Monday, December 26, 2011

Sesame-Ginger Rice Krispie Treats

When it comes to food allergies, there are some real rough ones out there. People so sensitive to cross-contamination that they can never eat at restaurants, or passengers who can scarcely breathe the air on planes serving in-flight peanuts. Compared to them, my sister has it pretty easy. All she has to avoid is sesame seeds. Beyond a proper tahini-laden falafel and the occasional bun or bagel, there's not much she misses. But these days, I feel a bit sorry for her. Because she can't eat these sesame-ginger rice krispie treats.

This recipe comes from the mad geniuses at Momofuku Milk Bar (via Gilt Taste), and for the most part follows the standard 1920s formula. You've got the usual sticky-sweet goo of melted marshmallows and a bit of butter, used to pull together a pile of rice cereal into something far more delicious than the sum of its parts. But here's the simple addition that takes it up several notches: toasted sesame seeds and fresh ginger juice. That's it, but it feels like so much more. The seeds give a nutty depth, and the ginger juice gives a shot of spicy-hot flavor. Together they cut through the sweetness a bit, keeping things from getting too cloying, but still keeping it firmly in the realm of a sweetly addictive dessert. It's comfort food gone elegant, and unless your allergy restrictions require otherwise, I strongly recommend giving it a go.

Sesame-Ginger Rice Krispie Treats

adapted, but hardly, from Helen Jo at Momofuku Milk Bar, via Gilt Taste

yields ~50 (the original recipe made twice this amount, which I think would lead to some very poor choices, so I halved it)

1 Tbsp white sesame seeds
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds (if you can't find them, feel free to use all white sesame seeds)
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 Tbsp ginger juice (I like to grate the ginger and then squeeze the juice out with a garlic press)
pinch salt
2 cups miniature marshmallows (I used vegan marshmallows, which took a while to melt but worked fine in the end)
3 cups Rice Krispies (or its hippie equivalent)

Butter an 8" square pan and set aside. Heat a large pot over a medium-low heat, and dry-toast the sesame seeds, moving them around so they toast evenly, until the white ones have darkened slightly (~4-5 minutes). Transfer to a small dish.

Add the butter, ginger juice, salt and marshmallows to the pot. Cook, stirring, until the marshmallows are totally melted. Remove from heat, then add the Rice Krispies and sesame seeds, stirring well until the mixture is well-combined. Turn the mixture out into the buttered pan, pressing firmly to compress it evenly. When it cools, turn it out and cut into bite-sized pieces (seriously, go for bite-sized -- these pack a wallop).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Cavalcade of Fried: Chanukah Pakora, Zeppole and Chickpea

Last year I gave you latkes for Chanukah, both traditional and fancypants. And latkes will be on my holiday menu this week as well. But really, why stop there?

This December I decided to push Chanukah's greasy fried-food tradition a little further, and rustled up some recipes for cauliflower and onion Indian pakora fritters, smoky Iberian fried chickpeas, and, in what was nearly my downfall, some oh-my-goodness amazing Italian zeppole doughnuts filled with an orange-scented, chocolate-studded creamy mascarpone filling (I posted the picture on Facebook, and an eager friend showed up on my doorstep within 45 minutes and relieved me of the remainder, before I ended up with a delicious stomachache). You can get recipes for all of the above deliciousness over at The Oregonian.

And what better to wash this down with than a frosty mug of Hanukkah beer? What? You think beer is a bit too goyische for the Festival of Lights? Then click on over to NPR to hear about the surprisingly long history of Jews and booze. Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Quinoa with Broccoli, Avocado and Feta

Last week I was working on an audio project, trying to cajole a two-year-old into singing "the wheels on the bus" into my microphone. My story is about public transit, and it would have made a fairly adorable little coda. But, as it turns out, two-year-olds don't always want to do what you want them to. Who knew?

As part of my assignment I snapped a few pictures of the willful little cherub, and as part of my song-taping tactic I scrolled through them to get him in good spirits. See look, it's you! Who is that? That's right! And what's that? In the middle of all this, I accidentally landed on these broccoli photos (the problem of scrolling through a food blogger's camera). Surprisingly, these turned out to be a highly amusing for the toddler set. I couldn't get this kid to sing the song in the end. But I did get lots of amusing tape of him saying bwoccoli, and then giggling at the absurdity of it all.

I can't say I share my subject's wide-eyed amusement with this dish. But I can say, without reservation, that this is a really really good dish, one of my happiest recent discoveries. It comes from 101 Cookbooks, and is a perfect trifecta of a recipe -- simple, healthy, and delicious all at once. And it's not just everyday delicious -- it's delicious in a really interesting way. 101 Cookbooks takes some basic ingredients, but uses them in an inventive (and wholly successful) combination. Broccoli is just barely cooked, and then you enjoy the delicious florets whole while blitzing the ho-hum stems into a garlicky pesto, which dresses up some quinoa. Then you toss in some buttery avocado and briny feta (and, if you follow the recommendations, some slivered almonds, but I ran out). It's my new favorite weeknight song.

Quinoa with Broccoli, Avocado and Feta

adapted, a bit liberally, from 101 Cookbooks
serves ~4, though we felt compelled to eat ridiculously large portions because it was so very good

If you want to make the broccoli pesto on its own (or have more control over the cooking time), you can boil the broccoli for a minute in salted water, then shock it to stop the cooking. But the lazyman's one-pot version seems to work quite well.

2 cups salted water
1 cup quinoa
1 large bunch broccoli, cut into small florets and stems (peel if needed), ~ 5 cups
1 clove garlic, pressed (pressing isn't necessary if your blender or food processor works well, but I always seem to be left with a surprising jolt of garlic chunk if I don't cut it up first)
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 ripe avocado, cubed
1/4 cup crumbled feta

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, and add the broccoli and stems, and re-cover and allow to steam for 5 minutes. The broccoli should turn bright green and become just barely tender.

