mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

eggplant parm (with ricotta!) . . .

I love cooked eggplant. It’s great sauteed over high heat with lots of garlic and hot sauce at Chinese restaurants. I like to cook eggplant tempura when I make shrimp tempura with some sweet potatoes too. Tonight, even though it’s still pretty warm outside, I’m cooking the eggplant I bought at the farm stand a couple of days ago.

The eggplant was sliced on the thin side and sprinkled with Maldon salt – left it for about an hour. Then, I rinsed it well under cold water and DRIED it all and let it sit for a couple of hours. When ready to put the dish together, I heated up a skillet with oil and dipped the eggplant slices in egg first, then very lightly dredged in flour mixed with  Lawry’s garlic salt and cracked pepper. Then, I cooked the eggplant slices until it was crisp and cooked on both sides. Drained the oil off of it and finished cooking the rest of the slices. Having blotted all of the oil from the cooked slices, I was ready to put everything together.

There’s a fluted white porcelain oval baking dish that is perfect for this size eggplant parm. The sauce we like is Ragu traditional (might seem boring but it’s not too acidic and the taste is to our liking.) I took a tablespoon and spread a little sauce on the bottom of the casserole. Since all the eggplant was cooked, I did the reverse of what I usually do – which was to save the nice uniform pieces for the top level and used the cut up “ugly” pieces on the bottom layer! Can’t believe I never thought to do that before. I spooned on a scant layer of sauce, then added some dollops of fresh ricotta cheese. There was about a third of a container of ricotta cheese in the fridge and it tasted great – so I was confident it would taste good in the eggplant dish. I used the microplane to grate fresh parmesan cheese over the entire layer. Then repeated the layering steps with lots of parmesan grated onto the top.

The oven was heated to 375 and I cooked it until the eggplant parm was golden brown on the top. It was very tasty – not too much tomato taste, tender eggplant and sweet melted ricotta cheese in between. Yum!

 

 

lemony poppyseed tea bread . . .

It’s day three of a heat wave here in New England mid-May while we’re waiting to put our plants out by Memorial Day (just kidding!) The Celtics are coming up against LeBron James and the Cavaliers tonight at 8:30 p.m. Around two in the afternoon, I began looking around for some “treat” to make for the game tonight from ingredients that I already have on hand.

This is an exercise not unlike doing the “Jumble” anagram puzzle in the newspaper every morning! My goal is to make something from scratch with ingredients I already have on hand. No fair getting in the car to get something just to make a spontaneous treat in the middle of the day! Anyhow. I wanted something fresh and tender to the bite so I settled on a lemon poppyseed cake baked in a loaf pan. The reason it’s “lemony” is that I’ve used fresh lemon zest and fresh lemon juice in the cake – and with the spare amount of lemon juice left, I’ll add some confectioners sugar to it and dribble a little lemon glaze on top of the cake when it comes out of the oven!

 

 

 

 

my “DIY-CSA” experiment . . .

Yesterday, I received an invitation to join a CSA share of vegetables etc. from Western Massachusetts. I was tempted to subscribe last year but wasn’t sure if I might be too choosy to deal with deliveries of random food for 20 weeks.

I talked about it with G. and we both agreed that being able to CHOOSE our own vegetables suited our natures better. So today, I started our customized CSA experiment by going to a local farm in Northborough. The CSA subscription costs $30 a week for 20 weeks = $600. So I figured that I might try going with a $30 or less budget at the farmstand. (I also planned to stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home to augment the vegetables from the farm.)

My first visit to Berberian Farms was a little early for vegetables – they said they’d have more of their harvest “after Memorial Weekend,” we were told. Some of the lettuces were from New Jersey as were some of the other produce. HOWEVER, I was able to supply ourselves with these vegetables for a total bill of $12.91. That’s right: for about thirteen dollars.

dozen fresh eggs, extra large

2 Braeburn apples that I’ll use to make a puff pastry apple tart from a recipe I found in “Nordic Kitchen”

a nice eggplant that will be eggplant parmigiana and perhaps some eggplant tempura too

2 Roma tomatoes

nice piece of ginger root – hard to find these

3 zucchini squash for fritters, as a side vegetable and possibly in a frittata

3 large golden beets, to roast in the oven, peeled and slathered with butter, salt and pepper

2 sweet potatoes to bake as a side dish with fresh filet of sole or to accompany oven fried chicken thighs tonight

That’s all for this week’s farmstand trip. Am looking forward to next week’s visit!

 

quick brownies from the pantry! . . .

When I remembered that the Celtics (Boston!) were scheduled to play Game 7 tonight in the NBA playoffs, I looked around the pantry for ingredients to make some brownies.

Here’s the simple recipe – mixed by hand with some leftover salad glazed walnuts and poured into a buttered porcelain baking dish  into a preheated 350 oven:

COCOA BROWNIES:

Melt 1 stick of unsalted butter

Add 1 cup sugar and beat with butter

Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 2 eggs into the creamed mixture

Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and same of salt

Preheat 350 oven and bake for 25-30 minutes (do not overbake)

The Celtics lost by one point in Game 6. Let’s hope they’ll have better luck (and a bigger winning margin playing at home tonight!)

Footnote: we sliced up the brownies after dinner and had a taste with our coffee. They were tasty and moist – a good combination!

 

 

dumplings and noodle bowl for dinner. . .

There’s a lot of cooking purity out there – you know, make everything from scratch all the time. I must admit I can be like that some of the time, but sheepishly, I confess to taking more and more shortcuts while maintaining a homey feel to a dish for dinner.

Tonight, I’m feeling a little lazy, having put on an impromptu eat-in last night for friends and family. So we’re going to go light tonight – both in the amount of effort on my part and the amount of food. I picked up a packet of asian chicken soup dumplings at Trader Joe’s this morning. I plan to steam them up and serve them, eating each one nestled in a large pottery soup spoon with dipping sauce so as not to lose the precious soup inside each dumpling.

Separately, I’ll cook a handful of somen noodles – very thin Japanese noodles that are usually eaten cool in the height of summer, dipped in a cup of sauce. But tonight, I’m going to add the cooked somen noodles into a dashi/chicken broth with some sauteed bok choy hearts.

It turns out that this was one of our anniversary dates that we celebrate (March 7 when we eloped and May 11th when we held a ceremony and party for friends and family.)  G. surprised me with roses and a card late this afternoon: I had completely forgotten about it! Instead of running out to an expensive restaurant in town, we enjoyed our light, simple and very tasty supper at home. Wouldn’t you?

 

raspberry ricotta cake . . . ‘best ever!’

The title of this post might be easy to misinterpretation. I just put this cake in the oven and the batter was the best I’ve ever tasted. Honestly!

My daughter, C. and I came upon a ricotta cake with berries when we got together for coffee the other day at Verrill Farms in Concord, MA. We’ve had it for dessert since then and I was struck by the moist cake and nice flavor with blackberries and blueberries here and there in the cake.

This morning, I just mixed together a recipe for ricotta cake with raspberries. I melted a stick of unsalted butter in the microwave, mixed the dry ingredients together using turbinado sugar instead of granulated white sugar. Mixing it together, the batter seemed awfully dry to me – turns out I forgot to copy down the three eggs in the recipe. Using a small electric mixer, I blended the batter together. It looked beautiful – which is a lot to say about cake batter, right?

Into a fluted white porcelain pan buttered all over, the batter filled it almost to the top (I hope it doesn’t spill over as it bakes!) Along the top of the cake, I inserted fresh raspberries and licked the bowl. Yummy batter! So tonight, we’ll have to confirm whether the cake is the best ever!

One of George’s long-time friends may be dropping by midday and the raspberry ricotta cake might be a nice treat. Now, I’m going to go ahead and make up a batch of turkey ricotta meatballs to bake in the oven after the cake comes out. We’ll have them tonight with some sauteed zucchini and mushrooms in tomato sauce and angel hair spaghetti.

Ricotta is a new ingredient  to our recipes – and boy, it’s tasty good!

Footnote: the cake was moist and dense, very tasty! Next time, I’ll look for a slightly larger baking pan so that the batter has more room to fluff up and cook in the middle. The batter was still the most awesome I’ve ever licked!

