Summertime Holiday Dishes Plus MVK’s Food News of the Week

Note, apologies for the advance unedited piece you may have received on Monday; I’ve been having some troubles with my host and it sent instead of saved!  

I wish every morning this could be my view at breakfast.

I wish this could be my view at breakfast every morning! My view from the top of Mount Abraham.

“In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky.”

“In the Summertime,” by Jerry Mungo

The first two lines of this old chestnut have been an earworm for the past two weeks or so. Long sunny days with the light going well past nine, and starting around 4:30 a.m., have me out and about well before my usual early rising time and sometimes well past my bedtime. No matter, this time is fleeting and I know in just a few short weeks I’ll start to notice the time change and that it’s no longer a bright light that wakens me.

That said, it’s almost Fourth of July weekend, which for some marks the start of summer. This is one of those golden years where the holiday is bumped with a weekend, so we don’t have the odd middle-of-the-week day off. I always find this time of year as one with family and friend gatherings, summer guests, picnics, and lots of opportunity to feed a crowd. So this week I’m recycling a favorite idea and bringing you some past suggestions for summer eating and hosting!

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Miscellaneous and Appetizers

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins
If you have some fresh blueberries, these are delicious and easy.

Meditteranean Kebobs
My go-to dish for potlucks.

Black Bean Hummus with Queso Fresco
I took this once to a dinner party and I ended up eating most of it! It’s SO good!

Kale Chips
Healthier than potato chips!

Soups and Main Dishes

Julia Child’s Vichyssoise
I’m not one for summer soups, but I do love this one.

Summer Minestrone Soup
A great soup with summertime vegetables.

Zucchini and Red Pepper Frittata
Eggs are a real lifesaver for dinner on summer evenings.

Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs
These are great hot off the grill or cold.

Marinated London Broil
Mmm…

Salads

Israeli Couscous “Tabbouleh”
A fun spin on an old favorite.

MVK’s Nicoise Salad
My take on this classic French summer meal.

Szechuan Cucumbers
No guilt if you eat the whole bowl!

Red White and Blue Salad
A fun salad for the holiday!

Asian Green Bean Salad 
A great vegetarian dish with an Asian twist.

Cavatappi Salad with Tuna and Olives
A delicious heart-healthy pasta salad.

Desserts

Strawberry Shortcake
It’s not summer without having this for dinner one night.

Old Fashioned Blueberry-Maple Pie
A Vermont spin on an old fashioned favorite.

pepsiMVK’s Food News of the Week: This is How Much Celebrities are Paid to Endorse Unhealthy Foods
I recently read this article about how much celebrities are paid to endorse certain foods, mainly soda and fast food. I was surprised and also saddened. If you can believe it (I can’t), Beyoncé was paid $50 million (yes, you read correctly) to promote Pepsi products! You can read the article by clicking here.

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Full Circle: Homemade Pumpkin Bread Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

 

I just had to pull over when I saw this sky when I was driving home.

I just had to pull over when I saw this sky!

It’s finally fall! The season of crisp weather, crisp local apples, squashes, and pumpkins. The leaves have been slow at changing this year, but on a long weekend drive, I spotted some reds and golds in the hills.

Growing up, every fall my mom would make several batches of pumpkin squares, which was homemade pumpkin bread baked in a 13 x 9 pan and cut into squares like cake. This was an easy snack to take to school and I loved when I found it in my lunchbox; the bread is super moist and I loved the walnuts (not so much the raisins). With all the talk of “pumpkin spice” which is in everything from coffee to vodka, I wanted to make something in my kitchen with real pumpkin spice, not something that is manufactured in a factory. I decided to pull out my family recipe for pumpkin bread one night when I wanted to warm the kitchen. But it wasn’t in my recipe box. I then went to my grandmother’s recipe box. Of all the things I inherited from her, this is the most special; a schoolteacher all her life, many recipe cards have her familiar handwriting that is so clear and recognizable.

So I went through and found a recipe for pumpkin bread, my mom’s, but in my handwriting! I couldn’t believe I was the one to give her this recipe; it must have been after college, so more than 25 years ago. And I could tell I had carefully written it so it was legible. Mom’s recipe makes a batch for a family, but Grandma did the math for me, so I was able to use her measurements for one loaf. (If you have a big family or big eaters, it’s easy to double.) Mom’s recipe to me to Grandma and back again. Full circle indeed.

