Friday, August 26, 2011

Hops Harvest 2011

Picking hops by lamplight, August 2011.
One day last week I got a message from my friend Jared inviting us to the "Hops Harvest" that evening.  Jared's message said that there was home-brewed beer on tap, fresh zucchini bread, and live entertainment in the form of mandolin music played by his wife Amy.  My husband was already on his way home from the office, so there was no time to ask his opinion.  (I refuse to call him on his cell phone when I know he's driving.) Luckily, I was pretty sure he'd like the idea so I called Jared to let him know we were coming and set our plan in motion.  Early dinner for children-- check.  Early baths for children-- check.  Packing up our homemade oatmeal bars and chocolate-covered orange peel to share with friends-- check.

When my husband walked in the door he was confronted with three excited faces urging him to quickly eat his dinner so we could head out on our surprise.  He looked so concerned that I ended up spilling the beans in one giant breath, "we'vebeeninvitedtoamyandjared'shouseforthehopsharvest! COME ON, LET'S GO!"  He still seemed a little confused, but ready and willing.  

Jared harvests hop vines, 2011.
We had no idea what to expect from a hops harvest.  I watched Jared harvest hops last year and it was a one-man operation.  I knew that the hops had been growing like gangbusters this year and couldn't wait to see what was going on at Wiseacre Farms (otherwise known as Amy and Jared's house.)  The girls had no idea what hops were, but they were thrilled to be out at night, knowing that they'd get to stay up long past their bedtime.  As it turns out, harvesting hops is fun... and a little sticky.

By the time we got to Wiseacre Farms, Jared had already cut down most of the hop vines.  This was good because they're pretty unwieldy.  The leaves are prickly, like blackberry leaves, but there are no thorns on the vines themselves.  The hop buds are the part you need for making beer-- they're little green cones, but they aren't hard like pine cones.  Technically they're flowers and they're part of the cannabis family.  Inside the "petals" of the hop flower are little bits of sticky stuff called lupulin-- that's the part that gives the beer it's bitter taste.  From what I understand, the bitterness of the hop balance out the sweetness of the malt.  I can't tell you exactly what the hops taste like (I've never had beer WITHOUT hops), but I can tell you that they smell fresh and green and lovely.

We all had a great time at the hops harvest and we were proud to see the bucket of hops almost completely full by the time we left.  Jared later told me that he ended up with 19 ounces of dried hops.  When we were on the way home, my youngest daughter said, "We have to do that again.  I want to do that AGAIN!"  I promised her we would.  Next year.
Bucket of hops at the end of the harvest, August 2011.



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mary Ann's Delicious Banana Bread

My first attempt at making Mary Ann's Banana Bread, August 2011.
I thought I'd follow up Friday's Sunday Dinner Questionnaire with Mary Ann Taylor with another post about her amazing cooking.  I still haven't gotten around to making her Granny Rosie's Lemon Poundcake, but I did make Mary Ann's banana bread and it was delicious.

I make a lot of banana bread around my house and I have a pretty good recipe that I adapted from a zucchini bread recipe.  (I'll post that some other day.)  The problem is that I once made the mistake of putting chocolate chips in it instead of the pecans I normally use.  I like chocolate *almost* as much as the next person, but I don't always want it in my banana bread and neither does my husband.  Whenever I tried to make it without the chocolate chip, the girls complained.  But when I told them I was trying a NEW recipe-- one that came from "Daddy's friend Mary Ann"... well, that was fine with them.  Mission Number One accomplished.

Another great thing about Mary Ann's banana bread is that it only makes one loaf, so it's easier to make if you have less ripe bananas (and less energy to deal with the larger quantity of batter).  Mary Ann suggested using previously frozen bananas in her recipe, which is something I regularly do myself.  Any time I see a banana getting "too ripe", I peel it, mash it up, and pop it into a designated "mashed banana" container in the freezer.  When the container gets full, I know it's time to make banana bread.

But perhaps the best part of Mary Ann's banana bread is that it uses a half cup of butter.  My recipe uses a combination of canola oil and butter... or canola oil and applesauce, depending on how healthy I want to be that day.  I have to say, nothing beats butter.

If I haven't already given you enough reasons to try Mary Ann's recipe for banana bread, try this.  My girls ate it up for dessert, even without the chocolate chips, and my husband declared it "fantastic".  I agree.

