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#FBS4SANDY–Give til it feels better

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Pot Roast for Peace/Food Bloggers Support For SandyImage

Things here in town are, well, a shade off of normal.  My kids are climbing the walls because trick-or-treat has been postponed AGAIN.  My parents are still huddling by the light of their fireplace by night and filling the dumpster with the water-damaged remains of their basement and first floor by day.  My sister passed through town today on her way to a ten day SILENT retreat, and I almost wanted to jump in the car and go with her!  Oh, and we have about 4 or 5 inches of snow on top of the sand and silt left in Sandy’s wake, and those flakes keep falling down.

We are fortunate.  While our family members have lost a few refrigerators, a furnace, and assorted “stuff,”  it is after all just stuff and we are all fine, healthy with a good roof over our heads–more than many in our community can say.  We are fine.  Mom and Dad are fine.  We have the support of real and virtual communities, and charitable organizations like the Red  Cross.  To this end, I am posting my take on the traditional comfort dinner of Pot Roast as a contribution to #FBS4Sandy, a blogging event from Barb of Creative Culinary and Jenn of JennCuisine. Take comfort in your family, your friends, your faith and of course your food, and if you see fit, comfort those in need with a donation to one of the organizations listed here.

  • Red Cross is providing food, shelter, and other forms of support to hurricane victims.  You can donate directly to the Red Cross You can also text the word “Redcross” to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • Salvation Army is providing food, shelter, and support to victims.
  • Feeding America is providing food, water and supplies to those who need it as part of their disaster relief program.


Give all you can, help all you can, and feed whomever you can!  This recipe is great for a crowd.

This is best with a larger (4lb-plus) brisket, but any cut suitable for pot roast will be great–chuck roast, round, what have you.  It’s a family favorite! My mom always kept the recipe inside the kitchen cabinet, and at my wedding shower way back when, one of her gifts to me was a large covered dutch oven holding a small copy of the recipe along with instructions “to be kept in kitchen cabinet!”

Mix together:
½ c ketchup (I use Trader Joe’s)
½ c prepared bbq sauce
¼ c cider vinegar
½ c H2O (please note that my mom tends to write recipes with chemical symbols, H2O and NaCl being the most common, but I have also seen NaHCO3. Seriously.)
½ c packed brown sugar
4 smashed cloves of garlic
cayenne or hot sauce to taste.

Slice an onion or two into the bottom of a large covered baking dish or dutch oven.  Place roast right on top, no browning required. Throw in a bay leaf and dump the sauce mixture over all.  Bake, covered, at 325F (mom does NOT convert recipes to Centigrade, but she DOES pronounce it “sahn-i-grade.” Oh you krazy medical professionals!) 3 to 4 hours depending on size, until meat is fall-apart tender.

For our comfort-food dinner, I served the roast over creamy, piquant cheddar jalapeno grits with sauteed spinach on the side.  People, pot roast is not beautiful.  Grits are not inherently photogenic.  This is not a plate that will win any beauty contests.  But when you look at it next to the photos of my hometown of Fairfield after Sandy and Athena finished chewing us up and spitting us out, it will do.
Keep the faith, Fairfield.

September #Baketogether Party–Pumpkin Spice Latte Pop’em Tarts

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Hello #baketogether Party!  As you may know, I can be counted on to show up at pretty much any party where I am welcome–and even some where I’m not, which is a story for another day! And, as usual, I am arriving on the cusp of being fashionably late, one day left to post and still be in the running to win Abby’s latest book!

This month, Abby set out as a template a lovely hand pie with a classic apple cinnamon filling wrapped in an amazing browned-butter pastry crust.  This pastry is destined to become a regular part of my baking repertoire–right along with the famous truffle tart and the easy classic boule(baking powder! who knew?!)

