Winter Squash and Cranberry Muffins Perfect for Sleepovers

It's December already and I am still sorting through summer clothes and several newspaper articles from last March and April that I was going to read when I had more time.

Why am I always so far behind?

I should be posting about Hanukkah. But somehow I am more focused on New Year's weekend. Probably because I made some unbelievably delicious winter squash muffins recently.

That really isn't a non sequitur. I thought of these muffins because every year we celebrate the coming new year with my brother and sister-in-law and my cousins. The cousins sleep over for a few days. We watch a lot of movies. Watch a lot of British mystery tv (Morse, Endeavor, Foyle's War, etc.). We sit around and enjoy each other's company.

We used to drink a lot of wine but have slowed down over the years.

We used to eat much more too.

(You get older, you can't keep going quite the same way, the same amount, the same speed.)

Still, there are meals to consider.

Breakfasts are usually smoked fish, bagels and stuff like that. 

But every once in a while I like to break up the monotony and have at least one different something for breakfast.

This year: those squash muffins I mentioned. I made a few batches recently and I can honestly say that they are the best muffins I ever ate. I've given some out as samples to my usual "tasters." Most of them also said they were the best muffins they ever ate. 

You'll see.

WINTER SQUASH-CRANBERRY MUFFINS

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup mashed cooked squash (or canned squash or pumpkin)
  • 3/4 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin tins. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger and whisk the ingredients to distribute them evenly. Set aside. Beat the sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium for a minute or so or until well combined. Add the eggs and beat them in. Add the orange juice and squash and blend them in thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture and stir gently until just blended. Fold in the cranberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared tins. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins

 

Child’s Play: How a Young Cook Makes a Perfect Meal for Meatless Monday

And so, another generation of passionate, creative cooks.

Recently I spent some memorable time with one of my grand daughters. She cooked almost an entire dinner for herself and siblings as I watched. I encouraged her to use her judgment about flavors and amounts. She was thoughtful, asked questions and was unafraid to follow her senses and taste buds rather than someone else's recipe.

At each step of the way she got off the stool she needed to reach the pan so she could write down what she did.

In the end: Rice and Beans with Roasted Brussels Sprouts for 4.

First, I must say, she knew to wash her hands before cooking. She also used disposable gloves when she tossed the Brussels sprouts in olive oil.

I watched her pour olive oil into the pan and toss a bit of chopped onion in to see if it sizzled because I had told her that's when the oil was hot enough for the rest.

She added chopped onions and made a decision about how much was enough. About 1/4 cup.

I told her how to rinse the beans, and why, and watched her do it.

She added the beans and some crushed tomatoes and when she said she didn't think it was tomatoey enough I encouraged her to add more. And she did.

She wondered about spices. I suggested either chili powder or cumin and she asked "why not both?"

Indeed. I told her to add both, starting with 1/2 teaspoon each.

When she tasted she said it needed more chili powder. And added some. And salt. To her taste.

As the beans cooked, she cut the Brussels sprouts, placed them on a baking tray, tossed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and placed them in the oven.

The only thing I cooked was the rice. 

Everyone gobbled up this magnificent feast. The perfect meal for a meatless Monday or whenever you have yen for a scrumptious vegetarian dinner.

I left smiling. Still am.

 

RICE AND BEANS 

1 cup brown rice

1-3/4 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1-1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt to taste

 

Place the rice and water in a saucepan over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for about 35 minutes or until the grains are tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. While the rice is cooking, pour the olive oil into a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and salt. Stir to distribute the ingredients evenly. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Spoon the rice onto plates; top with some of the rice and beans. 

Makes 4 servings

Spelt Stuffing

_DSC1763 (2).jpg

Everyone makes jokes about getting along at the Thanksgiving dinner table. You know, like dealing with the political rants from your crazy Uncle Joe.

But in my family we are all pretty much on the same page politically and otherwise so that's not an issue for us.

Our issues, depending on the year and who's coming, have to do with food.

Like making sure there's at least one entree for the vegetarian(s). At least one nut-free stuffing. Extra turkey wings and necks because so many of us like those best. 

Many families deal with food issues, and those become more important when someone's health is involved rather than if, say, someone prefers pumpkin pie to pecan pie or one particular turkey part or other.

Gluten problems have been front and center for a while now. Fortunately there are ways to handle this particular issue. There are loads of gluten free products on the market these days.

