A Hybrid Pie for the Undecided

As always, I tend to get these holiday posts up at the eleventh hour but If you are about to get up tomorrow morning and make a pecan pie and a pumkin pie, HOLD EVERYTHING!

You might want to reconsider and instead bake two pumpkin pecan pies. Why? well for one reason you don’t have to choose between pumpkin or pecan or stuffing yourself with both when there’s simply no room left in your stomach. But the main reason is because this pie is more than a perfect compromise. Each layer compliments the other. I don’t know about you but I’ve often considered pumpkin pie to be more like a side dish than a dessert in that I’d find myself drizzling it with caramel or praline sauce just to make it more exciting. And then there’s pecan pie which is both sinfully rich and cloyingly sweet. The pumpkin layer actually tones that down.

First, prepare the pumpkin layer by mixing together:

1 cup canned pumpkin (1/2 can per pie)

1 egg

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Next spread the pumkin layer into a 9″ unbaked pie shell.

For the pecan layer combine:

2 eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup light corn syrup

2 Tbs melted butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

Blend until smooth.

Now for my secret weapon… Instead of using plain pecans, I like to use about 1 cup (a 3.5 oz pkg) of honey roasted pecans as the salt enhances the flavor (think of “salted caramel”- same thing).

Stir pecans into the filling and gently spoon over the pumpkin filling, being careful not to disturb the pumpkin layer. Bake at 350° for 1 hour until crust is golden brown and cool to room temperature before cutting.

So if your the type that tends to sit on the fence or just have your cake and eat it to, this pie is for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

All I Want for Christmas is Halloween

Not sure when the costume obsession began for me as a child but, in today’s world, I’d be in good company. According to CNBC, Americans are anticipated to spend $15 billion this year on Halloween candy, costumes, decor and parties. The younger you are the more dough you are expected to put out for this day.  Millennials are estimated to average $66 on a costume while baby boomers are more likely to shell out an average of $23 on a costume.

Well I’m not surprised. My very earliest memories of Halloween are of watching Mom greeting other kids at the door with a bowl of candy. They’d be  dressed in what looked like satin trash bags with pictures of skeletons or Sylvestor the cat painted on the front . (How many of you remember that cartoon?) In other words, they were really, really cheaply made and dangerous too! Just ask any parent who had to rescue their child from the neighbor’s front landscaping because, not only were the costumes hard to see in the dark, kids couldn’t see where they were going.

All I could think of in kindergarten was:  “When I grow up (meaning fifth grade) I want a real Halloween Costume (meaning not one of those one size fit’s all body sacks sold at Woolworths).” Today’s equivalent would be Walmart but even those have come a long way in resembling the character you are trying to acheive. Of course the gold standard of Halloween costumes has always been the home made ones. This is where younger kids had to rely on creative parents and older ones would have a chance to be resourceful and make their own… or just give up, say they outgrew the holiday and go put toilet paper on a tree. That was pretty much the Halloween scene in the 60’s.

In my family we were lucky. Mom empathized with our desire to resemble three dimensial beings on Halloween, be it a butterfly, Pocahontas or my talking stuffed animal, Larry the Lion (sorry I lost the photo of that).

Besides, Halloween was a great family photo op for when you sent Polaroids to grandparents. In fact, one year our top of the list Christmas request was for costumes!

I think it’s refreshing that generations after mine began to realize the fantasy and escapism of planning your Halloween costume long after finishing grade school . No more apologizing if you are an adolescent who still wants to dress up as a favorite character. It’s OK now because adults do it too. Long live childhood! So boomers, if you are giving away your age while hiding under a cheap mask, spring for a real costume or get busy making one!

Apples on the Brain

It’s officially autumn and I’d almost forgotten. Perhaps it was the humid, post-hurricane weather hanging over the Northeast. Then again, maybe I’m still adjusting to the loss of my mother just two months ago.  Regardless of the reason, my first reminder came from above: Apples in the curb on Old Battery Road.

They never fall far from the neighbor’s tree.

So now I have apples on the brain!

