Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Lessons of Summer–Finally!

Crêpes with Strawberries and Crème Fraîche

Summer has finally arrived in the Upper Midwest. Due to the cold and wet spring, strawberry season has been delayed by three weeks here, making us all the more anxious for the first taste of local strawberries. Some friends gathered for the very first strawberries of the season. Fiona made homemade crème fraîche; I made crêpes, and there was chocolate and whipped cream as well.

Is there anything better than local strawberries, so much softer and sweeter than the sour monstrosities from California? And to wrap those strawberries in a tender, eggy crêpes? But the real revelation was Fiona’s crème fraîche, made with the cream of grass-fed cows and cultured with kefir grains. It was the best crème fraîche I’ve ever had. Nutty and sweet, even without sugar, with the slightest tang; I swear I could taste the grass that the cows ate, the sun, and the land that nourishes them.

Sitting in the sun, sharing crêpes with strawberries and crème fraîche; I wonder if I would be so grateful for all this had I not waited all year for it. Maybe this is the lesson that the seasons teach; experience all that every season has to offer, taste, touch, smell. Gratitude and impermanence can coexist. They must.

Crème fraîche

The better your cream, the better the crème fraîche will be. Grass-fed, organic and raw is ideal. As I mentioned above, Fiona cultured hers with kefir grains. If you aren’t into making your own kefir, use buttermilk. Be aware, however, that buttermilk enzymes do not digest lactose the way that kefir does. (As a side note, how wonderful it was to have cream without getting a stomach-ache immediately afterwards!)

1 quart heavy cream
1 tbsp. buttermilk

Combine cream and buttermilk. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place 18-24 hours. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Crêpes

3 eggs
1 1/4 c. milk (I use lactose-free)
pinch salt
1 c. flour
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

Beat eggs until homogenous. Add milk and salt. Mix. Sift flour into egg mixture. Beat again. There will probably be lumps; that’s okay, they will dissolve as the batter sits. Stir in melted butter. Refrigerate overnight. (I have just made the crepes immediately after mixing the batter many times. Aside from the occasional lump, it doesn’t make much difference.)

Heat small (preferably six inch) crepe pan or non-stick pan over high heat. Wipe pan with melted butter or oil. When hot, ladle 1/3 c. batter into pan and swirl to evenly coat bottom of pan. Drip excess batter back into bowl. Cook one minute or until edges of crepe are brown. Flip and cook thirty seconds more.

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Spiced Honey Fruit Salad


In order to be a food blogger, you have to live in your senses: the world of taste, smell, touch. Me, I’ve been in my head a lot these days. I’m spending the summer cranking out my dissertation, day after day. Perhaps that’s why I feel so uninspired about this blog, or perhaps the dissertation is sucking all my writing energy, and I don’t have much left over for anything else. I’ll save you the impenetrably dull details, spare the fact that the other night, I dreamt that I was on a date with John Rawls. Apparently, it isn’t enough that I’ve been spending eight to ten hours a day with Professor Rawls for the past two weeks, now, I have to have dinner and drinks with him in my sleep? (No, I don’t know want to know what this says about my subconscious.)

Fortunately, I have a few friends that regularly drag me away from my desk and out of the house. Even more fortunately, these friends are really into potlucks, which forces me into the kitchen, back into my hands and my body. Is there anything more sensual than plunging a knife into a ripe cantaloupe? Grabbing a slippery mango to slice off its peel? And nothing is better on a summer evening that fruit salad with perfectly ripe fruit.

This salad is an invention of my mothers, combining a subtle kiss of warming spices (cloves, caramom, cinnamon, ginger) with the sweetness of summer fruits. It’s simply perfect.

Spiced Fruit Salad

Obviously, you can vary the fruits, but try to include one melon and one fruit from the stone category.

1/2 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
2 pods cardamom
pinch salt
honey to taste, start with 2 tbsp
1/2 c. fresh orange juice (used commercial in a pinch)

1 fragrant ripe cantaloupe
1 pint strawberries
1 ripe mango
1/2 pint raspberries or blackberries
1 peach
rind from 1/2 an orange
1 handful blanched almonds
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, chopped
small handful mint leaves
squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

In small saucepan, heat spices and salt with orange juice. Add honey. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Add water if pan threatens to boil dry.

Chop fruit into bite sized pieces. Mix gently with almonds, mint and ginger. Add spiced honey and lemon. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Source: My mom

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Pizza Crust Reconsidered

Let it never be said that I can’t change my mind.

Remember that Todd English pizza crust I loved so much? It was the only pizza crust I’d made for years, but then, I stumbled upon 101 Cookbooks post of master baker Peter Reinhart’s Neapolitan-style pizza. One bite of this crust, and my stand-by crust was forgotten. It’s everything you could want in a pizza crust: flavorful, light and crispy with big dough bubbles. It has the advantage of being much easier to handle as well.

The key, according to Heidi, is a long fermentation that allows the flavor of the yeast to develop. Even better, the whole process is far easier than my other pizza dough. Just toss the dry ingredients together, add cold water, stir and knead until smooth. Throw into the refrigerator for use anytime in the next four days. By far the hardest part is remembering to take the dough out of the fridge two hours before you plan to make your pizza.

Another trick is that this pizza dough is tossed, thus avoiding the heaviness that comes from the weight of the rolling pin squashing down all the yeast bubbles. Tossing pizza is kind of stressful when you’re having friends over and you’re nervous about pitching everyone’s dinner onto the floor, but it’s not so difficult. The dough has a dreamy texture: soft, smooth and supple. You don’t have to toss very high or flashily, just a few inches will stretch the dough whisper thin and bake up into a crispy, light crust. (If this stresses you out, I recommend breathing deeply before tossing the pizza–in through the nose, out through the mouth and TOSS!)

I resisted buying a pizza stone for the longest time. I just got one, and I can’t imagine what I did without it. I don’t have a peel, so I just use a piece of cardboard sprinkled with semolina to slide the pizza onto the stone.

I’ve linked to Heidi’s recipe above, but my adaptation follows. I use a little whole-wheat pastry flour in my recipe. I like the flavor of whole wheat, and mixing all-purpose with a lower gluten flour mimics the softer flour of Italy.

Overnight Pizza Crust

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 3/4 c. cold water
semolina or corn meal

Combine flours, yeast, and salt. Add cold water and olive oil and mix until dough is too heavy to stir. On floured surface (or just in the bowl, which is what I do) knead dough 10 minutes until smooth and no longer sticky. Divide dough into six equal parts. Place on well floured cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for up to four days. You can also freeze some of the dough for later.

The next day, two hours before making the pizza, take dough out of fridge. If using a pizza stone, preheat oven to 500 one hour before making pizza. Pick up the dough and place it over the backs of your fists. Gently stretch the dough by moving your fists apart. If you’re feeling confident, gently toss it a few inches in the air. Catch and stretch again. Do this over a clean surface in case of accidents. When dough is as uniformly thin as it’s going to get, place on peel (or piece of cardboard) sprinkled with cornmeal or semolina. Gently place toppings on pizza; avoid pressing dough down into the peel. Slide pizza onto stone, and bake 8-10 minutes. If you do not have a pizza stone, you can bake pizza on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes.

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