All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2025

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

carrot & ginger soup (potage carottes) - and the top 10

It wasn't that I ate a lot of rich food this holiday - it's just that I was making ginger stars and anise cookies , and the cinnamon roasted walnuts every day, it seems. There were always leftovers, and I couldn't resist nibbling.
So last night I was happy to make this light, but rich creamy carrot soup - no cream, no butter, just the warm bloom of fresh ginger and the earthy smoothness of fresh carrots. Served with a quick olive and rosemary focaccia, it was a perfect supper.
Carrot and fresh ginger soup:
Serves about three.
2 cups water
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 t. thyme
1 1/2 cups organic carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, washed and sliced
1 heaping T. peeled, diced fresh ginger root
salt and pepper
1/2 t. dill
In a saucepan, bring the stock, water, thyme, carrots , ginger and celery to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.
Remove from heat and puree, using an immersion blender or regular blender.  You may have to add an extra cup or more of water or stock if the soup is too thick.  It should be very smooth and well colored.
Stir in the dill, and taste carefully before adding salt and pepper.

(Drum roll, please) - here are the top ten posts of 2009!
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

russian tea cookies:messy, but delicious

Last week, someone offered me these cookies ( which I accepted with alacrity), which they identified as Russian Tea Cookies. While I had never heard a name attached to them, I certainly remembered the cookies! As a child, I was a wee bit pudgy, and had a passion for sweets. I remember these cookies not only for their delicious melt- in -your- mouth taste, but the shower of confectioner's sugar down the front of your sweater. The messy child grew into the messy adult, and since I never remember to wear an apron, spills down the front are part of my wardrobe image. Nevermind; these are wonderful, tasty snowballs that continue to be popular at Christmas. My recipe comes from an older friend, and I'm grateful to her for finally giving these cookies a name. (Thanks, Anita!)
Russian Tea cookies
To make:
Preheat oven to 375F.
2 ungreased cookie sheets or jellyroll pans
1 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 1/4 cups King Arthur flour
1/4 t. salt
3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped in food processor
1/2 t. nutmeg ( optional)
More confectioner's sugar, for rolling
Cream butter and sugar.
Add vanilla, nutmeg, flour, salt, and nuts.
Mix well and form into dime or quarter sized balls.
Place on baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes.
While still warm, roll in confectioner's sugar.
When cool, using a sieve, shake an avalanche of more sugar on top of cookies.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gingerbread Stars for Christmas

Christmas baking is in full swing here . I've been making Italian Anise cookies, and batches of those beautiful Sugar Roasted walnuts and almonds from Maria's recipe - apple gingerbread, and chunky double chocolate cookies with ginger and/or pecans. But I have to say my favorite cookie for Christmas is the plain and simple, but spicy and fragrant gingerbread cookie from an old edition of The New York Times cookbook. It reminds me of those lovely Carl Larsson paintings of Swedish Christmases, and the modest Christmases of the Little House on the Prairie books I loved so much as a child. It holds up well to decorating, though I'm sadly lacking in the decorating skills department. It travels well, which is handy in this day of uncertain mail delivery times. You can dunk it, decorate it, fluff it up with whipped cream ( or ice cream), or nibble slowly on one corner of the star, enjoying the flavor of cloves and cinnamon, ginger and molasses.
To make:
Fit two baking sheets with foil or parchment.
2/3 cup (11 T.) unsalted, room temperature butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 t. ginger
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup molasses
3 cups King Arthur flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
Cream together the butter, brown sugar, spices, and salt.
Add the egg and mix, then add the molasses and mix again.
Add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and mix until the dough forms a ball of sorts.
Remove dough from bowl, and pat into a disk. Chill for at least an hour. ( I keep this dough ready to go in the fridge, so I can bake up cookies when I need them)
Take out the chilled dough and set oven to 350F.
Roll the dough out to about 1/3 inch or less and cut with cookie cutters, dipping cutters into flour lightly every once in a while so it won't get too sticky.
Place cookies on sheet, 2 inches apart. Place first sheet in oven and bake for about 9 minutes.( your time will depend on thickness of dough and size of cutters)
Remove cookie sheet to cooling rack for ten minutes, then remove cookies to another cooling rack. When completely cooled, decorate as you wish.
This recipe made about two dozen cookies, using a medium-large star cutter.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

