Over Yonder

I’ve been going through a Southern thing lately. I was offered a near-free subscription to Garden & Gun magazine, much to the dismay of Rich, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The articles are interesting, the writing is excellent and the recipes are creative. He grumbles about it, but I point out that some of the best American writers of all time are Southerners. (Not counting John Grisham, and I say that having gobbled up four of his novels 20+ years ago.)

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When I was in college Sylvie and I went on a road trip to Graceland. We actually didn’t make it — there was a dental emergency in Nashville — but the scenery was breathtaking. Honestly, if you’re looking to see some of the best of what the United States has to offer, visit the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, and drive the Shenandoah Skyline. The beauty of Appalachia will make you weep.

Over the past few months I’ve borrowed a number of Southern cookbooks from the library. Truth be told, there wasn’t a thing I could eat in Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles. My Two Souths also relied heavily on things that oink and creep and crawl on the bottom of the ocean, but there were some gems in it. Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard was a good book, but too sprawling; she could have spread all those recipes out across two or even three books. Sean Brock’s Heritage is excellent, although there’s still a ton in the book I can’t eat. (If you’re curious about what Jews can and do eat in the South, definitely check out Marcie Cohen Ferris’ Matzo Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South.)

So when I was offered Fruit, A Savor the South cookbook by Nancie McDermott, I jumped at the opportunity: A Southern cookbook based on foods I could actually eat. Well, sort of. There are some fruits I just can’t find up here, and some I’ve never even heard of, like mayhaws, scuppernong grapes, and pawpaws. But for the fruit I can get hold of, the recipes are terrific: fresh peach fritters, watermelon-rind pickles, Okracoke Island Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze, horchata made with cantaloupe seeds.

The recipe I decided to share with you is the strawberry shrub. I figured most of you have best access to strawberries. A shrub is a fruited drinking vinegar that has its roots in the sultry climates. The root of the word is from the Arabic sharab, which means “to drink”.

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As Nancie puts it, “Shrubs are a lovely means of preserving summertime berry goodness for sipping on the porch while lightening bugs flicker or by the fireplace come winter. Vinegar adds a tangy kick to the ruby fruit, making a syrup that can be added to club soda or sparkling water to make a homemade soft drink, or stirred into a champagne, white wine, or cocktail for a spirited refreshment.”

We cut ours with seltzer from the Soda Stream and it was refreshing and delicious on a warm July night. It’s a bit like having a homemade Italian soda, now that I think about it. Rich put some in a beer, and said it was a little like a Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer often drunk with raspberry syrup. In this case, the tartness comes from the syrup instead of from the beer.

The recipe calls for the jar to be set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours and to make sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light. I tucked mine away in the basement for two days. But since I found a snake in the basement last night, I’m never going back down there again. I’ll have to find another place to age my shrubs.

To sterilize the jars, I used the method from Artisan Preserving:

Wash in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Strawberry Shrub from Fruit by Nancie McDermott

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

3 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups trimmed and quartered fresh or frozen strawberries

3 cups sugar

Directions

Prepare a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid as directed.

In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegar until it is just about to break into a bubbling boil and remove it from the heat. Place the strawberries in the prepared jar and pour the vinegar over them, making sure they are covered by an inch of vinegar. Let cool to room temperature and then cover tightly. Set aside in a cool, dark place for 24 – 48 hours (be sure the jar is not exposed to heat or light.)

Strain the vinegar into a medium saucepan and discard the solids. Add the sugar to the vinegar and bring to a rolling boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the shrub cool to room temperature. Pour the shrub into a clean, sterilized jar and cover tightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

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Stirring the Pot

Rich had to shush me and drag me away from the potluck offerings at Tot Shabbat last month. Lilli is now four and can be trusted to eat things like popcorn and cherries, but Beatrix is just two, so I winced a bit too dramatically when I saw those on the table. (Yes, I still halve their grapes and cherry tomatoes. Better safe than sorry.) And don’t get me started on the farro walnut salad. There was an incident at a neighborhood potluck where Sylvie ended up in the emergency room. Nut allergies are no joke.

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Still, there was a moment at the tables that made me smile: It was plain to see who also used Mountain View for their farm shares. It’s beet season, and the vivid pink Chioggia beets, and the sunbursts of the golden beets, dotted the salads on the table. Roasted and diced into quinoa, sliced into salad greens, beets were on full force at the potluck.

It’s also summer squash time, and today I bring you the summer squash cake I brought to Tot Shabbat. It takes minutes to pull together and is really, really tasty. Rich first thought of zucchini bread when I talked about making this cake, but this is in no way a “bread.” This is clearly a cake. A moist, sweet one, with a cream cheese frosting. Without the frosting, it’s still moist and sweet, and dairy-free.

