Friday, December 25, 2009

- Merry Christmas


Wishing you peace and much joy this Christmas Day and in the New Year.


With love from the Texas Hill Country.


N.B. The ornaments on the tree were made using Hill Country eggs.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

- Good news, bad news: Thanksgiving leftovers

The bad news was that I couldn’t find Pepperidge Farm white bread for turkey sandwiches. The good news was that Paul scored some at the Central Market.  But there was more bad news: it didn’t taste quite right. Was it because Pepperidge Farm changed their recipe or is this one tradition that we've simply outgrown?  No matter, there was good news in the end: muffins.

These particular muffins have made guest appearances with smoked turkey in the past, so leftover Thanksgiving turkey seemed like a good fit. I whipped up a batch for lunch and we paired the resulting sandwiches with some Fat Tire ale … a wicked brew that can be found just about anywhere in Texas as well as selected Outer Banks groceries, and which, to my unsophisticated palate, insists on reminding me of egg creams from yesteryear. For those of you who have not experienced a true New York style egg cream, there is neither egg nor cream to be had ... rather, chocolate milk charged with hyper-carbonated seltzer water. Maybe the malt in the Fat Tire echoes some subtle note in Bosco chocolate syrup. No matter. It tastes extremely good.

And so it was that Don was asked, yet again, to delay a perfectly good meal in the service of the photographic muse, the better to portray what we enjoyed after our two mile walk through Woodcreek. If you are looking for a way to dispatch your leftover turkey, you might want to give this a try.

Apple Onion Walnut Muffins (makes six, doubles with ease)


2 Tbs. melted butter
1 egg
½ cup milk
¾ cup flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 small Granny Smith apple, shredded
1 small sweet onion, similarly shredded
1 handful of walnut pieces (¼ - ½ cup)


Whisk eggs and milk together.  Add melted butter.  Fold in the remaining ingredients, being careful not to overmix, which makes for tough muffins.  Put in six greased muffin tins (I use Baker’s Joy) and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.


And if you want to gild the lily, whip up some cranberry jelly, too.

Cranberry Jelly

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar

Simmer cranberries and water for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorched berries. Press cooked berries through a strainer to remove seeds and skins, and return to the pan with sugar. Cook another 3-5 minutes. Refrigerate until set.

Friday, November 27, 2009

- A Noah’s Ark Thanksgiving


We had two of everything for Thanksgiving yesterday: a fried turkey and a roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, plain stuffing and sausage onion stuffing, smooth cranberry jelly and chunky cranberry orange relish, green olives and black olives, carrots and celery, red wine and champagne … along with matched sides of Levine family green bean casserole and buttered corn versus Ackert family creamed onions and sautéed turnips.  Dessert would have continued the two-by-two theme with coconut cream pie and pecan pie, but Kristen and her family saved the day from cliché by arriving with a chocolate frosted cheese cake.

It’s a good thing we decided up front to eliminate pumpkin pie and apple pie from the menu, as dinner was so good that there wasn’t much room left for sampling all the desserts. However, pumpkin did make a pre-dinner appearance in a “new for this year” brunch pairing of pumpkin rolls with, you guessed it, two fillings. One was a straight take on an Ina Garten recipe I caught on the Food Network the other night, but the second was a riff on strawberry trifle, as odd as that might sound.

So see for yourself. Snag the original Pumpkin Roulade recipe from the Food Network, cut the pumpkin cake in half after it’s cooled and fill one side with a half recipe of the mascarpone filling. Then whip up a trifling half. It won’t be as pretty, but in my book it wins the prize for taste.


Trifling Pumpkin Roll

½ Ina Garten pumpkin roulade cake
1 small box Jell-O Vanilla Cook and Serve pudding (not instant!)
1 ½ cups milk (whole milk is best, but 2% will do)
½ cup whipping cream
½ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts (filberts)
Sherry or Vin Santo

Cook the pudding mix and milk in the microwave until thickened. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Whip ½ cup cream (don’t add any sugar), and fold into the chilled pudding.

Chop the hazelnuts and then toast them for 3-6 minutes in a 350 oven until they are nicely browned. Cool.

Spritz the pumpkin roll with sherry (I stick my thumb into the bottle opening to control the flow). Slather the cake with a layer of the pudding/cream mixture. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Roll carefully and expect it to sag, as the cream filling is not as firm as the mascarpone version.

Conduct your own taste test and may the best cake win ;-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

- Urban Impression: Austin

Even though I’ve always said that I wouldn’t want to live in a city, Don and I agreed to spend the week at Meg and Paul’s condo in south Austin while they soak up some sun on the Mexican coast. They think we’re here to take care of Katie, their Jack Russell Terrier whose recent brush with glaucoma left her with one eye and a perpetually saucy wink. But the truth is we’re having a blast living the vida urbana, if only for a little while.

Yesterday we headed to the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, one of several locavore haunts in Austin. Fresh arugula, cucumber, tomatoes, and onions made their way into my mesh bag, while we made note of the turnips, pecans, and sweet potatoes that we’ll return for next week in anticipation of Thanksgiving. While there, we sampled some maple-flavored “Dad’s Granola,” which was good, but not better than our Garrison Trail granola blend.  We really should go into the Wholey Granoley biz one of these days. And I actually managed to avoid the kettle corn stand, although hunger pangs ultimately drove us to stop at Chuy’s (pronounced chewies) for lunch … a good thing, as it resulted in a mental note to add grilled corn to my tortilla soup recipe.

Wanting to sample the joys of urban exercise, we headed to Zilker Park, which has recovered from last month’s ACL mud bath, the Dillo Dirt now back under the turf where it belongs. As we drove into the park, a lone guitarist stood far out in the middle of a grassy field, playing to the sun. We picked a parking lot close to Lady Bird Lake and stepped out to join the flow of humanity that was walking, running, and riding by.

Austin has an abundance of hiking trails that appear to be in constant use by a staggering number of people. Averaging about ten feet across, we found the Zilker Park trails to be simple, hard-packed earth with the occasional paved section. Slower walkers-and-talkers stayed to the right, the better to be passed on the left by power walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists. This was people watching at its finest, with every age, color, and body-type imaginable, some more amply represented than others.

