Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blueberry Thyme Cornbread

I think I have at least one recipe stashed away somewhere in what at some level is an organized fashion for a blueberry cornbread. It’s really the idea that I wanted to hang onto, however, since I’m very happy with the basic cornbread recipe I use (and occasionally vary slightly) from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. All I needed to do was add some blueberries to my favorite cornbread and I would probably have something good.

I wanted this cornbread to be something I could serve as part as supper, an accompaniment to a savory meal (first, beans and rice, and then the leftovers with black bean soup), so I didn’t want something sweet enough to be confused with cake. At the same time, I wanted the blueberries in a batter that had a little sweetness, so I used a bit more honey than I usually do to make cornbread. Also, to make a little bridge back to savory, I added some fresh thyme leaves.

I was pretty excited at how successful this cornbread recipe was. I quite liked the blueberries with the cornmeal and the combination of thyme and blueberries was especially delicious. I admit that, even though I put the thyme in the cornbread myself, its bright, herbal taste was a pleasant surprise. Usually, I’d go for sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves with blueberries, but the thyme was great as both a compliment and a contrast to the fruity blueberries.

I particularly like to use a cast-iron skillet to make cornbread of any kind. I love the way it makes delightfully brown and crunchy edges. Using Madison’s method of preheating the pan and greasing it by melting some of the butter for the recipe in the process, then brushing it up the sides of the pan, helps to create those delicious edges. I like to use a good-quality stone-ground cornmeal for great flavor and a pleasant, slightly crumbly texture. I also highly recommend using whole wheat pastry flour along with the cornmeal for a more complex but still delicate grain flavor, but all-purpose flour could be used instead.

This Blueberry Thyme Cornbread was great in its intended place as part of supper rather than dessert. Of course, making this blueberry cake or adding blueberries to this yogurt cake might be just as nice and easy if you do happen to be looking for dessert. There are lots of blueberries out there, so I hope you find someplace you love to feature them.

Blueberry Thyme Cornbread
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
¼ cup honey
1 cup milk
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Place in the oven to melt. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, combine the cornmeal, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and baking powder. Whisk or sift to combine well. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Whisk in the 4 tablespoons melted butter. Whisk in the honey and the milk until well combined.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Stir in the blueberries and thyme.

5. Remove the skillet with the butter from the oven. Brush the melted butter all over the inside of the skillet. Pour any excess butter into the batter and stir in.

6. Pour the batter into the skillet. Place the skillet back into the oven and bake at 425 F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown along the edges and a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cornbread comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Makes about 8 servings. The cornbread is best the day it is made, but leftovers are still good stored in a zip-top bag and warmed in a microwave.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Farro and White Bean Salad with Fennel

I’ve been hoping to make some more hearty salads lately. They’re just right for simple suppers in the heat of summer and I love to take them to work for lunch. I finally got around to cooking up a small, very nice bag of farro I’ve had in the cupboard for a while, and I finally got around to cooking up the white beans stored next to that. What pushed me past that procrastination, however, was the purchase of a lovely little fennel bulb at the local farmer’s market. The bulb was smallish, but it was so fresh that the heavier parts of the stalks were also quite nice. It also had a beautiful head of lush green hair that hung out of my market bag as I shopped. Pity I didn’t get a photo.

Anyway, this is similar to other bean and grain salads I’ve made, and just as good, too. The flavor is very fennel forward, but it’s underlined by the nuttiness of the farro (gentle) and walnuts (a little nuttier). The vinaigrette dressing it pretty standard and you could substitute the walnut oil with another nut oil or olive oil, but I quite liked it here (especially since I also included the walnuts). You could also substitute the cider vinegar with another vinegar or with citrus juice. Again, I liked the cider vinegar.

This salad is also an interesting play of textures. The farro is chewy and a little starchy. The beans are creamy and mild. The fennel is crunchy, but not overly so. The interspersed walnuts also have a pleasant crunch. Very nice, I must say. And if you cannot find (or don’t care for) fennel, don’t let that keep you from experimenting with some version of this hearty, nutritious salad.

Farro and White Bean Salad with Fennel and Walnuts

½ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups cooked farro
1 ½ cups (about 1 16-ounce can) cooked white beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium-size fennel bulb and firm stalks, sliced
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper
¼ cup walnut oil

1. Toast the walnuts in a dry saute pan over medium heat until just beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

2. Combine the farro, beans, and fennel in a medium size bowl. Toss to combine.

3. In a small bowl, combine the cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk together to combine well. Whisk in the walnut oil until the mixture is smooth. Pour over the farro mixture and toss to coat. Stir in the toasted walnuts.

Makes 6-8 servings. Leftovers last for several days in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Simple Berry and Rhubarb Galette

It’s hard to argue against a simple dessert of a nice bowl of perfectly juicy, sweet berries at the peak of their season. Really, those berries don’t need to be fiddled around with at all. But people like me just have to fiddle. And if another level of dessert deliciousness can be achieved with just a bit more effort (and an available pie crust), hey, why not?