I tweaked Abby’s recipe as follows: For sweetener I used a blend of brown sugar and maple syrup. To the crust I swapped out ½ cup of the AP flour for ½ cup of graham cracker crumbs, adding a nice toasty flavor, a bit of sandiness to the texture, and offsetting the extra moisture added by swapping in the liquid sweetener(syrup).Image

For the filling, I combined mashed roasted pumpkin, maple syrup, cream cheese, Trader Joe’s pumpkin pie spice, and a pinch of Chinese 5-spice powder.  This, according to my resident member of coffee-shop society(the 11-year old), smelled just like a pumpkin spice latte! So. . .what the hay, I went ahead and added yet another layer of flavor with two generous pinches of espresso powder.  After all, what is better than a yummy coffee at the end of the party?Image

My first thought for presentation was to make ultra-mini rectangles and call them pumpkin ravioli, I was going to try (a few at least) deep-fried(the fryer came out this weekend for football snack purposes) and serve them with a creme anglaise as the “pasta sauce.”  Big ideas! =D
But somehow once the espresso entered the mix, I changed gears and went with a cute jack-o-lantern shape. Image Which, I guess, makes ME the #baketogether betty who makes cutesy shapes out of stuff.  When you consider my audience. . . I guess that makes sense.Image

I didn’t keep track of any measurements, I just kind of flung this one together, basing proportions on Abby’s original recipe and tasting as I went along.  ‘Cause here on Country Road, that is How We Doooo!

Thanks and #baketogether love! It’s been a great party, I wish each and every one of you could have been in my kitchen for the baking, jack-o-lantern design, tasting, and dancing–the boys and I had a blast.  And I wouldn’t have minded a hand with the clean up either!


August #baketogether–Creamy Panna Cotta/ Boozy Sauce!

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Panna Cotta di Coniglietto–does not contain actual rabbit!

Welcome to the Dog Days.  August: when the three “H’s” cloud almost every day, the cicadas are loud enough to make window glass vibrate, the kids are on tenterhooks over which teacher they will have this year, and the first Holiday Preview toy catalogs (gasp) show up in the mailbox.

It is decidedly NOT a time of year to fuss over baked goods(unless they happen to be for your favorite lifeguards), and our doyenne of dessert, Madame Abby Dodge, provided the perfect template in her August #baketogether recipe for these hazy days.  Vanilla Panna Cotta, with a cocktail-inspired sauce to bring the zing!

I had never (gasp again!) made a Panna Cotta before, so as usual for the first time I try something, I stuck faithfully to the original recipe, substituting only vanilla extract for paste because that’s what I had on hand, and adding an extra sprinkle of gelatin as Abby suggested because I knew I was planning to present a molded custard.

Baketogether is a pretty wide-open baking initiative, rules-wise–but this month Abby did exhort us to “capitalize on one of summer’s shining stars” in the sauce–hers was inspired by a berry- and-gin cocktail known as a brezza fresca.  So my original impulse toward espresso/mocha flavor profile kind of fizzled.  What summer fruit pairs well with espresso?  Anyone?  I’m stumped!  Hmmm, what other shining summer stars tickle my palate these days?  I’m glad you asked.  This summer, I have been hitting the watermelon. . .hard.  Watermelon sorbets, watermelon salads, watermelon as the star of fruity kebabs. . .I had done everything but drink it!

Now, I’ve drunk it.  As the base for my sauce, I whizzed up a batch of Margaritas de Sandia, or watermelon margaritas, plussed up with that other shining summer star: basil!  Now, since I have never made a cocktail before, I stuck faithfully. . .ARE YOU LAUGHING YET??!!  YOU SHOULD BE!   To me, mixing cocktails is more a “throw it in and drink it” endeavor than a “follow a recipe” thing. . .to this end, I threw about a shot and a half of silver tequila, the juice of a pretty small lime, maybe 8 or 9 leaves of basil,  coarsely chopped,a shake of salt and enough chunks of watermelon to fill the blender about ¾ full. Some Cointreau would be great in there too if you have it!  Whizz whizzz  whizzzz. . .eh ben voila.   Drink it, or use it as a sauce for a rich, smoooooth vanilla lovely.  Garnish with a confetti of mixed summer fruit.  Bunny face optional.

