Heather’s Kitchen in Ayer.

Where do you live?
Ayer, Massachusetts.

How often do you cook or bake?
I bake infrequently (usually only for a special event or potluck), but I cook a lot.  When I say “I cook a lot” I mean to imply quantity more than frequency — my tendency is to make up a huge vat of something, based loosely or not at all on a recipe I may or may not have once glanced at in a magazine (which, if I may say so, usually turns out really well), and then subsist on that for several meals.  The organic farm share I had been receiving each week since June was been a huge motivator in getting things cooked up and socked away in the freezer for future use (lest something should — gasp — go bad and have to be composted).  It would seem to the outside world that I am preparing either for a) having a very large brood of children one day or b) Armageddon.

heather-2What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
My vintage Osterizer blender — I am constantly amazed each time I use it and it doesn’t die.  If that doesn’t count as a “utensil”, then I’d have to say my citrus reamer (also vintage, of course).  I have recently admitted to myself that freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice really does make all the difference in the world.

heather-3Which part of your kitchen do you like best and why?
Well, it would be silly of me not to put in a shout out for the ol’ fridge here.  When I walk into my house and see that big blue beauty, I get a smile on my face no matter how bad the day’s been.  And I have to admit I enjoy having something that makes just about everyone jealous!  Yes, Nayiri, your name is still on it for when I die.  (Nayiri’s note: For the record, while I do love Heather’s fridge, I laid claim to her mid-century modern credenza, her same-era dining table and all of the chairs in her house.)

heather-4What was your biggest kitchen accomplishment?  Please feel to include a recipe.
Because I don’t bake much, I think my biggest triumph to date was a big batch of Raspberry Streusel Bars I made for a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.  It’s actually a pretty straight-forward recipe, but I had some sort of mental block on the shortbread part, so I was really impressed with myself when it went off without a hitch (and without a pastry cutter).  I have plans for my next big accomplishment to be bread.

Raspberry Streusel Bars, from The Joy of Cooking

  1. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan.  Sift 2 cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a large bowl.  Sprinkle 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, over the top.  Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Then stir together 3 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon almond extract.  Sprinkle the milk mixture over the flour mixture. Lightly stir to blend.  Knead until milk is distributed and the particles begin to hold together.  If necessary, add a teaspoon or two more milk until the mixture holds together but is not wet.  Firmly press the dough into the pan to form a smooth, even layer.  Refrigerate for fifteen minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and another in the upper third.  Preheat the oven to 375ºF.  Bake the chilled dough in the center of the oven until barely firm in the center, 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. Spread 1 cup seedless raspberry jam evenly over hot crust.  To prepare the streusel, thoroughly whisk together 1¾ cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon salt.
  4. Sprinkle 8 (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, over the top.  Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until mixture is well blended.  Then, using a fork, stir into the flour mixture one at a time ¾ cups sliced blanched almonds and ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats.  Lightly beat together 1 large egg and 2 tablespoons milk; stir into the flour mixture until the streusel is moistened and forms small clumps.  If necessary, add a teaspoon or two more milk, until the mixture is just moist enough to clump.  Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the raspberry jam, breaking up any large clumps with a fork or your fingertips.  Bake in the upper third of your oven until the streusel is nicely browned and the raspberry mixture is bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove the pan to a rack to cool completely.  Cut into bars.

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