Thursday, December 3, 2009

Match Made In Heaven

Holiday meals are special. This is when I pull out recipes my family loves, but are made only for special occasions. For holiday meals, I turn off my calorie counter and set aside the dietary taboos. Translation, I don’t concern myself with fat content or other such things. The rest of the year our meals tend to be heart healthy--low in saturated fat and high in dietary fiber. On holidays, these practices are set aside. This sweet potato dish falls into the holiday meal category. Not terribly complicated, but somewhat time consuming, this dish has a beautiful presentation. It contains flavors I adore. For me, the combination of sweet potatoes and apples are a match made I heaven. When maple is added into the mix, the combination is elevated to near perfection.

The sweet potato has along and venerable history. Archeobotonical research indicates that this starchy root was first cultivated in the Yucatan Peninsula more than 5,000 years ago with it appearing in the agricultural record of the Caribbean and South American around 2500 B.C.E. From there it spread throughout the islands of the Pacific Ocean, Africa and Asia. Today it remains a staple crop for many of these regions. Over 127,000,000 tons of sweet potatoes are grown annually world wide. Sweet potatoes are surprisingly nutritious. They are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, Vitamins A, C, B6, iron, calcium and many other important vitamins and minerals. Dark orange varieties have a very high beta carotene content.

The key to this dish is to beat the potatoes until they are light and fluffy. Brown sugar can be substituted for the maple sugar, but the flavor will be greatly changed. It is entirely possible that you will not be able to find maple sugar. Contact the Morse Farm Sugarworks where you will be able to order maple sugar. Maple syrup can not be substituted for the maple sugar. This dish can be made one day and advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Sweet Potatoes with Maple Caramelized Apples

6 medium sweet potatoes

4 oz. unsalted butter, cut up

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. ginger

White pepper

Caramelized Apples

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and peeled

¼ c. lemon juice (fresh or bottled)

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

4 Tbsp. maple sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Select a one quart heat proof casserole and grease with unsalted butter. Set aside.


Wash, dry and prick sweet potatoes. Place them in the preheated oven, and bake for 45 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and allow to sit until cool enough to handle. When cooled sufficiently to handle, but still quite warm remove potatoes from peels placing potato directly into the bowl of a mixer.

When all the potatoes have been peeled and are in the bowl, turn on the mixer to low. Add the butter, kosher salt, ginger, and a good grind of white pepper. Beat until the butter is melted and the potatoes are smooth and “creamy” about 4 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Scrape into prepared casserole and set aside.

Cut the apples in half from core to core and thinly slice into wedges. Place the apples slices in a bowl and pour in the lemon juice. Toss to evenly coat. Select a heavy skillet, enameled cast iron or stainless steel is best, place it on a large burner. Turn the heat to medium low and add 2 Tbsp. of the butter and melt. Add the 2 Tbsp. of the maple sugar. Stir to combine and dissolve the sugar. Add enough apples to comfortably cover the bottom of the skillet. When the apples are caramelized (lightly browned), turn them over with a kitchen

fork. Watch the apples carefully to prevent burning. When caramelized on both sides remove the slices from the skillet and arrange in a decorative swirl pattern on top of the sweet potatoes.

Add the last 2 Tbsp. of butter to the skillet and repeat as before with remaining apple slices.

Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the sweet potatoes for approximately one hour or until heated through and the sides are bubbling slightly.

This dish can be made a day in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator. Bake as above.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just a Touch of Heat

This sauce began many years ago in the back of my high school history notebook. All those empty pages had to be filled with something, and, it surely wasn’t going to be history. (Poor Mr. P., the thrill of teaching had abandoned him years before I arrived in his class, and I was desperate to find something to keep me awake!) The original recipe still lives there along with many others that have not stood the test of time. Over the years this recipe has been tinkered with and tweaked. Only within the last few years has it stabilized to the recipe below.

Based on a Bolognese Sauce—minced meat and chopped vegetables simmered for several hours and served over pasta--the sauce is best when it sits over night allowing the flavors to develop. Planning ahead is essential. Start the sauce a day or two before you intend it to be served. Hot Italian sausage was settled on after much experimentation as it gives the sauce a wonderful flavor with just a touch of heat. Lean ground beef and sweet Italian sausage can be used, but the flavor will be quite different.

