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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Smooth and Smokey Barbecue Sauce

For flavor homemade barbecue sauce can't be beat but most recipes include instructions to cook chopped onions as the base for the sauce. This tastes great but leaves the sauce chunky, no matter how much I cook the onions down. In this recipe the cook makes "onion juice" for the onion flavor. It's quick and convenient, since the ingredients are already in my pantry. As far as I'm concerned it is just perfect.


Smooth and Smokey Barbecue Sauce

Yield: approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1/4 c water
1 c ketchup
5 T molasses
2 T cider vinegar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teas liquid smoke (optional, see note)
1 teas hot pepper sauce (or less)
1/4 teas ground black pepper
2 T vegetable oil
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teas)
1 teas chili powder
1/4 teas cayenne pepper (or less)

In a food processor or blender process the onion with the water until the mixture resembles slush. This will make you cry unless you wear onion goggles. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract liquid until you have 1/2 c onion juice. Discard or compost the solids.

Whisk the onion juice, ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, liquid smoke, hot pepper sauce, and black pepper together in a medium bowl (or if your liquid measuring cup is big enough, mix it in there to save dish washing).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (nonreactive) over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the garlic, chili powder, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the ketchup mixture and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the flavors meld and the sauce thickens, about 20-30 minutes. Cool. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen. 

Cook's Illustrated did a test on liquid smoke and found that most are full of who-knows-what chemicals to approximate the flavor of smoke. I believe Wright's brand uses a kind of still to extract smoke flavor so buy that brand if you want smoky sauce.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tomatoes, Finally

I've battled with leaf hoppers, thrips, and hornworms, plus a disease or two, all of which delayed the harvest but finally we have more tomatoes than we can eat. I'm in heaven!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brown Sugar Berry Shortcakes

Late summer is berry time in my garden; we've been enjoying strawberries and raspberries for a few years and this year we are having our first small blackberry harvest. It won't be long until the raspberries overwhelm me. But I'm not sorry. When I eat a fruity dessert it is easier to rationalize any sense of guilt away and I love the season when I get to eat as many berries as I want. This version of shortcake is particularly lovely. The brown sugar complements the berries nicely; you don't have to dirty a food processor unless you want to; you don't have to roll the dough out; and the sour cream in the whipped cream stabilizes it and adds a bit a tang which contrasts with the sweet sugar.

When we lived in Belgium, our friend Gigi introduced us to one of the most simple and delicious ways to eat strawberries: dip them in sour cream, then in brown sugar, and pop them in your mouth. Fantastic! This recipe captures those flavors.


Brown Sugar Berry Shortcakes

Serves 6

For the fruit:

6 c mixed berries (any combination of strawberries, raspberries, black berries, blue berries, currants--the addition of the darker berries looks beautiful)
4-6 T packed light brown sugar

For the shortcakes:

2 c flour (I used a combination of unbleached flour and white-wheat flour)
3 T packed light brown sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 teas table salt
8 T unsalted butter (frozen) plus 1-2 T for melting and brushing on shortcakes
1 large egg
1/2 c sour cream
2 T granulated sugar

For the cream topping:

1 c heavy cream
1/4 c sour cream
1/4 c packed light brown sugar

Prepare berries by trimming as necessary. Halve and slice strawberries; leave raspberries, blueberries or currants whole; halve blackberries. With a potato masher crush 2 c berries with brown sugar in a medium bowl and let sit out until the sugar has dissolved and the berries are juicy, about 30 minutes.

Prepare the shortcakes by heating the oven to 375F. With your hands mix the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, making sure the brown sugar is fully incorporated. Remove the butter from the freezer and grate it into the flour mixture, using the larger holes of a box grater (or flat).  Lightly toss the butter into the flour to distribute it evenly. Whisk the sour cream and egg together in a small bowl and stir it into the flour mixture until large clumps form. Using your hands, knead it lightly until the dough comes together and all the flour is absorbed. If you prefer to use a food processor to mix the dough, you may pulse the dry ingredients together, then drop in tablespoon size chunks of the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 7 pulses. Transfer the mix to a large bowl and add the cream/egg mix.

