Blueberry Cobbler

This is one of those dishes that missed its final photo shoot. It’s just so good that when you pull it out of the oven, you gaze in awe for a moment, and then immediately leave the room because you know that if you look at it any longer you’ll never have the willpower to give it the 15 minutes or so it needs to solidify and cool off before you should thrust a spoon into it. When you come back to heap a serving onto a small dessert plate, the last thing you could possibly thing about is grabbing your camera before you dig in.

I made this twice this summer, the first time in my mother’s kitchen in Connecticut. While traveling in the States late July, I bought a pint of blueberries almost every day and ate them as snacks while wandering around New York City in the heat, while reading in the Amtrak, and while sitting on a friend’s back porch outside of Boston.

When we got to my mother’s house, I told my French counterpart that I needed to make a blueberry dessert while we were in New England because the blueberries in France cost around twice as much. I nosed through my mother’s cookbooks, eyeing the recipes of my youth, but deciding to make something much simpler – no sour cream, no buttermilk – just blueberries, a bit of sugar, and a touch of topping.

The first weekend we were back in France we were perusing our usual Marché Aligre on a weekend morning, when I spotted a fruit seller on the corner of the square – Les myrtilles, 1 euro les deux ! 

Blueberries - two pints for a euro

Blueberries – two pints for a euro

In disbelief, I approached the plastic pint containers, expecting the berries to be covered in mold. I picked up two, three, four boxes – not moldy. I was sure the berries wouldn’t last very long (since the cheapest fruits at the market are usually waiting to be consumed immediately,) but I bought six boxes to the hefty tune of 3 euros. (Usually, a one-pint box of blueberries will cost 4-6 euros.)

I re-made my cobbler, and found that, unexpectedly, it actually tasted a bit better here in France – thanks to the better quality of our butter (sorry, Americans!)

Preparing the cobbler - before topping

Preparing the cobbler – before topping

Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe: http://markbittman.com/blueberry-cobbler/

500-600g (5-6 cups) blueberries
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
75g (½ cup) all purpose flour
115 grams of butter (1 US stick) softened, plus scant extra for the dish
pinch salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Rinse the berries and dry them – I do this by letting them sit on the windowsill for an hour or so. Butter an 8 inch (20cm) square ceramic dish, and preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

Gently pour the berries into a large mixing bowl and toss them with 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch, mixing carefully but well enough to ensure no lumps of cornstarch remain, then pour them into the baking dish.

Pour the other 1/2 cup of sugar into the mixing bowl along with the flour, salt, and baking powder, and mix well. Cut the butter into thumbnail-sized cubes and incorporate it into the dry mixture along with the egg and vanilla, being careful not to let it get too soft. I mixed it together with my hands, with a bit more force than tossing a salad, pressing the flour and sugar mixture into the butter cubes with my thumbs.

Once you have a mostly uniform, but sticky and thick, batter mixture, spoon it out into heaping tablespoons on top of the blueberries.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, checking after 20 minutes, until it is fully golden and browning at the edges.

Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before you dig in!

 

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Tsoureki, and overcoming loss

With most of my family firmly planted on the other side of an ocean, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how I would feel, what I would do, the day a dear loved one would pass. During the first few years abroad, I panicked every time the thought came to mind: what will I do? I can’t afford to fly home. My heart would seize up and waves of guilt and helplessness would sow their seeds.

Years past. I got older and became more financially secure. I relaxed knowing that if the day were to come and I felt the need to hop immediately on a plane to Boston or New York, it would not be completely impossible. My preemptive grief waned. I worried less.

More recently, my perspective has changed. Maybe it’s all that yoga, maybe it’s India, maybe it’s the dabbling in meditation: but I no longer felt like I would need to book the next flight out if “something bad happened.” Finances aside, I felt that if someone I loved had come to the end of a long happy life, I would be able to mourn their passing without jumping in an airship and scurrying back to my native land.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Last winter, when I shared my Grandmother’s family bread recipe, a dear friend in Greece shared a couple more with me. One, she said, looks very similar to my bread but is usually made at Easter. I kept it aside and thought, if I had the time, I would bake the bread in come spring.

