Saturday, March 27, 2010

I've Moved!

I've moved to a Wordpress site and I'd LOVE it if you'd visit me there...

If you follow my blog, please don't forget to update your links page!

I'll be waiting...


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Like most people, I cook by season. Winter sees me baking bread and braising meats, making long simmered soups and stews. Dishes that have my oven and stove top working for hours at a time, warming the house and filling it with the scents of yeast, of beef, of slow cooked chicken bones, onions and spices.

When spring makes it's painstakingly slow way to my corner of the woods in upstate New York, I want to throw open the windows and rejoice. Never mind that it's still cold and muddy. I want to push the stale winter air out and hear the song birds sing to find their loves. I want to scrub, clean and reorganize. I want to move the beds and vacuum up months of dust bunnies. Don't judge- you know you have them too. But most of all I want to cleanse myself from the inside out. I want to rid myself of the sugar, flour and butter that has composed far too much of my diet through the winter.

Spring greens will be coming to the market very soon but for now there is that most hardy of greens, the green that I once harvested from my backyard garden in late November...there is kale. I didn't grow up eating kale. I only discovered kale a few years ago. I don't remember if I saw it in the store and impulsively decided to buy it, or if I read a great recipe for it in a Deborah Madison cookbook, or if perhaps I saw it highlighted as an ingredient in one of my monthly food magazines. It no longer matters how I discovered it, it only matters that I love it. Kale has completely replaced spinach as my cooked green of choice. There are so many ways to cook it, so many recipes to add it to but my most favorite way to enjoy kale is sauteed with sundried tomatoes and garlic. The saltiness of the tomatoes and the sweet, nuttiness of the garlic are the perfect foils to this slightly bitter green.

Sauteed Kale

-One bunch of kale, washed and leaves pulled from the tough stems
-6-8 sundried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped
-6 cloves of garlic, smashed and then sliced
-salt and red pepper flakes
-grated Parmesan (optional)
-lemon (optional)

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat with just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. When the pan is hot, toss in the garlic and saute for a minute, watching closely so the garlic does not burn. Add the sundied tomatoes and the red pepper flakes. Add the kale and toss a couple of tablespoons of water over it and cover with a tight fitting lid. Steam the kale for two or three minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle with coarse salt and use tongs to toss everything together.

Plate the kale with a lemon slice and top with freshly grated Parmesan.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I think every home cook probably has their own recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. It's one of the first things I learned to cook and over the years I have tried so many recipes. I've fried meatballs, baked meatballs but my hands down favorite way to make meatballs is to cook them in the sauce. Meatballs cooked in the sauce lend a wonderfully rich and meaty flavor to the sauce they are cooked in and retain their tenderness in a way that fried meatballs never seem to.

When I am making meatballs and sauce I like to mix the meatball mixture, form them into balls and then refrigerate the meatballs while I make the sauce. When you let the meatballs chill in the fridge, they are less likely to fall apart when you drop them into the sauce and stir them around. I love meatballs because they are wonderfully adaptable. The meatballs I made last night were a basic, simple meatball that turns out flavorful, moist and fluffy. I like my meatballs on the light and small side, large meatballs seem like meat bombs to me.


-2 pounds ground beef (or meatball mix or a combination of beef, veal and pork)
-one small onion, pulsed finely in the food processor (or finely chopped by hand)
-2 pieces of bread, torn and soaked in 1 cup of milk. (I soaked my bread in the milk and then processed it in the food processor because I used homemade bread and the crust was a little thick)
-fresh or dried thyme (I used 5 or 6 sprigs of fresh from my thyme plant)
-1 cup grated parmesan
-1 beaten egg
-salt and pepper

In a large bowl, mix together ground meat, onion, bread and milk mash, thyme, parmesan, beaten egg and salt and pepper. Form into 2 inch meatballs and set the meatballs on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate the meatballs while you begin the sauce.

Tomato Sauce

-Olive oil
-1 large onion, diced
-3 carrots, grated with a box grater or food processor
-10 cloves of garlic, finely diced
-pat of butter
-4 28 oz. crushed tomatoes
-2 bay leaves
-palm full of red pepper flakes
-TBS oregano
-salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant.
Add onions, carrots and garlic and lower heat to medium. Cook the onion/carrot/garlic mixture until all vegetables are completely softened. Watch carefully so the vegetables don't caramelize, the goal is to make them completely soft so they will blend into the sauce, it should take around 15 minutes.

When the vegetables are softened, add a pat of butter and then add the four cans of crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, oregano, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Bring the sauce almost to a boil. You don't want the bottom to scorch, but the sauce needs to be hot enough to cook the meatballs. Start adding the meatballs to the sauce. I add a few at a time and give them a chance to firm up a bit before adding more. You have to be careful when stirring the sauce once you start adding the meatballs so they don't fall apart. Getting all the meatballs into the sauce should take around 10 minutes.

