12.31.2008

Stone Crabs: One Last Splurge

Happy 2009! Can you believe it?

Well, here goes: this year I will try to- be more frugal; stick to a diet; be more patient; listen; pour more love and encouragement on those precious to me; be a better friend. These are not resolutions but merely a little list for myself. I think I can manage to accomplish most of it. The hardest part for me is always dieting. Not so easy.

My daughter will be returning to New York City Monday.... I will miss her very much. She has a contemporary art gallery there (see "My Favorite Websites" below) and the art market has not been all that great lately. I am crossing my fingers that all the naysayers will be wrong in their predictions for 2009. This gallery is Tracy's dream and she works like mad to make it a success, which it has been for several years. I know, everyone is having problems with the economy and everyone is working hard to keep their dreams alive. But we mothers worry about all our kids, we can't help it and no matter how grown up they are, this will never change. I worry about my sons just as much. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. Can't remember where I first heard that, but it sure is true.

So, in keeping with our diet promises (But our frugal promises? Not so much.) I decided to surprise Tracy on New Year's Day with her all-time favorite: stone crabs. Delicious and aren't the colors to die for? And best thing yet, no work. They are cooked and cracked and ready to go.


To accompany, we always use a recipe I found years ago in the Miami Herald for Joe's Mustard Sauce. The Joe I speak of is -need I say it- Joe's Stone Crab, the famous Miami restaurant where stone crabs are king. And the rest of their food is pretty regal too. Now I have no idea if this recipe is really Joe's or not. The paper claimed it was and we think it's pretty close to the real thing, so that's what we call it, with mea culpas to Joe's if it's not.

Joe's Mustard Sauce

Ingredients:
3 and 1/2 teaspoons dry English mustard (like Coleman's)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon A-1 sauce
1/8 cup light cream
1/8 teaspoon salt

Method:
In a small bowl beat the dry mustard and mayonnaise until blended. Add remaining ingredients and chill until ready to serve. Makes 1 cup.


We needed a salad as well, so I made some Broccoli Slaw. It's pretty, you can make it ahead, although it is a simple recipe to begin with, tasty and the perfect foil for the stone crabs. My friend Polly originally gave me the recipe so I named it after her. You don't need another thing- perhaps some white wine and for those who wanted dessert I pulled out what was left of my Apricot and Nut Cookies. Yum! What a great start for 2009.

Polly's Broccoli Slaw

Ingredients:
1 pound broccoli slaw (you can find it in your market)
1 package cole slaw
6 green onions, sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 packages ramen chicken soup mix
1 1/2 cups salad oil
2 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Method:
Mix the first five ingredients and refrigerate. Make a dressing with oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and 1 1/2 packages of the seasoning mix in the soup packet. Mix well. Just before serving, crunch up the noodles of both packages and add to the slaw. (I put them in a plastic bag and pound them with my rolling pin) Pour dressing over and serve.


12.30.2008

Diets Etc.

We're on a diet around here, even before we make healthy eating a New Year's resolution. Enough is enough. The only things I have kept the faith with are my daily workouts and a healthy breakfast. The rest of the day goes downhill food wise. I don't deny I'm having a fine time sampling all the holiday goodies and imbibing in my favorite gin and tonics before dinner; we are eating out more than usual too. Moderation. There is fine word defining exactly what I should be doing regarding meals. It's easy enough when nobody is here and I'm not tempted by a new restaurant with an intriguing menu.

Haven't we all tried diets promising quick results? When I think of all the fad diets I have been on over the years I cringe. Do you remember the 3 day Model Diet? The Chocolate Diet? The Slimfast Jump Start Diet? Well, I must admit the three day diet worked when I wanted an emergency 4-5 pound weight loss to get into a special dress that was ever so slightly snug- but the pounds came right back on after the weekend. The food on that diet was pretty ghastly too. After many years, my nutritionist says the only answer is moderation and a well balanced diet. All the time. B O R I N G. Sorry, I just can't be good all the time! In fact, I can't be good most of the time!
So for a few nights this week in advance of the New Year's bash (one of my aerobics teachers calls this being pro-active- but is actually referring to fact we are working out this time of year when lots of people are ignoring their normal routines and being couch potatoes) we decided to eat healthy dinners when we ate at home and try to eat healthy salads every day for lunch no matter where we were. At least it's a head start on the dire morning of January 5th when I will wake up and stand staring at my scale in anguish.

Last night we had a lovely broiled yellowtail and some roasted brussel sprouts. While shopping at Whole Foods for fresh yellowtail we found some stalks of brussel sprouts in the produce section. It l00ked too good to pass by.
We doused them with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and stuck them in a 400° oven for 40 minutes, shaking the pan every now and then. They caramelized beautifully and went perfectly with our broiled yellowtail. So far, so good.

Next we started thinking about salads. Unusual salads, not just the lettuce/tomato kind. My friend Nancy came up with a nifty luncheon salad that fits the diet mode perfectly and is delicious to eat. We call it Nancy's Salad of course, and not only is it pretty and good for you, but it tastes marvelous.

Nancy's Salad

Ingredients:
1 small head cauliflower, in florets
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
1/4 cup salad oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup vinegar (any kind you like)
1 teaspoon Lawry's seasoning salt

Method:
Prepare the vegetables and olives. Make a dressing with the last three ingredients.
Mix and chill.
Serves 2
Another salad we love is one I adapted from Lee Bailey's Country Weekends; I call it Cottage Cheese Salad. Lee Bailey served it with a small piece of broiled chicken and some melba toast. I like it with a hard boiled egg, quartered, and a quartered tomato. Then I sprinkle a little Lawry's seasoning salt on top along with some freshly ground black pepper. It's divine.

Cottage Cheese Salad
Ingredients:1 1/2 cups fat free cottage cheese
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
3 radishes, diced
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 hard boiled eggs, quartered
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup roasted pecans
Lawry's seasoning salt
freshly ground black pepper

Method:Mix the red pepper, radishes and chives with the cottage cheese. Sprinkle with the roasted pecans, salt and pepper.
Serve with the eggs and tomatoes.
Serves 2

12.26.2008

Apricot and Nut Cookies

We were among the lucky ones this Christmas: no nightmare travel stories to relate. It's all I have been hearing about from friends and family. My daughter arrived from New York City in between storms and was only a couple hours late.

My sister was not so fortunate. She had to worry about five children traveling to her Leland Michigan cabin and they were coming from both the east and west coast. The closest airport giving access to Leland is Traverse City but everyone traveling there has to make a stop-usually Grand Rapids, Detroit or Chicago. And the weather in those cities is always iffy in December and this year it was a lot more than iffy. Her daughter from San Francisco was stuck in Chicago for Christmas day. And if the photos of O'Hare are accurate, she had lots of company.

