Here’s to Apple Frankie

January 29th, 2016 § 5 comments § permalink

When I started Kitchen Kat in 2007, I wasn’t thinking about social media followers, book contracts or sundry other motivators that drive bloggers today. My intention was, and remains, to share favorite food stories, photographs and recipes. Frequently the posts have been inspired by travel. Equally often they have originated from conversations and experiences with my old neighbor and friend Frank P. Wilmer Jr. a/k/a Apple Frankie.

As is the case with many of our encounters, my earliest memory of Frank involves food. In my early 20s, newly married and new to Southeastern Pennsylvania, I was surprised when a cherubic faced, stout man with a shock of white hair on his head and a plastic grocery bag in his hand showed up on our doorstep one spring evening. Introducing himself as our next-door neighbor, Frank handed over the bag and prompted me to open it. Peeking inside, I saw a jumble of long, beige, honeycombed mushrooms. Wild morels, Frank explained, plucked from the woods behind his farmhouse.

A product of the suburbs, I had never picked a mushroom anywhere outside of a sterile grocery store. Up to that moment, my most radical mushroom meal had consisted of a benign looking Portobello. Faced with peculiar, moist, bug- and dirt-dotted fungi, I decided that I would thank the friendly man for his unusual welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift and, once he left, toss the bag into the trash. Instead of discarding his present, I ended up learning how to clean and cook one of nature’s delicacies.

Rhubarb fresh from Frank and Jane’s yard

My education didn’t end with morels. A few weeks later Frank and his wife Jane stopped over with a bag stuffed with what looked like red celery. It turned out not to be an obscure celery variety but rhubarb pulled from their yard. In spite, or because, of my ignorance Frank followed up with containers wild berries and invitations to pick organic cherries, elderflowers, elderberries, apples and persimmons on the Wilmer’s 30-acre, gentleman’s farm.

While I liked these gifts, what I appreciated most were the lessons that accompanied them. Curious about how to grow grapes, make wine, cider or sushi, dry fruit or chili peppers, gut and fillet fish, craft the Buddha out of marzipan, control the local groundhog population, market a business (one word: signage) or pepper conversations with quotes from Dickinson, Frost or Shakespeare? Thanks to Frank, I possess the know-how to do all these things. Granted, I don’t quote poetry or keep the wildlife community in check but, if I wanted to, I probably could.

Fishing with Frank

Along with hands-on knowledge he imparted life lessons on how to be a good neighbor, an adventurous traveler and informed citizen. He also showed what it meant to be a friend. After my mother, uncle, father, childhood friend, cats and dog died in rapid succession, Frank was the first to call and ask point blank if I was, and was going to be, okay. Clever as well as kind, he was also the first to tease me about being a writer and a food writer at that. “Don’t hold back. Tell me what you really think of rhubarb.”

Frank’s background was as diverse as his insights. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Temple University, worked in military intelligence in Saigon during the Vietnam War and backpacked around the globe with Jane and, later, their children Emma and Cody. He opened a winery—Wilmont Winery—long before operating a boutique winery was in vogue. For roughly 30 years he also ran Apple Frankie’s, a prosperous funnel cake business that he had created in 1973. He was, as we liked to call him, the funnel cake king.

Sean, Pepe and Frank on a buggy, summer morning at the farm

When he wasn’t working at fairs and festivals, wintering with Jane in the Florida Keys, sharing updates on Emma and Cody, golfing, fishing, volunteering, visiting friends or hanging out with his much loved dogs, he buzzed around on his Kubota tractor and golf cart in shorts, a threadbare Temple ball cap and faded T-shirt. With Frank there was no artifice or pretentiousness. He was who he was. He embraced life and, in his own words, ‘had found his bliss.’

A larger-than-life man was bound to become a subject of my writing. First profiled for one of my graduate journalism school assignments, Frank went on to appear in syndicated articles written for Tribune Media Services, features for the Journal Register and Zester Daily, Kitchen Kat posts, my seafood cookbook Fish Market and several Kitchen Kat Youtube videos. When Herring: A Global History comes out, he will appear there, too.

Frank (and my right hand) at the launch of Fish Market

Sadly, unlike at the May 2013 launch of Fish Market where he sat only a few feet from me, smiling as I nattered on about writing and fish, Frank will no longer be my literal right hand man. On January 15, 2016 he passed away unexpectedly. He was 72.

