LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES AND FRUIT SAUCE

Our local farmers market is moving into high season. The market is just a couple of paths in a high school parking lot lined with a couple of dozen or so stalls. It is modest compared with the vibrant green market in New York City’s Union Square or the wondrous carnival at the Ferry Building in San Francisco; it pales next to the huge market in nearby Torrance. But visiting the various stalls and merchants has become a Sunday ritual for our family.  By this time of season, green peas are gone, and asparagus is just hanging on as the weather gets warmer. Sweet cherries have given their last gasp. Plump ears of corn are on limited display. Tomatoes have made a tentative appearance; it’s still too early for the big, juicy specimens of late summer. Right now, the stars of the market are berries of all sorts and stone fruit of every variety.

This last week, the family met at the market in search of ingredients for our Sunday meal – all, that is, except the recent high school graduate who has taken to sleeping late and enjoying the days of summer before she heads off to college. The plan was for her mother to find some fruit for a fruit sauce so that on our return the graduate would arise and prepare pancakes for all of the exhausted shoppers. That plan served a secondary purpose: a crash course in basic cooking skills before the fledging leaves the nest. Everything worked as planned, and we enjoyed a delicious late breakfast. In fact, I liked them so much that I made my own batch a few days later and topped the pancakes with maple syrup that Peter and René had brought to us a gift from their recent trip to Montreal.

RECIPES

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained + zest from the lemon

Method

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Separate the eggs and set aside the whites.
  3. In a larger bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ricotta, buttermilk, butter, lemon juice, and zest.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquids, making sure they are well combined but taking care not to over-beat
  5. Whip the reserved egg whites to form stiff peaks. Then by thirds, gently fold them into the batter mixture.
  6. Let the batter rest for about 15 minutes while you heat a griddle over medium heat.
  7. Pour ½ cup of batter onto the griddle for individual pancakes. Do not crowd, and work in batches. Turn the pancakes when bubbles have formed on the surface and the edges are golden brown. When both sides are browned to your liking, serve immediately or transfer to a warm oven until all the pancakes have been prepared.

Fruit Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (strawberries would also work)
  • Or, you can make it 2 cups of your favorite fruit

Method

  1. In a small sauce pan combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the corn starch is completely dispersed. Place the pan over medium-low heat and, stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the fruit and cook until the mixture has thickened and the fruit has begun to release its juices, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and serve over the ricotta pancakes.

 

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SAINT PAUL BOTTOMS

The draft of this post has been sitting on my computer for months. I have been uncertain about whether I should publish it or not. Recent events have helped me to decide to add my voice to those of millions of others:

I have never before tortured my readers with my poetry, and I promise I shall never do it again. I am also mindful that with this post, I may lose some of my readers. I hope not. This particular piece has been gathering dust in the growing stack of my unpublished poems and essays, but the thought behind it has been percolating in my brain for a long time.  I hope you read it in the spirit in which it was written. It would be wonderful if our nation could begin to come together again in congenial dialogue without recriminations, as we have so many times before in times of crisis.

SAINT PAUL BOTTOMS

Named for Saint Paul
though he never visited, never wrote
so it just became the Bottoms
below Fairfield Hill,
unpainted shotgun houses,
slanted porches falling off brick piers.

City Fathers thought the name
undignified, not in keeping
with their New South image,
Ledbetter Heights sounded good.

Named after Lead Belly,
the black blues man
who played in dark bordellos when
the Bottoms glowed in red lights.

The new name didn’t change
the neighborhood nor raise it up so that folks
could look into the mansions on the Hill.

Still overgrown with may haws,
vines and poison ivy.
Still filled with kids
in ragged pants, holes in the knees.
Still heavy with the smells:
pokeweed, fatback, pot liquor, cornbread.

The city hasn’t changed much either
since those heady days,
last capital of the
dying Confederacy.

When I lived there,
our neighbors woke,
cross burning in their front yard.

