Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day Brunch Bake

Queen Victoria must have loved Christmas to have declared the following day as yet another holiday. Boxing Day, celebrated on The Feast of St Stephen, is an English tradition -- the one day of the year when household help was given a bonus and a full day off as a reward for providing good service throughout the year.

For upper class Victorian families it meant the kitchen help would prepare foods in advance that the mistress of the house could manage without much fuss. For modern Brits, the day of goodwill has evolved into a banker's holiday encouraging the search for post-Christmas shopping bargains. Either way what's needed is a good breakfast, easy to prepare and this amazing brunch treat can be refrigerated up to twenty-four hours before baking.

FRENCH TOAST BRUNCH BAKE
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/8 cup orange favored liqueur
1 tablespoon maple syrup
8 slices Portugese sweet bread, approx. 3/4 inch thick
2 cups half anf half
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Lightly grease bottom and sides of a 3 quart baking pan, oval or rectangular. In a medium saucepan, mix brown sugar, butter, liqueur, and maple syrup. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered for one minute. Pour into greased pan. Set bread slices on top of the brown sugar mixture.

In a medium bowl beat eggs, half and half, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg. Pour evenly over bread slices, using a wooden spoon to press bread gently as the bread soaks up the liquid. Cover and chill for at least one hour or up to 24 hours before baking at 350 degrees F. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted into the midde of the pan comes out clean. The top should be golden brown and will pouf up a bit during baking. Allow to set 10-15 minutes before serving -- the puffiness will relax as the casserole sets. Makes 8 servings.

Add a side dollop of creme fraiche, a few of your favorite berries and enjoy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

All Dressed Up for Christmas Breakfast

What we Americans call oatmeal is known as porridge in the rest of the English speaking world. In Germany it's haferbrei, havregrot in Norway, owsiaka in Poland and puder in Estonia. But nowhere is oatmeal mush more beloved than in Scotland, where the art of porridge making is a competition.

The Golden Spurtle Award is bestowed to the world's most talented porridge maker at the annual World Porridge Making Championship in Carrbridge, Inverness-shire. The event is held in October and the winner recieves a gold-colored spurtle as a trophy -- the spurtle is a flat wooden spatula-type utensil traditionally used to stir the porridge during cooking. I use a standard issue wooden spoon.

Wonder what they would say about my special Christmas porridge recipe?

OATMEAL BRULEE
2 cups cooked oatmeal
1 cup of your favorite berries (fresh or frozen are best but canned is okay)
2 tablespoons white sugar

Make 2 cups of your favorite oatmeal. I like to use Quaker's quick cooking kind, it takes 1 3/4 cup boiling water, a dash of salt and 1 cup of uncooked oats. Stir in the salt and oats into the boiling water. Remove from heat and let mixture sit one minute to thicken.

Butter up four 6 ounce ramekins, warm one cup of berries in the microwave for one minute on medium high. Add 1/4 cup of the warm berries to the bottom of each ramekin. Top with 1/2 cup of hot cooked oats. Level off the oatmeal to a smooth surface with a butter knife. Sprinkle 1 or 2 teaspoons of white sugar on top. Using a chef's torch, carmelize the sugar to a crunchy golden brown as you would with creme brulee. If you haven't got a chef's torch, place sugared oatmeal under the broiler for a miute or two until the sugar melts to the golden color. Let stand a minute to allow the sugar to harden. Serves four.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Peppermint Snow, Please

Facebook friends from Washington, DC to New York City posted more snow warnings than The Weather Channel all last night. Today, my pals in eastern Massachusetts report near white out conditions.

Here in western Massachusetts, it fizzled to a dusting at best. So I made up a batch of brownie cookie bites topped with peppermint snow and we had our own blizzard right in our kitchen. The best part? Peppermint snow is a pleasure to shovel ... into our mouths. But this IS New England -- who knows what tomorrow will bring!

MINT COCOA BLIZZARDS
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup cocoa
1 large egg
2/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chunks
1/8 cup of peppermint snow (crush 4 or 5 mini candy canes into a coarse powder)

Sift dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, beat in on medium. Add dry pre-sifted ingredients to butter/sugar mixture alternately with milk until blended well. Fold in chocolate chunks. Drop by rounded tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with peppermint snow and bake 8-12 minutes at 375°F; do not over bake. Makes two dozen 2 inch cookies.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Joy of Holiday Cookies

Nothing sweetens the season like holiday cookies! The name comes from the Dutch koejke which translates to "little cake" -- the perfect single serving treat. Cookies have been part of cooking history for more than a thousand years and nearly every culture has a bite sized sweet that qualifies as a cookie.

Every year I try to come up with a new twist on an old favorite to celebrate the season for my annual cookie swap. These tasty morsels are my version of rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry filled with nuts, raisins or apricots, cinnamon and sugar wrapped in a flaky crust. A few good friends sharing a bottle of bubbly then going home with the bounty of a platter full of homemade cookies and the recipes. Lots of fun and yumminess, too!

RUGELACH
Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/3 cup plain or lemon flavored yogurt

Filling
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries (chopped coarsely or cut into halves)
1 tablespoon white sugar

Cut cold butter or margarine and cream cheese into bits. In food processor pulse flour, salt, butter or margarine, white sugar, cream cheese and yogurt until dough forms a loosely pliable ball. Add one drop of water at a time if needed. Shape mixture into four equal dough balls ... wrap each ball in plastic wrap (I prefer zip loc bags) and chill a minimum of 2 hours on up to 4 days.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll each dough ball into an 8 inch square keeping the other dough balls chilled until ready to roll them.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and dried cranberries. Sprinkle rolled dough with brown sugar/nut mixture. Press lightly into dough. Roll the dough round into a cylinder. Using a chef's knife or other very sharp blade, cut the cylinder on an angle into 8 pieces. Set each piece flat on one side so that one spiral side is flat on an ungreased cookie sheet and one spiral side is facing up. The positionong allows for the cookie bottom to carmelize into a crunchy, tasty and almost candylike base. Sprinkle the tops lightly with white sugar.

Bake in the center rack of your oven 20-22 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies. Store in airtight containers...these cookies also freeze well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Caribou Meatballs

It’s snowy and cold here in New England -- a good day to defrost ground caribou and simmer up a big saucepot full of spicy meatballs. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend who hunts, you can substitute the caribou with sweet Italian sausage meat. Just remove the casings and crumble into your meatball mixture.

These meatballs are delicious cooked in any good sauce, even a jarred sauce from your grocer’s shelf, though I recommend homemade bubbled on your stove all morning. Double the recipe and freeze a quart full of the sauce and meatballs for another day. Stop in your favorite local bake shop for fresh rolls and enjoy a yummy grinder or have an old-fashioned meatball with pasta dinner and a tossed salad. Pass the grated Romano cheese, please!

BIG GAME MEATBALLS

1 pound ground turkey
1/2 pound ground caribou meat
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 large egg
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons hot tap water
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Combine breadcrumbs, egg and water in large bowl, let sit about 5 minutes. Add rest of ingredients, mix until well blended. Shape into meatballs, about 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter.

Drop the meatballs in a large saucepan with your favorite pasta sauce, homemade or purchased. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Occasionally stir with a wooden spoon to keep meatballs from sticking. Makes 18 to 24 medium-sized meatballs and serves 6.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Okay, so I haven't got a partridge. And while Farmer Paul does grow pears out in our lovely backyard garden, the tree went bare weeks ago.

But I found these lovely little Seckel pears at a favorite farm market and just had to have them. Cored, poached in a sweet delicate sauce and served cold -- yummy!

