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

“pasta primavera” . . .

Today’s weather was sunny and mild once the rain fell and moved on this morning. The result is a fresh garden with birds twittering along while I make dinner tonight.

Over the weekend, I bought a handful of fava beans in their shells – the most expensive green vegetable anywhere, as far as I’m concerned. You end up paying the weight of these massive outer skins to reveal a few fava beans wrapped in their protective membranes. Parboiling the shelled beans in their skins, then rinsing them under cold water, then enables you to peel that skin off of each bean to harvest the bright green, tender fava bean within. It’s worth it but it’s tedious.

With the fava beans (and plenty of crushed garlic,) I planned to quarter cut some fresh asparagus with the tough stems broken off. Earlier, I had a small bit of fresh spinach that I cooked in butter, chopped up and added a bit of heavy cream to make creamed spinach. When the fava beans were shelled (G. kindly lent a hand there,) I sauteed two cloves of garlic in a generous amount of unsalted butter, added the fava beans, asparagus and after they were cooked, the creamed spinach. What beautiful greens!

To a pot of boiling water, I added dried egg fettucine and cooked them through, draining them and adding back to the pot with a gob of butter to coat them, along with some truffle salt and chopped parsley.

To serve, I’ve begun plating pasta dishes in shallow soup dishes that  I found at Brimfield, eons ago – they turn out to be just the right shape and size for a good-sized serving of spaghetti, or in this case, fettucine with Spring vegetables. I also like to squeeze a crescent of fresh lemon over the dish after the vegetables and before freshly grated parmesan cheese is provided on top.

YUM YUM YUM! (and the kitchen smells divine with the garlic, vegetable, butter aromas wafting around. . . ) Now, to rescue the bottle of wine I remembered to put into the freezer a little while ago. The wine was divine – a wonderful one given to us by C. with an odd name: “Qupe.”

Happy Tuesday!

H-U-G-E ginger molasses cookies! . . .

One of our favorite cookies comes from Idylwylde Farms in Acton, MA. They’re not easily found but sit in a small cupboard near the bakery shelves. What’s special about them is that they are very large, chewy, tasty and munchy to the max! They also cost $2.25 APIECE!! I buy them for G. to have with his coffee after dinner and gently urge him to pace himself but the cookies disappear pretty quickly.

So today, rather than driving a half hour from here to buy more of those cookies, I decided to experiment with baking a batch in our kitchen. All of the online recipes I looked at were similar in ingredients but were half the size I was aiming for. The biggest ones I could find were about 3 inches across. Each one of those cookies was shaped to the size of a “walnut,” rolled in sugar and slightly flattened to bake on a cookie sheet.

I mixed the dough and observed that my “room temperature” butter was slightly more chilly than called for, but broke up when blended with an electric mixer. The butter was thus in tiny bits rather than a smooth batter. I left it that way and didn’t mind because I thought they might make the cookies more tender (like scones and pie crust.)  Here are the ingredients I used:

Wet: 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temp; 1 cup turbinado (coarse, light brown colored and crunchy, NOT brown sugar,) 1 egg, 1/4 cup molasses – beaten together until combined.

Dry: 2 cups flour, 2 tsps. baking soda, 2 tsps. ground ginger; 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. ground cloves

Mix dry ingredients together and add in 2 batches to wet mixture. Combine well. Using your hands, make a ball the size of a small plum. Roll it in turbinado sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet, slightly flattening it and making sure there’s lots of room between it and the next cookie. They will SPREAD as they bake. My batter made seven very large cookies which I baked on two cookie sheets at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

I peeked at them in the oven after baking for 12 minutes – added another 8 minutes in 2 increments and then took them out, testing one with a toothpick which came out clean. The choice I had was to bake them through but not burn the bottom of the cookies. After I took them out, I gently moved them to a cooling rack. I also sprinkled a little more turbinado sugar on the top of each warm cookie.

G. came upstairs and about fell over on the floor when he saw them. I have a very happy husband today – and so early in the day too! Haha.

Plus, 7 X $2.25 is $15.75 worth of cookies made at home. Now comes the taste test of how they compare to the boughten gold standard. We’ll see soon.

“divine” chocolate dipped strawberries . . .

