A Summer Spread

July 31st, 2019

Summertime … and the food is easy!

I’m busy getting ready for my annual summer concert. This coming Sunday, pianist Jerry Noble and I will celebrate the 100th birthday of George Gershwin’s first big hit, “Swanee,” with a concert of songs by the composer and his brother Ira.

So naturally I want to name everything I cook after a Gershwin song. I recently made a blueberry crisp I dubbed “Rhapsody in Blue.” (Really, just about anything with fresh local blueberries makes me feel rhapsodic.) I’m contemplating a pork dish called “Porky and Bess.”

And every simple appetizer can be called “Summertime.”

My most recent venture into appetizers is a chipotle pimento cheese spread. I lived for many years in the American South, where pimiento cheese is a staple. Last year in Virginia, I discovered chipotle pimiento cheese in a grocery store. I thought adding the smoky flavor of chipotles (which are basically smoked jalapeños) to pimiento cheese was a brilliant idea.

Unfortunately, the product from the grocery store suffered from the same problem that much pimiento cheese encounters: it had too much mayonnaise. I consequently concocted my own chipotle version, which is (in my humble opinion) pretty perfect.

The recipe below needs some mayonnaise in order to smooth out the spread, but you shouldn’t end up with more than 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the stuff. If you’re unfamiliar with chipotles in adobo, look for them in small cans in the Latin section of a supermarket. If you’d like to see me make it on TV, follow this link.

Enjoy the summer spiciness … and do come to our concert if you’re in the neighborhood!

Ingredients:

4 ounces roasted red peppers (a.k.a. pimientos), drained (reserve 1 tablespoon of the liquid) and roughly chopped
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo, seeded if you like them mild, coarsely chopped
several turns of the pepper grinder
1 tablespoon roasted-red-pepper brine
1 to 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from the chipotle can
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
mayonnaise to taste (start with 2 tablespoons)

Instructions:

Place the pimientos, the chipotles, the pepper, the brine, and the adobo sauce in a mini-food processor. Whir until combined. Toss in the cheese, and combine again. Add mayonnaise until the spread achieves a silky consistency.

If you don’t have a mini-food processor, beat the heck out of the mixture with an electric mixture.

Chill the cheese blend for at least 1/2 hour. Serve with crackers or vegetables. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

 

Cream of Asparagus Soup

June 19th, 2019

 

Here in Western Massachusetts we are still enjoying my favorite vegetable in the entire world, ASPARAGUS.

Mostly I just steam, roast, or boil it to eat plain or put in salads. But on my last television appearance I decided to make soup. It was lovely and green and oh, so asparagus-y.

If you want a lighter soup, omit the potato. It does make the soup heartier, however. My neighbors came over to finish up the leftovers and left very happy indeed.

On TV (and for the neighbors) I followed up with Fannie Farmer’s peanut butter cookies. The perfect meal.

The Soup

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped relatively but not obsessively small
3 cups asparagus pieces (about 1 pound; be sure to break off the tough ends before cutting—and if you want stronger asparagus flavor feel free to add more of it!)
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
chopped fresh chives or dill

Instructions:

Combine the butter and oil over low heat in a 4-quart saucepan. When the butter melts, add the onion pieces and cook them until they become golden, stirring constantly. (This should take a little under 10 minutes.)

Add the asparagus and potato pieces. Toss lightly; then stir in the stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, partly covered, until the vegetables become tender, about 15 minutes.

Cool the soup for a couple of minutes; then puree it in a blender. (Or use an immersion blender.) At this stage you may refrigerate the soup if you don’t want to use it right away. Just be sure to reheat it before going to the next step.

Add salt and pepper as desired to the warm soup, and add the cream. Heat the soup a little longer to make sure the cream is warm as well. Garnish with the herbs. Serves 4.

I’m not giving you the cookie recipe, because if you don’t have a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, you should buy one IMMEDIATELY and seek it out there.

Happy almost summer!

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Cream of Asparagus Soup

Tinky Makes Peanut-Butter Cookies

Refrigerator Pickles Revisited

May 31st, 2019

 

From time to time on this blog, I write that I will try a recipe a different way in the future. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Occasionally, I take a very long time to get around to the new attempt.

When I wrote in May 2010 that I would try a different tack making my asparagus refrigerator pickles, I had no idea it would take me nine years to get around to it. Luckily, when I finally made them the better way (this month!), they were terrific.

