Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not Your Normal Potato Recipe

I was a picky eater as a child. Turnip? Cauliflower? Parsnips? No way! Plain simple mashed potatoes were a favorite, especially Memere's. Always light, fluffy and very tasty – never pasty or clumpy. I loved Memere's potatoes. What I didn't know was she was feeding me turnip.

Turnip-potato casserole comes from French-Canadian cuisine. Those fur traders had to survive harsh winters and found lots of ways to gussy up their boring winter provisions. I substitute cauliflower in the early fall when local veggies are plentiful and switch to the traditional turnip when the weather turns freezing.

I'm a very lucky cook, a member of a true melting pot American household. French, Italian, Polish and a touch more of this and that -- the hardest part when it comes to whipping up family favorites is to decide which part of the family!

WONDERFUL WHIPPERS
1 head cauliflower, chopped
4 parsnips - peeled and diced
2 medium white potatoes - peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 tablespoon milk
salt and pepper to taste

Place the vegetables in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook until fork-tender.

Drain the water from the vegetables, and stir in the butter until melted. Beat with an electric mixer, adding milk until light and fluffy. Don't beat for too long, just until smooth. Season to taste and serve hot: makes enough for four servings.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Note from Red Sox Nation

OK, so what if they're out of it unless they win every single game left in the baseball season. This is Red Sox nation, and the game is on TV so guess what we're doing tonight? The Sox are playing for nothing but pride and we're damned proud of 'em.

Drinking red martinis and snacking on perfect rosy cold-cooked shrimp dipped in spicy red cocktail sauce while we root for our team. Hell, it's all tied up at the end of three … time for another red martini for me and the drunk guy sitting next to me on the couch.  As for the rest of you: Just wait until next year!

Update: Despite a late inning 2 run homer by Victor Martinez and what looked like a rally in the 9th, the Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays: 11-9. Oh well.

RED CANDIED APPLE MARTINI
2 fluid ounces pear vodka
2 fluid ounces sour apple schnapps (such as DeKuyper® Sour Apple Pucker)
2 fluid ounces cranberry juice

Pour the pear vodka, apple schnapps, and cranberry juice into a cocktail shaker over ice. Cover, and shake until the outside of the shaker has frosted. Strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish a slice of ripe pear and serve.

RED SEAFOOD DIPPING SAUCE
1 cup Ketchup
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving, can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Especially good with cold cooked jumbo shrimp.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Maine: New England's Potato State

Next week, the only multi-state agricultural fair in the United States will open in West Springfield, MA. The Big E is billed as "New England's Great State Fair" -- it's the sixth largest agricultural fair in the nation and the largest in New England. Each state has a small-scale replica of their state capital on the Avenue of States.

The star attraction? Food.

Vermont has maple syrup, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and lots of cheese. Rhode Island offers clam fritters and Massachusetts' apple pie washed down with, of course, cranberry juice. Connecticut has Italian ice and New Hampshire's chocolate fudge is amazing. Then there's Maine -- the building everyone flocks to. Sure, they have lobster rolls. But it's Maine baked potatoes (move over, Idaho!) that draws hordes willing to wait in long lines for a taste of hot, buttered, sour-creamed spuds.

Did I mention they weigh at least a pound each?

What about the leftovers? Ugh. I can't count how many halves ended up tossed after sitting in the fridge for a week. Why? Because other than breakfast fries, I couldn't think of a way to make cold starchy blobs lively enough to eat a second time -- until I came across this version of twice baked potatoes in a brochure at the (surprise!) Maine building about ten years ago.

The original recipe called for a classic Alfredo sauce but I had no Parmesan so substituted a mild Vermont made Colby that tastes so yummy, you'll end up baking extra potatoes (or buying a few at The Big E to take home!) just so you can make this casserole later in the week!

TWICE BAKED POTATO CASSEROLE
4 medium Idaho pre-baked potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
dash of salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 bunch broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup grated cheddar or Colby cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut baked potatoes into chunks. Heat butter in saucepan. Sprinkle with flour, stir into a roux. Add the milk and seasonings. Simmer until just boiling. Remove from heat. In a large greased casserole dish, layer the potatoes alternating with sauce and broccoli pieces. Hint: In a hurry? Buy a package of frozen chopped broccoli and defrost it ten minutes before assembling the casserole so you can break it up for layering. Finish with a top layer of sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake covered for 15 minutes. Toss the ingredients lightly then bake uncovered for another 5 minutes -- serves 4.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Best Butter Crust Ever

This crust recipe is worthy of the best French chef -- the simplest ingredients using a complicated technique that delivers scrumptious results. From fussy Frangipane with pears (full recipe below) to fresh berries glazed with seedless jam (microwave the jam a minute before brushing it over the berries piled in the perfectly baked crust).

Cooked chocolate pudding (make it dark chocolate) also makes a yummy filling. Add a dollop of whipped cream. Not exactly on the low-cal diet menu but I guarantee your family will be in awe!

BUTTER SHORTBREAD TART CRUST
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
dash of salt
1 stick very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in — mixture will be the size of baby peas. Whisk the yolk in a small bowl before adding it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg fully added, process in long pulses about 10 seconds each until the dough forms clumps. Turn the dough onto a work surface. Knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Lightly press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another. Don’t press so hard that the crust loses its flakiness. Pierce the crust with a fork to prevent puffing.

If you prefer rolled dough: Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, for an hour before rolling. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round. Turn dough occasionally to keep it from sticking to the paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork.

