Category Archives: recipes

Spuds MacKenski

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I was the typical latch-key kid when I was growing up. My parents divorced when I was three, so I spent most of my childhood with a length of blue yarn dangling around my neck that held my key to the front door of our house.

I spent the holidays being shuttled in between my mom’s house in central New Jersey and my father’s apartment in the northern part of the state. The holiday routine meant I’d have dinner with my mom, stepfather and other family members early in the afternoon, usually around one or so. Then my dad would pick me up about three and we’d drive to wherever it was the second holiday dinner of the day was going to be.was being held. Sometimes it was my paternal grandmother’s house or her stepsister’s-daughter-in-law.

Yeah, I know. I used to get very confused, too.

I ate a lot on holidays. Even as a kid I loved and appreciated good food and it was always great fun to have two holiday meals. I jokingly call myself an “Eastern European mutt”, but both of my grandmothers came over from Poland. There was always lots of roasted pork and ham, gawumpki (stuffed cabbage rolls), kielbasa and kapusta (Polish sauerkraut), kishka (blood sausage). Soup with duck blood (yep) for Easter at my babchi’s, kruschiki (deep-fried pastry cookies with confectioner’s sugar) for snacking at the other’s. And babka for breakfast or anytime, really.

And pierogi. Pierogi are, of course, the pockets of boiled or fried (or both) dough, usually filled with potatoes and cheese or wild mushrooms and sauerkraut or other tasty things. They’re delicious and wonderful and people of Polish descent (yours truly included) have been known to stuff themselves silly with them.

In fact, I’d have these for dinner a lot more than I do if it weren’t for two things: the frozen ones are just plain, flat-out awful and they’re a bit of a bother to make from scratch. Okay, they’re a huge bother to make. First you make the dough and then the filling. Then you roll and cut out the dough, fill the pierogi, boil and/or fry them. Then you finally get to eat them.

It’s a lot of work and it’s no wonder that it’s a group activity for some families, some of who crank out hundreds of these babies. And having made these from scratch a few times I can honestly tell you that, unlike big cooking projects that tell you “it’s not as big as a project as it seems”, well. I’ll tell you upfront it is a huge deal and that you’re probably better off finding an Eastern European shop or deli in your area that makes their own and buying them there.

So a few years ago, my mom and her boyfriend went to the Christmas party at the local VFW and she came back raving about something called “pierogi stuffed shells”. “It’s a pierogi without the work!” and she went on (and on and on) about these pasta shells stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese and topped with sautéed onions in butter. She even bought a plate back with her for me to try. They were good. Not “homemade pierogi” good, but really tasty. I thought the filling was lacking, but I loved the idea.

I made them a few times and tinkered with the potato and cheese filling. More butter, less butter, less milk, more cream, Cheddar, sour cream, smoked Gouda. The traditional cheese to put into pierogies (despite what Mrs. T. puts into hers) is farmer cheese or dry curd cottage cheese, neither of which seems to be made any longer. I When I decided to make these last weekend for the Super Bowl, I thought that goat cheese might be a reasonably good substitute for The Cheese That No Longer Exists.

I was right.

So, here’s the recipe for them. I don’t have exact measurements, only approximations, so you’ll have to make a few judgement calls. They’re little carb bombs, but they’re great for family gatherings since you can make them ahead of time.

Pierogi Stuffed Shells (makes about 24)

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Yeah, baby.

  • Unsalted butter, about 1 ½ cups worth
  • Chopped onions, about 3 or 4 large ones
  • 1 box of stuffing shells (I used Barilla). Cook the whole box because some of them might be broken and some will stick to the bottom of the pot and some will rip and…
  • About 1 – 1 ½ lbs. of starchy potatoes (baking potatoes will do nicely), peeled and diced.
  • Splash of milk or cream
  • Dried thyme
  • 2 – 4 ounces of a soft goat cheese, something not too…goaty. A mild chevre should do it. If you don’t like goat cheese, try a really mild Monterey Jack.
  • Freshly chopped parsley
  • Lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Melt 2 sticks of the butter in a sauté pan over a medium head and add the onions. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and cook over a low heat until they’re golden and almost caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes or so. Don’t burn them.
  2. Cook the pasta shells in boiling salted water until they’re not even al dente, about 7 minutes or so. Don’t overcook these, or they’ll be really hard to stuff. Besides, they’re going to cook in the oven. When they’re done, drain them and place them on a sheet of foil so they don’t stick together.
  3. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until they’re done. Drain them, add some butter, a splash of cream, salt and pepper (a good amount of both), a healthy pinch of dried thyme and mash until smooth. Stir in the cheese and about 1/3 of the sautéed onions. Taste to see if they need anything else. When you’re happy with the filling, stir in the parsley and set it aside. Try not to eat it all.
  4. Very lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Fill each shell with a heaping soup spoon of the filling and start lining them up in the baking dish. You should end up with around 24 shells.
  5. Spoon the rest of the sautéed onions over the shells. If you’re making them ahead of time, cover the baking dish with foil and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake them.
  6. When you’re ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 375°. Bake them, covered, for about 30 minutes or so. Take the foil off and give them about another 15 more.
  7. And, done. Serve with rye or pumpernickel bread with butter and applesauce. Salad would be good, so would pickled beets. Kapusta, too.
  8. Enjoy!