If this is a medical condition, I can think of worse. It’s a pleasant feeling as it brings back a rush of fond memories from almost every chapter of my life. The first ones conjured up are from my childhood in Missouri. Fall was always ushered in by weekend drives in the country. The first would lead to an ancesteral apple orchard on the Connett Farm (My father was William Connett Boteler) outside of St Joeseph Mo. We would press our own apple cider and bring home basketfuls to make apple crisp and caramel apples. (these presses are similar to those at the Connett orchard)

The next weekend jaunt would be out to Stephenson’s Apple Farm in Independance Missouri. The restaurant  was a legendary haunt for “Give ’em Hell”, Harry Truman. In the crisp fall air, we’d spend hours on the patio of the The Cider Mill Lounge, patiently waiting for a table in the dining room to indulge in heavenly smoked BBQ and homemade apple fritters. (I passed the time watching adults downing apple daiquiris as if these were large 7-Eleven Icee Slurpees.) Sadly, this iconic dining destination no longer exists except in the hearts and minds of devoted fans. All that remains is this little recipe book that I treasure:

Fast Forward to life in Connecticut. It’s a lot like Missouri in the fall from brilliant colored leaves and wild turkeys to apple season. Last week, I drove to Silverman’s Farm in Easton on a quiet weekday .

Once again came a flood of memories, like the time Jim and I thought Mom would enjoy going to the petting zoo and picking apples. (Seven years ago she had become very childlike and it was a lot like entertaining one.) So we piled into the the car along with Toby, our Boston Terrier. Unfortunately, everyone in Manhattan had the same idea that weekend thanks to a radio ad on WCBS. Sport Hill Road, a rural route, became a midtown parking lot. I’m sure we joined legions of parents dealing with “are we there yet” only ours was coming from an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and a barking dog.

A great life lesson was reinforced after that fall outing. It was the journey, not the destination that made the trip so memorable!

Now back to that cherished little spiral bound cookbook from Stephenson’s Apple Farm. My dear friend, Mary Beth Doughty, sent me a copy of her mother’s after mine had been lost. I always loved their apple cake so… 

I’m going to make it for you right now only I’ve made a few slight changes to the recipe. Instead of shortening (I’m not crazy about using hydrogenated fats), I’m substituting 2 Tbs of melted butter mixed with 3 Tbs of vegetable oil.

I’m also substituting 1 cup of granulated sugar with half a cup of granulated sugar and half a cup of firmly packed brown sugar. I think this gives more of a caramel apple flavor.

I also coarsely chopped the apples to give it more of a Swedish apple cake texture. Simply proceed with the recipe as written in the cookbook then spread into a parchment lined pan

and bake as directed (325° for 45 minutes) until golden brown.

Here I’ve turned it out on a platter and it can be simply sprinkled with powdered sugar as is done in the recipe… or slathered with cream cheese frosting and toasted pecans as was done at the restaurant!

Oh how I loved getting a free slice of cake on my birthday at Stephenson’s. Only problem is when my birthday overlapped with Mother’s day and they ran out. Oh there I go again with more “apples on the brain”.  Fortunately, it’s only a seasonal disorder!

 

Charla Molinare Boteler

No posts were made in July for a reason. I’ve step backed from cooking and crafts to share with you my very personal loss. On the night of July 29, 2017,  Charla Molinare Boteler died.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/charla-boteler-obituary?pid=1000000186265893

She was my world, from childhood to the end of her life. Along the way I would be questioned how could I have sacraficed so much of my life and career to care for her for twenty years. My answer is how could I not? She was an amazing woman and mother and we shared a special bond of unconditional love. Below is the eulogy I gave at her service in St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield CT:

Last Saturday night, I not only lost my mother, I lost my best friend and my only child all at once. I was blessed to have Charla Boteler for my mother. She was the fun mom all the other kids wanted and I felt like the lucky one. She was an artist, a teacher, a role model and buddy all in one package- and it was a beautiful one too!

I’ll never forget her walking through the door of my kindergarten class with pink elephant cupcakes she’d baked for my birthday. Mom was wearing a knee length shift and a Jackie Kennedy haircut and could have been cast in the role of first lady herself. But her beauty was more than skin deep. Children loved her because she made them feel good about themselves. She inspired them to challenge what they saw and try to view whatever it was from a new perspective. She explained how that’s where imagination comes from.

From my earliest memories, coloring books were not in our house. Mom wanted to liberate me from drawing inside the lines and encouraged me to make my own coloring books. I will never forget how she handled the racial tensions that resulted from the mid-60‘s race riots. When problems came to my grandmother’s old historic neighborhood in St Joseph Missouri, Mom didn’t hide in fear. Instead, she parked her easel across the street from my grandmother’s house and started painting a picture of it! As the children gathered around in curiosity– they stopped spray painting sidewalks and started watching how to oil paint. She showed them how to mix colors and explained perspective and horizons. They watched in awe of how art unfolds.

