A very merry

Hi friends. I hope you're with family and friends, baking up a storm. We're just starting the dough for a batch of Angie's, and tonight we're going to have a ham with mashed Truro turnips and a big salad from our greenhouse and homemade rye bread and the leftovers from a friend's homemade blueberry pie. 

But before we celebrate, we just wanted to pop by and wish you a very happy merry. Have a wonderful few days, everyone. 


The Local Food Report: thumbprint cookies

Today I have a holiday present for you from my friend Tracy. She's a top notch baker, and every year around this time she and her husband host a cookie party. Everyone brings a platter of their favorite cookies, you eat a bunch at the party, and then you take home what you like best—a mixed bag. It's a nice way to learn about other people's recipes, and also to switch up what you're eating at home. We make an awful lot of sugar cookies this time of year. My favorite cookie to bring home from the party is one Tracy makes: her grandmother's thumbprint cookie, filled with things like dark chocolate ganache and beach plum jelly and homemade chocolate mint jelly. 

This year, I asked her for the recipe. She very graciously agreed to share it—with all of us. I'm making mine in every shade of red: red currant jelly I made with fruit from Silverbrook Farms, beach plum jelly that Alex's grandmother put up last year, strawberry jam with fruit from Tony Andrews Farm in Falmouth, and even raspberry jelly from our plants out back. In case you're feeling inspired, here you go: Gramma Hill's Thumbprint Cookies. Happy baking everyone!


Tracy coped this out from me from her own tattered copy, which has clearly seen many Christmases. She says she learned to make the cookies from her grandmother, who was blind. She didn't cook much, but Tracy would go and bake with her each year around the holidays, helping her measure out sugar and flour.

1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour

chopped nuts (Tracy uses cashews, her grandmother used peanuts)
red and green jelly

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Get out several baking sheets and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in the flour until the dough is just mixed.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in the egg whites and then in the chopped nuts, then place them on the baking sheets. 

Bake for 5 minutes, then pull the cookies out and use your thumb (or a coffee scoop if your thumbs are tender!) to make a well in the center of each cookie. Return the trays to the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes longer. Pull the cookies out and immediately fill them with jelly. Cool and serve at room temperature. Yum!


The bread

Hi. I hope you had a nice Sunday. We did. I took two naps, Sally took three, and we all spent a lot of time on the couch. We read Cross Country Cat, and Frederick, and when it got dark, we went to the restaurant where I work for a holiday closing party. There were seared scallops and fried oysters and tuna bolognese and pork belly skewers, and all in all it was a good way to go out. We also baked our bread, and I wanted to show you a picture.

It's delicious. It didn't rise up quite as high as I'd hoped, but I think that might be related to the fact that our oven is in SERIOUS need of calibration and we accidentally started off the bake at 600 degrees F when it was supposed to be on 375. We also cut into one loaf right away, without doing the dishcloth thing. But it's right on in the flavor department, and it's got the texture too, so if you're thinking of baking, it's a Go!

That said, the next time I make it, I think I'll do a few experiments. I think I'll up the rye—swap out one cup of the all-purpose flour in the last portion for rye flour instead. And I happen to really like caraway, so I might double the caraway seeds or even grind some up to add into the flour.

And just so you know, we still have a lot of rye flour kicking around here. We're not done with rye yet. My next project will be these—Swedish rye cookies from 101cookbooks. Have you done your holiday baking yet? We're a little behind the times this year, but the tree is up, and this afternoon, we're going to put on the Muppets Christmas disc and start whisking and rolling and baking.

Happy Holidays, everyone.


Local rye, day 7

Happy baking day! There's a dusting of snow outside the window, which seems fitting. And this morning while Sally and her dad were still in bed playing smile and squeak, I was able to sneak downstairs and start the bread. I stirred salt, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, butter, sugar, and lots of flour into Friday's rye and starter mixture, and let it knead in the Kitchen Aid until it was smooth and elastic. Then I oiled our big rising bowl, shaped the dough into a ball, and tucked it to rise next to the wood stove.
It should be ready for punching down right around the time Sally wakes up from her nap. Then all we'll have to do is shape it into two rounds and let it rise again. By lunchtime, we'll be sitting down to homemade ham and lentil soup with hot buttered bread. 


James Beard adapted this from a NYT recipe back in the 90s, and I've made a few of my own changes too. The nice thing about it is that once you get your starter going, you don't have to start from scratch every time you want bread. Just keep it in the fridge, feed it with equal parts flour and water, and the night before you want to start the recipe, take it out and bring it up to room temp.

2 tablespoons dry active yeast
3 and 1/4 cups warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rye flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 and 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar (you could probably use honey, but I haven't tried yet!)
2 cups whole wheat flour
cornmeal, for the pan
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Four days (or in my case, seven!) before you plan to bake, prepare the "starter." Stir together 1 tablespoon yeast, 2 cups warm water, and 2 cups all-purpose flour in a large yogurt container. Cover tightly and let stand at room temperature for two days. Then refrigerate for at least one more day, and as many beyond that as you like.

The day before preparing the dough, take the starter out of the fridge and stir it well. Combine 1 cup of the starter with the rye flour and 1 cup warm water in a bowl. Cover it tightly and let it stand at room temperature overnight. (I let mine stand two nights with no apparent ill effects.) 

The next day stir down the dough and add the remaining tablespoon of yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water along with the salt, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, butter, and sugar. Stir in the whole wheat flour, then the remaining 2 cups all-purpose flour, one cup at a time. Beard says you may not need all of the all-purpose flour, but I found I did. Knead the dough for 10-12 minutes (I was nursing Sally so I let mine "knead" in the Kitchen Aid which worked quite well).

Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a buttered bowl, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. 

Punch the dough down and divide it into two balls. Form each into a round loaf and place on two greased baking sheets generously sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the loaves and let them rise again for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and prepare the egg wash. Brush the egg wash over the loaves and bake them for 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. If you can help yourself, cover with towels and cool before eating to prevent the crust from hardening. I'm not sure we'll be able to, but we'll try with at least one loaf!


Local rye, day 5

Ok, I goofed. Today is not the big bake. That's tomorrow! Instead, sometime between now and tonight, combine 1 cup of the starter (stir it up well) with 1 cup warm water and 2 cups of rye flour in a bowl. Now cover it tightly, leave it on the counter top, and we'll see you TOMORROW for the big bake.


The Local Food Report: seven fishes

We met Frank Tenaglia through a letter. It was addressed to my husband and his brother, and it was in response to an article that had been written about their seafood market, and the Italian tradition of eating seven different kinds of fish on Christmas Eve.

"Dear Hay Brothers," it began. "More than seventy five years ago, my mother used to make this meal and I loved it. She would have fried smelts, fried anchovies, baccala, stuffed squid, calamari, oysters, scallops, or crab." Frank gave his address and a phone number, and said that he hoped he could get the makings for a meal for two this year.

Last week, my husband and I drove to West Hyannisport to meet him. We sat down with Frank and his wife Carolyn, and he told us his memories of Christmas Eve dinner in an Italian household. He remembers his mother as a wonderful cook, and said that for the big meal—Feast of the Seven Fishes—she battered almost everything in flour and egg and deep fried it in olive oil. His favorite were smelts—small, oily, migratory fish—that she cooked whole, gutted but with the scales and skin on and the skeleton still in. He also loved anchovies and baccala (dried, salted codfish), and his mother's specialty, stuffed squid.

His memories of the meal reach way back—back to the 1930s, when he was six, seven, eight years old. He remembers helping his mother in the kitchen—not with the fish, but with mincemeat shaped like a horseshoe, and long snakes of fried dough, cosas frittes—literally, fried things.

But Frank never learned to cook himself. When he was younger, his mother did the cooking, and when he married his wife Carolyn took over the cooking. She was Irish, so they didn't celebrate Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. But recently, Carolyn's gotten less mobile, and Frank's taken over in the kitchen. And this year, he's hoping to make his very first Feast of the Seven Fishes.

I don't think he's planning anything complicated—just seven fishes, battered and fried—but if you're interested in the tradition, there are lots of menus from Italian-American chefs online. I found a good-looking one in Saveur (check out the story here and the menu here) and another from Mario Batali. I'm not sure yet what we're having for Christmas Eve dinner, but we almost always have some seafood. And if we make it to seven fish dishes, here are my top picks for this year:

What would you make? I'd love to hear.


Local rye, day 3

Hi! Don't worry. We haven't fallen asleep on the job. Or at least one of us hasn't. I can't speak for our littlest baker, who went down this morning for a nap at 9:07.

But if you're still with us, today, put that starter in the fridge. If you peek inside, there will be a lot of whey-like liquid on top, and a soggy flour mixture down below. That's normal. Here's what mine looks like:

While you've got the top off, go ahead and give it a whiff. Does it smell yeasty, and a lot like sourdough bread? Good. You're on the right track. We'll see you Friday for The Big Bake.


Local rye, day 1

Let's start a project. Ready? Ok. Take two cups of all-purpose flour, two cups of warm water, and a tablespoon of yeast. Shake them all together in an old yogurt container or a big Mason jar, put the lid on tight, and set them on the counter. Now walk away.

We'll be back with the next step on Wednesday. In the meantime, if you happen to have some local rye kicking around, say from a grain CSA, grind it into flour. You'll need that for what comes next—that, and some poppy seeds and caraway. See you then!


The Local Food Report: Macomber turnips

There is a plaque planted on the side of Main Road in Westport:

For those of you who aren't into squinting, the basic gist is this. A long time ago, back in 1876, two brothers from Westport went to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition. It was a huge fair—it went on from May 10th to November 10th and had almost 10 million visitors!—and it showcased everything from art to industry to innovations in farming. The brothers, Aiden and Elihu Macomber, got hung up on a turnip variety descended from Swedish and Russian rutabagas that was called Pure Bristol White. They brought the seeds home, the turnip variety flourished in Westport soil, and people have been crazy for Macomber turnips ever since.

I first tried one the other day, at the Falmouth Farmers' Market. Patricia Gadsby, the market organizer, introduced me to it, and said it's one of her favorite winter treats. She says it has the sweetness of a rutabaga, the crispness of a radish, and the pure white flesh of a turnip. She likes it cooked, mashed up and aerated with a stick blender into an almost mousse-like substance. Or roasted. Or sautéed and served alongside seafood. Or even raw! in a salad!

Patricia found the raw salad recipe the other day, over here in the New York Times. It called for raw turnips, peeled and shaved very, very thin, and tossed with arugula and prosciutto. Patricia recommended it, and I tried it, and I can tell you that it's a revelation. No more cooking-only for turnips. This salad is sweet, crisp, and fresh, everything that winter generally is not. It turns root vegetable rules on their heads, and for that I applaud it.

Have you tried the Macomber, anyone?


A stretch

Good morning. We have been trying to get some cooking done around here, really we have, but SOMEONE has been distracting us. I'm not going to name any names, but it's someone round, jolly, and slightly reddish. Who's not Santa.

In fact, between taking care of this certain somebody, recovering from a nasty bout of mastitis, and winding our way to Woods Hole and back for a Super Secret Surprise 60th birthday party, I believe we have only managed to cook ONE meal this week. One! It was good—seared pork with sautéed dino kale and garlic and roasted sweet potatoes—but hardly worth writing home about.

So instead I'd like to tell you about something else—something sweet. It's a gingerbread house—more of a gingerbread village, really—that we made with my niece. Lili entered it in the Wellfleet Preservation Hall kids decorating contest, and she won! Check it out.

In case you can't tell, it's an ice fishing village. The graham cracker units are the huts, the chocolate squares are the doors, and the little pools of blue frosting are the fishing holes. Those are Sour Patch Kids out there fishing with toothpicks, and those crazy rainbow striped candies are giant fish. They're getting quite a haul. It would be a stretch to call this local food, but we did find a good icing recipe, and those are hard to come by, so I wanted to share. Happy holidays, everyone.


Lili and I looked for a good icing recipe for a long time and finally settled on this one. We liked it because it didn't call for any fussy ingredients like glycerin or meringue, and we could use egg whites from Lili's own chickens! It hardened nicely—not so fast we couldn't use it all up but quickly enough to set the houses fast.

1 pound powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine everything in a mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Use within an hour or so, as this icing will harden over time.


Sad news

Our hearts go out to Darnell Caffoni, who lost her husband Rod Thursday to a heart attack. I met Rod and Darnell through their stand at the Orleans Farmers Market—they are the friendly folks with the beautiful greens and radishes at Boxwood Gardens.

Rod, you will be greatly missed.

There will be a gathering to celebrate Rod's life Thursday, December 8th at 6p.m. at the Barnstable Comedy Club Theatre. All are welcome—please bring pictures, stories, love, and a dish of food if you'd like.

All our love to you Darnell—


The Local Food Report: heritage pigs

This is Wilbur:

He's not the best-looking pig. He is an unusual pig, though. He's a Large Black, an old heritage breed. They were popular in England in the 16th and 17th centuries, but these days, there aren't many around. Why? In short, because there isn't as much land around as there used to be, and these pigs eat grass. You can tell that from their coloring—dark, coarse hair and dark skin protect them from burning.

I met Wilbur in Barnstable, at Tim Friary's. He runs Cape Cod Organic Farm, and this year, he started raising pigs. He's got two kinds—both heritage breeds. The others are Berkshires. The Large Blacks are listed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservation Priority List as "critical," meaning there are less than 200 registered each year in the U.S. The Berkshires aren't listed in our country, but they are in England. It's estimated that there are less than 2,000 pigs of either breed globally.

It hasn't always been this way. Before the era of cheap feed, pasture breeds like Large Blacks and Berkshires were easier for farmers. They ate pasture, which was free, and rooted around in the woods, which helped them clear land. They could easily survive the winter outside, even with piglets. They're fairly docile as hogs go and known for their good mothering abilities. And most importantly, they have tasty meat. Tim describes it as a bit pinker than most pork, with better marbling.

This is the first year Tim's raising either of these breeds. He has a Berkshire sow named Delilah who had six piglets, two Large Black sows, Wilbur, and two litters of Large Black piglets. He's got 22 pigs so far, and eventually, he's hoping to get up into the hundreds. This year's piglets won't be ready for slaughter until this spring. I'm already looking forward to the meat.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.