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

Gabrielle Hamilton’s New Year’s Day meal of Steak Tartare & Pommes Anna

01pommes-anna-articleLargeNew Year’s Day, 2019.

Gabrielle Hamilton writes about making Steak Tartare and Pommes Anna for a meal to start the year. Yum! Can’t think of anything more appetizing for me!

 

 

Postscript: My steak tartare was very tasty. I used a tried and true recipe from years past: freshly ground beef (85%); chopped anchovies, garlic salt, cracked pepper, Worcestershire sauce, fresh egg yolk, chopped red onion. Mixed well with more cracked pepper on top when served on Pepperidge Farm thinly sliced white toast.

The Pommes Anna were crispy on the outside but not as tasty inside as my own pan-fried skillet potatoes (cut on the large blade of a box grater, cooked and crispy on all side with some judicious turning in the skillet.

I’m glad that I came across Gabrielle Hamilton’s suggestion for this menu to enjoy on New Year’s Day. Happy 2019! Will repeat again next year!

Medjool dates stuffed with Boursin cheese!

DSCN8553It’s the day of New Year’s Eve and it’s not too late to make an elegant, delicious treat to serve with chilled champagne or prosecco. I first tasted these at a piano party and found them so delicious that I think I ate half of them on the plate!

I haven’t had them since, but saw some beautiful Medjool dates at Trader Joe’s this morning – and I already had some unopened Boursin cheese in the fridge at home. These dates have the pits in so when you slice them lengthwise, they are easy to remove. Then just cup the date and fill it with Boursin cheese. It spreads easier if it is at room temperature rather than cold and crumbly from the fridge.

That’s it! I’ve also seen recipes where a pecan half is placed on top of the cheese, or some prosciutto ham wrapped around it – but I’m not sure that would make it more tasty, just more involved.

Happy New Year – and here’s to enjoying the thought of a clean slate starting tomorrow!

 

 

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls! . . .

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IMG_2909.jpgThe reason these homemade cinnamon rolls are called Christmas – is that I have been making and serving them on Christmas morning for decades – while the girls were growing up and now when they come to visit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

I usually make the refrigerated dough ahead of time and set up them up in rolls early on Christmas morning where they will rise and then be baked to eat hot out of the oven while we open presents, drink coffee and inhale the warm rolls. Afterwards, we’ll have a brunch of Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce on top.

But back to the cinnamon rolls. This is a basic refrigerator roll recipe from my red Betty Crocker cookbook that I bought in the !960’s when I was first married. It is now taped together with scotch tape across the spine and held together with two rubber bands so that the cover stays on.

DSCN8549.jpgI just made the dough so here’s the ingredients below. The most important caveat is to mix and handle the dough GENTLY throughout the process. The less the dough is kneaded and handled, the more tender the rolls will be. This is why I don’t use a mixer but just a large spoon and rubber spatula.

1 3/4 cup warm water

2 packets of Fleischmann’s dry yeast dissolved in the water

1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar (I use raw, turbinado sugar)

1 Tablespoon salt (Maldon sea salt)

1 extra large egg

Mix all of the above ingredients until smooth without beating or mixing too hard. You want to handle the dough gently throughout so that it will be tender to the bite and rise up easily.

To the wet mixture, add 6 cups of flour. I aereate the flour (King Arthur) before putting it into a one cup measure. If the flour is packed down, you’ll be adding more flour than called for.

I stir in 2 cups of flour at a time with a mixing spoon and then use my clean hands to knead the dough gently to incorporate all the loose flour and crumbs at the end. It should feel resilient and smooth – and don’t worry, the loose flour and crumbs will fold in as you knead it gently.

I then put the dough into a big mixing bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, refrigerating it until I’m ready to set up the rolls.

10926389_10205908042206260_5228618066580393084_nSETTING UP THE ROLLS:

Divide the dough in half and save the other half in the fridge for another time, or use it if you’re making the rolls for a large crowd.

On parchment paper, sprinkle some loose flour but not too much. Knead the dough on the floured board so that it doesn’t stick. If it’s very sticky, add a little more flour and incorporate.

Melt half a stick of unsalted butter and roll the dough out to about a third of an inch thick. Spread the melted butter on the dough. Mix together ground cinnamon and sugar – and spread it evenly (slightly thickly) on the dough.

Roll it up from lengthwise edge and pinch the roll together. Pat it and then cut the roll into cinnamon roll size – and place in a buttered baking pan with sides. The rolls should not be touching because they will rise again and fill in the spaces when risen.

Cover with a clean dishcloth or plastic wrap until they are risen. Usually takes about an hour. I sometimes preheat the oven to 200 and TURN IT OFF. Then, put the rolls in the oven to rise with the oven door open.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and slide the rolls in. Watch them as they bake about 12-15 minutes until they are golden brown on the top and the rolls are cooked. Set them out on a plate and let the folks pull them apart onto their paper Christmas plates ready for serving.

10888420_10205908097767649_5998181214209829943_nMerry Christmas! My granddaughter, Anna, loves these cinnamon rolls and is capable of eating quite a number of them while they’re still warm!

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Veggie Spaghetti! . . .

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Today, I looked for some ground beef to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight. Lately, the packaged meat at a number of nearby grocery stores has either been overpriced or not very appetizing. I circled my cart around and bought some thickly sliced fresh mushrooms and one zucchini. DSCN8522

Our dinner would be sauteed zucchini and mushrooms with olive oil and a chopped shallot. When the vegetables were cooked, I added half a jar of our favorite spaghetti sauce made by Ragu, and warmed it up with a sprinkle with some dried basil.

In another pot, I boiled water and cooked thin spaghetti until slightly more tender than al dente – and drained it well. I plated our pasta bowls with the hot pasta and scooped warm sauce and vegetables on top. I had also bought a nice chunk of authentic Parmesan cheese, nibbling a little of it while the spaghetti cooked.

With our simple supper, we had some snowflake rolls and butter along with the pasta. Tasty and satisfying!

 

rosemary shortbread! . . .

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

Here’s my recipe derived mostly from Melissa Clark:

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy! And happy holidays too!

roast chestnut stuffing! . . .and homemade turkey gravy

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

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

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

ROAST CHESTNUT STUFFING:

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

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

TURKEY STOCK GRAVY:

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

great northern beans casserole. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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eggplant parm “stacks”. . .

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

pumpkin cheese cake! . . .

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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