Category Archives: Seasonal Cooking

Mystery Girl’s Weekend: Baked French Toast with Blueberries

I don’t know where I’ll be come Thursday night. Not in an esoteric, “What Am I Doing With My Life” kind of way, but as in I literally don’t know what state I’ll be spending the weekend in, thanks to our upcoming Mystery Girl’s weekend.

Picture this: Six months before you send in your money (which conveniently goes up $50 per year, allowing us to evolve from shared twin beds and PB&Js to something a bit more indulgent). Over the course of the next 6 months you get clues. A week prior you get a packing list with anticipated weather, and then less than 24 hours before your departure time you find out where you’re going. All plane tickets have been bought, all travel coordinated, menus planned, and extracurricular activities lined up. You need do nothing but show up (except of course when it’s your year to plan, but that becomes its own kind of fun).

We call it The Great Escape, and it is a highlight each year, a girl’s weekend spent with my childhood loves, women who know me better than I know myself, and who aren’t afraid to say so.

I leave on Thursday, and here are the clues I’ve received thus far:

  1. Not everyone is flying to our destination
  2. We could see a crocodile
  3. We’ll be staying over 70 feet off the ground
  4. There’s a river view and a mountain view from where we’re staying
  5. We’re going to have to share beds (yay!).

Guesses on where we might be going? States people live in are Washington, New York, and California.

Ms. Lou getting ready for the Toga party via tearing down the leaves in our backyard.

I am so excited I can hardy stand it, giggling over phone calls with Madeline and Meghan, trying to decide what Rachel could possibly have cooked up for us (so far we’ve come up with crocodile wrestling, bee keeping, and staying in a tree house with a moat around it, obviously). In the meantime though, I’m enjoying girl’s slumber parties in Seattle, Toga parties in the ‘hood, and a chance to do some beautiful cooking with whatever is freshest this time of year.

Summer Bounty from Pike Place Market.

This breakfast was the Rise and Shine element of our latest slumber party, hosted  by the lovely Liesel, and complete with Breakfast Bubbles. While I’m not normally much of a sweet breakfast person, the combination of the bread pudding with the blueberries was out of this world, and perfect when paired with some delicious scrambled eggs. Make this on a Summer Saturday morning when you want something indulgent, but not overly laborious, and good to feed a crowd.

Baked French Toast with Blueberries
Adapted from Giada on the Food Network
Serves 6-8

Beautiful Blueberry French Toast

  • Butter, for greasing
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, plus extra for serving
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 3 (1-inch thick) slices (8 ounces) day-old challah or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen, thawed, and drained blueberries
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  1. Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest. Add the bread cubes and mix until coated. Stir in the blueberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the egg mixture in an even layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is set.
  4. Spoon onto serving plates and drizzle with maple syrup.

11 Comments

Filed under Breakfasts, Entertaining, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized

Young and Foolish: Grilled Vegetable Paninis with Broccoli, White Bean, and Cheddar Soup

I remember the first time I discovered Three Buck Chuck,Trader Joes’ infamous cheap wine. I was in college in NY and was throwing a party. Of course, being a student I hardly had two pennies to rub together, but my foodie tendencies were already starting to come out and I was determined that there should be more wine than anyone knew what to do with at this grand fête.

“You know about Three Buck, right?” a friend from the riding team whispered conspiratorially to me as we were tacking up our horses, her voice hushed and looking over her shoulder to make sure no one heard us.

“No? Is that a new horse?”, I asked, dread creeping into my voice that I would soon be getting hucked into the rafters by our latest “project” horse.

Back in the day when I thought Three Buck might be a very naughty horse I’d be stuck with.

She burst out laughing, and quickly recovering herself told me it was this “delicious” wine that was also only $3 per bottle. I was so excited to try it out I could hardly stand it. And so, after riding took myself (and yes, my riding breeches clad bottom) right back to the dorm to call my 21+ brother and ask him to bring a case of it when he next came to visit.

The wine (and the party) were, of course, sub par but we thought it was fabulous. Unfortunately for my budget, over the years I would be exposed to nicer and nicer wine, rendering my previously tried and trusted Three Buck, to be barely worthy of sangria, and certainly not good enough to ruin good short ribs with.

