Homemade Pumpkin Puree

IMG_3618

Ceci the cat jumped up on her stool to check out the pumpkin action. I know that my grandmother is turning over in her grave because we let the cat sit on a stool and watch us cook. She (the cat) seems to enjoy it. Grandma would hate it!

Fall is in full swing here. The leaves are off the trees and we start most mornings with a fire.  Our spare fridge is full of enough local onions, garlic and potatoes to last until spring. The onion sets I planted to provide green onions through the winter are up and looking perky. Winter salad mix and arugula are flourishing under hoops covered with frost cloth. The kale is going to town on it’s own since freezing temps don’t bother it a bit. The produce shelves are filled with pumpkins, Brussels sprouts and winter squash. I love fall and the foods that it brings.

Salad mix is thriving under frost cloth. It's time to thin it!

Salad mix is thriving under frost cloth.

One pound of onion sets cost $1 at the old hardware store in Marshall. Those green onions will be delicious all winter.

One pound of onion sets cost $1 at the old hardware store in Marshall. Those green onions will be delicious all winter.

Russian kale is beautiful year round. Those little dots on the leaf are snow! It started while I was writing this post.

Russian kale is beautiful year round. Those little dots on the leaf are snow! It started while I was writing this post.

The mustard greens in my spring salad mix went to seed when the weather got hot. One of the seeds jumped the raised bed border and this cold-loving volunteer came up.

The mustard greens in my spring salad mix went to seed when the weather got hot. One of the seeds jumped the raised bed border and this cold-loving volunteer came up. We are set for greens this winter!

I didn’t grow pumpkins this year, but wanted to get a head start on Thanksgiving pie-making by preparing the puree now. I brought home a bunch of the Sugar Pie variety of pumpkins; perfect little pumpkins with great flavor for pies, cakes, breads or just eating roasted or pureed. They weigh 2-4 pounds, produce three to four cups of puree and are cute as a button. Of course you can get pumpkin puree in a can, but puree is an easy thing to make from scratch and is truly worth the small amount of effort required. You’ll want to eat the stuff with a spoon! I gave my husband a taste of the puree and he said it might need a little more sugar. It was so rich and flavorful that he thought I had already dolled it up for pie filling!

Roasted pumpkins ready to be scooped and pureed. You can see where I pricked with a fork to check for doneness.

Roasted pumpkins ready to be scooped and pureed. You can see where I pricked with a fork to check for doneness. Aren”t they gorgeous?

 

That caramelized edge is like candy.

That caramelized edge is like candy and the cook gets first dibs.

The flesh easily pulls away from the shell.

The flesh easily pulls away from the shell.

IMG_3642

In the food processor.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree:  Preheat oven to 400F. Rinse and dry the pumpkin. Beware: pumpkins are slippery devils when wet, so dry before you attack with a sharp object! Using a sturdy knife or cleaver, cut off the stem and cut the pumpkin in half vertically. Scoop out the seeds and fibers and feed to your chickens or toast the seeds for a tasty snack. Put a piece of parchment paper in a rimmed baking dish or cookie sheet and oil the parchment with olive or vegetable oil. Place the pumpkin halves, cut side down, on the parchment. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. A fork will go right through the skin and pulp when they’re ready. I usually let then go a few more minutes so that the flavor concentrates and the flesh starts to pull away from the skin.

Remove from the oven and scoop out the pumpkin flesh. You can let the pumpkin cool first if you’d like. The cook gets to consume as many of the caramelized brown edges as she wants to! Puree the flesh in a food processor or run through a food mill until smooth. It’s now ready to serve as a side at dinner or to bake into all kind of goodies. The puree will keep for days in the fridge and freezes beautifully. I freeze it in jars, leaving an inch or two of airspace at the top for expansion. You can use your favorite freezer container or a resealable freezer bag. The bags can be frozen flat on a cookie sheet and then stacked for compact storage.

Now that wasn’t too hard, was it? You just won’t believe how good this stuff is!  Some of this batch of puree went into Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing. I made it for my pumpkin-loving niece and it was a hit with the whole family at Sunday dinner. The last sliver tasted pretty good breakfast too.

