Friday, December 21, 2012

Festival of Soups!

Most people this time of year are making Christmas cookies and I usually would be, too, but this is a different Christmas season for us as my Dad has not been well so we have put many of our traditional Christmas customs on hold while spending much time with him. I decided to spend this very special Winter Solstice day making soup, which I find comforting, relaxing and satisfying. I know you are aware that today--December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar and I believe offers a powerful day of new beginnings and hope for mankind and our beautiful earth. This will be my last blog of 2012 and also is the first time I have blogged twice in one week!

This is one of my favorite winter-time hearty, healthy, and filled with rich goodness. I made the ham stock earlier in the week so although I made 3 different soups today, because I had the stocks for two of them made it was fairly easy to put them together.
For the stock:
Take the last of the ham off the bone and cut into small dice. I purposely leave about 2 cups worth of baked ham on the bone when I plan to make pea soup. In a big soup pot, cover the ham bone with water--about 1 quart. Add mirepoix--3 stalks celery cut in chunks, 2 carrots peeled and sliced in thick pieces, 1 onion roughly diced.  Add 1 tsp. of ground bay or 2 whole bay leaves. I am out of whole leaves so used the ground. 1 tsp. dried thyme and 1 tsp. sage. If your ham was fairly salty do not salt, but add liberal amount of black pepper. You can always season with salt when cooking the actual soup if it needs it. Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain and cool stock if you are using at a later date as I did. Cooling also allows you to skim off extra fat from your stock which comes off easily using a spoon to slide off the top of the stock once it has cooled. The stock will now be in a gelatinous/jelly form. Leave some fat as it helps flavor and season the soup.

3 cups split green peas
1 quart ham stock
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried bay

Place split peas in a collander. Rinse and clean peas...that means sort through them under running water. Sometimes you will find a stone mixed in with the peas. In a soup pot add peas to ham stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer and cook peas for about 1/2 hour. Add carrot, onion, garlic and 1/2 tsp. dried sage and 1/2 tsp. dried bay. Cook for another hour+ until peas are very tender and start to get mushy making the soup thick. Stir soup mashing peas into side of the soup pot. Add 2 cups diced ham and cook another 15 minutes until warmed. This soup freezes well.

I make this soup every year when we're in Ireland. Generally the first night we are there I make a French chicken (recipe is in a previous blog--go to and at top left 'SEARCH FOR RECIPES' and search for French chicken) and from this I make the stock and then finally the potato leek soup. Cooking equipment in Ireland is minimal so when we're in Spiddal the soup does not get blended, but mashed with the back of a spoon. I like it chunky, but today I used a blender to get a velvety creamy texture.

This soup needs adorning...chopped chives or parsley, but it is pouring out today and I did not want to venture into the rain to chop herbs. It still tastes great, but will look better with garnish.
1 quart rich chicken stock
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white with only a little green part
6 potatoes, I used Yukon golds, peeled and cut into pieces
1 tsp. salt, 1/4+ tsp.white pepper (I am ALSO out of white pepper so used black. I prefer white for extra heat and the fact that it does not interfere with the color profile of the soup. I know that may sound weird.)
1/2 cup Half and Half

Put all ingredients into the soup pot with the stock. I also had this stock prepared ahead so it made things easy today. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer and cook about 1 hour until potatoes are very tender. Cool completely. Taste and season appropriately. Blend in batches. Add 1/2 cup Half and Half and reheat. I am going to serve this soup with grated extra-sharp cheddar. I think a drizzle of roasted red pepper cut with a little cream cheese and cream might also look and taste great. Let me know what  you come up with!

The third soup I made today was Turkey with vegetables and a blend of brown and wild rice. I used the turkey carcass from the Thanksgiving turkey that I cut off the bone and stuffed and rolled and also used the bones from the roast Thanksgiving turkey. Cooking the soup stock twice gives the stock a richer and deeper flavor and it only takes about another hour.


For the stock:  Mirepoix. This time since I had the tops of leeks from the Potato Leek soup I used them instead of onions, 2 carrots and 3 stalks celery. I also added 1 tsp. dehydrated onion and 1/2 garlic, 1 tsp. each of ground bay, thyme, and sage,1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Cover your chicken carcass with about 1 quart of water. Add all other stock ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Strain and cut meat off the bone. I used about 1 1/2 cups turkey. My husband usually lights into the cooked veg as a snack!

