BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE

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Blueberry Crumb Cake with wild, fresh blueberries

 

It was on my first visit to Block Island, RI, where my husband’s family has a home, that I fell in love with foraging…food, that is. I’ve always love furniture and art scavenging, in fact, on my first date with my husband, we dumpster-dived (dove??) for cool junk in Soho–back when Soho was still pretty industrial.  There are those fanatical folks who dumpster-dive for food  (much like extreme couponers–do you really need 100 bottles of hair conditioner? Is a case of E-coli really worth that half-rotten case of Iceberg?)  but that’s where I draw the line. Food foraging in nature is another thing altogether.  On Block Island alone, I’ve foraged blackberries, blueberries, apples, rose hips, beach plums, wild Concord grapes, mussels, clams, striped bass (i suppose that’s called fishing…)  and watercress. In Brooklyn, I’ve found figs, epazote, ginkgo and Juneberry and in upstate New York, ramps, and loads of mushrooms (those, i’m a little wary of)

A few hours a day during our family’s late-summer vacation on Block Island was always spent picking blackberries and rose hips and making pint after pint of jam. My goal was to only buy sugar and new canning lids–everything else was free or else recycled. We’d pick fresh, peppery watercress (too spicy to eat raw) and sauté it with garlic and sausage. In recent years, our vacations have fallen at the beginning of summer, some weeks before blackberries and rose hips are ripe, so my foraging is limited to what I find at the grocery store–and believe me, sorting through mediocre produce sometimes feels like foraging.

On our way home from Block Island last week, we stopped off at my husband’s grandfather’s lake cottage in central Connecticut for an impromptu family reunion. It’s a sweet little house on a lovely lake that my grandfather-in-law bought in the 1940’s. He and his wife planted 2 blueberry bushes near the water’s edge. This week, they were full of blueberries–perfect timing as we usually visit long after they’re gone. In about an hour’s time, I picked more than a quart. The elders were impressed–I think they’d stopped picking them a long time ago. After doling out a few small handfuls, I promised to make a coffee cake for breakfast the following morning with Maggie’s blueberries. 

 

Wild blueberries from Maggie & Charlie Marcoux's  Cedar Lake cottage

Wild blueberries from Maggie & Charlie Marcoux’s Cedar Lake cottage

 

 

BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE 

hands-on time: 20 min

total time: 80 min

Serves 12 to 16

 

Crumb Topping

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

 

Cake

2  2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups blueberries

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter and flour a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan.  Make the crumb topping: in a medium bowl, combine the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and butter and pinch together with your fingers until evenly moistened. Press into clumps.

2. Make the cake: In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt and sugar. In a medium pitcher, whisk the eggs with the butter, milk and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Fold in 3/4 of the blueberries and scrape the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly. Scatter the remaining berries on top. Sprinkle the crumb topping all over and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.

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BIRMINGHAM DISPATCH: FARMERS’ MARKET AT PEPPER PLACE, A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL

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Who would’ve thought that putting words and images on a page with any great regularity would be so difficult for me? Aside from the fact that writing is difficult, I’m not very good at it, and my brain stops working after 10:00PM, all this traveling back and forth between B-ham and B’klyn is an exhausting time suck. But this weekend I stayed in Birmingham. In fact, this weekend I explored Birmingham and discovered the city I’d hoped to find.

It started with a terrific run along my usual path, but this time it was relaxed, meandering and without time restrictions. I had nowhere to be but present–it was luxurious! Breakfast was an almond croissant and more than decent cup of coffee at Chez Lulu, a local bakery/restaurant. I’m still partial to the almond croissants at Runner and Stone in Brooklyn, but these were pretty darn tasty.

That was followed by a trip to Pepper Place. “Have you been to the farmers’ market at Pepper Place?” I’d been asked since arriving in January. Being back in NYC most weekends, not to mention being a little jaded, what with Union Square Farmers’ market as my benchmark, the answer had always been “No.” My maiden voyage to Pepper Place was a most pleasant surprise! Though the variety wasn’t astonishing, the quality of the produce more than made up for the limited options. Chilton county peaches, fragrant and juicy truly were the best I’ve ever had. As were the blackberries which were the size of my big toes. And the tomatoes, not yet ready in New York were silky-sweet and meaty. All that lovely produce sold by lovely people with warm smiles and ready answers. One farmer, with sweet plump blueberries the size of cherries, mentioned that he came back to the farm after 40 years as a contractor in Denver. We discussed the merits of bat-guano-tea as opposed to chemical fertilizers.

Then later that afternoon I attended a fund-raiser for the local community farm, Jones Valley Teaching Farm catered by about a half-dozen local bars and restaurants. A few favorites of mine were in attendance: Little Donkey–bourbon and mini emapanadas; Carrigan’s–moonshine and bahn mi sandwiches; Hot & Hot– tequila and gazpacho…all good! And all for a good cause.

