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Green Mountain Salad Nicoise with Maple-Brined Chicken 0

Posted on September 17, 2009 by crankycheryl

0909091735(2)So we’re reading Charlotte’s Web and tonight I got to read this aloud while trying to maintain composure, thank you very much E.B. White:

… The sheds and buildings are empty and forlorn.  The infield was littered with bottles and trash.  Nobody, of all the hundreds of people who had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.  No one was with her when she died.

What the hell?  That’s a chapter ending?  Like, “Night, night babies, give Mommy a smooch!  That’s right, the story’s hero died alone in a g.d. abandoned fairground!  Well, good night!”

Good gravy.  I was trying to gently introduce my kids to the circle of life, not send them into an existentialist depression.

Then, after some quality time with a few tissues and a review of my belief system, I hustled downstairs to get to work.  This Saturday is the launch of the EatLocalVT 100-mile challenge, and part of my blogging means bringing a signature dish to the potluck kick-off event.  This is a dinner salad I created just for the challenge, involving nearly 100% local ingredients and based on a few Nicoise-inspired salads I’ve had over the years.  There are a few steps, but they’re all simple, and the results are pretty delicious.

Note: The brining process does take 3 1/2 hours, so do get an early start.  If you must, you can skip it.  But try not to because it’s good.

Green Mountain Salad Nicoise with Maple-Brined Chicken (or maple-marinated tofu)
Serves 4

For chicken:

  • 1/4 c. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1/2 t. lightly crushed fennel seeds or fresh fennel fronds
  • 1 tray ice cubes
  • 1 c. cold strong coffee
  • 2 c. cold water
  • 4 chicken legs or breast halves, bone in and skin on

Place all the brine ingredients in a bowl or pot large enough to accommodate them plus the chicken, and stir around well with your hand until well-mixed and the salt dissolves.  Add the chicken, then refrigerate for 3 hours.

(If you prefer tofu, take one pound of extra firm tofu, and press it for about an hour.  Marinate it in about 1 cup of vegetable broth, with 2 T. maple syrup, 2 T. coffee, and crushed fennel seeds or fronds, then bake it in a 350 oven for about 25 minutes, turning midway through.)

For the salad:

  • 10 cups salad greens (I used napa cabbage for the version depicted above)
  • 4 medium beets, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ dice
  • 4 medium potatoes, cut into 1 1/2″ dice (you can peel if you want, but I don’t)
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped into 1″ dice, seeded if you prefer
  • 1/2 c. olive or safflower oil
  • 4 c. green beans, ends trimmed
  • 4 hardboiled eggs, cooled and peeled and cut into half lengthwise
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Rinse and dry the salad greens and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400.
  3. Toss the potatoes with a generous dollop of the oil and place on an oiled baking sheet.
  4. Repeat with the beets, keeping each vegetable in its own area.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove tray from oven, turn over with a spatula, and slide down to make room for green beans.
  7. Toss the green beans with a bit of oil and then roast them for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove vegetables from oven and let cool.


Whisk together until completely blended:

  • 1/2 c. olive or safflower oil
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt

Finish the chicken:

  1. Remove from brine and pat dry.
  2. Place on oiled baking sheet and bake in preheated 400 oven for 30 minutes or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the flesh is poked with a knife.
  3. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes while you:

Compose the salad

Place the salad greens on each of four plates.  Arrange beets, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and eggs however you like them.  Add the chicken (or tofu), drizzle with dressing and enjoy.

Blessed Silence Sunday: Applesauce 3

Posted on September 13, 2009 by crankycheryl



Last Minute Labor Day from 0

Posted on September 07, 2009 by crankycheryl

Originally posted at, where I’m blogging about feeding a family with affordable, kid-friendly local food for City Market.

I’m offering up a few links to some family-friendly, Labor Day-ish recipes from Vermont food blogs that make good use of local flavors.

You’ll see that some of these ingredients are not available locally, like lime and balsamic vinegar and pineapple.  Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking a lot about in preparation for the Challenge.

The point of the EatLocalVT challenge is not to feel guilty or deprived.  There will be no 100-mile-zone police showing up at your door to knock a lemon wedge or bottle of olive oil out of your hands during the week.  I know in my house we’d be hard-pressed to go a week without peanut butter or citrus fruits or olive oils.  And I don’t plan to browbeat my young children into compliance.

But I will be using local ingredients in place of their imported counterparts.  When I make my friend Robin’s Pineapple, Watermelon & Feta Salad with Basil, I’ll just be using watermelon.  I’ll hope to find local oats and beans for the veggie burgers.

