Monday, December 29, 2008

Grandma's Galumpkis

Neither side of my family is of Eastern European descent, but since the Irish have contributed little to the culinary world, we seem to cling like overly-mashed potato to the foods of other cultures. My grandmother and aunt have an obsession with making galumpkis that not only encouraged me to eat my first galumpki this year, but also had me making two different recipes to see if I could make the perfect cabbage-wrapped meat dumpling. (They are a perfect meal for John, who has successfully cut bread from his diet.)

The first recipe was my grandma's standard galumpki recipe, which I copied from the browned page of an old cookbook. These galumpkis are very good, but they just seem to be missing something. Of course, I have nothing to compare them to, so this is based upon my imagination. I also tried Tyler Florence's recipe, which differed from my grandmother's in that some of the "meat mix" ingredients were sauteed before rolling them in the cabbage leaves. It also had a different approach to the sauce, using crushed tomatoes instead of tomato soup. I turned to my crock pot both times, rather than the oven.

I think it is my extreme fondness for Asian potstickers that has me trying to tweak these Polish recipes. I want the sauce to be sweet and vinegary, and I want there to be some sausage flavor in my dumpling. Otherwise, I find them a bit...bland. I realize that I am straying from the foundation of the galumpki here, but these flavors will be my goal when I attempt to make these for the third time. OR, maybe I should try to make steamed, cabbage-wrapped Asian dumplings? (On that subject, the frozen vegetable and chicken potstickers from Stop & Shop are really very good!)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Last Vacation Day

I'm not sure that trying to see everyone we know in a 4-day span constitutes a vacation, but sadly, today marks the end of my Christmas break. I celebrated by making soup and refusing to get out of my pajamas. I had fun with the whole wheat vegetable alphabet noodles as the soup cooked — thus, the new header! (It's about time I designed a custom header for my blog!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Dad Made Yesterday #1

Those of you who live on or visit my parents' street might have noticed that there are fewer trees around their house each year. My dad has gone on several tree cutting sprees, all of which are perfectly justified by the trees' disease states. Says the cutter, "They are going to come down by themselves anyway, and this way they won't fall on the house...or a car...or a person." I'm paraphrasing here.

Anyway, the most recent victim was a large pine tree between the front yards of my parents and their (one) neighbor. When we fist moved to the street in 1982, the tree was small enough to be decorated with holiday lights. This fall, however, the tree was gigantic and infested with ants that had weakened the internal structure of the trunk. So, dad fired up the chain-saw and cut the tree down, with help from his neighbor, until a large stump remained.

And then he carved some more...and researched, and carved, and painted, and added little reflecty eyes. My dad chainsaw-carved a bear!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We *Heart* Our Wreath!

What a wonderful surprise it was to see a big cardboard box waiting for us as we pulled into our driveway a few weeks ago! Thank you, Friend, for the wonderful boost to our not-so-boosted holiday spirit! We love it. It makes us smile.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blue Box Be Gone!

Although I have sworn off the famous Blue Box for life, some unseen force resulted in my grabbing an assortment of Annie's Organic Macaroni and Cheese from the grocery shelf: white cheddar, yellow cheddar and whole wheat. We ate them all, and then I bought more. This, I thought, must mean that we like it.

It will never compare to my nostalgic Blue Box Mac & Cheese, but I feel much better about eating Annie's (ya know, with Philip Morris owning Kraft Foods, and all).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pumpkin Penne with Sausage

Hmmm... What to do with some leftover pumpkin puree?

Determined to get it right this time (versus this time, and this time), I took a look at my previous attempts at making a pumpkin-related pasta dish. This time I got it right.

