Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday or Anyday Medication

I ignore my children. Sometimes when they are really going at each other, I do my best to not notice it's happening at all.
I hide from my children. When they are completely making me crazy with their bickering and my husband is super impatient with them, I curl up on the couch in my office between the throw pillows and hope no one notices where I am.
Of course, there are times when I can neither ignore them nor hide from them. That's when medication is in order. I prefer red wine or even a nice stiff drink like the one Karyn made on Christmas to battle the insanity of a holiday filled with multiple personalities all in the same family. Right around the hour when the children begin running around the house and generally acting like they had been raised by wolves, the teenagers become even more sullen and mopey and the husbands seem completely devoid of any helpful behavior, that's when it's time to reach for the shot glass and the shaker. Karyn and I clear the decks and make our drinking glasses ready for the restorative elixir. We say, "Salut" or "Bottoms UP!" and send the magic potion down our throats until all is right in the world or at least we are better able to deal with it otherwise.

Karyn's Holiday "Nog"
(makes 1 large drink)
2 oz Baileys Irish Cream
2 oz Creme de Cocoa (white)
3 oz vodka
Place ice in shaker and pour all ingredients over the ice. Cover and shake until your fingers stick to the outside of the shaker. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with some kind of good chocolate you have on hand and are hiding from your husband and children.(The good stuff i.e. dark chocolate Lindt balls)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Attention Deficit Bread Baking Disorder

My friend Kim says that I have Adult ADD. She diagnosed me one day when we were sitting in a traffic jam. I was getting really angry that someone didn't properly do their job to set us up for a make up event with a big retailer and I was getting really annoyed at the situation on rte 128. To be quite honest, I don't know why my behavior made her think I am ADD. Seriously, anyone who gets a little agitated while sitting in a parking lot of cars on a major highway in MA might as well have the same diagnosis.

However, I do know that an overload of technology, reality shows, facebook, twitter, email, information, cell phones, video games, you name it has led me and just about the rest of Western society to become totally schizo and over saturated. I start to spiral out of control, trying to ingest everything I find interesting, holding on to magazines and books thinking one day I will read them, piles of crap invade my space as I acquire things for a project I would like to someday work on. How do I filter out what is important?

The only way I know how is to regain some sort of focus. That isn't to say that I in any way deal with all of the chaos. I merely shut the door on it and act like its not there. Then I make bread.

Here's the deal with bread. For the short time period required to proof the yeast and mix the dough, I can make my addled brain pay attention to one thing. If I were to try anything else more time consuming, I'm sure my mind would wander so 10-15 minutes is the max I can handle. (My generation thanks, you MTV!) Then I can go back to the madness, the answering of the emails, the pile of junk mail that I am compelled to "go through" while the dough rises. Once the first rise is complete, I am able again to focus my thoughts for the 10-20 minutes required to punch down (very therapeutic) and knead (more therapy) the dough. While I form the dough into loaves, my mind begins to chatter about all the tasks that are building themselves up around me. When in reality, if I left them undone, it would surely not end the world. In fact, I would probably be more sane if I left them all behind. O.K., I'll just do one or two little things while the dough rises again.

My oven beeps to signal 400 degrees and it's time to bake the bread. Maybe I'll force myself to relax? What about my "to-do" list that is a mile long and still growing? What about my sanity? How the heck do all of those perfect mothers manage to have such clean houses? Enough already! Since the kitchen is covered in flour, I might as well start the process again. Maybe this time I can calm myself down long enough to stop and smell the roses or at least the aroma of the bread baking!

Check out the madness by cutting and pasting this web address into your browser:

Val's Farm House White Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1 package dry yeast
2 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
pinch of salt
5-6 cups all purpose flour

Place the yeast in a small bowl. Heat the milk and the sugar in a small pan until luke warm. Pour 1/2 cup milk and sugar mixture over the yeast and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the butter to the remaining milk and sugar mixture and place over low heat until the butter is just melted being careful not to let the mixture get too hot. Add the salt.
Once the yeast mixture has started to puff up, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining milk/sugar/butter and salt mixture. Mix in enough flour to form a sticky dough.
Turn dough onto floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest in a warm spot until doubled in size.
Punch down dough and turn out onto floured board. Knead for 5 minutes and form into loaves. Place in greased bread pans and cover with plastic wrap to double in size.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake bread on middle rack for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack before slicing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vanilla Chocolate Souffle or Betty Crocker Ready to Spread Frosting

Tonight I had a fleeting good moment that spurred a memory flashback. I say fleeting because as a parent with little kids, every moment is fleeting, the good ones and the bad ones. As soon as you recognize it and your brain labels it "This is good..." it can suddenly turn into a tantrum and the older one scratching her brother on the face and barely missing his eye. You know what I mean.
Anyway, back to the "good" moment and the memory.
Just as I gave Ava and Declan some ice cream in small bowls for dessert after dinner, Ava proclaimed that she was making "vanilla and chocolate souffle" as she whipped her ice cream into a milky consistency. Declan, of course, copied his sister and said that he was making the same although he ate most of his in the process.

As Ava stirred and Declan ate, I thought about the time my sister Karyn and myself, ages 9 and 5 made our own invention out of ice cream at the "dining room" table in the house at 540 Old Meeting House Road where we grew up. Our inspiration came from an advertisement broadcast during our favorite tv show. We spent our young and formative years watching "Little House on the Prairie" on our old black and white with rabbit ears while our mother wished that "Calgon [would] take [her] away". TV was influential and it motivated us to pretend to transform Breyer's (considered pretty gourmet back then) chocolate ice cream until it became as thick as frosting. It was the 1970's and Betty Crocker had just come out with the incredibly innovative frosting in a can...ready to spread complete with a mouth watering televised advertisement and catchy jingle that made all the kids sing for the delicious, trans fatty prepared frosting. We sang the last line "Betty Crocker ready to spread frosting!" with a flourish on "ing" as we spread our melting ice cream on Nilla Wafers and popped them into our mouths. I'm sure my mother couldn't wait for us to finish and get up from the table so that she could wash the dishes and be done for the night. Just as I implored my two to "eat up" and "wipe your mouth and hands with your napkin" in anticipation of baths and thankfully, bed time. As children will, they had no concept of time or the fact that their mother might be tired after a long day of discipline, tears, laughter and hugs..(where's that Calgon?). Ava and Declan were having a great time, making a mess and getting themselves covered with sticky ice cream. Yes I am tired but I must admit, there is nothing better than having a few laughs and playing with your food with one of your siblings.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Don't Plan On It

Back in my partying days, well before children, I remember the best and most fun times were when I didn't really want to go out at all. On the nights when I had to be coerced to come along, it always seemed afterwards that I had such a good time when I obviously thought I wouldn't. I never learned from this lesson. I always had high expectations for well thought out evenings that very often turned out to be a bust.
Later, this feeling of expectation and need for planning drifted into my newly married life and came to a head soon after I had my first child. My hyper organized mind, the one that ate up all the information from parenting magazines about developing perfect little geniuses, creating lasting experiences and important life memories eventually careened out of control. I turned into the robot mom in the eighties song, "I Don't Like Mondays" the silicone chip inside her/(my) head has switched to overload...My only salvation was to let it all go.
Easier said than done, however. The balance between a little planning and organization and trying to completely orchestrate every situation is a fine line that was difficult for me to learn. It wasn't a light switch moment or advice from a book that made me turn the corner. More likely, it is a lesson I have learned after each time that I became disappointed that my expectations, my anticipation of a planned outcome of perfection did not come true. Each one wore me down like the incoming tide washing away a sandcastle on the beach. At times I am still not the master of it all but at least I am able to beat it back with a stick when it gets unruly.
My brother is coming home with his wife and new baby next week. Ethan and Catherine have not been back this way for a year and a half, so the baby hasn't ever been to the "Motherland". It's an exciting time for them but also full of family baggage on both sides and expectations as you can imagine, are plentiful. As for myself, I don't want to think about it, preferring to arrive at each day as I would in a chapter of a new and riveting novel that I am reading. I want to be excited about the unexpected outcomes. It makes for better copy, anyway. The hard part is, I understand how he must feel, wanting the visit to be perfect in every way. After all, being far away from the rest of us is hard enough, he wants the limited time back home to be everything he expects and more, the perfect memories, photo ops and all. But he knows just as I do, that people are imperfect at best. Kids get chicken pox on the way to Maine to visit Grampy and Norma, sometimes they even through up in Mom's lap on the ferry. Shit certainly does happen.
I hope he reads this and lets down even just a little bit. I hope he closes his thoughts to the plans and the expected outcomes and just decides to read the novel that is his life, waiting to see what happens with the imperfect homecoming and family gatherings where someone has a few beers and "falls out of the yard". And if he doesn't, that's o.k. too, it will just be part of the story.

