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Lobsters, Cheesecake, Burial Plans: Summer 2011 2

Posted on July 20, 2011 by crankycheryl

It’s turning out to be kind of a crazy summer around here.

Z. turned six two weeks ago.  He’d been planning his birthday for a year, and actively fixating on it for at least six months, encouraged by the constant flow of birthdays in his kindergarten class.

After extensive negotiations we decided to go camping, and that I’d go into a nearby town and find him a cheesecake.  And I’d get him lobster.  So we went camping.  I had contacted the Barnard General Store, who ordered and cooked lobsters for us at a ridiculously cheap price.  I picked them up and brought them back to our campsite to eat with corn and potatoes for dinner.


I had been worried about the boys’ sensitive little hearts.  This was going to be the first time that they had eaten something while actually looking at its face.   I placed a lobster on each plate, and started helping the boys crack them open to get to the meat.  After I had removed a claw and handed it to E. to start to get the meat out of, he took it, pinched the lobster’s still-attached antenna eand started singing,

Why are you pinching yourself, why’d you do that?!  Why you pinching yourself, huh, huh?!

And cackling wildly.  I realized they were made of tougher stuff than I had given them credit for.

After dinner it was on to dessert.  I hadn’t been able to find a cheesecake in even one of Woodstock’s precious little bakeries and stores.  So I had bought gelatin and sugar and cream cheese and, along with crushed up pretzels and fresh cherries we had back at camp, turned it into one of  those silly no-bake ones.

And I got out the candles and we sang and there were presents and then we tried the cake.  I thought it was pretty good, considering how it came into being.

Z. tried it, and then set me straight, looking earnestly at me and saying, Mommy, I wanted a cheesecake like this (shows me both thumbs up), but this one is like this (thumbs sideways, reproachful look).  I think I sort of mumbled something about how it may not have been perfect but wasn’t it cool that he had a mom who cared enough to make him cheesecake?  While camping?  With no oven?

Whatever.  He was right.  The only cool thing about it was that it actually happened.

And then a few days later, just about the time I had gotten the camping stuff put away, the boys hit me with this beaut as we were leaving the Y after swimming:

Mommy, when you die do you want to be all burned up or buried in the ground in a coffin?

What the hell?  Can they hear the hypochondria streaming between my ears?  My mental reviews of the state of my will because my foot hurts and PT isn’t working and my restless leg syndrome is getting weird again?

I asked them if they really wanted to know.  They assured me they did.

I could have done what the textbooks say, which would have been to answer the question as it was asked and then shut up.

Instead, I took a different route.

Instead I said something like,

Well, you know how I really care about other people and about recycling and taking care of planet Earth, right?  See, you can be what’s called an organ donor when you’re done with your body and that’s really cool because they take like your eyes or your liver and they give it so someone else so they can use it.  And you can even let people learn from you after you’re done living by letting them use your body for experiments and stuff and then they get to be really good doctors and help other people and that’s super great because it’s like you helped those people too.  And then when everything useful is gone I want to be all burned up and put on the compost pile at cohousing so I can be part of the garden forever.  Cool, right?

My final resting place. Or maybe it'll be over by the tomatoes.

You’re probably as surprised as I was to learn that they didn’t think it was cool at all.  They started wailing and yelling with their eyes all wide and welling up and everything, and then they swore they’d use swords and guns to defend my dead body so it could be in the ground in a coffin like it should be.  And that they could put their own coffins next to mine when they died.  And that we’d all spend eternity lying in our boxes next to where their dad buried his dead pet rats.

I’m pretty sure I agreed to all this.

After the crappy cheesecake, it only seemed fair.

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The June List 2

Posted on June 21, 2011 by crankycheryl

We picked strawberries today at the Charlotte Berry Farm, a.k.a. “berry picking heaven.”  The boys love it because they have excellent toys and creemees, and I love that the farm is owned and staffed by lovely people who don’t spray their strawberries with all manner of toxic badness.

