Summer is for Salsa

August got here way too soon.  I could live all year in summer, hiking in the desert foothills at dawn, sitting out, directly in the sun during “severe heat warning” afternoons.  Watching sudden “flash flood warning” thunderstorms.  Watching the mini-bunnies grow up.

And going to the farmer’s market.  Made it on Saturday, which I don’t always — there’s always stuff to do and getting up in time on Saturday is a challenge.

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Last Saturday I was lured out by the promise of fat, ripe tomatoes and big yellow onions and fresh sweet corn.  In the last 20 days I’ve done a 10-day cycle of juice cleanse, my first ever, which I think I may have done wrong, because I enjoyed it and used my blender for the juicing itself.  This was followed by 10 days of Atkins induction, which I’m just finishing, but with the addition of fresh fruit — it’s summer.

Saturday was the break.  I came home with quite the bounty, and put together a simple lunch out of the fresh produce and various cheeses already on hand.

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Fresh salsa and chips with chicken for dinner.  My favorite salsa is fresh, chunky, all the flavors married by sitting together and mingling, exploding at each bite. Rick prefers the blended salsa, everything pureed into a colorful near-liquid.  So I do both, making the salsa as one and splitting the batch in half: part left chunky, part pureed.

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This is simple, sunny and tasty.  Before serving, and before blending a portion, I pour the whole of it into a fine mesh strainer to remove most of the liquid.  What drains in the collection bowl may be eye-wateringly spicy from jalapeno, but tastes like a fresh, rather wonderful V-8 (even better, in my opinion, because there’s no overwhelming taste of bell pepper).

Simple Salsa

Fat ripe summer tomatoes, not Roma style – mix up colors if you want

Yellow onion

Jalapeno

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Fresh cilantro to taste

Fresh oregano optional

Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the juice, collecting it for some other recipe or just as fresh tomato juice if seeds don’t bother you. Chop the tomato into rough bites – my pieces are around half an inch in size.

Yellow onion to taste. I like to halve a big fat farmer’s market yellow onion, skin it and cut it into roughly quarter inch pieces.

Jalapeno – I use one to two, depending on how much they make my eyes water and how numb my lips go from tasting one. I generally leave out about 80 percent of the seeds — I like the taste of salsa; I don’t want to seer my tonsils.

Mix the vegetables in a medium sized glass or nonreactive bowl.  Cut cilantro and oregano, if using, into shreds and mix into the vegetables.  Sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Cover with plastic wrap so everything else in the refrigerator doesn’t end up tasting like onion and jalapeno, and let cool and mingle until you’re ready to drain and either puree or just eat as is.

To me, this is the taste of summer.

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Spring Equinox

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Welcome to High Desert Bakery, a virtual bakery imaginarily nestled

in the very real Sierra Nevada foothills.

Spring in Nevada is ephemeral, there one minute and buried under eight inches of snow the next.  The sky pales from the hard blue of winter before hitting the electric blue of summer.  Robins return, cliché harbingers of the season.  Rabbits begin courtships in our cul de sac.  On the foothills, tiny yellow, pink and white flowers bloom among the sage.

On the Equinox and the days surrounding it, day and night are supposed to be of equal length.  I always imagined the equinox itself meant exactly 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, but it’s not quite that neat. The closest Reno is coming is day length of 11 hours, 59 minutes and 5 seconds on the 16th and 12 hours, 1 minute and 42 seconds on the 17. I thought maybe there would be some place on Earth where the days and nights were exactly even and the variations were because of location, but apparently not. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac,

“Day and night are not exactly equal at the equinox for two reasons.  First, daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.'”

That we’re only coming close to being perfectly balanced seems just right.  The seasons change because Earth’s relationship to the Sun changes as our tilted orbit spins us.

Today is the last of the days the Equinox could have fallen on.  Spring and fall the seasonal change can vary anywhere from the 20th to the 23rd; the Solstices only happen on different days because a time zone is far enough out from UTC.  I like that fit, too, the uncertainty of spring and fall, the dead certainty of winter and summer.