Among the countless things that I will miss about Frank Wilmer are the early morning calls concerning grammar, word usage and his love of ellipsis, photo exchanges of fish caught, food made and vistas seen and emails with a single consonant as the subject line. (Why waste all that time on a subject line? Make people curious. Make them want to open that email.) I will miss the cooking projects, impromptu field trips, colorful stories and comfortable conversations. Most of all, I simply will miss Frank.

With Jane and Frank Wilmer

Honeyed Fruit and Whole Wheat Couscous

January 14th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Over the years I’ve prattled on about my fascination with couscous, my unwise decision to drag a couscousiere across North Africa and my ongoing dabbling with these granules of semolina. Light yet hearty, savory yet sweet and toothsome whether hot, room temperature or chilled, couscous’s almost incongruous nature is what keeps me hooked. I’d like to see spaghetti pair as smoothly with such disparate ingredients as cinnamon, cumin, cilantro, dill, cucumbers, dried cherries, balsamic vinegar or almond milk. Yeah, it’s a versatile food.

Before the holidays I started tinkering with an old favorite, Sweet & Nutty Couscous, transforming it into the following dish. To some, the name “Honeyed Fruit and Whole Wheat Couscous” might sound redundant. After all, couscous comes from durum wheat so all couscous could be considered wheat couscous. However, this recipe works best when you use the mildly nutty whole wheat, pearl couscous. If you have a couscousiere collecting dust on your kitchen shelf, by all means wipe it off and put it to work. Otherwise, instant or quick cooking whole wheat couscous is perfect.

Serves 6 to 8

2 cups cooked pearl/Israeli whole wheat couscous
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
3/4 cup chopped dried dates
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

In a large bowl toss together the cooked couscous, walnuts, cranberries, apricots and dates. In a separate bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt, thyme and pepper. Pour the dressing over the couscous and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Note that this can be made one to two days in advance. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

The Dessert Table: Cranberry Torte

December 29th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Partially picked over dessert table

Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, I assumed that all wedding receptions featured those decadent displays known as cookie tables. Weighted down by platters of cream-filled lady locks, lemon bars, nut horns, Mexican wedding cookies, spritz cookies and anise-laced pizzelles, these linen-covered tables attracted guests in droves. Introduced as a low-cost alternative to an expensive wedding cake, the cookie table eventually became a companion to cake. Custom dictated that family members make the cookies but, if you didn’t have gifted bakers at home, you could do as my mother did and enlist the help of a local bakery and family friends.

Gathering around the Christmas Eve dessert table

At parties it was the dessert table around which people clustered. Here the cookies were less ostentatious — think chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter blossoms, pecan sandies and butterscotch — but just as plentiful. So too were the brownies, fruit and custard pies, marshmallow-studded ambrosia and heavenly angel food cakes. What didn’t make it to the dessert table? For obvious reasons I never saw ice cream, make-your-own-sundae bars or chocolate fondue pots. Generally, anything that didn’t melt or cause a traffic jam around the table was good to serve.

2015 Christmas Eve offerings: Pumpkin igloo Bundt cake, four-layer chocolate cake, cookie tier, cranberry torte

Although I now live far from my childhood home, I still honor these delicious traditions with my own dessert table. The offerings change with each year and party theme but the dessert rule remains the same: Bake two or three cakes. Make a pie, tort or tart. Ask friends to bring a sweet or two. Put it all on the kitchen table and dig in!

Putting the decorative top on my cranberry torte

This year I replaced my standard Christmastime treat, cranberry bakewell tart, with a cranberry torte. Similar to the raspberry jam-filled Linzer torte, a cranberry torte contains ground nuts, jam and a cut-out top crust. If you’re handy with a rolling pin and knife, fashion latticework out of the torte dough. If not, you can use cookie cutters or a pastry stamp to make a pattern on the top of your cranberry torte. If your torte ends up looking a bit mundane or goofy, dust confectioner’s sugar over the top before setting it out. Confectioner’s sugar not only tastes divine but also hides scores of imperfections. I speak with authority on that!

