Inspiration and a Rustic Zucchini Tart

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When it comes to cooking and meal-planning, everyone has those moments when ambition refuses to take root.

Even me. (Although to be truthful, usually lack of ambition strikes me in the morning, when it’s time to go for a run or work out. Oh, and house-keeping … now there’s another place where the well of inspiration usually runs dry.)

But usually, I am plagued with just the opposite—there is soooo much around me to draw ideas from that I can easily overwhelm myself with all of my options!

Cookbooks are a constant source of inspiration, and I own a staggering number of them, as I have already confessed to in an earlier post.

Just three of the many cookbooks spilled all over my kitchen

Just three of the many cookbooks spilled all over my kitchen

Magazines are a much-loved source of information and recipes, and then there is Pinterest! Oh-my-goodness don’t EVEN get me started on that one—a never-ending parade of glossy photos filled with velvety, butter-cream, covered cakes, a kaleidoscope of fruits and veggies, platters of gorgeous pasta—well, you get the idea!

019 010 008Sometimes I walk in the garden and see all of that ‘ripe-ness’ around me, and I want to take it straight to the kitchen and turn it into something wonderful to eat.
Other times, I’m having a fabulous meal in a restaurant (hello, yesterday’s lunch at Stone Cliff Inn, with your beautiful deck over-looking the river and your wine-list that could double as bed-time reading—I’m talkin’ to you!) and it makes me want to run home and put on an apron!

So today, I can no longer ignore the inspiration screaming at me from all sides, and the need to create something in the kitchen–preferably something with zucchini

11214178_1114577891904414_454985088942907148_nsince that is currently what’s at high-tide in my garden.  I had a brief moment of thinking about bread, or cake, but then quickly realized that a loaf of warm, spicy, zucchini bread would add more distance to tomorrow’s run—something I’m already procrastinating about. Both the husband and I are defenseless when it comes to any kind of quick bread, so I thought something savory and useful for dinner would be a better plan.

I’ve been making this zucchini gratin lately, and have been wanting to re-imagine it with a crust (I could channel my inner-Italian and call it a zucchine crostata). Quiche was sounding good too. But while I was perusing a new cookbook, ahem, as I was whiling away a little time in the garden with a cappuccino and a book, inspiration struck!

Okay, so it was yet another new cookbook. New to me, anyway. It was actually an old Donna Hay book that I picked up at a thrift-store, and when I saw the picture of a very rustic looking vegetable tart, I went straight to the kitchen—not that I wouldn’t have ended up there anyway, because the offspring are headed home tomorrow, and that means a plate of Mary’s Lemon Squares is expected on the counter when they arrive.

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026The tart turned out just as I’d hoped—a tender, buttery crust filled with savory roasted vegetables and just enough fresh basil and parmesan to make a happy union.

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We had it for dinner with a small green salad and a nice, crisp, Pinot Grigio—definitely nothing fancy, but certainly the stuff that memories of summer dinners on the patio are made of!

038 039The recipe is very simple (and something a little different in the “What was I thinking when I planted all this zucchini?” category of your recipe file), but there are a few steps involved that may make it more suitable for a weekend meal when you have a little more time to spend cooking. Why don’t you make it and leave me a comment on your thoughts.  Or, comment and tell me your favorite way to eat summer squash—there’s an awful lot of zucchini season still to go!

I hope that you’re making the most of this gorgeous sunshine! Have a beautiful weekend, and I promise the next recipe I share won’t have zucchini in it! I’ve been hearing a lot of chocolate rumblings in the distance as of late …

Thanks for stopping by~
Lorrie

Rustic Zucchini Tart
Cobbled together with inspiration from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book 1 and Viewfrommykitchenwindow

Makes 1 10” Tart

You’ll need:
(crust)
2 cups of all purpose flour
5 ounces (about 10 TB) butter
2-3 TB ice water
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp kosher salt

(for the filling)
2 pounds zucchini, cut in half length-wise*
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1 or 2 large-ish cloves of garlic, still in their husks
olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper

½ cup grated mozzarella cheese (set aside)
¼ cup grated parmesan (set aside)
1 TB fresh basil, coarsely chopped (set aside)

Preheat oven to 375 F. I did this step on my Traeger, because I wanted a smokey flavor to my vegetables)

Generously oil a baking sheet with olive oil.
Place the prepared vegetables on the sheet, drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 20 to 40 minutes, or until vegetables are golden.
Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature. Remove the garlic, squeezing the flesh from the husks and set aside.
When they’re cooled down, toss the veggies with the cheeses and fresh basil.

