Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food Gifts: What goes around comes around

For me it started with my cranberry sauce. When I first made it I gave it to family and a circle of close friends. Several people sang its praises, so I gave it to them the following year, and the next, and the next...and for some it became a part of their holiday tradition. The bonus for me is that it keeps me connected, in a very special way, with some very nice people. Good food tends to do that. I can't think of a better way to bring people together than over a great meal, so when you can't be with someone special why not send them something they will enjoy, something that brings you a little bit closer in spirit.

Every Thanksgiving I send, or hand deliver, a jar of cranberry sauce to my hairdresser in New York City. I met her about 20 years ago and stop in for a cut from time to time. About 10 years ago I brought her a jar and she just loved it, so if I'm in NY for Thanksgiving I bring her some, if not, I pop it in the mail. Marie is originally from Haiti and has really embraced the Thanksgiving holiday. Every year I receive a lovely note telling me how much she appreciates it, and how it's become such a special part of her family celebration. She often sends me lovely hair care products in return, too, so this is where the 'what goes around comes around' bit comes into play. I also think she gives me an extra special hair cut once I am fortunate enough to sit in her chair again, but more importantly we have become friends, and that's what I cherish most.

I have two local friends (fellow foodies) who are on the list. I usually leave their jars on my front porch as we're all busy running around at the last minute. This year I came home to  find this wonderful loaf of sunflower bread from one:

And this exquisite chocolate log was delivered on Christmas Eve from the other:

Another friend in Connecticut sends her delicious homemade pumpkin bread. So as I am savoring these delicious treats, I am also feeling a very special connection to these people who've touched my life. Knowing that someone has taken the time to make something by hand has a way of doing that. Now that I think of it, many of my closest friends have come to me through our shared love of good food, so what a perfect way to honor that gift of friendship.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Baked chicken breasts, garlic broccoli and roasted cauliflower

A meal like this goes into the category of comfort food for me. It's easy to prepare, delicious to eat, and you feel good after you eat it. Boneless chicken breasts are a favorite in my house, and baking them is one of the easiest ways to prepare them. Only caveat is to season them well and not overcook them. I always use naturally raised, grain fed chicken, which you can buy at most supermarkets these days. Our local market, Stop and Shop, carries the Nature's Promise brand.

Baked Chicken Breasts:
Place the washed chicken breasts into a baking dish. Add about 1 tbsp of good olive oil, sliced sweet white onion, quartered Campari tomatoes,  handful of chopped chives, tbsp of chopped parsley, a dollop of pesto on each breast, juice of 1/2 lemon, handful of Pecorino Romano cheese, a sprinkle of panko bread crumbs, and salt and pepper.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes (for the last 5 minutes place under the broiler to brown). Remove from the heat and let them sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
Garlic  Broccoli:
Wash, trim, and then peel the ends of your broccoli spears.
Cut them in quarters, lengthwise. Bring water to boil in your saute pan and add the broccoli spears, steaming in covered pan for about 4-5 minutes, or until just tender. Remove from pan and plunge in ice water. Drain and pat dry.
Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a saute pan with 3 garlic cloves (sliced), salt and pepper.
Add the broccoli to the pan:
Cook over low-medium heat, turning about every 5 minutes. Cook for about 15-18 minutes to allow the garlic flavored oil to permeate the broccoli.
My roasted cauliflower recipe can be found here. You can cook this with the chicken, just turn up the oven to 375 after the chicken is done and let it cook for a bit longer.

I served the chicken, with the delicious pan juices, over Quinoa (you can find cooking instructions here).


Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest Post: Michael Vincent Bushy makes Pea Soup

Michael is the son of my cousin, Peggy. He is an artist as you'll see if you follow that link, or catch him on facebook at: I Am An Artist. Yes, he's very talented, and he took me up on my offer of a guest post, so I'm thrilled to be introducing both his artistic and culinary talent to you.

