Warmth and Cider High on a Hill

April 25th, 2018

High on a hill on Reynolds Road in Shelburne, Massachusetts, Wheel-View Farm enjoys a stunning view. The farm house and much of the land have been in Carolyn Wheeler’s family since 1896, although she and her husband John have added to their property over the years.

Originally a dairy farm, Wheel-View now sells mostly beef, fruit, maple products, and hard and sweet cider. When I visited last fall, the Wheelers were getting ready for Cider Days. Cider season is, of course, over—but we’re still enjoying (if that’s the word) cool weather so it FEELS like cider season.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch John Wheeler press fresh cider—and to taste his product. The Wheelers have a small but efficient cider-pressing system they purchased from OESCO in Conway, Massachusetts. John explained that the press was discovered in Italy, where it is used to press grapes for wine.

The pressing has two stages. First, John feeds fresh, crisp apples into an electric grinder. When I visited he was using a blend of Golden Delicious, Macoun, and Liberty varieties.

Next, the ground apples are transferred to a round press with a “bladder” in the middle. The press is powered by water from a garden hose. The water fills and expands the bladder, pushing the apple pieces out to the edges of the press. Holes in the sides allow the cider to flow out in a waterfall.

When the cider has finished flowing, the dry leftover pulp becomes a treat for the Wheelers’ cattle. It is the only thing the cattle eat other than grass and hay from their own pasture.

Nothing is wasted—and the cider has a deep, rich flavor. It was without doubt the best cider I have ever had. It tasted just like apples. I love apples.

After the pressing, Carolyn Wheeler took me to her cider tasting room, which opened in 2016.

Designed by Carolyn in an old outbuilding, the large, wood-paneled room welcomes visitors who want to buy cider or beef, as well as those who want to try a glass of hard or sweet cider on the spot along with a snack.

The tasting room is also a museum of sorts. Carolyn has filled it with antiques and collectibles from the farm’s past, including many pieces of household and farm equipment. As a music lover, I enjoyed testing her player piano and listening to “The Happy Wanderer” on her family’s Victrola.

The bill of sale for the Victrola hangs on the wall behind the record player. “My family never threw anything out,” Carolyn said with a smile as she pointed to the receipt.

The Wheelers have welcomed a number of groups to the tasting room and the farm, from school (and college) students to the members of senior centers and granges in the area. Their visitors are encouraged to try to identify the uses of the pieces of farm equipment on display.

The Wheelers are retired educators. They view Wheel-View not just as a source of food but also as a source of information about farming practices in the past and present. As they look toward the future, Carolyn told me, they hope the farm can be maintained as some kind of educational center.

Meanwhile, the pair are making the most of their life as farmers. They have recently revived a traditional New England apple product John Wheeler’s grandmother used to enjoy, cider syrup (also known as boiled cider).

This is cider boiled down to concentrate the flavor. The pair sell it in three flavors: plain cider syrup, cider syrup mixed with maple, and cinnamon cider syrup.

Carolyn showed off the syrup’s versatility for me in a sweet-and-savory slow-cooker pot roast that also featured Wheel-View Farm’s beef. I made it on Mass Appeal this week, along with my grandmother’s chocolate cake. (My TV appearance coincided with what would have been her—gasp!—129th birthday.)

Wheel-View Farm’s cider tasting room is open most weekends, although would-be visitors are encouraged to call or check the farm’s website before venturing forth.

By the way, as I mention in the second video below, I’ll be teaching a free recipe-writing workshop on Sunday, May 6, as part of ArtWeek here in Massachusetts. This week celebrates arts of all sorts and features hundreds of events, many of which are free. If you’re in the neighborhood and are thinking of writing up a recipe or two (for publication, or even just for friends a family members), I hope you’ll come. Preregistration is required, but that’s not hard to do. Here are the details.

Wheel-View Farm Cider-Syrup Pot Roast

Ingredients:

3 to 4 pounds beef roast (I used chuck)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 dash nutmeg
pepper to taste (3/4 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup catsup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup cider syrup or cider-maple syrup

Instructions:

Place the roast in a slow cooker. Combine the remaining ingredients and spread them on top of the beef. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on high. There is no need to add water; the roast makes its own gravy. You may also cook it on high for 1/2 hour and then let the beef cook overnight on low.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, place the beef in a covered pan and spread the sauce on top; then place it in a preheated 500-degree oven. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook for several hours or overnight. (I haven’t tried this method, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t work!)

