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!

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.

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 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!

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!

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


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.

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!

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.

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.

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


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!

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!

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.