Giving Thanks

The kids are home from college and catching up on some much-needed rest. I’ve done my shopping, though I’d forgotten about the locust-like tendencies of teenagers and twenty-somethings who have been surviving on dining hall food for months, so I’ll be off to the store again this morning for a few more staples. It is gratifying to see that both Isabelle and Russell like to cook and it is usually the first thing they do when they get home.

This year we’re going to try something new. Not to eat, since that will consist of our tried and true favorites, but rather to read. Seth Godin’s Thanksgiving Reader *. It’s a a free download you can print out and share at your Thanksgiving meal.

The Thanksgiving Reader by Seth Godin

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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 Continue reading

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Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls

Sometimes you never know what will suit. You can make all the educated guesses you want, but people will surprise you with their likes and dislikes.

So it was interesting for me to note which foods went first at the church coffee hour Shawn and I hosted a few weeks ago. In the blink of an eye two dozen of Rick Ellis’s deviled eggs disappeared, which made me glad, since they had been the last thing I prepared the night before and I almost didn’t make them thinking I had plenty of food (which I did, but then you have the question when is enough enough?). Inspired by Julia Child, the hard-boiled eggs first have their yolks pressed through a chinoise sieve so that the yolks transform into yellow yolk clouds. Next some room-temperature butter blended into the yolk clouds (along with a spoonful of dijon, mayonnaise, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne) which combines to make these the most etherial deviled eggs that will ever pass your lips. Tired and cranky as I was the night before I was glad to have made the effort when I saw what a hit they were.Gluten Free Pumpkin Date Nut BallsThe next platter of food to vanish was Isabelle’s Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls. It almost doesn’t feel like a recipe to me since they don’t go in the oven or get cooked, but they were a smash hit and people were popping them into their mouths as if they were candy. Continue reading

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When to Borrow vs. When to Buy

Fall leavesThis year we have had the quintessential fall. Bright reds ranging from deep burgundy to jammy crimsons, flaming oranges, and amber yellows. A few weeks ago our first frost mellowed the hillsides into a more subdued, yet equally glorious, pallete. Truthfully it has felt a little surreal to be experiencing such a picture-perfect autumn. Often during this season I whine, wishing the colors were just a bit more intense and the leaves lasted just a little bit longer on the trees. However I have no complaints for 2015 – this fall has been perfect.Fall hillsideWhile I have been revelling in the colors there is also a bittersweet edge to the season. November heralds – at least in Massachusetts – the end of the local farmers markets. Golonka’s, my neighborhood farmstand, closed up for the season last Saturday. Each week at the various farmers markets I visit there are less venders, and the colors of available produce are, like the season, becoming more muted. Still, there are delicious ingredients to fill my baskets with so I just throw on a scarf and sweater then venture out to see what is being offered.Strudel-ZAbout a month ago I was in Hudson, New York Continue reading

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Pumpkin Patch Carrot Cake

Last week at this time I was in a bit of a cooking frenzy doing something I thought I’d never do – preparing to host a coffee hour at my church. Sure over the years I brought in the odd batch of cookies here or contributed a bundt cake there, but I’d never felt called to take on the whole shebang. Until last week.

Golden orange fall colors

Coffee hour at St. John’s can be almost anything – from a few boxes of donut holes and a fruit platter to chaffing dishes filled with steaming trays of frittata and spicy eggs set alongside platters of homemade baked goodies. There aren’t that many rules about coffee hour other than that there be, well coffee. Plus a little something to nibble on. Oh, and it’s recommended you have some of it ready for the finish of 8 o’clock service so they don’t feel left out of the fellowship created by caffeine and conversation. Of course you also want to be prepared for the swarm of locust children as they sweep through the parlors on their way from Church School to the service. And don’t forget a few gluten-free goodies (after all we serve GF wafers at communion). I take it back. There are rules, which is probably why I’ve made the occasional donations of food over the years but never tackled the task by myself.

With the kids back at college after fall break it seemed like I could handle a coffee hour. It would be fun I told my husband, we can do all sorts of Halloween-y foods. He agreed. Like Jell-o brains and kitty litter cakes. Yes to brains, no to a litter box filled with edible cat poo at church. I was ready to start cooking.

