All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2025

Monday, December 31, 2012

Lucky New Year's Day with Hoppin' John

Are you ready?  Really ready?  Because here comes a brand New Year!  And who couldn't use a little luck in the New Year?   Which is one reason I rustled up some Hoppin' John black eyed peas and rice to ensure the year gets off to a grand start.

This year it was simple - just jasmine rice, simmered black-eyed peas from scratch (the canned ones tend to be mushy, even if you can find them), and a little herbed-up Rotel diced tomatoes with green chiles - from a can.  That's the best I could do as I get over a little stomach bug picked up during Christmas festivities.   

Whatever you do, don't forget the handful of chopped parsley - that's the green that signifies money in this traditional Southern New Year's dish.  If all you've got are scallions, that's just fine, as long as it's fresh and green.


To make:

Cook up the rice:  I used 1 cup jasmine rice to 2 cups water and a tablespoon of butter.  Cook covered over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Uncover, fluff with a fork, and set aside.

For the beans:

Soak 1 cup black-eyed peas for about an hour or so. Drain the water out and add fresh water to cover the beans, plus an inch.  Simmer with a bay leaf until soft - I was surprised by how quickly they softened, so keep an eye on them.

Drain the peas, and mix in a small can of Ro-tel diced tomatoes with green chilies, some oregano, thyme, and basil, and salt.

When you're ready to serve, heat everything up and finish with a big handful of chopped parsley.

Wishing you all a beautiful New Year! ( and isn't that the cutest snowman ever?  The boys next door made it and I just found it on a walk)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

corn chowder with bacon, leeks and fresh dill

Snow!  Lots and lots of snow to shovel, snowballs to throw, take a walk in the quiet of a gentle snowstorm.  Right now we have between 6 and 8 inches, and I'm hoping the forecast is wrong about freezing rain later tonight, because it's just beautiful right now.   

Last night I made a big pot of corn chowder, just in case we lost power.  It's light, but hearty, filled with chunks of potatoes and bacon,  sliced leeks and chopped dill, and the bright sunshine yellow of the corn.  What a perfect winter chowder!

Makes about 4 servings.

4 slices thick cut bacon, diced or sliced
2 cups unpeeled red potatoes, cut into large dice
1 sliced leek ( I use mostly the white part)
1 T. olive oil
1 T. unsalted butter
2 cups light chicken stock
1 t. thyme
2 T. fresh dill, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups frozen sweet corn
1 cup medium cream

Cook bacon in the bottom of your soup pot until browned.   Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
Add the potatoes , leeks, olive oil and butter to the pot and stir.
Add the chicken stock and enough water to just cover the potatoes, and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Add the thyme, salt and pepper and dill, then the frozen corn and bacon.  Simmer 10 minutes, then add the cream, turning heat to low.  DO NOT BOIL, or the cream will curdle.

Taste and add more seasonings as needed.

Enjoy the snow!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

gingerbread stars and a proposal

What a day, what a day!  I started by making a huge batch of gingerbread cookie dough,  finished the wrapping, wobbled through the odds and ends of this beautiful holiday season..... and the day has ended with a huge and happy surprise.  My son and his girlfriend are engaged.  Shockarooney, and I couldn't be happier.  What a joy, and congratulations to them both!  I am thrilled.  And what a beautiful season to start a new life together.  Just call me over the moon:)

Cold, and icy here, so I avoided the usual walk - a little snow, but mostly ice.  Stars sparkling, moon shining, and a heave of relief that I'm ready for my favorite day of Christmas.  I hope you are all winding down and relaxing, finally!  The kitchen smells of ginger and cloves, and I've wrapped up six bags of gingerbread stars, my very favorite part of this holiday.

This makes dozens of small cookies.

Gingerbread Stars

First, make the dough.

11 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 t. ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup molasses
3 cups King Arthur all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Cream the butter, then add brown sugar, spices, and salt.

Add the egg, mix, then add the molasses.

Add the dry ingredients - the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

Mix until it forms a ball, pat into a disc, and place in fridge for an hour.

Line two baking sheets with clean foil or parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 350F.

Cutting dough into three pieces, place each third on a floured board and roll out.

Cut into cookies and place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake cookies for 7 minutes (depending on size - 7 minutes is for medium cookies).

