AUTUMN DESSERTS

COBBLERS, CLAFOUTI, CRISPS AND CRUMBLES

These are great old fashioned American desserts, especially perfect for late summer and early fall when the “soft fruits” are abundant, berries, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries. Admittedly, few of them are grown here in the Northland, but they do become available, often by the case.  Supermarket ads feature them, and we love eating them fresh, out of hand, and baked into our favorite desserts.

Because the different kinds of desserts hail from different parts of the country they can be totally confusing! Everybody understands the idea of “pies” but we are unfamiliar with some of the other traditional American desserts.

To try to define the difference between a cobbler, clafouti, a crisp and a crumble, you can have a lot of fun! Well, in a knock-down, drag-out argument we might as well discuss the whole category and it kind of breaks down to fruit that is baked with a topping.

A “Cobbler” is a spoon pie, more like a fruit stew topped with dumplings on top. The dish got its name because lumps of cooked dough resemble cobblestones. The topping usually has the consistency of baking powder biscuit dough which might be a soft dropped onto the fruit by the spoonful or a stiff dough that rolled out and cut into shapes, placed on top of the fruit before baking .

A “Clafouti” is a French cobbler, originally from the Limousin region of  France, and is made with fruit (usually cherries) on the bottom, a custard, and a soft batter-crust baked on top.

A “Crisp” is fruit placed into a deep dish and topped with a sweetened, butter-rich crumb or streusel topping before baking.

A “Crumble” is a British dessert in which raw fruit is topped with a crumbly pastry, sometimes made with bread or cake crumbs and baked.  A crumble may not be as rich as a crisp.

To add to the confusion, there is a “Betty” which is a baked pudding made of layers of spiced and sugared fruit, topped with buttered bread crumbs, while a “Grunt”  is a spoon pie, with biscuit dough on top of stewed fruit, that is steamed, not baked. “Pandowdy” is a one-crusted pie, with fruit on the bottom and a rolled crust on top, which after baking is broken up (or “dowdied”) to allow the juices to come through. A “Slump” is a spoon pie, including cooked or uncooked fruit topped with biscuit dough or piecrust, which can be either baked or steamed, and turned upside down before serving.

What all of these desserts have in common is that they start with the fresh fruits of late summer and are baked or steamed with a topping. They are all usually served with whipped cream or ice cream.

So here, I will offer a basic recipe that you can make into a Cobbler, Clafouti, Crisp or a Crumble by following the variations. I’ve tried to simplify the procedure as much as possible so that you can use any combination of fruits you desire as long as they are the “soft fruits of late summer.”

FALL FRUIT DESSERTS

This basic recipe serves four but it is easily multiplied. To identify the different desserts in the photo, from left to right, Peach and Blueberry Cobbler, Peach and Blueberry Clafouti, Peach and Blueberry Crisp, Peach and Blueberry Crumble.

Basic Fruit mixture:

3 cups peeled sliced fresh peaches or nectarines

1 cup blueberries

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1. Mix the peaches and blueberries together. Melt the butter in a 1 to 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Mix the sugar an flour and sprinkle over the fruit.

2. Add the topping (see below) of your choice and bake according to the directions.

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>For Peach and Blueberry Cobbler:</span>

Basic Fruit Mixture, see above

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup butter

1/4  cup milk

1. Mix the basic fruit mixture as given above and set aside. Preheat oven to 350*F. Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the butter and blend until a crumbly mixture results. Stir in the milk until a stiff dough results.

2. Turn out onto a work surface and sprinkle with flour.  Pat or roll out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Using a round biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or a straight edged knife, cut the dough into biscuits.  Place on the fruit mixture.

3.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and biscuits are lightly browned.

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>For Peach and Blueberry Clafouti:</span>

Basic Fruit Mixture, see above

1/4 cup sugar (reserve 1 Tbsp. to dust baking dish)

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1. Mix the basic fruit mixture as given above and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350*F. In a blender, combine the sugar, milk, cream, eggs, vanilla and salt. Blend until smooth and add the flour. Blend again, scraping the sides until the flour is all mixed in.

