Archive for September, 2009

All Chickens Are Not Created Equal

CXA chicken in every pot. Don’t be a chicken. Chicken little (the sky is falling). Nobody here but us chickens. Chicken hearted. Tastes like chicken……….

There are probably as many sayings about chicken as there are ways to cook chicken. But before we can cook chicken we have to buy chicken. And before we buy we still have to decide on what kind. 

Originally chickens were raised on farms and, after 3000 years of domestication, dozens of breeds developed. But the clamor for chicken grew faster than small farms could provide and large scale producers gradually took over. (Americans eat 80 pounds of chicken every year. And every year 8 billion of those little gals give it up to feed our demand) The varieties of 100 years ago have been lost through selective breeding to give us something that’s now an efficient converter of feed and time into meat and eggs. What once took months now takes 21 days. While once chickens roamed the barn yard and ate what they found, we now have a totally mechanized process where most birds never see the light of day.

Assured by the high nutritional quality of poultry (low in fat and bad cholesterol, high in calcium, phosphorus and iron) and lured by modest prices (you can feed 4 for $4) we merrily baked, broiled, braised, roasted, simmered and grilled chicken to our hearts, stomachs and wallets content.

But, while we continue to demand large quantities of chicken, we now want our birds natural, free range, pesticide and hormone free. We want our chickens hunting, pecking, clucking and sunning as nature originally intended. But not quite.

Today’s chicken must also be organic as well as free ranging. While Grandma’s chicken ate what ever it could scrounge, today’s chicken must get a complicated amalgam of substances know as organic feed.. Finally, it must be slaughtered in a humane way. No mass produced, mechanized off with their heads for these ladies!

So, where does this leave us? Markets now peddle poultry sporting vernacular designed to gain the approval of food police everywhere. We are urged to buy organic, free range, natural, grain fed, corn fed, pesticide and hormone free over the Other Kind. But, are we really getting what originally roamed the earth as Chicken? What exactly are we buying these days? We have not saved heirloom varieties of chicken as we have tomatoes and squash. The Original Chicken is permanently lost. But does the poultry offered as organic and free range really taste like chicken should and are they worth the additional expense? How do we sift through all the hype and really buy the healthiest and the tastiest poultry?

Well I decided to try a little experiment. I bought 4 fresh (not frozen) chickens. One Kosher, one from a well known market in Decatur that carries a respected brand (certified organic and range free) and 2 from my favorite grocery chain: one was the chain’s own mass produced brand and one was another yellower bird. I bought them all on the same day and made sure they all had the same “good by” date. They were all within ounces of the same weight.

Washed and patted dry, trussed, dosed with a little S&P and light olive oil, they all went into the oven in their own pans at the same oven temperature. All were roasted whole and basted carefully. All were removed when they showed a finish temp of 175° at the thigh. All were allowed to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

These are my less than scientific results: The tastiest, juiciest bird was the Kosher chicken. It was also the most expensive; easily double the price of the others. Second for taste and juicy was the Decatur bird. (Now, I know what you’re thinking, but please, hear me out. I didn’t know which was which when I tasted. The roasting pans were marked on the bottom to identify each bird and my neighbor put those pans in the oven. By the time the roasting was over, I couldn’t recognize one from the other). My third choice for taste and moistness was the yellower bird and last was the supermarket’s own brand.

Now, where does this leave us? Well, this is what I’ve decided for myself: I’ll shop for chickens with healthy as my first concern. After preparing 4 chickens and finding 2 of them with things I shouldn’t  have seen, I’ll continue to be very concerned about the cleanliness of the bird when I un-wrap it. I’ll also want those birds that are range free and organic. After looking at the labels of the 2 loosing birds and finding things that seemed more appropriate to a chemistry lab than a dinner plate, I’ve no doubt that we should not be consuming what was packed in that plastic. Besides, the Kosher and organic-free range just simply tasted better. Third, I want a chicken that is Fresh. One of the supermarket birds had chunks of ice  inside but the packaging did not show it as previously frozen. And, the added expense?  Well, quite frankly, the chicken from the Decatur market was 50 cents more a pound than the mass produced supermarket chicken. For a 4 pound bird that can serve 4 , that’s $2.00 or 50 cents a serving. I think my good health and my taste buds are worth 50 cents.

