About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gingerbread, a Christmas Classic

As the carpenter walked in my back door, he said, "Your house smells  like Christmas!  What are you cooking?"  He was there to make some repairs while I was baking pieces for a gingerbread house.  Every home should have the the sights and scents of the holidays and nothing evokes that association like a fresh decorated Christmas tree and the smell of gingerbread baking.  Nobody thinks of the 4th of July when they smell gingerbread - it's almost as essential to Christmas as the tree.  I've decorated many a gingerbread man and slaved over gingerbread houses but basic gingerbread is surprisingly delightful to dinner guests simply adored with sweetened whipped cream or orange sauce. It brings back memories. I can say this because, I'll never forget the hostess who served it to me one night and I thought, "How could I have overlooked this classic?"

Bake something gingerbread each Christmas, it will surprise you and your friends.  This recipe is from Willams Sonoma Desserts collection.

1 2/3 all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmed
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbls unsalted butter, room temp
 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs room temp
1/2 cup molasses
 1/2 cup warm water

Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish and dust with flour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well blended., Set aside. In another bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and brown sugar until well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until just blended.  Continue beating while slowly addding the molasses. sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg mixture and stir until just incorporated. Add the water and stir until blended. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake until the gingerbread is puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Let cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Creamy Bacon Holiday Dip

As the saying goes, "if you're going to sin, sin big".

  Every year for the past  13 or so, some of my girl friends and I retreat to the mountains just before Thanksgiving to prepare ourselves for the oncoming holiday season.  We relax, eat, drink, sleep, shop and talk alot.  One of the girls brought a yummy spread this year.  She says men love it, well women do too!

This is the kind of rich spread that temps everyone to break that vow not to gain an ounce during the holidays.  But just a bite won't hurt, will it?   Maybe just one more and then I'll walk away.  Oh, well dive in, it Christmas isn't it?
 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup grated Swiss Cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2  tbls (or more) green onions thinly sliced
8 strips bacon cooked & crumbled
1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbled

Mix first four ingredients and spread in a small baking dish.  Top with crumbled bacon and cracker crumbs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes and serve with your favorite crackers.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Brown & Wild Rice Salad

This is one of my favorite easy side dishes for the holidays.  It makes a beautiful presentation on a platter with Cornish Game Hens or vension.  Always popular, I've even served it at luncheons and carried it to holiday pot luck.  It can be prepared ahead as the flavor gets better overnight and can be served at room temp.  Toast and mix in the pecans just before serving and if you're over cranberries, use chopped dried apricots.  I actually found an interesting mix of brown, wild and red rices at Whole Foods for the picture below.  Enjoy!

2 cups brown and wild rice mix cooked according to directions (omit flavor packet)
1 cup pecans toasted and chopped
1 cup sliced green onions (white and green part)
1 cup dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots
1 tsp orange zest

For the dressing:

1/2 cup red wine or raspberry vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1 small shallot finely diced
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Favorite Christmas - 1973

It wasn't that Christmas as a small child wasn't magical.  The thrill of selecting our Christmas tree, bringing the decorations down from the attic, wrapping presents and waiting for Santa  are still some of the high points in my life, but 1973 stands out as my favorite.  I was a 20 year old college student spending a semester abroad in London.  Most of my family's Christmas traditions had their roots in the British Isles and there I was at the heart of it.  Charles Dickens' home was open for tour that time of year.  His classic, A Christmas Carole inspired us to try "figgy pudding", a steamed concoction of fruits that wouldn't find much popularity today.  I loved to stroll the vibrant streets in the afternoon shopping for Christmas surprises.  At Fortnum and Mason's  I found sheets of the most exotically beautiful jewel colored and flocked wrapping paper I'd ever seen (or still ever seen).  Nothing like the cheap tacky wrapping paper I ripped through on Christmas morning.  I splurged on several sheets to make presents under the tree almost too beautiful to unwrap, something memorable I could bring to the occasion. We reused those sheets for several years until they where small scraps or too worn to salvage any longer but beautiful to the end. 

I didn't exactly starve during that semester but I definitely wasn't well nourished.  I lived on eggs and porridge at breakfast, then odds and ends during the day. I was on my own.  Real meals were infrequent and I came back home months later with dull skin and hair, split nails and a few extra pounds (why didn't I buy some vitamins).  I might dine on a box of chocolates washed down by a  pint of beer  at the theater in the evening.  There was no Thanksgiving feast but we did muster up an event at "Ye Old Cheshire Cheese", a famous haunt of Samuel Johnson, and  we ate something extravagant like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  We bought tickets for The Nutcracker at Covent Garden and took high tea at the Savoy before the performance.  I think we stood out as blatantly American in our blue jeans but we enjoyed the moment and the assortment of little sandwiches and sweets.  I attended Julie Andrew's Christmas concert with the London Symphony at The Royal Albert Hall.  I can only remember the first song now,  Jingle Bells!  She was perfect and in her prime!

Some of us took a detour to Rome for a few days.  Rome was preparing for Christmas in a less secular way.  We arrived on the day when the Pope annually comes to the Spanish Steps and blesses the crowd.  I think we decided we needed to be blessed considering our moral decline while away from home or maybe we where just curious.  Big mistake, it was bedlam.  I was literally lifted off my feet and pushed further and further back in the crowd.  I was separated from my friends and had to hold on to my purse for dear life.  Finally, I escaped the madness and headed for the Piazza Narvona.  It was decorated with cheerful strings of lights and street vendors. I bought a bag of roasted chestnuts which often passed for a cheap meal on my meager budget.  Italy certainly had better food in quality and quantity than England but there was something about that moment of eating roast chestnuts in the Piazza Narvona that was a blessing in its own way.

Samuel Johnson's famous quote, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life" is certainly true and I wasn't tired of London.  You could never get to the end of exploration but my time was up and I headed home just as the first snow fell on December 22nd. I ditched most of my clothes and filled my luggage with Christmas gifts. Nobody was checking your bag for bombs back then.  The idea of going home did have its appeal.  I'd written my mother I was in desperate need of some vegetables. What was so English about peas and where were they, for heaven sakes?  Squash and string beans where waiting when I walked in the door; vegetables I used to get bored with but ate with relish that night.

 As a child, it was all about me, what was Santa going to bring me, but that Christmas in 1973, I was more on the giving end than the receiving for the first time. My presents to family and friends, from far away, wrapped in elegant paper, thrilled and delighted those I loved.  It was their turn to be children again and I was Santa. London had expanded my horizons and my heart. 1973 was a good year and it ended just as I met my future husband.  Not a bad way to end the year.

The world's a smaller place now.  London's too easy to get to and cell phones keep us in touch so my son went to the other side of the planet for his abroad experience.  He stopped in Fiji on his way home and said he thought about bringing home a shrunken head for Christmas but didn't think he'd get it through customs.