Pasta Sauce A La Bobbie Sue

6 links HOT Italian sausage (1-1/2 lbs.)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 large carrots, peeled and chopped

2 stalks celery w/leaves, chopped

1 green pepper, seeded & chopped

8 large cans whole plum tomatoes w/juice

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil or 2 tsp. dried

1/4 c. chopped flat leaf parsley

2 bay leaves

4 large cloves garlic chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

Pasta

Parmesan cheese

Select a pot large enough to hold all sauce ingredients and set on the stove. Remove the sausage meat from casings and place in the pot. Break up with a spoon. Turn the burner to medium. Add all the chopped vegetables, and saute until the meat is lightly browned.

Stir in tomatoes, basil, parsley, bay leaves, and garlic. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer the sauce uncovered for 2 to 4 hours. The sauce is ready when it is reduced by half. Cover and refrigerate the sauce for 24 hours. Reheat the sauce gently just before serving. When the sauce is ready adjust seasoning. Serve over pasta with Parmesan cheese.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

What’s in a name? Would a rose by any other name still smell so sweet? My mother used to make a dish she called Creamed Tuna on Toast. Every French Canadian woman of my acquaintance has known how to make this dish. But, come to find out, Creamed Tuna on Toast
is an alias.

The real name for this dish is Tuna Pea Wiggle, this truth was revealed to me by my friend Fernande. I was at her house one evening for dinner, when I asked what we were having she said, “Tuna Pea Wiggle.” I had no idea what she was referring to. Only after the dish was described did it dawn on me that Fernande was talking about Creamed Tuna on Toast! I was stunned. How could such a wonderful dish have such a terrible name? Unappetizing images came to mind mostly having to do with congealed, gelatinous mounds on a plate. Ugh! So, here is the question: What’s in a name? Would Creamed Tuna on Toast still be so good by any other name? Most definitely!

This wonderful dish is classic comfort food. Quick, tasty, inexpensive, and nutritious Creamed Tuna is also versatile. My recipe for this dish reflects changes I have made to lighten the dish to make it more heart healthy. This includes modifying the roux used to make the cream sauce and adding other vegetables besides peas. I prefer to use 1% or 2% milk, but skim milk can be used, too. If this is your choice, just add 1/3 c. of non-fat instant milk to the sauce. This dish is usually served on toast, but it can also be served on rice, as you can tell from the picture above.

Creamed Tuna on Toast
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
½ red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
¼ c. flour
3 c. 1% or 2% milk (for skim, see above notes)
2 6 oz. cans solid pack white tuna in water, drained
1 c. fresh or frozen peas
Kosher salt
White pepper
Toast or rice

Place a 1-quart saucepan on the stove. Turn the heat to medium and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking add the chopped green pepper, red pepper, celery, carrots and parsley.

Sauté until the vegetables are just tender. Add the flour and stir to combine. When the flour is mixed in, pour in half the milk. Stir to thoroughly combine. Reduce the heat the medium low, and stir occasionally. When the milk begins to thicken add the remaining milk, and stir to incorporate. Continue to cook stirring occasionally until the cream sauce is thickened. Add the drained tuna, breaking it up with the spoon. Add the peas. Cook until the peas are cooked and the tuna is heated through. Add salt to taste and a good grind of pepper. Serve over toast or rice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Carefully Cared For

I will never own a glass top stove. Yeah, yeah, I know they are the rage and everyone who is anybody wants one. Not me! Nope. Not now, not ever. You are probably thinking, she’ll change her mind. Given time she’ll come around. I have been known to change my mind, for example, I now use a digital camera. But, a glass top stove, I don’t think so. It would mean giving up the life-blood of my culinary accoutrements—the cast iron cookware.

It was 197something. I had just moved to Burlington, Vermont, gotten a job and my very first apartment. My parents had come up to see where I had landed and help me settle in. My mother sent me off to do some kitchen shopping, and instead of buying food, I purchased a set of cast iron frying pans. These pans still hang on the pegboard

in my kitchen as they have in every place I have ever called home. And, quite honestly, their presence alone is sufficient to make any kitchen home. Over the years my cast iron arsenal has grown. The total is now up to 12 pieces. Each piece is a prized possession, constantly used, and carefully cared for. Most of my pieces were not purchased new, but were acquired at yard sales and thrift stores and re-seasoned.

