Archive for July, 2012

Blueberry Bread (A Tasty Work in Progress)

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Last week I picked up my annual box of blueberries from the Benson Place in Heath, Massachusetts. I have written before of my love of the tiny blue pearls that come from Heath’s low-bush plants. These berries always seem sweeter than the fat, high-bush variety. I buy a big box of them every summer so that I can eat a lot and still have plenty to freeze for year-round baking.

I wanted to bring something blueberry-ish to my friend Ken to eat on the morning of his birthday and decided to adapt a strawberry bread recipe I was given many years ago—so many years ago, in fact, that I can’t remember who gave it to me. (If parts of it look familiar, please let me know that you are its original baker!)

The bread wasn’t perfect; it featured one of my baking foibles, swamping in the middle. I will refine the recipe one of these days; I think I may be able to avoid the swamping if I use soft (instead of melted) butter and combine it with the sugar before adding everything to the flour. I was going to wait until I had tinkered to post the recipe … but the gang at Ken’s birthday breakfast convinced me that the bread was blogworthy in its present form, swamp or no swamp.

Pat Leuchtman, a founder of the Heath Gourmet Club, rated it A-Plus … and even featured a photo of it on her blog, Commonweeder.

So I’m offering you the recipe as it is. It is chock full of blueberries—and the glaze, colored by the berries themselves into a gorgeous fuchsia tone, is pretty spectacular to look at and to eat.

The Bread


3 cups blueberries
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 cups later
1 tablespoon key-lime juice
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups melted butter (2-1/2 sticks)
4 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
confectioner’s sugar as needed (about 1 cup)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease two loaf pans.

Place 1/2 cup blueberries in a saucepan; put the remaining berries in a medium mixing bowl. Add the 1/4 cup sugar and the key-lime juice to the berries in the saucepan. Stir and set aside.

Place 1/4 cup of the flour in the bowl with the blueberries and toss the mixture to coat the berries. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the remaining flour, the remaining 2 cups of sugar, the baking soda, and the salt. Making a well in the center of this dry mixture, and stir in the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the floured berries.

Pour the batter into the loaf pans, and bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaves comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the breads in their pans for 10 minutes; then remove them from the pans and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

While the bread is cooling make the glaze. Heat the mixture in the saucepan until it boils, mashing as it heats. Strain the blueberry juice (discarding the resulting solids), and whisk confectioner’s sugar into the juice until you have a slightly thick sauce. When the sauce and the bread are cool, drizzle the sauce over the bread. Makes 2 loaves.

The Homemade Pantry

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I read a lot of cookbooks, although I don’t use a lot of them; I’m too busy tinkering with my own recipes! The books I enjoy the most are the ones that give the reader a sense of the author’s personality as well as his or her philosophy of food.

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making fits these criteria beautifully. The publisher, Clarkson Potter, recently sent me a review copy.

The book’s author, Alana Chernila of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is hugely likable. (One also meets the 30-something cook’s attractive husband and two daughters in the course of reading the book.) And her passion for making as much food as possible in the home is infectious.

At the book’s beginning, Chernila lists her reasons for making food from scratch:

1. Food made at home is better for you.
2. Food made at home tastes better.
3. Food made at home usually costs less.
4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging.
5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.

It’s hard to argue with her logic. Most of us are increasingly wary of additives in food. The simplest and most tasty way to avoid these is to control what goes into what we eat. We’re all looking for yummy, affordable food that won’t make too big a carbon footprint. And we all enjoy turning food into a joy as well as a necessity.

To me Chernila’s recipes fall into three categories. The first will be the least useful to people like me, who are country dwellers and routinely prepare many of these foods at home already.

My neighbors generally make their own applesauce, their own basic birthday cakes, and their own cornbread. If they have time and the season is good, they freeze fruits and vegetables for winter use as well. Chernila’s recipes for foods like these will interest readers like me—we’re all looking for new ways to do what we already do—but they won’t be essential.

