I grew up in Boulder, which is at the foot of the mountains and the air is mostly like mountain air. My grandparents lived in Greeley, about 30 miles east of Boulder, which has plains air. I now live 10 miles east of where I grew up and the air here is plains air. Mountain air and plains air are very different. They smell different, feel different, move differently. Tonight as I walked our dog (a sentence I still can’t believe I say regularly) I walked past a house that had sprinklers on and someone smoking inside. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia, a memory of many summer evenings being a child at my beloved grandparents’ house in Greeley. It was the sound of the sprinklers, the feeling of the soft plains air at dusk, the smell of wet grass combined with cigarette smoke and fields not far away and cows somewhere in the distance. All that was missing was my sisters giggling with me while we somersaulted in our nighties and picked strawberries into yogurt containers and danced while Owl sang to us. And eating Cheezits in white bowls at the kitchen table with Boppa. And watching the news on that tiny black and white tv in the kitchen and then Bob Newhart. I don’t often dwell in the past but tonight, whoa Nelly, I am there with my whole heart.
Tonight I made these delicious fritters. We all liked them but couldn’t agree on a good name for them. I liked the simple/descriptive Smoked Salmon and Zucchini Fritters. My husband, who often calls foods “thing” or “stuff” thought they should be called Fish and Marrow Splats. My son, for reasons only understood by his 8 1/2 year-old boy brain, thought they should be called Kentucky Tits. My daughter had several suggestions that made her laugh hysterically. I thought maybe Smoky Summer Fritters, but seeing how I’m in Colorado I then thought that the “smoky” part might be misunderstood. So, in the spirit that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, here’s a recipe for a delicious, savory fritter/pancake/splat/tit (whatever that means) that uses some of your garden’s bounty.
Smoked Salmon and Zucchini Fritters (*a note about ingredients and substitutions below)
- 2 eggs
- 3 Tbs soft herb cheese (Rondele, Boursin, etc)
- 2 Tbs milk
- 1/2 c flour
- 1 cup packed grated zucchini (pack it in, you don’t want to be skimpy)
- 2 Tbs finely minced onion (you can use red or yellow or white or even green)
- 1-2 Tbs capers (we really like them in my house so I used 2 1/2 Tbs)
- 4 oz whole piece smoked salmon, shredded by hand
- freshly ground pepper
- olive oil for cooking
When the oil is hot put the batter into the pan, either by the teaspoon (for small fritters), tablespoon (for slightly bigger fritters), quarter cup (medium ones), or half cup (large ones) flattening the batter slightly.
Cook on one side until browned then carefully flip and cook on the other side until browned. Remove each one from the pan as it is done. You can either serve these hot, room temperature, or cold. They are great as a summer entree with a green or grain salad for dinner, with a cold yogurt cucumber sauce, with salsa, served cold as an appetizer, as a side dish for a heartier meal, etc.
*You can make these gluten-free by substituting rice flour for the wheat flour. You can add fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley, cilantro) as you like. I use whole piece smoked salmon (not lox or nova) but you can use anything you like. If you don’t have smoked salmon but have leftover grilled, baked, or poached salmon use that. The fritters won’t be smoky but will still be delicious. If you use fresh (not smoked) salmon and/or leave out the capers you will need to add some salt. If you’ve got a bell pepper hanging around, mince some of that up and throw it in. If you don’t have herb cheese you can leave it out or substitute some shredded smoked provolone or cheddar or Swiss. I only ever buy extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower, oil, and safflower oil. The first two add distinct flavor to whatever I cook the last two are neutral. Try whatever oil you like. Experiment, enjoy.
On March 13th I mentioned to my children that the next day would be Pi Day and that many people eat pie on that day. Of course they were excited by that, who wouldn’t be, and asked me to make pies for their classmates. And, since what’s the point of having a chef mother if she doesn’t do things like this, I made mini pies for 23 2nd graders, 23 kindergarteners, and assorted teachers and office ladies for Pi Day. But, because I am not a glutton for punishment, I made an easy and forgiving dough. Here’s the delicious recipe so you can make little pies and be the hero, too.
Pi Day Mini Apple Pies
for the dough:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (I am a big proponent of whole grains for almost everything – not this)
- 8 Tbs cold butter (1 stick) cut into smaller pieces*
- 8 Tbs coconut oil (I like unrefined, it has a delicious taste and aroma)*
- 2 Tbs powdered sugar
- 1 1/4 tsp salt*
- 6-10 Tbs ice water
*If you don’t have coconut oil you can use double butter but the dough will be slightly less forgiving. Also, if you use salted butter use only 1 tsp salt. If you use unsalted butter use the larger amount. The coconut oil should be solid at room temperature, if your kitchen temperature is so high that the oil is liquefied, refrigerate until it is solid then use it.
Into the body of a food processor put all the ingredients except the ice water. Pulse until the butter and oil are chopped in and it all looks like crumbs. Pulse in the water, 1 Tbs at a time until the dough holds together and isn’t crumbly. You do not want a sticky dough or a really wet one so open the lid and check by feel if you aren’t sure by sight. Take the dough out and press it into a disc then wrap in plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag and set aside while you make the filling.
You can make the dough in advance and keep it well wrapped in the fridge for up to 3 days, just let it get back to room temperature before you roll and shape it.
