Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blueberries: Rustic Mini-Pies, Muffins and Ponderings on Perfectionism

Blueberry season has been a fun one in our household.  We love them.  We eat them like candy.  Mostly because they have been tasting like candy! This summer we had the chance to go berry picking a couple of times and it was such fun!  I didn't freeze any of them, because between eating them by the handful, on yogurt and granola in the morning, in fruit salad at dinner; and baking these rustic mini pies, blueberry muffins and cake, they have been gobbled up!  

There has been this internal dialogue happening for me surrounding blueberries and perfectionism.  I have a child who is quite the perfectionist (in certain areas of her life).  And when it comes to blueberries, which she adores, she is extremely selective.  When I buy them from the store, I find her eyeing carefully before reaching in to pick one to eat.  Even when we buy frozen berries, she is careful to find the dark blue ones and reject the pinkish purple ones.  She prefers dark, plump berries – and the biggest, roundest of all.  This annoys me and her brother! We see it as selfish! "How dare you pick out the "good ones" and leave the less than great ones for all of us!?", we say.  I have tried to help her see this.

The interesting thing that happened when we were blueberry picking in July was that she was the VERY BEST picker.  Her discernment in selecting the very best berries makes her an excellent picker.  If you have ever gone picking, you know it is a little tricky because the same branch will most likely contain berries across the spectrum of ripeness, and you have to carefully move about, plucking the very darkest, plumpest, best berries and leaving the green and pink ones for a later week.  I realized that this quality of hers, that in one sense is a selfish quality – one that needs to be reformed, in another situation, is the quality of discernment, carefulness, skillful selectivity.  In this action, rather than plucking the best for herself out of the bowl at home, she was gathering the best for our collective basket for all of our benefit. 
Isn't this true. Don't we all know that our strengths turned around can potentially be our greatest weaknesses?  It's hard to see this in others sometimes.  And it makes parenting a tricky, and skillful journey of trying to guide and shape the character of these humans under our care!  I would imagine  you would hope your surgeon is a perfectionist.  I sure do! And however, I want my friends to love me with my imperfections and all. 

I think there is great value in having high standards, being an achiever, discerning and striving for excellence!  And yet we can become enslaved to it, or defined by it, or run down from trying to maintain perfection, or becoming self-absorbed with our perfectionism.  One of my favorite truth-tellers is Brene´ Brown and in her book,  The Gifts of Imperfection, she dismantles this dangerous pursuit and gives antidotes which include Gratitude, Authenticity, Self-Compassion, and more.

So, back to berries.
I decided to make some pie out of the blueberries we picked.
When thinking about it, I decided individual pies would be easier to serve and would be fun to make.  
I looked up a filling recipe from my standard, The Joy of Cooking, and used a frozen roll-out pie crust from Trader Joe's.  (You can, of course, make a from scratch crust.  I just didn't have the time or oomph. The Joy of Cooking recommends a couple of crusts, if you're looking for a crust recipe.)

I really like rustic pies.  I like that they are free-form, not all alike, and can be made on a baking sheet.  I think I like the freedom of imperfection in them!  They are more artistic, less tidy, and somehow European-cool.  Some cookbooks call this kind of pie a Galette or in Italian, a Crostata. Maybe that's why they seem European.

For these Galettes, here's what to do:

Thaw the frozen crust according to the package.

Make the filling:
[Combine and let stand 15 minutes]:
5 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of your batch of berries)
3 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp. salt

Divide dough into 8 balls.  Lightly flour the dough and roll out between sheets of parchment paper.  Peel off the top sheet of paper.
Place rounds on parchment lined baking sheets. Spoon berry mixture in center of dough.  Gently wrap the dough around to form an edge, pinching and squeezing as you need to to create a pouch.  Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.

Bake in 375˚ oven for 15 minutes or until crust is golden and berries are bubbly.  Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream!

I have been working daily on my school prep – selecting articles, designing syllabi, and course assignments and getting kids back to school.  In all of this I have had very little time to blog and very little time to play around online.  But I let myself do some pinteresting one day and saw a friend had posted these "very best blueberry muffins" and when I clicked the link, it was In Praise of Leftovers, one of my favorite blogs.  So, I knew I had to try them.  And I will say, they are delightful! They are certainly more of a cake-for-breakfast-muffin, than these BRAN MUFFINS or these CORNMEAL MUFFINS but man are they good.  So, hop on over to her BLOG and check out these muffins, if you are more in a muffin-making than pie-making mood.  

