30 May 2010

German Chocolate Cake and Birthday Wishes ...

I have had SUCH an urge for chocolate today ... I crave the soft, moist sweetness of a chocolate cake with a gooey rich chewy frosting. I crave a German Chocolate Cake! Where did this sudden need for sugar come from? I don't usually have a 'sweet tooth'. That's usually Silent Bob's department. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps this urge to bake a cake relates to a maternal withdrawal from making birthday cakes. With the kids grown and flown, I don't bake many birthday cakes anymore (This is your chance to sniff and think to yourself, 'Poor lady'.).  Yup, this has got to be the reason for this sudden flight of baking fancy. You see, yesterday was my daughter, Kate's birthday. She is a big girl now and is celebrating in Washington DC this weekend. The trip between DC and NYC is a relatively easy bus trip and she is with a dear friend from high school, but that doesn't mean that I haven't thought of her often over the past 24. So, Happy Birthday, Kate! Dad and I love you ... and we also love chocolate! We know you love your cupcakes, but we are all about a big old honkin' chocolate cake with WAY too much sugary frosting and a nutty crunch that satisfies! If it froze well, we'd save you a piece! Instead, we'll make another one when you get back up to New Hampshire! Make a birthday wish over those cupcakes, dearie!

28 May 2010

New Spring Greens! Salad For Supper ...

The first greens came in today from the backyard garden and I'm thrilled that we will be having simple supper ... salad, bread and olives, and red wine. It's so easy and so satisfying to bring in a colander full of snipped baby mesclune mix. I've left it to sit on the counter after washing so I don't bruise the little leaves to much when I spin them out and nip some of the longer stems ...

I know I sound a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West when I say 'these things must be done delicately', but I just love the first burst of peppery scent and flavor when you crunch into the little leaves. I have some cannelini beans, some slivers of pepper crusted dry salami, and a purple onion that I'll toss in with the greens. I think I'll top it with some shavings of Parmesan cheese and toss just a bit of olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar that I'll whisk up with the first snips of oregano from the herb garden.

Hmmm ... nothing finer for this evening! Hope your gardens are coming along too! If not, head to the farmer's market this weekend and see about some fresh greens for your own salad concoction!

25 May 2010

Happy Ending ... Grill's On! ... Spicy Turkey Cutlets With Couscous

So ... I have a theory about we New Englanders ... we bitch and moan about the weather when it's cold and snowy and frosty and muddy and rainy and dry and hot and humid. The only time we DON'T complain is on those four or so days when Spring is really here. These four or so days are balmy, sunny, soft days that call us out into our yards and fields to contemplate all the wonderful things that we'll 'put in' so that late summer and autumn will yield plenty for the pantry. But wait ... those four days or so? Those are the days that the black flies and mosquitoes emerge and wreak havoc. So ... we bitch and moan about them! It never ends ... and while we're whalin' away, the glory of our flower gardens unfolds.

21 May 2010

The Quickest Dessert I've Made In Ages ... Bread Pudding.

We had more friends in for dinner last evening. Man, have we been entertaining a lot lately! Anyway, as I was putting finishing touches on the table and opening wine, SB asked me, "Hey, what's for dessert?" Ummm... I hadn't planned anything ... pause ...I looked at him like a deer in the proverbial headlights. Meanwhile, my mind was reeling through the mental rolodex of fast recipes and cross referencing what ingredients I had in the pantry. "I don't know", I muttered, moving off in the direction of the kitchen.

Solution? Bread pudding ... this is THE easiest dessert you can make. I had ciabatta rolls which were perfect for soaking up the egg and milk. You could use day-old bread, French bread, or the heels from loaves that are hanging around. I used currants because I don't like how big and bulbous (I love that word!)  raisins get when they absorb liquid. I added spiced rum (Captain Morgan ... aaarrgh!) and used brown sugar in the egg and milk mixture to jazz the whole dessert up a bit.

18 May 2010

Turkey Tamale Pie - Really Good Leftovers!

Once in a while, we all look in the fridge and say, "Holy cow! Where did all this stuff come from?" Well, today was my day for that 'what the...' moment! I have been having folks in for eats a lot lately, and when that happens, I tend to pile up stuff. You see, I don't really like to eat leftovers the very next day, which means they get shoved back in the fridge, as I move on to the next meal. If SB doesn't gobble the leftovers fast, they get lost in the shuffle.  So once in a while, I either do a clean sweep of the fridge, make soup, or put together a casserole that 'uses up and makes do'.

