mulberryshoots

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

a Swedish coffee bread! . . .

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Many times, I write posts about preparing food. I just made my first try at making a Swedish coffee bread and took it out of the oven. It is STUPENDOUS to look at and the kitchen smells divine. I can’t wait to taste it when it cools.

It all started with a visit that my daughter, C. and I make to Verrill Farm, a fresh market in Concord, MA. that also has a coffee nook where we eat scones and catch up for a bit before buying yummy food to take home. I spied a braided loaf that was a Swedish coffee bread. At home, we ate almost half of it at one go because the crumb was fine and moist while giving off a delicate cardamon flavor.

It was so good that I decided to try my hand at making it at home. I found a recipe online that required 9 cups of flour so I halved it and then adjusted some of the ingredients. While mixing it together, I could tell this was going to be a favorite from the way it was put together. Here’s the recipe I followed:

SWEDISH COFFEE BREAD:

  1. Heat a cup and 1/4 of whole milk until bubbles form around the edges. Take off the heat.
  2. Melt a stick and a half of unsalted butter and add to the milk in a bowl.
  3. Add 1/2 cup natural sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom and 1 teaspoon salt.
  4. Combine until dissolved. Let the mixture cool a little.
  5. Add a packet of rapid-rise yeast and stir well.
  6. In half cup increments, blend in 4 1/2 cups of flour (make sure they are lightly spooned out, not heavily packed. Stir gently to mix well into a ball.
  7. Knead gently and let rise at room temperature covered with a towel or in an oven with the light on for about an hour.
  8. When doubled in bulk, knead again gently for about 5 minutes. Divide dough into three pieces and roll each one out into a long “snake.” Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with PAM. On it, braid the three pieces into a loaf. Pat it into shape as a loaf, cover with a dish towel and put it back in the lit oven (but not on) until it doubles in bulk again.
  9. Take out of the oven, preheat it to 375 degrees and brush an egg wash all over the risen loaf. Wipe up excess egg on the sheet and bake for about 25 minutes.

Take photos of it when it’s ready to come out of the oven because you won’t believe how fantastic it looks and you’ll want to show it to others.

When cool, slice and enjoy – with just about everything! For dinner tonight, we’re having chilled artichokes, moussaka (that I brought back from VF) some of this bread and a small salad with green goddess dressing.

What could be simpler, right?   (Just kidding.)

 

 

plum cake . . . !

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For years, decades really, I’ve been making a simple sponge cake garnished with cut up fruit on the top. It began with sliced plums. This afternoon, I made it again with a plum that was in our fruit bin but sadly passed over for too long.

The cake recipe is simple and easy to remember: everything is 1 of – for example:

1 cup sugar, 1 stick butter, 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, salt and 2 eggs.

Look for a pretty pan to bake it in – butter the pan and then smooth the batter in it. On the top, wash and slice up a piece of fruit that has seen better days but is still good to eat. In this case, I sliced up the plum and laid it out on the batter. Then I mixed up together 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg. Sprinkled it on top of the plums and batter showing through.

(I’ve also made the cake with peeled sliced apple, dark red cherries cut in half, peaches and nectarines!)

In a preheated 350 degree oven, I baked it for 35-40 minutes. It was fragrant and simply beautiful to look at. Tastes good too!

“a chocolate cake . . . when the cupboard is bare!”

DSCN0566Today, we woke up to a layer of sleet and light snow on the driveway. Really? It’s the running of the Boston Marathon today – and it’s intermittently pouring rain outside.

Since I didn’t feel like going out to get anything at the grocery store, I rummaged around the freezer for some meatballs I had made awhile ago. Instead of spaghetti, I think I’ll make a combination of Swedish meatballs with farfalle pasta and alfredo (adding parmesan sauce.) There’s still a nice portion of kale to go with it tonight.

For dessert, I looked at a box of Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa in the pantry and decided to make half a recipe of a chocolate cake in a 8 inch springform pan and ice it with some chocolate frosting too. Here’s the recipe. Double it to make a two layer cake or bake in a bundt pan.