Although I’ve experimented with dipping fresh strawberries twice so far, I wouldn’t be able to claim that they were “divine.” The first batch was made on the spur of the moment when I had some leftover strawberries and some milk chocolate leftover from Christmas stockings. They were good but not great.

The next time I made them, I thought I’d try out a Ghiardelli dark intenso chocolate bar with nuts and sea salt.  These tasted good but looked terrible, the nuts and sea salt giving the strawberries a gloppy appearance.

This time might be a charm. Hope so anyhow. I found that strawberries come in different assortments: most have HUGE strawberries that are mostly white on the inside. They’re also too big for a single morsel to eat. So, instead of springing for the big “organic” strawberries, I look for a grower who packs medium sized RED strawberries (or mostly red.) You might be surprised how hard this is to find.

Today, I bought two packs of these medium strawberries for less than $2.00 a box. I then went to the candy aisle, as strange to me as going to the desert, and looked over the chocolate bar selection. I selected Lindt bars: a deep intense dark chocolate and what looked like “white” milk chocolate. I also picked up a small packet of chopped hazelnuts to toast up in a pan before sprinkling over the strawberries.

I also discovered that melting chocolate in a double boiler type set up is almost always awkward to handle and unnecessary. The second time around, I melted the broken up chocolate bar in a white ramekin in the microwave. Setting it on one minute at a time, the chocolate melted by about the 2nd heating. I then tilted the ramekin so that the melted chocolate pooled onto one side of the ramekin and dipped the strawberries to their collarbones.

When I was ready to start the dipping project, I opened what I thought was “white” milk chocolate only to find out it was milk chocolate which was medium brown and not white. At the store once again, I couldn’t find any bars of white chocolate although I had seen one at the other store this morning. In the baking section, I came upon some Ghiardelli white baking chips.

Here’s how they turned out: the intense dark chocolate was so dark it was almost bitter to the taste. I mixed some dark with milk chocolate and it tasted good. The white chocolate was delicious too. I briefly toasted the chopped hazelnuts in a small skillet and let it cool. Spooned bits of them over the chocolate-dipped strawberries.

In disposable aluminum pans with plastic covers, laid out on white doilies that I came across in the pantry last week, they look gorgeous! Couldn’t be easier to make – most of the effort is picking out the chocolate you want to use! Voila!

scallion parmesan scones! . . .

Last Sunday, my daughter C. and I had lunch together at a dim sum restaurant in Cambridge. On the way back, we stopped at an organic bakery called Quebrada on Mass. Ave. There, I saw some scones with green onion and parmesan cheese. They were small, round and delicious when G. and I ate them later for supper.

This morning, I thought about making a batch as accompaniment to fresh Maine crabcakes tonight. For the scones to turn out with tiny layers requires understanding that the less you handle the dough, the better. Plus, it’s helpful to use a Cuisinart or food processor to mix it together.

  1. In the processor, grate a hard piece of parmesan or gruyere cheese until finely grated. You’ll need 1/3 cup which you’ll empty out of the processor, storing the remainder in the fridge if any.
  2. Measure 1 1/2 cups of flour (I used King Arthur) into the processor.
  3. Chop up 3 tablespoons of scallions, white and green ends.
  4. I froze a stick of unsalted butter and cut off 2 T. leaving 6 T. I used a sharp knife and cut the 6T. of frozen butter into long sticks, then cubed sticks, then tiny cubes. Placed them into the processor.
  5. Measured 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder into the flour mixture.
  6. Pulse the flour, baking powder and cold butter until mixed. Add parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.
  7. Place mixture into a mixing bowl – then add scallions, 1/2 cup light cream and combine just until the dough holds together. Pat it together and let rest for a few minutes (while you clean up the dishes in the sink that you’ve used so far.)
  8. Lightly flour a board and press the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick with your fingers. I used a square cutter with crimped edges, re-rolling the scone dough until it was all used up.
  9. I placed the scones in a 400 degree oven on a buttered cookie sheet. Peeked at them at around 15 minutes and they were risen, golden brown and fragrant.

grilled eggplant supper. . .