For my part, my pledge is to only a plan a little bit. I'm making ice cream which can be kept in the freezer for whatever impromptu gathering may occur. And if nobody eats it, so be it. We'll have ice cream sundaes later.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Add whatever mix ins you like at the end, by hand before pouring the ice cream into containers.

5 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups crushed Oreos or crushed Heath Bars

In a double boiler over simmering water, mix the egg yolks, milk, salt and sugar. Heat while stirring constantly until mixture thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon (about 10 minutes). Transfer to container and cool in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
Set up ice cream maker. Combine cold custard mixture, cold heavy cream and vanilla. Pour into ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions. When ice cream is ready, stir in Oreos or whatever you want and transfer ice cream to two 32 oz containers. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. Lay wax paper directly on top of ice cream under container cover to keep from developing a leathery crust or freezer burn.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm Not Pretty, Not Pretty At All

When my anxiety rears it's ugly head and takes firm hold, I know I can rely on my family and friends to wrestle me back to reality. Although, I am aware,this can be quite an undertaking.
The past month has been wrought with high anxiety which manifests itself by generally spastic behavior (beyond my normal level)and in my difficulty to breath because of my control "issues". I've become manic about clean floors, washing every bit of clothing in sight as well as disinfecting anything I deem full of germs. Anyone who deviates and does not behave exactly how I want them to (read: my husband, preschool age children and dog) are subject to my yelling like the crazy lady I have become. Ultimately, all my antics tend to do is make me feel worse. I'm afraid I might die and the only memory people will hold is me acting like a raving lunatic.
It's for times like these that my people deserve my undying (Ha! Ha!) thanks. They not only willingly put up with my mania but they also step in and help, performing their own type of intervention.
A couple of weeks ago, when my gulping for air and constant yawning in an attempt to get more oxygen into my lungs was at its peak, Ted attempted to get me to laugh my way out of my syndrome during one of our weekly coffee sessions. After an hour of collaboration on a ridiculously made up story about a serial killer and the deranged woman who loves him, he said,
"So, is the anxiety all better, now?"
I laughed. Funny, just like a man to think he can "fix" it so we can all move on. But it was heart felt, so I truly appreciate the sentiment.
Throughout the madness, Debbie has been dutifully inviting us over for dinner and supplying Proseco and plenty of red wine along with love and understanding.
My mother's daily phone calls to check in have helped abate some of my more chronic symptoms. Not to mention the trips to get ice cream at Smitty's to feed the kids "dinner" and get my mind off of things.
My fear of "doomsday" behavior I'm sure has thrown my husband over the edge but he continues to keep it in check. He continues to fold the laundry and wash the dishes after dinner all in hopes that I will come back to a quasi-normal state of being.
Perhaps the best thing that happened or was planned at the last minute was the drunken stupor and hangover that followed the weekend before I went under the knife. My good friend and former roommate, Sarah came down Saturday to go out on the town (such as it is) that evening. Coincidentally, Rob had secured a babysitter to take me out to dinner so our driver was in place for the night. It all started innocently enough, dinner and some wine at Phusion. When we finished, the night was still young so it was decided that we would make a few stops in Woods Hole before heading home. When I stood up from the table, I felt a bit light headed but quickly ignored it. After all,I ate dinner and only had two glasses of wine, equivalent to any night at home.
At the Cap'n'Kidd, I chose to go for vodka, thinking this would be my best bet for a few more drinks. My favorite is a Greyhound with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, never the stuff that is poured out of a tin can. Since the "Kidd" does not offer my choice, I went with vodka and soda with a splash of cranberry and the squeeze of a lime.
Next, we were off to Shuckers where they always have the fresh squeezed option but are only open for the summer season. I should have known I was in trouble when I claimed that "I lapped" Sarah and Rob by downing two Greyhounds to their one beer each. I remember walking to the "Leeside" and asking Joe, our favorite bartender and old friend repeatedly why they took the condom machine out of the ladies room about 10 years ago. Then Sarah and I played some tunes from the juke box and I refused to leave while Huey Lewis and The News sang, "Do You Believe in Love".
Good friends know when to hide you from the fourteen year old babysitter to save you from future embarrassment and help you to get into bed safely. The next day I woke up with an excruciating headache and still wearing most of my clothes and jewelery from the night before. I could barley peel open my eyelids that were caked with smudged mascara. I can't remember the last time I was this sick. I really don't think I have ever been in such bad shape. The good news is, I realized I would rather have anxiety than a hangover like that any day. And I've never been more thankful for my friends and family who try to understand and actually put up with me.

