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Clara_Thankful

 

This is the day when we should all take the time to remember the blessings in our lives.  I know that many people begin their Thanksgiving dinners by asking everyone around the table to express their gratitude for the goodness in their lives – a wonderful way to acknowledge what we often forget.  I love Thanksgiving not only for the warmth and hearty meal that it brings but because it is not specific to any religion so it can be embraced by people of all faiths, races, and ethnic backgrounds.  This year with so much conflict in the world and so much divisiveness in the United States it is more important than ever that we take the time to convey our thanks for any evidence of goodness that we see in the world.  Gratitude uplifts our thoughts, encourages a new outlook, enables friendships to grow, and enriches our lives in ways we don’t expect.  It is about kindness – it is an unselfish act of grace that we should all be willing to share.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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OKRA_p8022088

 

I am probably one of the few non-Southerners who loves okra. I usually don’t buy it at the supermarket – only when it pops up at the green market in the fall does it make it to our table. It is such an interesting looking vegetable, particularly when it is the purple variety. When I have time and the price is right, I will pickle a good amount of okra. It makes a great accompaniment to charcuterie or cheese platters. But, as often as not, I will give it a quick stir-fry all by itself or mix it up with some tomatoes and onions. But occasionally – particularly when I’ve made cornbread or have shrimp on hand – I’ll turn them into my version of maque choux, that traditional Louisiana side dish that usually features just corn, bell peppers, and onion. Cornbread makes a good dipping tool and shrimp can turn it into a sorta gumbo. I never cook okra very long as I’m not a fan once it starts to get slimy. Although recently someone told me that if you blanch it for a minute or so, it stays bright green and doesn’t get slimy. I haven’t tried that method so can’t recommend it, but you might want to give it a try.

Maque Choux

Serves 4

2 tablespoons bacon grease (or any fat you like)

½ cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced hot green or red chile or to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup fresh corn kernels

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cups sliced okra

¾ cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

½ cup chopped scallions

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Hot sauce, optional

 

Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, chile, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes or until the onion is softening. Stir in the corn and bell pepper and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until just barely tender. Stir in the okra and then quickly add the cream, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes or just until slightly thick. Don’t cook too long as you don’t want the okra to start oozing – you want it slightly crisp.

Remove from the heat and stir in the scallions and parsley. Taste and, if necessary, season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Serve hot.

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PeachSalsa_9139653

When the first cool weather starts, I try to make quick work of whatever fruits and vegetables are coming down to the end of their summer bounty. Often, I take on too much and find myself miserable knowing that I fell for that inexpensive bushel of tomatoes, squashes, beans, or peaches or other stone fruits. I know that baskets of apples can’t be far behind which means apple butter and applesauce to be made – fall is a busy time in the kitchen!

Tomatoes and peaches are probably my least favorite products to can as both need to be skinned which is always so messy and sticky. Many years ago a friend and I went picking peaches and came home with about 6 very ripe bushels. We spent the entire night in the kitchen dripping in peach juice, sticking to everything as we canned and canned and canned. I have tried never to do that again.

Tomatoes, once skinned, are fairly easy to deal with as I just chop them up with some lemon juice, place them in sterilized quart canning jars, and process in a boiling water bath for about 45 minutes. I don’t salt them as I prefer to do that when I use them in whatever recipe they are needed. I usually add chopped basil and garlic to half of the jars so I have a simple marinara sauce ready to go all winter.

On the other hand peaches take some thought. You can make jam – the quickest and easiest way to use them. Or, you can make chutney, relish, salsa, or leave them whole and make pickled peaches which are terrific as an accompaniment to winter roasts, turkey, ham, or wild birds. I have friends who love, love, love fruit salsas so this year I made a batch of peach salsa just for them. Although great on its own as a garnish for grilled pork, poultry, fish, or shellfish, this salsa is also terrific mixed into mayonnaise for a sandwich spread or salad dressing or into sour cream for a taco garnish.

 

Peach Salsa

Makes about five 8-ounce jars

6 pounds ripe peaches, skinned, pitted, and diced

Juice of 2 limes or to taste

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, membrane removed, and diced

1 to 2 red or green hot chile peppers, cored, seeded, membrane removed, and minced

1 large onion, peeled and diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons minced garlic

Salt

 

Combine the peaches and lime juice in a large mixing bowl. Add the bell peppers, chile peppers, onion, cilantro, and garlic, stirring to combine. Add salt to taste.

Ladle into five 8-ounce sterilized canning jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from the hot water and place on wire racks to cool. If you don’t want to can the salsa, it will keep, covered and refrigerated, for at least a week.

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Fudge_DSC_4505

 

When I was in my full-blown homemade Christmas celebration years, I would make lots and lots of candy. The candy was always a hit simply because most people had never tasted homemade. Some of it came from my childhood – my mom’s favorites were popcorn balls, bourbon balls, and divinity. Of her favorites, I only liked popcorn balls which I often used as tree decorations. Divinity was too sweet – even for me – and I have never liked any sweet that is flavored with alcohol. And most of the others were recipes I had gathered from old cookbooks or good home cooks. Peanut brittle and chocolate fudge were on my top-of list. Of all of these goodies, chocolate fudge is the only one that I continue to make every Christmas. It is easy to make, the recipes yields quite a bit (the amount depends upon how small you cut the squares) and is always a welcome holiday gift.