I don't like to brag (I'm going to anyway) but our Florida weather has been lovely so far this holiday. Not perfect, but really nice. Still, you can't get here if your plane is coming from an airport closed down by weather. So we sympathize because if affects us as well.

Lots of people can't imagine Christmas in Florida- but we really get into the spirit of the season; lots of lights, wreaths and outdoor decorations. I am in awe at some of the displays; the lighting has gotten so intricate. Of course in Florida we light up our palm trees rather than pine trees which is amusing the first time you see it. Deer, Santas, snowmen and snow globes decorate the lawns. Someone has a full size Santa descending from the roof on a rope; another has Santa on a huge swing.

And boat parades! I love the smaller parades like the one we have in Boca Raton; we missed it last year because the city just did not have enough money. But it was privately supported this year and back for us to enjoy. I find the larger cities like Ft. Lauderdale have boats that are somewhat more commercial- still fun to watch, but I like the down home look. Bridges are held open for the boats which of course causes problems if you have someplace to go other than the parade. Boat owners call on their friends to help decorate their boats- all sizes, large and small, and their enthusiasm is obvious as music is blaring and they are waving, cheering and hollering out Merry Christmas! as they pass by. Such fun to sit on the grass by the intercoastal waterway and wave back. This year someone set off a fireworks display that put the July 4th show to shame.
The boat parades put everyone in a holiday mood and to me that means planning holiday surprises in the kitchen. Now that I don't have small children at home and my grandchildren did not come this year, I did not make as many Christmas cookies as usual. But I do love using them as last minute gifts for friends so I tried some new recipes this year. I found an interesting recipe with apricots, almonds and pine nuts as ingredients and a frosting made with amaretto. Hmmmm. Sounded good to me so I made them. Delicious! They are rather nutty and chewy and have a very slight cinnamon flavor. But the frosting makes the cookie. My son was gobbling them down as fast as I could turn them out and my daughter was happy when I gave the last of them away as she said she would have eaten the entire plateful. Well, it's never off season for cookies so give these a try; make it a New Year's resolution: bake something new!

Apricot and Nut Cookies
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian




Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Icing:
1 and 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
5 to 7 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Method:
Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the flour and stir until just blended. Mix in the apricots, almonds and pine nuts. The dough will be sticky at this point.

Transfer the dough to a sheet of wax paper and shape it into a log about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter, rolling the dough in the wax paper until the shape is right. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.(After I rolled the dough in the wax paper and started to chill it, I opened the refrigerator door a few times to form it better.)Preheat your oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the dough crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices and place them on the parchment paper. Space them evenly apart. Bake about 15 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

To make the icing: mix the confectioners sugar and Amaretto and beat until smooth. I poured the frosting into a small baggie and made a tiny slit in a corner and then drizzled the frosting over the cookies. Allow to set, about 30 minutes.

This recipe makes about 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

12.20.2008

Milk Punch

We had some wonderful friends many years ago who had a New Year's Day party every single year. Talk about good buddies! We loved having someplace to go for football, food and the requisite rehashing of New Year's Eve, but let's face it: is there anyone you know willing to entertain after they have been up nearly all night? And in those days we drank; not wine either. Aside from champagne, I'm quite certain I don't remember wine being an available libation on New Year's Eve. How odd. Well anyway, New Year's Day Lynn and Tony would set up two large white crocks with overly-long ladles and served Bloody Marys in one and Milk Punch in the other. Didn't that go down smoothly! (And way too quickly.) The Bloody Marys were ice cold and spicy with celery sticks in a dish next to the crock; the first time we were invited, Milk Punch was new to me so it was quite a surprise. When I glanced in the crock I thought at first it was egg nog and was about to pass it by, expecting it to be super sweet and on the heavy side as I think all egg nogs are, when someone told me to try it, I would love it. They were right; the Milk Punch was much lighter and not all that sweet. I was a convert. And as I recall, the group was about half and half- both crocks needed refills about the same time. After we served ourselves, everyone knew what to expect: football was on a couple of screens in different areas of their home, snacks scattered about and we settled in for a relaxing afternoon. How we looked forward to New Year's Day with Tony and Lynn!

Lynn was a lovely cook and always served a buffet late afternoon- invariably beef stroganoff- her specialty (she made the sour cream kind rather than the tomatoey kind which I abhor) along with any number of delectable side dishes. I remember it like it was yesterday; the men watched, cheered and talked football (sort of) and the women got laughing hysterically while discussing what went on the night before- or as a young friend of mine put it recently- we "deconstructed" New Year's Eve (don't you adore that expression?). I love memories like our New Year's Day party- they make me smile. It's not that we're not creating memories anymore, or enjoying annual parties, or laughing and having fun with our friends; it's just that these were friends from my young married life- all of us raising children together, most of us were stay-at-home moms and we did everything together. You never forget those days. What makes this particular memory melancholy is that Lynn is no longer with us and we all loved her; as well, most of us have moved from the area and we only stay in contact with a few of our dearest friends from those days.

After I moved to Florida, I invited everyone to join us at my house for dinner Christmas day. I always had champagne for my dad and an open bar for everyone else. But for me (and for a few discriminating members of my family) I always made a punch bowl of Milk Punch. Because I didn't have a wonderful old crock, I served my punch in a pretty glass bowl with a whole nutmeg and a grater next to it. Frankly, there were some years I don't know how I managed to get dinner served- I do so like this punch. Nowadays, my parents are gone, my relations have gone in different directions or have their own celebrations so it is just my immediate family and Milk Punch is really for a crowd, so I don't make it anymore. But in case YOU are having a crowd over the holidays, pass on your old standby egg nog recipe and try this one. It's easier to make anyway! This is not Lynn and Tony's secret recipe, but one I found many years ago in a newspaper. It's every bit as good, if not better.



Milk Punch
Ingredients:
8 cups milk, very cold
1 pint coffee ice cream, somewhat softened
2 cups good quality bourbon
1 cup good quality rum
freshly ground nutmeg

Method:
Blend milk, bourbon and rum in a punch bowl. You can float the ice cream on top or, if you like a sweeter drink from the first, blend the ice cream into the milk mixture and serve. I like to float the ice cream on top; it melts quickly and sweetens the punch. Sprinkle with freshly ground nutmeg and serve.

12.12.2008

Cranberry Scones

The Christmas tree is up, decorated and magically alive with lights. Now I can sit back and enjoy my efforts. Honestly, it becomes more difficult every year; this year I couldn't find the lights and completely lost a box of my favorite ornaments. I am ashamed to admit I gave up and bought new lights but thankfully my daughter discovered the precious (some of which she hand carried from a trip to Germany) box of ornaments buried in a back corner of my storage unit. I knew I had put them someplace safe and out of the way, but in the back corner under a pile of old clothes? Then, for the first time, I had to ask someone to help me put the tree in the stand. Growing older: it sucks.

