Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thoughts of Gratitude...

I have missed you! And I have truly missed talking about food. Our trip to Eastern Europe included stays in Berlin, Germany; Warsaw, Krakow and Zakapone, Poland; Slovakia; Prague and Pilsen, Czech Republic; Budapest (my Mom's family's original home--my granparents are both from there), Hungary; and Vienna, Austria. Phew! Lots of new and different taste treats, but NO cooking. I thought there would be an opportunity in Budapest, but the cooking class was canceled due to lack of interest...I can assure you not on my part!

Me and Jerry in Zakapone which is high in the Tatra mountains!
One of the highlights of this fabulous journey was dinner in a Polish family's private home. The mother did the cooking, which involved many courses, shots of Polish vodka-Nostrovia!--and even some home-made lemon liquor that tasted a bit like limoncello. It was a night to remember and in a future blog I will share some food details of this dinner and other meals that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The focus of this trip was WWII history.  What an eye-opener. I had no idea that the Poles suffered so severely during this horrible time in history. The Poles we met were exceptionally warm, loving, bright and open to sharing themselves and their history--past and present. Our adventure also included music (even heard the Vienna Boys Choir!), folk dancing, architecture, and of course lots of eating!  Jerry and I have been waiting to take this trip for 20 years and every aspect pleased, surprised, entertained and amused us. What a wonderful experience. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity!

After 3 weeks away, we returned to our home in Massachusetts and the next afternoon had company arrive from Ireland to spend the week with us. Our friends, Barbara and Tim who look after our house in Spiddal joined us for a week of touring right here in America's home-town, Plymouth. Great visit and we were delighted to treat them as they do so much for us.

One week later we were on a plane again to Ireland with my 2 sons. This was the first time we had traveled together as adults. Another spectacular trip and this time I was able to do lots of cooking as we stayed in our own guest house overlooking Galway Bay.

Unfortunately my Dad became quite ill while we were away. We got back as quickly as possible and have been looking after him the last few weeks. I am grateful for the time we share together and so pleased that his sense of humor remains intact and we are able to have many happy times together.

This explains why I have not been in touch with you for so long. Thanksgiving is next week and provides us with the opportunity to pause from our busy lives and give thanks for all we have; to count our blessings and be happy for the love and joy of friends and family. Now, on to some food...!

I have had lots of game lately.  My Dad's neighbor shot a moose this year so we have feasted on both moose burger and moose steaks. Another friend got a deer and I made a fabulous venison stew; rich and delicious. Dad recently gave me a squirrel and I thought I would try something different. I talked about squirrel a few blogs back, but this dish was one of the best squirrel feeds I have ever had so I want to share it with you. If you don't have squirrel I think it would be equally good with rabbit or even chicken thighs.
Even though the meat is dark, squirrel is quite mild.
Cassoulet is the French word for casserole and makes the meal sound much more elegant.  Cassoulets originated in the south of France and usually contain meat-pork, goose, or duck, but as luck would have it, I had a fresh squirrel so decided to use it. I had prepared lentils with a rich tomato sauce the day before so it made this dish really easy to put together. This serves 2 people.

1 squirrel, or rabbit, or 4 chicken thighs (skin and bone in)
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, thickly sliced
1 small onion, sliced in wedges
6-7 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 cup red wine (I used Merlot)
1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dried lentils (I used Gonsalves brown lentils.)
15 ounce can whole tomatoes with their juice
1/2 cup onion, sliced
1 cup green cabbage, sliced in fairly thin wedges
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried gound bay

If you want to make this in stages as I did, begin by cooking the lentils. I had actually made the lentils for our lunch the day before and had leftovers.
Preparation for lentils:
Brown the onion, cabbage in a large pot in the olive oil over medium/high heat. Add salt/pepper and dried herbs. Add 1/2 cup dried lentils. Stir thoroughly so lentils get coated with olive oil. Once the veg is nice and browned, add the can of whole tomatoes and break them apart using a spoon or rubber spatula. Cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Back to the Squirrel Cassoulet...
Liberally salt and pepper your squirrel. In a large saucepan over medium/high heat, add 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Add the squirrel and stir all together so everything gets coated with oil. Cook for about 30 minutes stirring from time to time so it doesn't burn. Once this mixture is very browned (squirrel will not be done at this point), add 1/2 (+) cup (I didn't measure, but it looked like a half cup) red wine and 1/2 cup water.

Cover and simmer for another 45 minutes. The liquid will reduce by about 1/2. Let cool and tear the meat off the bones.

Add the lentil/tomato/cabbage mixure and stir together in your favorite cassoulet dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. I guarantee you will not be disappointed with this dish!

Back in August, before the back-to-back extravaganzas began, I was doing some experimenting with unflavored gelatin. I promised I would tell you about...

Even though we are now well into fall and cooler weather Tomato Aspic still makes a nice light lunch served with a green salad and whole grain rolls. This recipe is easy to make and is not something you see served much anymore. Aspics were very popular in the 1950's ad 60's. Here is the plain, straight-forward recipe, but do not be timid about experimenting! I served mine with green salad dressed with citrus vinaigrette and wild shrimp.

