Category Archives: Recipes

Rosemary Brown Sugar Panna Cotta

No sooner had the spiced pumpkin custard and flaky pie crust touched his palate than a shudder ran through him and he stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening.  An exquisite pleasure had invaded his senses, and he ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come, this all-powerful joy? He sensed that it was connected with the taste of the pie, but that it infinitely transcended those savors. Whence did it come? What did it mean?

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My friend K judged a pumpkin pie contest last weekend, and when I asked him what about the winning pie had clinched it for him, he shrugged, with a little smile, and said, “It tasted just like my mom’s.  It brought me back to my childhood.”

In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust was neither the first nor the last to reflect on the connections between eating and memory.  But his narrator’s intensely-felt wave of nostalgia upon eating a madeleine dipped in tea is perhaps one of the most well-known passages in the history of food writing (heavily paraphrased with much humility in my first paragraph).

I haven’t yet read Remembrance of Things Past, but I think about Proust often.  More specifically, I think about his madeleine.  How lucky are we, I think, that the sensory pleasure of eating is made richer by its relation to memory, that not only can we superficially enjoy a delicious gingerbread cookie, hot from the oven, but that we can at the same time enjoy the flood of memories, perhaps the childhood memory of building snowmen in the cold, then sitting by a fire with a steaming mug of cocoa, or the memory of baking cookies for our own children, long since grown up and gone.

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Sticky, dark, and golden, brown sugar is one of those ingredients that gives me “exquisite pleasure.”  As a child I was an inimitable cookie-baking helper, instilled at a very young age with the importance of compacting brown sugar into the measuring cup; pressing it in with my small fingers, then dumping it into the bowl and watching the sugar slowly decompress, fall all over itself, like a crystalline creature that just can’t keep itself together.

My relationship with rosemary is newer, but assuredly growing to the same nostalgic proportions.  In Oregon, rosemary flourishes year-round, so the sharp piney scent that accompanies plucking a sprig or two is never far away.  And while brown sugar, too, is always in my pantry, it seems that I reach for both ingredients most often when the skies are dark and gray.

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Panna cotta with fresh herbs is a far cry from the pumpkin-shaped cookies I stamped out as a child, but this dessert makes me feel nostalgic all the same.  Maybe I’ve grown into a woman who steps outside her back door to fetch a sprig of rosemary, and who serves her desserts in quilted mason jars, but I still linger over the brown sugar as I measure it out, still enthralled by its glittering grains.

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I like the ease and aesthetic of serving custards in half-pint mason jars, but if you’d like to serve your panna cotta on a plate or bowl, use custard cups or ramekins and lightly oil the dishes before pouring.  Once chilled, run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen, and tip out onto your serving dish.

Rosemary Brown Sugar Panna Cotta
2 C heavy cream
¼ C brown sugar
½ vanilla bean, or 1 t vanilla extract
3” sprig of rosemary
2 ¼ t powdered gelatin
3 T cold water

Combine cream, sugar, rosemary, and vanilla bean in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium-low and stir until sugar is melted.  Remove from heat, cover, and let sit 30 minutes to infuse.

In a large bowl, mix the gelatin powder with cold water and let sit 5 minutes.  Remove the rosemary and vanilla bean from the cream mixture and gently reheat.  Pour the warm cream over the gelatin and stir until gelatin is dissolved.  Pour into containers and chill until firm, 2-4 hours.

Serves 4.

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German-style Pretzels

The first Oktoberfest was a wedding celebration.  No wonder it’s basically a giant party where one is expected to consume large quantities of beer and food.

It’s also held in Munich at the end of September, so that the final days are in the first week of October.  In this regard, the Oktoberfest I am planning with a friend next weekend is woefully inaccurate; but I think we can make good on the beer and food part.IMG_2074 color correct

It really all came about because her husband, M, has become quite the connoisseur of homemade mustard.  Naturally, I invited myself over to taste some of the many flavors he has developed over the past year or so.  And, as is wont to happen with people who love food the way we do, one thing led to another, and now we’re hosting our very own celebration of the 1810 wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  What can I say, we’re a sentimental bunch.

As we drew up the list of necessary foods (sauerkraut, bratwurst, cheeses, pie), someone made the suggestion to order pretzels from an excellent local German bakery, Fressen.  And, as is wont to happen with someone who loves food the way that I do, I immediately scoffed at that notion and insisted that I would make the pretzels myself.IMG_2084 color correct

I have never made pretzels before but I do know that traditionally they are dipped in lye to achieve their deep brown sheen.  This sounded like the kind of chemistry experiment I wasn’t willing to attempt in my kitchen.  Luckily, my friend the baker, who has yet to disappoint me when I send him strange and urgent requests, was able to turn up a recipe that I could adapt to home-scale proportions.

