transition, through chowder

There’s been a change in the air these last few weeks…have you felt it? Just the slightest shift in temperature, a chill in the evenings that makes sleeping with windows wide open not only possible, but pleasant. The breeze is changing, carrying with it the scent of a backyard grill, the sound of fallen leaves skipping along pavement, a smattering of goosebumps across a forearm. Afternoon light has a new quality, a dreamy, golden hue that elicits memories of high school football games, apple picking, the feel of a scarf wound loosely about the neck.

Autumn begins officially today, but I’ve seen signs of her impending arrival for most of September. I won’t deny my excitement, for this time of year is truly my favorite, but I will miss the bounties of Summer. There’s been an urgency to our visits to Charlottesville’s City Market each Saturday for three weeks now. A pressure to gather up one last load of roma tomatoes to roast, to pick up a dozen freestone peaches knowing they’ll be absent until next July, to seek out a few more ears of fresh corn before being forced to rely on the kernels stashed away at the back of the freezer.

I bought our first butternut squash just last week. It stood out in our market basket, a dull cloud against the sunset of tomatoes, peaches, and eggplant. Once home we roasted it to sweet perfection before pureeing it with celery, onions and carrots into an earthy potage. The recipe is an Autumn staple, one that will grace our table many times in the next few months. We loved the soup that night as we always do, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for it.

What I wanted instead was a chowder we’d made the week before, one that took advantage of the last of Summer’s produce while introducing the initial tastes of Autumn. Those final few ears of sweet corn, the bell and jalepeño peppers, the first potatoes and carrots of Fall, a cream base with heat that hits from the belly out, all come together to create a soup that perfectly represents this time. The transition from one season to another, from tank tops and flip flops to light jackets and closed-toe flats, embodied in a chowder.

A chowder perfect for those of us on the fence, clinging to Summer while welcoming Fall.

I mentioned, way back at the end of August, that I’d found a new trick to releasing corn kernels from their cob. Well, here it is friend.  I introduce to you the bundt pan, a vessel so perfectly designed for handling fresh corn that I feel it should be marketed in that way.  Sure, it also makes a pretty cake, but really, lots of pans can do that. The central tube fits the end of an ear of corn quite perfectly, and as you cut the kernels from the cob they fall neatly into the pan. No more corn kernels all over the counter and floor. I am probably the last to discover this handy trick, but wow, was I excited when I did. My dogs, however, miss the sweet kernels falling from above.

Spicy Potato Corn Chowder

adapted from Gourmet, July 2008
serves 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 3 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1.75 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3.5 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 jalepeño peppers, minced (no seeds unless you want your soup really spicy)
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 California bay leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk (1% or 2%)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Method

  1. Cut corn from each cob.
  2. Bring cobs, water, broth, potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large pot. Boil, covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs.
  3. Meanwhile, cook onion, carrot, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add bell pepper, jalepeño, corn, thyme, bay leaves, and one ladle of liquid from potato/corn pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in potatoes with water/broth and cream and gently boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in milk.  Be sure not to allow soup to boil after this point, as milk will curdle. Heat through, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  7. Use an immersion blender to pureé some of the vegetables, to thicken soup.  Be sure to leave some large chunks of potatoes, peppers, and corn. If you don’t have an immersion blender, ladle two scoops of soup into a regular blender and pureé, then add back to soup pot.
  8. Stir in scallions, white pepper, cayenne, and salt to taste, then serve.

at summer’s end

Hello. My name is Andrea. I write this food blog, Bella Eats. You may remember me, or due to my long absence you may not. I’m sorry about that, truly I am. I miss this space! Life has been busy. So so so busy. I started teaching architectural design at the University of Virginia. Teaching. At a University. !!! And before that teaching officially began there was training for teaching. And in the middle of all of that I photographed the wedding of a dear friend I’ve known since the fifth grade. Fifth grade! She was such a beautiful bride, and if you’re interested in seeing some of those images please check out the AHPhoto blog.

Oh, and I started a photography business. Because I love taking pictures of people. And buildings. And food. So if you know anybody who needs somebody to take pictures of people, or buildings, or food…feel free to send them my way. I’d appreciate it so so much. And thank you, all of you, who have commented and tweeted and emailed your support. You’re the best, truly.

And yes, I am still working for an architecture firm here in Charlottesville. So…yeah. Busy.

It feels as though summer has completely passed by Bella Eats. Since June I’ve posted about cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. There have been no luscious heirloom tomatoes, no juice-laden peaches, no golden ears of corn. I even have a new trick for releasing kernels from their cob without making a complete mess of the kitchen counter and floor, and I haven’t had the opportunity to share it with you. That is sad my friends, because this trick is a good one. It will change the way you view corn entirely. Soon, I hope.