A simple break down of the 4 main categories of chicken for sale:

Free range chickens are exactly that, they roam free—are not penned or restricted in movement—and eat what ever they can find.

Organic chickens get feed containing only cereals, vegetable protein, a small amount of fish meal and a vitamin-mineral supplement. To be considered fully organic the feed must also be grown organically. Organic chickens can also be free range.

Kosher chickens are hand raised and slaughtered in accordance with biblical law. They also get what amounts to a short brining process before being approved for consumption.

Mass produced chickens are produced in huge quantities by large scale growers. Human hands rarely touch those birds, their environment is tightly contained and feed can contain hormones to speed growth.

Free range, organic and Kosher poultry are costlier because the entire process from egg to table is much longer and more involved and the feed is more expensive. Mass produced is cheaper because the turn around time is considerably shorter.

 GARLIC ROASTED CHICKEN  WITH TARRAGON & LEMON

  • 1 whole chicken, about 3 ½ to 4 pounds
  • dried tarragon to taste
  • 1 whole lemon cut in ½ plus another ½ lemon
  • 2 heads fresh garlic
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°.

Wash and dry the chicken. Season the cavity with tarragon, salt and pepper.  Squeeze a lemon ½ into the cavity and put squeezed lemon inside as well. Lightly crush one head of garlic, leaving skin on and put in cavity of chicken. Truss the chicken and place, breast side up, in lightly oiled roasting pan of glass or metal. Do not use ceramic.

Season the top of the chicken with dried tarragon, salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with juice of another ½ lemon. Cut squeezed lemon ½ in ¼’s and tuck around the side of the chicken. Lightly crush remaining head of garlic, leaving skin on and tuck around sides of chicken.

Place chicken in oven and roast for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn chicken over and season with remaining lemon ½, dried tarragon and additional salt & pepper to taste. Cut squeezed lemon ½ in ¼’s and toss into pan. Roast the chicken, breast side down, for an additional 20 minutes. Turn the chicken one more time, breast side up and roast an additional 20 minutes.

 **After each turn, baste the chicken well.

Remove the chicken from the oven, cover loosely with foil and let rest about 15 minutes before carving

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Grab a Bag

tomatoMy cooking urges have been on over drive the last two days and the kitchen looks like some mad woman tore through.  If it wasn’t for the fact that a very neat friend was in there this morning, I probably would have ignored it. But feeling a mite embarrassed, I started to clean up—–a little. Then he left, another recipe idea hit and the mess was swept aside.

I visited my favorite farmer’s market yesterday. As usual, I went without any specific plan other than to see what looked interesting, what was fresh and what carried a reasonable price. So many goodies called out my name. Butternut squash, zucchini, baby spinach, a small eggplant and 4 pounds of tomatoes (they looked so pretty still on their vines) all fell into my cart. And, I can not forget, an indulgent luxury also jumped in. A single pint of tiny brown mushrooms (crimini).

Across the aisle, I spotted a pan with what looked like a huge silky marshmallow. Homemade tofu! What a find, I’d never seen that before. The siren song hit, “Come to Momma,” I thought.  Aaaah, now I’m excited, what’s next? Look around, walk around, scope out the rest. Bananas, itty bitty plums, apples and late summer peaches smelling like they should. Fat orangey oranges.

Back home most of my wonderful produce was arranged into two favorite wooden bowls. The tofu, mushrooms (repacked in a paper bag) and spinach were tucked into the fridge.

That’s when the mess started. I had two chicken breasts in the freezer along with six wing tips put aside for stock. I pulled them out with 1 carrot, ½ a small onion, sprigs of parsley, sprigs of thyme and ½ a parsnip. Rough chopped the veggies and tossed everything (except the chicken breasts) into a deep pot, filled it with cold water and set it to boil. From the pantry, the pot also got salt and pepper, garlic powder and dried dill. That simmered for an hour before I slid in the rest of the poultry. 