Snow Patrol

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We got snowed in and I couldn’t be happier.

I love snow; always have. I grew up next door to a small park that is probably a whole lot bigger in my memory than it actually is, but memories do that as we get older, don’t they?

It was big enough to have a basketball court, a small playground, a Little League-sized baseball field tucked into one of the corners and a large hill that was just perfect for sledding down. It was pretty steep and if you got enough momentum going, it was entirely possible to end up down in the middle of the park, between the basketball court and the slide.

And it was right next door to the house. True, I probably would have preferred living next door to the local library, but since I had a tendency to be on the, ahem, chunky side as a kid, I was probably better off living next door to Woodland Park.

It was always great fun to have school cancelled, drag the sled out of the garage and take it next door for a couple of hours. And it was always more fun to come back home, get out of the wet stuff and into dry clothes. With some hot chocolate and cookies, natch.

Here in Philly, we ended up with around two feet of snow. Of course, now when it snows I have to make sure we have enough cat food and people food and baking supplies and tea. I remember when wine and cigarettes were on that list, but no more.

But the makings for lasagna and apricot linzer torte bars were. And cookies are always good, blizzard or no blizzard.


I found this recipe on the Betty Crocker website when I was craving thumbprint cookies. You know those; you usually see recipes for them around the holidays. They’re a butter cookie that’s dipped in beaten egg white and then rolled around in finely chopped nuts. Then you take your thumb, make an indentation and fill it with jam before you bake them. They’re beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious, but a bit of a “do” to make. I’ve made them for the holidays and I’ll be honest; the older I get, the less fuss I want to deal with, cookies included.

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Tea, anyone?

I make mine just a bit differently from the recipe though (of course I do). For some reason, there’s no salt in the cookie base part of the recipe and you need salt to bring out the subtle flavors of the butter and ground nuts. And I like less “base” and more topping too, so mine’s more like a filled cookie bar.

The only other suggestion I’d make is to use a really good jam or fruit spread for the filling, and warm it up a bit before you spread it on the base. Sprinkle a bit of confectioner’s sugar on top if you’d like, and you’re ready for tea.

Apricot Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup of unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup ground walnuts
  • ¼ tsp of salt
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup of fruit jam, preserves, conserves or spread (please promise me you won’t use grape)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix everything but the jam together until it looks like coarse crumbs. You can use a fork, two knives or a pastry cutter, but your fingers work best for this. Besides, it’s fun!
  3. Put half of the mixture into a 9”x9” pan. Press it evenly  into the bottom of the pan and then press down into the corners to make sure it’s nice and firm.
  4. Warm up the jam a bit in the microwave. Spread it over the base evenly and out to the corners. Sprinkle the rest of the cookie mixture evenly and lightly press into the fruit filling.
  5. Let it bake for about 25 minutes or until it’s nice and golden. Let it cool completely before you cut into these; the filling is crazy hot.
  6. Enjoy!

“Going 100 MPH Now”

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I woke up last Sunday morning feeling great. road-runner

Seriously.  When I got out of bed, I had a spring in my step and a song in my heart.  I did my exercises   and stretches and showered and made a huge pot of marinara sauce. I put some semolina bread dough together to rise and cast on for a new afghan. I started feeling a little weary around the middle of the afternoon, but no matter. Dinner was going to be a big pan of baked penne and it was going to be good.

I felt a bit more tired right before I took the casserole out of the oven, but that’s okay. We were going to have a really nice dinner and then I was going to get some writing done. And maybe, just maybe, I was going to stay up really late. Like, 10 o’clock or something crazy.

I ended up falling asleep on the couch at 7 and I was in bed by 9. Pfft.

What happened? What always happens, of course. I did the exact same thing last year when I was recovering from my cancer treatments. I rest up for a bit and then I feel better. Then I do a whole bunch of stuff and wonder why I’m all wiped out for the next couple of days. You know, one step forward, three steps sideways. Or something like that.

This isn’t a great time to be on the DL. I have Things To Do. The spring term starts next week. I have to update my resume so it’s ready to go at the end of the month. I need to figure out what projects I’ll be teaching in my spring crochet classes. It’s not the best time in the world to need a nap.

Then I smack myself upside the head a couple of times to bring myself back to reality. I have the most wonderful guy in the world taking care of me. I’m lucky and fortunate enough to have family and friends who love me and are getting me through all this crap.  My health insurance rocks.  And despite all of my challenges over the past year, I had a great contract position where I worked with terrific people and took on all kinds of new responsibilities. I went back to school.  I have nothing, and I mean nothing, to complain about.

