Today is a special day for me. It was four years ago that D and I went on our first date. And what a first date it was. It started with a long stroll through the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we sat by the monastery courtyard fountain and he took my hand for the first time. Then we had a late lunch at More Than Just Ice Cream on Pine Street. He had the guacamole; I had the grilled cheese with tomatoes; and we both agreed that water is the only drink we ever order out. We shared an enormous slice of the house special: apple pie al la mode.
And because we were having so much fun already during that first encounter, we decided to catch a movie too. Does anyone remember that indie film Closer, the one with Damien Rice’s haunting melodies? While it was an interesting flick with a great soundtrack, it was most definitely NOT first date material, seeing as how it’s all about deception among couples. But somehow we made it through that and went on to have many more dates and here, 1460 days later, we’re celebrating another anniversary.
Sadly, we didn’t get to spend most of our special day together as he had a class to attend. But I decided to make something nice for a light bite when he got home. A recipe I spied in Eat Feed Autumn Winter (still equally in love with this book too) for Honey-Ginger Carrot Parsnip Latkes seemed like just the ticket. D was raised in a Jewish household and still has a soft spot for many of the traditional dishes he ate as a kid.
I was a bit nervous about making the latkes since I am not very experienced in the craft and the two main ingredients – parsnips and carrots – are not so traditional in and of themselves. But the recipes I’ve been testing out of Eat Feed Autumn Winter continuously surprise me (pleasantly of course) with how easy and delicious they are so I felt brave enough to give these contemporary latkes a try.
Tender inside and crisp on the outside, these fried “pancakes” have a wonderfully unique flavor brought about by combining the tropical hints of ginger with the floral notes of the honey and the natural sweetness of the root vegetables with the nip of crunchy coarse salt. Really rather unexpected, but again, a surprise of the pleasant variety. Using tender smaller carrots (from my garden) and parsnips (from the farm) helped, I think, so look for smaller ones if you can find them.
Oh, yes, and D liked the latkes too. Well, he appreciated them at least. Really he’s more of a potato latkes kinda guy. But after four years together, I already knew that.
Honey-Ginger Carrot & Parsnip Latkes
Adapted from Eat Feed Autumn Winter
- 1 C. packed of grated carrots
- 1 C. packed of grated parsnips
- 1 large egg
- 3 T. flour
- ½ t. salt
- 2 t. freshly grated ginger
- 2 t. honey
- Vegetable oil for fying
- Crème fraiche (optional)*
*Sometimes it’s wasteful to buy a whole tub of crème fraiche for a recipe such as this. You can cheat and make a good substitute out of cream cheese, a bit of milk or cream to loosen it up and a splash of lemon juice.
Grate the vegetables using the large holes on the box grater. Place grated vegetables on dish towel and squeeze tightly to remove as much water as possible. Set aside. Pour oil to a depth of 1/8 inch in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat while you prepare the latkes.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, flour, salt and ginger. Stir in the grated vegetables. Drizzle with honey and stir to combine.
Using a large spoon, carefully drop the vegetable mixture by large spoonfuls into the hot oil. Flatten slightly into disks and fry until you see the edges turning golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and fry on the other side until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel. Serve hot with dollops of crème fraiche on top.
I spent this past weekend handcrafting my loose-leaf herbal tea blends using the herbs I’d grown and dried myself. I have to say that I’m pretty pleased with this year’s selection. For starters, I have made 10 blends this time compared to the one blend last year. But more importantly, some of these new recipes yeild some of the best herbal teas I’ve ever tasted (and I’m a big herbal tea drinker). In particular, the Floral Fantasy Tea and the Spiced Anise Tea are outstanding.
All herbs were grown in my own garden using organic growing practices (no chemical fertilizers or pesticides whatsoever). I handpicked the herbs so only the best leaves and flowers on the plants went into the teas. Blends are my own creation, crafted with both taste and each herb’s properties in mind. Each specially designed gift box has enough tea for 10 servings and detailed directions for brewing the perfect cup.
I will be selling these teas at the special Thanksgiving marketday at the Headhouse Market next Wednesday. If any are left, they’ll be going up on my brand new shiny Etsy online shop that I’m in the midst of designing and where I’ll be selling some of my photography prints too. Just in time for holiday gift giving…
I’ll actually be giving several gift bags to my loved ones this holiday that contain a box of tea, a jar of wildflower honey from my bee hive and an adorable candle made of bees wax and decorate with a little bee. Cute, huh?