There were parents pushing jogging strollers occupied by children who mostly looked perplexed, pregnant moms-to-be taking their soon-to-be newborns for a virtual walk, rock-hard running fanatics gliding effortlessly by, and less-fit wannabes trudging on with expressions of grim determination. Many were scantily attired and/or shirtless, revealing flesh moving in ways most strange. Many more were branded, some with tattoos, others with t-shirts. Burnt orange longhorns held sway, although a Duke blue devil tee did make a surprise appearance. At one point, three women strolled by in skirts, clutching handbags and looking totally incongruous. And if the constant stream of cyclists flew by too quickly to make any impression, the slow, deliberate passage of the halt and the lame imbued them with a touching aura of grace.

Then there were the dogs, every bit as diverse as their owners, from a black teacup poodle to a show quality St. Bernard. A few were muzzled and all were leashed as they scurried, limped, and trotted along, some making their own sartorial statements --a black chow with a yellow Cub Scout neckerchief, a tongue-lolling German shepherd with a peace sign bandana-- and a surprising number sporting bags of poo dangling from their leashes.

Indeed the trails were remarkably clean, with virtually no waste to step over; the only litter a soft shoulder of fallen leaves that cushioned our steps while the overhanging branches sheltered us from the strong sun. Water fountains and trash barrels made discrete appearances at regular intervals, as did benches placed at strategic overlooks, the better to watch the kayaks, canoes, and rowing shells that plied the waters below. And in one spot where the trail dropped down to the water’s edge, families and ducks concentrated on the age-old delight of feeding and being fed.

Returning to Zilker this morning, the trail was every bit as fascinating. I avoided the previous day’s digital edema by grabbing two small, flat stones at the outset of our walk, keeping my fingers curled around the cool limestone cradled in each palm. And one fleeting hour later, reluctantly exiting from the stream of humanity, I spotted a tow-headed tot riding high on his father’s shoulders. Our eyes locked, and as we passed our heads turned to hold the gaze, both of us grinning from ear to ear.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

- Prodigal: A riff on Texas

They say there are no seasons in Texas, but my senses tell me otherwise. In the weeks since I last wrote, smudges of gold have appeared in the trees along the creeks and King Ranch bluestem has bronzed the roadsides.  Though there are no sugar maples to paint the hills red, autumn has surely arrived.

Our days have been full, and like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, my mind has been frozen with indecision. Should I write about the River Walk in San Antonio, the biker rally we stumbled onto in Galveston, the Wings over Houston air show we went to that same weekend, or the pottery festival in Gruene? How could we have been so thoughtless as to eat the chicken pot pie and the latest pasta concoction before taking pictures for the blog? When will I ever find time to make paper, create new recipes, and write now that I’m working full-time?

Oh yes. I have rejoined the world of the gainfully employed, leaving at 7:00 each morning for the Alkek Library at Texas State University in San Marcos. The drive is a marvel, the ground cloaked in swaths of early morning fog as the sun gilds the edges of the hills. My mind is filled each day with the esoteric details of government documents, then I return home just as the sun slips back behind the hills, the GPS flickering into night mode.

Weekend time has regained its urgency, with never enough of it to spend on all the wish lists and projects. But today, as I threaded through the crowded aisles at the Brookshire Brothers grocery store, I spotted apple cider and knew that time had to be found for an unscheduled project. So I made an extra stop at Ace Hardware and bought a new deep fryer. Tomorrow, I’ll be sure to take a picture.

Doughnuts (2 dozen)
3 Tbs. softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour (sifted)
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk

Makes very soft dough which can be hard to handle, but the end result is worth it. Roll dough ½” thick, cut into rings and holes (I've used a small drinking glass and a little bud vase since losing my doughnut cutter some years back).  Heat deep fryer to 350 degrees. Flip doughnuts when the tops crackle and remove when both sides are dark brown. Drain on brown paper bags and cool briefly. Coat the doughnuts with cinnamon sugar (3/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbs. cinnamon) by shaking them in doubled brown paper lunch bags. Serve with cold apple cider.

P.S. As an afterthought, I tried putting some ganache on the last batch of doughnuts this morning ... nuked a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream for 30 seconds, stirred in 1/4 cup of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips and dunked the doughnuts.  Suffice it to say that this most assuredly will not be an afterthought next time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

- LOL: Meg channels Steven Wright

We may have had miserable weather this past weekend, but we made some great memories. Chief among them was Meg’s tale of her foray into the world of car maintenance.

First, for those who are not familiar with my older daughter, it is important to set the scene. Meghan is a human resources generalist at an Austin hospital, which is a very serious job. She drives a Volvo S40, purchased six years ago after she and our faithful Volvo 850 parted ways following a nasty accident. Since the 850 had pretty much saved her life, Meg became a serious Volvo fan.

But Volvos do have a reputation for electrical problems. In the past, Meg has regaled us with tales of her turning signal, which has an on-again-off-again habit refusing to work on demand. Her solution, arrived at by watching a mechanic test her car’s blinking capacity, involved turning on the emergency flashers whenever the turn signal didn’t work, then turning them off which, for whatever reason, usually resulted in a functioning turn signal … for a while.

Volvos also eat brake lights for breakfast, so our family is accustomed to keeping a good supply of spare bulbs on hand (we got our S70 at the same time Meg got her S40). As we sat around the table talking this past weekend Meg confessed that she had wearied of asking Paul to help her with replacing the bulbs, which has to be done in a timely manner as Meg’s brake lights have an uncanny ability to attract the attention of law enforcement personnel.

Meg decided she would respond to her latest dashboard warning herself. Step one involved single-handedly determining which bulb was burned out. Placing a can of paint on the brake pedal seemed like a good idea, until Meg realized the can was leaking onto the floorboard. Her second attempt involved placing one end of the hedge trimming shears against the brake pedal while moving the front seat forward until the shears depressed the pedal. Having thus activated the brake light, Meg determined which bulb was burned out and then liberated the hedge shears.