All I have to do is remember is that I have to rest in order to heal well, even though I don’t like doing that very much at all. And to stop bitching so much about it.


My late stepfather loved chocolate pudding, so I made (and ate) a lot of it as a little kid. It was usually My-T-Fine or Royal or some other brand that came in a little box. It was easy to make and it went down a treat. It was even better with a squirt of Reddi Whip on top.

When I moved out on my own I stopped making and eating it for some reason. And it wasn’t until a few years back that I started making it again. At first I tried Ina Garten’s recipe for it and oh, it’s wonderful. I love Ina to bits, but let’s be honest; her recipe is a real PITA. And it’s really rich and fatty. I know, it’s chocolate pudding and what’s the point if it’s not? It’s delicious.

This recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites is fabulous. I’ve made it the way I’ve written it below many, many times. It’s nice and creamy and chocolatey. What’s really great about it is that you can use regular milk or even use a combo of milk and half and half if you want it really silky. I often throw a small handful of chocolate chips at the end just to make it that much better. Ina also suggests putting in a tiny pinch of salt (yes, you read that right) into the pudding to point up the chocolate flavor. And she’s right.

Don’t forget the Reddi Whip.


Chocolate Pudding

  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp.  unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk the powders together well and make sure it’s lump free.
  2. Add the milk and whisk together to combine well.
  3. Over a low heat and stirring constantly, bring the pudding mixture up to a low boil. Still stirring, let it bubble away for about 2 minutes or so.
  4. Take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Serve warm or chill. Don’t forget to eat the pudding that doesn’t make it into the serving bowl.
  5. Enjoy!

 

“The Special Beans”

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So I’ve been home about a week and a half now and I’m bored.

Not in the sense of “I-have-nothing-to-do” definition of the phrase. No. It’s more like “I-have-lots-to-do-and-don’t-feel-like-doing-any-of-it”.

I started socks and cast on for an afghan for the living room couch, which needed a big jump start since I screwed up the first couple of rows. I still have socks that need mates, fingerless mitts that need thumbs and my little crafting area in the living room is quickly descending into crafty chaos. I have knitting stuff in with my crocheting stuff and crocheting things in with the knitting things and the next thing you know cats and dogs will be living together and all hell will break loose.

Ahem.

Anyway, part of the problem is going through the whole recovery process again. I figured that going down this road wouldn’t be such a big deal the second time around and while it really isn’t, it’s still yet another chunk of time where I’d love to Get Things Accomplished. And every time I start down that path, the brain steps in and says, “Yeah, not so fast. I’m healing up here. Let’s go and take a nap.”

Which is all very well and good, but I’ve become absolutely used to knocking things off of my to-do list left and right. I haven’t picked up my DayRunner in a couple of weeks and I can’t remember when my spring semester starts. One of the happier consequences about getting back to “real life” in the spring was being able to organize my life around working again. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but structure is good and it was something I craved.

And because of that, it was nice being able to sort of slip back into doing something food-related yesterday afternoon. As usual, we did our weekly food shop and since it was cool, it was really sweet to be able to put something together that wasn’t very hard to do. This recipe comes from “The New England Cookbook” and even though it looks like it takes a long time to cook, you can pull this together and be eating in about an hour, if not less. I thought there was some leftover oatmeal molasses bread in the freezer, but it turns out it’s all gone. That’s okay. Multigrain crackers and goat cheese worked just fine, too.

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Oooh!

Incidentally, this is the kind of “pantry dish” that you always hear about. You can absolutely substitute white or cannellini beans for the chickpeas and spinach is fine in place of the chard. Any type of a small pasta will work and a bit of tomato paste instead of the canned chopped ones.


Chickpea and Pasta Soup

  • 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 rib of celery and celery leaves, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 7 cups of vegetable broth (chicken would be fine too, if you must)
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 4 oz. of small pasta, like ditalini or elbows or small shells
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes (I use 1/8 tsp., so do what you like)
  • About 3 or 4 large Swiss chard leaves, trimmed and chopped small-ish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pecorino Romano cheese

 

  1. Heat a large soup pot and warm up the olive oil in it.
  2. Add the celery and garlic and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn!
  3. Add the broth, chickpeas and the tomatoes. Give it a bit of salt and pepper since it’ll need a bit of it. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and let it cook, partially uncovered, for about 10 minutes or so.
  4. Now add the pasta, sage and red pepper flakes. Let it cook for about 5 minutes and then add the chard. Give it a good stir, put the lid on and let it cook for another 5 minutes. That should do it.
  5. Check for salt and pepper and enjoy!

“Mind Your Own Biscuits And Life Will Be Gravy”

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So one week from today I’ll be in my hospital bed at Temple University Hospital, recovering from my aneurysm clipping surgery. And, touching wood and turning around three times and spitting for good luck, I may even be back home by now. Hopefully this will be my last big surgery for a very, very long time, if not forever.

