Thursday, December 22, 2011

christmas granola

Christmas Granola
The Christmas Trees of my childhood were adorned with silver garland, blinking lights and numerous tokens to my mother's success.  As a school teacher for more than 30 years, she was was the recipient of a 'hundred million' ornaments.  Boxes of mini-blackboards imprinted '#1 Teacher' and smiling worms peeking out of apples...

The gift giving repertoire for teachers has expanded in our time, but my memories remain vivid and inspire me to carve out an afternoon or evening each December for a gift making project - something consumable for our wonderful teachers. When the kids chip in, it connects us to gratitude in a way I think my mother would appreciate!

Granola is a great thing to make with kids ( I like involving them in prep and packaging) and it's easy to personalize with your favorite nuts and fruits.  Our granola formula is the beginning of a great tasting, good for you gift that makes the whole house smell wonderful! Merry Christmas!

Christmas Granola
another formula from our kitchen


8 c oats (Bob's Red Mill, 32 oz bag)
2 c shredded or flaked coconut
(Bob's again)
3 c nuts, chopped
(we use almonds and pecans - add your favorites)
1 c seeds (use your favorite - pumpkin, sesame, flax, sunflower,etc.)


1 stick, unsalted butter
1/3 c brown sugar (we use dark)
1/3 c sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.)
1/4 c oil (we use canola)
1 t kosher salt

3 c dried fruit, diced
(mix it up - apricots, blueberries, cherries, craisins, dates, figs or raisins)
Mason Jars, small bags or other airtight containers
stamps, stickers, pens - kids love to design family lables


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Chop the nuts while you wait for the oven to preheat.  Toss the base ingredients together.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the glue ingredients until combined.  Pour over base and toss again.  Spread out in two large rimmed baking sheets.

2.  Bake for 30 minutes, rotating after 15 minutes or so.  I don't recommend tossing the oat mixture when you rotate. I like it to bake together in yummy clumps. Chop your dried fruits while you wait.

3.  Remove and let cool.  Toss with dried fruit and package in airtight containers for gifting.  We use mason jars - bags sealed would also work.

Our tag-making station

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

pear salad with champagne vinaigrette

pear salad - scrumptious!
Heavenly Pears!  I don't think I realized how fabulous pears could be until my twenties, when I received my first box of Royal Riviera Pears from Harry & David. They were a marvel - golden-green skin, amazing aroma, sweet nectar.  And I might add, a far cry from the canned pears of my childhood.

This time of year there is always a bowl of pears ripening in the kitchen.  If I can grab one before the kids eat it - I love to add thin slices to a winter salad. Somehow that simple addition makes a weekday side seem special.

Here's my pear fix. The ingredients are thrown together to accompany a quick dinner ... and are not exact.  Feel free to experiment with the vinegar, too.  Use whatever you have on hand!

Pear Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
serves 2

 composing the salads
2 large handfuls of mixed greens (arugula and baby spinach are my favorites)
1 T champagne vinegar
1 t dijon mustard
3 T evoo
s/p to taste
(I go heavy on the fresh ground pepper)
1 ripe pear, sliced
2 T crumbled cheese, blue or goat
(I used Shropshire Blue, a cow's milk cheese from the UK) 

Tip:  When making salad for more than 2 ... I usually make my dressing in the bowl that I'll use for tossing.  Tonight my salad was more composed so I made it in an oversized measuring cup.

1. Rinse and spin your greens.  While drying, make your vinaigrette.

2. Put vinegar and mustard in a bowl.  Whisk in the evoo and add salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Toss your greens in the dressing.  Or plate them, place pear slices and crumbled cheese on top, and drizzle with the dressing.

my kids love their fruit and veggies au naturale
(hold the dressing!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

roasted winter squash soup

I've got sunshine ... on a cloudy day ...
Don't you miss Oprah?  I know - she's got her own network - but I enjoyed our dates at 4pm.  One of the first soups I ever made was inspired by a broadcast that showcased her personal chef (at the time), Rosie Daley.  Her book, In the Kitchen with Rosie, was an instant success and graces my own cookbook collection.

I think the secret to this soup isn't the apple - it's the chili powder.  You can start small - with just one teaspoon - and season to your taste.  I adapted Rosie's recipe to what I have in the kitchen but will note changes.  This soup is a feast for the senses - smooth, warm, sunset-orange, with a kick.