Here's how to make your own medication:

The Greyhound (bad dog!)

1 ounce top shelf vodka
5 ounces fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice

Place ice into pint glass. Pour vodka then grapefruit juice over ice and shake 2-3 times. Pour into glass. Drink up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Field Hockey Cupcakes

Facebook is a funny and great thing especially when you are able to "friend" people from your past. Yesterday, my old freshman field hockey coach got in touch with me. (By "old" I really mean former since she is most likely only about 5 years older than me!)
When I saw Maura's name on my friend list, I immediately recalled the white frosted chocolate cupcakes decorated with crossed sticks and each of our jersey numbers which she made for our end of the season celebration. I can't remember any big games or a tie breaking goal in the last seconds of a critical game, just the cupcakes and all the fun we had. C'mon, if you know anything about me by now, it's that everything leads back to the food.
Maura came to us when we needed her much like a 1980's Mary Poppins with big hair and a bigger smile. The Falmouth High School athletic department didn't know what to do with all of the freshman girls who went out for the team in the fall of 1983. A few of my classmates went to the JV team and the rest of us were left to wonder what would become of our season. We were sceptical. I think Maura arrived late on her first day which added to our teenage attitude. One of the things that saved that first day was our desire to have fun and play the game, the other thing was Maura's enthusiasm. It won us over.
Some of the best times I had playing high school sports were spent with the girls on that team. We laughed a lot and became a tight knit group of ragtag players wearing cast off uniforms. We may not have had the skill to make the JV team but after that first day, we no longer cared. Our team was special: the first girls field hockey freshman team coached by Miss Maura Jepsen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

From March Madness to April Fever

Now that the insanity of the birthday month has passed, it's time to get down to the thank you notes which will include the many thanks for remembering me, Declan and Ava on our special days. For those of you who don't realize or know, there are far more than 3 people who celebrate during March. My aunt Nancy starts things off on March 5th and is followed by Declan on the 7th, Karyn's and my joint birthday on the11th, Val's on the 17th (also St. Patrick's day), Ethan calls his day the 21st, my nephew Ryson demands a cake on the 25th and Ava rounds out the month on the 27th. I have not even begun to mention all of the friends and extended family who claim their own days and double up on a few dates already mentioned. The whole thing is festive and makes the last lingering month of winter go by a little faster but it is exhausting. I hate to say it, but I'm glad its over!

