Happy Sweet Spring Desserts

“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring…[w]hat is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s SWEET being in the beginning…” – Gerard Manley Hopkins from the poem “Spring”

Spring dessert recipesNothing is more perfect than a slightly sweet, light, ethereal dessert after dining on a plateful of pasta at an old-world Italian restaurant on an early spring evening.

You could say that the Italian dessert “Panna Cotta” is like tasting a bit of spring itself in all of its lightness, sweetness and silky, creamy freshness. A simple pudding-like dessert, Panna Cotta (which literally means “cooked cream”) originated in Northern Italy, where “the earliest recipes mention simmering the cream with fish bones (the collagen would set the cream).”

Panna Cotta is referred to as the “purest of the Italian spoons desserts” and when achieving the proper consistency and texture, should be silky smooth and just firm enough to hold its shape when plated (quotes taken from here).

Below are three variations of Panna Cotta to experiment with, along with two other spring dessert recipes, one for Banana Cake and one for a Lemon Cake. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta (taken from Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times Food Editor)

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. powdered gelatin
Oil
2 & 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 & 1/2 cups whole milk
5 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:
Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir to distribute, and set aside to soften, 2-3 minutes.

Wipe the insides of 8 (one-half-cup) ramekins with a light coating of neutral oil and set aside. Half-fill a large bowl with ice and add enough water to make an ice bath and set aside.

In small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and whisk in the softened gelatin and the vanilla.

Set the saucepan in the ice bath (making sure the top of the saucepan is well above the surface of the water) and whisk until the mixture is lukewarm. Rub your fingers together – there should be no grit from undissolved sugar or gelatin.

Ladle mixture into the oiled ramekins and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

About 10 minutes before serving run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the ramekin. Dip the ramekin briefly in a bowl of hot tap water, and then carefully invert onto a serving plate.

Panna cotta recipes

Panna Cotta (adapted from blog.italian-connection.com)

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 heaping tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/7 ounce of unflavored gelatin

Instructions:
Dissolve gelatin in 2 tablespoons water for 2-3 minutes. In medium saucepan heat cream, milk, and sugar and heat gently. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin and the vanilla extract and stir until thoroughly combined and begins to thicken. Pour into custard cups or ramekins and chill for 3-6 hours.

Panna Cotta (taken from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients:
3 cups cream
1 package (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:
Put 1 cup cream in a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over it; let sit for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring, until gelatin dissolves completely.

Add remaining cream and sugar to gelatin mixture and heat gently, just until sugar dissolves; add vanilla and then pour mixture into 4-6 small custard cups. Chill until set, about 4 hours.

Sunny Lemon Cake (adapted from Ann Romney, The Romney Family Table)

Ingredients for the Cake:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 – 2 lemons
4 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat the butter on medium-high for 1 – 2 minutes, or until smooth.  Gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla and lemon oil or zest and continue to beat.  Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after eat addition and scraping the bowl frequently.  Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix until the batter is smooth and well blended.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove from pan.  Drizzle warm cake with Lemon Glaze.

Ingredients for the Lemon Glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. rum (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

Instructions:
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, water, rum or vanilla extract, and lemon stirring until the sugar dissolves. Drizzle the warm cake with the glaze. Let cake cool completely before serving.

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (taken from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

Ingredients for the Cake:
1 stick of butter, room temp.
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs room temp. to be separated
1 cup mashed banana (about 3 med-size banana)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

easy banana cake recipe

Instructions for the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 9×13 baking dish or two 9-inch round cake pans. Cream the butter and then add sugar and beat until smooth. Separate eggs placing egg whites in bowl to be beat.  Add egg yolks, mashed bananas and buttermilk to butter/sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Beat egg white in separate bowl until stiff but moist and fold into mixture. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top of batter and gently fold in. Spread evenly in prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

Ingredients for the Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temp.
4 tbsp. butter, room temp.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions for the Frosting:
Combine cream cheese and butter. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar at a time mixing thoroughly, and then stir in the vanilla. Spread on flat 9×13 cake or use to make a layer cake with the 9-inch pans.

See also more light, airy and sweet Spring recipes.

Chicken Soup for the Presidential Soul

Life is tough. Whether you are running across the country campaigning for president or running city blocks to the nearest coffee shop early in the morning, the moments of modern day living can sometimes leave one in a spinning, dizzying delirium.

As we come to the finish line of February, perhaps a bit weary from all the running – running to keep up with the 2016 presidential election, running to work, running a business or running a very crazy household – it might do your soul well to sit down for a quiet moment to enjoy a hot steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup. Maybe even contemplate a different perspective, such as what life would be like on Mars or back in the days of our Founding Fathers…

Enjoy below: the Winter Citrus Salad for some refreshment, the Homemade Chicken Soup for some comfort, and the Chocolate Peanut Butter chip cookies for some satisfaction.

