Thursday, December 29, 2011

Simply Cornish

Can I whisper is it over? Did you all overeat as much as we did? I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas holiday with family and friends. I'm playing catch up this week, stopping by my fave blogs, starting my year end inventory, taking down the tree and decorations. In general, simply re-grouping for the New Year.

I'm just thrilled to have a few unexpected days off here to do all this catching up and prepare some of our favorite dishes. I seldom get the chance to bake, so this also is one of my goals set for this week and then I'm going to read a good book. No real agenda's for me this week--just kick back and relax, and then one New Year's eve dinner party with some very dear friends--what better way to end a wonderful year-- and best of all, I'm not even going to be cooking! Well, perhaps just a few appetizers.

Wishing you the happiest and healthiest New Year..Buon anno!

Are you looking for an easy recipe for cornish hens? Around here, we eat a lot of poultry, and I'm always on the lookout for an affordable, yet tasty meal made with few ingredients that can be ready to serve in under an hour. Keep it simply is my motto.

Sometimes I roast my hens basted in a Shiraz jelly and citrus sauce or, if I'm in a really lazybones kind of mood just roast them in lemon and tarragon, other times I'll spice them up a bit and after splitting them in half, glaze them with a honey mustard and cilantro glaze--and toss them out on the grill. But these past few days have been pretty cold and windy here, too cold to be grilling outdoors, so this is how I prepared my cornish hens last night.. just simply tasty. You don't need to reserve this recipe only for hens, it's equally as good for roasters or turkey as well. Enjoy!

Simply Cornish Hens

3 cornish hens, rinsed and pat dry
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lemon, squeezed
fresh basil leaves
kosher salt
ground pepper
3 TBLS dijon mustard
2 TBLS white balsamic vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 TBLS total of dried herbs --I used thyme, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, and summer savory

Season the hens with salt and ground pepper. Place them in a large bowl. Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, garlic and herbs together and pour over the hens. Cover lightly and allow the hens to rest for an hour at room temperature.

Take the hens out of the marinade and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the cornish hens on a rack in your baking dish. Stuff each hen cavity with basil leaves and reserve the marinade. Roast the hens in the oven for 20 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Baste the hens every 10 to 15 minutes with the reserved marninade and continue roasting for 50-60 minutes longer. I served this with fresh asparagus, darling clementines, fresh plums and a garden salad. No spuds, no rice, no stuffing... simply Cornish. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Farro with spinach and sausage

A while back I decided to try my hand at making homemade sausages; something I'd never tried before even though I've had my sausage maker attachment for my Kitchenaid for nearly two years now. I was lucky enough to find a local supplier for hog casings, but you can also order them online as well. For my first recipe I tried pork sausage, but was disappointed in the salt content in a sausage pre-mix I had purchased. Gads were they salty!! The second batch I decided to try my own blend--much much better. And I learned to make a small patty and cook it firstly to sample the seasoning level in them before I start filling my casings now. From then on I've been making sausage nearly every two to three weeks.. Italian sweet, fennel, cheese and garlic and hot, chicken sausage, and seasoned lamb sausage.

I'm just getting over a bad bout of pneumonia, so little cooking was done around here except for soups, soups, and more soups once I got home. When I did feel well enough to do some cooking, I decided to make an old favorite that's very easy to prepare, and really tasty. I should forewarn you though, this dish will soon become a family favorite for casual suppers on these cool, wintry evenings. Use cremini or shiitake mushrooms in place of the buttons, if you like. We managed to get our late sowing of spinach into the garden just in the nick of time and now, deeply mulched under salt marsh hay I have some awesome spinach right at my fingertips. I've also made this dish using fresh kale or chard as well. It's all good in my book.

Farro with Spinach & Sausage

2 TBLS olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups farro
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 links sweet Italian pork sausage, removed from casings
3/4 cup red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups button mushrooms, quartered
2 cups fresh baby spinach
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 TBLS chopped oregano

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add farro and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and farro is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1/2 TBLS olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, breaking it up into small chunks with a spatula, until almost cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, toss well and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and stir in spinach until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir parsley, oregano, salt and pepper into pot with farro, then spoon onto plates. Top with sausage-mushroom mixture and serve hot. Enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta with Fresh Sage

The abundance of winter squash at farmers market means fall is officially here. Celebrate this harvest by making some creamy polenta. Last night I made a wonderful Autumn polenta made with roasted butternut squash that I like to make for special holidays such as Thanksgiving, but once you taste it, you won't want to save it just for special occasions. I just love how the squash enhances the flavor. Actually this is so good, that I had planned to make homemade manicotti today and stuff it with my leftover butternut polenta--but hubby had a different idea to polish off the bowl I had tucked away, and instead, made himself breakfast this morn with the polenta and drizzled maple syrup and some almonds on top. So much for my lunch today..sheesh!

I’ve really become a big fan of polenta. It’s rich, creamy, warm, and comforting, and the perfect blank canvas to work with. I almost always add a nice handful of freshly grated cheese to the mix. Sometimes I wilt some spinach or chard into it, or top the polenta with an assortment of mushrooms, but my latest addition has been to include roasted butternut squash,garlic and herbs. The gentle natural sweetness of the roasted squash just gives this dish some oomph that we thoroughly enjoy! Not only is it delicious, I think I'm loving polenta as much as I love risotto for it's versatility. (and if you follow this blog regularly, you know how much we love risotto around here!) Did I tell you that I made roasted tomato risotto last week that was to die for?! If not, well I will very soon. :)

Seriously though, polenta really is so versatile You can serve it freshly made, all that creamy warm goodness and simply savor it. Or as I had planned-- include it into some freshly made manicotti as well. Or you can allow it to set after pouring it out onto a baking sheet, and then cut it into squares to pan fry later and top with your favorite fresh veggies, mushrooms or greens--or even serve it for a brilliant breakfast idea too! LOL Any way you slice it, it's the best leftover dish you'll ever have!

Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta with Fresh Sage

3 lbs butternut squash, halved lengthwise, and seeded
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 TBLS olive oil
3/4 tsp fresh sage, chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups fine cornmeal
1 TBLS fresh sage, minced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 TBLS olive oil
1 cup sliced Mushrooms-Shitake mushrooms, button mushrooms. I like to mix them up
2 shallots, minced.
1 garlic clove, minced
fresh summer savory, minced
fresh Italian parsley, minced

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Arrange squash, cut side up, in large sheet pan. Place garlic cloves in squash cavities. Drizzle olive oil over each. Sprinkle with sage, sea salt and ground pepper. Cover lightly with foil and bake until squash is tender, about 1 hour.

Cool the roasted squash completely and puree in food processor. Set aside.

Sautee the mushrooms garlic and shallots in olive oil until cooked. Set aside.

Combine broth, water and salt in heavy large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and cook until mixture is thick and creamy, stirring often, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in fresh sage and squash puree.

Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cheese. Add seasoning to taste. Cover and let sit for a few minutes. Rewarm your mushrooms mixture.

To serve, pour the squash polenta into your bowl--topped with the warm mushrooms and lots of grated cheese. Sprinkle fresh parsley and savory and serve.

I served this with roasted pork loin and apples, with a crisp garden salad and homemade applesauce. Dee-liscious! Enjoy the holiday weekend everyone.. we're heading up north to do some leaf peepin'.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Turkey Meatloaf

I was flipping through my cookbooks the other day hunting for a turkey meatloaf recipe that wasn't bland, like some turkey recipes can be and spotted Ina Garten's version, and decided to give it a try. I didn't make the five pound version, as suggested--it was only for the two of us after all and we still had plenty left over for sandwiches the next day.. in fact more like three days! There is something really satisfying about a meatloaf sandwich, and I loved that this was made with turkey. Traditional beef meatloaf isn't made too often around here, and when I do make it, it's usually in some sort of loaf pan. I really liked free forming this turkey loaf--The Barefoot Contessa came through again!

The only changes I made to Ina's recipe was to sub in oatmeal for some of the crumbs and instead of topping it with ketchup I just used my family's favorite sauce topping -- a blend of ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar. This loaf was made in the morning before work,and then refrigerated. So I just popped it in the oven when I returned. I have to say, it was so tasty, plus so moist, yet didn't fall apart when I sliced into it. We loved it, and I'll be making it again soon!

The Barefoot Contessa's Turkey Meatloaf
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten

2 large onions, diced small
2 TBLS olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves or (1/2 tsp dried)
1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tsp tomato paste
3 pounds ground turkey
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup oatmeal
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sauce topping

Meatloaf Sauce Topping

4 TBLS ketchup
4TBLS brown sugar
2 tsp white vinegar

Whisk all together and spread over any meatloaf you prepare.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a saute pan, over medium-low heat, cook the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme until translucent, but not browned, approximately 15 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste and mix well. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs,oatmeal, eggs, and cooled onion mixture in a large bowl. Mix well and shape into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased sheet pan. Spread the sauce topping evenly on top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the meatloaf is cooked through. Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold in a sandwich. Enjoy!
** Note: (A pan of hot water in the oven under the meatloaf will keep the top from cracking.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fruits of Summer

No recipe today my friends, only an update on what I've been up to these past weeks here. It's not that I haven't been cooking--because I surely have! My Farmers markets are winding down for the season.. with Kennebunk remaining open until mid November. It's been a wonderful season for us, and we recently signed on for a new Winter Market that will open November 12th on Saco Island, located in one of the old mill's restored lofts. . I'm very excited about this new market and partaking with many new vendors and foodie friends. In addition to my herbal soap line, we'll be offering dips, spices and herbal blends of seasonings. Even hubby has leased booth space for his watercolor artwork. If you're in our neck of the woods, do stop on by!

Did you know that I just love gardening! We garden because we love food. Well, that, plus the fact that the exercise is wonderful, though the aching back has it's pitfalls... but the rewards are tenfold. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you can easily see that I enjoy canning during the summer months when the fruits and vegetables are at their freshest, and if I haven't grown them myself.. I know just who has, before they'll go into my jars. This summer was no exception. If anything, I canned and froze more this year than in years past. Jams, jellies, chutneys, sweet pickles, dill pickles, relishes, tomato sauce, whole plum tomatoes, piccalilli, giardiniera, applesauce, dilly beans, peperonata, tomato salsa, hot habanero peach salsa, corn, carrots, brussell sprouts,edamame, roasted tomatoes, hot peppers, and even some herbs. I'm thinking of adding another freezer or a new jelly cupboard in my letter to Santa this year. ;) Wow! After thinking through this list(and I'm certain I've forgotten some) I have to admit, I really did put up a lot this year.

My loot from this summer's bounty--either from our garden, or picked by me in our nearby orchards.