While the veggies are in the oven, make the pastry.
Pulse the flour, butter, dried basil, and salt in a food processor until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.
With the blade running, add the water 1 TB at a time, until the contents come together in a smooth dough.
Knead the dough oh-so-briefly, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When the dough is ready, roll it into a round on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness, and then place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Spread the roasted garlic across the top of the pastry dough.
Place the vegetables in the center, mounding and spreading them out evenly but leaving about 2 1/2” margin of dough all the way around.
Fold and pinch the edges of the dough to make a raised border.
Chill for 20 minutes.

When chilled, place the tart in a pre-heated 350F oven.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. This tart is wonderful served warm, at room temperature, or cold.

*I think cherry tomatoes would be wonderful in this too, but since I ate them on my way in from the garden, I’ll have to wait until the next time I make this to find out.

National Zucchini Day (and a savory Zucchini-Cheese bread recipe)

Lorrie:

I realize National Zucchini Day is a few weeks off, but since this is happening for dinner tonight, I thought I’d re-post. It’s such a great recipe–either as a main dish or a side. We’ll be having it with pork chops grilled with fresh sage, a little green salad and a lovely 2010 Pinot Noir from Alexeli Vineyard.  I love summer food, don’t you ?
Enjoy the day,
Lorrie

Originally posted on View From My Kitchen Window:

I don’t know if it was the pot of French-Press I drank after lunch, or the sudden realization that there was nothing on the immediate horizon in terms of dinner. I suppose it could have been subliminal, brought on by last night’s bedtime reading of the gorgeous cookbook, “Harvest to Heat”, with pictures that jumped off of the page and right into my mouth.  For whatever reason, I was inspired to get up cook!  I mean, really cook…invent something, fire-up-the-oven, lots of pots, pans, and utensils sort of cooking.

And while mindlessly trolling around my face-book feed (blame that darn pot of French-Press again), I was made aware that today is—get ready for it—NATIONAL ZUCCHINI DAY!!  Who knew?!

So, since I really didn’t have any concrete dinner plans, and I really didn’t want to go to the store, I went out to the garden instead.  Not that the…

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Little June Bits

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With varying degrees of patience, I wait, and wait, and wait for Summer to arrive. And just when I think I won’t last another moment, she’s here in the garden–fragrant with honeysuckle, arrayed in bright lilies, with her daily invitation to visit early and linger late.

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My favorite spot for an early morning cappuccino.

Welcome Summer ! I’m so glad you’re here!

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A tiger in the catmint!

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Here comes the Lavender!

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Thank you so much for coming to see me.  Tell me, what’s happening in your garden today?

Enjoy!
Lorrie

Catching Up, with Granola

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Once again, it seems as though I’ve fallen behind in just about every area of my life. Well, perhaps not the laundry, but that would be the only thing.

There are seeds still to be planted in the garden, and weeds still to remove. There is no surface in our home that would pass a ‘white-glove’ test, or even a ‘brown-glove’ test! The dust layer has gotten thick enough to plow, and until yesterday, there was hardly anything to eat in the house. The pantry was so bare it could have become a spare room, as grocery-shopping had been more of a ‘fly-over’ on my way home from work. Actually, it was getting to be sort of a game to see if I could put together a decent meal without even going to the store.