The second category is more exotic. Chernila makes a number of foods that I have a feeling I may make only once but will enjoy making: butter, graham crackers (actually, I HAVE made these in the past, but her recipe looks better than mine!), mozzarella cheese, crème fraîche.

The third category encompasses practical foods that I can see incorporating into my regular menus: crackers, yogurt, and best of all condiments like mustard and hot sauce.

In fact, I have already made some mustard and have a photo to prove it!

Part of the charm of The Homemade Pantry is the informality and non-preachiness of its prose. A busy wife, mother, food writer, and selectman, Alana Chernila admits that her kitchen can look like a disaster … and that some days she doesn’t have time to make everything her family eats from scratch.

She does try, however. And so should the rest of us.

Homemade Pantry Mustard

We recently heard the parable of the mustard seed in church. Thanks to the parable, over the years mustard seeds have become a symbol of great things coming from small starts. It’s nice to remember that the seeds can literally create something a lot bigger than you would expect from looking at them as well!

Here is Alana Chernila’s mustard recipe, which I made last week. It makes a spicy mustard, but that suits me just fine.


1/2 cup brown or yellow mustard seeds (I used yellow this time but have some brown seeds I’m going to try soon.)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey


Pour the mustard seeds into a medium mixing bowl and cover with water 3 inches higher than the seeds. Cover the bowl, and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours.

Drain the water from the seeds, reserving at least 1/4 cup of the water. Combine the soaked mustard seeds, the vinegar, garlic, salt, honey, and 1/4 cup of the soaking water in a blender, and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a jar, cover, and refrigerate. If you can, wait for a week before using the mustard so that the flavors can blend; on Day One it tastes very mustardy!

According to Chernila this mustard lasts for 2 months in the fridge. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Draining the seeds….

In Memoriam Pimiento Cheese

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The ingredients before mixing…….

Last Saturday my family and I gave a gala party to celebrate the life of my mother Jan (a.k.a. Taffy), who died in December. We delighted in good food, good drink, and good company.

Being basically lazy, I asked guests to bring food, which they did in abundance. Pam brought tea sandwiches, Debbie brought potato salad, Trina brought the biggest green salad I have ever seen, Ruth brought shrimp, Peter brought MORE shrimp in a salad with artichokes and cilantro pesto, Mary Stuart brought quinoa, Leslie brought delicate cookies, Mardi and David brought watermelon, and so on.

SOMEBODY brought champagne. (I have no idea who, but it was very nice indeed.)

My family supplied tubs of Bart’s ice cream with homemade sauces and tested a recipe from our friend Lark Fleury for pimiento cheese.

Lark tells me that after fried chicken this cheese is the most popular funeral-related food among her neighbors in coastal Alabama. (I wasn’t about to mess with fried chicken in hot weather!)

Her recipe is quite different from my usual one; the mustard, onion, and relish add complexity to the spread. I gave most of the cheese to our friend Pam to put in some of her tea sandwiches, but my family also tried a bit on crackers. I know my mother would have approved.

If you’d like to read more about the party, visit my non-food blog for a full report.

Lark’s Alabamian Pimiento Cheese


1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (it won’t surprise regular readers to learn that I grated it rather coarsely, I’m sure)
1/4 cup of grated onion
1 4-ounce jar diced pimentos drained (I may have used a little extra pimiento)
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/2 cup sweet pickle relish
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more or less)
a dash of pepper


Combine all the ingredients, beginning with just a dab of mayonnaise and adding more until the cheese is spreadable.

Spread on bread/crackers or make small sandwiches. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Makes about 1 quart.

I THOUGHT I had taken a photo of the cheese in its final state, but it’s not in my camera. So here’s a better picture, of the day’s honoree, taken last year….

A Dinner Invitation

Friday, July 6th, 2012

My Neighbors Trina and Jerry in their Kitchen

When I was growing up, my father frequently sat down at the dinner table here in rural Massachusetts, looked at some gourmet concoction prepared by my mother or a neighbor, smiled, and murmured, “Simple country food.”