Since this really is brain surgery, I’m going to be hanging around the house for quite awhile. The Brain Guy said recovery time for a craniotomy is about a month and that I should be taking it easy for at least that, if not longer. If you’re a regular reader of this little blog o’ mine, you already know “me” and “taking it easy” don’t really belong in the same sentence. I adore a really good afternoon nap and there’s not too much I love more than hanging around the house in a flannel shirt and some yoga pants, but I’m an antsy little thing.

So I thought (ha!) it would be a fine idea to pull out some of the knitting I put aside when I started learning how to tote up debits and credits back in September. It seems that I’ve got half of one sock done, another sock that needs its mate, a fingerless mitt that needs its partner as well as its thumb, a ridiculous amount of yarn for two sweaters and a duster as well as a pullover I started in June with high hopes of wearing it in, umm, October.

Which was two months ago. Hey, yarn doesn’t go bad.

And it was in that spirit that I decided (ha!) I needed two more projects to keep me amused while my noggin’s healing. I’ve been doing a fair amount of yapping about crocheting and knitting afghans for awhile now, so I figured it would be a good time to put up or shut up and get started, already.

My other justification for buying more yarn…I mean, starting two new projects is this: I need simple stuff to work on. None of my current projects really qualify as “simple”. I love the complicated cables and colorwork and little tiny DPNs and skinny sock yarn. I mean, love. In reality, what I’m really going to need are things that I don’t really have to think about too much.

So here’s the crocheted afghan pattern and it’s a beauty. I’m using Berroco Vintage worsted in all the colors since I think I’m going for a millefiore inspiration with this. I have a vague memory of someone in my family collecting millefiore paperweights when I was a kid and I was fascinated with them. This is going to be for our queen-sized bed and each triangle motif is about six inches across, so I’m going to need a whole boatload of these. I have no idea how many exactly or what colors I’ll be using yet. I’m making this up as I go along.

Why, no, I haven’t really thought about putting them all together yet. One challenge at a time, ‘kay?

And here’s the knitted afghan project for the couch. In my knitting world, this qualifies as “simple” because that sucker’s 20 pattern repeats across. I can live with a few “purl through the back loop” every fifteen rows or so, even though those words usually make me twitch.

I’m also going to get some special, luxe yarn to take with to the hospital with me so I can start a pair of very simple socks. If the yarn is beautiful, you don’t need to do much with it to bring out the best in it. I’m going to be recovering from big, icky surgery and I have every intention of being very, very, good to myself.


 

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Pass the butter, please.

So here’s something I’ve been making for ages. They’re from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time (“Moosewood Restaurant New Classics“). They’re great with a bowl of soup or stew and the kitchens smells like heaven while they’re in the oven. The only drawback with these beauties? They’re scones, so they only last for one day. That problem is easily solved, though. Just eat two.

Rosemary Garlic Scones 

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (you can use 1/2 tsp of dried, but they’re so, so much better if you use the fresh)
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Line the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly oil it.
  2. In a small skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of the oil. Add the garlic, pepper and rosemary. Simmer for about 1 minute (do not let the garlic burn) and remove from the heat.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Using a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers (which is what I do), quickly cut the butter into the flour until it’s evenly distributed. Add the seasoned oil mixture and mix well. Quickly stir in the buttermilk to form a a soft (but sticky) dough.
  4. On a lightly floured board, lightly knead the dough so it holds together. Lightly pat it into a 6″ circle and cut it into 6 wedges. Place them on the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the tops of the scones with the remaining 1/2 tsp of olive oil. I always forget this step.
  5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the scones are golden brown. Don’t over bake these suckers or they’ll be dense and dry.
  6. Enjoy!

 

 

 

“C Is For Cookie And That’s Good Enough For Me”

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Every once in awhile, I get obsessed with something.

It might be a particular kind of yarn (no surprise there, I’m sure), the perfect crocheted afghan pattern (which I’ve finally found) or an old cookbook I remember from the 1980’s. And I have to be careful since I’ve got the kind of personality that doesn’t let go of things like this easily. I know all too well what happens; I fall down into the rabbit hole of the Intertubes, never to been seen or heard from again.

This time it was a cookie. A chocolate chip cookie to be exact, and it was a recipe that my mom made for Christmas when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. They weren’t the typical, thin, crisp cookie, either. These were thicker, a little lumpy looking, and she used the mini-chocolate chips instead of the usual Nestle suspects. She stored them in those old-fashioned cookie tins and they were hidden in the coat closet in the basement. Of course I found them when I was poking around looking for my gifts.

I hope she’s not reading this.

Anyway, they were delicious. They weren’t Toll House cookies, they was something a little different going on there. To this day, I don’t know what recipe she used and every time I see a recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’m absolutely compelled to see if it might, just might, be The One I’ve been looking for. I still haven’t found it, but you can be sure I’m still searching for them.

