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Watermelon Salad – As Featured at the Wooster Square Farmers Market

One of the things I assumed I would miss most when switching careers from journalist to cooking school owner was meeting interesting characters and walking into scenes you never dreamed you’d find yourself in, like walking up the steps of City Hall and interviewing Mayor Ed Koch during an election bid in 1981 at the ripe old age of 18.

 

 

Look at that hair....

 

But over the last two years, I realized my fears were completely and delightfully unfounded. If you really love to cook you can end up doing the same kind of research and probing as any journalist – you should see my library of cookbooks and magazine clippings!  Now, instead of hunting down subjects for a story, I’m hunting down ingredients and sharing recipes with people, from farmer’s markets to subway platforms. People always have a recipe to share, just like they had great leads to tell me in the past.

 

 

 

Of course you probably wonder how this relates to recipes and cooking, so I’ll step off memory lane and get to the point. Recently we started a new series of cooking classes called Spice Market, where we teach how to blend spices and herbs for exotic cuisines. Our first class took us to India, Morocco and Turkey, and we had to learn about ingredients even we rarely, if ever, used before, like asafoetida, preserved lemons and rosewater. Where do you get such ingredients? Some you can make yourself (come back soon and you’ll see a post on preserved lemons), but others, like rosewater, you may have to hunt for.

 

 

I googled preserved lemons and rosewater and was lucky enough to find a store called Sayad International specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, not far from our house. The store was filled with exotically flavored ingredients, such as pickled wild cucumbers, Moroccan sardines, and dried hibiscus flowers. The store, which smells like Persian tea, dried fruits and spices was cramped and dark but full of discoveries. It’s the kind of place you say,  “I hope I remember this place next time I’m looking for [blank].” I can’t imagine we’d ever need Moroccan sardines, but I was thrilled to know that I wouldn’t have to travel long distances (or pay high shipping charges) if I did.

 

 

We’ve all passed over recipes because we don’t want to deal with finding a weird ingredient or an odd kitchen gizmo. Take these moments as opportunities for adventure. You can always order these things online, but your life will be so much richer if you jump in the car and track them down yourselves.

 

 

In honor of these adventures, I’m going to share a recipe inspired by the research I did for our first Spice Market class. The rosewater and mint really makes the watermelon come alive, and it’s the perfect, refreshing way to end a highly flavorful meal. So bring this tiny adventure into your home, and try to find mini food adventures where you live. You are almost guaranteed to have a great story to tell and maybe even a new recipe when you return.

 Enjoy!

Recipe!

Strawberry Flats Forever

One of the challenging things about cooking for large crowds is learning to order the right amount of food to feed, say, 300 people, a talent you’d certainly learn quickly in any restaurant kitchen or you’d go out of business.

 

There used to be a lot more where these came from... but my daughters ate them all.

 

But since my joy in life comes from teaching others to cook and I don’t own a restaurant (although I think about opening one all the time), I haven’t quite gotten that skill down. Even if I had it down, it’s really unlikely I would manage to order just the right amount. It’s in my genes to make too much food. It’s the Mediterranean in me – watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you’ll understand my views on feeding a crowd. The Romanians on my father’s side were just the same: there was never such thing as too much. If anyone left a family gathering growing up without being totally stuffed, that meant the mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the kitchen didn’t do their job. I’m the same way.

 

Try this at home.

 

So as per usual when I was planning for a cooking demonstration at New Haven’s Wooster Square Market last week, our hands-down favorite open air farmer’s market in our area, I ordered way too many organic strawberries to accompany the amazing vanilla-almond custard Gabrielle adeptly made before the crowd.

 

Strawberries in water - our accidental art piece. People tried very hard to steal these.

 

When the day was over, we had a flat and a half of extra just-picked, perfectly ripe, sweet, bright-red, wonderfully imperfect organic strawberries. Mark brought the girls down to the market to make an emergency extension cord run (long story) and stayed until we were done with our demo. And when I wondered out loud what we should with so many strawberries that wouldn’t last for days the way supermarket strawberries do, my husband just said two wonderful words: Strawberry Margaritas.