Continuing the story with dead-pan delivery, Meg proceeded to demonstrate what it took to remove the burned out bulb from its recalcitrant housing, replace it with a new bulb, and then test the new bulb with the aforementioned hedge shears. Fans of comedian Steven Wright will understand what I mean when I say that Meg kept a perfectly straight face while the rest of us laughed until we were gasping for air. For those who haven’t experienced Steven Wright’s style of delivery, get thee to youtube for a sample.

And so, with thanks for the memory, I dedicate the following recipe from Sunday brunch to Meghan, storyteller par excellence and darned good light bulb changer.

Bacon Potato Omelet (with a tip of the hat to the Frugal Gourmet)

2 slices of bacon (preferably dry cured)
2 small new potatoes, nuked and cut into small cubes
1 scallion, sliced into thin rounds (I found purple scallions at the Wimberley Farmers’ Market)
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/3 cup coarse grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (yes, it’s worth $12 per pound)
1/3 cup diced tomato (the ripest you can find)
3-4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbs. butter

Fry the bacon until crisp, then chop coarsely. Nuke the potatoes until tender and cut into small cubes. Fry the potatoes in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Stir in the bacon, garlic and scallion, then turn off the heat.

Heat butter in a separate omelet pan, cook omelet until eggs just begin to set. Top with potato mixture, cheese and tomato. Fold omelet over the toppings and serve immediately, with toast and extra bacon if desired (and when is it not?)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

- Better late than never: Banana cake

When we went to Meg and Paul’s this past weekend we were shocked (shocked!) to find no butter in the fridge. Meliss had no problem since she was making asparagus roasted in olive oil, but since my plans included candied carrots, only butter would do. Fortunately, Jake and Don made a detour to Central Market and rescued the meal, but …

Confronted with our dismay over the state of her refrigerator, Meg fessed up. Having an overabundance of overripe bananas the week before, she had made not one, but two batches of banana bread, thereby using up all the butter in the house. Sadly, neither recipe had yielded a decent result.

“Why didn’t you use my recipe?” I asked.

“Because you never gave it to me,” Meg replied.

Until now …


Banana Cake

2 bananas
1 cup sugar (1/3 to mash bananas, 2/3 for the batter)
½ cup Land O’ Lakes butter with canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract (the good stuff, no artificial flavoring please)
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts (or both)
½ cup cinnamon sugar (to taste … I like a fair bit of cinnamon)

Mash the bananas in 1/3 cup sugar. Cream the remaining sugar with the butter and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Fold in 1 cup of flour along with the baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon, followed by the mashed bananas. Fold in the remaining flour, followed by the sour cream.

Mix the chopped nuts and cinnamon sugar together. Sprinkle ¼ of the nut mixture into a greased tube pan, then spread ¼ of the batter on top. Sprinkle another ¼ of the nut mixture evenly into the pan and then spread on ½ of the remaining batter. Sprinkle the third ¼ of the nut mixture and spread on the rest of the batter.  Sprinkle the remaining ¼ of the nut mixture on top.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or just until the cake sets. Be careful not to over bake, as the cake will continue to set after it is removed from the oven.

Note: If you only have one banana or not much appetite, cut the recipe in half to make two mini-loaves (as pictured above). Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

- Chicken Soup

Meliss and Jake flew in from St. Louis this past weekend; their first time seeing our new digs in Wimberley. Undeterred by the rainy grey weather, we took everyone on a sightseeing drive through the Texas Hill Country. Perhaps we should have realized that the backseat request for more air conditioning was a cry for help, but no … we drove on, and on, and on through Mountain Crest, Big Sky Ranch, Skyline Ridge, and Flite Acres.

It was only when we returned home that the truth came out: we had turned everyone a not-so-lovely shade of green. Don’s “Who wants a margarita?” was met with groans and Meliss quipped that some chicken soup would be more appropriate.

Not a problem! I pulled a container of Rotisserie Chicken Stock out of the freezer, whisked up a roux, and asked if anyone was interested in having a cup of chicken soup. Everyone was interested indeed. And all recovered sufficiently to head out to Trattoria Lisina a few hours later, where we feasted on fedelini al pachino (no relation to the actor), cannelloni, spaghetti carbonara, seafood linguine, and spicy sausage pizza. The evening ended better than fine as we shared chocolate mousse cake with Nutella and hazelnuts.   


So all's well that ends well.  I'll just be sure to have plenty of stock on hand for their next visit, when we plan to drive up Devil's Backbone and then head down to Gruene on Purgatory Road.

Chicken Soup

3-4 cups Rotisserie Chicken Stock (see recipe index to the right)
2-3 Tbs. butter
2-3 Tbs. flour

Melt butter over medium heat, whisk in flour and cook gently for a few minutes. Whisk in warm stock. Heat until thickened to a creamy consistency. Season to taste.

Monday, October 5, 2009

- The Dancing Bear: A Love Song in Two Parts

When I was growing up, family drives were pretty much limited to the 80 mile stretch from East Williston to Shelter Island, with the exception of one vacation to Mystic and Sturbridge which covered 350 miles. So it was significant that my folks drove 400 miles to deposit me at the College of William and Mary in 1974, and then returned six weeks later with my brother Art in tow for Parents’ Day.

October 5, 1974 was a classic Williamsburg fall day. The sun was strong, as it had been the year before when I first visited the campus with my dad, but even so the first leaves were starting to drift onto the brick walks around the Sunken Gardens. We went to watch the Indians beat the Citadel in football (no, I don’t actually remember that … I just looked it up in the Flat Hat). Then we headed out to dinner at the King’s Arms, notable only for my first, and last, bowl of peanut soup.

Heading back to my room in DuPont, I passed by the hall telephone (yes, back in the day there was only one phone for a hall of 30 women). Robin was on the phone and called out as I walked by, “What are you doing tonight? Theta Delt is having a band and Andy’s friend needs a date.”

Being a young woman who truly valued the essential goodness in people, I asked, “What does he look like?”  And finally agreed to go only after determining that “Don” was “tall and not bad looking.” An hour later, Andy, Don, and a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy showed up and we were off to Theta Delta Chi to dance the night away. Don, wearing a stylish wide-wale couduroy jacket, had a signature dance move he called the “Dancing Bear. That was all it took; we continued to see each other for weeks, then months, then years ... thirty-five years as of today.

