Another cider, another cheese, another trip to Virginia

Almost a year to the day later, I found myself back in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia, ready for a girls’ weekend filled with horse races, vineyards, and general debauchery while visiting Sadie at the University of Virginia.  First stop was a marathon vineyard visit at Pippen Hill Farm and Winery, a new winery with a breathtaking spot in the hills just outside Charlottesville.  As a skeptic of Virginia wines, I have to say I was impressed with both the variety and richness of Pippin’s wines (particularly the Cabernet Franc and rosé).  What was more impressive however, was their attention to aesthetic detail in their blending of rustic Americana country and Provencal style.  I was also pleasantly surprised with their food; I wasn’t expecting such an across the board quality eating and drinking experience, particularly at such a new winery (they are just around one year old).  Small plates of crunchy fried oysters, croque monsieurs with carmelized onions, and rustic cheese and charcuterie boards loaded with Virginia ham were devoured quickly.

Part of my plan for the weekend originally involved dragging Sadie to Foggy Ridge Cider for some market research, but upon realization that it was a three hour trip, I instead purchased a bottle of their Serious Cider to taste and compare with a Farnum Hill Dooryard #1108 leftover from this summer’s batch.  We brought the ciders, along with a variety of other treats from the amazing Feast to the Montpelier Races for a day of horse racing and tailgating.  Although I was relived that our fellow tasters preferred the Dooryard, I myself was excited to try another orchard-based, highly regarded cider and wasn’t disappointed.  Particularly compared to the lighter Dooryard #1108, Foggy Ridge’s Serious Cider was a bit more earthy and full-flavored, but still one of the more high-quality American ciders I have tasted.   

Both of the ciders paired well with Virginia made McClure cheese, a pungent, hard Swiss style cow’s milk from nearby Mountain View Farm, a white bean dip with salty prosciutto, and some chevre that was whipped with pumpkin!  Sadly, I brought my camera but no memory card, so I did my best with my i-phone to capture the gorgeous views and most scrumptious moments.       

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Posted in charcuterie, cider, cow's milk cheese, travel, Virginia | Leave a comment

Cider, pumpkins, and cupcakes, oh my!

Never mind that it snowed the other night in Boston, there is a Nor’easter scheduled to happen today, and it isn’t even November yet–my feet are still firmly planted in autumnal cuisine.  With the big Halloween weekend looming, here are some of my favorite apple and pumpkin treats both sweet and savory that you must work into your weekend.  Clean out the fireplace, break out the autumnal brews, sharpen your pumpkin carving knife (maybe before said brews), get out your snow shovel(?!?) and get into the kitchen! 

Farnum Hill apple cider chutney: The chutney pictured above is a new and improved version of another chutney I have made in the past using Farnum Hill Cider.  As a Farnum Hill employee, one of the coolest parts of my job is that I get paid to experiment with our ciders in recipes.  This time around I used local Roxbury Russet apples and no pear, two shallots instead of onion, a drop of champagne vinegar because I didn’t have any fig, and our amazing reserve Kingston Black cider instead of FH’s Extra Dry Still.  Kingston Black is definitely the most complex cider I have ever tasted, with a funky earthiness that is both musky and fruity.  I rarely use this special cider in cooking, but boy am I glad I did.  Even though this chutney appears as nothing more than a glorified applesauce, even I was surprised by the punch of flavor.  I paired with a variety of cheeses, also smearing it on some crusty bread with honey mustard and Berkshire ham.   

Cheese plate with Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue and Constant Bliss and proscuitto wrapped figs

Open-faced ham, honey mustard, and roxbury russet sandwiches

 

I make a variation of this squash and pumpkin soup again and again.

Using the linked recipe as a guide, I don’t even measure anything when preparing this soup anymore.  I sweat whatever variation of onion, carrot, celery I have around, add in some garlic, one peeled and diced butternut squash and a can of pumpkin purée, enough stock to cover the vegetables, blend with my immersion blender, and finish with any herbs and spices I am in the mood for.  This time I added smoked Spanish paprika, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and lots of fresh sage.  For a more elegant presentation, fry whole sage leaves to garnish and finish with heavy cream or crème fraîche.           

