Happy New Year! May Your 2014 Be Bright!

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering, ‘it will be happier…'”
Alfred Tennyson

photo

After the ice storm.

I’ve never been one to be superstitious, but I am beginning to believe in the unlucky Number 13. While this year has had the highest of highs (trips to Florida, Newburyport, Maine, and New York City; a springtime visit from my friend, Kats, from Switzerland; hiking all over the state; and MVK’s collaboration with Cooking Light magazine), it also has had some incredible personal lows. A special thank you to my friend, Catherine, and the Eater of the House who have allowed me to keep on writing in the interim.

So cheers and Happy New Year! I, for one, am excited to turn the calendar to a new year. And on Wednesday, I am going to make a double batch of my black-eyed peas and collard greens that I posted last January for good luck, just in case!

  • DSCN0064

Good Luck Peas
Just omit the ham for a vegetarian version and it will taste just as good! Spinach or Swiss chard can be substituted for the collard greens.

2 teaspoons olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
½ medium onion, finely diced
3 cups of collard greens, chopped
1 14 oz. can black-eyed peas
1 ¼ cup chopped ham (optional and gluten-free)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until soft.

2. Add the collard greens and sauté until they are wilted.

3. Add the peas and ham, if using. Stir and turn heat to low. Add salt and pepper and serve!

Advertisements

Merry Christmas!

vintage_christmas_girl_baking_cookies_poster-p228519991634616872836v_500 I thought I would pop in early this week to wish you a Merry Christmas and to give you one last holiday recipe for 2013! And it is one you can easily make to serve on Christmas morning if you like!

I love eggnog and eggnog flavored anything, be it ice cream, lattes, or coffee. Anytime I see something eggnog flavored, I will try it! So when I found this recipe for Eggnog Coffee Cake, I knew I had to make it.

Moist, easy to make, I cut this into half and tucked some into the freezer for a lazy Sunday morning later on this winter!

Merry Christmas!

Eggnog Coffee Cake
This recipe originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Cooking Light.

Crumble:

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Cake:

6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Baking spray with flour

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. To prepare crumble, combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter using a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in toasted pecans.

3. To prepare cake, weigh or lightly spoon 6.75 ounces flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 6.75 ounces flour and next 4 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt); stir with a whisk. Place 3 tablespoons butter and granulated sugar in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add whole egg and egg yolk, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk, sour cream, and vanilla; beat at low speed for 1 minute or until well combined. Add the flour mixture; beat at low speed 1 minute or just until combined.

4. Spoon half of batter into an 8-inch round metal cake pan coated with baking spray. Sprinkle with half of crumble mixture. Spread remaining batter over crumble, smoothing top with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with remaining crumble mixture. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Place a plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate. Place another plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate.

My Vermont Kitchen Gets Out of the Kitchen! Plus a Christmas Cookie Recipe

Chris isn't in Vermont anymore!

Chris isn’t in Vermont anymore!

I mentioned right after Thanksgiving that the month of December was crazy, and that’s no lie. Between work during the week, the weekends have been devoted to traveling, so I’ve been getting out of the kitchen and having other people cook for me, which I admit has been quite the treat!

But before I get to my travels, I thought, since it tis the season, I’d bring you my favorite Christmas cookie recipe. Apologies in advance to my longtime readers, who see me haul this out every year, but to be honest, if I have time to make just one Christmas cookie (or eat one!) during the season, these are it. I can think of nothing better than butter, sugar, and walnuts. So for my new readers, this is my hands down favorite Christmas cookie. No need to pull out the cookie cutters and they are hardly fussy.

This is a family recipe that I think everyone in my family has made at one point or another in their cooking lifetime. The original recipe calls them Butter Fingers, but to be easy, we always formed them into little round balls, hence their “new” name. I recommend a nice cup of coffee or tea with a cookie or two. They are moist and yummy, and like all older recipes, the directions are sparse!

butterball2
Butterballs
14 Tablespoons butter, softened
4 Tablespoons confectioner sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground nuts (I usually use walnuts, but pecans are good, too)
2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 teaspoon water, mixed

Mix and shape with hands. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Watch to make sure they don’t get too brown. When cool, roll in confectioner sugar.

* * * *

A really bad hair day, but I'm very happy!

A really bad hair day, but I’m very happy!

Last weekend I took the bus down to New York to meet up with my friend, Jana, who lives in Seattle. Besides going to museums and walking through Central Park, we ate at some pretty spectacular places, most which might not make it on your radar, so I thought I’d give a little synopsis in case you find yourself in the Big Apple in the near future and are looking for something to eat!

(I’m sorry for the lack of photographs. I tried taking a photo at the first restaurant, it turned out terrible, so I decided to go without. But the pictures and flavors are in my mind and memory, I just wish you all could enjoy them!)

We started late Saturday afternoon by walking to East Harlem and we went to El Paso http://elpasony.com/ (1643 Lexington Avenue) for a late lunch. I was famished; I’d been on the road since 7 a.m., so my three tacos: chirizo, cecina [salted beef], and asada [grilled beef] were spectacular. Also incredible was the guacamole (probably the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant!) and house-made totopos (tortilla chips). Next time I could just order that and be very happy. I should have taken the traditional route and tried one of their specialty margaritas instead of my usual vodka martini. This was a  wonderful restaurant if you want authentic Mexican food, as my sister-in-law would say. The service was wonderful and the food incredibly delicious. What more could you want?

DSCN0787

I read that this year’s tree had FIVE miles of lights on it! I thought I might be disappointed, but I wasn’t, despite the crowds!

From here it was a train ride to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree along with two million other people, and a walk down 5th Avenue. We decided to stop in at a lovely Italian restaurant, Mozzarella & Vino (33 West 54th Street). I decided to have a glass of Italian chardonnay, which was lovely. After sitting and chatting for quite some time, we decided we were hungry again and decided to have another bite to eat. Since mozzarella is half the name of the restaurant, they obviously focus on cheese, so we ordered a tasting platter of three different cheeses with some bread: mozzarella, burrata, and a smoked mozzarella. I’ve only read about burrata cheese in cooking magazines; the outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream; in other words, heaven. I am going to have to seek this out in Vermont. Yet again, I could have ordered and eaten this entire appetizer by myself and been perfectly content. Next time!

rtr-300x225Lots more walking and we were getting tired. Near Times Square and getting cold, we made our way to the subway. Walking past Carnegie Hall and lots of old New York landmarks, I was cold but excited to see these places in person. And then it was right in front of us: The Russian Tea Room (150th West 57th Street)! Almost my entire life I’ve heard about this restaurant, through books and movies. When my book club read Anna Karinina and I was hosting, I went to their website to see what they served so I could cook an authentic Russian meal. Even though they were closing in 30 minutes, we  had enough time to have a cocktail and nightcap at the bar. Stolichnaya martini for me (of course, I had to be authentic and it’s my vodka of choice!) and Irish Coffee for my friend. It would be exciting to be there on New Year’s Eve, but their $500 per person for the six-course meal is a bit cost prohibitive!

Sunday morning, dark and gray, but after a brisk walk through Central Park, we made our way to a nice coffee shop for breakfast. Apologies, I didn’t pay attention to the name, but the breakfast burrito was delicious and held me through a late morning and afternoon of museum walkings until a slice of New York veggie pizza late afternoon. Then dinner was mecca: Mario Batali’s Eataly (200 5th Avenue in the Flatiron neighborhood).

Like I said, bad photos, but this is what greeted us at our table.

Like I said, bad photos, but this is what greeted us at our table.

Mario isn’t my favorite celebrity chef, but he does have a connection with Italian cook Lidia Bastianch, so I was still excited. I’ve never been to a place like this; it’s a market, but also a sort of cafeteria. Over here is the antipasto section, the shellfish area, the fish area, the pizza and pasta area over here. So diners choose what and where they would like to eat. After walking all over Manhattan and two museums that day, we were pooped, so standing at the antipasto area was out of the question. We chose to take the elevator up 14 stories to eat at their brew pub, Birreria. We spent about 15 minutes trying to decide what I wanted to eat because everything looked delicious! And it was. We had a grilled portobello with whipped burrata (again!) with small raw beets and a house-made pork and beef sausage with braised red cabbage and speck. (This was the second time we saw speck on a menu, and I investigated what it was, because I had never heard of it before. Click on the hyperlink. Trust me, it’s delicious.) Our waiter was wonderful and I’m still trying to place who he reminds me of, although we confirmed our paths have never crossed, and it was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday morning, with a few flakes of snow in the air, we decided to take a historic walk through Harlem, which was exciting and educational. But it was getting to be late morning, we hadn’t eaten and we were hungry. So our trusty guidebook took us to Amy Ruth’s, and I couldn’t have been more happy to be here for my last meal in the city. A traditional “soul food” restaurant, a description I sort of dislike, but this was it–and it was incredible. Each meal was named for a famous African American; I ordered the President Barack Obama (fried chicken with cheesy grits and collard greens) and Jana ordered the Rev. Al Sharpton (smothered chicken and waffles), with fresh, moist cornbread to start. For me, fried chicken will always be on the menu for my last supper; growing up my birthday dinner request always was fried chicken and chocolate cake. And with all due apologies to my dad, this fried chicken, eaten at 11:30 in the morning in Harlem, was the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