PEAR DREAMS
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
½ cup water
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon strips lemon zest, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup cranberry liqueur

4 Seckel pears, on the larger side

With a small knife, remove as much of the core as possible from the bottom of each pear while leaving the fruit whole. Add the pears to the saucepan. Simmer, covered, until fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a bowl. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil; boil until reduced to 2 c., about 10 minutes. Pour the syrup through a sieve over the pears. Cover and chill, turning the pears occasionally, 6 hours or overnight.

Serve the pears with the syrup and a cinnamon stick garnish. These pears make an especially nice light dessert with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Mmmm...Mmmm...good!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An American Bird Meets French Cuisine

If you love lemon flavor and believe in the curative power of some foods, then this Turkey Francaise is just what the doctor ordered. Using turkey Americanizes the classic French cuisine deliciously. The best part is that if you prefer to make it Italian, substitute the mushrooms with capers and you have Turkey Piccata.

Always a big decision for me which country’s lemon poultry recipe to favor since my ethnic heritage combines both French (my dad) and Italian (my mom) and my grandmothers on both sides were phenomenal and inspiring cooks; especially for a little girl who loved wearing her grannies’ aprons!

Ask half a dozen food historians where lemons originated from and you’ll likely get half a dozen different answers. The exact origins of the lemon remain vague, it is widely presumed that lemons were native to India and China where the tart juice was known for its medicinal properties and as an antiseptic. Lemons made their first appearance in the Arab world and the Mediterranean regions around the same time the pretty yellow fruit found its way to Europe via ancient Rome in the first century AD.

Lemon was introduced to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to Hispaniola. Spanish conquest throughout the New World helped spread lemon seeds. It was mainly used as ornament and medicine. It wasn’t until the 1700s that lemons took off as a favored flavor for foods in America and became a popular cash crop in Florida and California. Today most Americans love lemon!

TURKEY FRANCAISE
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons white table wine
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (to
taste)
4 turkey breast cutlets
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup sliced mushrooms (Piccata substitute is 1 tablespoon capers)
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)


Combine the broth, wine and lemon juice in a small bowl or large mixing cup. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the turkey breast cutlets. Using a kitchen mallet, pound the meat to about 1/4-inch in thickness. Dredge cutlets in flour, saving the excess flour. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the meat and saute until cooked through. Remove from the pan and place on a plate.

In the same pan used for the turkey, add the butter or margarine and the mushrooms. Saute 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour to the mushrooms and stir to coat. Cook for 1 minute. Add broth mixture to the mushrooms and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Add chopped fresh parsley if desired.

Spoon the sauce over the cutlets and serve with wild rice pilaf and steamed broccoli. Decided to go Italian with a piccata? Place the cutlet and pour the sauce on top of cooked liguini noodles. Either way, the recipe makes 4 yummy portions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Died and Gone to Chocolate Heaven

Chocoholics rejoice! This one's for you ... a warm and satisying dessert. Chocolate is festive and if you're looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit, nothing beats warm chocolate soup.

Who can resist a Godiva boutique display? Or those Lindt bars on special? Everyone needs a chocolate snowman, don't they? Everything from chocolate tea bisquits to dipped dried fruits boxed and wrapped in gold and silver trimmed red velvet boxes -- a sprig of silk ivy points at you as if to say, "Just nevermind your old Aunt Alice, buy me for yourself!"

While you're at it, pick up a high cocoa content bar to make this really yummy soup. You may keel over in a chocolate coma but you and your holiday guests will lie unconscious with a smiling face. Guaranteed.

CHOCOLATE HEAVEN SOUP
Amaretto Crème
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup 1% milk
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur

Chocolate Soup

1 cup 1% milk
1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon white sugar
4 ounces 85% cocoa chocolate squares
Dash of salt
1 egg yolk
½ cup strawberries, sliced


For amaretto crème:
Combine cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and whisk in yolk, cook about 10-15 minutes whisking often until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in liqueur. Cool in refrigerator.

For soup:
Combine milk, cream, chocolate, sugar, and salt in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low, whisk in yolk and cook, whisking often, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

Drop a few sliced strawberries at the bottom of a shallow wide rimmed bowl. Ladle scant ¼ cup of cooled amaretto crème over strawberries. Ladle ½ cup of warm soup over amaretto crème and top with strawberry slices. Drizzle a tablespoon more of the crème on top and serve. Makes 4 yummy portions.

Hint: You can make the soup and crème in advance. Reheat chocolate soup over LOW heat. Crème is added cold.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey's Last Stand

It’s the end of the long holiday weekend. You’re shopped out from Black Friday jostling for bargains and turkeyed out from two days of leftovers. But one peek in the refrigerator reveals a few more bits of perfectly good meat. Waste not, want not … give your turkey scraps new life in easy but classic lasagna.

Add a side salad, a glass of Chianti and a loaf of fresh crusty bread. You won't even notice you're eating leftover anything -- it tastes that good!

TURKEY LASAGNA
12 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 egg
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Italian cheeses (Mozzarella. Parmesan, Asiago blend)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (1 teaspoon dried)

2 cups shredded cooked turkey (or 1 pound ground turkey, cooked, crumbled and drained)
4 cups of your favorite marinara sauce
¼ cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray 13 x 9 x 3 inch deep square baker with cooking spray.

In medium bowl stir egg, ricotta, mixed cheeses and parsley until well mixed. Place 2 cups of marinara sauce into a small sauce pans, add meat and warm slightly. Pour ½ cup of the meatless sauce in bottom of the pan, add ½ cup water. Layer 4 uncooked sheets over water-sauce in baker. On top of the noodles layer 1 cup of the meat sauce and half of the cheese-egg mixture. Repeat. Cover with a top layer of the remaining 4 uncooked noodle sheets. Spread ½ cup meatless sauce and pour ½ cup water on top. Cover with foil.

Bake one hour or until hot and bubbling. Remove from oven sprinkle with grated mozzarella, recover with foil and let stand for about 15 minutes before cutting. Warm reserved cup of meatless sauce to spoon over each serving as desired. Recipe makes 8 servings.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fruitcake Oatmeal Cookies: What's not to like?

Oatmeal, dried plums, honey and various spices in English Christmas pudding was the beginning of the Christmas fruitcake tradition. By the 16th century, the oatmeal was removed and some of the familiar ingredients of cake were added, such as eggs, butter and wheat flour. The concoction was then boiled into a plum cake, often with no plums or any dried fruits at all.

Wealthy families with ovens baked the “Christmas Cake” adding more expensive dried fruit and spices. The cake celebrated the Wise Men bringing exotic spices to the Christ child. And here’s where it gets all Dickensian.

The English upper class would give out pieces of fruitcake to the poor, who sang Christmas Carols in the streets in the late 1700's. By the end of the 18th century, there were actually laws saying that plum cakes (generic for dried fruit) could only be consumed at Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings, and funerals. Seems to me the masses were tricked into believing that having fruitcake was special.

I’m happy enough to preserve the essence of the tradition of remembering the story of the Three Wise Men, even adding a little gold in the form of Goldschlager liqueur. But I much prefer my own version. These really yummy cookies are a great substitute for the heavy fruitcake of centuries past.

FRUITCAKE OATMEAL COOKIES
¾ cup butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
2 cups quick cooking oats
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon green candied cherries, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon orange zest, finely grated
1 tablespoon of Goldschlager liqueur (optional, if dough needs moisture, use milk instead)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Using a batter bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, white sugar, Goldschlager liqueur and vanilla until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. In a second bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon with a spoon; stir flour mixture into the creamed mixture until well blended. Add oats, dried fruits and orange zest until just blended.

Drop by heaping tablespoons (I use a cookie scoop) onto ungreased cookie sheets two inches apart. Bake 11-12 minutes. Edges should be golden and the centers only slightly dry. Cool baked cookies on a wire rack; makes approximately 2 ½ dozen medium cookies.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Leftovers and Life Have a Lot in Common

Yesterday's turkey, peas, carrots and mushrooms and a few chunks of boiled potatoes in a casserole dish along with some gussied up gravy. Add a few fresh ingredients and a rolled biscuit crust and dinner is served.

