It’s Sugaring Season!

When the calendar turns to March, that means three things in Vermont: mud season, March madness, and sugaring time. The roads are marked with muddy tracks from the trucks carrying the squatty tanks used for collecting sap, so you know they’ve been up in the muddy hills. Cold nights and warm days is the best recipe for getting the sap running. Although, they’ve said the recent 70-80 degree weather we had for two weeks and nights in the 50s may be trouble for the industry, as many sugar shacks already have closed their doors for the season. But their open house weekend was popular, where tappers still served up sugar on snow (in this case for this winter, probably shaved ice) with a pickle on the side. That is just what we expect this time of year.

I always have a jar of maple syrup in the fridge. I’ll buy a half-gallon which can take months to use, sometimes even more than a year. I will divide it into glass jars, and put the remaining jars in the freezer. It lasts forever and thaws out quickly. And unlike other frozen foods, it loses nothing in the freezing process.

Since I always have maple syrup on hand, I am lucky in that I can add it to most anything; it’s sweetness always lends a distinct flavor. Past recipes include this salmon sauce recipe here and my granola recipe here. But of course, the best way to really get the flavor of the syrup is on pancakes.

I know pancakes lend no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever to your day, they are almost total carbohydrates, but sometimes you just get a craving for them! About once a year I’ll get the urge to whip some up on a lazy Sunday morning, usually in March. The mornings are getting brighter, the birds are chirping, and it’s getting warmer out. I’ve been using the below recipe I found in Cooking Light for years. I always feel a little better with a bit of whole wheat flour combined with the white. So in honor of sugaring season and my nephew’s tenth birthday, whose favorite food is pancakes (we took him to lunch, and his was five silver dollar pancakes!), I thought I’d bring you this recipe for pancakes, for breakfast, brunch, or an upside down day!

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes
From Cooking Light, April 2002

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups low-fat buttermilk
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
¾ cup maple syrup
3 Tablespoons butter

1. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and egg white, stirring with a whisk; add to flour mixture, stirring until just moist.

2. Heat a nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Spoon about ¼ cup batter per pancake onto griddle. Turn pancakes when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Serve with syrup and butter. (Yield: 6 servings (serving side: 2 pancakes, 2 Tablespoons syrup, and 1 ½ teaspoons butter)

• I use this recipe for the pancake recipe only, I don’t normally measure out my maple syrup and butter. I also oil the skillet instead of using cooking spray. It adds more calories, but I don’t use cooking spray on my cookware.
• Buttermilk always comes in a quart container, but it normally takes forever to use up. You can freeze it by the cup in freezer quart bags and just defrost!

Happy Spring!

Crocuses? In Vermont? In the middle of March?!

Please forgive the almost non-existent recipe this week. March has been an incredibly busy month for me traveling and I was going to beg off this week (I’ll do that next month for my birthday!), then decided to give you the ultimate springtime recipe: roasted asparagus. I could have sworn I gave this to you last spring, but I went through every single post and didn’t find it. So forgive me if I missed it and this is a repeat.

And speaking of springtime, it really has come in like a lion! The middle week of March and my daffodils and tulips are sprouting and the buds are on the lilac bushes? Unreal! This has been an incredibly warm winter, hence the no snow on the Hogback Mountain range you see here. My winter boots are sitting by the door and I wonder when I should put those away. The birds are back in full force, the woodcock has been chirping every morning looking for his mate for a couple of weeks, and ticks and mosquitos have been spotted! I even slept with the window propped open a little bit last night! Everything is a full month to six weeks early. The peepers are even starting to wake up! All this early spring has made me wonder about the farm crops this year. And fingers crossed the lack of precipitation won’t lead to a wetter than normal summer.

But so, when the calendar turns to March, regardless of the temperature, it means asparagus for me. Every time I’m at the supermarket, I’ll pick up a bunch, so this sometimes means more than once a week! I add it to soups, salads, pasta, and eggs. The easiest way, though, is roasted, where it requires just a pan and spatula!

After washing the stems, take them by the end and bend, the tips will automatically break. Of course, you can also just chop the ends off with a knife. Place them on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Place in a heated oven, 375-400 degrees. Cook for about 20 minutes or so, tossing once during that time. When they become dark, they are done. My favorite way is adding a little balsamic vinegar. If I’m not feeling lazy, I will take a few tablespoons of the vinegar in a saucepan and boil it until it is thick. Adding toasted pine nuts is also tasty as is a few squirts of lemon. Or forget everything else and just eat it out of the pan, sans sauce. I’ve done that too!

Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Beans

I frequently trade recipes and little tastes of food with my co-worker, Brooke. Whenever I’ve made a soup or have extras of a dish I’ve made, I’ll pack up a container for her to try and she does the same. One morning, she brought me a container that held a delicious recipe of Israeli couscous, bacon, garbanzo beans, and Brussels sprouts. It looked delicious. By mid-morning, it was calling to me louder than my usual yogurt, so despite the hour, I heated it up and ate it. It was perfect, the bacon just slightly flavored the couscous and Brussels sprouts, which were cooked perfectly. It was so delicious, I was sorry there wasn’t more! I knew this could be an addicting dish, so one night I recreated it for dinner, with the basic recipe outlined, but with some changes based on what I had on hand.

I first off substituted farro for the couscous. I talked a little bit about farro in this post. Farro is my new favorite grain; it is a little larger in size than barley and it is chewy without an overpowering flavor. I made a pot of that, steamed some Brussels sprouts until they were just tender, and fried up some bacon with a little bit of shallots. I mixed everything together in a large bowl, added some butter beans, and topped it with some freshly grated parmesan cheese on top (or not if you prefer). The flavors meld together and to me, was comfort (and ease) in a bowl in a chilly winter night!

Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Beans
Here is the basic recipe, but you can always make more or less based on how many people are at your dinner table.

2 slices of raw bacon, diced
2 tablespoons minced shallots or red onion
1 ½ cup Brussels sprouts, halved
½ cup butter beans or another neutral bean (garbanzo, cannellini, Great Northern, e.g.), drained
2 cups farro, cooked*

1. Heat a skillet over medium heat and when warm, add the bacon and cook until crisp. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

2. Add the shallots to the still warmed skillet and drain when soft. Safe about ½ tablespoon of bacon grease, discard the rest.

3. While cooking the bacon, steam the Brussels sprouts for a few minutes, to soften. Set aside when done.

4. In a large mixing bowl, add the farro, bacon and onion, and beans (unless the beans came from the fridge, at room temperature the farro will warm them). Add the bacon grease and mix. Serve with or without freshly grated parmesan cheese.

*The easiest way to cook farro is to cook it like pasta. In a pan, heat water and bring to a boil. Add one cup of farro and cook until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Check on it occasionally to stir and make sure it isn’t burning. This makes roughly 3 cups of cooked farro.

Happy Birthday, My Vermont Kitchen!

March 7, 2011. We did a lot of shoveling that day!

It’s been one year to the day that I started this little journey into cyberspace. While I wrote another cooking blog a few years back, this one has continued on. It began with a favorite soup, springtime Matzo Ball Soup and a snowstorm. Almost 75 recipes later (!), I am pleased to continue bringing you a weekly recipe every Wednesday morning!

At year-end, WordPress sent me a year in review of my blog. Just some stats, since I thought they were so interesting:

• My blog was viewed by 3,000 people in 2011
• Some of the countries where readers live include the UK, Switzerland, Ukraine, Brazil, Australia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, India, and Japan.

I feel so cosmopolitan!

So in honor of this auspicious occasion, I thought I would bring to you my family’s go-to birthday cake recipe, Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake. Every year when I was young, without even blinking, I’d request my birthday menu to be fried chicken and chocolate mayonnaise cake with butter cream frosting, two things I still love. Although, when I told everyone we were having chocolate mayonnaise cake, it was received by “ewww” out of the mouths of my schoolmates. They were grossed out by the idea of mayonnaise in cake, which I could never understand, since you don’t taste it. Kids can be so mean, but that just meant more cake for the rest of us; they didn’t know what they were missing!

This cake is super easy, it can be made as a layer cake or a sheet cake, and surprisingly enough, freezes really well! When thawed it is moist and still delicious!

This recipe originated with my grandmother, who passed it on to my mom, who passed it on to me. I have my grandmother’s recipe box and the recipe originally called for Miracle Whip. Interestingly enough, Miracle Whip was introduced at the 1933 World’s Fair as a less expensive alternative to mayonnaise. My theory has always been this cake was created around World War II when oil and butter were rationed. Using Miracle Whip, or mayonnaise, was an easier fat to obtain. And it won $100 in a contest!

Sorry, this is a terrible photo, but a sheet cake is a sheet cake! There's not much to detail!

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
Makes one 9 x 13 sheet cake or three round cake pans for a layer cake.

1 ½ cup sugar
3 round Tablespoon dried cocoa
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ cup warm water
3 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups cake flour (I always use all purpose and that’s fine)

1. Sift the dry ingredients together.

2. Dissolve the baking soda in the warm water. Add to the dry ingredients. Add mayonnaise, vanilla, and flour and mix until combined.

3. Pour into a prepared cake pan(s) and cook at 350 for 45 minutes or until done.

Butter Cream Frosting
1 stick salted butter
1 box confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sugar and stir. Add enough milk to thin the frosting. Continue stirring until frosting is thinned and ready. Frost the cake when it is completely cooled.