At the end of March, my Grandmother’s health took a steep turn. She had a stroke and, less than a week later, left us peacefully. I learned that despite years of imagining this scenario, I still couldn’t avoid the roller coaster of emotions I would feel now that the day had come. I still couldn’t help but take a look at last-minute plane ticket prices, couldn’t not contemplate, at the least, sprinting home to be there for her last breaths.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Grandpa and Dad reassured me, insisted there was nothing I could do from near or afar except think good thoughts for her and wish for the best. So, on the day of her funeral, April 3rd, I stayed put in my kitchen, and I did something that she would have enjoyed doing with me. I made a new bread recipe, and perhaps, created a new tradition.

Tsoureki is seasoned with ground cherry pits (mahlab), and a special kind of tree sap called mastic. It’s sweet flavor sings the arrival of spring, and hints at summer yet to come.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

For the tsoureki recipe, check out My Greek Dish.

Transatlantic Chowder

I read the Wikipedia article about Quahogs and I am transported to another place and time.

It is the summer of 2002 and I am 17 years old. I’ve just graduated from high school. In addition to my usual part-time job at an upscale local supermarket, I’ve taken another job at what people in my part of the world affectionately refer to as a “clam shack.”

The Cove Fish Market was a small store selling fresh fish and lobsters in the front, and a clam shack in the back. I’d spend hours every day spooning ladles of chowder into Styrofoam cups (the clear-broth, “Rhode Island style” was home made. The creamy-broth, “New England style” came in frozen.)

The team at the Cove was a mixture of fresh-faced, long-haired college girls home for the summer, and rough-edged, part-time alcoholic pot head townie guys who had started out as dishwashers.

Paul, who owned the Cove was at least 80 years old, made the best chowder I’d ever had. I didn’t care for “clear-broth” chowder one bit until I started working there. The soft blend of the broth with the cubed potatoes – the finely chopped Quahog clams – I asked my mother what she thought the secret was. “I hear he uses salt pork as a base.”

Only one guy on staff knew the recipe. The chowder needed to be prepared a day in advance, and Jay would start it on an outdoor gas hob behind the kitchen. Onions would sweat under the hot August sun in salt pork fat. I was too young to get a good sense of the recipe, and too busy spooning chowder and filling orders for lobster rolls and fried clams to ever get a good idea of his method – and for years I kept telling myself that clam chowder was one of those things I’d get around to making “one of these days.”

I was recently issued a cooking challenge to finally tackle clam chowder – albeit, involving goat’s cheese and chorizo. I give you this – which turned out smooth and silky, and will definitely be made again in this house before winter’s end.

Clam remnants

Transatlantic Chowder

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Grandma Joyce’s Christmas Bread

Every family has taste traditions around different holidays they celebrate together. Be it a particular aunt’s potato salad that always made it to a summer picnic, or even your mom’s awful overcooked, over-buttered green beans that no one ever said anything about at Thanksgiving – but for those who grew up celebrating Christmas, there is almost always an annual sweet treat kids and grownups alike look forward to when the days are at their shortest (speaking from the Northern hemisphere, of course.)

My family couldn’t possibly have imagined Christmas without our Grandmother Joyce’s Christmas Bread. It’s sort of like challah bread, sort of like Finnish pullah – but if you try to call it anything else to my cousins, aunts, and uncles – we don’t want to hear about it. Christmas Bread is just Christmas Bread.

Like snow that had fallen on the bread, she’d decorate the soft buttery loaves with a simple white icing. The chopped red and green candied cherries on top were like little elves’ sleds skiing down the slopes of the buttery braided bread. The bright red, white, and green holiday colors always showed through the wax paper bags that she packed them in, folded and sealed with care with a name tag for each family.

At the peak of her Christmas Bread baking career, Grandma Joyce would prepare over 25 loaves during the month of December. She’d photocopy her recipe and make a list on the back of all the people she planned on giving a loaf to. On the grease-stained and torn copy I have, the lists on the back are from 1991 and 1993.

Christmas Breads

Christmas Breads

The original recipe comes from a copy of Parade magazine from a December long gone – not sure which one – and Grandma modified it slightly over the years, I have modified it still.

I’ll be eating some tomorrow morning, as I always have on December 25, and as I always will.

Jen's Christmas Bread

Jen’s Christmas Bread

Grandma Joyce’s Christmas Bread

Makes three loaves

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