HERBAL TEA RECIPES
Created by Straight from the Farm
Floral Fantasy Tea
3 parts Lavender
3 parts Yarrow
1 part Chamomile
1 part Stevia
Spiced Anise Tea
4 parts Anise Hyssop
1 part Cinnamon
1 part Vanilla Bean
1 part Cloves
Devoted Remembrance Tea
3 parts Rosemary
3 parts Lavender
3 parts Marjoram
2 parts Anise Hyssop
Dark Rose Tea
2 parts Rose Hips
3 parts Anise Hyssop
3 parts Yarrow
1 part Bergamot
Aromatic Mint Tea
2 parts Spearmint
1 part Marjoram
1 part Sweet Woodruff
1 part Sage
Good Start Tea
2 parts Yarrow
2 parts Rose Hips
2 parts Lavender
1 part Marjoram
1 part Stevia
Chocolate Mint Tea
4 parts Chocolate Mint
3 parts Lavender
2 parts Sweet Woodruff
1 part Stevia
1 part Rose Hips
Black Licorice Tea
2 parts Anise Hyssop
2 parts Bergamot
2 parts Marjoram
2 parts Spearmint
Everything & More Tea
1 part Lavender
1 part Yarrow
1 part Anise Hyssop
1 part Stevia
1 part Spearmint
1 part Bergamot
1 part Rose Hips
1 part Calendula
Love Charm Tea
3 parts Yarrow
1 part Lavender
1 part Anise Hyssop
1 part Spearmint
Wanna join a cult? Don’t raise your eyebrows at me! This cult is one you’ll want to be a part of, trust me. It revolves around a small golden orb that appears out of a papery vessel that fell out of the sky. Really! I swear! Alright, before half of you click the little “X” in the upper corner of the screen, I’ll stop being goofy. I’m talking about ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa): a crop that was new to me this year and one that’s got me smitten.
I was very curious about ground cherries after my mom sent me an article on them out of a newspaper dedicated to farming topics in Pennsylvania. Purportedly, they have been a long-time favorite of the state’s “plain folk” (Amish and Mennonite), especially for pie making. That being said, I grew up in a valley full of plain folk and never once ran across these delicious little relatives of Solanaceae crops you may be more familiar with such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. I decided to give them the end of a row in my vegetable garden to see what they would do. Let me tell you, these are tough plants! I rarely remembered to water them because they were hidden by my giant popcorn stalks and while everything else in my garden succumbed to one variety or another of disease or insect, these babies remained lush and producing like mad!
However, I was completely in the dark about how and when to harvest their little fruits encased in a papery husk not unlike tomatillos or goose berries or, even, Chinese lanterns (they are not the same thing though). With repeated testing over the season, I finally realized they’re ripening when the husk turns tan/brown. But the truly ripe ones are the ones that are….wait for it…wait for it… ON THE GROUND! Ha, I finally understood why they’re call ground cherries! They do have several other common names though, including husk tomato and husk cherry. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious!
The article that inspired the planting said they tasted like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato. Like you are no doubt now reading this, I was pretty skeptical. But, honestly, that’s exactly what they taste like. I love eating them fresh in my morning yogurt. They have a little tang that perks up anything sweet. My plants have already produced about two bushels of fruit and have more blooms on them so there’s plenty more a-comin’. You’ll see a few recipes for them here in future posts this fall, but I figured I’d kick things off with the most traditional use: pie.
Nothing could be simpler or more delicious than Ground Cherry Pie. I promise you once you get a slice of it, you’ll soon be joining the cult right alongside me. They are relatively expensive due to their limited availability, but you’re welcome to as many as you can carry in your shirt if you come to my garden. Assuming some of you might want to find something closer to home, check for these delightful underused fruits at your local famers market (in Philly, they can usually be procured at the Headhouse and Reading Terminal markets). When selecting ground cherries, try to avoid getting too many green husks as they won’t ripen very well. Most of the husks should at least be showing some signs of turning tan. Really ripe ones have papery husks and are firm when you squeeze the deep yellow fruit inside. Squishy ones are no good.
So, consider this your intro/hazing to the wonderful world of ground cherries/husk tomatoes/husk cherries. Stay tuned for instructions on making jam, salsa and drying them for easy portable snacking, among other things. And if you don’t believe me that this fruit is spawning a cult, google it. You’ll see what I mean.
GROUND CHERRY PIE
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
- 3 C. ground cherries*
- Zest of one lemon
- 1/2 C. (scant) packed brown sugar
- 1 T. all-purpose flour
- ¼ t. freshly ground nutmeg
- ¼ t. salt
- 2 T. water
- 1 (9 inch) pie shell, unbaked
- 4 T. all-purpose flour
- 4 T. white sugar
- 3 T. cold butter, cubed
*If you find yourself a little short on enough ground cherries to fill the pie shell, you can add a chopped up fresh peach or two.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Prepare pie crust if making your own.
Wash ground cherries, toss with zest, and place in unbaked pie shell. Mix brown sugar, tablespoon of flour, nutmeg and salt. Sprinkle over cherries. Sprinkle water over top. Mix together 4 tablespoons flour and 4 tablespoons sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Top cherry mixture with crumbs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 degrees F and continue to bake for 25 minutes.
I don’t know about where you are, but around here, the smell of fall has been in the air all week. It’s especially heavy in the dewy cool morning light. I smile like the Mona Lisa when I’m walking to class or working in my garden. I’ve pulled the light sweaters out of the cedar chest. What is it about autumn that just makes life a little sweeter? And is there anyone out there that “hates” fall the way some people hate winter or summer? I can’t imagine disliking cool nights, crisp mornings, and warm (but not hot) sun in the afternoon.