Jell-O brain ready to be eaten

 

With my list in hand I went shopping. Shawn took me to Restaurant Depot which was all sorts of fun, even if it wasn’t practical for every item. Did I really need twelve dozen eggs and 50 pounds of butternut squash? Not really, but it was great for phyllo dough, crumbled feta, fresh scallions and dill, as well as the frozen chopped spinach and one-pound blocks of unsalted butter all of which could be turned into spanikopita.

Pumpkin patch carrot cake

I made a platter of my friend Rick Ellis’s Deviled Eggs, which Jane Lear has written about. There was the classic quivering Jell-O brain, which amazingly was eaten with great gusto. I overheard one 7-year-old tell a classmate, “I like brain, it’s really good.” I also had a steaming crock pot of Carrot-Squash Soup, baskets of Foccacia, along with many other nibbles, including my favorite Carrot Cake, made to look like a pumpkin patch.

24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes

If you are a reader of this blog this carrot cake will look familiar because I’ve previouisly posted it all dressed up as 24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes. Since I’ve been making variations of this cake for over forty years the recipe has seen a lot of iterations.

FamilyFun vs Martha

I’ve turned this carrot cake into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden for some Easter recipes I developed for FamilyFun Magazine (and interestingly Martha Stewart ran a Martha-ized Spring version of that cake design a year later – coincidence maybe, but who knows?). This carrot cake has appeared gussied up as the wedding cake at a friend’s nuptuals, was once the label of a carrot cake scented Yankee Candle, and of course has been made into the super fancy 24 Karat Carrot Cupcakes. I love this cake because you can dress it up or dress or down and bake it into just about any shape you want to. Definitely a recipe you should have in your cake repetoire.

Yankee Candle Carrot Cake

While I’ve tweaked portions and a few of the ingredients over the years, the most important thing I can tell you about making a tasty carrot cake is that size matters. Not the size of your carrots, rather the size you grate them. Too chunky and strands of carrot get caught in your teeth, too fine and the carrots clump in the batter. The best tool to achieve the right size of shred is on a box grater. Go for thin shreds and your carrot cake will be golden!

Finely grated carrots

If you’re pressed for time or you’ll be serving this to people who don’t like almonds, forgo the marzipan pumpkins. You can always use the little ones they sell around this time of year. Also I didn’t realize I had no grahm crackers to crush into dirt until 11 o’clock at night so I made a quick mix of brown sugar, white sugar, a bit of flour and some cinnamon. It worked very well. Since this cake was served right from the pan I made my cream cheese frosting very soft, with a 2:1 ration of cream cheese to butter, and cutting way back on the powdered sugar. I don’t think it would work on a tiered cake to make the frosting that soft, but it might be okay on cupcakes it you didn’t try to pile the frosting too high.

Marzipan pumpkins

Pumpkin Patch Carrot Cake

Cake

2 cups finely shredded carrots

1  1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 – 7 ounce can crushed pineapples in their juice

3 eggs

1  1/3 – 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) dried unsweetened coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher)

2 cups flour (I often use 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 all-purpose)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan (I also use a piece of parchment paper on the bottom). Set aside.

Mix together the carrots, oil, pineapples, eggs, sugar, coconut, and walnuts together until thouroughly combined and no clumps remain. Do this by hand as a mixer is just too much for this cake. Sift the remaining dry ingredients together, or if you’re lazy like me just on top of the wet mixture. Fold together until everything is well blended then pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 60 – 70 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean, and the cake is “quiet” when you listen to it. Cool.

Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened

3  3/4 – 4  1/2 cups powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons vanilla

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Gradually sift in the powdered sugar until you get your desired consistency. Stir in the vanilla after 2 cups of powdered sugar have been added.

I dyed a cup of frosting green with some paste food coloring to pipe leaves around the edge of the cake. It is totally optional, especially considering every pumpkin patch I have ever visited in Massachusetts at this time of year has nary a leaf. They are quite dead from frost.

Decoration

Marzipan

Gel food paste colors

Graham cracker crumbs for light dirt   or

Chocolate cookie crumbs for darker dirt

Last week when I made the marzipan pumpkins I dyed a small chunk green for the leaves and the rest orange for the pumpkins. Gel paste dyes are potent so you may want to knead the color into the marzipan within a plastic bag or while wearing gloves. I ended up with a bit too much green so I created a mutant zucchini. Basically you can treat the marzipan as if it were edible play-dough. Toothpicks are really handy for marking ridges and rolling stem curlicues around.