17 May 2010

Can It Be Done? - $68.00/Week For a Family of Four

I was listening to NPR this AM and heard a story that I found a bit upsetting. Apparently, 1 in 8 American families is eligible for food stamps, the government food aid vouchers affiliated with the SNAP federal program (supplemental nutrition assistance program). That's 12% of the American families ... heaven knows how many folks the final tally come to, but it's too many. To boot, to qualify for food stamps, the family food budget (by necessity) translates, when broken down by government wonks, to just over $68 dollars a week. Which leads me to this question - given the latest federal guidelines for fighting the nation's poor nutrition and obesity crisis, can one feed a family of four on $68/week?

15 May 2010

Friday Night Dessert ... Cornbread Cassatas

Okay, so this evening I'm having some friends in for dinner ... I've been planning a fun GF dessert all week. So, I'll start with a pretty plate. I love this plate. I found it at a yard sale a while back. It will be perfect for serving these little cornbread cassata cakes that I've been dying to make, but I get ahead of myself.

14 May 2010

Lunch With Friends ...

Lunch with friends is one of my special pleasures these days. All the years that I worked, my lunch was always a rushed process. Food was microwaved leftovers or a sandwich and chips and whatever drink could be had. Conversation was perfunctory, managed around bites and slurps ... and then, it was a rushed clean-up and back to work.

Being retired allows me time to plan a nice light lunch menu, phone around and make plans with other folks who are 'in the same drifting boat' and spend a quiet morning putting together a nice table and cutting a bouquet to add to the atmosphere. Then, friends arrive, there's relaxed talk, a glass of wine or iced tea, and a leisurely lunch. When everyone has moved on after a couple hours, there's still time for me to move on to another activity before the day is gone. It's such a wonderful way to spend a day, now and then. I know ... you want to wretch. But ... if you're retired and reading this and you don't stop to create 'roses' for your friends to smell OR if you're still running the rat race and you begrudge me this simple pleasure ... tough cookies for you. I enjoy puttering and this is how I choose to spend my time ... you can call me a Martha Stewart wannabe. I don't care! So there!

That being ranted on ... and Shakespeare would say the lady protests too much (tough, again!) ... here's the easy lunch I made for Leah and Cathy today. Remember those curried chicken kabobs that I was craving? Done!  They sat in a yogurt and spice slurry all morning and just about an hour before L&C arrived, I washed some basmati rice and steamed it with a generous pinch of caraway seed, chilled some mango chutney to have with the chicken skewers, and made a lovely creamed spinach that was mellower than the traditional Indian Saag Paneer spinach that I'm used to making. A nice dry Reisling and a pot of tea rounded things out ... yummy Indian!

13 May 2010

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup ... Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Put Away the Wool Sweaters ... Brrr!

'Soup and Self-Portrait'

I am all about being outside and gardening right now, but Mother Nature is pulling some tricks! Last night, we had a hard frost, and I spent some time after dark draping the perennials that have set blossoms with bath towels and bed linens to hold off the frost. Today, there's such a brisk breeze that I am back to making soup when I wanted to make curried chicken kabobs on the grill and slurp strawberry daquiris while they sizzled! What's that all about, Mother Nature?

Well, I stowed the extra chicken thighs for future curried kabobs and made a creamy chicken-y, mushroom-y soup that has a nice combination of wild rice and basmati rice. Good thing I have a nice loaf of garlic bread to 'go with' ! We're back to the wool sweaters, sweatshirts, and woodstove!

11 May 2010

An Aside ... More on Raw Milk.

It seems the Massachusetts Dept. of Agriculture has become concerned about 'buying clubs' that are springing up around farms that are producing  and selling raw milk. Read on here... where there's a will, the consumer will find a way. To me it seems a bit foolish to limit buying clubs ...folks will just 'go underground' and then the state loses its ability to monitor any potential problems should they arise ... what do you think?

Springtime Greens ... Spring Fiddleheads!

Green, green, green! I am always amazed at the number of shades of green that one sees in May. Every tree, plant, and flower has its own unique take on the color. Look at my back yard! It is such a beautiful scene right now. We have been putting in flowers and vegetables, digging up the first dandelions, and pulling the first clover and weeds from the beds. Cooking is fast and simple these days ... I've been looking for greens at the markets. Today, I found a welcome seasonal surprise!

10 May 2010

Meatless Monday!

My neighbor keeps chickens. She goes through the seasons sharing the eggs that she gathers daily. When we are the recipients of her generosity, I am always agog at the quality of fresh eggs! The whites are so firm and springy, the yolks have a bright golden sheen! The shells have a firmness that farm industry eggs just don't have ...