High Desert Bakery is opening for virtual business today, celebrating spring with Black & Whites to represent the Equinox in all it’s mostly even glory.  The recipe is from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (2001).  Mine are a little less glossy and a little more lumpy looking than hers.  This is due to my running out of time (a constant in my life) and thinking that surely sifting the powdered sugar was for bakers in climates with more humidity than my high desert.  But they did come out roughly half black and half white – Equinox cookies!

There’s also a recipe for ginger cookies I made during the last insane snowstorm, eight inches in our mountainous valley.  High Desert Bakery is high desert – located in Reno’s North Valleys, we’re at 5000 feet, cooler than Reno year-round.  Two days after the snow came down it melted off in 60+ degree days.  For that, the celebration is a summery sharp lemon tea bread.  Following that is my take on a bread pudding using the last of the tea loaf.

I’m hoping High Desert Bakery becomes a place to hang out and talk about baking, drink tea and share outrageous successes and abject failures – there are plenty of both in my kitchen (some day I’ll share the Balleymaloe Brown Bread from two weeks ago and whether or not it would have been thrifty and economical to save it in case I needed a brick for something), what works for high altitude baking and for tricky recipes at sea level.  A place to ask questions of each other and offer suggestions and share recipes and a love of baking.

Welcome!  Pull up a cookie and stay a while.

Celebrating the Equinox with Black & White Cookies, the recipe taken from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (2001).  Mine are a little less glossy and a little more lumpy looking than hers.  This is due to my running out of time (a constant in my life) and thinking that surely sifting the powdered sugar was an instruction far more important for bakers in climates with more than 14 percent humidity on any given day.  Still, the cookies came out roughly half black and half white – Equinox cookies!

I didn’t make significant changes to the recipe as it stands, and high altitude baking doesn’t really apply to cookies – I made these to celebrate the Equinox and balance of light and dark.  Here’s how I did the Black and Whites:

The Cookies

3 cups flour (all purpose)

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 1/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup salted butter

½ cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening

2 eggs

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

¾ teaspoon lemon extract

1/3 cup sour cream

 

The Fondants

¼ cup light corn syrup

5 cups powdered sugar

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

 

Mix flour, salt, baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, mix butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well.  Add corn syrup and lemon extract and mix well.

Add flour and sour cream alternately, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until ingredients are just incorporated.

The dough should now stand for a few minutes.  I was in the middle of multiple projects and gave it 20 minutes rather than the suggested 5 and it survived quite well.

Preheat the oven to 350 with racks in the middle.

These are big cookies.  Line 2 or 3 cookie trays with parchment paper.  The recipe I followed suggests ¼ cup of dough per cookie.  That’s what I followed, and rolled them into balls before placing them well apart from each other on the tray.  On the largest cookie sheet I think I had 6 cookies.  Let them stand while you’re shaping all of them, then press them gently flat with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms are gently golden brown.  Mine took 14 minutes.  Cool on cookie sheet on wire racks for a couple minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

Making the base/vanilla fondant:

Mix the ¼ cup light corn syrup and ½ cup water in the same measuring cup if you ever hope to get all the corn syrup out of the measuring cup.  Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla, and then the 5 cups of powdered sugar (yes, sifted!).  Stir until smooth.

For the chocolate fondant:

Break up the 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate in a small to medium sized bowl.  Pour 2/3 cup of the vanilla fondant over, followed by another ½ cup as the chocolate melts.  Mix until smooth.

Let the fondants sit until thicker and cooler.  Place waxed paper or parchment paper under the wire rack and spoon the vanilla fondant over one half of each cookie and the chocolate fondant over the other half of each.  Let the cookies sit until well set or they’re really messy to eat.  I speak from experience.

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Notes:

Being short on time I tried icing these when the cookies were cool but the fondant wasn’t.  They dripped and broke and bent and acted obnoxious.  Finally I made myself stop messing with them and ran some errands, coming home to stir the fondants (covering them with cling wrap would have prevented the slight crispiness of the surface, but stirring it back in worked, and besides, I am forever running out of cling wrap which usually only clings to me anyway).  This time I iced the cookies by dripping the cooled fondant over each half, making sure the edges were covered.

They’re sweet, very lightly lemony, with a very sweet icing, and they’re nice big soft cookies – and evenly balanced black and white, for the moment the Northern Hemisphere stands between winter and spring.

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