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"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

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rosemary shortbread! . . .

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During the holidays, one of the easiest things to make – and also one of the treats everyone likes most (a good combination!) is rosemary shortbread. There’s only one caveat and that is to prick the shortbread when it goes in the oven – and again when it comes out – and especially to cut it into squares before it cools. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to cut later when it has cooled.

Here’s my recipe derived mostly from Melissa Clark:

  1. Cut two sticks of unsalted butter into 1 inch pieces when it’s cold – place the pieces into a food processor bowl.
  2. Add 2 cups of flour (I aerate the flour before dipping it into a measure so as not to compact and add too much flour.) The proportion of butter to flour is delicate and accounts for the tender bite of these cookies.
  3. Add 2/3 cup of turbinado sugar
  4. Add a large pinch of salt (I use Maldon sea salt)
  5. Add a teaspoon or two of very good honey. I was given s jar of local Carlisle honey and I drizzle that into the food processor bowl.

Process using short spurts until the dough is almost together – do not overprocess it.

I use a 9 inch pie pan and spray it with Pam beforehand. Then, I put the dough into the pan and press it down with a large spoon. Prick it in intervals with a fork. If it doesn’t hold together to do that, then wait until it is baked and do it then.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 50 minutes or until golden brown. I turn it partway through so that the edges brown evenly. Take the shortbread out, prick with a fork and when slightly cooled, cut into serving pieces with a sharp knife.

It freezes beautifully, and it’s so handy to have some around when drinking Constant Comment or Lapsang Souchang tea in the afternoons.

Enjoy! And happy holidays too!

roast chestnut stuffing! . . .and homemade turkey gravy

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Happy Thanksgiving! It’s vey cold here in New England – 7 degrees and sunny! Hope those high school football games carry on in the frigid weather!

Our Thanksgiving turkey has been dressed every year with a roast chestnut stuffing. I usually start roasting and peeling chestnuts a few weeks ahead of time and store the sweet meats in the freezer. This year, we have a hearty bounty of them and I heated them up in a little butter before putting them in the dressing. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

I usually put together the dressing by mid-morning so that it has a chance to cool completely before stuffing the bird when it goes in the oven early afternoon. There’s no rushing this timing so it kicks off the day’s cooking along with reheating a large pot of turkey stock that I started yesterday (more about that later.)

ROAST CHESTNUT STUFFING:

  1. In order to shell the chestnuts, I use a chestnut cutter (yes!) and split the peel of the chestnut all the way around from head to head. Then, I heat the slitted chestnuts until the water boils and let the chestnuts sit in the hot water for about 15-20 minutes. This step is essential for the hot water to enter the shell and to separate the inner skin from the meat inside. Then, I heat the oven to 425 degrees and roast the soaked chestnuts for 20 minutes or so. Usually, this yields a harvest of about 80% of the chestnuts from their shells. The other 20% either sticks to the skin or may be inedible. I do this numerous times (usually while watching football games on TV) before the holiday with chestnuts that I try out at 3 or 4 different stores. The chestnuts can cost anywhere from $7.95 a pound (Whole Foods and Shaws) to $4.95 at Market Basket. The ones from Market Basket, though cheaper had a higher attrition rate than the others. The ones I bought from Stop and Shop for $5.95 a pound worked out the best. The cost increases but is well worth it! Even the crumbly bits are good because they add so much flavor to the crumbs and vegetables.
  2. In a large pan, I melted half a stick of butter (YAY for BUTTER!! – at least for today) and warmed up the defrosted chestnuts.
  3. Took them out of the pan and melted 2/3rds of a stick of butter and one whole vidalia onion, chopped up, hearts of celery and the tender leaves inside and Bell’s Seasoning – a healthy sprinkle on top of the mixed vegetables. Cook until slightly softened.
  4. Add one bag of Pepperide Farm herb stuffing crumbs. Mix in gently and sprinkle with chicken broth to moisten it (being careful not to add too much or the stuffing will be a sticky blob rather than crumbling deliciousness.)
  5. Sprinkle more Bell’s Seasoning across this mixture – I even opened a new box rather than using what I had left over from last Thanksgiving!
  6. Add a large handful of fresh chopped parsley and mix in gently.
  7. Lastly, add the warmed chestnuts and fold into the stuffing. Sprinkle on a little more chicken broth if too dry. Do less than more.
  8. Let the dressing cool. Use part of it to stuff the cavities of the turkey and the neck area; secure with poultry pins (that I can never find when I need them!)

