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

zucchini cake with orange, ginger and pecans

The other day, I came across an interesting recipe on the NYTimes Food section. It was authored by Molly O’Neill and offered up a combination of zucchini, orange zest/juice and hazelnuts. I used chopped pecans in my cake this morning – and also made some other tweaks based on comments attached to the article. It’s baking in the oven now and there’s one more thing I noted about this recipe – it’s supposed to go in a tube pan (which I couldn’t find in the pantry) and is too little batter for a 9 X 13 baking pan, and too much for a loaf pan (soggy middle.) So, I used my trusty fluted white porcelain baking pan which seemed like just the right size!

Here’s my version:

In one bowl, mix together dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 3/4 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, heaping 1/2 cup of sugar (the NYT recipe called for 1 and 1/4 cups of sugar but most of the comments cut that amount in half.)

In another bowl, combine wet ingredients: 2 tsp. grated ginger root, 2 tsp. orange zest, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 2 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of grated zucchini (I squeezed out the juice and added a little more grated zucchini.)

Add mixed wet ingredients into dry and combine. My batter seemed a little dry so I added a little more orange juice. Chop up 1/2 cup of pecans (or toasted hazelnuts) and add to the mixture. Scrape batter into buttered pan and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Test for doneness and leave in 5 minutes longer if needed.


super cheesecake pie! . . .

photo courtesy of NYTimes recipe

our cheesecake pie for dessert tonight!

Years ago, I made a refrigerator pie with a cream cheese filling. It was a favorite and I hadn’t made it in a long time. The other day, I saw a recipe on the NYTimes food chain provided by Amanda Hesser’s mother. It used a handmade Nabisco wafer crust with melted butter and cinnamon, 2 packages of cream cheese, 2 eggs, sugar and a sour cream topping.

I simplified it and used a prepared Nabisco oreo crust from the grocery store, brushed it with melted butter and sprinkled a little cinnamon on it. I baked the crust by itself at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. I think this baking step makes the crust crisp so that later it can be cut easily and the cheesecake slice easy to lift out of the pan.

The filling is made by using a mixer and beating two eggs with the two packs of room temperature cream cheese. If it’s too cold, the little lumps are hard to whip out of the filling. Instead of 2/3rds cup of sugar, I used less and mixed it in with some vanilla before filling the cooled crust and baking for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

After the baked pie had a chance to cool, I stirred together 12 ounces of sour cream with about 2 tablespoons of sugar, spread it evenly on the top of the pie and baked it for 7 minutes in a 450 degree oven. I let it cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge on a cork pad to chill for a few hours before serving.

As I mentioned above, it cuts cleanly and comes out of the pie pan easily. Plus, it tastes divine! It’s appetizing for a summer meal dessert and is so easy to make.

improv jasmine rice dish! . . .

Tonight, it’s a little less humid than it’s been, but it’s still pretty warm. At the local seafood mart, I settled for some frozen Cape scallops when the frozen crabmeat I usually buy there wasn’t the same brand – and it said “Jonah crab” – what’s that?!?

I didn’t want to make a heavy side dish to accompany the scallops, each little nugget worth its weight in gold, cooked in butter, garlic and fresh parsley – and I finally settled on making a rice pilaf kind of dish using jasmine rice. Instead of cooking it in a rice cooker, I found some tips to finely grate some fresh garlic and fresh ginger root into an olive oil, butter mixture in a pot with a lid. As it gave off its aroma, I measured in about 3/4 cup of jasmine rice and stirred it around in the pot until the grains were coated. Then, I added a cup and a half of hot chicken stock and stirred to combine. At the very end, I threw in a handful of golden raisins!

The rice cooked for awhile and I stirred it with a spatula so it wouldn’t stick. After it steamed for awhile and absorbed all of the broth, I stirred it again and lifted the lid for the rice to settle in and for the liquid to evaporate. I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but it was a hit – chewy grains of flavorful rice and plump golden raisins!

Very tasty! And as easy as could be to make!

spinach quiche – sort of. . .

Spinach is one of my favorite green vegetables. It requires rinsing/soaking in cold water, then drying and taking off the longest stems. I store the cleaned spinach in a large container with a paper towel over it. Today, I decided to make a quiche but in a slightly different way. Instead of making a pie shaped quiche, I used a fluted oval baking dish that I use at least once a week, buttered it and lined it with a sheet of puff pastry.

