Thursday, August 30, 2012

the nashville farmers market

when we first moved to nashville 17 years ago, we went to the farmers market.  it was a far cry from the ones we had been visiting in san francisco bay area.  there was a definite lack of exotic produce such as the plethora of asian herbs and produce we were accustomed to.  never mind finding anything organic either; it just wasn't there.

what we were thrilled with was how a small farmer could pull his truck into a stall and sell what he had picked that morning.  maybe it was silver queen corn or watermelons or turnip greens or some other seasonal vegetable.  it really didn't matter to us as it was affordable and it was fresh.  then, sadly, local politics and various nonsense got in the way and the farmers market became something of a joke.  too many of the vendors there were simply reselling produce they had purchased from wholesale produce houses.  it bordered on ridiculous; bananas, oranges and pineapples? honestly, were we supposed to believe they were locally grown and fresh?

with a resurgence in all things local and some management changes for the better, the nashville farmer's market now looks much more like a real farmers market.  sure, some of the vendors still resell (wholesale purchased) produce.  but many more are squeezing in with fresh, locally grown produce.  on a recent trip downtown, i lugged the camera bag with me and set out to see what i could find.

seventeen years later and fresh picked corn in the bed of a pickup truck is still a magnet for both myself and my husband.  this was labelled silver king, a white corn.

 when it comes to hot peppers, i am a bit of a wuss.  however, that does not stop me from growing my own or making my own hot sauce.

 smileys farm in ridgetop is always one of my stops.  they always have plenty to look at.  known for their turnip greens, you can always count on their produce to be locally produced.  looking at the crookneck squash they had on display had me wondering...

 a sure sign that fall is approaching; hard squash of all kinds.  we had several dumpling squash vines in our garden and we only picked 3 before the vines gave up.

 another tennessee delicacy, bradley tomatoes.  

 eggplants-don't you just love the pattern on the skin?  somebody fire up the grill!

 more peppers, not sure what kind, i forgot to look at the sign!

 before moving to tennesee, i had never heard of scuppernongs or muscadine grapes.  they are native to the area and make great jelly and wine.  the skins are not edible and they have a lot of seeds making it necessary to cook them, strain them to remove the skins and seeds and then cook them again to make jelly or pie with the pulp and juice.

 time has flown and i am just not ready to shift over to fall.  

 hardly local now, these were coming in from south carolina

 more hard squash; i am so not ready for fall...

 lined up on the shelves like soldiers, i found myself mesmerized by the pattern the perfectly straight rows of jars made.  the selection of jams, jellies, preserves and butters was never ending.  it would have been very easy to pick up 3 or 4 or 12 different ones.

and as always, there is always that one guy who has to make a spectacle of himself.  amidst all of the jars of relish, preserves and what not stood two jars of neon pink pickled eggs.  why pink?

keep it local, visit a farmers market near you and keep a farmer in business.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

beware of the angry peach

august is national peach month.  it has been nothing but peach pies, peach cobblers, peach upside down cakes-you name it, if it has peaches in it, i probably baked it in the cafe this month.  from oatmeal cookies with dried peaches to peach cheesecakes, the desserts were well received and many peaches were peeled and sliced.  then i ran into this guy.  he wasn't too thrilled with the carnage on the cutting board.  time to move on to a new flavor and quickly-angry peach has got fangs...

Thursday, August 23, 2012


 by the end of summer, the tomatoes and cucumbers are long gone but the pepper plants are still pumping out the produce.  i have wanted to make some sriracha and have been waiting for the peppers to ripen.  pictured above, starting from 12 o'clock:  tobacco peppers, hot banana peppers in a range of colors and sizes, thai chiles, korean chiles and in the center-cayenne peppers.  the korean pepper plant gave up its fruit long before the others and i ended up throwing them in the freezer while i waited for the others to catch up.  the process is surprisingly simple and easy and this recipe from viet world kitchen is fool proof.

 the recipe calls for palm sugar or light brown sugar but i had a cone of piloncillo sitting in the closet and decided to use that despite the recipe suggesting it could lend a darker color.  to get the amount needed, i simply used the large holes on a box grater.

 the peppers simmering with the other ingredients: water, vinegar, sugar(piloncillo) and salt.

 running it through the food mill-you need to let it completely cool first and then blend it before straining it.  warning never try to blend hot liquids in a conventional blender-they will blow the top off and shoot hot liquid everywhere!

 i can feel the heat just looking at that puree!

 such a beautiful shade of spicy hot

it will be interesting to try it out, we have an old bottle of the rooster in the fridge and i will have to compare them.  my taste of this one was of course very hot but it also had a fruity flavor that i can only guess was caused by the combination of peppers-oh to repeat that blend....

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

buckwheat popovers; tuesdays with dorie

welcome to the learning curve...this week's lesson is brought to you by tuesdays with dorie/baking with julia and is hosted by none other than paula of vintage kitchen notes and amy of bake with amy.  the subject of this week's lesson is popovers.  sounds simple enough but don't let that cute name fool you; many cooks and bakers have been schooled by these seemingly easy to bake puffs of crispy deliciousness.  and it looks like i am just another name on that list...

a quick note from one of our sponsors:  to find the recipe, please consider buying the book, baking with julia.  consider it a way to keep her memory alive after all, it would have been her 100th birthday last week!  if not, visit either paula's or amy's blog page to find the complete recipe and then bake a batch in memory of julia!

first of all, let me say that i didn't want to make just plain white flour popovers, i wanted to add a whole grain to the mix since i have a fridge full of flours to choose from, literally.  and i also have a husband wanting me to use up said flours in the fridge-not sure why he is in such a hurry, what could he possibly want with the space???  anyway, i grabbed the buckwheat flour and was off and running.  next came the realization that i had absolutely no milk in the house other than unsweetened soy milk, it was that or nothing.  i don't own a popover pan although i would love to have a large one and a small one (because if you are going to go for it, go all the way! who's with me on that?)

batch number 1:  can you say disaster?  i can only say it sounds more like "$#*@, i'm going to have to make another batch!"  all the while my husband rolls his eyes and walks out of the room muttering his fool proof methods and the "i never heard of using soy milk" comments(what do you expect from a chef?)  i used a 50-50 split on the flour and soy milk for the whole milk.  i also placed my muffin pans on sheet pans and heated them first; one of those "fool proof methods" my husband swears by and another is to use the fat of the animal you are serving them with-beef, pork, etc.  we were having them with salad, i used cooking spray.

batch number 2:  wow, look at the difference.  this time around, i used a ratio of 2 parts white flour to 1 part buckwheat (2/3 cup white, 1/3 cup buckwheat)  and for the milk, i used 1/4 cup half and half and 3/4 cup soy milk.  this time around, i used a heavy duty muffin pan that has 24 cups in it and i did not heat it; it went into the oven cold and filled with room temperature batter.

 look at the difference between the batches.  number 1 on the left, number 2 on the right.  the ratio of whole grain makes a difference as does the heat.  so forget about preheating the pans, don't bother with placing them on sheet pans (unless you are using individual cups) because it prevents good heat circulation and place the oven rack in the top third of the oven.

 inside view of batch number 1; the walls are thick and sections were not even hollow but rather cake-like, dense and rubbery and eggy cake, um, eeww.

 inside view of batch number 2; thinner, crispier walls with less eggy-cakey parts in the middle.

can you tell which ones were part of batch number 1?  just look for the hockey pucks.  they will be going out to the possums tonight.  as for batch number 2, they were individually wrapped and frozen for the next time i am in need of a little something to fill a menu.  and if you must know, i left them sitting on the counter unwrapped all night and they didn't get soft-they were still crispy in the morning!

and so ends this week's lesson.  yes, i have been schooled on popovers and i am now eager to move on to something less complicated...many thanks to this week's hosts, paula and amy and a big round of applause to this weeks newest sponsor-my new oven!  and last but certainly not least, happy birthday to julia!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

just loafing around

it has been a little tough for me since the passing of mr. kemore.  yeah, tough to decide what to make first!!!  do i use the top oven or the bottom?  convection or conventional heat...decisions, decisions.  what's a girl to do???  bake damn near everything she can think of that's what!!!
those are some nice buns you've got there...

nothing quite like the smell of fresh bread baking...

now, getting back to those buns...lookin' good

perfectly soft and wonderful

and multi-grain too, oooohhh...

nice buns
by Michael McLaughlin

makes 16 buns, 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 8 buns

1 1/2 cup buttermilk(or regular milk)
1 cup slightly warm water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
about 5 cups unbleached all purpose flour

in a mixing bowl, mix the buttermilk, water, butter, sugar, salt and yeast.  allow it to stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  stir in about 4 cups of the flour and mix to form a somewhat sticky dough.  you can turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead this by hand or use a stand mixer, either way, continue to add flour as needed to form a soft dough.  continue mixing until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  shape the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl, coating it completely with oil, cover it and allow it to rise until double, about 1 1/2 hours.

punch the dough down and turn it out onto a cutting board.  cut it in half and form two loaves by flattening the pieces into rectangles.  roll up the dough, starting on the short side and form a thick log.  place the dough logs into 2 greased 9x5x3 inch pans, cover and allow to rise until it comes just above the top of the pan.  bake in a preheated 375 oven until golden on top and bottom, about 45 minutes.  remove from pan and cool on rack completely before slicing.

to make buns, divide the dough into 4 ounce pieces or for those without scales, cut it in half, then in half again and continue this until you have 16 even pieces.  shape them by rolling into tight buns by placing the dough in your hands and moving in a circular motion on the table/counter top until the bun is smooth and no visible seams show.  place 8 buns on a pan that has been generously sprinkled with cornmeal.  allow to rise until double and bake in a 400 degree preheated oven until golden all over.

to make a multi grain version, replace 2 cups of the flour with a combination of whole wheat, rolled oats and multi-grain hot cereal such as hodgson mills.  to improve the texture of the multi grain bread, you can also use a bread flour in place of the all purpose flour.

and if you need me, i will be in the kitchen with my new friend...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

fig and peach galette; tuesdays with dorie

ordinarily, i have my act together; i don't miss appointments, i am usually early so that i am not late, i remember things.  not this week.  instead of being on the ball, i have been hit by it.  somehow, i managed to miss, and i mean completely miss, this weeks challenge for tuesdays with dorie.  i read the post, i knew it was coming.  i just assumed it was next week.  time to get my head out of my (insert the noun of your choice here) and get to work.

the challenge this week is the berry galette and it is hosted by lisa of tomato thymes in the kitchen and andrea of the kitchen lioness.  to read the full recipes, visit either of their sites and to see the entries from the other members, visit tuesdays with dorie.

i love to make galettes.  they are easy to assemble and they aren't supposed to look picture perfect.  how can you not love that?  the dough is quickly mixed up in the food processor.  the recipe called for 1/4 cup of cornmeal and i immediately went to the freezer and pulled out the bag of blue cornmeal that i keep stashed in there.  blue cornmeal gives doughs and odd shade of grey but the nutty flavor and slight crunch it adds make it a wonderful addition to any recipe calling for cornmeal.

blue cornmeal

 the instructions for using a food processor tell you to pulse it to a consistency of moist curds and that is just what it looks like when it is properly mixed.  according to those instructions, you can use it without a resting period but are cautioned to use ample flour to prevent sticking.  that sounded like work and a set up for failure to me.  needless to say, i chilled the dough by setting it in the freezer while i made the filling.

 our fig tree was producing figs like crazy two weeks ago but it has slowed down considerably.  i found  a flat in the fridge that had been forgotten and decided to use them.  since it was only about 3/4 cups, i threw in some chopped up peaches too.  a little lemon zest, vanilla bean and cardamom finished it off.

 the chilled dough rolled out easily with absolutely not sticking.  to eliminate the flour, brush off the top of the dough.  turn it over onto the baking pan and then brush the flour off the other side-this can be done easily if the dough is chilled since it will not tear and stretch as much.

 look at the blue cornmeal flecks in the dough

 once the filling is on the dough round, you are instructed to sprinkle sugar and honey over it.  well, i skipped the sugar and used a double dip of the honey from our bees.

 ready to go into the oven...


a special thanks to our hostesses with the mostesses-truly a job well done!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

my ode to an oven

my old friend mr. kenmore, may he rest in pieces

when we bought our house 9 years ago, there were many firsts.  it was my first home; i had always lived as a renter.  even as a child i lived in rentals.  the previous owners of this house, the original owners since they bought it when it was built in 1957, had left behind two non-working stoves.  their children must have taken any appliance still working so we had a list of firsts to buy:  washer, dryer, refrigerator and stove.  so we purchased our first stove.  

mr. kenmore was an inexpensive stove from the outlet store-he was cheap because he was dented and scratched.  we didn't care, we needed a stove to feed the kids.  and now that we were homeowners, we were officially broke, as if the kids hadn't already managed that, the house sure would.

in a perfect world, we would have installed something more fitting for a pair of professional chefs.  six burners and a double oven came to mind.  sleek and stainless and like the ones you see in all of the magazines-something professional, something that used gas.  but no, we had to go with what we could afford and dream of the day that we could replace it with something better.

and there he is in all of his former glory, poor mr. kenmore who is no more.  when i think back to all of the breakfasts, lunches and dinners he cooked.  that first thanksgiving dinner when it poured rain and our dreams of a trash can turkey in the back yard were soaked.  he came through, he cooked dinner.  i wrote two books using the oven nonstop and he came through, he baked the cakes and pies.  all of the cookies to give as christmas gifts, he came through.  so many pots of soup, he cooked them.  that time my mother taught me to make spaghetti sauce with meatballs the way my great-grandmother taught her, he came through, he splattered the sauce like a pro.  when i baked a pie each week for 52 weeks and blogged about it, he came through-but then, there was that time that the oven coil burned up and we had to replace it...but after a week or so, he was at it again.

but he did so much more than that.  he occasionally gave josie a warm place to sprawl out.  honestly, shouldn't every cat sleep on top of a warm oven???  he told us the time, without fail, hour after hour.  he could also be quite the prankster.  that front burner that would be working just fine, and then it would not, so amusing at times.  and not at others...that little red light that would not turn off.  how many times did i stop and check to see that the burners were off?  you are so funny, mr. kenmore!  you got me again!!!

he could be kind.  for 9 years the little lady chef spoon rest had a home on this stove top.  she has taken a bit of a beating but he kept her safe and i am thankful.  she is irreplaceable since my grandmother gave her to me about 25 years ago.  back then, it was unusual to see a real woman in the role of chef much less a spoon rest in the shape of a woman chef.  i didn't see the importance of her at the time, but years later, you will find tchotchke of a pig or a bear wearing a chef's hat much quicker than you will find one featuring a woman.  somewhat odd since there are so many women holding the title of chef today.  anyway, she is precious to me in some strange way and i am grateful to still have her even if she is now completely homeless.

the last straw, that piece of tape.  how could tape be so definitive?  and not just by serving to remind us not to touch that knob!  the last time i used that back burner, the knob became a smoke stack spewing that smell that only burning electronics can emit.  in 9 years, we had the front burner rewired twice at a cost of more than what we paid for the oven initially.  add to that the cost of a new oven coil and light bulb and it was time to pull the plug, literally.

electric coils; why would anyone think cooking on these things is good idea?  for 9 years my husband and i argued over the fact that he could only seem to cook on this stove if he set the burners on incinerate.  and incinerate he did.  he burned more pans and food in pans than i can to remember.  he smoked up the house and started fires more often than i care to recall.  i have scrubbed more of the ceiling than i hope to ever do again.  those little burner trays below became graveyards for things daring to escape the holy hell of the pan my husband was attempting to crucify.

and no matter how hard i would scrub the top, the build up of carbon was always there.  always serving as a reminder that i hate to cook with electricity.

our crowded countertop meant that mr. kenmore had to endure the constant rub of the mesh strainer in the bucket next to him.  after time, it wore the paint off, built character some might say.

and now that he is gone, and i truly mean gone since the delivery crew took him out when they dropped off his replacement, i miss him.  miss him but not MISS HIM.   for all of the cups of tea, packs of ramen noodles and boxes of mac and cheese these coils made, i thank you mr. kenmore.  and for all of the pot holders you torched and grease fires you set, the fire department commends us for having a fire extinguisher.

honestly now, i'm a little hungry and can't cook anything until the plumber comes.   yup, that's right, the plumber.  you see, we have natural gas in the house.  the previous owners had the lines run in for the heating system and that unit is in the basement right below the kitchen.  all the plumber will have to do is run pipe up to the kitchen and connect the stove.  and what a stove it is.  it may not be a hand made  $40,000 work of art from le cornue, if only i could afford that.  it may not be an aga cooker or a professional model made for the home like a wolf range or a viking.  but it is a 5 burner range (almost made it to 6) with a cast iron grate that goes across the whole stove top with a double oven.  the top oven is a broiler and a warmer but can also be a baking oven and the bottom oven has a convection system.  for this baker, it is the equivalent of my very own amusement park right here at home.  the best part, it is all gas.  no more burned up pans-well not incinerated anyway.  yes, now i'm cooking with gas...

thanks for the memories mr. kenmore, may he rest in pieces

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

mr. kenmore's last stand; fresh fig upside down cake

my husband robbed the bees of some honey.  we have had bees in our front yard for 3 years now and this is the first time that we were able to harvest honey.  my mother never kept much in the house when i was growing up so most of my experiences with honey were the stuff from the supermarket-you know, the little bear shaped squeeze bottles.  ask a bee keeper about that stuff and they will scoff at the idea of using it.  first of all, it most likely isn't pure honey-quite possibly it is flavored syrup mixed with honey. another concern is that the honey is processed to remove the pollen and bee parts-yes, bees can die during the harvest.  lastly, most of mass marketed honey is made from blends from all over the world and much of the flavor is lost in the process.  

several years ago, while writing my second cookbook, i had a honey epiphany.  i had the chance to taste pure wild flower honey that was produced by bees being kept by a group of menonite farmers.  knowing that these folks didn't use many of the practices of the big commercial producers, it was an eye opening experience.  i didn't know honey could taste that good; better than good, more like uh-may-zing!!!  that was it, no more little bears for me, just local wild flower honey from a reputable bee keeper.  

about that time, my husband and i became master gardeners and he caught the bee buzz.  we took classes, we studied, we asked questions and then we dove in feet first...honestly, the girls(what we call the bees) do the work, we just barge in on them every now and then to make sure all is well.  

 after borrowing an extractor-a hand cranked centrifuge, my husband got to work.  it didn't go smoothly and the comb was destroyed in the process, but he learned all about the process and will do it again soon.  his efforts yielded nearly 2 quarts of honey.

 i love the way it glows when the sunlight shines through it.  knowing that i needed to make a cake for my trip to the garden, i chose to make an upside down cake just so i could include some of that honey.

 in my favorite cast iron skillet, i melted butter, sugar, brown sugar and honey.


 it is allowed to melt and then boiled a bit to thicken.  

 since this would be the last cake i could bake in my old faithful oven, mr. kenmore, i decided to go all out.  not only did i use honey from our bees, i picked figs from our tree.  for mr. kenmore's last stand, he would bake a fig upside down cake.  the figs are cut in half and laid cut side down in the syrup.

 after baking, the cake is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it is turned out onto a serving dish.

fresh fig upside down cake
1 (10") skillet cake that serves 8-10

adapted from my own book!

fresh figs-amount needed will depend on size, the ones from our tree are small and it took about two dozen to decorate the top and have the amount needed for the cake batter-1/3 cup, cut into chunks.  

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar as in the photo above-i ran out of light...)
1/4 cup pure wildflower honey
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk

place an empty baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch drips and preheat the oven to 350.  place a cast iron skillet over low heat and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar and honey.  stir to combine and when it is melted, raise the heat to medium and bring to a gentle boil.  allow it to boil, stirring continuously, until it thickens a little-about 2 minutes.  remove from the heat.

place the halved figs, cut side down, in the syrup in a random pattern that covers as much as the top as possible.  make sure there aren't many large spaces between the figs or there will be large gaps in the design when the cake is unmolded.

to mix the cake batter, cream the remaining butter with the granulated sugar, vanilla and salt.  when it is light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time and be sure to scrape the bowl well.  sift the cake flour and baking powder over the batter, sprinkle the buttermilk on top and fold a few times.  add the chopped figs and fold completely.  dollop the batter over the prepared pan gently so that you do not disturb the pattern.  carefully smooth out the batter and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  allow the cake to stand for 5-10 minutes and carefully turn it out onto a serving dish.  

note that if you do not have a cast iron skillet, you can use any oven proof dish or pan, including standard cake pans, to make this cake.  just be sure to use one that is at least 9" in diameter and no larger than 10".  my cast iron skillet is 8" in diameter on the bottom and flairs out to 10" at the top.  if you use anything other than cast iron, be sure to keep a close eye on the cake, thinner and lighter metal pans, as well as glass and ceramic,  may bake faster.

and now, everybody join me in a moment of silence to mark poor mr. kenmore's passing.  may he rest in pieces...