I'm attempting to turn my attention to springtime activities and events but the weather doesn't seem to be cooperating. Coonamessett Farm opens today but if you are in Falmouth right now, you know its cold and rainy. In April on Cape Cod, this means you don't want to spend the day outside and neither do any of the resident farm animals. I checked out Spohr Garden (known for it's amazing display of daffodils as far as the eye can see) yesterday but only saw about a dozen daffodils in bloom. I don't know what I was expecting. I know that it's to early for the kind of weather that encourages flower gardens and bare feet. Maybe I've been cooped up in this house to long over the winter. Cabin fever has finally struck me down. I've fallen and I need spring time to help me up!

Friday, March 13, 2009

You Should'nt Have, But I'm Glad You Did!

Yesterday, (Thursday) I spent a good amount of my time griping that I told my husband I wanted a party and it did not look like I was going to have one. I also told just about everyone that I had to buy myself a birthday cake so that my children could celebrate me blowing out the candles. (Which is very important when you are 3 and 5 years old.)
My lovely friend, Debbie who is not only going to babysit so that I can go out for a grown up dinner this weekend, invited me over for dinner. I enjoy cooking and serving meals to my friends and family but I love it when someone else cooks, especially when it is in honor of ME.
When I arrived, Sheila with her amazing energy and her husband Jeff who is the pickiest eater I know (worse than most children, even) and Craig, Debbie's husband who bought an array of wines to please my palate, along with all of our children and, of course, Rob, too (I like to complain about my husband even though I know he orchestrates quite a lot behind the scenes) greeted me with a big "Surprise!!!" at the door.
I started feeling even more special when I read the board Debbie made which featured me starring on the cover of my own food and lifestyle magazine a la Rachael Ray and detailed happenings from 1969 and 2009.
I guess after all that complaining about the Roche Bros cake, it is obvious that someone would make me a scrumptious, homemade cake. You better believe it. Sheila made a beautiful, moist lemon cake with raspberry filling and her aunt Sheila helped her decorate it at about 11:00pm the night before, or so it is rumored.
All I can say is "Thank You" I honestly feel super special after a night like this. It's one thing when your mom cooks dinner on your birthday. You feel special and safe in that consistent, family love way. But when your friends take the time out of their crazy, busy lives to grill swordfish and make salads with vinaigrette and goat cheese, it seems like the whole world loves you.
Thanks, guys. You actually make it fun to finally belong to the "40" club!

You Shouldn't Have

I really should have posted this on 3/11/09 (Wednesday) when it was far more relevant but here goes:
I realized today when Ava said, "Mommy, you didn't blow out any candles, yet." that there would be a problem if there was no cake tonight. Since I certainly did not want to make myself a birthday cake and no one else seemed to be planning to make one or even buy one for me, it was going to be up to me to procure the cake.
Val was very kind and took pity on me. She rescued me from my children by taking them back to her house so that I could have the afternoon alone.
Off I went to Roche Bros, since they have the closest thing to a decent bakery. On my way, I decided I also did not want to cook dinner on my birthday, either. I called Rob to drop a hint. The conversation went something like this:
me: "Hi. What do you want for dinner, tonight?"
Rob: "How about chicken parm?"
me: "Are you crazy??? I don't want to cook that on my birthday!!"
Rob: "Then how about something easy like a roast chicken with rice and some vegetables?"
(Honestly, I don't know why he thinks this is at all easy, he has never roasted a chicken in his life! Clearly, he is not getting it.)
me: "Never mind, I'll think of something, bye."

As I was browsing the bakery area, my cell phone rang.
Rob: "Do we have stuff for a stir fry?"
(What is he thinking? He doesn't cook stir fry!)
me: "What did you have in mind? What is the sauce?"
(The sauce is very important to me. It must have the right flavor and consistency.)
Rob: "Oh, I thought I would just use some soy sauce and brown sugar."
me: "I appreciate the thought. But, I really don't like it when you don't use a recipe."
(Give me a break, if he was Daniel Boulud, he can do whatever he wants without a recipe. Rob is many things but he is not Daniel Boulud.)

I know what you are thinking. I maybe should have been happy with some stir fry with questionable sauce. Well, I would have been happy with take out pizza. At least I like the sauce.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Steak Revival Birthday

Thanks to Val for reviving the long lost "Rolled Steak" yesterday for the dual birthday extravaganza. Yummy!