When the beef has finished cooking, remove it from the pot, cut it up if necessary (it mostly just falls apart), and return it to the sauce.

Serves 6 to 8.


And now the videos:


Tinky Makes Wheel-View Farm Cider-Syrup Pot Roast


Tinky Makes Her Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake

Eggscitement

April 12th, 2018

Eggs from the Chickens at Hawlemont School

We are only just now beginning to enjoy spring weather here in western Massachusetts. For the first ten days of this month, snow fell daily—not in great quantities, but enough to remind country dwellers that spring arrives when it wants to and has very little respect for paper calendars.

Despite the nippy weather and the lingering snow showers, it’s hard not to notice that the days are getting longer and the sun is getting higher in the sky. I’m still eating a lot of soup—I love soup year round—but I’m also starting to cook lighter fare.

Nothing is lighter or more seasonally appropriate than eggs. As I said when I returned to Mass Appeal this week and focused on those oval sources of protein, I’m humbled by eggs. They really are a miracle food.

On a philosophical level, eggs represent both the miracle of life and the complicated history of evolution. (The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, has been debated for thousands of years.)

On a culinary level, eggs are nothing short of amazing. That something so small can fluff up into something so big always delights me, surprises me, and tickles my fancy.

Eggs are also easy to work with. The two recipes I made on TV both took very little time and very little skill to put together. They were showy nevertheless.

First, Lauren Zenzie joined me to make an old family favorite, an almost cheese soufflé, which my sometime neighbor Roy Lewis has dubbed “”Pseufflé.” I have shared that recipe elsewhere on this blog, but I encourage you to watch the video anyway.

Please note that you should NOT push the soufflé down with a spatula the way Lauren did when I was getting the finished product out of the oven! (I should have warned her not to do this, but I didn’t think to, and the soufflé we made together didn’t rise at all.)

Danny New then helped me throw together a bright, tasty orange angel pudding. Everyone seemed to enjoy eating both dishes.

It was great being back with my friends. Snow or no snow, they made me feel that spring had arrived!

By the way, the eggs I used this week came from the wonderful agriculture program at my local elementary school, Hawlemont School in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

Orange Angel Pudding

Ingredients:

6 eggs, divided
1 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup orange juice
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
2 pinches salt
1 envelope gelatin
1/2 large (or 1 small) angel food cake, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 cup cream, whipped and flavored with vanilla (or Grand Marnier or Cointreau!)

Instructions:

Whisk together the egg yolks, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the orange juice, the zest and 1 pinch of salt. Cook over a double boiler until the mixture thickens and coats a spoon. (This took me about 10 minutes.) Remove the mixture from the heat. Dissolve the gelatin in about 1/3 cup of cold water, and stir it into the egg-yolk mixture.

Beat together the egg whites, the remaining sugar, and the remaining salt until stiff. Fold the whites gently into the custard mixture. Line a springform pan with waxed paper or parchment, and alternate the custard and the cake in it beginning and ending with custard.

Chill the mixture for 24 hours. Unmold the pudding, and cover it with whipped cream. If you want to make your life easier, forget the springform, and do the layering in a trifle bowl; you may serve the pudding right out of that. Serves 8 to 10.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Almost Cheese Souffle


Tinky Makes Orange Angel Pudding

A Sweet Class

March 30th, 2018

Here I am stirring carrots and holding forth about maple syrup.

Happy spring! The snow is receding in Hawley, Massachusetts. Can daffodils be far behind?

Yesterday I returned to teach a class at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton. I love this kitchen store. It has just about anything one could need for one’s kitchen (and lots of stuff one doesn’t need but wants). The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. And the owners let me come in from time to time and teach a class.

We’re at the tail end of Maple Month so my class last night featured a full meal of maple. The students did a wonderful job of chopping, kneading, mixing, baking, and sautéing. I had very little to do—which suited me just fine. We had a great group, including a couple from New Hampshire whose family has been boiling maple syrup for 160 years. Their children had given them the class as a Christmas present because the two had tons of maple syrup and no idea what to do with it.