Soup Ingredients:
1 quart turkey stock
3/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup wild rice*
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cups turkey meat in pieces
1 tsp. dehydrated onion; 1/2 tsp. dried garlic

Add 1 cup brown/wild rice, herbs and onion/garlic to turkey stock. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer and cook rice for about 1/2 hour. Add diced carrots, celery and cook for another hour. Add 1/2 cup frozen peas and 1 1/2 cups turkey and cook another 15 minutes. This soup freezes well, too.

* I know you probably know that wild rice is not really rice at all, but an aquatic grass related to rice, but more like a cousin than a sister. It grows naturally and in abundance in Minnesota. I was recently in Minneapolis at a board meeting for a nonprofit group I belong to ( and bought some local wild rice from Northland Products, a native American company that hand harvests this wild rice. It is nutty and delicious!

One more soup tip...last week I was making CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP, but realized I didn't have any cream or milk to make the roux. Instead I made the roux

--(Roux:  3 Tbsp. butter melted; add 4 Tbsp. flour; stir constantly over medium heat to cook flour pressing on flour to make a smooth paste; add 1/2 can evaporated milk and keep stirring for another 5 minutes)--

using evaporated milk which gave this soup a fabulous flavor. For stock I used 2 cups of rich chicken stock and 2 cups of mushroom stock made from dried wild mushrooms (porcini, oyster, shitake or whatever you have on hand--I actually buy these dried mushrooms at Big Lots, very inexpensive).

Bring 2 cups water to boil, add several handfuls of dried mushrooms and a little salt. Turn off heat and let sit for a couple hours or more. Strain. I do not use the dried mushrooms in the soup as they are sometimes a little tough, but do use them in other ways. This time, I chopped very finely and mixed with pasta, shrimp, red sauce, to make a mushroomy marina sauce.

Back to the soup...Use a large box of button mushrooms. Clean and slice. Add mushrooms to the chicken/mushroom stock and cook for about 45 minutes. Add the roux. Stir until well belnded. Viola!

Christmas is 4 days away and I want to share my Christmas dinner menu with you. This year it is all about Dad and I am making many of his old-time, old-fashioned favorites.

Little Smokies wrapped in Crescent dough
Deviled Eggs with various toppings
Baked Kielbasa

Baked Ham with Raisin Sauce
Mashed Sweet Potato with Mascarpone/Marshmellow Fluff drizzle
Steamed Peas and Onions
Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits

Rich and Velvety Chocolate Cream Pie

This is from last year's Christmas table--roasted asparagus
with olive oil and sea salt,
eggplant rollatini with home-made simple red sauce and baked ham!
My Mom made the cute pot-holder!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

White Farm B&B-Brockport, NY

Recently my husband and I drove to western NY to pick up our new kitty, Jo Jo. Turns out Spencerport is nearly on the Ohio border so it was a long 8 hour drive for us in rain and heavy fog, but the trip was well worth it on a number of counts. First, may I introduce you to Jo Jo:
He is an adorable Rag Doll and I know will bring us years of pleasure together! We stayed that night at the White Farm B&B in nearby Brockport, NY located in farm country along the Erie Canal.

This turned out to be the next best thing that happened on the trip. Owner Christine Hunt and her husband are delightful hosts and fortunately for us (and Jo Jo!) are cat lovers as they welcomed him into their home, too. The Inn is a beautiful and stately mid-1800's brick farm house. ( One of the most unique features of the inn are hand painted wall murals done by a local, well-known artist. They are unusual, beautiful scenes mainly of birds, including a gorgeous depiction of the now-extinct carrier pigeon; animals; and nature, all in fantastic condition. The inn is brimming with antiques, art, and wonderful stories that Christine is all too happy to share. She is a 'professional food arranger' and it's easy to see she loves to decorate rooms as well as plates. We became fast friends! The breakfast she served was perfect starting with warm, freshly baked Nutty Pumpkin Muffins.       

This came from an old recipe book she shared of locally collected favorites; one of those cookbooks where pages are torn, spattered and stuck together with ingredients; a well-loved recipe cooked for many years. It was submitted by Denise Baumert from Jameson, Missouri. I am not sure of the year. These muffins were moist and flavorful; icing and pumpkin seeds were the perfect finishing touch. Christine also pointed out that if you have several muffins in the same tin, by marking with pumpkin seeds you know which is which...makes sense!