Next step, soup. Hot and sour soup. I used the still hot stock (strained and all else, except the carrot, discarded). Added some of the tofu, shredded (very lean!) pork, three of the mushrooms, sliced thin, minced garlic, soy sauce, a little salt, vinegar and lots of white pepper. Mixed in at the end was a slurry of cornstarch, 1 beaten egg, some of the spinach, sesame seed oil and minced scallions. That soup made a very good dinner.

The cooked chicken breasts, when they were cool enough to handle, were shredded for chicken salad. Added were: ½ an apple, a handful of raisins, minced scallions, minced celery, fresh parsley, salt and some pepper, and, on a whim, a dash of Old Bay. Was feeling rather tentative when I went to taste the result but I was happily surprised: it was very good. Old Bay, who’d a thunk?

Late last night the Nosher hit and I finished the apple with some cheese, ate a plum and took a ‘standing with the fridge door open’ finger full of Old Bay chicken salad. Mmm, was even better when it’s cold.

Early this morning, I was at it again. What would it taste like if I grated some of the butternut squash with a little bit of onion, added egg, flour, a splash of milk, splash of orange, little zest, some spices and fried it all like small fritters? Nothing less than the big Lodge pan was going to do for this. Added a light film of oil, a small bit of butter and poured in the batter, spoonfuls at a time. I had fritters or was it pancakes? and, they….were…amazing. Sweet, savory and crunchy; a knock out for my breakfast with warm maple syrup. Bet they’d be perfect with poultry or just by themselves.

The tomatoes were my next victims and they had to be soup. Yes, again, Soup. I am on a soup binge, having been lately in need of some comfort. And quite frankly, there is nothing better to comfort that a nice bowl of home made soup.

Now my kitchen is really destroyed. The dishwasher is full and has to be emptied; pots and pans are soaking in the sink. The counter sports piles of bowls, assorted utensils, cutting boards and a grater. I just can not understand what happened to the maid. Banana bread, baba ganoush and something with zucchini are all waiting their turn. And the mushrooms and the peaches and can’t forget the plums, that half zested, half juiced orange…….

Very Comforting Roasted Tomato Soup

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in half, stems removed (*use the best you can find, and afford; Romas are always a good alternative)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 medium yellow onions, cut in ½, skin on
1 head of fresh garlic, cut in half

1 pound of ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (do not skin or seed) stems removed (see * above)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 quart low salt, low fat chicken stock, warmed

 Optional: ¼ cup cream

For garnish: minced chives, scallions and/or popcorn (yes popcorn, try it, add grilled cheese)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss together the halved tomatoes, garlic halves and onion halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on its own baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes or until they just start to fall apart and the skin looks wrinkled.  Put the onion halves on a separate sheet. Wrap the garlic in foil, put on the same sheet with the onions and roast both for 30-40 minutes, or until they are soft.

When the onions are cool enough to handle, remove their skin and chop. Remove the cloves of garlic from their skins, mash. Set both aside with the pan of roasted tomatoes.

In a heavy bottomed soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat with a splash of olive oil. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the chopped tomatoes, sauté for 3 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes and any accumulated juices and the roasted garlic. Stir to combine. Season to taste with S&P. Add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat, add the thyme and simmer partially covered for 40 minutes. Taste after 20 minutes, adjust seasoning if needed and 1 TBS sugar if the taste is too acid.

Cool slightly. Pull out the stems from the thyme. In small batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Force the pureed soup through a sieve to remove any remaining seeds or skin. Or, if you have a food mill, use that to puree, de-seed and de-skin.

Return the puree to a clean pot and, over low heat, stir in the cream. Do not allow the soup to boil. Serve warm with garnishes. Serves 6-8.

Note: this soup freezes very well but omit the cream before freezing. Add it only after gently reheating the soup and just before you are ready to serve.