If you’ve never done an olive oil tasting, I highly, highly recommend it. You will not believe the differences among different brands, presses, and fruits.

Up until recently I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought about olive oil very much how my underage self had thought about wine. Something to get you from Point A to Point B, but not anything particularly special. This notion was firmly blown out of the water at a recent olive oil tasting event, with some of Seattle’s top bloggers, hosted by California Olive Ranch and Talk of Tomatoes at Farestart in Seattle. Over the three-hour evening I enjoyed Swirling, Sniffing, and Slurping oil from different top producers and learning how to dismantle all the different flavors, varietals, and brands.

The difference is staggering, a quality olive oil full of complex flavors and depth, and a bad one tasting like little more than watery oil. If you’ve never done an olive oil tasting, I highly encourage you to try. Get a collection of different oils, both domestic and international, pour small tastes in different wine glasses and then see what you think. Allowing the oil to first warm up via cupping the glass in your hand is recommended, following by Swirling it to release the flavors, Sniffing it to see what you pick up, and then Slurping it, allowing air to come in through your teeth and generally looking and feeling ridiculous as you make embarrassing sounds with strangers.

This simple, vegetarian dinner is all about delicious, farm fresh veggies brought to life with Arbequina olive oil. Frankly either the soup or sandwich would be plenty since they are both quite hearty, but together they make an especially lovely combination. Make it on a Meat Free Monday when you’re looking for something a little unexpected.

Grilled Vegetable Paninis with Broccoli, White Bean, and Cheddar Soup
Serves 2 + Leftover Soup

A lovely summer dish, celebrating what’s fresh and using quality olive oil to bring it all to life.

Broccoli, White Bean, and Cheddar Soup
Adapted from Eating Well

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 pound broccoli crowns, trimmed and chopped (about 6 cups)
1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt + more for topping
Drizzle Arbequina Olive oil, I used California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin

  1. Bring broth and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add broccoli, cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in beans, salt and pepper and cook until the beans are heated through, about 1 minute.
  2. Using an immersion blender, blend until completely smooth. Add in the cheddar and greek yogurt and pulse until smooth.
  3. When ready to serve add a small spoonful yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Grilled Vegetable Paninis
Use whatever veggies are in your fridge, the below is merely meant for inspiration

1 zucchini, thinly sliced with a mandolin
1 squash, thinly sliced with a mandolin
1 onion, thinly sliced
Coarse Salt and Pepper
Artichoke Hearts, marinated in olive oil
1/4 cup basil, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup arugula
2 thick slices, smoked mozzarella
2 pieces foccacia bread, cut in half
Drizzle Arbequina Olive oil, I used California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin

  1. Preheat grill to high, reduce heat to medium.
  2. Brush both sides of the veggie with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  3. Add to grill and cook until marks showing and vegetables are tender. Remove
  4. Assemble the focaccia first with the cheese, then the thinly sliced vegetables, and artichoke hearts.
  5. Grill until cheese is melted and sandwich is warmed through.
  6. Add the arugula and basil, and enjoy!

24 Comments

Filed under 15-Minute-Meals, Health Conscious, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking, Soups, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

New Potatoes in a Mustard Vinaigrette and Free Tickets to Best Of Seattle Party

Well, it’s back to reality for me. Back to high heels and pencil skirts, meetings, and a never-ending inbox. But it’s also back to very fun things like whipping up meals in my own kitchen, summer in Seattle, afternoons spent on the lake, and my puppies, of course.

Ms. Lou…and yes….we’re keeping her.

Having arrived back in Seattle on Sunday, and preparing for the reality that awaited (flip-flops and bathing suits no longer being acceptable attire, a seemingly absurd requirement by The Man that I brush my hair before leaving the house, and a general disapproval for drinking Gin & Tonics with my lunch), I of course took the obvious path which was to procrastinate about everything I should be doing. Instead, I enjoyed fixing some delicious make-ahead meals to get us set for the week, and in front of our CSA veggie supply.

