TOLD TO “STUFF IT”? IT’S EITHER THANKSGIVING, OR YOU’RE TALKING TOO MUCH – BETTER TO STUFF YOUR MOUTH WITH THIS STUFFING!

tksday 11-12_073Let me first confess that this year’s stuffing was not my best rendition. I was so thrilled that I had homemade turkey stock to add to the mixture, frozen a few months ago for just this occasion, that I overdid the moisture part. Or maybe the moisture just didn’t absorb as well as usual into the bread/croutons because, for the first time ever, I didn’t dig into the bowl with my hands and mush all the ingredients together, as I’d been taught to do by my mother. Apparently I was led astray by those gorgeous photographs of stuffing spilling out of the turkey’s cavity, with obvious chunks of bread, aromatics and sausage on display.

Well, our family likes most of those ingredients well-combined. Besides, not “mushing” can also result in a too-dry stuffing!

The recipe for stuffing in this blogpost is adjusted so that readers can make their own judgments on how much liquid to add to their stuffing, based on what I used and what I’d suggest starting out with. Our stuffing wasn’t waterlogged but could’ve done well with perhaps half-a-cup less of stock. It tasted great, however, and it was even better a couple days later as part of the topping (along with some of the potato casserole) on a Turkey Shepherd’s Pie.

As mentioned in yesterday’s entry, I opted for stuffing in the turkey rather than just filling its cavity with lemon and herbs and making it totally a side dish, baked separately. There’s never too much stuffing.

ckbook PolishOnly one family memory regarding stuffing and then on to the recipe. My father often got involved in the cooking on Thanksgiving, at least in Big Bird part, and he would sometimes mix together what he called “a Polish stuffing,” which translated to how his mother made it. Nana Zembo (who arrived in this country from Poland early in the 20th century) made a version that included raisins. I was never certain this was a true Polish food tradition until I perused my copy of Polish Cookery: The Universal Cook Book by Marja Ochorowicz-Monatowa (Crown Publishers; my copy is its 13th printing, 1975). It contains two raisin stuffing recipes, one in the “Poultry and Poultry Stuffings” section and the other under “Stuffings for Roast Pig.” I didn’t own this book, however, when I tried making a rendition of Nana’s dish. All I did was add raisins to my usual recipe (and maybe some diced apples or applesauce). Tasted glorious to me, but I found I was also the only one eating it. Our traditional TurkeyDay dressing disappeared into well-filled bellies but I guess “honoring our Polish heritage” only goes so far.

With that said, here’s the Day-Zembo family’s “usual” turkey stuffing. I create the same recipe for chicken, only with chicken stock (in fact, in past years it’s often been chicken stock that went into the turkey stuffing).

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DAY-ZEMBO FAMILY TURKEY STUFFING
Yield: Enough to fill cavity of a 17-18 lb. turkey, plus a large ovenproof bowl/pan

Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 generous cups homemade (or supermarket purchased), herbed croutons – more if needed
  • Up to 1 quart turkey broth (you’ll start with less & eyeball it for moisture)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (more if needed, as sometimes is the case with turkey sausage)
  • 10 to 12 ounces turkey (or pork) sausage
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 medium to large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small (Mom never added carrots; it’s my way of sneaking some extra nutrition into the mix.)
  • 3 large celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste (minimum, however, of a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • a couple tablespoons Bell’s Seasoning, if desired
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (optional but advisable; I didn’t include them this time— had I done so, perhaps they would have offset the extra moisture since eggs work as binders)
  • additional butter to dot dish of extra stuffing

Process

  1. Into a very large bowl, pour the croutons.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet and add sausage. Sauté until browned, using spatula as it cooks, to break into small bits. (I had to use turkey sausage – daughter doesn’t eat pork or red meat – and couldn’t find a package of it with “breakfast sausage” seasonings in it, so wound up with a 9.6 oz. package of Jimmy Dean Hearty Sausage Crumbles.) If sausage is the pre-cooked kind, still sauté to warm it and to add flavor to the pan.
  3. Remove sausage to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain.
  4. Add butter to skillet and, when melted, further add onions, carrots and celery, cooking for about three minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Add garlic to pan and sauté for an additional minute, monitoring mixture to be sure garlic doesn’t burn.
  6. Return sausage to pan and add about a cup of the stock. Use spatula to scrape any pan brownings up, further flavoring the broth mix. (This is called deglazing.)
  7. After a few minutes, turn heat off and add contents of pan to the bowl of croutons, mixing together well.
  8. Add one cup of warm stock (I microwave it) to mixture, plus the thyme, sage, parsley and Bell’s Seasoning (if using). Also add any additional salt and/or pepper, as desired.
  9. Ensuring first that the mixture is cool enough not to “cook” the eggs upon addition, add eggs to the mix and stir until combined.
  10. Then DIG IN with those hands, mushing the mix together. You aren’t going to make it into one gooey mess, breaking down veggies into nothingness, but croutons should be well-dampened with some of them broken down entirely. (If it’s a bit dry, add more stock— a little at a time to avoid overdoing it. Too wet? No harm in adding more croutons. Judgment call.)
  11. If roasting stuffing inside the bird, as well as in a separate dish, make sure turkey’s cavity is salted and then fill about ⅔ to ½ full (stuffing expands). I don’t bother to try to sew up the cavity; I simply pull drumsticks together and tie with kitchen twine. (See yesterday’s post for suggestions about roasting the bird.)
  12. Fill an appropriate-sized, ovenproof dish or pan with remaining stuffing. Dot with butter.
  13. Extra stuffing can be baked along with the turkey (but only for about 30 to 45 minutes of the turkey’s time, so schedule accordingly), or separately. Since we have only one oven in our kitchen and the bird takes up most of that space, I usually microwave stuffing until heated through and then place it in the oven after turkey has been removed and is resting on the counter. Bake it until browned on top and thoroughly heated through.

