A Guido’s Thanksgiving Feast

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When I daydream about coming home for the holidays, I think of wearing slippers and cozy sweaters for days at a time, sitting in front of the fire until my eyelids begin to droop, and waking up to views of the rolling blue Berkshire hills. Mostly, however, I think of cooking. I think of dreaming up menus at the kitchen table surrounded by a small fortress of cookbooks, writing out grocery lists, and going to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace. For someone who considers writing grocery lists a hobby and who thinks about food 24/7, Guido’s is like paradise. I’ve been there over 1200 times (I did the math), but every time I come home, in summer, winter, spring or fall, shopping there still feels like a treat.

Thanksgiving us upon us, but let’s be honest, I’m nowhere near ready to roast a whole turkey. I’ve seen my mom’s technique, which involves dunking the bird in a giant, plastic-lined industrial bucket full of brine a full 3 days before the feast, and then painstakingly spreading herbed butter under every inch of the bird’s skin. If you’re like me, you find that process slightly intimidating, but nonetheless adore the flavors of the classic Thanksgiving feast.

This year, I partnered with Guido’s to create a Thanksgiving menu, Little Sister style; in other words, fun, festive, and easy! I combined trusty resources like the New York Times food section, my favorite food blogs, and a few age-old family recipes with the gorgeous bounty of Guido’s Fresh Marketplace to come up with the following menu:

Shrimp Steamed in Beer with Tartar Sauce

This might be a little outside the usual Thanksgiving agenda, but it’s a quick, easy, no-fail hors d’oeuvre for entertaining season. My family learned the recipe in Key West, where they cook the shrimp whole. The tartar sauce is my grandma’s recipe. While its roots are Floridian, the warm flavors of beer, cloves, onion and bay leaves are perfect for a late fall evening. Mazzeo’s fresh-caught Alabama shrimp can’t be beat.

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For the Shrimp

1 lb. fresh caught shrimp

1 Bottle beer

1 T whole cloves

1 Bay leavef

1 Onion, roughly chopped

1 Dill pickle, roughly chopped

Combine beer, onion, cloves, bay leaf and pickle in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add shrimp, cover pan and bring to a boil again. Turn to simmer and watch carefully. They’ll be pink, firm and done very quickly!

For the Tartar Sauce

1 C mayonnaise

1 Clove garlic

3 Scallions

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. Capers

a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper

About 5 leaves of parsley

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined.

Roasted Fennel, Satsuma Orange, and Pomegranate Salad

from Brooklyn Supper

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This salad is simple but gorgeous, the roasted saltiness of the fennel and red onion contrasted with the bright crunch of pomegranate seeds. Click here for the recipe.

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Stuffing-Stuffed Acorn Squash

If you ask me, the whole point of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. Everything else is just a vehicle. Why not showcase the flavors of stuffing—crumbly cornbread, warm chestnuts, sweet sausage, and sage—by piling it into halves of velvety acorn squash? The type of squash is up to you! From local butternut to speckled Kabocha to bright orange Kuri, Guido’s selection is overflowing.

For the Squash (serves 8)

4 Acorn squash

1 T olive oil

½ tsp. coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 425°. Halve each squash and scrape out seeds from center. Lightly oil the cut edges and center of squash. Oil the bottom of a baking dish or roasting pan, and sprinkle salt over surface. Bake squash cut side down for 25 minutes. Let cool slightly before flipping, as hot steam will escape. Set aside.

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For the Stuffing

2 T butter

1 Onion, diced

¾ lb. sweet Italian sausage (Guido’s sells it freshly-made, in bulk!)

1 ½ cups Olivia’s Original Cornbread Stuffing Croutons

15 oz. Whole roasted and peeled chestnuts (After years of agonizing over roasting whole chestnuts and multiple injuries sustained from the peeling process, we now buy Guido’s Blanchard & Blanchard’s Organic Whole Roasted and Peeled Chestnuts)

1 C whole milk

2 Stalks celery

3 Sage leaves, finely chopped

Salt & Pepper to Taste

Cook the onion in butter until golden brown. Add the sausage and sage and cook, stirring constantly until meat is browned and cooked through. Add the chestnuts, cornbread, milk, salt and pepper and mix well. Cook on low heat until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and the cornbread has lost some of its crunch. Once stuffing is done, pile it into the cavity of each squash half and bake for 5 -10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.

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Quick-Blanched Haricot Verts

Guido’s deliciously crisp haricots verts don’t need anything other than a quick blanch in boiling water to bring out their bright, cheerful flavor.

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Cranberry Orange Curd Tart

From the New York Times

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I couldn’t resist the locally grown cranberries that greeted me in a tower of deep red when I walked in the door of Guido’s. But instead of cranberry sauce, why not eat them for dessert? This New York Times recipe combines everything good about tangy cranberries and orange zest with the luxurious creaminess of curd, spreading it to bake in a buttery, roasted hazelnut crust (that just so happens to be gluten free!) I was initially intimidated, but take it from me: curd is not scary at all, and this will become a new staple on your Thanksgiving table. Click here for the recipe

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Pear & Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote

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There’s something about a rainy day in fall. Most of the trees are completely bare, their black, lichened branches hovering uncertainly against the grey sky, but some still revel in a subtle glory of tarnished yellow and onionskin brown. I watch from the seventh floor as people move along the sodden sidewalks below; tiny specks beneath their bobbing umbrellas.

After work I wander through Back Bay as the sky darkens to orange-grey. The browntstones on either side of the wide street glow cheerfully from within. I love this time of day, when people huddle against the growing cold, rushing this way and that toward home, a dimly lit bar, a loved one. I take in snippets of other peoples’ lives as I walk; brief, fragmented vignettes into front parlors, window seats, and turret-like bedrooms. One living room is downright boastful, with two crystal chandeliers and several extravagant urns. I wonder: could a person ever be cozy in a room full of urns?

I make my way back home through the rainy night to my second-story apartment on a quiet street in Jamaica Plain. My roommates greet me with a familiar ‘HellOOO-oooooo’ as I climb the stairs. I shed my jacket and boots as the pipes wheeze and clank, bringing our ancient, hulking radiators to life. In this kind of weather, and with so much tragedy in the world, I am acutely grateful for the everyday routines I usually take for granted. The sound of the radiators. A hot shower. The chipped blue and white mug that reminds me of my childhood. Our awkward futon that feels more like a boat than a couch. Living with people I truly love.

