Monday, October 19, 2009

End of The Garden Herb Bread

Before I decamped New York for a visit to Florida this past spring, my Mother's landscaper and I conspired to tame an ever-widening swath of ground cover on a ledge above her pool. This weed-come-plant pretender, of unknown variety, is the sort which could be employed in wars in difficult terrain: Given two weeks, it kills everything, decomposes the evidence, and takes over small continents. It is the most obnoxious green-black evil-doer that has ever sprung from any ground of ours and I was left no choice but to conclude that rousting that infernal slayer of all flora beautiful was the only way to return peace to the home's outliers.

But the thing had staying power. Three attempts at extrication yielded only a more determined intruder, who had arrived on the scene as a "gift" from a friend of my Mom's. One wonders what sort of friend this might be, or what my sweet Mama ever did to that plant giver. In any event, the landscaper and three other sets of hands finally held a destructive rally which involved pitchforks, chemicals, and healthy dose of angry flames and then called it a day after I suggested they were only missing an excorcist.

When the war was over and the air cleared, I planted an herb garden on the spot for Mother's Day. Now, as the season winds to frost, it seems one might need a method of employing the late season herb cuttings. Just such an idea has been lurking around here for sometime, each time it props up when I am looking over the garden, I feel guilty about not trying sooner. Then I made the recipe, and the guilt went from bad to worse.

Can you blame me? The recipe sounds like a long shot at best: yogurt, mustard, cheese. You know, ick. What can I say? When I grow up I will learn to stop making assumptions. I can only hope others around here have learned from my doubt and procrastination.

End of The Garden Herb Bread

adapted from The Provence Cookbook, Patricia Wells (2004, Harper Collins)

Perfect alone and sliced fresh at room temperature, toasted with or without butter for breakfast, and fabulous as a canape base for more benign flavors. It seems odd this combination, surely, but as always, you will have to take my word for the worthiness of this food for your table.

3 tablespoons butter softened, plus more for greasing pan
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons finely minced thyme
1 tablespoon finely minced sage
2 tablespoons finely minced oregano

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 1 quart loaf pan and set aside.

In the standing mixer bowl, cream three tablespoons, mix until butter until color lightens. Add the eggs, mix until combines. Add flour, baking powder, salt, yogurt, and mustard; blend thoroughly, stopping once to scrap down bowl. Add the cheese and herbs.

Pour batter into prepared pan. place in the center of the oven and bake until firm and golden; the center of the bread does not bounce back to the touch, about 40 minutes. remove from oven, allow to cool ten minutes, turn onto a rack and cool completely.

Serve at room temperature or toast to serve under a canape or as croutons.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pumpkin Cake, Brown Butter Icing

I eat cake for breakfast. With tea. And only when out of coffee.

Thus, I associate eating cake for breakfast with an early morning sense of disappointment and hardship. Coffee is the latch on the day; if I cannot tug the day open with it, I endure the sensation of banging my head against a (highly polished mahogany) wall all day.

So, let's just say that it occurred to me how much I adore this cake recipe at a time when I was spent, leaning against the mental mahogany door, as it were. Likely, that is the reason why, even after Eddie Ross suggested on his beautiful site that this Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing was an easy-go'er, I still managed to add twice as much milk as it calls for.

Because it would be uncouth and graceless, I did not utter sixty expletives in as many seconds when I realized this. Though, let the record show: I wanted to.

Eddie has never failed me, however, and the recipe endured the happy folly that was two, rather than one, cups of milk. I added 1/2 cup additional flour and I must tell you, it was perfect. Just the way cake crumb should be; sticking to the back of your fork when pressed and without a single hint of dryness. Coffee or not, it was a sure indicator I was not meant to hit my head again that day.

Future coffee-less breakfasts may not be the grouchy pity-festivals for which I have surely become so beloved around Rancho Relaxo. Which will disappoint no one but the CEO of Starbucks, from whom I have now become one step removed... okay, who am I kidding?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blackberry Balsamic Chop

I am not the first to say it. Though I believe it: Better Homes and Gardens gets a bad rap with the cultured Illuminati of the blogosphere. It is not particularly high-minded, nor all that cultured, that much is certainly true. But frankly, neither am I when I just have to get dinner on the table.

I turn over every rock to find recipes which are not some slopped together taco-seasoning box meal, not only because I do not believe in packaged foods, but also because that would never fly twice with the diners at my table. Their palates are advanced. Even the little beaters. Consequently, new, distinctly-flavored, deeply good food has to hit that surface every night. To arrive there, I keep an ever-vigilant eye on magazine test kitchens (to that end, the closing of Gourmet is devastating for that reason and dozens more).

BHG will fall down on food, I speculate, four out of twelve issues a year. But when they are on, they can turn out some inspired practical dishes. This remarkable recipe which is both sweet and tangy, but remarkably varied in alluring flavors, is an adaptation of BHG's pork loin creation. It took all of fifteen minutes to prepare; I did not marinade, but you could.

I hope you enjoy it. It will be served here as often as I can get away with it; with couscous, haricort vert, and whole grain dinner rolls. Oh, and a Rioja, which I can tell you, is very nice alongside.

Blackberry Balsamic Pork Chops

adapted from this BHG recipe

4 thick-cut bone in pork chops
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp butter
2 tsp olive or canola oil
Cooking spray
cup seedless blackberry preserves
cup dry white wine or apple juice
Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
clove garlic, minced
tsp. soy sauce
tsp. finely shredded orange peel
tsp. snipped fresh rosemary

Preheat the over to 325 degrees.

Season the chops liberally with salt and pepper. Place a large, heavy skillet on a high flame and add the butter and oil. When the pan is smoking hot, add the chops (being careful not to burn yourself). Sear to a golden crust on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the chops to a roasting pan coated with cooking spray (holding the skillet aside for a moment), and place them in the oven, cook until a thermometer registers done for pork.

Place the skillet on medium heat. Add the blackberry preserves, wine or apple juice, balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, and soy. Heat until the preserves melt and the mixture just comes to a boil. Taste, adjust seasoning, pour over the pork, serve.

Note: I allowed my sauce to continue boiling to reduce. When the pork came out of the oven, I added the pork juices and allowed it to reduce again another minute. Delish!

If your sauce becomes too thick, whisk in a touch of water until it loosens.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The giveaway at Blushing!

For the second week of reader giveaway's, the online retail home of all the most exquisite and inviting stationery one could imagine, has been so gracious as to provide this fabulous stationery gift of 50 fold over notes and this elegant and endlessly useful personalized stamp. Learn more about this product on this page at

Perfect for all the thank-you's of this season of giving and beyond!

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