Monday, June 21, 2010

Review of Phat Cats Bistro in Amesbury, MA

I'm just a regular dude that loves food. So please take that into consideration when you read my review.

Phat Cats Bistro
Amesbury, MA

When my wife and I wanted to share a celebratory engagement dinner with our collective new family, we choose Phat Cats Bistro in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Simply put it's one of our favorite restaurants around.

Taken from their website, they "work with local farmers, domestic Seafood, and lots of natural product." This is very important to me. When I eat out, I want to the restaurants to source and choose their ingredients as well as I do at home. The menu is full of items that I don't cook. This avoids the disappointment one may feel when when you think you could make that dish better than the chef.

The dining room is cozy, and the bar has enough room for smaller parties if you forget to make a reservation. Once seated, you're always greeted by extremely friendly staff. They have a great selection of local beers and wines, and well as bunch of signature cocktails. We were served fresh baked bread with a bean spread. We have been served a few different versions. They all have been great.

The appetizers are unique and tasty. My Chicken Littles had a crisp sesame seed crust and were cooked to perfection. The side of spicy homemade ketchup was a great match. We've also had the Baked Blues and Cheese Platter. I would order them all again.

There are a nice range of options for dinner and small portions offered for those with a smaller appetite. They also give the flexibility to add chicken and sausage to some dishes. I think the Fish Tacos have overcome that gnocchi as my favorite dish. The Fisherman's Stew and Risotto also are recommended.

All of the desserts are homemade, and created with local ingredients. Strawberries are in season now, and last night we had a nice Strawberry Rhubarb Tart with homemade ice cream. The crust was my favorite part, with my wife eating most of the filling. I think we had a "Jack Sprat Thing" going on last night.

If you live near Amesbury, make a reservation at Phat Cats Bistro. You will be guaranteed a great meal with local ingredients, and not break your bank doing it.

Life, I guess?

I haven't been posting recipes lately - that's pretty obvious. But I haven't stopped eating, cooking, or all of the other things I do to enjoy life. Maybe the blog can be a way to communicate to people how they can make small changes for the better? I try to eat locally, but sometimes I don't. I try to eat organic, but sometimes I can't. There are lifestyle changes we can embrace that can make a difference, and maybe I've made a couple that could work for you. This will be my forum for sharing.

It's also start of the distributions for everybody's farm shares. I'll try to start posting recipes again.

Maybe I'll write restaurant reviews too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Huevos Rancheros

The best Huevos Rancheros I've ever eaten was served at Cafe Pascal's in Santa Fe, NM. Cafe Pascal's in a great little restaurant that is packed every morning. They have delicious green chile, something I have had enough of in New Mexico to consider myself a bit of an aficionado. I have lots of different red and green chile powders in my cabinet, and they come in handy when attempting to use flavors of the Southwest.

Huevos Rancheros

2 eggs
Leftover rice
Black beans
1 small onion
1 pepper
8 oz. tomatoes
Olive oil
2 tsp. red chile

This isn't hard if you have some things ready. I had some leftover spanish rice and some black beans from another meal. I put them in small sauce pans and warmed them while I made the tomato chile sauce.

Chop the garlic, onion, and pepper. Heat some EVOO and add the veggies along with some salt and pepper. Saute the onions until translucent and the peppers are tender. Add the crushed tomatoes and a couple teaspoons of red chile powder. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so.

When the sauce is about ready, fry two eggs to your liking. I layered a few tortilla chips, topped them with the fried eggs smothered in chile sauce, and served the rice and beans on the side. I forgot cheese. If I were you, I'd cover it in cheddar cheese.

You will also be able to find me contributing to

Newburyport-Today is a private entity that works in cooperation with he Mayor's Office and the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce. Newburyport Today is interested in promoting local non-profits, publicizing our local businesses and their products / services, as well as showcasing our areas abundance of natural wonders.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Keep on truckin'

I've been trying to make my bread better. It's been slightly challenging, as everything I try yields a new issue. Luckily the issues are aesthetics related, so each learning experience is still delicious. I made two loaves of bread for Easter dinner today. I haven't tried the bread yet, but I'll let you know how it came out. I used a slightly different recipe, used a second rise, and formed the loaves differently.

