Escape with al Fresco Dinner

outdoor dining at Ian's

Some nights are just meant for cocooning with family. Sometimes it’s your family. Sometimes it is an adopted or blended family. In any case, escaping from the craziness that summer, racism, politics and general idiocy has bestowed upon us this month was just what was needed this week.

Escape meant retreating to city backyard, beautifully planted with selections from Stan’s and Potratz. We sat in wicker rockers and wrought iron purchased from the Erie City Mission. We talked politics, but were respectful of the opinions of those in the conversation. And we dined under the stars without interruptions from Baton Rouge, Dallas or Minnesota. No tweets from Donald Trump or FBI press conferences about Hillary Clinton. And no news alerts about Erie City Council’s lack of foresight or cohesion when it comes to a restaurant wanting to offer outdoor seating during the all-too-short summer season.

No, once the presidential politics were put aside, we talked about grandmothers, and toddlers, and photography, and high school, and fireworks, and birthday parties, and dinner.

Dinner was grilled prime beef tenderloin steaks from Urbaniak Brothers, wrapped in Urbaniak bacon, and topped with herb butter. Accompanying it was a Greek salad, which I learned to make from a Greek family on a Greek island. It had a few of my beginning-to-ripen yellow tomatoes and oregano, parsley and mint from the garden. Mixed with Bulgarian feta and olive oil wheat rusks from Cleveland’s West Side Market, the salad is tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Fresh corn from Mason Farms, removed from the cob, was topped with just a pat or two of butter and served warm.

For dessert, I made a lemon and almond cake and served it with macerated berries and whipped cream. The employees at Mason Farms said there are only a couple days left for fresh strawberries, so I had to have some of those mixed in raspberries, which are now appearing. I added some sugar and very good balsamic vinegar to balance the sweetness.

Blueberries are appearing in area farm markets, but the blueberries from Conn’s Blueberry Farm North East are coming in a week or two (my favorite place to pick).

I hope you enjoy your weekend. Hug your loved ones. Be kind to one another.

XOXOXO

Marnie

almond and lemon curd tort

Almond Lemon Curd Cake with Berry Topping

Lemon Curd

  • Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons, about 6 tablespoons juice
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Make the lemon curd several hours in advance and refrigerate. If you don’t have time, you will need a large ice bath to cool it down. This will take about 30 minutes before you can add it to the cake.

Have a double boiler ready. Or find a pot and a metal bowl that fits into the top. Fill the pot with water to just below where it touches the bowl. If the bowl touches the bottom of the pot, this won’t work. You need at least an inch of water between the bowl and the bottom of the pot to prevent hot spots, which will scorch or lump.

While you are bringing the water to a boil, whisk together juice, zest, sugar and eggs. Place over the boiling water and whisk in the butter one cube at a time. You will continue whisking or using a spatula to keep the mixture moving until it thickens to the point where you can call it curd (think lemon pudding). Remove it from the heat. You can strain it, if you want. Or chill until ready to use.

Cake

  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tart pan with removable bottom or springform pan.

Cream butter and 1 cup sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat into the sugar and butter mixture. Add beaten eggs and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

Pour into the pan. Dollop 8 tablespoons of the lemon curd around the perimeter about 1 inch in from edge of the pan. Dollop another 3 to 4 tablespoons in the middle. Top with the toasted almonds and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 40 minutes, until the top is brown and a tester inserted into the cake (not the curd) comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before removing rim of the pan.

Serve with the berries and whipped cream.

Berry Topping

Mixed berries, totaling about 12 ounces (cut strawberries in half if large)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar

Combine at least 1 hour before serving. Let sit at room temperature.

Cake recipe is adapted from the New York Times.

3 Tips for Cooking in Summer Heat

fireworks

Fourth of July fireworks Monday night. 

This morning even the dog didn’t want to go outside. You could feel the temperature climbing at 7:30 a.m. and knew it was going to be a day to hit the beach or stay inside.

I’m not complaining. I’ve lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, too long to whine about summer. I just wish I could can the July days like I do tomatoes in late August to pull off the shelf on a particularly nasty February day and be reminded of what sunshine looks and feels like.

Without much rain and promises of temps hitting the 90s, it’s time to get creative when it comes to turning on the oven. Some people just don’t do it. I’m a baker. With strawberries, cherries, blueberries and peaches ripening throughout the summer, I’m always thinking of cobblers, coffee cakes, pies, grunts and crumbles.

1. Bake at night or early in the morning.

When I want to bake, I typically work late at night or early in the morning. Sometimes I do both.