When the world seems to be falling completely apart, I focus on things that still make sense. I bake and practice gratitude. I try to generate love and send it out into the world,  just as a cake warms the kitchen with the healing smells of sugar and butter.

Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote and Orange-Infused Whipped Cream

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, 1997)

The original cake called for dried fruit (apricots and prunes), but I’m not ready to succumb quite so thoroughly to winter yet. I swapped the dried fruit for ripe pears and crystallized ginger, made the compote into a cake topping, and added some toasted hazelnuts for warmth. This cake looks like a glowing garnet pendant and is perfect for a rainy November evening.

Ingredients

Fruit

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

3 Firm-ripe Anjou Pears

4 Pieces crystallized ginger

Batter

1 cup cake flour (if you’re like me and can’t justify buying a whole bag of specialty flour for one recipe, there’s an easy fix: measure out one cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons, and replace with either corn starch or arrowroot powder. Make sure to sift at least 4 times! Learn more about this flour substitution here)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs room temperature

1 cup buttermilk (when I don’t have buttermilk on hand, I substitute 1/2 cup regular whole milk and 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt)

Compote Topping

Seeds of 1 pomegranate

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of 1 orange

To Serve

Whipped Cream (whip 3/4 Cup heavy cream with the grated zest of one orange and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)

1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Prepare the fruit: melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron pan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, cook until it’s dissolved, then remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Slice the pears into thin half moons and cut ginger into diamond shapes.  Arrange the pears and ginger over the bottom of the pan.
  4. Make the batter: mix the sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth. Scrape down the bowl, stir again to blend in any bits of butter, then stir in the buttermilk (on low speed or with a spoon). Add the dry ingredients in thirds to the butter mixture. Scrape up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure it’s well mixed.
  5. Assemble the cake: smooth the batter over the fruit.
  6. Bake: Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake until springy to the touch and beginning to pull away from the pan (about 35 minutes). Let cool for a few minutes, then invert onto a cake plate.
  7. While the cake is baking, sprinkle the pomegranate sees with a tablespoon sugar and the grated zest of one orange. Stir to incorporate, cover and refrigerate
  8. Once the cake is cool, spread the sugared pomegranate seeds over the top, pressing gently so the seeds don’t roll everywhere.
  9. Top with orange-zest whipped cream to serve.

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Roasted Vegetable Tart with Ricotta & Savory Almond Crust

IMG_4344Whenever I walk through a museum, I imagine which paintings and sculptures I would buy if I were deliriously rich. It’s not that I fantasize about owning art—I think it belongs in public where everyone can enjoy it—but I love collecting pieces in my mind. If I could have anything in my home as part of my daily existence, what would it be? Would I choose the sleek, shining orb of a Brancusi bust for my modern cliff-top bungalow, where its surface would catch the early morning light glinting off the ocean? Or a Matisse, its colors and patterns exploding with haphazard joy, to hang by a window tangled with sunny vines, overlooking my garden and the rolling countryside beyond? Or the Picasso I can’t look away from, its yellows somehow indistinguishable from its blues, for my city living room 20 stories high, where I’d  hang it just-so between shelves and shelves of mismatched books. Those garish colors would soften in the evening as I sat beneath it, drinking wine and eating fat green olives.

Every Tuesday and Friday I escape the frigid air conditioning of my office, navigate  stairs, escalators and an elevator out into the bright midday sun of the Copley square Farmers Market. I start my meandering progression at the corner of Dartmouth and St. James, where the giant black and white cookies from Cook’s Farm Orchard look like Keith Haring cartoons. It’s a new exhibit every week. I walk by each tent, observing the dark purple and fluorescent yellow string beans from  Stillman’s Farm, or the pasta exhibit from Valicenti Organic, where tiny, elegant rolls  and ropes are carefully displayed and labeled with ‘Pappardelle ’ or ‘Saffron Spaghetti’ like a Joseph Cornell shadow box. The Siena Farms produce always seems to spill from its crates and the delicate baby eggplants lounge like Modigliani ladies in shades of violet and green.

Yesterday the Romanesco caught my eye: bright green and growing in the shape of a conifer tree. I couldn’t resist those geometric whorls, imagining them tossed in oil and roasted on a savory galette. The Delicata squash, resplendent with yellow-gold and stripes of sturdy green, looked like an exhibit of Matryoshka dolls in an antique toy museum. I bought both and proceeded to daydream about how to combine them for dinner.  I was craving a tart (as usual), but since I have not only baked but also taken part in devouring 3 pies in the past week, I decided to go for a less decadent crust. The result was delicious; the warm, nutty crumble of the crust tempered by the lightness of ricotta and feta, topped with roasted, salty cauliflower and sweet, caramelized squash. Try it and let me know what you think!

Delicata Squash & Romanesco Tart with Ricotta & Savory Almond Crust

Ingredients

For the crust (adapted slightly from Cookie + Kate)

  • 2 C Almond meal
  • 4 cloves of roasted garlic
  • A few herbs, finely chopped (I recommend a spring of rosemary and 2 sage leaves, but thyme would be delicious here too!)
  • 1/3  C Olive oil
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • A healthy grind of pepper
  • 2 T water

For the filling

  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 ½ C full fat ricotta cheese
  • ½ C crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 T plain yogurt
  • a healthy drizzle of olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • A spring of rosemary or thyme, finely chopped

For the Topping

  • 1 small Delicata squash
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of romanesco (or cauliflower)
  • About 3 T olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Instructions

  1. Roast the garlic to its peak of soft, spreadable richness: Preheat oven to 400°. Slice an entire head crosswise, sprinkle exposed side of garlic cloves with olive oil, and wrap tightly in foil. Bake directly on oven rack for about 40 minutes.
  1. Prep and roast the vegetables: While the garlic is roasting, chop the Romanesco or cauliflower into individual pieces, wash, dry, and toss in about 1½ T olive oil and lots of sea salt. Clean the delicata squash (no need to peel it, the skin is delicious!) and slice length-wise down the middle. Remove seeds and cut off the tough stem and nub from the bottom and top. Slice into ½ inch half-moons, toss in a bowl with about 1½ T olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread the squash wide-side down on a baking sheet, and do the same with the cauliflower on another baking sheet. Place both in the oven. At 400 degrees, the vegetables should be roasted to perfection in about 25 minutes, but you’ll want to stir the cauliflower and flip the squash rings a few times so that they don’t burn. Once the sides of the squash touching the pan are slightly browned, flip them over.
  1. Make the crust: While your vegetables are roasting, grease a tart pan, baking sheet, or pizza stone with cooking spray or olive oil. To prepare the crust, stir together the almond meal, roasted garlic (should be soft and easy to mash), chopped herbs, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Pour in the olive oil and water and stir until the mixture is thoroughly combined, making sure there are no large lumps of garlic. Press the dough onto your prepared pan/stone until it is evenly dispersed across the bottom and up the sides (if you are using a tart pan. I made a free-form circle and formed a slight ridge around the edge using my fingers). Bake until the crust is lightly golden and firm to the touch, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
  1. Make the filling: While the crust is baking, prepare your filling. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, feta, yogurt, olive oil, roasted garlic, salt, pepper and herbs. Stir together, making sure roasted garlic is thoroughly mashed and incorporated. Mixture should be light and smooth.
  1. Assemble and bake the tart: Once the crust has cooled slightly, spread the filling evenly over its surface. Arrange the roasted vegetables however you like and sprinkle with herbs. Bake for 10-15 minutes, just so that filling and topping are warm, being careful not to burn the vegetables. Enjoy!

