Hey, y’all. I’m trying to bake around workmen in my kitchen and I’ve got way to much on my mind. My cousin’s wife underwent her second surgery this morning continuing her battle with cancer. Prayers, please. Also, I learned earlier today that a dear, dear friend from our first college days suffered a major heart attack and is having major bypass and open heart surgery. Both fabulous women are too young and healthy for this. So I bake. I listen to comfort music which, today, is Puerto Rican salsa, bomba and plena. My mind wanders as I murmur the lyrics to the song streaming, one of my favorite songs ever, “En Mi Viejo San Juan”, In My Old San Juan. It’s a terribly sad song but fits my mood. I reassure myself with drifting thoughts of old neighbors who lived on my grandparent’s street close to the University of Puerto Rico. Sonia, who lives catty-corner across the street, and hosted us for finger sandwiches and champagne. Those were lovely afternoons spent in her gorgeous Spanish style villa laughing, gossiping and sharing our plans for the future. Dona Angelita and Don Juan Orta lived next door to us and had Cynthia and me over for dinner often. They were okay but the person in their household I adored was Tata, the housekeeper who was more like a servant considering the way they treated her. I loved Tata!
She told me a story of a typical idyllic Caribbean morning which found her sweeping the Orta’s back courtyard, birds were singing and lemon yellow alamandas were in full bloom, rambling up the back wall of the cottage where she lived… she was lost in her thoughts. Out of the blue she heard a small but happy voice from above singing and calling out, “Hiiiiii! Hiiiiii! Hiiiii!”. Tata looked up to the second floor of our house and told me she saw two fat little hands stuck out of the window waving madly at her. It was me. In my crib. And that’s when we fell in love. She was the sweetest thing. She always made certain I was included when all the little girls played fairies and witches. When serving at the table, Tata always took care not to put any beans on my rice…just sauce and the only way I would eat them. Her hugs were strong but gentle and I liked it when she sat down and allowed me to climb in her lap. Today that gives me quiet comfort. It’ll all be okay. Everything will work out. Joy comes in the morning.
This is a super easy breakfast cake that is truly forgiving. Fresh or frozen blueberries may be used. If y’all haven’t tried Costco brand frozen blueberries you’re in for a treat. They’re harvested in Canada and they’re just like the blueberries you find in Maine… small, juicy nuggets bursting with fresh flavor.
Pining for those summer days so hot you walk barefooted through the house? I am. I’m longing for those nights that are so hot and sticky the AC’s set at 68° and I’m sleeping in nothing but a t-shirt. And I’m looking forward to those bright mornings that are blisteringly hot and all I want for breakfast is a cold, tropical smoothie. It’s been windy and rainy here with cold days that cause me to daydream of sun-warmed fruit in all its forms, every manner of summer salad, fried chicken and blackened dolphin. Watermelon. Peaches. Oh, man…and corn on the cob taken off the grill at 8:30 at night and it’s still light out. But in the meantime I’ll trick my mind, my mouth and my heart with this charming and delightful tart that satisfies my senses. I’m a huge fan of pastry cream. I could eat bowls of the stuff. Just a taste check while making it is all the temptation I need to merrily skip down the road of licking the bowl, licking the spoon and finally throwing in the towel and eating spoonfuls. Pastry cream is like vanilla silk on your tongue. It wraps itself around your mouth and mind like the moves of a cat, smooth and fluid, to the extent that I don’t give a good goddamn if beach-time begins tomorrow. I love buttermilk equally; in biscuit, salad dressings, cakes and breads. Buttermilk pastry cream is the ultimate…it’s gilding the perfect lily. Buttermilk’s celebrated tang and texture take the usual vanilla pastry cream to the next level, a level I’m all too happy to reach. I assuage my barely guilty conscience by reminding myself that buttermilk is not a high-fat product. And as my son, James, was quick to point out, blueberries are filled with antioxidants and good for your eyes. The better to see you with, my dear tart! He really enjoyed the filling, the crust and the berries on top so as he was walking out of the house just now I asked him if he had any thoughts or words…”I ate it!” was all he said. As he did a hasty scan of the refrigerator he hopefully called out, “Mama, we got any more of that buttermilk tart?” That’s all I needed to hear to know I’ve got a blue ribbon treat in hand!
