Summer’s Berry Bounty

blackberries

I eat berries all year long, but I go a little crazy during the peak summer berry months. And other than a great apple pie, I love nothing more than a berry pie. But sometimes I want to try something a little different so I have been making crisps, crumbles and a Blackberry Buckle. I admit it – the name just tickles me.

I found a recipe at Food52, a fun food blog with recipes and one-of-a-kind items for purchase. The author of this cornbread buckle is Janeofmanytrade, a pastry chef out of Williamsburg, VA. The recipe intrigued me because I had never thought of adding cardamom and rose water to my berries. Now I am the kind of person who actually keeps things like pomegranate molasses, rose water and orange blossom water on hand. However, I am also the kind of person whose pantry gets disorganized from time to time. Okay, if I’m being really honest, it only gets ORGANIZED from time to time. For the life of me I couldn’t find the rose water so I substituted orange blossom water instead. The result was wonderful! And it was easy to make. The first night I served it with some vanilla ice cream, but after that – once the flavors became even more pronounced, I didn’t want anything (even great vanilla ice cream) to get between me and my blackberries – all purple and dimpling the cake.

Here’s how I made it.     Blackberry Buckle

Blackberry Buckle

Makes one 10 x 10 inch pan and easily serves 9-12 people

For Cake

4 cups of blackberries

1/2 cup of sugar

zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon rose water (I used orange blossom water)

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

6 ounces of unsalted butter, softened

1.5 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

1.5 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cups yellow cornmeal

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk you can add a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to any kind of milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes. You could also add some plain Greek yogurt to regular milk)

Oatmeal crumb topping

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 rounded 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons COLD unsalted butter, cut into cubes

With your fingers, work the ingredients for the crumb topping until the butter is pea-sized and well coated with everything else.

Directions

  1. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl, tossing the berries gently.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lavishly butter and lightly flour your pan. Use a pan that has a good weight to it. Cream the butter, sugar,vanilla and salt until creamy. I used a heavy duty standing mixer, but this could be done by hand.
  3. Add eggs one at a time and scrape the bowl as you go. Sift the flour, cornmeal (as best you can) and the baking powder over the batter and gently fold it in. Slowly add the buttermilk and mix through until no streaks show.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and even out the top.
  5. Pour the berry mixture on top and spread it evenly over the batter.
  6. Sprinkle the oatmeal crumb mixture evenly over the top and bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the cake part. Depending on your oven, this can take between an hour and an hour and 15 minutes.
  7. You can turn this out of the pan after about 20 minutes flipping it over onto a plate, but I couldn’t see the point. I cut it in the pan and served it from there, still slightly warm from the oven. It was wonderful. This will last about 3 days if you can manage to not eat it. I dare you!

Farmer’s Market Bounty

market pickles   market herbsmarket mushrooms

One of the many nice things about summer in Chicago is the Farmer’s Market. I live and work downtown and there is a market on both Tuesdays and Thursdays near my office. It’s not as spectacular as some markets, but there is always a lot of hustle and bustle. The difficult part for me is to remember that I actually have to carry home what I buy, which means walking or the “L.” I sometimes get carried away….

After purchasing gorgeous strawberries, asparagus, kohlrabi and arugula, I knew that I had to do them justice. Farmer's bounty

The lemon thyme and basil plants are from a previous farmer’s market visit. We’ll see how long it takes me to kill them!

I had bought some Copper River Sockeye Salmon the day before and decided to simply bake the fish with fresh lime juice, Kosher salt, cracked pepper, paprika a few Panko crumbs on top and a drizzle of EVOO. If the fish is good – and really, why buy it if it isn’t? – I like to keep the cooking simple to taste the fish. I prepared my asparagus by lightly peeling and trimming the stalks. I made bundles of 4 asparagus each and wrapped them in a slice of speck (prosciutto works just as well). I then sprinkled Kosher salt, a few cracks of black pepper and a good drizzle of EVOO. roasted asparagus

I roasted them at 420 degrees F for about 18 minutes.

