Cocoa with Friends

August 31st, 2015

Cocoa with Friendsweb

Peaches are still in high season here in western Massachusetts so I have been on the lookout for new peach ideas. I got a delicious one from Dave MacDonald of Highland Barbecue in Northfield. (If Highland were closer to my home, I would be in serious dietary peril; Dave’s barbecue is versatile and authentically Southern.)

His peach lemonade is perfect for a summer day, tart and refreshing with just enough sweetness. The lemon flavor dominates brightly, but one can taste the peaches and the ginger as well.

Why is a post about lemonade called “Cocoa with Friends”? Because when I went to Mass Appeal on Wednesday to make the lemonade I took my adorable new puppy, Miss Cocoa Chanel. Yes, I know the original Chanel spelled her name “Coco,” but I do love giving my pets culinary names so I deviated just a tad. I kept the designer’s surname. Basic black is always chic.

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Cocoa came from Mulberry Farm, the birthplace of my dear, late Truffle. Breeder Carol Bobrowski really wanted to keep the little black girl for herself, but in the end she decided that I needed the puppy more than she did. We picked Cocoa up on Monday, and two days later she visited the TV station. (Her life is very exciting, but I already know that she can handle excitement.)

My sister-in-law Leigh and nephew Michael were visiting, along with Michael’s friend Carson, so Cocoa had plenty of attention while I was on camera. And Michael and Carson helped with my prep in the kitchen, making a simple recipe even easier.

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You can watch the video below, along with the one for panzanella, for which I provided the recipe a few years back. Meanwhile, be assured that Cocoa and the peach lemonade were huge hits with everyone at WWLP-TV.

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Peach Lemonade

Ingredients:

4 cups water 2 cups coarsely chopped local peaches 3/4 cup sugar 1 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and grated (or diced if you must, but Dave thinks grating gives better flavor, and I’m inclined to agree) 1 cup lemon juice (from about 6 lemons; grate some of the zest to use as the syrup cools) lots of ice

Instructions:

Place the water, peaches, sugar, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the syrup for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove it from the heat, and add the lemon zest.

When the mixture has cooled, blend it thoroughly in a regular or immersion blender until it is smooth. Chill the result thoroughly.

Sieve the cold puree through cheesecloth or a very fine strainer to release the peach syrup. (You may discard the pulp.) Stir in the lemon juice, and pour over ice.

Serves 6 ish.

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Here is the lemonade video:

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And here is the one for the panzanella:

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Italian Fruit Tarts

August 6th, 2015

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“What makes this recipe Italian?” you may ask. Well … I wanted to honor Frank Sinatra. The 20th century’s most popular Italian-American singer would have turned 100 this year. And I am singing in a Sinatra tribute concert this coming Saturday.

To tell you the truth, a similar tart is made in many different places around the world. If I were performing a concert honoring Edith Piaf, I would call it a French fruit tart. If I were paying tribute to lyricist Johnny Mercer of Savannah, I would call it a Georgia peach tart. But … I’m paying tribute to Sinatra so by golly it’s Italian.

My concert will be called “To Be Perfectly Frank.” I am not actually going to try to BE Sinatra—that is, to imitate him. My voice is nothing like his. Even if it were, I would remain woefully aware that anyone who wants to hear Sinatra can listen to the real thing thanks to the enormous repertoire of recordings he left.

What I want to convey is his relationship to music—the way in which he made numbers his own, the emotion he conveyed while delivering a torch song, the fun he had with his colleagues and his audiences. Sinatra had a remarkable facility for putting across a song, a strong sense of self, and an aptitude for reinventing himself. I’d love to emulate him on all of those fronts!

With a little help from pianist Alice Parker and baritone Don Freeman, I’ll perform some of my favorites of his 1000-plus recorded songs on Saturday evening. I hope the audience will approve of our choices.

Donations at the door will go to the minister’s discretionary fund of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts. The concert will include several sing-along numbers, and I promise it won’t last too long. Refreshments will be served when the singing ends.

If you can’t make it to Charlemont this Saturday, I hope you’ll listen to a Sinatra recording and make this yummy tart. I prepared it on Mass Appeal this week and later for company—and no one seemed to have any trouble finishing the tarts, even though they were a little large for individual consumption.