Using a large ice cream scoop (a # 10 disher is best), scoop 6 dough rounds onto the baking sheet (either sprayed with cooking spray or lined with  silicone paper). If you don't have a scoop of this size you can divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and form into mounded shapes. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Bake until golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Rotate the pan in the oven half-way through baking time. Cool the shortcakes for 10 minutes. (You may also cool, wrap and keep on the counter for 24 hours. My preferred method is to freeze them, otherwise the sugar topping tends to get soggy and they can be kept for a month or two which is helpful in my household of two.)

To prepare the cream, beat the heavy cream, sour cream, and brown sugar to stiff peaks.

To assemble, split each shortcake in half using a serrated knife. Place the bottom halves on serving plates and spoon some of the fruit mixture over each one, making sure each serving gets a good amount of juice. Top the fruit with the cream and nestle the cake top in the cream dollop. You're ready!

Note:  As my family knows, I love whipped cream. I advise you to double the cream. It is up to you whether you double the brown sugar. I think the amount of brown sugar makes the cream a bit too sweet, but it does make it a lovely color.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Susie's Pasta

This is a long overdue post, and I thought I'd get it up before fresh basil and tomato season is over. We had snow on the mountains last night, and it's heralding the end of my garden, all too soon.

Susie's Pasta is named after my dear friend from graduate school, and it evokes memories of cozy evenings in Chapel Hill apartments, sharing dinner and good conversation in days long gone now. Susie served me this pasta when we were in library school together, and it quickly became a family favorite. The fresh herbs and tomatoes make a delicious sauce, and the garbanzo beans tend to nestle inside the shell pasta for a nice surprise when you take a bite.

The recipe calls for Roma tomatoes, but I have used a variety of small garden tomatoes and it's worked just fine.


Susie's Pasta

Source: Susie
Serves 4-6 (generously, I think)

6 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs plum tomatoes, diced
1/8 teas hot red pepper flakes (1/4 teas if you prefer more heat)
2 c garbanzo beans (1 can, or you could cook your own)
1 lb conchiglie pasta
1/4 c parsely, minced
1/2 c basil, chopped
1 c pecorino romano cheese, grated

Heat olive oil in skillet over low heat. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes, hot pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Raise heat to medium and saute, stirring often, for 15-20 minutes. The tomatoes will break down and start to form a sauce. Stir in the beans and continue to cook until the beans are hot.

In the meantime, boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta until al dente. Retain 1/2 c of the pasta cooking water before draining. Transfer pasta to a large warm bowl. Add sauce, parsley, basil, and toss. Add cheese and toss, adding cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce.

Peach Melba Crisp

I had lots of peaches and raspberries this week, so I tried this recipe.


Peach Melba Crisp

Source: Cook's Country Magazine
Serves 6-8

For the filling:

2 T instant tapioca
2 1/2 pds fresh peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2-in wedges (or 1 3/4 pds frozen sliced peaches)
1/4 c sugar
1/8 teas salt
1 T lemon juice
1 teas vanilla
10 oz (2 cups) raspberries

For the topping:

1/2 c flour (I used half white wheat and next time will use all white wheat)
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 teas ground cinnamon
1/4 teas ground ginger
1/4 teas salt
6 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, chilled
1/2 c old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick)
1/2 c pecans, chopped

Grind the tapioca in a spice grinder or blender until it is finely ground. In a bowl, toss the peaches with the sugar and salt and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the peaches through a colander set inside a bowl and reserve the juice. Return drained peaches to original bowl and toss with 2 T reserved peach juice and ground tapioca, lemon juice, and vanilla. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish (or equivalent) and press gently into an even layer. Top peaches with raspberries. Heat oven to 400F.

While the peaches are macerating, combine the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a food processor and process until combined (about 15 seconds). Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand (about 8 pulses). Add oats and pecans and pulse until mixture forms marble-size clumps and no loose flour is visible (about 15 pulses). Chill mixture for at least 15 minutes.

Spread the fruit with the crumbled topping. Place in center of the oven and bake about 30 minutes until the topping is well browned and the fruit juices are bubbling. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes and serve with cream or ice cream.

