Saturday, February 22, 2014

North East Kingdom Farmhouse Cooking

Cooking and eating is an important ritual while living and working on a dairy farm. Here, at the Andersonville Dairy Farm, when "breakfast is ready" is called - I leapt downstairs from my room to the kitchen upon hearing the announcement - farm fresh scrambled eggs, hash browns, and buttered honey wheat bread is served with warm coffee and raw milk.

Early morning baking, and full-day slow roasting is part of cooking and living home economics on the farm.

To be continued ..

Monday, January 27, 2014

Roscón de Reyes: Three Kings Cake

Growing up at my house, one of our favorite family traditions was celebrating Three Kings Day. And while it meant the official end of Christmas, taking down the tree and packing away the decorations, it also meant eating a scrumptious treat — a ring-shaped loaf of sweet bread decorated to look like a crown and baked with a special prize inside.

Three Kings Day, an important Christmas holiday in Spain and several Latin America countries, is the 12th day of Christmas, and commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

In Colombia, where my mother is from, Jan. 6 is a national holiday known as the Día de los Reyes Magos, or the Epiphany. As in Mexico, the day is a gift-giving holiday and a time for family and friends to be together.

You can imagine the surprise when as children our Abuelita Rosita would recount to my brother, sister and I how our mother and her siblings would leave their shoes out the night before filled with food for the kings’ camels along with a note. By the morning of the next day, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar had replaced the hay with gifts.

While traditions vary from country to country and community to community, one commonality of the celebration is a type of slightly sweet bread called roscón de reyes, served garnished with “jewels” of candied fruit and nuts.

A small object made of clay or porcelain, representing the baby Jesus, is baked inside. At our house, the finder of the figurine is crowned and becomes king or queen for the day.

A more traditional custom is that whoever finds the figurine must host a dinner party on Candlemas, Feb. 2. Another belief is that luck is granted to the person who finds it. In any case, half the pleasure of eating roscón de reyes is finding out who gets the prize.

Obviously, it’s important to avoid biting into or swallowing the prize, especially if you’re serving the roscón de reyes to children. But usually, everyone is so eager to win the prize that each piece of bread is thoroughly searched before anyone takes a bite.

Roscón de Reyes

from King Arthur Flour Cookbook

Dough ingredients
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3.25 cups all-purpose flour

Filling ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup dried mixed fruits
1 tablespoon lemon, orange, or lime zest

Garnish ingredients
candied red cherries and/or orange peel
toasted sliced almonds, pecans, cashews or walnuts

Glaze: Combine 1 tablespoon sugar with 2 teaspoons water and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir to combine, then drizzle over the bread for the last 20 minutes of the baking time.

Dough: Heat the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the hot milk over the butter, sugar and salt, and stir occasionally until the butter melts. Cool the mixture to lukewarm.In a mixing bowl combine the milk mixture, eggs and yeast. Add the flour one cup at a time, and mix until a soft, smooth dough forms.Place the dough in a greased container, cover it, and set it in a draft-free place to rise until doubled (about 60 to 90 minutes).After the first rise, deflate the dough, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; roll into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle.

Filling: Brush the surface of the dough with melted butter, leaving a half-inch strip bare along one of the long edges. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the nuts, mixed fruits and zest, and stir to coat. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the buttered section of the dough.

Assembly: Starting with the garnished long edge, roll the dough up jelly-roll style, working toward the edge with no butter on it. Pinch the seam together to seal it firmly, and then bring the ends together to form a ring. To keep the bread round, grease the outside of a small bowl and put it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the ring, seam-side down, around the bowl and tuck one end inside the other, pinching it together to seal it.

Flatten the ring slightly and, using a pair of scissors, make cuts in the dough at 1.5-inch intervals around the outside edge. Insert a figurine into the dough. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled (about 30 to 40 minutes).

Baking: Once the dough is shaped and is rising for the second time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the dough has risen, remove the plastic wrap and brush the top with beaten egg. Place the candied cherries (cut in half) in the spaces between the slits in the dough and decorate with nuts as desired. Combine the glaze ingredients and drizzle over the top.

Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, covering the loaf loosely with foil after the first 15 minutes, as it will brown quickly. Remove the bread from the oven when the inner parts of the slits look cooked and the interior measures 190 degrees when measured with an instant-read thermometer. Cool the bread on a rack.

Serve, celebrate & enjoy!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Special Thanksgiving Memory

By Francis Moran

“What is tetrazzini?” I remember asking chef/instructor Jim Birmingham at the Feast for Floodies event in May of last year. I was with a crew of other New England Culinary Institute students volunteering at the Crossett Brook Middle School to prepare and serve a special community dinner for those affected by the flood caused by Hurricane Irene.

Chef Jim, himself a village floodie, teamed-up with Andrea McManus, a Waterbury Center resident and NECI faculty member who had helped with previous flood dinners, to create a menu and recruit students to cook the big dinner.

The event was organized by Carrie Dessureau and her dedicated committee, who within a few short weeks managed to solicit a tremendous amount of donated food from area businesses and many generous people from the area, to help keep the spirit of community alive with a social gathering and meal.

