Archive for March, 2009

Maple-Oatmeal Bread

Monday, March 30th, 2009

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I have one final entry for Massachusetts Maple Month. This is one of my favorite breads in the world—slightly sweet and filling. I always make a mess when I knead bread. How flour ends up on my face, I really don’t know! Luckily, the end product is worth the clean-up work. 
 

 

Ingredients:

 

1 cup old-fashioned oats (do not use quick or steel cut)

2 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon butter

1 packet (about 2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast (not instant)

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons salt

5-1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (more or less)

 

Instructions:

 

Place the oats in a large mixing bowl. Pour the boiling water over them, add the butter, and let the oatmeal stand for about 15 minutes, until it is lukewarm. After the first 10 minutes, place the yeast in a small bowl. Cover it with the lukewarm water. Allow it to bubble up for a few minutes.

 

When the oatmeal is lukewarm, stir in the maple syrup, the salt, the yeast with its water, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir vigorously; then add 2 cups more flour. Stir again vigorously for a minute or two; get as close to beating as you can with a mixture this heavy. Scoop up the dough (add a bit of flour if it won’t hold together to scoop), and place it on a kneading surface—a floured board or a silicone mat.

 

Knead the dough for 2 minutes, adding a little more flour to keep it from sticking to the surface and your hands. After those first 2 minutes, let the dough rest for up to 10 minutes; then resume kneading, adding more flour as needed. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough feels smooth.

 

Place the dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a warm, damp dish towel. Let the dough rise until it doubles in bulk; this should take about 2 hours, depending on how warm the room is. If your towel dries out during the rising, be sure to dampen it again.

 

Remove the covering from the bowl, and punch down on the dough once with your fist. This lets out a lot of the air. (It’s also fun.) Cut the dough in half, and shape each half into a ball. Butter 2 bread pans, and shape each ball into an oval about the same size as your pans. Smooth the balls as well as you can with your hands.

 

Place the bread loaves in the buttered pans, and turn them over so that both the tops and the bottoms have touched the butter. Cover the pans with a damp towel as you did the rising bowl, and allow the loaves to rise again until they double in bulk. This should take a little less time than the first rising, perhaps an hour or so.

 

After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the loaves have finished rising, uncover them, and bake them for about 40 to 45 minutes, until they are a warm brown color and sound hollow when you tap on them. Remove the hot loaves from the pans, and let them cool on racks.

 

Makes 2 loaves.

 

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Stump Sprouts Maple Rhubarb Coleslaw

Friday, March 27th, 2009
Lloyd measures maple syrup for his coleslaw.

Lloyd measures maple syrup for his coleslaw.

My neighbor Scott Purinton is currently boiling sap night and day. Scott informed me recently that much of his Grade B maple syrup is purchased by Lloyd and Suzanne Crawford for their Stump Sprouts lodge. High on a hill in Hawley, the Crawfords house and feed cross-country skiers, small conferences, family reunions, and other groups.

Lloyd and Suzanne are committed to sustainability. They have enough sunlight to generate their own solar electricity. Of course, they serve their guests home-grown and local foods as much as possible. 

 

I asked Lloyd whether he would share one of his maple recipes. He came up with this clever, sweet-and-sour way to use two of my favorite ingredients, maple syrup and rhubarb. I can’t make it myself for a couple of months since unlike Lloyd and Suzanne I wasn’t smart enough to freeze small batches of rhubarb puree last spring! I can hardly wait to make a big batch in May.

 

Note from Tinky much later: I FINALLY got around to making this recipe when rhubarb season rolled along. It has a light refreshing feeling with a little Oriental tang, thanks to the sesame oil………..

Gifts from a guest who is also a potter, these bowls adorn the kitchen at Stump Sprouts.

Gifts from a frequent guest who is also a potter, these bowls adorn the kitchen at Stump Sprouts.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1-1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup stewed, unsweetened rhubarb

3 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup

salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

1 finely shredded cabbage

toasted sunflower seeds to taste

 

Instructions:

   

In a jar, combine the olive oil, vinegar, sesame oil, rhubarb, maple syrup, and salt and pepper. Cover and shake well. Toss this dressing together with the cabbage 20 minutes to 2 hours before serving. Garnish with the sunflower seeds. 

 

This recipe may be cut in half or even in quarters. The coleslaw will be edible for a day or two before it gets too wet.

 

Serves 12 to 15.

 

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Betsy’s Breakfast Bread Pudding

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

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Most people use maple syrup as a condiment rather than an ingredient. Here is a recipe for something on which you pour the syrup.

 

Betsy Kovacs babysat for me when I was little—and I in turn babysat for her children as a teenager. The pattern would probably have continued forever if I had had kids when I was in my twenties. As it is, we are still friends, and I appreciate her adorable children (and now grandchildren!) as much as ever. Disconcertingly, Betsy looks almost EXACTLY the way she did when she was babysitting for me (maybe even a little younger and cuter).