 

“pasta primavera” . . .

Today’s weather was sunny and mild once the rain fell and moved on this morning. The result is a fresh garden with birds twittering along while I make dinner tonight.

Over the weekend, I bought a handful of fava beans in their shells – the most expensive green vegetable anywhere, as far as I’m concerned. You end up paying the weight of these massive outer skins to reveal a few fava beans wrapped in their protective membranes. Parboiling the shelled beans in their skins, then rinsing them under cold water, then enables you to peel that skin off of each bean to harvest the bright green, tender fava bean within. It’s worth it but it’s tedious.

With the fava beans (and plenty of crushed garlic,) I planned to quarter cut some fresh asparagus with the tough stems broken off. Earlier, I had a small bit of fresh spinach that I cooked in butter, chopped up and added a bit of heavy cream to make creamed spinach. When the fava beans were shelled (G. kindly lent a hand there,) I sauteed two cloves of garlic in a generous amount of unsalted butter, added the fava beans, asparagus and after they were cooked, the creamed spinach. What beautiful greens!

To a pot of boiling water, I added dried egg fettucine and cooked them through, draining them and adding back to the pot with a gob of butter to coat them, along with some truffle salt and chopped parsley.

To serve, I’ve begun plating pasta dishes in shallow soup dishes that  I found at Brimfield, eons ago – they turn out to be just the right shape and size for a good-sized serving of spaghetti, or in this case, fettucine with Spring vegetables. I also like to squeeze a crescent of fresh lemon over the dish after the vegetables and before freshly grated parmesan cheese is provided on top.

YUM YUM YUM! (and the kitchen smells divine with the garlic, vegetable, butter aromas wafting around. . . ) Now, to rescue the bottle of wine I remembered to put into the freezer a little while ago. The wine was divine – a wonderful one given to us by C. with an odd name: “Qupe.”

Happy Tuesday!

H-U-G-E ginger molasses cookies! . . .

One of our favorite cookies comes from Idylwylde Farms in Acton, MA. They’re not easily found but sit in a small cupboard near the bakery shelves. What’s special about them is that they are very large, chewy, tasty and munchy to the max! They also cost $2.25 APIECE!! I buy them for G. to have with his coffee after dinner and gently urge him to pace himself but the cookies disappear pretty quickly.

So today, rather than driving a half hour from here to buy more of those cookies, I decided to experiment with baking a batch in our kitchen. All of the online recipes I looked at were similar in ingredients but were half the size I was aiming for. The biggest ones I could find were about 3 inches across. Each one of those cookies was shaped to the size of a “walnut,” rolled in sugar and slightly flattened to bake on a cookie sheet.

I mixed the dough and observed that my “room temperature” butter was slightly more chilly than called for, but broke up when blended with an electric mixer. The butter was thus in tiny bits rather than a smooth batter. I left it that way and didn’t mind because I thought they might make the cookies more tender (like scones and pie crust.)  Here are the ingredients I used:

Wet: 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temp; 1 cup turbinado (coarse, light brown colored and crunchy, NOT brown sugar,) 1 egg, 1/4 cup molasses – beaten together until combined.

Dry: 2 cups flour, 2 tsps. baking soda, 2 tsps. ground ginger; 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground cloves

Mix dry ingredients together and add in 2 batches to wet mixture. Combine well. Using your hands, make a ball the size of a small plum. Roll it in turbinado sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet, slightly flattening it and making sure there’s lots of room between it and the next cookie. They will SPREAD as they bake. My batter made seven very large cookies which I baked on two cookie sheets at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

I peeked at them in the oven after baking for 12 minutes – added another 8 minutes in 2 increments and then took them out, testing one with a toothpick which came out clean. The choice I had was to bake them through but not burn the bottom of the cookies. After I took them out, I gently moved them to a cooling rack. I also sprinkled a little more turbinado sugar on the top of each warm cookie.

G. came upstairs and about fell over on the floor when he saw them. I have a very happy husband today – and so early in the day too! Haha.

Plus, 7 X $2.25 is $15.75 worth of cookies made at home. Now comes the taste test of how they compare to the boughten gold standard. We’ll see soon.

“divine” chocolate dipped strawberries . . .

Although I’ve experimented with dipping fresh strawberries twice so far, I wouldn’t be able to claim that they were “divine.” The first batch was made on the spur of the moment when I had some leftover strawberries and some milk chocolate leftover from Christmas stockings. They were good but not great.

The next time I made them, I thought I’d try out a Ghiardelli dark intenso chocolate bar with nuts and sea salt.  These tasted good but looked terrible, the nuts and sea salt giving the strawberries a gloppy appearance.

This time might be a charm. Hope so anyhow. I found that strawberries come in different assortments: most have HUGE strawberries that are mostly white on the inside. They’re also too big for a single morsel to eat. So, instead of springing for the big “organic” strawberries, I look for a grower who packs medium sized RED strawberries (or mostly red.) You might be surprised how hard this is to find.

Today, I bought two packs of these medium strawberries for less than $2.00 a box. I then went to the candy aisle, as strange to me as going to the desert, and looked over the chocolate bar selection. I selected Lindt bars: a deep intense dark chocolate and what looked like “white” milk chocolate. I also picked up a small packet of chopped hazelnuts to toast up in a pan before sprinkling over the strawberries.

I also discovered that melting chocolate in a double boiler type set up is almost always awkward to handle and unnecessary. The second time around, I melted the broken up chocolate bar in a white ramekin in the microwave. Setting it on one minute at a time, the chocolate melted by about the 2nd heating. I then tilted the ramekin so that the melted chocolate pooled onto one side of the ramekin and dipped the strawberries to their collarbones.

When I was ready to start the dipping project, I opened what I thought was “white” milk chocolate only to find out it was milk chocolate which was medium brown and not white. At the store once again, I couldn’t find any bars of white chocolate although I had seen one at the other store this morning. In the baking section, I came upon some Ghiardelli white baking chips.

Here’s how they turned out: the intense dark chocolate was so dark it was almost bitter to the taste. I mixed some dark with milk chocolate and it tasted good. The white chocolate was delicious too. I briefly toasted the chopped hazelnuts in a small skillet and let it cool. Spooned bits of them over the chocolate-dipped strawberries.

In disposable aluminum pans with plastic covers, laid out on white doilies that I came across in the pantry last week, they look gorgeous! Couldn’t be easier to make – most of the effort is picking out the chocolate you want to use! Voila!

scallion parmesan scones! . . .

Last Sunday, my daughter C. and I had lunch together at a dim sum restaurant in Cambridge. On the way back, we stopped at an organic bakery called Quebrada on Mass. Ave. There, I saw some scones with green onion and parmesan cheese. They were small, round and delicious when G. and I ate them later for supper.

This morning, I thought about making a batch as accompaniment to fresh Maine crabcakes tonight. For the scones to turn out with tiny layers requires understanding that the less you handle the dough, the better. Plus, it’s helpful to use a Cuisinart or food processor to mix it together.

  1. In the processor, grate a hard piece of parmesan or gruyere cheese until finely grated. You’ll need 1/3 cup which you’ll empty out of the processor, storing the remainder in the fridge if any.
  2. Measure 1 1/2 cups of flour (I used King Arthur) into the processor.
  3. Chop up 3 tablespoons of scallions, white and green ends.
  4. I froze a stick of unsalted butter and cut off 2 T. leaving 6 T. I used a sharp knife and cut the 6T. of frozen butter into long sticks, then cubed sticks, then tiny cubes. Placed them into the processor.
  5. Measured 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder into the flour mixture.
  6. Pulse the flour, baking powder and cold butter until mixed. Add parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.
  7. Place mixture into a mixing bowl – then add scallions, 1/2 cup light cream and combine just until the dough holds together. Pat it together and let rest for a few minutes (while you clean up the dishes in the sink that you’ve used so far.)
  8. Lightly flour a board and press the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick with your fingers. I used a square cutter with crimped edges, re-rolling the scone dough until it was all used up.
  9. I placed the scones in a 400 degree oven on a buttered cookie sheet. Peeked at them at around 15 minutes and they were risen, golden brown and fragrant.