Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Best Holiday Cookie


  It should come as no surprise that all I really want to do right now instead of all of the multiple items on  my list: shopping, wrapping, decorating, cajoling, nagging and making dinner is to just bake cookies.  I have been waiting all month for today.  Finally enough time to mix up and bake the traditional holiday cookies that I learned to make in Val's kitchen.  Mrs. Riley's Jam Thumbprints, pecan balls and my favorite, sugar cut out cookies with frosting and sprinkles from the recipe in Val's Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.  Of course there are other sweet treats such as Cape Cod Cranberry Bark and a new toffee recipe that I tried out this year to round out the gift bags. I change it up a little each year.  But I swear, if I ever thought of not making the sugar cut out cookies, I don't think anyone would forgive me.  Except, maybe the dog, since she doesn't eat them.
  These cookies have appeared before on this blog.  Last year they were featured for Valentine's Day.  That is the beauty of this recipe.  It can be adapted for any occasion, really.  Traditionally, though, in Val's house, we only make them for Christmas and in February for the 14th.  This allows us to really miss them.  So, it's worth it to go to all the effort.  No one ever gets sick of these frosted confections.
  I hope you have time to make some cookies of your own and maybe package up a few to give to friends.  But be warned: should you bestow a gift of these treats to anyone, they will be sure to expect more next year, and the next and the next and....you get the picture.  Yes, these cookies are that good.
  Happy Holidays!  May you be blessed with warm hugs, laughter and lots of cookies!




Sugar Cut Out Cookies and Frosting
(makes 5-6 dozen)
Cookies:
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 3/4 cup flour, plus extra for rolling

Frosting:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5-7 tablespoons milk
red food coloring, red hots, sprinkles, etc

To make cookies:
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla, mix well.  In another bowl, combine baking powder and flour.  Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine until smooth.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or freeze until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment or grease pans.
Roll out a small portion  of dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-1/4 inch thickness.  (Leave the rest of the dough in the refrigerator until ready to use.)  Cut out dough using floured cookie cutters.  Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes until cookies are just golden on edges.  Remove from baking sheet and cool cookies on wire racks.  Once cookies are completely cooled (about 45 minutes), frost and decorate as desired.

To make frosting:
In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth.  Add 1 cup of sugar, and blend together.  Add vanilla and remaining sugar alternating with a tablespoon at a time of milk until desired consistency is met.  (The frosting should not be runny, but also not quite as thick as cake frosting.) Stir in 2-3 drops red food coloring for pink frosting.  Combine until all food coloring is incorporated.  Frost cookies and add red hots and/or sprinkles while frosting is still wet.  Let frosted cookies air dry for at least 4 hours before storing them in an airtight container.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tiny Christmas Tree