When everything has cooked, scoop the broccoli stems into a food processor or blender, and tip the remaining broccoli and quinoa into a serving bowl (if you don't want to fuss picking out the stems from tops, you can just take half the broccoli and not worry about which is which, but I find that going for just stems in the pesto isn't too much of a bother). Add the garlic, half of the almonds, the lemon juice and the oil into the processor, and pulse until a fairly smooth pesto is formed. Add salt and pepper to taste -- if you're using feta, you won't need as much salt, but keep in mind that the pesto will be spread throughout the quinoa. Tip the pesto onto the quinoa, and toss to coat evenly. top with the avocado, feta, and remaining almonds, and serve.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

(Partially Whole Wheat) Challah

A few years ago I heard a certain Minnesota public radio host say that, when it comes right down to it, the best pumpkin pie you ever had is really not all that different from the worst pumpkin pie you ever had. And I got to say that I'm pretty much with him. There are dishes where technique and ingredients make a huge impact, and different versions of the recipe are barely recognizable as the same species. And then there are dishes where, unless you flub things disastrously, the difference between takes is a bit more subtle. Like pumpkin pie. Or challah. Which is all to say that most challah that I've had (and I'm talking homemade, not the cottony grocery-store versions) have been good. I mean, if you've got an enriched, honey-sweet eggy bread, how can it not be? It's just that this version is a little bit better.

This recipe comes via the lovely blog Sassy Radish, and has a few masterful tweaks that raise it above the usual specimen (without require any additional culinary knowledge or fussing). First off, it's a well-hydrated dough, which means that it's softer and stickier than you may think it should be, but rewards you with a moist, well-textured loaf. And instead of the usual water and vegetable oil for the liquid, you use some orange juice and olive oil -- they're subtle enough that you might not be able to call them out if you didn't know, but they give the challah a more complex flavor and sweet-savory edge. It's light and airy (even given the whole wheat flour I always feel compelled to add), with a burnished golden crust, and a rich flavor. Yeah, sometimes things are only better by subtle degrees. But still -- why not go for better?

(Partially Whole Wheat) Challah

adapted (and whole wheat-ized, because that seems to be what I do) from Sassy Radish, from a recipe by the ever-amazing Melissa Clark)

yields one large loaf -- I recently halved the recipe for a dinner for four, where it was nearly demolished

1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. active yeast
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey (this makes for a challah with a pronounced sweet edge - you can cut it down if you want something more neutral, but it's lovely as it is)
1 tsp coarse salt
2 cups whole wheat flour (if you're not a fan of whole-grain breads, you can use all white flour instead)
~2 cups bread flour
1 egg, lightly beaten with a splash of water (henceforth known as the egg wash)

Pour the orange juice and water in the bowl of a stand mixer, then sprinkle in the yeast. Let sit ~5 minutes, to allow the yeast to soften and bloom.

Add the egg, egg yolks, oil, honey and salt. Fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, and mix until the liquid is well-blended. Add the whole wheat flour, mixing until it forms a batter.

Remove the whisk attachment, and fit the mixer with a dough hook. Add the white flour, bit by bit, until a soft and sticky dough is formed that just clears the sides of the mixing bowl, but still sticks to the bottom. Continue kneading with the dough hook for a few more minutes, to form supple, sticky, and well-developed dough.

Lightly oil a large bowl, and turn the dough out into it. Swish it around, then flip it over, so that the top is oiled as well. Cover the bowl, and let rise until doubled, ~1-2 hours, depending upon the temperature of the room. When risen, punch it down to deflate (I like to flip it over at this point, but it's not necessary), and let rise another half hour to an hour, until it begins to rise again. The dough can be refrigerated overnight for either of these rises -- just remove it and give it an hour to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

After the dough has risen for the second time, line a baking sheet with parchment or dust it with cornmeal. Divide the dough into strands and weave it into a braid of your choosing -- you can do a standard three-strand braid, tucking the edges under, or search the internet for an ornate braiding method of your choosing (I'm currently obsessed with this foursquare braid). Brush the dough with the egg wash (a brush is best for this, but I've made do with my fingers at times), and let it rise until its increased at least by half, ~45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending upon the room temperature.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees farenheit.

When the dough has completed its final rise, give it another brush with the egg wash (be delicate to avoid deflate all that nice rising that's just happened). Bake until the bread is burnished to a dark brown and smells done, ~30-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and allow to cool fully before slicing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Corn Cookies


I like to think that my mental state is influenced by factors deeper than the weather. If, say, I am depressed, it's because the human condition is depressing, right? Not because of the cloud cover or ambient temperature. But that doesn't seem to be the case. As much as I like to think that I'm some rarified being walking around in a human suit, in truth I'm a pretty simple animal, and my inner life is affected by my outer surroundings. Give me a warm spring evening, with balmy air and ever-later sunset, and I'm suffused with a feeling of hope, that you know, things are really gonna be alright after all! And give me a spate of gray, rainy days, like we've been having lately? Sigh.....

So yeah, things have been feeling a little bleak lately. Rain has been pelting down with a near-biblical vengeance, so much so that salmon are actually crossing the street. It's hard not to take it a bit personally. I need a little sunshine to restore my faith in the rightness of the world. And, since the outside world isn't helping me out, I baked up a little sunshine of my own.

These corn cookies are just about as sunny as can be (in addition to having the ever-important fat and sugar required for happiness). The recipe comes from Christina Tosi, at Momofuku Milk Bar. Tosi packs a ridiculous amount of corn flavor into these cookies, thanks to corn flour and the freeze-dried kernels themselves. She also has a great technique where she whips the bejesus out of butter and sugar, going beyond creaming to a whole new level of texture. The resulting cookies are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and as much as I tend to favor wee bite-sized cookies, making them large maximizes this contrast of textures in a delicious way. I suppose that relying on baked goods for mental health may be a somewhat dangerous policy. But on these gray winter days, it really does make the world a little sweeter.

Corn Cookies

adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar, as printed in Lucky Peach
yields ~18 cookies

Dehydrated corn can be found in the natural-food or snack section of larger supermarkets. If you can't find it, and decide that rather than try another store you'll just get the bag of mixed dehydrated vegetables and pick out the corn kernels, there's a strong likelihood that your finished cookies will end up tasting a bit like dehydrated peppers and tomatoes, and you'll have to scrap the batch and start again. I'm just sayin'.