I then prepared my kohlrabi. I had three kohlrabi in my bunch. Try to pick the bulbs so they are not too ginormous and not too tiny. Like Goldilocks – just right.

I just peel them, thinly slice them (I used a knife but you can use a mandolin. Just be careful! I bare many mandolin scars. I squeezed the juice of two limes (or lemons would work) over the slices, generously sprinkled cumin, Kosher salt and cracked pepper. I then added 1 tsp. of crushed garlic, sprinkled some Hungarian sweet paprika and a good drizzling of Meyer lemon EVOO on top. (A good quality regular EVOO is just fine. I mixed the pieces of kohlrabi with the dressing and let it sit while dinner cooked. On to the freekeh. I love that name!

Freekeh is  a cereal food made from green wheat and is big in Middle Eastern cuisine. I buy mine from Nuts.com, which is a fabulous source for nuts, dried fruit, spices and all kinds of treats. It’s family-owned, they couldn’t be nicer and they have the funniest shipping boxes I have ever seen.

I Googled how to cook the freekeh which is pretty easy. You lightly toast it in a dry pan to release the aroma of the wheat. Then add 2 cups of water to one cup of freekeh and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring this to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the water is almost gone. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and cover the pot with a clean dishtowel and replace the lid for 10 minutes to steam the grain. Remove the lid and let sit for another 8-10 minutes. Then it’s up to you. You can herb it up, add garlic, fresh scallions or shallots, lemon juice and it hot or you can let it cool and throw in some chopped tomatoes, mint and parsley. Leftovers (assuming you have any) are great with diced grilled or roasted chicken or shrimp. Get creative. You can do pretty much the same things with faro – another great grain.

So my fish and asparagus were ready and I dished everything out and served it with a Truett Hurst 2013 Zinfandel Rose. Frances and Matthew introduced us to this wonderful winery on one of our trips together and everything is good, but their Zins are great!

And here’s dinner. Not bad for a Tuesday!

salmon dinner3         salmon dinner2

Impossible Pie

I’m a huge fan of mystery novels, especially period pieces that are light on violence and gore and heavy on historical reference. While reading a mystery that takes place in 1920s Australia, one of the characters talked about making “Impossible Pie.” I had no idea what that was so I asked the source of all trivial knowledge – my husband – if he had ever come across it. He then turned to Google and we found several recipes. It turns out that it derives its name because it is impossibly easy to make. Apparently it’s all chemistry. You don’t make a separate crust and then add a filling. You mix all of the simple ingredients together in a blender and pour them into a pie pan and bake. Because of the different density of the ingredients, they end up in such a way that a bottom crust is formed, with a custard in the middle and a coconut crust on top. Alchemy!

I admit that I am skeptical so I bought some whole milk (grass-fed of course!) and will try the recipe tonight. I’ll finish* this post after I see the results.

* Wellllllllllllllllll I’m going to damn this with faint praise – it was okay. It worked exactly as the recipe said it would, although I’m not really sure I would call the end result “pie.” The taste and texture was very much like a slightly solid coconut cream. Definitely not bad, especially when you consider the effort that went into it which was basically none. I would definitely caution that if you make it, use the best milk, eggs, vanilla and coconut you can find. Here’s what the final product looked like.

Impossible Pie

The strawberries were from my trip to the farmer’s market today. They come from Michigan and were nothing like what you get in the store – even Whole Foods! They were small and tender and juicy and red all of the way through. More on my trip to the market and the dinner I made tomorrow.

Getting in the mood for the 4th of July

I love holidays and the 4th of July is no exception. This holiday has special meaning for me because my father died on July 3rd and I used to think that the fireworks were for him. I have a few traditions that I started. My house goes all red, white and blue, we hang a flag from our terrace, watch the movie musical 1776 and later, after the sun goes down, we stand on our terrace and watch all of the fireworks in the Western suburbs. They cascade across the sky and it always conjures up the Star Spangled Banner for me with “bombs bursting in air.” And for some reason, that I honestly cannot remember, July 4th mostly means Southern cooking. You know – oven fried chicken, cornbread, greens and either my Bourbon Pecan Pie or Blueberry Pie. We’re most definitely NOT from the South – my father’s family was from New England via Kiev and my mother’s family came from New York via The Pale of Settlement. And I have no memories of any childhood traditions for this holiday, but oh well, there you have it.