3 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
2 cups cold tomato juice
2 1/2 cups tomato juice heated to a boil
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. Worchestershire sauce
4-6 dashes hot pepper sauce

Are these ingredients sounding familiar? Adding a shot or two of vodka might be fun to try for an adult only aspic!
In a large bowl, sprinkle unflavored gelatin over cold tomato juice. Let stand 1 minute. Add hot juice and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved; about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into a 5 qt. ring mold (I used my steamed pudding mold, but any vessel will work--even a metal bowl.) and chill until firm. To serve, unmold by dipping the mold in a pan of hot water and flip onto a serving plate. You may have to coax your aspic out, but once you break the seal it will pop right out. You can also fill the center with veggies. Cut into wedges and serve.

I love beans and the following recipe is easy to make and very satisfying.

There is a store in Chichester, NH called the Healthy Buffalo which sells all kinds of game and unusual meats from bison to wild boar to ostrich and more . They make their own venison sausage which are really spectaular. You can place orders online ( The sausage I used for this soup was made with red wine and demi glace.

15 oz. package 13 Bean Soup (I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1 1/2-2 qts. rich chicken broth (I like to have chicken broth in the freezer at all times!)
Mire poix-2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 small onion; dice all
4 venison sausage (or pork sausage)
Big handful cherry tomatoes
1/4 tsp. dried thyme, oregano

Rinse and pick over beans. The other day I found a small stone in a bag of beans so this step is really worth doing.  Cover beans with water and soak for a couple hours. Rinse and add beans and chicken stock to large soup pot and bring to boil. If you like a very thick soup use 1 1/2 qts. broth. Turn to simmer and cook beans for about 1-1 1/2 hours. Add veg and herbs and cook for another hour at a simmer until both beans and veg are tender. Slice the venison sausage on the diagonal and drop into the soup and cook for another 30 minutes or so. Also add a big handful of cherry tomatoes which will pop as they cook. Serve with crusty bread for a healthy lunch!

I want to share my Thanksgiving menu with you and also the do-ahead rolls I make every year. You know my philosophy for big holiday or hoo-doo dinners is to make as much as possible ahead of time. I also am a list-maker and actually assign times as to when I am going to make which helps me stay organized.
Scallops wrapped in Bacon
Clam Dip with Assorted Crackers
Triple cream Goat Brie with Sliced Green Apples
Rich Banana Bread

Main course:
Stuffed Rolled Turkey Breast with Traditional Herby Bread Stuffing
Whole brined Turkey Glazed with Bourbon Butter with Traditional Bread Stuffing
Glazed Whole Carrots
Steamed Peas and Onions
Duchess style Whipped Potato with Smoked Gouda Cheese and Crumbled Bacon
Cranberry Ginger Root Chutney

Mincemeat Pie
Cranberry Gelatin with Mandarin Orange Slices

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus 2 Tbsp. for bowl and baking dish
1 1/2 cups whole milk (I used 1 cup sweetened Almond Milk and 1/2 cup Half & Half)
1/3 cup Honey (Did you know I used to keep bees and made my own honey?)
4 Tbsp. vegetable shortening (I used butter.)
5-6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 Tbsp. Rapid-rise Yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg with 1 Tbsp. water for brushing

Heat oven to 200 degrees. When oven reaches 200 shut oven off. Grease bowl with 1 Tbsp. butter and put bowl back in warm oven.

Line a 13x9 inch baking dish with foil overhanging edges of pan in all directions. Grease foil with 1 Tbsp. butter.

Place milk, honey, shortening (or 4 Tbsp. more butter) in a large measuring cup and microwave until milk is warm and butter melts--1 to 2 minutes.

Mix 4 1/2 cups flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Slowly add milk (make sure it is not too hot or it will kill the yeast; should be just warm or tepid.)  The recipe calls for mixing this on slow in a standing mixer, but I don't have one so just use a hand mixer until the flour is combined with the milk/butter mixture. Add the egg and beat until it is mixed into the dough which should be smooth and elastic. Add another 1/2 cup flour and knead until dough is smooth and shiney--about 6-7 minutes. Roll the dough toward you and press firmly with the heal of your hand to knead the dough.

Add more flour if the dough is sticky. When the dough starts to feel silky you have kneaded enough. Knead the dough into a firm ball and place in the buttered bowl that has been sitting in the warmed oven. Roll the dough around so it gets covered with butter. Cover with a linen (not terry cloth) dish towel and place back in oven to rise for about an hour.

Punch down dough and press out into a rectangle that measures about 6 inches wide and 10 inches long. Cut the dough into 3 strips the long way and then cut each strip into 5 equal pieces making a total of 15 pieces of dough. Roll the dough into balls and place in the greased foil-lined baking dish.

Cover with the linen dish towel and place back in the oven to rise again for another hour.

Take rolls out of oven and heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush tops of rolls with 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. of water. Bake for 25 minutes until tops are golden brown.

Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes then lift the rolls using the foil edges out of the pan and cool on a rack for an hour.

These rolls freeze well for up to a month. If you are freezing for that long peel the foil off the baked rolls and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then wrap the foil around them and freeze. If you are only freezing for a few days just wrap the rolls thoroughly in the foil and freeze.

To serve: Take rolls out of freezer for 2 hours to thaw. Heat oven to 325 degrees and re-heat rolls for about 1/2 hour.


Tune in again soon for more food from Eastern Europe,
holiday ideas, stories, recipes and more.
Peppers at the food market in Budapest


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