* * * *

When Don suggested we go back to Gruene to listen to music this past weekend, I said yes, since I had an ulterior motive: I wanted to get a picture of the Dancing Bear sign I had spotted a couple of weeks before. We went to the Gristmill for lunch, entering just as Brown Eyed Girl began to play. I asked if Don could remember when Brown Eyed Girl was first recorded, and he replied that it must have been in the early 70s since it was a standard at fraternity parties.  Of course.

Turning to the menus, I settled on tortilla soup (much better than peanut soup at the Kings Arms) and Don opted for grilled trout, washed down with Shiner Bock and Dos Equis respectively. The rains came as we ate, and continued as we walked over to Gruene Hall to hear the McKay Brothers. The rain picked up, drumming a tattoo on the roof of Gruene Hall as it ran down the corrugated tin and and splashed to the ground in beaded-curtain streams. The McKays played on while I danced in my seat to the Beatitudes of Heat, Disappearing Texas and The Pawnee Waltz.

Every so often the weather would let up and we’d debate whether or not to leave. Then the thunder would rumble and we’d reconsider. When the show ended, we were finally forced to brave the rain and found ourselves shin-deep in running water as we crossed the street to the car. After twenty months of drought, it wouldn’t do for the Texas Hill Country to ease into the rainy season I guess.

As we pulled onto Hunter Road I reminded Don that I needed a picture of the Dancing Bears. “Not really,” he said. Yes, really. I rolled down the window as he angled for a shot, then we continued on to I-35, figuring that the low-water crossings on Purgatory Road would surely be flooded, blocking the shorter way home. As we turned onto the interstate, the sun broke through behind us, painting a rainbow onto the clouds and then, with the water flying off the cars ahead of us, the end of the rainbow bent down right in front of us, until we were the end of the rainbow.

Magic still happens …


Tortilla Soup (revised 1/2015)

Soup:
3-4 cups rotisserie chicken stock
1 sweet yellow onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced 
2-3 ears of fresh corn sliced off the cob (if you can get it)

1 jalapeno and/or poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup or more of fresh tomatoes, diced
2 cups leftover chicken meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs flour cooked into a light roux and mixed with 1 cup of stock (optional)
Salt, black pepper, and Chipotle chile powder to taste

Toppings:
Corn tortilla chips (I’m partial to On the Border)
Grated cheese (Monterey Jack and a bit of Cotilla)
Fresh cilantro leaves
Avocado slices
Lime wedges

Heat the chicken stock over medium heat, add the diced onion and corn, simmer for 10 minutes or so while you chop the peppers and dice the chicken. Add the peppers, chicken and roux (optional, add if you want the soup to be more stew-like), then cook gently while you chop and then add the tomatoes. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve once everything is well heated through, being careful not to overcook.

Prep bowls with cheese and crushed corn chips, ladle on the soup, then top with cilantro leaves and avocado slices. Serve with wedges of lime and extra toppings, which can be added to taste.  Ice cold beer is also highly recommended ... Negra Modelo or Shiner Bock come to mind.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

- On Pictures

For those of you who are less familiar with blogs, please note that you can enlarge pictures to see more detail by clicking on them (one click will do, but two won't hurt).

Also, belated credit to Don, who has been taking a lot of the photos for I'm Going to Texas.  You can see more of his work at http://www.wimberleyphoto.blogspot.com/.  

Saturday, October 3, 2009

- The Mother of Invention: Making paper

I know, I know … it’s been ten days, but I’ve been busy working on a recipe. And just to put the delay into perspective, when Cory and Paul recently wagered a $100 bottle of wine, they gave Meghan, Danielle and Kristen six weeks to come up with four bagel recipes. That’s a week-and-a-half per recipe by my reckoning. So ten days for one recipe sounds about right.

Although the truth is the recipe that I’ve been working on has actually been in the making a lot longer than that. Back when I graduated from Catholic University with my Masters in Library Science I put a papermaking book on my Christmas wish list. I’m sure I thought I’d have lots of free time having completed four years of graduate study. Always faithful wish-granters, my folks inscribed “Christmas 1992 … Looks like fun!” into a copy of Making your own Paper. But 1992 was also the year I got promoted, and found I had to do the work of two people when my former position went unfilled. Work took more and more creative effort as planning to build a new library at Colonial Williamsburg was added to my job description. The book was relegated to a shelf, left to gather dust with my needlework books.

Time remained elusive, even after I left Colonial Williamsburg. Becoming a school librarian in 1997 promised to open up some free time in the summer, but between moving to Windsor Forest, chauffeuring teenage daughters, and hosting Friday night suppers, creative time got short shrift. Likewise, the summer of 2003 looked like it had potential, with both girls finally graduated from high school and relatively independent, but the Eastern Virginia Writing Project got the nod and the time. And the independence proved illusory, as Meghan ended up spending the summer recovering from two broken wrists.

Fast forward to 2009 and early retirement from teaching in Virginia … 17 years after first getting the notion, I finally found the time to try out papermaking. Not content to follow one recipe (why start now?), I checked out every book I could find in the Wimberley Village Library and the San Marcos Public Library, then gave myself the challenge of making paper using only those materials I had on hand … no purchases allowed.

Rummaging through boxes in the garage, I eventually found the food processor that my cousin Glad had given me at Robin Acre last year. A repurposed hamper stuffed with needlework supplies for the move to Texas yielded screens from a children’s papermaking set (probably of 1992 vintage), thick cotton yarns, and old threadbare table linens. The office produced an array of paper, including linen envelopes purchased for mailing resumes some time back. Containers and placemats from the pantry filled out the list, and I was ready to go.

My first attempt at making paper resulted in a fuzzy white cloud of linen, more notable for its holes than any resemblance to paper. I did a little better with combining blue cotton yarn and torn up envelopes, but the resulting paper was paler and thinner than I had hoped. I went back to the drawing board.

The second attempt was a distinct improvement. Using a combination of torn fabric, cotton yarn and water-soaked cover-stock, I managed to produce sheets of paper embossed with a quilted pattern from the placemats I used as “felts.” And a planned progression of colors, from white to yellow, then beige, red, blue, and finally green, was more successful than I had dared hope. But this time the paper was too thick. So, like Goldilocks, I gave it one more try.

