SWEET’NING UP THE CHILI – BUT NOT TOO MUCH: PUMPKIN/SWEET POTATO CHILI WITH BEANS & CHICKEN

At home, we ate our pumpkin chili with melted cheddar cheese atop!

It’s that time of year again- food, food, food. The holidays aren’t just about gifting and – for church, synagogue, mosque and temple goers – celebrating a holy event. They’re about gathering together of family and friends, enjoying each other’s company. And that means, “Feed ’em!” But this also entails remembering that not everyone lives in the best of circumstances, especially in these tough economic times. We may struggle to keep up with the bills and pay for transportation to work or the grocery store and other basics, but not everyone has a job to go to or even enough to eat. So it’s important to somehow “pay it forward” (as that movie so poignantly advised). Today’s recipe, in honor of all holidays from Thanksgiving through the end of December, is the chili recipe I created for daughter Kristen’s workplace chili & bake sale / raffle & silent auction – an event that raises money for charity.

Last year was the first year I contributed a large batch of chili for the sale, and this year I decided to bake as well. Cheesey Cornbread (with extra cheese) to go with the chili and Cardamon Risotto Cookies (a twist on my regular Risotto Cookies, with sugar-cinnamon also replacing the frosting). Then, at the last minute (several hours before we were to deliver food to the office), I decided to throw in some Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (bananas too ripe for me to eat on cereal – I like ’em when there’s a little green left on the peel!). The muffin recipe will follow in another blog entry.

A busy, delicious two days (well, you didn’t think I was going to whip up all that good stuff and not indulge myself?!), and a lucky time too. After the sale was over, Kris called. I thought she was simply letting me know how much they’d brought in. This year’s proceeds are being split between the local food pantry and agencies providing aid to New York City and Long Island victims of Hurricane Sandy. After Kristen told me they’d raised well over $5,000 (eventual total was $5,700), I was about to hang up when she called out, “Wait! You won one of the raffle baskets!”

Not only did I win a raffle basket, it was The One I’d hoped to get, if I won anything at all (which I wasn’t expecting). The huge plastic container included a 19” television and a ROKU with 6-month subscription to Netflix. We already enjoy Netflix so that’s a nice credit on our account, but I was thrilled to acquire a small TV for my downstairs office/artroom (for when it is finally remodeled, which Bill promises will happen after Christmas, although other work on upstairs might take precedence). It won’t be anything fancy but homey enough for me! Oh yeah—the theme of the basket was “Holiday Movie Night” and the box was also packed with things like a warm (red) throw, peppermint cocoa mix, a Santa mug, a dark & white chocolate peppermint bark candy bar, and microwave popcorn. (The candy bar did not last long. I love peppermint bark.)

In addition to such good fortune, I was pleased to hear that all of my chili disappeared into the mouths of many of my daughter’s co-workers. Kris said there were plenty of positive remarks. Apparently, several of them are interested in seeing the recipe on Kitchen Cauldron when posted. One woman made a point of approaching Kristen afterward to say it was the best chili she’d ever tasted! I have to agree with that statement because I think it’s the best chili recipe I’ve ever conjured up. Bill and I enjoyed it immensely at dinner that night.

Here’s hoping you give it a try and really like it too. Don’t be put off by what looks like a long list of ingredients. Once the peeling and chopping is done, it’s mostly about getting the stuff into the pot and simmering. Really easy, as chili generally tends to be.

PUMPKIN/SWEET POTATO CHILI (WITH BEANS AND CHICKEN)
Yield: Depending upon quantity of beans & if including chicken, makes 8-10 quarts of chili

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 or 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½” to ¾” pieces (optional, especially if you’re a vegetarian)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 medium-to-large onions, peeled and chopped (large or small pieces, whatever your taste)
  • 3 celery stalks, peeled and chopped (including leaves, if any on stalk)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 6 peppers (I used 2 yellow and 4 green), seeded and chopped
  • salt & pepper to sprinkle over veggies
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, peeled and diced (I had roasted some, so I used the paste from those cloves)
  • 1 29-oz. can pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus 4 cups chicken stock (or use any combo of these stocks, or just one type; homemade preferred by not required)
  • 3-4 tablespoons chili powder (more if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon mace (optional, but I would always use it; if you don’t have it, could increase nutmeg)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional; I meant to add this & forgot!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • a few sprinkles dried marjoram (optional- not required if you don’t have on hand)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt (I used combo of table salt and sea salt)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 4 to 6 cans beans – I used dark red kidney, black, great northern, aduki and pink beans, as well as chickpeas
  • additional salt and pepper, if desired
  • possibility: more stock (or water) or some tomato paste, if a thinner or thicker chili is desired

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Place sweet potatoes in an oven-friendly dish or pan, dab with the butter and sprinkle with dried parsley. Bake until fork slips through chunks but they aren’t likely to disintegrate after additional cooking in chili sauce. I use a spatula to turn once in a while. (I also cover with aluminum foil for first 15 minutes or so, then remove so they get a bit browned.) This should take perhaps 30-40 minutes but begin checking earlier. Remove from oven and set aside until ready to add to chili. NOTE: this can be done the day before, if you like.
  2. In a large stock pot, heat the oil plus butter on medium level. Add chicken and sautée just to lightly brown (don’t worry if completely cooked through). (About 4-5 minutes.)
  3. Add onion, celery, carrot and peppers. Spinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sautée for about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add garlic to pot, sautéing for another minute (be careful – garlic easily burns).
  5. Stir in pumpkin purée, tomatoes and tomato sauce, combining well.
  6. Stir in chicken and/or vegetable stock.
  7. Add chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace (if using), clove, cardamom (if using), parsley, marjoram (if using), salt and pepper.
  8. Simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour.
  9. In the meantime, drain and rinse the canned beans.
  10. After the contents of the stock pot has simmered for the suggested time, stir beans into chili. Bring back to a simmer and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  11. Add roasted sweet potatoes. Simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  12. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and/or pepper, if desired.

Serve with cornbread on the side or some excellent artisan bread. Nice with shredded cheddar cheese atop, or a dab of sour cream.

In my experience, chili tastes even better as a leftover. Like any tomato-based dish, the flavor deepens as it sits in the fridge. It also freezes really well. Make some for a crowd, and reserve some for you and yours too!

FALL HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN – AND I DISCOVER A GREAT FOODIE CLUB AT ONE OF THEM!

FALL HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN – AND I DISCOVER A GREAT FOODIE CLUB AT ONE OF THEM!

I know, I know – I was only taking the summer off from the computer (except for necessary e-mails, and I wasn’t very good about getting to them either), but it’s somehow already gotten to October. Well, I’m back but thought I’d readjust to the blogging thing with pictures from the Honest Weight Food Co-Op’s fall harvest festival (and this could be my only blog for at least for several days), which was held Sunday, September 23rd, and a couple snapshots from an event on Madison Avenue (also in Albany). It was at Honest Weight’s fest that I found a terrific resource, both local and online!

[NOTE that this blogpost was originally written about a week ago, drafted in MS Word, but when I attempted – several times – to complete it with pictures in the WP draft, big problems arose. Possibly with Gravatar, through which my photos get processed onto the blog, but perhaps ultimately with the fact that I have an old XP computer that WordPress doesn’t like any more because I can no longer download newer versions of my browser. Also, I can’t create links attached to words or phrases in the post, so I followed the phrases with the link, which is what I was doing before I knew how to streamline the process back when I first started the blog almost a year ago on 10/7/12. Looks like there’s a problem adding tags too. New computer needed but can’t afford it for a while. So I’ll “make do” with what I have, using the more time-consuming, roundabout way daughter Kristen figured out for me to add pics. She’ll be back to see if that can be improved upon!]

