Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Blueberry Bake Sale Bars

Blueberries are special to me.  More than any other food, they evoke a Proustian quality of memory.  My childhood was far from perfect, and my recollections of those years are often tinged with sadness and loss.  But where blueberries are concerned, there are, in my mind, only happy associations.  Of course there are the ones you would expect - summer, picnics, ice cream, and pie, but there are more, too - nurturing, hope, freedom, possibility, and even love.

I took my girls picking today.  What blueberry memories will they have?  For me it might be the remembered flavor of a handful of berries the color of comfortable denim, snatched in passing, eaten with one hand while wandering the rows, a tattered paperback in my other hand, the morning mist around the blueberry bushes just beginning to dissipate.  Or the sheen of a berry might remind me of the exact color of my Dad's blue Buick in October, covered with the first frost of the year.  What unbidden images will flavor my daughters' blueberry dreams?

I spent my high school summers working at a U-pick blueberry farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, which meant that I spent most of my time sunbathing, or when it got too hot, sitting in a comfortable rocker in an open-sided shed reading piles of books, eating blueberries, and petting the calico cat.  Occasionally I would weigh buckets, direct visitors to the best rows, and make change.  If I felt ambitious, I picked buckets of blueberries to take home.  We froze them in empty Chock Full O Nuts coffee cans, and then reached into them for berries to adorn winter pancakes, or muffins, or blueberry bars.

For one weekend every summer, the farm became very busy.  During the annual Blueberry Festival, which was a fundraiser to benefit the Susquehanna County Library and Historical Society, people came to pick berries for the bake sale.  My family always baked something like these blueberry bars.  The crust is not too rich - more like a scone than a cookie or pastry.  We cut them into big slabs (to evoke that "little hands" feeling), put them on a napkin, and charged a dollar.  People went crazy for them.  I've altered and improved on the recipe since then.

Big Blueberry Bake-Sale Bars

4 C flour, divided
1/2 C + 3 T sugar
5 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 C cold butter, cut into pieces
1 C cream or half-and-half or milk
2 beaten eggs
4 C blueberries
4 t cornstarch
1 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 C melted butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter an 11 X 15" sheet pan.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine 3 C of the flour, the 3 T of sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the lemon zest.  Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut in the 1/2 C cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center; set aside.

3.  Combine the cream and the eggs with a whisk.  Add all at once to the flour mixture.  Using a fork, stir until just moistened.  Spread the dough onto the 11 X 15" pan.  Hands are best for this.  Work the dough into all four corners of the pan.

4.  Mix the blueberries, 1/2 C sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice.  Spread this mixture over the crust.

5.  For the streusel topping -   Combine the melted butter, 1 C flour, confectioner's sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and mix with your fingers until moist and crumbly.  Crumble over the top of the blueberries and press in gently.

6.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, until the top is slightly golden brown.  Let cool completely, cut into hand-sized squares.  Enjoy!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Hand-rolled and hand-cut pasta

I was inspired to try making homemade pasta by this post at SouleMama.  I've made pasta before, always by machine, and I just hate washing all that gadgety stuff at the end.  It makes it seem so not worth it.  So when I read that Amanda hand rolls and hand cuts her pasta, and that she actually likes doing it, I thought I'd have to try.  I got The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution from the library, and followed Alice Waters' recipe.  I used the KitchenAid mixer to mix the dough.  When I took it out to hand knead it, it seemed kind of dry.  The eggs we use are from a local farm and run small, so I crumbled the dough back into the KitchenAid and added another small egg.  That seemed to do the trick.  I hand kneaded it a little and then let it rest.  That resting business always seems kind of unimportant to me, and used to sometimes skip instructions like that, until experience taught me that gluten strands, whether in bread or pasta, sometimes need time to relax and de-stress, just like us.  I can tell you that after an hour resting on the counter the dough was very easy to work with.

Here it is, folded in thirds for cutting.  I purposely cut fairly thick strips because I thought they would look cool and rustic.

I was really paranoid about the noodles sticking together when I cooked them, so I spread them out in layers on clean tea towels.  Then I dropped then quickly into the water one at a time while my husband stirred gently.  They were a little thick, so they took 5 minutes to cook.  Next time I will be patient and roll them out a bit thinner, but I was hungry and impatient - a common problem for me!

They were delicious!  Here's my hubby's dish of pasta, served with caramelized fennel, grated parmesan, arugula with roasted walnuts, and a little steamed artichoke.  I am not a huge fennel fan, but we got some from our CSA, and this is a fennel recipe I actually enjoy.  It is the Pasta with Golden Fennel from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets.  The arugula and artichokes came in our CSA box this week, too.    

Felted Sweater Mice

I am back, maybe to stay for a while?  Or maybe not.  It seems that the demands of summertime mothering are not so conducive to blogging, but I really miss having that reflective time, and some space in which to celebrate the small successes of my days.  So we'll see how it goes, I guess.

For now, I want to show you my little felted mice.

They're made from felted sweaters from the thrift store.  These are the first three, though I have plans to make six - one for each of my children, and one for each of their four cousins.  The two on the left have eyes made of beads, and the one on the right has stitched eyes because that cousin is a chewer.

 They have felt hearts stitched on their tummies!

The pink tail is a strip cut from a sweater that I maybe overfelted a little.  It worked great.  I really wanted yellow for the other tails, and I didn't have any yellow felted sweaters, so I knitted a couple of I-cords.  I learned how from a tutorial on YouTube.  That was fun and satisfying!  I-cords is short for "idiot cords" because they are so simple once you see how to do it.  I will be looking for excuses to knit I-cords now.

