Blue Heron Local Cuisine

Cooking, Eating, and Drinking on the North Shore (and beyond)

Thanksgiving in a muffin: Sweet cranberry muffins November 26, 2008

Filed under: Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 2:08 pm
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I’ve never been much of a Thanksgiving person.  I can very happily
give up gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce, anything casserole, and
pretty much everything but mashed potatoes (with or without turnips),
stuffing, and the olives from the relish tray.

These muffins, on the other hand, combine a few Thanksgiving classics
into a tender sweet-tart everyday extravangence.  Cranberry season is
short, so take full advantage of all those Massachusetts cranberries
on grocery store shelves.  Even this year– there was a record
harvest– fresh cranberries won’t last long.

Sweet Cranberry Muffins

3/4 c whole wheat flour (for an extra shot of protein, substitute 2 T
of dried milk powder, 2 T chick pea flour and 1/2 c whole wheat flour)
1/2 c fine cornmeal
1 T baking powder
pinch of salt
3 T sugar
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and finely grated
1 1/2 c fresh cranberries
1/4 c oil
3/4 c milk
1 egg

Beat together the milk, egg, and oil in the small bowl.  Blend the dry
ingredients well in a large bowl.  Stir in the sweet potato and
cranberries.  Mix until there are no clumps of sweet potato. Quickly
and lightly, stir in the milk mixture until the dry ingredient are
just blended.  Spoon into greased or lined muffin cups and bake for 25
min at 375, or until lightly browned.



Mexican Chocolate Beet Cupcakes August 4, 2008

Filed under: In Season,Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 2:53 pm
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Claims have been made that there is a faint scent of beet in these,
but only the truly paranoid would notice!


½ c butter, softened
2/3 c sugar (if you need your cupcakes to be shockingly sweet, use ¾ c sugar)
1 T molasses
1 large egg
4–5 small to medium beets
1 c whole wheat flour
½ c baking cocoa
2 t baking soda  (NOT baking powder)
¼ t cayenne pepper  (for more than a hint of a bite, add 3/8 t cayenne pepper)
½ t cinnamon
1/8 t cloves
1/8 t ginger
generous handful of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)


Trim the leaves, stems and roots off the beets.  Eat the beet greens
with dinner. Halve, or quarter (if they are larger than 2″ in
diameter) the beets.  Boil for 25 minutes, or until tender.  Cool.
Peel, by squishing and agitating the beets between your fingers until
the skin slips off.  If the skin doesn’t slip off easily, they need to
be cooked longer.  Puree until very smooth.  Wearing art clothes,
black, a lab coat, or just your underwear is strongly recommended
while working with beets. An apron may not provide sufficient
coverage.  Do NOT wear your favorite shirt.  Under any condition.


Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter 12 muffin tins.  In a small mixing
bowl, mix the cocoa, flour, soda, and spices.  Be sure to take a deep
whiff over the bottle of cloves.  If they don’t carry you away to a
land of exotic and luxurious daydreams, you may need a new bottle
(more than 5 years old?).  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter
and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and mix well.  Add the molasses.
Beat in the beets.  The mixture will look disgusting, and almost
curdled, but beat it a little harder and then move on to the next
step.  Add in the flour mixture gradually.  Stir in the chocolate
chips.  Spoon into the muffin tins.  The mixture may only make 11,
depending on precisely how large your beets were and whether you added
the chocolate chips.  If so, fill the remaining muffin cup with water.
Bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bribe someone else into doing the
shocking number of dishes you created.


To prettify them (aka to impress your book club, knitting group, PTA,
or Kiwanis club), dust with powdered sugar. Frosting is overkill.
Just… don’t go there.  Icing (ginger? rum? lime?) could be acceptable,
but has not been tested.




Tradition! July 30, 2008

Filed under: food culture,Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 11:12 am
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Try not to break into “Fiddler on the Roof” at this title; however, I’ve spent a lot of time with my family recently, which has me thinking about food traditions. I grew up within the culinary limitations of a southern college town (pork and beer, y’all). My mother learned to cook in New England and Texas as a newlywed, although she grew up in a German Jewish family in northern California. I like to think of her cooking as as home-style regional fusion with a strong German influence.


