Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, Fennel and Red Bell Pepper Tartlet

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“Summer’s here!” proclaimed my youngest daughter several years ago as she climbed into bed full of satisfaction that she was without the need to set her alarm in preparation for another day of school. The time for formal education had come to a close for the year. The structure and the rhythm of a school year released into the dreamier, looser days of summer, opening up the unstructured, but no less important, time of summer discovery and adventure.

At least that’s what we think summer should be – one big adventure. My memories of summer, on the other hand, are like a jigsaw puzzle of moments of boredom interspersed with swimming, reading, and capture the flag which then circled back around to boredom. I lost myself in books time and time again, then would leave that imaginary world for another by the creek or in the swimming pool and then onward to a game of capture the flag. Back to listless ennui and the cycle repeated itself.

As I look back on my childhood and compare a similar rhythm to my own children’s summer days, I don’t regret that boredom.  From those moments of lethargy came inspiration and imagination.  As my girls grew, I was privileged to witness the same transformation in them.  And what came after boredom was always full of creativity and fun.

Just as the schedule of summer loosens and becomes more elastic and flexible, what we eat and how we prepare it does too. The structure of recipes and needing meals to be on time and planned around family schedules relaxes. The found treasures of the farmer’s markets turn into impromptu salads, pastas, pizzas, grilled anything or… tartlets.

This is the time of year to be playful and creative with your time and your meals. Enjoy both!

Prosciutto, Chèvre, Fennel, and Red Bell Pepper Tartlet
While this dish is delicious with the fennel and red pepper, the sky is really the limit when it comes to the meat, cheese, and vegetables that you use. Substitute some Genoa salami, an aged cheddar, spinach, and spring onions OR bacon, Parmesan, zucchini, and tomatoes OR grilled chicken, mozzarella, and pea shoots OR strips of salmon, farmer’s cheese, fresh corn, and cherry tomatoes…. Play with what you find from the farmer’s market or what you have leftover in the refrigerator from another meal.

Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice cold water

Filling
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced fennel; about 1/2 bulb
2 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper, seeded and cored; about 1 pepper
1 cup thinly sliced onion; about 1 small onion
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
4 ounces crumbled chèvre; about 1 cup
3 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese; about ¼ cup lightly packed

Crust
In a food processor pulse flour, salt, and butter. Add the egg yolk and water and pulse until combined. If the mixture is too dry, add more water 1 teaspoon at a time until it forms a ball. Remove from processor, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When ready, dust the surface of the counter with flour and roll out to 1/4-inch thick. Press into an 11-inch tart pan. Cover with parchment paper and beans or pie beads and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden brown. Meanwhile prepare the filling. When the crust is done, remove from oven, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, and add the filling mixtures beginning with the fennel and then the chèvre. Lay the prosciutto slices on top and sprinkle with thyme leaves and Parmesan cheese.

Filling
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and then the fennel, peppers, onions, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and pliable, about 7 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, mash the chèvre with a fork and add the eggs one at a time incorporating each time until there are few if any lumps in the mixture. Add the half and half and mix well.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the center is just barely cooked and still wiggly. Serve hot or room temperature.

Serves 6

Annie
Get bored, then get creative

Throwback Thursday – Annie in the Refer

Remember the time when we only had one, huge wooden ice box on deck that weighed 2 tons and in which we were forever loosing everything to the depths of the deep, fathomless bottom?

That ice box was made by Dave Allen, the previous owner of the Riggin, and required at least 10 to 15, 20-pound, bags of ice every trip.  Looking at this photo just makes me love the battery operated refers I have now even more.

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Annie
Love improvements!

Hot Composting Chicken Manure

This winter while the snow was 2 feet deep and the green garden was only a dream that would come eventually, I read about hot composting chicken manure.  While I’ve always composted our chicken manure, which turns into garden gold and keeps our plants super healthy, never had I used it in the same year.

Chicken manure can be extremely “hot” or nitrogen rich and, if used too soon, can burn tender leaves and even more established plants.  To protect my garden plants, I’ve always waited a full year for the manure to “mature”.  This spring, based on my research, I thought I might try a new technique to speed up the process and see what happened.