Pumpkin cream cheese: I recently purchased pumpkin cream cheese from Trader Joe’s.  I ate it in about two seconds, slathering it on everything from bread to my finger.  Then I decided to make my own, combining whipped cream cheese, canned pumpkin, dahes of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, and about a teaspoon of golden syrup.   

Chocolate cupcakes with pumpkin buttercream: If you make nothing else here this weekend, you MUST try these cupcakes.  Next time I want to try whipping the buttercream into oblivion, because despite tasting incredible, I admit it doesn’t have the smooth, luscious appearance that a buttercream should.  These rich cupcakes shocked me with their depth of flavor. 

Cupcakes:                                                                                                                                        1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup boiling hot water
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pumpkin Butter Cream:
2 sticks of unsalted butter at room temp
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar (more or less)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners. In a small bowl stir until smooth the boiling hot water and the cocoa powder. Let cool to room temperature.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then in the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat only until incorporated. Then add the cooled cocoa mixture and stir until smooth.

Fill each muffin cup two-thirds full with batter and bake for about 16-20 minutes or until risen and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. 

Meanwhile, cream butter, pumpkin and spices. Slowly add sugar until the buttercream is no longer separated by the pumpkin. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing.

Posted in appetizers, apples, autumn, dessert, entertaining, pumpkins, soup, squash | 2 Comments

Satisfaction: Rabbit ragu

People tend to spend too much time complaining about a lack of satisfaction somewhere in their lives: at work, with their low-fat diet, in their marriage, in that one measly bite of dessert when they really wanted the whole thing.  Great news, people: I’m not going to complain.  In fact, I want to share with you some recent satisfaction, mostly all related to my rabbit ragu.  

Part of the impetus behind making this somewhat ambitious (for a weeknight) meal was family.  At a recent family gathering, I experienced both satisfaction and guilt after listening to family members complain about how they haven’t had much to read lately on Eating the Rind.  I was satisfied to hear praise (even though they are relatives and should do it anyways), but also extremely guilty for my non-existent recent postings.  But here I am again, and I knew I wanted to come back with a bang.

Luckily, I had a great excuse last week for an exciting mid-week meal of rabbit.  Two of Eating the Rind’s biggest supporters and fellow gourmandes, my aunt and uncle Sheila and Bob, accepted our invitation to stay the night before their morning flight home to Virginia (I don’t know if I mentioned that we moved and now have guest rooms?).  After rushing to my old school butcher in Boston’s North End followed by hours of searing, braising, shredding, and cultivating my little bunny into a delicious ragu, I was ultimately very satisfied having an excuse to cook something more challenging than a sandwich.  After a few busy days and nothing exciting happening in the kitchen, I always feel comforted and satisfied after getting back at it, particularly when my Le Creuset and pasta are involved.  And good company.  And wine. 

The final satisfaction factor (satisfactor?) related to the rabbit had to do with the fact that Bob was recovering from a bad experience with rabbit–one in which it was underdone.  Not a quality I typically like when eating rabbit, and apparently one I share with Bob.  What I do enjoy, however, is a challenge, so I was excited to help him over his rabbit slump, bringing him back from the dark side.  Based on Bob’s (and everyone else’s) second helpings, I think I did so successfully.  Satisfaction completed.