The "Best" Blueberry Muffins via In Praise of Leftovers
For batter:
6 Tb. unsalted butter
1/3 c. whole milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 c. blueberries

For topping:3 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1/2 c. flour
3 1/2 Tb. sugar
Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 12-cup muffin pan.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over moderately low heat; remove from heat. Whisk in milk, egg, yolk, and vanilla until well combined.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add milk mixture and stir until just combined. Gently but thoroughly fold in blueberries. Divide batter among muffin cups and spread evenly.
Combine all ingredients for topping in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over batter in each cup.
Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes (10 would be better), then run a knife around edges of muffin tops and carefully remove from cups. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

If your area still has blueberries to pick, I hope you can do it.  If not, I hope you can find some at the store and make something yummy with them before the calendar turns September...and consider how your perfectionism could be best utilized!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Corn: Popping and Shucking

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make life enjoyable – like freshly popped popcorn, cooked on the stove-top on a summer afternoon!  I have been loving making stove top popcorn.  I used Coconut Oil one day and was impressed with the taste of the popcorn with just salt added.  De-Li-Cious!  (Not to mention that Coconut oil evidently has health & nutritional value.)  I had usually made microwave popcorn as my go-to in life. It seemed the simplest, as stove-top appeared complex and tricky.  Though I have a great popcorn machine that is easy to use, I just have to climb up in the laundry room shelves to get it out to use it. Which has been a barrier.

Stove top popcorn seems magical and classic but I was always intimidated. However, it is amazingly simple.  The instructions are even written on the popcorn bag!

How to make it:
You simply heat 3 Tbsp. oil.  (I have been using Coconut Oil) in a large pot with a handle and lid on Medium/High heat. Place 3 corn kernels in the pot, cover with lid. Listen for those 3 to pop.  When they do, the oil is ready.  Add ½ cup of corn kernels to the hot oil.  Cover with lid. 
Move pan back and forth, around on the burner while it’s popping to prevent burning.  You will hear the corn popping!  If you have a glass lid, which I unfortunately don't, you can see it as well!  When you begin to hear the popping slow down, remove from heat. 

Pour in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and mix around with your hands to distribute.
We have savored many an afternoon snack of stovetop popcorn this summer. (And it costs pennies!)

For Kettle Corn- Follow the above listed steps but simply add 3 Tbsp. of sugar to the oil before popping into the hot oil and swirl it around to distribute it evenly amongst the kernels.  Make sure you salt the popped corn well, as the salty/sweet combo is what makes it so super-delicious!

Another trick that we like in the summertime is cooking corn on the cob in the microwave.  I have a few complaints about cooking it in a pot of water (the way I traditionally think of cooking corn).  1.  I feel like all the nutrients are being swallowed up by the water, and the corn is left soggy. 2. You have to have a really big pot to fit a bunch of ears of corn in.  3. It takes forever to get an enormous pot of water to boil!  (And a watched pot never boils, I have found to be true).

A while back I learned to cook it in the microwave.  Shuck the corn and clean well.

(My kids are usually willing to do this task).  Then cut a piece of plastic wrap for each ear of corn and wrap each ear– making a little tassle on each end with a twist of the plastic wrap.

I have to tell you, at this point, that there is an incredible plastic wrap on the market.  I felt sure that I had written about it before, but when I searched the blog I couldn’t’ find it.  I apologize.  I have been keeping it a secret unintentionally!  STRETCH-TITE
Any of you who have been around my kitchen much at all,  know about Stretch-Tite.  It’s really pretty amazing.  It is easy to work with, doesn’t fly about, sticking to itself.  It is thick and sturdy.  The roll has a lot on it and lasts a good long while.  It creates a strong seal on dishes.  When my mom first discovered it, it was at an appliance store.  She gave my sister and me each a roll of Stretch-Tite for Christmas.  I am sure that first Christmas we were curious, and less than enthusiastic about getting Plastic wrap in our stockings.  However, we were quickly converted and it is now our annual tradition to get Stretch Tite for Christmas.  It's now available at some groceries, and CVS Pharmacy and Costco now distributes it with their storebrand name added. I have actually been known to give it as a gift once in a while to a friend.

After wrapping the corn (which you can do earlier in the day to have it prepped and ready), Place ears of corn in the microwave and cook for about 4 minutes per ear of corn.  I usually start with 8 minutes for my family of 5 and then check with my fingernail for doneness and cook additional minutes as needed.  The challenge is that the steam inside the wrap is VERY hot – so you have to be really careful.  I pull the plastic “tassles” at each end and tear off the wrap.  It’s hot and ready to eat.

This week, as I was working on this post, I looked online to see if there was a consistent guide on number of minutes to cook corn in the microwave so I could give you a more specific instruction.  I happened upon this YouTube video that astounded me! This dear man cooks corn on the cob in the husk in the microwave and not only does it cook it, the shucking is mess-free without silks everywhere. I tried it and it is really good.  I don't know how many ears of corn would work in the oven at the same time, but I am wowed!

Try this switch: instead of microwaving your popcorn, try stove-top popping
and instead of stove-top boiling your corn on the cob, microwave it!  And look for some Stretch-tite.  It might change your life, and maybe even your Christmas shopping list!