Friday, May 4, 2012

Stinging nettle pesto and branch lettuce salad!

It's feasting time here at our Appalachian mountain cabin. The morels have come and gone, the ramps are getting scarce, but the branch lettuce and stinging nettles are in full swing.

Take a little walk with me to the creek and we'll collect some branch lettuce for a salad and some stinging nettles for pesto. We're heading though the yard to the woods where it's damp and creeky.

Lookie here! Right in the middle of our mountain creek, grows our appetizer and salad! To the left is branch lettuce (Saxifraga micranthidifolia), and to the bottom right are stinging nettles.

 My good friend, Effie Price taught me about branch lettuce. She was born in our Big Pine cabin  in 1914.
She said to me, "You pluck the tender leaves out of the middle of the plant in April before it blooms, and then you wash them good. Then you kill 'em with bacon grease."  So if you are graced with this treat, fry up a couple slices of bacon in a skillet, leave a little of the fat in the pan and cook up a chopped ramp if you have one, then quickly stir your branch lettuce in the pan until it wilts. Effie would have just drizzled the hot fat over the branch lettuce. A sprinkle of salt and a drop of your favorite vinegar and you're good to go.

Ok, so this is an Appalachian style stinging nettle. See the pokey things sticking out all over? Well watch out ... if you brush up against them, they'll make you holler and want to throw yourself in the freezing mountain stream water for relief.

Put some lovely blue gloves on and cut the tender tops off the plant. I like to harvest when the plants are little and the leaves are tender. Do harvest before the plant flowers.Nettles cook down to nothing, so you'll need a fair amount.

Now, my friend, Jeanie is going to share how she makes her stinging nettle pesto. In the next post, I'll talk about our ladyslipper party in the woods behind our house where we enjoyed this garlicky pesto which we topped with a dollup of ramp aioli. Now that's some odiferously delicious treat!
P.S. That's a Jack-in-the-pulpit plant on the table in the pot next to the pesto. They're not for eating, but my friend Jean who made the ramp aioli also grows Appalachian natives from seed.

Jeanie's Stinging Nettle Pesto 
About 2 cups of rinsed young stinging nettle leaves (no stems!)*
2 cloves garlic
A handful of whatever nuts you have (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
A drizzle of olive oil
Put nettles, garlic, and nuts into food processor and, while running, drizzle in enough olive oil to make a smooth consistency.
*I plunge my nettles into boiling water a second to de-sting. Jeanie and everybody else I know will tell you that this is not necessary. As long as you only have the leaves, the processing should de-sting them. I'm not taking any chances!

Serve with crackers, as a dip, on pasta, bruschetta, on cooked heirloom white beans. Definitely serve with home-made mead!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flipped for Flapjacks

The Guinness has gone but the oat flapjacks remain.... I take that back, I highly recommend flapjacks plus Guinness for dessert tonight. I've been staring down photos of oaty Irish flapjacks for years and finally baked a tray of them for an Irish-themed St. Paddy's day potluck and now I can't stop making them. And giving them away, and now more people are hooked and it's gotten out of control. So I'm posting this "recipe" so I can be free of the torment of it all. Think carefully before you make these. Please.

Probably, if you're Irish or British, you'd think these "tray-baked" oat bars about as exciting as a Little Debbie snow-ball, but they fit in perfectly with my adoration of peasant food that's not trying to be anything other than what it is. Crunchy, grainy, and oh so simple. Sort of, you'll have to tinker with what I give you because I don't measure. Sorry.

Flapjacks just out of the oven, all nice and caramel-y.

Cut them while they're still warm. A pizza wheel works better than a polka-dot knife. 

This is not flapjacks. It's my niece's brand new beautiful baby girl. I brought the new dad and mom flapjacks to munch on while they hung out in the hospital. 

Crunchy Flapjacks ... Gluten-free Oat-y Bars
Preheat oven to 350 and lay a piece of parchment onto a 1/4 size baking tray
Into a saucepan, melt 1 stick butter
Add a glug of golden syrup or light corn syrup or agave or honey.... about 3 Tablespoons
Stir in a scant 1/2 cup sugar (I use less, see below)
And 2 cups old-fashioned thick oats and a pinch of salt
Spread the mixture onto the parchment paper evenly and bake until the mixture is bubbly and dark caramel colored. Start checking at 12 minutes.
Remove parchment with hot flapjacks from pan to a board and let them set up a minute before cutting into small squares while still hot. Or you can let them cool and break them into rustic pieces.

Tinkering options:
Substitute nuts and seeds for equal amounts of the oats. Pumpkin, sesame, sliced almonds, coconut. Or just leave the recipe as is and sprinkle sesame seeds and/or thin sliced almonds on top when flapjacks have baked about halfway. It will be time to sprinkle when they begin to get bubbly.