The office work has been stacking up (I’m currently working out of piles instead of files) and cooking, baking, writing and taking pictures for my little blog have not even made the ‘to-do’ list.  Nary a cake nor cookie has emerged from this kitchen, except for this sweet little ‘cupcake dress’.  This was for a bridal shower for my friend Jennifer’s daughter.  And because Jennifer is not a total flake with a camera (ahem … that would be me), there is actually a picture of it, which she has been gracious enough to share with me so that I can share it with you.  Thanks Jennifer!

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photo by Jennifer Schaefer

There has been time away for another bridal shower and wedding–a lot of time really, since it was our daughter Mary’s wedding–and then there’s that whole ‘work-for-a-living’ thing. Add in a couple of priority projects (more fencing for the sheep, completion of the garden fence, and demolition of my disintegrating greenhouse) and everything else just skidded to a halt.

(And if I’m being totally transparent, there was–and still is–basketball. First there was March Madness, then the NBA play-offs, and now the finals. Basketball is important stuff here people, really! In fact, I’m thinking about learning to love the WNBA this summer, because those women are crazy-good athletes!)

But today is a slower sort of day. Work is calming down for the summer, and  it is raining. I did some combat shopping yesterday (five hours and five stores worth with another hour of putting it all away), so today my friends, is a good day to get caught up with some baking and writing–and maybe even a few photos! Today is a Granola and Oatmeal Cookie kind of day.  Actually, it was bill paying day too, but after excavating through the piles on my desk, they’re all done for the month.  Now I can do something fun, like baking.

My lunch today.

My lunch today.

I’m taking today to restock a few things for the week–vinaigrette for the nightly salad, cookies for the husband’s lunchbox, and Granola just because.

Just because I love it.
Because it’s the perfect added little crunch to a bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt. Because it’s a handy and portable afternoon snack (just add a few more nuts and some dried fruit–or chocolate chips).
Because the tiniest ramekin full of granola with a little milk poured over is a comforting and satisfying bed-time snack.

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Because …
I could go on, but really, home-made granola tastes better and is cheaper and more nutritious than anything you can buy in the store–chocolate chips not withstanding. There are an infinite number of variations of ingredients, so you can change things around to suit your tastes and needs.

I’ve been trying out some different granola recipes lately, but my current favorite is a riff on this one from Julie at Lovely Little Kitchen .  I’m really liking hers at the moment because of the short baking time, the ground nuts, and the lovely flavor that using coconut oil adds.  (Her blog is pretty great too–I love reading her even if I’m not trying out her recipes!) You can find her original recipe here or try my version, which is a little less sweet (my preference for most things not dessert).

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Cookies and Granola … not such a terrible way to spend a rainy day after all !

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I hope today has found you with a bit of something to enjoy~

Thanks for reading, and please comment if you think this is something you might like to try, or even if you have no intention of trying it.  Maybe you HATE granola! (Hopefully you love cupcakes…)  Your comments are what make this whole bloggy thing work!

Lorrie

Quick Coconut~Almond Granola
(adapted from a recipe by Lovely Little Kitchen)

What you need:

1 cup almonds, divided in half
3 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar (or 1/3 cup for sweeter granola; using the lesser amount of sugar will also result in a slightly less crunchy texture)
1/3 cup honey ( rice or maple syrup will work too)
3 Tblsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

What to do:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the almonds until they are very finely chopped.
  3. Coarsely chop the other1/2 cup of the almonds.
  4. Place the almonds, along with the oats, coconut, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar into a large bowl, and combine them thoroughly.
  5. Put the honey and coconut oil into a small microwave-safe bowl, and heat for a few seconds to melt the oil. Stir, dissolving the coconut oil into the honey, and then add the vanilla and almond extract.
  6. Pour the honey mixture over the oats, stirring to combine them until the oat mixture is well coated.
  7. Spread the granola mixture evenly onto a large, parchment lined baking sheet.  Use one with sides so you don’t lose any of those lovely grains onto the oven floor.
  8. Bake the granola for 5 minutes, and then stir it around. Return it to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  9. You can pour the granola in a thin layer onto a piece of wax paper to let it cool, or leave it (as I do) to cool on the baking sheet.
  10. When it cools completely, you can break the granola into clusters and store in an airtight container or bag.