Winter Citrus Salad

Ingredients:
2 navel oranges
1 Cara Cara orange
1 firm apple like Cripps Pink or Pink Lady
1 grapefruit
Red grapes

Instructions:
Slice all of the above into bite size pieces and combine thoroughly. You can make a large bowl and keep it in the refrigerator all week to enjoy the ready-made freshness of it all.

Winter citrus salad recipe

Homemade Chicken Soup

For the chicken stock:
1 Roasting Chicken
3-5 carrots
1 white or yellow onion
3 stalks celery
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Sprig of fresh rosemary

Roast the chicken according to directions. When done remove meat from bones and set aside. Place the chicken carcass into large stock pot and cover with water. Add all of the ingredients above and let simmer all day on low on stovetop. Give it a stir a couple of times throughout the day. At end of the day let it cool, strain and refrigerate until ready to make the soup.

homemade chicken soup recipe

For the Chicken Soup:
Homemade stock (see above)
Chicken meat from roasted chicken
3-5 carrots, sliced in small pieces
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
Fresh parsley, minced
Italian Seasoning
Lemon Juice
4 tbsp. butter
4  tbsp. flour
4 tbsp. Sour Cream
Salt and Pepper
Egg Pasta Noodles

Place the strained chicken stock that was cooked the day before into clean soup pot for a clear broth. Add carrots, onions, chicken meat, salt and pepper, the lemon juice from 1/2 lemon (or more if desired), a couple of sprinkles of Italian seasoning and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare flour/butter paste by combining, in large shallow bowl, the flour and butter and then the sour cream and stirring into a smooth paste. Pour about 1/3 cup of hot broth into the shallow bowl with the paste and using a whisk combine until smooth and creamy and then swirl into the soup. Taste and adjust seasonings as you go. Add about 2 cups of egg pasta noodles and sprinkle parsley on top and let simmer for 10 minutes or so on low and then turn off heat so noodles don’t become overcooked and mushy. Serve steaming hot!

Please note: you can cut the flour/butter paste to 2 tablespoons of each for a mere hint of creamy texture.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup Hershey’s or favorite Cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 & 1/4 cups (2-1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 & 2/3 cups Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips

Chocolate peanut butter chip cookies recipe

Ingredients:
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. In separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa. Gradually add dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Combine thoroughly. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes in 350 degree F oven.

February 15, 2016: A Presidents’ Day To Remember

See also a reflection on the 2016 Presidential race and a powerful quote from Ronald Reagan on the importance of freedom.

The 2016 Presidential Election may very well be a turning point in American history. Many pundits and journalists are opining that it could even usher in a fundamental transformation of the political landscape, the likes of which we have never seen.

As the candidates travel from one state to another, carrying with them their bag of political goods and ideas, they are met by an increasingly disappointed, disenfranchised and even angry people, contributing to an already fiercely charged atmosphere that can be felt across the entire nation.

Thomas Jefferson quotes

In dizzying times like these, it behooves one to pause and reflect on the past to see where we came from, where we have been and where we are now as a people and nation who have been blessed to have been born, raised and now live in what is considered the freest nation in the history of the world.

And so, we at ATG, will be celebrating Presidents’ Day all week by traveling, through books, first to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in search of some inspiration and insight into the rocky road that the 2016 presidential race seems to be traversing.

Enjoy the following taken from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (2002) by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation:

  • “Thomas Jefferson is the one American statesman who is timeless…of all the Founding Fathers, indeed of all the men of the eighteenth century, the most contemporary.”
  • “[Jefferson’s] brilliant formulation and championship of the fundamental doctrines of human freedom and individual liberty are as relevant now as they were in his lifetime.  He proclaimed that freedom ‘is the most sacred cause that ever man was engaged in.’ ‘Without the precious blessing’ of liberty, he said, life has no sense and no dignity.”
  • “No leader in the period of the American Enlightenment was as articulate, as wise, as conscious of the implications and consequences of a free society as was [Jefferson]. Both in his public and his private life he addressed himself continually to problems of permanent and universal interest. What he wrote and what he did – about the nature of society and of government, the relations of man to government, the meaning of republicanism and democracy, the significance of education and of toleration –are as relevant today as during the eighteenth century. Toward the end of his life his opinions on many subjects varied as his experience ripened – but he never wavered in his faith in government of the people by and for themselves, holding that ‘the people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.’  He held that all men are created equal, that they possess certain inalienable rights, and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. That unwavering trust in the dependability, wisdom, and honesty of the common literate individual is his greatest legacy.”
  • “Of all American statesmen, Jefferson was the most philosophical. One abiding purpose runs through his whole life, one pervasive philosophy dominates it. He insisted that man should be free, and he was persuaded that, once free, mankind would progress toward happiness and virtue. He was enraptured with the vision of mankind free from political tyranny, from the bondage of superstition and of ignorance, from the sins of the past, from poverty, from war. He had an eighteenth-century faith in the perfectibility of man, but it was not merely a visionary faith, it was rooted in the reality of New World experience. For here in the New World mankind had been given a new chance – mankind free from the tyrannies and oppressions, the poverty and ignorance of the Old World.  Here men could live close to nature, cultivate the soil, raise large families, keep what they earned, benefit from learning and from science, escape war, advance – as was said in his first inaugural address – ‘rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye.’”
  • “And as America was to be a model for the world, to prove what man was capable of when free, Jefferson devoted himself passionately to strengthening this nation, expanding its territory, building up its resources, maintaining its security, fostering its culture and its virtue.”
  • “’I have sworn upon the altar of God,’ he said, ‘eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.’”

