Category Archives: 50 Recipes

Twisting Together – Blueberry Corn Muffins

It started with a dry wall screw in my tire.

The cause of my low tire pressure warning light

Actually let me back up. This recipe really started with me getting in my car the other day to go grocery shopping then seeing a light on the dashboard I hadn’t seen before. Some weird symbol I had to flip through my owner’s manual to figure out – which turned out to mean low tire pressure. And even though my car is computer enough to tell me that salient fact, it isn’t clever enough to tell me which tire. So I drove to the grocery store via our favorite garage – Fisher’s. They were able to figure out which tire it was, and my mechanic Jeff was able to take care of it right away, but he needed 20-30 minutes.

low tire pressure light

So I trotted across the street to Jerry’s Place, another South Deerfield institution and ordered a grilled blueberry muffin. They split a blueberry muffin in half, slather it with butter, grill it till it’s crispy golden, then top off with more butter and pop it on a plate. You can watch the butter melt into the hot muffin and know, just know, that it will be delicious. Which it was. However as I sat there nibbling bites of my muffin I thought of how I could ramp up this concept. Add a little more tooth to it.

Blueberry corn muffins for breakfast

Which is when Davis Bates came to mind. Bates is a brilliant storyteller who the kids and I would often go to see at various events, most often libraries, where he was performing. We bought his cassette tape to listen to on car rides (and what trip isn’t a car ride when you live in Whately?) and we listened and listened and listened to that tape so much and so often we finally wore it out. His stories are wonderful; and Russell, Isabelle and I could, and probably still can, speak his monologues right along with him. So what I recalled as I sat there munching on my blueberry muffin was Davis & Gramp Bates eating corn muffins up in Maine.

“I liked going for walks with my grandfather. Sometimes we’d get up early in the morning, before my parents were awake, and we’d walk down to Gilbert Brother’s Wharf and have some muffins. Corn muffins or bran muffins. Gramp would have a cup of coffee. Then we’d come back and have breakfast.”

I thought to myself, what if you took a corn muffin, added some blueberries, which have just come into season here in Massachusetts, to the batter, then split and grilled it like they do at Jerry’s Place? Heaven, it would have to be like heaven. So I added cornmeal and blueberries to my shopping list and this is the result. All because of a screw in my tire.

Mix the blueberries into the dry mix

Gently fold dry and wet muffin ingredients together

Blueberry corn muffins ready to bake

Blueberry Corn Muffins

3/4 cup flour (white or whole wheat)

1 1/4 cup cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs

1/2 cup yogurt

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2-5 Tablespoons honey

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries plus a handful more for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line your muffin tins with paper liners or grease (liberally).

Mix the dry ingredients together, then gently toss in the blueberries (if you are using fresh). In a separate bowl mix the eggs, yogurt, milk, oil, melted butter and honey together. I like my cornbread less sweet, since I usually drizzle it with honey right before eating, which is why I’ve given a broad range of sweetness in the honey amount. Once the blueberries have a light coating of flour/cornmeal fold the wet ingredients in with the dry. You’ll have to be gentle in order to not smoosh the blueberries.

If you’re using frozen blueberries you will want to mix dry, then wet ingredients and gently combine the two. Last off sprinkle in the frozen blueberries and fold to combine. There will be blue streaks, it can’t be helped. Still the same delicious taste.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tins and top (if you’d like) with a few more blueberries. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into a muffin comes out dry.

These muffins are great to eat straight out of the oven, or you can wait a bit, then split and grill them in butter or margarine. Maybe even drizzle on some honey.

All gone

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Clementine Cake …. Again

Sometimes you can’t stop thinking about someone, which might be labeled as passionate, obsessive, or in the worst case scenario, as stalker-ish behavior. If that’s how we think of person fixating on another person, what do we call someone who can’t stop thinking about a recipe? More specifically a cake. Obsessive, compulsive, maybe even a little dessert crazy? Whatever you call it, let’s admit it isn’t completely normal. Which pretty much describes me for the last few weeks, making the Clementine Almond Cake again, and again, and again.

If you read about the Clementine Almond cake last month and had your fill then you may want to stop reading now. Or pop over and enjoy some other food blogs like Molly Yeh or Sara & Hugh Forte or Beth Kirby. Of course if you want to follow me down the rabbit hole come along…

One of the things I wondered about with this recipe is the almond flour. I started with Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, which while yielding delicious results, was rather pricy (in my opinion) at $13/pound. In the weeks I’ve been testing and retesting this recipe Stop N Shop has the almond meal/flour on sale for $10/pound. Trader Joe’s has a version of almond flour with the skin still on which goes for around $6/pound. The skin off version is more delicate in both taste and looks, but the question remains if it is worth nearly twice the price?