You can decrease the sugar to 1/3 cup, but they might not stick together, so up the syrup a Tbs. or two.

Drizzle with bittersweet chocolate if you must.

Butter .... needs to stay the same or they won't hold together. Yes, they're fattening. Cut them small and you get to eat more!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How did you whip that up so fast?

So says my husband as I plopped dinner on the table tonight. After returning from a chilly evening stroll with the dog, I wandered into the kitchen to assemble dinner before Wayne had to leave for his weekly radio show. 30 minutes later, dinner appears in the form of a sort of chili. It smelled great, tasted like it  had been long-simmered, and thus prompted his question "How did you whip this up so fast?"

Let's see. I started this dish a year ago when my friend gave me a handful of cranberry bean seeds that have been passed down in somebody's Appalachian family for generations. I planted those seeds last May, weeded, watered, mulched, fed and harvested the beans. Dried and shucked them in August, put them in jars. Last night, I soaked them and slow cooked them for hours today. Then I added tomatoes. That I grew from seeds I saved from a combination of local heirloom tomatoes and those given to me by a Tuscan farmer whose agriturismo I visited in the fall of 2010. I grew the tomatoes, blah blah blah, harvested, roasted them for hours in a slow oven last summer with herbs and garlic from my garden. The chili powder came from here because I like these guys and what they're doing for small family farms in the southwest and in Mexico and plus, it's yummy. The meat came from a local farm. OK, I bought the onion at the grocery store.
I don't have a recipe. I just whipped it up.
Just sayin'

PS The beautiful beans are delicious and I'm sharing them if anybody wants a handful to plant.

Friday, December 16, 2011

St. Nik Breads ... Weckemaennchen. The perfect simple holiday gift of love!

St. Nikolaus Day is officially December 6th, but it's never too late to have fun making these, er, ummm, renegade versions of German holiday breads also known as Weckemaenwchen in honor of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. My friend, Renate, grew up in the Rhineland region of Germany, and she taught me to make the official version of these traditional breads, which are supposed to look like St. Nik. Somehow, they get away from us every year, and they have taken on a life of their own.
They make a nice breakfast treat or you can dry them for festive decorations. Or, if you're like me, take pictures of them and make that your holiday greeting card ... from our quirky family to yours!

Anyway, in early December, you'll find the ones that look like St. Nik lining the display windows of bakeries throughout Germany, where doting grownups buy them to give to the little ones in their lives. My friends, Jen, Cece, and Renate will take you through the steps of making them and then you'll find a recipe below. These make fabulous gifts! Have fun!!!!

First roll your dough into an oval.

Then cut the arms.

Then the legs.

 And then spread arms. Remember, he will puff up considerably.

 Snip with sisissors like Jen if you want Santa to look like a fish ....

 A floury Cece adds the finishing touches to her gal/guy.

This is Renate. She already loves her Weckmann.

To get raisin eyes to stick, snip a slit with sissors and scooch them in.

Risen and ready to go into the oven.

This is Renate's recipe for the St. Nik breads. Someday, I'll have to do a post about her unbelieveably wonderful recipe book she made for her family.

To make the breads:
You can use any bread recipe you like that is a firm kneadable dough without little pieces of raisins or nuts. Renate uses the traditional sweet recipe above. Jen added an egg to her batter for a Challah type dough. I use this variation:

The night before I bake, I mix up the dough and let it sit out on the counter for an hour or two before refrigerating. In the morning, you'll take it out of the fridge, take it out of the bowl, warm up the bowl by washing with hot water, and put it back in the re-buttered warm bowl to rise.
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (you can use less, but a little helps them color nicely)
Zest of an organic lemon makes them extra fragrant
2 Tbs. soft butter
4 cups all purpose unbleached flour (and more to knead)
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. yeast (I use instant, use more yeast if you want a faster rise)

And that's it. Combine milk, water, sugar, lemon zest and butter. Then add 4 cups flour that's been mixed with the salt and the yeast. Let the dough rest, covered with a towel 30 minutes. Knead in a Kitchen Aid about 5 minutes or on a board about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding enough flour so that it holds its shape and doesn't stick. If using a mixer, add enough flour so that the dough just clears the sides and bottom of the bowl but is still soft. If you use  bread flour, you will have to knead longer to develop the gluten. Put the dough in a buttered bowl and cover with a plate or put it in a big zip lock bag, or cover it with plastic. Let it rise until doubled or refriegerate overnight. Then shape as instructed above. Best to put a piece of parchment on your baking sheet and form your St. Nik on the pan. Let the breads rise about an hour or so until puffy. Right before baking, brush with an evenly applied egg wash (an egg well beaten with a spoon of water). Bake at 350ยบ until golden.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holiday Open House and Winter Cooking Classes

Grab an Apron and Let's get cookin!

