All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2025

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!

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.

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.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

pears baked in cream

Happy November!  To celebrate, Mother Nature is sending us another nor'easter in the next day or so, and I heard the *snow* word for the first time on the weather report.  I rearranged my cookbooks the other day, in part because of the changing season, but also because I never seemed to be able to find the one cookbook I was searching for. 

Flipping through Martha Stewart's Quick Cook, I was struck by a gorgeous photograph of fresh pears baked in cream.  I had a pear in the fruit bowl, and I had heavy cream, so of course I made it.  I am so familiar with Martha's recipes and way of cooking, I felt comfortable making a few changes as I went along, but the kudos belong to her.

Pears Baked in Cream

2 Bosc pears, unpeeled, halved, and cored (I use a melon baller for that)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of kosher salt
a few sprigs of thyme

1/2 cup heavy cream
a drop or two of good vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter an ovenproof baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Sprinkle the bottom of the dish with 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Place the cored pears, cut side down, in the dish.  Arrange the thyme sprigs around the pears, then sprinkle the pears with the salt and the last tablespoon of sugar, and dot the pears with the remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Mix the cream and the vanilla together and pour over the pears.  Return the pears to the oven and bake uncovered for another 20 minutes.  Serve warm in shallow bowls with soup spoons - the creamy, sweet sauce is SO good!  Even better, this is a great gluten-free dessert for the chilly months ahead.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dorie's custardy apple cake

Yesterday morning I was circling the kitchen, trying to decide what to do with the bowl of apples from the orchard up the hill.  Pie?  I like apple pie, but I usually end up leaving most of the pie crust on the plate.  As I blankly looked at my idea board on the wall, I suddenly saw the ripped out Wednesday Boston Globe food section from last week, and there it was: an interview with Dorie Greenspan and a recipe for her Custardy apple squares.  I checked the ingredient list and I had everything but a square pan.  I pulled out one of my professional grade 8 inch cake pans - the one with the nice rolled rim and 2 inch height.  That would have to do.

It came together like a dream - it was almost too easy to make.  I shared half the cake with my friendly taste-testers, but over the course of the day regretted that, as I wistfully polished off the last slice.  Today I made it again for my neighbor , and I'm thinking after a run to the store for more vanilla, I may just make a third one.  And I'm also thinking this could easily be made gluten-free, since it only uses 1/2 cup of flour.  If you do make a GF version, please let me know what you used, so I can pass it along to Izzie, my GF granddaughter.

Dorie's Custardy Apple Cake

Preheat oven to 375F.

Butter or vegetable shortening for the pan.
Parchment circle for the bottom of the pan (I just trace and cut from a roll)
3 medium fresh apples - enough to make 2 cups apple slices
A mandoline for slicing the apples, or a sharp knife and lots of patience
1/2 cup all purpose King Arthur flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 extra large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
6 tablespoons whole milk
1 or 2 pinches of kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioner's sugar for sprinkling on top of the cake

Butter the cake tin, trace a circle on parchment and cut out and press into bottom of pan.
Peel and slice the apples very thinly, using a mandoline .  Set aside.
Measure the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
In mixer bowl, add the eggs,sugar and salt and beat for two minutes, then add the milk and vanilla and the melted butter.  Mix briefly.
Add the flour and baking powder to the egg mixture and mix briefly.
Add the apples to the batter, and gently fold in the apple slices with a rubber spatula until they are coated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean, and the top of the cake is golden.  It will continue to bake as it cools in the tin.
Let cake cool on cooling rack for 15 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the cake.  Quickly flip cake onto another cooling rack, place another rack on top, and flip over so cake is right side up.
Cut the cake into 6 or 8 triangles, and dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving.

Adapted from Dorie's book:  Baking Chez Moi

Monday, October 20, 2014

egg timbales with chopped herbs

I have finally torn myself away from walking in this autumn wonderland - what a beautiful Fall it's been , every day glowing with bright oranges and golden yellows - and for once the lack of rain has lengthened leaf-peeking season.

To celebrate Monday, I decided to again make Craig Claiborne's egg timbales, which are  creamy, custardy unsweetened puddings with a generous amount of finely chopped herbs.  It's been years since I've looked up that recipe!  The only thing I was wishing I had added was a tablespoon of good Swiss cheese, but that's an indulgence  - I do love cheese. The timbales are very mild and soothing, and elegant enough for a brunch.

Here's the recipe I made today:

1 cup whole milk or light cream, scalded (which means heated to just under simmering or boiling)
3 large eggs, slightly beaten with a fork
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced scallions, greens included
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill (you can also use parsley)
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
Swiss cheese, grated, 1 tablespoon (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F.
Heat a kettle of water to just boiling.
Butter 3 standard ramekins or small ovenproof cups.
Add the scalded milk or cream to the eggs, whisking, then add the salt, herbs, scallions and the cheese, if desired.
Ladle the mixture into the ramekins.  Since they do not puff up, you can fill to just under the top of the ramekins.
Place the cups into a deep sided pan (I used a small cake pan with 2 inch sides), then pour the simmering water into the pan no higher than 3/4ths up the sides of the ramekins.
Set in oven for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the ramekin comes out clean and the mixture is firm.

Serve with toast, English muffins, or a thick slice of buttered French bread.
Makes 3 servings.

Today I am sealing my bedroom floor, which is beautiful old wood - but after 150 years or so, has shrunk, leaving large cracks that let the cold air (and the mold) straight into my bedroom.  After that can I put down a rug or carpeting so no more cold feet in the winter:)