Last night, I made the batter for zucchini bread minus the leavening ingredients. Early this morning, I added the baking powder and baking soda and popped two loaves into the oven. I was tired, so I forgot to add the chocolate chips last night. So my suggestion for baking at night is to put the ingredients out on the counter and that way you won’t forget. The French call it mise en place.

I was also making corn bread from Melissa Clark at the NY Times. That comes together very quickly, so I mixed up a batch of cornbread when the zucchini bread still had about 30 minutes to go, then added the corn bread loaves to the oven.

corn bread

Everything was done and cooling by 8 a.m. Batch baking is the best.

2. Keep your slow cooker working all summer so you don’t have to.

Many people use the slow cooker only in the winter for soups and stews. I pull it out just as often in the summer to make ribs, pulled pork or chicken, and fresh tomato sauces.

With ribs, I will put a rub on, then cook on low in the slow cooker with about a cup of root beer or cola overnight. I pull them out in the morning and wrap in foil. When it is time for lunch or dinner, I finish on the grill with a brush of barbecue sauce.

ribs

Ribs in the fridge.

This summer, I am going to try baking in it as well.

3. Batch grill.

If you are going to fire up the grill, why not cook a few chicken breasts at the same time? We eat a lot of chicken breasts in the summer. When I come home from the market with a family package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about half go into a zip-top baggie with about a half cup of buttermilk, a few pinches of salt and some seasonings. This is when it’s great to use those seasoning mixes. I’ll throw in a tablespoon or more of Northwoods blend from Penzey’s. It has salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, granulated garlic and ground chipotle pepper – making it very versatile. Allow to marinate until you are firing up the grill, then cook. You can then slice and store for topping on salads, in wraps or on top of pasta. Other favorite blends include Forward, Singapore, and Fox Point.

You can do the same with a pork loin.

Throw on a few extra vegetables from your CSA and toast a loaf of ciabatta split in half. Now you can make a lovely sandwich with sliced grilled chicken or pork and vegetables for lunch tomorrow.

Grilled meats will usually hold for three days in the refrigerator.

bge

My favorite – the Big Green Egg.

 

Stay cool.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmeadia.com

Family Rooted in Revolutionary War

This year’s Fourth of July celebration has more meaning for me because I’ll be heading to Philadelphia later this month. I will be attending the Democratic National Convention as a guest, and in my free time I’ll be able to visit some meaningful sites, both historically and personally.

Capt. Samuel Morris – several greats ago on my mother’s side – was second lieutenant of the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia (later became the First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary) and crossed the Delaware with Gen. George Washington, where he fought in the battle of Trenton in December 1776. He also fought in the battles of Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown.  A Quaker, he was “read out” (kicked out) for his military service, but continued to practice as Free Quakers, a group of about 200 Quakers who felt that the Revolution was too great to ignore (USHistory.org) and founded their own meeting house in Philadelphia.

This piece of American history has been in our family home for decades, but because it has become more significant to me this year because of the DNC being in Philadelphia this year and because I’ve been doing research on my mother’s family as part of the trip.

Capt. Sam, as he was known, apparently was quite the life of the party, having served as governor of the Schuylkill Fishing Company for much of his life (apparently when not fighting the British) and in the family’s brewing business.

This portrait doesn’t exactly show a cheery man, but here he is:

capt sam morris

Capt. Sam Morris (1734-1812). 

The Morris family, Quakers, came to the United States in the late 1600s after hearing about William Penn’s signed charter to settle lands in Pennsylvania. The family’s property eventually was inherited by  my great-grandmother, Marguerite (aka Nanny). Her husband published a book that contains a copy of Penn’s original charter of the land, which became known as Green Hill Farms. The property was sold in the 1950s after she became a widow. Part is now Philadelphia Friends Academy.

So I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day with this history lesson in mind, while also getting ready to uncover and witness more in Philadelphia later this month.

In between the research, I did manage to find a pie recipe to celebrate the Fourth in style. It’s very simple. The decorations are limited only by your skill with a can of whipped cream (do buy the real stuff, please).

The blueberries are cooked only for a couple of minutes, allowing the fresh flavor of the berry to dominate the flavor of the pie. Combined with a graham cracker crust, it has a nice texture to contrast with the berries.

