Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Apple for the Teacher

It was my swan song, but it could have been my Waterloo.

Pencil shaped cookies bearing the names of every student in my daughter’s pre-school class. Her graduation and show took place Monday night and I worked off and on through the weekend to make them. For good measure, I also added sparkling red apples with fondant leaves and diplomas tied in shoelace licorice to the mix.

They wowed the crowd. Plus, each of the kids over the school year had learned to recognize or read his or her name. So after their little show, the kids made a squealing scramble to claim their cookies. The large tray display looked like that for inside of two minutes once the kids got to it. It was great to see them so excitedly claim each name. Then the parents picked it clean.

I didn’t have a pencil-shaped cookie cutter, and looked high & low for one to no avail, but I could not let go of this named-pencil idea. So I used a clear ruler from my sewing and pattern making supplies and a pizza cutter to make 6” x 1” rectangles. (See Below) A sharp knife shaped the tips.

All remaining elements, recipes, tips and techniques used can be found in a past entry, Queen of Royal Icing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pork and Prune Sausage

A few weeks ago, I posted my musings on making Merguez after reading a sausage article in the Dining In section of The New York Times. Well, I didn’t stop at Merguez. I made the Pork and Prune sausage that night as well and further stocked the freezer.

The ingredients reminded me of a fruit-stuffed pork loin I make with garlic, thyme and Madeira – which is the treatment I adapted when preparing them a few nights ago, as written below. For now, here is the recipe from The Times:

Garlicky Pork Sausage with Red Wine, Prunes & Rosemary
From Melissa Clark

¼ C. diced prunes
2 T red wine *
1 lb ground pork
2 garlic cloves, minced (I microplaned)
1 T finely chopped shallot *
1 ½ t. kosher salt
1 t. ground pepper
1 t. minced fresh rosemary
Finely grated lemon zest

In a large bowl, mash together the prunes and wine. Add remaining ingredients and combine well. Put into casings or shape into patties, or as desired. Chill, freeze, or use immediately.

* I added extra fruit to the mix, and substituted Port for the red wine, macerating the prunes for a considerable length of time. They really plumped up. I also had good, sweet shallots on hand, so very finely minced them and added more. Be generous w/the rosemary, too.

One-pan dish
My husband often works nights, so bringing a dinner is usually requested – it’s more economical and he says it’s better than most options for ordering in, such as greasy Chinese or “gut-buster” (his words) Mexican. So, one night, at a loss for leftovers and far too late to cook a full soup-to-nuts dinner, I reached into the freezer for the pork & prune sausage, taking an extra one to sample myself. They thawed very quickly, and I sautéed them in a pan with some garlic, fresh thyme sprigs, peach wedges and a pair of Yukon Gold potatoes, halved, removing each element as it was cooked through. I then deglazed the pan with some port (as I’d used in the sausage), added fresh thyme and drizzled the sauce over the meal. A few generous grinds of cracked black pepper and it’s just how Mike would like it.

Saved yet again by a well-stocked freezer (!)

Even with the peaches, the flavors were decidedly autumnal, so I’ll likely be saving the sausages for then. At that time, I plan to cook them on the grill along with seasoned apple halves and potatoes – or with peaches again, if the fruit is still good. Caramelized grilled peaches sprinkled with thyme are a true treat. And hopefully, the potatoes will be fresh-dug from the garden!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Army of Mice

Am I becoming kitschy in my old age?

Perhaps I’ve just been having more fun with my food lately. First, it was the fish mold. Last weekend, it was an army of mice: chocolate covered strawberries with two beady eyes, jelly bean ears and licorice whip tails. My daughter and I had a heckuva fun time putting the display together as a surprise treat for her nursery school class.

It was just a fun thing to do for Sunday Baking, and I’m still not quite sure how we came up with the idea. But apparently the “theme” conveniently coalesced with the recent curriculum: Ancient Egypt.

While we were dipping and decorating, my daughter mentioned, “Did you know that cats drove all the mice out of ancient Egypt?” She then continued to inform me that cats were revered and celebrated throughout the ages through art, hieroglyphics and bejeweled statues. She is four.

I love that school.

So we put a cat figurine in the middle of the tray for effect when we finished, then laughed and licked all of the bowls and utensils clean.

