KC Unplugged (sorta): 2012 in review, plus the Witch of the Epiphany (La Befana)

New tree at the Days this year, awaiting angel-topping and gifts below.

New tree at the Days this year, awaiting angel-topping and gifts below.

I imagine readers have figured out that the holidays took over my life, timewise, which resulted in no blogposts since a couple about our Thanksgiving feast weeks ago. More to come, but possibily not for a few days. (Here’s a tease: I’m hoping daughter Kristen will do a blogpost, or at least provide the recipe, for the awesome peppermint cheesecake she baked this year for Christmas Eve lunch.)

Tomorrow, the Feast of the Epiphany, brings a few more family members to our house and I’ll be prepping for that. I am, however, somewhat copping out on this one: so tired of cooking, baking, making-everything-nice that I’ve scheduled the gathering as mid-afternoon, snacks-only. And many of those will be from-the-freezer-case items or straight from grocery aisles I usually don’t bother much with in recent years. There will also be cheese and crackers. Probably hummus, salsa and nachos as well.

Christmas 2011 at George's: Bill, Marilyn (me), George, Heidi.

Christmas 2011 at George’s: Bill, Marilyn (me), George, Heidi.

Brother George and wife Heidi are expected. Niece Chrissy (Heidi’s daughter) and her husband Chad, plus the four kids from their household are also coming. We didn’t get to see them on Christmas as all of us were heading in different directions this year. Nephew Matt (George’s son) and wife Kate, with their two young’uns Alex and Ella, won’t be joining us tomorrow but that’s fine – we did Christmas Eve lunch at their home (and a fine meal that was- mostly prepared by Matt) and exchanged gifts that afternoon. I made some homemade focaccia for that meal (a first for me), and Kristen’s cheesecake was a wonderful and ultra-filling dessert to close it out. We missed George and Heidi that day, however, as they arrived just minutes after we’d departed for home! 

Kristen's peppermint cheesecake, Xmas Eve lunch at Matt & Kate's (photo by Kate).

Kristen’s peppermint cheesecake, Xmas Eve lunch at Matt & Kate’s (photo by Kate).

Xmas Day 2011 at George's: Chrissy, Chad & kids.

Xmas Day 2011 at George’s: Chrissy, Chad & kids.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s batch of kids – I have become, per my brother, “the aunt who gives books.” Each child gets two of them this year along with an inexpensive toy (went a little overboard). I probably have more fun selecting those volumes than the kids do opening them!

If I had any energy left, I’d be baking some kind of cookies honoring Italy’s “Christmas Witch” or, to be more accurate, La Befana, the Witch of the Epiphany. Two or three years ago, when I was writing “goddess journal entries” about goddess-as-archetype and sharing them with a few friends, I somehow came upon La Befana. That discovery resulted in my creating an extensive e-journal entry about her. At the beginning of each entry, I always included an original poem about the entry’s g-archetype. Here’s my humble poetic creation about Italy’s famous holiday witch:

Sonnet for Befana, Witch of the Epiphany

Shadow sweeps across frozen yellow moon,
ragged cloak trailing soot of workworn days.
Befana, mounted, rides astride straw broom,
sharp-eyed despite the chilling winter haze.
She stills a howling wind, clears ice, melts snow –
while packing a bag more joy-filled than tears.
Most wishes She grants, detests the word No;
Stockings well-filled, she smiles, then disappears.
Santa’s got nothin’ o’er this wild old hag,
not loud ho-hos nor reindeer attractions,
for witches own magic – a well-known fact!
Sure work might delay her, too long a lag?
Adjustments she’ll make for odd distractions
so long as by morn She’s emptied that sack.

                                                 by Marilyn Zembo Day

Here’s the beginning of my 2011 La Befana e-entry:

She is folklore and She is goddess. She is Christian and She is Pagan. She can scare you – if you judge only by physical attributes – and yet you might await Her arrival on the edge of a child‘s excited anticipation. The ugly, soot-sodden hag Befana is the woman who won‘t disappear from Italian traditions, having survived the fall of the Roman Empire, the witch hunting crazes of the Catholic Church, devastating wars and deprivations, and some of the worst of patriarchal times. Just when you think the Yule holidays are done-for, She makes Her appearance, a smiling, female Santa Claus of ancient and modern times.

What?!!, you might say, Santa Claus? Witches are for Halloween, not Christmas time! And you’d be right… and wrong. Witches are among us always. We are all witches. We are all magick.

Google La Befana and Italy to see what you come up with, but I must tell you that I particularly love this video of DisneyWorld’s Epcot La Befana performance. Such fun! Check out the Witch of the Epiphany! She turned down the chance to travel with the Wise Men to honor the newborn Christ Child because she was busy “sweeping out the old, in the new” with her broom, before the coming Solstice/New Year. Then she tried to find the Child herself, bearing gifts. Unsuccessful, she vowed to bring gifts to all children she could find, until she came upon the Saviour. She does this every year on the eve of the Epiphany.

Today, the only “feast” shared on KitchenCauldron is this WildWoman of the Feast of the Epiphany… and statistics about the “feast” I’ve provided for you over the last 12 months, comprised of a smidgen of recipes I’ve prepared this year, served to friends and family, and photographed for this blog. WordPress provides its bloggers with the past year’s statistics in a report about their blog, and I’m offering them here for you to peruse (see below).

Thank you, all, for checking out KC (over 5700 hits!). I hope you’ve enjoyed my family and other stories, as well as the many recipes and food-related book and event entries. Hopefully, you’ve tried making a few of the dishes and baked goods (perhaps with your own creative twists and touches) and you’ve shared them in a comfortable space with your own circles of loved ones. It gives me pleasure to imagine such a scene.

Here’s to a healthy, happy, prosperous 2013 for all of us… with more recipes, stories and sharing throughout!

May the New Year be full of light and love for you and your loved ones. (Artist Trading Card #55, "Candle Comfort" by MariLyn)

May the New Year be full of light and love for you and your loved ones. (Artist Trading Card #55, “Candle Comfort” by MariLyn)

*****

Here’s what the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared, as a 2012 annual report, for this blog:

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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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!

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!