Enjoy.

fourth pie

Red, White and Blueberry Pie

Crust

11 graham crackers (2 1/2 x 5 inch boards), broken into pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)

Filling

6 to 7 cups blueberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/16 teaspoon ground nutmeg (about 6 to 8 scrapes of a nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Topping

Whipped cream
Berries

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust, in a food processor, pulse graham crackers until the size of pebbles. Add melted butter, sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste (optional). Pulse until combined. Press into the bottom of a tart pan or a 10-inch pie plate.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

To make the filling, place blueberries in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Combine orange juice and corn starch. Add to pan with blueberries, along with sugar, orange zest and salt. Bring to a simmer (just below a boil) and stir until thickened, just a minute or 3. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour into cooled crust.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (If you make this first thing in the morning, it will be perfect by picnic time).

Before serving, decorate with whipped cream and berries.

Adapted from Epicurious.com

 

Happy July Fourth

XOXOXO

Marnie

 

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Strawberry Fields

Sunday morning dawned hot, at least by Great Lakes standards. It was in the mid 80s by 9 a.m. and 90 degrees by the time I got to the strawberry fields on western Erie County. The road to the fields is dusty, so you need to crawl along at less than 10 miles per hour or you will choke on the dust – even with the windows rolled up. My black VW was more khaki in color by the time I pulled off to the picking fields.

Eight-quart basket in hand, the Mason Farms employee directed me to my row and then walked me to the pink flag. You pick between the row and move the flag to your final spot when the basket is full. As I followed him, the field smelled of strawberry jam. Not just sweet smell of strawberries, but of the more intense flavor of jam as the berries simmer on the stovetop.

Filling the basket can take anywhere from 20 minutes to and hour and a half, depending how late in the season it is and how picked over the fields. The fields are irrigated, so the fruit is still abundant. Some years, when the spring is late and the rains are frequent, the berries are big, but lack punch. The smell alone told me these berries were full of sugar, a guess that was confirmed by multiple taste testings along the row.

But unlike my first pick, these berries were very mature. Normally, you want to hear a snap as you pull a ripe berry from the vine with its green cap intact. These separated easily from the vine, coming away almost silently without their little hats. This means that they won’t keep as long, and need to consumed or cooked quickly.

This isn’t hard. The difficult part is finding which recipe to make, especially with the temperatures pushing my tolerance for turning on the oven.

Bread puddings are very simple and don’t require much work, or oven time if you bake it in a muffin tin. My sister-in-law Jenna sent me a link to Ree Drummond’s Lemon Bread Pudding, which was a big hit in her family. She skipped the bourbon whipped cream, and so did I. Instead, I used plain whipped cream and topped it with macerated strawberries – strawberries that have had about 20 minutes to sit in some sugar or other sweetener, such as honey, and create a fresh sauce.

If you make this in a muffin tin, you can freeze the extra bread puddings and serve any time. I split the top off, added whipped cream and strawberries for a riff on a strawberry shortcake. I like brioche for this bread pudding, but you can use any dense bread, such as a loaf of Bill’s Italian Bread.

lemon bread pudding with berries

Lemon Bread Pudding

1 loaf bread, crust removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
Sugar for sprinkling on top of muffins
Whipped cream
Fresh strawberries

Allow bread to stale overnight or toast it. Place in a large bowl once staled or toasted.

lemon bread pudding

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 1  muffin tin (12 large muffins).

Beat eggs and add half-and-half, sugar, lemon juice and zest. Mix to dissolve sugar. You don’t want a pile of sugar sitting at the bottom of this bowl. Pour over bowl with bread. Use your hands or a spatula to make sure all of the bread becomes covered with the milky egg mixture. Give it a couple of stirs.

Pack equal amounts into each muffin cup. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool long enough so that you can handle them. These are best served warm. If you choose to freeze them, defrost and then warm up in the microwave. Be careful not to overheat in the microwave (I like 15 to 25 seconds for one, but it depends on the power of your oven). Cut off the top and serve with whipped cream.

 

Salads are always easy and I love pairing spiced pecans with strawberries and spinch or a mix of greens. You can make your own spiced pecans or walnuts with this recipe:

Skillet Spiced Nuts

½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 1  1/2 teaspoons spicy seasoning mix, such as one with ancho or cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups unsalted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)
2 tablespoons butter

Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Coat with cooking spray. You will use this to cool the nuts.

Mix the sugar, salt and seasonings in a small bowl.

In a large cast iron or nonstick skillet, toast the nuts over medium heat until you begin to smell toasted nut, about 4 minutes. Add the butter and stir to melt and coat the nuts.  Stir in sugar mixture and stir to coat the nuts. Keep stiring until the sugar melts, about 2 to 3 minutes. When it has, remove the nuts to the prepared pan and spread out to cool.

Do not put into a container until totally cool. They should keep for about 3 weeks.