Tip: I like to pulverize the chocolate either in the food processor or with a mallet to speed (and ease) smooth melting in the scant amount of hot cream used.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

June is Bustin’ Out All Over

Bustin’? Well, that remains to be seen. But at least it’s off to a good start. Sprouts are sprouting, plants are planted and vines are twining. But my level impatience this year seems higher than ever, if that’s even possible. Here we go, from bed to bed, front to back:

The patch of corn with sunflowers rising in the background is off to a good start. I staggered the planting this year in hopes that the harvest will be spread out over a few weeks.

Red carrots and Swiss Chard varieties are clipping along in the small bed that lies astride the garage. Christmas lima beans and Kentucky Wonder green pole beans are planted to climb the trellises we built last year. It’s hard to believe this small bed used to be my sole planting area.

Lettuces are growing pots, as is my thyme plant. I moved my radicchio to one of the pots from a ground bed due to rabbits. The thyme will be planted on the rim of the main beds, along with a division of my oregano, when I both remember to do it and find time. An impossible combination.

Squash bed (1st/smallest): Winter squashes in alphabetical order from front to back, Buttercup, Butternut and Delicata. The last, large double-mound contains pattypan squash. Three climbing Zucchetta Trombolina plants are near the rhubarb in a corner of the yard.

Middle bed: Lemon cucumbers and Kirby cukes are ready to climb the staked twine. The kirbies also have flowers.

Tomatoes: Area is packed full, but plants are small. Why? I have no idea. The soil was pre-warmed, which made them shoot up and produce early and prolifically last year. But considering the size of the plants, I think I could have just skipped the mess, series of incidents and ensuing drama of starting them indoors and instead, direct-sowed the seeds with the same plant size resulting. Such is life. It’s only the first week of June. There’s time. I like to think each little tomato plant is developing a huge set of roots underground, where I can’t see. I attempted to plant them in backwards-alphabetical order starting with “Y”, but that lasted for only 1-½ rows. When I planted the Black Cherry tomatoes (or Black Russian?) before the Sungold Cherries, I wasn’t about to take them up and start over. I figured I’d just remember which was which. [What was I thinking?] I know where the heirloom yellows and two San Marzanos are. The rest will tastily surprise.

The largest bed starts with watermelon radishes and four cauliflowers. Believe it or not, the three little ones have white cauliflowers growing inside – at a competitive size with that of the large-leaved plant. Behind those, you’ll find the beets. No, I don’t see them either. I have a confession to make: I’m an inveterate bad-waterer. Notice the soaker hoses I bought and put down just this weekend. Thought it was about time. A top dressing of composted leaf humus will be the finishing touch.

Yellow bell peppers, one purple pepper and Rosa Bianca eggplants doing all right. Common basil and lettuce leaf basil in the center of that bed. You’ll also see four celery plants, which I purchased for $2 at the farmer’s market. They don’t count toward the running total, or to the harvest tally. It would be impossible to calculate, since I pick the celery constantly and the stalks regenerate themselves during the summer. It’s a terrific thing to grow for that purpose, since I only need a stalk or two for a grain salad or other dish, hardly ever an entire bunch. Also, hot chili peppers – a pair of plants I found at that bastion of green, the Home Depot. I found a pot that had two tall, strong plants, so I couldn’t resist. My dad (and father-in-law for that matter) can’t wait for them.

Pole beans are also planted in alphabetical order from front to back: Emerite filet, Kwintus and purple-podded. I love garden beans. They’re easy and dependable. Just have your four-year-old poke her finger into the soil, drop the seeds in, and soon enough they’re all vining and twining their way up the poles. The three tee-pees will be just gorgeous once the plants fully cover them and start to flower.

Celery Root surviving. And …

Potatoes! Two russets and a fingerling plant. I can’t believe it! Those spuds I thudded into the ground came up! The plants are strong and actually quite attractive. I had chalked them all up for lost, since our black and white cat, Senor Wences, found the loose and deeply dug soil irresistible for digging and rolling. They truly appeared out of nowhere. The russets surprise me the most, since they were supermarket potatoes from a 5-lb bag, and were probably sprayed with an anti-sprouting agent. Two of two came up. The fingerlings came from potatoes purchased at Whole Foods, labeled organic, and I assume not sprayed with anything. Only one of three came up. Either way, the plants appear to be growing fast, and they are sturdy. I’ve never grown potatoes before and I’m excited to watch them.

Whew! That got long. Maybe June is bustin’ out all over.