Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Rhythm of Autumn

     It has been difficult lately, to get into the kitchen for large swaths of time to really get down to the business of cooking.  I long to bustle about in the heat of the kitchen, chopping, sauteing, baking and braising all morning long, after the kids have gotten on the bus, the entire house to myself. Complete peace and quiet with the whole day laid out before me to do with as I please.  But in spite of my lack of glorious amounts of personal time, I have managed to squeeze it in, an hour here, 30 minutes, there in order mainly to get food on the table for the hungry mouths I signed up to feed.  But at least it's the food that I crave at this time of year, so there is some satisfaction in that.

     As the rhythm of the seasons forces us indoors, the leaves turn crimson and gold casting their glorious reflection on the smooth glass of the gray blue ocean, I am inspired to cook all foods that I find to be as comforting and warm as a heavy wool sweater on a crisp autumn morning. Apple pies laced with cinnamon and nutmeg, buttery cheddar and chive cocktail scones that go perfectly with the warm embrace of red wine, easy Crock Pot roast with a sweet/savory gravy from cranberry sauce and Lipton Onion Soup Mix, followed by Fall Harvest Fruit crisp, warm from the oven and topped with melty vanilla ice cream.
Fall Harvest Fruit Crisp
     Of course, I must also celebrate the most kid friendly of all holidays.  Halloween.  Jack-o-lanterns and tacky decorations are tempered with deliciously decadent chocolate cupcakes complete with spider webs and orange sugar on top.  And if you happen to have leftover candy and you don't know what to do with it?  You can always put together a fancy, gourmet chocolate bark to impress your friends.

Val's Devil's Food Cupcakes

    As October comes to a close and November brings decadent ideas for the biggest meal day of all, I look forward to diving into to pumpkin recipes: a classic family one for pumpkin bread and a new fangled  idea for a pumpkin cake with mascarpone frosting.  Wish me luck.  Pumpkin has not been a favorite with my lovely children in the past but I am hoping to win them over much like I did with an old fashioned molasses cake just last week.

    Until then, I hope you enjoy the brisk autumn air while catching a few glorious sunsets before daylight savings eats up our days too quickly.  See you in November.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

TBT October 2008, Lessons From Val's Kitchen

TBT...Another Bulletin story for "Lessons From Val's Kitchen" (October , 2008) This one written in frustration regarding my oh-so picky eaters who even though they are a bit older are still pretty picky!

More "sophisticated" spider web design

Pumpkin Pie, R.I.P.

