me and julia

I promise that I am not writing to profess my undying love for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You guys have already seen that movie and so have I. A few times. And besides, Julia’s opus is not in heavy rotation on my cookbook shelf- the bulk of the dishes aren’t exactly in the wheelhouse of a meat-eschewing, atherosclerosis-fearing, crunched-for-time girl like myself.

But while I might pass on the famous boeuf bourguignon, if someone could distill and bottle Julia’s culinary fearlessness, I would buy it by the case. I find myself turning to her recipes often when I crave culinary adventure. I’m not talking about adventurous flavors or ingredients per se, I’m talking about flipping over red-hot cast iron skillet and holding your breath to see if you’ll end up with a nice apple tart or a useless pile of goo. Who needs sky diving or bungee jumping when there are adrenaline rushes like that in your very own kitchen?

This was my first attempt at tarte tatin, and I was fully prepared to serve it as a crumbly mess rather than the lovely, molded creation of apples, caramel, and pastry that might have graced Julia’s kitchen. The big flip- turning over the skillet while hot out of the oven to unmold the tart- must be executed with at least two oven mitts and with breakneck speed and with the makings for a stiff drink on hand in case you screw the whole thing up and need to mourn the loss of your beautiful French dessert.

Sorry, that’s my flare for the dramatic getting the best of me. I’m happy to report that my tarte come out far from perfect but more-or-less in one piece. And I’m feeling pretty inspired to pursue some Julia-inspired kitchen adventures in the future, so stay tuned. In my opinion, it’s always the crumbly, gooey messes that taste the best anyway.

Tarte Tatin

(A note about equipment: you’ll need a heavy, oven-proof skillet since the tart goes straight from stovetop to oven. I used a cast iron that is about 9″x2″)

For the crust:

1 c flour

1/2 t salt

1 T sugar

6 T butter, chilled and cut into 1/2″ dice

1/8 c vegetable shortening.

1/4 c cold water

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and shortening and cut it in with a pastry cutter or two forks until well combined and the butter pieces are the size of peas or oatmeal flakes. Drizzle the water over the mixture and use one hand to just combine all the ingredients. Knead a few times in the bowl so it all holds together, then turn out onto a well floured surface. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough forward bit by bit in a 6″ smear to combine the fat and flour. Give it one final knead, form into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for 1 hour or in the fridge for a few hours until it is firm but not solid. You’ll roll it out after you make the filling.

For the filling

5-6 apples (whatever kind you like to bake with)

Juice of  1 lemon

1 1/2 c sugar

6 T butter

Peel, quarter, and core the apples and slice the quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon juice and 1/2 c sugar and let sit for 20 minutes so they will exude their juices. Drain.

Set the skillet over medium high heat and melt the butter. Add the sugar and cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the syrup is bubbly and golden brown. Don’t burn it, and don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy. It will smooth out once you add the apples.

Remove from heat and add the apples to the pan, arranging as many as will fit into the bottom later. Heap the rest of the apples on top, not worrying to much about making them neat. They will shrink down as you cook. Return to medium heat and cook for several minutes. Press the apples down with a wooden spoon and use a baster to draw up the caramel and baste the apples. This seems like a tedious step but it helps the apples to cook uniformly and soak up the caramel. When the apples begin to soften, cover and cook another 10-15 minutes, until the juices are thick and syrupy. Continue to check and baste often. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly while you roll out the crust.

Flour your countertop well and roll out the crust into a 10″ diameter circle with a rolling pin. Fold it in half to transfer it to the pan.

Top the apples with the crust, tucking it in on the sides around the apples. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until the pastry has browned slightly.

Now for the fun part: flip it over! Turn the serving dish upside down over the pan and flip to unmold the tarte. If some of the apples stick to the pan, just press them back down and rearrange them as necessary. Serve hot, warm, or cool. Bon apetite!

sunday potluck

Late one night last August, my roommate Noura and I found ourselves in a rut. It was only the second week of medical school, but we were already feeling the drain of the go-to-school-then-go-home-and-study-then-go-to-bed-and-do-it-all-over-again routine. No one said med school would be a walk in the park, but we found ourselves craving something more than lecture and lab to look forward to each week. We decided we needed to institute something that would bring our classmates together and away from the books on a regular basis. Although we had only known each other for mere days, it was apparent that a love for good food was a common bond that tied much of our class together. Hence, Sunday Potluck was born.