Pumpkin patch carrot cake

If you’re making this into a garden cake dye small chunks of the marzipan with gel food pastes and go to town! There are some great videos on making marzipan veggies, but honestly I just pull out my seed catalogues and go from there.

Since I was so busy serving up all the yummy coffee hour food last weekend I didn’t stop to take many photos. I’d like to give a shout out to my intrepid photo assistant Isabelle, who helped re-create this cake. She also rolls a fantastic marzipan pumpkin!

And of course lots of coffee hour love to my husband who never once let the coffee pots run dry, while he managed to wash the mountains of dishes I created, and whose heretofor little known talent for pepper carving have been revealed. He even snaped a few pics of the brain before it was gobbled up – thanks sweetie!

pepper pumpkin

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Apple Pop Tarts

A few weeks ago my friend Joyce sent out an email inviting anyone who was around to come and pick apples from the trees in their backyard*. These trees had decided to not wait for fall to begin giving up their bounty. It was either pick or watch them drop, so I went over and picked. After a little bit Joyce came out and helped me pick some more. And what the heck, those trees were loaded, so I grabbed another few bags from my car and we stuffed them with several dozen more handfuls of MacIntosh and Granny Smiths. It was a veritable apple palooza.

Basket of apples from a neighbor's trees

Of course then I drove home and realized I had just picked fifty-six pounds of apples. Which is a lot, basically the equivalent of a second grade child. Needless to say I have been processing them ever since. Some are perfect, though many of them are funky, free-form apples. No pesticides, no recent pruning, just grow as-you-may apples. Their shapes can make them tricky to peel, but perfect for my smooth applesauce recipe which requires no peeling or coring, just a foley food mill. The resulting quarts and quarts of applesauce have been just right to mix into several batches of vegan war cake (also known in my Grandmother’s day as a Victory Cake) or dollop on top of zucchini pancakes that Shawn and I have been enjoying for our end of summer suppers. Applesauce-land has been a tasty place to be these past few weeks.

Wild apples

While all things applesauce has been great, the best apple treats (in my opinion) have come from sorting through the apples to find the more regular shaped ones, and then turning them into Apple Pop Tarts. Not the pop tart of your childhood that came in a box wrapped in foil. No, these pop tarts are from one of Nicole Frazen‘s blog posts featuring Camille Becerra’s Rhubarb Apple Pop Tarts. And to be perfectly honest I’ll say it right here – I do not make mine look anywhere near as beautiful as Ms. Becerra’s do. Seriously, check out the blog post because she makes hers look so good you’ll start drooling on your laptop. I think one of the reasons mine don’t look the same is because I’m in too damn much of a hurry to make them, bake them, and then eat them. Plus I’ve tweaked the recipe a lot, and the resulting dough, while delicious, is a bit more finicky.

Apple Pop Tart

Apples

For starters I use all apples, not a mix of rhubarb and apples. One batch of pop tarts even featured some wild foraged apples and pears my friend Ronald had given me**. Since these were early apples I found them to be a bit less sweet than the later varieties. They also needed a boost of moisture to get them cooking, which in my applesauce I did with a splash of water, and in the Apple Pop Tarts I did with margarine. I’m pretty hooked on Todd Porter’s Brown Butter Apple Hand Pies where he partially cooks the apple filling before adding it to the pastry. Becerra uses this method in her fruit pop tarts as well. The reasoning behind this (at least to my mind) has to do with size. These smaller pies, because that is essentially what they are, cook faster than a traditional pie so there is less time for firmer fruits, such as apples, to soften up as they bake due to the overall shorter baking times. The pre-baking sauté jump starts the cooking process.

Cooking filling for Apple Pop Tarts

I also tweaked the crust to be a mixture of whole wheat and regular flours. Since my husband doesn’t do cow dairy I swapped out the butter for our favorite margarine. The result is an amazingly flakey crust, which truth be told, would never make it in a toaster, and can even be tricky to pick up in your hand. So perhaps these shouldn’t be called Apple Pop Tarts. How about Flakey Handfuls of Apple Deliciousness? Or I Can’t Stop Eating These Little Apple Pies of Wonderfulness? Or I could go short and sweet with Apple Nom-Noms. They are after all nom nom-alicious.

