All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2014

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

winter strawberry jam

I think it was 12 degrees this morning, but these January mornings blur together unless it's below zero.  Then we stand around at the post office and talk about who got the lowest reading, whose pipes burst, who is forwarding their mail to....Florida.

Wasn't that a sneaky way to slide to Plant City, Florida strawberries?  I am always overjoyed when the first Florida strawberries show up at the market in the dead of winter because Spring doesn't seem too, too far away.  And I have loved strawberries my whole life - once insisting on buying a dress when I was four years old that was printed with strawberries and strawberry leaves.  I was desolate when I outgrew that dress.  Throughout the year, I make my own strawberry jam, which takes all of half an hour for one winter jar, more if you're canning a big batch in the summer.

The easiest way to find the most fragrant berries is to turn the plastic cases over and sniff the bottom of the package .  It may sound (and look) odd, but it's the fastest way to pick out the best of the lot.  If I'm making jam that day, I leave the berries out on the counter so they can warm to room temperature.

This fills one large canning jar - I use the wide mouth ones.  Since you're only making one jar, just make sure the jar is clean, but no need to sterilize, since it lives in the fridge.

Winter Strawberry Jam

2 cups hulled and sliced strawberries
juice from two fresh lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar, warmed in a low oven or 1 minute in a microwave
a candy thermometer 

Place the berries in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, mash briefly, then add the lemon juice.  Simmer for about 15 minutes, making sure you keep stirring so it doesn't scorch.

Add the sugar and stir well, increase the heat a little bit and continue to cook until the candy thermometer registers  soft ball stage: around 240 degrees.  Take off heat and dip a spoon into the jam - it should coat the spoon well.

Pour the jam into your prepared jam jar, reserving a tablespoon of warm jam for that piece of buttered bread you have waiting.  Cap the jar and let sit at room temperature for half an hour, then place in fridge.  

Someone gave me a cutting from their enormous bay tree a few months ago which I keep beside the stove for inspiration, and that dream of a walk-in greenhouse:)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

orange and clementine muffins with greek yogurt

It's still bone-chilling cold here, and no matter how I try to get excited about salads, the bottom line is that they are not warming.  I crave muffins and French toast, macaroni and cheese, juicy hamburgers with hot sauce and salsa.  So much for my New Year's resolution to get back on a healthy (or, as my mother always said to me:  "It's HEALTHFUL, not healthy")  track.

Well, these muffins have two citruses , greek yogurt, some whole wheat flour, canola oil, and fresh nutmeg, which are all good, right?  Biting into a fresh hot muffin, there was a blossoming of oranges and clementine, which suddenly reminded me of Florida vacations and the scent of everyone's backyard orange and grapefruit trees.

The recipe comes from a little book I bought years and years ago, called "Muffins A to Z" by Marie Simmons.  I've tried a few recipes, and, though I often change the recipe as I go along, it's a dandy little book.  

Orange and Clementine muffins

Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease your muffin tins well - this recipe made one large Texas muffin in one tin, and 7 small, normal size ones in another muffin tin.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour, sifted
1 and 1/2 cups King Arthur all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
a hefty pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed citrus juice from clementines and eating oranges

Optional:  rolled oats for sprinkling on tops

Place all the dry ingredients in your mixer bowl:  the whole wheat flour, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and orange zest.  Briefly whisk.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the canola oil, Greek yogurt, citrus juice and eggs.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and briefly mix until incorporated.  My batter seemed thick, which I think was because my kitchen is cold in the morning - if that happens, add a little more juice or a little water, a tablespoon at most.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter into muffin tins.  I like to sprinkle a few rolled oats on top for contrast.

 Bake 25 minutes, a few minutes more for the Texas size muffins, then remove from oven to cool on a rack.  When muffins are cool, remove gently from tins and serve with sweet butter and freshly squeezed orange and clementine juice.

Warm hugs to you all, and to the beautiful city of Paris .....

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Joan's pancakes

Very chilly weather here, so weeding through my cookbook shelves has been a pleasure.  Instead of slipping and sliding on the icy, bumpy all-of-six inches of snow, I've been rediscovering recipes, and trying out others I never got to.  

Joan and Bud Stillman were good family friends when I was growing up, I think through their original friendship with my stepmother.  We knew their daughters, somewhat close in age to my sister and me.   In the 80's, when I was raising my two children in New Hampshire, I heard Bud had had a thrombosis and they were deeply involved in changing their cooking and eating habits. Then in 1985, I received a wonderful little cookbook from them called "Fast & Low" : easy recipes for low fat cuisine", which they had published with Little, Brown .

Reading it now, in 2015, it closely mirrors the eating habits we have today.  Joan's background in French cooking introduced fresh vegetables, simply prepared chicken and fish, lots of fresh herbs, and very simple recipes.  One of my favorites is her pancake mix, which I store in the fridge in a large Mason jar, ready for a winter morning like this. Her recipe calls for sifting all the dry ingredients - I used a sieve, since I don't have a sifter - which made the pancakes very tender and fluffy.