My plan of attack was to almost mimic my Penne ala Vodka, using pumpkin puree instead of tomato sauce, and adding meat. My meat of choice this time was maple-apple chicken sausage, which was a perfect match for the pumpkin. I cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces and browned them (even though it was pre-cooked) in some olive oil. Once browned, I added a couple handfuls of shallots to the mix, cooking until slightly soft. A bit of chicken stock deglazed the pan of its dark brown sausage-y bits, and after reducing for a few minutes, I added my leftover pumpkin puree (which was maybe 3/4 cup). I let the ingredients mingle as our (whole wheat) pasta cooked, then added some heavy cream, a little butter (never underestimate the power of butter!), and some salt and pepper.

It was perfect. It was almost perfect. It was so very orange, though, and John and I both decided that the addition of some sage in the next rendition would be the perfect cure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ice Storm

John and I left early Saturday morning for a weekend trip to Boston. As we packed our little suitcase, our conversation went something like this:

Him: I was thinking of taking the Pike to Boston and Route 2 home from Boston. [You see, we're very tired of the the point where it sucks the life out of us. Er, me.]

Me: Well, it's a beautiful driving day today, and we don't know what tomorrow is going to be like...[clearly] we should take Route 2 today. It'll be fun!

Him: OK.

So, yeah...we have a small pile of unopened newspapers from the latter part of last week, and once we saw that John had school on Friday, we thought that the storm forecasters had really gotten it wrong.

They didn't. The storm just happened to miss us, and for that we are very lucky and grateful. Below are some photos from the early part of our trip on Route 116 through Cheshire, Savoy, and Windsor, Massachusetts. Absolutely everything was encased in glass-like ice, weighing down trees, powerlines, signs, and even blades of grass.

(Even apart from the storm, this was the worst route yet that we have taken across the state!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pumpkin Ice Cream

I have been a slacker when it comes to making desserts. Thanksgiving morning, I knew it would be a boost for my holiday spirit to put that can of pumpkin puree to good use. So, I spent the morning making pumpkin ice cream.

As with most of the ice cream I have made, the recipe came from the Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream book, which has proven to be a wonderful resource. (The only disaster I've experienced so far in my ice-cream making involved orange sorbet, and I'm pretty sure that was entirely my fault.)

Here's my creation, packed and ready to be transported to our T-Day gathering:

Looks like peanut butter, doesn't it?

I found this ice cream to be very heavy, almost as if I drank a glass of pumpkin pie (milk cravings soon followed). All of the home-made ice creams I have made are more substantial than their store-bought counterparts, most likely because of the egg content. Still, it's difficult not to fill up one's bowl with giant scoops!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Baby Shower Invites: Lucas and Elena

My friend, Jessie, had found the perfect invitation for her baby shower...almost. It was not the right color for her celebration and, more importantly, it did not reflect that there are two babies on the way. With her direction, we put a spin on the invitation that she found.

The original, by Tiny*Prints, can be viewed by clicking here.

And here is my design:

Matching thank-you cards will soon be designed, as well. Especially since the little duckies arrived this week!

Friday, December 12, 2008

My 1st New Jersey Freshwater Fishing Digest

I've been at my new job since the middle of August, and am very excited that my first book is about to hit the shelves in New Jersey!

Picking up another designer's files (and making them your own) can be very challenging. Style sheets are so personal!

Most of my own personal style and (obsessive) attention to detail can be felt beyond the cover, and I really think that my designs and re-designs have improved the readability of this book. Readability seems particularly important when your job is to clearly convey the laws of the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, all of the charts and fish identification images I have been working on have me wanting to design a logo, or come up with an ad campaign!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kathy's Famous Lasagna, Remixed

Our Christmas and 4th of July gatherings would simply not be the same without my Aunt Kathy's famous lasagna. This is not a family recipe, per se, nor is it an authentic lasagna recipe by any means. It's entirely constructed of pre-made ingredients, most of which are really salty and fatty and bad for you. My god, though...this lasagna really tastes very good.

To make this much-loved dish, Kathy browns some ground beef, sometimes along with some sausage, and ads this meat to a big jar of Ragu (with meat) along with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix...and pepperoni. Salty Salterson! Uncooked lasagna noodles are layered with this sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. I've never met a person who didn't like it.