 

 

 

Strawberries Take the Cake

strawberry layer cakeThis cake is so worth it. I’ve been known to indulge in the sport of cake making on occasion, usually to be disappointed in the results. Cakes tend to be a lot of work, what with the sifting, measuring and the like. Generally, I only eat the frosting. Sometimes the cake, too, but because it is glued to the frosting.

So first and foremost – this cake is the bomb. The cake itself is delicious and will probably become my favorite basic cake when I don’t cheat with mixes. Mainly I use mixes because I’m willing to trade the somewhat artificial flavor for ease of making the final cake, as a vehicle for frosting or ice cream. But this basic cake, in all of its mixing, is really, really good. But there’s not shortcuts. When the directions call for mixing for 6 minutes, it’s not kidding around. The recipe is from Saveur.com, via Christina Tosi at New York’s Milk Bar.

There are multiple steps here. You will be making a cake, a cheesecake (crustless), strawberry jam, frosting, lemon curd and something called milk crumbs (from the Milk Bar). This being strawberry season, I already had already made the jam. You just need to tweak it with some vinegar – yes vinegar – which helps downplay the sweetness. I had some extra lemon curd left over from a Barbara Kafka recipe in the NY Times.

I will include her recipe here, plus include with my modification. One major modification I made to the recipe involves the construction. I don’t own 6-inch pans. So I baked the cake in 2 9-inch cake pans and the cheesecake in a 9-inch nonstick cake pan. I will include directions on assembly below.

The cake itself can go into the freezer and come out on a nice warm day around 4 p.m. and be ready in time for serving after dinner.

Vanilla Cake

This will make 2 9-inch round cakes or 1 8×12-inch sheet cake.

Nonstick baking spray
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 14 cups sugar
14 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
12 cup buttermilk
12 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 12 cups cake flour (I used White Lily)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your cake pans by coating with cooking spray and then lining the bottoms with either rounds of parchment or a sheet of parchment – cut to fit the size of the pan. This will help your cake come easily out of the pan later.

You can use a stand mixer or hand electric mixer, but be prepared to beat for a while here.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Crack eggs in a separate bowl, to make sure there are no shells, then add them, one at a time to the creamed sugar and butter, mixing on medium-high speed for another 3 minutes.