2 sticks (225 grams) butter, warmed to room temperature (Tosi favors high-fat butter like Plugra)
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cups (225 grams) flour
1/4 cup (45 grams) corn flour (this is ground to a flour-like consistency, unlike the coarser cornmeal, and can be found in gluten-free sections of your supermarket -- in a pinch, you could probably try to blitz cornmeal in a blender and substitute that)
2/3 cup (65 grams) freeze-dried corn powder (freeze-dried corn is available at Whole Foods or other natural food stores, and easily grinds to a powder in your blender)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt

Place the butter and sugar in a mixer (ideally fitted with a paddle attachment), and cream on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides with a spatula, then begin blending on a medium-low speed and add the egg. Increase speed back to medium-high, and blend for a full 8 minutes. During this time, the sugar dissolves and the whole mixture becomes pale and nearly doubles in volume.

While the mixture is blending, sift together the flour, corn flour, corn powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

After the uber-blend has finished, reduce the heat to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until it just comes together (as ever, tis better to under-mix than to over-mix).  Line a sheet pan with parchment, and scoop out 1/4 cup-sized cookies. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a plastic bag,a nd refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to a week). If you don't have the fridge space for a sheet pan, you can use plates, and then transfer to a sheet tray before baking. This chilling step is critical for keeping the butter-heavy cookies from greasing all over the place, so don't skip it.

When your doughballs have chilled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Make sure the cookeis are at least 3 inches apart on their parchment-lined sheets (I tend to pack them onto one tray for chilling in my space-challenged fridge, then spread them out on multiple sheets for baking). Bake ~18 minutes, until very faintly browned on the edges, but still bright yellow in the center.

Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then transfer to a plate for serving or airtight container for storage. Corn cookies keep ~5 days, or in the freezer for a month.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Txipirones en su Tinta (Squid in Ink Sauce)

According to every American website and magazine, I should be spending these days thinking about pies and cranberry relish, about on-sale luxury gifts for my holiday lists. But I'm not. I'm still thinking about sweet and briny shrimp the size of your thumbnail,

horses sunning themselves on wind-swept mountains,

and bucolic towns in rolling hills (which also have Michelin-starred restaurants).

And squid.

Okay, I realize that many out there are not fans of squid (and I also realize that my somewhat turd-like picture probably doesn't help the cause). Squid are, for lack of a better word, kind of oogy. It's hard to see those tentacles without imagining them wrapping wetly around your ankles (or is that just me?), and jet-black is not generally an appetizing color when it comes to sauces (or, really, any food item beyond olives and caviar). But despite its aesthetic handicaps, this is one heck of a dish.

I've heard it said that squid should be cooked either two minutes or two hours. There's some truth to this -- a quick turn in the pan leaves squid tender, but cook them for more than a few minutes and they toughen up to an unappetizingly rubbery consistency. If you want to return them back to a chewable delicacy, you've got to stew them for a good long time until they soften again. This traditional recipe takes the long view, which not only softens the squid, but deepens the flavor of the dark, briny sauce. And while the squid picture lacks the majesty of my other shots of the Basque Country, it captures the same spirit: a simple, un-fussy approach to some of the best ingredients in life.

Txipirones en su Tinta (Squid in Ink Sauce)

traditional, as interpreted by Iñaki Guridi
serves 4

1 1/2 lbs squid, cleaned
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 red onions, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 packets squid ink
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup water or fish/seafood broth, plus additional as needed
2 slices baguette, cubed
bread or rice for serving

Take the tentacles of the squid, and stuff them inside of the tubes (squid in the Basque Country are conveniently sold this way, but if yours come separately this step won't take much time). Don't worry about closing the tubes around their contents -- as the squid cook both the tubes and tentacles will swell, sealing them into neat little packets.

Heat half of the olive oil in a soup pot or large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the squid in a single layer (you may need to do this in batches), sauteing until they brown lightly, ~3-4 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining oil, lower the heat to medium-low, and add the onion and pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally, until totally softened but not browned, ~30 minutes.

While the onion and pepper are cooking, carefully open the ink packets (unsurprisingly, this stuff kinda stains), and squeeze into a small glass. Add the wine and the water/broth, stirring well to blend.

When the onions and pepper are soft, add the ink-wine mixture, and saute for a few more minutes. Add the cubed bread, and cook another 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender), and blend until the mixture is smooth. Add additional water/broth if needed, to create a gravy-like consistency.

Return the squid to the pan, along with the ink sauce. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover and lower the heat until it just barely maintains its simmer. Cook for an hour. Serve with bread or rice to sop up the sauce.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kale and Rye Bread Panade

I've just left the Basque Country and headed back toward the Pacific Northwest, embarking on a truly epic amount of travel time. And mourning. Back to work and daily life, where it only takes one 'k' instead of three to say thanks. No more freshly-caught hake, home-infused sloe liqueur, or hand-made European cheese (with the exception of a chunk stowed in my luggage, courtesy of a visit to an overly-friendly convent in Idiazabal). And, worst of all, no more of my dear friends, to have a drink with while hanging out on cobblestone streets on balmy Autumn evenings, or to teach me the livestock-specific call for every farm animal we passed on our many walks. I've still got a few meals to log from my trip, and a handful of recipes to try at home. But for now, I need some comfort food.

I had the good fortune of encountering this recipe from Portland's Fressen Bakery a few weeks ago for my story on rye, and it manages to combine two of my favorite things: rye bread, and leftover-repurposing thrift. If you haven't yet met the panade, I heartily encourage you to become acquainted. Cubes of stale bread (and really, it can be any crusty loaf, not just rye) are enriched with aromatics and other additions (in this case, caramelized onions, fennel seeds, a bit of vinegar and wine and a whole lot of kale), then tossed with cheese. Then the whole mess is given a good drink of flavorful broth, and baked until bubbly. The result is heavenly. It's like the best part of stuffing, but made softer, saucier, and a bit healthier (especially if you, like me, use an overly-hefty helping of kale).