Tonight, we’re going to have a little change of pace for dinner. I love eggplant and am going to try a recipe that doesn’t call for it to be fried in breadcrumbs (which I usually do when making eggplant parmesan.) Instead, I’m going to peel the skin and slice one eggplant into three thick slices. Then, I’ll sprinkle with olive oil, seasoning salt and pepper.

A few holidays ago, I found Le Creuset cast iron round grill pans on sale. I bought a yellow one for myself and gave one to my daughters. The other day, I spied it in one of the pantry shelves, rinsed (scrubbed) it off and have been looking forward to using it, perhaps for a thick ribeye steak later in the week or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato.

Tonight, I’m going to cook the eggplant on the grill pan for about 3-4 minutes each side. While it’s cooking, I’ll wash and chop up some fresh Roma tomato, seeded cucumber, red onion and feta cheese. When the eggplant has cooled a little, I’ll plate it and add the feta mixture on top. A hand squeeze of fresh lemon and some cracked pepper finishes it off right before we begin to eat.

I’ll heat up a wholegrain croissant to split between us on the side.

Light and healthy! Hope it tastes good too!

Footnote: grilling the eggplant required some olive oil added to the pan for each side; plus I used a cast-iron grill weight with paper towel while the eggplant cooked. This ensured that the eggplant was cooked through.

hambone pea soup! . . .

Like many households, we baked a glazed ham for Easter. I saw a joke somewhere that said, “What’s the definition of ‘infinity’?” and the answer was: “two people and a ham.” Well, we’re two people and we gave big chunks of ham to our neighbors and family. We still had quite a bit left over.

One night for supper, we had eggs benedict for dinner with some of the ham leftovers. It was scrumptious especially with the hollandaise sauce spiked with lots of fresh lemon in it. For the rest of the week, we stayed quiet on the ham wrapped carefully in the lower part of the fridge although we made up dinner roll ham ‘sliders’ to take to friends.

This afternoon, I took the chunk of ham out, cut most of the ham off the bone and started a pot of homemade ham and pea soup:

  1. Sauteed chopped onion and carrots in oil
  2. Soaked a pack of dried green peas in a bowl with boiling water
  3. Trimmed the hambone and put it in the onion/carrot pot to brown all over
  4. Added one can of chicken broth; and enough spring water to bring the level of the soup over the hambone. Brought the soup to a slow boil and maintained it there with the lid on for the rest of the afternoon.
  5. Will add more water if needed when I taste the broth for flavor and saltiness. Because the ham is salty and the chicken broth is too, I lean more towards a bland pea-soup with more water than broth, letting the vegetables add sweetness to the soup. (Just tasted it: not salty and full of flavor!)
  6. Let it cook a LONG TIME.

Earlier today, I made a batch of orange marmalade cinnamon rolls for my neighborhood librarians who are the nicest people in appreciation for “National Library Week.” We have a few rolls that I took out that we can steam up to have with the pea soup. I’ll check in with G. to see if he’d like some thin slices of ham on a roll with mustard, or on the side with Major Grey chutney.

That’s it for tonight’s supper: ham and pea soup, rolls and ham. I consolidated the rest of the ham pieces and put in the freezer for future eggs benedict or frittatas. So far, we’ve managed to manage this ham pretty well. C’est la Vie!

spinach crepes and roast beet salad . . .

I love spinach and wanted to cook it while it’s still robust and fresh from the market. My husband, G. noticed that our meals have been shifting to more flavor while being light on the digestion. With this encouragement, I’m going to make spinach crepes for dinner and roast beets for a salad on the side.

There are lots of spinach crepe recipes online. Most of them consist of crepes that are filled with a spinach filling. One of them mixed the spinach into the batter and topped the crepes with some grated cheese. I’m fond of creamed spinach because of its flavor and because I also happen to have some fresh cream in the fridge. Here’s my recipe:

  1. Rinse and dry spinach, cut off woody stems and chop up the leaves. This first step is consequential for the quality of your dish. I rinsed the fresh spinach down to the stalks under running water; then I filled a large red bowl with the rinsed spinach and soaked it for sand and grit. Finally, I rinsed each stalk and then cut off the woody stalks, only keeping the leaves and cutting them very thinly before adding to the skillet to cook. Even so, after all these steps, there was a fine gritty film on the bottom of the bowl when I rinsed it out. No one wants grit in fresh spinach. But you really have to be diligent to ensure the spinach is truly clean. Enough said.
  2. Peel and chop two good-sized shallot and cook gently in unsalted butter; turn up the heat while adding the thinly sliced spinach leaves and cook until wilted.
  3. Add some salt, pepper and grate some nutmeg into the spinach. I usually add a tad of cornstarch to the cream and stir it in to thicken the spinach. Adjust seasoning to your taste.
  4. If you’d like to saute up some fresh mushrooms and add to the mix, that’s good too.
  5. Let cool and set aside.
  6. Make crepes: combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter into a thin batter.
  7. Cook the crepes in an 8 inch pan (about 1/4 cup batter per crepe,) letting the batter skin coat the surface of the pan; flip when tiny bubbles appear, cook the other side and stack them on a plate.
  8. Finish this dish by filling each crepe with creamed spinach mixture and roll up, placing them in a greased baking dish. Spread a little butter along tops of rolled crepes and grate parmesan cheese on top. Bake at 350 in the oven until the crepes are heated through and the cheese is light golden.

On to the roasted beet salad. Put cleaned beets into a shallow baking pan with water in the bottom. If the beets are big, cut them into halves or wedges to help them cook through.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375-400 degrees for an hour or until the beets are fork tender. They take a long time to cook through.

Let them cool slightly, run them under cold water and skin them, cut off the ends and cut into smaller wedges. I also added a scant half of cut-up honey crisp apple.

I have arugula and butter lettuce for the salad greens – add the beets and dress with my current vinaigrette: white balsamic vinegar, fig vinegar, a dab of Poupon mustard, clove of crushed garlic, honey, walnut and olive oil; a squeeze of fresh lemon. I have this dressing made up in a glass jar at room temperature and use it up until I make another batch of dressing with slightly different ingredients.

Honestly, this meal required a lot of preparation – some of the cleaning process for fresh spinach could have been shortened by using baby bagged spinach or frozen spinach. However, the crepes were SO delicious that I do think using fresh farmstand spinach made it so flavorful. As I filled the crepes and rolled them up, I thought “never again” to myself as I slid the copper pan in the oven.

But they were so good that I’m afraid I’ve gotten myself into a corner and may have to make them again soon. Actually, I was thinking it might be a good way to serve creamed chicken from leftover roast chicken too.




waiting for Godot . . . e.g., a stand mixer at last!

I’m no Spring Chicken. For a long time now, I’ve been yearning for a Kitchenaid stand mixer. I’ve ordered one and returned it without opening the box. I ordered a much cheaper Chefmaster stand mixer and returned it to Walmart without opening the box. I look at the Kitchenaid mixers when the Williams Sonoma catalogs come in the mail – ones in Champagne color that cost over $400.

My ambivalence is based on not wanting to bake more recipes which contain sugar and flour. However, my recent successes making homemade oatmeal bread which have improved due to using an electric mixer after reading huge volumes about baking bread from the library have made me a little less timid about justifying the purchase of a stand mixer.

Plus, it looks like I’m getting a tax refund.

So, I just looked online at the Williams Sonoma champagne colored one but the 20% discount promotion code didn’t work. I looked at other Kitchenaid stand mixers on Amazon because I have Prime for free shipping (they’re very heavy.) I noticed that the Kitchenaid mixers had motors with 250-350-500 watts. Then, as I was almost ready to check out with one made by Cuisinart which had a 500 watt motor and was around $200 (as opposed to double that for Kitchenaid,) I came across one made by Litchi. Nope, I haven’t ever heard of this brand either.

However, this one is a red stand model with a 650 watt motor. Yep! It has a standard paddle, dough hook and whipping attachments. And it’s priced at $139. The highest watt motor at less than half the price of comparable models. I went for it and am looking forward to receiving it on Friday. Then, I’ll be able to whip up some oatmeal bread at the drop of a hat. It’s getting easier too as I tweak the recipe and also get more experience with the optimal consistency of the dough (soft and moist, not too much flour, let the warm milk, yeast and honey proof before adding dry ingredients.) Etc. etc. etc.