There you have it – my guidelines for great stuffing. It takes practice in judging exactly how much stock you’ll want in your own version. And still, after years of T-Days (or whenever you’re indulging in turkey), you might not come off with exactly the texture you were aiming for. Hopefully, however, it’ll still be full of flavor, as ours was – and it’ll work well in those recipes for leftovers!

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IT AIN’T ALL ABOUT THE BIRD – STUFFING CAN MAKE OR BREAK THE T-DAY MEAL (BUT IT ALL STARTS WITH THE BIRD… and the bread!)

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On the other hand, there are so many considerations about that bird and the stuffing to go with it, before we even get to the roasting/eating part:

  • How big a bird? (Definitely want leftovers. Ours was a 17+ pounder.)
  • What else about the bird? (Bought a “natural, fresh” turkey this year. Generally winds up juicier.)
  • To brine or not to brine? (Never tried it, wasn’t about to this time.)
  • If not brining, how to ensure it’s nice and moist? (I loosened the skin and injected homemade turkey broth.)
  • What about flavoring for the skin? (Basting with melted butter can’t be beat; sprinkled with pepper and a few herbs such as dried parsley, marjoram, thyme and/or rosemary.)
  • What to do with all the “stuff” that’s inside? (Take the “stuff” – gizzards, heart, etc, out of the bird, put in saucepan, add water to cover, sprinkle with salt and pepper, bring to boil, then simmer until liquid is reduced by ⅓ to ½. Discard “stuff” and put aside liquid for later gravy-making.)
  • How about the inside of the turkey? (Always rub with salt. Further, I considered two options: either cut a lemon in half and pull some frozen “fresh” rosemary out of the freezer, then stash it in the bird’s cavity; OR fill it with stuffing. I went with option #2.)
  • How long do I cook it and at what temp? (I always look to see if it gives hourly rates on the fowl’s packaging. If not, I check one of my many cookbooks or go online. I never seem to retain this kind of info in my brain, or maybe I just worry too much about screwing it up! I do recall that 325 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temp. Still, I try to buy a bird with one of those pop-up gadgets that tells you it’s done, and then I’ll use a meat thermometer to check doneness anyway!)
  • How to get it properly done without burning the skin? (I cover with aluminum foil until about the last hour in the oven. Then I remove the foil and baste a few times during next hour to ensure nice browning.)

Those are my Basics About the Bird. Not a recipe, just a guideline. Because this post is really about the stuffing. No, it’s about the prelude to the stuffing: the croutons that make up its bulk.

Prep for the stuffing began the day before Thanksgiving, with concocting homemade croutons (not all of these would go into the stuffing either—some were ground into bread crumbs for sprinkling atop potato casserole). I was determined that, this year, I would not buy a single bag of those pre-made croutons found in the supermarket. Their listing of ingredients includes whatever additives the manufacturer deems necessary to make sure the little dried-out bread bits stay dry, don’t mold, manage to last from factory to store to your house – which probably means that, even if not bk food rulesdeemed toxic by the government, there are still ingredients in that bag that your (or my) grandmother would not recognize as food. (Rule #2 in Michael Pollen’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual [Penguin Press, 2009, 2011]: “Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food.” I happen to be old enough that I can eliminate the “Great” since my Grandmothers were born in the late 1800s! Also note that Pollen’s Rule #3 is, “Avoid Food Products That No Ordinary Human Would Keep in the Pantry,” which means all of those ingredients on labels that I can’t pronounce, let alone remember…).

I started with a good loaf of Italian bread from Bella Napoli Bakery and I used excellent dried spices, many of which I purchase at the Schenectady Green Market. There’s a great vendor there, March through mid-December (they head south for the winter) called Wellington’s Herbs & Spices, out of Schoharie County. In fact, I’m super-glad I made it to the Green Market today – needed more dried parsley (I use a ton of it) – because I learned that next week is their last SGM Sunday until March. This means I will do my best to get back there next weekend, after assessing my stock of dried herbs, to be sure I have an adequate supply for several months!