As if it the weekend couldn’t get any better, the following day, a friend introduced me to the Latin community by way of a pretty authentic Mexican bodega/restaurant/bakery, Gordos. The tacos and huaraches  with carne asada, pollo guisado, and chicharones  rivaled anything I could get in Sunset Park or Redhook in  Brooklyn, AND at a fraction of the price (which are already pretty cheap)

In any event, more than the food, I think I was craving a connection to something familiar–something i hadn’t had in a long time–something that made me feel at home.

 

 

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Sweet and Spicy Tomato Jam

 

SWEET AND SPICY FARMERS’ MARKET TOMATO JAM

Makes Three (1/2-pint) jars

4 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (8 cups)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon roasted garlic (optional)

2 canned chipotles in adobo, minced

1 teaspoon pure ancho chile powder

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

In a large non-reactive saucepan, combine the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, chipotles, ancho chile powder,  vinegar, and salt and bring to a boil.  Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, glossy and jammy, about 50 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Pour the jam into clean jars and let cool. Seal and refrigerate.

 

 

 

APPLE PIE AD INFINITUM

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Lattice Top Apple Pie

 

Before my kids were born, neither my in-laws nor my mother was particularly insistent that  we join them for Thanksgiving. For them, Christmas Eve with my mom and Christmas Day with my in-laws was sufficient. After my kids were born, however…well that was entirely different. With the pressure on, we had to choose whom we’d visit and it was inevitable that someone would feel slighted. The only obvious solution was to take it over myself and host both sides of the family. Now the onus was on them to see their grandchildren. Sorry, no grumbling.

Along with a strong background in catering, I had quite a few years of “hosting” Thanksgiving in the Food & Wine test kitchen and so it seemed like a breeze to cook for 15 or so people.  The only problem was that all my experience was in a controlled environment—a professional kitchen, during the workday. Two little kids, a full time job and no time to prep made it a bit more challenging on my own. But I was, after all,  my mother’s daughter and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like chaos deter me. When guests, politely and genuinely asked if they could bring something my answer was always, “Oh, I don’t know, how about a bottle of Pinot Noir.” But after the 2nd or 3rd  year, my exhaustion level rising in direct proportion to my ego relaxing, the answer became “Oh, lovely! How about a green vegetable? Or a potato gratin? Or the first course?”

But NEVER dessert. That is where I drew the line…eventually. Yes, my mom was an impressive cook and cookie baker, but her pie making skills were less than stellar. Her pies looked beautiful but they were almost always undercooked. The bottom crust was pale and soggy and the fruit inside was crunchy. All my suggestions to bake it longer were ignored. I know my standards are ridiculously high, but that’s because I am the reigning champ of pies or so I’ve been told.

Handing out an assignment to my brother Frank, one year, he asked what our mother was bringing and I made the mistake of saying  “I don’t care as long as it’s not a pie.” Naturally, he relayed that to my mom in their conversation.  It was years before I lived that one down and yet, her pies remained under-baked. I miss her so much, I’d gladly endure one today and I wouldn’t even say a word.

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A mix of apples makes the best pie

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Roll the bottom crust

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Just a hit of lemon, sugar and cinnamon

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Irregular strips makes a beautiful lattice crust

 

Check out this fun video shot by Lucy Schaeffer

DEEP DISH APPLE PIE

 

ACTIVE: 30 MIN TOTAL: 2 1/2 HRS PLUS COOLING

 

8 SERVINGS

 

FILLING:

6 large apples (3 pounds) such as 2 Granny Smith, 2 golden delicious, and 2 Pink Lady, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger (optional)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into cubes

FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST, recipe follows

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a bowl, combine the apples and lemon juice. Add the sugar, flour, ginger and cinnamon and stir to combine.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of the dough to a 13-inch round and ease it into a 10-inch deep dish glass pie plate.  Roll the 2nd disc to a 12-inch round, being sure to keep each cold. Add the filling to the pie plate and dot with the butter. Brush the rim with water and center the top crust over the apples. Press the edges together and trim the overhanging dough  to a scant 1-inch. Fold under and crimp decoratively. Cut a few vents in the top crust.
  3. Bake the pie in the center of the oven, placing a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any spills, until the top and bottom is golden and the filling is bubbling through the vents, about 70 minutes. Cover the edges of the crust if they brown too quickly. Cool on a wire rack at least 4 hours before serving.

