Cranberry Delish Relish

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Cranberry Relish (along with this year's Thanksgiving Turkey!)

Cranberry Relish (along with this year’s Thanksgiving turkey!)

Our extended family loves cranberries in most forms.  And Thanksgiving?  We often end up with four or five varieties:  Traditional cooked berries, Tim’s weird (sorry Tim) spiced cranberries, one of my sister’s latest, greatest recently published non-traditional versions and Kal’s cranberries.

My kids love the old school cranberries I make — the one on the package of fresh cranberries… basically sugar, orange juice, water and berries.  Easy and always good.

Thanksgiving 2016 Art Project

Thanksgiving 2016 Art Project

But the grandkids?  They go bonkers for Great Uncle Kal’s cranberries, and we make them throughout the winter while cranberries are fresh.  Nothing could be easier, and the red mashed up stuff looks pretty alongside poultry, fish meat or vegetarian dishes.  

Cranberry Delish Relish (Kal’s recipe – doctored up by Rachel)

Serves 8 (but we eat it like a salad, not like a side dish)

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Ingredients
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries-most stores carry these around Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • ⅓ c sugar (or more)
  • 2 seedless Satsuma oranges, cut off ends but leave the  rest of the peel intact
  • 1 apple with peel on, only core removed and cut into 8 pieces.  I usually use Granny Smith since that variety  is firm.
Instructions

Rinse cranberries and pick out any brown or spoiled ones.  

Quarter the oranges and cut apples into 8 pieces after coring it..  

Place all in food processor and pulse to desired consistency, less if you prefer texture and more if you want it more smooth.   Taste and add more sugar if you want it sweeter.

Transfer to a container with a lid and keep refrigerated for up to a week.  It will never last that long.

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Cranberry Tart

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Colorful Cranberry Tart

Colorful Cranberry Tart

When my youngest son Jakey Boy was approaching his thirtieth birthday, he found a recipe for cranberry tart in the New York Times.  He cut it out and brought it to me, asking what I thought of it.  Now, you may not know Jakey Boy, but he is not a dessert person by any stretch of the imagination.  This has nothing to do with health reasons or dietary restrictions – quite the opposite since Jakey Boy is on the skinny side.  He just prefers savory foods, even more than I do.  In this instance, I believe the tartness of cranberry appealed to him.

He also showed the recipe to my brother.  Uncle Kal bakes way more than I do, believe it or not.  And Uncle Kal said this was way too much work to make.

So what is a mother to do?  Of course I couldn’t help myself, chirping, “Let me make this for your 30th birthday!”

And so it came to pass that my version of cranberry tart was produced, eaten and oooooed and ahhhhd over for Jake’s 30th-birthday-celebration-family-dinner.  Everyone agreed it was wonderful.    I did change the recipe a bit – I couldn’t help myself.  The result? A bright magenta-colored tart bursting with flavor.  Frankly, it wasn’t that hard to make.  A lot of steps, but very doable as long as you plan ahead.

Curd & Crust

Curd & Crust

I’ll be making this again – maybe for Thanksgiving.  For you folks who celebrate Christmas, this would be a beautiful dessert.

Cranberry Tart

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Nut Crust Ingredients
  • 1 ¼ cups raw shelled pecans
  • 1 cup rice flour
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  ½ cup sugar
  •  1 stick softened salted butter-room temperature
Cranberry Curd Ingredients
  •   12 ounces frozen or fresh cranberries (thaw if they are frozen)
  •   1 cup granulated sugar
  •   Juice and peel (orange part only) of 1 orange (juice = ¼ cup juice as I measured it)
  •   1 stick softened butter
  •   2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks (large eggs)
Instructions

Prepare the crust:

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, grind pecans (I did not toast them first) with half the rice flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining rice flour and salt and pulse briefly.

Cream the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl by hand with a wooden spoon for a minute or two until pale and thick. Add nut mixture and combine until dough comes together. If it seems crumbly, add a little cold water.  (Mine did not need more water but I used more butter than the original recipe.)

Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch pie plate or pie dish. Use half the dough for the sides and half for the bottom. Prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork and freeze the crust for 30 minutes (or several days if desired).

Bake chilled tart shell in preheated oven about 15 minutes until lightly brown. Cool.