Buttermilk Pastry Cream Tart with Slightly Drunken Blueberries
Buttermilk Pastry Cream is an extraordinary filling for a fruit tart. This recipe is standard and found everywhere but is tried and true. However, the flavor of the filling will be compromised by using a low-fat buttermilk. I strongly suggest you go the extra two feet in the dairy section of your grocery store and buy the full-fat. I’ve explained in other posts that buttermilk is the liquid left behind after churning butter from cream. It is far lower in fat than whole milk and is chock full of probiotics. So forget about the reduced fat junk. Blueberries are gorgeous on this tart and incredibly delicious but pretty much all berries are, so go crazy. I typically use a rectangular tart pan, so everyone gets a good portion of crust, but any shape will work as will a pie pan.
one baked tart or pie shell
Fill baked tart shell with cooled pastry cream and smooth top. Chill until serving.
Prior to serving, top tart or each individual slice with berries.
Buttermilk Pastry Cream
yield: 2 cups
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make an ice-water bath in a bowl large enough to hold a medium sized sauce pan. (Put enough water and ice in the bowl to hold the sauce pan but not so much that water flows into the cooked pastry cream. This will stop the cooking process.) Set aside.
In a small bowl whisk together sugar, flour and salt. Set aside.
Combine buttermilk and egg yolks in the saucepan.
Over medium heat whisk in flour mixture until smooth and continue whisking until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and place in waiting water bath. Whisk in vanilla extract.
Let cool completely before using. Cover with plastic wrap directly on pastry cream to avoid “skin” developing and store in the refrigerator.
For the Blueberries
yield: 2 cups
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, more if needed
2 cup blueberries
In a small bowl whisk sugar and cornstarch until all lumps are gone. Set aside.
Place a medium sized pot over medium heat and add lemon juice, water and brandy and simmer for one minute.
Add the blueberries and simmer two minutes, gently stirring all the while.
Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and gently stir until the blueberry juices have thickened.
Taste the sauce and, if needed, add sugar.
Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before topping tart. This is also great served hot on biscuits, shortbreads and peach crumbles with brandied whipped cream.
I began the day after Christmas. In anticipation for the new year I pulled out my favorite water-glass. I made a silent pledge to myself that I would drink a minimum of eight glasses of water a day. It’s a good thing for me because I try to chug an entire glass if I’m tempted to mindlessly cheat. I can meet that minimum easily as I’m tempted often. I had already started working out but I still needed to go through my work out apparel and weed out any old running bras and shoes. That done I focused on my overall nourishment for the year. That mammoth jug of Coquitos I made, rich and thick with coconut milk AND cream?? I sent James off with it to a New Years Eve party. I actually threw out some of the chocolates given to me. That REALLY hurt. Most painful was this. One and three-quarters pounds of crispy, salty paradise in the form of BBQ potato chips. Jesus, Mary and Joseph give me strength! But out they went, into the garbage.
In 2016 I will celebrate, or at least try to, a milestone birthday. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I know people say, “Oh, it’s just a number!”. “Oh, shut up.” is what I think when I hear that. However, I am committed to this as the year of kindness, acceptance and tolerance. Not only towards others but to myself as well. I’m not going to fret over my blog or insta numbers. I will write and post when and what makes me happy. Nor will I allow myself to get all twisted up when a family member sneaks a taste of something I’m cooking or baking. Glasses left about the house? Big deal. Toast crumbs on the kitchen floor? Who cares! Dirty feet on the bed? It’s just sand.