Clementine Almond Cake with and without skin in the almond flour

According to two out of my three taste-testers (Dan our plumber, Bill our neighbor and Shawn) they liked the taste of the TJ skin still on version. It does give the cake a charming freckled look. My take is if I were making this for a tea party I’d go for skinless and if I was making this for a casual weekend snack I think the skin on version is fine.

The second thing I’ve been playing around with is the citrus. Both inside and on top.

Let’s talk about the cake batter first. The recipe my friend Jessica gave me called for clementines, so I made it with clementines, and it was pretty fantastic. My parents then sent Shawn and I a huge box of honeybell oranges so I tried a version with those. Equally good, but the taste was definitely not as sweet, and to my mind not quite as moist (though this could never be called a dry cake). A couple of weeks ago I was at A. Russo & Sons and picked up a handful of tangerines and they too they had their own unique taste. If I were to pick one citrus I’d go with clementines. Second choice would be a mix of clementine, honeybell, and tangerine.

This past week at my knitting group this cake was served and Hilary brought up question of what you do when clementines are out of season. The question got me thinking – Cherry Almond Cake? Pear Almond Cake? You wouldn’t boil those fruit for two hours, but I can imagine pears being cooked into a sauce that would be close to the consistency of the boiled clementines. If any of you adventurous cooks try one of these variations (or another) let me know.

Kumquats ready to candy

To decorate the top of the finished cake (which is completely optional) I’ve candied everything from kumquats to oranges. I love how the tartness of a kumquat still manages to come though, even after boiling in sugar water. I also like how the little grape-sized citrus hold their shape. With larger citrus I found myself just using the candied peel. I know the NYT article showed a mountain of candied clementines on top of the cake, but it’s both ridiculous (who the heck can cut through three inches of candied clementines without making it look like a chainsaw massacre) and more germane it’s the wrong proportion of cake to glaze to decorative topping. Of course if you can’t be bothered to candy anything no worries since the cake is still yummy with just the chocolate glaze.

The last thing I discovered through repeated bakings is that you should “flour” the pan with almond meal to keep if from sticking. I’ve added this suggestion to the original blog post because it wasn’t something I considered the first time around.

For easy release use almond flour to coat the greased pan

The cooling process is a tiny bit fussy in this cake in a Goldilocks kind of way. You can’t take it out of the pan the minute you pull it from the oven (too hot) or it will fall apart, yet you shouldn’t let it cool completely in the pan (too cold) since it will want to stick if you leave it too long. I’ve found that letting it cool in the pan 20 – 30 minutes on a wire rack, then carefully using a thin knife to loosen the edges seems to work best (just right). I also sit the pan on its side on top of some kitchen towels or a wooden cutting board, and with my knife pull gently up from the bottom of the cake before letting it fall back. I repeat this process, scooting around the entire circumference of the pan inch by inch. By the time I’ve gone all the way around the cake I can be pretty sure nothing is going to stick. Then I use the two wire rack method to unmold the cake. The two rack method has you gently unmolding the cake onto one wire rack (so it is now resting on its top) then placing the second wire rack on the bottom of the cake and flipping it over so everything is now right side up, then gently taking away the first wire rack.

Ease the cake away from the bottom and sides of the pan with a thin knife

Honestly this is probably waaaay more information than you needed, especially since most of you are just going to eat this cake with your eyes. Still it seemed worthwhile to share the knowledge acquired after baking five well actually seven okay I’ll be honest, eight of these cakes. Perhaps I should apply for a job as a recipe tester at Cooks Illustrated where they love to test, test, and test again.

Clementine Almond Cake with Candied Kumquats

While this cake is so delicious I find myself wanting to share sometimes all you need is a little something. This amount makes a six-inch cake.

Clementine Almond Cake (the small version)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

shy 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup almond flour/meal

3/4 cup clementine purée (click here for how-to)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a six-inch cake pan with vegetable shortening then line the bottom with parchment paper, greasing that too. Sprinkle in some almond flour/meal, tilting the pan to make sure it is evenly distributed and goes up the sides.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together for a minute, then add the rest of the ingredients and whisk a bit more so everything is nicely combined. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for one hour, or a bit more. You want the cake to be “quiet” when you listen to it.

Let cake cool in the pan, on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen and stuck bits. Then tilt the pan on it’s side and again using the thin knife pull gently on the bottom of the cake to make sure it is released. Since this cake is small you can either turn it out onto your outstretched hand then right it onto a cooling rack or you can use the two cooling rack method described above. Cool completely then frost with chocolate glaze and candied citrus if desired.