Way back in the middle of July our dear friend Kristin celebrated her birthday. She celebrated with us, and with this lime tart topped with blackberries from our garden. Blackberry season is just about over, a sign that summer is drawing to a quick close. Our bush has shed it’s bounty completely, leaving only the tiny shriveled berries that didn’t ever come to full ripeness. Our freezer is packed full of quart-size bags of the frozen fruit, our pantry shelf stocked with various forms of blackberry jam. This tart was one of the last recipes made this summer using berries fresh from the garden, and looking at these pictures already has me feeling nostalgic.

What is it about food that stirs memories stronger than those evoked by any other sense? While blackberries don’t take me back to any point of my childhood, they do plop me down solidly in our backyard here in Charlottesville. For the past 4 years we’ve spent countless July and August evenings standing in our garden, bowls in hand, fingers stained purple, arms eaten by mosquitos, quietly and contently plucking berries one-by-one from a bush WE planted. I know that forever, no matter where we are, when I pop a freshly picked blackberry into my mouth I will be transported back to this place. I love that.

If you’re lucky you can still find pints of deep purple blackberries at your local farmers’ market, and if you do, I recommend you make this dessert before summer’s end. The crust is quite perfect, nearly the consistency and flavor of a shortbread cookie. It doesn’t flake and melt in your mouth like many pastry shells, but instead offers a firm vessel on which to carry a scoop of zippy lime curd. And scoop you will, because this tart never really sets up to a solid, sliceable state. Which is fine by me. The delightful combination of sweet shortbread, tart curd, and fresh blackberries had us all going back for seconds, despite our use of a spoon rather than a fork.

For the record, I am so unhappy with the spacing that this new WordPress theme defaults too, but I just haven’t had the time/energy to dig into the CSS code to fix it. And, we’re working on a redesign of Bella Eats to be launched right around the two year (two years!) anniversary of this site at the end of October.  So, please bear with me and the awkward/awful spacing of the text in my recipes… Thank you.

Lime Tart with Blackberries

from bon appetit, June 2010

Ingredients

for the lime curd:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

for the topping:

  • (3) 6-ounce containers fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp blackberry jam

for the crust:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 large pinch of salt

Method

for the lime curd:

  1. Set a fine metal strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in another medium metal bowl to blend.  Whisk in lime juice.
  2. Set bowl over large saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk constantly until curd thickens and an instant-read thermometer inserted into curd registers 178ºF to 180ºF, about 6 minutes.  Immediately pour curd through prepared strainer set over bowl.
  3. Add butter to warm strained curd; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until blended and smooth.  Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd, covering completely.  Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours.*

*Lime curd can be made up to 2 days ahead.  Keep chilled.

for the crust:

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg yolk; beat to blend. Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until mixture resembles large peas. Using hands, knead in bowl just until dough comes together.
  2. Transfer dough to a 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Break dough into pieces, then press dough evenly up sides and onto bottom of pan. Cover and chill 1 hour.**
  3. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Uncover crust and bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.

**Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

assembly:

  1. Remove sides from tart pan and place crust on plate. Spread lime curd evenly in baked crust. Arrange blackberries in concentric circles on top of tart.
  2. Place am in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave until jam is melted, about 15 seconds. Whisk to loosen and blend, adding water by teaspoonfuls if thick. Brush jam over berries.*** (I only brushed jam over the outer ring, because I liked how they looked without the glaze.)

***Tart can be made up to 8 hours ahead. Chill uncovered.

celebrate with citrus cupcakes

Last weekend we gathered with friends to celebrate the forthcoming birth of a new family. The party [yes, party. this was not a baby shower. and yes, boys were invited.] was co-hosted by myself and two lovely ladies, all of us brought together by our shared bond to Joe and Erin, the parents-to-be. The event was in the works for two months.  Dozens of emails were passed between the three hostesses as we planned. The only request from Erin was that there be no diaper decorations and no silly shower games. No problem.

We decided to throw a simple summer party and to decorate using colors inspired by the nursery; shades of blue, yellow, and green.  There was fruit-laden sangria and homemade lemonade, pulled-pork sandwiches and corn straight from Erin’s family’s farm. The weather was kind, overcast and cool with only the slightest spattering of rain. We sat outside sharing stories and laughter as candlelight flickered across happy faces long into the night.

Also, we ate cupcakes.

[To see more images of the evening, visit the AHPhoto blog.]