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Tortillas with Fresh Corn & Swiss Chard

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I can always smell the seasons change. I know it sounds like something no one under the age of 70 would say, but it’s true. Spring and summer are easy, those full-on gusts of warm air hinting at stirring roots and blades of grass about to burst. Fall and winter are more elusive: a brief snap of cold air, the smells of brittle leaves and burning wood. I haven’t smelled Fall yet, but a few weeks ago, as I ate lunch in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library, lost in the pages of my book, there was a momentary shift in the season. Nothing changed in the air or temperature, the flowers planted around the gushing fountain still bloomed in lush color. It was merely a glint of the light, the sharp clip of a girl’s black boots on the brick, and I felt Fall coming. I’ll resist the urge to indulge in fantasies of Autumn (flannel sheets, boots and blazers, brisk walks, apple tarte tartin…), and instead take it as a sign to savor every last sweet kernel of summer in these final sun-drenched days.

I haven’t been cooking or baking much lately. My sister got married a week ago (more on that later!!!), and I spent most of my free time worrying about lace and logistics. My go-to for busy days is tortillas with greens. My mom has been making these for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I didn’t understand the simple perfection of a corn tortilla filled with sautéed Swiss chard, garlic and a heavy sprinkling of sea salt. No cheese? No beans? These were, in my opinion, the requisite staples of any tortilla, and without them it was an unworthy pursuit.

When my mom was my age, she traveled around Mexico by herself. I can picture her easily: dark wavy hair to her shoulders, huge smile, and wearing a long, brightly colored skirt. Whenever she talks about this trip, she mentions the kindness of the people she met and the tortillas. She met a guy on a bus whom she describes as “interesting and nerdy.” He was studying the last Spanish haciendas, and took her around to the grand relics of colonial manor houses, where horses roamed the big, open courtyards. (I interrupted her recollections to ask whether getting off a bus in a strange country in the middle of nowhere with a man you just met was the wisest idea, to which she responded “Oh, I could tell he was on the up and up.”) He took her to meet a local family, pretending she was his sister so as not to cause a stir. For lunch, they had fresh corn tortillas with garlicky Swiss chard and salt.

It’s an incredibly simple meal, but hearty and delicious. Because the days are shortening and the leaves are on the brink of fading, I’ve created my own twist, adding sweet, fresh corn, slices of avocado, and a dollop of plain yogurt and paprika. If you’ve never combined Swiss chard and corn, you’re in for a treat: the somewhat bitter greens become downright decadent against the bright, crunchy sweetness of the corn. Trust me on this one.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 bunch swiss card
  • 2 clove garlic
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2-4 tortillas (I prefer Food For Life brand Sprouted Corn Tortillas)
  • 1 ear of fresh corn
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • Coarse seasalt

For the topping (if desired)

  • 2 T plain yogurt
  • Paprika
  1. Wash greens and remove tough end stalks. Remove kernels from corn and set aside
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet
  3. Smash and peel garlic cloves, chop into a fine dice and add to warmed oil. Stir garlic until translucent and just starting to turn golden brown.
  4. Add greens and sauté until tender and cooked. Remove from heat. Add corn and a generous pinch of salt, and toss to combine.
  5. In a heavy cast iron skillet, warm tortillas by flipping in the pan for a few minutes
  6. Add greens & corn to tortillas, top with avocado slices and yogurt and paprika (if desired). Fold or roll as your heart desires, and enjoy!

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Anna’s Avocado Toast

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In honor of my grandma (Anna) on what would have been her 93rd birthday. 

 My brother, sister and I used to walk down the beach, toward the distant pier, past the graying bungalows with their tinted glass windows, past the small stretch of beach with mismatched chairs and ominously taut fishing rods, finally reaching the neat monotony of blue and white umbrellas, positioned in a grid as if facing the water in battle. We’d pad up the sandy walk to the Beach Club, feeling conspicuous but blending in with the other damp, sandy kids.

The swelteringly crowded Snack Shack was pitch dark after the blinding sun and sand. It smelled of deep-frying oil and sunscreen. A huge fan hummed wearily somewhere overhead. The ladies at the snack shack never changed. They wore Hawaiian shirts as part of their uniform, but you got the sense that they’d wear them at home, too, the scent of their perfume mingling with eau de hot dog. They glared at us as we approached in line as if daring us to place an order. We used my grandma’s membership number, which was only supposed to cover the fancy restaurant, with its uncomfortable iron chairs and tangled awning of Sea Grape branches. There was something thrilling about giving our fake room number, 1468, and pretending we were guests at the hotel. My heart sped up whenever it was my turn, as if they might suddenly turn off the music and throw us out by our ears into the sand and sun.

While we waited for our food, we wandered past the giant chess set and took turns in the hammock, watching tan, shiny-nailed moms in white visors and lanky boys who really belonged. One of us guarded the food while the other two dove into the teeming pools, swimming around the fake tropical islands and doing handstands in the shallow end.

Then we’d head back, balancing our hot dogs and cheeseburgers, accompanied by the muted rattle of ice in our big Styrofoam cups full of pink, pink lemonade. It was a peaceful walk. Lost in our thoughts, no longer under cover, we’d drag our toes in the wave-washed sand and make up foreign languages together. We walked back past the fishing rods, the big swirling pines, and toward our little beach. My mom always looked up from her book in surprise, as if she’d forgotten she had children. She’d extend a slim arm and receive her order: half iced tea, half lemonade, on the rocks.

