mulberryshoots

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

“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 . . .

IMG_6808

IMG_6803

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.

IMG_6824

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.

IMG_6783

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 . . .

DSCN0498DSCN0503DSCN0493DSCN0494

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.

DSCN0496

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!

 

DSCN0505

an early blanket chest . . . and a new lease on life!

 

DSCN0471 (2)

Looking back, I think that one’s thoughts about life go in phases. For example, for the few years before I turned seventy, I found myself preoccupied with cleaning the house and disposing of things so the chore wouldn’t be left to my family afterwards. I read clips about “four boxes” – getting all of one’s possessions into those boxes so that you would clean up everything before you were carried out with your toes up. Finally, it got kind of tiring because, while I made some progress, a lot actually, I was worn out thinking of what I would leave behind, rather than living for the moment each day.

From my seventies, I started giving away precious things to my daughters that I had wanted to leave them anyhow – but would get the pleasure of sharing their (hopefully) pleasure in receiving them. An interesting thing that I discovered, is that this didn’t placate my feeling of aging either. Instead, I found that I still wanted to find new treasures and even bought an 18th century blanket chest at an auction online because I had submitted a very low bid and forgot about it!  I was fiddling around with online bidding and put in a very low bid on an early blanket chest in old red paint with a fabulous base like one I used to have. Lo and behold, I was flabbergasted to learn that I had won the chest for far less than the estimate (which is usually set low to begin with.)

Still shocked, I also began to rearrange my main living area to accommodate the chest in the third floor of a Queen Anne Victorian house that my husband restored years ago – wide board floors, a vaulted ceiling and old New England bowls set in a tableau on the kitchen soffit. It’s not a big space but it’s roomy enough and we underwent a transformation of our space where we haven’t rearranged the furniture for over a decade! Isn’t it amazing the way the Universe works?

I used to be an antique dealer and I was happy to see it when I picked it up – original cotter pin hinges, lovely flower-engraved William and Mary brass handles, wide dove-tailing on the edges of the drawer construction, etc. etc. Most beautiful of all was the graceful curved base known to originate from the Connecticut River Valley. So, all of a sudden, an early New England blanket chest appeared, virtually out of nowhere – and I remembered how excited and wonderful I felt when I was in my thirties after stumbling upon some early piece of history with it in the back of my car driving home.

So instead of feeling that I had to give away everything and wait until I got hit by a truck or ebbed away with some late-blooming illness, I decided to live again. HAHA! It feels good and I’m glad that I’m done with that long phase of preparing for leaving this earth and my family – and being back here, doing the Jumble puzzle in the newspaper every morning, brewing rich cups of Peet’s French Roast coffee when I feel like it and enjoying a good night’s sleep with my beloved husband, knowing that I’ll probably wake up to another new day!

And while the closets and things have been sorted through and organized, I still have more than four boxes of stuff left! Oh well.

grilled chicken legs . . .

DSCN0462

In the past few months, I’ve been using a bottled teriyaki marinade when cooking fresh chicken legs. Today, I had some Whole Foods air-chilled chicken legs which I cut in pieces including making cuts down either side of the thigh bones to expedite thorough cooking. I then added Osawha organic soy sauce, cooking sherry (Holland brand,) two crushed cloves of garlic, green onions and fresh ginger root sliced into slivers. A spot of honey went into the mixture at the end. I turned the chicken with a big spoon and put a plate on top of the large pyrex mixing bowl that contained this ambrosia mixture for dinner.

After marinating, I’ll broil the chicken with the skin side up last. With it, I’m cooking up a pot of jasmine rice and sauteeing a skillet full of fresh kale. A simple supper that’s aromatic and healthy at the same time!

 

“bare bones apple pie. . . “

DSCN0460

I came across some thin pork chops on sale at the Stop and Shop today. Will cook them with a crisp outside and simmered in a mustard/brown sugar/apple cider glaze for supper tonight. Along with it will be baked potatoes and perhaps some sauteed kale with soy, Japanese seasoned vinegar and honey.

Casting around for something to become dessert, I found two and a half Honey Crisp apples in the righthand bin of the fridge; some golden raisins and a Pillsbury prepared pie crust. Peeled and cut up, I tossed the apples with a little flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and the raisins. Laid out the crust and filled it in a square baking pan, pulling  the crust around it to make a crostada of sorts. A few dabs of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice plus sprinklings of sugar and cinnamon on the crust dressed it up.