During college, I was very determined to follow in the footsteps of Julia Child. I recruited Mom for my gopher and chauffeur as I started appearing on local New York shows and eventually the Today Show. She became my business partner and for years we made the perfect team. I developed recipes and ideas for familiar food companies and was sent around to local TV stations plugging products on morning and noon news shows. Mom was always there, waiting in the wings. When a tower of meringue-covered Toll House cookies failed to flambé on cue, she rescued me by hunting down a blow torch. One night we arrived at a Boston hotel with no place to put a dozen crudité bouquets that would never fit in the mini fridge. Mom resourcefully filled the bathtub with buckets of ice and they lasted until the morning show. No eggs on the set for a cream puff segment? Mom would be tossing them to me after we were on the air. It made for great live television. Among her many talents, Mom was also a human GPS long before Garmin brought one to market. Whether driving through Maine or Manhattan, she would never get lost.

Then in 1998, Mom lost my father, the love of her life. Overnight, the brightest woman I ever knew began fading fast. She could no longer pay bills, keep track of the days or put names to many familiar faces. She would go to Stop & Shop and keep coming home with peanut butter and paper towels but nothing that was on the list. It soon became apparent she could no longer drive or handle household tasks. I’ve long suspected that there could possibly be an emotional trigger for many cases of Alzheimer’s. This is only my opinion and based on anecdotal reports from others. Whatever the cause, life as I knew it would never be the same. My mother had become the child I never had and my business partner was now my full time business. (pause) Mom loved flowers! (AND I WANT TO TAKE THIS MOMENT TO THANK THE BLACK ROCK GARDEN CLUB FOR FILLING THIS CHURCH WITH FLOWERS AS A FABULOUS TRIBUTE TO MOM!) She once described heaven as “a beautiful flower garden where she could play all day long”. If she “got loose” out the front door, that’s where I could usually find her— cutting weeds from our yard and prize roses out of neighbors’ yards. They all took it very well but our home was filling up fast. Once every vase had been put to use, there were pitchers, mason jars and milk cartons holding her arrangements!

It was around this time in the summer of 2007 that I met Jim Comstock, my fiancé. The first time that Jim came to the house, I greeted him at the front door with puffy, watery eyes. It was a hot day and he looked around at the mantel, buffet and countertops seeing that just about every surface of the house was covered with Mom’s wilting floral arrangements. I felt embarrassed and apologized with “Welcome to the house of dead flowers!”.  Then explained that I was allergic to the ragweed and goldenrod. Little did I know that would be the beginning of a budding romance between the three of us. Mom was so much fun that we brought her to pizza dinner dates and parties where she soon became an A-list guest (much like the Peter Sellers character, Chauncey, in the film Being There). She was known for wearing all kinds of headgear we simply could not take off, from reindeer antlers to her safari hat. It came in handy because she could easily be identified over the PA system when lost in Ikea. 

By 2010, something magical started to happen. Mom had always been an artist and even studied fashion design and window dressing in college. A new art form was evolving from her that we dubbed as “stacking”. These are best described as still life scenes made from household objects that were anything but still. Her stacks were usually vertical, delicately balanced and very transient. Because of gravity issues, they often fell down in a crash heard round the house. First Jim– and then I began documenting these ephemeral sculptures on film and entered them in the Housatonic Museum of Art’s curated show “Flower RePower”. Mom’s stackings featured flowers and, as she described, “Stuff that fit’s with other stuff”.

To all of our amazement, Mom won Best in Show for an exhibit called “Art in Alzheimer’s”. This lead to a flurry of attention with gallery showings at Westport Art Center, City Lights and a potential documentary. Mom basked in her fifteen minutes of fame and was even asked by The Alzheimer’s Association to come help lobby the legislators in Hartford to preserve the state caregiver respite program. Mom was so cute. I’d take her to the Trumbull Mall with me in her yellow, “Christopher Robin” raincoat and everyone would smile as she tried to get the jelly beans out of the candy kiosk. Through Mom– others I’d meet would open up with stories of their family member struggling with dementia and I’d realize how much this illness is kept in the closet.

If only those glory days of hers could have lasted longer. On a hot Friday the 13th in July of 2012, Mom tripped on Toby, our Boston Terrier, and broke her hip. After that, we didn’t get out much and every day became groundhog day until the day she died. During those years, I’d think of how much music would bring a smile to Mom’s face. As a teenager, she was star struck by 1940’s movies when actors sang and singers acted. Her moment in the spotlight came in a talent show –She wore an orchid colored gown and with an orchid in hand brought the house down when she sang her rendition of Stardust and Unforgettable. Yes Mom, you could have been a star— you are a star in heaven now and you are UNFORGETTABLE!

Dad’s Day and No Potatoes for Pop

Father’s Day is such a laid back holiday compared to Mother’s Day. No one is rushing around the mall at the last minute looking for the perfect present or trying to get reservations at a favorite restaurant. Dad’s day is pretty much the same every year: gift wrapped boxes of neckties  and grilling outdoors where he gets to be head chef.

Our house has been six months into the low carb experiment and so far we’ve been able to integrate menus into holidays as well as everyday meals. After half a year at this, I’ve learned that potato lovers have an easier time finding tasty alternatives than bread lovers. (If you can’t live without both this may not be the best diet for you to stay on.)

So what do you do when Dad is cutting carbs and other family members aren’t ? I find that dressed up burgers offer something for everyone. Angus burgers for beef eaters and turkey burgers for those who don’t want red meat. You can also cook salmon and vegetarian burgers. For this menu, I’m using the “MMM…” (three “M” treatment) of mustard, Muenster cheese and roasted mushrooms (buns available upon request).

I’ve found that the best swap for potato salad is to use cauliflower.    (I promise this will convert even the most stubborn potato heads.)Start by breaking a head of cauliflower into florets and steaming until tender but not mushy. Drain and cool down in colander while slicing a red bell pepper.Arrange pepper strips on a foil lined baking sheet (always shiny side down) that has been sprayed with an olive oil spray. Spray again on the top layer. Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 10 to 12 minutes until tinged with brown.Cut strips into thirds and set aside. Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1 Tbs yellow mustard, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Mix  this dressing with cauliflower in a bowl, gently stirring in roasted pepper strips, 1/2 cup sliced scallions, and two coarsely chopped hard cooked eggs.Now for the burgers: Before grilling, prep a baking sheet with foil and olive oil spray, just as you did for the roasted peppers.Coat with another spray of olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 400° for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.After grilling burgers until somewhat rare, remove from heat and spread with Dijon mustard.Top with a slice of Muenster cheese and roasted mushrooms.Return to the grill and continue cooking patties until cheese starts to melt and meat is more thoroughly cooked to medium or well done. Serve with cauliflower salad-and you’re guaranteed to turn any skeptic’s frown…upside down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treat Mom to Ham and Havarti Ricotta Pie

Today I was grabbing lunch on the run in a locally popular restaurant. I couldn’t help but hear the phone ringing off the hook as the hostess kept breaking the bad news to last minute customers. “I’m sorry we’re all booked for Mother’s Day until 7pm”.

If you haven’t noticed by now, Mother’s Day is probably one of the busiest restaurant days of the year and, if you ask many moms what they want on their day they’ll say: “reservations at…” You fill in the blank for her favorite place. Of course, everyone has the same idea and that leads to long, long waits and limited menus that often omitted her favorite dish (at least with our family). Brunch is by far the busiest seating so you can dodge the crowd in the morning by treating her to brunch at home and still take her out to dinner in the evening. She’ll feel twice as special, as she should!

This ricotta pie is similar to a crustless quiche. It’s rich and delicious with no guilt if you are counting carbs. I know I’ve been using a lot of meat in posts these past few months while Jim has been practicing a low carb lifestyle. However, if you are also foregoing meat, this works equally well as a vegetarian dish.  Simply add more asparagus and mushrooms when omitting the ham. The ricotta cheese is actually lighter than a quiche filling using heavy cream.

As for the Havarti cheese, grate it if you have a block or you can cut the sliced cheese into thin julienne shreds with a knife.

We almost always have some prepped omelet fillings in the fridge on hand for breakfast. These include grilled asparagus and roasted mushrooms. Hint: the grilled asparagus are super convenient (and frequently cheaper) if you buy them frozen from Trader Joe’s. Typically, I’m not a fan of frozen asparagus but these grilled ones have a nice flavor and, since you are baking them in a pie, the final dish isn’t really compromised.

