Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blackberries and Blueberries: Blintzes



When I arrived back in Nashville this August I met a friend for breakfast at Noshville, the closest thing in Nashville to a Jewish deli-restaurant (not deli as in place to buy all your cold cuts, salads, hard rolls, bialys, rye breads, pickles, and cheesecake, because that doesn’t exist, but deli-type restaurant à la the Carnegie or Stage in NYC). They have H&H bagels! I never order them—they can only have been frozen, I figure, or at best Fed-Exed, and I do like mine warm and fresh from the store when I’m in NYC—but laud them for going to the trouble. What I order, without fail, is the blintzes. Only once have they been off the menu, when farmer’s cheese was nowhere to be found. Noshville serves their blintzes with sour cream and a somewhat gloppy and sweet but pretty decent blueberry sauce. The blintzes themselves are homemade, and they are good.

So I don’t usually make blintzes at home. But this week, a confluence of events and ingredients just begged for me to make them. I had bought some blackberries at the farmers market—the season was brief, due to the heat and humidity in August—and then saw, to my surprise, some wild blueberries that the people selling them had no idea where they came from except that “a Mexican man” brought them to them. These blueberries were the best I’d ever had—and that is saying a lot considering where I come from. Sweet and spicy, with true blueberry flavor. I thought I’d make a pie.

But then, while making room in the freezer (I froze some of these amazing berries, of course), I found a jar of crepe batter. Hmm, I thought, I really should use this. And then I opened the refrigerator and saw the left-over homemade crema from a Mexican luncheon this week—basically, homemade sour cream, made from the good high-fat heavy cream and buttermilk I buy at the farmers market from a Kentucky dairy farmer who drives down on Saturdays. I also had some of his whole milk, and thought I could make some fresh curd cheese. It was a confluence of signs, all pointing to one thing: blintzes. Here they are. Make at your own risk, as you may not be able to go back.

Black and Blue Blintzes

You can make these over the course of a few days. In fact, both the blueberry sauce and crepes (or crepe batter) will freeze well, allowing you to have them on hand to make blintzes on short notice. Serves 6.


This is the batter I have been using since I was in college, and I’ve never found a reason to change it. It came out of Redbook Magazine in 1970, and this is it exactly except for changes in method. Makes about 14-16 7”crepes; freeze the extras.

1 cup sifted a-p flour
Dash salt
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups whole milk
Butter for frying

Combine flour and salt in a 1-2 quart bowl. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a whisk or electric mixer, then beat in the milk until well blended. Gradually add the egg-milk mixture to the dry ingredients, beating vigorously until smooth; it will have the consistency of heavy cream. Strain into another bowl or large measuring cup and chill 1-2 hrs.

To cook the crepes, lightly butter a crepe pan, preferably a well-seasoned iron one, and heat to medium high. Pour about 2 T of batter into the pan, tipping it to spread the batter evenly to coat, adding more batter if needed but keeping the crepe as thin as possible. Cook about 1 minute until the bottom is lightly speckled and the top looks somewhat plastic-y. Turn the crepe—I use an offset icing spatula to lift it from below the center and fold it gently over—and cook it for another 20 seconds or so. Crepes should be lightly browned.

The Filling

The filling is malleable—you can make it with farmer’s cheese, cottage cheese, store ricotta, cream cheese, your own fresh cheese, or a combination. Drain store-bought cottage cheese or ricotta well; some people add an egg yolk when using commercial cheeses, but it is not necessary if you use homemade cheese or farmer’s cheese. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

2 cups homemade fresh curd cheese or true farmer’s cheese (see below for how to make fresh cheese) Blintzes cheese
8 oz Philadelphia® cream cheese, softened
1 T good honey, preferably wildflower
1/8 tea pure vanilla extract

Add the fresh cheese, breaking it up loosely  with a fork, or farmer’s cheese to the cream cheese and blend well. Stir in the honey and vanilla—you want only a hint of sweetness.

To make fresh curd cheese: Heat 2 qts of minimally pasteurized whole milk in a bowl in the microwave for 5-7 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer registers about 160F. Stir in ¼ cup cider vinegar; it will immediately form curds. Place a strainer, lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, into a large bowl. Ladle the majority of the curds into the lined strainer to avoid splashing, then pour in the rest of the curdy liquid. Let it drain for perhaps 10-15 minutes, until quite firm. You can save the liquid (whey) for use as your liquid when making bread, or discard it. Makes 2 cups.

Black and Blueberry Sauce

1 heaping cup blackberriesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1 cup blueberries
¾ sugar
¾ cup water
1 tea fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Pinch salt
Few dashes cinnamon or mixed cinnamon/clove
2-3 tea cornstarch

Put the berries, lemon, spice, salt, and sugar over low heat, stirring gently, until the berries begin to exude their juice. Add the water and cook, allowing it to bubble but not boil hard, until the sugar is completely melted and the berries are sitting in a light syrup but are still whole. Mix 2 tea of cornstarch with a little cold water, add to the syrup, and stir gently, still on a soft bubble, until the mixture has a saucy consistency; if needed, add another teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with a little water and cook a bit longer. Remove from the heat and cool. May be frozen.