 

Perfect.  Mark never uses many words, but what he says always matters. And that was certainly true on Saturday.

 

I always tell the girls – and they’ve heard it so many times growing up it’s practically in their DNA – that most things in life worth experiencing – having children, a great career, friendships – require hard work and dedication. But on rare occasion that isn’t really true. Sometimes miniscule effort can bring pure joy in a ridiculously short period of time. Strawberry margaritas are like that. And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to buy Tezon Añejo to get that joy, unless of course you want to be beyond overjoyed in which case, go ahead, buy the top shelf stuff. But for us it was a warm lazy Saturday afternoon and I didn’t feel like buying great tequila, so I used what we had in the house, which was entry-level.

 

Jose Cuervo... cheap, but seriously sufficient.

 

I’ll give you the specific recipe, but it is really better to remember the simple ratio for margaritas. You’ll want to be able to do this at the drop of a hat. Think thirds: one third a cup each of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice* in the blender. It’s that simple.

 

 

This is almost everything that goes into them.

 

Add a tablespoon or two of sugar if you have a really sweet tooth (otherwise leave it out) and ½ cup of ice if you want them to be slightly less strong… so you don’t get too too lazy afterwards.

 

Just seconds away...

 

Blend well and add a cup or so of ice, and voila! the perfect, simple margarita.

 

So pretty... and it tastes so much better.

 

So sit back and relax. Enjoy the fruits of your minor labor the way Mark did on Father’s day as he sipped perfection in a glass. Cheers!

 

Colander of Strawberries

 

 

*It’s summer, a time to relax, so I won’t tell you why fresh lime juice is better. I’m sure you know. But if your choice in margarita-making is between the horrible mix that comes in a eerie green jug, or making fresh margaritas following this recipe using lime juice from a bottle instead of fresh-squeezed, we’ll look the other way because these margaritas will still be so much better than using ready-made brew and really not much more effort.  Don’t worry, we do it too.

 

Strawberry Margaritas

1/3 cup triple sec
1/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup lime juice
1 ½ cups fresh, preferably fresh picked organic strawberries
½ cup ice (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds, or until thoroughly blended. Serve straight or on the rocks, depending on whether you added ice to the blender.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe depending on your thirst and size of the crowd!

Everybody’s Irish: Cookery Continued

 

As a cooking instructor, I love Ballymaloe for their genius educational philosophy, for their respect for the environment, and for the care they put into each aspect of a meal. But, as we all know, none of that means much if the food isn’t good.

 

A small sampling of the beautiful selection of food that was prepared during our demonstration

 

But of course, the food at Ballymaloe is incredible. The recipes were cleverly divided into clusters, each centered on a core ingredient. For example, Rory created many dishes based on Irish Smoked Salmon.

First, he paired it with sweet cucumber salad, potato wafers (fresh chips), and horseradish cream…

 

 

…then he made a Salmon Roulade with cream cheese and dill…

 

Smoked salmon is rolled around herbed cream cheese filling. These are just two of the beautiful ways this recipe can be plated.

 

…and finally a beautiful Salmon-Trout Pâté.

 

Smoked salmon is placed in a ramekin, filled with a beautiful salmon-troute mousse, and then beautifully turned out onto a plate.

 

For our main course, he made a breathtaking Pork en Croute (tenderloin in puff pastry) with Duxelle (mushroom) stuffing. He served this with a simple but delicious brambley apple sauce and gratin dauphinoise, a spectacular and versatile potato gratin which is cooked almost completely in cream and milk in a saucepan and then baked for only 10-15 minutes. It was just amazing. I can’t wait to make it myself!

 

Left: Rory slices open a pork tenderloin, and Right: stuffs it with duxelle mushroom stuffing.

 

Dessert was the most spectacular part of the meal. Here, Rory used ice cream as his core ingredient. He made several, including chocolate, cappuccino, coffee, vanilla and praline flavors. And being a genius food stylist as well as chef, he came up with endless plating styles!