With the advent of autumn on my doorstep, I start to move my menus from light cool fare to hearty comforting dishes. Today’s Corn and Tomato Bread Pudding is a great bridge between the bounty of summer and the more selective nature of fall. Fresh sweet corn cut off the cob pairs beautifully with hefty cubes of whole wheat bread, slivers of oven-dried tomatoes, and a generous sprinkling of sharp cheese.
I must say I was rather pleased to find my oven-dried tomatoes from last year that I’d tucked away in a cupboard and all but forgotten the past six months were still in perfect condition and very tasty in this dish. I’m actually about to start making a new batch of them now that my tomato plants are in overdrive, but its good to know the dried ones last so long. In lieu of your own oven-dried tomatoes, use store-bought sun-dried (don’t be fooled; there’s no “sun” involved, just sulfur) tomatoes that are packed dry, not in oil.
This dish makes for fantastic segues…first oven-dried tomatoes and now on to oven-dried corn. Yes, I’ll be drying more corn this year. I’d encourage you to do the same. And, after making this bread pudding, I think it’s a perfect candidate for dried corn in winter too. I plan to reconstitute the dried corn in a little warm milk and then continue with the recipe as instructed. It’s a relief to know I can still savor the flavors of local sweet corn and tomatoes in the midst of a snow storm.
And, while on the subject of preserving summer’s flavors, don’t forget to gather up plenty of fresh basil to puree and freeze. I’m fairly certain tossing a thawed cube of basil puree in the winter version of this bread pudding would be a smashing success. But! Don’t wait for cold gusts of wind to try this recipe. It really is a superb late summer dish too, with all the intensity of flavor that only fresh produce can provide.
Ironically, after all this hubbub about heartier dishes for fall and getting prepared for winter, I just made a few other recipes I’ll be posting shortly that are all about the easy breezy summer salad mentality. But when you think about it, that’s just what this short and sweet time of year is all about: getting to take your pick of both seasons!
Corn & Tomato Bread Pudding
Adapted from Fresh and Simple Vegetable Dinners
- 3 tablespoons chopped dried tomatoes
- 4 beaten eggs
- 1 ½ C. half & half
- 1 T. fresh chopped basil
- 4 C. cubed day-old wheat bread
- 1 ½ C. fresh corn kernels
- 1 C. shredded cheddar or herbed hard cheese
Place dried tomato in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Allow to soak for 10-15 minutes to soften. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, half & half, and basil. Set aside. In an ungreased two-quart baking dish, toss together the bread cubes, corn, cheese, and softened tomatoes pieces. (If you wish to make this dish ahead of time, cover and refrigerate the egg mixture and bread mixture separately for up to 24 hours.)
Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread in the baking dish. Bake at 375 F for 35-40 minutes, uncovered, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly and serve with fresh wedges of tomato.
Two weeks of non-stop bread recipes. Aren’t you people satisfied yet?! I actually now have five more bread recipes waiting in the wings for a third week. Won’t somebody please save me from myself?! We will be taking a brief intermission from bread next week though as I have an original recipe for a Valentine’s Day treat that’s not bread-based. Since I like to keep my bread weeks pure, a change in theme is necessary.
Enough with the administrative mumbo-jumbo. Let’s talk about this sumptuous loaf of Rosemary Olive Oil Potato Bread. All the bread I’ve been baking lately has been superb, but there have been two clear front-runners. Last week it was the pita. This week it’s this rosemary loaf.
Let’s rewind a bit to a few weekends past when I was having a much-needed girls’ day out with my friend, Christine, during which we talked about men, work, aspirations, and, of course, food. She was currently in love with a loaf of rosemary olive oil bread she bought from Willow Creek Orchards that was actually made by Metropolitan Bakery here in Philadelphia. Knowing I own a copy of their recipe book, she asked me to look to see if it was listed so she, being the industrious homemaker she is, could make this bread herself. When I got home, I obliged and did indeed find a recipe for a rosemary bread.
However, it seemed unnecessarily complicated, so much so that I, bread baking addict that I am, was put off by the idea of making it according to their specifications. What did I do? Naturally, I went hunting for a more straightforward recipe that might yield the same crusty aromatic results. All the recipes I found kept coming up short though. There were plenty with rosemary, but they didn’t include olive oil. And then there were plenty with olive oil, but those didn’t include rosemary nor did they seem to have the heft of an artisan bread. Finally, a little stumped, I thought I’d look through my baking books for a picture of a loaf that at least looked like the one I’d seen in the Metropolitan Bakery’s book. I found two potato breads that seemed to be a rough match.
I like potato breads – they’ve got heft and they’d be a nice palette for the rosemary. The olive oil was still the sticking point though. I didn’t want to end up with an overly wet dough that would require too much flour and end up heavy as a brick. After all, there’s “heft” and then there’s “don’t drop that or you’ll crack the floor”. I spent a good two days mulling it over before I hit the ticket: roast (vs. boiling) the potatoes so they’re dry and then use the olive oil as the moisture needed to mash them up.
It worked like a charm! Besides producing a tasty artisan loaf, the smell…oh the smell…of this bread baking is like no other. The olive oil in the slices makes them the perfect choice for grilled sandwiches since it turns golden brown and crisp. The rosemary asserts its fragrance no matter how you serve it. It’s just a wonderful loaf of bread in every way.