  "No space for a fresh Christmas Tree?  No problem!"  Mahoney's holiday Inspirations book just arrived in my mailbox.  It seems our local garden center is on to something "new".  Their fresh, tabletop trees are sure to be a hit this holiday season.
  Who knew that Val was ahead of her time back in 1976?  We had a tiny tree that year.  That is, the top of a Christmas tree.  That was all that would fit. 
  Just months before, my family had moved in to our very unfinished home.  That was the summer we had just a faucet of running water in the bathroom tub, no toilet for at least a week and my mother did her best to sterilize bottles on the charcoal grill, for my infant brother.  We had been staying in a camper down the street at a campground filled with tourists and teenagers.  Posh digs in comparison, but the night I fell out of the bed tucked into the pop-up while sleeping, out onto the leaves and branches without my mother knowing, put an end to our campground adventure.  I managed to find my way to the door and gently knock on it, frightening my mother.  For all she knew, my sister and I were tucked in safely.  Who could be knocking at the camper door in the dark night?  She was even more terrified by the realization that her five year old could have easily walked in the opposite direction, getting lost in the deep woods behind the campsite.  That was it.  Anything was better as long as it had four walls and doors that locked.
  Five months later, with the luxuries of heat and flushing toilets we were now getting ready for Christmas and living through the building from scratch process.  Partially finished rooms with bare plywood floors, woodwork needing to be sanded and painted, splinters were the norm.  But thinking back, I have to try really hard -a five year old doesn't care much about an unfinished bedroom.  I'm sure it made my mother crazy but she plugged away at it day after day while my father worked three jobs to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.  Val painted walls and trim while my brother learned to pull himself up in the playpen by her side.
  That fall, twenty foot long floor boards stacked in our living room needed to be air dried in the house as they were cut on site from a sawmill in Dennysville, ME and hauled down to Cape Cod by Val's dad, Grampie and his brother, Uncle Bob . The boards had to get acclimated to the house so that they would not shrink after being cut and nailed into place.  They were stacked close to four feet high, filling most of the room. With each board spanning eighteen inches wide, this did not leave much space except for an old rocking chair, the ugly green "comfortable" chair and a small, rickety table with a lamp attached that barely balanced on three legs and always threatened to fall over when the dog ran under it scouring for some errant crumbs or chasing our old adopted, stray cat, Sheba.  It was a cozy spot especially when the fireplace was lit.  One just had to be careful not to let an errant spark from the fresh logs burn a hole in their holiday sweater.
  So where would we put the tree?  Not having one was definitely not an option.  My sister Karyn was only nine, I mentioned already that I was the tender age of five and my brother, Ethan, well he was still enough of a toothless blob to barely notice anything, at all except to crawl around and wreak his own havoc.  A tree, was a must .  There was likely a wreath already on our front door made from greens gathered in our yard and a red ribbon perfectly tied by Val's deft hands.  But aside from that and some construction paper and glitter projects made at school, there was little else in the way of Christmas decoration.  Besides, there had to be a Christmas Tree!
  It was likely Christmas Eve by the time my parents were able to scrape up enough cash.  That evening, we all crammed into the powder blue Volkswagen Bug to go pick our tree out.  My dad and the man selling Christmas Trees sawed the top off right there in the parking lot.  I'm sure the measurements were correct right down to the last centimeter, with Val overseeing the project.  At home, my father mounted the tiny tree into an over sized metal stand made for a seven foot fir.  After Karyn and I adorned the branches with glass balls, candy canes and homemade gingerbread men, Dad hoisted our tabletop tree onto its wooden perch in the living room.  I was so happy about that little tree, deliriously happy about Santa Claus' eventual arrival and all the presents that I would find under our diminutive holiday evergreen.




  If you want to scent your home with ginger and molasses this holiday season, here is the recipe from Val's Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery that we make every year.  If you look closely at the photo in the top of the post, you will see one hanging on the tree.




Gingerbread Men
(makes about 36)

1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
2 3/4 cups flour, plus extra for rolling
2 teaspoons dried, ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk (regular milk will do)

frosting, sprinkles, candy decorations

  Mix first 3 ingredients well.  In another bowl, mix flour through baking soda.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with milk and mix until smooth.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for four hours or overnight.  (Do not try to roll out dough that is not thoroughly chilled.  It will make you weep!)
  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  Remove about 1/2 cup of dough from refrigerator.  Keep remaining dough chilled until ready to use.  Roll out on floured board to 1/4"-1/8" thick.  Cut with floured cutters and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  ( I use Silpat liners but parchment paper would also work well.)  Bake for 10-15 minutes until just before cookies brown on edges.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to rest for 5 minutes.  Transfer to wire racks and cool completely before decorating with frosting, sprinkles, etc.

  *If you want to hang these on your tree, make a hole twice as large as you want the finished product in the top of each cookie BEFORE baking.


  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Piesgiving

  