The week I moved away,
a man and his son,
about ten years old,
dressed in white robes,
sheets really,
sat on a pickup tailgate
waving huge Confederate flags
in front of the high school.

These days no burning
crosses, no white hoods,
but unchanged feelings
remain in many hearts
that beat in the pews on Sunday.
Still fighting the Civil War.

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SHAMELESS COMMERCE

Our family has heard some exciting news from the Bay Area. Sarah and Evan have been working on a cookbook for well over a year. The process has included selecting recipes, testing them exhaustively, food styling sessions and long photo shoots along with extended conferences with editors. The book is due to be released on September 4. Amazon has it available for pre-order at $29.68. Of course, we have not seen the finished product or even the galleys. But we have heard all about the challenges, delays, deadlines, and disagreements that all go into the crafting of a book. Both Sarah and Evan have learned that book writing is a lot different from cooking. For them it is not as much fun.

The book features some of the foods that come out of the kitchens at Rich Table and RT Rotisserie, but it also includes comfort foods and accompanying family stories from childhood. Proud dad that I am, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy,

Here’s a look at the cover:

 

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SUNDAY FAMILY DINNER

Since our move to Los Angeles, Sunday dinner with the family has become a tradition that we all enjoy and do all we can to avoid missing. The dinner was originally Carol’s suggestion, and her rules were very simple: We would rotate between our house and her house. The host was responsible for the main meal and the visitor was responsible for an appetizer with drinks along with dessert.  The rules were modified when, as is our wont in this competitive family, the appetizers grew ever-more complex and caloric. They were tasty, but it became clear that our bathroom scales could not sustain the weekly onslaught to our “diets”. Thus, the appetizers were downsized to crudités or nuts. Even with this revision, there is plenty to eat, and the food is always thoughtfully planned, cooked and anticipated. Every week, my grandson begins to ask around Tuesday or Wednesday what’s planned for Sunday. The pressure is definitely on.

Even though the food is always excellent, for me – and I think for others – the highlight of the evening is the conversation. Everyone brings us up to date on their activities and news of the past week. Then we review activities of the week ahead so that schedules don’t conflict and duties are assigned. What follows is a lively, free-ranging conversation in which everyone contributes. We steer clear of politics, not because of differences but because we’re mostly politicked-out by the weekend. New movies and music are popular topics, especially with the teenagers. Current events and community activities are also included in the discussions. This last Sunday was a little melancholy. We were still enjoying the excitement of high school graduation and the anticipation of the next chapter in a young life. But the euphoria was tempered by the realization that our granddaughter would not be part of the conversation in a couple of months. She would be clear across the country, engaged with new challenges and new friends. Perhaps that made the conversation this last Sunday even livelier than usual. Still, we’ll have the rest of the summer to enjoy our granddaughter before she is off.

Carol made a delicious meal: roasted pork, glazed carrots from a recipe by Ina Garten, a savory rice pilaf, and a salad that included watercress, fresh cherries, and strawberries all from the farmers market that morning. It was my turn for dessert. Cherries are just about finished for the season, so I thought of Black Forest cake, but some of the family doesn’t like cake. Stone fruits are just beginning to reach their peak at the farmers market; there were apricots, peaches, many varieties of plums, pluots, and nectarines – no lack of choices for a juicy pie. Everyone likes pie, so the basic choice was made. Looking for ideas, I turned to the beautiful cookbook, Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, written by the two sisters, Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, who left successful New York City careers to start their famous pie shop in Brooklyn, now with at least three outlets in the city. The sisters hail from Hecla, South Dakota (population 227) just down the road from Frederick (population 199) where my mother grew up. That makes their terrific pie recipes (and images) more neighborly and not so “big city”. I chose their version of nectarine and blueberry pie. I found both the nectarines and blueberries at one of our family’s favorite stands at the farmers market. I made a few changes in the recipe (of course) but this is essentially the recipe from Emily and Melissa.