The fruits of summer are living out their final days, and the mind begins to fearfully anticipate a season when the supermarket will again become a source of fresh produce. Ha! At least this is how my mind works. Over the years I have honed in on some easy ways to preserve the bounty of the abundant seasons, mostly involving freezing. These preserving projects are quite simple to do and apart from ample freezer space, require only a minimal time commitment. Here are a few ideas:

Sweet peppers can be cut up into small pieces and frozen immediately in large ziplock bags. If you have never tried this, you will be amazed at how they defrost right in the oil as you sauté them, and how you would never know the difference once they’re cooked. They don’t retain the crunch they have when fresh, so you wouldn’t want to put them in a salad. But they’re great in stir fries, omelets or a saucy peperonata.

Hot peppers are one of my favorite things to freeze. So overly abundant in August and September, I don’t really start craving (or having the time to cook) spicy Thai food until the middle of winter, when the only hot peppers in the stores are ancient, depressed looking things. I just put them whole into a quart sized bag and pull from it all winter.

Other seasonings I have had good luck freezing are ginger—I buy a few pounds and it lasts all year—and garlic. I find that our garlic really only lasts in top shape in our kitchen until the end of December. As it dries out, the flavor becomes too strong to eat raw. So last year I peeled a whole bunch of garlic the week it was picked, when it’s just so fresh and juicy, and froze it in a bag. It turned out to be a great convenience food; I would just grab a clove and grate it, still frozen. This year I pickled a few jars of garlic cloves... they will come in handy preparing salad dressings or a marinades. To sauté the frozen garlic just wait a few minutes for it to partially thaw, then mince it and sauté it like normal. It tastes just like fresh!

You can even freeze some of the more rugged herbs like parsley, thyme and rosemary. I freeze them in plastic containers. No one has ever used a whole bunch of rosemary before it goes bad. Just stick it in the freezer.

Sweet corn is only available for another couple of weeks. Why buy frozen corn in the store when you can make your own for dirt cheap and it tastes so much better? Just cut the corn of the cobs, stick it in a bag and you’re done. Then, make some corn or seafood chowdahs all winter long.

Don’t even get me started on fruit. If you’re diligent, your freezer is already half full with rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, peaches and blueberries. The peaches make amazing smoothies and are great for baking. Warm scones right out of the oven. Sweet or savory galettes. A bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with stewed frozen peaches spiked with local honey or Amaretto in January? Can I tempt anyone?

Last week, there were a few firsts for me here. Firstly, I made sausage--hog casings and all, but will save that for another post and secondly I was invited to a 'jar swap' hosted by my friend Sue of Above the Dam Jam. I'd never participated in one of these, so didn't quite know what to expect.

Her instructions: "Make 15 jars of anything you want and show up at 6:00pm and share a bottle of wine with us. You'll love it" And that I did!

As you can see--Sue was thrilled with the turnout, and I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw all these gorgeous jars of summer goodness laid out on her dining room table! Baskets filled with jellies, jams, pickled beets, applesauce, grapes infusing in their juices--(I personally can't wait for this to be ready), pickles, salsa, even homemade catsup and from her Aunt Carol--old fashioned homemade caramel popcorn that curiously disappeared the minute I brought it home. Samples of many opened jars were set out on her counter for all to taste. I've already made chicken with the Zesty Peach BBQ Sauce.. gosh, it was delicious.

Here's some of the wonderful fruits of the season taken at the jar swap & check out that big bowl of caramel corn my other friend Lee is loving. Aunt Carol was kind enough to share her recipe with me, and I know how happy my grandkids will be this holiday season.

As for the wine.. even this was served in small canning jars. Thanks for your hospitality and invitation Sue. What a fun night for me!

Being a family of food lovers, we have learned to preserve. There simply isn’t enough time for us to savor the fruits of our labors and of the seasons in the way they should be: unrushed. I'm often too tuckered to cook in season, and seldom will my oven be turned on unless it rains during the warmer months, so when I do have the time, we devote it to preservation projects. And then we'll savor all that goodness through our long winter months. Preserving allows you to capture fruits and vegetables at their flavorful peaks and enjoy that freshness all year round. Did any of you put up your family's favorites this summer? You'll be kicking yourself in the patootie if you haven't ;-)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Get A Good -- Green beans with lamb

Are you looking for a way to use up all your garden green and pole beans? Why not try some Get A Good.

One of my all time favorite green bean recipes is called Lubee alaham, but in our family it is known as Get A Good. I'm not certain how this name came about, but I can guarantee you it surely is very good. My sister introduced this bean stew to the family when her husband's Armenian grandmother brought it to the table. It was always made during the summer months when fresh green beans and ripened tomatoes were plentiful and then typically served over rice pilaf, or steamed bulgar wheat but during the cooler months I've even served it over creamy polenta.

You can prepare this with ground lamb, cubed lamb pieces or even just lamb bones, as Nana did, so when your having that leg of lamb boned at your butchers market--tell him you want the bones saved. This week I picked up some seasoned Italian lamb sausage at farmers market that was just scrumptious in this meal. Bush green beans are fine to use, but I find the young pole beans or flat Italian green beans both excellent in texture and flavor.

This dish tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have a chance to intensify. Oh yes, a loaf of crusty bread to mop up the flavorful juices goes great with this, too!