My mother, as I have mentioned, was a superb cook and handled any number of people for dinner until one Christmas Eve when she turned to me with a slightly frantic look in her eyes and said: "My cake has not turned out right and the salad didn't gel. I didn't put the meat in at the right time and everything is a mess. I have to admit I am getting too old to manage dinner for our family." It upset her greatly and from that day until she passed away, my brother and his wife took over our Christmas Eve celebration and I had everyone at my house for Christmas Day dinner.

The reason I mention this is because my sister called last night and complained she thinks she has forgotten how to cook. Just making some cookies was a problem: she burned them twice and when she got a good batch, they didn't taste right. I reminded her of Mother's comment years ago and she laughed and agreed it comes to us all. Of course, she has six children and they come for the holidays with their spouses and children; however, I don't ever remember her saying she had these cooking problems before. Frankly I think there is just too much on her plate: decorating the tree and the house, wrapping gifts, attempting to get some of the cooking done in advance and into the freezer, planning breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the holiday week and trying to keep herself and everyone else full of the spirit of Christmas. Once everyone gets there, her daughters help but there are always weather worries in Michigan- will flights be delayed? Will we be making airport runs in the middle of the night?
My Christmas will not be so hectic; I will only have my daughter and son here this year as my oldest son and his family from Michigan were here for Thanksgiving. My daughter will be staying here, but likes to make her own breakfast and lunch. My son lives nearby, works nights in the ER of a local hospital and will only be joining us for our traditional Christmas morning brunch, then he will go home and go to bed. His night is our day. A difficult way to live, but he seems to thrive on it.

I like to try something new each year for our brunch. One thing I cannot change is the egg/cheese soufflé dish my children insist upon- now a tradition. It's a simple recipe I found in the 60's in the old Make It Now Bake It Later series. (I don't have a photo of it but will take one this year and post it and the recipe after Christmas.) We start off with a White Peach Bellini. Yum, shades of Venice! I found a source in California for white peach puree; it arrives frozen in a 30 ounce container. There is a minimum order so I suggest you get some friends together to share the cost with you. You can order online at http://perfectpuree.com/ or call them at 707-261-5100.
A couple days before you are going to use it, just remove it from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. Get a lovely bottle of prosecco and you are set to go. We like a couple tablespoons of the purée in the glass, then fill carefully with chilled prosecco. Stir gently. Sip with pleasure.

For brunch this year I decided on a fresh fruit platter and some cranberry scones to accompany our cheese soufflé. I've had the scone recipe for some time and served them for the first time at Thanksgiving breakfast; everyone loved them. I adore scones anyway and find these to be light, not too sweet, a little tart and altogether very festive. They really don't need butter either, but it's hard to resist.


Cranberry Scones






Ingredients:3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, cold
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Method:Place the cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they are crushed. Set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in food processor. Pulse once and then cut up the butter and add. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour the mixture into a bowl and mix in cranberries, nuts and orange rind by hand. Stir in buttermilk with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn out on a floured board and roll out to a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut out with a cookie cutter and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush with the milk and sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake in a 400° oven on a lower rack for about 15 minutes or until browned. Serve hot with butter and be ready for seconds.

12.07.2008

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad with Limoncello
Adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa



Ingredients:

7 ounces Greek yogurt (recommended: Fage Total)
1/3 cup good quality bottled lemon curd
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries ( 1 pint)
1 cup blueberries ( 1/2 pint)
1 cup raspberries (1/2 pint)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoon Limencello liqueur
1 banana, sliced
Fresh mint sprigs

Method:

For the lemon yogurt topping: stir together the yogurt, lemon curd, honey and vanilla until smooth. Set aside. You can leave it at room temperature, or make it ahead and refrigerate; but bring it to room temperature before serving.

Carefully toss the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sugar and Limencello. Allow to stand at room temperature for at least 5 minutes. Fold in the banana just before serving.

I serve it in pretty glass bowls with some lemon yogurt on top; put the sauce on the table as well as everyone always wants more. Garnish with fresh mint sprig.

12.01.2008

Bread Pudding

My mother was a fantastic cook- not the C.I.A. trained chef kind, but an old fashioned, traditional home cook. Her mother once owned a bakery with her sister when they were young marrieds and years later, during my childhood, my grandmother lived with us for half the year. We never knew what delight would greet us when we walked into the kitchen-something different every day. Often homemade noodles (hanging over kitchen cabinet doors to dry) which she would boil briefly and then fry in butter with some shallots and Swiss cheese; another day we would find her scrumptious potato pancakes waiting for our lunch; the kitchen was always warm with the heavenly fragrance of whatever treat she had cooking: long johns, breads of all kinds, jams, cakes and pies to die for- the list goes on and on.
So my mother came by her cooking abilities naturally and she was inventive to boot, so when I got around to writing a family cookbook, I used many of her recipes. Those that were not hers were either her mother's or recipes from the many talented cooks she had as good friends, or gleaned from magazines and cookbooks (of which she had an enormous collection) as well as a result of the cooking classes she constantly took. But even then, she would alter the recipes in some way to make them even better.

Mother had been making bread pudding for years- the kind everyone made back then; it was delicious and it was comfort food. So simple to throw together: torn bread, a mixture of eggs, milk and vanilla poured over it and baked. We loved it. Poured cream all over it.

In the 80's, Mother read a book by Nora Ephron called Heartburn; somewhere in the book there was a recipe for bread pudding that intrigued her. Nora Ephron referred to it as caramelized mush. My sister and I were with her at the time and after hearing her read aloud the ingredients, we talked her
into making it that very day. Ambrosia! How can I describe it best? It is a heavenly, fattening, gooey/crunchy bread pudding. We have never made any other kind of bread pudding since. Haven't even been tempted. It's so rich it really needs nothing on top (but we pour cream on it anyway) and it is impossible to stop opening the oven and breaking off the crunchy pieces on top while it is still baking. And it's actually good cold! Now that I'm drooling just thinking about it, here's the photo and recipe. Don't ever say I didn't do you a favor!

Bread Pudding




Ingredients:2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 loaf good bread, torn in chunks (I use challah)
1 cup raisins
6 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vanilla

Method:
With an electric mixer in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed and add the eggs one at a time. Add the milk with the mixer on low then add all the remaining ingredients except the bread. Remove from the mixer and and then dump in the torn bread. Mix briefly and carefully.
Pour into a large buttered casserole. Bake in a 350° oven for 2 hours.
Stir thoroughly from bottom to top, including the sides, after the first hour.
Serve with cream, although it is rich enough to eat all by itself- the cream actually breaks up the sweetness.
This is really rich so serves perhaps 8-10.




