Archive for November, 2009


I decided to participate in the 3rd Annual Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge organized by (not so) Urban Hennery.  The challenge is to cook one meal each week focused on SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients and blog about it.  I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a few months ago and have been looking for ways to incorporate more local food into my diet.  Because I live in a pretty fantastic part of the country for agriculture and food, I don’t really have an excuse to be eating stuff that’s been flown in from around the world.  Aiming to cook and eat local one night a week is a fairly reasonable goal.

I found out about the challenge a week into it, and with Thanksgiving prep, I didn’t have enough time to do a proper search for locally grown supplies.  And with all the leftovers, I couldn’t justify buying more food.  That said, I’m pleased to say that I’ve created a dish using only a couple non-local things, namely flour and baking powder, and possibly one other non-local ingredient which I’ll get to in a minute.  I hope to find some locally milled flour for future challenges, but for the time being, this is what I’ve got.

For my Turkey Pot Pie, I used leftover Thanksgiving turkey, which came from a farm in Sonoma.  The butter and cream are from Clover Stornetta farms, also based in Sonoma.  I made the turkey stock from the turkey carcass.  And all vegetables and herbs in the dish come from the farmers market, with the exception of the parsnip.  I had bought a few to mix in with my mashed potatoes, and had a giant one left.  For some reason, I can’t seem to find parsnips here at the farmers market so I resorted to the grocery store.  My grocery store sucks, and does not label where the produce comes from.  My guess is that it is from California, though I suppose I can’t be sure.  I probably would have omitted this for the purposes of the challenge, but since it will get eaten eventually, I figured I’d just toss it in.

The directions to the pot pie are vague, partly because I didn’t write things down as I did it, but in part because it’s a very easy dish to prepare and adapt to whatever you have on hand.    I have never had a pot pie with a biscuit crust before, but I wanted to try it out with sweet potato biscuits, using my leftover sweet potatoes.  I must say, I think I’m a convert now.  Biscuit crusts rock.  Flufflier and heartier than a pie crust.  So good.

To make the pot pie, I started with the turkey stock.  Most of the meat had been picked off the carcass, and I put that in a pot of cold water, with an onion, salt, and some bay leaves.  If you’ve got extra carrots or celery around, those can go in too.  Boiled it for about two hours, strained, reserved the extra meat, and set it aside.

Then I rolled out the sweet potato biscuits using this recipe.  I put the biscuits in the fridge, then preheated the oven to 350.

To make pot pie, you basically want to cook vegetables on the stove, then once cooked, make a sauce, pour into a pan, cover, and bake.  Start with the hardest, longest cooking vegetables first and work your way down to the softest, most delicate vegetables.  Hard root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips will need a good 8-10 minutes.  Unless they are already cooked, then just add them during the last minute or two to warm them up.  Leeks and shallots went in at the 5 minute mark, and my leftover green beans from Thanksgiving dinner got added in the last minute.  This is a pretty hard dish to screw up, so just use your judgment here based on whatever produce you have on hand.    I sauted everything in butter, though you can use olive oil or a mix if you’d like. 

Once the vegetables are cooked, add the turkey meat, whatever herbs you are using (I used thyme and sage) and some salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and sprinkle everything with a few tablespoons of flour.  Add a couple ladles of turkey stock and a splash of cream.   Stir together until you get a nice gravy-like sauce.  Add a little more liquid or flour if you need to.  You want it to be rich and wet, but not runny.

Pour everything into a deep baking dish or casserole dish, and cover with the biscuits.  Brush the biscuits with an egg wash or some cream, and into the oven for 30-40 minutes.

When it comes out, let it sit for a couple minutes, then dig into the bliss.

I paired it with a chardonnay that my husband picked up on a recent trip to Napa.  Yes, I realize I’m extremely lucky to have all this good stuff in my 150 mile radius.  I think I’ll be eating well this winter!


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As I’ve said before, I could take or leave chocolate.  What I really like in dessert is ginger.  I keep bags of candied ginger on my desk at work, and I eat Trader Joe’s Ginger Cashew Almond granola every single morning for breakfast.  So, if there’s a way to get more ginger into a dish, I will do it.

Which brings me to my pumpkin pie.  I use a basic pumpkin pie filling, but I add in some fresh ginger.  Instead of a pastry crust, I use gingersnaps.  Then I top it all off with pepitas, candied with cinnamon and ginger.

I use the pumpkin pie filling from Joy of Cooking, plus 1/2 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger.  Feel free to use whatever you like.  This would even work well with a pumpkin cheesecake. 

Gingersnap Crust

5 ounces gingersnaps
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar

Using a food processor, grind the gingersnaps into fine crumbs.  Add the sugar and mix.  Add the butter and mix to combine.

Press into a pie pan and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.  When it comes out, you may need to use a rubber spatula to smooth the crust out a bit, in case the sides slip down a bit into the bottom.

Let cool, fill with filling, and bake as directed.

Candied Pepitas
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup (approx 6 ounces) raw pepitas
6 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Stir together all ingredients in a bowl.  Spread mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Bake until pepitas are golden and slightly puffed, about 10 minutes.   Stir gently, leaving some clumps.

After they have cooled completely, crumble them up.  Sprinkle over pumpkin pie when you are ready to serve.  Or, sprinkle it over just about any dessert, or just serve in little bowls as a snack.

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I adore cranberry sauce.  It is so simple to make that I don’t understand why people eat that weird stuff in a can.  1 bag of cranberries, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, boil, and done.  You can add spices and fruit to that, substitute juice or wine for the water, and reduce or increase any ingredient to get to the desired consistency.  And it’s pretty much fool-proof.

Last year, I made a pomegranate cranberry sauce.  This year, I decided to use satsuma mandarins.  They really are a perfect citrus for cranberry sauce – very few seeds, and a rind that’s not too thick, but has a lot of flavor.  If you can’t find satsumas, look for another tangerine with a medium-thick rind.  Something thicker than a clementine, but thinner than a regular orange.  I’d err on the side of thick and just add a bit more sugar, rather than use a clementine or something with a papery thin rind.  Whatever you use, expect to need more than the standard 1 cup of sugar – the rinds are bitter and you need a little more to cut through that.

Cranberry Sauce with Satsuma Mandarins

1 12 ounce bag of cranberries
2 satsuma mandarins
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Carefully cut up the satsumas.  You want some strips of rind with the fruit still attached, but try to remove any big hunks of white membrane.  I basically cut it in quarters, then ran my knife down the tip of each quarter to pull off what I could.  Then sliced each quater into little 1/4 inch strips.  It doesn’t have to be perfect and if you can’t get all the stringy white bits out, don’t worry too much. 

Heat a heavy skillet on medium.  Add the satsumas and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the satsumas have released their juices and the rinds are soft. 

Add the cranberries and the sugar and stir to coat.

Add the water and give it a gentle stir.  Simmer for a few minutes, giving it a gentle stir every now and then.  You want to stir it gently to keep the cranberries as whole as possible.  After about 3 or 4 minutes, taste test a berry.  If it’s too bitter, add a bit more sugar, and stir for another minute or so.  Otherwise remove from the heat and let it cool.

It should keep in the refrigerator for up to a week if you don’t eat it all before then.  To serve, let it come to room temp and enjoy.

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If kindergarten teachers watched me in the kitchen, they’d probably give me a lecture about following directions.  I’m not very good at it.  To me, recipes are usually just suggestions or loose guidelines.

So, when I found this James Beard recipe for persimmon bread, the fact that he is practically the godfather of modern American cooking didn’t really stop me from deviating from the script.  Clearly, I have no shame.

Despite my wanton disregard for Mr. Beard’s recipe, the finished product was delicious.  My husband, however, said that he would have preferred the original.  If you are like me and get the shakes if you don’t find ways to consume as much ginger as possible, my version is right up your alley.  Otherwise, I imagine the original is pretty spectacular too.

If you’ve never tried persimmon, you are missing out.  The ripe Hachiya persimmon, which is used i this recipe, is essentially this fragrant orange pulp held together by a thin skin. 

 I just had to squeeze it slightly and it burst.  I just picked out the skin and membrane and no further preparation was needed.

Ginger Persimmon Bread
Adapted from James Beard, as found on David Lebovitz’s blog

Using the higher amount of sugar will produce a moister and, of course, sweeter bread.

1 3/4 cups sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1/3 cup cognac, bourbon, or whiskey
1 cup persimmon puree (from about 2 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)
2/3 cup minced candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 1 loaf pan and dust with flour, shaking out any excess.

Sift the first 6 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center then stir in the fresh ginger, butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree.  Mix gently, then add the candied ginger.  Stir until everything is combined and the ginger is evenly distributed.

Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The bread will keep for about a week, if well-wrapped, at room temperature, and should freeze well.

The bread was delicious.  Persimmons have a subtle spicy taste to them, so they worked well with the ginger, cognac, and other spices.  It was almost like a really gorgeous tasting fruit cake. 




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I wanted to make a cranberry dessert for a Thanksgiving potluck.  Martha Stewart had this recipe for a New England Cranberry Duff.

I am from New England and have never heard of a duff before.  After playing around with The Google and learning way more about this dude than I have ever cared to know, I learned that it’s usually made with plums, and better known as plum pudding.

Also, it looks nothing like this recipe.

So between Martha’s screw up, and my changes, I’m calling it a snack cake.  A very delicious, buttery, fruity snack cake.

And if it’s not cranberry season, I think this would be excellent with fresh berries.

Cranberry Snack Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened
1 12 ounce bag of cranberries
1/2 cup ground almonds
2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, being careful not to brown., and set aside to cool slightly.

Line a 9X13 glass baking dish with parchment paper and generously butter it, using about 4 tablespoons of the butter.  You don’t want this to stick, so just spread it thick.   Then, pour the cranberries evenly over bottom of dish.

Sprinkle the ground almonds and 2/3 cup of sugar on top and set aside.

 Mix the eggs, the remaining white sugar, and the brown sugar in a bowl, until thoroughly combined and thick.  Add the vanilla extract.  Gradually stir in the flour and salt.

Add the melted butter to the mixture slowly, stirring until smooth.

Slowly pour batter into pan to cover cranberries, making sure that they stay spread out evenly.   Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge to loosen, and invert to unmold.  It will be somewhat upside down cake like, so you want to flip it so the cranberries are on top.

I sliced mine into 28 wedges, which made for a perfect size for a party with lots of desserts.  If this was the only dessert you were serving, you would probably want to cut bigger slices.  You can serve it warm or at room temperature, with forks or without. 

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I really like gnocchi.  I usually cheat when I eat it, and use a package from Trader Joe’s.  I made ricotta gnocchi once, and while it was good, it was too rich for me to want to eat regularly.

This gnocchi recipe, however, is awesome.  I want to make it all the time.    It’s labor intensive, but totally worth it because it is truly delicious.   I’ll try to go through it step by step.   

There’s a lot of different sweet potato gnocchi recipes out there.  I chose the one on Martha Stewart’s site because it makes a ton and just looked right to me.   I loosely adapted a sauce from Food and Wine using some good apple cider from the farmers’ market.

I bought my sweet potatoes at the farmers market and they weren’t orange, so my finished product wasn’t a pretty orange shade, but still very yummy.


Sweet Potato Gnocchi
From marthastewart.com and “Pasta Sfoglia,” by Colleen and Ron Suhanosk

Makes 2 1/2 pounds

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (optional – I skipped it because I was making such a sweet sauce.  I reduced the flour by a 1/4 cup or so just to make sure they wouldn’t be too dry)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Extra flour for dusting (The recipe calls for rice flour.  I used all purpose without a problem.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.   The recipe says to wrap the sweet potatoes in parchment paper-lined aluminum foil.   I skipped the parchment paper because I didn’t see the point, and I didn’t have a problem.  Bake until easily pierced in the center with a fork, about 1 hour.  Let cool.

Place russet potatoes in a large pot; add enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until easily pierced in the center with a fork.  Drain and cool.

Peel all of the potatoes.   Pass potatoes through a ricer or food mill fitted with a medium-hole dish.

Spread all-purpose flour on a clean, dry work surface.  Place potatoes on top of flour.   Add egg, maple syrup if you are using, and salt. 


Using your hands, mix together ingredients on work surface until well combined to form a dough.  Gently knead dough into a 10-by-8-inch rectangle.  Let rest for 2 minutes.

Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour.  Cut the rectangle into 4 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a 1-inch-thick rope.  Cut each rope into 1/2 inch gnocchi.  If you are super ambitous, lightly press a fork into each one to create ridges.  The ridges will help the sauce stick  a little better, but they definitely are not necessary.


Store gnocchi on a rice flour-covered baking sheet until ready to use and dust with more flour. 


To cook the gnocci, gently place into a boiling pot of salted water.  When they float to the top, cook for approximately one more minute, then drain.  Some will float to the top much faster than others, so I usually start my minute countdown when it looks like more than half of them are floating.

Gnocchi can also be frozen up to 2 weeks. To freeze, place them, dusted with rice flour, in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, place them one on top of the other in an airtight container. To thaw for cooking, place gnocchi in a single layer on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for not more than 1 hour before cooking.

Apple Cider Sauce
Loosely adapted from Food and Wine

The original recipe can be found here.  I liked the idea, but I thought it looked too sweet, so I doctored it up a little.  While really good, I do think it was still a bit sweet, so next time I’ll reduce the cider by a 1/2 cup and replace with chicken or vegetable stock instead.

2 cups apple cider (or a mix of cider and broth)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped sage leaves
Salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese to taste

In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring the cider (and broth) to a boil.  Reduce it to about a 1/2 cup of liquid, approximately 20 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil and butter.  Add the shallots and saute until slightly golden, approximately 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and sage and saute for another minute or two. 

Add about a pound of gnocchi, or one half of the recipe printed above.  Add the reduced cider and stir to coat.  Serve with parmesan cheese.


I served the gnocchi with a side of broccoli rabe that I tossed in garlic, olive oil, and red pepper.  And because I had labored all day over this dish, I decided that it deserved to be served with something good.  I opted for a bottle of pinot from one of my favorite Sonoma wineries, Stephen & Walker.  Their Sonoma Coast pinot noir is much fruiter than your typical pinot and went perfectly with this meal.


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I’ve been on a major polenta kick recently.  I had never really made it until I made the braised pork with balsamic and grapes, and now I’m hooked.  It’s cheap, and while it’s a minor pain in the neck to make since it requires that you stir pretty much non stop for 10-15 minutes, it goes so well with so many things.

I wanted to do something a little different with it, so I found this recipe and whipped up a batch.  It’s delicious.  I only made half the batch, and used a bit more liquid than he recommended because I like mine really soft and creamy.   The recipe made a ton – enough for two sides with pork chops and a salad, and then for two main courses topped with slow roasted tomatoes.  The proportions below is about half of what the original recipe calls for.

Polenta With Goat Cheese and Rosemary
Adapted from the September 20, 2009 New York Times, adapted from Matthew Kenney

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed
1 cup polenta
3 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bring the stock to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan over high heat.  Whisk in the polenta in a steady stream, then decrease the heat to medium.   Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, more constantly than you would think possible, until the polenta begins to thicken, approximately 10 minutes. 

Add the cheese and rosemary and stir for approximately 2 more minutes.  Stir in the butter, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. 

It keeps well on the stove, though it thickens as it rests, so you may need to hit it off with a couple tablespoons of liquid just before serving.  I finished cooking it before starting on my main course, and just added a splash of milk and gave it a stir just before serving.

To serve the polenta, I cooked pork chops in a cast iron skillet.  When those were done, I took them out of the pan, and added a minced shallot, a bit of chopped fresh rosemary and sage, a pat of butter, and a 1/2 cup or so of apple cider.  Simmer for a couple minutes and voila.  I poured that over the pork chops and polenta.  It was a really fantastic fall meal.


I was lucky enough to find some dry farmed tomatoes at the farmers market here in late October, so I put those to work with the leftovers.  I slow roasted them and poured them and the juices into a heavy pan with a bit more water.  Simmered for a few minutes and then spooned the sauce over the warmed polenta. 


Yeah, it looks gross, but it tasted amazing.

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The Perfect Meal

Every now and then, I see a recipe and it looks so perfect that I must make it immediately.   October’s Martha Stewart contained one of those.   The recipe takes a bit of time, but it’s completely worth it.  It’s delicious, it’s cheap, it uses a lot of ingredients that I keep in the pantry, it’s a complete meal (meat, carbs, and vegetable), and despite it being about 350 calories a serving, it is unbelievably filling and satisfying.

Are you sold?

Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squashes
Martha Stewart October 2009

2 medium acorn squashes (about 2 pounds), halved and seeded
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. ground chuck (95 percent lean)
ground cinnamon
ground nutmeg
2 tsp. course salt
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup bulgur wheat
2 cups water
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts

I halved the recipe and it worked out fine, though I probably used the full 1/4 cup of parsley as well as 1/4 cup of chopped dates (instead of the raisins).  I also subbed ground pork for ground beef.   I realize this makes it not very Moroccan, but that’s what I had in my freezer.  I think any ground meat would work, as well as any combo of dried fruit.  I think you could easily make this vegetarian by using some chickpeas or even just increasing the amount of bulgar, dried fruit, and nuts a bit.

Preheat oven to 400. Place squashes, cut sides down in a 9×13 inch casserole dish.   Bake until tender, 35 to 40 minutes.   

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat.   Add ground meat, a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer ground meat to a bowl or plate using a slotted spoon, keeping as much of the cooking liquid in the pot as possible. 

Add onion, and cook until slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.   I didn’t have enough water in there, so I added a couple tablespoons of water to help the onions simmer without burning. 

Add remaining teaspoon salt and the bulgur, and stir to combine.  Add water, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.   Take pot off the stove and let sit covered for 5 minutes.

Fluff the bulgar with a fork, and add reserved beef, the raisins, parsley and pine nuts and stir together to combine.

The chopping of the ingredients and the whole bulgar mixture cooking time should take you roughly the amount of time it takes for the squash to cook.

When the squash is done, take it out of the oven.  Let it cool a little and scrape it out to form 1/4 inch thick bowls.

Fold the squash flesh into bulgur mixture.   Divide among squash halves, and return to the oven.   Bake until warmed through and tops are browned, about 12 to 14 minutes.


One squash half should be the perfect dinner for one person, though a salad couldn’t hurt.  And a glass of red wine, of course.

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Easy Stuff

I occassionally take on some pretty nutty baking projects that leave me exhausted, so I think that my idea of what is considered “easy” might give some people a coronary.  I insisted to a friend that these scones were easy, and I think she was cursing me while trying to figure out how to disperse the butter through the dough.

But, I think this recipe here is objectively easy.  One bowl, 6 ingredients, and it takes about 2 minutes to mix it all up.  And, if you are the type of person who keeps beer in their fridge at all times, you probably won’t even need to go to the store for ingredients to do this.

I got the recipe from the blog Ezra Pound Cake, who kindly gave me permission to publish it here.  There are lots of other beer bread recipes out there, but the simplicity of this one really made it sound appealling.  I think any kind of beer would work.  I used a Pumpkin Ale, which made the bread smell like pumpkin, though I wouldn’t say it tasted particularly pumpkiny.  Maybe next time, I’ll add a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon just to bring that flavor out a little more.

It’s fabulous warm out of the oven, with a bit of butter or nothing at all.

Beer Bread
From Rebecca Crump at ezrapoundcake.com
Makes 1 loaf

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 bottle (12 ounces) beer
1/4 to 1/2 cup  unsalted butter, melted (I used 1/4 cup and didn’t find it lacking in buttery goodness)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9-x-5-x-3-inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. 

Using a wooden spoon, stir the beer into the dry ingredients until just mixed.


It should take just a minute to come together.  The batter will be very sticky.

Pour half the melted butter into the loaf pan.   Then spoon the batter into the pan, and pour the rest of the butter on top of the batter.   It’ll be too sticky to get it to lay flat and smooth.  Just try to make sure it’s mostly evenly distributed in the pan so it bakes evenly. 


Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately.


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