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.

Recipes that you and your gut flora will love

Yesterday, I wrote about all the amazing things the trillions of symbiotic microbes that live in our guts do for us. If we want to keep them happy, we need to feed them lots of complex carbohydrates, mostly in the form of whole plant foods. Here are some recipes I took to the farmers markets last week for my gut flora talk. Folks gobbled them up, and I’m guessing so did their microbes.

  • Try to incorporate whole grains and new kinds of grains into your meals. Add in lots of fresh herbs and spices for added phytonutrients. Use unfiltered extra virgin olive oil – it has more antioxidants and keeps longer without going rancid than filtered olive oil – and work in kefir or yogurt for their nutrition as well as their ability to lighten dough and keep it moist once cooked. Here’s a recipe that does all that.

 Herbed Whole Grain and Kefir Flat Breads

  • 2⅓ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (also called besan)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs (I used cinnamon basil, parsley, garlic chives and dill)
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup kefir or plain yogurt

Combine all the ingredients, except the oil and the kefir, in a large bowl and toss to combine well. Drizzle in the oil and toss the mixture lightly to disperse it through the mixture. Pour in the kefir or yogurt and mix in well with your hands.

When well combined, turn out onto the counter and knead well for a few minutes. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for 1/2 hour or more before rolling out and cooking.

When ready to cook, sprinkle a little flour on the counter and roll the balls out into thin rounds about 6 inches in diameter. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium high heat and cook the breads as you continue rolling.

Cook the breads on one side for a few minutes until small bubbles begin to appear in the surface of the bread. Flip the bread and continue cooking a minute or two. The bubbles should puff up a bit and the bottom will also have several small rounds of brown.

Stack the breads on a plate as you cook them – this will keep them moist. Serve as you go, or when all the breads are cooked. They can be cooled in the stack then covered with plastic and refrigerated for a day or two before serving. Reheat on the skillet or allow to come to room temperature before eating.

  • Eat lots of fresh greens. One way to do this is by turning herbs into sauces to liven up other foods. Check out Indian cookbooks for many such recipes – this mint and cilantro and hot pepper recipe is very common in many parts of India.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney

  • 2 cups mint leaves
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 hot green peppers, such as jalapenos, seeded and chopped (leave in seeds if you want this very spicy)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a chunky puree. Taste for seasonings and add more of any of the seasonings as desired. This will keep, sealed in a jar in the refrigerator for several days.

  • Kamut is an ancient form of wheat from Egypt and is easy to find in grocery stores these days. It stays chewy, even after being soaked and cooked, and adds a lot of body to this Mediterranean style-salad. If you are avoiding wheat of all kinds, simply leave it out.

 Kamut, Feta and Vegetable Salad

  • 2 cups cooked Kamut (follow directions on the package)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 medium chopped cucumber (peel it in stripes, if it’s organic, to leave on a bit of skin)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • good olive oil and vinegar, to taste

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

  • Try to find ways to make desserts that use healthier ingredients. Here, olive oil replaces butter, nutritious ground walnuts replace some of the flour, and oranges and blueberries (you can substitute other nuts and fruits), add vitamins and antioxidants.

Blueberry Walnut Cake

  •  3 eggs
  • grated rind one orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 generous cup walnut pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup white flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if a convection oven). Oil an 8 inch square pan, line with parchment paper, oil the paper, then dust the whole thing with flour. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, then whisk in the orange juice and olive oil. Set aside.

Place the walnut pieces, sugar and orange rind in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the walnut-sugar mixture and whisk until homogenous. Add 1 cup of the blueberries and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula until well combined and there are no large lumps of dry ingredients remaining.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining berries over the top of the cake. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 mins. – 1 hour, turning once so it cooks evenly.

  • Use local ingredients with short shelf lives as they become available. Yellow Transparent Apples are a tart heirloom variety good for eating and cooking that ripens in August at the same time as mulberries – a sweet, nutritious, dark purple berry that grows on a tree. Both are perishable, which means they’re hard to find even at farmer’s markets. Pick them yourself when you can find them – they’re a summer treat that you will never find in winter. And if you can’t find them, simply substitute another tart cooking apple and whatever berry is available, including frozen ones (just don’t thaw them before adding them to the apples).

Transparent Yellow Apple and Mulberry Oat Crumble

For the Oat Crumble:

  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup whole rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 2 sticks cool unsalted butter cut into chunks (plus a little more for the pan)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar

Put the oat flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and one stick of butter chunks in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, until the mixture is crumbly with some chunks about the size of a pea. Put the mixture into a large bowl.

Put the whole rolled oats, the other stick of butter chunks and the other teaspoon of cinnamon into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until the mixture begins to come together into loose clumps – don’t over-process. Add the mixture to the mixture in the bowl.

Add the sugar and the pinch of salt to the bowl. Toss with your fingers, until the mixture takes a chunky crumble texture. Place in the refrigerator or a cool spot until the filling is ready.