We ate stews, Polish pork chops, pumpernickel bread, and Spanish rice. My mother took me to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. She made her own bread and pie crust, but claimed she could never make biscuits. I grew up thinking that cake mixes were an abomination, store-bought pie crusts were for the weak, and jar tomato sauce was not mentioned in polite company.




All was not blackberry-picking in the mountains for my native food culture, however. For each homemade jar of jam, there was Uncle Ben’s Rice and Campbell’s soup. As I grew up and learned how to eat and cook for myself, I discovered basmati rice, cilantro, and green peppers. I continued going to farmers markets on Saturday mornings and try to make my own pie crust, with varied success.


For me, growing up was a process of choosing food cultures to keep and to reject. (If I never eat aspic again, it will be too soon.) Here are a few simple recipes from my mother (below the line).



Not in My Cookies! July 14, 2008

Filed under: Ethical Eating — blueheronlocal @ 3:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,
(thanks,, for the image!)


Flour was a staple of my childhood—huge bags of whole wheat organic bread flour were almost always in the center of the kitchen. It was vital, literally the base of our diet, but also invisible because it was so available and familiar. Unlike the seasonal apples or the labor–intensive black walnuts, flour was a given that required no work and was always there. I didn’t even think about it until well into college, when I had one obsessive vegan in my life, which meant that there were fewer titillating topics at 3 am other than flour + fake butter + tofu (organic & local) + peanut butter (organic) + maple syrup (local) = ethical anti-establishment cookies.


What establishment? you ask. Well, to begin with, the industrial food complex, the corporitization of food, agribusiness, consolidation, vertical/horizontal integration, transnational takeovers… To most localvore types, these phrases sound dangerous, cues that our food system has moved far from the place where it was 200, 100, and even 50 years ago. Some of the structural changes have benefited society. More have not. Today I offer a superficial look at a few structural issues seen through my ethical adventures in buying flour.



The Demise of Southern Biscuits? June 20, 2008

Filed under: Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 1:17 pm
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There’s nothing better than biscuits straight from the oven. I’ve been known to drive 600 miles for a good biscuit (and, I suppose, some family time). Southerners love to argue about what makes a good biscuit. Bill Neal is one authority (Thanks, prospero’s kitchen!) and here is another. However, most agree that the secret to exceptional biscuits is flour, and more specifically, White Lily flour, which has been milled in Knoxville, Tennessee, since 1883.


white lily flourBad news for biscuit lovers everywhere. Last year, Smuckers bought White Lily and decided to move milling operations to Illinois. Bakers, southern and otherwise, noticed a difference between the Knoxville-milled flour and the Midwest-milled flour right away. From the New York Times:

Zoellyn Smith, who worked in both quality control and research and development at the Knoxville plant, accurately identified the new product before she began to bake. Sample A, the new product, had “a grayish color” and made a “dense and chewy” cake, while Sample B, the old, made for silky, rather than stiff, dough and a “light and airy” cake.


(photo from NYT)


There are a few things that make White Lily flour different from other flours. One is, as Fred Sauceman says below, terroir, or loosely, the importance of place.


No test was necessary for Fred W. Sauceman, author of a series of books called “The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, From Bright Hope to Frog Level,” who said White Lily should stay in Knoxville. “It’s kind of like the use of the word terroir when you’re talking about wine,” he said. “It means something to have been made in the exact same spot for 125 years, and it’s unconscionable not to respect that.” 

Traditionally southern flour was made from the soft red winter wheat that grew in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. This wheat is low in protein, which means it absorbs less liquid than higher-protein northern wheat. This makes the biscuits light and fluffy.


I love that we can use the word terroir when discussing flour. If, as the New York Times article suggests, the South became famous for its biscuits and pies rather than yeasted breads because of the soft red winter wheat, then terroir is a strong factor. White Lily flour is culturally, physically, and economically tied to Knoxville and the South.


 It may be cheaper for Smuckers to mill White Lily flour in its own northern mills, but along with cheapening production, Smuckers is cheapening the product. Fight for good biscuits. Respect the terroir of your food. Preserve your local food traditions. If you are new to an area, learn its local cuisine, but don’t forget where you come from either.


Learn about the food culture around you. Then tell your friends, or better yet, cook for them.