Once all the meatballs are in the sauce I partially cover the pot with a lid with a spoon stuck in it and lower the heat to medium low. I let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about an hour but 30 minutes is sufficient.

We ate our meatballs over penne with a sprinkling or parmesan on top. Everybody had seconds and some of us spooned more sauce over our pasta half way through. I won't say it's the best meatballs and red sauce ever but it's our favorite and we will be enjoying leftovers tonight. And when there is more sauce but not enough meatballs for everyone, I use a potato masher to work the meatballs into the sauce and we enjoy it as meat sauce.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake!

This past week has been an eventful one in my house. My daughter turned sixteen on Saturday and my son turned nine on Sunday! Yes, that means that my children are seven years and one day apart. I almost wish they were born on the same day so we could just have one joint cake but knowing my children, that wouldn't work out anyway as they have very different tastes. This year my son had a sleepover for his birthday so that meant another cake. Yes, between Friday and Sunday we made and ate three cakes. Oh my.

For Friday's sleepover I thought cupcakes would be just perfect so we decided on chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. And may I recommend, if you are going to be eating cake for three days straight, do not choose a cake recipe that makes thirty-six cupcakes. Luckily, we found people willing to take some of the cakes off our hands. I have to tell you this cupcake recipe that I found makes one of the best chocolate cakes I have every eaten. The cakes were light and moist and stayed tender for three days. I almost wish they went staler sooner so I wouldn't have been still eating them three days after the party.

The cake recipe I used came from
and I can't recommend it enough. It was so good. The frosting recipe I used was my own. Basically a stick of butter, cup full of peanut butter, couple of cups of powdered sugar and then enough half and half to give it a super creamy and fluffy consistency. I think I ended up using about a quarter of a cup. The frosting was perfect. Creamy, light and very peanut buttery.

My daughter requested Boston Cream Cupcakes from Cook's Illustrated's Family Baking Book. They are a family favorite and I've made them many times.

Really, how could you could you go wrong with a tender, buttery cupcake that gets hollowed out (the absolute best method for filled cupcakes) and stuffed with vanilla bean flecked pastry cream? And then to gild the lily, they are topped with silky bittersweet chocolate ganache.

I could have taken a spoon and eaten that pastry cream like pudding.

By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around I was getting tired of cake. And tired period, for that matter. That was a lot of activity for one weekend. Still, there was a sweet boy's birthday to celebrate so I valiantly pressed on. The third and final cake was the one I was the most excited about. I always ask my kids what they want and I always hope that at least one of them will tell me to make what ever I want. I got lucky this year. The final birthday cake was an experiment all the way. I used a white cake recipe as a template and turned it into a coconut cake by replacing the milk with coconut milk and the vanilla extract with coconut flavoring. And I got to try out my new cake leveler which cuts perfectly even cake layers. I'm not a fan of uni-taskers but I have had to piece together many a cake that I tried to cut myself.

The cake was filled with a passionfruit curd which was also an experiment. I had bought six passionfruits not realizing how little juice they release. Six passionfruits gave me one quarter cup of juice.

After running around madly trying to find more passionfruits, I had to substitute passionfruit juice for the other quarter cup. I couldn't find straight passionfruit juice or passionfruit juice that didn't have HFCS so I bought one that was a mixture of pear and passionfruit but luckily the juice just tasted of passionfruit.

The curd recipe was my own. I used seven egg yolks, two whole eggs, half a cup of passionfruit puree, half a stick of butter and one and one half cups of sugar. I added two tablespoons of cornstarch to the mixture because I wanted to make sure the final curd would be stiff enough to work in a three layer cake. I mixed everything together and cooked it over medium high heat until it thickened. When I tasted it I felt that the sugar dulled the tartness of the passionfruit so I ended up squeezing the juice of one large lemon into the curd. Then it was perfect.

The cake was iced with a seven minute meringue frosting which I made on a rainy day so there were some setting issues with it. It was a bit runny but I solved that by storing the cake in the refrigerator until serving time.

It was a successful and delicious birthday experiment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...the ingredient edition.

Pantry staples can make or break a quick dinner. I firmly believe in having a well stocked pantry so that in the likely event I am a couple of days behind in my grocery shopping or one of the kids games runs late, I know that I can throw together a quick and reasonably healthy dinner in the time it takes someone else to order take out. For the record, there is no possibility of ordering in where I live. It's a twenty five minute drive to the nearest supermarket and unlike the contestants on Top Chef, I have little desire to throw together a meal from my local quick stop convenience store.