Get A Good - Green Beans with lamb

1 lb.seasoned ground lamb
2 TBLS olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. crushed dried basil
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb. fresh green beans or Italian pole beans--washed and trimmed
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 cup roma tomatoes, or half a can tomato paste

In a skillet, brown meat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain any excess fat. Place meat in a bowl & set aside. Using the same skillet, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft and slightly brown.. Return the meat to the skillet with the onions. Add salt, ground pepper, allspice, basil, and oregano.. Cover & cook 10 more minutes.

In a large pot, add the green beans. Stir in the tomatoes, and the tomato paste over the green beans and stir. Add the meat mixture to the green beans and bring to a gentle boil, then cover and simmer for 1 hour, or more until beans are fork tender. Serve over rice pilaf or steamed bulgur. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer in a jar--Amaretto peach jam

Every summer, I wait patiently for the summer peaches to arrive at market. I slice and freeze a bunch for winter galettes, preserve halves in light syrup or make a peach butter and then there's jam. Glorious peach jam! Peaches have become one of those fruits that is nearly always available, but they are only this delicious in the month of and August in our neck of the woods. You know the ones I mean--the kind that when you first bite into them, those scrumptious juices drip down onto your chin. Those mealy, impenetrable fruits that you pay a small fortune for during the winter just can’t possibly compare.

Of all the jams and jellies I put up each summer, peach jam is right up there at the top of my list. I like to flavor mine with Amaretto and nutmeg and enjoy it served over muffins, as a filling in my torte cakes, Christmas thumbprint cookies, over biscuits or just from the spoon. Last week when I finished making my last batch, I had run out of canning jars, so had some jam left over and as I was making yet another zucchini bread also that morning, I decided to add it into my batter. What a delicious surprise!

This weekend will probably be the last week I'll be able to get fresh peaches here, so I'm going to try a habanero peach jelly. So if you want to put some summer into a jar, head off to your local farmer's market and pick up some wonderful fresh peaches before it's too late.

Amaretto Peach Jam

5 cups of peaches, unpeeled and chopped
2 lemons, zested and juiced
5 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup wildflower honey
1/2 tsp butter
1 1/2 packets Certo liquid pectin
1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur

Fill your canning pot with water and begin to bring it to a light boil.. Wash your jars and rings in warm soapy water and set aside. Put your lids in a small pot of water and heat in order to soften the sealing compound.

Add peaches,sugar and honey to a large, non-reactive pot. Stir so that the peaches begin to release their juice and mingle with the sugar. Bring to a boil and add the nutmeg, lemon zest,juice and butter and let jam continue to cook for about ten minutes. If the fruit hasn’t broken down much after that time is up, use a potato masher or immersion blender to break down the chunks. Add Certo and liqueur and bring to a rolling boil for a full five minutes.

Turn off the heat under the jam, skim any foam off and fill jars. Wipe rims and apply lids. Screw on the bands and lower into the water. Process in the hot water bath 10 minutes. When time is up, remove from water and cool on the counter under a tea towel. This recipe makes approximately 5-6 half pint jars. Enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini Rounds

I guess it wouldn't officially be summer without serving something stuffed right? Okay, I have a serious love/hate relationship with zucchini--I'll be the first to admit it. I just love it's lovely yellow blossoms. I hate that one plant yields so much fruit all at once-I probably serve it three times weekly around here. I love the tender nutty flavor of a four inch zucchini and how lovely it presents in many dishes with it's vibrant green color.. it's truly delicious.

Some call this vegetable boring, but truth be known zucchini is one of the many squash plants we grow, and in moderation, I seldom tire of it. This year I wanted to add to my squash patch, so we tried growing round Tondo zucchini. They are really so sweet looking in the garden, the yield so far has been great and now I have a new dish to squash to stuff! You really don't need to use solely the Tondo or round zucchini for this recipe, the typical Italian long squash, delicata squash, Leabanese cousa or pattypan squash will do equally as well.

Come on, fess up-- you know you have a gazillion of these heading into torpedodom(is this really a word?) in your garden right now. With a few simple ingredients along with a few helping hands to assist you in harvesting you can have a really satisfying squash dish to serve your family in no time. What I like the most about stuffed vegetable is that they can be served as a side dish to meat or fish or as part of an antipasto. The fillings are limitless and can be a simple breadcrumbs with herbs, or a meat filling for a more substantial meal. Use your imagination!

P.S. I'm sure you already know this, but if you should come across some of those overgrown torpedoes in your garden, haul them into the kitchen, grate them all up, allow them to drain and toss them into zip lock bags and freeze for cooler weather recipes.

Stuffed Round Zucchini

4 round Tondo or long zucchini
2 TBLS olive oil
1 onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 slices pancetta, diced
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
2 TBLS pine nuts
4 TBLS panko bread crumbs
2 TBLS fresh basil leaves, torn
2 oz freshly grated romano cheese
1/4 cup grated fontina cheese
2 TBLS olive oil
2 TBLS freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Cut off the top of the round zucchini or cut a slice lengthwise from the long zucchini. Scoop out the flesh, making sure that you don't cut through the skin, leaving a shell 1/4 inch thick. Chop the vegetable flesh and put aside in a bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until golden. Add the chopped vegetables flesh and basil and cook for 3-4 minutes until the flesh is cooked and the liquid has evaporated.