2. Butter a 9-inch pie pan or 1-1/2-quart casserole and dust with the reserved 1 tablespoon sugar. Pour in half the batter and arrange the fruit mixture on top. Pour the remaining batter over the top.

3. Bake until the top puffs and starts to turn golden-brown, about 45 minutes.

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>For a Peach and Blueberry Crisp</span>

Basic Fruit Mixture, see above

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

3 tablespoons soft butter

1. Mix the basic fruit mixture as given above and spread into a buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole. Preheat the oven to 350*F.

2.  In a bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, brown sugar, an butter.  Sprinkle over the fruit mixture.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling and fruit I fork tender.

<span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>For a Peach and Blueberry Crumble</span>

Basic Fruit Mixture, see above

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut up

1. Mix the basic fruit mixture a given above and spread mixture into a buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole or pie pan. Sprinkle with the grated lemon zest.

2. Preheat the oven to 350*F. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until lightly browned, crisp, and juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cooking The Dog Days of Summer

Dinner from the Grill

After a long and hard winter, nothing makes my mouth water more than the wafting aroma of something cooking on the grill.  Almost anything can be cooked on the grill. Of course, there are the traditional things – burgers, chicken, sausages, hot dogs, steak, kebabs, and seafood. But grilled appetizers, crispy bruschetta, grilled and stuffed vegetables, fruits and grilled pizza really add variety to cooking al fresco.

I’ve had fun lately with themed menus. Of course, that’s nothing new, but I have been aware that we need to be eating lower on the food chain.  That means less meat, more veggies and whole grains. At first one would think that dinner from the grill would dictate a meal centered on meat – but it isn’t necessarily so.

Think Portobello mushrooms instead of burgers – or along with burgers to please everyone. Grilled eggplant, slabs of feta cheese, tofu, and another all-vegetable patty called “Quorn” – which I haven’t seen yet are vegetarian choices.  Tofu and Quorn, because they are rather bland benefit from strong marinades like tandoori or spicy curry mixtures. Make sure you use the extra-firm tofu to avoid it falling apart and make sure you dry it by compressing slices between sheets of paper towels. Cut into cubes you can make tasty kebabs by adding vegetables such as tiny onions, peppers and mushrooms. Serve them in pita breads or over cooked rice or couscous.

Asparagus, sliced zucchini, halved sweet peppers and sweet potatoes cook well on the barbecue,too. Brush with olive oil and grill for about five minutes. If you find they get singed without cooking properly, wrap in foil first, cook and then unwrap them and finish off on the grill for that authentic barbecue flavor.

Eggplant wraps -  grilled slices can be rolled around a number of tasty fillings such as goat’s cheese and herbs. Or wrap a cooked eggplant slice around a chunk of cheese, secure with a toothpicks and pop back onto the grill for a couple of minutes.

Walking around the streets in India, we noticed corn on the cob, being barbecued, then brushed with oil or ghee and sprinkled with ground cumin and coarse salt.

You can use the same marinades on your veggies as on your meat dishes. Sweetcorn, for instance, will be delicious basted with a sweet honey or maple sauce dressing, or a lemon or lime and butter coating that you may be using on some fish. Again, just make sure that you keep the dressing you use for meet or fish separate from that you use to brush on any vegetarian barbecue dishes.

So, here I am offering marinades that you can use on vegetables as well as on chicken breasts, fish, or meat cuts.

Tandoori Marinade

I like this aromatic, spicy, marinade, adapted from Wolfgang Puck. Use it on chicken breasts or lamb chops. It’s especially delicious on salmon or shrimp.  The “tandoori” is a cylindrical cooking vessel used for cooking and baking in the Middle East and India. In India a mixture of spices is often referred to as a “chutney.”

1 teaspoon each paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, ground cumin,             ground ginger, and ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup honey

3/4 cup plain yogurt

1. Mix all of the marinade ingredients together.

2. Place the meat or fish into the marinade and refrigerate at least 6 hours. The marinade is sufficient for 1 pound of salmon filets.

3. If using marinade on vegetables, make another batch of the marinade, eliminating the yogurt and brush mixture over the vegetables while grilling.