2 eggs
1 cup sugar (Christine said she uses less)
1 cup canned or mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 2/3 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped cashews or walnuts (she used walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degreees. In a large bowl mix eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil and water. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, salt. Stir in pumpkin mix. Mix well. Fold in nuts. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until muffins test done. Do not overbake. Cool on wire rack. Drizzle on icing and place 3 seeds on each muffin.

Next course was a hot fruit compote made with Northern Spy apples (which are 
 great for cooking), golden raisins, dried cranberries and maple syrup; home-made, of course.

Northen Spys are an American heirloom apple and are often referred to as Pie Apples as they hold up well when cooked. Peel and core the apples and cut into big chunks. Mix with a handful of golden raisins and some dried cranberries and big dollop of maple syrup and heat on the stove until warm and the apples get just tender. This was a scrumptuous combination of flavors and textures.

Next she made us some delicately scrambled eggs served with various home-made whole-grain breads. Of course we consumed pots of rich coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. A highly recommendable stay and one we will be sure to visit again. Thanks Christine!

Christine inspired me to re-visit some of my old favorite muffin and quick bread recipes and I found my favorite for a very rich and moist Banana Bread.


1/2 cup butter, melted (yes, that really means 2 sticks!)
1 cup sugar (I used a little less)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream (I used non-fat Greek-style plain Yogurt--my favorite replacement for sour cream)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
2 large bananas-sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the butter mixture until smooth. Finally, fold in the sour cream or yogurt, walnuts and banana slices. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. This is everything banana bread should be---rich, very bananay because banana is added in slices, rather than mashed, and super moist. I guarantee you will LOVE it!
SWITCHING GEARS....The other day I made a topping for spinach (one of my favorite vegetables) that I want to share with you. This topping made the spinach very special. First, lightly steam the spinach until barely wilted. Place steamed spinach in a buttered casserole and top with ground pecans, garlic, parmesan cheese, a few bread crumbs, salt/pepper, and some olive oil. Just put all those ingredients in a mini-max, food processor or blender and blend until well combined. Dot with butter and bake for about 15 minutes at high heat until the topping gets browned. You will not believe how easy and delicious this is!

You know I was recently in Eastern Europe. I was surprised and pleased to see how many menus offered steak tartare served many different ways. Here were two I had, each wonderful.

I love my steak rare and having it raw for me is even better! I have never made steak tartare, but will put it on my list for 2013. Don't these look wonderful? The first was served at a small cafe in Pilsen, Czech Republic--very simple in presentation with the black and paprika peppers being the main accompaniment and the second tartate was served at a lovely outdoor restaurant in Warsaw, Poland--quite a bit fancier in both presentation and adornments, but both equally satisfying! Note, both tartares offer a raw egg; a must when serving tartare.

I am going to conclude today with one more food photo from our Eastern European vacation from a bakery in Krakow, Poland. You can almost smell the butter, almonds and chocolate!

 Thank you again for joining me while I ramble about food and cooking and travel. We are approaching December 21, 2012---the big day---the end of the Mayan calendar. Hope you honor, celebrate and cherish the day with loved ones in whatever way gives you the most pleasure and happiness. I am going to spend the day in thought and thankfulness for all I have in my life. Plus I will probably do some cooking which is the thing that makes me happiest. I think I will make soup since today I made a rich chicken broth. I also have a big ham bone in the freezer ready for a nice pea soup so am ready to go! Let's talk about soup next time. Until then...
Much love and peace...Cindy    

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cranberry Ginger Sauce and More Turkey??

Hopefully you are not all sick of turkey by now. Today I want to talk about a Cranberry Ginger Sauce I made for our Thanksgiving, a couple side dishes that could be served anytime, not just at Thanksgiving, and also the Boneless Stuffed Turkey Breast, which I believe stole the show! I made 2 boneless stuffed breasts and one 11 pound turkey for 5 of us. Really a a bit over-kill with all the other fixings, but it was all great fun and everyone enjoyed lots of left-overs!
I like to change up the Cranberry Sauce every year sometimes using savory ingredients like shallots and sometimes going sweet with apple, pear, walnuts and maybe a little cinnamon. This year, because ginger is one of my Dad's favorite flavors I decided to try a Cranberry Ginger Sauce and it turned out very well. The fresh ginger root gave the sauce a spicy and exotic flavor. This recipe is fast and easy and can be made and stored in jars in the fridge a week in advance of your dinner.

