Friday, November 7, 2014

Pumpkin-Walnut Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin-Walnut Bars ready for a church event.

My friend, Phyllis Highley (check out her products at Oregon Oats), shared this recipe and we both made Pumpkin Bars for a church dinner last night. Several people requested the recipe, so here it is:

Pumpkin Squares

2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin (I used pumpkin I had frozen last year)
3 eggs
1 scant cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (save some to sprinkle on top)

Mix together pumpkin, eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl. Add flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and nuts. Mix well and pour into a well-greased cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(Phyllis said she likes to double the frosting and that's what we both did for the bars we served last night, so the following recipe is already doubled)

6 ounces cream cheese
2 sticks butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar.

Blend all together and spread over cooled cake.

Jennifer's notes: I used walnuts, Phyllis used pecans. They were both delicious. I lined the pans with parchment and sprayed the sides with oil spray.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Maple-Glazed Walnuts and a Winter Salad

Originally published in The News Review
November 4, 2014
Recipes in this post: Maple-Glazed Walnuts, Toasted Walnuts, Mixed Greens with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese


It's Election Night as you read this. I will have been to the courthouse by now to deliver my ballot in person, wearing the cozy, non-partisan, red, white and blue “Get-Out-The-Vote” sweater that is my Election Day tradition. I miss voting at my local grange, where all the poll-watchers and precinct workers were my neighbors and knew my name. Tonight we'll build a rip-roaring fire in the fireplace and I'll crack and sort walnuts while we watch the returns come in.

We go through a lot of walnuts in our house. My husband and I each eat at least one handful every day. I put them on cereal, in oatmeal or yogurt or just eat them plain, straight from the zip-top bag in the freezer. I also use them in cookies, muffins and brownies. Unlike some other nuts, walnuts taste great raw and unsalted. Occasionally I will toast them in the oven to bring out even more flavor before adding to a salad.

If you've only eaten nuts from the grocery store, you have likely never tasted a truly fresh walnut. When properly handled and dried, they have a delicate crunch and rich flavor without any hint of greasiness. Brosi's SugarTree Farms near Winston (541-679-1472) has walnuts in the shell for $2.25 per pound. Kruse Farms in Roseburg (541-672-5697) should have walnuts soon. They're very much in demand and won't last long so don't procrastinate. I don't know of any orchards where you can pick your own, but you might have a neighbor with a tree who would probably be thrilled to share the harvest if you don't mind gathering and drying the walnuts yourself. You can find detailed information on harvesting and drying nuts on the Oregon State University website at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/fch/food-preservation.

With the holidays fast approaching, my mind turns to simple gifts I can make at home. Since I have little talent when it comes to crafts, I have to rely on gifts from my kitchen. Maple-Glazed Walnuts are quick to make and can be done several days or even a week ahead of giving. I package them in clear glass jars or cellophane bags and tie with a big bow, easy and elegant.

The Umpqua Valley Farmers Market has moved indoors for the winter. There is still wonderful local produce to be savored: red and green cabbages, purple, orange and white cauliflower varieties, broccoli, red and golden potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, leafy greens, winter squash in all shapes and sizes, and even sweet potatoes, You can find all this and more at First United Methodist Church in Roseburg (1771 W. Harvard) from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturdays.

When we visited my daughter and son-in-law in La Grande last spring, they served us a salad of baby greens, roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts and creamy goat cheese. It was so good, I had two huge helpings! That was my first experience eating Brussels sprouts and I couldn't get over how tender and sweet they were. Keep your eye out for local Brussels sprouts which should be available in a few weeks. I've added my own twist to this salad with a sprinkling of Maple-Glazed Walnuts.

Toasted Walnuts

Lightly toasting walnuts enhances their flavor. Toast only as many as you will use within a day or two.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once or twice, just until they become fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter.
 
