"That's Hot" Sweet Potato Casserole

The real name of this dish is “Madeira Sweet Potato Casserole”. But ever since a friend’s husband, inadvertently renamed it a few Thanksgiving dinners ago, this name, said with a few winks and grins, has stuck.

Invited to their home for Thanksgiving, I was asked to bring my “famous” braided Challah, a sweet potato side dish of my choosing, and a “non-pumpkin” desert because my friend informed me that, “No one can match my pumpkin pie.” I decided to make a chocolate pecan tart, which I figured was as far from pumpkin as possible.

She’d spent weeks planning her menu, pouring through Food & Wine, Epicurious, Sunset and Cooking Light magazines and cookbooks. Her table was beautifully appointed, a work of art that could easily have been photographed for any fine-food magazine. Beautiful linen tablecloths, sparkling crystal, and flickering candlelight set the stage for a formal five course dinner, the first three courses deserving and equal to the ambiance and setting. Subtle background chamber music intermingled with genteel, polite conversation, when suddenly – as loud and shocking as if someone popped a huge balloon – her husband exclaimed, “That’s Hot!”

Sour Cream Apple Pie

This year’s harvest is bountiful, a benefit of this past summer’s prolific rain, the apples larger and juicier than past years. The downside is the flavors are a bit more muted, taking a little more tweaking, playing with spices and sugar levels to maximize flavors. While my mother only used one type of apple for pies – Granny Smith – resulting in a consistent taste, I use at least two varieties, one that will holds its shape, and another that will break down during cooking into a lovely sauce.

Apple Pecan Cake

My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, employing her grandmother’s “lump of this and dash of that” measuring methods. Eventually, she translated favorite recipes to modern measuring devices – graduated measuring cups and spoons – meticulously recording the details on 3 1/2 × 5 index cards. After her death, it was this recipe collection – stored in a hand-made, beautifully dove-tailed hand-rubbed box, 6 by 12-inches long – that I held to be the most dear, of all her earthly possessions. I stopped my aunt and mother – Betty Crocker, General Mills, and Pillsbury women – from pitching the recipes and box into the trash bin, with both expressing surprise I’d want “something so old-fashioned and out-of-date – who wants to do all that cooking?” One person’s junk…..another person’s treasure……..

Easy Ricotta (Ricotone) Cheese 101

Draining the whey from the curds is a process by which you can control the density, dryness or creaminess by the length of the time. Shorter periods of time – 4 to 6 hours result in a creamy, almost Mascarpone
texture, wonderful for tiramisus. Longer draining, 6-12 hours, results in a drier texture for making a New York style cheesecake, or stuffing layers of Sunday-morning French toast. The possibilities are limitless…..

Parsnips, Smoked Fish & Horseradish

When I reach for my vegetable brush to scrub off what appears to be half-a-garden of dirt, I think back to the time, many years ago, when my father-in-law challenged me, “Where’s your vegetable brush?” Vegetable brush. Who needed a vegetable brush? He, a Master Gardener, and I, about as far removed from gardening as a person could be, were working together making dinner. Handing him a potato peeler, figuring if there were any dirty spots on the carrot, a peeler would take care of them in short order, I caught a few of his mutterings trailing after him in the breeze he created working around my kitchen, “…peelings….nutrition….should have a brush…”. For the life of me, though, I was quite sure I’d never seen a speck of dirt on any of my grocery-store vegetables and I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about.

Turning back time...

The living history demonstrations, which tug the most at my heartstrings, involve food – butter-making, hearth-roasted meats, wild-yeast bread “sponges”, or cheese making. Each 1830’s costumed-interpreter’s passion and love for their craft leaves no doubt, that while they exchange their 1830’s garb for 21st Century garments when returning to their “real” lives, they take their timeless cooking techniques with them to their world.

Having been raised on Velveeta cheese, canned vegetables, and boxed deserts, I developed an aversion to the narrow range of processed-food “flavor” – salt and sugar – preferring to make my own meals from “scratch”.