2016 presidential race

And, in Thomas Jefferson’s own words:

  • “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.”
  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776)
  • “Every citizen [should] be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and the Romans, and must be that of every free state.”
  • “We are firmly convinced…that with nations, as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties.”

Turning to Dylan During The Winds of Change

See also some thought provoking quotes from Thomas Jefferson and a powerful quote from Ronald Reagan on the importance of freedom.

One can feel the winds of change and the increasing force with which they are swirling around the 2016 presidential race. With every state primary and every presidential debate, the atmosphere becomes more and more charged and leaves one with the feeling that a revolution is just around the bend.

Bob Dylan The Times They are a-changin'

Indeed, all manner of revolutions are taking place and changing everything – our country, our world and our lives as we have known them.

The revolution of “Black Lives Matter” where one of its spokeswoman said in an interview to a white reporter:

“It is ‘All Lives Matter’ not ‘Black Lives Matter’, that is an insult to us.  You white people are going to have to get used to giving up the privileges that you have long been used to.”

The revolution of micro-aggressions and trigger-warnings, the revolution of atheists looking to blow out the fire of Christian belief and institute atheism as the spirit of the land, the climate change revolution and control of natural resources. The revolution of Islamic jihadists terrorizing the world in pursuit of establishing the Caliphate. The revolution against privacy, capitalism, wealth, the established media. The technological revolution where virtual reality is slowly displacing the “real”, physical world.

How will it all play out?  “The answer”, as Bob Dylan once said, is “blowin’ in the wind.”

But, there is no doubt, as we continue to watch this unprecedented presidential race to the White House unfold that, “the times they are a-changin’.”

The Times They Are A-Changin’
Bob Dylan, 1964

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Famous Bob Dylan songsCome writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

See also some thought provoking quotes from Thomas Jefferson and a powerful quote from Ronald Reagan on the importance of freedom.

Celebrate Royally with a Creamy, Spicy, Lovely & Sweet Valentine Dinner

Celebrate Valentine’s Day royally with some creamy, spicy, lovely & sweet Valentine’s Day recipes. Enjoy a royal beginning with the cocktails below, followed by dinner and dessert:

Valentine's day dinner recipesRoyal Godiva (taken from Cotton Cocktails by Peaches and Jeffrey Paige, 2013)

Ingredients:
1 ounce Smirnoff Vodka
1 ounce Chambord*
1 ounce Godiva Milk Chocolate Liqueur
Fresh Raspberries, To Garnish

Instructions:
Using a Boston shaker, fill the pint glass with ice, add all ingredients except garnish, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

*Chambord is made in France from red and black raspberries and has been produced for more than three hundred years.  The Godiva is a milk chocolate liqueur that is delicious on its own, but combining it with the other ingredients makes this a decadent dessert martini.

Passion Fruit Martini (taken from Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Family and Friends by Pippa Middleton, 2012)

In a pitcher, mix together 1/2 cup vodka and 1/4 cup passion fruit juice, together with 1 & 1/2 ounces of pineapple juice and the juice of 1 lime.  To serve, shake hard in a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes, strain and pour into chilled martini glasses.  Serve with a garnish of a few passion fruit seeds.

Moscow Mule (taken from Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Family and Friends by Pippa Middleton, 2012)

In a pitcher, mix together 3/4 cup of vodka and the juice of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons of Turbinado sugar and 4 dashes of Angostura bitters. To serve, pour into 4 tall glasses with a wedge of fresh lime and some slices of fresh ginger. Stir together, add ice cubes and top with ginger ale.

Valentine's day recipes

Easy and Elegant Company Chicken in Mushroom Cream Sauce

Ingredients:
6 thinly sliced boneless chicken breasts
1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup*
1 & 1/3 cups of whipping cream
Garlic powder
Kosher salt
Pepper
1 package fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley

Instructions:
Lightly salt chicken breast and place in large glass baking dish.  Sprinkle desired amount of garlic powder over chicken.  Combine mushroom soup and cream thoroughly and pour over chicken and sprinkle with pepper. Place in 350 degree oven for 20 – 30 minutes or until slightly browned and bubbly.