Serves 10 to 12

for the filling:
4 cups fresh, whole cranberries
4 cups granulated sugar
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
1 cup cranberry juice

for the crust:
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioner’s sugar, optional, for dusting

To make the cranberry filling, place the cranberries, sugar, orange juice and zest and cranberry juice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high, stirring the ingredients together as they cook. Reduce the heat to medium-low and, using a spatula or spoon, mash and stir the berries. Simmer the ingredients until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the cranberry jam to cool to room temperature. Note that the filling can be made a week in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

To make the crust, put the nuts and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until a flour has formed.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Add the nut flour and whisk until combined. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1 cup sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Scrape down the bowl, add half the nut-flour mixture and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides again, add the remaining nut-flour mixture and beat until combined.

Divide the dough into two balls, with one ball slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until chilled.

When you’re ready to bake the torte, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour a clean work surface and a rolling pin. Take the larger of the two dough balls and, placing it on the floured work surface, roll out the dough until it is between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick. Lay the dough over the tart pan and pat it down so that the dough is evenly spread out in the pan.

Spreading the cranberry jam

Using a spatula or frosting spreader, fill the dough with the cranberry jam. You should use most, if not all, of the jam.

Roll out the other dough ball until it’s between 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Using either a sharp knife, cookie cutter or dough stamp, cut out strips or shapes and arrange them on the top of the cranberry jam.

Bake until the crust is golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove it from the oven and allow the torte to cool for 20 minutes before removing it from the pan. Allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before dusting with optional confectioner’s sugar and serving.

Books for Cooks – 2015’s Cookbook Reviews

December 3rd, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

Out of the 3,000 or so cookbooks published in the U.S. and the much smaller number that I’ve encountered since last Christmas I have felt apathetic about most, appalled by a few (‘Seriously? Did you not test a single recipe in this book? Apparently not.’) and excited by the following titles. A few are older publications. Several possess 75 recipes or less. Yet, all would be lovely gifts for new or seasoned cooks.

Citrus: Sweet and Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes by Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
In Citrus exotic pomelos, yuzu and kumquats join everyday lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit in 75 recipes for drinks, entrees, sides and dessert. Here familiar dishes—key lime pie, limoncello, whole roasted fish with lemon—appear alongside the inventive—grapefruit and gin marmalade, tangerine sticky ribs, orange-rosemary polenta cake—resulting in a broad, approachable, citrus-driven collection. With colorful photos and text Citrus is a pleasant pick-me-up for those dreary winter months.

Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done by the Editors of America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, 2015)
From the creators of Cook’s Illustrated” comes over 1,000 kitchen tips and tricks packed into one illustrated, paperback book. Not sure how to remove kernels from a corn cob, pin bones from a fish or the seed from stone fruit? How about turning over a whole turkey as it’s cooking or cleaning a French press? Kitchen Hacks has clear yet creative answers to these and innumerable other cooking conundrums. It’s a must-have handbook for both the novice and experienced cook.

Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
If you have a caffeine lover on your holiday list, Fika is the gift to give. This slim, illustrated book delves into Swedish coffee culture and the art of the coffee break. Although more a narrative history than a traditional recipe book, Fika does provide 40-plus easy-to-follow recipes. On offer are such Swedish favorites as hazelnut meringue torte, chocolate balls and cinnamon and cardamom buns. A nice stocking stuffer for the coffee drinker and sweets fan.

The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker & Jen Stevenson (Artisan, 2015)
While the title evokes warmer weather, lazier days and seasonal, portable foods, this illustrated cookbook has plenty of year-round recipes. From deviled eggs made 12 ways and 6 simple syrups to what to tuck inside a crisp baguette or lettuce cup, it serves up approximately 120 refreshing recipes. As you might expect from a book called The Picnic, tips for transporting food, creating a comfortable outdoor dining spot and food safety are included.

The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, 1992)
The recent release of Lydia Bastianich’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine got me thinking about an older but invaluable book that might be overlooked by the modern cook. Originally published in 1973, Hazan’s tome is considered the most authoritative book on Italian cooking. Providing comprehensive instructions, illustrations and a wealth of information on ingredients and techniques, it is to Italian cooking what Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to French cuisine. Hazan’s book is wonderful gift for anyone who loves to cook and consume Italian food.

