I remember the Brazilian dish washer screaming, “Don’t take off your clothes!!! For God’s sake keep your pants on!” before he turned away and started muttering to himself in Portuguese. He was horrified because I was standing in the middle of the restaurant’s kitchen doing a strip tease. It wasn’t to entice the kitchen staff with what was under my apron, rather I was desperately trying to remove my polyester work pants, which I’d just spilled two gallons of boiling chicken stock onto, so that they wouldn’t melt into the flesh of my thighs. I kept shucking my clothes while I yelled for my sous chef to get some ice water – and fast. I could already feel the beginnings of a really bad burn. Continue reading
I believe in eating seasonally so from mid-November to just before Christmas that means munching down a whole lot of Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s. If you’ve never had a CCJJ imagine this – an Oreo cookie that has crushed candy cane bits mushed into the creamy filling. That my friends, is a candy cane joe-joe and they are only available from just before turkey day to a couple of weeks before Christmas. Once they’re sell out they’re gone until next year!
I love these cookies so much that this past year I even took a walk on the wild side and tried their dark chocolate covered peppermint joe-joe’s. Talk about gilding the lily. Yowser!!! But then the inevitable happened and I ran out. No more candy cane joe-joe’s unless I want to pay $30/box to some entrepeneur who stockpiled candy cane joe-joe’s and is selling them on Amazon or eBay. No dear readers, I will not be scalped for a box of cookies. I say no!
Instead (well, after some whining and gnashing of teeth) I sucked it up and waited for candy canes to go on sale. I scored a few bags of Hammond’s Pillow Peppermints at my local co-op and armed with some heavy cream and a box of chocolate wafer cookies I went about transforming Nabisco’s classic Zebra Cake into a Peppermint (not Joe-Joe’s) Zebra Cake. While it is not a candy cane joe-joe, it is pretty darn good.
Peppermint (not Joe-Joe’s) Zebra Cake
If you want to make this cake in its traditional long log form you’ll need a long skinny plate or platter.
1 pint heavy cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract (if you have it)
1 box Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (9 oz)
2/3 -3/4 cup peppermints*, crushed
Whip the cream and sugar until it holds a soft peak. You don’t want to turn it into butter. I crush the peppermints by pouring them into a heavy plastic bag then bashing them with a hammer or metal spoon. Don’t do this on a wooden counter as you can leave dents. Fold in the peppermint extract and most of the crushed peppermints. Then start layering your “cake” by spreading a heaping spoonful of whipped cream onto a chocolate wafer. When all the wafers are sandwiched together cover the entire outside with the remaining whipped cream. Sprinkle some additional peppermints on top (crushed or un-crushed if you have the Hammond pillows) and refrigerate 4-10 hours.
To serve cut on the diagonal so you can see the stripes.
* While I love the flavor of Hammond’s if you can’t find them or don’t want to order them you can use candy canes or peppermint starburst candies. Adjust the amount you add to the whipped cream to your taste.
With epiphany eight days away I am getting out my fève collection and trying to decide which piece I will use in our King Cake* to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. A couple of years ago when I told our French exchange student Charline I was a bit of a “favophilie” (a person who collects fèves) so when she went home she sent me a box of fèves from Paul, a French bakery. I loved seeing the historical evolution of their delivery vehicles rendered in porcelain with one very small slice of pie. While Paul and Ladureé both have stores in America I’m not sure they carry fèves in their shops on this side of the pond. This company in Lyon sells quite a few different sets (including naughty fèves!!!). I have not purchased anything from them so I can’t attest one way or another to how they are with overseas sales. If anyone has ordered from them I’d love to hear about your experience. There also seem to be several folks selling fèves on Etsy and eBay.
What surprises me is that in France, a country known for its King’s cakes, the fève of choice (at least according to my friend Alexis) is often a cartoon or tv character. I feel like such a fuddy-duddy saying I’d rather have one of the three wise men or baby Jesus in my slice of cake instead of a porcelain dinosaur, duck, or wizard. I wonder what Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar would say?