Maple-Glazed Walnuts

My friend, Pat Gausnell of Roseburg, shared this recipe with me many years ago. The candied nuts add a crunchy, sweet surprise to salads. Only real maple syrup and pure vanilla extract will do, no substitutes. Beware! These are addicting!

½ cup real maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups walnuts, halves and large pieces

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside. Combine the syrup, butter, salt and cinnamon in an 8 to 10-inch skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir until mixture begins to thicken, 2 ½ to 4 minutes. It should be the consistency of raw egg whites and you should be able to draw a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, leaving a bare trail that does not fill in quickly.



Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Immediately add the walnuts and stir until the nuts are evenly coated with the glaze. Turn out onto lined cookie sheet, spread into a single layer and allow to cool completely. When cool, store in an airtight container.

Note: If you did not cook the glaze long enough and the nuts are still sticky even after they have cooled completely (give them at least an hour or so, depending on the weather and humidity in your kitchen), put them in a low oven for a few minutes to help them dry out.

YIELD: 2 cups
 
Maple-Glazed Walnuts add a sweet surprise to this winter salad.
Mixed Greens with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese

The combination of roasted vegetables and creamy goat cheese turns this salad into a filling lunch or a substantial first course. This recipe is adapted from Tosca Reno's Beet & Arugula Salad in her book, The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged (Random House). My daughter, Christine, used spinach instead of arugula and added parsnips. I substituted Maple-Glazed Walnuts for the sunflower seeds.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 pounds root vegetables (any combination of beets, carrots, and/or parsnips,)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2½ teaspoons salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula or baby spinach
4 cups mixed baby lettuce
½ cup Maple-Glazed Walnuts or plain, toasted walnuts
1 (4 ounce) log of goat cheese
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare vegetables for roasting as follows: Peel the carrots and parsnips, cut lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into 1½-inch pieces. If using baby beets you can leave them whole, unpeeled, trimming the stems to one inch and then slipping the skins off after roasting. If using large beets, trim stems and roots, peel and cut into quarters or eighths. Keep them separate from the other vegetables to minimize color transfer. Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Place vegetables in a large, shallow baking pan. Drizzle with 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Toss well with your hands to coat evenly and spread into a single layer. Bake 30 to 45 minutes until tender, stirring every ten minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

To assemble the salads: Toss the washed and dried greens together and divide evenly among four plates. Arrange the roasted vegetables on top. Slice the goat cheese log into eight rounds and place two
in the center of each salad. Drizzle each plate with remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar. Scatter 2 tablespoons coarsely broken walnuts over the top and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 4 hearty servings

Monday, November 3, 2014

Got Apples?

This is a guest post from my daughter, Christine. She spent the weekend preserving apples and found some great ideas for using up all the apple peels and cores.

Christine was just over a year old when we bought this box of apples from The Apple Man. He used to bring apples down from Washington and sell them out of the back of his van.

Dear Mom,

Just finished processing all of the apples that I bought. I was thinking you might want to do a fall post on all the things you can do with apples. There are a lot of great articles on how to use apple peels in creative ways, in addition to the usual apple sauce recipes. Although it definitely took two full days of canning/drying etc., I feel like the yield I got from them was pretty impressive. Without including the cost of my own time or the energy used by my stove and dehydrator, my calculations show that making my own applesauce is cheaper than buying unsweetened applesauce from Walmart. (Great Value brand costs $1.98 for 46 oz, so for me to break even, I had to be able to make at least 22 quarts of sauce for the amount of apples I purchased.) 

