Aprons – Favorite Tool #17

A young me wearing an apron

I know plenty of people who never wear an apron when they cook, but for me an apron is almost de rigueur when I’m in the kitchen. Part uniform, part habit, if I’m going to be spending some time in front of the stove I usually slip one on. I favor 100% cotton bib aprons that slip over the head and tie in the back – basically a butcher’s apron. If it has a pocket – ooh even better. My friend Rick goes for half apron that he ties at his waist, while my Dad sports a light-up novelty apron once or twice a year when he makes his infamous champagne punch. To each their own.

Favorite aprons with pockets

Here’s why I like my style of apron:

• It (more or less) keeps my clothes clean
• I can wipe dirty hands on it
• It’s easy to wash
• It can be used as an impromptu oven mitt
• It also can be used as an improvised bag to carry vegetables
• You can dry a knife or your hands on it (though not both at the same time)
• It’s heavy enough to provide a protective layer
• I don’ need a napkin when I sit down to lunch
• An apron instantly id’s me as “the cook or food stylist”

Favorite aprons without pockets

You could say my apron is the equivalent of a security blanket in the kitchen. Just like a little kid who can feel secure anywhere they go as long as they have their blankey with them, I know all will be right in the kitchen as long as I have my apron on.

And who could forget the adorable Katy No Pocket by Emmy Payne and H.A. Rey? A carpenter’s apron solved the problem for the poor kangaroo mamma with no pocket.

Katy No Pocket

Aprons

1. In my younger years I favored half aprons – this one was probably made by my Mom. Love the rick rack.
2. The apron on my left is my current favorite, given to me by my sister-in-law Lisa. Most days it’s hanging in the kitchen, a few feet from the stove.
3. The apron on the right has two nice size pockets.
4. The Dagwood sandwich apron was a present from my daughter, though sandwich making is often one time I do not don an apron.
5. The painted apron is a classic butcher’s apron which I wore to a Japanese paper dyeing class (Itajime Shibori) my sister and I took many years ago in Boston. Every time I wear it I’m reminded of how much fun we had that night, which is also why I’ve refused to bleach out the colorful handprints.

1 Comment

Filed under 50 Recipes

Ginger Heart Scones

Window Frost

Sometimes what your true love needs is a little nip. A nip to their tastebuds that is, and candied ginger is a great vehicle for nipping. With Valentine’s Day around the corner I decided to play with some non-chocolate* possibilities for my true love. This recipe is a rift on a scone I’d had at the farmer’s market last summer. Filled with cornmeal and chunks of candied ginger it was crumbly-delicious with just the right amount of ginger zing. Nibbling as I strolled through the outdoor market turned out to be the perfect way  to eat this scone since each bite ended with a small shower of crumbs.

Ginger Heart Scone Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Swedish Meatballs – 60s Soul Food

A few days ago it was my birthday and I went around humming, “It’s my birthday and I’ll cook if I want to” to Leslie Gore’s tune It’s My Party. Seriously, my family had been repeatedly asking me for several days what I wanted to eat for dinner on my birthday. I realized it wasn’t important what we ate, or frankly who cooked it,  just that we all ate together. Okay, there was one small exception – somebody besides me had to make the cake. After all a gal can have somebody else bake the cake because hey – it’s her birthday (and you’re welcome because now you have both Leslie Gore and the Beatles singing in your head).

Frost on the window during the polar vortex

I admit I’ve been in need of something safe, sure, and warm of late. In addition to the mini polar vortex we’ve been experiencing around Western Massachusetts, these past weeks have seen some epic fails in my kitchen. Just before New Year’s Day I’d hoped to post a hot chocolate recipe with homemade marshmallows. The only problem was that no only did the hot chocolate recipe end up with a funky aftertaste of chalk (definitely not what I was going for) but I somehow botched up not one, but two batches of marshmallows. Really two!! How can you wreck marshmallows? Apparently there are so many ways.

frozen pine branch

To celebrate edging into my mid 50s, and to take my mind off my culinary mess-ups, I decided to go back in time and make one of my favorite dishes – Swedish Meatballs. I love Swedish meatballs. I loved them when my Mom used to make them for us in her electric frying pan with gobs of butter and sour cream, they’re my guilty pleasure whenever I swing into an Ikea store, and clearly from this old photo they’re something I used to try my hand at when I first started cooking dinner for my family back in the early 70s.

Swedish meatballs circa 1973

The kids took their turn in the kitchen first and made me a gluten-free, vegan chocolate raspberry birthday cake (not that I am GF or V, but they did it because well, they could and turned out it was awesome!!). Then I got my turn in front of the stove and tweaked the classic Ikea Swedish meatball dinner in celebration of birthday #54.