In my family, cast iron cook-ware are heirlooms passed down like the family silver. Bella inherited my mother’s cast iron frying pans, which were gifts from my father. Dad thought he had solved his Christmas gift-giving dilemma, and swelled with pride for four whole years when Mom opened her Christmas package. Dad was crestfallen when Mom told him if he gave her another cast iron frying pan, she’d use it on him. It was back to square one for Dad! My mother used those pans every day for the rest of her life. Even if she never acknowledged it, they were among the best and most thoughtful gifts she ever received from Dad.

There is nothing like a cast iron skillet for holding heat and cooking evenly. When properly seasoned and cared for cast iron is as non-stick as any Teflon coated cooking surface. Cast iron lasts a lifetime, and, as I have already mentioned, has the potential to become a family heirloom. Here are some tips on the proper care and maintenance of cast iron cookware.

Seasoning is the process by which the uneven surface of cast iron is smoothed out and sealed and a non-stick surface is created. Cast iron can be seasoned and re-seasoned as part of its maintenance. Well-seasoned cast iron has a shiny black surface. A non-stick surface can take a year or so to develop, so don’t be discouraged and become lax about cleaning and caring for your cast iron.

This is the procedure I follow when seasoning cast iron cookware: Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven; it will catch any drips. Preheat the oven to 350. If you are seasoning a new cast iron piece, remove all stickers and tags. Wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water. This is the ONLY time you will EVER use soap on your cast iron cookware. Dry the piece thoroughly, and rub it inside and out with a thin, even coating of vegetable shortening. Place the piece upside down on the top rack of the preheated oven directly above the piece of aluminum foil. Bake for one hour. (There will probably be some smoke.) After one hour remove the pan from the oven and place on a on the stove top to cool completely.

Use and cleaning: Heat cast iron gradually. Do not put it on a burner and turn the heat to high or put a hot piece directly into water--either of these could cause your cat iron to crack. Wipe

cast iron clean using hot water. Do not use soap, as this will damage the seasoning. If something sticks to your cast iron, let the piece cool a bit and then pour in some hot water. Let this sit for a while. To scrub, use a stiff bristle brush or a plastic “scrubbie.” Do not use steel wool. Immediately, thoroughly dry the piece, and wipe inside and out with a bit of cooking oil before putting away. This will help prevent rust from forming and protect the seasoning.

Now that you know the essentials of cast iron cookware, get ye to a thrift shop! You will never regret it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stuff It

When my ancestors arrived in Boston from England in the 1630's stuffing must have been part of their culinary heritage. But, it’s been around much longer than that, as anyone who has read “Clan of the Cave Bear” knows! Thanks to Aspicius, author of one of the oldest extant cookbooks, we know that the Romans stuffed everything from pig to dormouse. The French word for stuffing “farce” comes from the Latin word “facire” which means to stuff. The French used it to describe a comedic play (the farce), which was “stuffed” in between other plays. Farce is still used to describe the chopped meats used in sausage. In the mid 1500’s the term stuffing appeared in English cooking for the first time. The Victorians renamed the dish “dressing.” Why? The term stuffing must have insulted their sensibilities, but the rationale behind the change in nomenclature would be a guess. Today the terms stuffing and dressing are interchangeable.

For many years, believing that complicated was better, I strayed from my culinary roots and embarked on a stuffing odyssey. I tried recipe after recipe--corn bread, wild rice and mushroom, and on and on. Each recipe was sophisticated, with complex flavors and complicated ingredients often requiring days of preparation. These recipes all had one thing in common—they did not enhance the poultry experience. Perhaps it was the comfort food factor (which was most certainly lacking) or perhaps it was that those fancy stuffing’s really weren’t all that great! Whatever the reason, my family is happier now that I’ve stopped experimenting and returned to my culinary roots.

This stuffing tastes best with a blend of breads. My choice of breads usually includes Anadama, Oatmeal, White, and Whole Wheat. The weekend before Thanksgiving my bread machine is working overtime churning them out. Although homemade bread is what I use, it’s not a requirement for success. The most important attribute of the bread is that it be firm. Do not use soft bread, what I call "puffo" bread—bread that collapses or sticks to itself when you squeeze it. Artisanal bread can be used as one of the breads, but its texture tends to be too hard and dry to be the only bread used in the stuffing. On careful observation of some of the photographs you will notice that the quantities shown are not those suggested in the recipe below. This is because some of the photographs are from Thanksgiving when we stuffed an 18 pound bird. They are being used here for "how to" purposes.

