All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cookie time: Swedish snowballs

A sudden flurry of cookie making, some off to my grandchildren in Minnesota (spice cookies for Frankie and roasted sugared walnuts, for Izzie, who is still on a gluten-free diet most of the time), more cookies for a few friends who look forward to them (Italian Christmas biscotti, gingerbread stars) - and these always popular nut and confectioner's sugar snowballs, also know as Russian Tea cookies, Mexican Wedding cookies, and a zillion other nicknames.  I call them Swedish snowballs now, because the recipe comes from a Swedish woman I knew.  My newest grandson is too little for cookies, but next will be a few batches for his parents on Christmas Day.  Hope you are all enjoying December and the Christmas (or Hanukkah) season!

This makes about two cookie sheets full of snowballs.

To make:
Preheat oven to 375F.
2 ungreased cookie sheets.

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 and 1/4 cups King Arthur all purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. nutmeg
3/4 cup shelled walnuts, finely chopped (I use a food processor)
More confectioners sugar for rolling and sprinkling

Cream butter and sugar.
Add vanilla, nutmeg, flour, salt, and nuts.
Cream well, then pinch of pieces of dough and roll between your palms into dime or quarter sized balls.
Place on baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes.
Cool balls, then roll in confectioner's sugar.
Place on platter and shake an avalanche of more confectioner's sugar on top just before serving.

Happy day to you all!

What I'm reading:  Catching Fire:  How Cooking Made Us Human, by primatologist Richard Wrangham.  Fascinating!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Poulet Marengo (chicken with herbs and tomatoes)

The weather has certainly been seasonal lately with snow, sleet and freezing rain making the driveway a skating rink.  Definitely time to stay in and simmer a fragrant casserole with chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, dry white wine, and herbs.

I've made this so often I had to search a while through my cookbooks to see where I originally found it.  It is always listed as "Poulet Marengo", in both the NY Times cookbook and From Julia Child's Kitchen . The Times cookbook seems to be the original one I used, as he uses tarragon (which I love, but many people loathe), Julia suggests thyme and oregano and bay for seasoning.  The original dish was made by Napoleon's chef in the field after the battle of Marengo, and originally contained crawfish, eggs, and olives, as well as the chicken, tomatoes, and mushrooms.  Wherever it came from, it is delicious on a chilly day with a basket of warm French bread.

Lately, I've preferred using chicken thighs in this, bone-in, but you can use a cut up whole chicken if you prefer. I also remove the skin before sauteing if the skin looks fatty - it is tedious to have to spoon off the chicken fat just before serving.

Preheat oven to 350F.

4-6 pieces of chicken thighs (I usually leave the skin on )
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil

Rinse and pat the chicken pieces dry.  Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and sear both sides of the chicken, then remove chicken pieces to an oven proof casserole dish.
Add to the butter and oil left in the skillet:

1 cup dry white wine
1 heaping teaspoon tarragon OR basil, or oregano and thyme
10 sliced white mushrooms
2 cups canned plum tomatoes, with the juice (I cut the whole tomatoes into 3 pieces before adding)
1 medium sliced onion
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves peeled garlic, mashed with the side of a knife

Stir the ingredients in the saute pan until hot, then pour over the chicken pieces, and place in oven, covered with foil, for an hour to an hour and a half.  Larger pieces take a little longer.  Serve with a nice loaf of bread and unsalted butter, or a side of rice or noodles.

Happy December!

Friday, November 28, 2014

snowy dark cherry and chocolate cake

We have heaps and heaps of snow outside -14 inches when I measured yesterday, but of course there are drifts and mountains more from shoveling and snowblowing.  But the sun is up and it looks very, very pretty.  And I drifted snow on this chocolate and cherry cake, (confectioner's sugar, of course), looking equally as pretty against the dark chocolate.

The recipe comes from Life's a Feast, and the first time I made it in a bundt pan, it stuck to the mold, even though I had buttered and greased it heavily.  The second time it stuck again, so this third time, I halved the recipe and used my trusty heavy aluminum 8"x2" cake pan from Wilton.  Perfect.