This chestnut stuffing is divine by itself. But when there’s homemade turkey gravy made from long-simmering stock, you don’t even need a turkey to make people happy (my youngest daughter related this to me once upon a time!) This recipe for stock may sound over the top, but believe me, no matter how much you make, there’s never enough. Plus, if the turkey gravy is this delicious, it makes EVERYTHING on your plate taste good. So here goes:

TURKEY STOCK GRAVY:

  1. I buy a pack of fresh turkey wings and roast them at 400 degrees for an hour.
  2. Then, I lightly brown onion and celery in a large soup pot, cut the roasted wings apart and add them to the pot. I use 2/3rds chicken broth and 1/3 water in the stock.
  3. Let it simmer slowly with the lid off to cook down a bit and then with the lid on.
  4. I store the stock in my pantry overnight which is as cold as a refrigerator.
  5. On Thanksgiving day, I degrease the fat from the top of the stock when it’s still cold. Then, simmer some more, adding the neck and giblets from the turkey when I’ve opened it up to rinse and dry it. I also pan fry the neck and giblets in some butter before adding to the cooked stock.
  6. Let the whole thing simmer until you’re ready to turn it to gravy. Hours rather than minutes. . .
  7. Remove and strain everything out of the stock and retain the stock in  separate bowl.
  8. In the stockpot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of flour, whisking well. Add a small amount of stock into the roue and whisk some more. Gradually, whisk in the rest of the strained stock. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If the gravy is not thick enough, take some stock out, add a little more flour and mix well, then add back to the stock.
  9. Every year, I’m hunting around for something to serve the gravy from. I have never liked serving it from a big soup bowl so this year, I found a gravy boat (a small tureen, actually) and am all set!

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We have much to be grateful for and sometimes lose sight of how much, given the toxic political environment we’re held hostage to. But, we are grateful nonetheless.

Cheers!

 

 

great northern beans casserole. . .

DSCN8401i’m a loyal reader of NYTimes recipes and enjoy perusing them for their attempts to attract a population who seem to eat in trends: cauliflower rice, spiralized vegetables,  lots of cumin, curry and Middle Eastern spices.

My taste leans more towards plain food that tastes delicious because of quality ingredients and slow cooking. This recipe for a cheesy bean casserole hit the spot. I went out on a chilly, rainy morning and bought a sack of Great Northern white beans, sun-dried tomato paste in a tube and a plump head of garlic. When I got home, I heated up a kettle of water and poured it over the dried beans to soak until the afternoon.DSCN8394

After lunch, I drained the beans of its soaking water, added fresh cold water and brought it to a simmer until the beans were cooked through. Then, I drained them again. To prepare the casserole, I heated up some olive oil, added three large cloves of roughly chopped garlic, and a few hefty squirts of the sun-dried tomato paste. It smelled divine. What WOULDN’T be good, cooked in this melange of ingredients? I added the soaked, cooked, drained beans and extra boiling water.

I transferred the beans into a favorite heavy, enameled pan and sprinkled fresh mozzarella on the top. Into a hot oven (375 degrees,) I cooked the beans until golden brown – about a 15 minutes. Just before serving, With a couple of toasted onion bagels, the pot of beans was just right for a chilly, wet, grey day here in New England.

Isn’t it amazing how food like this can lift your spirits? YUM!

Afternote:  The beans were subtle and tasty (e.g., “kind of plain.”)  I’m planning to freeze the leftovers to heat up as a side dish to go with kielbasa or chicken wings!

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eggplant parm “stacks”. . .

DSCN8392Awhile ago, I made eggplant parm but not piled together in a baking pan. I thought that it might do just as well to fry eggplant slices, dredged in flour and shaken free of excess; then submereged in fresh eggs beaten lightly together, and fried in vegetable oil sizzling in a hot skillet on the stove. I drained each slice when it was cooked golden brown and let them drain on parchment paper lining a baking sheet.DSCN8389

As they cooled, I thought, why not make “short stacks” like pancakes, three at a time with a little tomato sauce seasoned with basil between each slice? Then, sprinkled on some grated mozzarella cheese, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Each stack looked like a nice serving, and was not submerged in a baking pan of gooey sauce, cheese and so on.

After putting together the short stacks, I baked the eggplant cutlets in a medium oven (350 degrees) between a half hout and 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Not too much tomato sauce but just enough to bind the eggplant and add some flavor.

Along with the eggplant parm, we toasted an “everything” bagel and enjoyed it with our supper.  YUM!

 

 

 

pumpkin cheese cake! . . .

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After staying up a few nights to watch the World Series, we have all been celebrating the 2018 win by the Red Sox (we live in New England!)  So, what could be better than to try out a new recipe – this one for a no-bake pumpkin cheesecake?

I had a few doubts about this recipe – but tried it mostly the way it was written. The major difference is that I bought a graham cracker crust instead making a springform crust from scratch, avoiding a stick of butter!

