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Showing posts from October, 2009

What's Your Pumpkin Pleasure?

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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,…

Polish Comfort Food

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"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 experimen…

Chocolate Love

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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'affairesducoeur ... 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 ch…

Just Peachy Pie

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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

Preh…

Grape Infused Vodka Update

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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 wee…

Butternut Squash Soup: A Good Way to Warm Up

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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…

Eat your squash, it's good for you.

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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…

Something's Fishy Around Here

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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 n…

Mama Newton: Apples are good brain food.

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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 teasp…

Slow and Spicy and Really Good

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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 w…

Rolling in Dough

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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. …

Flex Some Mussels

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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 …

Chasing the Chill Away

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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 ca…