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But I digress… back to the croutons. And a little kitchen magic.

ckbk kitwitch companionIf you’ve been checking out KitchenCauldron for a while, you know I sometimes like to throw in a bit about the “magical associations” of food, which often can be connected to what science has discovered about the healing (and sometimes detrimental) properties of food. I like that one of the tenets of Patricia Telesco’s “Kitchen Witch’s Credo,” as set forth in her book The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic (Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Corp., 2005) reads, “There is nothing on this earth that cannot be used for magic.” She also states, “Life is a ritual and act of worship,” and “Kitchen witchery always reflects your own principles.” I believe our “principles” are developing and re-developing over our entire lifetime. A couple of decades ago I might have thought creating croutons in my own kitchen was cool but Pollen’s Rules #2 or #3 wouldn’t have come into the picture. I am older, somewhat wiser and much more worried about the fate of this planet and its inhabitants than decades ago.

As one of those earth-bound occupants, I find it soothing to know that bread is associated with kinship and sustenance (think “communion”); that parsley and garlic are endowed with protective energies (and parsley might also enhance one’s luck); that coriander denotes love, well-being and intelligence; that marjoram’s magical properties are said to include peace and love. It’s interesting to me that the sage sprinkled over my croutons speaks of wisdom and ckbook witch in kitchredemption, and that its thyme could aid in banishing nightmares. Cait Johnson, in Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons (Destiny Books, 2001), writes, “Our culture considers cooking a chore; we are encouraged to get it over with as quickly as possible. But it may help us to remember that cooking was once a magical act. Cooks were priestesses who wielded the power of fire, transforming raw ingredients into nourishment for themselves and their families. The act of cooking linked women with the Goddess, the Great Nurturer.” In a fundamental way, women (and men too) are empowered through their ability to cook/bake. This is true alchemy.

So think of this as a simple bit of alchemy, transforming bread into gourmet-like croutons – which can make stuffing scrumptious, enhance favorite soups and be further transmuted into tasty bread crumbs to top all sorts of dishes.

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EASY-TO-MAKE, (Maybe) MAGICAL CROUTONS
Yields two large cookie sheets full of croutons (maybe 5-6 cups?)

Ingredients

  • One large loaf Italian bread, sliced into cubes about ½’ to ¾” square
  • 5-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon garlic granules
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried sage

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease two large cookie sheets with one tablespoon of olive oil each.
  3. Spread the bread cubes out over both sheets, trying not to overlap any.
  4. Combine thyme, marjoram, coriander, parsley, garlic granules, basil and sage in a bowl and mix together welltksday 11-12_032
  5. Sprinkle the dried herb mixture over all the croutons.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining olive oil over the herb-sprinkled bread cubes.
  7. Bake in oven until turning golden-crunchy, using a spatula to turn cubes over after about 10 minutes (don’t panic if you can’t get all of them turned – it will work out just fine!). Toasting should take from 20 to 25 minutes, but start checking earlier and keep an eye on their progress. Ovens vary, temperature-wise.
  8. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
  9. Store in a plastic bag until using the next day in stuffing or other recipe. Or store for up to a week. (To make bread crumbs, just toss into food processor and process for a minute or two until they reach desired consistency.)

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Next blog entry: the stuffing!

CHOCOLATE DOESN’T BELONG IN MUFFINS? TRY THESE BANANA CHOCO/CHIP DELIGHTS!

That would be me—the lady who says that chocolate has no business floating around in muffins (which I have mostly considered to be breakfast or coffee-break/teatime fare). If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you might recall the old Bill Cosby routine wherein Cosby is making breakfast for his kids and they want chocolate cake, so that’s what he’s gonna give ’em! Our son Adrian loved that skit (might even have heard it live at the Proctor’s when we took him to see the comedian perform – can’t recall which routines included in the act!), What made it funny was the fact that, two or three decades ago, no one considered chocolate as appropriate on any kind of early morning menu. Who but a father who was not used to pulling together a real meal would even consider dishing it out to his kids? I tend to think chocolate started to sneak into the rise ‘n’ shine food group with the intro by Dunkin’ Donuts’ of their Boston Cream filled donuts. Even I wasn’t immune to those…

But getting back to my kitchen, where three bananas dangled from the “banana hook” on my kitchen counter, already more ripe than I prefer unless mixed into something bake-worthy. And I wanted to make just one more thing to bring to that chili/bake sale at Kristen’s workplace. So I scanned the dessert/baking cookbook shelves and wound up pulling down the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts by the Moosewood Collective (Clarkson Potter Publishers/Random House, 1997), probably because I have a special love for Moosewood, which I’ve written about on this blog. (I’m not the only Moosewood lover either. Check out a seven-page article, “40 Years of Moosewood!” by Jamie Stringfellow in the November/December 2012 issue of Spirituality & Health magazine, in which it is noted that Bon Appétit named the restaurant as “one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century.”)

In the long run, the muffins I created changed out or added something like six or seven new or slightly revised ingredients, so it’s not their recipe at all. It was the inspiration that I needed, however, and it worked. If you need a run-through of differences: butter instead of oil; added yogurt; split brown sugar between light and dark; reduced flour amount and added almond meal; added cinnamon; cut vanilla extract in half to add in almond extract; added mini-chocolate chips.

These were heavenly. Bill and I split one. One was packed into the thermal bag with Kristen’s chili & cornbread lunch & cookies (necessary because, otherwise, she is so busy with aspects of the sale/raffle, sometimes all the food is sold before she gets any lunch!). That left eight for the sale. Don’t know who bought them, but I’d be willing to bet they didn’t last long!

MARILYN’S BANANA CHOCO-CHIP MUFFINS
Yields 10 large Muffins

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2½ tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (I used a combo of light & dark brown sugars)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 large ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • ¾ cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon cinnamon (plain ol’ cinnamon will work too)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (table salt or fine-ground sea salt)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ to ¾ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease jumbo muffin tin or insert paper liners.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter, yogurt, sugar, eggs and bananas until well blended.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, almond meal, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If tiniest bit of almond meal doesn’t go through sifter – we’re talking something like no more than “a pinch” – it’s okay to turn sifter over and dump into bowl.)
  5. Fold dry ingredients into wet, using quick strokes and being careful not to overmix.
  6. Gently stir in extracts.
  7. Fold in chocolate chips.
  8. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cake tester or butter knife comes out clean when inserted into muffin.
  10. Turn muffins out of tin within first five minutes of removal from oven. Cool on a rack.

EASY, CHEESEY (IN THE BEST WAY) CORNBREAD

When I decided to serve cornbread with the Lentil Soup (see previous post), I’d forgotten that a recipe for it had been included in The Homemade Pantry, the book From Scratch Club was reading and cooking/baking its way through. Didn’t even look in the book before clamoring through my cabinets to see if I had cornmeal. And I didn’t feel like putzing through a bunch of cookbooks to find a recipe I could either make “as is,” or play around with to my own taste. It isn’t that I’ve never made the stuff before, just that previous cornbread has either been from a boxed mix or the recipe I made it from didn’t thrill me enough to get it written down.

It turned out there were two cornmeal possibilities amidst my baking goods: ol’ reliable Quaker yellow cornmeal and a more authentic-looking stone-ground type with a Native American profile on the front of the package (reminiscent of the fact that the only time I ever heard of cornbread as a child and throughout teen years was when certain Indian tribes were discussed during history lessons, usually around Thanksgiving!). Since the Quaker package sported an upcoming expiration date in December 2012, my more frugal persona took over (maybe that’s the other kind of cheesey surfacing, as in the cheapest, but not always the most delicious, way ). I wasn’t about to toss out still-good ingredients, even if the alternative was probably “better for you,” maybe tastier and perhaps the result of more organic farming methods. Didn’t want to know all that. Just wanted to get on with baking.

Of course, perhaps I should feel guilty for… for not feeling guilty about using the “better” cornmeal. After all, modern technology has taken what was/is a sacred food for many of the world’s inhabitants (and former inhabitants) and bastardized it into chemically-enhanced products solely to give it longer shelf-life and thus allow industry to make larger profits. “Longer shelf life” does not equal “more nutritious” and sometimes it does equal “not-so-good-for-you.” Whole civilizations once built their spiritualities around goddesses worshipped because human beings believed these other-worldly beings somehow controlled crops, shepherding in a rich harvest that could nourish their families through the long, hard winter (or conversely causing drought, disease and other disasters which invited starvation and death).

Corn Mother is a big deal in the Americas to Native Americans. She’s found in various forms in indigenous faiths throughout the two continents. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) tells us, “The Quiche Mayas of Guatemala and the Navajo believed that the first humans were created from corn. The Mayas, Incans, Aztecs, and nearly every American Indian tribe ate corn and incorporated it into their religious beliefs and rituals. The corn mother was perhaps the most widely worshipped deity in the pre-Colmbian Americas. As a symbol of life, fertility, eternity, and resurrection, corn was a sacred gift of the Mother Goddess.” Corn was one of the Americas’ gifts to the world. It may not be called sacred by the millions it feeds today, but it sure can help to fill a growling belly.

Cunningham notes that many people still view corn as sacred and believe that  to waste it is to cause poverty. He compares it to the way Asians feel about wasting rice. [Here’s my “out” – out of the guilt: however processed Quaker’s cornmeal might be (and I don’t know the extent of it and don’t want to bad-mouth the company), it’s still a corn product that shouldn’t be wasted. This is perhaps today’s alternative to my mother’s directive to “Eat—there are starving children in China.”]

Quaker’s recipe, on the back of the fat cylinder in which their product comes, was called “Easy” but it also looked like it was trying to be lo-cal or lo-fat or both, which is fine so long as there would be plenty of flavor. Reading through the ingredients, however, I wasn’t exactly hopeful about mouth-watering taste; so naturally I fooled around with it. Here are the changes I made (I think I’m remembering them all, but be aware that I only scribbled down what I did do, not how it was different from the Q-recipe):

  • Decreased amount of flour.
  • Increased amount of cornmeal.
  • Used same amount of sugar, but half was evaporated cane juice sugar and half was light brown sugar (I used no standard granulated sugar, which I think was inferred for use in the Q-recipe although they didn’t actually say what kind of sugar to use.).
  • Substituted buttermilk for skim milk.
  • Lightly beat the egg before adding to mixture.
  • Added cheese for flavoring (it all melts into recipe).
  • Added nutmeg.

I toyed with the idea of adding chives and/or parsley (have done this with cornbread before and liked it). Didn’t do it this time, but it’s always an option (as it could be for you!) – went with addition of nutmeg instead.

Here’s the recipe. If and when you decide to make it, think about this: Patricia Telesco’s A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook (Llewellyn Publications, 1994) lists corn’s “Magical Associations” as “Life of the Land, cycles and eternity.” I don’t think the term “eternity” on this list is meant to encompass living forever on this planet in our current bodies, but there is something eternal about our being. Scientists have determined that there is no new energy in the Universe. Our bodies decompose and become (or more accurately, remain) One with All that exists. I am content with corn symbolizing this eternal cycling and re-cycling. Sure feels sacred to me.

(MAYBE SACRED) CORNBREAD
Yield: I get 16 “slices” of cornbread, but you might like smaller or larger portions!

Ingredients

  • butter to grease the baking pan
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ¼ cup sugar (I split this up between evaporated sugar cane juice and light brown sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (I used iodized table salt)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup olive oil or vegetable oil (I only had olive oil; ran out of canola)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar or mixture of parmesan/asiago cheeses
  • a couple of dashes of fresh-ground nutmeg, to taste

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Generously grease an 8”x 8” or 9”x 9” baking pan (I used a square one) with butter.
  3. Combine dry ingredients – flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt – in a large bowl. Whisk together well.
  4. Combine buttermilk, oil, and egg together in another bowl, whisking until mixed.
  5. Add liquid mixture to dry mix; combine with a few strokes of a wooden spoon or spatula.
  6. Fold the cheese(s) into the mixture, and sprinkle nutmeg (if using) over it as well.
  7. Give mixture a last few stirs (do not over-stir) and then pour into prepared pan.
  8. Bake until cornbread is lightly browned and pulling away from side of the pan. A cake tester or butter knife should come out clean when inserted into its center.
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting into slices.

I like it when it’s still warm and I can slice it horizontally to insert a skinny pat of butter, which immediately melts to add to the yumminess. Ahhhhh…

LENTIL SOUP – EARTHY RECIPE, UNDER A WATER SIGN!

According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), lentils – a major staple in many diets around the world – possess the “energy” of Peace. Their element is water (and how would we eat them if we couldn’t cook them in liquid?), despite what I’d describe as an earthy taste, and their “planet” is the Moon (water… tides… get it?). Cunningham says to “eat it for peace.” I envision a whole day designated for making peace in the world, with everyone slurping lentil soup as part of the overall symbolism. On a full stomach, who can make war?

Peace wasn’t what I had in mind, however, when I made a large batch of it recently. It was about the next couple recipes to cover for From Scratch Club on GoodReads. Part of the assignment for FSC was to make another recipe from The Homemade Pantry, selecting from either Chapter 5 (or “Aisle” 5, as author Alana Chernila calls it), which covers Soups, or from Chapter/Aisle 6, entitled “Baking Needs & Mixes.” I made the soup from Aisle 5, then opted for Alana’s Yellow Cake in the following chapter (also made Corn Bread to go with Lentil Soup but not from this cookbook, although quite similar). Today’s post covers how I prepared the Lentil Soup, based on the book’s instructions but with my own revisions.

Dad (right) w/Uncle Champ & cousin Marge

Bill loves lentil soup. I enjoy it and especially like that lentils don’t take a long time to cook! Growing up, however, I don’t remember these tiny “beans” ever being present in our household. It was the 50s and 60s, and convenience foods were big in this country, especially soup-wise (think: Campbell’s).

Mom & Dad (Dolly & George), circa 1969

In our household if homemade soups were conjured up, Dad usually created them. And he had only two in his repertoire: Vegetable Beef and Manhattan Clam Chowder. In truth, they were the same concoction, except the first one got the beef and the flavor it created when the meat chunks were browned, and the chowder included clams (usually Little Necks). Otherwise, pretty much the same vegetables and spices. You’d think that our father’s taking over some cooking once in a while would be a gift to Mom, and she did appreciate it. Until it got to clean-up. It seems that Dad’s short stint as a cook in the army during the war made him prone to producing very large batches of soup, resulting in lots of clean-up detail (which he was perhaps used to leaving to other soldiers to handle). Mom always seemed to be the one handling clean-up in our flat’s tiny kitchen, a space not equipped with “instant” hot water. She had to be sure to light a flame under the gas water tank early on, so she’d have enough hot water to wash all the dishes!

If I need another reason to like lentils, it’s their awesome nutrition profile. 100 Best Health Foods (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books, 2009), a book that details health benefits of some foods determined to be best for our bodies and overall well-being, lists their major nutrient levels and further emphasizes that lentils are especially rich in fiber, have a high iron content, and contain plant chemicals to help alleviate PMS symptoms (wish I’d known that a couple decades ago) and aid in bone health. Their high zinc content also boosts the immune system. We’re talking a food that, from ancient times, has nourished the human race (almost 2,000 years before Christ was born, the Egyptians apparently traded lentils for the prized cedars of Lebanon!).