While chicken is baking, sauté fresh sliced mushrooms in olive oil and butter increasing heat as you go to brown nicely.  It always takes two batches of sautéing in large skillet.  Half way through baking spread sautéed mushrooms on top of chicken being sure to stir some of the mushrooms into the gravy and finish baking. Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley on top before serving.

*Homemade mushroom sauce can be substituted for Campbell’s Mushroom Soup using cream, chicken broth and a flour/butter paste.

Valentine's Day dessert recipes

Spicy Chili-Rice Casserole (taken from Park Avenue Potluck: Recipes from New York’s Savviest Hostesses by Florence Fabricant, 2007)

Ingredients:
1 cup long grain rice
Kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 & 1/2 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup or more of pickled jalapeño peppers, diced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions:
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low. Cover the pan and cook about 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender.  Be sure to give it a stir once or twice. When done, transfer the rice to a bowl, fluff with a fork, and allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix the rice with the sour cream and grated Monterey Jack. Season to taste with salt. Stir in the jalapeño peppers until evenly distributed and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top. Dot with butter and bake in 350 degree F oven for about 25-30 minutes. The mushroom gravy from the chicken dish is yummy with this rice.

Italian Cream Cake

Ingredients for the cake:
Italian Cream Cake Recipe2 scant cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup Bakers Angel Flake Sweetened Coconut (optional)
6 egg whites, room temp.

Instructions for cake:
Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat at medium speed until well-blended. Add egg yokes one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine 2 cups flour and baking soda in separate bowl. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in pecans, coconut (if desired) and vanilla extract. Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form (do not over beat). Fold egg whites into batter and pour batter into two greased and lightly floured cake pans.  Bake in 350 degree F oven for approximately 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans thoroughly before turning out to ice.

Ingredients for cream cheese frosting:
1 tbsp. butter
8 ounces of Cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
1 box of powdered sugar sifted
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions for frosting:
Cream butter and cheese on high speed until fluffy. Add sugar and blend either by hand or on low speed until well blended. Add vanilla and mix well. Spread icing on top and in between layers and around the side and sprinkle finely chopped pecan lightly on top along with sprinkles of pink colored sugar for a touch of Valentine loveliness.

easy Valentine's day cocktails

Three Bowls of “Just Right” Porridge

“The snow started and didn’t stop. Icy winds banged against the window as if they wanted to come inside and warm themselves by the fire. The gale howled, the drifts mounted around the house. Three weather advisories warned us not to leave unless absolutely necessary. Inside, the house was cozy,” writes Ruth Reichl in her new book My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life.

Reichl finds comfort and sustenance in her kitchen, where her everyday cooking and baking is inspired and directed by the natural rhythms of the seasons, the day-to-day elements that we awaken to each morning – sun, rain, sleet, hail, wind and snow – and that the earth needs to rejuvenate, grow and flourish.

Below please find three recipes for oatmeal that offer a cozy comfort and help to sustain one through early morning storms.

Ms. Reichl writes: “So cold. Heavy snow-swollen sky. Butter-toasted oatmeal, rivers of thick cream, brown sugar. Fresh orange juice; such fragrant hope.”

homemade oatmeal recipe

ATG’s “Just Right” Creamy Hot Porridge 

Ingredients:
1 cup McCann’s Quick Cooking Irish Oatmeal
1 tbsp. butter
2 cups cold water
1 cup milk
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 heaping tsp. good quality honey
Sprinkles of Cinnamon

Instructions:
Melt butter over medium heat in saucepan. Stir in the cup of oatmeal and swirl around quickly and just enough to coat the grains of oats being careful not to burn. Pour the water and milk in and slowly bring to a boil staying with the oats and stirring almost constantly. Add the salt while stirring. Once it comes to a boil lower heat to low and keep stirring thoroughly to keep from any burning. Stir in the brown sugar and continue to stir until the oatmeal thickens to the point where there is still a bit of liquid left and remove from stove. Stir in the honey and more milk if desired (we like our oatmeal to be just right – not too thick, not too thin), pour in bowls and sprinkle each with cinnamon. Enjoy!

oatmeal porridge recipe

Sunday Morning Oatmeal (taken from Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten, 2006)

Ingredients:
1 & 1/2 cups whole milk, plus extra for serving
1 & 1/2 cups quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 banana, sliced
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup golden raisins
Pure Maple Syrup or brown sugar, for serving

Instructions:
Heat the milk plus 2 cups water in a medium saucepan until it starts to simmer. Add the oatmeal and salt, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Off the heat, stir in the banana, cherries, and raisins. Place the lid on the pot and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Serve hot with maple syrup or brown sugar and extra milk.

