Drink, Eat, and Be Very Merry Indeed

September 21st, 2016

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I am one of the lucky food writers who have been invited to what is called the Abrams Dinner Party. Abrams Publishing (long known for art books and more recently for colorful cookbooks) will be sending us books to review throughout the year.

I’m already behind on posting reviews (I’m behind on EVERYTHING during this nutty season of the year) so I’m giving you three at once.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse is charming—so much so that although I THOUGHT I was going to set it aside as a prize for my upcoming Hawley Gentlemen’s Pie & Tart Extravaganza, I have decided that it needs to stay in my house so I can use it.

(In addition to enjoying the text I loved the old-fashioned typeface and the whimsical illustrations by the Reverend Michael Alan.)

Grasse is a distiller himself and the creator of such successful historically oriented brands as Narragansett Beer and Hendrick’s Gin. In his book he returns to colonial days, reminding the reader that since the water was unsafe to drink early white Americans turned to ale and other spirits to quench their thirst.

He provides recipes and history for a variety of concoctions, including a variety of beers and wines (cock ale or quince wine, anyone?), ciders, and cocktails. I can now make beverages I had only previously encountered in historical novels, including syllabub, ratafia, and milk punch. (Okay, I may skip the milk punch.)

Look for me to concoct such drinks as cranberry shrub and peach cobbler (yes, it’s a cocktail as well as a dessert) on TV in the months to come.

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In The 24-Hour Wine Expert Jancis Robinson offers a primer for people like me, who either don’t drink wine or don’t know much about it. She helps with selecting wines (telling the reader how to move from one wine s/he likes to another s/he will PROBABLY like), serving them, and storing them.

I have apparently stored much of the wine in my house a little too long.

She also runs through the products of major wine-producing areas and tells the reader how to find a bargain. All in all, this is a handy little book.

Butter & Scotch shares recipes from a combination bar and bakery in Brooklyn of the same name. The bar’s founders, Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth, share their “baking and boozing philosophy,” which is all about having fun while eating and drinking very well. Some of their recipes even combine butter and scotch with delicious-sounding results. All of their recipes are imaginative.

I wanted to test at least one recipe from this book. I was tempted to try the very rich peanut-butter pie but decided to give my guests the slightly less caloric Mama T’s Tuna Quiche.

Basically a rearranged tuna melt in a pie shell (I didn’t say it was calorie free!), the quiche was very popular with a group from my small hometown at a recent pot luck. I think another time I would grate the cheese instead of cubing it, to make it flow through the pie, but I’ll definitely try it again!

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Mama T’s Tuna Quiche

from Butter & Scotch, used with permission

Ingredients:

1 single pie crust
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons flour
6 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed
1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fit the crust into a pie pan. (The original recipe uses an 8-inch springform pan, which would be great, but I don’t have one so I used a 9-inch pie pan.) Refrigerate until ready to fill.

In a large bowl beat together the mayonnaise, milk, eggs, and flour. Add the cheese, tuna, olives, scallions, mustard, and cayenne, and stir well. Pour all of the ingredients into the crust, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the center has set. (The original recipe says 20 to 25 minutes, and if one has the springform that may work, but in my pie pan it took longer.)

Allow the quiche to cool for at least 20 minutes, then serve it warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week and warmed in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serves 6 (more at a pot-luck event!).

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Frittering My Life Away

September 15th, 2016
Fritters make me happy.

Fritters make me happy.

I know, I know. This is my second post in a row about fritters.

I actually only make fritters every couple of years as a rule. Lately, however, I seem to be on a fritter kick.

Please believe me when I say this trend will end soon, for the sake of my waistline if for no other reason.

I will be making apple fritters in public very soon again, however. Apex Orchards in Shelburne, Massachusetts, is having a grand re-opening this weekend (September 17-18). I’ll be part of the celebration, making a couple of recipes from my Pudding Hollow Cookbook.

I have shopped at Apex for years, both for fruit and for the wonderful cider vinegar I buy there by the gallon. Tim Smith’s family has farmed this land for seven generations.

Tim and company have just opened a gorgeous new farm store with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. The gala weekend will feature hot-air balloon launchings, lots of yummy food (including my beloved Bart’s Ice Cream), and of course yours truly. I will be on hand on Sunday from 12 to 2 p.m. dishing up fritters as well as a green salad with apples.