Chocolate Glaze (for a small cake)

2 ounces chopped dark chocolate

Generous 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons organic corn syrup or agave

Candied Citrus (click here for how-to), optional

In a small saucepan over low heat start melting the butter then add the chopped chocolate and corn syrup. Stir gently until melted and let cool for a few minutes.

When cool enough to still be runny, but not so warm it will run all over the place pour onto the center of the cake. It should spread out just to the edges if you are careful. Or you can go wild and pour however you want. If you want to add the candied citrus let the chocolate glaze set up for a few moments then add.

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Hit or Miss Valentine

Consistency is not my middle name, at least not when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I make cards, often I don’t. Occasionally I’ll bake up dozens of sugar cookie hearts and elaborately decorate them à la Martha Stewart with enough red food dye to make your teeth pink for days. Then the following year(s) I find I can’t be bothered to dig out my heart-shaped cookie cutters, let alone root around in the basement for my box of food dyes. I feel like I’m the poster child for a hit or miss Valentine gal.

Anatomical knitted heart by Hilary Zaloom

My friends are not like me. They actually plan ahead for Valentine’s Day. Hilary’s Vday imagination seems to know no bounds and each year sees her creating something more fantastic than the year before from an anatomically correct knitted heart to  sculpted love token molded from the red wax covering babybel cheeses. Diane’s family celebrates with a meal of red & pink foods. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends goes to an annual Valentine card making party where dozens of people drink hot chocolate and eat fun food while chatting and crafting Vday cards like maniacs. Perhaps I need to wrangle myself an invitation to that soirée. Even Julia Child and her husband Paul sent out Valentine cards instead of Christmas greetings, well they did that because they couldn’t get it together in December, but still.

Valentine's Day card of Julia and Paul Child

This year I found the cake – a glorious cake – with which all Valentine’s Days (and many other days of the year) should be celebrated. It’s path to my oven came by way of Jessica last week on knitting night that she had found in the New York Times, which purports to be an old Sephardic recipe John Willougby got from Ruth Levy who had the cake made for her by a woman named Dawn Datso. Got that?

Sephardic Jews –> Dawn –> Ruth –> John –> NYT –> Jessica –>Me –> You

There that makes things clearer now doesn’t it?

 Anyway I had been looking for something to make for my church’s Love & Chocolate fundraiser (we desperately need to put an elevator into the building) last Friday and this seemed like just the recipe to try. Someone else was setting up a chocolate fountain at the event, and I’d been asked to bring in a few goodies to sell during intermission. Baskets of chocolate ganache filled raspberries – check. Heart shaped GF brownies – check. Marshmallow peep goo formed into more hearts – check. My final donations were couple of Clementine Cakes.

Me being me I did not bother to check out Mr. Willoughby’s recipe on the NYT website before heading off to cook. Rather I went boldly into the kitchen using the instructions Jessica rattled off as we were knitting which I managed to scribbled down onto the bottom of one of my patterns. It is after all, ridiculously simple. Simple that is until you read the thread of comments and realize how much could go wrong.

It seems that much of this cakes success (or lack thereof) lies in the juiciness of your clementines. It makes sense, especially if you’ve ever peeled a clementine and popped a wedge into your mouth expecting the juice to burst all over your tongue, only to realize you have a piece of orange-colored cardboard in your mouth that you then have to spit out since it is inedible. If you have tasted one of those icky kind of clementines then of course you can understand that a cake made with them would be awful. No matter how finely ground your almond flour or what shade of blue or green the shells of your free-range eggs are. If you want to make a clementine or tangerine or honeybell cake then make sure your citrus is delicious and juicy to start with. I am giving you instructions to taste test first. Fortunately my clementines were delish.

Mandarine oranges

The snafu for me came in my thinking I could bake these off in mini bundt pans. That didn’t work out for me, though it did afford Shawn and I the opportunity to definitively determine how yummy the cake was as we snorfled down the broken bits. Let’s call it quality control rather than failure. A couple of the NYT readers reported they were able to make this in a bundt pan, so perhaps I was too eager to unmold them. Or my bundt design was too complicated. Maybe you have to grease and almond flour a bundt pan first. Who knows? From now on I am sticking to straight sided pans.

Failed clementine almond bundt cakes

Assuming that you’re probably not going to read through all the comments on the NYT website either here are the reader’s digest version of what I think is important to know:

  • Taste test your citrus before boiling it up
  • Use a regular cake pan (not the suggested spring-form pan)
  • Line your cake pan with a circle of parchment paper
  • Organic is a good idea since you’ll be eating the rind
  • Scrub the citrus first since there is probably a wax coating on it
  • Make a double recipe – this cake disappears fast

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe for candying the citrus. You can of course skip that step. It’s up to you. It’s pretty much decoration. For the Love and Chocolate cakes I candied thin slices of kumquat which were adorable.