Prepare the cranberry curd:

Put cranberries, sugar and orange juice and peel in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer without covering until cranberries have popped and softened, about 10 minutes. Turn down to barely simmering for five minutes and don’t stir.  Transfer to a medium mesh sieve and press cooking liquid into a bowl.  This took me about 15 minutes of pressing on the back of a spoon against the strainer, then scraping the pulp from the back of the strainer into the bowl.  Over and over and over. Whisk the butter into the warm liquid.

Put eggs and egg yolks into a bowl and beat lightly. Slowly whisk a cup of warm cranberry liquid into the eggs to temper them, then combine both egg mix and the rest of the cranberry liquid and whisk together. Wipe out the original cranberry cooking pot if necessary, return liquid (about 2 cups) to the sauce pan and cook over low heat until nearly bubbling and thickened, about 10 minutes. If using immediately, let cool to room temperature. If working ahead, cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap (press wrap against curd) and refrigerate. (Curd may be cooked up to one day ahead.)

Pour cooled cranberry curd into the cooled, prebaked tart shell and smooth the top with a spatula. It’s thick so it won’t be that smooth but baking helps.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to set the curd. Cool on a rack. Store at room temperature for up to two days.

Serve with soft whipped cream and mint leaves or lemon curls.

Cook’s notes:

The ratio of crust to filling is 1 to 1, half crust and half filling.  I might want to make one and a half times the filling next go around….we’ll see.  If I made this in  a real tart pan, no way would there have been enough cranberry filling!

Personally I wouldn’t do the final baking step until the day I was going to serve the dessert so the crust doesn’t become soggy.  

PS: This is gluten free!!!

And healthy to boot!

And healthy to boot!

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Not Your Grandma’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

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Tasty Tuna Noodle Casserole - A Modern Twist

Tasty Tuna Noodle Casserole – A Modern Twist

If any of you were born in the mid 1900’s (THAT sounds old!) you will absolutely know what tuna noodle casserole is.  This comfort food graced every table in my youth in some form – usually that of canned tuna (not line caught, not wild), elbow macaroni or thin egg noodles (certainly not penne made from fine Semonlina flour) and cream of mushroom soup (from a can, naturally).  School cafeterias served this, some called this “end of paycheck casserole” and it was kind of a go-to meal for many families.  Oh, and some lucky kids had it served with crumbled potato chips on top!

At my house, my mom must have prepared this from time to time.  For sure it was an option for hot school lunches.  Believe it or not, I sometimes get a hankering for the taste of mushrooms, tuna and noodles.  But I’m happy to report that today, I have what I believe is a much better version.  I even tried it out on my grandkids when they were in town. The verdict? Huge hit! Of course.

Basically, this is an easy dinner with leftovers to boot.  You make a white sauce, stir in sauteed veggies and spices, then fold this into cooked bowtie pasta along with high quality canned tuna and frozen peas.  Crispy panko crumbs (available in most grocery stores in the Asian section) which have been sauteed in butter are added as topping during the final part of baking.  Oh, and because my grandsons pick cooked mushrooms out of foods, my daughter had the brilliant idea for me to put the mushrooms in my Nutribullet and chop them to almost a mushroom paste.  In other words, you end up with a mushroom taste without the visual look and texture of mushrooms.  In other, other words, the perfect way to fool your kids (or adult sons, not that I am naming names…Daniel) who THINK they don’t like mushrooms.

Not Your Grandma’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

Serves 6-8 (at least)
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Ingredients:
  • 2 cups 2% milk (heat in microwave or saucepan until hot)
  • 8 oz bowtie pasta-egg noodles or whole wheat if you can find them 
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • ½ large onion, finely diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • ⅓ c red or orange or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cups sliced brown mushrooms (If you have kids, put these in the food processor or nutribullet so they become mushroom mush and are not identifiable as mushrooms.)
  • ¼ cup unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ cups frozen peas
  • 3-5 ounce cans of water packed tuna – drained (15 ounces total)
  • ½ tsp dried dill or 1 ½ tsp fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 grinds black pepper
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko which was crunchy and good)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp butter (for breadcrumbs)
Instructions:

Butter or oil a 9 x 13 pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 with the rack in the middle.

Start a large pot of water to boil the pasta – add a half a teaspoon salt.  When it is boiling, add bow tie noodles and cook until al dente but not totally soft.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, (noodles can be cooking away) melt butter and sauté the diced onion, celery, pepper and mushrooms or mushroom moosh.  When everything is soft, sprinkle with flour.  Stir and cook about three minutes. Continue stirring then add heated milk slowly until it makes a thick sauce.  Cook another minute.  Turn off the heat and add the  dill, drained tuna, and frozen peas, salt and pepper  Stir to combine and taste to see whether you might need additional salt or pepper.