The World on a Plate by Mina Holland (Penguin, 2015)
Published in the UK as The Edible Atlas, which is the version that I own, and as The World on a Plate in the U.S., Holland’s book presents brief histories, descriptions and classic dishes of 40 cuisines. Broken down by countries and regions, The World on a Plate explores the nuances between France’s Normandy, Provence and Loire Valley and Northern and Southern Spain and the country’s Andalucia and Catalonia regions. It also looks at the overarching cuisine of such countries as Japan, Ethiopia, Germany and Korea. Signature recipes accompany each chapter. A good introduction to a range of cuisines and a solid reference book for travelers and cooks.

Relae: A Book of Ideas by Christian F. Puglisi (Ten Speed Press, 2014)
In Relae: A Book of Ideas former NOMA sous chef Christian F. Puglisi shares his story of starting the Michelin-starred, Copenhagen-based restaurant Relae, discusses crafting its sustainable, locally sourced dishes and determining ingredient pairings. Possessing lush color photos, cross referenced sections and detailed steps for such unconventional recipes as charred cucumber and fermented juice, this is a fabulous book for accomplished or adventurous cooks. Fans of narrative cookbooks and those interested in the rising popularity of Scandinavian cooking will likewise enjoy it.

Honey and Jam by Hannah Queen (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2015)
An excellent choice for the baker and sweets lover, Honey and Jam serves up 75 cakes and cupcakes influenced by America’s Appalachian region. While the first 50 or so pages rehash baking basics—how to butter cake pans, fold ingredients, check for doneness, etc.—and what’s-in-season-when, the rest of Queen’s cookbook delivers an agreeable array of creative and toothsome recipes arranged according to season. Some high points are Apple Cider Doughnut Cake, Cranberry Ginger Cheesecake and Strawberry Layer Cake with Strawberry-Basil Buttercream. A tasty little book for any baker and cook.

Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield (Harper Wave, 2015)
A produce-focused rather than strict vegetarian cookbook, Satterfield’s beautiful Root to Leaf inspires readers to cook and eat all their veggies and fruit, roots, stems and leaves included. The Atlanta-based chef arranges his 175 recipes according to season. Imbued with Southern flavors and charm, they include such memorable yet almost effortless dishes as cold brine-pickled blackberries, sweet potato buckwheat pancakes, orange and brandy mashed parsnips and blood orange ambrosia rice pudding. Well-written and informed, Root to Leaf will motivate even the most finicky to cook and consume a wide variety of healthful produce.

The River Cottage Booze Handbook by John Wright (Ten Speed Press, 2013)
Part of the River Cottage series, The River Cottage Booze Handbook teaches readers how to craft their own liquor, including wine, beer, cider and infused spirits. Using simple, seasonal ingredients, Wright takes readers step-by-step through such classics as rice wine and India pale ale and such modern creations as ginger wine, puffed wheat beer and smoked sloe gin. Wright’s light, approachable tone, wealth of knowledge, detailed steps and thorough explanations of what could go wrong will appeal to ardent home brewers as well as the more casual DIY’er.

Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, or Cidery (Entrepreneur Media, 2015)
For the record you’ll find my name listed among the contributors to this how-to manual. Featuring 30 over craft producer profiles, it’s a useful resource for anyone dreaming of starting a craft brewery, distillery or cidery.

Crabbing for Blue Crabs

November 13th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

Too small to keep, this little blue crab went back into the water.

The first time I went crabbing, I remember feeling underwhelmed. Where was the excitement, the blood rush, the fight-to-the-death with my quarry? Not where I was, that was for sure. I just tied a piece of raw chicken to the end of a nylon string, dropped it into the water, wiggled it a bit to attract attention and waited for a hungry crab to wander by and take hold. Sometimes the crab would sneak off with the chicken, leaving me to re-bait my string and wait. Sometimes he ended up in my plastic bucket. That was as lively as it got.

Trap filled with blue crabs in Sunset Beach, NC

Years later I would come to think of line crabbing as far more thrilling than another method of capture, the crab trap. On a recent trip to North Carolina I experienced trapping in action. After baiting his traps with fish scraps, our friend Frank tossed the red, wire containers off his dock and left them to bob about in the water overnight. He didn’t add bait or jiggle lines. With traps there was only the wait. Although even less exhilarating, it proved far more productive than the old, a-single-crab-at-a-time line technique. One trap nabbed dozens of blue crabs.