There’s one test to be passed yet though. I anxiously await Christine’s verdict so I know if it rivals that made by the Metropolitan Bakery. Fingers crossed!
A practical side note about this bread: It’s very moist and so does not keep terribly well at room temperature. If you are not going to be able to use it up within three or four days of baking, I would suggest keeping it in the fridge. Let it come back to room temperature before you serve it, unless you’re making a grilled cheese, in which case it’ll get heated up anyway.
Rosemary Olive Oil Potato Bread
Adapted from a combination of recipes from various sources
- 1 c. packed cold roasted mashed up potatoes (skins removed)
- 1 envelope (¼ oz.) active dry yeast
- 3 c. white flour
- 1 c. whole wheat flour
- 2 t. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 2 t. salt
- 4 T. olive oil
- 1 c. warm water
Combine the yeast, flours, rosemary and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the potatoes and olive oil; mash them together and add a little water if needed to get them smooth. Turn mashed potatoes into the flour mixture and begin mixing. Add about a half cup of warm water and continue mixing. Add more water as needed until it forms a soft dough.
Turn out dough onto a floured countertop and knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Clean out the mixing bowl and spray lightly with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl and cover with a dishtowel. Place in a warm place and let rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
Turn out risen dough on to a floured countertop and punch down and knead for a minute or two. (If you want two smaller loaves, divide the dough now.) Flatten out with your hands and then fold dough up like a business letter. Turn it seam side down and rotate while cupped in your hands to shape into a plump oval loaf. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a slipat. Sprinkle the top with a little whole wheat flour. Cover the loaf(s) with the dishtowel and let rise in a warm place for half an hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Using a sharp knife, scour the top of the bread with three or four diagonal cuts to make a crisscross pattern. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped. If you have a spray bottle handy, use it to mist the sides of the hot oven with water just before putting the loaf in and then every 3 minutes for the first 9 minutes. This moisture will create an extra crispy crust.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Ah, pumpernickel, bread of my boy…
D’s favorite bread is pumpernickel, but it is by far my least favorite. Or should I say it was my least favorite until I made this recipe, which I tried for D’s sake. Ironically, he doesn’t like it.
What’s this bread preference switcheroo got to do with you? I’m using my little household’s case study to prove that homemade pumpernickel may be worth trying even it you aren’t a fan of the stuff from the store. Conversely, this very tiny focus group (perhaps I should include the cats next time to bump up the credibility of my research?) serves as evidence that if you do like the stuff from the store, you might be slightly disappointed by the end results of your homemade attempts. And all of that being said, before this bread blog affair is over, I plan on trying another pumpernickel recipe that I have to determine if it’s just this recipe or homemade pumpernickel in general that bucks the store-bought-taste profile.
Did you follow all of that? You did?! Good for you!!
So what is it that I like and D dislikes about this bread? It’s not nearly as dark and heavy. Instead you can just taste the rye flour with a touch of sweetness from the molasses – making it earthy for sure but not, um, hmmm, not, hmmm… well, I can’t seem to put my finger on the right adjective (strong? bold? overpowering?) to describe what it is about typical pumpernickel that I don’t like. If you’re of a similar disposition, you’ll know what I mean.
This recipe also yields a more airily textured loaf, though denser than your average white bread. It really makes a nice sandwich or thin slice of toast with butter. Storing it only improves its tastes, and you actually shouldn’t slice into that dark crust for at least a day after baking.
This version is most definitely an “Americanized” adaptation of the more traditional German bread made exclusively with rye flour and a sourdough starter. I have a recipe for the German variety and I have another Americanized recipe that incorporates coffee and cocoa powder to give it a darker flavor. Which would you like to see me use to further test my tolerance of homemade pumpernickels?
Dough ball Dough resting in loaf pans Loaves just out of the oven Wrap loaves in wax paper and foil to cure for at least 24 hours
One thing’s for sure – there’ll be no caraway seeds in either of them. That’s one element of traditional pumpernickel I’ll never be able to tolerate.
Adapted from The Big Book of Bread
- 2 c. rye flour
- 1 c. wholewheat flour
- 1 c. white bread flour
- 1 1/2 t. salt
- 1 package (2 t.) rapid rise dried yeast
- 1 T. packed dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 T. molasses
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 c. warm water
Mix the flours and salt in a bowl. Stir in the yeast and brown sugar (break up the brown sugar a bit with your fingers before mixing it in). Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the oil, molasses, and water. Mix well to form a soft dough.
Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead for 10 minutes. As you knead it, the dough will become sticky and a little difficult to work with – just add a dusting of flour whenever it gets too difficult and continue to knead. Clean out the bowl you were using and spray lightly with non-stick spray. Shape dough into a round and place in bowl, cover with a dishtowel and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
Punch down dough in bowl and place on counter to divide in two small oblongs. Grease two small loaf pans and press an oblong of dough into each. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Place risen loaves in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the bread is dark brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Turn out and cool on wire rack. Wrap in waxed paper and foil and let cure for at least 24 hours. Serve in thin slices.