RECIPE

Nectarine and Blueberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sliced nectarines (about 3-4 fruit)
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • juice from ½ lemon, strained
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • two rounds of pie pastry for a nine-inch pie (I used prepared pie crust from the frozen food section of the grocery store)
  • 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water and pinch of salt for egg wash
  • turbinado sugar

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and bitters. Mix gently and set aside while you prepare the pie crust.
  2. Roll the pastry dough if necessary to fill a 9-inch pie pan. Arrange one of the rounds in the pan and chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Then add the fruit mixture to the chilled pie shell.
  3. Top the filling with the remaining pastry round or you may cut the round into strips to make a lattice top. Crimp the edges of the pie and, if you are using the whole round, cut several vents near the center.
  4. Using a pastry brush,, paint the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes
  5. In the meantime, arrange the racks in the oven so that one is at the lowest level and one is in the middle of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.
  6. Place the pie in the middle of the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 375°F, transfer the pie and the baking sheet to the middle rack, and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  7. When the pie is golden brown, remove from the oven, transfer the baked pie to a cooking rack, and cool completely.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature. Add a scoop of ice cream if you wish.

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DILLED FAVA BEANS IN SOUR CREAM

Things just seem to come together at the farmers market. Vegetables and fruits that complement one another seem to ripen together. Maybe not, but there are combinations that work, like strawberries and rhubarb or squash and corn. Another great combination is dill and favas. They both peak in the spring and trail off in the summer. A while back at my favorite market stall I found some beautiful fronds of dill tied up in bundles along with a big bin of favas ready to be scooped up. I was mindful of the effort that lay ahead of me, but the  earthy taste of fresh green favas compensates for the work involved to prepare them. Although favas can be used in many ways once they are shelled, a simple preparation highlights their flavor. Nothing could be easier than this way to serve fava beans.

RECIPE

Dilled Fava Beans in Sour Cream

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (about) unshelled fresh fava beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Shell the beans by pressing the seam of the pod between your fingers and popping the beans into a container.
  2. Blanch the beans by adding them to a large pot of boiling salted water. Return to the boil after adding the beans and boil for one minute. Drain and chill immediately in ice water.
  3. With your thumbnail, pop the thick bean coating open and squeeze out the bean to a waiting container.
  4. When you have finished shelling all of the beans, combine them with chopped dill, sour cream and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

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TATER TOT CASSEROLE

Our granddaughter and her father recently made a whirlwind trip to help her with her final decision about college. That meant our usual Sunday Family Dinner was changed to simple stir fry, and on return of the travelers Carol made a celebratory steak dinner for her family. Susan and I thought it was important for that to be a special time for parents and children, so we planned our own meal. A few days before that, Susan had plunked on my desk a recipe she had torn out of a magazine. It was for a combination of turkey and tater tots, and I took the message that Susan wanted to give it a try. So I went to the store for frozen tater tots and canned beans. Instead of turkey, though, I used some franks and diced ham that were in the refrigerator. The result was definitely not gourmet eating, but it wound up tasting better than either Susan or I had anticipated. The next day we got to give our granddaughter a big hug and our congratulations.

RECIPE

Tater Tot Casserole

Ingredients

  • 28 ounce can baked beans
  • 4 beef frankfurters, cut into ½-inch slices
  • 8 ounces diced ham
  • 6 small crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 scallions, white and green, sliced
  • 2 ounces, cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 pound frozen tater tots (about)

Method

  1. Combine the baked beans, frankfurters, ham, mushrooms, and scallions and pour into a baking dish.
  2. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with grated cheese and arrange the tater tots on top of the cheese.
  3. Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 350°F for 45 minutes or until the tater tots are browned and crisp.
  4. Serve while still warm.

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BANANAS FOSTER CREAM PIE

Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.

The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.

RECIPE

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

Filling

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
  • 2 bananas

Method

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
  5. Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
  6. Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.

Meringue

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  2. Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
  3. Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
  4. Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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