 

Instead of investing in an ice cream maker, Ballymaloe advises making a mousse and then freezing it. That way, you get the airyness of ice cream made in a machine, without unnecessary kitchen gadgets!

 

He made parfaits with hot chocolate sauce, an ice cream bombe made with coffee, chocolate and praline ice cream…

 

Frozen chocolate mousse bombe is topped with pastry cream and little chocolate-filled chocolate cups. Basically death by chocolate, Irish style.

 

… and cappuccino ice cream served with chocolate curls in beautiful coffee cups…

 

Coffee cups are filled with coffee ice cream and topped with beautiful chocolate curls.

 

… but the best things he made, without a doubt, were the iced chocolate oranges. This recipe is simple brilliance at its finest. He simply hollowed an orange, filled it with mousse, froze it and garnished with orange flavored cream and a tiny bay leaf. So beautiful, so delicious.

 

 

In three short hours, Rory even taught us how to delicately make tiny chocolate cases. It takes a lot of patience, but other than that all you need is cupcake wrappers, melted chocolate (50-70% cocoa) at room temperature and a spoon. You carefully spread the chocolate along the sides of the paper, taking great caution to spread the chocolate evenly in a thin layer. Refrigerate for at least an hour and then gently peel the paper away.

 

Rory fills a cupcake wrapper with chocolate to make adorable little cups that you can make at home!

 

Expect some to crumble your hand – Rory says a few always will, its just the nature of this delicious beast – but it is thoroughly worth the effort. Here they are, filled with amazing chocolate ice cream!

 

Clockwise from top left: An assistent tops chocolate filled cups with beautiful pastry cream; she then covers them with cocoa powder; others are flattened on top for an equally fantastic look.

 

Just writing about Ballymaloe, I long to return. I’ll leave you with some other images of my day. Pictured first is the herb garden, of which Susan, a member of Darina’s cheery staff, gave me a lovely private tour as the sun was setting. The focal point of the meticulous garden is the Myrtle bush, in honor of Darina’s mother-in-law, Myrtle, the original Ballymaloe maverick. She was Alice Waters before Alice Waters was. She opened a Ballymaloe’s acclaimed restaurant a little less than 50 years ago and she insisted on changing the menu daily based on what was fresh and seasonal, which was unheard of back in 1964.

 

Left: the myrtle bush dedicated to Myrtle Allen, Darina's mother-in-law. Right: a bush in the Ballymaloe gardens.

 

Most of these recipes can be found in the glorious food bible, Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Reading the book isn’t of course, as cool as being one of those lucky people who gets to spend three months in Ballymaloe heaven, but it’s a treasure of delicious, manageable recipes, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. Please check it out, and let us know if you decide to try anything!

 

Images of the beautiful shell house in the Ballymaloe garden.

 

Beyond Brown Bread: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Before we left for Ireland a few weeks ago, a foodie friend told me about Ballymaloe Cookery School in the tiny town of Shanagarry a short distance from the coast in County Cork. I thought it would be great way to spend an afternoon, never really expecting to have an inspirational day. But every once in a while you come across an experience that gives you perfect joy, and that is the kind of the journey I had recently at Ballymaloe.

Ingredients set out for a cookery class

Ireland is known for ancient castles, for mysterious stone circles dotting the Celtic countryside, and for lush green hills with sheep and picturesque houses.

What you think when you think Ireland

But recently, Ireland has become packed with exciting restaurants and chefs promoting local, seasonal, and organic versions of traditional Irish cuisine. Yes, mushy peas still unfortunately grace pub menus, but you’re just as likely to find fresh salmon smoked by a local artisan or prawns caught just hours earlier wrapped in phyllo dough.

Smoked Salmon with Potato Wafers and Horseradish Cream

Mark generously offered to drive 2½ hours from our beautiful seaside house in Dingle,  so I could take an afternoon class.

Francesca and Isabella run on the beach

Fortunately there was a wonderful zoo near the school, so Mark, Isabella and Francesca were happy to let me leave.