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Nuts!

nutsAn unwelcome guest is staying in my house. Although determined, as best I can, to ignore it, this Annoyance just refuses to leave. It behaves with an air of smug indifference, completely ignoring the fact that I want it to go away!

Now, I am usually able to avoid this Intruder. It does have its own room and by and large keeps to busying itself with books, writing, the internet, a few household tasks. It even has some friends. It does, occasionally, make its bed.

At those times I am able to bear its presence. I regain my dignity and spend my days in quiet resignation. But after weeks of temperance, the Beast just can not contain itself and the onslaught begins. It is for those intrusions that I’ve taken to calling this Interloper the Nasty Nosher of Late Darkness. Because, that’s what it does. It’s mean. It makes me eat. After its dark.  And, when it’s very, very late.

Yens develop; urges for things. Tastes of sweet and salty, buttery and fried, start swirling over my tongue. I’ve got to get up. I land in the kitchen. I paw through cabinets, drawers, pantry and fridge. I pray the tastes I am tasting are not in the larder; that plain yoghurt or a plum will make it all go away.

The Guest has no mercy. I will eat the plum, I will spoon the yoghurt or sometimes I simply, just turn and walk away. Oh, no!

The Guest is still hungry. The Beast must be fed. Back to the kitchen where I find chocolate, sugar, eggs and vanilla; some flour, butter and nuts. Yep. Nuts. Yep, I am so bad. Yep. Nuts to the diet, nuts to good sense. Nuts, nuts, nuts.

There are brownies in the oven, they don’t take too long. The Nosher and I stand and wait by the stove. Brownies are good when they’re warm. Too bad there’s no ice-cream.

My Favorite Brownies

I’ve been making these brownies since I was in the 8th grade. They are a sentimental favorite. For a twist, pour the batter into greased, paper lined mini-muffin tins and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. Dust them with powdered sugar after they cool.

  •  2/3 cup sifted all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3  cup sweet butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 large, room temperature eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla
  • ½ cup roughly chopped walnuts or pecans

 Method:

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Grease an 8” square pan

  •  Sift dry ingredients together
  • Melt butter and chocolate together
  • Add sugar to eggs and beat until pale yellow and the “ribbon” forms
  • Mix in chocolate butter mixture
  • Mix in vanilla
  • Add dry ingredients and mix just until well blended, do not over mix
  • Fold in nuts

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. Makes about 24 brownies.

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Southern Style

sunThe day my husband and I moved into our new home, a neighbor showed up at our door minutes after the movers had left. It was August in NY, the temperature was close to 80°. Cradled in our new neighbor’s left arm was a freshly baked pie and in her right hand, a pot of coffee. We were surprised at the gesture, made curt introductions, accepted her offerings and thanked her profusely. After closing the door and making sure she was well away, we burst into laughter.

How quaint she and her welcome seemed. Didn’t she know it was too warm for coffee and pie? “Who does that?” we roared. “And her (Southern) accent”, we mocked, “do people really ‘tawlk’ like that?”  “And who comes visiting right after a move??”

What a cliché she seemed. Although the gift was genuine and the welcome heartfelt, we remained cynical and amused.

Thirty years later and I’ve been living in the South for over a decade.  Lovely Friend has invited me to her Mother-in-Law’s pool. It’s our third visit. She doesn’t drive, so each time, I do.

We live a block apart. I do not have a pool. Swimming and sunning are rare treats for me. I am grateful for the outings; delighted for the company. Lovely Friend is grateful for the ride; delighted to get away. It seems a fair exchange.

For our first visit to swim, I toss some fruit and yoghurt into a bag and take a change of clothes. I end up with two totes full of stuff mostly for me and enough light snacks to share. Lovely friend also has two totes and a very large cooler. She has brought a complete lunch and offers to pay for gas.