Rolling the dough out just right to achieve the German pretzel’s trademark fat belly and skinny arms may take a bit of practice; but rest assured that your pretzels will be delicious no matter what shape they take.

I don’t have a homemade mustard recipe yet so you’ll just have to make do with whatever you have in the fridge; but maybe this weekend I’ll learn a thing or two at Oktoberfest, and I’ll let you know.

German-style Pretzels
To make 15 3-oz. pretzels:

16 oz. water, lukewarm
2 ½ t active dry yeast
3 T sugar
5 C flour
1 ¾ t salt

Baking soda solution:
64 oz. water
2 t salt
2 T + 2 t baking soda

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar.  Let sit 5 minutes.  In a separate bowl combine the flour and salt.  Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture and stir to combine.  Knead until the dough passes a windowpane test*; if using an electric mixer, mix with the dough hook attachment for 5-8 minutes; if mixing by hand, gather the dough into a ball and knead on a lightly-oiled surface about 10 minutes.

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Roll only the ends of the pretzel, leaving a fat section of dough in the center.

Lightly oil a large bowl and let the dough proof, covered, about 45 minutes.  On a lightly-oiled surface, cut the dough into 3-oz. pieces.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, divide the dough into three pieces, and then divide each piece into five.  Roll each piece of dough out to about 20 inches, leaving a fat bulge in the middle.  Bring the ends around to the inside, give them a twist, and press the twisted ends into the pretzel’s belly (see the top photo for reference).

Preheat oven to 475 and prepare a sheet pan with a layer of parchment paper.  Bring the baking soda solution to a boil and drop the pretzels in a few at a time until they float to the surface, about 30 seconds.  Lift the pretzels out with a large slotted spoon and place on the prepared sheet pans.  Sprinkle with coarse salt.  Bake until dark brown, about 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

*The windowpane test means that when you gently stretch a small piece of dough between your fingers, the gluten bonds are strong enough to allow the dough to form a thin, translucent screen rather than ripping.

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Bourbon Cherry Hand Pies

We have a pretty small freezer, and for someone like me this can be a bit of a problem.  In any given season, you will probably find:

  • Partially-used bags of no fewer than eight and no more than twelve different flours
  • Sauces of all colors frozen into ice cubes, from tomato paste and peanut sauce, to green curry paste and pesto
  • At least one ball of some sort of dough, frozen with the intention of whipping it out at a moment’s notice to impress guests (who have yet to materialize)
  • Recycled yogurt containers full of various soups and broths, well-labeled (and well-hidden behind bags of flour)
  • Several bags of vegetable trimmings, haphazardly frozen on the off-chance that they will be reused in some future soup
  • Gallon bags bursting to the seams with berries, mostly to satisfy A’s compulsion to freeze berries of all kinds, which he will promptly forget about as soon as apple season begins

On top of all that, we now have to make sure there’s room every other month for our 10-lb. delivery of meat from Moomaw Farm.

So occasionally a kitchen project is determined by how to create as much empty space in the freezer with as little effort as possible.  Thus it happened that today, as fall announced its undeniable presence with blustery downpours, I found myself baking with decidedly unseasonal sour cherries.

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Sour, or pie, cherries have a limited growing season, and since they don’t travel well, they need to be used quickly.  I managed to get my hands on 4 lbs. of fresh cherries back in July, but was about to head out of town, so I pitted and froze them all immediately.  And as you might imagine, they got a bit lost in our crowded freezer—that is, until I was musing aloud that I might make a pie soon, and A asked for a cherry pie.

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Well, I’ll do you one better: twelve cherry pies!  Hand pies, that is; smaller than a turnover (so you can eat two without feeling guilty), and with quite a large pie crust-to-filling ratio.  Hand pies really are the cream of the crop; both your crust and your filling have to be top-notch to stand up to that ratio.  That little bit of filling has to be immensely satisfying, and the crust needs to be so flaky and flavorful that you don’t mind eating a handful of it.

Of course, twelve hand pies are still more than A and I can (or should) eat in a couple days.  So six of these went back into the freezer, to be baked off some other rainy afternoon when A least expects it.  And I made more cherry filling than I needed, so that went back in the freezer as well, and it really doesn’t seem any emptier than it was this morning….

