Monday, May 23, 2011

Eat the Market

I confess.  I've been AWOL for a few weeks.  But I have really good reasons - like Springtime and fresh produce and baking up a storm and meeting really great folks who know what to do with good bread.

This past winter was a long one and I don't know about you, but when the first tulips pushed their way up and out in the open, the world suddenly seemed full of light again.  And now that the farmer's markets have reopened, fresh produce from not-too-far-away is available and a bargain.

This year, I'm fortunate to be a vendor at a new local market inside the Draper Mercantile, a lovingly restored spot near Claytor Lake, in the rolling mountains of Virginia.  Check it out at  The structure is possibly pre-civil war era (there are varying accounts) and has a rich history of providing local residents a venue for buying and selling their staples. Walking through the big blue front doors, there's a sense of being at two stops along the space-time continuum at once.
There's a wide front porch with rockers, polished wood counters, heartbreakingly good music, local fresh produce and seriously, the nicest people you'll ever want to meet.
And, did I mention, European-inspired bakery?
Recognize those happy ciabatta?  Here's the recipe if you want to make some - - 
or just hit me up at the market and I'll save you the work.

So yeah, I not only get to shop the farmer's market but it's how I make my living these days. Or at least part of it.  The really good part.  Here's something I'm making this week.
Oui, French macaron.  I bet you thought those were only available in places with metro stops.

Now, the only problem with all those gorgeous fresh fruits and vegetables and bread is that sometimes after I've stocked up on what I know is good, and good for me, I'm not entirely sure what to do with it.  If you have this dilemma, let's share some ideas.  I've got a few but I'd love to hear yours.

This week, when baby lettuces put in an appearance, I'm mixing up a tangy Italian vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and olive oil - but use your favorite - and serving the salad atop this remarkable rosemary flatbread from  The bread can be the plate, see?  It's handy, like fast food, only your body actually wants you to eat it.

Now, the recipe:

Crisp Rosemary Flatbread
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2008

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary plus 2 (6-inch) sprigs - I used dried needles, broken up in the food processor, which smelled brilliant!
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing
sea salt

Preheat oven to 450°F.  They suggest preheating a baking sheet in the oven, for sliding the flatbread onto when it's ready for the heat.  I have stones on one rack of my oven and they worked well, having shaped the bread on parchment and sliding it onto the hot stones to bake.
Stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times.  Their instructions say to work in 3 pieces, baking one at a time, but as you can see, I just flatted out the whole thing onto one piece of parchment and slid it onto my oven stones.  Lightly brush top with additional oil and scatter small clusters of rosemary leaves on top, pressing in slightly. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Slide the round (still on parchment) onto preheated baking sheet or stone, and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer flatbread (discard parchment) to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds (1 at a time) on fresh parchment (do not oil or salt until just before baking). Break into pieces.  I would totally top the dough like a pizza and bake, as well.

When I tasted the fresh-baked flatbread, my first thought was, "I'm never buying crackers again."  But you can bake it crisper or softer, depending on your need that day. The sea salt and rosemary are lovely and the finished bread is like a palette, just made for decorating. Today, I used the fresh greens on one piece, and on the others, some leftover red sauce and a bit of pesto that looked longingly at me from the fridge.  And then I ATE IT FOR BREAKFAST. Seriously.
This Saturday, check out what's fresh in your neck of the woods and if you run out of recipes or come up with some new ones, let's chat.  Meanwhile, just remember to eat the market.  Your body will thank you and you'll probably meet some very lovely people along the way.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Throwdown

If you ever find yourself humming, "Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle," chances are you've seen the movie "Waitress" with Keri Russell.  Besides having everything I desire in a film - Nathan Fillion and pie - the screenplay is sweet and especially poignant and speaks to mothers and daughters everywhere.

I'm incredibly fortunate to have a daughter and as well, one who bakes a pretty mean pie.  For Christmas, she did indeed give family members little pies with hearts cut out in the middle, exposing their rhubarb and strawberry goodness.  When, by New Year's, everyone was raving about those pies, I figured there must be something to this rhubarb, which I confess I had never tried.  In my youth, we had a giant plant in the yard but it seemed like one of those things your grandmother ate - anathema then, but now, it turns out, Grandma knew what was good!

If you know anything about gardening, you know that rhubarb isn't fresh at Christmas time but like most fruit, the frozen kind works very well.  Here's what rhubarb looks like in early Spring - in fact, it's one of the first plants to wake up from Winter.