Today I get to tell you all about my homemade dulce de leche. I’ve been absolutely bursting at the seams with anticipation, chucking the last of the cranberry recipes at you. That’s not to say those weren’t worthwhile. Oh no no. It’s just that this recipe for the creamy dreamy caramely treat from South America can’t be kept under wraps for long.
So do you have a minute for me to tell you a little story about how I came to be on a quest for the perfect dulce de leche recipe? I really hope so because it’s worth telling.
It all started in April of this past year when I went to Argentina and Uruguay to celebrate my birthday. I read my copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook from cover to cover and then read Kiss and Tango: Dairy of a Dancehall Seductress just to get a sense of the culture I was about to soak up. In both the LP and Kiss and Tango, there were whole pages devoted to this sweet treat called dulce de leche, or “milk jam” in translation. I had some seriously high expectations for the stuff and looked for it the moment I got off the plane in Buenos Aires. Just at the airport convenience shop alone I found nearly fifty different types of prepackaged cookies and candies boasting a dulce de leche filling of some kind! I bought two or three and drooled in anticipation as I unwrapped the first one…
Vanilla beans and pods float in whole milk from my family farm.
It was terrible! Well, okay, maybe not terrible since it was a candy bar. But it certainly wasn’t worth pages of prose or even a mention in a postcard home. And so it was everywhere I went as I journeyed alone through Argentina and Uruguay for a few days. Then my friend Fred flew in from the States to join me for a week and we hopped on a plane to Iguazu Falls. Same story there – nothing but prepackaged disappointment. Okay, maybe there was some of the most amazing scenery I’d ever seen, but the dulce de leche was still nothing to write home about. After a few days in the tropical heat, we came back to Buenos Aires and split up for the afternoon, he to La Recoleta Cemetery and me to the San Telmo neighborhood in search of dog walkers and street artists.
And then it happened. On a rundown little side street far away from any tourist traps, I found heaven. In the tiniest of mom-and-pop bakeries, rows and rows of alfajores (cookies), big and small, all bursting with dark, thick dulce de leche, promised to make amends for all the inferior prepackaged milk jam that had come before them. Of course no English was spoken, but I didn’t let it stop me as I pointed and cooed until I had what I wanted. That first bite…oh that first bite…it was worth an entire novel. The biscuit cookies sandwiching the dulce de leche were merely a vehicle for the sweet-but-not-sugary-creamy-like-the-best-fudge-you’ve-ever-had-deep-richness-of-caramel-with-a-hint-of-vanilla-goodness. Sigh….so good, in fact, that basic sentence structure fails me even now.
Unfortunately I didn’t stock up on enough and when we jetted off to Mendoza early the next morning, I was all out of alfajores and my beloved homemade dulce de leche. I didn’t even bother to try and find any during our time in Mendoza. I didn’t want to risk contaminating that one beautiful and pure moment. (I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes by now at my lavish descriptions, but I swear it really was that good.) But it was time for Fred to have his own dulce de leche epiphany. He’d been enamored with the massive steaks all along our route so sweets hadn’t been a priority. An early morning trip to see the Andes had Fred on the hunt for breakfast in the bustling Mendoza bus station, where he found a bakery selling freshly made rolls, cut in half and spread with a thick layer of dulce de leche, put back together and rolled in powdered sugar. The huge grin on his face after the first bite said it all.
Jars Start paying attention when it coats the back of the spoon Ladle with dulce de leche Prettily wrapped jars of dulce de leche homemade rolls for fred’s gift
My three weeks tromping around Argentina eventually came to an end, as did my small stash of alfajores I got from the Buenos Aires bakery just before my flight home. But my determination to find good dulce de leche here in the States was just getting started. As you can probably guess, the packaged stuff here just doesn’t cut it. Nor did the recipes that called for a can of condensed milk that yielded a caramel flavor but lacked the intense creaminess I knew was possible. As Christmas rolled around and I thought about what I should give Fred for a gift, I just knew I had to figure out the dulce de leche “problem”. Scouring the internet for websites from Argentina, I finally found what seemed to be an authentic recipe that called for whole milk and no shortcuts.
It worked beautifully. I couldn’t be happier. I almost cried when I took my first bite. Sigh…. There it was again, that same sweet-but-not-sugary-creamy-like-the-best-fudge-you’ve-ever-had-deep-richness-of-caramel-with-a-hint-of-vanilla-goodness. I made some homemade rolls, slathered them with it, and rolled them in powdered sugar for Fred.
So, what makes this recipe different, and thus more on target with what I had in Argentina, is the use of whole fresh milk – as fresh as you can find (I got my from my family farm) – and the baking soda. The chemical reaction created by the addition of the soda is dramatic. In fact, please be careful when you do it… it’s very similar to those science fair volcano projects we all had as kids. But I strongly believe it’s this “explosion” that changes the properties of the ducle de leche in a way that brings the creaminess to its maximum. Just be prepared for it and stir, stir, stir!!!