 Nearly every Sunday night throughout the school year, we gathered in classmates’ apartments to enjoy what was unfailingly my best meal of the week. We’d load our plates with fresh salads, hearty stews, and homemade breads, each dish teaching us a little more about its cook’s personality, culture, and family. Although Sunday night usually marks the ominous transition to the busy week ahead, it quickly became my favorite time of the week.

With the start of a new school year comes a new year of potlucks. This Sunday, Noura and I hosted a fall-themed dinner, and our classmates delivered warm soups, thick bean stews, and glistening tarts to our home. I made a mountain of balsamic roasted vegetables, a recipe that was passed on to me by my Aunt Karen. It was the perfect dish to tackle on a Sunday, when spending nearly an hour chopping vegetables served as a great time to catch up with friends on the phone, and when having a container full of leftover caramelized butternut squash, apples, carrots, and parsnips provides the perfect slow-cooked base for quickly made weeknight dinners.
As potlucks continue this year, I look forward to sharing my weekly creations not only with my classmates, but also with all my wonderful family and friends here on sugarcured.
Balsamic Roasted Root Vegetables
Courtesy of my Aunt Karen
Note: This recipe makes a lot of vegetables (serves 15-20), so scale up or down accordingly. You can also use any root vegetables that strike your fancy. I’ve swapped sweet potatoes for butternut squash before, and it was still great!Vegetables:
1 large butternut squash
3 large carrots
3 large parsnips
2 large red onions
6 Granny Smith apples

Marinade:
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp each thyme and rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp light brown sugar
Salt and ground pepperPreheat oven to 500. In a large bowl, combine all of the vegetables. In a small separate bowl, combine marinade ingredients, except salt and pepper. Mix marinade into vegetables and let sit for up to 2 hours. Arrange vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35-40 minutes, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are tender.

this i believe

It’s hard to top a day on which I get to hang out with my mom and dad and watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cubbies in extra innings at Wrigley. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks and I don’t care if I every come back…

Even though there were at least as many Cards fans as Cubs fans in the stands, and even though the Cubs are a miserable 33 games out of first place, it’s clear that nothing can shake the beliefs of a true baseball fan. We sat behind an octogenarian Cubs fan who I overheard say he had been coming to the stadium since he was 8 years old. When I hollered for joy at Carlos Beltran’s game-tying homer in the late innings, this gentleman turned and said to us, “Sit down! You seemed like very nice people until I found out you were idiot Cardinals fans.”

This elderly gentleman’s loyalty to the lovable losers, even after (as my roommate puts it) “104 years of shame and embarrassment” since the Cubs last won the Series, got me thinking about the unshakable beliefs that baseball fans have in their clubs.  It got me thinking about this monologue from probably the best baseball movie of all time, Bull Durham.

Crash Davis Believes In….

I certainly believe that the DH should be outlawed and I certainly have my own list of beliefs that are questionable importance to anybody else in the world and of utmost importance to me. At the top of my personal list is “I believe that everybody should have a homemade cake on their birthday.” If you are my friend and I am aware that it is your birthday, this is a non-negotiable point.

Sometimes I am so busy that I forget about my own rule until 1 hour before I am supposed to be at the birthday party and the “cake”  is Pizookie, one of the laziest but most delicious desserts I know (Recipe= Tollhouse cookie dough baked until warm but still gooey and topped with vanilla ice cream).

Sometimes I make my very favorite chocolate cake of all time and then forget to take pictures of the finished product. And now I have a wonderful excuse to make it again soon so I can post it.

Sometimes I want to serve birthday cake for breakfast and so I make this coffee cake. I believe that any cake can be a breakfast cake if it tastes good with coffee, but not all people share this belief and so I am forced to make a cake that is socially acceptable for breakfast.

I believe that the combo of sour cream, chocolate chips, and cinnamon-sugar is as sweet as the perfectly executed 4-6-3 double play. I bet that even that crochety old Cubs fans would agree with me on this one and I bet you will too.

Classic Coffee Cake

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 c granulated sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 t vanilla

2 c sour cream

3 c all-purpose flour

1 t baking powder

1 1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1-2 c semisweet chocolate chips (adjust depending on how chocolatey you want it to be)

1/2 c sugar

1 t cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or spray a 9×13 pan and cover the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper.