The New Store (Courtesy of Apex Orchards)

The New Store (Courtesy of Apex Orchards)

If you can’t come, do try making the fritters. I prepared them on Mass Appeal yesterday, along with my favorite corn and tomato soup. I’m temporarily unable to upload videos, but you can watch the segments (stuck together, which means you have to watch the soup to get to the fritters) by visiting this link.

Meanwhile, I’m working on making something besides fritters for my next post!

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Apple Fritters

Ingredients:

1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (you can’t really have too much)
1/2 cup flour
canola oil for frying
1 cup apple chunks (bite-sized pieces)

Instructions:

First, prepare the batter. Beat the egg until it is light. Add the sugar, milk, oil, and lemon juice, and mix well. Mix in the baking powder, salt, and cinnnamon; then gently stir in the flour. The batter should be fairly smooth. (A few lumps will disappear in cooking.) Let the batter sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When you are ready to fry your fritters, pour 2 inches of oil into a fryer or heavy skillet and heat it to between 350 and 370 degrees. Stab each piece of apple with a fork, and dip it into the batter. Allow it to drip a bit, but don’t shake off the batter. Carefully lower the coated fruit into the fat, and cook until the first side is brown; then turn and cook the other side. (Turning can be a little tricky, but luckily sometimes you don’t need to!) You may cook 5 or 6 pieces at once.

Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon, and keep them warm in a 250-degree oven until all are ready. Serve alone, or covered with powdered sugar or warm maple syrup. Serves 4.

Courtesy of Apex Orchards

Courtesy of Apex Orchards

Alice’s Corn Fritters

August 30th, 2016

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During this golden season it can be REALLY hard to visit a farm stand and purchase just one ear of corn. I always end up buying at least two ears of this tempting vegetable—and sometimes four, six, or even 12! Consequently, the Tinky fridge usually features leftover corn in late August.

I have made much more complicated fritters in the past; in fact, I posted a fancier recipe here on this blog a few years back. When I was getting ready to cook on TV last week, however, I wanted something simple.

Luckily, my neighbor (and occasional musical collaborator) Alice Parker offered me the perfect recipe. It concentrates on two main flavors—the corn and BUTTER. You do have to be careful to keep the butter from melting, but your vigilance pays off.

The fritters disappeared fast on Mass Appeal, where I wore a yellow hat to pay tribute to the main ingredient and also to my late mother. (The hat belonged to her.) I wish I had a photo of her wearing it—but at least I have a photo of Alice! Here she is (on the left) getting ready to play the piano at our most recent concert, “Love Walked In.”

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The Fritters

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more if you like!)
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 cups kernels from barely cooked corn
butter as needed for frying (up to 1/2 stick—perhaps even a little more)

Instructions:

Separate the eggs. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. In a medium bowl whisk the egg yolks until they turn a paler yellow. Whisk in the baking powder, the salt, and the pepper. Using a wooden spoon stir in the flour, followed by the corn. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Warm a frying pan or griddle, and melt the butter. When it is nice and hot use a cookie scoop or spoon to form the corn mixture into little clumps, and fry them on both sides until brown, turning once. The mixture will be free form but delicious. Serve the fritters immediately by themselves, with sour cream and dill (my friend Betsy’s idea!), or with maple syrup. Serves 4.

And now the video. Note how fluffy the fritters become!

Blueberry Sugar-Top Muffins

August 4th, 2016

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These simple, super tasty muffins are best made with the tiny, low-bush blueberries we have locally in western Massachusetts at this time of year. I call them blue pearls and can’t get enough of them. As I have probably mentioned too many times on this blog, I find them smaller, sweeter, and more freezable than those clunky high-bush berries.

The recipe will work with any kind of blueberry, of course. If your berries are frozen, you will no doubt have to increase the baking time.

This muffin formula comes from a musical acquaintance of mine named Theresa Kubasak, who obtained it from a teaching nun named Gen Cassani. My nephew Michael wolfed down several of these muffins the morning I first baked them.

So of course I made them on Mass Appeal this week, where they were once again a hit. If you watch the video below (and I hope you do, if only to see my spectacular hat in its full glory!), you will have all the information you need by 6:15. I just kept the video rolling so you could see co-host Lauren Zenzie’s enthusiastic reaction to the muffins a couple of minutes later.

Happy blueberry weather!