To Register for Classes: 
Contact Barbara at
Class size limited to 8, so don't delay!
We are located 5 miles east of Asheville in Haw Creek

Hide N' Bake: Special  Holiday Refrigerator Cookies and Savory Crackers        Wednesday, December 7th, 6:00-9:00pm $45 

"Spumoni" Chocolate, cherry, pistachio cookie dough
Still 2 spaces left!  We're making:
Brown butter pecan shortbreads (think pecan sandies)
Crunchy thin ginger snaps (my favorite)
Chocolate pistachio which can be made into spumoni cookies
Lemon cornmeal jam thumbprints with my blackberry jam
Hazelnut Linzer cookies filled with my raspberry jam
Peanut butter pillows (peanut butter cookies stuffed with peanut butter or chocolate filling)
Pinwheels and checkerboards ... chocolate, vanilla, date/walnut, cranberry, etc.
and then crackers:
  Oat crisps
  Aunt Mary's cheese things

Open House Holiday Party at Log Cabin Cooking & Music
December 10th from 1:00-5:00
 Shop local for the holidays in Haw Creek! I'll have my 10 cookbooks for sale and hubby, Wayne Erbsen has a bazillion old-time and bluegrass music instruction, civil war, railroad, etc. books all at a 10 % discount. You can also pick up local honey and hand-blown glass ornaments made by our friends. Most everything is priced below $10!! There will be a live bluegrass music jam, half-hourly raffle door-prizes,and  hearth-side old-time food and beverages from my cookbooks. Bring the whole family! For directions, email me.

Rustic Farmhouse Artisan Breads 
Wednesday, January 11th 6:00-9:00 $45

Bake fabulous and easy whole grain artisan breads just like great-great-great grandma used to do. We'll use cast iron pots to bake two types of breads in your home oven that will change your life (!) The first will be an unkneaded bread that makes a dandy pizza as well as an exciting exploding cheese volcano bread. The second type of bread will be a kneaded bread that serves as an example of how to bake any bread in an iron pot. Dinner will be roasted winter veggie topped pizza, salad and wine.
You'll need a cast iron dutch oven size 3 1/2 or 5 quart or a ceramic cloche to make these breads. Enameled cast iron will do as well.
A copy of my new book, Aunt Barb's Bread Book is included.

PS Here's a cinnamon roll pan bread you can make out of the kneaded dough in case you don't have a dutch oven.

Blackout! Hearth/Campfire Cooking for Fun or Snow-storm
Saturday, January 14 10:00am-1:00pm $45
Campfire "forgotten" pork
Oh, you'll wish the power would go out so you can have an excuse to prepare this meal in your fireplace or campfire! A variety of live-fire techniques will be used to prepare our fireside lunch. (You can make all these dishes in your conventional range as well.) We'll roast carrots, beets, potatoes, and red onions separately in foil packets in embers to be tossed together on the plate along with a fresh arugula salad; english muffins will be cooked over coals in an iron gem pan; forgotten local pork roast glazed with cider and calvados will be slow-baked at fire's edge until crispy, and dessert will be gingerbread/apple upside-down cake baked in a dutch oven. 
Little Homey Breads and Healthy Winter Stew
Wednesday, January 25th, 6:00-9:00pm $45
Whole-grain graham gem recipes were in most every cookbook up until the 1930's. Yet, I'll bet you have never heard of them. They are a completely lost type of wholesome tasty American quick breads and I am bringing them back! They can be baked in 19th-century antique pans like these, if you can find them.
Or, you can bake them in your regular old muffin pans, and Lodge makes this pan which works great:
English muffins in the Lodge Drop-biscuit pan

Cheesy herbed popover
In this class, we'll be making cornbread gems (local heirloom cornmeal), thirded graham gems (local rye, wheat and corn blended with dried fruit and local sorghum syrup), and everybody's favorite, cheesy herbed popovers. To go with, we'll have a flavorful chicken pumpkin soup which is at once, hearty and light. A perky salad, glass of wine, and pear sorbet complete the feast. You'll take the leftover gems home to enjoy for breakfast! The class includes a copy of Aunt Barb's Bread Book.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Upcoming Cooking Classes

German Santa Breads
Stay tuned for January and Febuary Cooking Classes

Meanwhile, head down to the Nov. 7 post for information on this December class and open house:

Wednesday, December 7th, 6:00-9:00pm $45  
Hide N' Bake: Special  Holiday Refrigerator Cookies and Savory Crackers