(Disclaimer: Photo was pinched from Michael's facebook fan page)

We arrived back home in the Berkshires an hour before the snow hit. The house was cold, we were cold, Becca curled up on the couch and I set to work on some cold weather comfort food. Chicken soup, pot roast or beef stew would all be fine choices, but we commandeered the ham bone from Christmas dinner on our way outta town from my parents. So, pea soup it is:
Bring 8 cups of water
2 lbs. split peas and
1 ham hock to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.
Scoop out all the ham you can get, and reclaim all the meat (there’ll be plenty), discard the bone and any fat left over; return the meat to the soup, along with:
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped onion
1 minced clove of garlic
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt and
1/2 tsp pepper
Simmer for another 3 hours, stirring regularly.
It’s a thick, rib sticking kind of soup, and pairs well with some hearty Beer Bread, which I always have on hand:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a bread pan.
Mix in a bowl:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup any combination of other flours (barley, spelt, millet, oat, etc...)
1/2 cup rolled oats
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp wheat germ
1 tbsp flax meal
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Pour in 1 1/2 cup (or one bottle) of beer, anything but stout will do, but I prefer a darker beer, like a lager or amber ale (I’ve never tried it with Bud Light, because Bud Light is not allowed in my house).
Mix until all the dry ingredients are coated, but don’t whip it.
Pour batter (it will be runny) into the bread pan, and sprinkle with rolled oats and honey on top. Place in the oven for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (try a few places, sometimes the honey sinks into the batter and makes an area seem unbaked...)
Remove the pan from oven, place on a cooling rack and let cool for at least 1/2 hour before removing bread from pan.

The snow hit 4" as we were tucking in to eat.

Sour Cream Pound Cake with Toasted Almonds and Chocolate Bits

I swear this cake is calling my name...Yes, I have one more variation on the sour cream pound cake that I posted the other day, and it's presently sitting in my dining room calling my name. I can't resist this cake when it's around, so I am now calculating the calories burned on the elliptical, versus the caloric intake of the cake, and I think it's a push!

Sour Cream Pound Cake with Toasted Almonds and Chocolate Bits:

It's the same base recipe that you may have already seen in an earlier post. My feeling is that if you've found a great recipe, then why not stick with it?

Sour Cream Pound Cake
1/2 lb butter or Earth Balance (melted)
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • Melt butter
  • Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl 
  • Add eggs, sour cream, vanilla and melted butter
  • Mix well with electric mixer on medium for 4-5 minutes
And here is the variation. Prepare the above and then add:
2 cups of toasted slivered almonds (cool before adding to the batter)
6  ounces of chopped semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut Belgian Chocolate) or in a pinch the mini chocolate chips will do.
2 tsp of almond extract

Grease and flour bundt or tube pan; pour in batter and bake for 1.5 hours or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean; cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then insert knife around edges and remove gently from pan.  Place on rack until completely cooled.  Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

I have a smaller tube pan that I like to use, and then there is enough batter to make two small loaves for gifts


Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cello wrap makes a food gift special...

If you like to give the gift of good, then you may already be familiar with the magical qualities of cello wrap. I buy it by the roll, the really big one, and it makes anything you wrap look lovely. Using a nice ribbon, and greens that you can pick right outside your door, you'll have an impressive presentation in just minutes.

During the holidays I go right outside and cut pine greens, and add a magnolia leaf, or perhaps some berries. The ones in the picture above came from a flower arrangement. These below came from my yard:

Place your platter of cookies, a cake, or whatever you'd like to wrap on large piece of cello:

Then gather up the cello and tie it with a nice ribbon, and add  the greens. Trim the top of the cello to make it even.


It's really that simple. Here's an idea for a nice bottle of wine:


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Gift of Cake

I've been giving this cake to our family doctor for at least 8 years now.  Actually last year I forgot to make it and remembered that fact on Christmas eve, so I made it and my husband dropped it at their house on Christmas morning. They had mentioned a few years earlier that it was a very special part of their family celebration so I was not about to let them down. Plus giving the gift of homemade food is not only appreciated by the receiver, it makes the giver feel pretty good, too.

This family recipe was passed on to me by my aunt and is a staple in our family repertoire. I added the nuts to create the coffee cake version, which is the one my doctor is particularly fond of...