Dedicating a full day to making red paper, I hunted through the house for supplies. An old red flannel shirt was reduced to shredded rags, red cotton yarn was cut into quarter inch lengths, and red cover stock was sliced and diced on the paper cutter. After soaking in distilled water, they were pureed in the food processor, one pinch at a time, then swirled into a tub of water.

Time and time again, I slid the five-by-five screens beneath the surface of the fiber-clotted water, then lifted them straight up, trapping a mass of red fibers. Having no deckle, I improvised by pouring fiber-rich water over the thin spots ...

... then turned each new sheet of paper onto placemats, carefully peeling back the screens and leaving the paper in the sun to dry. Six hours later, I had two dozen sheets of paper, and this time they were just right.

I’ve got a plan now: a white paper day, followed by blue, purple, yellow, and green days. And then what? A great reveal … on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

- Some Gru(ene) Things

We went to the Gruene (pronounced “green”) Market Days for the first time last Sunday, drawn by the promise one hundred vendors selling their creative wares. Then wandered through the downtown area, the shops welcome oases in the hot Texas sun.

As we got closer to the water tower, Don spotted Gruene Hall.  It was packed with people and obviously not air conditioned, which made it somewhat less than attractive with the late-afternoon temperature stuck in the 90s. Fortunately, Don prevailed and we entered to find a bluegrass band playing to beat all, led by a young fiddler named Ruby Jane.


After settling onto a bench in the back, we took in the screened open-air hall, which was lined with tables liberally carved with names and dates like old-time school desks. The band played under a bank of neon beer signs, seemingly unaffected by the heat, which was only partly relieved by the overhead fans hanging from unadorned rafters. Folks were mostly drinking beer, but as we tapped our toes some braved the dance floor, unable to resist the music’s call.

Over to one side, kids barely taller than the sides of the pool tables played an impromptu game, trying to roll cue balls into corner pockets past the outstretched hands of their watchful opponents. Parents looked on from nearby benches, happy to have found a momentary diversion. In the shade of the hall, the heat finally lifted … or maybe it was the music that carried it away.

All too soon The Ruby Jane Show wrapped up with a final number, the applause faded, and the crowd trailed slowly out into the street. Later we learned that Gruene Hall is the oldest dance hall in Texas. And that Ruby Jane is only fifteen years old. Fitting factual bookends to nestle around a great Texas memory.

* * * *

As I write this three days later, the heat has broken and the temperature is an unseasonably low 60-something degrees. The promise of fall has arrived, if only briefly, and I’m thinking onion soup would be just about right for lunch. But not the standard-issue, chewy-cheese, watery-thin-beef-bullion-based onion soup of restaurant visits past. Rather, a velvety rich concoction, with gruyere softly strung on tender shreds of sweet onion in a golden rich broth. I told you the chicken stock would come in handy some day.


Onion Soup (for two)

3 cups rotisserie chicken stock (give or take)
1 or 2 Vidalia onions, coarse grated (or whatever sweet yellow onion you might have)
2 Tbs butter (1 Tbs for sauteeing, 1 Tbs for roux)
1 Tbs flour
¼ cup Marsala (You have no Marsala? Well then, a light red wine if you must)
½ to 1 cup coarse grated gruyere cheese (I tend to go heavy on the cheese)
Toasted bread or croutons

Sauté the onions in butter until tender in a medium-sized saucepan.
In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and make a light roux with the flour.
Whisk 1 cup of chicken stock into the roux and cook until thickened.
Pour the remaining chicken stock into the onions; add the roux and a healthy splash of Marsala.
Season with salt to taste and bring to a rolling boil.
Put toasted bread or croutons in the bottom of two soup bowls and top with grated Gruyere.
Pour boiling soup over bread and cheese ... stir gently to melt the cheese and serve immediately.
Best with cold ale and a nap afterward.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

- Salad Days

The phrase “salad days” has been rattling around in my head all week and during lunch today I wondered out loud if I was right in recalling that it meant good times. Afterwards, I went to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website at www.m-w.com to check my assumption, finding:

     Main Entry: salad days
     Function: noun plural
     Date: 1606
     : time of youthful inexperience or indiscretion
     “my salad days when I was green in judgment” — Shakespeare
     also : an early flourishing period : heyday

So, not exactly “good times,” although I certainly have fond memories from way back when. I guess what I need is an ancillary definition to cover our recent lunch-time fare, which is replete with salads, no two exactly alike and all good.

We've avoided the “lettuce, tomato and cucumber” rut by taking a cue from the old Chinese menus of the past, which prompted choosing “one from column a, one from column b” etc.  In composing your own salads, try to use as many categories as possible without using too many ingredients from any one category. And if you read this and wonder, “How could she have forgotten (fill in the blank)?” please send a comment ... I'll happily add to the lists.

Greens
Lettuces - Romaine, spinach, arugula, leaf lettuce (either “baby” or mature, blends or single variety)
Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables
Herbs - chives, basil, cilantro
Vegetables – Avocado, cucumber, celery, carrots, beets (I know, they're not all green)

Fruits
Tomatoes – grape, Roma, cherry, beefsteak
Strawberries, grapes (red seedless)
Oranges, apples, pears, peaches

Nuts and seeds
Tree nuts - walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, almonds
Legumes - peanuts, peas, beans
Seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, sesame

Cheeses
Soft cheese – fresh mozzarella, feta, blue
Grated cheese – parmesan, asiago, cotija

Proteins (leftovers are often an inspiration here)
Meat – chicken, pork, beef
Seafood – shrimp, crab, lobster
Eggs – hardboiled, fried

Starches
Potatoes – boiled, fried
Rice – wild, white, blend
Pasta – orzo, shells, linguine
Added crunch – croutons, wontons, corn chips

Garnishes (for want of a better term)
Onions – scallion, red onion, shallot, chives
Olives – Kalamata, green (please, not canned black olives)
Peppers – bell, hot, pickled
Cured meat – bacon, prosciutto, sausage, ham

Dressings
Oils – safflower, olive, peanut, sesame
Citrus juices (fresh squeezed) – lemon, lime, orange
Vinegars – cider, red wine, rice wine, balsamic
Seasonings – salt, pepper, mustard, soy sauce, garlic, anchovy paste

Nota Bene: please avoid bottled dressings … it's so easy to whisk up your own! As a rule of thumb, for two people combine approximately 2-3 Tbs. of citrus juice and/or vinegar with 2-3 Tbs. oil and season to taste. After a while, you’ll find that you can just eye-ball the quantities. Additions such as mustard, garlic and anchovy paste will tend to help the emulsification process along, but just whisking and immediately dressing the salad should suffice.