Crema (Homemade Sour Cream)Crema

1 qt high-fat, barely pasteurized heavy cream                 
¼ cup good-quality buttermilk or natural plain yogurt with active cultures

Stir the buttermilk or yogurt into the cream in a glass jar and set it, covered, in a warm spot (on a gas stove is ideal). Leave it overnight; it should have thickened, but if not, leave it another 8 hours or more, then refrigerate, where it will further thicken to the consistency of sour cream, but will be lighter and creamier. Makes 1 qt.

Assembling, Cooking, and Serving

Place a crepe on a board, speckled side down. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in a neat column in the center of the crepe. Working from the side closest to your waist (bottom), fold the crepe up over the filling to the center, and fold the top down to meet it; try to enclose the filling without a gap. Then fold over the edge from the left, and roll toward the right, tucking the ends in well, until you have a neat package. Repeat with the remaining filling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA              OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA              OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA             Blintzes cooking 

Lightly grease a griddle or heavy pan. Place the blintzes seam-side down and cook until lightly browned; turn and cook the other side, tipping the blintz up onto its sides to brown those as well if desired. Remove to a plate and garnish with the crema and black and blueberry sauce.


                                                    Blintzes served

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Constant Craving: Chinese

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                It seems that August has been Anne month on the blog. My last two posts were about Anne’s cooking, and this one is too. A pleasure to eat, and a boon to me as I traveled back to Nashville then began the work of getting ready for another academic year. Classes start this coming week, and I have been preparing courses of another kind than I do in my kitchen, limiting my cooking to my own dinner. But I should be back into the kitchen next week—and meanwhile, you benefit, as I do, from the work of my old friend Anne.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Anne and I are obsessed about a lot of things when it comes to food—I think I’ve written before about our tendency to analyze everything that passes our lips when we are together—but we are obsessed about nothing so much as Chinese food. More than baking, although that’s close. And recently Anne seems to be joining me in my devotion to Mexican. But it seems that when we ask the question, “what should we make?” if we are getting together to cook for ourselves, we usually settle on Chinese. Over the nearly 25 years we’ve known each other we’ve had a number of amazing Chinese meals, from simple suppers to full-blown banquets.

One evening this summer we had these spring rolls and noodle pancake (a particular favorite of Anne’s). There were so many vegetables in season that it OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAseemed a crime not to use them all, so Anne did. She made the rolls while I stood around handing her the skins and drinking wine, and then I fried them outside while she finished up her noodle cake. She arranged everything beautifully, liberally scattering the rolls with the beautiful scallions that are Anne’s version of parsley; she thinks everything is improved by scallions, and it is hard not to agree. We ate every excellent morsel. My fix for this coming academic year in Nashville, where there is not a decent Chinese meal to be had for love or money—except from one’s own kitchen, that is.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Second Annual Fish Fry

Fish fry Striper      Fish fry fried

Eating fish within hours of its being caught is similar to eating corn minutes after it is picked. Both have a taste and texture so fresh, sweet, tender, and pure that it is identifiably different from the same corn or fish eaten a short time later. So much so that, not being much of a fish fan, I rarely order it at a restaurant or buy it unless I am cooking for someone who is. But fish straight from the water is truly amazing—a different kettle of fish, I almost said. And if the fish has been fried—well, you know that a thing fried is always a wonderful thing.

My last evening in Little Compton before heading back to Nashville was spent eating such pristine, fried fish. Almost better, it was prepared by someone else, friend and fellow cook Anne: the perfect combination of good food and no work. It was caught by her husband and brothers and their kids, and yes, that striped bass in the photo that looks like a trophy is one of the actual fish, digitally captured by Anne’s father Frank Parker of Bookstand World fame. In fact, the photos here are a mix of mine and Frank’s. There was flounder, too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The fish was dredged in a flour/cornmeal mix and simply fried, served with homemade tartar sauce, corn on the cob, a perfect lettuce salad, and cole slaw. We had divine stuffed squash blossoms with tomato sauce to start. Every component of the meal was local and new. I made the cole slaw, from a Walker’s cabbage, Karla’s carrots, and the Fruit Lady’s apples. There was a very good cake and good wine. The evening was lovely, winding down around the fire pit, a glowing memory of summer to tide me over ‘til next year.


LCS means Little Compton Slaw or Local Cole Slaw, whichever you like. I make my cole slaw similar to my potato salad, with the addition of mustard, celery seed, and buttermilk instead of cream; directions are general and proportions are approximate and to taste. I added the apples at Anne’s request; just leave them out if you don’t have or want them.