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bits or a block chopped into small pieces, use the

highest percentage you can find to help cut the sweetness of all of the sugar)

2 cups toasted walnuts or pecans, optional

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

20 large marshmallows

4 cups sugar

Two 5-ounce cans evaporated milk

Lightly butter a 6 cup baking pan (square or rectangular) or a platter. Set aside.

Combine the chocolate with the nuts, if using, butter, and vanilla in a large heat-proof mixing bowl. Set aside.

Combine the marshmallows and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the evaporated milk and place over medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Continuing to stir, boil for exactly 6 minutes.

Immediately remove from the heat and, beating constantly with a wooden spoon, pour the hot mixture into the chocolate mix. Beat vigorously for a few minutes or until the fudge is creamy. Quickly scrape the fudge into the prepared pan or platter, pushing slightly with the back of the spoon (or a spatula) to spread the fudge evenly.

Cool for at least 1 hour before cutting the candy into small squares. Store, in layers separated by waxed paper, for up to one week or, refrigerated, for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature before serving

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Griddle Scones_DSC_7141

 

This recipe comes from An American Family Cooks, my family cookbook which is published by Rizzoli. I will, from time to time, share recipes from the book. If you enjoy them and would like more, the book can be ordered from your local bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

This is my oldest family recipe. Unfortunately I did not know my mom’s mother who brought the recipe with her from Scotland where it had been taught to her by her Aunt Ann. The recipe card still reads “Gram’s Aunt Ann.” These scones would not be recognizable as such in modern bakeries that bake giant, fluffy fruit-filled mounds called scones. Most scones today have absolutely no relation to these flat, griddled gems which are somewhere between pancakes and biscuits. In fact, the recipe card says “Have griddle same heat as for pancakes and fry on a dry griddle.” They should be eaten hot off the griddle with sweet butter and homemade jam.

 

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 scant teaspoon baking soda

Sugar to taste

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons butter

Enough buttermilk to make a soft dough, usually about 1 cup

 

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt – I use about 2 tablespoons sugar and no more than ¼ teaspoon salt. Cut in the butter using your fingertips.

Slowly add the buttermilk, beating with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.

Lightly flour a clean work surface.

Scrape the dough onto the work surface and divide it in half. Pat each half into a fairly neat circle about ¼-inch thick and then cut each circle into 6 wedges.

Heat the griddle over low heat until very hot.

When hot, add the scones, a few at a time, and cook for 3 minutes to just set. Then, increase the heat slightly and cook for another 4 minutes or until the dough begins to puff up a bit and the underside has begun to color. Using a spatula, turn and cook for an additional 6 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Watch carefully, adjusting the heat as necessary, to keep the scones from burning.

Remove from the heat and serve hot with butter and jam.

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Onion Marmalade
At a recent greenmarket I bought a few onions that were a little sleeker and paler than the big fat deeply red onions I would normally buy. Turns out they are called La Rossa di Tropea or cipolla di Tropea or in plain English “onion from Tropea”. Photos of this onion that I have seen in Italian publications show it to be a very bright maroon-red, but the ones I purchased were almost a pinkish-brown. Apparently it is an onion that was brought to southern Italy by the Greeks and its cultivation perfected by the Arabs who settled there. Mine were simply raised by one of the passionate young farmers that inhabit the greenmarket in our neighborhood on Sundays.
At first I was going to keep them for eating raw, but then I had quite a few ordinary red onions on hand so I decided to combine them to make one of my favorite condiments, onion marmalade. In Italy I believe the marmalade is made with red onion, roasted bell peppers, garlic, and a little chile. My version is simpler – just red onions. It keeps well and is terrific with roasts, steaks, and chops.
The recipe is easy – takes time to cook — but very little effort. You can either make it on the stove top or in the oven; all you need is very low heat.
Cut as many red onions as you like into thin strips. Toss them with enough olive oil to make them glisten. Place in a nonstick pan large enough to hold them in a relatively thin layer. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of light brown sugar (more if you like sweetness), and drizzle balsamic vinegar over the top. Place over low heat and cook for a couple of hours, frequently tossing and turning with tongs. You want the onions to almost melt and all of the liquid to evaporate. Store, refrigerated, in a nonreactive container for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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Greensgreens-2

These days “greens” can mean any green leafy vegetable and the green market is filled with all kinds – some I grew up and some totally new to me. The other Sunday we picked up a beautiful bouquet of mixed greens that the farmer had put together which, once home, I placed in the living room as our floral arrangement of the day. I often do this for the dining room table as I prefer vegetables to flowers as the scent is more conducive to the aromas coming from the kitchen. I have no idea what was in the mix – some things I immediately recognized and others seem totally new. But, once cooked, they came together in a most delicious way.

You can, if you like, cook them with bacon, ham or smoked turkey bones, pancetta, onion, or garlic, but I usually just toss the chopped wet greens in a pan with some extra virgin olive oil, mashed garlic, and chili flakes. I don’t cook them for too long – just enough time to wilt and flavor, season with some sea salt, and you have the perfect side dish for almost any meat or fish.

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