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Old friends and new

blue jam

Blackberry-blueberry jam, an attempt to get the blackberry flavor with fewer seeds.

I MARKED THE 8TH ANNIVERSARY OF THIS BLOG, by picking a tub of wild blackberries and making a blackberry cobbler. The first post that I wrote here, in 2009, was about the culmination of eight blackberry cobblers (!) that I made that summer. Well, I only made one this summer, but I can report that the recipe still holds up well and is suitable for any kind of berry. Cobbler and Blueberry Boy Bait are old friends during berry season, recipes I can count on–so familiar I can almost make them by instinct.

blueberryboybait

Speaking of instinct, my dear friend Martha and I read a post touching on this subject in one of our favorite food blogs, Juls’ Kitchen, written by Giulia, a cook and writer in Tuscany (We read it in the Italian version first, as we’re studying the language and she writes so well.) She wrote about making a cake by instinct — and it made me think about the dishes that I make instinctively, or almost so.

basil,tomatoes

Since it’s summer, and I’m enjoying my small crop of cherry tomatoes and basil, grown in pots, one of the simplest and best pasta dishes came to mind — an easy one to make by instinct. I cut the tomatoes in half, add some garlic and a dash of salt, and cook them down a bit to release their juices. Then I add a little of the cooking water from the pasta, toss in a good dose of chopped basil, stir the cooked, drained pasta into the skillet, and sprinkle with grated Parmeggiano or Pecorino Romano. Done. The best old friend of the late summer menu: I can never have too much of it.

summersalad

Leftover wild salmon, leftover rice, chopped cucumber and cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, chopped green onion, cilantro and a dressing of lime juice with a little oil and salt.

Summer, with its bounty of vegetables, is also such a great time to compose salads. I don’t know if there is an art to this, but I think there is something of an instinct, developed over time, of putting foods together so they marry well. Contrasts of color, flavor and texture work well in a composed salad. Leftovers and seasonal specials are equally welcome. It’s not that my instinct is always so great–some salads I’ve made did not marry well — in fact, probably needed to divorce! But usually, my instincts are not too bad and the ingredients get along pretty well — even complementing each other.

Especially in the lazy days of summer, I tend to forget what I can put together for a simple meal, and I need inspiration from something I’ve seen or read, which I can then adapt to what I have.  The salad above that was like that — I was just reading about a lime-juice salad dressing, and then put this together from leftovers and farmers’ market produce.

Then, as I was sorting through photos for this post, I looked at the photo of this salad and realized I could make it again for today’s lunch, even though I was missing the rice and had more cucumber. Avocado would be nice in this salad too, or black beans, or red pepper.  You could make it vegan without the salmon. You could use parsley instead of cilantro if you are one of the 4-to-14 percent of the population that thinks cilantro tastes like soap. You could add some sesame seeds or nuts on top .  . .

There are as many salad variations as there are mathematical combinations of vegetables with grains, beans, protein, what have you. Here’s a post with some of my late-summer favorites from seasons past: https://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/salads-salads-salads/.

Have fun, eat well and stay cool,
Toby

blackberry foccacia slice

Hmmmm, shall I make a blackberry focaccia as I did this time last year? https://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/blackberry-supper/

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Summer breakfast

summergranolaONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS about summer is my everyday breakfast. It’s simple: plain yogurt, topped with fresh fruit and granola. But each day I enjoy it with seasonal fruit– raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, plums or pears — and I consider it a treat!

Some years ago I wrote here about a granola made with very little oil and some applesauce, to reduce the granola’s usual high calorie count. Well, I have to say, that granola was good, but it was just a little too spartan! (for granola, that is. Muesli, which doesn’t have oil, would be a good alternative if you’re seriously watching weight — and it’s also good with yogurt and fruit.)

These days I just make a more classic granola, using a mixture of oil, maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon to coat the oats, and add a healthy dose of nuts and seeds. It’s not the richest granola you will ever taste (I know someone who makes granola with butter rather than oil, for example) but it’s pretty darned good.

Oh– and is it caloric? Yup, I’m sure it is, but if you just use it as a topping, you can justify that little luxury, can’t you?