Roasted Winter Squash Soup
adapted from 'In the Kitchen with Rosie', by Rosie Daley

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 2" pieces
(you can use buttercup, kabocha, etc. - looking for about 2 1/2 lbs)
2 onions, peeled and quartered (I used 1 white onion + 1 shallot; I've used red onions, too)
5 cloves garlic, peeled (she calls for 3)
3 tart apples, peeled and chopped into a large dice (she calls for 2 but mine were small)
2 T evoo
1 T chili powder (timid taste buds? start with 1 t!)
2 t kosher salt
4-5 c water (I use water but the original calls for vegetable stock)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while you chop.

2. On a large rimmed baking sheet (or roasting pan), toss everything but the water together and spread in a single layer.

3.  Roast for 40 minutes. Every 10 minutes (or so) give veggies a quick toss to ensure they cook evenly and don't stick to the pan.

4.  Remove when the veggies are fork-tender and slightly browned.  Puree in batches - I did two; each time with half the veggies and 2 c water.

5. Pour into a large soup pot and reheat.  Add additional chili powder, salt or pepper to taste.  If the soup is too thick for your liking - add more water.  I often find it thickens while stored in the refrigerator.
Soup to-go!


Monday, December 19, 2011

chili: hard times style

my helping with half an avocado - so good!

Decades ago, when we still lived in the Washington D.C. area, we made an almost weekly pilgrimage to the Hard Times Cafe.  Their Chili Mac is world famous and their restaurants family-friendly.  It was a great place when my husband moved to DC as a twenty-something - cheap and easy for crowds of young people late at night. It was still a great place when we married and had our children - boys who enjoyed throwing food from their high-chairs.  :)

Eight years ago, when we moved away, I began a quest to replicate their gravy-style chili to serve over spaghetti noodles.  It didn't happen overnight - but what follows is our family's version.  Serve it like we do - straight-up, over spaghetti or over rice.  Toppings of your choice make it special and the large recipe is great for a crowd or for freezing.

It is a busy week - just before Christmas and vacation - so I used our crock pot.  But on
a quieter afternoon, you can slow simmer this for hours in your heavy soup pot.  Tonight we're eating it on the run - in shifts as we move through a busy evening.  So straight-up it is.  Dig in - this is a great meal on a cold night!


I had a few different chili powders with only a little left in
each container - so I combined to make the 1/2 c
2+ lbs ground meat, I used 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb ground turkey
1 onion, diced
1 pepper, diced
6+ garlic cloves, minced
1 can black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1/2 c chili powder
2 T cumin
1 t dried oregano
1 t kosher salt
1 t paprika, I used smoked
pinch of cayenne
2 large bay leaves
3 T english mustard (dry)
1 32 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 beer, I used Sam Adams

this recipe works for 2-3 lbs ground meat
1. Brown the meat in your fry pan - add evoo if your meat is low in fat.  Crumble and cook till no longer pink.  Drain and put into your crockpot (if using).

2. Saute the onion for a couple of minutes in 2 T of remaining fat from meat or add oil if needed.  I salt mine to help it sweat.

3.  Then add the pepper and garlic and saute until soft. Remove and add to the crock pot. (If you are cooking on the stove, add your mean back in at this time.)

4.  Add the beans, seasonings, tomatoes and beer.  Put crock pot on low and let simmer all day.  Your house will smell delicious!

5.  Remove the bay leaves prior to serving.  You can serve our chili 'straight-up', meaning no spaghetti or rice.  Toppings we favor: avocado, grated cheddar, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, fritos.  Tasty!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

quick 'rita

Oops - disappeared while I wrote this entry!

Fruit juice, leftover strawberries, tequila in the liquor cabinet - time for a quick 'rita.

I love to order a margarita with friends when we dine out on Mexican - but until last winter, I had never made a margarita at home. The occasion was our book group ... and I was looking for something a little different.  I made a big batch of Ina Garten's Grapefruit Margarita's and they were a huge hit!  The recipe is in her book titled, 'How Easy Is That?' ... you've heard me rave about that one before!  This little recipe serves a weary mom and a friend nicely.  :)

1/4 c strawberries, macerated in sugar
1 c ice
1 oz Cointreau
3 oz tequila
3 oz strawberry-kiwi juice
1 lime, juiced

Blitz in the blender till smooth.  Yum.

10 loves: walnuts

10 Walnut Loves

It is a common trait of my generation - a love of top ten lists.  Did it all begin with David Letterman?  Now they are everywhere: news reports, travel guides, holiday sales, marketing launches, etc.  And our little blog is no different!

