August 2011


As promised, I am going to share my adventures with the tart cherries that I bought for a steal from Cherryland’s Best.  If you made it to the Wisconsin Product Pavilion at the State Fair, you may have seen them selling their baked goods and cherry wares, including dried cherries and tart cherry juice.

Plus, my blogger bud over at Burp! Where Food Happens provided samples of her Door County cherry chutney. I was working the Fair myself, so couldn’t get a taste at the time, but I can’t wait to try the recipe!

Bucket 'o Cherries. Aren't they gorgeous? About half are in my freezer. Around February 20, when I've about had it with the gray skies and crummy weather, I'm digging those babies out of their vacuum-sealed bags and making myself a cherry pie. Take THAT, winter!

Cherryland’s Best is located in Appleton, but they get their cherries from Door County orchards. “The Door” as locals sometimes call it, is really a lovely place to vacation and an even better place to eat! (Get thee to the Mission Grille.)

The first tart Montmorency cherry trees were planted in 1896, and by 1909 the tart cherries were a national sensation.  Now, there are over 10,000 acres of cherry tree orchards in Door County.

I highly recommend Door County, even if you just have the time for a long weekend.  While cherry-picking season is over (it’s a short season!), you can purchase extremely high quality cherries from many suppliers.

Check out the Wisconsin Cherry Growers for more information and lots more recipes.

The Warm Up: Sour Cherry Compote

I eat a lot of plain yogurt, especially in the summer, and usually add my own sweeteners, because the pre-sweetened stuff is just too much for me.  So, the first thing I made with the cherries was a sour cherry compote.

The main ingredients for my cherry compote: cherries, vanilla bean, cherry juice, rum, sugar

Compotes are seriously easy to make.  You basically combine the fruit, water (unsweetened cherry juice in my case), sugar, and any flavorings.

I used a recipe from Saveur that recommended rum and vanilla bean. Next time, I’ll add fresh grated ginger.  Bring all the ingredients to a boil, and simmer until the fruit is tender and the liquid just a tad syrupy.

Really, the flavorings are only limited by your imagination.

For an outstanding breakfast, put some Sugar River Dairy plain yogurt (big fan!) in a dish. Top with this compote, fresh blueberries and some of my homemade healthy granola.  Just too yummy for words.

The Classic:  Door County Cherry Pie

As I mentioned in my last post, after I tasted a few cherries out of hand, my daydreams turned immediately to Door County Cherry Pie.  I still try to get to Door County at least once during the summer or fall season, and I never come home without a cherry pie.  Now that I had my hands on fresh Door County cherries, I could make my own!

I used an America’s Test Kitchen recipe as my base, and changed up a few things.  The filling had a touch of allspice and cinnamon, almond extract, lemon zest and lemon juice for brightness.  I used cornstarch as my thickener, though some folks use instant tapioca.  Both work.

My cherry pie, ready for the oven.

My cherry pie, ready for the oven. The light colored cubes in there are butter. Oh, yeah.

I got fancy with a lattice-top crust.  I didn’t know how easy they were to do until I took my baking class!

cherry pie, baked

My cherry pie, baked and ready for gobbling up... except not by me.

Randy and his co-workers loved the pie.  I can’t really comment any further on the recipe or how it turned out, because I didn’t eat any myself, but it sure was fun to make.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from CooksIllustrated.com

Sour Cherry Pie

A note about the pie dough:  I didn’t use this pie dough recipe for this pie, because I already had pie dough I had made previously in my freezer that needed to be used up.  However, I have successfully used pie dough recipes from this website in the past, and they are very reliable and tasty. 

I really recommend using a combination of butter and shortening to give the crust the best balance of flavor and texture.

I’m not going to give  tutorial here on how to properly handle dough, but if you haven’t made pie before, definitely look up some resources. There are some easy tips that will make a huge difference in your end result.

Pie dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour , plus extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 7  tablespoons vegetable shortening , chilled
  • 1/3 cup water , chilled with ice, increasing up to 3/8 cup, if needed

Pie filling:

  • 6 cups sweet cherries (pitted), or 6 cups pitted frozen cherries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 small lemon , zested to yield 1 teaspoon zest and juiced to yield 2 teaspoons juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • Scraped seeds from one vanilla bean
  • 1 tablespoon brandy or rum (I used rum)
  •  4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch (I used cornstarch)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into small pieces

Pie dough:

Combine flour, sugar, salt in a food processor. Pulse just to combine these ingredients.  Add cold cubed butter and cold shortening. Pulse until it resembles course cornmeal.  Add ice water a little at a time until it just starts to come together.  It should be a dry dough ball.  Spill the ingredients out onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and use the edges of the plastic to gather up the dough and press it into a round disc, maybe 4-5 inches across.  Chill it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to go with the filling, divide the dough up into two pieces (you could divide it before chilling, too). One piece should be larger than the other. The larger piece is for your bottom crust, and the smaller piece is for your lattice.

Roll out your large dough ball into about a 14 inch round, 1/4 inch thick, and lay it into your pie dish.  Trim and crimp.  Put your cherry filling in, and top with cubes of butter.

Make the lattice:  Roll your dough into a rectangle or another large circle. Cut into 1 inch strips.  Chill on a sheet pan if you’re not ready to use them right away.  Follow these instructions to assemble your lattice top.

Cherry filling:

Combine all the filling ingredients and let macerate for about 15 minutes.

Bake in a 400-degree oven for 45-60 minutes. The crust should be golden brown and the juices in the pie should be bubbling.

Eat:

Make sure you get a piece before you send it with your husband to work!