WELCOMING THE SEASON WITH SWEET, TANGY CRANBERRY-ORANGE SAUCE – ONE OF MY FAVS ON THE THANKSGIVING MENU

tksday 11-12_080I’d planned to blog about Thanksgiving dinner over a week ago, just after the Chili Bake recipes, but it was not to be. I’ve been through the wringer with a tooth infection under a bridge installed by my dentist back in 1988, an experience I’d prefer never to happen again. Suffice to say that I’ve lost one of the two teeth under that bridge and have not been in writing or eating mode most of the time since (hey- I lost about 6 pounds as a result- a little leverage for holiday snacking might be the only benefit to the whole mess!). To get back into the spirit, however, I decided this morning that providing readers with one of the simplest, sweetest and most favored (at least by me) of over a dozen(!) dishes served on Turkey Day would be a good start. More recipes will follow in future blogposts.

This year, unlike most, we decided to do dinner at home with just the four of us – Bill and me with adult offspring Kristen and Adrian. Most often in recent years, we’ve gone to brother George’s (his wife is Heidi), since they have a much larger home. They had other plans anyway, and we were happy to anticipate the best part of Thanksgiving: leftovers over the next few days. We were also invited to the home of one of Adrian’s friends for dessert, and I baked an awesome and new-to-me cake to contribute to that feast.

Memories of Thanksgivings past, of course, kept bubbling up as I stirred the cranberry sauce the day before the big meal, as well as throughout the holiday. Don’t we all have those tidbits of family and friends in the back of our minds as each holiday arrives?

When we were kids, we were part of a huge family gathering. Our mother was one of eight siblings and Grandma Boyd liked to get as many of them together as possible. I have vague memories of the cousins running amok in her and Grandpa’s small basement apartment on Hamilton Street in Albany and, in other years, between the two flats on the third floor on Central Avenue where Aunt Pat and Uncle Doug lived at #61 Central and we were at #63 (same building, across the hall from each other). In our place, the living room and dining room were what they’re calling today “open concept” and that’s where tables were put together for the feast. The meal included turkey, stuffing (always a sausage version, sometimes an oyster one too), gravy, mashed potatoes, and what we called turnips (but they were really rutabaga). There’d be other vegetables, most likely corn and/or peas or green beans, and creamed cauliflower (not really “creamed,” more like “in cream sauce”). I vaguely recall sweet potatoes making an occasional appearance but, at the time, you wouldn’t get me to touch them! And the pies: pumpkin, apple and George’s favorite, mincemeat.

In addition to the turkey, unlike most households on that day, another “meat” such as roast beef or lamb, always graced that table because our grandmother wouldn’t eat turkey! She always said that she’d grown up on a farm and saw what those “dirty birds” ate off the ground. She just couldn’t stomach it!

Another memory, probably after Gramma had passed away: Mom and Aunt Pat in our kitchen, trying to get the gravy to come together just right. I think Gramma was the gravy diva on Turkey Days past and, while they had certainly made gravies themselves before, this time it just wasn’t working. It would be too thin, so they’d add a slurry of water (or milk?) and flour. Too thick, so more water. In the end, it tasted more like flour-water than gravy but it was hot atop the stuffing and turkey, and not so bad with buttered potatoes.

In 1971, the Northeast got hit with one of the biggest Thanksgiving snowstorms in its history. My dad was in the Veterans Administration hospital, having had a stroke several weeks before (his final one, which would take him from us eventually, on Christmas Eve that year), and the plan was that we (Mom, brother Bill and I) would visit him and then go to Aunt Pat’s and Uncle Doug’s house for dinner. Several years before, they’d moved to a more spacious apartment on Elk Street, about six blocks from Mom and Dad’s. George was now married, and he and Sharon lived in Selkirk, south of Albany. I no longer lived at home but was spending the night with Mom and 13-year-old brother Bill. As the expression goes, “The best-laid plans of…” – there was no way we could safely get to the VA Hospital that day. We didn’t own a car, and taxi cabs either weren’t running or were running hours late. We called the desk on his floor and asked a nurse to let Dad know we couldn’t make it, and then decided we’d set out amidst the drifting snow, trudging up Central toward our dinner.

We were almost ready to turn back in less than 10 minutes when, lo and behold, one of the few cars driving up Central (in those days, usually a busy thoroughfare in the city, a shopping area in fact) stopped and the driver waved at us. It was Uncle Arch! Crazy, lovable Uncle Arch was out driving in that mess! I have no idea why he was buzzing through what would wind up being 22.5 inches of the white stuff (30 inches in some areas), but, as the three of us piled into the car, we were grateful he showed up! George and Sharon arrived at Aunt Pat’s a little while later, having decided to risk snow-filled roads because all they had to eat in the house was the pie they were contributing to the table fare! We didn’t stay late because of the storm, but it was probably one of the most appreciated Thanksgiving repasts we’d ever consumed!

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There are other memories but it’s time to get on to this year, or I’ll be writing all day before the recipe gets posted. So here’s the menu, from a day whose weather was clear, bright, and above the average temperature (in the low 50s!):

Roast Turkey
Stuffing with turkey sausage, made with homemade croutons
Gravy (a little thin, but I wasn’t risking the flour-water possibility!) 
Mashed Potato Casserole
Buttery Rutabaga
Cauliflower in Cheesey Cream Sauce
Broth-and-butter-braised Carrots
From-Scratch Green Bean Casserole
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Beets
Buttered Peas and Carrots
Cranberry-Orange Sauce
Magic Chocolate Flan Cake (brought to Frank & Robin’s house for dessert)
Thanksgiving CakePops (Turkeys & Snowmen, made by Kristen, also brought to Frank’s)

Growing up, the only cranberry sauce I tasted was the “jellied” kind bought in a can at the local supermarket. Always Ocean Spray brand (store brands were less prevalent in those days). I was married several years before discovering there was something called whole-berry sauce, and I loved it. Imagine my delight when I first made it from scratch, rather than the canned version first ingested. As usual, I consulted several cookbooks and then made it my way (sounds like Frank Sinatra, doesn’t it, “I did it my way…”). Eventually, that recipe evolved into a cranberry-orange rendition. tksdy notes12_001I’m not sure I even create it the same way every time, but this Thanksgiving I was adamantly scribbling ingredients and other info on yellow sticky notes as I made the entire meal (two days of cooking and baking)—so I now have this basic game plan for the next time I make this awesome condiment. Plus notes for a few more posts on KitchenCauldron.

