Berry Happy to See Summer

My favorite strawberry field opened for picking yesterday. I have been watching the little gems gradually take on their crimson hue. They are easy to grow yourself, I have a half-dozen plants, but the wildlife typically gets to them before I do.

Over the years, I have tried to encourage company on my outings to pick strawberries. I’ve dragged my daughter out on two or more occasions, but the heat, the bugs and the stooping aren’t her gig. They aren’t a lot of people’s gig, but I enjoy it. If I can wear jeans, then I’m down on my knees, which isn’t comfortable, but you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The mounds are protected by straw, so you need coverage. If it’s hot, I go for a tennis or running skirt (shorts included) and do the picking squat I learned from watching a lot of immigrant woman in the fields. Genetically, I’ve got the hands and feet for field work (country Irish), but I am several generations removed from the actual labor. Observation needed to be my teacher.

One of the first recipes I make with local berries is a tart with lemon curd. There are many variations on this approach depending on your time commitment and interest. The easiest is to buy a jar of lemon curd and a package of mini tart shells from the grocery store. Dollop some lemon curd into the shell and top with an inverted berry (like a pyramid).

tart shell

I always keep a box of these in my pantry. I prefer to make my own lemon curd (think of the filling in lemon bars) because I like mine on the tart side and I find commercial jars are too sweet. But it is a recipe that can go south on you quickly if you don’t pay attention to the double boiler.

You can top with any berry combination. The trick is to melt about a tablespoon of apricot jam in the microwave and mix it with the berries. That will make them glossy when you put them on top.

I recently tried a microwave lemon curd recipe I found on the New York Times site by “Microwave Gourmet” author Barbara Kafka:

  • ½ pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated or chopped lemon zest (typically 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated or chopped orange zest, optional
  • 6 large eggs
  1. Place butter, sugar, lemon juice and zests in an 8-cup glass measure or a 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook at 100 percent power in a 650- to 700-watt oven for 4 minutes. Prick plastic to release steam.
  2. Remove from oven and uncover. Whisk together eggs in a small bowl. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the butter mixture into the eggs to warm them. Scrape egg mixture back into measure, whisking constantly. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes.
  3. Leaving dish in oven, whisk until smooth. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes more. Remove from oven and puree in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 

The recipe works, although you do have to see what power your microwave is and adjust. Mine is 1050 watts, but I couldn’t just reduce the time by one-third. The overall time remained almost the same, but it took a fair amount of watching.

I prefer Ina Garten’s recipe, which takes about 5 minutes longer.

3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Remove the zest of 3 lemons, avoid the white pith. You can do this with a vegetable peeler. (I prefer to just zest the lemons). Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
Add the butter to the sugar and lemon mixture and pulse until light and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Pulse until combined.
Pour into a 2-quart saucepan (it may look a curdled at this point, don’t worry). Cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees,  or just below simmer. A suggestion from AllRecipes.com says that this will take about 6 minutes. Look for the first bubble. Remove from the heat. Cool. Refrigerate in a glass jar or bowl, covered.

lemon curd tart with fruit

If you are inclined to make a full-sized tart, I’d recommend a shortbread crust, which is super easy and you don’t have to roll. You just press it in. I like this recipe from AddAPinch.com:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

If you are using unsalted butter, which I typically do, you will need to add about 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together butter, flour, and powdered sugar (and salt if using unsalted butter). Press into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan, a pie plate, tart pan, or other pan for your baking.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Remove from oven. Let cool completely before filling.

 

You can e-mail Marnie at marnie@marniemeadmedia.com.

Teens, Chocolate and Leftovers

School has been out for a week now for my 13-year-old daughter, which means she can now sleep in. This is a tween summer – she’s going to high school in the fall. She’s the youngest in her class, so she’s not old enough to work at a real job, and she’s a little too old for day camp.

She never liked camp, which is why this summer is not a camp-counselor-in-training year. As for babysitting, she has her certification. She just hasn’t met the right family yet. I know how that goes. One summer I babysat for a kid who liked to poop behind curtains and bushes. Her mother was more interested in tennis, golf and ladies who lunch. her father worked all the time. It was dreadful. I still recall chasing the kid from behind the couch to try to get her to the bathroom on time.

Thankfully, I met the Padden family or I would have been put off kids forever.

Now I am a parent, and I’m cutting her a break this summer. I’m home working on a book project, so I don’t have to worry she’ll be home watching television all day if I don’t get her to some sort of activity.

So while she sleeps in, I work. What wakes up, however, is ravenous. And I’m not a “Leave it to Beaver” mom with pancakes at the ready for when she does rise. We have a fridge stocked with yogurt and fruit, but it’s nice to have a little sweet in there in the morning. So faced with some leftover bread, I wanted to make bread pudding. The problem with bread pudding is there are just two of us. Making it in muffin tins was the perfect solution. We can have some now and freeze the rest for later. This would also be an ideal brunch dish, and so much more visually appealing as an individual serving.

bread puddingsChocolate Bread Pudding Cups

7 cups stale bread, torn or cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups chocolate milk (whole, preferably, or 1 cup chocolate milk and 1 cup cream)
6 tablespoons salted butter, melted and somewhat cooled
2/3 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup flour
½ tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ cup chocolate chips, or more to taste

Coat 12-count regular size muffin pan with cooking spray or line with muffin cups. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir milk with bread to coat.

Mix sugar in with melted butter. Beat in eggs until mixture is lighter in color. Stir in vanilla. Add to bowl with milk and bread and stir to combine.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and pumpkin pie spice (if you don’t have it, use 3/4 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg). Stir into bread mixture until well combined. Add chocolate chips.

Equally distribute into muffin tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve warm plain, with whipped cream or a drizzle of caramel sauce.

Adapted from TastyKitchen.com

 

I’m Jammin’ With Scones

scone with jamspThe appearance of rhubarb on the market is just the start of my summer love affair with jams. I’m too lazy to do the hot-bath method, preferring quick jams that immediately satisfy my need to create.

Last summer I discovered the delightful mix of strawberry and rhubarb together, especially if the rhubarb was chopped so that the texture didn’t get in the way of the flavor (my opinion). Still, strawberries had the starring role. The rhubarb was there to balance the overwhelming sweetness. As I experiment more with flavor, I find I like more complexity and the ability to taste the fruit and not so much the sugar.

A bag of half-eaten cherries made me wonder if the same magic could work with rhubarb. Cherries aren’t in season here yet, but they will be in July. But the markets are filled with fresh cherries from California, and, I bought a bag. Alas, they were hidden in the back of the fridge and were pushing their past-prime time.

Serious Eats provided the recipe road map, but the recipe included pectin and had a whole lot of sugar. So I cut the sugar in half, eliminated the pectin and added both fresh and ground ginger to add some heat to the sweet. Because I don’t use pectin, I allow it to simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. The end result is something that is as magical on a scone as it is paired with cheese, particularly creamy cheeses such as brie.

Once I had this delightful jam, I needed something that was equally delish to eat with it. I’ve been experimenting with scones, with some success, but so far this King Arthur Flour Cream Tea Scones has been consistently good.

Rhubarb Cherry Jam

6 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups pitted sweet cherries
1 1/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 small orange
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

In a medium-sized heavy pot, add rhubarb, cherries. sugar and orange and cook over medium to medium-low heat until the sugar melts and the fruit starts to give off juices. Increase the heat (not high) to bring the mixture to a simmer and allow it to thicken, being careful to stir and scrape the bottom so it doesn’t burn. This is why a heavy-bottomed pot is so important for jam. It will take about 15 to 20 minutes. You can test it by taking a spoonful out and drizzling it on a cold plate. If it is very runny, it isn’t done. Remember it will thicken as it cools. Remove from heat and stir in gingers. Once cool, place in clean glass jars (2 to 4, depending on size) and refrigerate.

 

Cream Scones

The key to these scones is the freezing step. The colder the fat, the more steam escapes in baking and the fluffier it becomes. 8 scones.

