Winter vegetable pie

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I'd like to stay under the covers in my pj's today.

Why? Because, baby, it's cold outside!

The howling wind kept me up for half the night and the single digit temperatures make me want to crawl into a cozy place and close my eyes. But that's just not me. The sun is shining. Let the wind rattle the windowpanes. I can always go into the kitchen and create a little more warmth.

Here's the comfort food of the day. Since I live in New England, I always have a lot of root vegetables at this time of year--some still left from holiday marketing--so this pie is a no-brainer. Unless you are diligent and make your own stock, skip the box of vegetable stock; most of it tastes like dishwater. You should have plenty of flavor from all the vegetables. Or you could use chicken stock if you are not vegetarian.

Curl up by the fire if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, and give thanks for the new year, the little increase of light every day, and the old-fashioned goodness of a pot pie.

Winter vegetable pie recipe   
Serves 6

3 large yellow (Yukon gold) potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup milk, heated until hot
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut up
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallion tops
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup (4 ounces) grated cheddar
Ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, a generous pinch of salt, and cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a skewer.

2. Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 1 minute to dry them slightly. With a potato masher, mash the potatoes while slowly adding the hot milk. Add the butter. With a wire whisk, beat vigorously until fluffy. Blend in the chives or scallions, parsley, and cheddar. Add salt and pepper.

Butter (for the dish)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large parsnips, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths
4 large carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 celery root cut into 1-inch pieces
2 turnips cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups (8 or 9 ounces) frozen pearl onions
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups water or homemade vegetable stock

1. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish or 6 ramekins.

2. In a small bowl, thoroughly blend the butter and flour until smooth.

3. In a large, flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the parsnips, carrots, celery root, turnips, frozen onions, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add 1 cup of the vegetable stock. Cook, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but still have some bite. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the baking dish.

5. Add the remaining 4 cups stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the butter and flour until smooth. Simmer for 1 minute. Add salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the baking dish.

6. Distribute large spoonfuls of mashed potatoes over the vegetables. Spread with a fork and, if you like, make a wave pattern with the tines of the fork.

7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the top is golden.

©2009-2018 Sally Pasley Vargas. Writing and photography, all rights reserved.



Posted on January 6, 2018 .

Mini-Shrimp Sandwiches, Swedish Style

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If you're still looking for a tidbit to serve on New Year's Eve, here is an easy solution.

In Sweden, raksmorgas, toasted bread topped with mayonnaise and piled high with shrimp, is a popular snack. Here, it’s miniaturized into a cocktail-size bite with zippy horseradish butter as the base with shrimp, hard-cooked egg, cucumber, arugula, and dill. You can buy thinly sliced, dense rye or pumpernickel bread in a brick-shape loaf at many specialty markets; Mestemacher is one popular brand. Be sure the jar of horseradish is fresh; the flavor deteriorates within a few weeks after opening. Buy shrimp already cooked and this hors d’oeuvre comes together quickly.

Now you've got something to nibble  with a glass (or two) of champagne. A toast to you! With thanks for reading regularly or sporadically. Wishing you a very happy and healthy new year, may all your dreams come true this year. (And that goes for any time you might read this, because as we all know, today is the first day of the rest of our lives!)

Enjoy, dear friends!

Open-faced Swedish shrimp sandwiches
Makes 24

4 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish in brine, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 slices dense rye or pumpernickel bread
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 handful of arugula
24 large cooked and peeled shrimp (about 1 1/4 pounds) sliced in half crosswise
3 to 4 sprigs of dill, snipped with scissors
1/4 cup drained capers
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook them for exactly 10 minutes. Transfer to cold water and crack the shells with the back of a spoon. Remove a strip of shell and let the cold water run until the eggs are cold. Peel them, dry on paper towels, and slice.

2. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, horseradish, mustard, lemon rind, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more horseradish, if you like.

3. Set the bread on a cutting board and spread each slice with about 1 tablespoon of the butter. Top with cucumber and arugula. Place 3 egg slices in a line on top, and set 2 shrimp halves on each slice of egg. Cut each slice of bread into 3 pieces and garnish with capers and dill. Serve with lemon.

Posted on December 28, 2017 .

Easiest ever chocolate gelato recipe

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If you want a wowzer dessert for the holidays, you've found one here. It's homemade! It's super chocolately! It's easy! AND you can make it a few days ahead of time. 

This dark chocolate gelato has the characteristic, no-holds-barred chocolate intensity of gelato. Milk, not cream, is the differentiating factor between ice cream and its Italian cousin. Because there is less butterfat to coat the tongue, the flavor pops. Another ingredient, corn syrup, behaves like invert sugar and helps reduce the chance of crystallization when freezing. A gelato or ice cream machine churns the mixture slowly and cuts the amount of air to keep the mixture dense and creamy, so it is less fluffy than ice cream. It also melts a lot faster than ice cream.

But enough science.  The best part of this gelato is that you can make it without a machine. Make the mix, which does not contain eggs, freeze until firm (overnight is best), and then cut the frozen slab into pieces. Whirl the frozen slices in a food processor. Pack the creamy mixture into a container and let it firm in the freezer for a few hours. Ecco la! You now have a frozen dessert to wow the senses.