Getting a little witchy (this blog is a cauldron, you know), you might like to know that, according to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications), the “sourness of cranberries makes them an ideal protective food.” Cunningham notes that these berries are native to North America and Europe. He says, they were ckbk wicca kitchen“eaten by Indians long before being introduced to the Pilgrims.” I’m thinking it’s not just the sourness that would point to cranberries’ protective energy. There’s something about their deep red hue that speaks of strength to me. After all, aren’t red and orange foods supposed to be rich in nutrients? Food science tells us there’s the carotenoid called lycopene in the reds (especially good for prostate health) and oranges contain beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body (supporting the immune system, promoting bone growth, and regulating cell growth and division). Sure sounds protective to me.

So let’s get on to a recipe for good health, albeit one of many one might indulge in on an over-indulgent holiday. (This is also especially great when prepared the day before – convenient, so lower stress, ergo better for you too!)

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SWEET ‘N’ TANGY CRANBERRY-ORANGE SAUCE
Yields a couple cups (with extra juice to freeze for later use!)

Ingredients

  • 24 oz. bag cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1½ cups sugar (have a bit more available, in case needed)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)
  • up to ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (or less, if preferred, & I prefer fresh-ground nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • juice of ½ orange (or substitute juice from small can of mandarin oranges)
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 oranges, peeled, each section cut into 2 or 3 pieces (or use equivalent in canned mandarin oranges)

Process

  1. In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring cranberries and all other ingredients except for orange sections to a boil.tksday 11-12_048
  2. Reduce heat and simmer until all berries seem to have popped and sauce begins to thicken a bit.
  3. Add orange sections and let simmer another couple minutes.tksday 11-12_045
  4. Taste for desired sweetness. Stir in extra sugar, if desired.
  5. If the sauce doesn’t thicken to your preference, you can choose to use a slurry of the juice and a bit of corn starch to aid the process, but it’s just as good without being too dense. (I froze extra juice, with a plan to use it in a future pork tenderloin recipe, as yet to be concocted.)
Sauce for The Day, a portion for daughter to take home & juice for a future roast!

Sauce for The Day, a portion for daughter to take home & juice for a future roast!

ALMOST-IRISH STEW for the Slow-Cooker, with SHAMROCK IRISH SODA BREAD

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day dawned sunny and warm. We’ve been breaking records this March with temperatures reaching into the high 60s and low 70s. That continuing trend, into yesterday, made for a huge turnout for Albany’s annual St. Pat’s Day parade – an event which we missed but were well-informed about by my Aunt Pat later in the day (the crowd, we were advised, was 8-to-10-deep along the parade route).

After my spending a good deal of the day writing for and posting to KitchenCauldron (the latter with some difficulty – for some reason, WordPress wasn’t taking some pictures), and Bill’s working on staining some furniture to go with the new hardwood floor he installed in Adrian’s room, the hubby popped his head into my office and asked, “Were you going to get outside today, go anywhere?”

“You suggesting something?” I asked.

“Well, I passed Kurver’s yesterday and it looked like it’s open.” Kurver’s Kreme happens to be my favorite spot for soft ice cream. Especially when it’s vanilla twisted with some sort of sherbert that I love (orange, watermelon, raspberry…). Besides, I consider the re-opening of Kurver’s each spring to be the first sign of spring’s return!

My answer: “YES!”

I had lamb in the fridge that had been thawing for Irish Stew, which I planned to make on St. Patrick’s Day the “regular” way (sans slow-cooker). If we went out somewhere, it wasn’t likely I was going to start cooking upon returning home at, say, five or six o’clock with a target of eating dinner at around 9 p.m. (and dishes not done ’til close to midnight). Luckily, there was a solution to this quandary.

“How about we head over to the North Albany American Legion Post, where Aunt Pat told me she’d be going after riding in the parade? Open to the public – and corned beef and cabbage at a really reasonable price!” I knew my aunt would be thrilled to see us turn up, and she was. We also got to meet two of her nieces from her Irish clan, as well as a nephew and his wife.

The corned beef and cabbage dinner was superb. Meat done so well it was falling apart. Cabbage and potatoes perfectly tender, and delish when topped with butter and pepper. And then off to Kurver’s for dessert (we both went for the vanilla-pistachio twist on a cone).

Marilyn & Bill, 35th anniversary, reading "re-commitment vows" to each other.

Now I should mention that St. Patrick’s Day is a sort of anniversary for my husband and me. Or maybe I shouldn’t, but I am mentioning it anyway. Our 40th wedding anniversary is at the end of next month, but this one dates back a few years before we married. Not exactly a fairy tale though.

Once upon a time, in a city eked out by the Dutch but home to myriad immigrant groups in the years since colonial times, a young Irish-American man went out merry-making on St. Patrick’s Day. The green-eyed, curly-haired twenty-something visited several establishments at which the Wearing o’ the Green was being celebrated on that day (and into the night and wee hours of the morning), indulging perhaps in corned beef and cabbage and soda bread, and definitely in plenty of green beer. He himself proudly sported a lovely green-tinted carnation boutonniere – but anyone would’ve known he owned an Irish heritage without such a token sign of the Green Isle. You only had to glance at the pale skin, the freckles and that slightly pug nose. He might as well have had the map of Ireland tattooed on his forehead.

Not far from the young man’s St. Pat’s Day rovings, a young woman of his acquaintance had pretty much settled into a quiet evening in the apartment she shared with one other woman. She wasn’t Irish or Irish-American and, while she’d often celebrated the holiday over the years, she hadn’t “done the bars” for this year’s big day. Instead, she found herself reading a good book and retiring to bed reasonably early (considering that it was a very good book and she could hardly put it down).

The young not-Irish woman awoke an hour or two later, to the ringing of the doorbell. Now we’re talking the late ’60s, so most of us weren’t scared-out-of-our-wits to open the door without looking out a peephole or shouting down from a window to determine who dared show up at such an ungodly hour. This is what she did, just went downstairs to answer the ring. And found the green-eyed, green-boutonniered guy at her doorstep.

It happened that this young lady, of mixed immigrant stock (some of the Dutch; a little German and Russian; and more recently on the paternal side, Polish), already had a wicked crush on the inebriated Irish-American who had just appeared at her apartment. She welcomed him into her place. They talked for a while. He left the next morning, most likely hung over, leaving the green carnation with the sleepy-eyed girl.