The tart-shell recipe comes from Wilton, from whom I purchased the tart pans. I love the fact that it requires no rolling; one just pats the crust into the pans. You may also use an 8- or 9-inch tart pan and have only one large tart. In that case you should reduce the tart shell and pastry cream ingredients by a third.

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The Tarts

Ingredients:

for the tart shells:

1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the pastry cream (crème patissière):

1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
4-1/2 tablespoons flour
1 pinch salt
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla

for assembly:

fresh fruit in season as needed (I used local peaches from Clarkdale Fruit Farms—wet but luscious!)

Instructions:

Begin with the tart shells. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and the sugar until they are just blended. Add the flour and the salt, and stir until the mixture seems crumbly. (It will be dry.)

In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the vanilla; drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture. Combine until the flour mixture is evenly moist; it will still be crumbly.

Divide the mixture among 6 (approximately) 4-inch tart pans. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pans.

Bake the crusts for 16 to 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Cool them for 15 minutes in their pans; then carefully remove them. Cool them completely before filling them. You may make them up to a couple of days ahead and store them in an airtight container.

Next, make the pastry cream. In a heavy pan heat the milk until it is hot, but do not let it come to a boil. Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl, and stir in the milk. Beat the mixture. Return it to the pan, and stir constantly over low heat for 4 to 6 minutes until it becomes thick and smooth.

Add a bit of the warm mixture to the beaten egg yolks, and then add a bit more; then stir the egg yolk blend into the rest of the pastry cream. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick custard. Cool, stirring every 5 minutes or so, and then stir in the vanilla.

When the pastry cream has cooled (allow at least half an hour for this; you may also cook it the day before and refrigerate it overnight), assemble the tart.

Spread the cream on top of the crust; then arrange the fruit attractively. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

And now the video:

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Locavore Bliss

July 23rd, 2015
Making All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt makes me happy. (So does wearing big hats.)

Making All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt makes me happy. (So does wearing big hats.)

I like buying and eating locally. The food one gets is fresher that way. I’m not an obsessive locavore. Nevertheless, I have dreamed in my modest way of creating a recipe that uses ONLY ingredients native to my small hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts.

Here is that recipe!

One COULD argue that two ingredients do not constitute a recipe. The two ingredients here work so perfectly together, however, that I’m going to call them a recipe.

The dish is maple frozen yogurt. I made it using Sidehill Farm yogurt. Sidehill moved to Hawley a couple of years ago and sells lovely raw milk and other products as well as the yogurt.

The farm is worth a visit if you’re in our area. I know Carnation used to bill its products as “the milk from contented cows.” The Sidehill cows are DEFINITELY contented.

Courtesy of Sidehill Farm

Courtesy of Sidehill Farm

I combined the yogurt with maple syrup from my neighbors at Chickley Alp Farm. How much more local and delicious could food be?

This dessert was a huge hit when I visited Mass Appeal this week. Unfortunately, the video to which I link below doesn’t show the best part of the show: the look of rapture on co-host Ashley Kohl’s face when she tasted the yogurt. (No, I’m not exaggerating. “Rapture” is the mot juste.) That look made me very happy.

The yogurt also made me happy. Commercial frozen yogurt doesn’t tend to taste very yogurt-y. This version had lots of yogurt tang, combined with maple sweetness. My “recipe” was a match made in heaven.

You may ask why I used whole-milk yogurt instead of low fat. I had never made frozen yogurt before, so I consulted several cookbooks and websites. Apparently, low-fat yogurt becomes very hard very quickly if you pop leftovers in the freezer.

If you put this version in the freezer for a few hours, you will find it lovely and creamy still. (I haven’t tried freezing it for longer than a few hours; it’s too popular in my house.)

And let’s face it: frozen whole-milk yogurt is still healthier than ice cream!

Just for fun after the video link to the yogurt segment I have embedded the video for the other recipe we made on the air this week, cowboy caviar. I have featured the caviar recipe, from my wonderful Texan friend Teri Tynes, previously on this blog, and it’s remarkably tasty.