Sour Cream Pound Cake
1/2 lb butter or Earth Balance (melted)
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • Melt butter
  • Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl 
  • Add eggs, sour cream, vanilla and melted butter
  • Mix well with electric mixer on medium for 4-5 minutes
  • Grease and flour bundt or tube pan; pour in batter and bake for 1.5 hours or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean; cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then insert knife around edges and remove gently from pan.  Place on rack until completely cooled.  Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving

Coffee cake variation:
  • Chop 3/4 cup walnuts and 3/4 cups pecans; to nuts add 4 tbls melted butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 2 tbls cinnamon.
  • Pour half the batter in the pan and make a ring of nuts on top of the batter, trying to keep the nuts away from the side of the pan
  • Add remaining batter and bake as instructed above
The plain pound cake is the perfect cake to serve with fresh sliced fruit.  The coffee cake is always a big hit when you have company, which I recommend you have when you make it or you might find yourself eating most of it, a sliver at a time. Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Markets in Munich

Business travel has brought me to Munich, where I had the pleasure of visiting the Christmas (Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindl) markets at Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz, in the heart of downtown Munich.

The markets are held during the four weeks of Advent, are centuries old, and a unique celebration of Christmas. Taking place outside, they're comprised of open air stalls selling food, spirits, and gifts. There's also live music, singing, and entertainment. Seeing people of all ages out enjoying themselves, gave me an appreciation for the value they place on this most loved tradition. It's truly heartwarming and I think that's because it's old-fashioned...which resonates with me.

My first stop was for Bratwurst, served on a crusty roll, with German mustard. We also enjoyed a "boot" of Gluhwein, the traditional mulled red wine that's served warm. We went to the stall that serves it in the boot mug, as it just felt more authentic. I ate the most delicious Lebkuchen cookie, some pretty fabulous Christmas Stollen, and perfectly roasted chestnuts. The food stalls are filled to the brim with traditional Bavarian Christmas cookies, chocolates, sausages, frankfurters with sauerkraut, and much more. We walked for hours eating, drinking, and looking for the perfect handmade Christmas gifts to bring home.

These markets sit amongst the beautiful architecture of Munich, so I've tried to capture both in the photos. I hope you feel transported, if just for a few minutes, to the heart of Munich during this special time of year. Enjoy!
(Click on the slide show to view larger photos online)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

One Bowl Wonder: Quinoa with Veggies

After an indulgent food-filled weekend, I made Quinoa with sauteed veggies and roasted turnip for dinner last night. This ancient grain is easy to cook and has a slightly crunchy, nutty flavor. It makes a great base for any veggie topping.

Add two cups of water, one cup of Quinoa, and a pinch of salt to the pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. I placed another pan over the top to weight it down. I saw my Dad do this and it seemed to work well, so I do it, too.
Add sliced onions and sliced baby carrots to a saute pan. Saute over medium heat until they start to brown.
Add frozen organic peas and corn. Saute for another 5-8 minutes. Add soy sauce, to taste.
Peel and slice 3 white turnips. My neighbor gave me the last few from their garden, which were delicious. Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until just golden brown. 
Place the Quinoa in a bowl, top with veggies, and roasted turnip. Sprinkle with a little more soy sauce, if needed. Enjoy!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cape Cod Gem: Holidays at Highfield

Highfield Hall is, once again, beautifully decorated for the holiday season. When driving up the hill to Beebe Woods, I'm still in awe as this restored mansion comes into sight. I'll always be grateful to those first Friends of Highfield who saw the potential, and worked tirelessly to make it a reality.

This Falmouth gem continues to be a wonderful addition to to our community by offering a full program of cultural events, a unique setting for special events, and a great opportunity to get involved in the community. I've done several cooking demonstrations over the past few years and working with the talented staff at Highfield has always been a pleasure. This year I volunteered to decorate a tree for the Holidays at Highfield celebration. Spending last Sunday decorating the tree with Janet Totten, Deputy Director, was great fun. Roaming the halls of this lovely old house made for a very special day. It's a beautiful building that sits on a picturesque site. I encourage you to visit as it's the perfect setting to get yourself into the holiday spirit. 

Friday, Saturday & Sunday November 26, 27 & 28
Friday, Saturday & Sunday December 3, 4 & 5

10:00 am - 4:00 pm AND until 7:30 pm on Friday, December 3
Adults $5 (requested donation), children are free

Today they featured a lovely harpist playing holiday music in the ballroom:





Here's a complete listing of the holiday festivities. Take a ride up the hill and enjoy!