This is a very easy, almost rustic berry and rhubarb free-form pie that I’ve thrown together a couple of times when I’ve found myself with plenty of luscious berries and, of course, plenty of rhubarb. I’ve got rhubarb growing in proliferation in my back yard from early spring through most of the summer, so it’s delightfully sour self finds its way into desserts without really trying. If you don’t have rhubarb available, however, don’t let that stop you from making this simple berry dessert. Just leave it out and, probably, adjust the sugar content as needed.

This pie comes from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison, who is happy to allow good ingredients, like berries in season, to be the star of a dish. I just tossed together some berries (I had blueberries, strawberries and raspberries on hand when I took these photos) with rhubarb and brown sugar. A splash of lemon juice keeps flavors and colors bright, and I added what I thought was the right amount of cornstarch to thicken the juices a bit. I used more sugar and cornstarch than you might need if you don’t have rhubarb in the mix, which is sour and especially juicy.

This is just such a delicious dessert, largely because it’s all about the fruit. I even made it with a mediocre store-bought pastry and it was still fabulous, although I preferred it with this easy crust. (The crusts in this post and this post would also be good, of course.) You’ll really need to bake it on a large baking sheet, since there’s a good chance the beautiful berry juices are going to leak out of some breach in the crust’s integrity. For me, that’s an acceptable hazard.

An acceptable hazard made all better with juicy, delicious berries and rhubarb. And ice cream. Don’t forget to serve this with a scoop of ice cream. 

Berry and Rhubarb Galette
Adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison

You could leave out the rhubarb if you don’t have any on hand, in which case you may want to use less sugar. Taste your berries to see how much sweetening they need.

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and sliced strawberries are all great here.

Pastry for a single crust pie, such as ½ recipe Easy Cream Cheese Pastry
3-4 cups mixed berries and rhubarb, your choice
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon (or so) cream or half and half
coarse sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or foil or parchment. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the berries and rhubarb with the brown sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Gently toss together to mix well.

3. On a floured surface, roll out prepared crust dough into a circle about 10-11 inches. Carefully transfer to the lined baking sheet.

4. Spread the berry mixture over the crust leaving about a 2-inch border. Fold the dough border up over the berries, gently draping and trying to avoid gaps out of which the berries can spill (they probably will anyway). Brush the cream or half and half over the crust. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the crust.

5. Bake at 425 F until the fruit is bubbly slightly gooey and the crust is golden brown, about 35 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. (Of course eating the completely cooled leftovers is perfectly good as well.)

Makes 6-8 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Apricot and Raspberry Tart with Crumble Topping (I’m soooooo hungry for this one right now!), Open-Face Blueberry Pie, Rhubarb-Ginger Galette

Friday, July 4, 2014

Archive Recipe: Easy Cream Cheese Pastry

Recently, I’ve been kind of throwing together some rustic but luscious berry galettes (more on that later). They seem to taste best when I find some succulent berries on a grocery-getting mission and can have a pie in the oven during suppertime that can serve as immediate dessert. This only works if I have a pie crust ready to go, either a homemade one that I made ahead and froze (not likely), a store-bought pastry (an extremely easy last-minute fix, but not quite as good), or something reliable that I can make very quickly without much fuss. Toward this final choice is where I’ve been leaning and a practically fool-proof Easy Cream Cheese Pastry seems to be the way to go.

I first came across this pie crust in a recipe for this savory Morel Mushroom Galette. I found it so easy and so satisfying to use that I’ve been falling back on it for all kinds of sweet and savory pies. It’s made by simply beating together its 4 basic ingredients (3 if you want to replace the whole wheat pastry flour with more all-purpose flour) in a heavy-duty stand mixer, pulling them all together, chilling the dough, and then rolling it out. It’s sturdier, much less delicate and more forgiving than traditional pastries, although, I’ll admit, less flaky and a little less tender.

I like the trade-off, though, since it can make the difference between having pie today, or having pie in some indeterminate future (and at the rate I’ve been following through with things lately, that pretty much means never). If you’re new to baking and pie crust is holding you back from your summer fruit dessert dreams, try this one. It’s easy to make in the mixer, and may even be workable in the food processor (I had hoped to try that before posting this but…). It rolls out on a floured surface easily, too, especially if it’s not too cold. It is subject to some of the other problems that pie crusts can have, however, such as shrinking in the pan, so handling it carefully is still in order.

And so, if your kitchen is like mine and it seems like there’s always pie yesterday and pie tomorrow, let this easy pie crust put you one step closer to pie today!

Easy Cream Cheese Pastry

This makes enough for two single-crust pies or galettes, or 1 double crust pie. The recipe is easily halved.

You could replace the whole wheat pastry flour with additional all-purpose flour

8 ounces cream cheese (low-fat is fine), at room temperature
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour

1. Combine cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Beat at medium speed until smooth and fluffy.

2. Add the all-purpose flour and the whole wheat pastry flour. Beat on low speed until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture comes together into a moist ball.

3. Form the dough into two equal disks and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (and up to a few days) before using. Roll out into desired shape and use as you would any pie pastry.

Makes two 8-10 inch pie crusts.

Other recipes like this one: Basic Pie Crust, Whole Wheat Pastry

One year ago: Green Pea Hummus