I love an opportunity to make cupcakes, and an outdoor summer party seemed to be the perfect occasion. A quick email to Erin verified that she had no preference for cake flavor, which was lucky because I had already decided that chocolate wasn’t an option. It just didn’t fit in with the party decor, which is a perfectly valid excuse I assure you.

And so I was left thinking about vanilla and lemon. It is no secret that I am a fanatic for citrus-flavored sweets, with four lemon cakescitrus sconeskey lime butter cookies, and coconut lime bars all listed on the Bella Eats recipe page. I should probably apologize for giving you yet another citrus dessert…but I won’t. You just can’t go wrong with citrus, and that requires no apology.

The cake itself is actually a modification of an old favorite, borrowed from the Lemon Mousse Cake I made for my own birthday a few months ago. It is a chiffon cake, made light and spongy by the egg whites folded into the batter just before baking. The addition of lemon and orange zest brightens the flavor, but it is the swirl atop the golden domes that truly stands out. The meringue buttercream seemed to be a hit, although it is the most unusual frosting I have ever tasted. A finger swiped across the side of the mixing bowl produces a dollop of ultra-creamy spread that melts as soon as it hits the tongue. At first the taste buds are overwhelmed with the flavor of butter, which then melts away to become a bright pop of lemon, that then fades to the slow warmth of Grand Marnier. It is a three-step process using each third of the tongue – front, middle, back – in succession, with each flavor forming its own distinct statement. And it isn’t too sweet, so you could easily eat several cupcakes without causing your teeth to ache.

Not that I would know that…

The frosting shapes beautifully, and despite my fears did not melt in the warm and humid evening air. A summer winner, for sure.

Sunshine Citrus Cupcakes

cake modified from the greyston bakery cookbook, pg. 46,  frosting from gourmet

makes 18 standard cupcakes

Cake Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, seeds discarded

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cake Method:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350º. Line 1 standard muffin tin with 12 liners, and another with 6 liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, butter, milk and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt to blend.  Add the lemon and orange zest and blend with your fingers to separate clumps. Add the egg yolk mixture and stir until well combined.  Set aside.
  4. In a clean dry bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks.  Lower the mixer speed to medium and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating the whites until they hold stiff peaks.  Stir about one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten.  Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter, in two batches, to blend thoroughly.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, filling each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted near the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Set the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool.  Remove the cupcakes from the pans and allow them to cool completely on wire racks.

Frosting Method:

  1. Heat whites and sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and a thermometer registers 160°F. Remove bowl from heat and beat mixture in standing electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick, glossy peaks form. If mixture is still warm, continue beating until cool. (this takes about 10 minutes)
  2. With mixer running, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add liqueur and lemon juice, beating on high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 10 minutes. If buttercream begins to separate, beat on high speed until smooth.

Assemble:

  1. Use a pastry bag to pipe frosting over cupcakes once they are completely cool. Keep refrigerated until ready to consume.

Congratulations Joe and Erin, we are so excited to meet your baby boy!

music festival winners!

Thank you all for entering to win tickets to the Brew Ridge Trail Music Festival and The Festy!  I used a random number generator to pick the winners, who are listed below.

The winner of the Brew Ridge Trail Music Festival tickets is…Greg!

The winner of The Festy tickets is…Jes!

Greg and Jes, please send me an email (bellaeats@gmail.com) with your full name and contact information, and I will pass it on to Stephanie who will make sure there are tickets waiting for you at Will Call! If I don’t hear from you by the end of the day Sunday August 15th, I’ll do another drawing to give the tickets to somebody else.

Thank you all for entering!

exciting news!

Hello Friends! Remember me mentioning how busy I’ve been lately? Well, I am here to tell you the main reason… I’ve launched a photography company, Andrea Hubbell Photography! I’d love to share my portfolio with you, and hope you’ll subscribe to the AHPhoto blog I’ve started as part of my new website. You can also follow me on Twitter, if you’d like, for photography-specific tweets.

No worries, Bella Eats isn’t going anywhere! In fact, we are in the midst of a big website and branding overhaul that will be revealed in the next two months. I even have a lovely lime and blackberry tart to share with you very soon… (see if you can find an image of it in my portfolio!)

Until then, I’d like to entice you over to the AHPhoto blog with a few teaser images of our recent trip to Chincoteague. Consider it an [almost] Wordless Wednesday.

And don’t forget, if you’re interested in winning tickets to The Festy or the Brew Ridge Trail Music Festival, leave a comment here by the end-of-day (eastern time) this Friday, the 13th!