28 July 2014

Meatless Monday: Blueberry Crisp with Salted Almond Topping

Here it is nearly the end of July and we've had only a handful of truly hot days here in northeastern Wisconsin. That means I've had plenty of opportunities to bake fruit crisps, hands down the favorite dessert at our house.

This year, my stepdaughter surprised me with the gift of a blueberry bush, and there is a small clutch of blueberries which should ripen in a few weeks. According to this account, I'm better off pinching back growth for the first few summers to encourage future growth, but we'll see what happens.

Blueberries remind me of Grandma Annie (check out her blueberry pudding) and my childhood, and I am always happy to have them on hand for cereal or for baking desserts like this one and the one featured today.

I don't work with recipes when I make this favorite dessert, which pairs blueberries with salted almonds. But I'be done my best to document the process below.

For the fruit:
  • 1-2 pints fresh blueberries, washed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • splash lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • healthy dash cinnamon (optional)

For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 5-6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup salted almonds, roughly ground
  • pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degres. Grease an 8-by-8-in baking pan.

After blueberries are washed and checked for stems, place them in the pan. Sprinkle with sugar and cornstarch or flour. Cinnamon is optional, but I think it adds depth. Set aside.

Pour flour, sugar and ground almonds into small bowl. Cut in pea-sized pieces of butter and a pinch of sea salt and blend until mixture has the consistency of streusel topping. Sprinkle evenly atop the blueberries. Add a pinch of sea salt to topping to both counter and enhance the sweetness.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve warm or chilled. My husband likes ice cream topping; I prefer yogurt. 

26 July 2014

Fast and Frugal: Creamy Lobster Soup for Two

Not a traditional bisque, but a fine lobster soup.

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon some affordable frozen lobster, enough for lobster rolls, which I did not photograph. Another time perhaps.

I wanted to use the shells in my compost, which has been depleted this summer with the planting of a small tree to replace the large, century-old maple we - sadly and with much procrastinating - were forced to remove three years ago.

But first, I made a delicious stock by boiling the shells in water, then extracting every morsel of lobster meat I could before placing the tasty broth, lobster bits and all, in the refrigerator. I then roasted the picked-over shells, which dried them out so I could either crush or grind them for my compost bin.*

The next day, I found myself with slightly less than two cups of broth, to which I added:
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste from a tube
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small potato, boiled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels (from a bag of frozen corn - most economical)
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
  • healthy dash of Old Bay Seasoning
  • teaspoon chopped parsley
  • dash sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature
Place the stock in a medium-size sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, adding tomato, carrot, celery. Bring to a second boil and lower heat, adding corn, potato and seasoning. Allow to simmer under low heat for about 20 minutes, adding room temperature cream before serving.

Taste frequently. I thought the soup had a bitter aftertaste, so I added a pinch of sugar, which seemed to enhance the flavor. I had no sherry in the house, but adding that to the soup is another option.

By strictest definition, I can't call this a bisque but it was a great Saturday night soup. Expect a repeat performance!

*Use the same two-step process before adding the shells of shrimp to your compost. And always buy wild-caught shrimp and lobster.

15 July 2014

Making Chicken Stock

At least 10 times a year, I roast a chicken, usually on Sundays. Chicken was the dish of choice nearly every Sunday at Grandma Annie's house in Frenchtown, and I associate the aroma with the sensation of putting on my play clothes after church.

I also buy four-packs of chicken breasts still on the bone, and can get at least 6 servings from them, making chicken salads or casseroles for the first few meals of the week.

Always I save the carcasses and the bones for making chicken stock, usually adding onions, a carrot, celery some garlic, parsley and herbs de Provence. In doing so, I feel rather virtuous because I am making such complete use of the chicken.

I freeze the broth for cold-weather soup making. Store-bought stocks are no match for it: It is rich and full-bodied and savory. Usually I chill it first and skim the congealed fat off the top before freezing, but sometimes I skip this step.

Chicken stock has many uses, in addition to soups like this and this:
  • It adds flavor to rice, pasta, quinoa and couscous.
  • It can make frozen vegetables taste almost fresh.
  • It provides a sauce base for many French dishes.
  • It really enhances the flavor of mashed potatoes.
  • It is essential for making gravy.
  • It can be used to add richness to a cream cheese and onion potato chip dip or cracker spread.

Here are links to other ideas for using chicken stock:

This blogger calls it liquid gold and I agree. And this one calls it free food.

Here are a few more ideas.

If you are tossing out your chicken bones and carcasses instead of making stock, you're missing a gold mine of flavor!

13 July 2014

Road Food: Essentials for the Suitcase

We never travel without this kit.

Sampling local specialties is the best - and certainly the tastiest - part of travel. One of the easiest ways to do this is to visit a farm market. With that in mind, my husband and I usually travel with two string bags, both purchased 30 years ago at Tellus Mater in Madison, Wis.

We routinely travel with a few other essential items, including two Opinel folding knives purchased from La Vaissellerie in Paris, and a corkscrew from The Main Course in Fish Creek, Wis.

A cutting board, two small plates and a few spoons and forks round out our traveling food kit. We look for hotel rooms with microwaves and refrigerators; a wet bar is a bonus. Checking out a few local restaurants is fun, but dining en suite is cost-effective and after a long day, relaxing.

We not only enjoy outdoor and indoor markets, but also local grocery stores, especially Italian markets, like Fraboni's, and cheese shops, like Fromagination, both in Madison, Wis.

Many locally-owned specialty shops offer sandwiches or deli fare; this option is usually affordable and offers some imaginative pairings. One of my favorite places for sandwiches in Wisconsin is the Fish Creek Market in Door County.

When traveling in France, we often buy a sandwiche jambon (ham sandwich) and share it. Desperate once on a stormy night, we stumbled upon a wonderful veggie sandwich at Boulangerie Versavel (never mind the brusque counter staff), near the Bastille in Paris. We cut it in half and enjoyed it in our minuscule but charming hotel room a half block away.

I suppose a Swiss Army knife and a cutting board would offer us the same convenience when we travel, but this is the approach we've taken. It has enabled us to eat like locals and save money for more travels.