These tossed new potatoes with a mustard dressing and fresh snap peas were delicious served warm with a few deviled eggs on the side, and provided a lovely Monday lunch as well, tragically enjoyed at my desk, with nary a G&T in sight. There is a fair amount of lemon and mustard in the dressing, but don’t let that scare you. It results in a light, tangy taste, perfect for the summer heat.

Make this when reality is looming, but you aren’t quite yet willing to give up the ghost of summer days of wonder and indulgence.

GIVEAWAY: I’m excited to share that for those local readers, or those willing to get on a plane, train, or automobile Shut Up & Cook has gotten our hot little hands on two tickets to Seattle Weekly’s Best Of Seattle Party on Wednesday, August 1st at Pier 66, Elliot Hall.  This blow-out party showcases Seattle’s best food, drinks and entertainment on the waterfront with unlimited bites, craft cocktails, live music, and installation art.

HOW TO ENTER: Comment below by Friday, July 13th at Midnight PST with either A) the name and link of another favorite food blog or B) a recipe you’d like to see done on Shut Up & Cook. The winner will be randomly chosen on Saturday, and will be the lucky recipient of two tickets!

Summer New Potatoes in a Mustard Vinaigrette
Serves 4 – 6

Summer New Potatoes in a Mustard Vinaigrette

1 lb new potatoes, washed, and trimmed of any bad spots

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon capers, minced, plus 1 teaspoon of brine from the jar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup canola oil

1 cup snap peas, quickly blanched

1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped

Salt and Pepper

  1.  In a large pot, cover the potatoes with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook just 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop cooking. Pour into bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, to make the dressing, add remaining ingredients, except for the snap peas and dill, into a jar and shake until well blended.
  3. Pour about a third to half the dressing over the potatoes and toss to coat. You may add more or less pending on your preference. Note: Remaining dressing is delicious as a marinade or salad dressing.
  4. Toss with snap peas and fresh dill and serve warm or chilled.

36 Comments

Filed under 15-Minute-Meals, Cheap Eats, Health Conscious, Lactose Free, Make ahead, Salads, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Grocery Store Bingo and a New England Lobster Bake for 100

The lobsters we were eating on Saturday had been in the water the day before, and the taste was absolutely exquisite accordingly.

“Duh-ya-wanna-enta-thuh-Shaws-prize-contest?”, mumbled the teenage cashier at the local grocery store, hip cocked to one side, doing her best to make sure everyone around her knew just how cool she was, and how uncool she thinks being a grocery checkout girl is.

“Excuse me?”, I asked, having only caught about every third word amidst her smacking gum, thick Boston accent, and general disdain for all around her.

“Duh-ya-wanna-enta-thuh-Shaws-prize-contest?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Realizing she had a foreigner in her midst, she sighed impatiently, shifted to her other hip, and began explaining it to me, slowly, as though I didn’t speak her language, which I suppose in a way, I don’t. “It’s like thuh stupidest thing ya eva heard of. You get tickets wheneva ya buy groceries and then you try and put them on a board. Maybe ya win something…but I gotta a ton ah tickets at home and I haven’t won anything yet. Dun think they give out the winning tickets until August or sumpa stupid like that. I’m a hoping to win the cahr…my Jeep only a gets like 15 miles puh gallon so I could really use it.”

“Oh…like grocery store Bingo?”, I asked, still confused, and trying to hide my smile at the honesty and intimacy she was sharing.

“Yah, like grocery stahr bingo…that’s it.”

“Well, I live in Seattle, so I don’t think the tickets will do me much good. Would you like to have my tickets though? Up your chances for the car?” I asked, still chuckling at the idea of a town wide grocery store bingo, loving this teenage girl, and wondering what the homies on Rainier would think if we imported this to the left coast.

“Nah, we associates got our own league…it’s like even stupid-aher, freaking impossible. Paper or plastic?”

***

Lobster Bakes and Clambakes are ubiquitous with the Northshore…right up there with grocery store bingo, pink (I mean salmon) shorts, crazy drivers, beautiful homes bought with old money, and an insatiable desire for gossip.

With July temperatures easily reaching 90, and humidity making your hair look like you never thought possible, it makes sense that casual summer events where the cooking takes place outside, and exquisite ingredients stand on their own, would be top of the list.