Dark Chocolate Gelato
Makes about 1 quart

1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup dark, unsweetened, Dutch process cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chopped roasted almonds (for garnish)

1. In a small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of the milk and the cornstarch together until smooth.

2. In a large (6-quart) saucepan, whisk the cocoa powder and sugar together until blended. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the milk until smooth. Set the saucepan over medium heat and stir in the remaining milk, corn syrup, salt, and cornstarch slurry.

3. Stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 45 seconds to cook the cornstarch, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the mixture from boiling over. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until completely smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Cool to warm room temperature.

4. Line a 9-inch square pan (preferably metal) with plastic wrap. Pour the gelato mixture into the pan and freeze 6 hours or overnight, until firm.

5. Remove from the freezer. Transfer the frozen slab to a cutting board and let soften for about 10 minutes. With a large knife, cut the slab into 1-inch wide strips, and cut each strip into 1/2-inch slices

6. One-third at a time, process the frozen chunks in a food processor until the gelato looks creamy and no frozen chunks remain. Pack into a container, and continue until all the gelato is used. Press the top with a piece of parchment paper, and cover. Freeze for several hours, or until ready to serve. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer. If the gelato has frozen until hard, let it soften for a few minutes before scooping. Sprinkle with chopped almonds.

Posted on December 9, 2017 .

Cranberry French 75

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The French 75, popularized in the 1920’s, was the very first cocktail I tried when I reached drinking age, sipped in a posh New York bar. It was at the Hotel Carlyle bar (downstairs) Boy, did I feel grown up in my high heels and cocktail dress, even though I was all of 18 (the drinking age during the stone age.) Bobby Short was playing and singing--look it up guys--he was a legend.

The memory of this cocktail resurfaced recently when I was coming up with drinks for The Cranberry Cookbook.  I usually stick to wine, so I've been out of the cocktail loop for a while. But this cocktail is too good not to make for a special occasion. I love the tart cranberries (instead of the usual plain sugar syrup) with the lemon and gin. Just a little sweet, but not too much, and full of fizz.

We started off our Thanksgiving with a punch bowl of this cocktail, and I can tell you, even the gin haters were impressed. It's not too alcoholic, but it will give you a pleasant buzz, just right for a holiday party. We more or less multiplied the still ingredients to make punch and poured in a magnum of Prosecco just before we served it, floating some lemon slices and cranberries on top.  Fun and sparkle in a bowl! 

Cranberry French 75
Serves 1
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) gin
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) cranberry syrup (see below)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) chilled champagne
Lemon twist
1 In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake the gin, lemon juice, and cranberry syrup.
2 Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with the champagne, and garnish it with a lemon twist.

Cranberry Syrup
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

1 In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cranberries and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the cranberries soften and pop. Cool to warm room temperature.

2 Set a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl and strain. Discard the cranberries. Transfer the syrup to a jar and store in the refrigerator. Cranberry syrup should keep for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator. But truth be told, I kept mine for way longer and it was still very good.

Posted on December 7, 2017 .

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bars Recipe

If you read this blog, which admittedly is spotty, you are already familiar with my rant about shopping for gifts for the holidays. I won't repeat it now. The recap is: I hate it. 

For one thing, I have gift anxiety. Will she like it? Is it good enough? Is it the right gift for him? Time wasted on worrying is, well, time wasted. So I put my energy into creating home made gifts, and it's a safe bet that most people fall for chocolate.

And these are almost healthy. Really. I guarantee the bars will measure up to store-bought energy bars and surpass them by a mile in taste.

All you have to do is melt some chocolate and top it with toasted nuts and dried fruit. You can handle that, right?

The possibilities of toppings for these bars are open ended. If you have nuts, dried fruit and chocolate around the house, you won’t even have to make a special trip to shop for ingredients. The choices run the gamut: whole almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, cranberries, chopped apricots, chopped candied ginger, or whatever strikes your fancy will do. Make sure to finely chop the chocolate, and don’t forget to add a smidgen of salt to the nuts.

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bars Recipe
Makes 18 (4 1/2-by-1-inch) bars
8 ounces dark, bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups mixed, unsalted, raw nuts and seeds such as pistachios, cashews, and pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries, raisins or chopped dried fruit of your choosing

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line the bottom and 2 sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the 2 long sides.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Spread the chocolate evenly over the bottom of the lined baking pan and bake for 3 minutes, or until the chocolate melts. Remove from the oven, and use a small offset spatula to spread it in a thin layer over the bottom of the pan. Cool for 5 minutes. Freeze for 10 minutes, or until firm. Remove from the freezer.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the maple syrup, oil, vanilla and salt. Add the nuts and stir to coat them. Spread them on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the nuts are browned and fragrant. Remove them from the oven and cool for 2 minutes.

4. Sprinkle the warm nuts and the dried fruit evenly over the chocolate. Place the parchment sheet you used for the nuts on top of the bars and press firmly with your hands to embed them into the chocolate. The chocolate will start melting from the heat of the nuts. (If it does not, return the pan to the oven for 1 minute.) Freeze for 10 minutes, or until the chocolate hardens.

5. Using the parchment paper ends as handles, lift the chocolate out of the baking pan in one piece and place it on a cutting board with the short side parallel to the edge of the board. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut the chocolate in half lengthwise. Make 1-inch cuts across the halves to make a total of 18 bars. Store in a cool place in an airtight tin between layers of waxed paper.

Posted on December 7, 2017 .