roasted sugared almonds and walnuts with cinnamon

I found this recipe on Two Peas and their Pod, and I love it! Crunchy, not-too-sweet almonds and walnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and roasted for an hour are not only perfect for gift-giving, but a fairly healthy snack, too. Most roasted nuts are tossed in melted butter, but this recipe uses beaten egg whites as a binder instead - smart thinking.
The only thing I changed for the second batch I made was to make twice as much cinnamon sugar coating - it's so delicious I wanted even more on those toasty walnuts and almonds.
Recipe from Two Peas and their Pod
1 egg white
1 t. cold water
2 cups whole almonds or walnuts
3 T. white sugar
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
Preheat your oven to 250F (My oven is hot, so I set it at 225F)
Beat the egg white and water with a whisk til frothy, then add the almonds or walnuts and stir well until coated.
Mix the sugars , salt and cinnamon together and sprinkle over nuts. Stir gently to coat the nuts evenly.
Fit a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the nuts out evenly.
Place in oven for an hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Let cool completely before storing in airtight containers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

martha's vegetable soup

The first incarnation of this soup came straight from Martha Stewart's Entertaining , but over the years it's evolved into quite a different soup. However, when I first made it for the kids, I dubbed it "Martha's Vegetable", and the name stuck.
It's a great, simple soup, bright with basil and easy on the stomach if one has ( now who would that be?) indulged in a few too many Double Chocolate Chunk cookies, as well as six Italian Anise cookies. A small handful of either vermicelli or gemelli pasta adds a little oomph to the hearty mixture of fresh veggies, and if you have some, a spoonful of pesto is always good, too.
To make about 4 plus servings:
1/2 large onion, quartered and sliced
2 T. olive oil or unsalted butter
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup zucchini, quartered and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cloves pressed garlic
1/2 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup large dice red or green peppers
1 cup large dice red skinned potatoes
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, diced
3 T. gemelli pasta or small bunch vermicelli pasta
2 t. basil
salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 t. tarragon ( optional)
2 T. chopped parsley
4 1/2 cups half water, half vegetable or chicken stock
Pesto - one tablespoon per bowl (optional)
In a pot, heat the olive oil and/or butter and toss in the onions. Stir and cook for five minutes or so.
Add the potatoes , the stock, and the celery and peppers and simmer until the potatoes are just barely tender.
Add the zucchini, garlic, basil, tarragon, green beans, tomatoes, parsley, and pasta and cook about 15 minutes, or until pasta is just tender.
Taste the soup for seasoning, and add more basil and salt and pepper to taste. Swirl in the pesto if you're using it, and serve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

italian anise cookies for Christmas

Nothing like a soft little snowstorm to get in the mood for Christmas! While the ice storm we had last December still sits lurking in our memories, this snowfall was delightful - soft and fluffy, and very pretty. It also reminded me to start deciding which Christmas cookies to make this year. I snatched up The Boston Globe magazine from last Sunday, where I remembered seeing a recipe for cute little lemon-glazed anise "snail " cookies.
Now, I do realize anise is a love or loathe spice, but happily, I'm in the love department. It has a strong licorice aroma and a milder taste. The recipe called for anise extract, which I didn't have, so I toasted and ground a teaspoon of anise seeds - but I would use the anise extract next time for a bolder anise flavor.
I made a few adaptations ( more flour, more lemon juice, clementine juice instead of orange juice), and I made a tray of tiny cookies using my smallest ice cream scoop, as well as the snail cookies. I liked them both, so you can go either way. And another bonus? They're dairy free.
Adapted from The Boston Globe magazine recipe from A&J King Bakers:
To make:
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup plus 1 T. sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 ( or more) anise extract or 1 t. toasted & ground anise seeds
1/4 cup clementine juice, or orange juice
1T. baking powder
3 (plus or minus) cups King Arthur flour
The icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
fresh lemon juice to make a very thin glaze
anise seeds or clementine zest for tops
Preheat oven to 350F.
2 cookie sheets, UNgreased
In mixer bowl, beat the eggs and oil until foamy. With mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, then the vanilla, anise extract or seeds, and clementine or orange juice. Add the baking powder and mix in the flour until the dough is stiff.
Pinch off about a tablespoon of dough and roll into a short rope - about 6 inches. Coil the rope on the baking sheet neatly into a circle. Or, use a mini-ice cream scoop and scoop onto cookie sheet. The cookies don't really spread, so you can set them fairly close together.
One sheet at a time, place in oven for 12-14 minutes. When first sheet is done, remove to a cooling rack and bake the second sheet.
Mix up the thin glaze and brush on the warm baked cookies. Sprinkle with a little lemon or clementine zest, and a pinch of anise seed if you wish. The warmth will release that wonderful cloud of anise aroma.
Continue with the second sheet of cookies , ice, and let cool.
Happy December!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