Yucatan Marinade

This is great for chicken, fish, or vegetables such as zucchini, bell peppers and eggplant. You can make it a day ahead of time. Keep it covered and refrigerated.

1/4 cup orange juce

1/4 cup lime juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup ancho chili powder (or use regular chili powder)

2 tablespoons hot chili powder

1/4 cup paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne (more or less, according to your taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive or canola oil

1. Combine the orange, lime, and lemon juice in a blender; add the chili powders, paprika, cayenne, pepper and salt and process for 30 seconds.

2. With the motor going, slowly add the oil and process until mixture is emulsified.

Cinnamon Chili Marinade

Use this marinade on duck breasts, chicken breasts or tender beef cuts.  Also, use this marinade for halved tomatoes or thinly sliced (raw) sweet potatoes. Serve  the sliced cooked meat or vegetables Southwestern style wrapped in a wheat tortilla.

2 tablespoons ground white pepper

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons ground ginger

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1/2 cup peanut oil

3 tablespoons ground fennel seed

1 tablespoon canned chipotles

2 tablespoons ancho chili power or regular chili powder

1. Measure all of the ingredients into a saucepan; place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat immediately.

2. For duck, chicken or other meats, marinate, refrigerated for 8 hours.  For vegetables, brush before and during grilling.

Chanterelle season is here!

We’ve been enjoying chanterelles from our forest for the past week or so. They should be in season until about the end of August, depending on the weather. Sometimes later, but they get hard to spot because they blend in with the yellow leaves of autumn.

Friends often come out to learn how to find them. Not difficult, if you know the rules. Chanterelles are golden in color, and have ridge-like gills that go from the cap down the stem without a break. They can be confused with another mushroom that doesn’t have the gills or have gills that have a thick ring just under the cap.

Here’s a photo of a bunch we just harvested the other day:

Our favorite way, and the simplest way, too, to eat them is simply after cleaning, cut them into pieces about 1 inch or so. Toss them with flour and fry them in butter with fresh sage that is abundant in the herb garden about this time of year. Wonderful as an appetizer! Another favorite is Chanterelle soup.

Extra mushrooms can be cleaned and frozen. I freeze them in a single layer, then pile them into zip-lock bags. They keep for 2 to 3 months, if we haven’t eaten them already!

Chantrelles Sauteed with fresh Sage in Butter

3 to 4 cups fresh chantrelles, cleaned and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch each of ground cumin and coriander

4 tablespoons butter

A large handful of fresh sage leaves

1. In a bowl, toss the chanterelles with the flour, cumin and coriander.

2. In a saute pan, heat the butter and sage leaves. Add the floured chanterelles and toss with the butter and sage, over medium heat, and stir and fry until the mushrooms are browned and slightly shrunken.  They taste the best when slightly crisp, not mushy.

3. Serve hot. Goes well with a chilled Chardonnay.

Lazy Daisy Cupcakes

In an effort to clear space and downsize, I’ve been digging through my old recipes and out of the dusty files I’ve uncovered cakes like “Nutmeg Feather Cake”, “Red Velvet Cake” also known as “Waldorf Astoria Cake” that includes a whole bottle of red food coloring, “Hill Billy Cake”, and “Crumb Cake.”

The simplest of all is “Lazy Daisy Cake” that dates back to the 1930s, ‘way before the birth of the cake mix, which actually came into being after WWII when people were duped into thinking that to bake a cake from scratch was much too difficult and time consuming for the ordinary person to attempt. This idea became even more ridiculous when books were written with elaborate ways to “doctor up” the cake mix. But, no matter what you add, that “cake mix” taste is still there.  And, these creative recipes aren’t really any simpler by the time you hunt down and handle all the extra ingredients.

My mom taught me how to make “halapa kaaki” the Finnish name for “cheap cake.” That was the one  I learned as a 5 year old and baked in the oven of the wood stove. Lazy Daisy Cake uses essentially the same ingredients but the method is a little different and is somewhat like the old-fashioned hot milk cake. This is one of my favorites because the cake is simple and I love the warm and gooey caramel topping that is baked right into the cake.

