March 30, 2007

Cupcakes and Easter Treats


Ah, spring. Isn’t it just wonderful? I don’t know about you, but I feel like an entirely new person, like I’ve been let out of jail. Like all the early evenings I sat in the house wishing I could take a walk but it was dark out and cold and lonely and I was trapped inside have just dissolved into the background noise that washes underneath all the melting-water bridges of every winter I’ve ever slogged my way through.

Now, here in the my town, anyway, there are all these white and pink fruit blossoms, yellow tulips and daffodils, the tiny purple fairies of grape hyacinth that make you stop to bend over and speak to them without moving your lips (lest the neighbors think/realize you’re nuts). And the ducks are doing odd things. And there is a dove on a nest in my dining room window. And my peas are in the ground! And it’s raining! And baseball season starts on Sunday. And my heart has awakened. And it’s a whole new world.

They tell me that SoCal and Texas and Florida have seasons, too, and that once you’ve lived there a while and paid attention, you begin to see them change. Of course this is true. Wouldn’t it be divine if, included with our Spring recipes, we wrote a sentence or two about our experiences of spring in our respective parts of the world? Or, if there is a memory of a place, a spring somewhere far away you’d like to muse upon, here we are – the audience and the opportunity.

For those of you who are still feeling daunted by this whole thing, here’s an idea:

What if you got the kids/grandkids involved? What better way to get them into observing these magical changes in the natural world around them? How lovely to encourage the sharing with the extended family? And writing (sorry, former writing teacher here)? How fun to have them help you compose a word or two about the change of seasons, and then concretize those by helping cook the dish you’re submitting with their writing of those observations?

Anyway, I know we’re all looking forward to the lovely spring recipes. Cupcakes? Candies? Easter treats? Lamb roast? A salad with mint and sorrel? What else? Two years ago I made some cupcakes with vanilla bean icing. Maybe I’ll see if I can modify that lovely white cake with lemon curd between the layers into a cupcake. How would that work? Could I inject the curd into the cupcakes, so they’d by like a springy Hostess Cupcake? Hmmm. How hard can that be?

All My Love,

March 13, 2007

Et tu, Pot Roast?

Alas, even the most sublime of winter companions must travel north by the end of March. “Must” is relative, of course, to whatever. But with license I’ll say that once the croci are up and April approaches I get in a totally different sort of mood, myself, here in the temperate Zone 6. After aperire mood isn’t even the issue, heat is, and if I decide to suffer through the roasting of meat it’s only to have it put away cold for sandwiches and salads.

So, Dominae et Dominus, send forth your final offerings of Winter, for Spring is upon us and the winds are bound to shift. Any roast meat, even chicken?


Roasted Root Vegetables

Kristy says: This was the most pleasantly surprising dish for me! I thought I would never eat these things in a million years when I saw them raw! We first made them when we had a dinner party with our 80+ year old neighbors, their children and grandchildren. Everyone loved them and were, too, surprised that they liked them so well. They were so sweet and full of aroma and flavor. Plus, I’m guessing they were pretty healthy, too (an added bonus)! They look so pretty on a plate because they are so colorful after roasting. Enjoy!


Sweet potatoes
Celery root

If you can’t find all of these particular root vegetables, don’t worry, just use what you can find.

1. Preheat the to 435 degrees.
2. Cut the vegetables into relatively thick chunky sticks.
3. Coat with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Bake on a flat cookie sheet for 40 minutes.
5. Salt and pepper to taste.

-- Bill and Kristy Howard

March 8, 2007

Lisa's Simply Delicious Roast Chicken with "Hmm, What's in That?" Mashed Potatoes

So basic a beginner would have no trouble.

I love the idea of eating food that makes one feel like a princess, so I will be picking up some full-fat (yum) Velveeta and giving these [see "Nancy Howard's Twice Baked Potatoes") a try. We could all (our taste buds included) certainly use a bit of royal treatment.

I love roasted chicken and although it's as basic as can be, it's the food I crave when I'm on the mend from a cold, as well as when I'm cranky and in need of comfort. It's so simple, so tasty, makes a nice meal for company or just yourself, great leftovers and the scraps are the base for soup.

1. Preheat oven to 325 or 350.
2. Buy a fresh whole chicken, rinse outside and in (lightly salt cavity).
3. Set in a roasting pan (rack is helpful but not necessary).
4. Insert a cut lemon and onion in the cavity.
5. Rub skin with soft butter, salt and pepper (use other spices if desired).
6. Place in the oven uncovered, approximately 15 - 20 minutes per pound (or more -- I like mine WELL done and crispy).
7. Baste with juices in bottom of pan periodically (if breast gets too brown, cover it loosely with foil).
8. Cook until the chicken juices run clear when pierced deeply in the thigh, or to 170 degrees if you use a meat thermometer.
9. Let chicken cool (loosely covered with foil) for at least 10 minutes before carving.

Great served with baked, roasted, or mashed potatoes, or...

Lisa's "Hmm, What's in That?" Mashed Potatoes

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt for flavor.
2. Wash and peel any kind of potatoes, cut into chunks.
3. Wash and peel rutabagas cut into chunks (approximately 50/50 mix of potatoes and rutabagas).
4. Simmer until all are tender (approximately 20 minutes, depending on size of chunks).
5. Drain root veggies.
6. Pour milk into the saucepan, heat until just bubbling, add some butter.
7. Add potatoes and rutabagas to the hot milk and butter mixture and begin to mash.
8. Add more milk, butter, salt to taste if needed.

Serve nice and hot.

Note: Save the chicken carcass for soup (see, Daddy, your cries at the dinner table to "save it for soup" sunk in). Cut off good meat and wrap separately in foil to add back at end. Bones/meat can be frozen. Simply cover bones with water, add some carrots, onion, pepper. Simmer covered for several hours (at least 4). Skim off "scum" while bones simmer. Separate bones and veggies from broth, discard solids. Salt broth to taste (takes a bit). Add fresh or frozen veggies (endless combos) as desired (I buy a frozen "soup vegetables mix" w/okra). Add rice or pasta if you'd like, simmer until everything is tender (check salt/pepper again). At this point add back the cubed chicken meat that you've reserved (adding it earlier will toughen it) until warmed through. Mmmmm~ Enjoy! Soup can also be frozen.

-- Lisa

Bison Roast with Burgundy and Figs

Last fall I picked up a beautiful bison roast at a good local butcher. I conversed with him a bit on the issue of fat content and cooking methods, as bison is extremely lean and I worried about the roast being dry. Then, working off of his time and temperature instructions, I went home and devised this recipe. I know it looks long, but it's really simple. I'm telling you truly that the figs and wine together with the rich meat make soul wrenching combo -- and what all this does for the vegetables is unbelievable. Of course a pot roast of cow will work fine, and you may speed up the oven a bit if you choose the mooer.

You'll Need:
A Dutch oven or other heavy, oven-proof pan
A chuck roast of bison, not a fancier cut.
Carrots, one bag of baby organic
12 boiling potatoes, quartered
6 small whole Onions, peeled
1 small onion, chopped medium fine
10-12 small, or 5-6 large dried figs
1 cup Burgundy, or dry red wine with fruity notes, or even port
2-3 tbsp. course salt
1-2 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. allspice
Olive Oil

How long to cook it? That depends on the weight of your roast. Ask the butcher when you buy the meat how long the cut should cook at 300 degrees. Most sources say 22-25 minutes per pound of meat, or until internal temperature is 140-160 degrees.

1. Position a rack in the lower part of the oven and preheat the over to 300 degrees.
2. Rub the some olive oil, the salt and pepper on both sides of the roast. Now leave the meat out and let it come to room temperature, about half an hour.
3. While the oven is heating and the meat sitting, peel the onions, quarter the potatoes, and rinse the carrots.
4. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan over medium heat (it will go in the oven later). Add the chopped onion and the allspice. Cook until the onion is caramelized to a light brown.
5. Once the onion is browned, set the roast in the pan, on top of the onion. Don’t move it. Let it sit there, undisturbed, for five minutes, then flip it over (it should be nicely browned by now, if it’s not your heat may be a little low – in that case just raise the heat and let it keep browning before you flip it).
6. Sear this side until it’s browned.
7. Remove the roast to a platter.
8. Add the wine to the pan to deglaze, letting it come to a quick boil as you scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any tasty bits on the bottom and sides. Do not cook the wine off.
9. Turn off the heat.
10. Put the meat back in the pan. There should be wine in the bottom of the pan.
11. Set the potatoes, carrots, onions, and figs around and on the meat, then season lightly with salt and pepper.
12. Tightly cover the pan with a lid or foil.
13. Put the pan in the center of the oven.
14. Cook to desired doneness.
15. Remove the pan from the oven.
16. Remove the lid.
17. Let the meat rest for 15-20 minutes before cutting it. Serve with a fresh salad and crusty bread.

-- Margaret

March 5, 2007

Nancy Howard’s Twice Baked Potatoes

[Because potatoes are a root vegetable.]

My mom didn’t (yet) provide a story, so I’ll just make a little comment of my own: It seems to be a human tendency to favor the flavors we’ve been raised on, more or less, and I must have this quality, too, even though I like to try new versions of things. All I know about my mom’s twice baked potatoes is that I’ve never had any I liked better. Hers are, compared to most others, delicate. There is none of that heavy, chunky, welcome to Steaks ‘R Us uber-substantiality to them. And I like that – their lightness. It’s possible to feel like a princess while eating these, which is, with certain dishes, a quality assurance test I often employ.

Oh, she did point out that the Velveeta is mandatory. "Nothing melts like Velveeta," she said. We also agreed that the full fat version is far superior to the so-called "Lite." It's your life, but I'd say there are less traumatic ways to cut down on bad fats than by adulterating your Velveeta (or half-and-half, or mayonnaise).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Four dry baking potatoes (Russet or Idaho)
Enough hot milk to make stiff-ish whipped potatoes
1/8 lb. or so of unsalted butter (at room temp. if possible)
Velveeta, four medium-thin slices

1. Liberally grease the potatoes with butter or shortening.
2. Place potatoes directly on the oven’s middle rack.
3. Bake about 1 hour, 15 minutes, until easily pierced through to center.
4. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on.
5. Cut the potatoes open -- in halves – immediately, to let steam escape (otherwise they will become too dense).
6. Heat the milk in a sauce pan.
7. When the potatoes have cooled just enough to handle, scoop the potato insides into a mixing bowl, being careful not to break the skins.
8. Put the butter on the potatoes to melt, and stir in.
9. Add some salt and pepper.
10. Stream in a little bit of the hot milk, stir, and begin to whip. Add milk as needed – but remember, you want a fairly stiff mixture.
11. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
12. Put the whipped potatoes back into the skins, top with Velveeta, and put back in the already-hot oven until the Velveeta melts.

Serve hot. Grilled meat and a green salad won’t hurt.

-- Nancy Howard