If you end up with several dozen live crabs on your hands, you might want to do what Frank and his wife Jane did and throw a crab boil. Granted, unless you’re in a warm climate, you may not get a chance to do this until next spring or summer. Nonetheless …

Serves 4 to 6

4 gallons water
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup onion powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
Juice of 2 lemons
4 dozen live blue crabs, placed on ice in the refrigerator until ready to cook

Pour the water, spices and lemon juice into a large stockpot and bring the ingredients to a boil. Allow the liquid to boil for 10 minutes before adding the crabs to the pot. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the crabs from the pot, spread them onto a platter or a table lined with paper and dig in.

To eat whole, fresh crabs, twist off the claws and set them aside. Using a paring or crab knife or your fingers, pull off the triangle-shaped apron, gills, and intestines on the bottom of the crab. Throw these away. Holding the top shell at the front, pull it off and discard. With your hands tear the crab in half and then twist off the legs. Crab broken down, you’re ready to start eating.

Take the tip of a paring or crab knife and pick the meat off of the body. Do the same with the legs and claws. To reach the claw meat, you may need to strike the claws with a mallet. This will crack open the shell and expose a solid strip of meat. If the legs are small, you can just squeeze or suck the meat from them.

A Fall Favorite, Persimmon Bread

October 19th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Trio of American persimmons

In recent years I have begun to think of fall not as the season of pumpkins but as the time of another gorgeous, orange globe, the persimmon. Thanks to my friends Frank and Jane, who have acres of prolific fruit trees, I have easy access to this rare and often overlooked autumn treat.

Early Americans could pluck small, squat American persimmons straight from their branches. As luck would have it, I can, too. Today, though, most people consume one of two larger, Japanese varieties, the tomato-shaped Fuyu or the oblong Hachiya. Both possess a mild, honeyed, pumpkin flavor and can stand in for pumpkin in breads, pies, tarts, puddings and other desserts.

American persimmons almost ready to drop from their branches.

When picking persimmons, I look for unblemished, reddish-orange fruit that’s so plump it looks as though it will burst through its skin. This is will be a ripe, flavorful persimmon. Hard, yellow-to-pale orange fruit I leave on the tree limb or in the produce bin. These unripe persimmons possess an unpleasant, astringent taste that can only be remedied by freezing them. Hence the oft-heard warning not to pick persimmons until after the first frost.

If you do end up with unripe persimmons, just pop them into your freezer overnight. The next morning place them on your kitchen counter and allow them to thaw completely before eating or cooking with them.

Persimmon bread dotted with persimmons, dates and golden raisins

One of my favorite ways to use persimmons is in the following recipe for, aptly enough, persimmon bread. Sweet, aromatic and with a hint of spices, this bread is so delicious that I literally ate an entire loaf — minus one slice — on my own. Try it and you’ll see how utterly irresistible persimmon bread can be.

Depending on the size aof persimmons that you find, you will need to scoop out the flesh of as few as 2-3 or as many as 6-8 persimmons to get the 1 cup persimmon needed to make the purée.

Makes 1 9-inch loaf

For the puréed persimmon:
1 cup cleaned and deseeded persimmon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey

For the bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup pureed persimmon
1 cup diced dates
3/4 golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Place the persimmon flesh, vanilla extract and honey into the bowl of a blender and purée until smooth. Spoon out 3/4 cup puréed persimmon and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar until well combined.

In a small bowl mix together the egg, melted butter and milk.

Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquids into the center. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the dry and wet ingredients together. Add the puréed persimmon, dates and raisins and stir until well combined.

Spread the batter in the greased pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool 5 minutes before removing the bread from the pan and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Croatian Octopus Salad

September 23rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I like octopus. It’s a smart, wily mollusk and it can accomplish things, including opening jars and taking apart clam and coconut shells, that I sometimes struggle to do. Because I admire its intelligence and respect that it has been mismanaged as a food source, I generally avoid eating this extraordinary creature. However . . .

A few weeks ago I was traveling around Croatia where octopus was a mainstay of restaurant menus. Although I hadn’t expected to encounter it so frequently, its prevalence shouldn’t have surprised me; seven species of this cephalopod exist in the Adriatic Sea alone. With a variety of octopus swimming off the Dalmatia Coast and seafood playing such a prominent role in Croatian cuisine, its popularity now seems obvious.