A Prayer For The Bees

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I was sitting in my garden after my day at work yesterday, watching the honey bees work the rosemary bushes.  Watching the bees is something I’ve done for years–I think it started when I was on staff at a very large church, and I would come home on my lunch hour and absorb myself into their bright and pollen-y world until it was time to go back to work.  Watching their furry, small bodies dusted with pollen and listening to their steady humming somehow soothed my mind of the morning’s stresses, readying me for whatever the afternoon would bring.

011I love the bees, and my gardens are full of things planted specifically for them—tons of rosemary, catmint and lavender—and even a few things that don’t really excite me, like delphinium—just so I can help feed them.  Bumblebees are exceptionally fond of delphiniums.

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This year, I’m planning on planting fewer things in the vegetable garden and giving more space over to bee and butterfly fodder.  My original plan in doing so was to lighten my late-summer workload—I’m so busy in the winery then that I haven’t had time to harvest and care for all of the produce comes from my small plot.  But now my intent is two-fold—it’s not just about making less work for me, but about making MORE for the bees!

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So yesterday, as I sat immersed in the rosemary-blue world of the bees, I remembered a conversation with a co-worker earlier in the day, whose husband is a beekeeper.  She told me that thirty-seven of his forty hives had died.  Thirty seven!  And his are not the only ones!  If you’ve read the news at all in the past few years, you know that we are seeing bees die off and bee colonies collapse at rate that should greatly alarm us.

Watching the bees moving between the tiny flowers, the thought suddenly burst into my head that I have never prayed for them—prayers specifically offered up for the little pollinators of our entire world!

And because I am a person of faith (alas, not always as faithful as I might be) who does pray, I did just that.  Right in that moment, while the thought was fresh in my mind and on my heart.

I prayed because the plight of the bees is real; because it impacts EVERY HUMAN ON THIS PLANET!  Not just me, not just the bees, and not just the beekeepers, but every single one of us.  We cannot survive without them.

0 bees=0 food=0 humans.  It’s a simple equation.

And while I cannot come up with a cure for whatever is causing the bees to die, I CAN create more food for them and help the ones we have to be healthy. And, I can pray for them, and for the collective wisdom of those who are called to steward our planet—that’s all of us!

Maybe you could join me in helping them—if you’re not someone who prays, could you plant a few extra flowers for the bees?  Could you be oh-so-very-careful in your use of chemicals in your yard and garden—perhaps even re-thinking whether you need to use chemical pesticides and herbicides?

If you’re afraid of all bees, killing them whenever you see them, could you learn to differentiate the non-aggressive honeybees and furry bumbles from the more vicious (and voracious) yellow jacket wasps?

All of these things are easy to research online.  Type in ‘bee-friendly gardens’ and see what you discover! Maybe you might even want to take part in “The Great Sunflower Project” this summer, because who doesn’t need more sunflowers beaming at them !

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Lovely little bees … I can’t cook without them.

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Honeybees working in the zucchini blossoms

We can’t live without them.

 

Have a glorious day, and as always, I appreciate your visiting and reading.
With love,
Lorrie

Cookies From Home

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002        How many of you have read (or in my pathetic case, memorized) “Laurel’s Kitchen” … one the original, ground-breaking, vegetarian cookbooks from the mid-1970’s ?  Remember that one, with its beautiful block print illustrations of home and hearth?

I LOVED that book, and learned so much from it.  Like every other hold-out flower-child from that era, I wanted to be one of those ladies in her kitchen—braid tucked up in a bandana, dustings of flour everywhere from bread-making sessions, coffee on the stove, with cats and children underfoot.  (Of course, that was when I wasn’t wanting to be Julia Child, M.F.K Fischer, Marcella Hazan, or Alice Waters …)

I especially remember reading the part where she lovingly and painstakingly packed her husband’s lunch each day and thinking, “Someday, I’ll be that wife…”

Ahem.

