What’s for dinner?

I love cauliflower and it seems to hold up well in the grocery store vegetable aisle all through the winter. This recipe is a gratin that uses heavy cream rather than cheese with mustard, shallots and sage. I use Raye’s mustard, and for this recipe I used their “Winter Garden” variety (my favorite), which incorporates horseradish and herbs. Raye’s is a traditional stone-ground mustard mill in Eastport – now a working museum. They also make mustard with maple syrup, molasses, and local beer, so this recipe could take on different varieties for a change of pace.

An opportunity to use my favorite blue Crueset dutch oven!

I also managed to use upty-million utensils, but that’s something I can correct the next time.

Cauliflower Gratin with Mustard

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots or winter onions
1 cauliflower cut into 1 1/2-inch cauliflower florets – about4 cups? Up to 6 cups would probably be fine.
1/4 cup white wine and  1  cup vegetable broth
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Raye’s mustard (divided)
2 tsp chopped fresh sage or slightly less dried
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
2 cups coarsely cut bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Add wine, and then broth. Cover and steam until cauliflower is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to bowl. Add cream, 1 Tbs mustard, 1 teaspoon sage, flour, and lemon peel to pot. Boil until sauce is thick, whisking, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in cauliflower. Arrange cauliflower, stem side down, with sauce in 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in 1  tablespoon mustard and 1 tsp sage. Addcrumbs; toss to coat. Spoon crumbs over cauliflower. Bake until topping is golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Carrot cake

Last night I made our family’s favorite carrot cake recipe and shared it with the neighbors. It was a big hit with folks who aren’t used to pistachios and cardamon mixing it up with staid New England carrots from the root cellar, so I’m posting the recipe by their request. I dust the top with confectioners sugar in lieu of cream cheese frosting, which I don’t care for because I don’t make it very well. I’m sure it will be wonderful if you have the knack.

The original recipe was in Madhur Jaffrey’s book, “World of the East Vegetarian Cooking”, but it has undergone a few changes since.

Oil and flour a 9″ square pan and preheat the oven to 350.

Whisk two eggs, 1 C sugar, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp ground cardamon, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 C softened ghee (or butter) in a large bowl. Add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking soda and mix just until incorporated. Add 1/4 C chopped pistachios, 1/4 C currants and 1 1/2 C grated carrots firmly packed, and mix well.

Spread the mixture in the pan and bake 35 – 40 minutes, until the cake springs back in the center. Dust the top with confectioners sugar when cool.

Crispy

When did I turn into the mom who has the ingredients for rice crispie squares on hand at all times? When The Boy was small I tried to make healthy treats, and alternated whole wheat hermits with what I think of as “heritage comfort food”; Fannie Farmer brownies and blueberry buckle, pumpkin pie and the blondies from the King Arthur Flour book. Now that we’re all adults, our favorite treat are the crispies-with-browned-butter-and-sea-salt from Smitten Kitchen. They are just, wow.

I’m not sure how Ms. Kitchen feels about lending out her recipes, so I’m just going to link to it (above). A few pointers from my experience making LOTS of these:

1. Work fast. This is one of those “quick before it hardens into concrete” recipes – make sure you have everything prepped before you start.

2. If someone has actually been eating the cereal as CEREAL, the recipe will work with as few as 4 C of crispies, even though the recipe calls for 6 C.

3. Decant the marshmallows into a bowl. You’ll thank me as you are not dangling an open bag of marshmallows all stuck together in a clump over the pot of sizzling brown butter. And I receive 4 zillion bonus points for using the verb “decant” to describe marshmallows.

4. The recipe says to turn the heat off after you pour the marshmallows into the butter, and that the residual heat will melt them. This has never worked for me – I turn the (gas) burner to low. Residual heat may very well work on an electric stove, but keeping the pot on low heat won’t harm the result.

5. If you’re taking these to a bake sale, make a batch to eat at home. Taking them all away is just cruel.

The Betterbee catalogue is just a bonus. It came today and I’m reading it every chance I get. The rest of the photo is the start of my new campaign to rid the world of over-wrought food photography. You know who you are.

Bacon

I stopped at Pectic Seafood (OMG don’t click on this link if you’re allergic to Flash!) on my way home last night and picked up a pound and a half of absolutely gorgeous haddock, which is not a euphemism. While I was there I had to check out the donuts (handmade each morning) and cruise the coolers full of duck sausage and local goat cheese. There was a new display – four shelves – of bacon, so I bought a pound of Broadbent’s Country Bacon and went on my way. Donuts, bacon and fish to fry – nothing wrong with that.

