Sunday, February 27, 2011
This morning, JR caught me glancing out the kitchen window at him as he returned to the house, having finished shoveling a path to the barn, then to the cars, then down the driveway for the - ahhh, one thousandth time this year. Okay, fine. You're right. One thousand shovel-outs are not possible, as winter is technically only 89 days in length, and we're still 22 days away from its merciful (oh, please, I beg of you, Mother Nature, do be merciful, won't you?) end.
Answering my glance, he threw down the shovel, threw up his hands, and said, "I am DONE. DONE with this. All of this," waving his arms around to be sure that I understand that every last flake on the planet had rankled him this Sunday morning.
"You and every other person in the northeast," I replied.
"But me first. I want to be done first."
It occurred to me that the only thing to help lessen the sting of another 3 inches of snow was something decidedly bright - tangy, and citrus-y, yet sweet and with some forbidden - or, more accurately, completely out of season - fruit.
Ideally, this forbidden fruit would come to you as mine had, from the neighbor's blueberry bushes, frozen for just this sort of late-winter mood-enhancing emergency, but if not - while we're using lemons that don't exactly grow wild in Massachusetts - a bag of frozen blueberries from your market's freezer case will do. I know, I know. Sacrilege. But maybe next year we'll all plan ahead and have a couple bags of local blueberries in our freezers for just this sort of emergency.
With this plan for next year now in mind, we still need to act to alleviate our winter doldrums. And act now. So let's move quickly to the pantry, gather up the flour and sugar, then get ourselves to our respective fridges for butter, eggs, cream cheese, and a lemon, and finally pull that bag of berries out of the freezer, and get to work on these bad boys. Twelve muffins being just enough to inspire glee for a few days as we roar into March.
Makes 12 muffins
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
the zest and juice of one lemon (approximately 1/4 cup of juice)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 /2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries (one 10-ounce bag if using frozen berries)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar and butter until it is creamed. Add the cream cheese until it is completely blended with the sugar and butter mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, until they are incorporated into the batter, then add the zest and pour in the lemon juice. Mix until zest and juice are also incorporated.
Meanwhile, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl so that the baking powder and salt are evenly distributed, then add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix until the flour mixture has just been incorporated into the wet, then gently fold in the frozen blueberries. Folding in is just as it sounds: pour the berries into the mixing bowl, then, using a spoon or a spatula, move batter from the bottom of the mixing bowl to the top to cover the berries, mixing those batter-covered berries into the rest of the batter, and repeat until the berries are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Using two spoons - one to scoop from the mixing bowl, and one to scrape into the muffin liners (as we have ourselves a very sticky batter) - transfer approximately equal amounts of batter to each of the 12 muffin liners.
Bake until the muffins are golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin emerges batter-free, 32 to 35 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool in the muffin pan for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack until they are completely cooled.
These muffins are good warm, but their true lemony character shines most brightly once they've cooled completely. No harm in trying 'em both ways just to be sure, though.
Estimated cost for 12 muffins: $7.05. A bargain for a winter bright spot and reminder that berry-growing days will be soon be upon us. Hey, JR and I even spotted a daffodil shoot against the chicken coop this afternoon, so it really is right around the corner, this warm weather of which we've been so cruelly deprived (I know, I know. I live in the northeast. It's not exactly news that winter is cold and, yeah, brutal here. But I don't want to let the truthful expectation of what winter is like get in the way of a good, overly dramatic moment. Thank you for indulging me).
Okay, now back to the pricing: The sugar costs 16-cents for 1 1/2 cup. The butter has gone up in price recently, and is now 83-cents per stick for Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value store brand. The 365 cream cheese has also increased in price, and is now $1.69 (up 40 cents!) for 8 ounces, so our 6 ounces cost $1.28. I used a lemon from a bag of 8 that cost $3.99, so roughly 50-cents each, but if you were to buy one lone organic lemon, it's going to cost you around 99-cents, so I went with that for this math. The flour costs $4.49 for 19 cups, so 28.5-cents for our lemon-blueberry muffins - we'll call it 29-cents (I did see King Arthur Flour for $3.44 at Target this week, fyi, but we'll go with the higher price to be on the safe side). Baking powder costs less than 1-cent for the quantity used here, but we'll call it 1-cent, and the blueberries that I bought from my neighbor cost $3.50. 365 brand wild blueberries cost $2.99, so you can save 51-cents if you go that route. Not too shabby for a baked treat that (possibly) staves off the last round of winter depression for 59-cents per each citrusy, sweet, forbidden-fruit laden muffin.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Gauguin's painting The Ham has hung on our refrigerator for years. Seven years, 6 months, and 10 days to be precise, as it was a souvenir from our honeymoon sojourn to the great master's studio on a hill overlooking Aix-en-Provence.
Aix's noble lineage is clear as one walks its shade- and cafe-lined streets; stylish and chic, yet casual and relaxed all at once. After a leisurely lunch at one of those cafes, the specifics of our meal sadly now forgotten - but certainly consisting, at least in part, of a glass of rosé - JR and I began the walk to Gaguin's studio. A fabulous idea if the new bride isn't wearing borrowed flip flops (borrowed from JR's niece, so no need to "ewwww", but borrowed nonetheless).
The walk is a bit of a challenge for the flip-flop clad, as it is entirely uphill. At least, this is the borrowed flip-flop wearing bride's memory of the trek seven years, six months, and 10-plus days later.
That summer, 2003, was the summer of the deadly European heatwave, discouraging all but a dozen or so tourists from visiting Gauguin's studio that afternoon. His studio, the brochure informed us, was just as he had left it. His easel, the furnishings, his palette and brushes, even a cape and a hat - as though he had just vacated the premises.
The oranges used for his many still life paintings also appeared to be just as he had left them, as their skins were quite shriveled, and alas (or thankfully) there was no ham, 100-plus years old or otherwise.
Thanks to the dearth of visitors that June day, JR and I were able to spend a quiet 15 minutes in Gauguin's atelier, imagining the artist setting up the then plump fruit, rearranging, until finally, it was just right, then settling in to paint.
I wonder if Gauguin loved fruit, or if it was simply the practice of painting the sphere that led him to paint it so frequently.
Today, while shooting bacon and pancetta for this post, JR called out from the living room, "You don't need to shoot every nuance of the bacon, you know." There was a pause and then, "No bacon is safe around you."
It was true, no slab, no slice, no crisped bit of bacon was spared a look through the lens. Not one.
The bacon-making process is, just as the duck prosciutto process was, as simple as simple can be. Once we received our pink salt from sausagemaker.com, we spent 15 or so minutes making the cure for both pork bellies - one to become bacon and one to become pancetta - sealed each of them up in their own gallon storage bags, and each night, JR flipped them to distribute the cure.
Wednesday morning before work, I rinsed and patted dry the soon-to-be-bacon slab o' pork, then placed it back in the refrigerator in a clean storage bag. We had 3 days before which we had to roast the bacon (it can be done immediately upon rinsing if you have the time, or have properly scheduled your Charcutepalooza activities. If not, you have a 3-day grace period. For which I was quite thankful.), so on Saturday morning, I arose, set the oven to 200, placed the pork belly into the oven on a roasting rack set on a sheet pan, and let it slowly roast for 2 hours.
As Michael Ruhlman instructs in Charcuterie, the pig skin was sliced off while the bacon was still warm. I sliced a bit of the warm bacon to taste test (as Mr. Ruhlman also instructs. I am so very by-the-letter, I am), then left the bacon slab alone (as in, did not eat any additional warm slab bacon) to cool.
Late Saturday afternoon, once the cooling was complete, I fried four slices. Four slices of the best bacon I have ever had.
The fat from those four afternoon bacon slices was upcycled (yep. I think that's a pretty appropriate use of "upcycled") to roast our potatoes and carrots for dinner. Then, not content with rendered bacon fat alone, we diced four more slices of bacon to add to the potato-carrot mix.
When the last bit of crisp bacon was gone (oh, and the potatoes and carrots, too. They were a part of the dish after all), I began planning Sunday breakfast. Bacon and egg sandwiches on wheat. And when the breakfast sandwiches had been devoured, I plotted out the fennel, potato, and bacon pizza we'd have for dinner.
The two pounds of bacon we made is unlikely to last very long at this rate, so pork belly is back on the grocery list. And perhaps the obsessive photography sessions will eventually lose their luster. Odds are against it, though. I sure do love me some bacon.
(Oh, and I'd be on the lookout for obsessively photographed pancetta in the near future, too. Just sayin'.)
Sunday, February 6, 2011
There was, I must admit, a bit of a shock and disbelief for us after the Patriots lost to the Jets in the NFL playoffs this year. We're big football fans here, and both remember when the Patriots weren't reviled around the country for being a dominant team.
No, no. Not reviled in the least. In fact, they were generally scoffed at as the perpetual joke of the league, yet that didn't keep both JR and I from loving our hometown team.