DULCE DE LECHE
Adapted from www.allfromargentina.blogspot.com
- 1 gallon whole milk, preferably raw and organic
- 3 c. sugar
- 1 c. Splenda or other sugar substitute (or use another cup of sugar if you want)
- 2 vanilla beans
- 2 t. baking soda
- 2 T. water
- generous pinch of salt
In the biggest pot you have, combine the milk and sugar. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the beans with the back of the knife. Place beans and scraped out pods in the pot. Turn on the burner to medium heat and stir milk to dissolve the sugar. Turn up heat and bring to a rolling boil. While it comes to a boil, dissolve baking soda in the water. Set aside.
Remove boiling pot from the stove (it’s best to put pot near sink for potential spillage) and fish out the vanilla pods. Add the dissolved baking soda, stirring vigorously as milk will expand rapidly to fill the pot. When the mixture returns to its original volume, return the pot to the stove and bring to a very brisk simmer – it may concern you that it will scorch, but it should be practically boiling. Continue cooking for about an hour until it turns a deep golden brown. It is not necessary to stir it, just check in on it occasionally.
After the mixture has turned dark caramel in color, check it more frequently. The longer you continue cooking it after the color change, the thicker it will be. For a consistency similar to caramel, cook for another 10 minutes. For a thicker spread-like consistency, continue cooking for another 10 minutes. If you cook it even longer, it can turn into candy. Just remember that it will thicken up tremendously after cooling.
Once you’re ready, ladle dulce de leche into sterilized jars. Boil lids in a shallow pan and clean off rims of jars. Seal jars with lids and turn upside down to cool. Jars may seal this way so they can be stored at room temperature. However, if they do not seal, dulce de leche keeps for a very long time in the fridge. Use as a spread on toast or rolls, add to brownie recipes, sandwich between sugar cookies, or stir into coffee.
(makes 4-5 eight ounce jars)
Alright, I’ll be honest here folks. The creative juices just aren’t flowing today. It might have something to do with the celebratory scotch last night, or it might have to do with my long-time-coming admission to myself that I just don’t like turnips all that much. Yep, you heard me right. I don’t like cooked turnips. I tried and I tried. I roasted them. I put them in soup. I put them in potpie (which I do admit wasn’t all that bad). I fried them. And now I’ve finally mashed them with roasted garlic. If roasted garlic can’t endear them to my taste buds, nothing can.
Oddly enough, I don’t mind them raw. On a good day, I might even crave them in a salad.
It’s a shame really that cooked turnips and I can’t get along. The humble turnip has quite the reputation after all. In ancient civilization, it was considered the vegetable of choice for nobility. Around the same time, some folks were using fermented turnips for an unusual brew. Mmmm…turnip beer… In America’s early colonies, turnips were as valuable as coinage, being used as currency in the marketplace. Heck, sometime in the 17th and 18th centuries, there purportedly was an “Age of the Turnip”, thanks to the introduction of new varieties that made turnips an even more valuable crop for farmers.
I was all excited to try out this mashed turnip idea. It’s a shame my “Age of the Turnip” isn’t meant to be. But if you like cooked turnips, I have no doubt it’ll be a delish dish for you. If I weren’t adverse to cooked turnips, I’d definitely be incorporating this twist on the classic mashed potatoes into my Thanksgiving fare. The vivid Scarlet Queen variety that I included with the milder white Hakurei gave the mash a delicate pink hue and (unfortunately for me since I’m not a fan) a spicier flavor.
If you’re not a cooked turnip fan like me, there’s still something to take away from this recipe. Roasting garlic is shamefully easy but changes everything when you add it to mashed potatoes. Once roasted, garlic mellows and sweetens its flavor. I’d go so far as to say it gets almost buttery so it’s a wonderful compliment to many dishes that typically include butter as a key flavor agent – in particular, anything with corn, carrots, or potatoes will benefit from roasted garlic. The farm’s German Extra Hardy variety is very pungent raw and roasts up beautifully with still distinctive notes of fresh garlic behind the stronger sweet caramelized flavor.
Turnip and Roasted Garlic Mash
A Straight from the Farm original
- 2 bunches of mild turnips (Hakurei variety works well)
- 1 large head of garlic
- 2 T. butter
- generous pinches of salt and pepper
- fresh chives to garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place whole head of garlic, unpeeled, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast garlic in oven for 30 minutes or until very squishy. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
While garlic is roasting, bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil. Wash turnips well, trimming off tops and roots. Cut into 1 inch pieces and boil until tender, about 20 minutes depending on the variety. Drain off water and allow to sit for five minutes. Turnips will release more water as they cool. Drain additional water off and use either a potato masher or an electric mixer to begin mashing up the turnips.
Cut a half inch off the top of the roasted head of garlic, exposing the cloves inside. With your hand, squeeze out all the garlic pulp into the turnips. Add butter and salt and pepper before continuing to mash turnips to the desired consistency. If turnips appear to be releasing more water after being mashed, drain it off and add more salt if necessary.
Serve immediately with a few snips of fresh garlic chives. If desired, serve cooked turnip tops along side turnip mash. To cook turnip tops, simple wash and roughly chop. Heat olive oil or butter in a skillet and add turnips when hot. Season with salt and pepper. Turnip greens are fairly bitter.