Happy fall to you. Now run out and get yourself a pumpkin!

IMG_3664

 

Nestled in the freezer until pie-making time. The stale bread is for my favorite Italian soup. I'll share it soon.

Nestled in the freezer until pie-making time. The stale bread is for my favorite Italian soup. I’ll share it soon.

 

Falling feathers and Failing Hens

It’s been a eggy summer. Is eggy a word? Even if it’s not, I’m going to use it. It seems perfect for describing life with eight or nine hens who laid daily all summer.  Luckily we, and our friends and family, love free-range eggs. We’ve eaten popovers, deviled eggs, spoon bread, egg bread, egg salad, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, omelette suppers, eggs on tortillas, French vinaigrette with an egg yolk in it and just about any other eggy thing you can think of. Why, you might ask, do we need so many chickens when we don’t sell eggs?  There are several reasons: laying falls off in fall and winter, laying drops as hens age and, sadly, chickens don’t last forever.

 

Eggs on tortillas with salty-lemonyyogurt and capers (inspired by Heidi Swanson at www.101cookbooks.com).

Eggs cooked on tortillas with salty-lemony yogurt and fried capers (from Heidi Swanson ). A great lunch or light dinner.

Not so much in their first year, but in the fall of a hen’s second year, it molts. Feathers fall out like crazy and the hen will look absolutely pitiful. It’s easy to think you’ve got a sick chicken on your hands, but that’s not the case. They just don’t look good with big naked pink spots! Mattie is our oldest hen at 18 months. I hate to say anything negative about the sweet girl but she’s been looking rough. Bald patches on her underside and back, thinning tail feathers, etc. I even stole her from the perch one night and weighed her to make sure she was okay. This involves putting the sleeping chicken into a shopping bag with handles, hanging said bag from my husband’s portable fishing scale and returning the bird to the perch before it wakes up and freaks out. It’s even more amusing when you learn that I do this late at night in my pajamas, a sweatshirt, an LL Bean cap with headlights built into it and rubber gardening clogs. It’s not a glamorous life. Her weight was fine. She’d just lost so many feathers that she looked very small. Her laying has fallen from daily to five eggs a week since she’s using her protein sources to make feathers. We see the new pin feathers now so I’m reassured that she’ll return to her former gorgeousness soon.

Mattie in the garden, pre-molt.

Mattie in the garden, pre-molt. i won”t humiliate her by sharing a photo where she has bald spots!

Three of our other girls, all less than a year old so not molting very much, are still laying daily. As the days shorten, this will change. The amount of daylight directs how often hens lay. It’s been our experience that every other day in winter is the norm. You can put artificial lights in the coop to keep the eggs coming, but we like the natural method and think the girls deserve some time off in winter for good behavior. When the days lengthen in the spring, things will pick up again. In most cases, egg laying reduces each year after a hen’s first big molt, so Mattie might not be a 7-egg-a-week girl any more even in summer. I’ll have to report back on that. And then there’s Opal, our 1/2 Sumatra hen who lays her eggs in the woods where we can never find them. Her mom did the same thing.

I think I mentioned that chickens don’t last forever. Free-range birds love the lifestyle and lay eggs that are healthier for us, but they are exposed to danger every day. It’s sad but true and we’ve experienced lots of loss this summer. Ruby, one of our older girls, took to sleeping in a tree with our two Sumatra chickens. They’re the ones that don’t like to be cooped up. We tried every kind of bribe but couldn’t get her to bed down in the coop. The Sumatra’s are black and invisible at night but Ruby was gold with some white feathers so you could easily spot her on all but the darkest nights. Sure enough, she was plucked from a branch during the night never to be seen again. We suspect an owl carried her off since there was no sign of a struggle. We lost two hens to a dog. Two others died of natural causes and finally to end the sad part of this post, Goldfinger, our sexy rooster, had to go back to the farm where we bought him. He was an excellent rooster, but crowed often, all day long, at a high decibel level. The farm was glad to have him back since he was a pure-bred and good for breeding. We miss each of them and their sweet, quirky ways.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