Leftovers are a lot like life, a delicate combination of new and old. Tomorrow starts the beginning of another holiday season and it's only natural to think about changing a few things with the new year ahead.

Here are a few thoughts to focus on that might help you in making the best of what you've got:

1. Get outside of your head. We live in an uncertain world. Worried times puts us in our heads; fretful for many hours every day. We mistreat our bodies, eat poorly, always at a dead run to get things done without taking time to integrate our physical self with our inner selves. Reconnecting with our bodies by walking, taking a warm bath instead of a fast shower, yoga, any activity that us connects with our bodies again can release tension.

2. Allow yourself to be human. Feel every emotion fully, including the ones you prefer to avoid. There’s a high premium on maintaining control of our emotions. So we stuff down sadness and fear. The backfire comes when we let loose all our emotional turmoil at inappropriate moments. It’s only on the other side of our feelings that we can feel relief. Pretending nothing matters is no way to deal with life.

3. Focus on being happy. Sometimes it’s just easier to help someone else instead of facing changes we should be making in our own lives. We are programmed to feel guilty if we do things we want. But keep in mind that people in our lives suffer when we are not happy. Try to do two or three little things that make you feel happier each day.

4. Act with loving-kindness. In our fast paced, jostled daily routine, everyone needs a daily dose of kindness -- from the guy on the subway, to the woman running the cash register, to our workmates, colleagues and ourselves. Be nice to yourself and to others everyday. According to Wikipedia, loving-kindness is the translation for chesed in Hebrew, agape in Greek, mettā in Sandskrit. Choose a book from noted author and Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg’s book list or Debbie Tenzer’s web site DoOneNiceThing.com for a little inspiration.

5. Try new things even if it takes time to get it right. We hurt ourselves by setting incredibly high demands on ourselves. When we try something and it doesn’t work the first time, we take it personally. We’re afraid to make mistakes, to fail. If we don’t make mistakes, we aren’t trying hard enough to learn and grow. Tripping over our own feet actually propels us forward and though it might feel safer to stand still, it gets us nowhere.

Embrace what you've got, even while working in new ingredients to your life -- the same is true for cooking. You won’t be disappointed with the results!

TURKEY POT PIE
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into ½ inches tabs
¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups chicken broth, fresh or canned
¼ cup dry sherry or dry vermouth

¼ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (1/8 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
1 small shallot, finely grated
½ cup carrot coins, pre-boiled to tender crisp
½ cup sliced white button mushrooms
¾ cup red-skinned potatoes, cut into chunks, pre-boiled to tender crisp
1 cup cooked turkey, cut into 1 inch chunks
½ cup frozen mixed veggies or peas
1 teaspoon minced pimento

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pot Pie Crust

1 ½ cups complete pancake & waffle mix (way better than biscuit mix)
¼ cup 1% milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large saucepan melt butter. Add flour a little at a time until it makes a fragrant nutty smelling roux (paste), about 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add broth, whisking constantly to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in sherry until smooth. The sauce should be slightly less thick than regular gravy. (Hint: if you have leftover gravy throw it in too)

Return saucepan to medium heat and add thyme, bay leaf, shallot and mushrooms. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes, or until mushrooms cook. Remove bay leaf and discard. Stir in potatoes, carrots, turkey and mixed veggies coating all ingredients with the sauce.

Mix milk into waffle mix to make pliable, moist dough. If dough seems too dry add more milk a drop at a time. Roll dough on lightly floured surface to fit as a cover for filling in the pan. Pour the filling into 1 1/2 quart oval baker or other similar capacity baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with minced pimento. Gently fit dough to the pan, crimping edges inside the rim.

Bake until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit five minutes before serving. Cranberry relish as a side always enhances any turkey dish. Makes 4 generous helpings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Passion for Pumpkin

Even the oven challenged Pilgrims of 1621 enjoyed a sweet pumpkin recipe on that first Thanksgiving. They hallowed out pumpkin centers, filled them with milk, honey and spices, and roasted them whole in the hot ashes of the cook fire. Once settled into proper households, early American cooks created the New World tradition of pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream.

Poet and editor Sarah Josepha Hale is credited with convincing Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 -- it took her five presidents and 17 years to get it done. Where there's a will there's away. That goes for the most famous Thanksgiving pie of all too because no matter how much turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes you eat, there's always room for a good cup of coffee and a piece of pumpkin pie. Yummy!

TRADITIONAL PUMPKIN PIE
2 cups pumpkin puree, fresh cooked or canned
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs

Dash salt
1 can (14 fl. oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1/4 cup 1% milk
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Topping

Heavy whipping cream, whipped
Crystallized ginger, finely grated

Add condensed milk, milk, pumpkin, eggs, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves to a blender or food processor. Blend on medium high speed until smooth. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 40 to 45 minutes longer or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with grated crystallized ginger before serving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Easy Eye Popping Popovers

Food historians generally agree that popovers were created here in the colonies by English housewives who missed their Yorkshire puddings but needed a shortcut and fewer ingredients for a less fussy version of the original.

According to Wikipedia, the first cookbook to print a recipe for popovers was M. N. Henderson, Practical Cooking, in 1876. Roasted beef or pork drippings made the little puffs more savory than the popovers most folks like these days. Today's recipes lend themselves to strawberry jam for breakfast or tea as much as for a bread substitute for holiday dinner.

The higher they rise, the better they taste is my motto and this recipe is one I have been using for over thirty years. It has never let me down.

EYE POPPING POPOVERS
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups 1% milk
dash of salt

Preheat over to 425 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl and using a whisk, beat the eggs until slightly frothy. Add the milk and again, using the whisk, beat until mixture is slightly frothy. Add dash of salt. Gradually add flour about 1/4 cup at a time and whisk until all the flour is added and the mixture is just smooth. Let the batter rest 15-20 minutes at room temp.

Using your favorite cooking spray generously coat the cooking surfaces of a 6 count popover pan or 6 count large muffin tin. Poor batter evenly into each baking cup to about 3/4 full. Bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for another 20 minutes. Do not open oven doors during baking time. Upon removing the popovers from the oven pierce each one with a thin sharp knife to let steam out. Allow just one minute before removing from pans and serve warm.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Not Your Granny's Crannies

Why work so hard on your Thanksgiving turkey and skimp on the most delightful side of all? Fresh cranberry sauce is as easy as it is impressive to serve. Not to mention, fresh cranberries are good for you.

Cranberries are an under appreciated fruit. Northeast Native Americans swore by the health benefits of the cranberry as a dietary staple. Early New England sailors packed the little wild berries, rich in Vitamin C, in their ship larders to prevent scurvy. Research has since validated the old adage that drinking cranberry juice will reduce or eliminate instances of urinary tract infection, but other, more recent studies have also linked the lowly cranberry with increased benefits in fighting heart disease and cancer.

A luscious cranberry sauce is one of the easier ways to wow your holiday guests. Go for it!

GINGER ORANGE CRANBERRY SAUCE
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
dash salt
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, finely grated
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (you can use orange juice)

Coarsely chop the cranberries in your blender or food processor. Bring water, sugar, salt to a boil. Stir often to dissolve sugar evenly without carmelizing for just about a minute. Stir in cranberries, grated ginger and orange zest. Bring to a simmer until saucy and slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes should do the trick. Remove from heat. let cool about ten minutes before adding orange liqueur. Stir well and allow to cool to room temp before serving.