The gods of their childhood religion did not send lightning bolts down upon the young man, nor on the young woman either. Neither of them believed they were doomed to an inferno. It was, after all, the ’60s. They were not hippies but they still listened to the voices of their generation. OK, no lightning bolts, but one of The Gods of Albany’s Streets had managed to leave a parking ticket on the poor guy’s car before he stumbled out into the sunlight on the day after St. Paddy’s Day.

And they didn’t live happily ever after either. It was touch and go for a few years. Three, if you must know. After which they made a pretty nice life together, having two anniversaries to celebrate each year.

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What can follow such a tale? I guess it just has to be about the recipes – so here are a few notes about the two recipe in this post (a double-header, if you’re into baseball terminology!). And then will come the how-to if you’re interested in trying them yourself.

My Irish Stew originated out of an old cookbook that I still hold onto because it’s been good to me. It’s called The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes you should have gotten from your grandmother, by Jeff Smith (William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990). I also have two other cookbooks by Smith – his original one and a book on Italian cooking. From just The Irish Immigrants chapter of Our Immigrant Ancestors alone, I’ve made the Lamb Stew (the original source for this recipe) plus Colcannon and Dublin Coddle. (Unfortunately, I can’t ever pick up one of his books without recalling the big scandal that befell him later in his career, with charges that he was a pedophile. But that’s nothing to do with the fact that he was a food genius.) I changed my basic stovetop recipe slightly from the Frugal Gourmet’s, but this slowcooker version is considerably different. Here’s how:

  • First off, I used less lamb. Also, as it turned out this (first) time around with the slowcooker recipe, the lamb I had defrosted for the stew was not the already-cut-for-stew version. Two of the three packages were chops, with bones, so I found myself taking time to cut the meat away. (Not to waste those good bones, I put them in a sauce pan with some onion, carrot, garlic and water and boiled them down to make some lamb stock.)
  • Next change: the Gourmet’s recipe calls for “thickly sliced bacon.” I went for Canadian style bacon instead this time, cutting the fat a bit. (Great decision, it turns out – tasted much the same, which is to say, “Great!” If you decide you’d like to opt for the “regular” bacon, then you’d be better off frying the bacon first and then browning the lamb in bacon fat – in which case, you probably won’t need the oil and butter).
  • Jeff Smith deglazed his frying pan with ½ cup water. I used some of the beef stock, while the Canadian bacon and garlic were still in the pan.
  • I also used less beef stock overall, since moisture in a slowcooker is completely retained. I didn’t want to waterlog the whole stew, so to speak.
  • I cut the sugar in half.
  • I added a twig of dried rosemary (figuring it would go well not only with lamb, but also with thyme).
  • I never cook with wine or alcohol of any kind, and the Frugal Gourmet did not offer another option (and didn’t say the wine was optional either). I substituted with extra beef stock – ½ cup.
  • Incidentally, the cookbook calls it Lamb Stew. I used to call it Irish Stew, but the Irish Stew we once ingested that was cooked by an honest-to-god Irishman (our landlord over three decades ago) was quite bland, as I think the authentic stuff tends to be. So I’ve renamed it Almost-Irish Stew. With bacon in it, along with a couple spices no poverty-stricken Irishman “back in the day” would’ve been able to afford (and might not have even heard of), it’s more like a concoction contrived after that poor Irishman had discovered the leprechaun and his pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow!

As for the Soda Bread, that recipe came from a woman I worked with during the six looonnng years I spent as a Sr. Personnel Administrator with the New York State Department of Social Services. I wasn’t crazy about the work atmosphere, but I did meet some good people and I do have to say I organized some great holiday bring-a-dish lunchtime parties. I think a St. Patrick’s Day one was the first of them. Many a good recipe came home with me from those events. I have no idea where the “Shamrock” portion of the Soda Bread’s title came from, but it sounds festive. Only three changes to that original recipe:

  • I didn’t use only raisins for the fruit. Cut-up dried apricots, I decided, would add color and a little bit of sweetness to the bread.
  • I soaked the fruit before adding it to the mixture – not just in water. A bit of apple cider sounded good to me!
  • The recipe below simply gives “buttermilk” as an ingredient. I didn’t have fresh buttermilk in the refrigerator. The last “leftover” buttermilk had been tossed out a few days before, about 2 weeks past its supposed expiration date. I do keep what’s called “cultured buttermilk blend” by SACO in our fridge. SACO’s instructions say to mix their powder with the dry ingredients and then add their directed amount of water (according to how much buttermilk is required for the recipe) with the liquid ingredients. I figured it would be even richer if I used milk instead of water. In fact, we stock only 1% or 2% milk, so I included a little bit of light cream in part of the liquid.

And now on to the recipes for tonight’s dinner. No green carnations adorned the table (although Bill did look for some at the market earlier in the day). Just a couple plastic shamrocks. But the meal was oh-so-good!

ALMOST-IRISH STEW, converted to slow-cooker status
Yields enough stew to serve at least 6 to 8,
perhaps with leftovers (which taste even better than Day 1!)

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 lbs. boneless lamb (possibly lamb shoulder), cut into ½ to 2 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper (or to taste)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil (possibly more, as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (ditto to above, maybe more)
  • 4 to 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 to 1½” pieces
  • 2 large onions, peeled & quartered, somewhat pulled apart by layers
  • 6 or 7 potatoes, peeled & quartered (should be fairly uniform in size
  • 8 to 10 round slabs of Canadian Bacon (or use regular bacon, but see note above re changes I made to recipe) – cut into small pieces (or into strips, if you prefer)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
  • 2 to 2½ cups Beef Stock
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a sprig of fresh or dried rosemary
  • ½ cup of dry white wine, or substitute additional beef stock
  • additional salt & pepper, to taste
  • Chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

