Sunday, November 12, 2023

Thanksgiving Adjacent


People are surprised when I tell them that I don't roast the turkey on Thanksgiving. Even more so when I admit that I never have and don't really know how to do it. I mean, I suppose that I could learn but Val always cooks the bird and now multiple birds so that there is enough leftover for everyone to take some home for the next day. As I have mentioned before, the Sandwich is the best part of this autumn celebration.

I prefer to prepare, tweak and recreate Thanksgiving adjacent food. Members of the supporting cast that can tolerate a makeover without offending anyone's precious memories or introducing a new player that fits in nicely with the old standbys and holiday favorites. New cocktails are welcomed by most and easily get incorporated without much fanfare especially if they feature classic Thanksgiving flavors like, apple, sage and cranberry. Updated appetizers can come to the party, too as long as they don't upstage or overtake a classic that everyone is expecting to nibble on before the big spread is offered. 

Let's face it, I would be very angry and disappointed if someone other than Val took over baking the turkey and classic stuffing that I crave every November. In fact, I cried my freshman year of college when Val told me that we were going to eat the big meal at my grandmother's house. I love my grandmother, a wonderful hostess but a terrible cook. All I could think about was dry as sawdust turkey, overcooked green bean casserole and store bought pies. The dining hall did a number on me that first semester. All I ate was the salad bar. The daily smells from the entree line turned my stomach. I had no idea what "Chicken Tettrazini" was and I did not want to find out. I lay in bed every night those first few months of school dreaming of Val's homemade cranberry sauce, perfectly roasted bird and flaky pie crust. I know first hand not to mess with anyone's holiday meal expectations.

So, if you want to add some pizzazz and perhaps, dare I say, make an update to the traditional fare, start small and don't make too much of a big deal out of what you are about to do. Just hand someone a glass of this and a bite of that. I promise you they will ask for these again next year claiming them as new annual favorites .

Cranberry Spicetini 
(makes one)

2.5 oz. vodka
1 oz. Spiced Cranberry Syrup (see recipe below)
1/2 oz. Canton Ginger
1/4 oz. lemon juice

Shake ingredients over ice. Strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with fresh cranberries, rosemary and candied ginger on a toothpick along with a lemon twist.

Spiced Cranberry Syrup:
1 bottle cranberry juice cocktail (32 oz.)
5-6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
5-6 star anise

Bring all ingredients for syrup to a boil. Turn down to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Cool, strain and refrigerate until ready to use. Also great served with soda and a squeeze of lemon.

4th Thursday
(makes one)

3-4  fresh sage leaves
1/4 oz. maple syrup
large format ice cube or a few regular sized ice cubes
1/4 oz. apple cider vinegar
1 oz. apple cider
2 oz. cognac or brandy

Muddle 2-3 sage leaves with maple syrup in a rocks glass. Add ice, apple cider vinegar, apple cider and cognac or brandy. Stir to combine. Garnish with a fresh sage leaf.

If you prefer to strain out the muddle sage, strain after muddling then add to ice, vinegar, cider and brandy. Garnish with a fresh sage leaf.

Blue Cheese Puffs with Fresh Sage
(makes about 24)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese*
2/3 cup all purpose flour**
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 large egg

Combine the butter and blue cheese in a large bowl. Add the flour, ricotta, salt, pepper, sage and egg. Stir until well combined. Drop rounded tablespoons of mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet. (No need to space apart as you can bake these on a separate baking sheet, as needed.) Transfer baking sheet to freezer and chill until rounds are frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Once frozen solid, the rounds can be stored in a plastic bag in the freezer until ready to bake.
To bake: preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Transfer frozen rounds to parchment lined baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake from frozen until lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Transfer puffs to a serving platter, season lightly with salt, cool slightly and serve warm.

*Can substitute grated cheddar.
** Can substitute GF all purpose flour such as King Arthur Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour. Baking time may take a few extra minutes for browning.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

September is for Tomatoes



Shame on you. I am deeply offended. The weather is hot and humid. Yes, there have been a few days of cool air and a whiff of things to come but according to the calendar, summer isn't over yet. In fact, I don't care that we are slowly moving toward fall. I won't concede pumpkin flavors and spices and all of that until at least October 1st. September is NOT for pumpkin spice.  

September is for locals. The beaches, the roads, the supermarkets and restaurants are a little less crowded. Sure they are still busy but now they are filled with more year round residents who opted to stay home in the middle of the summer rather than deal with throngs of impatient visitors with their annoying demands and crying children. Of course, not everyone acts like that but by the end of August, it certainly seems that way. 

