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I enjoy cooking. Most of the time, I’m good at it too. I like the creative outlet, I enjoy the sensory aspects of cooking – cutting, chopping, slicing – the repetitive actions; all good ways to meditate and be mindful of what you are doing and bring yourself a sense of peace. It’s also just the opposite, a great way to forget what may be bothering you by putting all your energy into pounding chicken breasts for a recipe or hand kneading dough for a loaf of bread.
If I had the opportunity to start another career, I think that it would be food related in some aspect. I don’t know that I have the desire to train to become a professional chef and work in a restaurant with all that stress and pressure involved. I don’t have those ideas of grandeur; maybe I’d just be a traveling personal chef. Simply me and the food in a kitchen, enjoying the process, reveling in the experience of cooking for other people to enjoy. The satisfaction of knowing that somewhere in the process of doing what I am enjoying, I am making someone’s life a little easier and a little tastier.
The only problem with having a cooking or baking as a hobby is that there has to be someone there to eat what is prepared and created. These days, my biggest cooking fans are not living at home, therefore there is little reason to cook. It is sad. Akin to the skier with no snow or the swimmer with no water. The hobby cannot be practiced without the recipient.
Now I relish the small opportunities that present themselves- cooking dinner with friends, evenings the two of us want a home cooked meal, the nights I am home to cook such a meal.
Tom’s grandmother used to make chocolate pudding for us. I remember the first time I had it, it was different. It had nuts in it. Turns out that it was My-T-Fine pudding with nuts. Tiny little chopped nuts inside chocolate pudding. In the years since, I had found it a few times and made it, bringing back sweet (no pun intended) memories of a special lady. Then we couldn’t find it. I am not even sure that it is even made anymore.
This afternoon, we set about to rectify that and make our own version.
First, I made the chocolate pudding with some delicious dutch process cocoa we nabbed down at the Brattleboro Co-op when we were down there last night for dinner after a closing I had in the area. Then, while the pudding was cooking, I chopped up slivered almonds into tiny pieces and added them to the cooked pudding.
The pudding went into the fridge and we had it for dessert just a little while ago. It was delicious.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 c. dutch process cocoa
- 1/4 c. cornstarch
- 1/2 t. salt
- 4 cups milk
- 2 T. butter (unsalted)
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
Mix the first four ingredients together in a heavy bottomed pot. Add the 4 cups of milk (we used Lactaid skim milk so my husband could enjoy it with any intestinal issues).
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil. Then stir constantly for two minutes more.
Remove from heat and add 2 T. butter (I used unsalted) and 2 t. vanilla extract.
Then I stirred in the chopped almonds, about 1/2 cup’s worth.
Put them into the fridge for at least two hours to set and form that great chocolate pudding “skin”.
This made six ramekins of pudding.
This weekend’s project (which really did take most of the weekend) was to make tomato paste. I never tackled this before but seemed like it was a worthwhile project to use the overabundance of ripe Roma tomatoes that had suddenly appeared in the basement.
When they were predicting frost a few weeks back, I picked pretty much every single tomato that was left on the vine, most of them, sadly still green as anything. It always is such a pain to do pulling all the tomatoes, particularly when its usually last minute and freezing out, but it seems so wasteful to let these beautiful summer fruits just freeze on the vines. Hence, my basement is now filled with trays and trays of green tomatoes. The problem is that many of them decided to ripen simultaneously. So what does one do with a bounty of tomatoes? There are many things that you can do and I have done a lot of them, yet the tomatoes continue to ripen and beckon for someone to do something with them. This seemed the next logical step.
What is absolutely amazing to me is how concentrated it becomes. I started out with 10 lbs of Roma tomatoes, which is a lot of tomatoes for this batch of paste. I then split them in half, taking out the seeds and put them in a pot. Even split and cored, these tomatoes still filled a huge pot. The tomatoes boiled down for about an hour until they were soft. I then allowed them to cool and put them into the fridge overnight, for no other reason but my own schedule which did not permit me the time necessary for the next steps. The following day, I took those tomatoes out, put them through the food mill on a fine setting to get rid of the skins. I still ended up with a sauce pot full of cooked tomatoes. I added a couple teaspoons of kosher salt and allowed this to boil down for another hour or thereabouts until it was reduced by half. This mixtures was then spread onto a silicone sheet on a baking sheet (covering the whole sheet pan) and cooked for several hours — probably about 4-5 total at 200 degrees, stirring every 1/2 hour or so to keep it from burning until it was reduced down to a thick concentrated paste. This paste amounted to two tiny little jars of paste. But these are not just ordinary jars of paste, no sir, they are tiny little jars of summer. Summer concentrated and squeezed into half pint mason jars covered with a thin layer of olive oil.
They will now reside in my fridge and I will dip into them every time my cooking needs a little taste of summer. Covered with oil and refrigerated, they will last a year. Just in time to do it all again next summer.
One of my favorite hobbies is to cook, must be part of my Italian background because I love to see people eat. Mangia, Mangia, as my grandmother would say. It was never much of a problem with four men in the house – there was always someone happy to eat. Now, there are two of us in the house and the cooking presents a bit more of challenge, you see I am used to cooking…a lot (again, the Italian coming through). It’s difficult to figure out how to just make dinner for two, day after day.
We have had our share of good meals and our share of popcorn or PBJ for dinner when neither of us could seem to decide what we should do about that meal. I think, however, that I am coming around. Over the weekend, we felt like carrot cake, knowing full well that we couldn’t eat a whole carrot cake even if we spaced it out over days (carrot cake day #1 is great, day #2 is good, day #3 really, carrot cake again?) so I figured out that I would make a small carrot cake. I searched around and I found a recipe for a small carrot cake but it required a 6 inch cake pan. I searched around in the hopes that I could find something that I could use but not 6 inch cake pan or anything close to it. So I figured I would work with what I had, ramekins and make little carrot cakes – two of them.
They came out resembling little muffins, I cut off the raised tops to flatten them to look more like cakes, then cut each cake in half so there were two layers. The recipe called for a maple cream cheese frosting which was spread on top of one “layer” and then iced on the whole cake–it was delicious! Two little individual carrot cakes for dinner earlier this week.
The recipe was adapted from Betty Crocker’s website. I omitted raisins and walnuts which could certainly be added as you desire.
- 1/4 all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- Pinch ground ginger
- Pinch ground cinnamon
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 egg white
- 2 tbs packed light brown sugar
- 2 tbs canola oil
- 1 1/2 tps milk
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 cup packed grated carrot ( 1 carrot)
Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 tbs unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tps maple syrup
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Spray 2 (6-oz) ramekins with cooking spray.
- In small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside. In medium bowl, beat egg white, brown sugar, oil, milk and vanilla with wire whisk until blended. Stir in flour mixture until combined; stir in carrots.
- Divide batter evenly between ramekins. Set ramekins on baking sheet and place in oven. Bake 17 minutes or until cakes are set and spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool in ramekins 5 minutes; remove from ramekins to cooling rack. Cool completely. Level cake layers with a serrated knife.
- For frosting, in small bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until blended. Beat in powdered sugar and maple syrup until smooth.
- Fill and frost layers with maple-cream cheese frosting.
I am personally not a stew fan. The guys all love stew and I’ll make it, but I would just as soon make something else for myself rather than eat the stew. It’s nothing personal, I’m told I make good stew, but it just doesn’t hold a whole lot of appeal to me. There are things that are just so much more appetizing. That being said, since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and since Irish blood does course through these veins and since we don’t eat corned beef and cabbage, I thought I’d make an Irish stew. I looked online for some Irish stew recipes and decided to go with a hybrid of sorts. A total lamb stew, I’m not sure how that would have gone over since we are not super big lamb eaters. An all beef stew, well, I already stated my opinion on that one. So I mixed them together, threw in some stout beer. I bought a single bottle of chocolate stout from a local brewing company since I couldn’t get a single Guinness (and since we don’t drink beer, I refuse to take up refrigerator space with any) and a bottle of red wine. I started this stew at 4 and we ate at 7. So, it really didn’t take very long at all and came out tasting quite good and coming from a non-stew lover, this is really, really high praise.
1 1/2 lbs lamb stew meat cut into bite size pieces
1 1/2 lbs beef chuck stew meat cut into bite size pieces
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. sugar
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 bottle chocolate stout beer of your choice
1 c. red wine (I used Shiraz)
4 c. beef broth (I used 1 T beef base with 4 cups water)
3 T. butter
6-7 carrots cut into bite size pieces
6-7 Yukon gold potatoes cut into bite size pieces
1 large onion cut into bite size pieces
2 bay leaves
olive oil for searing
salt and pepper to taste
1. I took the cut up beef and lamb and browned it in the olive oil in my dutch oven. I did the lamb first and then the beef. Removed it to a bowl when each was done.
2. I put the cooked meat back into the pan and added my onion, sauteed for a few minutes.
3. Add stout, red wine, beef broth, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, tomato paste and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cover.
4. In a separate pan, add butter and saute carrots for about 15 minutes. Turn off and leave in pan.
5. Allow meat to simmer, covered, for one hour. Then add potatoes and carrots, season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Allow to cook uncovered at a medium heat for approximately 40 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are cooked through.
Valentine’s Day has always been a somewhat strange holiday for Tom and I. He used to sell roses years ago so the whole holiday has a different taste for us. The holiday is quite a manufactured money maker and we have tried to instill in our boys that fact. There are 364 other days of the year to show the one you love how much you care and how special they are to you.
For years, we used to go out as a group and probably one of our best Valentine’s Day stories has nothing to do with us, per se. We had made reservations with a few other couples to go down to the Ironbound section of Newark for Portuguese food. Turns out that one of the couples had to cancel. While we were standing in the lobby of an extremely crowded restaurant waiting (we only had to wait 1/2 hour since we had reservations – weren’t we lucky?) a young couple came in and the guy walked up to the maitre d and politely asked for a table for 2. At least they were kind enough not to laugh in his face when he said he didn’t have a reservation, instead they told him that he could be seated at 11:30 (yes, that’s p.m.) mind you, this was around 7 ish. Turns out, we happened to have an extra two seats, so we went up to them and asked if they’d like, they could sit at the end of our table (and we promised to leave them by themselves as much as possible considering we were all sitting at the same table). Turns out, they agreed. We bought them each a Valentine’s Day drink, wound up laughing and talking together for a good part of the evening. It was a very nice Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day has morphed through our relationship from the initial over-advertised guilt ridden day created by a card company with the expensive flowers and traditional dinner in a restaurant that was over crowded and overbooked through those days of group Valentine dinners with friends, to the occasional missed Valentine’s Day altogether when it managed to coincide with Tom’s snowmobile treks, to the take out Chinese dinner eaten in front of the fire on the floor. Tonight, the plan was that our youngest son and his girlfriend were cooking us dinner. They were going to then watch a movie and we were going to watch a show by the fire. Plans however, still change. A couple hours ago, I got a call from my oldest that he and a group of friends were driving down from school to go snowboarding and obviously to have dinner at home. While Tim and his girlfriend are still cooking us dinner, I am cooking sushi for the boys that are descending upon us any time now. It will be a different kind of Valentine’s Day once again — but a good one anytime you are surrounded by the ones that you love and who love you back.
One thing that has not changed through the years, the constant tradition, is the chocolate covered strawberries. Every year for as long as I can remember, I have made chocolate covered strawberries for all my men.
However you choose to celebrate or if you even celebrate at all…..Happy Valentine’s Day!
Today I made some ciabatta bread and rolls. Although the bread I usually make is a sourdough ciabatta recipe, this is a traditional ciabatta using a biga. This is the first time that I used a biga, since my other recipe just uses sourdough starter and no biga. I made the biga last night and let it sit as directed overnight. Mixed the dough this morning and decided to try both a loaf and rolls from the recipe which calls for either two loaves or 16 rolls.
Here is the recipe adapted from The Kitchn.com.
- 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
- 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
- 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Stir approximately 50 times to activate gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
- 1 t. yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (I added 4 1/2 cups since my dough was not binding together as indicated below)
- 2 t. kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add biga and stir to break up the large glob it has become.
Add the flour and the salt. Stir and let this rest for 10-20 minutes.
Using a dough hook, knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes. Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to “walk” on the counter at this speed.
The dough will
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around halfway through the mixing time, the dough should slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, turn the mixer speed up a notch. (This is where I noticed that it was still real soupy and not binding together at all and I added another 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time. The dough is still very wet compared to bread dough you might be used to — this is okay and what it is supposed to be doing.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until tripled in bulk.
Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Prepare two baking sheets each with a sheet of parchment. Scrape the dough out on the floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into two if you are making loaves or 16 pieces if you are making rolls. I did half and half — did one loaf and 8 rolls.
Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten. Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.
Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza stone if you have one. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Rolls will most likely cook faster than the loaves if you made both like I did. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves or flip them over and cool completely before eating.
Ciabatta rolls just before they went in the oven.
Finished ciabatta rolls — fresh from the oven.
Tonight, we were supposed to be going out for dinner. However, the wood stove was too warm and comfortable and the company was good. We were cozy and Mother Nature wasn’t making leaving the nest too desirable even for an anticipated night out. Not having planned on making dinner tonight, this was a throw-together. Sometimes, honestly, I think the “open the pantry and empty the fridge” meals somehow turn out to be the best meals of all.
The ingredients on hand:
- leftover boiled chicken breast
- fresh basil
- broccoli crowns
- red bell pepper
- chili garlic sauce
- olive oil
- potato gnocchi
I sauteed the vegetables together, added the shredded chicken and a very little olive oil (the special one that Tim brought back from Spain) seasoned it with a little kosher salt and a teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce. Added the gnocchi when it was cooked (which didn’t take long at all) and topped it with a couple grinds of shredded asiago cheese. Served it with some warm homemade bread. We enjoyed it by the fire with some great music playing in the background. Very delicious, indeed.
The other day I found this recipe for chocolate banana bread. I tried it, it was a hit at our house, even among those that didn’t like banana bread.
Personally, I think the chocolate did the trick. How can anyone not like chocolate?
If you’re interested here is the link to the recipe, which can be found at www.cookinglight.com
Dear friends and family,
When you come to visit and you think that I cook a lot while you are here, please realize that it is not really that unusual. I cook a lot more often than not. My boys routinely invite their friends over and that usually involves cooking…especially around their birthdays. I believe that for TJ’s and Tyler’s birthdays I made platters of sushi and boneless buffalo wings. There have been 12 layer birthday cakes and 12 pounds of ravioli which enabled me to use the bowl specifically reserved for our friend Lou’s cooking when he visits.
Tonight, we hosted the physics class for baked ziti, meatballs, homemade bread and chocolate croissants. Before you get too excited and have some type of breakdown (as I did when I was first asked to host the entire physics class for a pre-exam study session), the class is small, only about 8 kids, so it is by far not as monumental as it sounds.
Easily when my oldest invites “some” friends over, it could be at least twice that many. I love to cook and I love to see people enjoy the food, so it’s all good…..and it’s great to have all their friends come and visit.
There are still a plethora of tomatoes in the garden. I have roasted a lot of them. Now I am making crushed tomatoes with them that I am freezing to use later in tomato sauce, stews, soups and the like.
It’s a fairly simple process (which would be a lot simpler if I didn’t have to peel the tomatoes first)
1. Cut an x shaped slit into the bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife.
2. Drop the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes.
3. Remove from water and the skins should peel off with little effort.
You now have a naked tomato.
4. Then quarter the skinned tomatoes and place into food processor.
5. Blend to desired consistency. At this point you can place it in a pot to make sauce as you would with canned crushed tomatoes
Or put in a container to freeze.