Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jumbleberry or Rhu-berry PIe

I've loved a mixed berry pie ever since a stop at Bumbleberry Inn near Zion National Park when I was young. Bumbleberry Pie theirs was appropriately called, and it was thick in the middle with a dark-purple jumble of berries and a tender, sugar-kissed crust. They served it warm with a dollop of ice cream all melty on the side. I knew then that I'd discovered heaven on a plate.
We made other trips to Zion when I was growing up, but only stopped for pie that once. You'd think when the mecca of deliciousness is just off the side of the road, my family would have veered that way every time. But I wasn't the driver.
It wasn't until an extended family trip a couple of years ago that we once again made the pilgrimage. The Inn was stark-looking, not quaint, like I'd envisioned it. And when the main course wasn't outstanding, I began to fear. Had my memory betrayed me? The Bumbleberry pie arrived and it looked, well, like pie. Served on a plate, not a cloud, no angels announced its arrival. And it wasn't even as pretty as my mom's pies. How could the taste not be disappointing after all those years of glorification in my head?
Well, it was good, but too seedy. I didn't remember it being seedy before. I suppose the whole point of using the name Bumbleberry is that they can use whatever berries are in season. Apparently, we stopped by in the seedy season.
I still had my memories, though. I knew what was possible. So I made my own attempt at a jumbled berry pie. Here's the recipe I came up with last fall, one we've enjoyed several times since. I made it again the other evening to celebrate a visit from my brother and sister-in-law and replaced a cup of berries with rhubarb. I called it Rhu-berry pie and it should have been served on a cloud.  

Jumbleberry or Rhu-berry Pie

Pastry for a two-crust pie
5 cups berries (Fresh or frozen, a mixture of any of the following: blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, marionberry, or others, just not too many seedy ones!)
1 to 1-1/4 cups sugar (the larger amount if using mostly tart berries or rhubarb)
1/4 (rounded) cup Minute tapioca
1 Tbsp butter
1-2 Tbsp milk
coarse sugar, such as turbinado, for sprinkling

Mix the berries with the sugar and tapioca. Let sit for thirty minutes to allow the tapioca to soften.
Roll out the bottom crust and place in a pie pan. Pour in the berry mixture. Slice the butter into small pieces over the top of the berries. Roll out the top crust and slice into strips. Weave the strips to form a lattice crust. (Because berry pies are so juicy, you need lots of venting. If you choose not to use a lattice crust, cuts lots of decorative slits in the top crust) Crimp the edges. Brush top with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour  or until crust is golden and juice is bubbling. Let cool slightly. Best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream all melty on the side.  
Variation: for Rhu-berry, replace one cup of the berries with one cup of diced rhubarb. Proceed as directed.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Aunt MIckey's Apple Butter, my version

I've been thinking about Apple Butter lately. I know, it's not the season. I should be thinking about strawberries and rhubarb, asparagus and all other Spring delights. But is there anything more delightful that a trip to the cold storage room, where there awaits a jar of Fall, all thick and spicy and ready to spread on some warm homemade bread? I don't think so.
I did it the other day, in fact--took a trip down to the basement for something else and came up with a jar of the stuff in my hand. "Yum!" my girls exclaimed, and for just a moment, I was whisked back to my own girl days.
On an all-too-seldom occasion my dad would come home from work bearing a jar of Aunt Mickey's apple butter. He might have been a wiseman bring gold, frankincense or myrrh. I savored every bite of that rich-brown sweetness spread on toast. But that rare delight was something Aunt Mickey made. Not anyone else. And it certainly wasn't found in a store.  Once or twice, feeling heretical, I tried apple butter in a restaurant, but it wasn't real. Not like Aunt Mickey's.
And then I grew up. I saw a chef on TV making apple butter and it didn't seem so hard. Hey, I thought, I can do that. So I did. And it was good. Really good. But Aunt Mickey's still loomed in my mind as the ultimate in apple butters.
Years went by and I ran into my cousin, Lori, Aunt Mickey's daughter. Timidly, afraid to find out that the holy grail of apple butters had been lost to the world, I asked her if, by chance, she had her mother's recipe. Yes, she told me. She did.  Hallelujah.
I made the recipe she gave me. And it was good. Really good. But I found there were things I missed from the other recipe I'd been using, the lemon peel and the nutmeg. I was aghast. Could it be that what I'd thought of as perfection could be improved?
Since then, I've continued to tweak, and believe it or not, I did reach perfection with one batch. That one was simmered in a crockpot, not on the stove, and was made with Granny Smith apples from my own tree--a perfect storm of deliciousness that might never be achieved again.
Here's the recipe. Take your own stab at perfection.

Apple Butter on warm homemade bread. Not much better than this.

Aunt Mickey's Apple Butter, Alison's version

16 cups thick apple pulp
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 
8 cups sugar (half white, half brown, for me)
4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1 scant tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
zest from one lemon
For apple pulp: core and quarter apples, but do not peel. Add only enough water to cook apples until soft. Press through fine sieve and measure. Combine all ingredients. Cook until mixture remains in a smooth mass when a little is cooled. This will require about 1-1/2 hours boiling. During cooking, stir frequently to prevent burning. Pour into pint jars or smaller. Process in a water bath canner, 5-15 minutes, depending on altitude.

Crockpot directions: Combine ingredients in a large, 6 or 7 quart crockpot. Cook on high 8-10 hours. Remove lid halfway through cooking time. Use same doneness test as for stove cooking. Process as directed.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Banana Peanut Butter Coffee Cake

One of those relaxed, semi-annual Sunday mornings. I wanted something a little special for breakfast, like a coffee cake, and I had over ripe bananas in my kitchen. My search online for Banana Coffee Cake showed some promising recipes, but most had nuts in or on them--something my nut hater would not be happy about. How about a peanut butter streussel instead? This is what I ended up with, and I have to say, it was . . . wow.
Recipe adapted from ones in and Better Homes and Garden Cookbook.

Banana Peanut Butter Coffee Cake
1 8-oz package cream cheese
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 medium bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 Tbsp butter or margarine, softened

Beat together the cream cheese, butter and sugar. Add the bananas, eggs and vanilla; beat until smooth. Combine dry ingredients; add to batter and mix. Smooth into a greased 13 x 9-inch pan. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
For topping, stir together brown sugar and flour. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter and peanut butter until uniform.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Boot Camp Babe

I once wrote a list of 100 things about me. I looked at it the other day and saw this: "I have never been able to do a regular push-up." By regular I meant an on-the-toes, heeyah!, kind of push up, as opposed to an on-the-knees, whimpy one.
Well, never is no more. I can do one now.
It happened this way. About two and a half years ago I started attending a boot camp-style exercise class at a nearby church building. The instructor had us running and lifting weights and lunging and yes, doing push ups, and I hated it. I'd be so sore the next day, I could barely stoop down to move the laundry from washer to dryer. And shall we talk about trying to get up from the toilet? No, we won't. 
But, hey, I'm all about free exercise, and it was a change of pace from walking every day, so I continued to go, even though I often dreaded it. Especially the push ups part.
The instructor told us we could do them from our knees. Then she encouraged us to try "just one" on our toes. We could drop to our knees after that if we had to.
I'm a law abiding person. If someone tells me to do something, I'll do my utmost to comply. So for a few weeks, I creaked out one push up on my toes before dropping to my knees. Then I got up to two. Then five. Then finally, all ten.
She kept adding more push ups to the routine, spacing them out throughout the hour-long class. One day she had us do something called a pyramid, starting with one, then building up to ten, then back down again. It was only ten at a time, I could do that.
At the end of the hour, I realized I'd done 100 push ups. All of them on my toes. Not once had I dropped to whimpy formation. Exultation.
Two and a half years later I look at myself in the mirror (yes, I admit it, I have flexed in front of the mirror) and I see muscles on my shoulders and arms that were never there before. Never.
Where did those come from?
Could it be that they were there all the time, just needing some encouragement in order to show themselves?
It makes me wonder how many other hidden muscles I have. What else is lying dormant, just waiting for a little encouragement from me to show itself?
I also wonder how many times I've said, "this is me, this is who I am," when in reality some effort could change that part of me.
Thinking of it makes me want to experiment, try something new, something hard, something scary, something I might hate at first, dread even, just to see what will happen--what new muscles I can grow.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On The Hunger Games and why I love Phillip Phillips

Premier of The Hunger Games movie today. We've got our tickets, electronically, anyway, and will be seeing it later this afternoon. I can't offer a critique on the movie, then, but I can say why I love Phillip Phillips.
Philips has reached the top nine on American Idol, an enviable position, no doubt, for any singer. You'd think he'd do anything, then, to give him an advantage, to push himself past the other contestants.
Even sell himself out?
Not Phillips. The other night on American Idol he was told by a highly regarded fashion consultant that his style was sloppy, "wrong" even. He shouldn't wear gray, and especially not two gray shirts together. He was told by two musical mentors to lose the guitar. It was a shield, they told him, he should do his song without it. So what did Phillips do on performance night? He came out wearing gray on gray, guitar in hand, and sang his heart out. The smile in his eyes and the joy in his face won me over, and they gave me hope.
I've only read The Hunger Games once. Often, I'll read a book multiple times just to revisit a world that I enjoy. But while I was gripped by the story and the characters in the Hunger Games, I haven't been in a hurry to go back to that place. Perhaps because in it, I see possibilities of what my own could become. Reality TV and violence exist already in my life. And I watch it, some of it. Just to admit that makes me cringe. Am I so far removed from the citizens of the Capitol?
I wonder, then I remember Phillip and his defiance toward those who would mold him into something he isn't. I reveled in that defiance, and I hope that I, too, would defy the morals of the Capitol, if I were ever in that place.   
So, I'll go to the movie tonight and remember that it's a fantasy world. And it will keep on being one as long as there are people in ours like Phillip Phillips.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Corn Chowder

I'm usually a recipe gal, especially when it comes to baked goods. I've never created a cake or cookie or bread without a recipe right next to me. But soup, that's where I get a bit adventurous. I've been making chowder without a recipe for years now. The type depends on what I have, or don't have, in the fridge. But the basics of it remain the same. And they've remained in my head, until now. It suddenly dawned on me, possibly because one of my soup-loving daughters will be heading off on her own soon, that I couldn't pass on an exact recipe to her if she asked. Not that she will. She hates to cook. But maybe she will someday, or someone else will. In anticipation of that day, I actually paid attention while making my corn chowder last night. And now I'm writing it down. If only for myself for when I'm old and forgetful and, oh yeah, I'm already that way.
This by the way, is the pantry-friendly version because it uses canned corn and evaporated milk. Fresh or frozen corn would also be good.

Corn Chowder

Serves 4-6
Four potatoes cut into bite-sized cubes
2 cups chicken broth or the equivalent of water and boullion
1/2 Tbsp dried onion
1/4 tsp dried dill
1 15-oz can of corn (about a cup and a half of frozen or fresh kernels)
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
1 heaping Tbsp cornstarch
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Suggested toppings: cheese, bacon bits, green onion
In a large saucepan, combine cubed potatoes, broth and onion and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and simmer about ten minutes or until potatoes are tender. Open can of corn and pour off half of the liquid. Pour the corn and remaining liquid into a blender or food processor and pulse a few times until about half the corn is chopped up and the liquid has a creamy look to it. (Skip this step with frozen. With fresh, cut it off the cob and use the back of a knife to scrape some of the cob's juice in with the kernels.) Add corn to soup and simmer until corn is heated through.   
Add the dill and all but about 1/4 cup of milk to the soup. Pour the 1/4 cup into a small bowl and mix with cornstarch until lump-free. When the soup begins to steam, add the milk-cornstarch mixture and stir until the soup thickens. If not thick enough for your liking, repeat process with another tablespoon of cornstarch combined with 1/4 cup milk. Add two or three turns of a pepper grinder, but taste before adding salt.
Serve with suggested toppings or others of your choice.