Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Notes From The Country - July Days

 The freshness and enthusiasm of June and early July have given over to the lazier, more predictable mid summer rhythm of hotter days, afternoon thunderstorms, and the slow, but steady progress of growing vegetables and fruit.  I was surprised last week when I went to feed the alpacas, and noticed the red Choke Berry tree at the edge of the forest full of deep red fruits. I find it gratifying and downright fun to be out on a hot day picking berries, knowing with a bit of work there will be something sweet to enjoy over the next several months.

 I love the whole hot, summery process of preserving fruit or vegetables, from the harvesting to the washing and preparing, to the cooking of a recipe, while a pot full of canning jars bubbles away waiting to be filled. It's the pioneer in me. I settled on Choke berry syrup instead of jelly, because the yield was much greater, and in this case, the little berries have big pits and making syrup was an easier process. My syrup ended up being more of a cross between syrup and jelly -  but serves it's purpose well enough.

 I was going to premiere my syrup on pancakes but then I discovered these cornmeal brown butter scones. I don't think I can properly describe how delicious these are. There are different styles of scones and if you're into dry, dense scones you probably wouldn't like this recipe. This scone is like the best cornbread, cake and biscuit rolled into one. Flecks of cornmeal dot an incredibly light as air, soft in texture piece of heaven. The cornmeal taste is more of a hint - well maybe a nudge. There are a few secrets to this recipe. For one, the butter is divided with part left as is and part cooked until browned. Both are then placed in the freezer until frozen solid. Then instead of working cold butter into a flour mixture with your fingers, the frozen butters are grated with a box grater directly into the flour mixture and tossed together lightly before adding cold buttermilk and cream. Everything stays colder longer making for a light, buttery end result. This scone with some warm chokecherry syrup on it was a hit. Actually - a home run. 

Speaking of browned butter - I've been trying some different recipes lately. One evening I made this beet ravioli recipe with goat cheese. Pureed beets are incorporated into the pasta dough. These aren't red because I used golden beets. I thought the beet taste would be strong, but it was quite mild. Served with browned butter and mushroom-sage flavored olive oil topped with pine nuts (I tweaked the sauce recipe a bit from the original), it was divine. We enjoyed it on the patio one night with a glass of white wine. That's my definition of a perfect summer evening. 

We have been graced with days in the 70's and a few in the 90's, with afternoon thunderstorms to cool things down for some lovely, enjoyable evenings. The alpacas still get hot during the day and have been loving their pool time. The sunshine, heat, and regular showers have the garden growing nicely. Actually this year, for the first time, we covered up three of our garden beds. I hearkened back to my old days of gardening and had fun with a little square foot gardening in the remaining 10 by 10 bed. It's a relief to concentrate on a smaller area where the weeds are manageable, and in one bed I've got a little of everything -  heirloom tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers, french fillet beans, bush beans, peas, romaine, butter, and other heirloom lettuces, plus mesclun, spinach, and arugula, three different kinds of carrots and potatoes! I got a very late start planting, so for now it's just been baby lettuces, spinach and arugula, and a zucchini. So much fun! The chickens are benefiting from the daily weeding and are happy with their shaded chicken yard and  summer diet.

Harbingers of fall in the midst of summer. This is the part of summer when I am thoroughly enjoying being outside in the garden and dining alfresco, but I start to dream of those cool autumn days, soups, sweaters, and football!

Cornmeal Brown Butter Scones 
(Adapted from the recipe on this wonderful blog)
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
total time: 50 minutes
yield: 8 scones
  • 190 grams (1.5 cups) all purpose flour, extra for dusting
  • 60 grams (1/2 cup) cornmeal, extra for dusting
  • 96 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), divided
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
  • 170 grams (scant 3/4 cup) buttermilk
  1. divide butter into 5 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons. place the 3 tablespoons in the freezer while you brown the rest over medium heat, swirling occasionally until golden and smells nutty. immediately pour into a heatproof container that will be easy to pry it out of, like a small tea cup or bowl. let cool slightly and then place in the freezer until frozen solid.
  2. heat oven to 450°f.
  3. line a baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle liberally with cornmeal.
  4. when butters are frozen, place a mixing bowl on a digital scale. weigh flour, cornmeal, and sugar into bowl, and then add baking powder, soda, salt, and lemon zest. stir to combine.
  5. grate the butters on a box grater and then toss into the flour to combine & coat.
  6. place a small bowl on the scale, measure the cream & buttermilk into it.
  7. pour them into the flour butter mixture and stir to combine.
  8. turn dough out onto a well floured work surface (all purpose flour).
  9. sprinkle the top with flour and using lightly floured hands pat the dough into a nice ball.
  10. place ball on prepared baking sheet and press into a circle about 1-1.5" thick.
  11. using a well floured knife or bench scraper cut into 8 wedges and sprinkle with raw sugar
  12. bake for 18-23 minutes, until golden brown.
  13. cool slightly on sheet and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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