Process

  1. Position your slow-cooker, or crockpot (or however you refer to it), on the counter or table near where you will be prepping your stew ingredients. Ideally, it’s also where you’ll be plugging it in to cook – but then one’s kitchen is not usually set up to accommodate every single adventure into cooking or baking! Take the cover off and set aside, so it’s ready to receive the ingredients as you prep them.
  2. Ensure your cut-up lamb is of uniform size so that they will cook evenly.
  3. In a large zip-lock plastic bag (or in a large mixing bowl), place the flour, salt and pepper. Shake it to blend.
  4. Add lamb chunks to bag, zip it up, and shake until they are coated with flour mixture.
  5. In a large frying pan (12”, if you have one), melt the butter in the oil over medium heat. Then add the flour-coated lamb to the pan, hopefully in one layer. Brown lamb over medium-to-medium-high heat until it’s got a little color (slow-cookers don’t brown meat). Do not cook all the way through. Do not put that pan into the dishpan after it’s browned enough, and do not toss out any drippings that might be left!
  6. While the lamb is browning, place carrots and potatoes in the bottom of the slow-cooker. Top with most of the onion (save a little to go atop the lamb, which will be the last layer).
  7. Scoop the lamb into the slow-cooker, distributing it evenly atop the vegetables. Sprinkle remaining onion atop.
  8. If needed, add a little more oil and/or butter to the frying pan. Then add the Canadian bacon, just leaving it to sauté for about a minute, so it can soak up more flavor. Add the garlic, stir and sauté for an additional minute.
  9. Add a little of the beef stock to the pan and stir, deglazing while bacon and garlic remain in pan.
  10. Distribute contents of the pan (bacon, garlic and stock) over the lamb.
  11. Sprinkle the sugar and thyme over top of the slow-cooker ingredients.
  12. Pour the remaining beef stock over everything.
  13. Tuck the bay leaf into the middle of the lamb mixture, pushed down a bit into the rest of the mixture.
  14. Place the rosemary sprig on top.
  15. Pour the wine, if using, or the extra beef stock over the mixture.
  16. Secure slow-cooker cover in place, set it for LOW cooking and expect it will take 7 to 8 HOURS at that temp. Make sure it’s plugged in too (yet another kitchen faux pas in Marilyn’s past!) You might check it at 7 or 7½ hours but be aware that, once you take the cover off a slow-cooker it means you’ll have to add 20 minutes to the remaining anticipated cooktime.
  17. When the stew is done to perfection, remove the bay leaf and the rosemary twig (if some of the leaves remain in the stew, it’s all to the good).
  18. Stir the mixture to re-distribute ingredients, then adjust seasoning if necessary (salt/pepper).
  19. Sprinkle with parsley (optional).
  20. Accompany with Irish Soda Bread, just for authenticity! OK, for deliciousness too. And, of course, I happen to have the best recipe ever for Soda Bread too…

SHAMROCK IRISH SODA BREAD
Yields one (1) “loaf” (baked in a 9” round cake pan)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dark seedless raisins
  • ½ cup chopped dried apricots (optional; if not using, you might add a little extra raisins, if you like)
  • ½ cup apple cider (optional)
  • water, to cover raisins & apricots
  • 4 cups unbleached, unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespooons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk (see note in narrative above for my substitution)
  • butter, melted (for drizzling top after baking – about 2 tablespoons)
  • sugar, for sprinkling top

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place raisins and apricots in a small, microwave-proof glass or ceramic bowl. Pour apple cider over the fruit. Add water enough to cover all the fruit. Microwave for about 1 ½ to 2 minutes, to heat the water to warm. Set aside to allow raisins and apricots to soak for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, caraway seeds, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  4. Drain the raisins and apricots.
  5. Stir the fruit into the flour mix, ensuring it distributes well.
  6. Pour the buttermilk into the mixture and mix with a fork until the dough is formed, with no bits of dusty flour hiding beneath the dough.
  7. Bake in either a 9” x 9” square pan or a 9” round cake pan for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or knife slipped into its center comes out clean.
  8. Drizzle melted butter over the entire bread.
  9. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar (or raw sugar, if you choose).
  10. Cool for about 15 minutes before removing from pan to serving platter.
  11. Serve warm or save for later!

 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #6 – Faux Mrs. Fields’ Chocolate Chip Cookies (or The Ones That Crowned Me “Cookie Mom of the Cul-de-Sac”)

Are you tired of seeing cookie recipes every time there’s a new post on this blog lately? Well, I’m a little tired of posting them, but then I knew that I had to get all six recipes on as soon as possible or they might not all get posted. I’d get distracted by other goodies I wanted to write about, share. That’s just me. A little driven about a few things. Anyway, this IS the last of the recipes for the cookies baked for Christmas 2011 and it’s a fabulous, kid-tested one.

I swear these are the ones that got me dubbed “Cookie Mom” of our street many years ago, by the only “dubbers” who matter – the kids. I have a distinct memory of doling out still-warm, chocolate-chip tummy-fillers to our son Adrian and buddies one afternoon (not that Kristen and friends didn’t appreciate them too). It only took one shout of “Anyone up for a cookie or two?” to get Ade, Jason, Jamie and Eric running to our front stoop, where I offered a plateful. It might’ve been Jason who, eagerly munching on one, commented, “I think you’re the Cookie-Mom of the street, Mrs. Day.” If I was the Cookie Mom, then I guess they were the Cookie Monsters!

Is there anything better than a just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie? Softened chocolate bits nested within lightly-browned dough that gives at the slightest fingertip pressure. Mmmm. I grew up on the Freihofer chocolate chip variety, which were the closest to home-baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies you could buy in our area (my mother wasn’t much of a baker, except for cakes from box mixes, so all our cookies were purchased – luckily, often from Phil’s bakery, barely half-block away!). I’ve tried out a number of variations on these treats since beginning to bake on my own decades ago, and there haven’t been many without at least some good points. But this recipe, which allegedly went around the world touted as the “real” Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe, is my #1 choice. Of course, months after the recipe had probably circled the globe a dozen or more times, Mrs. Fields denied that it was her recipe. I remember buying Mrs. Fields cookies in New York City when there on business back in the ’80s and, bringing them home (couldn’t find them upstate back then), I noticed a statement on the bag saying that, “contrary to rumor,” Mrs. Fields had never sold the recipe to anyone. Who cares if it’s the “real” one, as long as the results are heaven to the taste buds?

