V is for Vicarious

Scout and Jones at cheer practice.

Roasted Banana Peppers

Sometimes my garden overproduces at the most opportune time. Recently guests came up to the ranch for a visit at an hour which isn’t quite lunch, while being too early for dinner. The time of day where one begins to feel peckish. what to do? what to do?. I went a bit spanish; using the abundance of banana peppers to create a delicious and simple addition to afternoon tapas.

Roasted Banana Peppers
as many banana peppers and other fresh (smallish) peppers you can gather
olive oil
sea salt
sherry vinegar

Preheat oven to 400F. Place peppers in large shallow pan. Lightly coat in olive oil. Roast until the peppers begin to blister and soften. Remove from oven and immediately splash with sherry vinegar. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Serve warm or room temperature

Browned Butter Berry Bars

This weekend past, we took a long drive with no real agenda. Except to explore. As we drove north i began to obsess. A cookbook was given to me about a year ago called Big Sur Bakery. While getting lost in its pages, I fell in love with the place, and began imagining each bite. While big sur is coastal, we were on an inland route a little jot west, wasn’t too far off course.
{it wasn’t like we had anywhere to be}
An hour, and ten white knuckles later, we arrived in Big Sur. Unfortunately, the bakery was hosting a wedding; which meant, it was closed. Double dip dang-nabbit ugh. Instead, we stopped at a half bad restaurant for nourishment not enjoyment planning our return. When we got home, I promptly made these. These are a variation of the brown butter rhubarb bars from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook using berries we picked that morning.

Brown Butter Berry Bars
adapted from the big sur bakery cookbook

2 cups blackberries and mulberries {or berries of your choice}
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup sugar
place all ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan. cook on low heat until it begins to bubble and thicken. watch closely and cook until it is thick and jammy. set aside to cool

1 cup unsalted butter–melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups flour{whole wheat or all-purpose}
whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt. stir in butter. press into a 9″x 13″ pan. bake in a 375^ oven until it just begins to brown(15-18 minutes). remove from oven and allow to cool.

brown butter filling
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs unsalted butter
3/4 cup + 2 Tbs flour {whole wheat or all purpose}
1 teaspoon vanilla
place the butter in a saucepan and cook on low heat until it becomes brown and nutty, careful not to burn. whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, flour and vanilla. carefully stir in the browned butter.

to assemble
spread about half of the browned butter mixture on the prepared crust. dollop about 3/4 of the jam on top. spread the remaining browned butter filling and then dollop the remaining jam. bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges just begin to turn brown. do not overbake, (allowing the filling to souffle). allow to cool before cutting into bars.
delicious room temperature or directly from refrigerator.

Huckleberry Ice Cream

Huckleberries are hard to come by. Competing with bears after a long hilly hike, just ain’t my thing. Luckily, those whom are “into it” are willing to share; with one little caveat, my dealer, is 1200 miles away. Traveling for a case of berries. Now, that is my thing. Huckleberries are a bit like blueberries, with more punch of flavor. Sweet with a tinge of sour, no pucker. Just enough to wet your whistle. This gorgeous purple berry cuts rich vanilla ice cream perfectly.

Huckleberry Ice Cream
(vanilla base recipe adapted from David Lebovitz)

vanilla custard
1 cup whole milk
generous pinch kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream
7 large egg yolks
4 tsp good vanilla extract

huckleberry swirl
1 1/2 cups huckleberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice

Heat whole milk with 1/2 cup of sugar, and kosher salt. Meanwhile whisk egg yolks with remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Once milk comes to a simmer, slowly pour into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Quickly rinse the milk saucepan to remove any dried or burnt milk. Transfer warm egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook on low heat, constantly stirring with a spatula. Watch carefully, as to not overcook the eggs. Cook and stir just until the mixture coats the spatula (consistency of a light crepe batter). Remove from heat and run through a sieve into a clean bowl. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla. Place entire bowl into another bowl filled with ice and cool water. Stir until it is cooled to room temperature. Pour mixture into a covered container and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
make huckleberry swirl
In a small saucepan, place berries, sugar and lemon juice. cook until the berries throw off juice and all of the sugar has melted, then cook for about 10 minutes more..keep the heat low, you don’t want to burn the sugars. Mash the berries slightly (you will want some whole, some mashed). Allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to freeze the ice cream.