“Bonne Fête des Rois”
*Here is a French video on how to make a Galette de Roi
Here’s my previous post on fèves.
When Isabelle went off to college earlier this fall I was fully prepared to weep because I had seen it happen to so many other parents. After all the nurturing and guiding and teaching and helping them to become independent - poof – they were gone. You said goodbye to your child/ren and then fell apart because suddenly they weren’t there anymore and you had this big hole of emptiness and quiet in your life after 18 years of busy and chaos and togetherness (6,570 days give or take). Over the last few years I noticed my church friends come to service in August or early September after dropping off their kid at college and the tears would be streaming down their face during the Psalm or the readings or the Gospel. I am sure the weekly messages meant something to them, but mostly they were crying because they were missing their kids so much that their hearts ached. My friend Martha told me how it now hurt to even go to the grocery store because whenever she found herself reaching for the extra large tub of hummus to add to her cart she realized she didn’t need the jumbo hummus because the person at her house who ate hummus by the bowlful – her daughter Emma – wasn’t there right now, she was off at college. I wept just hearing the story.
Isabelle had also seen these men and women mourning the college transition as she sat next to me in the pew. She witnessed these silently weeping people, these “empty nesters” who were her youth leaders and former Sunday School teachers and the parents of her friends who had gone off to college and it made her wonder. I remember her asking me if I too would weep when she left for college. She asked this question long before she had decided where to go or had written a single word of her application. I recall her query because on that day my answer was a curt “No!” I was cranky with her for something that was so inconsequential I can’t even remember what it was and college seemed like such a long way away so in that moment I thought a little separation seemed like a really good idea, but in my heart of hearts I knew I would probably cry when she left. I started secretly stockpiling Kleenex every time it went on sale.
It turns out I didn’t cry. I didn’t have to as we drove down to college because the heavens opened up and it poured. Torrentially. The sky was crying, so I didn’t have time to as we scuttled back and forth from the truck carrying in all her boxes of stuff up to her dorm room, including three months worth of now worthless tampax which had become completely soaked in the back of the truck as it teemed rain on the drive down. On the way back there were so many idiot drivers that I was grateful A) just to be alive and not in an accident and B) thankful that it was Shawn and not me who was doing the driving. I was too scared by all the jerks, who should never have been given a driver’s license in the first place, to cry. However it was when we got back to our house and had our first Skype call with Isabelle that my tears really dried up because the first thing I saw as her face appeared on my computer screen were tears. She missed us, and missed the happy valley, and wasn’t really sure she wanted to be at UNH after all. I knew that we couldn’t both cry so since she was crying I didn’t. Instead I went into survival mommy mode and made it my mission to do what I could to take care of my sad kid from afar.
Around a year ago I had stumbled upon AmberLee Fawson’s blog post about Happy Mail. The basic premise is you can send anything through the US Mail if it is 13 ounces or less. An empty water bottle filled with a pen and mad libs, a box of tea bags, a package of twizzlers, a gelato container with refrigerator magnets, a plastic salad container filled with origami swans, a deck of cards, a package of Kleenex. If you can slap a stamp and label on it and the weight is under 13 ounces then into the mailbox it can go. All you need is a scale, an assortment of stamps, and an eye for things that are big enough to put a mailing label on, but light enough to come in under the weight limit. I became the queen of Happy Mail.
I also visited West Haven as often as I could and we signed Belle up for Amtrak rewards. We called and texted and Skyped. I wrote actual letters, not just emails. Some weeks it felt as if I were single handedly keeping the USPS open with all the snail mail and happy mail I was sending. I discovered USPS gives you a discount if you print your own mailing label for their flat rate boxes at home (who knew?). So I stocked up on flat rate boxes (which means the weight is irrelevant – you can send anything you want as long as you can manage to close the lid), set up an account, and started baking. Our mail lady picked up boxes of brownies and several batches of these homemade caramels.