Butter-Toasted Apricot Oatmeal (taken from My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, 2015)

Ingredients:
1 cup steel-cut oatmeal
1/2 cup dried apricots
Butter
1 tsp. salt
Brown sugar
Cream

Instructions:
Begin by melting a dollop of unsalted butter in a small pan until it becomes fragrant and slightly golden. Toss in the oats and worry them about until they’re glistening, have turned slightly brown, and are very fragrant; it should take about 5 minutes.

Add 4 cups of water and the salt; turn up the heat and bring to a furious boil. Turn the heat down very low, cover the pot, and cook until most of the water has evaporated; this process should take about half an hour. At the last minute, stir in a handful of chopped dried apricots, heap the oatmeal into warmed bowls, and top with a few crumbles of brown sugar and a generous drizzle of cream.

how to cook oatmeal

See also our recipes for spirit warming drinks.

February: Cold Hands and Warm Hearts

NYC Storm Jonas“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”
– William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

The storm of a new year and all of January’s hopes, promises and resolutions have now settled into the mid-winter reality of February – a snow flurry of 28 days when daylight lingers just a little longer. Outside the window one can feel the cold frosty silence of winter’s expanse; inside one searches for warmth – a heater, fire, wool sweater or hot steaming cup of liquid to help ease the midwinter chill.

And so, if you have “such a February face” that is full of frost and storm and clouds, try one of the recipes for spirit warming drinks below. They are sure to warm your hands and heart and bring a little Valentine-red to your winter cheeks!

winter cocktail recipes

Espresso Martini (taken from Cotton Cocktails by Peaches and Jeffrey Paige, 2013)

Ingredients:
1 shot of Espresso (1 ounce)
1/2 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream
1/2 ounce Stoli Vanil Vodka
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
Winter drink recipes1/2 ounce Kahula
1 Espresso Whole Bean, to Garnish

Instructions:
Brew a shot of espresso and allow to cool. Using a Boston shaker, fill the pint glass with ice, add all ingredients (including the espresso shot) except garnish, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with espresso beans.

Glogg (taken from Snow Country Cooking by Williams and Sonoma, 1999)

Ingredients:
1 bottle dry red wine
1 & 1/4 cups brandy
12 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1/2 cup sugar
4 orange zest strips, each 3/4 inch wide and 2 inches long
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup blanched almonds

Instructions:
In saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, brandy, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar and orange zest. Divide the raisins and almonds among 4 warmed cups or goblets. Pour in the spiced wine through a sieve and serve.

Glogg Recipe

Cabin Fever (taken from Cotton Cocktails by Peaches and Jeffrey Paige, 2013)

Ingredients:
2 ounces Cabin Fever Maple Whiskey
1 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream
1/2 ounce Frangelico liquor
Maple Candies, to garnish

Instructions:
Fill an 8-ounce glass with ice, add all ingredients, and stir with a straw. You can garnish with maple candies on the rim of the glass, if you wish.

Bourbon Port Punch* (taken from Cotton Cocktails by Peaches and Jeffrey Paige, 2013)

Ingredients:
Strawberry Mojito2 ounces Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 ounce Sandeman Ruby Port
1 ounce orange Juice
Maraschino cherry and orange slice, to garnish

Instructions:
Fill an 8-ounce rocks glass with ice, add all ingredients except garnish, and stir with a straw. Garnish with half an orange slice wrapped around a maraschino cherry on a toothpick.

*A cocktail with some of the darker spirits that is more suitable for winter: bourbon to warm you, ruby port that tastes like maple syrup, and a little orange juice to provide that much-needed Vitamin C in the winter months.

Spiced Red Wine (Ypocras)* (taken from Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook by Kristen Miglore, 2015)

Ingredients:
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground mace or grated nutmeg
1 & 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 & 1/2 tsp. ground grains of paradise (or substitute an equal amount of freshly ground black pepper)
1 bottle fruity red wine, such as Merlot

Instructions:
In a nonreactive bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg, cloves, and grains of paradise (or black pepper). Add the wine and stir well. Leave for 10 minutes then stir again to dissolve the sugar fully. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature of 1-2 days.

Strain the wine mixture through a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth into a bowl. A brown deposit will be left on the cheesecloth. Rinse it off and strain the wine at least once more through the cheesecloth to clarify it as well as possible. Store the wine in an airtight container or original bottle, at room temperature. It will keep for up to 1 month.

*Ypocras is a wine that is never cooked (and so retains the alcohol content), infused with spices and sugar and kept at room temperature. An ancient method (from the 1300s) of preserving wine before bottles and corks, it is a cozy mulled wine for snowy ski weekends.

Irish coffee

Keep your hands and heart warm with our three recipes for “just right” oatmeal porridge.

