Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cream of Tartar Cookies

Oh how I have tried to get my friend, Guestblogger Scott, to do a post for me. He has so many recipes in his repertoire that I love, and after a weekend away eating these cookies on Minnesota's beautiful North Shore, I tried to gently insist he share the recipe with all of us. I am grateful that he did. --A Crafty Lass

Over a century ago, my great-grandmother Darlington promised her children that if they would sit quietly and do as they were told during the long journey from their native Rhode Island to the promised good life of the Ohio River valley, they would be rewarded with their very favorite—and rare—sugar cookies. My grandmother, Cate, and great uncle, Ollie, were so excited they could hardly contain themselves. They strapped themselves into the wagon so that they wouldn’t jump around with anticipation at the thought of those huge, crumbly sugar cookies, which they hadn’t eaten in years, well before the Irish potato famine. Their mother had been hoarding ingredients for weeks, and as the trip wore on, she became nervous that she wouldn’t have the supplies she needed. On more than one occasion she had to dip into the sugar and flour reserved for the cookies, just to make a bit of frycake so that her family wouldn’t starve during the arduous journey.

An early winter storm stopped the travelers before they reached the land they were to claim. They built a small but cozy cabin on the edge of the forest in western Pennsylvania, and prepared to stay the winter. On Christmas Eve, 1892, Mother Darlington went to make the cookies she had promised Cate and Ollie. She realized that she had not nearly enough dry goods to make the giant sugar cookies she was known for. Instead, she opened a storage barrel (long empty from their failed vineyard in Rhode Island), and scraped out enough of the calcified buildup to fill her marble mortar. She ground the dry acid into a powder as fine as the bit of baking soda she had saved, and rolled out small, delicate cookies, cookies that while not sweet, had an oddly satisfying texture. Crispy on the outside, and chewy inside, with just a vague hint of something indescribable; as if someone had taken a sip of sauvignon blanc a few hours before eating a bit of sugar.

These are the cookies that Mother Darlington would have made, had any of that story been true:
  • 1 cup shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Cream the shortening and sugars together until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until smooth. Mix the dry ingredients together; add to the shortening mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.

Drop small rolled balls of dough into a bowl of sugar. Coat the balls with sugar and put on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Allow to cool a minute or two before removing the cookies to a cooling rack. Makes about five dozen 2-inch cookies.

These cookies are tasty but unassuming. They are perfect with tea, with a glass of creamy limoncello (as we discovered a couple weekends ago), or as I served them at a luncheon I recently catered: as an accompaniment to a parfait of lemon curd, whipped cream and fresh raspberries.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sorrel Butter

I''ve been too hot to cook so thankfully Guestblogger: The Chef came through for me. How can you go wrong with some extra-fancy herbed butter? I would imagine that any dinner guest would be impressed. -- A Crafty Lass

Compound (flavored) butter is used in almost every professional kitchen across the land, and yet absolutely ignored by home cooks. I’ve never quite understood why, considering how easy it is to whip up.

Remember when Jabba the Hut bronzed Han Solo? Same concept: flavorful bits like chives, Roquefort, or Harrison Ford circa 1983, are added to softened butter, chilled, and become suspended animation in your fridge until they are released by a sizzling steak, a steaming potato, or…Princess Leia?

One of our herb containers was downright bushy with sorrel, so I decided to give it a trim and lock the lemony leaves in a butter that would add zing to grilled chicken or salmon fillets, the latter combination being a rustic riff on the French classic, Salmon in Sorrel Sauce.

For at least 4-6 servings:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter ignored until room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped sorrel leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • One pinch each of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients thoroughly, and chill until solid. It will keep, chilled, for 1-2 weeks or frozen for millennia.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gram's French Dressing

My Grandma Shirley passed away last week and I thought it only fitting that after a break from posting, one of her classic recipes should get me back on blogging track.

There were five things that stand out in my mind that she made really well: pound cake, barbecue beef brisket, lime jello with pineapple, ice box cookies, and this American-style french dressing. As a kid I thought it particularly good because it was sweet, tomatoey, and went great with the hard boiled eggs and croutons that I would douse in it. If I felt like being good, I might scoop a spoonful of peas in it too.

Seeing that it is an obnoxious 96 degrees here in Minnesota, I was pleased that I was able to whisk all the ingredients for this together in about 5 minutes.

For a crazy large amount of dressing:
  • ½ cup wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 can tomato soup, undiluted
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon mustard*
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons onion flakes
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil (I used canola oil)

My Gram kept the directions short and sweet on this recipe so, here they are verbatim:

Whisk all the ingredients together and store in the refrigerator. Will last a long time. Makes a lot.

* The Chef and I debated what "mustard" meant. Dry? Dijon? In the end, we decided to use plain yellow mustard and it tastes as I remember it so I'm guessing we are right.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mint Sugar

Besides being less minty, I wonder what my life was like before I discovered Mint Sugar.

Several years ago, when the Gourmet Cookbook came out, I wrote down a list of things I wanted to make out of it and a recipe for Fruit Salad with Mint Sugar caught my eye. The simplicity of it belies its greatness. What results from only two ingredients and a few spins in the food processor is a summery condiment, herbal and fragrant.

