All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2025

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

borscht and birthday cake

My birthday was last week, but it was only yesterday that I found time for my little home celebration.

I've had a stack of recipes from other bloggers I wanted to try, so my treat to myself was pulling out two that looked delicious and cheerful: Sass & Veracity's white velvet cake, and Dr. Zhivago Borscht(!) by the naked beet.

The borscht was a gorgeous color, and lighter in flavor than I thought it would be - the only change I made was to use half water/half beef (you can use vegetable) stock, and reduce the amount to 6 cups, instead of 10. I couldn't find juniper berries, so I added a small handful of chopped parsley, in addition to the fresh dill.

I only made a half recipe (only one layer) for Kelly's cake, and I used my own cream cheese frosting. The white velvet cake took an extra 15 minutes to bake, but what a wonderful crumb it had - definitely a keeper!

Sass & Veracity's White Velvet cake (scroll way down the page)

My thanks to everyone for all the birthday greetings!

Monday, February 20, 2012

finnish cucumber salad

It all started when I bumped into Susan from the Farmers Market the other day. While we were bemoaning the lack of arugula, our talk drifted to favorite summer vegetables, and when I asked her which she missed the most, she answered "crisp cucumbers".

While I have loved cucumbers my whole life, for some reason I haven't been eating them lately and I wondered if it was because , eaten plain, after a while they get a little boring. Then I remembered a sweet and sour cucumber salad from the summer I worked in a Finnish restaurant. The cucumbers are left unpeeled, cut paper thin, then marinated for a few hours in a vinegar, sugar, and fresh dill dressing. I've been eating this salad for two days, and still haven't gotten tired of it. The cucumbers still remain fairly crisp, even after two days in the fridge, though I prefer them freshly made and bathed for a few short hours.

Because of the marinade, the cucumbers are a little messy, but you can serve them in small bowls - all the better to drink the last of the marinade . This salad is also good in subs, or as a summery side to supper.

Finnish Cucumber Salad:

2 medium to large garden cucumbers, well scrubbed but not peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. kosher salt
a few grinds of pepper, or white pepper
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup fresh dill, destemmed, finely chopped or minced

Slice the cucumbers paper thin, place in medium bowl.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper, and dill and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Pour the marinade over the cucumbers and gently stir well.
Cover and place in fridge for at least two hours before eating.

That's it - enjoy!

You might also like Finnish Fruit "soup", which is actually a compote and a delicious winter breakfast.

Monday, February 13, 2012

escarole soup with white beans, rosemary and parmesan rind

My favorite supermarket is over twenty miles away, so I don't get there often, but when I do, I always find something unexpected . Yesterday I snatched up a beautiful head of escarole, delighted to find this bitter green. Although it's a winter crop, it's hard to find, so grab it when you can. Although it looks similar to a head of lettuce, the leaves are quite tough and do best in soups, or sauteed or braised. You can read up on it here.

My favorite way to use it is in a traditional Italian soup with white beans (cannellini) and slivers of bacon or pancetta. For just a hint of tomato, I added two handfuls of frozen cherry tomatoes from last summer's garden, as well as a 3 inch Parmesan rind for a little more flavor. So warming and delicious on this very chilly day!

Adapted from a Food Network recipe.

Serves three .

2 T. olive oil
3 slices thick bacon, sliced into strips
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 T. fresh rosemary, pulled from stems and chopped
large pinch red pepper flakes
pinch of thyme
about 1/2 head escarole, roughly chopped ( about 4 cups) (do not use the core)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 15.5 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
about 1 cup cherry tomatoes
small piece of Parmesan rind (optional)
freshly grated parmesan to pass

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the bacon and cook just until brown. Remove bacon and set aside.

Add the onion to the pot, still on medium heat, and cook until translucent, then add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, and pepper flakes and cook briefly.

Stir in the escarole and cook until wilted, then add the broth, beans, tomatoes, and Parmesan rind and bacon and let simmer for about 15 or 20 minutes. Taste, then add salt and freshly ground pepper as you wish.

Serve with a bowl of grated or shaved Parmesan and a little drizzle of olive oil.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

my favorite Valentine cookies

These are my all-purpose sugar cookies, good for every holiday. The recipe comes from Martha Stewart's first book, Entertaining, and it is, like Martha, just perfect. The cookies above were rolled fairly thickly, so they are somewhat chewy, but if you roll them very thinly, they should be crispier - and a little more fragile.

Martha's Sugar cookies:

1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 cups King Arthur all purpose flour
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1 large egg
2 T. brandy ( I used Courvoisier)
1/2 t. vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl, then add the salt, flour, baking powder, egg, brandy, and vanilla and mix until the dough forms a ball.