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Nom nom nom.

In the meantime though, I made these a few weekends ago. This is one of those recipes that I’d been looking at for years, always saying, “You know, I have to make these.” There is a lot going on here that’s different. There’s whole wheat pastry flour along with regular white flour and dark brown sugar instead of the usual mix of white and light brown. And they’re not thin and crisp; they’re thick and hefty and a little bit chewy. If you like a soft-baked cookie, you’ll go nuts over these.


 

Big  Chocolate Chip  Cookies 

 

  • ¾ cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
  • ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (I used chocolate chunks)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts and/or raisins (I didn’t)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the eggs until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt.
  4. Stir in the flour into the butter mixture, mixing well. Add the vanilla and the water and stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Add the nuts and raisins if you’re using.
  6. Drop the batter by ¼ cup measures onto the baking sheet (this will make 3” cookies), leaving about 2” in between each.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes, but check them around 8 minutes in. When they’re done, let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then put them on a cooling rack to finish.
  8. Enjoy! These are really, really good.

“Only The Beginning”

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And, it’s all over.

Done. Fini. The best contract job I’ve ever had is in the books.

Strangely enough, I’m fine with that. Okay, I won’t have a regular paycheck for a while but I’m looking forward to a new challenge. And no, brain surgery doesn’t count.

Saying goodbye to the place that became my second home for seven months wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I was leaving work a few weeks ago and I really thought I was going to be a blubbering, sloppy mess on my last day. I pictured myself sobbing and driving home with mascara streaming down my face because I wasn’t going to ever see these people ever again.

I’ll see one of my former managers at a professional event next week and a few of my co-workers and I connected on LinkedIn and Facebook. Man, I love social media.

Besides, I’ve got a really sneaky feeling that I’ll be back there. It’s a nagging feeling that I just can’t explain, but I can’t shake the hunch that I’ll be seeing everyone again. It may be wishful thinking on my part, too. Time will tell.

But for now, I’ve got a little over two weeks before it’ll be time to get up at quarter to dark and take the drive up to Temple University Hospital in North Philly to get my brain clipped. I’ve got things to do before then and I’m a little alarmed at how quickly my dance card is filling up. I was thinking and hoping (and wishing and praying) that I’d have a couple of days where I could just mooch around, you know? A used bookstore, my friend Lisa’s yarn shop. Christmas shopping, for goddess’ sake.

This week it’s the event that my former manager is hosting and before I can go there, I need business networking cards, a new suit because the old one doesn’t fit my post-cancer body and a trip to have something done to this hair. I have to get a couple of quick holiday gifts for my mom and her boyfriend since we’re going up there next weekend to celebrate Christmas three weeks early. I also said I’d bring up dessert, so somewhere along the line I have to bake a coffee cake.

I have to get my transcripts sent to Villanova University so I can start the evaluation process, finish up my last problem set for my accounting class and figure out when I’m going to take the final. And that’s just this week.

That sound you just heard was my DayRunner exploding.

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One of the things that I absolutely, positively, must do before I have this brain thing done is stock up the freezer with things that just need to be warmed up on top of the stove or in the oven. To me, that means soups, stews and casseroles. I’ve already got a head (ha!) start, too. There’s some eggplant lasagna in there, veggie stew and some cream of tomato soup. I’m going to make a pot of lentil soup, so a freezer bag of that will be a welcome sight when I’m recovering and no one’s in the mood to cook and we’re both sick of pizza.

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Hello, gorgeous.

I’m also going to make a loaf or two of this bread. It comes from the same cookbook that the Three Grain Bread For Roy comes from and it follows the same wet-dough-no-knead method that recipe does. It’s a softer, sweeter loaf from the white flour, oats and molasses in it. It also keeps a little longer than the three grain bread does. 


 

Oatmeal Molasses Bread

  • ¾ cup of hot water
  • ¾ cup of whole milk
  • ¼ cup of dark molasses
  • 4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 ½ cups unbleached white flour
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled (not quick and definitely not instant) oats, plus more for top of the loaf
  • 2 Tbsp cornmeal, plus more for the baking pan
  • 2 Tbsp neutral oil (I like sunflower)
  1. In a large bowl, combine the water, milk, molasses, yeast and salt. Whisk it all together and let it sit until it’s nice and frothy. If it doesn’t get all frothy in about 15 minutes, toss it and start over.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine the flours, oats and cornmeal. Run a whisk through it to combine it and get rid of the lumps.
  3. Add half of the dry ingredients to the milk mixture and whisk it together. Add the oil and mix well. Now add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix the dough together with a heavy spoon. Make sure everything’s combined well.
  4. Place a towel over the bowl and let it rise and collapse upon itself. This is going to take a couple of hours, so be patient.
  5. When it’s ready to be shaped, preheat your oven to 375°. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet; this will create a crunchy bottom crust and keep the bread from sticking. Wet your hands with cold water and scoop the dough out of the bowl. Quickly shape it into a ball and place it on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the top of the ball with some oats and lightly press it into the dough. Cover it again and let it rise until it’s about doubled in size, about half an hour or so.
  6. At this point, you can put a pan of water in the oven to create some steam so the bread gets a crisper crust. I don’t bother since I prefer a softer, chewier crust, so it’s entirely up to you.
  7. Let it bake for about 55 minutes. You can check it with the old toothpick test (stick it in the top of the loaf and if it comes out clean, it’s done) or tap the bottom of the loaf to see if it sounds hollow (if it does, it’s done).
  8. Let it cool on a rack. This is great for sandwiches, especially grilled cheese. Yum.
  9. Enjoy!