Rustic Sourdough Bread

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup water
3 cups bread flour
2/3 cup rye flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp honey

Add all ingredients into mixing bowl and mix for roughly ten minutes. If the dough is too wet, add flour until it reaches a "tacky" consistency. Let rest for twenty minutes. Knead for five minutes on a floured surface. Let the dough rise for 2 hours (or until doubled) in a lightly oiled and covered bowl. After two hours, cut the dough in two, knead again, and form into two loaves.

I let is rise for 1 more hour on the tiles I cooked it on (covered). I put some cornmeal on the tiles before putting the formed loaves on it. Score the loaves prior to cooking.

Add a pan of water into the oven turn to 350 and bake for 30-45 minutes. Tap the loaves. They sound hollow when they're done. Let rest for thirty minutes before slicing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Good News and Contest

Good news everybody...I got a job. Now the "Unemployed Guy" needs to rename his blog. I think I should have a reverse acronym contest to determine the new title. So the constraint is that the title should have six words (I know I messed this up the first time) starting with U, E, G, V, F, and S.

My first attempt didn't stray that far from the original title, but you do not have to keep any words if you don't want. Leave your suggestions in the comments section on the blog, on Facebook, or DM me on Twitter.

Here's my attempt.


Anybody got anything better?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Braised Beef Cottage Pie and Turkey Shepherds Pie

I know I have done this before (read this post), but I love Shepherd's Pie. Which by the way, is the name of it as long as it is made with lamb. If you use beef, you got yourself a cottage pie. I sometimes use turkey, but can't think of a funny creative name to call it. We're getting close to Saint Patrick's day, and if you find yourself going to party, any version of this will please the crowd.

I went my parents' annual Saint Patrick's Day party on Saturday night, and brought this Braised Beef Cottage Pie. It was a wonderful blend of comfort food with a a gourmet touch. We sang and read poetry to celebrate our Irish heritage. A good time was definitely had by everyone in attendance. (A better time for those who ate the Cottage Pie I brought).

Braised Beef Cottage Pie

1.5 lb's of chuck stew meat
4 sliced carrots
1 large onion
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups dry red wine
1-1/2 cups water
1 tbs Thyme
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas
Handful of green beans
1 cup of cheddar cheese
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes
One 1-pound celery root

Start with the braised beef. In a 5.5 quart dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Coat the meat with salt and pepper and add to the casserole. Brown using medium-high heat. Toss in the carrots and onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. When the meat is done add the flour and stir in. Pour in the water and red wine, season with thyme, and add salt and pepper. Turn back up to high, and once the mixture comes to a simmer, cover it and simmer over low heat, stirring every once in a while. Cook for at least two hours. The meat is done when easily shredded with a fork.

Once you've got the beef cooking, put the potatoes and celery root in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the starches are tender. Drain the potatoes and celery root, reserving about 4-8 ounces of starchy water. Return them to the pot with the water, and add butter, salt, and pepper. Start mashing, and add milk to get the creamy texture you prefer. Put aside until the meat is done.

When the meat is done, turn the oven to 350°. Take the meat out of the dutch oven, shred it, and put it at the bottom of a 9x9 casserole dish. Reduce the gravy while you layer the other vegetables in the dish. Fish the carrots and onions out of the dutch oven with a slotted spoon and add to the casserole dish,. Then add the peas and green beans. Add gravy over top of the veggies, saving some for the gravy boat. Spread the mashed potatoes and top with cheddar cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and slightly brown. Don't forget to let cool for about ten minutes or so before eating. The roof of your mouth will thank you.

You will also be able to find me contributing to

Newburyport-Today is a private entity that works in cooperation with he Mayor's Office and the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce. Newburyport Today is interested in promoting local non-profits, publicizing our local businesses and their products / services, as well as showcasing our areas abundance of natural wonders.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sourdough Bread

I don't bake much. Usually once a year I make a carrot cake for my wife's birthday. Occasionally I will make corn bread when I make chili. In an effort to make space in our cabinets a few weeks ago I made biscuits with self-rising flour. But making bread? That usually would be too intimidating for me to try. I'm happy heading down to the local bakery to buy a loaf when needed. But last week I took a pizza making class, and one of the take-home items was some sourdough starter. After spending considerable time online reading about how to care for the starter, I happened upon some recipes for a San Francisco "style" sourdough loaf. I can't make authentic San Francisco sourdough, the organisms living in my sourdough starter are native to Newburyport.