In Croatia octopus features in such dishes as hobotnica ispod peke, or octopus beneath a lid, and hobotnica sala, octopus salad. The latter is what I tried at a picturesque waterfront restaurant in beautiful Dubrovnik. While usually served as an appetizer, this salad is filling enough to be eaten as a main course.

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds octopus, preferably sourced from Portugal or Spain and caught by trap or pot
1 pound potatoes
2 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, drained and rinsed
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Ground black pepper, to taste
Bibb lettuce, for serving

Fill a medium stockpot with water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Add the octopus and allow it to cook for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender when probed with a fork.

While the octopus is cooking, bring a small stockpot filled with water to a boil. Add the potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until fork tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes. Allow them to cool slightly before peeling and cutting them into small cubes.

Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and capers. Set aside.

Drain the octopus. Rinse it in cold water and dry it with a clean cloth. Octopus dried, slice it into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large bowl toss together the cubed potatoes, octopus and sliced onion. Pour the dressing over top and toss again to combine. Taste and add salt and ground black pepper to taste. Serve atop a bed of Bibb lettuce.

Fruits of the Forest Tartlets

August 17th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Fruits of the forest tartlet with pitcher of sauce

It’s time, once again, to talk about elderberries. Back in season and growing with a vengeance on an old friend’s farm, they present me with the annual challenge of what to do with quarts and quarts of bold, earthy fruit.

Loads of elderberries to be picked

Last year I featured these tiny, bluish-black berries in a colorful sweet that I’d dubbed “Elderberries and Cream.” Consisting of stewed elderberries layered between white bands of homemade, vanilla-laced whipped cream, this uncomplicated dish was perfect for elderberry fans. Unfortunately, those preferring a milder last course were better off just skipping dessert for Elderberries and Cream was a heady, strong-flavored confection.

Berries of the forest—blackberries, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries

This year I’ve opted for a treat that will satisfy a variety of tastes. Rather than only showcase elderberries, I’ve gone for all of summer’s fabulous foraged fruit—or at least all that I can pick at my friends’ farm—and made a dessert with the “fruits of the forest.” Years ago a family friend introduced me to fruits of the forest pie at the Tavern in New Wilmington, Pa. The memory of that deliciously complex slice of pie and the thought of writing a recipe inspired by several lifelong friends serve as the basis for the following Fruits of the Forest Tartlets.

Makes 12 mini tarts

2 cups blueberries
1 1/2 cups blackberries
1 1/4 cup raspberries
1/2 cup strawberries, quartered
1/2 cup elderberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

Place the fruit and sugar in a large saucepan and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the fruit to simmer for 10 minutes or until the berries have released their juices and have softened.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fruit and place it in a bowl; by separating the fruit from its juices, you ensure that you won’t end up with a soggy tart crust. Bring the remaining liquid to a boil again and allow it cook until it has reduced in half and thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Lightly flour a clean work surface and then roll out the puff pastry with a rolling pin. You want it to be about 1/8-inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 12 same-sized rectangles or squares.

Puff pastry in a muffin cup

Place a square of pastry into each cup of the muffin tin. It’s fine if some pastry hangs out of the cup.

Using a knife, poke holes into the bottom and side of the pastry so that it doesn’t puff up too much when baked. Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake the pastry for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and spoon equal amounts of fruit into each lightly baked cup.

Fruits of the forest spooned into a lightly baked pastry cup

Return the muffin tin to the oven and bake the tartlets for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden in color. Remove the pan from the oven, place it on a wire rack and allow the tartlets to cool for 10 minutes before lifting each from the pan and placing in bowls. Spoon the reduced berry sauce over the top of the tartlets. Top with whipped cream and serve immediately.

Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

July 21st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

What’s summertime if not the time to throw theme parties? That’s my motto! With that in mind I recently subjected friends to a night of Danish food and activities. Yes, when torturing friends with vacation photos just isn’t enough, there’s “A Night of Danish Delights.”

Lots of Carlsberg lager, akvavit and other Danish delights at Danish night

Recalling the surprising number of ping pong and badminton clubs seen throughout Denmark, I included ping pong, badminton and a Lego building competition on the activity list. Why Legos? Well, Denmark is the birthplace of Legos. Besides, how often can I justify playing with 6 pounds of colorful toy bricks? Never!