Remove to cool, and bake second and third sheets of cookies, cooling as needed.

Package in cello bags, tied with gold curly ribbon - I don't ice these, as I love them plain.

Happy almost-Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

26 acts of kindness

Walking down to the pond this afternoon was chilly and gray - ice forming, but not thick enough for skating.  After reading about the 26 acts of kindness on Facebook,( which honors the memory of those 26 beautiful children and teachers at Newtown) I spent hours thinking about what I could do in this rural area, and came up with making a basket of presents for the residents at the local low-income nursing home.  And then, just as I was finished, I realized that, in today's world, strangers with presents were not always welcomed with open arms.  

How did we get here, to a place where no one is trusted?  I simply cannot answer that, but if the basket of presents is refused, I know a nurse at the home, who may take them in for me, and give them to those lonely, forgotten people.  If not?  I will place them on the counter at the village store with a sign to take them with the joy of Christmas giving.

Let us never give up loving, and sharing, caring and remembering.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

20 December: staggering to the finish line

I think I'm on my 20th dozen batches of cookies in the last ten days - no, nine - I had a reaction to my flu and pneumonia shots yesterday and only did 2 dozen last night.  All presents for family and friends, but the problem is, I keep thinking of more people.  And I had a sudden memory of a delicious pumpkin loaf cake last night......  but I wonder if I can make it to Christmas Eve Day.

Above you see the tree as it was a few minutes ago, 3:45 pm on, um, Wednesday - no, Thursday.  And my collection of Christmas books, with my favorite one on the top.  For all of you daring bakers in the kitchen, I salute you, and hope we can cross the finish line together:)

Merry, Happy almost-Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the 9th day of Christmas: biscotti with orange peel & chocolate

Tonight I have been slaving away in the kitchen, making one of my very treasured Christmas cookies, Biscotti Paradiso, a milk chocolate, orange peel and almond biscotti that is out of this world.  It takes hours.  But snatching a nibble of the completed biscotti is heaven - a little bitter from the orange peel, sweetness from milk chocolate chips, and toasted almonds.  

I make this every year for a special friend who is Italian, who once swooned over these, and thus I am , like every baker, indebted to those who adore our goodies.  I will make these forever, if only to please those who recognize a beautiful cookie.   

And that lovely cardinal ornament?  There's something about seeing a cardinal that lifts your spirit and makes you smile.  

Merry almost-Christmas to you all!

Monday, December 17, 2012

On the 8th day of Christmas: snowball cookies!

We have snow!  And ice, just for fun (not).  Just a few inches, but enough to make the roads slippery and to feel a little more like Christmas as I made snowball cookies.  I got this recipe years ago from a Swedish friend - she called them Russian Tea cookies, but when I googled them, I found they are also known as Swedish Tea cookies, as well as snowballs.  Delicious and buttery, and fun to make.  When I first made them, I made them a little too big - now I try to make them somewhere between a small marble and the bigger ones.

Swedish Tea cookies:

I always toast the walnuts (or you can use pecans as well) in a toaster oven for a few minutes to bring out the flavor of the walnuts.  If you do that first thing, they will be cooled in ten minutes and ready to be chopped in the food processor without clumping.

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1 t. vanilla
2 1/4 cups King Arthur flour
1/4 t. kosher salt
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1/4 t. nutmeg
More powdered sugar for rolling and dusting the cookies.

Preheat oven to 375F.
Line two baking sheets with clean foil and set aside.

Cream the butter well, then add the confectioner's sugar, the vanilla, salt, and nutmeg.  Add the flour and mix well, then add the cooled, chopped walnuts.  Mix until somewhat lumpy .  Remove beater and squeeze the dough into a ball.

Pinch off small pieces of dough and roll into marble size pieces, place on baking sheet as you work, about 2 inches apart - they don't spread much. 

Place the first filled baking sheet on the upper third shelf of the oven, and bake for 14 minutes.  Remove to a cooling rack and place the second batch in the oven, again, for 14 minutes.  Remove cookies from baking sheet and roll in a cup or so of confectioner's sugar, using a spoon to turn them.  Set on platters as they are sugared.