Here are some tried and true salad combinations, but don’t feel bound by them. Experiment and make note of those that please you.

Greek
Baby spinach and romaine, cucumber, tomato, feta, Kalamata olives, red onions, with a wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Italian
Romaine, tomato, pine nuts, prosciutto, olives, shredded asiago, dressed with balsamic and olive oil

Caesar-style
Romaine hearts, croutons, parmesan, seafood (crab, shrimp), dressed with wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, anchovy paste and garlic … please, no tomatoes!

Asian Inspired
Baby greens, bok choy or cabbage, carrot shreds, orange, almonds, shredded pork, scallion, sesame seeds, fried wontons, dressed with peanut and sesame oils, rice wine vinegar, soy and brown sugar

Williamsburg Trellis Style
Baby greens, toasted pecans, scallions, strawberries, boiled potatoesgrilled chicken, bacon, dressed with safflower oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard

BLT
Baby greens, tomato, bacon, walnuts, fresh mozzarella, croutons, dressed with safflower oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard

Arugula
Arugula, tomato, blue cheese, walnuts, avocado, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil

Mexican
Grilled skirt steak or chicken, cotija cheese, blue corn chips or fresh flour tortillas, salsa of red onion, avocado, tomato, jalapeno, and cilantro dressed with lime juice and salt

Breakfast Salad
Baby greens, bacon or ham, fried potatoes, fried eggs, dressed with a touch of balsamic vinegar

Refrigerator Salad
Baby greens, leftover meat, leftover veggies, leftover pasta or rice, nuts and/or cheese, vinaigrette (like this one with baby spinach, leftover chicken, oven-roasted beets, fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette ... which would have been even better with some pine nuts)

Last, but far from least … do you have a favorite salad combo? If so, please leave a comment and share it with the rest of us!

Friday, September 18, 2009

- Home Sweet Home: Wimberley

We can’t mow our backyard. There is so much loose limestone that the only way to trim the grass is with a weed whacker. Indeed, for the first month and a half, we didn’t even need to do that, given that we arrived at the tail end of a twenty-month drought. But now that it has rained –three days worth of road-closing, flash-flood-warning heavy rain– the temperatures have dropped into the eighties and the grass is growing.


Which is to say, we’ve been outside all week. The house we are renting has sod out front, but no other landscaping to speak of. There is a pile of limestone leftover from the house construction and a lot of bare dirt. So we had a load of mulch delivered and are in the process of moving chunks of limestone from the pile in the backyard to the edge of the cement walkway, which is being trenched and leveled.


We’re doing all of this very carefully, having heard that Texas critters like to hang out in rock piles. So far so good. And we’ve got to make hay while the sun shines, because El Nino is coming. Yes, more rain … in abundance. At least that’s what I’m expecting, having experienced the El Nino of 1998 that dropped so much rain on Virginia that it delayed our move into Hempstead Road. It's true that weather predictions are notoriously unreliable, but we’re taking everyone at their word and getting the soil protected while we can.

Of course, all this yard work requires a tremendous amount of energy (mildly sardonic tone here), giving me just the excuse I needed to dredge up an old favorite from the recipe book. Only what I found was I actually had three versions of Crème Brûlée French Toast, which have been conflated into this fourth and, for now, final version. Crusty on the top and dripping with caramel on the bottom, you won’t need any maple syrup … just a good hot cup of coffee and a way to burn off the calories.

Crème Brûlée French Toast (for two, with leftovers if you’re good)

3-4 cups bread cubes (please use a good crusty loaf, preferably stale)
1 egg and 1 yolk
1/3 cup heavy cream*
2/3 cup milk*
½ tsp vanilla
3 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup brown sugar

Melt the butter and brown sugar.
Pour the caramel-to-be into the bottom of a buttered 1 ½ or 2 quart baking dish.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream and vanilla.
Put the bread in the casserole and top with the egg mixture.
Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for half an hour. Take out when golden brown and set.

Decision point: do you want a chewy caramel base or a soft caramel base (as seen here)?
For chewy, just pop the casserole straight into the oven.
For soft, put the casserole in a pie plate in the oven and then add 2 cups of water to the pie plate.
This is a custard, after all, and a water bath will give a gentler set to the end product.

* Note: I have used 1 cup half-and-half (either regular or fat-free) in place of milk and cream. It’s not quite as good, but it gets the job done.

Monday, September 14, 2009

- Everything but the Cluck: Rotisserie chicken

There’s an old expression that you can cook every part of a pig, except the oink. Well, one of the reasons I don’t begrudge the food store six dollars for a good rotisserie chicken is that I use everything but the cluck. After Friday Night Supper comes Saturday lunch, and while I have been known to warm up the bread and chicken as a perfectly respectable lunch, I tend to get more positive feedback when I make chicken salad. Fresh herbs are key, so Don and I headed out the other day to pick up chives, parsley, basil, and rosemary at the local feed and seed.


Once stripped of the usable meat, the remaining chicken bones, skin, and whatever drippings lurk in the bottom of the plastic shell are dispatched to a stock pot. A minimalist, I do not add anything but water to cover the remains of the chicken, bring the pot to a boil, and then reduce it to a simmer for a couple of hours. The result is liquid gold, aka Rotisserie Chicken Stock. But a caution is in order: if you want a good basic stock, it is best to avoid rotisserie chickens flavored with lemon pepper, barbecue sauce, etc. Strained and frozen, the stock can be kept for another day, another recipe.

Saturday Chicken Salad

Chunks of leftover rotisserie chicken
Finely diced celery
Finely diced cucumber … I’m partial to the seedless English variety
Toasted almonds or pine nuts
Chopped herbs … parsley, chives, and/or rosemary work well
Chopped olives … kalamata or green olives in brine
Finely diced shallots or thinly sliced scallions
Mayonnaise
Dash of Montreal Steak seasoning

Yes, yes … I know there are no amounts, but I don’t know how much chicken you have leftover. This is where you have to channel your inner chef … cut some stuff up, throw it together, taste it and adjust. It's also what I call the cook’s privilege: getting a taste beforehand, not to mention the applause afterward.

Serve on bread if you must, but I prefer good multi-grain crackers such as Fresh Market Lavasch or Kashi TLC Stoneground 7-Grain.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

- Let’s do Brunch: Cinnamon rolls

I should have learned after the great bagel caper a couple of weeks ago that I really don’t need to bring anything to an Austin brunch, but East Coast habits die hard.  I asked Tasha if I could bring something today and she graciously permitted me to do so, but once again I needn’t have bothered. What an amazing spread she and Mike put on for us at their home in Dripping Springs:
  • Made-to-order espresso in more flavors than I can count
  • Fresh smoked Alaska Silver Salmon that Tasha caught a couple of weeks ago in Alaska
  • Bagels and cream cheese (some with the aforementioned salmon blended in)
  • Egg casseroles, one with feta and spinach, the other with peppers and sausage
  • Fresh fruit and biscotti
  • Did I mention the fresh smoked salmon? I did? It’s worth repeating … it was that amazing
We sat outside under cloudy skies, thoroughly enjoying the 80 degree temperatures, the view of Sunset Canyon and some great conversation. There were plenty of Cinnamon Knots leftover, but not much else. So, lesson learned … until next time.

Cinnamon Knots (makes 32 small rolls)

1 Tbs. yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup lukewarm water (total)
2 cups bread flour
2 Tbs. wheat gluten
½ tsp kosher salt
Optional: Grated nutmeg to taste
1 Tbs. melted butter (for dough)
6 Tbs. melted butter (for coating)
1 cup cinnamon sugar

Put ¼ cup lukewarm water in a cup; add yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put flour, gluten, salt, nutmeg (optional) and melted butter in a food processor bowl.
When the yeast starts bubbling, add it to the dry ingredients along with the rest of the water.
The dough should be fairly wet as you process it … add more flour until the dough gathers and no longer sticks to the sides of the food processor.
Remove the dough, add enough flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.
Knead into a flattened disk, cover the bowl with a wet towel and let it rise for one hour.
Put the melted butter and cinnamon sugar into two shallow rimmed bowls.
Divide the dough into two halves and set one half aside.
Divide the remaining dough into 16 pieces (cut in half, in half again, etc.)
Hang the resulting fingers of dough on the edge of the bowl.
 




Dip each piece of dough in butter, then in cinnamon sugar, and twist in a knot.
Put the first 16 knots on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
 



Let the rolls rise for another hour.
Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until dark golden brown and firm to the touch.
Place on cooling racks for ten minutes, dip in glaze (below), and cool another half hour.


Glaze
3 Tbs. melted butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbs. milk

Whisk into a glaze … add milk or sugar as needed to get a “dip-able” consistency

- In my Mother’s Kitchen: A recipe is just a suggestion

My Mom was generous with her kitchen ... she actually let my brother and me learn to cook by getting our hands dirty. We learned the basics early on by making chocolate chip cookies, but the pièce de résistance was my first solo effort at making dinner for the whole family when I was 11 (in 1967). Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child, culled from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was the chosen dish. No wonder … we loved watching the French Chef together on Channel 13 (which never needed a laugh track to get us going).

If you have Julia Child’s epic tome, please turn to page 315. If not, you can link to a reasonable facsimile of the recipe. Knowing my Mom, this is probably close to what she said as I learned how (not) to follow a recipe:
  • 6 ounces of bacon sounds like a lot … we’ll use 4 slices and that will be plenty
  • Never mind that part about simmering the bacon rind, we’ll skip that
  • We’ll use chuck rather than lean beef … it’s got much more flavor
  • Rather than dry the beef, we’ll just salt it and coat it with flour, that will save a step later
  • You won’t need a whole onion, and why don’t you cut the carrots into sticks
  • 3 cups of wine?! We’ll cut that in half … burgundy will do
  • And here are the Herb Ox bullion cubes, dissolve them in 2 cups of boiling water
  • Tomato paste yes, garlic no … you know how I feel about garlic and we’ll never miss it
  • Thyme, check … bay leaf, check … aren’t you glad we skipped the bacon rind step?
  • 18-24 small white onions? Not necessary, we already have enough onion in there
  • Let’s put the mushrooms in at the end, so they won’t get soggy
  • Parsley? I just don’t think that’s necessary if it’s just for decoration

Followed as directed, what we ended up with was my Mom’s excellent beef stew with a red wine kicker. I learned my lesson well, and have rarely followed a recipe to the letter ever since.

For the next 41 years my Mom and I shared our love of cooking and our recipes. As a young newlywed I would call her at dinnertime for directions. When we went up to Shelter Island, I watched her cook, although there were certain recipes I never mastered, chief among them her oatmeal cookies and her strawberry jam, both of which relied on her intuition for their realization. As the Internet developed, we moved from phone calls to emails, the better to record our efforts.

Yesterday I went back to an old stand-by for leftover rotisserie chicken, a recipe Mom sent back in 2001. In her email, she started with “Hope Melissa is fine – let us know when she has completely recovered (Meliss had pneumonia that summer) … I tried a new recipe tonight and thought you might like it.” After detailing the recipe ingredients she continued, “Actually, I forgot to buy a red pepper so I did without … maybe you could add good olives [instead]. And I served it on arugula. Of course, I never follow recipes exactly, but you get the idea.”

Of course I did.

Chicken Orzo Salad

Leftover rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil in equal measure
1 tsp. dried thyme (I’ve never used fresh, but it would be great)
1 garlic clove, minced (or pressed, which is what I usually do)
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 cups of cooked orzo
4 oz. feta cheese (please don’t get pre-crumbled, it’s so dry)
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sautéed in 1 Tbs. butter
Fresh dill (my contribution, strictly optional)

While the pasta and mushrooms are cooking, dice the chicken and place in a serving bowl. Whisk the lemon, olive oil, thyme, garlic, and salt for dressing the salad. When the mushrooms have sweated out, add them to the chicken. Drain the pasta, and add to the serving bowl. Stir in half the dressing, and taste before adding more (or not). Crumble feta over the top and serve.