12 oz. fresh cranberries, washed and picked over (meaning take out any raw berries, or berries that have gone by & remove stems)
1(+) cup sugar (Toward the end of cooking time, taste it, if  you want it sweeter add more sugar.)
Finely minced fresh ginger root-about 2 Tbsp.
Juice of 1/2 orange (It's OK if some pulp falls in, too.)
Zest of 1/2 orange (Orange skin only. If you go too deep, the white part is bitter.)
1 cup water
I really like the look of a ginger root!

Preparation:  Stir all ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Boil gently stirring frequently for 10-12 more minutes. Sauce will get thicker as it cools. Taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if you like. Cool in saucepan. Remove into glass jars and chill in fridge at least an hour if eating right away and if not, it is good for a week or more. This sauce gets more gingery as it sits!

Before I get into the Boneless Turkey Breast I want to tell you about a couple vegetable dishes that I prepared for Thanksgiving and may give you some ideas of your own.

Duchess or Duchesse Potatoes are a classic French dish. These pommes de terre are quite simple, but have an extraordinary texture. Traditionally to make Duchess Potatoes, season mashed potatoes well; beat in a well-beaten egg and then force through a pastry bag into puffy shapes and bake until golden brown. I simplify by cutting the "piping" step and just bake in a casserole.  To try something new, this time I added about a cup of sharp cheddar cheese and then topped with more cheese and butter before baking in a casserole.

Unfortunately the photo of the potatoes all baked was too blurry, but trust me each one of those little peaks on top becomes golden brown and crispy with the inside texture being very creamy.  All you do is boil 4-5 big peeled and chopped potatoes (I used Idaho) in salted water. Mash potatoes with salt/pepper and about 1/2 stick butter. Add 1 cup of grated cheese of your choice. For Thanksgiving I used Cabot Cheddar. Add 1-2 eggs depending on size of eggs and how many potatoes you used. Beat the egg into the potato mixture. If you are making this the morning of your dinner, bring it to the counter to warm up for about an hour before baking. Bake at 350 degrees for 3/4 to 1 hour until top is very browned and beautiful!


We also had Maple Glazed Carrots that were supposed to be served with crumbled buttered pecans, but the pecans burned to a crisp so I served the carrots sans nuts. To make this vegetable dish, peel and cut carrots into uniform, but fairly large pieces. Lay them out on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Liberally salt and pepper, add about 2 capfuls of Olive Oil, roll carrots around to coat in oil, and dot with butter. Roast in preheated 425 degree oven until tender and browned; 40-45 minutes. This can be done the night before. Wrap well and refrigerate overnight. To make the sauce melt about 2 Tbsp. butter in a pan, add 1/2 cup maple syrup and a pinch of hot pepper. Cut with a tablespoon or 2 of water if it seems too thick. I also added (optional) 1 Tbsp. of bourbon since that was the theme for the turkey basting! Toss the carrots in this sauce and rebake, covered, for about 20 minutes until nice and hot.

When serving do not put the end pieces of the rolled turkey on the plate as they are not as large as the center pieces so don't look as attractive, but they work well in sandwiches later!  Each breast made 5 thick slices, (plus the end-piece left-overs). I served the rolled turkey breast with a mushroom and caramelized shallot gravy. I used  a very traditional herby bread stuffing and used the same stuffing for both big bird and the 2 breasts. If I was cooking for more adventurous palates I would have used stuffing that included spinach, feta cheese, roasted red pepper, pine nuts, or something along those lines, but this year it was a bag of herbed bread crumbs (whatever brand has the least amount of salt; this year it was Pepperidge Farm). Melt 1 stick of butter, add 3 stalks of finely diced celery, finely diced large onion, cook both in the butter until soft. Add lots of Bell Seasoning. No salt! And a little pepper. Add the bag of herbed bread crumb; 1 egg; moisten with about a cup of chicken stock; mix well; cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. Add more chicken stock in the morning if the stuffing needs a little loosening.

Now on to a bit of technique for rolling.

I bought hotel style turkey breast which is a whole breast and some wing meat on the bone. To cut each breast off the bone run your sharpest big knife along either side of the backbone to loosen the meat at the top first and then just continue along the natural line of the bone/ribs keeping your knife close to the meat as you cut it away. Leave the skin on. You will be surprised how easy this is to remove the meat from the bone. Once off the bone, pound your breast to an even thickness--about 3/4 inch thick.  Remove any tendons, visible silver skin or other junk.