Platter of homemade Swedish meatballs Not having easy access to lingonberries I grabbed a bag of Massachusetts cranberries and made this sauce, leaving out the cinnamon and dropping the sugar to 1/3 cup. I subbed sweet potatoes for regular potatoes and boiled and mashed as per usual.

cranberries in sieve

My last adjustment was to the meatballs themselves. I morphed a Joy of Cooking recipe with one that my Mom used to use from Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book. The biggest changes were that while I, the birthday girl, am not dairy free many of my family members avoid cow dairy. So these Swedish meatballs are dairy free. There was some discussion at dinner around the fact that you probably couldn’t label cow meat dairy free since cows are mammals, which on a metaphorical sense I understand, but from a food sensitivity view-point I don’t know that I fully agree with. Regardless, these Swedish meatballs were the perfect Proustian blend of one of my Mom’s early forays into foreign foods, their Ikea incarnation, and the way my family eats today.

Dairy free Swedish meatballs

Swedish Meatballs

1 small onion minced

1 Tablespoon oil

2 pounds ground beef

2 eggs

2/3 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko)

3/4 cup water

1/2-1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

5 Tablespoons minced parsley, divided

Oil for frying

Preheat the oven to 225ºF. Sauté the onion in the Tablespoon of oil a few minutes until it starts to become translucent. Scrape it all into a large bowl, then add the water, bead crumbs, eggs and spices, mixing all together. Next add the beef and 3 Tablespoons of the parsley and beat by hand for 3-4 minutes. The water, in combination with the thorough mixing, is what helps make these meatballs less dense than most meatballs.

Heat a 1/4 – 1/2 inch of oil in a heavy fry pan to medium high. Roll the meatball mixture into small balls, about the size of walnuts and then cook in the oil until they are well browned on all sides. Depending on the size of your pan and the number of meatballs you have sizzling at any one time this can take from 6-9 minutes. As the meatballs are browned transfer them onto a jelly roll pan in your oven. They need to cook a little more, but you don’t want to dry them out. Cooks tip: any meatballs that fall apart in the fry pan are for the cook to taste test.

Browning Swedish meatballs Once the meatballs are all browned and in the oven make the gravy. I made mine from the pan drippings, but I found there were too many burned bits so in future I would just make the gravy separately. Also this is where I went the dairy free route. If you or your family don’t need to be dairy free use all butter for the oil and margarine and regular sour cream. Also I always have homemade chicken stock on hand so I used that, but if you’d like you can use canned low sodium beef broth.

Swedish Meatball Gravy

4 Tablespoons oil

4 Tablespoons margarine

1/2 cup flour

3 1/2 – 4 cups rich homemade chicken stock

6-8 Tablespoons sour cream substitute (I used Toffutti®)

1-2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Salt & white pepper to taste

This gravy is a basic roux sauce. In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the oil and margarine. Add in the flour and cook a few minutes stirring constantly with a whisk. Turn the heat to medium low and gradually stir in the stock and worcestershire sauce (you’re still whisking like a bandit). Vary the amount of stock to change the thickness of your gravy. You may want to turn the heat up a bit to get the mixture to boil since it is only when the mixture has reached the point where it bubbles along the edges of the saucepan that you know how thick your gravy will be when you’re done. I just don’t keep it at the higher heat since your chances of burning it are greater. Whisk in the sour cream substitute and then taste for salt and pepper.

Swedish meatball gravy

Once the gravy is made I pop the meatballs in for a few minutes so they’re thoroughly coated with the creamy sauce. Serve on a platter with the remaining parsley sprinkled on top.

Homemade rift on Ikea Swedish meatballs

Then after dinner, if you are the birthday gal, you can enjoy your cake and the re-lighting candles your teenagers placed on top. Note they were kind enough not to put 54 candles on the cake and they ultimately relented and gave me a cup of water so I could put out the candles which relit themselves several times. All in all a very warm and delicious celebration.

GF and Vegan Chocolate birthday cake with raspberries

5 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Best Christmas Present Ever

Two weeks ago I gave my sister the best homemade Christmas present ever. It smelled good, tasted good, and I knew she’d love it. Here’s what it consisted of:

1  1/4 pounds of sugar

2  3/4 cups sugar

1  1/2 cups brown sugar

half a dozen eggs

10  1/3 cups flour

Molasses

Cinnamon

Cloves

Ginger

Nutmeg

Allspice

1 cup pecans

Non parelis and colored sugars

Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt

What I made and gave her was raw cookie dough for Molasses Cookies, Snickerdoodles, Scandinavians, Sugar Cookies, and Shawn’s favorite Pecan Butterscotch cookies.