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The Muffins

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
sanding sugar (or regular sugar if that’s all you have) as needed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 18 muffin tins with cupcake/muffin liners. Melt the butter over low heat (or in a microwave oven), and set it aside.

In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients. Place the blueberries in a smaller bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the dry mixture to the berries, and toss with a spoon.

Return to the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the melted butter, followed by the floured berries. Use a cookie scoop or a tablespoon to fill the prepared muffin tins with batter. Sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake until the muffins begin to brown on top and have no wet batter in the middle, 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 18 small muffins.

And now, the video….

The Food of Love

July 24th, 2016

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My most recent television appearance was devoted to encouraging viewers to come to my concert this coming Saturday. Alice Parker and I (known near and far—mostly near—as the Divas of Hawley, Massachusetts) will star in LOVE WALKED IN, an evening of classic love songs by such songwriters as the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach, and Alice herself.

If you’re in Western Massachusetts this weekend, I urge you to join us on July 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Federated Church on Route 2 in Charlemont. Donations at the door will go to the Rose Anna Dixwell Fund, which helps fund music lessons for local children.

I firmly believe that all children—and all adults, for that matter!—should make music whenever possible so I’m proud to be associated with this endeavor.

The evening will be fun, with lots of hamming it up from the resident soprano and lots of singing along. Cabot Cheese has donated nibbles for the after-concert reception, and bakers are standing by to brave the heat and make cookies, so our program should be delicious literally as well as figuratively.

To highlight the concert’s romantic theme on Mass Appeal, I prepared my idea of a romantic meal. Everyone’s ideal romantic meal is different. This one was loosely based on a meal I enjoyed when I was 19 at la Maison de Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

Van Gogh's Bedroom

Van Gogh’s Bedroom

My companions and I toured the tiny room in which Van Gogh spent his last months. We then dined downstairs in a lovely, convenient restaurant. I ordered a small steak (really, the French know how to cook steak to perfection) with a delectable salad. To complete the meal the waiter brought an ENORMOUS bowl of chocolate mousse to our table. I was in food heaven.

The company—my honorary godmother Dagny Johnson and her nephew Eric—was pretty wonderful, too. If Van Gogh had been able to enjoy such food and such company, he would probably never have committed suicide.

I couldn’t replicate the steak or salad exactly; I’m not French. So instead for my romantic meal I made my favorite flank steak, which I have described before on this blog, and a fresh salad with my neighbor Gam’s herbed buttermilk dressing. Gam’s recipe calls for dried herbs, but since I had fresh ones I used those instead. The dressing turned a fascinating shade of green.

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I did have a French recipe for chocolate mousse, thanks to my mother’s cordon-bleu studies. So the mousse was authentic.

I didn’t have QUITE enough time to beat the egg whites for the mousse on the air—live TV presents unique challenges—but I brought along some mousse to serve and share with everyone at the studio.

It went fast!

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Seth comforted me following the egg-white debacle.

Gam’s Herbed Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley (or more!)
1/2 teaspoon dried chives or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried basil or lots of fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon or lots of fresh
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus more if you like)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in the order indicated and mix well. Store in the refrigerator, and re-shake before using. Makes a little over 2 cups of dressing.

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Taffy’s Cordon Bleu Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

6 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) sweet butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 tablespoons coffee, divided (you may use water instead or use a bit of each)
4 eggs at room temperature, separated
1/2 cup superfine sugar, divided (if you don’t have superfine sugar and don’t want to buy it, whirl regular sugar around in a food processor for a bit; that will do just fine.)
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

In the top of a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over warm water) combine the chocolate, the butter, the vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of coffee. Cook the mixture over hot water, stirring, until the chocolate melts. Remove the pan from the top of the hot water, and set it aside to cool.

In another heatproof bowl combine the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of coffee, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Place them over the hot water and cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture becomes uniformly frothy and lighter in color.

Remove the yolk mixture from the top of the hot water, and whisk it for another minute or so. Whisk in the chocolate mixture. Allow the resulting concoction to cool for a few minutes so that it is lukewarm to the touch. (You may begin beating the egg whites while the chocolate/yolk mixture is cooling.)

Combine the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat them until the egg whites are foamy. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar and beat the egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. (It helps to add a little bit of them at first, then the rest.)

Spoon the mousse into a serving bowl or bowls. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight; then serve with a little whipped cream. Serves 8.

And now the videos……