Scrape everything into the prepared baking pan and bake uncovered at 350 for 20 minutes.  

While the tuna casserole is baking, heat the 1 ½ Tbsp of butter in a small fry pan on medium heat, add panko crumbs and stir until they get a little brown. Remove from the heat.

After 20 minutes pass, remove the baking pan from the oven and top with browned panko crumbs and bake an additional ten minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, let it rest about ten minutes and serve with a nice fresh fruit salad and green salad.

Leftovers reheat well!

Cook’s note:  this is also good if you prefer leftover or canned salmon or even cubed chicken/turkey in lieu of tuna.  

 

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Meat & Pasta Many Meals Stew

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Savory Meat & Pasta Stew

Savory Meat & Pasta Stew

For one week this summer I hosted “sleep away” camp for my 5-year old and 7-year old grandsons. During the day they headed to zoo camp, and after/before camp they slept, ate and lived with us in our Seattle condo. This was our second annual grandparent camp, and it was perfect because I live close to the zoo, and my husband and I divided up the driving. Our daughter lives a half hour away in good traffic and there was simply no way she could have the boys in camp on time, particularly with work schedules and a six month old in tow. This was my week to be a superhero grandma and it was their week to give their 6 month old baby girl some individual attention.

We live right in the heart of Seattle within two walkable blocks of a great sushi restaurant, a pho restaurant, countless pizzarias, ice creameries, and grocery stores. We usually go out with the kids one night for dinner, but I love to cook and to make food memories with them . The boys helped me plan menus, pack lunches and cook breakfast and we ate together every night — just the kids with their grandmother and grandfather. What could be better?

I like to plan a little ahead of time so that during the day while they were in camp, I wasn’t consumed with grocery shopping and food preparation. So, the Friday before they arrived I was culling my “to try” file of recipes (Yes, I actually have such a file) and decided to combine some ideas and try a one-pot make-ahead pasta and meat dish that seemed very kid-friendly.

The night before I actually did the cooking, I finely chopped the mushrooms, onions and peppers in my food processor because I know the boys are less likely to eat dinners where they can actually identify these vegetables. And I had everything else I needed on the counter, ready to go. The next morning, it took me 45 minutes or so and I ended up with a huge pot of meat and pasta, enough for four meals. This recipe requires only one pot to cook in and to clean – you gotta love that. Ka ching! Three containers were filled, dated, labeled and put in the freezer for future consumption, and one stayed in the fridge for a dinnertime meal and packable lunch box item. I let both boys sample the final dish before freezing it, and they both gave it a huge thumbs up. The 5-year old said he would love to pack it and eat it room temperature for camp lunches. Done.

Not only is this kid friendly…the adults truly enjoyed it. My husband loved it because it was moist and “really really good.” I’ll keep this one-pot meal in mind for when I want to cook and bring food to a neighbor, a new mom or anyone else who needs a little TLC. It might remind you of Hamburger Helper but it is SO MUCH BETTER! Oh, and I put some of this in my Nutribullet to make baby food for the 6-month old who loved it as well.

Zesty One-Pot Meat & Pasta Stew

Feeds 12-16

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Ingredients
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb ground lamb (If you don’t like lamb, use 2 lbs ground beef instead)
  • 1 large brown skinned onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeds and veins removed and chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh brown mushrooms, remove stems and slice thinly or pulverize in the processor for kids
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced by hand
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-15 ounce cans tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 Tbsp dried basil (or 4 Tbsp fresh slivered basil)
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano (or 2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves)
  • 1 tsp. regular paprika
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2½ cups uncooked macaroni or rigatoni (regular semolina pasta OR whole wheat pasta, which makes it a lot more healthful)
Instructions

In a large 5 qt. Dutch oven, crumble beef and lamb over medium-high heat and cook until it is no longer pink chopping it up so it doesn’t stick together in hunks. Drain fat but don’t wipe out the pan or remove the meat.

Add the chopped onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add in garlic, water, tomato sauce, tomatoes, basil, oregano, paprika, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Remove the lid and add the dried pasta and stir well. Return lid and continue to simmer for 15 minutes or until the noodles are done, checking and stirring every five minutes. Note that whole wheat pasta might take a bit longer to cook. Once the pasta is al dente, remove from the heat (it will still appear to have too much sauce) and let it remain covered for 10 minutes to finish absorbing the juice. Stir well before serving.

