Monday, May 30, 2011

summer is here: ergo, iced tea

Hanna and I just returned to Boston yesterday from our vacation in Michigan ... in time for the first hot spell. The weather is sunny and humid and still. The cat is irritable at the heat and at our being gone. We hauled out the fans and are scrambling to remember what food we feel like eating in the summer, and how exactly we stay cool.

One strategy is definitely lots of iced tea.

iced tea brewing

I just woke up from an afternoon nap to the sound of Hanna making iced tea. Here it is steeping on the kitchen counter.

one of our favorite teas for icing

Iced tea is really simple to make: boil water, add tea bags or loose tea, brew to taste and chill. Serve over ice.

This batch is made with Tazo's "Passion" tea, which is an herbal blend of hibiscus flower, orange peel, licorice, cinnamon, rose hips, lemongrass, and red poppy. It's been one of our favorite blends for icing in the past. Fruity teas can be really nice lightly sweetened with honey, or can stand on their own without sweetener at all.

When I'm buying ready-made iced tea, one of the best brands available here in New England is Sweet Leaf Tea, to which Hanna introduced me when I moved out here to Boston. I'm also partial to ordering (or making) Arnold Palmers, or half-iced-tea / half-lemonade coolers which cut the sweet of the lemonade and the bite of the stronger black teas.

What are your favorite teas for brewing to ice, and if you're buying iced drinks in the summer, what are your all-time favorites? Leave your picks in comments!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Speaking of cupcakes. . .

I was looking forward to Lyn's post of the red Velvet cupcakes but alas, her virtuous side prevailed and we were treated to the Kale & Bean Casserole. Which I have yet to try but, I'm sure is delicious.

Still craving cupcakes, I managed to convince my friend Lisa's 4 year old daughter Nina we needed to make cupcakes for her Mom's birthday.

Armed with the May issue of Real Simple we first made the "chocolate" cupcake. Then went into a decorating frenzy with cookies, sprinkles, colored sugar (Nina! stop eating that!), chocolate chips, strawberries, choco nibs (whatever they are), food coloring and whatever else we could find in the cabinet and refrigerator.

It was great fun and even earned us a post on her Dad's facebook page.

This awesome article, "The only cake story you'll ever need" consisted of 2 basic cakes, 6 frostings, 3 fillings, 12 toppings 6 "tips for better baking", and a plethora of decorating ideas. 256,620 options . . . really they did the math!

I hope Sam and Max will be ready to do some baking when I visit in July. Hey! Isn't it their Dad's birthday in July?

Monday, May 16, 2011


As children, and like many others, we were allowed to choose the dinner on our birthdays. My sister Susan called me a few days before my 50th birthday to ask if I remembered my choice. I did and it was the same every year - chicken and rice casserole made with cream of chicken soup, whole milk with buttered bread crumbs on top. While my father was the cook in the household, this dish was prepared by my mother.

My current sensibilities don't allow me to acutally eat cream of chicken soup and whole milk and all that butter in one sitting so this variation on the chicken and rice theme from Cooking Light really fits the bill for me. The little bit of heavy cream feels a little decadent. Larry really like this too, which is a bonus. My previous posting, "Slow Baked Beans and Kale" I eat alone...

Chicken and Rice

1 TBS Olive Oil

8 Bone-in chicken thighs, skinned

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups chopped onion

1 carrot, thinly sliced

8 ozs cremini mushrooms, sliced

4 garlic cloves

1 cup long grain rice

Cooking Spray

1 cup fat free, lower sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup water

3 TBS heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup grated fresh pecorino romano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add 4 chicken thighs to pan; saute three minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan. Repeat with remaining chicken.

3. Add onion and carrot to pan; saute 4 minutes. Add mushrooms; saute 5 minutes. Add garlic; saute 1 minute stirring constantly. Add rice; saute 1 minute. Spoon rice mixture into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish coated with cooking spray; stir in broth, water and cream. Arrange chicken over rice mixture; sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serves 4

Calories: 519

Fat: 16.3

Protein: 37.3

Carb: 53.5

Fiber: 2.9

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I currently buy my eggs at a local health food store that buys them from a local farm where the chickens are free to eat bugs and greens. The yolks are an amazing orange-yellow color. I’ve known many people who’ve kept their own chickens. I’ve been given my share of those faintly blue or green eggs, with those deeply yellow yolks, and have tried to come up with recipes that will seem worthy. Egg people love their chickens, and they usually have the best egg recipes. But the following isn’t so much a recipe; it’s just more of an appreciation of what a great ground eggs can make for a meal.