Using fresh ginger, because that’s what I had on hand, with no clove or raisins, this was delicious. Half a cup of chopped walnuts, it made the kitchen warm and spicy. And it’s what I call a quick bread, just one bowl, add everything, mix and pour into a loaf pan. It takes maybe ten minutes to mix all together, so you can make it on a lazy Sunday morning to serve to guests (or yourself!) if you want. The piece I had with my morning tea was nice and homey and was a pleasant and delicious way to welcome the new season. I hope if you make this, you find it that way, too.

Happy Cooking!

pumpkin brad
Homemade Pumpkin Bread

This recipe is from the files of Nancy B. Koliander.

Since you’ll have about a cup of pumpkin leftover, you can either freeze it or hold tight; I’m working on a future recipe to use it up. Stay tuned!

In a mixing bowl, whisk together:

2 medium eggs
1 cup sugar (scant)
1 cup pumpkin
2/3 cup of oil (the original recipe calls for ¾ cup, but I cut it down a little bit and it was fine)

Add:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. each of salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg
1 tsp. each of cinnamon, ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ walnuts and/or a handful of raisins (optional)

Bake 50-55 minutes at 325 degrees in a greased bread pan.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Speaking of Pumpkin…
Right after I made my pumpkin bread, I came across this article from The Kitchn website, “What’s Actually in Your Canned Pumpkin Puree.” I was going to bypass it because I know my can of One-Pie pumpkin is just that, pumpkin. Well, I’m wrong and I’m glad I read it because I learned something: under USDA rules, since pumpkin and certain squashes are in the same genus they can be categorized as just pumpkin. So unless your can says 100 percent pumpkin (like Libby’s), you are getting a pumpkin/squash combination. I’m miffed and surprised about this piece of information. I think it is a bit of false advertising. Don’t you?

Merry Christmas!

vintage_christmas_girl_baking_cookies_poster-p228519991634616872836v_500 I thought I would pop in early this week to wish you a Merry Christmas and to give you one last holiday recipe for 2013! And it is one you can easily make to serve on Christmas morning if you like!

I love eggnog and eggnog flavored anything, be it ice cream, lattes, or coffee. Anytime I see something eggnog flavored, I will try it! So when I found this recipe for Eggnog Coffee Cake, I knew I had to make it.

Moist, easy to make, I cut this into half and tucked some into the freezer for a lazy Sunday morning later on this winter!

Merry Christmas!

Eggnog Coffee Cake
This recipe originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Cooking Light.

Crumble:

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Cake:

6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Baking spray with flour

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. To prepare crumble, combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter using a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in toasted pecans.

3. To prepare cake, weigh or lightly spoon 6.75 ounces flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 6.75 ounces flour and next 4 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt); stir with a whisk. Place 3 tablespoons butter and granulated sugar in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add whole egg and egg yolk, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk, sour cream, and vanilla; beat at low speed for 1 minute or until well combined. Add the flour mixture; beat at low speed 1 minute or just until combined.

4. Spoon half of batter into an 8-inch round metal cake pan coated with baking spray. Sprinkle with half of crumble mixture. Spread remaining batter over crumble, smoothing top with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with remaining crumble mixture. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Place a plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate. Place another plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate.

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!  

It’s Not So Much What it Looks Like, it’s How it Tastes

DSCN3809Tis the season for al fresco brunches, or even indoor brunches! The weather is gorgeous, so it’s nice to laze around on a Sunday, take a long walk, and eat a delicious springtime meal mid-day. And a special coffee cake is perfect to round out the dishes and is relatively easy to make.

As you may have figured out by now, I don’t bake that much, too much precision, with measuring cups and spoons. But I found this coffee cake recipe in my copy of The Essential New York Times Cook Book, and being relatively easy, I decided to make this for brunch one weekend. (As an aside, if you ever want to get a comprehensive cook book for someone, this is it. Time-tested recipes and menus for every meal imaginable, I have yet to make something that isn’t five stars, and each recipe is easily and clearly written for even a novice cook.)

This is a case of “do as I guide, not as I do.” The recipe calls for a 9-inch square pan. After measuring my own square pan and realizing it was too small, I went with a 9-inch pie plate. Which I thought would have worked, but space-wise it didn’t. It spilled up the sides and wasn’t the neat and tidy cake it looked like as it went into the oven.

Also, when you are baking anything, don’t decide to cut corners like I did and bake other things at the same time. Since the oven was on, I decided to poach some chicken and roast some sweet potatoes, leading to a longer cooking time for all.