Ricotta Panna Cotta with Watermelon-Basil Margarita #Baketogether

Makes 6 servings
For the Panna Cotta
1/4 cup water
1  1 /4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
1 1/2 cups (13 1/8 ounces) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup ( 3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch table salt
For the Watermelon Basil Sauce
About 3 cups cubed seedless watermelon
juice of one lime
8 leaves freshly picked basil, chopped
1 oz of silver tequila, or more or less to taste
dash kosher salt.
To make the panna cotta:
1. Have ready 6 small dessert glasses, cups or bunny/teddy molds and make room in the frig.

I have a lot of random stuff in inventory. . .

2. Put the water in a 1 cup Pyrex measure or a small, heatproof ramekin and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Set aside to soften. Once the gelatin has absorbed the water and is plump, microwave briefly until it is completely melted, about 1 minute.
3. Put the melted gelatin, ricotta, sugar, vanilla and salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth and well blended. Pour into the prepared glasses,bowls, bunny or teddy molds. Cover the tops with plastic. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
To make the sauce:
1. Whizz all ingredients in a blender until liquified and no large flecks of basil can be seen.

To serve:
Pool sauce onto serving plate and carefully unmold panna cotta in center.  Garnish with additional fruits such as kiwi, cantaloupe, more watermelon and tiny basil leaves.

The grown-up version. Oh yes.

If serving children, you may eliminate the tequila, and maybe the basil too depending on whether the child in question will freak out over green flecks in his sauce.

Bunny and Teddy: because just a bunny wasn’t weird enough.

If serving children who do not tolerate any sauce under any circumstances whatsoever, a fruit kebab makes a lovely accompaniment.

Plenty of crazy over here.

Thanks as always to Abby and my comrades in #baketogether.  Recipes can make you smile, make you remember, move you forward or bring you together.  They can also just end up being pretty freakin’ funny and making you laugh out loud(tequila optional)!



Luxurious Leftovers, or, I call it “The Allison”

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My kind of mash-up.

Do you have a sister-in-law who is just cool? The kind who feels more like a real sister than one “in-law?” I am lucky enough to say that I have one’a those!

Allison is the relative who will make sure ALL the kids (we are talking ten. Ten kids) are front and center in the Memorial Day Parade crowd. The one who will grab her nephew and walk right up to the dude launching flying paper lanterns in the crowd before the fireworks, just because she saw a spark of interest and wonder in his eyes. The one who yells louder than all ten kids for the ice cream truck, puts the worm on the hook, finds the best bottle of wine for under ten bucks and brings it to you, just because. Teacher, mom, partner-in-crime, die-hard Madonna fan, Scorpio.

One of her favorite things is Alaskan King Crab. So, when he saw Stew’s special this week (lowest price in three years!), my husband decided a little crab fiesta was in order, with his sister the crab-eater and our families chilling in the backyard. The crab legs were fab, the company great, and all the little people swam, played tag and told ghost stories. Even a sudden thunderstorm and downpour did not chase brother and sister inside until they finished slurping the heavenly crab!

In addition to the crustacean love, we ransacked the garden for basil and heirloom tomatoes, yummy with fresh mozzarella. Allison loved them almost as much as she loved the crab, so tonight’s dinner is a mash-up of the bounty of the garden and the bounty of the sea, the kind of leftovers that transcend the original. I call it “The Allison”

First, take your leftover THESE:

crustacean celebration!

mix the cleaned, flaked meat with some mayo, grated parmeggiano and a squeeze of THIS:

lemon love

broil til bubbly, it will look like THIS:

delish on a cracker, baguette or anything, really. . .

scoop onto a slice of garden tomato seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  EAT IT RIGHT AWAY,  or, top with fresh mozzarella, basil and a little balsamic vinegar.  

hello, dinner!

YUM.  Perfect with a very cold vinho verde from Portugal(under $10).Wish Allison were here to eat it with me!