This is the year of gentleness. And happiness. So as I approach the birthday which is on the other side of my salad days, I choose graciousness, affection and goodwill. I will take care of my body and my soul. And do my best to take care of those around me. It doesn’t mean no more “cheesy-wheezies”, as my father calls any food or drink that’s bad for you. Of course there will be cheesy-wheezies! But as my mother used to say, “Everything in moderation including moderation”. For me that breaks down to one small glass of wine but only if I want it. I don’t have to have it. So if I don’t feel like wine I’ll stick to my water and not let the vino become a habit. I’ll still post a festive cake or decadent drink but I’ll keep those at arm’s length. In other words, I’ll gift them to neighbors. So far so good. When I informed Jimmy of my aspirations he reacted without thinking, CLAPPED HIS HANDS and cried happily, “Oh boy!”. As he often says, “It’s so nice when you’re nice.” And it is. Happy New Year y’all!
This is what was for breakfast. It’s a new day! Bring out the goat cheese, avocado and a few thin slices of toasted whole grain bread. A spritz of fresh lemon juice and a quick scattering of red pepper flakes along side your favorite fruit completes breakfast or lunch. Use your imagination and be creative. No recipe needed.
Every once in a while I find wild blueberries in the market during berry season and when I do I become the baking fool. Typically the berries are tiny but I’m here to tell you they are packed with flavor. Years ago we were in Maine for a family vacation when I tasted fresh blueberry juice for the first time. Cool, rich and gorgeous in color I savored every drop each and every morning. We were staying at a cushy lodge in Bar Harbor and they served pitchers of the freshly made juice at breakfast. I was delighted to find the berries growing wild everywhere. We saw little, scrubby bushes while hiking through Acadia National Park all loaded with the ubiquitous blue-black fruit. The same scraggly bushes dotted the sides of roads, front lawns and street corners. It was great! Unfortunately I rarely find wild Maine blueberries in South Florida but they are available every now and again and that’s when I make, among other things, this bread. Which is more like tea cake; it’s not heavily sweetened and the fresh fruit also gives the bread a welcome tartness. It’s perfect for a breakfast on the run by itself or toasted and slathered with peanut or almond butter. Later in the day it will be gladly received with a steamy cup of tea or coffee to resist that 3:00 p.m. crash. This is one of those easy, roll with it recipes in that just about all berries work well. I particularly like the blueberry and raspberry combination but you can add cut strawberries or use strictly one kind of berry. I usually use 12 ounces of blueberries and 6 ounces of raspberries. I’m not a fan of blackberries, (way too many seeds), but I made a quick sauce to trickle over the slices. The bread doesn’t need it, I just wanted another splash of color. It’s a gorgeous sauce and takes two seconds to strain out the seeds. Just google “blackberry sauce” and it’ll pop up. Another plus of this recipe is that it yields 2 loaves so you can surprise and delight a friend who maybe gave you an unexpected helping hand with a project you were working on and, hey, there’s one left for your family. You can give one to your 93-year old father who never gets freshly baked treats and you still have one for your family. Or you can just not say anything, tuck them in the freezer and take both of them to Hawk’s Cay for Girl’s Weekend so y’all have something to munch on at three in the morning when you’re ripped and singing “Drunk On A Plane” on top of the coffee table. It’s just a suggestion. I’m a huge fan of lemon juice and zest so I included it in the recipe but I’m pretty sure you can leave it out if you like. I do have one very important piece of advice that being once you add the dry ingredients to the wet don’t overwork the batter. The batter is thick and heavy so gently mix by hand and I find a large spoon helps to incorporate the wet with the dry with the least number of over/under strokes.
Grease and flour or spray with nonstick cooking spray 2-8.5X4.5 loaf pans (1.5 quarts) and set aside. I like to use Pyrex.
In a medium bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently incorporate berries so they’re all covered with the flour mixture. Set aside.
In a large bowl cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
Add sugar and beat well.
Add eggs, lemon zest and juice and vanilla. Beat well until eggs are completely mixed in.
Stir in buttermilk.