For me, having these pantry staples on hand is reassuring. It feels like security to me. And having a well stocked pantry is a way to avoid over processed junk food. These are my favorite pantry staples...what are yours?

Eggs. Is there any more versatile ingredient than the humble egg? At their most basic we like them over easy on buttered wheat toast. Scrambled with cheese or herbs. Frittatas with leftover vegetables. Whipped for fluffy pancakes. And when I can convince or persuade her my daughter makes fabulous Mexican omelets stuffed with black beans and cheese, topped with salsa and plain greek yogurt (way healthier than sour cream.) And I've never met a dish I didn't like just that much more with a softly fried egg on top. Leftover spaghetti mixed with a little marinara and topped with a fried egg? Heaven.

Without olive oil there would be no Aglio e Olio and that would be a travesty. There is no greater comfort food for me that a steaming plate of pasta slicked with garlicky olive oil and red pepper flakes with a fluffy mound of grated Parmesan on top. And all sauteed or roasted vegetables begin with a coating of olive oil. I couldn't cook
without it.

I couldn't mention Aglio e Olio without talking about pasta. Since we don't eat meat every day, we eat a lot of pasta. I try to only eat whole grain pasta. There are few dishes that can't be made with whole grain pasta. Aglio e Olio is not at all harmed by the use of whole grain versus a more traditional semolina pasta. The only dish I can think of where I would hesitate to use whole grain pasta is probably lemon cream pasta which has such a light flavor I think it would be overwhelmed by the whole wheat. For everything else there is wheat pasta.

And speaking of lemon cream pasta...lemons. I always have lemons in the house. I make lemonade for the kids once or twice a week and homemade iced tea needs a squirt of lemon for acidity. Kale and spinach love being drizzled with lemon after cooking. And a secret...lemons make your skin glow. Sometimes after I squeeze the juice out of a lemon half I rub the lemon all over my face and let it sit for a few minutes. Rinse it off and voila!- rosy, freshly exfoliated skin.

Onions and garlic. How anyone can cook without them is beyond me. Mujadarra would not be mujadarra without onions. Slowly caramelized onions are absolutely delicious in quesadillas. Or scrambled eggs. The French call the trinity of onions, carrots and celery Mirepoix. I forget how to cook when there are no onions in the house. Luckily, it's a rare occasion that there are no onions in the house.

Aborio rice. I mainly use it to make my mushroom risotto which my family loves. Since I always have mushrooms in the crisper drawer, we never more than thirty minutes away from mushroom risotto. Unless we run out of white wine and are not lucky enough to have a bottle of champagne on hand...Aborio rice also makes the creamiest rice pudding.

My life changed when I learned to jam. Those jars of sweetly tart fruit pull me through the winter with the promise of what's to come and the memory of summers past. We can hardly bring ourselves to use maple syrup anymore, so delicious is a thick smear of jam atop a light as air ricotta pancake. And the ubiquitous peanut butter sandwich would be forlorn without it.

It seems silly to call vanilla a pantry staple. Except it's not. I bake a lot and the best thing I ever did was order whole, plump Madagascar vanilla beans online to make my own vanilla extract. Now when a recipe calls for a whole vanilla bean I can pull one out of my extract. And the beans can be dried and added to sugar to make vanilla sugar. You can top off your extract with more vodka and keep it going for years. I haven't topped mine off yet as I made a lot. The batch I'm using now was started over a year ago and it smells incredible. Better even that the expensive (ridiculously so) vanilla sold in gourmet markets. I have experiments planned for bourbon and scotch vanilla.

If we are talking about things that are convenient to have on hand, we must mention frozen veggies. They are essential to a well stocked pantry. I also like to freeze bacon and sausages. They defrost in no time and I usually cook the sausages frozen and they turn our fine. Bacon is great to have in the freezer in case a recipe calls for a bit of it. You can even substitute it for pancetta, in a pinch. I also keep frozen purees on hand. Here I have pumpkin and sweet potato. They might become pies or muffins, perhaps even a pumpkin risotto. And cookie dough. Most cookie doughs freeze well and I love having extra on hand for those times when you absolutely have to have something sweet.

Not photographed but essential in my house are also flour tortillas, canned refried beans (we found a brand without lard and with just 4 very recognizable ingredients), sundried tomatoes in oil, canned beans (black, cannellini, and kidney) and Annie's macaroni and cheese.

What pantry items are must haves in your house?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

So you think you can bake?

Why yes, I kind of do think that I can bake. I'm no Nick Malgieri or Dorie Greenspan. (Know them? You should. I love them.) But I can and do put together desserts and baked goods that while they are not about to rival the pastries at The Chocolate Mill in Glens Falls or Mrs. London's in Saratoga they certainly surpass those on offer in the supermarket bakery departments in my local Price Chopper and Hannaford.