This year, however, everyone is away. Frances and Matthew will be out of the country and on a separate trip so will my sister and niece and her family. That leaves my 92 year-old mother and my husband. So now you know why I am trying to work myself up into the mood. I hate cooking for just the two of us or even 2.35 if you count my mother and the way she eats. So tonight I am eating some wonderful Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye Heirloom Beans that I slow-cooked in my crockpot and a “mess o’ greens.” I was introduced to this incredible source for great dried beans when Frances and I and our husbands took a trip to Napa Sonoma. We ate dinner one night at the Culinary Institute of America and they were serving some amazing beans. Everything in California is “sourced” and you didn’t just eat meat, but meat from such and such farm that ate only a grass-fed diet and was sung to sleep each night to the melody from Fur Elise. After that wonderful meal, it seemed that everywhere we went had some Rancho Gordo beans. I got a bit carried away this winter and ordered 20 pounds of beans which for two people is quite a lot of beans. So I’m trying to use them now in things that go beyond soup. They are great in soup, especially the Christmas Lima Beans, but that’s still a LOT of beans. I made some wonderful beans last week that I will tell you about another time, but I digress.

Soooooooooooo to get back to the 4th of July, along with this wonderful pot of beans and I have collard greens and kale (they were out of mustard greens) that I cooked slowly with sweet onions and speck, instead of smoked turkey leg or ham hocks and I’ll grill up some garlic chicken sausages for dinner. If I have time when I get home, I just might make a recipe I found for Blueberry Buckle. I’ll let you know how it turns out. And if this doesn’t get me in the mood for July 4th, well at least we ate well!

It’s sooooooooooo hot outside! What’s for dinner?

The last thing I really want when it is hot and humid out is a heavy dinner. I don’t want to cook it and I certainly don’t want to eat it. My husband and I love a beautiful salad with some crusty bread and a lovely rose or crisp white wine. If there is even the slightest breeze, we might just take our dinner outside to our terrace to watch the sun set and those poor devils stuck on the “L” still on their way home. Here is my take on a caprese salad.Caprese

There is no real recipe but here’s what goes in it.

On a bed of arugula (I just picked some up at the farmer’s market and I had forgotten how wonderfully peppery good arugula really is!) I slice heirloom tomatoes (there was such wonderful produce at the farmer’s market – who needs to cook?). Before I add anything else, I drizzle some Meyer Lemon infused EVOO (or just good EVOO) on top with a sprinkle of Kosher salt and a few cracks of fresh black pepper). If you have a fruity vinegar (I am currently crazy about fig vinegar that Frances sent me as a gift) or a light Sherry vinegar, drizzle that on top. I then add some thinly sliced Seedless English Cucumber or the little Persian Cucumbers, some black oil-cured or Kalamata olives (any good olive of choice works, but these are particularly good), thinly sliced onions (Vidalia or Red onion are my favorites). I give this a light splash of the EVOO and Vinegar, salt and pepper. I then top it with slices of a good fresh mozzarella (Buffalo if it is in your budget but Bel Gioioso is fine) and lots of fresh basil leaves. I finally got a big plant (yes, at the farmer’s market) since I go through so much basil and the stuff you buy in the packages NEVER lasts. A little more, salt, pepper, EVOO and vinegar. Eat it with your crusty bread and soak up every bit of goodness in the dressing with the sliced, warm bread (oops, I guess you would use your oven here) or just fresh bread (no oven!) Wash it all down with a lovely rose or crispy white. If you are feeling very ambitious, you could slice some melon for dessert. Delicious and no oven was harmed in the preparation!