To make ahead, refrigerate sauce in an airtight container and let stand at room temp thirty minutes before serving for the best flavor. Makes about 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's Almost Cookie Swap Time

Counting the weeks to my annual cookie swap with friends. I have six really good cookie recipes and there are just about six weeks to swap day. Once a week, I'll share a cookie recipe with you and by the time the holidays roll around, you'll be too confused to choose one and possibly five pounds heavier. LOL

When our younger son was little, he wouldn't eat anything that remotely resembled a living thing. Gummy bears, chocolate bunnies, and gingerbread men were banned. We ate jelly beans, chocolate balls and I made wreath cookies instead. Now that he's all grown up and living in New York I'm free to use my favorite cookie cutter to bake up the cute little guys. And there are no tears or fears when I bite off a head!

It's a pain that this dough needs to be refrigerated before rolling but the good news is that it can be rolled and rerolled without toughening up the second batch and, while the cookies do puff up some during baking, they hold their shape pretty well. I like a cream cheese icing for decorating, and a couple of dried cranberries dropped on their bellies to balance the spiciness of the gingerbread. You can top off the cookies with chopped, candied ginger before baking if you prefer no icing.

GINGERBREAD MEN
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water (if dough seems stiff as you stir add a drop at a time until it feels soft)

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. In a large bowl, cream together butter, egg and sugar until smooth. Beat in molasses, water and vanilla, then gradually add in flour mixture until a smooth dough forms. Divide dough into two or three pieces (dough should be soft), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Use cookie cutters of your choice ( I like 3" men best) to cut dough. Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size of cookie cutter. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch at the edges. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 3-4 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about two dozen or so gingerbread men. Decorate with your favorite icing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elegant Italian Comfort Food

You'd think having an Italian mother I would have a family recipe for osso buco. But my mom's family didn't hail from that part of Italy. So on page 137 of The Silver Palate Cookbook you will find what I used to make my first osso buco more years ago than I care to count backwards to!

A really good osso buco has a slightly tangy taste, a rich depth of flavor created by the layering of flavors. As is my way, I fiddled with the recipe until the ingredients made me (and Picky Paul) happy. After many, many efforts, I managed to construct an osso buco that I can confidently serve to guests knowing it will satisfy even the most discriminating palate.

That doesn’t mean I’m actually finished with my osso buco recipe. My osso buco will be forever “evolving”. That’s what good cooking is all about for me.

OSSO BUCO
6 one pound bone-in lamb shanks or bone-in veal shanks (or a combo of both)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely grated
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
½ cup Chianti or other dry red table wine
2 cups whole or chopped canned tomatoes
1 sprig rosemary (1/4 teaspoon dry)
4 sprigs thyme (1/2 teaspoon dry)
2 bay leaves
2 cups low sodium low fat chicken or beef broth
¼ cup all purpose flour (for dredging meat before browning)
Salt and pepper to taste

Gremolata

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Set the oven at 350 degrees F. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallot, garlic, carrots, peppers, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a French oven. Add the tomatoes and mix.

Dredge the meat lightly with flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil to the skillet. Turn the heat to medium. Set two pieces at a time of meat in the pan and cook for 2 minutes on a side or until the meat is browned. Transfer to the baking pan. Continue cooking the pieces of meat, two at a time, until all the meat is browned and transferred to the pan.

Pour the wine into the skillet and cook, scraping down the sides, until the wine reduces by half then pour the wine over the meat. Add enough of the stock needed to barely cover the meat. Cover pan before placing it on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook the meat for 1 1/2 hours, basting with the liquid in the dish once or twice during cooking. Remove the cover and continue baking for another hour.

Meanwhile, stir parsley with lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix well. Spoon the meat and some of the vegetables over perfectly steamed white rice or a generous scoop of mashed potatoes (I like parmesan whipped potatoes better than the traditional rice). Garnish with a small spoonful of the parsley mixture. Makes 4-6 yummy servings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Different Kind of Wellington

A few years back it occurred to me that pork tenderloin, with just the right seasoning, wrapped in puff pastry and baked would make a great substitute for Beef Wellington.

Looking for a special main dish that doesn't cost a fortune and doesn't take hours to prepare? This is it. And much easier to make than it looks, as long as you use ready-made puff pastry.

The result is impressive – not to mention very, very yummy -- especially when home made apple sauce (served warm or chilled) is on the menu!

PORK WELLINGTON
1 ½ pounds of pork tenderloin
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 pat butter or margarine
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (needs 3 hours to defrost in refrigerator)
2 egg whites, beaten w/ 1 tablespoon cold water makes egg wash


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll one puff pastry sheet to a size that will wrap around the pork tenderloin. Melt butter or margarine in microwave about 15-30 seconds, whip in mustard and grated garlic to the melted butter. Brush the pork tenderloin on all sides with garlic-mustard mixture. Lightly sprinkle with ground black pepper.

Place the seasoned meat in the middle of the pastry dough. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash. Fold the pastry around the meat, cutting off any excess at the ends (pastry that is more than 2 layers thick will not cook all the way, try to limit the overlap). Cut a few decorative shapes with the pastry scraps if desired. Place wrapped pork on a baking pan, seam side down, and brush egg wash all over the top. Arrange decorative shapes on top. Chill for 5-10 minutes.

Brush the exposed surface again with egg wash. Score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife in two places, not going all the way through the pastry. Bake for 35-45 minutes. The pastry should be nicely golden when done. Test with an instant read meat thermometer, the pork is cooked at 150 degrees F. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Use an electric knife for easy slicing -- cut into 1-inch thick slices drizzle with any pork or brown gravy – big admission here – I don’t make gravy from scratch. Serve with your favorite sides and don’t forget the apple sauce!

Serves 4.





Saturday, November 7, 2009

Warming Up a Cool Night

So it's not snowing here ... yet. But today's blustery wind and an annoying case of the sniffles kept me huddled on the couch sipping hot lemon tea from my favorite mug and watching old flicks on television. It wasn't long before I nodded off.

Next thing I knew it was four in the afternoon and Fisherman Paul came rolling in after a day on the river, hoping for a stick to his ribs hot meal. Lucky for him, I had the ingredients on hand for this creamy veggie stew and a few chunks of cooked lobster to make it extra yummy!

VEGGIE SEAFOOD CHOWDER POT
1 small shallot, finely grated
1 cup cauliflower, chunky chopped
1 cup broccoli, chunky chopped
1/2 cup carrot, large grated
1/2 cup Gruyere or cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup light cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup water or semi-dry white wine
Dash of salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 pound mild white fish, cut into one inch chunks (flounder works well) or other seafood

Put all ingredients except fish in a medium soup kettle and simmer for about an hour or until vegetables are tender. Stir often. Be careful not to scorch. Bake fish in an oiled pan at 325 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until flaky. If using shellfish, cook in advance and warm quickly in the microwave before adding to the soup. Ladle hot soup into bowls, spoon a few chunks of hot cooked fish on top. Add hot crusty bread and enjoy. Serves 4.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What's Your Pumpkin Pleasure?

It's Halloween and pumpkins are everywhere. So are big bowls of candy. This year we decided to have some individual packages of healthier treats for the younger ghouls and goblins who knock on our door for Halloween.

Oh sure, we'll still have a big bowl of the usual teeth-rotting candy bars because dried cranberry and apple treats might get panned by the older Trick or Treaters. But I have a feeling that the parents of the really little ones, parents who worry about too much chocolate and sticky caramel, might like the idea of fruity snacks.

Come Sunday morning, when that old pumpkin is ready for tossing, it'll be tossed into a 350 degrees F oven, baked about an hour or until its insides are tender enough to be scooped into a bowl for mashing. An easy pumpkin loaf is the perfect Sunday morning breakfast treat and will go well with a cup of cinnamon coffee. For my friends who know how bad I am at making coffee, it will come as no surprise that while the loaf is in the oven, I'll be visiting the Dunkin' drive-thru!