Add flour mixture to the butter/cream cheese bowl and with a large spoon gently fold together until just blended taking care not to break berries apart. I find an overhand/underhand motion keeps the blending down to a minimum.
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 45-50 minutes. Using Pyrex or glass loaf pans allows you to see how done the sides and bottoms are.
Set pans on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes before removing breads from pans.
Girls like pretty. Boys want flavor. When the two meet it is a glorious blending, a union, an alliance of shared contentedness. In our house there are three boys and one girl. Jimmy, James and Pericles, the dog, represent the males of the house. I am the solitary female. As a result most of the cooking I do pleases and teases their taste buds but I enjoy a good-looking dish. Though I have to add they appreciate a gorgeous plate and I, in turn, have pretty high standards when it comes to tastiness. James’ high school and college years brought many an overnight houseguest which thrilled me to no end. I fussed over those boys taking special orders for cafe con leche, biscuit and gravy and this breakfast, the cake-like whole wheat buttermilk pancakes with masses of fresh blueberries jumbled in. Those darling boys would come home sometimes at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning usually stopping to cool off in the pool before coming in. They’d get a running start from the driveway, propel themselves through the air and execute flawless cannon balls. Although we pretty much always woke up from those distinctive “thumps” of a 185 pound boy hitting the water, I savored every single moment. I’d snuggle deep into the covers of our bed delighted knowing they were happy and safely back home. I knew those days were numbered and, sure enough, all those boys have graduated and moved on to their new professional lives and careers. This is one of those breakfasts that we all took great pleasure in sharing. The nutty flavor of the whole wheat plays off the tang of the buttermilk and the berries give that pleasing “pop” of color and flavor while cutting through the richness of each mouthful. This recipe calls for a large amount of berries because I feel EVERY bite should be loaded with them. These pancakes cook up tall, light and fluffy belying the fact that they are 100% whole wheat. I ALWAYS use a large teflon coated griddle or pan otherwise I find the whole process turns into a disaster. For the first few pancakes I give the griddle a very light spray of non-stick spray and after that the butter in the batter is sufficient. But definitely use a non-stick pan. And remember, buttermilk is your friend. It’s lower in fat and calories because the fat from the buttermilk has already been removed in order to make butter. Buttermilk is what’s left after it’s been churned and made into butter. A fermented product, it’s loaded with good bacteria vital for a well-functioning digestive system. Low-fat buttermilk is carried in most grocery stores, is fabulous for cooking and baking and keeps forever in your refrigerator. If you’re ever at a market or farmstand and they offer fresh buttermilk SNAP IT UP. Mass produced buttermilk pales in comparison, fresh is tart and cool, rich and smooth. I’ve been making these pancakes for years and quite some time ago changed the recipe a bit to fit our needs. I remember making these for James when he was in Pre-K. He would pick them up whole as though they were slices of toast. I add a trace more sugar to the batter than traditional pancakes thus making syrup optional, almost unnecessary. Really, they’re almost like cake. Okay. They’re cake. Whole wheat cakes from a pan. So good. So satisfying. And you”ll be the most loved mom on the planet for a good half hour!
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a separate bowl mix buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla extract. When well combined add blueberries. Mix well.
Bring non-stick griddle or skillet up to medium heat.
Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour the blueberry buttermilk into it. Mix well.
Use an ice cream scoop or measuring cup to ladle out batter for small pancakes. I use 2 serving spoons, one to scoop and the other to scrape the batter off the bowl of the spoon. I find small pancakes are easier to flip.
When you see a few bubbles rising in the pancakes turn them over with the thinnest spatula you have. For a 3″ or 4″ pancake it’s a few minutes. Depends on the size of the cake and the heat of the stove top. I also go by the cooking smell. If it starts smelling a little too toasty in the kitchen I drop what I’m doing and flip those bad boys over.
After turning, cook for 1 minute, transfer to serving platter and continue cooking pancakes until batter is gone.
If serving pancakes with syrup use good Vermont maple and warm it up first.
