Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins

Each summer, the farmers  always are dependent on the weather for good crops. Our cold, wet rainy early summer which turned into a weeks-long heat wave gave us poor strawberries and late green beans. But one fruit, blueberries, seem to be thriving from the heat. I started seeing local ones in the middle of July, which I think is earlier than normal. And they are fabulous this year. So fabulous, that I was craving blueberry muffins one day.

I like blueberry muffins that are extra moist and filled with little bursts of fruit. One Friday morning on my way to work, I decided to treat myself for a work week well done and stopped by a high-end bakery with hopes they would have some muffins. They did, flavored with honeysuckle. And they were $3 each. Against my better judgment, I decided to splurge, but honestly, it was terrible; dry, hardly any berries, and the top was crumbly with no moistness whatsoever. I knew I could make better and less expensive muffins at home. So I went to my trusty copy of The Essential New York Times Cook Book and knew Amanda Hesser would have the answer.

Jordan Marsh was a famous department store in the Boston area until  it was taken over by Macy’s in the 1990s. I lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts, for a couple of summer months in the late 1980s, and on one of my rare afternoons off from work, I took the train into the city and just walked around the makeup counter of Jordan Marsh. We didn’t have department stores like that in Vermont, and I loved the bright lights and big city. It’s a wonderful memory. And this muffin recipe was exactly what I was looking for; an extra moist muffin bursting with fresh blueberries. Adding the crushed berries really ups the fruit flavor

Helpful Kitchen Hint: When I make muffins, I usually use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients. But because of creaming the butter and sugar, I pulled out my hand mixer. It made things go quickly!

With a cup of tea on a lazy Sunday morning, I couldn’t resist so I had one right out of the oven. With just one bite, my craving was gone and I was in heaven.

Yes, you are correct. One muffin is missing! I couldn't resist!

Yes, you are correct. One muffin is missing! I couldn’t resist!

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by Amanda Hesser

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
2 cups blueberries, rinsed and picked over

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 large muffin cups. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

2. Cream the butter and 1 ¼ cups sugar in a large bowl until light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add to the flour mixture alternating with the milk, beating just until smooth.

3. Crush ½ cup blueberries with a fork, and mix into the batter. Fold in the remaining whole berries.

4. Fill the muffin cups with batter. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the tops of the muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

5. Store, uncovered, or the muffins will be too moist the second day—if they last that long.

Cook’s Notes:
I completely forgot about topping the muffins with the extra sugar, so if you forget, they are still delicious. And Hesser is right about being moist the next day; I layered them in a container and they were so moist they stuck to each other. But, of course, that didn’t matter, they were still delicious!  

Cilantro Pesto

I can hear the “boos and hisses” already! I know that some eaters absolutely despise cilantro, avoiding it at all costs, but bear with me! Admittedly, I didn’t like cilantro for many years, but through time it has become a favorite herb, although one that is used sparingly. It always seems when I buy a bunch, though, it always ends up forgotten in the bottom of the veggie bin until I discover it as a black, slimy mess. But this recipe solves this problem!

I became familiar with cilantro pesto several years back from a colleague of mine. And while I was skeptical, I was a convert after that first bite. You make this just like its Italian counterpart, but to me, the flavor has a little zing to it. A squirt of lemon juice at the end was perfect. And I think a lot of the cilantro “flavor” is lost with the mixing of the nuts, garlic, and cheese. I added some green beans when I was cooking the pasta which added a nice crunch. I find taking the leaves off the stems a bit tedious, but you can take off just the woody end pieces, as the more delicate stems are edible. With the farmers market booming and overflowing with fresh garlic, veggies, and herbs, now is a perfect time to try this out!

Helpful Kitchen Hint: If you are gluten-intolerant, you can use this pesto on meat, fish, or even as a dip with veggies or chips!

Of course, the real test is with the eater of the house, a self-confessed cilantro hater. I put out two different kinds of pesto, cilantro and basil. When I went to clean up the kitchen, guess which one was gone? He will say it was because he was starving, but I think it’s because he liked it!

DSCN0359

Cilanto Pesto
2 medium garlic cloves
1 cup, lightly packed cilantro leaves
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon warm water
½ cup shredded parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 Tablespoon pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds), toasted if desired
1 squirt fresh lemon juice

This recipe is all in the blender. Add the garlic cloves down the chute with the blades set at chop. Add the cilantro, oil, water, and cheese, and pulse until it is a thin paste. Add the pine nuts and lemon juice. Pulse until it all comes together. Add a little more water or oil if it is too thick.