Notes: On the food borne illness front—NEVER EVER, EVER stuff a bird more than a few minutes before putting it in the oven, it is one of those things that quite simply cannot, under any circumstances be done in advance. Or, put the cooked bird into the refrigerator without removing the stuffing. On the roasting front--Be sure to add 5 minutes per pound for a stuffed bird. Depending on the size this will be between 20 to 45 minutes.

New England Comfort Bread Stuffing
Stuffs a 6 pound bird
6 ½ inch thick slices bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
1 large tart apple, cored and very coarsely chopped
½ c. dried cranberries
1 Tbsp fresh marjoram, or 1 tsp. dried (not ground)
¼ c. chopped fresh Parsley
1 tsp. kosher salt
A good grind of black pepper

Put the bread cubes into a large bowl, and set aside.

Place a heavy (preferably cast iron skillet) on the stove. Pour in a
bout 2 tbsps. olive oil. When the oil
is hot, add the onions and celery. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the remaining ingredientsand cook until the herbs are wilted. Scrape into the bowl with the bread cubes. Mix well.




Stuff the neck cavity first. When sufficiently stuffed, pull the neck skin flap down over the spine and secure with a small metal skewer. Fill the abdominal cavity. Do not over fill as the stuffing will expand as it cooks. When basting the bird, be sure to “baste” the stuffing.
Any stuffing that does not fit into the bird can be put into a buttered casserole dish and baked separately.


Pour enough chicken or vegetable stock over the stuffing to moisten it slightly. Bake at 325 with the chicken until the top is browned and crispy. Cover with foil to prevent over-browning.
See my earlier post “The Hallmark of a Good Cook” for roasting instructions.



After transferring the roasted bird to a platter, remove the metal skewer holding the neck flap in place. The stuffing can be removed from the bird to a serving dish, or can be served directly from the bird at the table.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twisted

My favorite salad growing up was one my mother made with apples. When I asked my mother about this salad, she told me it was called a “Waldorf Salad” and was named after a famous hotel in New York City. When I asked why, Mom explained that it was named for the hotel because a chef there had created the salad and it was what was called a “signature dish” of the hotel. “Oh.” This explanation satisfied my curiosity and I went back to setting the table.

The apple salad remains a favorite. The textures, flavors, and crunch factor are why this salad, for me at least, has such a huge appeal. Over the years I’ve experimented with the recipe, changing, tweaking, and discarding until last winter when it finally came together.

My friend Carol had just come back from Madagascar and presented me with the lovely gift of red peppercorns. These sweet slightly tangy red orbs are technically not a pepper, but a berry, and are called so due to their size and shape. They are sometimes called pink peppercorns. While preparing this dish for a book club meeting, I decided to toss in a few smashed red peppercorns. Oh boy, was it ever delish! My fellow book worshippers were scraping the bowl.

Hints for this dish: Use firm red apples. Fresh lemon juice is best, but bottled can be substituted. Celery is preferred, but 1 Tbsp. celery seed can be used with good results. The mayonnaise---homemade is key to this dish, but use bottled if you must. You absolutely must not use low fat, fat free, or salad dressing products in this recipe. See my earlier post “Hold the Mayo” for a homemade mayonnaise “how to.” This dish is best when made with large, succulent purple grapes, but other varieties can be substituted. Raisins, dark or golden, can also be used. Red/pink peppercorns might be difficult to find. Penzey’s is where I purchase all of my spices, dried herbs, and seasonings. The quality is excellent and consistent and the prices are reasonable. Use a rubber spatula as a mixing tool as it will not bruise the apples. This dish is best when made an hour or two ahead of time allowing the flavors to meld. However, it can be served immediately.

Twisted Waldorf Salad

¾ c. walnuts

6 red apples

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 c. halved purple grapes (or 1 c. raisins)

1 stalk celery, chopped

¾ c. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. red peppercorns

1 tsp. kosher salt

Sea salt or more kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the walnuts on a cookie sheet with sides. Place them in the oven to toast. Check after 5 minutes. The walnuts are sufficiently toasted when they are a light golden brown and fragrant. Remove them from the oven to cool completely.

Cut the apples in half and then quarters. Cut out the cores. With a paring knife cut the each quarter into ½ inch pieces directly into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple pieces with the lemon juice and mix with a rubber spatula to combine. Add the chopped celery and grapes. Break the walnuts into pieces and add them to the bowl. Stir to combine. Add the mayonnaise and white wine vinegar and stir again to combine.

Place the red peppercorns on the cutting board. Crush them with the flat of a large knife. With a scraper, scoop up the crushed berries and tip them into the bowl. Add the kosher salt and a grind of white pepper. Use the rubber spatula to gently but thoroughly combine the ingredients.

If the salad is to be served immediately, taste and adjust the seasoning. If it is being made ahead of time, scrape into an air-tight container and refrigerate. About 20 minutes before the salad is to be served, remove it from the refrigerator to the counter and allow to sit at room temperature. Just before serving, taste the dish. If necessary, adjust the seasoning. Scrape into a dish and serve.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Personal Favorite
















Nothing says Thanksgiving like Pumpkin Pie. It is a personal favorite. So much so that as a kid, it was what I asked for every year as my “birthday cake.” My mother would have made me anything I wanted, but I think she was always silently relieved that I requested Pumpkin Pie. My birthday usually coincides with Thanksgiving, which meant that Mom could just bake an extra Pumpkin Pie.

Pumpkin Pie is one of the easiest pies to make. A little measuring and stirring, and voila!, it's done. Pumpkin puree is the foundation of the pie. Canned works fine, but home made is even better. (See my earlier post “First, You Select A Pumpkin.”)

Pumpkin Pie
1 unbaked 9” pie crust
2-1/2 c. pumpkin puree
¾ c. dark brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. cloves
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a regular pie plate with the crust. Crimp edges so they stand up tall and set aside. Measure the pumpkin puree into a bowl. Stir in the spices. Add the eggs and mix to combine. Pour in the evaporated milk and mix with a whisk until well combined. Pour into the prepared pie plate. Carefully transfer the pie to the preheated oven.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle of the pie comes out clean.

Remove the pie to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm with schlag (whipped cream) or cover the pie and refrigerate until needed, and still serve with schlag! The pie can be made one day in advance.

Makes 1 9” pie.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Slightly Nutty


Biscuits are such a delightful treat. Versatile as well as easy and fast to make, and they bring significant rewards. This biscuit was developed to go with the Lesco with Pork, and instantly became one of DH’s favorites. They are light and tender with a rich and almost nutty flavor. These biscuits also go well with jelly and jam for breakfast or afternoon tea. Your friends and family will clamour for more.

Buttermilk Bran Biscuits

¼ c. bran

1-3/4 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

¼ c. unsalted butter

1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400. Select a baking sheet large enough to hold 12 biscuits, and set aside.

Measure all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Cut in the butter using two knives or a pastry blender. Pour the buttermilk over the mixture and mix to combine with a fork. The mixture will be very thick and dough-like. Drop biscuits onto baking sheet using 2 spoons. There will be enough to make 12 biscuits.

Put baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes and check the biscuits. Check the biscuits. If the bottoms and surface “points” are not golden brown bake for a few more minutes.

When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven. Using a metal spatula transfer the biscuits to a towel lined bowl. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lesco--Hungarian for Really Good!

Pronounced "letcho," Lesco is the Hungarian word for stew. It always has peppers and sweet paprika. Other ingredients vary. In the Northern version of Lesco lard or bacon fat is used to sauté the meat and vegetables. The Southern version uses sunflower oil. I personally prefer the flavor of this Lesco recipe when it is made using bacon. Hungarian paprika must be used, it is essential to the proper flavor of the Lesco.

Recently I’ve begun making this dish in a crock pot, and have been very satisfied with the results. It can also be made on the stove top in a Dutch oven. The preparation of this dish requires cooking bacon and sauteing, providing another opportunity to plug the cast iron skillet and encourage you to acquire one if you have not already done so.

Lesco with Pork

1-1/2 lbs. pork loin, trimmed and cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes

3 slices bacon

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika

2 16 oz. cans whole tomatoes with liquid or

(1 qt. tomatoes with juice)

2 green peppers, seeded and sliced

2 Tbsp. rice

1 tsp. kosher salt

Black pepper

Vegetable stock

Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp, remove and place on paper towel lined plate to drain.

Place the pork in the same skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until it is no longer pink. Remove from the skillet and place in a crock pot or Dutch oven. Cook the onion until tender in the same skillet, and then remove to the crock pot or Dutch oven with the pork.


