14 September 2006

Apple-Cheddar Scones

Autumn is coming on fast here in northern Wisconsin. Last year at this time, everything was still very green. But we've had a spate of cool nights, a few damp days here and there and a host of glorious sunny days in the past few weeks. Cool nights and sunny days make for red and gold leaves.

And they are turning already, along the road out to the university and even in town. Last year's autumn was long and lingering, but I suspect this one will be quick. Our spring was earlier.

What does this have to do with food? Nothing, really, except that foods typically associated with a season enhance your enjoyment of that time of year.

Most people claim fall as their favorite season up here. Apples are plentiful and this being Wisconsin, so is cheese.

I baked these scones tonight (I've decided to experiment with a new seasonal recipe each month).

Apple-Cheddar-Walnut Scones

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour and white flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (depends on your preference)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I used fructose)
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut in the butter, using a pastry tool or your fingers to create a grainy texture. In a small bowl, blend the buttermilk, cheese, applesauce and walnuts. Add the moist mix to the dry mix and blend thoroughly. Divide into 8 balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet or use a greased scone pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center indicates the scones are thoroughly baked. The scones will be a golden brown. Serve warm, with apple butter.

The true test for scones is how they do when warmed over. These held their moisture, a rare feat for a scone.

08 September 2006

Apple Cider Making

It’s a good night for hunkering down at home with a big bowl of popcorn and maybe a cool mug of apple cider.

It was a night just like this that some friends held their annual cider-making party last year. I was among the dozen or so guests who began preparing bushels and bushels of apples late in the afternoon.

The five varieties of apples, picked at a nearby orchard a week earlier, had been left to mature for a few days.

Working an old-fashioned cider press is hard work, and it was left to the more muscular guests, thankfully.

It seemed to take hours. Meanwhile, an herb-encrusted lamb roast cooked on a covered outdoor grill, perfuming the air outside. In the kitchen, three separate casseroles of potatoes, squash and green beans cooked in the hostess's big ovens. Two different fruit desserts cooled atop the stove. A fire roared away in the living room, and bottles of a peppery red and a nippy white wine were set out for guests to sample.

Dinner was served as soon as the apple pomace had been made into liquid.

We filled two tables, one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. The hostess joined us at the kitchen table and the talk turned to plays, music, restoring old houses and even, perhaps because of the dark evening and the approaching fall holiday, ghosts and unexplained occurrences.

The guests were a diverse and eclectic group, representing all segments of our small town, for the hostess is a collector of interesting people. What struck me was how often food and dinner tables serve as uniters.

Dinner conversation lasted until nearly 11 p.m., from salad to apple crisp and (decaf) coffee. I was sorry to leave, but Laurie sent us all on our way with a plate of leftovers. Eventually, each of us received a jug of apple cider, too.

I won't be making apple cider tonight. But my kitchen is warm and my house is cozy and redolent of roasted peppers and autumn vegetables. Not a bad beginning to a rainy night at home.

02 September 2006

France: The Worker in the Vineyard

During our stay in the Lot Valley, it was important not to rush around seeing things and taking pictures but to give in to the rhythm of the tiny village in which we stayed. We wanted to experience everyday life in rural France.

Mornings we drove down to Cahors, prowling the markets and the shops and cafés. Afternoons we preferred to stay closer to home.

The lovely house our friend loaned us after my husband’s surgery was too enchanting, with its tile floors, massive armors, comfortable sofas. Herbs and lilacs grew in the yard; everything was green and lichen-covered. Why leave? Here was sheer magic!

Nearly 300 years old, the home turned its back on the village and faced a vineyard. Afternoons while my husband rested, I sat by the pool listening to the calls of roosters and cuckoos and the droning of contented and very benign bees in the warm spring sunshine.

Looking down into the vineyards, I noticed a solitary worker, who began his task of staking the vines at about 9 a.m. each day. He worked until noon, took the traditional two-hour hour break, and went back to his vines. Between 2 p.m. and about 6:30, the sound of chain saws and tractors would ring out across the valley again, competing with the roosters and cuckoos.

The man in the vineyard went about his work, never looking up. I wondered if he could hear so strong was his attention to task. I later learned he could not.

For a week, I watched his progress. I don’t know if he ever saw me up there, but I considered him my companion on those sunny afternoons.

I sometimes think of him, when I am working at a repetitive task and giving it my full attention. I wonder if he is content with his job. Or does he merely tolerate it? Does he wish for a different lot in life? Is he happy staking vines and caring for grapes used in making the famous Black Wine of Cahors. I hope he is.

Several bottles of wine from the very grapes he tended had been left for us by our hostess. They were deep and rich and tannic and we drank from them in the evenings, once we closed the shutters and settled in. Our wine tasting was always accompanied by hooting from an owl that sat in the lilac tree each night.

Those were wonderful days and nights, the vineyard, the worker, the wine, the owl, the church bells and the smell of wood smoke and herbs. Such deep contentment!

01 September 2006

Parmesan Cheese Scones with Herbes de Provence

Scones don't have to be sweet.

Several years ago I finally broke down and invested in a cast-iron scone pan.

I was writing an article about scones for my weekly food column and figured I’d better have some first-hand knowledge. Since then I have periodically made sweet scones, usually pumpkin-raisin or cinnamon, but I wanted to try some savory scones this time. Why not scones with herbes de Provence?