It turns out that baking bread is not that difficult. There are so many baking sites out on the web it is also easy to identify what you may have done wrong and find suggestions on how to fix it. In my case, my oven was too hot, and the top of the outside of the bread cooked too quickly, preventing the inside of the bread to rise, so it lifted out from the bottom creating a mushroom like appearance. I used some deceptive photography so this is not really evident in my photo. This also did not affect the taste. My bread was amazing, and I recommend getting a starter and making it yourself. I had a sense of accomplishment after making this loaf of bread. (And topped with butter it tasted splendid too!) On to the recipe...

Newburyport Sourdough Bread Recipe

2 cups of sourdough starter
2-3 cups of bread flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 teaspoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of salt

Combine the starter, sugar, salt, and oil in your Kitchen Aid Mixer. Stir together at the low speed until well mixed. Add about two cups of flour. The total amount of flour you'll end up using is dependent on the dryness of the flour and how wet your starter may be. Basically, mix until the dough is tacky and hangs on the dough hook. If you dough is sticky and falls off the hook add more flour. If you happen to add to much flour, just add some water until it has that tacky feeling. If it is slightly sticky to your finger, but pulls off and leaves no dough on it then you are good to move on.

Let the dough rise in a warm place, in a bowl covered loosely with a wet towel or covered in plastic. I use a slightly warm oven. Turn on the oven light to help during rising. My dough doubled in size in about 3-4 hours. At this point if you're going to bake immediately, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Add a pan of water to the oven as well. The humidity and steam is what gives sourdough bread its thick, brown crust. After it has doubled in size, punch it down and give it a few kneads. Wrap it over itself to form a nice ball and catch the gases on the inside. (If this sentence is confusing you'll have to watch this video to see what I mean).

Put the ball on the middle of a floured cookie sheet. Score the ball with a sharp knife. Create an "X" or "#". Throw it (safely) into your oven and cook for sixty minutes. With all the information I read about this type of bread, one warning I took care to heed was not to take it out early even if it looked done. I waited the full sixty minutes.

Let cool at least twenty minutes before slicing. Stuff is still aligning itself inside of the crust when it's out of the oven (or so I am told to believe). Slice, eat, and enjoy!

You will also be able to find me contributing to

Newburyport-Today is a private entity that works in cooperation with he Mayor's Office and the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce. Newburyport Today is interested in promoting local non-profits, publicizing our local businesses and their products / services, as well as showcasing our areas abundance of natural wonders.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Veggie Chili

I am not usually a fan of veggie chili. I just feel there should be some type of meat in it. After all, authentic Texas chili doesn't even have beans. But I think the secret to enjoying a veggie chili is getting enough CHILE-WITH-AN-E flavor in it. In my verson, I use one fresh jalapeno, two chipotle chiles and a teaspoon of adobo sauce, and one dried Chile Pasilla Negro. This adds a nice smoky flavor, and combined with a can of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes, the chili creates a warm feeling for your cold winter night.

Balancing heat and flavor is a tightrope act when you are cooking for others,. My wife does not like as much heat as I do. This version is just right, where she said it was hot, but ate her portion, and took the leftovers to work for lunch.

Veggie Chili

2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 chopped cloves of garlic
1 chopped shallot
1 chopped onion
~1" squares of butternut squash
4 skinny carrots chopped
1 chopped red pepper
1 chopped de-seeded jalpeno
1 chopped de-seeded chipotle pepper
1 tsp adobo sauce
28 oz fire roasted tomatoes
12 oz Ale
15 oz red kidney beans
8 oz frozen corn
Mexican Oregano
Cayenne Pepper
Chile Powder

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven. Saute the garlic, shallots, and onion until translucent. Layer with salt and pepper. Add the carrots, squash, red pepper, and chopped chiles and cook for 10 minutes. When the carrots and
squash start to soften, add the fire roasted tomatoes, beer, beans, adobo sauce, corn and spices. I used about a tablespoon of mexican oregano and cumin, and about a 1/2 of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and chile powder. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer for roughly 30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste along the way.