Fortunately for me, my husband has never pulled that book off of the shelf.

My wifely short-comings aside, there was a beauty to that book which I’ve never forgotten.  From cover to cover, it was filled with a sort of ‘simplicity of be-ing’.  Reading and cooking from it always made me feel as though I could save the world from my kitchen, one loaf of bread (or one cookie) at a time.

Today, I was baking oatmeal cookies so that the husband would have some lunchbox treats.  While thinking of their decidedly un-extravagent nature and holding tenaciously to my philosophy that all the oats would cancel out the sugar and butter, the ”Laurel’s Kitchen” memories surfaced.  It wasn’t until I had written the above when I remembered that the recipe for “Oatmeal School Cookies” from that book was one of my ‘go-to’ cookies, filling the cookie jar for more than a decade.

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The recipe I’m sharing with you today is not that one, although you can be sure I’ll be baking that one up in the next week or two.  No, this is yet another version of the humble oatmeal cookie, one of the many scattered throughout the baking universe.

Look at these cookies.

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These are friendly cookies, brown and nubby, like a favorite sweater.

There is nothing decadent or over-the-top about them.  They are as simple and substantial as can be, with just a few ‘extras’ added to make them different than the standard oatmeal-raisin variety that so frequently appears from my oven.

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They are fairly unadorned and uncomplicated—but ohhh, I wish you could be in my kitchen right now, this moment—and just inhale deeply as they come out from the oven.

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There is no way I can describe the aroma of these oat-y little cookies–the rich scent of the vanilla, the toasty layers of the coconut, and the fragrant bits of pecan and butterscotch.

No, I can’t, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one and make them yourself.  And when you do, close your eyes for a moment and breathe in their wonderful sweet, spicy, buttery fragrance.

They smell like ‘home’.

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Thanks so much for coming to visit, and love,
Lorrie

Oh, and I’m curious to know, do any of you still have and use “Laurel’s Kitchen”?  If so, what is your favorite recipe?

Coconut and Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies
(adapted from an old Quaker Oatmeal box)
Makes roughly 40 cookies

3/4 cup + 2 Tblsp room temperature butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tblsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups regular oats
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup pecans, chopped coarsely

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper, or leave them un-greased.
2.  Combine the  flour, soda, and salt in a small bowl.  Mix them well and set to the side.
3.  Beat the butter, sugars and cinnamon until creamy.
4.  Add the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, beating in each one thoroughly.
5.  Add in the flour mixture, mixing it in completely.
6.  Add in the oats, cocoanut, butterscotch chips, and nuts, blending until they are well incorporated.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoon fulls (I use a 1 1/2 inch scoop) onto the sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Flatten each ball slightly with your hand.
Bake them 10 to 13 minutes, or until they turn lightly golden.
Cool them for a minute on the cookie sheet before removing them to wire racks to cool completely.

Cupcake Love

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Just a little something to brighten the day, and get us through this last bit of February, though March may not be an improvement in our neck of the woods. (“In like a lion; out like a lion…” or so says the husband.)

Whatever the weather, there’s nothing like a cupcake to spread a little cheer. And if there are lots of cupcakes, pink ones—WTH SPRINKLES—even better!!

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Pretty hard to go wrong with that, I’d say.

I hope that you treat yourself to something lovely today ~
With love,
Lorrie

P. S.  If your day could use a few extra sprinkles (or you think you’re too old for them), click here.

Good News, Bad News, and a Plate of Pasta

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Wow! The new year is only twenty-eight days old, and I’m already behind. This is my first post of 2015!
Since yesterday was apparently National Chocolate Cake Day, I probably should have written about (and eaten) a deep, dark, chocolate cake.

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Sorry to disappoint, but if you really need a cake fix, here’s the link to the chocolate cake recipe I posted recently.

Instead, I’m delving into my cookbooks as promised and sharing some of the recipes that I mentioned in my last post.

To start with, I made the Grilled Polenta with Mushroom and Red Wine Ragout from from “Sonoma: A Food and Wine Lovers’ Journey” by Jennifer Barry and Robert Holmes.