While we still had noisy Goldfinger (GF), he performed a most heroic deed. We were outside at dusk and GF started going nuts; squawking frantically and herding the hens to a safe corner of the back patio up against the house. He then ran into the edge of the woods shrieking and returned with the last hen, herding her rapidly to the others. Roosters are great protectors so we’d seen this behavior before when dogs entered the yard or hawks flew to0 low for comfort (chicken comfort), but this time we couldn’t see any kind of predator. GF continued to raise a ruckus and finally we strolled away. As we looked back, a big black bear ran out of the woods and crossed the yard to another patch of woods — right where the chickens would have been! Guess GF smelled that bear a mile away! We miss that rooster and will always remember how he saved our girls.

The current flock consists of Opal,  the 1/2 Sumatra who safely sleeps in a tree; molting Mattie, a black and white Barred Rock; Buffy the beautiful golden Buff Orpington and Flopsy and Beatrix who are Golden Comets. They are co-existing happily in the garden and wood edge enjoying all the wonderful seeds that fall brings. As a flock they lay three to four eggs a day and are darn proud of it! They each announce when they lay by chattering and cawing loudly as they exit the coop. Those sounds are music to my ears!IMG_3475

 

Peach Crisp and Signs of Fall

The sunflower heads were so heavy with seed this summer they couldn't stay upright. Now they're dried out and ready to become chicken treats!

The sunflower heads were so heavy with seed this summer they couldn’t stay upright. Now they’re dried out and ready to become chicken treats!

We had a wet summer this year with much less sun than usual. The 60 inches of rain that had fallen by the end of August was too much for some of our flowers and vegetables. Others flourished in the cool moist air. We had a bumper crop of rabbits and wild turkeys and the bears who wandered through our yard looked awfully fat and happy.

All PostsIMG_2978Some folks complained about the lack of heat, but I didn’t miss it. The last three summers were unusually hot and dry so so a gentler summer was overdue. It’s reminded me of childhood visits to the mountains. We’d drive up from Raleigh in the un-air-conditioned heat of summer, the kind of heat that shimmered on the streets and sidewalks and made your legs stick to the car seat, into the cool highland air. Wearing sweaters and sweatshirts was a treat. It was magical visiting Mount Mitchell back in the 60s when there was snow on the ground in July and we shivered in our shorts and sweatshirts! I’m happy to have weather that takes me back to those days.

IMG_3124

Fall sedum and asters.

Fall started sneaking in at the end of August. September has brought lovely sleeping weather with most nights in the 50s. Our family gathered around a bonfire Saturday night under a clear starry sky and sweaters and even a down throw made their way to the circle. Sedum and asters are in full bloom and the hens are joyfully feasting on dried sunflower heads. Turn up your volume for the full effect of the hen video. There’s a bumper crop  of local apples and we’re still getting peaches from South Carolina.What an excellent overlap!  I’m thinking about another batch of peach preserves since the peaches aren’t long for this world. My sister and I had a great time making our first batch ever  earlier this summer.

Peaches and apples are both ripe right now!

Peaches and apples are both ripe right now!

But in the short-term, there are six large, ripe peaches lined up on the screened porch railing so a crisp is in order. I’ve worked at a friends bakery for the last month to learn more about baking, especially yeast breads. In addition to batards, boules and focaccia, we made pies and granola. The granola makes a perfect topping for fruit crisp. I don’t use a strict recipe, just peel and slice the peaches, toss them with cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract (optional but really good),  a bit of lemon zest and juice, a pinch of salt and a scant handful of flour to help it all thicken. Toss to evenly coat the peaches. I use my hands, but a spoon works too. Taste to see whether you need to add salt or sugar and let it sit for half an hour or so to develop the juices. While that’s going on, make the crisp topping. Combine a few handfuls of granola or oats with a couple of tablespoons of softened butter, a few tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands or a fork and taste. If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon of butter or a splash of olive oil and mix again. It should taste good!

Pour the juicy peach mixture into a Pyrex rectangular or square baker or a pie pan (or two if you have lots of peaches). Crumble the topping over the peaches and bake at 375 for about forty-five minutes. Make sure it’s good and bubbly when you pull it from the oven. Serve within an hour or two if you like it crispy. It’s good plain or with a dollop of yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream. The neat thing about a crisp is that it’s hard to mess up. You can make a thick layer of fruit and a thin layer of topping or vice versa. You can make it really sweet or not too. Just don’t forget the pinches of salt.  They really liven things up. You can substitute berries or apples for the peaches if that’s what you have. I make crisps with lots oats/granola because I can’t get enough of that crispy topping. It won’t be crispy the next day unless you re-crisp it in a low oven, but it’s a great breakfast anyway!

Sliced freestone peaches.

Sliced freestone peaches.

Granola, butter and brown sugar topping.

Granola, butter and brown sugar topping.

Peach crisp with greek yogurt on top.

Peach crisp with greek yogurt.

Update from the hen-house: I know you’re dying to make a peach crisp this very minute, s0 I’ll make it quick! Paul installed a solar-powered, Pullet-shut Automatic Chicken Door on the coop that will open at dawn and close after dark when the girls have put themselves to bed. It even gives a second chance to any stragglers by reopening for a minute. I know it’s slothful, but not heading out to the coop at 7 a.m. on a 15-degree morning sounds pretty good. Mostly it makes things a lot easier when we travel and have chicken sitters. Although the hens were a little agitated during the construction, they calmed down once their house was back in order. I don’t think they’ll even notice the special door, but the humans love it!

I’ll still go out to say goodnight to them. I like to think they’d miss me if I didn’t.

 

 

World’s Best Bacon

Back in June I won a pie-baking contest and one of the prizes was a pound of bacon. A pound of  bacon may not seem that exciting, but when it’s Benton’s Bacon it changes everything. It’s slow-smoked over in Madisonville, Tennessee with hickory wood. The only ingredients are bacon, salt, sugar, black pepper and smoke combined according to a secret family recipe. I’ve heard people say that Benton’s is the world’s best bacon and they sometimes have to wait a month to get an order of the delicious stuff. As you can imagine, Paul and I were feeling a little pressure as we tried to decide what to do with this fabulous bacon.

IMG_2852BLTs seemed like the way to go on a late July afternoon. Tomatoes don’t really come in here in the mountains until August and the world’s best bacon had already lurked in the freezer for a solid month, so we settled for some excellent slicers from a nearby county where it’s flatter and warmer. Daring people that we are, we flaunted tradition and chose a locally made bread over toasted white slices. The handmade bread was 50/50 white and wheat Carolina Ground flour, with a rustic texture and a top crust of sesame seeds. It’s made by Tara at Smoke Signals Bakery. She even grows some of her own grains.

World's Best Bacon in the pan.

World’s Best Bacon in the pan.

IMG_2867As soon as that hickory scented smoke start coming off the bacon, I was hooked. The slices stayed nice and thick and caramelized beautifully. Only two slices needed for a divine sandwich. Even Paul, who has a hollow leg when it comes to food, agreed that  a few slices were enough. Smoke Signals bread, Benton’s bacon, mayo, beefy red tomato slices and a little salt and pepper pretty much add up to heaven on a plate.

Waiting for the bacon.

Waiting for the bacon.

 

Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

IMG_2877

I could tell you about the black bean salad we had on the side, but let’s face it; nothing else really matters when you have the perfect BLT in your hand.  The bacon had just the right amount of hickory smoke, a firm texture and crisp edges that made it the main character. We swooned. After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor and finished a sandwich plus an unadulterated slice each, I went right to the computer and ordered more Benton’s Bacon. What kind of person orders bacon on the internet you might ask? All I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Did I mention the ultra-flavorful bacon grease that was left in the pan?  When I was a kid, Mom had this silver canister with a lid that sat beside the stove. It had a strainer in the top that you poured the grease through to get remove the cooked bits. The strained grease was stored in the bottom and used to flavor beans, greens, cornbread and lots of other good things.