So, back to the festival…  Apparently this was the “fourth annual” harvest event by Honest Weight. Who knew? I just happened upon an item in the Albany Times Union ten days beforehand and told Bill I wanted to try to get to Washington Park ( http://www.albany.com/hotspot_washington-park.cfm) on that day, where everything happens around the Lakehouse. Sunday surfaced nice and sunny, a perfect day for an outdoor festival. Especially one that promised “more than 45 local growers, chefs, artisans and other vendors, plus family fun, prizes, and samples from the Chefs Consortium.” It was free too. Of course, one needed $$ in order to purchase some of the great stuff available.

One of the fun things for me: nostalgia. Washington Park is situated just blocks from where I grew up, in the heart of the city of Albany, NY. It’s where I played when I was kid, with parents escorting my brothers and me when younger and then on our own as we grew older.

Zembo cousins (some of us), probably late 60s, very early 60s. Marilyn (me) in front; back are, l. to r., Mary, Jim, Lynn.

When we urbanites wanted some green background for pictures (once color photographs became more popular, or maybe just more affordable), it’s where we went with our Kodak cameras to pose for snapshots commemorating such things as First Holy Communion days and Confirmations.

First Communions all happened close to Tulip Festival Time, so I posed (looking quite holy) in front of one of the beds of tulips in the park.

The Lakehouse, opened in 1876 (for some Park history, (http://www.washingtonparkconservancy.org/Park_History.htm), still goes strong- with numerous events, spring through fall ,and then there’s winter ice skating and the Holiday Lights in the Park, a month-long drive-thru activity beginning at Thanksgiving time. The best of them (or at least the most well-advertised and attended): the annual Albany Tulip Festival in May, which has grown into a huge event since my kid-days, and musicals and plays presented free to the public all summer long.

We don’t get into Albany all that often, although there’s plenty to attract our attention, but each time we do find ourselves in the city, the where-did-the-time-go feelings start up. I love the architecture (check out the virtual tour at http://www.albany.com/tours/washington-park/index.html?KeepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=1000, where you can see some of the buildings surrounding the park!) and the knowledge that I’m “home” (yes, you can go home again; it’s just that lots of it’s in your mind while you wander around what’s left of where you lived – so many changes, not all of them good). Yet Bill, who also grew up in this Dutch-settled area, and I never fail to remark to each other that it wouldn’t be bad living in this city again—except it’s noisier than the suburbs and, inevitably, the issue of parking emerges.

So, mostly in pictures, here’s the fall food festival – with few comments provided. You’ll have to read further to find out what that newly-discovered foodie club’s all about. You might even want to join online!

*****

Once we found a parking spot along Madison Avenue, we walked around the edge of the lake to the starting point of the festival, where a hay and pumpkin set-up blocked the road off, marking Honest Weight’s temporary territory. (Yup, that’s me hold my bags – which are filled since the pic was actually snapped just before leaving.)

Two aisles to choose from, so we headed in the direction of the Lakehouse area first…

Which is where I found the FROM SCRATCH CLUB (FSC, at http://fromscratchclub.com/) table, in the tent outside the Lakehouse (enroute, stopping so Bill could get a cup of chili for lunch)….

On their table, FSC had information about classes the group holds (dubbed “FSC Academy”), both in Ballston Spa and at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. They also hold “food swaps” of homemade items in various parts of the Capital District/Saratoga area.

I noticed a book I love atop some papers, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (I wrote about its influence on me in a 5/25/12 blogpost titled “How to Get Rave Reviews: Start with Homemade Chicken [or Other] Stock” at https://kitchencauldron.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/how-to-get-rave-reviews-start-with-homemade-chicken-or-other-stock/). I commented to one of the women behind the table on how much I enjoyed that book, and she told me about FSC’s book club online at GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com -you can join too- just look for book clubs). I took some flyers about the group. Adler’s book was their first read and they were about to start on The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila (Crown Publishing Group, Random House, 2012). I already owned this one too and had read it this past spring. I decided I was going to check this out!

Hubby and I then wandered back the way we’d come, perusing fresh vegetables and homemade items on the opposite side of the aisle. At one booth, we bought two scones (which we devoured a couple days later) and two cinnamon-apple buns (Bill ate one right away; our son Adrian happily consumed the other the next day). Up the other lane of tents, angled around the hill in front of the Lakehouse, I found a stand of yummy-looking baked goods, from which I selected four huge cookies, two cranberry-chocolate chip plus two choc-chips with potato chips and pretzels. I managed to munch on one while walking around and the rest came home with us.

One of my favorite vendors from the Schenectady Green Market, The Pasta Factory, had taken the day off from that Electric City gig to participate in Honest Weight’s extravaganza. I bought ¾ pound of a multi-colored orzo that contains a note indicating there’s a bit of jalapeno in it (Bill & Ade will love that!), as well as ¾ pound of a mixture of various shapes and colors whose ingredients list included things like sweet potato and lime. The latter mix became an Italian-style casserole Tuesday might, created with good cheeses, sauce from scratch, and ground Italian sweet sausage – which went over BIG with the guys. (No, that recipe isn’t going to appear on this blog because I didn’t take any pictures!) That “sauce from scratch,” incidentally, included a dozen very orange, heirloom, plum tomatoes that called to me from another festival table, popping up from perches in a recycled egg carton!

We wandered around for at least an hour-and-a-half, loving the sights, sounds, aromas and weather.

 

No visit to Washington Park, at least not in the Lakehouse area, is complete for me without a visit to Moses (http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2011/04/18/the-moses-fountain-in-washington-park) . The monument, that is. Moses has been around the park since his unveiling in 1893. We played around Moses (and on Moses, when we could get away with it – a different definition, when I think of it, for “on the rocks”)  as kids, occasionally coming away with scrapes and cuts. The garden area encircling him is awesome. I especially love the blooms during our short tulip season in May – absolutely gorgeous. During this visit I even spoke with a woman who said she had also climbed the monument when she was a kid, although I think she said she lived on the other side of the park from where we resided. She’d recently returned from out-of-state to once again live in the area.

After a few minutes of rest on a park bench, we headed back toward the car, past the festive tents.

You’d think we’d had enough but we decided to stop by the Madison Avenue event, which was more like a block party than a harvest fest. I bought a great chocolate Halloween witch, etched in tinted chocolate atop a totally chocolate casket, which opened to reveal mini-chocolate pumpkins, skulls (white choc), and a black (dark choc) cat. All innards melted in my mouth within a day or so, and – with a little help from Adrian- you might say we terminated the casket. I also came away with a preserve from a woman who said she’s used it as a rub on pork, to the raves of dinner guests.

Best part of this stop, however, was that we ran into several friends, including Therese and hubby Frank, and another poet/writer friend (another Frank), and Anne Marie and Ed . Anne Marie’s White Pine Studio (http://www.etsy.com/shop/whitepinestudioamf) tent was pitched and selling. I brought home a pair of her handmade earrings and some of her notecards (had to get them—she’d painted the Snake Goddess picture years ago, at a time when we were on personal retreats at the same time at Still Point!).

Bill chatted with Ed for a while. Ed and I shared an office years ago, back when we both worked for NYS Division of Parole – on the very same block of Madison Avenue where this fest was happening! I think he even mentioned something about being back in his old neighborhood again as well… ah, nostalgia again (and his mom was with them too!).

I think Ed & Anne Marie might be posing right in front of the building (since remodeled) where Ed & I shared an office back in the mid-’90s. If it not, then it’s the place next-door.

We arrived home having loved the day and expecting to further enjoy it via our purchases. No fresh fruits and very few veggies were toted back to the homestead this time (the cupboard was far from bare in this department!), but we’re still lovin’ our purchased goodies. Plus, I joined GoodReads almost immediately, signed up for the FSC Book Club and have partially completed my first assignment from The Homemade Pantry. I made the Ricotta Cheese in Chapter 1 (Who’da thought I’d ever do that?!). Took pictures and will be posting them, blogging about it too. Maybe I’ll even go for Chapter 2’s Homemade Toaster Pastries. even though we were only “assigned” (no pressure to actually do it) to create one homemade goodie from either of the first two chapters.  Back in the day, I was always one of those nerds who’d go for the “extra-credit” assignment – although only for English or art class!

Another Foodie PenPal Revelation Day!

This month’s Foodie PenPal package arrived only a few days after the required mailing deadline (the 15th of the month is always the mail-by date), a gift from the Lone Star State, Texas. My FPP, Megan, decided – based on my answers to questions in her initial e-mail about any food allergies/sensitivities, likes/loves and dislikes – to go with a theme of “cinnamon.” Yay! Love cinnamon!

It was only my second time trying the the Foodie Penpal program, and again it was fun – all of it: picking out and sending items to my FPP in Minnesota, receiving my package from Texas, opening it to check out the surprises. I will, of course do this again – although I will wait a bit for my next experience. I’ll be back to blogging more, hopefully, within the next few days and will want to focus on that. Plenty of recipes waiting to write up and post…

For now, though, let me tell you about my August 2012 Foodie PenPal box.

My favorite thing, believe it or not, was such a simple – and simply tasty – bag of cinnamon sweet potato chips. I’ve been sampling them every now and then, but want to create some kind of simple semi-sweet dip to have with them before they’re all gone!

Megan also included homemade pumpkin bread. She used a recipe from a cookbook of family recipes she compiled for her cousin’s wedding, which reminded me of my own cookbook (recipes compiled for my brother Bill and his bride Deb in the mid-1990s). This particular recipe creates two loaves, she said, and so she retained one for her own family. Naturally, this now makes me want to bake up some of my own favorite rendition of pumpkin bread soon, especially since autumn is just around the corner.

 Next, there were packages of teas and coffee from a place called Independence Coffee Company. Megan mentioned in her note that this is one of her favorite “local” roasters. It’s located about 45 minutes west of Houston. She even thought to include one if those tea steepers (you know- that you fill with loose tea for steeping in hot water! I own a couple, but do you think I’d ever remember their true name?), a really nice touch.

She couldn’t resist adding a box of Hot Tamales, a fiery cinnamon candy, plus cinnamon-flavored Trident gum – finishing off the theme. She also packed an issue of Texas Monthly into the package, with a bookmarked article in it re Tex-Mex food by Hugo Ortega, who owns a restaurant locally. Very cool to include a regional magazine! 

If you’re interested in participating in the Foodie PenPals program, check out it out at the Lean Green Bean site page for it (hyperlink found in this sentence!). You don’t have to participate every month either. Each time you choose to, you simply re-apply (a simple form to fill out). If you do, hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Foodie Penpal – Revelation Day

I haven’t been writing much, nor posting to blog or even much anywhere else. Guess I’ll call it summer vacation, although I’ve been simplifying in general (like cutting back on computer use, unsubscribing to lots of e-lists, etc.). Mostly it’s been reading and trying to stay out of seasonal (& sometimes ultra-seasonal) summer heat. Of course I’m cooking (a necessity), so there will be posts eventually, certainly by summer’s end. But I did sign up for the Foodie Penpal program (see icon on this page, which should take you to info about it), and a requirement is that you post on your blog, if you have one, about the package you received. So here goes.

My package came from a lovely-sounding teacher named Kacey who told me she lives in a rural town in the heart of Virginia. When she contacted me in early July, she said it had been over 101 degrees there for the entire past week. She said it was also her first time doing the Foodie Penpal thing, and she was looking forward to it. She inquired about any allergies or food restrictions, as well as food and dislikes, and the subsequent package reflected some of what I told her.

Kacey did something similar to what I’d decided upon – she went local for Foodie PPs. Everything in the box I received came from a Mennonite store, which I thought was neat. I’d told her I liked raspberries, and there were raspberry-yogurt-covered pretzels (which immediately had to be placed in the fridge because the box was so warm from mail transport in the heat that the coating was melting!). I said I loved cinnamon, so there were a couple homemade (by Mennonites) snickerdoodles. Another berry fav, blackberries, showed up as a jam (yesterday, I had it on toasted potato bread for breakfast). And then there was the delicious zucchini bread – which served as breakfast the day after received.

A wonderful first experience. I’ve already thanked Kacey for her generosity and care (but hope she reads it here once more); and I’ve heard from Teresa, my sending-TO foodie penpal in Maryland, who enjoyed her package as well. Kacey doesn’t have a blog, but I’ll check out Teresa’s later on in the day.

While I probably can’t do this every month ($$-wise), I did sign up for August and will remain on the list for participation at different times. What a great idea this project was – and how quickly it seems to have caught on! Already, Lindsay Livingston of The Lean Green Bean foodblog has over 1,000 people participating. Thanks go out to her for all her creative work.

NOURISHMENT FOR WOMAN’S SOUL: WHITE BEAN SOUP & CREATIVITY

Well, maybe not just a woman’s soul. I first concocted this soup for Bill & me (but then I have to say my hubby is an “honorary” WomanWorder, given all his support for my work/play with women writers over the years, which I think indicates he balances his masculine and feminine energies pretty well). In fact, the food-pictures in this post were taken back then – and not the same day it was made either, but of a microwave-warmed, next-day portion. I made it again for the WomanWords workshop at Still Point last weekend, on June 2nd. It turned out to be perfect “soup weather” since it was in the 60s, and the predicted shower or two passed through during our day of creativity, remembrance and honoring of connections to-and-through the International Women’s Writing Guild.

Over the last several years, I’ve pondered creating my own version of Tuscan white bean soup. It looked and sounded so soothing! I clipped copies of white bean soup recipes from magazines, stuck tiny post-it notes onto cookbook pages with potential source-recipes, and created a mental file of possibilities somewhere in the mush of my aging brain. It was perhaps six or seven weeks ago that I finally attempted it, with delish success, although I’m not sure how Tuscan it turned out to be. Perhaps its T-factor exists in my desire to conjure up a batch of soup with simple ingredients and an easy process. You know – rustic. Or in the types of beans… or the use of garlic and parsley (so Italian)… or maybe it doesn’t matter. It just IS. 

The first version that Bill and I enjoyed back in mid-April, a bit of Eden on the tongue (minus the forbidden fruit, plus the paradise), passed our lips thick-textured and full of flavor. A few days before the workshop, the potful I wound up freezing to bring to Still Point also was thick and rich, with an added herb (marjoram) and some pre-cooked chicken that were not ingredients in the first round! Packing the large cooler for my weekend (I had opted to bring my own food for the extra days I’d registered to stay in my little cabin), I also included a small container of homemade chicken stock to add to the soup while it simmered during the morning portion of our daylong session. I planned to use SP’s slowcooker for warm-up. Unfortunately the ceramic portion of that appliance was partially cracked, which meant “not such a good idea.” The alternative, using the stovetop, almost resulted in burning the soup as it simmered while we participated in storytelling in the other room in Welcoming House. It was sticking to the pan when I finally got out to the kitchen to stir again! Adding a bit more liquid helped, although it thinned the soup out.

Mandala window, Welcoming House, Still Point

None of the above hindered consumption, however, since every bit of the white bean soup disappeared before lunchtime was over and we returned to the room with the mandala-shaped window, to write and share our stories. We needed it, this group of women writers, because we were together for a purpose. A “heart-y” soup is good for the creative  soul.

HEALING-THE-HEART-AND-SOUL WHITE BEAN SOUP
Yields between 6 to 10 servings, depending upon amount of liquid added & if cook chooses to add additional beans and/or chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 to 3 celery stalks (with leaves, if they’re also attached), peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
  • 4 to 5 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred; if not, then try to purchase low or no sodium stock) – possibly a little more, if needed
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped
  • 3 15-ounce cans cannellini or great northern beans (cannellini preferred; a combo is good too)
  • 1 small can garbanzo (chickpea) beans (optional)
  • 2 sprigs dried rosemary springs (perhaps 1 tablespoons’ worth)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or equivalent in sprigs of dried thyme)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram (optional – I added this to the batch made for the workshop & loved it)
  • 1 to 1½ cups cooked chicken, chopped up small (perhaps ½ inch) – this is optional; I added the chicken the second time I made the soup.
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Optional stir-ins and/or toppings: Light or heavy cream – a small amount to stir in if some dairy richness is desired; Greek yogurt or sour cream – a dab as topping; chopped fresh or dried parsley – a sprinkle atop; choice of croutons as topping.

Process

  1. In a large stockpot, sauté the carrots, onion and celery in the oil and butter for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lightly season with salt and pepper after about a minute.
  2. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for about another minute, being careful not to burn it.
  3. Add the chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add potatoes and return to a boil. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender.
  5. Add beans, rosemary, thyme, parsley and marjoram (if using). Simmer another 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Remove pot from stove. Removed herb sprigs from the mixture (which will by now be devoid of most of its leaves).
  7. Using your immersion blender (or a counter top blender, food processor or hand masher), purée the mix to your preferred eating consistency. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more water or chicken stock.
  8. Return pot to heat and add the chicken (if using), simmering for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is heated through.
  9. If adding dairy, stir in (start with a small amounts, such as a couple teaspoons – not much is needed!). IF FREEZING THE SOUP, DO NOT ADD DAIRY. WAIT UNTIL THE DATE CHOSEN TO SERVE IT, HEAT IT WELL, THEN ADD CREAM.
  10. Serve with whichever optional toppings desired, or with good bread and a salad!

Slow-Cooker Squash and Sweet Potato Soup (Sneakin’ in Those Sweet Tubers!)

 
If you were at the Women Writers and Artists Matrix Weekend in Saratoga Springs, NY earlier this month – specifically, at Amejo’s house on Saturday night for the “Women, Wine & Cheese Reception” – then you might’ve been waiting for this post, for this recipe. It was a big hit that night, devoured even before a few latecomers arrived at Amejo’s home! Of course, I forgot to take any pictures, being busy being social and all. I decided, however, to whip a batch again last week, but not just for the camera. Bill hadn’t gotten a taste (I took every last drop off to the event with me!), and it’s such a good way for me to sneak a bit of sweet potato into his diet. Yay! for that beta-carotene and all the other nutrition it provides. And the “magic” too, which I’ll get to later. (Incidentally, if you’re new to this blog and don’t know about The Terrible Three, or the only three vegetables my hubby loathes, you might want to check out the 12/11/11 post covering our delicious experiences at internationally-famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, NY.)

Marilyn at WWAM Weekend, with an International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) SisterWriter.

The chicken stock mentioned in my previous post turned out to be the best I’ve ever conjured up. Which might not seem like much to say, since I think I’ve only made it from scratch once, perhaps a year or two ago for a batch of chicken soup – except that this version made a huge difference in not only this soup but also in the couple applications I managed to dream up for it since. So I’m sold on going homemade as much as possible, especially for soup. In fact, there’s a pot of stock simmering on the cooktop upstairs now, its intoxicating aroma wafting its way downstairs as I type. I expect to split this batch between the freezer and cooking up a pot of White Bean Soup (with Chicken) for the WomanWords workshop this weekend with Alice Orr at Still Point.

Our recent hot weather is supposed to break, and the mid-60s temp expected for Saturday is just fine for soup. Stock done today; soup-making sometime tomorrow, in between packing to leave early for Still Point on Friday (picking up Alice at Saratoga train station before settling in at SP!). Oh yeah, I’m also going to Leslie’s this afternoon to do art and then on to grocery-shop for the weekend. Yikes! What a schedule… but I do intend to finish and post this blog before all this is accomplished.
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Before providing the recipe, how about a little of the food’s magic? This blog is dubbed, after all, Kitchen Cauldron. and I do like to bring it (the magic) into some posts, exploring ancient beliefs about a food along with some nutritional facts. If a witch is one who practices alchemy, who transforms one simple item into another of greater value (think: lead into gold as the metaphor goes, or more to the point for KC, basic food items into nutritious and delicious delights), then that must be me. Further, if a witch is one who takes experiences and thoughts and transforms them into words, why then I also qualify as one!

Squash, this soup’s main ingredient, has been around a long time so there’s plenty of lore. According to my handy Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), it’s been in the Americas since at least 4,000 B.C.E. It was so sacred to the Hopi that they even created one of their spiritual (Kachina) dolls topped with a head of squash and wearing squash blossom necklaces. This vegetable, in any form (butternut, zucchini, etc.), inspires spirituality. If someone maintains s/he doesn’t like squash, then serve that person zucchini bread! Cunningham says squash can “increase awareness of the non-physical reality around us,” and he also lists it among foods that are “generally used for promoting courage, protection, aggression, sex and health.” In The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic by Patricia Telesco (Citadel Press, 2005), the author writes in the intro to a recipe titled Multi-Tasking Squash, “Squash comes in a huge variety of colors and sizes, and some of these can grow to exceed 240 pounds and produce hundreds of seeds. These characteristics provide this vegetable with the symbolic value of slow, steady development that leads to substantial rewards.” Hmmm. Got a big project you’re working on? Maybe this is just the soup to enhance your ability to ace it!

I think I’ve gotten into pumpkin and sweet potato symbolism before, but quickly:

  • For sweet potatoes, those orange-hued tubers, think love and sex, the ability to excite desire (it goes both ways though – giving love, receiving love). In fact, Patricia Telesco’s A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook, (Llewellyn Publications, 1994), lists as the sweet potato’s “Magical Association” the following: “Well founded, gentle love.”
  • For pumpkin (more orange!), think healing and money symbols – the fruitfulness of the earth inspires this; and pumpkins have been known to symbolize Mother Goddess. (To enhance its ability to attract money, it’s said that one should serve it with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg – no wonder pumpkin pie is so popular!)

Then there are the potatoes in the soup. Earth element, since they come from it, they’re known for protective qualities and for promoting compassion (now, don’t they sound like Mother Earth sorts of attributes?). The Spaniards brought the first potatoes to Europe in 1534, where they claimed the veggie could cure impotency. This led to the value of spuds jumping outrageously high – in some cases, sales amounted to the equivalent of $1,000 in today’s U.S. dollars! Of course, this did lead to a problem when potatoes were declared “unholy” in some parts of the world (I believe Scotland was the first) and their consumption was banned. Cunningham suggests that one might make the potato’s effects stronger by adding onions, chives, dill weed, rosemary and/or parsley, but I’d add one bit of advice: Don’t throw out your Viagra either.

Garlic cloves also possess protection and health qualities. In fact, in ancient times, garlic was touted as a cure for insanity. And Roman soldiers consumed it believing that it afforded them courage on the battlefield. There’s one stipulation here, however, with garlic: don’t bother with anything like bottled, canned or dried. Allegedly, it’s only the fresh stuff that works.

It seems all the ingredients in the chicken broth are aimed at good health and well-being (Jewish mothers knew what they were talking about!), especially the chicken that played a major part in producing it. As for the spices added to this Squash and Sweet Potato Soup, they offer magical benefits too: black pepper promotes cleansing, purification, protection and banishing; salt also symbolizes cleansing and purification, with grounding thrown in; bay leaf enhances psychic powers, strength and health; sage adds possibilities for purification and wisdom; and parsley brings good for luck and protection from accidents. (In addition to other sources previously mentioned, I consulted Cait Johnson’s Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons [Destiny Books, 2001] on the spices.)

I can’t forget to mention a few utensils you might be utilizing as you produce your soup, for the tools of the trade are not to be overlooked as part of the magic. Telesco provides a “Magical Association” for several of these. For instance, she lists a blender as being associated with “Mingling with others, stirring up energy.” Not a bad association, and plenty valid if you’re going to share your soup with others. I also assume this  works for a food processor and an immersion blender as well (and even a hand masher). She lists “Knife” as magically connected with “Cutting away, sharpness of mind, separation.” A fork might symbolize “Piercing, penetrating, perception.” I found nothing about slow-cookers, by the way, but I tend to think they’re about patience and the wisdom of taking care of oneself (as the cook, I think of an occasional slow-cooker meal as a rest period for me, at least once everything’s prepped and in the pot, then left to cook for hours during which I might write, read and otherwise own my own time!).

Cunningham says cups and bowls are related to the element of water and are therefore “entirely receptive.” They possess loving energies. He tells us that earlier cultures connected rounded pots and bowls with the Great Mother – a concept that was pretty much universal. Goddess energy. Rounded pots and bowls, like the earth. The association of witches with an iron pot, the cauldron used throughout Europe for cooking, derives from Shakespeare’s “three witches” scene in Macbeth. The old Bard’s witches weren’t doing anything at all unusual in using a cauldron for “brewing” – what was weird was what the women were cooking up (including their ingredients)! Today’s Wiccans, Cunningham states, honor the cauldron as a symbol of the Mother Goddess.

That’s more than enough magic for one post, except that I must state my best take on all of this. Yes, it’s a bit of kitchen alchemy – as I defined it earlier. And there’s lots of magic in food, in the ways it can nourish us, give us strength, make us happy, bring people together and much more. There’s magic in food like there’s magic in everything, and intention is its best enhancer. Having just read the newly revised (to add artwork) Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan, illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin Press, 2011), it feels right to believe that setting some of the simple intentions that Pollan suggests also sets the stage for Magic to happen (like, “#2, Don’t Eat Anything Your Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food, or #19, Eat Only Foods That Have Been Cooked by Humans, or #64, Try to Spend as Much Time Enjoying the Meal as It Took to Prepare It, or #74,Don’t Get Your Fuel from the Same Place Your Car Does. Following through on even a few of them might make you a Witch – whether you think so or not!

And now for my latest Witch’s Brew~~

SLOW-COOKER SQUASH AND SWEET POTATO SOUP
Yields enough for a small crowd (10 to 20, if they keep it to cups instead of bowls!)

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, peeled & chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove (or 2 small), peeled & diced
  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about ¾” cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
  • 1 14-to-16-ounce can of pumpkin puree (however it’s packaged, but NOT pumpkin pie mix); if you’re into using fresh pumpkin, go for it (I haven’t gone there yet…)
  • 2 medium potatoes (or equivalent in leftover mashed potatoes)
  • 2 large bay leaves (or 3 small)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sage
  • 4 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred, but if not available then use a low or no sodium brand)
  • salt & pepper to your personal taste (but at least a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper!)
  • options for serving: light cream (to stir in); Greek yogurt, sour cream, parsley and/or croutons (for toppings)

Process

  1. In a large frying pan, sauté the onion and sweet potato for about two to three minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two. Watch carefully, stir as necessary, being sure that the garlic doesn’t burn (if it burns, you’ll have to start over… no “fix” for burned garlic taste!).
  3. Remove frying pan from heat and set aside.
  4. Add the butternut squash and potatoes to the bottom of the slow-cooker.
  5. Spread pumpkin puree over squash and potatoes.
  6. Top contents of slow-cooker with the sautéed contents of the frying pan.
  7. Sprinkle the bay leaf and dried herbs (thyme, parsley & sage) over everything, as well as salt and pepper (you can season further with s&p, if needed, although it’s best to wait until after the soup has cooked fully).
  8. Pour the four cups of chicken broth over the contents of the slow-cooker.
  9. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. Test at 3½ hours for doneness (potatoes and butternut squash must be well done, enough for a fork to easily pierce). Stir and replace top to cook for added time, if necessary.
  10. When contents are done, removed bay leaves.
  11. Using an immersions blender (or food processor, stand blender or by hand with a masher), puree the mixture to the texture you enjoy most (I like it thick and chunky!).
  12. If it’s thicker than you prefer, feel free to add either more chicken stock or water, a little at a time, stirring in between. (If you plan to add light cream before serving, allow for that extra liquid – although you probably won’t stir in more than ¼ to ½ cup of the dairy if you truly want to savor the vegetables!)
  13. Freeze or serve with options listed above (light cream, to stir in; Greek yogurt, sour cream, parsley and/or croutons, for toppings).

 

How to Get Rave Reviews: Start with Homemade (Chicken, or other) Stock

I started this blogpost last night, first drafting the recipe and then deciding the lead-in (narrative) part would have to wait until today. Since I was scheduled to attend a workshop at East Line Books in Clifton Park, NY this morning on Food and Travel Writing, led by Alison Stein Wellner, I knew it would be later in the day that I’d get back to it. I am now glad it happened that way. As I’d hoped, the info-packed session “pumped me up” again for writing. Not only the foodblog, but for other food-related literature as well. And maybe, just maybe, I might find myself returning to a get-published (as in other-than-self-published) frame of mind.

It’s been a long time since potential acceptance by magazines and journals held any allure for me. I simply want to write. And cook. And do art. And spend time with family and good friends. Alison, however, through one of her short writing exercises, managed to tease out of me an idea for a series of articles that I not only want to write but feel compelled to share with anyone who’ll listen/read. Seeking publication in a relevant magazine might be the best way to do that.

One simple question from Alison, “What fascinates you about food and travel?” – with ensuing suggestions about possible directions our pens might take us in from there – set everyone in the room scribbling. Her best advice: “Write about what fascinates you,” because to do otherwise means you’ll begin to hate it. It will become as much drudgery as any of the worst 9-to-5 jobs you’ve ever held.

This “new” topic fascinates me. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with blog readers right now. It requires nurturing, planning and lots of time (and work) to come to fruition. (If I had time, I’d be signed up for Alison’s workshop at the Capital Region Arts Center next weekend, June 2nd. She’ll be covering The Business of Freelance Writing!)

In the meantime, now that I’ve worked up your curiosity, how about a return to Chicken Stock?
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If you’ve been reading this blog for a few months, you’ve probably noticed that I mention the use of boxed stocks in cooking up batches of my soups (and I do love making soup!). I’ve discovered a couple brands that I like. They’re not high in sodium (some sodium-free), plus they’re pretty tasty. So I wasn’t necessarily gung-ho for stirring up a pot o’ the homemade stuff. But reading a relatively new, food-related book changed my mind.

Here’s what I wrote about An Everlasting Meal in my “journal” of books I’ve read (yes, I have a list of every book I’ve read, i.e., completely finished, since 1995; had to do it since I found I couldn’t remember which I’d read and sometimes would begin to read something, only to realize I’d read it a year or two before!):

Adler, Tamar. AN EVERLASTING MEAL: COOKING WITH ECONOMY AND GRACE. Scribner, 2011. Essays on food. Beginning with “How to Boil Water,” Adler caught me up in her beautiful prose. Which often reads like poetry. How about the title of the next chapter, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly”? In which she says to the reader, “A gently but sincerely cooked egg tells us all we need to know about divinity. It hinges not on the question of how the egg began, but how the egg will end. A good egg, cooked deliberately, gives us a glimpse of the greater forces at play.” There are recipes too but not always in a real recipe format. She wants her readers to learn what to do with foods without need of a cookbook. She wants us to love food; not waste it; share it with others because it’s about nourishment and, thus, relationships. A truly wonderful book. Highly recommended, whether you like to cook or not.

A small part of Adler’s desire not to waste the gifts of the earth includes saving the ends, peels and odd chunks of aromatics, as well as bones of fish and fowl and animals, for stocks that add gusto to future meals. I now freeze many of these bits of leftovers and otherwise not usable veggies (except maybe in compost), later to stew up the most delicious stock! Below is the chicken one (to be followed by a future post, with pictures, for a soup that was a mega-hit at the Women Writers and Artists Matrix Weekend in Saratoga earlier this month), but it’s not the only stock I’ve created since reading this exquisite book.

After serving a seldom-seen dinner on our table (lamb), I managed to find time to toss the bones, aromatics and water into a pot, then strain and freeze the results. Last week, I made one of my hubby’s favorite meals, Braised Stew Beef (it makes its own gravy) over noodles. Instead of cooking it down with water added to the extra-large frying pan, I poured in one of the thawed containers of lamb stock. Rave reviews ensued.

You too could get rave reviews. Not from the New York Times food critic, but from someone whose opinion matters more to you. Start with homemade stock.

MARILYN’S HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
Yields one really, really large stockpot full of delicious liquid!

Prelude to Ingredients: Collect & freeze, over a few weeks or a month, the following –

  • Chicken bones, with any amount of meat still stuck to them (or none at all)
  • Ends cut away from onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, celery, garlic (and maybe more, depending upon your own taste and judgment)
  • Onion, carrot, celery and garlic peelings, pieces and leaves

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil, with a dab of butter added
  • 2 carrots, unpeeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 2 small celery stalks, unpeeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 1 to 2 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • all of “Prelude” ingredients listed above – minimum of a 1 gallon zip-lock bag of the veggies; plus at least bones equivalent to 2 chickens, whether chicken parts or whole birds (it’s good to include some bones with bits of dark meat on them, for good flavor)
  • a few grape (or cherry) tomatoes (but only if you have them and wish to include them), halved
  • water to cover all ingredients, and then some… (filtered water is better than tap water, especially if you’re on public water that’s chemically treated – but it’s not required)
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt (or kosher, if preferred; but you can use table salt, just not the whole 2 teaspoons in the latter case)
  • 3 or 4 small sprigs of dried thyme
  • 2 small sprigs of dried rosemary
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional, but a nice touch)

Process:

  1. Sauté the carrots, celery and onion in the oil/butter for about 2 minutes – in a large stockpot. (I lightly salt these at this time too.)
  2. Add garlic to pan; continue to sauté for about a minute more (do not burn the garlic or you’ll have to start over!).
  3. Add the rest of the vegetable items (peels, ends, etc.), along with the grape (or cherry) tomatoes, if using, and the batch of chicken bones. Cover with water – enough to bring it to at least three inches over the ingredients.
  4. Toss in peppercorns, salt, thyme, rosemary, parsley and lemon zest (if using).
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  6. Allow to simmer for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours. You’ll want water to reduce gradually as flavor intensifies.
  7. When the stock meets your own taste-bud test, turn off the heat and let sit for a bit.
  8. After about 20 minutes, strain through a sieve and distribute stock amongst containers in which to freeze – perhaps retaining some to make soup immediately, or use for braising a chicken or other dish.
  9. When cool enough (it’s wise to sit containers in ice bath to get it there- much safer, foodwise), place in freezer for future use. Make sure you’ve marked containers (with labels) with info about what’s in it and date it was frozen!

Sorry – didn’t think to take a picture of the strained stock. Besides, I’m sure all my readers have an idea of what that looks like! Stay tuned, however, for the next post – in which this stock helps to transform butternut squash, pumpkin puree and sweet potato into a thick, savory soup that you’ll want to inhale (it’s that good).

EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE: RICH VANILLA CUPCAKES

Here’s the last cupcake recipe from the WomanWords 15 Year Birthday Reading. It’s taken a while to get everything related to that event posted (busy with so many other things, including my blog related to connections to the International Women’s Writing Guild and those SisterWriters. While one of my favorite truisms is, “So Many Books, So Little Time,” I could just edit that to say, “So Many Creative Possibilities, So Little Time!”

This recipe was derived from the “Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake” in The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook: Old-Fashioned Recipes from New York’s Sweetest Bakery by Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torey (Simon & Schuster, 1999). It’s the same one I used to concoct the Gluten-Free Almond Cupcakes also offered at the Caffé reading.

Not surprisingly, these were the most popular of cupcakes that night. I guess everyone loves an old standard! (And by the way, have I ever mentioned that vanilla is considered to be a powerful love stimulant? Only the real stuff works, however, according to what I’ve read – but then nothing artificial is ever quite as good. American women, at one time, even dabbed it behind their ears to attract men! In this case, of course, we were stimulating a love of words… but then, who knows what was going on out in that audience?)

Without further ado, the recipe…

VANILLA CUPCAKES
Yields 24 cupcakes (or, as the Magnolia Bakery recipe suggests, 1 three-layer cake)

THE CAKES

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (I’m now mostly buying “evaporated cane juice” organic sugar – BJ’s has started to carry it!)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups self-rising flour
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk (since I only stock 2%, I subbed a bit of heavy cream for some of the milk)
  • 1 teaspoon bakery emulsion (or you can use vanilla extract, as the original recipe lists)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place 24 paper cupcake fillers in cupcake tins, or grease and lightly flour each cakespace.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter until smooth.
  4. Add sugar to butter gradually, then beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes).
  5. One at a time, add eggs. Beat well after each addition.
  6. Combine the flours in another bowl using a whisk.
  7. Add flour mixture in four parts, alternating with the milk and bakery emulsion (or extract if using that), beating well after each addition.
  8. Divide batter between the prepared cupcake tin spaces.
  9. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into a couple of the little cakes comes out clean.
  10. Remove tins to wire racks and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
  11. Remove cakes from pans to wire racks to cool completely before frosting or freezing. (If freezing, individually wrap in plastic wrap as soon as cooled, eliminating all air. They should keep for at least up to two weeks or even a month. I had never frozen cupcakes before but, via the internet, learned that one should take the wrapping off before thawing – as soon as taken out of the freezer – or they will have a gluey top texture. Then frost. That worked out great!)

THE FROSTING

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft (if you run out of unsalted butter, salted is OK to use)
  • 3½ cups confectioners’ sugar (have extra available in case you need more)
  • ¼ cup milk (I used 2% milk but whole or 1% works just as well; can always add more if too stiff)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla powder (or vanilla extract, if preferred)
  • Food coloring, if desired
  • Decorative sprinkles or colored sugar, if desired

Process

  1. Place butter in large mixing bowl.
  2. Add 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla powder (or extract).
  3. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  4. Add remaining sugar, gradually, until icing is a good spreading consistency.
  5. Mix in food coloring, if using.
  6. Decorate cupcakes with icing (also with sprinkles or decorating sugar, if using).
  7. Frosting keeps best if eaten within 3 days (which works out well, since cupcakes also keep best for first 3 days).

EGG ON MY FACE, POTATO IN MY SOUP, ICING ON THE (CUP)CAKE

There’s an expression here in the USA that might not be familiar to some of my blog followers in other countries. “Egg on My Face” could be a phrase translated to mean, “What was I thinking?” (as in, “Was I thinking at all?”); but more often it’s a big fat “OOPS!” (as in, “How could I do something so stupid?”). In the case of a blog, as in KitchenCauldron, it’s about somehow screwing up the post. Which usually isn’t so bad when it’s just a typo, or one edited-out phrase where the writer failed to take out a word or two (or took out one too many words) – these things mostly are “understood” by the reader and quietly revised when noticed by the blogger.

But in a recipe, the list of ingredients must include all of the ingredients. How else does the cook ensure s/he’s in possession of all necessities for re-creating the recipe?

A couple days ago, I decided I would re-create one of the soups posted on KC, but without the chicken. Basic Potato-Leek Soup (with carrot). Our Spiritual Alchemy group was meeting at Leslie’s again, and the other four of us decided we would be The Makers of the Feast rather than allow Leslie to once again exhaust herself to “make it nice.” (Of course, this didn’t stop her from putting out “just some things already in the fridge and pantry…” but our planning did manage to hold her in check somewhat. Who can blame her—she loves to entertain, especially for her writing/art sisters!)  I’d said I’d bring a soup and would also bake if there was time. Yesterday morning I realized I had to bake – it was imperative that I somehow incorporate four almost-overripe bananas (hanging on the “banana hook” atop our kitchen counter) into something, or they’d go to waste! Luckily, I was out of bed and functioning way-early, with plenty of time before our group met. And so it was that I toted Potato-Leek Soup and Gluten-Free Banana Muffins to Leslie’s.

Since the batch of Potato/Leek with Chicken Soup in my January 30th post turned out so great, I went back to my printed recipe (yes, I eventually print all my foodblog posts, put them in binders and easily refer to them when needed). Much to my surprise and chagrin I discovered that, while I’d included the potatoes in the “Process” part of the post (“Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.”), I’d failed to add potatoes to the “Ingredients” list! Major faux pas. Since then, I’ve corrected the recipe and mentally whipped myself several times for screwing up on proofreading! I have to assume that no one viewing that post has yet tried to make the soup (since there were no complaints or gentle references to something missing) but, just in case anyone printed the recipe, it will have to be re-printed for an accurate rendition (or note the changes by pen or pencil on the copy). I apologize for any convenience.

My minus-the-chicken version, by the way, was a big hit at Leslie’s (with Greek yogurt and gluten-free crouton toppings) – as were the muffins (recipe for latter to be posted at a later date).

Some of that “egg on my face” also comes from my recent, too-long unblogged space on KC. Or, to use an even more appropriate American idiom, turning it into a pun for the recipe in this post, it’s “the icing on the cake” (as in, “added to all the other stuff, this happened”; or, “I have to admit to this…”). Between the business of life lately and, I confess, getting caught up in reading a few books, I haven’t gotten back to the computer except for e-mail and a few Facebook comments. I’ve managed to post some pieces on the KC Food for Thought page, but making those additions are less time-consuming than including a posting with story and recipe.

In my April 6th post, I promised to provide the rest of the recipes from WomanWords’ 15-Year Birthday Reading soon. Honest – they’re all coming! And there are so many other recipes backed-up. And food-related books I want to blog about. I could huddle down, drafting and posting, in my little office/art/writing space and not surface for a couple weeks for anything but food, water and the bathroom – but then I expect the quality of my offerings would begin to deteriorate within a few days (and there’d be no time to cook!). I am a social creature, requiring interaction with friends and family, and a bit of fresh air as well (although I am far from an outdoorsy type!), and so I’ll just do the best I can with this blogging thing.

In the meantime, in the catching-up phase, I’m now providing the frosting recipe for those Heavenly Chocolate Cupcakes served at Caffè Lena during our celebration. It’s easy to make and would also be a great topping for your best white cake (I love white cake with chocolate frosting!).

A quick tip of the (witch’s) hat to the magical aspect of hazelnuts, a major ingredient in the Nutella used in this recipe: According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), the hazelnut’s energies encompass wisdom, conscious mind and fertility. The tree itself, with its round nuts, “played important roles in European folklore and folk religion.” It was linked to sky deities and considered a guardian against lightning, bad storms and fire. While I’m not about to stand under any tree in a lightning storm, I found this interesting. (Hmm, when Hurricane Irene hit this area last August, maybe we could’ve used a few hazelnut trees…) On the other hand, I’m not averse to munching on a few of the delicious nuts on occasion – whether to enhance wisdom or purely for pleasure. And a little fertility where creativity’s concerned wouldn’t hurt either.

HEAVENLY NUTELLA FROSTING
(Yields enough for at least 2½ to 3 dozen cupcakes.)

Ingredients

  • 1½ sticks butter, softened to room temperature (12 tablespoons)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (more or less)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk (I use 2% but any will do, from skim to full-fat)
  • 1 jar Nutella hazelnut spread (or other hazelnut spread), although you may not use entire jar
  • dash of cinnamon

Process

  1. In a large bowl, beat together all of the butter, about half of the sugar and half of the jar of Nutella. If the mixture is too stiff for beating, add a tablespoon or two  milk.
  2. Add remaining sugar, gradually, and continue to beat ingredients together until smooth, adding a bit more Nutella (1/4 cup?) as well – and, if needed, another tablespoon of milk.
  3. Sprinkle in cinnamon, to taste (you can go beyond the “dash” if you love the spice), and add however much additional Nutella and/or milk required to bring the mixture to a good spreading consistency, as “light” or as dense as you prefer.
  4. Spread on cupcakes. (An option which I did not take for this event would be to sprinkle chopped, toasted hazelnuts in the center of each frosted cupcake top – yummy!)

See—I told you it was easy!

Poetry, WriterFriends & Cupcakes – Celebrating WomanWords’ 15th Birthday at Caffè Lena

There’s been no time to add recipes to this blog since March 26th. I’ve been baking cupcakes and freezing them. Creating decorations to adorn them. Drawing up the “WomanWords program” for our Feature appearance at Caffè Lena’s open poetry mic (and printing it). Pulling together what items needed to accompany me to the event (tablecloth, printed lists of ingredients for all four kinds of cupcakes, napkins, etc.). Thawing the three sets of cupcakes that were frozen. Researching how I might transform a regular cupcake recipe into a gluten-free one; then making and baking the gluten-free cupcakes early in the morning of the reading. Making all the frostings/icing and then topping all the tasty cakes during that same morning.

Oh yeah – then I had to figure out what I might read too.

It all came together: Wednesday night, April 4th, was a wonderful evening of sharing words and enjoying cupcakes at the bargain price of $1.00 each – all proceeds going to Caffè Lena. I don’t know how much additional open mic income it brought them, but I made sure we wouldn’t run out of cupcakes during the evening. I planned for, and delivered, extra – keeping some home for us and expecting that any excess would travel home with our daughter Kristen (one of the readers), to take to her officemates next day. There were even two gluten-free options for those who can’t do gluten, since Leslie Neustadt baked g-free, semi-homemade, carrot cupcakes topped with dashes of sugar.

There’s something quite awesome about being on the same stage of a musical institution where people like Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean, Ani DiFranco and many other music icons once performed – especially when I don’t play a musical instrument and, although I can carry a tune most of the time, I certainly can’t aspire to a recording or music-writing career. Lena’s is the oldest, continuously-operating coffeehouse in the United States, and it’s a credit to all who work to keep it running that this historic site remains “a place to experience” in Saratoga Springs, NY. The Caffè Lena Open Mic, hosted monthly by poet Carol Graser, is just one of many cultural offerings that can be enjoyed at Lena’s nowadays. I was honored when, several months ago, Carol invited WomanWords to be the Feature at a future open mic, and so happy that she liked the idea of scheduling it in April to coincide with our 15th birthday (“birth” not anniversary, because women birth… including words and other forms of creativity!).

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For those who don’t know about the WomanWords Collective: here, in part, is what I wrote on our now-outdated website years ago (which AlbanyPoets so generously hosted):

Statement of Purpose:

  • To rekindle our Creative Fire
  • To tell our stories
  • To encourage others to tell their stories
  • To empower ourselves and each other

WomanWords—the History:

The WomanWords Collective began as WomanWords, a small writing group meeting in Colonie, NY (a suburb of Albany) at the Mandala Center for Creative Wellness in April 1997. WomanWords was a direct result of founder/facilitator Marilyn Zembo Day’s desire to duplicate the magical inspiration she’d experienced at two summer conferences of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) on the Skidmore College campus in Saratoga, NY.

Leaving the Skidmore conference in 1995, Marilyn felt empowered, enthusiastic, inspired to write and create. By November or December of the same year, she wondered what had happened to all that spirit. Returning to the conference in 1996, she realized what she required to keep the energy flowing: a continuing network of supportive women such as she’d discovered at the IWWG event. As she departed Skidmore, she vowed to either find a writers’ group that met her needs or, if she wasn’t successful in her search, to create one.

During the winter of 1996-97, Marilyn contacted then-IWWG Director Hannelore Hahn to request a “zip code” list of IWWG members in the area for use as a one-time mailing list, and she also brought flyers around to local libraries and bookstores to solicit membership. A dozen women showed up for the first session, and WomanWords has been going strong ever since. Over the years, meeting schedules changed to accommodate the ebb and flow of both the numbers and schedules of participants, as well as Marilyn’s schedule. When Mandala Center closed in 2002, the meeting place also had to change. But always it was clear that the alchemy of a web of supportive, creative women was critical.

It wasn’t until WomanWords was asked to read as a “collective” at a local open mic in Albany in late Spring 2003 that Marilyn realized this was truly what WomanWords had become (thank you, Don Levy, for helping to better describe the entity into which WomanWords has grown!). No longer simply a small writing group, WomanWords has expanded to include a myriad of other activities, with [hundreds of women] having attended various events and many more receiving the e-newsletter, locally and across the country (and into other countries as well). [There have been workshops, retreats, writing weekends, readings, an open mic series, publications and more. Click here if you’d like to see photos of some activities on the old website.]

Today, we no longer meet monthly. I plan a few “special events” under the auspices of WomanWords each year, sometimes to benefit some place or organization like Still Point Interfaith Retreat Center (where most events are held), always with the goal of offering a safe, creative space for women who want to tell their stories, to write.

As for our most recent “event” – at Carol’s wonderful open mic – here’s that “story” in a few of the pictures:

Carol, our host

Marilyn

Leslie

Kelly

Mary

Kristen

Kittie

Lesley

Judith

The WW Readers at Caffe Lena - wish there was time for all my WomenWriter friends to have been readers!

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So we had something to celebrate. What better way than with words and cupcakes!?!

I wasn’t so much “into” cupcakes until Kristen began to make them for parties at her workplace. Then it turned out that both she and her brother, our son, Adrian, both “got into” cupcakes. So I baked a few… and later a few more… and now I love the idea that there are so many ways to vary them, to enrich – and other people love them too! There are even cupcake “wars” on Food Network. And it’s not so unusual any more for a bridal couple to opt for a huge display of wedding cupcakes rather than a many-tiered cake at their reception. Cupcakes are “in” (although now Kristen has gone on to creating “cakepops” – which tend to be too sweet for me when made with all the frosting that hold thems together in many of the recipes).

I’m not going to attempt to include recipes for all the Caffè Lena cupcakes in one posting. Right now I’ll provide the recipe for my favorite of the batch, Banana-Walnut Cupcakes. Let me herewith confess that, as I recuperated yesterday from the previous evening’s festivities (and the preceding preparations for it), I managed to indulge in three of those delicious delights (breakfast, lunch and dinner desserts – oh, all right, the breakfast one WAS breakfast in total, but then it’s kind of a muffin, only smaller, right?). Maybe I’m confessing but I’m not feeling guilty at all. Worth every calorie.

So here’s the recipe, including frosting/icing. It originated with 500 Cupcakes: The Only Cupcake Compendium You’ll Ever Need by Fergal Connolly (Sellers Publishing Inc., 2005), coming into its/my own with a few changes, including switching-out the margarine for butter, and adding an egg plus some cinnamon. Tomorrow (or very soon): I’ll fill you in on the frosting I whipped up for those Heavenly Cupcakes in my last post. After that, the other two.

 

BANANA-WALNUT CUPCAKES
Yields about 18 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1¾ cups mashed bananas
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup honey (I used orange blossom honey)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon (I use Saigon Cinnamon)
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cups roughly chopped walnuts

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place paper baking cups into regular cupcake tins. If not using paper baking cups, lightly grease and flour each cupcake slot.
  3. In a large bowl, combine bananas, brown sugar, honey and butter. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended.
  4. Add the lightly-beaten egg to banana mixture. Beat well into mix.
  5. Slowly add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.
  6. Fold in chopped walnuts.
  7. Spoon batter into individual cups in the cupcake tin, to about 2/3 or ¾ full.
  8. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a wooden toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean (tops will “bounce back” when touched gently).
  9. Remove pans from over and place on wire racks or trivets. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Remove cupcakes from pans and place on racks.
  11. Allow to cool completely before frosting or freezing.

(If freezing, wrap each cupcake individually in plastic wrap, making sure to get out all air. When thawing later on (preferably no later than a month beyond baking date), remove plastic wrap as soon as taken out of freezer to avoid a gummy outer texture on tops – especially if you’re not going to frost them, or if simply sifting confectioners’ sugar on top.)

WALNUT FROSTING
for Banana-Walnut Cupcakes – more than enough for all of them!

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (start with 2 cups, add as needed to thicken)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder (can use extract, if preferred)
  • 1 cup ground walnuts (or more, if you prefer)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk (I use 2%, and sometimes I need more than 4 tblsps of it!)
  • walnut halves for center-top of each frosting cupcake

Process

  1. Add cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla to a large bowls, beating to a creamy consistency – ADDING a tablespoon or two of milk as needed, to make it creamier (but not liquid-like!). Or perhaps you’ll need more sugar – for a sturdier consistency.
  2. When the frosting has reached the consistency preferred for topping cupcakes, beat in the ground walnuts.
  3. Frost cupcakes.
  4. Center a walnut-half on top of the cookie (it helps identify the kind of cookie too, should you be offering a variety!)