I love the balance of flavors in this version, and the way that the sour vinegar and wine offset the heftier bread and cheese, but really you can freestyle a panade with any combination of breads, cheeses, herbs and vegetables that are knocking around your pantry. I was going to write that it's enough to soften the blow of returning back to my normal stateside life, with its presence of workdays and absence of red-tiled roofs. To be fair, that might be too tall an order. But this is really delicious, a bit of a culinary blanket to curl up with and make the rainy Northwest days a little warmer. You can find the recipe here, courtesy of The Oregonian.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Fish a la Bilbaino

Like most of my fellow cooks, I have a fairly burgeoning spice cabinet. I love the fusty notes of turmeric, the Eastern European sharpness of dill, the nutty depth of sesame oil and surprising savory-sweet brightness of cardamom. I also love how a seasoning palette can come together, like the instruments of an orchestra, to create a symphony of flavor. Sure, if used with a heavy hand, they can become muddy. But at their best, they transform your basic building blocks, elevating them to something richer and better.

It turns out that not everyone shares my enthusiasms. And despite having a renown gastronomy, the Basque spice cabinet is... a little bare. If you don´t count each type of pepper separately, my friend Iñaki´s tiny shelf contains only the addition of thyme, cumin, saffron, and a dusty container of curry powder that´s probably never been opened. We´ve had lengthy debates about the benefits of seasonings, with Iñaki maintaining that they´re just a crutch of people who need to hide sub-par ingredients. Last week we rode the Artxanda Funicular to panoramic beauty on the top of BIlbao, and looked at a monument to the many groups that fought against Franco (where the expected socialists and communists were joined by batallions of local hiking clubs). As we looked down the lists of names, I asked Iñaki about his political affiliations. ¨I have no party,¨ he claimed. ¨I am only anti-spices.¨

And much to my surprise, I am gradually undergoing a similar political conversion. Despite the lack of seasoning (or perhaps because of it), the amazing local ingredients shine. Farm-grown vegetables and just-caught seafood really don´t need much adornment, beyond a drizzle of olive oil and salt. And lest you, like me, furrow your brow at the idea of a beloved dish composed of little more than fish in a garlicky vinaigrette, let me tell you: it´s great.

As with most simple preparations, the beauty of this is in the details. Needless to say, you start with great fish (we´ve prepared it with hake and horse mackeral, both locally-caught and fresh). What could just be a boring vinaigrette is given depth from sauteed garlic, then poured over the fish and back into the saucepan to emulsify with the fish gelatin, adding flavor and body to form a rich, cohesive sauce. I still maintain a love for the full symphony of complex, seasoned dishes (and even managed to win fans for this Moroccan herb jam, although it contains both smoked paprika and cumin). But the art of simple cooking, like a haunting solo performance, can be its own sort of perfection.

Fish a la Bilbaino

via Iñaki Guridi (with tips for sauce emulsification courtesy of his sister)
serves 4

~1 1/2 lbs relatively mild-flavored fish
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
3 Tbsp white wine or sherry vinegar
1 handful parsley, finely minced
salt to taste

Bake or poach the fish until fully cooked (details of this will depend upon the source and size of the fish used).

While the fish is cooking, begin the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over a medium-high heat, and saute the garlic until just begins to darken (we have made this with both golden and barely-colored garlic, and I think I prefer the former). Add the vinegar and parsley and boil for a minute, stirring to emulsify. 

When the fish has finished cooking, pour the sauce over it. Let sit for a moment, then gently tip to sauce back into the skillet. Bring to a boil for a minute or two, stirring rapidly to emulsify, until the sauce has reduced very slightly (if your fish gave off a lot of liquid in cooking, this may take an additional minute or two). Transfer the fish to a serving plate, pour the sauce over the top, and serve. Add salt to taste.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Rye Flour

 Yes, I have promised you stories of European adventure. And yes, there are constant reminders that I am far from Portland. Traditional dancers and musicians piped their way through the streets shortly after I dropped my bags. Breakfast consists of bowls of milky sweet coffee, with crusts of last night´s bread crumbled in. I have held five-day-old rabbits that peed in my hand, and politely declined the offer of a walking stick during a farm stroll, only to be informed that it was in fact a pushing-back-cows stick. I will be terribly sad to leave.

But as for cooking, and taking pictures of said food, I´ve been a bit remiss. And it´s not for lack of amazing food. The first evening brought a lovely potato tortilla and croquettes, but after 18 hours of travel I wasn´t really following what was happening. Last night I ate dinner that was cooked on an actual wood-fired stove, but given that my inability to speak Basque was enough of an imposition, I decided not to make things worse by sticking my camera around. I promise salt cold aplenty to come, but for now, I´ll tell you about the snacks I baked in Portland and carried with me.

If you´re looking to represent America abroad, it´s hard to go wrong with chocolate chip cookies. And if you´re looking to make chocolate chip cookies, it´s hard to go wrong with a buttery dough, aged for a few nights in the fridge. And, per my latest obsession, bolstered with rye flour.

When this chocolate chip cookie recipe first surfaced, it seemed like perfection. Take the usual easy-peasy formula, wait a few days, and almost by magic the dough develops a caramel-like depth. But after writing an article about the wonders of rye flour, I couldn´t help but swap some into this formula (cutting the amount down just a wee bit, to account for the moisture-absorbing prowess of rye´s whole grain). And the result is just lovely, my all-time favorite. It has been politely demanded that I bake more before my departure. If only the Basque Country sold rye flour...

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Rye Flour

adapted from Jacques Torres in The New York Times
yields 2-4 dozen cookies, depending upon size, and must be made at least 1 day before baking

4 1/4 ounces bread flour, 1 1/3 cups (I feared this could yield a tough consistency, but it´s called for in the original, and nicely offsets rye´s minimal gluten, though it´d probably be fine without)
4 ounces rye flour, 1 heaping cup
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp coarse salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
5 ounces (2/3 cup) brown sugar, packed
4 ounces (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 4-ounce bar (or more) chocolate of your choosing, chopped into small cubes and bits

Sift together the bread flour, rye flour, soda, powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter in a mixer or large bowl, and beat together with the sugars until very light. Add the egg and vanilla, and stir until well combined. Add the flour mixture, stir until just mixed, and then add the chocolate and stir to distribute evenly. Place in a bag or covered container, and chill 2-3 days.