Top with grated cheese, sour cream, green onions, tortilla chips. Or serve over rice.

It came out really well. If you're a meat chili lover, you may not even miss the meat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Down Under a Carrot Cake

The latest pause in our lives came as we tried a raw diet for a week. One tangible benefit of such an extreme menu is that my jeans fit better. I had noticed that after a horribly sprained ankle set my exercise schedule back, my clothes were not fitting me the way I was used to. So now we're back eating cooked food with a vengeance. There's nothing like a birthday and valentine's day to kick-start the sweets eating festival.

For my wife's birthday, I always bake a carrot cake; that's her favorite. I usually save recipes we like, but this year I opted for something new. I found a carrot cake recipe inspired by the cake served at the Bourke Street Bakery in Surry Hills, NSW, Australia. Honestly, it was great. It was light, moist, and not-too-sweet. The perfect cake to fall off the wagon of healthy dieting with.

Giving credit where credit is due, I found the recipe at the Almost Bourdain food blog. I'll re-post for convenience.

Bourke Street Bakery's Carrot Cake Recipe

(Adapted from Bourke Street Bakery's Cookbook)

Bourke Street Bakery - "It's necessary to work quickly to make this recipe succeed. Everything is whipped to incorporate a lot of air and the dry ingredients are quickly folded through at the end. The whipped egg whites result in a fantastic crisp meringue-like top on the cake. We have a number of mixers. So we can have everything mixing at one time, but for a home kitchen you will get the best results working in the order listed within the recipe.

70 g (2 1/2 oz) walnuts
150 g (5 1/2 oz / 1 cup) self-raising flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
55 ml (1 3/4 fl oz / about 2) egg whites
60g (2 1/4 oz / 1/4 cup) sugar for egg whites
1 egg
1 egg yolk
160g (5 3/4 oz / 3/4 cup) sugar for egg yolks
170 ml (5 1/2 fl oz / 2/3 cup) extra light olive oil
125 g (4 1/2 oz) carrots, peeled and grated

Cream Cheese Frosting:
20 g (3/4 oz / 1 tsp) icing (confectioners') sugar, plus extra, for dusting
20 g (3/4 oz / 1 tbsp) butter, softened
145 g (5 1/4 oz) cream cheese (preferably Neufchatel)
40 ml (1 1/4 fl oz / 2 tbsp) pouring (whipping) cream (35% fat)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Grease an 18 cm (7 inch) round cake tin and line the base and side with baking paper - the paper should protrude about 2.5 cm (1 inch) above the tin.

2. Place the walnuts on a baking tray and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until lightly roasted. Cool and cut into thirds. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt into a bowl. Repeat to ensure they are evenly mixed.

3. Put the egg whites in a very clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks start to form. Slowly pour in the sugar for the egg whites, while the motor is still running, being careful not to overmix - the meringue should reach soft peak stage. Quickly transfer the meringue to another bowl and set side until needed.

4. Put the egg and egg yolk in the bowl of the electric mixer and add the sugar for the egg yolks. Mix on high speed for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture doubles in volume and is quite airy. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the oil in a thin stream being careful that it doesn't split or deflate too much.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and with a spatula or gloved hand, gently fold in the flour mixture until combined. Fold in the carrots and walnuts. Quickly and lightly fold in the meringue - do not fold it through completely, you should still be able to see streaks of meringue through the mix.

6. Pour into the preapred tin and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into centre of the cake comes out clean. You may need to drop the oven temperature to 180C (350F) after the first 30 minutes if the top is browning too quickly) (* The top of my cake was browning too quickly and I had turn down the oven temperature as instructed but still a little too burnt. I would suggest to monitor the temperature very closely for the first 30 minutes.)

7. Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting. Cream the icing sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and smooth. Add the cream cheese in small amounts, allowing it to completely incorporated before adding the rest. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl during this process to ensure even mixing. Add the cream and mix until smooth, being careful not to overmix at this stage or the cream may curdle and separate. If using a different type of cream cheese for this recipe you may need to add a little more cream - the frosting needs to be of a spreadable consistency but not at all runny.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrate knife, slice horizontally through the centre of the cake to form two even-sized layers and fill with cream cheese frosting. (* I like my carrot cake to be eaten warm. I frosted the cake before it was completely cool. Hence, the slightly melted looking cream cheese frosting)

9. Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar to serve.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Featured in Another Blog

I have been included in the House of Annie "Grow Your Own Roundup." From the website...

