Praise and Plenty Cupcakes

Inspired by the Garden—and a Contemporary Quilt Design
“We all have hometown appetites. Every other person is a bundle of longing for the simplicities of good taste once enjoyed on the farm or in the hometown left behind,” wrote Clementine Paddleford—food writer, tastemaker, and cookbook author—whose hometown was Stockdale, Kansas.  That’s especially true for desserts.

Sometimes dessert inspiration comes from surprising sources. When I was looking through the Home for the Holidays pattern book by Missouri quilt designers Linda Brannock and Jan Patek, I found the germ of an idea—even though I’m not a quilter (and no one would want anything I had ever sewn, to be perfectly honest here).

Brannock and Patek’s “Praise and Plenty” quilt in muted yellow, green, and orange on a creamy white background, surrounded by a border in homespun plaid suggested a twist on traditional carrot cake to me.  Hmmmmmmmm……..

Maybe grated carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash??  Maybe an intriguing blend of spices, too—citrus-tasting coriander, warm cinnamon, and snappy ginger.  Hmmmmmmm……

One bowl of batter later, here it is (and in Heartland: The Cookbook). Cupcakes using garden “plenty” in a way that will garner “praise” for a family get-together, an end-of-summer party, your bid for Room Parent of the Year, or a delicious scratch to that I've-Got-to-Have-Carrot-Cake itch. 

Use small, trimmed zucchini and yellow squash and grate them whole. If you like, spoon the batter into retro-colored cupcake liners from Bake It Pretty Traditional cream cheese frosting and a candied “garden confetti” are the crowning glories.

Praise and Plenty Cupcakes
Makes 3 dozen cupcakes

6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 cups canola oil
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1 1/2 cups grated yellow summer squash
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
5 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup grated zucchini
½ cup grated yellow squash
½ cup grated carrots
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with 36 liners, and a small baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.

2. Beat the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl until light and frothy. Beat in the oil. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together and add to the egg mixture, a cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the grated vegetables and spices until well blended. With a rubber spatula, fold in the raisins and nuts until well blended. Fill the cupcake liners ¾ full.

3. Bake, in batches, on the center oven shelf for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center or a cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely.

4. For the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Frost the cupcakes after they have cooled and while the frosting is soft and spreadable.

5. For the garnish, combine the grated vegetables, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are translucent and you have a candied confetti. When cool enough to handle, sprinkle the confetti on the top of each frosted cupcake.

Berry Delicious

Picking the Best Summer Berry Desserts

Berry picking is a rite of summer that combines adventure and reward. It’s also something our family has done here and in Europe. 
When we lived in London, I packed up the kids for a long weekend in Cornwall where I was researching a story on Daphne du Maurier, who set several of her novels there (among them Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, and my personal favorite The House on the Strand.) The kids and I left our hotel one sunny morning, parked the car on a country lane, and hiked a path by the beach—picking and eating blackberries along the way.

Fowey in Cornwall

If you want to go along, at least in spirit, read a London Sunday Times literary “walk” story about Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall--preferably while eating berries, to get the full effect.  
At the Frilandsmuseet or Open Air Museum in Copenhagen during another summer, we got a literal taste of Danish life in the 18th and 19th centuries—blackcurrants growing near a smallholder’s cottage. These tiny berries have a rich, deep berry flavor. In England, blackcurrant syrup was given to children as a good source of Vitamin C during World War II, when rationing limited other fruits. Today, blackcurrant is still a favorite flavor; my children still love blackcurrant drinks and candies known as pastilles. But unless you grow your own, blackcurrants are hard to come by in North America.