Most tourists have gone home and kids are back at school while the perfect beach weather is here. I can easily park on a Friday evening just before sunset at a popular beach in town. Swinging into the lot, I am relieved that I don't need to battle it out by waiting in line for others to pack up and head out. To my surprise, there is plenty of space between groups on the beach, no need to cram on top of each other, unlike those hot days in the middle of the summer.  

I don't go many places outside of work, home and the occasional beach day after 3:00pm during the height of the madness. I launch my paddle board Monday- Friday by 7:00am to avoid any recreational boaters who cause too much wake as they pass by tossing my board about as if I had gone surfing in Hawaii. I may go out for dinner...early as soon as the bar is open, so that I don't have to wait too long or fight my way to get the last seat. 

September is for tomatoes. The tomatoes are ripening fast and furiously- I can barely consume all that Val picks from her abundant vines. I love tomatoes in so many kinds of ways: tomato sandwiches with mayo, salt and pepper on soft white Portuguese bread, BLT's on toasted pain de mie with lemon basil aioli, chopped tomatoes in a layered "Mexican"' dip, roasted cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and rosemary, sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt, tomato pie baked with cheddar cheese and fresh thyme, the list can go as long as there are tomatoes and tomato recipes to be made. 

So while there are fresh, ripe, local tomatoes to be eaten before the weather turns chilly and the vines don't produce any more, I will not condone any type of menu that features classic Autumn flavors, pumpkin spice, falling leaves motifs, etc. until October 1st. Please don't mention the lattes, hot soups and ravioli's highlighting various forms of squash and sage. It's not time yet. I need to squeeze out every last drop of summer and tomato season while I still can. 

Tomato Pie with Herb Crust


3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup AP flour, whole wheat flour or gluten free flour
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cold water

6 medium sized ripe tomatoes, sliced
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, etc.
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pulse cornmeal, flour, thyme, pepper, salt and butter in a food processor until pea size chunks of butter form. Slowly add water to form a loose dough. Remove dough and press onto bottom and up the sides of a pie plate. Prick dough all over with fork. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

While dough bakes for 20 minutes, slice tomatoes and lay slices in a single layer on paper towel to absorb juices. Shred cheddar cheese.

Spread shredded cheese over bottom of partially baked crust. Arrange tomatoes in overlapping circular pattern on top of cheese. Sprinkle black pepper and salt over the top of the tomatoes and drizzle olive oil over the top of the tomatoes. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices then back in oven for 40 minutes until tomatoes begin to cook down and juices are bubbling up.

Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Remove pie from oven after 40 minutes, sprinkle topping evenly over tomatoes then place pie back in the oven for 10 more minutes to bake the topping.

Remove from the oven and allow pie to cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. The pie can also be served at room temperature. The crust is best the same day the pie is baked.

More amazing tomato recipes:

-B. L. T. (Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich)
-Tomato and Cheddar Tarte (made with puff pastry)






Monday, June 19, 2023

Ladies (Only) Night

My friends have full-time jobs, they are raising teenage children, are busy creating side hustles and managing households. They are masters at juggling their lives- making it all look easy but will admit that it is actually quite hard, on some days nearly impossible. There is a collective sense of humor and realness about it. Everyone is down to share it all: celebrate a win no matter how small (you paid off that credit card, managed to vacuum the basement?) and aggressively hug during the low points (the loss of family, jobs). They come to play and they know how to party.

By Friday night, we are completely burnt out from looking at computer screens, waking up tired teenagers to get them to school before the bell and all manner of workplace foolishness. The dog had diarrhea all over the house in the middle of night and your boss is a nincompoop. Doesn't matter anymore. It's Friday, we are off duty: none of us is cooking dinner-husbands, children and pets are all left to fend for themselves. It's only ladies-just us and our stuff, the way we like it.

"Cocktails and Hors D'oeuvres" is a phrase borrowed from my grandmother who turned stale crackers, processed cheese squirted out of a can, Fresca and vodka into an event. I am rocking that vibe for my ladies with a spread including port wine cheddar cheese from a tub, Triscuits, Cheetos and "Spinach Brownies", a recipe from "Simply the Best Course": the Woods Hole Golf Club Centennial Cookbook. Full disclosure: a gift from my grandmother.

The ladies who compiled this tome knew how to gather and party. They made hors d'oeuvres that were somewhat high end for their day, the kind of bites that guests talked about the next morning for better or for worse. The recipes for the most tasty snacks, were requested and passed around if the owner was willing to part with the secret to her hostessing success or better yet, they were kept secret and unveiled when a classic like this is published.

