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Winter squash soup is so versatile, almost anything goes. This one uses butternut squash, which always produces a luxurious texture. However, you can substitute any winter squash or pie pumpkin. I always roast the squash for a deeper flavor, but for an easier soup, just peel, cube, and throw the squash into the pot.

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A few aromatics form the foundation for the soup. The classics are onion, celery, and garlic. Carrots, parsnips, or rutabaga also combine well. Canola or olive oil can be substituted for the butter.

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I cut the squash in half lengthwise, after cutting the stem end off, scooped out the seeds and roasted the squash, cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet, at 400 degrees until tender, about 45 minutes.

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Then I made an X in the top of the chestnuts and threw them into the oven until they popped open. Peeling them is not for the faint of heart. The pear is barely noticeable, but I usually add an apple or a pear for sweetness. Fresh ginger would add more zing.

Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Chestnuts and Ginger
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 butternut squash, roasted and scooped out of the skin
1 pear, peeled and sliced
12 chestnuts, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon orange zest, optional
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a soup pot, add the onion and celery, and saute over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover the vegetables with water by 1″ and bring to a simmer. Be careful not to add too much water; you don’t want the soup to be too soupy! Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pot from the heat and puree with a stick blender or food processor, until creamy. Add more water if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot, garnished with some sauteed pear slices.

Meyer Lemon Bars

December 22, 2013

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Deb Donahue was here! She found some time in her busy schedule of prop styling famous cookbooks to come over and help me shoot some more photos. Deb is part of Dorie Greenspan’s photo Dream Team, having styled  In My French Kitchen and Baking, She wanted lemon bars, even provided the Meyer lemons. And Deb should get what Deb wants!

Luckily, I just finished perfecting my shortbread recipe for the class I had to cancel last week because of a snowstorm. So it was great to have a use for all of the eggs, butter, and sugar  piled in the fridge and pantry.

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I’m at that age where things don’t intimidate me as much, so I can be casual around famous prop stylists, as I fumble with my new tripod, juggle making bread, soup, and lemon bars for lunch and pretend to know what I’m doing with a tethered capture.

Now, my silliness stands in stark contrast to the happenings just outside the kitchen window. For, as Deb and I squeeze lemons, chat about eBay finds, and show off (that would be me) plates and baking dishes, Poor Lewis is digging a 3 foot trench to bury the 200 amp electric cable out to The Coop, so that I may realize all of my expanded cooking school dreams. At least the temperature rose to the occasion – but also made it a muddy mess.

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Meyer Lemon Bars
Shortbread:
1 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons, softened
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Lemon Topping
6 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar (use 2 1/2 cups, if using regular lemons)
2 tablespoons grated Meyer lemon zest (from 4-6 Meyer lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup flour

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking pan with foil and butter the bottom and sides with 2 tablespoons butter.

2. For the shortbread, beat the cup of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla extract in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, until light and creamy. Add the flour and salt and beat to combine. Press the batter into the bottom of the baking dish in an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, until dry on the top, but not browned.

3. For the topping: While the shortbread is baking, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add the flour and whisk until combined. Remove the shortbread from the oven and pour the lemon mixture into the baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until set but not browned. Let cool before removing from the pan and slicing. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

One can’t live on lemon bars alone. So I made a Butternut Squash, Chestnut, and Pear Soup with Orange. Delicious, if I do say so myself (my students know I’m not shy about something I’m proud of; humility is a rare occurrence, usually when something has caught on fire). The sun was setting, apropos for the shortest day off the year, and I want to do more shots of the completed soup, therefore I’ll leave it and the recipe until next week. See you then.

Sheila

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Summer is waning, with temperatures in the 70’s most days through next week. This is when the last of the peaches are being harvested and tomatoes are at their peak of flavor. Whoever came up with combining the two was a genius. I’ve paired them with a basil vinaigrette to highlight the season even more. A garnish of basil, mint, and fennel flowers adds that adorableness I love, however, if you are without, don’t worry, it will be just as delicious ungarnished.
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I’m going to work on my still-life compositions. As I get more practiced with the camera and composition, I’ll include more photos of actual cooking steps. These seem to be more of a challenge for me. Make sure your peaches are dead-ripe for this salad.

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Peach and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
1 large peach, peeled and sliced lengthwise
Assortment of cherry or heirloom tomatoes, cut in half or 2″ pieces
Chopped basil to garnish
Edible flowers to garnish (optional)

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
3 tablespoons olive oil

Assemble the peach and tomatoes on a plate. Garnish with basil and edible flowers. Combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil in a bowl. Add the olive oil in a slow stream into the vinegar, whisking constantly until emulsified. Drizzle over the salad and serve immediately.