I made them for a class and re-made them on Mass Appeal with the show’s new co-host, Alanna Flood. If you watch the video, please note that the salt and sugar are supposed to be boiled with the vinegar and water, not added to the jar later. I was so happy contemplating (and talking about) asparagus that I forgot to read the recipe!

We also remade the rhubarb cobbler I made on my very first visit to the program six years ago. It was as tasty as I remembered it.

So … here is the asparagus recipe, followed by the videos. Enjoy this wonderful time of year, full of produce and possibilities.


Asparagus Refrigerator Pickles


Ingredients:

1 pound fresh asparagus
2 small cloves garlic (or 1 large clove)
a generous branch of dill
3 to 4 peppercorns
1 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt
1 pinch sugar

Instructions:

Clean and sterilize a pint jar. After snapping the ends off the asparagus, trim the stalks so that they will fit in the jar and not quite reach the top. (You may add the trimmings to your cream of asparagus soup!) Place them in the jar, and stuff the garlic, dill, and peppercorns in around them.

Combine the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar in a nonreactive pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cool it for a few seconds; then pour it over the vegetables.

If the jar isn’t quite full, add a little tap water to fill it. Let the pickles cool to room temperature; then place them in the refrigerator and wait 3 to 4 days before serving them. Makes 1 pint.

And now the videos!

 

Tinky Makes Asparagus Pickles

Tinky Makes Rhubarb Cobbler

A Passover Story

April 23rd, 2019

I’m not EXACTLY comparing myself to the ancient Jews. But I did have an experience on Monday that made me appreciate their need to eat matzo (unleavened bread) because they were in a hurry to get out of Israel. They went with what they had, baking their bread before it was able to rise. I, too, ended up going with what I had—and part of what I had was matzo.

I’m not EXACTLY comparing myself to the ancient Jews. But I did have an experience on Monday that made me appreciate their need to eat matzo (unleavened bread) because they were in a hurry to get out of Egypt. They went with what they had, baking their bread before it was able to rise. I, too, ended up going with what I had—and part of what I had was matzo.

I was scheduled to appear on Mass Appeal on Tuesday, making matzo crunch in one segment and sharing the other segment with JD Fairman, the co-owner of Pioneer Valley Charcuterie.  JD was planning to make the ultimate BLT with homemade tomato jam and his own lovely bacon.h

Unfortunately, JD emailed me Monday evening to let me know that he was feeling horribly ill. I was stuck with an extra segment to fill at the last minute.

My general store had already closed for the night, and I am not the sort of person who gets up early in the morning to shop. I thus had to plan a dish that would use ingredients I had in the house. I decided to continue the matzo theme (it was still Passover, after all) and make matzo brei. For those of you not in the know, this egg dish is a cross between scrambled eggs and French toast.

I hadn’t ever made matzo brei before; my Jewish grandmother didn’t prepare it as far as I can recall. Happily, I HAD previously cooked eggs, its main ingredient, and I happened to have quote a few of those in the house. So I adapted a recipe I found online (thank you, Emily) and added matzo to eggs, onions, cheese, and homemade salsa. (Your salsa does not have to be homemade.)

The result was ideal comfort food, and a wonderful way to use up some of the matzo I had in the house. I recommend it highly. If you feel obliged to finish up your meal with a little matzo crunch, feel free to make that as well.

Happy Passover/Happy Spring….

Matzo Brei with Salsah

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 pieces matzo, broken into small pieces

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup grated sharp cheddar

1/2 cup salsa

chopped fresh chives to taste (optional, but I saw them coming up in my yard and couldn’t resist!)

Instructions:

Melt the butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Sauté the onion pieces over medium-low heat until they turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.

While the onion is sautéing, place the matzo pieces in a colander, and place the colander in the sink. Pour boiling water over the matzo until all the pieces are damp. Drain the matzo pieces in the colander.

Set aside about 1/4 cup of the cheese. Stir together the eggs and the remaining cheese in a large bowl. Add the drained matzo pieces and combine well.

Add this mixture to the onions, adding a little more butter/fat if needed to keep the eggs from sticking. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring as needed, until the eggs set.

Spoon the egg mixture onto a serving plate. Pour the salsa on top, and garnish with the remaining cheese and the chives. Serve with extra salsa. Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetite.

