About Cold Garden Warm Kitchen

Cold Garden Warm Kitchen is filled with gardening advice and recipes for people who love to cook and eat locally grown, seasonal foods, but live where it dips below freezing six months of the year. Most of what appears here has been grown, photographed and cooked by Hillary Nelson, who gardens and cooks in both rural New Hampshire and Hell's Kitchen, NYC.

The First Peas of Spring – Grilled

grilling peas

grilling peas

I’ve just harvested a basket of the peas I planted in my unheated greenhouse back in February. The variety is called “Coral;” planted outside in spring, they take about two months to produce ripe peas, rather than the three months this batch took.

One nice thing about greenhouse peas is that they get big enough before the sparrows find them that I don’t have to cover them for protection. It took me years to figure out it was sparrows not woodchucks who were eating my newly sprouted peas down to nubs. I had no idea the little beggars could be so destructive.

Here’s my favorite way to eat fresh peas: hot from the grill. No need to shell them; diners will do that for themselves. Try serving them as an appetizer while dinner is cooking on the grill. They’re delicious on a warm evening alongside cold, locally brewed ale or with the slightly fizzy, pale green Portugese wine known as Vino Verde. Just be sure to leave a bowl out for the empty pods.

grilled peas

grilled peas

Grilled Peas

(serves 8 as an appetizer)

  • 2 lbs. fresh peas in the shell

Wash the peas and let them sit in a bowl of cold water. If the pods are long enough, you can lay them carefully directly onto the grill; otherwise place them in a single layer in a grill basket made for vegetables (you can also use a grill pan on the stove, if cooking indoors). When the peas have grill marks on one side, (this will take two or three minutes), turn the peas and grill on the other side.

When they’re bright green and steaming (some might pop open), drop them into a bowl and serve. Leave a small pair of scissors or knife out to help guests who don’t want to get too messy snip off the stem-end of the peas (I, glutton that I am, use my teeth). Once the stem is off, simply unzip the string that runs down the pod, and slurp up the hot peas.

Ramps, Asparagus and Dandelion Greens Pizza

ramp, asparagus and dandelion green pizza

ramp, asparagus and dandelion green pizza

The longer I garden, the more I appreciate perennial vegetables. Plant them once, take care of them by weeding, watering and feeding the soil around them with good compost, and they’ll return reliably year after year. Many of these perennials are among the first edibles of spring, which seems to make them taste even more delicious to winter-weary taste buds.

dandelion greens

dandelion greens

Some perennial spring vegetables don’t even require planting. Dandelion greens, chicory, sorrel, and, later in spring, lambs quarters and nettles, are all wild plants that are abundant self-seeders (aka, weeds). All of them are best picked young and tender, before they’ve flowered (with nettles, be sure to wear gloves, to avoid the stinging hairs that are destroyed in cooking).

Many of these “weeds” are so delicious that vegetable breeders have come up with more refined versions sold through seed catalogues. Two of my favorites are super-cold hardy Italian Red Dandelion (it’s actually chicory) and Good King Henry, a member of the weedy Goose Foot family that tastes like spinach and can be harvested from early spring into fall.

Asparagus, unlike perennial weeds, takes a bit of work. It likes lots of good compost and requires watering all summer, or it won’t be productive year after year. Too, you have to keep grass from growing in amongst the shoots, and war with the dreaded asparagus beetle, which can wreak havoc.

One method of achieving both weed and bug suppression is to interplant asparagus with parsley and dill, which can out-compete grass and which asparagus beetles hate. The herbs are also a good use of space, providing a season long crop even after the 4th of July, when good gardeners let their asparagus grow into full, tall ferns to gather energy for next season.

purple asparagus

purple asparagus

It’s not too late to put in an asparagus bed this year, though you won’t be able to harvest any juicy spears until a few seasons have passed and the bed has filled in. Though asparagus can be grown from seed, the most productive plants are male clones (they don’t go to seed) bought as 2 or 3 year-old roots. Two widely available and good choices are “Jersey Supreme” and “Purple Passion.”

ramps and dandelion greens

ramps and dandelion greens

Ramps, if you’ve never encountered them, are a wild native woodland allium, related to both onions and garlic and tasting a bit like both. They’re happy at high, cool elevations, in the kind of moist mixed woodlands where trilliums and golden seal grows beneath maples and beeches, and can completely carpet the early spring forest floor. It seemed likely that ramps would grow around here, but though I scoured our woodlot every spring, I could never find wild ramps growing in it.

Finally, a few years ago, I took matters into my own hands and ordered a shipment of mature ramps from Ramp Farm Specialties in West Virginia. Owner Glen Facemire only ships his bulbs in February and March (seeds are available all the time), so when he heard that New Hampshire had a big snow storm brewing just as he was putting my ramps in the mail, he gave me a call to talk me through how to care for his “babies” until I could put them in the ground (it turned out that a couple of window boxes in a cold frame did the trick).

ramps in window box and cold frame

ramps in window box and cold frame

The ramps arrived huge and healthy, and now, a few seasons later, are beginning to spread both where I’ve planted them in the woods, and in the more cultivated sections of my garden. They’re particularly happy growing under the shade of the grape arbor. Though you can buy 3 dozen ramps for $24.75, the most economical way to order them is 1000 bulbs for

ramps growing under a grape arbor

ramps growing under a grape arbor

$194.00 (shipping is free). I’d suggest splitting an order with friends and scouting likely locations this summer (you’ll want to try several spots to be on the safe side). Do order early, so you don’t miss out, and be prepared with window boxes and a cold frame, just in case.

