Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

 9.  The holiday of Thanksgiving came and went by so fast this year.  It seemed surreal, part reality, part fantasy.  But with cleaning the house for 2 days, shopping and cooking, I am still recuperating three days later.  My achy ankles are reminder of that reality.

The fantasy aspect is the delight and enjoyment of cooking and loosing oneself in the preparations.  Showing my daughter little tips and hints in baking and cooking...the Food Network cameras should have been right here in our kitchen.  We would have made a fantastic show!

So the menu:  Turkey, of course, Stuffing from day old bread, Mashed Potatoes and pan dripping Gravy, homemade Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls, Onion Pudding, Pumpkin Puff Appetizer, Roast Vegetable Tsimmes with Apricots, Buttered Broccoli, Veggie tray, Fresh Fruit platter, Cranberry Streusel Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Cranberry Orange, tea and  hungry appetites.

I must show you the pictures:

Going through the recipes...and my lovely assistant, daughter Emily.  She made the cranberry sauce and the Cranberry Streusel Pie.
The pumpkin pie is always one of my favorites!

When we prepare a meal and welcome family and friends to dine with us, there is a special bond that happens.  We experience tastes, textures and delights of food, but more importantly, these moments can never be forgotten.  Similar to a quilt, each piece that is sewn together creates a comfortable, warm article to use for chilly nights, or to adorn your bed, but it takes the attaching of each piece to another.  One can not exist unless sewn to an adjoining piece of cloth.  Our memories and experiences are the same.  Each opportunity spent dining, sharing or laughing together is like the thread that holds us together.  

I am thankful for the wonderful moments my family and friends have shared with me!
What a beautiful life one has, if it is shared with others!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kitchen Gadgets

 8. I love to collect and use kitchen gadgets.  They are the tools used to make delightful and delicious treats!  

Last spring, I had the opportunity to attend "The Martha Show" in NYC with my sister.  During the show, Martha made great Turkey Sliders, which I have made, and they are delicious...and while she was showing the steps, she pulled out a yellow "gadget" to squeeze a lemon.  It was bright yellow and she put her seal of approval on this product.  When the show was over, one of my goals was to buy one of those bright yellow, lemon squeeze gadgets.  I found a green one for squeezing was great...if you were using limes.  I tried a few lemons but the lemon was a bit too big.  Last week I was in a discount store and low and behold, on the clearance shelf was a bright orange squeeze gadget!!!  Fantastic...I had to pick it up and I am so glad I did.  It really came in handy for making Thanksgiving dinner and desserts.  So now to get my hands on a bright yellow, lemon squeeze gadget.  My search continues.  Actually, I think I will add this bright yellow lemon, squeeze gadget to my Christmas List.  That way my family can go crazy trying to find it.  Speaking of Christmas Lists...I listed a new food processor...why, you say...what's wrong with the old faithful processor?  That is a story in itself.

I have had my food processor, a Cuisinart, for approximately 15 years.  It has been a great companion in the kitchen. Although the size of the bowl has never seemed to be quite big enough and the motor can't go for long.  But it has been faithful.  A while ago, part of the plastic locking lip chipped off, but the machine still worked, you just had to make sure it was in the locked position tightly.  The other day I had day-old dried bread and decided to make breadcrumbs.  So, out comes old "faithful".  I loaded the bowl of the processor with dried bread, placed the lid on and flipped the on switch...which daughter Maggie asked me a question about homework...and I turned my head to hear her...when behind me there was a loud bang!!!  When I quickly looked back, the locking lip, on the opposite side of the lid broke off, the lid flew off, the blade was still spinning madly, (which the motor is suppose to stop as soon as the lid is removed) and bread chunks and crumbs went flying everywhere!!!  On me, on the counter, all over the stove, floor and some bread even went rolling down the stairs!  My daughter came running and asked me, in a very parental way, "What are you doing?"  To that I answered, "Do you believe it?"  This is insane!"  As our dachshund came running to our aide and began eating the bread chunks as quickly as he could before he got caught.  There were breadcrumbs in my hair...down my shirt...between my toes...on each slat of the blinds, did I say everywhere?  Well, breadcrumbs where everywhere!  

