Category Archives: 50 Recipes

When is it Truly Spring?

PansiesAccording to the calendar spring showed up almost a month ago. Just not at our house. Instead, on the supposed first day of spring, it snowed. A little over two weeks later we didn’t even attempt to have an Easter egg hunt because the snow in our north facing yard had only melted three feet from the house. Plus in some sort of twisted joke Mother Nature decided to send us another dusting of snow on Easter.

Snow on Easter

While I admit I’m no weather forecaster, this is how I judge if spring has truly come:

  • The maple syrup run is over
  • We’ve turned off the furnace
  • The town notifies you that street sweeping will commence
  • Shawn has put the screen doors on
  • Somebody wins our Last-Day-of-Snow-Melt bet

Yes our family has an annual pool, betting on which day of spring will be the day that the very last pile of snow will melt. Winner gets dinner of their choice.

2015 Snow melt predictions

I admit I secretly thought that between the mountains of snow we had this year and the endless snowstorms dumped on New England week after week, I had picked the winning date for 2015. Alas, while I was puttering in the yard yesterday planting pansies and raking up last of the previous year’s leaves, I noticed the one remaining pile of snow had become just a wet spot on the driveway. Which makes Shawn the 2015 Snow Melt winner with his pick of April 19th!

Last spot of snow melt

The last spot of snow melt from the winter of 2015.

My husband is such an egalitarian that he’s chosen to postpone his winning dinner until the kids come home from college next month. So I decided to make him a little precursor treat that sings of sunny days and warmer climates – Homemade Fig Newtons.

Black and White Fig Newtons with Wings

 

I started making these cookies last year while I was teaching a studio block at The Academy at Charlemont on the Foods of Massachusetts. This was an in-depth cooking class based on a curriculum I came up with 2005* where we explored and made all the official state foods of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, along with several of the foods invented in or grown in the state, and (just to be fair) the contenders for what went on to become the “official” state foods.

On July 9, 1997 the Toll-House Chocolate Chip Cookie beat out the Fig Newton for the title of official state cookie of Massachusetts. If I’d been voting it would have been a hard call because they are both great cookies. There is no denying Ruth Wakefield’s chocolate chip cookie is an American classic, but that said, the machine to make Fig Newtons is pure genius. It is basically funnel within a funnel which simultaneously extrude the fig-y center into the center of the biscuit exterior. The Massachusetts connection is the machine to make this happen was invented in 1891 by James Henry Mitchel. Mitchel sold his machine, along with the recipe for fig cookies, to the Kennedy Biscuit Works (later known as Nabisco). Kennedy Biscuit Works had a tradition of naming their cookies and crackers after the towns surrounding Boston, Hence the now-famous name of Fig Newton. You can watch the machine in action in this video of Paul Newman’s Fig Newman’s cookies.

Figs ready to poach

This recipe was inspired by Megan Scott over at Food52. I’ve doubled her recipe because I’ve learned that there is no such thing as enough homemade fig newtons. However many you make you will always wish you’d made more. Scott doesn’t say what kind of figs to use, but I’ve given you the option of making these with white or black figs – I usually make them 1/2 and 1/2. My experience is the white figs tend to be a bit softer and bigger to start with (less cutting up at prep time), but when I’m tasting the finished product side by side the black figs edge out the white by a smidge, at least for me. I also like to use the juice from the oranges to poach the figs in rather than water, which ads that little je ne sais quois to the recipe. Note: This really is a two-day recipe, you can’t really rush it. One day to make dough and filling then an over night in the fridge to chill it all down.

White figs

Finally I’d like to thank our friend Adam Gilbert for helping with the name. I was so frustrated when the dough portion would cook out to the sides instead of staying tightly wrapped around the fig filling that I was ready to jump up and down and say bad words. It’s the food stylist in me I guess. It really steamed my spatula that these fig newtons weren’t perfect. Adam just looked at me as I was vocalizing my frustration and said, “What are you talking about? I love the fact that they have wings.” Thanks Adam, for reminding me that food doesn’t have to always be perfect, it just has to taste good, and these wings are delicious.

Fig Newtons with Wings

Homemade Fig Newtons with Wings

Dough

3 cups flour, plus more for rolling out

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened (2  1/2 sticks)

1  1/3 cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

Zest of two oranges

Filling

2 pounds dried figs (black or white or a combination)

1 cup fresh orange juice, extra water if figs are dry

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. Scoop the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a log, and refrigerate for at least 2-24 hours. Longer is better since this is a very soft dough (see note above).

Combine the figs and juice in a medium saucepan. If you don’t have quite enough juice for the full cup you can top it off with a bit of water. Bring the juice to a boil, cover, and turn to temperature to very low, simmering for about 8-12 minutes. When the liquid has almost completely evaporated turn off the heat and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the figs and any remaining juice to a food processor and pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. If things are too dry add a smidge of water. You want paste, not soup and not cement.

The filling mixture has to cool completely before you put it in the dough or it will melt the dough before you even get it into the oven. If you are in a rush you can pipe fig goo into lines on a sheet of parchment paper and pop in the freezer to cool faster. Once the filling has cooled down I put it into a sturdy disposable pastry bag and cut off the tip so I can easily pipe out 1″ lines of filling onto the dough.

Move oven racks so they divide space into thirds. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place 1/3 of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper which has been sprinkled liberally with flour. Sprinkle more flour on top and roll into a long skinny rectangle, about 7” x 15”. You’ll want to move the dough every so often and perhaps re-flour to keep things from sticking. Cut the dough down the middle so you have two long rectangles. Place 1/6 of fig filling in middle of one rectangle in roughly a 1″ line. Wrap the dough gently over the filling and flip so the seam side is touching the parchment. Repeat with the second rectangle. Place the parchment on a cookie sheet and slide the whole thing into the fridge while you get another sheet of parchment and repeat with the next third of dough.