I’ve been making these caramels for a few years now as the outer wrapping for homemade bulls eye candies (caramel wrapped around marshmallow). This year I didn’t feel up to making the marshmallows so I went with the simple, but yummy caramels – straight up. I include a dipping bowl or small package of sea salt for those who enjoy a salty-sweet taste. The original recipe came from this blog, though sadly the blogger hasn’t posted anything recently. My one main tweak is that I prefer to use organic corn syrup because I personally am not a fan of GMO corn syrup. You’ll have to search to find the organic version, and when you do you’ll need to dig deep into your pocketbook because it is 4x the cost of regular corn syrup. For me it’s worth it but know that the regular corn syrup works just fine. Also be very careful when making candies as boiling sugar can really burn.
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided (I use a local jersey cow heavy cream with a high milk fat)
1 cup light corn syrup, 11.2 ounces
1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus extra for dipping or sprinkling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
In a large, heavy duty pot (I like enamel covered cast iron) mix the sugar, 1 cup of cream, corn syrup, and the 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Turn the corn syrup bottle upside down in the measuring cup to completely drain while you start stirring the mixture of sugars and cream over medium heat as you bring it to a boil. Make sure to use a spoon that can withstand some heat (wooden or silicon).
Once the mixture has come to a rolling boil slowly add in the remaining cream and any more corn syrup which has drained out of the bottle. Try not to have the mixture stop boiling by pouring it all in at once. Stir in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, then insert your candy thermometer and allow mixture to continue boiling. Set up a pan to pour the caramel mixture into. I use a 12″ x 9″ glass baking dish lined with a piece of parchment. Some folks say to butter the parchment, but honestly there is already so much butter in these caramels and parchment really is non-stick that I think you only need to butter the sides of the pan where the parchment isn’t (or use 2 pieces and cross them).
You now have time to wash some dishes, or read a chapter of a book, or pay a few bills, but not so much time that you can take a nap or get lost surfing Pinterest. The mixture needs to reach the Firm Ball stage which is 250ºF. We’re talking molten hot caramel at this point, so as I said before be careful. Turn off the heat and if you want stir in the vanilla. I sometimes get so excited I forget, and frankly I don’t really taste the difference. Pour the mixture into the waiting pan but DO NOT SCRAPE the bits of caramel which cling to the sides of the pot. Once your caramel is in the pan then you can scrape the clinging bits onto a plate, wait for them to cool down, and taste test.
After the caramels have cooled cut them into squares or rectangles and wrap them in pieces of parchment (which is guaranteed not to stick). If you’re going to mail them wrap up a package of sea salt and put everything in a plastic bag with a napkin or two, since they are buttery. Don’t forget to mention what the salt is for. Otherwise wrap up the caramels and when you go to serve them set out a little bowl of sea salt for those who are so inclined.
Did all of this mail and communicating make a difference? Yes it did. So did the fact that Isabelle worked hard to overcome her homesickness and find things she could love about UNH. Starting with a great roommate and two wonderful suite mates. Her criminal justice teacher Professor Schroeder made a difference by reminding her with each one of his amazing classes why she had wanted to go to UNH in the first place. Hitting the gym and working out when things were stressful got those endorphins going plus it introduced her to her new workout buddy. Making new friends helped, as did staying in touch with her old ones. Slowly as the weeks went by she wasn’t as sad, though by the time that transition happened I was hooked on finding little things to send via happy mail.
My pièce de résistance of happy mail came about shortly after Thanksgiving break. We got a robo call from the university telling us an unidentified male had been spotted on campus with guns. This is absolutely the last call any parent wants to receive. Thankfully a Good Samaritan spotted the young man with his weapons and called it in to 911. One person, who was in the right place at the right time, did the right thing and notified the authorities. The police were able to quickly apprehend the suspect, and a building-by-building search found no accomplices. How to express your overwhelming gratitude for what could have been a horrid situation? I baked some more and then spent a few days embroidering a letter to Isabelle. My inspiration was this piece of pigeon mail.