CMP Shortcakes, or, the tastes of my childhood #baketogether

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We are in the thick of summer–schedules relaxed, bodies tan and the morning rush to school and work a distant memory.  During these lazy–and often crazy–days, I find myself thinking about my childhood summers: so similar to, and yet so different from my kids’.

How did I spend those long, hot days in the seventies suburbs?  There were lots of beach days, bike rides, and running in a pack with the kids from the block playing Ghost in the Graveyard while the fireflies came out. One o’clock, Two o’clock. . . Twelve Miiiidniiiight!  We stood ankle deep in the brook, looking for frogs and newts, our ears finely tuned to the particular frequency of the ice-cream truck bell.  When the streetlights came on, it was time to head home for dinner.  Summer.

My mom, a nurse, worked part-time evenings so a few days per week, dad gave us dinner.  If mom hadn’t left something, we enjoyed hot dogs and beans, mac and cheese from the blue box, or pizza from Lou’s down at the corner.  After dinner on those hot and humid summer nights, we looked forward to one thing–Dairy Queen!

Our DQ in town is only open seasonally( in winter, a Christmas tree farmer sets up shop there).  It’s a smallish stand,  with one walk-up window, plunked right in front of the train tracks.  You check out the posters plastered to the large plate glass windows to make your selection–in those days, Dilly Bars, Buster Bars, The CMP Sundae (for chocolate, marshmallow, peanut)or the Mr. Misty Freeze were popular along with cones dipped in chocolate, butterscotch, or cherry coating–the kind that hardens on the ice cream like a shell.  Once we waited in line (which could snake around three sides of the building) and got our cones, we would sit on the hood of the Datsun slurping ice cream and counting trains while Moonshadow or Dream Weaver played behind us on the AM radio.  Our cones sometimes dripped down our forearms despite dad’s  famous “lick-around.”  Summer.

Now, AS IF that weren’t enough to plant a lifelong love of DQ in my little mind(and trust me, it totally was!), there was another figure who looms large in my childhood summer mythology.  Larger than life, in all his flat-top buzzed, soft-spoken, glory:  my Uncle Moe.

Uncle Moe (my dad’s paternal uncle) had relocated from his native Connecticut to the Harrisburg PA area in the 1950’s, where he bought the franchise rights for the great state of Pennsylvania to–you guessed it–Dairy Queen!  He ran a few DQ’s there and raised his family in a busy, friendly house with a swimming pool complete with diving board AND SLIDE!  A favorite summer vacation for us was to pile into Clementine (mom’s VW) and make the 5+ hour drive to Pennsylvania and Uncle Moe.  About an hour into the trip, my mom would break out some brand-new activity books and fresh 8-packs of Crayola crayons–a treat which kept my sister and I busy for long stretches.  The rest of the time we scouted the side of the highway for cows, played the license plate game and cheered when we saw a Stuckey’s, where we’d stop for a fill’er up and some Goo Goo clusters.  Back on the road, we would pull our fists up and down facing out the back window to any semi behind us, hoping for a blast from the trucker’s air horn.  Do trips like this even exist anymore?  Summer.

When we got to Uncle Moe’s, we spent lots of time swimming and admiring our exotic teenage cousins with their Doctor Scholls and short shorts, who had a special sprayer on each of their double sinks for hair washing and smelled like Love’s Baby Soft and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific.  We had cousins to play with and day trips to HersheyPark. We loved floating in the pool while my large uncle made “tidal waves” by bouncing up and down on an air mattress.  None of this, however, was even The Best Part.

The Best Part happened shortly before ten p.m. when, happy and sleepy and up past bedtime, we would see Uncle Moe’s head peek in the door and ask, “Who wants to come close up the store?”  My sister and I, along with whatever cousins were hanging around Moe’s that weekend, would pile into his enormous white Lincoln Continental with the plates reading DQ MOE and head to the nearest one of his Dairy Queens.  Silently, we filed behind the counter, wearing our Holly Hobbie nightgowns, giddy with anticipation.  Uncle Moe solemnly handed us a paper cup with a cartoon image of Dennis the Menace and then, while he balanced out the cash registers and finished the end-of-day checklist, we were allowed to make Whatever. We. Wanted.  Oh, yes. Yes.  Summer.

