Feeling a lot like Christmas

gingerbread-houses2
The Florida gingerbread villiage.

The Christmas spirit visited me early this year. Sometimes it is more elusive; I have to go searching to find the spirit. One year, I found the spirit in August, which is just a tad to early since we still had plenty of summer and fall to appreciate.

My daughter and I head to Florida for Thanksgiving to visit my parents. With 70-degree days, and a beach in the front yard, you might think the Christmas spirit would be hard to find. But that was not the case. For several years now, we decorate gingerbread houses over the Thanksgiving break. It’s a great project with kids because it takes care of those witching hours: before you can get to the beach, or after the beach and before bed.

The houses stay in Florida. We give them away. This year, I bought several kits at TJ Maxx to make once we returned to Erie. It seemed a shame not to enjoy a project once we are home. By we, though, I mainly mean me. My daughter loses interest. She says it’s because I’m too intense when it comes to decorating. Whatever the reason, she finished her roof and went off to the high school play last night. This left me elbow deep in frosting and candies. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I finished hers.

She was a huge help earlier in the day putting the tree up. I measured our ceiling this year. No more shrimpy tree. I had at least 11 feet to work with (although the highest point is more like 14). The helpful folks at Mason Farms  sent us to the back lot where the church trees were. With help, we picked one, and had them tie it to the top of the car.

Once home, I realized 11 feet is 5 feet more of tree than we usually have. So I needed her help to get it up. We managed, without any significant swear words, to right the tree in the living room. It needs about 24 hours to settle down, so the gingerbread project kept me from obsessing about decorating the tree.

After that, she got a pass on Mom’s Christmas projects for the day. Today, we decorate the tree.

Hope this post find you in the Christmas spirit.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

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Feeling a lot like Christmas
This is a very easy and very impressive dessert to serve. It can be made a day ahead of time and decorated at the last minute. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving, so the chill comes off the chocolate.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make small tarts, unroll the pie crusts and run a rolling pin over them until they are smoothed out. Take your tart pan and place on top of the crust. Use a small knife to cut around the outside.. Repeat. I got about 3 tarts per pie crust.
  2. You can also make a shortbread cookie recipe. Roll into a log and chill. Cut out 1 1/5 inch to 2-inch rounds and press into the bottom of the tart pans. Or use the prepared sugar cookie tubes from the refrigerated section.
  3. Press crust into the bottom and slightly up the side of the tart pan. You don't want it to go all the way to the top like a pie crust.
  4. Use a fork to piece the bottoms of the pie crust. Bake in a 350-degree oven until light brown. Bake for 15 minutes, check to see if brown. If not, bake another 10 minutes. You don't want soft and gooey here.
  5. Remove from oven.
  6. In the meantime, pour heavy cream into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until it starts to boil (about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes in my microwave). Remove from microwave and stir in sugar, butter, and chocolate pieces. Stir until melted. If all the chocolate doesn't melt, return to microwave for about 30 seconds. Remove and stir.
  7. Stir in milk. The chocolate should be shiny.
  8. I used a soup ladle to evenly distribute the chocolate onto the crust in the tart pans. This works best if the tart pans are on a baking sheet. Because now you need to refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the chocolate to set.
  9. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt (trust me on this). It shouldn't cover the whole top. Just a little bit of flaky sea salt so you get a taste with each bite of chocolate. Either serve that way or add sprinkles, crushed peppermint, or crushed nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios would be nice here).
Recipe Notes

This is adapted from Jamie Oliver.

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Squash’s Savory Side

img_4734The change of seasons can be measured by the moon, the landscape (trees turning color), and my furniture. When the sun comes later in the morning and sets earlier in the evening, I spend more time inside. And when I’m inside, I stare at the furniture. And think of ways my home could be more comfortable.

I could spend lazy Sundays reading the New York Times, which I do. But I’m also eyeballing the chair no one sits in, including me. And, instead of contemplating the debate between the two presidential candidates, I am thinking that the leather recliner needs to move to the basement. And I need to call the Erie City Mission to deal with the rest of the rejects that are in the basement.

What I really should be doing is working on a business plan to open a bakery or cafe, but instead I’m procrastinating. If, perhaps, I find the right flow in the house, then, perhaps, the business plan can just be channeled from the universe through my fingers and onto the computer. Failing that, I move furniture. And bake.