julia's leek and potato soup: potage parmentier

I was thumbing through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 this morning and got the surprise of my life. The Potage Parmentier I've been making all along, thinking it was still Julia's recipe, has undergone some fairly radical changes over the years.
First of all, she adds no extra herbs to the basic leek and potato soup base - and no stock, either. So all this time, I've been loading the potage with the potent aroma of my favorite herb, thyme. And enriching it with chicken stock AND butter.
No matter: both are wonderful soups! There may be times when you want your Leek and Potato with few seasonings, and others when you prefer a richer bowl .
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
1 lb ( 3-4 cups) peeled and diced or sliced boiling potatoes
1 lb (3 cups) washed and sliced leek whites, with a little of the tender green
(by the way, leeks lately have been sandy, so slice the leeks down the middle, fan them out, and rinse well under running water)
2 quarts of water
1 T. salt
Simmer the vegetables in the water and salt for about 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and soft. Mash with a fork or pass the soup through a food mill. Just before serving add:
4-6 T. whipping cream or 2-3 T. soft butter
2-3 T. minced parsley or chives
My version:
1 1/2 cups peeled, sliced white potatoes
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, well washed, whites only
2 cups light vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups water
1 1/2 t. thyme
Simmer vegetables in the light stock and thyme until soft.
Using an immersion blender stick, puree the soup until smooth.
about 1/3 cup light cream
1 T. unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
Serve with a sprinkle of chives, finely sliced scallions ( green onions), or a stick of trimmed scallions, or some chopped parsley.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

scallion pancakes on a sparkling morning

What a sparkling day in New Hampshire! As the sun peeked through the trees at seven this morning, I couldn't resist a quick walk down to the pond near my house. I'm happy I did, because it was beautiful - the early sun danced on the still water , looking like a field of diamonds.
When I got back, I was starving, so I made up these little 3 inch scallion pancakes and topped them with softly scrambled eggs and dill. Lots of savory herbs in a protein packed breakfast - what could be more delicious?
To make:
Makes about 10 tiny pancakes
3/4 cup flour
1 large egg
2 T. minced parsley
2 T. sliced scallions
1/8 t. baking powder
2/3 cup milk
2 pinches of salt
Whisk together until smooth, then let sit for a few minutes to blend.
Wipe a crepe pan or skillet with vegetable oil and heat to medium.
Place about a tablespoon of batter in the hot pan, let cook about 1-2 minutes, then flip.
Cook other side 1-2 minutes, then remove to plate.
Continue until batter is gone.
Top with softly scrambled eggs seasoned with tarragon or dill.

Friday, November 27, 2009

leftover turkey soup

I hope everyone had a delicious and joyful Thanksgiving ! The kids made THE most wonderful desserts (apple pie, pumpkin-chocolate brownies, and a wonderful cranberry upsidedown cake from an Alice Waters recipe), and an amazing amount of conversation was centered around either food, recipes, or Top Chef favorites. I am so pleased to see two more great cooks carrying on the tradition in our family.
As usual, I'm making the Day After Turkey soup - and I wait all year for this. It's a lovely soothing, hearty ( but not heavy) soup that efficently uses up many of those leftovers.
Today, I'm giving you a general recipe, so you can adjust it according to how much turkey and trimmings you have.
First, I make a quick turkey stock:
Cut the useable meat off the turkey and set aside.
In a stockpot place:
turkey bones and carcass, broken up
a little browned turkey skin
cut up onions
cut up carrots and celery (include some leaves)
fresh rosemary
bay leaves
Whatever else (small amounts leftover squash, roasted potatoes, etc.)
Cover with water, or part water, part chicken or vegetable stock.
Bring almost to a boil, then simmer for an hour.
Strain the stock and taste. If it's too watery, reduce the stock by simmering until you feel it tastes right.
Carefully cut up turkey meat ( no bones or tendons, please)
a bag of baby carrots (or more)
a few chopped onions (or more)
sliced celery
salt and freshly cracked pepper
more thyme and rosemary
a handful or so of brown or jasmine rice (or more)
a handful of finely chopped parsley
Simmer until the rice is done and the vegetables are soft-tender. Taste again and adjust seasons, then serve with a little more chopped parsley.
Here is the blessing we read yesterday, with thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
May this Thanksgiving blessing bloom in your life all year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

thanksgiving countdown: creamed onions

Heaven help me if I forget the creamed onions again! The last time I forgot them my kids gave me no end of grief, so I made sure they were at the top of the shopping list today.