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Bourbon Cherry Hand Pies
Crust:
2 1/2 C flour
2 T sugar
1 t salt
1/2 C cold butter, diced
1/2 C cold shortening, diced
½+ C cold water

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.  With a fork or pastry cutter, cut in the butter and shortening until mixture is crumbly.  Quickly work dough into a ball, then divide into 12 portions and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Filling:
1 1/3 lbs. fresh pitted pie cherries (or 1 ½ 14.5-oz cans)
1/4 C sugar
1 T bourbon
1/2 t orange bitters
1/4 t vanilla
1-2 T arrowroot powder, or 3 T flour or cornstarch

Combine all ingredients except the arrowroot in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook until cherries break down, 10-15 minutes.  Lower heat and add the arrowroot powder, one teaspoon at a time, mixing completely after each addition to avoid lumps.  When syrup has thickened, remove from heat and cool completely.

Preheat oven to 375° and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set a small bowl of water by your work space.  On a floured surface, roll each ball into 5-6” circle.  Place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling in each circle (resist the urge to add more or you won’t be able to seal it cleanly), dab edge with water, and crimp shut.  Slice off any ragged edges.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  Cut slits to vent, and sprinkle the tops with sugar.  Keep chilled until ready to bake.  Bake until golden, about 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

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Zucchini Bread with Coconut Crust

The sad thing about zucchini bread is that it doesn’t actually use up that much zucchini.  Every summer, it’s touted as the answer to everyone’s zucchini problems, as if all we need to do to rid the world of the shiny green invasion is to each make a loaf or two of zucchini bread.  But most recipes, including mine here, only use about a cup of grated zucchini per loaf–which in whole-zucchini terms, isn’t even one regularly-sized squash.

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A young British woman once told me that in England, when the zucchini (which they call courgettes to begin with) get too large and watery, they’re called marrow, and everyone makes marrow jam.  This is, in fact, a terrific way to get rid of lots of zucchini, but the jam is typically British, and by that I mean tooth-achingly sweet and thick with chunks of ginger and caramelized squash.  I made a batch last year and will probably be wiping out the last jar in 2020 or so.  I find it hard to imagine that even in the empire of treacle people are able to go through a batch of marrow jam every year, but I suppose one has to eat something with your afternoon tea.

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Nevertheless, before the end of every summer I do feel a driving need to make zucchini bread.  And even if it doesn’t use up very much zucchini, no one around here is complaining.

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You can substitute whole wheat flour for up to 1 C of the white flour.  Like most sweet breads, this freezes well.

Zucchini Bread with Coconut Crust
Makes 2 loaves

3 eggs
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
1/2 C apple or pear sauce
2 C sugar
2 C grated zucchini
1/2 C chopped walnuts
2 t vanilla
3 C flour
3 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1 t salt

Coconut Crust:
1/2 C shredded coconut
3 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
2 T coconut oil, melted

Preheat oven to 325° and grease 2 loaf pans.  In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy.  Mix in the oil, applesauce, and sugar.  Stir in the grated zucchini, walnuts, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix into the large bowl.  Distribute evenly into the prepared pans.

To make the crust, mix the shredded coconut, sugar, and cinnamon.  Work in the coconut oil with a fork or with your fingers.  Crumble the topping evenly over both loaves.

Bake 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Rotate the pans halfway through for even baking.

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Spiced Apricots with Cardamom and Rosewater

People generally think of farmers markets as benign places: frolicking children, adults enjoying the fresh air, smiling sunflowers.  But twice in the last couple years, my local farmers market has been a place where the worst side of our nature has come out, the innocence of that bucolic beauty marred by ugly violence.  Of course I’m referring to the trash-talking that precedes the biannual pie contest.

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I will admit to all the world that I am one of the ugly offenders.  I have a very specific sort of competitive streak; I’ve never been very good at sports, and I’m certainly not the strongest, fastest, smartest, or even funniest.  But I know what I am capable of, and in certain situations I will push myself relentlessly to achieve it.  So when I first found out about the summer fruit pie contest back in 2011, I immediately set my mind to winning.

My pie had to be memorable.  To stand out from the crowd, a pie needs one of two things, if not both: an outstanding crust, or a creative filling.  In this case the filling had to highlight summer fruit at its peak of perfection, but it needed a twist that would make the judges perk up in their seat a little.  My first attempt was indeed memorable, but not in a good way.  Wanting to play with the pie’s visual aspects and texture, I hit on the unfortunate combination of blueberries and tapioca, in a pie that elicited negative comparisons to fish eggs.  One look and I knew it was back to the drawing board.