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As you can see, the frosting in our version was pink, as per the request of Lilli. You certainly don’t need to dye yours. Confession: I overestimated how much squash to grate in our food processor, so I used the leftovers the next night to make summer squash ricotta fritters. I recommend you do the same if you also end up with too much squash.

The recipe is from the new cookbook Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak, a pastry chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in California kitchens. The recipes in this charming book are seasonal and use produce one finds at the farmers’ market, or in my case, the CSA. It begins in the springtime when we enjoyed a very lovely mango mousse. She is a California chef, after all, so some of her fruits and vegetables are a bit more tropical than my Western Mass options. There’s also a blueberry crisp I have my eye on, and a roasted beet panna cotta with candied walnuts that is just singing to me. But first, I had to share this dead simple summer squash cake, since I’m sure you have too many summer squash in your crisper right now.

Summer Squash Cake from Farm to Table Desserts Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak

Ingredients

Cake

3 large eggs

2 cups grated summer squash

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature

¼ unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Cake

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9- or 10- inch round pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, squash, sugar oil, and vanilla extract well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

Frosting

Sift the powdered sugar and set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 30 seconds to ensure no lumps remain. Add the powdered sugar all at once and mix on low speed until sugar is just incorporated. Scrape bowl well and beat on high speed for 10 seconds.

Remove cooled cake from pan and place onto a serving platter. Cut the rounded cake top off, if desired. Spread cream cheese frosting on in a decorative design. Store cake in refrigerator.

 

Blueberries for gals

It was only after we’d returned from our annual trip to Maine for the Fourth of July that the berries out back really started to ripen. Now, every day after work and camp, the girls and I head out back. Bea is still a little too young to only pick the ripe berries, but Lilli gets it. In bowls, Tupperware, and sometimes in the folds of our dresses, we collect the day’s berries.

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There’s another Maine connection to this post, in that I’d been waiting for ripe blueberries to make this recipe from The Lost Kitchen cookbook. The Lost Kitchen is this restaurant in Freedom, Maine, that opens up its doors to reservations only a few months a year. The chef is Erin French, and she forages her ingredients, and sources things directly from the farmers and fishermen. She’s considered a true visionary when it comes to farm to table, or, in some cases, ocean to table.

And this cookbook, oh my, this cookbook. We started the book in the spring with the macerated shallot vinaigrette (shallot, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and a couple twists of pepper) drizzled over asparagus from the front yard. I made the rest of my colleague’s yard rhubarb into compote, which I then baked into a rhubarb spoon cake. And the parsnip needhams were a smash hit at Bea’s birthday party.

But really I was just working my way up to this recipe: Fresh Blueberries with Basil Custard Cream. And yes, this recipe truly is seasonal: The basil started coming in the farm share last week, right on time to be paired with the ripe blueberries out back. And yes, the recipe is as astoundingly delicious and delightful as it sounds.

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First you steep the basil in warmed heavy cream, milk and sugar for 20 minutes. Then you make a custard with four egg yolks and chill it. If you’re anything like us, while that’s all steeping and chilling, you use the leftover egg whites to make meringues. I’m including a bonus recipe after the main one so you’ll have something to do with your four egg whites. Rich broke up his meringues into the custard and had himself an Eton Mess. I personally preferred the recipe as written, but still thought it was a great idea.

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Eton Mess or not, this recipe is a stunner. In the next day or two I’m going to take some more of our berries and make Summer Berries with Ginger-Cream Shortcakes. It is worth noting that because this book is set on the coastal shores of Maine there’s a ton of shellfish in the book. Not my thing, but if it is yours, you’ll love the book even more than I do, and that’s saying a lot.

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Fresh Blueberries with Basil Custard Cream from The Lost Kitchen by Erin French

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk

3 cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

1 cup basil leaves, plus more for garnish

4 large egg yolks

1 pint blueberries

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, 1 cup of the cream, and the sugar. Bring to a slow boil over low heat, just to let the sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat.

Tear the basil leaves and add them to the hot mixture. Let steep for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly until well incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly but does not boil. Strain it through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the basil and any curdled egg bits. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely.

Whip the remaining 2 cups to stiff peaks. Fold in the custard and serve in bowls with the blueberries, garnishing with basil leaves.

Meringue Clouds from flour by Joanne Chang

We skipped the almonds and halved this recipe with perfect results. I prefer a chewy meringue, so ours were done at the 3 hour mark. I have read about some meringue bakers who set their cookies in the oven at night and open the oven door the next morning. It’s entirely your preference.