In my twenties I spent a lot of time with a family I knew who had established their own small farm and who tended their own animals, including chickens. Their children enjoyed the task of gathering eggs. And they named the chickens, which was a problem only if they planned on a chicken dinner later on. A favorite meal in the springtime was scrambled eggs with asparagus and cheese. I shared this meal with them many times. It hooked me on asparagus. If you’ve never tried it, you should—just a simple, not-that-seasoned combo. We might have sprinkled fresh chives on the scramble. (Asparagus flavor can get overwhelmed by almost anything, so maybe bland is better.)

This is a photo of a very young Maggie who seems interested in the chickens, but maybe worried too. Names? Cocky Locky and Iddy Biddy. Never eaten.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

simple lentil & matzo ball soup

Photograph by Anna, May 2011
Last week, when Hanna was recovering from a nasty spring cold and Anna was in the final throes of her thesis presentation preparations, we were looking for bland comfort food that we could make without going to the grocery store. What we came up with was a surprisingly tasty variation of lentil soup spruced up with matzo balls. You could probably make your own, but we just put ours together from a mix picked up at the local kosher grocery.

Beyond Basic Lentil Soup: 

1 cup dried lentils

3 cups of vegetable broth (can substitute water + vegetarian bouillon)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 bay leaf

Salt & pepper to taste

You can obviously use this as a base to improvise upon. Like garlic? Onion? Fancy curry spice and some raisins? Have at it!

1. Heat broth in soup pan and add lentils and bay leaf. Cook until soft (usually 20-30 minutes). You can work on the matzo balls while the lentils cook.

2. While lentils are cooking, prepare matzo ball dough.

3. Set water to boil for matzo balls. This should be in a pan deep enough to boil the matzo balls and it should have a cover, preferably with some sort of vent for steam.

4. Add tomatoes and salt and pepper to the lentil mixture. Leave to simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure the lentils still have enough liquid.

5. When the water for the matzo balls boils, wet your hands and roll the matzo dough into walnut-sized balls. Drop them into the boiling water. They will sink to the bottom and then fairly quickly rise to the top in the boiling water. Turn the heat down to a gentle boil and leave for half an hour to cook.

6. Drain the matzo balls. Dish up the soup and spoon desired number of matzo balls into each bowl (I recommend more rather than less).

7. Top with cheese as desired (yum!). Serve hot.

This also makes excellent leftovers, reheating in the microwave beautifully in about 2 minutes. We recommend storing the cooked matzo balls separately from the soup, so that they don't just turn to mush.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


It’s the beginning of Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan. We live near the hub of downtown activity, Centennial Park. Crowds of people wander among the tulips and small ponds; high school Dutch Dancers perform regularly in the streets around the park; and food concessions are set up where they expect crowds of munchy spectators. Activity ramps up on parade days (there are three).

The neighborhoods near us are full of families with enterprising children, and they know a good deal when they see it. Today, and all through the events of next week, there will be lemonade and cookie stands lining our streets. I try to share my business among all of them. This photo, though a typical scene in any year, was taken eight years ago. My neighbors’ daughters are selling cookies for 25 cents each. Well, you can read the sign. I think they were sugar cookies.

The local history museums, especially the Cappon House, the home of Holland’s first mayor, are prepared for a constant parade of out-of-town visitors during Tulip Time. In springs past, both of my daughters enjoyed dressing up in turn-of-the-century clothes and guiding tours through the Cappon House. The following recipe, which is supposed to have come from the Cappons themselves, has become our stand-by for cookie cutter cookies. They’re a beautiful color and they hold their shape well. I’ve never run into anyone who doesn’t like them. You can sprinkle them with sugar, fine or coarse, to make them prettier.


(60 small cookies)

1 cup butter (room temperature)

1 cup white sugar (can reduce by ¼)

1/3 cup molasses

½ tsp. vanilla

1 egg

3 cups white flour

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. powdered ginger

1/8 tsp. salt

Optional sugar for top

Cream together sugar and butter. Add vanilla, egg and molasses. Combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture. The dough will be very thick. Divide into 3 pieces and roll each into a log shape (or form flat pieces to roll). Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours. Slice into ¼ inch rounds or cut into shapes. Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes.

(Someone told me that to keep the logs round as they firm up in the refrigerator, you can save cardboard tubes and rest the dough in those. I rubber band them closed around the wrapped dough. It works pretty well. Probably also obsessive.)

Slow-Baked Beans with Kale

Thanks to all who contributed to my birthday blog!

For my first post, I thought I should share the recipe with which I spent most of Saturday - the Cook's Illustrated "Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes." The recipe spanned three pages, three different mixtures, 12 ozs bittersweet chocolate ( actually, only 10 but I taste tested...) and 12 tablespoons of butter among other typical cupcake ingredients. It is simply too long to post here (though maybe later in three parts) so I thought I would instead share the NYT recipe for Slow-Baked Beans with Kale.