  1. Take off plastic wrapping from crust – heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. Take it out and cool. I’ve found that pre-baking a crust like this helps enormously when serving the pie – it sticks together better and is easier to cut.
  2. In a large mixing bowl and electric beaters, mix together 3 large packs of Philadelphia cream cheese. I only had two as I thought the spread I had in the fridge was plain, but it was chive and onion! SO, I looked around and found some whole milk ricotta – added 8 ounces of that instead of the 3rd package of cream cheese. Added a cup of heavy whipping cream and beat the mixture of creams until smooth and combined – about 3-4 minutes.
  3. In the creamy mixture, add: 1 can of prepared pumpkin (1 1/2 cups); 1 scant cup of powdered sugar, a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla.
  4. Combine and beat until smooth and creamy. I tasted it fearing it might be too sweet, but it was delicious! I scraped the bowl with a plastic spatula and then heaped it into the baked crust, smoothing out the filling all around.
  5. Covered it with plastic wrap to chill in the fridge for 6-8 hours before serving.
  6. Having tasted a smidge of the filling (and the dribs and drabs in the mixing bowl) I think this will be one of the best pumpkin concoctions I’ve made as yet! I’ve always liked the idea of pumpkin cheesecake, especially when it is advertised at the Starbucks Cafes in Barnes and Noble. And now, we can enjoy our own at home!

SO, Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox who just won the World Series in Game 5 yesterday! and here’s also to the Patriots beating the Buffalo Bills tonight! We are so lucky to live near Boston with these championship teams to follow and root for. And now, we can do it with a slice of pumpkin cheesecake too! Wow!

 

 

homemade toasted almond, caramel, sea salt biscotti! . . .

DSCN8229It’s been a little gloomy and rainy waiting for Hurricane Florence to hit landfall in the Southeast USA.  Today, I got it in my head to make some biscotti to have with our coffee after dinner. I looked up some recipes online and decided on this one, with a couple of modifications.

First, I made half a batch. I didn’t think we really needed 6 dozen of them and might get tired of them before they were finished up. The second thing I changed besides cutting the recipe in half was to substitute almond slices (toasted in a skillet with butter) and to cut up caramel candies to add to the batter. The next time, I might use brittle pieces but this time, I went with straight caramel which I chopped with a sharp knife.  I used a little extra flour to separate the dough into two loaves so that the batter wasn’t too sticky (just coated my hands with loose flour.)  I also forgot the egg white wash but put it on after 5 minutes in the oven.

After the loaves cooled for 30 minutes, I sliced them up on a slight diagonal into biscotti and then bake them, separated from each other in a 350 degree oven for an additional 16 minutes until they were golden brown. Then, I sprinkled them all with a little Maldon sea salt.

Can’t wait to taste them tonight! I think this beats cookies for having with our coffee any time! I don’t know why I was intimidated before to make biscotti from scratch – maybe the toast-like finish on the pieces – but this recipe was easy and fun to make! Enjoy!

mega- vegetable broth! . . .

fullsizeoutput_3a6We have a relative who has been in the hospital for almost 3 months and just beginning to eat again. G. and I thought that some homemade vegetable broth might be palatable and at the same time help to boost her immune system. There’s no oil whatsoever in the broth – no cooking oil, no chicken broth, no beef broth. No animal oils. I used a large stockpot and put in these ingredients:

1 gallon of spring water

Cleaned and chopped:

6 large carrots

1 head of celery hearts

2 onions

cousa squash, patty pan squash and zucchini (small)

1 small white potato, 1 medium Japanese sweet potato

1 bag of baby kale

I put on the lid, brought it to a boil and then simmered it for a couple of hours WITHOUT the  lid. Cooking the broth without the lid on it is what a) reduces the stock so that is enriched and tastes really good; and b) makes the room you’re cooking in hot and humid even if you have the exhaust fan on. In my very large stockpot, I managed to reduce the liquid by about an inch from where it was before.

DSCN8177When cool, I removed the vegetables from the pot. Then, I poured the stock through a fine mesh sieve. I returned the vegetables bit by bit to squeeze out all the stock and discarded the remains.  I then poured the clear broth into 1 quart plastic containers, filling them a little over half way. This batch yielded about 8 cups of vegetable broth.

Vegetable broth has also been a large part of a macrobiotic diet and is sweet tasting from the vegetables alone:  a heartwarming soup to sip slowly either warm or at room temperature. It can also be used as a base for other homemade soups.

Now that I’ve made the vegetable broth at this large a scale, I’m excited about making beef bone broth and chicken stock but not until the Fall when there’s a chill in the air.

“shrimp tempura on a Thursday night!”

