When Easter Comes “Early”

table

You must wonder… “What is she talking about?” Easter is considered “early” when it’s the Sunday after St Patrick’s Day. This year it’s the first weekend in April, not exactly late just somewhere in between. Well this year I have a brother coming up from Washington DC and cousins from Florida and New York so in order to see everyone at the same time, we are having Easter dinner this year on a Saturday night. It’s amazing to me how just having one less weekend day to prepare makes it seem like crunch time for the cook. I always motivate myself by setting the table first. Something about getting all of that under control gives me a false sense of security that everything is under control. When you think about it, that actually translates into a very real sense of pre-party calm.

peep place setting I made a large nest of easter grass in the middle of the lavender dining room table runner and decorated with malted milk eggs, dyed hard cooked eggs and, of course, PEEPS. (I even have a big stuffed PEEP as a centerpiece). I also had a lot of pastel Mardi Gras beads in storage so I decided they blended well with the Easter theme.big peep

This year I started with my most time consuming dishes and prepared them Thursday night: The first is a creamed kale casserole with fire roasted artichoke hearts and a panko breadcrumb topping:kale topped with artichokespanko topped kale

This will turn a golden brown after baking in the oven for half an hour. Next I made my Yukon Gold baked potato casserole with a chive cheese sauce. First I sliced the potatoes in half and roasted them on an oiled baking sheet.Yukon Potatoes on foil

Then I made a bechemel sauce with a blend of cheddar and Swiss cheese and chives.making sauce I sliced the roasted potatoes, covered them in the cheese sauce and topped with more grated cheese. Just like the kale casserole, it will reach it’s full glory when baked to a golden brown.finished potato casserole ready to bake Right now both are wrapped up in the fridge waiting for Saturday night. Then comes the ham. It’s also waiting in the fridge to be baked by my friend and neighbor to free up my oven at the last minute. hammexican cokeThis year I saw a display for Mexican Coca Cola in a glass bottles so I decided we should try glazing it with Caco Cola the way my Aunt Liz from New Orleans used to do. And of course there’s the cherry sauce. I sometimes find it a little mundane so I spiked it up with pomegranate-blueberry vinegar and dried blueberries.cherry sauce Next I started cooking asparagus for a vinaigrette salad (sorry no photo of the finished dish yet-update to follow.asparagus in pot)                                                                                Finally there’s dessert. I haven’t even gotten started on that yet but it’s going to be an orange ginger cake. I guess you’ll have to check in for the finished dish updates after our early Easter dinner. Not sure I’ll get to it tonight. I’m already all “Peeped Out”.

Which brings me to my original intention for my Easter post. I make these really fun, kid-friendly, do-it-yourself Easter “Peeps” using coconut, lemon Jello and sweetened condensed milk. I was going to show you the step by step process but I think you’ll get the idea from this Connecticut Post column that I have written the transcript out for you since the print is kind of small :

Make Your Own “Peeps”   EASTER CHICKS

Easter Chicks column April

 

It’s Easter basket time again. Nestled with chocolate eggs and bunnies are those marshmallow chicks that have have become a nostalgic treat from one generation to the next. I looked up the company’s official website and learned that prior to 1954 it took 27 hours to produce a Peep by hand. Now, it only takes 6 minutes to produce a mechanized Peep. As a child, I was a fan of “petrified Peeps”. The process involved drying them on top of my dresser until they reached the perfect crunchy consistency (sometime in June). I used to think this was an acquired taste until I read that a preference for eating them stale was #6 on the company’s fun facts list. Now, if you think I’m about to tell you how to replicate marshmallow Peeps in your own kitchen, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, I’m sharing with you a very different type of chicken candy that I invented when I was about ten years old. Mom used to make a coconut concoction with strawberry gelatin and shaped it into strawberries. One day I said “Lets use lemon gelatin”. However, the yellow strawberries were not well received. I reshaped the strawberries into little chicks and suddenly they were a hit with my family and friends. These are a fun project to make with your kids. Modeling the candy is kind of like working with marzipan only a lot less expensive. Nest them in egg cartons lined with tinted green coconut and they make great gifts.