Mary Ann Taylor's Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour 
  • 3 large or 4 regular sized bananas (either fresh or previously frozen.)  See note below for freezing instructions.
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:

  • With electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and eggs.
  • Add four and vanilla.
  • Stir in bananas, then add pecans.
  • Pour into greased loaf pan or muffin tins.
  • Bake at 350 degrees.  Loaf bread takes 45 to 50 minutes.  Muffins take about 25 to 30 minutes.

Notes:
I wait until bananas turn spotty and then I freeze them.  Frozen bananas will keep in the freezer for about 3 to 4 months.  I stick them in the microwave for about 30 seconds or just set them out to thaw.  Peel away the peelings and all brown spots.  The defrosted bananas will make the bread moist.

This recipe works just as well with all-purpose flour as it does with self-rising flour.  If baking with all-purpose flour instead of self-rising flour, add 1 teaspoon each of salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: Mary Ann Taylor

I've been hearing about Mary Ann Taylor for some time now.  My husband has been working with her on a television show called Rocket City Rednecks, which will start airing on National Geographic in mid-September.  Listening to my husband's stories about Mary Ann's incredible Southern cooking with great interest and more than a little jealousy.  After all, I'm the one from the South and although my husband SEEMED to appreciate Mary Ann's cooking, I felt that it really would be better if I got to try it myself.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Mary Ann and she was as lovely and kind as I'd been told.  I didn't get to try her cooking... yet... but she was gracious enough to send me her recipes for biscuits and banana bread.  I'm still looking for White Lily flour so I can make the biscuits.  I did, however, try her recipe for banana bread and it was a huge hit with my family.  (More on that in another post.)

Until then, I hope you'll enjoy Mary Ann Taylor's Sunday Dinner Questionnaire.  Be sure to check out her recipe for her Granny Rosie's Lemon Pound Cake following the questionnaire.  The addition of apricot nectar is quite intriguing.  Reading Mary Ann's response to the question about her favorite food has inspired me to make fried potatoes for dinner.  I'm hungry already!
Photo courtesy Mary Ann Taylor, 2011.

The Official Sunday Dinner Questionnaire

1.  What is your favorite food to eat?
Fried potatoes and I don’t mean French fries. Potatoes cut into large squares and fried in bacon drippings are wonderful. But if you fry them in a little olive oil and add a slice of ham to the skillet while they are cooking—it’s better than wonderful.


 Why?
I guess it’s my southern heritage. I was raised on fried potatoes. Often it was the main course when I was growing up.

2.  What is your favorite food to cook?  
I don’t have just one favorite food to cook. I just like cooking any and everything. But I do like baking deserts and breads.


How often and under what circumstances do you make it?
There is something baked in my kitchen most all the time, a pound cake, or banana bread, biscuits.

3.  Who or what is your greatest culinary influence?  Why is he/she/it an
inspiration to you?
I’d have to say my Granny Rosie. She cooked simple foods. To this day, family members speak of her lemon pound cake. But most of all, granny let me experiment or do what ever I wanted to do in her kitchen. I baked my first pan of cornbread when I was five.

4.  What is your favorite kitchen utensil and why do you love it?
I know the coffee pot is not a kitchen utensil, but I couldn’t live without it!  Other things of importance are my electric mixer, my knives and my well-worn cutting board. Without them I’d be lost.

5.  What did you eat for dinner this past weekend?
Wow! It was a big meal. My granddaughter left for college this weekend and the family cooked all her favorite foods. To name a few: ham slow-cooked all day on a smoker, baked chicken, hot dogs for the little ones, fried apples, tater-tot casserole, veggie casserole, green beans, cookie dough cake, chocolate chip cheese cake, and red and yellow watermelon.

6.  When you were growing up, did you eat Sunday dinner or another meal that brought your friends and family together on a regular basis?  If so, what did you eat?
When I was growing up our Sunday dinners (the meal in the middle of the day) consisted of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits. Later when my boys were growing up, at the evening meal, we ate finger foods made kind-a special. We’d gang up around the TV with our plates, and munch while we watch a family movie together.

7.  Do you have a garden?  If so, what do you grow in it?
Charles and I used to raise a garden. One of my fondest memories about gardening was the year we grew cucumbers on a fence. Boy did we ever yield long cucumbers.  My garden today consists of weeds in the flower beds.