But first, the yogurt recipe:

All Hawley Frozen Yogurtweb

All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt

Ingredients:

1 quart plain Sidehill Farm Yogurt
3/4 cup Chickley Alp Maple Syrup (darkest version preferred)

Instructions:

Whisk together the yogurt and maple syrup. Place them in an ice-cream maker and freeze until ready (about half an hour, in my experience).

That’s it! Serves 8.

Now, for the yogurt video:

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And here is the cowboy caviar.

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Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries

July 9th, 2015

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My plan for this week’s television segment was sidelined when I got an email from Clarkdale Fruit Farms announcing that the orchard’s cherry crop had come in. I LOVE cherries—and I couldn’t resist the chance to cook with them during their short but glorious local season.

My friend Michael Collins, chef at the new Mexican Fusion restaurant Ponte in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, had recently informed me that he makes gazpacho with cherries. So of course I brought him along to cook with me on Mass Appeal. Michael actually worked a lot harder than I did, but we all had a good time.

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I’m not sure I’d swear that I could taste the cherries in his soup—but whatever I tasted, it was awfully good: spicy and substantial. He was kind enough to share the recipe with me, and here it is. If you watch the video below, you’ll see that some of his quantities are subject to improvisation; I KNOW he threw in a lot more herbs and vinegar than he calls for in the recipe!

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Ponte Cherry Gazpacho

Ingredients:

1 pound ripe tomatoes, seeded, diced, an drained (or 2 cups canned seeded tomatoes)
1 pound pitted cherries (about a pint)
1 small red onion
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper in adobo
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon cilantro or parsley
the juice of 1 lime and the zest of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons blanched almonds
2 tablespoons mint leaves
2 sliced pitted cherries and mint leaves for garnish

Instructions:

Place all ingredients (except the cherries and mint for garnish) in a blender. Blend well.

Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

Serve in your favorite bowl or glass, topped with cherry slices and mint.

Serves 6 as a first course.

I prepared something very simple, a cherry cobbler, which we dubbed “Cherry Plop Pie” on the air since the topping is simply plopped on. The cherries looked gorgeous in this recipe, and the cobber or pie or whatever you want to call it was well received.

Thanks to Oxo for sending me the cherry pitter I used! Yes, one does have to separate the pits manually from the cherries in a few cases, especially if one is a klutz in the kitchen like me. In general, however, this device sped up the task of making the cobbler/pie considerably—and kept the kitchen and my hands cleaner.

And thanks to Clarkdale for the Balaton cherries, which gave this dish its gorgeous color and flavor.

Cherry Cobblerweb

Cherry Cobbler (a.k.a. Cherry Plop Pie)

Ingredients:

for the fruit base:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups pitted cherries
2 tablespoons lemon juice

for the cobbler crust:

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

for the topping:

sparkling sugar as needed

Instructions:

Begin by making the base. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a smallish nonreactive pot. Stir in the cherries and lemon juice. Cover this mixture and let it sit for a while until the cherries juice up. (Half an hour should do!)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish.

Uncover the cherry mixture and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Remove the fruit from the heat. Spread the cherry mixture in the prepared baking dish.

To make the crust whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter, but don’t overdo the process. You should still have tiny pieces of butter in the mixture.

Whisk together the milk and egg. Add them to the dry ingredients, and mix just until moist. Drop this mixture onto the fruit mixture, and spread it around to cover the fruit. Sprinkle sparkling sugar on the top for crunch and glow.

Bake until lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Serves 8.

And now the video!

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Strawberry Season

June 26th, 2015

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I adore strawberries—in part because of their lovely, sweet color and juiciness and in part because (at least where I live in western Massachusetts) they ripen just as the earth does. Their arrival in local fields and farmstands coincides almost exactly with the arrival of summer.

I haven’t picked strawberries in several years. Living by myself as I currently do, I don’t need the large quantities with which one comes home after picking. I know I could make jam and freeze or dry the darn things. Somehow I’m short sighted enough to want to enjoy a few at a time while they’re ripe and not worry about putting them by too much. (I have made a little jam this year; old habits are hard to break.)

