Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lots of Leftovers!

Yesterday was a busy one with most of the morning spent putting away the last of the Thanksgiving dishes and decor, and most of the afternoon spent putting up Christmas. My husband tackled the lights outside, and I decked our halls. We love Christmas, and try to put up the decorations as soon as we deem is reasonable to do so, without shortchanging Thanksgiving Day (which usually ends up being sometime Thanksgiving weekend). But our fridge is still stuffed with reminders of our Thanksgiving feast and we never seem to tire of the endless leftovers of turkey, and the many ways in which to creatively prepare it (which I'm sure you will read about ad nauseum in the coming days).

But the first night of leftovers is a direct homage to the meal we partook in the day or two before. I usually enjoy this meal so much more than Thanksgiving itself, because I am not exhausted from days of cooking and cleaning. I slice up the leftover turkey and heat it in a pan full of leftover gravy. We heat up the stuffing and veggie sides too, and try to free-up as much space as possible in our little fridge. But the best part of this leftover dinner is the potato pancakes, which by the way, are quite different from the potato latkes served during Hanukkah. I make a heap of mashed potatoes just so that we can enjoy this buttery, salty treat with our meal. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, these potato pancakes are devoured quickly, with each forkful slid through the gravy on the plate.

Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes

mashed potatoes (about 1/2 C per person)
1-2 eggs (1 egg for 1-2 servings, 2 eggs for 4 or more)
salt and pepper to taste

It is so simple, really. Just toss the mashed potatoes with an egg or two (depending on how much leftover mashers you are using) and mix well. Heat butter in a pan and plop out the potato mixture into small patties and fry until brown and crispy on each side. Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New England Rum Pie

This delicious cheesecake says holiday to me. It has been served at just about every holiday meal since I can remember. I'm not sure who started making it...I think it was my grandmother, or where the recipe originated, but it is such a rich, simple and elegant dessert. I have vivid memories of my sister, my dad and I literally fighting over the last slice of leftover pie, screaming and chasing each other around the kitchen with our forks raised in battle. And now my children love this cheesecake, and it has become a staple on my holiday tables as well.

Because it is not baked in the traditional spring form pan, it cooks quickly. It has just a few choice ingredients for a ton of flavor, and the splash of rum certainly adds a special touch. It almost tastes like eggnog and I think that if you added a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg to the filling, it would taste like eggnog cheesecake and be a perfect addition to your Christmas dessert line-up.

New England Rum Pie


1 C graham cracker crumbs
2 T sugar
dash cinnamon


12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 oz rum


1 C sour cream
2 T sugar
1 T sherry

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix together the melted butter, crumbs and cinnamon. Press into standard pie plate.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, eggs and rum until as smooth and as thick as cream. Pour into prepared pie plate and bake for 20-30 minutes or until set (will still jiggle).

Meanwhile stir together sour cream, sugar and sherry. Pour over pie and return to oven and bake 5 minutes longer. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

Parker House Rolls

Rolls really seem like overkill on a Thanksgiving table, don't they? What with all the stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash and sweet potatoes, is another starch really necessary? The answer is decidedly, yes. Thanksgiving in its very nature, celebrates abundance, and these little buttery puffs of bread certainly fit the bill in that category. The dough is shiny, and silky smooth and comes together like a dream. And the smell of them baking in the oven is heavenly! It does take time to make rolls from scratch, but they can be made in advance, and I would say they are well worth the time and effort. This recipe is adapted from one in Gourmet Cookbook.

Parker House Rolls
makes 20

3 T bread flour
3 T sugar
2 1/2 t yeast (one packet)
3 T warm water

2 C bread flour
2 T sugar
8 T butter, divided
1 C whole milk
1 1/2 t salt
3/4-1 1/2 C AP flour

Combine first four ingredients in a small bowl and let sit until frothy. Meanwhile melt 6 T butter over low heat in small saucepan. Add milk and heat until lukewarm. In large bowl, combine bread flour, salt and remaining sugar. Stir in milk/butter combination and the yeast mixture. Stir until combined. Add 3/4 C AP flour and stir until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn out onto floured board and knead until shiny and smooth, about 10 minutes. Dough should still be slightly sticky, but add more AP flour if it is too much so, up to 1 1/2 C total.

Put in buttered bowl and turn greased side up and cover with plastic wrap until doubled in size. Turn out of the bowl onto a floured board and cut into 20 equal pieces, roll into balls and place in greased 9x13 pan (4 rows of 5). Cover and let double in size again (about 45 min) and then press a floured chopstick or ruler edge down the middle of each roll, creating a deep crease. Let rest for 15 more minutes. Brush with remaining 2 T butter, melted.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out, right side up and let cool completely on a rack. If making in advance, wrap well with foil and reheat the next day, still wrapped in foil, in a 375° oven for 15 minutes.

Cranberry Relish

This relish is so delicious, and my mother-in-law serves it every year for Thanksgiving. It is sweet, tart and so fresh the flavors burst on your tongue. It is a perfect foil to all the rich turkey, gravy, and fixings and I hope that you can give it a try sometime.

Fresh Cranberry Relish

3 C fresh cranberries, rinsed
1 whole orange, quartered
1 C sugar (or to taste)

Put cranberries, orange quarters and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed. It may be necessary to do this in two batches. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if necessary. That's it! Enjoy!