Adding filling to homemade apple pop tarts

Honestly I always double this recipe. There are hungry teenagers who visit from college, church meetings we attend, plus friends who all appreciate an Apple Pop Tart or two. When Russell was home last weekend from Simon’s Rock his question was, “How many of these can I take back to school?” Also my APTs tend to be large, not because I’m greedy, but rather because I like the apple-crust ratio when they’re two fists sized, rather than one fist sized. Totally up to you what size you make them, and of course if they are too large you can always cut one in half and share it, like a good friend.

Just out of the oven apple pop tarts

Early Fall Apple Pop Tarts

This is for the non-doubled amounts.

Crust

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons margarine (I use Earth Balance)

generous 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 scant teaspoon kosher salt

2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

1 egg

1-4 Tablespoons ice water

Filling

2 to 2 1/2 pounds mixed apple varieties

2-4 Tablespoons margarine

1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar, depending on taste

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

1-2 Tablespoons flour if apples are very juicy

zest from one small lemon (optional)

Make the crust first so it can chill for a bit. Combine flours, shortening, margarine, salt and sugar together in a food processor. Pulse several times to crumble fats into the flours. Do not let machine run continually. Drop in egg and 1 Tablespoon cold water and pulse 3-4 times. Open the top and give the dough a pinch. If it holds together dump it all into a large plastic bag or onto a piece of plastic wrap (giving it a quick knead or two to get the drier bits combined with the moister bits. If the dough does not hold together add water 1 Tablespoon at a time, pulsing 2-3 times to incorporate. You don’t want a dry dough that doesn’t hold together, nor do you want a wet sticky dough. Just enough moisture to hold together. I have found with the high amount of fats in this recipe along with the egg that I need very little water. Form the dough into a rectangle (more or less) and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Side note: I like the mix of whole wheat and plain flour. You can also use regular whole wheat flour and white pastry flour, or even all white flour. I have not tried it with all whole wheat. Also I haven’t tried it with butter (instead of margarine), though my guess is it would be as yummy.

To make the filling I put the margarine, sugar and spices into a large cast iron skillet and turn the heat on for a few minutes to melt the margarine, then quickly turn the heat off. Next peel and core the apples, slice into thin slices, tossing every so often with the melted margarine and sugar. If your apples are smaller you’ll need more of them since they’ll yield less usable apple (for some reason there seems to be the same amount of core in a small apple or a large one). Once you’ve sliced the apples all up, turn on the heat to medium or medium high and start cooking. Stir the apples around so the sugar doesn’t burn and they cook evenly. For a double batch this takes me 17-24 minutes. I want the slices to be slightly soft, but still have a bit of crunch to them. Cool mixture quickly by spreading it out onto a jelly roll pan. Or if you’re not in a hurry, scrape into a bowl and let cool, lightly covered, overnight.

To make pop tarts preheat oven to 400ºF. Liberally sprinkle your work surface with flour and roll out 1/2 dough at one time. Making sure the dough and counter are floured roll out cold dough to 1/4″ thickness, moving it around as you roll so it doesn’t stick. I then slice dough into rectangles roughly 4″ x 10-12″. Move dough strips onto baking sheet covered with siplpat mat or parchment paper. Spoon on about 1 cup of apple fillings, then fold dough over and seal edges with a fork. Poke a few small steam vents along the top to prevent the pop tarts from exploding.

Bake 15 – 20 minutes then swivel the baking sheet 180º and bake another 15-20 minutes or until the dough is nicely browned and you see some of the filling bubbling along the steam vents. Cool and eat. Makes 4-5 large apple pop tarts. See why I said I always double the recipe?

Apple Pop Tarts ready to pick up and eat

*What do you do if you don’t have friends with apple trees? My first suggestion is, if you live in apple growing country, to buy several different varieties of apples to use. Ask the farmer as they will have great suggestions for which apples are the best cooking apples. If you don’t live in apple growing country, then get a mix at the store – MacIntosh, Granny Smith, Empire, Cortland, Mutsu, maybe throw in a pear to mix things up. What you want to do is layer the flavors of apples. More like four part harmony than a solo.

Apple Pop Tart ready to eat

** Ronald didn’t just give me a bag of wild apples, pears and crabapples. He also gave me little bags of wild olives, grapes, juniper (homemade gin anyone?), a tuber you use like a potato, Queen Anne’s lace which you can use like pepper, and all sorts of other goodies from the woods. He had a Foraged CSA share this year. Some amazing young woman tromped through the woods and brought him all sorts of wild edibles. How nifty is that?

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Sour Cherry Gin Jings

My friend Amy is an awesome person to have a cocktail with because she’s funny and smart with a big heap of sass spooned in. We knew of each other through a mutual friend and then when finally we met in person, on a food styling job of course, we just clicked. We don’t see each other all that often because well, I’m up here in Massachusetts and she’s down in the big bad Apple or across the pond on a job in merry old England. Thank goodness for the smörgåsbord of ways to stay in touch. One thing, among many, that Ms. Lord and I have in common (besides food styling, being Moms, and our sassy attitudes) is our mutual love of good food and gin.

Amy Lord by John Moloney

In last week’s post on Sour Cherry Crumble I mentioned that I’d been sipping on a quick and easy cocktail I called Sour Cherry Gin Jings. Up to my elbows (literally) in sour cherries, at the end of the day I’d grab a handful, pit them, muddle with some simple syrup, mint, a shot or two of gin, and top it all off with a splash of seltzer and a few ice cubes.

Sour Cherry Gin Jings

Imagine my surprise last Saturday when I went to see my sour cherry dealer farmer and he unbelievably had a few boxes of those glowing red orbs tucked between the baskets of plums and blueberries. When he looked up from making change for another customer and watched me making a determined beeline towards his booth, he smiled and said, “I wondered if you’d show up today.”

Truth was I almost didn’t. After all he’d told me the week before that the season was over, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to torture myself or not. Sitting on his counter were less than a handful of boxes of sour cherries for us hard-core addicts. We chatted about pitting (he doesn’t use a pitter, just squashes them like my friend Marisa does), then got into a philosophical debate about gin vs. vodka in summer fruit libations. I think he’d like this wacky watermelon margarita Todd Porter and Diane Cu whipped up, even though it has neither vodka nor gin in it.

Pitting Sour Cherries

When I got home I decided to try out this super simple technique Marc Matsumoto featured on his blog No Recipes during strawberry season. After all these really were the last few boxes of sour cherries for this season and they deserved some special treatment. To remove the pits I plunked down a layer of sour cherries in a pie plate, topped them with a slightly smaller pie plate, and squished those pits out. Then all the cherries and juice went into a plastic bag, and spent the night in the freezer. The next day I popped the frozen cherries and juice into a large jar, added a bit of sugar, gin and waited.

Making sour cherry gin

Since the amount of sour cherry gin or vodka is directly limited to the amount of sour cherries you have access to (I’m guessing that most of my readers do not have a tree in their backyard), my advise is to consider who you share these cocktails with. Limited supply and all. Though of course to look at if from a different perspective this would certainly be a way to make some new friends.

Sour Cherry Gin or Vodka

1 1/2 – 2 quarts sour cherries, washed and pitted

1/2 cup turbinado/raw cane sugar

5-7 cups gin or vodka, enough to cover the cherries

Place the sour cherries and any juice you captured into a plastic back and put the freezer overnight. The next day put all the frozen cherries into a large clean jar, sprinkle with sugar and cover with gin or vodka. Let sit in fridge for 3-6 days. Drain alcohol into a clean jar that has been sterilized. Store in fridge. you can save the remaining fruit (which will have lost most of its color) by zapping in the blender with a few tablespoons of sugar. Freeze into cubes and add to adult beverages as the mood strikes you.

Sour Cherry Gin

Sour Cherry Gin Jing

Splash a jigger of sour cherry gin into a glass with some ice and a bit of the leftover marinated sour cherries. Add a spring of mint and some seltzer.

Sour Cherry Vodka Sparkler

Splash a jigger of sour cherry vodka into an old-fashioned glass, top with seltzer and a squeeze of lime.

Sour cherry vodka cocktail

Any other suggestions? The possibilities are only as limited as your supply of  Sour Cherry Gin or Vodka. Drinks on the deck anyone?

Beautiful day in Whately

Photo Credits:

Amy Lord by John Moloney
All others by Cynthia Allen
And no, the vista pictured above is not a view from my deck, though it is a short walk from my house. I think a thermos full of cocktails might be arranged…

P.S. Amy dear I am saving you a batch of this gin-based elixir for when we next meet up! Hopefully it’s soon~

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