 

Yes this is Ireland. No it's not typical.

I had my preconceived notions of what a “cookery” school would be. We’d learn the secrets of brown bread and black pudding, and there would something with bacon in it for sure! I’d leave feeling saying was a pleasant few hours…

Dead wrong.  Not even a little right.

Oranges filled with mousse ice cream.

As we pulled into the narrow old gates to the Ballymaloe estate, and I entered the school, I knew instantly that I just entered Irish gastro-heaven. The aroma from lunch students just finished wafted so intoxicatingly. A beautiful clay bowl of floating flowers and a sumptuous basket of delicious fresh foccacia baked with superb black olives welcomed visitors.

 

Beautiful flowers in a bowl

Darina Allen along with her brilliant brother Rory founded Ballymaloe in 1983. Since then, they have created a nationwide movement from their sprawling estate in the Irish countryside; 400 acres of organic vegetable and herb gardens, cottages, and cow pastures. They are collectively the Alice Waters of Ireland (in fact Rory helped Waters at Chez Panisse in the ’70s).

Rory puts the finishing touches on a chocolate mousse cake.

At Ballymaloe, there is a love for the all aspects of a great meal, going beyond ingredients and encompassing the earth, the community (Darina founded the first modern day farmers markets in Ireland), and even the seasons. Darina and Rory bring respect, passion and infectious joy not only to the food, but also to each person they teach. You see so many happy people at Ballymaloe, despite the long hours they work, because they see cooking as an opportunity to share the gospel of great food.

Cooking together

I’m not sure many chefs or schools in the United States can boast that virtually all the ingredients are local, organic fresh and self-sustaining as much as we all believe these ideals. It helps that Ballymaloe devotes more than 100 acres, a quarter of their land, to organic gardening. There are 50 varieties of tomatoes, and every herb and root vegetable imaginable. The neighbors provide, the hens, ducks and additional produce when theirs runs out, and the fish in caught in the nearby village of Ballycotton. Students not only get to experience this first hand, but learn to prepare food that is very well seasoned, beautiful and utterly delicious. The earth, says Darina, is an essential component of great food. She’s been preaching this for decades, long before Whole Foods made it fashionable. On day one, for example, students are introduced to Eileen and Kay, the head gardeners, and Darina herself (who describes herself as an eccentric, grey-haired hippie woman on a mission) shows them a barrow full of rich soil. After running her hands through it, she tells them, “Remember, this is where it all starts, in the good earth, and if you don’t have clean fertile soil, you won’t have good food or pure food.”  Then they get their first recipe; how to make compost!

It's amazing how Ireland has a knack for looking beautiful even in the middle of winter.

Their teaching method is very clever. The professional students watch a three-hour demonstration every afternoon, which is the class I took. Afterwards, there is a tasting so they know what how each dish should taste and students get ideas for presentation. The next morning, they cook the same exact menu and at lunchtime everyone (students and instructors) has a family meal and enjoys the fruits of their hard work.

Beautiful table set for a family-style meal after classes

Perhaps the real reason I fell so in love with this place is that their philosophy about food is so similar to my own. No foams, weird vapors or dumb food combinations. I can’t stand it when chefs offer things like fried watermelon with wilted dandelion greens. (I’m serious. I had this once at a restaurant considered one of the best in the country. It was of, course, dreadful). The food prepared here is innovative, delicious and beautiful, but doesn’t involve Herculean effort to prepare. And of course, it was perfectly seasoned. A great chef knows that the above all else, the food must be well seasoned or it won’t taste good. It seems obvious, but this makes the difference between a good meal and a great one.

This sea salt is, perhaps, the best in the world.

The demo featured more than 20 great, clever and versatile recipes featuring fish, meats, vegetable dishes and desserts with ingredients that were perfectly fresh and beautifully presented. Stay tuned for the highlights!

The Last Pumpkins (For a While…)

I’ve been having a great fall teaching classes and testing out endless  butternut squash/apple/turnip/pear/carrot/sweet potato/parsnip/pumpkin combinations in soups, gratins, purees, and stew-like creations. I had a hard time deciding what to share with you before TurkeyDay, the biggest food event of the year.

But the other day I cracked open Dorie Greenspan’s brilliant new cookbook Around My French Table for the first time. This is exactly the book I wish I’d written. Like her perfect Baking from my Home to Yours, the recipes are simple, versatile and flavorful, and the pages are saturated with spectacular pictures and peppered with “bonne idées” – good ideas to make each recipe your own. She takes the mystery out of fabulous French cooking from the simplest home meal to the most intimidating pastries. And so many of her recipes have blunt, adorable names – Spur-of-the Moment Vegetable Soup, Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar.

But once I saw “Pumpkins Stuffed With Everything Good,” I knew I’d found my starting point. The concept, taken from generations of French home cooking, is sheer perfection: so cozy, beautiful, and delicious. As Dorie says, “an outline is about the best you can do with this dish” – because there’s so many ways you can, and often must, vary it. She says she never makes it the same way twice.

It’s sort of like a fondue, only you spoon out the contents not skewer them. The concepts all depend on what you like, and the best thing about it is that you can serve it as an appetizer or a side dish on the Thanksgiving table, perfect for all friends and family. You can even easily make it vegetarian if that’s what makes you happy.

Here’s what you have to do:

You take a bake-able pumpkin, like sugar or Cinderella and cut off the top

scoop out the stringy stuff and the seeds (to toast) (or caramelize)

then crush some garlic, and maybe chop some herbs

fill it with your favorite chunks of bread, cheeses, herbs and a bit of bacon or pancetta or similar if you like

Pour in some cream

And bake it!

That’s it! And this is what you get in the end…

Then you scoop this with some of the pumpkin meat on to small plates. Together with a good glass of white wine and you’re in heaven after one taste. I’m not exaggerating.

Full, concise recipe after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Too many Pumpkins…

For most people the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. Here the “holidays” as they are collectively known, begin in (very) early October. I don’t know why the color orange and October make me so happy, but I am a sucker for all things autumn and Halloween, probably because Halloween is about fun, not office parties. Instead, it’s about apples and pumpkin picking, and laughing at the hysterical decorations and costumes so many people come up with.

More lawns than ever are populated with monsters and graveyards and not-so-scary whimsy, like this monster and mermaid I found in Essex, CT.

 

 

Our house is always the most over the top in the neighborhood, but we’ve even outdone ourselves this year with a witch that projects on to our house. It’s pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We are so into the season that my youngest daughter isn’t allowed to wear anything that isn’t orange and black or doesn’t have a witch or ghost on it. I’m really not kidding. Thank goodness she’s only five and thinks it’s a blast.

A little odd, perhaps, but I did the same thing with Gabrielle and Isabella and they turned out pretty normal.

But of course, this is a food blog, and no post about October would make any sense without talking about all the spectacular cozy foods of autumn. We love teaching light and fresh meals at the Fig Cooking School in the summer – a chilled borsht made with organic beets on a sticky day is superb – but nothing beats hearty stews, rich pies and crisps made with apples or pears, or really anything made with the vast array of squashes and pumpkins now in season.

The best pumpkin has to have the best stem...

Of all the fall foods and decorations I go especially crazy for pumpkins. I can’t get enough of them. Francesca has a fantastic book called Too Many Pumpkins in which Rebecca Estelle thinks she hates those beautiful bulky balls of orange until a truck spills dozens of splattered pumpkins in her yard. The next year there are hundreds of pumpkins and so she has to make dozens of pumpkin pies, cookies, muffins and breads for the townspeople so they don’t go to waste. In the end, the pumpkins bring her happiness and community… totally my kind of story.

If you ask Mark and the girls they’ll tell how they have to pull me away from the pumpkin patch. It’s an addiction, really.

And I like gourds and weird pumpkins too!

 

 

 

So obviously, some of my favorite foods are made with pumpkins. This gorgeous vegetable makes the most wonderful soups, muffins and pies and, when roasted whole, a beautiful, edible bowl for your favorite autumn stew.

 

 

Since it is such a busy time of year, I try to keep it simple and create recipes that are hearty and delicious, so we have more time to be outside apple picking or taking scenic drives. I’ve created a delicious but simple pumpkin-butternut squash soup using canned organic squash and pumpkin. It’s so easy you will never be tempted to by commercial soup again. I promise.

Hopefully it will become part of your regular dinner plans. When you make it, be sure to let us know!

Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Soup with Pears

2 cups of leeks, chopped
1/3 cup shallots, chopped
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 can organic butternut squash puree
1 can organic pumpkin puree (unprocessed)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/3 pound pancetta, sliced thin (optional)

1. Sautee shallots and leeks until they are wilted, but not yet brown, about 5 minutes
2. Add squash and pumpkin and stir
3. Add one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
4. Add the broth, pears, sugar and cayenne pepper and bring to a boil
5. Let simmer for about 12 minutes, or until pears are soft
6. Add both the pumpkin and squash and cook for another 7 minutes on a low flame
7. Puree in a food processor, or with an immersion blender (you may also use a blender, but be sure to let the soup cool to lukewarm first)
8. Add sour cream and mix well
9. Fry pancetta in a small pan over medium-high heat, until crisp, and pat between two towels to absorb grease
10. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chopped chives and crumbled pancetta on top

To Market To Market

As I started thinking about Cityseed’s fabulous farmer’s market in New Haven’s Wooster Square and as I looked through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken in recent weeks, I was struck not only by the vibrant colors, the luscious fruits and vegetables, but the remarkably diverse and colorful people who come to this special place Saturday mornings.

We’ve met so many wonderful people at our booth who genuinely care about food and are meticulous about the quality of ingredients they use in their everyday lives. My hats off to them. For those of us who live in or near New Haven, we owe a lot to market manager Rachel Berg, and her tireless staff for running this market so perfectly week after week and making these local and organic foods accessible.

I will be posting a photo essay on the market seasonally since it is such an integral part any foodie’s life; here are some moments of this past glorious summer and just a hint of autumn.

One of the things I just love about the market is that it is one-stop-shopping; you can and should pick your menus for the week based on what the local Connecticut farmers are harvesting that week.

I fell in love with beets this summer since they were so plentiful and were offered in so many colors; orange, white and of course that beautiful dark purple that turns a gorgeous pinkish lavender color when pureed with a bit of cream. We ate them in chilled borschts, we caramelized them for salads with avocado and goat cheese, and sometimes we just ate them roasted with a just a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse pepper.

There is also no better place to buy so many other herbs, vegetables and fruits as well.

Or ingredients for a refreshing salad of arugula, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions.

You can also pick up gorgeous wild flowers, sunflowers and the most spectacular dahlias to decorate your table with too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to pick up some of the finest baked goods in Connecticut at the Sono Bakery.

One of the reasons to go to the market, of course, is the people watching. It’s some of the best in New Haven.  The shopkeepers and the customers have a lot of pizzaz and personality.

People find many ways of transporting their goods home too; most, of course, are environmentally friendly; You see re-usable bags  and wheels of every kind.

Of course, pampered pets enjoy the morning at the market too. And why not?

I hope I’ve whet your appetite to visit the market, or one nearest your home. But I’m warning you; they’re addictive. Supermarket produce will never look the same again.

If you live nearby and plan to visit the Wooster market, please be sure to come by and say “Hi” to us next time you’re there. We’d love to see you. If you live far away, find your local market and get to know your local growers. They are wonderful people who care about the land and the food we eat.

For now, enjoy these last pictures of autumn’s beginning; I love all things apples and pumpkins, and I promise to have some recipes for you in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, get out there and pick some apples or pumpkins. It’s good for you.

I’m going back into the test kitchen right now so I can come up with some great pumpkin recipes. I’ll be back soon!

