Scone Cold Morning

I’ve always thought of herbs as seasonal. Basil and mint are summer herbs, while rosemary and sage are more wintery. Of course, the sage bush in front of my house, which flourishes in the summer sun, upends my theory. Many summer nights I would run from my kitchen, apron still tied around my waist, to pluck a few leaves off for dishes like sautéed cabbage and white bean dip.

Nonetheless, the sage bush was still hanging on well into January. There were still some thin, curled leaves clinging to life until last week. But with snow forecast, I knew that would be the last of my sage until late spring. I grabbed the last remaining leaves on Thursday night and stowed them away in the fridge.

I wanted those last leaves to have a fitting, wintery use, and this morning we made scones with them: walnut and sage scones with a brown butter maple glaze, to be exact. This recipe was the runner up in a Food52 contest for best use of sage and walnuts. To be honest, this recipe appealed to me more than the winner, a pumpkin rugelach with sage and walnut. (Pumpkin-flavored rugelach? If you’ve ever had Gus and Paul’s version of the cookie you’d most likely agree that squash is not necessary.)

I must confess that Rich helped me a great deal with the baking this morning: My herniated disc has been slowing my kitchen production to an almost stand-still. Rich had the wise idea to make eight scones instead of the four the recipe suggested. A mini version of the cookie proved much less of an irritant to my reflux. Although the original recipe calls for full fat Greek yogurt, we used a low-fat version, something that I now keep in the house as a mild snack for me. And we loved the grated frozen butter tip; we will definitely be utilizing that trick in other baked goods.

The scones were glorious, rich and extraordinarily delicious. A wonderful way to begin a Sunday morning.

And one last thing: If you could ask four questions of the Boston Globe‘s advice columnist, Meredith Goldstein, what would they be? Here are my four questions.

Walnut and Sage Scones with Brown Butter Maple Glaze, from Food52.com

Makes 4 normal-sized scones, or 8 mini-scones

Scone Ingredients
1 stick frozen butter, of which you will use 4 Tbs.
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

scant 1/8 cup sugar (2 Tbs.)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 teaspoon sage, minced or more to your taste

Brown Butter Maple Glaze Ingredients
1 Tbs. butter
1/8 cup maple syrup (which I find at a deep discount at Ocean State Job Lot)
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbs. milk or cream, use enough to slightly thin the glaze

Directions
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees
2. Grate 4 Tbs. of butter and place in freezer until ready to use
3. Whisk milk and yogurt together, set aside. (If your kitchen is warm, place in fridge until needed.)
4. Mix together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sage. Add frozen grated butter and toss until butter is well-coated. Gently stir in milk mixture with a spatula just to combine.
5. Place onto floured bench and knead a few times until it comes together. Gently press into a 1/4″ thick square, then fold up long sides in thirds (like folding a letter) then fold up short sides until you have a small tall square. Place in freezer for five minutes on a floured plate.
6. Place on floured bench and gently fold or roll into 1/4″ thick square. Place enough walnuts to generously cover the surface, then press walnuts into the dough so they stick. Gently roll dough into a log. With seam facing down, press into rectangle — it will be about 6×4 and an inch thick. Using floured knife, cut in half then cut each half into triangles.
7. Place on silicone lined (or parchment paper) baking sheet. Bake 18 — 20 minutes until browned. Let cool.

8. Make the glaze: Melt butter in small saucepan and lightly brown, add maple syrup. It will bubble vigorously. Once bubbles have subsided, whisk in confectioner’s sugar, add enough milk or cream to thin glaze slight (until it looks ‘spreadable’). Drizzle or brush over scones. *Note: If you end up with a thick glaze, just spread on with a spatula and call it icing, no one will be the wiser.

Bean Counter

I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but a few months ago I was invited to a liquor tasting. Although I do enjoy a nice gin and tonic — Hendrick’s with a muddled cucumber, thank you very much — I am really not much of a drinker, and especially not now with the reflux. But the sound of a night of free alcohol and free appetizers was too good to turn away, so on a random Tuesday night I found myself in a function room at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square.

I honestly don’t remember names of any of the liquors I tried: I gave my card to a woman sampling a beet infused alcohol and talked tattoos with a man from a whiskey distillery in Brooklyn.  There were lamb sliders, and chicken wings the girl next to me described as “the best” she’d ever had, and there was a great cheese platter. If memory serves, it was from Formaggio Kitchen, and it had some really nice examples of American cheeses: Humboldt Fog goat, Maytag Blue – you get the picture, good cheese. Someone accidentally forgot to put spoons in the dishes for the local honey and candied nuts that were placed on the side of the cheese – and when I told this story later to Rich, he was a little embarrassed that I’d actually asked for them to track down the spoons. I personally think it would have been a shame if the food they’d meant to serve got tossed in a wastebasket at the end of the night, but that’s just me.