Parmesan Scones with Herbes de Provence

  • 1 cup pre-sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ½-cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼-teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
  • ½-stick cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yoke, reserve the white for glaze
  • ½-cup buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Blend dry ingredients, including cheese, in a large bowl. Cut in the butter, working it into the flour with your fingers or with a pastry tool. Mixture should crumbly.

In a small bowl, blend egg, egg yoke and buttermilk. Gradually add to dry mixture until a sticky dough is formed. This is where an eight-section scone pan comes in handy. But you can also shape dough into round balls and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Beat leftover egg white, and brush each scone with it, sprinkling on additional Parmesan or herbs, if you like.

Bake scones for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 5-6 scones.

The delicate flavor of these scones pairs well with cheese as well as honey or jam. I thought butter with a lavender honey spread might be tasty.

Next time, I may increase the herbes de Provence for more zest.

29 August 2006

Famous Door County Cherry Dessert

Michigan, my home state, is the country’s largest producer of cherries.

Wisconsin is right up there, with the beautiful Door Peninsula still home to many ancient orchards lined with gnarled cherry trees.

Cherry country in this area of the Great Lakes is known for small villages filled, lamentably, with many tourist attractions but also with good wineries and comfortable inns and resorts. And of course, cherries, which are used in all manner of cakes, tea breads, muffins, pancakes, waffles, salads, dressings and scones.

Here is an easy cherry dessert that is similar to dump cake, but which deserves a more elegant name.

Door County Cherry Dessert
  • 4 cups frozen cherries or three cans of cherry pie filling
  • 1 package cake mix, any flavor
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 2 sticks of non-salted butter, melted

Pre-heat oven to 350. Spread the cherries in a 13 x 9 inch rectangular pan. Next, add the dry cake mix, distributing evenly. Drizzle melted butter over cake mix, reserving some. Sprinkle with nuts and top with remaining melted butter. Bake for about 50 minutes until the top is golden brown. Serve with whip cream, ice cream or alone. A small piece is very satisfying.

This is an easy treat for co-workers. I've brought it to work many times, and it never fails to draw rave reviews.

25 August 2006

Zucchini Bread with Mascarpone-Honey Spread

On a search through my recipe files, I found Aunt Jane’s recipe for zucchini bread. What perfect timing, as I have mounds of zucchini today, extras from the kind-hearted Hmong farmer from whom I buy the bulk of my vegetables.

The paper on which the recipe is written is stained and dog-eared and crumpled, for Jane made it every summer, more than once, I suspect. She gave loaves away to family and friends, of course, and we scarfed it down greedily.

Jane’s zucchini bread is rich and moist and really needs no other accompaniment but melting butter and a cold glass of milk. But I like to add a mascarpone spread to dress it up a bit.

The bread is spicy, too, like Jane herself, the spirited one in a family of demure Catholic girls. Though she was born on Bastille Day, Jane took after the Irish, not the French, side of her family. She managed to avoid parochial school, instead attending the public high school, where she had an awfully good time. She later dropped out of nursing school, eloping with a handsome theatre usher. The two bumped along together for decades, rearing two sons, until divorcing after 30 years of marriage. Finally, Jane scandalized her family by becoming a bartender in her 60s.

She had a talent for making people laugh, and for baking rather whimsical treats, like some delicious candy-like goodies called “Goofballs.”

When I think of zucchini bread, I think of Jane, fondly. When paired with my Mascarpone-Honey Spread, her zucchini bread rises to new heights.

Zucchini Bread with Mascarpone-Honey Spread

  • 3 eggs
  • One-cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • ½ cup raisins soaked in cognac
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch powdered cloves
  • 1 Tbs. cinnamon

Blend eggs, oil, sugar and shredded zucchini in a large bowl. Drain the raisins, reserving the cognac, and add those to the bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into another large bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl, stirring until well mixed. Transfer to two greased loaf pans. Bake at 40-45 minutes in 350-degree oven.


One 8-ounce carton Mascarpone cheese
One Tablespoon orange-flavored honey
One-teaspoon cognac
Pinch orange zest
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch of sugar, if needed

Blend ingredients and spread on bread. Top with chopped walnuts and raisins, if you like.

17 August 2006

Olive Dip for Chips

The food stores and supermarchés in France are filled with products that are downright impossible to find in the United States, certainly not in small towns like mine.

Many products — like oils, honeys, mustards, aoili, jams, sauces and spreads — are available from a variety of online sources.

I have had no luck, however, finding olive-flavored potato chips, which we fell in love with on our last visit to France. Chips made with olive oil, yes, but none that taste of olives and potatoes and sea salt, a distinctly Mediterranean flavor.

A few months back, my husband said, “Why don’t you try making an olive dip?”

And so I did.

Olive Dip for Chips and Crackers

  • 1 eight-ounce container cream cheese,* softened
  • 1/3 cup chopped green olives and pimentos
  • ¼ cup chopped black olives
  • 2 teaspoons liquid from green olives
  • 1 teaspoon minced onion
  • ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
  • sea salt to taste

Allow cream cheese to soften until it is at room temperature. Blend ingredients in order of listing above. Chill at least 6 hours to allow the flavors to marry. Allow dip to warm to room temperature before serving. Best served with something bland like potato chips, but also good with many crackers and raw vegetables.