After I vacuumed up each last crumb and wiped down the kitchen, for the third time that day, and shooed the dog away, I had to figure out a way to make bread crumbs...hmmmm...what if I take the broken piece of plastic and just set it where it broke off and push it into the locking position...IT WORKED!  I couldn't believe it, but it worked...all the bread was processed and put away in the freezer and "Old Faithful" completed it's last and final job...with a bit of drama!  It is in the trash now ready for pickup to it's new home.

My Christmas List...bright yellow, lemon squeeze gadget and a new! food processor.  That would make me happy! <3

Pizza from scratch

 7. Don't you just love pizza...Sicilian or Neapolitan...New York Pizza is at the top of the list.  Especially the pizza shops in Oceanside, NY, Gigantes & Villa Formia or on the streets in NYC. It is hard to find a "bad" slice of pizza in NY.   I can have pizza once a week and never get tired of it.  Pizza made from "scratch" or made at home is another of my favorites.  No, it isn't baked in a wood fired oven at 500 degrees but still has a delicious flavor.

I like to make my own pizza dough, which is very easy!  I use my bread machine to mix the dough but I have also made it by hand.  Multi-tasking is part of my life, so the bread machine can do all the work as I busy myself with other tasks.  It takes about an hour and thirty minutes for the dough, or I'll put the ingredients in the machine and leave the house for up to three hours and the dough is ready when I return home.  It usually rises and falls only to rise again. Makes for a more crispy crust.

Pizza Dough
1 cup very warm water
1 tsp salt
2 Tblsp olive oil
3 cups flour
2 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
In a bread machine, add ingredients in this order.  Set for dough, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
By hand, place warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle yeast into water.  stir gently and let rest for 5 minutes to proof the yeast.  In a large mixing bowl place flour, salt and sugar.  Blend with a fork then add the proofed yeast and oil.  Begin to mix with hand until dough forms and all flour comes away from the side of the bowl and comes away from your fingers.  Dough will be an elastic consistency.  Place dough on a floured surface and knead for about 3 min.  In mixing bowl place a small amount of oil and coat bowl.  Place dough in the bowl and turn over so dough has been lightly coated with oil.  Place plastic wrap over top of bowl and cover with a clean dish towel.  Place in a warm spot free from drafts.  Allow dough to rise till double, approx. 1 hour.  Punch dough down and allow dough to rise once more.  Once dough has doubled in size the second time you are ready to bake.  

At home, I use my Pampered Chef stone bar pan for deep dish pizza.  It bakes evenly and makes the crust crispy.   I preheat my oven to 450 degrees, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and oil the stone bar pan.  
Today, I made a meatball pizza.  My honey made a pot of meatballs and sauce last week so I saved 6 meatballs and sauce.  I spread the bottom of the dough with the cut up meatballs and sauce and then covered it with 2 cups mozzarella cheese.  Bake till cheese begins to lightly brown on top.  This was dinner!  and a plate of cut up veggies and dip.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Homemade Biscuits

 6. Biscuits are on my list of comfort food.  I'm talking about the homemade biscuits not the ones that pop out of a cardboard tube.  I tried quite a few biscuit recipes in the past but have finally found the best!  Some recipes call for shortening but the flavor isn't as rich. 

Homemade Biscuits
3 cups flour, sift
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tblsp cold butter cut in pieces
1 1/4 cup milk or buttermilk
(Opt ingredients:  1/2 cup chedder cheese, 1/4 cup chopped chives, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese - add before the butter)

In large mixing bowl add flour, baking powder and salt. Cut butter pieces into the flour till it resembles course meal.  Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in milk.  Using a fork, stir together till liquid is incorporated in flour.  Drop onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough till smooth, about one minute.  Use as little flour as possible and handle quickly.  Roll dough till 1/2 inch thick.  Cut 3" circles of dough and place on baking sheet.  Bake 450 degrees for 12 minutes.  To test if done, biscuit should be doubled in size and the bottoms will be lightly browned. . 

