Tis the Season: Mexican Chocolate Cookies Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

Look at this sunset!

Look at this sunset!

Since we are in the thick of the holiday season, I’ve been craving a really good homemade cookie. But just one! If I’m going to make anything this time of year, it will be my family’s butterball cookies, but I certainly don’t want them in the house because they are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. The Eater of the House doesn’t really eat sweets, so I know I’ll start looking like a butterball myself eating the entire batch! But I recently had the opportunity to try something new and these cookies were it! The melding of chocolate, cinnamon, and pepper is a classic Mexican mixture and it all came together in this cookie. A soft cookie with a deep chocolate peppery flavor, this made the perfect sized batch to accompany the casserole I took to a recent dinner party. And it made just 24 cookies for me, so it was a sized offering of cookies.

If you don’t have a microwave like me, you can easily melt the chocolate in a water bath. Just take a saucepan filled with water and set a glass bowl over. Bring the water to a boil and stir occasionally, the chocolate will start to melt gently.

I realized as I started this that I was out of cayenne pepper. To be honest, when I see “red pepper” in recipes I don’t exactly know what that means; I always take it to be a spicy red pepper. So without cayenne, I added a dash of spicy Hungarian paprika since that’s what I had on hand. Success!

Happy Cooking!

cookies
Mexican Chocolate Cookies

This recipe first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Cooking Light.

5 ounces bittersweet (60 to 70 percent) chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

3. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); stir with a whisk.

4. Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg; beat well. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until almost set. Remove from oven. Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set. Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Ben’s Kosher Deli and Restaurant
matzoIn the last *like* of my trip to New York City (see Like 1 and Like 2 here!), lunch on Monday was at Ben’s Kosher Deli and Restaurant. This restaurant right off Broadway didn’t seem to cater to tourists, or at least it didn’t seem so when I was there; at the height of lunchtime, it seemed to be more business and family lunches. Our meal began with a platter full of pickles and some coleslaw, which were both delicious. I ordered a bowl of matzo ball soup and half of a corned beef sandwich for my lunch. The matzo ball were the size of a tennis ball, yet light and fluffy, nothing like the ones I make at home. It was a good thing I ordered half a sandwich, it was layer upon layer of corned beef on a really nice rye bread. These were both delicious and gave me sustenance for an afternoon of walking around the city. This restaurant is definitely worth seeking out!

Ben’s Kosher Deli and Restaurant
209 West 38th Street
New York, New York
www.bensdeli.net

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday! Now it’s full speed ahead to the December holidays!

A few weeks ago, I read Ruth Reichl’s newest book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. In 2009, Reichl, and the rest of the country, was shocked when Gourmet magazine, the oldest cooking publication in the country, closed its doors immediately. After almost 70 years, Conde Nast folded the monthly with nary a reason. At the helm was Reichl, who along with being blindsided, also blamed herself. With no job and no prospects, she tweeted on Twitter and retreated to the kitchen and cooked. The book encompasses her tweets and recipes she created during that year.

Her recipes, such as they are, are more a listing of ingredients with a description of what to do. I love this way of cooking, but I know it’s not for everyone. And her writing is so beautiful, she makes everything she cooks sound delicious. Including a butternut squash soup.

I’ve never been one for squash soups; squash in soup, yes, but a pumpkin or butternut squash soup is something I’d tried on occasion but never liked. I’ve always found the flavors odd and would always avoid it in restaurants. This mindset shifted a couple of months ago when my mom ordered a pumpkin soup that was really delicious. Reichl had a recipe for a butternut soup and her description of it made me want to make it immediately. I took a glance at the ingredient list, decided to make my version, and cooked it up as the first snowflakes fell outside the kitchen window. And she was right. It’s good. And comforting. And is the best kind of soup to eat this time of year; it’s easy on the wallet and takes maybe 30 minutes at the most to make.

Dairy-free, wheat free, vegetarian, this is so simple that anyone can make it. For lunch, it’s satisfying and warms you up and fills you up, too. You’d think that just five ingredients would make for a not so exciting soup, so I was skeptical when I put everything together. But something about the melding of the flavors is delicious. And don’t worry about precise chopping, everything is going to be blended; it’s a lot easier to use a hand blender if you have one, but a standing blender will work, too.

You’ll find you’ll need more than the first two cups of water. I always add a little bit to my lunch container to get the consistency I like. If you want a little bit more flavor, I thought some cumin or thyme would be a good addition.