This can be served plain or on greens … my favorite accompaniment is fresh arugula.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

- If at First you don’t Succeed: Egg Salad

You may (or may not) recall during "The Great Egg Debate" there was a bit about some potato and onion cakes. The first batch had to be pitched due to over-seasoning, and even though the second batch was better in that regard, the end result was still disappointing. The cakes were chewy rather than crispy and therefore unworthy of further mention.

Fortunately, we had been to brunch at Z'Tejas with Meg and Paul, so I had an idea of what I could try to remedy the situation. Recalling the fine shred of the Z'Tejas hash browns, I used the smallest opening on my OXO box grater ... which just got the nod from America’s Test Kitchen (in their free online newsletter). It was tough grating raw potatoes, but when I tried my microplane box grater, it didn’t give the shred I was looking for.  So I soldiered on and watched my knuckles. After shredding in a hint of onion (much easier), I wrung out the excess moisture. Five paper towels later, I had a nice dry mass of shredded potato and onion, which I proceeded to season lightly and fry to a crisp in olive oil.

My other objective was further self-education in the joys of eating free-range eggs. A bed of greens and prosciutto made the perfect nest for an end-product that turned out to be picture-worthy. Fortunately, Don’s recently acquired Nikon SLR was up to the task of documenting this new take on egg salad.

Egg Salad

2 red bliss potatoes, raw and unpeeled
1 small sweet onion (yellow or red)
2-3 Tbs. olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Mixed greens (I used arugula and baby romaine)
Shredded prosciutto
1-2 eggs per person
Butter

Shred potato and onion using a fine grater. Squeeze out excess moisture. Spread into two loose cakes and season lightly with kosher salt. Sauté in olive oil at medium high until dark golden brown, turning several times. Keep warm while cooking eggs.

Dot the serving plates with balsamic vinegar. Top with a nest of greens and shredded prosciutto.

Heat butter in frying pan. Crack eggs into custard dishes and slide into hot pan (to avoid breaking the yolks). Turn gently and be careful not to overcook (the yolks should be runny).

Place potato cakes and eggs on the salad. Before eating, break the yolk, the better to distribute the flavor to the rest of the salad.

Friday, September 11, 2009

- September 11

 
Charles Mathers departed this world
September 11, 2001
 
We'll miss you always Uncle Chuck
 
 
Photo by Lt. Arthur Barnett, FDNY (retired)
 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

- Meatballs and Spinach Hockey Pucks




By all rights, I should put the product back on the shelf with an ingredient list like this:

Unbromated Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Unbromated Stone Ground 100% Whole Wheat Flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Contains 2 percent or Less of: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Unsulphured Molasses, Yeast, Spices, Onion Powder, Nonfat Milk, Calcium Propionate (to Retard Spoilage), Buttermilk, Wheat Gluten, Crushed Wheat, Citric Acid, Parsley, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, Sugar, Monoglyceride, Honey, Butter, Vegetable Oils (Canola, Soybean and/or Sunflower), Raisin Juice Concentrate, Soy Fiber, Vinegar, Whole Wheat Flakes, Spent Wheat (Wheat Bran, Wheat Protein, Maltodextrin), Potato Flour, Wheat Bran, Datem (Dough Conditioner), Unbleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley, Calcium Carbonate, Enzyme Modified Soy Lecithin, Cultured Whey, Degerminated White Corn Flour, Soy Flour, Guar Gum, Wheat Starch, Lactic Acid, Enzymes and Soy Lecithin.

I mean, what is this stuff? Trouble is, I love the taste of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing, made by a company which was, irony of ironies, founded by a woman who learned to bake bread because of the “severe allergies and asthma of [her] youngest son, whose condition made him unable to eat most commercially processed foods,” to quote the Pepperidge Farm website.

How did it get this crazy? I know I’ve mentioned Michael Pollan before, but his message bears repeating. And he’s put an interesting twist on that message in today’s New York Times op-ed piece. Take a look, then come on back.

Because the truth is I’m gonna keep using Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing ... it tastes that good. It makes the best filler for meatballs and meatloaf I’ve ever used, and crushed in the food processor the crumbs are unbelievably good as a coating for homemade chicken fingers.

However, it reaches its finest expression as a star ingredient in Spinach Hockey Pucks, so dubbed by a disdainful guest at the annual Laroche tree-trimming party (pictures pending) who had seen one too many spinach balls. But not these spinach balls. One taste and he was converted. Spinach Hockey Pucks became a holiday tradition, a non-negotiable must-bring requirement for entrance at subsequent tree-trimming parties. Try them for yourself. Maybe you’ll become a convert, too. And if not, you can always use the leftover stuffing mix for meatballs and chicken fingers.

Meatballs (makes a ton to freeze for future meals)

1 lb. ground veal
2 lbs. ground pork
3 eggs
1 cup Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing
1 Tb. Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup freshly shredded parmigiano reggiano

Lightly knead together by hand in a large glass casserole dish (take off your rings first!). Roll into meatballs (or be lazy like me and make them into small patties, which are easier to flip in the pan). Fry in good quality olive oil (I know, they say it doesn't matter, but it does, it does ... I love Central Market Arbosana olive oil, btw). If you make patties, 2 minutes per side will ensure a good crust, but leave the inside par-cooked so that you can reheat the meatballs in sauce without getting tough). Drain on paper towels and freeze for future meals.

Spinach Hockey Pucks (there won't be any leftovers if you take these to a party)

2 boxes frozen chopped spinach
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick melted butter
½ cup coarse grated Parmesan
2 cups Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing
1 small onion, coarse grated
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and coarse grated
4 slices dry-cured bacon, cooked and crumbled

Cook the spinach according to package directions, but be careful not to overcook … you want some texture. Squeeze out the excess water and combine with the other ingredients. Shape into walnut sized balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 or until firm and lightly browned on the bottom.