What HAVE We Been Doing, Anyway?

It’s been a fun holiday season and while I loved having Gil home for two weeks of vacation, I’m excited to get back to work and dive into new projects! Our break, as illustrated above:

  1. While home for Christmas, I had lunch with my friend (and artist) Riece Walton at Spahr’s in Des Allemands, LA, where alligators are known to pop up behind the restaurant. No luck — good or bad — that day, but I kept my eyes peeled just the same. (Thank you for the warning, sign!) The catfish chips and fried oysters were just as good as I’d remembered, but the hush puppies blew my mind. Not just crispy, but shell-shatteringly so with a moist interior and more seasonings than corn meal, they were easily the best hush puppies I’ve ever tasted.
  2. The cold weather kept us mostly inside once we were back in NJ and cabin fever set in. It’s always the dogs who suffer most in these situations and this time was no exception. They found themselves posing for pictures in the adorable snoods we bought at the Greyhound Friends of New Jersey craft show. (Pictures and downloadable cards of the boys are available in my Etsy shop along with lots of other goodies. The boys are also featured on this site’s home page, if you want to check them out.)
  3. Oh! AND THEN Gil and I attended the faaaabulous 12th Night Midwinter Masque hosted by our friends Nancy Hightower and Valya Dudycz Lupescu this past weekend. (And thank you to Marco Palmieri for the pictures!) My mask was a public hazard, but I got the hang of it by the end of the evening. Apologies to all I hooked, stabbed or otherwise inconvenienced throughout the evening. Also, Amy’s Mask: 5, Crystal Snowflakes Hanging From Ceiling: 0.

Now, bring on Carnival season!

Pear Butter | Minimally Invasive

I’ve also been making good use of that pear shipment I mentioned in my last post. I worked up this recipe for pear butter at Thanksgiving, when I realized I’d forgotten to buy applesauce to go with the latkes. Not wanting to go grocery shopping on Thanksgiving morning — if shopping was even an option — I chose instead to make something with ingredients already in my house. This pear butter is spicy, warming, complex and just the tiniest bit sweet. Also? It’s simple to make and takes kindly to fiddling.

Pear Butter Ingredients | Minimally Invasive

I’ve already made another two batches and changed things up successfully each time. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Pear Butter

Use a variety of pears or just one type, if you prefer. The quantity of sugar is merely a suggestion; you’ll have to determine the level of sweetness you want based on the pears you have and what you think the final result should be. My pears weren’t especially sweet and I didn’t want a sugary product, so two tablespoons worked well for me. The St. Germain was added more for its perfume than flavor; feel free to use another liqueur or omit entirely if it’s not your thing. Use it any way you’d use apple butter or try it warmed and spooned over vanilla ice cream for a luscious treat.

6 ripe pears, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup water
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 small star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or 2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon St. Germain liqueur

Put all ingredients except liqueur into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until pears are soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When pears are soft, remove star anise and cinnamon stick and blend with immersion blender on low speed until pears are the consistency you like. Stir in St. Germain liqueur. Taste and adjust salt/sugar, if necessary.

Sauce keeps five days in the refrigerator, longer if frozen

This is the Pie You’re Looking For…

I’m pretty sure blueberries employ some kind of Jedi mind trick on me when I see them at the market. They coo as I pass, suggesting, “Strawberries are not the fruit you’re looking for; you will buy blueberries instead. We are better for you and more delicious.” How else to explain coming home with THREE QUARTS of them last weekend when I rarely eat fresh blueberries? It makes no sense, but I’ve come to terms with my inability to resist them if I wander in their vicinity. Do you have this problem, too? Ah well, it gave me some new items for my portfolio and today’s dessert, so I’m not complaining.

Without a plan and far too many berries (and nectarines, as it turned out) languishing in the refrigerator, I decided that pie would be a good idea. Yeah, I know. Pie/the bane of my existence/the very reason I hate baking. But I’m determined to make a go of pie for fear I’ll forfeit my Mennonite card forever if I don’t. I’m not sure what made me attempt a lattice-top version when I have trouble with a standard crust, but I sought instructions at Simply Recipes and it seemed doable, even ::gasp:: easy. And I was very pleased with the results! The lattice top is impressive and disguises flaws well; you love this pie and didn’t notice that I over-floured the edges.