Israeli Couscous “Tabbouleh”

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather this summer in Vermont has been “pants,” as my friend in Switzerland would say. Very rainy and very humid. I wilt like a flower when I go outside and my hair has been a permanent Afro for weeks. I heard on the radio the other day we just completed the longest stretch of humid weather on record! (And after a two-day reprieve, humid weather all this week.) So since the weather isn’t ideal for cooking, I try to make dishes that bring at least a little bit of cool to the palate in the evening.

My inspiration for this was from a recipe I saw that was similar, so apologies for not giving proper credit because I can’t remember where, although I think it was Mark Bittman. I’m not crazy about a traditional tabbouleh, but this was different and fresh, cool, and delicious!

Israeli couscous are small pearl-like grains of pasta that resemble uncooked tapioca. Unlike its smaller brother, it takes a little longer to cook and you cook it like pasta, not steam in the water. I buy it in bulk at the coop, but you may be able to find it in your local grocery store near the “regular” couscous. I bought some because these fine pearls were so pretty, but wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to cook. Turns out summer salads is it! The couscous, though, is not the star of this dish; if you have some fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from your garden or the farmer’s market, they will shine, with the couscous playing a supporting role.

Helpful Kitchen Hint: Cook the couscous in the morning when it’s cool.  (It takes 10-12 minutes or so.) That way when you’re ready to make dinner, that step is done and you don’t have to wait for it to cool down! Add a little bit of oil to avoid sticking or just rinse with water before making the salad.

For those following a gluten-free diet, quinoa would be a great substitute. A salad like this is great because it is something you can do on the fly, measurements the way you want to do it, and you can add or subtract whatever you like! If you want more tomatoes, want to substitute zucchini instead of cucumbers, add some fresh corn or peas, or use less mint, have at it. This makes a great vegetarian hot weather main or side dish, or you can add some shrimp, chicken, or even tuna for some extra protein!
DSCN0353

Israeli Couscous “Tabbouleh”

1 cup Israeli couscous
1 ¼ water
A tablespoon or so extra virgin olive oil
The juice of one lemon
Grape tomatoes, halved
½ cucumber, peeled, cut in half, seeded and diced
A couple of tablespoons shallots or red onion, diced and minced
1 can garbanzo beans
Feta cheese
Mint leaves
Salt and pepper

1. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the couscous, and cook for about 10 minutes or so, or until done.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the couscous and cool. Add the lemon juice, oil, vegetables, beans,  cheese, mint leaves, and salt and pepper (and extra protein if desired). Chill for about 30 minutes, then serve!

Summer Celebrations

fireworksI always consider the 4th of July the middle of summer (although with the weather we’ve been having the past couple of months, I hope that isn’t the case this year!). It’s a perfect time to get outside, cook on the grill, and make fruit pies. A few of weeks ago, my 11-year-old nephew made a blueberry pie for Father’s Day and after having a slice (which was delicious), I said I needed the recipe. About 10 minutes later he returned with a copy, which came from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. This cookbook, with its red and white checked cover, is what I grew up learning how to cook from; it has excellent recipes that are easy to follow. When my nephew spent the weekend and I was in a mood to make a rhubarb pie, we went into the kitchen.

I honestly don’t know if rhubarb can be found in other parts of the country or the world. Is it, dear readers? I’d love to know! Here in Vermont, it is a springtime staple. I usually buy many stalks, chop, and then freeze it–sometimes for up to a year. I had some leftover rhubarb in the freezer, so I just took it out and defrosted it before making the pie.

This recipe is super simple, 4 cups of rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, ¼ cup flour. I had some fresh Vermont strawberries on the counter, so I added about a half-cup sliced. It wasn’t until after it was ready to go in the oven that I realized I normally add a bit of spice, some cinnamon and nutmeg, vanilla, or grated orange rind to the fruit mixture. But it didn’t matter, this was a perfect rhubarb pie; a little tart, a little sweet. You can use a pre-made crust, or make the one I always use from The Joy of Cooking: 1 ½ cups of flour, ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 6 tablespoons of butter, and ice water (add by the tablespoon until the dough is ready to roll out). There are two times of the year I made pies, summer and Thanksgiving. Hands down, pie is my favorite dessert, there is just something special about a homemade pie.
rhubarb pie

I’m going to take next week off to get out of the kitchen, so here is a great selection of past MVK recipes that are perfect to make for your 4th of July celebration and beyond this summer!

Macaroni Salad

Potato Salad

Szechuan Cucumbers

Red White and Blue Salad

Gigi’s Chicken Salad

Black Bean Salad with Shrimp

Crumbly Peach Pie

Blueberry Pie