If your menu must consider foods for people who have gluten sensitivities/intolerance, have a look at this recipe for Spelt Stuffing.

Spelt is an ancient grain and it is related to wheat but is vastly different than the wheat varieties used for most breads. People with diagnosed celiac disease should not eat spelt, but apparently, most people with gluten intolerance don't have celiac disease and many find that they can tolerate spelt and spelt products.

In fact, that's how Spelt Right, a company that produces spelt breads, bagels, pizza dough and chips, came into existence. Beth George, its owner, discovered that her son has a wheat sensitivity but was ok with spelt. She then set about to create delicious breads including the artisan rosemary bread that I used to develop this recipe.

If you can't find Spelt Right breads and other items locally, but use spelt products regularly, you might want to alert your local market about them. I've tried several varieties including the cinnamon raisin bread, whole grain, etc., as well as a variety of the chips and bagels. All terrific products. Or go to the website and call to ask where you can find some.

If not, I've given alternate instructions on how to substitute. This recipe also works using classic wheat based bread. 

 

Rosemary-Spelt Bread Stuffing with Hazelnuts, Apples and Dried Cranberries

 

  • 12 slices Spelt Right Rosemary Spelt Bread (or 6 cups toasted spelt bread cubes plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large, tart apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds or hazelnuts
  • 1-1/3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the spelt bread slices lightly and cut them into cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl and set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the apple and cranberries and cook for another 2 minutes. Spoon the mixture into the bowl with the bread cubes. Add the nuts and toss the ingredients to distribute them evenly. Pour in the stock, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place the ingredients in a lightly oiled casserole. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is browned and crispy.

 Makes 6-8 servings

 

Cornbread Stuffing

_DSC9813.jpg

There will be more of us for Thanksgiving dinner this year. 

That means: more stuffing.

So, I can always make my Mom's barley-shape noodle "filling" or a sorghum-based version of that.

Maybe my Bread Stuffing with Figs and Hazelnuts or my well-loved chestnut-sausage stuffing?

But this year I'm thinking maybe I'll add a cornbread stuffing to the mix.

This one:

Cornbread Stuffing

 

  • 6 cups cornbread cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 10 ounces fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • salt to taste
  • 2 large eggs (or use chicken or vegetable stock)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a casserole dish (about 2-quart). Cut the cornbread into 1/2-inch cubes and place them in a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the parsley, thyme and salt to taste. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the vegetables to the cornbread and toss the ingredients. Beat the eggs and add them to the bowl. Mix and spoon the stuffing into the prepared pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is crispy.

Makes 8 servings

Comforting Pasta Amatriciana

_DSC1317.jpg

When you feel let down or sad you need to do something special to help cheer yourself up.

Some people shop, some go to a spa for a facial, some exercise like crazy (when my brother was going through a divorce he ran super marathons -- 110 miles!)

To say that the election of 2016 was a disappointment for me is a huge understatement. 

I need cheering up, and my favorite coping mechanism is: eating. Mostly potatoes. So one night I had two baked potatoes for dinner.

But now I need real, actual food, a regular dinner entree. Something more substantial and also comforting. 

Pasta! 

With red sauce. AND smokey with (I use Jack's Gourmet Facon) bacon and (I used Jack's Gourmet Sweet Italian Beef Sausage) sausage. And a little gentle (chili pepper) heat.

Bucatini Amatriciana!

Yum.

Celebration-worthy.

Kosher Pasta Amatriciana

  • 4 ounces kosher beef or lamb bacon, chopped
  • 3 ounces kosher Italian style sausage, diced
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 3 pounds tomatoes, chopped (or use canned tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound cooked bucatini

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over low-medium heat until lightly crispy. Add the sausage and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the meats are browned. Remove the meats with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour the olive oil into the pan. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes or until slightly softened. Add the garlic, cook briefly, then add the tomatoes, parsley and red pepper. Return the bacon and sausage to the sauce. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Pour over the pasta, toss and serve. 

 Makes 4 servings

 

Election. Cake.

In the old days -- and I do mean old, as in right after the American Revolution -- most people (read men) had to travel far to vote, so they started out after church on Sunday and rode by horse and buggy to their nearest polling place. Which could take a day or so to get to. In fact, it might take until the next Tuesday, which is why our elections are held on a Tuesday. 

There was usually a cake waiting for them. Usually commissioned by the local politicians. It was a way to celebrate the right to vote and to pay tribute to the folks (read men) who actually did the traveling to exercise that right.