And now for the videos:

Tinky Makes Matzo Brei

Tinky Makes Matzo Crunch

Maple Everywhere!

March 13th, 2019
Courtesy of Paul Franz/ The Recorder

March is Massachusetts Maple Month. Farmers in my area are working more or less around the clock to turn the sap that flows from maple trees in spring into the sweet elixir that New Englanders prize year round.

This coming weekend, March 16-17, is Massachusetts Maple Weekend, and members of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association have a number of celebrations planned.

Every time I drive to Greenfield these days, I pass a sign at Hager’s Farm Market luring me with the promise of fried dough topped with maple cream on Saturday. I am trying to resist temptation!

Fortunately, most of my own culinary uses for maple syrup do not involve the extreme sweetness of fried dough or even pancakes. I love to use maple to add a slight sweetness to foods like salad dressings, coleslaw, pork, and even (as you’ll see below) cheese.

I also love to contemplate maple’s place in American history. Colonists learned of its sweet bounty from Native Americans; in early colonial times, maple syrup and sugar were significantly less expensive than imported sugar from cane.

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), a prominent Pennsylvania physician and scholar who was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, promoted maple over cane sugar not because of maple’s price but because of its means of production. Cane sugar was made by slaves, and Rush was an abolitionist.

Other abolitionists took up the cause of maple. Thomas Jefferson, who despite his own slave holdings opposed slavery in principle, fell in love with the idea of maple as an alternative to cane sugar as well.

“What a blessing,” he wrote in 1790, “to substitute a sugar which requires only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks unnecessary [sic].”

My local maple sugarers could have told Jefferson that successful sugar production requires labor from more than children, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that maple production was a perfect occupation for the “yeoman farmer” he saw as the American ideal.

The sugar maples Jefferson planted at Monticello died; the climate of southern states proved dicey for producing maple syrup.

As sugar became less and less expensive over the decades, even hardy New Englanders (unless they were strict abolitionists) changed over to cane sugar as their primary sweetener. Maple was increasingly viewed as it is today: as an expensive and highly prized specialty food.

Maple played a part again in American history in the early 20th century in the campaign that led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Maple syrup was among the products for which many false claims were made before manufacturers were held accountable by that law.

C.C. Regier noted in a 1933 article, “More than ten times the amount of Vermont maple syrup was sold every year than that state could produce.” Happily, if something is labeled “pure maple syrup” today, the labeling is accurate.

I am are lucky to live in an area where I can purchase pure maple syrup from neighbors and visit working sugarhouses. The photo above shows me getting ready for Saint Patrick’s Day with my beloved maple vinaigrette. (Thanks to Paul Franz at the Recorder for the festive picture!)

One of my current favorite maple recipes comes from the Massachusetts Maple Producer Association. I would never have thought of pairing feta cheese with maple, but the combination is wonderful!

I made it recently on Mass Appeal, along with my Irish Cottage Soda Bread. Here is the feta recipe—and of course the videos are below.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all, and happy maple season!

 

Maple-Baked Feta

I like to serve this sweet-and-savory cheese dish with homemade crostini I make with small, store-bought baguettes.

To prepare the crostini, I slice the bread thinly, rub it with a minimal amount of olive oil on each side, and sprinkle salt on one side. I then bake the crackers for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, turning them once.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 6-ounce block feta cheese (it’s hard to find a 6-ounce block; use part of a larger block if necessary)
1/4 cup golden raisins
a generous helping of fresh rosemary
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup maple syrup

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle half of the olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish. (I use a brie baker from the potter Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield, Massachusetts.)

Cut the feta so that it is relatively thin and covers most of the surface of the baker. Sprinkle the raisins, rosemary leaves, and pepper over all; then top with the maple syrup and the remaining oil.

Bake until everything is bubbly and one or two raisins are starting to burn. This process can be tricky; you don’t want your dish to blacken, but you do want the cheese to soften.

Let the mixture cool slightly before serving it with crackers or crostini. Serve it with a spoon, and make sure that each little helping gets a bit of everything: cheese, raisins, rosemary, and juice. This cheese dish may also be served on the side of a green salad. Serves 4 to 6.

And now the videos!

Tinky Makes Maple-Baked Feta

Tinky Makes Irish Cottage Soda Bread