If you are using a crock pot add the paprika, tomatoes with juice, green peppers, rice, salt and a good grind of pepper. Crumble the reserved bacon into the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.

If you are using a Dutch oven, place it on a large burner and add the juice from the tomatoes (reserve tomatoes) and the paprika. If the tomato juice does not cover the pork, add a little vegetable stock. Turn the burner to high, when the liquid boils, reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. At the end of the hour, add the reserved tomatoes, the peppers, rice, salt and a good grind of pepper. Crumble in the reserved bacon. Add a little vegetable stock if necessary. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

For both crock pot and Dutch oven preparations: Before serving taste the Lesco and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with biscuits or a hearty bread.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Works For Me!

Colder weather around here means biscuits. They are the perfect companion for crock pot stews, pot roasts, and well, almost everything.

I make almost exclusively drop biscuits. Why? They are fast, easy and delicious! Unlike regular biscuits, they don’t have to be kneaded, rolled, and cut out. They need only to be stirred and dropped directly onto a cookie sheet. Within 20 minutes of arriving home from work, I can finish whatever is in the crock pot and have piping hot biscuits to go with it. Works for me! Guaranteed, you will love the ease of drop biscuits and how fabulous they taste.

Corn Meal Drop Biscuits

1 c. flour

1 c. corn meal

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Pepper

¼ c. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. fresh basil or parsley (or herb of your choice) (1 tsp. if the herb is dried)

1 c. grated cheddar cheese (4 oz.)

1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 400. Have a large cookie sheet ready.

Measure the flour, corn meal, salt, and a good grind of pepper into a bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter. When the butter has been thoroughly cut in, add the basil, grated cheese and pour in the milk. Stir with a fork until well combined.

Using two spoons drop the biscuits onto the cookie sheet. Put the biscuits in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, and check. If the bottoms and surface “points” are not golden brown bake for a few more minutes. When done, remove the biscuits from the oven. Using a spatula transfer them to a cloth-lined basket. Serve immediately, and wait for the compliments.

Makes 12 biscuits.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Hallmark of a Good Cook

Roast Chicken is a favorite around here. DH, Bella, and I thoroughly enjoy a roast chicken dinner. Perhaps it is our childhood memories of family Sunday dinners with grandparents and those heaping bowls of traditional New England side dishes that make roast chicken such a favorite. Those days we now remember with a certain nostalgia, and the food we ate is an intrinsic component of those memories.

A roast chicken is considered by many to be the hallmark of a good cook--if you can prepare a roast chicken you have made the culinary grade. There is nothing more satisfying for the cook than to present those at the table with a roast chicken dinner.

Many years ago when this recipe was taught to me, I was told that this was the French style for preparing roast chicken. Is it really? I have absolutely no idea, but I do know that is absolutely delicious! The lemon slices and fresh rosemary sprigs slipped between the skin and the breast give the meat a delightful flavor and an extraordinary moistness. As a practical matter, it is a good dish to have in your culinary arsenal. The secondary benefits of a roast chicken are the potential leftovers and a carcass.

If you look closely at the photograph above, you will notice that this chicken was stuffed. For stuffing "how to" see my post "Stuff It." For gravy how-to see the January 2010 post "Panic and Despair?".

Roast Chicken

1 6 to 7 lb. chicken, preferably free-range, organic

1 lemon, very thinly sliced

2 springs fresh rosemary (each at least 4 inches long)

1 qt. chicken stock

4 oz. butter, softened

Preheat oven to 325. Calculate the roasting time for your chicken—20 minutes per pound. If the chicken has a “pup-up thermometer” in its breast pull it out and discard. If there are giblets remove them and set aside. Thoroughly rinse the chicken under cold running water.

Move the rinsed chicken to a cutting board. Gently fold back the wings. Turn the chicken so the abdominal cavity is facing you. Carefully slip your fingers between the flesh of the breast and the skin, separating them. Do not rip the skin. Do this to each side. The skin will not separate in the middle.

Now slip in equal an number of lemon slices between the skin and meat on each side (about 4 per side). Break the rosemary springs in half. Gently slip them under the skin on top of the lemon slices. Tie the legs together with a piece of string. Place the trussed chicken into a pan large enough to hold it comfortably. Smear the softened butter evenly over the skin. Pour the stock into the pan. Place the pan into the preheated oven.

Baste the chicken every 20 minutes. If you don’t have a bulb baster use a spoon with a large bowl and a wooden handle. The chicken is cooked when a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 170. Cut the string around the legs. Take one of the drumsticks and gently move it up and down. If the leg moves freely, the chicken is cooked. (This is my preferred method.)

Remove the chicken from the oven. Using two large spatulas or meat forks move the chicken to a platter being careful not to pierce the skin. Cover the chicken with a piece of foil and let it to rest for 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to be redistributed.

Your chicken is now ready to be carved. You can do this at the table or in the kitchen. There are special utensils called carving sets designed specifically for this purpose, if you don’t have one, use a long handled fork and a sharp knife.

If you are carving the chicken at the table serve the meat as you slice it. If you are carving in the kitchen, place the meat on a platter as you cut it. Work quickly so the meat is still hot when it is served. Insert the fork into one of the breasts near the breastbone. On the side where you have inserted the fork, find the joint between thigh and the drumstick with your knife. Sever this joint. Next sever the joint between the thigh and the back of the chicken. Now move the knife to the breast. Reposition the fork if you need to. With the knife at the same angle as the breast, cut thin slices of breast meat using smooth even strokes. The lemon and rosemary will be very tender and flavorful and can be offered with the chicken.

After the meal when the chicken is returned to the kitchen, remove/carve any remaining meat from the carcass and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use the carcass and the giblets to make stock.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spectacularly Simple

Dessert does not have to be complicated to be spectacular. This time of year when apples are plentiful and fresh, it is a simple matter to create a dessert that is both spectacular and simple. This recipe was developed a number of years ago, and “perfected” just this year. Most of my recipes are a work in progress, and this recipe was no exception. This dish has a lovely apple flavor with just a hint of maple sweetness.

As always, my apple of choice is Northern Spy. When they are not available I use Empires or a combination of Empires and Granny Smiths. I have a special “contraption” to

prepare my apples. It is a wonderful thing and saves me a great deal of time. It can peel, core and slice, or just peel. Either way it does exactly what is needed. Maple sugar is used in the topping for this crisp. It is actually a sugar, not a syrup. I purchase mine at the Morse Farm, for which you will find a link under “Places and Ingredients.” The dish/pan I use for the Crisp is 2 inches deep and about 8 x 12 inches in size. Try not to use a pan deeper than 2 inches deep. I always serve this dish with a healthy dollop of schlag (whipped cream).

Unfortunately, due to rapid consumption, there is no picture of the finished Crisp. A photograph of an empty dish isn't quite the same. Of course, this is the best compliment any cook can hope for!

Apple Crisp

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

6 large tart apples

¼ c. apple cider

1/3 c. maple syrup

¾ c. flour

¼ c. oats

1 tsp. ginger

½ tsp. cinnamon

1/3 c. maple sugar or brown sugar

4 oz. unsalted butter, slightly softened

½ c. heavy cream

¼ tsp. ginger

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 2 x 8 x 12 inch dish or pan with the 1 Tbsp. of butter. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Arrange them in the prepared pan. Pour the apple cider over the apples, and then drizzle on the maple syrup.

Select a medium sized bowl. Measure into it the flour, oats, ginger, cinnamon, maple sugar, and butter.

Using your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until it is well combined. The mixture should still be “powdery.” Sprinkle it evenly over the apples being sure to bring it right to the edges.

Put the dish in the oven. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The Crisp is baked when the sides are bubbling, the apples in the middle are tender, and the topping is lightly browned. Do not over bake as the apples will become mushy. While the Crisp is cooling, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the ginger and beat just to incorporate the ginger. Serve the Crisp warm with a generous dollop of schlag.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I’ll Take Mine Whole, Please

We are indeed fortunate--the Morse Farm sells cranberries in bulk. Burr, the proprietor goes down to Massachusetts every year and purchases the berries. As soon as they arrive, I hop in the car and head on over. Once home with my booty, I make cranberry sauce—whole berry sauce. Most of the berries will be frozen and keep us in a good supply of fresh cranberry sauce all winter. Cranberry Sauce is one of DH’s favorite foods. Actually, I think he considers it to be a food group! It doesn’t matter how much I put on the table, there will be none left.

