31 December 2009

Tapas Tonight!

New Year's Eve has always been a crapshoot. Some years, you go to a boatload of trouble to plan the place, the friends, the food and drink... and it fizzles. Other years, you go with the flow and it still fizzles. Can you guess? I'm not a particularly big fan of  'The New Years Event'. Yup, Silent Bob and I will be staying in again this year. We were discussing going out to a local place that's hosting a party, but that would involve way too much schmoozing for these backwoods folk. Instead, we're thinking warm fire, some candlelight, a cribbage game, some good music on the CD changer and a bottle of Cava cooling in the wine cellar (read back porch).

"But, wait ! It's News Year's Eve! ", you say. I know. Something special has to happen, so I'm thinking...

30 December 2009

Out With the Old and In With the New ...

It's coming up New Year's Eve and Silent Bob and I are debating the plan. The Fitzwilliam Inn is hosting a New Year's Eve party. Do we get gussied up and go support the newly opened business down on our town green or do we stay cozy in our flannel-lined Carharts and hunker down by the fire with our own treats and some sparking wine? Hmmm...

I'll get back to you... is there a better plan out there? What's on your dance card for New Year's Eve?

28 December 2009

Java and Coffee Cake ... Breakfast of Champions

First Coffee

Frost feathers
the windows of the diner.                                        

Cold clouds of exhaust
huff from the cars,
as they round the snowy common.

High, stark,
the steeple draws your eye
Its bell sounds the early hour.

- Susan Miller-Lindquist

I write sometimes very early in the morning. I like it best when it's dark and I come awake to the words as the daylight begins to brighten. I like getting some work on my computer screen and then moving off for a cup of coffee. Then, I come back to the images that I've put there and  begin tweeking them. After a bit, I like grabbing a piece of toast or coffeecake and a second cuppa, while I mull an edit.

A while ago, I wrote this poem during one of my mornings... I'd been at a writer's craft seminar up North and the structure of the poem was a fun exercise. It is NOT autobiographical. Anyone who knows me knows that the chances of me being in a diner at five in the morning are pretty slim, but I can imagine, can't I?

Anyone for coffeecake? I have leftover cranberry sauce to use...

Deni's Cranberry Coffeecake - printer friendly

Deni's Cranberry Coffeecake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 stick of butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream or plain yogurt                                              
1 tsp. almond extract
½ can whole berry cranberry sauce, chopped up
½ c. pecans, chopped

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy.
2. Add the eggs, one at a time, whipping well between each.
3. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix by hand to make a thick batter.
5. Add the sour cream/yogurt and almond extract and stir well.
6. Grease a large loaf pan (9 inch by 5 inch).
7. Spread 1/3 batter in the bottom of the pan. Dot with cranberry sauce. Then repeat the layer of 1/3 batter, another dotting of cranberry sauce, sprinkle with half the pecans, and top with last 1/3 batter. Dot top with last of cranberry sauce and more pecans.
8. Bake about 45 to 55 minutes until a cake tester comes clean.
9. Remove from oven and cool for about 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and tip from pan to a serving platter.
10. Use a fork to drizzle the warm coffeecake with a simple glaze.

Simple Glaze

Whip together in a small bowl
¾ c. confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbsp. water
½ tsp. almond extract

