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.

 

 

 

Building a North-South Alliance…One Bowl at a Time

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Stracciatella with Chicken and Collards

As I settle in and make my house a home here in Birmingham (part-time, anyway) I’m reminded, daily, of the differences between my two poles–B’klyn and B-ham. First, there’s the driving…everywhere, then the pace…slow (except in cars) and then the diversity (or lack thereof, so it seems) My beloved Brooklyn (accessible almost entirely by public transportation–and quickly) is home to dozens of cultures, each neighborhood boasting foods, languages and customs from their beloved homes. I long for japchae from Koreatown, babka from Greenpoint, goat roti from Crown Heights and arepas from Red Hook’s soccer fields.  Certainly, there must be some outposts here but I haven’t ventured out far enough yet. Gotta git in ma car! 

But what I have found are friendly people (polite people!) with ready appetites and some decent markets stocked with cool regional ingredients. Obvious are the umpteen brands of bacon, grits/cornmeal products and biscuit mixes. What surprised me, however, was the variety of ready-to-use bagged greens: turnip, mustard, kale, beet, chard, and my favorite, collards.

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pre-washed, chopped and bagged collards

 

I’d ordinarily use escarole in this kind of soup, but a lovely bag of collards, (stemmed and chopped!) was too good to pass up. Like any true immigrant, I make my favorite foods with what’s available. (My grandma used Carolina rice in her arancini) It’s traditional to cook the green right out of greens down here and it’s definitely delicious that way–especially with some smoky pork product. But, and remember I’m an immigrant here, I much prefer my greens green (yet tender) This stracciatella is relatively quick (thanks, B’klyn) and highly nutritious. It fed my soul as much as it did my body. Now all I have to do is figure out how to cook for one! 

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Big ol’ mess of greens–Italian style

STRACCIATELLA WITH COLLARDS AND CHICKEN

Active: 20 min; Total: 40 min

Makes 4 to 6 Servings

 

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 small sweet onion, finely chopped 

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeño, seeded and minced

1 rotisserie chicken, skinned, meat pulled into shreds, carcass reserved

1 quart low sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

4 cups stemmed chopped collard greens (or turnip, mustard, kale)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 eggs

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, plus more for serving

 

1. In a large pot, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeño and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved chicken bones and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add the broth and water, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Pick out and discard the bones. Stir in the collard greens and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring once or twice, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the eggs with the flour and parmesan to form a thick batter and season with salt. Drizzle the mixture into the pot, cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until nearly set. Gently stir once or twice to break the dough into lumps. Fold in the chicken, cover and cook just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with olive oil and grated parmesan. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!

 

BISCUITS IN BIRMINGHAM

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First, let me offer sincerest apologies for my absence from this blog to the three people (you know who you are) who may or may not actually have wondered where in God’s name I’ve been these past few months.
Second, let me come clean. Back in June 2013, I launched Tales of a Recipe Goddess as a response to being laid off from Food & Wine Magazine, where I worked in the test kitchen for nearly 20 years. Recipe Goddess was my F&W twitter handle and a little cringe-provoking for me, but it was not completely inaccurate and so, it sort of took roots. There, I wrote dozens and dozens of stories, developed thousands of recipes and tested many thousands more. Recipe Goddess or Recipe Workhorse? The latter doesn’t sound nearly as nice…
Out of some sense of embarrassment or lack of courage or more likely the fear that without F&W I’d lose my credibility as a chef and food writer, I purposely left my employment status more than a bit ambiguous. How could I let on that I’d been EX-ed out of the very institution that I lovingly helped build and that helped build me? I remember the giddy sense of pride in seeing my name on the mast head for the very first time. I also remember the crushing sense of failure and disappointment when I realized September would be my last.
See, that’s the problem with growing up in a job—it’s not like graduating from college and being faced with a rosy, bright future. When it’s over, you find yourself middle aged, wondering “What the Hell am I going to do now?”. When you’re 25, the long hard slog is a journey, full of interesting and inspiring detours, but when you’re 52—without the luxury of time, that long hard slog is just that. A long…hard…slog.
Unless of course you can find a way to embrace that change, take a deep breath and  look at your new status as a blank slate—a sort of liberation from who you thought you were and what you thought you could or couldn’t do. More than that, develop an almost militant drive to do exactly what you really, really want to do.
Taking stock is a lot harder and more time consuming than making stock, and it doesn’t happen overnight. For me, it took months and months, but it led me to a few revelations—not bad for an old broad. Revelation #1: Ambition is not a bad thing when used without sabotage. Revelation #2: There’s plenty to go around—even in this economy. Revelation #3: Openness sparks opportunity and opportunity sparks options and options are a very good thing.
Which leads me to why i’ve been so blog-negligent since October. Re-invention is a process and every aspect of my career needed some re-evaluation. Food styling was how I initially came to F&W and it was something I loved to do, but my styling book was a little out-dated. So, in order to modernize it, I began testing with photographers, which led to several styling jobs.
Re-establishing old and building new work relationships took considerable time and effort. Gradually, through those efforts as well as recommendations from others (greatly appreciated!), I’d been contracted to write articles for a number of very popular national magazines and websites. Maybe I didn’t lose much credibility post F&W, after all. And then, in early October, I was approached by the producers of IFC’s hit show, Portlandia, to create the recipes for a Portland-focussed cookbook, centered around key episodes from the show. Like all of publishing, the turn-around on the book was INSANE and so I buried my head and knives into the project.  It was by far the funnest project I’ve ever worked on and until now, I couldn’t share it with you. It’s slated for a fall release, and as the date nears, I’ll keep you posted.
Till then, remember some key phrases: “Cacao!” and “Is it local?”
At that time, I was also recruited by Oxmoor House, Time Inc.’s Lifestyles Books division to lead their test kitchen and food styling teams to help create a new paradigm in their food department. It’s so exciting I can barely contain myself! I start on Monday and am ready to dive in head first. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, needless to say, this dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker will be learning a few new tricks—never a bad thing for any one of any age. But with my lovelies back home, I’ll be flying back and forth to Brooklyn weekly. So, yes, I’ve been a little busy (and will continue to be so) and my blog-life has suffered. But not for long—I imagine there’ll be tons of material here! When life throws you a curve ball, make biscuits—and if you’re in the South, they damn well better be good.
Buttermilk Biscuits
makes  twelve 2 1/2-inch biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In  a large bowl whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and using 2 table knives or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Add the buttermilk and stir just until moistened.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat or roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, stamp out as many biscuits as possible. Gather the scraps and cut out more biscuits. Arrange them on a large baking sheet and brush the tops with buttermilk. Sprinkle with salt and bake in the center of the oven until risen and golden, 16 to 18 minutes.

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.