Notes:  My first attempt was a little runny so in the future I'll either add tapioca or reduce the amount of juice I stir back into the peaches. I liked refrigerating the topping which kept the clumps together even through baking. But I won't put the pecans in the food processor; they were too finely chopped.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Raspberry-Chocolate Sauce

My everbearing raspberries have been slowly starting to produce. Here's one tasty way I like to use them.


Raspberry-Chocolate Sauce

Source: The New York Times
Yield: 2 1/2 cups

12 oz raspberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted
3/4 c Dutch processed cocoa
3/4 c heavy cream
4 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar
1/3 c light corn syrup

Puree the raspberries in a food processor and pass them through a fine strainer or food mill to remove seeds. Set aside.

In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, gradually whisk the cocoa into the cream, stirring until smooth. Add the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and raspberries and stir until well blended. Place the pan over medium heat and slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat to medium-low and let the mixture continue to boil slowly for 8 minutes without stirring. Remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes if serving hot. Poor sauce into a container, let cool, cover and refrigerate until needed. It will last for at least a month. It may be reheated slowly on the stovetop or in a microwave.

Note: I have found that the cocoa doesn't completely dissolve in this sauce which is purely an aesthetic issue. It bothers me a little so I use a stick blender to more completely whisk the ingredients together before heating.

Note to anyone in possession of raspberry juice: you can substitute 1 to 1 1/3 c juice for the raspberry puree.

Note to those who use Winco Dutch-processed cocoa: you may want to use less cocoa since this brand seems darker and rather overpowers the raspberry flavor.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Peachy Pancakes

My favorite time of year is here with its abundance of fruits and vegetables. I've come to really appreciate a juicy, naturally ripened peach since supermarket suppliers refrigerate green peaches and they rarely ripen properly, instead turning mealy and dry. Here is one method to capitalize on the short, but luscious peach season.

This is a whole slice (off one side of the pit) rather than the called for half slices.


Peachy Pancakes

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Makes 8-10 pancakes

1 large egg
1 c sour cream
1/4 teas vanilla
2 T sugar
1/4 teas salt
1/4 teas cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
3/4 c flour (can be all white, or substitute part with whole-wheat, oat, or rye flour)
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas baking soda
Butter for the pan
1 peach, halved, pitted, and very thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch slices)

Begin to heat your skillet or griddle on medium-low. If you wish to serve all pancakes at once, heat your oven to 250F to keep the first pancakes warm while you cook the others. Whisk the egg, sour cream, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl. In another bowl, blend together the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold dry ingredients into well, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy.

Note: This makes a relatively thick batter and a thick pancake. I like mine thinner, so I added a third cup of milk to the yogurt. This increases the yield somewhat.

Melt a pat of butter in a skillet or on the griddle. Ladle 1/4 c batter, leaving 2 inches between each pancake. Arrange two sliced peach halves on each pancake (don't worry if they are larger than the pancake which will spread). After about 4 minutes, watch for edges that are drying and for bubbles forming in the middle of the peach slices. Carefully use a spatula to get all the way under the pancake and flip it in one quick motion. If a peach slice slips out, you can nudge it back in. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or so until the peaches are caramelized.  Be generous with butter which will help with caramelization and with flipping. If peaches brown too quickly and the pancakes aren't done, turn down the heat. Placing finished pancakes in the warm oven will ensure they cook through.

Serve with maple syrup or ginger syrup which you can purchase or make: Ginger Syrup

Friday, August 15, 2014

Spaghetti with Zucchini and Basil

Zucchini pairs beautifully with pasta. See here for a similar option, with eggs. This simple recipe comes together quickly, and it's easy to deconstruct the meal for picky eaters. (Or just serve the picky eaters plain spaghetti, like we do in our house.)


Spaghetti with Zucchini and Basil

Source: Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 lbs small or medium zucchini (don't use a large squash here; they are not as tender and flavorful as the smaller squash)
1/3 c-1/2 c olive oil to taste
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 c half and half or whole milk
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 c mixed freshly grated Parmesan and Romano (or just Parmesan, if that's what you have)
Handful basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Heat a large pot of water for the pasta. Quarter the zucchini lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Warm the oil with the garlic in a wide skillet. Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently over medium heat, stirring every so often until the squash is soft and browned in places, about 20 minutes. Add the half and half and cook for 10 minutes more.