It's the Final Countdown

Today was a busy one. I spent most of the day either cleaning my house or cooking, or both simultaneously. We will have a relatively small crowd tomorrow, but that is good, because we have a relatively small home. It should be sufficiently cozy, filled with family, puppies, and the smells of Thanksgiving pouring out of the kitchen. I have done as much as I can to get ready...and I think it is enough. I feel strangely peaceful, like the calm before the storm. I can only hope that tomorrow goes as smoothly as I imagine it will, but there are always bumps along the road...and that is what makes good fodder for family tales in years to come.

I've made pumpkin chocolate chip bread and cranberry bread (for our Thanksgiving breakfast), pumpkin pie, cranberry relish, and Parker House Rolls. I will also make New England Rum Pie, a family tradition for generations, before I go to bed. I have dried and cubed the bread for stuffing (and made the cornbread for that too), and defrosted the rich turkey stock I made earlier in the month. My house is a cacophony of smells (and sounds from excited children who have been cooped up all day due to rain), and I am looking forward to a luxurious soak later tonight after the children are tucked in.

I do love the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, where there are no expectations of anything other than a great meal and great company. This year I am especially grateful for the farmers who grew our food, and all of the hands who are helping to prepare it. It has been such a joy to put a name and face with my food, to shake hands, and offer up sincere thanks to the folks who work so tirelessly to grow it. I am so thankful for family, friends, and neighbors who make my life a joy every day. And I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving too!

This recipe is for a most delicious Thanksgiving morning treat. It would also work for Christmas morning, or any morning really. This quick bread, adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook, is a fairly simple to prepare, and tastes wonderful toasted and spread with butter. I can't wait to have a piece tomorrow morning.

Cranberry Orange Bread
makes 1 loaf

2 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
2/3 C fresh orange juice
2 eggs, beaten slightly
2 T butter, melted
1/2 C walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
1 1/4 C cranberries, pulsed in a food processor until finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease loaf pan.

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in orange juice, eggs, and butter. Whisk until just combined. Fold in nuts and cranberries and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife, inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack to finish cooling completely. Wrap well and put away for 1-2 days before serving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Butternut Squash Puree

I must admit, I am not a huge fan of winter squash. They are a bit too sweet and too creamy, like a dessert almost. I guess that is probably why most people like them. Boiled, roasted, or baked in their shell, they turn out soft and supple, like pudding. And they are a fixture on our Thanksgiving table each year. A tradition from my husband's side of the family, they are never to be disposed of...though I'll fess up that I have made that suggestion on occasion.

But tonight when I prepared them (they will reheat easily and get better if they sit a day or two in the fridge), they did taste pretty good. I don't know if I have improved on the recipe any, or if they are just growing on me.

I couldn't decide to roast or boil the squash, so I roasted one (cubed) and boiled the other. Then I pureed them in my food processor until smooth, added a bit of maple syrup, butter, salt and freshly grated nutmeg. After I reheat it, I will add a touch of cream, muting the vivid orange color only slightly and enriching the flavor a great deal.

Butternut Squash Puree
serves 8

2 small butternut squash (or one large), peeled and cut into one inch cubes
3 T butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2-1 t salt (to taste)
1/3 C maple syrup
1/4 C heavy cream

Boil (cover with water and boil for 15 minutes or until tender) or roast squash (to roast, heat oven to 425°, toss cubes with oil and salt and roast until tender 15-20 minutes). Puree in food processor, adding a bit of cooking water if necessary. Add butter, nutmeg, salt and maple syrup and whiz until smooth and combined. If making ahead, refrigerate for up to 3 days. After reheating stir in the cream, about 1/4 C. Taste for seasonings and serve.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dry Brining

In the past I have tried many different kinds of turkeys and many different ways of preparing it; free-range, organic, super market turkeys, brining, roasting breast up, roasting breast down, stuffing it, not stuffing it, covering it with cheese cloth...and the list goes on. It is really hard to determine, outside of having multiple birds in a line up for simultaneous tasting, which turkey tasted the best, but I do believe that brining, of all the things I have tried, helps to create a juicy bird (although my mother swears it is roasting it breast down for awhile). But brining a turkey can be a tricky, space-eating proposition because the turkey needs to be soaked in a large quantity of brine (my preference is salt, spices, and apple cider) for more than a day. If you are like me, refrigerator space is at a premium, especially around the holidays.

So this year I will try a "new" technique, that has actually been around for a few years. Based on a chicken roasting technique by chef Judy Rogers, of Zuni Cafe, the turkey is simply salted a bit heavily (1 T per every 5 pounds of bird), and bagged up and refrigerated for 3 days (ideally, but less is fine too). Each day the turkey is massaged and turned, and finally uncovered and placed on a plate and back into the fridge for at least 8 hours to dry out the skin, so it becomes beautifully crisp when roasted. The Los Angeles Times ran a
story about this last week, and according to them, people have gone crazy for this technique and swear that it was their best turkey ever.

So today I will go to pick up my 18 pounder ( actually turned out to be 19.5 pounds)...hopefully it will be big enough (we just have 8 adults and 6 kids this year)...and give it a go. I also plan on making the dough for my dinner rolls. Tomorrow I will prepare maple butternut squash (it is very easy to reheat) and begin to dry my bread for the stuffing (whole wheat and sourdough). Wednesday I will bake the pumpkin pie, make the New England Rum Pie and prepare the stuffing to be refrigerated overnight. Preparing food in advance helps Thanksgiving day run more smoothly and helps me to not feel overwhelmed. I will be sharing the recipes with you as I go!