That being said, when I get the motherlode from Erin I am always thinking of recipes that use eggs... and this brunch dish is tasty and fun. I got the recipe from a colleague many years ago when we put on 'payday breakfasts' at work. The Special Education department was known for the high quality of their food offerings AND the thought they put into the theme for the brunch. So, hats off to Muff Kruse and her pasta, veggies, egg recipe called Angel Eggs.

08 May 2010

Dinner Party Fun ... Salmon Mousse on Cucumber Slices

I love little canapes and tiny single bite treats. I love it when you have a pretty little napkin in one hand, a lovely glass of wine in the other, and a perfect little bite of flavor in your mouth. Yum! Insert some laughter, chatter of conversation, some good music in the background ... wonderful ingredients for a wonderful party.

It's a good thing that all those ingredients were present last night at a 'Friday at Fenway' party that Silent Bob and I attended ... because the Red Sox/Yankees game that was muted in the background had nothing good to offer.

07 May 2010

The Untold Story of Milk - What's All the Hub-bub About Raw Milk?

I have been doing a little reading on the milk industry of late. It all started when I spied a small ad for raw milk being sold at a small farm in our town. When I brought the place up in conversation at church one Sunday, one of my 'church lady' friends wondered aloud what all the fuss with raw millk was about. She'd been raised drinking milk straight from the cow and she was alive to tell the tale. I detected a healthy dose of Yankee cynicism in her tone when another woman commented on pasteurization being a public health response to dirty conditions in dairies. She sniffed and replied that her family's dairy was clean and that's why she never had problems. She doubted that other folks' dairies were cesspits. I changed the subject by asking about the flavor of raw milk as opposed to the pasteurized product. More flavor, richer, taste varied depending on the season were some of the comments. Hmmm...

I came away from that conversation wanting to find out more. Doing a bit more reading, I found it's difficult for the small farmer to get a market going for the real thing. Public health laws have governed closely the production, distribution, and sale of milk for a long time. Today's consumer demands for more natural foods , milk and dairy products being one of them, have placed small producers of raw milk in a bind. The laws say they can't produce more than a certain amount, but consumer demand is picking up dramatically for their product. What's a farmer to do? Push for new legislation ... and advocate through various farm and natural foods non-profits.

Which leads me to a book that I found ... The Untold Story of Milk is an excellent overview of milk. The author gives you a history of milk's importance as a cultural product, the science and chemistry of milk, the public health world's policy on milk pasteurization, the naturopaths' philosophy and rationalization for raw milk products consumption, and the history of the industrialization of milk and dairy production. Milk is BIG business! Check it out. Perhaps you'll think a bit deeper about what's in your milk, where it comes from, what you'd like in your milk and cheese that would benefit your body ... interesting stuff!

06 May 2010

A Belated Birthday for Eric ... Salmon and Asian Vegetables With Noodles

Poor Eric! We left for Germany on his birthday and to boot, he got stuck taking care of the house and cats while we wiled away the time in a beautiful springtime German paradise! My son is a prince among men! He stepped up and took excellent care of the house, the kitties, the plants, and all! So tonight I'm making him a nice dinner and hoping that he likes salmon, pasta, and veggies ... with that combo, can I fail?

He has just moved into a house with his pretty girlfriend,  so we have a pair of deck chairs and a couple tables waiting for him in the dooryard ... a nice belated birthday gift. And... I saved the Linzer Torte for dessert ... it should be a yummy evening!

05 May 2010

Kaffeetrinken ... Coffee Break With Class

Every afternoon at around 4 PM, our German friends brew a nice pot of coffee and Gundel brings out a plate of little savory cakes or softly sweet breads. The table is laid with nice plates, cups and saucers and we sit down to a session of  'kaffeetrinken' ... the old concept of the kaffeklatsch is firmly established in German society.

Gundel has very interesting names for some of her sweet treats. For instance, the golden coffee cake in the foreground of the picture is called Bee Stinger Cake. The name comes from the blanched and slivered almonds that have sharp little points and the inclusion of a small amount of honey in the crispy crunch topping.  All her treats are lower on sugar and honey because of Wichard's and her preference for more subtle dessert offerings.  They are so tasty and simple.

02 May 2010

Busy Times ... Easy Meals ... Frittata for Two

Yeah, so when you have a bazillion plants to set in the ground, a greenhouse that needs to be opened for the gardening season, flats of annuals to seed in, a sunporch to clean up and open for spring and summer lounging, wild turkeys to shoo out of your first outdoor plantings, and all the regular 'stuff', you tend to go for 'easy and fast' when it's dinner time.