The Pancake Mix:

2 cups King Arthur all purpose unbleached flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour

Measure ingredients into a large bowl, then , using a mesh strainer or flour sifter, sift the ingredients one cup at a time into another large bowl.  Stir dry mixture well.

For the pancakes:

2 large egg whites, beaten
1 cup pancake mix
1 cup buttermilk*

* Note:  her recipe called for 1 and a half cups buttermilk, but the mixture was perfect with one cup, so I did not add more buttermilk.

Mix together and stir gently in a bowl.  Drop 1/3 cup batter into a preheated, nonstick pan, cook 3 minutes, then turn and cook the other side.  Since I don't have a nonstick pan, I used a stainless steel skillet and added extra light olive oil to cook the pancakes.  They did stick a little, but I was just firm with the spatula and they turned out fine.  Excellent flavor!

Store pancake mix in the fridge in a large Mason jar.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Celebrating the New Year: Hoppin' John and a super smoothie

Happy New Year!  I had just gotten used to dating my checks 2014, and here we go again:)  Wishing you all a happy, healthy New Year with delicious food, long walks, and the good company of friends and family.  

Celebrated this morning with the traditional Hoppin' John, but this time I picked out all the Ro-tel chiles and tomatoes I had blithely added last night, after waking up in the middle of the night with that acidity garlic and hot, spicy foods seem to trigger.  I always forget. I always say I'll remember, and then promptly forget until it's too late.  I am very grateful for alka seltzer!

I also made one of my warm, green smoothies, perfect on this chilly morning in New Hampshire, before I had coffee, can you believe it?  Trying to cut back on coffee may not be as difficult as I thought it would be, if I stick with the smoothies.  Did you make any resolutions?  I would love to hear yours!

Warm Green New Year Smoothie:

2 scallions (green onions) chopped
about 3 tablespoons thinly sliced, peeled acorn squash
2 big leaves of kale, torn  (I trimmed off the thick stems and discarded)
pinch of hot pepper flakes
2 cups chicken, vegetable, or beef broth
2 sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped arugula
1/2 teaspoon butter or olive oil

Simmer all the above in a saucepan until the vegetables are soft.  Remove to a blender and puree, adding more water if it's too thick.

Wishing you the best year ever in this Year of the Sheep!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

A joyful Merry Christmas to you all!  My beloved Stuart Little, the mouse, is paddling down the lanes and rough waters of life, always somehow popping up well dressed and cheerful.  I wish you the same.

My father used to read this to me in his marvelous, deep voice:  a good start to the new year, and a thoughtful message from the old year:

Joyful day to all! Near the top of our tree sits Stuart Little, paddling his canoe down the boughs, and reminding us each year to keep love close in our hearts as we navigate the rivers and waves of life. Blessed Day to each and every one!
I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant - Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see - and to see we have only to look.
Take joy!
And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever,
the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
Fra Giovanni, 1513

Blessings to you and yours, with much love.....


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Swedish Meatballs for Christmas

Ahhhh, Swedish meatballs.  I had always heard about them, but it was only this year I suddenly had the urgent desire to make them. 

Freshly ground pork and beef, spiked with spices, lovingly rolled into balls and cooked, then served with a meltingly lovely sauce with a side of lingonberry jam ( or homemade cranberry sauce).  Can you blame me for my romantic passion?

They were as delicious as I thought they would be.  

I first thought I would serve them with noodles, but after one taste, opted for simply presented meatballs in a little bowl, with excellent bread and butter on the side , and a glorious salad- but if you prefer simple buttered noodles, that would work just as well.  They really are delicious!

To make:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 large onion, minced
4 slices soft bread, crusts removed and cubed 
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
1 pound freshly ground pork
1 1/2 pounds fresh ground beef
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons cardamom spice, ground
1 teaspoon thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup flour
1 cup beef broth (Noted 12/26/14 - I needed 2 and a half cups of beef broth when I made these today for a party, not sure why, but the sauce should be smooth and creamy enough to spoon over the meatballs.  I would advise adding more broth 1/2 cup at a time and whisking.  If it's still too thick, add more broth until desired consistency.)

In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.  Add onion and saute for a few minutes until soft.  Remove to a large bowl.  

In a separate bowl, soak bread cubes in 2/3 cup milk until very soft.

Beat bread cubes and milk until thickened, add to onions. then add the pork, beef, eggs. spices and thyme.  Gently mix with hands (which I hope you have washed very well!) until combined, then pinch off teaspoon sized bits and roll into balls - this makes about 70 medium to small meatballs.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.   Sear meatballs until meatballs are browned, then use a slotted spoon to remove balls to a large bowl.  Continue to cook until all the meatballs are seared.

Pour remaining oil out of the skillet, then melt 6 tablespoons butter in the skillet.  Whisk in the flour and whisk until thickened.  Add the beef broth and whisk until thickened. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook 10 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and serve with sauce alone, or with hot buttered noodles.

Serve with a side of fresh cranberry sauce, or lingonberry jam.

SO good!

Blessings of the season to you all, may you have a happy, delicious Christmas Day!

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!