Though the little guys did primarily focus on Legos, I got E. in the field with me to pick berries for the first time ever.  He was racing up and down the rows with his flat, screeching when he found big berries and plucking and plucking away.  Who knew that all I had to do was casually tell him to come with me and he would?

And if we’re picking strawberries, it must be June, a realization that leaves me in the blessed and happy-anxious state of preparing for the Vermont harvest ahead.  It’s true that it’s off to a slow start because of our sodden fields (beautifully written about by Melissa Pasanen in our local paper).  But it’s still time to think about preparing for easy meals in the hot months ahead – not to mention the long winter that’s not too far behind.

So today’s Tuesday Tip is my Food To-Do List for June.  I’m about halfway through, and I will or won’t get there but at least we’ll have berries.

  • Try to use up any lingering 2010 food that’s still in the freezer.
  • Then defrost the freezer.  But do remember to put down something to catch the water.  Yep.
  • If buying ahead, choose items that will combine well with salad ingredients or grilled meals.
  • Pick strawberries for freezing or canning (this year I’m not making strawberry jam and am only freezing).
  • Pick first greens for braising/cooking and blanch and freeze them.
  • Put aside one or two cool nights for baking muffins, cookies and biscuits so I’ve got some baked goods in the freezer for when it’s too hot to crank the oven.
  • Pick rhubarb and freeze it.
  • Pick thyme before it’s in flower and dry it (oops – nearly before it’s in flower).

Or you could just go have a creemee.

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Tuesday Tip: Don’t Buy Brown Sugar 4

Posted on June 14, 2011 by crankycheryl

The other day, I ran into a neighbor with a decidedly fretful look on her face.  We were both in the cohousing pantry and she was looking for the brown sugar for a recipe she was making at home.  There was none on the shelf.

It made me realize that I have not been properly shouting out one of my favorite kitchen tips:

Don’t buy brown sugar. 

Brown sugar is sugar that’s been processed (i.e., granulated and had the molasses separated out) and then had a certain amount of molasses added back in.  You can buy it, but Cheryl’s Law of Pantry Inhabitants dictates that then you will forever have the wrong grade of darkness: dark when your recipe wants light, light if it calls for medium, etc.

But you can avoid this.  Instead, buy plain old sugar (if you’re a Costco member you can get a great deal on fair trade turbinado-type, by the way)  and a jar of plain old molasses.  Then, when a recipe calls for brown sugar you just combine the two.  Here’s what I do (and I’d love to know if your ratios differ):

  • For light brown sugar, I add 1 T. molasses per cup of white sugar
  • For medium brown sugar, add 2 T. molasses
  • And for dark, add 3 T.

Nice, right?

Tuesday Tip is a new feature I’ll be offering weekly, focusing on ways to make your food life more simple, thrifty, healthy and family-friendly.  If there are things you’re seeking or would like to know more about, do send a note!

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Vermont Winter Souffle 0

Posted on February 08, 2011 by crankycheryl

One of these days I’m going to rename this blog, “Eat Butternut Squash or Die, Mofo!

And in preparation for that, here’s a truly fabulous, gluten-free, vegetarian use for the ubiquitous winter workhorse itself.  It’s adapted from Barbara Kafka’s absolutely fantastic Vegetable Love, a gem for anyone who eats vegetables, and a must if you’re a CSA member.   I hadn’t set out to make a dinner out of squash, but I came across the book just after roasting one, and it all sort of came together in a beautiful way.

I was interested to read this:

“There has been a rebellion in recent years in France against the rise of flour.  [!]  I don’t agree, but when it comes to vegetable souffles, the taste of the vegetable is often more pronounced without the use of flour.”

A few more pages of flipping landed me on Kafka’s brilliant combination of rhubarb and beets, and since I had those on hand too, that became the side dish.

Very Vermont Squash & Cheddar Souffle

Adapted from Barbara Kafka’s Vegetable Puree Souffle
About 4 dinner servings

1.  Preheat oven to 400 with a rack in the center position.

2.  Generously butter a 6- or 8-cup souffle dish (or any 6-8 cup round, straight-sided oven-proof dish).  Lightly coat with:

  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese (I was out and so used potato flakes.  The reason for this ingredient is to give the souffle something to climb as it puffs up, so the coarser texture was a good substitute.)