A Hot Bone Broth Tonic for Morning, Noon and Night

“Good broth will resurrect the dead.” –South American Proverb

“Stock is everything in cooking. Without it, nothing can be done.” –Escoffier

In an ever-changing culinary landscape, I have come to depend on my daughter-in-law to keep me abreast of the latest food trends, which seem to be driven largely by her millennial generation. Gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, paleo, organic kale, “The Organic Kitchen” and “Wellness Mama” blogs, microbrews, sustainable wine, house-made sodas, artisanal coffees and bacon-flavored chocolates, cara oranges, coconut oil, almond milk, ghee and sriracha are just a few of the things I have learned more about when visiting her kitchen over the past couple years.

Most recently, she served up a hot bowl of egg drop soup made with what she referred to as “bone broth”, a new trend that has been simmering for the past few years and has bubbled over onto the stove tops across the culinary landscape. Marco Canora, the chef behind “Hearth” restaurant in New York City, is credited with getting the “bowl rolling”, opening a broth window in the city called “Brodo” where they serve three different “chef-crafted broths” in a cup to go.

Bone broth recipe

“We feature three core broths – Grass Fed Beef with Ginger, Organic Chicken, and Marco’s signature broth, Hearth,” it says on the website. “In addition we have specialty broths such as seaweed vegetable and a line-up of add-ins so you can customize flavor while adding nutrition.”

“Broth” in English, “brodo” in Italian and “bouillon” in French, “bone broth”,  like so many other old food items, has been resurrected from the ancient past when pots of broth were always kept simmering on the back burner for road weary travelers. With its earthy, tribal and paleo-sounding name that would make our great grandmothers chuckle, bone broth has been referred to as the “magic elixir du jour.”

Considered the first ever comfort food from the hunter-gatherer time of cave men, bone broth is made by boiling the bones of healthy animals along with vegetables, herbs and spices for long periods of time, usually 24-48 hours. It is the long simmering of the bones that creates a dense and nutrient-rich stock or broth that is high in protein and minerals, rich in collagen with beauty benefits for the skin, hair and nails and known to boost the immune system and improve digestion.

Below are two recipes to help get your bone broth bowl rolling:

Egg Drop Soup (made with bone broth and taken from The Organic Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups homemade chicken stock*
1 egg
1 tbsp. sliced green onions (greens not bulb) or baby kale, spinach, etc.
Avocado, sliced (optional, but delicious!)

Instructions:

  1. Place broth in a small pot on high heat, bring to a boil
  2. While broth is heating, slice onions. Add onions to broth.
  3. Slice avocado.
  4. Crack an egg into a small bowl, use a fork to break yolk and mix egg just a little.
  5. When broth boils, turn down to a simmer, gently pour egg into broth while stirring
  6. Wait 60 seconds turn off heat. Pour into a bowl, add avocado. Serve

*For our egg drop soup we whisked in a flour-butter paste (2 tablespoons each of butter, flour and sour cream smoothed into a paste) into the homemade stock, giving it an added flavor and then proceeded with the directions above. It was delicious!

Brodo Beef Broth (taken from Wall Street Journal’s: “Beef Brodo Recipe: Adapted from Marco Canora of Hearth, New York”)

Ingredients:
3 pounds bone-on beef stew meat
1 turkey drumstick
4 quarts cold water
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 small carrots, roughly chopped
¼ bunch parsley
½ tsp. black peppercorns
1 cup canned, crushed tomatoes
Salt

Brodo NYC

Instructions:

  1. Place beef, turkey and 4 quarts cold water in an 8-quart lidded stockpot and bring to a boil, covered, over high heat, about 20 minutes. Decrease heat to medium and move pot so it is partially on burner and broth bubbles just on one side. Continue to simmer broth, uncovered, until clear, about 30 minutes, skimming fat and impurities from surface every 5 minutes.
  2. Add celery, onions, carrots, parsley, peppercorns and tomatoes to pot and simmer, uncovered, until flavors develop, about 2 hours. Strain broth, discard vegetables and reserve meat for another purpose. Salt broth to taste and serve warm

In keeping with the “bone” theme, check out our piece in Rose’s Ridge on the song “Flesh & Bone” by Buddy Guy.

All Things White, Light and Healthy (almost)

Considering that cauliflower seems to be what all farm-to-table chefs up and down the East coast served in 2015, I think it’s safe to say that it has joined its green cousins (kale and Brussels sprouts) as a “hot and trendy” vegetable in the culinary landscape.

So, what better vegetable to serve up in the New Year than this white cruciferous vegetable that is packed (like a snowball) with antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits and lots of vitamin C, and can warm a January soul on these cold winter days.

From cheesy cauliflower soup to hearty cauliflower gratin to spicy roasted bites, enjoy all things white, light and healthy this month, beginning with the cauliflower recipes below.

Further below you’ll find another round, white “snowball” treat, perfect for afternoon tea!

