Monday, February 27, 2012

Fat Tuesday: Pear and Apple Beignets (Fritters)

A few weeks ago I ran across a recipe for Pear Beignets with Pastry Cream. It looked so good, and I had 3 ripening pears ready to go.

Beignets are fried pastry common in New Orleans. Tuesday was Fat Tuesday, the last day before lent, and the date for Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday is famous for many delicious foods wherever lent is celebrated. 

First I took out a paper bag and filled it with
1/2c sugar
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Not everyone as (or likes) cardamom. This works just as well with cinnamon. In fact, my son J. filled a second bag with a cinnamon sugar mixture.

Start heating some oil (8c or so, whatever works) in a pot with high sides until it reaches 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit. I recommend a clip-on thermometer. They are inexpensive and completely worthwhile, even if you only fry once or twice a year. It is too easy to undershoot or overshoot the best temperature, and then the final product can turn out too greasy or raw. 

3c flour
3tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt 

After whisking, remove 3/4c and put it in a wide, flat container like a pie or pasta plate. 

Make a well in the four mixture. Add
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbl butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2-2c liquid, in traditional beignets there's often a bit of beer. 
The original recipe suggests sparkling cider. Some use milk, water, juice, or evaporated milk. I decided to use a mix of buttermilk and seltzer water (because that's what I had). 
It turned out to be 1c buttermilk + 1/2c seltzer.

At this point you should be close to 350. 

Things can be set up. 

And then a little more time to peel and slice the pears (or apples). 1/3" slices. 

Removing the hard spots. 

Dredge in the saved flour mixture. 

Dip in the fritter mix. 

Drop in the pot (between 350-375). You may find you're adjusting the temperature so it stays in that range. 

2 minutes per side. 

Roll in sugar mixture. Serve warm. 

 You can serve with pastry cream or lemon curd. I happened to have both. (I know..weird...but I'm learning how to make custards right now.)


Both pears and apples were good. I threw in apples in the leftover batter at the end and they were wonderful. They held up a bit better then the pears (the ones with holes broke easily) and were excellent in cinnamon/sugar. 

If you have leftover batter you can make a funnel cake like thing. 

And don't forget to filter the leftover oil and put it in the refrigerator. You can reuse the oil a few times. In fact, it fries better after the first use. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Strudel Love and Ice Flow

This year I wanted to try something new, and I noticed Walmart was selling phyllo dough (right next to the frozen fruit). The Cooks' Illustrated Cookbook has a recipe for quick Apple Strudel. 

Apple Strudel ala Tamara

1/4c toasted bread crumbs
8Tbl (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1lb of sweet apples, like Golden Delicious, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
1 tarter apple, like a Granny Smith or Empire, also peeled and sliced 1/4"
1/2c walnuts, chopped fine and toasted OPTIONAL (I did)
1/2c golden raisins OPTIONAL (I didn't)
1/4c sugar + 2 Tbl
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
10 thawed phyllo sheets

Confectioners or Sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 475
Melt butter in microwave.
In a frying pan, toast bread crumbs with about a Tbl of butter. 2 minutes.
When done throw into a medium bowl and toast the nuts next. Add to bowl.
Between stirring these wash, peel, and slice apples in 1/4" slices.
To the bowl with bread crumbs and walnuts, add apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, salt, and 1/4c of sugar (reserving 2Tbl). Toss to combine. 
Phyllo should be thawed in the fridge overnight or a few hours on the counter. 
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay out first sheet of phyllo. Dot edge with melted butter. Overlap with second sheet (by and inch) so together the two cover the cookie sheet. 
Brush sheets with butter. Sprinkle 1/2" tsp of sugar or so. Add next layer. Continue layering phyllo, butter, and sugar until 10 total sheets have been layered (5 per side). 

Put filling at the bottom, leaving at least 2" of space at the bottom and sides and a lot of room (for rolling) at the top. Fold the sides and bottom over the filling. Pull the top flap over the filling and start rolling up. 

Filling can also be trimmed or tucked to resemble shapes. In the photo I made more of a square (1sheet wide) and tucked the ends to a point and puffed out the top to resemble a heart. As long as the ends are underneath it should stay and bake together. 

Before putting in the oven add some vents on top (like a pie) to let steam escape. 

Bake 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on rack @40 minutes. Dust with sugar if you desire. 

Definitely enjoy its flaky, buttery goodness. 

We also played a new game. Nothing says 'I love you' like a game about crossing the ice flows between Alaska and Siberia. 

With little polar bears you can distract with fish. 

In the game you're gathering gear (rope, fish) to help your guys across the ice flows. Moves have to be balanced with the resources available. Bears need to be avoided. Players can distract bears with fish, putting them across another players path. 

Fun. Plus its based on a real guy named Karl Bushby. He's made it through South and North America, but was caught in Siberia for an illegal entrance. He's waiting for a Russian visa and will be heading back out soon. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The First Step to Gardening 2012: Inventory

Its that time again. We've already gotten the catalogs. We've walked slowly past the new seed racks at Walmart or Fleet Farm. We've sat with a Sharpie on a snowy day and circled exquisitely-photographed produce, each more fabulously described than the last (I want that job...I truly do). We've already imagined the ultimate yard, densely framed by beautiful plants which also cut our grocery bills. 

Now is the first step into reality. We have to inventory our current seeds (bought in the first blush of idealism last year or 3 years ago) and decide what we really need and what we can actually afford. 

Not quite as fun. 

First of all, I keep my seeds in old mayonnaise containers I got for free at a garage sale. They're fairly large (gallon size?) and have screw lids. I organized the seeds according to planting time and type: Cold Weather (greens, peas), Hot Weather (peppers, squash, corn, zucchini), Beans, Herbs, Flowers, Tomatoes. 

Storage: I've kept my seeds in different places over the years. Usually I keep them in these jars on a shelf in the basement (50-70 degrees F). A few years I kept certain jars in the freezer. If you have a lot of seeds you know you can't use up within a few years (my crazy Tomatoes collection for instance) it makes more sense to keep them in the freezer. They're more likely to be viable when you want to use them. 

Next, I sit down for an hour and make a list of what seeds I have with a mark (+, =, -) indicating whether the packets are full, half full, or almost gone.

Finally I look over the list and try to make a realistic list of what I need. We always need paste tomatoes, or yellow zucchini or leaf lettuce. The last thing I do is choose  1 or 2 new veggies to try. This year I'm ordering baby savoy cabbage (dh made dumplings).

So let's get those orders in before Spring sneaks up on us. How are things going? Do you have a schedule for ordering new seeds?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Squirrels Enjoy the Unseasonable Weather

I live up North. Its not like I can see Canada from my house or anything, but it wouldn't take much to get there. 

So generally we have something called Winter. Yes, we use a capital letter. Winter deserves a capital letter W up here. 

And in Winter the temperature usually drops and we have something called snow. Its a simple way to keep out the unimaginative or those who simply can't slow down enough for shoveling. 

Squirrels don't generally care for shoveling, so some time in December they disappear and usually reappear in March or April with babies almost as big as themselves. Perhaps that's the squirrel version of a twilight sleep delivery.

We have a roosting house. For over-wintering birds.

That's not what she thought. Baby squirrel catches sun on the roof. 

Mama tells her to get back inside.

The next day baby was climbing up and in and out and down and up and down and up and in and out and in and out and in and out. 

I would blame sugar but I'm pretty sure they haven't even found the sunflower seeds I left out on the porch railing. Being stuck in the house makes some kids crazy.

My oldest tells me the baby has been out since mid-January when she was 3" long. Wow. Its a weird, weird Winter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Reading: Gardening Books about Shade

We have a shady, shady yard, so last time we were at the library I thought I'd see what they had on that subject. And since I'm reading them I thought it would be helpful to break them down for those of us in the Shady Yard club. 

This was a well-organized book. It spends some time covering shade issues (root crowding, starting from scratch, different kinds of gardens) but then it settles in to its biggest asset an alphabetical listing of the best shade-loving plants with a regular 2-page spread for each. Each spread has photos and specific growing information. Having it organized in this manner makes it much easier to seek out plants or just to browse through the different types to see what appeals to you. Also included are 4 tables with his best shade trees, vines, shrubs, and annuals.

This book was not as helpful as the last. It organized itself by having sections detailing types of plants (rhododendrons for instance, they love rhododendrons) and then a table with specific plants. The sections were dense and not very fun to read and the tables seemed to favor zones 6 and 7 over others. Since I'm in zone 4 there were few plants I could use.

Gorgeous photos cover every page, and a much more in-depth text. From this book I learned to look for shady plants based on leaf size (shady plants needing larger leaves for collecting sunlight). Not organized for browsing, but the photo-based book does give you more ideas of what types of plant work together. In order to learn about those plants you do have to flip around the back index. Entries are separated according to color, which can be helpful, but its not as easy to browse as Growing Perennials or Making the Most.

Another extremely well organized book. It has a chart in the front with each variety, giving quick details such as name (Latin/common), bloom time, longevity, maintenance (low, med, high), years to bloom, and preferred light. The only thing I could say against this book is that its only about the 100 most common perennials, but considering the in-depth care in each entry and the listing and grading of specific genus, this is the best book for the average plant and flower gardener with shade. Most of these plants should be available to everyone. 

There are a few other shade books on Amazon, but this was available at our local library. For casual zone 4 gardeners looking to put in some flower beds, I would recommend Growing Perennials in Cold Climates

Looking outside of these books, I wish there was more information about growing food in shade, even wild food. While a few of these books could tell me that wild ginger and purple filbert (hazelnuts) can grow in shade, I don't know if their produce is edible. No notes were made to point out shade-growing food plants.