Pat the dough into a rough rectangle, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to roll out, preheat oven to 375F, then cut the rectangle in half, and proceed. You can gather the scraps up and use again - the dough is very forgiving.

Place cookies on foil covered cookie sheets fairly close together.

Bake cookies for 9 minutes, though if your cookies are small, keep your eye on them - they may bake faster, and these cookies should not be browned.

Remove cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely before icing.

The icing:

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 egg white
2 drops lemon juice
2 drops red food color

Beat the egg white until frothy, then add the confectioner's sugar and lemon juice and food coloring. Brush on completely cooled cookies and let dry on racks. When the icing is completely dry, it should be shiny and hard - which makes these much easier to transport or package.

Happy baking!

Monday, February 6, 2012

perfect roasted chicken with rosemary: poulet roti

Why was I roasting this chicken at eight this morning? In part because I knew it was nestled in the fridge, just waiting to be roasted with carrots and shallots, sweet butter, and a small handful of fresh rosemary, but mostly because I was so caught up in Downton Abbey AND the Super Bowl last night I couldn't tear myself away. So I woke up with the all-consuming vision of hot roasted chicken, drizzled with pan juices, tucked up with some little potatoes, rosemary sprigs, and carrots that roasted right along with the chicken, and nothing would do but to plunge ahead and make it for an early lunch.

I started with a 4 lb chicken, so if you have a bigger or smaller one, the cooking times should be adjusted.

First, take the chicken out of the wrapper and blot it all over with a tea towel. Let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes or so.

While it's sitting, cut up:

4 medium carrots, peeled
4 small to medium potatoes
2 shallots, peeled
or any other assortment of vegetables you wish.
Set aside the vegetables.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Using your fingers, rub soft unsalted butter (you can also use olive oil, but it's not quite the same) all over the outside of the chicken, and put a tablespoon or so inside the chicken.
Sprinkle a teaspoon of kosher salt inside the cavity of the chicken, as well as some rosemary sprigs and a little thyme. Do not salt the outside of the chicken.

Place the chicken in the roasting pan and arrange the cut up vegetables around it, and roast for 25 minutes.
Sprinkle kosher salt on the chicken, turn the heat down to 350F, and continue to roast the chicken for another hour, basting two or three times with a spoon, baster, or brush. Baste quickly, so the heat doesn't escape from the oven .

How do you know when it's done? Tip the chicken at one end and let the juices run out. They should be fairly clear. Wiggle the drumstick to make sure it isn't too tight. It will sit and continue to cook another half hour after you remove it from the oven, so one and a half hours should be fine for a chicken 3 1/2 or 4 pounds.

Remove the chicken and let sit for 20 minutes, so the juices are re-absorbed, then slice and serve with the vegetables and a few spoonfuls of the juices. Some nice side dishes would be sliced steamed cabbage with butter or olive oil, sliced and sauteed brussels sprouts, or some broiled tomatoes with basil, or braised celery.

What I'm reading: The Kitchen Daughter , a gumbo of a book: grief, Aspberger's, memory and family, magical recipe cards. Loved it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

fresh cranberry rounds for breakfast

Last night I made those tangy, delicious fresh (or fresh but frozen) cranberry muffins everyone loves so much, but especially ME. I mix the whole frozen cranberries into a fresh orange juice batter and bake them up in my cherished Texas-size muffin tins -8 muffins means some for me, some to share. Lately, though, I've been trying to tame the hungry monster by slicing the muffins horizontally, into three or four rounds, and only eating half. They toast up beautifully, and slicing them this way means I eat just a little less.

Beautiful day here, warm enough for just a light fleece jacket, and if you look up, there's a sunny blue sky!

Makes 8 Texas size muffins or 24 rounds ( tea party!).

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

3 cups King Arthur all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 t. baking powder
5 T. canola oil
the zest from a large orange - about 2 1/2 t.
1/4 t. nutmeg
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 extra large eggs

In mixer bowl, place the flour, sugar, baking powder. Mix briefly.

Add the canola oil, the orange zest, the nutmeg, eggs, and fresh orange juice and mix well, then add the fresh or frozen cranberries and mix until well blended.

Using a regular size ice cream scoop, place two scoops of batter into each muffin opening . It should be about 3/4ths full of batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, if using frozen berries - less if the berries are fresh.
Let cool in tins for ten minutes, then using a dull knife, loosen the sides of the muffin and remove to a cooling rack.
When completely cooled, slice horizontally into three or four rounds. These don't really need any butter, but you can gently toast and slather it on if you'd like. These freeze very well.

Happy February!