when ready to freeze
Place vanilla base into the bowl of your freezer. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. When your ice cream is finished…remove into your freezer container. As you scoop into your freezer container, layer with your huckleberry swirl. This will allow you to have a true swirl. If you put the huckleberry swirl into the mixer, it will completely mix in. Continue to layer adding as much huckleberries and juice as you wish.

Blueberry-Rhubarb Margarita Jam

Weekly, I drive past a blueberry farm. Most days, wishing for the season. Some days, mourning the end of summer. The day the open sign pops up, on our little stretch of highway, I stop in. I continue this routine, each week, until blueberries are no more. I hoard more berries than our small family can eat, out of hand. But not more than we can eat, prepared. I love to pair sweet blueberries with rhubarb from our garden for this delicious not too sweet jam.

Blueberry Rhubarb Margarita Jam
3 pints blueberries
8 oz rhubarb–chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
juice of 10 key limes
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ginger
juice of 1/2 grapefruit (plus/minus)
1 oz tequila (can add up to 2 oz)

Dump blueberries rhubarb, sugar, key lime juice, salt and ginger into your jam pot. Cook on med-low heat, stirring occasionally, until you have a nice jam consistency (about 25-30 minutes). Taste for sweetness. Add at least 1/4 grapefruit juice to both adjust sweetness and for flavor. Cook for 5 more minutes and check again for sweetness. add more grapefruit if desired. pour in tequila and cook at least 5 minutes more. Test jam for firmness on a frozen plate. **i like my jam to be a bit runny. You do not need pectin for this jam to firm up. You can cook it to come out firmer, but be careful not to caramelize it. Place in sterilized jars and refrigerate or if you are a seasoned canner, process for longer storage.

Strawberry Crumb Cake

Strawberries are ripe, ripe, ripe in my neck of the woods. Every farm stand along my tuesday evening route, touts the sweetest and freshest, organic berries. I can’t resist. Particularly because i make a really great strawberry-rhubarb jam, that disappears faster than anything else in the pantry. I grab loads of the juicy red fruit whenever i find it. Being as we spend most days at the ranch counting idle minutes on one hand, it feels less guilty to indulge in a bit of sweet at day’s close. When i have a moment, I bake a cake like this one. It is a simple twist on a classic crumb cake, using the sweet ripe fruit of the season in its crumb.

Strawberry Crumb Cake

1 1/4 cup cake flour (sifted, then measured)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (room temperature–cut into cubes)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tsp of your favorite strawberry (or strawberry-rhubarb) jam

Place the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Quickly give it a few turns to incorporate everything together. Add the butter. *the butter should be softened, but not warm and creamy. You want it to mix into the flour mixture making more of a clumpy sand consistency, then a creamed. Mix the ingredients until the butter is finely incorporated into the flour mixture. Meanwhile, combine the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the whole egg and the egg yolk to the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to ensure there are no dry spots. With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk/vanilla mixture and mix until just incorporated. Do not over mix pour into a 8×8 buttered square cake pan. Strategically plop the 4 tsp of jam you can add a bit more if you like in the batter. Run the back of a butter knife through the cake batter to swirl the jam through evenly. Set aside while you prepare the crumble.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups all purpose flour
10 Tbs unsalted butter–fairly cold–cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup fresh ripe strawberries–cut into 1/4″ dice