I was too busy guiding the students and droning on about the history of maple syrup to get my camera out, but luckily one of the store’s wonderful employees, Louisa Teixeira Bushey, took some photos.

We started the meal with a green salad (spinach and arugula with crumbled Gorgonzola) tossed in my maple balsamic vinaigrette. To accompany the salad, we munched on Swedish oatmeal bread. The bread recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook made with molasses. I find that maple syrup makes it even better—more delicately flavored but just as sweet.

Elaine Ostergren taught me to make this bread. Elaine was a Swedish-American woman who directed the choir in my church for many years. A cryptographer during World War II, Elaine raised a large family and still managed to take in foster kids with her husband Cliff. They were a darling couple, and I like to think of them when I make this bread.

Those of you who celebrate Passover won’t be able to make it for a few days—but it would make a great addition to an Easter meal. I hope any holiday you celebrate at this time of year is a joyous one.

Elaine’s Swedish Oatmeal Bread

Ingredients:

2 cups raw oatmeal (Do not use instant or steel cut.)
boiling water just to cover the oats
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon later
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons anise seed
1 egg, beaten
6 to 6-1/2 cups flour
1 package yeast

Instructions:

Cover the oatmeal (barely) with the boiling water. Add the syrup, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt, the butter, the anise seed, and the egg. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well. Soften the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in which you have dissolved the remaining sugar, and add it to the other ingredients. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that begins to hold together.

Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, and let it rise, covered with a damp towel, in a warm spot for 4 hours (less if using rapid-rise yeast). Punch down the dough, and shape it into 3 loaves. Place them in greased and floured loaf pans, and let them rise for another hour. Bake at 325 for 1 hour. Makes three loaves.

First Try at Sushi

February 28th, 2018


One of my favorite things to do during my holiday shift at Williams-Sonoma (which ends in February) is teaching cooking classes, particularly children’s classes. I love the enthusiasm and appetite young people bring to the experience.

Last month I was asked to teach a class in conjunction with the store’s American Girl Around the World Cookbook. The class covered an odd but intriguing duo of recipes: vegetable sushi and Black Forest cake.

I have worked with the American Girl books before, and in general I’m not crazy about them. The recipes tend to be bland and sometimes don’t quite work.

The Black Forest cake recipe lived up to that experience. I actually baked the basic cake twice. (It had to be made before the class so that it had time to cool before my students decorated it.) In neither case did I care for the consistency. My students didn’t really mind because the whipped cream and cherries they slathered all over the final product literally and figuratively covered up the cake’s defects.

The sushi was a different story. I loved it! Never having made sushi before, I enlisted my family’s aid in pre-testing the recipe. We did change it a little bit. The cookbook wanted the sushi rolled by hand into little cornets. I couldn’t for the life of me make that work. Instead, we rolled it by hand into the classic cylinders and rounds. Soon my sister-in-law, who adores sushi, purchased a little sushi mat to simplify the rolling procedure. It definitely helped—but if you want to try the recipe, you don’t have to have the mat.

Here is the cookbook’s recipe, amended by my family.  Our sushi is a work in progress, but it will improve over time. Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that my students had a grand time making the sushi. Their rolls weren’t entirely neat (neither are mine!), but they tasted great.

Of course, the fillings for the sushi can be varied. One of these days I plan to try making classic sushi with fish. For the moment, I’m happy.

Vegetable Sushi

Ingredients:

for the rice:

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups cooked short-grain sushi rice (we have been using Nishiki brand, but others are available), still hot

for assembly:

1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 to 3 sheets of nori (seaweed), cut in half
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (white or black or some of each)
2 baby cucumbers, peeled (or not!) and cut into thin pieces
several baby carrots, cut into thin pieces
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced

for serving:

soy sauce or tamari
wasabi (optional: some people, like me, love it, while others find it too spicy)

Instructions:

Begin by making the seasoning for the rice. In a small saucepan combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt over low heat. Stir and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve (a minute or 2). Set aside to cool completely.

Cook the rice according to package directions. (I usually cook it for a little less time than the recipe suggests and then let it sit off the heat for 10 minutes to finish cooking on its own.)