The Thanksgiving meal is really all about the pies.
  Forget about the turkey.  Although Val does it so well, I have never felt the need to learn the fine art of a perfectly roasted bird.  (I tell myself every year that I should really pick up some tips from the master.)  Her turkeys always have the crispiest of skin, waiting to be peeled off and tossed into her mouth.  "Do you want some?"  she motions to the caramel colored 20 pound beast.  This is the time you are actually allowed to rip some off for yourself.  But you only have a minute...no lingering over this yearly treat.  Eat your skin and get out of the kitchen. She shoos away everyone who has congregated around the pots and pans, handing someone a plate of appetizers to pass in the living room and keep everyone there-away from the kitchen.  The carving is a precise, yet messy operation and her concentration on the gravy must not be interrupted.  So, stay away until you are called.
  This is all so very important.  But all I can think about is pie.
  There are "Oohs" and "Aaahs" over Val's buffet.  Serving dishes overflowing with fragrant stuffing, creamed onions, homemade mashed potatoes, pureed squash from her garden, local turnip, bright, crisp green beans, warm, spicy cranberry sauce, corn for the kids topped with a melting pat of butter, rich, thick gravy and the bird, sliced, fanned out and ready for the serving fork.  "Let's get on with it."  I think to myself as I place a slice of white meat, a small spoonful of the crunchy edge of the stuffing, a taste of cranberry sauce and a nibble of corn.  I'm NOT filling up on dinner.  I am saving myself for pie.
  If you are an invited guest to this colossal, gourmet buffet, it is likely that you don't know what awaits in another room, not far from the kitchen.  The pies are kept safely in Val's bedroom, away from drooling mouths.  Their flaky crust must not get jostled, each one a work of art on its own and together, a collection of sweet delight.  Every year, we talk about who will bring what to the Thanksgiving meal.  My sister and I are usually assigned to side dishes and appetizers.  Val says, "I will make the pies."  It's a firm and non-negotiable statement.  But no one would argue after one bite of the flakiest crust and those delectable fillings.  There is Classic Apple, Kentucky Bourbon, spiced Pumpkin, rich Chocolate Cream, Strawberry Rhubarb (2 of those) and Lemon Meringue (her mother's favorite).  Mocha Macaroon and Coconut Cream have also made appearances through the years. By the way, only freshly baked pies will do. She gets up before dawn to bake off each one.  She can tell the difference even though her guests likely cannot. But her opinion is the only one that matters here.  She has set her personal pie bar high. So high that I dare not bring my own version of one of her recipes to our November banquet.  Yes, I bake these specialties for others and on occasion, will bake something for Val, but never on this day.  Thanksgiving is her time to shine.  And I am ready to eat all the pies.

Pie Crust, Classic Apple Pie, Kentucky Bourbon (a.k.a Uncle Don's Cowboy Pie) and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie  can all be found by clicking the link(s) and under the recipes tab on this blog.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ritz Crackers

Ritz Crackers

Red Ritz box
sleeves of buttery crackers
salty on top
What can I create?
 thick peanut butter
melted chocolate
gooey marshmallow
Yum.

My dad
his "Grampa"
Ritz crackers
sometimes stale
peanut butter, always 
sandwiches
lay the salt side in
make a dozen the night before
in the fridge next to the cucumber and the hunk of cheese
no time to fuss on the boat
there are fish to haul in.

My son
Declan, 11 years old
Ritz crackers
smeared with Nutella
sandwiches
after school
before soccer
before basketball
"Mom, can I eat them all?"
licks the salt off his fingers
runs off to play.







Ritz Cracker S'mores
(make as many as you want, 6 for me)

6 Ritz crackers
6 teaspoons peanut butter
24 chocolate chips
3 marshmallows

Spread 1 teaspoon of peanut butter on each cracker.  Place 4 chocolate chips onto peanut butter on each cracker.  Cut marshmallows in half horizontally with scissors.  Place 1/2 marshmallow on peanut butter and chocolate chips, sticky side down.  Line up crackers on a cookie sheet.  Preheat broiler to high.  Toast marshmallows to golden brown, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before shoving them in your mouth.