Chocolate and Dark Cherry cake :

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 extra large egg, at room temperature

7/8's of a cup of King Arthur flour
1 and a half tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, this time I used Hershey's
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch kosher salt

scant 1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup frozen dark unsweetened cherries, thawed ten minutes and sprinkled with 1 T. sugar
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used Toll House)

Cream the butter and sugar for five minutes, then add the egg and continue to beat for five minutes.
Measure the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a bowl, stir, set aside.
Measure the milk and vanilla in a glass and set aside.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in two batches, mix again, then add the cherries and chocolate chips.  Stir the batter with a spoon or spatula - it should be smooth and creamy.

Fill the cake pan evenly and bake 25 minutes.  The cake should be mostly firm when you gently press the top with your finger.
Remove cake from oven to a cooling rack, and let cool at least 20 minutes.
Turn the cake, still in the pan, upside down and tap the pan gently with a rolling pin, flip it right side up and run a dull knife around the edge.
Hold your breath and flip the cake onto a rack, place another rack on top gently, then flip the cake right side up.  If there are pieces stuck to the pan, remove with a dull knife and stick onto the cake while the pieces are still warm.

Sift confectioner's sugar over the cake when cooled, and serve.

Happy snow day!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

happy snowy Thanksgiving!

I hope you are all enjoying family and friends and delicious food today!  We have a surprise Thanksgiving snowstorm, which began quietly late yesterday afternoon:

When I got up at 5:30 am, it looked like this (all 14'-16" of it), beautiful, but so much! Sporadic power outages all day, but for now, the power is holding.  Chocolate-cherry cake in the oven, crossing fingers the oven will stay on for at least another half hour .   

Love and blessings to you all on this Day of Thanksgiving....

Oh, this came out just lovely:  warm chocolate- dark cherry cake:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fresh Cranberry muffins with orange zest and nutmeg

After several very chilly days, this morning was sunny and warm enough to skip the wool coat I've been wearing lately - and the weather and it being a Sunday morning, I was in a baking mood.

Let's see:  apples, oranges, bananas and an avocado in the fruit bowl.  Fresh cranberries in the fridge, ah-HAH.  A perfect morning for these fresh, colorful and perky cranberry muffins!

It's interesting to remember these were my son's favorite muffins for quite a while.  Most of my other muffins were full of butter and cream, milk and yogurt, but these cranberry muffins were the ones he loved.  Much later he discovered he was dairy intolerant , which of course explains it - but even though I don't have a problem with dairy products, I love these for the tang and color of the cranberries and the hint of orange.  Definitely a festive start to Thanksgiving Day breakfast!

To make:

Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease two Texas size muffin tins with vegetable shortening.

3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
the zest from a large orange
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
2 extra large eggs

Measure flour, baking powder, sugar and nutmeg into mixer bowl.  Mix briefly.
Add the canola oil, orange zest, orange juice, and eggs and mix.
Stir in the cranberries by hand until well blended.
For large Texas size muffins, I use two scoops of batter using an ice cream scoop - for normal size muffins I would use 1 large scoop plus a tablespoon of batter per muffin.
Place muffin tins in the upper third of the oven and bake for 25 minutes (if you use frozen berries it will be longer) or until tops are golden and firm when gently pressed on top.
Remove to a cooling rack for ten minutes, then run a dull knife around each muffin and gently set to cool on the cooling rack.

This makes about 10 Texas size muffins.

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

mousse au chocolat

Novemberrrrr.  As in brrrr.  We have had one morning with hard frost on the ground - and the windshield, and another with a coating of snow.  I had been working on a magazine article for January/February, which made me feel even colder, but then, a little magic.

I think I found my original mousse au chocolat recipe!  Long ago, when I worked in a French restaurant in Cambridge, that was often how my morning started - making a tray of this creamy, light but wonderfully chocolate dessert.  Somehow, I misplaced the original recipe, and tried many others, but it was never the same.  Today, I am over the moon with happiness, and the memories come flooding back.