To roast mushrooms: I always line a baking sheet with foil, dull side up. Lightly grease with butter (this adds extra flavor and helps them brown). Scatter sliced baby bella mushrooms and spray with a light coating of olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and roast at 350° for 20 minutes until golden brown. 

Ingredients:

4 eggs

1, 15 oz carton of whole milk ricotta cheese

1 cup +2 Tbs grated or julienne sliced shreds of Havarti cheese

3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbs chives

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cracked pepper

About 16 asparagus spears, grilled or use Trader Joes frozen grilled asparagus and cook acording to packaged directions.

2  scallions

1 cup diced ham

1 cup roasted mushrooms

For the filling. Combine eggs ,  whole milk ricotta,  chives,  garlic powder, salt, and  cracked pepper in a mixing bowl.

Beat on medium speed until smooth.

Cut grilled asparagus in half, saving tips for the top of the pie.

Chop up the bottom of the stems for the filling. Slice scallions.

Stir in  diced ham,  roasted mushrooms, asparagus bottoms and scallions. Blend in 1 cup of shredded Havarti cheese and 2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese. Spread into a pie plate lightly greased with butter, olive oil or non stick cooking spray . 

Top with asparagus tips arranged like the spokes of a wheel. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbs of  Havarti cheese and sprinkle with 1 Tbs of Parmesan cheese.

Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Tadaa! There you have it and yes you can make it the night before. It reheats well covered in foil in a low temperature oven. Or- you can cover the unbaked pie with plastic wrap, refrigerate overnight and then bake it in the morning. Just remember to add extra cooking time when the filling is very cold.

Hope this convinces you to avoid the frazzled crowd and enjoy the morning with Mom!

Green Eggs and Ham

When this whole low carb diet experiment began with Jim, I expected it to last through Lent (if he could stand it) and end with an indulgent Easter dinner complete with comfort foods like scalloped potatoes, coconut cake, jelly beans, Peeps and chocolate marshmallow eggs.  I never suspected this lifestyle would catch on and carry into the holiday feast.

So this year, we are planning a low carb menu for our guests that I’m sure won’t make them feel deprived. As a trial run, we made Easter brunch yesterday.

My menu inspiration was a Dr Seuss Favorite: “Green Eggs and Ham”.  The spinach filling used is very similar to many recipes for spinach and artichoke dip (sans artichokes or baking in the oven). For the ham, I  searched label after label until I discovered that Boar’s Head Sweet Slice Ham has only 1 carb per serving.

“GREEN EGGS”:

You’ll need  2, 10 oz packages of frozen chopped spinach. You can defrost them on the refrigerator for 24 hours or do a quick defrost :One block at a time, place in a colander and run under warm water until defrosted.

Allow water to drainSqueeze out remaining water with your hands over the colander and place on a paper plate. I usually divide one package into four sections and wring out the water leaving wads of spinach. Repeat with second package.

Combine softened cream cheese with 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 Tbs brown mustard, 2 Tbs Parmesan cheese and 1 Tbs chives.

Beat with mixer until creamy and smooth.

Mix in spinach adding salt and pepper to taste.Slice 1 dozen hard cooked eggs in half.

Remove yolks and “rice” by pressing through a garlic press.

Stuff each egg with a heaping Tbs of spinach filling. (I like to use a small ice cream scoop for this.)

Use a smooth spatula to mold the spinach into the contour of an egg on top.

Garnish the edges of eggs with riced  yolks.I love to serve baked ham and asparagus hollandaise! It is my favorite guilt free pleasure when you are eating low carb. (See my technique for stress free hollandaise sauce in my February 2017 post.)

FYI—

Stuffed eggs are an inevitable way to use leftovers from thee Easter basket. You can prepare green eggs again after the holiday or try something new like this bacon-y version of deviled eggs that really hits the spot and works around our house as a low carb,  on the go breakfast. Simply mash the yolks with a little mayonnaise,  brown mustard and crisp crumbled bacon. Garnish the top with what else– more bacon!