Cupcakes are poplar today, so I transformed the classic Lazy Daisy Cake into cupcake form and added pecans to the topping just because I love them. You could, of course, substitute walnuts, or eliminate the nuts entirely.

LAZY DAISY PECAN COCONUT CUPCAKES

1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

The Caramel Topping

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light cream
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 350*F. Fit 12 muffin cups with paper cupcake liners and coat with nonstick spray.
2. In a saucepan combine the milk and 2 tablespoons butter and place over medium heat.
3. In the meantime, in a mixing bowl, beat or beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until very thick and lemon colored.  With mixer at low speed, blend in the flour, baking powder and salt.
4. When the milk/butter mixture is scalding, mix it into the batter until evenly blended.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the lined muffin cups. Bake for 19 minutes or until the center of the cupcakes bounce back when touched. They will not be very browned, and that’s okay.
6. Remove cupcakes from the oven and preheat the broiler.
7. Blend the topping ingredients in the saucepan used for the milk and butter. Stir and heat until well mixed.  Spoon the hot topping over the hot baked cupcakes, dividing the mixture equally. The mixture will be rounded a little. Broil about 4 inches from the heat until the frosting is bubbly and lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Watch it!”

Lamb and Lamb Recipes

Spring is right around the corner.  Did you know that? I sit here looking out at snow piled at least two feet deep on our deck, and the driveway becoming less passable by the minute. But, yes, I have lamb on my mind.

Many of you know that Greg, our son, lives in Springfield, Missouri with his wife, Tracie, three children, chickens, guinea hens, a couple of parrots, a parakeet, a lama, two goats, dogs, forty sheep, (who keep his lawn mowed,)  and a couple of “rammy” rams. Although he’s not really a farmer, but a professor of physics at Drury University, he ends up with lambs, and not just in the spring.

At Christmas, he arrived with five lambs, professionally butchered, in standard cuts, shrink wrapped, labeled and frozen.  It didn’t take much time to find takers. With that, I am posting lamb recipes. Some I have tried, some I haven’t, but they come great sources.

The first comes from Penny Morton who said that lamb “slippers” are to die for. I’ve made these and totally agree.

Slipper Lamb Burgers

These are supposed to be shaped like a slipper.

1 pound ground lamb
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 serrano or other hot peppers, minced (use the seeds for even hotter flavor)
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
14 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all together well, knead and press to blend.  Shape into 4 oval shaped patties. Grill and serve in chapatti breads.  Serves 4

The following recipe is a flavorful way to handle a rack of lamb or lamb chops. The aromatic mixture of yogurt and spices is enhanced by being smokily charred on the grill, something I’ll have to wait to try until we find the grill under all that snow.  But I couldn’t wait to taste this, and had to settle for roasting the lamb. The recipe is an adaptaion from Steven Raichlen’s The Big Flavor Cookbook.

 

Lamb Roast with Indian Spices

3 to 4 pounds lamb roast (from the fore quarter)
2 small onions
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups nonfat yogurt
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
4 teaspoons smoky paprika
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro for garnish
1 lemon, cut into wedges for garnish

Trim off as much fat as you can from the meat. Combine the remaining ingredients except for the garnishes in a large bowl. Whisk to make a smooth paste.  Marinate the lamb for 8 to 24 hours, the longer the better, turning 3 or 4 times.  Preheat the grill and grill the lamb over medium-high heat basting with the marinade until cooked to your liking.  Or, roast in a 400*F. oven for 20 to 30 minutes until medium rare or 130*F.  Garnish with the chopped cilantro and the lemon.  This serves 3 or 4

Bobby Flay comes up with flavorful and easy recipes. Here’s one that I enjoy, although it does require making jalapeno preserves, which also makes a great glaze on boneless pork chops.