 

Betsy calls this dish French toast. I have rechristened it breakfast bread pudding because (a) it is one, sort of, and (b) I see pudding everywhere. (Yankee magazine did, after all, dub me the Queen of Pudding!)

 

Betsy’s rich concoction has a couple of advantages over conventional French toast. First, it is ready to eat all at once so you avoid the awkwardness of batches. Second, the prep work can be done the evening before you bake the pudding so it’s a handy thing to serve brunch guests.

Betsy usually makes a big batch of this for entertaining. She uses a whole loaf of bread (usually challah) and fills two large quiche pans. I was cooking for two so I made a tiny batch. This involved 2 to 3 slices of bread, 1 to 2 eggs, and slightly less than 1 cup of liquid. I had no challah so I used a dense homemade white bread.

 

I have left quantities vague as she did so that you can make as much or as little as you like. Betsy tells me that her version is usually a little browner and crispier than mine (I was a bit paranoid about burning the thing!) so feel free to leave it in the oven a little longer.

 

Betsy and her Jack

Betsy and her Jack

Ingredients:

 

a “tight” bread like challah, at least a couple of days old

unsalted butter as needed

eggs (4 to 6 for a whole loaf, depending on how eggy you like things: I say go eggy!)

enough milk or cream or a mixture to cover the bread (I used a mixture, with more milk than cream)

cinnamon to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon for my small dish)

sugar (2 tablespoons for a whole loaf of bread; I used 1/2 tablespoon)

freshly grated nutmeg to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon for my small dish)

 

Instructions:

 

Butter your baking dish or dishes. Slice the bread. Butter it on one side, and place it butter side down in the baking dish. Break up the bread as needed so that the bottom of the dish is covered.

 

Butter the side of the bread that is now facing up. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and/or cream, cinnamon, and sugar. Pour this combination over the bread. Add a little more milk and/or cream as needed to make sure the custard goes just under (or just to) the top of the bread. Do not go over the bread as this will make the pudding erupt in the oven.

 

Grate the nutmeg over the top of the pudding. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least an hour and up to overnight. The bread should absorb all (or almost all) of the custard.

 

When you are almost ready to bake the pudding, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes or more until the top of the pudding turns golden brown. The custard will puff up but deflate after it hits the table. Serve with lots of maple syrup. A large batch (2 pans) serves 8 to 10. My tiny batch served 2 to 3.

 

Betsy says that leftover pudding may be wrapped in plastic wrap after cooling, then frozen and reheated in the oven at a future date (sans plastic wrap, of course).

Maple Musings (and Maple-Glazed Carrots!)

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

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Pardon me if I wax slightly sappy in this post. I’m talking about maple syrup so a little sap doesn’t seem inappropriate.

I like to think of cooking as a folk science. The science part is indisputable. Most cooking tasks—whisking, boiling, baking—are simply applied chemistry. We read books to help us figure out just the right formulas to create using our culinary versions of test tubes. Sometimes we experience a scientific breakthrough and discover a new formula in the kitchen.

Nevertheless, many of our most beloved formulas for cooking have been handed down to us, like a family story or a favorite lullaby. Perhaps the best analogy is a folk song.

My neighbor, composer Alice Parker, uses this analogy a lot. She points out that we don’t know who wrote a song like “Wayfaring Stranger.” In fact, the very definition of a folk song is that the composer and lyricist are anonymous. A song like this belongs to all of us, and we re-compose it every time we sing it.

(A choir director for whom I once sang that very song at a Lenten service thought I re-composed it a little too much, in fact, but I stuck to my guns and my version of the melody.)

Folk songs cannot be copyrighted, although arrangements of them can. Similarly, it is impossible to copyright a list of ingredients, but one can copyright the words one uses in the directions for a recipe. We don’t value folk songs or recipes any the less because they are not “original.”

In fact, we often value them more because they have sprung up in different places and been modified as they go from singer to singer, cook to cook. We certainly value not having to come up with something completely new every time we get out the guitar or the saucepan.

Musical tradition and culinary tradition are miracles we celebrate everyday.

At this time of year I’m particularly grateful for the tradition of boiling down the sap of sugar maples. Just as it’s hopeless to pinpoint the very first person who ever opened his or her mouth and sang “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger” (or “I am a poor wayfaring stranger” or any other version of this lyric) it’s impossible to figure out who first made maple syrup.

We assume it was a Native American since the original residents of New England were sweetening their food with maple long before Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine how the first maple syrup came to be made. Did someone accidentally poke a hole in a tree that was near a cooking pot and then notice that the resultant food tasted extra sweet? We’ll never know.

I do know that my neighbors who have sugarhouses do what they do in large part because it is part of the history of their families and of this region.

I’m lucky to live in a place where a folk food tradition like maple still exists–where people are willing to do the hard work necessary to nurture the trees, maintain the sap lines, and boil (and boil and boil and boil) the sap. And I treasure the liquid amber they produce.

Here is another recipe that celebrates that tradition and the diversity of dishes one can make with New England’s folky, sappy mud-season staple.

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Maple Glazed Carrots

I love stretching the uses of maple syrup beyond breakfast and dessert. These carrots get a lot of sweetness out of just a little syrup. (And they’re easy!) Feel free to use whole cut-up carrots instead of baby ones if you like.

If you want to add to the feast of flavors, add a little minced fresh ginger to the maple mixture—or toss some fresh dill on top of the carrots when you serve them. I think the dish is pretty terrific as is.

Ingredients:

28 baby carrots
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons sweet butter

Instructions:

Bring the baby carrots to a boil in a pot of lightly salted water. Boil them until they are ALMOST done. (This won’t take very long.) Put 2 tablespoons of the water in which they boiled in a small sauté pan. Drain the carrots, discarding the remaining water, and rinse them in cold water to stop them from cooking any longer.

To the 2 tablespoons water add the maple syrup and butter. Heat this mixture until the butter melts. Add the carrots and toss them in the liquid. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, covered but tossing frequently, until the liquid almost evaporates (about 5 to 10 minutes). Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Sugaring Off at South Face Farm

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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March is Massachusetts Maple Month according to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. This organization of professional and amateur maple farmers is headed by Tom McCrumm of Ashfield. I figured I couldn’t visit a more appropriate farm than his to kick off my maple recipes this month so I headed recently to South Face Farm.

 

The sugarhouse at South Face Farm looks exactly as a sugarshack should. It sits on a quiet road, not far from Route 116 in Ashfield. Its low ceiling provides eaters with a sense of intimacy, and its décor is old fashioned. Old food tins and antique cooking implements line the walls. Large windows (many of them sporting a jug of amber syrup) look out on the farm Tom and his wife Judy Haupt steward.

 

The sugarhouse restaurant is open only about 12 days a year, on weekends during maple season. Nevertheless, Tom told me, those 12 days are vital to his sugaring enterprise. “The only way you can make a living in this business is to have a roadside sugarhouse and sell,” he told me, characterizing what he does as “agriculture as entertainment.”

 

“You’ve got to cut out the middle man. You’ve got to produce a good-quality product and sell it directly to the customer.”

 

Tom invited me into the kitchen to watch Skylar Abbatiello of Ashfield make one of the sugarhouse’s signature foods, corn fritters. Skylar is a lanky, genial high-school student who is in his fourth year at the sugarhouse but his first year of cooking. He sounded proud of having worked his way up through the ranks at South Face Farm. Tom told me that this pattern is common among the restaurant’s staff members, who are both local and loyal.

 

The kitchen definitely had a family atmosphere. Skylar was confidently and carefully supervised by the sugarhouse’s head cook (and kitchen designer), Bonnie, an Ashfield resident who preferred not to supply her last name. Bonnie explained that she and Tom McCrumm had developed the sugarhouse recipes to emphasize scratch cooking and local ingredients. The blueberries, eggs, milk, and ice cream served at the restaurant are all local—not to mention the maple syrup!

 

I asked Tom McCrumm about the ice storm in December, which damaged a lot of New England sugar maples. He informed me that his losses were moderately bad. “I lost ten to 15 percent of my taps,” he noted. “I put in a lot of time and labor for cleanup and replacing pipeline. It was a big expense.”

 

Nevertheless, he added, he perseveres. “I did what farmers have done for centuries. You put your head down and plow ahead and hope that next year is going to be better.”

 

Skylar with his Fritters

Skylar with his Fritters

South Face Farm Corn Fritters
 

Ingredients:

 

1 cup flour

3/4 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

3/4 cup corn—fresh, canned, or frozen (if using frozen, thaw and drain; if canned, just drain)

oil as needed for frying

lots of South Face Farm maple syrup

 

Instructions:

 

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the milk and egg. Stir in the corn; then stir in the dry ingredients. The batter will be stiff.

 

Preheat the oil in a deep-fat fryer (or preheat a frying pan with at least a couple of inches of oil) to 350 degrees. Using a small scoop or a spoon, gently place quarter-cup blobs of batter in the oil. Do not overfill your pan; if it is too full the oil will cool off. Do not make larger fritters, or they will not cook through and will be doughy in the center.

 

Cook the fritters in the oil for 6 minutes, gently shaking them from time to time. Carefull remove and drain them. Drizzle maple syrup over the fritters. Makes about 10 fritters.

 

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