We had enough food to feed an army; including cakes, cookies and pies of all descriptions for dessert, lettuce greens for salad, plus pasta, frozen mixed vegetables, cheese, ham, and I don’t know how many cooked turkeys for the main course.

It seemed a little chaotic in the kitchen at first, but Chef Jim quickly got us organized and gave us each a task. I was assigned to get a big pot of water on the stove and cook spaghetti.

“After that, start pulling all this meat off the bones,” he commanded, pointing to the large object still cooling in a roasting pan beneath a blanket of aluminum foil.

“What are we making?” I asked. “A kind of tetrazzini,” he replied.  I had never heard of such a thing. “What is that?” I wondered out loud, as I ripped a turkey leg from its socket and shredded the meat into small pieces. “It’s a fancy Italian word for casserole,” Chef Jim answered. 

That sounded plausible, I thought to myself; but I couldn’t see his facial expression, and quietly went back to work. I would have to wait until I got home to look it up.

In fact, tetrazzini is named for famed Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini. But whatever it's origins, it makes for a delicious day-after Thanksgiving dish to serve using leftover turkey and vegetables.

And for, after that inspiring meal for flood victims, tetrazzini will always be connected to the spirit of "thanksgiving."

Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumn Soup Revisited: Potato-Leek Soup

For the home-gardener and cook, making potato-leek soup this time of year is ideal when you don’t know if the temperature is going to be chilly or warm, and rewarding to prepare with ingredients fresh from the garden.

When I first started vegetable gardening it was more for fun than anything else. Along with raising the usual variety of garden plants, herbs and companion flowers, I planted potatoes as a way to connect with my Irish roots.

As it turns out, potato-leek soup is a traditional Irish comfort food, typically served warm during the winter months with buttered, brown soda bread – which makes for a delicious treat on a chilly winter’s day.

But it was my first taste of the velvety chilled version of the soup, known as vichyssoise, with its smooth creamy finish, on a hot summer day that inspired me to grow leeks with this specific dish in mind the following season.

Leeks are easy to grow and frost hardy in our northern climate. The seedlings, started indoors in March and transplanted in April, reach full maturity by autumn, and are harvestable into late fall or early winter, under a thick blanket of mulch.

I learned the technique of “bleaching” the stems, which sweetens them, by starting the seedlings in a trench half-filled with seasoned compost and hilling the soil around the base as the plants grew; keeping the upper stem from which the leaves grow above soil level.

And now, with a bountiful garden harvest in the midst of a typical transitional Vermont autumn of warm days and chilly nights, I’m revisiting the warm version of potato-leek soup called Potage Parmentier, named after the French agronomist who actively promoted the potato for human consumption in France in the late 18th century.

But hot or cold, I love the comforting potato taste; the subtle sweetness of the leeks and for the way the luscious creamy texture is undercut by the savory flavor of the chicken stock.

And that’s why I love potato-leek soup in autumn: because it’s a versatile and flexible recipe easily adaptable to a variety of substitutions or additional ingredients that can be enjoyed chilled for lunch on a warm day or heated up on a chilly night.

Some hints on technique:

Don’t over-cook the potatoes or the starches will break down and the finished soup will be grainy. For a velvety, smooth finish, make sure that all the ingredients are soft and purée well; then press the soup through a fine-sieve. When re-heating: check for consistency and add cream or stock accordingly. For more color use Yukon Gold potatoes. Note: chilling dulls the flavor, so taste before serving and add salt & pepper as needed.

Creamed Potato-Leek Soup

Serves 4


2 medium-sized leeks: trimmed, washed & sliced; white and pale green parts only.
3 or 4 medium-sized, firm-fleshed Russet potatoes; peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 quart chicken stock
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

The basic procedure:
  1. In a large stock pot melt butter over low heat. Add leeks, coat in butter and cover, and cook over medium-low heat about 15-20 minutes, or until soft. Stir occasionally, not allowing butter or leeks to brown.
  2. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered until potatoes are soft. Remove from heat.
  3. Purée soup with an immersion blender, or food processor in small batches, and let cool.
Slowly whisk in cream. If serving this soup warm, reheat the soup slowly so that the cream does not separate and change consistency. If serving chilled; refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Blue Moon Grilled Dinner

A late-summer grilled dinner with roasted rosemary potatoes, lemon-buttered grilled chicken breast and grilled corn on the comb. The second-full moon in a month is called a blue moon, however on this night, Friday, August 31, the moon was harvest moon-colored.

I paired this bistro-inspired meal with a Heady Topper, (an 8% abv double-hopped IPA) and served it for a private party of four. The "native" butter and sugar corn, purchased from a neighboring farmstand, was first soaked in water for twenty minutes, then brushed with  lemon-herb flavored melted butter, re-wrapped in its husk, wrapped in foil and grilled until done.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blackberry Dessert

Blackberry "Tiramisu" by Nicole Maddox, Crop Bistro

Rich in flavor and light in texture, this summer-time dessert of layered vanilla bean ladyfingers, creamy sweet ricotta and blackberry brandy was created when pastry chef Nicole Maddox was inspired to make a summery dessert using house-made ricotta cheese - which is traditionally used in denser Italtian desserts - and lightened by whipping sugar and cream into it.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Culinary Treats: by Baking & Pastry students from New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.