A Cottage at the Frilandsmuseet in Denmark

If you can’t pick berries in Denmark this summer, at least you can take a virtual video tour here.
Of course, the best way to enjoy summer berries is to pick them locally and do the least to them as possible.  After you’ve eaten your fill while you pick, here are summer dessert recipes to make the most of your bounty.
Summer Pudding
As a salute to our European berry-picking ways, this quintessential English dessert or “pudding” needs to be better known and appreciated here.  You simply line a medium mixing bowl with crustless pieces of bread (Pepperidge Farm works well for this). You heat the berries until their juices begin to run, then pour in the filling. You top it with more bread and weight it down with a can. The next day, you turn it out, cut yourself a big slice, and enjoy it with a dollop of whipped cream or some frozen yogurt.
Serves 8
8 thin slices good-quality stale bread, crusts removed
6 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
¼ cup granulated sugar or to taste
Lemon juice to taste
1. The night before you wish to serve this dessert, cut the bread slices so they fit in the bottom, sides, and top of a small to medium mixing bowl. Line the bottom and sides of the bowl.
2. Combine the berries and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the juices just begin to run. Taste, and if necessary, add more sugar. Stir in lemon juice to taste. Pour and spoon the berries into the bread-lined bowl. Cover the top with the remaining bread slices. Sit a small place on top of the bread “lid” and weight the plate with a heavy can. Refrigerate.  The pudding is done when the reddish-purple juices have permeated the bread.
3. To serve, loosen the sides with a knife or metal spatula, then carefully invert the pudding onto a serving plate.

Summer Pudding

Wildflower Honey Creams with Warm Spiced Berries
Bees make wildflower honey in mid-summer, after they’ve “grazed” on all the wild flowers in bloom. You can also use clover honey, which has a similar medium sweetness. This dessert literally whips up in minutes—sort of a parfait or a crème fraiche dessert with a berry topping.
Serves 8
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
½ cup wildflower honey, divided
3 cups blackberries
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice of ½ lemon
1. In a mixing bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the sour cream and ¼ cup of the honey and beat again until well blended. Set aside.
2. Place the berries, remaining ¼ cup of honey, and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the berries to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
3. Spoon the honey cream into parfait glasses and top with the warm spiced berries.

Wildflower Honey Cream with Warm Spiced Berries

Greasy Short-cuts??

Summer Garden Goodies with a Twist
I spent part of my summer at my sister’s home in the North Carolina mountains. Every few days, we rolled down the mountain to check out what was great at local farmer’s markets.

At a market near Asheville, we saw a basket of green beans with a handmade sign that announced “Greasy Shortcuts.”  Huh?
These beans turned out to be an heirloom Appalachian variety (actually, Greasy Cut-Shorts) with a “greasy” or shiny appearance because the bean doesn’t have the down that other green beans do. Greasy Cut-Shorts fell out of favor when stringless varieties of green beans meant less work for the cook.  But we bought them anyway, sat on the porch in the time-honored tradition, and used our paring knives to remove the string from both sides of each bean.
We simmered them with a little chicken stock, a ham hock, an onion, and salt and pepper. In less than an hour, they were tender and so gently “green bean” in flavor that we all fell in love with them.  When you fight for seconds of green beans, that’s something.

When I looked for information about them, I found this great site that opens up another world of bean gardening: Cornfield (beans that grow up a corn stalk), Cut Shorts (beans so packed in their pods that they look squared off), and Greasy (beans that lack that fuzz or down). Scroll down through the first part of the story to get to the bean varieties.