24 December 2009

The Little Things

Consider your traditions at this time of year. What do YOU do that makes these few weeks at the end of one year and beginning of a new one special and dear to your family? Is it an event that you come together to celebrate, a favorite meal that you prepare, a dear story that you watch on TV or read for the hundredth time, special music that makes your heart skip a few beats, a precious heirloom unpacked and placed out for holiday use? Chances are there are a host of little things you find yourself doing these days that bring you joy and fond memories. Some may have grown or 'morphed' over the years and become unique to your family's holiday ritual. I know we have a few in the Lindquist family.
Let's take Christmas Eve, for example. When the Lindquist kids were little tykes, getting them to eat dinner on Christmas Eve was a near impossible feat. They were too busy ramming and tearing around the family room, drawing pictures for Santa and wondering just when he'd touch down on the roof with his load of loot. Of course, Silent Bob and I were equally wired. Getting presents wrapped and mastering 'some assembly required'  required planning and careful execution! Then there was the traditional Christmas Eve ride around town to view the Christmas light displays, making time to prepare the plate of cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer, making the phone calls to family to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and finally watching 'A Christmas Carol' before packing the kids off to bed. Where did dinner fit into all that activity?  Food? Nutrition for the kids? Pah! I gave up on trying for an elaborate meal and headed straight for the comfort food that we KNOW they couldn't turn down! Macaroni and cheese and hotdogs! A sure hit and an easy dinner!

Well... it WAS easy and it WAS a hit. Over the years, we went from the blue Kraft boxes and deli dogs to various easy casseroles with less food coloring, a cast of additional ingredients, fewer hotdogs, and better cheeses. Our palates have become a bit more sophisticated... but not much. We still find a warm, steamy plate of pasta and cheese a welcome tradition on Christmas Eve. These days, it's usually tortellini with four cheeses. Give it a try! Perhaps, you'll find an occasion where it will fit your family tradition. It's such and easy little thing to make that gives you such a warm and satisfied feeling. Yup. It's the little things ...

1 lb. cheese tortellini
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp. flour
1 small onion, small chop
2 1/2 c. milk
two big pinches nutmeg
one big pinch of black pepper
5 oz. Fontina cheese, chunked
5 oz. cheddar cheese, chunked
4 oz. mozzarella
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
cayenne pepper, nutmeg, black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.
Boil a big pot of water and cook the tortellini until it's al dente.
While the tortellini is cooking make the sauce.
Using a heavy saucepan, saute the onion in butter until it glistens.
Add the flour to make a roux and stir for about one minute to a bubbly froth.
Add the milk and stir constantly over a medium heat until the sauce begins to thicken.
Add the nutmeg and black pepper and stir well to incorporate.
Add the cheeses a few chunks at a time and stir to melt, but set aside a bit of the Parmesan for the top of the casserole.
Grease a casserole and its cover.
Place some of the cheese sauce in the bottom of the casserole.
Drain the tortellini and add the tortellin and cheese sauce in layers, ending with a drizzle of sauce, a sprinkle of the reserved Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of the cayenne, nutmeg, and black pepper.

Bake the casseroile covered for about 35 minutes covered. Remove the cover and brown up the top before serving (another 10-15 minutes).

21 December 2009

Heating Up the Kitchen

Our little grey farmhouse on the side of the hill is chilly today; a stiff wind coming up the rise will do that to the place. The nor'easter that blew through New England this past weekend is blasting back at us from the north. It has frozen up the snow banks and made it bitterly cold outside.

Silent Bob and I have been manning the kitchen fireplace and the woodstove nonstop since we rolled out of bed this morning. We're thanking the Lord above for all that wood that was salvaged and cut from last winter's ice storm damage. All those poor broken maples have given us stacks of cord wood that we are happy to use up! That's the New England way... don't waste a thing if you can help it!

Cozy as it is in this old kitchen, I am still inspired to make a soup to warm our insides as well as the fire warms us outside. Since the fridge needs to be emptied before the holiday supplies are brought in, I'm thinking of using up some veggies and cheese. Cream of Broccoli Soup sounds like just the ticket. Besides, a soup pot on the stove will generate a little more heat and today is all about keeping warm! If your kitchen is chilly right now or sometime soon, feel free to use the following recipe as a base to begin your own  'fridge purge'. Waste not, want not, right? Besides, you can't go wrong with a warm pot of soup!