Cream butter and 1 1/2 c sugar in a large bowl. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Alternate mixing in dry ingredients and sour cream until the mixture is smooth and very thick. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into batter.

Mix together the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Spread half the cake batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon-sugar and half the chocolate. Dollop on the remaining batter and spread it carefully. Top with remaining cinnamon-sugar and chocolate, pressing the chips into the batter slightly. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Serve with coffee (duh) and revel in eating cake for breakfast…

one classy cookie

On Friday night, we had a med school class mixer and were instructed to bring something “classy” to the occasion. As I conjured classy concoctions in my head—champagne cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries, truffles—I recalled a recipe that I had bookmarked back in February for dark chocolate red wine cookies. Chocolate + red wine = quite the classy combo, and furthermore, cookies aren’t too shabby of a vehicle for a healthy dose of antioxidants.

There’s only half a cup of red wine in these cookies, but it’s enough to impart them with a subtle bitterness and depth that is utterly decadent. They are sturdy, yet slightly soft and chewy, my idea for the perfect cookie consistency. Whether you’re looking to bring class to an affair, or just need a sweet reprieve from class studies, I highly recommend adding these cookies to your repertoire!

Dark Chocolate Red Wine Cookies (Adapted from Keep it Simple Foods)

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup red wine (use whatever kind you have on hand!)
1 bag semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 and line cookie sheets with parchment. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add vanilla, egg, and wine. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add chocolate chips. Drop dough in tablespoon-sized rounds onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

last hurrah

After three blissful months, summer has come to an end.

It’s been a good run. One that’s taken me from the shores of Lake Michigan to the warm waters of Miami, from the sea-level streets of home to the peaks of the Andes, and from the smorgasbord that is the Iowa State Fair to the gastronomic glory of Peru’s famed food festival, Mistura.

I’ve tried to make the most of this summer, aware that it’s one of the last of its luxuriously long kind I may get for a while. And now in mid-September, I can honestly say that I am ready for a new school year to begin, ready to swap humid air for a crisper variety, and ready to begin stockpiling canned pumpkin and warm spices.

But I would be remiss to let the summer pass by without baking up a nectarine and blueberry crisp. I made up this recipe one summer night years ago when I had some blueberries on hand and a hankering for something warm and gooey. What started as an experiment in a small ramekin became one of my most beloved summer recipes. On my last night at home before heading back to Chicago, my family had a wonderful dinner off the grill and this crisp for dessert. A sweet ending to a beautiful and bountiful season.

Nectarine & Blueberry Crisp

Makes 15 servings
For the fruit: 
10 nectarines, ripe but not too soft
2 pints blueberries
¼ cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1 lemon juiced and zested
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt

Cut the nectarines into ½ inch thick slices (you can leave the skins on or off¬—I personally like the color they add). Toss the nectarines with the blueberries and the remaining ingredients. Allow fruit to sit for about 15 minutes while you prepare the topping.

For the crisp topping: 
1 ½ cups old fashioned oats
1 cup flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

Combine oats, flour, sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter and using a fork or your fingers (I prefer the latter method) thoroughly combine the dry ingredients with the butter. The topping can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Be sure to remove it from the fridge at least 20 minutes before you assemble to crisp so that it is easy to work with.

To assemble crisp:
Pour fruit mixture into a glass or porcelain dish that is at least 2 inches deep and no more than 10 inches wide. Break apart the crisp dough into small pieces and scatter them over the fruit to create an even layer. Bake the crisp at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until the top begins to brown. Let crisp stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow juices to settle. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

bread, the long way around

I love efficiency. Most of the time. You won’t meet many 20something women better at packing a light suitcase than me. I get unreasonably annoyed when the El doesn’t arrive on time- it can seriously ruin my day. If you are cooking with me and you’re too slow with your onion chopping, I will probably take the knife out of your hands and do it myself. I am sorry in advance. I didn’t say I was proud of this particular quirk.

When I bake bread, though, I am somehow able to squelch the efficiency impulse, and take the long way around. It must be  because bread baking is an inherently slow process, but something about it brings out my need to ditch the streamlining and just putz around sometimes. I love that I can listen to an album all the way through while I gather the ingredients, mix, and knead; that I can watch an entire movie while the dough proofs.