For a small 8 inch cake:

1 cup sugar, a scant cup of flour, 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa, salt, 3/4 tsp. baking soda, 3/4 tsp. baking powder. Stir all dry ingredients in a bowl. Then add wet ingredients and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes: 1 egg, 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup boiling water. Pour into a well greased cake pan (mine was 8 inch springform which I sprayed with Pam. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 30-40 minutes or when toothpick comes out cleanly.

For the frosting, I softened 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, added 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa and a scant cup of confectioners flour plus 1/2 tsp. of vanilla. Add a splash of half and half or milk. Beat well until mixed. When the cake is really cooled, spread a layer of frosting on the top.

It took about 45 minutes to make the cake and frosting from start to finish – and now, there’s a nice small chocolate cake for dessert tonight. Also, a pan of dishes to wash. But looks like it’s worth it! For the two of us, I usually make half a recipe of most desserts – and it turns out to be just right and still enough to share with others.

Footnote: We found this cake to be one of the best chocolate cakes ever! It was moist and rich of crumb plus it wasn’t overly sweet. The frosting was just right with a creamy mouth feel from a little extra butter that I added at the last minute. I thought it might last longer, but what the heck – it’s tempting to cut a small slice as you walk by it! A winner and a recipe I’ll go to now that I’ve tried it. LMK if you like it too!

 

“kale . . . beautiful kale!”

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My daughter is a big fan of kale. For a long time, I wasn’t. But, now I am.

Mostly, my change of heart is due to figuring out a way to cook it that’s both  tasty and easy to make. It was also important to learn that you can slice out the thick ribs and enjoy just the leafy greens. Plus, it’s cheap.

I bought a big bunch of kale at Whole Foods yesterday. The photo above shows the leaves cut from the ribs. The ribs go out and then I cut the washed leaves in small pieces. Then, back in the fridge until I stir fry part of them tonight to go with our supper of oven fried chicken thighs.

When I’m ready to cook the kale, I heat up a large skillet with a little skim of olive oil. Then I toss in a finely chopped shallot. When sizzling but not burning, I toss in the kale pieces. It cooks down quickly and I may add a spoonful or two of chicken broth. As it cooks down a little more, I splash in some Osawha organic soy sauce, a sprinkle of Marukan seasoned rice vinegar and a dollop of honey. Mix lightly and turn off the heat. By this time, the kale will be wilted and fragrant. Just about everybody likes the taste of this dish. If you try it, hope you will too!

“wild and (really) woolly” . . .

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At Thanksgiving break, my granddaughter, Anna, and I had lunch. I had brought a few knitted neck scarves for her to try on. Without a moment’s hesitation, she picked up a blue handspun piece with bobbles and uneven yarns. I had knitted it from yarn called, “Sherlock Holmes” for some reason. I haven’t figured out why it was called that, but we both liked it.

Later, I bought another skein to make a similar cowl for her mother, my eldest daughter. I gave that one to her at our Christmas Eve party – and she wore it during her stay at their Gloucester house where her BFF remarked, “what’s that thing you’re wearing around your neck?”

So, yep, you guessed it. I made one for BFF who sounded like she loved it when she received it in the mail from me in January. Now, we had three outfitted in this yarn. In early Spring, that’s end of March around here, I thought it might be interesting to knit a vest for myself. Two thirds of the way through, I ran out of yarn. The yarn spinner sent me some more at a discounted price. I ran out again – and she sent me some more.

Easter came early this year so I spent a lot of time cleaning the house and cooking. Afterwards, I finally put the pieces I already had to figure out how to finish the vest. I like to knit extemporaneously, which means that I knit until I either pull it apart to start over or I improvise as I go along. It’s never been my strong suit to follow written directions.

Recently, I managed to finish it, adding side panels and braiding ties for the front rather than buttons that would just get lost in the wool. I was going for an updated hip designer look. Still don’t know what Sherlock Holmes has to do with it, but it adds a note of mystery to the whole thing!

Footnote: Since I published this post, I wrote to the yarn spinner to ask her why she named the yarn, “Sherlock Holmes.” It turns out that this literary character made up by Arthur Conan Doyle, only wore shades of browns, blues and whites – and this is the combination of colourways that appear in the finished yarn. Mystery solved!