I used to rationalize away the fact that I could devour so many of these in one afternoon: there’s oatmeal in them, so they must be healthy, right? Well, I’m not sure that’s truly the case if you’re processing the oatmeal into a flour type consistency. But no matter – they taste good and, if you follow the “moderation in everything” philosophy that helped me to lose almost 20 pounds over a one-year period (although I’d like to “moderate” away another 10-pounds-worth!), then just eat one or two a day along with a wholesome diet (there’s another aspect to that dietary plan: don’t beat yourself up too much if you slip up once in a while either!).

I like them best when just baked and still warm. Still lovin’ them for days afterward. When stored in an air-tight container, they’ll last quite a while. Even if the kids (or adults) leave the top ajar by mistake and they get a bit hardened, just dip ’em in milk or coffee or hot chocolate for a yummy snack!

The original recipe was double this one. I cut it in half and made a couple other changes recently; the “changes” are noted in the recipe itself, but for clarification:

  • One thing I did check ahead of time was whether or not I could substitute whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose stuff. For that information, I sought out one my newer cookbooks, Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains by the King Arthur Flour folks (Countryman Press, 2006). According to King Arthur (I do like writing/saying that… sounds so mythical, mystical!), “Hard whole wheat flour [either traditional whole wheat or white whole wheat] is the equivalent of all-purpose flour: good for anything from cookies and brownies to sandwich bread and pizza crust.” Also according to The King, “Adding all-purpose flour to traditional whole wheat flour lightens the color and texture, and increases the rise of whatever you’re baking.” Not surprisingly, when I did the reverse of that, adding white whole wheat flour to all-purpose made the cookie color and texture a little less “light” but not at all to its detriment.

  • Subbing some whole wheat flour also seemed a good idea healthwise. King Arthur notes that whole wheat flour is higher than all-purpose flour in protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. Sounded pretty good to me!
  • The other change I made this time around was necessitated by a change in the marketplace: I can no longer find 8 oz. Hershey bars (which I would’ve had to halve anyway), so I bought a multi-pack of 6 oz. bars and used one of them (well, I might’ve nibbled a little but still used more than 4 oz. – who was going to argue with more chocolate in a cookie?).

Speaking of the mythical, mystical – how about the magical? It’s been a while since I got into any of the “witchy” aspects of food, but seems like as good a time as any. I was curious, so I consulted my handy-dandy Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (by Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn Publications, 2003; originally printed as The Magic in Food, 1990). Here’s what I found: “Whole wheat is best for magical (and nutritional) purposes… Though white bread was eaten by the Roman upper class, it’s a spiritually dead food.” Cunningham advises readers to eat wheat-based foods (bread and all dough products) to bring prosperity and money into their lives. Now, for my gluten-free friends – if they’re looking for prosperity, I’m sure there are other food energies that might help (if you believe in these things, although it certainly can’t hurt when it’s good-for-you items!). Just baking the cookies, I would think of the roundness as a symbol for wholeness (also whole wheat triggers something for me) – isn’t that what we’re all striving for:  to be whole and healthy? That’s prosperity of a sort, a much-desired abundance.

Maybe this recipe should be called Ms. Anybody’s Magical Chocolate Chip Cookies but, for consistency’s sake, I’ve simply added the “faux” to the original title – and provided details for making cookies the kids and whole family will love.

FAUX MRS. FIELDS’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Yields 75-80 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (salted or unsalted- doesn’t seem to matter)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (dark brown will work too, for a slightly different taste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (1 cup all-purpose & 1 cup white whole wheat; original recipe called for all all-purpose)
  • 2½ cups oatmeal (I used quick-cooking oats) – measure oats first, then use blender or food processor to process it into flour-like consistency)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use table salt for this one, not sea or kosher)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet but type is your choice)
  • 1 6oz. Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, grated (original recipe called for 1 8 oz. bar for the recipe that was double this one – lots of luck finding one!)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped nuts (I use walnuts but have, as Mrs. Fields does, enjoyed macadamias in them as well)

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and two types of sugars.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla to butter/sugar mixture, mixing in well.
  4. In another bowl combine flour, oatmeal (previously processed to flourlike consistency), salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  5. Add flour mixture to butter/egg mix in the larger bowl and mix together until well combined.
  6. Add chocolate chips, grated Hershey bar and nuts, and further mix together well.
  7. While the original recipe calls for golfball-sized dollops to be dropped onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart, I tend to make them a wee bit smaller and then slightly flatten them before slipping the pan into the oven.
  8. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes (mine take all of the 8 minutes, maybe an extra one too).
  9. Remove from oven when browning around edges and lightly tanning on top, and let cool for a minute before removing to a rack or platter to cool completely. (Be sure to sneak a couple for your own eating pleasure, however, while still warm.)

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #5 – Wurstcakes (á la Diana Abu-Jaber’s Gram)

I met author Diana Abu-Jaber several years ago when she had a book-signing at a local independent book store, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. My friend Jan Tramontano had interviewed her for the Albany Times Union and asked if I would like to join her and another friend, Kathe Kokolias, at the signing. I didn’t buy that particular book – it was a mystery/suspense novel, something I don’t usually read much of – but I’ve read three of Abu-Jaber’s other books: two novels and a memoir, all spiced nicely with food and recipes. I especially loved the memoir, The Language of Baklava (Pantheon, 2005).

We had such a great time at the reading/booksigning! Since she’s originally from Syracuse, NY, her parents drove down to Albany for the event, so we got to meet two of the “highlights” of both Baklava and one of her novels, Arabian Jazz (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), which was fiction based on her American/Jordanian childhood. Her father was particularly entertaining, evoking lots of laughter. So, when I discovered Abu-Jaber on Facebook, I Friended her right away. It was there that I saw her posting for these cookies over a year ago – in a link to a short piece of hers published in Good Housekeeping magazine in late 2010.

Diana’s GH story, “Wurstcakes: A Sweet Holiday Tradition,” includes a sub-title that glides the reader into the narrative: When I was 8, my grandmother was the source of all sweet things. I think those words would intrigue anyone who holds onto special memories of a grandparent. I know it caught me (my particular memory covers making apple pies with Gramma Boyd)! Right then, I decided I was going to make these cookies – but didn’t get around to it during the 2010 holidays. A year later… they were on my Must-Do agenda.