Beautiful oysters on the half-shell, also pulled just hours before we ate them and offering the freshest, crispest taste of the sea.

My brother Ben, who is one of the most generous people I know and just generally a hell of a good guy, has for multiple years hosted a Lobster Bake-Clambake-Oyster Fest of epic proportion. This year’s made all other years pale in comparison with 137 lbs of lobster caught by my Uncle Jeff, a renowned Cape Cod Lobsterman, as the headliner, and a bushel each of mussels and clams, and 150 of some of the best oysters you’ve ever had playing backup.

Lobsters were cooked all day, bacon cheddar burgers were grilled all night, Mussels Meuniere for 50 provided the perfect appetizer, steamer clams with dill, butter, and beer got gobbled up, oysters on the half shell got slurped down, and many laughs were had while enjoying Ipswich’s famous local libations of Ipswich Ale and Turkey Shore Distillery.

A barrel of rum from Turkey Shore Distillery, perfect with a boot of Root Beer from the Tapmobile.

The Tapmobile, featuring different Ipswich Ales, and the best root beer you’ve ever tasted.

My only regret, and the sting was sharp this morning as I flew the 3,000 miles back across the country at 4a PST, was that I wouldn’t be having a lobster roll for lunch today.

New England Lobster Bake
Serves 100

Ever wondered what 137 lbs of lobster looks like?

  • 137 lbs hard shell lobsters, boiled, and kept warm in coolers.
    • To boil, bring a large pot of water to a boil over a propane boiler outside. Once boiling, plunge lobsters into the water. Cook 5 minutes for the first pound and an additional 3 minutes  for each additional pound. Lobster is cooked when the shell is entirely red. Lobster will keep warm in coolers for multiple hours.
  • 1 bushel steamer clams, well rinsed, and steamed with beer, dill, and butter.
    • In a large pot (same as you used for the lobsters if you like), add 1 gallon light beer, 1 stick of butter, and 1 cup of dill. Bring to a boil, add the steamers, and cook until all shells are open. Transfer to a cooler to keep warm and strain the broth for dipping.
  • 1 bushel mussels, well rinsed, and cooked as Mussels Meuniere
    • In a large pot, add 2 bottles of white wine, 1 stick of butter, 10 shallots, finely diced, 2 cups parsley. Bring to a boil, add the mussels, and cook until all shells are open. Transfer to a cooler to keep warm and strain the broth for dipping.
  • 150 oysters, schucked
    • Serve on the half shell on a bed of ice, with assorted toppings such as lemon wedges, horseradish, and Tabasco.
  • 10 lbs butter, melted and kept warm

17 Comments

Filed under Entertaining, Seafood, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized

Total Control: Vegetarian Carbonara with Summer Greens

Her single command thus far….”Sit”, which she does eagerly and quite brilliantly (or so I’m told).

My life is a little nuts right now. It’s all good, and I’m very lucky, but things are a little crazy. I have my husband, my family, and my friends with whom I want to spend time. I have my job, my food blog, and my volunteer work with puppy rescue.  I have many wonderful trips to look forward to this summer including a wedding in Vermont, a clambake in Massachusetts, and girl’s wine weekend in Walla Walla. I have my meager attempts to get some sort of exercise to balance out said food blog and wine trips, not to mention my book club, my horseback riding, and my laundry. I have lots and lots of laundry lately it seems.

Happily chewing on an elk antler…and my running shoes…and my coffee table…

So it will come as no surprise that what seemed like the most logical decision, the most sensible way to go, was to get a puppy. In all honesty, I’m blaming this one squarely on Matt. He found a darling Neapolitan Mastiff puppy in Tacoma on Wednesday, emailed me in Boulder about it on Wednesday night, and by Thursday at noon she was happily chewing on Duke’s ear and quickly climbing the ladder to Number One Cute Pup In Town if you ask any non-biased person. To be fair, I didn’t exactly kick her out of bed for eating crackers either.

She is incessant in her need to be near Duke and he graciously obliges…I think he even likes it.