When you shop, the sign usually says "white boiling onions" - and pick through for the smaller ones , which are preferred. They're also a pain to peel, but I can deal with it once a year for my beloveds.

I won't give any amounts, since it's the process that matters, rather than the weight. Take a small onion and, using a sharp knife, shave off most of the stem end ( not the twisty Hershey's kiss top), then trim the top. Cut one onion layer through the onion, then peel away the top layer with the onion skin. Continue until all the onions are trimmed.

Place the trimmed onions in a large saucepan with a bay leaf. Fill with water, so the onions are floating with about two inches of water below them. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the onions are tender, but not falling apart.
Using a strainer, drain the onions but save the onion water. Rinse out the cooking pot, then melt a tablespoon or more of unsalted butter. Whisk in a few tablespoons of flour, then add a cup or so of the onion water to the mixture, whisking all the while. Add a teaspoon or so of thyme, and whisk , whisk, whisk in some lowfat milk ( surprise! No cream!) until the mixture is creamy but thick. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add the onions and gently stir them so they're coated. Top with a little chopped parsley and serve alongside the turkey. Delicious!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

thanksgiving countdown: two dairy-free treats for kids

It seems to me more and more children are being diagnosed with food allergies. At holiday time, especially, it's difficult to know what to make or serve to kids when you hear the words "dairy free". And this year, you also need to be aware of the H1N1 flu that targets children from infant to 5 especially, so try to avoid the communal bowl. Here are two great healthy choices for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner snack, or to offer as a dessert that's worry free. Arrange a serving tray with single serve cups, glasses, or bowls with these delicious treats , complete with spoons, and relax. And they're so pretty, aren't they? I'm sure several adults will be sneaking over to sample these goodies.
The creamy coconut dip with fresh fruits is just wonderful! Use a melon ball cutter for any melon you like, or cut up strawberries or bananas to dip in the smooth coconut milk sauce.
The Rosy Applesauce is made from fresh apples and tart cranberries, with just a little honey for extra sweetness. Who can resist it?
Wishing you a peaceful, happy, and delicious Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

my little marmalade tree

Nine years ago, I bought an indoor orange tree about a foot and a half high. It's a Calamondin. and every winter ( sometimes Fall) it makes lots of little, bright, sour oranges over the period of a few months. It has beautiful, fragrant white flowers that make you forget winter is happening just outside the window.
For the first few years I might nibble on the inch-sized oranges, but usually I ended up throwing them away. Then a few years ago I suddenly wondered: what about making marmalade with them? Well, I did, and it's wonderful. Because the fruit is so sour, you don't even need pectin or lemon juice, and the skins are soft and thin, so you just slice the whole fruit up, throwing away the random seed or two. The marmalade is somewhat soft, and easily spreadable.
A note : Before you run out and buy a Calamondin, be aware that nurseries and greenhouses use poisons on their plants, so you need to wait a year before eating the fruit: use organic or natural liquid fertilizer and you can be assured the fruit is safe.
To make the marmalade:
Gather up the little oranges and wash. Slice very thinly, discarding any seeds you come across. This recipe is for 2 cups of sliced oranges, so adjust if you have more or less.
Simmer four or five jamjars and lids in boiling water, then let drain on a fresh, clean dishtowel.
Place the 2 cups of sliced oranges in a heavy bottomed pot, along with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil.
Add 3 cups of sugar and stir, turning heat down to a high simmer.
Continue to stir marmalade for approximately 25 minutes, stirring quite a lot, until it reaches around 230 on a candy thermometer, or drips thickly from a wooden spoon. This is just around soft-ball stage.
Ladle marmalade into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom, then place the lids and rings on and tighten. You should hear them ping about a half hour later as they seal. If they don't seal well, just keep in the fridge, where, I assure you, they won't last long.