I confess, the picture you see here was taken by my friend Anne. That big old Jack-O-Lantern is her creation and sitting on her windowsill. The two pumpkins gracing my bow window are much smaller sugar pumpkins. Cute and will bake up nicely -- but Anne's pumpkin picture was just too gorgeous not to share. Maybe she'll even try this easy recipe on Sunday morning too!

BREAKFAST PUMPKIN LOAF
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup cooked pumpkin
¼ cup olive oil
3 egg whites
3 tablespoons skim milk
2 cups cake flour (or sifted all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Dash of salt
½ cup dried cranberries


Mix sugar, pumpkin, egg whites and milk until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, soda salt and spices. Blend well without over mixing. (Hint: over mixing make a tough batter. Mix batter until just smooth.) Stir in cranberries. Pour into well greased and floured 4 x 8 inch loaf pan. (Hint: cooking spray with flour works best.) Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour. Serve warm with whipped or softened cream cheese.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Polish Comfort Food

"Are you hungry?" she'd ask. Before you answered, a plate of ham or kielbasa or a mouth watering golumpki landed in front of you followed by a generous slice of the best cheesecake ever baked or some other more recent dessert discovery. It was best not to eat for days before visiting my husband's favorite aunt.

Cioce Sophie (Polish word for aunt and pronounced chuh-chee) and her sisters were easily recognizable as siblings. Short, round women with pretty heart-shaped faces, wide smiles and carrying around Polish cookbooks bought at a church bazaar back in the 1940s. In the margins were dozens of handwritten notes, add a pinch of this, don’t use that; also tucked in the pages were recipes torn from newspapers, scribbled on cards and scrap papers received from each other or one of their friends.

There were at least ten recipes for every Polish specialty because everybody made their pierogi or kapusta just a few ingredients different from the next person. Some experiments went better than others. "Nellie made cabbage and apple pierogi. It wasn't bad," might be met with a nod or a frown depending on who said it.

Cioce Sophie lived to her mid-nineties and some years later her sister Helen, who was my mother-in-law, passed away just shy of her own ninetieth birthday. In the scramble to choose something to hold onto in remembrance, my husband nabbed the recipes and we use them often. When talk in the family turns to the food and fun we all remember so well, Paul always gets a laugh when he says, “I’ve got the cookbook.” Then comes a request for one or another favorite family recipe and he's happy to share. Here's an easy one.

POLISH SUPPER BAKE
1 head green cabbage (Danish cabbage preferred), cut into quarters
2 pounds small red bliss potatoes, halved
1 medium size kielbasa (about 1 ½ pounds), cut into 2 inch chunks
2 cups chicken broth (use low fat, low sodium if using canned)
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Just throw all the ingredients into a French oven or covered baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees F for 1 to 2 hours until veggies are soft. Serve in large bowls with fresh rye bread. Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate Love

Local markets carry Lindt, Ghirardelli and other high quality chocolate. But for a really special selection, Fairway Supermarket in Manhattan is an adventure. The Upper West Side icon is half supermarket, and half foodie emporium. Jam-packed with goodies, from specialty meats to gourmet chutneys, and amazing chocolates for cooking and eating.

The history of chocolate is fascinating. Mayan and Aztec cultures offered chocolate to their gods in hopes of pleasing them. After the Spanish conquered Mexico, chocolate found its way to Europe as a profitable commodity. A few sips of deep rich chocolate probably explains more than a few l'affaires du coeur ... there's a reason chocolates are favored gifts between lovers.

There are many online sources for fine chocolates if you aren't happy with what you find at your local grocers. And if you do find yourself in the city that never sleeps, head for Fairway Supermarket, wander around, read a few wrappers then buy yourself some luscious chocolate so that when you get home you can cook up something yummy!

CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING
1/2 loaf of day old bread, crust removed cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 half ounce squares bittersweet chocolate
3 egg yolks, beaten

Topping

1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped to a thickened but still pourable consistency

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Fill four 3/4 cup size ramekins about halfway with bread cubes. In a medium saucepan, heat milk, cream and sugar to a boil. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in chocolate until melted and well blended into milk mixture. Whisk in beaten egg yolks until mixture is slightly frothy. Equally divide the chocolate mixture among the four ramekins. Allow to sit ten minutes in order for the bread to soak in the custard mix before baking.

Set ramekins in a large baking pan and place on the middle rack in the oven. Pour hot water in the outer pan about halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the center of the custard is set. Remove from water bath and cool slightly before serving warm. Top with cold loosely whipped cream poured on top. Serves 4.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just Peachy Pie

Rainy and cold days like today make me pine for summer. Or at least for a flavor that reminds me of warmer weather. If I had to choose one favorite summer fruit, it would be a plump, juicy peach.

The peaches grown at the Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown are as good as I've ever tasted. Every summer, I can at least six quarts of brandied peaches to break out on days just like today. Because nothing makes me feel better on a bad weather day than opening a jar of my brandied peaches made from local fruit.

Except, of course, the aroma of a cinnamon and nutmeg spiced peach pie just taken out of the oven. This is a good one. Enjoy!

JUST PEACHY PIE
1 egg white, beaten with one tablespoon of water until slightly frothy
5 cups sliced fresh, canned (in juice not syrup) or frozen peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 batch of pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate with one of the pie crust rounds. Drain liquid if using canned peaches. Place the sliced peaches in a large bowl, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Mix gently. In a separate bowl, mix together the arrowroot, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Sprinkle over the peaches, and mix gently. Pour into the pie crust, and dot with butter.

Use decorative piecrust cutters and layer cutouts, lightly brush decorative cutouts with the egg wash as a sort of glue to keep from separating during baking. Or use the more traditional two crust method by covering with the filled pie crust with a second rolled out round, and folding the edges under then flute to seal. Brush the remaining egg over the top crust, sprinkle with raw or turbonado sugar for sparkle and a tasty crunch. For the traditional two crust method don’t forget to make a few steam vents with a fork or knife. No need to add vents to a decorative cutout top.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is brown and the juice begins to bubble through the vents. Cool before serving.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Grape Infused Vodka Update

It took an overnight frost for our homegrown grapes to sweeten up but the wait was worth it. A big sloppy thank you smooch goes out to Mayor Mike Tautznik of Easthampton, MA for sharing his home infusion method for fruit flavored vodka.

Fiddling around with Mayor Mike's sure-fire recipe helped me come up with the perfect formula for home infusing store-bought vodka with the Concord grapes from our backyard garden. And the abundance of those grapes carefully cultivated by the Man of the House deserves another big sloppy thank you smooch, this time for Farmer Paul.

Start by boiling a big pot of water to sterilize pint-sized canning jars and their covers. Once they are cool, fill each about 3/4 full with thoroughly washed Concord grapes plucked from the ripest of bunches. Add one teaspoon of super fine sugar. Pour your choice of plain vodka over the grapes, leaving about 1/2 inch headroom before closing the jars. Shake gently to dissolve sugar before storing in a cool dark spot.

Two weeks later you'll be rewarded with vodka that has a strong grape taste and aroma. Not at all perfumey like commercially infused vodkas but very fresh and fruity. Try it on ice in a tall glass topped off with your favorite mixer or as a martini with any number of complimentary add-ins. My Cran-Grape Martini is yummy but don't shy away from experimenting on your own -- it's hard to go wrong!

CRAN-GRAPE MARTINI
3 oz. grape infused vodka
½ oz. cranberry liqueur
½ oz. apricot brandy

Red or black seedless grapes for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add vodka, liqueur and brandy and shake. Drop two or three red grapes into a pretty glass. Pour and serve.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup: A Good Way to Warm Up

When I was young, raking leaves was the only chore the kids in my neighborhood were quick to volunteer for. Why? We loved to run through the piles, kicking and jumping and laughing our way to making a big enough mess all so we could grab our rakes and start the fun all over again.