I bought 75 lbs of apples at the farmers market for $10 per 25 lb. box (total of $30, or 40 cents per pound, which was cheaper than I could find to pick them myself) - two boxes of Granny Smith and one box of Jonagold. I mistakenly thought that you should use tart apples for canning like you do for pie, before I read the recipes that said you're supposed to use sweeter apples. Oops!  At least they were local (from Martinez Garden in Milton Freewater which is only about an hour away from La Grande). From these apples, I was able to make:
  • about 3 quart size bags full of dried apples
  • about 1 quart bag full of dried apple peels (dusted in cinnamon for putting on oatmeal to add texture and flavor)
  • 2.5 pints of apple peel jelly 
  • 3 quarts of apple juice (using only the peels and cores)
  • 25 quarts of applesauce
I'm exhausted but pretty proud of myself!  Thanks for teaching me how to do all of this, and to appreciate the process to begin with.  

Love,
Christine

Note: Christine says the apple peel jelly is a really pretty natural red color, even though more than half of the apple peels she used were from green apples. She added ground cinnamon and whole cloves (tied in a coffee filter) when she made the apple juice and used that juice to make the jelly. Great Christmas gift idea!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Umpqua Valley Food Day


The event is next Saturday, Oct. 25 from 4-7 at Phoenix Charter School. It is the Third Annual Umpqua Valley Food Day Celebration, which is in honor of the National Food Day that is going on all around the country. The goal is to encourage people to eat more healthy, local, and sustainable foods.

From 4-5 there will be a community seed swap, booths with groups such as Big Lick Farm, and a short seminar on gardening from school horticulturist Mary Ellis.

From 5-7 we will be screening the documentary Food Matters.

The event is free to the public. Bring your kids, seed packets and healthy snacks!

Here is more info on Food Day: foodday.org

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake!/Tasty Tuesday

Originally published in The News Review, October 7, 2014
Recipes in this post: Mamie's Chocolate Cake, two versions

That's me with the first cake I baked all by myself.

In our family, we have a birthday each month from August through December. I've baked and decorated many a cake over the years in various themes and shapes. Certainly no competition for the Cake Boss, but they have made the kids laugh and smile. The most memorable: a pirate ship with rootbeer candy barrels on deck, a deserted island with a pretzel shack, sugar-sand beach and Swedish fish swimming in a blue jello ocean, a great pyramid filled with ice cream, a volcano erupting with raspberry jam lava, and a wave pool with Teddy Grahams floating in gummy ring inner tubes. The biggest hit by far was the medieval castle with sugar-cone turrets, and a Kit Kat “wooden” beam door surrounded by a foggy (dry ice) fruit punch moat.

I baked my first full-sized cake from a Betty Crocker mix when I was about eight years old. I remember the red spoon on the box and the suggestion to make frosting curls on top with the back of a teaspoon. My family was so impressed! When it's all about the frosting and the decorations, as in the kid's party cakes above, I'm happy to save time by starting with a mix. I do, however, enjoy making a cake from scratch a few times a year.

My mother has been baking Mamie's Chocolate Cake for over forty years. It's named for Mamie Eisenhower and is said to have been created for her by the chef at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. I've never been able to verify that and I don't know who to thank for the recipe, but this is the richest, fudgiest, most unbelievably moist chocolate cake I have ever eaten. Every slice of chocolate cake I taste is measured against this standard. Mamie's Cake beats them all.

I offer two versions of this decadent cake. The first, baked in a 9 x 13 pan and covered with a smooth chocolate glaze, is our family classic. It's simple to make. It can be frosted while the cake is still warm. It can be stored at room temperature. It's easy to transport. This is the perfect cake to take to a picnic or potluck dinner.


I wanted to make a fancier cake for grown up birthday parties and other special occasions, so some years back I began baking Mamie's Cake in two round cake pans. I replaced the glaze with a buttercream frosting and turned it into a layer cake. Now, my mom and I take turns baking this for each other. Two 9-inch round cakes with a layer of frosting in the middle make a delicious, lovely cake. For true chocolate aficionados, you can split the layers horizontally for an impressive and extremely rich four-layer cake. Serve it in thin slices and savor it with an ice cold glass of milk!
 
Mamie's Chocolate Cake
(The original version)

Makes one 9 x 13 pan, 12 to 15 servings

There is no salt added to this batter, so be sure to use salted butter.