1 Savoy cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, and finely sliced with a knife
2 or 3 large carrots, 3 or 4 times more if they are little new ones, peeled and grated
1-2 T very finely minced onion
2-3 small tart apples, peeled and grated (optional)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
2 cups homemade mayonnaise or Hellman’s® only
1 T sour cherry cider vinegar from the pickled sour cherries or cider vinegar
Few small splashes of buttermilk
2 tea Grey Poupon® Dijon mustard
1-2 tea Celery seed
Salt, freshly ground pepper

General notes: Cut the cabbage in half with a large, heavy cleaver or chef’s knife; be careful. Slice finely crosswise, preferably with a Japanese Usuba or a very sharp chef’s knife. Your onion (and apple if used) should be so fine that it disappears. This cole slaw’s outstanding flavor is achieved through the right balance of seasoning, which is onion; vinegar; mustard, celery seed , salt, and pepper. Start with less, add more to taste. It should be fresh and tangy, but not sharp or sour; don’t overdo, particularly on the vinegar, mustard, and celery seed, none of which should be pronounced. It should be creamy but not watery, so be cautious with the buttermilk and use only very fresh onions and apples, and pat them and your carrots with a paper towel before grating. Absolutely simple, but everybody loves it.



                                      OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Karla’s Peaches, Anne’s Kitchen


peach jam peachThe local peaches are in from Young Farm. They are amazingly good, with the kind of all-too-rare correct texture that makes even me, who generally prefers her stone fruit cooked, happy to eat them raw and dripping. But of course, like all fruit, they are wonderful cooked with a little sugar, and I am very fond of them with pound cake.peach jam cut

In the process of cleaning out my freezer in Little Compton, I came across a single chicken breast, and a little rye bread that I had made this summer. I had two peaches on the counter, so I decided I would make a last lunch for Carlton with it all before I left. I toasted the bread and pan-grilled the chicken; peeled and sliced the peaches; and sautéed them in some butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper, and a splash of lemon. I topped the chicken crostini with the peaches and walked them over to Carlton with a half-full bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. We had a very nice chat and I had a needed break from packing.

My friend Anne loves Karla’s peaches as well. They were part of her Southern ladies’ luncheon a few years ago, and of course, we both like peach pie when the spice and thickening are just so. Peaches are made for preserving, and Anne told me that when she looked at a peach the other day she thought it was so beautiful that she decided to make some jam and leave the skin on. I do that when I make jam with local cherry tomatoes, so this made perfect sense to me. Here are Ann’s iphone photos, which I fooled with a bit, and how she made her chunky preserve. As she said, all pink and yellow and lovely.

Ann’s Peach Preserve

6 cups sliced and roughly chopped peaches
3 cups sugar
¼ vanilla bean (the long ones), split and scraped

Mix and boil, skimming, until it reaches about 220 F.


peach jam cooking         peach jam jars

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Already, the Apples—and Leaving

Country apple cake apples Country apple cake shed

There are several faithful, or fateful, signs of waning summer. One that never ceases to catch me off guard is the dusky lilac-pink of Joe Pye-weed looming, portent-like, by the side of the road—how is it that something so large and attention-demanding can rise up so suddenly, seemingly overnight? The Queen Anne’s Lace, far more quiet, just as if it had been there all along and you had been too fool to notice.

At my old house I could measure the pace of summer on my early morning walks down the farm road behind my house, counting the season from wild iris to berries, to thistle and goldenrod and sunflowers, to Queen Anne’s Lace, Joe Pye-weed, and rose hips. Now I rely more on the farmstands to tell me where we are in the swift gauntlet of summer, to signal me with a sign in the form of a red-ripened pepper or an early apple. The peppers are still to come, but the heirloom Yellow Transparents are in, a steal at $1.00 per bag, summer on fire sale to make room for fall.

The air has changed. Nights are cooler, and the sky at evening has a wistful look, its radiance faded from the intensity of just a few weeks ago, its colors muted as if to more age-appropriate hues. In the morning when I take my coffee outside, the sun’s slant barely reaches the table top, quitting its old job of cup warmer, and telling me to trade in my hat for a sweater. Even the sounds are different. They seem to say, it’s time to go.

Country Apple Cake

I like the light texture and unusual flavor of this moist cake made with whole wheat flour. Like one of our family favorites, Dutch Apple Cake, it is homespun but special. You can also make it with dried apples or pears. Serves 8.Country apple cake baked

3 whole eggs
3 eggs, separated
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar (preferably pure can sugar)
1 tea baking powder
½ cup lard, softened
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
Pinch salt
2 small apples (about 1 ½ cups), diced, or same amount of dried fruit
Additional T of sugar

Brown sugar or 10x for dusting
Heavy cream and/or fruit for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and coat with sugar a 9” pan, preferably springform.Country apple cake baked sugar

Beat the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar together until light. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until combined; beat in the lard and the butter.

Peel and roughly chop the apples into about ¼ dice; stir them into the batter.

In a small bowl beat the 3 egg whites til foamy; add the additional tablespoon of sugar and continue beating to stiff peaks. Fold gently into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before releasing from the pan to cool to warm room temperature. Serve with fruit or just with a dusting of light brown sugar or confectioner’s sugar, perhaps some heavy cream.

country apple cake sliced country apple cake fruit