Stuffed Mangoes.  For some reason, people in southwestern Ohio (where I grew up) called green bell peppers “mangoes.” When they served “stuffed mangoes,” it was with a tangy, slaw-like filling in a somewhat wilted green pepper, refreshing on a summer day. You could buy stuffed mangoes at the butcher shop, along with your “city chicken” (cubes of boneless pork and veal on a skewer, to be breaded and shallow-fried.)
When I found the stuffed mango recipe at Lillian’s Cupboard, I thought, “No wonder they were sold at the butcher shop!” They take 2 days to make so the peppers “cure” in the brine.
Today, we can grow or find many colors of bell peppers and I like to use a variety of colors for this dish. I prefer to stuff the peppers with cubed, artisan bread, some fresh or canned tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and grated, aged Cheddar.  The peppers can go in the oven or on the indirect side of the grill, just until they look browned on top and the bread has soaked up all the juices.  Enjoy!
Rainbow Stuffed Peppers
Makes 6
6 bell peppers (yellow, red, orange, and purple) cored and seeded
2 cups stale, cubed artisan bread (baguettes, Italian, ciabatta, etc.)
2 cups finely chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned, with their juice
½ cup chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
1 cup grated, aged Cheddar
Olive oil for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 400 or prepare an indirect fire in your grill (the fire on one side, no fire on the other).
2. Trim the bottoms of the peppers (without making a hole in the pepper) so they will sit evenly. Place the peppers in an oven-safe baking dish or a disposable aluminum pan for the grill. In a bowl, combine the bread, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and Cheddar. Drizzle the mixture with a little olive oil and stir to blend until the bread is well moistened. Spoon the stuffing into each pepper. (If you have any left, enjoy it with fresh greens for a salad.)
3. Oven-bake or grill-bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the peppers are browned on top.

Rainbow Stuffed Peppers

Ten Top Finds at Fancy Food, Part Two

Voodoo That You Do So Well

I've rounded up the rest of the latest crop of fresh food ideas from the recent Fancy Food Show in Washington, D. C.

6.  Double. Dutch. Voodoo.

I'm a big believer in having a plan, but letting the unexpected happen, too.
I met the Koeze Peanut Butter folks, a family-owned business since 1910, based in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. I'm a nut for their peanut butter, so they got a shout-out in Heartland: The Cookbook. Their creative director, Martin Jandree, also blogs, posting a seed-to-table chronicle of Double Dutch Farm in Grand Rapids.  His latest blog post was about black raspberries. Imagine that!  (See the blog archive for my posting.)

Martin's wife Bunny created the Perfect Summer Salad from what they grow or raise on the farm: baby spinach, hickory-smoked bacon, fresh eggs from their Buff Orpingtons or Aracauna hens, hickory-smoked bacon from their pigs, and clover honey from their bees.  Perfect. 

A Perfect Summer Salad by Martin Jandree
7.  Botanical Baking

I also tasted shortbread cookies--simply made with flour, 85% butterfat butter, and aromatic herbs--from Botanical Baking in Napa, California.

They started out with Lavender shortbread, but then added other flavors such as Fennel Pollen, Lemon Thyme, Lavender, and Cinnamon Basil.

Fennel pollen, a favorite of Italian chefs, comes from the herb (not bulb) fennel, the tall plant with button yellow flowers and leafy fronds below:

8.  Bacon Jam and Pumpkin Ketchup

Bacon marmalade, so good slathered on toast or biscuits, is time-consuming to make, so readymade Bacon Jam lets busy bacon-lovers indulge.  Skillet Bacon Jam in Seattle, Washington, makes a dynamite smoky/salty/sweet bacon condiment, then follows it up with Pumpkin Ketchup--a little spicy and tangy. My tastebuds got a very pleasurable workout.

9. Not Plain Vanilla Anymore

At an International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in San Antonio, I sampled three versions of creme anglaise made with three different vanillas, and I've never forgotten it. At the Nielsen-Massey booth, I was reminded that basic vanilla is far from basic. We're spoiled for choice with smooth and voluptuous Madagascar Bourbon, aromatic and floral Tahitian, and creamy/spicy Mexican vanillas. Nielsen-Massey's vanilla bean paste--oh so good in baking--won a Gold Award. They also offer rosewater and orange flower water.

10. Fruit Juice-Based, No-Sugar-Added Sodas

I remember a childhood creme soda that was so red and so sweet that I wonder how (or why) I ever drank that. One visible trend at Fancy Food was no-sugar-added sodas that get their flavor from fruit juice and are much more refreshing.

My favorite of all that I tasted with Fizzy Lizzy, a New Jersey-based company. Their Raspberry-Lemon soda gets its sweetness from white grape juice, and its beautiful sunset color from elderberries. I also liked their Fuji Apple and Tangerine Passion Fruit.