LEMON COCONUT CHICKENS IN EGG CARTON NESTS Ingredients:

(Note: makes 2 dozen candies–enough to fill 2 egg cartons)

3-ounce package of lemon flavored gelatin

5 1/2 cups flaked coconut (about one 14-ounce bag)

14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk 1-2 drops yellow food coloring

Slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Semisweet chocolate minichips.

Combine gelatin, coconut, condensed milk and food coloring in mixing bowl Set aside 1/3 of mixture for heads. Mold remainder into 24 balls. Shape reserved mixture into 24 smaller balls fort heads. Press small balls firmly on top of larger balls. Insert two almonds into each head for “chirping” beaks and use chocolate minichips for eyes.blurry chicks with newspaper showing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egg Carton Nests:

2 egg cartons (bottoms only)

2 cups shredded coconut

1 Tbs water mixed with two or three drops of green food coloring clear cellophane, ribbon.

Tint coconut green by shaking in a large jar or plastic zipper bag with colored water. Spred on a tray and allow to air dry. If desired, you can cut cartons into half-dozen sections. Line individual egg carton cups with green coconut and set each chick in the a cup as if it were in a tiny nest. If giving as gifts, wrap cartons in cellophane and tie at each end with ribbon.chicks with about alison boteler

HAPPY EASTER!

The Doves of Downton Abbey Debut

Tonight’s the night! The 20th anniversary of Project Return’s Annual Birdhouse Auction. This popular event attracts whimsical and creative structures for indoor and outdoor use as well as bird themed art. It all goes to a great cause supporting girls in crisis. The auction is held at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Westport CT after a preview of the artwork is displayed for two weeks in the storefront windows of Westport CT. This will be the third year I’ve participated in the event.

20 years

Most people think of me as a cookbook author but there’s another side of me—The side that grew up drawing  from life as I saw it on Saturday morning cartoons.  Those were the days when cartoons were still created on cells before the age of computers. I particularly liked all of the detail in the really early Disney cartoons that my parents used to watch in movie theaters with feature films. It got to the point where I actually “dreamed in cartoon”. I loved my two dimensional world. It was a happy retreat for me where anything was possible. My imaginary friends weren’t invisible to my family, I’d drawn portraits of all their familiar faces.  Best of all was  I wanted to design my own hat or coat I’d just draw them and like magic they were right there before my eyes.

There was just one problem with my artwork then and now… I never really mastered the human form or face. My people always looked more like political cartoons (recognize Nixon, tailors Haldeman Erlichman and “Little Johnny Dean?).  As a teenager, I wrote a fractured fairy tale turning Watergate into The Emperor’s New Clothes !Watergate cartoons

So I decided to stick to what I know best whether it was  dressing  household pets  to prehistoric animals as paper dolls. Here I have some dapperly dressed dogs :dapper dogs sketchdapper dogs color

And some “Designosaurs”CelesteDaphne:

For the 2013 Project Return Birdhouse Auction, I decided my paper doll concept was for the birds and created the character Alfred Albatross who ended up in the window of Brooks Brothers:

alfred albatross

brooks brother's window

 

This year I got this inspiration to dress doves in the Edwardian and 1920’s attire from Downton Abby and put them into a coatrack frame. It was on display inside Brooks Brothers until tonight where it will be up for silent auction. sketcheson the red tableclothfull view with shirts

This will be the first year where credit card bids will be made by cell phone so the mantra is “CHARGE”— Both as much as you can!

sign

 

 

 

 

 

Celtic Creamed Kale Sprouts and Corned Beef

Some people like to mix things up on Thanksgiving with pomegranate glazed turkey or hazelnut stuffing. I’m not saying I’m one of those but I do tend to deviate from the norm now and then on Saint Patrick’s Day. Many times I’ve substituted Brussels sprouts for boiled cabbage or I will make an “Irish Tiramisu” using Bailey’s for dessert. This was one of those years for me. I decided to serve my corned beef as a side dish. In this case, I only needed about 6 oz of slivered deli corned beef but you can make this dish even better the day after if you have your own boiled corned beef from the main event.

I’ll admit I was inspired by kale sprouts I’ve recently started seeking out at Whole Foods. They are a product of Belgium and come in a 150gm bag.

bagged kale

They are really quick to cook. I simply trim off some some of the brown leaves from the sprouts and arrange in a large shallow glass bowl. Fill with about 1 1/2″ of water. Sprinkle with sea salt and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stop microwave, redistribute them in the water, and cook 1 minute longer.

about to be steamed

Drain Sprouts well on a paper plate and allow to cool to room temp.