Danish-inspired buffet table

Denmark is also home to such culinary specialties as pickled herring, smoked salmon, smørrebrød, hearty rugbrød or Danish brown bread, danishes and hindbærsnitte. They, along with Danish tilsit, blue and havarti cheeses, starred in the evening’s menu. So, too, did steamed, heads-on shrimp. As you might expect, these appealed to a select few. There is something about having your food stare back at you . . ..

Heads-on shrimp in Skagen, DK

Far more approachable were the refreshing summer salads of seasonal berries and sweet and sour cucumbers. Taken from Camilla Plum’s The Scandinavian Kitchen cookbook (Kyle Books, 2011), sweet and sour cucumber salad is a particular favorite of mine. Even if I hadn’t focused on Danish cuisine, I would have made this light, flavorful dish. It’s the ideal summertime salad and a snap to create.

Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

If you own or can borrow a mandoline, use that to cut the cucumbers. With a mandoline you’ll save time and create beautiful, uniform slices for the salad. Don’t despair if you can’t track down this tool. A sharp chef’s knife and attentive slicing will also do the trick.

From Camilla Plum’s The Scandinavian Kitchen
When refrigerated, this salad will keep for several weeks.
Serves 4

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 small cucumbers

Place the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. As the marinade is heating, thinly slice the cucumbers and place them in a bowl. Pour the hot liquid over the cucumbers. Cool before serving.

Danish Raspberry Slice or Hindbærsnitte

July 6th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

Hindbærsnitte from Holms Bager, Copenhagen

Hindbærsnitte is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of international dessert crushes. Some people liken it to homemade Pop Tarts. Others equate it to thumbprint cookies. Neither comparison comes close to the sweet splendor of this lovely Danish cookie.

To further illustrate the composition of a hindbærsnitte, I forced myself to take several bites.

Inspired by Viennese confections, hindbærsnitte was born in Copenhagen in the late 1800s. The legend goes that in 1850 Danish bakers went on a long-term strike over unfair wages. To keep the country in breads and sweets, bakers from Austria were hired to fill the vacancies. Their time in Denmark and the culinary traditions that they shared would influence the creation of many Danish baked goods, including hindbærsnitte. With its flour- and almond-based dough and thick, fruity filling this cookie does remind me of such Austrian specialties as Linzer tortes and augens.

Hindbærsnitte or Danish raspberry slice in true slice form in Skagen.

The literal translation of hindbærsnitte is raspberry slice. Its name more or less explains the treat — baked cookie dough blanketed by raspberry preserves, topped with another sheet of baked dough and then sliced and iced or iced and sliced. The order of the last two steps is interchangeable. Keep in mind, though, that if you slice after icing, you may get jam on your icing. However, if you ice after slicing, the icing may ooze over the cookies’ sides and make them sticky to the touch.

My ragged-edged hindbærsnitte.

To fill the hindbærsnitte, either use good quality, store-bought jam or make your own raspberry preserves.

Makes 3 dozen cookies

for the raspberry jam:
2 cups black or red raspberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

for the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2/3 cup ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup butter, chilled and cut into chunks
2 eggs, whisked
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups raspberry preserves, homemade or store-bought

for the icing:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Crushed pistachios, optional, for decorating
Sugar sprinkles, optional, for decorating
Grated orange zest, optional, for decorating

If making your own jam, place the sugar, berries and lemon juice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the berries have released all their juices and the liquid has cooked down to a thick syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the jam to cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, almonds and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, incorporate the cold butter chunks, mixing until a crumbly dough forms (see above). Add the eggs and vanilla. With a spatula or your hands mix the ingredients together until a soft dough forms. Shape the dough into two balls, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour or maximum of 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lightly dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the first ball of dough until it’s rectangular in shape and roughly 1/4-inch thick. Trim off the ragged edges and place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other dough.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges are golden in color. Remove the dough sheets from the oven and allow them to cool completely.

Once the dough has cooled, spread a generous amount of jam over one sheet. Place the other sheet on top of the jam-covered sheet. At this point you’re ready to ice your cookies.

To make the icing, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, juice and vanilla extract. Spread the icing over the top of the dough. Allow the icing to harden before cutting the cookies into rectangular slices and then decorating with crushed pistachios or sugar sprinkles or grated zest or whatever strikes your fancy.