Early spring vegetables fresh from the garden don’t need much in the way of preparation. All of them are delicious cooked fast and hot with olive oil or with chopped bacon. They’re also perfect stir fried along with fresh spring chives, a bit of ginger and a little soy sauce combined with water or orange juice. Ramps and asparagus can be lightly tossed in oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, placed in a grill basket and cooked briefly on the grill.

Below you’ll find a recipe that combines dandelion greens, ramps, and asparagus cooked with bacon as the topping for pizza. Though the pizza dough needs a full day to rise (or overnight in the refrigerator), once it’s ready, the recipe goes together in a snap. Feel free to substitute store-bought dough if you’re short on time. Too, feel free to leave out the bacon if you’re a vegetarian, and to substitute in whatever fresh spring vegetables you have on hand. Spinach or escarole would be delicious.

And if you’re only feeding two people, divide the topping recipe in half. Store the extra pizza dough in the refrigerator in an oiled plastic bag and use it later in the week. It will be good for several days.

Ramp, Dandelion and Asparagus Pizza

for the dough:

  • scant 4 cups flour (can be up to ⅓ whole wheat)
  • ¼ teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt (can be up to 2 teaspoons, if desired)
  • 1½ – 1¾ cups water (if your water is chlorinated, use spring or filtered water)

for the topping:

  • 4 slices thick bacon, cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 large bunch dandelion greens (about ½ pound), trimmed of roots, well washed in cold water and chopped
  • 1 large bunch ramps (about 10), trimmed of roots, well washed and chopped; or use 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large bunch asparagus (about 1 pound or more), trimmed, washed and chopped
  • 1½ pounds fresh mozzarella, broken up into chunks
  • hot red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper, to taste
  • good olive oil for drizzling

For the dough, combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the water (you will need the larger amount if using whole wheat flour) and stir well with a spoon until well combined – do not knead. If the mixture seems too dry (it should be quite sticky), add a little more water to incorporate all the flour.

Cover with plastic and set on a cool counter to rise. If it is very warm or you’d like to use the dough more than 18 hours later, place in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to rise until doubled – if it’s warm this will happen in about 12 hours, if it’s very cool, in about 18 hours.

When ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees (my oven doesn’t go to 500 – use the higher heat if you can). If you have a pizza stone, place it on the top rack.

Divide the dough into 4 balls. Lightly oil them with olive oil, cover them with plastic and set aside on the counter to rise and soften while make the topping.

Heat a large skillet and add the bacon if using (otherwise, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and continue with the greens, below). Cook the bacon until it is beginning to brown. Remove the bacon from the pan, pour off most of the fat, and return the skillet to the heat. Add the dandelion greens, ramps or garlic, asparagus and bacon pieces, if using. Cook, stirring, until the greens are wilted and tender. Season to taste with hot red pepper, black pepper and salt (you may not need any salt, depending on the bacon). Remove the greens from the pan and set aside.

Turn the oven to broil to super-heat the pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, place a large aluminum sheet tray in the oven to heat (do not use a tray that has a non-stick coating as it will burn).

Stretch the dough either by rolling with a rolling pin (you’ll need to use flour to keep the dough from sticking) or with your hands to a very thin, approximately 12-inch rough circle. Place the round on a well floured pizza peel (if you have one), or onto the back of a well floured aluminum sheet tray. Cover the dough to within about 1 inch of the edge with ¼ of the greens and then ¼ of the mozzarella (leave spaces between the pieces of cheese). Drizzle the pizza with a little olive oil.

Open the oven door and slide the pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone. If you are not using a pizza stone, carefully remove the hot sheet tray from the oven, sprinkle it with a little flour, then slide the pizza from the overturned sheet tray onto the hot sheet tray and return it to the oven.

The pizza will cook very quickly – in about 2-4 minutes, depending on your oven. If the pizza begins to burn (a few black spots are desirable, but not an over-all char), turn the broiler off, but leave the oven temperature at 450-500 degrees.

You may need to slide a spatula under the pizza and turn it, or turn the sheet tray, so that it cooks evenly. It is done when the edges are well browned, and black in spots. Remove from the oven, slide onto a cutting board, and cut up and serve immediately.

Repeat with the other three pieces of dough. Serves 4 generously.

Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies and Rhubarb Crumble Muffins

Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies

Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies

Rhubarb is here at last, in all its tangy pink glory. Though technically a vegetable, culinarily rhubarb qualifies as the first fruit of spring, and its appearance at the end of a long winter is a cause for celebration in these parts.

It’s probably a good thing rhubarb makes its arrival solo, just when we are most hungry for fruit, or we might be tempted to ignore it. Truth is, compared to the riches to come – the sweet berries, luscious peaches and cherries of summer followed by the incomparable pears and apples of fall – rhubarb is pretty humble. For one thing, you can’t eat it sun-warmed and freshly picked, but must cook it first with lots of sugar to make it palatable. And then, once cooked, it loses its crunch altogether, taking on the consistency of one of those nutritious purees that babies and invalids make faces at.

But even cooked, rhubarb is a gorgeous sight (at least if you’ve got the pink kind, which is the only kind I bother with). Rhubarb tea, the color of pink bougainvillea, looks like it came straight from Jamaica. And while a little more subdued in hue, rhubarb fool (sweetened rhubarb puree mixed with whipped cream) beats even pink Marshmallow Fluff for eye appeal.