Leftovers reheat nicely and freeze well

You could give this a Vietnamese twist by subbing fish sauce for worcestershire, and adding fresh mint, basil and cilantro with a squeeze of lime.

OR

You could garnish this with some fresh oregano leaves, feta cheese and diced kalamata olives for a Greek flair.

OR

You can give this a Central American twist with lots of cilantro, some finely diced hot peppers to taste, lime and a dollop of sour cream or cheese

OR

I’m sure ground chicken would taste lighter but wonderful if you aren’t anxious to use beef or lamb.

Fresh grated parmesan cheese would be nice on top here but by no means does it need it. We ate ours naked..no cheese. No, we weren’t naked!

But of the three bins I have in the freezer, I will make each meal a little special with one of the above tweaks.

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Making A List – Checking It Twice

Chopped veg, cooked beans, cauliflower, lentils

Chopped veg, cooked beans, cauliflower, lentils, 10-grain cereal

Ahhh.  Until very, very recently I thought it was normal to pre-plan weekly meals and regularly assess kitchen staples and keep a running grocery/farmers market list at all times.  I can distinctly recall a list clipped to our refrigerator when I was very young – the door was magnetic and fastened to the fridge was a piece of recycled paper with a list of items needed from the grocery store.  Meals were planned out too – after all my childhood home was a beehive of activity – there were five kids (and often additional family or friends) eating three or more meals a day, seven days a week.  Prepared foods were simply not an option then, and my mother never used mixes or shortcuts of any kind.  Oh, except back then canned fruits and vegetables and such were common.

My handy, dandy app (called Wunderlist)

My handy, dandy app

Jumping ahead 60+ years, I run my household in much the same way with a few modern twists. Now I keep my grocery list on a cell phone app that I access from any device – ready for any grocery store or farmer’s market outing.  As I load my grocery cart, I check the item and hear a nice bell sound.  I do my major farmer’s market/grocery shopping on the weekend and then use an hour or two Sunday to prep vegetables, toast seeds and nuts, grate cheese, make lentils or beans or both, toast croutons, make hot cereal, pickle onions and so on.  I multitask well so it never takes me more than an hour to do all of this – with the exception of beans, which take a bit longer.   I make beans for an army and freeze smaller portions so cooking them does not need to happen weekly.

I also make sure my flavor enhancers are ready when I need to punch up my cooking – lemon, tahina, pesto, garlic, fresh herbs, sesame oil to name a few.

Nothing like a well-stocked fridge!

Nothing like a well-stocked fridge!

Once the shopping is done and the prep is completed, making meals during the week is a cinch.  And one of the best parts – when my vegetables are prepped in advance, I tend to eat more of them on a regular basis. It’s simply a win-win scenario.

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Maid-Rites! (AKA “Loosemeat Sandwiches”)

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Maid-Right - An Old School Sandwich

Maid-Rite – An Old School Sandwich

It’s not often that I take the easy way out and make a dinner with anything that comes out of a package, let alone dried onion soup mix. Am I embarrassed?  Well, maybe a little.  BUT…BUT… There are always exceptions to rules. Allow me to explain…

My grandkids were over here for a weekend while my daughter attended a workshop. I took the kids out for the day knowing she was set to return around 5pm.

I would imagine that all of you have had a day or days where you are just plain out of meal ideas, particularly those of you with young children.  If not out of ideas for what to make for dinner, then possibly you are short on time or dealing with picky eaters.  Or all of the above.

Such was the case on this particular Sunday. The grandmother (ME!)  looked like a superhero when I offered to quickly make dinner to send home with the family.  I drove to the neighborhood meat market which has fantastic, single source ground beef.  Next I hit a supermarket where I purchased hamburger buns. Sadly, they did not even have my preferred multigrain buns so I bought those soft, white enriched buns.  Which make me gag. But hey, the kids loved them.   

Super Simple Ingredients

Super Simple Ingredients

I came home and in a flash, the meal was ready for transport back home.  I included a large can(!) of vegetarian Bush’s beans and some cut up organic broccoli, my ode to health. And fresh raspberries and blueberries from the farmer’s market for dessert (I simply could not help myself).

They loved it, I loved helping and I of course scored points with my adult children who were filled with awe and gratitude.  If I can make a family happy with this kind of food, I’m all in.