Now, there are two things common at these free events: attractive women doling out samples of the free product, and lots of fun swag given away that has been labeled with the name of their good.  The Icelandic vodka company had messenger bags; I scored a salmon pashmina (yes, pashmina!) scarf from the Italian orange-flavored liqueur. (I just want to make clear that I am not not saying the names of the alcohols because I don’t advertise products on Cheap Beets, but because I honestly don’t know what I was drinking that night.)

And then there was the vanilla-tinged scotch. I was schmoozing with the beautiful woman doling out samples when a couple of people approached the table and asked if they could help themselves to free t-shirts. “Of course!” she replied. “Help yourself.” Now, I hadn’t noticed the t-shirts on the table, but what I had noticed was the display the company had her set up. I was standing in front of a glass jar brimming, and I mean brimming, with whole vanilla beans. There must have been at least 50 standing in front of me, and so I asked her if maybe I could have a few of the beans. (Yes, Rich was even more mortified by this part of the story.) She was a bit surprised by the question – I guess she was more used to getting asked for her phone number than baking ingredients – and I explained that vanilla beans are quite expensive and her bosses might not be happy if they were to disappear. She winked and said she’d look the other away; I grabbed not one but two beans and tucked them in my purse.

I actually forgot about the beans until the next day, when I was waiting for the bus and kept thinking someone was smoking a pipe nearby. The beans rested by my phone, so I had a gorgeous sniff of vanilla every time I got a call. They were still in my purse when I had my class that night. I showed my booty to my classmate the professional baker Joyce (she of the fudge cookie fame). She examined them and gave a sniff, and announced they were actually very good quality. She told me I could wrap them in foil and freeze them until I found a use for them, but she also suggested I make my own extract by sticking them in a small glass jar of vodka and forgetting about them for six months.

But what, I implored, should I bake with them? “Oh no,” Joyce shook her head, “baking with vanilla beans is a waste.” She explained that the only time vanilla beans should be used is in cold dishes. In almost every instance that a baking recipe calls for fresh vanilla beans, a teaspoon or two of extract can be used instead. “But don’t use that chemically fake stuff they sell cheap the grocery store!” she warned. “Always look for real vanilla extract from places like Madagascar and Tahiti.” Joyce said she actually buys hers by the gallon, which fluctuates wildly in price; she’s bought it for a low of $75 to a high of $124. It all depends on the hurricanes and stormy weather. The past few years have been brutal on the baking industry due to the astronomic price of vanilla extract. Who knew?

So the recipe I have for today – creamy rice pudding – can be made with a fresh vanilla bean, but why waste it on something that’s been cooked in a crock pot for hours? This recipe takes leftover rice and makes it into a sweet and creamy dessert. Quick tip: You can freeze leftover rice (or quinoa); it defrosts and heats up in a breeze. I tossed in a few cardamom pods and a scrape of nutmeg — mild spices that won’t upset the reflux. I always have dried cherries in the house from Ocean State Job Lot, but you can replace their appearance with more golden raisins. If you do still insist on using a vanilla bean for your baking, they sell whole vanilla beans in the gourmet section of Home Goods for a few dollars less than you’d pay at the store. My friend Sara takes a note from Mark Bittman and buys hers in bulk off of Amazon. But really, just use the extract.

And one last thing before I get to the recipe: I had mentioned a few posts ago I had some exciting news about a project I was working on. Well, I am pleased to announce my new column “The Four Questions” on JewishBoston.com. Each week I’ll be asking a Jew around town doing interesting things four questions (Passover joke, get it?). In the next few weeks you’ll see interviews with the Globe’s advice columnist, a politico, an ethnomusicologist and a personal chef. Please feel free to drop me a line if you know someone I should be interviewing.

Crock Pot Rice Pudding

Ingredients

2 2/3 cups milk

2 eggs, beaten

4 whole cardamom pods

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cinnamon stick

1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg

½ cup white sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup dried cherries

2 cups cooked rice

Directions

Combine all ingredients except for the dried cherries and golden raisins in crockpot. Add rice. Stir.

Cook in crockpot on high for one hour, stirring intermittently. After one hour, add the dried fruit, turn crockpot to low and cook for one more hour, continuing to stir intermittently. Enjoy!