DRaining on paper plate

Roll sprouts in a paper towel to squeeze out excess moisture.

rolled in paper towels

Now for the cream sauce: heat 2 cups of milk with 2 tbs fresh snipped chives in the microwave for 2 minutes.

chives in milk

Make a roux by melting 1/4 cup butter and blending in 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp onion powder a few grinds of black pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Blend together with a wire whisk over medium heat until bubbly and smooth.

making a roux

Blend in heated milk and bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.bechemel thickens

Take about 6 ounces of deli sliced corned beef, roll up and slice into julienne strips. (If you are using home-cooked corned beef, just chop up leftover meat since the texture tends to break apart more when simmered on your stove.sliced corned beefshredding corned beef

Stir into chive cream sauce. Add drained kale sprouts.sauced corned beefFolded sprouts into sauce

Spread into a casserole and cover with buttered breadcrumbs.

Unbaked Crumb toppedBake at 350° for 20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden and bubbling.Finale kale

This actually a great post- St Patrick’s Day dish just like a turkey casserole after Thanksgiving. There I go again comparing the two holidays. I can’t tell you how many times I say Happy Thanksgiving to people on St Patricks Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Kite Season

 

kite Tree

Well here it is the first of March and looking outside at yet another snowstorm doesn’t make one feel that spring is around the corner. I grew up believing that the first rite of spring was bringing a kite out into Loose Park where I grew up in Kansas City. Perhaps  spring arrives a little later New England or six month winters are the new normal nation wide. One can still dream of warmer,  windy days ahead as it was when this column of mine first appeared in The CT Post in 2006.

Kite season

March usually comes in like a lion and goes out like a lion with a few lamby days in between. It’s those bucolic, breezy ones that send us out in the field for the springtime tradition of kite flying. Kites have gone pretty high tech, these days. Others are as elaborate as Chinese dragons or flying fish. However, I love the classic diamonds in the sky as seen in so many calendars from my childhood. I grew up reading Peanuts comic strips and (just like Charlie Brown) was frequently foiled by a “kite eating tree”. Something about a windy day really stokes the appetite of large oaks. This project takes a branch from one and turns it into a miniature tree… a perfect magnet for mini kites. It’s a fun table centerpiece and lends itself to a group project where kids can put their names on the kites. Just as nature intended, some should be hanging upside-down or impaled on a branch. For added interest, throw in a box kite or two. I don’t know about you but I could never get one of those off of the ground!

KITE TREE & PAPER KITES

Materials:

Branch from a tree or bush (any species with plenty of twigs for small branches)

Flower pot or planter,

florist clay or Play Doh,

pebbles or colored sand

Wooden shish kebob skewers, wire cutters

Lightweight string or crochet yarn

Construction paper, scissors, glue stick, marking pens, transparent tape

Assorted colors of 1/8” thick satin ribbon

Anchor branch in the center of a pot or planter using a large lump of clay. Fill in around the sides with pebbles or colored sand. Use wire cutters to cut skewers into 3” and 4” length sections. (For diamond shaped kites, you’ll need one 3” and one 4” stick. For box kites you will need four, 4” sticks) For diamond kites: Bind 3” and 4” sticks together like a cross, tying with string in the center. Cut assorted colors of construction paper into diamond shapes that fit across the cross sticks (make one diamond as a pattern and cut the rest the same way). Cut contrasting strips of construction paper to glue on as stripes. These can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Make kite tails by knotting short lengths of alternating colored ribbon in a chain. Tape tails to the back of kites. Tie a 12”, or longer, length of string to the center each of kite’s crossbar (from back). Tape paper fronts on to kite, from back, leaving flying cord free. If desired,label with children’s names.

Kites

 

For box kites: Cut two, 1” x 6” strips of construction paper for each kite. Fold strips six times at 1” intervals. Overlap two ends and glue together, forming a square. Connect squares by taping edges of 4” sticks at the the inside corner edges. Tie a 12” or longer length of string to an exposed stick. Tape tails inside of bottom section. Arrange kites in the tree as if they crashed into it or became hung up in a branch. The more string tangled in the branches, the better.