A Quintessential Summer Cocktail

My 2nd favorite adventure with cherries was with a refreshing summer cocktail.  I love cocktails on a hot summer day.  I especially love gin cocktails with a fruity or herbal edge on a sweltering summer day, and boy did this cocktail deliver!

Sour Cherry Gin Sling

Photo: © John Kernick. Sour Cherry Gin Slings. Yes, they are as delicious as they look.

Just the name of the drink, not to mention the photo, make me want to lay back in my hammock (that is, if I had one) with a salacious romance novel and one of these bad boys, and laze away a long summer day.  One can dream.

Start by making a sour cherry syrup with a pound of tart cherries, water, lemon and orange rind and sugar.  While I stuck to the recipe for the first time, I think you could add some ginger to add a little zing to the syrup.  The syrup will keep for at least a couple of weeks.

Then add gin, lime juice, cointreau, angostura bitters, and sparkling water, and ice cubes, and you have yourself an excellent summer sipper.

To get some herbal freshness in there, try muddling some lime with mint before adding the drink ingredients.  I think that would be excellent as well.  A cross between a mojito and sling.  A Sour Cherry Mojito Sling.  I think it has a ring to it, don’t you?

Here’s the adapted recipe from Food & Wine.

Sour Cherry Gin Sling

For the syrup:

  • 1 pound sour cherries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water or unsweetened cherry juice
  • Strips of zest from 1/2 lemon (just use a vegetable peeler, and be careful to leave behind the bitter white pith)
  • Strips of zest form 1/2 orange
  • A few slices of peeled ginger (optional)

For the sling:

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 2/3 oz. Cointreau or other orange liqueur
  • 2/3 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 1/4 oz sour-cherry syrup
  • splash of Angostura bitters
  • Ice
  • Sparkling water

1. MAKE THE SYRUP:  In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat fo about 40 minutes, or until the flavors totally infuse the liquid. Pass mixture through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids to get every drip of flavor out of it.

2. MAKE THE SLING: Put all the ingredients except ice and sparkling water in your glass. Mix well, add ice, and top with sparkling water.

OR

3. MAKE THE MOJITO SLING:  Muddle two quarters of a lime with a small handful of mint. Add gin (I guess you could try white rum in here to really tip the scales in favor of mojitos), Cointreau, sour cherry syrup, and bitters. Mix well.  Add ice, and sparkling water or club soda.

Now, lay back in your hammock and enjoy the lazy days of summer!

Bon Appétit!

P.S.  I made several other things with the cherries including jam, a crisp from one of my favorite restaurants in Door County, some bars that are perfect for a picnic, and a savory preparation with duck.  Plus, I’m on the hunt for a recipe from a lovely B&B in Sturgeon Bay. More on those later…

I just heard from my husband, Randy, that the tart cherry pie I made yesterday (with lattice top, no less) was gone within 30 minutes of him arriving at work.

“Loved by all,” he said.

Too bad I forgot to save myself a slice.

Photos, recipes, and more information about my supplier are forthcoming soon!

Just because I’ve been playing with cherries for nearly 4 days straight doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking and feeding my husband and myself balanced meals.

I was making a roasted green bean and potato salad from a recipe yesterday (yes, I still use recipes sometimes even though I went to culinary school). I was thinking the viniagrette I was making needed something, and I was tempted to put mustard in it, perhaps a hit of smoked paprika, and some chopped fresh herbs.

I tasted the viniagrette without the additions and it was a nice simple dressing that I would have been pleased to have on a crisp bed of greens, so I left it be.

Turns out when I dressed the green beans and potatoes, and finished the salad, it needed the extra hit of flavor. No surprise really, since potatoes are bland and need lots of help to punch up their impact.

roasted vegetable salad

Doesn't it look good? It WAS good, but not great. (Photo from cooksillustrated.com)

Randy told me, “you need to trust your instincts, especially now.”

Yes. Yes, I do. It has always been a challenge for me to trust my instincts, and when I do it usually pays off.  Experiences like this are always a good reminder of that.

Back to the recipe issue for a minute. It may surprise some of my friends that I still use them. I’ve never been a cook who shuns recipes.  While part of my goal in attending school was to free myself from the constraints of recipes, it’s good to remember that (at least in the sources I use), those recipes were created and tested by people who have a lot more experience in the kitchen and knowledge of food than I do.  I can learn from them.  I still feel that way.

Even if I am planning a meal where I know I won’t use recipes, I’ll still take a few minutes to peruse my cookbooks and magazines for ideas or twists on a traditional dish that I may not have considered.

While confidence is critical, humility is just as important. I’ve been tuning into MasterChef lately (though not religiously), and one of the contestants is so confident in his ability that he can’t learn anymore –  not from his fellow contestants, nor from the accomplished chef judges. That’s a shame.  If you think you’re done learning, you end up drowning in your own arrogance.

That said, I guess the one criticism I have with recipes, especially now after attending school, is that they are WAY too detailed!  Randy reminds me that they are written for the lowest common denominator – the cook that I was when I was in my late teens and early 20’s.  He has a point, but now I find the instructions so maddening, that when I do want to use a recipe to guide my cooking, I have to rewrite it:  “Roast potatoes” instead of “cut potatoes into half-inch cubes, add oil, salt pepper, toss, put on  tray, blah blah blah.”

Sometimes,  I’ll simply write  a couple of notes about the ingredients and go with that, since I already know the technique.  That’s a nice freedom to have, but it took years of cooking to earn it, and clearly, I’m still growing and learning.

Bon Appétit!

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