30 July 2010

Audrey's three-crust blackberry cobbler

Audrey was my grandmother.  I didn't know her well and was only in her kitchen a handful of times, but I do remember hearing about this cobbler.  Unfortunately, I don't think I ever tasted hers.  But it was legend since I grew up hearing my father talk about it.

As an adult, I figured out how to make it by trial and error, and now I make it every summer.  Once.  Yesterday was the day.

I make it every year because it's gorgeous and super yummy.  What's not to love about flaky pastry layered with the season's fresh ripe sweet-tart blackberries macerated in a bit of sugar and lemon and baked until thick and satiny?  But I also make it because it reminds me of my grandmother -- "Big Grandma" as I began calling her when I was a little girl.

I took this photo of Big Grandma (and grandpa) on her birthday -- probably 1978.  Her three sons (my dad in the middle) behind. It was taken in her kitchen at the Westmont, Illinois home where my dad grew up.
Big Grandma passed away in 2004.  Unfortunately, I hadn't seen her much in the years before her death.  But one of my fondest memories of her was my visit to her and my grandfather in 1992, the year I finished college.  I stayed at their home in Georgia where they had retired for a couple nights with Byron, then my boyfriend.  They really liked him, which made me feel good.  All of us -- grandma, grandpa, Byron, me, and my aunt who lived nearby -- sat up late into the evening looking at photos and telling family stories.  It was a really fun night.  I also remember that Big Grandpa drove us into town the next day in the Lincoln town car, very slowly, for lunch. (Grandpa used to be a Chicago city bus driver and he wielded that Lincoln like a bus!)  Wherever it was we went, he timed it just right so that we made it back home in time for Matlock after lunch.  That was a must.  I have no memory of what, if anything, my grandmother cooked for us during our visit.  I just remember her being so pleased we had come.  

Although she never tasted my version of her famous cobbler, I think she would approve.  The secret is the middle layer of pastry, tucked between layers of fruit that soaks up the juices and adds a little more of that wonderful juice-saturated crust and syrupy berries to every bite. 

Strictly speaking, this may not be a true cobbler since the crust is made from pie dough rather than biscuits or crumbles.  But we've always called it a cobbler -- so I suppose it is.

Audrey's Three-Crust Blackberry Cobbler 

The crust:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tb. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable shortening (like regular Crisco)
11 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water (use the lesser amount of water in western Washington)
1 egg
1 Tb. lemon juice

Pulse flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor.  Add shortening and butter and pulse until the they are well incorporated and the pieces are about the size of a pea.

In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients.  With the motor running add the wet to the dry, processing until it begins to come together into a ball.

Place the dough on a large piece of parchment or plastic, shape into a disc, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

The fruit:
5 pints fresh blackberries (6 pints if they are small berries)
1 Tb. fresh lemon juice
3/4 - 1 cup sugar
2 Tbs. flour
dabs of cold, unsalted butter
1 egg for an egg wash
sugar for sprinkling

Rinse and drain the berries right before preparing the filling.  I like to make two batches/bowls of fruit since there are two layers of fruit and I like to put more on the bottom layer.  For the first batch, mix together three pints of berries, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tb. flour.  Set aside and let it macerate.  In another bowl, mix together the remaining berries with the sugar, 1 Tb. flour and the lemon juice.  Set aside.

To assemble:
Use half the dough for the bottom layer.  Using plenty of flour, roll the dough into a rectangle such that it fits over the bottom and comes all the way up and a little over the sides of the baking dish.  I use a deep lasagne pan that is a tad smaller than 9x13. Pour the first batch of fruit onto the dough and spread evenly.  Roll out 1/3 of the remaining dough to fit on top of the fruit, making it just large enough to touch the sides loosely.  Arrange the second batch of fruit in a single layer on top of the pastry.  Add dabs of cold butter across the top.

This photo shows the middle layer of pastry covered with the second batch of fruit.
Finally, roll out the remaining dough into a rectangle large enough to cover the cobbler and go up the sides far enough to pinch it together with the bottom layer of dough.  Cracks and imperfections are expected.  Don't try to fix them too much.  Make a decorative edge if you can.  Brush the entire top of the cobbler with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little granulated or raw sugar to add texture and a little color while baking.

Chill the entire cobbler in the refrigerator for about 30-40 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake the on a shelf in the middle of the oven for about 40-50 minutes, until bubbly and golden on top.  Let it cool for at least 30 minutes.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

28 July 2010

A little something

In all honesty, I've been avoiding this post.  I haven't been quite sure how or when to tell you about the latest thing to come across my path.  Maybe I'm a bit afraid that posting about this will somehow jinx it.  Or, perhaps I haven't completely gotten used to the idea myself.

Well, here it is.  We're having a baby.  Actually, I'll be having the baby.  Byron will be cheering me on.  He's due to arrive on January 1, 2011 (cool due date, huh?).  And, yes, the baby is a boy -- with 23 pairs of normal chromosomes, I might add.

Can't tell you much about him except that I think he's definitely a bit bigger than a plum now.  And I  have recently begun to feel him do somersaults after dinner in the evenings.  Oh, and his heart beat was 150 beats per minute as of last Friday (quite normal, I'm told).

