As I write this, it’s 10am and temperatures are already in the mid-80s. I’m sitting outside and there’s a pleasant breeze, but I know I only have about an hour (if I’m lucky) before things become unbearable and I have to take shelter. It’s expected to hit 95° today, and we haven’t yet put our lone window A/C unit in, so I may be spending the remainder of the day in the basement. If things get really bad, I might have to resort to turning into one of those people who write in coffee shops for the day.
These unusual-for-Michigan high temperatures have thrown everything off kilter for produce. Most notably, the fruit trees all blossomed prematurely and the blossoms then got killed off by a frost. For a state with a major fruit-growing industry, things are not looking good: we’ll see little if any apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums or anything else that grows on a tree.
Despite this setback- one that affects me personally as a small business owner trying to use local produce- there are still several fruits that should still thrive this year, like raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries and of course, strawberries. Strawberry season, which usually starts around this time, has already been going strong for a few weeks, and probably won’t be around much longer. As soon as we were able, in late May, my partner Molly and I went to a U-Pick farm on a beautiful spring morning and picked 60 pounds of the most gorgeous berries I’ve seen in years (see below). Last year’s strawberries were somewhat watery due to a lot of rain, but these were deep red with concentrated, complex flavor.
In addition to making jam for our business, we each took a few pints for our own personal use. While not much can beat the simplicity of a bowl of sliced berries with a small sprinkling of sugar and maybe a touch of lemon, my favorite thing to do with them other than that is to make ice cream. I had recently checked out Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home from the library, and as someone who makes lots of ice cream, was intrigued by her no-egg method. Rather than make a custard base, she uses a combination of cornstarch, cream cheese and corn syrup to give the proper consistency and scoopability to her creations. I was a bit skeptical at first- I’m trying to limit consumption of GMO corn products- but decided to go ahead with a couple substitutions, using tapioca for the starch and an organic corn syrup. Incidentally, Jeni’s is a cool regional (Columbus, OH) company who generously sent several pints for us to sample at the first annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic, which is happening again this Saturday! Everyone loved the Bangkok Peanut, Wild Berry Lavender and other creative flavors. Continue reading
After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.
I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later. Continue reading
My start-to-finish process for making a recipe often goes a little something like this…
Day 1 (Friday): Think about what recipes to make over the weekend. Decide to attempt chlodnik, a chilled Polish soup with buttermilk and beets. Look at recipes online. Make a shopping list.
Day 2 (Saturday): Oversleep, miss the farmers’ market. Instead of cooking, go out to eat later with friends who are in town playing a show.
Day 3 (Sunday): Go to the grocery store in the late afternoon; pick up beets, buttermilk, cucumber, dill, scallions, radishes. Get home from the store late and too hungry to “cook”. Make a veggie “taco salad” with romaine, tomatoes, avocado and cut up pieces of a Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger and call it a night.
Day 4 (Monday): Work late, get home starving, make frozen potstickers and salad for dinner. Finish too late to really have time or motivation to be in the kitchen. Try to make some headway on your book club book.
Day 5 (Tuesday): Plan on at least prepping some ingredients tonight, but get an invitation to go to a friend‘s for dinner, and accept. At this point, decide that maybe instead of making the soup for weekday lunches/dinners, you’ll just bring it to a potluck picnic on Saturday.
Day 6 (Wednesday): Go to the gym after work because it’s been, like, over a month. Have another salad for dinner. Actually get around to doing some prep work- peel and cut up the beets and cook them; set aside in the fridge.
Day 7 (Thursday): Fully intend to do the remaining prep after work, but instead get caught up cleaning kitchen for three hours because of discovery of an invasion of tiny bugs that have entered your home via a bag of cat food.
Day 8 (the following Friday- yes, a full week after the plan has been put in motion): Get down to business. Cut up cucumbers, radish, scallions, dill; combine with beets and buttermilk, a little sugar & salt, and some sauerkraut for good measure. Taste. Beam with pleasure that it tastes as good as how you remember it when you used to work at that deli that makes it. Refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors.
Day 9 (Saturday): Serve chlodnik with marble rye on the side to friends in an idyllic setting. Bask in the compliments (hey, it’s no small feat to impress these hardcore gourmands, let alone expose them to something they’ve never tried before!). Decide that this is going to be your go-to chilled summer soup for the next little while.
NB: I am not making any claims of “authenticity” for this version of chlodnik, other than to say it closely resembles the one I used to eat at Russell St. Deli when I worked there. In looking at recipes online, it seems there is a great deal of variation. One of the things I ran across a few times was that this recipe is supposed to be made with baby beets, about the size of radishes, and that you’re supposed to use the whole plant, stems, greens and all. I couldn’t find any baby beets (see above re: sleeping in & missing the farmers’ market!) but I’d like to try it that way in the future just for comparison’s sake. Other variations include the addition of grated raw turnip, chopped pickles, and quartered hard-boiled eggs. My only departure from the Russell St. version was the sauerkraut, but I didn’t add so much as to overwhelm the other flavors.
Chlodnik (Chilled Buttermilk-Beet Soup)
6 cups buttermilk (if you’re in MI, the Calder brand is good)
1 lb beets + 1 cup beet cooking liquid (see recipe)
1 cup seeded & diced cucumber (½ a large English cucumber will yield this)
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes (3-5 radishes depending on size)
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup sauerkraut + ¼ cup sauerkraut juice
optional: ½ cup sour cream
optional: hard-boiled egg quarters for garnish
Many of the recipes I found called for some sour cream, which made for a thicker soup than what I had remembered. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a good quality thick buttermilk, you may not need it. If you’re using sauerkraut, use a salt-fermented sauerkraut (the Bubbies brand is awesome) rather than one in vinegar.
This recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup (about 10 cups). If you want to make a smaller batch, just use 1 quart buttermilk (4 cups), and reduce the quantities of the remaining ingredients by about 1/3. As with many soups, precision is not of the essence.
Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks. Raw beets don’t stain much, so you don’t really need to worry about wearing gloves for this. Place the beets in a small saucepan and add water just to cover. Cover and cook at a very low simmer until tender (do not allow to boil or they will lose their bright color). Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.
If using the sour cream, place it in a large bowl. Whisk in buttermilk a little at a time until the mixture is liquid and no lumps remain. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Refrigerate until well-chilled.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little sprig of dill and a couple hard-boiled egg quarters, if desired. Pumpernickel or rye bread is good on the side.
What to do when faced with two ice cream recipes that sound equally fabulous, and a bout of indecision? Combine them, of course!
I was recently invited to a weeknight dinner party and volunteered to bring ice cream, as I could make it ahead and just grab it after work on my way to the party. I love an excuse to make ice cream, because the flavor possibilities are pretty endless (if you don’t believe me, check out this article in the NY Times… scoop of Government Cheese, anyone?). I found out another guest was bringing a blackberry pie, so that helped narrow it down. I thought of a buttermilk ice cream I’d made last summer from Smitten Kitchen, but I also had in mind a sweet corn ice cream I’d had years ago at Tapawingo* in Ellsworth, MI. The restaurant served the ice cream with a berry cobbler and the combination was perfect. I was torn- which one to make?
I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two flavors (yes, I am being facetious, as I realize this won’t win any awards for all-time most daring ice cream flavor). Both recipes were originally from Claudia Fleming (author of well-loved dessert book The Last Course) and had similar proportions, so it was pretty easy to adapt the two by simply substituting buttermilk for the regular milk called for in the sweet corn recipe. I added half a vanilla bean for good measure, and crossed my fingers. The results were pretty spectacular if I do say so myself. The slightly tart buttermilk was a welcome counterpoint to the corn’s milky sweetness. In fact, I liked the pairing so much that I was thinking of trying to adapt this flavor combination into some sort of chilled summer soup- like a Midwestern chlodnik of sorts.
If you’re not serving this ice cream with a berry cobbler or pie, I highly recommend drizzling it with a berry coulis- the flavors are highly complimentary, and while the ice cream is great on its own, the berries take it to another level. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a coulis (although it’s quite easy), you could of course just scatter some berries alongside.
A couple of ice cream-making notes: Fleming’s recipes call for 9 yolks and 12 yolks, but I cut it down to 8 and it was just fine. You could even go with 6 if you wanted. The buttermilk is richer than the milk it replaces, so your result will still be plenty indulgent. As for making the custard base- there seems to be this great fear, perpetuated by many a cookbook, that custard-making is fraught with danger; that it might betray you at any moment, turning hopelessly into scrambled eggs. For years, I cooked my custards at much-too-low temperatures, sweating over them for eons, waiting in vain for them to magically thicken. Don’t be afraid to heat the mixture until you can see steam coming off it; otherwise you’ll be at it forEVER. As long as you keep up the stirring and don’t let it boil, you’ll be OK. Also, because of the high liquid ratio this particular custard doesn’t get very thick, so don’t worry if it seems wimpy; when it freezes it’ll be just fine.
*In searching for the restaurant’s website for this post, I was saddened to learn that Tapawingo closed its doors last year. Arguably the best restaurant in Michigan, they garnered all kinds of awards, stars and accolades. Like many Michigan businesses, they were forced to close because of the downturn in the economy. They will be sorely missed. In addition to breathtaking meals with a focus on local MI products long before it was trendy, the grounds and gardens of the restaurant were gorgeous. I can only hope someone decides to take up the reins and re-open something in that location, although they’d have big shoes to fill food-wise.
Buttermilk-Sweet Corn Ice Cream (adapted from two recipes by Claudia Fleming)
Note: As Ms. Fleming wisely points out, this recipe will only be as good as the sweet corn you use to make it. For optimal results, use local corn that has been picked no more than 2 days prior.
Directions: Remove the husks and cornsilk from the corn and break each cob into thirds. Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife, reserving the cobs. Put the kernels in a blender with the cream and buttermilk and pulse into a rough purée.
Pour the cream mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the corncob pieces, vanilla bean, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat. Let steep for one hour.
Remove the corncobs and discard. Fish out the vanilla bean and set aside. Strain the mixture through a medium or fine mesh strainer, pressing down firmly to expel as much of the liquid as possible; discard the solids*. Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, adding them to the cream mixture (if using vanilla extract, add it now).
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Whisk in a little of the hot cream to temper the yolks, then add them to the saucepan. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 4 hours). Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 1 quart.
*I couldn’t help but think that rather than tossing it, this deliciously sweetened corn pap would be great in some sort of muffin or quick bread, but alas, I didn’t have a chance to experiment. And speaking of not wasting, you can rinse off the vanilla bean, let it dry, and blitz it with sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Mixed Berry Coulis
1 1/2 cups raspberries, washed
1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic vinegar, optional
Notes: You can, of course, substitute other types of berries; you may just need to slightly tweak the sugar quantity. This recipe does not produce an overly sweet sauce; if you want a sweeter result you can up the sugar to 1/3 cup.
Place the blueberries and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (The residual water from washing the berries should be sufficient, but if not, you can add a small amount of water.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down; you can encourage this process by mashing them with a fork.
When the blueberries have turned sauce-like, add the raspberries and cook for a couple minutes longer (these will break down very quickly). Taste the sauce and adjust if needed by adding a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lemon or small dash of balsamic. Strain the sauce through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids (you may need to do this in 2 batches). You should end up with about 2 cups sauce and 1/2 cup solids to be discarded. Use as a sauce for ice cream, panna cotta or other desserts.