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I mused over other, more radical ideas: what truly constitutes a pie?  What are the minimum characteristics needed to qualify for the contest?  What about a deconstructed pie–an inverted pie–a mathematical pie (oh the fodder for puns)?  Finally I asked myself: is it better to be clever or to be a good baker?  Did I want to make the judges laugh, raise an eyebrow, or reach for another slice?  And thus this simple apricot filling was born.

Apricots are a natural partner for cardamom, rosewater, orange blossom water, or anything with floral notes.  When cooked, their tartness and bright flavor concentrates into the essence of summer.  I poured these apricots over a pre-baked tart shell made with whole wheat pastry flour and flaked coconut, topped it with pistachios, and knew I had a winner on my hands.

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That’s when I became more or less insufferable whenever someone mentioned the pie contest.  I wouldn’t reveal my secrets–wouldn’t even divulge the fruit I was using–but I let everyone know they would have to step up their game.  Lest you think of me as a bully, I sure got as good as I gave (you know who you are).  And when the dust settled I think we all knew we had acted in ways that were unbefitting a farmers market–but also entirely necessary in such a serious situation.

Lately I’ve found that the recipe works equally as well on its own as it does in a tart shell.  We’ve eaten them with vanilla ice cream, ricotta, pound cake–you name it.  It’s also suitable for water-bath canning, so it’s a simple way to preserve a large amount of apricots with something more interesting than sugar syrup.  This past weekend I canned 10 pints of these lightly-spiced fragrant apricots, and I know that when we open them in the depths of winter, they will taste exactly like summer–and a little like victory as well.

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Spiced Apricots with Cardamom and Rosewater
For one 8″ tart:

1 lb. apricots, halved and pitted
1/2 C + 6 T water
6 T honey
1 cardamom pod
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 t rosewater

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook until apricots are soft and just falling apart.  Remove apricots with a slotted spoon and reduce syrup until it coats the back of a spoon.  Remove spices, return apricots to the syrup, and simmer one more minute.  Pour into prepared tart crust and top with 1/4 C chopped pistachios.

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Preserved Lemons

When an aunt and uncle from Northern California hand you a cooler full of Meyer lemons, make lemon marmalade.  And lemon curd.  And when you just can’t fit one more sweet lemony thing into your day, make preserved lemons with the rest.

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Preserved lemons are one of my absolute favorite condiments.  Whole lemons are pickled in a mixture of salt and lemon juice, and after a few weeks the rinds soften and they’re ready to eat.  Perhaps most well-known in North African cooking, several Indian cuisines also make lemon pickles, with hot chilies and spices.  I’ve made both styles, and while I do like to have a good spicy lemon pickle in the fridge, Moroccan-style plain preserved lemons are the ones I find myself making a few times a year to ensure that I always have them on hand.

They may also be one of the friendliest ways to introduce yourself to fermenting foods.  Since most of the action here occurs in the safe, cool confines of the fridge, you don’t have to worry about the scums, smells, and other unsavoriness* that attends many  fermentations.  I’m not a fermentation fanatic, but I do believe it’s spiritually invigorating to cast off the strictures of white lab coats and sterile rooms, and to invite the little wild yeasties and bacteria in the air into your life.  So perhaps the salty, acidic, antimicrobial atmosphere of preserved lemons is the gentle introduction that some of you need into this world.

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Typically one only uses the rind of preserved lemons, so rather than adding tartness to a dish, they come to play a role similar to olives: salty, and with that unique tang that comes with salt-curing.  An integral ingredient to many Moroccan dishes, I’ve also found them delicious in pasta salads, chopped vegetable salads, or just with rice and hot sauce.

Another key benefit is that commercial preserved lemons run upwards of $10 a jar, and if you make your own your only cost is the lemons and a few minutes of your time–and if you know someone with a lemon tree, the cost becomes very attractive indeed.

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Preserved Lemons
Lemons, organic or no-spray
Sea salt
Extra lemon juice

Scrub the lemons and cut slits almost all the way to the center, so that the lemon is in quarters but still attached.  Generously sprinkle salt into each slit and press the lemons into a clean jar.  Push down and squeeze as many lemons as possible in each jar.  I can usually fit 3-4 lemons per pint jar.  Seal with a clean lid, preferably plastic or coated metal (Mason canning lids will rust in the brine).  Let stand at room temperature for 3-4 days.  During this time the lemons will release most of their juice.  Top the jar off with fresh lemon juice to cover the lemons, and then transfer to the fridge.  They will be ready to use in 1 month.

*If you’re new to fermentation, please note that this unsavoriness is often quite natural.  In particular, when exposed to air, fermented foods do often mold, but the food still under the brine is still safe and untouched.  Some people are just more comfortable than others about skimming mold off of something they’re about to eat.

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