And to folks in warmer areas, I envy you! These can grow outside as long as the temperature stays above 20F.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you're using a different citrus, like clementines, unless they are marked "organic", make sure you rinse the citrus well in a vinegar bath of 2 tablespoons vinegar (any kind) to a quart of water. Rinse again in clear water, and pat dry before slicing. I do think clementines with 2 tablespoons lemon juice would approximate the taste of the Calamondin oranges - the peels are thin with very little pith. I'll let you know when I try it.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

thanksgiving countdown: two soups

Even with a feast like Thanksgiving, there are some people who like to start the dinner with a light soup. I'm definitely one of them. I don't use cream in these smooth soups, preferring to simply use more vegetables before pureeing. I doubt you'd ever notice the difference. And because there's no cream, the soups are less heavy and filling. And (pssst), they're healthy, too!

At the top, there's the Spicy Mushroom soup, with toasty sauteed mushrooms and lots of thyme.

At the bottom, the gorgeous Spinach soup, with handfuls of baby spinach pureed to that beautiful bright green.

Serve with some of those Portuguese flour rolls, or a few crackers and enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

thanksgiving countdown: two pretty salads

Both of these salads add a burst of color to the overloaded Thanksgiving table. The roasted butternut with pomegranate dressing and arugula has a lovely zest to it, while the watermelon salad with gorgonzola is a real stand out!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

thanksgiving countdown: simple cakes

There's always someone who doesn't like the pumpkin pie. For those people, and for extra rations for company, I've included several unfrosted cakes that can be made ahead and frozen. The silly 3-minute microwave cake-in-a-cup is included , simply as entertainment for the kids. It's not bad, either, especially if you drizzle a little chocolate sauce on top after it comes out of the microwave.

From the top, there's the lovely spiced Pumpkin Cake with sugared ginger, then the Orange-Scented Olive Oil cake, and then my current favorite, Fresh Apple Gingerbread.

Monday, November 9, 2009

thanksgiving countdown: portuguese flour rolls & gougeres

Two lovely additions to the table: gougeres made with Asiago or cheddar cheese, and light Portuguese flour rolls. Both can be made ahead and frozen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

chicken, pumpkin, and white bean soup with spinach cream

I really was going to make my Black Bean chili today, but lo and behold, by late morning it was 60 degrees, so I scratched that idea and moved on to a lighter chicken , white bean, and pumpkin soup with a lovely garlicky spinach and ricotta cream inspired by a dip in the December Martha Stewart Living magazine. So lovely!
To make:
2 chicken legs, thighs, or chicken breast poached in light chicken stock and shredded or cut
light chicken stock - about 4 cups
1 1/2 cups peeled pumpkin, cut into chunks
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
2 rosemary springs, about 3" each
2 cups white cannelini or Great Northern beans, cooked
(if using canned, drain well before adding)
Green Tabasco
salt and pepper
Poach the chicken in the stock. When chicken is tender, remove from stock and cut or shred.
Add the onion, pumpkin, onion, and rosemary to the stock and cook on low until pumpkin is tender.
Add the beans and chicken and heat til just simmering.
Add the salt and pepper to taste, and the hot sauce.
Top with a good spoonful of the spinach cream and swirl in before eating.
Spinach cream:
In food processor blend:
3 chopped scallions, both green and white parts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut up
2 cups rinsed, destemmed baby or regular spinach
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans
1 cup part skim ricotta
1 T. fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper and Tabasco to taste
Whiz all in food processor and place a nice dollop to the side of the soup.
If you prefer, use as a warm or room temperature dip. (Martha bakes her dip for 1/2 hour)
I sincerely hope these pictures are in focus. My eye doctor thinks I may need eye surgery in my left eye. And all this time I thought it was my dirty reading glasses!
Enjoy this beautiful day ~

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

shepherd's pie with thyme and red-skinned potatoes

You must know by now that thyme holds the number one place in my herb heart. And thyme specifically does marvelous things to a fine roasted chicken, a beef and wine stew, and even the lowly shepherd's pie. The aromatic oils in thyme are released as the dish is simmered - one reason one adds thyme at the beginning of the recipe, rather than the end, as you would with basil.

When Fall rolls around, so, invaribly, does shepherd's pie season. You can use a mix of ground lamb and ground chuck , which has more flavor than ground sirloin, or just the ground chuck. I've been meaning to try ground turkey instead of meat - I think it would make a wonderful pie!