You’ll be able to cook two cookie sheets at a time, rotating shelves and giving each sheet a 180º spin midway through. Bake 20-24 minutes or until cookies are just browning along the edges. Don’t forget to flip and spin the cookie sheets half way through the baking process. Once the first 4 logs are out bake off the last two.

After letting the fig logs cool slightly (4-10 minutes) gently slice them into cookies with a serrated knife using a sawing motion. You may need to clean the blade of fig filling every so often.

If your dough was a bit warm when you were rolling these out, or your filling was too hot these fig newtons develop very intense “wings”. Don’t worry – as Adam says they’re delicious. Store in an air tight dry container. Makes 70-86 depending on how wide you cut them.

Fig filling for homemade fig newtons

Rolling up homemade fig newtons

So hip, hip horay for true Spring, a husband who is willing to share his winnings, and remembering what is most important about the foods that come out of our ovens.

Homemade fig newton cookies

*State school curriculum requires all third graders in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts study their home state. I am so grateful to Isabelle’s third grade teacher, Pat Bell, who while she a rigorous and dedicated teacher, did not want to include cooking in her class. Her reticence on the culinary front gave me the opportunity to come in and teach an adjunct Massachusetts food class to her 2004-2005 students. Which I taught again when Russell was in third grade.

It turns out that my adopted state’s legislature has a passion for voting to make all sorts of food “the official ______ of Massachusetts”. We have an official beverage, fruit, muffin, dessert, vegetable, donut, and cookie. There has even been proposed legislature to declare an official state sandwich. Can you guess what they are (without googling the answers)?

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Stocking Up On Stock

The sunrises of and early morning skies of late have been stunning. Well worth waking up for. Here are a few of my favorites.

Sunrise March 1 2015

Sunrise March 10 2015

Early March morning in Whately MALater today I’ll go to pick up Russell for his Spring Break from Simon’s Rock College. His last text mentioned he had received my most recent Happy Mail packages, thought he’d done well on his Comp Sci midterm, and was looking forward to some much-needed down time from books, papers and exams. Okay it was a text and in reality it was much shorter than that, but since this is a blog and not a text I thought I could take some license and expand what was communicated via the little green bubble.

Cookies and Mini Simon's Rock School Mascot

Over break Russell won’t be going somewhere warm, though it has certainly warmed up around these parts considerably in the past week. Nor will he be doing any mission work, which I’ve noticed from several of my Facebook friends, is apparently the latest way to spend a college holiday. He probably won’t even hit the slopes to take advantage of all the snow we’ve had this winter.

Whately Winter Weather

Instead he will be having his wisdom teeth pulled out, what for many Americans has become a seemingly bizarre rite of passage. Both my husband and I did it when we were his age. Many of his friends have had it done. On Monday Russell will lose four more teeth, and trust me when I say the Tooth Fairy will not be stopping by to pay him for these fangs.

The doctor made a few recommendations – pick up the pain medication before you come in for the surgery so you won’t have to sit around at the drug store waiting for a prescription to be filled, and also stock the kitchen with soft foods such as soup, ice cream, puddings. His one iron clad rule was no straws! He said he’s had patients who pulled their own stitches out with a straw and a thick shake. So I have locked the straws away, have bought several pints of ice cream,  and have been making stock instead.

In our house stock almost always means chicken stock. There is usually a block or two of homemade stock in the freezer as well as bags of vegetable scraps and bones ready for the next stock pot. If you don’t know this already stock is the most delicious form of recycling for your food scraps. Every time you peel a carrot or onion, or top and tail a stalk of celery you pop those bits into a bag which then lives in your freezer. Likewise when you roast a chicken all the skin and bones end up living in a bag in the freezer until it’s time to make stock. This isn’t anything fancy – it is peasant stock. Rich and dark and flavorful. The perfect base for any soup. It will always be darker in color than what you will find in a box on the super market shelves. It will taste truer than a bouillon cube dissolved in water. Hopefully the resulting soups will give sustenance as he recovers.

Vegetable scraps for stock

Simple Stock

Carrot peelings

Onion skins

Celery scraps

Parsley stalks (optional)

Chicken or turkey carcass, including skin, fat and bones

I don’t measure anything for my stock, just fill a large pot with vegetable scraps, chicken carcasses (you’ll want at least one carcass and it’s even better if you have two) and water, then simmer for a few hours. Cover the pot and let it sit overnight then strain it the next morning.

Straining cooked stock

After that I let the stock sit in a large bowl in the fridge so the fat rises to the top and solidifies somewhat and can then be scrapped off. If I’m in a hurry I use a fat separator which is one of the best inventions ever (see picture below). I’m an Episcopalian so I call what I strain or scrape off chicken fat, if I were Jewish I’d call it schmaltz. This is not officially what one would call schmaltz, but it’s pretty darn close. If you want to make the real deal click here or ask your Jewish Grandmother how to make it. Anyway back to the stock. Once you’ve de-fatted it you can then either use it immediately or pour into freezer bags and save it for a day when you need some stock.

Chicken stock fat separator

Now you know it’s that easy.

What’s not so easy is my ability to not  taste test all the ice cream I bought. What can I say? I am weak and therefor will go back to the store before Monday to restock what I gobbled up. At least I can say that it did pass the taste test, so we can be sure of that much.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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