Spinach Brownies are likely not what you may think: a savory bite of sharp cheddar cheese baked with spinach. Cut into tiny, bite size pieces and served at room temperature. So easy to just pop into your mouth, no biting needed, no lipstick ruining moment and no need to cradle both a cocktail and a plate. I hope that Kathy Gillis, wherever she is today is proud that everyone at my ladies gathering truly enjoyed her contribution to the book.

I like to channel the feeling that I get when I read through this book. Just friends and fun, gossip and laughter. Keep the drinks flowing and the snack spread full. There is not really much else to tell: the outfits were fabulous (denim, heels, jewelry), the cocktails were divine (lime gimlets, vodka & Fresca) and I already mentioned the snacks. Suffice it to say, we had a great time, secrets were shared, confidences kept and no one needs to know who dropped her phone in the toilet.

Vodka Gimlet

For one:
2 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. lime juice
2-3 teaspoons simple syrup
lime wheel or wedge for garnish

 Chill a martini glass. Fill a shaker full of ice. Add vodka, lime juice, simple syrup. Shake until well chilled. Strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with lime wheel or wedge.

For a crowd (makes 10):
1 1/4 cups vodka,  (10 oz.)
1 cup lime juice, (8 oz.) if you want to be super accurate, measure out 7.5 oz.
1/2 cup simple syrup (add more to taste)
10 lime wheels

 Mix vodka, lime juice, simple syrup in a large pitcher or container. Taste and adjust flavors, if necessary. Chill until ready to serve.

 Chill 10 martini glasses (or as many for serving). Fill a shaker with ice. Fill shaker 2/3 full with mix. Shake until well chilled. Fill glasses. Continue with remaining mix. Garnish all drinks with lime wheels.

Spinach Brownies
"Simply the Best Course", 1998 
Original recipe submitted by Kathy Gillis

1 cup all purpose flour*
1 teaspoon salt**
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 (10 oz.) package frozen, chopped spinach (thawed and drained well)
1/2 cup minced onions***
4 cups (1 lb.) extra sharpe cheddar cheese, shredded****

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, salt and baking powder. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs slightly. Add eggs and milk to flour mixture. Set aside. Combine spinach, onions and cheese. Add spinach mixture to flour mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased 13" x 9" pan. Bake for 45 minutes.
Cool to room temperature. Cut into bite-sized pieces to serve. 

*I substituted King Arthur Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour to make these gluten free.
**I use Kosher salt
***I omitted the onions
***It is a ton of cheese! I only used 3 1/2 cups...they came out great!


Saturday, April 1, 2023

I just want to say: Avocado Toast

" I just want to say: [insert thought here]" -Nora Ephron

The late, incredibly great writer and film director, Nora Ephron wrote a number of essays beginning with this phrase. It's a brilliant tool to talk/write about any random thing that is on your mind. Avocado toast has been occupying my thoughts lately. So,

 "I just want to say: Avocado Toast"

If it appears on the menu, I am always curious to see how it will be prepared. It's one of those things that can go incredibly well or be completely lackluster. So often, it disappoints. But that doesn't stop me from trying. I am an eager believer at least before my meal arrives at the table. 

Don't present me with a small bit of mashed avocado that is likely just guacamole slapped on a toasted piece of bread. Let's be creative here. After all, just because it is called, "Avocado Toast" it does not have to be just avocado smeared on a crispy vehicle. Does it?

One local breakfast restaurant serves their version with a drizzle of balsamic syrup. A nice touch. I still feel the need to add a poached egg on top to liven things up a little more. Some may say that adding embellishments to the fruit and carb combo is not true "avo" toast. I don't care. I need more excitement in my life.

Where did the idea for smearing avocado onto bread come from? Some say it was the Aztecs thousands of years ago others claim it was an Aussie restaurant entrepreneur who made this brunch staple famous. Either way, I just want to be inspired, excited to dig in to something new and different. Is that too much to ask? 

I will keep searching until I find the place that serves the ultimate Avocado Toast. Until then, like so many other things that I find to be less than stellar, I will have to create it myself. Alone in the kitchen  with my own version of a fancy avocado toast.

Avocado Toast


2/12 cups water 

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 egg 

1 piece bread of choice

olive oil

1/2 ripe avocado

sea salt

1 wedge lemon

balsamic syrup

1 small tomato, diced (one Campari tomato is the perfect amount)

microgreen sprouts, pea shoots, etc.

black pepper

hot sauce of choice (optional)

Set a small pot of water (approximately 2 1/2 cups) on to boil. Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Once the pot of water comes to a boil, decrease the heat so that the water remains at a steady simmer.