This walnut top ten is inspired by a recent gift from our family's DF, Dorothy Quilty.  We came to know Dottie many years ago through DF's Woody, Jen and Anne.  She is a neighbor of ours, living in Winchester for decades with her sisters.  She lives alone now, and we have weekly visits with lots of storing telling, book and movie shares and some produce swaps in summer.  She is an inspiration - a strong, brave, intelligent and witty woman with a love of reading, current events and a little gossip here and there.  This one is a 'shout-out' to her and her amazing spirit!

10. heart healthy walnuts Take a quick peek at this interesting article from Dr. Andrew Weil about the benefits of walnuts.

9. sugared walnuts Leave it to Martha Stewart to have a quick and easy recipe for this classic - great for salads and to munch with cocktails. I also like to quick-toast mine in the oven.

8. blue-cheese walnut cream  Another party classic from Martha, I thin mine with a little cream or 1/2 and 1/2. It is great on top of grape halves or spread on crostini.

7. cranberry, walnut quinoa salad I fell in love with Quinoa this fall. Shout-out to Denise Costello, our local fit foodie, for inspiring me to make this a pantry staple!

6. walnut butter cookies  My kids love making these 'horseshoe' shaped cookies.  Claire has an Italian version, Crumiri, on her blog!

5. walnut cookie molds I covet these - aren't they adorable?  Don't you want to spread a little Nutella between two halves? Or perhaps a little chocolate ganache?

4. salad with pears, pomegranate & walnuts  This recipe from NPR's site gives an alternative recipe for sugared walnuts, but Martha's (see above) is easier. I make a version of this every Christmas.

3. walnut marinated goat cheese  I am a big goat cheese fan and this article was an inspiration for some of our homemade holiday gift giving.

2. walnut-arugula pesto  Yum!  Calling all arugula fans!  This pesto is so versatile; use it on pasta, pizza, sandwiches and to make an amazing potato salad!

1. Our newly, inherited Nut Cracker - Thank you, Dottie!  We love it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

strawberry shortcut

decadent dessert for a busy weeknight - strawberry shortcut

After another day packed with activity, I felt a keen desire to make something special for the kids this evening. It was a typically busy afternoon of juggling schedules, commitments and homework but thanks to a couple of my favorites from Trader Joe's, we were able to pull it off. Decadent for a mid-week treat: Strawberry Shortcakes!

Our middle school student is applying himself nicely this year to his more strenuous classes - but if you ask him his favorite - on many days it will be Family and Consumer Science.  In it he has learned kitchen science and recipe organization skills that make him an eager and helpful assistant in our kitchen.  Strawberry Shortcake was one of his favorites and so when I saw some organic strawberries at the market today (yes, I know they are out of season - but I felt like we deserved a splurge!), I hoped we could make time to use them tonight for dessert.  Ryan took the lead and our combo was a success. I hope it inspires you to make something a little special when the days get short and the 'to-do lists' long.

PS - My DF, Claire, gives a great strawberry tutorial on her blog,

Strawberry Shortcut
adapted from Family and Consumer Science at McCall Middle School

1 tube of Trader Joe's refrigerator biscuits
1 pint strawberries, organic please!
2 T sugar
whipped cream
(we used pre-made Cabot's; you can easily whip your own)


1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Rinse the strawberries, drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Core, quarter and toss gently in a bowl with 2 T sugar.  Let rest while you prepare the biscuits.

3.  Open container of biscuits and lay out on a baking sheet.  I used a silpat but you can use parchment paper to prevent the bottom from 'over-browning' and to make clean-up a snap.

4. Bake the biscuits as directed.  Pull from oven and while cooling a bit, toss the strawberries in their 'juice'.

5. Split the biscuits in half and top one half with a heaping tablespoon of strawberries.  Top those with whipped cream if desired and then place the top back on the biscuit.

Yummy!  My kids eat them like sandwiches.  Could these be supper?  I think my mother did that on a few oppressively hot summer nights.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

sugar cookies and quick icing

cookies, frosting, sprinkles ... oh, my!

Back when our oldest boys were babies, my DF (dear friend), Noelle, and I used to have weekly play-dates (for mommies and sons).  We loved to watch the boys in all stages with a devotion only first time parents can truly appreciate. We both love the holidays and simply could not wait until these boys were old enough to participate in holiday preparations and traditions.  Once they were old enough to sit up at a table and fling food on a spoon - we had them decorating Christmas cookies.  We were determined!  Our two favorite types were sugar cookies - where they could ice and sprinkle to their hearts' content - and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies - that they would drizzle with melted chocolate.  Messy, yummy fun.  Definitely some Kodak moments!