For the filling:

  • 2 pounds Yellow Transparent or other tart summer apple (2½ pounds if organic and in need of a lot of trimming), peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
  • 3 cups fresh mulberries or raspberries
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup light summer honey

1/4 cup of Oat Crumble (removed from the completed crumble recipe)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 if a convection oven). Butter a 13 x 8 inch oval baking dish (you may also use a rectangular dish of a similar size).

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining crumble evenly over the top of the fruit.

Place in the oven and bake, turning once or twice so the crumble browns evenly. The crumble is done when the crumble is golden and the fruit bubbling in the center.

Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving to set the syrup in the fruit filling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

  •  Soba Noodles are made of buckwheat, and sometimes buckwheat with a little bit of wheat. If you are gluten intolerant, be sure to buy only noodles that are 100% buckwheat. They come in packages with single servings divided out with a paper wrapper. They are often served tossed with sesame oil, chilled and with a variety of toppings.

 Soba Noodles with Toppings

  • Soba noodles, cooked (follow package instructions) one bunch per person, rinsed with cold water and tossed with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking
  • Kimchi
  • cucumbers mixed with a little grated ginger, vinegar, and salt
  • fresh tomatoes chopped and mixed with a little sesame oil, chopped scallions and salt

Place noodles into bowls and then allow diners to top them as desired.

  • Cut back on your meat consumption by mixing meat with grains and vegetables. Here, ground beef is mixed with a quinoa pilaf to make meatballs that are then cooked in a roasted carrot and tomato sauce.

Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
olive oil
  • 1 quart water or stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Clean the carrots and trim them of the leaf end and spindly root end. Cut into pieces that are 3 or 4 inches in length. Toss with a little olive oil and place on a baking sheet and put into preheated oven. Bake for about 1 hour, until tender.

At the same time, cut tomatoes into even pieces and toss in olive oil and bake in the same way as the carrots.

When both are tender, remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Place in batches in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Set aside.

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil heated in a large skillet until translucent, then add the pureed carrots and tomatoes. Add the water or stock, basil and salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 1/2 hour or so, then remove from heat and either use immediately or cool be before using. It may be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 4 months.

 Beef and Quinoa Meatballs in Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white quinoa
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 recipe roast tomato and carrot sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until softened. Add the quinoa and saute for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and glossy. Remove from heat and cool.

When cooled, mix with the ground beef, cumin and salt and pepper. Form into small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.

Brown the meatballs in a large skillet in batches if necessary to prevent crowding. When all the meatballs have been browned, put them back into the pan and add the sauce. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. The quinoa will have expanded and the “tails” turned white.

Serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature.

Raspberries

gold and red raspberries and beets

gold and red raspberries and beets

We have gone netting-mad at our place this summer, covering all the small fruits with
white, fine-mesh shrouds that actually keep out Japanese beetles and stink bugs, as well as the birds. Which means that in spite of the fungus-encouraging rain, we have more decent raspberries at the moment than we have ever had in years past.

I am a lover of home-made raspberry jam, and so that’s where most of my berries go, especially the ones that are a little too imperfect to eat whole and fresh. Nothing makes the bleak month of February bleaker than to open the cupboard and find all the raspberry jam is gone, so this year, I am making gallons.

I used to believe the raspberry was one of those fruits that, unlike the pear, apple, quince and rhubarb, wasn’t really suited as an ingredient in savory dishes. I suspect I was prejudiced by my early training as a cook in the 1980s, when dishes like vanilla flavored lobster were all the rage. Back then, raspberry vinegar was A Thing, and most of it, I suspect, was pretty bad quality white vinegar hopped up on red food coloring and artificial flavoring. I get queasy just thinking of the stuff.

I’ve changed my mind though, because now that I have my own raspberry patch and can make my own raspberry vinegar, I can taste the merits of good raspberry vinegar. I just got back from the Charlevoix region of Quebec, and brought back some wonderful free-range Mulard duck breasts. Seared then slow roasted, they were the perfect foil to a Raspberry Agrodolce. Agrodolce means “sour-sweet” in Italian, and is the general term for a sauce made with caramelized sugar, vinegar and fruit. It’s simple to make and a useful technique to know, because it goes together quickly and is suited to any fruit in season.

Everything in the Garden Salad July

Everything in the Garden Salad July

I’ve also been serving the nicest raspberries in my Everything in the Garden Salads. As the
name says, the ingredients depend on what happens to be fresh and ready to eat in the garden. I simply wash things that need it, do a little chopping or peeling, and then arrange the ingredients in a still life on a plate. Served with good olive oil and vinegar on the side, or a little dish of vinaigrette for dipping, I like to eat these salads with my fingers, savoring the colors on the plate and the mix and match of flavors. Children love eating this way, too, which is why children are always welcome at my table.

raspberry nut scone

raspberry nut scone

And finally, I’ve devised a new scone recipe that takes advantage of the juiciness of raspberries to dispense with a lot of the fat that goes into most scone recipes. I’ve replaced the butter with almond oil, which is easy to find these days in grocery stores. Walnut or hazelnut oil would work well, too, just make sure whatever you buy is fresh, expeller-pressed and only lightly refined (refining makes an oil heatproof, but takes out all the flavor). Keep open nut oils in the refrigerator or they will go rancid; they are delicious in salad dressings. In a pinch you can replace the nut oil with vegetable oil. Just be sure to handle this dough lightly, as it is soft and sticky and will become tough if kneaded.

Raspberry Nut Scones

  •  3 cups flour
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup almond or other nut oil, or regular cooking oil
  • 1 generous cup raspberries (fresh or frozen but not thawed)
  • 1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a half sheet-tray with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, walnuts, baking powder, baking soda and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the oil and pulse several times until it is evenly distributed in the dry ingredients.

Put the mixture into a large bowl. Add the raspberries and toss gently to distribute them in the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the buttermilk and toss the mixture gently with your fingertips, just until the mixture begins to come together. Depending on how juicy the berries are, you may or may not need to use all the buttermilk. If necessary, add the rest of the buttermilk to moisten any dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl.

Gently pat the mixture together into a ball – do not knead; the dough will be quite soft. Sprinkle a countertop generously with flour, place the ball of dough on it, then pat the mixture into a rectangle about 6 inches by 9 inches. If the dough sticks, slide a spatula under it to loosen and sprinkle a little more flour on the counter. Sprinkle the top of the rectangle evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and press the sugar gently so it adheres to the surface of the dough.

Using a large, sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the rectangle in half the long way, into two 3 inch by 9 inch pieces. Cut these in thirds, into six 3 inch by 3 inch squares. Cut these in half diagonally, into 12 triangles.

Use a spatula to lift the triangles on to the parchment lined sheet-tray, leaving a bit of space between scones. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning once so the scones brown evenly. They are done when golden brown on the bottom and around the edges and they are no longer soft to the touch in the center but spring back a bit. Try not to over-bake.

Allow the scones to cool for a few minutes before serving warm, with butter and jam, if desired.

Raspberry Agrodolce

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons good quality fruit-based vinegar, such as Spanish sherry vinegar or good apple cider vinegar
  • 2 minced shallots or small early summer onions or scallions (if using early onions or scallions, use both the white and the green parts)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or other herbs (mint and purple basil are both good)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the sugar and vinegar in a small non-reactive skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, then add the minced shallots. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens a bit and becomes syrupy.

Add the minced herbs, the raspberries and the salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the raspberries disintegrate and the mixture thickens a little.

The sauce can be served as is, seeds and all. However, if you don’t like raspberry seeds, you may press the mixture through a sieve to remove some or all of them. Taste for seasonings before serving and add more salt and pepper and possibly a little vinegar if you like.

Serve warm or hot with grilled meat. This is particularly delicious with rich meats, such as duck breast or foie gras.

Makes about 2 cups unstrained, about 1 cup strained.

Everything in the Garden Salad

Pick what is freshest, and place a tiny bit of each thing on the plate. Serve oil and vinegar or dipping dishes of vinaigrette on the side. The salad illustrated here includes:

  • grated white beets with lemon juice and tarragon
  • sliced Chioggia beets
  • purslane
  • dill blossoms
  • parsley
  • spearmint
  • nasturtium flowers and leaves
  • golden Anna raspberries
  • Purple Royalty raspberries
  • ribbons of purple shiso
  • Sun Gold tomatoes
  • Black Krim tomatoes
  • sliced raw fennel

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.

Beet Recipes

March is the month when gardeners begin starting seeds inside and eating the last of the vegetables stored in their root cellars. They’re called “root” cellars for a reason, because roots, like carrots, rutabagas, storage radishes (such as daikon) and beets, are what keep there best.

This is because most root vegetables are designed for a winter of storage below ground. They’re biennials; that is, they live for two years. The first season, they turn out leaves above ground for photosynthesis, and large swollen tubers below ground in which to store energy for the following year. If left in place or replanted in spring, these tubers would send up flowers in their second year of growth, go to seed, and, having reproduced successfully, die.

At the end of the winter, stored root vegetables have a remarkable ability to tell that their second growing season is approaching. They sprout new leaves and use up their stored sugars, going limp and bitter. It’s time to use them up and seed in new plantings.

Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables, sweet enough to moisten a cake, yet full of antioxidants and folates, B vitamins and potassium. Raw grated beets tossed with lemon juice and olive oil make a great salad; roasted beets are delicious tossed with butter and dill, or in one of these recipes:

Beet Hummus

Beet Hummus

Borscht

Borscht

Spicy Beet Soup with Turmeric Rice

Spicy Beet Soup with Turmeric Rice

Beet Tzatziki

Beet Tzatziki

Warm Winter Salads

In winter, when our cold-weary bodies are craving warm, filling food, digging in to a big plate of chilly salad greens might not hold much appeal. It’s easy, though, to turn winter greens into a satisfying hot meal. Here are three recipes that do just that. Continue reading