Put the buttermilk, oil and vanilla into one measuring cup, then, with the mixer speed on  low,  slowly drizzle in it in. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until the batter doubles in volume and turns white – this will take about 6 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder salt. With the mixer speed on low, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape  batter into the prepared pans (pan) and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 28 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Remove from the pans (pan). Wrap the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
This is the recipe from Saveur.
My take on it would be to use 12 ounces of your favorite jam, homemade or purchased (buy the best you can, making sure strawberries are the first ingredient). In a small bowl, combine jam, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 to 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar.
12 ounces strawberries, hulled
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pectin
34 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry wine vinegar
1 12 teaspoon white wine vinegar
In a blender, puree the strawberries. In a small saucepan, whisk the sugar with pectin and 12 teaspoon of the salt. Put purée into the saucepan along with both vinegars. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil , and then reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook the jam, stirring, until thickened , 10 minutes. Remove the jam from the heat and let cool completely.
Strawberry Frosting
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons pickled strawberry jam
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
In a mixing bowl, beat with electric or stand mixer cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Mix in 5 tablespoons pickled strawberry jam and the lemon juice. The rest of the jam will be used in the cake.
Cheesecake
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Coat a nonstick cake pan with cooking spray.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat cream cheese and egg until light and fluffy. Add salt and sugar and beat for 2 more minutes. Scrape into prepared pan.
Bake for about 20 minutes. The top will not be brown, but the edges will have started to pull away from the edges.
Let cool on a rack.
Lemon Curd
 2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
6 large eggs, room temperature and beaten in a small bowl
In a 2 1/2-quart souffle dish or 8-cup glass measuring cup, place butter, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cover with microwave plastic wrap and cook for about 4 minutes.
Remove from microwave and carefully uncover.
Add about 1/4 cup of the melted mixture to the eggs and whisk together (you are tempering the eggs, so work quickly). Scrape egg mixture into souffle dish and whisk constantly so you don’t get scrambled eggs.
Place back in microwave, uncovered, and cook for about 3 minutes. Whisk again. Cook again, uncovered, for about 2 minutes. Finish in a blender for a very smooth lemon curd. For this cake recipe, I don’t bother with the blender.
Don’t skip this. Some people like to snack on them. I wasn’t keen on the flavor by themselves, but in the cake, it is a great complement.
34 cup instant nonfat dry milk, such as Carnation
14 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
12 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces (chips are OK) white chocolate, melted
Heat  oven to 250. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
In a medium bowl, whisk 12 cup of the dry milk with the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add the melted butter and stir with  until the mixture forms small clusters. Spread the baking sheet and bake until dried and sandy, 20 minutes. Allow to cool.
Return the clusters to a bowl, break apart any that are larger than 12 inch in diameter. Add remaining 14 cup dry milk and toss until evenly coated. Pour the white chocolate over the crumbs and stir until evenly coated. If not using that day, refrigerate for up to 1 week.
To Assemble
Now that you are exhausted … This recipe really is a 2-3 day exercise. I baked the cake, cheesecake, and milk crumbs the night before.
While the cheesecake was still warm, not hot, I crumbled it into a medium size bowl with the lemon curd. Then beat until creamy. Cover and refrigerate.
The next day I mixed the vinegar into the strawberry jam and used 5 tablespoons to make the frosting. I pulled the lemon curd cheesecake out of the fridge to get to room temperature.
Now all you need is 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
1. Cut your cake into 2 6-inch rounds. Find a small bowl with a flat bottom that is 6-inches in diameter. Put the cake scraps into the bowl, pushing down and together so it forms a somewhat cohesive layer. Invert it onto a serving plate. Brush with 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice.
2. Spread with half of the leftover pickled jam and top with 1/3 of the milk crumbs.
3. Take a sheet of parchment paper that is long enough to go around the bottom of the cake. You want to cut it so it will be about 18-inches tall. Wrap the parchment around the cake and secure with tape in several places. This will become a form to keep the layers from falling over. This step is important.
4. Now spoon 1/2 of the lemon curd cheesecake over top and spread to the edges.
5. Top with 1 of the cut cake layers. Brush with remaining lemon juice, remaining jam and 1/3 of the milk crumbs.
6. Dollop and spread remaining lemon curd cheesecake on top. Place remaining cake layer on top. Spread frosting on top. Sprinkle with remaining milk crumbs.
7. Freeze for at least 12 hours.If you are going to freeze for longer, make sure to wrap in plastic and foil to protect the cake from freezer burn.
8. Remove from freezer at least 3 hours before serving. Remove parchment. Revel in its beauty. Slice and serve.
Best eaten outside, with candlelight and stars.
dinner outside
Best,
XOXO
Marnie

Choose Chuck for Better Burger

burgerYou are tantalized by building a better burger. My inbox is filled with promise. But essentially, it centers around four elements: the meat, the cheese, the grill and the bun.

First up — the meat aisle. Most of you will notice that ground meat often isn’t labeled ground chuck or ground sirloin. The packaging indicates the fat content: 80 percent, 90 percent and 95 percent lean being the typical three.

A meat department employee at Wegmans on  West Ridge Road store explained that more than one type of beef can be ground together to create the different percentages, such as sirloin and round in the 90 percent. You can go to the butcher shop and ask to have either chuck (typically 80 percent lean) or sirloin (typically 90 percent lean) ground, but that requires some planning. Personally, I love Urbaniak Brothers and buy ground chuck there. But I live about 25 minutes away, so it’s not always convenient.

If you are in a hurry, buy the 80 percent at the grocery store. That means 20 percent fat, which equals flavor, but also means shrinkage. So keep that in mind when forming your patties.

I’m in love with Wegmans new onion rolls, so those typically go into my cart. Aldi has lovely brioche rolls that are on all the trendy menus. Be sure to toast both, otherwise they can dissolve with the juicy burger.

Then there is the cheese. So many varieties, so little time. Poll your guests or make sure to buy a variety, such as cheddar, Swiss, bleu and one of my favorites, Muenster.

Finally, there is the fire. Go charcoal all the way, baby. For great grilled flavor, it has to be charcoal. If it’s a weeknight or there are more than a dozen people and assorted salads, I would use the gas grill.

To get a 4-ounce cooked burger (quarter-pound), you need 5 ounces of ground beef. For a 5-ounce cooked burger (just shy, actually), you will need 6-ounce patties. This accounts for the shrinkage from the 20 percent fat. To shape them, I like to use the top of a mayo jar. I put an indentation about the size of a quarter into the center each patty to help keep it flat (you’ll notice if you don’t, the middle peaks and the sides slope down) when it is cooked.

Then salt and pepper both sides before cooking.