Sunday, October 22, 2017

Craving the Crisp



 I made applesauce to go with dinner the other night.  I needed something quick and satisfying to round out the meal. Warm, spiced applesauce seemed just right on a rainy, damp October evening.  I used the same technique I have seen my mother, Val use throughout my childhood.  Peel and slice any type of apples, usually Macoun or Macintosh, about one per person.  Add sliced apples and about a teaspoon of cinnamon, a few tablespoons of sugar, a little nutmeg, maybe some lemon zest and a little water in the bottom of the pan.  Cover and simmer on the back of the stove while you make the rest of dinner.  Once the apples have turned into a soft mass, serve them.  Cold leftovers are delicious, if you end up having any, at all.
  After Ava arrived home from field hockey practice and dance class, she sat down at the table and devoured every last sweet morsel along with the rest of her dinner of corn cakes and garlic and cheese sausage.  Between bites, she began her interrogation:
  "What kind of apples did you use?" she asked.
  "The ones that have seen better days, they were rolling around, forgotten in the vegetable crisper and no one wanted to eat them,"  I replied.
  "Is this Gramma's recipe?"
  "There is no actual recipe.  A little of this and that. But it is the way I remember her making it."
  "Oh," she said and looked off into the distance as she thought about it for a minute, as if trying to  recall something in the back of her mind, that was just out of reach.
  Ava doesn't know that she comes by this love for sweet mushy, cooked apples seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, quite honestly.  It began early on, during that seemingly endless pregnancy almost fourteen years ago, I had insatiable cravings that came and went in waves alternating with bouts of nausea.  I was out of my mind for a variety of exotic fare: whole bags of juicy naval oranges, tiny mandarin orange wedges that came in small cans, swimming in syrupy liquid, sweet and salty Hawaiian pizza made by Kosta's down the street, studded with canned pineapple and chunks of deli ham, which I ate just about every night for dinner.  But by far the most soothing snack on my list of must haves during the time Ava spent in the womb was apple crisp.
  But not just any apple crisp.
  In an effort to tame some of the side effects from that brutal gestational period (along with the cravings and nausea, there were intense emotional mood swings rivaling those of Jekyll and Hyde), Val dragged me to a weekly yoga class. It was held upstairs in the Rec building in a room over the basketball courts.  While the Men's Over 40 Basketball League played heated games: Dino's Bar v.s. Wizz Barbershop and co-eds mingled during Adult Volleyball, I pretended to stretch myself to my limit in the name of bettering my health during pregnancy.
  I barely attempted each tortuous yoga pose. I held my breath instead of breathing into it. My mind was not at all mindful. It was all I could do to keep myself from gagging during Downward Dog. I couldn't wait for the Sun Salutations to finally set. I counted the minutes until Savasana or Corpse Pose. The one at the end of all the exertion when you are finally allowed to lay on your back and restore yourself.  The pose is meant for about twenty minutes of quiet reflection, meditation and giving thanks.  Thank you for my strong body, for this invigorating class, all this positive energy flowing freely and blah, blah blah...  But I could barely make it through five minutes, my thoughts were far from transcendental contemplation, instead I was completely distracted by the baby swishing around inside of me making me feel anxious and hungry at the same time and the apple crisp that could make it all better.
  The thing that really got me motivated to go to yoga class after dark on those chilly fall evenings when I could have been snuggled up on the couch watching "Friends" re-runs and devouring one of the fore mentioned Hawaiian pizzas was the promise of a post yoga trip to the local Hearth 'n Kettle.  Hearth 'n Kettle is a chain of restaurants unique to Cape Cod and the southern shore of Massachusetts offering hearty New England fare such as beer battered fish and chips, thick creamy clam chowder and hot turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, smothered by ladle after ladle of gravy.  The desserts are typical Northeastern diner style: Indian pudding, Grape-nut custard with real whipped cream and of course, apple crisp served hot with a perfectly rounded scoop of vanilla ice cream.  As if on cue, my taste buds began to salivate as soon as I unrolled my mat every week.
  It's a good thing yoga pants are forgiving.  I gained at least forty pounds while carrying Ava.  Those warm, soft apples scented with cinnamon and sugar under a blanket of crunchy, buttery oats and brown sugar with the cold vanilla ice cream melting into the crackly crags of the fall fruit dessert didn't help.  It took a long time, years in fact, to shed most of the weight. Some of it's still here and my baby will soon be coming up on her fourteenth birthday. But that won't stop me.  The heat in the oven begins to melt the butter and softens the apples, cinnamon scents the air in the kitchen and I have a brief memory of those endless days before Ava arrived. Every moment of discomfort, craving and hormonal meltdown; it was all worth it.


Apple Crisp
(Makes about 9 servings)

Topping:
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup rolled oats (old fashioned)

Filling:
6 medium size apples, peeled and sliced to yield 6 cups
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt

vanilla ice cream
whipped cream

  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8"x 8" glass baking dish.
  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Mix in the oats.  Set aside.
  In another large bowl, combine the sliced apples, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Mix to coat apples.  Pour apple mixture into prepared baking dish.  Cover apple mixture with topping.
  Bake for 35-45 minutes until browned on edges and fruit juices bubble.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.  Delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream or at room temperature with whipped cream.




  


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Preserving

A few weeks ago, I made the labor intensive zucchini relish recipe that is a favorite among many of our family and friends. One huge zucchini from Val's garden yielded eight cups of finely chopped green and white cubes. Add four cups of diced onions, a red pepper, some green peppers, that's a lot of chopping. Who knew such a concoction mixed with celery seed, sugar and salt could be so lipsmackingly delicious?  It brightens up grilled chicken, tuna salad on thick white bread and makes a grilled hot dog into something out of this world.  But to be able to have a jar on the dinner table in January means putting in the hard work in August when all I really want to do is spend the last few days before school starts again, on the beach with my feet in the sand and my chair directed toward the tide coming in and out.  Waiting for September doesn't help.  Less people in town make the beach and other outdoor activities even more inviting.  The few hours I have to myself while the kids are in school are often spent doing the usual household chores but if I'm lucky, I might fit in a walk along the bike path in blissful silence or take in the view at Falmouth Harbor.  But the harvest awaits!
  The cucumbers won't stop this year, either.  They are growing long and green to the point where there are too many to eat in salads or used as vehicles to scoop up blue cheese dip.  So, mother nature has me back in the kitchen again, firing up the canning pot to make two batches of dill pickles. Val's dill plant is more like a "tree" with many "branches" of dill flower heads.  The garlic from the farmer's market is pungent and strong, and tastes so much spicier than the dried up heads I get at the supermarket.  A few slices of bright red chili peppers make a nice looking contrast in the jars full of  sliced green pickles.  All together it tastes of a vinegary, spicy, sour bite.
  There are a lot of recipes in the repertoire that I won't get to this year before the time for freshly picked fruits and vegetables has gone by.  But I am putting in an extreme effort to make at least one batch of jam before the leaves begin to fall.
  Val's Heavenly Peach Jam is actually a recipe given to her by the late Mrs. Eastman.  Mrs. "E" commissioned Val to make numerous batches of this sweet concoction to be sold in the back section of Eastman's Hardware.  The part of the store was called "Fannie's Corner" and displayed all sorts of delightful knick-knacks, Christmas ornaments, fancy candies in decorative tins and my favorite: an assortment of very large stuffed rabbits wearing knit sweaters.  I could browse around that shop with it's creaky, lacquered wood floors for hours on end looking at all the treasures that Mrs. Eastman carefully curated.  Her taste was impeccable, her style on point.  Although I admired all the things that Mrs. Eastman displayed in her shop, this jam was not exactly a favorite of mine.  Mostly because I preferred sweet jellies and jams along with peanut butter in a sandwich packed in my lunchbox for school.  The peaches and the peanut butter just never seemed to make a good match to me and I longed for red raspberry or strawberry jelly in my sandwiches, instead.  Perhaps it was the color.  Bright orangy/yellow alongside the light brown peanut butter on white bread.  Reminds me of the popular color scheme in the 1970's of burnt orange, brown and yellow, which then reminds me of shag carpeting and polyester leisure suits, ideas better left in the past.  So, I am not sure why I am feeling so strongly about putting in the effort to make this jam.  Perhaps because my palate has matured and I know how delicious, sweet and juicy a fresh peach can be.  I want to be able to enjoy that burst of early Autumn flavor in the dead of winter on a piece of buttery toast while the snow falls outside my window.
  I've gathered my ingredients and found the jars and lids.  All that is left now is to let the peaches soften up a bit.  When I'm finished, I'll stash the jam in the cellar with my other preserved pantry items.  Call me in January, when the snow is falling.  I might just invite you over to enjoy the bounty from summer 2017.




Heavenly Peach Jam

3 pounds peaches
zest of 1 orange
juice and pulp from 2 oranges
1 small jar maraschino cherries with juice (no stems)
2 packages pectin

Peel peaches and slice into a large pot.  Smash peaches leaving some larger pieces.   Zest one orange and add it to the peaches.  Peel and section oranges into the pot (discard connective membrane).  On high heat, bring mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Quickly stir in pectin and return to a full rolling boil for one minute while continuing to stir.  After one minute, remove pot from heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.  Ladle into prepared (sterilized) jars leaving 1/8" head space.  Wipe jar rims and threads with a damp towel.  Top with prepared lids and bands.  Process in a canner for 10 minutes in boiling water.   Remove from canner and allow to cool.
After jars have cooled, test the seals making sure that they are tight.  Tightly sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months.  If the seal is not tight, refrigerate and use the jam within 2 weeks.