3.  Separate:

  • 4 eggs

(cheese grater, yes; souffle eater, no)

with whites in medium bowl.  Set aside.

 

4.  Whisk together:

  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 1/2 c. butternut (or other) squash puree
  • egg yolks, one at a time
  • 1 c. grated cheddar cheese (I used Cabot’s 50% fat, my standby)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • sprinkle ground ginger
  • sprinkle cayenne

 

5.  Using your handheld blender or stand mixer or whatever you like for such things, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.

6.  Using a rubber spatula, take a generous scoop of the whites and fold them into the cheese mixture with gentle, sure strokes until it’s mostly combined.

Fold in the remaining whites until fairly well-combined, remembering to keep a fairly gentle touch and not pushing out the air in the egg whites.

7.  Scrape the mixture into your prepared dish and put on a baking sheet in the oven (if you use an 8-cup dish you can skip the baking sheet as it oughtn’t spill over the sides).  Bake for 25 minutes or until, as Kafka describes, the souffle is, “puffed, golden brown and only slightly wiggly in the center.”

Since souffles are notorious for deflating, I snapped this picture right away, before I jostled it on its way out of the oven.

And then it was still nice and puffy and so I took another picture.

Still puffy!  I was so excited I took another.

STILL PUFFY!  But, okay, enough was enough.  So then I put away the camera, cut into it and ate.  Serve immediately, or at room temperature, or even cold for an easy leftover lunch the next day.

A couple of notes:

  • It had been a while since I’d made a souffle, and was a little sad to discover I had lost my proper souffle dish somewhere along the way.  I used an 8-cup Pyrex round baking dish and it worked just fine.
  • One advance step that I always try to do, and usually forget, is taking out the eggs about half an hour before I intend to start cooking so that they can come to room temperature.  This makes a difference when you’re trying to get the whites beaten until fluffy, but don’t worry too much if you skip it.
  • Though I usually make souffles quite firm, Kafka offers this, “… the French prefer their souffles baveuse, creamy in the middle.  This semi-liquid center serves almost as a sauce.”  I did, and the contrast was nice … if initially a little alarming.

 

Warm Rhubarb & Beet Salad
Adapted from Barbara Kafka’s Vegetable Love
About 4 servings

Combine in a medium saucepan:

  • 5 roasted beets, peeled
  • 2 c. chopped rhubarb stalk (I had it in the freezer: maybe you’ve got some too)
  • 1/2 c. cider
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • (I had this on hand, which I used instead of the cider and balsamic)
  • generous sprinkle kosher salt

Cook over medium-low heat until rhubarb starts to break down and liquids are reduced to syrup.

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Thank You Cookies 0

Posted on December 17, 2010 by crankycheryl

These are the cookies we make to give our letter carrier, garbagemen, firefighters and our other year-round helpers.   And when Z.’s teacher asked his class to bring in something from a family holiday tradition, these were the first thing that came to mind.

They are chewy and fudgy, somewhere between brownies and cookies, delicious and chocolate-y and very addictive, which is why I only make them once a year.   (Though, full disclosure: 5-year old “Stewie” in Zander’s class didn’t like them because he doesn’t like fruit with his chocolate.)

Whatever, kid.

Herrick Family Thank You Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food Black Forest Cookies

Makes 36

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners and set aside.

2.   In a medium bowl, whisk together:

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, spooned and leveled
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
3.  Place in a large glass or otherwise heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and stir until melted and smooth:
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4.  Remove from heat, then whisk in separately and thoroughly:
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 T. molasses
  • 2 large eggs
Whisk until smooth.
5.   Whisk in flour mixture just until combined. Fold in:
  • 1 package (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries or tart cherries
Cover well and refrigerate until firm, 30 to 45 minutes.
6.   Drop mounds of dough (equal to 2 level tablespoons) about 2 inches apart onto prepared sheets. Bake just until edges are firm, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 1 to 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Snow Day Popcorn for Grownups 0

Posted on December 11, 2010 by crankycheryl

Ever since Danielle and I were kids playing in the snow tunnels outside her apartment building, snow days have meant popcorn and hot chocolate.   It’s a tradition I’ve been happy to continue with E. & Z., who have come to expect it as a birthright if they have even the briefest contact with cold and snow.