Pumpkin Butter and Biscuits

 5.  My freezer is filled with puree' pumpkin.  So today I am making Pumpkin Butter.  It is very similar to Apple Butter in texture but smoother.  The full recipe calls for 8 cups of puree' but I will cut it in half.  With Thanksgiving coming, I want to have homemade Pumpkin Butter for my table.

Lilly's Pumpkin Butter
8 cups fresh puree' pumpkin
5 Tblsp lemon juice, fresh 
4 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
In a heavy dutch oven or roasting pan, put puree' and remaining ingredients.  Place on heat and bring to a boil, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and place immediately in a preheated 300 degree oven, uncovered.  Cook the mixture until it thickens and becomes clear, approximately 1 1/2 to 2/1/2 hours.  Stir every 20 minutes or the mixture will begin to burn on the bottom and sides of the pan.  To test for doneness, spoon a small amount onto a small plate.  If there is no watery rim around the edge, your butter is done.  Another test is if the Butter sticks to your spatula.
Ladle Pumpkin Butter into hot, sanitized jars and seal.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Yields approx. 6 half pint jars

My house smells so wonderful and I can't wait till I am making homemade biscuits (posting recipe tomorrow)  and we will taste-test the Pumpkin Butter tonight!   

Few Of My Favorite Things...

4. We've all heard the song at Christmas time reminding us of the artist's favorite things..."raindrops on roses...bright colored packages tied up with string, These are a few of my favorite things." (Are you singing along yet?) So I just wanted to hear what makes your lips curl up and your eyes light up. "favorite things"

homemade cookies

dusk, when the sky turns pink

my daughters singing

china teacups

light shining through a glass


doilies and lace


the crust of a pie

a cherry

my dog's curls & soft spots

coffee beans

old books

how the ocean edge is different with every tide

the pop of canning jars sealing


...These are a few of my favorite things...and you?

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”
~The History Boys

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Becoming Mary

 3.  The other day my sweet friend commented to me, "You are so Martha".  Obviously, the first impression that is made in your mind would be the commercial and tv icon of food, baking and creativity.  How does one deserve or get branded the title of "Martha"?  About ten years ago, another friend commented, "You are so much better than Martha because you can do everything she can do...but what she can't do is sing!"   To be "like" Martha perhaps would be a goal one would pursue or you might have a similar  gifting or group of talents and abilities you were born with.
Yet when I thought about my sweet friend's comment, it drew me to another Martha, you know, the one who had a sister named Mary and a brother named Lazarus.  This Martha loved to cook, keep a home and enjoyed entertaining guests.  We could say she was a wonderful person to be with because Jesus loved to spend time with this family.  If you are anything like me, you would spend much time keeping your home, cooking meals, making the house warm, comfortable and a refuge from stress and the world outside.  I believe Martha did this.  The story of her making preparations for a special meal to feed Jesus, is proof of this.  She had much to accomplish:  Obtaining food, mostly grown herself, grinding grain into flour, milking the goats, gathering eggs, tending the open fire in the pit used for cooking, gathering and chopping wood for the fire, carrying water back from the well in the center of get the idea.  All of this was necessary to prepare the daily meal.  On most days these tasks were mundane and routine, but on this particular day, everything had to be "just so".  Martha worked diligently and tended each task in the kitchen and around the house with determination.  Mary, her sister, would usually work along side, helping.  But this day was different, Mary was preoccupied and nowhere to be found in the kitchen.  Martha must have called out several times for assistance or made request for Mary to help.  Realizing, she was alone in this task, Martha began to feel frustration and anger at the added work load she was bearing.  When she reached the point of total frustration, Martha went looking for Mary and found her, sitting.  