Clementine prep for Clementine Cake

One of the things I quite like about the cake is that it is naturally gluten free. These days more and more of my friends are giving it up so I love having a recipe (or three) that will work for them. I did overhear someone at L&C reach for the cake only to pull their hand back and say to their companion, “Ewww, I’m not going to get that – it’s gluten free.” Their loss. If you leave off the chocolate glaze it is also a dairy free cake. Supposedly the clementine cake gets better with age, though I haven’t had one around long enough to know what it’s shelf life is.

Clementine Almond cake with Chocolate Glaze and Candied Citrus Peel

Valentine’s Day Clementine Cake

This recipe is a double batch so if you don’t want to eat it all or give some of it away reduce by half.

10 juicy clementines or 4 nicely sized honeybells

12 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

4 cups almond flour or almond meal

Give the citrus a gentle scrub then place in a non-reactive saucepan filled with water and boil for two hours. Every so often check and see if you need to add more water. Swirl the citrus into different positions with a spoon or chopstick. They don’t need to be babysat, but neither can they be completely ignored. Sort of like a 9-year-old.

After the citrus has been boiled scoop them out into a bowl and let them cool down enough that you won’t burn your hands when you slice them in half. You want to remove any seeds (which my clementines had few of, but the honeybells were chock full of). Do not be tempted to do this on a flat surface as you will loose some of the juices when you slice. Then pop all the seeded halves and juice into a food processor and run until you have a purée. Measure it out – you’ll want between 1  1/4 and 1  1/2 cups of purée for each cake, and since this recipe makes 2 cakes you should have 2  1/2 – 3 cups of orange goop purée.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of two 9″ cake pans or four 6″ cake pans. I’d also strongly suggest you dust the greased pan with some almond flour, which will help the batter to not stick to the pan when you’re ready to unmold it.

Beat the dozen eggs with the sugar for 2-3 minutes. Add the salt, baking powder, half (2 cups) the almond flour and half (1  1/4 – 1  1/2 cups) orange purée and beat to incorporate. Add the rest of the almond flour and orange purée and beat till no lumps remain.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for one hour. Yes, I said one hour, or until the cake stops snap, crackle, and popping when you listen to it. I was sure there would be a time difference between the small pans and the larger ones but there does not seem to be. You can also try the toothpick test, but this is such an audible cake I found listening was a good way to judge doneness. I let the cakes rest for a few minutes than ran a thin knife around the edge of the pan and let the cakes cool some more.

The color is a rich golden yellow/brown. Some NYT readers complained it was too dark, which was not my experience. My cakes all dipped a bit in the center as they cooled, which I found okay since that meant there was a place for more chocolate glaze. After the cake has cooled 15-20 minutes I removed it from the pans and then let it cool completely. If you want you can eat it as is. A lovely, simple orange almond cake. Great with coffee, something only an idiot (or person allergic to almonds) would say no to.

Cooling almond clementine cake

Or you can notch things up with chocolate glaze. This is definitely enough to glaze two 6″ cake tops. I haven’t tried it for glazing two 9″ cake tops. If you want it going over the sides like in the NYT or you want it extra thick you’ll need to increase the amount of chocolate and butter.

Chocolate haystack of chopped dark chocolate

Chocolate Glaze

6 ounces chopped chocolate

9 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon)*

2 teaspoons corn syrup or agave nectar

In a small saucepan start melting the butter over low heat then dump in the chocolate and corn syrup. Stir until melted then cool. You’re supposed to get the temperature down to 90ºF, but my thermometer doesn’t go that low so I just waited till it wasn’t too liquid, but seemed to still be pourable.

Then I poured it over the cake, using a spoon to get it right up to the edge. Let sit a bit for the glaze to firm up. If you want to decorate with candied orange zest I did it while the glaze was semi liquid.

*Hilary texted me that she made this the other night for her dairy free husband and substituted coconut oil for the butter. You only need 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of coconut oil depending upon taste.

Candied Orange Slices

A handful of kumquats or 1-2 tangerines

2/3 cup sugar

Wash and slice the citrus into very thin slices, removing any seeds. Boil in water for 10-15 minutes. Mr. Liebovitz strongly suggests a non-reactive pan for this process, and who am I to argue? Drain the citrus slices, then put them back into the pan with 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup sugar. Simmer 10-30 minutes depending upon the thickness of your slices.

Drain citrus from syrup and let cool on a parchment paper lined tray. I saved the citrus infused simple syrup since it should be amazing stirred into an adult beverage or drizzled over a cake.

I found the kumquats, being so tiny, held together quite well and took less time to cook. The tangerines were vibrant in color and taste, but a bit raggedy so I ended up just using slivers of their rind to decorate my cakes. Of course not wanting to waste anything I slurped down the candied flesh which was delicious.