This week on Mass Appeal I HAD to use strawberries. I made one savory recipe and one sweet. (Technically, the savory recipe was sweet as well; it actually included more sugar than the sweet. Because it was a little spicy and because it’s not a dessert I think of it as savory.)

The savory recipe was strawberry chipotle sauce. This jam-like substance is wonderful as an appetizer on crackers with cream cheese, although it could also be used as a cooking sauce or condiment with chicken or pork.

The sweet recipe was my “once a year day” special. I generally consume a pretty balanced diet; I love my vegetables. Once a year, however, I like to have ONLY strawberry shortcake for supper. Shortcake is filling, and I can lose my hunger for it if I eat a real meal. If shortcake IS the meal, however, I can enjoy it with gusto. And eating it once at year can’t hurt me.

The shortcake recipe I posted before on this blog made one giant shortcake. I find it easier in general to make smaller shortcakes so I can serve as many people as I want (sometimes just Tinky!) and then give away or freeze the remaining cakes.

The shortcake recipe here comes from King Arthur Flour, and it couldn’t be easier. To make it more festive, I include a bit of stewed rhubarb along with the strawberries. We still have a bit of rhubarb here in the hilltowns, although it’s getting ready to leave us.

King Arthur Flour also provided the self-rising flour, the nice new sharp biscuit cutters, and the sparkling sugar for the top of the cakes.

I hope you enjoy the recipes … and the season … as much as I do.

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Strawberry Chipotle Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups strawberry slices
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1 to 2 canned chipotles in adobo sauce (plus a little of the sauce)
1 dab butter

Instructions:

In a nonreactive pot combine the fruit, a cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for an hour or so to allow the berries to juice up.

Cook the fruit over low heat until tender. Add the remaining sugar, the salt, the chipotle, and the butter, and cook rapidly until thick, stirring frequently. Remove any foam you see (there shouldn’t be too much, thanks to the butter).

If you want jam, it will be ready when it sheets off a cold, stainless-steel spoon.

If you don’t cook it that long, your sauce will just be a bit more liquid. (I like it slightly more liquid so I measure the sauce with an instant-read thermometer and turn off the heat when the thermometer reads 217 or 218 degrees.)

Let the sauce cool for a few minutes; then pulverize it with a blender or immersion blender.

Refrigerate the sauce after it cools. Makes about 2 cups.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Shortcake

Ingredients:

for the filling:

3 cups chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
the juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cups chopped strawberries (lightly sweetened if you like them juicy)

for the self-rising biscuits:

2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
a small amount of melted butter (optional)
coarse white sugar (optional)

for assembly:

sweetened whipped cream

Instructions:

A couple of hours before you want to begin working start the filling by sprinkling the sugar over the rhubarb. Stir in the lemon juice, and allow the rhubarb to juice up.

After an hour has passed prepare your filling. (You may also prepare the rhubarb portion of the filling in advance.) Bring the rhubarb mixture to a boil; reduce the heat; and cook, stirring, until the rhubarb becomes thick (about 5 to 7 minutes).

Allow the rhubarb to cool. While it is cooling you may begin making your shortcake biscuits. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk together the flour and sugar. In a separate bowl (or a measuring cup!) combine the cream and the vanilla.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the cream mixture into the well, and gently stir until the mixture is combined, adding a little milk as needed to incorporate all the ingredients into the liquid.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface, and sprinkle a little more flour on top. Fold the dough over several times; then pat it into a circle or rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick.

Using a sharp biscuit cutter cut the dough into rounds, about 2 to 2-1/4 inches wide (or however wide you want them!). Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet (you may line the sheet with parchment or silicone if you’re paranoid about sticking). If you like, brush the tops of your biscuits with melted butter and sprinkle a little coarse sugar on top.

Bake the biscuits until they are golden brown (12 to 16 minutes).

When you are ready to assemble your shortcakes, cut the biscuits in half horizontally. Decorate the bottom halves with the cooked filling followed by the strawberries; then dollop on whipped cream. Top with the biscuit tops. (Or divide each shortcake into two mini-shortcakes, one strawberry and one rhubarb, as shown in the photo above.)

Serves 8 to 10, depending on the size of your biscuits.

And now the video.…

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