Rabbit Ragu  (serves 4-6)

1 lb. fresh pappardelle pasta

2 tbsp. butter

4 tbsp. olive oil

1 c. carrots, small dice

1 c. onions, small dice

1/2 c. celery, small dice

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 whole rabbit, cleaned and cut into large pieces

1 c. red wine

14 oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes and liquid

2 cloves

pinch of cinnamon

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 c. chicken stock

1 lb. portabella mushrooms, thinly sliced and gills removed

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms

few tbsp. of chopped fresh parsley and sage

salt and pepper

In a large Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil and add the carrots, onion, and celery and cook for several minutes until soft.  Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper and in batches (unless you have a gigantic Dutch oven), add them to the pan and slowly brown on all sides over 15 minutes to develop flavor but not burn the vegetables.  Once all the rabbit is browned, return all the pieces to the pan and deglaze with half of the wine, simmering until almost evaporated.  All tomatoes, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, tomato paste, and vinegar and simmer a few minutes.  Add remaining wine and chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Partially cover and lower heat.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rabbit is tender, approximately 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and sweat the seasoned portabella mushrooms until just tender.  Set aside.  If your porcini mushrooms are clean, soak in a ladel-full of the rabbit sauce for a few minutes until soft (if they are on the dirtier side, soak to rehydrate and loosen dirt, straining and holding reserved liquid).

Remove rabbit from the sauce.  When cool enough to handle, remove and shred the meat, setting aside.  With an immersion blender (or food processor or blender if you don’t have one), blend into a coarse purée.  Return rabbit meat and both portabella and porcini mushrooms (and their liquid) to the pan, simmering to meld flavors and seasoning with parsley, sage, salt and pepper.  Serve hot over pappardelle.

Posted in autumn, comfort, game, mushrooms, pasta, wine, winter | 2 Comments

Peach brown butter buckle

 

I guess it’s time to get back to reality. 

After nearly a week in Bermuda and a quick weekend trip to the idyllic Squam Lake in Holderness NH, it is time to buckle down. 

Sorry.  Couldn’t resist. 

I recently heard someone say that a sign of a good vacation is not having many photos of it.

You can only snap so many gorgeous Bermudian water views and sunsets.  I prefer to enjoy them sans camera with a rum swizzle in hand.     

Upon our return, we gladly accepted an unexpected invitation to immediately jump in the car to head north to see my (sadly relocated) friend Alex and her family, who were down to the last few days of their lakeside retreat. 

 

We waterskied, swam, hiked, napped, and saw the brightest moon imaginable. 

On Sunday morning, we ate peach brown butter buckle. 

Even though this kind of fruit dessert (much like crisps and cobblers) is my absolute favorite and not a week has gone by in August that I haven’t made a crisp or buckle, I’m having a hard time finding the patience to photograph and document my creations.  I’m too busy burning my tongue as I scarf the just-out-of-the-oven results.  By breakfast the next day, there usually isn’t enough to photograph. 

Apparently great desserts are like great vacations–not much photographic evidence that it actually happened. 

Peach Brown Butter Buckle (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of allspice
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup whole milk 
1 1/2 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Streusel
Reserved butter from cake (above)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Brown your butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns. Set aside and let cool (the fridge will help, but too much time in the fridge solidifies the butter again).  

Prepare you pan: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch round cake pan, springform or cast iron skillet with parchment paper and butter the paper and rest of the pan generously; set aside (note: I’ve only used my cast iron pan–works well and looks great).

Make the cake: Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and allspice in medium bowl to blend. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup cooled browned butter (set aside remaining 1/4 cup for topping), sugar and then eggs, one at a time. Stir in milk.  Stir dry ingredients into this wet mixture; mix until just combined and spread batter in prepared pan.  Toss peaches with lemon juice and arrange them in a single layer on top of the batter.

Make the streusel and bake the cake: Stir remaining brown butter, sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt together until large crumbs form. Sprinkle the peach-topped batter with crumbs. Bake until top is golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack.

Posted in cake, dessert, peaches, summer, travel | 1 Comment

Summer munchies: eggplant caponata

Next time I make eggplant caponata, I will do so in large quantities. 