Slices of chocolate glazed orange almond cake

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day!

Vintage chocolate mold

Photo Credits:

Knitted Heart by Hilary Zaloom

Julia & Paul Child from the Julia Child papers at the Schlesinger Library

 All others by Cynthia Allen

P.S. I am so in love with this cake that I’ve been obsessively making it for several weeks. If you want to read more about my further adventures with Clementine Almond Cake click here.

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How Do You Relax?

The other day someone asked me what I did to relax. It’s an interesting question since what I do to relax and recharge might be someone else’s idea of landing in the seventh circle of purgatory with the flames turned on high. Still I was the one being asked the question so here are my answers:

There’s a fair amount of fluidity to what is on or off my relaxation list at any given time, though cooking and reading have pretty consistently had a spot. There’s a chance that some things may make a comeback (beekeeping), while others will decidedly stay in the past tense (running, macramé and reupholstery). It’s my list, so don’t judge.

My latest knitting project

 

While cooking is at the top of my list, I realized it didn’t have to be my cooking. I am truly tickled when someone else cooks for me. It’s honestly such a treat, and it happened last night. My husband made us a pot of his Kielbasa Stew to take the chill off.

Warm up with a big pot of Kielbasa Stew

Shawn’s been making this dish for me since we first started courting over twenty-two years ago. The first time was probably during the blizzard just after we met. While this stew is never the same, it is always delicious. Simple, straightforward food for a cold winter’s night. Serve with a game of backgammon and it’s sure to be a relaxing evening.

Shawn’s Kielbasa Stew

Chicken Broth

Onions, chopped

Carrots, peeled and chopped

Potatoes, peeled or not and cubed

Turkey Kielbasa, sliced into discs

Sun Dried Tomatoes, slivered (optional)

Olive Oil

Lightly sauté chopped onions in a splash of olive oil and when they become translucent stir in the kielbasa. Put the lid on and let the kielbasa heat up for 5-10 minutes. Then add the broth and vegetables, simmering over low heat until the potatoes and carrots have softened, about 20-30 minutes.

You can add a dollop of horseradish to your bowl if you need a good sinus cleanse. If you like something to dip in your stew add a slice of cheese-y toast. Or plain, cause it’s just dandy as is.

If you’re wondering what the measurements are for this stew you’re out of luck. Shawn doesn’t measure, he just goes by what feels good and what’s in the cupboard. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine!

Shawn's super easy Kielbasa Stew

I’m interested in what you do to relax. Leave a comment below cause I might want to try it, and I promise no judging.

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Indian Pudding as Birthday Cake

Last Friday there were five more candles on my birthday cake than there were when I started this blog. Yup, it’s that time of year. Time to sing the song, put on the birthday hat, and celebrate. Which all happened after a day of zooming back and forth across the state.

Since Isabelle needed to pop over to Hanscom Air Force base to tie up some AFROTC stuff the celebratory birthday eating began at Sofra in Cambridge with their Turkish style breakfast and a pistachio pop-tart. Ana Sorten’s flavor combinations are truly five-star. If you ever are in the greater Boston area I would highly recommend you make time for a detour to check it out. Of course if I, like my sister, lived a few miles from Sofra’s front door I might stop cooking all together.Breakfast at SofraOn our drive back to western side of the state Isabelle asked what I wanted for my birthday dessert, since it’s a tradition in our family that the birthday gal or guy gets to choose the meal and dessert*. Jokingly I told her I wanted, “all the deserts associated with Massachusetts – Boston Cream Pie, chocolate chip cookies, and Indian Pudding.” It wasn’t clear who was going to make the birthday dessert(s) but I knew that somehow there would be something sweet to fill the bill. Honestly I would have been happy to make my own cake/dessert since being in the kitchen is so relaxing; I just didn’t have the time.

When everyone had reconvene back at the house in the early evening we popped over the bridge to the Blue Heron Restaurant for cocktails and hors d’oeuvre. Shawn had a fabu dinner planned at home for later, but I wanted a little bit of an adult beverage sparkle as well as a few foods I was unlikely to cook at home. Their hand cut french fries with homemade truffle mayo are swoon-worthy, as are their chickpea coated fried calamari.