Box Kites

From Cherry Trees to Wooden Teeth– Happy Birthday Mr President!

george washington cherry treeIt’s cherry season again. Not when the trees blossom or or the fruit ripens but the month that has become synonymous with cherries. As a food writer for most of my life, it’s a given that any column you do in February should involve themes of chocolate or cherries or both. We are now past Valentines Day and sandwiched between Presidents Day and  Washington’s official birthday which means it’s time for cherry pie.

Before we start the recipe,  let’s first review the cherry tree legend. From our earliest days in elementary school, we were taught that young George Washington was given a small hatchet at age six to play with and went to town whacking away at bean posts in his parent’s garden. Something possessed him to take a swing at his father’s cherished cherry tree. When George’s father first discovered his favorite tree had been axed he was angry. George supposedly came forward and fessed up because he “could not tell a lie”. This impressed his father who valued his son’s honesty over a thousand trees . The iconic tale has been one of the first lessons on values in American classrooms. There’s just one problem with it (aside from the bad choice of toys for one’s child): most historians agree that it never happened.

black & white George Washington cherry tree

The story was first published by biographer Parson Weems in 1809. The tale came from Weem’s interviewing a neighbor who had known Washington as a boy. This is the only historical source and not considered to be very credible which brings us to the next famous folklore. Washington most likely did not eat his cherry pie with wooden teeth. He had notoriously bad teeth, in fact he had only one tooth left by the time he became president. Instead, he wore dentures fashioned from cows teeth, hippopotamus  ivory even human teeth his dentist had purchased from slaves. None of these worked out that well because Washington was said to have been plagued his whole life with chronic pain from his false teeth.

This year my spin on the cherry tree/ cherry pie theme has a classic crumb topping with some toasted almonds in it. It’s a great version for those of us with a sweet tooth who like the contrast to tart cherries.

Cherry Crumb Pie

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes

1/3 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

1 unbaked 9″ pie shell (I prefer baking in a glass pie plate)

Cherry pie filling for 9″ pie  (see below)

Combine brown sugar, oatmeal, flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into dry ingredients until crumbs are about the size of small peas. Stir in almonds.

cherry pie 7cherry pie 6

Spread cherry pie filling into unbaked pie shell.

cherry pie 5

Cover filling with crumb topping and place on a foil lined baking sheet.

cherry pie 3

Preheat oven to 375° and bake on the bottom rack of oven for 50 minutes or until crust looks golden. I like to use glass pans for this reason. If the topping starts to brown much faster, lay a piece of foil across the top of the pie during the last 10 minutes of baking.

cherry pie 2

Cool to room temp before slicing.

cherry pie 1

Cherry Pie Filling

4 cups fresh or frozen tart cherries

1 1/3cups granulated sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 Tbs almond extract (optional)

Place cherries in medium saucepan and place over heat. Cover. After the release most of their juice, which may take several minutes, remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Pour this mixture into the hot cherries and mix well. Add the almond extract, if desired, and mix. Return the mixture to the stove and cook over low heat until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool.

 

 

 

 

CRAZY CROQUET FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

CRAZY big

 

If you are still hiding the kid’s leftover Halloween candy, there are other ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day without overdosing on chocolate. How about an activity that actually helps them burn off a little of that sugar rush? I like to turn to Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts for inspiration. When she played croquet, it was no ordinary match. The court would swing pink flamingos at roly-poly hedgehogs. This is a great game indoors as well as outdoors. Think rainy day miniature golf and dream up your own obstacle course using stuffed animals, sofa cushions for tunnels and books for ramps. I even like to make big, bend able wickets out of playing cards and pipe cleaners. An ordinary croquet set can be transformed into a flock of flamingo mallets with some easy-to-sew felts heads. Rules…What rules? Unlike traditional croquet this is an improvisational sport. However– should anyone get too unruly shout “Off with her head”! (and take a time-out.).

FLAMINGO MALLETS & HEDGEHOG BALLS
(Note- croquet sets vary from 4 to 8 mallets. Materials are listed per individual mallet.)
Materials:

    Light pink felt (a 9” x 12” rectangle will make one head
    Yellow felt (a 9” x 12” square will make about three beaks)
    Pencil, sheet of 9” x 12” paper, scissors, craft glue, pins, thread and cotton batting (or cotton balls)
    Pink pipe cleaners, glue-on hobby eyes, pink craft feathers 4” or 5” styrofoam balls (one per mallet)
    Acrylic paints (deep pink, black and shades of brown) brushes and sponge brush
    Playing cards, white pipecleaners, invisible tape

Fold a piece of pink felt in half (6” x 9”) and cut through both layers into sort of a light bulb shape. Cut remaining pink felt the same way. Fold yellow felt in half (6” x 9”) and cut through both layers to make crescent shaped beaks. You should be able to get 3 double sided beaks out of one square. Glue two sides of each beak together and allow to dry. Pin beaks to one side of felt heads, facing inward. Pin remaining felt head piece on top and sew around edges, leaving bottom open.flamingo heads 2

Turn inside out. Stuff heads with cotton and place over ends of mallets. Secure around stick with a pink pipe cleaner. Secure feathers around neck by wrapping with pipe cleaner. Paint end of beaks, mouth and nostril with black paint. Accent head of flamingo with darker pink paint. Glue on hobby eyes. Paint styrofoam balls to look like furry brown hedgehogs.HEDGE HOG BALL

Twist ends of white pipe cleaners together to add length. Tape cards along two parallel cleaners and bend into a D- shaped wickets.

card wickets

When I look out the window this winter, it’s hard to believe there was actually a February when we kid-tested this game for my column in The Connecticut Post on my neighbor’s lawn!

However, you can just as easily set up Crazy Croquet in your living room as we are about to do! What a way to enjoy yet another snow day.

Mallets

 

 

Snow Day Snow Men

full size snowmen

I’ll admit I’m sentimental (not about snow storms, they drive me nuts!) but about the first kid’s column I ever wrote for The Connecticut Post.

snowman mix it up with kids

 

Years ago, I was very excited the Saturday it was coming out. It was a monthly column, a whole full page on recipes and crafts for children. Naturally, the calendar begins in January and I thought ice cream snow men made the perfect project: Something to do when you’re cooped-up with your kids on a snow day. Only problem was… it was springlike weather all month!

snowman teaser

I almost ran out of  month waiting for a really good blizzard to re-publish my old January column on this blog and here the storm is turning to rain. Truth is, I couldn’t be happier!

So stock up on ice cream and coconut the next time the media is predicting snowmaggedon and  here’s the transcript from the article below:

You’re up an hour early listening for school cancellations. You call the snowplow guy and his message box is full. The car is somewhere out there underneath a snowdrift. You’d like to pull a warm, cozy blanket over your head and hibernate but when the weather outside is frightful— so are the kids! Relax… the best cure for kiddy cabin fever is to occupy them with a new and memorable activity. Once you’ve heard that winter storm warning (it’s coming, it’s coming), when you’re out raiding the supermarket for bread and milk, just pick up a few extra ingredients for sweet and savory snow men. Even if the blizzard is a bust, you’ll be prepared for the next snow day.

Frosty Ice Cream Snow Men

(Note: This recipe will make about six, more or less depending on the air content of the ice cream)

1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream

Shredded coconut (at least 2 cups in a shallow pan or plate) Miniature chocolate chips

Fruit roll candy (in strips)

6 chocolate covered mint patties

6 chocolate bon bon type candies

Toothpicks. Full size and mini-size ice cream scoop (very useful to have-available at cookware shops)

For each snowman: Roll two large scoops of ice cream and one small scoop in coconut. (Place scoops on a foil lined tray in freezer, while making the others) Stack one large scoop on top of the other and stack the head on top of that. Use chocolate chips to make eyes, nose, mouth and buttons. Cut strips of fruit roll candy and wrap around the neck of snowman for a scarf. Make a bowler hat out of the chocolates by spearing a toothpick through the mint patty and the bon bon so that the bon bon becomes the crown and the mint patty is the brim, secure in place on head. Keep frozen until ready to eat

snowmen copy 2

snoman column

A Few of my Favorite Things: Part 2

Parmesan crisps

It’s that time of year when everyone in the house has been “cutting back” after the holidays and trying to stick to new, healthier regimes. My New Year’s resolution was walking a mile and a half every day. Why a mile and a half? Because last year my resolution was to walk a mile every day and, I’m proud to say that I actually did it! It wasn’t easy because I live in the North East and walking outside in the winter can be treacherous most of the time (take it from one who’s a “frequent faller” on ice).  Mall walking is great but I live too far from a mall to waste time and gas to drive there. My solution is walking in circles around the periphery isles of Home Depot or BJ’s Wholesale club which are a short distance from the house. Sometimes I’ll even use Whole Foods for my exercise track but it takes more laps around the place. I use the pedometer iPhone app to know how I’m doing but, in general, it takes six orbits around my track to to reach this goal.

It’s not only a good work out for the body but for willpower as well. To any shopper,  there’s the desire to stop and check some new product that catches your eye but that has to wait until I’m done with my mile and a half. One of my favorite discoveries this year has been ready made Parmesan crisps. These have always elevated any Caesar salad to a whole new level and if you skip the croutons it makes a perfect meal for anyone who’s doing Paleo or low carb (as so many are in the bleak month of January). Parmesan crisps are very basic and simple  to make. You just bake grated piles of Parmesan cheese on baking sheets until they form crispy, lacy wafers— but when I’ve been walking for miles, I get lazy and would much rather pick up a box.

To my delight, I have stumbled upon two excellent brands. I first came across these Kali Parmesan Crisps for $7.99 at whole foods.whole foods parm crisps

About a month later I noticed these Simply Indulgent Gourmet Parmasan Cheese Crisps at BJ’s Wholesale club for $4.99.BJ's Crisps

 

Both products are excellent and the only real difference is that the Simply Indulgent Gourmet Parmesan Crisps contain a trace of potato starch and their label list having 1 carbohydrate per serving as opposed to Kali’s 0 carbohydrate per serving but it a savings of three bucks so it’s a matter of which matters most to you.

So how do I use these things? On salads and soups of course. They are even a good dip dipper if you are off of eating chips. My go to favorite will always be a Caesar salad. I like to do my chopped style– where you toss the romaine with dressing, pack it into a bowl, invert it on your plate and garnish with a Parmesan crisp– a totally guiltless pleasure.Caesar with crisps

 

 

 

 

 

Peas for Prosperity

Forgive me, I meant to ring in the New Year on my blog with some black eyed pea recipes. (You know how it is, the holidays hijack your life and it’s not until they’re over that you discover that present you wrapped and meant to send to your aunt.) As you might have guessed from the last post on making Cream Carton Cottages for Christmas, we usually have a lot of black eyed peas around the house this time of year. I guess I’ve always been comforted by them, having some southern roots in my background. Traditionally, this humble dish was served at New Year’s dinner to insure prosperity in the coming year. On that note: I thought it was interesting that all forms of black-eyed peas (dried and canned) had been wiped-out of inventory over at an affluent Westport Connecticut Stop & Shop on New Year’s Eve afternoon.  I was finally able to locate some at a much less upscale market.

So here’s what I do: I cook my black eyed peas in a big pot with smoked pork hocks, drain them and divide the beans in half. I use part of them with the meat from the hocks in a side dish (served on January 1st). The remaining beans find their way into black eyed pea chili. Both dishes hit the spot on these frigid winter nights.

Traditional Black Eyed Peas

2 pounds dried black eyed peas

4 cups vegetable stock

3-4 smoked pork hocks

4 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 Tbs olive oil and  1 Tbs butter

1 diced onion

1 diced green bell pepper

2/3 cup diced celery

1Tbs fresh thyme leaves

In a very large stock pot, cover peas with 3-4 inches of water. Soak overnight 8 hours or use rapid method: Bring peas to a boil for 1 minute. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 1 hour. With either method, rinse peas well and cover with vegetable stock, pork hocks, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves and enough water to cover again by about two inches. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until peas begin to fall apart. Drain peas and divide in half (reserve half for following chili recipe). Remove hocks from broth and peel away fat. Pull out any meat and dice. Set aside. In a large saucepan, melt butter and oil and sauté onion bell pepper, celery and thyme until tender. Stir in diced pork and peas.