 

FLAKY ALL-BUTTER CRUST

 

MAKES A 9 TO 10-INCH DOUBLE CRUST

 

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled

1/2 cup ice water

 

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse in 1 second bursts 5 times. The butter should be the size of small peas. Lift the lid, pour in the water and pulse 5 or 6 times, just until the dough is moistened, but doesn’t form a ball. Turn the crumbs onto a work surface,  and gather into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 parts.  Flatten each into a disc, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

 

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Last piece for me

 

TRINIDAD ROTI: THIS (DEFERENTIAL) WHITE GIRL’S ATTEMPT AT THE GREATEST FLATBREAD ON THE PLANET

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Flaky, tender Trinidad Roti with Goat Curry

One thing that running has taught me, among other things, is that getting from points A to B–crossing the finish line–is not in and of itself the ultimate goal. Rather, it’s how you get there, what’s in between, the journey. Art school taught me a similar lesson, but it never quite stuck, especially when you’re left with a crappy painting unfit for even the closet walls. No, running is my process and the goal is to find shit out (work shit out, too) along the way.  It can be therapeutic, or physically and mentally challenging, or aimless and exploratory. It’s  those “aimless” runs that I often enjoy the most: hitting an unfamiliar trail or neighborhood is by far my favorite way toward discovery–of all kinds. I’ve been places I’d not ordinarily have visited any other way. Some people are welcoming, others suspicious and others downright hostile. That’s when I smile, nod and pick up the pace a bit. But I’m always glad to have seen something, learned something or met someone new.

Without beating the metaphor too much, cooking is like running. Ideally, I’d like the end result to be edible and not a colossal waste of ingredients, but it’s the learning along the way that really keeps me in the kitchen.  The more foreign the food, the more of a challenge it is, and therefore the more obsessive I become.  Which leads me to the subject of this post: Trinidadian Roti, a flaky, chewy/tender flat bread that’s cooked on a griddle and served with a rich and spicy curry. My neighbor, Dionne, who’s Trinidadian, introduced me to roti many years ago, taking me to just about the best place in the city for West Indian food, Gloria’s on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. (It should be spelled phonetically, Glorious, it’s that good) and I’ve been hooked ever since.  According to the New York City’s Department of City Planning,  “More persons of West Indian ancestry live in New York City than any city outside of the West Indies.” And I think they’d all agree about Gloria’s.

On a recent run though another very Caribbean part of Brooklyn, I spotted someone rolling roti on a big table, getting ready for the day’s lunch rush and was inspired to give it a try myself later that afternoon. Internet research shed some light on the topic which was a decent enough start, but, remember,  I am in it for the discovery, so I gathered my ingredients and equipment and began.

Simple enough ingredients, flour, salt, baking powder and water come together to make a soft, pliable dough which gets shaped into balls and allowed to rest for 30 minutes. Then each ball gets floured and rolled to a thin disc, then brushed with a mixture of butter and oil, rolled into a coil and allowed to rest again. The coiling of the dough is what forms the flaky layers. Think Caribbean puff pastry. The whole thing gets repeated once more before rolling into a thin disc, oiled and cooked on a tawa (griddle) until blistered and golden. My first attempt was actually pretty close but a bit tough–I hadn’t added enough water or baking powder. My second attempt was far better–the right combination of flaky, chewy and tender. We had it for dinner last night with super spicy curried goat–thankful for the bread to sop up the rich, peppery sauce and thankful for that delicious place between A and B.

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roll thinly, brush with fat and roll up

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Pinch the ends to form a ball

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cook on a griddle

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Griddle both sides

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Flaky, tender Trinidad roti with curried goat

TRINIDAD ROTI

 

3 cups (400 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/4 cups water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

 

1.     In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the water and stir to form a sticky dough. On a lightly floured board, turn out the dough and knead briefly, adding a bit more flour to keep your hands from sticking. Shape the dough into 4 balls, place on a floured baking sheet and cover loosely with a sheet of oiled plastic. Let sit for 30 minutes.

2.     In a small bowl, combine the butter and oil. On a floured surface, roll a ball of dough into a 10-inch disc. Brush with a thin layer of the fat. Using a knife, make a cut starting in the center and extending to one edge. Roll the dough into a cone-shaped coil and press the edges together. Using your fingers, pinch the ends together to form a ball. Return the ball to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes in a cool place. Repeat the rolling out, brushing and coiling once more, letting the dough balls sit for 30 minutes in a cool place. (The coils create the flaky layers.)

3.     Preheat a griddle over moderate heat. Roll the roti dough to an 11-inch circle and brush one side with more of the butter mixture. Working with one or two at a time, place the roti on the griddle, buttered side down and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Brush the surface, flip and griddle until golden.  Brush and flip the roti once or twice more until blistered in spots and cooked completely through, about 2 minutes longer. Lower the heat if the roti darken too quickly. Fold the roti into quarters and serve with curry, dal or grilled meats.