The ladies at my local post office loved it. So did Isabelle. She is now home for winter break. I’m taking a small hiatus from happy mail to focus on the holidays and the fact that everyone is home and safe and happy. I will slip a box of these caramels into the mailbox for the ladies at the post office who made sure everything I put in the mailbox, no matter how weird or crazy it was, found its way down to the mailroom at UNH. I’ll also send a box down to campus security because they deserve something sweet for doing such an awesome job of keeping everyone safe. And I’ll make a donation to the homeless woman who made that very important 911 call.
I wasn’t planning to write about cranberries, but in some weird Thanksgiving cranberry convergence I realized it could be my little present to you. To make things easier during this whirlwind that leads up to Turkey Day, well a bit easier anyway.
It all started on Sunday when I was buying my cranberries. The cashier asked me what I was going to do with them. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. “They’re for my cranberry sauce.” I told her. “Oh, you can make that?” I swallowed my snarky retort and nodded my head then told her, “Sure, it takes about 15 minutes.” That was cranberry moment #1.
Cranberry moment #2 happened when I got this message on my cell phone from my friend Hilary this morning.
“I was going to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but then my sister decided to make one. So now I have to make something else, for 8 people, and I’m in a bit of a panic. Do you have a suggestion for what I should make?”
Apple crumble came to mind because it is easy, fast, and you can play with it (or not) depending on your work load and stress level. After describing the varieties of apples to use (I love a mix of Cortland, Mutsu, MacIntosh, Empire, and Northern Spy) then telling her how easy it was to whip together a rolled oat topping Hilary asked if she could throw in some cranberries with the apples. Perfect! A little zing of tart and color.
Cranberry moment #3 happened last week during the semi finals and will be happening again tonight during the finals of Dancing with the Stars, my guilty tv pleasure. I will be enjoying a modified Sea Breeze cocktail made with cranberry juice, gin, and a squeeze of fresh grapefruit as I cheer on my favorite team.
So for all those celebrating Thanksgiving enjoy your cranberries and travel safely.
12-16 ounces fresh dry cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 orange or 3 clementines
2 quarter size slices of fresh ginger (optional)
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 – 1/3 cup water or white wine
Rinse off the cranberries in a colander and remove and stems or leaves. Halve the orange or clementines and squeeze juice into a medium saucepan. Add cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and ginger, along with the water or wine. Give a quick stir and set over medium low heat. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often until cranberry sauce reaches a boil. Boil (over low heat) for 2-3 minutes then remove from heat and let cool. When the sauce has cooled a bit take a tiny taste to make sure the tartness is to your taste. If it is too tart add a bit more sugar, the residual heat should melt it in – be careful though because the hot sauce is really hot! When all the way cooled take out the citrus rinds, cinnamon stick, and ginger slices before storing in the fridge until ready to serve. If you leave them in they make the cranberry sauce too intense for my tastes.
Apple Cranberry Crumble
10-15 mixed apples
cinnamon sugar to taste (I use about 1/3 – 1/2 cup mixed with 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon)
lemon zest (optional)
1-2 handfuls of fresh cranberries
giant handful of rolled oats, about 3/4 cup
giant handful of flour, about 3/4 cup
giant handful of brown sugar, about 3/4 cup
6-7 Tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
small handful of chopped or slivered nuts, about 1/2 cup (optional)
really small handful chopped candied ginger, about 1/4 cup (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel and slice apples, tossing in cinnamon sugar. Mix in cranberries and place all the fruit in a large pie plate, set on top of a jelly roll pan (saves having to clean up oven if anything overflows).