This is the ultimate long-way-around bread. It has fifteen ingredients and I have been known to go to three different grocery stores in one day to gather all those ingredients. But the end result is worth the trouble, pilgrim, because at the end of this long way around you’ll have two big, dense loaves of the most flavorful bread you’ve ever eaten.

I got completely hooked on dark, dense pumpernickle during my semester in Denmark. I ate my weight in rugbrod — a chewy, deep brown  loaf made with a fermented starter — during those months. In the nearly three years since I returned to the States, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I can’t recreate rugbrod in my own kitchen (I have been unable to find the right course grind of rye flour and I’m pretty bad at sourdough starters). Happily, this black bread shares a fair piece of its genome with that Danish cousin.

Black Bread

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 packages (1 1/2 T ) active dry yeast

pinch of sugar

1/2 c warm water

2 c water

1/4 c molasses

1/4 c apple cider vinegar

4 T butter

1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 c whole wheat flour

3 c rye flour

3 c all purpose flour

1 c bran

1 1/2 T caraway seeds

1 T salt

1 T instant espresso powder

1 T minced shallots

1/8 c cornmeal

2 t flour

Stir the yeast and sugar into the 1/2 c warm water until it is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Heat the 2 c water, molasses, vinegar, butter, and chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside to cool to lukewarm. Combine the flours in a large bowl. Combine 2 c mixed flours, bran, caraway seeds, salt, espresso, and shallots. Add yeast and chocolate mixtures. Mix until smooth, either with a wooden spoon or a stand mixer. Add 1/2 c of the mixed flours at a time until the dough comes together and clears the sides of the bowl while you mix. It should be quite sticky but firm. Flour your kneading surface well, turn out the dough, and knead for 8-10 minutes until elastic. Add sprinkles of flour as needed. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours. When done rising, deflate the dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Divide into two portions and shape into rounds. Place the rounds, seam side down, on a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Mix the cornmeal and the 2 t flour and sprinkle over the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until double again, about 45 minutes. Just before baking, use a sharp serrated knife to cut an X into the tops of the loaves. Bake at 350 for 40- 5o minutes or until the loaves are nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped. Cool completely on a rack. Keeps well in the freezer, wrapped in foil.

enjoying the (sea)fruits of my dad’s labor

(A note from Kate): Joanna is still off on her South American adventures, but here’s a post from her archives in the mean time. Bon appetit!

The other night my dad revealed a prized possession that had been hiding in our freezer: a bag containing two Florida lobster tails. He caught these himself about a month ago during “mini lobster season,” a coveted two-day period in July where lobster-loving Floridians are permitted to catch and keep up to six lobsters a piece (official lobster season is from August to March; at other times of the year it is illegal to catch any Florida lobster). Although most of my dad’s bounty had been consumed immediately, these two tails remained, poised to be the start of a gourmet dish.

We consulted a Miami-inspired cookbook and a recipe for lobster gazpacho jumped out at us. The recipe was beautifully simple: lobster tails cooked unadorned and a soup that blended together a few basic ingredients. This no-frills preparation exquisitely showcased the natural sweetness of the lobster meat and the vibrant freshness of the vegetables. To add a special touch, my dad went all out with toppings of golden tomatoes, red onions, scallions, and baby lettuce, the latter two which grew himself in box gardens in our backyard. From catching the lobster to growing the garnishes, this gazpacho was a true labor of love from my dad, and one that I savored with the utmost appreciation.
Gazpacho with Grilled Lobster Tails (adapted from The Food of Miami)
Serves 6

2 large tomatoes, chopped with core and seeds removed

2 cucumbers, chopped with seeds removed
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
2 tbsp sherry wine vinegar (or combo of sherry wine and red or white vinegar)
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lobster tails
Combine first seven ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. To cook lobster tails, heat grill to medium-high and grill in shell for about 7 minutes, turning once. Remove from shell and cut into chunks. Divide soup and lobster meat evenly among 6 bowls. Garnish with tomatoes, red onion, and any other preferred accompaniments.

salty/spicy/sour/sweet

It’s hard for me to believe it now, but I had a phase during which I would have turned up my nose at a dish made with tofu and kale. Okay, it was a very long phase… like the first 21 years of my life. And who could blame me, really? I’d wager to guess that many of you dear readers have spent several decades living a life of tofu-hate, or at least tofu-indifference. But today I am writing from atop my tofu soapbox to extoll the virtues of one of the most flavorful, satisfying, and easy weeknight dinners in my repertoire.