Money for gas is declined, the lunch is, with embarrassment, accepted (I am hungry). I’m treated to a very thoughtfully prepared poolside picnic. Knowing that I am trying to slim down and watch my diet, Lovely Friend tells me, as each item is removed from her cooler, “This just has 30 calories, those chips are fat free, this is very healthy and we’ll use spinach for lettuce.” There is fresh chicken salad, lots of fruit, mini whole wheat pita pockets, low calories chips, choices of drinks and plenty of water. I add two plums and 2 yoghurts (with spoons).

After swimming we change and go for drinks at a local bar. Lovely Friend treats.

Our second visit to swim and we’re on a tight schedule; there’s a dinner to attend later that day. There will be limited time for sunning, we’ll grab tuna sandwiches on the way. I’m under the impression we’ll split that tab. We do not. Lovely Friend pays as I will also drive us to dinner that night and I will not accept help with the gas. That subject, thankfully, is closed. But there still is a cooler, smaller this time, filled with water and juice and some ice.

Pool visit number three and we’ve got plenty of time to enjoy. Lovely Friend and I touch base in the morning and I tell her I’ll take care of our lunch. “But I got up early and have been preparing all morning. Don’t bring anything”, she urges. I won’t.

I’m now wondering what she’s got planned. The large cooler is back. We get to the pool. The sky is a perfect blue, not a cloud in sight. It is quiet and it is beautiful. We’ve got hours to loll and relax. I’m told to go sit. Lovely Friend is busy with a surprise. Bloody Marys!

She’s packed the mix in a water bottle and vodka in a jar, celery sticks were in a baggie. She remembered! Our last visit was rushed and the pool boy (I tried to conjure) was no where in sight; I wanted a Bloody Mary.

We sipped. We enjoyed. We chatted. What a day that turned out to be. Late morning cocktails followed by home made BLT’s (assembled on site!) and the best couscous salad I have ever eaten.

Gradually it dawned on me, the notion of a new neighbor bringing pie and coffee was not a joke or a chance for a rude laugh. That pie was home made and fresh from the oven. Our move was over by 1pm. Our Neighbor must have been up early to finish in time. The coffee came in an old Revere Ware Pot with a lovely copper bottom; the dish for the pie was old and well used, well loved.  She did not know us. She lent us treasures.

Gradually I’ve learned, and the notion of Real Hospitality has dawned on me. Hospitality, Southern Style. Hospitality that is thoughtful and generous, happily shared and happily given. And I have happily learned and so gratefully accepted that there is no one better or more gracious than a Southerner being Hospitable.

My Version of Cynthia’s Couscous Salad        (serves 4 as a side for a Lovely Sandwich)

  • 2 cups of prepared Israeli Couscous (cooked in low fat chicken stock and cooled to room temperature)
  • 3 tablespoons of pesto (made with fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan, S&P )
  • 1 small scallion minced, including green
  • 2 tablespoons of red pepper, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice to taste
  • S&P to taste

Mix everything together, cover & chill.

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You’re Fried

I was on the phone with my son tonight and he’s telling me about how surprised he was to find that St Louis was such a great town for food. (My boy, do your Momma proud, foodie in training, Yea!) Anyway, he mentions he had Toasted Ravioli and they were really delicious and I say, “Of course they were good. You know that basket they have that fries get dumped into and are lowered into the grease? Well that’s your toasted ravioli.”

He throws back, “Nah, they were really crispy and dry, not greasy at all.” And I say, “I don’t know, I think they fry ‘em in the same way.” And he’s back at me and says, “I don’t know Mom, you better do some research on that.”

Hung up after that one. But, after a moment, I had to agree, I did need research. Before I spoke to him I was sure. But maybe St. Louis does have a way of really Toasting Ravioli.

Okay, so I Google “Toasted Ravioli” and the first thing that comes up is from one of my favorite sites. (Now, I know I’m about to suffer for this one; being right is not always the best outcome with Smart Child…I feel a possible gauntlet going down).

It reads, “The St. Louis style of preparing ravioli is unique and delicious. The ravioli is breaded, Fried and served with marinara sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.”

Now I wanted to know, what exactly did they mean by Fried? This was critical when you’re going head on with Smart Child.