So this Monday night when I realized this was my only night off this week, and my fridge was exploding with goodies from our Hand Farmed Organics CSA and another box was arriving tomorrow [insert panic and self loathing at thought of throwing away organic vegetables HERE], I figured I’d better get cooking. A little quiet time in the kitchen always calms my nerves, and the self-righteousness that comes with making a delicious meal out of what’s in your fridge is hard to beat.

We try to do Meat Free Mondays, but honestly we usually don’t. Add that to the list of things that have gone to the wayside in our busyness. But tonight I succeeded, creating a sort of Vegetarian Carbonara and triumphantly using all the chard, spinach, and radishes up. It was surprisingly delicious, light and yet satisfying, and on the table in less than 30 minutes. A perfect meal when all you really want to do is play with the new puppy, and ignore the piles laundry building up in your temporarily empty guest room.

Vegetarian Carbonara with Summer Greens

Vegetarian Carbonara with Summer Greens

Serves 6

Carbonara is typically made with pancetta or bacon, but I didn’t have any and thought a vegetarian twist on the Italian classic might work. The radishes give it some nice bulk, and when the beaten egg is slowly added as you vigorously toss the pasta you get a rich sauce you’d swear had heavy cream in it.

1 lb pasta, whatever is in the cupboard

3 TB Olive Oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced

1 bundle of radishes, about 6, washed and thinly sliced with a mandolin

1 bunch chard, washed and coarsely chopped

1 bag spinach, washed

1/2 cup chives, thinly sliced (this seems like a lot, but is delicious and gives it a nice kick)

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup good parmesan cheese grated, plus more to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large non-stick pan over medium-low heat, cook the garlic in the olive oil until just beginning to turn golden, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium, add the radishes and the leeks, and cook until turning translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
  4. Add the chard and spinach, returning heat to low, and cook until wilted and radishes and leeks fully cooked, another 5 minutes.
  5. To assemble take the warm pasta (you don’t want it too hot or the egg will scramble), and vigorously tossing with tongs slowly add the beaten egg, until it creates a rich coating.
  6. Add the chard/spinach mixture, chives, and the parmesan and continue tossing vigorously until all nicely mixed and coated.
  7. Serve with additional parmesan to taste and truffle salt.

23 Comments

Filed under Cheap Eats, Health Conscious, Pasta, Seasonal Cooking, Vegetarian

Won’t You Please?: Slow Cooked Short Ribs atop a tower of Watercress, Polenta, and Ragu

Hi there,

Could I ask you to do me a favor? What if I say please? I’ll trade you a yummy, delicious recipe in exchange?

Nominations are now open for Saveur’s 2012 Best Food Blog Awards and I would be so thrilled to see Shut Up & Cook make the list. It’s admittedly stiff competition with winner’s from last year such as SmittenKitchen, 101 Cookbooks, and my personal fave, Orangette, but I think we’ve created something pretty special here and I’ve love to have your help going for it.

How cool would this be?!?

Right now they are simply accepting nominations so all that’s required is 5 easy steps:

  1. A visit to their nominations page.
  2. Entering this url: http://www.shutupandcook.wordpress.com
  3. Selecting which three categories you think best fit (perhaps Best Cooking Blog, Best Piece Of Culinary Writing, and Best Food Humor Blog?)
  4. A short reason why you’re nominating this blog.
  5. Your name, email, and three little clicks to “opt out” of their promotional offers.

Would you please? I would be so grateful.

And with that…let’s get back to the food. And not just any food mind you…a tower of deliciousness. That’s right…a tower. This past weekend was perfect. Productive enough to feel self-righteous and relaxed enough to actually re-charge.  The whispers of Spring are in the air and with that came a funny longing for a few more winter meals, served by a roaring fire with a great bottle of wine.

Nothing to me says winter deliciousness like a slow roasted meat in a red sauce, so I set out to see what I could come up with. And I have to say…this was AMAZING!  It’s one of those meals where each of the individual parts is good…but put them all together…and wow. You’ve got something great. Since you make this largely in the slow cooker it’s perfect for a Sunday when you’re wanting  to be out and about, yet come home to a truly indulgent meal.

Slow Cooked Short Ribs served atop a Tower of Watercress, Griddled Polenta Cakes, and Sausage Ragu

Short Rib Tower!