Lamb Chops with Jalapeno Preserves

8 loin lamb chops
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup jalapeno preserves (recipe below)

Prepare a wood or charcoal fire and let it burn down to embers; or preheat the broiler.  Brush the chops with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill or broil 4 minutes on each side for medium rare or to your liking.  Bring preserves to room temperature and serve with the lamb chops, 2 tablespoons per serving.  4 servings

Jalapeno Preserves

3 medium red bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
6 jalapeno peppers, minced
4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
1/4 cup liquid pectin

Combine the peppers, sugar, and vinegar in saucepan; bring to a boil and boil 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and add the pectin, mixing well. Turn heat on again and bring to a boil. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Or, keep the preserves refrigerated.  Makes 6 cups

Here’s another recipe is made with lamb shoulder, shanks, or other cuts of lamb that need to be cooked in moist heat. This is adapted from Steve Raichlen’s book, “The Big Flavor Cookbook.” Serve over rice, orzo, couscous or another grain.

Braised Lamb

4 lamb shanks or 4 to 5 pounds lamb roast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock, veal stock or water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Bouquet: bay leaf, thyme, parsley
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup minced flat leaf parsley for garnish
Freshly grated zest of lemon for garnish

Put the lamb into a big pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes. Rise under cold water and drain. With a small, sharp knife, cut off all visible fat.  Preheat oven to 350*F.  Heat oil in sauté pan and add the onion carrots, celery and garlic. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes and cook 1 minute. Stir in the flour.  Add the lamb and wine; bring to a boil; stirring. Add the stock, tomato paste, bouquet of herbs, salt and pepper. Bring back to a boil and cover tightly. Place in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Uncover for the last 45 minutes to allow excess liquid to evaporate. You need about 2 cups of sauce in the end. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and zest mixture and serve at once.  Serves 4

This recipe for braised lamb is an excellent one for lamb shanks, or any cut that’s best cooked until it is “fall off the bone” tender.  I first wrote it in my Gourmet Cooking For Two cookbook, published in 1970! Lately, I’ve added more and more garlic and sprigs of fresh rosemary as well to the recipe.

Braised Lamb

2 lamb shanks or 2 to 3 pounds less-tender cut of lamb
flour
salt and pepper
white cooking wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
Basil and oregano or fresh rosemary

Roll the meat in flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in a greased heavy casserole or Dutch oven and add the wine, garlic, basil, rosemary. Cover tightly. Bake at 350*F. for 2 hours, or at 300*F. for 4 to 5 hours.  Serve with rice, orzo, or cooked wild rice.  Serves 2 to 3

Weeknight Desserts

I hope you’ve already seen my new book – Weeknight Desserts, which I, for some reason had “Everynight Desserts” in my mind. The book sells for $14.95 – and you can log in to Amazon.com to find it, as well as any local bookstore.

The book features quick and easy treats, along with tips for being creative, efficient and prepared in the kitchen. There are make-ahead as well as “from the freezer” desserts. From quick, lucious cheesecake bites to classic no-bake cookies, to chocolate souffle (yes, souffle is not difficult or impossible to make!)

Enjoy!

Beatrice Ojakangas

Our Daughter’s Wedding in Greece

Each Greek Wedding has a flavor of its own, as anybody who has seen the movies, “Mamma Mia!” or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” would know. So, it was with our daughter Cathy and her fiance Nicho’s Greek wedding.

It took place in front of a tiny chapel on a small island just off the coast of Paros. Chapels pop up in seemingly random places throughout the Greek countryside, often the only building around. The azure sea surrounded the tiny island with the white Chapel of St. Nicholas, itself barely 10 by 7 feet in size. Guests arrived on two boats and walked up the rocky terrain surrounded by wild garlic to the wedding site.

The door to the chapel was outlined with a laurel wreath. On the altar was a tray with two laurel wreaths and white Jordan almonds with the candy coating representing both the difficulties and sweetness of life and love.

Two Orthodox priests stood just outside the door to the chapel in their long garments. As parents, we sat on white cloth-covered benches, Dick and I on the bride’s side, Daphne and George on the groom’s. The wedding guests stood around behind us. The 7 pm sun, still hot, beat down on us. Luckily, a slight breeze wafted by occasionally.