Into the oven it went for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees (because the pan was a dark metal non-stick pan.) Hope someone shows up with some nice vanilla bean ice cream to go with it for dessert!

 

 

a meal in a bowl . . .

il_570xN.1401688625_jyvcil_340x270.1476258767_6bbd
I’ve been thinking about how to eat more simply for a long time.  My cooking leans towards dear ingredients, such as Cape scallops, soft-shell crab or roast chicken with stuffing. It also tends toward butter on rolls and baked sweet potatoes. Popovers.  
 
Lately, I’ve been thinking about eating a meal in a bowl. Just that and no more. Rice and beans with red cabbage and apples, for example. Eating from bowls and spoons made of bamboo. Softer and lighter. Run the dishwasher twice a week rather than once a day. A good experiment to try now that Spring is almost here and lighter meals in a bowl can be part salad, part grains and maybe fruit? 

rosemary shortbread . . .

DSCN0432

For Christmas, I made a batch of rosemary shortbread. The squares disappeared quickly and my granddaughter, who’s graduating from college said, “These are delicious – and I don’t even like rosemary!”

It’s so simple to make if you have a food processor. If you don’t it’s difficult to combine the cold butter with the flour by hand. The dough is crumbly and is basically pressed gently into a square baking dish with your fingers. Here are the steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. If you use dark metal non-stick pans, turn the heat only to 315.
  2. In a Cuisinart or other food processor, cut 2 sticks of cold butter into pieces and put in the bowl. Measure 2/3 cup of granulated sugar and add. Using a spoon, lightly fill 2 cups of flour into measuring cup, making sure the flour isn’t packed. The secret to making tender shortbread is the ratio of flour to fat – and if there’s too much flour, the shortbread comes out hard rather than tender.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, torn from the stalks and chopped up with a knife.
  4. Add 1 teaspoon of salt.
  5. Sprinkle in a couple of rounds of high quality honey.
  6. Pulse the mixture until the butter is in small bits in a coarse flour mixture. It won’t really congeal into a ball so don’t overmix it trying to do that.
  7. Take an 8 inch square pan and sprinkle the mixture into the pan, pressing it down gently with your fingers. Take a fork and prick it in rows before putting in the oven.
  8. Bake until the shortbread turns golden brown all over. I rotate the pan every once in awhile to ensure that it browns evenly. 35-45 minutes.
  9. IMPORTANT: when you take it out of the oven, prick it in rows again with a fork. Before it cools completely, cut into squares. If you wait until it’s cold, it will be too hard to cut well.
  10. When the shortbread is completely cool, I like to warm servings slightly in the microwave – which makes them very tender to the bite. Up to you, but it’s tasty when they’re slightly warmed.

P.S.  The batch in this photo was made in a 9-inch square pan with 3 sticks of butter, 3 cups of flour, 1 cup sugar and 1.5 tablespoons of rosemary, 2 teaspoons salt and a little more honey. The important thing is to maintain the ratio of 1:1 for butter to flour, adjusting the other ingredients accordingly.

 

 

homemade tofu stir-fry. . .

mixed-veggie-stir-fry2

Today, our nephew visited to help G. with a piano move and draining the gas tank of the snowblower in anticipation of the storm we’re supposed to have on Friday.

Casey is a gentle soul, fresh out of college, and always eager to help out. He’s also taken up vegetarian eating and especially loves a tofu-stir fry that I make for him occasionally when he’s here at lunch time. Today, he asked me to write out the recipe which I did, emphasizing that the success is due to cooking everything separately, then combining the cooked ingredients right before serving.

Most of the ingredients are readily available at Trader Joe’s, especially the teriyaki pressed tofu that is essential to the dish. I also put together a box of thin spaghetti, two packs of tofu, some bokchoy and snow peas plus scallions and ginger root for him to take with him. I think he’s planning to make it tonight for supper with his folks.