If you’re seeking to go 100% local, I hope you will!  But in the end what really matters is not what we do in this one week, but what we do the other 51 weeks of the year.  If all of us were to always start by thinking local, eating seasonally, choosing food from our neighbors, we’d be creating the healthier families and communities we all want to be a part of.

So, in the spirit of delicious local eating, here these are:

Watermelon & Feta Salad from Hippo Flambe. As mentioned above, I’ll be leaving out the pineapple (though it was an essential part of Robin’s entry in a recent online food competition).

Homemade Veggie Burgers from, adapted from Joanna Vaught (These do require a couple of ingredients you may not have around, like vital wheat gluten, so do keep in mind they may require a trip to the store.)

And why not finish up with some Strafford Creamery Smooth Maple ice cream, or Island vanilla?  And then you can happily sit back and enjoy the last of the day’s warmth in this beautiful season of change.

Nearly Silent Sunday 0

Posted on August 23, 2009 by crankycheryl

This Thursday is the last Thursday at the Intervale for the summer.  $5 family pass for American Flatbread Pizza, salads from Bluebird Tavern, Slow Food tastings, and all the wholesome summer evening fun you can shake a stick at.  You know, just saying.

Bee's Knees: Restaurant Review 0

Posted on August 13, 2009 by crankycheryl

I can’t imagine going near Morrisville without a stop at the Bee’s Knees.  And having just had a Twitter conversation with the lovely Leftover Queen about its charms, I’m reminded that I never posted these pictures from our recent visit.

I’m also using this post as the first official CrankyCakes Restaurant Review. I’ve been polling food-loving parent friends about what matters to them when they go out to eat.  I’ll be reviewing by going twice – once with E.  & Z. and once with just adults.

I was first introduced to the Bee’s Knees by friends who live in Craftsbury, who were big fans of the food.  Though they found the very eclectic, kind of mussed decor a little off-putting, I found it was easy to feel comfortable – and a place that it was clear many local people did just that.  Customers felt right at home moving furniture around to accommodate their group, or helping themselves to a book, or perching with a laptop.

On my first visit, I tried their Big Salad, because that’s what everyone else had ordered and I didn’t want to appear so piggish as to order one of the bodacious sandwiches or specials that really tempted me.  I started out a little dubious about the chevre-carrots-glazed-walnuts combo, but ended up liking it.  It’s a bit of a hippie affair – lots of wholesome ingredients thrown together – that’s elevated by the high end cheese and nuts.  Nothing at all to complain about, but not the dish that brings me back there.

I was so happy that I felt downright naughty ordering the Cowboy BLT on my second trip.  Featuring chipotle mayo, local humanely-raised bacon, and Cabot pepper-jack cheese, it was crispy, creamy, fresh, and spicily comforting.  (Can spicy food be comfort food?)  I remember nothing of the conversation, or who I was with, or what we might have been meeting about at that visit, I’m sorry to say.  But I do remember my regretful last bite of that wrap.

All right, so the recent visit wasn't all that recent.

Since then, I’ve been several times, often ordering off the specials board.  What I like about bringing my boys there is that we can put together a happy combination of baked goods, fruit, and milk for my pickier guy, while getting good and more interesting food for his brother and for me.

And that’s what we did on our last visit.

Tomato-Fennel-Chick Pea Soup, with Batman spelunking under the bowl.

Caramelized Onion, Oyster Mushroom & Thyme Quiche

I have no excuse for leaving without a Chocolate-Sriracha muffin.

I have no excuse for leaving without a Chocolate-Sriracha muffin.

So, how does it measure on the official Cranky Scale?

  • Fast service? Not always.
  • Welcoming attitude? Definitely.  Not only did they not roll their eyes at us, they actually beamed at my kids.
  • Interesting choices for kids’ meals? Yes!  And willing to make substitutions for picky eaters.
  • Presence of toys, books, drawing implements, or other appropriate diversions? Lots of em.  It was hard to get my kids to leave, but fortunately there’s a little vest-pocket sort of park next door and I bribed them by telling them I’d bring them to the elf house in it.  I’m going to be at a loss when I lose weapons like this from the parenting arsenal.
  • Parent-friendly food. Most definitely.

2.  Meals with Grown-Ups:

  • Food quality? Really good.  I’ve not yet encountered any slimy lettuce or sub-par anything.
  • Value. Good.  More expensive than a chain restaurant, but really good value for the price.
  • Good service. Casual but caring.
  • Atmosphere. Funky, a bit disheveled, but now with a more formal dining area behind the main room.