Serves 8

Short Ribs and Ragu:
2 TB Olive Oil
8 bone-in short ribs, patted dry, and sprinkled with salt and pepper (about 2 lbs)
1 lb loose italian sausage (best you can find)
1 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup carrots, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
2, 28 oz cans of Whole San Marzano Tomatoes, slightly smashed with a masher or food mill
1 cup of dry white wine

Polenta:
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 cup cornmeal/polenta
2 TB vegetable oil

Garnishes
1 bunch watercress washed and dried, stems removed
1 cup finely grated fresh parmesan

  1. In a large slow cooker add the cans of tomatoes and white wine. Put on high and begin to allow to warm up.
  2. In a large, high-edged skillet add the olive oil and, working in batches if necessary, brown the short ribs over relatively high heat until golden on all sides, or about 8 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
  3. In the same pan add the sausage, and cook on medium, stirring to break up, until beginning to brown. Add the celery, onion, carrots, and garlic and saute until vegetables are  beginning to get tender and omit that oh-so-good smell. About 5 minutes. Add all into the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4-6 hours until short ribs are falling off the bone and fork tender.

    Love all the different colors.

  4. Remove the short ribs from the slow cooker and transfer all the ragu to a large pot. Increase the heat to medium, and reduce until thickened to a true ragu (almost goopy), about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the short ribs back in until heated through.

While the meat is slow cooking make the polenta:

  1. Bring the water, milk, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Slowly whisk in the cornmeal/polenta, and stir constantly until thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes. Spread into a 9×9 glass baking dish and put in the refrigerator to cool and set, at least 30 minutes.

Assembling the TOWER! (isn’t that just fun to say?)

Assembling the goodness..do it quick so everything stays hot!

  1. Remove the polenta from the fridge and using a glass, cut circles out of the firm polenta. Add the remaining oil to a non-stick pan and over medium heat grill until golden brown on each side, about 6 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, evenly divide the watercress among the plates in a small circle.
  3. When ready put the grilled polenta cakes on the watercress, add about a 1/4 cup of the thickened ragu, top with one short rib, and generously top with grated parmesan.
  4. Prepare to fall in love.

10 Comments

Filed under Comfort Foods, Entertaining, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized

Winter Musings: Old English Toffee

When you grow up in a small New England town, simple pleasures become the events around which life exists. In the summer, the options are endless; building bonfires on the beach, skinny dipping, and watching the sun rise, meeting at the barn for midnight bareback races through the fields, and simple suppers out on the boat where even the most basic of meals taste delicious.

In the winter…the options are decidedly less endless…particularly when you’re young, broke, and your car only starts with a 50% probability rating. Once the sledding hill had been exhausted, and Meghan had kicked all our butts skating on the pond, I often ventured back inside to see what trouble we could get into in the kitchen.

This past weekend I jetted home for a whirlwind visit complete with high school basketball games, lobster multiple days in a row, beach walks, late night talks, and lots of huddling by fires. The most impressive fire of all was the Newbury bonfire where nearly 500 Christmas trees had been gathered and lit in a celebration of winter and, as my brother Ben put it, “because, really, what else is there to do around here in January?”

Big Ben and his Favorite Sister and Mother. All photos courtesy of http://www.schleipman.com.

Oddly pagan if you ask me.

Drinking hot cider and rum to try and stay warm.

Me and my Mama.

This toffee is the ultimate winter dessert and also makes lovely gifts. You’re going to see in the directions it says “Don’t panic” and you’ll probably think, “That’s ridiculous, who would ever panic while making toffee?” Well, rest assured you probably will because there’s going to be a moment when you’ll be convinced you’ve wasted $20 worth of chocolate and who knows how much of almonds…but I promise you, it will come back together and be worth every second of anxiety.

Old English Toffee

They make beautiful, and coveted, gifts.

