Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a useful ingredient to have on hand. Refrigerated, it keeps a long time, usually way past its sell-by date. Too, buttermilk is one dairy product that a lot of people who are lactose intolerant can actually consume. Originally, buttermilk was made from the whey left over from churning butter, but most of the buttermilk you will find in the grocery store today is “cultured.” That is, it’s made by combining milk with a lacto-bacillus starter. These friendly bacteria eat the tummy-upsetting lactose, or milk sugars, in the milk, converting them to acidic lactase, which is easier to digest.

Buttermilk’s acidity makes it especially useful for baking. When mixed with baking soda and baking powder, the combination creates gases that give a lift to un-yeasted baked goods, while at the same time adding a satisfyingly tart dairy flavor-note to the finished product. Buttermilk is especially welcome in recipes calling for whole grains, which otherwise might be unappealingly leaden. The recipe below for buckwheat waffles is a great example – even with a 50-50 split between whole grain and white flours, the waffles cook up nice and light.

Buttermilk made with living cultures is, when uncooked, a pro-biotic food, one that delivers good-for-you microbes to the digestive tract. There’s no need to drink it by the glassful to get this benefit. Simply add raw buttermilk to chilled soups, smoothies, or as in the recipe here, use it as an ingredient in salad dressing. I particularly like buttermilk salad dressing poured over sliced avocados – the fatty avocados are beautifully balanced by the tangy dressing.

Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles

Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles

Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles with maple syrup, butter and cherry jam.

  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
  • 2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole grain buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • butter, jam and maple syrup for serving

Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Whisk the melted butter into the eggs, then whisk in the buttermilk. Set aside.

Whisk together in a larger bowl all of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until well-incorporated. It is all right if there a few lumps. Let rest a few minutes before continuing.

Use a cup or ladle to pour enough of the batter into the heated waffle iron to come about 1/2 inch from the edge of the waffle form – the batter will spread and expand as it cooks, so don’t overfill. Close the lid of the iron.

Cook, monitoring the heat carefully, until the waffle is beginning to brown on the first side, then flip the waffle iron over and continue cooking until the other side is golden brown.

Serve immediately with butter, jam and warm real maple syrup. You will have enough batter to make five or six 7 inch by 7 inch waffles.

Buttermilk Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Salad Dressing

Tangy Buttermilk Salad Dressing with fresh herbs.

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons good cider or rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste if desired)
  • about 1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil (more or less to taste – can also be a combination of olive oil and other less flavorful oil, if desired)
  • about 1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs, or 1 teaspoon dried (can be a mixture – dill, basil, chives are all good)
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the mustard, shallots, vinegar, buttermilk and salt in a bowl and whisk together well. Drizzle in the olive oil, a little at a time, whisking like crazy as you do so that the mixture emulsifies.

When all the oil has been added, stir in the fresh herbs and ground pepper. Taste and adjust the flavorings with a little more oil, vinegar, salt or herbs and pepper, if desired.

This will probably be enough dressing for a few meals, as you will need only a tablespoon or two for an individual salad. Makes about 3/4 cup.

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.

Homemade Bagels: So Worth It!

I know it might be hard to believe, but there was a time when the only place a person could buy a decent bagel was in a big city kosher bakery. I had never even heard of a bagelsbagel until I was seventeen and the grocery store on Cape Cod where I was a cashier began carrying the frozen Lenders version at the request of summer people from places like Boston and New York City.

I was still a bagel neophyte when, a few years later, my college boyfriend took me home to meet his Brooklyn-born parents. They decided I was definitely not the girl for their son when I turned up my nose at lox and cream cheese and requested mayonnaise for the bagel from which I was scraping away the poppy seeds.

Now I eat bagels – with cream cheese – at least once a week. I buy them by the dozen from The Works Cafe in Concord, cut them in half, throw them in the freezer, then pop them in the toaster as needed, and they’re wonderful. But one day recently we ran out of our frozen stock and, because I wasn’t planning to make a trip to Concord any time soon, I decided to try making my own.

Making good bagels at home, it turns out, is a little more complicated than making a good loaf of bread at home. First of all, the dough, which is stiffer than regular bread dough, has to be kneaded for a long time to properly activate the gluten in it. And because the dough begins with a “sponge” (a loose mixture of flour, water and yeast), and because bagels have to spend the night in the refrigerator to ferment and develop the best flavor, you’ll need to start a day ahead of time. Furthermore, the bagels have to be boiled before being baked to set the gluten in the crust, which makes the finished product shiny and crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside. Continue reading

Fondue: A Primer

Tips for perfect fondue and three recipes: Cheese, Chocolate and Breakfast

Sometimes a recipe that seems easy turns out to be vexingly difficult to pull off. Cheese fondue is a case in point. The list of ingredients couldn’t be simpler – not much more than cheese fondue over candlewine and cheese. When it’s well done, fondue is a memorable dish – its smooth texture, comforting warmth and rich flavors perfectly balanced by crusty bread and crunchy vegetables. Continue reading