Add the tomatoes, pine nuts, panko crumbs, cheese to the vegetable mixture and season to taste with sea salt and ground pepper. Now spoon the mixture into the prepared zucchini shells and drizzle with the olive oil and place the stuffed squash into an oven proof casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender. Remove the foil top, and sprinkle over the parmesan cheese and bake uncovered 10 minutes longer,until the cheese is lightly browned. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Best Ever Peanut Butter Cookies

When I was a youngster, we had a neighbor on our street that just loved to bake, and the best part about her baking was that she generously shared whatever came out of her oven with all the neighborhood children. On a very warm August morning I can recall the aroma drifting through her kitchen windows out onto the street where we played.
Oh my goodness, 'Mrs. Nelson's baking peanut butter cookies' we all howled. And we all knew it was only a matter of time before we got the call and she shared them with us with the iciest cold glass of milk I can recall drinking.

This was back in the days of fresh milk delivery. Do you recall those days? The milkman would deliver our milk and cream in glass bottles to our doorsteps. Well I remember them well, and every time I bake 'Florence's cookies' I think back on those days gone by with the fondest of memories. Just before she passed away I had asked her to share her cookie recipe with me, so that hopefully one day I could make them for my own children. And that I did.. always during the summer warmer months--mostly on days like today. Our children are up here on holiday, and what better cookie to make for them and share with you than Florence's Peanut Butter Cookies.

Rich smooth peanut butter is the base of this yummy cookie. Slightly crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside,with a nice peanut butter flavor. This one is a real winner!

Mrs. Nelson's Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup softened room temperature butter
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 beaten egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, lighty sprayed or silpat. Bake these cookies on the middle shelf of your oven, and watch carefully. Bake cookies only 8-10 minutes.

Whisk together the flour and baking soda. With your mixer, beat the butter on medium speed for a minute or two, until smooth and creamy. Add the peanut butter and sugars and beat for another 3-4 minutes. Slowly add the beaten egg, and flavoring.. beating for another minute.

On low speed add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl, just until everything is moistened. Your dough will be soft and pliable. Pour the sugar into a small bowl. With a tablespoon, scoop out enough dough to form a two inch ball, and roll each formed ball into the sugar bowl, then place onto the cookie sheets. Dip the tines of a fork into the sugar and make a couple of crisscross impressions to each cookie top. This recipe yields approximately 36 cookies. Once they are all on cookie sheets, any remaining sugar in the bowl can be sprinkled over each.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets mid bake time. The cookies will be lightly colored, still a bit soft in the centers and just beginning to brown around the edges. Transfer to wire racks to cool and pour yourself a big cold glass of milk. Enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Baked Shrimp

It's time for some seafood wouldn't you say? I'm setting all the tomatoes,pickles and squash aside, as the sky has opened up and it's just pouring out there, so not much gardening for me today.

This is a dish that I make often around here..not even a real recipe and so easy to prepare. Simply shrimp and potatoes, baked together with garlic,fresh herbs, butter and olive oil whats not to love? A perfect side dish, appetizer or even a light meal. Dip your shrimp into all those flavored juices with some crusty bread and serve with a nice tossed salad. And speaking of crusty breads, I'm taking a day long workshop this week to learn how to make natural Levain bread and I just can't wait! But that's a post for another day. Let's make some yummy shrimp.

Baked Shrimp

2 dozen medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 medium potatoes
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 TBLS butter
2 TBLS olive oil
panko breadcrumbs
2 TBLS fresh parsley, summer savory, with a pinch of thyme, minced
zest of 1 lemon & reserve the lemon for serving
sea salt and ground pepper

Wash and boil potatoes just until a knife comes out easily.
Drain and then cool. Peel the potatoes and slice thin. Peel shrimp, devein and rinse them off, patting dry with paper toweling. Lightly oil a baking casserole, and arrange shrimp and potatoes, overlapping each as you place in your baker. In a small skillet saute butter, olive oil, garlic,lemon zest, herbs, salt and pepper for just a minute or two. Pour this over the shrimp and potatoes. Add 1 TBLS of water, and don't forget to sprinkle panko crumbs on top, as I did ;-) Well heck, I just saved my crumbs for another meal. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes,lightly foil covered. Then, uncover, turn up the oven to broil for 2 more minutes. Squeeze the juice of your peeled lemon over all and serve. Enjoy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Goodness from the garden

Do you recall my post back in the Spring for some new vegetable and herb seeds I ordered from a new supplier? Well I have to say I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of that purchase. Everything I planted has come up beautifully, especially the genovese basil. And though I use a lot of fresh basil in my meals around here.. this week I'm having a difficult time using it up before it goes to flower--so a quick pesto was in order for lunch this week.

I had been roasting tomatoes all morning and thought, why not? Crusty artisan bread from my friend Robin, covered in fresh walnut pesto and topped off with still warm roasted tomatoes with their scrumptious herbal garlicky juice. Lunch was splendid!

Basil Pesto with walnuts

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup walnuts, or toasted pine nuts if you prefer
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 TBLS extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBLS water
1 large clove garlic, quartered
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place basil, walnuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, oil, water, garlic, and pepper in a food processor. I omit any salt in this recipe, as the cheese is salty enough for me. Pulse just a few times, then process until fairly smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally. I'll bet you can't resist dipping your finger in for a sample of this goodness. ;-) Fresh basil is so prolific this time of year and pesto is so simple pesto is to prepare. Try some--you'll love it. Enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes

Mark Bittman wrote---"A fresh tomato is a beautiful thing — which is all the more reason to slice it, mash it, crush it, or stuff it" in an article this weekend in the NY Times "The Proper Ways to Treat an Heirloom". Mr. Bittman will get no argument from me. We've waited for weeks to pluck those first warm luscious beauties from the garden, knowing full well those firsts would never make it to the kitchen. I can't think of any other summer vegetable I feel this way about.