Dry Brined Turkey

1 16-20 pound bird
1 T salt per every five pounds
1 t dried sage
1 t dried rosemary
1 t dried thyme
grated zest from one lemon

Rinse turkey and remove giblet bag (usually in the neck cavity) and neck (usually in the main cavity). Pat dry. Mix salt with herbs and zest and rub liberally on breast, then flip turkey and rub salt over thighs and back. Save some to sprinkle inside the turkey too. Place turkey in a large turkey-sized roasting bag and tie shut. Must be done at least 24 hours in advance, and up to 3 days in advance. Every 12 hours or so massage salt into skin.

When you remove turkey from bag, the salt and seasonings should be absorbed into the flesh. If you have time, let turkey air dry in your fridge for 8 hours, then let sit at room temp for at least an hour before roasting. Pat turkey dry and roast according to directions in Los Angeles Times story (link above).

I prefer not to stuff my turkey because it roasts faster which helps to prevent the meat from drying out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Twas the Sunday Before Thanksgiving....

'Twas the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and I went to the market
I drove the car into the lot, but there was nowhere to park it.
The produce was stacked on the tables with care
In hopes that the shoppers soon would be there.

The apples and onions all snug in their crates
I knew that this Thanksgiving sure would be great.
And me in my flip-flops and carrying my bag
I wandered over to the stalls to see what they had.

When over at one vendor their arose such a clatter
I ran over there to see what was the matter.
The produce was running out, and quickly
The pit of my stomach began to feel sickly.

Oh the carrots, persimmons, eggs and leeks
Oh the garlic, potatoes, avocados and beets!
Where have they gone, were they bought up already?
I had to sit down, I was not walking steady.

While I was glad that so many folks had arrived
I was sad that my Thanksgiving would be deprived.
I would have to settle for grocery store fare
Because of all the early birds who showed up there.

As I headed back to my car, I gave out a whistle
And away I drove, like the down of a thistle.
And I heard myself exclaim, ere I drove 'round the bend
Where were you last Sunday, your fair weather friends?!?!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pizza Margarita

This is perhaps the most simple and most delicious of all the pizzas I make. Just tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, this pizza is pure and uncomplicated, and was a special request by my ever-so-patient husband (who is willing to taste all my experimental pizzas).

Pizza Margarita

Preheat oven to 500° for one hour, with pizza stone in the oven.

Stretch out one recipe of pizza dough (on floured parchment paper) and spread with freshly sliced tomatoes (or tomato sauce of your choice), slices of fresh mozzarella (home made, of course), and slivers of fresh basil (use it up before the first frost!). Drizzle with olive oil. Slide the whole lot (parchment paper and all) onto a hot pizza stone and bake for 10-15 minutes or until crust is as crisp as you'd like. Drizzle with more olive oil and slice and serve.

The Big Cheese

OK...I know that I have asked a lot of you lately; making pasta from scratch, making your own pumpkin puree and making your own bread. And I know that this may way over the top, and that some of you are going to think that I am totally crazy, but...I make my own cheese. Although it sounds impressive, it is really not. It is quite simple actually. I started making my own cheese after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which details her life over the course of one year of eating locally. She and her family have pizza every Friday, like my family does. And so she took a weekend course on cheese making by Rikki Carroll (of New England Cheese Supply, where you can order all your cheese making ingredients), and began to make her own mozzarella cheese at home, with just a few simple necessities.

It takes about 30 minutes to make cheese from scratch. All you need is a gallon of whole, organic milk (NOT ultra-pasturized), some rennet (which I found at Whole Foods) and some citric acid (the same sour salt that is used on sour candies...I found it at another health store), a large pot and a thermometer and you are ready to go. Part science lab, part chef, your family (and you) will be so impressed with this new skill that you might just have to throw a party to show it off...after all, who makes their own cheese?

The recipe is simple (
mozzarella recipe); heat a gallon of milk until it is 55 degrees, add 1 1/2 t of citric acid dissolved in 1/4 C water. When the temperature reaches 88 degrees, add 1/4 t liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 C water. When the milk reaches 100 degrees, it will be thickly curdled and pulling away from the sides of the pot.

The whey will be clear. Scoop out the curds into a microwaveable bowl and squeeze out excess whey. Microwave for 35 seconds and squeeze and repeat. Eventually you will have a pliable, stretchy mass of cheese that is ready to be salted and shaped.

It is so simple and so delicious.

The first time I made my own cheese, I held the two balls of fresh mozzarella in my hands and cried. It may not be quite an emotional experience for you as it was for me, but it is so fun, and so rewarding that I hope you all will try, at least once, to make your very own cheese.

Love in a Cup

Bleary eyed, I stagger into the kitchen much later than I should on a typical morning. I am NOT a morning person...never have been. My husband and children know this about me and try their best to ease me into my day, or else face dire consequences. As a result, I have two older children who set their alarms and know how to make their own toast for breakfast, and a husband who understands that a major priority is to make coffee, and quick!

Since springing into action is not my idea of a good time, I usually pad around, half asleep, with brush in one hand and coffee in the other, trying my best to help my children at least look half presentable. Sandwiches made, hair combed, teeth brushed, backpacks packed, hugs and kisses at the door...then peace at last.

I sit down to enjoy my splendid cup of Joe and the morning paper. Subtly spiced in the colder months with cinnamon, cloves and black pepper, and always topped with steamed milk, this will surely get me going....eventually.