Just before serving, sprinkle the cookies with a little snowfall of confectioner's sugar ( about 1/2 cup) placed in a very fine strainer and shaken over the platter.  You can also do this to tidy up a platter if too many little fingers have been poking them.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

angels we have heard on high: a blessed moment of unity

A joyful and blessed moment of unity, watching my 6 year old granddaughter singing in the Meeting House tonight, a moment when the pain of Connecticut faded briefly and the overflowing audience sang "Angels we Have Heard on High" with tenderness and ringing enthusiasm, and we listened, almost holding our breath, as the children sang so sweetly and softly.  I've forgotten how community can soothe the soul and bring us together, and hope you also, will find a place to be with others at this thoughtful time of the season, especially now, especially because.  With love....

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On the 6th day of Christmas: the Charlie Brown tree

As much as I adore the Christmas season, there will always be a day or two of what I think of as the Charlie Brown down in the dumps day;  the Christmas blues.    Missing my dearly departed parents, worried about the economy, especially mine:  re-running faded old images of Christmases past, worry about a friend who is not well. Worry, worry, worry.

Then I stare at this ridiculous little fake tree I bought somewhere years ago, crinkled and somewhat tattered, and think how it cheered me up one sad day as I was shopping in a big box store just before Christmas.  And instead of chucking it in the trash, I place it front and center, where I can see it.   I wink at my Finnish elf with the blue, blue eyes, and then think about making Gingerbread Stars tomorrow, and putting out an extra cup of safflower seed for the cardinals and chickadees, who always greet the day with joy and excitement.

Wishing you all a wonderful evening, and new day tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

on the 5th day of Christmas: ultimate chocolate brownies and the Dolly Llama

Today's doings in the kitchen?  Mixing up the most delectable chocolate batter for Maida Heatter's brownies, and listening to Dylan Thomas read his glorious Christmas poem, A Child's Christmas in Wales ( which you can hear him read in his plummy voice here).  

When my children were younger, they would suffer through this poem every Christmas season, but they have now escaped parental obligation ( though I'm waiting for the day when one of them says to me, "Remember that cool poem about snowball fights and firemen on Christmas Day? ".  I expect it will be a long wait). Dolly Llama smiles her mysterious smile on the tree, humoring my fantasy.

Shepherd's pie on the menu for tomorrow, with lots of butter and fresh rosemary.  I've been hearing the *snow* word in the weather reports!  Are you ready?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

on the 4th day of Christmas: hearts and sugar-roasted walnuts

As Christmas represents love,  our Christmas tree abounds in that valentine symbol of hearts.  Airy Swedish ones, deep Christmas red, delicately cut from paper that was once a Christmas advent calendar for the children, twinkling plump fabric hearts, and a favorite:  a Southern shout out from my niece, Tracy, from years ago.  Isn't it a hoot?

Today adding to the boxes that have to be sent soon:   these crunchy, slightly sweet roasted walnuts, tossed in cinnamon and brown sugar, with no butter or oil, and a favorite for Christmas gatherings.  You can find the recipe here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

on the third day of Christmas: the Christmas cats and a healthy salad

I think I have not found all the cats on the tree and still in the two ornament boxes, but these are among my favorites:   Puss in Boots was from a tag on my son's present from his Auntie Noa when he was a wee little one, and the carved wooden pussycat has a mouse attached to a wire - can you see it?  The chewed up folk art pussycat was snatched away from Lulu, our shepherd-lab puppy, who thought everything, including the Christmas tree, was food.

All these cookie tastings were making me feel wan, so I made another batch of that 
crunchy baby bok choy salad with mandarin oranges.  Slice up mostly the whites of the bok choy, mix with some canned mandarin oranges, and a sliver of red onion, and dress with 1 T. fresh orange juice, 2 T. fresh lemon juice, and fresh pepper. Salt and oil are not needed.

Joyeux Noel!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

on the second day of Christmas... sweets!

These little houses are teeny tiny, and made of a featherweight material , easily bent, but treasured.  My father's mother died when I was a month old, so we never met, but I was told she made Christmas villages under the tree, and I assume these were some of them.  And what else did we get excited about at Christmas?  CANDY!

Ribbon candy is made right in Massachusetts, my home state.  It's the prettiest candy you can imagine as a child, and shattering the "ribbon" is half the fun.  Marzipan has always been a favorite treat, though not half as intricate today as the marzipan you could get in New York City when I was a child.  I remember being taken to a fantastical German candymaker's store with the most delicate and lifelike fruits you could imagine.  And the foil covered chocolate coins were always in our stockings, along with the orange .

Carrying on the tradition with my own children always reminded me of my own childhood, and my parents and siblings , but also brought a little bit of magical fairy dust into Christmas Day.  What are your traditions at Christmas?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

on the first day of Christmas....Stuart Little and spice cookies

For me, Christmas begins when the tree goes up.  And so, today is the first day of Christmas!  There is always a joy, lots of memories, and the peace of sitting next to the tree, remembering bits and bobs of all those years.  Did I tell you about Stuart Little?  He's always the first to go on the tree, and I panic if I can't find him.  He's the memory of my father, reading Stuart Little to me.  I always hope my love for E.B. White and Stuart are firmly embedded in my two children, and my grandchildren.  His adventurous spirit has led him to riding this canoe down the chilly river - who knows where he'll end up?

Today I made these delicious Spice cookies, beloved year round, but especially at this time of year: boxes for sending, cello bags for giving to neighbors, and setting aside plenty enough for me to nibble on.  The smallest spring-loaded scoop I have is 1 1/4", if you go even smaller, they can be spice buttons.

Spice cookies:

This makes about 3 dozen cookies:

Preheat oven to 350F.
Fit two or three baking sheets with clean foil or parchment.

2 1/2 cups King Arthur flour
1 t. baking soda
pinch kosher salt
2 t. cinnamon
2 t. cloves
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 t. ginger
1 cup sugar plus a little more for sprinkling
1/2 cup light olive oil or canola oil
1/3 cup molasses
3 T. water
1 large egg

Mix flour, spices, salt, and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In mixer bowl, mix sugar, olive oil or canola, molasses and mix.  Add the egg and water and mix again.

Add the flour and spice mix in 3 or 4 batches to the oil mixture , mix until it comes together.  Using a scoop, or your hands, plop balls of dough onto the baking sheet, about 2-3 inches apart. Sprinkle with sugar if desired. Slide the first baking sheet on the upper third rack in the oven, bake for 11 minutes, remove to a cooling rack, and slide the next rack in until all the cookies are baked.

Package in cello bags or boxes lined with wax paper, but make sure they have completely cooled first.  These are sturdy cookies, so perfect for mailing.

Merry greetings of the season!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Irish scones beside the fire

Apologies for the long between-posts.  There is always much to do, and when we had several very cold days, I spent hours wrestling with a cranky woodstove, taking lovely long hikes, picking up pine cones and fallen branches, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy, to add to my basket of kindling for that blue enameled beast that sits in the kitchen.  Early mornings, I run up the hill beside the house and greet the sun, and then?   I'm not quite sure what goes clattering through my head:  I think a lot.  As a sometime poet, I start with a random glance at a photograph of my grandmother-I-never-knew, and end up thinking about the Irish/Welsh/English threads that run on both sides of my family.

Today, instead of falling into a book, I made these charming, delicious scones again, happy to be mixing the dough, and, 25 minutes later, eating those hot, flaky bites, with puddles of melting butter, scented with lemon and nutmeg, juicy raisins, and a swift small sprinkling of sugar on top;  wondering if my grandmother-I-never-knew was as pleased with them as I am.  

To make about 8 scones:

Preheat oven to 375F.
Fit a baking sheet with foil or parchment.
6 T. cold butter, cut in small pieces
1/4 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
pinch nutmeg, or 8 scrapings from a whole nutmeg
1/4 t. freshly grated lemon zest
pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins
Place flours and cold butter pieces into a mixer bowl and mix until incorporated. It should look crumbly.
Add the nutmeg, baking powder, lemon zest and salt.
Mix well.
Pour in the buttermilk and raisins and mix until it just holds together.
Using a normal size ice cream scoop, scoop batter out onto the baking sheet. This should make 8 scones. Sprinkle with a little sugar, if desired.
Place in oven for 25 minutes - they should be golden and craggy looking.
Remove to cool on cooling rack.
Serve with soft, sweet butter and marmalade or jam, as you wish. Delicious alone, too.