Never mind those leaf vacs and yard blowers. Whether you have a young one in your life or are simply young at heart, grab a rake and kick up a pile of leaves. And when you've had enough fun, this sweet and savory soup is a great choice for a lunch or dinner that will warm up your insides and tickle your taste buds. Plus it's low in sodium, high in nutrients and oh so good for you!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
1 medium large butternut squash, 3-4 pounds
1 medium yellow onion, finely grated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
6 sage leaves (1/4 teaspoon ground)
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade chicken stock (*see how-to below)
1 cup creme fraiche (The Silver Palate Cookbook, Page 339)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prick the squash with a fork and place it whole on a sheet pan. Roast for 45 minutes in the oven until the squash has softened. Cool the squash, then cut it in half and remove the seeds. Scoop out the flesh and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan or French oven over medium heat. When the butter starts to brown, add the onion and saute until it is translucent and starts to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the honey to the onion and cook until it bubbles. Add the squash and sage. Season the mixture to taste with fresh ground pepper. Pour chicken stock and just enough water to cover the squash. Bring the soup to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the soup until squash is very tender, about an hour. Add more liquid if necessary to keep the squash submerged. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for at least 15-20 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender. Do not fill the blender more than half full at a time or you risk having the contents overflow.

Strain through a coarse strainer if you want a smoother soup or return it directly to the pan; season it with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the finished soup back to a boil. Ladle it into bowls and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche on top and an oven warmed crusty bread. Hint: Dip a whisk into the creme fraiche and swirl it into the soup. Serves 4.

*Cheap & Easy Chicken Stock How-to: Boil up a couple of chicken legs, adding sliced carrot, celery, and fresh parsley for about an hour to make a good easy stock to use in any recipe that requires chicken stock – strain excess fat and the veggies out for a nice clear broth, lightly season with salt if desired. You can save the cooked meat for a small pot pie or chicken salad.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eat your squash, it's good for you.

There are plenty of healthy reasons to love butternut squash.

One cup of butternut squash contains nearly three times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, which protects against breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration. Butternut squash has been reported to have anti-inflammatory effects because of its high antioxidant content and it may also reduce the risk of inflammation known to be present in arthritis and asthma.

That same cup of butternut squash provides 3 grams of fiber, 14% of the RDA of potassium which is important for bone health, 49% of the RDA for vitamin C, 14% of magnesium and 11% of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 helps your immune system, and with the cold and flu season about to start, isn't it a good idea to eat what keeps the sniffles away?

It’s bright orange color signals that butternut squash is full of carotenoids. Carotenoids protect against heart disease and are said to help lower cholesterol. So as you drop those extra yolks into this squash custard recipe, don't worry so much. Just remind yourself that you’re making a dessert with redeeming qualities and way better for you than say, a Napoleon pastry. And the taste? Yummy!

INDIVIDUAL BUTTERNUT CUSTARDS
1 and 1/2 cups cooked butternut squash (canned pumpkin is a fabulous sub)
3 eggs plus 2 extra yolks
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
dash of sea salt

Using a cookie sheet, bake one whole medium butternut squash at 350 degrees F until soft, about an hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool just enough to handle, slice squash in half and scoop out flesh, discarding the outer peel and the seeds. Set aside. Lower oven heat to 325 degrees F.

Butter the bottom of six 1/2 cup ramekins or custard cups. Set aside. In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Divide mixture equally among the buttered ramekins and set them in a large roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins and bake in the hot water bath for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the custard is set. You can test with a wooden toothpick, when the toothpick comes out clean the custard is cooked. Set the individual ramekins on a cooling rack after removing them from the water filled pan.

Serve in the ramekins, or if you prefer run a knife around the sides of the ramekins and turn out the custards onto individual dessert plates. Top with a small shortbread cookie or decorative pastry crust cutout and an extra drizzle of maple syrup.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Something's Fishy Around Here

Most Friday mornings, I head to the market for a pound of fresh haddock or sole. I prefer wild caught to farm raised but pretty much settle for whatever's on sale. Last week, a firm white filet caught my eye. I asked about it and was told that it was basa fish, a Vietnamese import, a mild cousin to catfish and a popular choice on the west coast that more recently made its way east.

I'm a strong advocate of supporting local producers and that includes fishery but I was too curious not to give this strange new item a try. The delicate, white basa is a perfect fish for baking in a spicy tomato sauce. A word to the wise: much of what's advertised as basa is really tra, a cheaper, inferior import. If you're going to live with the guilt of purchasing an import, don't settle for less than the real thing. Ask before you buy.

I've used this recipe for years with homegrown catfish. It also works with any mild white fish. For the optimum result, make sure it's a filet not the thicker loin cut. Meow-velous!

SPICY CATFISH BAKE
1 pound basa or catfish filets
½
teaspoon olive oil
2 cups tomato, diced
1 clove garlic, grated
¼ teaspoon dried basil
(1 teaspoon chopped fresh)
¼ teaspoon dried oregano (1 teaspoon chopped fresh)
1 small hot red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 medium green Cuban sweet pepper, cut into thin strips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and pat the fish filets dry with a paper towel. Place the filets in a single layer in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. In a medium bowl, gently stir together garlic, basil, oregano and diced tomatoes. Top the filets with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle red and green pepper strips over tomatoes. Cover with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Fish will be white and flake easily with a fork. Serves 4.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mama Newton: Apples are good brain food.

No doubt young Isaac brought that fallen apple straight into the kitchen and his mom baked it into something delish before setting it before the lad with these words, "Apples are good brain food."

Obviously correct because some years later, Isaac Newton came up with the Law of Gravity. Probably while his mother furiously searched for ideas on how to cook something new with all those damned apples falling off that tree! And now here I am, more than three hundred years later, facing the same dilemma as Mama Newton.

I've sauced 'em, canned 'em, baked 'em, baked tarts and even a few pies with 'em. There are a number of good apple almond cake recipes out there but I wanted something just a little different and really easy. According to my live-in taste testers the experiment was a success.

AMARETTO APPLE CAKE
1/4 cup slivered almonds
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 cup granulauted sugar
1 ounce shot of amaretto liqueur
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin

Topping

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon


Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a 9 inch springform pan for baking with your favorite cooking spray. Set aside. In a medium size bowl mix flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside. In a small bowl mix together topping ingredients. Set aside.

Using a food processor or a blender, process slivered almonds to fine ground, almost powder. Add butter and eggs and pulse to a frothy mix. Next, add the sugar and amaretto, use the mixing speed to blend. Slowly add pre-mixed dry ingredients using the mixing speed until blended thoroughly, about two-three minutes. Batter will be thick.

Pour about 1/2 the batter into prepared springform pan. Layer sliced apples on top. Pour remaining batter over apples. Sprinkle topping mixture on top of that. It might look lumpy but will even out in the baking. Bake at 325 degrees F for 45-50 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center. Allow to cool slightly, no more than ten minutes. Remove from pan to decorative plate.

Using a fork or small whisk, mix amaretto with powdered sugar to make the glaze. If it seems a little thick, add a drop of water to relax the consistency. Drizzle over cake top and let set a few minutes before serving warm. Cover remaining cake with plastic wrap. Leftover cake tastes good cool and also warms nicely in the microwave on the bread setting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Slow and Spicy and Really Good

Yesterday seemed like the perfect day to roast a pork shoulder with that Adobo Seco recipe the ladies at the Harvest Festival shared with me last month. Think about it.

If Christopher Columbus hadn't bumped into Puerto Rico while looking for a rest stop on his second trip to the New World, Juan Ponce de Leon would have never come back some fifteen years later to claim the beautiful island for Spain. As the first governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon used the island as his base of operations for his forays into North America. He died at age 47 from complications associated with a wound he recieved while looking for what he never found: The Fountain of Youth.