1 lb butter

1 lb finely chopped almonds, toasted

1 lb semi sweet chocolate (I like Ghirardelli )

2 cups sugar

Candy Thermometer (this is critical)

  1. Toast nuts at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet about 5 minutes, until brown on the edges. Don’t allow to burn!
  2. Combine butter and sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan until sugar melts, over medium heat.
  3. Add 1/2 the nuts and cook to 310 Degrees Fahrenheit, stirring constantly. Pending on how high your heat is this could take up to 20 minutes. During this time it’s likely that your butter and sugar will separate. DON’T PANIC. Turn up the heat, keep stirring, and they will combine again.  Note: The candy turns quickly near the end, so be careful not to burn. Will be a caramel color.
  4. Pour into a cookie sheet, spread to desired thickness and cool at room temperature.
  5. Melt chocolate in double broiler or microwave. Spread over cooked caramel, sprinkle with nuts, and allow to cool completely before breaking up and bagging.

6 Comments

Filed under Desserts, Entertaining, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized

New Years Eve: Cranberry Delight

Cranberry Delight before popping into the oven...doesn't this look cool?

Every family has their own holiday traditions. Some festive and fun, others thoughtful and giving, and if we’re being honest probably the occasional temper tantrum and meltdown thrown in for good measure. Growing up our family covered all of these in the bustling weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. There was the opening of the Fox Hunt on Thanksgiving Day complete will mulled cider and pinks (Festive), the careful crafting of Christmas Wish Lists (Fun), the sneaky questions and leading suggestions to figure out what my Mom wanted besides bird seed and socks (Thoughtful), and the UNICEF box at our dining room table we put change into each day to go to children in need (Giving).

There was the selecting of the tree and the inevitable fight that ensued between my brother and myself (Tantrum) and the decorating it “just so” to match my Mom’s Victorian sensibilities (Meltdown).  [To be fair I should admit that I subsequently insist on decorating the tree “just so” with white lights and wooden ornaments, so who’s laughing now?]

There were also the meals that came along with each of these activities…Spicy New England Pot Roast (a favorite of my Dads), German Apple Pancakes (Brother Ben’s coveted Christmas Morning meal), and Cranberry Delight which held, and holds, universal appeal.

This is quick to make and is even better the next day so is a perfect dessert for that Holiday festive dinner. The tartness of the cranberries makes it a nice complement to a rich meal, and just try to forget immediately upon making it how much butter and shortening you’ve just put in. It’s worth it.

Happy New Year!

Cranberry Delight

Voila!

Filling:

8 cups cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup walnuts or pecans

Crust:

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening melted together

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325
  2. Spread cranberries in a greased 13×9 baking dish

  1. Sprinkle w/nuts and 1 cup sugar
  2. In a large mixer, beat eggs well. Add 2 c. sugar gradually until blended. Add flour and melted butter to egg/sugar mixture; beat well.
  3. Pour batter over cranberries.
  4. Bake 6o minutes until toothpick comes out clean

 

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Filed under Desserts, Entertaining, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking

Small Triumphs: Polenta Gratin with Kale and Cremini Mushrooms

First of all…wow! Thank you all for the support, encouragement, comments, and words of wisdom. “I’m not writing in a vacuum! There are people out there! Hooray!” Thanks to you all, Old Spice Man generated more hits in one day than any other post, save for when Food & Wine re-tweeted my Short Ribs (which I was embarrassingly excited about.)

But enough whining and philosophizing about The Writer’s Process…let’s get back to the food. And damn good food at that.  This year we had the pleasure of participating in Hand-Farmed Organic‘s first community supported agriculture (CSA) project. We signed up for a half-share, which proved to be plenty for two of us, so every other week Casey would drop by our house at the end of the day and deliver a wax covered cardboard box brimming with beautiful vegetables. Perhaps the only one more excited about its arrival than I, was this guy, who proved to be a veritable vegetable lover.

Happy Dog

His Royal Highness, the Duke of Tacoma, 10 mos old

Duke would eat just about anything…carrots, squash, and what quickly became his favorite…the radishes which he would bat around the house, sneak up on, and dive bomb from the top of the stairs until it rolled under the couch at which point he would flop down and look at his lost treasure beseechingly until Matt or I caved and got it back out for him.