But if you had a chance to sample the medium-thick slices of fragrant, soft, wonderful crumbed bread tonight, you might think about going down this garden path too. Or at least, understand why I’ve finally gone for a stand mixer that is powerful and affordable. Now, I just hope I continue to cook and live long enough to make such a late-in-life purchase worthwhile!~

meatballs!! (Julia Turshen’s turkey, ricotta recipe) . . .

Last week, I borrowed Julia Turshen’s cookbook called “Small Victories” from the library. I’ve noticed her presence in cookbooks with whom she’s collaborated: Mario Batali, Ina Garten and Gwyneth Paltrow (although GP of course disclaimed her help!) Anyhow, she takes a different approach with simple recipes, the “small victories” being easier ways to cook. This recipe is a good example.

Here are the differences that I experienced myself (and I cook a lot!~):

  1. I usually use a meatloaf ground meat combination to make meatballs. This is the first time I’ve used ground turkey!
  2. I’ve never used ricotta as part of the meatball mix!
  3. I’ve sauteed the meatballs in a frying pan, not formed and baked in the oven!
  4. I’ve not had the benefit of breadcrumbs from homemade oatmeal bread before!
  5. I’ve not used so much fresh parsley or fresh herbs in the meatballs before either.
  6. I  fry chopped onion before adding it into the meatball mixture, ditto for garlic.

What I have done is to make a large batch of walnut-sized meatballs to serve for at least two meals: one is with Ragu (it really is tastier than Prego in my mind,) thin spaghetti and freshly grated parmesan cheese. The second meal is usually Swedish meatballs stroganoff with mushrooms in a beef broth gravy with sour cream and fettucine pasta.

Here’s what I put together using this recipe as a springboard:

  1. I cut the recipe in half, using 1 pound of ground turkey, not 2 lbs.
  2. Used 3/4 cup of whole milk ricotta
  3. 1 egg, 1/2 freshly grated onion, 1 garlic clove grated by hand
  4. 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs from homemade oatmeal bread
  5. 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  6. 3 sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves stripped from stems
  7. Lawry’s garlic salt and cracked pepper
  8. Mixed everything gently together with my hands; formed walnut sized meatballs and placed them on baking sheets spread with olive oil. Be sure to spray the sheet before putting the meatballs on it – otherwise, they stick like glue when they’re baked!
  9. Baked at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown

Tonight, I’ll heat up the meatballs (about 4 each) in Ragu traditional tomato sauce, adding some herbs and garlic to the sauce. I’ll ask G. if he wants angel hair or thin spaghetti with it – and we’ll grate lots of parmesan sauce with the microplane while we eat. A small plain butter lettuce salad with white balsamic vinegar, fig vinegar and fresh lemon mixed with olive and walnut oil goes on the side. Hope these meatballs are as tasty as they smelled coming out of the oven just now!

Footnote: The meatballs in the pan stuck when I removed them – let them cool too long – but the ones on the parchment paper came up easily. Also, I often saute some fresh zucchini and mushrooms, both sliced thinly, to augment the meatballs in the spaghetti sauce and the swedish meatball stroganoff.

And here’s a loaf of oatmeal bread fresh from the oven around 4:30 this afternoon. I used a hand mixer to mix the dough and let the bread rise: the crumb and taste of this loaf was the best we’ve ever had. I’m circling the wagons on making beautiful bread without a lot of time or fuss. Makes great toast too!

eggs benedict for dinner tonight! . . .

Yesterday on Easter, we enjoyed a nice ham, twice-baked potatoes and brussels sprouts with bacon brought by a friend. We had little chocolate cake bunnies with little sugar faces for dessert. 

Tonight, using a few slices of ham on toasted crumpets topped with poached eggs and homemade hollandaise sauce was a simple supper which is always so much pleasure after feasting for holidays! We sprinkled some truffle salt and cracked pepper on top and enjoyed a light, tasty meal. Along with it, we sipped on chilled Prosecco left over from last night’s dinner – and it was still fizzy! My daughter, C., showed me how placing a silver spoon stem into the open bottle of fizzy KEEPS it fizzy when refrigerated. Hurray!