To this day, thousands upon thousands of East Coast retirees carry on the tradition of heading to Florida to avoid the ravages of winter and so find their own version of the famed fountain. So really, I couldn't imagine another holiday best suited to the long slow process of cooking pulled pork seasoned in the Puerto Rican way. It takes time but it's easy.

Start by lining a large roasting pan with heavy duty foil. Rub the seasoned salt under the skin of your pork shoulder as well as all over the outside of the meat. Place in the pan then cover with foil. Bake covered at 325 degrees F about 4 hours or until meat is very tender to touch (use a fork, so you don't burn your fingers!). Take off the foil top, turn oven heat to 350 degrees F and bake another 30 to 50 minutes until skin crisps. Turn off oven and whip up the sauce to serve on hard crusty rolls with a side of cole slaw. rice and beans, or for a real treat whip up a batch of sweet potato fries.

As for the history of barbecue sauce, it is also said to be linked to Columbus. Here's my own quickie recipe and the one I'll be using again on today's leftover pork (both heated in the microwave) that qualifies as an easy homemade version with a kick provided by a shot of Polish Honey Liqueur.


POLISH HONEY BBQ SAUCE
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar (for an interesting twist try raspberry vinegar)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or hot pepper sauce)

1 ounce shot of Old Krupnik Polish Honey Liqueur (or any whiskey)

In saucepan, combine all ingredients. Simmer uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir two or three times to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan as it thickens. Drizzle heated sauce over hot cooked pulled pork (or chicken) piled high on a crusty roll and enjoy your yummy sandwich!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rolling in Dough

We're still flush with apples and that means I'm rolling in dough -- or rather rolling the dough.

It's no secret that I don't often bake whole pies -- except for family holiday dinners or when company's coming. And whether I bake a traditional all-American apple pie, a blueberry beauty or late harvest peach-raspberry melba, I like to use my own original yogurt crust recipe. This recipe works well for one crust pies like lemon meringue and pumpkin, too. Try it with vanilla yogurt instead of lemon for a baked shell worthy of your best cooked chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream after chilling. For savory recipes like quiche or even French meat pies (Stay tuned, my grandmere's tourtiere recipe will grace these pages before you know it!) eliminate the sugar and substitute plain yogurt for the flavored kind.

For a fancy finish, pick up a set of decorative pie crust cutters from your favorite kitchen boutique. My fall leaves came from Williams-Sonoma last year. I love them!


YOGURT PIE CRUST
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus 2 tablespoons for rolling)
1 cup oat flour (or simply increase the all-purpose amount by one cup)
1 tablespoon white sugar
dash of salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup lemon yogurt

Make the pastry dough by combining flours, sugar and salt in a processor; pulse 2-3 times. Add shortening and pulse 4-5 times, or until mixture holds together in the shape of small peas. With the processor running, slowly add the yogurt through the chute, processing until the dough forms a ball. You may or may not use all the yogurt, the tricky part of making a flaky crust is no less tricky when moistening the dough with yogurt instead of water. Remove the dough ball and adhere any remaining pieces of dough to it, split dough into two balls, drop each in a ziploc bag and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to three days.

To use dough remove dough balls from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the pie dough down so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use a pair of kitchen shears to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the pie dish.

Add your filling to the pie. Roll out second dough ball, as before. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving about a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork. Score the top crust with 3 or 4 small cuts so the steam from the pie can escape during baking.

If you like the fancy cutouts on my pie they are easy to do with decorative pie crust cutters found at most specialty cooking boutiques. Roll out excess dough to make decorative leaves or other shapes. Use brushed on egg wash as glue to secure the decorative shapes to the crust before baking then lightly brush egg wash on the decorative cutouts and sprinkle with turbonado sugar on shapes for a sparkly finished look to your pie.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and place your ready to bake pie on it to avoid cleaning messy spillovers from bubbling juices as it bakes. Follow baking instructions according to your favorite filling recipe. Most fruit fillings bake up nicely at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flex Some Mussels

Looking for an easy way to wow your dinner guests on the cheap? Watch for mussels to go on sale in the seafood department of your local grocer and try this simple recipe.

Before you wine snobs out there start shaking your heads at my serving the leftover Pinot Grigio to my guests, read this piece by Lettie Teague at Food & Wine. Serve mussels with hot crusty bread to sop up the flavorful liquid at the bottom of the pan.

Easy Mussels

2 pounds mussels (rinsed)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, grated
1 cup Pinot Grigio
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a 3 quart capacity French oven, melt the butter on a medium hot stovetop burner. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add wine and continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half. Turn up the burner to medium high. Add clean, rinsed mussels and cover, steaming until mussels shells open fully to indicate doneness. Toss parsley on top of cooked mussels.

Serve with any crusty bread heated through in your oven while the mussels were steaming. Drink up the remaining chilled Pinot Grigio to wash it down and when that bottle is polished off, go ahead and open another! Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Gentle reminder not to drive if you've overindulged.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chasing the Chill Away

Woke up this morning and the tip of my nose was cold, marking the official end of the summer that never was. I asked my Facebook friends if summer had ever shown up in their neck of the woods. "We had summer here in Maine. I think it was a Tuesday," posted Marianne.

The best cure for a chilly morning is a pot of tea and a warm breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon and made-from-scratch cornbread. Not great for the cholesterol count but an oh so yummy way to start the day.


Old-fashioned Corn Bread

2 medium eggs
1-1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Pour in the milk and the oil. Mix this up until it is blended well. Add in the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and honey. Use a whisk or a wooden spoon and a strong arm to mix this all up until it is smooth. Turn batter into a round, oiled 9-inch cake pan. You can use a 9-inch cast iron skillet if you have one. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean from the center of bread. Remove from the oven and allow bread to cool for a few minutes before cutting it into wedges. Cut into eight wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Harvest Fest: Celebrating the Island Way

The weather was perfect and people were out in droves at the 16th annual Festival de la Consecha. The event, sponsored by Nuestras Raices at The Land of Providence in Holyoke, Massachusetts last Saturday afternoon, was a grand success.

So much so that my son, JP, and I worried we’d never find a convenient spot to park. The on street parking situation looked unlikely and the nearby high school lot was not full but fairly packed with cars. On our second sweep we were lucky enough to find an available opening just a few hundred feet from the festival entrance. We were feeling great.

The piquant aroma of island cuisine, grilled chicken and penil (spicy pork shoulder) greeted us at the gate. Live music while strolling through the exhibits and gardens made for happy dancing feet. There were lots of fun things to do and watch throughout the afternoon. Succumbing to a plate full of grilled adobo chicken with rice was inevitable.

Adobo is a seasoned salt generously sprinkled or rubbed on chicken, pork and seafood prior to grilling, sauteing, frying or baking. Spanish food markets and supermarkets sell decent prepared commercial blends but homemade is always best. Hint: Many spices like dried thyme and ground cinnamon are sold in large containers and less expensive in the ethnic food aisles of larger food stores.

There are two types of adobo. One is a wet marinade called adobo mojado. It is a mix of crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper, thyme, citrus juices (often lime but other citrus is used depending on the regional preference) or vinegar or a mix or both citrus and vinegar.

More widely used on the island of Puerto Rico and what was offered at the festival is a dry rub mix, known as adobo seco. Easier to prepare than the wet version and it has a long shelf life. Adobo seco is a dry mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, dry thyme or oregano and sometimes dried citrus zest or a dash of cinnamon.

I promised you a recipe and so asked the ladies at the food table for the ingredients and instructions. They assured me it was the following simple concoction rubbed on the delish chicken we enjoyed this weekend. Served with saffron rice and beans, it was amazing.