This edition of GYO features 61 different dishes from 8 different countries. The “Grow Your Own” food blog roundup, created by Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes, features dishes using ingredients which have been raised in our own (or someone else's) gardens or have been hunted or foraged. Why grow your own? Because it saves money and makes for better tasting food!

I am in awe of the variety of great food that's being made in what is Winter for a majority of food bloggers out there. I'm also very thankful for the participants from Australia for showing off their homegrown produce.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vegetables are Funny

In my first blog post I promised that I'd be funny. I have to admit, the blog has been long on recipes and photos, but definitely short on the funny. And for that, I am sorry.

My brother gave this great magnet for a Christmas present. It proves that vegetables can be funny.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Perfecting Pizza

There is more than one way to do just about anything. Although Aaron has shared favorite pizza dough recipes in the past, we both felt that the end result, although tasty, was missing what our favorite restaurant pizzas attain; chewy, steamy, puffy edges. Aaron is one giant step closer to those delicious ambitions. Making the task of taster that much more enjoyable for me, the wife. Not only did this dough culminate in my favorite pizza crust characteristics, but it also made three 12" pies which is handy for leftovers and accommodates toppings for discerning (and diverging) palettes.

The biggest differences in this recipe from previous postings is that (1) Aaron used an electric mixer to make a starter dough and (2) he let the dough rest for hours. I think both steps improve the end result, increasing elasticity. This recipe also brings us back to the summer, as he used basil pesto that had I made and froze at the end of the summer, to top one of the pies. Other toppings he used; prosciutto & roasted red peppers, and red sauce. You can find the dough recipe here. It is worth the extra rest-time and there is a video that explains it all.

At the end of the summer we had lots of basil growing in our yard; more than we could eat immediately. I harvested it and made a pesto using apricot kernels, rather than pine nuts. I bought the apricot kernels at Trader Joe's out of curiosity. I haven't quite acquired a taste for them. They look like almonds, but are smaller and a little sweet. When I went to make the pesto I realized I had no pine nuts, almonds, etc. and threw these in instead. They made a nice, crunchier-than-normal pesto that was fantastic on this crust with fresh mozerella.

Basil Pesto
Apricot Kernels (we happened to have these)
Olive Oil
Parmesan Cheese
~2 Cloves of garlic

Shred the Parmesan cheese. Rinse and dry basil leaves. Combine all ingredients in a food processor until you achieve the taste/consistency that you like. Use right away or store. To store, keep in fridge with a layer of oil on top to prevent color change, or freeze to have a little summer in the winter.

Red Sauce (Aaron's basic sauce)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp oregano
salt & pepper

Saute garlic in 1 tbsp olive oil. Once soft add tomatoes. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 2 tbsp oregano, the sugar, the remaining olive oil, salt & pepper to taste and simmer for 20 minutes.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guest Blogger's Baked Lemon Pudding

I am 'unemployed guy's' wife. Today I had a lunch meeting that took me to Lynnfield, MA to explore the new home of the Lynnfield Historical Commission, nestled away from the road behind the Lynnfield Common and historic Meeting House. Lynnfield, the great Essex County community and beyond are lucky to have committed individuals thoughtfully caring for and cataloging its assets. My hosts also graciously welcomed me to their homes, historic Massachusetts houses with all the character and charm you would expect, plus! It was an exceptional experience and I am grateful for all they shared about their homes and community. And although I knew we would be enjoying a meal together, I was not anticipating the thoughtfully prepared culinary adventure that was presented.

Lunch began with tea and progressed to a creamy, curried butternut squash soup accompanied by a salad of curly lettuce topped with chicken, citrus fruit slices and pomegranate seeds. Lunch was followed by a tour of our host's house, a former parsonage in Lynnfield Center. The conversation was so lively I didn't manage to get a recipe. The next stop was dessert, but first a tour of the older of the two homes. Here, first period architectural components were prominently preserved, despite centuries of change. At the end of the day, as we were heading for the door, after feeding our minds and bellies, I parted with a recipe (I think she said it came from an old Betty Crocker Cook Book). I got home and made it.