I keep a container of this in the fridge and find that its freshness particularly marry well with peaches, melon, and blackberries. And, in the case of a Mojito emergency, a few teaspoons of mint sugar replaces the traditional muddled mint quite nicely. If a pitcher of Mojitos would suit the occasion, then mint sugar is the surefire way to make cocktails for a crowd.

For about a cup:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup of loosely packed fresh mint leaves

Place both ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mint is finely chopped and the sugar turns green. Use immediately or refrigerate. The mint sugar will last about a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rhubarb Slush

I outright demanded that Guestblogger Alita get this recipe from her mom because I have been hearing about the infamous slushes for years now. I will be making this immediately and look forward to (maybe) sharing these with my pals. Thanks to Alita (and her mom) for this very seasonal post. --A Crafty Lass

I enjoy the subtle tartness of rhubarb in all forms: straight from the garden sprinkled with a little sugar, baked into delicious upside down cakes, muffins & sweet breads, warm cobblers, and of course fruity jams & jellies - the list could go on & on!

This particular treat allows us to enjoy rhubarb throughout the summer months in a frosty, alcoholic form! You will enjoy sipping these long after the plants are done producing the gorgeous red stalks we see during the fleeting weeks of late spring and early summer.

This drink was a favorite of my mom & her Iron Range girlfriends long before I could enjoy the alcoholic deliciousness of it. The recipe makes almost a gallon container full of slush – more than enough to share on many hot summer nights!

For one gallon of slush:

  • 8 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2 quarts water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Boil in a large saucepan for 15 to 20 minutes until soft. Strain out the pulp and reserve the liquid in a large bowl.

To the warm rhubarb liquid, add:

  • 1 small package strawberry Jello
  • 2 cups vodka

Pour the mixture into an ice cream pail or other large freezable plastic container and stir well.
Place in the fridge overnight and stir it whenever you think of it. The next morning, place in the freezer. Allow to “freeze” for a day or so.

To serve, fill a glass 1/2 full of slush add 7-UP, club soda or ginger ale.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lettuce Mix

I know that tomatoes, peppers and herbs tend to be the garden favorites, and I can see why. The end of summer bounty is typically so plentiful, and herbs have endless uses. For me, the lettuces we grow are held in the highest regard. Not only are they ready early, but the ability to go out in the garden and pull off some leaves from this lettuce and that for an ultra-fresh salad is super satisfying.

Lettuces have other virtues as well. They can be reliably counted on to grow easily from seed, they don't need to take up much space at all, and if succession planting is practiced, the harvest can continue all summer long. I'm sure I'm not alone in spending top dollar for an organic lettuce mix at the store. Spending, say, $5 on lettuce is cringe-worthy when one considers that for the same amount, copious salads from the garden can be had for months on end.

The lettuces in our garden are cutting lettuces, rather than a head lettuce like iceberg. Although, they can be pulled out in a bunch if desired. When we have a bit more lettuce than we can eat, we often pull out a few varieties and gift them to friends and family.

I'm a total sucker for cool names, and I think that lettuces might give any other type of veggie a run for their money. Shown in the picture above is Pablo, Flame, Forellenschuss, Amish Deer Tongue and Australian Yellowleaf.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cantaloupe Ginger Sorbet

I don't feel quite right about eating any sort of melon until summer arrives, but since we've had a couple decidedly warm days up here in Minnesota, I relented and came home with a couple cantaloupes.

A few years ago, I made a batch of cantaloupe sorbet because I thought it might resurrect an otherwise bland and lackluster melon. It worked! Since then, I have made variations on this sorbet many times, and with a perfect tasting cantaloupe, it's even better. The ginger infuses the sorbet with a heated zing and adds a sort of exotic flavor note. The Ginger Syrup is actually good for many things...stir a bit into some iced tea, drizzle over fruit or yogurt, or pour it over a warm cake.

As with all sorbets, things need to get started well in advance since all the ingredients must be very cold. I typically just plan on starting things the night before. If all the ingredients aren't chilled, the ice cream maker isn't going to be happy with you.

For the Ginger Simple Syrup:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ -2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (and juice)

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients over high heat and let the mixture come to a full boil, stirring now and again. Allow the syrup to boil for about a minute, making certain the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour the syrup through a fine-meshed sieve into a measuring cup and place in the fridge to chill thoroughly.

For about a quart of sorbet:

  • 4 cups of chunked cantaloupe, chilled
  • ¼ cup of cold water
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 cup of Ginger Simple Syrup
  • 1-2 tablespoons vodka (I had ginger flavored vodka so I used that)

In a food processor, add the cantaloupe, water and lemon juice. Process for about a minute until very smooth. Pour the mixture through a sieve and measure out 2 cups of puree. Stir in the cup of Ginger Simple Syrup.

Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and let it do it's thing. Towards the end, when the mixture is almost done, pour in the vodka while the machine is running. The alcohol keeps the sorbet from freezing into a solid block. Transfer to a quart-sized container and freeze, or if you don't mind a softer texture, grab a spoon and have at it.