Ingredients

8 egg whites

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (100 grams) sliced almonds, toasted

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 175 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form. (This step will take 6 to 8 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) The whites will start to froth and disappear. Keep whipping until you can see the tines of the whip leaving a sight trail in the whites. To test for the soft-peak stage, stop the mixer and lift the whip out of the whites, the whites should peak and then droop.

On medium speed, add the granulated sugar in three equal additions, mixing for 1 minute after each addition. When all of the granulated sugar has been incorporated into the egg whites, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about 30 seconds longer.

In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold the confectioners’ sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites. Then, fold in the almonds, reserving 2 tablespoons for garnish.

Use large spoon to make baseball-size billowing mounds of meringue on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. You should have 8 mounds. Sprinkle the reserved almonds evenly on top of the meringues.

Bake for about 3 hours, or until the meringues are firm to the touch and you can remove them easily from the baking sheet without them falling apart. For meringues with a soft, chewy center, remove them from the oven at this point and let them cool. For fully crisped meringues, turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the closed oven for at least 6 hours or up to 12 hours.

The meringues can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

 

 

Change of Schedule

I truly thought my next post was going to be about fruit, or the next few posts, when I really think about it. With three sour cherry trees out back, countless blueberry bushes, and brambles of thick black raspberry bushes, a fruit post only made sense.

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But life moves pretty fast. Tonight I texted Rich, “I hope you’ll be home any minute, because dinner is amazing and I’m worried there won’t be any left by the time you get home.” I thought it best to share the dish with you all, if only so I have a record to go back to.

The dish in question is Radishes with Tonnato, Sunflower Seeds, and Lemon. It’s from Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, a book I’d read about and finally got from the library last week. When I saw this recipe, I knew it was a keeper. Honestly, this whole book is a keeper. I was on page 46 out of 396 when I remarked out loud, to no one in particular, that I thought I was going to need to actually purchase this book, rather than keep it out until the library hunted me down. I still have to make the Caper Raisin Vinaigrette, and since I’ve already earmarked this week’s CSA summer squash for a summer squash cake for Tot Shabbat, the Squash and “Tuna Melt” Casserole will have to wait until next week.

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Today’s recipe is technically in the Spring section, even though I think we are now in Midsummer. But considering that asparagus keeps growing in my front yard, I think I get a pass. Tonnato is a tuna sauce, and here it’s spiked with fresh lemon, then tossed with fresh radishes and toasted sunflowers. The recipe also calls for a small handful of fresh mint. I didn’t have any on hand, but I’m thrilled with the dish, as is.

I’m a tuna fanatic, be it on a bed of sushi rice or mashed with mayo in a salad with celery, bread and butter pickles and handfuls of fresh herbs, but this here might be my new favorite way to enjoy it. Last year I’d gotten into buying tuna in oil, to toss with fresh pasta and chopped olives and capers, so I’d had a can in the house. Although the basic tonnato recipe calls for two cans of tuna, the radish salad says to use half the recipe, so the one can I had on hand was perfect.

I served this alongside this fresh cherry and herb salad. I actually couldn’t find the hot pepper I swore I had in my crisper, so I used a pinch of Aleppo pepper in its place. The whole dinner felt fresh and amazing — the first of many to come with all the fresh fruits and veggies coming my way.

Radishes with Tonnato, Sunflower Seeds, and Lemon by Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

Ingredients

½ recipe Tonnato (to follow)

Juice of ½ lemon

2 bunches radishes, greens trimmed off and reserved for another dish, radishes halved or quartered

1 small handful of mint leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup sunflower seeds, lightly toasted

1 small handful sunflower sprouts, optional

Directions

Put the tonnato in a large bowl, squeeze in a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, and stir to mix. Add the radishes and toss to coat.

Add the mint and season well with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust with more salt, pepper or lemon juice.

Add half the sunflower seeds and sprouts (if using). Toss, then top with remaining seeds and sprouts. Serve soon.

Tonnato

Makes about 1 ½ cups

Two 5-ounce cans oil-packed tuna, drained

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

About 1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise (such as Hellmann’s or Best Foods)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

About 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

Put the tuna and salt in a food processor and pulse until it’s blended. Add 1/3 cup mayonnaise and pulse until the ingredients are getting creamy. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice and process until the tonnato is very smooth and creamy.

Taste and add more mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, or salt. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

More Ways to Use It:

Use as a dip for any raw, grilled or roasted vegetables.

Spread of slices of veal.

Thin it out with more lemon juice and toss with boiled and smashed new potatoes or add it to a romaine salad.

Spoon it on bread and top it with Soft-Cooked Eggs, tomatoes and capers.

Use it in a charred broccoli dish.