The good news?
It was fantastic!
I took a few liberties with both the polenta–cutting back a smidge on the cream and cheese–and the sauce.  I also don’t keep veal demi-glace on hand (and I don’t know anyone who does), plus I had to sub some dried wild mushrooms for some of the fresh.
I still wanted to lick the plate when it was done.
The bad news?
We inhaled it. It was dark when I made it, so I haven’t any photos to share.  I’m sure I’ll be making it again, and I’ll share the recipe when I have some photos to accompany it.

My next foray into that same book was for the Penne Contadina.

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The good news?
Oh my stars and little fishes!
It’s deep winter comfort-food at it’s finest.  It is incredibly simple to prepare, and totally company-worthy!
(Obviously, if it came off of the menu at Della Santina’s Trattoria in Sonoma, California–one of my MOST favorite restaurants EVER–it’s good enough for a dinner party.  I would walk over hot coals for their Pappardelle con Cinghiale*)

I just happened to have the Dry Jack from Vella Cheese Company, courtesy of my lovely daughter who brings me a supply when she visits.

I just happened to have the dry jack from Vella Cheese Company, that the two recipes called for, courtesy of my lovely daughter who brings me a supply when she visits.

Grating cheese is so much more fun when your grater is this darling little olive wood number!

Grating cheese is so much more fun when your grater is this darling little olive wood number, straight from Italy, via a traveling friend!

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The bad news?

There isn’t any bad news.
This dish is guaranteed to make you actually look forward to crummy weather, just to have a reason to make it.  When the days are cold, dark, dripping wet, or encased in ice, nothing improves them like a warm plate of richly sauced pasta and a glass of hearty red wine. The authors recommended a Pinot Noir from Gundlach Bundschu, which I did not have,  but the Valley of the Moon 2010 Barbera that I DID have was a completely wonderful companion to the sausage and sage.

There is still plenty of winter left to get through, so what are some of the ‘go-to’ comfort foods at your house? Feel free to comment below, and if you feel ambitious, share the recipe with me!

Thanks for sticking with me in these wint’ry days, and while we wait for spring, here is the recipe for Della Santina’s Penne Contadina!  I’ve printed the recipe as it was originally written, with my notes in Italics.

With love!
Lorrie

Della Santina’s
PENNE CONTADINA
from “Sonoma: A Food and Wine Lovers’ Journey” by Jennifer Barry and Robert Holmes

4 sweet Italian sausages without fennel seed, casing removed
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 large fresh sage leaves, chopped
24 ounce canned tomatoes, preferably Italian, drained and chopped
1 pound penne pasta (I used ½ a pound dry, as this dish would have been too dry with a full pound)
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan or dry jack cheese

Cut the sausages into one inch pieces.
In a deep saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the sausage for 2 minutes, or until evenly browned.
Add the garlic and sage, and saute for 1 minute (Be careful not to burn the garlic!)
Add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Set aside, and keep warm.

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pennne for about 11 minutes, or until al dente.
Drain.

Gradually stir the cream into the sauce and heat (gently) for a minute or two.
Add the pasta to the saucepan and stir for about a minute.
Stir in the cheese.
Serve at once in warmed shallow bowls.

Serves 4 as a main course

 

* Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu

 

A (Not So Surprising) Confession

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It’s that time of year.

You know, the time of year where we collectively take stock of the 360-ish days-before-yesterday to ponder every mistake we think we made, all of the negatives in our lives that need to be changed into positives, and most importantly (to us), all of the virtuous modifications we’ll make for the coming year in our homes, habits, relationships, jobs, diets; the list is endless!