But as of yesterday my kitchen counter was nearly covered with an assortment of fresh tomatoes.. romas, brandywines, beefsteaks, 4th of July's (that obviously were a might late producing), early girls and then there are the cherries.. yellows, orange and reds. The grapes, well they too just never seem to make it indoors... some gardeners do work up an appetite with all this weeding you know!

So I have all these lovely tomatoes on hand. I haven't even begun the roasting process, nor the canning yet. Well after reading a post here a few weeks ago, I've been waiting patiently for my romas to ripen to give this recipe a whirl, and as we had some friends over this weekend--here was the perfect opportunity. I didn't want to be in the kitchen long during this visit, so I did the prep work earlier in the morn--so all I needed to do when the time came was pop these tomatoes into the oven and just wait. Clearly they were a big hit here and clearly I will be making these again. So if you have an abundance of tomatoes as we do, definitely give this recipe a won't be disappointed. I chose to use my romas.. as this is what I had the most of on hand, and I preferred this appetizer sized fruit as well. I omitted the eggplant and subbed in zucchini and used half the ricotta cheese--subbing in goat cheese and shredded fontina.

Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes
Adapted from The Italian Dish Blog & "The Italian Farmer's Table"

6 roma tomatoes
1-1/2 TBLS olive oil
1/4 red onion, diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup herbed goat cheese
1/4 cup grated fontina cheese
1 large egg
1/3 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 TBLS chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 TBLS minced fresh oregano
1 TBLS minced fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and flesh, reserving 1/4 cup for the filling. Salt the insides of the tomatoes and turn them over to drain excess water.

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to a medium size skillet and add the red onion and cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the yellow pepper and the zucchini and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved tomato flesh with a bit of the juices and saute for another 5 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Place the ricotta, goat cheese, eggs, 1/4 cup panko crumbs, the grated pecorino cheese, 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, herbs and vegetable mixture in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Puree ingredients until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stuff tomatoes with the filling, using a spoon and place stuffing side up on an oiled baking dish. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the remaining 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano and the remaining panko crumbs and drizzle with the remaining 1 TBLS olive oil.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender and the filling is golden brown. Can be served immediately or at room temperature. The stuffed tomatoes can be made a day in advance and gently reheated. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuscan Summer Salad-- Panzanella

Panzanella is one of my favorite summer meals. When the tomatoes are perfect, there is nothing better than this salad, and as I just picked our first of the season tomatoes.. this was a fitting dish to celebrate the event.

According to Cooking American, "Panzanella Salad was likely an invention of necessity, because Italian cooks are known to not waste a single clove of garlic or a sprig of parsley". It's origins date back to a time when shepherds used to herd sheep for long distances and had small amounts of food to take. What they usually had with themselves was some loaves of stale bread and the various vegetables they could find along the road to and back from the mountains and grasslands. Panzanella combines these ingredients adding to the flavor, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil and a vinegar for a surprisingly tasty dish. Vegetables could include peppers, cucumbers, and onions. Lots of garlic, capers, black olives, and anchovies added to the salad. Chilled, this is such a refreshing addition to the table as a side, or main course. I served this the other night with slices of rosemary and onion tart.

Panzanella Salad is a great way to utilize stale bread and the freshest of garden veggies. The Tuscan cuisine as it is known today is a blend of the two historically distinct kitchens of the rich and the poor. The rich eat lots of meats, vegetables and spices, the poor find tasty ways to utilize left-overs and to use little tricks to make a dish more filling, and not let anything go to waste. I like to wait until a half hour before serving this salad to add more of the reserved stale bread pieces to give it a bit of crunch and then toss it well.

There really are so many variations on the preparation and ingredients of panzanella. Traditionally, capers are used, for example, but I find this too astringent a flavor in this dish. Sometimes I add anchioves to this salad, sometimes not, but I always include olives to my Panzanella salad. Mix it up and you'll see what I mean..this is a wonderful summer dish!


1 loaf of stale crusty unsalted peasant bread.
4 ripe tomatoes, diced or sliced
1 medium cucumber peeled and sliced or diced
fresh lettuce- any kind--I used a mix of greens. Clean it and shred it into bite-size pieces.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red onion diced or thinly sliced.
1 handful of basil leaves, roughly cut
1 stem fresh romsemary, leaves minced
pitted black olives *optional
3 TBLS red wine vinegar
3 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste

Break the bread loaf into large cubed pieces and set it in a bowl of water to cover it completely. Don't let it soak too much as it will crumble excessively and be too mushy. Once you realize the bread is all soaked but still quite firm, drain it well and press down with toweling to remove the excess water.

Mix all the ingredients together and half the bread, reserving the remainder and add the extra virgin olive oil, vinegars and salt to taste. After mixing well, add the bread and keep stirring thoroughly.
Refrigerate for at least one hour, then serve immediately. Just before serving I always add the remaining bread crumb to this salad, then drizzle a bit more olive oil give it one last toss before serving. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bread and Butter Pickles

Well after a slow start this season, they are finally here. I'm referring to squash, zucchini and cucumbers! While I just love eating all this fresh abundance from the garden I have a confession to make. I just love eating pickles. especially home-made pickles and to be more precise bread and butter pickles. So early this morning I picked a basket of Kirby cucumbers (better known as pickling cukes) from the garden and knowing full well it was going to be a ninety degree day-- perfect conditions for canning wouldn't you say?