The beauty of tofu is that it is a total vehicle for whatever flavors you want to throw at it. Because it doesn’t bring much taste of its own to the table, it can handle everything that this super-flavorful glaze has to offer. I so crave the sweet/sour/salty/spicy combo of flavors that I’ve tried using it as a dressing for other kinds of protein or vegetables, but it does best with tofu because it doesn’t have to compete with anything for taste dominance.

In my book, there are two categories of tofu failure: underseasoning and sogginess. The kick provided by the glaze here is sure to head any worries about lack of seasoning off at the pass. And sogginess is eliminated by the pressing method I use while cooking the tofu. Be sure to cut your tofu into fairly thin triangles, about 1/4″ thick, and arrange them in a single layer in a large, heavy skillet. The hotter you can get the skillet before you put the tofu in, the easier it will be to eliminate the excess liquid and thus the sogginess. When you press down on the triangles with the flat side of a large spatula, the water should sizzle away, leaving you with chewy-but-still-soft deliciousness.

I usually serve the dish with a stir fry of whatever veggies I have on hand (it was kale and green beans this time around) and a grain like quinoa or brown rice.

Tofu with Chili-Lime Glaze

adapted from veganyumyum

1 block tofu, extra firm (14oz)

Vegetables to stir fry (whatever you like and have on hand)

Grain (couscous, quinoa, brown rice, or whatever you like), cooked

For the glaze:

4 T sugar

4 T tamari or soy sauce

3 T fresh lime juice

Zest of 1/2 a lime

3/4 t dried red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated

salt to taste

Prepare the glaze by whisking together all ingredients until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside

Drain the tofu and cut into small triangles, about 1/4″ thick. Heat a large skillet over medium heat for several minutes until quite hot. Arrange the tofu in a single layer in the skillet. Use a spatula to squeeze the liquid out of the tofu as it cooks- the liquid will sizzle away. After about 5 minutes, there should be less and less water to be pressed out. Flip one of the triangles to see if it is beginning to turn golden brown. If it is, flip the pieces over and continue to cook by the same method on the other side. The tofu is done when both sides are golden and little liquid remains. At this point, add the glaze to the pan. You want to make sure that the pan is still very hot so the glaze will thicken up pretty much immediately. Stir to coat the tofu. After a few minutes, you can add your stir-fried veggies, if desired, so they get coated in sauce. Serve over cooked grains.

thin slices of heaven

I think I would have grown up to be a very different person if I hadn’t grown up with a Grandma who is the best pie maker in Dexter, Iowa.

I once heard Grandma Kay tell the story of the very first pie she made, back when she was in high school. Her older sister tasted it and said, “this is pretty good but the bottom crust is too thick.” I think Grandma Kay has spent the last 60-plus years making up for this apparent error, because I have never tasted a one of her pies that was not perfect. And I have tasted a lot of them.

If your church needs to raise some money to build a new fellowship hall, Kay will have 3 apple pies ready for the bake sale. If you’re celebrating a birthday or a special accomplishment, you might be lucky enough to have a most-coveted black raspberry pie made for you. Or maybe you’ll luck out and stop by her house on a random Tuesday and there will be a custard pie, that pinnacle of comfort foods, waiting for you just because she was pretty sure you’d be coming to visit.

This week was Grandma Kay’s 82nd birthday, and it would have been wrong to celebrate it with anything except pie. Our family has been so spoiled by Kay’s pies that we don’t like to share them very much. Once, when my sister Kaly merited one of Grandma’s raspberry pies to celebrate her qualifying for the high school State Track Meet, Kaly put a sign on the pie that said DO NOT EAT written with a fat red Sharpie. So I made two coconut cream pies from my much loved recipe from another one of my much loved Grandmas (whose pies I wrote about here). Two pies = leftover pie with a big cup of black coffee for breakfast = life doesn’t get much sweeter.