Fall at its Finest

I love autumn for so many reasons – the soft lighting, the crisp air, and the beautiful foliage – but somehow things always come back to food for us. Even when I was a little girl, great food superseded all other experiences. Sure, I was excited to go back to school and for Halloween, but what I really loved were the comfort foods my mother made in the fall. She used to make these wonderful Austrian plum dumplings called Zwetschgenknoedel. These cozy and rich Austrian potato dumplings are filled with Italian plums and have just enough sugar and cinnamon to be called dessert.

When I went to college, I had Zwetschgenknoedel withdrawal every fall, and for years afterward I would beg my mother for the recipe. Like so many great cooks of her generation, she said there was no recipe and she would add a little of this and that each time. But in recent years, Gabrielle and Isabella got so tired of hearing about these special dumplings they begged their Oma to try to write it down. Fortunately, it was much easier to do than she predicted. They’re actually quite easy to make, and they’re spectacularly delicious.

Most Americans have never had these delectable dumplings before. I’ve never seen them on a menu or sold anywhere. In Germany and Austria, they are as common as apple pie and it’s easy to see why. There is nothing better than one or two of these dumplings with a cup of tea after a light lunch or dinner. Help me spread the word and share this link with all of your foodie friends. I assure you, they will be grateful.

Zwetschgenknoedel (Plum Dumplings)

2 Russet potatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter
Pinch of Salt
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
About 12 Italian Plums (sometimes called prunes) or damson plums
¾ cup sugar1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Boil 2 russet potatoes until soft (at least ½ hour).
2. Peel off skin and add 1/3 stick butter sliced. Mash potatoes and butter until smooth.
3. Add a dash of salt and mix again. Let cool.
4. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a 12 inch saucepan.
5. Add sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs and heat until breadcrumbs are slightly browned. Set aside and cool.
6. Mix one whole egg and one yolk into the potatoes, along with one cup of flour.
7. Mix well and knead until dough is smooth (you may need a little more flour).
8. Shape the dough into a 4 inch by 6 inch rectangle
9. Wash and dry plums
10. Cut approximately 1/2 inch of dough (depending on the size of the plums) and flatten into round shape in the palm of your hand (dough should be about an 1/8 of an inch thick when flattened out).
11. Wrap dough around the plum, making sure to cover it completely.
12. Repeat until all the plums are wrapped.
13. Fill a 6 quart pot two-thirds of the way with lightly salted water.
14. Place the dumplings  gently in the water and let come to a boil again.
15. Reduce to a simmer and cook until you can see the juice “bleeding” inside the dumplings.
16. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll into the bread crumb mixture.
17. Let cool 15 minutes and serve.

 

 

Fig Season is Here!

People often ask me if we sell figs or only teach classes that feature dishes made with figs. It’s fair question considering the names of this blog and my business, The Fig Cooking School, LLC. The truth is that the name was actually inspired by my three charming daughters, Francesca, Isabella and Gabrielle. But we also happen to adore figs and love cooking and baking with them when they’re in season, which is, sadly, oh so fleeting. We are now fortunately now in the height of fig season here in Connecticut and we’ve been cooking up a storm with them.

We thought we’d share with you one of our favorite recipes for honey roasted figs that is extremely versatile. Roasted figs on French bread paired with cheese and a bit of arugula and nuts make elegant hors d’oeuvres. They can also be used in a salad made of mixed greens, French string beans and fruits, or as a side dish with any roast in the early fall. Enjoy these recipes and tell us what you think. We’d love to get your feedback!