Spicy Cauliflower Bites

Ingredients for the cauliflower:
4 cups cauliflower florets
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. hot sauce*
1/2 cup water

Ingredients for the spicy sauce:
4 tsp. hot sauce
2 tbsp. butter or coconut oil (coconut oil gives it an nice additional flavor)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of salt

Instructions:
For the spicy sauce combine the 4 tablespoons of hot sauce, the butter or coconut oil, garlic and salt in small saucepan and heat on medium low. Set aside.

Prepare baking tray with sheet of aluminum foil. Combine the flour and salt. Combine the 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon hot sauce and pour into the flour/salt mixture and stir well. Coat the cauliflower pieces in the batter and place on the baking sheet. Bake in 450 degrees F oven for 20-30 minutes. Remove and drizzle the heated sauce on the roasted cauliflower pieces and serve with Ranch dressing or your own favorite sauce.

*ATG suggestions for hot sauce and something new to try: Captain Mowatt’s “Canceaux Turbeau” – “Burning the planet one tongue at a time” based out of Portland, Maine, or “Slap Ya Mama” , a Cajun Pepper Sauce out of Ville Platte, Louisiana. 

roasted cauliflower recipes

Cauliflower Gratin (ATG’s adaption from various recipes)

Ingredients:
1 large head of cauliflower
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 & 1/4 cups milk, heated
1 cup shredded yellow cheddar cheese
1/4 cup freshly made bread crumbs (I always use thick-cut bread crumbs and brown them in a little butter in large frying pan on the stove until slightly crunchy.)

Instructions:
Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and heat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash cauliflower and separate into a mix of small to medium sized florets. Place cauliflower pieces on foil and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 10-20 minutes until cauliflower browns in spots.

Meanwhile, to create the cream sauce, melt the butter in saucepan and then stir in flour whisking continuously making a paste and then slowly add the heated milk stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper and add the shredded cheese and stir until melted.

Place the cauliflower in square or rectangle baking dish and pour sauce over and then sprinkle bread crumbs. Bake in 375 degrees F oven until the edges begin to brown and the cheese begins to bubble. Turn oven off and turn broiler on and place under broiler for 2-3 minutes until nicely browned.

Cauliflower Risotto (taken from Nordstrom Cookbook)

Ingredients:
2 cups Arborio Rice
1 white onion (1/2 cup diced and the rest thinly sliced)
4 cloves garlic, halved
1 small head cauliflower
1 can low-sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Scatter sliced onion and garlic in baking dish and top with cauliflower pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast for about an hour until the cauliflower is tender. Discard most of the onion and garlic. Smash cauliflower into medium pieces. While cauliflower is cooking, bring broth to simmer in saucepan. Then, in another saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter and add diced onion and sauté until translucent. Add rice and coat well with butter mixture for about 2 minutes. Then add wine and let come to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until most of the wine evaporates. Then add 1/2 cup of the heated broth to the rice and stir on a low simmer until the broth is absorbed. Repeat until all but 1/4 cup of the broth is incorporated. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes stirring continuously and then add remaining 1/4 cup of broth, 1/2-cup Parmesan cheese, and 1 tbsp. butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Orange Glazed Cauliflower (taken from The Kitchen Prep)

Ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower, rinsed and cut into medium-sized florets
1 clove garlic, grated
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 1-2 tbsp. water
1 bunch scallions, sliced on sharp angle

Instructions:
Prepare baking sheet by placing a sheet of foil on top. Place cauliflower pieces on foil and drizzle with olive oil and salt making sure to coat the pieces evenly. Place in 450 degrees F oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until dark brown spots begin to appear on cauliflower.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic, red pepper, ginger and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Stir in orange zest. Pour orange juice, sesame oil, soy sauce and cornstarch into saucepan, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer whisking often until the sauce is slightly thickened. Pour sauce into large glass bowl and add the roasted cauliflower and stir making sure to completely coat each piece. Transfer to a serving dish and top with sliced scallions.

See also our recipe for cream of fresh cauliflower soup.

Pecan Cookie Balls

The recipe for the Pecan cookies below is an old recipe taken from The Museum of Fine Arts Boston Cookbook (1981). I used to make these every Christmas and forgot how delicious they are until I rediscovered them just recently. Perfect for afternoon tea or with a morning cup of coffee, “You’ll make these again and again,” the book says…which I can attest is true!

Ingredients:
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla (we used Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract)
2 cups flour
2 cups pecans, finely chopped

Pecan cookie recipe

Instructions:
Cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and the finely chopped pecans until thoroughly combined. Shape into balls (the dough will be loose and crumbly-like as if it won’t hold together but once you pick some up it forms nicely into a ball). Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 300 degree F for 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and roll in powered sugar.

Note: these cookies don’t spread when baking but will start to brown around the bottom edge, which will indicate that they are done. Be careful not to over bake.