Happy Cooking!

butternutsoup
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

1 Tablespoon olive oil

One butternut squash, 1 pound

2 peeled carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

2+ cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a soup pot. When ready, add the carrots, celery, and onion and saute until soft over medium heat. Add the squash and saute for about five minutes or so. Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook the vegetables until everything has completely mushy. With a hand blender (or standing blender) puree until everything is blended, adding additional water if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

bs1MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbook Store

Number two on my New York City adventures (Part I can be read here). When I went to New York, I had very little on my agenda except for one thing, I had to go to Bonnie Slotnick’s cookbook store in Greenwich Village. I really wanted to check it out and after more than ten years, I finally made it!

My friend, Jen, and I got there Sunday afternoon at 12:56, only to discover the store opened at 1 p.m. and we were famished. So instead of waiting four minutes, we went to another bookstore for lunch and then I made my way back while Jen went shopping.

bs2I walked in and it was like walking into someone’s kitchen. A lovely table with the season’s colors and cookbooks was in the middle of the room. Cookbooks lined the walls, all neatly divided into ethnicity and topic. The lighting was golden with lamps on various bookshelves and the colors were of retro kitchens, light greens, oranges, yellows. Vintage aprons, linens, and cookware sat on wooden kitchen tables, and I immediately spied the recipe box my mother has in her kitchen since I was born! A box in the back had a pile of old menus from long ago New York City restaurants now closed. It was warm enough to have the back door open, which led to a small enclosed garden with a small table and chairs, where you could read your cookbooks.

bs3I thought it was curious she had no Julia Child books in the French section, but I soon discovered she had a reserved spot for the masters right in front of her counter! Child, James Beard, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, a variety of editions of The Joy of Cooking, she had all of the greats. I was so pleased to find they had such a special space all together!

bs4After everyone left, I was able to have a chat with Bonnie and it was everything I thought it would be. I ended up buying a book, Clementine in the Kitchen, a book Ruth Reichl reissued when she was editor of Gourmet, the recipe box, and a small cooking booklet titled Meals for Two. I found the book prices to be reasonable, especially for New York City and for being vintage. If you are into cookbooks and want a treat, don’t hesitate to check it out. Her hours change weekly, but she always posts them on her website, bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com.

bs5Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks ~ 28 East 2nd Street, New York, New York

Flaky Dinner Rolls Plus MVK’s Tips for T Day!

Free-Vintage-Thanksgiving-Clip-Art-GraphicsFairy-669x1024I thought I would pop in a day early this week with one last recipe and tips for those readers who are cooking for Thursday’s holiday! I can’t believe I’m looking at yet another turkey and talking about the biggest cooking day (for some) of the year! I finally settled on my menu over the weekend and now it’s full steam ahead until Thursday afternoon!

Thanksgiving is always my cooking and hosting holiday and I love it. There is no pressure of getting the Christmas tree up, making sure all the presents are bought, it’s just me, some paper, and an infinite amount of recipes that can be made. I tend to go the traditional route, but with a couple of tweaks here and there every year. For the past few years I’ve made Astor House rolls for the meal, which are wonderful, but this year I decided to pull out this ten-year-old recipe that is foolproof plus delicious. If you have any left over, they’re great to stick in the freezer and pull one out for your lunchtime soup. Or, what I envision to be my case, make another batch next weekend!

I’ll admit, these are a bit on the fussy side; rolling out, putting in the freezer a couple of times, and one last final rise. But if you’re in the kitchen, you’re already working, so it’s just a matter of setting the timer. And these are more than worth the effort. I didn’t bother using the cookie sheet, but I did pull out the measuring tape to make sure I was near the right size. These are sort of like a croissant, where you work butter into the dough layers. And they may be the best thing in the world right out of the oven. I had to test one to make sure they were suitable for guests (wink), but I really wanted to eat the whole pan, they’re that good!

Whether you are cooking or are the guest, here’s to a wonderful holiday on Thursday! I will raise my glass to my ever faithful and supportive readers for a happy holiday and for a meal (wherever in the world you live!) filled with delicious food!

Happy cooking! And happy eating!

flaky dinner rlls
Flaky Dinner Rolls

This recipe first appeared in the November 2005 issue of Cooking Light magazine.
Makes 12 rolls

3 tablespoons sugar
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm fat-free milk (100° to 110°)
3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 1/2 ounces), divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, softened
Cooking spray

1. Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm milk in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 3/4 cups flour and salt to yeast mixture; stir until a dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth (about 5 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly sticky). Cover dough with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.