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“veal on the ‘bo-nah’ piccata” . . .

DSCN0547Once, I heard someone on TV cooking show who was Italian say, “veal on the bo-nah,” meaning veal with a bone in the middle of the piece. That cut is not all that easy to find either. Yesterday, I picked up a nice-looking piece and will prepare it piccata style tonight.

This recipe can be made with veal scallopine filets too. In order for the veal to stay tender, I like to lightly flour and shake off excess, sliding the veal into a skillet with melted, slightly sizzling skillet of butter and olive oil. Brownig it gently keeps it from constricting too fast and toughening as it’s cooked.

I let it cook slowly, turning it over with a meat fork a few time until both sides were browned, but the veal was visibly pink. I placee the veal on a dish and added a splash of madeira to deglaze the pan. (Piccata recipes often call for marsala, but I like the richer sweetness of the madeira instead.) I added a couple of dollops of unsalted butter and a tablespoon of capers to the pan. Swirled the sauce around on medium low heat until the glaze was combined and aromatic. When we were ready to eat, I sliced the piece in half and plated the veal, spooning the madeira caper glaze on top.

With it, I’ve pan-grilled a couple of corn muffins so the sides are crispy, served on the side with a sliced napa cabbage salad made of toasted ramen noodles (break dried noodles into a skillet of warmed butter and toast) and sweet-sour dressing (walnut oil, fresh lemon, champagne vinegar, garlic and honey.)

Honestly, this supper was one of the best ones we’ve had in a long time! YUM!

 

“Food Nirvana!” . . .

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This blog has been leaning towards food and recipes for a long time. I enjoy cooking because we have to eat and it might as well be creative and fun at the same time, right?

I live in a Central Massachusetts town. Mostly working class but there are numerous academic institutions and universities too. I used to drive an hour to buy Asian groceries in Burlington – but they didn’t have barbecued pork or roast ducklings. That required going further to Allston/Brookline to the 88 Asian Grocery Store which I would visit about 4 times a year. Then, I heard this week about a huge Asian emporium located in our town about five months ago.

So, all of a sudden, I don’t have to go farther than ten minutes drive from our home to buy roast duckling at the Asian Market in Webster Square and fresh fish, still swimming around in tanks underneath the fishstand. There’s thin sliced beef for sukiyaki and best of all to me, very small heads of napa cabbage and strips of winter melon that are good for a single meal instead of 3 or 4; single Japanese eggplants and so on.

During this same timeframe and with much fanfare, a brand new (literally!) Whole Foods opened ten minutes away in Shrewsbury two months ago. It’s more of a foodie boutique than anything else with a fresh pasta stand, a wonderful butcher and seafood counter and delectable baked treats that are hard to resist! They also carry wine, beer, French macarons and Japanese mochii – you get the picture, right?

For Easter, I bought a fresh semi-boneless leg of lamb from Whole Foods that came out beautifully even though it took a lot less time to roast it than I thought. Did you know that the bone emanates heat so it takes less to cook than a boneless roast? I didn’t either. But I did happen to take a peek and pulled it out so that it was medium-rare – just right for yesterday’s Easter dinner.

I feel like I have an embarrassment of riches with the opening of these two stores within a short drive from our house. In addition, I can also choose to drive 20 minutes to a Market Basket in Sutton where water is 50 cents rather than a dollar a gallon. Even the local Shaw’s and Stop and Shop have decent salmon fillets, so fresh that you can serve it for sashimi, most of the time.

All this thinking and writing about food illustrates how much it is part of my life. Now, procuring fresh, inspiring ingredients is no longer a long-distance chore, but a hop, skip and a jump every day. Wow, aren’t we lucky?  Thank You, Universe!

“rebirth” . . .

People think of Easter as being a time of rebirth – after all, Jesus ascended from the dead; Lazarus stories abound and we’re all aware of snakes shedding their skin and starting to grow a new one.

What does “rebirth” mean anyhow, I woke up thinking this morning. Especially in America, it seems, we live in a culture where we are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves. We live in MAKEOVER USA. That’s fine, I guess, but is it really necessary? I mean, what’s so wrong with us that we have to keep adding to the patchwork quilt that we’re sewing together of our lives?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for makeovers. I love rearranging the furniture, for example. Especially when I find an antique table that’s nicer than the one I have. Or bring in a blanket chest that I have little room for but delights my spirit nevertheless.