As the day waned, our sand ladies with their seaweed-and-shell necklaces lay forgotten. The great Dole barges were mere specs on the horizon, and the shadows of our umbrella were long past keeping us in the shade. I’d think of Anna, moving gracefully through her cool, quiet house. I pictured the sound of my flip-flops on the orange tiles of her sun room, the clink of the ice machine, the patient chime of her library clock. I longed to go home, stamp my feet on the spiky grass, hurriedly shake off my, towel and ring the doorbell. I’d press my nose against the glass and watch her walk toward us, stepping so lightly in her blue Keds and freshly-ironed shirt. “Hi Gang,” she’d say, smiling as she opened the door, “How’s tricks?”

Anna always appreciated beauty more than anyone I know. Toward the end of her life, she began to marvel at the simplest things, like the full moon, a flower in her back yard, or an avocado sandwich. She’d been making them for me my whole life, long before the combination of toasted bread and avocado became inexplicably hip. They always tasted perfect when she made them. In the last year of her life, it was as if she’d never tasted one before. I mashed the avocado with a little mayonnaise and lots of salt, spread it thickly on toast, and brought it to her as she sat in her flowered armchair in the alcove. “Delicious! This is the best sandwich I’ve ever had.” She’d exclaim after each bite, shaking her head and looking at me like I’d made her a feast. “Where did you learn how to make this?” “You taught me, Anna,” I’d say, unable to repress a smile.

Anna’s Avocado Sandwich (serves two)

  • 1 perfectly ripe avocado
  • 2 slices good bread (it doesn’t matter what kind. Bread is just a vehicle for the avocado. Sometimes Anna and I would skip bread all together and just dip crackers.)
  • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise (trust me)
  • Lots of sea salt
  • A grind of pepper
  1. Scrape the avocado into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the mayo, and salt to taste. Mash it thoroughly, but don’t be afraid to leave a few chunks
  2. Toast the bread to your liking. I like it to have a good, loud crunch.
  3. Spread avocado thickly on toast and sprinkle with more salt and pepper
  4. Eat with someone you love.

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Eating My Words with Jane and April

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I’ve always been guilty of going straight to the pictures. Whenever a book had that section of thick glossy pages in the center, I’d spend about a minute and a half trying to resist, and then flip hastily to the middle and pore over every picture and caption in detail. Then I’d go back to the beginning and start the book. While my mom and sister sat reading the New Yorker cover to cover, absorbing every essay and critique, I made a shameless beeline for the back page, and then worked through the magazine Hebrew-style, cartoon by cartoon, ending on the cover art. It’s no wonder I love cookbooks.

I tried reading Jane Eyre in high school—it was one of those books you were supposed to read. I picked up the plain, black hardback, probably a relic from the school library, its cover long since lost, and simply could not do it. The austerity of the book itself seemed to increase the grimness of Jane’s boarding school. Everything seemed grey: the dull British weather, the dismal bowls of porridge, the stern governesses… Reader, I gave up. I left Brontë in the dust for Nigella Lawson, whose gorgeous, glossy cookbook, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, was responsible for many a rainy Saturday afternoon spent fantasizing about dessert. I’d drag a stool into the pantry, where my mom kept her cookbook collection, take a stack of five, and set up camp in what we called the Rose Chair (huge, slightly dilapidated, and upholstered in cream and pink roses).

One night a few years later, I proved guilty of that age-old saying about books and their covers. I was organizing the shelves at our tiny town library (this was my high school job) and there it was—a small, pale pink book, edged in a delicate flower pattern with “Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë” etched across it in a lovely, elegant font. And like that, I was off—just as susceptible as the next girl to Mr. Rochester’s macabre charms, the sounds from the attic, and Jane’s enduring wit.

These days, I regularly check out cookbooks from the library 5 or 6 at a time. I take the few I own down from the shelf almost daily to look for inspiration, read up on various methods, or just peruse the pictures. (Still guilty, all these years later.)

My most recent acquisition is A Girl and her Greens, the sequel to April Bloomfield’s wildly successful A Girl and her Pig. My friend Hillary, who understands my incurable addiction to food, gave me the book for my birthday. I haven’t read it cover to cover, and have only made 3 recipes from it so far, but each one has been intuitive, easy, and delicious. If a cookbook has one truly useful recipe, the kind that inspires you beyond the dish itself, it’s a smash hit in my opinion, and completely worth owning. April’s recipes aren’t intimidating (in fact, I didn’t follow any of them to the letter, but still achieved what the dish set out to do). Her writing voice is honest, unpretentious, and and very British. She is the perfect guide to these last gorgeously abundant months of summer. Here are the three recipes from the book that I’ve tried so far:

Stewed Zucchini with Basil—my new favorite way to eat zucchini. (This is saying something, as I could easily eat it at every meal.) You brown some of the zucchini while simultaneously stewing the rest, and the basil and lemon brighten the zucchini flavor to its full potential.

Kale Puree—basically a very simple pesto, but you can use it for anything! Lately I’ve been spooning it on quinoa, which, let’s be honest, could use a little charisma.

Roasted Carrots—I didn’t have all the ingredients April calls for, but I used her method of roasting the carrots in garlic-infused butter, and that worked out just fine.

I’ve included the zucchini recipe, which will hopefully tempt you to buy the book and try the others! After making it about 5 times, I decided to use the stewed zucchini as a pasta sauce, along with some other odds and ends from the farmers market I needed to use up. Here’s what I came up with:

Farmers Market Pasta with Zuchinni, Fresh Corn, and Basil

(I couldn’t resist the buying herbed pappardelle—it’s thick, ribbon-like noodles looked like savory sashes and made the dish taste richer and last longer).

  • One batch of April Bloomfield’s stewed Zuchinni
  • 2 ears fresh corn
  • Basil (a heaping fistful)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • About 1/4 C finely grated parmesan cheese
  • Enough good pasta to feed 1 or 2 (I’m no expert on what type to use when, and usually decide based on what looks prettiest or what the guy at the farm stand recommends.)
  • 1 T butter
  1. Make April Bloomfield’s zuchinni (recipe below)
  2. Remove the kernels form 2 ears of fresh corn and set aside. Take a handful of basil leaves, roll them into the shape of a cigarette, and slice into thin ribbons.
  3. Bring a medium pot of generously salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package specifications. Reserve about 1/4 a cup of the pasta water, and then drain.
  4. Add the pasta, pasta water, half the stewed zucchini, the basil, salt and pepper, and the corn back into the pot or a large serving bowl. Throw in a tablespoon of butter for good measure, and toss until the pasta is coated.
  5. I served the remaining zucchini on top of each pasta serving, as a garnish. Sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Stewed Zucchini with Basil (serves 4 as a side, 2 on pasta)

Adapted slightly from: April Bloomfield’s A Girl and her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden (Harper Collins,  2015).