Winter Spiced Coffee

1 T (organic, free trade, shade grown) coffee beans per cup of coffee (we usually make 7-8)
2 whole cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken up
4 peppercorns

Grind all of the ingredients in a coffee grinder until finely ground. Brew according to coffee pot manufacturer's directions. At the very least, if you are adding milk, heat it up. Even better is to buy a little milk frother from William's Sonoma and froth warm milk before adding it to the coffee. It tastes better and fresher than anything you can pay for at a local coffee house. And costs a heap less too!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Nose Knows

When I was a baby, my mother said that I used to put my face close to my plate and sniff my food, before deciding whether or not I would eat it. Truth be told, I would probably still do the same if it wasn't impolite. Many of my friends and I have a running joke because whenever I enter their homes I ask, what's that smell? Whether it's vanilla room freshener, baking cookies, rotting trash, or cleaning chemicals, the old saying rings true; the nose knows.

The sense of smell is so powerful that mothers can smell the difference between their own newborns and someone else's when blindfolded. The sense of smell can save us from eating rancid food, or warn us of a house fire. Smells can bring back powerful memories, remind us of old lovers, vacations, or holidays past. I think that it is interesting to note that the senses of smell and taste are intertwined, such that a person who can no longer smell, can no longer taste his food. How tragic that would be!

One of the most nostalgic and mouth-watering smells is that of freshly baked bread. We all know it, though we rarely get to experience it anymore. It smells of grandma's kitchen, of times past, when life was simple and pure (or at least it seems that way to us). People had time to bake from scratch, after all there was no Internet to waste hours on, no convenience stores to run down to, no extra money to spend on the luxury of bakery bread. We are simply too busy to bake bread from scratch....right? It takes hours, it is complicated, the children wouldn't eat it....

So many excuses. I know because I've made them myself. But baking bread isn't really all that hard, or time consuming for that matter. It is necessary to mix and knead the dough, but then you can leave it alone to rise in peace while you do whatever it is that you do that makes you so busy. Then the dough gets dumped out and shaped into loaf pans, and you can leave it alone again...and you could be busy some more. When you get back, just pop the loaves into the oven, and in less than an hour your home could be smelling like grandma's kitchen too. You wouldn't even have to light a fragrance candle today! Imagine that.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
makes 2 loaves
recipe adapted from Betty Crocker's Breads (1977)

2 packages of active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 t)
1/2 C warm water (105°-115°)
1/3 C honey
1 T salt
1/4 C shortening (with NO trans-fats)
1 3/4 C warm water
3 C whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur White Whole Wheat)
3-4 C all purpose flour (unbleached)
butter, softened

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 C warm water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in honey, salt, shortening, 1 3/4 C warm water, and whole wheat flour. Whisk until smooth. Stir in enough of the AP flour until easy to handle.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and flip over so greased side of dough is up. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll each half out to a 18x9 inch rectangle. Fold into thirds then roll dough tightly towards you, beginning at one of the open ends. Pinch edges firmly to seal, then place loaves seam side down into greased loaf pans. Brush lightly with butter and sprinkle with wheat germ or oats if desired. Let rest, covered, until doubled in bulk again, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375°. Place loaves on low rack, so that their tops will be in the center of the oven. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I'll take a good, salty snack over sweets any day. And nothing fits the bill, like freshly roasted pumpkin seeds hot from the oven. I have a really hard time waiting until they are cool enough to eat, and sometimes they sizzle on my tongue because they are so hot. Crunchy and salty with a tad of heat (from cayenne) is how I like mine. I made some this afternoon and they are almost already gone! Here is my recipe.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Wash and dry seeds, removing as much of the orange pulp as possible. Pour out onto rimmed baking sheet and toss with some olive oil or canola oil. Sprinkle with salt, a bit of cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. Roast in a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

The Great Pumpkin

It always amuses me when magazine articles and cooking shows declare that it is pumpkin season and photos display the bright orange squash or beautiful heirloom varieties posing among fallen leaves. But ironically, most recipes that call for pumpkin puree list puree from a can as an ingredient. While granted, it is a bit more convenient to just use something out of a can, the whole point of buying foods when they are in season is that one can find it fresh! Sadly, most people have forgotten that pumpkins are for more than just carving or decorating the front porch. Pumpkins can be cooked and eaten as you would any other winter squash, and they are a delicious source of vitamins A and C.

Pumpkins that are still in the market are going for a steal now that Halloween is over. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I planned to make some homemade puree for my pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin pancakes. Today at Whole Foods I found organically grown sugar pumpkins for 99 cents a pound! I bought two, and brought them home, cut them in half, scooped out the pulp and seeds and roasted them for an hour. The resulting puree is sweet, light orange and really something that cannot be duplicated by the stuff that comes out of a can (are canned green beans really as good as the fresh ones?). Use canned pumpkin when pumpkins are out of season, and you are craving some pumpkin bread. Or better yet, roast more than one pumpkin and freeze the left over puree for another day.

The first time I roasted pumpkins for puree, it came out too watery. Letting the puree drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander eliminates this problem.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

1 2-4 pound sugar pumpkin
2 T water

Preheat oven to 400°.

Cut pumpkin in half through the stem end. Scoop out the pulp and seeds (reserve seeds for roasting). Place pumpkin cut side up in a rimmed pan and put 1 T of water in each half. Cover with foil and bake for one hour, or until flesh is tender when pricked with a fork. When flesh is cool enough to handle, scoop from shell with a spoon and place into the bowl of a food processor fitted with its steel blade. Puree until completely smooth. Pour puree into a cheesecloth-lined sieve or colander (2 layers of cheesecloth is fine). Let drain over a large bowl in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or up to 3 days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eat Your Greens!