I read on, “In a large heavy pan, pour oil to depth of 2 inches. Heat oil over medium heat until a small amount of breading sizzles and turns brown. Fry ravioli, a few at a time, 1 minute on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately with hot marinara sauce.”

Round one and there’s one for me, 0 for the kid. But I decide to do more checking. Before I throw my superior knowledge (on this point) in the face of someone with a steel trap memory and a penchant for minutia, trivia and usually being right, I decide to do some more checking.

Second website. I find instructions from one of the Food Network’s most illustrious Chefs, “Heat 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat in a skillet then toast the ravioli until deep golden, 3 to 4 minutes on each side.”

Beginning to sound like fried to me. But, since I’m dealing with a Baseball Savant, as well as Smart Child, I decide to go for Strike Three.

Third website; third recipe. “In a small heavy kettle (about 5 quarts) heat 1 inch oil over moderate heat until a deep-fat thermometer registers 350°F. While oil is heating, dip ravioli in egg to coat, letting excess drip off, and dredge in bread crumbs, knocking off excess. Arrange ravioli as coated on a tray.

With a slotted spoon gently lower 4 ravioli into oil and Fry, turning them occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. With slotted spoon transfer ravioli as fried to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 350°F. before frying remaining ravioli in same manner.”

Did I read Fried at least three times???  FRIED.

When Smart Son visits I will make this for him: FRIED Toasted Ravioli. It will be his consolation prize.

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Just Blueberries

blueberryI’ve been dreaming about blueberries. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I decided to Google a dream site to see what it meant. According to the site, blueberries are a symbol of eternity and optimism for the future. Blueberries also represent youth and a desire to recapture parts of it.

Hmmm.  That started me thinking.

When I was little we had dense woods behind our house. They were brimming with squat, silvery-green blueberry bushes. On hot summer days I loved to wander those woods, bucket in hand, looking for the thickest bushes with the fattest berries. After selecting the best looking candidate, I’d settle cross legged on the cool ground and get ready to pick. I took my time and scanned the bush carefully. I was after the biggest, most perfect berries: the ones that promised to deliver the juiciest pop of summer-warmed blueberry for my greedy little mouth.

I chose carefully, one berry at a time. And I always ate the first one. And I usually ate the second, the third and the fourth. Eventually a few would begin to find their way to my bucket and some from the bucket were usually popped back into my mouth. Very few ever made their way home.

I could easily spend hours in those woods. Probably just yards from my house, it felt more like miles from the world.

Years later (many, many years later) my dearest friend moved to Maine and visions of blueberries again danced in my head. It had been too long since I’d tasted a blueberry close to the berries I remembered.

First trip to Maine and its Blueberry Season; dear friend has several pints of the little darlings chilling in the fridge and she’s planning to turnout a legendary Blueberry Tart.

I… can…not…wait.

But Jean didn’t get to the tart right away and there were several pints of a favorite food languishing untouched. They were calling my name (I imagined). I opened and closed the fridge several times, trying to keep a lid on my urges. I had to have a taste. I did.

Maine blueberries are tiny and, as I always thought fat ones were the sweetest, I expected sour on my tongue. Wrong!  That berry was the sweetest little fruit I have ever eaten. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted. If Jean wasn’t expecting to use them to bake, those berries would have been eaten and gone.

I salute the Maine Blueberry. They are the very, very best. And, childhood memories aside, a dear friend’s tart full of sweet Maine berries is so, so much better.

Now, a note if you go to Maine and blueberries are not in season and you don’t get to eat them fresh. There is, a little north of Portland along Rte 1, a store called Reny’s.  They sell blueberry jam, the best I’ve ever eaten. Buy a jar, toast a good piece of bread, slather on that jam…..you’ll enjoy the second best thing to a fresh Maine blueberry.

The Legendary Tart

The original recipe for this came from Jean’s lovely Mother-in-Law, Edith. Edith was well known as a marvelous hostess and an accomplished cook. Jean did great credit to Edith’s  Tart. It was spectacular and well worth the time and the effort. I thank Jean and Edith for sharing.