  • 1 ½ lbs small zucchini, topped, tailed and halved lengthwise (Topped and tailed? How endearingly British can you get?!)
  • ¼ C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 5 Medium garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ t Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • A generous 5-finger pinch of basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • ½ t finely grated lemon zest
  • A few dried pequin chiles, crumbled, or pinches of red pepper flakes (optional—I left them out)

Chop the zucchini into 1 or ¾ inch cubes.

Use a medium-sized pot (one with sides high enough to hold the zucchini snugly in 2 layers—I used a standard 8 inch cast iron skillet). Heat the oil over high heat until it lightly smokes. Add all the zuchinni, carve out a little space in the center of the pan, and add the garlic. Don’t stir just yet. Cook until the garlic is golden and the zuchinni pieces on the bottom are golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Have a good stir.

Sprinkle on ½ teaspoon of the salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or so. Listen carefully—if you hear the zucchini frying in oil rather than simmering in a little liquid, then add two tablespoons of water. Cover again and cook, stirring occasionally, until some of the zucchini pieces are tender but not mushy and some are nearly tender, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the basil. Cook, without the lid, and every 30 seconds or so use a sturdy whisk or wooden spoon to very roughly stir and strike the zucchini. Not to smash the pieces but just to knock off some of the points that have gotten soft. Keep at it until some of the softer pieces have broken down and turned creamy and the other pieces are tender with a slight bite, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, zest, chiles and more salt if you fancy (I do.) Eat straightaway.

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Try it and tell me what you think. Happy cooking!

Xo,

Grace

Flipping the Skillet: How Cooking Won My Heart

IMG_3263Sometimes the best meals aren’t the glamorous ones. Take right now, for example. It’s mid-July and the weather is cool and heavenly. The city of Boston is lively and aglow. There are a million new restaurants and award-winning ice cream flavors and tacos that would probably make my heart sing. People are drinking cooling cocktails and talking loudly over one another at bars. I’m sure the esplanade is full of runners and the Charles River is reflecting the fading sun. And yet, I am sitting in bed in a sweater, under the covers, eating a bowl of black beans. Specifically, black beans stewed with onions and leftover roast chicken, with a dash of vinegar, cooked not by me but for me, by someone I love.

It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re 24. You have a good job and a desk with a view, a big kitchen with two windows that let in the morning breeze, and are by all accounts the luckiest girl in the world. And yet, there’s this nagging sensation that runs deep—that you aren’t where you need to be yet.

I never actually had a something I wanted to ‘be when I grew up.’ I always knew I was passionate, but after my short-lived dreams of being an opera singer (sorry, siblings, for stationing myself in the echo-y stairwell for hours at a time, belting out ballads where they sounded the loudest) my dreams became less specific. In college, it was easy to indulge in the challenges of my classes, analyzing paintings by and working laboriously through esoteric texts. But I had this fear of not knowing what I’d be good at.

Then I flipped over a cast iron skillet, filled with my fist real baking endeavor: a tarte tatin. No, I hadn’t made the crust by hand, and yes, I still sound like a fraud when I try to pronounce it, but there was something about those amber-colored apples, soaked with caramelized sugar, and the way they held together on the plate that told me all I needed to know.

Cooking is an act of love, but until now I’ve mostly been on the receiving end. I remember visiting my sister in Minneapolis, where she’s lived for the past 5 years. It was late fall, and I got off the plane and ran to her car though the freezing Minnesota rain. Her fiancée was away so we had the apartment to ourselves. Her living room, spacious and lovely, has wood floors and floor-to-ceiling shelves, brimming with everything from Tolstoy to books on bees, poetry, and food. And yet, as always, we gravitated toward the kitchen. The house was freezing, and we bundled in blankets, sat in stools by the counter, and ate sunken apple honey cake she’d baked that day. It’s hard to explain just how that cake tasted—sweet, yes, and pillowed with the lightness of small apples, but also of caring and sisterhood. I’ve never felt so much like a little sister as when I ate that cake. It tasted like all the days and hours we’d missed because we live so far apart.

Just a few months ago, I visited again. It was May, but the weather still hovered around 50°. Her fiancée Ed was there this time, and Bridget fed both of us: flour tortillas, warmed in a skillet, filled with the scraped green roundness of a ripe avocado, sprinkled with sea salt, squeezed with lime. Not glamorous. But it tasted like the indulgent comfort of a cold day in May, and the unfurling excitement of an upcoming marriage.

Just like that, this bowl of beans took me from the apprehension of uncertainty to the simple perfection of salty chicken, the slight crunch of cooked onions, the realization that gratitude is more fruitful than anxiety.

I’m learning now to cook with the ease I so admired in my mom and sister. Here are some things I cooked for two old friends who just turned 25. (Actually, the birthdays were more of a technical excuse to make cake.)

Menu:

Chilled cucumber and avocado soup with mango salsa

Roasted chicken with salt

Raddichio salad with Manchego

Upside-down apricot cake with Greek yogurt whipped cream

For the soup I went to Food52, as always. The original recipe is here, but I made adjustments. (I skipped the lime and went easy on the scallions. The flavors of avocado and cucumber are too delicate to compete with bitter scallions and the abrasive sweetness of limes.) Another method for this soup would be to use only cucumbers, and then to stir in a light avocado crème to serve. As for the mango salsa, I make variants of this all the time (adding red onion, for example). It’s easy and summery and 100% healthy.

Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup

  • 2 ½ large cucumbers, peeled and cut into rough slices
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 1 scallion, green and white parts included, chopped
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
  • A few drops of olive oil

Mango Salsa

  • 1 mango, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 or two tomatoes, largely diced
  • 1 or 2 ears’ worth of shucked corn kernels (raw)
  • ½ cup cilantro, loosely packed and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Blend all soup ingredients together in a blender till smooth, adding enough water to achieve a perfectly creamy texture (I barely added any!).
  2. Toss the salsa ingredients together in a small bowl. Transfer soup to four serving bowls. Top each with a half cup of the mango salsa, and serve.

