Thursday, July 1, 2010

The taste of summer

No matter what the calendar says, to me, when there are yellow squash on the vine summer has begun.

Yellow squash, sliced into thin slivers and fried until golden brown bring back memories of my great-grandmother's table. In summer at every meal there were fried squash, fried okra, bowls of corn, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and
hot biscuits. With those fresh from the garden veggies there was no need for meat.

I still, partly for tradition and partly to satisfy some longing need, fry the first yellow squash of the summer. This year that squash came last week from my boss' garden. I sliced it thin, dredged each coin in a salt/pepper/flour mix and watched them sizzle in oil. Flipped once and laid to drain on a paper-towel covered plate, I waited just long enough to avoid bodily injury before tossing one of those slivers into my mouth. It's the taste of summer.

For health and heart, that is the only squash I fry for the entire squash season. The rest I slowly sautee in a bit of olive oil and garlic. It's a great way to enjoy that prolific summer veggie. But this year, armed with my great grandmother's collection I decided to try something new - the squash casserole.

She had three recipes, two squash cassseroles and one squash pie. Thanks to the generosity of friends, I had enough squash to try to them all. They were all good, though I'm partial to the pie. (Recipes to come.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pie, Pie oh me, oh my

My great-grandmother grew things. She grew corn, green beans, squash, and more. The only thing that she grew that I truly appreciated as a kid were her rows and rows of strawberries.

I loved them best plucked from the vine and popped in my mouth. She'd serve them fresh with pound cake, sprinkled with sugar and topped with cream, or chopped and spooned over biscuits.

She also made pies. There are several recipes for strawberry pies in the collection, most of which call for something called sure-gel (sp?). I couldn't find sure-gel at my local Kroger and was worried plain gelatin isn't the same. So I went with this recipe that only called for baking powder and cornstarch.

I went to the local strawberry patch (Lunsford, just outside of Hillsborough), where they charge $1.25 a pound for strawberries that you pick yourself. Their vines sagged with the weight of ripe berries the first week of May and it took less than 15 minutes to fill a tray with almost five pounds of the prettiest strawberries I've seen, since, well, my great-grandmother's farm.

I left smiling with red fingers, a full belly (eating while you pick is encouraged) and thoughts of a strawberry pie.

My great-grandmother's strawberry pies used to come to the table fresh from the fridge with a glassy sheen, a deep, bright red color and perfectly arranged slices of symmetrical strawberries.

I baked my pie crust and mixed together my filling. It tasted like fresh strawberry jam, but I have to admit I had misgivings about it "setting up properly" - my grandmoter's phrase - with no gelatin or sure-gel.

I was right, after a few hours in the fridge, it was still impossible to cut cleanly and still a bit soft. But when you have fresh strawberry pie, patience is impossible.

So I scooped into bowls, served it with whipped cream and I don't think anyone even noticed.

Monday, April 26, 2010

up next

It's finally time - berries are in season - we'll see how this goes.

Recipes are for the weak

When I first began cooking, I really did place some stock in that sentiment. I believed that all that was necessary to become a great cook was imagination. Throwing a bunch of ingredients together in a clever way, that was the backbone of everything I did in the kitchen. Some squash, zucchini, onion, can of tomatoes, onion and sugar - that was the basis of every pasta sauce I made. Salsa? Why not just throw a can of black beans, corn, tomatoes, onion, cilantro into a bowl. It was easy, low pressure and it felt like I was creating something. A recipe seemed like rules. If you weren't making it up as you went along then what was the point?

This was the beginning. Then, I fell in love with food.

I learned that sometimes, no matter how much imagination you approach an ingredient with, it is impossible to wing it and end up with something edible. I began to listen and watch and read. I began to understand the science behind cooking and the beauty of a well-tested recipe.

I think this recipe collection that I inherited is a good marriage of the two philosophies. These recipes are often sketches, outlines of a dish with a little wiggle room left in.
This bread, however, is a the exact opposite of that school of thought though. Homemade bread is science. It's the power of a leavening agent. It's chemical reactions and gas and magic.

Until I better understand the science behind yeast and baking soda, I don't think I should wander too far from the exact recipe. I did half this recipe as four packages of yeast and 10 cups of flour just seemed like a lot of investment for a recipe I wasn't 100% sure would turn out edible (see yeast rolls post). Half the recipe turned out two large dense loaves of sweet, yeasty wheat bread.

It was excellent and thanks to the dough hook on my mixer, a lot easier than one would think.

Sorry for the bad scan job on the recipe:

sorry. ....

It's been a while, but great bread post coming later today!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eggy Goodness

Egg custard. The simple combination of eggs, vanilla and milk turns into something deeply satisfying. It's a powerful force that can cross boundaries and class. It's great in the eggy, $1-a-slice cafeteria version; comforting in the custard and fruit variety; or tear-enducing in the caramelized-on-top, eaten-with-the-eyes-closed crème brulee rendition.

This recipe for a "Crustless Egg Pie" is a close relative of the cafeteria egg custard. I think the only difference between this and a classic egg custard recipe is the addition of 10 tbs. of flour. I'm not one to question recipes, but 10 tbs. of flour? That has to equal out to a quarter cup or more.

I love this recipe in that in showcases how my great-grandmother's generation refers to whole milk as sweet milk. It speaks to the how much that generation used buttermilk in their cooking - recipes had to distinguish between the two.

I specifically bought whole milk for this recipe, but I think I made a mistake in using small, farm-fresh organic eggs verses the larger grocery-store variety. I probably should have added an extra egg to compensate for the diminuative size of my eggs. This recipe again didn't have a cook temperature, so I played it safe and baked it at 350º until it turned golden brown on top.

We ate it warm out of the oven with fresh blackberries.

It would have benefited greatly from a dollop of fresh, ice-cold whipped cream, which would have cut the sweetness and contrasted nicely with the warm custard. The flour made a nice, tasty crust around the entire dish. This custard was surprisingly better the next day - eaten cold out of the fridge.

There are at least 20 other egg custard recipes in the collection and I look forward to trying other more traditional pies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I don't remember my great-grandmother ever steaming anything, looking at a nutrition label or exercising purely for the health benefits. She never once drank skim milk or ate low fat cheese.

Yet, she was always slim and healthy. Other than a touch of arthritis, she lived a life untouched by disease or sickness.

She spent her days tending to rows and rows of corn, strawberries, beans and squash. She planted, grew, harvested, canned and froze most of what she put on the table. She woke up, picked a "mess" of beans; strung and shelled them sitting on her front porch that afternoon; simmered them for a few hours and served them for dinner that same night.

She was a part of the original farm-to-fork generation and was all the healthier for it.

Since I had never once heard her mention eating healthily, this recipe for "Healthy" Apple Bread caught my eye.

First off, this "healthy" bread calls for almost an entire stick of butter and doesn't once mention wheat flour or spelt. It bakes up into a dense, moist loaf that's full of apples, raisons and is well, if not healthy, darn tasty.

I highly recommend this recipe, the entire loaf was gone within two days. (I'll scan and post the recipe in the next few days.)