Yield: 2 servings. May be multiplied as needed.

Hope you love this salad as much as I do.
Until next time,
Sheila

Peach Galette

August 31, 2013

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A wonderful thing happened. A talented and generous person came into my life. She came over last Saturday and for 4 1/2 hours she helped me style props for food photographs. This wonder woman patiently stood by as I attempted to utilize my new technical knowledge of camera, light and composition,  while juggling making lunch – Tuscan Bread, Heirloom Tomato and Peach Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and the above Peach Galette.

Who is this masked crusader; this prop stylist to the stars? She’s a woman who has devoted 30 years to her craft and styled some of the most notable cookbooks. Her name is Deb Donahue. I encourage you to check out her website for a taste of some of her beautiful work.

If I seem overly profuse in my praise, let me tell you what Deb said as we were packing up her props: “So we’ll get together in 3 weeks and do some more. Maybe some pumpkins.” I’m the luckiest girl in the world, right now.

When I saw the above photo, I started to cry. My critical eye is aware of it’s flaws. But I also love it, especially because it has given me confidence that, with time, I can make beautiful photographs for my cookbook,  a necessity in the competitive world of publishing. Unless celebrity is the next to knock at my door.

Peach Galette
For the dough
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/4 cup cold water

For the filling
6 large peaches, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon lemon juice, optional
1/2 cup sugar + extra for sprinkling
3 tablespoons flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the flour, salt, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl and, with a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut up the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of peas. Take a fork and break up the butter some more, pressing against the side of the bowl. Add the water and stir to combine. With your hands, form the dough into a ball, flatten and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the peaches, lemon juice, sugar, and flour in a bowl and stir to coat the peaches. Roll out the dough into a 12″ round and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Arrange the peaches in the center of the dough, leaving a 3″ edge. Fold the edge up onto the top of the tart. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle sugar over the top. Place the galette in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Note: For 30 years, I’ve used a food processor to make pie dough. A few weeks ago, feeling lazy about dragging out the machine and wanting to avoid the annoying task of washing the dough off of it’s sharp blade, I grabbed a mixing bowl and my much neglected pastry blender. Pulling together a single pie dough was quick and an enjoyable, tactile exercise. The resulting crust was delicate and much flakier than the ones I make in the food processor. I’m hooked.

We finished the photo session with a peach still-life.

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Out and About

September 13, 2012

The gorgeous weather on Sunday inspired me to grab my camera and head over to the Stockton Market.

On the way, I found Ken, the owner/chef of  The Bridge Cafe in Frenchtown, picking hot peppers in his garden behind the restaurant. The place was buzzing with dozens of bicyclists stopped for food and drink.

Pink is my favorite color.

Sunflowers greet you at the door.

Eat This  has jams, curds and olive oil bread baked in beautiful Weck jars.

Crossroads Bakeshop. Almost sold out as usual. You’ve got to get there early for their fabulous olive rolls.

This was the inspiration for the excursion. Couscousieres, tagines and pans from Tunisia. The unfiltered olive oil on the right has become one of my favorites. The price is incredible at $20 a litre. Abdel should be back from Tunisia this week. I’ve been purchasing his family’s olive oil at the Ottsville Farmer’s Market and he told me he had tagines at the Stockton Market. Pretty sure I’ve picked my favorite, but I like to obsess over things so I’ve delayed the purchase. Then each day I can settle on a couscousiere and then the next day change my mind and insist that I can’t live wit’hout one of those gorgeous pans. Add in a color  selection and, for someone as manic as me, its like living in a Hitchcock thriller!

Gravity Hill Farm has a stand at Stockton and I decided to proceed down Route 29 a little ways to visit their organic farm.

Didn’t ask her name; it’s probably adorable.

This is on Lewis’ to-do-list. Yes, ” poor Lewis”.

My new friend Tracey told me about these mushrooms. The family  grows them in their garage!

And you get one of those beautiful wooden boxes with your mushrooms. I picked the lemon ones.

Look at that kitchen in the background!!!

A quick stop at the Cookery Ware Shop in Lahaska to replace the glass for Lewis’  French press coffee maker and I began to think I crawled out of my burrow into the Times Square. I rarely shop on weekends – one of the  perks of being self-employed. So when I do venture out on a Saturday or Sunday, the traffic and lines are a surprise.  I joyfully returned back to my little ramshackle farm. The overgrown lawn, where I had discontinued  mowing on Friday after hitting a yellow jacket nest didn’t even perturb me. And “poor Lewis” had finished the last doors for my kitchen cabinets. A wonderful day.