While I tend to avoid dwelling on the negative, as well as the ‘year in review’ stuff that clogs most forms of the media at the end of every year (I’m lousy at back-tracking), I do love the idea of a fresh start.
For me, this happens twice a year, at summers end and at the start of the new year.  I’m not really sure why, but I suspect that these two times coincide with the biggest breaks from my ‘normal’ (and I use that word liberally) routine.  Other disruptions in my personal universe can bring on the need for a reboot, but I can always count on these two making their regularly scheduled appearance.
In the summer, I cram as many days as I can with sunshine, gardening, meals taken on the patio, neglecting housework, and letting my job, the weather, and the needs of the garden determine the flow of my daylight hours.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years Day also suspend my normal routine as well–the menu, the decor, the social calendar all change to accommodate the holidays, plus a birthday and a wedding anniversary.

As much as I love both of these seasons, I also love a fresh beginning when they are over.  Well, maybe I’m a little reluctant to let go of summer, but when I finally accept the reality of its ending, I embrace the change whole heartedly.

So what does all of this rambling have to do with confessions?

Hold on, I promise I’ll get there.

Part of my ‘Fresh Start’ has to do with this blog.  I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and one of the things that I keep coming back to is this–why do I do it?  Why did I start it and what is it’s purpose?
And wonder of wonders, there actually is one.  A purpose, I mean.  And, it has existed from the very first post.
I write this little blog (not as often as I’d like because I am neither a very disciplined nor diligent writer) to encourage and inspire.
I write to encourage you to try recipes or foods that you’ve never tried, or thought might be to complicated to attempt; to plant something simply for the delight of watching it grow; to spark creativity in some form or another.
I write to share the things that I love in the hope that some of you will love them too, and that they will bring a bit of joy to your day.

With these things in mind, I want to share more often this year.
That, my friends, will require the addition of a little more of the aforementioned discipline and diligence.  And, in order to do that, I reach the confession (of sorts).

Phew!  I bet you thought I’d never get to it!

I have ‘a thing’ for cookbooks. I’ve had it almost forever. Without some sort of inner restraint, it would balloon into a full scale compulsion.
It started when I was about seventeen, and by the time I was in my late twenties, I had amassed a pretty huge number of them–all of which I devoured like novels.  I treasured every one of those books–just the sight of them spilling off of the shelves or stacked on the kitchen table would bring me happiness.
When I needed to learn something, I inquired of Julia, or Fannie, or Marcella, or Laurel.  There was inspiration galore within the pages of Tassajara, Moosewood, and so many others!  My cookbooks always made me feel ‘at home’, no matter where I was living or what my circumstances were at the time.
And when almost every one of them–probably close to fifty or so–were destroyed in a flood, they taught me another enduring lesson; that contentment and comfort do not come from objects.
For the longest time, only the few that survived the flood (plus a couple of ‘staples’ that I replaced– live with out “Joy of Cooking”?  No way!) were all that occupied the shelf.
I still loved them though, and as the years accumulated, so did the cookbooks.  It took quite awhile, but gradually the collection re-grew, and they have continued to multiply.  And though I have more than I could possibly wear out in two lifetimes, I am still a push-over for any glossy tome full of recipes that look and sound wonderful to eat, with a particular scarcity of restraint when it comes to French or Italian.

I know, I’m weak…

Okay, I’m done with confessing and returning to the idea of a fresh start now…

This year, I want to use my cookbooks more.  Lacking a restaurant or a huge family, the best way for me to do that is to share the recipes in them with you!
Of course, doing this will require a little more discipline–not just in blog posts, but in menu making at home.
A menu will require a shopping list.
A shopping list requires a budget.
Because unlike these beauties that I just plucked off of the tree in the greenhouse,

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015 money does NOT hang on branches around here!

Probably not at your house either.

All of those things though–recipes, menus, lists,spending–are part of my fresh start for the New Year, beginning with these three books that  have been sitting on top of the stack, waiting patiently for the holidays to be over.

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Here’s a preview of what I’m hoping to share with you in the coming weeks…

Among countless others, I’m dying to try the Grilled Polenta with Mushroom and Red Wine Ragout and the Penne Contadina from “Sonoma: A Food and Wine Lovers’ Journey” by Jennifer Barry and Robert Holmes.  Oh yeah, and the Lamb Stew with Lemons and Olives.