I don't know. I just got the itch to make some good old fashioned bread and butter pickles. with the cukes and some onions. You too can easily make these--don't be intimidated.. just do it. You'll see that flash of nostalgia in their eyes when you serve these to your family from that very first bite and from there on in you'll be their favorite culinary genius or even better bring a jar along to the next cookout you'll be attending. Who needs another pie anyway? I just love the color and crunchy pickly taste in every single bite! The amounts given in this recipe will yield six pint sized jars. I tripled my recipe to give me the six jars, plus one large half gallon jar to bring to a friend.

Bread and Butter Pickles

3 lbs Kirby cukes (known as pickling cucumbers)
1 lb yellow onions. thinly sliced
1/4 cup kosher salt - don't use regular salt or your pickles will look cloudy and not so perdy
1 1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 TBLS mustard seed
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 tsp celery seed
1 tsp pickling spice
1 inch cinnamon stick ( to be removed at the end of the cook
6-8 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
6 whole cloves. plus a pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp tumeric

Clean the cukes and cut off the ends. Slice them into 1/8th - 1/4 inch slices and place in a large bowl. Slice the onions and also add to the bowl sprinkling pickling salt over all. Toss this mixture up well. Now cover the mix with a clean towel--really. just set the towel on top of all the cukes and onions. Then cover the towel with ice cubes so the whole towel is covered. Put the bowl in your refrigerator for several hours.. (at least four.. overnight even better). Take the bowl out and throw away the ice. Rinse off your cukes and onions and drain the water. Do this a second time now to remove any excess salt.

Now--if you intend to keep your jars of pickles on a shelf. or give them away at Christmas. you'll need to process the jars appropriately. If you're bringing them to a picnic this weekend. move on to the next paragraph now. Clean your jars and lids with soap and water. then. while your cooking the pickles. pour boiling water over the lids in a separate bowl. Most people consider the dishwasher to be enough sterilization for jars. so go ahead and just set the jars aside. ready to fill. If you insist on actual sterilization (I happen to do this with everything I put in a jar). place the jars in boiling water in a big stock pot for 10 minutes. Then. take them out just before you put the pickles in them so they are still hot.

Grab a six quart pot and bring the vinegars, sugar and all the spices to a gentle boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cukes and onions and bring this to a boil again. You'll want to stir frequently. When the mixture starts to boil again, use a slotted spoon to pack just the cukes and onions into your clean jars. Pack them up to an inch from the top of the jars. Then use a ladle to pour the vinegar syrup over the cukes and into the jars, up to half an inch from the tops. Wipe all the rims of the jars clean with a damp paper towel, then take your lids out of the hot water to cover your jars. If you're not keeping these on a shelf, go ahead and let them cool, then put all the jars in the fridge. Viola.. done! I hope you took a minute to get a taste before you sealed your jars!

Okay now, here's the important part when it comes to keeping these bad boys on a shelf. Use the same big stock pot you used to sterilize your jars--the water should be still hot put the rack to your water bath in the bottom of the pot. Please use a rack or some other make shift rack for the bottom of your pot. The jars shouldn't be touching the bottom of your pot. Now once you have boiling water again, put your jars into the pot--you'll want to use strong canning tongs if you have them, and let them boil, covers in tact, for ten minutes. This is known as the boiling water bath in the world of canning. You can do it... trust me. When the ten minutes is up, remove your pot from the heat and doing your very best--safely remove the jars from the pot using your tongs or safe grabbing device. **If you plan to do any more canning, you might pick up one of those canning equipment sets you can get these anywhere from big supermarket chains to Wally World. This'll make things easier in the future.

I hope you love these little babies as much as we do! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4th of July Pasta Salad

Happy 4th of July to all. Have a fun, safe weekend. Remember why we are celebrating!

I made this pasta salad for a cookout tonight - it's so simple yet wonderfully refreshing to taste. A great dish to serve to the crowds. The addition of the garlic is so subtle, but lifts the salad to another level and with the addition of all the remaining fresh vegetables and herbs, rather than prepackaged ingredients - you can't go wrong. Use your best extra virgin olive oil for this one.

4th of July Pasta Salad

12 ounces small shell pasta
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
1/2 pint red cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1/2 yellow sweet pepper
1/2 cup black olives, pitted & chopped
2 TBLS fresh chives, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn
1 medium cucumber, diced small--leave the skins on
5 TBLS white wine vinegar
10 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dry herb blend - oregano, rosemary, summer savory, thyme

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Throw in the pasta and garlic and simmer for about 5 minutes or until al dente, and drain. Save the garlic to one side for the dressing.
Put the pasta in a bowl. Chop the tomatoes, olives, pepper, chives, basil and cucumber into pieces about half the size of the pasta and add to the bowl. Smash the garlic cloves out of their skins and mince. Add the vinegar, olive oil, dry herb blend and seasoning. Drizzle this over the salad, and toss well. I made this pasta salad this morning and refrigerated it until we leave tonite. Perfect for a hot summer's nite. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pork Tenderloin with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

Our local library was having a book sale this week and as I leafed through the cookbook offerings I came across The Berry Bible by author Jane Hibler, with over 150 delectable recipes that use wild, cultivated, fresh and frozen berries. Well, this being our season for berries, I wasn't about to pass on this little book. The only disappointing part of the book is the lack of photos--not a one, but this book is very informative and interesting with an added bonus of some truly fantastic recipe ideas.