Mix together the sugar, salt and flour by hand in a large bowl. Drop in butter and either work in by hand, or use pastry knives/fork/blender to make fairly large crumble. Tip in the strawberries and work in by hand, using a bit of a firm hand, to get them mixed up well in the flour mixture. Don’t squeeze and knead, you do not want to warm the butter, but allow the strawberries to fully incorporate into the crumb. Gently pile on top of the cake. Some of the crumbs will sink into the cake as it bakes, which is why i make SO MUCH CRUMB!
Bake in a 375F oven for about 35-45 minutes. Check after 30 minutes and keep an eye on it. The cake is moist, so it can tolerate a bit of over baking, but don’t forget to keep an eye on it. Check by using a toothpick or wooden skewer to see if it is done baking. Allow to cool completely before eating

Firenze in April -day three-

Day three is usually when jet lag hits. At least for me. After so many years of it being a pattern, it is probably now a learned response. Or maybe, I allow myself to succumb to it. Likely because, it is something I can say to people
and they won’t judge. Which is how we found ourselves giving rip van winkle a run for his money. After a long sleep, a long walk seemed in order. We cruised the streets of Florence until it seemed a respectable time to look for lunch. I was craving roasted chicken and potatoes. We found it on the menu of a place that looked really nice. Except they were playing Sade and I can’t stand Sade.Really, I can’t. No specific reason, just can’t tolerate her music. Reminds me too much of jazz, i think. I like a hook. Sade doesn’t give you a hook, so i refused to go in. Instead, I convinced myself that another place would be just as good.
I was wrong
Not even photo worthy. I will admit, Mike liked his. He got some sort of pasta and I ordered chicken with roasted potatoes. I was served, seriously, seriously, seriously overcooked anorexic chicken thigh-slash-leg, and french fries / I poked at it. At least I still had room for gelato.
But let me get ahead of myself here, don’t despair.

I had a bad meal in Italy, no biggie. I made up for it at dinner, and then some. We ate at a fun place. When i say fun, i mean…bring your sense of fun…because if you bring your >em>”that would never go in america” attitude, you.will. hate. this place, and they will hate you. So don’t go. If you still insist on going, don’t tell them i told you to, because I happen to like these people.

You must make a reservation at Il Latini, a restaurant that looks small but it isn’t. You make a reservation and queue up. Then the crowd starts building. Then the fervor starts building. Everyone starts thinking that their reservation is the most important.They open the door and it becomes a bit of a fiasco. They start calling out numbers, not names, but numbers. due, cinque, due, tre. Everyone starts pushing and throwing up their hands saying we are due, we are cinque, but mostly; they start yelling “I have a reservation.” Rest assured, everyone has a reservation and everyone gets in. And all the stress of getting in, is forgotten, when the food starts arriving. First the antipasto. Then you make choices: soup or pasta. Pasta? Do you want: ravioli, gnocchi, pappardelle, or spaghetti? Or perhaps all of them. Hubs chose ravioli, and I chose soup. did i mention that at this place they open a bottle of wine, and you pay for what you drink. Drink the whole bottle 10 euros. Drink only half, 5 euros. Drink less, pay less. I love this system.
The main course: roasted meats. You want chicken, rabbit, steak, lamb, pork, veal? All of them, some of them, one of them, none of them; you decide. And of course, the side dishes. This is what our table looked like.
loaded table
You should know, we cleaned our plates,but declined dessert. It was a good idea because, they brought out a plate loaded with cantucci and glasses of vin santo. Just as we thought it was all over they brought us a glass of moscato. You know,as you do. If you don’t know the drill
you think ahhh, they get you drunk so you aren’t freaked out by the bill. Because, come on, this kind of meal doesn’t come cheap.
Unless you are at il latini. They have reasonable in spades.