11.30.2008

Brussel Sprouts Parmesan

Thanksgiving 2008 is a memory and my home is again quiet. Sometimes I like it, sometimes not. Our holiday dinner was a huge success even with a small disaster in the kitchen. Well, OK. It did not seem a small disaster at the time, but as always, in retrospect, it was not without its amusing side. If we can't laugh, what else is there? The sink chose a perfect moment to clog up and not drain at all about one hour before dinner was served. We weren't worried about dinner, because it was ready to be served. Unfortunately, all I could think about during dinner was: how will we manage the clean-up without running water? And I mean in the sink AND the dishwasher. Unfortunately, this drain also housed the garbage disposal which was working fine if indeed the water would not back up into the sink. With the "use no chemicals in your garbage disposal" ringing in our ears, we tried a plunger; we called neighbors who just might have a more workable and recently purchased plunger, one with a flange that would create a better seal ; most people were out for the holiday but one kind soul came over with his plunger, only to discover it was the same as ours. Old. One of my sons tore himself away from football long enough to get in the car and search for anything open where a plunger might be found. No dice. So we relaxed and had a dinner to be thankful for; we ate and drank (we can be forgiven for perhaps imbibing a bit more than usual knowing what was to come), enjoyed our food and family and put off the final moment: pots, pans and dishes.

We scraped out what we could and the boys came up with the idea of going outside to use a hose to rinse out the pots and pans. It is compost, after all. After refrigerating what we could, we washed glasses in a pan and dumped the remains in a toilet and put as much in the dishwasher as we could, optimistically assuming it would be usable the next day. We left things to soak overnight; I sprayed for ants liberally around the kitchen. And then we shut the door and put it out of our minds until we could call a plumber the next morning. Yes, all's well that ends well. Potato peels were the culprit and I received a brief lecture on running water long enough when using my disposal.
I hope your dinner was as delicious as ours. Surprisingly, one of my sons had asked what I was serving for dessert and when I said I had decided on a pumpkin flan, he asked if I would make a bread pudding. Not something I would normally do when I am serving cloverleaf rolls AND stuffing, but saw no reason to say no. He had it recently at a restaurant and wanted to taste mine- which had to be better, right? It was. It has an interesting history and I will give you the recipe next week as I took a super photo of it.

Anyway, I have mentioned before that every Thanksgiving my family asks me to include a brussel sprout dish that has now become a tradition. I have no idea where I originally found the recipe, probably some cookbook or magazine and I have even less of an idea why I would ever serve this dish as my family is not overly fond of brussel sprouts. But back in the days when I would have 12 to 16 people for dinner every holiday that came along, I was desperate for new ways to make vegetables. It was such a hit now my family insists upon it.

It has lots of Parmesan, garlic, prosciutto and cream and is altogether delicious. You can get the kids to slice the sprouts and then turn on the kitchen fan full blast as it emits a strong odor while cooking. What I like is I can make it the day before, let it cool a bit, cover and refrigerate and the next day bring it to room temperature and bake. Trust me, you will adore this.


Brussel Sprouts Parmesan




Ingredients:1 stick unsalted butter
5 cloves garlic, crushed
4 ounces prosciutto, cut in slivers
2 pounds brussel sprouts, trimmed and shredded
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup sweet Marsala
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan

Method:Preheat oven to 350°.
Melt butter and add garlic and prosciutto. Cook 4 minutes. Add sprouts and cook 4 minutes. Stir in the flour, both creams and the Marsala. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the Parmesan and mix until it is melted. Pour into a casserole and top with the remaining Parmesan.
You may refrigerate overnight at this point.
Bring to room temperature before baking. Bake for 20 minutes.
Serves 8-10

11.21.2008

Denison Chocolate Squares

We all met in new York City last week for my daughter's birthday. There is nothing quite like the Big Apple in November. It snowed the morning we left to come home, a treat for a Florida transplanted Michigander. Of course, I do remember this: there are only two times snow is beautiful: the first snow, when it really doesn't stick, and the first really heavy snow which makes everything clean and fresh. The rest of the time, yuk, no thank you. Slush, black ice, salted roads leaving you with dirty cars, treacherous driving, layered clothing and cold houses.

But right now, the trees are golden yellow and the air is brisk, making window shopping a treat. Someone ought to tell everyone up there that the economy is bad! The city was packed, the restaurants were jammed and everywhere we went people were shopping and carrying a multitude of shopping bags. In Florida, the malls are empty and you have no problem getting reservations at restaurants. That might change when the snowbirds arrive, but I doubt it. My daughter said: "These are probably not New Yorkers, they are visitors- coming to do their Christmas shopping." She may be right, but the economy is bad everywhere. It was a puzzle. The last hurrah?

Getting there was not easy either. Spirit canceled my son's flight from Detroit for some unknown reason and they had to hustle to find another, making them waste an entire day when they only had two days to begin with. It was their daughter's first trip to NYC. What a shame; she really missed some important landmarks in the city, but we crammed in as much as we could. They had actually boarded and were told to get off. The pilots marched off too. And our flight from Florida was delayed by 2 hours, making us arrive midway through the first family "reunion" dinner. Something about the FAA delaying flights so too many aren't landing at the same time. It's no fun to fly anymore.

My Michigan family is to coming to Florida for Thanksgiving this weekend. (I am keeping my fingers crossed because they booked on Spirit again- many months ago.) They always insist upon having Denison Chocolate Squares in the freezer for snacks. These are bar cookies I named after my good friend Mary Denison; we both enjoyed cooking and took some fun classes together at what was then the Wilson estate- Meadow Brook Hall- in Rochester, Michigan.

An interesting story worth telling, Meadow Brook Hall actually is the fourth largest historic house museum in the United States and is renowned for its superb craftsmanship and architectural detailing. It was built between 1926 and 1929 as the residence of Matilda Dodge Wilson (widow of auto pioneer John Dodge) and her second husband, lumber broker Alfred G. Wilson. The 110-room, Tudor-revival style mansion is complete with vast collections of original art and furnishings. In 1957, the Wilsons donated their residence, its collections, the estate's 1,500 acres and $2 million to found what would become Oakland University.

The kitchens of Meadow Brook Hall were old world charming. A fun and perfect setting for a series of cooking lessons! This little gem was one of two recipes given to us during a session on bar cookies. No baking, kids would love to help make them and they freeze beautifully.