Now, each of us, who is a homemaker understands the frustration when you ask for help and it never arrives.  So dinner will be an hour later or you give up on the notion of cooking and order a pizza.  We grow uptight, angry and this job of keeping the home a refuge turns into static and tension.  This was all Mary's fault.  She should have been helping and doing her part.  Martha had a point in her frustration and shared it verbally.  "Jesus, I have been working tirelessly in the kitchen all day.  My sister Mary has not been a help to me and now the meal will be later than planned. Please say something to her."  Jesus' response was one of insight and wisdom, and so needful for me to hear.  "Martha, you are concerned about so many things.  Your sister Mary is sitting here, next to me, listening to my words.  She wants to know what I think and hear my advice.  This is what you should be doing.  Forget about the meal and come and sit down next to Mary. Once we eat the meal, it will be gone forever, but the words that you will hear me speak will last forever and can not be taken away."  

How often do I strive to prepare and plan daily life in my home when all along, Jesus just wants to speak to me His eternal, life-giving words.  When I spend time with Him, I find my daily chores, tasks and duties of the home, and life, always seem to be accomplished smoothly.  

Yes, being "like" Martha may be flattering in either genre', but in my experience, I want to be more "like" Mary every day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pumpkin Muffin? I'll Take One!

2. After spending several hours processing and packing pureed pumpkin, I just had to make something yummy with it. So I got out my most favorite cookbook that I just can't do without! The American Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook. There are three recipes, in this cookbook, for Pumpkin Muffins, but this one is my favorite.

When I use fresh pumpkin I always omit the liquids up to 1/2 cup due to the wetter consistency of the fresh pumpkin. Freshly grated nutmeg is one of my makes your recipe taste so much can do the same with cinnamon sticks as well. I always mix muffin batter by hand never a mixer. It should be gently folded and not beaten. Stop mixing as soon as all the liquid is incorporated. Let the batter rest for 5 minutes then fill muffin cups or paper liners. Most recipes say to fill 2/3 full...I always fill the cups to the brim...I like my muffins to be high and domed. I topped them with chopped pecans and sparkling white sugar.
I think they were a big hit last night!

Pumpkins Puree

 1. Every year, around the end of October, when everyone is cutting up their pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, I am in search of pumpkins to use for pumpkin puree'. Why not just purchase a can of pumpkin from the supermarket? I've had my share of canned pumpkin and for the most's ok. Although it is not 100 percent pumpkin but squash as well. Once you have used fresh pumpkin, it will be hard to go back to the can. After the puree' is made I package it up in zip storage bags or containers in 2 cup portions and pop it in the freezer for future baking projects. Pumpkins are one of my most favorite vegetables to cook. It is sad that so many pumpkins are tossed away without any thought of the yummy goodness inside.

So, everyone asks, "How do you make pumpkin puree'?" Since you asked, here is my recipe and step-by-step directions. It is definitely worth the time!

Pumpkin Puree'
1 pumpkin large or small
Wash the pumpkin and cut in half. Remove the stem.
Remove the seeds
and membrane from the pumpkin halves by scraping with a metal spoon. Reserve the seeds.

Place the pumpkin cut side
down in a large microwave safe bowl.
Microwave on high for 25 to 30 minutes till the pumpkin is soft to the touch.
Repeat process till pumpkin is cooked.

If you do not have a large microwave, you can bake the pumpkin in a large baking pan or roaster. Bake at 250 for approximately 1 hour till soft to touch. By placing the pumpkin half cut side down, a large amount of liquid will drain from the pumpkin. You can discard the liquid after baking. Allow the pumpkin to cool.

Scrape the cooked pumpkin away from the skin and place in a food processor or blender.Process pumpkin till smooth. 
Measure into 2 cup portions and place in zip storage bags, for the freezer or storage containers for the freezer. Label with date and portion amount. Most pumpkin pie, cake, bread recipes call for 2 cups pumpkin. (This pumpkin was approx. 15 lbs and yielded 16 cups of puree'. Not bad for a $3.00 pumpkin! )


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