When my plans for eggplant parm fell through, I turned to caponata for that big ol’ eggplant that was starting to tire after several days in the fridge.  I absolutely love making food like this that can keep and be served in a myriad of ways, particular in warmer weather: at room temperature for a snack over toasted bread or crackers; tossed with pasta and your favorite fresh goat cheese or mozzarella; spooned over polenta (with a fried egg on top); atop some grilled chicken or fish.  I also take particular delight in using up the contents of my fridge, like those few dinky capers and garlicky lemon olives from Whole Foods (you know the ones they always have away from the other olives on display).  I’m typically on foot for food shopping during the week and hate to run out for just one minor ingredient.            

I’ve also developed this crazy problem that with an antipasti or cheese plate, I always try to serve one thing that is homemade, usually a chutney or jam.  Make caponata days in advance, and serve at room temperature with a few Italian hard cheeses like Caprotto or Pecorino.  The flavors only get better with time.  

Eggplant caponata

Be sure to evenly dice everything (minus the garlic and herbs).  Best made in advance so flavors can incorporate. 

1 large eggplant, small dice

1 onion, small dice

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 roasted red peppers (I used high quality ones from a jar), small dice  

1 tbsp. capers

2 generous tbsp. chopped basil

1 tbsp. chopped parsley

1/2 c. pitted olives, small dice

Coat the bottom of a hot, large non-stick skillet with olive oil.  Add onion, and sweat until translucent.  Add eggplant, salt, and pepper, and cook until eggplant is golden and soft.  Add garlic, peppers, capers, and olives and let combine over low heat for a few minutes.  Adjust seasoning.  Add herbs off the heat and let sit for a while before serving.

Posted in appetizers, eggplant, Italian cheese, summer | Leave a comment

Crazy amazing pizza with nectarine, burrata, basil, and duck pastrami

When you write a food blog, it is easy to wax poetic about ingredients.  Exquisite cheese, ripe summer fruit, and fragrant herbs are all high up on my list of culinary excitement factors.  That said, I wasn’t surprised when after I assembled this pizza, ate it, and promptly started writing, I realized that the exquisite cheese, ripe summer fruit, and fragrant herbs were precisely what I loved about it–of course, in addition to some melt-in-your-mouth duck pastrami. 

Now onto the trickier side of pizza making.  I don’t frequently make homemade pizza, probably because I can’t seem to execute the even, thin crust I so desire.  Pizza dough is one of those things that many non-cooks seem to whip up all the time, but I seem to struggle with yeast in general and all the variables involved: pizza stone or no stone, one rise or two, cornmeal or flour on the bottom, blah blah blah.  This time I decided to buy dough from my favorite North End pizzaria, Ernesto’s, to ensure that it wasn’t my homemade dough but my pathetic rolling/stretching/throwing across the kitchen technique that was the problem in forming a smooth, thin, and crispy crust.  For once, the planets seemed to align and the crust AND toppings seemed to unite in flavor and texture. 

I let the dough warm to room temperature for a while before I started stretching it into pizza shape, then let it rest on the counter again for several minutes before going back to the final shaping.  I skipped the pizza stone and instead placed the pizza on a thin layer of cornmeal on a regular baking sheet.

Before I revisit the toppings, a word about burrata.  Richer and more decadent, burrata is essentially normal mozzarella filled with cream.  Of the three burratas I’ve recently tried (one imported, the other from Everett’s Mozzarella House), Maplebrook’s is above and beyond the best.  Don’t be fooled by the beaucolic Vermont-iness of the company–they have a full-blooded Puglian straight out of the burrata motherland stretching and wrapping that deliciously sweet, creamy, pillowy, briny, oozy cheese into perfection.

Even though you may not have duck pastrami at your local supermarket, I urge you to go to Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge immediately for some (for the pizza and general charcuterie deliciousness).  If that is not on your radar, you could certainly substitute with thinly sliced proscuitto or Spanish jamon.  This pizza is an example of a simple recipe that uses really exquisite, high-quality ingredients at their peak.  Atop the meat, sliver some ripe nectarines, burrata (or other fresh mozzarella), basil leaves, a few drops of balsamic vinegar (balsamic glaze would be even better), and sea salt, and you might create what Dane said was “one of the top five pizzas he’s ever had.”  Not bad.