Should you go with kids? Absolutely.  With adults? Yes.  And with any out of town guests who want to get out and eat local foods and experience some of Vermont’s funky charm.  And don’t forget to tell them that CrankyCakes sent you.

[By the way, I’d love a comment from you if you’ve been at night.  How does it work to eat there when all that live music is happening?]

So Summer, Quiche and Clafouti 2

Posted on July 20, 2009 by crankycheryl

bread bcoho july dinner 008Oh, it’s summer, green and wet and if not exactly sunny, then still with beautiful days for the beach and camping and adventure seeking.  The boys are covered with dirt and mosquito bites and scraped knees, whirling around in a perpetual cloud of brotherly violence/love, worlds of pirates and griffin-hunting and trucks and dinosaurs, pleas for more ice cream, for just five more minutes at the beach, in the water, under a tree.

“Be here,” I keep telling myself.  Just be here with them, in the streams of light through pine trees while we’re camping.  With the smells of leaves and the sounds of their laughs as they run to the far side of the pond to capture a frog or tackle a friend.

And I’m trying, I’m trying.  To be here, to breathe deep of this beautiful life, my wild and wonderful boys.  To keep the joy in balance with all the worry, my fears about taking a brave plunge, about money, work, how I’m going to deal with fixing my bathroom floor, all of it.

In the midst of it, it was still my turn to make a cohousing community dinner last week.  And what else is there to do but use the what we have at hand to celebrate, even sanctify these full moments?   So though I was packing to go camping, and in a full-scale anxiety attack over the rest of it, we grabbed vegetables from the garden, and Vermont cheeses and cream and eggs from our co-op and off we went to cook and feast together on this beautiful, thrifty, simple and custard-y Vermont Bastille Day meal.

Rolling Out the Piecrust

Rolling Out the Piecrust

Summer Quiche
4 – 6 servings

Preheat oven to 375.

Gather and prepare ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. sauteed or steamed vegetables, well-drained.  (This amount is the yield you want after it’s cooked, so make sure to start with more!)  We made two combinations:  1.  Broccoli, mushroom, basil and sage.  2.  Swiss chard, lacinata kale, zucchini, garlic scapes.  We sauteed each combo in a large pan with butter and olive oil.

Beat together:

  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups cream, whole milk, or creme fraiche
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch freshly ground nutmeg

Arrange vegetables on bottom of crust, then sprinkle over them:

Pour the egg mixture over the top.  Bake until the filling is browned and well set, 25 – 35 minutes.

Clafouti Egg Breakin'

Clafouti Egg Breakin'

Nectarine & Strawberry Clafouti
6 servings

Preheat oven to 375.  Butter a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Beat until very frothy:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar

Add and beat until smooth:

  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 T. cognac or rum (optional), or
  • 2 t. vanilla

Stir in:

  • 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

Arrange evenly over bottom of pie pan:

  • 1 lb. mixed nectarines, cut into 1″ cubes, and halved strawberries, rinsed and dried

Pour batter over the fruit and place the pie pan on a baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake until puffy and well-set, about 35 minutes.  Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes, then dust with:

  • Powdered sugar.

Serve in wedges, or sloppy scoops, whatever seems to come out of the pan.

bread bcoho july dinner 022

Zucchini-Greens Quiche

Finished Clafouti, Ready to Serve

Finished Clafouti, Ready to Serve

Leftover clafouti batter, mixed with strawberry jam and baked into a dutch-baby style pancake for breakfast the next morning.  Yes, that's a Blue's Clues plate.  What of it?

Leftover clafouti batter, mixed with strawberry jam and baked into a dutch-baby style pancake for breakfast the next morning. Yes, that's a Blue's Clues plate. What of it?

Making Bread 7

Posted on June 09, 2009 by crankycheryl

bread-jan-09-002Here’s how making bread goes.

Morning:  I am flinging shoes and making eye contact and nodding at children as I try to get them to get on their backpacks and socks and put down the damn marker that someone’s about to puncture an eardrum with.  I take the starter out in its little pyrex container and set it on the counter.  I give kisses goodbye and wave and watch as E. runs up the gravel path for his ride to school.  I add a cup of flour and a half a cup of water and stir and marvel at how the kitchen is already piled with dishes.