To begin with, my coop is layered all winter long with pine wood shavings.  I try to keep the bedding fluffy and never really let the manure matte into a pile, but rather continuously add more bedding.  This encourages scratching which helps reduce any matting and also allows me to occasionally go out, when temperatures are above freezing, and clean off the horizontal surfaces and nesting boxes without doing a deep clean in the middle of winter.  Instead I schedule a major clean out twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  Continually adding bedding also warms up the coop just a tiny bit as the decomposing of the bedding continues all winter long.

I learned that hot composting requires a 30:1 ratio of shavings to manure, i.e. carbon to nitrogen.  This is, it turns out, also a healthy ratio for the hens, as breathing in the toxic ammonia from their waste is not good for them.  If the ratio is off,  the compost pile (or the coop) begins to smell of ammonia/urea.  Adding more bedding is nearly always the answer.

Once the coop was cleared of all of the winter manure and bedding, I created a compost pile 4 feet by 4 feet with wooden pallets that I just tied together.  Hot composting requires that the pile be big enough to build up heat in the center.  Each day the pile needs to be turned and then covered with a tarp to keep the nutrients from leaching out due to any rain.  Conversely, if the pile should be moist, so in the beginning it may be necessary to add water.  By the 18th to 24th day of turning, the pile should be smelling like hummus.  Once earth worms appear, it is ready to go into the garden.  They are the indicator that the pile is now safe for plants.  If it was still too hot, the worms would not find the pile hospitable.

 

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Pallets assembled and ready for chicken inspection.
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In the beginning, the pile was all the way to the top of the pallets.
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The actual work of turning the pile is a real workout. No need to go to the gym for Rebecca (last year’s outfitting crew).
backyard chickens, chicken manure in the garden, chickens in the winter time, hot composting, how to hot compost chicken manure, Maine windjammer, taking care of chickens
Turning into pretty rich looking compost.
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The turned pile covered with a tarp for the rainy days.

Annie
Worms arrived!

Prep Work in the Galley and/or Kitchen

Organization is about the single most important skill to have as a cook.  Sure, making food taste good is critical.  Safety and cleanliness are imperative.  Life is made even better when beautiful, interesting ingredients become part of a repertoire.  If, however, you can’t put it all on the table at the same time?  Not good.  Being safe and clean are inextricably linked to being organized.  And a beautiful ingredient doesn’t do much good if the whole package doesn’t come together into one moment.

To this mix, lets sprinkle a range of outdoor temperature from 35 degrees to 90 degrees peppered with a tilt that can get things sliding off counter tops and stove tops, topped with some wave action which sets the whole galley in motion.  Garnish this with the fluctuation of a super dry and sunny environment to sopping wet.  Under these circumstances, organization becomes imperative to any successful sailing cook.

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This was an especially good morning with lots of prep help. That row of zippies makes a girl’s heart happy.
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My throwback prep crew from a couple of years ago. xoxo

Part of being organized is working ahead and having the prep work done before begining to heat up a pan or add flour to a bowl.  That’s where our morning team comes into action.  The first cups of coffee are awarded to those early morning risers who come to spend their time waking up with us by peeling carrots and chopping onions among a myriad of other tasks.  The more we can prep before breakfast, the smoother our day goes.  Every day.  Because much of our produce comes from either my garden or our CSA, more prep work is required.  Just think about the difference between de-ribbing a pound of spinach, washing, and then drying it OR zipping open a box of spinach.  Now times that by 20 and you have the difference in prep time between farm-grown and store-bought.

Annie
Thank you to all those who come to share our quiet mornings.

Zucchini Maple Pecan Cake – In Honor of Maine Maple Syrup

This cake, like many delightful life events, came to me by accident.  You see, it’s maple syrup time here in Maine and many of our friends with maple trees are boiling their sap.  Their weekends are taken by all-day boils and then sometimes even staying up late to tend the wood fires.  They are surrounded by steam, wood smoke, and enveloped eventually with the ultimate reward of sweet maple syrup.

Zucchini Maple Pecan Cake

We don’t have maple trees on our property, so this is not a family ritual for us, but to honor our friends and the heritage of Maine maple syrup, I wanted to create a cake without sugar and to replace it with maple syrup.  While I was at it, the idea of using coconut oil, a healthier oil than canola or vegetable oil nudged its way into my process.

This lovely number is delicious, if a tad less moist than the original cake.  I then conjured a glaze with a maple liqueur, given to me by a favorite Canadian guest, and the results were addictive.