If you follow the link above (click on the GH story’s title), you can read both Diana’s article and her grandmother’s recipe, which I cut in half for Christmas 2011 because I was making so many other treats (I’ve included my halved version on this blog). I laughed when I read how her father even slipped into this bit of memoir (more than once). She wrote that her grandmother’s “…Wurstcakes were slim as communion wafers, and even Dad – who was addicted to their crunch – referred to them as her ‘Catholic cookies.’” I loved reading about personal memories surrounding these simple baked treats. Unfortunately, my own first attempt at Wurstcakes did not render “slim as communion wafer” results (probably takes practice), although quite delicious anyway.

Incidentally, my family got a few laughs out of the name itself. As I pointed out the cookies on the Christmas Eve after-dinner platter, to enable easier selections for people, I noted the Wurstcakes and explained, “…these are the Wurst cookies.” I watched confusion immediately plaster across a few faces. “Worst cookies?” “No, no. They’re called Wurstcakes. German or Bavarian or something… not w-O-r-s-t.” They finally got it when I further explained that you roll the dough into sausage-like shapes, like bratwurst, and refrigerate it for a while before slicing. That’s fair warning, dear readers: if you make these wafer-thin lovelies, beware how you introduce them!

This is where I usually write about how I changed a recipe that I used as my guide. Well, the only change to this one was when I halved it. (In the article, Diana says its yield is “Enough for the whole family… and then some!” I decided I required less than that, at least this time around.) Also, she suggests options of either decorating with an almond slice (before baking) or, after baking and cooling, using a simple icing of confectionary sugar and water. I happen to like buttercream frosting, which tasted wonderful on them (although I did the almond thing on about half the batch – and these were heavenly when dunked in either my morning hazelnut decaf coffee or an evening chai latte!).

Here’s an interesting aside: I printed my copy of the recipe in November 2010. In it, measurements for flour and brown sugar appear in poundage terms, which I imagine is the way her grandmother baked—as they did (and still do) in her former homeland. When I returned to the story online today and clicked further to the recipe, I realized that flour and brown sugar measurements have been converted to cups (which is not quite as accurate as weighing ingredients, I understand, but it’s how Americans are used to working with recipes). Also, the instructions for making the confectionary sugar/water icing are included this time around. (OK, confession-time: I didn’t choose to do that icing because I would’ve had to “look it up,” not having used it before; whipping up a batch of buttercream is like second-nature to me and that’s really why I went that way…) So if you want the “in your cups” version, make sure you follow that link… and you’ll also get directions for the icing.

By the way, Diana’s latest novel, Birds of Paradise (W.W. Norton, 2011) includes a pastry-chef mother, so food once again plays into the writing; and the main character in another well-enjoyed (by me) book, Crescent (W.W. Norton, 2004), is a half-Arab woman chef in a Lebanese restaurant. Check out Diana Abu-Jaber’s website for synopses of all these great reads!

 

BAVARIAN WURSTCAKES (with thanks to Diana Abu-Jaber & her memories of her grandmother, Grace Belford))
Yield: about 3½ to 4 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. all-purpose flour
  • ¼ lb. brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in ½ tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I use Roasted Saigon cinnamon)
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

Process:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, spices).
  2. Stir soda/water mixture into dry ingredients.
  3. Add eggs and butter, mixing all ingredients together.
  4. Knead well by hand.
  5. Divide dough into two fat “sausages,” each about 1½” wide (circumference).
  6. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate overnight (or up to one week).
  7. When you expect to bake the cookies, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Take out wurst rolls one at a time, as you slice cookies for baking (keep the other refrigerated until using – they cut better when cold). With a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch slices and place on lightly greased cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  9. If adding an almond as a decoration, push into center of cookie at this point.
  10. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned (but check at 8 or 9 minutes, just in case!).
  11. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
  12. Remove other wurst roll from fridge and repeat with remaining dough.
  13. When cooled, frost or ice at your own pleasure (or not).

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #4 – Cry Babies (My Mom’s Favorites)

These cookies were my mother’s favorites. I was required to bake them each Christmas, once the recipe came into my hands from a co-worker at the time, Marie Armer (a woman from whom many recipes were received)! Marie was always bringing goodies into the office. We used to tease her about it, saying this was part of her Italian Mother persona, the feed-’em-and-they feel-better philosophy. In fact, she made the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted – and I have that recipe too (yes, I’ll post it when I next bake it).

It’s not surprising that Mom would love these little “babies” since I recall that she also found it hard to resist picking up a package of Freihofer’s Hermit Cookies when I’d take her grocery shopping (she didn’t drive so this constituted my Saturday mother-daughter bonding ritual – to Price Chopper for the week’s sustenance). To me, Cry Babies are similar to both hermit cookies and molasses cookies, with a bit of the gingerbread thrown in (there is, after all, ginger as one of the ingredients). I enjoy them too, although not nearly as much as Mom did. I must admit that any sort of molasses cookie doesn’t usually make it to the top of my list. So I made a half-batch this time and still had plenty to add to gift-plates of sweets, with more cookies left over than we could eat in this house!

I’ve noted my changes to Marie’s original in the recipe below. As for the cookie’s name, I don’t know where that came from—but could we presume, based on Mom’s opinion, that they’re so sweet and heavenly that they might bring tears to your eyes?

CRY BABIES
Makes lots of cookies – at least 3-4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses (darker the better)
  • 1 cup shortening (I use butter, softened)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (I use Roasted Saigon Cinnamon now, but regular is fine)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger (recently discovered Roasted Ginger dried spice – try it!)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg (this is my addition to the recipe; not in original received from Marie)
  • dash of salt (I tend to use sea salt)
  • 5 cups sifted all-purpose flour (flour should be sifted before measuring
  • 1 cup hot coffee mixed with 1 level teaspoon baking soda
  • chopped walnuts (optional – amount to your own taste; I use up to a cup)
  • raisins (also optional but I always include them – amount to your own taste; I use up to a cup)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another bowl, mix sugar, molasses, shortening (or butter) and eggs in a large bowl, beating until blended.
  3. Sift together cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and previously-sifted flour.
  4. Add flour/spices mixture to the sugar/molasses mix, alternating with addition of the hot coffee/baking soda mixture, blending with mixer as you do so.
  5. Add nuts and raisins (if using them), stirring into batter.
  6. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Remove from cookie sheet after cooling for a minute or two.
  9. When fully cooled, Cry Babies can be frosted with a butter cream frosting, adding a nice contrast to the gingerbready/molasses cookie flavor. If you want to freeze them, don’t frost– wait until they’re defrosted for that! 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #3 – Walnut Squares

Chef Santa, sitting on my cookbook shelf, rules the kitchen during the holidays.