I am the Mommy, You are not!”  I can’t believe I am saying this while it’s tumbling out of my mouth. What has happened to me? I used to have it together, I used to be “with it”, or maybe I just thought I was. My four year old daughter has reduced me to an idiot, struggling to retain my so called “power”.  I don’t even” reign supreme” in the one place I have always felt dominant: the kitchen. Sadly, I am reduced to serving chicken nuggets, smiley fries and mac ‘n’ cheese out of a box. (At least she likes the organic brand.) This got me thinking, “I need to take control, get my meal mojo back. But, how?”  To try and get her to eat new foods, I have cajoled with the best of them, attempted to bargain, I even resorted to bribery. Nothing seemed to work. Then I considered asking her what she wanted and if she helped cook it, then she was sure to eat it! Right? We’ll just see about that….
“I like pumpkin pie with orange, because it is orange.” Ava says between thumb sucks from her car seat in the back.
“Yeah, right.” I think to myself as I say, “Really?” in my best cheerful mommy voice.
This kid of mine is the pickiest eater I have ever met. I consider myself somewhat of an adventurous eater. However, not quite on the level of that guy from “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel. Have you seen some of the stuff he shoves into his mouth? I can’t even watch him chow down on those cockroaches covered in ant larvae purchased from a cart with questionable cleanliness standards in a country I can barely pronounce.  I like to think of myself more along the style and palate of The Barefoot Contessa or Nigella Lawson. Those ladies know how to enjoy the good stuff. It is amazing to me that I gave birth to this child who exists on Cocoa Puffs and grilled cheese sandwiches (no crust, please). She will barely touch most typical kid fare and when she does, there are specific requests that must be met:  “Please peel the skin off my hot dog, Mommy.” I think by now you can all understand my skepticism when she professed her love of pumpkin pie and asked me, “Why you don’t make that for me?”
For a moment, I was bolstered by the thought that maybe this will be one of those odd childhood things that she loves like my own love for spinach at her age or my sister’s craving for Swedish Meatballs.  It is for this reason that I decided to forge ahead and make a homemade pie.  Even if it was just to test this theory for myself.
The afternoon started off well. Both Ava and Declan were excited about helping Mommy cook. After the pie crust was made, I placed all the ingredients for my mother’s classic pumpkin pie recipe in a bowl and added some orange zest and juice to go along with the finicky one’s request. Ava took a turn stirring and Declan did, too. Excitement and anticipation filled the air followed by the smell of fall and Thanksgiving drifting out of the oven. In my delirium, I decided to jazz things up even more by adding honey toasted almonds as a garnish.  I whipped some fresh cream, sure that this would entice the children even more to try the confection of the gourd.  I sliced Ava’s piece super thin and topped it with a dollop of fluffy cool cream. Then the hammer of truth hit me over my head.
“Yuuuck! I don’t like pumpkin pie!”
“Honey, you haven’t even taken a bite. Look, Daddy loves it! Mmmm!”
Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t just throw in the towel at this point. It was so pathetic. Here I was groveling for some type of praise, some small victory. It was no use; the pumpkin pie had become the newest occupant of Ava’s food graveyard.
Oh, I know you’ve heard of picky eaters before. All of us have read the articles in the parenting magazines about how to disguise fruits and vegetables so the kids will eat them. Ava (and just about every other child I can think of) knows that a “little tree” really is broccoli. My lovely cherub once bit into one of my freshly made sugar cookies complete with pink frosting and hearts and asked me “Where is the chocolate?” She knows what she wants and it’s not carrot sticks placed in cute cupcake papers to make them seem more appealing.
Here’s the place in the article where there is supposed to be some solution, some kind of resolution to the problem. Unfortunately, dear reader, I have none. The next day, Ava asked for chocolate cupcakes. I knew she would beg to eat every last one until they were gone and then whine for more. I was already weak, I admit it.  I helped her make them. Then I let her lick the bowl dry. So much for me being “The Mommy.”

If your kids won’t eat this recipe, you won’t have any problem finishing it off all yourself:

1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin (about 2 cups)
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground ginger
Zest of one orange
Juice from ½ orange
9” pie shell, unbaked
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except crust. Mix well. Pour mixture into unbaked pie crust.
Bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35-40 more minutes until a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack. Decorate top with honey toasted almonds and serve. Yummy with whipped cream.
¼ cup roughly chopped salted almonds
1 tablespoon honey
Cooking spray
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Spread out almonds on cookie sheet and drizzle honey over almonds. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Watch closely so that almonds do not burn. Remove from oven and let cool. Remove from pan with rubber spatula.

For those weak moments when only chocolate cake will appease the wild ones, including Mommy.
Val’s Devil’s Food Cupcakes
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Combine all dry ingredients. Add vegetable oil and ¾ cup milk. Beat at low speed with mixer for ½ minute. Then mix at high speed for 2 minutes. Add remaining milk, eggs and vanilla. Continue to beat for 2 more minutes. Fill paper liners  to ¾ full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool thoroughly and frost.
To change the cup cakes into jack-o-lanterns, add a few drops of orange food coloring once the desired consistency of the frosting has been met. We made the faces with a can of Betty Crocker black gel frosting. I found it at Shaw’s in Teaticket, MA.
Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting
½ stick soft butter (1/4 cup)
1 tsp vanilla
2- 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup milk
Mix butter, vanilla and 2 cups confectioner’s sugar with a beater on low until all lumps are removed. Slowly add milk 1 tablespoon at a time. Add more sugar if necessary to get the right consistency. Frosting should not be too stiff or too runny. Frost cupcakes and eat out of the bowl to your heart’s content.

Andrea Norris tries to keep her cool while she raises her two children in East Falmouth. She often wonders how her mother, Val managed three kids. Andrea is writing a cook book about Val’s triumphs. Check out her blog:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

TBT November 15, 2007 Lessons from Val's Kitchen

 This is the first story I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin (now The Bulletin) back in November 2007. The monthly column was titled: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen"  Thank you to Craig Salters, my first editor at the paper, for allowing me my first byline.  