He meant his words ironically. Parts of our meals often came from far away. And the cooks had frequently spent quite a lot of time preparing them. Nevertheless, the words “simple country food” also contained a core of truth.

At its best, food in the country is prepared by people who appreciate that simple flavors can be the best flavors. All those flavors need is a chance to shine.

I was reminded of that truth a couple of weeks ago when I received a last-minute invitation to dinner from my neighbors Jerry and Trina Sternstein.

I have written before about Erwin and Linda Reynolds of Charlemont, who raise delicious local lamb at their Erlin Farm.

Erwin called me a month or so ago and informed me that he had sold several cuts of lamb to the Sternsteins, who are notable gourmet cooks.

“You should get Jerry to tell you when he’s cooking something,” said Erwin. “You could put the recipe on your blog.”

I ran into Jerry at our local general store one Saturday afternoon and told him about Erwin’s call. “I’m cooking lamb right now,” said Jerry. “Come to dinner tonight.”

So I joined Jerry and Trina (plus two charming out-of-town guests) for delicious lamb and lively conversation about food, taxes, art, Paris, politics, and weddings … among other things.

Jerry is a historian, and Trina is an artist. Hawley is a more sophisticated town than one might imagine, and the Sternsteins are among our most cosmopolitan residents. Food is a serious passion in their household. They look for high-quality ingredients (raising quite a few of them themselves; in this case the fava beans and snap peas were from their garden) and take the time to cook them right.

This sign hangs on my Francophile neighbors’ kitchen door.

They love France and French food so Jerry’s lamb dish was definitely influenced by French cuisine. It was amazingly tender, thanks to Erwin’s care of the lambs and Jerry’s careful slow cooking. Each ingredient kept its own flavor but also blended with the others.

I recommend the dish highly. It has quite a number of steps, but the only really hard part of it is trimming the lamb of fat.

I wish I could tell you how to replicate the evening’s lively conversation—but you’re on your own there……

Lamb à la Jerry


3-1/2 pounds boned, trimmed lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes (it will weigh more before it is boned and trimmed of fat!)
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sugar plus another teaspoon later
1/4 cup flour
2 to 3 cups beef broth OR water or a combination of the two
(If you use the water, add 3 onions, roughly chopped, and 3 carrots, roughly chopped, to it.)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bouquet garni (4 to 5 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf, and several sprigs of thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, all tied together with string)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (2 teaspoons if you’re using water instead of broth)
5 to 6 turns of a pepper mill
6 to 10 small potatoes
4 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 turnips, quartered
12 to 16 small onions (about 1-1/2-inch thick)
1 cup cooked and peeled fava beans (optional)
1 cup barely cooked peas (optional)
1 cup barely cooked snow peas (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté the lamb pieces in the oil in a sauté pan over high heat until the meat begins to brown nicely on the outside, about 5 minutes.

Remove the meat from the oil and place it in a 4- to 5-quart stove-proof casserole dish or Dutch oven.

Add the first tablespoon of sugar. Stir it around over a medium-high flame until it caramelizes (about 4 minutes). Add the flour and place the whole mixture in the oven for about 4 minutes, until it gets brown and crusty.

Remove the pan from the oven. Add the liquid (and the extra vegetables if you are using the water). Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the bouquet garni, the salt, and the pepper.

Return the casserole to the oven and bake it, covered, for 1 hour.

Remove the pot from the oven. Remove the meat. Strain (and reserve) the liquid. Skim the grease from the liquid. (This is easiest to do if you have time to let it cool so that the fat will rise to the top.)

Return the meat and the strained liquid to the pot, mixing them well. Add the potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Return the pot to the oven and cook, covered, for another hour.

While it is in the oven cook the onions. Peel them and cut a small “X” on the bottom of each. Place them in a small sauté pan with the second teaspoon of sugar. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes.

Cover the onions with water. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes.

Drain them and set them aside.

When the lamb has cooked, add the onions and the peas and/or beans and/or snap peas. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if they are needed. Top with parsley.

Serves 6 to 8.


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