- 2 Tbs butter
- 5 large or 7 smallish apples (choose what kind you prefer but a firmer one is better than one that will get mushy quickly; the best ones have a little tart in their flavor profile to balance the sweet)
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon (you can use more to taste but don’t over-do it)
- 1 Tbs vanilla extract
Peel the apples then cut them off the core and chop into ~1/4″ dice. (This is not an exact science, although it is for Pi Day so don’t worry if your pieces are slightly irregular and not perfectly 1/4″ square.) In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat melt the butter. When it is melted, add the apples and let them cook for a couple of minutes, stirring a few times to make sure they don’t stick. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well then cover the pot and turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Open the lid and let the mix cook another five minutes or so on medium heat, stirring every minutes or so, to allow some of the moisture to reduce. You want a little moisture/syrup but not a huge amount of wet sauce. While it is reducing to the right texture you can start to roll out the dough. Once it is reduced as you like, set it aside to cool a little before you fill your pies.
to make the pies:
Heat the oven to 375° F. Split the dough into thirds and keep the rest wrapped while working with one piece. Using a little flour to keep it from sticking roll the dough to ~1/8″ thickness. I roll onto a piece of parchment paper, which makes cleaning up really easy and keeps the dough from sticking to anything.
To make folded mini pies use a standard tumbler and cut the dough into rounds. Gather up the extra dough and put aside, you will re-roll and use it. Put a small amount of the filling into the center of each round of dough then fold the dough over on itself, making a half-moon shape, and press down with your fingers around the edges. Place each pie on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. In a small bowl beat one egg and a dash of milk then use this to brush over the pies to help them brown nicely. You can sprinkle decorating sugar, cinnamon sugar, plain cinnamon, or nothing over the pies before you bake them. If you want to get really fancy you can use little bits of dough to make decorations on the pies but it’s really not necessary. Repeat the rolling, cutting, filling of the dough until you’ve used up all the first third. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough. When the baking pan is full (the pies can be close but not touching on the pan) bake in the oven for ~12-17 minutes until they are lightly browned and the dough is firm.
To make the tiny mini open pies line mini muffin tins with mini muffin papers. Roll the dough the same but cut them with a shot glass instead of a tumbler. Put a small disc of dough into each muffin paper, pressing slightly. They will not be flat on the bottom but go up the sides slightly. Put a small amount of filling in each little cup. Bake ~8-12 minutes. This recipe yielded 26 folded pies and 36 tiny ones. That’s a lot of pie! Once the pies are baked remove them to a cooling rack or plate to cool. Store in sealed containers or bags. They’ll be good for a couple of days, if they last that long.
So when your child had a birthday in the summer and never gets to celebrate with her classmates you end up making cupcakes for her halfy birthday. Which isn’t a bad thing in the middle of winter. So tonight we made these easy and lovely Halfy Birthday Cupcakes.
Halfy Birthday Cupcakes
- 1 cup and 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 c milk
- 1/4 cup neutral oil (sunflower or safflower)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 c boiling water
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of a mixer. Mix well. Add in all the rest of the ingredients except the boiling water. Beat for a minute then scrape the sides and beat for 2 minutes on medium. While the mixer is going on slow slowly pour the boiling water into the bowl then beat for a minute. Scrape the sides then mix for 2 minutes on medium-medium fast. Meanwhile, put cupcake papers into the pans. This’ll make ~12-14 regular sized cupcakes, ~8 large ones, or ~40 minis. Fill the papers 3/4 full and bake in the oven until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean (12-14 minutes for regular, 8-10 for minis, 16-20 for jumbos.) Set them on a rack or plate to cool. Make the butter cream frosting while they are cooling.
Chocolate and Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting
- 1 1/2 sticks butter (3/8 pound), softened to room temperature
- ~2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2-4 tsp milk, as needed
- 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate
Melt the chocolate then set aside to cool slightly. Beat the butter in a mixer with the whip attachment until very light and airy. Scrape the sides of the bowl then beat in the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time beating after each addition. Thin with a small amount of milk at a time, scraping the bowl after a minute or so, beating multiple times until very light. Split the frosting in half, leaving half in the bowl and putting the other half aside. Beat 2 tsp vanilla into the frosting in the mixer. If you need to thicken it slightly add a little powdered sugar at a time until you get the right consistency. Scrape the bowl and beat until very light. Scrape the frosting out of the bowl and put in a Ziploc bag (or piping bag). Put the rest of the frosting into the mixing bowl and add in the cooled liquid chocolate. Beat well, scraping the bowl often and whipping until the consistency is right. Put into another Ziploc. Cut a small corner off each of the bags then pipe frosting onto the cupcakes, as you like. Either stripes side-by-side or one on top of another. Either serve as is or sprinkle with decorating sugar.
Tomorrow millions of Americans will sit down and eat lush Thanksgiving dinners, I among them. And I am so very thankful that I am able to do so – we will have more than enough food and a surfeit of family and friends with whom to enjoy it. In a spirit of sincere joy and thankfulness, here is an easy and quick recipe for buttermilk biscuits, truly one of life’s great pleasures. (These are dropped, not rolled, biscuits, which makes them even easier.)
Really Good Buttermilk Biscuits
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 lb butter
- 1 tsp granulated (not kosher or coarse) salt
- 1 Tbs sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 1/4 cups buttermilk (you can use low-fat but I do not recommend it)
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Pulse the first 6 ingredients in a food processor (or cut together using 2 knives or a pastry cutter) until everything is well mixed and the butter is evenly incorporated into the flour. Remove mix to a large bowl. Mix in 2 cups of the buttermilk until well-mixed but don’t beat. Dough should be wet but not sloppy. If it is dry add the extra quarter cup buttermilk. Using a spoon drop the dough onto lined cookie sheets (use parchment paper – it is better in this case then buttering the pans) leaving plenty of room for spreading. You can make little ones using teaspoon amounts or very large ones using 1/2 cup measures. Bake until the biscuits get lightly browned on top and start to smell delicious, ~12-20 minutes depending on size. Remove from pans, serve warm with butter, jam, nothing, as toppings for pot pie, etc. If you have any left store them in an airtight container then sneak down in the middle of the night to finish them.
Happy Thanksgiving and give thanks for happiness.