“On Top Of Spaghetti, All Covered With Cheese…”

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I recently discovered the love of my life. They’re soft and a bit spicy and ever so good with a mug of coffee or tea. Wawa Pumpkin Spice Muffins, you are my destiny.

My gawd, these are tasty things. They’re sweet and there’s a nice little cinnamon and streusel swirl that goes through them and they’re moist and delicious and I just about died when I looked up the calorie count (630!), grams of sugar (45 grams!!) and let’s not even look at the fat content.

Okay, I did. 35 grams, or 54% of your daily requirement, for those of you keeping score at home. I’m not, and never have been, one of those people who eat a lot of junk. I keep some candy in my desk at work (Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups), ice cream in the freezer (I really love a good vanilla with the flecks of bean in it) and if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I think cookies are a food group unto themselves. But to sit down and mindlessly munch my way through a whole bag of sour cream potato chips or Haribos? Not my bag.

But every once in a while I take a look at what I’ve been eating and see if I can do better and lately I’ve become a little alarmed with all the sugar I’ve been scarfing down lately. When I was recovering from the surgery and the treatment, my sense of taste went out the window and all I could really taste was anything that was sweet. My taste buds are still coming around (it takes over a year, believe it or not), but it turns out the experts aren’t too far off when they say that sugar is addictive. Or, at the very least, it’s pretty easy to become dependant on the stuff.

And you don’t need me to tell you that it’s in everything. Everything. You can’t pick up anything that isn’t full of it and the amounts are alarming, to say the least. I mean, there’s 20 grams of it in a container of yogurt (which is at the lower end of the scale), and that’s just the fruit-flavored kind and not that…crap…that comes with mini chocolate chips.

So, time to do better. I bought a few cups of my favorite yogurt for my work breakfasts next week, but that’s going to get swapped out for some hot cereal or homemade muffins. I can give up my glass of chocolate milk before I go to bed and be happy with a plain glass of milk and a not-too-sweet cookie or two. I don’t need to go completely down a sugar-free road; I just want to be a little more mindful of how much I’m eating.

Which brings me to this recipe for homemade tomato sauce. Pasta’s on the menu at chez littleredyarn a lot and if I’m making some kind of baked pasta dish, I will grab a jar of sauce at the market. Some of them (Newman’s comes to mind) are actually pretty good and reasonably priced. So just for fun I checked the sugar content (I had an open jar in the fridge) and it turns out there’s 7 grams of the stuff per half a cup. Which doesn’t sound all that terrible, but just for kicks I weighed how many grams a tablespoon of sugar is since I’m a geek and that’s what we do. Anyway, that comes in at 10 grams, which means there’s almost a full tablespoon of sugar in a half cup of sauce. That’s kind of a lot.

Mamma mia!

Mamma mia!

So, without getting all preachy, here’s my go-to recipe for homemade tomato sauce. It’s the kind you can make a lot of since it’s really quick to make and it freezes beautifully. It uses canned plum tomatoes and dried herbs, so it’s perfect for the winter. It’s totally vegetarian and best of all? There’s only 2 teaspoons of honey in 2 quarts of sauce and if your canned tomatoes aren’t too acidic, you could even leave that out.

I like my sauce on the chunkier side, so I just chop up the tomatoes a little bit. If you prefer a smoother sauce, give the tomatoes a whirl in your blender before you put them in the pot.


Dee’s Tomato Sauce

  • 3-4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 cups of finely diced yellow onions
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 28 oz. cans plum tomatoes, chopped
  • ⅓ cup red wine (I usually have little airplane bottles of Pinot Noir on hand)
  • 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf, broken in half
  • ½ tsp each of dried basil, oregano and thyme
  • ¼ tsp of dried rosemary
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • handful of chopped Italian parsley
  • more salt and pepper to taste
  1. Warm up the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy sauce pot. Add the onions and the salt. Let the onions cook until they soften and begin to color, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and give everything a good stir. Let it cook for another 2-3 minutes or so.
  3. Add the tomatoes, wine and tomato paste. Stir and bring it sauce up to a boil. Lower the heat and add the basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Give it a stir, partially cover the pot and let it simmer for about a half hour or so.
  4. Add the parsley and let it cook for another 10 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Done.
  5. Enjoy!