During the 80's, including the 1985-1986 football season, JR and his brother held season's tickets for games in the old, grungy Sullivan Stadium, so they sure as heck weren't going to miss out on their opportunity to head to New Orleans for the Superbowl contest with the Bears. (For the record, I was busy crafting alternate lyrics for the Superbowl Shuffle, in order to teach and then lead my Attleboro High School Junior Class Powderpuff squad in a very mid-1980's dance-off pep rally rendition. Go ahead. Let your imagination run wild.)
On any occasion during which the Superbowl is mentioned - in its generic form, it does not need to be the 1986 Superbowl - JR leans back, takes a deep breath, looks directly into my expectant eyes (for I know what is coming) and says, "Ahhhh, yes. The Superbowl. That reminds me of the time my plane was hijacked."
Pausing, he looks deeper into my widened eyes, my fear - of hearing the story again - unmistakable.
"Have I ever told you about the hijacking?"
(Also for the record, he does not usually repeat the story, he simply likes to fill me with dread that the story could possibly be recounted once more.)
If you are able, please flash back to 1986. A time of Madonna in fishnet shirts and five hundred rubber bracelets up each arm. A time of Purple Rain, and bad supergroups, and actual music on MTV (clearly my focus is very high school-centric here). The Berlin Wall still stood, Ronnie Reagan was only 75 years old (ahhh, youth.), however, there had been a spate of hijackings around the globe during 1985, and as such, when one drunken, belligerent football fan on a New Orleans to Boston flight yelled, "I've got a bomb!" after being chastised by the flight crew, well, you can pretty much play out the movie of what happens next in your head, right? And, please, be sure that every man on that plane is wearing a wide-collared Patriots logo golf shirt in your film, okay? It's important that we get the period costumes right in this rough-and-tumble faux hijacking film of ours.
JR has sour memories of New Orleans as a result, and he and his brother let the season's tickets slide after that Superbowl run. It sounds like a sad tale, but, on the upside, he won't have to wait 16 hours on the tarmac after the game is over this, or any year.
As chili seems to be the Official Dish of the NFL - or perhaps just the Official Dish of the Big Game, I thought I'd share this turkey-squash chili with which I am currently quite enamored. Please feel free to use dry beans if you have them (Over the last two years, it appears that I've become quite particular about my dried beans, and, therefore, I'd like to warn you that I'm trying to determine how to become the Brockton Bean supplier for my area; they'd work well in this or any chili, so if there's another variety of bean that you love more than is probably acceptable to tell your friends about, it's worth throwing into the turkey-squash chili pot in place of the canned beans that are called for.).
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 pound ground turkey (we use dark meat, feel free to use white meat)
(2) 15-ounce adobo-seasoned diced tomatoes (such as Muir Glen - see note below if you aren't able to find the adobo-seasoned variety)
(1) 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
(1) 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups puréed butternut squash, or one 15 oz can pumpkin purée (no spices added - be sure it's plain pumpkin)
Note Number One: If you're unable to find those adobo-seasoned tomatoes, use regular diced tomatoes, and add chiles in adobo, in small amounts, until you've reached your desired heat level. Be careful, though, if you do use the chiles in adobo - unless you are a spicy-heat freak, you definitely don't need to use the whole can (I've heard more than one tale of mistakenly using the entire can, and so felt it wise to make mention).
Note Number Two: We tend to have pureed squash or pumpkin in the house (in the freezer) throughout the winter, so it's still a convenience food for us, however, if you don't stash squash puree in your freezer, a can of pumpkin will do. For tips on how to process winter squash, head on over here (the post is about sugar pumpkin, though the whole boiling and pureeing applies to butternut and other winter squash varieties as well).
Heat the oil in a medium soup or stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it's softened and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the ground turkey, and cook it until it is lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, beans, and squash, stir well to combine, and simmer gently for 20 minutes before serving it forth with a dollop of sour cream (and chopped green onion and/or chopped cilantro).
Estimated cost for a batch of chili: $14.85. The olive oil costs 36-cents. The onion should cost no more than 75-cents. The turkey costs $4.99 per pound, and, as you can see in that there photo of the ingredients, my latest pack o' turkey cost $5.24. The tomatoes cost $2.39 each, and the beans cost $1.09 each. The squash was grown in our garden, so for us, it's free, but for purchasing this time of year, it's 79-cents per pound, and a 2-pound butternut squash will yield around 2 cups once processed, so that's $1.59, and sans garnish, we've got $2.48-per bowl chili. Super, indeed.