Ahem, to clarify… “loose meat” is a term we used in Iowa where I grew up.  Loose meats and Maid-rites are akin to sloppy Joes without the sloppy sauce.  We also called these Maid-rites, and you can read about them here.  I’m sorry for all of you who have never experienced a Maid-rite or dined at the now defunct “Ye Old Tavern” owned by the Kaleds, a dinette near my high school in Sioux City, Iowa.  I cannot even begin to describe my memories of these delights – how amazingly perfect they always tasted and how much fun we had visiting my aunts in Marshalltown, Iowa.  We’d always go the the Maidrite diner and watch the plump farmers, overalls and tee shirts, downing 3 or 4 at a time.  Thankfully I got to have Maid-rites this past summer while back for a family event in Des Moines.  

The ones I concocted  are close to how they taste in Iowa, though.  And true to the original Maid-rites, you do not ever put ketchup on these!  Simply squirt some French’s mustard on the bun or top with raw sweet onion.

Maid-Rites

Feeds 4-5

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Ingredients
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • Water to cover the meat
  • 1 Tbsp French’s mustard
  • 1 package Lipton French Onion Soup mix
  • Hamburger buns
Instructions

Heat a large (10-12 inch) deep-sided saute pan on medium high.

Brown the ground beef, turning and chopping up the meat to brown and separate on all sides and not have chunks stuck together.  

Barely cover the browned meat with water and bring to a boil.  Add mustard and soup mix and stir well.  Put on the fan and continue to boil on the stovetop uncovered until most of the water is absorbed – this takes me about 30-40 minutes.

Scoop cooked meat onto fresh hamburger buns. Serve with picnic type side dishes…beans, potato salad, pickles, cole slaw, whatever your heart desires.  And if you make a huge batch and put the leftover meat in leftover buns and wrap them well in waxed paper, they taste marvelous, cold or reheated for lunch.

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Rugelach

In early August I made 450 pieces of rugelach (7 batches!) for Jake’s wedding. He didn’t want cake so we made Jewish pastry along with some Persian desserts and dried fruits/nuts. As you might imagine – I was thrilled to pitch in!  (originally posted November 9, 2011)

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Rugelach

I got a phone call from my daughter Rachel last weekend. She had been reviewing my recipe for crescent shaped rugelach on her computer but the directions were terrible and the ingredients for the filling weren’t correct either. Unfortunately my recipes are cursory at best with little detail because I cook from memory most of the time. “Mom,” she said “If you don’t want your recipes to die with you, you really need to write down or videotape exactly what you do.” Hmmmm… Food for thought (forgive the pun!).

My mother was an excellent baker but never made rugelach. When I moved to Seattle in 1980, I met Anita – another young mother who lived two blocks away. Her son Eli was Rachel’s age (3 at the time), they became best buddies and still are great friends to this day. For the next 30 years Anita and I had a baking date with each other.

Anita and I were a team. I must say that she was, and still is, way more precise than I and always had her ruler out so she could cut everything just so. Our 5-hour long baking days provided us with time to catch up with each other’s lives and ended with enough pastries and cabbage rolls to feed an army.

Rugelach is actually a Yiddish word; they have been around since the 1800’s and are Eastern European, perhaps Viennese, in origin. They have a butter and cream cheese dough and can be filled with poppy seeds, jam or dried fruit filling. The initial recipe for this cookie was Anita’s and it was made with mini semi-sweet chocolate chips and much less filling than I use today. I always place the chocolate mixture inside as written below rather than the more traditional fillings. They are exotic in appearance, fairly easy to make and nearly fail-safe. The dough is very forgiving, too. These cookies never fail to impress and are a lovely gift to package when I am invited to dinner at someone’s home or when one of my friends has a birthday. Along with a cup of tea, they are sweet but not too sweet, beautiful to behold and they inevitably satisfy my own chocolate cravings.

So no worries, Rachel, Daniel and Jake (my kids). This recipe will live on forever in cyberspace! Now I have to get busy and document the other special things you love. Send me your lists!

PS: Some of you readers are probably shaking your heads because there isn’t a whole lot in these rugelach that is good for you. Cream cheese, butter, white flour, granulated sugar… But one or two occasional treats like these certainly won’t hurt you. Believe it or not, my entire family eats healthful food 85% of the time, and when they indulge in rugelach it isn’t something they devour at one sitting. The cookies are too rich and filling for that!

