Friday, July 29, 2011

It Ain’t Over ‘Till the Pie Bird Sings

            We’re packing out to go and live the second half of our summer in Tunis.  Going together to Tunis, all four of us,  is the carrot, but counting down all of the “lasts” of our Lummi summer is sad.  We’ve got the last times to see family and friends we love.
The last pull of the crab pots.

The last time to watch the Alaska ferry cruise past our house into the sunset with its load of adventurous passengers destined to witness the Inside Passage.   

We gasped this week realizing that we hadn’t yet had our fill of blueberries, one berry we won’t get in Tunis this year. 

This pie is in honor of all the beautiful things we will be saying goodbye to this week. 

All-butter Pie Pastry
From Rustic Fruit Desserts (Schreiber, Richardson)
Makes four 9-inch pie shells

5 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 cups ( 1 pound) cold unsalted butter
1 cup ice water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
     Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl, stir to combine, then put the bowl in the freezer for about 10 minutes, until super cold.
     Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, then add it to the flour mixture and toss to evenly coat.  Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, food processor, electric mixer, or your hands, just until the mixture becomes course and crumbly ad the butter is about the size of peas.
     Stir the water and lemon juice together, then drizzle over the dry ingredients, 1/3 cup at a time, tossing with a fork to distribute the liquid.  The pastry will be shaggy, but should hold together when squeezed in the palm of your hand; if not, add an additional teaspoon or two of ice water.  
     Dump the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and press down on the dough, folding it over on itself a few times until it holds together.  Thy not to handle it too much or it will warm up and may become overdeveloped.  Divide the pastry int 4 equal parts and shape each piece into a disk, 1 inch thick.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Blueberry Pie
adapted from Kingston Hotel Cafe Cookbook (Weinstock)

1/2 recipe all-butter pie pastry
6 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

     Prepare all-butter pie pastry and line a 9 inch pie pan, reserving some dough for the top crust.  Chill reserved dough.
     In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients except the butter.  Pour into the pastry-lined pie pa.  Dot the top of the fruit with the butter.
     Roll out the top crust.  Wet the rim of the bottom crust with ice water and place the top crust over the berries.  Turn the edges under and crimp.  Make little slits in the top of the crust or cut a small circle to insert over the top of a pie bird to allow steam to escape while baking.
     Place the pie in the center of a parchment covered baking sheet. 
     Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for about 45 minutes.  Cover edges with aluminum foil if browning too quickly.  Uncover, then bake for another 30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown and the juices are thick and bubbling out the top. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wood-fired Cooking

          This summer we’re experimenting with cooking over a wood fire, basically, cowboy cooking.  We have an old-school backyard barbecue at our house in Tunis and I want to develop some skills this next year in cooking over wood.  My son, Gabe, has an interest in essentially “making fires” so he and I made a start this summer.  This barbecue pit was his design and it turned out to be clever and definitely atmospheric for parties.  
 We have a bounty of dungeness crab for a few weeks in the summer.  Tossing cooked crab halves in a cast iron pan with garlic, lemon, and white wine gives them a nice dressing and a little wood smoke flavor.

  Similarly, halved artichokes roasted in olive oil and lemons, melts them into a ready-made sauce.
Paella is traditionally made on the beaches of Catalan over wood fires, topped with shellfish.  It fits my conditions of a summer entertainment dish that you can make from memory and vary with local ingredients.  Bon Appetit has a great starter recipe.
Good friends who are always happy to sample experimental cooking.

Monday, July 25, 2011

“Go To” Menu Items

            As our summer entertainment schedule began to take shape, it looked like we would be hosting about five big dinner parties, of about 20 people each, within two weeks.  It has long been our motto here on the island: If you will come, we will cook.  This way we get to see the people we want to spend time with without running off to town and missing a day on Lummi.  I like to learn to cook some new things in the summer, but I’ve finally convinced myself that I don’t have to create a completely unique menu for each party nor, probably, should I.  I’ve also made a summer vow to be a guest at my own parties instead of frantically pulling some complicated meal together in the kitchen. 
            I think for a menu item to become truly useful, you need to know it well enough that you can make it without pulling out any recipes.  It also needs to allow for variation, depending on what you can find in the market.  Following are my three anchor recipes for the 2011 summer season narrated in the way I’ve crunched them in my mind.

Mocktails or, as my sons point out, ….juice.

I wanted to put as much thought and effort into a nonalcoholic beverage as is put into selecting beer and wine.  We bought this giant novelty pitcher for the presentation.  It was handblown in Romania and has a charming seal on the side.  I only wish I knew what the glassblowers who made it thought it would be used for.  Anyway, it makes a statement and I’ve pretty much forced all of our guests to hydrate and antioxidate at some point in the party.  I think they’ve felt the better for it.
1.     Puree four pints of berries in a blender
2.     Press the puree through a sieve and collect the juice
3.     Juice enough lemons and/or limes to match the amount of berry juice
4.     Cook a simple syrup of equal parts sugar to water.  For this amount of juice, I would make 4 cups of sugar and 4 cups of water.  Steep any herbs or spices you like in the hot syrup like mint, basil, crushed cinnamon, or cardamom.  Strain the syrup and cool. 
5.     Pour juice into a large pitcher.  Add enough syrup to sweeten.  Top off with a liter of chilled sparkling water.  Adjust flavoring.  Serve over ice.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

I know, pulled pork is ubiquitous this summer, but that’s what makes it a pretty good party item.  It’s more thoughtful than hot dogs and hamburgers, but familiar to most people.  If you have a slow cooker, you toss it in and then spend the next 7 hours doing something else, possibly sleeping. 
1.     Stem, seed, and chop a variety of fresh chili peppers (adjust for heat and flavor) to equal 8 cups.  Place in bottom of cooker.
2.     Rub the largest pork loin that will fit in your pot with 2 tsp. sea salt and 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper.  Place on top of peppers.
3.     Drizzle the loin with ½ cup agave nectar.  Drizzle another ½ cup nectar around the peppers.  Pour 1 cup of water over the peppers.
4.     Slow cook for about 7 hours or until peppers are mushy and pork is falling apart.
5.     Remove pork and shred.
6.     Transfer peppers and liquid to a pan and cook over med/high heat until liquid is reduced by about 1/3.
7.     Puree pepper liquid in a blender, pour over shredded pork, and reheat if needed.

Grilled and Stuffed Flank Steak
This one looks a little fancier, but once you make it once or twice, you can do it from memory and include some variations.

Two large flank steaks pounded into rectangles of consistent thickness
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
¼ up finely chopped basil or other herb combination
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup bread crumbs
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
Moisten with 2 tbsp. olive oil
3 bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into wide pieces
8oz. Fontina cheese (or any cheese) sliced
2 cups sturdy greens (spinach, chard, kale) washed and dried

1.     Layer over the steaks the greens, cheese, peppers, and finally the gremolata, reserving ¼ cup for a garnish
2.     Roll the meat, carefully keeping the stuffing inside.  Tie at intervals with cotton twine
3.     Rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper
4.     Sear steak rolls on a charcoal or gas grill.  Move to a cooler part of the grill or finish in a 350 degree oven until internal temperature is between 120 to 130 degrees F. 
5.     Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.  Sprinkle with reserved gremolata.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lummi Island Spot Prawns

            Oh my, we had a homemade summer seafood feast tonight.  Our neighbor, Leo Travenshek, has a specialty seafood business raising enormous spot prawns.  The Willows Inn, here on the island, has a special each Sunday serving spot prawns on their deck, but we were hungry for them on Monday so we bought and cooked them ourselves.  Allan has perfected the garlic, butter, olive oil sauté and he made the prawns.

          Fortunately, I had already been working for hours on another recipe from the July Bon Apettit, the Cilantro Scallion Bread.

          That’s all we had, prawns and the bread, and it was perfect.  The bread is a buttery soft dough absolutely stuffed with the vegetables and herbs and then there are the sesame seeds that get a toasty flavor as they bake.  Alongside the rich prawns, they were light, bright, and nutty. 

Fantastic combination.


I wrote last May about an endeavor that I am in support of called The Perennial Plate (see But These Are My Friends).  This is a web-based series written by a chef, Daniel Kline, and his girlfriend, Mira, as they tour around the US meeting very common people and making short films about how they are growing and more often than you maybe realize, foraging for food.  The program is presenting different viewpoints about the word “sustainable”, which is used a lot these days.  Sustainability doesn’t always just mean growing organic vegetables.  It can mean managing an invasive animal population like the feral pigs introduced to Texas by the Spaniards hundreds of years ago.  It’s not always a neat or pretty topic and this program is doing a great job of simply presenting how people are feeding themselves from the earth’s provisions. 
This last program, Brothers, struck numerous heartstrings for me.  This is an episode about twins who are living off-the-grid outside Durango, Colorado.  They are living exactly where I grew up, on a red-soil farm where finding an ancient Anasazi arrowhead or grinding stone (we fed our dog out of one) was a usual occurrence.  My parents still own their farmland and they struggle a lot these days about whether to sell or keep it for our family.  The government has just offered my parents a plan to plant their farm in wildflowers to keep the farmland in reserve for food production and to hopefully contribute toward the regeneration of the honeybee population.  It’s a great project, but not effortless and they aren’t sure that in their mid-eighties they can keep up with the land maintenance it will require. 
This short film further amused me because I birthed two brothers who are as close as twins and one of them is very interested in living in a way that makes him prepared to support himself and his family if some unexpected disruption to life as we know it should occur.  The other one’s biggest fear is that they will end up as the Old Bredy Brothers, holed up on a remote farm, living off the land.  In fact, he spelled out to his brother just a couple of weeks ago that that would not be their fate.  Just to be clear. 
We laugh a little about taking such drastic measures to live independently, but the note from this film that families could, if ever needed, congregate together on farmland and survive meant something to me and I know that my family, immediate and extended,  could do it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer Thinking

Summer is complicated no matter how old you are.  A lot of personal growth needs to take place during those long weeks of daylight.  If you’re five, you’re trying to get tall and brave enough for kindergarten.  If you are a middle school girl, you are trying to groom a look and attitude that can win you popularity the next year.  It’s no surprise then that it’s also a time of huge expectation and personal growth for those of us who live the rest of the year abroad. Little by little, you start to reconnect with your dear friends and family and find that conversations have been saved for your return.  The stories come out:  children who are making lifestyle choices contrary to their parents’ vision for them, financial issues, loves found, loves leaving.  They look older, you look older, and those who have gone are missed more, not less, over time.  It's a lot of life to internalize in a short amount of time.
We’re half way through our summer vacation and my heart is already quite full of thoughts about all of these people who are vitally important to me and then I also want some still time to regenerate my own spirit and mind.  What do I do?  I go to some rituals like walks by the ocean, organizing my life, and of course cooking.  I can’t write about all of the big things so I’m going to systematically write about food experiences I want to undertake while I still have a little time.  This may sound like avoidance or denial, but in reality this is the way I structure time for my mind to work on things and at the same time,  have some documentation about what I learn and experience.  So here are two cool things from today.

1.                     This Le Creuset pan is called  a Doufeu.  It may sound a little gimmicky, but it has a recessed lid with little nibs on the underside.  What you do is put in a long-cooking dish with a moderate amount of liquid.  You place the tight-fitting lid and then fill the recession with ice.  The cool lid creates a condensation cycle in the pot which makes the pot self-basting, like continuous rain on your dish without watering it down.  I used it for the first time tonight and got a nicely tender piece of lamb with a rich sauce.  I’m looking forward to experimenting with many types of meat and vegetables, along with different liquids.  

2.                     The July Bon Appetit is a great publication.  If you have been a long time Bon Appetit reader, you won’t think there is anything new about a picture of barbecued meat on the cover and the promise of berry recipes inside, but BA has a new editor, Adam Rapoport, and the tone of the magazine seems sharper, more technically interesting, and features some unexpected uses of seasonal ingredients.  I hope to cook a lot of the recipes, but I started tonight with the Zucchini Cornbread and it was a beautiful recipe.  The process begins with browned butter and that flavor remains distinct even in the finished bread.  It was delectably moist as zucchini-based baked goods generally are.  

          So while I’m thinking and processing my summer conversations, I am going to cook through some new recipes which I’m certain will eventually lead me to some new summer insights.