Place onto the grill. If you need to check doneness by temp, they make these cute little thermometers that indicate rare, medium, well done. Put it in after the first flip otherwise you will burn your fingers trying to pull it out when flipping. My general rule of thumb is to flip after the first 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Cooking time is going to depend on the heat of your grill.

mini thermometers

You can find these on Amazon for about $10.

Finally, let it rest. Give the burger about 5 minutes to finish cooking, collect its juices back an sit for a minute. Use that time to gently toast your rolls.

Serve with sliced tomatoes, lettuce, onion and condiments you like.

If you are feeling up to more of a burger challenge, I suggest a mixture of 1/3 ground chuck, beef short rib and bison. More on that in another posting.

Happy grilling,

Marnie

Getaway Includes Local Flavors

 

For years I promised my best friend in Chicago I would come visit. But parenting, work, etc. always seemed to get in the way. Summer and a career change, cleared the runway for a trip to the Windy City for the weekend to visit Claudette.

The 6 a.m. direct flight from Erie to Chicago makes the trip a breeze – especially since we land before traffic becomes a nightmare. A shared ride on Uber (my first) dropped me at my friend’s door about an hour after landing. I packed lightly, except for a bag of frozen pepperoni balls (no longer frozen). Pepperoni balls, apparently, are a very local food, specific to our shores of Lake Erie. Claudette wanted to share the secret to this treat with her friends in Chicago who had opened a pizza place downtown, Robert’s Pizza Company. It gets rave reviews from both Claudette and the local reviewers – be sure to stop in if you are in town.

My trip was timed, in part, to coincide with the Lincoln Park Farmers Market being open. It’s worth a stroll through even if you are staying at a hotel. You can pick up breakfast, flowers, fruit and ideas (lots of vendors ship). We both wanted to try fava beans, which are in season, but a pain to peel. With two friends and time, neither of us minded the process of first shelling the beans, then boiling in salted water for about 1 minute so you can then remove the outer white layer of the bean to reveal a nutty and buttery bright green bean. It’s a lot of work for not a lot of produce. So we weren’t going to waste these beauties by smashing them up into a puree. Instead, we paired them with fresh arugula, some sweet cherry tomatoes tossed with the juice of half a lemon, a drizzle of fresh local honey and some delicious extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

The market did feature spring peas, already shelled, for $6, which seemed a bargain considering we were going to be shelling the favas. So that went on our dinner menu for that night. We were about a month too early for the spring lamb from one of the local vendors, so we wrapped up our shopping trip with fresh summer butter, zucchini flowers, a breakfast sandwich, ramps, and a brown butter something that was so delicious that I am going to have to find a recipe this week. In the meantime … we headed to Whole Foods to round out the meal.

claudette with crabsSince we were likely to be starving soon – breakfast was less than an hour old – we picked up some soft shell crab for a recipe that Claudette had from the New York Times, which you can find here. It involves broiling the crabs (which thankfully have already been cleaned) until crunchy and then placing on a toasted baguette that has been spread with butter seasoned with jalapeno, parsley, garlic and lemon.

Because it was Father’s Day weekend, there were lots of specials. I grabbed two racks of lamb for dinner that night. The farmer’s market didn’t have any because it will be another month, the vendor explained.

The lamb marinated in the juice of 1/2 a lemon, about 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper and some Lake Shore Drive seasoning. I love to buy spices from my various visits, so I bought some from The Spice House . It is a mixture of  salt, shallots, garlic, onion, chives, ground green peppercorns, and scallions. When I was ready to grill, I cut them into individual chops. They only take a couple of minutes to cook.

The zucchini flowers are easy and should be cooked at the last minute. You can make a simple batter, good for fish too and zucchini sticks too, with 1 bottle of beer, 1 1/4 cup flour and a pinch of salt. Mix together and dip flowers in. Have about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy pan at 350 degrees and fry flowers for 2 to 3 minutes. The basic recipe is from Epicurious.com. For a lighter batter, try a 50/50 ratio of cake and rice flour and 1 beaten egg white. I wasn’t feeling particularly ambitious since we had a lot of food.

lambchops

If I had been smart, I would have snipped a few mint leaves and sprinkled on the plate. This would have completed the dish because it would have been pretty (we eat with our eyes) and it complements the lamb and the peas.

But it had been a long day exploring the zoo, Restoration Hardware, the lily ponds, cooking and catching up. But it will be a meal I will remember sharing with my friend.

claudette

XOXO

Marnie

Berry Happy to See Summer

My favorite strawberry field opened for picking yesterday. I have been watching the little gems gradually take on their crimson hue. They are easy to grow yourself, I have a half-dozen plants, but the wildlife typically gets to them before I do.

Over the years, I have tried to encourage company on my outings to pick strawberries. I’ve dragged my daughter out on two or more occasions, but the heat, the bugs and the stooping aren’t her gig. They aren’t a lot of people’s gig, but I enjoy it. If I can wear jeans, then I’m down on my knees, which isn’t comfortable, but you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The mounds are protected by straw, so you need coverage. If it’s hot, I go for a tennis or running skirt (shorts included) and do the picking squat I learned from watching a lot of immigrant woman in the fields. Genetically, I’ve got the hands and feet for field work (country Irish), but I am several generations removed from the actual labor. Observation needed to be my teacher.

One of the first recipes I make with local berries is a tart with lemon curd. There are many variations on this approach depending on your time commitment and interest. The easiest is to buy a jar of lemon curd and a package of mini tart shells from the grocery store. Dollop some lemon curd into the shell and top with an inverted berry (like a pyramid).

tart shell

I always keep a box of these in my pantry. I prefer to make my own lemon curd (think of the filling in lemon bars) because I like mine on the tart side and I find commercial jars are too sweet. But it is a recipe that can go south on you quickly if you don’t pay attention to the double boiler.

You can top with any berry combination. The trick is to melt about a tablespoon of apricot jam in the microwave and mix it with the berries. That will make them glossy when you put them on top.

I recently tried a microwave lemon curd recipe I found on the New York Times site by “Microwave Gourmet” author Barbara Kafka:

  • ½ pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated or chopped lemon zest (typically 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated or chopped orange zest, optional
  • 6 large eggs
  1. Place butter, sugar, lemon juice and zests in an 8-cup glass measure or a 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap. Cook at 100 percent power in a 650- to 700-watt oven for 4 minutes. Prick plastic to release steam.
  2. Remove from oven and uncover. Whisk together eggs in a small bowl. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the butter mixture into the eggs to warm them. Scrape egg mixture back into measure, whisking constantly. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes.
  3. Leaving dish in oven, whisk until smooth. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes more. Remove from oven and puree in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 

The recipe works, although you do have to see what power your microwave is and adjust. Mine is 1050 watts, but I couldn’t just reduce the time by one-third. The overall time remained almost the same, but it took a fair amount of watching.

I prefer Ina Garten’s recipe, which takes about 5 minutes longer.

3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Remove the zest of 3 lemons, avoid the white pith. You can do this with a vegetable peeler. (I prefer to just zest the lemons). Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
Add the butter to the sugar and lemon mixture and pulse until light and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Pulse until combined.
Pour into a 2-quart saucepan (it may look a curdled at this point, don’t worry). Cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees,  or just below simmer. A suggestion from AllRecipes.com says that this will take about 6 minutes. Look for the first bubble. Remove from the heat. Cool. Refrigerate in a glass jar or bowl, covered.

lemon curd tart with fruit

If you are inclined to make a full-sized tart, I’d recommend a shortbread crust, which is super easy and you don’t have to roll. You just press it in. I like this recipe from AddAPinch.com:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

If you are using unsalted butter, which I typically do, you will need to add about 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together butter, flour, and powdered sugar (and salt if using unsalted butter). Press into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan, a pie plate, tart pan, or other pan for your baking.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Remove from oven. Let cool completely before filling.

 

You can e-mail Marnie at marnie@marniemeadmedia.com.

Teens, Chocolate and Leftovers

School has been out for a week now for my 13-year-old daughter, which means she can now sleep in. This is a tween summer – she’s going to high school in the fall. She’s the youngest in her class, so she’s not old enough to work at a real job, and she’s a little too old for day camp.

She never liked camp, which is why this summer is not a camp-counselor-in-training year. As for babysitting, she has her certification. She just hasn’t met the right family yet. I know how that goes. One summer I babysat for a kid who liked to poop behind curtains and bushes. Her mother was more interested in tennis, golf and ladies who lunch. her father worked all the time. It was dreadful. I still recall chasing the kid from behind the couch to try to get her to the bathroom on time.

Thankfully, I met the Padden family or I would have been put off kids forever.

Now I am a parent, and I’m cutting her a break this summer. I’m home working on a book project, so I don’t have to worry she’ll be home watching television all day if I don’t get her to some sort of activity.