With my birthday bookended by visits to two of my favorite eateries, followed by hubby grilling up some lamby chops, it was a pretty sweet day in the food department. The proverbial cherry on top was Isabelle directing Russell (via text) to stop by Paul & Elizabeth’s restaurant to pick up a few servings of their Indian Pudding. My 55th birthday was complete.Indian Pudding a la ModeIf you didn’t grow up in New England, or spend some time here, it is likely that you have no idea what Indian Pudding is. Basically it is a smash-up of old world meets new world. A variation on the hasty puddings of the Pilgrims, but substituting the ground cornmeal of the Native Americans for the wheat of the old world. Having grown up in New York state (which has much more in common culturally with the New England states than it does with the mid Atlantic states in my opinion), then attended college and ultimately settled in the Bay State, I know all about Indian Pudding. It also happens to be one of my Dad’s favorite desserts. And as far as I am concerned, it should have been acknowledged as one of the official foods of Massachusetts, but we’ll talk more about that later.**County map of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. From the New York Public Library digital collection.Much as I love Indian Pudding I have to be honest and tell those of you have never eaten it – Indian Pudding is butt ugly. Right up there with pet food. If you can get past the visual ugliness it is a yummy dessert. I can pretty much guarantee if you are served a bowl of warm Indian Pudding, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top, your eyelids will flutter as you murmur, “Mmmmmm.” Do your deserts need to be pretty? Make a Boston Cream Pie. If you’re okay with a homely-but-soul-satisfyingly-delicious-on-a-cold-winter-day-dessert than whip up a vat of Indian Pudding, the dish not even a food stylist can make look glamorous.

I started making Indian Pudding when I taught a cooking section for Isabelle’s third grade class on the Foods of Massachusetts. Third grade is the year our state determined all kids in public schools should learn about everything Massachusetts, from its history and geography, to its Peoples (Wampanoags/Puritans/Pilgrims) and products. Me being me I thought those eight and nine-year-olds should also learn about the official and unofficial foods of Massachusetts. So I wrote up a curriculum, which her teacher Pat Bell approved and was in the room, whisk recipes in hand, for a semester.Cornmeal, brown sugar and spices for Indian PuddingWhen I started making this dessert I tweaked the Deerfield Inn’s version. Lately though a thicker, slightly less sweet version, which I adapted from the New York Times has appealed to my taste. When I had my knitting group act as guinea pigs taste testers this week they voted for the thicker, less sweet version, saying, “If you want it sweeter the ice cream does the trick. Or you could drizzle it with maple syrup…” So this is a pretty flexible recipe and can be adjusted to your tastes.

I made this two times – once with cow’s milk and another time with goat’s milk, both full fat. There did not seem to be a difference from the type of dairy used, which was great since a number of my family and friends prefer goat’s milk.

Indian Pudding side by sideI also used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Stone Ground Cornmeal, which has a really nice flavor, is probably pretty similar to what the early settlers used, and is gluten-free (which the settler’s probably didn’t give a hoot about but several of my friends do). In the past I’ve also used Gray’s Johnnycake Corn Meal which is made entirely from Rhode Island Narragansett flint corn, and is grown on the southern coast of Rhode Island. It’s has superb flavor too, and is decidedly a New England product.

Indian Pudding

1 Tablespoon butter or margarine

1 quart whole milk, cow or goat

1/3 – 1 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup molasses (if  you want a less intense molasses flavor substitute 1/4 cup maple syrup for half the molasses)

4 eggs

Ice cream or whipped cream for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease a 2 quart baking dish with the butter. Also put a kettle on so you have enough hot water to make a ban marie.

Heat milk until steaming, then slowly whisk in the cornmeal, spices, brown sugar, and molasses. Cook until thickened, which if you use the full cup of cornmeal should take about 10 minutes (if you use less cornmeal it can take a bit longer). You’ll want to keep whisking during this time so there isn’t any scorching.

Meanwhile crack the eggs into a bowl. Take a cup of the hot mixture and whisk it into the eggs. At this point you can turn off the heat. The hot milk-cornmeal tempers the eggs enough so when you pour them into the milk mixture you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Once everything has been whisked together pour into the prepared pan.

You’ll want to set the baking dish into a bigger baking dish or roasting pan and place partway into the oven (far enough in so it doesn’t tip out). Then gently pour the hot water from the kettle into the larger dish until you’ve reached about half way up the side of your baking dish with the Indian Pudding in it. Slide it fully onto the rack in your oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes or until set. If you use the lesser amount of cornmeal you may need to increase your baking time considerably. You want there to be just a very slight jiggle in the center of the dish when you take it out.

Serve warm with ice cream (or whipped cream). It is also nice with just a splash of milk. If you want to gild the lily you can drizzle some maple syrup on top.

Indian Pudding with Ice Cream

*Here is one of Isabelle’s birthday cakes, and here is one of Russell’s choices.

**I hope that within the next few weeks I’ll have a new project up and running. Hint – it will be like taking a bite out of Massachusetts. Stay tuned!