Thus when my nostalgic, summer-saturated brain read Abby’s recipe for double-chocolate shortcakes, I didn’t think (much as I love them) strawberries or apricots.  I thought peanuts.  Marshmallow. Singing along with the radio on the way home from DQ, my CMP sundae melting in front of me while I sing the lyrics to Moonshadow, filling in for Cat Stevens’ vocals every time the car clears a highway underpass and the radio fades. Summer.

CMP Shortcakes, adapted from Abby Dodge.

For the Shortcakes:
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (7 7/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened, natural cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant ½ teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup (3 ounces) chopped chocolate or chips
¼ cup peanut butter baking chips
2 tablespoons roasted, salted peanuts,  coarsely chopped, plus a few for garnish

For the Marshmallow Topping: ( adapted from Marshmallow Fluff’s Online Yummy Book)
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
few tablespoons of warm water *or* the liqueur of your choice

 To Assemble:
Hot fudge sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream
Maraschino Cherry

To make the shortcakes:
1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a nonstick liner.
2. Cut the butter in half lengthwise, cut each half lengthwise again, and then cut each strip into 8 pieces. Pile the butter onto a plate and slide it into the freezer until ready to use. Measure the yogurt in a 1-cup Pyrex measure and add the vanilla. Using a fork, whisk until blended and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. Put the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Add the cold butter pieces and, using short pulses, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal with small pieces of butter (about pea-sized) still visible, about 1 minute. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and add chopped chocolate, peanut butter chips and chopped peanuts.
4. Pour the yogurt and vanilla over the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula, stir and fold until it forms a shaggy, moist dough with some floury bits remaining. Scrape the dough and any remaining floury bits onto the counter and knead a few times until the dough is evenly moist and holds together well.

5. Drop the biscuits on the prepared cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining chopped peanuts. Bake until puffed and spring back when the tops are gently pressed, 16 to 18 minutes. Move the sheet to a cooling rack and let the biscuits sit until they’re cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To make the topping:

Stir Marshmallow Fluff together with enough warm water or the liqueur of your choice to desired consistency.

To serve:
Warm the biscuits if made ahead (a toaster oven set on “bake 300°F” is great for this). Using a serrated knife, cut the shortcakes in half crosswise and place the bottom halves on serving plates. Scoop vanilla ice cream over the shortcake and top with marshmallow topping, hot fudge, chopped peanuts and cherry. Place the remaining biscuit lids jauntily to one side.

Serve immediately, preferably while listening to 70’s station on Pandora or similar.

If  this creates a DQ craving in you, I’ll meet you by the tracks!



Do you see anything coming?

Oh ! Yeah! TRAAAAIN!

Sometimes the trains really fly by. It’s part of the whole experience.

My Favorite Things: Pendleton Picnic Blanket

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Do you have a favorite gift of all time?  This blanket is definitely one of mine!  It was a Christmas gift from the Rock Star Husband’s sister the first Christmas we were married (back in 1996)!  In the intervening years, it has seen us through everything from rock concerts to clambakes to pee wee soccer games to Shakespeare in the Park. The spreads it has carried have likewise run the gamut from take out sushi or pizzas to PBJ’s and juice boxes to (most recently) lobster salad and roasted local beets with chevre and walnuts.  I love that Pendleton is still proudly made in the U.S.A. by the same family who started the mill  over a hundred and forty years ago.  The quality of this lovely wool blanket should take my family through the next 140 years of picnics–whatever is on the menu!

Tomorrow I will pack up the big cooler, the boys and this blanket for a new adventure: we are visiting a local island lighthouse for a pirate picnic! The menu? Stay tuned. . .