If you pinch off tablespoon sized chunks of meat and saute them in butter and oil for shepherd's pie, it gives a little texture, and more flavor, and it's certainly more appealing than a few inches of pebbly, grainy, cooked hamburger.

I made this for one small, three year old Fairy Princess on Halloween , just before she headed out to go Trick or Treating, hoping to avoid the dreaded candy meltdown, and happy to say it worked.

I tend to use red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, for the whipped potato topping - and lots of it, with a little butter drizzling on top. I'd say about 1/3 meat to 2/3rds potato. You can make one big shepherd's pie, or do individual servings.

To make about 4 servings:

5-6 good sized organic red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled and quartered

1 pound of really good hamburger or hamburger and ground lamb, pinched into tablespoon sized pieces

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 t. or more thyme

salt and pepper

4 T. unsalted butter ( for the potatoes)

1 T. unsalted butter ( for the onion)
1 T. olive oil

about 1/3 cup milk

Heat one tablespoon butter in a skillet and add the chopped onion. Stir and cook on medium heat until the onion is golden. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Add the hamburger or lamb to the same skillet, adding olive oil, the thyme, and a little salt and pepper. Cook on medium-high heat until meat is almost cooked through.

Mix the onion into the skillet with the meat, then scrape into a casserole dish.

Add the potatoes to a large pot of water , making sure you have about 3 inches of water covering the potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Drain the potatoes and place in a mixer bowl, along with the milk and butter. Whip the potatoes until creamy and fluffy . (potatoes have to be whipped while still hot, or they won't be creamy)

Smooth the potatoes over the meat and onion mixture and place in a medium oven, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Serve hot, with a few small pieces of butter melting on top. Yum, yum!

Top photo credit J. Dawson

Thursday, October 29, 2009

butternut squash and sweet potato soup with Indian spices

I love my sister's visits to my home in rural New Hampshire! She arrives in a rush, her dog Pippa in tow, loaded down with bags of goodies from Whole Foods in Cambridge. Let me hasten to add, I just love seeing her, as our visits are few and far between. But as soon as she steps in the door, I think she's as excited as I am with her exotic foodstuffs from the big city.

The last time she was here, she brought an assortment of the most marvelous cheeses from around the world. Our favorite was immediately clear: the goat's milk brie, which had us swooning. And the time before THAT, she arrived with an assortment of Indian spices, tucked up in pretty cardboard envelopes - along with soups and breads, ciders and sweets. Bless her heart. It was only last week I finally read the spice labels, and fortuitous it was - I had in mind a seasonal butternut squash and sweet potato soup, that cried out for much more than my usual thyme, nutmeg, and pepper seasoning. I grabbed an envelope and cut it open. A waft of pungent but aromatic spiciness enveloped and enticed me, so I plunged ahead with the usual soup-makings, toasting the spice in olive oil and onions, before adding the squash and sweet potatoes.

I finally put on my reading glasses and read: bhindi masala : ingredients, tumeric, red pepper, coriander, cumin ( CUMIN! - I love cumin!) salt, and other exotic seasonings. Go for it.

So I did, and it turned out to be a deliciously flavorful soup. Do try!

Makes two medium bowls of lovely soup.

To make:

2 T. olive oil

1 stick celery, sliced in 1 inch pieces

2 cups butternut squash, peeled , seeded and cut into 1-2 inch chunks

1 cup peeled sweet potato, cut into 1-2 inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

1 t. cumin

1 t. bhindi masala spice

1/2 t. thyme

2 1/2 cups vegetable stock

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot over high heat.

Add the onion and the bhindi masala spice, the thyme and the cumin and stir for a minute or so.

Add the celery, butternut squash, and sweet potato and stir. Lower the heat to medium.

Add the vegetable stock and stir. Keeping heat at medium , let the vegetables cook until tender.

When the vegetables are tender, take the pot off heat.

Using a stick blender, puree the vegetables and taste. Add salt and pepper as wished at this point.

Serve with homemade croutons .( I used millet bread croutons, which were briefly toasted in a skillet with a little olive oil. Big mistake. I discovered I didn't like millet bread at all - but it's gluten free, so if you have to, go ahead)

If you don't have access to the bhindi masala spice, I would tinker around with cumin, cayenne, ground coriander, and tumeric. It lends a perfect heat and warmth to the squash and potato that is truly unique.

Hope you enjoy!