Galloping into Enlightenment: “Napoleon: A Life” by Andrew Roberts

best napoleon biographyFor a pleasurable holiday read, Andrew Roberts biography, Napoleon: A Life (2014), is a 810-page gift to be enjoyed for the fascinating and easily accessible history lesson about the “founder of modern France and one of the great conquerors of history.”

Considered the definitive biography of the soldier-statesman who once said, “What a novel my life has been,” it has received numerous awards, such as Winner of the Grand Prix of the Foundation Napoleon, and was listed as a New York Times Notable Book and included in Amazon’s “100 Biographies and Memoirs to Read in a Lifetime” list.

With a small amount of effort, but without being a strenuous chore like so many history lessons can be, Mr. Robert’s book is a “biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.” It is, as The Economist writes, the “first single-volume general biography to make full use of the treasure trove of Napoleon’s 33,000-odd letters, which began being published in Paris only in 2004.”

An exhaustively researched book that took Mr. Roberts, as he wrote in the introduction, “longer than Napoleon spent on Elba and St. Helena put together”, Mr. Roberts believes that his book stands apart from the vast majority of Napoleon biographies in detailing a more accurate portrait of Napoleon’s character and personality, aided by his visit to 53 of Napoleon’s 60 battle sites, a boat trip to St. Helena and the discovery of new and crucial archived documents.

Furthermore, Mr. Roberts dispels the notion that “the Napoleon Complex” led to Napoleon’s demise:

“My own interpretation is very different from other historians. What brought Napoleon down was not some deep-seated personality disorder but a combination of unforeseeable circumstances coupled with a handful of significant miscalculation: something altogether more believable, human and fascinating.”

Recognizing Napoleon’s legacy as “one of the most fiercely debated in all of modern historiography,” Mr. Roberts makes clear that there is no debate as to what he considers Napoleon’s greatest victories:

“…his greatest and most lasting victories were those of his institutions, which put an end to the chaos of the French Revolution and cemented its guiding principle of equality before the law…[t]oday, the Napoleonic Code forms the basis of law in Europe and aspects of it have been adopted by 40 countries spanning every continent except Antarctica.”

He continues: “Napoleon’s bridges, reservoirs, canals and sewers remain in use throughout France. The French foreign ministry sits above the stone quays he built along the Seine, and the Cour des Comptes still checks public spending accounts more than two centuries after Napoleon founded it. The Legion d’Honneur, an honor he introduced to take the place of feudal privilege, is highly coveted; France’s top secondary schools, many of them founded by Napoleon, provide excellent education and his Conseil d’Etat still meets every Wednesday to vet laws.”

“Even if Napoleon hadn’t been one of the great military geniuses of history,” Mr. Robrts writes, “he would still be a giant of the modern era.”

Accordingly, Mr. Robert’s book about Napoleon (1769-1821) – one of the world’s greatest leaders and inspiring statesman – truly is a gift of enlightenment that he feels would behoove those in leadership in Washington today:

“A key aspect of modern American political leadership is the ability to compartmentalize one’s mind, so that one can concentrate entirely upon a problem, make a decision and then concentrate in an equally focused way on something else entirely,” Mr. Roberts writes in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. “In this, Napoleon was a master, managing to write the rules for a girls’ school on the eve of the Battle of Borodino in 1812 and the regulations for the Comédie Française while living in the Kremlin after having captured Moscow a week later.”

He continues “…the contenders for the White House in 2016 would do well to look to Napoleon for guidance and inspiration, not just for how to run their campaigns but, once in office, for how to conduct themselves as chief executive.”

It is in the spirit of All Things Enlightening that ATG gallops forth into the New Year with quotes below from the man who was said to represent the “Enlightenment on Horseback”:

  • “A general’s most important talent is to know the mind of the soldier and gain his confidence, and in both respects the French soldier is more difficult to lead than another. He is not a machine that must be made to move, he is a reasonable being who needs leadership.” – Napoleon to Chaptal
  • “I sensed that fortune was abandoning me. I no longer had in me the feeling of ultimate success, and if one is not prepared to take risks when the time is ripe, one ends up doing nothing.” – Napoleon on the Waterloo campaign
  • “The masses…should be directed without their being aware of it.” – Napoleon to Fouche, September 1804

Quotes from www.napoleonguide.com:

  • “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
  • “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.”
  • “Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.”
  • “I start out by believing the worst.”
  • “Men of genius are meteors, intended to burn to light their century.”
  • “Adversity is the midwife to genus.”
  • “Imagination rules the world.”
  • “I am never angry when contradicted, I seek to be enlightened.”
  • “I have never found the limit of my capacity for work.”
  • “We will walk faster when we walk alone.”
  • “Great ambition is the passion of great character. He who is endowed with it, may perform either very great actions, or very bad ones; all depends upon the principles which direct him.”