After a mind-numbing morning of Playhouse Disney, I’m swooping through the house gathering towels and toiletries and water bottles and swimsuits on the way out the door, always late, to swim class.  The starter has expanded and is liquid and bubbly and smells yeasty and sour and I stop in my tracks.  I look at the clock and scoop out a cup of the fed starter and thunk the thick, gluten-stringy stuff into my cracked mixing bowl with a cup and a half of water and 3 or 4 cups of flour, ideally a mix of Gleason’s Grains Whole Wheat Bread Flour and spelt and rye.  I stir, cover the bowl with a plate and race for the door.

After swim class, after lunch downtown, after picking up E., we return home, racing down the path playing “I’m Going to Get You” all the way to our door.  The boys run to the dirt that’s piled up in the garden, their favorite spring location.  I go in to see how things are looking.  The dishes seem to have multiplied in our absence and the sponge has expanded.  I add in the remaining flour and a tablespoon of salt.  Today I’m feeling a little kooky and throw in a generous sprinkle of dried orange peel and a pinch of ground ginger, thinking of Swedish rye bread.  I turn the oven on to 350, set the timer for one minute, and put the covered bowl into the oven once I turn it off.    The door opens and the boys are there, caked with dirt and laughing and asking for juice.

The bread rises and warms for an hour or two.  Close to bedtime then and I’m trying to do the math of when the bread is going to get itself baked.  We have the usual spasmodic dance of toothbrushes and washcloths and they moon me with their little tushes and cry like I’ve stuck spears in them when I ask them to get on their own pajamas as they bungee themselves around their tiny room.  The timer goes off and I slip downstairs to form the loaves.

bread-jan-09-005I’m half-listening to them, suddenly calm without me there, as I stretch the dough thin and wide in my hands.  I sprinkle cornmeal onto oiled half-sheet pans and wonder how real bakers do this as I sort of roll, sort of tuck, stretch and pat and fold the dough into a somewhat oval shape.  I cover the loaves with a dry cotton towel under a slightly damp one and head back upstairs to read Cowboy and Octopus.

We have read and snuggled and put down the shades and they are quiet as  I make my way downstairs.  Dishes still.  Plastic tools covering the couch and paints and markers all over the little table.  Blueberry trails scatter across the dining room floor.  The loaves have expanded.  Enough?  Maybe.  I turn on the oven to 450, cringing and remembering the several times I’ve managed to set off the smoke alarms and wake up the boys.  I open two windows and turn on the exhaust fan.

bread-jan-09-0101The oven beeps, preheated, and I take a steak knife and cut slits across the bread, slip it into the oven.  I set the timer for 20 minutes and wait, thinking about the next day, wondering whether it would kill me to clean the bathroom.  Suddenly remember that I haven’t yet checked E.’s school-to-home folder and get his backpack from the mudroom.  A field trip is coming and another homework page I can’t bear to force a kindergartener to do falls to the floor.  I sign the permission slip and replace the backpack, line up shoes, jackets, baseball caps for the morning.

The timer goes off and I take out the pan, quickly closing the door before the heat or the charred whatever in the oven sets off those noisy alarms.  I put the loaves on a rack, and listen to the peepers singing in the pond in the dark.  Upstairs someone wakes up a little, talking to their dreams.  Then quiet, cool, night.

You can do it too.  Let me know if you want some of my starter.

Pie Crust, Quiche & Blueberry Bars: Brunch for Friends 3

Posted on June 03, 2009 by crankycheryl

furious-and-brunch-007So I realized that I was building up a karmic debt to several of my neighbors who babysit for me for free.  And since most of them don’t have young kids for whom I could provide some child care, having them over for brunch seemed the next best thing.

Do you agree that brunch is the best meal for entertaining?  I even felt this way before I had children who would be in full  melt-down by dinner time.  I love how brunch can just sort of go on without everyone getting bleary-eyed and start mumbling about all they have to do the next day.  How it comes with mimosas or coffee or dumplings or eggs or fruit or baked goods and fresh flowers.

This particular brunch gave me an opportunity to try a few new things.  I’ve been in the market for a new go-to pie crust recipe.  I love and rely on the Joy of Cooking’s Cream Cheese Crust (this recipe is very close – you’ll have to look into your heart and make the butter vs. shortening decision), but it’s not right for everything.  And especially not suited to the quiche I wanted to make.  I found the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Foolproof Pie Crust on Serious Eats, and gave it a whirl.  The recipe’s hallmarks are

  1. Using vodka for the liquid, which has much less water than, well, water, and so develops the gluten to a lesser degree, which keeps the crust more flaky and delicate.
  2. Adding the flour in stages, which also limits gluten formation.

furious-and-brunch-011I made myself follow the recipe carefully, monitoring crumb size and shape and consistency.  The only substitution I made was using the local Vermont Gleason Grains whole wheat pastry flour instead of white.