These are so easy to make. For me, they were this year’s favorite, although not at all new in my repertoire of Christmas cookies. For some reason, I reached for these more often this time around, until they ran out. Bill loves them too. My mom loved them. (I think Santa does too.) In fact, I can’t think of anyone who’s tasted them who hasn’t loved them. I do find that I can’t eat more than one or two of these morsels at a sitting because they’re so rich tasting, but then that’s me. Your sweet tooth might support plenty more.

The recipe came from a former neighbor at least two decades ago and who knows where it originated. I haven’t changed a thing from the “original” I received after my first tasting. They’re more “brownie cookie” than “bar cookie” – but who needs to define them as long as they’re sweet and luscious? They also seem to taste even better to me the next day after they’re baked, and the day after that, and…

 

EASY WALNUT SQUARES
Yield depends upon size of each square; small squares can produce as many as 25 to 30.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter (unsalted preferred)
  • 1½ cup brown sugar (dark preferred, but light OK)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Process

For the bottom layer:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Stir together flour (1 cup) and sugar.
  3. Cut butter into flour/sugar mixture.
  4. Pat the resulting mixture/dough into an 8” x 8” square pan.
  5. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, while mixing ingredients for top layer.
  6. After removing from oven, maintain oven temperature for baking the top layer.

For the top layer:

  1. Beat the eggs for about 1-2 minutes, until well-mixed and a light yellow.
  2. Add brown sugar, 2 tbsp. flour, vanilla, baking powder, chopped nuts and salt – and beat well.
  3. Pour mix onto the pre-baked bottom layer.
  4. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes (but check after about 30 minutes). When done, top will be crackly but underneath will remain slightly gooey (mine usually take about 35 minutes to get to this finished stage).
  5. Remove from oven and cut into small squares.
  6. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan.

 

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #2, Jan Hagel

My “favorite” cookie amongst the group I traditionally bake for the December holidays has changed over the decades – and sometimes changed back. Jan Hagel, also called Dutch Hail, remained my go-to, lovin’-it cookie for years. Sometimes I think it still is. Maybe it’s that nostalgic, “honoring the ancestors” thing again. I’d never heard of these cookies before coming across them in an old Betty Crocker cookbook in the late 1970s. I don’t even know if they’re genuinely Dutch, but the name indicates at least a Holland-rooted influence.

My typically American, mongrel family background includes Dutch (as well as German) on Mom’s side, although I’ve never pursued genealogical digging to discover just how many years ago those ancestors arrived in the New World. Did they settle right away in New Netherlands (which is what this area was called), or had they first tried out some other likely homespace? I may never know for sure, although I could start some research at the Town Clerk’s Office in Broadalbin, NY someday if I want to (and had time to) learn more about the past. I’ve just always assumed the former was the case, ancient relatives coming directly to this area. Why not? In grade school, we spent plenty of time learning about our Dutch settlers, their architecture and other influences; and I was enthralled by the New Netherlands items in the Albany Institute of History and Art, often walking the few blocks from our Central Avenue apartment to the museum to wander through its many exhibits. Especially enticing: a miniature mock-up of an Old Albany street – for me, it was like viewing a dollhouse that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

Tulips, with statue of Moses in background. Washington Park, Albany, NY.

 Of course, there was – and continues to be – the annual Albany Tulip Festival each May, much of which took place in Washington Park (another location just a few city blocks from us). These days, that event is an even bigger deal in these parts, having gone well beyond the crowning of the Tulip Queen, a festival ball honoring said Queen and the ritual washing of State Street by young girls and women in Dutch attire. (I have a memory of a schoolmate “qualifying” to beone of those street sweepers via a verifiable Dutch lineage. Her last name was Krull, as I recall. I don’t think ancestry matters any more, but it made for a nice local newspaper article at the time!) Nowadays, over every Mother’s Day weekend, the park – already adorned with thousands of tulips (which happen to be my favorite flowers) – fills up with music by live bands, food and crafts vendors, and an awesome number of festival-loving folks anxious to enjoy everything offered.

Dutch-costumed annual washing of State Street at start of Albany Tulip Festival, Albany, NY

Now that you’re all “Dutched” into the right mood, here’s my recipe for Jan Hagel, a truly easy, nutty, delicious – though not fancy – bar cookie. I love its faint cinnamon taste and bit of crunchiness from the nuts. The only thing different that I did with it this year was to substitute half of the walnuts with finely chopped macadamias. That’s only because I temporarily ran out of walnuts. It was a heavenly “edit” – but then I love macadamias! Sometimes I double this recipe, depending upon how many other cookies I’ll be baking and how many holiday cookie plates I expect to gift to others.

Oh yeah – at one time I concocted a “healthier” version of this cookie to enter into a Quaker Oats contest. This was back when the current healthy super-food craze was oats. I got lots of jibes and jokes from family and friends about my experiments (in coatings for pork chops, in cookies, atop casseroles, in meatloaf, etc.), but processing oats into a powder and adding some in place of the flour did work well in Jan Hagel. Unfortunately, I’ve lost the proportions of that recipe substitution – but feel free to experiment if the spirit moves you!

JAN HAGEL (a/k/a Dutch Hail)
Yields about 40-50 bar cookies (approximately 3” x 1” each)

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter (my original recipe said “or margarine” – I never do this any more)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (I usd Roasted Saigon Cinnamon but plain cinnamon works fine; sometimes I add a dash of nutmeg too)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan (15½” x 10½” x 1”).
  3. Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk together.
  4. Blend flour and cinnamon.
  5. Stir flour/cinnamon mixture into the butter mix.
  6. Pat the dough into pan.
  7. Beat the water and egg white until frothy.
  8. Brush frothed egg white over dough.
  9. Sprinkle with nuts.
  10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until very lightly browned.
  11. Cut immediately up removal from oven – into finger-like strips.
  12. Let cool about 5 minutes in pan before removing to a rack or plate to cool completely.


Note: Photographs from the Albany Tulip Festival in this post are from “All Over Albany” website.