Unfortunately, that recipe relies heavily on processed, packaged foods. It's a wonderful treat twice a year, but I wanted a weekday meal that we could consume without guilt for several days. I set out to make a healthier version, using ingredients as close as possible to their natural form.

I replaced all of the meat with hot turkey sausage. I browned the meat and added 2 cans of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes to the mix along with a little kosher salt. (As an important aside, I buy Muir Glen tomatoes in their various canned forms whenever possible. Their flavor and freshness really do make a difference in the outcome of any meal.)

I let this tomato sauce simmer for a while (30 minutes?) while I made some caramelized onions to replace the concentrated flavor of the Lipton Onion Soup Mix. I cut about 5 medium onions into rough strips and slowly cooked them in some olive oil and butter over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, occasionally covering and sometimes stirring until brown, sweet, and just starting to fall apart.

To add some nutrition to the meal, I thawed two packages of frozen spinach, ringing them out very well to get rid of the extra water. I was also sure to use whole wheat lasagna noodles (I've never once pre-cooked lasagna noodles, nor have I ever bought the no-boil noodles — they all work!) and low-fat cottage cheese (I refuse to buy non-fat products—they scare me), as well as part-skim mozzarella cheese.

Once everything was ready (and the oven was preheated to 375 degrees), I began the layering: sauce, noodles, sauce, cottage cheese, spinach, onions, mozzarella, shredded parmesan, noodles, sauce, cottage cheese, spinach, onions, mozzarella, shredded parmesan, noodles, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan. Phew, that was fun!

Then, into the oven it goes — covered with foil for the first 45 minutes, then foil-less for the final 15 until the cheese is brown and the lasagna is bubbly.

This lasagna was unbelievably awesome and, really, it was my first official original recipe! John really loved it, which worked out especially well. The lasagna was primed for consumption (after a rest overnight in the fridge) on his birthday. Since he's not eating bread or anything remotely cake-like, I came up with a solution... (The lit candle, a barrier between the lasagna and his fork, didn't last long enough for a photo.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homemade Pesto, Storebought Pasta

OK, OK... I made this meal at the end of the summer in an effort to gather and use the leaves of my basil plant before it died.

I find that jarred pestos often have a weird fake taste to them, and it was great to make my own (using Helen Rennie's recipe as posted on her blog — my god, she must think I am a stalker!) to top some quickie Buitoni 3-Cheese Tortellini. As much as I try to make all of my meals from scratch, there are (at least) two nights a week where I give in to at least partially prepared dinners.

I have actually been having a difficult time finding the refrigerated Buitoni pasta in my local grocery stores. Stop & Shop has replaced it with their own (nasty) brand, and Price Chopper no longer carries it. We recently tried the Barilla (dry) Porcini Mushroom Tortellini in its place (below, with a quick buttery cream sauce with peas), and found the filling texture to be gritty and weird. Ew. Maybe we need to try frozen?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cast Iron, Reseasoned

Those of you who follow my blog might remember how I stupidly braised chicken in wine in my beautifully-seasoned cast iron dutch oven. When I washed the pot, I discovered that the acidic wine had stripped the iron of its protective coating. Oops.

Finally, I got around to reseasoning the pot. It was easy enough...just had to melt some vegetable shortening in the microwave to make it liquidy enough to easily coat the entire pot. I then popped the upside-down pan into a cold oven (with an aluminum-lined cookie sheet on the rack beneath it), and heated the oven to 400 degrees. The pot "cooked" for an hour, then remained in the oven to cool. It got smelly in the house (and my eyes burned a little), but I was delighted when I removed the cool pot to find that the silvery areas were nice and coated once again. (Easy enough, but it doesn't stop me from dreaming of an enamel coated cast iron dutch oven...)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Italian Soup, Two Ways

My mom discovered this Italian Soup recipe sometime around 1990 (perhaps she remembers the source, and can share it in a comment below...?) It's one of the first things I ever attempted to make on my own, and it really is a tasty, hearty dish. Much more stew-like than soup-like, I think.