Baked Lemon Pudding
Preheat to 350. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Sift together
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
Beat the whites until stiff. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar, one teaspoon at a time. Set aside. Without washing the beater, beat the yolks until light.
  • 2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
Stir into the flour mixture. Beat until smooth. Add the beaten whites and fold gently until no white flecks show. Pour into the baking dish. Set in a pan of hot water 1/2 inch deep. Bake 45 minutes. Chill at least 1 hour. Serve with fruit; raspberries, blueberries, or whipped cream.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Traditions in Food & Family

I take some liberties with my blog when I don't have access to fresh grown/CSA veggies that I had during the growing season. Instead of farm, I will share some family.

Christmas. Not so long ago I celebrated Christmas with my family and new wife. For the first time in many years my family enjoyed Christmas morning all together, my parents, my brother and sister. Although I have known my wife for 12 years, this is the first Christmas morning we woke up to celebrate together.

She brought with her a family food tradition to share with my family and my family shared ours. I was raised in a household rich in Irish and Italian heritage. On Christmas Eve we enjoyed the feast of seven fishes, including; smelt, scallops, calamari, bacalla (salted cod), salmon and more, all prepared by my mom. Christmas day offered the opportunity for a hearty and lovingly prepared breakfast of Irish steel cut oatmeal and dried fruit made by my parents and coffeecake prepared by my wife (a Betty Crocker recipe her family has made for ~20 years).

Irish Oatmeal Recipe
Irish steel cut oats
dried fruit & nuts
honey or maple syrup

Boil water, add oats, simmer for ~30 minutes. Add fruit towards the end. Reheat for late arrivals, add a little water if dry. My dad made oatmeal with fresh sliced bananas which get sweet when they are heated. You can't go wrong, unless you under cook it.

Betty Crocker Candy Cane Coffee Cake
(makes 3, 1 for the table, 2 for gifts or whatever)

For Sour Cream Yeast Dough:
2 cups sour cream
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
6 cups all-purpose flour, about

Option 1 Filling for cake (from original recipe)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried apricots
1 1/2 cups finely chopped maraschino cherries
soft butter or margarine

Option 2 Filling for cake (my wife's experimental cinnamon bun version)

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 stick melted butter
chopped nuts
1 tbsp cinnamon

Thin Icing:
2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons water

Heat sour cream over low heat just until lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in the warm water. Stir in sour cream, butter, sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make it easy to handle.Turn dough onto well-floured board. Knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl. Turn once to bring greased side up. Cover. Let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour. To test for rising, stick two fingers in dough. If holes remain but top stays smooth, dough is ready.

Make cake:
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Punch down dough. Divide into three equal parts. Roll each part into a rectangle, 15 x 6 inches. Place on greased baking sheet. With scissors, make 2-inch cuts at 1/2-inch intervals on both long sides of the rectangles. Combine apricots and cherries. Spread 1/3 of the fruit mixture down the center of each of the rectangles. Crisscross strips over the filling, pinching strips together in the center. (One bread always looks a little funny, she gives away the 'prettiest one' we ate the funny looking one see photo right). Stretch dough to 22 inches. Curve to form a "cane." Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. While warm, brush with butter and drizzle canes with Thin Icing. If desired, decorate with cherry halves or pieces.

For thin icing: Blend 2 cups powdered sugar with about 2 tablespoons water. If icing is too stiff, add water a drop at a time. If too thin, add more powdered sugar a little at a time.

(Does not contain candy cane or coffee. FYI this is the old version of the recipe, from a duct taped together, falling apart Betty Crocker cookbook - the Betty Crocker website offers a new take on this recipe which we won't try for the sake of nostalgia. Add to this to oatmeal, scrambled eggs and a sausage ring, found in Joy of Cooking, throw in a few presents, and you have a Flanagan/Rankin family Christmas and a full belly.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fresh Gnocchi with Creamy Mushroom Wine Sauce

Tonight I used dehydrated mushrooms that we received as a gift to make a creamy wine sauce served over homemade ricotta gnocchi. It is super easy and very good. Fresh pasta is sure to impress and can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to cook. Gnocchi recipe was found here.