Denison Chocolate Squares




Ingredients:1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Method:Melt the butter and add the sugar, cocoa, egg and vanilla. Cook over medium heat like a soft custard, stirring constantly. This will only take a few minutes. Remove from heat, add the graham crackers and nuts. Press into a rectangular pan and cool completely. Cream the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla pudding mix. Pour onto the graham cracker crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate until just set. Touch your finger to the top; if the topping does not stick to your finger, it is ready. Melt the chocolate with the butter and spread over the topping. Refrigerate until the chocolate is barely set (use the finger test again) and then cut lightly into squares. If you wait too long the chocolate will crack when you cut it. Refrigerate again, cut deeper into squares, refrigerate or freeze.

11.11.2008

Frozen Fruit Salad

Does everyone already have this recipe? I bet everyone over 50 does and those younger probably got it from their mothers. I would love to tell you this recipe came from a great, great grandmother, but no doubt this frozen fruit salad recipe was in a newspaper or a magazine in the 50's. Or at least that's what someone told me years ago. So often companies like Kraft or Pillsbury printed recipes in magazine or newspaper ads to tempt you to use their food products. (I still give these a glance because some are really good.) At any rate, my mother made this salad every Thanksgiving and Christmas as far back as I can remember. So I really think it might be older than the 50's because I have photographs of this salad on our holiday table when I was a teenager and who knows how long Mother had the recipe before then?

Now it has become a family tradition for my family as it has in many other households. My father adored it, my children insist upon it to this day and no doubt their children will eventually ask for the recipe. It's a cliched old thing; corny even. It looks as though it would be sweet, but surprisingly, it isn't. What with the whipped cream, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise, I would hate to see the calorie count. (I have MasterCook, a food program that figures that all out for me, but I am afraid to check and ruin Thanksgiving dinner for myself.) Serving it twice a year is not all that bad and we all splurge on foods during holidays we would never eat any other time of the year.

Most of us have a recipe for something called Ambrosia; while the ingredients in Ambrosia are somewhat similar (there is more fruit), it's not frozen. I wonder which came first? They came from the same era for sure. I was surprised to discover some frozen fruit salad recipes call for other fruits which really don't freeze well -like bananas, strawberries and even dates; some suggest adding a pink food coloring. I much prefer the recipe exactly the way it was passed on to me: à la natural- kind of pale yellow probably because of the crushed pineapple and pineapple juice. Why would anyone want it to be pink?? That's akin to putting green food coloring in a key lime pie, a gastronomic faux pas of extreme proportions, especially to a southerner. Which I am, sort of.

Well anyway, here it is: the second of my make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes. (The first was the Butternut Squash Soup) This recipe makes enough for 2 small loaf pans (I like the 4" by 8" size) which I find the most convenient way to freeze this; you can fit the smaller pans in the freezer neatly and when you're ready to serve it, just cut the frozen salad into slices. You can get about 6-8 slices per loaf pan, depending on how generous your slices are.


Frozen Fruit Salad


Ingredients:
1 can drained crushed pineapple
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
20 maraschino cherries, cut in half
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/4 pound (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 ounces grated cheddar cheese

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup pecans, ground
1/2 to 3/4 cup whipping cream, whipped
dash cayenne pepper, dash salt

Method:
Mix pineapple, confectioners sugar, cherries and marshmallows. Beat cream cheese until smooth and add the grated cheese, then mayonnaise. Beat until well blended. Add cayenne and salt, then fold in the pecans. Add the fruit and then fold in the whipped cream. Pour into wax paper-lined loaf pans, cover and freeze. Serve over lettuce.

11.03.2008

Please Pass the Salt

Recently I watched someone making caramels. When she was ready to twist them in wax paper, she sprinkled them with Fleur De Sel De Camargue French Sea Salt. I hate to admit being out of step with the most current condiments but I had never heard of it. I am not a professional chef, just a basic home cook but I read a lot, love good food and try to keep up with the trends.
What makes this salt different? Should I buy some? Is it better for some reason?

I did some reading, some Googling, found all these questions answered and then some! I never dreamed there would be so much information out there just about salt. When to use which kind, flavor tests of all brands, detailed descriptions of the differing harvesting methods and price comparisons. What makes my writing this little salt essay really amusing is (much to the chagrin of my family) I have to force myself to salt things sufficiently to begin with, let alone be fussy about which brand of salt I am going to use.

Let's start with my pantry: I stock two kinds: regular old fashioned Morton table salt which I use mostly for baking and filling my salt shakers and a coarse grained Morton kosher salt which I use in my salt mill and for the rest of my cooking. Never really considered I needed anything else. I have never compared my salts nor have I ever considered getting a group together and doing a salt tasting. I don't even remember having a discussion with anyone about which salt they use. And now it won't be necessary because results of various salt testings are available online and in magazines.
After much consideration I narrowed a list down to four and will give you a brief description of each, allow you to compare photos of them, tell you where each come from, how they are made, how much they cost, how and where to use each one and how they differ in taste.

Some basic facts: All salts we consume are made from sea salt or mined from inland salt deposits. There are four common varieties: table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, and fleur de sel (a type of sea salt).
The difference in taste between sea salt and table salt is a matter of texture and time. The flaky crystals of sea salts make them dissolve on the tongue more quickly. That's why some people think they are saltier.


Morton Table Salt:

Table salt is made by sending water into salt deposits and then evaporating the mixture until only salt crystals remain. It's a very fine salt. Use for: baking, salting water for pasta, filling salt shakers and a helping hand around the house. About 4 ¢ per ounce. (Don't you love the little girl with the umbrella?)


Morton Coarse Kosher Salt:

Kosher salt gets its name because of its role in making meat kosher. Although kosher salt is harvested like table salt, it is raked during evaporation to give the grains a block-like structure that allows the crystals to better absorb blood from animal carcasses. This turns out by far to be the most popular salt; most chefs use this in their everyday food preparation. It is good on fries, shines on the rim of a margarita glass, enhances pasta dishes and in general is an all purpose salt. About 6 ¢ per ounce, a bargain considering everything it does. ( The little girl with the umbrella got smaller and seems to be taking a back seat to a mass of vegetables.)



Maldon Sea Salt:

The British coastal town of Maldon, Essex, has been a salt-producing center since the Middle Ages. The flakes of this salt are "evaporated in large stainless steel pans, using many of the traditional skills handed down by generations of salt-makers. The salt crystals are hand harvested daily using traditional long handled rakes, a process known as 'drawing the pans.' "
The crystals give a wonderful crunch and glitter to almost any food. This was a favorite with chefs for finishing dishes: sprinkling on meats and vegetables and believe it or not, dusting your ice cream with this salt enhances the flavor. (I always have liked salt on my watermelon and cannot wait to try this particular salt on my next wedge.) Cost: 65¢ per ounce.