Once the breasts are flattened, place your stuffing down the center of the breast. Start rolling from the long end, jelly roll style.  As you roll, the stuffing may ooze out, but just keep gently working it back inside with your fingers. Pull the skin so it fits around the breast. Now you are ready for tying.
This is my favorite part as it makes me feel like a little butcher! Take a long piece of kitchen twine and start by sliding the twine under the breast and tying it off in a loop around the meat. Bring the string across the top of the breast and every 2 1/2 inches or so, loop the twine under the breast and just 'catch' the long piece under the loop at the top to make a secure, but loose knot. Keep doing this until you are at the end and then tie off in a tight knot and cut whatever left-over string you have. If you do not have kitchen twine, get creative! One night when cooking with friends we resorted to dental floss (unwaxed and non-minted of course) to tie up some chicken breasts. Worked just fine!
And here they are ready to roast. Because there are no bones it does not take long to cook these breasts even though stuffed. You do not want them to dry out. Drizzle them liberally with olive oil, salt, pepper and dot with butter. I roasted big bird in a bourbon sauce (Yum Yum was that ever good!) so used a little of this to baste as they were cooking. I started these breasts at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then turned the oven down to 325 and cooked for another 45 minutes for an hour total cooking time. I know you are supposed to use a meat thermometer to test doneness, but I cannot find one that works well so I go by look and feel.

A quick word on big bird...
My husband told me this morning that if he never had another full bone-in turkey for Thanksgiving he would not be disappointed. That was quite a compliment on the boneless breasts, but I would be disappointed not to brine, stuff, roast, baste and carve a big bird. I just love doing it! This year I brined our bird overnight in about 2 cups of kosher salt, a bunch of fresh thyme, dehydrated garlic, ground pepper (Do not use whole pepper corns in your brine. They are very difficult to get off your bird the next morning. They stick to the bird inside and out and need to be removed one at a time---learned from experience!), and the secret ingredient...a cup of bourbon. My roasting pan is large enough that I could fit the bird (only 11 pounds) in the roaster, rub the salt and spices all over inside and out and then cover with water and bourbon. I put this bird out on the back porch in NH at Dad's covered with a couple big rocks so the coons wouldn't get at it, but before going to bed transferred the whole thing into the trunk of my car so it wouldn't freeze. I also know how clever racoons are and didn't want to find an empty roasting pan in the morning!

Next morning:  rinse, rinse, and rinse again. You can brine with just about anything as long as you include salt and water. I always brine my bird as it keeps it more moist plus gives you more time to play with your bird. If you have a huge bird (one year I cooked a 23 pounder!) you can brine in a big, tightly secured plastic garbage bag.

Here's a stuffing tip, which you may already do, but if not it is another trick for keeping your turkey moist. Pull apart the top of the skin and place the stuffing between the skin and the breast meat. Put a bunch of stuffing under the skin at the back end of the bird, too. This also gives the stuffing a really rich flavor.

I made a mince pie for dessert and some cranberry orange jello. The jello, made from unflavored gelatin was interesting. (Note, I did not say delicious!). Very simple to make, but the canned Mandarin orange segments were too tart and the texture was a little odd. I would definitely make the cranberry gelatin again, but would try a different fruit. Send me an email if you want the recipe so you can try your own modifications!
Looks beautiful, doesn't it?!?

You know my philosophy...
cooking is all about having fun, being creative, trying new things. They all won't be winners!

This was the table arrangement I made for our Thanksgiving dinner! Easy by hollowing out a pumpkin!

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


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little This and That...

Tomorrow we are taking off for Eastern Europe for 3 weeks! This is a trip my husband and I have been planning and talking about for 22 years. I can't believe it is finally happening. I thought I would get one more post in before I leave as you won't hear from me again for awhile. I will be having a blast, but suffering from food-blog withdrawl. Hopefully I will take in lots of flavors and tastes and new treats to bring back to you.

A few weeks ago I made some hot pepper relish from peppers I grew in my little garden this year and it turned out pretty good so thought I would share it. What I liked about this relish was the blend of spicy hot pepper with a little sweet. It has lots of flavor and is easy to make. I have been making it just as the peppers ripen. Making one small batch at a time is much easier than dealing with a bushel of hot peppers.
I used a combination of green and red cayenne peppers. You can also add a green, red, orange or yellow bell pepper to tone down the heat.