Place the hot rice in a baking dish, using a spatula or paddle to spread it out evenly. Slowly pour in the vinegar mixture while slicing the spatula through the rice to make sure that it goes all the way through. Flip the rice so that all of it gets some of the liquid. Cover the rice with a clean, damp cloth while you get ready to make your sushi. (The seasoned rice is essential to really good sushi so don’t try to skip this step.)

Combine the vinegar and water for assembly in a small bowl. Place 1 piece of nori, shiny side down, on a clean, dry work surface or sushi-rolling mat. The long side should be closest to you. Slice the nori in half so that you have two long sheets.

Scoop a couple of tablespoons of rice onto one of your sheets. Dip your fingers in the vinegar/water mixture to keep the rice from sticking to them; then gently flatten the rice on the sheet, leaving room on all sides but particularly on the long side opposite you.

Lightly sprinkle the rice with some of the sesame seeds; then place a few slices of cucumber, carrot, and avocado on top, keeping them fairly near you on the rice. 

 

For this roll we forgot the sesame seeds and went too close to the edges of the nori (nobody’s perfect!), but you can see how the vegetables are clumped together.

Lift the side of the nori closest to you, and roll it forward. The process is a little delicate. You want a small amount of pressure to keep the sushi together, but you don’t want to squash it.

When the sushi is rolled, remove the mat (if you are using one) and slice the sushi into little rounds with a serrated knife. Serve with soy sauce and (if you like it) wasabi. Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.


A Southern Twist on Funeral Food

January 31st, 2018

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I LOVE funeral foods, an affection I inherited from my mother. With a nod to Shakespeare, she billed herself as a “specialist in funeral baked meats.” When a neighbor died she sprang into action organizing contributions to the post-funeral repast.

One of these days I will find a publisher for my death-related cookbook, which will be titled Dishes to Die For: America’s Favorite Funeral Foods. Meanwhile, I take inspiration from a new funeral-food cookbook that highlights the south.

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist (Countryman Press, $22.95, 176 pages) comes from the fertile pen and kitchen of Perre Coleman Magness. Magness, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, is the author of Pimento Cheese the Cookbook. She is clearly my soul sister. In addition to doting on funeral food, I adore pimento cheese. I ate it almost daily when I lived in Tennessee.

Magness’s new book abounds with tempting recipes for classic southern foods, from fried chicken to chess pie. It also adapts many typical southern dishes into crowd-friendly form, providing for example a mini version of cinnamon buns and an easily sliced caramel Bundt cake (much handier for a large group than the typical layered version).

I recognized many of Magness’s recipes from my southern sojourns and also from funerals I have attended, but some were new to me. I can’t wait to try her paper-bag chicken (yes, it’s chicken roasted in a paper bag, and it sounds WONDERFUL) and her buttermilk pie bars.

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook is a keeper—perfect to consult when you’re heading out to a funeral or just entertaining friends and family at home.

Photo courtesy of Perry Coleman Magness and Countryman Press

Southern Sympathy Sweet Tea Bread (Courtesy of Perre Coleman Magness/Countryman Press)

Sweet tea is a staple of southern hospitality. Almost every restaurant at which I dined in Tennessee and Texas provided large pitchers of sweetened iced tea at low cost. Here Magness uses this ingredient as the basis for an elegant sweet loaf.

Ingredients:

1 family-sized tea bag
2 sprigs mint, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
the zest of one medium lemon
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Instructions:

Put the tea bag and 2 sprigs of mint in a measuring cup. Add 1 cup boiling water. Steep for 30 minutes; then remove the tea bag and mint. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with baking spray.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh mint. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Measure out 1/2 cup of the tea, reserving the rest for the glaze. Add the flour, the baking powder, and the salt to the butter in the bowl in three additions, alternating with the tea and scraping down the sides of the bowl. When everything is well combined, beat on high for 5 seconds; then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes; then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Whisk in the remaining tea slowly until you have a pourable glaze about the consistency of heavy cream. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a spoon, spreading to cover the top with a few attractive drips down the sides. Let the glaze set for about an hour.

The loaf will keep in an airtight container for a day. Makes one loaf.

Just for fun, here I am in full funeral mode, leaning on the tombstone of Abigail Baker, my hometown’s best known baker. Mrs. Baker won the famed pudding contest our town sponsored in 1780. This photo will grace the cover of my own funeral-food book.