But I'm telling you the same I tell kings and queens:
Don't ever never ever mess around with my greens!

Those words, in a hilarious rap by the witch in the 1986 musical, Into the Woods, stay with me every time I buy greens. In that scene a man sneaks over the witch's wall to steal greens for his pregnant wife, who is craving them. The witch catches the man and forces them to give up their child in exchange for the greens. The baby is born, and relinquished to the witch, who eventually locks her in a tall tower and climbs up her hair to visit her. The girl's name? Rapunzel, of course!

During my pregnancies the opposite was true; the thought of any green vegetables made me turn green. We had a beautiful lettuce patch in our yard when I was pregnant with my first, and I couldn't touch it. It was such a shame, all those beautiful baby lettuces, too much for my husband to eat alone, going to waste.

Now, realizing the nutritional value of greens, especially the dark, leafy kind, I try to serve them often. Chock full of vitamins A and C, iron and fiber, greens could be considered a super food. The farmers' markets are full of them this time of year and this Sunday I saw spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy and more. But bitter foods (as most greens are) are not my favorites, so I try to prepare them in a way that makes them more palatable to me. Long braising, stir frying and concealing them in other foods (lasagna, for example) are some of the ways I like to eat my greens.

Tonight we will be having a soup with greens I purchased at the farmers' market (the lady told me it was mustard greens, but it looks more like kale to me), slices of white, butter potatoes and smoked sausage. This soup is served often on the East Coast, where large populations of Portuguese fishermen settled. It is thick and hearty, almost like a stew and it is traditionally prepared with chouri├žo or linguisa, but I had kielbasa on hand, so I will use that. Add a loaf of warm crusty bread, and you have a perfect meal for a cold night....if only it was cold. Ah, well...

Portuguese Kale Soup

1 pound of sausage, sliced (chouri├žo, linguisa or keilbasa all work fine)
3-4 large, waxy potatoes
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
1 bunch of greens
1 can of cannelloni beans, rinsed (optional)
8 C chicken stock
Handful of Parmesan cheese

Drizzle olive oil into dutch oven and saute sausage over medium heat until browned. Add onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, wash potatoes well and slice them into 1/4 inch circles. If they are very large, halve the circles. Wash greens well and tear them into bite-sized pieces, discarding any rough stems. Add potatoes, greens, beans, and chicken stock to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Serve in large bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranberry Glazed Chicken

I have a dilemma. There is a beautiful bag of cranberries taunting me from my refrigerator. Every time I open my produce drawer, they call out to me, begging to be cooked and eaten. These aren't just any supermarket cranberries, mind you, but rather cranberries that were specially selected by my in-laws and shipped to us straight from a Cape Cod bog. I have big plans for these little gems. They are to go in the obligatory cranberry bread for Thanksgiving morning, and to be put into the fresh cranberry relish for Thanksgiving dinner. I really don't have many to spare...but tonight I could not resist their allure and so I made roasted chicken breasts with a cranberry glaze, using just a cup of the precious fruits. This recipe is adapted from Everyday Food.

Chicken with a Cranberry Glaze
Serves 4

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (or one large split turkey breast)
dried sage
dried thyme
2 C chicken or turkey stock
1 onion, diced
1 C cranberries
1 t corn starch

Preheat oven to 400°.

Carefully lift skin on chicken breasts and sprinkle a pinch of sage and thyme and place 1 pat of butter. Replace skin over breast and sprinkle over a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast breasts for about 30-40 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 160°.

Meanwhile, saute onion in 1 T butter until soft (about 8 minutes) in large sauce pan. Add about 1/2 t thyme and sage and stir for one minute. Add 2 C chicken or turkey stock and boil for about 10 minutes or until reduced slightly. Strain stock and then add cranberries and simmer until cranberries pop and soften, about 8 minutes. Make a slurry with 1 t corn starch and 1 t water. Stir to combine then whisk into sauce pan to thicken sauce.

Pour sauce over chicken and serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

Blood Orange Martini

Blood oranges are in season from now through the winter months here in California. I saw them at the market today, and had to buy them, of course. Blood oranges taste a bit more floral and are less acidic than naval oranges, and they have a lovely garnet colored flesh, juice and sometimes skin. They can be eaten just as you would a regular orange, but I love to use their juice in a festive martini. These are easy to make, and would make a perfect cocktail to serve at Thanksgiving or another holiday party.

Blood Orange Martini
serves 1

2 oz. vodka
1 oz. triple sec or cointreau
juice from 1/2 a blood orange
a few drops of orange flower water (optional)

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into martini glass and serve.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fresh Egg Pasta

Fresh egg pasta is so delicious and worth both the investment of time and equipment (a $30 pasta roller will do just fine). Once you try homemade pasta, it will be difficult to ever go back to eating the dry stuff. My recipe comes from Marcella Hazan, the Italian cuisine matriarch, and with the aid of the food processor it comes together in less than a minute. The entire process, from start to finish, might take a couple of hours the first time you try it, and as you become more experienced, it may only take you about 45 minutes or so. It is a great Sunday afternoon activity.

Fresh Egg Pasta
serves 2-3

This recipe can be doubled, but try it at least once this way before you make a larger batch.

2 extra large eggs
1 heaping cup of all purpose flour

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a stainless steel blade, crack eggs and pour in flour. Pulse until dough comes together in a ball. If too wet, sprinkle in additional flour in tablespoon amounts, until still tacky to the touch, but not wet.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth like a baby's bottom. Let rest for 15 minutes covered with a damp cloth, then cut into 6 segments and roll each into a ball. Cover again with a damp cloth.

Your pasta roller should include directions on how to roll out pasta, but just in case it doesn't, I dredge each ball in flour, and flatten into my palm. I roll it through my pasta machine set on "1." I fold the pasta into thirds and roll through machine again. Then folding and rolling once more for a total of 3 passes through the machine on level "1." Then I set the pasta on my counter on a clean kitchen towel. I repeat this with the remaining dough. Next, I set the pasta machine to level "2" and pass pasta through and set on counter, starting with the first ball I rolled out, finishing with the last one. Repeat on levels 3-5. Pasta is thin enough when you can see the pattern of the cloth through it. Let the pasta dry out for about 20 minutes, flipping it over after about 10 minutes. Dust with flour if necessary.

Attach the desired pasta cutter and begin to feed pasta carefully through the cutter starting with the first and ending with the last. As pasta is cut, lay out on the cloth again and let dry for a bit. To save for another time let pasta dry until it is no longer tacky, but is not yet brittle and roll into "nests." Let dry out completely and store in an air tight container.

To cook: Boil for about 3 minutes or until al dente.

Second Coming

I was beyond thrilled this when I ventured back to the farmers' market this morning to see that English Shelling Peas are back in season. When I asked the grower how long they would be available he said until first frost, which in California could be tomorrow (though I doubt that), or two months from now.

I had never tried a pea that I actually liked until I tried fresh peas from the farmers' market. I have very clear memories as a child of disgusting frozen bags of peas, carrots and corn, being served up at friends' homes for dinner. I like carrots and corn, but everything in those bags tasted of peas....old, frozen, starchy peas. As a polite guest, I never refused to eat anything, and on one particular occasion, I decided to eat my peas first to get it over with. The mother of my friend was so ecstatic that I actually ate my vegetables, that she gave me another large serving. Oh well...

My opinion changed the first time I shelled peas and ate them fresh from the farm. Fresh and in season peas are crisp, sweet, and not at all starchy. They are best when used within a day or two of being picked and immediately after removing them from their pod. Over-cooking peas leads to a grey, starchy mess, and my preferred method for cooking them is to barely blanch them in salted water. Their color remains bright green, and their texture and flavor is as fresh and vivid as their color.

Tonight I made fresh egg linguine and served it with a cream sauce, blanched peas, pancetta and Parmesan cheese. It was a perfect and delicious way to end the weekend!

Pasta with Pancetta and Peas
Serves 4

1 pound fresh linguine (recipe here)
1 pound of fresh English peas, shelled
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 oz. pancetta, chopped
1 C cream
1/4 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

Bring large salted pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute pancetta until browned and crisp over medium heat. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Lower heat and add shallots and garlic to fat in pan with a pinch of salt and saute until soft. Add cream, turn up heat to medium high, and bring to a slow boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg, just a pinch.

Meanwhile, when pot of water comes to a boil, blanch the peas for 1-2 minutes, or until they rise to the surface of the water. Remove from water, and place in skillet into cream mixture. Boil pasta in same pot of water for about 3 minutes or according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and pour out into large bowl and pour over cream and peas. Toss with grated Parmesan cheese and reserved pancetta and serve.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Precious Commodity, Blueberries

With blueberry season long behind us, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bag of blueberries when I cleaned out my freezer earlier in the week. I had dutifully frozen them after purchasing a large quantity at the farmer's market this summer, planning ahead for the days when local blueberries were nothing but a memory. This morning, I used half of them, which was kind of a scanty amount, squirreling away the rest for another day. A precious commodity, blueberries.

With batter stirred, berries folded in, and pan in the oven, I left my kitchen for awhile to tend to other tasks. It wasn't long before the delicious aroma of muffins filled the house, causing hungry children to beg for breakfast. Blueberry muffins are a favorite with our family, and a dozen is barely enough for the five of us. As we split open the muffins and spread them with butter, the loud clangs and clamor of the morning were replaced with contented sighs and smacking lips. Peace was restored once again. A precious commodity, blueberries.

Best Blueberry Muffins

2 C flour
1 C sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 extra large eggs
1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
1/2 C milk
2 t vanilla
1 C blueberries, fresh or frozen is fine
turbinado (raw) sugar

Preheat oven to 400°.

Wisk together dry ingredients. Add milk, eggs, vanilla and butter and mix until just combined. Carefully fold in blueberries and spoon into greased muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Clam Pizza

Today I broke my own promise to try to buy locally grown and harvested foods when I bought a dozen littleneck clams from Bristol Farms. I could not resist them...they looked like my beloved Cape Cod in winter; grey, stoic and nestled in a bed of ice. I closed my eyes and inhaled their briny perfume and could almost picture myself there, a fragrant sea breeze coming up from the water. It is amazing how a meal, a smell or a song can transport me across time, or across a continent. Tonight I can pretend I am back on the Cape, with rain pattering on my window and a fire in the fireplace. The smell of woodsmoke mixing with the scent of the ocean is an intoxicating combination...

But alas, I am here, in southern California and the smoke I smell is probably another mountain on fire, and the "ocean breeze" is really the Santa Ana's blowing through my kitchen. But regardless of our location, we will dine and remember, with a clam pizza, flavored with the sweet meat from the clams, some of their liquor, olive oil spiked with garlic, and Pecorino cheese. A simple dish, yet exquisitely complex in flavor.

