In the local division of my business I crank it out in the kitchen every week-end, baking ordered goods that I then deliver around town to eager sweets fans. I imagine them waiting expectantly and excitedly at the window, dancing like that chihuahua on the chair in that video that went viral a year or two ago. Ok, that might be embellishing, but I feel like a kid in a candy shop when I deliver, so I can’t help but imagine my customers are as excited as I am. I love showing up at my neighbors’ houses, box of treats and love in hand, and being able to say hello and sneak a small peek into their joy that comes with the promise of a goody to come. It would only be better if I could be a fly on the wall to hear the (hopefully) subsequent “yums”. And this should tell you something – that I, as a socially anxious person, so love the connection to that simple moment that I am willing to (yikes) interact with people. I especially love it when I am delivering blueberry muffins. Not any blueberry muffins, but Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins. From the recipe in Yankee Magazine. To my New England neighbors. For the girl who grew up on and fell in love with Holiday Inn and White Christmas and The Windmill Summer – all of which paint perfect portraits of New England quaintness – this is all practically too much.
If you are not from around here, you might not know that Jordan Marsh was a Place and their muffins were a Thing. If you speak to someone who grew up in or near Boston, they know the Marsh and the Muffins. I never had the real deal. As a newbie (only lived here 25ish years), I never had the chance. (Though I did have a reboot when we took our kids to the revived Enchanted Village that moved from Jordan Marsh to Jordan’s, another Boston area legend.) You hear the stories, though, so when I ran across the recipe I knew I had to try them. Not surprisingly, they have been one of my biggest sellers. I don’t often use others’ recipes and rarely without some sort of tweaking or changes, but from this one I do not stray. I suggest you don’t, either. (and, yes, I used a stock blueberry image for this post because the last few times I made these they legit disappeared before I could get a decent picture)
Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins, by way of Yankee Magazine
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2-1/2 cups large fresh blueberries
- 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons sugar (for top of muffins)
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
In a second bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar mixture along with the milk and vanilla.
Optionally, mash 1/2 cup of the blueberries, and stir in by hand (this will turn batter a light shade of blue and add a touch of blueberry flavor. This step may be skipped, if you wish, but I don’t think you wish). Add the remaining whole berries and stir in gently by hand.
Line a muffin tin with paper cups and fill. Generously sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes. Cool in pan. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin after several minutes to free it from the pan and cool on wire racks.
What is it that etches some memories in the brain more deeply than others? I would think it would be largely a matter of impact or importance, big moments vs mundane days, but in my experience, and I am guessing yours, that isn’t necessarily the case. Every summer with the first really steamy day – the sun is intense, even through the haze, the air is damp and not a hint of coolness is to be found, not even in the breeze, if there is one – I am vividly transported back to mid to late 70’s upstate NY. It’s flip-flops and cut off shorts. It’s hoses washing wood panelled station wagons, Steve Miller Band on fm, nights of neighborhood-wide games of kick the can, and my friend’s pool. It is also, and here we get to the point, the Worst Sunburn Of My Life. Maybe it’s Severe Pain that is the strongest etching tool, haha, because, boy, do I remember that day. I had been at this friend’s yard, at the pool but also helping with…something. That part hasn’t stuck around. What has stuck with me is the aftermath, sitting on the couch, watching The Hobbit, my mother plying me with grape Kool-Aid and salty chips (from the metal tin that came from the chip delivery man – WTH was that? The 70’s were weird – and wonderful). So that flavor memory, for whatever mysterious reason, has strongly stuck with me. Years ago my husband and I spent way too much money on one meal, a fancy tasting menu by a fancy city chef and I barely remember one or two courses. Chips and kool-aid? With me forever. Go figure. In any case, it has been so persistent an impression that I figured that I needed to do something with it. The first thought to come to mind was to try a cake. I made a cake that had the kool aid mixed into it with crushed chps in the frosting, and one with finely ground chips added to the cake with a kool aid frosting.
Served them both to the fam. The consensus? Decidedly MEH. Boo. Ok, that’s fine. Back to the drawing board, because I am determined to work this hounding devil of a flavor monkey out. Stay tuned, but if you want to try the cakes out yourself, have at it. (Basically, add 1/4 cup powdered kool-aid to your favorite yellow cake or 1/2 cup frinely crushed potato chips. Or whip it into a butter cream. I am not going to bother with a recipe since I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome). Better yet, if you come up with a tasty version, please share! Hmmm…maybe a cocktail for my next attempt…
Another day, another set of random bits in my refrigerator that can’t really be used for anything on their own, so time for a mash up. Today I found these boys.
Not unusable, but a little too far gone to be tasty on a sandwich or dipped into anything. Then this friend joined the party (has been zested and a portion juiced for a different recipe – looking pretty!).
Some more scrounging around and before long, I had this going on, the makings of a spread/jam.
Tomatoes, pepper, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, honey, knob of butter (had been using it to grease pans for baking), sprig of tarragon from friend’s garden, decent pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Boil it up.
This really needs smell-tech. Also, if you turn your attention away and it happens to start to get more cooked than you planned, you now have delicious Charred Tomato Jam/Spread/Business. With added depth of flavor. Really – this did not ruin anything and in fact added dimension to it. I just made sure to avoid the black bits as much as possible when I was scraping it out of the pan.
And there you have it. I pureed it smooth, my daughter would have done it chunky. Your choice. We spread it on bread, dolloped it on eggs, dipped vegetables and shrimp in it. Get creative! Now, listen, I will write out the recipe for what I did here, but promise me you won’t feel like you need a recipe to do this with your own fridge bits. Just remember to cover all your balance bases – acid, fat, sweet, salty, and spice if you like. Be bold, do not be afraid. Cook fearlessly!