I’ve got a few pumpking/squash items yet still to test. I had the most divine pumpkin bread pudding with a maple ice cream in Maine that I am trying to replicate. That recipe will be coming once I finish tasting. But the cooler temps remind me that pumpkin isn’t just for sweets. It can take on savory flavors just as easily as sweet. One of my favorites is to serve chile over roasted sweet potatoes in their jackets or over a pile of roasted and mashed butternut, acorn or pumpkin squash.

The Italians pair pumpkin and sausage, or zucca e salsiccia, with pasta. The faint sweetness of the squash with the Italian sausage is perfectly complementary. It’s a fall favorite around our house. You can make it will canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie) or roast a pie pumpkin, acorn squash, or butternut squash. Or bake all three if you have them courtesy of your CSA, scoop, and stash in a container in the fridge. This way I have plenty of roasted squash on hand for any of my culinary needs because whether I’m baking one or three, it takes the same amount of time and cleanup (very little if you use a nonstick pan or foil).

Mangiamo!!

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the sauce and the pasta, heat olive oil and add sausage. Saute over medium to medium-high heat until it is browned.
  2. Remove sausage from pan, leaving enough oil in to saute the onion and the garlic. If there is too much grease, just drain until you have about 2 tablespoons again. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add the garlic, cinnamon, and sage. Cook until fragrant.
  3. Return sausage to the pan of medium heat. Add the chicken stock and stir to get up any of the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. If the stock cooks down too quickly, add additional stock.
  4. Stir in pumpkin puree and cream. Stir until combined. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings for salt and pepper. This should sit for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
  5. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. With about 2 to 3 minutes left of the pasta cooking time, add the kale to the pot with the boiling water and pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water before draining. Drain pasta.
  6. Return sauce pot to the stove over medium-low heat. Add pasta and stir to combine. If sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water.
  7. Serve in bowls. Pass cheese and pepper flakes. This will serve 4-6, depending on appetites.
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Market Monday: Cool off with Peach Raspberry Cake

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This year was a bountiful one for peach growers in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

When the air conditioning decided not to work last night, I decided I was so over summer. Despite having been paddling on a beautiful summer night. Despite having watched my daughter and her friends go swimming at dusk – laughter and giggles lighting up the night air. Despite loving summer with all my heart.

So, clearly, I was just a little grumpy to come home and find the house 80 degrees inside. I don’t live on Lake Erie; my parents do. When the wind is out of the north, they have natural air conditioning. I live up by Interstate 90, about five miles south, where breezes don’t cool my house unless the wind comes out of the south. I grew up without AC, but got complacent working at home with the AC on when it is 89 degrees outside.

And I was really dreading what the AC guy was going to tell me when he got here on Monday. Certainly I debated putting this off until next year. There can’t be that many hot days left. And the nights are starting to cool down. But knowing me, it will be 95 on some June day before I remember again. So I called. He came. It was a 5 Benjamin job.

So the grocery budget isn’t going to see any splurges soon. Good thing fruits and vegetables are plentiful at the moment. The peaches, which have been hard hit the prior two years, are plentiful now. I just rub them with a towel to get the fuzz off and stand over the sink, to catch the juices, while eating them. Sometimes I can’t keep up with a basket of ripe fruit, so it is time to turn them into a sweeter treat. Given the heat, I wanted to keep the oven work to a minimum.

For this Peach and Raspberry Ice Cream Cake, you make a light sponge cake. You could easily substitute an angel food cake and skip turning the oven on at all. The ice cream isn’t churned. It’s a simple concoction of peach jam, whipping cream and evaporated milk. If you not feeling up to whipping cream, just buy the pre-made stuff, I won’t tell anyone.

Stay cool. Enjoy summer.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Peach Raspberry Ice Cream Cake
Easy summer dessert, best when peaches are ripe.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 6 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 6 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Small dice peaches and mix with 1 tablespoon sugar.
  2. Mix raspberries with remaining sugar.
  3. Combine peach jam with evaporated milk and 1/2 of the peaches. Whip cream. Fold whipped cream into peach mixture.
  4. If you are using a prepared angel food cake, cut about 1/2 the cake into 1/2 inch slices. If using a homemade cake, cut the 9x13-inch cake into 3 slices. Line a loaf pan with parchment or plastic wrap.
  5. Add 1/3 of the cream mixture to the bottom of the pan. Top with 1 layer of cake. Top with 1 cup of the raspberries. Repeat with cream, cake, rapsberries. Finish with cream and cake. Freeze overnight, or at least 6 hours.
  6. Mix remaining peaches and raspberries.
  7. Remove cake from freezer. Slice. Serve with peaches and rapsberries.
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Friday Pieday

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August is just a peachy-keen month. All that promise of spring and early summer is just bursting from the ground and off the trees.