In my mind, few foods capture the sweetness of nature like fresh berries, whether eaten straight off the bush or baked to perfection beneath a flaky crust. We're nearing the end of our fresh strawberry season, but I was able to go earlier this week and pick just a few more quarts for the freezer. No pies or jellies tonite will be made--just a very simple pork dish. The balsamic vinaigrette enhances the flavor of the sweet berries, but manages to retain it's savory notes with the rosemary-garlic pork loin. I'm pretty certain I could eat this salad every day if given the option.

Pork Tenderloin Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce
Adapted from The Berry Bible

1 TBLS chopped fresh rosemary
1 TBLS minced garlic
2 shallots, minced
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/4 lbs. pork tenderloin
1 1/2 TBLS olive oil
Pinot Griogio
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 lb mixed fresh greens

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the rosemary, garlic, shallots, sea salt, and pepper. Pat the meat dry with paper towels then rub with the rosemary-garlic and shallot mixture. In a large, skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Transfer the tenderloin to a baking dish and drizzle a bit of the olive oil drippings from the pan over it and two TBLS Pinot Grigio wine and roast covered with foil for 30 minutes.

Put the skillet over medium-high heat and pour in the balsamic vinegar. Use a wood spoon to loosen the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the vinegar by about half, then gently stir in the strawberries and the olive oil. Stir to combine and season lightly with just a pinch salt.

Carve the meat into 1/2-inch slices. Pour any collected juices into the strawberry sauce pan and stir to blend.

Spread your greens onto a plate. Arrange the pork slices on top of the greens. Drizzle with the warm strawberry dressing and serve immediately, garnished with fresh strawberries if desired. Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Roasted cauliflower with Orzo

This started as a clean-out-the-fridge meal that turned into something amazing. Sometimes, happy accidents occur in the kitchen and this is one of them. The funny part is, I had to go out and re-buy the ingredients I was trying to use up in the first place in order to make this again for this post. But that's okay, as I'm a big fan of cauliflower prepared any way.

I loved all the components of this dish--the roasted cauliflower with red peppers, the almost creamy multicolored orzo and the astringency of the balsamic vinegar. Paired with roast chicken, it made an excellent side dish.

Roasted Cauliflower with Orzo

3 cups cauliflower florets
1 red pepper, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil,
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp dried summer savory
1/4 tsp dried oregano
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 cup orzo
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 cup frozen peas,thawed
2 TBLS grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 tsps white balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, combine the cauliflower, and sliced red peppers with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, red pepper flakes, and a generous pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, stirring the vegetables a couple of times as they roast.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo according to the package directions, but sub in the chicken or vegetable stock for the water. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the thawed peas. Drain and return to the pot over low heat. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the Parmesan cheese and salt to taste.

Pour the orzo onto a plate and spoon the cauliflower mixture over it. Drizzle with the balsamic and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Berry Exciting Shortcake

Mid June has to be the sweetest time of the year. This is the time of year we take to the open strawberry fields and pick til our fingers are red and our backs are broken. So today I picked strawberries for tonite's dessert, tomorrow's cereal and afternoon smoothies.
Then I'll go back next week and pick more to make jams and to fill the freezer for a taste of spring in the height of winter. Strawberry picking has become my favorite season these last few years for me--though, I'm pretty keen on our blueberry season as well--but fresh, just picked strawberries are just that good! I just had my cast removed from my fall and still hobbling along in a half cast, but my good friend Marianne came along to give me a helping hand picking. Thanks so much my friend!

To me, the most important part of a strawberry shortcake, besides having beautiful strawberries is the shortcake. Wouldn't you want a moist, sweet flavor of a cake, mixed with the buttery, flakiness of a pastry. These biscuits are so moist on the inside they will almost seem like they are not cooked- but they are! The top is biscuity and has a nice sugary crust. Paired with a vanilla scented whipped cream and fresh strawberries, well it's just a delicious treat. Your friends and family will just love them!

Strawberry Shortcake

2 cups flour
3 TBLS sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter, cut up into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups fresh strawberries, stems removed and halved
3 TBLS sugar

Whipped Cream
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
2 TBLS white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

The Berries

Take two cups of the sliced strawberries and add them to a bowl. Sprinkle them with the 3 TBLS of sugar, and leave them to meld.

Shortcake Bisquit

In a food processor, add the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Pulse to combine. Pulse in the cold butter and mix until the dough has a coarse crumb texture.
In a separate bowl, combine the cream and the vanilla. Add this to the wet ingredients and pulse to combine. The dough will be moist and crumbly. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Press the dough together with your hands until it forms a disc of dough. Cut it into 4 pieces, and gently form them into circles.

Place the shortcakes onto a silpat or parchment lined sheet pan. Gently brush the tops with a little leftover cream and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake the shortcakes for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool at least slightly before cutting them in half horizontally.

Now remove the top of the shortcake and spoon about a half cup of the strawberries and juices onto the bottom of the cake. Top those berries with a big dollop of whipped cream. Place the top on the shortcake, and add another half cup of sliced strawberries, another smaller dollop of whipped cream and garnish the top each with a strawberry, and serve. Enjoy!