3 slightly mushy tomatoes
1 wrinkly pepper
juice from 2/3 of a lemon
tbspish apple cider vinegar
a stem of tarragon
1 tbspish brown sugar
1 tbspish honey
2 tbspish butter
large pinch of pepper flakes
Pop it all in a pan, bring it to a boil and then keep it at a lively simmer for about 20 minutes, until it thickens. Add a little water if it goes too far. Remove the tarragon stem and puree totally or leave it chunky. Yum it up.
Even though a couple of the kids still have a day and a half of school left, summer has really started here. We opened up the pool and it has been, as they say, like flies to molasses – sudden swarms of children, big and small. Not that I think of them as flies, of course. They are all way less icky and far less buzzy and annoying – most of the time. We love having the packs of kids around all summer and feel lucky to be able to host over the next 8-12 weeks what essentially is a flow and ebb of release and relief, sunscreen and sunburns, snacks and drinks and teen energy and little kid over-tireds and laughs and lemonade and back into the pool after-darks. Their exhaustion and explosion of energy at the close of the school year and throughout the weeks of freedom fills the house and backyard like that of excited but tired puppies. It’s cool. It also makes them hungry. So, while I walk around with sighs and small head shakes to pick up the scattered towels or wipe the spilled sunscreen the regular refrain in my head is, “how do I feed this mass without always just tossing the super-sized bag of chips on the table?”. Honestly, sometimes it is just the chips, since it is easy to keep a supply around all the time for the last minute break out of “mom, people are coming over, ok? Like, right now.” When I have more advance notice, things like grilled pizza, salads with protein and even some mac and cheese are great to fill those hungry bellies. When I don’t, these are some of my go-tos to satiate the hordes – I hope you enjoy and you share them with at least one person who you don’t think is at all like a fly.
2 cans chickpeas, drained
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsps tahini
1 clove garlic
Tsp kosher salt
⅓ cup olive oil
Blend all ingredients in a cuisinart or high speed blender. Adjust salt and oil level to your liking. Serve with cut vegetables and bread/chips of your choice.
Creamy Vegetable Dip
1 ½ cups plain greek yogurt (can sub sour cream)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together yogurt or sour cream and mayonnaise. Add all other ingredients and mix until fully incorporated. Serve with any combination of cut vegetables, pretzels, pita chips.
16 oz plain greek yogurt
¼ cup orange juice
2 tbsps honey
Splash of vanilla
Optional: tbsp finely chopped mint
Mix all ingredients well. Serve with your choice of cut fruit.
Chips and dips night was one of the absolute favorite meals of my childhood. Looking back now, I know my mother did it because she couldn’t stand to think about feeding her horde of hungry people yet again, but at the time, with the self centered worldview of which kids are masters, I just thought she wanted us to be happy. Maybe she was making up for the meals that had included water chestnuts or brussels sprouts or *shudder* canned green beans. Now, this was the seventies and even though my mother was an artist and craftswoman around food, she wasn’t particularly fussy about processed things and packaged goods. That means the table was spread with Helluva Good onion dip, weird cheese spreads, Sociables and Chicken in a Biscuit (chicken! in a biscuit!). For better or for worse, I am fussy about these things, so when we embrace chips and dips night, it looks a little different. Thirty-five year old me would never let anyone near those things. Eyeing 50 me still doesn’t dig them but doesn’t have apoplexy if a kid has some here and there. Still, serving for them for dinner is a bridge too far for us (no judging, YMMV), so we make some adjustments. One that the whole family loves is our homemade dip. It’s easy, delicious, we know exactly what is in it and honestly, my kids prefer it to store bought. Here is our basic recipe, but it is infinitely customizable.
Better Than Bought Dip
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp dill
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
Mix all ingredients. Adjust to taste. Dip things in it. Easy.
Are flowers ever more welcome than when they come from a friend’s lovingly tended garden? Even better when they are coaxed by her through scissors placed encouragingly into the hands of your twin sons. These in this picture were chosen and cut with enthusiastic interest and the confidence that comes from being told you can. “She is very kind”, one boy said as we drove home, the other boy guarding preciously the jar of water and flora. And he is right – she is kind, and we are lucky.
This was a visit to a former personal chef client. She is a gardener extraordinaire and we were dropping a nectarine tarragon cake to her on a Saturday morning. The week previous she dropped us bunches of anise-y tarragon, as well as thyme and garlic scapes (eaten happily by the perceptive guy mentioned above), so I have been working all my creativity to use them. As mentioned, she is a talented gardener, so the bounty is large, often larger than can be easily used. But I am lucky enough to receive these so I work hard to honor the gift and use them up. I admit, sometimes I fail and don’t get to them all before they turn, but often I am able to use them in both new and expected ways. Thus, tarragon cake. Don’t underestimate the appropriateness of herbs in sweets. They may seem incongruent but that is exactly what makes them such a special addition, especially if paired with citrus or stone fruits, I find. I recommend you give this a try, and, if you know one, share it with a gardener.
Stone Fruit Tarragon Cake with Lemon Glaze
- ½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
- ½ cup milk
- 3-4 stone fruit of choice, one or a mixture (nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots), sliced
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 cup powdered sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Use butter to grease either a 9 inch round or 9 inch square cake pan. Cream butter and sugar in a mixer until butter has turned pale and the mixture looks a bit whipped. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder and salt and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the milk. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and nestle the cut fruit on top. Place in the oven and bake for 40ish minutes, until firm and lightly browned. While it bakes, mix the lemon juice and powdered sugar to form the glaze, adding more lemon juice (or milk, if the lemon is dry) or powdered sugar as necessary to get a good drizzling consistency. When the cake is cooled, drizzle the glaze on top in any decorative pattern.