Blueberries aren’t the only ones who can use Jedi mind trick. Hmph.

Now that my crust is semi-presentable, I really have to work on getting my fruit fillings right. It seems they’re either too juicy or too firm; I’ve never hit that sweet spot, which I think will come with experience. For this pie, I used the Cup4Cup crust recipe from this post, but rejiggered the filling a tiny bit. Because ground almonds worked so well as a juice-absorbing layer in my strawberry galette, I thought they’d be pretty successful here, too. I used about 1/4 cup of almond flour and it added a nice flavor, but my nectarines were freakishly juicy and overwhelmed the best efforts of the almonds. I’ll try double that next time if conditions seem the same. I’m sure I’ll have another blueberry situation before summer’s over, after all.

Gluten-Free Blueberry-Nectarine Pie | Minimally Invasive

Field to Feast: Strawberries & Rhubarb, Part II

As much as I love strawberries, I’ll admit that bringing home four pints at one time might have been overkill. Strawberries have such a short shelf life that you have to do something with them pretty quickly or you’ll find your very own science experiment growing in the refrigerator within days. Which is to say we were swimming in desserts last week. In addition to the galette I posted yesterday, I made a crisp (this time with rhubarb!) to use up a good portion of my bounty. We really tore through these desserts, not from fear of spoilage, but just because we couldn’t help ourselves.

And really, who doesn’t love a crisp? I’ve been trying to perfect a gluten-free version for the past few months, but the all-purpose flour blends weren’t working for me at all. Even after cutting back on the butter, they still oozed into a big sugary mass over the fruit instead of, well, crisping nicely on top. Since I’ve had such good luck with almond flour recently, I thought it might be worth a try here. To compensate for the extra fat from the almonds, I halved the butter from my regular crisp topping. And without patting myself too enthusiastically on the back (it’s just a crisp, after all), I want to tell you that this was really, really good. Gil rarely compliments my cooking, but he was over the moon with this one from the first bite, so I’d say it was a win-win —  a gluten-free dessert that’s marginally healthier than the original (if you don’t count the sugar) and delicious.

Gluten-Free Crisp Recipe at Minimally Invasive

I may have to reconsider my status as a non-baker if this lucky dessert streak keeps going!

Hah, who am I kidding? You know I’ll always prefer imprecise, improvisational “cooking” over baking.

Unripe Strawberry at Minimally Invasive

Learn about growing strawberries and check out the delicious Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce at The FarmGirl Cooks!

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Almond Crisp

I used finely-ground almond flour in this recipe, but I think it would be okay to substitute flour with a coarser grind here, like Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour. Of course, I haven’t tested it so it’s just speculation, but if you try it, please let me know what you think. Also, if your berries are very sweet, you’ll need to cut back on the sugar in the fruit base. The strawberries I used here were moderately sweet, but I know they’ll be even more sugary in the weeks to come. 

Fruit Base

3 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (Discard any leaves and trim stringy layers from thick stalks.)
3 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, optional
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch kosher salt

Topping

1/2 cup finely-ground almond flour, packed
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, mix rhubarb and strawberries with sugar. Macerate 10 minutes, then mix well with almond extract, optional balsamic vinegar, cornstarch and salt, and let sit for an additional 20 minutes.

Combine almond flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in sliced almonds and toss until evenly distributed.

Pour fruit into a 2-quart casserole dish or into individual oven-safe serving dishes. If using individual dishes, fill almost to the top with fruit base. Spoon the topping over the fruit. Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

Field to Feast: Strawberries & Rhubarb, Part I

To be perfectly honest, rhubarb won’t make an appearance until the second post, but I hope you’ll forgive me, because today’s strawberry galette is a doozy on its own. And that was a surprise to me, because I usually find cooked strawberries a bit underwhelming on their own.

Galettes are one of my favorite desserts to make when spring rolls around because they’re incredibly easy and are supposed to look like crap RUSTIC, imperfection being a key selling point of this dessert! And honestly, I need no particular encouragement to make my baked goods look RUSTIC and HOMEY!

Gluten-Free Strawberry Galette at Minimally Invasive

See? RUSTIC! 

I’ve always been happy enough with the crust I use for galettes; it’s shot through with cornmeal, which gives it some heft and a really pleasing crunch that goes so, so well with whatever filling I’m using. This time around, I did swap out AP flour for Cup4Cup because I bake gluten-free now, but it worked perfectly.

My relationship with fruit fillings has always been a bit complicated. I like the individual berries to still have some form after baking — mushiness doesn’t do it for me — while tossing them with flour seems to muddle things on the visual and flavor fronts. I honestly didn’t think there was anything to be done about the flour because the juice that develops during baking has to go somewhere, but I was wrong to think there wasn’t another approach. Oh, so wrong. While looking around for some general amount of flour to use on the strawberries, I found a really interesting way around it; using ground almonds mixed with flour and sugar as a base layer, then topping it with sugared berries.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Galette at Minimally Invasive

You can see above how the berries still glisten with sugar (and with balsamic vinegar, one of my special additions that really adds some complexity to the dessert) before baking. I nibbled on so many of these before putting the galette in the oven that I’m surprised the pastry was still filled by the time it started baking.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Galette at Minimally Invasive

But the minimal amount of self-control I exhibited paid off with a dessert I’ll be making again and again while strawberries are still in market. The ground almond layer handled the juices like a champ and kept the strawberries looking and tasting exactly as they should, even after baking.

You can use any combination of berries you like in a galette, so if strawberries aren’t your thing, maybe blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or even cherries would be more to your liking. Or maybe rhubarb. Or later in the year, maybe try apple or pear…

Learn about growing strawberries and check out the delicious Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce at The FarmGirl Cooks!

Strawberry Galette adapted from Cooking Light and Laura Calder/Cooking Channel

The ground almond layer added a very subtle almond flavor, which I loved. If you want more of it, use the optional almond extract.

Pastry Crust
1 3/4 cups Cup4Cup flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk
Turbinado sugar, for dusting

Filling
1/2 cup ground almonds, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon Cup4Cup flour
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved if large
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional

To prepare pastry crust, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a food processor; pulse two times. Add butter to flour mixture; pulse 4 to 5 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor on, slowly add buttermilk through food chute; process just until dough forms a ball. Gently press dough into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap; wrap tightly and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Unwrap dough and place on a sheet of parchment paper, dusting with flour if dough feels a little tacky to the touch. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll dough into a 15-inch circle. Carefully peel off top piece of parchment and slide dough with bottom sheet of parchment onto a baking sheet.

To prepare filling, whisk together almonds, Cup4Cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar. Spoon onto prepared pastry, leaving a 2-3-inch gap around the edges. Combine strawberries with 1 tablespoon of sugar, balsamic vinegar and optional almond extract, then spoon carefully onto the almond flour mixture.

Using a bench scraper, carefully fold edges of pastry up and over the strawberry filling. If you see any rips, pinch to seal. Lightly sprinkle edges of dough with turbinado sugar.

Bake at 350°F for 50 minutes to one hour, or until pastry is golden brown and strawberry juices are bubbling. Carefully slide galette still on parchment paper onto a rack. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Cup4Cup Week: The Cake

After the biscuit victory, I was hooked — is there anything this flour can’t do? The next test was a little unfair, simply because the cake recipe I chose uses a lot of butter and juicy nectarines and it’d be tough for any gluten-free flour not to shine under those conditions. Still, summer’s ending and I hadn’t made my favorite cake of the season yet — the Nectarine Golden Cake.

Gluten-free cake with Cup4Cup flour

The cake didn’t rise quite as high as cakes made with regular AP flour, but the flavor and texture were indistinguishable. Big win!

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Cup4Cup Week: The Cake”

From the Market: Stone Fruit Edition

Stone Fruit Edition

“You’re gonna get the shits.”

It was the late 70s and I was maybe 10 years old — 10 being my default age for somewhat indistinct childhood memories — and the wind was whipping my hair into a rat’s nest. It was summer and I was riding in the back of a pickup truck with a group of kids, heading back to our meeting place after an afternoon of picking peaches. Oh, there was an adult riding with us who was there in a supervisory capacity, because there has to be ONE responsible grown-up around when you’re transporting a bunch of kids IN THE BACK OF A PICKUP TRUCK. No, we weren’t day laborers or or migrant peach-pickers, but a group of Mennonites gathered for a weekend pig roast in Mississippi to celebrate the dedication of a new church building. I suppose the adults wanted to get us out of the way and thought we’d burn off some energy gathering fruit.