Saturday, September 2, 2017

Bitter/Sour

  Instead of the usual humid days- heat, heavy air, the kind that according to Val's sister, Nancy, "covers you like a blanket.", September has already proven to be cool, crisp and a true harbinger of fall days.  And school days. The weather this week heading into Labor Day has been cool and crisp every morning, sweatshirt worthy at night.  The kind that makes you think about backpacks, homework and an apple for the teacher.  Melancholy is the the feeling in the air at our little house at the end of a busy, exceptionally fun summer full of beach days, jumping off the dock, wiffle ball games, sleepovers, ice cream sundaes and toasting marshmallows in the backyard.  I used to become incredibly happy about back to school, the excitement of the kids meeting new friends, more freedom during the day for me, a rest from the kids bickering over the t.v. remote.  But now I am already sad for the loss of summer fun and the long days spent digging my feet in the sand, sitting in my beach chair while watching the kids run back and forth from swimming to huddling for a brief moment in their sandy towels before they took off again with their friends.  Out of earshot but not out of sight.   I've felt this way since about the middle of August, knowing the end was coming near and here it is just a few days away.
  But all is not lost.  September brings it's own schedule of busyness.  Meeting the teachers, making new friends, soccer and dance schedules begin, again.  It is a time to renew, recharge, refresh, something to look forward to.  It is however, a little more bitter than sweet.  That is why I am now adopting a new phrase for this feeling that hovers near my heart in anticipation of next Tuesday morning.  A few days ago, an adult asked Declan how he was feeling about getting back to school, Declan paused for a moment, likely reflecting on his summer of fun while projecting himself into his upcoming soccer season and daily after lunch recess basketball games that he will play with his friends, he replied, "Bitter/sour".  Exactly.  Leaving summer behind is bitter and school is, well, school is likely more sour than sweet but nonetheless, sour is still a flavor that even though it can torture our taste buds at times, most of us like it, at least a little bit.

   While this ice cream recipe is not at all bitter and not even remotely sour, it does soothe a lot of those feelings.  Declan's favorite flavor is mint, so this is a summer staple in our home.  The flavor is earthy and naturally cool and minty, reminding me of nibbling a few leaves off the plants near the spigot, where the hose drips in Val's yard, on the side of the house where the sun shines bright. I make a few batches and stash them away in the back of the freezer to savor during those times when we are really missing warm, sunny days that last into the evening full of friends and endless summer fun.


.

Backyard Mint Ice Cream
(from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream's at Home)
makes about 2 pints

*You will need an ice cream maker to spin the ice cream at the end of this recipe.

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
a large handful of fresh mint cut straight from the backyard, leaves torn into smaller pieces

Set aside 2 tablespoons of the milk.  Whisk the cream cheese and the salt in a medium bowl until smooth.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat. Boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Mix cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of reserved milk to make a slurry and add to saucepan. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium high heat while stirring until slightly thickened (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat.

Gradually mix hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the mint.  Pour entire mixture into 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge in the ice water bath.  Let stand for about 30 minutes.  Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.  

Mix ice cream:  Strain out mint.  Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick, aerated and creamy.  Immediately scoop into pint size containers.  Press a small piece of wax paper to the top of the ice cream and cover.  Freeze until firm, about 4 hours before serving.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

I'm Not on Vacation, I Live Here






 I have to get up pretty early in order to get anything accomplished in the summertime.  If any items on the chore list can be checked off, it will need to happen before 9:00 am, long before the pull of a sunny day begins to nag at me to get outside and enjoy it.  When you have school age kids, summer is only two months long: July and August.  It's fleeting and fast.  Before I know it, there is only a week or two left of the days when anything is possible and adventure awaits.
  Summer mornings are jammed with activities: early morning swim lessons in the cool ocean, basketball camp, writing class and when all that ends, it's "Mom, can I go fishing, will you bring me to the beach and can you see if anyone else will be there?"
  It's a mad dash from early morning until late afternoon.  Then there is dinner to prepare and clean up as well as all the other household chores: shopping, vacuuming, laundry, bills and walking the dog.  Life on Cape Cod in the summer may seem like a vacation but dishes still pile up in the sink while I take a moment for a dip in the salty water and briefly sit with my feet in the sand before I need to get up and pay attention to the rest of my life.
  Those of us who live here all year, clamor for summer sunshine as we trudge through February snowstorms and bone chilling, wet spring weather.  Because of the long wait for warm, sunny days and sunsets after hours at the beach, the push to enjoy it all while its here can get exhausting.  We don't want to waste a single minute or take any of it for granted but the constant running to take it all in is enough to make me wish for a day full of rain.  And not just a little drizzle. Declan will remind me that overcast days are still good for fishing off the dock.  He will beg me to bring him down to the now abandoned beach, to meet his friends for a wiffle ball game.  What I need is a downpour to keep everyone indoors and under the covers.  A serious deluge that lasts from morning until night so that I can get the beach towels washed and the bathroom cleaned.  Perhaps even curl up on the couch with a good book for an hour.
  But Mother Nature has been kind this summer.  Just enough rain, but not too much to keep us from packing in the fun.  So, the ever growing to-do list has barely an item crossed off.   I tell myself that there is plenty of time to go thru the stack of magazines in my office that began piling up back in March, re-organize the plastic container cabinet before it all busts out onto the kitchen floor and finally clean out the old, worn clothes from the kids' drawers.  It's time to get rid of the pants that are three inches too short.  I will get to all of that in September when the kids go back to school and all the fun is over.  But in reality I know I am really just lying to myself.  Post Labor day brings its own hectic schedule.  I will probably have to wait to clean the closets when a snow day is called next February.
 