 

Photo Credits:

All by Cynthia Allen except for the map of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which is courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

A serious bowl of yummy - Indian Pudding

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Backgammon and the Twelve Days of Christmas

This year one of my Christmas presents came with a warning written on the tag –

“Please insert ear plugs now!!!”

Immediately my son, daughter, and husband stuck their fingers in their ears as I opened the package. And yes, as anticipated by the man I’ve been married to for nearly twenty-two years, I let out a very loud, very high-pitched SQUEEEEEEEE of joy. He’d gotten me a little red squirrel by Elizabeth Radysh, a local artisan who repurposes old sweaters into small Waldorf style animals and dolls. I have been collecting her bunnies, kittens, and chicks for several years now and Shawn had found the tiny squirrel at the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival last fall. He was positive I had seen him buy it, but I hadn’t. I’d been too busy watching the flying feet of the Irish dancers, standing not-too-close to the raw egg toss, and marvelling at the winner of the raw garlic eating contest who chomped down 19 cloves of garlic in less than ten minutes, all while wandering around nibbling various garlic-flavored foods. Clearly I was in too much of a garlic haze to notice Shawn doing any secret Christmas shopping. What struck me was how well he knew what I’d love – even down to how I would react when I opened it up. Decades of living together can do that.

Elisabeth Radysh's little red squirrel

Pink bunny by Elisabeth Radysh

That much time together can also give a couple funny little habits. Our most recent couple quirk has been nearly nightly games of backgammon during dinner. We’ve played various board and card games over the years, but our new the-kids-are-away-at-college tradition is to eat dinner while we simultaneously play two to four games of backgammon. Not so much because it matters who wins (it doesn’t), rather just for the fun of playing. Though I will note for those of you who do play the game there have been several gammons this fall and even one backgammon. With the kids home from college for their winter breaks these dinner & game nights have been mostly curtailed since to be frank, as much fun as it can be to play backgammon, it is not a spectator sport.

Backgammon

With backgammon somewhat on the back burner what I’ve enjoyed most this holiday season (aside from the kids being home and my red squirrel) have been the twelve days of Christmas. Despite the myriad of retailers who want you to believe the twelve days of Christmas happen before December 24th to you to shop, shop, shop; they actually fall between Christmas and Epiphany. For me they’re enjoyable because they are the quiet moment (relatively speaking) which bridges the end of the old year and the start of the new. Since all of the cookies I had baked before Christmas somehow disappeared by December 25th I have been thinking about renaming these days the twelve days of rebaking Christmas cookies. I find it quite peaceful to bake after the holidays so this has not been a hardship whatsoever. Here’s what I’ve remade so far:

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas cookies - SnowballsSnowballs aka Mexican Wedding cookies

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas Cookies - Molasses SnapsArlene Sullivan’s Molasses Snaps 

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas cookies - ScandanavianasChristmas colored Scandinavians

12 Days of Rebaking Pecan Butterscotch CookiesShawn’s Pecan Butterscotch cookies

12 Days of Rebaking Christms Cookies - Vegan Pumpkin Spiced Date Nut BallsFor my GF friends, and those trying to stay away from refined sugar, I’ve been not-baking these

Pumpkin Spiced Date Nut Balls

12 Days of Rebaking Christmas Cookies - SnickerdoodlesAnd of course Grammy Caldwell’s A+ Snickerdoodles

To celebrate the new year we’ll enjoy a few glasses of my Dad’s famous Champagne Punch and spend a quiet night at home playing backgammon. Happy New Year to all – I’ll see you next year with the second round of Rebaking the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies.

Joe Caldwell's Champagne Punch

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Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread

Every time I opened the fridge last week there it was, staring at me and silently saying in a sing-song voice, “My sell-by date is coming up. You’d better do something with me…” I know what you’re thinking, you think I was hearing things, that this was all in my head. Nope, it really was taunting me from the top shelf – a partially used, industrial-sized bucket of cottage cheese.

Late fall colors

If you’ve stopped by this blog lately you know that Shawn and I hosted a coffee hour at our church a few weeks ago. I went a wee bit overboard making tons of food, which of course tired me out, and the food fatigue led to some whining on my part (and a fair amount of resting on the couch), but I’m going to stop now because it also led me back into the kitchen and gave me a handful of recipes to share with the people who stop by this blog (as well as my knitting group, and the Altar Guild, and the neighbors). I promise to try to pace myself better next time. Let’s just say it has been awhile since I’ve cooked for 100.

Fall fluff seen along a walk

So, back to the talking cottage cheese. I knew when I bought it I wouldn’t use it all, but honestly buying the five-pound bucket at Restaurant Depot was cheaper than buying just the right amount of normal-sized containers of cottage cheese at my local grocery store. However all those years of cooking in restaurants had trained me not to waste food, so I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. Instead I dug into my recipe box and found Mary Massad’s recipe for Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread. I wanted to really notch up the subtle flavors of scallion and dill so I used five times what the recipe called for, and it turned out that super-sizing the flavoring agents was a very good idea!