With both the farmers out of town this weekend, I didn’t need to spend Sunday at the Headhouse Market. Instead I took this extra time to leisurely harvest some flowers for drying and to take some end-of-season photos of the farm. With all the hustle and bustle that my typical Sunday mornings at the farm require in the hurry to get to market, I hadn’t slowed down enough lately to notice how the season is coming to an obvious halt.
I’m no stranger to the changing of the seasons, having grown up on a farm that ebbed and flowed with the shortening and lengthening of the days. But somehow this year on this farm, I’m still in disbelief that it’s almost over for 2007. Now that’s not to say that there won’t be harvesting going on for another month or more at Weavers Way, particularly if this warm streak keeps up. There’ll be plenty of turnips, radishes, greens, and beets to come along yet. It’s just that now instead of lush row-upon-row of tomato vines and shoulder-high okra stalks, there are mostly empty beds with fuzzy baby sprouts of the clover we’re using for a winter covering. I’m just not prepared for this decline…not yet. The past six months have zipped along at light speed, more so than usual. With each passing week, the farm’s fields haven’t just fed my body with amazing produce. They’ve also been feeding my heart and soul with passion and energy.
But autumn is my favorite season, and winter is a good time to work on those projects I’ve put to the side in the flurry of the growing season (hello knitting needles, my old friends!). I’m sure the work for the farm will continue too; just in a different way. I’ll have seed catalogs to pour over, picking out new flowers to suggest trying for next year’s mixed bouquets and maybe even some edible varieties. And there’s the chance to try out all the goodies in my bevy of dried and canned preserves. Not to mention the interesting facts and stories I plan to share with you about urban farming and my personal “foodie” heroes who championed eating locally and seasonally long before it was trendy. And together we’ll find out how long one can store beets and turnips on the basement floor.
So you see, the sight of brown declining tomato vines and the likes is bittersweet for me. I have no doubt that a lot of wonderful exchanges have yet to take this year…I anticipate exploring lots of new avenues and ideas myself and with you. And goodness knows the farmers need a break – they’ve been working 10+ hours a day, six days a week since March. But as I help plant hundreds of tulip and daffodil bulbs at the farm over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be dreaming of springtime blooms and a booming farm again.
I suspect contemplative thoughts like these are what moved me to put bitter mustard greens with sweet apples in a dish that’s easy to make and rich in flavor. Any greens would work here – mustard, kale, collards, chard, beet tops, or even sorrel if you like a really intense bitterness. I choose to give the farm’s new dark purple mustard greens, a variety called Osaka Purple, a try this time around. Did you know mustard greens, much like swiss chard, have ridiculously high amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium and fiber, among other things? Since this variety is purple, it also has potential cancer-fighting phytochemicals. And the addition of toasted pine nuts really rounded out the trio of taste sensations on the tongue.
I guess this switch to autumn crops isn’t so bad. After all, there’re only so many fresh tomatoes a girl can eat. Though I’m sure I’ll retract that statement by January.
BITTERSWEET AND NUTTY MIXED GREENS
A Straight from the Farm original
- 1 large bunch of mustard greens, about 20 leaves
- 2 baby leeks
- 1 baby bok choy
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 T. soy sauce
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 small firm apples (I used Nittany)
- 1 T. butter
- 1 T. raw sugar
- pinch of cinnamon
- 1/2 c. pine nuts
Wash and dry apples. Cut out core and dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Melt butter in a medium skillet and add apples. Sprinkle with raw sugar and cook over medium low heat until soft and somewhat caramelized/browned. Remove from heat and set aside on your serving dish.
Toast pine nuts on a small baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes until golden.
Wash greens, leeks and bok choy thoroughly. Cut off any tough stems on the greens, roots and tough green tops of the leeks, and base of the baby bok choy. Cut everything into one inch wide strips. Using the same skillet as before, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute garlic slices until golden. Add chopped greens, leeks and bok choy, stirring constantly until everything is noticeably wilted (about 90 seconds). Lower heat to low and stir in soy sauce. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until greens are tender. Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine apples and pine nuts with the greens in the skillet. Toss well and serve immediately.
I’m starting to feel like a broken record here but it’s really true…I love cooking with my mom. Besides the fact that she’s a great cook herself, she’s got all this amazing know-how that you just don’t find in cookbooks. And she has a couple of recipes that I don’t dare mess with on my own. I’m talking about those childhood favorites that never taste the same when you attempt to recreate them yourself as an adult.
I don’t think I’ll ever make mac & cheese on my own. It’s a shame really because I love mac & cheese and when the dreaded day comes that my mom is no longer in the kitchen, I’ll have to go without mac & cheese for the rest of my life. See, she makes the best mac & cheese…with raw cows milk, lots of velvety cheese and then this amazing bread crumb topping that gets all crusty and golden. And she bakes it in the same casserole dish every time, which seems to be the perfect size for what is a precise ratio of chewy golden pasta bites around the edges and melty cheesy bites in the middle. Pardon me while I wipe this bit of drool off my keyboard.