Posted in charcuterie, cheese, cow's milk cheese, fruit, Italian cheese, pizza, Vermont cheese | Leave a comment

Key lime birthday cake with candied citrus rind

We recently celebrated my husband’s birthday.  Of the five birthdays we’ve spent together as a couple, the majority of them have come and gone with a memorable story. 

A few months into our relationship, I gave Dane tickets to the Red Sox for his birthday.  When the week of the game rolled around, unbeknownst to me, Dane was in the middle of a frantic search for the tickets (that he should have given to me for safe keeping, frankly).  To save face, Dane bought two more tickets to the same game.  We planned to use these tickets to gain entry and then sit the original seats I purchased–if the tickets were accidentally thrown away or lost, the seats would presumably be empty, right?  Instead, we were greeted by the young man and his uncomfortable-looking date who stole the tickets right out of the envelope that said “Happy Birthday Dane!”   

A few years later, we were on the trip of a lifetime traveling through China and Thailand.  Dane’s birthday fell on one of the first few days of the trip, when we were still acclimating to our new, very foreign surroundings in Beijing.  Even though I had planned a fantastic dinner to celebrate, the one part missing was a cake.  I had no clue how I could secure a cake in China, when we had a hard enough time figuring out meals in general.  So, you can imagine our shock when the hotel staff arrived unannounced at our door bearing a cake of whipped cream, peaches, and gorgeous, exotic dragon fruit.

To this day we still don’t know how this cake made it to our door–either a hotel courtesy, secret friend or family member, or creepy stalker–but it was a great surprise. 

Dane’s most recent birthday doesn’t have an exciting or unusual story.  As you can see from the opening photo, Bean spent the day watching me bake, frost, candy, and photograph Dane’s cake while the birthday boy was hard at work.  I only slightly tweaked Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cake to make this a lime cake (fine, it’s not key lime, but it sounds better), and used richer, yolk-based buttercream frosting and candied lime recipes to complete my creation (thank you culinary school!).  Even though there were no surprises, thefts, big parties, or trips, a birthday night at home with homemade cake and my boys was still pretty exciting.

Lime Cake

Slightly tweaked from Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans

2 1/2 cups AP flour, plus more for pans

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

zest and juice of one lime

2 c. sugar

2 eggs plus 3 egg yolks (large)

1 c. buttermilk (I make my own by adding 1 tbsp. white vinegar to 1 c. milk)

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Butter and flour two 8-by-2 inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour.  In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lime zest. 

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 c. sugar until light and fluffy.  With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time.  Beat in lime juice.  Alternatively beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix only until combined. 

Equally divide batter between pans.  Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32-35 minutes.  Let cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

Lime Buttercream

1 1/2 c. unsalted butter–not melted, but very, very soft

8 large egg yolks

1 1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla

zest and juice of one lime, or to taste

Whip softened butter with wooden spoon and set aside.  In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat yolks, sugar, and salt until a very thick ribbon forms.  Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla and lime juice and zest to taste. 

Candied Citrus Rind

2 limes, zested into long, thin strips (can use any citrus)

1 c. water

1 1/4 c. sugar

2 tbsp. Grand Marnier

drop of acid

Blanch zested strips in boiling water for a few minutes.  Remove and set aside.  Meanwhile, make sugar syrup by combining water, sugar, and orange liquor in a small pot.  Bring to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes.  Add rinds and cook until soft, several minutes.  Remove rinds from syrup and spread on a greased cookie sheet until ready to use.   

Assembly

Place one cake on a cake stand over strips of parchment paper (to prevent buttercream from smearing all over the cake stand).  Using offset spatula, spread top with buttercream.  Top with remaining cake and continue frosting top and sides.  Decorate with candied rind and don’t forget to remove parchment strips!

Posted in cake, dessert, travel | 1 Comment