Sunday, July 31, 2016

Divine Crumble

  This summer has been a whirlwind of activity.  I really don't know why I expected that I will "accomplish" anything like cleaning the office, reorganizing my life in any way or even getting the laundry done and the bills paid on time.  The house has only been vacuumed twice since the last day of school on June 22.  I blame it on the sun.  The weather has been lovely all but 2 days so far which is not good for the garden.  We need rain!  But it has been fun spending hours on the beach with friends, enjoying week long family visits and attending many, many Cape Cod League baseball games on hot summer nights.  Obviously, there has been little time to cook and post recipes.  However, I am now on instagram under the name: Notes from Val's follow me!  There are lots of great photos of what we have been up to during these last 6 weeks to prove that I haven't just been hiding out at home watching Bravo and eating potato chips.
  On those few nights that I am actually at home and have the luxury of putting my feet up while watching some "light murder" on t.v. (I love "Elementary" and "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries"), I often throw together something to go with my glass of red but in secret so that the kids don't hear me and want some.  Piggies!  I use leftover cookies crumbled over a dish of the last of the remaining ice cream or if there is nothing else, semi sweet chocolate chips shoved into a glob of peanut butter.  However, recently when we were all actually home for dinner one evening last week, I was able to make Peach Parfait with Salted Graham Cracker Crumble from this month's Bon Appetit  Delicious!  But the very best part was the crumble and thankfully there was lots left over.  Crumble, I have found makes anything into a dessert and makes most desserts even better.  Even a simple dish of yogurt and fruit can be transformed.  Crumble is far superior than cookies when layered into whipped cream and lemon curd (another simple, yet addictive concoction) because the crumble stays crunchy longer, it resists getting soggy.  Crumble is also divine just tossed into your mouth as you are passing through the kitchen.  Just ask Ava, crumble thief.  So, with the remaining crumble that I was actually able to keep for myself, I made this easy combination of Cabot Greek Vanilla Bean Yogurt and some sliced fresh peaches to go with some delicious pinot noir and enjoyed it alongside Sherlock and Watson on recordings.

The following is another crumble recipe from a favorite cook book: Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream's At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer
She calls it "Crisp Streusel", I won't argue with that.  Or, you can click on the link mentioned above for the peach parfait which is definitely "parfait" as the french say.  Either way, be sure to keep some of the crispy goodness for yourself to go along with an evening cocktail and a mysterious dead body.

Crisp Streusel
(makes about 3 cups)

2 sticks butter, cubed and chilled
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put all ingredients except oats into a bowl and blend  by rubbing the dry ingredients into the butter with your fingertips.  Work quickly so that the butter does not melt.  When the mixture looks like coarse sand, add the oats and mix well.  Spread on an ungreased baking sheet.  Break up any large chunks into crumbs, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch size.  
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until toasted and browned, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, especially in the corners and to turn over the unbaked portions.  Let cool completely, then freeze until ready to use.  The streusel can be frozen up to one month.


Chocolate Zucchini Cake By the Ocean

  "Bottle Cap", the game of jumping off the raft to see who can get to the plastic orange milk cap first, has now morphed into one person balancing the fluorescent cover on the top of the closest blue and white boat mooring as it bobs up and down in the waves. Here are the rules according to what I can glean while watching from my anonymous perch on the beach: 1. Everyone else is supposed to wait on the raft until the cap is sufficiently balanced and released.  2.They all jump off and swim for it, a mad dash of splashes, kicking legs and flailing arms until the winner grabs the prize.  3. The winner places the cap on the buoy and it all starts over, again.
  As I have been told, the "real" "Bottle Cap" involves one person pencil diving off the raft and placing the bottle cap somewhere in the murky depths.  (This game does not work in totally clear water, seaweed and muck are a must.)  He or she "hides" the cap by leaving it suspended underneath the surface.  Once given the signal, the others then dive in and search under the levels of water as the cap slowly ascends to the surface and once it is captured, that round is over.
  It's a lot of jumping off and hauling the body back onto the raft.  No one has time to wait for the ladder which ends up with its rungs beneath the water totally encrusted in barnacles, anyway.  Sharp, shelled organisms that give nasty cuts on tender, waterlogged feet and hands.  After about an hour of this strenuous activity, I see Ava yanking Declan's floppy, lazy arms to help him out of the water.  It's probably time to call them into shore to eat some lunch, reapply sunscreen.  But I know they will come in eventually.  So, I give myself one more minute of peace.
  We are hoping for this magical beach recipe for hunger and exhaustion. All of us Mom's who pack coolers full of Cheez-its, watermelon and re-usable water bottles , wash and fold beach towels, cajole and threaten until sunscreen is applied, we finally flop, utterly spent by 10:00am into a beach chair after lugging it all across the hot sand only to do it again and again on each and every sunny day this summer.  The kids are happy darting from the ocean waves, to investigating the catch on the dingy dock, to playing made up games on the raft, swimming, diving under.  Each adventure far enough away so I can't hear them fight, close enough so I can see that they are safe.  Extraordinary, yet typical everyday life in a summer vacation land.

