Barking Epiphany

January 5th, 2015

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Happy New Year! I hope you’re all sharing the optimism I have about 2015. It’s odd that just turning a page on the calendar should make one feel hopeful. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that this New Year will bring wonderful things.

Even before Epiphany I had an epiphany about my work. I am shifting gears bookwise. I spent a lot of time last year testing recipes for my book of funeral foods. Nevertheless, I haven’t established the right tone in my writing for the narrative. So that book is being postponed until after I finish another project that is percolating in my brain and laptop. Stay tuned for developments!

Meanwhile, as Epiphany strikes I want to share one last Christmas recipe. As many of you may know, for the last couple of years I have done holiday sales at a local branch of Williams-Sonoma in order to make extra money for year-end giving. My knees aren’t always thrilled with the job, but the people I work with are great.

Moreover, I have always strongly believed that everyone needs to spend some time doing retail work. This experience helps us remember to be extra nice to the people behind the counter when we shop.

Williams-Sonoma’s signature Christmas product is its peppermint bark. We have been handing out samples of this confection for a month and a half now, and it has ALMOST disappeared from the shelves.

Our store’s resident chef mentioned recently that one of the other stores had held a contest asking customers what they would make using the bark. This of course got me wondering what I would make myself—and it didn’t take me long to come up with something! I decided on a peppermint icebox cake.

The end product, as you can see below, looked appropriate for the season—rather like a log in snow. Another time I might crumble the peppermint bark a bit more; as you can see, its bits resembled dirty rocks in the snow. Or I might just use crushed candy canes. The flavor was pretty darn terrific, however. And I can’t really think of anything simpler to make.

I wish you all a wonderful new year full of good work, good health, and good food.

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Barking Icebox Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 package (9 ounces) Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (these flat, round chocolate cookies are difficult but not impossible to find; just ask around at area grocery stores)
1/2 cup crumbled peppermint bark or peppermint candy

Instructions:

Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in the vanilla and extract.

Spread about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the cream mixture onto a wafer. Top it with another wafer. Stack the creamed wafers standing up until you have 9 or 10 wafers; then gently lay the stack on its side on a serving plate. Repeat, adding to the horizontal stack, until you have used up the remaining wafers.

Cover the log of stacks with the remaining whipped cream.

Refrigerate, gently covered, for at least 4 hours.

Remove from the fridge just before serving and garnish the cake with the crumbled candy. Slice diagonally so that black-and-white bars appear.

Serves 8 to 10.

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More Blessed to Give

December 18th, 2014

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I LOVE December. I know there are many who think that our streets and homes are too full of lights during this season and that materialism has taken over Christmas (and to a lesser extent Hanukkah). I am not one of those people.

The lights perform a vital function, reminding us that the world is full of illumination at the darkest time of the year.

As for the materialism, well, materialism is just stuff. And STUFF is what I love to give at this time of year.

To the very young Tinky, Christmas and Hanukkah (we celebrated both in our home) were primarily about what I would receive.

I still remember the thrill I experienced when I was seven and Santa brought a Petite Princess furniture collection for the dollhouse my mother had passed on to me from her own youth.

The house and the furniture eventually collapsed, but thinking about them still makes me smile.

A few years later, however, I began to realize that there’s something even more fulfilling than receiving gifts.

Giving them.

According to the bible, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It’s also more fun.

I love the way the holidays remind us to give to charities. Last Tuesday was Valley Gives Day in western Massachusetts, a time to donate online to some of my favorite causes.

A few days ago I made a special trip to stores to stock up on food items and toys to donate to local organizations. And as the year’s end approaches I’m working on donations to other nonprofit groups I support. I like to give a little something to some of my mother’s favorite groups as well. As I donate, I remember her.

With my mother in 2008.

With my mother in 2008.

Of course, we should give funds and labor to charity all year round. And I try to. But at this time of year, as we sing songs about hope and birth and love, giving becomes even more joyful.

Charity begins at home, of course, and I enjoy giving to my friends and relatives as much as I enjoy giving to charity. Planning what each person will get seems to take a certain portion of my brain that I don’t use for anything else.

Certain people are VERY difficult to shop for. In my experience many of those people are male. If men want something, they generally just go out and buy it. This habit can be very frustrating to gift givers.

As a result of this tendency, many of the men and boys on my Christmas list get food. It’s the perfect gift. They like it—and they can get the same gift year after year without complaint.

Among my favorite food gifts for men and for neighbors are my mother’s fruitcake, my brother’s favorite Indian cashews, fudge, and mustard.

On my last TV appearance of 2014 Ashley Kohl and I whipped up two other edible gifts I like to pass along to friends and relatives, my Aunt Lura’s Cranberry Chutney and my sister-in-law Leigh’s Lemon Pound Cake.

The chutney recipe is in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook (which it’s not too late to order as a Christmas present, by the way!). It’s detailed in the video here, although I think I forgot to add the chopped orange pieces on camera.

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Below is the recipe for Leigh’s pound cake. As I mention on camera in the video at the bottom of this post, it’s a very odd recipe. Its ingredients are added in an unusual order, and it starts baking in a cold oven.

As I FORGOT to mention on camera, it’s delicious—very dense and intensely orange-y.

Happy shopping and baking to you all. If you have to take on extra work at this time of year in order to afford all the gifts you want to give (I do!), work with a song in your heart.

And cook with a song in your heart.

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Leigh’s Orange Pound Cake

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs
the juice and zest of 1 large orange

Instructions:

Grease and flour two standard loaf pans (or five to six smaller pans) or spray them with a grease-plus-flour spray like Baker’s Joy.

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Stir in half of the flour and half of the milk. Mix well; then add the remaining flour and milk. Beat in the eggs, and then stir in the juice and zest. Pour the batter into the loaf pans; they will be reasonably full.

Place the loaves in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 325 degrees and cook for 40 minutes, then raise oven to 350 and cook for about15 minutes. The loaves are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The cakes may split a bit down the middle, but they will taste lovely. Cool the loaves in their pans for 10 minutes; then release them and let them finish cooling on a cooling rack.

Makes 2 large loaves or 5 small ones.

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Thanksgiving Harvest Salad

November 17th, 2014

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I love the idea of Thanksgiving: setting aside a day for giving thanks, sharing with those in need, and getting together with loved ones—and of course cooking and talking and eating and laughing together.

I’m not always absolutely thrilled by Thanksgiving dinner in practice, however. By the time one consumes a portion of each menu item at most harvest tables, one starts to feel awfully full.

My solution to this quandary is to try to include a green salad in the day’s offerings. One can eat a lot of salad and eat only a little of everything else.

I made the salad below with pecan oil graciously sent to me by La Tourangelle. If you have guests at your table with nut allergies, you may of course use extra-virgin olive oil, but otherwise I think the nut flavor suits this quintessential American holiday.

Feel free to add your own favorite ingredients. When my sister-in-law Leigh and I made this salad last year to take to Thanksgiving dinner at our cousins’ home, we served sweet-potato chips on the side. People threw them into their salad at the last minute to add crunch.

If you’d like to see me make the salad, watch the clip at the bottom of the recipe in which Ashley Kohl and I assemble the salad—after we pop some cranberry-apple crisp into the oven.

Happy Turkey Day (or as I like to call it, Salad Day!) to all……

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The Salad

Ingredients:

for the dressing:

4 tablespoons cider vinegar
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste
10 tablespoons walnut or pecan oil

for the salad:

1/2 pound uncooked spinach leaves (more if you like)
1/2 cup walnut or pecan halves (more if you like)
1 apple (your choice, cored and sliced but not peeled)
1/2 small red onion, chopped into rings or pieces
1/2 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese (more if you like; omit for a lighter salad)
3 strips cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (more if you like)

Instructions:

First, make the dressing. In a 2-cup mason jar combine the vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, garlic, water, salt and pepper. Shake well. Slowly whisk in the oil.

Wash the spinach thoroughly and dry it.

Place the nuts in a small frying pan, and toast them over low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to release their oils. Take the pan off the heat.

Just before you are ready to eat, slice the apple. In a salad bowl combine the salad ingredients.

Shake the dressing, and pour about a quarter of it onto the salad. Toss the salad well but carefully. Serves 6.

(You will have enough dressing for several salads. Refrigerate the dressing between uses, and make sure to bring it to room temperature and shake it well before you re-use it.)

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The Day of the Dead

October 24th, 2014

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My friends Donna and Dian in California introduced me to the Day of the Dead, la Dia de los Muertos, which is fast becoming one of my favorite holidays.

I gather that there are actually TWO days of the dead. On November 1, the spirits of dead children return to earth to join us. On November 2, adults follow.

Dian and Donna have wonderful, elaborate ofrendas, shrines dedicated to the memory of people they have lost. The ofrendas feature flowers, candles, trinkets, foods the people loved, skulls made of sugar, and even chocolate skulls.

I am only just starting to celebrate this holiday so my ofrenda is quite small—but I had fun putting it together. I brought it along to my most recent appearance on the television program Mass Appeal. I made Mexican hot chocolate in honor of the day and of my father (who LOVED chocolate).

The hot chocolate recipe, and the chocolate with which I made it, came from Taza Chocolate. I have tried making the hot chocolate with both vanilla-flavored chocolate (plus a little cinnamon) and the guajillo chile chocolate we used on the TV show. The chile chocolate might be a bit strong for kids, but it has a nice kick. And either frothy chocolate drink is fluffy and creamy.

Next year, I hope to give you a recipe for the traditional bread for the Day of the Dead, which you can see in the photograph of my ofrenda. I’m still working on the right formula!

Meanwhile, Happy Day of the Dead—and of course Happy Halloween. If you watch the video at the bottom of this post, you’ll see us make pumpkin bread for Halloween as well as the hot chocolate.

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Mexican Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

1 2.7-ounce package (2 discs) Mexican chocolate
2 cups milk
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

Roughly chop or grate the chocolate. Set it aside.

Heat the milk over medium heat until it ALMOST starts to simmer. Remove the milk from the heat, and toss in the salt.

Slow add the chocolate, stirring until it dissolves.

Return the mixture to the stove and warm it up again over low heat. While it is heating, use a whisk, a frother, or an immersion blender to froth it.

Serves 2.

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Pudding Festival Results

October 6th, 2014
Puding Head Leslie Clark is crowned by judge Damon Herring. Courtesy of the Recorder.

Pudding Head Leslie Clark is crowned by judge Damon Herring. Courtesy of the Recorder.

Last week the Sons & Daughters of Hawley, the historical society in my small town, hosted the intermittent but always highly enjoyable Pudding Hollow Pudding Festival.

This event started out as the launching event for my Pudding Hollow Cookbook—and kept going because it was so much darn fun on its own. The person who wins the pudding contest that is the centerpiece of the festival is dubbed the new Pudding Head.

This year’s Pudding Head actually lives in the Hawley’s Pudding Hollow district, the home of Abigail Baker, who won a pudding contest in Hawley in about 1780. (Note: I’m old, but I’m not that old. Her pudding contest was the inspiration for, not the launch of, my book.)

Leslie Clark moved to town in August and lives right next door to me! She is proving to be a terrific neighbor and a darn good cook.

Here is Leslie’s prize-winning recipe. I haven’t tasted it yet, but from the judges’ reactions and from the ingredients, I know I will love it.

Remember readers, you have only five years to work on your recipes for the next festival! (Next year, the Sons & Daughters plan a men’s pie-baking contest.)

This event isn’t just delicious. It’s also a tribute to the power of community … and of course of food!

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Leslie’s Luscious Coconut Cream Custard

from 2014 Pudding Head Leslie Clark of Hawley, Massachusetts

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 eggs
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (5.4-ounce) can coconut cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup shredded coconut

Instructions:

Met the sugar in a pan with the cinnamon. Spread this melted syrup in the bottom and sides of a baking bowl, reserving about 1/4 cup for later decoration. Allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a hand or electric mixer, blend the eggs, liquids, and nutmeg for 5 minutes. Pour this mixture into the sugar-lined baking bowl. Top with shredded coconut uniformly.

Bake in a bain marie (hot-water bath) for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.

Re-melt the reserved sugar and cinnamon, and drizzle them on top of the cooked custard. Sprinkle a little extra coconut on top. Allow to cool before serving. (This pudding is best served at room temperature.)

Serves 8. (Servings should be small; this pudding is rich!)

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