I recently made this using the old recipe card I had written 15 years ago, and decided that I would make some healthy adjustments in my next attempt.

Here's the original recipe:

Brown a roll of Jimmy Dean pork sausage in a dutch oven; add one chopped onion and one chopped green pepper. Once the vegetables have started to cook, add a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, 2 8oz cans of tomato sauce, 2 8oz cans of water, 3 cubes of chicken bouillon, and 3/4 tsp garlic powder and simmer (covered) on low for 15 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of ditallini pasta, stir, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. (The soup will thicken if it is left to sit for a bit). Top with shredded mozzarella and serve. Yum!

So, I basically tried to un-Sandra-Lee-ify this recipe. For the modified recipe, I browned turkey sausage (instead of the Jimmy Dean pork sausage) in some olive oil, I omitted the bouillon cubes and replaced the water with chicken stock, I used real garlic instead of garlic powder, and I used small whole wheat pasta shells instead of the standard ditallini. The result was wonderful, and might even be considered healthy!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cream of Wheat, How I Love Thee

It was John that introduced me to cream of wheat, after he excitedly ordered it at this cute outdoor Union Square restaurant with horrific service. Since then, it has become a cold weather breakfast treat for us, and I have almost figured out when to remove the pan from the heat in order to achieve the perfect not-too-thick consistency.

I insist upon making my cream of wheat using only milk (no water), and have started experimenting with some additional ingredients (not that it lacks anything on its own!). Most recently, we have been topping our cream of wheat with mixed berries (these guys were's not exactly berry season here), and just a tiny bit of some wonderful local maple syrup. LOVE IT.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pork Mango Picadillo

I came across this recipe for Pork Mango Picadillo a long time ago, and was drawn in by both the photo and the ingredients. I had never heard of picadillo before, and it seemed like this Latin American dish could be considered somewhat healthy, especially as it incorporated vegetables and fruit and could easily be modified. Basically, picadillo consists of ground meat spiced with cloves and cinnamon, mixed with various other ingredients (tomatoes, onions, almonds...). It can be served with rice (brown rice, in the case of our dinner) or as a filling for tacos. Mmmm...this would be very good in a taco.

I really liked this recipe, but for the sake of comparison I have since printed out a number of picadillo recipes. I am amazed at the regional variability (such as the addition of olives and raisins) from one recipe to another. I am looking forward to making this simple dish again soon, and may try it with ground turkey to lighten it up a bit.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

11-11: Anniversary No.2

We were surprised and delighted to receive a beautiful, unique bouquet of flowers from our family friends, the Moons, in celebration of our second wedding anniversary on November 11th. There's a cabbage in there!

Thank you!!

Natural Bridge State Park

On a beautiful mid-October day, my friend Laura and I set out to find the Natural Bridge State Park somewhere off Route 8 in North Adams. We had a hard time. Our GPS could find neither the street nor the park, so we just winged it and drove to where we thought the park might be. Luckily, there were signs, and we found it with little difficulty. Unfortunately, we arrived 15 minutes before the park closed, so we had only those 15 minutes to figure out where this "natural bridge" was.

I'm not sure we ever found out? At one point, we asked someone where it was, and she implied that we were standing on it, so...hmmm. I'm just going to say (until we make the trip again in the spring) that the park consists of big hunks of rock (very scientific) that continue to be carved by the flow of water. There are all sorts of deep valleys in the rock that you pass over on narrow fenced stairways, and you can see the water flowing below. I'm assuming that this water sculpted what is now the "bridge"?

Ugh, I'm sure Laura would agree that we would have learned more if we weren't so afraid of getting locked in the park overnight! Anyway, here are a few pictures of the park:

The path upon which we ran through the park:

The water carved a valley beneath us:

We think this white rock is the "bridge" — it extended around to the part upon which we were standing. Very bridge-like!

