tofu
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 green onions, white parts and green parts chopped separately, 1 Tbs garlic and 1 Tbs ginger
2 teaspoons hot pepper relish or chopped seeded serrano chiles (or more to taste)
a lot of greens:  spinach, mustard greens, kale, maruba santoh or broccoli rabe; about 1 pound, thick stems removed, spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips (about 10 cups packed)

Whisk the soy sauce,  Sherry,  and sugar in medium bowl, divide in half. Use half of the mixture to marinate chicken or tofu; marinate 20 to 30 minutes and reserve the rest.

Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add white parts of onions, garlic, ginger and relish or chiles; stir 30 seconds. Add chicken; stir-fry just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken mixture to bowl. If you’re using tofu you can skip this step. Just quickly stirfry the first four ingredients, go right to adding the greens, and drop in the marinated tofu at the end just long enough to heat through.

Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to same skillet; heat over high heat. Add greens by large handfuls; stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more. You can put a large pot lid over the heap of greens to steam them briefly if you like. Sauté just until tender, 1 to 6 minutes, depending on type of greens. Return chicken to skillet. Add reserved soy sauce mixture; stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl; sprinkle with green parts of onions. Serve with rice or soba.

 

Angelica

Angelica, known in my grandmother’s garden as “Holy Ghost”, is a tall biennial plant with large lobed leaves, greenish white flowers, and fluted stems.

The stems are traditionally candied and used like citron in breads and holiday cakes. Angelica is a very generous plant, seeding itself all around my garden. I’ve always wanted to take advantage of this abundance and candy some myself. Last fall I took the time to research recipes and found that the stems are harvested in the spring, when they are still bright green and tender.

Last week I picked a plastic grocery bag of stems, or about 2 lbs. I trimmed off the leaves and cut the stems in random lengths as none of the recipes I read seemed to specify size. They didn’t specify much of anything, actually, and differed wildly on how long to cook the raw plant material, how to dry it, and what it should look like when finished. I’ve simplified the process because no way am I boiling anything in sugar syrup for four days, and my adaption seems to have worked just fine.

Make a 2:1 sugar syrup by mixing 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, bring to a boil and stir until dissolved. Dump the stems into the syrup and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and set for 24 hours. I let it go from one night to the next.

Remove stems from syrup and allow to drain on a rack. I used a cookie rack with a pan underneath. I dried the stems in a very slow oven (250 degrees) for a few hours. It rained for almost the entire month of April here, and the drying part might work for you without an oven if the weather cooperates.

When the stems were solid and cooled, but still tacky, I put them in a ziplock bag of granulated sugar and left them overnight to soak up as much as possible. Then I stuffed them into canning jars, where they look pretty cool – all bright green and shiny. I have two jars in a canning cupboard and one in the freezer, to see which one preserves the color and texture best.  I’m going to try out a recipe next week, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Sauce Pontchartrain

“Pontchartrain” is a wonderful seafood sauce, to be eaten either on its own in a big wide bowl with plenty of Tabasco or over something else, as long as there is plenty of Tabasco. I’ve had Pontchartrain over broiled catfish, on sourdough toast, over rice, grits, and on one memorable occasion, instead of Hollandaise on poached eggs. I decided to make a batch and post the recipe, but as often happens when I’m eating something delicious, I didn’t take a picture. Instead, here’s a photo of Pontchartrain herself.

The pictures on the left are from the last big flood, in 2005. The Mississippi should crest tonight just below that record high in Memphis. The upper photos in “real color” detail sediment and drift and that thin tan line that looks like a scratch on the photo is the Causeway, the worlds longest bridge at 38 miles and change.

To be honest, this dish isn’t the most picturesque recipe to come out of NOLA. That honor would go to blackened snapper, maybe, or quince paste with beignets.  Pontchartrain sauce is a poor man’s dish, with lots of finely chopped mushrooms and green peppers to fill out the seafood and an overall “lumpy” white appearance. Now that I think about it many of the dishes I loved and learned to make in Louisiana have that look: smothered hare (pale green and lumpy, in its herb sauce), duck’s blood gumbo (you can picture that without help, right?), cheese biscuits (lumpy yellow). All equally delicious, without being particularly photogenic.

Sauce Pontchartrain

3/4 cup green onion or leeks, 1 cup mushrooms, and 1 cup green pepper, chopped fine (I actually whir them briefly, separately, in the food processor. Be careful not to puree.) 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
5 tablespoons butter, in 1 tablespoon pieces and 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or broth, depending on how much seafood you’re adding, and 1 cup Chardonnay
salt, black pepper, cayenne, and tarragon to taste

2 cups (or more) seafood. It’s easier to throw the dish together if all the fish and shellfish are pre-cooked, but it’s also possible to add raw shrimp and other delicates while the sauce simmers.

Cook the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic in the butter, adding in that order, until the vegetables are soft and “reduced”. Add 3 Tbs flour and stir until the roux thickens, about 2 minutes tops. Add the Chardonnay and stock, blend over a very low heat.  Taste before adding the spices because you may not need to add salt.

Shortly before serving add the seafood to the mix. I generally use cooked leftovers and anything goes: lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, or flaked whitefish, or any combination. Serve as is with beer and crusty bread, or ladle over hot white rice, thick slices of toast, eggs, fish filets, or crumbled milk crackers. Hand around bottles of Hiracha and convince your guests that all the vegetables you need for healthy living are in the sauce.

And all best wishes to those living along the Mother River tonight.

 

Snacks for Thomas

I loved making treats for my son. J. didn’t have any allergies, but some of his friends had to avoid peanuts and it was just easier to discover all the wonderful things I could make without: snacks with fruit, seeds, grain, oats and brown sugar. Occasionally there might be a chocolate chip or three, golden raisins, dried blueberries, good times! Now our friend Thomas is newly peanut-free and we’re happy to contribute.

I don’t have a picture for either of the recipes, so here’s a photo of the Boy, snacking.

Brown Bag Banana Bars, adapted from the King Arthur Flour cookbook

1/2 cup butter, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla,3 ripe bananas

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour,  1/4 cup cornmeal, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. poppy seeds, 3/4 cup raisins (I like the look of golden raisins. Experiment with softened dried blueberries, too.)

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar and add the egg and vanilla. Mash the bananas (which will make about 1-1/2 cups) and stir them in. Combine the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppyseeds and stir into creamed mixture until all blended. Add the raisins. Spread in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden. Cool on a rack and cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen bars.

 

Oaties

Ingredients: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking), 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries, 2 teaspoons fennel seed (optional), 3 tablespoons  butter, melted, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1 cup buttermilk. (After you get a feel for these you can really load them up with fruit: fresh raspberries and blueberries with plumped raisins, chunks of papaya or peach, dates, really just about anything.)

Directions; Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, oats, raisins, and fennel seed, if using. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, egg, and buttermilk until combined, then add to flour mixture. Stir until batter is evenly moistened (do not overmix). Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. I use the Silpat for these, because they can be a little sticky. Bake until golden brown, 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let scones cool on a wire rack, 5 minutes.

 

 

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.

List

Today, one of my co-workers  asked me what I grow in my garden. We got silly after a few minutes of listing vegetables, flowers, herbs, berries, and on and on. I told her I’d try to do the entire list tonight, so here goes. I’ve only included the variety if it’s important, or spectacular enough to be the only kind I grow.

Broccoli, broccoli rabe, green beans, yellow and soup beans, pole beans, snow peas, pod peas and soup peas, sweet peas, perennial sweet peas, sweet grass,  Genovese basil, sacred basil, thyme, sage, peppermint, spearmint, pennyroyal, milk thistle, and oregano.

Carrots, parsnips, onions, shallots, leeks (lots of leeks), turnips, rutabaga,  Bull’s Blood Beets, potatoes, tomatoes (Paul Robeson, Peacevine, and Juliet), acorn squash, New England Pie Pumpkins, cantaloupe, muskmelons, Silver Queen Sweet Corn, cucumbers, radishes, spinach, letttuce (Tom Thumb, Bronze Mignonette, Majestic Red, Pablo), mesclun, broad-leaved sorrel, maruba santoh, tatsoi, piracicaba, savoy cabbage, kale.

Alyssum, cosmos, Mexican sunflowers, zinnias, dyer’s broom, coreopsis, heliopsis, batchelor’s buttons, stock, roses (Morden Sunset, Mdm. Isaac Pierre, William Lobb and Hansa), Siberian iris, Japanese buckwheat, Queen of the Meadow, hops, Blue Angel hosta, iberis, daylilies (Dear Dad, Ice Palace, Desert Sun), asiatic lilies (Stargazer, Strawberry Shortcake), elecampne, Chinese forget-me-not, flowering quince, angelica, alpine strawberries, Seafoam strawberries and Jewel, mallow, begonia, ground sand cherry, grapes (Beta, Somerset), blackberries, purple and red raspberries, blueberries (Patriot, Earliblue, several others, wild highbush and lowbush varieties), hydrangea, zucchini, hullless barley, cranberries and lingonberries.

Pinks, pears (Clapp and Seckle), plums, pie cherries, apples (Westfield Seek-no-Further, Golden Russet, Russian Crab, Liberty, Blue Permain), crabapples, elderberry, sorghum, flowering quince, flowering tobacco, snowberry, monarda, heath, heather, sea lavender, herbal lavender, calendula, azalea, peach, Dutch iris, echinopsis, aster, daisy, coral bells, geranium, calendula, cactus, seedum, sedge, feverfew, mullien, digitalis, Joe Pye weed, and columbine.

To be continued. . .