The Crust

Do not under cut the gorgeous filling by buying store bought crust. I use a ½ recipe of the butter crust published earlier in this blog. Line a standard pie plate or tart pan with the crust, crimp the edges, brush lightly with egg wash and bake until golden. Set aside to cool.

The Filling

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼  Teaspoon salt (regular table salt)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups fresh Blueberries
  • 2 Tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Gran Marnier

Method

  • Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water, with 1 cup of the berries, in a heavy bottom sauce pan.
  • Bring to a boil, stirring constantly and boil 15 minutes until thick.
  • Remove from the heat.
  • Add butter, lemon juice and Gran Marnier. Stir to combine. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • Fold in remaining 2 cups of blueberries and refrigerate filling for 1 hour.
  • Spoon chilled filling into prepared pie shell, smooth top and refrigerate for 1 more hour.

Serve with dabs of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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Coffee, Cousins & A Bowl

What food to serve and stock was my first thought when I knew overnight company was coming. Also considered were things to do, places to go and restaurants we might try. Other than buying extra, I never gave coffee a second thought.

Morning one of the visit and I’m up early to brew a pot of a favorite roast in honor of my coffee drinking company. Following her nose, Little Cousin is the first to shuffle into the kitchen. Both of us lean with one elbow on the counter, one hip slung low, both knees crumpled as we settle to watch the pot drip. Conversation is minimal until there’s enough to fill our cups. Milk poured, sweetener added, Little Cousin sighs, I smile, we both sip.

Then Little Cousin wrinkles her nose and asks, “Is this a flavor?”

Several years ago my best friend, the easiest going person I know, scowled at me when she also found a flavored brew in my pot. “I can’t drink too much flavored coffee, don’t you have plain?” she pleaded. I didn’t.

So now it’s early in the morning and there’s another plain roaster on my hands. I don’t focus until I’ve had my cup and one hour to sit and stare. After that conversation can commence. After that movement may occur. After that I can figure things out.

And this is what I figured: I only have one pot. There’s 2 pounds of hazelnut in the fridge. I have a very empty purse. There’s a diner down the street and they have plain. Please, can’t y’all go there?

_______________________________________________________________________

My Mother had a set of mixing bowls while I was growing up. They nested; the blue in the red, the red in the green and the green into the biggest, the yellow. I loved those bowls. They were smooth white on the inside and I imagine I was attracted to them when I was little because of their bright primary colors.

When Mother died I inherited those bowls but by then the yellow was missing. That left a small hole in my colored bowl group but I never wanted or sought a stand-in. I used the bowls for the same things my Mother did and potato salad tasted best when it was served from the green and tuna had to be made in the blue. The red was always for Jell-O.

Recently, Cousin arrived and antiquing was one of her must things to do. We would seek a plate I found several months before. A plate like the dishes my Aunt, my Cousin’s Mother, had once owned. I found that plate the day my Aunt died, hours before I knew she was gone. My Cousin knew that; we had to find it again. But I couldn’t remember which store.

Our first foray took us to a lovely place marked by too orderly aisles and too neat cases. We found beautiful things at very high prices but not the plate we wanted to see. We left and moved on. Our next stop was in what Cousin deemed a proper antique store; crowded, hot, jammed in every nook and cranny with more stuff than we could easily see. Five minutes in there and I knew that was the store that had had the plate. I told Cousin. We focused and started to hunt. Moving slowly, looking carefully, I was the first one to see it. My heart raced. I stepped carefully as I worked my way through a crowded nook. It was sitting on a shelf, almost by itself, looking like a bright sunny smile. It was my Mother’s large yellow bowl.

I had to take it with me. My Mother was my Aunt’s sister. We had come there looking for my Aunt’s plate. The plate would not be found but The Master Bowl, the One That Held the Others, had made its way back home.

Cynthia calls that conjuring. For a long time I scoffed but I can’t deny it anymore. And the crabmeat salad I made in that bowl has never tasted better.

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