At the holidays, just call it 'delicious'
by Andrea Norris 

Declan Norris drools over his mom's fruit crisp

Cobbler, crisp, brown Betty, I’ve even heard it called a grunt, buckle, slump and how about this one: sonker! Fall harvest time promises a dish full of an array of apples, all sorts of pears, cranberries, a myriad of nuts, raisins…oh my! I’m going to call mine a fruit crisp because I think the crusty, chewy topping is the best part. (I know you are already licking your chops thinking about the super crispy bits along the edge of the pan.) I’ve done my best to reduce the amount of butter without sacrificing. O.K., I know this dessert isn’t all that impressive on its own. It’s what you put with it that counts. How about some homemade, creamy vanilla ice cream to knock their socks off? I’m up for the challenge. Even freshly made whipped cream is a treat for most. We’ll add that too.
What are my credentials? I grew up in a house of food snobbery, although I didn’t know it at the time and it wasn’t at all intentional on my mother’s part. What is considered today, a “foodie” diet and part of the slow food movement, was a way of life and in fact survival for us back in the 1970’s and 1980’s on Old Meeting House Road in East Falmouth. My mother, Val still has her organic garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables and although she doesn’t grow as many varieties as in earlier years, she still has an abundant crop. Creativity and a knack for learning the “old way” of doing things was the inspiration behind her cooking. Baking was an imperative to save money. I was jealous of the kids who ate bologna on wonder bread while I was “stuck” with homemade jam and peanut butter on thick slices of freshly made that morning bread. She was always trying new dishes to serve at dinner often because the ingredients at hand warranted, in fact needed some jazzing up to mask the fact that we may have had bluefish, quahogs or scallops a few times already that same week. “Oh the horror!” you may scoff. The horror indeed when your father, on top of working full time for the electric company, fished part time and frequently traded with others. Sadly, the days of scallops, bluefish and even eels (well maybe not the eels) filling the freezer are no longer with us as my parents enjoy a well deserved, more relaxed lifestyle. 
Pretty much everything I have learned about cooking and continue to learn, is from my mother (aside from spending many a summer employed in a few fine dining establishments around Falmouth and Woods Hole.). Some recipes are mine or they may be the victim of my “doctoring”, but most come from Val and are examples of the best food I have ever eaten.

Bring on the crisp. Make this recipe with any type of fruit you like that is in season. 
(Makes about 12 servings)
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
6 tablespoons COLD butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
5-6 apples, peeled and sliced (5 cups)
5-6 pears, peeled and sliced (5 cups)
1 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon zest
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 glass baking dish.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour through the salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Lightly stir in the walnuts.  Put aside.
In another large bowl, combine fruit through lemon zest and mix thoroughly. Transfer into baking dish. Cover fruit with topping. 
Bake for 30 minutes until browned and fruit juices bubble around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack until ready to serve hot or cold topped with ice cream, whipped cream and a few chopped walnuts and dried cranberries for garnish.
If you really want to impress, add the homemade ice cream. Make this up to a week ahead and at least a day ahead to insure a firm texture. This recipe works great in my Rival Ice Cream maker Val got for me at Wal-Mart for under $20.00.  
Freeze canister ahead of time, according to manufacturer’s instructions. (I find 24 hours to be best.)
5 egg yolks                             
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar                          
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Step one:
Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water. Cover and place over medium high heat. In the top of the double boiler, combine egg yolks, milk, sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly. Once water is boiling, place top portion of pot over boiling water and heat egg mixture while stirring constantly. Cook for 15-20 minutes until mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. Transfer to medium sized bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool in refrigerator for 4 hours.
Step two:
Set up ice cream maker. Combine cream, vanilla and cold egg yolk mixture. Turn on ice cream maker and immediately pour all into frozen canister. Process mixture according to manufacturer’s directions, churning for 25-30 minutes until the ice cream begins to solidify. Immediately transfer soft ice cream into a large container (44 oz or more) for freezing. Freeze for at least 5 hours before serving.

Quick and easy finisher:
(12 servings)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsps vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
Combine ingredients in a stand mixer. Place dish towel over top of entire machine (to avoid spray). Mix on highest setting for 45 seconds to 1 minute until thickened. If you are feeling strong, you can whip this by hand with a wire whisk until soft peaks form.

Andrea Norris lives in East Falmouth and is currently writing a cook book documenting her mother, Val’s famously delicious recipes.
Contact her at: