Archive for the ‘Holiday Foods’ Category

Easy as Pie?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

Pie probably wasn’t served at the so-called first Thanksgiving 400 years ago, but it has been a must-eat for this holiday since at least the 19th century if not before.

Pie dresses up produce—squash, apples, nuts, etc.—inside pastry and always delivers the feeling of fullness Americans associate with Thanksgiving. In my family, we always have at least two pies, and one of those is always pumpkin.

I try in vain to suggest a crisp or a crumble or (heaven forbid!) no dessert at all, but like most families mine believes that tradition is paramount on this special day. In the end, I always bow to the will of my relatives when it comes to the Thanksgiving dessert menu.

Here’s the problem: I’m not really a pie-crust person. In my experience, pie-crust creation is a skill honed by practice. My grandmother grew up on a farm where pies were on the menu almost daily. My mother spent a lot of time on that farm.

Both possessed the proverbial dab hand with pastry, producing flawless pie crusts. I make pie a couple of times a year at most so I have never had a lot of practice. For much of my life, my lack of pastry experience bothered me. I no longer worry about it. My pie crusts don’t look perfect. They are usually patched together a bit. They always taste good, however.

The secret to making pie crust, I have learned, is to do it without fear. And (as with most cooking) to create your pie with love in your heart.

I realize that many readers won’t have a problem making pie crust. In case you’re not quite ready to wield a rolling pin without fear, however, I offer a couple of suggestions.

First, purchase your pastry. Pillsbury crusts don’t quite match homemade in terms of flavor, but aren’t bad. Furthermore, they look homemade, and using them allows you to take most of the credit for the pies you create.

Another way to get around the pastry issue is to make a pie that requires a Graham-cracker crust: a lemon or key-lime pie, a custard pie, a chocolate pie. Just melt butter, add Graham-cracker crumbs, and press the resulting mixture into your pie pan. No rolling required!

Finally, of course, you may purchase pie or ask one of your guests (if you’re having them) to bring dessert. Your feast will feature lots of homemade goodies. You will be forgiven for outsourcing a little of the cooking.

For those of you who want to make pie crust but are feeling a bit wary, today I am sharing one of the easiest pie-crust recipes I know. It was given to me my late neighbor Bob Stone. Bob maintained that the vinegar and egg in the recipe make the pastry easy to manipulate. I concur.

Bob’s recipe makes enough pastry for two two-crust pies. Feel free to cut it in half. The only trick is dividing the egg in half, which I do by eye.

Because pie crust is no fun on its own, I’m also including a recipe for a fairly easy pie that will be on my own Thanksgiving menu this year, my friend Denis’s French apple pie. This tasty offering with a crumb toping takes only one crust so you can freeze your leftover crusts for future use.

Bob Stone’s Fullerville Pie Crust

Ingredients:

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1–3/4 cups shortening
1/2 cup ice water plus a bit more if needed
1 tablespoon white vinegar (cider vinegar works as well)
1 egg

Instructions:

Combine the flour and the salt in a bowl. Cut in the shortening, using a pastry blender or two knives, until it is crumbly. Do not over mix. Whisk together the water, the vinegar, and the egg, and stir them gently into the flour mixture. If the dough seems too dry (this is rare), add a tiny bit more cold water. Be careful not to add too much water; this will toughen your crust.

Divide the dough into four even segments, and pat each segment into a rounded disk. If you have time, it helps to refrigerate the dough for an hour or so to make it easier to roll out. If you don’t have time, go ahead and roll the dough into circles. I do this on a board covered with a silicone matt that I then flour. (Call me paranoid!)

Makes enough crust for 2 double 9-inch pies.

Apple Pie à la Française

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch salt
5 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix together the sugar, the cinnamon, and the salt. Add them to the apples, and combine delicately. Place this mixture in your pie shell.

Combine the flour and the brown sugar. Cut in the butter. Cover the apples with this crumb mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another half hour, or until the apples are completely cooked. Serves 8.

The related videos may be viewed by clicking on the links below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tinky Makes Pie Crust

Tinky Makes the Pie

Red, White, and Blue Sundaes

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

I know I just posted a recipe, but this one is ideal for July 4 so I’m giving it to you this week. I promise not to inundate you in future!

As far as I am concerned, July Fourth isn’t primarily a day for cooking. I think of it as a day for family and community.

I love to swim with family and friends. I enjoy watching the Independence Day parade at noon in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, and I adore listening to Mohawk Trail Concerts’ annual jazz offering in the afternoon. I’m thrilled that the latter two events are returning this year after their COVID-induced hiatus in 2020.

I’m not a fan of fireworks. I spent too much time when I was little overseas in countries where explosives were readily available and children could burn themselves. If my neighborhood is planning a display, however, I try to be a good sport and not cover my eyes and ears too obviously during the fireworks.

Despite all of these activities (and more!), one has to eat—and it’s nice to have something in one’s repertoire for Independence Day that goes beyond hot dogs.

You may have your own special summery dishes: a great aunt’s potato salad, a smashed hamburger (these are very popular right now on the internet), sun tea, a strawberry pound cake.

Here I offer a couple of suggestions in case readers need a little recipe inspiration. Actually, I’m just offering ONE—but I suggest you visit some past recipes here as well. Tammy’s Tangy Kielbasa is easy and tasty. Cliff’s Potato-Chip Chicken is more work, but it has a holiday appeal.

My new recipe this week is a red, white, and blue sundae. It uses strawberries (which are finishing up their season in these parts) and blueberries (which are starting theirs). If you want to simplify life, look in a cookbook for a standard ice-cream formula that doesn’t require cooking like my custard recipe.

If you want to make things even simpler, purchase your ice cream. I suggest a high-quality local brand.

I wish you a glorious fourth of activity and eating.

Red, White, and Blue Sundaes

The Sauce:

Ingredients:

2 cups cut-up strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 generous tablespoon butter

Instructions:

Place the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a nonreactive (stainless steel or enamel) saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat, add a little bit of the butter, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Turn off the heat, stir in the remaining butter so that it melts, and continue to stir the mixture for 3 to 4 more minutes to distribute the berries. Use immediately or refrigerate. Makes about 1-1/3 cups sauce.

Vanilla Ice Cream:

Ingredients:


1-1/2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
2/3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

Heat the milk until it is steamy but not boiling. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until the mixture is thick and light yellow (about 4 minutes).

Whisk a bit of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Then whisk in more, up to 3/4 cup. Whisk the milky egg yolks into the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken but does not boil (about 2 to 3 minutes on my gas stove).

Remove the custard from the heat, and strain it into a heatproof bowl or pot. Cover and cool thoroughly.

When the custard is cold whisk in the cream, vanilla, and salt. Place this mixture in your ice-cream freezer and churn until done.

This recipe makes a little more than a quart of ice cream.

Assembly:

For each sundae, scoop out 1/2 cup ice cream. Spoon on some strawberry sauce, dab on a little whipped cream (optional but good), and top with a couple of fresh local blueberries.

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover is coming. I’ll be making my grandmother’s matzo-ball soup this week on Mass Appeal and talking about her on our local public-radio station, New England Public Radio. Here’s the simple recipe, associated with Jewish grandmothers the world over. Happy Spring!

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, soda water, oil, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the matzo meal. Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Simmer the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and place the balls in it. Simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Year of the Ox (or anytime) Dumplings

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s long on holidays. When I was in second grade our class performed a short play in which each of us got to talk about one of this month’s special days.

In the next week alone several holidays are coming up: the Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday. I don’t have room to celebrate them all in this column so I am focusing on the first. I encourage you to do something for every single one, however.

Tomorrow, February 12 (also Lincoln’s birthday!), marks the start of this year’s Chinese New Year. I love lunar holidays. To those of us who measure out our lives according to the Gregorian calendar, holidays that don’t fall on the same date every year offer a welcome unpredictability.

This lunar new year comes on the second new moon after the winter solstice so it can fall anywhere from late January to late February. This year it’s right in between.

As many readers know, there are 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. Each is assigned an animal, and the animals repeat in a cycle of 12 years, roughly corresponding to the time it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun. This year will be the year of the ox.

People born in this year (or born 12, 24, 48, or 60 and so on years ago!) will exhibit ox-like characteristics. They will tend to be hard working, dependable, and generally solid.

The Chinese New Year is a time when Chinese families get together. During these reunions family members begin the new year’s celebration, which lasts for more than two weeks, by preparing food together. A special favorite, especially in the north of China, is dumplings.

My dumpling recipe isn’t necessarily authentically Chinese, but it has plenty of Chinese flavor and flavors. I have to admit that I cheated a little; I purchased my dumpling wrappers.

To me dumpling wrappers are like tortillas, something one makes best if one makes them all the time. I have never made them. I hadn’t even made dumplings themselves before starting to work on this article.

I actually strayed further by using store-bought wonton wrappers rather than dumpling wrappers. The wonton wrappers, which like most of the ingredients in the dumplings are available in most supermarkets, are slightly thicker than dumpling wrappers and therefore a little easier to work with.

I hope making and eating the dumplings will give you warm feelings of family and hope for the months to come. Happy Chinese New Year! Here’s to finding something to celebrate every day of the month and every day of the year.

They’re almost ready!

Year of the Ox Dumplings

Ingredients:

for the filling:
1/2 pound ground pork (or ground chicken if you don’t eat pork)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped cabbage (preferably Chinese cabbage, but any cabbage will do in a pinch)
2 scallions (white part only), chopped
1 tablespoon grated carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small finger ginger, minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pinch sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

for the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons soy or tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil or toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1 scallion, chopped (white plus some green)

for assembly:
24 wonton or dumpling wrappers (possibly even more, depending on how big they are)
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
canola or peanut oil as needed for frying

Instructions:

Combine the ingredients for the filling. Refrigerate them while you assemble the other ingredients.

Combine the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a bowl. Set them aside.

For each dumpling, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of a wrapper. Do not overfill your dumplings! Combine the egg and the water.

Use your finger to coat the edges of the wrapper with a bit of the egg mixture. Fold the wrapper in half to cover the filling, and seal carefully with more egg mixture. Put the filled dumplings on a plate or board, and cover them with a damp paper towel.

Pour enough oil into a nonstick skillet to cover the bottom, but barely. Heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add enough dumplings to make 1 layer. (The dumplings should not touch each other in the pan.)

Cook the dumplings until their bottoms begin to brown and then flip them over and brown them lightly on the other side. Reduce the heat to low, add a splash of water (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Watch out for sizzling and splattering when the water hits the oil.

Cover the dumplings. Cook for 2-1/2 minutes. Uncover the dumplings and cook them until the liquid has almost disappeared and the bottoms are crispy. Remove them to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Makes a lot of dumplings.

I made a video of these to send to Mass Appeal so you can see my technique. (I use the word loosely! I used too much oil in the pan.) I also made my beloved key-lime pie as a Valentine treat on Mass Appeal. Here are those videos:

Tinky Makes Dumplings on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Key-Lime Pie for Valentine’s Day

Waffling My Way to Hanukkah

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

At this time of year, as the days shorten and the sun dips lower in the sky, many cultures and religions help offset the weather with holidays that celebrate light. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins at sunset this evening (Thursday, Dec. 10), is one such holiday.

In fact, Hanukkah takes place at what is arguably the very darkest time of the year. This lunar holiday takes place just as the moon joins the sun in getting closest to its darkest time. It lasts for eight days.

Also known as the festival of lights, Hanukkah recalls a time in the second century B.C.  when the Israelis book back their land from Syria and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.

They lit an oil-powered menorah (candelabrum) that was supposed to burn continuously. Unfortunately, they had only enough oil to keep the flame burning for a single day. Miraculously, it lasted for eight days and nights, until more oil could be brought to the temple.

Hanukkah celebrates several things: a Jewish victory (not a common thing in world history), the strength of religious faith, and above all the power of light.

I love lighting my menorah each night of this holiday. AI was fortunate to have a Christian parent and a Jewish one. Consequently, our family celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.

When I was a child, I saw this as a plus mainly in terms of presents: the month of December was one long series of gifts. (My birthday falls in December, adding to the pile.)

I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts at this time of year. As I get older, however, lighting the menorah and trimming the Christmas tree help me to remember my parents and their families and to celebrate my rich dual heritage. Those activities also brighten my home at this darkening time of year.

Naturally, as a food writer, I celebrate the season with food. The main food associated with Hanukkah is oil, in commemoration of the miraculous oil that burned for so long in the temple.

Olive oil, a mainstay of Middle-Eastern cuisine and life two millennia ago, was the oil used in the temple in Jerusalem, but one may use pretty much any oil one likes in cooking Hanukkah treats. For frying I often choose a neutral oil like canola oil.

The most popular Hanukkah recipe is for latkes, potato pancakes. I’ve posted several latke recipes here over the years. This year I decided to make my latkes slightly differently—in the waffle iron.

I got the idea from Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa. Her most recent cookbook features hash browns prepared this way. I reasoned that hash browns and latkes aren’t really all that different.

I call my creations (drum roll, please) … WaffLatkes.

To be frank, the Wafflatkes can’t QUITE match the crispiness of the fried version of this dish. They are pretty tasty, however, and the waffle pattern is fun. They’re also exceptionally easy to make and lighter than traditional latkes.

Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy the light and the yumminess….

WaffLatkes

Ingredients:

2 large baking potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten (you may need another one!)
chopped fresh chives to taste (optional but tasty and colorful if you have them on hand)
2 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
canola or olive oil for greasing the waffle iron

Instructions:

Wash the potatoes well. Grate them with a box grater or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Wrap the potato shreds in a dish towel. Carry it to the sink, wring it out, and allow the potato pieces to drain while you get out the rest of the ingredients and maybe drink a cocktail or two.

In a medium bowl combine the egg, the chives (if you’re using them), 2 tablespoons of flour, the salt, and the pepper. Stir in the onion and potato pieces, followed by the olive oil.

If the batter doesn’t seem to hold together at all, stir in a little more flour and/or another egg. Don’t worry about making it perfect, however. Wafflatkes are allowed to be a little ragged.

Brush your waffle iron with oil. Preheat it to a medium-high setting. When it is ready plop small spoonsful of batter onto its quadrants. Flatten them a bit if you wish. (The waffle iron will do this for you, but I tend to become a little paranoid.)

Cook the little cakes just a little longer than you would normally cook waffles, making sure they are golden brown. Serve the waffles immediately as they come out of the iron—or pop the first ones into a 300-degree oven until you have finished cooking the rest. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

And now the video, Tinky Makes WaffLatkes