I'm anxiously awaiting her notes so that I can have the recipe for myself. I'm also trying to brush the crumbs of my computer keyboard from the delectable, 100 calorie per portion?! dessert filled with semi sweet chocolate and ricotta cheese. I will need this recipe, too.

It was a great birthday celebration and the kids enjoyed it as well. Now if my two lovely children would understand the fact that #1 I'm now 40, officially an old lady and deserve, make that demand the respect I am due. #2 Stop fighting already and let me enjoy my afternoon. #3 Quit wining and let me have some peace!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What should you really be doing right now?

I've finally finished editing the first edition of "Lessons from Val's Kitchen Volume 1, 2008" Available now on!! I'm hoping that there aren't to many hideous mistakes. Now, I should be able to get back to the original idea, the BIG cook book: Val's Cape Cod Kitchen. I know you are all anxiously waiting for it!

Now, if I could only motivate myself to do all of the things I don't want to do like write assessments for the company that actually pays me money and cleaning the kitchen.

Tonight, Val is making rolled steak from one of the lost recipes that we cant find. It should be really good. We had to change the actual date of the Birthday dinner from Wednesday night to tonight because of a certain family who shall remain nameless but suffice it to say, they fly by the seat of their collective pants and send the rest of us who actually try and be organized into complete turmoil. (I mean this in the nicest possible way. Really, I do.)

Sadly, instead of photographing the making of this delicious meal, I am waiting for the cable guy because our phone is acting crazy and Rob actually got called into work today.

I know what you are thinking. Just get the assessments done so that you can get paid while you wait for the cable guy instead of writing on this silly blog.

Who are you? My mother?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Home Ec, Babysitting and Friendship

Right now, I am working on my March article for the Falmouth Bulletin. It's about after school snacks or my memories of afternoon snacks at Val's house. (The fact that it is already March 2 is a bit of a problem, I know.) Since I am reminiscing about school days, it is inevitable that I think of Jenny. Often, my thoughts include her funny "code" words and silly stories that we shared. Most of them may not seem funny to the outside world and some are just to sordid and un P.C. to tell. In particular, I am thinking about one that goes back to the year we met. Seventh grade is such and awkward and insecure time of life. Meeting a friend like this was like grabbing onto a rope after being thrown overboard. Enough of that. What really has been on my mind and way to inappropriate to print in the Bulletin is a song that Jenny and I made up during the babysitting "module" of our Home Economics class. Sorry, Mrs Leonard.

"Never drop a baby on a hard wood floor,
Never drop a baby on a hard wood floor,
Never drop a baby on a hard wood floor.
Unless you're sure it's dead!"

Please forgive our adolescent humor.

I hear that Home Economics is now called "Life Skills" and that the wood shop where we pounded nails while we got out our teenage frustrations is now closed. This is all very sad to me as I recall that these classes let out some steam and if nothing else allowed us to form lasting bonds over botched sewing projects and splintered wooden birdhouses.

Back to the snack research.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

French Onion Souper Food

"Plums are the new super food!"
"Eating dirt is good for you!"
These were two top headlines on the news Monday morning. Great. What if you can't get to the super market for the latest uber fruit? What if the ground is so frozen you can't even scrape up a teaspoon of dirt?
Why not try a novel approach to cooking from your pantry?
How about French onion soup? How about freshly baked bread and melted cheese? How about red wine? (I actually think that is a super food, or drink, that is.)
Onions...the new fabulous February food! Find them in your pantry today!
As long as you have beef broth and onions, and possibly some brandy, you can pull it off. If you happen to have vermouth, all the better. The next time you go to town, pull into Kappy's and stock up on cognac, vermouth and lots of red wine. Then go to Shaw's or Stop and Shop and get a big bag of onions, a couple of boxes of beef broth, a bag of flour and some yeast. Don't forget to get some Gruyere or other sharp cheese that melts well. Continually keep all of these ingredients in stock until the sun shines, around July fourth. Don't worry, you won't notice that it has snowed for days if you keep enough red wine in your cabinet and in your glass.