Now, my daughter and I are not competitive about our baking.  We like to share tips and tricks and truth is, she got me my first job in a bakery.  So when we were invited recently to do a pie throwdown, the competition was very lighthearted.  Doing it at my very favorite local coffee shop, Lucie Monroe's, a bonus.

Curious to know whose pie reigned supreme?  Well, as the wise lady on the left, judge and local Tomato Queen Juliet Roma, remarked, "I'd like to have B's filling in A's crust."

Clearly, Tomato Queens have to be very diplomatic.

But judges' choice and overwhelming crowd favorite in the end was Laura's beautifully filled pie with the hand-fluted crust.  It was sweet and luscious and had just the right consistency when sliced and held up to bite.

My go-to pie is typically more of a rustic galette - French, I believe, for "easy as pie."  I confess, my initial plan to use dandelion syrup as a secret ingredient was not such a wise choice.  There's already almost too much liquid in strawberries and rhubarb.  Hence, following Laura's route with the cornstarch is a good bet.  But I do have a no-fail pie crust, discovered long ago in my Cuisinart food processor cookbook, that's ready in 60 seconds.  In fact, if it takes you longer, you've already messed it up.  Sorry.

Taking a cue from the judge, here's Laura's pie in my crust.  If you want to know more, you'll have to hunt her down at Bollo's in Blacksburg, where she bakes deliciously statuesque scones and muffins, among other things.

In Laura's own words, boil a minute or two until thickened:
2 C fresh/frozen rhubarb
1 pint fresh strawberries
3 T cornstarch
1/4 C honey
1/4 C lemon juice
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 C sugar, to taste
2 tsp rosewater, if available
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon - wish I'd thought of that!
1/2 tsp nutmeg
lemon zest or extract, to taste

"Bake until crust seems done, 30-40 minutes.  But I definitely boiled it then baked it, I think that's crucial, not just boil then pour into an already baked crust.  Also, I boiled the fresh rhubarb from the beginning, then when I realized it sorta disintegrated, I added some frozen at the very end."

Laura and her prize-winning pie, along with judge Nikki who gets to create yummy things with her mother, Dawn, at Lucie Monroe's.  Aren't they adorable?

Donna's crust recipe:

3 C plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
16 T or 2 sticks of chilled unsalted butter
2 T vegetable shortening
5-8 T ice water

I use the plastic blade of the food processor despite the company's instruction to use the metal one.  Additionally, if you happen to have pastry flour on-hand, it makes for an even more delicate crust.

Otherwise, follow Cuisinart's directions to the letter and you won't be disappointed:  Process the flour, salt and baking powder to sift, 10 seconds. Add the well chilled butter and shortening. Use short rapid pulses until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal and no pieces of butter larger than a “pea” remain visible, 15 to 20 pulses. Sprinkle half the maximum ice water on the flour and butter mixture, then pulse 5 or 6 times. The dough will be crumbly, but should begin to hold together when a small amount is picked up and pressed together. Sprinkle on more water, a teaspoon (two for the two-crust recipe) at a time, with 2 to 3 quick pulses after each addition, adding just enough water for the dough to hold together easily when pressed into a ball. Add the liquid sparingly so that the dough is not sticky. Do not over process or the pastry will be tough, not tender and flaky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Press together into a ball, then flatten into a disk about 6 –inches in diameter (two disks for the two-crust recipe). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour before continuing to allow the glutens in the flour to rest. The dough will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days, or may be frozen (double wrapped) for up to a month, thaw at room temperature for an hour before using. 

I used about half this recipe for my contest entry, meaning you can easily get 2 to 3 pies per batch.

Using the technique above, after chilling your disk of dough, roll it out on parchment paper into about a 1-foot circle.  Move the parchment and dough onto a baking sheet and add Laura's delicious filling, mounding up a bit in the middle and spreading out to within 2 inches of the edge.  Fold the edges up around the filling and brush with egg wash, sprinkling with sugar, if desired.  My pie took about 45 minutes at 375 and it's nice that at the higher heat, the crust will bake without becoming soggy, and give that rustic golden finish.

A final word about rhubarb - make sure that if someone besides yourself mows your lawn, you tell them what the plants look like.  Or that you have plenty in the freezer if you're planning to enter a pie contest.