But few people want to be told how good something is for them (try it on a kid—see how far it’ll get you toward convincing them to eat broccoli or Brussels sprouts…). We want to know it tastes good. And this recipe is delicious – hot, earthy mouthfuls of flavor.

Note about this recipe: I adjusted things like:

  • salt (ran out of unsalted butter; used low-sodium soy sauce instead of regular soy)
  • didn’t have white onions on hand (used red)
  • chopped celery instead of minced
  • delayed when to add lentils (used dried red lentils instead of raw green or French lentils, which cook faster and would disintegrate if added early)
  • added parsnip and extra potatoes
  • added a mix of some herbs (some dried, some frozen from pots on my deck this summer).

EARTHY LENTIL SOUP
(with thanks to Alana Chernila for original recipe from which this is derived)
Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter (as noted above, I used salted butter; if using unsalted, adjust for difference)
  • 1 cup chopped onion (white onion ok, but I had milder red ones!)
  • ½ teaspoon fine-ground sea salt (table salt ok), plus more if desired
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped celery (if celery has leaves, use them too!)
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped carrots
  • 1 medium-to-large parsnip, chopped
  • 3 cups dried red lentils
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped potatoes
  • 7 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade preferred but not required) or water, or any combo of stock and water
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1½ tablespoons light brown sugar (yup! who’da thought?!)
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce (according to Alana, tamari is ok too)
  • up to 2 or 3 tablespoons of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram and/or oregano (Alana’s recipe calls for most of these [marjoram is my add-on] as garnish; I included them as actual last-minute additions to soup; some of these were frozen from my summer potted herbs, others were dried – all are optional but add nice flavor )

Process

  1. Melt butter in large soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion to butter; sauté for one minute or until shiny.
  3. Add salt, garlic, celery, parsnip and carrots to pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until aromatic and shiny.
  4. Add bay leaf, potatoes and about 7 cups of stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour.
  5. Stir lentils into pot. Bring to boil again, return to medium-low and cover. Check as it cooks, making sure it does not become too thick or dry; if it does, add more stock or water (I wound up using all 9 cups of stock plus a bit of filtered water). Cook for about another 45 minutes.
  6. Add pepper, brown sugar and soy sauce. Remove bay leaf. Cook for about another 10 to15 minutes.
  7. Add combo of herbs, if using. Simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes if needed (check doneness of lentils and potatoes to gauge this).
  8. Adjust for salt and pepper, then serve!

LUCIOUS LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES

This is the second recipe in which I used the Homemade Ricotta made per my recent joining of the From Scratch Club on GoodReads. We’re reading/cooking/baking from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila, a book I highly recommend. My last blogpost, Comfort Pasta with Ricotta, Nutmeg and Peas was the other dish I conjured up, based on a recipe in a cookbook I’ve owned for years. Both were heaven to the tongue.

I found this recipe in a relatively new (to me) cookbook, Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002), a volume awarded the IACP Cookbook Award in 2002, which I just learned is an honor given by the International Association of Culinary Professionals to “the authors, publishers, and other contributors behind the best of cookbooks published each year.” Because I love lemon-anything, it caught my attention immediately. As usual, I made a few changes to suit my needs, desires and tastes.

When the kids were growing up, pancakes weren’t on our everyday breakfast menu. It took time to make them, even from a box (and our box was Bisquick, which we found to be better than specifically-pancake/waffle mixes). Life was too hectic to get into time-consuming morning feasts like pancakes, eggs/omelets, French toast and other more elaborate first-thing-in-the-morning endeavors on weekdays. Those were weekend fare, so long as we weren’t driving children all over creation to too-early activities on a Saturday or Sunday! So pancakes were treats, and they remain so.

These Lemon Ricotta Pancakes surpass anything from those days. Bill and I scarfed them down over two days (fresh and heated-up leftovers), savoring every bite, knowing our son wouldn’t be interested anyway. He’d much rather make his own Bisquick batch whenever he feels like it. His loss.

Try ’em—you’ll love ’em.

LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES FROM SCRATCH
Yield: supposedly, 27 pancakes – but ours were larger, for a smaller yield

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsifted, unbleached all-purpose flour (original recipe calls for bleached; I only buy unbleached)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of nutmeg and/or cinnamon (totally my addition- totally optional)
  • ¾ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese (mine was homemade)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (book calls for granulated; I use organic evaporated cane juice sugar – same texture as granulated)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (lemon-love-me probably made that at “generous” teaspoonful!)
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten with a whisk (original recipe doesn’t call for whisked eggs; this is my move so the whisk part is optional)
  • ¾ cup milk (I used 2%, but whole is fine; buttermilk would also work to add more tang)
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
  • ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
  • butter, for the grill (book calls for clarified butter, but I used regular unsalted)
  • fresh fruit, for topping (optional – my idea, not the cookbook author’s)
  • confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling on pancakes

Process

  1. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg (if using) and cinnamon (if using) into medium-sized bowl.
  2. Blend ricotta, sugar, lemon zest and eggs in small bowl, using wooden spoon or paddle.
  3. Blend milk, melted butter and lemon extract into ricotta mixture.
  4. Blend ricotta mixture into the sifted flour ingredients, stirring until it becomes an evenly textured batter (use wooden spoon or paddle). Batter will be moderately thick.
  5. Place 2-tablespoon scoops (or use a little more, if preferred) of batter onto a hot griddle greased with butter; cook for about 1 minute or until undersides are golden and bubbles appear on surface. Flip over with a spatula and continue cooking for about another minute (until golden brown on bottom).
  6. Serve with fresh fruit topping, if desired.
  7. Sift confectioners’ sugar atop pancakes (and fruit, if serving), also if desired. I can imagine whipped cream instead of the confectioners’ sugar – but only the real stuff, not what comes frozen in a plastic tub!

COMFORT PASTA (WITH RICOTTA, NUTMEG & PEAS) – QUICK & EASY!

Most pasta – no matter what kind or how prepared – qualifies as comfort food for me. The old standard Macaroni and Cheese ranks #1 in my book, probably because it was a my mother’s dish my mother often served. She tossed together canned, diced tomatoes and American processed cheese – plus elbow macaroni and whole milk (no one even hear of 1% or 2% milk back then, and skim was too skimpy). That’s about it, except for salt, pepper and maybe a little garlic salt if she had it. It was always delicious. I make a sort-of version of hers about once a month, although with different (and alternating) cheeses, but I often hunger for something a little different.

Uncle Champ (Frank), Aunt Mary with cousin Mary; circa 1950.

Then there was Aunt Mary’s spaghetti and meatballs. It was a super-treat to get invited to Aunt Mary and Uncle Champ’s house for the ultimate Italian dinner back-in-the-day. After all, Aunt Mary’s parents were Italian immigrants from Puglia — this was a genuine recipe! Her meatballs became forever the ultimate high standard against which all meatballs were measured, at least as far as Mom was concerned. When the family (my brothers and I and our families) took her out for her 70th birthday to a celebrated Italian restaurant in Albany, allegedy the place where former Governor Mario Cuomo preferred to eat when doing Italian, she naturally order spaghetti with meatballs. Asked how the meatballs were, she replied, “They were pretty good.” Not great. Just pretty good.

Decades ago, my cousin Mary gave me her mother’s recipe but I tend to go off on my own where these things are concerned, so I’ve only made it a few times. It requires cooking at least overnight, until a chicken breast literally dissolves in the tomato richness. And there’s more than just meatballs involved—sausage comes into it as well. A lengthy project. Still, it holds such an honored place in my personal history that it even worked its way into a poem I wrote some years ago, which just posted on this blog’s Food for Thought: Getting Literate page, for your reading pleasure.

Dolly (Mom) out to dinner on 70th birthday, at head of table. 1997.

When Mom (Dolly) made spaghetti sauce it could be okay or it might be what I dubbed as her “cardboard sauce.” She’d give me a dirty look when I used that term, or would comment, “And how would you know what cardboard tastes like?” It was clear she was inferring that we ate pretty decently. Dad ran a tiny grocery store in the South End of Albany (he worked there for something like 14 years; later owned it –the business, not the building- for a few years before he became too disabled by a stroke to work). We often get leftovers where meats were concerned, the ones not sold to his customers, but there was always a decent roast on Sunday for dinner. And the Grand Union was less than a half-block away for items Dad didn’t sell or couldn’t tote home after work in a taxi.

In retrospect, I should’ve called that not-so-great sauce “Mom’s hurry-up” meal. Most likely, she just didn’t feel like cooking that night! Who wants to prepare an all-night affair, or even your own one-to-two-hour sauce, when there’s an easy way out- especially when you can get invited for The Real Deal and walk just a few blocks to consume it with lots of family?

Seems natural that I’d look for an easy-to-prep pasta dish for some of the homemade ricotta I’d made (see previous blogpost, dated October 4, 2012). I checked out a fav cookbook that’s been on my shelf for years, The Best 125 Meatless Pasta Dishes by Minday Toomay and Susann Geiskopf-Hadler (Prima Publishing, 1992), and found Ricotta with Nutmeg and Peas. Nutmeg being a favorite spice of mine, plus knowing it goes great with cheese of almost any kind, it was no contest about this selection.

The dish went over big with both Bill and Adrian. I loved it and will make it again. Of course, I made it my own with a few changes (which are noted) – the big one, of course, being that I used my homemade ricotta, made with whole milk.

Comfort Past (with Ricotta, Nutmeg and Peas)
Yields 4-5 servings

Ingredient

  • 15 oz. homemade whole-milk ricotta (or store-bought part-skim), at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
    …with homemade ricotta!
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups peas (frozen or fresh – I used frozen)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated preferred (but ok to use jarred)
  • a dash of cinnamon (optional, my addition- not in original recipe)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (I use sea salt, but table salt ok)
  • a few twists of the pepper grinder, to taste
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 12-14 ounces dried pasta (recipe said 12 ounces but I knew I could stretch it!; recipe also recommended small tubes or spirals but I used angel hair, our favorite, and it was great)
  • additional Parmesan and nutmeg, as needed and/or desired

Note: it’s important that ingredients be at room temperature, since nothing except the pasta will be heated!