1 cup (8 ounces) butter
1 bar (4 ounces) Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 recipe Sweet Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the very center. Grease and flour one 9 x 13 pan, preferably metal.

Combine the milk, butter and unsweetened chocolate in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil and stir until mixture thickens a little, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate until lukewarm, 20 to 30 minutes. Beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and add to batter along with the vanilla extract. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended, then mix on medium speed for 1 minute.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake until the center springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove from oven to a wire rack and let cool slightly while you prepare the Sweet Chocolate Glaze. Using a fork or wooden skewer, poke the top of the cake all over to allow the glaze to seep in. Pour the glaze over top and spread to the edges of the pan while both the cake and the glaze are still warm. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Because there is no milk or cream in the glaze, this cake can be safely stored at room temperature for several days.

Sweet Chocolate Glaze

1 bar (4 ounces) Baker's German Sweet Chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups (6.5 ounces) powdered sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate, butter and water together over low heat. Beat in the powdered sugar, salt and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour over warm cake.

Mamie's Chocolate Cake
(My fancy version)

Makes two 9-inch round layers which can be split for a 4-layer cake. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

There is no salt added to this batter, so be sure to use salted butter

1 cup (8 ounces) butter
1 bar (4 ounces) Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 recipe Cocoa Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the very center. Because these cake layers will be turned out of the pans, you need to take extra care so they don't stick. Trace the bottom of the pans onto a sheet of baking parchment and cut two 9-inch circles. Grease the bottom and sides of the pans, place the parchment against the bottom, then grease the parchment. Dust lightly with flour and shake out the excess.

Combine the milk, butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil and stir until mixture thickens a little, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate until lukewarm, 20 to 30 minutes. Beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and add to batter along with the vanilla extract. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended, then mix on medium speed for 1 minute.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake until the center springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 23 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges by running a knife all the way around the inside edge of each pan. Place a round wire cake rack on top and, using pot holders or oven mitts, quickly invert the cake and carefully remove the pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely before splitting or frosting.

If desired, split each layer in half horizontally for a 4-layer cake as follows. Using a ruler and a few toothpicks, mark the line exactly halfway up from the bottom. (Trust me on this. It's important to be accurate here or you'll end up with a cake resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa!) Cut a piece of thread or dental floss a yard long. Holding the ends, wrap it around the center line, cross the ends over each other in front. Pull until the thread cuts all the way through the cake. Repeat with the second cake.
(At this point, you can place the layers on waxed paper-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm. This makes assembling and frosting the cake much easier.)

When you're ready to assemble the cake, prepare the buttercream frosting. Tear off four strips of foil or waxed paper 2 inches wide. Arrange these strips overlapping each other around the edges of the cake plate you are going to use. This keeps the frosting off of the plate while you work. Place the first cake layer in the center of the plate covering the inside edges of the strips. Frost the top of the layer with about 1 cup of the frosting spreading it all the way to the edge. An offset icing spatula works best, but a butter knife will do. Place the next layer on top and repeat. Add the third layer and frost. Add the last layer but frost the sides of the cake before frosting the top. Carefully remove the foil or paper strips.

Because the buttercream frosting contains milk, this cake should be stored in the refrigerator if it won't be eaten the same day. Bring to room temperature before serving. Once the cake has been cut, I fold a piece of waxed paper in half, trim it to match the height of the cake and press it against the cut interior surface to keep it from drying out, then cover with a cake dome.

Cocoa Buttercream Frosting
(fills and frosts 4 layers)

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 cups (2 pounds) powdered sugar
2/3 cup (2 ounces) good quality cocoa powder
2/3 cup whole milk
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Any leftover frosting can be frozen. It's great on graham crackers when there's no cake in the house.






Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Taming the Tomato Jungle

(Originally published in The News Review on September 2, 2014) Recipe links:  Gazpacho, Bruschetta

It's a jungle out there! In my garden, that is. The tomatoes have taken over, toppling the flimsy wire cages that were supposed to contain and support them. I got a late start getting my tomatoes planted this year, but I've got a bumper crop now. I'm drying tomatoes to use in soups and stews, roasting tomatoes and packing them in jars of olive oil (stored in the freezer) for dipping bread into or adding to winter salads. I'll soon be canning tomatoes and tomato juice and freezing purée.

We grow our own because tomatoes ripened on the vine taste the very best. You can find excellent locally grown tomatoes with exquisite flavor in all shapes, sizes and colors at markets throughout the county. There are heirloom varieties in shades of rosy pink and purple to almost black. Look for green striped tomatoes, yellow and orange tomatoes, pear-shaped tomatoes and tiny cherry and grape tomatoes. And don't overlook the Roma or Italian plum tomatoes. Bright red and oblong, they are meatier than the juicy “slicing” tomatoes. Roma types, and San Marzanos in particular, make especially good tomato sauce.

My husband eats tomatoes the way some folks eat apples; he just picks one out of the basket and bites right into it. My son loves a great bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. My favorite way to eat tomatoes? Dress them with basil, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pile them high on a crusty baguette slice. Bruschetta is meant to be an appetizer, but to my mind, if it's made with good bread and tomatoes at their peak, I can make a meal of it.

How about some soup? Everything you need for gazpacho, a cold tomato and vegetable soup, is in season right now. Cucumbers, peppers, garlic, and onions blended with your perfectly ripe tomatoes become a refreshing first course for these hot summer nights.

Both of the following recipes include vinegar. Bruschetta is traditionally made with dark, slightly sweet balsamic vinegar. I like to use apple cider vinegar in gazpacho, but I've also use rice vinegar. Just the other day I was picking up a gallon of apple cider vinegar and noticed that the store brand was more expensive than the famous name brand vinegar. 

Thinking that was odd, I took a moment to compare the labels. Turns out, the name brand vinegar is “apple-flavored” vinegar distilled from grain. (I'm not sure if that would affect someone who is gluten-sensitive.) It also contains natural flavor with caramel color. The store brand's only ingredients are apple cider vinegar diluted with water to 5% acidity. 

The flavored type would be fine for filling my homemade fruit fly trap. When it comes to what I eat, I always go for the real thing.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho
makes about 6 cups


Gazpacho is basically a liquid salad. It takes only minutes to prepare, but the soup needs to be chilled for several hours or overnight, so plan ahead. You can adapt the texture from chunky to smooth to suit your personal preference. Any variety of tomato or a combination works well.

2 pounds tomatoes, about 8 medium, cored and quartered

1 medium cucumber, ends removed, cut into large chunks*

1 red or green bell pepper, stemmed and seeded

1 small red or yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters

1 clove garlic, peeled

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste

freshly ground pepper to taste

croutons and fresh basil for garnishing

Combine all ingredients except the croutons and basil in a blender or food processor and process to desired consistency. Chill several hours or overnight. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve in chilled bowls garnished with croutons and fresh basil ribbons.



*If the cucumber is organic, I don't bother to peel it.

Basil Ribbons

To create basil ribbons (to “chiffonade” the basil) for garnishing the gazpacho or bruschetta, rinse fresh basil leaves and gently pat dry. Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. Beginning at one of the pointy ends, roll the stack into a tight cylinder. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the roll into thin slices.
Homemade Croutons

Don't let those heels no one likes go to waste. Turn them into crunchy croutons for garnishing soups, salads and casseroles.


Cut bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with fine sea salt to taste and toss very well. (You can also add a fresh-pressed clove of garlic, but it really smells up the house when the croutons are toasting.) Could also use seasoning salt, onion powder, etc. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Use immediately or let cool and then store in an airtight container.