8.  What is your ultimate food fantasy?
A good cup of coffee and chocolate of any kind.

9.  If you could choose to have any person living or dead prepare a meal for you, who would it be?  What would you want to eat?
My mother-in-law; she loved cooking for family as much as I do. She knew everyone’s favorite dishes and cooked them the old fashioned way. I liked her fried green tomatoes mixed with okra and yellow squash; and my mama’s purple hull peas fresh from the garden.

10.  Fill in the blank:  "The most important element of a good meal is family and friends."

Granny Rosie’s Lemon Pound Cake
by Mary Ann Taylor

Ingredients for Cake:
  • 1 box lemon cake mix
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup apricot nectar
Instructions for Cake:
  • With an electric mixer: Mix all ingredients until creamy.
  • Pour into a greased tube cake pan. I like to use canola spray to grease baking pans.
  • Bake 350º for about 45 minutes.
  • Let cake set in pan for a couple of minutes and the turn out onto serving dish.
  • While the cake is cooling prepare the icing.
Ingredients and Instructions for Icing:
  • Mix juice of two lemons with powder sugar to make a mixture. Drizzle over warm cake.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What To Do with Fresh Eggs

Farm fresh eggs on our kitchen table, Aug. 2011.
My husband recently came home with a dozen farm fresh eggs-- eggs so beautiful that I took a photo of them in their carton.  I felt I needed to do something special with such delicious raw material so I scoured the stack of cookbooks cluttering my desk for egg-worthy recipes.

In the end, I decided to make Luxury Scrambled Eggs from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper.  I chose this recipe not only because it made the eggs the star of the show, but also because the recipe calls for a lot of cream cheese-- an ingredient we always have on hand in abundance.  The resulting scrambled eggs were decadent and delicious.  In fact, they were so delicious that I forgot to take a photograph of them.  Perhaps that's a testament to how amazing they were.  And to the fact that I detest cold scrambled eggs.

I used up the rest of the eggs in the next few days to make corn pudding, banana bread, and a batch of oatmeal bars.  (I'll be posting the recipes in the coming days.)  In the meantime, if anyone out there has a great egg recipe that is made even better with farm-fresh eggs, I'd love to hear about it.  Of course, I know every recipe is better with fresh ingredients, but I'm looking for recipes that really showcase the eggs so I'll be ready the next time my husband returns home with a dozen fresh eggs tucked under his arm.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Fruits of My Mother's Labor

My mom's canned tomaotes and sweet pickles, 2011.
I thought I was having a pretty productive day until I got a photo from my mother showing me her freshly canned tomatoes and sweet pickles.  I comfort myself by remembering that the pickles took longer than a day to make and canning them is really the easy part. (Of course, she's been working hard for the past two weeks to make them, but that's another story.)

My mom told me last night on the phone that she  canned nine quarts of tomatoes yesterday-- tomatoes that my parents grew themselves.  I haven't had enough tomatoes at one time to make a decent salad, much less can any.  Clearly, my mother hasn't finished canning.  The pyrex bowl of ripe tomatoes I see in the photo are probably occupying her time this afternoon.

I have no hope of canning my own tomatoes this year and I slacked off on the pickles as well.  I still have some left over from last year and in spite of the fact that my mother says they're not as good after the first year, my family will still be eating them.  In defense of my laziness, I did look for my favorite Japanese Short cucumbers at the farmer's market.  In fact, I looked for them at SEVERAL farmer's markets and I could never find cucumbers that seemed worthy of all the effort it takes to make sweet pickles.

In honor of my mother, I am re-posting a link to my mother's recipe for sweet pickles, along with the hero shot of last year's triumph.  Luckily, I suspect it's too late to buy Japanese Shorts or I just might be tempted to start a fresh batch of pickles...
My first batch of homemade sweet pickles, 2010.


Friday, August 12, 2011

High Summer Crop Report

Corn crop at a stand-still in our garden, August 2011.
Summer has not been kind to our garden this year.  We've had weird weather this season-- first very overcast, then blisteringly hot for a brief period of time, now overcast again.  The fact that I neglected to water it during the crucial beginning stages certainly didn't help matters either.  As a result, the corn crop is still only a foot high and the tomatoes harvest has slowed to about one ripe tomato a week.  I'm not sure what's happening, I think our garden has given up.  I had such high hopes during the spring.  We'd planted such a potential bounty of vegetables and now we're down to a very spare harvest.

We have lots of strawberry plants, but very few strawberries.  (And yes, we did fertilize several times.)  The watercress finally died-- admittedly after weeks of neglect. Throughout the summer, we ate a handful of green beans and a few onions.  The lettuce bolted over a month ago and the swiss chard never did much.

In spite of the sad state of affairs, a few plants are still hanging in there-- herbs mostly-- and the citrus just won't stop.  We've been harvesting grapefruit for months and the new green fruit are growing larger on our tiny tree every day.  
Grapefruit growing larger every day in our garden, August 2011.
The oranges are growing too.  In fact, we figured out so late in the season that our horribly tart oranges had actually ripened into sweet mature fruit that there are still plenty of ripe oranges hanging alongside their small, green, and much younger sisters and brothers.  The squirrels love this tree too.  There's a giant nest growing at the top of the tree which we don't have the heart to demolish.  After all, there's enough fruit to go around and they don't seem to be causing any trouble.

When I was a little girl my favorite book was about a squirrel named Suzy who was driven from her beloved treetop nest by a gang of nasty red squirrels.   Miss Suzy moves into a neglected dollhouse she discovers when she flees her home.  Much to her dismay, she discovers that a band of unruly toy soldiers live in the dollhouse.  They just don't take care of it.  Miss Suzy makes the best of the situation by putting the dollhouse in order again for the toy soldiers.  But she isn't happy cooking and cleaning for the toy soldiers and wants her own little nest back again.  The toy soldiers are so grateful for everything she's done for them that they kick the nasty red squirrels out of her nest and she's able to go back home again.

This story certainly isn't very PC, but I don't care.  I sympathize with Miss Suzy (and I always have).  I love her treetop home full of tiny, well-ordered objects-- especially the acorn-top cups and the the twig broom she uses to clean her nest.  I know the squirrels in our yard aren't nearly as tidy or polite as Miss Suzy, but I don't have the heart to kick them out of their home.

I can't decide if having a squirrel's nest in our orange tree is the ultimate sign of neglect or a sign that there's room for all in our garden.  I can only say that it makes me happy to see it up there.
The family home of the squirrels who have taken up residence in our orange tree, August 2011.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tomato Corn Soup

Jared's tomatoes in our yard, Aug. 2011.
My oldest daughter always enjoys a visit to see our neighbors Amy and Jared, so when she found out that I was taking a quick trip to their house to pick up some tomatoes, she begged me to let her come with me. I knew that Jared had things to do that evening, but he'd called the previous day to say he was overrun with tomatoes and "couldn't take it anymore".  This was music to my ears.

Our tomato crop has been terrible this year.  I suspect it was the month of neglect just as they were getting started that did them in.  Whatever it was, it seems too late for them now and I was very excited to be the recipient of Jared's crop overage.  That evening I made a delicious tomato-fresh mozzarella-basil salad, but I saved the real treat for the following night-- Fresh Tomato Corn Soup.

I made this soup the first time I ever cooked for my husband.  What I didn't know at the time was that he hated soup.  Luckily, this state of affairs has changed over the years, due in no small part to this recipe, which comes from the book Recipes from a Kitchen Garden.  Sadly, the recipe isn't posted online, but it's worth buying the book for this recipe alone.  It's a simple soup-- tomato, corn, basil, thyme, dill, chicken stock.  You get the idea.
Tomato Corn Soup with Olive Bread, August 4, 2011.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recipes from Mt. Washington

Sunday dinner at Daniel's house in Mt. Washington, late July 2011.
If you've already read the original post about my Sunday Dinner in Mt. Washington, then you already know that my friend Daniel served up a whopping good meal this past Sunday.  When he first gave me recipes from that meal he only sent the recipe for the main course-- Albacore in Pappiette with Caprese Salsa.  But to my delight, I opened up my e-mail this morning and found several new recipes from our dinner together.

Thanks, Daniel for the new recipes.  I still maintain that I cannot replicate the polenta recipe that you remember so vividly (see below), but perhaps I will launch a new campaign to figure it out.  As I remember, the problem was that I could never again get the consistency of the polenta just right-- it either came out too crumbly or too wet, which made it stick to the pan and fall apart when picked up.

Walnuts and Gorgonzola
by Daniel Marlos

I had good gorgonzola cheese at room temperature, but alas, no bread.  I remembered my nut canister, and a marvelous polenta recipe Susan Lutz served many years ago.  The polenta was baked and topped with   gorgonzola, walnuts and shallots.  Whenever I pine for that recipe, Susan claims to have lost it and says she cannot recreate it.  I knew I had walnuts in the nut canister, and decided that they would be the
perfect vehicle for the gorgonzola.  Simply spread softened gorgonzola cheese on walnut halves and eat.  Yummy.

Summer Salad
by Daniel Marlos
Daniel's Summer Salad, late July 2011.




It's summer, and the lettuce has bolted, but the tomatoes are beginning to ripen on the vines.  Summer Salads tend to be a little more substantial than the leafy winter and spring salads.  You can vary ingredients and amounts, but here is the recipe for the summer salad I served Sunday.

Ingredients:
  • 3 to 4 medium sized Heirloom tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Lime infused olive oil (plain extra-virgin olive oil is also fine)
  • Two Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 2 fresh small onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup watercress, freshly picked and loosely packed
Instructions:
  • Toss the tomatoes with salt, pepper, and olive oil and allow them to marinate.  Two close Italian friends, John from Alberini's in Niles, Ohio and Loredana, both agree that when you make a salad that is heavy on tomatoes, you don't add vinegar since the tomatoes are already acidic.
  • Top tomatoes with sliced Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced onions, and sprigs of watercress.
  • Just prior to serving, toss entire salad again.  
  • Serve balsamic vinegar on the side.  Garlic may also be added with salt and pepper.
Braised Asparagus
I cannot take credit for the Braised Asparagus recipe.  CookThink has this marvelous recipe.
Braised Asparagus prepared by Daniel, late July 2011.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sunday Dinner in Mt. Washington

I had a great Sunday dinner experience at the home of my friend Daniel this past week.  Not only was the food delicious, but I had the chance to meet someone new-- Daniel's friend Elizabeth Preger.  Elizabeth was not only a very charming dinner companion, she was also a stunning model.  Here she is collecting watercress for our salad... or at least posing with Daniel's scarecrow after collecting watercress for our salad.
Elizabeth and her freshly picked watercress, July 31, 2011.




Our Sunday dinner started off with an appetizer of walnuts with gorgonzola cheese, which was an ode to an appetizer I made for Daniel many years ago.  It was followed by a summer salad of tomatoes, persian cucumbers, onions and watercress.  Everything except the cucumbers came from his garden and the watercress was freshly picked, as you can see.

The main course was tuna in a tomato sauce that Daniel elegantly refers to as "Albacore in Pappiette with Caprese Salsa".  To make the sauce, Daniel utilized a process that he calls "salsifying".   This is not to be confused with the plant "salsify", although I suppose you might be able to use salsify when you salsify something.  In Daniel's case, "salsify" refers to the process of turning a set of ingredients into a salsa-like sauce.

No matter what you call it, it's delicious.  Thanks, Daniel, for the meal and the recipe.
Sunday Dinner at Daniel's house, July 31, 2011.

Albacore in Pappiette with Caprese Salsa
by Daniel Marlos
Opened Pappiette, July 2011.

Ingredients:
  • Parchment paper
  • 1 pound of 1-inch thick albacore steak cut into three equal portions
  • ½ stick of butter
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 green onions, choppped including greens
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Parsley hopped
  • Capers in salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 big, hard, black olives for garnish
Instructions:
  • Pre-fold three pieces of parchment paper into Pappiette.
  • Boil tomatoes until skin splits.  
  • Remove skin of tomatoes once they have cooled.  
  • Salsify the tomatoes until they are a chunky puree.  Reduce to 2/3 original consistency over low flame.
  • Melt Butter and brush onto the lower and upper surface of the prefolded parchment paper, only the part that will come into contact with the fish.
  • Place an albacore steak on the bottom surface of the parchment paper on top of the butter.
  • Drizzle 1/3 olive oil on each steak.
  • Mix vinegar and onions.  Put 1/3 on top of each steak.
  • Top with  ½ teaspoon capers on each steak.
  • Salt and pepper fish to taste.
  • Top with basil and parsley to taste.  
  • Finish by topping with generous spoons of Salsa Caprese or Pureed Roma Tomatoes.  
  • Garnish with Black Olive and fold pappiette.  Double fold sides to make a steam tight envelope.  
  • Brush with olive oil and place in 500º oven for 10-12 minutes.
  • Serve with Summer Tomato Salad and Braised Asparagus  (recipes to follow).