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.

 

 

Up For Grabs

Lilli is six months old and the strongest baby in the world. She’s crawling. Changing her diaper and dressing her is like wrestling an alligator – minus the teeth. About a month ago we started to feed her. Well, tried to, anyways.  Although she loves the idea of using a spoon, it’s pretty clear that she’s not interested in pureed anything. Carrots she was noncommittal about; sweet potatoes were a no-go, the look she gave me with the avocadoes made it clear she thought I was trying to poison her. Cream of Wheat was clearly as bland to her as it is to the rest of us, and I really thought we would have a winner with the pears. We did not. It seems she wants to be eating, just not what I’m feeding her.

Lilli at the festival

Take these blueberry muffins. I’d been on the hunt for a good muffin recipe. Every time I’ve had a home-baked muffin they’ve always been too dull and far too flat. They always looked homemade. I wanted a big, fluffy muffin like you buy at the bakery, and these are them. They are from the Flour cookbook (the first one) so you know it’s a good recipe. They originally call for raspberry and rhubarb, but Joanne Chang said you can use blueberries, so I did. I’m not a scientist, but I know it’s the four teaspoons of baking powder that made them puff and rise.

Puffy Blueberry Muffins

I baked them once and we gobbled them up. The second time, I knew I wanted to share them with you. So I stood in the kitchen with Lilli on my left hip and plated the muffin. I got out a knife (a butter knife; come on, I’m not that bad a mother), cut the muffin in two and got out my camera. In a flash, Lilli reached down as fast as she could, poked her little fingers in the freshly baked muffin and shoved her hand in her mouth. All I could do was wipe the blueberry off her face.

Lilli approved muffins

That’s when it hit me: It’s not that she doesn’t want to be eating, it’s just that she wants to be eating what we’re eating. So we’re doing things a little differently now. We sat and ate a green pepper the next day. Or, more like she held a big piece of it in her hand and sometimes got it into her mouth. Baby steps — well, baby bites.

Classic Blueberry Muffins from Flour by Joanne Chang

Ingredients

3 ¼ cups (455 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 ½ cups (270 grams) sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks/140 Grams) butter, melted

½ cup (240 grams) milk, at room temperature

1 cup (240 grams) crème fraîche, at room temperature (I use the Greek yogurt that’s always on hand in my fridge. It works perfectly.)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups (320 grams) fresh or frozen blueberries

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin, coat with nonstick cooking spray or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk until thoroughly mixed. Slowly whisk in the sugar, butter, milk, crème fraîche or Greek yogurt, and vanilla until well-combined. Pour the butter-sugar mixture into the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold gently just until the ingredients are combined. Gently fold in the blueberries until evenly distributed. The batter may seem lumpy, but don’t try to smooth it out. (The batter can be made up to 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing it evenly and filling the cups to the rim (almost overflowing). I’ve found that a standard ice cream scoop works perfectly for this step.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown on top and spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan.

Note: The muffins taste best on the day they are baked, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. If you keep them for longer than 1 day, refresh them in a 300-degree-F oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Or, you can freeze them, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 week; reheat, directly from the freezer, in 300-degree-F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.