Zucchini Maple Pecan Cake

Zucchini Maple Pecan Cake
1 teaspoon salted butter and flour for the pan
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup coconut oil
1 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups grated zucchini; about 1 medium (or a portion of a huge one)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Glaze
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons Gélinotte or other maple liquor

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour one 9- x 13-inch pan. In a large bowl thoroughly mix the oil, maple syrup, zucchini, and vanilla extract. Add all the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Transfer to prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed.

Glaze
Combine the butter, syrup, and liquor in a small bowl and while the cake is still warm, brush the top with the glaze mixture. It may seem like a lot at the beginning, but it will soak in (and be delicious). Cool in the pan and slice into 12 or 16 pieces.

Serves 12 to 16

 

 

Chicken Paprikash with Wide Hand-cut Noodles

Several weeks ago, a friend surprised me by bringing dinner to my family – unannounced and seemingly without cause. There hadn’t been a death or tragedy in our family. She just knew that I’d had a busy week, could see that I was a little ragged around the edges, and could use a little care. It’s rare when someone makes me dinner and it was such a gift to be given a night off from the planning all the way to the cleanup for one busy weeknight.  Thank you, Friend.

Holding that care in my heart long after the meal had disappeared from our plates, I was making this Chicken Paprikash several nights later and decided to make extra. To pay that care given to me forward to another friend, also a busy working mom.

Chicken Paprikash with Wide Cut Noodles Photo by Elizabeth Poisson

Chicken Paprikash
This recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The dark meat on chicken is much more flavorful and in a stew type dish holds up a little longer, allowing for an extended cooking time to develop more flavor before it completely falls apart in shreds as chicken breasts are likely to do.

If you plan to freeze or refrigerate this dish to serve later, leave out the sour cream. When you reheat it, add the sour cream just before serving. It won’t curdle if you freeze it and it will keep longer if you refrigerate it.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds fresh black pepper
2 cups diced onions; about 1 large onion
1 1/2 cups diced green bell pepper, seeded and diced; about 1 large pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic; about 2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
several dashes of Worcestershire
8 ounces button mushrooms, quartered; about 3 cups
1 cup sour cream
2 ounces finely shaved Romano cheese; about 1 cup lightly packed (for garnish)

Heat the oil in a large, wide stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, salt, and pepper to the pot and cook until browned on all sides. Add the onions, peppers, garlic and paprika and sauté for another 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste, stirring for about a minute. Add the wine, tomatoes, and Worcestershire. Cover and cook until the chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Add water if needed. Add the mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes.

Stir in the sour cream. Serve with noodles, potatoes, rice, or polenta. Garnish with Romano cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

Wide Hand Cut Noodles Photo by Elizabeth Poisson

Wide Hand Cut Noodles

Wide Hand Cut Noodles

Wide Hand-cut Noodles
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 teaspoons or more water, if needed

On the counter, combine flour and salt and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and yolks into the well and stir with the tips of your fingers working the flour on the outside into the eggs. Add enough water to bring the mix together in a ball. The water will vary with the size of the eggs and the moisture in the flour. Turn it out onto the counter and knead for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and firm. Cover to prevent a dry skin from forming and let rest for 45 minutes. Roll out the dough using a hand-cranked or electric pasta machine to create sheets of pasta, dusting with flour where needed.  You should be able to see through the sheets when you are finished. Lay the sheets of pasta out on the counter and roll them up loosely into a log.  Cut strips 3/4-inch wide and then toss to loosen the roll until you are ready to cook.

When ready to serve, drop the pasta loosely into a pot of salted, boiling water. Stir well but gently. The pasta is done when it floats or is al dente – just the tiniest bit firm when you bite into it, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

The Great British Baking Show – I had to try a recipe

Who has not spent an afternoon snuggled on the couch with their daughter watching The Great British Baking Show?  If you haven’t, you need to.  Especially the earlier seasons.  I’m still a little unaccepting of the recent changes to the show, but that’s just me and eventually I will move on.  However, Mary Berry is still my favorite host and will be forever and ever.

Of course after spending an afternoon watching, any self respecting foodie has to try a recipe or two.  This one is a perfect winter time cake.  We made ours and had it with tea in honor of, well, Britain, but it would be just as good served after dinner as a special dessert.

The recipe for Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Layer Cake is on the BBC website.

Mary Berry's Frosted Walnut Layer Cake
Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Layer Cake