I don’t remember the activity of picking itself, but the trip home is firmly planted in my memory. As I rode IN THE BACK OF THE PICKUP TRUCK, feeling the exhilaration of flying down the road while smiling with my mouth closed to prevent accidental bug ingestion, I saw those sacks of peaches before me and was overcome with a powerful peach-lust, the likes of which I’d never felt before. The scent was overwhelming, the skins so soft! I almost could imagine how Roberto Benigni felt about those pumpkins in Night on Earth! So I did what any kid would do; I devoured many peaches and started a full-scale peach-eating frenzy among my compatriots, complete with pit-spitting from the truck. I can only imagine the extent of the chromosomal damage done by eating so many unwashed fruits sprayed with who-knows-what insecticide was popular back then. After seeing me pluck one peach after another from the sack, the lone adult interjected that I miiiight possibly be concerned about my bowels later on if I continued (not a word about chromosomal damage, though). Lucky for me, there was no grand shitting incident then or later at the pig roast, but that experience did inaugurate my life-long love of peaches and, by extension, all stone fruits.

So when I saw the bounty of organic stone fruits at the Orchards of Concklin booth at the Ringwood Farmers’ Market, I got a little giddy. But my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and I came home with far too many fruits to eat on their own before they spoiled. Good thing there’s no shortage of recipes for such a problem at this time of year. I remembered saving this grilled kale salad from Bon Appetit to one of my Pinterest boards, and it turned out to be a perfect lunch. Grilling kale is nothing new, but the tartsweet plums, the creamy goat’s milk ricotta from Edgwick Farm, and honeyed balsamic vinaigrette shone against the background of smoky kale and set this apart from a standard salad preparation.

gluten-free

While I was grilling the kale, I cut the rest of the fruit in half, oiled it lightly, then tossed it on the grate to cook so it would last through the week. It made a great, simple dessert right away — an assortment of grilled fruit with more of that luscious goat’s milk ricotta drizzled with a little aged balsamic vinegar (the sweet stuff, not the grocery-store variety), fresh thyme and truffle honey.

gluten-free

Need. More. Of. This. Better add it to the list for this weekend.

gluten-free

With the rest of the grilled fruit, I made a mixed-fruit butter. The skins slipped off after grilling, so I threw the fruit halves in a saucepan with a little sugar and a splash of brandy, then cooked them down till the sauce was thick. To get it velvety smooth, I puréed it in my food processor for a bit. I’m not too proud to admit it’s pretty satisfying just spooned from the jar, but if you make this, save a little, because it’s stellar with pork chops. And eat to your heart’s content — I’m sure you won’t have any, er, troubles.

From the Market: Think Pink Edition

Strawberry & Rhubarb Smoothie with Lemon Basil | Minimally Invasive

When the unrelenting greigeness of the winter landscape weighs heavily on my soul, especially so in March when my internal calendar — still set to Southern seasonal rotations, even after all these years — says the world should be warm and bursting with life, I dream of color. By May, our yard is awash in yellow forsythia and tiny purple blooms in the grass — probably weeds, but I don’t care — and I begin to recover. Still, the really vibrant colors don’t come until later, and not until the Farmers’ Market starts up again around Memorial Day do I bother to buy fruit. There’s just no comparison between the beautiful but insipid berries you see at the market and the beautiful and flavorful ones you get locally. (The strawberries taste like strawberries, and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries!) So last week I decided to think pink.

Rhubarb Syrup and Strawberry & Rhubarb Smoothie with Lemon Basil | Minimally Invasive

Though rhubarb seems to be long gone by now, I still have a bottle of lovely rhubarb syrup in the fridge that mixes will with all sorts of things, and is still a classic with strawberries. I blended up a little shake to get me through the morning — strawberries, rhubarb syrup, lemon basil, goat’s milk yogurt and ice. Nothing fancy, but so delicious and fresh, I feel healthier just remembering it.