Clam Pizza

one recipe pizza dough (see dough recipe here)
one dozen littleneck clams
2 cloves garlic
1/4 C olive oil (or so)
2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 C Pecorino cheese, grated
1/4 C Mozzarella cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 500 degrees for one hour.

Shuck clams (and I will admit that this was WAY harder than we expected). Those buggers were shut tight, and we had to seriously pry them open with a knife. For more tips on how to shuck clams look here.

Chop clam meat and reserve it and liquor (juice from shell) in a bowl. Stretch dough according to directions. Mince garlic and stir into olive oil. Drizzle over crust dough. Sprinkle on clam meat, parsley, and cheeses. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crust is as crisp as you like. Drizzle on a bit more olive oil and serve.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fish Tacos

My mother swears that I am part Mexican, at least in spirit, or maybe in another life. But I have always been drawn to the food, the culture, and the people of Mexico. I love to visit there as often as I can, which isn't nearly often enough. It seems that the hotter the climes, the spicier the food, and more colorful the dress and decor. Mexican food is so much more than what is available at Taco Bell, and here in California we have a plethora of restaurants that serve it up. But nothing is as fresh or delicious as homemade, and so tonight we had soft fish tacos.

Filled with subtly spiced fish, thinly sliced cabbage, cilantro, green onions, avocado, chipotle spiced sour cream, and a splash of lime juice these tacos were both light and filling at the same time. They looked bright and festive wrapped in a corn tortilla, and reminded me of fun times we've had over the years on Mexico's sandy shores.

Fish Tacos

1 pound white fish (orange roughy, cod, tilapia--whatever is available)
lime juice
chipotle chili powder
cabbage (1/4 head)
cilantro (handful)
green onions (3)
avocado, sliced
1/4 C sour cream
corn tortillas

Move the oven rack to the top and set the oven to broil. About 10 minutes before ready to cook fish, sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, and salt and squeeze over some lime juice on each side. Place on well oiled broil pan and broil under flame for 5 minutes. Carefully flip fish over and broil for 5 minutes longer, or until fish has cooked through and flakes easily with a knife.

Meanwhile, thinly slice cabbage (in season right now), green onions and chop cilantro. Toss cabbage with cilantro and green onions. Squeeze over the juice of 1/4 of a lime and sprinkle with salt.

Mix sour cream with 1/2 t chipotle chili powder (or to taste). Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt. Mix well. Warm corn tortillas over an open flame or in a hot pan. Keep wrapped in dish towels or foil until ready to serve.

To serve: flake some fish and place in tortilla, top with cabbage mixture, avocado slices and chipotle cream sauce. Squeeze over some fresh lime juice and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bistro Fare

I adore goat cheese and roasted chicken breasts, and this recipe not only combines the two, it melds them into a creamy, juicy and highly-flavored meal. Inspired by a recipe from Ina Garten, I stuff a round slice of goat cheese under the fat on the breast, replace the skin, then top it with a paste made from salt and garlic. The goat cheese will melt slightly and the skin will crisp beautifully. Crunchy, salty, creamy, and flavorful....a perfect combination!

Remember the fat left over from the roasted duck legs? Tonight I will use it to fry pan-smashed potatoes, which are small, white new potatoes that have been boiled until soft, then smashed flat in a pan and gently fried in fat. Olive oil works fine, but the duck fat will elevate this side dish into something really special. I heard an expression somewhere and it is so true: Fat is where the flavor is!

My husband requested something light, I'm not sure if this fits the bill...perhaps if you consider the color.

Two helpful hints:

1. Before I knew this, the scent of garlic would linger on my fingers no matter what I tried. When you are done chopping the garlic, run your fingers over side of the stainless steel blade (NOT the sharp edge) of the knife under hot, running water and it will erase any smell of garlic instantly!

2. In order to finish a plate with professional looking parsley, after chopping it finely, place it in a paper towel and squeeze the moisture out. The result is beautiful, flaky parsley, just like at a restaurant.

Chicken Breasts with Goat Cheese

3-4 large chicken breasts with a good covering of skin
1 slice of goat cheese per breast about 1/4-1/2 inch thick
2 cloves garlic
1 t salt
handful of minced flat-leaved parsley

Preheat oven to 400°.

Carefully run fingers under skin and lift to create pocket. Slide in goat cheese and replace skin over, using a toothpick to secure if necessary. Finely chop the garlic, then using the side of a chef's knife (the wide kind), smash 1 t of salt into it, back and forth, until a paste has been created. Mix the garlic/salt paste with the parsley and spread on top of the chicken breasts. Drizzle with oil and bake for 45 minutes or until the juices run clear.

Smashed Pan Fried Potatoes

10-12 small fingerling or new white potatoes
2-3 T duck fat or olive oil
salt and pepper
minced flat-leaf parsley

Boil whole potatoes in hot salted water for 10-15 minutes or until can be easily pierced with a knife, but are still holding their shape. Drain in a colander. Heat fat in a heavy skillet (I prefer cast-iron) until hot. Carefully place potatoes in fat and smash with a heavy spatula or fork until quite flattened. Salt and pepper, and fry on each side for 5 minutes, or until brown and crispy. Remove to serving dish and sprinkle on chopped parsley.

New Kid on the Block

Our not-so-little suburb has finally come of age as we just got a beautiful, upscale market of our very own. Bristol Farms finally opened it's doors this morning at 7 a.m. after much anticipation, and much to our surprise (we had heard it would be opening in January). When we arrived at 11:30, it was jam-packed full of eager shoppers and lookie-loos checking out the scene. Shopping carts bumped together like gridlock on so many Southern California freeways, jostling for a spot near the sample tables. Cheerful employees dressed in red-checked shirts, handed out delicious treats for all to try, a perfect lunch, we thought. We sampled Rocky Whole Rotisserie Chickens, many different kinds of cheeses, fresh sushi and potstickers, pizza (on a French pastry crust), Aidell's Sausage, pumpkin cream cheese piped onto graham crackers, orange juice, cocktail mixers and more.

Their fresh fish and meat counters were beautifully stocked and the meat all came from California ranches, including their lamb, which in other markets is almost exclusively imported from New Zealand. There are real butchers in employ who can do really crazy things (like grind meat or butterfly chickens) that those other guys at the regular market can't do, ma'am. I ordered a fresh, local, free-range turkey for Thanksgiving today to be picked up two days before Thanksgiving so that I can salt-cure it (an alternative to brining).

Their produce looked good, and was labeled with point of origin so that those of us who are concerned about buying our produce from local growers can do so. Their cheese counter was plentifully stocked (the cheese guy even promised to order my very favorite Leyden Cheese, which is a Dutch cheese spiked with cumin seeds) and the wine selection was amazing for our valley, which has always been quite limited. But the buyers' demand will dictate what they carry in the future; I'm sure that not many will be able to afford the $850 bottles of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, for example.

We waddled out into the warm sunshine with only a one pound loaf of caramel apple bread, seaweed salad, and spicy tuna rolls for additional lunch fare. I had marketed earlier in the week so I didn't need much. But I will be back, and soon, I am quite sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookie Monster

When it comes to chocolate chip cookies I'm more of a cookie dough person. But when I do eat them, I think they are best when they are thick and fluffy, and a wee bit doughy in the middle. I have tried so many different ways to make them, always striving for my imagined ideal. I have used butter (melted and soft), crisco (gag), white sugar, brown sugar, changed the quantity of eggs and flour, and added ground oats, all in my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

I finally think that I have come upon the one. Here is my recipe for thick, soft chocolate chip cookies. They smell heavenly when they are baking, and the dough tastes great too (although I should advise you against eating it due to the fact that it contains raw eggs and there is risk for salmonella...that being said, I always am willing to take that risk). It uses only brown sugar, which has a higher moisture content than white sugar, and helps the cookies stay soft. The recipe only makes a dozen or so, but that is better for me because then I don't eat as many! It can, of course, be doubled, which I did this afternoon, because I have the entire neighborhood playing in my yard.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 stick softened butter
3/4 C brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t vanilla
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400°.

Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Sift in flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Place tablespoon-sized dollops of cookie dough on cookie sheet a few inches apart and bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Place cookies on cooling rack.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Preserving My (In)Sanity

I have a problem; an addiction really. Or perhaps it is just an obsession. But what ever you want to call it, I cannot stop canning things "for the winter." Like the mothers (one human, one bear) in the beloved children's story Blueberries for Sal, I have gathered all the blueberries I could get my hands on (and the peaches, and apricots, and strawberries and apples, and tomatoes and on and on). Here in earthquake country we are encouraged to keep several days worth of supplies on hand for the inevitable "big one." But instead of stockpiling water, flashlights, radios, energy bars and batteries like a sensible person, I stockpile beautiful fruits in jars, filling my pantry to overflowing.

So far since late spring, I have managed to make jams from strawberries, strawberries and rhubarb, apricots, tomatoes and chilis, and peaches and blueberries. I have made jelly from Thomcord grapes, and sauce from apples and tomatoes. And today I made six half pints of cranberry chutney. I still have jars of applesauce and tomato chili jam on my counter because I have no room in my pantry...and now this.

It is as if I am operating from some primal instinct, as a squirrel gathers nuts, or a pioneer woman stuffs her root cellar. It is so not necessary, but it is deeply satisfying all the same. It feels like a connection to the past, while preserving the future, quite literally.

In Sandwich, Massachusetts, a lovely little Cape Cod village we visit each summer, they keep the jam-making tradition alive in their Green Briar Jam Kitchen. Volunteers lead workshops on how to make jams, jellies and other preserves, and when we visit, we can smell the sweet fragrance from well up the road. It is not hard to make jams, really, and with a few supplies on hand, it can be made in a jiffy. The recipe for Cranberry Chutney was inspired by one from the Green Briar, and the cranberries were shipped to us by my mother-in-law from Annie's Crannies on the Cape. It is tart, boldly flavored, and a delightful shiny crimson color that reminds me of the holidays.

For tips on preserving I suggest you visit the following website:

Basic supplies that I use for jamming are a large dutch oven, my pasta cooker (with removable insert), ball jars with 2 piece lids, tongs for jars, and a funnel. That's it! This recipe is much easier to make than jam (you don't need to worry about it setting) and it comes together quickly so that the whole project can be done in less than an hour. I'm planning on giving these to friends for Christmas (and finally clearing off my counter)!

Cranberry Chutney

makes about 5-6 8 oz. jars

1 pound of cranberries
3/4 pound of apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 lemon, seeded and diced
1/2 C raisins
1 C brown sugar
1/4 C candied ginger
1/4 C cider vinegar
1/2 C water
1/2 t salt
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t dry mustard
1 stick of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a large dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until thick. Skim foam from the top and remove cinnamon stick.

Pour into sterilized jars and seal according to manufacturers directions.