I think Land O' Lakes published this wonderful sugar cookie recipe on boxes of their unsalted butter more than ten years ago and my adaptation is still our go-to for Christmas (and St. Valentine's, and St. Patrick's and Easter ... ).  I often keep dough in the freezer to bake in small batches throughout the season. They are yummy plain, special with sprinkles and a great project for decorating during the holidays. Here is my take and some pictures of our recent works.

Classic Sugar Cookies
adapted from Land O'Lakes
my microplane makes fine zest;
blends nicely into the dough

2 sticks of butter (1 cup), softened to room temperature
1 c sugar
1 egg
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 c flour
1 t baking powder


Make the dough:
1. Combine the butter and sugar.  I use our standing mixer and beat till light and fluffy, approximately 2 minutes.  Then add the egg and incorporate.  I scrape down the sides and add the orange juice, zest and vanilla.

2.  In a large bowl combine the flour and baking powder.  I whisk and then slowly add it  into the wet ingredients.

3.  Dump the dough onto a clean counter or large cutting board covered with plastic wrap.  I then divide into thirds or fourths, wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.  I put mine in the freezer and use as needed.  I have used dough stored up to two months with success.

Cut & Bake:
1. Thaw dough overnight in the refrigerator if necessary.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Roll out on a floured surface. To keep mess to a minimum, you can roll out the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper.  We like it to be just under 1/4" thick for cutting.

3.  We have used a variety of sized cutters - mostly 3" but sometimes as small as 2".  I just check the cookies often - starting at 4-6 minutes depending on your oven.

4.  Remove when the top is no longer shiny (damp dough has a slight sheen to it) or when the edges just start to brown (ever so slightly).

5.  Leave on drying rack until completely cool.  Frost to your heart's content!

love our one eyed snowman!

This easy frosting dries quickly. 

1.  Combine 1 lb confectioner's sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 1/4-1/3 c water in a bowl. A plastic funnel made quick work of putting plain white in a tube then some custom colors into smaller tubes.  Adjust the water as needed for fluidity.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

tropical smoothie

sweet tropical flavors disappear quickly!

This morning we were all a little sluggish after celebrating Ryan's Winter Concert.  It was a lovely evening with impressive efforts made by the young musicians at the middle school.  Perhaps most impressive was how attentive a listener Ethan was!

Anyway - breakfast needed to be a simple affair hence our reliable smoothie formula (see super simple smoothies post) - this time with a tropical twist.  I rely on these so often, especially in the winter months when I am reaching for ways to pump up the vitamin quotient in our foods.  I put 1 T flaked Chia Seeds (Mila) into mine for extra energy.  Get those blenders out!

Tropical Smoothie

1 overripe banana, sliced
1/2 c frozen pineapple, papaya (I used a Dole blend)
1/2 vanilla yogurt
1 c orange juice
1 T local honey

Cougar (our Maine Coon Cat)

Blend till smooth.  My kids love theirs with a bendy straw.  Happy Sipping!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

cookie celebration: a visit with Germain Lawrence

is there anything more inspiring than a blank slate?

I love the way food preparations make conversation easy, bringing generations and people from all walks of life closer together.  Yesterday, I shared a holiday moment with some very brave and artistic girls who reside at Germain Lawrence, a unique facility that treats girls in crisis.

Much gratitude to Stephanie Terry and Karina Nolasco for yesterday ... and for the connections they have facilitated between women in our community and the staff and residents at Germain Lawrence.  It is a miraculous thing indeed.  And isn't that what this time of year is all about?  Enjoy a creative moment with people you love - the holiday spirit will flow!

Recipe for a Cookie Celebration

2 Stations:
  I- decorating already baked cookies; accommodating up to 4 rollers
  II- rolling out cookie dough and cutting into shapes

For Station I:
3-4 Rolling Pins
6-8 discs of pre-made batter, rolled between sheets of saran wrap
6-8 Cookie Cutters - faves from yesterday: gingerbread person, trees, flower, star, angel
+ extra batter waiting in a bowl (just in case)

For Station II:
Frosting; white (tons, please), red & green
Food Dyes; for custom colors
Plastic Knives; for spreading
Frosting Pens; white, red, green
Sprinkles; red, green, blue, white or silver balls
Plates for each artist to contain their work

Trays for allowing the designs to set
Boxes or bags for cookies to travel.

Add holiday music, 'Eager Participants' and a holiday memory is in the making. Our two stations and 4 long tables connected end-to-end served more than a dozen people at a time. Be brave - make a happy mess!

the girls will be bringing cookie packages
to homes in their neighborhood this year