But in the end, the coffee cake really was delicious; moist with a perfect hint of cinnamon, albeit a bit on the homely side. And regardless, it’s spring, the sun has been out for days, and as Lady Bird Johnson said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Even in the kitchen.

IMG_0271Dorothy Jewiss’s Coffee Cake

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by Amanda Hesser. Originally published November 24, 1968: “To Grandmother’s House,” by Jean Hewitt, recipe adapted from Dorothy Jewiss, a home cook in Winchester Center, Connecticut.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Great a 9-inch square baking pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. Using a mixer or beating by hand, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Stir the flour mixture into the batter until it is smooth.

3. Spoon half the batter into the pan. Combine the remaining ½ cup sugar, the pecans,  and cinnamon and sprinkle two-thirds of it over the batter. Top with the remaining batter and sprinkle with the remaining pecan mixture.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean, 40-50 minutes. Serve warm.

Hesser’s Cooking Note:
In Step 3, use a spoon dipped in water to spread the top layer of batter, or it will be impossible to nudge the batter to the edges of the pan.

Chris’s Cooking Note:
I concur! I used a frosting spatula, dipped in water, worked like a charm!

Happy 100, My Vermont Kitchen!

Even though I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, the outside light this time of year is always incredible.

One hundred posts. I can’t believe it! To think when I began this blog, it was the winter of 2011, I was stuck indoors with a March blizzard, and my first post was my lunch, Matzo Ball Soup. In 18 months, I’ve brought you pies, soups, book reviews, more soups, salads, and everything in between. You read about me creating the best apple pie for a pie contest (I didn’t win),  my Julia Child 100th birthday dinner (the electricity went out), and tips for cooking and hosting a (somewhat) stress-free Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve been inside the kitchen with me when it’s been so hot I can’t even look at the oven and so cold I want to get in the oven! Through the seasons I’ve tried to bring you recipes that are the essence of the months, while being on the healthy and easy side for each meal.

I try to bring you the best of the best. But believe me when I say, dinner at home isn’t always delicious or homemade; many a dinner is just spaghetti and canned sauce! And while this sounds lovely, there have been gaffs through the months and with that I say, mea culpa. Like when I gave a recipe for bean soup, and completely left them out of the recipe. Or when I gave a grave error in measurements for matzo balls. Or when my pie crust was a heart attack in a pie plate; in this case, too much butter.

Some weeks I wonder what in heaven’s name I’m going to write about. Other weeks I have too many recipes on my plate (no pun intended!). I wonder with each upcoming season if I’m going to have enough creative energy to keep going, have enough recipes to fill a season. But at the end of last winter, I drew up a list of about ten recipes I have yet to write about. So the possibilities are endless indeed.

I thought in celebration for old fans and new readers, I’d give you my best ten recipes that I’ve posted throughout the months. I had a fun time selecting recipes to highlight, and came up with a list longer than ten! But I chose to go with some old-time favorites, family recipes passed down, and some that are my own. A lot of these are the top ten from my house that make the rotation whichever month we’re in.

So thank you so much for reading, commenting, and sticking through my creative cooking process! Here’s to 100 more!

Appetizers
Baked Artichoke Dip
: Wherever I take this dip, it is always a hit! A bit on the fussy side, but it’s definitely worth the work!

Soups
Creamy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup à la Irene
: I’ve made more soups than I can shake a stick at, but since we’re getting into fall, this is a perfect weeknight supper soup that is warm and comforting.

Salads
Gigi’s Chicken Salad
: This is a summertime staple in our house. Adding some walnuts adds some great protein, too.

Main Dishes
Scallops with Tomatoes and Olive Vinaigrette
: Whenever scallops go on sale, this is on the menu! It is a great and simple dinner which can also be made for a special occasion.

Pesto: I make a batch of this about once a week in the summer and place it in small containers to freeze for a pinch of summer in the colder months.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls: While all the chopping and slicing gets a bit old, this is so healthy and delicious, it’s worth the work when you bite into one of these!

Side Dishes
Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Beans
: I had forgotten about the recipe, but when I saw it, I’m happy we’re getting into Brussels Sprouts season!

Desserts
Crumbly Peach Pie
: I make this at least once a summer. The butter, sugar, and nutmeg is heaven on a plate. And only one crust to make!

Miscellaneous
Pickles
: Check out my friend Deb’s recipe for quick pickles and dilly beans and make some before this summer’s crop is gone!

Granola: Forget store-bought granola, make your own! That way you know what you’re eating, a healthy blend of grains and nuts. I’m sure it’s a bit on the high calorie side, but just a little bit in yogurt is all you need.

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!