That said, for a rhubarb recipe to really shine, the mushiness of the fruit needs to be balanced by a crunchy component – think rhubarb pie and rhubarb crumble. I happen to be especially fond of crumbles of any sort. They are simplicity itself to make – one part butter, two parts flour, two parts sugar, a little spice, a little salt – mixed with deft fingertips in only a few minutes. And they are heavenly in the mouth, especially when coupled with something soft and tart, like rhubarb.

Knowing how to make rhubarb crumble is practically a citizenship requirement in New Hampshire, so I won’t bother with that recipe, but below you will find two variations on the theme. Both are made with lots of crumble and both contain the distinctly un-local addition of citrus fruits (sorry, diehard locavores), lemon in the first, orange in the second. There is something about citrus that makes it a perfect foil for rhubarb. Both recipes would be good without it, but with it are ever so much better.

Rhubarb Crumble Muffins

 For the muffins:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar, divided into ½ and ¾ cups
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter (if you use salted, omit the salt), melted and cooled
  • grated rind of one lemon (wash before grating, especially if the lemon isn’t organic)
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped rhubarb (cubes should be ½” or less)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 recipe crumble (below)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tray with muffin cups, or butter and flour each cup.

In a small bowl, combine the rhubarb, ½ cup sugar and the lemon rind. Set aside to macerate.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, ¾ cup sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and eggs until well combined. Whisk in the yogurt or buttermilk and lemon juice.

Add the rhubarb to the dry ingredients and toss well to distribute the fruit. Pour the wet ingredients over the flour and rhubarb mixture and stir gently with a spatula or wooden spoon just until well combined.

Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle crumble over the batter, dividing the crumble evenly between the muffins. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, turning once so they bake evenly. The muffins are done when they spring back when touched in the center.

Crumble

  • ½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter, still on the cool side, cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is well-combined. If the mixture is too sandy looking, squeeze the ingredients with your fingers and then break them apart into pea-sized crumbs.

 Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies

For the ice cream:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • grated rind of one orange (be sure to wash the orange well first, especially if it’s not organic)
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • yolks of 8 eggs

For the rhubarb swirl:

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar
  • juice of one orange

Cut the vanilla bean in half the long way, then using a small knife scrape the seeds out of the bean into a medium pot. Add the bean, the milk, the cream and the orange rind to the pot and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat. Shut the heat off, put the lid on the pot and allow the mixture to steep while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Combine the rhubarb, sugar and orange juice in a non-reactive pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Allow the mixture to cook and thicken for about 20 minutes – ½ hour. Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from burning. The swirl is done when it takes on the consistency of jam. Allow the mixture to cool for several minutes and then refrigerate several hours until cold.

Reheat the cream mixture over a low flame. Meanwhile whisk the brown sugar into the egg yolks, combining for a minute or so until the mixture lightens and thickens just a little bit. Whisking constantly, pour some of the hot cream into the yolks to temper them. When you’ve poured about half the cream into the yolks, pour the tempered mixture into the pot with the rest of the cream. Keep the heat very low while you stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon, being sure not to let the mixture boil (this will cause it to curdle). The mixture will gradually thicken until it coats the wooden spoon; this will take about 5-10 minutes.

When the mixture has thickened, pour it into a bowl and then set the bowl into a larger bowl filled ½ way with ice water (be careful not to slosh water into the ice cream). Stir the ice cream to cool it quickly to room temperature. When cool, cover and refrigerate several hours, until cold.

When cold, use an ice cream maker to freeze the orange vanilla ice cream, following the manufacturer’s directions. When the mixture is ready for the freezer, scoop it into a container. Plop spoonfuls of the rhubarb mixture over the top of the orange-vanilla ice cream and then use a knife to swirl the mixture through the ice cream. Put the swirled ice cream into the deep freeze to harden for several hours.

When ready to serve, let it sit at room temperature until it warms enough to scoop easily. Scoop it onto crumble cookies and serve. If you like, use two cookies to make ice cream sandwiches.

Crumble Cookies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (8 Tbs.), still on the cool side, cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put parchment paper on two cookie sheets.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is well-combined. If the mixture is too sandy looking, squeeze the ingredients with your fingers and then break them apart into pea-sized crumbs.

Divide the crumble into small piles, six to a sheet. Gently press the crumble down and shape it into 12 circles. Don’t press too hard – you want it to remain a bit crumbly.

Bake the cookies for 5 – 10 minutes, until the edges are brown and the center golden. Allow to cool on the cookie sheets before trying to move them.

Eggs from Pastured Chickens: Amazing

What to do with lots of fresh eggs: Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringues with Fresh Greens and Lemony Herb Dressing and Boston Cream Cupcakes

The flock of Black Jersey Giant hens I share with my sister-in-law has just turned four, and they’re still laying more eggs than our two families can absorb. Getting rid of the excess is no problem, though – actually quite the opposite.

Black Jersey Giant Hen

Black Jersey Giant Hen

Okay, I’m going to brag a little here; forgive me. Our eggs are really good. Our chickens are true free rangers, spending most of the day outside eating bugs and greens. The proof of their excellent diet is in the egg yolks, which are calendula orange, so bright that when I make cakes with them, the batter looks as if I’ve dyed it with yellow food coloring.