After the blessing of the rings, the joining of the hands, the crowning of the couple, the offering of the wine to the couple from a common cup, the priests led Cathy and Nicho in the “Dance of Isaiah” around the altar, while the wedding guests pelted them with rice. By traversing the circle, which represents eternity, the newlyweds pledge their oath to forever preserve their marriage bond until death breaks it.

The wedding dinner was at Nicho’s parents’ lovely villa on the shore of the main island.  Starting with appetizers, “meze,” Greek salad, mushroom risotto pilaf, Greek broiled snapper, or beef steak. For dessert, strawberry gelato, white cake, chocolates, and Greek Wedding Cookies “kourambiethes.”

Greek Shrimp with Feta and Ouzo

This recipe originally came from Nicho’s mother (the mother of the groom) in narration form. There were no measurements listed, cooking times or description of results. You really don’t need these with a dish you have grown up with.  So I had to test the recipe several times, making notes of “how much” and “how long.” The addition of couscous to serve with the shrimp is my idea.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed (we like garlic!)
  • 1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined, the largest you can find
  • 1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup ouzo
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, in one chunk
  • Chopped Fresh parsley

For serving:

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Measure the olive oil into a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until garlic is aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, oregano, pepper and ouzo and cook until the shrimp is pink, about 10 minutes. Push shrimp to the side and boil away any excess liquid.

Cut the feta cheese into 1-inch cubes and add to the pan. Cook over medium heat just until the feta is softened around the edges but not melted. Sprinkle with the parsley.

While the shrimp cooks, combine the couscous with the boiling water; let stand about 5 minutes until the water is absorbed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon couscous onto serving plates and top with the shrimp.

Serves 3 or 4

Cooking in the Dog Days of Summer

I have always loved the “dog days” of summer, the time from the end of July to the beginning of September when the hottest, most sultry days happen. As a kid, I remember taking a “rest” in the hayfield under the shade of a tree, staring at the clouds that changed from profiles to animal shapes, and comparing my ideas with those of my siblings. Even the clouds this time of year seemed to be “lazy.”

It isn’t until we’ve had a few sultry dog days like this that we feel we’ve had our summer -  the total opposite season from  the “Arctic Clippers” of January when we know we’ve had our winter.  When September comes it is refreshing and cool at night.  Usually.

During dog days it is hard to even think of cooking very much. I don’t want to heat up the kitchen, but there are all those wonderful vegetables coming ripe in the garden, and hungry people around.  It’s actually a time when it is easy to eat in a very healthy way.  Green and chopped salads, salsas, and grilled vegetables and chicken or fish come to mind.  Yum!

Vegetables are part of a balanced diet and making delicious barbecued veggies means that you can cook an entire meal outside on a grill without heating up the kitchen a single degree.

side dish recipes include such delights as grilled portobello mushrooms which are juicy and delicious with any meal, grilled corn on the cob served with butter or simply rubbed with fresh lime and sprinkled with ground cumin and Kosher salt was something we enjoyed in Bangalore, India!

If you love mushrooms, you will love them grilled. Portobello mushrooms are meaty mushrooms which are about 5 inches in diameter. To prepare them, you need to remove and discard the dark gills from underneath the mushroom with a spoon. Portobellos can substitute for meat in a grilled menu. I love them grilled brushed with with olive oil, garlic, and served with a squeeze of lemon juice and butter-fried fresh sage. This makes a perfect first course.

Orange-Garlic Grilled “Spread Eagle” Chicken and Vegetables

For the best flavor, plan on mixing the marinade a day or two ahead of time, and marinate the chicken overnight.  To “spread eagle” the chicken, you cut the backbone out of the chicken and flatten it out for grilling.  This system works well for Cornish game hens as well.  Plan on about 40 to 45 minutes cooking time.  While the chicken cooks you can grill the vegetables, too, brushing everything with the marinade.

Marinade:

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil or canola oil

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 broiler-fryer chicken, 3 1/2 pounds

For the vegetables:

About 2 pounds fresh vegetables or your choice, prepared as directed below

A second batch of marinade just for the vegetables

For the marinade, in a small jar, combine the garlic, oil, orange zest, and rosemary.  Cover, and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 day or up to one week.  (Prepare a second batch for the vegetables.)