1 Pound Full Fat Ricotta
1 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Large Egg

Boil a big pot of water. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and work the dough on the counter until manageable well combined and not sticky. Don't over work it. Make dough balls and then roll them into snakes and cut them into uniform 1/2" x 1/2" pieces. Boil until they float (2-4 minutes).

Creamy Mushroom Wine Sauce (I made this up)
1 package of dehydrated mushrooms
2 cups white wine
1 clove garlic
1 shallot
olive oil
1 cup cream or half & half
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

Soak mushrooms in wine for 5-8 hours to rehydrate. Heat oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Finely chop shallot, add to skillet, follow with finely chopped garlic. Saute for ~5 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserve the wine. Add mushrooms to the skillet and saute a bit. Add wine. Reduce a bit. Add cream. Serve over gnocchi, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Wedding Pumpkin Pudding (or pie)

For our wedding we were presented with many thoughtful gifts. One of our favorite gifts were a threesome of lovingly home grown pumpkins from our friends' garden in San Anselmo, CA, who traveled with the pumpkins to Massachusetts. They became beautiful additions to our home and table, which we enjoyed throughout the fall and holidays.

Last weekend during a three day snow, I decided it was time to enjoy the Cinderella pumpkin more fully. I didn't feel like making a crust, but found a simple fresh pumpkin pie recipe on the food network website which I adjusted slightly when I discovered I had more pumpkin than the recipe called for (after roasting and mashing). In addition, I baked the recipe in ramekins in a bath as pudding, sans crust. The result was simple, individual and delicious pumpkin puddings. We saved some seeds hoping to grow them this summer and pass the love to friends.

One roasted pumpkin (2 cups)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat to 400. Halve pumpkin, lay cut-side down in adequate baking dish, include ~1 inch of cooking liquid. I used cider, water is fine. Pierce the skin of the pumpkin with a fork a few times, bake for 30-45 minutes until nice and soft. Remove from the oven. Let cool. Scoop pumpkin flesh into a large mixing bowl and mash/puree to desired consistency (if you leave chunks there will be chunks in the pudding/pie). Add all remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Bake in ramekins in a water bath (half way up ramekins) on the lower oven rack at 400 until the edges of the filling are set, but the center is still slightly soft, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cool. Serve room temperature or slightly warm. Makes 6-8 servings. Serve warm. I topped mine with vanilla ice cream, whip cream is good too.

Note: If you prefer pie use the 'all-butter pie dough' recipe posted in the Dec. 1, 2009 entry of this blog, also found at Food & Wine here. You will need to roll out the crust and fit to 9 inch pie plate and follow Food & Wine directions: 'Line the pie shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in the center of the oven until nearly set, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until the crust is pale golden, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.' Then fill with pumpkin mixture and bake using pudding directions above.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pasta y Fagioli

Finding a good pasta y fagiloi recipe has been as difficult as finding a good pizza dough recipe. My quest ended yesterday after I found an Olive Garden knock-off recipe that I tweaked by using ground turkey and chicken stock instead of beef products. The end product was top notch, and I am proud to share.

Pasta y Fagioli

1-1/2 tbs olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 lb ground turkey
5 cups chicken stock
24 oz. canned crushed or pureed tomatoes
3 tsp parsley
3 tsp oregano
splish-splosh of pepper sauce (Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot)
1/2 dry ditalini pasta

Cook the pasta per directions on the box and rinse with cold water. Put aside.

In a large dutch oven, add the EVOO and turn heat to medium. Add the trilogy, (the carrots, celery, and onion) and saute for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add the ground turkey and brown. When the turkey is cooked, add the stock, tomatoes, beans, oregano, parsley, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, then simmer for forty-five minutes stirring occasionally. Then add the pasta, bring back to a boil, and serve. Top with parmesan or romano cheese and serve with some crusty bread.

Beer Recommendation

My wife and I love stouts, and the holiday season delivers one of our favorites. The Santa's Little Helper Imperial Stout is a delicious imperial stout with hints of espresso and chocolate with a slight smoky flavor. It's perfect for an appetizer when you're gathering with friends. Unfortunately it's a seasonal offering, so get it while you can. In Newburyport, it is still available at Leary's Fine Wines and Spirits.