Here’s the recipe:   Teriyaki Tofu Noodle Stir Fry Recipe for Casey

INGREDIENTS (at Trader Joe’s)

  1. teriyaki tofu (comes spicy or bland) – keeps well in fridge
  2. snow peas or sugar snap peas
  3. napa cabbage or bok choy (they have miniature bok choy)
  4. thin spaghetti  or rice noodles
  5. fresh edamame (if using)
  6. fresh garlic, fresh ginger root and scallions

COOKING STEPS: this dish calls for cooking the components separately and then combining them when ready to serve

  1. Rinse and slice up 2 scallions on the diagonal (greens and whites)
  2. Peel ginger root and slice up 3-4 thin pieces, then slice them into thin strips
  3. Peel and crush 2 cloves of garlic and mince them up

HOLD these on the side and use for each cooking step that it’s called for.

4.  Boil the thin spaghetti and rinse so it doesn’t stick together – hold drained noodles in a bowl.

5. Cut teriyaki tofu into strips the size that you want; heat some oil to medium high in a skillet and let them crisp up with a couple of drops of soy sauce and a little sesame oil. – set aside.

6. Clean the tofu skillet out and add a little oil. Rinse the cabbage and slice it up; take the strings off the snow peas if using and cut them on the diagonal; or use snap peas.

a.  In a medium high skillet, heat the oil and add scallions, garlic and ginger. Then saute the vegetables quickly so that they’re cooked through but not wilted. – set aside.

7. Now you’ll have a) tofu that’s been crisped up; b) noodles that are cooked; and c) vegetables that are cooked.

8. Clean the skillet and dry it – heat some fresh oil in the bottom of the skillet. Put in the remaining scallions, ginger and garlic and let it cook so it’s aromatic. Add the drained noodles and stir them around – add a little soy sauce to taste. When the noodles are mixed well with the ginger, scallions and garlic and soy, add the drained vegetables and stir well with the noodles.

9. When ready to serve, plate the noodle/veggies and then add the teriyaki tofu on top.

Footnote: it’s also tasty and easy to add or substitute some of these choices to the recipe above: broccoli florets, baby spinach, napa cabbage, rice noodles, fresh wonton noodles, angel hair pasta and bamboo shoots. If you’re not a vegetarian, you could also add a dollop of oyster sauce to the teriyaki tofu, shrimp or cut up teriyaki marinated chicken.

ENJOY!!

 

gravlax! . . .

DSCN0351

This past weekend, we drove to NYC for a family gathering, replete with a Carnegie Hall concert with box seats and an invitation to a family brunch. Instead of smoked salmon, I offered to make gravlax to go with freshly baked NYC bagels.

Gravlax is more delicate than smoked salmon and is easy to make. It uses a curing method of letting the freshest salmon you can find with salt/sugar and fresh dill. That’s it!

For 2 pounds of fresh salmon that my fishmonger cut especially to fit the plastic container I was going to travel with, I used about 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of Maldon sea salt. Mixed it together with lots of chopped fresh dill (or flash frozen dill in jar.)

DSCN0353Spread the mixture lightly on the flesh part of one fillet, then on to the second one. Gently put them together sprinkled sides together and cover with parchment paper and then plastic wrap (to keep the fish fresh from the refrigerator.) Set it in the fridge with room enough to place a jar of unopened spaghetti sauce or similar weight cans.

DSCN0357It can be served in two-three days (no longer.) Check it each day and spoon the liquid that comes out onto the fillets and rearrange them in the container.

When ready to serve, moisten a paper towel and brush off all of the curing marinade so that the salmon is ready for cutting. Be careful to excise any bones or spiny bits from the gravlax before slicing. Slice it with a very sharp, thin knife from the bottom up, away from you, pressing gently down until you’ve carved the thickness of the salmon you like and down to the skin. Lay each slice onto a serving plate and garnishes on the side in separate bowls (thin sliced red onion, capers and mustard glaze.)

The mustard glaze is made by stirring about 1/3 cup of Grey Poupon mustard, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, Marukan seasoned vinegar and some honey to taste. Add more chopped fresh dill into the bowl. Taste it for the amount of sweet sour taste that appeals to you by either adding some fresh lemon or more honey. You can add capers to the mustard sauce too.

The gravlax is wonderful on toasted bagels and is also tasty served on dense Russian rye or pumpernickel bread. Cream cheese is good too – with scallions and chives.

This recipe for gravlax is perfect for a brunch for twelve people – or for a dinner appetizer or just for a meal at home for the two of us (about 2/3rds of a pound.) It couldn’t be easier to make and we are fortunate to live in New England where really fresh salmon is available every day. This recipe relies on the freshness of the fish – and everything is a breeze to prepare from there!

Bon Appetit!