Place bread in toaster and toast to desired doneness. While bread is toasting, slowly drop the egg into the simmering water. Move it gently around with a slotted spoon so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Set a timer for 4 minutes. Place a folded piece of paper towel onto a small plate for when the egg has completed cooking, set aside.

Remove bread from toaster, place on serving plate and drizzle with olive oil. Slice the avocado in half and scoop out the flesh of one half. Discard the skin. Slice the avocado and fan out the slices on the toasted bread. Sprinkle with sea salt and squeeze the lemon wedge over the slices. Reserve the other half, leaving the pit intact and smear it with olive oil to help to prevent browning. Place in a covered container in the refrigerator for another use. 

After 4 minutes, check the egg for desired doneness. Remove the egg from the simmering water with a slotted spoon and place the egg on paper towel lined plate.

Drizzle the balsamic syrup over the avocado slices. Place the now dry egg onto the avocado slices. Sprinkle with sea salt and add the diced tomato over the toast. Garnish the toast with sprouts. Season with black pepper. Serve with hot sauce. Enjoy your masterpiece!

Monday, March 6, 2023

Don't Even Dream of It


Rob asks, "Can I have the last piece?" 

Audacious. Rude. Not allowed. 

It does not matter if it's the last cookie in the bottom of the container, broken edges, slightly burnt. It does not matter if the slice of cake has been sitting there, crumbling, neglected a for a few days. 

It's mine.

If I made it, it's mine.

That's the rule in this house. The same rule that was passed down by Val. There is no deviating. It is hard and fast. The only person who can lift it is the person who baked/made/created/toiled at 10pm while half asleep on a Sunday night before an early Monday morning of a long week filled with school lunches to be packed. The only person who can give the o.k. for another to eat the last morsel is the person who produced the confection in question.

"The last piece is always reserved for the cook."

Back when we were kids, my sister Karyn would try and work around this law of the land. Val would remove the last square brownie from its pan and place it in a small bowl: up in the cabinet where the clean bowls and plates were housed, as if to hide it in plain sight. This only tempted and taunted Karyn. And we all knew where the "hiding" spot was anyway.

Karyn arrived home from school in the early afternoon, teenage stomach growling. Val was likely out grocery shopping for more food to feed three always ravenous children. Home alone and feeling bold, Karyn wielded a sharp paring knife and every so deftly shaved the edges of the brownie revealing a slightly smaller version of the same sweet. The phrase, "She will never notice." floated in a thought bubble above her head as she did her dirty work then devoured the slivered morsels.

And let's just say, "Val may never have noticed." (I truly doubt it. That woman always seemed to know what was going on even when she wasn't physically present.) But Karyn could not stop there. It just wasn't enough. She continued to shave a little more and then a little more until the new brownie was so noticeably smaller than how Val had left the original, that there was going to be no way out of this egregious trespass. I can imagine it now, Val was likely thinking about savoring that brownie for a late lunch with a tall glass of cold milk once she finally got home with her multiple bags of groceries only to find that the hidden last brownie had been reduced to a miniature version so small it would not have satisfied and ant.

(Before we move on, I will need to address the elephant in the room: Yes, my mother often ate sweets in the place of actual meals claiming such illnesses as "low blood sugar" and "headaches". These medical diagnosis were never to be questioned and are still referenced today.)

I probably don't need to reveal the outcome of the clandestine brownie surgery. I mean it was obvious to all involved. And while it did not technically break the house rule, it clearly did infringe upon it. I am not sure what would have been more effective: to actually hide the last remaining sweet in a better place or to inflict a steep punishment for those who break the law. In my house, I just instill the fear of God in my loved ones which I think is appropriate for any potential transgression. You may think this to be a bit harsh. I don't. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to protecting my chocolate, butter and sugar.

Declan will claim that even though whenever I bake a batch of these brownies, that he as the inventor and winner of a blue ribbon and Best in Show ribbon at the Barnstable County Fair in the summer of 2022, should actually be the recipient of the last piece every damn time. I politely and firmly disagree.

Reese's Dream Brownies


1 package brownie mix

9 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (full size)

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven according to brownie mix package directions. 

Mix brownies according to package directions. Pour half of the batter into a greased (8 x8) pan. Place Reese’s Peanut Butter cups evenly over batter. Top with remaining batter and spread out to cover the peanut butter cups. 

Heat peanut butter in a microwave for 10 seconds. Stir to achieve an even consistency. Drop in dollops over the brownie batter. Using a knife, swirl by dragging it one way, then the opposite way across the batter. Bake brownies according to package directions. (May need to add a few minutes to baking time.)

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Cut into 9 even pieces. Keep in an airtight container.