Mix up crumble topping with your fingers by pinching and rubbing ingredients together until it looks like there are small pea size crumbly bits. Pour over fruit and bake 60-70 minutes or until juicy bubbles appear along the edge and the crumble has browned.
*Note the addition of cranberries makes this crumble juicier than a straight apple crumble. I like the pink juiciness but if you want toss the apples and cranberries with a heaping Tablespoon of flour.
1 part gin
2 parts cranberry juice
1-2 parts fresh grapefruit juice
twist of orange rind
Mix gin, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir or shake until cold, pour into two glasses and serve with orange rind.
I hope you didn’t forget to vote last night, and yes, before you ask those are my very own homemade glittery judging paddles my family made for me. They are by far the most awesome present I ever received.
Last year for Thanksgiving I made six pies. Why so many pies for sixteen people, all of whom had consumed a huge Thanksgiving dinner? Well, I guess you were going to find out sooner or later. Truth is I like pie for breakfast. There, I said it. A slice of pie with a cup of tea or coffee and any day gets off to a good start as far as I’m concerned. The trick to being able to have pie for breakfast is to make extra pie the day before. Which means with a crowd that big (made up mostly of teenage boys) I had to bake a whole lot of pies.
The rustic apple tarts I baked were based on this recipe, while the other three pies were variations on my Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie. For many years my local Bread & Circus supermarket (now a Whole Foods) had a pumpkin pie contest the weekend before Thanksgiving that was judged by several department managers. The only rule was you had to make a pie from ingredients which could be purchased in the store. The first year I entered I didn’t win, not even third place, but I was able to figure out why I’d failed to even place. Being located in the Happy Valley (as we locals call this area) when the judging was finished all the contestants were able to taste all the other pies, including the winners. One bite was enough to know the secret to a blue ribbon pumpkin pie (in these judge’s opinion) was molasses. I tweaked my recipe and the following year came home with a blue.
Even though we’re having a much smaller Thanksgiving dinner this year my sister Heather and her gang of six are coming to visit the day after turkey day. I’m going to be making a whole lot of pies to ensure there are enough leftovers so everyone can have a slice of pie for breakfast.
Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie
This recipe was adapted from Nick Malgieri’s How To Bake. With the addition of some molasses it helped me win first place at the Hadley Bread & Circus Pumpkin Pie contest.
1 cup flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 – 1 teaspoon nutmeg
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
In a food processor add the flour, sugar, salt and nutmeg then pulse three times. Next add the butter and process until mixture resembles cornmeal, 7-12 times. Add egg and pulse just till incorporated. Pour dough onto a work surface and briefly kneed into a 6” circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate one or more hours.
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
3 Tablespoons molasses *
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground clove **
1 1/4 cups light cream
whipped cream for serving
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Roll out dough and line 9” pie plate. For some inspiration on how to make your crust look pretty check out this video. Pop your finished crust in the fridge while you make the filling. Gently whisk filling ingredients together in the order in which they are listed. Pour filling into crust. Bake 60 minutes or until center is nearly set.
The classic method for testing if a custard pie is done is to insert a knife tip into the center and see if it comes out clean. I am of two minds on this testing method since it can often leave a small crack in your finished pie which can lead to a fissure of extreme proportions. Your second option is to go for the jiggle test whereby you gently shake the pie plate while it is still in the oven and see how much of the center wiggles. You want some movement, but not too much. This second method requires some baking experience as to exactly how much jiggle/wiggle is enough. If you’re unsure go for the knife. You can cover your crack by using some of the leftover pie dough to make a leaf shape, which you bake (make several). Once the pie is cooked and cooled you can gently lay the leaf/leaves over the crack.
Cool and serve with whipped cream.
* My nephew Asher is not a fan of molasses. If you don’t like the taste either you can just leave it out and increase the water to 1/2 cup.
** The first time my Mom made a pumpkin pie the recipe did not specify ground cloves so she used whole instead. After the first bite everyone was very cautious to look for cloves before chewing. For this recipe Mom and I suggest you use ground clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger.
I am a big fan of squash. Any squash. Butternut, Delicata, Blue Hubbard, and Acorn. Bring ‘em on (though for some of those bigger squash you may need a chain saw to cut into them)! To me these hard squashes say fall, New England, feasting. When the leaves are down and you finally decide you have to turn the heat on (we made it to October 27th before flipping the switch this year); about the time you dig into your bottom drawer for your sweaters; but before the first snowflakes hit, is the perfect time to celebrate the change of seasons with squash.
For me this recipe is akin to a cooking meditation. You chop and peel and stir as you sip a mug of hot apple cider or a glass of wine and hear about everyone’s day. The timing can be loose and the recipe (even though I’ve written it down for you) is flexible, more of a concept than something to follow to the letter. It’s the food version of one-size-fits-all, and you can tweak it and adapt it to your taste, as well as to what happens to be on your pantry shelves that day.
I’ve made it dozens of times over the years and while it’s wonderful every time, it hasn’t been the same twice. I’ve used sweet pork sausage, but also chicken apple sausage, garlic sausage, and one time a spicy chorizo. When vegetarians are coming to dinner I substitute tempeh for the sausage and vegetable stock or apple cider for the chicken broth. The last few incarnations have had dried cherries mixed with chunks of crisp fall apples, though previous iterations of this dish have contained silvered apricots, dried apples, dried and/or fresh cranberries, pears, and golden raisins.
Nan, the woman who told me about this recipe was a huge fan of the Neville Brothers so I often find myself playing one of their CDs as I putter around the kitchen. When I told her I’d never heard of the Neville Brothers she described them like this, “They have the voices of angels – angels who sing rhythm & blues and funk and come from New Orleans.”
Happy squash! Happy Fall!
Stuffed Acorn Squash
3 acorn squash, cut in half & seeds removed
3-5 Tablespoons olive oil or butter or combination
1-2 small onions, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
2-3 parsnips, peeled and diced
3-4 sausages or equivalent amount of tempeh
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries, roughly chopped
4 cups dried stuffing (look for something low sodium)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Butter or olive oil (if desired)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Arrange squash, cut side down in a jelly roll pan with 1/2″ water. Bake until soft 60-80 minutes, depending on size.
While the squash are baking make the stuffing. Sauté onions, carrots, celery together 5-8 minutes depending on the size of your chopped pieces. If your sausage is pre-cooked dice up and add to the vegetable mixture. For the vegetarian version chop up tempeh and sauté until lightly browned. If you’re using raw sausage cook with vegetables until all pink is gone from the meat. While all this sautéing is going on heat up the stock until simmering.
Add the walnuts, cherries and spices to the vegetable-sausage mix and season to taste with thyme, salt, pepper, garlic powder and sage. Pour 1/2 cups warm stock over dried stuffing and stir to moisten. Pour remaining stock over the vegetable-sausage mix to moisten, then combine the two. Re-taste to correct seasonings.
At this point the squash should be cooked. Flip over, add a pat of butter or margarine or small spoonful of olive oil (if desired) and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper to the squash. If your squash won’t sit level slice off a tiny piece from the bottom so they won’t rock. Mound in the stuffing so it is slightly domed. Repeat with all squash halves. You should have a fair amount of stuffing left over. Place the remaining stuffing in a shallow baking dish or pie plate.
Bake stuffed squash and extra stuffing for 15-20 minutes or until the top of the stuffing starts to lightly brown and crisp. If the stuffing in the baking dish is getting too dry cover with foil. The last bit of baking time gives you time to clean up so there won’t be a mountain of pots and pans to attack after dinner. I admit I derive some OCD satisfaction from the fact that this meal comes out of the oven already portioned out (let’s not go into what that says about me). Sometimes it’s important to have a squash of one’s own.
Serve squash with a side of stuffing.