Foodie Tuesday: Salivating

Photo: Sprightly ApplesAs part of the perpetual human inclination to long for what is impossible, I suppose it’s no surprise that in the midst of one season I am frequently hungry for whatever is furthest out of season. When summer’s blistering and swelter have long since worn out their welcome, I think with great fondness of weather cold enough not only to cool my overheated brain to a slightly more manageable temperature but also to encourage the peak production of root vegetables with which to make those satisfying soups and roasted dishes that give a welcome tot of inner warmth to body and soul. In springtime, the autumn’s pears and quinces seem so remote as to have been but a beautiful fever dream of seasons past.

And though winter is short and blunt in north Texas most of the years I’ve spent living in it, it isn’t long dropped toward freezing before I think what a joy it would be to have weather balmy enough to require something cool and liquid, or just bursting with juicy freshness, to cheer my fainting spirits. Mostly, this is merely a sorry reflection of my lack of maturity and patience with whatever is present on the table or in my life. But perhaps it’s also possible to place a little of the blame on some of the first-world realities of the modern era. Indoor climate controls make winter ever so much drier than it was in my soggy single-pane-windowed youth. The normal chill of wintertime is confused in my body and household by a central heating system, never mind by old lady hot flashes, and the vast improvements in food packaging, shipping, and storage mean that I have access not only to fresh, picture-perfect produce that is nothing like currently in season where I live but just arrived on store shelves there from a country where it is at its peak growth. I can buy freeze-dried or frozen goods that are sometimes fresher and more flavorful on being prepared or reconstituted in my kitchen for having been processed so quickly at the point of harvest than any such things often were right in their natural local peak years ago.Photo + text: Juicy

My tastebuds and dietary inclinations care nothing, still, for seasonal propriety. So if I can get something preserved—old-school, as jams and canned goods and classic charcuterie, or flash-frozen on a factory ship in mid-ocean—that’s able to be prepared in ways making it as tantalizing and palatable as the fresh-harvested stuff, you can bet I’ll be indulging. Today, sitting in a blower-heated space at elevation and looking out at drizzles of snow, what should my wandering mind and salivary mechanism conspire to make me wish for most fondly? Some juicy, dazzlingly bright tasting fruit. Thank goodness for being a spoiled twenty-first century citizen. It doesn’t hurt to make a dish that will assuage both the out-of-sync wish for cool, juicy refreshment and any appropriately wintry hopes for a good tummy warmer.

Baked Apples with Raspberry-Rose Snow

Clean and core fresh, crisp apples. When I don’t have a cylindrical fruit corer on hand, I will opt to use a melon baller and just work my way through each apple sphere by sphere until I’ve tunneled through it and removed stem, blossom and seeds. Lacking a melon baller, I will use a narrow-bladed knife. You can leave the blossom end of the apple intact to keep it from leaking its filling during the baking, or you can make an edible “stopper” out of dried apple pieces, a handy way to give your diners a treat without any inedible parts. Set the prepared apples aside for the moment.

Make a paste, of whatever proportions please you, using marzipan (since there’s such a long tradition of wonderful commercially made marzipan, I feel no obligation to make my own, but if you want homemade, have at it), seedless raspberry jam (ditto), cream cheese (or labneh or goat cheese), a tiny pinch of salt, a dash of cardamom, and some elderflower cordial. Fill the apple tunnels with this goodness.

Put the apples into the buttered ramekins (individual) or casserole and bake them just until softening. About a half hour at medium-high heat (375°F/190°C), give or take a little, will do. While they’re baking, take a small handful of beautiful frozen raspberries per apple, crush them into their individual arils (gently enough to make pretty little dots rather than a messy mash), and stir in a dash of rosewater. Stick them back in the freezer that way until the moment before serving the apples, when you’ll sprinkle them over the top as a cool, burst-of-winter-sun contrast to the heat and creamy juice of the apples. And a tiny reminder of what fresh-from-the-garden goodness is like in other seasons.

