Friday, July 29, 2016

Making the Cut

While it's not necessary to be cruel to be kind, sometimes your plants need you to make a number of decisive and judicious cuts throughout the season. Faced with just such a task the other week, I dreaded the process of pruning away some extremely dry blooms and scraggly stems that had needed my attention for a while. But now it really had to be done—the forecast was calling for even hotter weather than we'd had already, and I didn't want excess baggage drawing moisture and energy away from my plants. Thankfully, I realized I didn't need heavy equipment to get the job done. The old pair of scissors (relegated to the outdoor gardening basket long ago) and a ball of leftover cotton yarn would be enough for my needs:

And then I decided to make it more of an aesthetic project—the cuttings from the yarrow would make an outdoor bouquet, perfect in an all-weather tomato can. The yarn would be strong but gentle enough to help hold together the wayward stalks of some of the more tender herbs. I could even tie the yarn in a bow. In all, it was starting to be more of a jaunt than a chore, and I've had something lovely on my front porch ever since:

As is usually the case with things you dread doing, the whole project only took a short time. I targeted specific plants, cutting away just enough to ensure their health and keep their shape. Of course, there is plenty more that needs doing in the yard—tasks that genuinely deserve to be dreaded! But in the meantime, I can enjoy the tidy results of my trimming party, a reminder that a little effort can go a very long way:


Friday, July 22, 2016

Feeling Blue: Blueberries and Cream Cobbler

A few weeks ago, dessert just had to be blueberry cobbler—it just had to be. The thing was, I really wanted a biscuit-dough crust, but didn't want to go to the [not really all that much] extra effort. Yet I still wanted to infuse the cobbler with some added richness, to make something a bit more decadent than normal. Then I had an idea—I would make my usual cobbler recipe, using heavy cream in place of the milk. The result was not all that different in consistency, but still had a very special quality of its own. I would definitely make it again, and encourage you to make it, too!

Blueberry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

Blueberries and Cream Cobbler

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 pints fresh blueberries, washed and spread out on a towel to dry (it's okay if some moisture remains)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish and add blueberries in an even-ish layer on the bottom. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined, breaking up any lumps as you go. Add heavy cream and mix until smooth and no dry pockets are left (the batter will be fairly thick). Dollop large spoonfuls on top of the blueberries and spread roughly to cover—it won't be perfect, but the batter will smooth out as it heats in the oven. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until the cobbler is golden, bubbly, and the batter is completely cooked in the center. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: The batter is so rich, you almost (almost) don't need to serve this cobbler with ice cream—but after all, it is dessert ;-) Definitely substitute other fresh berries, stone fruits, or a combination of your favorites for the blueberries. I used vanilla sugar, but simply add a splash of vanilla extract to your batter if using regular sugar.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

So Corny: Cheddar and Pimiento Cornbread

I've never been particularly fond of corn in general, and don't eat it often, but every once in a while I have to make an exception. There's nothing better alongside your chili than a thick slab of cornbread, and nothing more pleasing than spooning your bolognese over rich, creamy polenta. And while you're at it, a little cheese and pimiento never hurt anything, either:

Cheddar and Pimiento Cornbread Slice

Cheddar and Pimiento Cornbread

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Several grindings of black pepper
4 Tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz. pimientos, drained (chop roughly if the pieces seem too big)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8x8-inch square (or similar capacity) pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ground pepper until combined, making sure to break up any lumps. In a large bowl, cream together melted butter, brown sugar, eggs and sour cream until blended, then stir in about half of the flour mixture. Mix in the milk, then add the remaining flour mixture and stir until just combined and all the ingredients are moist. Gently fold in the cheese and pimientos, then scrape the mixture into your prepared pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: I realized (after the pan was in the oven) that a few Tablespoons of chopped chives or parsley would have added excellent flavor and a pop of green —definitely try it when you make this! There is a lot of fat and moisture in this recipe, but it makes all the difference in creating the perfectly tender texture of the finished cornbread. Use the sharpest cheddar you can find, you want that cheesy flavor to sing! If you don't like pimientos, you can leave them out, or try chopped sun-dried tomatoes instead. For extra "pimiento cheese" flavor, substitute mayonnaise for the sour cream!