Classic Blueberry Pie

I LOVE blueberry pie, but the store-bought kind always seems either too sweet, gummy or both. And I rarely have had a store-bought crust that I like and because I am often cooking for my niece and her family who keep Kosher, I need to keep the crust vegan. The Crisco pie crust recipe always turns out well. The only change I make is that I use a tad less salt and I add one tablespoon of granulated sugar (which I keep in a large glass jar with whole vanilla beans) to the Single Crust Pie recipe and two tablespoons to the double crust recipe.

My blueberry pie started with the Joy of Baking’s blueberry pie and I made just a few changes. My grandfather used to say that my grandmother was always “improving” the recipes and I guess it is a family tradition. So here is my version, pictured on the front page of our post alongside Frances’ beautiful classic lattice pie crust.

Blueberry Pie Recipe Blueberry Pie with Star Crust

One double crust recipe for pie, unbaked. This makes one 9″ pie.

Blueberry Filling:

6 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

“Egg” Wash: Since my great nephew is terribly allergic to eggs and because his family keeps Kosher, I don’t actually use a classic egg wash. I use 3 Tablespoons of vanilla soy (or plain soy) mixed with a couple of drops of all-vegetable food coloring. I brush it over the pastry and sprinkle with sanding sugar (large crystal) over the top to make it glisten when baked. It gives a beautiful result and everyone can safely enjoy the pie.

Make the Blueberry Filling:

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest.
  2. Place the blueberries in a large bowl and remove any stems or squished berries. Add the sugar mixture to the blueberries and gently toss to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell.
  3. In a small bowls whisk together the soy milk and food coloring. Lightly brush the rim of the pastry shell with the “egg” wash.
  4. Starting at the outside edge of the pie, place the cut-out pastry stars (or other shape) in a circular pattern on top of the blueberries, making sure the tips of the stars are touching.
  5. Once the top of the pie is completely covered with the pastry stars, brush the entire surface with the “egg” wash.
  6. Place the assembled pie back in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes. This also allows the dough to rest and will result in less shrinkage during baking.
  7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.
  8. Remove the chilled pie from the fridge and place on a large baking pan with sides to catch any spills. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F. Continue to bake the pie for 35-45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling and thickened. If the edges of the pie are browning too quickly during baking, cover with an aluminum foil ring. (Invest in a pie ring. They are inexpensive and sooooooooo much easier to use than fussing with aluminum foil.
  9. Place the baked pie on a wire rack to cool for several hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or for the purists – just as is! Store any left-overs (REALLY? Left-overs?) at room temperature lightly covered with wax paper or under a pie dome.

I have made the pie reasonably successfully without refrigerating the dough and pie in between the steps, but it definitely is better when I do take the time to let the dough chill and rest. This is wonderful on its own or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

And here is my great nephew enjoying the fruits of my labor!

Yoni eating blueberry pie

 

So who are Lisa and Frances anyway?

Lisa and Andrew Millennium Park 2010Matthew and Frances at Yale April 2009

We are a mother and daughter-in-law who share our love of cooking, making food attractive and feeding our friends and family. Frances and my son currently live in New York and both work full-time. I live in Chicago and also work full-time. We live in apartments with decidedly unfancy kitchens and very little space. So whatever we make, you can make. Neither of us has been to cooking school, but I come from a long line of wonderful home cooks and Frances is starting her own traditions while carrying on some of mine. We are eclectic omnivores, but we have made meals to satisfy vegans and children with serious allergies. About the only foods I won’t eat are sushi, blood sausage (at least not on purpose!) and really rare meat. Frances eats all of those, as does her husband. We cook for Jewish holidays, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. I read cookbooks voraciously and my favorite shopping is food shopping. Well okay, I also like to jewelry shop. Thanks to the internet, everything is available whether you live in Missoula, Montana, Anchorage, Alaska or a major city like San Francisco or New York. Did I tell you that we love to hike in the mountains of Utah and eat and drink our way across Napa and Sonoma? For about five years, Frances and I have been sharing recipes and photos and we thought it might be fun to let you enjoy them too. I’m sure that Frances will have things to add, but this should give you an idea if you want to check us out.