20 -25 peppers, seeded with white inside spine removed (that is really hot!)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. salt, plus 1/4 tsp.
1 cup cider vinegar
6 packets Stevia or regular sugar

Seed and core the peppers. DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES while doing this or after. In fact, I recommend safety glasses. Seriously. I sliced one of these peppers in half and juice came back and hit me right in the eye-ball. It felt like my eye had been pierced with a hot needle. Not nice. I now wear my glasses when I make this hot relish. Put peppers, onion and garlic through a blender or mini-max and chop until quite fine. Be careful when removing the lid of the blender as the fumes really waft out.  Place pepper mixture in a saucepan and cover with water. Add 2 tsp. salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain off water pressing on solids to get out as much water as possible.  Add 1 cup cider vinegar; 1/4 tsp. salt; sugar. Simmer peppers for 20 minutes. Ladle into jar(s) pressing down as you fill so liquid covers the peppers. Wipe jar rim and adjust lid. You can either process to store or keep in the refrigerator without processing for about a month. (I don't think this stuff could ever go bad.)  To process: Place in a boiling water "bath" for 15 minutes. Start the time once the water boils. I have already given several jars as gifts. Just make sure the recipient likes it "hot" before offering!

A few years ago we started doing the South Beach diet every January to lose some of that holiday weight and I found this recipe in South Beach which we use often.  We use many South Beach recipes throughout the year, but go 'hard-core' in January!

Portobella Pizzas can be filled with whatever topping you would select for pizza with crust; just use the mushroom AS the crust. Last week I decided to make homemade red sauce as my tomatoes are really coming into their own. The fresh tomatoes give the sauce a very bright flavor that is so much bigger than using canned tomatoes and canned paste, but they are not always available so using canned tomatoes are still far superior to store-bought jars of sauce.

20 plum tomatoes
2 big tomatoes (I used the Mountain Prides from my garden.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt/Pepper to taste
Fresh Basil, Oregano, Rosemary at your discretion. I like heavy on the basil/oregano; a pinch of rosemary
4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
Minced dried onion
Pinch of hot dried pepper flake

Fill a large saute pan with salted water.  Bring to brisk boil.  Carefully drop the tomatoes into the boiling water to just barely blanche until their skins start to pop. As soon as you see one skin split, pour off into a collander as the others should follow. Let them sit until they are cool enough to handle. Peel the tomatoes. In the same large sauce pan, lightly saute the crushed garlic in olive oil; add the tomatoes and gently smash them with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until they are flattened; add minced dried onions; herbs; salt/pepper; pinch of red pepper flake and let cook down until it is sauce-like consistency--about 2 hours. Stir every once in awhile and continue smooshing the tomatoes so they begin to disentegrate as the sauce cooks. I like sauce a little chunky, but if you prefer, you can blend the sauce to make perfectly smooth. This sauce also freezes very well.

For the Portobello Mushroom Pizza:
Wash mushrooms by brushing off the outer skin with your fingers or a pastry brush. Remove the stem and any black edges so you have a nice deep 'well' for your ingredients.  Add a layer of red sauce, and whatever toppings you like.  I used sauted sweet Italian sausage, thinly sliced yellow and green peppers, garlic, onion and topped with both mozarella and parmesan cheese.
This picture DOES NOT do these pizzas justice! They look and taste much more delicious than this!
Truly amazing twist on traditional pizza!!

Place on a flat pan and bake for about 20 minutes. If the cheese is not bubbly, put under the broiler for a minute or two. I serve 2 mushrooms per person, which sounds like a lot, but there are no carbs in this meal (except for the veggies). These "pizzas" can also be cooked on the grill.
We recently had our new neighbors, Karen and Dave, over for cocktails. They were going out of town the next day so I wanted to make appetizers heavy enough to count as dinner so they would not have to go home and cook. This is what I did...


This is kind of a play on my Southwestern Chicken Thighs stuffed with avocado and wrapped in bacon that I talked about last time, but it is done as a 'bite' so makes a great appetizer.  It does not really need a recipe.  Clean a bunch of chicken thighs and cut into 1 1/2 inch chucks.  I planned 3 'bites' per person/1 'bite' per skewer.  Marinate the chicken bites in olive oil, freshly chopped garlic, salt, pepper for a couple hours or all afternoon. Cut thickly sliced bacon in quarters by cutting in half lengthwise and widthwise. Stretch it out a bit and wrap 1/4 piece of bacon around each chicken thigh. Soak the wooden skewers for a couple hours in water. Skewer the chicken by piercing both sides of the bacon to keep the bacon intact around the chicken 'bite'.