The Braised Lamb Shoulder with Marsala and Cinnamon in Erica De Manes’ “The Flavors of Southern Italy” will be appearing soon I think.

And since I have plenty of lemons right now, the Roast lemon-garlic Chicken with Green Olives from “Seriously Simple” by Diane Rossen Worthington is a ‘must try’.

Do any of these dishes sound as wonderful to you as they do to me?  Would any of those books fan a little flame of creativity in your kitchen, like they do mine?  I hope so.

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What is your ‘fresh start’ for 2015?  (Wow, I just wrote the date for the first time–eek!)  I’d love to hear your comments below!

Thanks for stopping by and reading.  I hope your New Year is filled with joy, as well as good things to eat!

Love,
Lorrie

 

 

 

 

 

A Tradition of Crinkles

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When it comes to Christmas in our house, and probably yours too, certain things just scream ‘tradition’. They are so much a part of the holiday that it’s as though Christmas would not come if they didn’t take place, and that is especially true (for us, anyway) of food traditions. And the one that screams the loudest?

Cookies. Definitely the cookies.

Now, when my family was young, they were not exactly cookie deprived—not even close! I baked every week, often more than once.

A day.

But of all the cookies that ever came from my oven, the one they asked for the most—and ONLY got at Christmas—were Chocolate Crinkles.

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These are cookies I have been making since I was twelve years old. It was probably the first recipe I ever wrote down, copied from a young mom whose children I frequently babysat for. She was baking them one day when I went over to their house, and I was smitten—not for the first time—by a cookie. I copied her recipe, finished helping her bake them, and I have baked them every Christmas since then, always following the copy printed in my pre-teen hand.

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Chocolate Crinkles have hallowed status in our home. There are rules governing their appearance and consumption…

They are the first of the Christmas cookies to be baked.
They must not be made before Thanksgiving—not even the dough.
The dough only gets made once—even if it means cracking a dozen eggs and melting almost a pound of chocolate to make sure there is enough dough on hand to ensure a steady supply of Crinkles throughout the holiday.
Other cookies can come and go from the Christmas tradition, but the Crinkles stay.
There are no bad Crinkles. Over-baked ones are dunked in hot chocolate or cold milk. Under-baked ones are best eaten as a frozen treat.
When Christmas is over, Crinkle season is over. Begging will get you nowhere.
(It may get you brownies, but no more Chocolate Crinkles will appear until the following Christmas season.)

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As cookies go, these are fairly humble, so I don’t know what makes them so wonderful and begged for, unless it’s that deep chocolate flavor.

Or the way they are chewy and melt-y at the same time.

Or the way they make the house smell.

I do know that they are super simple to make, and that if you can stand the sticky hands, kids love to help roll the balls of chocolate dough in the powdered sugar. (Don’t worry about the sugar on the kitchen floor, that’s what you have a dog for.)

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If traditions are part of the glue that bonds the individual personalities of a family into a blended whole, then our family is stuck together with a fine coating of powdered sugar.

It works.

I hope your family loves these cookies as much as mine does. Thank you for taking the time to visit, and I hope your days right now are merry and bright!
Lorrie

P.S. Jane, wherever you are, my children thank you!

Chocolate Crinkles*
½ cup vegetable oil
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 tsps. salt
1 ½ tsps. baking powder
2 cups powdered sugar, placed in a wide, shallow bowl
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over hot water. Let cool for a minute or two.
While the chocolate is cooling, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl, then set it aside.
In a large bowl, mix the oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each one.
Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour mixture, mixing it in completely.

Chill the dough for at least an hour. (I often leave it in for a few days, baking a few dozen as needed.)

Preheat your oven to 350 F

Roll walnut-sized chunks of dough into balls, and roll them in the powdered sugar.
Place them on a greased baking sheet, or line the sheet with parchment paper.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just set. They should still be glossy on the tops, but not wet.
Let the cookies set for a minute on the baking sheet before removing them to a rack to finish cooling.

*This recipe is easily doubled.

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