Pisa-Lucca in April–day two

Saturday in florence is like Saturday in any city. Locals pouring into town to do their weekend shopping and tourists milling about in large groups, staring upwards. Just an all around crowded situation. Which is why we got out of town. Pisa and Lucca the destination. Turns out, it wasn’t such a bad idea. The weather had turned runny just as we took our seats on the excursion bus. Rain began pouring down. I never think i am a fan of the organized tourist train/bus/walk, but i nearly always give them a try. I am hardly disappointed; except when it includes food. Which is a big bad bust, most of the time. Those i avoid, because as you know, I am all about the food. Speaking of which. We had steak and eggs for breakfast.There are no photos, because i forgot. By the time i remembered it didn’t look so appetizing. Just trust me; leftover bistecca fiorentina with a couple of fried eggs and hunk of bread, is money.
In Pisa we did a tour of the church, which is beautiful but dark. Too dark to take photos. Because in churches, you can’t wear a hat and you can’t use a flash. The real draw in Pisa is the tower. A leaning tower.I love all the great photos that people fashion; holding the tower up, grimacing under the supposed weight. They never cease to humor me.However, I rarely see this maneuver.
Someone kicking the darn thing over.It is funny, right? That is my husband. He enjoys a good laugh as much as I. We hooted over this one for hours.
Time for lunch. In a tourist town, where restaurants actually name themselves restaurant tourista, getting a good meal is a bit dubious. We found one just outside the main tourist area called Trattoria Bruno.
Mike’s penne pasta with rabbit and boar was outstanding.
rabbit pasta
My handmade pasta with porcini mushrooms was also delicious. The pasta so thin, you could almost see through it.
From Pisa we got back on the bus and headed to Lucca; a medieval city that is usually quite lovely.However, on a rainy Saturday with many of the venues closed for the afternoon,
there was little to see. After getting a bit drenched in the rain we stopped for a hot chocolate. In this part of Italy, hot chocolate is more like warm chocolate pudding, than chocolate water. You decide if it sounds better or not.
e poi
which means and then not the poi you eat in Hawaii, which is not Italian by any means. Despite having the same name
We visited a winery just outside of Lucca, where it turns out, they make the house wine for one of my favorite places in New York City. Sant. Ambroeus. When i was getting married
my dress came from vera wang. Before my first appointment and subsequently all my fittings, I would have coffee and a little something at sant ambroeus. So when the proprietor of this winery in Lucca off-handedly mentioned the restaurant I perked up with “on madison avenue!?!” Sje and i had a bonding moment. It is her brother’s place and all the “house wine” comes from here.
It is pretty good. A tasty drinkable wine. I was set to buy quite a bit, but then my new friend the owner gave me the name of their american distributor, so i wouldn’t have to pay for shipping. Which now means, i’ll probably buy a whole case.
After the wine and the food and the travel by bus, we were pretty wiped out and without plans for dinner. We grabbed a quick porchetta sandwich and called it a night. Actually,a night and half a day,since jet lag reared its ugly head. We slept about 12 hours. Waking up just in time to search out lunch….

Firenze in April–day one

I should really keep a food journal. Not in the way that you think. I don’t want it to scold myself, but to extol the pleasures of each and every bite. Lovely lines filled with prose, explanations of the blissful moment that fork meets mouth. I would show it to my internist as i step on the scale, so he might be so wrapped in envy, he’d forget to scold. Fat chance literally. Today was our first full day in Italy. We rented an apartment; both for economy and luxury. I like to fill a fridge: beverages, fresh fruit, yogurt, and other simple provisions. This is so each meal isn’t eaten out and we can enjoy lazy mornings reading the local paper or catching up on email.
Those gorgeous hotel breakfasts served in Europe are mostly lost on me. I like to ease into my day, and an apartment in the heart of the city, affords me that luxury. As luck would have it, for longer stays the cost savings can be quite extraordinary.
We dropped in to the local market last evening and stocked the fridge. This morning, I popped down to our local bakery and fruit stand to pick up a couple of things for breakfast. I made a pot of coffee, set up breakfast on the veranda, and enjoyed our
beautiful view of the Duomo.
These incredible fragoline wild strawberries from sicily are tiny and pure white on the inside. They are sweet as they are small with pure strawberry flavor. We are drying a few on the counter so we can bring them back home to plant. Hopefully they will germinate.
Post breakfast we walked, and walked, and walked some more. This town is crowded, people everywhere.