So while she sleeps in, I work. What wakes up, however, is ravenous. And I’m not a “Leave it to Beaver” mom with pancakes at the ready for when she does rise. We have a fridge stocked with yogurt and fruit, but it’s nice to have a little sweet in there in the morning. So faced with some leftover bread, I wanted to make bread pudding. The problem with bread pudding is there are just two of us. Making it in muffin tins was the perfect solution. We can have some now and freeze the rest for later. This would also be an ideal brunch dish, and so much more visually appealing as an individual serving.

bread puddingsChocolate Bread Pudding Cups

7 cups stale bread, torn or cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups chocolate milk (whole, preferably, or 1 cup chocolate milk and 1 cup cream)
6 tablespoons salted butter, melted and somewhat cooled
2/3 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup flour
½ tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ cup chocolate chips, or more to taste

Coat 12-count regular size muffin pan with cooking spray or line with muffin cups. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir milk with bread to coat.

Mix sugar in with melted butter. Beat in eggs until mixture is lighter in color. Stir in vanilla. Add to bowl with milk and bread and stir to combine.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and pumpkin pie spice (if you don’t have it, use 3/4 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg). Stir into bread mixture until well combined. Add chocolate chips.

Equally distribute into muffin tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve warm plain, with whipped cream or a drizzle of caramel sauce.

Adapted from TastyKitchen.com

 

I’m Jammin’ With Scones

scone with jamspThe appearance of rhubarb on the market is just the start of my summer love affair with jams. I’m too lazy to do the hot-bath method, preferring quick jams that immediately satisfy my need to create.

Last summer I discovered the delightful mix of strawberry and rhubarb together, especially if the rhubarb was chopped so that the texture didn’t get in the way of the flavor (my opinion). Still, strawberries had the starring role. The rhubarb was there to balance the overwhelming sweetness. As I experiment more with flavor, I find I like more complexity and the ability to taste the fruit and not so much the sugar.

A bag of half-eaten cherries made me wonder if the same magic could work with rhubarb. Cherries aren’t in season here yet, but they will be in July. But the markets are filled with fresh cherries from California, and, I bought a bag. Alas, they were hidden in the back of the fridge and were pushing their past-prime time.

Serious Eats provided the recipe road map, but the recipe included pectin and had a whole lot of sugar. So I cut the sugar in half, eliminated the pectin and added both fresh and ground ginger to add some heat to the sweet. Because I don’t use pectin, I allow it to simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. The end result is something that is as magical on a scone as it is paired with cheese, particularly creamy cheeses such as brie.

Once I had this delightful jam, I needed something that was equally delish to eat with it. I’ve been experimenting with scones, with some success, but so far this King Arthur Flour Cream Tea Scones has been consistently good.

Rhubarb Cherry Jam

6 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups pitted sweet cherries
1 1/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 small orange
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

In a medium-sized heavy pot, add rhubarb, cherries. sugar and orange and cook over medium to medium-low heat until the sugar melts and the fruit starts to give off juices. Increase the heat (not high) to bring the mixture to a simmer and allow it to thicken, being careful to stir and scrape the bottom so it doesn’t burn. This is why a heavy-bottomed pot is so important for jam. It will take about 15 to 20 minutes. You can test it by taking a spoonful out and drizzling it on a cold plate. If it is very runny, it isn’t done. Remember it will thicken as it cools. Remove from heat and stir in gingers. Once cool, place in clean glass jars (2 to 4, depending on size) and refrigerate.

 

Cream Scones

The key to these scones is the freezing step. The colder the fat, the more steam escapes in baking and the fluffier it becomes. 8 scones.

2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
(or 3 cups unbleached white flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half (cream will be richer)
1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing on top
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top

Line a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment or foil (coat foil with butter or cooking spray to prevent sticking).

Whisk together dry ingredients. When whisk in vanilla paste. Gradually stir in the cream, stirring just until the dough comes together. There should be no flour in the bottom of the bowl. The dough will be slightly sticky, but not terribly.

Pat dough into the cake pan. Use a knife to cut 8 pieces. Start by cutting in half, then cut those pieces in half until you have 8. Freeze for 15 minutes or overnight.

Heat oven to 425 degrees about 20 minutes before baking. Remove scones from freezer at this time.

Turn scones out of the pan (here is where the parchment/foil help). Peel off parchment/foil. Then turn right side up and gently break the scones into the 8 pieces. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (not needed, but it speeds cleanup). Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the scones are brown on top and not sticky in the middle. This may take a little longer if your scones didn’t defrost on top of the stove (mine took about 18 to 20 minutes because I had frozen mine overnight).

Serve warm.

These are best eaten within a couple of hours of baking. So you can choose to only cook the number you want and return the rest to the freezer.

 

Marnie Mead is a freelance writer and blogger with a love of food, travel and adventure. Reach her at marnie@marniemeadmedia.com.