A Perfect Storm Inspires A New St Patrick’s Day Dish

For over a week now, we’ve been bracing for a nor’easter to come up the coast and give us cabin fever (I’m one of those that simply hates being involuntarily housebound). This event just happened to coincide with Jim’s decision to go on a low-carb diet for Lent and my good friend Lee convincing me that I must buy an Instant Pot. Year after year, I’ve been cooking multiple corned beef briskets in several slow cookers before a St Patrick’s Day party. The process took most of the day, so the prospect of cooking one in under an hour had me intrigued.

As I braved the pre-blizzard crowd at Stop & Shop, I caught the corned beef fever that was spreading through the store. The prices had been slashed (possibly due to fear of a power failure) and that had motivated just about everyone at check out to turn a snow day into a premature St Patrick’s Day.

But what could I do this year to compensate for the lack of potatoes and soda bread with the traditional meal? Hmmm— the Hungarian idea of stuffing cabbage came to mind in keeping with the great American melting pot. I once tried this years ago but I had added seasoned bread crumbs or potatoes to the filling. This time it had to be strictly low-carb vegetables.

So I filled my Instant Pot with the brisket (don’t forget the little seasoning packet), whole onions, celery and a big red bell pepper, sliced in half and seeded. I then added about 1 1/2 cups of beef broth (be sure to check brands for sugar– you don’t want it). Once the Instant Pot was sealed, I let it pressure cook for 45 minutes and then allowed it to cool down. The end result is as tender as if took hours.

First, skim out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and drain in a collander. Chop up with a knife (these will be kind of mushy — that’s OK). Remove the meat and slice across the grain and then chop. Next mix chopped beef with the onions, celery and bell pepper together in a bowl and set aside.

Peel away outer cabbage leaves and blanch for about a minute in boiling water. (Note: I use two cabbages so I have enough leaves and cooked the centers for another dish.) Allow to drain on a tray.

Spoon corned beef mixture into leaves and roll up. Place seem side down in a baking dish. At this point, I get even more “fusionesque”after pouring the reserved corned beef broth over the rolls (liquid should not completely cover the tops). I sprinkle them with  grated Parmesan cheese to give them a nice brown crunch after baking in the oven at 375° for 25 to 35 minutes.

For a rich but low-carb mustard sauce: Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with one Tbs brown mustard and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Add chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together and warm over a pan of hot water.

Serve cabbage rolls with sauce.

OK– That was dinner on March 14th…

March 15th: Snow wasn’t as deep as expected but a wet sloppy mess and very heavy to clear off the drive. Now for day two of the countdown to St Patrick’s Day. Remember those leftover “cabbage cores” that I had after peeling off the outer leaves for cabbage rolls? I chopped them up and put them in my Instant Pot.Covered them with some reserved broth.

Sealed the Instant Pot and cooked for about 20 minutes. After cooling down I pureed the cabbage.Then I spread it into a casserole and topped it with some grated Swiss and Parmesan Cheese.

Baked in the oven for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

That night we served it with sausages purple cauliflower and asparagus.

Admittedly, I should have bought some Irish bangers but in the spirit of fusion cuisine I found some bratwursts in the freezer and they paired perfectly.

So now that it’s officially St Patrick’s Day, I’ll have to dream up something else low carb out of corned beef. Hey, anyone up for a Reuben omelet with sauerkraut and Russian dressing?

The King of Sauces is the Queen of Hearts

With Valentine’s Day almost upon us, I prefer to opt out of eating out. Ask anyone in the restaurant industry and they’ll confirm that Valentine’s Day is right up there with Mother’s Day as a disappointing dining experience. Besides, it’s hardly a night to be part of a crowd.

This year, I decided to surprise Jim with one of his favorites for dinner, swordfish. No chocolates while on a low carb diet so I decided to crown the swordfish steak with my favorite, king of sauces. Hollandaise is sinfully indulgent without having to give a thought about calories (if you’re not counting them) because there’s not a single gram of carbohydrate in the sauce. That is if it’s the real deal.

The same is not true for hollandaise sauce made from a mix. These products are usually thickened with some form of starch and have a disappointing watery flavor. In fact, most brands don’t even resemble hollandaise sauce if you were to do a side by side taste test. Hollandaise from a mix may be lower in calories but higher in carbohydrates. I think most people resort to a mix because hollandaise has a very temperamental reputation. As a teenager, I tried mastering the sauce the old fashioned way over a double boiler of barely simmering water. It was very frustrating as I would hold my breath praying it wouldn’t break down and curdle.