It turns out, according to several studies done by Mother Earth News, that the average egg produced by pastured chickens contains 7 times more beta carotene than the average conventional supermarket egg, hence the brilliant yolks. The studies also show pastured chickens produce eggs with ⅓ less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, ⅔ more vitamin A, twice as many omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and between 4 and 6 times as much vitamin D.

Here are two egg-rich recipes. The first is for a whites-only nut and cheese meringue cracker that’s a delicious contrast to spring greens. The second recipe is a good way to use up the leftover yolks, Boston Cream Cupcakes, light enough that you’ll want to eat two, but rich enough that you should probably only eat one. The pastry cream recipe makes more than you’ll use filling the cupcakes, but it’s delicious on its own or topping fresh berries or stewed rhubarb.

Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringues with Spring Greens

Goat Cheese Gouda and Pecan Meringue with Spring Greens

Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringue with Spring Greens

  • ½ cup pecans
  • 2 ounces goat gouda, grated (about ½ cup)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne or hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 4 large egg whites
  • tiny pinch of cream of tartar
  • a mixture of fresh spring greens, washed and dried, about 8 cups total
  • Lemony Herbed Salad Dressing (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a half-sheet tray with parchment paper; butter and flour the parchment. Set aside.

Place the pecans, cheese, salt, and peppers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Be careful not to pulse so much the mixture turns into a paste.

In the bowl of an electric mixer whip the egg whites and the pinch of cream of tartar using the whisk attachment until the whites form soft peaks. Fold the nut mixture into the whites carefully, trying not to deflate the whites completely.

Spoon the batter evenly into 8 spots on the prepared parchment, leaving lots of space between the spots. Use a spoon to flatten and spread into approximately 4 inch wide rounds – don’t let the rounds touch.

Place in the oven – if your oven has a convection fan, turn it on as it will speed the cooking process. Cook the meringues until they are just golden brown, about 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in it and leave the convection fan on.

After 1/2 hour, remove the tray from the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely. To serve, place each meringue on a plate. Toss the greens with the dressing, then top each meringue with greens. Serve immediately, before the meringues get soggy.

Serves 8.

Lemony-Herb Salad Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or other mild white vinegar)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 small clove garlic minced
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons mild oil, such as sunflower
  • the leaves from several sprigs fresh thyme, lightly chopped (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt and minced garlic. Gradually whisk in the oils, dribbling them in slowly so the mixture emulsifies. When all the oil has been added, whisk in the herbs. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Boston Cream Cupcakes

Boston Cream Cupcakes

Boston Cream Cupcakes

  • Light Pastry Cream (recipe below)
  • Chocolate Glaze (recipe below)

For the cupcakes (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking):

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (fluff the flour a bit with the measuring cup before scooping and leveling with a knife – don’t pack it down)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 12 pieces
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature (put in a cup of warm water if necessary)
  • ¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature (heat a little in the microwave, if necessary)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • butter and flour to grease the cupcake pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine about 1 tablespoon of softened butter with about 1 tablespoon of flour to make a smooth paste. Use this mixture to grease the cupcake molds evenly and thoroughly.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir gently with the paddle to combine. Add the butter a few chunks at a time while mixing gently. As the butter is cut into the dry ingredients, add more butter until it is all mixed in. You should wind up with a mixture that resembles coarse cornmeal.

Add the eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition. Finally, add the milk and vanilla. Beat well a minute or two until light and fluffy.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake impressions. Place in the oven and bake, turning once for about 20 minutes. The cupcakes are done when they have risen and spring back when touched in the center. A toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake will come out clean. Try not to over-bake.

Let the cupcakes cool a few minutes before gently lifting them onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before filling and frosting.

To fill, cut the top off each cupcake and use a small sharp knife to cut a cone shape out of them – leave enough cake on the bottom and sides so that the cupcake doesn’t fall apart. Fill the cavity with pastry cream, enough so that a little squeezes out the side when the top is replaced. Spread the top of each filled cupcake with some of the chocolate frosting, enough so that it drips down the side. Chill the cupcakes until they set, then serve. Makes 12.

Light Pastry Cream

  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup flour, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • ¾ cup cold whipping cream

Have ready a sieve fitted over a clean bowl, a whisk, and a wooden spoon. Place the milk in a medium saucepan. If using the vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the bean halves to the milk along with about ⅔ of the sugar. Heat the milk over medium heat until it is just about to simmer.

Meanwhile, place the yolks in a medium bowl and whisk in the remaining sugar. Continue whisking for about a minute, until the yolks are lighter in color and a little thicker. Whisk in the sifted flour.

When the milk is hot, lower the heat beneath it. Temper the egg yolks by scooping out about a cup of the milk and pouring it into the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add another cup of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Finally, pour the tempered egg yolks into the pot of hot milk, whisking constantly.

Heat the mixture over low, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Scrape the the pot with the spoon to incorporate the thickening mixture on the bottom back into the thinner mixture on top. Occasionally whisk the mixture briskly to break up lumps. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring constantly, until it just barely begins to bubble; it should be very thick. Pour the pastry cream through the sieve into the clean bowl. Stir the cold butter into the pastry cream until it melts and is completely incorporated.

Place the bowl of pastry cream in a cold bath of ice and water in a larger bowl being careful not to let any of the water get into the cream. Cover the surface of the cream with a piece of plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming on it as it cools. When the pastry cream is cooled, you may place it in the refrigerator for up to a day before proceeding.