In a skillet, I sauteed some chopped shallot in butter, then added the spinach and cooked it down, adding a couple twists of grated nutmeg. Drained the spinach, chopped it up and layered it on the puff pastry sheet. A handful of shredded swiss cheese was sprinkled on top. Since the baking dish wasn’t very big, I beat four organic eggs with about a half cup of heavy cream, adding a pinch of sea salt. Once I poured the eggs into the quiche, I folded the pastry crust over the top, leaving room for the eggs to cook on their own.

In a 400 degree oven, the quiche cooked for about 35-40 minutes, puffed up and nicely golden brown on the top. After turning off the oven, I left the quiche to settle in the heat for about ten minutes. When we cut into it, it was like having a crostata or a calzone – except the pastry was light, layered and crispy.

On the side, we had a butter lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. Staying the course so far on eating less rich foods. . . but it isn’t easy.

a “macrobiotic” soup recipe of my own. . .

Since the beginning of this month, I’m resolved to hunker down to a healthier food regimen for the next eight weeks. As help for doing so, I’ve gone back to my macrobiotic books and cooking lifestyle that I encountered years ago when I wanted to recover from viral encephalitis. Western medicine couldn’t help me then except to admit that there wasn’t much they could do for virus infections except to let them run their course. So, I signed up for a macrobiotic cooking retreat at Kushi Institute out in western Massachusetts. At the time, I remember losing weight, eating a lot less and feeling healthier in general.

Now, it’s time to try it on again. What I would like to do is to incorporate flavor and a feeling of eating enjoyment to more stringent-seeming macrobiotic recipes. I know myself well enough to understand that too much austerity won’t last very long.

So today, on a glorious cool Sunday morning, I rescued vegetables from the fridge that needed to be used up – and made this vegetable soup. What I’m aiming for is a basic process for making vegetable soup that’s really tasty and that we won’t get tired of. Since macrobiotic cooking suggests that we eat a bowl of soup a day,  it seemed like a good idea to experiment with a basic soup I could make often, using whatever vegetables I have on hand.

Here’s what I put into my “mac soup” today:

chopped vidalia onion (a leftover piece)

chopped celery (ditto)

chopped organic carrots (leftover from making carrot/hijiki last night for dinner)

1 1/2 chopped roma tomatoes

collard greens (2 stalks with rib cut out and green parts sliced up)

1 medium zucchini (sliced lengthwise and then cut across in bite-size pieces)

a handful of fresh spinach (already washed and stems removed in the fridge)

chicken broth gelatin (Knorr – which I use as needed and store the remainder in a jiffy bag in the fridge)

spring water as broth making medium

After cooking for awhile (20 minutes,) I put a lid on the soup and turned the heat down to very low. It’s important to taste the broth after it’s had a chance to simmer awhile. If it’s too bland, you can add a little more chicken broth or dashi granules if you prefer. If it’s already too salty, then add more water to taste. Usually, I am cautious not to add too much sodium – either in the chicken broth gelatin, soy sauce or salt. After all, the sweetness of the vegetables in broth are what macrobiotic cooking might be after, isn’t it?

I was also considering whether to add some barley, rice or asian noodles (like somen or soba noodles) to the vegetable broth. Maybe some other time. We’ll just have it for lunch in its more basic form.

With the soup, I might make grilled muenster cheese sandwiches with sesame Ezekial sprouted bread. This flour-less bread can be found in the freezer section of health food groceries in many markets.  It’s also tasty as toast in the morning spread with cashew butter. Yum!




creamy corn polenta . . .

I’ve been experimenting with making polenta for a couple of weeks. At first, I was put off by recipes that said you had to stir it for an half hour over the stove. You don’t have to.

In August, I’ll use fresh corn kernels cut off Silver Queen or Butter & Sugar corn. In the meantime, I add a small can of creamed corn to enhance this dish. It’s yummy!

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Measure 1 cup spring water (not tap) and 1 cup milk or light cream in a non-stick skillet or pan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Gradually add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of fine yellow cornmeal (I use Quaker Oats brand.) I find that remembering it’s about a 4:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal that helps not to have to look up the recipe each time.
  3. Stir until the cornmeal is blended well with the liquid. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens slightly. Keep stirring – usually takes about 10 minutes which goes by quickly.
  4. When the polenta has thickened and cooked for about 15 minutes from when you started, take it off the heat and open a small can of creamed corn. With the pan still off the heat, add the creamed corn and stir it into the polenta and mix well (gently.)
  5. Add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter and stir to melt.
  6. Add about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
  7. Let the mixture cool at room temperature. Taste for seasoning – I added some sea salt because it was rather bland – up to you.
  8. Serve warm in small plates as a side dish.

This creamy corn polenta goes well with grilled kielbasa or barbecued chicken – and a green salad with a tangy vinaigrette. Enjoy!


banana bread . . .

Today, I had two very tired looking bananas in the fridge and rather than waste them, I decided to make a recipe from my trusty McCall’s cookbook that I bought before I was married (the first time) eons ago.

I scrounged around in the pantry and came upon two packs of opened glazed salad pecan bits which would add richness and dress up the top of the loaf when it’s baked. Here’s the rest of the recipe:

  1. Soften 1/2 stick of unsalted butter in a mixing bowl; add 1 cup of sugar, 1 egg and beat with an electric mixer until creamed together.
  2. Measure out a scant cup of milk and fill to 1 cup total with some orange juice and set aside.
  3. Peel bananas and trim dark spots – cut the fruit into small pieces into the creamed mixture; beat the mixture until bananas are incorporated and smooth.
  4. Add the milk/orange liquid into the bowl and combine. If I had a navel orange in the fridge, I would have zested it and added the orange zest (next time!)
  5. Measure 2 1/2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, large pinch of salt and mix it well with the rest of the ingredients.
  6. When the batter looks combined, stop the mixer and add some of the glazed pecans and stir by hand.
  7. In a buttered bread pan, spoon the batter, smooth the top and sprinkle the remaining glazed pecans across the top.
  8. In a preheated oven at 350 degrees, bake the banana bread for 60 minutes or a few minutes more, testing the center with a toothpick for doneness.

Smells heavenly, baking on a rainy, damp, New England day!

chicken liver pate . . .

One of my favorite things to munch on is chicken liver pate. I’ve made it at Christmas time since my kids were young. Today, I decided to make a batch for a late lunch that we’re having with friends who are visiting the hospital for a post-operative checkup. It’s very easy to make and tastes wonderful!

Here’s the simple recipe:

Buy a container of fresh chicken livers at the market. Rinse the contents with cold tap water. Then, take each one out individually and trim off the connective gristle and tissue on the livers with a sharp knife. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Dry the livers on a paper towel. Melt a half stick of unsalted butter in a skillet and lightly brown a chopped up shallot. Place the dried and trimmed chicken livers into the skillet and cook under medium heat until cooked through, turning pieces over every once in awhile.

When the livers are about cooked through, pour in about two-three tablespoons of Madeira sherry. You can also use Marsala if you don’t have Madeira, but the Madeira adds a wonderful sweet aroma to the cooked livers. In the meantime, bring two eggs to a boil and hard-boil them. Drain in cold tap water and peel. The last major ingredient in this recipe is Philadelphia cream cheese, regular rectangular big size.

Let the livers/madeira cool in a separate bowl so as not to have the heat of the pan retain their temperature. In a Cuisinart or blender, add the livers, cut up the hard boiled eggs and add the cream cheese – also cut up to make it easier to blend. I use a Cuisinart food processor (the large one) and it is a breeze to puree the pate together.

Before I do, I sprinkle on some truffle salt – which is a wonderful umami taste enhancer and some cracked pepper. I whizz the whole thing together, taste for seasoning and then remove the pate to a nice looking serving bowl. On top of the pate, I usually add a bay leaf or two as decoration.

On toasted 7 grain bread; warm ciabetta slices, triscuit crackers or melba toast, this chicken liver pate will enhance any spread you decide to lay out on the table.

Bon Appetit! Can’t wait! It’s also a wonderful thing to have in the fridge for those moments when I have a craving for something savory in the evening or snacking in the afternoon when nobody else is around!

puff pastry apple tart! . . .

A couple of months ago, I started cooking with frozen puff pastry. First, I made a peach crostada with it which was beautiful! Next, I layered it on some leftover cornish hen that I combined with vegetables in a cream sauce as a chicken “pot pie.” It rose and browned up so beautifully that I was sorry I had come upon this alternative to boring pie crust topping at such a late stage in my life!

The Celtics were drubbed the other night – with a 50 point deficit and Isaiah Thomas aggravating a sore hip and now out for the remainder of the season. What this means of course is that I’ll be tuned into the finale of “Madam Secretary” tonight while flipping back and forth to the Celtics game. The pessimistic attitude towards the NBA playoffs, however, hasn’t restrained me from thinking up something to make for dessert tonight.

This recipe is from “The Nordic Kitchen,” a fabulous cookbook that I borrowed from the library the other day. Unbeknownst to me, the author, Claus Meyer, was the co-owner of Noma in Norway who also hired Rene Redzipi, the now renowned chef who has revived locally sourced dishes in Norway that includes reindeer moss and the like.

This book contains not only gorgeous photographs to inspire one to try out the recipes, but there is an intellectually purist streak through it all, simplifying cooking steps while improving classics at the same time. In this recipe, one defrosts a sheet of puff pastry and cuts into two rectangles that are rolled out slightly. Then apples (I had two Braeburn) are sliced very thinly through the cores with their skins on. Layered onto the pastry in a beautiful design, sprinkled some freshly grated lemon zest (my idea,) confectioners sugar and drizzled with melted butter (see what I mean?) it is baked in a 425 degree oven for about 15-18 minutes until the tart is puffed up and the apples caramelized. Serve it with creme fraiche, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream while it is still warm.

After this gorgeous tart came out of the oven, I began to think about other fresh fruit that this would work well with: mixed berries, pears, nectarines and PEACHES when they come into season – which will be soon! And I wonder what a slice of warm peach tart would taste like with a dollop of creme fraiche? How about glazing the peaches with some warm Bonne Maman orange marmalade on top? Endless possibilities!

Honestly, I’m convinced this very simple and elegant way to make a puff pastry fruit tart is so much simpler than peeling and coring fruit to make an apple pie – plus it looks absolutely wonderful and the frozen puff pastry does all the hard work for you!


“Potager” asparagus bread pudding . . .

This was the first meal I made for my husband-to-be when we first met. The recipe can be found in Georgeanne Brennan’s classic cookbook, “Potager.” It consists of asparagus, old bread soaked in milk, swiss cheese, eggs and parmesan cheese.

Tonight, we’re having an early supper before driving into Lexington for a concert performed by the Concord Chorus of Bach B-Minor Mass at St. Brigid’s church. The weather has cooled off considerably, the sun is out and the sound of birds is loud and clear through our open windows.

I’ve been saving about a third of a loaf of my home baked oatmeal bread in the freezer. Warmed up in the microwave this morning, I took a portion and zinged up bread crumbs in my little Cuisinart food processor, noting that I use that kitchen appliance probably more than any other with the portable electric mixer coming in second. The ingredients are laid out in the kitchen and ready to go later this afternoon to put together.

Mid-afternoon, I quarter cut some fresh asparagus – about 10 spears and cooked them gently in some unsalted butter. I soaked the bread in a cup of whole milk and prepared a buttered casserole dish. After about 20 minutes, I hand squeezed the milk from the crumbs and arranged the milky bread in a layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Then, I added half the sauteed asparagus, seasoned with salt and pepper. On top of the asparagus, I sprinkled some grated swiss and parmesan cheese. Then, came another later of bread (squeezed dry,) asparagus and cheeses.

To this layered casserole, I added three extra large eggs beaten with about 3/4 cup of light cream (or you could use milk too) and poured it carefully all over the casserole so it was well combined. Into a preheated oven of 375, this asparagus bread pudding dish puffed up and looked golden brown in about 45 minutes.

Note: Sometimes the middle of the dish is not cooked as well as the ends, so another 5 minutes or so in the oven will ensure that you won’t get any soggy egg when you cut into the casserole. If it IS soggy, just serve the ends to yourselves and put the pan back into the still warm oven. When you take it out again – it will be cooked through.

Very delicious!