Thursday, June 30, 2016

Black Bean Tacos

There is a little stand at the farmer's market near us that sells what James calls the "best popcorn in the world." Unpopped red, yellow, and blue kernels I take home and pop in olive oil with plenty of chrunchy Maldon salt for an afternoon snack. I can't figure out how it can be so delicious.
Tierra vegetables grows, not just popcorn but all manner of heirloom corn for flour and popping and even a bit for eating fresh. Last time while waiting to pay I noticed something new -- homemade tortillas fashioned from heirloom green corn meal. Not the usual pale yellow or even speckled white these are dark greenish brown -- not like any tortillas I've seen before . . . so of course I couldn't resist them.
I snapped up a bag and as I drove home decided on a dinner of canned black beans simmered with chili powder, garlic, cumin, olive oil and chicken broth topped with a cabbage, cilantro, onion and carrot salad simply dressed with lime juice and creamy avocado (with a little more lime and salt) served on top of pan toasted heirloom tortillas. Heirloom perfection.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mini-Pies and Cherries: A Freezer Full of Joy

Here's a trend I've been meaning to jump on for a while.
So long in fact it's probably already past. But guests coming to visit with their mini-pie sized daughter and our little cherry tree's first real fruit harvest seem like a perfect excuse for a freezer brimming with mini cherry pies.
I made my usual flaky pie crust with both butter and lard (2 cups flour, pinch of salt, 1/3 cup cold butter, 1/3 cup cold lard, 1/3 cup ice water). With a little cutting and a little pressing I fit my dough into 7 1/2 pint mason jars, saving half the dough for the lattice tops.
Next I mixed up my filling. I had just barely 2 cups of cherries. I combined those with 1/3 cup sugar, 1 TB cornstarch, a pinch of salt, 1/4 tsp of lemon juice, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and a pinch of nutmeg. I gave the filling a good stir and let it sit while I rolled out my second crust and cut it into long thin strips for weaving.
I used the jar's lid to cut out circles of my lattice woven crust, placed each one on top of the now filled little jars (it took about 1/4 cup of filling for each jar), and snuggled the dough down to meet the crust on the side. Lids on top, bands screwed down, 7 pies in the freezer for futures guests -- expected or not.
While I was looking for ideas online I saw reference to a baker on Etsy who makes mini mason jar pies for weddings for $7 each (prices have come down quite a bit since that article) and I scoffed.
"Who would possible pay that," I thought.
Now that I have made just 7 of these cute little pies -- $7 each doesn't seem like near enough.
Make them for love, not for money.

Friday, June 24, 2016

An Unexpected Winner

I thought it would be the almond cake but I got ahead of myself. James' favorite almond cake took 2nd prize (in unfrosted cakes) and this simple sweet persimmon bread, with batter featuring my home grown persimmons and no less than 3/4 cup of Kentucky bourbon, took top honors.
I made a fresh loaf for the fair but I always have one tucked away in the freezer for guests to nibble on. It's just right toasted for breakfast or as a sweet afternoon snack.

The Blue Ribbon Persimmon Bread Recipe (adapted from James Beard)

Preheat oven to 350º

Sift together

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups sugar

make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add

2 cups persimmon purée
4 lightly beaten eggs
1 cup melted butter, cooled
3/4  cup bourbon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

mix until almost combined and add in

2 cups chopped walnuts, toasted
2 cups dried cranberries (or raisins)

Stir lightly together and pour batter into two buttered and floured  9x5 loaf pans

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a knife interred in center comes out clean

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ready For The Fair

The most recent treat James said was "the best thing" I ever baked was this embarrassingly  simple almond cake.
"You should enter that in the fair," he said.
Well tomorrow I will, along with a collection of homemade jams and jellies and a dense, sweet persimmon bread made from our home grown fruit.
But, back to this cake. Adapted from a  recipe by former Chez Panisse baker David Liebowitz, it's one of the easiest recipes I know. It's what I make when I am not in the mood to do a lot but still want dessert for guests. It's super moist and a great make ahead cake. It keeps for days. In short, it's the ultimate casual dinner party finish.
First combine 3/4 cup of almond paste (not marzipan but almond paste) with 1 1/3 cups of sugar in a standing mixer. The sugar helps break the almond paste up in small bits. Add 10 TB of room temperature butter and beat until light and fluffy. Next drizzle in 6 lightly beaten eggs and a tsp of vanilla extract. Then stir in 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt (lightly whisk dry ingredients together before adding to the batter).
That's it. Simple.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9" cake pan and bake for 1 hour at 325º.
Depending on what I've made for dinner sometimes I serve this super moist cake with creamy full fat yogurt (we love St Benoit Creamery yogurt made in near-by Sonoma county) and a  drizzle of honey, other nights it's topped with fresh blueberry or plum compote.
It's always a winner.
Fingers crossed for the fair.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Cherries for Pie and Color

Well no, we don't have enough for pie just yet but the first semi-credible fruit set on our young cherry tree still seems worth announcing.
When I was very young my father grew cherries on a massive tree we shared with every bird in the neighborhood. I never knew what kind they were but I remember hoping they'd be sweet, enticed in spring by the vibrant red color and being reminded with one bite that some cherries are just for pie.  I remember my mother, though it was clearly not her thing, pitting and freezing bags of those cherries. I remember my dad trying to make cherry wine. I don't remember a single pie. I'm not sure where those cherries went or if there were near as many as I remember.
My sweet little tree is my own backyard homage to those dare I call them halcyon days. Looking for a small tree for a partially shady spot I came across the Morello Cherry, a self-fertile English tart variety (sometimes sweet enough to eat fresh when fully ripe) known since the 1500's. From her bare-root start I've watched and watered and this year I am rewarded with bright red hanging fruit shining like a beacon through the garden.
Just seeing them makes me happy.
I haven't tried one yet . . . this year.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Summer of Stir Fry

I think it's been years since my big beautiful carbon steel wok came down off the high shelf. When we moved here we found a sad little electric stove -- hardly high enough heat for a decent stir fry and no grates to hold the fully round bottom pan in place.
But look at me now with 18,000 BTU per burner quickly tossing together a dinner of tofu, carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms and peppers. That wok turned what looked like a pretty dismal selection of vegetables, minced garlic and ginger, and a couple pantry staples (soy sauce -- 2 TB, hoisin -- 2-3 tsp, sesame oil -- 2 tsp, brown sugar -- 1 1/2 tsp mixed together into a sauce)into way more than the sum of it's parts all in about 15 minutes. Super fast, tasty, too quick to heat up the kitchen and not a lot of prep to tackle -- its' the perfect summer dinner. Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Big Day In the Ever Expanding Hen House

Pretty lousy pictures of a pretty big day.
After eyeing each other through the wire divide for a couple of days our big girls have finally met the new little hens on the block face to face -- or beak to beak as the case may be.
The "big girls" are our traditional house favorite, Buff Orpingtons a lovely, calm, heavy breed developed in England. This particular pair spends most of the day thinking about how pretty they are, and they are not wrong.
The new girls will be some stiff competition in the egg laying department. There are four Cuckoo Marans, silver speckled black birds that lay dark brown speckled eggs (or at least our last Maran did but others describe them as plain brown eggs). They are tribute to our dear, departed Connie, our first Maran and all in all a wonderful, sweet, gentle girl. Close relatives, our four new Copper Marans will, hopefully as they are supposed to, lay dark brown "chocolate" eggs. The darkest eggs of any breed. Two of the new batch are a recently introduced English breed, Cream Legbars. Not particularly pretty and a little slighter than the rest of the flock with silly little feathery mohawks these girls will lay robin's egg blue eggs. I could not resist that idea despite the rare breed price tag that went along with these two.  Lastly rounding out the new group are two more creamy yellow Buff Orpingtons. James and I figure there should always be Orpingtons in the yard.
There was a little squawking and a couple of well placed pecks but otherwise everyone seemed more interested in a big dish of crumble than in each other.