Rugelach

Yield: 64 pieces

Ingredients for the dough:
  • 8 oz regular cream cheese
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour (+ more for rolling them out)
Ingredients for the filling:
  • ¾ c sugar
  • 1 ½ c walnuts
  • Heaping ¾ c bittersweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli is my favorite)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put flour, cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a Cuisinart. Pulse until combined and stop when dough starts to stick together – do not over process. Remove carefully from the food processor; the dough should still be sticky. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to a week. I have even frozen the dough for a month and it is just fine.

You don’t need to wash the food processor! Just pulse all filling ingredients except butter in the Cuisinart together until pretty finely chopped. Remove to a bowl and stir in the melted butter. Again, I have successfully frozen the filling for 2 months but if you do this, let it come to room temperature the day you plan to bake.

Remove dough from cold refrigerator about 15 minutes before you want to bake the cookies. Divide dough into fourths, and roll each fourth into a smooth ball on the counter with a little flour on your hands.

Use a large floured cutting board. Flatten one dough ball into a 3 inch disc, then use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll this ball of dough into a 9-10 inch circle. I get a little compulsive here and actually trace ½ inch larger than an upside down 8 inch salad plate to make a perfect circle. (see photo)

Dough shaped with salad plate

Put ½ cup of filling in the center of the round circle you have just rolled and spread the filling evenly to the outside edges. With your index finger clear out the center of the circle (1 inch or so) so there is no filling there.

Dough topped with filling – hole created in the middle

Press the nut topping into dough with your palms or lightly roll it so it sticks to the dough with your rolling pin. Using a pizza cutter or a knife (I like the pizza cutter) cut into 16 pie shaped wedges. Cut the circle in fourths, then the fourths into ½ and so on. (I know this is too much information, but you kids wanted the details!) Roll from the outside or large part of the circle to the center point without filling.

Rolling the dough with the filling

Tuck the point of the crescent wedge underneath the cookie and place on a parchment-lined cooking sheet. They should be one inch apart because they do puff and spread as they cook.

Bake at 375 for15-20 minutes or until barely golden. Cool on the cookie sheet for 15 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar on top when cooled. These freeze very nicely for 2 months. Re-sprinkle with powdered sugar when serving them – it covers up any errors and make the rugelach look quite professional. Enjoy!

Fresh out of the oven!

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Perfect Plum Breakfast or Lunch or Dinner Cake

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Perfect Plum Cake

Perfect Plum Cake (photo courtesy of Rachel Weissman)

 

I enjoy but do not love baking cakes.  I do not love it like I love making soups and interesting salads.  First of all, baking is more about chemistry — there is a formula for how much flour absorbs how much liquid, the ways in which different flours and sugars react, etc., etc., etc. Just so much precision.  Most baking that I do is old school stuff – recipes I know well – like rugelach, mandelbread, or brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

BUT hold your horses.   Starting a couple of weeks ago I started spotting loads of Italian plum-laden trees and Italian plums that had fallen from said trees.  And, from past experience, I know Italian plums will continue to fall from their trees for at least another month. So I have been collecting these beautiful, purple, oblong delicacies. And first I made some plum jam. Jars and jars of it.  And then I remembered an old recipe from an ancient issue of The New York Times for a plum torte that I love.  I recalled it was easy to make.  It turns out various food bloggers have written about it. And suddenly, I yearned for the no-so-sweet cake base that envelopes the soft, gooey plums.

Back in my kitchen, I knew that I had the ingredients on hand for this baking project.  Of course I made some changes from the original recipe… I decreased the amount of sugar, subbed some flour with fine cornmeal to give the cake more texture and a nutty flavor, added grated lemon rind and lemon juice, eliminated sifting the flower, subbed salted butter, used turbinado sugar (again for texture), lowered the amount of cinnamon and sugar topping, and baked it in a regular cake pan instead of a springform since my springform pan was in the garage and I was too lazy to fetch it. You know, just a few minor tweaks.

So far I have made five of these cakes in two days – two  for my daughter’s family, and three for the two adults who live in this house who love this and ate an entire cake each day.  Thank goodness I have genes that allow me to eat whatever I want!  Oh, and the cake freezes well too.  But I store mine in the fridge. For easy access.

Not much left!

Not much left!