Cranberries are a good source of Vitamin C, Potassium and believe it or not, Carotene. Their antioxidant properties have drawn the attention of scientists doing cancer, immune system and cardiovascular research. All good reasons to eat cranberries!

As we enjoy the tartness of the cranberries, I use very little sugar. The reduced sugar also helps maximize the health benefits of this lovely berry.

Cranberry Sauce

4 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen

1/3 c. sugar

1 Tbsp. ginger

½ c. fresh orange juice

Zest of one orange

Water


Wash the cranberries and place them in a quart pot with a lid. Add the sugar, ginger, orange juice, and zest. Add about 1 c. of water. Stir to combine well. Put the pot on the stove and cover with lid. Turn the burner to high. When the water boils, immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the berries, stirring occasionally, until most have popped their skins and the sauce is thick and glossy, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot to the counter and cool uncovered. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. The sauce can be served warm, or refrigerated until needed.

Quick, simple and ever so good!

We have wonderful “new” potatoes from the garden. Fresh potatoes have such a fresh flavor and the texture is crisp. When cut into slices or sticks, these potatoes literally snap when broken. Faced with such bounty, I made one of our favorite dishes—Oven Fries. About ten years ago, I began making fries in this manner. They are simple, quick, and ever so good.

One of the really nice things about these fries is their flexibility with regards to seasoning--it can be adjusted to suit your particular tastes. We don’t use ketchup, so prefer our fries on the spicy side. Make sure you select a baking sheet with sides that is large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer.

Oven Fries

3 potatoes

¼ c. olive oil

½ tsp salt

½ tsp. hot or sweet Hungarian paprika

1 Tbsp. caraway seeds

a good grind of black pepper

Kosher or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 450. Select a baking sheet with sides and set aside.

Wash the potatoes and cut them into ½ inch sticks. I generally cut the potatoes in half length-wise. Then, cut each half in half length-wise again, and cut these slices into sticks. Don’t be too concerned about making perfectly exact ½ inch sticks. Place the sticks into a bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over them. Add the seasoning and spices. Toss with your hands to mix well.

Scrape the sticks onto the baking sheet. Spread them out in a single layer. Put the baking sheet into the oven. Bake for about 8 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the sticks. Bake for another 8 minutes. Turn again, if necessary.

The fries are done when the interior flesh of the potato is soft, but outside is golden brown and crispy.

When the fries are done, remove them from the oven and scrape them onto a paper towel lined platter or bowl. Sprinkle with a little kosher or sea salt and serve immediately.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bella's Favorite

This is a cake I make every year during apple season, and often throughout the winter, due to the ready availability of good apples. It has a wonderful taste and texture—rich and subtle with a moist crumb. The apples layered in the middle of the cake add a pleasant surprise and only enhance the cake’s elegant simplicity. When baked in a greased and floured Bundt-style pan the cake is a lovely golden brown. This is Bella’s favorite cake, and is what she asks for every year as her birthday cake.

The recipe comes from the King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook, and is presented here with permission from the King Arthur Company. The recipe below reflects some minor changes I have made. One final note, I often substitute blueberries (which is what you will see in the pictures) for the apples and use milk instead of cider. Raspberries, strawberries, peaches, and apricots can also be used with good results.

German Apple Cake

Apple Filling:

3 large apples

lemon juice (optional)

5 Tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

Batter:

3 c. flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 c. canola oil

2 c. sugar

4 eggs

¼ c. apple cider or milk

2-1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a Bundt-style pan and set aside.

The filling is made before the batter as it is layered into the cake. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. If you won’t be completing the cake within 30 minutes, sprinkle them with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning. In a small bow, mix the sugar with the cinnamon. Set these aside.

To make the batter, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, beat the oil and sugar for 2 or 3 minutes on high speed using an electric hand mixer until creamy.



In a separate small bowl using the same beaters, beat the eggs at medium-high speed until light and lemon colored (about 1 minute). Add the cider and vanilla, mix well and add to the sugar and oil, beating thoroughly on medium-high speed. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently fold together by hand or carefully mix on the lowest speed with the electric mixer just until blended. The batter will be quite thick and fall in thick ribbons from a spatula.



To assemble the cake, pour one-third of the batter into the prepared pan. Next, lay down a layer of apples, using half of them, and sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar. Cover the apples with a little bit of batter.



Lay down another layer using the remaining apples and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon sugar. Scrape all of the remaining batter on top.

Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes or until a pick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.