As I was moving on to turn crust into quiche, I discovered that I had just a smidgen of cream in the refrigerator.  I was determined to make this a truly delectable one, and so didn’t want to skimp on the fat.  As I was contemplating a mad dash to the store, I spied the ranch dressing in the refrigerator door.  Hmm.  It seemed plausible.

Also on the menu were some pumpkin-banana mini muffins, fresh fruit, and the crazily delicious Blueberry Bars from Farmgirl Fare.  Seriously friends, I’m trying to find another reason to host a brunch so I have a reason to make these again so I can eat them fresh since they don’t store so well.  Yum.

Classic & Comforting Roasted Mushroom & Cheddar Quiche
Adapted from Joy of Cooking, 1997
Serves 8

  • 1 10″ pie crust, pre-baked
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms (your choice), sliced thickly, tossed with olive oil and then roasted at 400 for 20 min., cooled
  • 3/4 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 c. milk (use what you’ve got – but don’t skimp on the fat content overall)
  • 1/4 c. cream
  • 1/4 c. ranch salad dressing
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • pinch freshly ground black or white pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

furious-and-brunch-014Preheat oven to 375.  Place mushrooms and cheese on bottom of pie crust.  Beat together remaining ingredients and pour into shell.  Bake until filling is browned and set – 20 to 25 minutes.  Let sit for 10 – 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Milk + Mold + Mites + Cave = Oh My! 0

Posted on May 21, 2009 by crankycheryl


I doubt I’ll ever get married again, but if I do it’s going to be to Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.

I picked some up on my last pass through the Northeast Kingdom, and have been sitting here eating it right down to its stinky rind, and then I ate the rind itself.  I didn’t want to keep going, but was compelled because I’ve been looking for the words to describe it.  Such is my commitment to food writing.

I agree with Formaggio Kitchen, which describes it as a “cow milk cheese that puts us at the table with the best cheddars of the world. It has a smooth firm texture and a sharp and fruity flavor with hints of caramel sweetness on the finish.”

And with Cowgirl Creamery, who says “sharp and creamy, this cheddar doesn’t so much melt in your mouth as it does coat every surface with caramelized luxury.”

Yup.  All those.  Luxurious, caramel, buttery, sharp, crumbly but sumptuous, perhaps a tiny bit nutty.  It’s just wonderful.

My friend Suzanne from Craftsbury, who seems to know where all the excellent food in the Northeast Kingdom is, told me about it.  How it’s made by Cabot and aged in the trés chic caves at Jasper Hill. She scrunched up her hands, showing me how they turn it and massage the cheese.  (When I asked a cheesemaker at the Burlington Farmers’ Market about turning and massaging cheese, he nodded and told me it was how they keep the cheese properly shaped, and the cheese mites – here’s a link to an image of one if you like to be grossed out – under control.)

Here’s what Cabot says about its creation:

“Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is a marvel of milk, master cheesemaking and artful aging,” said Cabot cheese maestro Marcel Gravel. Made one vat at a time, from the milk of purely Holstein cows, the result is a singular, Old World style cheddar. A special, proprietary blend of cheese cultures gives an unpasteurized note to this pasteurized milk cheddar.

“Traditional hooping and clothbound curds are just the beginning of this vanguard, Vermont collaboration. After creation, the wheels journey north along the Revolutionary War-era Bayley-Hazen Road into the care of Andy and Mateo Kehler, fellow Vermont cheesemakers and affineurs, and owners of The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm. “Here, the cave-aged wheels benefit from spa-like pampering and controlled, mold-ripened maturing to develop their beautiful, natural rind,” said Mateo Kehler, co-owner of Jasper Hill Farm. “It’s all about spruce boards, hand turning and tender brushing. [They brush to get rid of the mites on clothbound cheeses.]

“The cheddar’s texture and flavor owe their balance and subtle tones equally to both parts of this dual team effort: traditional clothbound cheddar made at the historic creamery in Cabot and lovingly matured in Greensboro among the hills above Caspian Lake.”

Find some (I got mine at Greensboro’s Willey’s Store) and try it.  And then please bring me some more.  I promise not to complain if it doesn’t take out the trash or pick up its socks.

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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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