Cream of Broccoli Soup - printer friendly

Cream of Broccoli Soup

6 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small carrots, small dice
1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets and stem chopped small
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. light cream or half & half
generous pinch cayenne pepper
scant 1/2 tsp. ground celery seed
black pepper, to taste
generous handful of cheese, cut into small cubes

In a large soup pot, saute onions, garlic, carrots, butter until the onions glisten and the carrots are softened.

Set aside 2 c. of the broccoli florets. Add the rest of the broccoli florets and stems to the veggies and season with pepper. Saute another minute or so and then pour in the chicken broth. I use Knorr chicken broth cubes to make a quick broth, but feel free to use homemade broth, if you've got it on hand.

Cover and simmer the soup until the broccoli is softened. Then, using a handblender or food processor, puree the soup. Stir in the half & half, cayenne, ground celery seed and heat gently.

Add the cheese cubes and stir until the cheese is melted. I use leftover Velveeta, Fontina, or a cheddar/Monterey Jack blend. I find a straight cheddar makes a grainy consistency, so a creamy cheese is best. Be creative!

Warm gently so that the soup does not curdle... when there's steam coming off the soup, add the reserved broccoli florets and stir them down into the soup, cover the pot, turn OFF the heat and let the residual heat cook the florets.

I've had this soup with croutons floating in it, with crusty bread for dipping, and with crackers. Tonight, we've got bread... what's in your cupboard that needs using?

09 December 2009

How 'Bout THEM Apples?



Silent Bob, Kate, and I took a road trip a few weeks ago to Walpole, NH to get apples. I was also in the market for pears before they disappeared from the local fruit scene. The day was typical for late Fall in New Hampshire. A thick wedge of gray clouds made its way across the sky and chilly air was pushing on through, as the remnants of Hurricane Ida rolled in. As we trundled up the dirt road to Alyson’s Orchards, Silent Bob was looking forward to ‘Golden Crisps’ for snacking on during his upcoming hunting trip. I was thinking ‘Cortlands’ for apple pies and those pears for a tart. Kate was along for the ride.

As we rolled into the dooryard of the orchard store, a rag tag flock or free-range chickens caught Kate’s attention. They lead her a merry chase here and there with her camera while I headed with SB to the store shelves. I knew exactly where those pears were and you can always find ‘Cortlands’ in New England. Alas, the pears were gone! In their place sat small boxes of strange looking apples. The word ‘heirloom’ was emblazoned across the handles of the boxes. After looking them over and reading the small tag describing each variety, I became interested in the ‘Hudson’s Golden Gems’. They were touted to have a sweet juicy flesh and a pear-like flavor… hmm, maybe my tart idea might work after all. We snapped up the ‘Hudsons’ and ‘Golden Crisps’, decided to wait on the ‘Cortlands’ until the next trip, threw the money in the ‘honor jar’ on the counter and went outside to enjoy the afternoon before the rains started.

It’s a couple weeks later and I’ve got it in mind to make that tart today. The recipe is a tried and true classic French tart. I will be using apples and a bit of Calvados to season the sweet juices in the tart and its glaze. I include my recipe here for your enjoyment. Silent Bob and I will have it warm with a dollop of whipped cream… leftovers will grace the breakfast table tomorrow morning. I’m drooling already!

While it’s baking, I’ll indulge my curiosity. I can’t get that visit to Alyson’s Orchard out of my head and have been obsessing on finding out more about apples… particularly, heirloom apples. Heirloom status sounds really special doesn’t it? What makes one apple an heirloom apple and another a regular old apple? Come on, aren’t all apples special? Even the wormy bedraggled looking things that you see lying in the field at this time of year came from a wonderfully gnarly old tree and nourish the field mice or foxes or deer that pass through on their forages. They’re ‘old’ apples so doesn’t that make them heirlooms? It turns out I have a lot to learn!

Apple Tart - printer friendly

Apple Tart

In a food processor bowl:

   1 c. flour
   2 tbsp. sugar
   1 stick cold butter (not margarine!), cut into chunks

Pulse the flour, sugar, butter mix until it resembles a crumbly meal. Remove the top and turn the flour that has collected around the edges back toward the blades.