Zucchini Bread

August 22, 2012

The zucchini bread on the left is my favorite tea bread. The recipe is from “The Book of Bread” by Judith and Evan Jones, originally published in 1982. I must have bought this book shortly afterwards because I’ve been making this quick bread for more than 25 years. In fact, I made it every week for my farm market that I used to have in my barn. Then, after I was done using my girls in colonial craft shows to sell soap, we made it together every week one summer for a farm stand down the road.

Yes, that’s Judith Jones, the publisher who was the the one brave enough to print Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, predicted by all other publishers to have no interest for American home cooks.  I only realized this year she was the one and the same!

Zucchini Bread with Orange Zest and Ginger
Adapted from Bronwyn’s Orange-flavored Zucchini Bread
The Book of Bread by Judith and Evan Jones

1 1/2 cups flour + 2 tablespoons for the baking pan
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil + 1 tablespoon for the baking pan
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″loaf pan with oil and 2 tablespoons flour.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and walnuts in a mixing bowl. Place the eggs, oil and orange zest in another mixing bowl. With a handheld mixer or a whisk, combine the dry ingredients, then whisk together the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture, add the zucchini and, with a large spoon, stir until just combined. Place in the baking pan and smooth the top.

Place in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until browned. Test by putting a knife into the center of the bread. It should come out clean. Place the bread pan on a cooling rack for 5-10 minutes. Use a knife to go around the edge to loosen, turn out the bread and place right side up on the cooling rack. Cool completely before serving.

Like all quick breads, this will taste even better the next day. Wrap in plastic and keep refrigerated.

I still make this once a year in the summertime. As to the mysterious bread on the right, that’s peach and blackberry in an almond and butter based bread. For that recipe you will have to come to my Quick Breads Class at http://www.thekitchengardencookingschool.com.

Bon appetite!

White Stuff

August 2, 2012


Homemade Baking Powder
I can hear your little voices penetrating the ethernet, “Homemade baking powder, you have got to be kidding!”. That’s what I thought when I first discovered it a few days ago while researching Tea Breads for an upcoming class. Although I have no interest in the ancient origins and histories of food, quirky things intrigue me and I had to know more.

The advantages to making your own include freshness, no chemical taste in the finished baked goods, avoidance of GMO’s by purchasing organic cornstarch and aluminum free baking.

My off the shelf baking powder contains calcium acid pyrophosphate, cornstarch, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, and monocalcium phosphate. Some baking powders contain aluminum compounds which create a metallic taste in food. We’ll take them one at a time.

Calcium acid pyrophosphate is a chemical compound formed by the reaction of pyrophosphoric acid and calcium phosphate. It is often used as an abrasive in toothpaste.
Cornstarch is how it sounds.
Sodium bicarbonate is baking soda.
Potassium bicarbonate is often added to bottled water to affect the taste.
Monocalcium phosphate is phosphate rock treated with calcium carbonate and is used as a fertilizer.

If you make your own, these are the three ingredients you will need: baking soda, cornstarch and cream of tartar, which is potassium bitartrate, a crystalline residue that forms in wine casks during fermentation.

Homemade Baking Powder
Makes 1 teaspoon. Increase proportionately as needed.
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Sift together all of the ingredients and use immediately.

One last thing I didn’t know is that these ingredients have a shelf life and should be used up within 6 months or discarded. Store in a sealed, airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Actually, there is so much more to non-yeast leavening agents which form carbon dioxide bubbles that cause your baked goods to rise. And there’s acid reaction if you are using things like buttermilk or yogurt in your batter or dough. It’s all too much for me to take in at once, much less remember. So we’ll save it for another post that will include making a savory quick bread. I promise.

Other White Stuff
The two plants in my new white garden that are flourishing and being ignored by deer are the Cosmos and Victoria White Salvia, both annuals but I’ve read that the cleome reseeds itself. However, when you see how many seeds it produces, you will most likely not allow too many of the seed pods to burst.


White Cleome Cleome hassleriana alba

Victoria White Salvia Salvia farinacea alba

The white roses are a favorite of the deer living in the woods just across the street. I’m trying to sprinkle homemade deer repellent regularly (you’d think I’m a product of Mother Earth News, but I haven’t had a subscription since I moved to the country!). I take some empty orange juice bottles and fill them with water, then add 1 crushed clove of garlic, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a squirt of dish washing liquid, and 1 egg. Shake it up, place in the sun for a few days. Lewis drilled holes in one of the tops for me and it acts as a sprinkler. No need to strain and put in a sprayer. I don’t even clean them out because the horrendous smell just gets the next batch going. The hard part is sticking to the program and reapplying after every rain and as new growth appears.

Two words of caution learned from experience:
1.Add the dish liquid AFTER the water and
2.Shake the container with an UNDRILLED top on.
Yes, haha.

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