Make the avocado crema (previous blog so go to the Search Engine, top left on the actual website: and search for Avocado Crema and it will take you right to the recipe-I use it myself!). The only difference is with these appetizers I topped the crema with crumbled bacon.

I wanted to grill these kabobs, but it was pouring so I got the broiler hot and grilled inside under the broiler, about 5 minutes each side until bacon was super crispy.  When broiling inside you just have to be careful not to catch your skewers on fire!


This is my take on Crab Rangoons, but they are not deep fried and as the name implies made with shrimp; not crab. Of all the apps I served that night, these were by far my favorite.

1 extra large jumbo shrimp per rangoon or 2 smaller shrimps per rangoon
1/2 package puff pastry, thawed
1/2 lb. Cream Cheese

1/2 package puff pastry makes 9 rangoons. I planned 2 per person so I had one left over to sample since we had 4 people at this party.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shell and devein shrimp. Boil in a spicy broth. I used water to cover, 2 pieces fresh lemon grass, 2" chunk of fresh sliced and peeled ginger root; pinch of hot pepper flake; dried garlic; dried onion. Boil until the shrimp are just pink--3-4 minutes. You can boil your shrimp in any herb or spice you like, but this blend worked well. Let cool and then chop. Since I was making 8 for company, divide your portions appropriately so they fill puff pastry squares equally.
Flatten out each piece of puff pastry with a rolling pin or use your fingers. Place a piece of cream cheese on the bottom of the pastry. Put the chopped shrimp on1/2 side of the pastry and top with another piece of cream cheese. Carefully fold the pocket over into a triangle and pinch edges together. I think the beauty of this appetizer is its simplicity.  I would prefer a bit more heat, but was not sure how the crowd would react. You can goop it up with all kinds of things and it would probably be just as delicious, if not more! Experiment and let me know what you come up with!

Place the rangoons in preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top.
Shrimp Rangoons ready to bake on greased foil lined baking sheet.

I popped them under the broiler for 1 minute after they were baked to really brown up the tops and decided to serve with no sauce to keep them very simple. They were a big hit!

Next I served a smoked salmon dip with crispy pita pocket triangles, some simple sausage kabobos, and mushrooms stuffed with sun-dried tomato Boursin cheese.


This hors'doeuvre echoed the shrimp served in the first hors d'oeuvre course. Here's how to make it...take 5 slices of smoked salmon (preferably wild salmon) and mash it with a fork. Add 1/2 pound cream cheese and mash it all together. Add 1 Tbsp. of capers and some black pepper. Top with finely chopped chives and let set for an hour or more to allow flavors to blend. To make the pita chips, cut pita pockets (I used whole grain pockets with flax--yum! yum!), into triangles. Spray with PAM and top with onion/garlic seasoning. Put under the broiler and crisp until browned--it just takes a couple minutes.

Next in our line-up of 'Hors'Douevres as a Meal' were Sausage Kabobs...what could be easier.

Cook all ingredients a little bit before you skewer. Use any combination, but I took green and yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes and sweet Italian sausage. Get a pan very hot with a little olive oil and drop in sausage stirring to release some fat, add peppers and cherry tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes. Cool. Cut sausage into bite sized pieces and skewer with the veg. I had also planned to grill this, but New England weather did not allow, so I put under the broiler for about 4 minutes on each side and served.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Clean and stem mushrooms. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a little olive oil. Roll mushrooms around, both sides to coat with a little oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper. Fill each cap with a generous teaspoon of sun-dried tomato Boursin cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes until the cheese gets bubbly and the mushrooms look done. Top with some chopped basil.

I actuallly had more food than necessary (what a surprise!) and the neighbors left very satisfied!  The whole plan included fish, meat, veg, cheese, and of course a couple cocktails!--a complete dinner!!

Thank you dear readers so sincerely for cooking with me once again.  I love talking about food and love cooking even more.

I am off on an adventure of a lifetime and look forward to sharing stories of lands I have never visited.  I don't think I will have much opportunity to cook, but sure do plan to eat!

Until next time, enjoy YOUR time in the kitchen, entertaining friends, family, and most of all being a complete free spirit when it comes to cooking!

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