When the pastry cream is completely cold, place the whipping cream into the chilled bowl of an electric mixer and whip with the chilled whisk attachment. Whip the cream until very stiff and thick, almost to the point of over-whipping. Fold the whipped cream into the cold pastry cream and use to fill the cupcakes.

Chocolate Glaze

  • 8 ounces good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Combine the first three ingredients in a small pot and heat over a low flame microwave. Stir gently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is homogenous. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it has melted and is incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool a little before using to frost the cupcakes. Makes about 1¾ cups.

Rhubarb Yorkshire Pudding

Rhubarb Yorkshire Pudding is a riff on an old Shaker recipe. Like a classic French clafouti, it’s a combination of a flour-milk-egg batter, fresh fruit and sugar cooked in a hot pan in a hot oven so that it puffs up like a popover.

Later in the summer, substitute fresh cherries or plums for the rhubarb, and try apples in the fall. Just be sure to adjust the amount of sugar you use depending on how sweet the fruit is.

Rhubarb Yorkshire Pudding

  • ¼ cup butter (half a stick) cut into chunks
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 mounded cup of rhubarb chopped into ½ inch chunks (1-2 sticks)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • grated rind of one orange

Preheat the oven to 425 ℉. For the last several minutes of preheating, put a 10” ceramic or enameled pie plate into the oven to heat (don’t use a plain metal pie plate – it will react with the juices from the rhubarb).

Meanwhile, put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk together well. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, whisk the two eggs just until well combined, then mix in the milk and vanilla. Pour this mixture slowly into the well in the flour mixture, whisking the flour from the edge of the well little by little into the egg mixture as you pour (this keeps the mixture from becoming lumpy). Stop mixing as soon as the last of the flour is completely combined in the batter.

Remove the pie plate from the oven, drop the chunks of butter into it and put it back into the oven until the butter is melted and bubbling. It’s okay if it browns a little – just don’t let it burn.

Meanwhile, toss the rhubarb well with half of the sugar, the orange rind and the cinnamon.

When the butter is bubbling, remove the pie plate from the oven and set it on top of the stove. Make sure you close the oven door again, so the oven stays very hot. Swirl the pie plate a little to evenly distribute the melted butter.

Pour the batter into the middle of the pie plate. This will push the butter off to the sides. That’s okay – ignore the temptation to stir! Scatter the rhubarb over the batter, leaving about an inch or so around the edges with no rhubarb on it. Then sprinkle the other half of the sugar over the rhubarb. Put the pudding into the oven.

Let it bake for about 15 minutes then rotate the pudding so it cooks evenly. Try to move quickly and don’t bang the oven door or the pudding might not rise properly. It will be done in about another 10 minutes – the top and bottom will be golden brown and it will have puffed beautifully, especially around the edges.

Allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving. Scoop it into bowls and top it with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or, as the Shakers did, pass around a pitcher of cold heavy cream.

Spring Moussaka, Two Ways

a baking dish of spring moussakaIt’s always a gamble, planting seeds in late fall in hopes of having a harvest in early spring. In the middle of last August, I sowed three long rows of Scarlet Nantes and White Satin carrots. By September, they were growing well; that is, until the deer came along and chomped them to the ground. After that, I kept them out of sight under fabric row cover.

over-wintered carrots in spring

over-wintered carrots in spring

And when the top few inches of soil finally froze, I spread a layer of straw over them several inches deep.

Timing the straw-spreading is tricky. Too early, and the ground doesn’t freeze until deep winter, creating a cozy home with a well-stocked pantry for voles and mice. Spread it too late, and you wind up with carrot-sicles that turn to mush in the spring thaw.

Last week, when the snow was finally off the garden, I peeked under the straw; this year I got lucky. There they were, all three rows of frost-sweetened carrots, nary a one nibbled by rodents. In another part of the garden, the parsnips, too, have been spared this year, and are super-sweet and tender. As soon as they begin to sprout they’ll grow woody, so now is the time to eat them. Under a glass-windowed cold frame, the radicchio and endive I cut to the ground last autumn, are sending up fresh growth from their roots and will be ready to harvest in late April or early May.

In my unheated greenhouse the mâche and kale that have been providing us with salads all winter are starting to bloom, to the delight of hungry honey bees, and will soon go to seed. I’ve begun to harvest the cold-loving greens I seeded inside in January and planted outside in February, along with the radishes and pea shoots I direct-seeded two months ago. Here and there, volunteers are sprouting up – parsley and fennel, lettuce and poppies, red shiso and dill.

In the greenhouse, too, the perennials, like dandelion greens, rhubarb, Red Venture celery, chives, and chervil, that took a little time off during the coldest weather, are now are big enough to pick. At this time of year we can also harvest small heads of cauliflower and broccoli, planted as sturdy small plants in September. These die back almost to their roots in winter, and miraculously reappear as soon as we get more than ten hours of light a day.

purple cauliflower in early spring

purple cauliflower, grown in an unheated greenhouse over the winter

Looking for a way to use up my carrot and parsnip harvest, I found a recipe in Leanne Kitchen’s beautiful cookbook, Turkey: More than 100 Recipes with Tales from the Road, for a moussaka made with veal and rich in roasted carrots. Because I have a mixed crew to feed in my house, some vegetarians, some carnivores, I decided to riff on Kitchen’s recipe, making two baking dishes, one with fresh purple cauliflower instead of meat, and another in which locally raised grass-fed beef replaced the veal. And because I had parsnips to work with as well as carrots, I used both.

The results were delicious – the creamy layer of lemon-scented béchamel sauce is a perfect foil for the tomato and roasted vegetable enriched bottom layer. Too, this dish, though it takes some time to put together and is probably best saved for a weekend project, is not only crammed with the vegetables we’re all supposed to be eating more of, but is also economical to make. The pound of ground beef in the meat version will feed six people easily, and cauliflower, even if it isn’t locally grown, is abundant and inexpensive at this time of year.

If you don’t want to make both versions, feel free to cut the béchamel and roasted vegetable recipes in half, and use whichever base, meat or cauliflower, you prefer.

Two Spring Moussakas

  • Lemon Béchamel Sauce (recipe below)
  • Roasted Carrots and Parsnips (recipe below)

    spring moussaka

    spring moussaka

  • Meat Moussaka Base (recipe below)
  • Cauliflower Moussaka Base (recipe below)
  • olive oil for the bottom of the baking pans

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use about 1 tablespoon of oil to grease the bottoms and sides of two baking dishes (anything approximating a 13 inch oval or an 8×11 inch rectangular dish will work).

Pour the meat base into one dish and the cauliflower base into the other dish. Spread them out evenly. Sprinkle half of the roasted vegetables over the meat base and the other half of the roasted vegetables over the cauliflower base. Spread half the béchamel over the meat and roasted vegetables and the other half of the béchamel over the cauliflower and roasted vegetables.

Place both dishes in the preheated oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, turning at least once so the tops brown evenly. The moussakas are done when they are bubbling and browned in spots here and there on top. Serve hot. This can also be reheated the next day in a low oven or microwave.

Each moussaka serves 4-6 people.

Lemon Béchamel Sauce

  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • grated rind of one large lemon or 1½ small lemons (use organic if possible and wash well before grating)
  • 4 egg yolks, whisked together lightly in a bowl
  • several gratings of fresh nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the milk either in a microwave or on the stovetop until quite warm. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan. When the butter has melted, whisk in the flour. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, stirring often.

Whisk in the milk about 1 cup at a time, whisking until the mixture is smooth after each addition. Continue heating over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, being careful not to burn the bottom of the pot. Alternate between a wooden spoon that scrapes the mixture from the bottom (where it will thicken more quickly) and a whisk, to smooth the sauce. When the mixture has thickened and is just beginning to simmer a little, remove from the heat and whisk well to smooth.

Temper the yolks by pouring about 2 cups of the hot sauce into them, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pot, whisking constantly. Whisk in the lemon rind, the nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper placed right on the surface of the sauce to keep it from forming a skin. Set aside while preparing the rest of the moussaka.

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips:

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into half-moons about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the carrots on one sheet tray and the parsnips on another. Divide the olive oil between the two trays, strip the leaves from the sprigs of thyme and divide between the trays and sprinkle both with salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables to coat well with oil, thyme and salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes stirring the vegetables and turning the trays once or twice so they cook evenly. When the vegetables are softened and browned here and there, remove from the oven and set aside.

Meat Moussaka Base:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened. Add the beef and cook, breaking up the meat and mixing it with the onions and garlic. When still a little pink but mostly cooked, add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thickened a bit and the flavors are well combined.

Cauliflower Moussaka Base:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small head or 1/2 large head cauliflower, washed and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened. Add the cauliflower and cook, mixing it with the onions and garlic. When the cauliflower is beginning to soften, add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thickened a bit and the flavors are well combined.

The Sweetest Carrots: August Seeding, March Harvest

Some years when I plant carrot seeds in late August, I feel like a chump. Once again, irrational hope has triumphed over the certainty that Bad Things will happen to those carrots over the winter.

over-wintered carrots in spring

over-wintered carrots in spring

Still, I protect the young shoots with hoops and row cover in October, then heap straw over them as winter hits hard. When a big storm comes through and lays waste to the row cover, I think, ah well – the frost will get them, or the voles.

But every now and then, the first day of spring comes and I know all over again that hope is bred-in-the-bone for a very good reason, and that reason is why I garden.

I LOVE to EAT.

These, btw, are Scarlet Nantes and White Satin carrots. Survivors of winter, 2012-2013. And sweet as Tupelo honey.

Home-made Silken Tofu

One of my favorite restaurants in New York City is Kyotofu in Hell’s Kitchen.

silken tofu with maple syrup and walnuts
silken tofu with maple syrup and walnuts

I’d walked by the place for years and hadn’t been tempted to go in – a restaurant based around tofu just didn’t hold much appeal for me. But one day when my vegetarian son was fed up with pizza and Chinese food, we decided to give it a try. Which is how I discovered that freshly made tofu is as different from the store-bought variety as a fresh loaf of crusty sour dough is different from Wonder Bread.

My favorite dish at Kyotofu is a pristine white mound of silken tofu (made daily in the restaurant) served with three different sauces, olive oil and tomato, soy and sesame, and kuromitsu (made from unrefined brown sugar). The dish is simple and perfect – the cool, ethereal tofu balanced by the dark, earthy, flavor-packed sauces.

When I recently discovered Andrea Nguyen’s beautiful cookbook, Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook it at Home, I decided to see if I could duplicate Kyotofu’s

silken tofu with dipping sauces
silken tofu with dipping sauces

wonderful appetizer. It turns out that making silken tofu is easy, and that yes, my homemade version was as good as Kyotofu’s.