There were areas for picnicking and leaf-peeping, too:

This was pretty much the last perfectly autumnal Berkshire day of 2008:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Burgundy Beans, Revisited

I have been meaning for a while to post my experience with these bizarre purple beans that I had bought at the North Adams farmer's market over the summer. When the farmer saw my excitement at their burgundy-ness, she let me down easy, telling me that they turn green — like any other bean — when they are cooked. I had to put it to the test.

Here are the lovely raw beans — look how they are green inside!

Here are those same beans, microwaved in a casserole dish with a little water, a pat of butter, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and some salt — so easy and good!

She was right! (I suppose they tasted the same as regular ol' green beans, too!)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Penne ala...

I first started watching the Food Network sometime in 2001. Although I hate to admit this (because she is just not the same person she was then), it was largely due to Rachel Ray. One of the first things she ever made on 30 Minute Meals was Penne ala Vodka (which she unfortunately felt the need to call You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.

A friend of mine had made her family's version of this dish for me about 5 years before I watched this episode. It was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten, and when I tried to create her recipe, it didn't even compare. (Not sure what went wrong there, MJ!)

So, when I saw that RR had a few slightly different ingredients, I gave it a try and it came out just great. It was the first successful dish I had ever cooked, and though it is so easy for me now, it was a major challenge then. Completely unsure of myself in the kitchen, I even counted out the 20 leaves of basil!

This was also the first meal I made for my husband (before he was my husband) — I guess I wasn't single for long? Since he doesn't drink, I learned that making this sauce without the vodka is no big deal at all (and it makes the meal a bit more affordable, too).

When I made this the other night, it was a breeze — makes me realize how far I have come!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hairpin Turn

On a lovely fall day, we parked at the hairpin turn on Route 2 in North Adams. We had taken Route 2 from Boston when we moved to the Berkshires, and it wasn't until we drove through Florida (the town) that I remembered John would have to navigate this crazy-sharp turn in a giant U-Haul. He told me afterward that his hands got all sweaty. Yikes! It is easy to see why:

In our Corolla, however, it was a very pleasant trip:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Almond-Crusted Chicken Fingers

I have a great pecan chicken recipe that I found on the internet when the web was a very new thing. I'll be sure to make it soon and post it on the ol' blog.

Right now, though, we are on an almond kick. They sell surprisingly inexpensive bulk almonds at our food co-op, and we always have some on hand. Also, I really prefer to make chicken recipes that do not involve cutting the chicken in any way. The potential spread of salmonella seems, in my mind, to multiply like crazy when you involve a cutting board and a knife. So, I'm all about the package-to-pan method of cooking chicken. Of course, this recipe involved an additional step, so it's really a package-to-coating-to-pan recipe — and it was very good and nutritious!

Anyone else hate the new Food Network website?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We Voted!

I hope my friend doesn't mind my posting a picture of her super cute daughter on my blog... I thought her casual little post-voting pose was better than any election-related picture I was going to come up with!

I am very jealous of her sticker. I had even looked for them at the polling place. Oh, well...2012...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Filet Mignon

Below is a horrible, hastily-taken photo of one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. I have wanted for some time to apply the techniques I learned in the Tender at the Bone (aka Meat) Class that I took last year to make us a meal featuring filet mignon.

I have tried to make filet mignon twice before, using a recipe that claimed a hot sear for 3 minutes on each side would produce a medium-rare steak. It does not. Filet mignon is a thick little steak, and both times I attempted that recipe I had to return the steak to the pan several times. But not this time.

A technique suggested in an issue of Cook's Illustrated involves cooking the meat in the oven to a specific internal temperature (using a probe thermometer), then removing it from the oven and searing it on all sides. While the meat rests on a plate, a pan sauce can be made (which I then mixed with some mushrooms that I had sauteed throughout the process.) Despite the ugly photo (we were in a hurry to eat it!), this was definitely one of the best things I have ever cooked. And, cooking filet mignon yourself not only saves tons of money, but ensures that your steak is actually cooked to your liking.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Until making it myself, I had never had borscht. I had, however, once had a beet soup made with a duck stock and it sure was memorable. (I have yet to dislike duck in any culinary form.) So, when Helen Rennie posted her family's borscht recipe on her blog, along with a mouth-watering photo of her creation, I had to give it a try. (She is Russian, after all...)