2. Roll dough into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle on a lightly floured baking sheet. Gently spread butter over dough. Working with a long side, fold up bottom third of dough. Fold top third of dough over the first fold to form a 12 x 3-inch rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap; place in freezer for 10 minutes.

3. Remove dough from freezer; remove plastic wrap. Roll dough, still on baking sheet (sprinkle on a little more flour, if needed), into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle. Working with a long side, fold up bottom third of dough. Fold top third of dough over the first fold to form a 12 x 3-inch rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap; place in freezer for 10 minutes.

4. Remove dough from freezer; remove plastic wrap. Roll dough, still on baking sheet, into a 12 x 8-inch rectangle. Beginning with a long side, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends of roll). Cut roll into 12 equal slices. Place slices, cut sides up, in muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat tops of dough slices with cooking spray. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

5. Preheat oven to 375°.

6. Bake dough at 375° for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan, and cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Serve rolls warm.

tday2MVK’s Tips for T Day!
As has been my past custom, I’m going to give you some of my tips for making your holiday cooking relatively stress-free and fun. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once a little easier. Some of these tips are mine and some are other cook’s tips I’ve collected through the years that work for me. Whether you’re cooking Thanksgiving for ten or having a dinner party at another time of the year, I find these tips helpful to have in your back pocket.

  • The most important piece of paper in the kitchen for me is my timeline. I take my menu, figure out what time we are going to eat, and work backwards from there. So I have everything down to the time, “10 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to move quickly around the kitchen and for everything to (hopefully) be done pretty much at the same time (some day this will happen!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!
  • Since almost all of us have one oven, prime real estate in the kitchen is small. At the suggestion of “America’s Test Kitchen,” I pull out my crock pot for an additional burner! Set to low and you can warm squash or potatoes and free up an extra burner.
  • If possible, prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made today or Wednesday, make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey.
  • Make sure your knives are sharp! I made this tip the year after it was discovered my knives were dull when my father was carving the turkey. (He has since given me a hand-held knife sharpener.) If you don’t have one, find a kitchen shop that does sharpening and take them in if you have time. This will make carving the turkey all that much easier–and everything else for months to come!
  • On Wednesday evening, take out all your serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” when you start serving and avoids a Thursday morning surprise when you’re laying out the table. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps my memory immensely the next day. Make sure all china, glasses, and linens are cleaned, ironed, and ready to go so all you have to do Thursday morning is set the table.
  • Serve a small relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, only for my guests to get full before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornichons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat. Serve with toothpicks
  • Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat so you aren’t surrounded by people plus having to pass dishes!

Tofu Curry with Bok Choy and Peanuts

All day long it looked like it was dusk. Low gray clouds straddled the mountain tops and the fields virtually disappeared in fog. It had been a long week, I was tired, and I wanted a home-cooked meal, but one that didn’t take a lot of effort. A vegetarian meal with a spicy sauce that uses mostly kitchen pantry staples was the perfect recipe!

I love Thai food and always order red curry sauce as opposed to green curry, but now I’m not sure why. I’m a convert! While comparing the bottles of red and green curry paste I have in the fridge (I buy Thai Kitchen brand), the only difference between the two is red and green chilis, everything else is the same. Though I think the green curry is a bit milder (note to non chili heads!), I found it gave just the right amount of warmth I wanted. Paired with coconut milk, the blend of lemongrass and tangy lime made a flavorful sauce. I don’t know how to cut a baby bok choy into a “wedge,” so I just chopped them. And no need to fry the tofu in advance, put everything in a Dutch oven and stir. That’s all the effort you’ll have to do.

I made a pot of brown rice, and had thought about making it fancier, adding some coconut milk, flaked coconut, and chopped fresh ginger, but decided against the extra effort, but that would be a great addition. And this received a rousing thumb’s up from The Eater of the House; upon his second helping, he declared this the BEST dish I’ve EVER made! “You better write about this!” he said. And so I am.

This warm, bright emerald-green sauce took the day’s gray color away and was the perfect end to the week and start of the weekend!

green curry

Tofu Curry with Bok Choy and Peanuts

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.
Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 3/4 cup rice and 1 1/2 cups curry)

1 1/4 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves, divided
3 tablespoons green curry paste
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 (15-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 (14-ounce) package firm water-packed tofu, drained and cubed
12 ounces baby bok choy, cut into wedges
1 (8-ounce) can sliced bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce, divided (use tamari for gluten-free)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 (8.8-ounce) packages precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben’s)
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped

1. Combine 1 cup cilantro and next 4 ingredients (through coconut milk) in a blender; process until smooth.

2. Bring curry mixture and tofu to a boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat; stir gently. Add bok choy, bamboo shoots, 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, and salt to pan. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 4 minutes.

3. Heat rice according to package directions. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Top evenly with curry mixture; sprinkle evenly with peanuts and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro. Drizzle servings evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce.

MVK’s Like of the Week: The Doughnut Project, West Village, New York City
doughnuts 2 I had made plans way back in June, and the time had finally come to meet my girlfriends in New York City on Halloween. We didn’t have much on our itinerary, lots of walking, bookstores, and doughnuts were at the top of the list; Jana’s friend, Troy Neal, recently opened The Doughnut Project in the West Village and we were going to check it out!

Now, anyone who knows me well knows that doughnuts and pie are my weaknesses; offered a nice fluffy glazed doughnut I have a hard time saying no. But walking around the city for the day allowed me to feel a little bit better about having a late afternoon indulgence!

I admit I was skeptical having my first test bite of an Olive Oil and Pepper doughnut. Who would have thought it would be delicious, but it was! We decided to sample three: Beet Stuffed with Ricotta, a Maple-Bacon Bar, and Salted Chocolate.

doughnuts 1I love beets and wondered what those who don’t like these ruby reds thought, but they seem to be their most popular doughnut. I can see why; the rich ricotta with a bright red sweet topping was my favorite. The dough itself is very nutmeggy so it actually has flavor as opposed to other bakery sweets. Do you know what a maple bar is? I didn’t, but I do now as I was educated on Seattle’s maple bars, which is a doughnut shaped like a bar. We don’t have anything like that on the East Coast (it’s not a cruller), but The Doughnut Project has them! A thin layer of a maple frosting with a piece of bacon, it was decadent! And the chocolate doughnut was out of this world. And it was real chocolate glaze, not like a cake frosting you find on some other doughnuts. Paired with the nutmeg dough it was SO good.

Coffee is the only hot drink sold, but they have a non-compete clause with the tea shop next door, so I was able to buy a cup to have with my sweet snack. You can find them on online in all the usual places, http://www.thedoughnutproject.com/, on Facebook, Twitter (#TDP_NYC), and on Instagram. I have plans to go back to New York in the spring and I know I’m going to take a long walk so I can stop off for another visit!

The Doughnut Project
10 Morton Street
New York City

One-Pan Broccoli-Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

We've had warm and sunny weather this month. The crabapple tree is heavy with fruit!

I took this photo on a warm and sunny day. The crabapple tree in the backyard is heavy with fruit!

It’s the dark and gray month of November here in Vermont. So what is better than tucking in when you get home with a nice warm plate of macaroni and cheese? This one-pan dish is easy to make, plus it’s filled with broccoli and winter squash with less cheese, so you can feel good about eating this healthy twist on an all-time favorite!

I made this dish one lazy Saturday night; it had been a long day and I wanted something tasty and satisfying for dinner and yet I didn’t want to be in the kitchen cooking all night. I love one-pot meals, along with being simple to cook it makes cleanup easy! And this dish is easy enough you can fix it on a busy weeknight.

Don’t be put off from the color; the squash can give the dish an almost neon orange color. The broccoli gives a nice crunch with the creamy cheesy noodles and the bacon lends just a hint of a smoky flavor. Vegetarians (and other eaters) can easily omit the bacon and substitute vegetable broth or water for a completely veggie meal. I buy bacon a couple of times a year and when I do (unless I plan on frying up the entire package), I’ll wrap two-slice servings individually in cellophane and stick it in the freezer in a plastic bag so I have two slices ready to go for recipes like this. No need to defrost, just chop and fry. Served with a simple salad of greens, this was one dish you’ll definitely want to go back for seconds and put on your winter meal rotation!

macncheese
One-Pan Broccoli-Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese

This recipe first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Serves 6 (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups)

2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1 (10-ounce) package frozen butternut squash puree, thawed
10 ounce uncooked large elbow macaroni
3 cups chopped broccoli florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 4 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan.

2. Remove all but 2 teaspoons bacon drippings from pan. Add garlic to ­drippings in pan; sauté 30 seconds.

3. Add stock, milk, and squash to pan; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

4. Add pasta; cover, ­reduce heat, and ­simmer 5 minutes, ­stirring occasionally. Stir in broccoli; cover and cook 3 minutes or until pasta is done and sauce is thickened.

5. Stir in salt, pepper, and 4 ounces cheese. Sprinkle bacon and remaining cheese on top. Cover; let stand 1 minute.

rubbermaidMVK’s *Like* of the Week: Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids
This endorsement is sponsored by Cooking Light and Rubbermaid®.

One morning as I was making my lunch, I was lamenting the condition of my leftover dish drawer. I was in a hurry and trying to find containers plus a lid to go with each one so I could pack up my lunch. I try to keep things organized in the kitchen, but when I’m in a hurry, I can never find things easily and get frustrated with myself for not organizing things better and that I’m running late. That afternoon, I received an email asking if I wanted to test out Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lids. I answered quickly with a resounding YES!

This 20-piece set includes different size nesting containers with the same cover fitting each one! Plus the covers snap together, so they are no longer roaming around all over the drawer! The different sizes are great for all sorts of things; they are handy for packing leftovers for lunch, prepping ingredients for dinner, and keeping my dried beans and grains in the cupboard. Best of all, when I’m getting ready for lunch, I’m not spending forever trying to find a lid, they are all right there. I’m thinking about buying another set!

Recipe Redux: Naked Apple Pie Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I’m in the Big Apple for a few days, so I thought I’d bring you a repeat apple recipe from my family’s recipe box, Naked Apple Pie! No fall is complete without making one of these pies. Try it out the next time you have to take a dish to a dinner party, it’s easy and delicious and I promise it will be a hit!

NAP USE2
Naked Apple Pie
I like to use Cortland apples for my pies; if you use a sweeter apple, you can, of course, cut down on the sugar.

½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
6-7 peeled, pared, diced apples
½ c. nuts, optional (if using, I use walnuts)
Cinnamon and nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Add the egg and vanilla and stir.
4. Add the apples and nuts, if using.
5. Top with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Bake in a greased pie pan or small cake pan for roughly 30 minutes, or until apples are soft.

DishwashingMVK’s *Like* of the Week: The Real Reason I Don’t Want Help With the Dishes
I know there has been lots of talk of introverts vs. extroverts in the past few years; Susan Cain’s book Quiet which examined this topic may have something to do with it. But when I read this article from www.thekitchn.com, I found myself nodding in agreement and realizing I could easily have written it! My kitchen seems to be a natural gathering place when we have guests over, but it’s the place I also like to retreat to for a few alone minutes. Do you like to do the same?

Can’t-Believe-It’s-Veggie Chili Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I couldn't resist stopping and taking photos of the foliage on my way home. The light was just perfect reflecting off the orange leaves!

I couldn’t resist stopping and taking photos of the foliage on my way home. The light on the orange and red leaves made the colors pop out!

Chili is one of those meals that is so easy to make that you can fix it on a weeknight without a recipe and it can be ready to eat in well under an hour. A little bit of beef with some small beans, onions, garlic, and spices, you can throw everything in a pot and it will always be delicious. But my veggie chilis in the past have been less than mediocre, lacking in flavor and texture. Besides some beans and vegetables, I’ve never been able to make a decent pot. But this is one veggie chili I can believe in! Seasoned with lots of spices, with beans and wheat berries as a “meat replacement,” this chili is one for the books and has convinced me that you can make a good veggie chili at home!

Although the ingredient list is long, you definitely can make this on a weeknight, just don’t do like I did and postpone cooking by 30 minutes because you forgot a critical ingredient and had to run out to the store! The veggies can be prepped in advance and the wheat berries can be cooked early, too. The only change was I substituted one tablespoon of tamari in place of the amino acids, since I didn’t have a bottle on hand.

I noticed the “(Meat) Eater of the House” had seconds so I take that as a resounding thumbs up! Topped with a little bit of cheddar, avocado, red onion, and sour cream, it made excellent leftovers for lunch, and enough to pop in the freezer for another meal!

chili

Can’t-Believe-It’s-Veggie Chili
This recipe first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Serves 6 (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups chili, 2 1/2 tablespoons cheese, 4 teaspoons onion, and 2 1/2 teaspoons sour cream)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced peeled carrot
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained
2 cups water
1 cup lower-sodium vegetable juice
1/2 cup uncooked wheat berries
1 cup water
1 cup lager beer (such as Budweiser)
2 tablespoons liquid aminos (such as Bragg)
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted kidney beans, rinsed and drained
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and next 6 ingredients (through garlic); sauté 10 minutes or until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Using kitchen scissors, cut tomatoes in the can into bite-sized pieces. Add 2 cups water, vegetable juice, and tomatoes to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes.

2. Combine wheat berries and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Add wheat berries, beer, aminos, and beans to chili; cook 20 minutes. Serve with cheese, red onion, and sour cream.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Candy Corn Cookies
I thought with Halloween just a few days away, I would bring to you one of the most popular recipes I ever posted on my blog for any new readers: candy corn cookies! These tiny sugar cookies are about an inch high in height and are adorable and make lots to share!

Aren't these adorable? And this was cookie sheet #1, so my batch definitely made more than 5 dozen cookies!Candy Corn Cookies
From PBS Food’s Fresh Taste blog, recipe by Jenna Weber

2 sticks of butter, softened
½ cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
Red food coloring
Yellow food coloring

1. Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until incorporated.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to the butter sugar mixture and mix until a soft dough just forms. Remove dough from mixer bowl and separate into three equal pieces (use a food scale to weigh each piece if you want to be exact!). Mix together a little bit of red and yellow food coloring to make orange and then add the orange coloring to one of the dough pieces. Make another dough piece yellow and leave the third plain.

3. Place a piece of plastic wrap or tin foil inside a loaf pan and pat down the white dough inside. Place the orange dough on top (pat down firmly) followed by the yellow dough. Remove dough from pan, wrap up in either tin foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours.

4. When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut 1/4th inch slices down the width of the dough. Continue cutting each slice into small triangles.

5. Place triangles on a lined baking sheet (line with parchment paper) and bake for 6-8 minutes until tops are puffy and bottoms are golden.

Yield: 5 dozen tiny cookies

Braised Chicken with White Beans and Olives Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

Yup. That's snow. In October!

Yup. That’s snow. In October!

After what may have been one of the warmest Septembers on record, it’s finally getting cold here in Vermont! (And as I write this, it’s snowing rather hard outside!) Which means all I can think about is making soups, stews, bread, anything that will warm the kitchen and my soul.

With this in mind, I started creating a recipe for dinner in my head during the week: a braised chicken dish with tomatoes, white beans, lots of garlic, a touch of cinnamon, and tangy Kalamata olives; also something that could be slow cooked so I wasn’t hovering over the stove for the entire evening, too. I set to work one night as we were watching the movie “Love and Mercy,” which is fantastic movie if you haven’t seen it!

When The Eater of the House asked what was for dinner earlier in the day, I didn’t have the recipe completely sorted out so I described this dish as “sort of a chicken cacciatore.” “With pasta?!” he asked excitedly. “Um, no.” He frowned. I think serving pasta when you already have beans in a dish is odd because that gives you two carbohydrates. But of course, you can serve this with pasta, rice, or just on its own like I did.

I think Chicken thighs are the most forgiving piece of meat out there; you can cook as long as you like and it almost never dries out. Braised with the tomatoes and beans, I was able to go back and watch the movie while dinner simmered on the stove.

This dish turned out just like I had hoped it would; warm and spicy beans with lots of garlic, tender chicken, and briny olives. Plus it’s all cooked in one pan! If you find you have leftover beans but no chicken, just add a little cheese and warm for lunch the next day. It will be delicious!

chicen and white beans
Braised Chicken with White Beans and Olives

4 skinless chicken thighs
5 large cloves of garlic, minced
¾ cup red onion, diced (or half of a large onion)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
28 oz. canned diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cup small white beans (I used navy)
¼ cup Kalamata olives, halved
Chopped parsley (optional)

1. In a large skillet, warm the olive oil, When it gets shimmery, add the chicken and cook until is golden brown, about 3-4 minutes each side. (Note: The chicken won’t be fully cooked.) Place on a plate to rest.

2. There should be some olive oil and fat left over from the chicken in the skillet, but if there isn’t, add a little bit more oil. Add the onions and garlic, cook at medium heat until they are translucent. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, and cinnamon. Add the rested chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add the olives, and let everything simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is done. Top with chopped parsley, if you have some on hand.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Oprah Now Part Owner of Weight Watchers!
Imagine my surprise the other morning as I’m on www.weightwatchers.com and see a photo of Oprah. I just happened to go to the website when the company made their biggest announcement in years: Oprah has joined forces with the company, purchasing a 10 percent stake and serving as a Board member! The company has been faltering financially in the last year and they’ve decided to bring in the big guns.

As a WW graduate, I think this is phenomenal news; just like she did for books, my hope is having the Oprah name will encourage people to join and get healthy. The company said while it will continue to focus on weight loss, its mission also will focus on an all-around healthy and happy life.

You can read more about the deal here.

Breaded Pork Cutlets with Root Veg Smash and Sage Gravy with Sauteed Lemony Brussels Sprouts Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

I gave myself a cooking challenge one evening. After coming inside from mowing the lawn, it already was 7 p.m. I was tired and really wanted to take a shower plus get dinner on the table by 8 p.m. This dish is what I had planned on making, but could I do it? A long list of ingredients, plus three pots going at once, it wasn’t until I really read the recipe that I wondered whether making this in what Cooking Light says is 40(!) minutes was even possible. But I decided I was up for the challenge, because it looked so good and I was hungry! And not only was I successful, this will taste like you spent hours in the kitchen as opposed to 45 minutes!

Of course, looking ahead, you can do some advance prep that can cut down your cooking time: chopping the turnip and potato, as well as trimming and halving the Brussels sprouts. But I did nothing and was still able to do everything in under an hour. I had a local honeycrisp apple in the fridge, so I used that instead of buying a Fuji, as well as red potatoes instead of Yukon Gold. I cooked each pork chop until it was golden but not completely cooked, and then put them in the oven set at 325 degrees until everything was ready to eat. I only cooked three pork chops and The Eater of the House ate the extra one, so I had leftover veg and sprouts that were even better the next day for lunch!

This meal is a perfect weeknight dinner if you have guests you want to impress or you just want a special dinner for the family. A nice glass of a crisp white or a Pinot Noir will go great with this flavorful meal and is a perfect way to end the day!

Happy Cooking!

pork cutletsBreaded Pork Cutlets with Root Veg Mash and Sage Gravy

These recipes first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 1 pork cutlet, about 1/2 cup vegetable mash, and 3 tablespoons gravy)

1 1/2 cups chopped turnips
1 cup chopped Yukon gold potato
3/4 cup chopped peeled Fuji apple
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 (4-ounce) center-cut boneless pork cutlets
1/2 cup quick-mixing flour (such as Wondra), divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 teaspoon chopped sage

1. Place turnips, potato, apple, and bay leaf in a medium saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; cook 10 minutes or until tender. Drain. Discard bay leaf. Return vegetable mixture to pan. Add sour cream, 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; mash to desired consistency.

2. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place 6 tablespoons flour in a dish. Place egg in a dish. Dredge pork in flour; dip into egg. Dredge in flour.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl. Add 2 pork cutlets; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned and done. Remove pork from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pork cutlets. Add stock, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Combine remaining 5 teaspoons butter and remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl. Gradually add butter mixture to pan, stirring with a whisk. Cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and sage. Serve with pork and mashed vegetables.

Sauteed Lemony Brussels Sprouts
Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

4 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add shallots and Brussels sprouts; sauté 8 minutes. Add stock to pan; cook 2 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Stir in rind, salt, and pepper.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Book review: Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
mr latte
This book has been on my radar since it was published in 2003 but it wasn’t until this fall that I sought it out to read. And while I totally devoured it in less than a week, it seems by reader reviews I read that I’m one of only a few people who found Hesser’s memoir palatable.

A young food writer for The New York Times, Hesser meets her future husband, Tad Friend, staff writer for The New Yorker, on a blind date. After much discussion about where they are going to meet, she quips the selected restaurant is “the Manhattan equivalent of an Outback Steakhouse.” He orders a Budweiser and puts sugar “sweetener” in his lattés. Some readers see Hesser as a snob, but I guess she and I are cut from the same cloth, as I, too, would raise a brow if this was my first introduction to a possible mate.

The book soon takes the reader through the courtship and ultimate marriage of these two people, with a lot of insight along the way. Anyone who cooks knows the protectiveness ones has over his/her kitchen, and I had to nod my head when she recounted Tad washing her dishes for the first time. And she also gives insight as a cook:

“I prefer the solitude of a kitchen; I like to hear the faint crackle as my knife slices into a fresh onion, to watch better and sugar meld into milky fluff as I wish. Sometimes I like to think; dream up travel plans, retrace my day or imagine an argument with my mother in which I win. I like to chop garlic, dice tomatoes, and carve chicken from its bones to relieve tension, just as someone else might go run a few miles.”

Hesser’s food writing is exquisite, as can be seen in the above quote, or whether it’s talking about her single cuisine, cooking dinner for her wedding party, or cooking with her grandmother. Besides Mr. Latte, we are introduced to her close group of friends, family, and now her extended family. Each chapter is peppered with recipes, all clearly written for the new and more seasoned cooks.

This was a wonderful look at a romance melded with food and I would take a second helping of anything Hesser writes.

Full Circle: Homemade Pumpkin Bread Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

 

I just had to pull over when I saw this sky when I was driving home.

I just had to pull over when I saw this sky!

It’s finally fall! The season of crisp weather, crisp local apples, squashes, and pumpkins. The leaves have been slow at changing this year, but on a long weekend drive, I spotted some reds and golds in the hills.

Growing up, every fall my mom would make several batches of pumpkin squares, which was homemade pumpkin bread baked in a 13 x 9 pan and cut into squares like cake. This was an easy snack to take to school and I loved when I found it in my lunchbox; the bread is super moist and I loved the walnuts (not so much the raisins). With all the talk of “pumpkin spice” which is in everything from coffee to vodka, I wanted to make something in my kitchen with real pumpkin spice, not something that is manufactured in a factory. I decided to pull out my family recipe for pumpkin bread one night when I wanted to warm the kitchen. But it wasn’t in my recipe box. I then went to my grandmother’s recipe box. Of all the things I inherited from her, this is the most special; a schoolteacher all her life, many recipe cards have her familiar handwriting that is so clear and recognizable.

So I went through and found a recipe for pumpkin bread, my mom’s, but in my handwriting! I couldn’t believe I was the one to give her this recipe; it must have been after college, so more than 25 years ago. And I could tell I had carefully written it so it was legible. Mom’s recipe makes a batch for a family, but Grandma did the math for me, so I was able to use her measurements for one loaf. (If you have a big family or big eaters, it’s easy to double.) Mom’s recipe to me to Grandma and back again. Full circle indeed.

Using fresh ginger, because that’s what I had on hand, with no clove or raisins, this was delicious. Half a cup of chopped walnuts, it made the kitchen warm and spicy. And it’s what I call a quick bread, just one bowl, add everything, mix and pour into a loaf pan. It takes maybe ten minutes to mix all together, so you can make it on a lazy Sunday morning to serve to guests (or yourself!) if you want. The piece I had with my morning tea was nice and homey and was a pleasant and delicious way to welcome the new season. I hope if you make this, you find it that way, too.

Happy Cooking!

pumpkin brad
Homemade Pumpkin Bread

This recipe is from the files of Nancy B. Koliander.

Since you’ll have about a cup of pumpkin leftover, you can either freeze it or hold tight; I’m working on a future recipe to use it up. Stay tuned!

In a mixing bowl, whisk together:

2 medium eggs
1 cup sugar (scant)
1 cup pumpkin
2/3 cup of oil (the original recipe calls for ¾ cup, but I cut it down a little bit and it was fine)

Add:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. each of salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg
1 tsp. each of cinnamon, ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ walnuts and/or a handful of raisins (optional)

Bake 50-55 minutes at 325 degrees in a greased bread pan.

MVK’s *Like* of the Week: Speaking of Pumpkin…
Right after I made my pumpkin bread, I came across this article from The Kitchn website, “What’s Actually in Your Canned Pumpkin Puree.” I was going to bypass it because I know my can of One-Pie pumpkin is just that, pumpkin. Well, I’m wrong and I’m glad I read it because I learned something: under USDA rules, since pumpkin and certain squashes are in the same genus they can be categorized as just pumpkin. So unless your can says 100 percent pumpkin (like Libby’s), you are getting a pumpkin/squash combination. I’m miffed and surprised about this piece of information. I think it is a bit of false advertising. Don’t you?