We had the fish last night, dredged in matzo meal and pan fried in a little olive oil. I went all out and made tartar sauce and it was wonderful. Tonight we tried the bacon.

Oh my heavens. I’ve been eating the stuff from the grocery store and forgotten all about real bacon. Lentil stew with sweet potatoes and bacon, cheddar buttermilk biscuits, and a tossed salad – just the right menu for a Winter Storm Warning night in January.

Lenny’s Lentil Stew

Lenny was a housemate of mine long ago. This dish was his only contribution to our weekly communal dinners and to his credit no one ever complained. Double, triple or multiply this recipe by exponents – you really can’t go wrong. I’ve written like I learned it, folks – Lenny was a plain food type of guy.

For two people: get out two saucepans and fill one halfway up with water. While the water heats, peel a sweet potato and cut it into 1/2″ cubes and dump them into the now boiling water to cook until soft. In the other pan, dump in a can of lentils, 1 C tomato sauce, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 1 tsp marjoram, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, or Szechuan peppercorns if you have them. Heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. Check the sweet potatoes – when done, drain and dump them into the stew. You can add little pieces of cooked bacon if you think you can slip it by the vegetarians. Serve with biscuits even if you have to buy them, but you could try to talk Amy into making a batch even if it isn’t her night to cook.

Devils on Horseback

“Angels on Horseback” are oysters wrapped in bacon and broiled. It only seems natural that someone who loved that concept, but not oysters, would create “Devils on Horseback” which have prunes standing in for the mollusks. These are absolutely delicious.

Purchase “sandwich picks” to make these beauties. They are heftier than toothpicks and stand up to prolonged baking, although they may brown a little bit. Soak them in a cup of water for at least two hours before using.

Take a pound of thin sliced center cut bacon and cut the strips in half – I find that a pair of very sharp kitchen shears works best. Wrap each prune in one half strip and pin together with a pick. This is one time when regular, grocery store prunes will work better than the sundried natural variety because they’re softer and more malleable. Lay them out on a cookie sheet covered with oiled foil or your trusty Silpat and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, turning once. The bacon should be cooked through and the prunes soft.

Devils are VERY hot right out of the oven – don’t just pop one in your mouth. These are good appetizers if you have to travel. Scooped off the cookie sheet hot from the oven and transferred to a heavy serving bowl and covered with foil, they’ll stay hot for quite a distance. Then maybe, someday, you’ll be inspired to try the Angels.

Winter dinner – Hubbard squash

Put on a sweater and go down cellar. Choose a squash for dinner and, on your way back upstairs, grab a hacksaw.

Wash the squash and saw into manageable chunks – a lot will depend on the size of your oven and your cookie sheets. Scoop out the fibrous innards and save the seeds for roasting or next year’s crop. The flesh of the Hubbard squash is typically very dry, so rinse the cut pieces briefly in cold water. Oil a foil-covered cookie sheet and pile the pieces of squash artistically, so that they still fit in the oven. Bake at 375 for about an hour.

Scoop out the cooked squash from the rind into a saucepan over low heat. Add a few tablespoons of butter, sea salt, and perhaps 1/4 C of unsulphered molasses. When the squash is heated through and the butter has melted, mash with a potato masher until well mixed. Serve as a side dish to corn tortillas (for our vegetarian household), or braised beef, or add eggs and evaporated milk and use as pie filling.

Rinse the seeds in a colander until clear of the orange squash fibers. Spread on a dishtowel to dry. You can bake these in the oven on a cookie sheet, but I prefer an ungreased skillet over medium heat. Stir often, and when they start to puff up and sweat, sprinkle liberally with sea salt and just a tiny bit of raw sugar.

See? Winter isn’t quite so bad after all.

Pfeffernusse

“Pepper nuts” are small, firm molasses cookies that taste of anise and spice. They are traditionally dredged in confectioner’s sugar after baking. Store them in a tightly closed tin with a slice of apple to keep them from drying out.

Pfeffernusse

1/2 C shortening (I use Crisco, not butter), 3/4 C brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 C molasses, 3 drops of anise oil, 3 and 1/3 C flour, 1/2 tsp soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 Tbsp hot water. This makes a stiff dough, so I use a food processor to mix everything thoroughly. You may have to redistribute the ingredients a few times.Try to find anise oil, not anise flavoring, for the most authentic taste.

If you have time, let the dough sit in a cool place or the refrigerator for a few hours.

Now, the fun part: use a melon baller to scoop out the dough. You may have to gently re-shape an edge here and there, but this method makes quick work for about 8 dozen perfectly sized little nuggets that will bake uniformly and look great on a plate of assorted cookies. Bake about 12 minutes at 350 F, until slightly more brown on the bottom. Leave them on the sheet to firm up after removing from the oven, then cool on a rack. I like to use a large tupperware container with a cup of confectioner’s sugar in it to dredge the cookies when cooled.

Enjoy with a strong cup of black tea and a napkin!

Minestra

The winter garden has been very generous this year, so tonight we made soup.

Bean and Kale Minestra

1/4 lb kale, about 2 C chopped. I like to tear the soft, leafy part away from the tough stem and then chop finely. If you have the time, soak the chopped kale in cold water for half an hour or so. The cut leaves will soak up a lot of water and soften.

2 large cloves of garlic, minced, 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 can white beans or cannellini (or use any variety of cooked dried beans), 4 C of bean water, vegetable stock or chicken stock if you don’t mind it, 1 Tbs tomato paste or 1/2 tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp dried sage, salt and pepper

Lemon wedges and Parmesan cheese for serving.

In a saucepan, make a batch of tiny pasta – ditalini or orzo – and drain. Or, you can use leftover pasta.

In a soup pot, saute the garlic in the olive oil for a few seconds. Add about half the beans and part of the water or stock and the tomato paste. Now you have a choice. Either use a stick blender to puree the beans, stock and paste in the cooking pot, or process the remaining beans and stock in a food processor and then add it to the pot. Either way, you’re creating a nice thick base for the soup.

Drain the kale and add it to the simmering pot for 15 minutes – 1/2 hour, depending on how fresh, hydrated and finely cut the leaves. Right before serving stir in the pasta, or you can add leftover roasted vegetables, a scrambled egg or pieces of leftover chicken.  Bring to the table with lemon wedges for a squeeze of flavor and grated cheese.

Mmmmm, soup.

Pumpkin Pie II, the crust

We had a discussion about pie crust on the ride home today. My grandmother’s pie crust was perfect, every time, and she used to say the ability skipped a generation to explain my mother’s total failure at pie making. Sorry mom.

Personally, I think it’s all chemistry. Here’s the rather weird recipe that always works for me. If you don’t have a food processor handy, use two sharp knives to cut in the butter.

In a food processor: 3 C flour, 1 Tbs sugar (optional), 2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp baking powder (non-aluminum). Pulse once to mix. Add 1 C (2 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter cut into 1″ chunks. Pulse until the chunks disappear. Add 1/2 C cold water mixed with 2 tsp apple cider vinegar. Pulse just until most of it holds together. Add a little more water if needed.

Dump the contents of the bowl out on to a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold the paper up around the lump of pastry and force it all together. Then cut the lump in half and layer one half over the other, press down. Do that again. Then wrap the (hopefully more cohesive) loaf of pastry in the waxed paper, then a plastic bag, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or overnight) to let the gluten relax.

Take it out, hit it flat a few times with the rolling pin, and use half to make the bottom crust of a pie. If you’re not using a top crust, you can make a pie tail with the other half. Your children will be sooooooooo happy.

Roll out a rectangle, spread with 2 Tbs of softened butter, 1/4 C sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle with a handful of raisins, currants or blueberries.

Starting from the bottom long edge, roll the pastry up. Press the edges together and bring both ends around to touch. Place in a foil lined pie plate and bake with the pie until browned.

Pumpkin pie

First, get a pumpkin. What you really want is a New England Pie Pumpkin: dark orange, sweet and beautifully sized – one pumpkin, one pie. Those prize-winning giants at the fair are actually gourds and their watery flesh doesn’t cook well, but those big ones from the grocery store that you’re going to carve into Jack O’Lanterns make a decent pie.

Split the pumpkin in half between the stem and blossom end. If it’s very hard, put a sharp knife in all the way to the hilt repeatedly all around and then use a blunt edge (small crowbar, a screwdriver – but not your knife) to lever it open. Scoop out the fibrous insides and separate the seeds to roast with your pie in the oven. Run some water into the scooped halves and then dump it out. Put the halves cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet and roast at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour. The time will vary widely on the size and freshness of the pumpkin. You should be able to puncture the skin easily with a fork when done.

Scoop the flesh out of the skin. A NE Pie pumpkin will make about 1 1/2 C of pulp. Whisk together 3/4 C sugar, 2 eggs* and 1 can of evaporated milk and add to the pumpkin with 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt. Whisk gently till blended and pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, then 345 for 45 minutes or until the middle of the pie is set. Any extra filling mix can be ladled into small pyrex dishes as custard.

*Preferrably fresh, local eggs. Thank you, Carrie’s chickens!