We are fortunate in this corner of northwestern Pennsylvania in that we have peach, apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees that bear fruit. The weather has cooperated this year, unlike in 2015, and the farm stands are filled with fresh peaches right now.

They are wonderful eaten from your hand, preferably standing over a sink or someplace to catch the juicy goodness so it doesn’t run down your chin. My tip for eating peaches is to rub them with a cloth first to remove some of the fuzzyness.

I first picked peaches at age 14 at my cousin’s house outside of Florence. They had quite a few trees, which meant we had more ripe peaches than five kids could eat. I had been making berry and apple pies for a couple of years by then, so I showed my cousin how to make a peach pie. Purists will insist on peeling the peaches, which his best down by scoring the bottom with an X and then dipping in boiling water until the skin starts to loosen. Immerse in cold water to stop the cooking and the skin should just skip off.

It’s a pain. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary. I make my peach pies with the skin on. Just wash, rub off the fuzz and cut into either 8 or 16 slices. If you are lucky, they are freestone peaches (meaning the flesh comes away easily from the pit). Clingstone, as the name implies, mean the flesh sticks to the pit.

The addition of the skin adds a bit of a ruby tint to the filling, which I think makes it more appetizing.

So, objection No. 1 to making peach pie is taken care of. A couple of years ago, I started making galettes. This is fancy French term for a freeform pie. You don’t need a pie plate, so there’s no lifting, tearing or panic. You fold the crust up over the filling, and bake it on a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet.

Roll out a single pie crust to about 14-inches in diameter between a top and bottom sheet of plastic wrap. Freeze for about 5 to 10 minutes. Then remove from the freezer and peel off the top sheet of plastic wrap. Invert it onto a sheet of parchment on a rimmed baking sheet. Then peel off the top. Add fruit in the middle and fold the edges over. Bake for about 35 to minutes.

Easy as pie. The fruit stays firmer because it bakes in about 1/2 the time.

Feel free to add blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, nectarines or plums and create your own mix. The two main rules are is the fruit needs to measure 3 cups and the galette needs to be about 14 inches in diameter. 

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Peach (or fruit) Galette
A galette is simply a free form pie made without a pie pan by laying down a crust, heaping fruit in the middle, and folding the edges over. It bakes in about half the time as a pie, meaning the fruit retains more of its texture. Don't skip the egg wash, this adds some beauty to this beast.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40-45 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
large slices
Ingredients
Crust
Filling
Egg wash for crust
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40-45 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
large slices
Ingredients
Crust
Filling
Egg wash for crust
Instructions
  1. To make the crust, add the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest to a food processor and pulse until combined. With motor running, gradually add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is combined. The dough should resemble pea-sized pieces. Add water, or vodka, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a ball.
  2. Place dough on a smooth surface and roll it into about a 6 to 8-inch round. Fold in half. Fold in half again. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. For the filling, toss fruit with tapioca starch, salt, vanilla and lemon juice.
  4. Place a sheet of parchment on a rimmed baking sheet.
  5. Remove crust from freezer. Place on a flat surface covered with plastic wrap. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top. Roll out crust until it is 14-inches in diameter. If it is still cold, then peel off top layer of plastic wrap and invert onto parchment. Remove second layer of parchment.
  6. If it is still cold, then peel off top layer of plastic wrap and invert onto parchment. Remove second layer of parchment. If the dough is soft. Put in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm it up. Then follow instruction above.
  7. Place fruit into center of crust, leaving about a 2-inch rim. Sprinkle all but 1 teaspoon of the sugar on top.
  8. Cut slits in the crust and gently fold it over, enclosing the fruit, but leaving an opening in the middle.
  9. To make egg wash, whisk together egg and cream. Brush over edges of crust. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  10. Place into heated 400-degree oven. Bake until edges are brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve plain or with whipped cream or ice cream.
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