I confess that I did not make my own beef stock, so I missed out on beefy bits it my soup. Also, I had three different kinds of beef stock in the cabinet that I was interested in using up, and I was surprised to see that they each had a unique color and clarity. I hope to make my own next time. And there shall be a next time...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Mom Made Yesterday #8

With our first Berkshire snow falling in October this year, I was reminded of this felt wall-hanging that my mom made a few years ago. So cute!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I recently discovered that Berkshire County has its own currency — BerkShares. There was a BerkShare festival in August, but I was unable to go to learn more about this local cash.

BerkShares are largely a southern Berkshire County idea, designed to promote shopping in local stores. You can purchase the Berkshares with normal cash, at a 10% discount. So, you can buy 10 Berkshares for 9 dollars, and then you can spend your 10 BerkShares at a participating shop (again, most of which are in south county).

One of the best places I can think to utilize BerkShares is at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Lenox and Great Barrington, one of a handful of specialty (pricey) food shops in the area. I will happily take 10% off my Guido's food bill!

In the meantime, I'm hoping the BerkShares idea catches on and spreads to my north county neighborhood.

Here are some images of the currency from the BerkShares website):

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Salmon Burgers

I ran into my high school Biology teacher at the 2008 Relay for Life in Pittsfield. Herself a cancer survivor, she was giving a nutritional cooking demonstration. I flipped though her handout of recipes and nothing really caught my eye...but when I tried her salmon burgers, I knew I had to make them.

The idea of running fish through the food processor did seem kind of nasty (my mom was reminded of the old Bass-o-Matic SNL skit), but it was well worth it. The salmon was blended with ginger and garlic, then folded into panko bread crumbs, green onions, red peppers (missing in mine!), and an egg. The pan-seared burgers are served with a wasabi-mayo sauce. Wow.

So far, this is my favorite salmon dish...ever.

Addendum: I recently tried to make these burgers using canned salmon, and the whole canned fish thing skeeved me out to such a degree that I couldn't eat them. That's right, pureed fish is more appetizing than canned fish to me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chicken Soup For the Rotator Cuff's Soul

I have tried to make chicken soup on several occasions and it never comes out quite right. This time, I roasted the chicken and vegetables prior to simmering them, giving the soup a nice color and flavor. I desperately wanted to add alphabet noodles, but couldn't find them at our local store. Next time, for sure.

The inspiration for the soup was my aunt, who had just undergone rotator cuff surgery, however it made plenty to share with non-recovering people, too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ridin' the Rail Trail

We are so lucky to live right next to the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. Old railroad tracks were removed to create an 11.2-mile paved trail that runs through three Berkshire towns, by lakes and rivers...and the Berkshire Mall.

We can access the trail easily by crossing Route 8, and it has felt great to finally get some use out of the bike I bought last summer (to replace the one that was stolen in Somerville). My parents once ran into a bear on the trail, but all I have seen are bunnies and turtles. I'm fine with that.

Monday, October 20, 2008


At last, I made brasciole. It was wonderful, and the slow braise in the oven gave the tomato sauce the most amazing flavor.

However, I had no idea that I was supposed to pound out the meat before filling and rolling it. So, here is an uber-thick version of Giada DeLaurentis' brasciole. (I'll be pounding out this recipe again soon.)

Wow. Close-up photos of beef are just not attractive, are they?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What Mom Made Yesterday #7

I confess that I've come across some older photos and, in fact, mom made this more than five years ago. I am sure of this because the baby for whom this quilt was made just started kindergarten! Here is Mikey's bright, fun quilt: