Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup in serving bowl

Happy Chinese New Year! Monday, February 8th marks the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey. Billions, that’s right, billions(!) of people are expected to travel within China over the next couple of weeks. It really is a mass migration as people go home to celebrate this holiday with their families. And when families get together over holidays, there is sure to be delicious food.

Bowl of Clementines

The foods associated with Chinese New Year are very symbolic and are meant to bring good fortune, longevity, and happiness. Oranges and tangerines are often displayed and eating them is said to bring prosperity and luck. The Chinese words for gold and orange sound alike, and the word for tangerine is similar to the word for luck.

Red Snapper

Another play on words is associated with fish. The Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for abundance. Fish is often on the menu for the Chinese New Year, and is served whole signifying a good beginning and ending to the New Year. To serve two fish is even better, one on New Year’s Eve and the other offered on New Year’s Day, guaranteeing good fortune year after year.

Red Snapper

One of my favorite Chinese dishes (New Year’s or not) is Hot and Sour Soup. Unfortunately, so many restaurant versions are too thick and viscous, almost coming off as slimy, victims of cornstarch added by a heavy hand. This homemade version is infinitely tastier. Instead of cornstarch to thicken the soup, eggs are whisked in to add body without muddling the bright tangy flavor of the vinegar or heat of the pepper. Ground pork is not traditional, but is faster than roasted pork. The original recipe comes from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and Myers and Chang restaurant in Boston. I’ve cut the ground pork in half, and doubled the amount mushrooms. You can easily make this completely vegetarian by eliminating the pork all together and using a vegetable broth instead of chicken stock. You’re in complete control of the tanginess and the heat, both quickly adjusted to your taste by ramping up or toning down the rice vinegar and Sriracha sauce.

Now, I’m off to make Longevity Noodles. The key is not to cut the noodles… the longer the noodle, the longer your life. Will post Friday!

Hot and Sour Soup in serving bowl

Hot and Sour Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

adapted from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang

Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
1 Tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger (about 1 ½ inch piece of ginger)
4 scallions, white and green parts, minced, set aside 2 Tablespoons sliced for garnish
4 oz ground pork
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 lb block firm tofu, (not silken or extra firm) cut into ½ inch cubes
8-10 medium button mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2/3 cup rice vinegar
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon Sriracha sauce
2 large eggs

Instructions:
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and ground pork and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute. Break the pork into smaller pieces, but don’t worry about breaking it down completely. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the tofu, mushrooms, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil, and Sriracha sauce and bring the soup back to a simmer over medium high heat. (Taste the soup. If you want it hotter, add more Sriracha; if you want it more sour, add more vinegar.)

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. With the soup at a steady simmer, slowly whisk in the eggs so they form strands. Bring the soup back to a simmer. Divide the soup among four bowls and garnish each with a sprinkling of scallions. Serve immediately. The soup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Hot and Sour Soup ingredients on cutting board
Prep your Hot and Sour Soup ingredients: garlic, ginger, scallions, ground pork, chicken stock, tofu, mushrooms, sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha, and eggs.
Ground pork, garlic, ginger, and scallions in a saucepan
In large saucepan heat oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, scallions, and ground pork. Cook for 1 minute, breaking up pork, but not completely breaking it down. You want some chunks.
Adding chicken stock to ground pork, garlic, ginger, and scallions
Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.
Adding tofu to soup
Add the tofu…
Add mushrooms to soup
Add the mushrooms…
Adding sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil, and Sriracha to soup
Add sugar, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil, and Sriracha (I had all these ingredients in one bowl, as I knew they would be going in all at once).
Adding rice vinegar to soup
Add the rice vinegar and bring the soup back to a simmer over medium high heat.
hot and sour soup in saucepan
Bring soup back to a simmer.
Hot and Sour Soup garnished with scallions in serving bowl
Garnish with scallions and serve immediately.

Homemade Gifts

Candied Peanuts

We are all so busy nowadays and quickly grabbing something from the store is an efficient and easy way to tick the boxes off your gift giving to do list;  you’ll get no argument from me!  But that’s what makes homemade gifts so special, taking the time to make something from scratch and presenting it to someone who also has a lot on their plate (no pun intended!). Think about teachers, neighbors, friends, hostesses, as well as those who help keep our worlds moving smoothly, like school bus drivers and postmen.  Those people (and their families) will appreciate the time spent creating thoughtful gifts for them.

Christmas is naturally a wonderful season to share homemade presents with those around us.  But these gifts work well all year round, anytime you would like to say “thank you” or just brighten someone’s day.  My passion lies in the kitchen, so baking gifts is where I turn. Your strength may lie in photography, flower arranging, knitting, crafting, gardening, etc.  If you’re able to, please consider sharing your talents!

Below are some of my favorite homemade gifts to give… nothing exotic, over the top, or containing hard to find ingredients. But, they are all heartfelt and give me great joy to share.

Granola in mason jars.
Maple Nut Granola
A jar of homemade mulling spices.
Mulling Spices
Candied Peanuts
Candied Peanuts
Cranberry Nut Bread- sliced on a cutting board
Cranberry Nut Bread
Dark Chocolate Bark on a silver tray.
Dark Chocolate Bark

Aunt Annie’s Plum Duff (Plum Pudding)

Plum Pudding with holly sprig

Plum Pudding is a traditional Christmas dessert and very common in Two plum puddings decorated with holly sprigs.England and Ireland. For Americans, the name itself is rather confusing as this dessert contains neither plums nor is it a pudding in the Jell-O sense of the word. The “plums” are actually a pre-Victorian term for raisins and pudding is a reference to dessert in general. Some compare plum pudding to fruit cake, but I respectfully disagree. My family’s plum pudding is not heavy and dense like a fruitcake. It is light in texture, but very rich in flavor; heady with cinnamon, cloves, mace, and brandy.  Served with a dollop of chilled hard sauce which begins melting as soon as it hits the warm pudding… it’s like tasting Christmas.

As I discovered during research, plum pudding has a lot of history. Dating back to medieval times, it is a steamed or boiled cake traditionally made on the Sunday before Advent begins. This generous lead time (and a bit of brandy) allows the cake to “ripen” during the weeks before Christmas. In addition to raisins, the cake contains nuts, breadcrumbs, sugar, suet, eggs, milk, brandy, and spices. The highlight of Christmas dinner, the pudding is steamed again to warm through, doused with more brandy, topped with a sprig of holly and set ablaze just as it’s presented to guests.

My family’s plum pudding recipe dates back over 100 years. Aunt Annie, born in the 1880s, was my grandmother’s aunt. Though I don’t know where she got the recipe, I do know that my grandmother made it Two plum pudding moldsthroughout my father’s childhood, and then passed the recipe on to my mother, who continues to make it to this day. The handwritten recipe from my grandmother refers to the pudding as “Aunt Annie’s Plum Duff.” It seems that centuries ago, the pudding would have been steamed or boiled in cloth, but during the Victorian era the cloth was replace by pudding molds. That said, modern recipes for “duff” do exist and usually instruct the reader to boil the pudding in cloth rather than “pudding” recipes that use a mold. Perhaps my great great aunt originally boiled her pudding in cloth? Unfortunately, I’ll never know. What I do know is that my grandmother steamed her puddings in coffee cans lined with buttered wax paper. And today, I use pudding molds.

This year, the pudding almost didn’t happen. It is getting tougher and IMG_8488tougher to find suet (NOT the kind you get at the garden store to feed the birds). I actually stumbled across some quite by chance at a butcher shop in Boston just a couple of weeks ago. The other ingredients are pretty standard pantry items, and though it’s a two day process, most of the time is hands-off and the technique is very easy. Once the mixture is in the molds, they are steamed for a couple of hours and cooled. After cooling, they are removed from the molds. The molds are washed, the puddings rewrapped in clean parchment, returned to the molds, splashed with more brandy, and tucked away in the fridge until Christmas Day. Before serving, the pudding is steamed again to warm through. Hard Sauce is passed along with it… a creamy combination of butter, confectioners sugar, and- you guessed it, more brandy!

What does it say about me as a child that even then I loved Aunt Annie’s Plum Duff? I knew that this was no ordinary dessert… a generations old recipe, a “cake” steamed in coffee cans on the stove, then steamed again and served with a boozy butter + sugar concoction, plus the whole operation completed a month in advance. This was definitely not happening at my friends’ houses.

I am so grateful for this splattered and tattered heirloom recipe, a direct connection to my past, written in my grandmother’s hand. If you are up for an old fashioned dessert, do try this. You don’t even need to light it on fire… but if you do, please have a fire extinguisher nearby. Safety first!

Aunt Annie’s Plum Duff (Plum Pudding)

  • Servings: 2 puddings
  • Print

Ingredients:
2½ cups of raisins
1 cup finely chopped fresh white beef suet (pick apart and remove membrane, then chop)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1½ jiggers brandy (4½ Tablespoons)
4 cups lightly packed breadcrumbs (large loaf of day old bread, crusts removed, and pulled apart)
2 cups milk to which 2 teaspoons baking soda has been added
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cloves
¼ teaspoon mace

Instructions:
Combine raisins, suet, walnuts, and brandy. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day-
Butter molds and line with parchment paper.

Combine breadcrumbs, raisin-walnut mixture, milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and mace. Mix well.

Carefully spoon pudding mixture into lined molds, filling 2/3 full. Top each with another piece of parchment, then covered with lids. If you have extra pudding, it can be steamed in a buttered mason jar.

Steam in gently simmering water for 2 hours. Maintain water level so that it comes halfway up the sides of the molds.

Serve warm with hard sauce or soft custard sauce.

The pudding can be eaten the same day, but traditionally it is allowed to “ripen” for at least a week, or as long as a year. If you aren’t serving it right away, remove molds from water and allow to cool. Carefully remove puddings from molds, peeling away parchment. Thoroughly wash and dry and molds, then reline with parchment and return puddings to molds. Drizzle a splash of brandy on top of each, cover with additional piece of parchment and place lids on top. Refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, steam puddings again for 2-3 hours. Serve with hard sauce* or soft custard sauce.

*recipe follows below

Raisins, chopped walnuts, suet, and brandy
Raisins, chopped walnuts, suet, and brandy are ready to mingle.
Raisins, walnuts, suet and brandy mixture
Mix the raisins, walnuts, suet, and brandy. Cover and refrigerate overnight. You’re done for today.
Ingredients laid out for plum pudding.
After the raisins, suet, and walnuts have soaked overnight in brandy,  it’s time to make the pudding.
IMG_8459
Add the breadcrumbs and spices.  Mix well.
Eggs and milk are added to the raisin/walnut mixture.
Add the well beaten eggs and milk (don’t forget to put the 2 teaspoons of baking soda in the milk!)
Pudding mixture is ready to go into the molds.
The pudding mixture is ready for the molds.
Pudding Mixture in Molds
Carefully spoon pudding mixture into parchment lined molds, filling 2/3 of way up.
Parchment paper is place on top of each pudding before steaming.
Place an additional piece of pleated parchment paper on top of each pudding. The pleats allow room for the pudding to expand as it steams.
Plum pudding molds on top of a rack set in boiling water.
Place the molds on a rack set in gently boiling water. The water should come halfway up the sides of the molds. Cover and gently boil for 2 hours. Keep checking water level and replace as needed to maintain a height of halfway up the sides of the molds. In this picture you see a regular mold and a foil topped mason jar. I had a small amount of pudding mixture left over, so I steamed it in a buttered 8oz sized mason jar, rubber banded with foil. The other mold was boiling away in a separate pot.
Plum Pudding after boiling for two hours.
Two hours later…
Plum Pudding after two hours boiling.
the big reveal!
Plum Pudding
Plum Pudding
Two plum puddings decorated with holly sprigs.
Plum Puddings

Hard Sauce

Ingredients:
1½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
brandy or whisky to taste

Instructions:
Using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter. Add brandy or whisky to taste.

Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. The hard sauce should be still be cool and firm, but easy enough to scoop.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Toasted Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Flaky Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Bark on silver tray.

My grandparents grew up in Ireland and for as long as I can remember my grandmother’s preferred chocolate was Cadbury’s. Among all the Cadbury choices, the Fruit and Nut bar was her favorite. However, it wasn’t always easy to get Cadbury chocolates in the US so she had to find an alternative to satisfy her sweet tooth. Success was achieved when Nanny discovered the Chunky Bar. Do you remember Chunky Bars? They were thick cubes of chocolate studded with nuts and raisins, all wrapped in silver foil.

Dark Chocolate Bark on a silver tray.I’m not sure which came first… did the Fruit and Nut Bar or Chunky Bar inspire this bark, or did the taste memories come flooding back after the first bite? In either case, this treat would definitely meet Nanny’s approval. It’s the perfect blend of a fruit and nut studded candy bar and chocolate bark. Like a candy bar, the sweetness of the dried fruit, partnered with the crunch of the nuts, encased in dark chocolate is such a fantastic combination. Spread thin and topped with more dried fruit and toasted nuts brings it closer to a bark. Sprinkled with sea salt pushes it over the top. Excellent with a glass of red wine after dinner or a quick pick me up mid-day; another option is to leave out a small platter of the bark so that every time you walk by you grab a nibble. Not that I’ve ever done that. No judging here.

Dark chocolate bark with toasted nuts and dried fruit.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Toasted Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Flaky Sea Salt

  • Servings: about 1 lb
  • Print

Ingredients:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or one 11.5oz bag of bittersweet chocolate chips)
2/3 cup mixed toasted nuts, roughly chopped (such as walnuts, almonds, cashews)
2/3 cup mixed dried fruit (such as raisins, cherries, blueberries, cranberries)
sprinkling of flaked sea salt

Instructions:
Line small baking sheet with foil.

Melt chocolate in heatproof medium sized bowl set over saucepan of simmering water, stirring until melted and smooth.

Stir in half of toasted nuts and half of mixed dried fruit. Pour melted chocolate mixture onto foil, spreading with offset spatula to thickness of scant 1/4 inch.

Scatter remaining nuts and dried fruit over chocolate. Cool slightly. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt.

Chill until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Peel off foil and cut bark into irregular pieces.

Chocolate Bark ingredients- dark chocolate chips, toasted nuts, dried fruit, and flaked sea salt.
Four ingredients and 15 minutes is all it takes to make chocolate bark.
Melting chocolate in a double boiler.
Stirring occasionally, melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over simmering water.
Melted chocolate in bowl waiting for toasted nuts and dried fruit to be added.
The chocolate is melted and ready for the toasted nuts and dried fruit.
Stirring toasted nuts and dried fruit into melted chocolate.
Stir in half of the toasted nuts and dried fruit.
Spreading melted chocolate mixture onto foil lined baking sheet.
Using an offset spatula, spread the melted chocolate mixture onto a foil line baking sheet. The chocolate should be about 1/4″ thick.
Topping chocolate bark with remaining nuts and fruit.
While chocolate is still melted, top chocolate bark with remaining toasted nuts and dried fruit. Press lightly to be sure nuts and fruits adhere.
Sprinkling flaky sea salt on top of chocolate bark.
Sprinkle pinch of flaky sea salt on top of the chocolate bark.
Dark chocolate bark cooling.
Chill, allowing chocolate bark to completely cool and harden, about 30 minutes. Break into irregular pieces before serving.

Dark Chocolate Bark on silver tray.

 

 

Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread- sliced on a cutting board

Quick post today. It’s a busy time of year for everybody… school concerts, Nutcracker performances, decorating the house and tree, sending cards, shopping for gifts, and events every weekend. It’s incredibly easy to become overwhelmed and miss the magic and beauty that is Christmas… the twinkling lights, carols being sung, and the warm spicy scent of pine. When I do feel like I’m becoming engulfed in the frenzy, I escape to the kitchen, put on some Christmas music and start baking… nothing elaborate though, believe me! You will not find homemade gingerbread houses or meticulously cut out and decorated cookies worthy of the front cover of a magazine. I’m more of drop or roll cookie maker (think gingersnaps or Mexican Wedding Cakes) and quick bread baker. Being in the kitchen is like therapy for me, and if I tried to make photo shoot worthy decorated Christmas cookies, I would royal ice and silver dragee my way straight into real therapy!

This Cranberry Nut Bread is quick, coming together in about 15 minutes, then off to the oven for an hour. Golden brown crust, slightly tart, and studded with cranberry jewels and sweet pecans, the bread is perfect for breakfast, late afternoon snack, or even dessert. It’s also ideal to share with family and friends over a cup of tea, enjoying each other’s company and the season for even just a quiet moment or two.

Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Print

*recipe adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup orange juice (fresh or bottled)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cranberries
¾ cup chopped pecans

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender. Stir in orange juice, lightly beat egg, and zest. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Scrape into prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Pastry blender cutting butter into dry ingredients.
Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients
Chopped cranberries in a food processor.
Chop the cranberries by hand or in a food processor.
Roughly chopped pecans on a cutting board.
Roughly chop the pecans.
Orange, zest, and juice on a cutting board.
Zest the orange so that you have 1 Tablespoon set aside, then juice the oranges to yield 3/4 of a cup. I need three navel oranges to get the right amount of juice.
Wet ingredients and dry ingredients in mixing bowl.
Add juice, lightly beaten egg and zest to dry ingredients and mix.
Batter in bowl with wooden spoon.
Using a wooden spoon, combine the wet and dry ingredients.
Folding in the cranberries and pecans.
Fold in the cranberries and pecans.

Cranberry Nut Bread Batter

Cranberry Nut Bread batter in a greased loaf pan getting ready to go in the oven.
Scrape the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes.
Testing the bread for doneness with a bamboo skewer.
Bake until a cake tester- or bamboo skewer in this case- inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cranberry Nut Bread- sliced on a cutting board

 

 

 

Pretzel Rolls

Homemade pretzel roll

Oktoberfest has officially passed… I actually just discovered that. For years I thought Oktoberfest was celebrated all month long, but a quick google search revealed that Munich has already moved on and begun planning Oktoberfest 2016.

IMG_7709Well, I’m not telling. Either way, it’s still October and my culinary wanderlust is craving soft pretzels, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and mustard to go with it all. Every fall, brats and sauerkraut enter the dinner rotation at White House Red Door. One year around this time, probably for Halloween, I made “witches fingers” with homemade pretzel dough. The fingers- or pretzels seemed a natural accompaniment to the brats, so I thought instead of a “finger” or traditionally shaped pretzel, why not a roll?

Have you ever had a pretzel rolls? They turn humble fillings into something special. From burgers to cold cuts to peanut butter and jelly (which my middle guy makes himself for lunch everyday), they all taste better on a pretzel rolls.  They arePretzel bun with mustard terrific for a snack on their own or with some spicy brown mustard for dipping. White flakes of crunchy sea salt contrast beautifully with the deep golden brown chewy texture.

This recipe makes pretzel dough and while I’ve made rolls, the final form is entirely up to you.  This same dough can easily be transformed into traditional pretzels, “witches fingers,” or even letters for the pre-school set.  It’s entirely up to you.  Remember, have fun and play with your food!Homemade pretzel bun

  • Servings: ”8-10
  • Print

*adapted from Alton Brown

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups warm (110°-115° F) water
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 ½ cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
coarse or flaked sea salt

Instructions:
Combine water, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4-5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, rolling it around so it is lightly coated in the oil used to grease the bowl. Cover with a slightly damp dish towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for 50-55 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

After the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 half sheet pans with silicone mats, or parchment paper lightly brushed with vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface (I did not do this, just a regular wooden cutting board worked for me- not oiled). Divide the dough into 8-10 equal pieces. Form dough into balls- by rolling and shaping with your hands. Using a very sharp knife or pair of scissors cut an X in the top of each roll. Place each roll onto a lined sheet pan.

Place the pretzel rolls into the boiling water, one by one, for 60 seconds, flipping them at the 30 second mark. Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon or similar tool. Return to the half sheet pan, 4-5 rolls per pan. Repeat until remaining rolls are done.

Brush the top of each pretzel roll with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with coarse or flaked sea salt. Bake one batch at a time until deep golden brown in color, approximately 15 minutes, or the bottom of the bun sounds hollow when rapped with your knuckles. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Yeast is foaming.
It’s alive! The yeast is working when it starts to foam.
Adding flour and melted butter to yeast mixture
Add the flour and melted butter to yeast mixture.
Using a dough hook attachment to knead the dough.
Using the dough hook attachment, knead the dough until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Pretzel dough in a well oiled bowl.
Put the dough into a well oiled bowl, turning to coat several times. Cover and place in a warm draft free spot until doubled in bulk.
Risen Pretzel Dough
After 50-55 minutes the pretzel dough has doubled in bulk.
Pretzel dough on a cutting board.
Turn the dough out onto a cutting board or parchment paper.
Pretzel dough divided into 8 equal pieces.
Divide the dough into 8-10 equal pieces.
Raw pretzel buns on silicone lined sheet pan.
Roll and shape dough into rolls and place on silicone or parchment lined sheet pan.
Use a sharp knife to cut an 'x' on the top of each bun.
Using a sharp knife or pair of scissors, cut an ‘x’ on the top of each roll.
Dropping the pretzel bun into boiling water/baking soda mixture
One by one, use a slotted spoon or similar utensil to drop each roll into boiling water/baking soda mixture for 1 minute. Flip after 30 seconds so that top and bottom are evenly cooked.  Transfer to lined sheet pan. Repeat process with each roll.
Egg washed buns sprinkled with flaked sea salt.
Brush the rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or flaked sea salt. Bake 15 minutes in a 450°F oven or until deep golden brown.
Deep golden brown homemade pretzel buns.
Rolls are done when they are a deep golden brown and sound hollow when rapped on the bottom with your knuckles. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before digging in.

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread sliced on cutting board.

Fall Container The sounds and smells of fall are predictably familiar and comforting. I’ve known them all my life, hearing the chorus of geese honking to one another as they head south, smelling the smoke from a pile of leaves drifting from a backyard, and feeling the crispness in the air as a child trick or treating or walking to school. Even as an adult the pattern continues, the leaves still crunch underfoot, rustling and swirling in the breeze stirred up as I walk my own children to the bus stop each morning. We often talk about taste memories, but it is the echoes, scents, and displays of fall that bring me right back to childhood each year.

That is not to say that the tastes of autumn go by the wayside. Flavors are warmer, spicier, and richer, adding life to both sweet and savory dishes. On these cool days I crave baking- wanting to fill the kitchen with the colors, flavors, and aromas of fall.

This pumpkin bread recipe fits the bill. Many pumpkin bread recipes call for oil as the fat of choice while this recipe uses butter, which I prefer. The original calls for water or orange juice as the liquid, but I swap in cider, as it seems a better complement to the pumpkin. Another addition is nutmeg, to partner with the cinnamon and cloves. I’ve reduced the sugar, which hasn’t done any harm (and no one notices). Finally, the raisins are completely eliminated instead I occasionally add walnuts.

This makes two large loaves of pumpkin bread, one to enjoy now, one to freeze for another day down the road as we march towards winter.

Pumpkin bread slices on cutting board

Pumpkin Bread

  • Servings: 2 large loaves
  • Print

*adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook, Collected Recipes for Everyday

Ingredients:
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at room temperature
3 Tablespoons molasses
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
2/3 cup cider
2 cups pumpkin puree, homemade or canned
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans.

With an electric mixer, cream butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat until light. Add cider and pumpkin purée and mix well.

Sift dry ingredients together into a large bowl, and add the pumpkin mixture, stirring well with a wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. If using the nuts, add them now, folding them carefully into the batter.

Divide evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool.

*This recipe is easily multiplied and freezes well.

Creaming butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy.
Cream butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at time to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well before adding the next.
Add the eggs one at time, beating well before adding the next.
Butter, sugar, molasses, and egg mixture is light.
Butter, sugar, molasses, and egg mixture is light and creamy.
Adding the pumpkin purée and cider to butter, sugar, and egg mixture.
Add the pumpkin purée and cider and mix well.
Curdled looking mixture... not to worry.
Don’t worry! It looks terrible, but it will be ok!
Combining the wet and dry ingredients well with a wooden spoon.
Add the sifted dry ingredients, combining well with a wooden spoon.
Batter in greased loaf pan.
Divide batter evenly into greased loaf pans.
Pumpkin bread in loaf pan
Pumpkin bread is done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

IMG_7458

 

Mulling Spices

Mulling spices- orange peel, cinnamon sticks, star anise, whole cloves and cardamon

A jar of homemade mulling spices.

Happy National Mulled Cider Day!

Leaves are changing; mornings are crisp as temperatures start dipping closer to freezing; in the market, the last few berries are being pushed out by apples. Walking around the neighborhood, even playing in the yard, is noisier these days. The slightest breeze triggers a barrage of falling acorns, rapid fire pop-pop-pops as they bounce off branches and leaves on their way down. The other night I came home to the smell of woodsmoke- not from a backyard grill, but drifting from a neighbor’s chimney, the first fire of the season. The sights, sounds, and aromas triggered something in me, almost a reflex to everything my senses were taking in.  Heading into the kitchen, opening up the spice drawer, instinctually I knew what I was looking for- a little of this and a little of that to complement the growing signs of fall.

IMG_7410

Even the colors of mulling spices remind us of autumn, orange, green, varying shades of brown. The fragrance is warm, comforting, and exotic all at the same time.  In no time, apple cider was gently simmering on the stove while an infuser filled with cinnamon, cardamon, star anise, whole cloves, and orange peel bobbed along in time.  The scent filled the room, naturally welcoming everyone in the house to gather- no easy feat these days with two teens and a tween in our midst.

Pre-mixed mulling spices can be found in just about any shop these days- from high end kitchen stores to your local grocery.  But don’t be tempted to buy the pre-made blend.  You probably have everything you need to make your own at home. You will have control, adding a little bit more of this, or a little less of that according to your taste.  Homemade mulling spices also make terrific gifts.  Save your old glass spice jars, remove the label, give them a good scrubbing, and fill with your custom blend.  Add an infuser and you’ve got a gift that keeps on giving!

IMG_7417

Below is my general blend, but it is just a guideline- for example, if I’d had allspice berries I would have thrown those in as well.  Please play around (and let me know what you discover).

Mulling Spices

  • Servings: enough for one 1.5oz spice jar
  • Print

Ingredients:
3 sticks cinnamon, broken into small pieces
peel from 1 orange, sliced, dried and broken into small pieces
5 star anise
10-12 cardamon pods
1 teaspoon whole cloves

Instructions:
In a small bowl combine the spices. Transfer to spice jar or similar container. Will keep indefinitely.

Pesto

Pesto

You know how each summer there is THE song of the summer, the one that puts smiles on faces, gets toes tapping, and windows rolled down while everyone sings along? Well, this summer I have THE herb of the summer growing in my garden… basil. The three or four small plants that went into the ground in late spring have grown into a mighty basil forest, extraordinarily tall and lush. We cannot keep up with it; despite our best efforts, that is an enormous amount of caprese salad to eat!

Herb garden with basil, chives, oregano, thyme, and rosemary
This basil is out of control.

As the days grow shorter, I am only too aware of the cool weather that is sure to follow. Feeling a bit like the ant preparing for winter in Aesop’s The Grasshopper and the Ant, I’ve gone on a pesto making binge; not only preserving basil’s quintessential summer flavor at its best, but capturing a sunny moment in time. These green gems, pulled from the depths of the freezer, will bring warm memories to cold snowy nights sometime in the (not too distant) future.

Pesto is from the Italian word pestare which means to pound or crush. The English word for pestle shares the same Latin root. Traditionally, pesto is made by hand with a mortar and pestle, but in the quantities I’m dealing with the food processor is helping. No shame in that.

fresh basil

Some of the pesto is for enjoying now, but the majority is getting scooped into mini muffin tins, frozen, then transferred into storage containers for the freezer. The mini pesto “muffins” are just the right size to add to dishes all winter long.

And pesto isn’t just for pasta… here are some others ways to savor it.
• Potatoes- pesto and potatoes are a wonderful pair. Gently stir a spoonful of pesto into freshly boiled potatoes or mix a spoonful into mashed potatoes.
• Marinara Sauce- add pesto to your regular marinara sauce
• Dip- mix pesto into greek yogurt, crème fraiche, or sour cream for a dip
• Pizza- use pesto instead of pizza sauce on your next homemade pizza
• Sandwiches- spread pesto on your favorite crusty sandwich bread, top with sliced chicken and roasted red peppers

Those are just some of my suggestions.  I’d love to hear from you… what are your favorite ways to use pesto?

Pesto

Pesto

  • Servings: makes approximately 1 cup
  • Print

*recipe adapted from Marcella Hazen

Ingredients:
For the food processor-
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
salt

For completion by hand-
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons freshly grated romano cheese

Instructions:
Briefly rinse basil under cold water and pat dry.

Place basil, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and a pinch of salt into the bowl of a food processor. Process to a uniform creamy consistency.

Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the two grated cheeses by hand.

The pesto can be frozen in pre-portioned amounts to be pulled from the freezer whenever you want a taste of summer.

Basil, extra virgin olive oil, and salt are placed in a food processor.
Place the basil, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and salt into a food processor and blend.
Basil, extra virgin olive oil. pine nuts and salt have been blended to a creamy consistency.
Blend the basil, extra virgin olive oil,  pine nuts, garlic, and salt to a creamy consistency.
Parmesan and romano cheeses are added to the basil mixture.
Transfer the basil mixture to a bowl. Add the parmesan and romano cheeses.
Mixing the parmesan and romano cheeses into the pesto by hand.
Mix the parmesan and romano cheeses by hand.
The parmesan and romano cheeses have been thoroughly incorporated.
The parmesan and romano cheeses have been thoroughly incorporated.
Pesto fills a mini muffin tin
Using a mini muffin tin, small portions of pesto are ready for the freezer. After freezing, transfer them to a container for long term freezer storage.
Pre-portioned amounts of frozen pesto
Wax paper separates layers of frozen pesto “muffins” for long term storage in the freezer.

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade ricotta with herbs

Borough MarketThis summer, we had a phenomenal family trip to London and Ireland.
While we explored the British Museum, Hyde Park, the Churchill War Rooms and the Tower of London, observed the Changing of the Horse Guard and took a spin on the London Eye, my thoughts were never too far from food. In fact, we kicked our trip off with a tour of Borough Market (I highly recommend Context Travel).

Tasting our way down the counter...
Tasting our way down the counter…

Celebrating and tasting your way through artisanal British and Irish cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy is a wonderful beginning to any day.  Meeting and sharing ideas with farmers, spice vendors, and even a tea importer helped us connect to London in a very real way. Continuing the unofficial theme of local foods, we planned our dinners at restaurants that embrace a farm to table philosophy, locally sourcing their products based on seasonal availability. We enjoyed delicious meals at St. John, The Harwood Arms, and Tom’s Kitchen. An absolute standout at Tom’s Kitchen was the “Homemade Ricotta [with] balsamic glaze, dried herbs, grilled sourdough.” Oh. My. Goodness. This ricotta was so incredibly luscious, smooth, and creamy- yet light and airy, that only the fear of public humiliation kept me from stealing the entire dish, huddling in a remote corner, and licking the bowl clean.

Homemade ricotta with bread from Tom's Kitchen.
The inspiration- Homemade Ricotta starter from Tom’s Kitchen.

Since our return home, that ricotta has been on my mind. We have a fairly wide selection of ricotta cheese at the grocery store, but it seems unfair to compare them to what I had in London. Even the best that I can get here is good, but not Tom’s Kitchen Homemade Ricotta good. What to do? The kitchen gods spoke. Challenged accepted. I learned to make my own.

It turns out, homemade ricotta is not hard to make. In 30 minutes you can be sitting down with your own bowl of lusciousness, ready to devour, spoon in hand. Even better, you control the ingredients. No fillers, thickeners, or stabilizers needed, just four simple ingredients- milk, cream, white vinegar and salt. It’s a bit like a science experiment, so if you have kids they are going to love this. But please don’t let “science experiment” intimidate you.  My nine year old is now making the ricotta on a weekly basis.

The final texture depends on how long you leave the ricotta to drain. Ten minutes yields warm, soft curds perfect for enjoying by the spoonful; twenty minutes yields still soft but slightly more spreadable ricotta, while thirty minutes or more will leave you with a firmer, drier, ricotta that holds it shape. Between 10-20 minutes of draining is my favorite for spreading on grilled bread- savory with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle of fresh herbs and a pinch of salt, or sweet with a drizzle of honey and topping of sliced berries. The ricotta that sits longer is perfect to dollop on warm pasta or pizza, either before or after it comes out of the oven.

PS- What about the whey? From 4 cups of milk/cream you will have about 1 cup of ricotta and 3 cups of whey. That is a lot of whey. Before you toss it down the drain you could…
• Replace the water with whey in pizza or bread dough recipes
• Add the whey to soups and stews
• Feed it to your chickens, pigs, etc.

Homemade ricotta with herbs

 

 

Homemade Ricotta

  • Servings: 1 cup
  • Print

*recipe inspired by several sources including Serious Eats, The Kitchn and Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:
3 ½ cups whole milk (NOT Ultra High–Temperature (UHT) pasteurized)
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt

Instructions:
Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine milk and heavy cream in a saucepan. Gently warm the milk mixture over medium heat until it reaches 180°. Remove from heat.

Add the white vinegar and salt, stirring gently once or twice to distribute evenly. Leave the milk mixture undisturbed for 10 minutes while the curds and whey form.

After 10 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the cheesecloth lined sieve. Once the larger curds have been placed in the sieve, carefully pour the remaining curds/whey into the sieve. Let drain for at least 10 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached. The longer the ricotta drains, the firmer it will be.

Transfer to storage container and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Enjoy as you would any ricotta, savory or sweet… in lasagna, ziti, cannoli, atop grilled bread, or just by the spoonful from the bowl!

Milk and cream heating on the stove until it reaches 180°.
Heat the milk and cream mixture to 180°.
The milk/cream mixture is curdling.
After adding the vinegar gently stir once or twice. Leave undisturbed for 10 minutes while the curds develop.
Removing the curds with a slotted spoon.
After 10 minutes the vinegar has worked its magic. You have curds and whey!
Fresh ricotta draining in a fine meshed sieve.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth lined sieve. Leave to drain for at least 10 minutes. The longer you leave the ricotta, the firmer it will be.
Fresh ricotta after 20 minutes of straining.
20 minutes later…
Fresh ricotta after a few pulses in a food processor.
*Completely optional step*  You could stop after draining the ricotta and enjoy as is, or for an extra creamy texture, give your freshly strained ricotta a very brief spin in a food processor.
Freshly whipped ricotta
Freshly whipped ricotta
Basil, oregano and thyme sprigs
Snip a few herbs to sprinkle on top of the whipped ricotta. Serve with slices of grilled bread for an easy appetizer or lunch.
Homemade whipped ricotta sprinkled with herbs and served with grilled ciabatta.
Lunch
Strawberries and Ricotta on Toast
Breakfast the next day…