6-8 servings

FullSizeRender 2

 

Black Eyed Pea Chili

2 pounds ground beef or turkey

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2/3 cup chopped celery

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1-2 cloves crushed garlic

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

4 Tbs chili powder (mild or hot)

15 oz can crushed tomatoes

15 oz can tomato sauce

2 Tbs ketchup

2 bay leaves

reserved black eyed peas (about 3 cups)

or 2 15 oz cans of black eyed peas.

Brown ground beef in a large skillet. Drain off excess fat, allowing enough to sauté vegetables. Add onion, celery, green bell pepper, garlic, salt, pepper and chili powder. Sauté until tender and moisture has evaporated. Transfer mixture into a large saucepan or stockpot and add tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, bay leaves and black eyed peas. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer cover for 10 minutes. Remove cover and continue simmering for another 30-40 minutes or until desired consistency.

4-6 servings

FullSizeRender

 

Cream Carton Cottages

We all know construction projects are full of set backs and stress, especially when you are building  gingerbread houses! I’m all about shortcuts whenever something ceases to be fun. No more cracked walls or collapsing roofs around here. We make “holiday houses on a base of cream cartons “using egg white icing (a.k.a royal icing) and black eyed peas for stones to bring good luck in the new year. Just add some Shredded Wheat for roofs, pretzels, candy and imagination.

This project is from a kid’s column I wrote for Connecticut Post.

(For easy reading I’ve provided the transcript below.)

 

12 Dec:cream carton

Festive “Gingerbread Houses” without the Fuss 

CREAM CARTON COTTAGES

I’ll never forget my first gingerbread house. My parents had gone out Christmas shopping and I was under the not-so-watchful eye of my grandmother. I decided to take out a coffee table cookbook on Cuisine of the Austrian Empire and attempt a Black Forest Christmas cottage. For an 11 year -old in the kitchen, I didn’t realize the hazards of “gluing” together the sides and roof with hot, caramelized sugar. I proudly displayed the end result to my parents but spent the holidays with my hands wrapped in bandages. I later learned that the safer way to cement a gingerbread house together was to use royal icing, a concoction of powdered sugar and egg whites. Even with that, gingerbread architecture is still very fragile. It’s easy to break your prefab house just lifting the pieces off of the baking sheet and then there’s transporting it to it’s destination.

The first year I appeared on the “Today” show, my spot showcased “edible architecture”. I made Noah’s Arc, Big Ben and a barn filled with sugar cookie cows. I held my breath as the structures were driven down the FDR drive and carted up through the service elevator to the green room. Miraculously, everything stayed intact. Once on the set, Tom Brokaw walked over to the table to tape a tease. He broke off a piece of the barn and ate it. The floor director shouted “You’re not suppose to really eat those things!” At that moment, a light went off in my head. I’d been doing it the hard way! After that, I started using cardboard structures for reinforcement and covered them with cookies, candies, cereal and pretzels. My favorite version is using black eyed peas as tiny stones over cream cartons and topping them off with thatched roofs of shredded wheat. The black eyed peas are a New Year’s tradition, symbolizing health, wealth and peace for the coming year.

Materials:
4 half pint, empty cream cartons (washed and dried inside and out).
tape or paper clips
aluminum foil
black eyed peas
Andes chocolates, mini pretzels, spearmint leaves and Shredded Wheat biscuits
Royal Icing (recipe follows)
spatula, pastry bag with large writing tip
For each cottage, Tape shut or clip the openings at the top of cartons. Spread icing around the four sides of each carton and press dried peas, as if they were stones, into mortar. Spread icing on sides of roof and attach Shredded Wheat biscuits so that they resemble thatch on a stone cottage. Cut a 1” x 6” strip of aluminum foil and roll into a cylinder. Spread with icing and cover with peas to make little stone chimneys. Fill pastry bag with remaining icing. Pipe icing down the center of the roof. Set chimney in the center and use icing from bag to attach other pieces to the cottage: chocolate mints for doors, halved chocolate mints for windows, spearmint leaves for bushes and mini pretzels under the gables of the roof. Allow icing to dry 24 hours.

ROYAL ICING:
1/2 cup egg whites
1, 1lb box of powdered sugar

Beat egg whites and powdered sugar at high speed with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

 

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