Archive for July, 2010

Plucky has been getting very picky.  Picky… Picky…. Picky…   Why?  I went back to the farm where it is peach-pickin’ heaven.

Yes, my hands and the steering wheel of my car are covered with peach fuzz from these beautiful orbs of Prunus persica. I went for a second trip to the Lee’s farm and spent a few more idyllic minutes meandering through their peach orchards–picking bucket in hand. If you’ve never stood underneath a tree full of ripened peaches, I highly recommend it. The smell is positively divine and the simple pleasure of twisting each fruit off its branch will sooth the soul and de-jangle the nerves.  There are no cell phones out in the orchards my friend. Just you and the sound of the farm sprinkler off in the distance.

So what does one do with all those peaches? Let me count the ways…

One of the things I did was revert back to my childhood and home canned a few peaches. By the time I was done, the kitchen was totally trashed. The floor was a bit sticky but the dogs happily did their part in keeping up with the drips. The humidity level was on a par with the weather outside. But what the heck? I actually did it. All by myself. Mom would be so proud.

Naturally, I had to save a few peaches for my favorite dessert. It isn’t summer (or my birthday) without a refrigerator peach pie. I LOVE this pie. My mother got the recipe from my Aunt Joan more than 30 years ago. I requested this pie in lieu of my birthday cake.

Let them eat cake… I want this pie.

Fresh Peach Pie

9-inch graham cracker crust (recipe follows)

1 quart peaches, peeled and sliced
Stir in 3/4 cup granulated sugar and let macerate for an hour. You want the peaches and the juice for the next step.

Dissolve 1 package Knox brand unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup COLD water.
When gelatin is dissolved, add 1/4 cup HOT water. Stir to mix. Pour into peaches. Set bowl into refrigerator. Watch carefully as the peach mixture starts to set. Once it begins to thicken (15-30 minutes), pour into your prepared graham cracker pie crust. Chill pie for 6-8 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust
16-18 graham crackers, crushed (or 1 1/3 cup boxed crumbs)
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine ingredients and pack firmly into bottom and sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake in 350-degree oven for 8 minutes. Chill before adding filling.

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Aren’t these babies beautiful?  I wish you could taste them.

I have been flogging my way through the cookbook project this week. When my head and shoulders began buzzing in too-much-time-at-the-computer pain, I decided it was time for a break.

I am on a list to get marketing emails from a local farm near my home. (Yes, we actually still have farms here in New Jersey! That’s why they call us the Garden State.) I succumbed to the Jersey Fresh marketing temptation. Time for a road trip!

I became acquainted with the Lee family more than 20 years ago. They’ve been running what is truly a family-owned farm for six generations. Since 1862, the Lee’s have been providing the community with seasonal produce, but they are best known for their turkeys. The old farmhouse, built in 1820 is still used as a family home. The place has deep roots–literally and figuratively! If you live in the area, stop by and say “hi” to Ronny and Janet.  Tell them I sent you.

This month is blackberry nirvana at the Lee’s Farm. Ronny has a row the length of a football field loaded with blackberries in all stages of ripeness. It was difficult to limit myself to just one quart of berries. (I’ll have to go back.)

I brought these gorgeous juicy nuggets home and whipped up a blackberry cobbler. I also loaded up on peaches and cukes. More on that in a later post.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Blackberry Cobbler

1 quart fresh blackberries
3/4 cup sugar
Wash and drain blackberries. Place berries in a deep bowl. Gently mix in the sugar and let macerate for an hour. Pour into 8-inch square baking dish and cover with topping:

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar

Melt butter in microwave, add to remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Cover the top of your berries with mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake in 350-degree oven for 35 minutes until lightly brown. Can serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. If there’s any left over, it’s great for breakfast.

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Did you ever look at a food photo and immediately pull out the KitchenAid mixer? I did yesterday when I saw the recipe for Brownie Bites on the King Arthur Flour website.

Yesterday, I was having a former student over for tea and a long catch-up session. She had completed her first year of college and I needed to hear all about how things went. The last time we got together, I made mini Whoopie Pies. So this time I needed to pull together something fast that would satisfy the chocolate beast within.

As I was surfing, I came upon these little cuties. Don’t you think they turned out great?   And they tasted…. as I was told, “those brownies were ‘bangin’ good, Mom.”

I followed the directions as written on the King Arthur website, EXCEPT I only added a scant tablespoon espresso powder. Don’t leave this out as it complements the Hershey’s–enhancing it to the full measure of its creation. Also, the oinker in me decided to cut them with a 2.5″ cutter. MISTAKE! The rule of fashion applies here: less IS more. These bangin’ brownies are very rich. Cut them with a 1.5″ cutter. Then pour yourself a tall glass of cold milk and wade your way into fudgy chocolate coma. Oh baby!

Bangin’ Good Brownie Bites
Here’s the link to the original recipe on the King Arthur Flour website.

1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups cocoa (I used Hershey’s)
1 scant tablespoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 pan and place a sheet of parchment paper on the bottom and sides of the pan. Lightly grease the paper.

Place the butter in a quart glass measuring cup. Zap in the microwave for a minute or two until melted. Pour into bowl of electric mixer.

Add sugar and stir to combine. Stir in cocoa, espresso powder, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.

Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Do not overmix.

Add flour, chocolate chips and nuts, stir until smooth.

Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake to 28 – 34 minutes until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Remove brownies. Let cool for one hour before cutting. King Arthur indicates that you should yield 38 brownie bites from a 9 x 13 pan. Just before serving, garnish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, a dollop of whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

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Spicy PeppaBites

Wasn’t the Fourth of July just yesterday?!!

Life has been crazy here at Casa de Plucky. I won’t bore you with the details but it involves two very cute dogs with the runs and several deposits to our vet’s bank account.

Before I get into this week’s post, I must tell you the fate of Yukon Jack. He went to the great tuber farm in the sky with several friends as part of a pot roast dish. I would have loved to honor him with a luxurious fry but the poochies have made it a habit to stand at my feet when the cast iron Lodge pan comes out of the drawer. They love to lick up any possible spot of grease that pops on to the floor and this, my friends, COULD be one reason for their recent tummy troubles. (They have incredibly sensitive stomachs.) So Jack was boiled, along with a few of his friends, and served with a very nice Angus beef roast. Not terrifically food-sexy, but it tasted good.

Picked up a jar of Peppadew piquante peppers at my local Shoprite. Wondered if I could turn these cute little guys into a quick appetizer that you can serve when friends unexpectedly come to visit…  Here is the result:

Quick, Spicy PeppaBites

1 jar Peppadew piquante peppers (mild or spicy)
4 oz. fresh mozzarella balls (Get the tiny ones at your deli bar.)
small bunch fresh basil
balsamic glaze for garnish (I use Blaze)

Drain the peppers. With a scissors, snip a tiny portion off the bottom of each pepper so it will stand upright. Stuff with the mozzerella and place on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake at 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Plate on service dish and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Garnish with a small basil leaf.

Like I said… easy.

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Today, I experienced what my brother calls, a “garden woody.”

After weeks of hovering, waiting and nurturing, I pulled a Yukon Gold potato out of my garden.

I am all verklempt.

This is a REALLY big deal as I am a potato virgin–horticulturally speaking. Everything I know about vegetable gardening, I learned from my dad. When he was in the hospital earlier this year, I passed the time with him by talking about my garden plans for the year.

For years, Dad had been after me to grow potatoes. The problem here in New Jersey, was obtaining quality seed potato stock. It is nowhere to be found. During my time out in Utah in between hospital visits, I visited a local garden center and picked up some Yukon Gold seed potatoes.

I gave Dad the run-down on my find and in between labored breathes, he gave me advice on potato growing technique. “When the plants start to flower, you know it’s time to start digging.”  That was the last gardening advice he would ever be able to impart. He died a few short weeks later.

Today it was time to start digging. The flower buds on my potatoes were just beginning to open. Like a kid on an Easter egg hunt, I thrust my hands in the soil and wiggled around until I found my firstborn: Yukon Jack.  All 7.9 ounces of gorgeous tuberous starch.

I whooped and did the Snoopy dance. I held Yukon Jack aloft as though he were the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter dash. The neighbors must have thought me nuts. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I HAVE grown THIS here potato.”

Then I did something very unexpected.  I sat on the garden hammock and wept. Normally I would be on the phone sharing my accomplishment. But that can no longer be.

I took Jack inside and washed him up. He now sits on my kitchen counter. Waiting. But the big question is what kind of honor can I bestow on this small bit of home-grown agriculture?

Michael Ruhlman recounts, in The Making of a Chef (Henry Holt 1997), a phrase his great uncle had used in a letter. His Uncle Bill had recently experienced a memorable meal in which the potatoes were particularly notable. He spoke of how the chef had “placed his skills as an artist in the service of the potato.” This phrase came to me as I was scrubbing the soil and root matter off of Yukon Jack.  How can I be of service to this special potato?

Do any of you have ideas? This potato deserves to go out in style. I’d love to hear your ideas.

In the meantime, I wonder, what would dad do?

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