IMG_3269 IMG_3270 IMG_3272 IMG_3273IMG_3274I felt it was high time I learned to roast a chicken. It’s one of those things you need to know how to do if you want to be a self-respecting cook. So I overcame my admitted squeamishness at dealing with a whole, raw bird, and turned to Alice waters, whose recipe my mom swears by. It’s this simple:

  • Whole roasting chicken (about 3.5 lbs)
  • Salt
  1. The night (or a few hours) before, coat whole chicken in salt and some pepper. Make sure the salt gets in all the crevices of the bird (including the bottom and center cavity). Wrap it in parchment paper and put it in the fridge.
  2. Plan for 2 hours total prep and cooking time, because the most important thing is to take the chicken out of the fridge an hour before roasting it. The bird should be at room temperature when it goes in the oven.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken in a lightly oiled pie dish, breast side up. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove and flip the chicken over. Roast breast-side down for 20 minutes. Remove, flip to breast-side up one more time, and roast for another 20 minutes. From my experience, this timing was pretty foolproof. Make sure to let the chicken cool for 10-15 minutes before serving, so that clear, golden juice has a chance to gather at the bottom of the dish. Spoonfulls of that are all you need to season.

The salad is a Genius Recipe by Toro Bravo that never fails. Soak the chopped radicchio in ice water for 20 minutes—it removes the bitterness. Then shower in grated Manchego and dress with any vinaigrette.

As for the cake, just follow David Lebovitz’s recipe to the letter. (Read his blog while you’re at it. He is hilarious and real and observant, and his writing will make you look up flights to Paris tout de suite.) The cake was perfection, if I do say so myself, and so easy! I was inspired to accompany it with this whipped cream, but vanilla ice cream would do the job swimmingly.

IMG_3261 IMG_3262 IMG_3264 IMG_3265 IMG_3266 IMG_3268The dinner:

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The aftermath (not pictured: all of us, in cake and wine-induced stupors)

IMG_3259Now go bake that cake!

Xo,

Grace

A Very Green Feast

IMG_3113My mom’s garden is surrounded by a 12 foot fence. The door swings open and latches shut. She wages a constant battle against the deer and voles that try to graze and tunnel through her most prized beds. She drives her car out over the lawn, pulls up close to the garden and blasts the radio on high, listening to A Prairie Home Companion or Diana Krall as she works. As the sun sets, she comes up the hill, smiling, exhausted, bearing baskets of greens, covered in dirt. I change the music to Cesaria Evora and we all pitch in, setting the table and lighting candles. We eat at 9 PM.

Of all her crops, I always loved sorrel, which grew wild as a weed just inside the garden gate. Its leaves were cheek-sucking tart and stung the back of your teeth with their sour twang, but I’d wrap them around sweet golden cherry tomatoes that exploded in my mouth. My mom baked sorel tart; the greens floating in a cloud of cream, red onion and eggs, surrounded by a flaky, golden crust.

Last weekend was rainy and cold and beyond lovely. I walked out to the garden as the grey evening skies began to drizzle. I felt rich as I filled baskets with leaves of kale (a soft, bluish green with iridescent purple stalks, curling slightly at the edges), bright, glossy swiss chard (its rainbow stalks impossibly jewel-like), mint (growing in tall, bushy stalks saturated with scent), and lettuce (huge, crazy heads, exploding from the earth in green tinged with deep red). That night we ate pasta carbonara and a salad of peppery baby arugula and drank cool cans of summer beer.

Back home in Boston, in my newly painted kitchen, I examined my loot and went straight to my recipe bibles: Food52, Splendid Table, and Smitten Kitchen. When I say I love planning meals, I mean it:

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I love writing grocery lists, planning the timing, and figuring out which cloves of garlic to chop, press and slice. Here’s what I decided on:

Zucchini spirals with mint and garlic. Mostly because I wanted to use my spiralizer, but also an intriguing combination. The mint and zuchinni spirals are briefly tossed in garlicky butter before serving. If you don’t have a spiralizer or a mandoline, a vegetable peeler should do it.

Kale Salad from Genius Recipes (a cookbook so beautiful and informative, I read it cover to cover like a novel). The salad has roasted butternut squash, the sharpest cheddar, and toasted almonds. I thought maybe this would taste too wintry, as butternut squash reminds me of cold November air and falling asleep by the fireplace. But against the peppery, light flavor of the Kale, the squash is the perfect burst of caramelized flavor.

Shredded  Swiss chard salad with breadcrumbs and parmesan from Food 52: Make your own crumbs from your favorite loaf, toss in garlic, and add to thinly shredded chard. Shower with parmesan and lemony vinaigrette. Not a lot of room for error.

Chard pancakes, or farçous, from Dorie Greenspan (via the Splendid table). An excellent excuse to eat fried greens, these pancakes are loaded with chives, parsley and chard. When I make them again, I’ll go even heavier on the greens! These are deliciously satisfying, and could bring the most adamant vegetable-hater into the light.

For dessert, Cherries with vanilla ice cream. What else do you need in life, really?

Northern Spy Kale Salad (from Food52)

  • 1/2 C cubed kabocha, butternut, or other winter squash
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 bunch kale (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 C almonds, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 C crumbled or finely chopped sharp cheddar (I like the good stuff–the sharpest possible)
  • Fresh juice of 1 lemon
  • Pecorino, for shaving (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 425° F. Toss squash cubes in just enough olive oil to coat, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes, tossing with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the same oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar and squash. Season to taste with lemon juice and olive oil (about 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil–really just to taste). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Divide salad between two plates or shallow bowls. Garnish with shaved pecorino cheese, if desired, and serve.

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Zucchini Spirals with Garlic and Mint (from the Splendid Table)

  • 2 small to medium zucchini squash (1 pound)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 T unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 T finely shredded fresh spearmint
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Cut the stems and bottom tips off the zucchini and slice them on a mandoline or other vegetable slicer into long spaghetti-like strips, about 1/8 inch wide and 1/8 inch thick. Toss them with the salt in a medium mixing bowl, then transfer them to a fine sieve or colander and set it over the mixing bowl. Let the zucchini sit for 15 minutes at room temperature, then gently squeeze it in your hands to extract some of the water. It will give off at least 1/2 cup.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic to the pan and stir until it loses its raw fragrance but is not browned, less than 1 minute. Add the zucchini and mint and toss with tongs just until heated through, about 1 minutes. Taste and season with pepper.                                                                                                                                      IMG_3097 IMG_3095 IMG_3105

Shredded Chard Salad with Garlicky Breadcrumbs & Parmesan (from Food52)

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1 lemon (for zest and juice)
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 C fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 C grated Parmesan
  1. Wash and dry the chard and remove the stems from the leaves. Set aside. Zest and juice the lemon. Combine about 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest and a few generous pinches of salt in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Set aside.
  2. Warm the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until they are crisp and golden brown (about 5 minutes). Be careful not to burn them! Stir in the garlic and let them toast for another minute, then remove from the heat.
  3. Separate the chard leaves from their stems. Finely chop the stems. (To get them thinly shredded: stack a few of the leaves on top of each other, roll them like a cigar and cut the cigar into thin ribbons.) Put the chard stems and leaves into a large bowl and toss gently with the Parmesan and about 2/3 of the lemony dressing. Taste and add more dressing if you like. Toss in the toasted breadcrumbs and you’re ready to serve!