When you´re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a few baking sheets with parchment (or grease them well and hope for the best). Scoop the dough out into cookies -- Torres favors large cookies for a nice crisp-outside-gooey-inside consistency, but I find you can arrive at something similar if you make small cookies and watch them like a hawk.

Bake until golden brown yet soft, 10-15 minutes depending upon cookie size. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a couple minutes until they firm up enough for you to move them, then transfer to a rack to cool completely (it´s difficult to end up with soft cookies if you don´t pull them soon enough). Devour when warm, with milk, or let cool fully and pack them in an airtight container for your travels.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cheese Blintzes

A few summers ago, I did a lot of canning. A lot. I scoured the neighborhood for free fruit, calling up friends with plum trees and trekking out to favorite blackberry-picking spots (despite the fact that picking blackberries is about as much fun as being scratched by cats). I took over the neighbor's fridge with cheesecloth-lined jars slowly drip-drip-dripping Concord grape juice for jelly, and nearly made us late to a dinner party by insisting we drive back past the free boxes of canning jars that I'd seen on my bike ride home. It's possible things got a bit out of hand.

But this past summer -- not so much. I got swamped with work and other obligations, read a terrifying article about how sugar will kill us all, and let my canning fall by the wayside. I made a batch of sour cherry jam (and a delicious tart) after harvesting from a neighbor's tree, but that was about it. No more wedding gifts of boxes groaning with rosemary plum jam, grape jelly and blueberry preserves. A few months back I was dishing out some yogurt for breakfast, only to realize that I had actually run out of jam. Who am I these days? It's all something of a shame, especially when you realize how very good jam can be.

I was recently reminded of the goodness of jam by Marisa, the canning master behind the inspiring website Food in Jars. We met up for coffee when she was in town recently (an event I nearly missed, due to creative calendaring), and in addition to sharing stories, she gave me a jar of nectarine-lime jam. It was a jar of jam so intense it nearly glowed, full of aromatic soft fruit brightened up with lime, with a delicately soft set (probably softened further by baggage handling). This was jam that brought my mind right back to summer. This was jam that cried out for something more than just PB&J to showcase its brilliance. This was jam that needed blintzes.

I was never a huge fan of sweet blintzes as a kid, preferring their savory potato-filled cousins instead. But having recently been won over by Russian cottage-cheese pancakes, I figured cheese-filled pancakes might be equally delicious. For this traditional Eastern European delicacy, thin crepes are pan-fried, filled with a sweetened cottage cheese mixture (I went with lightly-sweetened, to justify a more liberal jam application), and then folded up in the crepes and pan-fried in good amount of butter. Serve hot, with plenty of jam.

As the description suggests, these blintzes are a good amount of work. And truth be told, I think I might prefer the syrniki, which are both easier and more addictive. But it's nice to have an opportunity to brush up on my crepe-making skills, and turn out tidy little packages that my Russian forebears would approve of. And really, when you have jam this good, you've got to give it something special.

And speaking of special occasions, Mostly Foodstuffs is heading off for a special European edition: two weeks in the Basque Country! Expect some culinary hijinks, jet lag, and a whole lot of salt cod to follow.

Cheese Blintzes

adapted, quite liberally, from The New York Times Jewish Cookbook
makes ~12 blintzes (depending upon the size of your pan and the amount of batter you waste getting the hang of things), serving 6

1 cup milk
1 cup flour (I substituted 1/2 cup rye flour, as is my latest obsession, but straight white flour works great as well)
2 eggs 
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
oil for frying

1 lb cottage cheese
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp vanilla

To Finish:
butter for frying
jam for serving

To assemble the blintz pancakes: Mix all ingredients in a blender, and blitz until a smooth batter is formed. Let sit for half an hour.

When the mixture has rested, heat a small skillet (8" or so) over a medium heat until it's good and hot. Add some oil, and then add a swirl of ~3 tablespoons batter, enough to coat the bottom entirely to form a thin pancake. The name of the game is working fast -- add your batter, and then immediately swirl it around, using enough force to make it happen quickly (you can ask the internet to show you videos of this). I kept forgetting to act quickly and forcefully (in my life as well as my blintz-making), but really that's the key. If your batter is too thick to do this, add a wee bit more milk/water and try again. And really, don't worry if your first attempt or two end in failure.

When you've formed the pancake, let cook until the top no longer looks wet and the edges have peeled back from the pan, ~45 seconds. Peel it off (they only need to cook on one side), and transfer to a plate to cool. Add a bit more butter to the pan, and fry up the remaining batter (pancakes will stack without sticking).

When you have formed all of your blintz pancakes, clean out the blender, and add the filling ingredients and pulse a few times to mix them well and break up the cottage cheese curds a bit.

To fill and finish the blintzes: Add a pat of butter to the frypan. Take a blintz pancake, and lay it flat, cooked side facing down.  Add a few spoonfuls of fillings, and roll up the blintz like a burrito. Place, seam side down, in the pan, and fry until golden, ~2-3 minutes. Turn over gently (they're a bit delicate while hot), and fry the other side. Repeat with remaining blintzes and filling. Enjoy hot, with a lot of good jam.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Green Tomatoes

I was going to open this post with a picture of my tomato plants themselves. But really, it's just sad. The stalks and leaves are yellow-brown, wilted, hanging off of their wire cage exoskeletons. And the tomatoes themselves? Green, green, green. It's been a slim harvest this year.

But luckily, green tomatoes can be the source of some truly delicious recipes. With their firm flesh, punchy astringency, and juiciness, they bake up surprisingly well. Over on NPR's Kitchen Window, I turn the harvests' forlorn remainders into some lovely early fall recipes: green tomato pesto, cheesy green tomato and pimento cheese biscuits, and my favorite of all, this South Indian-style green tomato pickle. You can check out the recipes, and my paean to the thrifty waste-not-want-not ethos, over here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Royal Eggplant

When I think of how to best describe eggplant, a few words come to mind. And they're not terribly flattering. Oil sponge would be first term, then slightly bitter. And, unappetizingly, squeaky. But royal? Hardly. Until I tried this recipe.