Rinse chicken inside and out and discard lumps of fat. Reserve neck and giblets for another use.  Dry the chicken and using a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut down both sides of the backbone; reserve bone for another use.

Spread the chicken out flat and place in a deep pan and brush all over with the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the vegetables, prepare as directed below for each. Brush with the 2nd batch of marinade. If you’re doing this ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.

Prepare the barbecue.

Place the chicken with the skin side up over medium coals on a lightly greased grill, about 4 to 6 inches above the coals. Cook, turning and basting the chicken often, and cook until the meat near the thighbone is no longer pink (about 40 minutes.)

Meanwhile, grill the vegetables until they are streaked with brown and tender when pierced. Serve vegetables either hot or at room temperature along with the grilled chicken.

Vegetables for grilling:

Asparagus: Rinse and dry, brush with marinade and grill 5 to 6 minutes.

Bell peppers and fresh chiles: Rinse and pat dry. Brush with marinade and grill 8 to 10 minutes in all.

Cabbage or radicchio: Trim and cut cabbage into lengthwise quarters. Cut radicchio in half. Brush with the marinade and grill 6 to 10 minutes, turning once.

Corn on the cob: Brush corn with marinade and grill about 8 minutes.

Eggplants: Cut off stem end of small Oriental eggplant and cut  in lengthwise halves; brush with marinade and grill 12 to 15 minutes.

Green Onions: Rinse and dry, trim off root ends. Brush with marinade and grill 5 to 6 minutes.

Fennel:  Cut off woody stems. Cut vertically into 4 equal slices; brush with marinade and grill about 20 minutes.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams: Cut in halves or cut large potatoes into lengthwise slices or wedges. Cook in boiling water until tender, about 8 minutes. Brush with marinade and grill 8 to 10 minutes longer.

Sweet Onions: Do not peel, but cut in halves crosswise. Brush with marinade and grill about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the onions, or until tender but not mushy.

Summer Squash, zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan:  Cut larger squash into halves lengthwise, or into thick diagonal slices. Brush with marinade and grill 10 to 15 minutes.

Tomatoes:  Cut in halves, brush with marinade and grill 8 to 12 minutes.

Dinner Almost As Easy But Better Than Take Out

Really.  I’ve always maintained that the biggest problem preparing everyday meals is just getting the idea. I’ll look for recipes, think I’ve found one, and then find that I’m missing a key ingredient – a big stumbling block. The only thing that helps is to do that one thing we all hate – plan ahead.  If you’re missing a seasoning ingredient or  something less important you can substitute what you do have on hand and still use the main ingredient and cooking technique. That’s, after all, how recipes are developed!

Cookbooks and magazines (like this one) can offer great ideas, but to put them into action takes a little bit of planning. Once you get the hang of it, planning can become second nature. You might even engage the kids.  Not every meal needs to be a showstopper, but it sure helps to vary the flavors and menus from one day to the next.

One little reminder –when you go shopping take your own reusable shopping bags to save the trees and the environment.

With a little bit of thinking ahead you can be ready to put together quick, easy, healthy and economical meals that will please both you and your family. With a specific grocery list in hand, you can save money, too.

Here are a couple of  “take-out” style menus that work for kids. Little ones especially love the first menu because it is similar to fast food.  The second one resembles take-out fried chicken. In either case, balance the menu with a green vegetable and a crisp salad.

CHICKEN FINGERS AND FRIES

Add a salad to this and you have a very quick and easy meal. Panko is used in Japanese cooking for coating fried foods and stays crunchy and crisp. You can find it in the Asian section of a supermarket or in an Asian market.

  • 3 large baking potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, cut into 1/2 inch spears
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 pieces)
  • 1egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or panko

Honey Mustard Dip:

  • 1/4 cup Dijon style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 425*F. Cover a large baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray (for easy clean-up).

In a bowl, toss the potatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Spread on the baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the chicken breasts into lengthwise strips and roll strips in the beaten egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs or panko. Push the potatoes aside and add the chicken pieces in a single layer.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is done.