Adobo Seco Dry Rub Mix

1/4 cup salt
1/4 cups garlic powder
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon crushed dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper


Place salt, garlic powder, sugar, chili powder, thyme, black pepper, cayenne pepper into a large bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon until well blended. Let set in an airtight container at least 24 hours prior to first use to allow flavors to blend. This dry spice mix stores well at room temperature in the airtight container for about three months.

To use, rub dry spice mix under the skin of the chicken pieces, about 1-2 teaspoons per serving. For best results, let stand in the refrigerator for one to two hours before grilling to allow the flavors of the rub to penetrate the meat. Just before grilling sprinkle seasoning on outside of the skin as well. Grill until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes on each side.

This dry rub mix is also an excellent blend for roasting pork and most grilled or baked seafood. Yummy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sick as a Dog?

My friend Shawn has been reporting on Facebook to all of us about how sick he's been for days now. He's missed work during the day and his favorite televison shows at night because he just needs to sleep.

When he finally wakes up, he's going to be hungry but might still have a tender tummy. So, let me suggest that his spouse consider having a pot of this recipe waiting for the poor guy to sip on over the weekend. Scott? Are you reading this? And no cheating with a can of Campbells chicken noodle, too much sodium!

Nani's Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 whole medium onion
1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds), cut into pieces
Dash of salt
1 small bay leaf
4 large peeled and chopped tomatoes (1 16 oz can diced tomatoes)
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into carrot coins
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 cup soup pastina (The Silver Palate Cookbook, pasta glossary, page 67)
Ground black pepper and salt, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (1 tablespoon dried)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large soup/stock pot. Lightly brown chicken pieces, about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chicken releases its juices, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to high; add 2 quarts water, dash of salt and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat to low and barely simmer until chicken is cooked and broth is rich and flavorful, about half an hour. Remove chicken and set aside to cool enough to handle. Remove skin from breast, then remove meat from bones and cut or shred into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones. Strain broth into a large bowl and discard any remaining chicken pieces and bones. Return broth to soup pot.

Peel whole onion then with a sharp knife score each end to allow for flavor added to the broth but without the onion falling apart. Add whole onion to pot along with carrot coins and celery. Simmer about 10 minutes until veggies are softened. Add chicken and tomatoes and continue simmering until vegetables are tender and flavors meld, about 10 minutes longer. Add pastina and cook until noodles are just tender, about 10 more minutes. Adjust seasonings, adding more salt, if necessary, and pepper, stir in parsley and serve with saltine crackers and ginger ale to help those tender tummies and sniffley noses feel better.

Yield: about 3 quarts; 6 to 8 servings. Stores well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days; reheat on low.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Something Special

Something special is happening in Holyoke, Massachusetts. A 25 acre parcel of farm and woodlands situated alongside the Connecticut River will become the newest reservation in the Pioneer Valley under the stewardship of The Trustees of Reservations.

The Sisters of Providence, a religious community with deep roots in the city of Holyoke, donated the land in June of this year and tomorrow marks the official dedication. A portion of the property is farmed by Nuestras Raices (Our Roots) a vibrant urban garden that helps immigrant communities grow harvest and provide fresh ethnic crops while training and supporting immigrant farmers.

At my house, Farmer Paul has a golf tourney on Saturday having pretty much hung up his hoe for this season. We're cleaning out the garden in readiness for its well earned winter's nap. But this weekend you'll find me and my JP at the 16th annual Festival de la Cosecha (Harvest Festival) taking place on September 26th from noon to 6 PM. Live music, traditional Caribbean foods and plenty of activities for the children are highlights of the afternoon. The event is open to the public. Check out the Nuestras Raices website at
http://www.nuestras-raices.org/ for more info.

And I promise to report back with at least one great recipe!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Nice Warm Cuppa Tea

No sooner has our garden's harvest come in and there is a sudden turn in the warm days and comfortable nights. It's feeling downright chilly around here in western Massachusetts.

Our backyard crops are slowing to a trickle. The yellow beans produced a single serving in the last three days and the tomatoes are nearly gone, the cherry tomato plant still offers modest clusters to brighten the flavor of store bought mesclun mix tossed with raspberry viniagrette. But I know it won't last much longer.

Farmer Paul climbed his way to the uppermost limbs of our apple tree earlier this week and we wrapped the less ripe in newspaper for cold storage, gave away about two bushels worth of some pretty nice fruit and still managed to leave a generous number of beauties on the lower branches for friend Laura's little guy to snatch in an apple adventure today. It was an awful lot of fun to share our garden with so enthusiastic a picker.

There is consolation in seeing the ripening butternut squash looking so great. Soon, the foliage will be in high color and I'll be flipping open my copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook to page 47 to follow the recipe for Curried Butternut Squash Soup. But for this evening, I think I'll settle for a warm from the oven cinnamon sugar cookie and a cup of chai tea. Yummy.

Chai Tea

Water – While some people swear that boiling the water just right makes a huge difference in the taste, I certainly can’t tell the difference between bubbling boils and slow boils. I just like it hot.

Tea – Tea experts favor Darjeeling. But just about any non-herbal regular or decaf tea will work. I use a tea bag brand instead of loose tea with a strainer and it tastes fine.

Milk – In choosing what to put in your chai, there is one simple rule: the thicker the milk, the richer the chai. Whole milk, cream, even a little butter will go into the most delicious chais. But of course, these options come with a high calorie cost.

Sweetener – Choose your favorite sugar (brown, white, or cane) or honey. For a real taste treat try maple sugar. Each one lends a different twist to the finished tea. Artificial sweetener is okay but not great. I prefer a less sweet tea and so use only one level teaspoon.

Spices – The selection and proportion of spices used in chai tea varies. I use one cinnamon stick and one tiny drop of almond extract per cup. Occasionally, I will add a dash of Cardomom. Experiment to suit your tastes. The most common spices used in spiced chai are:

Cardamom
Ginger
Cinnamon
Vanilla
Cloves
Almond
Nutmeg
All Spice


Making the Chai

Bring water to a boil and add solid spices. Cover, reduce heat, and allow to simmer. Ten minutes is sufficient, but soaking the spices longer will continue to add to the flavor. Bring the water back up to a rolling boil, then turn down the heat. Add tea, and allow to infuse according to the directions on the package (usually 3-5 minutes, covered). Strain out the tea and spices, return hot brew to the pot. Add milk, and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat, and add vanilla, other extracts, flavorings, and sugar or honey. Stir for thirty seconds, and then turn heat to low to keep tea warm while serving.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Buying, Growing and Eating Local is My Bag

There are still a few weeks left to this year's summer crops harvest season in my neck of the woods and longer in other parts of the country. Apples and winter squash are just coming in and root veggies, potatoes and turnips and the like will be appearing at roadside stands and farmers markets soon.

Finding your area’s local harvest hot spots is trendy and socially responsible. But if being hip isn’t reason enough for you to jump on the locavore bandwagon and join the In-crowd at your regional Farmers Market and roadside stands then read on, you’re bound to find a good excuse to Buy Local!


Top 10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

10. Eating local means more dollars get pumped into the local economy.

9. Locally grown food is thousands of miles fresher.

8. Buying, eating and growing local fruits and vegetables is politically correct.

7. Eating local is better for air quality -- fewer miles driven for delivery, less exhaust.

6. Buying local food helps our awareness of each seasonal bounty.

5. Buying locally grown food will give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

4. Local grown food has less susceptibility to harmful contamination and other safety issues.

3. Local food growers offer more variety.

2. Supporting local providers supports farmland protection.


And the Number 1 Reason to buy local foods is actually a question...

Have you tasted an ear of super sweet corn shucked and boiled less than 24 hours from picking?

I rest my case!