2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
(or 3 cups unbleached white flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half (cream will be richer)
1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing on top
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top

Line a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment or foil (coat foil with butter or cooking spray to prevent sticking).

Whisk together dry ingredients. When whisk in vanilla paste. Gradually stir in the cream, stirring just until the dough comes together. There should be no flour in the bottom of the bowl. The dough will be slightly sticky, but not terribly.

Pat dough into the cake pan. Use a knife to cut 8 pieces. Start by cutting in half, then cut those pieces in half until you have 8. Freeze for 15 minutes or overnight.

Heat oven to 425 degrees about 20 minutes before baking. Remove scones from freezer at this time.

Turn scones out of the pan (here is where the parchment/foil help). Peel off parchment/foil. Then turn right side up and gently break the scones into the 8 pieces. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (not needed, but it speeds cleanup). Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the scones are brown on top and not sticky in the middle. This may take a little longer if your scones didn’t defrost on top of the stove (mine took about 18 to 20 minutes because I had frozen mine overnight).

Serve warm.

These are best eaten within a couple of hours of baking. So you can choose to only cook the number you want and return the rest to the freezer.

 

Marnie Mead is a freelance writer and blogger with a love of food, travel and adventure. Reach her at marnie@marniemeadmedia.com.

 

 

 

 

How Does the Community Garden Grow

garden2

Nothing tastes better than harvesting the fruits of your own labor. That’s a mission that the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network took to heart when it took over the Seeds of Hope garden at the corner of 22nd and Parade streets this  year.

Linked In hooked me up with Margarita Dangel, east program director for the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, when I was looking for volunteer opportunties. I had worked in the garden twice getting it ready – planting some flowers and helping put up the rabbit fence before we dug in on June 2.

That’s when volunteers, Master Gardeners from Penn State and the neighbors came together to weed and plant the raised beds with cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash and herbs  using the square-foot-garden method, gridded with string. The long beds at the end are being planted and tended by the SSJNN with the help of volunteers. The Master Gardeners were there to provide guidance on the care for plants in this gardening zone. The area is ethnically diverse, often serving as a transitional neighborhood for recent immigrants.

It’s a reminder of the lifelong importance of gardening, especially for women. My father taught me to garden when I was a preteen, laying out our garden on grid paper with zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce and herbs. He worked long hours, so the kids were often responsible for remembering to water (with lots of prompting) and weeding. While we weren’t fond of the gigantic zucchini, the life lessons were important. I have had a garden of some sort – even if it was just a half dozen pots filled with tomatoes – at every home since I have graduated from college. One year, I moved midway through the summer and transported my tomato plants in the back of my two-seater convertible and then up to the second floor balcony of the new apartment. I shared tomatoes later that season with neighbors, who returned the favor with freshly-caught fish and the following spring, morel mushrooms.

That was my first lesson about how a garden could help build a community among strangers.

Since then, I’ve shared tomatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, cucumbers and homemade pesto with neighbors. I still recall my daughter having friends over and she picked a tomato off the plant and ate it. The kids were all in awe – they didn’t realize tomatoes came from plants.

At this point in the spring/summer, mostly I have lettuces, radishes and arugula. The sign for fresh strawberries just went up at Mason Farms along Old French Road. So what could be better than some grilled chops and a fresh salad, using a mixture of lettuces and strawberries?

veal chop
Grilled veal chop, baked beans, orzo carbonara and a fresh salad with arugula and strawberries, watermelon and fresh feta.

The veal chops, purchased at the West Side Market in Cleveland from Sebastian Meats, were perfect. I simply marinated in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary. To finish the chops, add a drizzle of olive oil and a small pat of butter while they rest. This will create a juice to drizzle on top.

Strawberry, Watermelon, Arugula and Feta Salad

1 cup watermelon cubes
1 cup hulled strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on size)
2 cups arugula
1/4 cup feta (preferably sheep’s milk), crumbled
Thinly sliced red onion to taste
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
Salt
Pepper

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, strawberries, arugula, feta, onion and basil. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil and honey. Drizzle over salad and toss gently. Taste. Add salt and pepper, if desired.

garden1