“Mommy, I walked from the car to the house.  I’m ready for my popcorn and hot chocolate now.”

This week, it must be said, they earned their winter warm-up.  They spent hours outside on those two inches of snow, sledding and flopping around and rolling up and down hills.  And when I made the popcorn, I put a couple of cups aside for a spicy and satisfying winter snack for the grownups too.


Maybe you know that pepitas pop and toast beautifully and they make a great combination with the corn, adding a little nutty flavored protein to the mix.  Next time, I’ll probably throw in some dried blueberries or cherries and call it a meal.

I used this particular mix of spices because of the rustic, coarse texture and mild heat of Aleppo pepper, plus the smokiness of smoked paprika.  You can approximate this with sweet paprika, ground chipotle powder, and a sprinkle of crushed pepper flakes if that’s what you’ve got around.

Spicy Popcorn & Pepitas

1.  In a large skillet, war over medium heat just until fragrant:

  • 2 T. butter or olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves chopped garlic

2.  Add and stir:

  • 1/4 c. pumpkin seeds (pepitas).   You can use the green ones that have had the hulls removed, or the ones you’ve scooped out of your own pumpkin or squash.  If you choose the latter, just dry and toast them first.’
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 (or to taste) Aleppo pepper

Cook for 2-3 minutes, then stir and repeat to coat and toast the seeds.

3.  Add:

  • 2-3 cups popped popcorn.

Stir well and serve.

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Children of the Corn 4

Posted on August 25, 2010 by crankycheryl

Is it just me?

Wouldn’t you expect that your children and their two friends could stay at the petting zoo and playground for two minutes while you ran to get them a bottle of water since the poor little darlings were thirsty?

And if they had to run wild in the minutes you were gone, surely you’d think they could continue on with the petting zoo animals, or climbing the wooden tractor, or running across the wide, safe, open field.  What child of reading age would cross an acre, pass the “CLOSED” signs, and enter the corn maze?

This place, by the way, is a big old actual maze with paths that swirl around in traditionally confusing and re-doubling ways.  It wasn’t terrifying at 3:00 p.m., but I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be there after sundown.   I’ve seen the horror movies and I know what goes on.

Still, you and your younger child yourselves entered the forbidden rows, yelling for the trespassers and were at last reunited, after telling the offending three children that they were in TROUBLE and had ONE MINUTE to find their way to where you were (because if you tell people to do something impossible while YELLING, the laws of physics will change to accommodate your wishes), and then the farmer showed up to yell at them too.

So there we were with glaring adults and big-eyed children.  I was waiting for the finger-pointing and the meltdown and I was ready to dish out some Very Serious Consequences.  But that was when E. said, “Listen.  It’s my fault.  I went in and they came in to get me out.  I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed.”  The farmer looked at me and I think realized they were in much more trouble on the homefront than they were with the farm.  He asked, “So now you know you did something wrong?  And if I had a cable across that row you wouldn’t have gone in?  We want to make sure you’re safe, you know.”

I don’t know what you would have done but for me it was to give the children a hug.  And then we shared our first cider donuts of the season sitting around a picnic table talking about how to decide what’s allowed and what’s safe, about how smart it was to stay together and keep each other okay.

In the end it was one of those golden moments when our children show us the beautiful people they’re becoming, even if there’s plenty of crazy along the way.

And then we went home to make a dinner of our first 2010 local apples, some good Cabot cheddar, and a pile of crackers, since I had no energy left for cooking.  On the way, E. said, “Mommy, you know it’s not really my fault.  They should have signs showing how to get out of that place!  Can you believe there was only one picture of the whole thing?!”

Indeed.