Many years ago I quit saving, deciding that I would be healthier without that bacon grease. Thank goodness I came to my senses a while back and started saving again. It only takes a small spoonful to add lots of flavor to a dish and it’s really a shame to waste all that goodness. That little bit of Benton’s grease has flavored pots of home-grown collard greens and kale and some delicious spoonbread made with our own eggs and Long’s Valley Farm cornmeal.

Guess you could say Benton’s is the bacon that just keeps on giving!

 

Nothin’ Beats Beans,Greens and my Mom’s Cornbread

Just picked Russian kale and collards.

Just picked Russian kale and collards.

To use my Dad’s phrase, today I had a cravin’ flung on me. A craving for beans, greens and cornbread and the cornbread had to be the lacy-edged fried kind. It’s made from a batter consisting of cornmeal, salt and water and cooked on the stove top in a thin layer of vegetable oil until the edges are lacy, crispy and brown. That’s what cornbread meant to me as a child. The other kind of cornbread we ate was oven-baked and contained cornmeal, eggs, salt and baking powder and soda. My grandmother called it egg bread to distinguish it from the skillet type. Generally, we used yellow cornmeal for the egg bread and white fine-ground for the skillet type. Both were stone ground and neither of the cornbreads contained sugar.

I decided to go right to the source and called Mom. She’s been making cornbread for 60+ years and knows her stuff. My folks love the holy trinity of beans, greens and cornbread and accepted an invitation to dinner almost before I got the words out of my mouth! A few hours later while the fellows devoured a bowl of black-pepper pistachios, Mom and I got down to business. I’m lucky to have a local source for yellow  stone ground cornmeal from heirloom corn. It’s ground fairly fine so was suitable for this recipe, even though it’s yellow.

IMG_2838The bad news is that we don’t measure anything in this three ingredient recipe except the cornmeal. Mom does it by feel. I think you can too. We mixed two cups of fine stone ground cornmeal with 3-4 generous pinches of salt and added water until the mixture started to look more like batter than dough. Then we added a splash more liquid so the batter would spread in the hot oil. We tasted the batter to check the salt level and added a little more. Salt is a personal thing so do what seems right to you. Since this was a new cornmeal to Mom, we did a test batch and then cooked the whole batch. In the old days, we used a cast iron skillet, but today it was ceramic non-stick.

Mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork. That's my Mom!

Mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork. That’s my Mom!

The batter takes shape.

The batter takes shape.

Check out those edges!

Check out those edges!

The vegetable oil should be about 1/8 inch thick in the pan. When it’s good and hot, drop in a very tiny bit of batter. If it doesn’t crisp up pretty quickly, turn up the heat. Eat the sample and check for salt level. For the full-sized sample, drop about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter into the oil. It should spread some so that the edges become irregular and lacy. Add more water to the remaining batter if this doesn’t happen. Be patient and let it sizzle for a while. Mom only turns hers once, but that takes some practice. When it looks pretty solid, carefully turn the cornbread and cook the other side. It should be brown and crispy when done. Drain on paper towels and serve.

IMG_2846The cornbread was the perfect complement to the rest of the dinner: pinto beans, greens cooked all afternoon, sliced tomatoes and white rice. Condiments included chopped onion for the beans and hot-peppers in vinegar (made last summer) for the greens. We ate on the screened porch and it was good! Then we took our full selves out to tour the garden and visit the chickens. Finally, we headed for the front porch rocking chairs to watch the sunset. No dessert required.

Thanks, Mom.

 

Sister’s Pie-panic Calmed by Onion & Lemon Sponge Pies!

Guyere, onion and mushroom pies

Guyere, onion and mushroom pies

Pie seems ever present in my life recently. All the pie chat moved my sister, Mary, to face her personal Pie-panic and she asked for my help. It takes a brave woman to face pie fear and I was confident that we could have a homemade-crust breakthrough!