The chicken was able to tide me over until Massachusetts. My bus driver surprised me by stopping at a store so us weary travelers could stop and pick up something to eat. Needless to say, the stale roast beef and cheddar sandwich was my least favorite meal of the weekend.

There are a million other restaurants in New York, I’d love to try them all, but to be honest, if I went back to these restaurants, I’d be happy as a clam!

Coconut Curried Mussels with Cauliflower

Winter is here; the remaining fruit on the crabapple tree.

Winter is here; the remaining fruit on the crabapple tree.

I tend to do my grocery shopping on Saturdays and I frequently plan to try  a somewhat fussy recipe since I have more time to cook that night than during the week. So when I saw this recipe, I couldn’t resist it despite the long ingredient list. Mussels, coconut, curry, and cauliflower? What’s not to love? And with the heavy food laden season that is upon us, this was a perfect dinner with some crusty, warm bread and a side salad.

I recently discovered that mussels are best in months that have an “r” in them. Did you know that? Which explains why I see them on sale a lot in the late fall and early winter. I always find myself frustrated in the summer when I go to buy clams, because they are expensive and the amount you get doesn’t correlate with the pounds because they are weighed in their shell. But mussels usually are less expensive and frequently are bagged in one-pound nets.

My local Asian market is miles away, so when making this I substituted grated lime for the kaffir and left out the shrimp paste, and it was still delicious. And instead of Thai basil, I used just the usual Italian sweet basil and didn’t bother using the fresh dill weed.

DSCN0761Coconut Curried Mussels with Cauliflower
This recipe originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Cooking Light magazine. I used yellow cauliflower, which added to the dish’s golden hue. 

Curry paste
2 tablespoons thinly sliced peeled fresh lemongrass
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste
1/2 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 kaffir lime leaf

Mussels
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 cup light coconut milk
48 mussels (about 2 pounds), scrubbed and debearded
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons thinly sliced Thai basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Preparation
1. To prepare curry paste, combine first 11 ingredients in a mortar or bowl; grind with a pestle until mixture forms a smooth paste.

2. To prepare mussels, heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add cauliflower; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in curry paste, stock, and milk; bring to a boil. Add mussels; cover, and simmer 5 minutes or until mussels open. Discard any unopened shells. Stir in lime juice and herbs. Spoon into shallow bowls; serve immediately.

Week Night Dinner Series: Sausage and Polenta

If your December is anything like what mine is looking like, you are going to want quick and nutritious dinners to make for yourself and your family in the coming weeks. One evening, time escaped me and when I got to the kitchen to start making dinner it already was 7:40! So I gave myself a challenge to see just how quickly can I make dinner. The time? 20 minutes flat!

I always have had an irrational fear of making polenta, and every time I wonder why I don’t make it more often. Instant polenta is the easiest; boil up some water or broth, sprinkle in the polenta, and stir until it starts to bubble. Add some cheese and you’re done!

I made this with red and green peppers (how festive!) and chicken sausage, but you can use any vegetable you’d like. I thought zucchini and onions would be a nice combination. And as with many of my meals, this can be adapted. If you’re a vegetarian, saute a bunch of veggies and add some beans. Dairy intolerant? Leave out the cheese. Serve with a green salad and dinner is served!

DSCN0777
Sausage and Polenta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 package chicken sausages (whatever flavor you like), sliced lengthwise
1 red and 1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips

* * * * *

½ cup instant polenta
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
Grated parmesan cheese, if desired

1. In a medium-sized skillet, warm the olive oil. Add the peppers, saute for a few minutes, then add the sausage, and cook until the sausage is warmed and the peppers are soft.

2. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water or broth to a boil. Sprinkle the polenta over the liquid, and stir so you don’t get clumps. Reduce heat. Stir until the polenta starts to bubble and becomes thick. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, if using.