  In order to get a second wind to unpack the beach cooler and throw something together for the dinner table, I need an after beach pick-me-up.  After yelling at the kids to get into the outdoor shower and wash off the sand and salt before entering the house, I am ready for a moment of peace before round two begins.  It's time for a cold jolt of something slightly sweet and a little caffeinated. (Not too much to keep me up past my  9:00 pm bedtime.)  I want a refreshing drink just like the kind you can order at the fancy coffee place with the mermaid logo but without the astronomical price tag and the line that ends outside the door in the summer heat on Cape Cod.  This easy recipe fits the bill and I can sip it in my big chair under the shady tree in the yard, maybe catch a minute of silence before my children begin to ask, "Mom! What's for dinner?"  Did I mention that I need a vacation?

 
 Frothy Coffee Drink
(serves one)

1 handful of ice cubes
1/3 cup lowfat milk (fancy coffee places usually use 2%)
3/4 cup black coffee (leftover in the pot from this morning)
2 squirts of agave syrup or honey

Add all ingredients to blender or cup of Magic Bullet.  Blend until smooth.  Drink immediately.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Farm to Table at Highfield Hall and Gardens





 There have been some requests for the recipes from the Farm to Table class I was asked to teach at Highfield Hall and Gardens*, the restored mansion and gardens that was once a summer retreat for the illustrious Beebe family.  It's former gardens now thriving and original stunning home welcomes visitors to to view art, listen to music and taste delectable foods as well as many other forms of entertainment and education.  Gail Blakely, Culinary Director and longtime food columnist for our local Falmouth paper, The Falmouth Enterprise, invited me to join in the fun for two classes featuring seasonal produce where I got to also answer lots of questions about growing up in Falmouth, specifically at 540 Old Meeting House road where I learned pretty much everything that shows up on this blog thanks to Val and Dick.  You may know these two as my parents as they are featured prominently in all my stories.
  Some of these recipes have been adapted from famous cooks and bloggers.  Some are my own and some are from Val's recipe file.  All of them are easy and delicious crowd pleasers.  This is the perfect time to make them as the summer bounty of zucchini, green beans, cucumbers and fresh berries is upon us now in the middle of July and August here on Cape Cod.
  Enjoy!

*  http://highfieldhallandgardens.org/

Notes from Val’s Kitchen Recipes

Minty Peach Sangria
Makes about 10 cups

1 (750 milliliter) bottle rose wine
¾ cup vodka
¾ cup peach nectar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 ripe peaches
1 small package fresh raspberries
2 cups club soda or seltzer, chilled
1 pint peach or raspberry sorbet
Fresh mint leaves (about 2-3 full stems) for garnish

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large pitcher.  Add peaches and raspberries.  Cover and chill for 3 hours.
To serve: stir in club soda or seltzer.  Add a small scoop of sorbet to each glass.  Pour sangria over sorbet.  Rub mint leaves between your fingers to release oils.  Add a few leaves to each glass for garnish. 

**Garden Fresh Herb Sauce
Serves 6-8

1 large bunch fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro or a combination
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 pinch red pepper flakes
pinch of salt and black pepper, to taste

For Serving:
Greek Yougurt (about 10 0z.)
Salt and Pepper Kettle Chips (or any sturdy chip)

Remove all stems from herbs and place leaves in a Cuisinart with blade or small chopper.  Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Puree mixture.  If leaves are not moving around, add more olive oil to loosen so that the mixture moves around in the chopper.  Once, leaves are pureed into fine pieces, adjust for taste.  Mixture can be saved in an airtight container in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Spread Greek yougurt on a plate leaving 2” border.  Create a well in the middle of the yogurt leaving 1” border of yogurt.  Dollop the Herb Sauce into the well in the center of the yogurt.  Scatter the chips around the edge of the plate and serve.