I was in school here in the 1980s and for the last decade or so, I’ve tried to make it back every year. Each time the crowds seem larger. The secret is definitely out; but, I do still feel the charm of a city i loved in my youth. Speaking of the secret being out, we had lunch at one of my favorite spots. It used to be a sleepy little place, in a lesser known square on the oltroarno. Partly by my own fault telling anyone who would listen and partly because of it hitting the guidebook circuit, it has become very, very popular. Surprisingly,
the prices remain low and the quality high. Osteria Santo Spirito is a true gem with simple yet delicious food. I always get the gnocchi tartufo small portion–still enough to share. The restaurant shared with me the ingredients for the gnocchi..but not the recipe. I have successfully duplicated the sauce both with pasta and potatoes and I may be persuaded to share!
gnocchi tartufo
Mike went with the rabbit cacciatore which was equally delicious.
rabbit cacciatore

On our way back to the apartment we stopped in at the Gallileo museum. It is a relatively small space filled with the most amazing instruments, used in applied sciences. It also houses
Gallileo’s mummified finger; if you are looking for a draw for your teenage son or fully grown husband.
The day progressed with more walking, an afternoon relax, and this ginormous steak.
mike and steak

Farro Crostata

As spring arrives so does my realization that i have been tucking into thick suppers of roasts and shanks, for months. With the promise of long days and evenings of light, my desires change. I begin to crave hearty vegetarian suppers. When i was offered the opportunity to try Tuscan Fields Organic Farro, I jumped at the chance. I enjoy the meaty texture and nutty flavor of farro, using it mostly in soups and summer salads. However, for this recipe, I took inspiration from a classic and favorite Italian Easter Pie.
Substituting savory elements, for sugar and fruits, this farro pie is lovely as a simple supper. Eat it by itself or paired with a leafy salad.

Farro Crostata
1/2 cup onion–thinly sliced
1/4 cup onion–finely chopped
1 clove garlic–finely chopped
1/2 tsp fresh or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup organic farro alle verdure by Tuscan Fields -cooked
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 extra large eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan (+more for topping)
generous pinch kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup cream
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
olive oil
1 sheet puff pastry

Pour enough olive oil in the bottom of a skillet to just cover the bottom. Toss in thinly sliced onions and over low heat, slowly caramelize. If you find that they are starting to cook to quickly, add a couple of splashed of hot water to slow down the cooking. Once fully caramelized (about 20 minutes), remove from pan and reserve. Meanwhile, whisk together the farro, ricotta, eggs, parmesan, salt pepper, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Using the same skillet in which you caramelized the onions, without washing, add a tiny bit of olive oil (1 tsp) and over low heat, saute the chopped onion, garlic and thyme just until the onion becomes translucent–keep from browning. Pour in the cream, use a spoon to scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the cream to come to a simmer, then slowly stir into the farro and ricotta mixture. Place your puff pastry on a cookie sheet or in a pie tin. It is not necessary to shape it into a circle, if it is square. Gently spoon the farro mixture into the center of the pastry, allowing it to naturally move towards the edges. Allow for at least 2″ from the mixture to the edge of the pastry. scatter the caramelized onions on top and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Fold the pastry ends towards the center, overlapping itself and the farro mixture as necessary to keep the contents within the confines of the pastry. Alternatively, you can line a pastry tin with puff pastry and simply fill with the farro custard. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 30-40 minutes. After 25 minutes keep a watchful eye that the custard is not “souffleing”–you do not want to over cook this, as it will dry it out and it will taste a bit eggy. This crostata is meant to be creamy. Serve warm or room temperature.

*i received several samples of Farro from Tuscan Fields, free of charge, to utilize in recipe experimentation.

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