Like many Indian recipes with this descriptor, royal eggplant comes from the culinary tradition of India's Mughal empire. These dishes are strongly influenced by Persian and Turkish cooking, scented with warm spices and softened with cream and butter. And this dish is no exception. The eggplants are roasted until they soften to mush, dispelling any squeaky tendencies and scenting them with a lovely smoky undertone. They're cooked up with the usual savory mix of onion, cilantro and tomato, but they're given a sweet note from cinnamon and nutmeg, and a surprising flavor from the fenugreek leaves. And to make things even better, the savory-sweet-smoky mix is rounded out with a rich dose of cream.

I served this up with some rice, yogurt raita, and a sour-salty shot of green tomato pickle (more on that soon). But I've also paired it with other Indian dishes, or scooped it up with a bit of naan. I like it so much that I've tinkered with the recipe, increasing the yield and upping the spice-to-eggplant ratio to create an even more richly-seasoned dish. Because it's just that good. Royally good.

Royal Eggplant

adapted from Neelam Batra's The Indian Vegetarian
serves ~6-8, depending on how many other dishes are involved

3 medium-large eggplants (~2-3 lbs)
3 Tbsp vegetable oil, ghee, or coconut oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp peeled and minced ginger
2 cups finely-chopped onions
2 cups finely-chopped tomatoes
1 cup packed finely-chopped cilantro (leaves and stems), plus a few spoonfuls for garnish
4 jalapeno peppers, split
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Pierce the eggplants a few times with a fork or knife, and place on a pan underneath the broiler. Broil, turning a few times, until they're totally collapsed (~30-40 minutes). Let cool, and then peel and mash until smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a pot over a high heat. Add the cumin seeds, and cook until they sizzle (just a few seconds). Add the garlic and ginger, stir, and then add the onions and cook until golden, ~5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers, and cook until the tomatoes release their liquid and it cooks off, ~10 minutes. Add the spices, stir for a minute to toast them, then add the reserved eggplant.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the cream, and cook another 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Adjust salt to taste, and serve sprinkled with additional cilantro for garnish.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Eggs Poached in Summer Squash Saute

A few weeks ago, I was trying to help a friend come up with some quick and easy dinner plans. She was swamped at work, her husband was out of town, and her two young kids needed the usual amount of attention. I asked what she'd been cooking lately. She listed a handful of dishes, nothing fancy but certainly nothing to sniff at. Also, she admitted with some level of embarrassment, they'd been having a lot of breakfast for dinner.

There always seems be some shame in having breakfast for dinner. Every time someone scrambles up an egg, or plops some pancake batter on the griddle, there's an accompanying feeling of not being a Proper Adult. PA's clearly know the difference between breakfast and dinner, and feed their family the appropriate meal for the hour (and also never, say, get past-due notices for their forgotten health insurance co-pays). But I argue that we should let go of those prejudices. Pancakes, eggs and the like make wonderful dinners. As long as you do them up right.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of poaching eggs in a sauce. They absorb flavor, the whole mess is deliciously fun to sweep up with a piece of bread (or tuck inside or tortilla), and, most importantly, it's just really easy. This dish is no exception. Taking inspiration from a blog post I read a few months back, I cooked up a saucy saute of onions, fresh tomatoes, grated summer squash, and fresh basil. Then I made a few divots, cracked in some eggs, and covered and cooked til they were set to my liking. Add a slice of crusty flatbread, and it's perfect. A delicious, one-pot, near insta-meal, with a healthy helping of vegetables. Where's the shame in that? Breakfast for dinner, you do not disappoint.

And, if breakfast for dinner isn't your thing, I present an article I wrote on the flip side: dinner for breakfast. You can check it out in The Oregonian.

Eggs Poached in Summer Squash Saute

inspired by The Kitchn, but tweaked to my taste/groceries
serves 2

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped in a fine dice
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 summer squash, grated on the coarse holes of a grater
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper
4 eggs
crusty bread or flatbread, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Add the onions and a sprinkling of salt, and cook until softened but not colored, ~7 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes, squash and basil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and get saucy, and the squash is tender, ~10 minutes. The mixture should give off a lot of liquid, which is what you want (it will absorb/cook off when you cook the eggs). Add salt and pepper to taste. Make 4 divots in the mixture with the back of a spoon, and crack an egg into each divot. Cover, and let cook until the eggs are set to your liking. Top the eggs with a bit of additional salt and pepper, and serve with bread.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Concord Grape Focaccia

I can be prone to hyperbole, especially when talking about my latest recipe obsession. But if I may: this concord grape focaccia is the Best Thing Ever. For reals. To illustrate: I have made it twice in the past two weeks, even though it involves painstakingly seeding several bunches of concord grapes (a process that takes much, much longer than you'd think it should). But the end result is so heavenly that it's totally worth it. I'm thinking of making it again. Right now.

This recipe is a riff on schiacciata con l'uva, a Tuscan flatbread topped (or stuffed) with grapes. But instead of subtle European wine grapes, it uses our own native-bred, growing-in-everyone's-backyard, blustery Concord grapes. The focaccia is dusted with both salt and sugar, creating a savory-sweet combination that, when paired with the rich purple grapes and airy-yet-crusty dough, is totally addictive. It makes for an elegant hors d'oeuvre or cocktail party snack, or a slightly sweet dessert to enjoy with your glass of wine or coffee. You can substitute store-bought pizza dough for the focaccia in a pinch, though I can't guarantee that the end result will be the Best Thing Ever. Perhaps second best.

And in other news of Italian-inspired deliciousness, my roasted figs with dolcelatte were profiled on Design*Sponge. You can check out the recipe, along with photos far more beautiful than those that come out of my kitchen, over here.

Concord Grape Focaccia

yields two 9" focaccia, enough for appetizers for 6-10, depending on their level of hunger/restraint
note: this recipe is started the day (or two) before you bake it

1 cup water
1 tsp active yeast
1 Tbsp coarse salt, divided
3 Tbsp sugar, divided
1/4 cup olive oil, divided, plus additional for greasing the bowl and handling the dough
2 ¼ cups (10 ounces) bread flour 

heaping cup halved and seeded concord grapes (warning: seeding the grapes may take longer than you think)
2 tsp fresh rosemary needles

Combine the water and yeast in a bowl, and let sit for a minute or two to allow the yeast to soften and bloom. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and the flour. Mix with a large spoon until fully blended, then cover and let sit for 5 minutes to fully hydrate. Mix for an additional minute or two, until the dough becomes smooth. Grease another bowl with a bit of oil, and, using a spatula, transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, using wet or oiled hands, reach into the bowl under one end of the dough, and pull it gently to fold the dough in half. repeat with the other three sides of the dough, then flip the whole doughball over. Let rest 10 minutes, then repeat 2-3 more times. After the last folding, cover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight, or up to three days. These folds may seem a bit fussy, but achieve the dual purpose of folding in some air holes into the dough, and firming it up without using additional flour.

About 1 1/2  - 2 hours before you’d like to bake (depending on how warm your kitchen is), take the dough out of the refrigerator, and allow to come to room temperature for ~45 minutes to take the chill off. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or brush them heavily with olive oil. Gently divide the dough into two balls (they might be a bit more like blobs then balls), and place them on the prepared sheets. Let sit 10 minutes to relax, then, with oiled or wet hands, use your fingertips to sort of pat-and-push the dough out into 9” circles from the inside out, dimpling them without totally compressing them (if they resist, you can pat them out a little, let the dough rest ~5-10 minutes, then pat them out a little more and repeat as needed -- it’s important you press the dough out to out least this diameter, otherwise it will be too thick to cook properly).  Let rise for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the heat of your kitchen). While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 500.

When the dough has risen, brush the focaccia with the remaining oil. Sprinkle them with the grapes, rosemary, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons coarse salt. (that's 1 Tbsp/tsp per focaccia). Place the trays in the oven, then turn down the heat to 450. Bake for ~20 minutes, until the focaccia has cooked to a golden brown (it may seem a little underdone in some parts around the grape divots, but as long as the non-grape parts are browned it will be fine). Let cool slightly, then serve warm or at room temperature (ideally within a few hours for optimum deliciousness).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Couscous Salad with Spinach, Feta, Cherry Tomatoes and Herbs

Sometimes I'm all over the perfect dish for the season, anticipating things a few weeks out. These past few weeks I've been chafing at the bit with a lovely concord grape recipe, calling a circuit of grocery stores every few days to ask Are they in yet? How about tomorrow? Maybe Monday? I'm surprised the produce departments keep answering the phone. But other times, well -- not so much. And so, as the cold and windy rains roll into Portland, I present to you the perfect picnic dish. On the bright side, it'll still be good for Autumnal potlucks.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for the combination of spinach and feta. But instead of a warm and uber-cheesy casserole, this is a light, herb-studded couscous salad (even healthier if you, like me, go with whole wheat couscous), with bright and juicy cherry tomatoes offsetting the small amount of briny feta. The spinach is just slightly wilted enough to be manageable and allow you to stuff copious amounts of it into the finished salad (using the residual heat of the couscous along with the old Mediterranean trick of rubbing it with salt), but it's still bright green and fresh-tasting. Thanks to a sweep at the farmer's market I used a combination of fresh basil, dill, parsley and mint, but it would be good with a few handfuls of whatever fresh herbs you have.

And speaking of things you think of just in the nick of time, here's an article about matzo ball soup, in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that begins tomorrow night. Perhaps getting a bit more on top of things will be one of my resolutions.

Couscous Salad with Spinach, Feta, Cherry Tomatoes and Herbs

makes a sizable picnic or potluck contribution, or serves ~6 as a light main dish

2 1/2  cups water or broth
2 cups whole wheat couscous
~1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 bunch spinach, washed and chopped fairly small
3 scallions, thinly-sliced
1 large handful fresh dill, chopped
1 large handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 large handful fresh mint, chopped
1 small handful fresh mint, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
scant 1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes (I'm currently obsessed with sungolds), halved, or quartered if they're large
salt and pepper

Heat the water or broth (salt it if you're using water) to a boil in a pot. Add the couscous and a dollop of olive oil. Stir and bring it back to a boil, then turn off the flame and let sit, covered, for five minutes.

While the couscous is sitting, place the spinach in a large bowl. Sprinkle it with a bit of salt, then scrunch it in your hands to distribute the salt and cause the spinach to wilt slightly. Top with the scallions.

When the couscous is done, fluff it with a fork, and tip it on top of the spinach and the scallions, letting the heat of the couscous soften the greens. Let sit a few minutes while you chop the remaining fresh herbs.

After the couscous has sat for a few minutes, add the remaining herbs along with the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice. Toss, mixing the ingredients well (which will also cool off the couscous a bit). Add the feta, cherry tomatoes and a few grinds of pepper, and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings and olive oil/lemon juice balance as needed. Serve warm or cold.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple and Honey Desserts

Twice this last week, after not seeing them in god-knows-how-many years, I happened upon katydids. Twice! One was slowly, methodically, walking across the window screen outside my office (or, as it's also known, the kitchen). The other was, inexplicably, clinging to the ceiling outside the bathroom.

I know these bugs are fairly common, but I seem to have gone years without encountering one. I spent a few silent minutes transfixed by each discovery, staring at their weirdly leaf-like bodies, and the multi-jointed antennae that tap-tap-tap out a path like a blind man's cane. It all reminded me of how many hours I spent as a kid just wandering in my suburban backyard, making my own small fun and seemingly epic discoveries.

Next week brings the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the start of the new year. Like any milestone (or katydid discovery), it makes you think about where you are in life, and how things used to be so many years ago. If you tend towards the melancholic, it can be kind of a downer. But it's also a wonderful opportunity to think of the sweetness of it all.

In Jewish tradition, this sweetness is commonly celebrated with apples and honey. And so, on this occasion of a new year, I bring out a collection of elegant versions of this combination. You can find all of the recipes at NPR's Kitchen Window

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kale, Peach, Corn and Feta Salad

My friend Emily often talks about being willing to "re-meet" someone -- to set aside earlier impressions you've formed (rightly or wrongly), and give people another chance to show you who they can be. It's a lovely concept. All too often we are boxed in by previous assumptions or rumors, which can keep us from getting to know some truly extraordinary people. Or, in this case, salads. 

In general, I don't think of myself as a terribly fussy eater. I mean, sure, I want my food to be good, and made of actual food and all that. But my prohibitions are fairly minimal: I hate hate hate bananas. I'm not too keen on cooked bell peppers, after their over-use in the college food service vegetarian menu. And I don't like to mix my sweet and my savory.

Or, rather, I thought I didn't. As it turns out, sweet and savory can combine into some truly great dishes. I'm not talking about raisin-studded green salads, or industrial catering wild-rice-with-dried-cranberry pilafs (which might have been how I came up with this aversion in the first place). I'm talking about a salad of drippy-sweet peaches, oh-so-green kale, sunny fresh corn and creamy feta.

I saw this recipe about a month ago on one of my favorite blogs, and pulled it out a few night's ago when I needed a dish to bring with me as I went to watch the local chimney swift migration with a few friends (What? Isn't that what you do on a summer evening?). I figured that even if I didn't like the combination, our potluck picnic would take care of any leftovers. But oh man did I love this. This salad was the perfect bit of Oregon bounty to accompany the natural beauty. The peaches are sweet and juicy, as is the corn (in a different way), but the deeply vegetal kale and briny feta tie it all together. And also, well, it's just so pretty (using the purple-veined Red Russian kale doesn't hurt in that department). This salad is not the sweet-versus-savory fight I always fear -- it's the very best of summer, from the trees and from the fields, coming together in beautiful harmony. I can't wait to find out what's going to surprise me next.

Kale, Peach, Corn and Feta Salad

from Last Night's Dinner, as inspired by a salad at Diner
serves ~6 (great accompanying a light pasta dish, as we enjoyed it, or just a crusty loaf of bread)

1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
dollop honey
salt and pepper
1/2 small red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1 bunch kale (I like Red Russian), washed and torn into small pieces
1/2 bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
2 ears of corn, cut off the cob
3 peaches, cut into slim wedges
1/4 cup feta (preferably a moist, mild feta, like French or Israeli), crumbled

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, sherry vinegar, honey, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the onion, and let sit for a few minutes to mellow. Add the kale and cilantro, and mix well to coat with the dressing (I like to sandwich two aluminum bowls together, and shake shake shake until it's coated). Let the mixture sit for an hour for the kale to absorb the dressing and soften. Then scatter the corn, peaches and feta over the top and devour.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Sweet Corn and Blackberry Popsicles

People often look back on the food of their youth with nostalgia, wondering why things just never taste as sweet in adulthood. While I have my fair share of misty culinary memories (many of them involving pressing cinnamon candies into sugar cookie dough to yield vampiric-eyed barn animals), I must say that many things taste better these days. Like corn.

When I was growing up, corn was prepared one way: boiled. For a long, long time. After this prolonged bath it was wrinkled, starchy, and didn't taste like much of anything (beyond the generous amount of butter and salt it was topped with, so naturally I still loved it). It wasn't until years later that I realized how good fresh corn could be. Or maybe corn just got better? I hear they've made some progress with the whole keeping-sugars-from-converting-to-starch-within-seconds thing. Regardless: fresh corn, when cooked lightly (or not at all), is a thing of beauty. It's sunny, light, and fresh-smelling, and nearly pops in your mouth with milky sweetness.

These days I can't get enough of fresh corn. I've baked it up into tomato pies, and shaved it into a raw salad with arugula, radishes, feta and mint (which I sadly forgot to photograph before inhaling). Both were lovely. But these popsicles might be my favorite. They were born somewhat by accident: I needed a cup of half-and-half for a recipe, and the quart was on sale for the same price as a half-pint, which meant that my thrifty self couldn't not buy it. The sweet corn at the farmer's market was calling out, and the blackberries in front of our house had turned dark and sweet. And thus, creamy sweet corn and blackberry popsicles. And I daresay they're perfect.

The corn, barely cooked and infused into half-and-half, is total summer sunshine. Its sugars, which are normally just a background note, come straight to the forefront, yielding a corny-sweet riff on a standard summer confection. The melty popsicles are thick and smooth, the blended milky corn lending a richness that you usually get from an eggy custard. And to keep the buttery sweetness of the corn from becoming overwhelming, it's studded with a tart mash of barely-sweetened blackberries. While many people will be firing up the barbecue to enjoy their corn this Labor Day, I lobby for the popsicle instead.

Sweet Corn and Blackberry Popsicles

yields ~ 4-5 standard (3 ounce) popsicles

2 ears sweet corn
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional for the blackberries
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
heaping 1/2 cup blackberries

Cut the kernals off of the cob, and place in a saucepan. Hack the cobs up in a few pieces, and add them as well, along with the half-and-half, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer for a minute or so, until the corn softens and turns a darker yellow. Turn off the heat, add the vanilla, and let the mixture steep for an hour, transferring to the refrigerator as it cools (you want to wait a minimum of an hour to let the mixture infuse, but you can shelve it in the fridge for longer if needed).

While the corn mixture is steeping and cooling, rinse the blackberries and mash them with a fork or potato masher. Sweeten to taste with a spoonful or two of sugar -- the corn mixture will be sweet as well, so you want the blackberries to be a bit tart for contrast.

After the corn mixture has steeped, fish out the cobs and discard. Puree the remaining mixture in a blender, then strain through a fine sieve (you may have to clear the strainer a few times to get rid of the corn solids). Place the corn mixture in a container with a spout, and pour an inch of it in the bottom of your popsicle molds. Top with a spoonful of the sweetened blackberry puree, then repeat the process until the molds are filled (leaving enough headspace for them to expand). If you have the kind of molds with stick handles attached, simply freeze until solid. Otherwise let freeze half an hour, insert popsicle sticks into the semi-frozen mixture, and freeze completely.