It does take a little preparation, however. Silken tofu only contains three ingredients: good water, good dried soybeans and food grade gypsum (calcium sulfate). It’s not worth making unless you have the best quality of each on hand.

Food grade gypsum is used by home brewers, and is available at beer-making supply shops and on-line. My husband happens to be a beer-maker (an amazingly good one, lucky me), so I had a supply of gypsum available – it looks a lot like powdered chalk. As for water, if yours has chlorine in it, you will need to filter it, or buy/collect some good spring water.*

The soybeans can be found at health food stores, Asian markets and some grocery stores, or can be ordered on-line. I bought mine over the internet from Fairview Farms in Iowa, a family-owned business that sells non-GMO “Laura” soybeans. The beans are excellent,

Laura soybeans from Fairview Farms
Laura soybeans from Fairview Farms

big, yellow-skinned and very fresh, but they aren’t organic as far as I can tell. The ordering process was simple using a credit card and the beans arrived here in New Hampshire in under a week.

The first step in making silken tofu is to make rich soy milk. The soy beans are soaked overnight until plump, then ground with water in a food processor or blender to a thick slurry. This is then heated with more water, strained, and heated again (soy needs to be cooked throughly to make it digestible). The milk is then cooled and mixed with gypsum, which acts as a coagulant. This mixture is then gently steamed until it sets. The cooked tofu is refrigerated for several hours, after which it is ready to eat.

One trick I learned from Nguyen is that ingredients like citrus rind and maple syrup can be mixed into the soy milk before it is steamed. The results are like no tofu you will ever buy from a grocery store, good enough to turn even tofu-haters into tofu lovers.

The recipes below are based on those in Asian Tofu; if you like making things from scratch, I recommend you pick up a copy or take it out of your local library (though be warned, it is not strictly vegan or even vegetarian, though it does contain both sorts of recipes ). And while you’re at it, look for Andrea Nguyen’s other cookbooks – they’re all terrific.

Rich Soy Milk

  • 6 ounces dried soybeans, rinsed, then soaked overnight at room temperature until swollen and soft (soaking time depends on temperature – if your house is cold it will take longer)
  • 4-5 cups of water
  • you will also need a strainer lined with muslin or a clean linen or flour sack dishtowel

Combine the soy beans with 2 cups of water (you can use the soaking water, or use fresh water) in a food processor or blender. Pulse the mixture until the beans are chopped into

soybean puree
soybean puree

very small pieces. There should be no large pieces or whole beans left in the mixture; it will be quite pale and fluffy.

Pour the mixture into a large pot. Swirl 1½ cups of water in the bowl of the food processor or the blender to coax out any remaining bean puree, then add this to the pot. Turn the heat to low and, stirring frequently to keep the bottom of the pot from burning, bring the mixture to a simmer.

A white froth will float on top of the mixture, which makes it a little hard to see if the mixture is simmering or not, so peek beneath the froth from time to time to check. When the mixture comes to a simmer, let it bubble for several minutes, then turn off the heat.

froth on soybean milk
froth on soybean milk

Allow the mixture in the pot to steep off the heat for 5 or 10 minutes, while you prepare the strainer. Rinse the muslin or other liner with cool water, then line the strainer with the wet cloth. Place the strainer over a large bowl or pot to catch the soy milk.

Scoop the hot soybean mixture into the lined strainer, pressing down hard on the pureed beans (the “lees”) to extract all the milk from them. When all the liquid has drained, twist the top of the cloth closed and squeeze as much more liquid as you can from the lees. Finally mix about 1/2 cup of water into the lees and give them another squeeze. (The leftover lees can be added to soups or stews, or stir-fried with vegetables. In Japan they are often sold as animal feed – my chickens love them).

Return the milk to the pot (be sure to rinse it out first) and bring it to a simmer over low hit, stirring often to prevent scorching. Let the milk bubble slowly for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the milk into a clean container (a metal bowl is good, because it helps to cool the milk quickly). Allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold.

Makes about 3 cups.

Silken Tofu

  • 3 cups chilled rich soy milk (if the milk you made measures less than this, add enough water to it to make 3 cups)
  • flavorings, if desired, such as grated orange or lemon rind (use organic fruit and wash well), maple syrup, etc.
  • 1½ teaspoons food-grade gypsum
  • heat-proof ramekins or custard cups
  • a large pot with a lid
  • a steamer rack to fit the pot

Put enough water into the pot so that it comes up to just below the steamer rack; put the lid on the pot. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, combine the gypsum with about 2 teaspoons of water – just enough to make a paste. Stir the gypsum slurry into the cold soy milk and stir very well to combine completely.

Divide the soy milk between the ramekins (how many you need will depend on their size – probably around 5 or 6). At this point, you may add flavorings to the soy milk, such as a teaspoon or two of maple syrup or a pinch of freshly grated citrus rind.

Place the ramekins on the rack over the gently simmering water and return the lid to the pot. You may need to cook the tofu in batches, but that is fine. The tofu is done when it is set and no longer liquid in the center. How long this takes will depend on the size of your ramekins, but will probably be 15-20 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center of the tofu will leave a small hole behind when they are ready.