Meanwhile, add salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta. Drain and toss it with the zucchini, cheese, and basil. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

Help: Bumper Crop of Green Peppers!

Harvest season is on, in my neck of the woods. Here's what a typical picking of my garden (every other day) looks like, except that this was over a week ago and now I have more beans and tomatoes:

What this doesn't show, however, is my bumper crop of these beauties:

My fridge is filling up with green peppers, and I don't know what to do with them. I have chopped some up and frozen them, but I think I've only got one recipe that calls for them. Friends, I need your help. What should I do with my green peppers? What do you do with green peppers?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Peach Ice Cream

Betsy and I are doing a test of peach ice cream somewhat complicated by the fact that neither of us can taste the product created by the other. (Oh, well.) This recipe cooks the peaches slightly before mixing them with the cream. To tell the truth it doesn't taste really "cooked" but it doesn't have quite the bright flavor of a fresh peach. Maybe next time I'll try adding a little more of the lemon juice.


Peach Ice Cream

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Yields more than one quart

1 1/3 pds ripe peaches (about 4 large peaches)
1/2 c water
2/3 c sugar (the original recipe calls for 3/4)
1/2 c sour cream
1 c heavy cream
1/4 teas vanilla extract (or almond)
a few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

Halve the peaches, peel, and remove the pits. Cut the peaches into chunks and cook them with the water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring once or twice, until soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in the sugar, then cool to room temperature.

Puree the cooked peaches and any liquid in a blender or food processor with the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla, and lemon juice until almost smooth but slightly chunky.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (at least six hours), then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Note: I wish I had used a hint from Cook's Illustrated and done the following:

In your freezer, place about 1/4 of the mixture in a shallow container. When it is time to churn the ice cream cut the frozen mix into chunks and stir into the chilled mix. This will lower the temperature of the mix which will give it a creamier texture and reduce ice crystals.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

These are so easy to make, I'm ashamed I don't make them more often. They receive favorable ratings from nearly everyone I've made them for.


Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Source:  Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker from Cook's Illustrated
Makes about 40

1 c cream of coconut (NOT coconut milk, but rather the sweetened, thickened juice sometimes used in cocktails--can be found in cans or in plastic bottles
2 T light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
1 teas vanilla extract
1/2 teas salt
3 c unsweetened shredded coconut (you can use dessicated coconut, although results can be a bit crumbly)
3 c sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

Set two oven racks to the upper and low-middle positions and heat the oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray.

Whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the two kinds of coconut in a large bowl. Break up any large clumps of coconut with your fingertips. Pour the liquid ingredients into the coconut and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until evenly moistened.

Drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Form the cookies into loos haystacks with your fingertips. If you get too sticky, moisten your fingers with water and keep forming. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back and from rack to rack at the midway point.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets until slightly set, about 2 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

To dip in chocolate:

Chop 10 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and melt 8 oz. in a microwaveable bowl on medium power for a minute or two. Stir the chocolate and, if needed, microwave for another 30 seconds, also at medium power. Stir to ensure it is all melted. Add the additional 2 oz. chocolate and stir until smooth.

Hold the macaroons by their pointed top and dip into the chocolate, up the base about a quarter inch. (Because mine were a bit crumbly last time, I used a skewer to help me hang on to them.) You may scrape some of the excess chocolate with your finger, if you wish (I didn't do this step much since I like plenty of chocolate with my macaroon). Refrigerate the macaroons to help the chocolate harden. They don't need to be stored in the fridge unless room temperatures are high.

Note: The last time I made these, I decided to try out a couple of variations. I salted a few of them by sprinkling coarse salt over the chocolate right after dipping (the salt was on the bottom of the cookie and although it melded with the chocolate, it didn't entirely dissolve). All my tasters wished I'd done more of these. On a few I also tucked a toasted whole almond into the macaroon before baking. I think I will make some with toasted, slivered almonds next time because the flavor was good but the big hunk of almond made for an odd texture and it would be nice to have the almond flavor throughout.