Fleur de Sel:

Often regarded as the world's finest salt, it is texturally superior to any other. When sun and wind conditions are ideal, fleur de sel, "flower of salt," blossoms on the surface of salt ponds. It is hand-harvested, collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Traditional French fleur de sel is collected off the coast of Brittany. It is slightly damp, has a vague ocean smell and is a little greyer than the other salts. Uses: topping off steak and vegetables. Cost: a whopping $2.16 per ounce! It's lovely, really, but is it worth that price?

So to conclude: use regular old fashioned table salt for baking etc.; use kosher salt for sauces, in soups and stocks and in seasoning liquid mixtures. As for the specialty salts, you probably don't need to rush out and buy them, but if a food fanatic is kind enough to present you with one, use it for the finishing touches on just about everything, desserts included.

I hate to say I told you so, but I guess my pantry was stocked correctly to begin with!

11.02.2008

Fennel On My Mind

Did you like licorice as a child? I didn't and when I see Twizzlers in the candy section I wonder who on earth buys this candy? Because fennel's aromatic taste is strikingly reminiscent of licorice/anise I have avoided experimenting with it in my cooking always figuring I would dislike the flavor. However, everyone except me seems to be using fennel in their salads, as a side vegetable, in gratins along with potatoes and even with fruit for dessert. I have an Italian friend who said, and I quote: "We Italians LOVE our fennel! It was on every dessert table along with pastries." Everywhere I turn, I see fennel listed in ingredient lists. I see it used on the Food Network. I see it used in recipes in magazines and newspapers. I decided to put my licorice prejudice aside and find out what this love affair with fennel is all about.

For one thing I learned anise and "sweet anise" are two very different things. Anise is a pungent pint-sized herb, while "sweet anise" — or fennel — is a hearty vegetable with a thick, bulbous base and celery-like stems that grow upward to 5 feet tall. It has a sweeter, more delicate flavor than anise and its texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy and striated texture. Need I say it is also loaded with vitamins and antioxidants and everything that is good for you. Oddly enough, it is also supposed to ward off fleas in kennels and stables (Hmmmm. Sometimes there is too much information!) And in Medieval times, to ward off evil.

How to buy and store fennel? First of all, it is readily available everywhere. Good quality fennel will have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and tight around the bulb. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color. There should be no signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the vegetable is past maturity. Despite rumors to the contrary, there is no distinction between male and female fennel. The rule to remember is: choose a bulb that is firm, round and fat over one that is elongated and flat. Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator crisper, where it should keep fresh for about four days. It is best to consume fennel soon after purchase since as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor.

Fennel is a versatile vegetable that plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy. It appears that fennel's strength may be its ability to blend and enhance other flavors. In other words, tuna tastes more tuna-like when cooked with fennel. Just about any salad has more zing with the addition of crunchy, raw fennel. Grilled fish becomes symbolic of Mediterranean cuisine when stuffed with lemon slices and fennel fronds.

Well, OK. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So I pulled out some recipes and tried them; I am now completely won over. I'm even going to experiment with other recipes. Please don't let your dislike of anything licorice stop you from trying the following recipes. The taste is milder than you would expect and I tried it in both a fresh salad and roasted in the oven, which has turned out to be my favorite way to serve fennel and oh so simple to make. Remember my Italian friend said it was always served with dessert- as a digestive. If you like ice cream and have a churn, don't hesitate to make the fennel ice cream. It is extremely mild and what a surprise and treat to serve your guests along with an apple or pear crisp. Better yet, look up a recipe for pear clafouti. Fennel ice cream would be perfect with that.

Fennel Salad with Avocado
Adapted from Lyon in the Kitchen, Nathan Lyon
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 apple, thinly sliced
1 large ripe avocado, seeded and diced
2 cups baby spinach or mache (lamb's lettuce)
1 tablespoon plus a splash sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup crushed toasted pecans
1/2 cup cherry/teardrop tomatoes, halved
Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved, for the top
Method:
In a large bowl, combine sherry vinegar with salt and pepper and whisk in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil until it thickens. Cut fennel in half and then lengthwise into very thin slices. (use a mandoline if you have one.) Add fennel, shallots, tomatoes, avocado, apple, and pecans. Season and toss. Add some baby spinach or mache. Serve on a plate with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and cheese slices.


Roasted Fennel
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten

Ingredients:
2 large fennel bulbs
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan shavings

Method
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Cut off the stems of the fennel and slice the bulb in half lengthwise. Slice the bulb vertically into 1/2-inch-thick slices, cutting right through the core.
Coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Spread the fennel slices out on the baking sheet, sprinkle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Roast the fennel slices for about 45 minutes to an hour, checking first at 40 minutes. The edges should be crisp and brown. Remove from the oven and cover with Parmesan shavings.

Fennel Ice Cream
Gourmet Magazine, October, 2007

Ingredients:
1 2/3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks

Method:
Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.
Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, then quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes.
Serve with pear crisp or pear clafouti.

10.27.2008

Butternut Squash Soup

The tail end of a cold front moved through South Florida last night and prevented us all from becoming babbling idiots after the many long months of heat and humidity. It won't get out of the 70's today and is supposed to go down to the 50's tonight. Doesn't sound like much to get excited about? But to us it means fall has arrived.....and a day like this is the reason we live in Florida: not a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze and we can finally throw open our windows and doors. (And give our electric bills a break.)
It's a perfect time to give some thought to my Thanksgiving menu now that we are cooler and Halloween is days away. It looks as though I am having some of the family here and I like to plan ahead, freeze what I can so I can spend time with children, grandchildren and friends.

There are certain dishes my family insists upon: butternut squash soup, turkey of course, a brussel sprout dish they all adore and that really, really old recipe for frozen fruit salad. It astounds me everyone still looks forward to seeing that salad on the table. Other side dishes and the dessert are up to me. Dessert is usually pumpkin something or other. Perhaps I'll try a pumpkin roulade this year; I read a recipe for it recently and have yet to try it.

This year, we shall start the festivities with a scrumptious Bellini or two (or three). We had them last Christmas and all I can say is YUM! I already sent for and received the white peach puree; you can order it overnight (it arrives frozen) from The Perfect Puree Company in Napa, California. I noticed they also had a coconut puree and because my family loves my coconut bread toasted for breakfast (AND there is a minimum order) I ordered some of that as well.