Lift the ramekins from the rack and set them on a tray to cool to room temperature. Cover the cooled tofu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. To unmold, run a knife around the sides of the ramekin to loosen the tofu, place a plate on top of the ramekin and invert. You may also serve the tofu in the ramekin.

Silken Tofu Serving Suggestions:

These ramekins are delicious with warm maple syrup and toasted walnuts. Or, serve them in Kyotofu’s style with three dipping sauces.

My three dipping sauces are:

  1. Equal parts chopped cilantro and basil, mixed with grated fresh garlic and good olive oil
  2. Equal parts fish sauce, water, and lime juice with a pinch of sugar, sliced limes, and hot pepper flakes
  3. 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 2 tablespoons water, 2 chopped scallions.

*Many people in NH rely on wells rather than municipal water supplies, and sometimes the wells provide water that’s a little too full of iron, or even arsenic. Which is why locals always know where there’s a good spring from which to collect pristine water. You’ll see people by the side of the road with empty gallon jugs, holding them under an endlessly gushing pipe. No one ever seems to know who put the pipe there, who it was who decided to share that bountiful spring, because it happened a long time ago. Talk about paying it forward. I’m pretty sure no matter how much of a jerk that person was in life, sharing that water supply was enough to get him or her into heaven.

Puff Pastry Recipes

Puff pastry is a sublime demonstration of the power of mathematics. You begin by layering a block of butter between two layers of dough. Fold the dough in thirds, and now there are 3 layers of butter between the layers of dough. Let it rest, roll it out, fold it in thirds again and now there are 9 layers of butter. Repeat – 27 layers of butter. Repeat – 81 layers of butter. Repeat – 243 layers of butter. And one last time – 729 layers of butter, and 730 layers of dough (including the top and bottom layers).

As the puff pastry bakes, the butter fat melts, which separates the layers of dough, while the butter liquids turn to steam, forcing the layers apart and causing the pastry to rise in a spectacular fashion. And unlike a soufflé, which must be served immediately before it falls, properly baked puff pastry will maintain its loft even after it cools.

When golden brown and fully cooked, puff pastry is a delight in the mouth, melting almost as soon as it hits the tongue into rich, delicate shards. And rich as it is, puff pastry provides a neutral backdrop, working well with both sweet and savory fillings.

I think puff pastry’s reputation for being tricky to make has more to do with the cultivated mystique of the pâtissier than the reality of the recipe. It’s actually a pretty straightforward process, though it does require a cool kitchen and patience through all the resting and rolling. It also requires care in choosing ingredients – the butter needs to be cold, the flour needs to be bread flour.

It also requires care in measuring. I recommend weighing ingredients whenever you’re baking, for this recipe in particular. If you don’t have a scale, make sure you fluff up the flour, dip a measuring cup designed for dry ingredients into it, and then use a knife to level the cup (rather than tapping it on the counter, or pushing it down with your fingers, which compacts the flour). Here’s a link to my recipe for Puff Pastry.

The best thing about puff pastry is how flexible it is. Once it’s in your freezer, you’ll be able to throw together an impressive and delicious main dish or dessert in an hour or less. Here are links to three recipes that use puff pastry (either purchased or home-made):

Spinach Feta Tart

Spinach Feta Tart

A Rhubarb Tartlet

A Rhubarb Tartlet

A slice of maple tarte tatin

A slice of maple tarte tatin

Maple Syrup Season: Maple Almond Praline Roulade and Roast Chicken Glazed with Maple, Garlic and Smoked Paprika

Sunset Cross-country Ski on Corn Snow to Canterbury Shaker Village

Sunset Cross-country Ski on Corn Snow to Canterbury Shaker Village

Every season has its Trio of Delight. In mid-March the troika is: 1) almost twelve hours of light a day; 2) cross-country skiing on corn snow; 3) steamy sugar houses where maple sap boils over wood fires.

My in-laws, who own North Family Farm here in Canterbury, NH, seem to never sleep during sap season. Maple syrup is nearly half their living (the other half is a combination of hay and wood). It’s hard work, all the tapping and sap-hauling and wood burning and syrup boiling. Never mind the canning and promoting and selling and shipping.

In August, dragging a crate of maple syrup to a farmers’ market feels old. But now, in March, when the sun is rising higher in the sky day by day, and the air is warm enough to stand in for a coat, and the red-winged black birds have returned with their dopey cowbird step-brothers, and the sap isn’t just running, it’s gushing – now, gathering sap and making syrupfeels likes the best job any person has ever had in the history of the world.

Loading Wood to Boil Sap

Loading Wood to Boil Sap

Unless, maybe, you have the job of creating recipes for this year’s fresh-out-of-the-sugar-house maple syrup. So far, it’s Grade A Light Amber. And it’s sublime.

I am tempted to say that you could replace the maple syrup in the recipe for Roast Chicken with Maple, Garlic and Smoked Paprika with another sweetener – brown sugar, maybe, or honey. But don’t. This recipe is really good just as it is. And if you don’t happen to have any smoked paprika on hand (it’s pretty easy to find in grocery stores these day) use regular paprika, or take a chance and substitute any herb or seasoning that strikes your fancy.

As for the Maple-Almond Praline Roulade, the recipe looks long and complicated, but really is pretty fast and easy to put together. The hardest part is making the praline, and that could be left out completely if shy on time or ingredients. Keeping in mind that maple is a subtle flavor, and that the roulade is worth savoring on its own, it would also be delicious with a sauce made from frozen berries, or, in season, fresh ones. Continue reading