Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blueberry Cornbread

A much-anticipated summer milestone in Michigan’s thumb is the start of the blueberry season, and I’m happy to report that it is currently in full-swing. We get a lot of our blueberries from a little berry farm in Croswell, Michigan. You can pick them yourself or buy them picked by the pound, depending on how much time and energy you have at the moment! Either way, they are sweet, easy to eat, and go well with many different quick breads like pancakes, muffins, waffles and cornbread. 

Here, we decided to include some of the blueberries in cornbread. You may have a favorite cornbread recipe, but you can always include a couple of cups of fresh blueberries in the final mix before putting the batter in the pan. This is a standard cornbread recipe that I like, and the berries not only give it a beautiful look, but add a special dimension to the hearty cornbread.

Blueberry Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal (white or yellow)
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups fresh blueberries (you could also use frozen, but I like the texture of the fresh)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. 

In another large bowl, beat eggs, milk and oil together until combined.

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix together until just combined. Fold in blueberries and pour batter into a greased 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 baking dish.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until top is a deep golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool a little before cutting. Serve with lots of butter!

Making Rhubarb Bars

The Michigan rhubarb season does not go unnoticed at CoF. There is a period of time, usually between the middle of May and the middle of June, I find myself buying up rhubarb wherever I find it for sale. Because of its limited availability, I need to get a year’s worth of it in the freezer as soon as I can so I can stop worrying about having enough rhubarb on-hand! 

If it’s not going to be used immediately, then it gets trimmed of leaves, washed and cut into one-inch size pieces. Then it goes into a freezer container until someone gets an idea to make a rhubarb pie, crumble, coffee cake or as in this case, rhubarb bars (or “rhubars”).

These delicious bars have a very buttery, almost shortbread-like bottom crust, with a gooey sweet top that is dotted with tart bursts of ruby-red rhubarb. These are something very different and go great after dinner with coffee or just on its own.

Rhubarb Bars or “Rhubars”

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3 cups granulated sugar
½ cup flour
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
4 eggs, beaten
4 – 4 ½ cups rhubarb, chopped into one-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, two cups of flour and the powdered sugar until a stiff dough forms. Press dough into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until it turns lightly golden. 

While the crust is baking, beat eggs in a large bowl and add granulated sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and mix together well. Add rhubarb and fold it into the batter. 

When the crust is done, remove from oven an immediately pour filling batter on top of crust and return it to the 350 degree oven and bake it for 40 minutes, or until the filling begins to get brown on top. 

Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Old-School Peanut Butter Cookies

Baking cookies is a fairly regular exercise in the CoF kitchens, and while it is always fun to experiment and try new recipes, most often I find myself preparing one from what I refer to as the  “trinity of cookies:”  chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal. This has a lot to do with the ingredients that I have on-hand when I get the urge to make cookies. It seems that I always have flour, butter, eggs, white and brown sugar, chocolate chips, peanut butter and rolled oats in the kitchen.

So, one morning I decided to make a batch of peanut butter cookies. These are the ones you imagine when you think of peanut butter cookies – round and sporting some crinkles around the edges, with the familiar criss-cross top made using the tines of a fork. These are the peanut butter cookies my mom and the mothers of my friends made growing up in our suburban Detroit neighborhood. They go great with a tall, cold glass of milk or with coffee or tea. 

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening (I use Crisco here, some use margarine instead but I’ve never tried that method)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky – use regular PB, not the “natural” style where the oils separate)
2 eggs
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugars, shortening and vanilla. Add peanut butter and eggs and combine, scraping down bowl as necessary.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture, scraping down bowl as necessary. Continue to mix until dry ingredients are totally combined. Dough will be thick.

Roll dough into balls (about the size of a ping-pong ball) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray. You should be able to get a dozen on a sheet. Using a dinner fork that is dipped in flour, gently press down on dough ball in one direction, lift fork, dip again in flour, and press down on dough in perpendicular direction. This will both flatten the dough ball and create a criss-cross pattern on top of the cookie. 

Bake in oven 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Remove and transfer cookies to a cooling rack.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pasta Avocado

The avocado is one of those foods (it’s actually a fruit) that I’ve always associated with one thing: guacamole. I guess I’ve had sliced avocados in salads or on sandwiches, but beyond that I don’t give it much thought. But I’m finding out that this creamy, rich fruit is good in many different applications.

When an avocado ripens, the flesh becomes quite soft and easily mashed or spread. This makes it ideal for a kind of pasta sauce. For those who are bored with the same old tomato-based sauces, or don’t  have the time or ingredients on-hand to whip up some type of pesto, an avocado sauce is a great way to do something different.

This pasta avocado dish comes together quickly. It almost takes no more time to make the sauce than it does to boil the pasta. It is also vegetarian friendly and great served with a salad and some really good bread.

Pasta Avocado

2 ripe avocados
3 cloves garlic
Juice and zest of one medium lemon
3 TBSP olive oil
¾ - 1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper
I pound pasta (I like to use rigatoni or penne for this, but use your favorite or what you have on hand)

I start by putting a big pot of water on the stove for boiling the pasta. As the water heats up, I make the sauce. 

Zest a medium lemon and set zest aside – this will be the garnish for the top of the pasta. Then juice the lemon and set juice aside.

In a food processor or strong blender, combine the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and blend until the garlic is finely chopped and everything is combined. 

Cut avocado in half lengthwise and remove pit. Scoop out flesh with a spoon and add to garlic/oil/lemon mixture along with the basil leaves and salt. Combine until mixture is smooth and creamy (it will be on the thick side).

Cook pasta as directed. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add avocado sauce and toss to combine.  You will notice the sauce will thin out a little from the warm pasta as it coats all the noodles. Transfer pasta to large serving bowl or platter and garnish top with lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper (to taste).  Serve immediately along with grated Parmesan or asiago cheese on the side.