In each and every box there were delicious fruits and vegetables…and then there was the kale. The freaking kale that just kept coming and coming and always seemed more bountiful and plentiful than the week before. I tried making Kale Chips like my friend Karla, but they weren’t nearly as good as hers…I made a Kale and Gruyere Frittata, but there’s only so many of those you can eat, and once or twice I guiltily yard-wasted the kale when the new box arrived and I still hadn’t done anything with it.

Up until last night it was Kale: 10, Erina: 0.

Photo Compliments of handfarmedorganics.com

Until last night, when trying to think of a starch I could make for our friend CJ who is wheat intolerant I stumbled across a polenta and spinach gratin. I love all gratins (I mean, what’s not to love, creamy unhealthy deliciousness), and thought there’s no reason I couldn’t substitute kale for spinach.

It was outstanding. The polenta in the tube couldn’t be easier, and the recipe calls for 8 cups of Kale, which totally cleaned out my supply and rendered me obnoxiously triumphant.

The perfect side to a yummy fall dinner.

Polenta Gratin with Kale and Cremini Mushrooms
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms (5 cups)

1 large shallot, minced

8 cups kale, center stems removed, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I used rice flour)

3/4 cup beef stock (or vegetable stock)

1/2 cup whipping cream

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

One 18-ounce log of prepared polenta, cut into 1/4-inch slices

3 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the shallot and cook over moderately low heat for 3 minutes. Add the kale and cook over high heat until the kale has wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the kale and mushrooms evenly in a 2-quart baking dish.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour over moderately high heat. Add the stock, cream, and nutmeg and whisk until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper and pour over the kale. Arrange the polenta slices on top of the kale in overlapping concentric circles, pressing to submerge the polenta slightly. Sprinkle the Gruyère on the polenta, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Uncover the polenta and broil 6 inches from the heat for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

 Make Ahead The unbaked gratin can be refrigerated overnight.

 

 


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Filed under Comfort Foods, Entertaining, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Best You’ve Ever Had: Carrot Muffins

It is admittedly cliché to write about the season’s changing. But since Fall is officially here, and I am officially procrastinating writing the copy for my company’s new corporate brochure, I thought I’d give in to the temptation and embrace it.

After a Summer in Seattle that was slow to start and ended beautifully but fleetingly, it seems that Fall has arrived. The mornings are cool and crisp, back to school aspirations abound anew, and I find myself doing something I haven’t done in months.

Baking.

Perhaps it’s an indication of lack of vision or creativity or something, but come Summer, all I want is grilled deliciousness, and tapas boards, and salads.  Come Fall and Winter, it’s back to slow-braised meats with hearty red-wine sauces and pasta dishes that I pretend I have less often than I do. I also find myself baking this time of year, and making profound resolutions about all the exercise I’ll do to offset it.

Part and parcel with our Fall traditions is our annual CiderFest where we invite friends and family over for a day of delicious food, good laughs, and more cider than you know what to do with. All told we had 30 people join us this year, ranging in age from 3 to well….older than 3. The kids did manual labor, the adults enjoyed cider and whiskey, and I enjoyed an excuse to spend a day cooking for those I love.

Maggie working it.

Thanks to CJ and Matt we had a plethora of apples from neighbors and parks.

These carrot muffins are surprisingly delicious (little Wesley, age 3, ate one for each his year and was pushing for a fourth) and are a great way to use up all those extra carrots you’ve got in your garden. Moist and mildly spicy, they keep well and wrapped in foil will stay yummy for a few days.

Carrot Muffins

 

Makes 12

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 4oo degrees. Grease a standard 12-muffin pan or line with paper cups.

Whisk together thoroughly:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking power

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground ginger

In a separate large bowl, which together:

2 large eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

Stir in and let stand for 10 minutes:

1 1/2 cups packed finely shredded carrots (the food processor makes this a breeze if you have the right attachment)

Stir in:

1/8 cup molasses

1/8 cup water

5 TB vegetable oil

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup raisins

Add the flour mixture and fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 15-18 minutes. Let cool 2-3 before removing from the pan. Allow to cool fully on a rack and store in an airtight container…or better yet…enjoy right away with a delicious cup of cider or tea!

3 Comments

Filed under Breakfasts, Health Conscious, Lactose Free, Make ahead, Seasonal Cooking, Uncategorized, Vegetarian