  Mix this one bowl cake in the evening while making dinner.  Bake it, then let it sit overnight.  The next morning, cube it up and pack it in the cooler.  You can sneak a piece when it comes out hot from the oven and top it with vanilla ice cream while the kids are watching the Red Sox or holed up in their beds reading before lights out. You deserve it.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
(makes one large pan)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk (milk plus 1/2 teaspoon vinegar)
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated zucchini
2 1/2 cups flour
10 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 glass baking dish.
Mix together butter, oil and 1 3/4 cups sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, vanilla  and milk.  Combine thoroughly.  Add cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Mix well.  Add zucchini and stir to combine. Add flour and stir until all ingredients are incorporated, scraping the bowl as necessary.  Pour batter into prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle top with semi sweet chips and remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
Bake for 45-55 minutes until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Green Beans

 As soon as the green beans are ready to be picked off the plant, after ferreting them out from under the shady leaves, even if I only have a handful, this is the first recipe I want to make.  I whip up this warm chicken salad and serve it over rice for a light summer dinner then eat the leftovers cold (if there are any) for lunch the next day, the flavors completely absorbed into the chicken and clinging to every last green bean.
  I first made Val's version of "Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans" for tailgating at one of those long triple billing, marathon afternoon into evening summer concerts that only 20 somethings and aging hippies seem to be into.  It was not a fancy affair with grills, gourmet spreads, lounge chairs and RV's like you now see on the Cooking Channel during the height of football season.  This was an event better described by dusty bare feet, ratty old concert T's, loads of bad tattoos and warm cans of Bud Light.  It was a hot July day when we headed off to Great Woods, a concert venue that was an open stadium with a big dirt hill, the grass having worn away a long time ago, that served as the "bleacher" seats.  The idea was to spread out a blanket, bring a few lawn chairs, buy some over priced warm draft beers and enjoy a day into night of music under the sun and stars.  If you could make it that long before passing out from heat stroke, inebriation, or both.
  But my roommate, Sarah and my then boyfriend, Rob had our own plans.  We knew that we would never last the entire day full of guitar jamming no name bands in order to see the headliners later that evening.  This was not our first time heading into hippie concert land.  Instead, we packed up our own ice cold bottles of Miller Light (high end for us at the time).  I made a double batch of this salad and tossed it in the cooler.  Upon arrival, we popped open the trunk of Rob's black Chevy Cavalier, sat on the bumper and indulged, dunking wedges of pita into the soy and sesame juices and scooping up chunks of marinated chicken and crisp green beans with the bread since I didn't think to bring any forks.  Then we washed it all down with our contraband beers.  In the distance, we could hear a few opening acts as the guitar riffs floated through the air while we kept track of where the band was in the line-up and relaxed in the parking lot.  Finally, when we couldn't hold it another minute, Sarah and I entered the madness of the venue to use the bathroom that had by now turned into a swamp.  Barefoot treehugger girls wearing maxi dresses that dragged in the dirt trudged through the filthy facility. Sarah and I knew better.  Work boots and denim shorts may be a fashion faux pas for most events but at least our outfit choice kept our feet protected from the muddy cement floor in the ladies' room.
  After the bathroom adventure and locating Rob again amidst the crowds swaying to the deafening music, we managed somehow to sneak into the covered (more civilized) pavilion seats up in front of the stage.  During the last set of the show, just as eardrums couldn't take it anymore, we dragged ourselves back to the car for the last of the now semi cold beer and the remaining chicken salad.  We slurped up what was left, wishing there was more,  dying for a late night snack before we headed out to wait in the long line of cars and buses trying to leave the parking lot and head home.
  It's been a longer time than I would like to admit since those concert days. Now, when I pack up snacks, I usually remember to bring a fork so I don't have to use my fingers. I pull the Tupperware container with the ice cold salad leftovers out of my beach cooler and relax with my feet in the sand while I savor every bite. Instead of the thumping of a rock band, I listen to the waves lapping the shore and the noise of my children's laughter as I watch them jump off the dingy dock, playing a made up game with their friends.  But one thing will never change.  This tangy, salty, spicy and sweet marinade over fresh green beans and poached chicken really does go great with an ice cold beer.

Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans
(Serves 4)
2 large boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1/2 pound fresh green beans
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Use spray oil to grease a small baking dish.
Place chicken in dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Cove dish with foil.  Bake 25-35 minutes until chicken is cooked but still very moist.  Cool chicken enough to slice.
  Meanwhile, wash and pick green beans by removing the stems. If they are long, snap them in half.  Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.  Blanch beans in boiling waiter for 1-2 minutes until they turn bright green.  Drain immediately and plunge beans into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Let rest for 5 minutes and drain thoroughly.
  *Mix the dressing: combine celery seed through vinegar.  Add honey and whisk to combine.  Slowly add oil while whisking.  Add sesame seeds and mix thoroughly.  Place sliced chicken and green beans in a large shallow bowl or baking dish.  Pour dressing over ingredients and toss to coat.  **Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I double the amount of dressing because I like a lot of sauce!
**Serve with rice for a satisfying dinner.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Let the hoarding begin!
  My freezer is already packed to the gills with chopped rhubarb, hulled native strawberries and a stockpile of homemade Backyard Mint Ice Cream (recipe courtesy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home).  Yet, I still feel the need to buy more strawberries to make my stomach and freezer burst as well as find as many ways as possible to use up the rhubarb in Val's garden until the stalks get so fat in the July sun that no one can possibly consume and digest it.
  The problem is that rhubarb, while it makes a lovely tasting sweet/tart jam, it's color once the rhubarb is cooked turns into a disgusting yellowish green.  Think of a runny nose when you have a very bad cold and that is the exact shade of this delicious, sour treat.  Upon seeing the nauseating hue of this confection, most people run for the hills rather than slather it on buttered toast.  So, I only make a few quick jars of this concoction, knowing that I am likely the only person who will dare devour it.  And to be quite honest, I prefer it that way.  At least I won't have to share any with the little hungry mouths in my home.
  But that doesn't solve my need to hoard the rhubarb since the freezer is already full.
  Luckily, I also accumulate recipes.  I have a cumbersome file box full of recipes torn from magazines and printed off the internet.  Many I have tried and use over and over again.  So many more, I have yet to get to, or even remember that I thought enough of it to file it away for future use.  But, as luck would have it, I did save an obscure rhubarb recipe from Mother Earth News back in April.  It's kismet really, that I came across it  this week, just when I needed one more reason to climb back into Val's immense rhubarb patch to harvest the last remaining edible stalks. The plants are now so gargantuan, it's getting to the point of me needing to use the largest, sharpest knife kept in the wooden block on the kitchen counter in order to hack off the plant and surgically remove the leaves that have grown as big as couch cushions. But I persevere, determined to mine every last available bite, wielding that knife as a machete, like an explorer would hack through a dense tropical jungle.  All to put up few jars of pickled rhubarb.

Immense, man eating rhubarb leaves
  Don't be afraid of the bizarre idea of pickling rhubarb.  The uber tart stalks lend themselves well to the process. And the leftover brine is so good, I want to drink it straight from the jar.  So, I'll have to think of a way to use that up too, once I eat up all the marinated rhubarb. I updated the original directions of cutting the stalks into batons to cutting up the rhubarb into chunks.  When I tried to bite into a long piece of the pickled rhubarb, my teeth would not cut through the stringy stalk.  Very disheartening.  Also, because of necessity and the fact that I store my ginger root in the freezer, I grated it instead of adding slices and I don't know where to find whole allspice, hence the use of powder.  Regardless of these changes, I think the recipe is pretty damn amazing and my sister does, too.  She keeps demanding more "crack" as she calls it.  I guess I won't be hoarding all of these jars of pickled goodness to myself, after all.

Pickled Rhubarb
(adapted  from Mother Earth News )
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 inch grated ginger (I freeze the ginger root for easier grating)
1 heaping tablespoon dried chili flakes
1 heaping tablespoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 pound chopped rhubarb (1/2 inch pieces)

  Boil vinegar, sugar, salt, grated ginger, chili flakes, cloves and allspice in a medium sized sauce pan until the sugar and salt dissolve (about 5 minutes).  Strain out the solids and set the liquid aside.
  Pack chopped rhubarb into sterilized jars.
  Pour hot liquid over rhubarb until just shy of full.  Screw on lids and allow to cool.  Refrigerate for up to one month. 
* Do not use canning process as rhubarb tends to turn to mush in the process.