But for the longest time while I confidently made all manner of pies, cakes, cookies, scones and biscuits I had a fear. Of yeast. Bread just seemed like something other people made. Grandmothers with wisdom and experience, hands strong and rough from years of shaping their daily bread. There seemed too much mystery in the alchemy of flour, yeast, salt and water. And then I read an article in the NY Times that...well, I want to say changed my life but that sounds a little dramatic, no? I read an article that opened my eyes to how easy bread making could be. Jim Laheys' No-Knead Bread. You must be familiar with it? I think everyone is by this time.

It's three ingredients, flour, yeast and salt that when combined with what almost seems like too much water form a very slack dough that's not kneaded but left to rise unattended at room temperature for at least twelve hours, but preferably eighteen. The dough is then quickly shaped and left to rise again for two more hours. It's baked in a very hot oven in a heavy, covered dish. Le Creuset or something similar works well for the baking. When the bread is done baking you are left with a crisp loaf with an airy interior full of holes. It's very much like the pricey artisan breads you see in better bakeries for too much money.

Then for Christmas I was given a copy of the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The premise of this bread recipe is similar to the No-Knead bread but differs in that you mix a large batch of dough, again not kneading it, let it rise at room temperature until it doubles and then begins to fall and then you refrigerate the dough until you're ready to use it. When you're ready to use it you pull off a hunk of dough, flour and shape it and let it rise at room temperature for an hour or so. You bake the loaf on a baking stone without a cover, with a pan in the oven that you throw a cup of water into to create steam which helps the bread rise quickly. In the end you have a quite yummy loaf of crusty bread which my family loves.

Now that I have mastered both bread baking techniques (and moved on to cinnamon buns- yum!) I'm not sure which one I prefer. The Jim Lahey loaf seemed to have a thinner, more crackly crust than the Artisan in Five loaf. They both have great interiors but the Jim Lahey seemed to have a lighter crumb, which I enjoyed just a little bit more. I'm thinking I may need to do some comparison baking. Strictly measured ingredients, side by side taste testing. For now I will continue to enjoy my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day loaves because the dough is already in the fridge but I think I see a bake off in my future. Do you bake bread?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pavlova, sweet Pavlova

I love saying that. I love eating it even more. How could you not love a dessert that is so easy to make and tastes like a sweet cloud. And fittingly enough, it's named after a ballerina. It's the perfect thing to make if you have a surplus of egg whites. And if you don't have a surplus of egg whites, make it anyway and use the yolks to make a curd or Creme Anglaise to serve with it.

For those not familiar with them, a Pavlova is basically a large (although, you can make individual ones) baked meringue that is wonderfully crisp on the outside and soft and marshmallow like on the inside. They are traditionally served with whipped cream spread on top and then the whipped cream is topped with fruit. It works best with fruit that's on the tart side as the meringue is sweet and the whipped cream rich. Good lord, I'm close to making another right now with all this seductive meringue talk...


Heat oven to 250 degrees and line a large cookie sheet with parchment

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar (easy enough if you blitz one cup regular sugar in a food processor for a minute)
1 TSP white vinegar (I've used apple cider in a pinch)
1 TSP cornstarch

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg whites on medium to soft peaks. (Confession: against all wisdom, I made this on a rainy day- a huge no no for meringue. I threw in a pinch of cream of tartar to my egg whites for extra insurance.)

Soft Peaks

With the mixer running on medium, gradually add the sugar, a spoonful at a time and continue whipping until the egg whites hold stiff peaks.

Stiff (ish) Peaks (I told you it was a rainy day)

Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula. Spread the egg whites into a circle on your prepared pan, keeping the center sort of concave to make it easier to top. Some recipes will tell you to trace a circle on to your parchment with a pencil and use it for a template. You are more than welcome to do so but it's not my style. It's all about the rustic here.

And here's where I'm going to ask you to pretend yet again. I ran out of parchment and had to use foil. I don't recommend it. Use slides right off parchment. There may have been some cursing and picking involved in removing it from the foil.

Bake the pavlova for an hour and fifteen minutes and then shut the oven off, prop the door open with a wooden spoon and let it cool inside the oven for 1-2 hours more. After it's cool it will look like this. Don't be worried if it's cracked a bit. That just adds to it's rustic charm.

I served our pavlova with very lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream and pineapple sauce. To make the pineapple sauce, I added to the food processor a half of a fresh, roughly chopped pineapple, 1/3 cup sugar and the juice of one lime. Puree until smooth. You can cook it down to thicken it up but it was cold and rainy and I desperately wanted the bright, sunny taste of fresh pineapple to lift me out of my winter induced doldrums.