Note: If I were doing a very small amount, I would just sauté the bread cubes in a little olive oil in a pan on the stove.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta
makes four servings of two slices each

5 – 6 Roma tomatoes, (about 1 ½ cups, diced)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 slices crusty French or Italian bread
optional: freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese

Core and quarter the tomatoes. Remove seeds if desired. Drain in a colander for a few minutes to remove excess juice. Place in serving bowl and add 1 of the garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed, the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add drained tomatoes and mix well. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the bread slices.

Cut the bread on the diagonal into ½-inch slices. Toast on both sides on the grill, stove or under the broiler until the surface is crispy but the center is still a bit soft. Cut the remaining clove of garlic in half and rub across one side of each slice of toasted bread.

Just before serving, snip the basil into pieces with kitchen shears or cut into ribbons. Arrange bread slices on a platter and divide the tomato mixture evenly on top. Garnish with the fresh basil. Add grated cheese if desired. Serve immediately. 

Basil Ribbons

To create basil ribbons (to “chiffonade” the basil) for garnishing the gazpacho or bruschetta, rinse fresh basil leaves and gently pat dry. Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. Beginning at one of the pointy ends, roll the stack into a tight cylinder. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the roll into thin slices.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Keen for Peaches and Nectarines

(Originally published in The News Review on Tuesday, August 5, 2014) Recipe link: Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Ginger Scone Topping

Red Haven peaches from Norm Lehne Garden and Orchard

I have a peach-picking ritual. As midsummer approaches, I check the newspaper nightly, along with my email and Facebook feed, eagerly awaiting word that our local crops are ready. On opening day for my favorite varieties, I am often first in line. I drive into the orchard, park between the rows, and scout out the best trees. I want peaches that are mature with a lovely golden blush, but not too ripe or soft to travel home. I pick carefully, lifting and twisting each beautiful peach so I don't damage the trees that provide me with such delicious fruit. I gently place each sun-kissed peach into baskets and dishpans, stacking the fruit only two high to keep from bruising the delicate, juicy flesh.

Picking peaches is so easy that I often get carried away. When I run out of containers, I am forced to stop. With my precious cargo weighed and purchased (60, 70, 80 lbs!), I rush home to lay the peaches out in a single layer on newspapers that cover our dining room table. Each morning for the next few weeks I'll select two or three perfectly ripe peaches to peel and slice for my breakfast. To me it's sunshine in a bowl!

 Breakfast in a bowl from Brosi's Sugartree Farms


Everyone in my family loves peaches so most will be eaten fresh and unadorned. Some will be made into a perfect peach pie or a luscious peach cobbler. When they start to ripen faster than we can keep up, I'll begin freezing them for the winter.

Nectarines are just as delicious as peaches and their seasons overlap. I pick and ripen nectarines just as I do peaches. Because they don't need to be peeled, nectarines are a snap to freeze or dehydrate.

 Paris Orchards nectarines

The only drawback to having all of this fruit ripening indoors is the invasion of fruit flies. They can be such a nuisance! I don't remember where I first saw it, but I've been making a simple homemade trap for many years. It's not pretty, but it keeps the fruit fly population under control. Here's what you do: Put an inch of apple cider vinegar in the bottom of a large jar. (I use a one quart canning jar.) Add a few drops of dish soap and swish it around to mix. With a sheet of paper and some tape, make a cone with a small opening at one end and big enough at the other end to fit against the rim of the jar. The bottom of the cone should be an inch or two above the vinegar. Place the jar near the fruit or anywhere fruit flies are a problem. That's it! The vinegar attracts the flies. The soap coats their wings, making it difficult for them to fly out. Replace the vinegar and soap mixture every day. I keep one of these going, as needed, all the way through pumpkin season. 


Preserving the Harvest
When the peaches and nectarines start ripening faster than we can eat them, it's time to preserve some of that summer sunshine for gray days to come. I'm not a big fan of canned fruit, so freezing and drying are my go-to methods for putting fruit by.