And now that we’ve recovered I want to share with you this pure summer harvest celebration of a recipe that we enjoyed last week after a much less adventurous visit to our CSA farm.  It was Z.’s idea to mix, “corn … and cheese … and broccoli and water … and I’ll stir it all up!”  I’m sure he was thinking something more mudpie-ish, but to me it sounded like chowder, and that’s what we made.

Cheesy Corn Potato Chowder
About 6 servings

1.  Remove the kernels from:

  • 3 ears fresh corn

and set aside.

2.  Heat until rippling in a large sauce pan:

  • 2 T. butter or olive oil

3.  Adjust heat to medium-low, and add:

  • 2 cups diced potatoes, with peels unless you really hate them
  • 1/2 cup sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until carrots are softened, and onions are starting to brown gently.

4.  Stir in and mix very well:

  • 1/2 t. salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour (substitute your usual thickener if you’re going for gluten-free)

Then pour in, 1/2 cup at a time, and bring to a simmer while stirring.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup water

5.  Stir in and cook at a low simmer just until broccoli turns bright green, about 3 minutes:

  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I use Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar)
  • 1 cup finely chopped broccoli (or substitute spinach or chopped chard)
  • the reserved corn

Heat through, and serve.

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Sweet Summer Salad 0

Posted on July 27, 2010 by crankycheryl

Colorful, easy and refreshing, this is a nice use for all the stuff starting to show up or wind up here in the gardens and CSA shares.

Making it also marked the last use of my favorite bowl, which has finally cracked through to such a degree that liquids seep out.  It’s now on the porch with some straggly hot pepper plants limping over its side.

Sweet Summer Salad
4 servings

  • 4 ears of corn, boiled for 30 seconds (yes, only 30), and kernels cut from the cobs
  • 1 qt. edible pod peas (snow or sugar snaps), strings removed, blanched for 30 seconds

  • 3 cups watermelon, either cubes or balls
  • 1 T. lemon or lime juice
  • 1 t. fish sauce or umeboshi vinegar
  • 1 dash vinegar based hot sauce

Mix it all together and serve cold or at room temperature.

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Why Not a Savory Smoothie? 3

Posted on July 21, 2010 by crankycheryl

I like the nutrition and transportability of a breakfast smoothie, but I don’t always want something sweet first thing in the morning.  I started making these during the heatwave a couple of weeks ago, and have been pretty breakfast-happy with them.   They’re healthy, creamy and tart, and have enough protein to keep me reasonably satisfied until lunchtime.  Plus not having fruit or sweet things in them means that the boys never, ever abscond with my cup.

Savory Super-Green Smoothie
Makes 1

  • 1 c. plain lowfat dairy or soy yogurt
  • 1/4 c. soy milk, whey from yogurt, or milk
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • handful of spinach or lettuce
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 1/2 t. spirulina powder
  • 1 T. green olives or your favorite salsa
  • 3 or 4 ice cubes

Stir, blend & repeat until nice & smooth.

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Birthdays & Cupcakes In Spite of It All 1

Posted on July 06, 2010 by crankycheryl

This video this is supposed to be funny, like stupid ha-ha.

But maybe because it’s late, or maybe because a birthday makes a mom notice how fast time passes, I think it’s right on.

Friends, readers, loved ones, thank you for being here – whether it’s your birthday or not.  And it’s cool if you didn’t get a promotion or a new degree or cure anything or finally make a perfect meringue.

I’m just glad you didn’t die this year. Really: nice job with that.

Thanks for not jumping off a bridge in spite of these crazy oil-spill, immigrant-hating, war-mongering, Fox-news-yelling, unemployment-up-the-wazoo days.  In spite of all that’s going on in your own life that might have made it tempting.

And Z., my baby, my brilliant bubbly little shining birthday star. Thank you for coming into this world and being here with me.  Happy birthday.

Let’s have some silly cupcakes and give the whole thing another whirl.

(The fabulous Abby Dodge’s Emergency Blender Cupcakes, with Italian Buttercream Frosting, with candy-coated sunflower seeds and snipped licorice, peach gummy rings, and fruit leather.)

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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