Coconut Cream Pie

For the crust:

1 1/4 c flour

2 t sugar

1/2 t salt

1 stick (8 T) butter, thoroughly chilled

1/4-1/3 c very cold water

Cut the butter into small cubes and place in a medium sized mixing bowl. Mix in flour, sugar, and salt, and use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. You want to end up with a mixture in which the butter is in pieces about the size of oatmeal flecks and thoroughly mixed with the dry ingredients. This is the stage when most of the mixing happens and you will barely mix the dough once you add the liquid (that’s what makes for a flaky crust). When you’re ready to add the water, start with 1/4 c and drizzle it over the butter/flour mix. Use your hands or a smooth the mix and gather everything in a ball. Add just enough water to make everything stick together. Knead the dough just a few times.

At this point, if the dough feels soft to you, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it up. If it doesn’t feel soft, turn it out onto a well-floured countertop to roll it out. Be sure to add sprinkles of flour as you roll to keep the dough from sticking to the counter or your rolling pin. Roll the dough into a circle with a 12″ circumference and then transfer it to a 8″ pie pan. Crimp the edges. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up when you bake it. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until just starting to turn golden. Cool before adding the filling.

For the filling (read my previous post about Grandma Nette to explain the strange fractions going on in this recipe!)

2/3 c sugar

2/3 t salt

2 2/3 T cornstarch

1 1/3 T flour

2 2/3 c whole milk

3 egg yolks

1 T butter

1 1/3 tsp vanilla

2/3 c coconut flakes

Mix salt, sugar, cornstarch, and flour in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture should be thickened by this point. Stir half of the hot milk mixture over the slightly beaten egg yolks. Return to pan and cook over medium heat for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add butter, vanilla, and coconut. Cool slightly and then pour into your prepared pie crust. Finish with meringue or whipped cream. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Posted in Pie

things are about to get juicy…

Happy Labor Day from Iowa! I’m writing from my parents’ kitchen table in the little house in the big woods, hoping that all you readers are having as relaxing and as golden a holiday weekend as I.

I’ve written before about how much I love a good title, and today I got to thinking about the title of a fantastic book of short stories by Malie Meloy, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. As a little kid I dreaded Labor Day because it signaled the end of summer, but now, as a quasi-grown up, I’ve come to love the holiday for the way that it lets us have it both ways. What could be better than watching my Iowa Hawkeye football team in their season opener and my St. Louis Cardinals chasing a Wild Card berth in the same day? Than reveling in the late summer’s bounty at the Des Moines Farmers’ Market  in the morning and back-to-school shopping in the afternoon? I don’t want summer to be over, but I can’t wait for fall and both ways is the only way I want it.

During my weekend at home I got to participate in my mom’s late summer ritual of canning tomatoes. Preserving whole tomatoes and tomato juice, making jam, and freezing sweet corn was such a regular activity in Mom’s and Grandma Kay’s kitchens that I didn’t always realize how special and unique these skills. I’m still an apprentice in all of these (though I probably have journeywoman status in pickling) and I jump at the chance to learn whatever I can from these masters of kitchen preservation.

I’m already scheming the perfect use for the 6 quarts of the best tomato juice in the world that I brought back to Chicago. In my opinion, a Bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment for a late season baseball game or an NFL season opener or a random Sunday brunch on the back porch. I’m a late comer to the Bloody Mary party- I got used to seeing the drinks at all my favorite brunch spots around  and could never bring myself to shell out the cash for a cocktail at breakfast- but now that I’ve tasted Bloody Mary with homemade tomato juice, I think any commercial one will taste subpar. This recipe is a work in progress, but as long as Mom keeps me in the tomato juice and as long as I have one foot in summer and the other in fall, I’ll keep working on perfecting it.

Best Bloody Marys

(adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)

3 large stalks celery from the heart, with leaves, plus more for garnish

36 oz tomato juice

2 t prepared horseradish

1 t grated onion

1 lemon, juiced

1 t Worcestershire sauce

1/2 t Kosher salt (more to taste)

12 dashes hot sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 c vodka

Cut the celery (leaves included) into large dice and process in a food processor until finely minced. In a large pitcher, combine all other ingredients except vodka. With the food processor running, pour 1/4 of the tomato juice mixture through the feed tube. Pour the contents of the food processor back into the pitcher with the rest of the tomato juice mixture and chill. Add vodka. Serve in tall glasses over ice with celery, pickles, and/or olives for garnish.