Freezing peaches and nectarines

Freezing is quick and easy. Slice peaches (peeled) and nectarines (unpeeled) onto cookie sheets in a single layer and freeze until firm. Once frozen, pack in plastic freezer bags. The frozen slices can be eaten like mini popsicles or added to smoothies.

Drying Nectarines

Nectarines don't need to be peeled before dehydrating. Slice them about 3/8-inch thick directly onto the drying trays. The color will darken as they dry, but I have never found pre-treating them necessary. Dry at 135 degrees until chewy with no moisture pockets left. Timing will depend on the type of dehydrator you have. It can also be affected by the weather. Start checking the nectarines after 10 to 12 hours. I condition all of my home-dried fruits by placing the whole batch in a large (2-gallon) zip top bag or container with a tight-fitting lid. It should only be two-thirds full. Seal well and allow the dried fruit to sit for several days at room temperature, shaking the bag or container once or twice a day to redistribute the fruit. This allows the drier pieces to absorb some of the moisture from the not-so-dry pieces so they all end up just right. After conditioning, I pack the fruit in smaller bags and store in the freezer, if I have room, though properly dried fruit keeps well at room temperature. Dried nectarines make great trail food for hiking and camping. They can also be snipped into pieces and added to baked goods like muffins.


Lemon-Ginger Scones

These scones melt in your mouth! Perfect for a company breakfast or afternoon tea. 

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
grated zest of 1 lemon (reserved above)
1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, very cold
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup diced candied or crystallized ginger (I snip it with kitchen shears)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Cut the cold butter into chunks, add to the flour and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles very coarse crumbs. Add the beaten eggs and the cream to the flour mixture and stir gently, just until combined. Fold in the diced ginger pieces.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and, with floured hands, knead quickly 4 or 5 times. Pat the dough into a circle 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick and cut into 8 wedges. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15 to 18 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Do ahead tip: The scone dough can be cut into shapes and frozen on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. When frozen solid, package in plastic bags. No need to thaw, just increase baking time by about 5 minutes.

Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Ginger Scone Topping

Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Ginger Scone Topping


When I was baking for the farmers market, I developed a recipe for lemon-ginger scones. They were a big hit. Peaches and ginger go well together, so why not add a little zing to an ordinary cobbler by swapping these scones for the usual biscuit topping? You can find candied or crystallized ginger (either will work) at stores like Trader Joe's or in the bulk foods aisle of the supermarket.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling:

8 cups sliced peaches, about 8 medium peaches
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (you will also use the zest)

Wash the lemon and remove the zest with a fine grater or Microplane zester. Reserve the grated zest to use in the scone topping. Squeeze the juice from the lemon. Peel the peaches and slice about ½ inch thick. In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and spices. Add the sliced peaches and lemon juice, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Transfer filling to an ungreased 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside while you prepare the topping.

For the scone topping:

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
grated zest of 1 lemon (reserved above)
1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, very cold
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup diced candied or crystallized ginger (I snip it with kitchen shears)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Cut the cold butter into chunks, add to the flour and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles very coarse crumbs. Add the beaten eggs and the cream to the flour mixture and stir gently, just until combined. Fold in the diced ginger pieces.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and, with floured hands, knead quickly 4 or 5 times. Pat into a smooth rectangle about ¾ to 1-inch thick. Cut into into 8 squares and arrange on top of the hot filling. If desired, brush the tops of the scones with additional cream. (Alternatively, you could skip the kneading and just drop the dough all over the warm peach mixture using two spoons.) Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until filling is bubbling and scones are golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To bake the scones by themselves, follow the directions above, but pat the dough into a circle and cut into 8 wedges. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15 to 18 minutes.

Do ahead tip: The scone dough can be cut into shapes and frozen on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. When frozen solid, package in plastic bags. No need to thaw, just increase baking time by about 5 minutes.

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