When we lived in Michigan, my mother used to buy an enormous hubbard squash at least once every fall. We all adored it- especially when it was a lovely dry one. After baking she would beat it much like mashed potatoes and she added butter, salt and pepper and a little brown sugar, but not much. Sometimes when the squash came out of the oven, it was somewhat watery and she had to cook it down to dry it out a little, but it never tasted as good as a hubbard squash that was dry to begin with. Is there a trick to knowing when a hubbard squash is going to be dry before buying and baking? If anyone knows the answer, let me know. Mother also used acorn squash a lot, halving it and putting butter and brown sugar in the center. I still bake it often, but I just use salt and pepper.


Butternut squash is a member of the gourd family and is a winter squash as are acorn and hubbard. (Summer squash would be a squash like zucchini or yellow squash; they have thinner skins.)It has a hard, thick skin and it is filled with seeds. When picking one out, choose a squash that feels heavy for its size, with blemish-free skin, and no soft, moldy spots. Although the squash is native to Mexico and the surrounding areas, the most popular butternut squash is the Waltham Butternut which was originally grown in Massachusetts. There are so many ways to serve it: in a risotto, in lasagna, in soups, in ravioli, custards, breads and pancakes.

I think you will like my soup recipe; I use it as an appetizer- a small cup of it to kick off the dinner. It has lots of flavor and the touches of bacon, Marsala and fresh thyme marry perfectly with this squash. You could easily serve it for lunch or dinner as the main course. I freeze it after after I have added the stock and simmered it for 20 minutes. You can then thaw it when you wish, add the heavy cream, seasonings and Marsala and reheat.


Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Thanksgiving The Williams Sonoma Kitchen Library



Ingredients:1 butternut squash, about 3 pounds, halved lengthwise, remove seeds and fibers
6 slices of bacon, chopped
2 yellow onions, diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
fresh thyme leaves, whole, for garnish
5 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons Marsala
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:Turn your oven on to 375°.
Place the squash, cut sides down, in a baking pan. (I put tin foil down first to save clean up) Add water to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Bake about 45-50 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Let it cool and then scoop out the flesh. You will need 3 and 3/4 cups.

Saute the bacon about 3 minutes and then add the onions and thyme. Cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a food processor ( and in several batches) puree the squash and onion mixture until smooth. Place in a large saucepan and add the chicken broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. At this point, you can remove it from the stove, cool it and freeze.
When ready to use, thaw the soup overnight and place in a saucepan, reheat, add the cream, Marsala, cayenne, salt and black pepper. If you would like a thinner soup, add more broth.
Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh thyme. Serves 8-10.




10.22.2008

Cloverleaf Rolls

We had a discussion about homemade bread after a meeting I went to last week: how much we all loved fresh bread, how our mothers and grandmothers thought nothing of making it on a regular basis. Now, rarely does anybody take the time to make homemade rolls or bread; it's understandable as life has become so very complicated. Everyone is busy with work and family and general day to day living leaves us with little energy at the end of the day. If you have free time on a weekend, are you going to spend it kneading bread? Probably not. And yet while making bread from scratch is more time consuming than buying it, there's just no comparison between rolls that come out of a plastic bag and rolls that come out of your own oven. And need I add: freshly baking bread is a heaven-sent bouquet. How about trying it on a rainy Saturday?

My grandmother and her sister owned a bakery in Detroit for many years when they were young women. In later years, Grandma spent several months of each year living with us and all we could think of walking home for lunch was what was going to be on the table. Long Johns? Fried noodles? Fresh bread? Rhubarb pie? My grandmother made them all- and perfectly too- I recognized that even as a child. Naturally my mother was an excellent baker as well and she passed her abilities on to my sister and I.

Surprisingly, my recipe for cloverleaf rolls did not come from my grandmother or mother; I found it in a bread book that was given to me just after I was married. The book was put out by a flour company- I don't recall which one. I made most of the bread, roll and sweet roll recipes in that book at some point or another over the years. The cookbook is long gone, but I saved my favorite recipes and the cloverleaf roll recipe in this cookbook is delicious. The rolls are slightly sweet and tender as can be. And surprisingly easy to make. I like to make them entirely by hand, including the kneading. Kneading by hand is worth the effort: you can feel the texture of the dough change right under your hands. No mixer, you really don't need one. Mixing and kneading take very little time; most of the time is spent in rising, so plan to make them when you have other things to do around the house. I now make these once or twice a year and serve them for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There is just something comforting about cloverleaf rolls; they remind me of..... home. And guess what? They freeze beautifully.

Cloverleaf Rolls


Ingredients:
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled to lukewarm)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening or butter (I use a mixture of butter and crisco)
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

Method:
Place the milk in a saucepan and place it over heat. Before it boils and when a skin forms over the top, remove it from heat and cool it to lukewarm.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, beaten egg, shortening and 2 cups of flour. Mix by hand; it will be a very sticky dough. Add flour until the dough holds together. Turn it out on a floured board and knead for at least six minutes, adding flour as needed. (Fold the dough in half and use your body weight to push the dough into itself. The beginning of the kneading process might require a lot of flour. Be generous to start, but try not to add more than the dough can easily incorporate, or you will throw off the flour-yeast-water-salt ratio. Give the dough a quarter turn (90 degrees). Grab the other side and fold it in half. Again, with a lot of weight behind it, push the newly folded half into itself. Repeat this process until the dough is smooth, silky, and elastic.)
Place the dough in a greased bowl, flip it over once so both sides are greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down, divide in thirds, then each of those in half. You will need to make 36 one inch balls by rolling them between your palms. Grease a muffin tin well and place three little balls in each one. This recipe should make 12 largish rolls.

Brush the tops lightly with melted butter and let the rolls rise again until doubled.


Bake in a 400° oven for 15 to 20 minutes.






10.11.2008

Ghivetch

Even after all the years I have lived in Florida, I still can't get used to the idea that it is almost Halloween. Fall has not begun here yet. Yes, it may surprise you to discover we do have a change of seasons but it takes a good strong cold front coming through for us to sit up and take notice. As for now, it's still hot and humid in Florida and I long for the Michigan fall. For the gold and red trees, for pumpkin fields, for cider and donuts, for University of Michigan football games, for trick or treating in the brisk night air, for leaves falling from trees, swirling to the ground and even for getting the sweaters out of my closet. I remember being in northeastern Michigan at the old family cabin in Standish and looking out over the Rifle River.


Fall also makes me think of hot soups- something we don't make very much in Florida. My sister is a master soup maker and so was my mother; I will share some of their recipes with you now and then. But today, I feel like a good hearty vegetable soup called Ghivetch. One of my favorites because it works for lunch or dinner- along with some French bread to sop up the juices. Like most stews it is better the next day and freezes beautifully. I can't remember where I found the recipe but I do know it is delicious, good for you and I love the fragrance from the kitchen filling the house while it cooks.

The history of Ghivetch (pronounced you-vetch with the accent on the vetch) is rather convoluted. People refer to it alternately as Moldavian, Romanian and Bulgarian. Let's just say it is a blending of the cookery of the Balkan states, Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria and, because of the substantial number of immigrants from these countries, it is particularly well known in Israel. Ghivetch is a medley of stewed vegetables similar to ratatouille, sometimes served with yogurt. My recipe does not use meat, fish or yogurt but I have found several that do. The choice is up to you. I cannot call it entirely a vegetarian dish because of the beef bouillon but I don't know why you couldn't use a vegetable broth instead. Anyway- serve it with some crusty French bread and wouldn't an apple crisp be a great finale?


Ghivetch




Ingredients:
1 cup carrots, sliced
1 cup green beans, sliced
1 cup diced potatoes
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup celery, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1/2 Bermuda onion, sliced
1/2 head cauliflower, in florets
1/2 cup red pepper, sliced
1/2 cup green pepper, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1 can beef bouillon (or beef consomme )
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dry tarragon
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon savory (or thyme if you can't find it)

Method:Wash and prepare all the vegetables and place them in a large baking dish.
Mix the beef bouillon, garlic, olive oil, salt, tarragon, savory and bay leaf and pour over the vegetables. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake in a 350° oven for 1 and 1/2 hours. This recipe serves a minimum of 4, perhaps 6.



10.04.2008

Floating Island

Last week during a lunch with a friend we were looking through my cookbook. (She's about to make one of her own with her fabulous Italian family recipes; I can't wait!) When she got to my recipe for floating island, she jammed her finger down and said: " you have to put this one on your blog next!" So here it is. I call it the epitome in comfort food.

Americans don't make this dessert much, unhappily. It was originally a French nursery dessert called île flottante: a single "island" of meringue floating in a "sea" of crème anglaise. Oeufs à la neige is another name used, indicating many small eggs floating rather than one large one. I have had this dish often when in France (where it is more commonly found on a dessert menu than in the U.S.); they usually serve a large square island floating in the crème anglaise. It makes sense for a restaurant to make many portions in a large pan rather than individual "islands". The rare times I have found it on a menu in this country, they try to improve it with the addition of fruit; it doesn't work. This dessert is better the way it was served in the nursery: plain and simple.

Another reason I love floating island is my mother made it for us when we were children and I have her original recipe. The only change I have made over the years is I now bake the meringues; much simpler and I adore the peaks touched with a little color, which you really don't get when you poach them in milk as my mother did. If you have never tried this dessert, don't waste a minute. Make it for dessert tonight. You have all the ingredients you need in your pantry and refrigerator.



Floating Island
Ingredients:4 eggs plus 4 more whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups half and half or whole milk
seeds from a vanilla bean (optional)
cognac (optional)

Method:Preheat your oven to 250°
Beat the whites of 8 eggs with the salt and cream of tartar until foamy. Add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until smooth, stiff and glossy. Beat in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and with a large serving spoon, place 10 mounds on the parchment, making little peaks with the tops. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Place the "islands" in individual serving dishes or in one large one.

Make the crème anglaise: scald the milk. Beat 4 egg yolks (use the other yolks for something else) with 1/3 cup sugar until well blended. Temper the eggs with some of the scalded milk and then combine. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to exceed 180° or the mixture will curdle. Pour the sauce through a strainer and add the vanilla bean seeds and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla. (If you are not using vanilla bean seeds, increase the vanilla to 1/2 teaspoon.)
You may add a little cognac if you wish; I don't. Chill.
To serve, pour the crème anglaise over the islands and serve.
If I am having company, I sometimes like to serve a caramel sauce over it:
Mix 1 and 1/2 cups sugar with 1/2 cup water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir with a wooden spoon and boil over medium heat until it turns a caramel color. Remove from heat and add another 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. It will bubble up, so be careful. Return to the heat and cook until it reaches 230° on a candy thermometer. Set aside until ready to use.

10.01.2008

Awards

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Thank you Beth!  and Anula!



Chocolate Cinnamon Torte

Many years ago this recipe was printed in a New York Times cooking column; I tore it out and stuck it in a cooking notebook in which I save anything that interests me. In the 70's I was sorting through that notebook (something I don't do often enough), found the recipe and wondered why I had never made it. So I made it for my next dinner party. It was a smash hit! It is very rich torte, needs to be made a day ahead and it serves quite a few people. It is not only delicious, but makes a gorgeous presentation. One of my friends liked it so much she asked me to make it for several of her dinner parties. It's a perfect dessert for a special occasion.

I recently privately published a cookbook for my family with both old and new family recipes and lots of photos of family and recipes. Of course I included the torte and baked one so I would have a perfect photo to include in my book. At the same time, I did a more thorough search about the origin of this recipe; someone online mentioned it was originally published in Good Housekeeping magazine in the late 50's or early 60's. It may have been, but I found it in the New York Times. The few recipes for this torte online don't use cake pans to make the cookies. Using cake pans makes for fairly even cookie edges for the torte and I think makes all the difference visually. Enjoy!
Chocolate Cinnamon Torte

Ingredients:
2 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 and 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 cups whipping cream
1/2 square grated unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 square of German cooking chocolate (make some decorative curls for the top)
Method:
Prepare the pans: I use 4 cake pans as I can fit this many in my oven at the same time. You will be making 12 cookies so you will cool, reline and reuse the cake pans. Cut wax paper circles to fit the bottom only of the cake pans. Lightly grease the bottom of the pans, put in the wax paper and then lightly grease the top of the wax paper. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 375°.
Beat the butter and sugar well and add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and cinnamon. When the dough is well mixed, use about 1/3 cup of dough in each cake pan, spreading it carefully all over the bottom. It will be very thin, but make certain the bottom is entirely covered. Bake for 8-12 minutes. Watch carefully as it burns easily. You want the "cookies" to be a little brown but remove them before the edges darken. You must take them out of the cake pans immediately while they are still soft; with the tip of a sharp paring knife lift up the edge of the wax paper under the cookie and slide the wax paper (along with the cookie) out of the pan. I spread newspapers on my counters as the cookies are greasy and they need to cool. You should have enough dough for 12 cookies.
While the cookies cool, whip the cream, reserving 1 cup. With the remaining whipped cream, layer the cookies, carefully removing the wax paper as you do each layer. I probably spread about 1/2 cup of whipped cream on each layer. End with a cookie.
To the remaining 1 cup of reserved whipped cream, add the unsweetened grated chocolate, the cocoa and the sugar. Place on top of the last cookie layer and top with chocolate curls.
Refrigerate at least overnight as the cookies are crisp and the cake will break if you try to slice it the same day. Overnight, the cookies soften. Serves 10-12 if not more.

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