We got together on a Saturday afternoon for the Pie-panic therapy session. She requested an onion, mushroom and gruyere savory pie. Lemon sponge pie seemed like a great idea for dessert. We made two of each single-crust pie so that we could feed our parents and spouses that night. The evening was a big hit and I expect we will do it again before too long. We just have to let the cholesterol clear a bit since there is a stick of butter in each single crust. Luckily, Mary brought some excellent red wines that may have offset some of it. And had large servings of a delightful green salad and served fresh berries on the lemon sponge pie to redeem ourselves.

photoThere were a couple of snafus along the way.  The first was leaving my student unsupervised. Somehow, in a matter of  minutes, an extra cup of flour ended up in the mix. Measuring distraction can happen to anyone, especially when you’re doubling a recipe, but since this dinner had a friendly audience, we decided to forge ahead. A little extra water and butter saved the day.  Then I realized that one of my four pie plates was at a friend’s house on the other side of town. While the dough chilled, I popped down to nearby Weaverville to get one. Mary sliced all the onions for the savory pies while I was gone. Here’s Sister’s take on the Pie-panic session and the onion slicing tips I gave her.

Our goal, bringing Pie-panic to the surface and then sinking it for good, was accomplished. The crust was much crisper and less flaky than usual but in spite of that, the resulting dinner was top-notch. As society columnists in small Southern newspapers used to say : “A good time was had by all.” I just love that phrase. Sums things up nicely doesn’t it?

So let’s get down to the recipes. My pie crust mantra is keep it cold, keep it cold, keep it cold!.  There’s a great basic crust that works for sweet or savory pie that I adapted slightly from the Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It’s simple, super flaky and easy to handle. It’s my go to crust. For the onion filling, I checked out a bunch of recipes. Some were too elaborate, some were too bland and none seemed perfect. So I just used my noggin and made one up. Lemon sponge pie recipes are everywhere. It’s an old-fashioned pie so lots have accumulated over the years. It tastes almost like lemon bars but creamier and a nice brown crust that develops on top as it bakes. Yum!  Don’t forget my pie crust tips.

Enjoy your pie dinner!

Dana’s Plate Go To Pie Crust (adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

(makes one double or two single crust pies)

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon table salt

2 sticks chilled unsalted butter (8 ounces or 1 cup)

Steps

  1. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and place in the fridge for a few minutes. In a large, wide bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Retrieve the cold butter pieces and scatter over the dry mixture. Using a pastry blender or two table knives, cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small to medium peas.  Variation in size is a good thing.
  2. If the butter has warmed up, refrigerate for 10 minutes. Drizzle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and uses a plastic or floured wood spatula to stir it together just until a ragged lump is formed. Then use your hands to knead the dough a few times, incorporating any loose bits as you go. Working quickly so that the dough stays cool, form the mass into a ball.
  3. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Flatten the wrapped dough into discs. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a week. To freeze, add another layer of wrap or place in a resealable plastic bag for up to two months. To use, defrost in the fridge for a day.
  4. Generously sprinkle flour over your counter or other rolling surface and the rolling pin. Unwrap a disc (leave the other in the fridge until you need it). Place it on the floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Instead of rolling out this very hard disc, whack it a dozen times with a floured rolling pin. Lift and rotate the dough after every couple of whacks. If the dough sticks, use a bench scraper or spatula to get the dough off the surface and sprinkle the surface with more flour. If the dough gets soft, scape it onto a cookie sheet or piece of plastic wrap and get it back into the fridge for up to 10 minutes. You’ll have a larger flat disc after the whacking. Flour the pin again and roll, lift and rotate the dough until it reaches the desired size and shape according to your recipe.

 

Savory Onion and Gruyere Pie

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 large onion halved root to stem end and thinly sliced in the same direction

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup wine (white, marsala or madeira)

One teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

salt and pepper

6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated coarsely

Pastry for a single crust pie

Steps

  1. Add olive oil and butter to a large skillet or wide dutch oven and melt the butter. Add all the onions and stir to coat with oil/butter mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat, covered, for about ten minutes until the onions are softened. Stir a couple of times. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned and very soft. Add a splash of water if the onions begin to stick. This will take 45-60 minutes. After 30 minutes, add the sliced mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Add the wine to the browned onion mixture and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
  3. Roll out your pie crust to 1/8 inch and transfer to a 9 1/2 inch glass pie pan. Trim crust overhang to one inch and turn under itself. Crimp or finish crust edge as desired. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork several times.
  4. Line the crust with foil and fill will dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and weights and cook about five minutes longer. The crust should be golden brown. Cover the edge with foil or a crust guard if it starts to get too brown.
  5. Spread 2/3 of the Gruyere into the crust and cover with the onion mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyere on top of the onions.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and onions are sizzling. Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.

img_8430

 

 

A Simple Garden Dinner

Sunday night, after socializing on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July, we had a simple supper at home. Just the two of us and some veggies from the garden.  We’ve had more than twenty inches of rain in two months so the plants are really happy. The summer squash grew so quickly, it was like watching time-lapse photography! The dinosaur kale hasn’t slowed down since the mercury has stayed at or below 80 on most days. There’s a bountiful crop so far. Here’s how the veggie dinner came together.

Lacinato or dinosaur kale and summer squash fresh from the garden.

Lacinato, or dinosaur kale, and summer squash fresh from the garden.

The KALE leaves were mostly tender so I rolled stacks of them long ways and sliced across the roll into half-inch ribbons. A few leaves had big stems so I chopped them in half-inch pieces too. The kale went into an inch of salted water and braised for 20 minutes with the lid on. Then I uncovered it, let the liquid cook away and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice and a few red pepper flakes.

For the SQUASH, Barb Swell inspired me with her Log Cabin Cooking blog. Her parmesan-fried summer squash is a quick, easy and nearly perfect dish for one or two people. It tastes almost like a southern squash casserole without the extra fat and prep time. This squash was so good I wanted it all for myself. Paul is lucky he saw any of it!

Parmesan shards for the squash

Parmesan shards for the squash

Then there were the FINGERLING POTATOES, earthy and delicious, from friends John and Melissa’s Highgate Farm up the road in Marshall. John is a regular at the Weaverville and East Asheville tailgate markets and always has lots of great naturally grown produce.

Here’s a simple method for cooking fingerlings. I believe it’s French in origin.  For two servings, add a tablespoon of butter, a good splash of olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt to a small to medium dutch oven and set over medium heat. When the oil/butter is good and hot, add enough fingerlings for two people. Give them a stir to coat and cover.

Earthy fingerlings from Highgate Farm

Earthy fingerlings from Highgate Farm

Just a few more minutes of browning to go!

Just a few more minutes of browning to go!

Try not to peek for at least 10 minutes, 15 if you’re strong. Then stop by every 4-5 minutes and give the pan a few good shakes to turn the potatoes and prevent sticking. Use your kitchen timer if you tend to get distracted. Do a fork test around 20 minutes for doneness. Adjust the heat as needed for browning. Total time depends on the size and number of potatoes, but estimate 20-30 minutes for two servings. Magically, the little fellows will cook in their own juices (with a little help from the butter). If you’re patient, they will be creamy on the inside and crispy-brown on the outside. You can add a dash of lemon juice, a few chopped chives or a grind of pepper to them on the plate, but it’s not really necessary.

You can make these for a crowd. Add a bit more oil, butter and salt, but don’t go crazy. The potatoes release a fair amount of liquid as they cook. And use a larger dutch oven. Surface area is important here. A double layer is fine if you’re very good about shaking to rotate the potatoes. Otherwise, they will steam but the top layer won’t brown. Stir them if you have to and allow more cooking time. Be sure to use a thick bottomed pot, preferably cast iron, for this recipe. I use Creuset. You can use any potato cut into a large dice if you don’t have fingerlings. These taters are so good, you could make a meal of them!

Our dinner was heavenly. Sometimes after a hectic weekend, simple pleasures really are the best.

P.S. Paul is away tonight and I picked a squash today. Guess what I’m having for my solo supper!

IMG_2796