To make the dip, mix the mustard and honey and offer as a dipping sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

CRISPY OVEN BAKED CHICKEN

When you bake the chicken in a convection oven, the skin gets especially crispy just like the take-out variety, but you skip all the fat here. It isn’t difficult to do, either.

  • 1 broiler-fryer chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or panko
  • 1 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika (optional)
  • 2 tabllespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 egg whites or 1 whole egg

Preheat the oven to 375*F.  (If you are using a convection oven, preheat it to 350*F.) Cover a large baking pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. This makes for easy clean up.

Wash chicken pieces and pat dry with a paper towel. (I often like to remove the breast bones, but leave the wing bones intact to avoid lots of little bones to pick at the table.)

Combine the crumbs, parsley, paprika flour, salt and pepper in a shallow pan. In another shallow pan beat the egg slightly. (I like to use pie tins for both mixtures.)

Roll the chicken pieces in the egg, then in the dry ingredients to coat thoroughly. Place chicken pieces well apart on the prepared baking pan.

Bake for about 1 hour or until chicken is tender, golden, and cooked through.

Finnish Strawberry Layer Cake

I have a sweet niece who, as a very young girl, was confused between Mother’s Day and Labor Day. She innocently asked her mom, “Is Labor Day when mothers have all their babies?” Well, today, Jessica, married a year ago, has her own baby and knows the answer to her own question.

Mother’s Day is now celebrated in many countries around the world: Australia, Mexico, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Russia, China, and Thailand. All these countries have special celebrations to honor Mothers, but not in the same way or on the same day as the United States.

In the United States, carnations represent Mother’s Day. This custom was started by Anna Jarvis, the founder of the day, because it was the favorite flower of her mother. Florists have promoted wearing a red carnation if your mother is living, or a white one if she is not.

When Mother’s Day became commercialized, with gifts and flowers, Anna Jarvis, was furious as she felt that the day was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. Despite Anna’s protest, the day has flourished in the United States. Today, the second Sunday in May has become one of the most popular days of the year to dine out.

I grew up in Floodwood on a farm with chickens and cows, so we always had plenty of eggs and dairy products. We didn’t “eat out” but we always baked a cake for Mother’s Day. One favorite of ours was an eggy sponge cake that was frosted and filled with whipped cream and fruit or jam.

Strawberries begin the fresh berry season every year. Early berries we enjoy come from California where the strawberry season begins in April so that by Mother’s Day we usually can find a pretty good supply in our produce markets.

So, here’s the cake we baked for spring and summer birthdays as well as all celebrations, including Mother’s Day. It happens to be a favorite celebration cake in all of Scandinavia as well. It is a simple cake, though it helps to have a strong electric mixer for the best results.

Fresh Strawberry Layer Cake

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

For the layers:

  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

  • 1 pint strawberries, stemmed and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups whipped cream, sweetened with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Extra whole berries for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Line two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.

For the cake, beat the eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy. With mixer at high speed, beat in the sugar a tablespoon at a time and continue beating until very light and lemon colored, about 10 minutes at high speed.

Beat in the salt and vanilla. Turn speed down to low and add the flour, mixing just until the flour is incorporated.

Divide the batter between the two cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cakes spring back when touched in the center. (The cake doesn’t rise much.)

Remove from the oven and cool on racks. Loosen edges with a knife and invert onto the cooling racks. With a long, sharp knife, cut each layer horizontally to make 4 layers in all.*

Place one cake layer on a serving plate with the cut side up. Top with 1/3 of the sliced strawberries, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar, and spread with 1/2 cup whipped cream.

Top with the second layer, cut side down. Top with 1/3 of the berries, a tablespoon of sugar, and spread with 1/2 cup whipped cream.

Top with the third layer, cut side up and spread with the remaining sliced berries, remaining tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 cup whipped cream. Top with the remaining cake layer, cut side down.

Press gently to compress the cake to hold layers together. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top.

The cake looks attractive if the sides are not covered with the cream. Garnish the top with whole berries before serving. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

*For a fancy cake for adults, spoon a tablespoon of light rum or Swedish Punch over each layer before adding the strawberries.