DSCN8155Yes, it’s hot at the end of July in New England. The humidity is terrible. Maybe we’ll get some relief over the weekend – that’s what the weather forecast is saying. Today, I had seven large shrimp that I took out of the freezer to prepare for dinner. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but as the dinner hour neared, I decided to make shrimp tempura. It wasn’t a big deal because I’ve made it many times and it’s one of our favorite dishes.

The reason I’m writing about it tonight is that I learned how to “stretch” the shrimp! Hah! At first, I thought the term “stretch” had to do with slicing the shrimps in half lengthwise, thus “doubling” how many pieces that are served. But nope, that wasn’t it. I watched a Youtube clip by a Japanese chef demonstrating how to “stretch” shrimp.

Well, much to my astonishment, he did just that. To summarize what the method is, after making small perpendicular slices in the underside of the shrimp, the chef then turned the shrimp on one side and made small diagonal cuts, then turned it over and did the same on the other side. When you lay the shrimp on its back and pat it gently, the shrimp will elongate because of all the small bias cuts made to the sides of the shrimp. For example, a shrimp which was about 3 inches was “stretched” to 4-5 inches long!

I had always wondered where restaurants would get shrimps that were that long. For the first time now, I understood the preparation techniques that results in thinner, longer shrimp. It also cooks more quickly and is more tender to the bite because the shrimp is less dense without a thick center.

Because I enjoy cooking so much, learning a new technique like this for a favorite dish is something worth celebrating. Here are some other things I do when I make shrimp tempura that might be different from other recipes:

  1. Tempura batter consists of a coating for the dry prepared shrimp that is put together right before frying. It includes a half cup of flour (loosely measured,)  a little cornstarch, an egg yolk and ice water. I use a flat whisk and mix the ingredients until it is light and airy but still lumpy. I look at it to make sure there’s enough batter for the number of shrimp I’m going to cook. Otherwise, I’ll add a little more flour and ice water and mix it in.
  2. Heat a small frying pan with vegetable oil.
  3. Pour some panko breadcrumbs into a separate dish.
  4. When the oil is hot (dip a chopstick into the batter and insert in the oil – it should start sizzling if the oil is hot enough); pick up one of the shrimp with both hands, dab it into the batter so it’s covered and then roll it in the panko crumbs. Lift it with both hands and gently lay it in the hot oil.
  5. Let the shrimp cook briefly until it is golden brown on one side and turn it over with chopsticks. I usually cook 2 at a time because that allows enough room in the pan and also helps me to pace the frying so it doesn’t get too hectic.
  6. Remove the cooked shrimp and place on paper towel to drain.
  7. Continue until you’ve cooked all the shrimp. You’ll notice that because the shrimp has been stretched, it is not only longer, but cooks faster and tastes more tender to the bite.

Well, I’m not sure that many people will be interested in making shrimp tempura on a hot muggy night (we do have the pleasure of a cooler so the temp inside wasn’t too bad) but I can heartily recommend this method of elongating the shrimp so that the final shrimp tempura is a dazzling success – both visually and taste-wise.

 

a banana cream pie . . .

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I’ve never made a banana cream pie before. But whenever I have bananas that need a new life, I usually make a banana nut bread from my trusty McCall’s cookbook that I bought fifty years ago. Last night, I was reading online for some alternative recipes like a zucchini-banana bread, which sounded good and then a recipe for banana cream pie popped up. Hah! I thought to myself, what a cool idea – literally, creamy and cool!

So, here’s the recipe I used, adding another layer of bananas on top of the custard after it cooled. The store-bought pie crust shrank so much when I pre-baked it that I decided to bake another one and piece them together to make a larger pie crust. After all, it doesn’t really matter if the pie crust is crumbly – it’s supposed to be, right? Since the egg yolks looked rather small, I added a fourth one to the custard.

I covered the pie with saran wrap and put it in the fridge. I’ll wait to whip up just enough fresh cream for the individual slices when  we’re ready to have them tonight. This way, the whipped cream topping doesn’t soften prematurely and will taste fresh each time we partake a slice of pie. Sound good? I had to taste the custard filling and while it was a little sweet, it tasted divine! Since the whipped cream will be natural without any sweetening, I think the combo will be just right.

Can’t wait to have it tonight for dessert! YUM!

a summer white peach pie . . .

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When it is pliable, I’ll roll it out a bit, brush with melted butter and wrap the peach mixture in it, mix a quarter cup of flour, 1/8 of turbinado sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Mixed it with the peaches, squeezed a little lemon juice and dot it with unsalted butter.  I put the peaches so that the corners of the puff pastry were on top and bottom. I gathered the seams together and cut steam holes in the pasty, crimping a pretty edge to the little pie. I brushed the top of the pastry with egg wash and sprinkled some more sugar on top.

After it’s baked in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, I’ll let it cool. Would be good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. Yum!