Process

  1. Cook the pasta to al dente in a pot of several quarts of boiling water, adding the peas for the final two minutes. (In Italian, “al dente” means “to the tooth” which suggests that the tooth should meet a little resistance when it meets the noodle. The packaging for your pasta should give you guidelines for how long that particular pasta takes to make it to this stage.)
  2. Meanwhile, mash ricotta and butter in a large bowl, along with nutmeg, cinnamon (if using), salt and pepper.
  3. Set the bowl in warm spot on the stove while waiting for pasta and peas to cook.
  4. Drain the pasta and peas, allowing a bit of water to remain with the noodles and veggies.
  5. Toss the ricotta mix with the Parmesan in the warm bowl.
  6. Add the pasta and peas to bowl with ricotta/Parmesan mixture, and mix it all together using tongs or a forks.
  7. Serve (on warmed plates, if you like) sprinkled with additional Parmesan and a little nutmeg, if desired.

RICOTTA FROM SCRATCH – OR, LITTLE MISS MUFFET HAD NOTHIN’ ON ME (WHO KNEW MAKING RICOTTA MEANS SEPARATING CURDS & WHEY!?)

In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about the From Scratch Club (http://fromscratchclub.com/) that I discovered while Bill and I wandered about Honest Weight Co-Op’s fall festival (http://www.hwfc.com/). Almost as soon as we got home from the harvest fest, I joined GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com/), clicked “Groups” heading at the top of the page, found FSC Book Club, and clicked. Bingo! Just in time to participate in their second book challenge, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila (Clarkson Potter Publishers, imprint of Crown Publishing, division of Random House, 2012). Today’s blogpost is about my meeting the first challenge. In fact, blogging about it goes along with part of the assignment!

Participants in the FSC Book Club are challenged every other Monday to read a portion of The Book and then to complete at least one or two tasks. Always, they’re asked to make at least one of the recipes from the chapters, and then something else – such as inviting someone over to share your cooking/baking, or posting a picture of your product. On September 24th, we were directed (gently – there’s no pressure to do any of this) to read the first two chapters of Homemade Pantry (“Dairy” and “Cereals & Snacks”) and to make at least one recipe from either (or both) of them. In addition, we’re to take a photo of the finished product “in action.” We’re to upload pictures to the Group’s page and perhaps also to Facebook (Guess I’ll create a separate album for FSC food pics) and Twitter (not sure if I’ll bother with this one—I don’t Tweet very often). As I said yesterday, my choice was Ricotta from Chapter 1 (Dairy).

I putzed around for a few days with one excuse or another not to get to it. Good excuses: (1) not enough time in a solid block to concentrate on doing something so new (heaven forbid I should screw it up!); (2) had to get better equipment (after all, none of my bowls were deep enough to easily use my chinois [a/k/a huge, upside-down, cone-shaped, very fine sieve]); (3) thought I had all the ingredients but didn’t (oops! when I shopped, didn’t buy lemons – and then realized those two citrus fruits in the green bag in the frig were oranges).

When things settled down time-wise, and I’d bought a deep, wide-mouthed, glass canister, and a trip to the grocery included purchase of several lemons – well, it became clear that Excuse #4 was the one that truly held sway: despite the apparent ease of ricotta creation per the author’s recipe, I was nervous about attempting it. (I’m not Italian so how could I even think I can make this? Hell, growing up we never had ricotta in the house, I mean NEVER. My mother was in her 40s before she even tasted lasagna. And watching that temperature and timing it- OMG, I’ve owned one of those “attach-to-the-pot” thermometers for a few years and it had never been taken out of the package. Then too, why would I want to make it when I could buy decent ricotta?) So the only thing to do, finally, was to Just Do It.

It turned out heavenly. Once refrigerated, the texture (curds) was firmer, less creamy than the store-bought stuff but it tasted so much better. Just a hint of the lemon sneaks through when it hits the tongue (which made me wonder, once I went to the author’s blog to ferret out a link for folks to find Chernila’s recipe, about versions that use vinegar instead of fresh lemon juice). I saved the whey (liquid that dripped through the chinois) and used it in the pasta water for the Ricotta with Nutmeg and Peas that I made the same night and yesterday in the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (topped with confectioners sugar and fresh, raw-sugared berries) we had for dessert. There’s still a little of the liquid left, which will go into a creamy soup tonight or tomorrow.

All in all, a terrific experience. Before posting the pictures (which will make up the remainder of this blog entry), here are links to author Alana Chernila’s two ricotta recipes: http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/05/curds-and-whey/ and http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/12/ricotta-again/. Her Homemade Pantry version indicates you could simply use a half-gallon of whole milk and fresh lemon juice, with the option of adding heavy cream and/or salt as well (I took both options). On her site, the “Ricotta, again” post comes closest to the book’s recipe (it lists both the cream and the salt, but not as options).

My batch made about 1½ cups of the stuff, as the author promised.

As the expression goes:  Try it – you’ll like it!

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!

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).