Even though I had very few processed foods to cull from my cabinets when we followed the Nourishing Traditions way of eating, I’ve still managed to make substantial changes over the past half-dozen years, buying and eating only locally-raised organic foods, including meat that has been raised using traditional methods.

The way we now eat has much more in common with an Old Sturbridge Village 1830’s way of life, than it does with our modern culture.

The last time I shopped in a 2008 grocery store was last April, purchasing several packages of organic strawberries. Walking the aisles of a modern grocery store is like walking through a graveyard of nutritionally dead food.

Welcome Home Chicken Dinner

This is my favorite late summer, almost-fall dinner. When the first harvest of apples and peaches coincides with farm-fresh cantaloupe, as well as fall-harvest raspberries, there’s nothing better to celebrate those flavors in a apricot-jam and yogurt dressing fruit salad alongside a huge pile of cinnamon-dusted rice and coconut-rolled chicken tenders.

The wonderful thing about this recipe is it is as good served cold – maybe even better – the next day for lunch. When my children took their first bite, at tonight’s dinner, they both lit up with recognition exclaiming, “Oh, this dish! I remember this! It’s my favorite!”

The original was a Better Homes & Garden, but needed some updating – getting rid of the corn flakes and using sourdough breadcrumbs with the coconut for the chicken-coating.

This dish easily doubles, which I always do because the leftovers are so flavorful, even cold, right out of the refrigerator.

Greek Baking Powder Biscuit Piecrust

This is one of my favorite pie crusts when making vegetable-based tarts or quiches, such as my Garlicky Tomato Tart, which is a reformed Cooking Light recipe. Just like the tart needed some healthy updating – adding back grass-fed farm-fresh nutrients provided by properly-raised eggs and milk – the pie crust also needed some reclamation work, bringing it back in line with nutrient-dense foods of yesteryear, nearly lost to the industrialized, mass-produced, nutrient-deficient foods of today’s modern civilization.

Grinding my own grains, and soaking them in an acidified solutions goes a long way toward making the grains healthier and more easily digestible, explained in one of my favorite Weston A. Price articles, Be Kind To Your Grains.

Summer Time is Garlic Tomato Tart Time

Labor Day has come and gone, and with it, the end of summer. Radio ads are warning, “cold temperatures are just around the corner”, but my calendar says that nearly 1/3 of the summer remains, and I’m determined to enjoy every last minute of it, my favorite season.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6

Besides, I’m not finished with my summer traditions, one of which is to make a lovely Garlicky Tomato Tart using fresh local produce from “our” organic CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) farm.

The original recipe goes back to my Dark Days of Food, when I was convinced that Cooking Light magazine knew what they were talking about when it came to “healthy” food, removing all things fat, substituting “light” foods void of fat. While not all fats are healthy, the right type of fats are essential to life, explained in The Skinny on Fats, a classic article written by Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions”.

Fresh Blueberry Lemon Sour Cream Pie

Today, with a heavy heart, I pulled the last bits of summer’s blueberries from the highbush branches towering above my head. Four pounds of berries later, I said my goodbyes, giving a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of the place, both its abundant fruit and tremendous beauty. Taking one last look around at the hundreds of branches still loaded with fruit – far too many for one small family to harvest – I marveled that for the past month, we had been the only ones picking fruit from public lands. Others knew of its existence, often stopping along their nature walks or bike riding, checking our progress, their interest tinged with amusement in our family’s “old fashioned” activity. “It’s so much work,” most commented, while others queried what “one does with them beyond a pie…”.

2 Thess 3:10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

Not that long ago, I was several generations removed from having a hand in the planting, raising and gathering of our food. Picking berries is just one small way that we have changed the way we eat, and where we acquire our food. Watching my children gathering berries is far more satisfactory than chastising them for picking up every brightly colored package of synthetic factory-food off grocery store shelves. Foraging some of our food gives them a connection to the “living history” books and museums we’ve visited, providing real-life meaning to demonstrations and descriptions of a not-too-distance past where survival throughout the long, cold New England winters was dependent on self-sufficiency skills.