Then came the “blender hollandaise” phase followed by the food processor version. Both are the same idea. Hot melted butter is gradually poured into egg yolks and lemon juice while the blender  or processor is running. This insures a  smooth sauce. However it’s so emulsified and aerated that some of that distinctive hollandaise flavor is lost.

Over time, I came up with this microwave version that is quick to make, holds up reasonably well and has all the full bodied flavor of traditional hollandaise. The key to making this is to know your microwave as some cook faster than others.

Hollandaise sauce usually works out best in small batches and my method is no different. After all, should a disaster strike do you really want to throw out a pound of butter and a dozen eggs! No fears here though. I’ve never had a problem with this recipe.

Begin with 1/2 cup (one stick of butter) and melt in a 1 quart glass measuring cup in your microwave. Proceed slowly as you don’t want to get this so hot that it explodes. I start melting at 20 second intervals until it liquid but not boiling.

Next, beat 3 large egg yolks together with 1 Tbs lemon juice in a microwave safe glass bowl.

Gradually beat in melted butter

Heat 30 seconds in the microwave.  The sauce should thicken around the edges. Blend with a wire whisk.

Return to the microwave and continue cooking at 20 second intervals, whisking smooth  each time until the sauce is lightly thickened.

Here I’ve served it over a poached swordfish steak and served it with asparagus and minced cauliflower.  Love at first bite!

A Christmas Cake They’ll Keep

Fruitcakes are brunt of many bad jokes. So the thought of receiving one actually causes anxiety for some (as in how to dispose of it graciously). I never had this problem because I grew up enjoying what was the most delicious cake-like confection called Manor Fruitcake. It was locally popular in Kansas City at the time. There was nothing bitter about it as it wasn’t flecked with that strange tasting candied citron you’d find in cheaper cakes. No, this was a delightful, concoction of pecans, glazed pineapple, candied cherries and golden raisins with barely enough moist, buttery batter to hold it all together. Best of all, it came in a blue, western-style tin with conestoga wagons blazing the Sante Fe Trail. I felt so sad when I moved to New York and it was no longer available to me. For years, friends would ship us one and then they stopped as they were no longer in KC grocery stores either. Ok… enough of this. If you think I’m going to be baking fruitcakes today, I’m not. I don’t have a recipe that does the memory of that cake justice.

However, Mom always said the real secret to the cake was in the golden raisins, so that lead to a Christmas tradition I came up: Orange Ginger Creamsickle Cake. It’s based on an old colonial recipe with the addition of, you guessed it, GOLDEN RAISINS! then I topped it off with a yummy orange frosting reminiscent of a “Creamsickle” . The best part about this cake is that people don’t look scared when you hand it to them as a gift. These freeze really well and can be made ahead of time. In fact, it’s a good thing I did that because I’ve been sort of sidelined . (I pulled out my back out of whack shoveling snow last weekend.)

GINGER CAKE

2 1/2 cups allpurpose flour

1/4 cup shortening, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup molasses

3/4 cup hot water

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp cionnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

2 tsp fresh grated orange peel

3/4 cup golden raisins

Creamsickle Frosting (recipe follows)

toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 325°. Line the bottom of a 9″x9″ baking pan with a square of baking parchment. Beat all the ingredients except raisin with an electric mixer on low speed for about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat 3 minutes on high speed, scraping down bowl two or thee times as you go.

Stir raisins into batter and spread into pan.

Bake for 50-55 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center. Cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap to keep from drying out until you are ready to frost. and frost with orange cream cheese frosting and garnish with toasted slivered almonds.

CREAMSICKLE FROSTING

4 oz cream cheese softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tsps fresh grated orange peel

1 Tbs frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy and well blended. Beat in remaining ingredients until creamy and smooth.

Tip– in toasting almonds, spread on a pan and bake at 350° for about 6-8 minutes.
Just one more cake story– This is my fiance Jim reverting back to his childhood title of “The Cake Eater” . One of his family’s legends involves his sister’s birthday cake. As a small child, Jim watched it on the kitchen counter while his sister was having her birthday party in another room. Finally the temptaion became too strong and he began scraping all of the icing off the cake to eat for himself. (I guess some things are hard to outgrow!)

As you can see, these are easy to bake as gifts if you buy pans with snap on lids. I often double or quadruple this recipe as it works very well in an assembly line process. Just add a bow and you’re good to go!