Archive for October, 2008

Halloween Pumpkin Fudge

Friday, October 31st, 2008
Halloween has a special place in my heart. I love its colors, its stimulation of the imagination, its sheer fun. I’m one of those appalling people who dress their dogs in costume at this time of year. Luckily, Truffle is a good sport. It probably helps that she knows she looks adorable!
Truffle with her Favorite Boy

Halloween 2007: Truffle with her Favorite Boy

I also adorn the house with lights, spooky ceramic houses, gourds (real and faux), a plethora of orange plates, assorted stuffed cats and vampires, and a clock that shrieks eerily on the hour. And naturally I cook.
This year my mother and I have prepared pumpkin fudge to give out on Halloween. I know that the parents of trick-or-treaters are concerned about homemade treats. Our solution is to put a return address label on each wrapped piece of fudge identifying the maker. If the parents have a question, they can call us. The children seem to enjoy receiving something a little different from the usual candy corn and chocolate bars. And we have the fun of making fudge without the caloric risk of eating it all!
I adapted this recipe from one on Nestlé’s baking site. Feel free to adjust the spices according to your taste; you’ll want to replicate the flavor of your own favorite pumpkin pie. Another year I’m going to eschew the fluff and make my fudge more pumpkin-y, but this is pretty darn good if rather sweet. Unless you are allergic to the nuts, don’t omit them; they add both flavor and texture to the final product. (We tried it both ways. My photographer and friend Judy Christian, my mother Jan, and I are willing to suffer for our art!)
I know I may have overdone the photos in this particular post, but Judy and I had so much fun arranging them (Judy is a food stylist manqué!) that I felt I had to share several. As you can see, they embody Halloween colors and Halloween spirit.
Happy hauntings……..
Finishing Touches: MORE SPRINKLES!!!

2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) sweet butter
1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 cup white chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli) or 6 ounces finely chopped white chocolate
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow fluff
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
autumnal sprinkles (optional)


Line a 9-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil.
In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the sugar, brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, pumpkin, and spices. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, and continue to boil it, still stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees on a candy thermometer, although I always like to test for the actual soft ball in a dish of cold water since candy thermometers can be temperamental). This should take about 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove the fudge from the heat. Stir in the chips, and let them melt; then stir in the remaining ingredients. Quickly pour the fudge into the prepared pan. Toss on decorative sprinkles if you like. Let the fudge cool completely (outside if the weather is cool or in the refrigerator), covered, before slicing it into squares. Makes 16 to 36 squares, depending on how big you want to make them. Store this soft confection in the refrigerator.


Pilgrim Pakoras

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

          This coming Tuesday, October 28, marks the beginning of the Hindu festival of Diwali, a cross between the Jewish Sukkot and the Chinese New Year, with a bit of Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, and July 4 thrown in for good measure.

          Diwali is the Indian festival of lights, a time of harvest but also a time of preparation for the New Year. It is both spiritual and rowdy. When I was a teenager living in New Delhi, fireworks filled the sky every Diwali. I found the holiday exciting if a little daunting. The fireworks were unregulated, and timid souls like me huddled close to home, fearful of being burned. I preferred the Diwali tradition of lighting candles to the fireworks, although my mother and brother were (and still are, for that matter) firecracker aficionados.

          My neighbors in Delhi shared sweets and snacks on this holiday. Pakoras are a typical Diwali snack. I adore these spicy vegetable fritters encased in dough made from besan, or gram (chickpea) flour.

          Unfortunately, we don’t have any besan in rural Massachusetts. Today I decided to make a local version of this Indian treat using materials I had at hand. My neighbor (and photographer) Peter dubbed them “Pilgrim Pakoras,” blending my New England ingredients with my Indian inspiration. We ate our pakoras with applesauce, which Peter calls “Yankee Chutney.” They would also be lovely with Indian chutney or with pork or lamb.

          Feel free to experiment with flavor—to add more cumin or chili powder, or to mix in some garlic, ginger, and/or curry powder. Happy Diwali!



Pilgrim Pakoras


6 tiny new potatoes

2 carrots

1 smallish onion

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cumin (either ground or seeds; if seeds, try toasting them first for added flavor)

1 teaspoon chili powder

3/4 cup milk

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons sweet butter, melted

extra-virgin olive oil as needed for frying


          Wash the potatoes and carrots, and discard any stems and spots. You won’t have to peel the potatoes if they are fresh. Grate both vegetables coarsely. (I used a box grater for this.) Wrap the shredded potatoes and carrots in a dishtowel, and leave them to dry out for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

          Peel the onion, and chop it finely.

          In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, cumin, and chili powder.

          In a 2-cup measuring cup, beat the milk and egg together; then stir in the melted butter.

          Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones, and stir in the potato, carrot, and onion pieces. This combination is your pakora batter.

          Pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into a nonstick frying pan, and place it over medium heat. You will have to test your pan for heat; it is ready when a little bit of the pakora batter bubbles around the edges when placed in the hot oil.

          Spoon generous tablespoons of batter into the pan, keeping them separate. Do not try to heat more than 4 to 6 pakoras at a time. When your pakoras brown gently but crisply on one side, flip them over and cook them on the other side. Check for doneness after a couple of minutes on each side. Add a bit more oil if needed. Drain the cooked pakoras on paper towels.

          The pakoras are best when served immediately. In order to have them all ready at once, you may want to place some of them in a 225-degree oven to keep warm. Makes about 2 dozen pakoras.

Hush Puppy Pudding

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
Pirate Captain (and 2008 Pudding Head) Ray Poudrier, left, and First Mate (and Judge) Michael Collins admire Ray's award-winning Hawley Grove Pudding.

Pirate Captain (and 2008 Pudding Head) Ray Poudrier, left, and First Mate (and Judge) Michael Collins admire Ray's award-winning Hawley Grove Pudding. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Gotta.

          The Sons & Daughters of Hawley (the historical society in my small town in Massachusetts) have just pulled off another successful Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest. The pudding contest is my baby so I have to admit I’m a bit prejudiced, but I’ll pretend I’m objective and say that it was a huge success and a lot of fun. This year’s entertainment, “The Pirates of Pudding Hollow” (which posited that our inland town was visited by pirates in the late 18th century), had both the actors and the audience roaring with laughter.

          I’ll post more details and more pictures soon but for now I want to share one of the recipes that made it to the finals, Hush Puppy Pudding from Marilyn Pryor of South Hadley, Massachusetts.

One of our testers for the semi-finals was reluctant to make it because the ingredients include commercial cornbread mix. I understand her scruples (who knows what’s in those mixes?), and one of these days I’ll try to duplicate the pudding using scratch, rather than boxed, ingredients. When that happens, I’ll add the amended recipe to this post.
          In the meantime, as the person who DID prepare it for the semi-finals, I can say that this pudding is very tasty and (except for the cornbread-mix ingredients) quite healthy. I served it with ham, pineapple, and a green salad for a terrific fall meal. And it certainly lived up to its name since Truffle blissfully (and quietly!) ate some of the leftovers.
          For more details about the contest, please visit its web page,

Puddings Awaiting Judging

Puddings Awaiting Judging

Hush Puppy Pudding


1 cup cornbread mix

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sliced green onions (I used 1 bunch; it didn’t quite make a cup, but it worked)

2 cups plain yogurt

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter, melted

2 10-ounce cans vacuum-packed corn


          Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornbread mix, flour, and salt. In another bowl, combine the onions, yogurt, eggs, and butter. Stir in the corn, and add this mixture to the cornbread combination, stirring just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Spoon the resulting batter into your prepared pan, and bake until golden brown and set in the center (about 45 minutes). Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

The Flavor of Fall at the Blue Heron

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008


         The kitchen at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland, Massachusetts, is a very busy place and a very happy one. Music plays as several cooks work in different sections of the room, creating tantalizing smells as they toast spices, glaze cakes, or efficiently peel and combine potatoes and parsnips. I spent a couple of hours there recently with Chef Deborah Snow—and I couldn’t help smiling almost continuously.

         Deborah spent our time showing me how to make a dish that reflected her signature focus on local food. She took advantage of the fall harvest to make butternut-squash ravioli, a deceptively simple Tuscan dish that is a favorite with Blue Heron customers. “I’ve gotten a lot of marriage proposals with this,” she said of the ravioli. She served it with a devastatingly rich brown-butter sauce.

          By using premade dumpling wrappers for the ravioli Deborah rendered them simple for home cooks. I helped her assemble the ravioli (when put together they look a bit like fried eggs) and was impressed at how easy they were to create.

The biggest trick in the recipe is the butter sauce, which can be a little temperamental; the butter should look brown and taste toasted but not burned. The other trick for the home cook will be timing. Deborah made the brown-butter sauce and the ravioli more or less simultaneously because she knows instinctively when to check on each pot.

Less experienced cooks should probably shape the ravioli and then begin browning the butter in order to keep a careful eye on the sauce. The ravioli can easily be boiled after the sauce is complete; these little pieces of pasta don’t take very long to cook.

I followed this method at home. My dish was almost as delicious as Deborah’s—if a bit less beautiful.

To learn more about the Blue Heron, visit its web site,  Meanwhile, here is the recipe for the ravioli, kindness of Deborah Snow.


Blue Heron Butternut Squash Ravioli


for the ravioli:

1 medium butternut squash

extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper to taste for roasting

1 cup shredded or grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 whole nutmeg, freshly grated

kosher salt to taste (start with 1 teaspoon)

freshly ground pepper to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)

72 round 3-inch wheat dumpling wrappers (available from Asian markets)

1 egg

additional cheese and several small sage leaves for garnish

for the sauce:

1 pound unsalted butter

10 fresh sage leaves, plus 5 more leaves later, chopped

1-1/4 cups white wine

1-1/2 cups heavy cream


for the ravioli:

          Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and gunk, and rub a little oil, salt, and pepper on the flesh. Roast the squash until it is soft enough to scoop out easily. Begin roasting with the flesh side down in your pan, and turn the squash over after about 20 minutes. Snow explains that the length of time it will take to roast the squash to the desired consistency depends on the strength of your oven. I would start checking the squash to see whether it is tender after about 30 minutes. It can take much longer than this, however, especially with young squash!

          Scoop the squash out of its skin, and use a potato masher to blend in the cheese, olive oil, nutmeg, salt and pepper. (Do NOT use a food processor.)

          Place half of the dumpling wrappers (36) on a work surface. Spoon a generous tablespoon of the squash mixture into the middle of each wrapper. You will probably have leftover squash, which is delicious by itself as a side dish.

          Beat the egg with a splash of water; then use a pastry brush to brush the edges of the dumpling wrappers with the egg mixture. Place another wrapper on top, and use your fingertips to seal the edges of your ravioli, trying to push out any air bubbles that have formed.

          Put a large pot of water (at least 2 quarts) on the stove, and add 2 teaspoons of salt. When the water comes to a boil, place the ravioli gently in the boiling water. Return the water to the boil, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes longer, stirring gently (particularly in the beginning) to keep the ravioli separated. Remove the ravioli gently from the water with a slotted spoon, place them in 6 individual pasta dishes, and ladle brown-butter sauce over all. Top with additional cheese and sage leaves. Serves 6 with 6 ravioli apiece.

for the sauce:
          Place the entire pound of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring it to a boil. Cook it slowly, monitoring its progress to keep it from burning. When it begins to turn brown around the edges, it is almost finished cooking. Skim off (and discard) any fuzz on top. The cooking process for the butter takes about 10 minutes on Deborah Snow’s very hot stove; it will probably take longer on a home range.

          The butter will soon develop a rich caramel color. Turn off the heat, and add the first 10 chopped sage leaves. The butter will bubble up in response. Let it rest for a couple of minutes.