Cookie dough for Christmas

Why is this the best homemade Christmas present ever? Because it makes her house smell divine plus it gave her way more cookie booty than the I would have had time to bake and decorate. The bonus was after everything was baked and eaten that was it, no worries about if what I gave her fit her decor or if she had shelf space for it. Though since she’s my sister I can say with confidence that if I did give her something it would be to her taste. She is my sister after all.

Try it, there’s still time for you to make this present yourself and give it to someone near and dear. If you’d like use the recipes on my blog, or if you have favorite holiday cookie recipes whip up a batch of those. Make sure to include all the bits and bobs they’ll need to finish the cookies such as cinnamon sugar for the Snickerdoodles, red and green colored sugar as well as some red seedless jam for the Scandinavians (whoops, sorry I forgot the jam Heather!), along with baking times and temperatures. I should have added a roll of parchment paper but my sister was creative and made do without, cause I forgot that too.

Don't forget all the bits and bobs for decorating cookies

When you’re thinking of which cookies to give make sure they can be formed into a log, then sliced and baked. Snickerdoodles, molasses crinkles, and pecan butterscotch cookies all work well and can be cut from refrigerated or frozen logs. For anything that needs to be sugared before baking simply dip the slices in sugar and make sure both sides get coated well. Scandinavians need to be smooshed into thumbprints so those work too but let the recipient know they have to come to room temperature first. Since sugar cookie dough needs to be rolled out before being cut into shapes I make a flat disc of that dough so it’s easier to roll out.

 You could also make a Christmas CD to get everyone in the cookie baking–tree decorating (in case they don’t have their tree up)–present wrapping mood. I mentioned some of my favorites in this blog post. This year I’ve been listening a lot to Straight No Chaser’s Christmas Cheer , who have cheeky remixes of some of my old favorites. I’ve also been cranking this and this, both of which have been flying around the internet this holiday season.

Another reason I gave this gift to my sister is because she’s pretty busy with their newest family member – Edgar Allen Pug. They all have their hands and laps full of this adorable new puppy. He is the softest, most scrumptious black pug ever!

Edgar Allen Pug

Edgar the pug

4 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes, In between

Countdown to Advent

I know that right now most people are ramping up for the big turkey and pie day next week a.k.a. Thanksgiving. We’re going to see my folks and sister in Hudson, New York and I’ve already made and frozen the stuffing (I used this recipe minus the nuts and sausage), gravy and butternut squash. Next week I’ll make a few pumpkin pies and some rustic apple tarts. Maybe the kids will help with some applesauce when they come home from college. All in all I feel like Thanksgiving is pretty much under control.

While turkey day is more or less organized what seems to sneak up on me every year is the season of Advent. This year the first Sunday of Advent is November 30th. Fortunately for me there are four weeks to get ready for the mystery of Christmas. I need all of that time to switch gears and remember there is so much more I am getting ready for beyond the shopping, cookie baking, and jolly guy in the red suit. Since our kids are returning to college the first day of Advent I thought I’d pull out their Advent calendars now. Isabelle and Russell have one (as do my nephews, niece and goddaughter), and we have a few other ways of marking Advent – all homemade. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under In between

Golden Weekend

It has been a golden weekend here in Western Massachusetts. Not so much the weather, rather it has been two days of pure gold with what’s been going on. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Favorite Tool #16

I was toodling around the internet last week and came across this must have list of kitchen tools which included (I kid you not) an avocado dicer, banana slicer (while I wouldn’t advocate buying one it is worth spending a few minutes reading the awesome customer reviews) and strawberry huller. Who invented these things, and more to the point who buys them?

Un-needed kitchen tools

In general I am not a fan of gadgets or products that promise to do a dozen different tasks, but when I looked at the gadgets I listed above I thought to myself,

“Avocado dicer or paring knife?”

“Banana slicer or paring knife?”

“Strawberry huller or paring knife?”

I think a sharp little paring knife would do it all of those tasks and more.

Selection of paring knives

So before you get suckered into buying put these spiffy, fun-looking gadgets on your Christmas wish-list get a paring knife (or two) instead. Here’s what to look for – something with a 4″ blade that is wicked sharp. That’s it. It will take care of avocados, bananas, strawberries, apples, and so much more. You and your gadget drawer will thank me.

Apple peeled with paring knife

P.S. I admit I got a chuckle out of these Farfalloni pasta potholders, but not enough to pull out my wallet.

3 Comments

Filed under Favorite Tools