Oh, and also hair. Women love to redo their hairstyle – or color it or wear it up or down, depending on our moods. But, I am getting far astray from the idea of “rebirth.” Let’s face it, we can alter our perspective about things, make amends and hold out our hands to others but we can’t really be reborn. Not even born again you-know-whats. I mean, you’re born and then you die sometime. In between, you can take shifts at different kinds of lifestyles and attitudes. You can change the way you look: lose weight or don’t, already.

We are a culture of changing ourselves because we constantly think that we need to IMPROVE. Well, that depends upon how much energy you have from doing the best you can when things are down. So, where are we? The French don’t seem to feel that they have to have makeovers all the time. Somehow, they seem to get it right the first time!

HAHA, so maybe we can resolve ourselves to do our best, whatever that happens to be at any given time and shelve the idea of improving ourselves constantly. Instead we can enjoy being bystanders of the entertainment world where making comebacks and reinventing image is their profession and life’s blood. Maybe ours is good enough. At least for today.

Easter dinner redux . . .

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IMG_6828I thought I might post a few details about the recipes for preparing our Easter dinner in the previous post.

The carrot-orange cake is one that I have made for decades. One April Fool’s day long ago, I iced a brick with cream cheese frosting and served it to one of my daughters. She was rather non-plussed at the time that it wasn’t a real cake, but her sister remembers it with glee. I thought again about doing it because today IS April Fool’s day in addition to it being Easter. But I didn’t. I searched for our old recipe because the current one on the internet is different. It calls for buttermilk and dark rum of all things. Ours has fresh Navel orange juice and zest in the cake and zest on top of the cream cheese frosting.

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Here’s the recipe:

Bon Appetit’s Carrot-Orange Cake Recipe (November, 1995):

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. With a mixer, beat together: 1.5 cups of vegetable oil; 1 cup of packed medium brown sugar, 1 cup of sugar.
  3. Add four eggs, one at a time and beat well in between each one.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of fresh squeezed Navel orange juice and 1 tablespoon of zest.
  5. Add 2 cups of flour – not packed (be careful) and 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon (Penzey’s Indonesian cinnamon), 1 teaspoon ground ginger,  1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  7. HAND-GRATE on medium hole side of a box grater, 3 cups of fresh carrots. I leave the skins on and cut off the tops and bottoms. This is a lugubrious task and tiring to do. Don’t be tempted to run them through a food processor because it grinds the carrots too small. When they are ground too finely, they are heavy, believe it or not, and sink to a thick layer on the bottom of the pans. The hand-grated carrots “float” in the batter –which I found out the hard way one year. BTW, I also add a handful of golden raisins because we like them but you don’t have to – walnuts are sometimes nice too.
  8. Stir the carrots in by hand, lightly folding them in the batter until they’re mixed in.
  9. I used two aluminum foil 8.5 inch cake pans because it makes 2 layers – 8 inch is too small and 9 inch is too big (sad but true!)
  10. Bake on middle rack for almost an hour – start testing with toothpiks around 45-50 minutes in and don’t be tempted to take it out until the toothpicks come out clean.
  11. I turn off the oven, pull the cake shelf halfway out of the oven and let them cool.
  12. Take them out and let them set on the counter for about 15 minutes and turn out the cakes onto plates. Let them cool COMPLETELY before frosting them.
  13. CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: In a bowl, combine 2 large Philadelphia cream cheese to 1.5 sticks of unsalted butter. Let them come to room temperature. Beat with a mixer and add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice. Beat and then add about 1/2-1 cup of confectioners sugar. We like it not too sweet so if you’d like it sweeter, add a little more confectioners sugar to taste. You won’t be able to resist tasting the frosting as you go along. It’s the best part of making this recipe!
  14. When the cakes are completely cooled, they are inverted so spread some frosting on the first layer; then gently turn the other one over and put flat side to flat side down. Frost the top and sides of the cake so that it will absorb the frosting while it rests.
  15. Put the cake into the refrigerator and cover with plastic wrap. I like to sprinkle on some fresh orange zest in a circle on the top. Hope you will enjoy it as much as my family has for over 20 years!