          When the butter has cooled a bit, spoon out the milk solids and discard them; you will only need the liquid.

In a medium skillet, heat the wine until it is reduced by half. Whisk in the cream, and again let the liquid reduce by half. Throw in the additional chopped sage leaves while the sauce is reducing. When the sauce is nice and thick, whisk in the brown butter to taste. You may not need all of it, but you will need most of it.


Thursday, October 2nd, 2008
Cara and Part of Her Flock (Courtesy of Sheila Litchfield)

Cara and Part of Her Flock (Courtesy of Sheila Litchfield)

Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless thy chosen pilgrim flock

With manna in the wilderness, with water from the rock.

Making Manna

          I love being asked to make new foods. So I was happy when the minister of our small church, Cara Hochhalter, asked me to create some manna for the kids’ time in the service recently.

          Cara’s lectionary is smack dab in the middle of the book of Exodus. The Jews are wandering through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. When they complain of hunger, God provides them with food. Each morning they harvest and eat a mysterious, heavenly substance, which tends to melt if left in the sun too long.

          In the words of the King James Bible, “And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” The manna is also described as “a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.”

          Personally, I had always conceived of manna as a fairly fluffy food. After all, it was provided by God, who has a well developed sense of whimsy. (I have to admit that He—or She or maybe It–didn’t use that particular trait overly often when dealing with the Israelites, but they were definitely whiners, and whining can dampen even a deity’s spirits.)

          So of course I compromised. My manna, as you can probably surmise from reading the recipe below, is simply crumbled up cornbread, sweetened with honey. The coriander in the formula pays tribute to the seeds the manna is supposed to resemble. The coriander also adds an appropriately Middle Eastern flavor. If you don’t have coriander (it turned out I didn’t, when I got ready to prepare my manna), cumin is a useful and tasty alternative.

This manna isn’t really white. On the other hand, if the ancient Hebrews were anything like me early in the morning, they weren’t paying too much attention to color as they gathered their manna.

           If you don’t crumble it up, my manna has the advantage of going very well with a bowl of chili (Kosher, of course).

When I got to church with my basket of crumbs, the children were a bit skeptical of the manna I sprinkled into their open hands, but in general the recipe was a hit. Brady, the youngest and most vocal member of our small tribe, proclaimed it “scrumptious.”

Larger Lessons

          The Israelites were said to grind the manna into cakes for eating in the desert. Cara used her verbal mill to transform my manna, and the story of the ancient manna, into a useful message for both children and adults.

          She reminded us all that God instructed the Hebrews to harvest only as much manna as they could eat each day, a lesson to us all to be moderate in our consumption of food and in our use of the earth’s bounty in general.

          Even more importantly, she held up the feeding of the starving Hebrew people as an example to humankind to be vigilant in feeding the hungry. This lesson is particularly striking in our current economic climate, when food banks such as the church’s own Good Neighbors program are straining to meet the needs of more and more families.

          In that spirit, I urge readers who want to prepare this recipe to make a second batch to share with friends, neighbors, or even strangers—and to remember to buy a little something extra at least once a week to give to a food pantry.

Manna from Tinky


1 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coriander or cumin (dried powder or seeds; you may also use a chopped handful of fresh cilantro)

1 cup milk

1 egg, well beaten

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter, melted

          Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch square pan. (I used my 8-inch iron skillet, which makes great cornbread.)

          In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and spice. Set aside.

          In another bowl (I used a 2-cup measuring cup) vigorously whisk together the milk and egg; then whisk in the honey and the melted butter. The honey will try to settle in the bottom, but its laziness can be vanquished with persistent whisking.

          Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients, and spread them in the prepared pan.

          Bake until the edges of the bread look light brown and the center is solid (about 30 minutes). If you want authentic-looking manna, crumble the bread into tiny pieces; if not, slice it. Serves 8.

Tasting Manna (Courtesy of Sheila Litchfield)

Tasting Manna (Courtesy of Sheila Litchfield)