Return top and pulse in:

   2 to 3 tbsp. ice water

Pulse until the dough forms a ball. Remove top and turn dough onto a lightly floured board. Work any excess flour in work bowl into the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for an hour.

Meanwhile, quarter, peel and core 4 large apples (Cortlands are a good bet, but I’m using those Hudson Golden Gems today). Slice thin slices and toss with a tiny bit of lemon juice.

Roll the dough into a circle and place in a lightly buttered 9-inch springform pan. Bring the edges of the dough about one inch up the sides and crimp prettily.

Arrange the apples in circles, creating a blossom pattern.

Sprinkle with:

   5 tbsp. sugar
   4 tbsp. butter, cut into dots and scattered on the surface of the tart
   1 tbsp. Calvados (a ginger or peach brandy might be yum)

Bake in a 400º oven until the fruit has caramelized and the crust is golden.

Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine in a small saucepan:
   1/3 c. apple jelly (some peach or apricot jam would be just as good!)
   2 tbsp. Calvados

Stir over a medium-high heat until bubbly and incorporated.

Drizzle over the cooling tart. Finish cooling and serve just warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Afterword…Isn’t it interesting how you can be puttering around at one thing and get side-tracked to another? In beginning to research heirloom varieties of apples and learn about how apples grow, I discovered an interesting non-profit that is based in the Boston area. I encourage you to take a look. These folks are on to something good! The second link is an informational article published by a county cooperative extension affiliated with Washington State University and provides everything you’ve always wanted to know about apples.

Happy reading!



07 December 2009

Happy Days at Dad's Copake Diner

This past weekend, Silent Bob and I headed south to Millbrook, NY to visit our pals John and Nancy. On Saturday, J&N planned a joyride around their stomping grounds. Who knew we were headed for one of the coolest places for a quick lunch that we've been to in a while? We were road tripping it up from Duchess into Columbia County to check out this used book store in Craryville that John raved about, then moseying through Boston Corners where the claim to fame is some prize fight that drew a few thousand hooligans out of NY back in the mid-19th century who proceeded to trash the town after the big fight (Some would say those city folk are still doing that today with their SUV's, chi-chi clubs, and McMansions going up where farms and orchards once stood, but that's another story!). Well, all that driving and yakking got us hungry, so John pointed the car for Copake and rolled us into town, just as the snow started really falling. He knew of a diner there that had good food.

 Diners! You gotta love 'em! The menu is printed on the paper placemat, the color scheme is typically monochromatic with a generous addition of real chrome accessorization. Neon, neon! Somewhere there's a neon clock or sign! And the food! We knew we were in for a good knosh when John sat down and ordered up a chocolate milkshake and a foot-long hotdog with all the fixin's without even looking at his placemat and the cutie-pie waitress didn't bat an eyelash. The rest of us took a couple minutes to decide on a bowl (We don't need no stinkin' cup!) of chili, pastrami sandwich and onion rings, and popcorn chicken and fries with cokes all around. Nothing like fast food...right off the grill and out of the fryer fresh and hot!

The nostalgia of sitting there nibbling on my fries and sipping my soda got me thinking about the demise of the small town business district. It seems like so many small town centers are dying out these days because of the big box shopping centers and malls. It's a rare thing to see a vibrant Main Street in towns smaller than 5,000 or so folks. And yet, land in these small towns is being bought up and built up because the 'small town experience' has such cachet with urban transplants. I'm hoping that they will want their small towns to survive and will spread the wealth toward those small local eateries, small hardware stores, small specialty shops, pharmacies, and the small family-owned department stores that are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Notice (duh!) the emphasis on 'small'. Which I guess means that this isn't such a different story from that famous prize fight... only the prize is a small town lifestyle and the survival of the farms and small businesses that support it...