This recipe will just about fill a quart jar of granola. Or put some in a zip-lock bag and take it with you on a road trip, on the plane or camping. Make a double batch and share with friends. You can easily adjust the nuts, seeds, spices and dried fruit to your taste (for example, I don’t use almonds as Steve is allergic to them; but hazelnuts or walnuts are great alternatives).

With this recipe and some fresh fruit, it just may be summer all year long!

Summer Morning Granola

  • 2 1/2 cups oats (preferably organic)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon (more or less to your taste) cinnamon,  or other spice (cardamom, ginger, etc.) or mixture
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts
  •  2 to 4 Tablespoons seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame)
  • 1/4 cup oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • optional: dried fruit such as raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees

  2. Combine the oats, salt and spice(s) in a large bowl.

  3. Stir in nuts and seeds to distribute.

  4. In a small pan (or microwave bowl) combine oil and maple syrup and gently heat to warm. Add water and vanilla; whisk together and pour over the oat mixture.

  5. Spread out the mixture evenly on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes or until a toasty golden brown. (It’s a good idea to check the mixture after 25 minutes.)

  6. Let cool in the pan atop a rack, then add raisins or other dried fruit if desired. Store in a quart glass jar or other container.

 

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Pie plant season

Just in case you’re lucky enough to have some rhubarb around!

prettyhalfpierrhubarb

After reading my own post below, well, I just had to make my annual rhubarb pie! It’s really a half-pie, or anyway a top-crust only pie, with a little border too.

toby's kitchen notes

rosyrhubarb Thank you, Maggie, for the rhubarb!

It’s the season to celebrate rhubarb once again — and what better way than pie? After all, its nickname is pie plant, and every spring I seem to write about rhubarb pie — so why break the tradition? This time I decided to just take some photos along the way and show you how I spent my Sunday afternoon, along with some simple instructions if you’d like to make a delicious late-spring pie.

chopped rhubarb Chop the rhubarb — you’ll need 4 cups or a little more for a small 8-inch pie — and make enough pie dough for a double crust, pat into two circles and refrigerate for an hour.  Then go for a walk while the dough is chilling.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for pie making.

rpie2 To the chopped rhubarb, add a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, some orange or lemon…

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In love with stecca

steccaMY FRIEND NANCY knew that I often baked bread using Jim Lahey’s no-knead approach, using the Dutch oven to make a crusty round or oval loaf.  She’d tried a lot of Lahey’s recipes, and one favorite was the stecca (“stick” in Italian), a small and thin baguette-like loaf that incorporates olive oil as well as the usual flour-water-salt and yeast combo and is baked on a baking sheet rather than a Dutch oven.  Nancy’s partner, Duane, is Steve’s brother, and he would gladly eat stecca every day. After Steve and I tried it at their home in California, we fell in love with it too, so Nancy copied the recipe for me.

When I got home, I made it once or twice. It was a little messy — as Nancy had warned me, the tea towel was permanently marred by impossible-to-remove oil stains–but very, very good. Still, maybe because it was a bread that should be eaten in a day or two rather than a loaf to last for days (sometimes almost a week), I forgot about it and didn’t make it again for a year or two.

That all changed recently. I came across the recipe and thought I’d try it again. It was so easy — as long as I started it the night before we wanted to eat it — and made a wonderful accompaniment to soup or salad. It was delectable on its own with a bit of butter or some cheese. I made it again and again, playing around with variations, substituting a bit of whole wheat flour, sometimes adding seeds to the top.

Now I’m making it often, but only half a recipe at a time. Not that we couldn’t eat four stecca loaves in two days (it would be very easy to eat a stecca loaf by oneself in one sitting, especially if it’s still warm from the oven) — but it’s probably better if we don’t.

Isn’t it amazing what just 1/4 of a teaspoon (or 1/8 in the half recipe) will do, given a bit of time? Maybe there’s a moral there: Give it time.

sesame stecca

STECCA

I tweaked Jim Lahey’s recipe just a little. This is the recipe for four little sticks of bread.

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast (instant or regular)
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt; (sesame or other seeds optional)
  • cornmeal and additional flour for dusting
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together both flours, table salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water, and using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until it comes together as a wet, sticky dough. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature until it is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled, 12 to 18 hours (a few more won’t hurt).
  2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. (If it is too sticky, you may need to first add a little more flour, but it should still be quite a moist dough).
  3. Place a tea towel on the work surface and generously dust it with cornmeal. Place the dough on the towel, seam side down, and brush the top with some of the olive oil. Sprinkle top with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and a light dusting of cornmeal. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled, and when you gently poke it with your finger it holds the impression.
  4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise (approximately) preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. with a rack in the center. Lahey says to oil your 13-by-18 baking pan, but sometimes I don’t oil, and it’s been fine.
  5. Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece more or less evenly (mine is always a little uneven, but it’s part of the charm) approximately the length of the pan. Brush with olive oil (you may not need the entire 1/4 cup) and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Sprinkle with sesame, poppy or other seeds if you like.
  6. Bake for 14 to 20 minutes (I find it’s done at 14 or 15 minutes), until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes, then transfer the stecca to a rack to cool (or not, if you must have some now).

NOTE: The crust of the stecca is thinner than a baguette, and the combination of the oil and salt may make it soggy in just a few hours. You can reheat the loaves in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until the crust crisp but watch carefully — the stecca is so thin that it may turn into a cracker very quickly!

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Rolling with the seasons

rollingpin

YES, IT’S OFFICIALLY AUTUMN, and the change of the seasons and cooler days call me back to baking once again (not that I’ve ever left it entirely).

In the late summer/ early fall, I made some Zwetchgenkuchen with the beautiful Italian plums, but now that the plums are all gone from the trees, and I’ve said farewell to summer, my fruit dreams turn to apples and pears.

zwetch2016

Next week, when I visit my daughter in Arkansas, we plan to make an apple pie together, so I was recalling a post I wrote here back in 2007 that spoke of my “one-per-season pie calendar” and featured the marvelous Pie Queen Reeb Willms with her recipe for apple pie. You can read it here.

apple-pie-blog

Another must-bake for me in the autumn is the round challah with raisins. Along with apples and honey, it signifies the sweet and spirit-nourishing tradition of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year.

roundchallahblogMy round challahs are never quite symmetrical, but then, it really doesn’t matter!

It seems timely to put a link to yet another blog post from years ago, titled “A circle, a braid, a meditation on challah”

In fact, circles seem to be a theme here — appropriately, as in the autumn, we are so aware of the circle of seasons.

bowlofapplesblog

So, even if you don’t do any baking this season, do enjoy a wonderful crisp, juicy, sweet (or sweet-tart) apple — and roll with the season!

p.s. Need a good challah recipe? A reader writes in: “I know everyone has her/his favorite challah recipe, but my late wife Ruth׳s was truly spectacular.  See her web site ruths-kitchen.com”

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Blackberry supper

BLACKBERRY SEASON is making me a little nostalgic. Blog-nostalgic, that is (though I still think blog is a particularly ugly word), as I wrote my first post on Toby’s Kitchen Notes nearly seven years ago, toward the end of berry season, with my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler No. 8.

It seems hard to believe I’d made eight versions of blackberry cobbler in 2009, but I did, along with some other must-have fruit desserts. This year, as I write, it’s just the beginning of blackberry season, and the other day I had a couple freshly picked pints on hand. I really wanted to bake something with them — but not a dessert. Aha — it remembered Nigel Slater’s marvelous recipe: Blackberry focaccia.

blackberry foccacia slice

Blackberry focaccia has only a hint of sweetness, from sugar sprinkled atop the dough.

Half the recipe would be plenty, I figured, as there were only two of us eating it, and it doesn’t keep well for leftovers. (I wrote of this before, so the recipe is here.)

blackberryfoccin progress

The yeast dough is easy, but does need gentle handling, especially when you fold in half the berries after the first rising. The rest of the berries are strewn on top; then, it rises again and you drizzle olive oil and sprinkle demerara or sparkling sugar on top.

blackberry foccacia

Once out of the oven and cooled just a bit, you can sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you like.

We had a choice: ruin our appetites by devouring the focaccia immediately or wait a few minutes, make a green salad, and call it supper.

saladandslice BF

We chose the latter — and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Calling it supper gave it a certain sense of legitimacy, if not outright virtue.  (More nutritious than pancakes with syrup for supper, anyway.) And yes, it was delicious. I plan to repeat this combo!

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Breads of summer

wholewhbreadIF YOU’RE SWELTERING IN THE SUMMER HEAT,  you probably won’t relate, but here in the Northwest, we still have plenty of cool-ish, windy days and rain. I think it’s perfect weather for bread baking, which is an activity I thoroughly enjoy. And isn’t summer made for pleasurable activities?

Sunset1

Cloud watching is another of my favorite pastimes these days. Any time of the year.

Lately, inspired by my son Zak’s incredible breads, I’ve been experimenting with a hybrid (hy-bread?) method of bread making, combining the Jim Lahey no-knead method, with, yes, a little bit of kneading and shaping  using sourdough starter (1/3 cup approximately for one loaf) along with a tiny bit (1/4 teaspoon or less) of yeast. I’ve also been increasing the proportion of whole wheat/ whole grains, with varying success. This loaf I baked yesterday, about 50 percent whole wheat, rated a photo and is being enjoyed in sandwiches today and toast tomorrow.

Breadwwheat

Actually, as I write this, it isn’t quite officially summer yet. Maybe soon my cooking plans will turn to potato salads or berry jams. But it’s very likely that there will also be more good bread-baking days ahead here in the Northwest corner. . .

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Matzo Caffee a la Dad

ON  PASSOVER, WHEN WE’RE FORBIDDEN to eat any of the five grains–wheat, oats spelt, rye, barley — except in the form of matzo,  naturally a number of specific recipes involving matzo developed. I’ve been thinking about all the food traditions I grew up with on this holiday, realizing that I make an effort to keep some of them, fail to keep others and toss some away without regret.

For example, I do make kneidlach (matzo balls) for a chicken or vegetarian soup and matzo brei for a special breakfast, but I don’t make a roasted turkey with my mother’s wonderful matzo-mushroom stuffing. I fail to make an authentic fermented beet borscht as my Baba (my mother’s mother) did — but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mother making this either. Perhaps she made it before I was of an age to remember, and gave it up.  She let Manischewitz handle the borscht-making and served the ruby-colored soup hot or cold, pouring it into bowls in which we’d crumbled matzo pieces and topping it with a dollop of sour cream, great for a Passover lunch.

And despite my fond memories of making sponge cake with my mother for the Seder dinner — besides the matzo meal, nine eggs were required, with silky-beaten yolks and whipped egg whites in the batter, and a frosting of egg whites and honey — I prefer my own custom of making flourless chocolate walnut torte.

One of my favorite Passover matzo traditions  is one that my father introduced,  a simple European treat that he would make nearly every day of the eight-day holiday, starting on the first morning: Matzo Coffee. We knew by its German name, Matzo Kaffee. Or, in a more personal rendition, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

Matzah Kaffee 1

Passover in Chicago, April 2000. Dad was 89 then.

Dad would break most of a sheet of matzo into his coffee cup, crunching it into small pieces, then adding sugar and milk to the cup.

Matzah Kaffee 2

Finally, he poured hot coffee into the cup, right to the brim.

The result was softened, sweetened matzo floating about in some milky coffee. We made a similar children’s version, Matzo Cocoa, which was simply broken-up matzo pieces covered with hot chocolate. Both Matzo Kaffee and Matzo Cocoa are hybrids of food-and-beverage: you take sips of the coffee or cocoa and spoon out the softened bits of flavored matzo. Mmmmm.

I admit, it’s not for everyone. It has very little nutritional value, and doesn’t hold a candle to a good coffee and buttered toast or a croissant. Most people who didn’t grow up with it look upon it with disdain, as if you had torn up a piece of toast into little pieces and tossed them into a cup of cappuccino.

It’s certainly not an essential food for Passover, but rather a minor tradition, probably born of the monotony of eating dry, unsalted matzo day after day. Whatever others thought, we  loved it and had it (or the cocoa version) often, either for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. Still today, for me the taste and messy consumption of Matzo Caffee ala Dad  carries so many pleasurable associations.

My father — in a play on the word Seder, which means order — insisted there was a also a certain order to be observed when making Matzo Kaffee. On the last Passover of his life, when he was 93, he wrote the instructions for each of us four children in his inimitable handwriting.

Matzah Kaffee order

I love the “WOW!! What a TREAT!!” which captures my Dad’s vitality and almost childlike enthusiasm, while the instruction “Do NOT change order to do it o.k.”  reminds me of the authoritarian side of his character.

Twelve years after he wrote it, this little card is one of my most treasured documents from my father. And, yes, of course, I’m still enjoying that special Passover treat, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

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A pie for imperfectionists

Piemaking

Despite that recipe you’ve found for “the perfect pie,” it will probably be imperfect — and that’s just the way it should be!

“PIE SHOULDN’T BE PERFECT,” declared an article on making fruit pie that I’d saved from a Bon Appetit magazine.

Aviva and I could  not have agreed more. While we learned a few things from the article (the butter in the crust should be in unevenly sized pieces) wondered over some pieces of advice (a pie should bake for an hour and a half at 350 degrees?) and  rejected others (really, the crust does not need that much butter!), the philosophy expressed in that simple line is what really struck home.

Aviva making pie

Aviva visits the Toby Kitchen for a pie-making session!

 

WE ARE NOT perfectionists, we realized  — and glad of it.

Being an imperfectionist (my new word) means you are content with “good enough,” and not devastated by minor failures in the kitchen or other areas of life.

The Bon Appetit article detailed a finished pie’s characteristics: “The filling will spill out, bits of crust will collapse, and it’s only natural for the fruit to shrink as it bakes, leaving a little gap beneath the top crust.”

And these “imperfections” not only don’t matter, but actually add to the pleasure of  making and eating pie.

“That’s the trouble with cake,” Aviva noted (she has a strong preference for pie over cake). “It’s too perfect.”

RhubarbbirthdayPie

The still-warm pie was too juicy to serve it on the fancy plates I’d set out, so we served it in mismatched bowls, with ice cream melting on top. My twisted-lattice crust had become rather skewed and messy, but that didn’t bother us.

 

Just as the article had predicted, my pie had not yet set properly when we served it to friends a couple hours after taking it from the oven (the article advised waiting at least four hours, and added that pie was even better the day after it was baked. But warm-from-the-oven pie is sooooo good!)

We carved out some fairly sloppy slices and ladled them into mismatched bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. We used spoons instead of forks.

No one complained. It was a perfectly delicious imperfect pie and we were all happy.

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Here’s the updated recipe. And for you fellow rhubarb-lovers, here’s some history and more on the wonderful pie plant.

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A day to celebrate

St Pats lemon tart

I decorated a lemon tart with lime and lime zest for St. Patrick’s Day. That was last year.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY IS A BIG HOLIDAY IN MY FAMILY — and not because we’re Irish or even big beer drinkers.

It’s because my father, Eric Sonneman, a refugee from Nazi Germany, arrived in this country on March 17, 1939. He was 28 years old.

When his ship arrived in New York on St. Patrick’s Day, the passengers were greeted by a band playing Irish music at the pier. My father knew nothing about St. Patrick’s Day, but his uncle, a recent immigrant himself who had met my father’s ship, insisted on going to Fifth Avenue to see the fabulous parade.

“I thought this is a wonderful country, to welcome the immigrants with a band and a parade!” my father always said. (A more complete story is here.)

Now I always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a day to remember my dad’s wonderful introduction to America.

greenriver

In Chicago, where I grew up, they dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day

The traditional food for the day, of course, is corned beef and cabbage, but that has never appealed to me. Something-or-other green (and a little Guinness stout) is enough for me. Last year I was fancy with the decorated lemon tart, but this year I’m lazier, and I’m just making my bright-green parsley soup (the recipe is here, though I now use my hand-blender) and some oatmeal-currant scones. It’s my own little St. Pat’s tradition. Anything green will do, though — even a green salad!

The important thing is the toast.  I’ll be toasting my dad and the country that welcomed him.

ST PATS card

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