Photo: Raspberry

Foodie Tuesday: Some Useful Rules for Desserts

Our recent trip in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic served as a fine reminder that Europeans have some special talents when it comes to taking advantage of the fun factor of making and enjoying desserts. A cafe many of us from the choir tour group found on our stop just before crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border had a menu loaded not only with bright, shiny pictures but dessert items guaranteed to put any dedicated diner into a happy but instantaneous snacking coma.

Photo: Dessert Rules 1

You really have to admire any dessert that is not only as substantial as this but has booze or some effectively delicious substitute for it in the mix.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 2

Switch a few of the ingredients and keep the sugary deliciousness quotient (and possibly, the eaters) high, and the menu begins to expand. As do waistbands on both sides of the international border.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 3

Something with a typically European liquor flair keeps the menu distinctly local, perhaps. Even if your typography can’t keep up with your recipe tinkering, good taste will abound.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 4

Hot raspberry sauce = Heisse Liebe (Hot Love, a traditional romantic dish) when served over rich vanilla ice cream. A great dessert for honeymooners (I just happen to know), and another way to brighten up the sweetness of a giant sundae.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 5

No reason to limit the brightness of either color or flavor to raspberries and ice cream; why not add yogurt and kiwi fruit for some jazz?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 6

But really, if you’re going to get splashy with the colors and textures and flavors, why not get more elaborate yet?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 7

Or make some kid-crazy concoction that will invite the most stoic and stalwart child of any age to play with his food?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 8

Heck, why not just make the dessert as *big* as a kid. No point in being shy or subtle if you’re serious about making desserts that compel attention and ravenous attacks on the dish.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 9

Of course, if you’re planning to entice the larger, older variety of child to eat, you might consider making some semblance of slightly more grownup-sounding dishes. How about a nice spaghetti-style sundae?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 10

What, that wasn’t flashy enough for you? Try a Pizza sundae. Not surreal enough in the spaghetti imitation department? Make some rich, red strawberry sauce to pour over the ice cream spaghetti. Or for the more soigné palate, perhaps a Carbonara version.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 11

Still, I have to admit that perhaps my favorite from this elaborate collection was the skillet-with-eggs doppelgänger, which in its simple ingredients would likely be a very yummy, creamy dream of an apricot cooler for a hot afternoon and also take a good run at pretending to be much better for me than piles of whipped cream and sweetened fruit.

All of this enticement aside—and I did, however reluctantly, lay it all aside despite the strong temptations, having already eaten a pretty substantial and dairy-laden traditional European meal of ‘fried cheese’ (crisply crumb-coated slow-melt cheese served with a sweet tartar dipping sauce)—there are other dessert paths to my heart, even in the heart of dessert-magical Europe. So I waited a moderate amount of time for my digestion, stroll aided, to recover from lunch before I opted for a much smaller and less elaborate dessert. elsewhere. It was only a single scoop of Stracciatella gelato, but it was cold, creamy, rich and delectable all the same. I’m not made of stone, you know.

 

 

 

Foodie Tuesday: Buried in Berries

Photo: Raspberry BonanzaOne of the joys of the warmer seasons is the abundance of fresh produce, not least of all, those little jewels the berries and close cousins like the aggregate fruits. Having grown up in a region known for fabulous berries, in a valley renowned, in fact, for farming them in its fertile volcanic soil in the Evergreen state, I know well enough the labor that it takes to successfully farm, pick, process and sell them, never mind shipping them intact anywhere, given their tender sensitivity and fleeting prime. But I certainly found my way past the sweaty, low wage, arm-aching, thorn-scratched, and slug-tormented frustrations of a short-time field hand to renew my love of fresh berries.

I have long since confessed to you that, despite their being among the easiest to farm and to pick, blueberries remain my most hated fruit, and I dislike pretty equally their flavor, smell and texture despite all attempts to convince me they are Superfood and worthy of desire. I am not a big fan, in fact, of any of the round, popping sorts of berries that are similar in my mind to blueberries in any way—currants, gooseberries, huckleberries, and so forth. I’m not that egalitarian. But the berries that I do enjoy, I gladly indulge in enjoying in quantity when they’re at their peak. I seldom tire of strawberries or of those magnificent rose relatives, the blackberries, raspberries, salmonberries, black raspberries and all of their delicious ilk. Ahhh, berry good!Photo: Blackberry Burst

One of the nicest things about really fine, fresh produce, of course, is that it tastes so good whether you do anything to or with it, or not. Straight out of the field, straight into my mouth. Bright, juicy, flavorful little pieces of heaven. Much as I happily enjoyed that dessert combination of my youth, angel food cake with berries and whipped cream, I think I might consider the berries the angel food part more than the cake. Berries in cream, whipped or not, are also a spectacular treat when I can get my hands on a dish, with or without a cake foundation.

The berries are marvelous as individual sorts or in happy combinations. Whole or mashed, sliced or diced. Superb in jams and sauces or salsas. Fabulous in smoothies. Outstanding when added to salads. Unbeatable in pies. One of the most delicious accompaniments to savory foods, especially something like some magnificent wild salmon or game, whether processed in some recipe or just eaten fresh alongside the fish or meat. Sweet and bright.

Oh, and berries make dandy liqueurs. Berries, sugar, vodka. In that order, in declining quantities, in a sealed jar or bottle. Bunch of weeks or months, shaking it up gently from time to time, while keeping it in a nice cool, dark spot between stirrings until the time seems right; strain the niceness and enjoy. Of course, it works fine without booze, too. Berries, some nice sparkling water and some sweetening.

These little gems are delicate. They are so fine in their pristine state that it would be wrong to over-process them. Don’t be a killjoy. There’s really no recipe here for success; in fact, the best so-called recipes for using fresh berries mostly leave them unsullied by cooking and doing much of anything other than stirring them in with other good things. What are you waiting for? If the season’s on, get thee to the nearest farmer’s market and stock up on glorious fresh berries. If they’re not in season, I apologize for your sorrow, but I must encourage you to make the most of preserves and frozen berries. Yep, they freeze well when properly treated. But my friends, do not slouch. Run, quickly, and get some berries. You can thank me later.

Photo: All Sorts of Berries

Foodie Tuesday: Mixed Grill Girl

I’m married to a person whose fondness for vegetables is, shall we say, somewhat limited. Fruits, yes; starches, yes; seafoods and meats, yes and yes. Veg, not so much. He’ll eat some quite willingly, but he’d make a fairly poor version of a vegetarian. Me, I love many kinds of vegetables, along with all of the other foods, but I am a pescetarian and carnivore as well, so I don’t mind having the occasional festival of meat kind of meal.photo

We had a friend join us for dinner today, a person whose leanings are not far different from my spousal-person’s, so it seemed like a fine time to indulge in a freezer-freeing festival of the mainly meat sort. I had a small but solid hunk of grass-fed beef waiting to be enjoyed, a quartet of all-natural bratwurst all ready for a taste test, and the goofy woven square of bacon lying atop my cheesy potato-mash dish in the freezer drawer in quiescent quiet to prepare for use as well. Now I have a lot of space that I didn’t have in the freezer. Of course, I’ve got quite a bit less space in my innards at the moment than before. Yup.photo

So we had our mixed-grill meal together and had fun. Bratwurst, simmered for a long time in a bottle of Shiner Bock, until the beer was syrupy and the sausages fully cooked. The potato mash was quickly heated through and ready to go to table. The beef got cut up into small steaks and pan-seared in avocado oil, with just a little sea salt. Yes, we did in fact have a vegetable, too: peas. Tiny peas, steamed and served with lemon-mint butter, sweet salted butter mixed with minced fresh mint leaves and grated lemon zest.

All of this certainly sated the hunger for savories. That can, in turn, trigger the sweet tooth response. So there was dessert. Probably the richest version of a chocolate pudding I’ve concocted to date, dressed with honeyed peach slices.photo

Rich Chocolate Pudding & Peaches

Pudding: blend 3/4 to one cup each of whole milk yogurt and coconut milk, about 1/4 cup of raw honey, a pinch of salt, a splash each of orange liqueur (homemade months ago from mandarins, juice and zest both, with toasted coconut and brown sugar and vodka), vanilla and almond extracts, and three large eggs, and cook them gently until thickened. Add a bunch of yummy dark chocolate pieces and melt them down. I used 14 pieces of Dove dark chocolate, and just let the residual heat of the thickened custard melt them as I stirred. The coconut milk left the mixture just a tad less than perfectly smooth, so I used the stick blender to make it all silky. A stint in the fridge before dessert time finished the thickening and glossing and it was all ready to serve.

With topping. I took 2 cups of sliced frozen peaches and cooked them gently with a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons each of butter and honey, a teaspoon of almond extract, and spices to taste (I used allspice and cardamom). Spooned at room temperature over the chilled pudding, they gave just enough brightness and freshness to jazz up the rich pudding and fool me into thinking I wasn’t overindulging in dessert after overindulging in dinner. My style entirely, and I think you do know what I mean. Sorry? Not the teeniest whit.

Foodie Tuesday: I’m a Fool for April Fool’s Fools & Other Foolishness

The first day of April, while some may reserve it for pranks and tricks, is to me the perfect day for celebrating the arrival (best if it’s truly imminent) of springtime, and so rather than be a traditionalist about April Fool’s Day and pull stunts on anybody, I prefer to simply enjoy the Tuesday-ness of it this year and think happy food thoughts. My fetish for custards, mousses and creams of all sorts leads me to think that the ideal food for this occasion, since it is the first of April, would naturally be a Fool. You know, sweet fruity stuff folded into whipped cream. Actually, this is pretty much my idea of the ideal food for practically any occasion, and that’s no joke.

Given my predilection for eating too much of too many things, sweets perhaps foremost among them, this comes as no surprise to anyone living.

I know I am not alone in my obsession with dessert-like objects, either. Even my esteemed spouse is not immune to the charms of a classic like a frosty mug of root beer, with or without ice cream floating dreamily in it. One might, for example, find him taking me out to Mr. Frosty for such a treat on the first sunny day when we get a free half-hour, and our sipping in blissed-out ecstasy under the diner’s front canopy while birds flit overhead.photo

But no amount of root beer is quite enough to negate my need for a good Fool, so for this April Fool’s Day I bethought myself of just such a dish, and off to work I went.

Then, of course, the reality of the day intervened. While I thought I was heading to the kitchen to froth up some sweet heavy cream with vanilla and cardamom to layer with black raspberry jam and pieces of canned pears—a marvelous thought indeed—I opened the refrigerator and saw a container of odd ends of Gouda and Brie cheeses that I knew had been patiently waiting for my attention a little bit longer than they ought to have done, and off I went on a highly tangential path. That, of course, is life’s continuous April Fool’s prank on me: every time I think I am headed in one direction, I get sent off in quite another.

Who am I to resist the guidance of the random refrigerator finding?

I put into my trusty cheapo food processor a heap of dried potato flakes, “instant mashed potatoes” that, while I think them quite specious as a substitute for the substantive real thing of a good coarse potato mash, do make great toasty buttered crumbs for toppings, a very fine thickener for sauces and soups and gravies, and as here, good flour for cheesy flat- or short-bread. Along with the potato flakes and cheeses, I put a little butter, a good dose of whole yogurt labne, a little salt, and seasonings: smoked paprika, powdered mustard seed, white pepper and just a dash of mace. I processed it all into a shortbread-like dough, pressed it into a large flat ovenproof skillet, and baked it at about 300ºF/150ºC until it was very light golden brown (about 25 minutes), let it cool in place as the oven itself cooled, and finally turned out the ‘pancake’ to cut into manageable wedges. They’re simple and plain on their own, slightly chewy and very cheesy, but spread with a little additional labne and topped with a couple of cucumber slices and a sprinkle of za’atar, or perhaps just dipped into some good guacamole and/or salsa, they’ll be quite delightful.photo

For now, I’m just munching them plain and marveling at the vicissitudes of that perennial prankster, Life. Happy 1st of April, everyone!

Foodie Tuesday: Breakfast should be Brilliant

photoDespite my avowed resistance to the charms of morning [see yesterday’s post], I am far from immune to the delights of breakfast, no matter what time of day it is served and enjoyed. O brave (if perhaps gluten-free) toast soldiers, stand up and be counted! Your being bathed in butter before pan-browning is a gift that I would not willingly snub even when I’d rather sleep in and I’m trying to reduce my carbohydrate footprint anyway.

Of course, eating proper stuff to start the day is smart. I’ve heard that. I’ve even experienced the truth of it. If I get a fair dose of protein, a nice gloss of good fat and a dash of sweetness in my breakfast I tend to have a better day following it than when I’m under-fueled.

Also, I like yummy food.

So it’s pretty simple, then. Put together a tasty and reasonably balanced breakfast, gnash it all up happily to get the day underway, and be glad. Maybe even productive.

Eggs are very often on this kind of menu for me. Scrambled, poached, fried, baked. Plain or in a complicated dish. Hot or cold. I’m reasonably catholic in my tastes, yet contented and thrilled enough when presented with easily predictable but well-prepared classic combinations of breakfast-related goodness.

The Full English, as I’ve said here before, is never amiss, in my estimation; would I dream of saying no to a heap of eggs, streaky bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans and toast? Certainly not. A glorious Bauernpfanne loaded with sausages and potatoes and their friends, yes, that too is heavenly. I am dangerously fond of baked goods and quick breads, so I find waffles or pancakes or pain perdu or my particular favorite, crepes, a dream worth suffering for, but ultimately if left to choose, I’ll opt for something a little heavier on the protein side of the balance. The day finds me less lethargic and more useful on that diet. My aging body responds much more kindly to a cake-and-cookie-deficit than to shortchanging it of protein and fat.photoSo I enjoyed concocting this plateful on that particular plan. Bacon’s a fun place to start. Or end, or eat all the way through the meal. So there’s that. But for egg pleasure, here’s a quick way to get a little variant pizzazz into the cheese omelet kind of treat: fill one side of a small nonstick frying pan with shredded Gouda and cook it over medium-high heat until it’s beginning to crisp up and turn golden, drop a touch of butter, a few fresh sage leaves and then two whole eggs into the other half of the pan, let them fry up until the eggs are nearly set, and fold the crisped cheese side over onto that other layer to finish it all up. Slide it onto a plate with the crispy bacon and serve a nice sweet-and-juicy helping of fruit (a little Satsuma is a fine complement) alongside, and I am ready for a big day of Doing Things. If I don’t happen to get around to anything very significant in the way of accomplishment, at least I’ll have had a very enjoyable start to my latest day of Not Doing Things, and I won’t complain. If breakfast is brilliant enough, why should I need to be?

Hot Flash Fiction 9: Shall We Table It for Now?

digital illustrationThe lovely lady Alexandra wears a perfect pair of gleaming white kid gloves; for tea, we all sit in perfect posture and pose with poise, making our astute and marvelous and dreamlike commentary, our remarks about seemingly innocuous and polite ideas and topics far above reproach; the lady Alexandra is so ideal and beautiful and perfectly correct and her kid gloves so white, her manner of nibbling on the fresh strawberries so flawless, her tea so perfectly hot and sweet, I’d like to lean across the lace tablecloth and smash her like a roach.