French Onion Soup (adapted to serve 2-4 people from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook")
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced onion (about 4-6 onions)
1/4 teaspoon each salt and sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 box beef broth (32 oz.), heated
4 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup dry white French vermouth

Using a large sauce pan or pot, melt butter and olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions the cover and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.
Blend in the salt and the sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are dark walnut color, 25-30 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 1/2 of beef broth. Blend well and bring to a simmer and add the rest of the broth, cognac and vermouth. Cover loosely and simmer slowly for 1 hour adding more liquid if necessary. Correct seasoning.

Herbed French Bread
(makes 2 loaves)
5 1/2 -6 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons yeast
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm water (115-120 degrees F)

Combine 2 cups flour, yeast, basil, thyme and salt in a stand mixer bowl. Add 2 cups warm water and beat at low speed for 1/2 minute. Beat at high speed for 3 minutes and stir in as much remaining flour as you can. Knead to stiff dough 8-10 minutes. Shape into ball. Place in greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.
Punch down and divide dough in half. Let rest 10 minutes. Roll out each piece to a rectangle, roll up and shape loaves, seal well.
Place formed loaves on a greased cookie sheet. Spray with water and sprinkle with cornmeal. Make diagonal cuts across the top of the loaves. Let rise until double, about 45 minutes.
Place a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees. Place bread on middle rack and bake for 40-45 minutes until loaves start to turn golden. Remove from oven to wire racks to cool.

To Make crostini:
Slice cooled bread on the diagonal. Brush slices with olive oil. Cover slice with grated cheese such as Gruyere and broil for 5 minutes in the oven. Serve on top of soup.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Those Were The Days...

When I was a child, I loved the illustrations of Beatrix Potter. I loved her stories, her animal characters and best of all, I loved the clothes she dressed them in. I think I received this cook book from Val, although I could be mistaken. (I'll have to check with her as her memory is so much better than mine.)I must have been about nine or ten years old when I baked "Littletown Farm Carrot Cookies" for a party in my elementary school classroom and "Little Black Rabbit's Orange-Honey Carrots" for a special family dinner Val was preparing. It surprises me as I thumb through it that this is not necessarily a cook book for a child although the illustrations would lead one to think this at first glance. However, it is a cook book for a beginner cook as the explicit directions in the recipes indicate. Even so, my mother must have had a lot of trust in me to allow me to boil water and bake at such a young age. Of course, she was always there to supervise but still allowed me to do everything from measuring, mixing, placing the dough in the oven and giving me the responsibility of properly timing as not to burn the results! Opening this slightly musty and stained cook book reminds me of the brick red colored stove and the white Formica counter top in our sunny kitchen. Mixing the stiff cookie dough by hand with an old wooden spoon and licking the bowl are memories of a simple pleasure.

5 carrots
3/4 cup water (more if carrots go dry)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soft vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup golden raisins
extra shortening

Wash the carrots, scrape them with a vegetable peeler, rinse and cut them into 1/4 inch slices with a sharp knife. Measure 1 1/2 cup carrot slices and put them into a small saucepan. Add the water and a pinch of salt, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes over medium heat or until the carrots are tender when you test them with the tip of a knife. Drain the cooking water and save to use in soups.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
While the carrots are cooking, put the white flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir them lightly with a fork until they are thoroughly mixed. Put the cooked carrots in another mixing bowl and mash them with fork. Add the soft shortening, butter or margarine and brown sugar and mix well. Beat in the 2 eggs.
Add the dry ingredients to the carrot mixture and stir until they are completely blended. Stir in the raisins.
Grease 2 cookie sheets with the extra shortening. Use a spoon to drop the cookie mixture onto the sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Use pot holders to take the cookie sheets from the oven. Remove the cookies from the cookie sheets with a spatula and put them on wire racks to cool.
Makes 4 dozen 3-inch cookies.