Cooking With Shelley

In the kitchen with Shelley

Dear Reader:

In my quest to be more “productive” I decided to start with cooking. I have to make meals anyway, I philosophized. In order to be more productive I could simply do, well, more of it. So, the past couple of weeks I’ve gone a little nuts in the kitchen with mixed results.

First there were the blueberry scones. Good. Then there was the broccoli soup. Nice. Soup needs bread, so I experimented with a bread recipe that didn’t require an entire day to rise and punch and rise and punch and rise again. Eh, just so-so. And since the strawberries ripened just in time, I was finally able to use my rhubarb to make a pie. Score!

Follow along, my apron-wearing, spoon-wielding friends, down my path to productivity in the kitchen. You may be inspired to try some of the recipes yourself. Or you may just like looking at the pictures. In any case, welcome to Cooking With Shelley.

We’ll begin with the scones. Usually scones are dry and crumbly and maybe a tad . . . well . . . bland. I wanted something a little more soft, a little sweeter. Something you might actually enjoy with your cup of tea in the afternoon.

Scone DoughIn my quest for a kinder, gentler pastry, I took a regular Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe (I have the 1991 edition. Click on the link to see how “Betty” has changed over the past seventy-odd years!) and tweaked it by doubling the sugar content, adding frozen blueberries, using farm-fresh whole cream instead of half-n-half, and bread flour rather than all-purpose. The result was SOFT, crumbly, sweet scones. The ladies in my craft circle gave good reviews (okay, there were just three of us at craft time last week, but still!), and I’ll definitely be making these the next time I’m invited to a morning brunch or afternoon tea.

Don’t these just look yummy? The key to pretty scones is an “egg-wash” brushed on top of the scone triangles before popping them into the hot oven.

Now, on to broccoli soup. This recipe I took directly from the latest Weight Watcher’s Cookbook, and is low-fat, healthy, and delicious. Basically, you chop a bunch of celery, carrots, and onion and sautee them in olive oil for a few minutes. Then you add broccoli florets and chicken (or in my case turkey) stock.

Soup, salad, and bread

Add salt and herbs to taste. To make the soup creamy, finish with a can of fat-free condensed milk. If I wanted to make this a more “local” soup, I could substitute the canned milk for fresh, heavy cream from Laura’s farm . . . probably cooling the broccoli/veggie mixture first so as not to accidentally curdle anything.

What made this soup special for me was the addition of fresh thyme from my garden. Just a few little leaves scraped from the stem and voila! Fragrant, delicious soup.

Along with the soup, I served my homemade bread and a salad which included some of the last greens from my garden boxes for a nice, summer meal. The bread was adapted from a Betty Crocker “streamlined wheat bread” recipe. I used molasses instead of sugar which turned the bread a lovely brown color. I also substituted some buckwheat flour and rolled oats for part of the wheat flour. The bread didn’t rise as well as I’d hoped (or else I just got too impatient and put it in the oven too early), so I ended up with rectangular bread, about the size of half a sandwich loaf.

This went fine with the soup, and as I still have some left-over this week, I’ll probably cut it up today, brush it with oil, sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and herbs, and toast it into homemade croutons. For awhile, I was making my own bread regularly, but then I got out of the habit. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you get. From now on it is homemade bread at my house.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie Filling

After the bread-baking and soup-making, it was finally time for the “piece de resistance” . . . strawberry-rhubarb pie. I spent a lovely morning up no’th picking strawberries with my parents at Tate’s Strawberry Farm in Corinth. (If you click on the link, you can view a video that shows the farm and the lovely strawberries. You just have to wait and get through the car dealership commercial first:)

At $2 a quart, these berries were a bargain. The beds were edged with clover and chamomile, so we had to dig a little to get to the sweet, scarlet gems, but the scent of the berries mixed with the herbs and flowers puts the “aroma” in aromatherapy. Who needs spas when you have berry picking?

Unbaked Pie

Now I’m going to share with you my secrets to making good pie crust: practice and bread flour.

I love bread flour for pastry. In the past, using all-purpose flour resulted in umpteen tough, impossible-to-roll-out, breakable pie crusts in my kitchen. A few years ago I had run out of all-purpose and, serendipitously (how many times do you get to use THAT word in a sentence?) chanced the bread flour lurking in my pantry . . . with amazing results! For some reason, bread flour makes a dough that is stretchy and pliable, pastry that is much less likely to rip apart when I fold it into the requisite fourths in order to lay it on top of the filling. Did I read somewhere that bread flour has more gluten, making it more stretchy? Note to self: research bread flour. Anyway, even this time, when I’d accidentally used the 9-inch pie crust recipe instead of the 10-inch, I was able to roll the dough out thin enough to fit the larger dish.

My rhubarb

Now, I’m not a huge fan of rhubarb, but no self-respecting Mainer can cultivate a garden without a patch of the giant-leafed, pinky-green stemmed plant growing beside it. As a kid, I used to run down to the rhubarb patch in my bare feet where I would break off a stem and bite into it, feeling my eyes water at the sharp, tart, sour taste. I don’t know why I did this. Same reason I used to eat Hot-Balls, I imagine. In any case, when I started my own garden patch, I asked my mother to bring me a division of her plant.

Now I have a piece of home growing just behind the bee-balm.

Rhubarb really does give a nice, tart, complimentary taste to the sweetness of strawberries. For this pie, I used a 1:3 ratio of ‘barb to ‘berry instead of the 2:4 the recipe called for. Both husband and child were generous with the compliments.

One last discovery: pistachio ice-cream goes really well with strawberry-rhubarb pie. I only know this because I forgot to buy the usual vanilla bean and only had pistachio in the freezer. Something about the nutty flavor really complimented the sweet-tart filling. Maybe the Valley Girls were right all along with the pink/green color combo. The dessert was, like, totally awesome.

So, Monday morning has rolled around again, and it is time to figure out my menus for the week. The sugar-snap peas are almost big enough to pick in the garden boxes. Maybe a stir-fry? Tune in next week to find out . . . Outside the Box.

5 responses to “Cooking With Shelley

  1. Yeah for the bread flour! I too discovered this. I use it in cookies and pancakes (half reg flour, half bread flour) because it gives a bit more “rise” too. Unbleached flour, throw in some whole wheat flour if the recipe can stand it and farm eggs, real vanilla as opposed to fake, and you have cookies that anyone could eat and not feel guilty, right? All natural ingredients.

  2. Wow, Shelley! Everything looks delicious! I’m not a fan of rhubarb either, but I’ve thought about growing it just because I’ve heard it’s indestructible. My garden could stand a bit more of that. Good call on more berries in the pie, though!

  3. Thanks for the comments, Michelle and Julie. Michelle, bread flour lovers unite! Julie, rhubarb is just one of those things you have to grow here in Maine. It’s a good filler. I found a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb jam. Now, I like to make jams that are a bit “outside the box” , something you can’t get at the supermarket, so this might work for me. I don’t have a big patch of ‘barb yet, though. Maybe I can beg some from Mom!!

  4. Shelley:
    I have made alot of strawberry rhubarb jam before. It really doesn’t take much of the rhubarb. If memory serves me correct, it was only 3-4 stalks for the recipe. It is amazing how much it adds up when you chop it up. I have always wanted to try just plain rhubarb jam for something a little less sweet and a little more savory. One of these days I will get around to it! Anyways, rhubarb pound cake cupcakes are one of my favorite to make this time of year. Between ice cream and the cupcakes my neighbors love me! They have even gone as far as to request I make it for them….I can’t say much, they supply the rhubarb for me.

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