They tell us we're about to become part of the sandwich generation -- soon we'll be sandwiched between an aging parent living downstairs and a baby upstairs.  It will be a lot, I'm certain of that.  But somehow it feels right.

So, there you have it.  I've come clean about the latest thing I've encountered in my journey of unknown distance.  Here goes . . .

25 July 2010

She gave me a cake

I can hardly think of a nicer thing to give someone than a homemade cake.  And Friday, my friend Cathy gave me one -- a fresh peach kuchen.

We ate some that night.  Again for breakfast.  Nibbled on it for a snack.  By 3 p.m. yesterday, there was only one piece left.   But, hey, let me say in my defense that it was a thin cake.

The lonely last piece, flanked by flowers from my p-patch.
I don't have Cathy's recipe to share with you, but, if the gift of cake inspires you to bake something up -- say some type of fresh fruit, quick dessert -- let me give you a suggestion.

I looked around on one of my favorite food blogs, Orangette, and found a recipe for plum crumble.  I tweaked it by using a combination of the fresh fruit I had on hand -- black and red plums, blueberries, blackberries, and a nectarine -- and cutting the sugar back to 1/2 a cup and omitting one tablespoon of the crystalized ginger.

Here's a link to the original recipe.

I had quite an excellent result!

I really like the ample amount of topping (my favorite part) and how it develops a thick, crispy sweet shell for the baked fruit.  The baked fruit was perfect after about 30 minutes in the oven.

Although it's not cake, I'm certain that a crumble like this would be a well-received gift by just about anyone, should you wish to part with it.  Not me.

24 July 2010

A great time

It's been a serious two-week stretch of fun around here.  This is why I've been away so long.

My dear friend Jill and her four-year-old daughter Sadie came to visit on July 12.  Since then, we've been whipping up homemade ice cream and delicious food, celebrating my birthday with friends and cupcakes, traveling via ferry to Vancouver Island (which is quite exciting if you are four), enjoying a family reunion, drinking large amounts of iced tea-lemonade, running through sprinklers (some of us), and scouting the Seattle area for the best Vietnamese sandwiches we can find.

Jill's husband Mark joined us after his climbing trip in the Enchantments, and together, we've all had a lot of fun hanging out and relaxing.  There's also been bit of walking and talking and nap taking. Oh, and there has also been a lot of Tour de France watching.  (Go Andy Schleck!)

Here's a few photos from our time together.

Friends and family joined us on the deck for my birthday.

A delicious green and yellow bean salad for my birthday dinner.

And we also had cupcakes!

Traveling to our family reunion on Vancouver Island with Sadie and Mark.

Byron and his dad enjoying the view from the ferry deck.

Once we made it to Vancouver Island, we found time for walks on the beach and some fun on an abandoned raft.

Alas, Jill, Mark and Sadie hit the road headed for home yesterday.  I miss them already and I can't think of a better way to have spent the last two weeks.  Thanks for all the good times.

15 July 2010

Esther's Sweet Rolls

For a while now I've been meaning to scan a bunch of my late mother-in-law's recipes to share with her extended family.  Esther was a terrific cook, and she collected quite a few family recipes in her lifetime.  She passed away in 1996, and we've been missing her cooking ever since.

Many of her recipes are written in her small, neat handwriting.  Esther was an obstetrics nurse before she married, and, amusingly, she kept many of her recipes in the pages of old nursery workbooks.  Another set of her recipes is in an old 1972 appointment book.  That handwritten table of contents reads:
Perogies - June 26
Lazy Daisy Cake - April 21
Pickle Brine - July 12
Maggie's Oatmeal Cookies - May 5

 And so on . . .  

I'm planning to post an entire collection of her recipes soon. But in the meantime, here's one of Esther's recipes that I enjoyed the most.

09 July 2010

My green wall

I've completed my first home impovement project in the new house!  The kitchen eating nook wall.  Next, we'll get up the drapes.  Here's the before and afters.

Before -- testing out the colors.

After -- I love the color!

07 July 2010

A Warm Evening

The last rays of light tonight over Puget Sound.  

Tonight it's rather warm -- our first evening like this of the summer.  Fans are on.  Sipping ice water as I post this.  Gorgeous sunset.

We shared a nice dinner with my sister in anticipation of her birthday tomorrow.  Had one of my favorite meals -- a  dinner of summer veggies -- broiled tomatoes with cracker crumbs, green beans with butter and salt, corn on the cob, and grilled chicken skewers.  Cupcakes, ice cream, and fresh raspberries for dessert.

Happy Birthday, Becky!

06 July 2010


Today we iced the coffee for breakfast.  It's official.  Summer has started.

Homemade Ice Cream Extravaganza

We did it.  We forced summer's arrival with ice cream!

All weekend we stirred up custards and blends, and froze them in our new-to-us ice cream freezer.  Pretty fabulous stuff.

We started with cantaloupe sorbet -- it was the perfect finish to our meal of fish tacos.


On the 4th, we went all out (despite the drizzle) and made three kinds of confections . . . vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate ice cream, and strawberry sorbet with local berries (sorry no photo . . . we were too busy eating it to take photographs).  

Should you be so inclined to force a change in the weather in your locale -- these recipes can be found on pages 111, 24, 28, and 128 of the aforementioned David Lebovitz cookbook.