POPOVERS! 

It’s traditional to have popovers with our holiday meals. Couldn’t be simpler to make if you follow a couple of tricks: Mix 2 cups whole milk at room temperature; 4 eggs at room temperature – beat them in; add 2 cups lightly packed flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix by hand until blended – no problem if there are lumps in the batter. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and put in your popover pan (I have one with 12 cups) DRY. When heated, take it out carefully with a potholder and spray with Pam inside the cups and around the edges of the top. Fill the popover pan cups with batter almost to the top. Place a sheet of aluminum foil underneath the popover pan to catch any drippings that might smoke up the oven (!). Bake for 40 minutes exactly without opening the door of the oven. Even though they may look like they’re popped and ready to eat, the insides of the popovers still need time to cook. 40 minutes it is. If you sprayed it well enough, they should come out easily just by lifting them. If you didn’t spray enough, then they may need to be cut out with a sharp knife. We like to eat them with unsalted butter and honey drizzled on them.

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JULIA CHILD marinade/prep for roasting leg of lamb:

This recipe can be found in her classic book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It consists of combining Grey Poupon Dijon mustard, crushed garlic, chopped fresh rosemary, soy sauce and olive oil. The leg of lamb is inserted with small pieces of garlic and then covered with the mustard glaze. I use her method of roasting also: sear by roasting at high heat 425 degrees for about 20 minutes and then roast slowly at 325 degrees until a meat thermometer registers around 135 degrees (20-30 minutes per pound.) It will continue to cook after it’s taken out and we like to take a cut to see if it is medium rare when we take it out. Most of the time, I err on the side of it being too rare rather than over-cooked. But it’s easy to put it back in the oven to cook longer when that happens.IMG_6795

 

preparing Easter dinner . . .

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Some people rely on a baked ham for Easter dinner. We like it too – especially with scalloped potatoes, but some hams are dry and can also take a long time to use up leftovers – eggs benedict and pea soup being the best in our book!

This year, we’re having a roast leg of lamb. People don’t have lamb as often as beef, pork and chicken, it seems. But for an occasion like this, a harbinger of Spring finally, the aroma of rosemary, garlic and roasting lamb in the oven is tantalizingly appetizing.

I’ve been preparing our dinner in small increments so that I am not hounding the stove at the last minute. The brussels sprouts weren’t cooked through enough the last time we had them at Thanksgiving – so I started cleaning, parboiling and preparing them with fresh bacon and butter. They’re now ready to heat up in a nice serving bowl when the lamb comes out of the oven.

Usually, I don’t make potatoes – unless they’re mashed with the Thanksgiving turkey and gravy. Lately, however, I’ve been cutting russet potatoes into segments, not cubes, rolling them in olive oil and a little butter and baking them with the skins on. Today, I’m planning to put them in on the front end of searing the lamb at 425 degrees and pulling them out when I turn the oven temperature down to 325 for the lamb to continue roasting slowly.  When the lamb is done (135 meat thermometer for medium rare,) I’ll take it out and let it rest. The roasted potatoes and cooked brussels sprouts will go back into the oven to heat up before serving.

One other thing I’m trying out today is to use a little maple syrup (sugar free) and melted butter on the shallots and carrots surrounding the leg of lamb. That will add a little glaze to these vegetables and go along well with the mustard, rosemary, garlic lamb marinade that Julia Child published years ago and that we always have with leg of lamb.

Wow! the kitchen is already smelling pretty great with garlic, rosemary and bacon filling the air! Yesterday, I made the carrot-orange cake and cream cheese frosting. I was surprised at how much time it took and I’m glad I didn’t wait until today to make it.

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Last of all, I ironed the damask napkins that one of my daughters gave me for Thanksgiving and set the table.

When family arrives, we’ll pop open a bottle of Italian Prosecco and snack on some roasted nuts and olives while the crabmeat dip is heating in the oven. I hope we’ll still have room for dinner!!

Happy Easter everybody – and Happy Spring!

 

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