I’ll be heading north for Boston soon. Jimmy will be teaching and I’m going to try and get my writing going. I don’t know when I’ll be posting on the blog so I thought today’s post should reflect this girl’s upcoming adventure. I haven’t even thought about what I’m taking. It’s such a challenge for me to pack appropriately. I always take way too much and usually the wrong things. Having spent last fall in Boston I’m hoping I learned my lesson do a better job of it. This time I won’t need six pairs of boots not including my gorgeous booties with the stacked heels. Nor will I need my darling purple coat. Or my 400 pound Burberry raincoat with the wool liner THAT I NEVER WORE. No. I’m going casual this time. Well accessorized but casual. Everything will match and blend. Just like this recipe. Jimmy came home the other evening with an enormous bag filled with beautiful, smooth mangoes. I promised him I would use them, in fact I promised I would make him chutney but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen. As the days passed by I realized I had to hurry and do something with them while they were still ripe and perfect. There are two schools of thought for mangoes, those who love them and those who hate them. Not much in between. But in this house we love them. It’s not often that you see them baked in a dish. So today I decided to create a dish with a Northern ingredient, blueberries, and a Southern ingredient, mangoes. A satisfying, warm cobbler to be served alone, with ice cream or whipped cream. Another quick and easy dessert, this cobbler is a hit with the topping I’ve included or you can easily substitute your favorite crumbled topping. This dish is a real flavor blast, the crumble is faintly salty with a lingering sweetness. And the warm, runny fruit…ohmygoodness! Easily you could add a tablespoon or two of rum if the spirit moves you. Mangoes have an exotic, peachy, perfumy taste that really comes out when cooked. I added a bit of ground cardamom to give it that little “roll your eyes” goodness. It doesn’t bake long so your house won’t heat up either. I hope y’all try this and like it as much as we do. And I promise to keep y’all posted on the Boston gig!
Ever had cornbread that’s so darned rich it’s really corn CAKE? Well, that’s what I made the other night. I wanted collards for dinner, masses of thin, green ribbons slow simmered in a gorgeous pot likker seasoned with bits of smoked ham, chopped onion, vinegar and red pepper flakes. And resting on top of my greens I wanted a thick chunk of cornbread. Collards and cornbread go hand in hand. Since this pot was only for Jimmy and me I made it much spicier than usual adding more vinegar and quite a bit more red pepper flakes. To cut some of that heat I wanted a rich, sweet cornbread. I’m not one to put any kind of fruit in cornbread…I had always thought that just ruined it until this week when my friend Janey brought over some soup, blueberry cornbread and a HUGE dark chocolate candy bar studded with almonds. I had been feeling puny so the soup really hit the spot. I wasn’t going to even try the cornbread because of the blueberries but she had purchased these things at Whole Foods and probably paid $9.00 for that little chunk of bread. A firm embracer of “waste not, want not”, I tasted it. Oh, sweet baby Jesus. It was so good. I thought, “I can do this and do it my way.” So I did. Since I won’t pay $6.00 for that little, crappy container of fresh blueberries at the grocery store I opted for canned blueberries in a light syrup. Don’t get pie filling. Just make sure the berries are well-drained after softly rinsing them well in a colander. And, of course, be very gentle when stirring them in and keep the mixing down to a bare minimum. If you’re wondering why I didn’t use frozen it’s because I think they would start defrosting while folding them into the mix and their juices would turn the batter purple. Other than those pointers it’s pretty simple. And it’s so good-looking! Deep purple against that soft yellow is just lovely. But you could use peaches, canned, fresh or frozen. Or other mixed berries. But try this. You’ll love it! And use your cast iron pan. It will give you a crispy, salty crust that will make your head spin. You could easily serve this Thanksgiving morning with bacon for breakfast. And your family can snack on it through the day until dinner is served. It’s really good the next day, too, cold. Oh, and the recipe doubles really well. Just add 12-15 minutes to your baking time. I hope you like it!