A few months ago, I found a picture from that time:  Nick the waiter - who was still in high school, I think.  Another reminder of that lovely, airy little restaurant, where I worked the day chef shift .  The first several hours were mine alone, following the list the owner Sally had left for me the night before:  start two stocks, make the mousse, make a soup or two, prep the veg, check the vegetable and fruit delivery, maybe make a chocolate cake or roulade.

There was magic in those quiet hours in the kitchen.  A few times I had the evening shift, which was busy and noisy and the kitchen jammed with waiters and chefs, neighbors dropping in (including Julia Child, who sat on the garbage pail and chatted with us) , music playing:  nope, not for me.  For me, the kitchen is almost a meditation, though there are times I cherish friends and family in the kitchen, like Thanksgiving, or birthdays, or breakfast with the grandchildren.

Mousse au Chocolate (chocolate mousse):
This makes about 2 1/2 cups of mousse.

To make:
3 extra large eggs, room temperature, separated
pinch of kosher salt
4 ounces (1 bar) Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons cold water
1-2 teaspoons dark rum or triple strong coffee
2 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites in a very clean mixer bowl, reserving yolks in a small bowl.

Break up the chocolate (reserving a small piece to grate on the top of the mousses) and place chocolate pieces in a microwave-safe china or glass bowl.  Add the 3 tablespoons water to the chocolate pieces and microwave 2 minutes, or until chocolate is melted.

Carefully stir the egg yolks into the warm (not hot!) chocolate and mix well, then add the rum or coffee and stir again.

Beat the egg whites on high using the wisk attachment, and adding the pinch of salt to the egg whites.  Continue beating, adding the sugar a little at a time to the egg whites.  Continue beating until the whites are stiff and slightly glossy.

Fold the chocolate mixture into the whites and carefully fold again and again until the mousse is well blended. 

Spoon or ladle the mousse into ramekins or glasses, cover gently with plastic wrap, and place in fridge to chill.  Grate with the reserved piece of chocolate bar just before serving.

This makes about 5 servings, depending on the size of the ramekins or glasses.

Hope you are all staying warm!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

carrot soup with fresh ginger

Here it is, almost mid-November, and in spite of a frost yesterday, a few herbs are still green and growing next to the granite front steps.  Amazing.  I bring in bits and bobs of mint and thyme, the gone-to-seed parsley, and the fragrant lavender to put under my pillow at night and to remember any greenery in the next few days, before the Polar Vortex descends on us.  Thinking of you all to the west of us, especially my grandchildren in Minnesota.

I got up this morning thinking of this bright and cheerful carrot soup, happily had the ingredients, and start to finish, I was done in an hour - just in time to go get my flu shot.  So good!  Carrots are so bright and cheery, and blended into a soup, are earthy and sweet at the same time.

I most often use this recipe with thyme, dill and fresh and dry ginger, but have also made various combinations using fresh orange juice, or even curry powder - it's really up to you and what you like (or even more important, what you don't like).

Carrot Soup with ginger and dill

2 cups water 
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups peeled, sliced carrots
1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger root
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried dill, or 2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
1 cup sliced celery (about 2 stalks)
salt and pepper to taste
extra water or stock for thinning the soup

In a large saucepan, add the water, stock, carrots, celery, ginger root, ginger, dill, and the salt and pepper.

Simmer covered until the carrots are very, very soft.
Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to puree.  If it seems too thick, add small amounts of water or stock to thin it to the consistency you want.

This makes 3-4 servings.

I hope your day is beautiful !

ps/  I keep the ginger tuber in my freezer in a ziplock plastic bag and just cut off pieces at I need them.  I do trim off the outer brown peel, but often just grate the frozen ginger into whatever I'm making.  For this recipe, I cut off a chunk, peeled it, and minced it.  I am tempted to start growing it in a pot though:  you can find instructions here .  I'd love to hear from you if you do try to grow it, especially if you have a cooler house in a cold climate.