There are three ways we eat this cake:

  1. After it is baked and still a tad bit warmish, I slice some and top it with full fat Greek yogurt that I whisk a bit – adding a bit of sifted powdered sugar isn’t a bad thing since the cake isn’t sweet to begin with.
  2. The next morning, the texture of this cake is much denser and “wet” because the plums continue to shed their juices into the cake part.  I’d call it more of a plum pudding cake.  The cake is gooey and oh-so-good slightly warmed up with coffee or milk for breakfast.
  3. My husband and kids love what we have named “SOP” which in our household means anything bready or cakey (think cinnamon rolls or sponge cake or this) put into a saucer and surrounded by a moat of milk.  Soggy bread.  Incidentally, I never got into the SOP mode but the rest of my family certainly loves this.

And now, ladies and gentlemen I present:  

Perfect Plum Breakfast or Lunch or Dinner Cake!

Makes one cake to serve 8-10 slices, depending on how big you like your pieces

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Ingredients:
  •   ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  •   1 stick salted butter, room temperature
  •    3/4  cup unbleached flour
  •    1/4 cup fine cornmeal
  •   1 teaspoon baking powder
  •   2 eggs – room temperature
  •   12 Italian purple plums, sliced in half lengthwise and remove pits (24 halves)
  •   1 Tbsp Turbinado sugar
  •   ½ tsp cinnamon
  •   1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  •   1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven.   Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 8, 9 or 10-inch round cake pan (spring form if available).

Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl for five minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, mix another minute.

Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and add half at a time to the batter until combined.  The batter is very thick and pasty.

Spoon the batter into the pan. The batter is thick and must be spread with a spatula to even it out.  Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. I do this starting with one half in the center of the pan, then make another small circle of seven and put 16 around the perimeter.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Mix sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon together and sprinkle on top of the cake, and finally sprinkle lemon juice on top of the plums.  

Bake approximately 40-45 minutes until the top browns and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a baking rack until room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with whipped yogurt or cream.

 

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Deconstructed Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad

Click here to view recipe.

Bright & Colorful Vietnamese Salad

Bright & Colorful Vietnamese Salad

I heart Spring Rolls… the fresh, Vietnamese type that are not fried. These little gems are one of my ever enduring favorites for a hot, summer day.  When I think about Vietnamese Spring Rolls, I picture fat, sausage-like rolls stuffed with rice noodles and lettuce, tofu, sliced beef or shrimp, shredded vegetables and herbs…all tightly wrapped like a burrito and then dipped in peanut sauce.  So….drum roll…what about making this into a salad and coming up with a tangy, fish sauce-infused dressing? Genius.

This combo really is perfect for my palate.  I recently made this salad with my girlfriend Toby.  We had a cooking date on a Monday in July and both of us agreed we were craving something salty and rice noodley and refreshing.  My upstairs garden pots were  bursting with various types of lettuce, mint, basil…and I already had everything in my kitchen to whip up this salad – so it was meant to be.  We made this together and divided everything into half.  I came home with a bag of rice noodles and grilled shrimp, a bag of lettuce with shredded carrot, daikon, and cucumber, a jar of dressing, a bag of peanuts to garnish.  This provided me with a delicious dinner and lunch for two the following day.  

I’ll be making this again soon, and suggest you try it this summer while all these ingredients are fresh and bursting with summer flavors.  I love this almost as much as I adore chocolate, and that is saying a LOT!

Deconstructed Vietnamese Salad

Serves 3

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Dressing Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (I like Red Boat brand)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water (room temperature)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced by hand
Salad Ingredients
  • 4 ounces vermicelli rice noodles, see directions below
  • 2 cups mixed greens (or thinly sliced napa cabbage)
  • ⅓ cup shredded cucumbers
  • ⅓ cup shredded carrots
  • ¼ cup sliced red bell peppers
  • 2 Tbsp each fresh mint, basil and cilantro leaves (whole leaves picked off the stem, not chopped.  I do tear the basil pieces so they match the mint and cilantro leaf size.)
  • 6-8 ounces shredded cooked chicken, shrimp, sliced cooked steak, or marinated tofu, sliced
  • ¼ cup roasted peanuts to garnish if you wish (I do!)
Instructions

In a small jar shake together lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, water and garlic Set aside.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and cool. Set aside.  Note: to cook them I covered the dry noodles  in a large bowl with boiling water until they became barely soft (about three minutes) and then rinsed with cold water and dried by shaking the strainer.  I then mixed in a teaspoon of olive oil so they wouldn’t stick together in the fridge.