Cottage cheese dilly bread rising

Cottage cheese dilly bread

Like both of my grandmothers, I enjoy a heaping spoonful of cottage cheese with some fruit, but I know plenty of people who can’t stand the stuff. Whether it’s a texture thing or a taste thing or just something I’ve come across a lot of people who just plain don’t like cottage cheese. The great news is you can easily hide it in other foods. Okay, maybe not in raw foods, but in cooked foods it just seems to melt quietly away. I’m thinking about cottage cheese pancakes, or spanikopita (where it also helps offset the saltiness of feta), or cottage cheese dilly bread. Note – if you’re serving this to picky eaters I would recommend not using the words cottage cheese when you describe what you’ve made. Unless someone is allergic, in which case you should most definitely mention the cottage cheese factor. Of course now that I’ve blabbed you know I’m sneaky and devious about some  food things, but the truth was going to come out sooner or later.

Sliced cottage cheese dilly bread

The original recipe calls for dried dill weed, however I substituted fresh dill instead. The general rule of thumb when substituting fresh herbs for dried, is to use three times as much since the dried herbs are more concentrated in their herbiness (1 unit dried herb = 3 units fresh herb) For this bread I really wanted the flavor of dill and scallion to come through, and since they are both quiet flavors I added more and more and then just a little bit more. Feel free to play around with it. As I was mixing up the dough this time my tastes have changed over the years. To that end I reduced the amount of salt and sugar the original recipe called for. It was a bit like being a sound mixer at a concert – a little more base, down with the high-end for the back up singers. Only I was mixing flavors – up with the herbs, down with the sucrose and sodium chloride. Feel free to play around with the amounts yourself.

Dill and Cottage Cheese Dilly mix

The recipe makes two loaves of bread. You can also turn it into rolls (think Parker House rolls) by rolling little balls and popping those into greased muffin pans, or placing them on a greased sheetpan with a little bit of room between. I think this dough would be amazing made into bread knots and then coated with the garlic coating from the White on Rice Couple’s blog. The sliced loaves of Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, which is perfect with a bowl of soup. Which brings us full circle back to my dear friend Mary who got this recipe from the Bakery Lane Soup Bowl Cookbook (which is now unfortunately out of print), because really, what is better than a steaming bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?

Grilled cheese sandwich made with cottage cheese dilly bread

Cottage Cheese Dilly Bread

2 cups cottage cheese

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, plus more for greasing the pans

1/2 – 1 cup finely chopped fresh dill (stems removed)

3/4 – 1  1/2 cups minced scallions (2-3 bunches)

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry yeast

1-2 Tablespoons honey or sugar

5 cups flour (I used a mixture of white and whole wheat)

In a saucepan warm the cottage cheese and butter until the butter has melted and the cottage cheese is a bit soupy (you don’t want this too hot, as it could cook the eggs). Add in the dill, scallions, and salt then stir to evenly distribute the green bits. Next beat in the eggs. At the same time as you are warming the cottage cheese mixture proof the yeast by adding the honey to the warm water and sprinkling the yeast on top. Now bring it all together by stirring 4 cups of the flour into the cottage cheese -scallion-dill-egg mixture along with the proofed yeast. You’ll have a very gloppy dough.

Turn out onto a well floured surface (here’s where you’ll use that 5th cup of flour) and knead for 7-12 minutes until the dough is smooth and soft like a baby’s bum with a few wee lumps of cottage cheese. Do not fret, these will disappear when the bread bakes. Oil or butter a large bowl, placing the dough in and giving it a turn so it is greased on all sides, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down, cut and shape into two loaves or 24 rolls. Place into greased loaf pans or greased muffin tins or a greased jelly roll sheet (greased is the key word), then cover and let rise till double. You can, if you want, brush the tops of the loaves or rolls with extra melted butter now. Or just before baking. Or after baking. Or not at all. Your choice.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF and bake loaves for 40-45 minutes or until they have a hollow sound when thumped on their bottoms. The rolls can take 25-35 minutes in muffin pans or 35-40 minutes on a jelly roll pan. Again perform the thumping test, which will be all the easier because you greased your baking vessel. If you want to push them in the direction of herbed Parker House rolls brush on the butter now. If you want to go in the garlic direction, again apply the garlic oil while hot. Cool on a rack and store in an air tight container.

The last of the fall colors

Oliver and I have been taking lots of walks of late and the non-bread pictures in this post are what we’ve seen in Northampton and Whately.

Stone wall in New England

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