I also love her mashed potatoes, but I finally got myself to make those by deciding I wasn’t going to try to recreate hers, but rather to come up with my own variation. Mine includes goat cheese stirred and melted into the hot potatoes (instead of her hunk of butter) and an extra pinch of sea salt. I still like hers better, if only for sentimental and/or the-wiring-in-my-brain-was-set-for-life-at-age-five reasons. Mashed potatoes and mac & cheese…the second and third best comfort foods.
I say second and third best because there’s another dish that stands at the front of that comfort food line. Homemade old-fashioned apple dumplings were a thing of sheer indulgence during my childhood. We didn’t have them all that often, but when we did, it meant life was good. Truth be told though, I’d almost forgotten about them until a month or so ago, when I was eating out and saw them on the menu. Of course I ordered a dumpling for dessert, but it just wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. The apple dumplings of my childhood were large – gianormous really – made with a whole apple brimming with cinnamon sugary delight and snuggly down in a flaky sugary crust. What I had at the restaurant was a small half apple with scant cinnamon and a dark egg-washed glossy crust around it. I knew then and there that I’d have to recreate the apple dumplings of my memory. But I wasn’t about to do it on my own.
Yep, back to good ol’ mom. I roped her into teaching me all about apple dumplings at the same time we ferreted out the method for pickling pears. Her recipe for dumplings also comes from a Pennsylvania Grange Cookbook, just like the pickled pears recipe, although the dumplings are in a different edition. I’m glad I went to the source for the original recipe. Left to my own devices, I would have likely used a basic pie dough recipe for the pastry. Turns out the dough for the dumplings has the addition of milk, making it more elastic and granting greater forgiveness when pulling it up around the apples, something a novice like me needed. But really, the apple dumplings turned out to be pretty simple. Thanks to the little mom tutorial, I’m confident I can successfully recreate this childhood favorite on my own now.
Never content to leave well enough alone, we did take a few liberties with the recipe just for fun. I wanted to leave out the butter that usually got drizzled over the apples before they’re wrapped up. Despite the obvious health benefits of this, I just didn’t think it was necessary with the buttery dough too. I didn’t miss it at all when chowing down on the hot dumplings topped with vanilla ice cream. We also added some dried cranberries in the hollowed out core of the apples. They were a nice little surprise that I’d add again next time. We doubled the cinnamon and sugar (which is reflected in the recipe below because I think you should too). We got rid of the red food coloring in the syrup…it just seemed stupid. Our hypothesis is that food coloring was still a novelty when the recipe’s cookbook was printed so housewives were probably eager to show off their status as a culinary expert by “enhancing” colors wherever they could. And finally, we topped the completed (but still unbaked) dumplings with little cinnamon drops/red hots to add visual interest and an extra punch of cinnamon flavor at first bite.
A quick word about the apples themselves: We don’t grow them (yet) at Weavers Way Farm so I snagged mine from the lovely folks at Three Springs Fruit Farm, a neighboring stand to ours at the Headhouse Farmers Market. These guys have the best apples! For these dumplings, I selected a large sweet baking apple (that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me right now) from their many crates. My mom also made a second batch with Granny Smiths at the same time we made these. Both varieties turned out delicious dumplings. The only rule of thumb here is to use solid apples that will hold their shape once baked. Avoid soft eating apples like Red Delicious as they’ll sag and likely cause the pastry crust to crack and cave in.
Childhood memories were never so sweet as these apple dumplings were for me. What’s your favorite childhood dish that equals the ultimate comfort food for you as an adult?
OLD-FASHIONED APPLE DUMPLINGS
My mom’s recipe (taken originally from an old PA Grange cookbook)
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 t. baking powder
- 1 t. salt
- 2/3 c. butter (still cold)
- 1/2 c. milk
- 4 large apples
- 6 T. white sugar
- 3 T. ground cinnamon
- 2 t. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 c. dried cranberries (optional)
- 1 1/2 c. white sugar
- 1 1/2 c. water
- 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 t. ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel apples and, using a kitchen gadget or sharp knife, remove all of the cores. Slice off just a small amount at the top and bottom of each apple to flatten them out so they’ll wrap in the dough easier. Rinse off the apples in cold water and dab dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter, using your hands to squish everything together, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in milk all at once and stir to form a dough. Add a little more flour if needed to make the dough less sticky. Do not overwork the dough as you want it to remain light and tender. Split the dough ball in half and on a floured surface, roll out one half to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into two 6″ squares.
Place a whole apple in the center of a dough square. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg listed under “Apples” above. Generously dust each apple with this mixture and fill the core with cranberries and a little more sugar mixture. Moisten the edges of the pastry square with a finger dipped in cool water and bring the corners together at the top of the apple. Press edges together to seal and pinch together any tears in the dough around the apple.
Repeat the rolling out of the second half of the dough and creating the other two dumplings. Place all four dumplings in a baking dish, one inch apart, and decorate with dough cut-outs of leaves or any other creative flare you can think to use.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the ingredients listed under “Syrup” above. Bring to a boil then remove from heat to cool slightly. Pour the syrup over the dumplings and sprinkle with additional sugar (this forms a delectable golden crust once baked). Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until apples are tender (use a fork poked into them to test) and dough is nicely browned.
Best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Can be stored in fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven at 200 F for 15 minutes.