The cakes were huge (a typical recipe could call for dozens of quarts of flour and pounds of butter and so on). They were fragrant with warm spices and were typically created from sourdough starter.

Too many of us (read men and women) these days don't celebrate the right to vote.

But I do. I have never missed an election.

And I like the idea of cake to celebrate my right to do so.

But I don't have time or the inclination to do a sour dough starter, so I invented my own version of New England Election Cake based on my old recipe for baba au rum, to which I added the typical election cake spices and dried fruit.

Also, this cake is the usual size: it will serve 10-12 people.

It's a lovely looking, celebratory dessert. I'm serving it to my election night crowd.

Be sure to vote.

 

Election Cake

The Cake:

  • 10 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
  • 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit (raisins, candied cherries, dried cranberries, etc.)

Syrup:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 7 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves

Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Scald the milk in a small saucepan (bubbles form around the edges of the pan); remove from the heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar and warm water; set aside for about 5 minutes or until bubbly. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium, beat the eggs with the remaining sugar and salt for 3-4 minutes or until thoroughly blended. Add the melted, cooled butter, lemon peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, warm milk and the yeast mixture. Blend ingredients thoroughly. (The dough will be soft and almost like batter.) Add the flour and blend it in. Add the dried fruit and mix it in. Cover the bowl and set it aside in a warm, draft-free place for about 1-1/2 hours or until well-risen, about doubled in bulk.

While the dough is rising, butter an 8-10 cup bundt pan and place it in the refrigerator. Spoon the risen dough into the mold. Let the dough rise again in the mold for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the cake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake the cake for another 20 minutes or until it is browned and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup.

To make the syrup, combine the 3/4 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in 5 tablespoons of the bourbon and set aside.

Place a cake rack over a jelly-roll type baking sheet. When the cake is ready, remove it from the oven and place it on the cake rack. Immediately pour the syrup over it (while the cake is still in the pan). Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto a cake rack to cool completely. (If any liquid trickles down, it will fall into the jelly-roll pan; pour it over the cake.)

To serve: melt the preserves with the remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Strain the mixture and brush it over the outside of the cake.

Makes 10-12 servings

 

Barbecue Meatloaf

Daylight savings time ends this weekend and I always have mixed feelings about that.

I hate that it gets dark so early and that there are so few hours of actual daylight. On the other hand, I like the crisp autumn weather -- not too hot, not too cold.

I hate that it's too cold outside for me to cook something on the outdoor grill. On the other hand, I love the comforting, warmth-giving dishes I make in the crockpot and the oven.

So I've been thinking about meatloaf.

It's a winter-sort-of-dish.

But because of the barbecue sauce, this one lingers with memories of the summer gone by.

A perfect dish for transitioning to days without daylight savings time.

 

BBQ Meatloaf

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 8 ounces ground veal or turkey (or use more beef)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup beef or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce

  

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, cook briefly and set aside in a bowl to cool. Add the beef and veal and mix gently to combine ingredients. Add the eggs, stock, breadcrumbs and some salt and pepper and mix gently to combine ingredients. Place the mixture into a 9”x5” loaf pan. Spoon the barbecue sauce on top. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until the meat has come away from the sides of the pan (thermometer should read 160 degrees). 

Makes 6-8 servings

Chicken Fried Steak

_DSC1002.jpg

Several years ago my daughter Gillian and I drove from Chicago through some of the border states on our way back home to Connecticut.

We had a grand old time that included a (tasting) tour of the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

We also heard Grandpa Jones sing at the Grand Ole' Opry in Nashville.

One of the most astonishing things we witnessed were the thousands of people Christmas shopping in July in the malls in Gatlinburg (with motel accommodations priced at $39/night so you could shop till you dropped for more than one day).

Slowly we made our way through the magnificent Great Smoky Mountains. That was truly glorious.

And, last but not least, we saw -- everywhere we looked -- a lot of people eating chicken fried steak.

For breakfast!

Chicken fried steak for breakfast!

I love understanding local cuisine and sometimes even trying it. Somehow chicken fried steak smothered with gravy and accompanied by mashed potatoes and biscuits for breakfast seemed a bit much.

But that didn't stop me from trying it at home.

For dinner, of course.

Chicken fried steak, made properly (in the border states), is made with round steak. I substituted skirt steak. Anyone who has eaten skirt steak understands it can be tough, but you can pound it to make it more tender.

Or, you can use rib steak, but I think that's a waste for this particular recipe because, really, this kind of dish is about the fried, not the fabulous beef. If you do use rib steak though, be sure to slice it thin.

We didn't mind the chewiness of the skirt steak. Like fried veal or chicken cutlet, the outside is crispy and the inside moist and flavorful. The gravy is an indulgence.

Glad I tried it, but I wouldn't serve this for breakfast!

Chicken Fried Steak

  • 2 pounds skirt steak, approximately
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 teaspoons water, beaten together
  • vegetable oil
  • use 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour for gravy
  • 1-1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup soy or rice milk (or more chicken stock)

Preheat the oven to warm. Cut the meat into smaller portions and set aside. In a dish, combine the flour, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, cayenne pepper and salt and whisk the ingredients to blend them thoroughly. In a bowl, beat the egg and water together until well combined. Remove 3 tablespoons of the seasoned flour and set it aside separately. Press each portion of meat in the seasoned flour, coating the surface completely. Coat the meat portions with the egg, then coat again with more of the seasoned flour. Heat about 1/4-inch vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot enough to make a bread crumb sizzle immediately. Fry the meat portions a few at a time, leaving plenty of space in the pan, for about 3 minutes per side or until crispy. Drain on paper towels and continue with the remaining meat. As the portions are cooked, place them on a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. When all the meat is cooked, discard all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Add the reserved seasoned flour and whisk into the fat, cooking over low-medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the stock and whisk until a smooth, thickened sauce has formed. Pour in the milk and whisk into the sauce. Remove the steaks to plates and serve covered with some of the gravy.

Makes 4 servings

Chocolate Challah Bread Pudding

I usually don't have leftover challah, even when I make my giant size recipe

But for Yom Kippur I make TWO giant size challahs, one for the pre-fast dinner and one for break-the-fast.

So, for the kids, there's usually a hunk or two left for French toast.

But this year I had bits and pieces left over: crusts from the pieces that went into the French toast (for the kids who don't like crust). And a few pieces of "insides" left from the grownups who picked off some of the crust.

I hate throwing food away, especially something as delicious as challah.

Waste not, want not.

I put all the leftover pieces into a bowl and made it into chocolate bread pudding.

You can't go wrong mixing challah, milk, sugar and chocolate.

 

Chocolate Challah Pudding

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 12 ounces leftover challah,including crusts, (about 7-8 loosely packed
  •                                                                         cups of small pieces)
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Butter a large, deep baking dish or (8-cup) souffle dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the chocolate and set it aside to cool. Break the bread into pieces into a bowl. Pour the milk over the bread and let it soak for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally so all pieces of bread absorb some milk. In the bowl of an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the eggs with the sugar for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture is thick and pale. Stir in the vanilla extract. Stir in the melted chocolate. Mix in the bread-milk mixture. Pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish. Place the dish inside a larger pan. Add enough water to the outer pan to come up one-inch of the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Makes 8 servings

 

GIANT Knish

Anyone who reads this blog knows that potatoes are my go-to comfort food. My magic medicine for when I'm stressed out.

So I'm definitely going to need something potato tonight when Ed and I have our debate-watch group over. (By the time this election is over my potato consumption for the year will be way over the limit.)

So I made a stuffed potato roll. Actually mashed potatoes with caramelized onions wrapped inside puff pastry.

Actually, a giant knish.

And guess what!? This dish is absolutely perfect for my Vegetarian Break-the-Fast, so I made one for that occasion too!

And also guess what!? It's also perfect for Meatless Monday. And also for Sukkot, when it is traditional to serve stuffed foods.

All in all, this is a big, big winner for whenever. Really. Whenever.

 

Giant Knish

  • 3 pounds all-purpose potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large sliced onion
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 sheets frozen parve puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a flat baking sheet. Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and boil them in lightly salted water for about 15 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mash the potatoes until they are fluffy. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the onions to the potatoes. Add the egg, salt and pepper and stir gently to mix ingredients. Let cool. Using one sheet of puff pastry at a time, roll the dough slightly thinner. Place half the potato filling down the center of the dough, using up the middle 1/3 of the dough and leaving a one-inch margin at both of the short ends. Enclose the filling: place one side of the dough over the filling, then place the other side of the dough over the filling. Press the short ends to enclose the filling at the top and bottom. Place the roll, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until the dough feels cool and firm. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Cut with a serrated knife. 

 

Makes 2 rolls, each serving 6 people