Here's one of mine with the card she made for her cuz.

The pattern for these is Betz White's, and can be found here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

This weeks fare

We didn't get to everything last week. The pea soup and beans and rice lasted longer than I anticipated. The soup was great and very possibly the best pot of it I have ever made, everyone loved it but still, when I served it for "brunch" on Saturday, there were groans.

  • Sunday: Shrimp, broccoli and carrot stir-fry, rice, banana bread
  • Monday: Mexican beans, Mexican rice, corn tortillas, coleslaw
  • Tuesday: Gumbo, sauteed greens, fresh bread
  • Wednesday: Taco salads, potato dumplings
  • Thursday: Hot and Sour soup, sushi, sauteed broccoli
  • Friday: Foccacia, salad with tuna and potatoes, sorbet
  • Saturday: Pork souvlaki, barley bread, hummus, beet salad, pumpkin pie
On another note, I figured out how to grocery shop without a plan. Once again, many people probably already know this. I have a well stocked pantry--beans, flours, grains, canned goods and dried fruits. My freezer is well stocked, as well, with meats and fruits. It is the perishables that get me when I don't have a plan. What I used to do was over shop. I would put any produce item I could ever possibly want in my cart, that way, my options were endless. That resulted in a lot of waste. For most of the month of April, I just couldn't wrap my mind around a weekly menu, but this time I used another tactic. I, mostly, stuck with the basics that don't go bad in a few days, or even weeks (carrots, beets, celery, chard and kale, potatoes, apples and oranges,) with a few exceptions that were in season or I knew we would eat in the first few days (rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower.) I get yogurt and a hard cheese or some feta--something that isn't delicate, and I called it good! It was a nice change of pace without a lot of waste or feeling like there was a lot of food to be dealt with before it went bad.

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday at I am an Organizing Junkie.

I made an important discovery!!!

It could be that I have rediscovered the wheel a bit but, here it is: If you want dinner on the table at 5:30, you must start preparing dinner BEFORE 5:30. For the past two weeks, I have been starting dinner WAY earlier than (seemingly) necessary, and holy beans in a pot, dinner has been on the table between 5 and 5:30!!! The kitchen has been cleaned and the food put away and I can actually enjoy the family for the rest of the evening instead of spending it rushing them through their bedtime routines. THEN...oh, yes, there's more...I can spend the time after they go to bed RELAXING instead of cleaning up the kitchen. It has only taken me 10 years, but I have finally gotten this timing thing down!

On another note, I found a Jacques Pepin dvd at our local library and he pretty much rocks! It is titled "Fast Food My Way" and even though most of his dishes don't work for our family, it just got me thinking about meal making in a different way.

I have made this Tibetan bread a few times with spelt flour and it was lovely.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm back!!!

After a busy several of weeks, I am back! I have so many blog posts that I composed in my head while scurrying around, and they will come, but for now it is merely a "Menu Plan Monday" post, you know, just to ease back into things. So, here it is....

  • Sunday--Red lentil soup, barley flat bread, roasted asparagus, beet salad
  • Monday--Chili, polenta, roasted cauliflower
  • Tuesday--Red beans and rice, coleslaw
  • Wednesday--Split pea soup, potato dumplings, salad with roasted squash, fresh bread
  • Thursday--Gumbo, squash-corn muffins, sauteed greens
  • Friday--Pizza and leftovers
  • Saturday--Pasta with mushrooms and leftover greens
There have been complaints of not enough dessert. Although, those complaints come from the family sweet tooth so I am not sure how seriously to take them. We usually have a dessert on Friday night along with our movie night. Miss Tooth, says *all* of her friends have dessert *everyday* so wouldn't I PLEASE consider just one more day for dessert. How often do real people have dessert?

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wet Burritos

OK, I said something in my last post about cooking traditional Mexican food this week.  Check back tomorrow if that's what you want, because tomorrow we're making tamales.  Today, we're having wet burritos.  Wet burritos are traditional - in Colorado, where my husband has relatives.  This is the one entree that his mom made that I had to learn.  I'd like to think I've improved upon it, too.  The sauce is not spicy at all, almost bland.  I like spicy food, but I don't spice these, because the simplicity of this is part of the appeal.

The Sauce:  
Sauteed 1 lb ground beef or ground turkey until browned.  Add about 3 cups of tomato juice, and
about 2 cups of refried beans, or one 14 oz can, and stir and cook until blended and the consistency you want.  If it gets too thick, you can thin with broth, more tomato juice, or water.  Salt to taste.   (This is really good with homemade refried beans.  It doesn't call for much, though, and it's not worth making the beans just for this dish, so I always make extra beans to use with future meals - see my post on planned leftovers.)

Other ingredients:

flour tortillas (I use whole wheat for these)
optional fillings -In my family we use cheese (I don't, but the others do), caramelized onions (a by-product of my refried bean recipe), avocado chunks, sour cream, and salsa.  Some people like lettuce, tomato, and raw onion.  You get the idea.

Assembling the burritos:

Warm the tortillas on a skillet until soft and pliable.  If you're using cheese, you can warm it on the tortilla to melt it.  Put the tortilla on a plate, and put a little puddle of the sauce in a strip down the center.  You'll have to experiment to see how much you like.  Add any other fillings you like.  Roll the burrito up, and add another puddle of the sauce on top.  Add any other stuff you want on top.  Eat with a knife and a fork.  Enjoy!   

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