Basic Honey-Roasted Figs

14 figs (about a pound)
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2) Slice figs in half and place cut side up on cookie platter lined with foil and lightly greased with olive oil
3) Brush figs with honey and sprinkle rosemary or thyme evenly over them (herbs optional)
4) Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
5) Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let figs cool to room temperature

Honey roasted figs with French bread

One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
28 thinly sliced slices French bread
6-8 ounces of your favorite goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, blue cheese, St. Andre, or mascarpone
¼ cup coarsely coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
28 arugula leaves

1) Spread cheese on the French bread and place one arugula leaf on each one.
2) Place one honey roasted fig on each bread slice and top with a few pieces of chopped walnuts

Honey Roasted Figs with Haricots Verts and mixed greens in a Shallot vinaigrette dressing

One batch of honey roasted figs (see above)
1 pound of string beans
2 cups mixed greens
2 cups arugula
4-6 ounces goat cheese, dolce Gorgonzola, or blue cheese
1 large apple or pear sliced thin
½  cup toasted walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup dried apricots, cherries or cranberries (optional) or another favorite fruit
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
¼  cup balsamic (either traditional or white) or champagne vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾  teaspoon kosher salt
½  teaspoon pepper

1) Cut the ends of the French beans and place into pot of boiling water for just two minutes (do not overcook)
2) Quickly drain string beans into pot cold water with ice. Let string beans cool completely in the ice water in order to prevent the string beans from cooking further.
3) When cool, dry the string beans in a tea towel or paper towels
4) Place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 5-7 minutes until just slightly browned. Put aside.
5) Wash arugula and mixed greens and place in a large bowl or platter along with the string beans.
6) Add the fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts; toss gently
7) Mix in a small bowl or measuring cup the shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture and gently toss again.
8 ) Arrange the figs on top of the salad along with the cheese, making sure that each guest receives some figs and cheese when served.

Lazy Days in Chestertown

 

We are still in the middle of cornfields, which, oddly, I love. My husband, Mark, and I always describe ourselves as the Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert pair from the 1960s oldie-but-goodie television show, “Green Acres” (remember that?). For those of you too young to know this gem, Oliver opens with:

Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

To which his wife, Lisa, responds:

New York is where I’d rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue….

These lyrics sum up our differences on urban life, but when I’m in Chestertown on the Eastern shore of Maryland and we make a right on to Route 290 and head into the cornfields, this feeling of complete relaxation comes over me. I also somehow stop worrying about things like whether we’ll have a leaky roof when we get home, or whether I forgot to pay the gas bill (which, come to think of it, I probably did!).

 

Part of the joy of coming here is staying with our favorite American innkeepers. We love Tracy and Jim Stone of The Inn at Mitchell House in nearby Tolchester. Their house is immaculate but has that wonderful old house smell.

Tracy makes the most scrumptious and hearty country breakfasts, such as homemade waffles with local blueberries and thick French toast with strawberries and perfectly crisp bacon. They are truly living an envious country life, with a balance of wit and hard work.  I often wish I could be Tracy mowing all 12 acres singlehandedly, or Jim who enjoys fixing the tree swing for the millionth time after working all day as captain of a skipjack at the Echo Hill Outdoor School in nearby Worton.

We love going to the Dixon Furniture auction in Crumpton on Wednesdays, eating delicious crab dishes, playing croquet, and buying trinkets at Twigs and Teacups in town. But I what I really like the most about Maryland’s Eastern Shore is that I don’t feel like I have to do anything and that clears my head to do some of the things I love, like looking through my favorite magazines. We have piles of The New Yorker, Bon Appetit and Saveur on – I hate to admit it – the staircase leading to the second floor at home. I sometimes clear the deck for company and they get shoved in a lonely pile in the attic. I feel defeated every time I see them; the only time I can justify this kind of pure joy is here in Chestertown.

 

I also started a new indulgence when I opened the Fig Cooking School – Cookbooks.  I love taking brightly colored stickies and marking pages of recipe inspirations for classes. The girls always run to get a glimpse of a newly acquired cookbook before it gets “mom-afied” – the point in a book’s life where it has so many post-its, the page perimeters looks like they’ve grown feathers. Over the course of the week, Mitchell House becomes my Mom-ification workshop.

The girls and Mark are ready to be picked up from kayaking. I’m sure they’re feeling baked from the sun and ready for lunch at the Fish Whistle, a great local place that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay. I’ll be back soon… In the meantime, enjoy these end-of-summer images from our trip.

 

 

 

 

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