Whichever method you choose freeze the crust in the pan for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Freezing the crust eliminates the need to use weights during baking. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon or prick it with the tip of a small knife. Bake the crust about 8-10 minutes longer, or until it is firm and golden in color. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before adding fillings for the final baking. If using crust as a base for fresh fruit or cooked pudding allow crust to bake an extra five minutes to turn a darker golden brown; a pale crust has less flavor. Do not allow crust to burn however. Makes enough for one 9-inch tart crust

PEARS
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 medium-size firm but ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled

Bring water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

FRANGIPANE
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
2 teaspoons brandy or cognac


Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter and brandy. Blend until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)
When ready to bake your pear tart. Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spread almond filling evenly in pre-baked tart crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center. Cut one half pear into slices the long way. Fan three slices in between each spoked pear.

Bake tart until golden and toothpick inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Can be made up to 12 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperatureat least 4 hours before serving. Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Applesauce!

Only one ingredient matters when making applesauce. Pick sweet apples like Gala Fuji, McIntosh or Honeycrisp – forget Granny Smith's. They make great pie but sour applesauce. Use at least two different varieties. I have McIntosh apples and Bartlett pears from our own trees so I add a pear or two instead of a second variety of apple to enhance taste. I didn't need to add any sugar.

You can pick your own, or buy them at an orchard or grocery store. Here in western Massachusetts, the UMass Cold Spring Orchard reasearch and education facility sells all kinds of apples. If you are buying your apples from a commercial orchard, ask for "seconds" or "drops". Apples with a bruise or odd shape make great sauce and cost less than perfect apples. Not all orchards sell "seconds", but they're a bargain when you can get them. A half bushel of apples will yield about 12 pints of sauce.

Get the jars ready before you start cooking the apples. The dishwasher is fine for the jars. Leave the jars in the dishwasher on "heated dry" until you are ready to use them. If you don't have a dishwasher, wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse, then dip the jars in boiling water. Keep the jars in hot water until they are used. Keeping them hot will prevent the jars from breaking when you fill them with the hot applesauce.

Put the lids into a pan of hot, but not boiling water (manufacturer's recommendation) for 5 minutes, and use a magnetic "lid lifter wand" or a slotted spoon to pull them out.

Wash the apples in plain cold water. Chopping them is much faster if you use an apple cutter - you just push it down on a peeled apple and it cuts it into segments. Apples get brown edges fast so as you cut them, drop them in a bowl of lemon water (1 whole lemon squeezed into a quart of water) until you have enough to begin cooking.

Cooking the apples is pretty simple. Put 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 cup of store-bought apple juice into a 4 or 5 quart, thick-bottomed pot. Drop in the chopped apples until the pot is 3/4 filled. Put the lid on, and the heat on medium-high. When it starts to boil turn the burner down to medium and cook, stirring often, until your apples (and in my case a pear or two) are soft. Use a potato masher to squash the apples into a slightly chunky sauce and take a taste – if your sauce is a little too tart or too bland, you can add sugar one teaspoon at a time until you like the flavor. Go easy on the sugar, as a little goes a long way when it comes to applesauce. You can add cinnamon if you like. Again, start with a sprinkle because, like the sugar, a little goes a long way.

The applesauce does not need any further cooking; just keep it hot until you get enough made to fill the jars you will put into the canner Canners hold seven jars at once. Fill the canning pot 1/2 way with water and set to boil.

Fill the prepared jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Using a clean damp cloth, wipe any spilled applesauce off the top, seat the lid and gently tighten the ring around the lid. Put the jars in the canner and add enough hot water to keep them covered with no less than 1 inch of water. Get the canner back to a full boil and begin timing. Boil pint jars for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes. (If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level, check recommended canning time.)

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight). Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed by pressing in the center gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. Refrigerate unsealed sauce promptly for use within a day or two. Some folks reprocess successfully but I don't recommend it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Love Me Tender Beef Roast

Not long after Farmer Paul and I said "I do" I tried and failed to make a proper beef roast. I underestimated how long it should cook based on a cookbook which said 20 minutes per pound. The next try, I overestimated and the result was more like bland beef jerky than a pink juicy roast. It wasn't until my mother-in-law bought me one that I realized that what I was missing was a good quality thermometer.

Boneless ribeye roast was on sale this week and today was just cool enough an afternoon to turn on the oven. A few simple ingredients and armed with your own trusty meat thermomenter, the result will be tender, juicy prime beef every time.

SUNDAY SPECIAL ROAST BEEF
One 3-4 pound boneless rib roast
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, finely grated

To cook evenly, the roast must not be cold - let it stand at room temperature, loosely covered, for one hour. If you don't let the roast sit at room temperature, your roast won't cook evenly, and you'll end up with well-done slices on the end and raw meat in the center.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Blend garlic, rosemary and parsley in a small bowl, set aside. Pat the roast dry with paper towels or napkins. Smear only the cut ends of the roast with butter. Rub the outside of your roast with the spice mixture. Do NOT salt your roast. Salt draws out moisture from the meat during cooking.

Place the roast, fat side up, in a metal roasting pan. Use a roasting pan with 3 inch sides and a raised rack so the roast doesn't sit in its juices as it cooks. Sear the roast for 15 minutes at the higher oven temperature (425 degrees F.), then lower the temperature to 325 degrees F for the rest of the cooking time. Do NOT cover your roast.

Begin checking the internal temperature after 45 minutes of baking time, using a good instant-read digital meat thermometer. Hint: Play it safe and start checking early, as you don't want anything to go wrong. Internal temperature, not time, is the best test for doneness.

When checking the temperature of your roast, insert meat thermometer so tip is in thickest part of beef, not resting in fat. Cook until roast reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees F for rare, 130 degrees F for medium rare, 140 degrees F for medium. Remove from oven, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Slice to desired thickness with a very sharp carving knife or electric knife for clean even slices. Serves 4-6.