Summer Vegetable and Herb Goat Cheese Tart
(Adapted from Ina Garten, “Zucchini and Goat Cheese Tart” www.foodnetwork.com)
Makes 2 tarts

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
10 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
5 tablespoons ice cold water
1 ½ pounds zucchini, sliced 1/8 inch thick (small zucchini are best for this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces plain, creamy goat cheese (room temperature)
1 teaspoon thyme leaves (or other fresh herbs)
Zest from ½ lemon

Place the flour, ½ teaspoon salt and the butter in a bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse 12-14 times, until the butter is the size of peas.  With the processor running, pour the vinegar and cold water through the feed tube and continue to process just until the dough comes together.  Dump dough out on a floured board, form 2 disks and wrap in plastic, individually.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the sliced zucchini in a colander and set over a plate.  Toss it with 2 teaspoons of salt and set aside for 30 minutes.  Spread the zucchini out on a clean dish towel, roll it up and squeeze gently to remove some of the liquid.  Put the zucchini slices in a bowl and toss with olive oil.  Using a fork, mash together the goat cheese, herbs, lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Set aside.

Roll out the dough on a floured board to an 11-12 inch circle.  Place each rolled out piece of dough on a separate sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Spread the dough with the goat cheese mixture leaving ½ inch border.  Lay the zucchini slices in tightly overlapping circles, starting over the edge of the goat cheese (the zucchini will shrink as it bakes).  Continue overlapping circles of zucchini until the whole tart is covered.  Sprinkle with pepper. Turn up edges of tart to slightly overlap outer edge of zucchini and goat cheese. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the dough is golden brown.  Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Variations:
Substitute full fat ricotta cheese for goat cheese, mix in 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped oregano along with lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Top with 12 oz roasted red pepper (jarred) cut into ribbons.

Spread tart dough with 6 oz. spreadable herb cheese such as Allouette.  Top cheese with 1 cup ricotta cheese mixed with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs and zest from ½ lemon, salt and pepper. 




**Crisp Streusel
(Adapted from “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, by Jeni Britton Bauer)
Makes about 3 cups

2 sticks butter, cubed and chilled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put all ingredients except oats into a bowl and blend by rubbing the dry ingredients into the butter with your fingertips.  Work quickly so that the butter does not melt.  When the mixture looks like coarse sand, add the oats and mix well.  Spread on an ungreased baking sheet.  Break up any large chunks into crumbs, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch size.  
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until toasted and browned, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, especially in the corners and to turn over the unbaked portions.  Let cool completely, use right away or freeze until ready to use.  The streusel can be frozen up to one month.

(Serve with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries)



Cucmber Salad with Creamy Garlic Dressing
Serves 8

4 medium to large cucumbers
1 small red onion
Dressing:
¾ cup Hellman’s Manyonaise
¼ cup buttermilk
1 large garlic clove
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Slice cucumbers into  quarters then, into ½” size pieces.  Cut red onion in quarters and slice each quarter thinly.  Add both to a large serving bowl.  In a small bowl, mix mayonaise and buttermilk.  Grate garlic into mixture.  Add salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Pour over cucumbers and onion.  Chill and serve cold.



Quick Pickled Cucumber and Red Onion
Makes about 2 cups

1-2 pickling cucumbers, sliced (about 1 ½ cups)
1 small red onion, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon pickling spice
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 dried bay leaf
1 cup cider or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Place cucumbers and red onion in a heat proof bowl (plastic or glass).  Place pickling spice through salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Heat until sugar and salt dissolve.  Strain mixture over cucumbers and onion.   Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Refrigerate in liquid for up to 2 weeks.


**Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans
Makes 4-6 servings

2 large boneless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1/2 pound fresh green beans
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Use spray oil to grease a small baking dish.
Place chicken in dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Cove dish with foil.  Bake 25-35 minutes until chicken is cooked but still very moist.  Cool chicken enough to slice.
  Meanwhile, wash and pick green beans by removing the stems. If they are long, snap them in half.  Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.  Blanch beans in boiling water for 1-2 minutes until they turn bright green.  Drain immediately and plunge beans into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Let rest for 5 minutes and drain thoroughly.
  Mix the dressing: combine celery seed through vinegar.  Add honey and whisk to combine.  Slowly add oil while whisking.  Add sesame seeds and mix thoroughly.  Place sliced chicken and green beans in a large shallow bowl or baking dish.  Pour dressing over ingredients and toss to coat.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


**Basil Rouille
Makes one bowl of dip


2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Juice from 1/2 lemon

Mince garlic cloves and transfer to blender.  Add basil and olive oil.  Puree, stopping to scrape down sides, if needed.  Add mayonnaise, anchovy paste, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Puree until combined.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

(Serve with assorted fresh vegetables for dipping.)