Strawberry & Rhubarb Smoothie with Lemon Basil | Minimally Invasive

Honestly, couldn’t you just have a glass of that right now? Aaaahhhh…

But one can only drink so many strawberries and they don’t last forever, not even close, so I had to come up with something else for them. Lucky for me (and all of us, really), Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for strawberries & cream biscuits a few weeks ago.
Gluten-Free Strawberries & Cream Biscuits | Minimally Invasive
whimper

I converted the original recipe to gluten-free, using Jules Gluten-Free AP Flour. Because the last batch of biscuits I made with this flour blend turned out fairly dry, I played with the proportions of ingredients, adding more butter (two extra tablespoons) and cream (an extra 1/4 cup). Like that’s ever a bad thing. With all of the extra liquid, they had to bake a while longer to turn golden brown, but they eventually did, after about 25 minutes. The tweaks certainly took care of the dryness, but I think there’s something about the GF flours that kept the juices from spilling out of the biscuits. The cornstarch, maybe? Not that I’m complaining; they were awfully tasty anyway.

Gluten-Free Strawberries & Cream Biscuits | Minimally Invasive

But boy, do they ever not reheat well. Just a warning for you.

Gluten-Free Strawberries & Cream Biscuits | Minimally Invasive

Gluten-Free Strawberries & Cream Biscuits | Minimally Invasive

I think we still have a few weeks of strawberries before they’re gone for another year. I fully intend to enjoy these ephemeral beauties until then and store the memories for the long winter ahead.

Strawberries | Minimally Invasive

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “From the Market: Think Pink Edition”

Cajeta with Crêpes and Roasted Pears

cajeta dessert

I’ll let you in on a little secret that maybe isn’t so secret: Cajeta is the food of angels. It’s essentially a milk caramel sauce, but what sets it apart from dulce de leche or confiture de lait is that it’s usually made from goat’s milk, which makes it more delicious by half, IMHO; it has a little tang and complexity the others don’t. Cajeta’s incredible on ice cream, with cookies or toast, over a simple cake, on a spoon, as a beverage (not that I’ve tried that…yet), or in a million other ways, I’m sure.

still life - pears

But because we have an abundance of pears in the market these days, I teamed the cajeta with crêpes and topped them with, you guessed it, roasted pears. AGAIN.

crepes, roasted pears and cajeta

I looked at a lot of cajeta recipes before starting, and most of them emphasized that you Must Stir Frequently, especially after adding the baking soda, or else! I liked Rick Bayless’s recipe because of his relaxed attitude to the whole thing and, you know, he’s Rick Bayless. So don’t worry too much when you’re making it; I just wandered into the kitchen every now and then (more frequently toward the end) to give it a stir.

Usually, cajeta would be a bit thicker than you see in the picture above, but I was in a hurry to wrap things up and skimped on the cooking time a little. It was still mind-blowingly good. And it would make a great homemade gift for the holidays, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure the recipient would be.

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “Cajeta with Crêpes and Roasted Pears”

From the Market — Week 7

Cherries

Well, things certainly have been buzzing around here. Even though I’ve neglected this blog for a while, I want to take a moment to pat myself on the back (gingerly, so I don’t dislocate a shoulder) for getting anything done at all. You see, I’ve been shooting another cookbook! (Not my own!) In my spare time! Which means every weekend! Minus the two vacations we’ve already scheduled! I’m hoping the exclamation points give me a little energy, because it’s a grueling pace, but I’m already so happy with the way things are going that I don’t mind the lack of rest. (OK, that’s not entirely true. My resentfulness does overflow on occasion when Gil’s taking a nap while I’m slaaaaaving away in the kitchen, but it’s what I signed up for, so I just suck it up.)

So in addition to the 2-3 recipes I’m cooking, styling and shooting for the book each day, I try to eke out a little something of my own to share here. This was my most recent stab at something new:

Asparagus and cherry tacos…whaaaa? I know, I wouldn’t have thought of that combination, either, but The Kitchn’s newsletter featured the recipe and made it sound so good, I had to give it a shot. I really should’ve made the asparagus salsa as well, but I was taaaahrd (a Southern kind of tired that hits you deep in the bone marrow) by Sunday afternoon and just couldn’t bring myself to cook one. more. thing. Still…it was quite luscious with just a spritz of lime juice and farmer cheese instead of the queso fresco.

And since cherries were still in the market, I took the opportunity to rework that jam I’d over agar-agared a week before. I still wanted to use agar agar as a thickening agent, because it doesn’t require cooking the fruit — I like the idea of a really vibrant and fresh-tasting jam. Halving the amount called for on the package yielded exactly the consistency I was hoping for, so yay for progress.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “From the Market — Week 7”