“We’re Sailing On The Wide Accountancy!”

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So the new semester’s three weeks old and I’m settling into the old rhythm of being a student again.

It’s work-and-doing-the-reading-at-lunch-and-back-home-and-homework-after-dinner. It’s a Saturday where after we come home after running around with errands, I’m doing problem sets. And then on Sunday morning it’s time to submit the problem sets and listen to the lecture for the next chapter.

Taking excellent notes, of course. I’m such a swot.

Mr. Bean Counter

Mr. Bean Counter

At the risk of sounding like an middle-aged(ish) lady, the last time I did this I was hauling my ass off to a precalculus class on Saturday morning for four hours with textbook, notebook and my TI-82 calculator. This time around I’m connected with the laptop, an e-book and my TI-BA II calculator. I’m yapping with my classmates via posts on the school’s website and getting my class materials from an online platform called WileyPlus, which I’ve developed a real love/hate relationship with.

It’s all very convenient and wonderful and totally accessible, which is the whole point of taking an online class, of course. And for me, who’s up at the quarter-to-dark in the morning (and in bed at quarter-past), this is a godsend. I start turning into a pumpkin around eight o’clock. I’m not sure if this is because I’m an middle-aged(ish) lady or if it’s the hours I keep, but I don’t know how I’d do if I were still in a lecture at eight with a twenty-five minute drive home from campus.

But like most things, I’ll figure it out. One thing I do know is that I’ll have to pick up the pace a bit, or I’ll be sitting here doing problem sets when I’m in my 60s.

And that can’t happen.

But one of the casualties of going back to school is that I’ve basically given up any kind of free time I might have had before doing this. I knew that was going to happen (really) and I knew that this first accounting class was going to be content-heavy (really), but what I didn’t exactly realize was that I’d have, like, no free time at all.

So I’m thrilled that fall’s here since with the cooler weather comes that time of year when it’s finally cool enough to break out the Dutch oven and baking dishes for soups and stews and casseroles. Big, hearty dishes that you can make in advance and then just heat up throughout the week. I’m pretty sure whoever baked the first dino-noodle casserole was a busy person.

Oh, yeah.

Oh, yeah.

I found this recipe for cauliflower macaroni and cheese on the BBC’s Good Food website ages and ages ago; I’ve been making it for at least ten years. I’m only giving you the link here since you can print it out from their website (not sure if you have to register or not), but I’ll give you a couple of tips.

First off, make sure your cheese is a good, tangy, sharp one. There isn’t a lot of cheese sauce in this (if you want more, you can always double up on the sauce), so make sure you choose one that won’t get lost. I made this last night and I used a “melange” of Gruyere and mild Cheddar that I got at Trader Joe’s. Good, but an extra-sharp cheese really is the way to go. And a good, gutsy, pasta is a must, too. Think imported rigatoni or mostaccioli. I bought armoniche and it was perfect.

The recipe also calls for creme fraiche for the cheese sauce. Yes, you can buy creme fraiche at some supermarkets, but you’re better off making your own. Why? Supermarket creme fraiche is, like, $5 for a dinky little container, and you’ll need two for the recipe. That’s 10 bucks, which is ridiculous. So, here you go:

Take 1 half pint container of heavy cream. Pour it into a clean, glass jar with a lid. Add about ⅓ of a cup of buttermilk. Put the lid on and give it a good shake. Leave it on the counter, lid on, for about 24 hours to thicken up. If you’re going to double the sauce in the recipe, use 1 pint of heavy cream and 2/3 cup of buttermilk. Whichever amount you decide to make, you’ll use all of it.

Done. And you’re welcome.

Bake it at 375° in a 9” x 13” pan for about 15 minutes. And don’t forget the sliced tomatoes on top. They’re the best part.

I made Giada’s Green Beans to go with it, but I sprinkle some Parm on top of the beans instead of faffing around with the crisps, as tasty as they are. These are seriously good; I make these for holidays when we have to bring a veggie along. I cook the green beans until they’re nice and soft, though. Hard, crunchy green beans are awful. 

Enjoy!

“Fall In Philadelphia”

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I’m two weeks ahead of my accounting class syllabus.

I’d forgotten what a swotty little thing I am. And it’s a good thing, too. The Powerpoint lecture presentation for the second chapter? Fifty two slides and I took six pages of notes. The chapter is sixty-four pages in my e-textbook. Twelve pages of notes.

Will you still need me, will you still read me, when I’m 64?

Bean Counting 101

Bean Counting 101

And it’s all content-heavy stuff. Definitions and formulas and balance sheets, oh my.

I’m still finding my legs with all of the back-to-school stuff, too. It’s not as tough as I thought it would be, but it’s a new routine. An entirely new routine. I’m used to filling up my spare time with sticks and string and now it’s learning about which accounts get credited, which ones get debited and when to use solvency ratios.

It’s a four day weekend for me and I’m probably done with the numbers for now. I will play around with my sticks and pretty string and do some cooking and take a couple of naps. More likely than not I’ll do some questions and play around with creating some financial statements because I am, after all, a swotty little thing.

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Earlier this week one of my friends mentioned on Twitter that she was all comfy and ready to watch the latest episode of “The Great British Bake-Off”. I tweeted back that I was jealous since our summer’s television programming here in the States has mostly consisted of really bad sci-fi shows and “America’s Got Talent”. And that I really liked Mary Berry and Delia Smith.

I remembered a recipe of Delia’s for vegetable goulash from “Complete Cookery”  that I hadn’t made in years and decided to pull it out to make this weekend. And while I was at it, there was a recipe in “The New Vegetarian Epicure” for apple pudding that I’d always wanted to bake but, for some reason, never did.wpid-goulash.jpg

So I bought a couple of bagfuls of summer veggies and early crop Honeycrisp apples at the farmer’s market yesterday and came home and got to work.

The goulash was terrific and, most surprisingly, light. Even with the sour cream served over egg noodles, it wasn’t heavy at all. There’s not a lot of seasoning in it: sweet and hot paprika, salt and freshly ground black pepper. I think the next time I make it I might throw in some veggie broth and wine to replace the water and tomato paste called for in the original recipe. And maybe a little smoked paprika, too. I’ll let you know how that works or if you decide to play around with it, be sure to tell me.

Mmmm...breakfast?

Mmmm…breakfast?

The apple pudding is definitely going into the rotation for the fall and winter months. I used some leftover challah I had in the freezer for the bread cubes, but I’m going to try a whole grain bread the next time because I think this would be dynamite for breakfast and because I love whole grains. Instead of raisins, maybe diced apricots or dates. There’s a lot of room to play with here.

Vegetable Goulash

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 scant Tbsp. unbleached white flour
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. sweet paprika
  • a couple pinches of hot paprika (if you don’t have it, use cayenne or hot red pepper flakes)
  • 14 oz. can Italian tomatoes
  • 10 fl. oz. hot water, mixed with 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 8 oz. cauliflower flowerets
  • 8 oz. carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 8 oz. zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 8 oz. new potatoes, cut into chunks or halved if they’re really small
  • 1 small green pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • About ½ cup of sour cream
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4.
  2. Start by heating the oil in a flameproof casserole (I used my LeCrueset French oven for this). Add the onions and fry until they’re softened.
  3. Add the flour and paprika and give it a good stir. Cook for about a minute or so.
  4. Now add the tomatoes and the tomato water. Bring it up to a boil (keep stirring) and then add all the veggies.
  5. Add some salt, some freshly ground pepper and give it a good stir. Put the lid on and put it in the oven. Let it bake for about 30 minutes.
  6. After 30 minutes, take it out of the oven and carefully take the lid off (seriously…steam burns are no fun) and check to see if the veggies are done. If they are, dinner’s ready. If not, put the lid back on and give it another 5 or 10 minutes. You don’t want the veggies to turn into mush.
  7. When the veggies are done, stir in the sour cream and add more salt and pepper if you’d like.
  8. Enjoy!

Apple Pudding

As written, the original recipe feeds 10-15 people. Which would be great for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but not so much for two people on Labor Day weekend. I’ve halved it here.

  • 2 lbs. cooking apples (I used Honeycrisp, but please use whatever’s in season and local to your area)
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • ¼ – ⅓ cup of sugar, depending on how sweet your apples are
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • ¼ lb. cubed bread (I used challah, but croissants or French bread would be fine)
  • 3 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup of raisins (or any dried fruit of your choice)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla
  • ⅓ cup of chopped nuts (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  1. Peel and core the apples, quarter them and cut the quarters crosswise into thick slices.
  2. In a heavy pot, combine the apples, water, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Give everything a good stir and bring it up to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and let it simmer away, stirring often, until the liquid mostly cooks away. Some of the apples will turn into a thick sauce. This is good.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and pour the melted butter over the cubes. Toss them around with your hands to coat the cubes and spread them out on a baking sheet. Toast them for about 10 minutes or until they’re golden brown. Keep an eye on these beauties since they’ll go from golden brown to burnt in a blink of an eye.
  4. Lower the oven to 350°. Return the bread cubes to the bowl. Add the cooked apples and the raisins and give it a good stir.
  5. Mix together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Add the custard to the apple/bread mix and give it a good stir. Spoon it into a buttered 9-inch baking dish (I used my faithful glass Pyrex one) and sprinkle the nuts and brown sugar on top.
  6. Bake for about 40 minutes. I promise you, this bread pudding lovely and moist.
  7. Enjoy!