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Swiss Chard Pancakes (from the Splendid Table)

Note: The original recipe makes enough batter to feed a small army. I was cooking for 2, and we each ate about 3 pancakes. I’ve halved the recipe below, but if you’re cooking for a crowd, use the link above!

  • 1 C whole milk
  • 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 large eggs (1 egg and 1 yolk)
  • 1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 shallot, coarsely chopped, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 1 garlic clove, split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
  • Leaves from 10 parsley sprigs
  • 10 fresh chives, snipped
  • Salt & pepper
  • 5 large or 10 small Swiss chard leaves, center ribs removed, washed, and dried
  • About 1/2 cup grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable oil
  1. Put the milk, flour, eggs, onion, shallot, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and whir until the batter is smooth. Little by little, add the chard to the mix and whir to incorporate it. There’s no need to pulverize the chard — having some strands is nice.
  1. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil into a large skillet and place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a drop of batter should seize immediately), spoon in a scant 1/4 cup batter for each pancake — don’t crowd the pan: depending on the size of the pan, 4 pancakes is probably max per batch. Cook the pancakes for about 3 minutes, until the underside is nicely browned and the edges are browned and curled. Flip the pancakes over and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Transfer the pancakes to the paper-towel-lined plate, cover with more towels, and pat off the excess oil. You can place them on the foil-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you continue to make pancakes, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

Traditionally, farçous are served with a salad as a main course. If you want to serve the farçous as an hors d’oeuvre, you might want to include a dipping sauce or topping of crème fraîche, or plain yogurt.

(We ate them plain and enjoyed every bite thoroughly!)

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Here’s the feast in all it’s green glory: (there were no leftovers!!)

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And finally, dessert:

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Happy cooking!

Xo

 

Ode to the Morning Moon Cafe

sellarsThis morning the smell of coffee reminded me overwhelmingly of Maine. I closed my eyes, breathed in, and felt like I was 10 years old.

We used to rent a cabin in Brooklin, Maine with my dad for two weeks every summer—we’d load up our bikes and Tevas and my brother, sister and I would pile into the car. I used to complain that the only snacks provided were cherries and dark chocolate. Imagine! I remember the red and white cooler in the way back, sweating from the heat. You had to climb over the seat to get those cherries. Whenever I’d ask how close we were, as we drove over iron bridges and through small towns with names like ‘Peru’ and ‘Florida,’ the answer from the front was always ‘We’ve got a ways to go.’

Our cabin stood on a wide lawn that dropped suddenly down to the water. It was surrounded on both sides by tall, dark pines. The grass was dry and scrubby, the beach full of endlessly climbable rocks. The house was owned by heavy drinkers, or so we assumed based on the inordinate number of shot glasses on the kitchen shelves. One summer my best friend Eliza came with us, and the two of us would play “bar” for hours on end, one of us pouring water into the shot glasses while the other, playing the loyal patron, said “Hit me big, Paul, it’s been a rough day.”

I can’t say I remember what my dad fed us on those trips—other than the clam bake we used to have down by the beach. (I, of course, forsook fresh clams for hot dogs and potato chips.) We’d take the compost out to the corner of the lawn where the woods began, dumping our corn husks, egg shells and coffee grounds as the gulls wheeled impatiently above.

The town of Brooklin was tiny. I remember the library, the general store, and of course, the Morning Moon Café. I remember its wooden booths, the whine of the screen door as you walked in and the cheerful buzz of chatter, the clink of white china plates… It was the ultimate treat—a break from the Cornflakes in our tiny rented kitchen. After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon, we’d bike back home. We’d lug Bridget, my dad’s old green rowboat, down to the rocky beach, climb in, and spend the day floating in that beautiful little cove. Or we’d row out to an island overgrown with spiky pines, its rocky shore dappled with endless crevices and tiny colorful tide pools.

We’d pick blueberries in the heat of the day, basking in the pale sunlight, plucking the small, tart berries from lichen-covered branches. My sister and brother would pick industriously, filling their buckets beyond capacity, while I stood solidly in front of my chosen bush, eating berry after berry after berry. We’d head home with our blue loot. At my sister’s insistence, we’d stop at the general store for heavy cream.

When I googled the Morning Moon Café out of nostalgia, a big red banner reading “Permanently Closed” blared across the page. Something tiny sank in my heart. So this is an ode to those Maine days of my childhood—of hot, dry air, the smell of pine trees and saltwater, of tidal pools and the sound of bikes on gravel, and of rowing with my sister and brother out into the deep, dark green water.

Morning Moon Galette 

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Galettes are the most forgiving of desserts. If you don’t believe me, ask Melissa Clark, the New York Times Food Section’s voice of reason. She explains here how once you understand the basics, every galette is your oyster. (Forgive the rather upsetting food metaphor).

For the Crust—I used my mom’s pie crust recipe. Remember how I told you it would never let you down? Click here for the recipe!

Preheat oven to 400°

For the Filling:

  • 3 Cups of any fruit that’s in season, you happen to be craving, or that you just happen to have on hand! I used blueberries (for Maine), strawberries (because it’s June) and a nectarine (because I had one that looked like it needed some love).
  • Heaping 1/2 Cup of sugar
  • Heaping Tablespoon of arrowroot powder
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Look at these little red beauties!

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Heaping 3 cups of fruit.

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Less glamorous, but mixed evenly with sugar and thickener.

Slice your fruit (if it needs it) and measure it so that you have 3 solid cups of fruit. Add sugar and arrowroot powder and toss gently until fruit is evenly coated and no powder is clumped at the bottom of the bowl. Set aside.

Assembling the Galette 

I haven’t had the best luck rolling out my crusts lately. My mom’s kitchen counters are made of wood, which makes it easy to sprinkle the slightest bit of flour and roll away to your heart’s content. My counters, however, were installed in the 1970’s when faux was in fashionThey are some kind of laminate material that doesn’t take well to flour. I read a tip that said to wet your counter, then spread wax paper out so that it adheres. Place your dough on top, cover with another sheet of wax paper, and roll. This all worked beautifully, until I flipped the dough over to find bits of shredded wax paper stuck to the bottom. I diligently picked them off, but still! I think a pastry blade is the key to success. It allows you to gently scrape and lift the dough from below to move it, and also to quickly scrape your rolling pin between rolls.

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Failed rolling tactics

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Better luck with good old flour…

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…and my trusty pastry blade.

Once you’ve rolled your dough out to about a 12″ round, trim the edges (or leave them alone, for a more rustic approach) and place dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Pour the fruit into a mound in the center of your crust, leaving at least 2 inches of crust exposed.

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Ready to fold!

Fold the crust over the fruit so that it overlaps and looks something like this:

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Brush crust with an egg wash (one egg mixed with a dash of water or cream). Sprinkle crust with sugar and bake for 25 minutes or until the fruit center is bubbling. Melissa INSISTS that your galette is only done when the filling is bubbling heartily. I ended up baking mine for around 35 minutes, but watched carefully starting at 25 to make sure the crust didn’t burn.

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Baked, cooled, and BEGGING for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If you want something easy, satisfying, and dependably delicious, bake one of these this summer. I promise, you won’t galette it!

Xo

Source: Google

The Morning Moon Cafe, in all its glory.

Why I Forgive Biscotti

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Biscotti always remind of driving with my dad. Or, more specifically, of sitting in the passenger’s seat of his giant International truck, high above the road, engulfed in the smell of worn leather, stone dust, and coffee, dozing off to the grumble of shifting gears. Or, to be even more precise, of doing homework in the coffee shop of our small New England town, waiting for my dad to pick me up. Before I could drive, before cell phones, I’d take the bus from school on autumn afternoons and wait for who knows how many hours for one parent or another to eventually pick me up. I had no interest whatsoever in coffee, but always loved the smell. I’d drink hot chocolate as I worked, hoping vaguely that I’d be able to spot the car out the darkening window. By the time I left I exuded the scent of roasting beans.

My dad drank 3 cups of coffee a day. No matter what we did, where we were going, or how late we were, he’d stop for coffee. Occasionally, when he was feeling wild, he’d get a biscotti. If you asked me (which no one ever did) biscotti were a dreary, utilitarian cookie—a tool used by coffee addicts to aid their bitter consumption. I never understood the appeal and saw them as a last, rock-hard resort in the hierarchy of baked goods. It didn’t help that they always seemed to be placed in jars next to the cash register, an afterthought to your beverage; a grudging and austere form of barely-sweet indulgence. I gravitated closer to the pastry cases—brightly lit and full of bursting eclairs covered in smooth, dark chocolate, perfectly miniature pies, and elaborate tarts piled high with glossy fruit.

But the other day read a recipe for biscotti, and was overcome with the inexplicable desire to bake them! I’ve eaten biscotti for dinner for the past two nights. Here’s what I’ve learned: Biscotti are, in fact, quite the opposite of my grim youthful perceptions! They are friendly and forgiving, easy to bake, and a canvas for endless combinations of flavors: spices, fruits and nuts, both savory and sweet.

I started with a recipe from Food52, which called for orange zest and pistachios (who could resist that sultry combination!) The recipe does not call for butter, and being a novice, I assumed that applied to all varieties. My dough was heavy and dense, but easily malleable. I made a mistake forming my loaves, however, unable to visualize how to achieve that classic thick sliver biscotti shape. As a result, my biscotti looked more like slices of baguette. I experimented with dipping them in melted chocolate, both white and dark. On the spectrum of Break-Your-Teeth to Dissolve-in-Your-Coffee, I would say these fell somewhere near Use-Caution-and-Position-Teeth-Tactfully. They weren’t bad, and I would definitely make them again, this time paying more attention to size and shape as a sliced:

Pistachio-studded loaves, cooling

Pistachio-studded loaves, cooling

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What to do while while cooling: peruse a few pages of Anna Karenina

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Experiments with chocolate dipping

The next recipe I tried is from the Splendid Table website. The Splendid Table, a radio show hosted by Lynn Rosetto Kasper, is second only to Roman gelato in its influence on my food education. Lynn Rosetto Kasper is a cross between your favorite college professor, your grandmother, and Terry Gross. She is my guru, and The Splendid Table makes even the most endless, excel-sheet filled workdays bearable. But I digress! What caught my eye about this recipe was that it calls for butter. I’m no expert, but I believe the scientific equation goes something like

butter > no butter

This recipe took my biscotti from what Harry Potter readers might recognize as Hagrid’s rock cakes to something delightfully hard but crumbly, breaking easily in your teeth but able to hold up to a healthy dunk in your coffee.

Any baker who can resist tasting the batter is morally reprehensible

Any baker who can resist tasting the batter is morally reprehensible

Divide the dough and form two logs

Divide the dough and form two logs

 

Ready for baking part 1

Ready for baking part 1

Beautifully cool logs, ready for slicing

Beautifully cool logs, ready for slicing

Ready to be dunked into a hot cup tea...or coffee, if you insist.

Ready to be dunked into a hot cup of black coffee

I’d recommend the second recipe (click here), because if you’ve never baked biscotti before, these will most likely throw you headlong into an obsessive quest for the perfect nutty crunch.

Notes: I added orange zest and pine nuts! I also baked mine twice as long as the recipe suggests during the second bake. It may be my oven, but for my second bake I did 15 minutes, then VERY gently flipped them over and baked them for another 15. Just watch yours carefully—you want them to be golden and completely firm (no doughy-ness in the center), but not brown!

Finally, some tips for the Biscotti-Obsessed:

  • I roasted my almonds and pine nuts before adding them to the dough, to add that warm, toasted fragrance. Be careful, though! I practiced some yoga poses in front of the oven and shook and rearranged the tray of nuts to get an even golden color.
  • Be patient with cooling your logs—they really will slice better when fully cooled.
  • If you decide to use zest, rub it into the sugar with your fingertips until the sugar turns uniformly yellow.
  • I think quality of chocolate and nuts makes a difference—my Stop & Shop almonds weren’t the most thrilling specimens…
  • I was confused by the way several recipes described the “log” shape. Basically, you want a rectangle that is 12” long, 2” wide, and about 1” tall.
  • I plan on treating myself to a KitchenAid stand mixer when I turn 25, but for now, a hand-held electric mixer worked fine!

Happy baking!

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