Mix your cabbage or lettuce with the shredded and sliced vegetables. Note about the cucumbers – I  peel mine then shred and dry them well by squeezing them in a paper towel so they don’t make the salad soggy.  I make thin slices with this peeler – made by Titan – which I HIGHLY recommend. I also use this for the carrots.

The BEST Peeler Ever

The BEST Peeler Ever

When you are ready to eat:  divide the salad greens and cooked noodles between three bowls. Arrange chicken, steak, shrimp, pork or tofu, cucumbers, carrots and red pepper slices on top. Garnish with the fresh herb leaves, peanuts and lime wedges. Drizzle to taste with sauce and serve immediately.  Eat.  Repeat.

 

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Winner Winner Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Dinner

Click here to view recipe.

Yes ... it tastes as good as it looks!

Yes … it tastes as good as it looks!

Lemons are some of my best friends, and in my eyes lemon heightens the flavor of almost everything: baked goods, melon, papaya, chicken, fish…I could go on and on but you get the picture.  So when I spotted a recipe for Lemon Chicken on the blog The View from Great Island, I had to try it.

From the start I streamlined and made the original recipe much simpler.  I dried off the chicken thighs* and cut away any extra fat, then rubbed the seasoning into the skin.  I next eliminated brushing the chicken with oil because after all, the chicken thighs (and breasts if you use them) are baked with their skin on.  Hello?! The fat from the skin renders out and creates a moist yet crisp crusty crunchy layer.

I patted salt, pepper and added some smoked paprika onto the skin mainly to give the chicken color but also because it gave another dimension to the finished dish.   Ever interested in simplifying – I didn’t baste the chicken as suggested either. Rather when it was finished I took my kitchen tongs and flipped the individual pieces over a few times to coat them with the chicken fat (aka shmaltz).  I used tarragon instead of thyme, mostly because I am not a thyme fan yet I have a lot of fresh tarragon at the moment on my rooftop garden and I looooooove tarragon (not as much as lemon, but almost as much).  And I made a bit less of the lemon sauce, mainly because I don’t like things floating in sauce.  You could go back to the original recipe which makes a quarter more sauce and put the extra in a gravy boat to pass and pour on top of the chicken before digging in.

This is going in my “Things I Love” folder because it is so darned good and it looks so pretty and most important, it tastes delicious.  I served this with barely steamed string beans (green and purple, although the purple lost a little of it’s color in the process).  And I had some leftover sweet potato wedges on the side.  For dessert?  I ate an insane amount of fresh raspberries – yet another fave.

I am a happy camper, and you will be too if you try this!  Next I’m making this lemon sauce for  grilled or baked fish.  Heavenly. And – easy peasy lemon squeezy (pun intended).

(*I like thighs more than the breasts so I will do only thighs next time. If you choose to use some chicken breasts with skin and bone on, I’d wait for the thighs to roast ten minutes before adding the breast pieces to the tray.)

Winner Winner Lemon-Tarragon Chicken

Serves 4

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Ingredients
  • 6 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on (trim any extra skin that hangs off the thigh)
  • Salt, ground black pepper and smoked paprika (be generous with the seasoning)
  • 3 large egg yolks, room temperature Important!
  • 6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup chicken stock
  • ⅓ cup black olives, oil cured
  • Fresh tarragon leaves (1 ½ Tbsp chopped) and some tarragon sprigs to garnish
  • Extra lemon slices to garnish
Instructions

Preheat oven to 425, line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil and place the dried thighs on the foil lined pan with the skin up.  Pat the salt, pepper and paprika into the skin so it stays put.  Bake about 35-40 minutes.

When you are ten minutes away from the chicken being finished, whisk the yolks and add the lemon juice in a bowl.  Heat the chicken stock in a small saucepan until it boils, and slowly pour this into the yolk/juice mixture while whisking vigorously.  Pour the yolk/juice/stock mix back into the saucepan and gently heat on medium low just until it gets a little thicker – you have to whisk constantly here so nothing curdles.  Don’t let the mixture simmer or boil at all. When it is a little thick (this took very little time for me) , take it off the heat.

Cover a platter (one with a bit of a rim so the sauce doesn’t drip of) with the lemon sauce.

Remove the chicken pieces from the roasting tray and use tongs turn them over a few times so they are glistening with the drippings.  Place the pieces, skin side up, on top of the sauce.  Scatter the olives about, and sprinkle the chicken with chopped tarragon.  

Serve with a large seasonal salad and steamed green beans or broccoli.  Enjoy!

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